Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Board Game Review: Brass Birmingham

Here’s a story of a lovely lady (spoiler: it’s me) and her pride and how it has led to the discovery of the single greatest board game I have ever played. It’s probably also a good primer for other reviewers on increasing your reach.

At GenCon this year, I was perusing the wares of the various booths and my eyes caught a glimpse of two beautiful game boxes. Each had crisp metallic lettering with an old world feel and artwork that radiated European class. I made my way to the booth and waited patiently to speak to to the team manning it as there were many buyers lined up to purchase the games. I didn’t know anything about the games (Brass Birmingham and Brass Lancashire), or the publisher – Roxley Game Laboratory – but I knew I wanted to review one or both of the games. Almost every board game love story I star in in can be summed up this way: I am seduced by the artwork or theme and then I stay for the right mechanics. When the lead rep spoke with me, he gently rejected my request. He wasn’t familiar with my reviews and he didn’t really have the time to go over my bona fides right then and there. Besides, a quick glance at my Instagram (which at the time I didn’t use in relation to my review portfolio) told him I didn’t have a significant presence there and that was something he typically used to evaluate new review requests. He told me I could contact him again after GenCon and we could discuss it further. I came away from GenCon with review copies of dozens of other games as I do every year but my pride was wounded from Roxley rejection.

Back at home, I made it priority #1 in my non-work hours to transform my IG account into a showcase for my board game hobby activity. I started posting pictures and commentary of every game I bought or reviewed. I shared game nights (we host them multiple times a week at our house for different groups of friends), unboxings, first impressions, library shots (we have 800+ in our collection), and epic adventures in gaming like our 12 hour TI4 experience. I made new IG friends who share my love of games and I had a lot of interesting conversations with commenters on my posts. Still, my inner critic nagged at me a bit. All this work to get a review copy of a game?  Shouldn’t I just buy the game? I have excellent relationships with most of the other US publishers; why is this game and this publisher so important to me? Because I wanted it, I think I’m a talented reviewer, and the publisher wouldn’t give me the game. That’s why. Wounded pride, ladies and gentlemen, wounded pride. 

Sometime just after crossing a significant threshold in IG followers and another major publisher selecting one of my articles as a featured review on their Kickstarter campaign, I wrote back to the lead rep at Roxley, laid out my bona fides, and again asked for a review copy of Brass Birmingham. This time he accepted, and the game was on it’s way to me.

Box Cover Art and Clay Chips

The day the game arrived, I strutted around the house (I work from home as an IT geek), puffed up with pride in my “win”. Then I opened the box and wanted to cry because the components for Brass Birmingham deluxe edition are so beautiful as well as sturdy. Clay chips in subdued hues for the currency; a two-sided, central board with different artwork on each side (one features a day theme and the other night); lovely cards representing various industries and English locations; cardboard tokens for players and canal/rail connections; and wooden tokens for industrial commodities (iron and coal) as well as beer (the cutest little beer barrels you guys).

Player Board

The rule book provides actual biographical details for the industrialists the in-game characters are based on. It also, of course, lays out all the rules and nuances of the game, and in excellent detail I might add. We didn’t have any trouble understanding any of the rules.

So far so good. But how would the gameplay go? Would I like it? Would I like it enough after a couple of plays (the minimum count in prep for a writing a review) to ever want to play again?

Readers, I liked it so much that it took me a month to get this review published because every time I had a block of leisure time I could dedicate to writing I opted to use it instead to play Brass Birmingham again. I played 7 games within the first week. And these are games that take 2 hours or more to play. I played with my husband, I played with our neighbors, I played with friends. I actually had dreams about the game, where I was working out different strategies to see which one worked best. I became obsessed. Even now, I’m on my way to the Dice Tower Retreat in Homestead, FL and I BROUGHT BRASS BIRMINGHAM WITH ME ON THE PLANE.

Let’s discuss the game play. In Brass Birmingham, players compete as European industrialists to establish a presence in cities, connect those cities (by canal in the first half of the game and by rail in the second), and benefit from the production of goods they control in those cities. Where you can create a presence and what type of industry you can build are dictated by the cards you’ve drawn and hold in your hand. Some locations are typically hotly contested while others are easier to snag for yourself. Some industries offer early, instant, and large rewards (10 VP for building pottery) while others are slower to produce returns and require a steady investment in building (looking at you manufactured goods). Industries are often built just to obtain the goods they produce for use in building other industries or connections. There are various markets that you can connect to around the board to sell your goods or to buy raw materials you need to build or produce goods. Which markets are open (determined by player count and random assignment) and what they will buy (determined by random assignment) will also factor into everyone’s decision on where to build. You can also leverage your opponents’ coal, iron, and beer produced as required to build or sell. One of the most interesting aspects of Brass Birmingham is that after you’ve invested time and strategic thinking into building out the perfect canal and industry network in the first half of the game, the canal era comes to an end and all your canal links and all your industries less than level 2 are stripped off the board. Now you must start again on building your network, this time with rail. It’s a chance to redo your approach to cities and connections if things didn’t go the way you wanted them to earlier in the game or a chance to double down on your strategy if it was working for you.

Central Board, Game in Progress

There are so many strategy options in this game. So many paths to victory! Of course, that means that Brass Birmingham is prone to analysis paralysis and it can be moderate to severe, depending on the players and their tendencies for indecisiveness. Myself, I can take 10 minutes a turn if allowed, because there are so many factors to consider when choosing an action.  Each game I have tried to hone my strategy a bit more, exploring the nuances of each potential branch in the larger decision tree. I see hours and hours and hours of challenging game play ahead of me with Brass Birmingham and I look forward to it.

Win Condition: most victory points (vp) at the conclusion of the game

Inputs: canals/rails connected to cities hosting industries that offer connection vp, industry resources sold, bonus vp obtained through marketplace actions

Strategy Tip: Don’t be afraid to take loans; they are a key part of any winning strategy. Do invest in connections as much as is feasible and pay particular attention to the links that can earn the most vp – Birmingham offers several links with point value potential of 8 vp each when the city is fully populated and Uttoxeter offers up to 4 vp on each side if it’s fully populated. Finally, 2 player strategies don’t play the same in a 3 or 4 player game and vice versa so don’t expect to translate consistent wins at one player count into successes at other counts.

Brass Birmingham is easily my top rated game of 2018, and so far my top rated game of all time.  It pushes all my joy buttons:

  • rules are easy to learn and understand
  • plays well at a variety of player counts (but 2p is my favorite)
  • intellectually challenging
  • beautiful theme and artwork
  • long running game play (in hours)
  • many paths to victory
  • addictive (as soon as you finish, you immediately want to play again)

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Publisher: Roxley Game Laboratory
Players: 2-4 (We played with 2 and 4)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 2.5 - 3 hours per game
Game type: economic, heavy Euro

Rating:

review-OUIOUIOUI

Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Board Game Review: Mercado


Recently, the good folks at Kosmos sent me a review copy of Mercado. It’s a game my husband has had his eye on and asked me to check out, so I thought I’d give it a go and see if I enjoyed playing it. We played two games -  a 3 player game with the two of us and our 13 year old daughter, and a 2 player game where my husband and I faced off against each other. In our 3 player game, my daughter got well ahead of my husband and I early in the game and I only managed to catch up to her on the very last turn as I crossed the finish line and landed right on top of her token. The tiebreaker rule is a bit interesting – the person who lands on the occupied space last wins – and allowed me to pull off a surprise victory. In our second game, my husband and I were neck in neck in scoring the entire game and both ended on the same space just past the finish line when all was said and done. Once again, my token was on top and so I was declared the winner. Two for two! 

pic3958805In a sea of board games, with wave after wave of new releases coming ashore, what’s compelling about Mercado is that it sustains player interest with a variety of strategic choices and high replayability, yet is light enough to move at a good pace and keep the mood at the game table friendly.  

Mercado is a modified auction and bag building game where all players assume the role of wealthy buyers consumed with the desire to keep up with the joneses and outdo their neighbors in amassing opulent treasures. They blindly pull coins from their purses on each turn and complete to buy merchandise tiles that offer up some type of reward or benefit, be it reputation (i.e. victory) points, universal tender that can be used toward buying any tile later in the game, the disposal of penalty tender (the designer calls it counterfeit coin) that is forced on everyone at the start of the game and competes for space in your hand with each coin draw from your supply, or privilege tokens that allow you to move ahead spaces on the reputation track. When tiles are purchased, the player who was second in funds committed to the tile wins a special seal as a consolation prize that allows them to draw extra coins out of their purse on a future turn. Occasionally tiles feature penalties to be assessed against all players other than the winning bidder when they are purchased.

Mercado frequently deals out little doses of “And there it goes; I’ve lost it.” disappointment that come from watching an opponent swoop in and buy a tile you’ve been slowly trying to acquire. Of course that means it also deals out, in equal measure, bright bursts of “AHA! I GOT IT FIRST” joy for the winning bidder who grabbed those tiles first. Mercado is this: cycles of joy and disappointment against a general backdrop of gratitude to be spending time with friends; a lot like how our real lives play out. 

The artwork featured in the game is thematically appropriate but no one would recollect it as stunning. I had to go back and look at the tiles again just to remind myself what they looked like in prep for this review; that’s proof positive that the artwork didn’t make a big impression on me.  20181116_205759

Components include the double sided reputation track board, cardboard tokens representing seals and privilege, cardboard tiles and player boards, bags with pull-string gathers for each player to use as their purse, wooden discs in 6 different colors that are used as currency, and wooden player score tokens. All of the components are sturdy enough to hold up to frequent use.


The Reputation Track Board

The Reputation Track, Market Tiles, and Player Card


Win Condition: highest reputation at the end of the game

Inputs: seals, privilege, and tiles purchased

Strategy Tip: Pay close attention to the colors of coins likely to be drawn over the next few turns and plan your tile purchases accordingly; don’t begin to bid on a tile you are unlikely to pull the coins to win. Also, take every advantage of holding privilege until it can be played to your best advantage, targeting a specific space on the reputation track that will provide a bonus or penalize your opponents. 


Mercado is a great filler game and it’s kid-friendly, which is a bonus in our household. This would especially be a great game to give friends or family who enjoy board games but gravitate toward lighter gameplay.




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Publisher: Kosmos
Players: 2-4 (We played with 3 and 2)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 25 minutes per game
Game type: auction

Rating:

review-OUIOUI

Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Board Game Review: Spy Club


This year at GenCon, my husband Chris was in charge of scouting out potentially excellent games to play in the demo hall. He signed us up for a session of Spy Club and explained it to me like this: “Remember how awesome Encyclopedia Brown books were when we were kids?" This game is like that and you get to be the kid detective!” . It sounded intriguing so one afternoon we found ourselves sitting at a table in the demo hall with the designer of Spy Club, Randy Hoyt. He ran through the game rules with us and then we played a few games. We had signed up to play a full campaign (five individual games, chained together, unraveling a bit of storyline with each play) but I actually stopped the play halfway through because I was so enamored with the game that I wanted to avoid any potential spoilers and save the experience to be savored with our kids (daughter 13, and twin sons, 9). I came away from the demo with the game in hand, excited to play once we got home.

Cover ArtSpy Club is a cooperative set collection game that can be played in campaign mode as mentioned above or as a standalone game. Each game aims to solve a case, and each case is composed of 5 aspects – the crime, the motive, the suspect, the location, and the object the crime is centered on. Once all aspects of the case are solved, you’ve won the game, provided you finished before your ideas or clues ran out, the suspect escaped, or time ran out because you couldn’t draw a movement card for the suspect.

The artwork featured in Spy Club is cutesy and playful, featuring vivid colors and well defined illustrations that play on the kid detective theme. It’s definitely geared toward toward the under 16 set but still inviting to adults. And it absolutely evokes the Encyclopedia Brown aesthetic as my husband remarked (which is a good thing for those who appreciate nostalgia).

Components include oversized cards, a card tray, interlocking player boards, cardboard tokens for ideas (the game’s currency) and focus, wooden tokens for the suspect and escape marker, and a central board to track aspects of the crime and suspect movements. There are also a variety of special components designed to be used when playing in campaign mode. All of the components are sturdy enough to hold up to typical use, although I’d suggesting putting the cards in sleeves for frequent play.

Game play moves at a good pace in Spy Club and is not typically subject to analysis paralysis. On each player’s turn, they may choose up to three of the four standard actions (flipping the two-sided clue cards on their player board to see what is on the back, submitting a clue card to the central board, moving focus tokens around on their player board to gain new idea tokens, and drawing a new clue card from one of the incoming clue slots). Some of these actions must be paid for with idea tokens. Players may also complete any number of free “bonus” actions on their turn. The bonus actions all involve interacting with other players to complete tasks like trading cards, sharing idea tokens, etc., and do not cost idea tokens. All actions are simple enough for children to understand but provide enough strategy options to keep adults engaged.

Player board with 3 clues Incoming clue slots and idea tokens 

The various actions permitted in the game should be interplayed skillfully to achieve the team’s strategic goal of confirming crime aspects by repeatedly collecting five cards of one color to the central board. Each time the team has gathered five cards to the board, one aspect of the crime is solved (A symbol on the current suspect card identifies which aspect of the crime has been solved).

centralboard

After each player’s turn is complete, they refill their player board with clue cards, refill incoming clue slots from the clue deck, reveal the next suspect card, move the escape marker 1 space on the escape tracker (only if there is an escape icon on the revealed card), and then move the suspect token across player boards the number of spaces indicated on the suspect card. When the suspect token completes its movement in this way, whichever clue card it stops at will correspond in color to a penalty as indicated on the central board. This is a very clever pushback mechanism against the players to keep everyone on their toes.The penalty is assessed and then the next player begins their turn.

Win Condition: solve the case before the game ends in any number of defeat paths

Inputs: number of case aspects solved

Strategy Tip: Pay close attention to the potential penalties that may be assessed at the end of your turn based on the minimum-maximum moves the suspect could make. If possible, use actions (such as trading cards with other team members) to prevent penalties that could cost you the game.

When Spy Club is played in campaign mode, the campaign deck is also used, introducing unexpected twists, goals, and new rules that are slowly revealed over the course of five games. Because there are multiple paths through the campaign deck due to variations in which cards are unlocked each game, Spy Club offers a high level of unique replayability in campaign mode.

I really enjoy playing Spy Club, and I especially enjoy playing it with our kids. Cooperative games are always a good choice for families, especially families with elementary school kids who haven’t developed the frustration tolerance to deal with competitive games and the threat of losing to other players. That aspect of the game, combined with its pleasing artwork and easy-to-learn-&-fun-to-play nature, pushes Spy Club toward the top of my list for family games. And the cherry on top? Spy Club has introduced my kids to the concept of board game campaigns.

I cannot recommend Spy Club highly enough. Go and get this games and let it be one of the special ones under the tree this year.

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Publisher: Renegade Games (Developed by Foxtrot Games)
Players: 2-4 (We played with 3 and 4)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 30 minutes per game
Game type: cooperative, set collection

Rating:

review-OUIOUIOUI

Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Board Game Review: Cabaret


Know Chance Games is a publisher with just two games in their catalog as of this writing – an atrocious card game called Stealing Mona Lisa that I covered in my review here and Cabaret!, a trick taking card game that turns trick taking card games upside down with the twist that you may not follow suit.

20181117_225126Cabaret! is a lovely game. I thought I might do better at it then I do when playing other trick taking card games since it behaves contrary to what experienced trick takers are used to, but I still couldn’t pull off a win. There is something about the logical thought patterns required to succeed at these types of games that runs counter to my thought patterns. Still, I enjoyed the game play. It’s relaxing and a bit thinky all at once. My 13 year old daughter proved to be the best at the game over the course of our plays with her, her father, and I. She really enjoyed it also and picked up strategy quickly.

The artwork is well illustrated with a vintage feel and emphasizes the storyline and theme of the game wherein players are competing talent agents looking to book performers for upcoming shows. The cards represent performers and each suit represents a different type of performer. At the start of the game, each agent (i.e. player) selects a suit of performers (i.e. cards). Each round, all agents contribute a performer to the current show (i.e.trick). Each show must have unique performers (suits) to keep the audience’s interest and therefore you cannot lay down more than one type of performer per show (hence the cannot follow suit rule).

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The agent who provided the most valuable performer (i.e. the highest valued card) to the show wins the right to control the show (take the trick). For scoring the trick, the agent counts the star power of *his* performer (so, only his suit can score points for him in the trick). White stars give 1 point each, black stars (only present on the 2 highest numbered cards, the 11, and the 12) score a penalty point (-1) each. Finally, there are mime cards distributed to all players at the start of the game to be used when you have no other valid cards to play. The mime cards can be scored by the winning agent just as if they were one of his suits.

After three full hands are played, the agent with the most points wins the game.

The components for Cabaret! consist entirely of the playing cards, and should hold up to repeated use, although frequent players may wish to sleeve the cards.

Win Condition: have the highest point total after three hands are played

Inputs: [star value of each card in a player’s suit they were able to win in tricks aggregated over the number of tricks won] + [quantity of mime cards won in each trick x 2 (star value of mime cards) aggregated over the number of tricks won]

Strategy Tip: Sluff off your negative value cards to other agents and strive to win shows that contain high value cards of your suit (to give you max points) and high value cards of other suits (to deprive your opponents of max points). Easier said than done!

Cabaret! is a clever card game that plays well with both adults and teens. I especially appreciate the strong theming worked into the game, a difficult feat for trick taking card games. The prohibition against following suit will take experienced trick takers by surprise and perhaps throw them off their game, giving newer players a bit of an advantage (I suspect this was in part why my daughter was able to beat my husband who is a veteran at trick taking games). Cabaret! would make a lovely stocking stuffer, if you’re lucky enough to find a copy available for sale.

-------------------------------------------------

Publisher: Know Chance Games
Players: 2-6 (We played with 3)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 30 minutes
Game type: card game

Rating:

review-OUIOUI

Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Board Game Review: Stealing Mona Lisa

Note: This might be my most overdue review. A few GenCons ago, I crossed paths with the team from Know Chance Games and picked up a copy Stealing Mona Lisa. I brought it home and I’m embarrassed to write it but it got lost in the shuffle of a million new upheavals in my life – a divorce, a remarriage and instant stepmotherhood to three kids, and a cross country move. But this is my year of playing all the games. 800+ games in our library now and we are slowly making our way through all of them, old and new alike. We’re doing a quick brown fox challenge to play every game in our collection, letter by letter, going in the order of the famous pangram “A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”. In addition, we play games sent to us by publishers for review as soon as we are able – usually within a week of receiving them. Within this flurry of activity, I thought it best to finally address Stealing Mona Lisa.

20181118_205645Stealing Mona Lisa is a quick to play and easy to learn card game for three to seven players. The object of the game is to amass the most valuable collection of paintings through purchase and bluffing. Each round, all players are dealt 5 thievery skill cards (with numerical values printed on each) and they draft one and pass the rest of the cards to their right. The process repeats until all players have drafted 5 cards. The play begins with a number of art cards representing famous paintings laid out in the center of the table (one less card than the number of players). All players bid to “steal” one of the paintings using the thievery skill cards in their hand. I won’t get into every nuance of play (there’s a rule book for that) but there are a few interesting twists on bidding. Overall though, after playing a few games of Stealing Mona Lisa I have to admit the game is lacking…something. It’s not completely serene and calming as some games are (Mystery Rummy I’m looking at you). It’s not thinky and clever as some games are (Hello Red 7). It’s just sort of dull. The artwork is below average (other than the actual reproductions of the famous paintings which are lovely but hardly attributable to the game designers), the components are common quality cards, and the rule sheets could use a sharp editor to reorder some of the directions for clarity.

20181118_211357

20181118_222258

Win Condition: have the highest valued collection of artwork when the art cards have been exhausted

Inputs: value of each art card won, number of art cards won

Strategy Tip: If you don’t have the skill cards required to win any of the art cards on display, bid on the art card you think other players are least likely to bid on and use your lowest valued cards for the bid. If no one else bids on the same art card, you win it automatically and your bid cards are discarded.

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Publisher: Know Chance Games
Players: 3-7 (We played with 3)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 25 minutes
Game type: card game

Rating:

review-NON

Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Board Game Review: Mini DiverCity


This year at GenCon I had the pleasure of meeting the team from Sphere Games as they were providing demonstrations of Mini DiverCity. In this cooperative game, players assume the role of divers attempting to save the diverse ecosystem of a coral reef (DiverCity is a wordplay on diversity) as exploitative corporations attempt to destroy it through actions that either move animals toward extinction or construct hotels that destroy undeveloped island habitat. I came away from the booth with a review copy of the game and the intention to introduce it to my kids (daughter 13, and twin boys both 9).

The husband and I finally had the chance to sit down and play a few games of Mini DiverCity this week with the children. They all had fun with it and the boys are head over heels in love with it. “It’s superfun!”, Max and Locke said. They really loved the idea of saving animals and they liked that you have to turn your hand of cards facing outward so that other players can see them while you cannot.

On each player’s turn they must select one of the three core actions to perform:

  • Use their walkie-talkie to tell another player the cards in that player’s hand so that the player can take that into consideration on their turn. This action does not require a discard.
  • Move an animal closer toward survival. If a player chooses to move an animal closer to survival they must pick one of the cards from their hand (each of which has an animal represented on it) and discard it to move that specific animal. Unless someone has used the walkie-talkie action with them, they don’t know what’s on the cards in their hand they have to select from. 
  • Close down a corporate hotel. If a player chooses to close down a corporate hotel, they must discard a card from their hand and then choose a hotel to flip over to undeveloped island habitat.

One of my sons kept asking each player excitedly, “Are you sure you don’t want to spend your turn action to walkie-talkie me?” He wanted desperately to know what was in his hand and also for his cards to be so useful to the rest of the team that they felt compelled to tell him. I appreciated his enthusiasm and engagement.

The game also includes special diver cards that can be used by the active player to alter the ecosystem in the favor of the animals. Using a diver card does not count as an action, but they are limited in number and each card can only be used once during the game so you’ve got to strategically choose when the best time to use a diver card might be. As always in limited resource games, my husband was averse to using the diver cards until he felt we absolutely needed them to win and I was adamant we should use them as often as possible to keep the edge over the corporations. We compromised somewhere in between and used about half of them during the game. We played using a house rule (a variant on the team rule listed in the rule sheet for beginners) to lay down all the diver cards out on the table for the active player to choose from (vs the standard option where each player is dealt a diver card and only has access to that one). 

Players win by saving the number of species required by the difficulty level they are playing on (min 5, max 9). Corporations win if they kill the number of species required by the difficulty level (min 3, max 5), they build all 6 hotels, or if the species deck runs out. 

The instructions for play are presented in an easy-to-follow format in the included fold out rule sheet and didn’t leave us with any unanswered questions.

The artwork is pleasant.

The components are simple – finished cardstock and species tokens. They should stand up to regular use but frequent players may want to sleeve the cards.  

download_20181117_211111

Win Condition: save the requisite number of species

Inputs: species cards played, diver cards used, corporation cards played

Strategy Tip: Corporation cards that develop 2 hotels at once never develop the red+green, or purple+yellow, or blue+orange hotel combinations. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that one of these pairs are always safe on the undeveloped island habitat side to prevent a corporation card from developing the last 2 hotels in one turn.

We won the games we played and everyone felt good about it. The boys have already asked me when we can play again. Mini DiverCity is an engaging card game that focuses players on the importance of ecology and is small enough to take with you anywhere to keep the kids entertained on the go. It would make a great stocking stuffer for Christmas and has prompted me to also take a look at DiverCity (the full scale game Mini DiverCity is based on).

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Publisher: Sphere Games
Players: 1-7 (We played with 5)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 25 minutes
Game type: card game

Rating:

review-OUIOUI

Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Board Game Review: Robit Riddle


A few months ago, the good folks at Baba Geek Games sent me a review copy of their cooperative storytelling game Robit Riddle.

IMG_20180825_183836_118Our kids (we have a 13 year old daughter and two 9 year old twin boys) love the storytelling game Legacy of Dragonholt, so I had high hopes that they would similarly enjoy this game.

Robit Riddle offers three different storybooks in the base package, allowing players to immerse themselves in a colorfully illustrated fantasy world wherein they are robots searching for their missing pets (called robits) that have gone missing under suspicious circumstances. Players begin the game by choosing a robot character and taking turns telling the rest of the team about their character. We had a lot of fun with this aspect of the game, each of us employing special voices to distinguish our characters from other robots.

The story begins by opening the storybook to the first page. Players are presented with multiple paths forward in a choose-your-own-adventure manner at important story junctures and most paths will include a skills test that must be passed with a certain number of successes to continue along that path. Players should evaluate the strength of their character’s skills against those required for the different paths before making a decision on which way to go. Dice are used for attempting skill tests and the strength of a player’s skill equates to how many dice they are allowed to roll for the test. The possible outcomes of every die roll are success, miss, or gain a story token. Story tokens are accumulated and shared among all players and are used to improve the odds of passing a future skill test by adding an automatic success to the test for each story token used. To use a story token, a player must choose one of their story cues (story cues are handed out at the beginning of the game and also accumulated along the way) and use it as a prompt to explain, through storytelling, how they contributed to the success of the test. For example, if the skill test is one of physical strength, they might tell a story of how they used their robot arms to lift up a heavy item and found something important hidden underneath that allowed them to successfully complete the task. Our kids stumbled quite a bit with this aspect of the game. I realized that in all the other games we have played, including Legacy of Dragonholt, they have never been required to creatively tell their own stories. What other games bill as storytelling is really the game designer allowing you to shape the narrative by making choices that take the story in different directions. That is very different from players adding to the narrative through freeform storytelling as Robit Riddle allows for. We’ve played Robit Riddle as a family three or four times so far, and each time, the kids are a bit reluctant - holding back and clamming up - when it comes to using story cues to add successes. It feels very foreign to them in the context of a family game, even though they are quite creative outside of board game settings.

As the story unfolds, locations, adversaries, allies, and items are encountered in the game which present twists, conflicts, opportunities, and new story cues that can be used if story tokens are available.  

Because each story book offers several story paths and there are multiple story books, families should be able to squeeze out plenty of replays from the core game. And of course, since personal storytelling is an integral part of every game, each replay is guaranteed to be unique.

The instructions for play are presented in an easy-to-follow format in the included 8 page rule book and didn’t leave us with any unanswered questions.

The artwork is futuristic and cutesy all at once, and the illustrations on the location and other encounter cards are in full color. It would have been nice if the designers upgraded the black and white illustrations in the storybooks to full color prints as well but it’s a minor criticism.

The components include the paper storybooks, lightweight cardstock encounter cards and story cue cards, dice, and the most adorable little metal gears (used as story tokens) I have ever seen. All of the cards are a bit thin but should hold up over the life of the game if all players are careful with them. This is not a game I’d let children under 8 play with by themselves, for fear they might rip or otherwise deface the cards. 

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Win Condition: find the missing robits and preferably achieve the highest point total possible along the way

Inputs: strength of skills, number of story tokens used to add automatic successes

Strategy Tip: Each player is given a character that may be stronger in some skills than others; use basic math skills to determine which path offers the best chance of success based on the active player’s skills and the number of available story tokens that maybe be used to add automatic successes.

Even though my kids struggled a bit with the additive storytelling nature of this game, Robit Riddle is still a game I’d highly recommend buying if you have children and it should play well for kids 6 and up. It’s especially strong as a bridge between ordinary board games and traditional RPGs. Creativity is a mental muscle and flexing it through storytelling is an important exercise to keep the mind limber and adaptive. 

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Publisher: Baba Geek Games
Players: 1-6 (We played with 5)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 45 minutes
Game type: storytelling. role playing, dice rolling, cooperative

Rating:

review-OUIOUI

Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Board Game Review: Guild Ball

Strolling through the aisles at GenCon, my eyes were drawn in by an assembly of striking miniatures arranged in face offs on a demo table, with pools of beautiful dice and other color coordinated accessories nearby. I made my way over to the publisher’s booth to get more details on the game, which revealed itself to be Guild Ball. The good folks at Steamforged Games spent a lot of time going over the game play, explaining the ins and outs of movement, measurements, initiative, conditions, and more. It all seemed very complicated but I was sure a lot of that had to do with the background noise at the convention making it difficult to concentrate. While I don’t have any experience with minis-facing-off-on-measured-terrain games like Warhammer or similar,  I’ve played many heavy Euro board games and have no problem following the rules, so I reasoned that Guild Ball couldn’t be that difficult to master. The team provided me a generous review copy package including all components needed for a 2 player game, as well as extra dice, accessories, and a full color hardbound rulebook. They assured me that the game was a fine choice for beginners to the genre – just assemble the unpainted minis (paint if you’d like – optional), review the rules, setup the game, and you’re off and running an exciting game of Guild Ball! I admired the beautiful miniatures on the demo table one more time before I left the convention center. Would the game be as fun when playing with unpainted minis I’d assembled at home instead of the beautifully embellished pieces used at the demo table? I’m no artist; even watching YouTube videos of painstakingly detailed miniature painting sessions makes me tired and so I knew there was no way I was going to paint any of the pieces. Unpainted minis would just have to do.
A few weeks later I reached out to my local gaming community to gauge interest in the game and recruit an opponent to come over and play Guild Ball. We set a date and when the day arrived, my recruit, John, arrived and we sat down to review the rule book in prep for playing. John, who is well experienced with this style of battle on terrain game, thumbed through the rules and announced with a sigh that there was no way we could play Guild Ball that afternoon. “I am going to need time to really go through this book,” he said. “There are so many detailed rules with nuance and convolutions, there is no way I can figure this out right now in this moment.” As he was explaining this to me, I was opening the box of miniature figures and realizing that they had to be glued and not just snapped together. While John took his time reviewing the rules and watching some how-to videos on YouTube, I would need to procure some glue and get the figures assembled. We settled on a new date a couple weeks down the line to regroup and attempt to play again. So far so good.
Over the next two weeks I invested a lot of time trying to assemble the Guild Ball figures. I purchased a generalized glue that purported to be effective on metal. I carefully glued the pieces (still ended up getting plenty on my hands – working with tiny figures is hard) and as soon as the glue dried, the pieces came apart. Frustrated I tried again, using more glue, thinking I just hadn’t applied enough. Nope, same result. I went online and read glue reviews. Glue reviews! Did you even know there was such a thing? I purchased the glue most highly recommended for metal figures and when it arrived I read the directions three times to make sure I applied it correctly. I had to be much more careful not to get this glue on my hands so the work was slower going. The glue dried, and most of the pieces fell apart as soon as it did. Then I tried superglue. I managed to glue my shirt to my index finger but I still couldn’t glue the pieces effectively. Frustrated, I googled “Guild Ball figures are hard to glue” and found several hits from forums with gamers discussing the lengths they’ve needed to go to in order to glue the figures properly. The consensus for the metal figures seemed to be that sanding was necessary and perhaps soldering was the best bet. As soon as I read that I panicked. Sanding and soldering would take this from a simple game to an art project. I didn’t want to put that much time and effort into playing the game. What happened to this being a great game for beginners?
I called up John and told him our replay date was off and explained what happened. Then I put the word out in my gaming community that anyone who could give all the Guild Ball components I’d been gifted a good home could come and claim them. I made a miniature hobbyist very happy that afternoon as he was beyond excited to receive the full box of components in new condition. I’ve carried the guilt of letting down the publisher ever since. I was never able to play the game and give it the adequate review that I promised. The only comment I can leave, in fairness, is this:
Guild Ball is NOT a game for beginners to the genre. The miniature assembly is difficult and fiddly, even for advanced mini hobbyists and the rules are complicated.
And here’s an interesting update to the story – I was telling this story to a fellow reviewer this week who happens to have a moderate amount of experience with minis and they asked me if I’d remembered to wash the minis with soap and water before attempting to glue them. “Wash them?" Why?”, I asked. They explained that metal miniatures are coated with a release agent that helps them come out of their molds during manufacturing. The agent prevents anything from properly sticking to the minis, including glue or paint. I had to laugh. I had been thwarted by something so simple and somehow none of the articles I’d read on glue rankings included information on release agents. But given the numerous posts by experts on how hard Guild Ball pieces are to glue, I suspect I still would have experienced problems even if I’d known enough to wash them. I read this week that Steamforged Games is now shifting to plastic minis for Guild Ball and I can’t help but to assume that part of that is to address the difficulties in assembly (I’m sure the other part is to lower production costs).
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Publisher: Steamforged Games
Players: 1-4
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): Unknown
Game type: dice rolling, action point allowance
Rating: Withheld, as I was unable to complete a play of the game.




Thursday, November 15, 2018

Board Game Review: My Little Scythe


In the beginning of September I had the chance to play Scythe (another release from Stonemaier Games) with a group of friends for the first time and fell head over heels for it. My husband and I play board games together at least a few times a week and we also get together with our friends for regular game nights as well, so finding a challenging and engrossing game such as Scythe to add to our collection is wonderful. But we also have three children (a daughter 13, and twin boys, 9) and we love to play games with them too, so we were especially happy to discover that a father-daughter team (Hoby and Vienna Chou) had taken the mechanisms behind Scythe and translated them into a more kid-friendly version called My Little Scythe. I thought it would probably be a great fit for our family.

A few weeks ago a new box arrived to our home and inside was My Little Scythe. We gathered the boys around our gaming table one Saturday afternoon shortly thereafter and sat down to play (our daughter was at a Girl Scout event). The kids got excited as we laid out the components. The board is so colorful and the minis are super cute! Setup was a breeze (other than the kids fighting over who gets to be what color) and we passed around the rule book as we explained the rules to everyone. The instructions for play are presented in an easy-to-follow format and didn’t leave us with any unanswered questions.

Setup for our first family game

Game play in My Little Scythe is straightforward – players spend their time accomplishing tasks to earn trophies. There are eight different ways to earn a trophy and only one involves player vs player combat. Since you only need four trophies to win the game, it’s completely possible to avoid direct combat and still win. That makes My Little Scythe a great option for families wanting to introduce their kids to competitive games without bringing on emotional meltdowns. When kids are ready for a bit of combat, but still want to avoid attacking friends and family, the automountie can be introduced as a punching bag. This is an artificial opponent that will have a presence on the board like all other players and will perform actions on its turn according to a preset script presented on automountie cards drawn from the automountie deck. The automountie also allows the game to be played in cooperative mode – with all the humans on one team facing off against a team of automounties.  After completing our family game of My Little Scythe (which I won – woohoo!), I employed the automountie for it’s third use – as my opponent in a solo game. I played on “Normal” difficulty level and lost.  

Playing against the automountie in a solo game

Win Condition: Be the first player to place four trophies.

Inputs: pie fights won, quests completed, upgrades (power ups) completed, spell cards collected, friendship rating on the friendship track, pie level on the pie track, apple deliveries completed, magic gem deliveries completed

Strategy Tip: Play to your strengths. Each player is dealt a personality card at the beginning of the game that provides advantages toward earning specific trophies. Make sure to consider your personality when choosing which trophies to go after.  

My Little Scythe consistently held the boys’ interest throughout our game and the 13 year old would most assuredly enjoy playing it as well if she wasn’t so busy with school, sports, and music lessons that keep her from playing with us as much as she’d like. For adults who are fans of more complex games with deep analytical thinking demands (such as the original Scythe) playing My Little Scythe against children may feel a bit dull. But the automountie proves to be a consistently rational opponent holding advantages over other players and I’m guessing that playing against other adults would elevate the game play experience as well.

One thing I really like about My Little Scythe is that the designers have included achievement sheets for players to track different kids of victories over time. On it, you can mark down the name of the player who was first to win at every player count, or the first in each age bracket to finish the game with 4 trophies. It gives kids a chance to consider and remember their successes. I wish every game we owned came with a sheet for recording victories; it’s a great way to record the shared experience. 

This is a game I’d recommend buying if you have children or if you host other people’s children in your home from time to time. It makes a great game to leave out for children to play while you and your friends play more adult oriented games. And then, once you own it, you can take advantage of it being in your house and play in solo mode.

-------------------------------------------------

Publisher: Stonemaier
Players: 1-6 (We played with 4 and also in solo mode)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 60 minutes
Game type: area control, pick-up and deliver

Rating:

review-OUIOUI

Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Trip Pictorial: Butchart Gardens


A few years ago I had the pleasure of touring Butchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C. (Canada) during the autumn season. These are some of my favorite pictures taken on the trip.

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Board Game Review: Railroad Rivals


A few months ago at GenCon I had the pleasure of speaking with the team from Forbidden Games about their recent release of Railroad Rivals. After taking a cursory look at the game, I came away with a copy of it and a bit of excitement about getting on the table.

There are two different editions of Railroad Rivals available on the 20181019_215848Forbidden Games website – the standard edition (which is what I brought home) and the platinum edition. The latter features upgraded wooden tiles and components which are lovely to hold in hand, but even in the standard edition, the component quality overall is very high. I found some minor issues with my copy (a locomotive or two was not sized the same as the rest in the supply and one of the railroad stock counter tokens was missing) but the publisher took care of the problem quickly after I contacted customer service. The sturdiness and beauty of the components in the game is a reflection of the improvements in craftsmanship among board game manufacturers based in Asia.

The artwork featured in Railroad Rivals is clean and tailored and suits the theme well.

At a recent game night, I suggested we give Railroad Rivals a try and gathered together 4 other interested players. We opened the game and dug into the rule book. It’s easy to follow and features a detailed breakdown of each phase in a turn, which is very helpful. What would be even more helpful would be for the publisher to include player aid cards for each player listing the phases and key details so that we don’t have to keep passing around the rule book. This isn’t an omission exclusive to Forbidden Games; many publishers overlook this player friendly offering. 

We really enjoyed the game. The bidding of victory points for turn order mechanism employed in Railroad Rivals isn’t something I’ve encountered before and it was an interesting logical puzzle to consider. Should I be willing to give up victory points to go first? When is it worth it and when should you keep your place in line? I was last in line initially and could never stomach paying the high prices our bidding would raise so I remained last in line for all key actions the entire game. That definitely put me at a disadvantage and I lost the game. But so did 3 other players, all of whom paid the steep prices at least once to shift to first place. I’m looking forward to getting some guidance from my husband (PhD in statistics; he did not join in the initial game) on optimum strategy for the bidding phase.

20181019_215836Pictured: Player positions after a round of bidding first to last, from left to right.

After bidding for position, players take turns selecting (based on player position) railroad stock tiles to add to their portfolio and city tiles to add to their hand. Next, everyone takes turns (based again on player position) on laying down a new city tile, domino style, to expand the current rail network. Each tile laid down is secured to the existing network with the player’s railroad token and is stocked with the number of goods specified on the card (goods are pulled randomly out of a velvet grab bag). The last phase of the turn consists of delivering goods from one tile to another across a railroad link, rewarding the active player, the player who owns the railroad link used (as long as it isn’t the active player), and the stockholders of the railroad used.

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Win Condition: Most Victory Points

Inputs: # of times other players use your railroad links to deliver goods, # of times any player delivers good to a tile where your hotel is, type of goods you deliver (different goods are worth different point values), value of the stock you own x number of shares you own.

Strategy Tip: A winning stock portfolio is not necessarily a concentrated stock portfolio. In our game, the player with the most diversified portfolio won by a large margin. Having a little bit of every railroad company paid off - as the rest of us worked to drive up different railroad stocks for our own benefit, she benefited as well.

Railroad Rivals is subject to moderate analysis paralysis. The number of tiles to choose from during the drafting phase is equal to twice the number of players; there are typically several locations to connect tiles during the placement phase; and there are a handful of options for which goods to deliver during the delivery phase. All of these decision points can be a source of delay when an overly analytical player (like myself) is at the table. Know your opponents and their propensity to overanalyze, plan your time allotted for the game accordingly, and use any delays on their turns to plot out your play options.

I’m looking forward to playing Railroad Rivals again at different player counts and with different groups of gamers in my community. It’s going to take several games to hone a well-crafted strategy for turn order bidding, tile placement, and delivery choices; it’s a logic puzzle of sorts that will be fun to piece together.

-------------------------------------------------

Publisher: Forbidden Games
Players: 1-5 (We played with 5)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 90 minutes
Game type: card drafting, auction/bidding, pick-up and deliver, tile placement
Rating:

review-OUIOUI

Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

 











Thursday, November 8, 2018

Board Game Review: Fate of the Elder Gods: Beasts From Beyond


A few months ago, I shared my thoughts on Fate of the Elder Gods in a lengthy review. The team at Greater Than Games has released an expansion, Beasts From Beyond, and I picked up a copy at GenCon earlier this year. This expansion adds fifteen new spell cards (2 of which can be used with the base game even if you don’t use any of the other expansion components), four new Elder Gods that cults may serve, and eight monsters who enjoy tampering with the cultists that can be called by the new spells or through Elder God powers.

As with the base game, the artwork featured in the expansion is beyond extraordinary, given the retail price point. The monster minis are rich in detail. The only improvement possible would be for GtG to offer a release with pre-painted minis for those of us with no painting skills.

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The new figures are not only beautiful but also sturdy. They should endure game after game with little wear or tear.

20181107_223130Each new monster provides strategic advantages to the summoning cult such as constraining or hindering other cults, movement of one’s cultists around the main board, or destroying investigators on the board. I made use of the Hound of Tindalos twice to prevent one of my opponents who was well ahead of me on the summon track from edging closer to a win before I could catch up, so I’m going to have to grant it the honorary status of my favorite monster. Byakhee is another favorite. It allows the controlling cult to move cultists two at a time to another location, making it easier for the cult to gain control. It’s especially powerful when paired with the Elder God that offers the ability to roll dice based on the number of cultists in a location and use the results to advance on the summon track. We’ve played two games incorporating the monsters so far and I’ve still got plenty of experimenting to do with the rest of the monsters to learn the best ways to use them.

Beasts From Beyond is a great investment for fans of Fate of the Elder Gods. It offers a challenging new playing experience.





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Publisher: Greater Than Games

Players: 1-4 (We played with 2 and 3)

Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 90 minutes

Game type: area control, dice rolling, worker placement

Rating:

Jenni’s rating scale:

OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.

OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.

OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME. 

NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Board Game Review: All Manor of Evil


I received a preview copy of All Manor of Evil from Kolossal Games a couple of weeks ago just in time for the Kickstarter launch. FYI, Kickstarter campaign page is HERE.

If you’ve already backed the game, then the information I’m going to give you will help you to better understand the details of gameplay so you’ll be prepped to play. If All Manor of Evil (AMOE) isn’t on your radar yet or you’re still on the fence about backing the game, the information will help you decide if AMOE is a good fit for your game library.

While the artwork is still in development, everything printed in the preview copy is beautiful. Kolossal has high production standards and I’m certain the finished copy of AMOE will delight.

20181106_083841Let’s dig into the game play. As with many games set in the Lovecraft universe, in AMOE, we try to minimize the steps toward insanity our characters take as they go about their activities. Under the baseline rules, the player who accumulates the most madness is devoured and eliminated at the end of the game before scoring. Not pleasant! The game is played in successive rounds, during which all players simultaneously select an action using the actions cards, and carry it out. These actions include improving sanity, stealing relic cards from the draw deck, or interacting with the rooms of the manor and the relic cards assigned to those rooms. Additionally, all action cards mandate a secondary action of stealing a relic card from one of the rooms in the manor to add to one’s personal cache (which is evaluated at the end of the game). Relic cards have a value associated with them in dollars and many also have a cost associated in terms of increased madness and/or pushing one of the Gods a step closer to awakening. These Gods add a layer of variability and complexity to AMOE - a subset of the Gods are put in play at the beginning of the game, each one changing a rule should it be activated through awakening (some rules affect scoring, others affect end game rules such conditions for being devoured; Gods are awakened when they have accumulated enough awakening tokens). More complexity is provided through roles that are assigned to players.  These roles change the standard rules in ways that can usually be leveraged to gain an advantage over opponents. For a seemingly simple card game, All Manor of Evil has a great amount of depth and opportunities for strategic play. 

Win condition: varies depending on the Gods in play and if one is awakened (if more than one is awakened, everyone loses). Otherwise winning player is the one with the most valued collection of relics who hasn’t been eliminated due to madness when the second clock card is drawn from the deck.

Strategy tip – once you’re certain you’ve met the win conditions under a God in play, force it to be awakened as this ends the game immediately and triggers end game scoring. I tried to do this in my last game. Positive that I had the most valuable collection of relics, I awakened the God that prevents cultists from being devoured. Victory was to be mine. Only problem was my role was not a cultist but a reporter. Oops! My opponent who was playing as the cultist immediately won by default after I was devoured for having the most madness. Bummer.

After the first round of play, AMOE is not subject to much analysis paralysis (AP) as only three of the four action cards that come in the box are available for selection (you cannot repeat your previous action) and the relic cards showing in the manor and in your hand tend to suggest definitive strategies. I was able to progress through my turns quickly and I am the queen of AP. We finished each game in 30-35 minutes. Repeat games sustain interest as the variety of Gods and roles offer a different play experience each time.

IMG_20181102_164118_845The rulebook is still in draft as of this date, but the copy I reviewed explained the rules and game play well and did not leave me with any unanswered questions related to how to play the game. 

Components for All Manor of Evil include cards, madness tokens, awakening tokens, and a first player token. Note that the madness and awakening tokens visible in my photos are not the standard ones from the game; for my preview copy I used alternative tokens.

I’m in love with all things Cthulhu so even before I ever read any details on how AMOE is played, I was excited about getting it on the table. As I’ve said many times before, I am usually drawn into games initially based on themes. Come for the theme, stay for the game play. And the game play here did not disappoint. Kolossal Games has done a great job with this release and I’m happy to add All Manor of Evil to my collection. You’ve still got time to add it to your collection too, if you mosey on over to the Kickstarter page and back AMOE before the campaign ends later this month.

-------------------------------------------------

Publisher: Kolossal Games
Players: 1-6 (We played with 2 and I also played a solo game)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 30-35 minutes per game
Game type: card drafting, set collection
Rating:
review-OUIOUI
Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Board Game Review: Arcadia Quest


In our family, we are avid board game collectors (as well as players). Because so many games come into our home (over 800 and counting), sometimes games sit on the shelf for quite awhile before they are played. Arcadia Quest was one of those games. We’ve owned it since it was published in 2014, but it only recently made it to the table as part of our Quick Brown Fox challenge. For this challenge, we are working our way through our entire collection of games, one letter of the alphabet at a time, using the famous pangram “A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”.
Arcadia Quest is a goal oriented combat game. Kill your opponents’ heroes, kill the monsters on the board, and/or find hidden objects placed on the board (and sometimes deliver them elsewhere) to win the game.
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The components for Arcadia Quest are extremely well-made. They include finely detailed miniatures that are sturdy and long lasting.
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As an aside, can I take this opportunity to again beg publishers to offer a pre-painted miniatures option? I know it would raise the price of the game but it would be worth it and there are a lot of players like myself - with zero artistry skills – who would jump on the opportunity to own pre-painted minis.

There are numerous cards of varying sizes that should hold up well over time to normal use, but frequent players may want to sleeve them to extend their life expectancy. The double sided game tiles are heavy, thick cardboard, and didn’t show any signs of wear after 6 games. Here’s my sole component complaint: Arcadia Quest ships with dice but doesn’t include as many as needed once heroes are running under upgraded stats with additional attack or defense power. I can’t find anything in the rules that states the dice are limited so several times in our game we had to reroll existing dice to get the additional dice counts we needed such as when we were permitted to roll 7 or 8 defense dice but found only 6 had come in the box. I’d recommend the publisher include at least 10 dice of each type in future reprints.
The artwork incorporated into the game is really nice. The hero and monster cards are well illustrated and the cover art on the box has so much detail – it’s really quite extraordinary. The quest cards are a little dull and I would have liked to see as much attention given to their design as was clearly allocated for the rest of the components. 20180820_164730
Arcadia Quest comes packaged with a rulebook and a campaign guide. The rulebook is very clear – only once did we need to look up a rule online because we couldn’t figure out how to proceed after multiple passes through the rulebook.  As always, player reference cards or a reference page on the back of the rulebook would be a nice addition.
  We did note two rules that are in the rulebook yet are likely to be overlooked by first time players and we’d suggest CMON Games highlight these rules in future reprints. First, death curses do not have to take up a slot on a player’s hero inventory board unless they explicitly state so on their description. The first death curse we came across in the game states in its description that it does nothing other than take up an inventory slot. When we came across a card that had a more significant penalty (lowered max defense for example) we assumed it did that AND took up an inventory slot. It was a poor assumption that we corrected after a reread of the rulebook. The other rule we missed for at least the first 2 games is that extra defense die on equipment in a hero’s inventory applies even if equipment is exhausted or not used during the turn.    
Likewise, the campaign guide is engaging and well written. It is clear that a lot of thought went into the campaign structure and which games feed into others as the game progresses.

The game play is fun, challenging, and suspenseful. You’ll find yourself fending off monsters and other players, solving quests, and attacking other players to hinder their success. Thanks to endless permutations of scenarios, quests, monsters, guilds, heroes, and equipment, the game is never predictable. There are 11 different scenarios in the box to choose from (6 scenarios are required in a full campaign) and each scenario has multiple quests. There are 12 different heroes in the selection pool. Even if you manage to exhaust every possible combination of quests, scenarios, and heroes in the box, the publisher has released numerous expansions available for the base game that will keep your busy.
One thing I really love about the game play in Arcadia Quest is that it’s easy to switch strategy mid-game. I’ve played a lot of games that inherently impose penalties for strategy shifts so if you realize partway through a game you’re off track, there’s no recovery. AQ isn’t one of them. It offers a flexibility that lets less experienced players stay in the game as long as they’re willing to learn from their mistakes and correct course.
Win Condition: be the first player to complete required quests

Inputs: strategic positioning of your heroes on the board, battle strength of your heroes
Strategy Tip: Position your heroes so that you can step in to finish off any difficult monster tied into a player vs environment quest that another player has almost entirely decimated on their turn. It will be an easy kill for you and then you can steal the quest out from under the other player. Bonus – if the other player’s heroes have been weakened by their battle with the monster you can also annihilate one of their heroes to complete an additional quest.
My husband suggested that the heroes are quite unbalanced. Drafting heroes is always a personal experience for me.  I love magic so I chose Seth, sneaking past monsters seemed like a no brainer in terms of viable 20180924_223300strategies since I got clobbered so often in Descent so I chose Wisp, and the appeal of giving  wounds on defense rolls seemed brilliant to discourage player attacks against me so I chose Spike.
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Chris drafted his picks based on statistical outcomes improved by heroes stats and abilities and chose Diva, Zazu, and Scarlet.
I won five of the six games and the campaign overall. 20180924_223821
This win pattern is an anomaly for us; he typically wins more of the games we play no matter the game mechanism. So maybe he has a point. A quick search through the board game forums online turns up numerous posts by players discussing the advantages the heroes I drafted have over the rest of the selection pool. Also, any built-in advantage some heroes have over others at the beginning of a campaign is going to be compounded as a campaign continues as Arcadia Quest feeds success with rewards that improve chances of success in later games – title privileges, the ability to choose the next scenario, and equipment upgrades. Leveling events or house rules could be incorporated to prevent runaway leads given the unbalanced hero abilities and advantages. Here are some that I suggest (use one or more):
~Drafting modification where the heroes are separated into tiers and each player can only draft the same amount of heroes from a given tier as his opponents.
~Extra coins going into the upgrade phase for the player whose heroes killed the least amount of monsters (because the monsters are bribing you to turn to their side, promising a place for you after Arcadia falls).
~Loser of each game selects the next game in the campaign instead of the winner.
~Confiscation: when a hero kills another hero they may swap out any of that hero’s inventory with the hero’s who made the kill.

Just writing up this review has me itching to play more Arcadia Quest. We have several of the Arcadia Quest expansions including Inferno, Hell in a Box, Poison Dragon, and Beyond the Grave. I’m torn between immediately replaying this base game or diving into one of the expansions next. Whichever I choose, I’ll be playing against the kids (any of the games should play well for kids 9+) since my husband is a bit soured on the title after losing so many times to me. Smile 


-------------------------------------------------Publisher: CMON Games
Players: 1-4 (We played with 2)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 60-90 minutes per session in the campaign
Game type: dice rolling, grid movement
Rating:

Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME. 
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.