Monday, October 31, 2016

Board Game Review: Brew Crafters

I'm already familiar with Dice Hate Me Games as I own a few games in their catalog. I hadn't yet played Brew Crafters and when it was suggested for me at Gen Con this year I wasn't sure after reading the box summary it would be a game for me because I don't know anything about beer. I don't drink it, I don't buy it, and nothing about processing beer sounded fun to me. But I have a reputation as an objective and thorough reviewer so I wasn't going to let a little thing like total lack of interest stand in my way.

I'm so glad I made that decision because you guys, YOU GUYS, this game is pretty nifty. It's not really about beer per se, it's about business and entrepreneurship. And I love doing business. I mean, sure, if you know a lot about beer, there's a rich layer of context here that you'll appreciate the way adults sitting beside their kids watching the Simpsons get all the jokes the kids can't possibly understand.  And I'm happy for you. Me, I'm content to get lost in the theme of running the best business and earning the best reputation. How a player does that exactly takes us right into the mechanics of the game...

This is a worker placement game with your workers being your market action meeples and your shift employees at your brewery. All players start off with two market action meeples and one shift of employees. Each season (spring, summer, fall, winter) i.e. round of the game sees all players completing market and brewery actions using their workers. Both types of actions directly or indirectly lead to gaining reputation points. There are four seasons in a year and there are three years in a game. At the conclusion of the third year, the player with the most reputation points wins the game.


Market actions are competitive, meaning if your workers stake the claim to a particular action, no other player's workers can do so that season. Brewery actions are not competitive; they can be selected by any player even if another player has already selected the same action. As the game progresses players can amass more workers to place by hiring additional market action meeples (interns) and additional brewery shifts. The market actions allow a player to make strategic business decisions such as developing partnerships to allow for conversions of raw ingredients; buying beer recipe ingredients; hiring skilled employees, interns, or additional shift workers to provide efficiency gains in future market or brewery actions; and raising cash. The brewery actions allow a player to choose from operational tasks such as selecting and brewing a type of beer (raises cash and provides for reputation points), installing new equipment to increase brewery efficiency, or conducting research to obtain special benefits. There are three basic beers that are used in every game and a variety of advanced beers that may be selected for brewing included in the game components; a subset of the advanced beers are chosen for each game, providing many possible combinations and great replay ability. There are also special reputation awards given to the first player who brews each kind of advanced beer during a game.


Layout of Beer Crafters

In most worker placement games, when you place your workers, you pay an opportunity cost to complete the transaction you've selected them to do. Brew Crafters turns this sequence on its head by requiring players to pay operational costs as the consequence of selected market actions (such as hiring skilled employees) and brewery actions (such as owning additional equipment) at the end of each winter season instead of when you take the actions. I like this clever twist because it give you the ability to take an action now and come up with the cash to pay for it one or two rounds later. If you don't have the money when it's time to pay, you have to take out business loans which cost you reputation points at the end of the game.

The components for Brew Crafters are legion (extra bonus points to the publisher for including a large quantity of small bags to store everything neatly). For example, there's market and brewery action boards, the season board, player brewery and research boards, the ingredient cubes, the workers (meeples and shifts), the skilled employee cards, the recipe cards, the reputation tokens, the money, the equipment cards. And let's not forget the 24 sets of adorable little six packs of beer tokens. All of these pieces are sturdy cardboard cutouts, glossy paper cards, or wooden objects and while they should hold up well to long term use, you wouldn't want to leave them alone with your small child or undisciplined puppy. Overall I found the artwork and components to carry the theme well.

I am very happy to add this game to my collection and I'll definitely bring it out on game night to introduce it to others as well. Enjoying this game as much as I did also means I'm going to put Viticulture on my play and review consideration list because I have been putting off playing that game for much of the same reasons (I don't drink wine).







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Publisher: Dice Hate Me Games
Players: 2-5 (We played with 2)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About an hour and a half
Game type: 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.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Board Game Review: Islebound


Ryan Laukat has been designing board games since he was a teenager. He's the principal artist at Red Raven Games and his artwork is phenomenal. I had a chance to chat with Ryan at Gen Con 2016 and pick up a copy of his latest game - Islebound.

Even the box is gorgeous!

In Islebound, up to four players compete for renown (i.e. victory points) obtained through taking over ports through diplomacy or warfare, constructing or buying buildings, amassing cash, and completing in-game actions such as visiting ports or completing events. Our storyline is that each player is a seafaring captain, managing a crew aboard their ship and interacting with various port communities. It's a lovely theme.

The mechanics of the game are fairly straightforward and make sense within the constraints of Islebound's plotlines. They're well detailed in the accompanying rulebook and player summary cards are provided for easy reference during game play. I've played the game on two different evenings with two different sets of opponents and none of us had any trouble understanding the finer points of the rules nor were we left with any lingering questions.

In this area control game, in each round every player, one at a time, gets to choose from four standard actions (some of which grant the ability to immediately complete a second standard action) and then additionally may complete one or more of the "free" bonus actions. As soon as one player has constructed or bought their eighth building, the round is completed and the game ends. The player with the most renown at that point wins the game. Very simple rules, but the game does have some complexity in the details of the actions that may be performed and the ways in which they can be combined to generate renown.

Pictured here is the standard setup. Every player has a ship board where they keep their three starting crew members on deck, plus any additional crew they hire throughout the game. Players may use their crew members to do specific tasks and when they do so, they "exhaust" the crew member and put them below deck (directly below the active crew members) to rest. The shipboard also holds cargo - up to 10 fishes and/or wood planks. Additionally, I've got my cash resting on my ship board and all players have a speed track on the upper right of their ship board to record how fast their ship moves i.e. how many spaces they can move their ship across the sea board. Also shown in the picture is the main, shared board which holds the labor market of crew members that can be hired; the treasury chest where port tariffs to unowned ports are paid and treasure hunting is done (one of the standard actions during a round); the influence track where members place cubes to claim influence when instructed or remove cubes to use influence to take over a port community through diplomacy; the renown track (each time a player moves past the 6th space they claim a renown token worth 7 and also get the spoils listed on the token); the event deck that dictates the current events enabled that players may elect to complete if they're at the associated port; and the reputation deck that offers up rewards to be claimed if the minimum qualifications are met. The market of available buildings to construct or buy; the supplies of wood, fish, coins, and books to be used as directed; and the sea board itself which depicts the various port communities, their cost to attack or takeover through diplomacy, and their benefits offered to those who visit are also visible in the picture above.



 
Here's a closer shot of the beautiful sea board. Again, the artwork is just fantastic. The sea board is made up of several pieces and this allows for easier storage in the box as well as the option to flip over the pieces and change up the port communities and their benefits.






































Likewise, here's a better view of my ship board, my buildings, the building market, the supply of Serpent and Pirate cards (used when conquering ports through war), and the main board, from the first game of Islebound I played (Note:The Medusa dice tray - used to roll the Islebound dice in to determine if warfare is successful when attacking a port - is one of my pet projects and not part of the game components).

Look at the creative details on the crew members!

 Another nice touch Ryan has provided in Islebound is that all of the crew members have the backside of their card printed with expansion characters for one of Red Raven's other games called Above and Below. So when you purchase Islebound you are also gaining an expansion for that other game.

Everyone I've played Islebound with has had such a good time with the game. And in both games, the competition was close all way up through the very last round. This isn't a game that lends itself to a runaway leader.

One final comment on how beautiful this game is - during the last play through we were seated in a crowded public shopping center and many many people stopped by to comment on the visual appeal of the game and to ask questions about Islebound. I was delighted to recommend it to everyone who asked.

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Publisher: Red Raven Games
Players: 2-4 (We played with 3 each time)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 2 hours
Game type: Area Control 
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.

Board Game Review: Cosmic Pioneers




After chatting with the Vesuvius Media team at Gen Con 2016, Christopher and I selected Cosmic Pioneers as our first foray into this publisher’s game catalog. The artwork on the box is cute and cartoonish and it made me feel good about opening up the game to get a closer look at its components. 


The game pieces are a mix of cardboard cutouts (player boards, round track, planets), cards (for scenarios and alien events), and sturdy wooden objects (cubes – for place markers and to represent colonists; and figures – to represent aliens). These components are visually appealing and they tie into the game’s theme very well.






The plotlines and game objectives for Cosmic Pioneers are simple and entertaining: all players are in a race to colonize the selected planets of the Tau Ceti system, accumulating victory points (by settling and controlling planets as well as hoarding cash reserves) along the way. Hostile alien species as well as our fellow players seek to thwart our goal. At the end of 12 rounds, the player with the most victory points wins the game. The game offers variability in the plot through an abundance of planets and aliens to select from in setting up each game as guided by the scenario cards, so there is a lot of replay ability built in.



So far so good – quirky playful artwork, well themed components, and engaging plotline. That’s why I was so sad to find that as soon as we got into the mechanics of the game, things started to fall apart.

Getting an adequate handle on game mechanics is usually achieved through reading a game’s rulebook and then referring to reminder/summary cards kept handy during play. Not possible with Cosmic Pioneers.  There are no summary cards available and the rulebook is sparse therefore confusing in its lack of information. Here are just a few examples of unanswered questions we had during our play through:

  • When landing at the Jumpgate (think of this as a home base of sorts), a player may dispose of unwanted cargo from their ship’s cargo hold (be it aliens, opponent’s colonists, player’s colonists, or goods). Does the disposed cargo go onto the Jumpgate tile or back into reserves?
  • When landing at the Jumpgate, players may also load as many colonists onto their ship as they can fit into their available cargo slots. Are these colonists limited to the subset of what was dumped off on the Jumpgate before? Or do we pull from reserves so that even if none of our colonists were ever dropped off at the Jumpgate before we can still fill our cargo hold?

  • At the beginning of the game all players begin on the Jumpgate. Does this mean each player begins the game with colonists in their cargo?

  • The rules say when in the Adventure phase of the game, upon landing on a planet, if a player rolls a dice combo that allows for it they may place colonists from their reserves on the planet. This would imply they don’t need to come from the player’s ship cargo hold. In fact another separate phase of each round is the Deployment Phase within which players may unload/load ship cargo (which includes life forms) so it seems likely that taking colonists from the reserve pool (vs the cargo hold) is for initial planet settlement while taking colonists from the cargo hold is for moving colonists from one planet to another.  But if this were true and planet settlement through the Adventure phase comes from the reserves, then why did they build in the step to load colonists onto our ships whenever we land on the Jumpgate?

  • The rulebook has no mention of players beginning the game with any cash yet the example picture on page four of the book shows each player starting with 300 in cash. It cannot be a result of the scenario card selected because the scenario card featured in the picture clearly says players begin this particular scenario with 500 in cash. So do players start the game with cash and if so how much?

  • During the Adventure phase, certain die rolls require a player to remove X number of colonists from a planet. For at least one of the planets, X is greater than the number of slots total on the planet making the action nonsensical. Are we missing something or did the designer not think this through? Here’s an example:



Notice that for a dice roll of 2 or 3, the player is supposed to remove five of their colonists from the planet. Five! On a planet that can only hold 3 lifeforms total (one slot is currently taken by an alien).








Already frustrated with these unanswered questions and die roll result nonsensical instructions, Christopher did a 1-800-NOPE out of this game halfway through when he found my character card to be too unfairly tilted in my favor. I had selected Captain Fraser, whose special ability is that she can kill off other player’s colonists and aliens taking up slots on a planet if the planet is full. Normally a player can only place their colonists on empty spots on a planet and so for a fully settled planet they’d need to attempt to bomb lifeforms off the planet first which involves dice rolling and luck). He grew pretty irritated watching me visit every planet he had fully colonized and removing his colonists and replacing them with my own. 

I’m disappointed that Cosmic Pioneers is rather unplayable in its current configuration. The good news is that the game has some great foundations (nice artwork, good plot) and could probably be rendered playable pretty easily with some thoughtful editing of the game mechanics and rulebook by the designer. If that should happen in a future edition, I’d definitely be willing to take another shot at playing the game.     
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Publisher: Vesuvius Media


Players: 2-4 (We played with 2)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 30 minutes
Game type: Area Control
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.






Friday, October 21, 2016

Board Game Review: Legends of Andor


The man was very excited to bring home Legends of Andor for us to play. So excited in fact that he went ahead and purchased the Star Shield expansion before we’d even had a chance to play the base game. The plotlines for Andor go something like this: the security of your kingdom relies on you cooperatively completing quests as you move throughout the land (i.e. around the board) and encounter creatures hell bent on invading the castle. You’ll never be able to stop all of the creatures from invading the castle but you must keep your eye on how many you allow through, because any more than the maximum permitted and you lose the game immediately. Fending off the creatures involves rolling dice to score higher than they do to defeat them (you also roll dice on behalf of the creatures). I’m all about kings and queens and defending noble castles so as we unpacked the game I held high hopes for the potential levels of joy Andor would bring me.

The artwork for this game is well drawn and quite beautiful. The board is expansive with a soft palette of colors that pulls you into the storyline. There are a lot of game pieces of varying types and sizes that come with this game - mostly cardboard figures to be slotted into plastic holders for standing upright on the game board. While the pieces are also well drawn, they are of average construction so you’ll need to keep them away from toddlers and pets who could easily rip or destroy the components.



The game designers provide a quick start guide they instruct you to follow for the first game in order to learn the mechanics of play. They make it a point to ask you NOT to read the full manual until you’ve played through the first game using the quick start guide. That made for quick setup and getting into the game without having to pour through a half hour of instructions to understand every nuance. Even after completing the first scenario (which are referred to as legends) and getting into the meatier rules book, I found the game mechanics easy to grasp and follow. A heavy euro game this is not; play flows pretty smoothly.


While the game is easy to understand and has great theming, as we played through the game, tackling the starting legend and then the first and second standard legends, the low points of its mechanics design caught my attention. It’s a cooperative game, which in and of itself is not a negative (although I strongly prefer cooperative games layered with a bonus structure or otherwise competitive rewarding subsystem for the individual players) but it doesn’t have the necessary safeguards in place to discourage stronger willed teammates from pushing their fellow players to do their bidding and effectively using them to play solitaire. It was a constant struggle with the man as he pushed for me to HERE or HERE or fight this creature with him instead of doing the things I wanted to prioritize. Give me a game where we can divide and conquer and I fight a monster and you fight a monster, over a game where we both have to fight the same monster together to win. Please.
My other design criticism of the game is admittedly a petty one but nonetheless it targets a visual element that really grates on my nerves. In Andor, you have seven hours as a player to complete tasks before the day begins again. You start on the sunrise space, i.e. 0, and each time you take an action you advance to the next hour’s space. When you hit the 7th hour space, it represents the end of the day and you are finished. Which means you go back to the sunrise box (normally; there are exceptions that let you go into overtime for an 8th hour or beyond). Below is a picture of the time track.

You can see that there is a little arrow at the end of the 7th hour space that curves back around to the sunrise space. In practice what this means is that you move your token to the 7th hour space after taking your 7th action and it is immediately the end of your day, so you move your token back to the sunrise space. Which makes the 7th hour space pointless. Since reaching the 7th hour ends your day, it would make much more sense to have the arrow curve back to the sunrise box from the 6th hour.
I will continue to play this game as well as the expansion in order to work through all of the quests and hopefully as the man and I move through the game we can master cooperation in addition to the game.
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Publisher: Kosmos

Players: 2-4 (We played with 2)

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

Game type: Area Movement, Cooperative

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.