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.
The components for Arcadia Quest are extremely well-made. They include finely detailed miniatures that are sturdy and long lasting.
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.
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

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

Monday, October 22, 2018

Trip Report: Moscow

A handful of years ago (before the good relations our country with Russia began to dissolve) a fortunate wave of discounted fares to Russian destinations from Washington D.C. caught my attention. Straightaway, I booked three weekend trips to this country of which I knew very little other than it was previously a member of the USSR, an entity once considered our greatest national enemy.

The first trip was a sightseeing getaway in Moscow, scheduled to begin on my birthday in March and my friend Penny agreed to join me on the adventure. It will be lovely to see Moscow in the spring, I thought, and that will give me enough time to line up the visas required. Luckily, as I lived in the D.C. area at the time I was able to complete the rather tedious process of applying for and picking up my Russian visa at their embassy. It's definitely the most extensive visa application process I have done to date. They wanted to know every country I'd visited in the past 10 years (that's 42 for me) including dates and cities and other details that I'm not always so good at remembering. They wanted a full job history and residential history dating back a number of years as well. I had to include a letter from my hotel confirming I had reservations and I had to provide justification for my trip in the cover letter for my visa application. Lots of hoops to jump through!

As I worked to obtain my visa, I planned out every detail of the weekend jaunt. We decided to focus on seeing the most well known cultural sites during our small window of time in the city: the Kremlin, Red Square, and St. Basil's Cathedral.

What I remember most about that first trip to Russia was how cold it was. So much for spring. It was very VERY cold. And also very foggy. During any commercial flight, a large portion of the time is spent above the clouds and when you gaze out the window that's all you see beneath you - endless white clouds. And then you break through them as you descend for landing, a full view of the land coming into view. As our red-eye flight started to descend into the Moscow area, the motion woke me from my slumber and I opened the window shade and looked outside. Nothing but fluffy white clouds. As we continued to descend the clouds persisted. I waited for that moment we'd clear them and I could take in the Russian landscape. I readied my camera. It never happened. The plane touched down and my body tensed uncontrollably because I wasn't expecting it - the outside world was still an endless white and I hadn't realized we'd approached ground level. There was so much humidity that visibility was impossible from inside the plane. I've never seen anything like it before or since.

Moscow under heavy winter fog (photo credit Dmitry Chistoprudov)

After we got our bags and left the airport, we walked the short distance to the subway station and entered through the heavy heavy doors. You've never walked through doors so heavy. Important travel tip learned the hard way as an American in Moscow: the doors will not be held open for you. The person in front of you will drop their hands away from the doors as soon as they clear them and if you're not prepared you're going to get hit in the face. Hit in the face by the heaviest doors you've ever walked through.

Once inside the subway that cold Saturday morning, I looked around for the subway platform signs, prepared to check them against my guidebook which indicated which subway train I needed to get on. Panic set it as soon as I found the signs and realized they were in Cyrillic instead of English. This shouldn't have been an ignorant American moment; it should have occurred to me before I made the trip that the signs would not be in English but my guidebook listed the subway train stops and the map in English and the presence of them in the guidebook in my language confused me and altered my expectations of how the signs would actually look. We tried to ask a few different passengers which train we needed (based on our hotel destination) and it took us quite awhile to find even one person who spoke English and was willing to help us. That was also a surprise for me. In all of the countries I had visited prior, many if not most of the residents spoke English as well as their native tongue. Not so much in Moscow. Eventually we got on the right train and headed to the neighborhood of our hotel and checked in.

With only two days available before our return flight home, we set out to explore the city as soon as possible. As we walked along the quiet streets I began to teach myself the Cyrillic alphabet, thanks to the presence of American retail chains that have set up shop in Moscow. If you know the American spellings you can compare the Cyrillic and begin to translate. Take, for example, Starbucks:

Anyone familiar with the iconic coffee chain would recognize the logo.  Now to work out the letter translation, it appears English S is Cyrillic C, T and A are the same, R is P in Cyrillic, B is close enough to looking like a B that we will let it slide, but what's this ..the U is an A again (if A is A and U is A how can you tell which is which???), the English C or K is a K in Cyrillic and there is our S again wearing a Cyrillic C costume. Have we got it so far? And that spells ...uh....
S T A R B U/A C/K S.
Then we have another English C (or K?) represented with a Cyrillic K, the O is the same, and the double Fs have been replaced with a new unknown to English letter, and the E is the same. And that spells Coffee. Hmmm. I'm sure I got some of that wrong, but after seeing enough signs you can start to work out a bit of the translations.

We spent the entirety of that first day exploring the Kremlin, which was the seat of the Russian Tsar. Those were the days before murderous quasi-dictators or communist revolutionaries ran the country; when Russia was the land of princes and princesses, royal balls, and Faberge eggs. The buildings and grounds are spectacular and the most beautiful area of the city (most of the rest of the city's landscape is composed of uninviting, overly-masculine, grey, concrete structures erected during the communist era). The beauty of Russia before the revolution was on full display throughout the Kremlin's museums.  We toured the armory, which holds many of Catherine the Great's possessions.  Her royal carriages stand out in my memory. They look as if they were pulled directly out of a fairytale. I felt like a princess just walking among them and her other things.
Catherine's Coronation Carriage (Image courtesy the Kremlin)
After our leisurely exploration of the Armory (where pictures were limited unless you forked over a pretty penny ruble), we moved onto the series of Kremlin cathedrals.

Dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries, all of the cathedrals and churches on the grounds of the Kremlin are adorned with gold and stunning artwork. The bodies of several Tsars are entombed within them and they were the setting of many royal weddings and funerals. These beautiful houses of worship dedicated to saints and angels stand in stark contrast with the image of Russia as a godless people that the American government tried to sell Americans in the 1980s.

After an exciting but tiring afternoon downtown, Penny and I sought out some Eastern European cuisine for dinner. Our hotel staff directed us to a cozy, upscale restaurant a few neighborhoods away and called us a cab. The food was fantastic. I had a steamy bowl of carrot ginger soup with carrot cake croutons and Penny chose a warm seafood salad. We left the restaurant sleepy and full.

GUM Building
The next day we ventured out to Red Square and St. Basil's Cathedral. Nearby the square sits the historic GUM building. Catherine the second had an Italian architect build it for her in the early 19th century. It housed thousands of stores and served as a major market. When the communists took over, they nationalized the market and turned all the shops into state stores, which did very poorly. Eventually they converted the structure to an office building and it remained so for many years until democracy came to Russia and capitalism saw fit to turn the GUM building back into a shopping center. It's now a luxury shopping mall.

State Museum
The State Museum also sits on the square and houses a vast collection of items spanning the whole of Russia history.

St Basil's Cathedral

St. Basil's Cathedral is, from the outside, the prettiest church I have ever seen. It's colorful and whimsical and breathtaking in person. 

So damn adorable I want to cry...LOOK at those teensy tiny dolls!!!

We spent the last hours of daylight on our final day window shopping. It was during this time that I fell in love with Russian dolls. Faberge eggs are lovely and all but Russian dolls are where it's at. Well beyond my budget at the time of the trip, I keep promising myself that one day I'll purchase an authentic set just for my own delight. 

Besides the dolls, I also fell for a host of culinary delights I was first introduced to on this trip - currant jam on black bread with tea, Chicken Kiev, mashed potatoes with mushroom cream gravy, black currant juice, and cherry strudel. Yum! 

It wouldn't be fitting to close this trip report without thanking the front desk overnight staff at the Mecure Arbat hotel. In the wee hours of the morning while Penny and I were packing our suitcases for the return trip, I tried on the pair of stylish knockoff Faberge egg earrings I'd purchased in a souvenir stall and realized I couldn't get them off once I'd closed the clasps on the back of them. They'd wedged themselves shut seemingly permanently. After 40 minutes of trying, with tears streaming down my face, I approached the front desk and asked the staff for help. They called the maintenance man who showed up 20 minutes later and used a pair of industrial pliers to force the clasps open while I was bent over the front desk with my hair back and ears pulled forward. I still have the earrings, although I'm terrified to ever put them on again. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Board Game Preview: Kill Merlin! (the New Kickstarter Release from Schuman Family Games)

About a month ago, I spotted an attractive board game in my Instagram feed and followed the breadcrumb trail back to the publisher and designer to learn more about it. The more I read about Kill Merlin!, the more I was sure my kids would enjoy it and it looked fun for adults as well. A few days later a review copy showed up on my doorstep and after unboxing it for my IG audience I set it up on our family gaming table and called the kids (Helenipa 13, and our twin boys Max and Locke who are 9) over to take a look. They were quite impressed with the artwork (as was I; this is a well-illustrated game with beautiful colors). There were some ooohs and ahhhs immediately followed by demands to PLAY RIGHT NOW PLEASE.

Everyone wanted in on the first game so one of our sons partnered with my husband, allowing us to all play within the constraints of the 4-player maximum. Right away my husband relocated the wizard tokens from the side of the board where I’d set them up (following the instructions in the rulebook) to its center, arranging them in a cute little circle. The board was made perfectly for this.

Let’s talk about those tokens. Each player is given five at the start of the game. The design team at Schuman Family Games has come up with this clever system wherein the state of the wizard tokens is represented by the presence of their hats. If the hat is on the wizard, the token is charged. If the hat is off, the token is spent (note: the wizard tokens with removable hats are a stretch goal for the game; the base game comes standard with small chits that represent the charged token on one side and the spent token on the other. I really adore the wizards and their little hats so I’m going to need all of you to back this game to ensure the stretch goal is reached). Charged tokens allow the player controlling the token to cast the spell where the wizard token is stationed. The spells, in turn, allow the player to gain advantages over the other players by either improving the casting player’s position in the game or diminishing the position of one or more opponents. It’s very much a “take that” game. Players station their wizard tokens on a spell by paying the cost to “learn” the spell and turning in the two required ingredients (or one of the ingredients and the wild card Mimic).

The ability to place wizard tokens and cast spells begins with a draw from the treasury and the purchasing of ingredients. There are special rules governing the placement of wizard tokens on the board and the purchasing of ingredients and the rulebook covers them in an easy to understand format.

The ultimate objective across all the rounds is to position your wizard tokens on the board in a pattern matching the one dealt to you on your Secret Formula card at the start of the game. Once you match the pattern, you’ve learned the formula required to destroy Merlin and victory is yours; your last act is to shout out that you’ve killed him (my kids especially loved that part and shouted with great exuberance when they did him in).

The patterns on the Secret Formula cards always consist of a token in each of the four quadrants, and the total distance as measured by orthogonal spaces away from the center of the board for the four tokens combined is always 12.

Win Condition: Place wizard tokens on all of the spells indicated on your Secret Formula card before the other players can do the same for their SF cards.

Inputs: $$ value accumulated, ingredients amassed, token positioning shifts resulting from casting spells.

Strategy tip:  Because the win condition is always represented by a pattern 12 steps away from the center of the board, you can keep a running tally of the score by comparing the step count of each players pattern. Focus your destructive spell casting each turn against the players with the highest step count.

In addition to combating fellow players on your quest to get wizard tokens in position, you must also fend off Merlin directly who is trying to destroy all the wizards before they can take him out with their secret formulas. Each round, Merlin gets a turn to incite discord as cards are revealed from the Merlin deck that interrupt the balance of the game in quick and often dramatically punishing ways. This outside party attempting to jack everyone up whenever he can (and in such random fashion) helps to balance out the resentment traditionally elicited by take that games. It feels a little less frustrating to have an opponent take all your money when you know they might be Merlin’s next victim and lose it all themselves the next turn. It reinforces the theme that Merlin is the bigger enemy, and nothing should be taken personally as we step on each other trying to get to him first.   

My son Max won the first game. My son Locke challenged him almost immediately to a rematch and we scheduled it for a few days later. This time just the two boys and I played, and Locke won. Let me tell you, it takes a strong ego as an adult to lose to not just one, but two 9-year olds in one week.
Kill Merlin! plays well under both three and four player games (we haven’t played with any other player counts yet). The game play moves quickly and is not subject to analysis paralysis. It’s enjoyable for adults as a lightweight game, but I’d especially recommend this game for kids and teens. Replay variability is possible through the random distribution of cards in the Merlin and ingredient decks as well as the placement of spells in each quadrant. Having said that, I’d really like to see additional spell cards provided for the game (perhaps in an expansion?) to significantly increase variability over a series of replays and keep things continually interesting.

There are only 2 days left in the Kill Merlin! Kickstarter and as the publisher is small and independent, no guarantees of a reprint down the road can be made. To ensure a copy will be coming your way, you’ll want to make sure you get your name on the backer’s list while you still can.

Publisher: Schuman Family Games
Players: 2-4 (We played with 3 and 4)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 60-90 minutes
Game type: set collection, take that

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

Monday, October 15, 2018

Spirit Island Jagged Earth Preview: A First Look at the New Kickstarter Expansion from Greater Than Games

Exciting news this week! The Spirit Island Jagged Earth expansion launches on Kickstarter October 16th, 2018. I had the chance to preview and play this upcoming release from Greater Than Games multiple times this week, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Update: the Kickstarter is live here.

Our Spirit Island collection keeps growing. First there was the base game, which debuted in 2017 and turned the traditional narrative of the conquering colonists on its head, allowing players to take on the role of island spirits determined to keep the colonists at bay through any means necessary to preserve the serenity of the island. My husband and I picked up the game at retail (having missed the Kickstarter window) and fell in love with it immediately, enthused to work together as powerful spirits and put the invaders down. Next, we added the Branch and Claw expansion. This expansion (also part of the original Kickstarter) expanded the board, added new spirits and powers, new blight cards, new fear cards, new scenarios, and a new adversary. It also introduced events and new mechanisms for defending the island against the invaders in the form of tokens (beasts, wilds, disease, strife). Fantastic! After that we were lucky enough to snag one of the rare retail copies of the Spirit Island Promo Pack that added two new powerful spirits which have proven exciting to play. Spreading fire across the island to torch the invaders as the Heart of The Wildfire spirit is very cathartic.
And now, we have had the pleasure of previewing the newest expansion, Jagged Earth.
The full Jagged Earth expansion includes 8 new spirits, aspect cards that change the innate powers of the four base game core spirits, over 50 new power cards, more than 30 new event cards, 2 new adversaries, new scenarios, new event cards, new fear cards, new blight cards, new boards (which allow for both 6-player game play and variability in the layout of the board for smaller player counts), reprinted high quality tokens to replace or add to the sets provided in previous releases, a new type of dangerous token (badlands) to ward off invaders, and new gameplay variants to spice things up (combining adversaries, playing with an Archipelago,  or playing with larger islands). Quite an extensive list, eh? Priced appropriately, this expansion should move quickly for the publisher on both Kickstarter and (eventually) retail channels.
Typically, in my reviews, I discuss the artwork for a board game release because when done well, it’s something that often draws me further into the game. Greater Than Games has a solid reputation for high quality artwork -  on the box cover, the rule book, and across all the game components. I’ve no doubt Jagged Earth will meet or exceed the aesthetic standards Spirit Island and the other expansions have set but I’m unable to comment on them in this first look preview as the advanced review copy I received from GTG to complete my review did not include finalized artwork. Likewise, the components included in the advanced review copy are prototypes, so an evaluation of their quality is not applicable.
The rule book, even in its draft release, is well written and clears up many questions players might have when first using items (such as powers or spirits) added with this expansion. Additionally, new rules have been added to smooth game play. One such rule is to resolve only the bottom-most event on the event card drawn during the first turn. This was a popular house rule for many players as reported on BoardGameGeek so it’s nice to see GTG took that feedback and incorporated it into the official rules. The rule book included with Jagged Earth also provides clarification for several previously published rules from the base game or the Branch and Claw expansion. There were only two items*** we had questions on during our entire gameplay this weekend and I sent off an email to GTG requesting clarification.
Jagged Earth plays well under both two and three player games (we haven't had the opportunity to play yet with 1, 4, 5, or 6 players). Just as in the base game, some spirits are much more defense-oriented than others and so care must be taken during the selection process to ensure there will be balance among all spirits chosen. If one opts for a solo game, most, if not all, of the defense-oriented spirits are off the table for selection, as a strong offense must be part of any winning strategy. One of the new spirits provided in the Jagged Earth expansion is Finder of Paths Unseen.
This spirit offers the ability through innate powers and its hand of starting powers to move invaders, Dahan, beasts, and presence around the board. We found it to be extremely powerful in partnership with a strong offensive spirit such as Heart of the Wildfire or Lightning’s Swift Strike. With either pairing, Finder can shift invaders to lands for the other players to destroy or can shift Dahan to lands with new Explorers to quickly decimate the invaders.  Finder also holds the innate power to isolate lands from the explore action. Combined with the ability to prevent explorations, builds, and ravages using the tokens in the Branch and Claw expansion, Finder provides a way to keep ahead of the invaders at every turn, shifting and isolating them before they can grow too numerous to be devastating.
Another spirit debuting in Jagged Earth is Many Minds Move As One. Like Finder, this new spirit is high on defense. In particular, Many Minds harnesses the beast tokens to concentrate their power to induce fear in invader occupied lands and allows for the team to skip invader actions.
Win Condition for Spirit Island Jagged Earth: Varies based on scenario, but typically involves ridding the island of a portion or all invaders while avoiding the loss conditions.

Strategy tip: Coordinate among players to systematically act on invaders, using the combined powers of all spirits to block, corral, and destroy them.

As with the base game and previous expansions, Jagged Earth remains prone to overthinking and analysis paralysis, particularly when players are in the Spirit Phase. Trying to decide which powers to execute (to pay for them and set them aside) is always difficult for me. I am always looking for the perfect combination that will deal the most wallop to the invaders and/or provide the most defense for the island. The difficulty increases for each additional player in the game as I try to evaluate what I can do in conjunction with their plans. I love the logical puzzle challenge that power card selection presents, but sometimes the other players get a bit impatient with my slow and over-calculating thought process. These things can’t be rushed in my opinion. 😊 Kudos to me during our last game for taking enough time (my husband reports it was an ungodly amount of time) during the event step of the Invader Phase of Round 3 to plan out how to decisively win the game before the Phase was to end. I was able to determine the best targets for the required event actions to destroy the last of the invaders, giving us the victory. And that was a victory against a complex game set up – the base game with the Branch and Claw expansion including event cards, using a spirit from the new Jagged Earth expansion (Finder of Paths Unseen) and another from the Spirit Island Promo Pack (Heart of the Wildfire), adding a difficulty 2 scenario from Branch and Claw (Ward the Shores), and also including a difficulty 2 adversary (England). All that and we purged the island of invaders midway through our third round. Turns out there’s a lot to recommend in slow and calculated decision making!
With all the new content and options Jagged Earth has to offer fans of Spirit Island, I’m sold on this expansion.  As with the base game and previous expansions, there is enough variability in replay through a myriad of spirits, scenarios, events, setup choices, and adversaries to hold our interest game after game. It should make fans very happy indeed. 3 steps to finding your joy through gaming: (1) back the Spirit Island Jagged Earth expansion on Kickstarter (2) wait patiently for it to arrive at your door (3) open and play. Note: For sustained joy, repeat step 3 as often as necessary.  

***For reference, the rule questions we asked GTG to clear up for us (I’ll post a follow up with the answers when we receive them):

1. For the 'Offer Passage Between Worlds' power card for the new spirit Finder of Paths Unseen, it states "When Invaders Ravage, up to 2 Dahan take no Damage". That's different wording than protect so we want to make sure we understand. What happens if an explorer and a town are in the land targeted by this power (total damage potential of 3) and there are 3 Dahan in the land also? Does the card protect 2 of the Dahan and so the invaders concentrate all 3 damage against the remaining Dahan and take it out? Or do the invaders target our two Dahan that we are preventing damage against (because hey, they don't know they can't be damaged) and just waste their 3 damage because it has no effect and our 3rd Dahan is also spared because the invaders used up all their attack power on the other two?

2. For the 'A Dreadful Tide of Scurrying Flesh' power card for the new spirit Many Minds Move as One, it states "For each beast removed (from the target land): Skip 1 Invader Action. We were really confused by this. Assuming we have jungle land in the Ravage spot and mountain in the Build spot, does this mean we can skip one of those actions *entirely* per beast removed (for example, we remove 1 beast and so we skip the build action and none of the mountain lands experience a build event)? Or does it mean we skip one of the events triggered by an invader action per beast removed (for example we remove 1 beast and so we skip the build event in *one* of the mountain lands that would normally be triggered by the build action)? Also, it says clearly in the rules that text effects on power cards refer only to the targeted lands unless explicitly stated otherwise. So, a third interpretation of this power could mean we only prevent invader actions in the land we removed the beast(s) from?  Under that interpretation, if we removed a beast from wetlands but there were no invader actions scheduled for the wetlands we couldn't skip any invader actions. Which of the three interpretations is correct?

Publisher: Greater Than Games
Players: 1-6 (We played with 2 and 3)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 90-120 minutes
Game type: area control, cooperative

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.


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 6, 2018

Board Game Review: Dȗhr: The Lesser Houses

I picked up Dȗhr: The Lesser Houses from the Devious Weasel Games team at GenCon earlier this year. This is the first game from their catalog that I've had the opportunity to play and it has been a wonderful introduction. On a recent late summer evening, my husband and I invited another couple over to play Dȗhr, and we included our 13 year old daughter and their 12 year old son around the game table as well. 

The artwork, including the font, compliments the game's nobility theme. The components (cards) are well made with a thickness that promotes durability. 

The rule book is clear and concise and a handful of player reference cards are provided. We would have liked to see more copies of the player reference cards included so that the six of us crowded around the table didn't have to keep reaching for the communal reference cards. 

Win Condition: Most Points
   Status of my house (favored/disfavored/villain)?
   Number of suspicion and scandal cards? 
     (applicable only to favored and disfavored houses; less is better)
   Number of villains?
     (applicable only to vilified houses; more is better)

Strategy tip: Because favored houses have a higher max score possible, disfavored houses should focus on either achieving favored status before game's end or forcing all favored houses into disfavored status.

The turns move at a comfortable pace, so the game is not prone to analysis paralysis but you really have to be on your toes and pay attention carefully while playing Dȗhr because the positioning of your opponents between favored houses, disfavored houses, and villains is constantly changing. As fortunes reverse quickly, your strategy has to change in parallel. This is not an auto-pilot relaxing kind of card game; this is a focused kick butt and take names kind of card game. And the wide variety of personal agendas (think of them as personal quests) to select from at the beginning of the game ensures the game can be replayed many times without duplicating conditions. 

I'd play Dȗhr anytime. It's a great game to have in your collection if you enjoy card games, handle take that games well, and have a large enough gaming circle to make use of games that require 4 player minimums. 

Publisher: Devious Weasel Games 
Players: 4-6 (We played with 6)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 60 minutes
Game type: take that, hand management

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.


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