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IstariJediDad

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8
Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon page
33 out of 34 gamers thought this was helpful

Bottom Line Up Front: Yes, the game has its design flaws. But my family loves it; we always have a great time and keep coming back. Wrath of Ashardalon is a cooperative dungeon crawl and every player is in the hero party (no one needs to exclusively control the “bad guys” as I understand is required in Descent, Doom, Super Dungeon Explore, etc). Compared to “Drizzt” and “Ravenloft”, the other two games in the D&D Adventure System series, this game has the most traditional (trying to say “generic” as a positive) aesthetic. The big boss is a Red Dragon, the archetypal D&D villain.

Components: Extremely satisfying, just like the others in the series. The big, heavy box is irresistible. The approx 40minis are plastics from a previous D&D line (most are great sculpts, some are simply “good”), very sturdy interlocking dungeon floor tiles, 200 cards, rule book + scenario book, and piles of tokens/chits/cardboard pieces (many used rarely/sparingly to support a specific scenario). It’s very hard to nitpick with components. If I had to pick flaws: books are a little thin/flimsy (but within industry standard) and books could use some additional theme artwork to help establish feel. MSRP of $64.99 seems very reasonable, though it can be found for substantially less online.

Gameplay: A player’s turn consists of three phases. In “Hero Phase” the current player generally attacks then moves, or he moves then attacks. An “Explore Phase” allows a hero on an unexplored edge of a floor tile to draw and place a new tile on the edge, expanding the dungeon. A monster is drawn and placed on the new tile’s designated area and is controlled by this player. In “Villain Phase” the player draws and plays encounter cards (only if no new tile was placed or tile had a black arrow). Encounters are bad things, generally, like additional monsters, explosions, poisons, etc. The current player then moves and attacks with monsters in his control according to the AI printed on the respective cards (monsters can attack any player but are controlled by one). Next player… This more or less continues (with the expected variants and exceptions depicted on Encounter and Monster cards) until a key tile is drawn triggering some big boss showdown, desired item to retrieve, or other victory criteria. As you might expect it is frowned upon to have your characters die.

There are a number of different scenarios provided to keep things fresh. Many of the scenarios introduce alternative rules and many are supported with a fistful of chits designed just to support that campaign. Significant variety is afforded. You get different abilities to pick from for each character; some can be used as much as you want, some saved for special occasions. Defeating monsters will earn treasure and items ranging from possibly useful to very powerful. Attacks are determined by rolling a 20-sided die, adding modifiers specific to the creature/player ability and subtracting specified armor class. Damage is set (no other dice used). The monsters keep coming, but one or two hits usually defeat them (but there are a few heavyweights…). It’s generally the quantity and the negative encounters that stack up against you.

“Ashardalon” is the most “generic” in the series, but I actually wish the heroes were even more traditional. There are five to choose from including a dragon-man wizard (Dragon-born?) and a half-orc rogue. I would have liked an elf ranger and a human wizard with robes and a beard. Really obvious stuff, but one of these games should offer it. In fairness there is a paladin and a dwarf fighter, but they are both female which rules them out for my son so far. There was a Dragon-born in Ravenloft as well. I played 1st and 2nd edition AD&D as a youth and these certainly were not a staple, but perhaps they are all the rage today. (“Back in my day a Drow was an incredibly rare and unusual creature…”)

For those that thought Ravenloft was too brutal on the players, and for those that thought the heroes in Drizzt were too powerful, this game probably comes closest in the series to the balance sweet-spot.

The game is not perfect. There are plenty of instances where encounter or monster text isn’t clear. There are moments, however rare, of confusion and the need for a “judgment call”. Often it’s as simple as a monster is equidistant from two players: who does he attack? Do we pick what is advantageous to the party? To the Monster? Flip a coin? In the spirit of this game, these flaws did not really detract from the experience. In some ways it fits the D&D theme (the decisive DM in me since childhood comes out and we move on continuing the fun). But I realize there are board gamers who prize games for their elegance, purity, and flawlessness of mechanics. I like the gameplay. It works. But it sometimes feels less like flowing poetry and more like a locomotive fully capable of crushing occasional debris on the tracks.

Solo play: It is listed as for 1-5 players. While the guide provides a solo adventure and more could be developed, I do not feel that it is that much fun. I viewed this as a tool to familiarize myself with the mechanics before teaching the kids. I hesitate to recommend this to someone looking for a solitaire experience (though painting the minis was a very satisfying way to appreciate the game solo for me).

Summary: You’ll be happy…
1) if you like great miniatures and components (and/or enjoy painting them)
2) if you’re looking for a fully cooperative adventure (no one has to be the “bad guys”),
3) because the many characters, scenarios, and bosses provide a lot of replayability,
4) if you’d enjoy a quick single-night D&D experience

But you’ll have to live with…
1) sometimes confusing or contradictory text on cards, and
2) a lot of moving parts; be prepared to nudge the experience forward occasionally.

Pardon me for borrowing language from my “Drizzt” review. My family’s has had a lot of fun with this series. I feel the game warranted my rating, which I suspect is above online gaming community norm. I hope this info and discussion of the games quirks can help you decide if this could be a fit for you as well. I also thought enough of this as a value to purchase all three games.

Regards,

8
Go to the King of Tokyo page

King of Tokyo

54 out of 60 gamers thought this was helpful

Bottom Line Up Front: “King of Tokyo” is a great family game. I’d like to give it an 8.5 but obviously we deal in whole numbers here. I rarely give 9s. I’ve never considered any game a 10. An 8 is a very strong “go and buy it” from me. I’ve recently played this a lot with 3 to 4 players and we are all, young and old, really enjoying it. I have not played as much with 5-6 players, but it looks dependable for larger groups if a little longer on the clock. I am concerned about two player games; this can just become Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots out of the gate without worrying about multiple parties.

COMPONENTS: I’m very satisfied here; this website provides pictures and inventory so I’ll move to impressions and notes.

You’ll see two complaints surface when you look at reviews: 1) Etched vs. painted dice. I believe early editions had painted symbols on the dice which could rub off. I believe subsequent editions where etched as well. Mine are etched. I believe that problem is now resolved. 2) The monsters are represented by cardboard cutouts (not miniatures). These cardboard stands have great color art that syncs nicely with the game. The only thing you do with these is place them on the board (a single space board at that) to signify that you are the one “in” Tokyo. I buy games with great miniatures that I know people will not play with me just to have and possibly paint the miniatures. I am fine with the oversized cardboard cut-outs and have no desire to sub any kind of miniature/toy for them.

Reflecting on the components now, I realize this game could have been reduced to a FFG “Hey, that’s my penguin” size box. The cards and dice remain. The board and figures can be reduced to single penny-sized token which you could pass around to the player “In Tokyo”. The nice cardboard “player cards: which contain two wheels to keep track of hearts (health) and stars (victory points) could be removed/reduced. To be clear, I am entirely appreciative of the grand overproduction. The theme is persistent. My family never forgets this is a “big Godzilla monster” game. The theme doesn’t evaporate when the box top is removed.

GAMEPLAY: This is the type of game where new players will have a firm grasp after one or two turns. With some good decisions and maybe some luck, one can be competitive immediately. It is good to have games like this.

The dice have 3 symbol sides and 3 sides are numbered (1-3). The claw symbol attacks, a heart will heal and lightning bolts to gain energy (used as “money”/resources). Each turn players roll the dice, and may re-roll any dice twice to get what they’d like. A player will roll the six black dice on their turn in order to determine what their actions are. They are allowed two re-rolls of any of dice after deciding which dice to keep. The re-roll mitigates, but doesn’t remove luck. It certainly gives a larger “sample size”. If you need one occurrence of a single outcome, you theoretically could have 18 separate 1 in 6 chances to get it. If you don’t, that’s awesomely bad luck; a critical miss scenario. But, of course, you can’t get everything you want from dice…

There are two ways to win. Last monster standing after all other players have “hearts” reduced to zero (yes, a player can be eliminated), or compile/acquire 20 “stars”. I like having two different “races” going on to determine the winner. For an elimination winner, at some point it ends up with two monsters going one-on-one for the crown. The right power up cards will serve you well at this time. But a drawback is that a 2 player game starts this way. You never really focus on the build up phase. It’s all damage to the other player and the healing of your own creature.

The “lightning” die result gives you energy (represented by translucent green cubes). You use these to purchase cards (three are face up/available at a time). Some cards are permanent and can be used each turn. Some are a one-time deal. They offer all the exceptions, modifiers, and intrigue you’d expect. The more players you have, the more important cards become. Players don’t want to get locked into a one on one slugfest, attriting to the benefit of the other player(s). Players then save up, wait for opportunities, and power up their characters. At times the upgrades can introduce what some degree of imbalance. Some upgrades can really dominate a situation and run away with the game. I can live with this as usually multiple players had a chance to get these power ups, or others that would balance the effects. I can’t fault another player because my attempt at a quick kill did not succeed and their commitment to powering up gave them a decisive advantage.

SUMMARY: I hate to use the term “filler” game. For me, to get my family and friends to play a single “filler” game is to have a full night of gaming. I envy those who are able to play games for hours on end where King of Tokyo is merely an interlude. Nonetheless, whether you’re a power gamer and want this to serve as a snack between space-strategy marathons, or you’re a family gamer looking to fill a night with interactive fun, this should serve you very well.

You’ll like it if…
…You want a game up to 6 people can immediately jump into and compete the first time.
…You can relax and have fun.
…You don’t mind rolling dice.
…The terms “Kaiju” or “Creature Double Feature” mean something to you.

But you’ll have to live with…
…Player elimination.
…A less than complete 2-Player experience.

7
Go to the Small World page

Small World

45 out of 49 gamers thought this was helpful

Bottom line up front: You owe it to yourself to check out a game so immensely popular and highly recommended. I thought this would be perfect for my family when I discovered it. There is great theme, it’s easy to learn, and few flaws I can identify. I think I should love this game, but so far I only think it is “pretty good” and a little bit overrated. Please don’t put too much into my rating “number” but look at my observations and see if you can get past the issues I had.

I understand it contains a lot of similarities with the designer’s previous effort, Vinci. I have not played Vinci so I unfortunately can’t help with comparisons there.

COMPONENTS: Very nice art throughout. Creatures are nicely stylized so they can be appreciated by older players and not too heavy for younger players. There are plenty of pictures and inventory lists on or linked to this site, so I’ll just give a few impressions. The best thing about this game is that the designers give you 2 double-sided gameboards. We get an optimized board for each interval of 2 through 5 players. That’s great. The head scratcher of the package is the inclusion of 2-D mountain tokens. You place those on the areas already clearly depicted as mountains on the gameboard artwork. They are to remind you that they are mountains (game implications for defensive value). They are easy to set up because the appropriate areas already look like mountains. There are no tokens to remind you that water areas are water as that would be unnecessary. No negative bearing on the game, however. You could leave them in the box. I actually appreciate the though experiment and the “just in case you wanted this, too” type of inclusion.

I believe there have been multiple designs for the packaging and insert. I think I have the newer version. I can tell you that after you remove all cards, tokens, and chits from the sheet stocks; the included insert and removable army token organizer will provide an absolutely brilliant and elegant storage solution for 93% of the games contents. You are entirely on your own to figure out what to do with the remaining 7% (and any expansions).

GAMEPLAY NOTES: “It’s like Risk, except… well, yeah, it’s like Risk.” That is how I explained this previously, admittedly tongue in cheek. The truth is that there is a lot less luck involved than risk. Attack results are often predictable. The attack value/army number needed to win a battle apparent prior to the attack and only the last attack of a player’s turn involves the rolling of custom die to what “reinforcements” are available (additional attack value). That custom die has three faces blank so 50% of the time you “are what you are”, there is also a possibility to role for an additional 1, 2 or 3 reinforcements to boost your attack value. This is nice. A little luck can be available, but not at all required. You will be rewarded for managing your armies well.

Randomizing creature race and class gives many options (280??) which add to replayability. The trade off (completely acceptable here) is that you never get excited about a particular group and personally connect with them. You go through “wealthy trolls” and “flying giants” and then “mounted ghouls” using each for your purposes and discarding them in a few turns to move on to the next random race-power combo. That’s the fun here. But if your kid just watched “The Hobbit” and wants to be the dwarves, that is not really how this game works.

The game never goes too long. There is a round counter and when you are out of innings, the game’s over. Usually 40-60 minutes. I often play with kids and reduce rounds rather than go long to give them the time they need to manage their turns. You always know how many rounds are left.

You earn VPs each round for occupying territory and applying modifiers based on race and class being used. These get tallied at the end to determine winner. The totals are hidden so you have an idea of how each player is doing, but there is no official score until the end. In 3 or 4 player games, prepare for the attempts to convince you to attack the other player. Everyone likes to let you know they are not doing well. Actually, for a number of reasons I think Small World works best as a two player game. I appreciate how this takes out that negotiating/coalition building aspect (good qualities in other games, but not always in Small World).

Personal Observation: I do wish it was more satisfying to conquer an area on the map. This is personal and hard to express, but I think the lack of either of two things makes it a less significant event. First, I’ll admit I like miniatures in my fantasy themed boardgames. If I attack your dwarves with my trolls, I’m not ashamed to say I like to see little painted creatures walking around (been painting a lot of boardgame pieces this year). Secondly, the terrain areas are very anonymous. With Risk, I could feel satisfied that I just conquered the Australian west, for example. Zero impact on gameplay, but while the types of terrain may have gaming characteristics, there is no real theme carried over to the individual pieces within that type. This is very subtle nitpicking. I am really working hard to figure out why I “only like” the game.

SUMMARY: It’s very popular. Great theme and art. My family will play it. Game time hits the sweet spot. Good value. I should love this game. It seems on paper that it was made for me. Ultimately I think it’s good in itself but doesn’t live up to all of the hype. I wanted to love this (I bought the iOS/iPad version to learn rules waiting for it to arrive). Maybe it tries too hard for me. Like that perfectly nice and attractive person that was really interested in you but you didn’t reciprocate. Their only flaw was having that much interest in you (unforgivable, really).

It is good enough for me to play through once in a while. Maybe one day it will completely click for me, too.

Regards,

7
Go to the A la Carte  page

A la Carte

20 out of 20 gamers thought this was helpful

Bottom Line Up Front: Dexterity and luck each factor heavily in the outcomes of A la Carte. The cooking theme comes through nicely and is always present. A good family experience that never seems to get too competitive (interestingly, it is unique among my games in that when I recall the various sessions I’ve played, I can rarely recall the actual winner). It is more like structured “play”. It is easy to have fun and recognize some absurdity, but conversely it also lacks any real “thrill of victory”. If you are looking at this as something solely for experienced adult gamers, it may not have enough meat to it to satisfy for any length of time. (That was a pun!)

COMPONENTS: The picture will reveal little stove and pan kitchen toys, spice bottles filled with colorful chunks of plastic, and all sorts of tokens and recipe cards. I like the toy pans. The spices and bottles are designed well. I wish the stovetops were higher quality (little tears in colored surface just from removing from cardboard stock sheets and temp dial can be a pain), but all of the items involved in the dexterity portions work. Young kids find it attractive and will come running when this is presented.

GAMEPLAY: Each player gets a cardboard model stovetop burner with temperature dial and a metal pan. The player chooses a recipe card (some may call it a recipe token, it’s a thick little square of cardboard; rather between a token and a card in my uneducated opinion) and places it into his pan. Each recipe requires the right amount of the four spices and the right cooking temperature. On the players turn he may choose three actions to complete the recipe according to instructions on the card. The three actions are typically some combination of rolling the custom die to increase the temperature some amount, or adding “spices” to their dish. The spice adding is the chief dexterity event. There are four spice bottles containing fifteen plastic spice chunks of a specific color as well as five transparent salt chunks. A player is allowed a single motion to add spice to the dish (no shaking or turning over the dish; just a single flip. The size, shape, and texture of the spice chunks can make it difficult to predict how many will come out. It is a nice design on the shaker opening size and shape of the chucks in that they jam up the mouth of the bottle nicely. Typically you see one or two pieces come out, often enough they all jam up and none hit the pan. The clear salt pieces don’t count as the proper spice. The correct amount of spice and correct temperature range scores the player points (more complicated dishes score more points). Too much spice, too much salt, or too high of a temp ruin the dish and no points are scored. A special crepe dish for each player offers an alternative dexterity event requiring a flip and catch using the pan. There are “special abilities” as to be expected; some die rolls earn you a “coffee cup” token with special abilities to help you or hurt your opponent. Completing three dishes flawlessly (no extra spice/exact temp) makes you an instant winner. If a player completes five dishes within tolerance (or you run out due to ruined dishes), the game stops and you tally up the points earned to determine the winner.

The spice bottle action and die rolling allows for a high level of randomness. While the rules may suggest to you that strategy comes into play in selecting optimal scoring recipes, any strategy is outweighed by dexterity and luck in deciding winners and losers.

SUMMARY: I’ll pass on the pros and cons list this time because most of the games unique characteristics could be considered either. A la Carte is a light game that fills a niche for me. I am glad I own it, but have no desire for more like this or any expansions. It’s a fun game for my family (two elementary school-aged children) and includes interesting components. To be fair this has worked for a group of adults, too. It has worked after completing more competitive games late at night and after a few drinks, when no one wants to keep score anymore.

Regards,

8
Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: The Legend of Drizzt Board Game page
23 out of 24 gamers thought this was helpful

Bottom Line Up Front: Yes, the game has its design flaws. Despite this, my family keeps coming back and repeatedly has great experiences. It is a cooperative dungeon crawl and everyone is in the hero party (no one needs to exclusively control the “bad guys” as I understand is required in Descent, Doom, Super Dungeon Explore, etc).

Components: Top notch. It comes in a big, heavy box filled with high quality components and impressive miniatures. The 40(42?) minis are plastics from a previous D&D line(most are great sculpts, some are simply “good”), very sturdy interlocking dungeon floor tiles, 200 cards, rule book + scenario book, and piles of tokens/chits/cardboard pieces (many used rarely/sparingly to support a specific scenario). It’s very hard to nitpick with components. If I had to pick flaws: books are a little thin/flimsy (but within industry standard) and books could use some additional Drizzt theme artwork to help establish feel. MSRP of $64.99 seems very reasonable, though it can be found for substantially less online.

Gameplay: A player’s turn consists of three phases. In “Hero Phase” the current player generally attacks then moves, or he moves then attacks. An “Explore Phase” allows a hero on an unexplored edge of a floor tile to draw and place a new tile on the edge, expanding the dungeon. A monster is drawn and placed on the new tile’s designated area and is controlled by this player. In “Villain Phase” the player draws and plays encounter cards (only if no new tile was placed or tile had a black arrow). Encounters are bad things, generally, like additional monsters, explosions, poisons, etc. The current player then moves and attacks with monsters in his control according to the AI printed on the respective cards (monsters can attack any player but are controlled by one). Next player… This more or less continues (with the expected variants and exceptions depicted on Encounter and Monster cards) until a key tile is drawn triggering some big boss showdown, desired item to retrieve, or other victory criteria. As you might expect it is frowned upon to have your characters die.

There are a number of different scenarios provided to keep things fresh. Players select characters from RA Salvatore’s fiction to use. You get different abilities to pick from; some can be used as much as you want, some saved for special occasions. Defeating monsters will earn treasure and items ranging from possibly useful to very powerful. Attacks are determined by rolling a 20-sided die, adding modifiers specific to the creature/player ability and subtracting specified armor class. Damage is set (no other dice used). The monsters keep coming, but one or two hits usually defeat them (but there are a few heavyweights…). It’s generally the quantity and the negative encounters that stack up against you.
The game is not perfect. There are plenty of instances where encounter or monster text isn’t clear. There are moments, however rare, of confusion and the need for a “judgment call”. Often it’s as simple as a monster is equidistant from two players: who does he attack? Do we pick what is advantageous to the party? To the Monster? Flip a coin? In the spirit of this game, these flaws did not really detract from the experience. In some ways it fits the D&D theme (the decisive DM in me since childhood comes out and we move on continuing the fun). But I realize there are board gamers who prize games for their elegance, purity, and flawlessness of mechanics. I like the gameplay. It works. But it sometimes feels less like flowing poetry and more like a locomotive fully capable of crushing occasional debris on the tracks.

Solo play: It is listed as for 1-5 players. While the guide provides a solo adventure and more could be developed, I do not feel that it is that much fun. I viewed this as a tool to familiarize myself with the mechanics before teaching the kids. I hesitate to recommend this to someone looking for a solitaire experience (though painting the minis was a very satisfying way to appreciate the game solo for me).

Summary: You’ll be happy…
1) if you like great miniatures and components,
2) if you’re looking for a fully cooperative adventure (no one has to be the “bad guys”),
3) because the many characters, scenarios, and bosses provide a lot of replayability,
4) you’d enjoy a quick D&D feeling experience but you haven’t had time to make a character since you were a freshman in high school.

But you’ll have to live with…
1) sometimes confusing or contradictory text on cards, and
2) a lot of moving parts; be prepared to nudge the experience forward occasionally.

My family’s has had a lot of fun with this. I feel the game warranted my rating, which I suspect is above online gaming community norm. I hope this info and discussion of the games quirks can help you decide if this could be a fit for you as well. I also thought enough this as a value to purchase the two companion games in the D&D Adventure System line; “Ravenloft” and “Ashardalon”.

Regards,

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