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NickJones

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Review 3 games and receive a total of 40 positive review ratings.
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Go to the Above and Below page
9
Go to the Above and Below page

Above and Below

24 out of 25 gamers thought this was helpful

There are a lot of games on the market these days where you’re bandying about ore, rope, whatnot to corner the market in your tabletop economy; however, if I wanted to micromanage a bunch of construction materials I’d go work at Home Depot, not play a board game. Board games are supposed to be fun! I want exciting adventures where I can meet new and interesting people, possibly because I need to kill them to save the world! Thankfully, Above and Below is here to split the difference between going on a grand adventure and trying to collect a bunch of jars.

Much of the game is based around building a village, exploiting the proletariat to generate goods for you, seducing new workers to live in your town only to force them to become indebted to the company store, collecting fruit, and all that. You get points for your stuff and reputation after seven rounds, and whoever has more points is the winner. As with most Eurogames it’s like having a job, only you pay for the experience instead of the other way around.

The far more interesting part of the gameplay is an aspect of exploration and storytelling. Your village is on top of a set of caverns, and you send various villagers into the depths to build outposts. As they do this, a plethora of scenarios are rolled up and read from an encounter book. The inactive player reads out the given story blurbs and the exploring player has to choose the best course of action based on the villagers at hand. You make a choice, you roll the dice, and all sorts of exciting things can then happen! You might eat some spoiled meat from a hobo, or dis a fish woman, or almost get a villager killed by trying to clone them, or aggravate a tree. (Possibly not a representative sample of activities.)

Above and Below feels like throwback to the Fighting Fantasy/Lone Wolf/Endless Quest gamebooks of yesteryear. The storytelling aspect of the game elevates the generic resource-collecting element, and makes every playthrough a unique journey into a delightful fantasy world.

If I have to collect mushrooms, I like that I sometimes have choose whether to punch a scorpion to do it.

8
Go to the Tentacle Bento page

Tentacle Bento

7 out of 8 gamers thought this was helpful

Tentacle Bento is a sexy anime game in which alien tentacle monsters compete to abduct nubile schoolgir-

Wait, wait, hear me out!

I’ll rephrase.

Unspecified Title is a card-matching game in which players compete to use matching suits to collect cards.

(They still with me? Okay, good.)

The naughty antics consist of luring one or more unsuspecting schoolgirls into your clutches. Four varieties of waifu and associated abduction plans exist, categorized as cute, smart, sexy, s-

Hold on! Hold on!

The gameplay consists of matching a location, student, and capture. Four suits divide the cards, categorized as pink, blue, purple, or green. You nab cards by having one each of a location and capture, which allows the taking of one student card if there are different suits involved, or up to three student cards in a “noble capture” if the suit matches. You play these captures from your hand, and cards are drawn from a common school pile and another field pile, each with different draw rules. Special card types complicate matters, with all-star students that can only be grabbed with a noble capture, characters that will block your captures, and events that can shake up the deck, your hand, or the direction of play. After four events the game’s school year ends and the winner is whichever player has the most captures.

Okay.

Fine.

Elephant in the room and all that.

It’s a naughty game, albeit one that’s entirely tongue-in-cheek. If you want to play this, you need to be assured that the people you’re suggesting it to have a sense of humor and ensure that the box’s warnings of “16+” and “not for children” are heeded. There’s a great deal of cleavage and numerous panty shots in the art, plus every card’s description has some variety of dirty joke or double entendre. It’s obviously for a select audience, but the kicker is that as long as you’re playing with the right people it’s a fun game!

Use it to lure out your hikikomori neighbor and the body pillow he’s been pretending is his girlfriend for some actual social contact!

4
Go to the One Deck Dungeon page

One Deck Dungeon

3 out of 6 gamers thought this was helpful

Crack open the box and get ready! You’re in for an exciting hour of reading a manual while trying to figure out how to set this game up properly!

Wait, sorry, I meant excruciating, not exciting. I get those confused sometimes.

The first thing you’ll notice about this game once you dump out the box’s contents is the character cards. This is because they’re the largest things in the box, and not because there is anything interesting or memorable about the characters in any way. While most games these days give an artist room to toss some stylized or eccentric designs at the player, One Deck Dungeon made the bold choice to have all of its heroes look as generic and nondescript as possible. You’re given five teenage girls to choose from, because it’s 201X and apparently the relative gender parity most other games give you wasn’t good enough to eliminate the income gap or whatever and we just have to eliminate male characters entirely as a result. All of the player characters have the same face and are staring into the middle distance with an expression ranging between totally blank and totally blank except for the slightest trace of a smirk. The gear they’re wearing is very, very, very carefully drawn to make sure that there’s no possible way it could be perceived as gendered or sexualized in any way, with the exception of the mage who is scandalously depicted as wearing a skirt, and one above the knee to boot! Heavens to Betsy, what will the Parent’s Television Council say? The monogendered, asexual, soullessly dead-eyed, offensively bland character art style is cribbed straight from Disney princesses, which made me think that I had accidentally grabbed a game that was intended solely and exclusively for little girls.

Then I opened the manual and spent way too much time trying to figure out the mechanics. A plethora of elements are in play with this game: There’s a big deck of cards representing dungeon traps and denizens that you gradually uncover, each one possessing colored and numbered slots which you need to fill with matching dice. The deck serves double duty as a time marker, running out of cards serving as the point at which you must descend to the next level of the dungeon. Each dungeon also has a separate card that you need to spend your dice on during every encounter that represents the generally hazardous dungeon milieu. Overcoming critters or traps turns their cards into a skill, item, or experience, which you then stuff under your character or a separate card for level progress. Then you have tokens representing potions and damage, cards representing unopened doors, and a million bloody dice everywhere, making for a progressively more cluttered and confusing mess the deeper you go.

Once you manage to get all of the components straight, the game turns out to be fairly difficult. It’s the Dark Souls of dice and card games with the word “dungeon” in the title. (We’re still using Dark Souls as the go-to analogy for difficulty, right?) Your character is constantly hemorrhaging health due to bad dice rolls or simply not having access to enough of the right dice in the first place. The time mechanic has cards continually slipping away like grains of sand through an hourglass into the discard pile, putting potentially valuable resources beyond your reach. The biggest hurdle is the perpetual costs of the dungeon eating up dice that could otherwise be spent on individual encounters, and that upkeep starts to feel really unfair after a few rounds of it screwing you over. Then if you get to the boss it’s inexplicably easier than the regular enemies and traps, which I guess I should be thankful for, even though it just feels uneven.

One Deck Dungeon is a puzzling mishmash of elements that don’t fit. The prudish church lady-approved bland character design of the five protagonists seems geared toward six to eight year old girls. The suggested age on the box is fourteen (which seems weirdly high if that’s supposed to be based on content), so that would make it seem as though the expected audience is teenagers. The difficulty level would suggest that the game is geared toward the general roguelike demographic of twentysomethings. The complexity of the gameplay is so high that only adults will have the attention span to figure it out without getting bored and wandering off to play Five Nights at Slenderbirds on their internetphones.

Who was this game intended for?

7
Go to the Dungeon Roll page

Dungeon Roll

10 out of 10 gamers thought this was helpful

A plethora of dungeon-themed games have come out in recent years, to the point that it can be difficult to keep them straight. One Deck Dungeon, Dungeon Command, Rumble in the Dungeon, Dungeon Dice, Dungeon Petz, Dungeon Fighter, Dungeon Run, Welcome to the Dungeon, and the very directly named Dungeon!, to name but a few. So many people are heading into dungeons these days you’d think it was the Spanish Inquisition.

(pause for laughter)

Dungeon Dice does a workmanlike job of visually distinguishing itself from the numerous similarly-named competitors by coming in a treasure chest-shaped box, which makes it both easy to identify and hard to stack. The game’s contents are a bit sparse, with a lot of tokens, a bunch of dice, and a handful of cards.

The game is extremely simple: Choose a hero card, each with a special ability, and then roll up a party represented by white dice, with each of the six faces representing a different class (or a rather-useless scroll). Then you head into a dungeon represented by a ten-sided die, with each floor potentially containing monsters, treasure, potions, or pieces of a dragon that has been inexplicably disassembled, all of which are also represented by dice. The party dice can cancel out individual monster dice, or multiples thereof, and the thrust of the game is managing your stockpile of helpful dice friends while accruing treasures and experience. Leave before you’ve spent the necessary resources and you get experience based on the level you’ve reached, get stuck facing monsters with no way to deal with them and you’re sent packing empty handed. Given the format it feels a lot less dungeon-y than most games, and if you’re going for an immersive experience you’ll need to use your imagination a lot to turn those dice on your table into an appropriately intimidating dungeon.

Playing solo is a quick and more fun than solitaire, which is about all you need in a solo game. The main problem comes from trying to go further than that. With two people, the player not controlling the hero for the turn rolls the dice for the dungeon. It’s essentially busy work, as they don’t get to make any choices about what the dungeon-dwellers do. The “not doing anything” issue becomes dramatic with three or four people, which leaves two players sitting on their hands for an extended period while somebody else tries to navigate the dungeon.

The difficulty is fairly low, as it’s generally clear when you need to end the current round. I only lost one fight in the forty-eight rounds I played (three for each hero, eight from the regular game and eight from the first little expansion), even with the heroes I ended up scoring poorly with. The scoring system for solo play in the manual has five stages, and I achieved a rock-solid consistency in hitting the second level (out of five). It’s rare that I got above (with the Crusader and Sorceress heroes) or below (with the Dwarf and Viking heroes) that bracket. There’s no real victory condition in solo play (though getting more points than your opponent in multiplayer isn’t much of a victory, as you don’t interact), so perhaps being that consistently mediocre in the point total is actually a bad thing? So much of the gameplay is based on the proverbial roll of the dice (which in this case is also a literal roll of the dice) that it’s hard to imagine that one could gain any measure of skill at the game beyond the simple probability calculation you can pick up with a couple of rounds.

So it’s fun, but more of a solo time-waster than anything else.

3
Go to the Cards Against Humanity page
9 out of 10 gamers thought this was helpful

There are two reasons this game is so popular:

Simple gameplay. One person lays down a card that has a sentence with a fill-in-the-blank space in it. Other players lay down a card with a word, phrase, or name that they think the first person will find most amusing in that space. Anybody, no matter how doltish or drunk can figure it out, which makes it extremely effective as a party game.

It lets people say “offensive” things while being able to hide behind a game. We’re living in a culture that views saying or doing something “offensive” as an unpardonable sin. If you’re highly politically correct, this game provides an outlet to spray all the repressed opinions you’ve been saving up that you were too afraid to voice in any other context.

For those two little reasons, this is almost a perfect game for the general public to pull out once or twice a year at an alcohol-fueled gathering. It’s also why I loathe it. The simple gameplay means that no skill is required, the only thing that gives you an advantage is knowing the other players better than everyone else (being the host who invited all the guests to a party gives one a distinct advantage) or being lucky enough to have the card that provides the most nervous “is it okay for me to laugh at this” laughter. The appeal while playing is the “naughty” answers repressed millennial hipsters can give without getting dirty looks, which either becomes tiresome as the novelty of acceptable racism (or talk about dead babies or whatever) wears off, or just starts out boring if you don’t remotely care about policing your thoughts in the first place.

So, go ahead and play if you’re a drunk normie, but if you’ve ever listened to George Carlin, Richard Pryor, or Lenny Bruce without clutching your pearls you’ll be bored out of your skull by this.

8
Go to the Dark Tower page

Dark Tower

8 out of 8 gamers thought this was helpful

Dark Tower was one of my favorite games as a kid, and at the time I had absolutely no idea that the copy endlessly played at a friend’s house was rare in any sense. It was only as an adult when my then-girlfriend suggested playing the game and was shocked that I knew what it was that the story of its truncated release due to a finding of intellectual property theft by Milton Bradley reached me.

Playing it as an adult, the game held up surprisingly well (quite unlike some early ’80s cartoons I could name). Movement and actions are mediated by the tower, which will generate opponents to fight, merchants to haggle with, and treasures to loot. The player must navigate counterclockwise around a board consisting of four quadrants, each containing helpful structures that allow you to replenish your reserves or dungeons to delve into while attempting to find a key that will allow you to proceed to the next segment. There’s a surprising amount of strategy involved, with resource management (food, soldiers, and gold) being a central component of the gameplay. While the game can be played solo, it becomes much more interesting when competing against others to enter the fourth zone and assault the tower itself before they can.

The main issue with Dark Tower isn’t in the gameplay, but in the electronic nature of the tower itself making everything a bit fiddly. If something is input incorrectly there’s no way to fix it, and there often seem to be issues with getting the tower to recognize that you’re in the right quadrant (that might be due to human error, but it’s hard to tell). Crashes are semi-frequent, possibly due to age, though I do recall the same thing happening thirty years ago. The number of opponents you face in combat also wasn’t balanced very well (especially in the final assault on the tower), and there’s no way to institute a house rule to fix it when a giant black gizmo is making all the decisions for you. There’s also the not-insignificant problem where if the tower breaks, your game becomes unplayable. There’s probably a way to simulate everything with pen and paper, but it’d be a complicated process to work that out (you should still try to do it, or I might just have to).

Dark Tower is fun, especially with other people, and if you’re willing to both overlook the glitches that come from its aging technology and spend the exorbitant $500 to get a used copy… well, you’re probably already a devoted fan who didn’t need this review in the first place.

4
Go to the Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Set  page
3 out of 7 gamers thought this was helpful

I understand that Lovecraft is fairly popular these days, but an entire expansion devoted just to Cthulhu wears thin. Elder Things could easily have been added to another set and the other ideas scrapped. This is part of the overall weakness of every Smash Up expansion, where there will be one or two worthwhile card additions alongside some others that it’s hard to imagine anyone would ever want. I know that they don’t want to front load all the content people will be eager to buy and that’s why they balance it out with less marketable material, but just because I see the business strategy doesn’t mean I have to like it as a consumer. Fine to have bought at 75% off MSRP, but not remotely worth the full price.

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