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8
Go to the Codenames page

Codenames

7 out of 8 gamers thought this was helpful

Codenames is the Spiel des Jahres—or ‘Game of the Year—award winner for 2016 and that is probably enough of a recommendation to try it and add it to your games collection. Published by Czech Games Edition, it is an espionage-themed word game that works as a party game and which can be played by between two and eight players. The players are split into two teams and one person on each team takes the role of their team’s ‘Spymaster’. His mission is to communicate the code names of his spies to his fellow team members; it is their task to understand the clues given by the spymaster and identity the spies. It is designed to be played by players aged fourteen and over and a game should last no more than twenty minutes.

Codenames consists of several decks of cards. These are the Codename cards (double-sided with a word like tube, bugle, Jupiter, palm, and so on); sixteen Agent cards in two colours (red and blue, used to identity Codenames by each side); a red/blue Double-Agent card (used to indicate the starting team); seven Innocent Bystander cards (used to indicate non-Agents); one Assassin card (used to indicate the Assassin who lose a team the game if they identify him); forty Key cards (these determine the location of the Agents, Innocent Bystanders, and Assassin on the grid); plus a rulebook and timer.

To set up the game, twenty-five Codenames are randomly drawn and arranged in a five-by-five grid. A Key card is drawn and shared between the two Spymasters. It shows them where their Agents, Innocent Bystanders, and Assassin are on the grid. On a team’s turn, its Spymaster gives a clue to the rest of his turn. This clue consists of one word and one number. The word must be associated with—but not the same as—one or more of the Codename cards in the grid. The number indicates the number of Codename cards that the clue is associated with. So for example, a Spymaster has the following Codenames that need identifying: ‘America’, ‘Cap’, ‘Disease’, ‘Ham’, ‘Horn’, ‘Mail’, ‘Spring’, and ‘Whip’. So the Spymaster decides to give the clue ‘Supersoldier Two’ to indicate ‘America’ and ‘Cap’, hoping that his team knows its superheroes (or movies).

The team now tries to guess the Codenames from this clue. If the team picks an Innocent Bystander instead of a Codename, its turn ends. If the team picks a Codename belonging to the other team, its turn ends. If the team picks the Assassin instead of a Codename, it has lost and the game is over. A team must make one guess on its turn and can choose to make fewer guesses than the number given by its Spymaster. A team that correctly guesses Codenames equal to the number given by its Spymaster can take an extra guess. This is useful if a team wants to return to a clue given in previous turn.

The first team to identify all of its Codenames wins the game.

At the heart of Codenames are two asymmetrical challenges. For the Spymaster, the challenge is, “Can I give clues to my team members that they will understand?”, whilst for the team members the challenge is, “Can we interpret and understand our Spaymaster’s clues?”. This requires no little thought by both sides, hampered of course, by the timer.

On the downside, the game’s theme is a bit too light and if you do not like word games, then Codenames is not something that you will necessarily enjoy. If you do like word games, crossword puzzles, and so on, then Codenames’ simple design is both a delight and challenge. The game is also simple enough to work as a party game, but still be challenging without being overwhelming in its mechanics or appearance. The fact that it is a word game means that it is approachable and accessible to a non-gaming audience, a la Scrabble (yet better). Of course, it also works as a good filler game. The high number of Codename cards and Key cards (the latter for determining Codename location on the grid) means a wide variety of Codenames and grid layouts and thus a high replay value.

My gaming group described Codenames as being ‘Word Battleships’. The fact that there is a hidden grid involved and the game involves finding things on said grid and it easy to see the comparison. That said, Codenames is a light and clever game that will challenge groups large and small again and again.

7
Go to the Splendor page

Splendor

21 out of 25 gamers thought this was helpful

The award winning Splendor is a simple game of card drafting and set collection from French publisher, Space Cowboys. Designed for two to four players, aged ten and up, they take the roles of merchants during the Renaissance who are competing to build the most successful jewel emporium. They will invest in mines and transportation, and then employ artisans who can turn raw gems into beautiful jewels, in the process hopefully attracting the attention of the nobility and acquiring their patronage. A game takes no longer than thirty minutes and scales easily from two to four players.

Splendor consists of seven sturdy Gem tokens of each gem colour—Diamond (white), Emerald (green), Onyx (black), Ruby (red), and Sapphire (blue), plus five Gold or ‘wild card’ tokens. Ninety Development cards are divided into three decks consisting of forty Level 1 cards, thirty Level 2 cards, and twenty Level 3 cards. There are ten Noble tiles. At game start, Noble tiles equal to the number of players plus are randomly drawn and placed face up; each Development card deck is shuffled and four cards drawn from it and laid in a line, so that there is grid of three by four cards.

Each Development card is marked with a gem representing its value and a cost that must be paid in gems. So one Development card might cost one Emerald, Onyx, Ruby, and Sapphire gem each, whilst another might cost two Ruby and two Sapphire gems. In addition to the gem granted by a Development card, others are marked with Prestige points. Level 1 cards are easier to purchase than Level 2 and Level 3 cards. Each Noble tile is illustrated with a portrait and a player needs to own three Development cards of three colours or four Development cards of two colours—for example, three Diamond (white), Emerald (green), and Sapphire (blue) each or four Onyx and four Ruby Development cards, if he is to qualify to gain that Noble’s patronage.

Each player starts with nothing and on his turn can do one action. This can be to take Gem tokens (three of different colours or two of one colour); reserve one Development card and take a gold token; or purchase a single Development, either face up from the table or a previously reserved one. A player cannot have more than ten Gem tokens. A player needs to spend the correct number of Gem tokens to purchase a Development card—as indicated on the card—to purchase it. Gold tokens count as any Gem token. Purchased Development cards act as bonuses in future purchases. For example, a Development card costs two Diamond, four Onyx, and one Ruby Gems to purchase. If a player already has two Onyx and one Ruby Development cards, then they act as bonuses and cut the cost to just two Diamond and two Onyx Gem tokens. If a player has enough bonuses to purchase a Development card for free, then he can. Purchased cards are replaced from their respective Development decks until that deck runs out. At the end of a turn, if a player purchased Development cards with gems equal to those on a Noble tile, then he is awarded that tile.

Play continues until one player has acquired fifteen Prestige points. Then the current round is completed so that everyone has played the same number of turns. The player with the most Prestige points is the winner.

Splendor is a simple game. Players try to collect Gem tokens to buy Development cards. This is not only to gain the bonuses that will reduce the cost of purchasing further Development cards, but also to qualify for the Noble tiles. As players collect more Development cards, they gain more bonuses and thus buy better cards.

In fact, Splendor sounds too simple, but it gets tactical when play turns competitive. Players are competing for the same resources, so a player can block another player’s actions—taking the Gem tokens another player wants, purchasing or reserving a Development card another player wants, and getting a Noble card first. This forces players to change plans from one turn to the next, so players have to watch what each other does and what cards and tokens each player has. Thus play is more challenging with more players.

As much as Splendor is physically well done—the Gem tokens are hefty, the cards attractive, and so on—the game’s theme is very light. In fact, the concept of investing in mines and transportation and employing artisans to turn gems into jewels never even enters play. It could even have a whole new theme—or none at all—and game play would be unaffected.

Splendor is not quite a light filler—it is slightly more complex than that in terms of what a player needs to think about from one turn to the next. Nevertheless, the game is enjoyable and worth replaying as a solidly designed filler.

7
Go to the Sheriff of Nottingham page

Sheriff of Nottingham

48 out of 55 gamers thought this was helpful

The forthcoming visit of Prince John has swelled Nottingham’s market and the potential for a merchant to make a profit by shipping goods in—or a really making big profits by smuggling illegal goods in! Unfortunately, the Sheriff of Nottingham has to be seen to crack down on smuggling and so must inspect all of the goods coming into his city. If a merchant is caught smuggling, the Sheriff will fine him and confiscate the smuggled goods—unless the merchant bribes the Sheriff first!

This is the set-up for Sheriff of Nottingham, a game of bluff, deduction, and trickery in which the players take turns being the Sheriff whilst the others are merchants shipping their goods past the Sheriff. Each turn a player fills a sack with goods and then declares how many and the type of goods that he has in a sack. The Sheriff can only guess at what might be in the sack. He can inspect every sack for illegal goods and if he discovers any, the merchant is fined; if none are found, the Sheriff must compensate the merchant!

Winner of the 2015 Origins Award for Best Board Game, Sheriff of Nottingham is designed for three to five players, aged thirteen and up. It primarily consists of two-hundred-and-sixteen goods cards; most are green, representing legal goods—apples, cheese, bread, and chicken. The rest are red and represent illegal goods—pepper, mead, silk, and crossbows—or are Royal Goods, also illegal. Both are worth extra if a merchant successfully smuggles them past the Sheriff. The Royal Goods are an extra option not used in the base game. Each goods card has two numbers, one representing the reward gained at game’s end on the merchant’s Stand, the other being the fine or compensation paid if the card is confiscated or is legal and inspected by the Sheriff, respectively.

Besides the cards, there are coins in various denominations, five Merchant Stand and Merchant Bags in matching colours, the Sheriff marker, and the rulebook. Each Stand illustrates a player’s merchant, lists the game order, and provides space to store successfully shipped goods. The Sheriff marker is used to indicate which player is currently the Sheriff. These components are high quality, the cards look good and feel good in the hand; the money and Stand are of thick card; and the rule book is clearly written. The artwork is excellent, especially the illustrations of the Sheriff and the merchants. Pleasingly, the inner tray holding the game’s components can be taken out of the box for easy access during play.

At game’s start, each player receives fifty gold and six Goods cards as well as a matching Merchant Stand and Merchant Bag. The other cards need a thorough shuffle and divided in a draw pile and two discard piles of face-up Goods cards either side of the deck. One player is the starting Sheriff.

Each turn has five Phases—Market, Load Merchant Bag, Declaration, Inspection, and End of the Round. Each Phase must be completed before moving onto the next and the Sheriff is only involved the last three Phases. In the Market Phase, the players can discard up to five Goods and then draw back up to six, either from the draw pile or either discard pile. Drawing from a discard pile gives a player some idea as to what he might draw, but tells the Sheriff what a merchant has in his hand.

In the Load Merchant Bag Phase, a merchant loads his Merchant Bag with between one and five Goods and snaps it closed. The merchant is taking these Goods to market. In the Declaration Phase, each merchant states aloud the contents of his bag, but can only say the contents consist of Legal Goods, one type of Goods, and how many. For example, “My bag contains three Apples.” This could be true, but it might also be a lie. Instead the bag might contain illegal Goods or legal Goods different to those declared.

In the Inspection Phase, the Sheriff can open any or all of the merchants’ bags. Before that happens, the Sheriff is free to demur and the merchants are free to bribe the Sheriff. They can offer him money or Goods from their Stands or their Merchant’s Bag—be they legal or illegal. They can persuade him to open the bag of another Merchant. The Sheriff can accept these bribes, negotiate for more, but once he opens a bag or hands it back to its merchant, no more bribes can be made. The results are final. In the End of the Round Phase, fines are paid if illegal Goods have been found or legal Goods unnecessarily inspected.

Then the role of Sheriff passes to the next player and another turn begins. This continues until each player has been Sheriff twice—or three times in a three-player game—and everyone totals up their money and the value of the Goods successfully shipped. The two players who shipped the most of a Good are crowned the King and Queen of Cheese (or Apples or Bread or…) and score bonus Gold. The merchant with the most money is the winner.

Sheriff of Nottingham is not though, a board game. Its emphasis on social interaction—negotiation, bribery, and bluff—make it a party game. The game’s card quality and the fun of snapping open the bags give it a pleasing physicality. Its easy rules and engaging theme also make it an easy game to introduce to and play with non-gamers. This also means that its replay value is not as high and much of the game’s fun depends on who you play with and the game is not as satisfying to play with three players as it is with four or five.

If you are looking for a well-designed, fun party game, then Sheriff of Nottingham is a good choice. It is satisfyingly simple and engaging, perfectly suited to the non-gamer and the gamer looking for a lighter diversion.

6
Go to the Machi Koro: Millionaire's Row page

Machi Koro: Millionaire's Row

14 out of 18 gamers thought this was helpful

The 2015 Spiel des Jahres nominated Machi Koro is a beautifully simple game that was made all the better with the addition of the expansion of Machi Koro: Harbour Expansion. The expansion opened up the number of paths to victory, whilst countering the core game’s limited number of paths to victory, making gameplay more random, and giving a more satisfying playing experience. Now, the second of the expansions of the Japanese ‘dice and card building’ game published by IDW Games is available in English. The question is, if Machi Koro: Harbour Expansion made Machi Koro better, can Machi Koro: Millionaire’s Row—known as Japan as Machi Koro Sharp—do the same?

If Machi Koro: Harbour Expansion took Machi Koro out to sea and back again, then Machi Koro: Millionaire’s Row gives an opportunity for the players to gentrify their towns. They can add Vineyards and Wineries, French Restaurants and Member’s Only Clubs, Demolition Companies and Renovation Companies, and more. All of these are new Establishments—there are no new Landmarks in this expansion. Fundamentally, the cards in Millionaire’s Row are more conditional and are as much about demolishing and decommissioning buildings as it is about building them.

The key condition that some of the Establishments work off in Millionaire’s Row is the number of Landmarks that a player has built. So the Green Card ‘General Store’ gives a player two coins from the bank when he rolls it, but only if he has less than two constructed Landmarks and the similar Blue Card ‘Corn Field’ gives every ‘Corn Field’ owner one coin from the Bank when anyone rolls it, but only if each owner has less than two constructed Landmarks. The Red Card ‘French Restaurant’ only activates when the player who rolls it has two or more constructed Landmarks; he must give the owning player five coins. The similar ‘Member’s Only Club’ requires the player who rolls it to have three or more constructed Landmarks; he must give all of his coins to the owning player.

The primary mechanic introduced in Millionaire’s Row is that of deconstruction and renovation, that is, both Establishments and Landmarks can be deconstructed as well as constructed. Thus the Green Card ‘Demolition Company’ forces a player to demolish one of his Landmarks, though he does get eight coins and he can reconstruct the Landmark later. Establishments are not deconstructed, but rather closed for renovation. Thus the Green Card ‘Winery’ gives a player six coins when rolled for each Vineyard he owns, but then it closes for Renovation. When rolled, the Purple Card ‘Renovation Company’ allows a player to choose one type of Establishment in play and force all of them to close for Renovation, including those owned by other players. The rolling player gets one coin for each Establishment closed in this fashion. Any Establishment that is closed for Renovation receives a Renovation token and needs to be rolled again for the token to be removed. Until the Renovation token is removed, an Establishment cannot generate any income.

Not all of the new Establishments are always beneficial. The already mentioned Green Card ‘General Store’ only benefits a player when he has less than two constructed Landmarks, whilst the Green Card ‘Loan Office’ grants a player five coins when constructed (it is free to purchase), but makes him pay two coins back to the Bank when rolled on subsequent turns. Cards like this are primary candidates for use with the Green Card ‘Moving Company’ and the similar Purple Card ‘Business Centre’ from the core game that enable a player to move an Establishment to another player or swap one of his Establishments with that of another player. Here the ‘Moving Company’ gives a player four coins when he does this.

Lastly, the Purple Cards, ‘Park’ and ‘Tech Startups’, are interesting ways of getting more coins. The ‘Park’ forces all players’ coins to be collected and redistributed equally between all of the players, whilst at the end of each turn, a player can choose to place a single coin on the ‘Tech Startup’. Each time the ‘Tech Startup’ is rolled, coins equal to the number of coins on the card is collected from each of the other players.

The overall effect of Millionaire Row’s cards is to slow game play in two fundamental ways. The first is that many of the cards are designed to slow player down, particularly any runaway leader, the latter always a possibility in Machi Koro, especially if the Harbour Expansion is being used. Second, it increases the number of cards in play and can thus be drawn into the Marketplace, especially if the Harbour Expansion is being used. This can lead to situations where the only cards available for purchase can be two expensive and even when bought, may not generate income for a player. To an extent, this is countered by the free-to-buy ‘General Store’ and ‘Loan Office’ cards, but really this is an issue with Millionaire Row’s that could have been addressed.

Millionaire’s Row adds lots of interesting cards to the play of Machi Koro, but these add complexity and fundamentally slow gameplay down as does the profusion of cards being fed into the Marketplace. The complexity makes Machi Koro more of a gamer’s game than a family game, whilst the overstuffed Marketplace is a problem in search of a solution.

7
Go to the Carcassonne: Traders and Builders page
26 out of 30 gamers thought this was helpful

Traders and Builders is the second expansion for Carcassonne after Inns and Cathedrals. It adds a bag, new meeples for all of the players in the form of a builder and a pig, Trade Good tokens (cloth, grain, and wine), and a selection of new tiles.

The bag is the first and simplest of the additions in Traders and Builders. At game’s start all of the tiles are placed in the bag and mixed up, and then drawn title by tile from one player to the next. The bag keeps the tiles—some of which can be identified by their different coloured backs—hidden in a simple, elegant fashion.

The Traders aspect of the expansion does not actually add trading to Carcassonne. What it does is add tiles marked with the Trade Goods—cloth, grain, and wine—and whoever completes the city is awarded tokens equal to the number on the tiles in the city. No points are awarded for this, although the player with the most meeples on the city will score points for completing it. At game’s end, the player who has the most of each Trade Good is awarded points. Trade Goods add another means to score points and gives players more impetus to complete cities. This impetus can because a player wants more Trade Goods or deny another player the Trade Goods, or even to tempt another player to complete a city that you started and help you score!

The Pigs simply enhance the points scored by Farmers at the end of the game. A Pig needs to be placed in a field that a player already has a Farmer and wins the field at game’s end. It increases the points value of each city from four to five.

The Builder allows a player to take a second turn. A player needs to have a meeple already on a city or road before he can add the Builder, but if he has, then when he adds a new tile to that city or road, he gets to take another turn, drawing and placing a second tile. The Builder remains on the city or road until it is completed, but as long as it does, a player can keep adding tiles to it and gaining a second on subsequent turns. Of course, if a player cannot add more tiles to a feature with a Builder on it, then the Builder is stuck until he can…

Lastly, Traders and Builders add a solid selection of new tiles to Carcassonne. Many of these are marked with the Trade Goods symbols, whilst all of them add variety to the core game.

Traders and Builders adds a solid selection of expansions to Carcassonne. From a simply aesthetic stance, the Bag is the best of the selection, whilst the Pig is the cutest. That said, the Pig is not actually an all that interesting expansion, simply providing more points with a player not having to do very much. Builders is decent enough, but Traders does much more than the rest. It adds more competition and another tactical aspect to the game, making the construction of cities of so much more importance to the play of Carcassonne.

Best played with Inn and Cathedrals. The first two expansions for Carcassonne are definitely worth adding to your game. The rest is your choice only…

7
Go to the Love Letter: Legend of the Five Rings page
12 out of 15 gamers thought this was helpful

Love Letter: Legend of the Five Rings is the third iteration of the Japanese microgame published by the Alderac Entertainment Group. It is based upon the setting of Rokugan, also the setting for Legend of the Five Rings CCG and RPG, both now owned by Fantasy Flight Games. Designed for two to four players aged ten and up, it is card game that consists of just sixteen game cards, four reference cards, and thirteen Tokens of Affection as well as a tiny, thirty-two page rules booklet. The game altogether comes in an attractive green velvet bag.

Its story is that the youngest of Empress Iweko’s children, Iweko Miaka, is eligible for marriage. Her betrothal is set to be a great contest between the seven samurai clans of the Emerald Empire—for in winning her hand in marriage a samurai will bring great standing and glory to his clan. Although the marriage will be entirely political, the Empress’ only daughter must have her mother’s ear and so have some say as to the man who will marry her. So the best way to influence the decision is by winning the princess’ heart, but she is shy and reserved, interacting only through her inner circle. Perhaps one of them can pass a letter to her whilst fending off the suits of rival samurai?

Love Letter is played over several rounds during which the players attempt to press their suit. Their aim is be holding the card with the highest value at round’s end. Whoever does is awarded a Token of Affection. Garner enough Tokens of Affection and their suit is successful and Princess Miaka’s hand has been won.

Love Letter’s cards have a value of between one—the Seppun Tasuke Guard, and eight—the Princess herself. Each has an ability that triggers once played. The Seppun Tasuke Guard can ask another player what card he is holding; if correct that player is out of the round. The Courtier, Shosuro Yamazaki, can examine another player’s cards, whilst the Diplomat, Kaiu Akemi, can compare his card with another player’s, the lower value card indicating its player’s retirement. The Shugenja, Isawa Tenkawa, prevents a suitor from being targeted for a whole turn while Matsu Misato, the Hatamoto, forces another player to discard his hand and draw a new hand. The Manipulator, Doji Takato, forces another player to trade hands with the suitor, while Togashi Gozato, the Sensei must be discarded if a player has either the Manipulator or the Hatamoto in his hand. Lastly, the Princess always forces a player to retire if she is played.

At game’s start, the sixteen card deck is shuffled and one card discarded face down, this serving to randomise the deck. Each player receives one as his hand. On his turn, he draws another card and must discard one of the two cards he has. This is done face up, so everyone has idea of the cards in play. Yes, Love Letter encourages card counting! Play continues until the draw deck is empty or all but one player has been forced to retire. The surviving player with the highest value card has pressed his suit and wins a Token of Affection.

Love Letter is a game of deduction and risk with limited actions, sometimes to a player’s disadvantage. For example, Louise holds Princess Miaka in her hand. If she can hold it until the end of the round, Louise can get her letter to the Princess directly and win a Token of Affection. On her turn she draws the Manipulator, Doji Takato. Her choice is to discard the Princess and thus retire for the round, or Doji Takato, which forces her to trade hands with another player. Understandably, she opts for Doji Takato, trading hands with Dave. She receives Seppun Tasuke, the Guard. The Guard has a value of one, but can attempt to identify what another player has. Right now, she knows that Dave has the Princess. Dave also knows this, but likewise cannot discard the Princess. Fortunately, on his turn Dave then draws the Shugenja, Isawa Tenkawa, and goes to pray with him, preventing his being targeted until his next turn. Thus Louise cannot use her Guard to name the Princess—yet!

Love Letter is a Japanese game and so suits the fantasy Japanese setting of Legends of the Five Rings, particularly because the sending of letters is a courtly art in this setting. It is illustrated with decent art from the CCG that fit the game’s setting. This setting is explained in the expanded rulebook, though only a fan of the CCG or RPG will appreciate this aspect of the game. Certainly there is enough background here that knowledgeable players could bring a degree of roleplaying to the game as they play.

Love Letter – Legend of the Five Rings Edition is a solidly designed filler game, one that combines the need for careful deduction and a little guess work with a fitting theme. Managing to be both charming and quick, Love Letter – Legend of the Five Rings Edition is a lovely game that fits nicely into any games collection.

7
Go to the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game: Starter Set page
75 out of 101 gamers thought this was helpful

The Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set is the first release in the Dungeons & Dragons Essentials line, Wizards of the Coast’s re-launch of Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition. It sports the same distinctive Larry Elmore artwork and trade dress as Frank Menzter’s 1983 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set. It is designed to bring younger players into ,and older, lapsed players—the latter who recall the 1983 set—back into the hobby.

A streamlined version of the Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition RPG, it promises to deliver “Your First Step on the Road to Adventure”, but with its trademark emphasis on combat and skirmish-like play. It provides enough material to take four or more heroes from first to second level through both solo and group play. It contains a thirty-two page Player’s Book, the sixty-four page Dungeon Master’s Book, a large double-sided map, seventy-two Power and Magic Item Cards, fifty-six double-sided hero and monster tokens, four single-sided character sheets, and a set of polyhedral dice. Both books are magazine-like and will not withstand much handling. Similarly, the Power and Magic Item Cards are flimsy and need careful handling.

Marked “READ THIS FIRST!”, the box’s starting point is the Player’s Book. After a quick introduction, it gets the reader started with a solo adventure. This has the player’s character accompanying a Dwarf merchant to Fallcrest (Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition core campaign’s starting point as described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and H1, Keep on the Shadowfell), asking him to consider why his character is travelling to Fallcrest. Then a Goblin attack upon the caravan shifts the questions to asking how the character responds—this determines his Class. Leap into combat, he is a Fighter; heal the Merchant, he is a Cleric; and so on. Further questions define further elements of his Class.

This is an undeniably clever approach. The step-by-step learning process is gentle, teaching the reader to play the game and create characters. The choices are limited, but this speeds the process. Unfortunately the only means of creating characters in the box, so to create characters everyone has to play through the solo scenario. Without a quick guide, the process is slow and laborious for a group. Further, without a guide to the game’s powers, the process is further slowed.

The boxed set also starts at the wrong point. It gets the reader playing without addressing what roleplaying really is, how to roll and read the dice, and how to use boxed set’s contents. Also missing is an example of how the game is played as a group rather than solo activity, useful for Dungeon Master and player alike. This was an omission from the original Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set for Fourth Edition that made it such a poor introductory product.

The longer Dungeon Master’s Guide provides more detail about the game. It took quickly throws the Dungeon Master into handling his first Encounter, breaking down a simple ambush between the adventurers and four opponents, explaining it in some detail. The rules are just fourteen pages long, well written and are easy to understand. That said, they are a lot to take in for the first time reader and it is a big step up from playing to running the game even with the first Encounter along the way.

A third of the Dungeon Master’s Guide is devoted to the adventure, ‘The Twisting Halls’. This seven Encounter dungeon makes use of one side of the double-sided map, which nicely folds so that only the particular location for each Encounter shows. The dungeon is not linear, nor is it easy. Perhaps the most interesting Encounters is with a Fledgling White Dragon. Although only a Level One creature, it is a tough opponent for a party of First Level characters. Yet the adventure addresses another means of dealing with the creature—talking to it. One of the issues that I have had with Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition is its focus away from roleplaying and its parcelling up of roleplaying into Skill Challenges. Yet in ‘The Twisting Halls’, the Skill Challenge of “Talking to the Dragon” is well explained, covering both the Dragon’s attitude and what the players might do. This is the adventure’s high point, getting the player characters to do more than just fight. Overall, the adventure is decent, providing three or four sessions at a play rate of two Encounters per session and enough to get the player characters to Second Level.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide also discusses adventure creation—Quests, dungeon building—including reusing the Twisted Halls map, and designing Encounters. Rounding it out are descriptions of seventeen useful monsters, plus subtypes, enough to create several more Encounters. Rounding out the Dungeon Master’s Guide is a description of the Nentir Vale, home to Fallcrest as described above.

The Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set feels like a complete package. True, its content will not give as much playing time as the original red box Dungeons & Dragons Box Set, which took the players from first to third levels. Yet playing from first to second level is enough to get the flavour and feel of Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition. The design of the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set is well intentioned, with its step-by-step learning process, but it is not as executed as fully as it could have been. Both the step up from solo to group play and from playing to running the game could all have been better handled. Although not a problem for the lapsed player coming back to Dungeons & Dragons after time away, but they could be for the novice player.

Despite these issues with the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set, it is the introductory box set that Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition needs and should have got before the game’s launch. Its contents are engaging and well presented, and they serve as a solid learning tool. That it is eye catching and decently priced means that the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set is an added bonus.

6
Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game page
43 out of 52 gamers thought this was helpful

To gamers of a certain age, the mention of Castle Ravenloft will strike fear into their hearts and invoke strong memories. Originally published in 1983 for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition, the legendary I6: Ravenloft was a gothic horror adventure that pitted the heroes against the feared vampire, Count Strahd von Zarovich. Drawing upon Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the heroes braved the Count’s beautifully mapped castle and the crypts below, to save a young woman that the Count believed to be his long lost love. As they explored, danger was never far away as numerous undead attacked and the Count constantly toyed with them. I6: Ravenloft received a campaign setting, two roleplaying sequels, and a board game sequel.

The Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game is a co-operative board game in which adventurers venture into the catacombs under Castle Ravenloft to thwart the Count’s evil plans. It uses a simplified version of the Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition rules, but everyone takes turns being the Dungeon Master (or referee), so the danger never lets up!

The game comes crammed full of components—forty Dungeon Tiles, forty Hero, Villain, and Monster figures with cards each, plus Encounter, Power, and Treasure cards. Plus a Rulebook and a mission or Adventure Book. The miniatures are unpainted, but nicely sculpted and each has its own card. The monster cards just give combat details—Armour Class, Hit Points—most monsters have one, whilst the Count has twelve, its Tactics, its Attacks and Damage inflicted, and the Experience awarded for killing it. The Tactics are generally simple, for example, a Skeleton can attack an adjacent Hero or if within a tile of the Hero, charge for extra damage. The villains have multiple options, whilst the Hero cards are more detailed—Race, Name, Class (Wizard, Fighter, etcetera), some background, and special ability like Thorgrim, the Dwarf Cleric’s Aid Ability (heal another Hero one Hit Point if Thorgrim did not attack that turn). Plus they are double-sided as Heroes can go from First to Second Level. All Heroes have Utility, At-Will, and Daily Power Cards to choose and use during a game.

The game is played out the Dungeon Tiles which are laid out as the adventurers explore. Their objective is hold off the random monsters whilst trying to reach the ‘Quest Tiles’, target locations described in the missions given in the Adventure Book. Together they form the corridors and rooms of the crypts below Castle Ravenloft. The Adventure Book contains thirteen missions, two of which are designed to be played solo.

A player’s turn consists of three phases. During the Hero Phase, a Hero moves twice or moves and attacks. Defeating Monsters grants Experience towards Leveling Up and Treasure Cards. If the Hero is next to an unexplored edge, then in the Exploration Phase a new Dungeon Tile is drawn and added to the dungeon. The new Dungeon Tile is also populated with a new monster which is controlled by the Hero’s player until it is destroyed. The third and final phase is the Villain Phase is the most interesting. If no new Dungeon Tile was added in the Exploration Phase or the newly added Dungeon Tile has a black triangle, then an Encounter Card is drawn. This takes effect immediately can add an Environment (for example, ‘Bat Swarm’ makes attacking adjacent Dungeon Tiles difficult); an Event, such as ‘Strahd Attacks’, when the vampire lord appears suddenly, attacks everyone, and disappears; and Traps, such as a ‘Crossbow Turret’.)

Once any Encounter Card has been resolved, any Villains, Monsters, and Traps controlled by the current player activate, attacking and moving as their Cards dictate. Where the Villain Phase gets truly villainous is if there are two or more monsters of single type in play. If a player controls one of these monsters, he activates that monster, plus any controlled by the other players—and this happens every turn! So if you control a Spider during your Villain Phase, you control its movement and attack, plus that of every other Spider in play. This multiple monster rule forces the players to try and keep the number of monsters in play down to a minimum of one of each type.

Play has a certain rhythm, A Hero advancing to reveal more Dungeon Tiles and Monsters; Encounters occurring, then Monsters moving and attacking, before the next Hero can move and attack, trying to defeat Monsters before they can often all attack again. Encounter Cards add a weird, strange randomness, echoing the original I6: Ravenloft’s crypts.

Winning at the Castle Ravenloft Board Game means achieving the objectives listed for each mission, but the game is lost if the Heroes run out of Healing Surges. These are the game’s primary means of healing Heroes and usually only two available in a standard game.

The game never lets up on the Heroes, with new Monsters appearing and Encounters occurring almost every turn. They are relentlessly confronted with evil and the undead, which makes it challenging and tactical. Possibly dispiritingly difficult for younger players, but for older players this is light, tactical co-operative game, one that slightly echoes the original I6: Ravenloft scenario whilst modeling the best features of Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition. Indeed, it can be seen as a roleplaying game minus the roleplaying.

On its own, Castle Ravenloft Board Game offers hard play against a relentless foe. Yet it also serves as a basic introduction to Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition. Which leaves me with an interesting thought. For just a little time, before the release of Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Red Box, the fact is that Castle Ravenloft Board Game was the best introduction to Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition. Perhaps it still is…?

4
Go to the Exploding Kittens page

Exploding Kittens

38 out of 49 gamers thought this was helpful

It raised $8,782,571.

A card game about detonating cats raised a stupid amount of money. A stupid amount of money that was a record for Kickstarter.

And it was all for card game about blowing up cats.

So the question is, now that the card game has landed in the hands of its two-hundred-and nineteen thousand, three-hundred and eighty-two backers, has all of that support and money been worth the effort? In other words, is it a good game?

Published by Exploding Kittens, LLC after an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, Exploding Kittens: A Card Game for people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams and sometimes goats is a designed to be played by two to five players aged seven and over, is very easy to learn, and can be played in about fifteen minutes. It is a tactical game of kitten-fuelled Russian Roulette in which players push their luck in an attempt to avoid detonating cats using kitten distracting things like laser pointers, belly rubs, and catnip sandwiches, whilst trying to stop their rivals doing the same. If a player is faced with with an IEK (Improvised Explosive Kitten), then he can use a ‘Defuse’ card—the aforementioned laser pointers, belly rubs, and catnip sandwiches—to save both himself and the kitten. Or at least, just himself. Otherwise he must accept both the kitten cuteness and the explosion, go boom, and be knocked out of the game. The last, unexploded player wins the game.

Play begins with each player receiving a hand of five cards, including a single Defuse card. On his turn, a player draws card. If this is an Exploding Kitten card, then he must use a Defuse card or be blown up and out of the game. If not, the card goes into his hand and his turn ends.

Before that though, a player is free to play any and as many of the cards from his hand. These have a variety of effects. ‘Attack’ cards force the next player to take your turn and their turn—that is two turns on a row, thus drawing more cards; ‘Skip’ cards ends a player’s turn without having to draw a card; ‘Favour’ cards forces another player to give you a card of their choice; ‘Shuffle’ allows a player to shuffle the Draw Pile; ‘See the Future’ lets a player look at the cards at the top of the draw pile; and ‘Cat’ cards are played in in like pairs or trios or quintet to steal cards from other players or take from the Discard Pile. The effect of any cards played can be blocked by a ‘Nope’ card.

As much as Exploding Kittens is about avoiding IEKs, it is as much about preventing the other players avoiding them. This can be done most obviously by playing ‘Nope’ cards to counter their actions, but ‘Attack’ cards force them to draw more cards and increases their likelihood of drawing ‘Exploding Kitten’ cards, as do ‘Skip’ cards. ‘Favour’ and ‘Cat’ cards reduce the cards a player has and thus the number of actions he can take on his turn or his ability to play Defuse cards.

This reduction of a rival’s options becomes ever more critical as the game progresses and the Draw Pile is reduced and the likelihood of an ‘Exploding Kitten’ card being drawn increases. Here the use of the ‘See the Future’ and ‘Shuffle’ cards come into their own because they allow a player some degree of control over the Draw Pile in manipulating the Draw Pile in their favour.

Physically, Exploding Kittens is vibrantly produced. Everything is in full colour and comes in a box that is both sturdy and amusing*. Similarly, the game’s cards are silly and amusing. For example, ‘Deploy the thousand-year back hair’ and ‘Attack of the Bear-o-dactyl’ (Attack cards); ‘Rub Peanut Butter on your Belly Button and make some New Friends’ and ‘Ask for a Back Hair Shampoo’ (Favour cards); ‘Feast upon the unicorn enchilada and gain its enchilada powers’ and ‘Deploy the Special-Ops Bunnies’ (See the Future cards); ‘A Plague of Bat ***** Descends from the Sky’ and ‘An Electromagnetic Pomeranian Rolls in from the East’ (Shuffle cards); ‘Don the portable cheetah butt’ and ‘Commandeer a Bunnyraptor’ (Skip cards); ‘Feed your opponent a Nope Sandwich with Extra Nopesauce’ and ‘A Jackanope Bounds into the Room’ (Nope cards); and ‘Cattermelon’ and ‘Beard Cat’ (Cat cards).

*Note that your cats may not necessarily agree about how amusing this actually is.

So gameplay is simple, even simplistic. Which begs the question, what is the appeal of Exploding Kittens? Part of the game’s attraction is the fact that it is illustrated by The Oatmeal, the comic and blog artist for the eponymously named website. The artwork for the game’s cards is silly, funny, even nonsensical, and there is no doubt that it will make you laugh out loud. The game’s title, let alone its full title—Exploding Kittens: A Card Game for people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams and sometimes goats—should be enough to indicate that.

Yet is Exploding Kittens a good game?

For the gamer, it is not. Exploding Kittens is too light, lacks substance, and its ‘knock out’ mechanic will leave players with nothing to do but watch. For a family audience, its weird humour may be too odd for some and its adult expansion—Exploding Kittens: A Card Game for People who are into Kittens and Explosions and **** Wizards and sometimes Butts—is definitely not suited to a family audience. Well, it does carry the minimum age of thirty plus… For the casual player, Exploding Kittens will be a much more appealing prospect as the very light and silly diversion that is.

7
Go to the Coup page

Coup

29 out of 34 gamers thought this was helpful

In the near future, the government has become a ‘Corporatocracy’, the CEOs of the multi-national corporations forming a new ‘royal class’. Their greed has widened the divide between rich and poor until eventually, The Resistance grew out of the oppressed masses, dedicated to the overthrow of their corporate rulers. The efforts of The Resistance have not been in vain, sowing discord, intrigue and weakness in the political courts of the ‘noveau royal’, bringing the government to brink of collapse. With government so weak, now is the time for a powerful government official to manipulate, bribe, and bluff his way into absolute power.

This is the set up for Coup, a card game of secret identities, deduction, and deception set in the same universe as Indie Boards & Cards’ The Resistance in which the players, as ambitious government officials, plot to be the one to overthrow the current regime. It is designed to be played by two to six players, aged thirteen and up, in roughly fifteen minutes. To win a player must end the influence of his rivals and force them into exile—there can only be one man to take the reins of government in this tempestuous time.

The game consists of fifteen character cards, six player reference cards, a bag of fifty coins, and an eight-page rules booklet. The fifteen character cards consist three each of five characters—The Duke, the Assassin, the Ambassador, the Captain, and the Contessa. Each of the characters can legitimately perform one or more actions, but often these actions will be ‘illegitimately’ performed by other characters. If caught doing so and challenged, then the player controlling that character will lose Influence. Lose enough Influence and the player is forced into exile and knocked out of the game.

At game’s start, each player receives two coins, two character cards, and a reference card that explains the actions that each player can undertake on their turn. The two character cards are laid face down and remain hidden until challenged. Certain actions allow a character card to be replaced, but because the two character cards represent a player’s Influence, if both are eliminated, the player is forced into exile.

On his turn, a player can conduct one of seven actions. The Income action allows him to take one coin from the bank. The Foreign Aid action allows him to take two coins, but the Duke can block this action. The Duke can also be used to conduct the Tax action and gain the player three coins. By expending three coins, a player can use the Assassin’s Assassinate action to remove one of a rival’s characters and reduce his Influence. The Assassinate action can be blocked by the Contessa—the Contessa does not have an action of her own, only this blocking action. The Ambassador’s Exchange action allows him to replace one of characters with a new one from the Court deck. The Captain’s Steal action enables him to take two coins from another player, though this can be countered by another Captain or the Ambassador. Lastly, by expending seven coins, a player can launch a Coup and remove one of a rival’s characters and so reduce his Influence. If a player accumulates ten or more coins, he must launch a Coup on his next turn.

Once a player has selected and announced his action, his rivals are free to respond with a challenge or a counteraction. This is where the game becomes interesting. A player can conduct the Income, Foreign Aid, and Coup actions with impunity (though Foreign Aid can be blocked), but every other requires that state that he has the appropriate character to conduct that action—the Captain to Steal, the Duke to claim Foreign Aid, or the Assassin to Assassinate, for example. Similarly, when issuing a counteraction, such as the Contessa’s ability to block Assassinations or the Duke’s to block Foreign Aid, a player must state that he has that character.

9
Go to the Machi Koro: Harbor Expansion page

Machi Koro: Harbor Expansion

81 out of 87 gamers thought this was helpful

Machi Koro is a beautifully simple game with a problem. The Japanese ‘dice and card building’ game published by IDW Games has proved to be a hit and a very good gateway to Japon games. The problem is that the game has a limited number of paths to victory. Either a player opts to buy Cheese Factories and powers them with Ranches or he opts to buy Furniture Factories and powers them with Mines and Forests. During the game, because all of Machi Koro’s cards are laid out to buy, the game has a static feel with there being nothing to stop another player from selecting these paths to victory. This limits the game’s replayability, which is a shame, because Machi Koro’s design is still good. It just needs something to take that good design and turn it into a good game that people will come back to.

Machi Koro: Harbor Expansion is the first expansion for the game. It adds coins worth twenty coins each. More importantly, it does several things with its sixty-eight cards, but does it address the problem at the heart of the game?

The very first thing that Machi Koro: Harbor Expansion does is provide the means to add a fifth player to the base game. On one level, this simply means another set of the four Landmark cards—a Station, a Shopping Mall, an Amusement Park, and a Radio Tower—that need to be built to win the game and the two starting cards for generating income—a Wheat Field and a Bakery. That though is for the base game, because after that is where Machi Koro: Harbor expansion gets interesting.

Second, it adds three new Landmark cards. The first of these is City Hall, which enters play face up and can be used from the start of the game. It generates money if a player does not have any money before he purchases an Establishment. The second, the Harbor, is what the expansion is named for and activates a number of fishing related Establishments once purchased. Where the Harbor is cheap to buy, the third Landmark, the Airport is not. It gives a player coins when he does not buy anything, though given its cost, the Airport’s effect will rarely enter play as most players will purchase it to win the game. There are of course, enough of the new Landmark cards for five players.

Third, it adds a swathe of new Establishment cards. The Red-coloured food outlets—Hamburger Stands, Pizza Joints, and Sushi Bars—give more means to force a player to pay their owners when their numbers are rolled. Both of the new Green-coloured cards—Food Warehouse and Flower Shop—are powered by other cards rather themselves. Apart from the Flower Shop, the other Blue-coloured cards—Mackerel Boat and Tuna Boat—require the Harbor to have been bought if they are to work. Lastly, the new Purple-coloured Special cards—Publisher and Tax Office—give news means to take money from the other players. Some of these cards are powerful, for example, the Tax Office takes half of the coins of any player who has ten coins or more, whilst the Tuna Boat grants a player two dice’ worth of coins. The new cards also strengthen the numbers available, for example, the Flower Shop can rolled on a six; they oppose other cards, for example, the Wheat Field is countered by the Sushi Bar, one generates money, the other taxes the player who rolled, both require a roll of one; and with the Tuna Boat they extend the number range from one to twelve to one to fourteen. This only comes into play if a player has a bought a Harbor which grants a bonus to a player’s roll if he rolls a ten or more.

Fourth and last, Machi Koro: Harbor makes a radical to the Market Place—the place from where the players purchase Establishments. In the base game every type of Establishment card is available to buy, but this expansion limits the Market Place to just ten unique Establishments at a time. These are set up at game start, with duplicate Establishments forming their own card piles. As soon as the last of an unique Establishment is purchased, a new one is drawn. If a duplicate is drawn, it is added to its own pile and Establishments are are drawn until there are ten unique ones in the Market Place. What this does is prevent easy access to particular paths to victory—for example, purchasing Cheese Factories and powering them with Ranches, or with this expansion, Flower Shops powered by Flower Orchards, Food Warehouses powered by by food outlets like Cafes, Family Restaurants, Hamburger Stands, Pizza Joints, and Sushi Bars. It does not prevent total access, but forces the players to generalise and adapt to the cards available rather than cherry picking. It also makes game play random.

There is a great deal to like about Machi Koro: Harbor. It mixes game play up, adding a much needed random element and countering the original game’s paths to victory. It thus makes the game less predictable and longer to play, but gives a more satisfying playing experience. It makes Machi Koro a much, much better game. You may play Machi Koro a few times, but with Machi Koro: Harbor, you will play again and again.

7
Go to the Waggle Dance page

Waggle Dance

6 out of 7 gamers thought this was helpful

Waggle Dance is a game about Bees and the dance they do to make honey. Published by Grublin Games via Kickstarter, it is a worker placement game designed for two to four players, aged ten and up, in which the workers—or Bees—are simple six-sided dice. Each turn the players roll their dice—or Bees—and then in turn, place them according to the numbers rolled. From one turn to the next, the Bees want to expand their hive, claim and hatch the eggs laid by their Queen, collect nectar, trade eggs and nectar, make honey, and gain orders from the Queen Bee. As the Forebee for their hive, the aim for each player is to expand his hive and get each Honeycomb Tile to produce honey. The first Forebee to do so wins the game.

Each turn is divided into two phases—Day and Night, a Day/Night card being used to indicate which phase. In the Day phase each Forebee rolls his Bees and takes it turn to place them in turn, either on the Forebee’s Hive or the Action Cards. There are seven of these. Four of the Action Cards—’Claim Tile’, ‘Hatch Egg’, ‘Trade’, and ‘Draw a Queen Bee Card’—are marked with six die faces, numbered one through six. When a Bee of the matching number is placed on one of these positions, another cannot be placed there, so it is possible to block other Forebees. There are actually six ‘Claim Nectar’ Action Cards, each corresponding to six different flowers, and like the other Action Cards—’Hatch Egg and Make Honey’ and ‘Move Nectar’, there is no limit to the numbers of Bees that can be placed on them.

To add a new Honeycomb Tile to his Hive, a Forebee must place a Bee on the ‘Claim Tile’ Action Card. To add a new Bee-or ‘Newbee’—a Forebee needs to have both an Egg and a pair of Bees with matching numbers on a Honeycomb tile, and then place a Bee on the ‘Hatch Eg’ Action Card. To get a new Egg, a Bee must be placed on the ‘Claim Egg’ Action Card, the new Egg being added to an empty tile. ‘Claim Nectar’ gives a Forebee the nectar needed to make honey, but only the two Forebees with the most Bees on a flower—there are six flowers—can collect nectar from that flower. A Forebee can swap Eggs or nectar for the nectar of the colour he wants by placing a Bee on the ‘Trade’ Action Card.

The ‘Make Honey & Move Nectar’ Action Card is the most complex in Waggle Dance. Move Nectar enables a Forebee to move nectar from one tile to another, but needs to have Bees of matching numbers on both the tile the nectar is being moved from and to. Much like the ‘Hatch Egg’ Action Card, the ‘Make Honey’ Action Card requires a pair of Bees with matching numbers on the tile plus four nectar of the same colour. Once done, the tile is turned over to its Honey side. Lastly, the ‘Draw Queen Bee Card’ Action Card lets a Forebee draw Queen Bee Cards, which grant special actions, such as ‘Bounty’ which allows a Forebee to claim extra Nectar, ‘Overtime’ that lets him change number of a rolled Bee, and ‘Alchemy’, which enables him to make Honey using nectar of two different colours. Each Queen Bee Card can only be used once.

At game start, each Forbee receives six Bees (dice) and three Honeycomb Tiles. The base objective is turn five Honeycomb Tiles into honey, but this can be increased to seven or eight depending upon the desired game length. Whatever the length, turning all of them into Honey first wins the game.

Each turn is divided into Day and Night Phases. In the Day Phase, every Forebee rolls his Bees and assigns them. In the Night Phase, each Action is resolved in strict order of the Action cards. At the end of each turn, the Day/Night card is passed onto the next player, so the first player changes from turn to turn.

The first challenge of Waggle Dance is that a Forebee must work with the Bees he rolled and this can hinder his plans. The second is that the core Action Cards—‘Hatch Egg’ and ‘Make Honey’—need be set up beforehand to work. The third is that the other Forebees face the same challenges and will often hinder each other. What this means is that Waggle Dance is more of a tactical game rather than a strategic one as long range planning is not possible, a Forebee having to reconsider his actions and his plans from one turn to the next. This also means that Waggle Dance is not a complex worker placement game.

Waggle Dance is finely balanced in its actions and play. A forebee needs to keep an eye on the actions of his fellow forebees and to not focus too much on one action over another. For example, it is too easy to concentrate on hatching eggs and gaining more Bees when others are making honey!

Unfortunately there is little actual player interaction in Waggle Dance. Nor is it as good with two players as it is with three or four. Nevertheless, Waggle Dance has much going for it.

Waggle Dance is very nicely presented, with appropriate artwork and even the pips on the dice being honeycomb shaped and having bees instead of ones! Mechanically light and easy, with a charming and engaging theme, Waggle Dance both suitable for a family audience and the hardened gamer who still wants a challenge.

5
Go to the Cthulhu!!!: Hastur La Vista, Baby! page
17 out of 19 gamers thought this was helpful

Despite publishing innumerable games and supplements, Twilight Creations, Inc. is still best known for its very first release, Zombies!!! Arguably, the 2001 Origins Award winner for Best Graphic Presentation of a Board Game and semi-co-operative, zombie smashing, tile-laying, running from the cadaver cavalcade board game set the groundwork for almost every zombie-themed game published in the fourteen years since. It saw the players racing for the helicopter to escape the town and encroaching zombie horde, fighting their way through the corpse cortege whilst setting zombies in the paths of their rivals and taking advantage of the Event cards whose gruesomely great artwork was the reason that Zombies!!! won the award.

Now Twilight Creations has revisited Zombies!!! Not for its theme, but its mechanics. The theme is replaced by the Cthulhu Mythos—in particular Hastur—and the game is Cthulhu!!!: Hastur La Vista, Baby! Designed for two to six players, aged fifteen and up, it is set in the 1920s in the Lovecraft Country town of Kingsport where ruthless cultists of Hastur aim to bring the Great Old One to Earth. As doughty private eyes and quick-witted girl Fridays, the heroes must find and sanctify enough ritual sites to prevent the summoning. Not only must they face his cultists, they will be harried by Hastur’s servants—the dreaded Byakhee—as they try make use of the Relics to sanctify each site. This will not only prevent Hastur coming to Earth, it will earn the players Victory Points and whomever has the most at game end wins. If that is, three Ritual Sites have been sanctified; if not, the last player standing wins.

The game comes well appointed, with lots of miniature figures for the Cultists and the Byakhee; full colour, if somewhat dark and gloomy map tiles; full colour Relic and Event cards—the latter pleasingly gruesome; plus card tokens to represent each player’s’ Bullets, Life, and Sanity. At game start, each player selects a Private Eye or girl Friday pawn and three Event cards. Everyone starts out at the Church.

Each turn a player draws a new Map Tile, adding it to the map and seeding it with either Cultists or a Byakhee. Named building tiles will also have either a Bullet or Life token on them, whilst Ritual Sites are seeded with both Cultists and a Byakhee. Then he rolls the die and moves, fighting through Cultists and Byakhee on the way. Fighting Byakhee risks losing a player Sanity and they are harder to kill, but defeating them earns a player more Relic cards than does defeating Cultists. Bullet tokens can be used to modify combat dice rolls, but should a player lose either all of his Life or Sanity tokens, he must start again, but with less Sanity! Should a player have his Sanity permanently reduced to less than one, he is out of the game. At the end of his turn, a player moves a random number of Byakhee and Cultists.

Ritual Sites are of course heavily protected and difficult to defeat, but once done, a player can discard Relic cards to sanctify it. If a player dies on a Ritual Site, the Cultists are successful and the site is activated. If three are activated, Hastur comes to Earth!

Stopping this is a challenge. Fortunately the players have Events to help them. These can grant more Life or Sanity, permanently increase a player’s Life, automatically defeat a Byakhee, give a player a weapon like a knife or Tommy Gun, and so on. Yet other Event cards directly interfere with other players, for example, forcing them to lose all Sanity or Bullets, stealing their weapon, sending Byakhee at them, and so on.
Given the take that aspect of Cthulhu!!!, the players need to decide how they play the game—fully co-operatively or semi-co-operatively and thus partially against each other. Fully co-operatively and Cthulhu!!! is easier to win; semi-co-operatively and the game is more challenging. As a co-operative game, it is of course easier to win than Zombies!!!, but semi-co-operatively and the game is about as challenging.

Given the fact that mechanically, Cthulhu!!! is based on Zombies!!!, the game is solidly designed and playable. This will make it easy for Zombies!!! fans to pick up and play, whilst the co-operative game play should hopefully make it just different enough for them to play. The actual balance between co-operative or semi-co-operative play is well handled and not biased towards one or the other. Where the game feels underdeveloped is in its theme, but it should be remembered that this is pulpy shoot ‘em up, not a psychological study of the insidious influence of the Yellow Sign. That said, it seems a pity not have taken the ‘Cthulhu!!!’ aspect of the title and done something with that rather the lesser known Hastur Mythos.

Although it may lack the depth that devotees of the Mythos might want, Cthulhu!!!: Hastur La Vista, Baby! is overall a solid, though not spectacular, design.

8
Go to the Pandemic: The Cure page

Pandemic: The Cure

114 out of 138 gamers thought this was helpful

Pandemic: The Cure is not another expansion for the classic co-operative Pandemic, but a standalone game that shares the same theme and objectives, yet introduces a physicality to its mechanics. Pandemic: The Cure is a dice game, continuing the trend of taking well-known board games and re-implementing them as dice games, from the Catan Dice Game to Roll for the Galaxy. In Pandemic: The Cure the diseases have become Infection dice, rolled to randomly determine where they appear. Similarly the players’ actions have become dice, rolled randomly to determine what they can do.

The players now have to undertake two tasks in order to find a cure for each disease—collect samples and then roll to find a cure. A sample is one Infection die that has been treated and collecting a Sample means that a player must sacrifice one of his action dice to store that Sample until the cure can be rolled for.

This rolling of dice has a number of big effects. Obviously, it adds a random element to the Pandemic design, lessening the ability to predict which diseases are going to appear and where, as in the board game, though prediction is still possible—the players can still track the colour of the dice available on the table—but no more than that. Unable to predict what dice will appear and where, the players will find Pandemic: The Cure a more
proactive than reactive game.

Unlike in Pandemic, the diseases cannot be eradicated. They still keep coming back out of the bag to infect Region Tiles anew and can still trigger Outbreaks, though like the boardgame, once a cure has been found, they are easier to Treat. This further forces the players to track the number of Infection dice in play.

Players having their own dice and being able to re-roll undesired results, means that the number of actions they have from one turn to the next can vary wildly. Some turns it might be none, others it might be as many as five. Collecting Samples means temporarily giving up dice—and thus actions.

The game consists of a plastic hoop—the Treatment Centre—with peg holes to track both the Infection Rate and Outbreaks; six numbered disks—the Region Tiles—each one corresponding to a continent, plus another disk representing the CDC headquarters; seven role cards plus corresponding pawns and action dice; a Cured Disease card and ten Event cards; a cloth bag; and forty-eight Infection dice in four colours. At game start, the Region Tiles are laid out in order around the Treatment Centre, everyone receives a Role card and the corresponding dice. Then twelve Infection dice are rolled to determine which Region Tile they are placed on.

The Infection dice are where the game begins to get clever. The opposite sides of normal six-sided dice always add up to seven; not so here. Instead, the numbers are weighted so that they will always land on certain Region Tiles. For example, rolls of five only appear on black or yellow dice and when rolled are placed on the Africa Regional Tile, whereas rolls of one appear on blue or red dice and are placed on the North America Region Tile. Then are the player dice. All have the same symbols—an aeroplane (Fly to any Region), a Ship (Sail to an adjacent Region), Hypodermic Needle (Treat an Infection die and move it to the Treatment Centre), a Bottle (Sample an Infection die in the Treatment Centre and save it for a Cure attempt), First Aid (used to buy Event cards), and lastly, a Biohazard symbol. When rolled, this moves the syringe along on the Infection Track and increases the chance of an epidemic.

Each set of role dice also has its own symbols, representing special actions. For example, the Medic has multiple Hypodermic Needles on some dice which allow him to Treat multiple Infection dice with one action, whilst the Dispatcher has the Helicopter symbol which can be saved to airlift anyone to any Region Tile before the Dispatcher’s next turn.

On his turn, a player rolls his dice, using them as necessary or re-rolling; travelling to the different Regions, Treating Infection dice, collecting Samples, and so on. Biohazard results cannot be re-rolled. Just like in Pandemic, the players need to Treat the Infections and find a Cure, which is done by Treating Infection dice and moving them to the Treatment Centre, and from there collecting Samples which can be rolled to find a Cure. The latter simply involves rolling the collected Samples and beating the target. At the end of his turn, a player draws more Infection dice from the bag and rolls to see where they appear.

Like Pandemic, there is one way to win—find the four cures, and like Pandemic, there are multiple ways to lose. These are running out of time (the infection rate syringe reaches the end of the Infection Track), too many Outbreaks (eight or more), and too many people infected (not enough Infection dice to be drawn from the bag). Like Pandemic, it is also a co-operative game. The players need to work together and every player’s turn is about discussing the possible optimal actions as well as carrying them out.

Ultimately, the rolling of dice and and the design of the playing area do undermine the game. The problem is that it abstracts the Pandemic concept and hinders a player’s engagement with the game. No longer is he trying to save Istanbul or Shanghai, but rather the world in general. Yet the dice add variability and frustration to the game in equal measure as well as tension—is your next roll going to save humanity or help destroy them? Rolling dice also add a physicality, making the game more hands-on and engaging.

Streamlined and quicker to play, Pandemic: The Cure is Pandemic’s lighter, simpler, and more family friendly brother. Perhaps a little overpriced, Pandemic: The Cure is the slick addition to the Pandemic family.

6
Go to the Just Desserts page

Just Desserts

21 out of 23 gamers thought this was helpful

Looney Labs—best known for the FLUXX family of games—has opened a restaurant and wants to employ you in serving the best desserts that you can. For the restaurant serves only desserts and only desserts (or puddings), never starters, main courses, or the cheese board, and it does so to a clientele that is very particular about what it does not like. Serve the right customers the right desserts and you can be the best waiter or waitress.

This is the set up for Just Desserts, a new card game from Looney Labs that is designed for two to five players, aged eight and up with a suggesting playing time of ten to forty minutes. It consists of two decks of cards, the Dessert Deck and the Guest Deck. The Dessert Deck consists of dishes such as Pecan Pie, Fruit Salad, and Baked Alaska. Each of these is named and illustrated and is also marked with one or more Taste Icons of which there are twelve in the game. For example, Fruit Salad consists of one Taste Icon, which of course, is Fruit; Pecan Pie consists of the Nuts and Pie Taste Icons; and Baked Alaska is made up of Fruit, Cake, Ice Cream, and Chocolate Taste Icons. The Guest Deck is made up potential customers divided into six suits (measuring jug/blue, spatula/green, mixer/red, oven glove/orange, chef’s hat/yellow, and rolling pin/purple). Each Guest is named and illustrated, given a card colour and suit, the Taste Icons that he likes and dislikes as well as his favourite desserts. For example, The Lumberjack likes Ice Cream and Cookies, but not Nuts, and her favourite desserts is Ice Cream Cone. Some Guests have more than one Favourite Desserts. For example, The Emperor likes Devil’s Food Cupcakes and Chocolate Angel Food Cake.

To win Just Desserts a player needs to serve the right desserts to the right Guests. This requires that he successfully serves three Guests of the same suit or five Guests of different suits.

At game start each player receive three Dessert Cards and three Guest Cards are played face up unclaimed. On his turn a player draws a new Dessert Card and a new Guest Card then does one of three things. These can be ‘Satisfy up to two Guests’, ‘Go back to the Kitchen’ (and draw an extra Dessert Card), or ‘Dump the Tary’ (discard Dessert Cards and then draw back up). To satisfy a Guest, a player matches the Taste Icons on the Dessert Cards in his hand with those on the unclaimed Guest Cards. For example, The Hippie likes the Ice Cream, Chocolate, and Fruit Taste Icons. A player matches these using the Fruit and Ice Cream Taste Icons on Strawberry Ice Cream and the Chocolate Taste Icon on Peanut Butter Cups—in doing so, he also ignores the Nuts Taste Icon on the Peanut Butter Cups as The Hippie does not mind Nuts. Having successfully served the Guest, the player adds her toward his winning total. Now The Hippie has two Favourites—Neapolitan Ice Cream and Banana Split—and if a player can serve her one of these, he not only adds The Hippie to the Guests that he has successfully served, he also gets a Tip, which means that he can draw an extra Dessert Card.

If at the end of a player’s turn there are two or more unclaimed Guests of a matching suit, then one of them must be discarded. Although added to the discard pile, he is regarded as ‘standing in the doorway’ and can still be served and claimed by another player. As soon as another Guest has to be discarded, the previous Guest has left and cannot be claimed.

This then is the basic game. Three advanced rules provide player interaction. ‘Poaching & Blocking’ enables a player to steal a Guest from another player by satisfying his preferences, though can be blocked if the owning player can re-satisfy his Guest. By ‘Opening a Buffet’ a player discards four Dessert Cards with single Taste Icons to force the other players to move one of their satisfied Guests back to being unclaimed. ‘Surprise Parties’ allow a player to interrupt another player either satisfying or Poaching a Guest by using that Guest’s Favourite dessert. Unfortunately, the player does not get a Tip for this.

Physically, Just Desserts is nicely done, with cheery, full colour artwork. The rules are well written and clearly presented.

One issue with Just Desserts is that the designer does overestimate the playing time—twenty minutes is a more reasonable estimate than the given maximum of forty. Further, matching the Taste Icons may be a little fiddly in places for some players. Another is that even with the advanced options—Poaching & Blocking, Opening a Buffet, and Surprise Parties—the game is not that complex and not that satisfying. At least not for the hardened gamer, but to be fair, Just Desserts is not designed with them in mind. Such a gamer will be better off with FLUXX or any number of deeper, filler games.

With its light theme and its cheery artwork, Just Desserts is a light and likeable card game, best suited to a family audience with casual or younger players.

7
Go to the Are You A Werewolf? page
27 out of 31 gamers thought this was helpful

Given the very modern proliferation of ‘hidden identity and deduction’ games, from The Resistance and Avalon to Nosferatu and Ultimate Werewolf, it is a surprise to see the original game that they are based upon back in print. Of course, Are you a Werewolf? is not even the original version of that game—as the rather interesting History* of the game will testify—but it is the source from which many other games have sprung. Originally published by Looney Labs in 2001, the question is, can Are you a Werewolf? stand up in the face of so many hidden identity come latelies?

*Did you read the history yet? If not, why not? Personally I think it more interesting than this review.

Are you a Werewolf? is described as ‘A Game of Deception, Paranoia, and Mob Rule’ and is designed for between seven and sixteen players. It takes place in a village at a time when pitchforks and torches are de rigeur fashion items and a lynching is a seen as a good day out, more so because the village is beset by werewolves! The villagers know that there are werewolves amongst their number, but not who they are. Fortunately they have amongst their number an ancient wise woman who is a Seer capable of identifying werewolves. Unfortunately the villagers are stubbornly superstitious and know that the best way of de-werewolving the village is to lynch someone in the morning—and if that just happens to be the wise old woman who is also the Seer, well she deserved it because everyone knew that she could float like a duck, right?

The game consists of twenty cards and a rules leaflet, all done in black and white. Play requires a Moderator who receives the Moderator card and whose job it is to regulate the phases of the game as they pass from Night to Day to Night, and so on. Bar some blank cards, the remaining cards are identity cards consisting of one Seer card and two Werewolf cards with all of the rest being Villager cards. These cards are handed out, one to each player who keeps them secret from the other inhabitants of the village. They will include both the Seer card and the Werewolf cards. The aim of the game for the Villager players is to identify (and lynch) the Werewolf players before the lycanthropes can overwhelm the village and eat everyone, whilst the aim of the Werewolf players is to keep their identities very, very secret, and not so not get lynched whilst snacking on a Villager each and every night. If this involves eating the Seer, then they will have an advantage. Her aim is to help the Villagers identify the Werewolves, but she must keep her identity secret because if the Werewolves identify her, then she will be the their target on the next night and without her, identifying the Werewolves is a whole lot more challenging!

Are you a Werewolf? is simple to play. Each Night the two Werewolves confer and select a Villager to chomp down on whilst the Seer learns the Secret Identity of one other player, be it Villager or Werewolf. Then in the Morning, everyone in the Village wakes up and discovers the dead player and what his Secret Identity is—that player is also out of the game. The remaining Villagers—which of course include the surviving Werewolves—must vote as to which one of their number they believe to be a Werewolf and needs lynching, and it is here that the mob rules. The victimised player must reveal his Secret identity and he too, is also out of the game.

All of this is monitored and marshalled by the Moderator. He has a little script which he reads out in order to keep the fear and loathing organised and running along nicely.

Are you a Werewolf? is a light game of bluff and deduction combined with desperate persuasion that is easy enough to throw into a bag when going to a convention or any big social gathering or party. It works equally as well with non-gamers as it does with gamers because its rules are simple, the preparation time is minimal, and its theme is highly accessible—after all, everyone has seen a classic horror movie or two and with Are you a Werewolf?, the players get to be in their own horror movie! Indeed, playing Are you a Werewolf? gives everyone the chance to act (or roleplay) as much as they want and that can be as much part of the game as the deduction and the bluffing.

Physically, Are you a Werewolf? is very simple, being nothing more than a set of black and white cards and a small rulesheet. The latter expands a little upon the game play and gives some advice, but to be honest, the game’s rules would fit on one of its cards.

Playing Are you a Werewolf? is fun and the more you put into it, the more that you get out of it. If it has a fault, it is the elimination aspect of the game, but that is the point of it, plus the Moderator should really keep things moving lest they bog down and drag the game out.

There is a place on your gaming shelf for Are you a Werewolf? It is simple, it is elegant, and it handles larger groups than most games. Whilst many titles since have offered greater sophistication and retheming, Are you a Werewolf? offers a stripped back, more desperate playing experience.

5
Go to the Yardmaster Express page
18 out of 20 gamers thought this was helpful

If you thought that at twenty minutes long that Yardmaster was too long a game, then there is a solution. Funded through Kickstarter and also published by Crash Games, Yardmaster Express is a micro game that can be played in ten minutes however many players you have. Designed for between two and five players, aged thirteen plus, in Yardmaster Express, the players attempt to build the most valuable train in a limited number of turns.

The game consists of one Start Player token, five Engine cards, thirty-two Railcar cards, and four Caboose cards. At the start of the game, each player receives an Engine card to which he will attach his Railcar cards and one player is given the Start Player token. This player draws a hand of Railcar cards equal to the number of players. He then takes his turn.

On his turn, a player draws one Railcar card and adds it to his hand. He then plays one card from his hand. Each Railcar card is two-and-a-half inches square and divided vertically in half. Each half of the Railcar card has a colour and a number on it as well as a railcar. Both the colour and the number on each side can be the same or they can be completely different. What matters is that when added to a player’s train, the colour or the number of the new Railcar must match the colour or the number of the last Railcar in the train. So for example, the last Railcar in Dave’s is a Green 2. Thus he can play either another Green card or any card with a value of 2. If a player lacks a card that he can add to his train, then he flip a card and play it as a Wild Card, in which it acts as any colour or number.

At the end of his turn, a player collects up his hand and passes it to the player on his left, who then takes his turn.

Once a set number of round have passed—seven for two players, six for three players, and so on, then the game ends. The players add up the value of the numbers on the railcars in his train—that is, both numbers on each Railcar cards—to get a total. The player with the longest run of one colour of railcars receives a bonus equal to their number. The player with the highest total is the winner.

Now what is clear here is there is only the one hand of Railcar cards. It is this that is passed from one player to next, each time the holding player drawing and playing a Railcar card. The draw, play, and pass mechanic feels not dissimilar to that of 7 Wonders, though of course, there is only the one hand of cards whereas everyone has a hand of cards in 7 Wonders. The same two core choices are offered here as in 7 Wonders—does a player add a Railcar to his train because he needs it, or because it will prevent another player from adding a Railcar that he needs? This choice may not always be there, but it needs to be kept in mind when it is. The game though, is primary luck based, players relying on drawing the Railcar cards that they want to play rather than on cards that they want to prevent another player using..

Yardmaster Express is nicely presented. The cards are of a high quality and a nice touch is the basic rules are printed on the Engine cards for easy reference. The rules are easy to read and learn. The packaging is nicely sturdy. The addition of the wooden Start Player token is nice too as is a mini-expansion and some variant rules.

Given the lack choices and actions—just draw a card, play a card, pass the cards on—Yardmaster Express is suited to a younger audience, rather than the suggested minimum age of thirteen which feels rather high. It also plays better with three or four players as with five players, the number of turns feels far too short. Yet despite its simplicity, Yardmaster Express is reasonable filler, one that fits easily into a bag and carried around.

6
Go to the Yardmaster page

Yardmaster

16 out of 18 gamers thought this was helpful

Crash Games’ Yardmaster is a quick playing card game—roughly twenty minutes in length—for two to five players, aged thirteen and up. Each player is working the train yard, trying to organise freight cars as they roll into the yard and load them onto their trains ready for departure. Unfortunately, the freight cars have to be attached to the locomotive in the right order—determined either by colour or value—or they cannot be attached. So essentially, players of Yardmaster just need to get their cards in order…

Inside Yardmaster’s sturdy little box can be found one-hundred-and twenty-five cards, six tokens, and a twelve-page rulebook. The cards consist of three types: fifty Railcar Cards, seventy Cargo Cards, and five Engine Cards. The Railcar cards and most of the Cargo cards consist of matching types. So there are Automobile (purple), Coal (blue), Livestock (red), Oil (yellow), and Timber (green) Railcars, which need to be loaded with Automobile (purple), Coal (blue), Livestock (red), Oil (yellow), and Timber (green) Cargo cards. The Railcars are numbered from one to four, the number indicating both the number Cargo cards they need to be loaded with and the value that they add to a player’s train. So an Oil Railcar with a value of two needs to be loaded (or purchased) with two Oil Cargo cards before it can be attached to a player’s train. Ten of the Cargo cards are actually Bonus cards which grant a player various extra actions. The Engine cards indicate the start of a player’s train. In addition, the game comes with six card tokens—five Exchange Rate tokens, and one Yardmaster token. There is an Exchange Rate token for each type of Cargo, enabling a player swap two of a particular Cargo card type for one of another. So for example, the Coal Exchange Rate token can be used to swap two Coal cards for a another type of Cargo card, say Livestock or Timber. The Yardmaster token grants the holder an extra action.

At game’s start, each player receives an Engine card, a random Exchange token—if there are fewer than five players, the spare ones sit in the middle of the playing area where they can be swapped for during the game, and five Cargo cards. Four Railcar cards are placed face up in the Arrival Yard and one Cargo card is drawn and placed face up as the start of the Discard pile. The player to the starting player’s right receives the Yardmaster token.

On his turn a player can conduct two actions out of a choice of three. He can draw a new Cargo card—either from Cargo deck or the Cargo Discard pile; buy a Railcar from the Arrival Yard; or swap his Exchange Rate token with any other. To buy a Railcar, a player must discard a number of Cargo cards equal to the number on the Railcar. If the Railcar matches the type/colour or the number of the last Railcar in his train, a player can immediately add it to his train. For example, the last Railcar in a player’s Train is a Timber Railcar with a value of one. He can add any other Timber Railcar to his Train, no matter what its value, or any other type of Railcar if its value is also one. If a player has purchased any other card , that is, not another Timber Railcar or any Railcar with a value of one, he cannot add it to his train, but instead must store it in his Sorting Yard until he can add it—and that is a free action.

Swapping Exchange Rate tokens is simple matter. Once a player has one, he use it on his turn—or a subsequent one—to swap two Cargo cards of one type for one that he wants when making a purchase.

This continues until one player manages to build a train of the required length—this varies depending upon the number of players—and wins the game. So far, so simple, and that is Yardmaster at its most basic. It is quick and easy, but Yardmaster has some interesting mechanics that adds a wrinkle or two to the game play.

The first of these is the Yardmaster token. This allows a player to take three actions on his turn rather than two, but instead of passing round the players in a clockwise direction, it goes the other way, anticlockwise. This means that only one person can benefit from the extra action per round. The second is the bonus cards, which grant bonus actions, such as drawing extra Cargo cards, paying less for a Railcar card, gaining an extra action (which can mean a player has four actions if he also has the Yardmaster token!), and so on. Third, whilst a player can take a Cargo card from the top of the Cargo deck or the Discard pile, the latter can be blocked if a player uses a Bonus card and places it on top of the Discard pile as Bonus cards cannot be drawn from the Discard pile. Fourth, swapping Exchange Rate tokens can be an effective means of acting against another player, though this requires a player to keep a careful eye on what Cargo cards his rivals are drawing.

Physically, Yardmaster is very well produced. The box is small, but sturdy and has a nice heft to it. The cards are all good quality, the rulebook is clearly written, and if you have the Kickstarter version, then the tokens are chunky pieces of wood rather than cardboard. If there is a downside, Yardmaster is not quite as good for two players, as this requires the Yardmaster token to be swapped between the players, who only get to use on every other of their turns. This is a bit of a chore.

Not too complex, Yardmaster is a nice little game, more than suited to a family audience. It may not quite offer depth that hardened gamers might want, but it is still a solid filler.

7
Go to the Colt Express page

Colt Express

19 out of 21 gamers thought this was helpful

Colt Express is a’ Wild West’, programmed Action game in which several rival bandits—Belle, Cheyenne, Django, Doc, Ghost, and Tuco who will do their utmost to outwit, outshoot, out brawl, and out steal each other! It comes with a very striking play area—a three-dimensional cardboard train that the players will move their bandits along, up onto the roof and down again, all the whilst the bandits apprehend loot, and punch and shooting at each other. This is played out over five rounds, each ending with a random event, the winner being the bandit to leave the train with the most loot.

Before the game begins, the full-colour train requires some assembly. Whilst relatively easy, some care needs to be taken less the cardboard is bent or torn.

Each Bandit possesses a special ability. For example, Belle cannot be targeted by a Fire or Punch action if another can be targeted instead, Cheyenne can steal a purse from another Bandit after carrying out a Punch action, and Tuco can shoot through the carriage roof at another bandit (either in carriage below or on the roof above). Each Bandit also has a corresponding set of ten Action cards and six Bullet cards. Each Action card allows a Bandit to do one thing: Move (from one carriage to the next or all the way along the roof), Floor Change (climb up to or down from the roof), Fire (at a Bandit in an adjacent carriage or next in line of sight on the roof), Punch (a Bandit in or on the same carriage), Robbery (of any loot available in the carriage), or Marshal (move the Marshal to an adjacent carriage). Some Actions have consequences: the victim of a Fire action receives a Bullet card to add to his hand; the victim of a Punch action must drop a loot token); and if the Marshal moves into the same carriage as a Bandit, not only is the Bandit forced to flee to the carriage roof, he gets shot by the Marshal too!

All of the carriages are seeded with Loot tokens (of a random value) and both the Marshal and the Strongbox are placed in the Locomotive. Four Round cards and one Station card—the latter being for the last round—are chosen randomly. Each Round or Station card shows how many turns it has, how many are played in tunnels, and any special events. Lastly, each player shuffles his Bandit’s deck of Action cards and draws six and puts aboard the rear of the train.

Each Round consists of two phases. Once the new Round card is revealed, the ‘Schemin’! phase’ begins, each player taking it in turn to play an Action card onto a pile that forms the Action Deck. These are played openly so each Bandit can see what the other is doing, or face down and hidden if the Round card indicates that the Action cards are to be played in a tunnel. Once the ‘Schemin’! phase’ is over, the ‘Stealin’! phase’ begins. This involves revealing the cards in the Action Deck as played and their associated Bandit carrying their actions if possible. If a Robbery card is revealed and there is no loot in the Bandit’s location, then he cannot pick up any loot. Similarly, if a Punch card is revealed and there is no other Bandit to punch, then no brawling occurs. That said, if an action is possible and a player has choice of how his Bandit carries it out, he can choose how he does it. So if a Punch card is revealed and there are two or more other Bandits in the same location, the brawling Bandit chooses the target; if there is more than one item of loot in a location when a Robbery action is revealed, the Bandit’s player chooses which to take; and so on. At the end of each Round an Event takes place. These include ‘Braking’, when the train slows and forces every Bandit on the roof to move forward one carriage, and ‘Passengers’ Rebellion’, when the passengers shoot any Bandit in a carriage.

Once a Round ends, the players collect up all of their Action cards—played and unplayed—including any Bullet cards from having been shot by rival Bandits or the Marshal and draw new hands of six cards. This can leave a player with more Bullet than Action cards. Bullet cards slow a Bandit down and mean that he cannot act. Should he lacks Action cards, a player can draw three new cards instead of playing one during the ‘Schemin’! phase’.

Colt Express is a game of planning and consequences. During the ‘Schemin’! phase’ players try to work out the best actions to get the most loot, stop their rivals from doing so, or simply shooting their rivals. In the ‘Stealin’! phase’, these Actions will play out as intended, but often do not often survive contact with their rivals. Great when a plan comes together, but funny, if not frustrating when plans are unwittingly thwarted. Plans can be adapted to rival’s actions as most Action cards are played face up, but deduction is required when Action cards are played face down in tunnels.

A game typically begins with a grab for as much loot as possible from the rearward carriages followed by a frantic scrabble to grab the Strongbox or stop another Bandit from doing so. All played out to a flurry of punches (to force loot to be dropped) and bullets (to gain the $1000 bonus for the most bullets fired). At game’s end, the Bandit with the most money wins, probably including the $1000 bonus.

Light and accessible enough for casual play, Colt Express’ quick-playing time offsets its frustrating aspects of plans going awry. Above all, Colt Express combines great theme and great visual appeal with simple fun.

6
Go to the Ave Caesar page

Ave Caesar

72 out of 79 gamers thought this was helpful

Ave Ceasar is a quick-playing game in which the players compete to win a chariot race in the famous Circus Maximus in Ancient Rome. Designed for three to six players, they must complete three laps of the circuit and stop in the Imperial Alley to proclaim “Hail Ceasar!” using a limited supply of movement cards.

The board is double-sided, with a track for three to four players on one and a track for five to six players on the other. Each player receives a chariot, a coin (to pay as tribute to Ceasar), and a deck of cards (consisting of the numbers one through six, four times for a total of thirty-six cards). It is from his deck of cards that each player will draw a hand of three cards that will give his movement options each turn.

This being a chariot racing game, the players can only move forward, either straight or diagonally. This is done by playing a card and moving the exact number of spaces indicated on the card. It must be exact, because if a player does not have a card that will move him the exact number of spaces ahead of him, he cannot move. This happens often because only one player can occupy a space and it is part of the game that one player can block another, both maps being designed with several chokepoints. At other times, a player will find himself forced to play a card and make an unintended manoeuvre because it is the only legal move that he can make.

It is also vital to grab the inside lane on either of the circuits. This is because a player has just sufficient cards to get his chariot round the course three times and salute Caesar the once—and no more. If a player spends too long in the outer lane, then he will run out of cards and with his horses exhausted, be out of the race.

Although it would appear that the race leader has all of the advantages with the open track ahead of him, this is not always the case. He cannot play a ‘6’ card, so will not easily pull away from those behind him. This means that the others can catch him up if they have ‘6’ cards to hand.

Lastly a player must pay tribute to Ceasar. This means that he actually has to stop in Imperial Alley after the first or second circuit of the track. This can really limit his movement options if another player blocks Imperial Alley, forcing him to go around and try again on the next circuit. Of course, should a player fail to pay tribute, then he cannot win the game.

A race in Ave Ceasar is three circuits of the course. The game is a good filler, but can be played as a league and once the basic game has been played, the rules include several variant rules.

Ave Ceasar plays quickly and easily. It is enjoyably frustrating and its simplicity means that younger gamers will enjoy it as a good, quick race game; but seasoned gamers will enjoy turning Ave Ceasar into a cut-throat affair as they whip the horses and attempt to block each other.

8
Go to the Sail to India page

Sail to India

19 out of 21 gamers thought this was helpful

What is remarkable about Sail to India is that it packs an incredibly big game in tiny box, both in terms of its theme and its sometimes harshly efficient Euro style game play. From the designer of String Railways and the Origins award winning Trains, Hisashi Hayashi, and published by Alderac Entertainment Group as part of its Big in Japan line, it is a game of mercantile exploration and adventurism. Designed for three to four players, aged twelve up, it is a game of resource management and worker placement that sees the participants attempt to sail to the orient in search of glory and riches.

Sail to India is set during the Age of Discovery. With the Mediterranean under Osman Turk control, the empire of Portugal seeks trade routes to the East. To do so, its merchants and nobles are dispatching explorers to sail south along the coast of Africa and round the Cape of God Hope in search of a route to India. Each player must manage his resources, and know when to invest in ships and technological advances, when to discover new ports and establish facilities, and when to reap the riches and the glory.

Thus Sail to India has big themes, but where a classic board game might come with a big board and counters to represent the ships and various goods and buildings. The little box that is Sail to India does it all with just twenty-eight large cards plus thirteen wooden cubes per player. Of these cards, three are given to each player. These are a Domain card, used to track a player’s wealth, the speed of his ships, and his technology; a Historian card, used to track a player’s Victory Points; and a Reference card. He also receives three cubes to invest in technology, one to track his ships’ speed (initially one, but can be bought up to three), and starting wealth (varies upon starting order). This leaves eight cubes, which essentially represent investments that a player can make as ships, goods, buildings, wealth, and glory (Victory Points).

Of the remaining cards, they form the route to India, consisting of coastal towns along the coast of Africa. Each Coastal Town consists of two buildings—churches, markets, and strongholds—which grant Victory Points when built, trade goods that can be sold for wealth and Victory Points. and the sea. They are laid out in a line, with Lisboa at one end, followed by the coastal towns, of which three start face-up. They are known destinations. The others will be revealed as ships sail further and further until the last, India, is reached. At game start each player also places one of his cubes as a ship on Lisboa.

On his turn, a player has several options, but can only do two of them. These include employing markers, moving ships, selling trade goods, constructing buildings, acquiring technology, and increasing ship speed. Employing ships means taking a cube from a player’s stock and paying one wealth to turn it into a ship in Lisboa. Moving ships involves a player moving any or all of his ships in any direction, up to his ships’ speed. If he moves his ships into a new coastal town, it is turned over and he earns Victory Points. To sell trade goods, a player moves his ships from the sea into the trade good spaces on the coastal towns. These are sold for wealth and Victory Points, the greater the number of types of good, the greater the reward. The markers for the trade goods are returned to Lisboa. For two wealth, a player can turn a ship into a building which now belongs to that player—churches give two Victory Points; markets only give one, but serve as a permanent trade good; and strongholds also only give one, but also serve as a starting point instead of Lisboa. To acquire technology, a player pays the coast and places a technology marker on the correct space on the technology cards. There are three of these cards, giving a total of twelve technologies. They have various effects, such as Printing Press giving a Victory Point when a technology is acquired, the Factory giving extra wealth when trade goods are sold, or Mission Church giving extra Victory Points for churches built. A technology can only be purchased once. Lastly, a player can increase his ships’ speed, first to two, and then three.

Play lasts an hour. It ends when the last coastal town is turned over and India is discovered, or when two players have run out of cubes. After that, everyone gets another turn and the game ends.

What makes Sail to India challenging is three factors. First, a player only has eight cubes to use as ships, trade goods, buildings, and so on. Second, they are interchangeable—ships can become trade goods which become ships, ships become buildings, and so. Third, a player needs to use some of these cubes to track his wealth and Victory Points, and since the tracks for both only go up to five, if a player earns enough to have six or more wealth or Victory Points, then he needs extra cubes—which have to come from those in play and from those in stock. If a player no cubes in play available, then he cannot track this extra wealth or Victory Points. Essentially, keeping track of his wealth and his glory (Victory Points) takes effort as reflected by the need for the extra cubes.

Sail to India is nicely presented. The cards are easy to use, the reference cards are very handy, and the rules clearly written. The artwork is in keeping with the game’s enjoyable theme, which is elegantly implemented in the game play. Similarly elegant is the balance between taking actions and using cubes and using cubes to keep track of a player’s wealth and Victory Points. Above all, Sail to India packs a lot gameplay and choices in quite a small box.

7
Go to the String Railway page

String Railway

12 out of 15 gamers thought this was helpful

2014 is the year that Japanese board games—particularly the Japon Brand—break out into the mainstream. After all, two Japanese games won Origins Awards in 2014, both published by Alderac Entertainment Group. Love Letter won the Origins Award for Best Traditional Card Game and Trains won the Origins Award for Best Board Game—how long until one wins the Spiel des Jahres? Of course, Japanese board games have not sprung from nowhere, there having been a number of them published in English over the past few years. Among the first was String Railway, designed by Hisashi Hayashi, who also designed the excellent Trains and recently had the interesting Sail to India published by Alderac Entertainment Group.

The 2013 UK Games Expo Best Abstract Game Winner, what sets String Railway apart from almost every other railway board game is in the title. Railway board games fall into two types. One uses hexes with players laying railway tracks to connect towns and cities, whilst the other has the players drawing lines with crayons on a map to connect towns and cities. In String Railway the players connect railway stations, not by hexes or crayons, but string—thick, bright lengths of string.

Now published by Asmodee, String Railway is designed for two to five players, aged eight plus, each of whom is the president of his railway company. A game lasts about thirty minutes and the aim is to have the most profitable railway by game’s end.

Its play surface is the table itself with the play area formed by a string loop that is pulled out to form either a triangle, a square, or a pentagon, depending upon the number of players—a triangle for three players, a square for four or two players (in a two-player game, each player plays with two starting stations and two sets of strings), or a pentagon for five players. Inside the play area is placed a grey loop to represent the mountains and a length of blue string that runs to the edge and represents a river. Each player then receives five strings of various lengths and a station of the same colour, the latter being placed at a corner.

On his turn, a player draws a station from the deck of thirty-four station cards. He is free to place this station wherever he likes, but he must also use one of his strings to connect this new station to a station his network is already connected to. He is free to run the string through any other station he likes as long as the new station is placed at the end of the string.

The player then earns Victory Points for the station he has placed and any stations that he has run his new placed string through. Each of the eight types of stations scores differently. For example, the Central Station scores three Victory Points, but can only be connected by five players; an Urban Station scores a player three Victory points when placed, but will lose him a Victory Point to a rival if another connects to it, up to a maximum of five players; and a Scenic Station will earn a player one Victory Point if placed on the plains, but five Victory Points if placed in the mountains. Victory Points are lost if a string crosses either the river or another string. Of course, the player with the most Victory Points is the winner.

Play quickly becomes harder and harder as more strings are placed. Players will work hard to place their stations where they can score, but their rivals cannot and work harder to place their strings to their best advantage. Even if that means pulling them to their full length or twisting them again and again; this is what makes the game fun.

String Railway is a nice looking game and the rules are easy to read. Its core mechanics are tile drawing and placing and route-laying, both quite conventional, but the placing of the strings gives the game a physicality that very few games possess. The fact that each player only has five strings means that each only has five turns, making the game quick. (The fact that both players have ten strings in a two-player game is offset by the number of players). Everyone’s last turn usually takes a little longer as they try to maximise points, but that is true of many games.

Bright and colourful, String Railways is a solid filler. In adding a physical element to the train game genre, String Railways shows how messy and tangled up the laying of railway tracks can get.

8
Go to the Machi Koro page

Machi Koro

107 out of 118 gamers thought this was helpful

Japanese board games have become very popular in the last few years, most notably Love Letter and Trains, both published by Alderac Entertainment Group and both winners of Origins Awards in 2014. What this means is that new Japanese board and card games are hotly anticipated, none more so than Machi Koro. In English, it is released by IDW Games, a publisher better known for its comic publishing. Machi Koro is a quick-playing ‘dice and card’ for two to four players, aged eight and up, in which they are each the mayor of a suburb whose residents want their district developed. Starting off with a Wheat Field and a Bakery, each player will race to build four landmark buildings—a Station, a Shopping Mall, an Amusement Park, and a Radio Tower. The first mayor to do so is the winner!

The playing time is thirty minutes and very simple. On his turn a player rolls the die and everyone will compare the result with numbers printed at the top of the building cards they have in front of them. This can generate money for everyone or just the current player, who is now free to spend it to purchase a new building or a landmark. A player can have multiples of one card type, but can only buy one card per turn.

Where Machi Koro gets interesting is how the cards generate money. There are four types. Blue cards pay out to everyone when their numbers are rolled; green only pay out on a player’s turn; red cards take money from other players when they roll their numbers; and purple cards provide an action rather an a pay-out. Note that red and blue cards pay out even when it is not a player’s turn. For example, the blue Ranch cards pay everyone one coin when anyone rolls a one. The green Bakery pays out one coin on a roll of two or three on the current player’s turn only. The red Café allows a player to take a coin from the current player when he rolls a three. The purple Business Centre allows a player to swap one of his buildings with that of another player.

Initially a player will be only rolling one die. If he purchases the Station landmark, he can roll one die or he can roll both dice. This means that range of results is no longer one to six, but two to twelve, and it means that as soon as they are built, a new range of buildings and their dice results are available to him. The cards with ranges above five tend to be more expensive and have more complex effects, especially results for six, seven, and eight. For example, the green Cheese Factory, which costs five coins, pays out three coins for each card the current player has with a cow symbol on it—currently only a Ranch—any time he rolls a seven. Building the landmarks will also give a player a benefit. The Station allows him to roll two dice; the Amusement Park lets him roll again if he rolls doubles, and so on.

Although designed for between two and four players, Machi Koro works better with three and four rather than two, primarily because there more participants for the cards to work off. Physically though, Machi Koro is nicely presented. The artwork on the cards is cute, the cards are easy to read, and the rulebook is very clear and very simple. The box comes with room for expansions, but the insert could have been better designed for that.

There have been comments that it is like Settlers of Catan without the trading or Monopoly without the mortgages. To an extent this is true. You are rolling for resources (coins) and you are buying properties as in both of those games, Machi Koro is a quicker, slicker game without the trading and without the mucking about with the banks. It is certainly better than Monopoly and whilst no Settlers of Catan, it is a well-designed little game. However, it is not perfect, but the first imperfection is not of Machi Koro’s own making. The first problem is that the game is slightly disappointing, but that can be put down to it having been overly anticipated, it having taken a year to reach us since it first appeared at Essen in 2013. Second is that its game play does not offer a great deal of depth or variety. Third, it does not offer much in the way of strategy and the primary means of getting money—the purchase of Ranches and Cheese Factories (the latter with its average roll of seven)—is obvious and difficult to counter. What game needs is an expansion and it needs it now. Two have been released in Japan—Machi Koro Sharp and Machi Koro: Harbor Expansion—and they need to be released in English before Machi Koro loses its popularity.

Now despite all this, Machi Koro will appeal to a wide audience. There one or two strategies in the game that a seasoned gamer will latch on to, but the dice rolling gives it a luck factor that will offset that to give everyone a good chance of winning. So amongst gamers it can be played to a cut-throat finish, but it also be played as a casual game. It is easy to play, it is fast to play, and it is easy to teach. This, when combined with thoroughly charming artwork means that Machi Koro is a good family game and if not quite a good gateway game, then it is very, very close.

6
Go to the Elevenses: The Card Game of Morning Tea page
17 out of 19 gamers thought this was helpful

If you are of a certain age, then you may perhaps associate ‘elevenses’ with sticky buns and hot cocoa served at a certain antique shop on the Portobello Road by its owner, Mr. Gruber. A more modern reader or film goer might associate it with the meal served somewhen between second breakfast and luncheon. Most of us though are not bears (from darkest Peru or elsewhere) or indeed hobbits, so we shall have to make do with elevenses, that quintessentially refined repast consisting of tea—never coffee (how uncouth), sandwiches, cakes and biscuits, served from a tea trolley at precisely 11 o’clock to one’s guests.

Elevenses is also the name and subject matter for a card game from Australian publisher, Adventureland Games, successfully launched on Kickstarter in 2013. Now the publisher being Australian could have led the game to be called ‘mornos’, but fortunately, Elevenses – The Card Game of Morning Tea has nothing to do with the Royal Australian Navy. Instead, it is a game in which respectable 1920s socialites strive to serve the finest morning tea!

Designed for between two and four players, aged eight and up, Elevenses is a hand management game that can be played in thirty minutes. It consists of forty-four Tea Party cards, four player aid cards, a Sugar Bowl card, six Special Guests, a Starting Server cards, and thirty wooden Sugar Cubes. The Tea Party cards are actually four identical sets of eleven cards, each set having a different coloured back for easy identification. The cards in a set are numbered consecutively and include a Tea Trolley (1), Tea (2), Milk (3), Sugar (4), Cups & Saucers (5), Fine China (6), Biscuits (7), Sandwiches (8), Cakes (9), Servants (10), and Elevenses (11). Each card is marked with its title and number, a piece of colour text, a rather charming watercolour illustration, an action, and possibly a number of silver spoons (these are Elevenses’ victory points).

For example, the Tea (2) card has the colour text, “My tea is the finest tea in town!”; a single spoon; and the action, “Choose a player. Flip one of her spread cards valued 2 – 9 face-down.” Other cards force everyone to pass cards round the table, force a player to swap cards with another, force a player to reveal his Kitchen, and so on. In general, the higher numbered cards have more silver spoons on them and actions that often hinder a player rather than help him.

Each player is attempting to arrange his Spread in the correct order, getting each of his cards in their right position so that he has as many silver spoons out as possible when he—or another player—plays his Elevenses card. Each player’s Spread is made up of two rows of four cards, the remaining three cards forming his Kitchen. At the start, each player shuffles his set, lays eight cards face down to form his Spread, and looks at his Kitchen.

On his turn a player can do one of two things. He can play one card from Kitchen to his Spread face up and enact its action. This must be in the correctly numbered position. Two cards—Tea Trolley and Servants (10)—can be alongside the Spread, but not on it. Or he can arrange two of his cards on the Spread, essentially moving into their right position, but leaving them face down. Once a player has four or more cards face up on the Spread, then he can play his Elevenses (11) card. This marks the end of the round. The player with the most visible silver spoons wins the round and is awarded two sugar cubes taken from the Sugar Bowl card. The player with the second most visible silver spoons is awarded one sugar cube. Play continues with more rounds until one player has won seven sugar cubes and thus served the finest tea and won the game.

Now if multiple players have more than seven sugar cubes, then they give each other a kiss on the cheek, and agree to share the victory! How very polite.

Tactically, Elevenses is a light game. If a player has to swap or pass a card, it should be card that the other player has already placed in his Spread. This presents the other player from playing it again—plus it gives the play of Elevenses that little bit of an edge. If he has it in his Kitchen, a player should know when to play his Elevenses card, ideally when he will score as many silver spoons as he can or when he can prevent another player from playing more silver spoons.

The advanced version of the game adds six Special Guests. Each is a member of polite society and each has specific requirements. In particular, three cards that need to be face in a player’s Spread. The Special Guest is kept hidden until it has been fulfilled when it scores a player more silver spoons.

Physically, Elevenses is a lovely game. It has a genteel charm, the art is a delight, and the addition of the wooden sugar cubes is a nice touch. Another nice touch is that barring a little bell, all of the rewards from the Kickstarter edition are in the retail version too. Elevenses – The Card Game of Morning Tea is a charming little filler that plays better the more players there are, a delightful blend of art and theme with indecently quick game play.

8
Go to the Manhattan Project page

Manhattan Project

105 out of 114 gamers thought this was helpful

The Manhattan Project’s main problem is its theme. Which as its name suggests, has to do with the design and building of the atom bomb. For some, this may be in poor taste. Which also means that any board game or indeed computer game, like say, Civilisation, in which nuclear weapons are deployed and detonated, is in equally poor taste—if not more so. That said, no nuclear weapons are detonated in The Manhattan Project and nobody dies, either through atomisation or radiation poisoning. Some workers may get sent to the mines though…

The Manhattan Project is a worker placement game for two to five players, aged thirteen and up. Each takes control of a country’s atom bomb project and attempts to build the most effective program. Starting with a few workers and a little money, they train engineers and scientists; construct buildings—universities, factories, mines, and reactors; build up their air forces—bombers and fighters; research bomb designs; and conduct espionage against each other, all in a race to see who can build the biggest bombs (and score the most Victory Points).

The game is built around a simple mechanic—worker placement. Each turn a player must either place his workers on the board or retrieve them. When placing them, a player must place one worker on the main board, but can place as many workers as he likes on his own buildings. When retrieving them, he must remove all of those previously placed.

The game revolves around the Main Board. This has spaces for the Building Cards—six initial cards followed by the regular buildings; spaces to place workers to gain money, engineers, scientists, workers, fighters, bombers, and yellow cake—which is turned into Uranium and Plutonium; conduct airstrikes and repair buildings; and fuel tracks to monitor each player’s Uranium and Plutonium, and how many spies he can assign to other players’ empty buildings.

Each player has a Player Board. Here he tracks the number of fighters and bombers he has and places any buildings purchased. A player also has four labourers, but gains up to four engineers and four scientists as play progresses. If these are not enough, he can hire contractors, but they will do only one task each.

Initially, each player has limited options. He can only place a single worker on the Main Board—and needs not only scientists and engineers, but also his own buildings if he wants to place more workers on subsequent turns. As play progresses, he will gain more workers and buildings, giving him more options for placing his workers—even more if he has invested in espionage and can send his workers to use other players’ buildings. A player is not obliged to place all of his workers on a turn, but he must place one on the Main Board at the very least.

When a player runs out of workers or because he wants to, he can retrieve all of his workers. He can start placing them again on later turns, but part of playing The Manhattan Project is knowing when to retrieve and when to place them. It is a matter of timing, more so when espionage is an option and other players’ buildings are available.

Each building gives its benefit as soon as its requirements are fulfilled. This might be as simple as one or two workers or specific worker types to get their output, which can be more workers (including contractors), money, fighters, bombers, or yellow cake. Alternatively, reactors require several engineers and scientists and several pieces of yellow cake in order to produce either Uranium or Plutonium. These have to be placed in one turn rather than added bit by bit.

Eventually a player will want to build a bomb. This works just like any other building, but requires Uranium or Plutonium plus engineers and scientists. Once built, a bomb adds to a player’s Victory Point total, but it can be loaded onto a bomber for more Victory Points. Or it can be imploded. This destroys the bomb, but any subsequent Plutonium device the player builds will be worth more Victory Points.

Apart from espionage, a player can interact with his rivals by attacking them using his air force. He does this by sending his fighters to attack his target’s fighters and then his bombers to target and damage his rival’s buildings. This stops his rival from using them until they are repaired.

Physically, The Manhattan Project is nicely and engagingly presented in a style that apes the look of government style art of the 1940s. The rulebook is also well written and easy to read and understand.

Unfortunately, The Manhattan Project is not perfect. Arguably, the use of espionage is too powerful—though it is a great way to win—and cannot be blocked or stopped, except by the targeted player placing and keeping his own workers on this buildings for as long as possible. The Air Raid mechanic is either too powerful or not powerful enough, as any attempt to destroy another player’s fighters leaves both sides vulnerable to bombing raids. Lastly, the appearance of the building cards is too random; beyond the first six, any card can appear in any order and this can affect the flow of the game. Less effective buildings will sit on the board because no one wants to buy them, whilst a slew of good buildings will force a flurry of activity to buy as quickly as possible. Perhaps a more structured draw could have been included, so that the buildings get progressively better and better as the game progresses?

Put these issues aside, for The Manhattan Project is an excellent game. The game play is very tight, with almost no luck involved and the play time is shorter with practice. It is a pleasing meld of theme with mechanics that reward efficiency.

7
Go to the Compounded page

Compounded

95 out of 105 gamers thought this was helpful

Beautifully appointed and heavily themed, Compounded is a game about chemical research in which scientists attempt to create as many Compounds as possible whilst avoiding the possibility of lab explosions! For two to five scientists aged thirteen and up, it is a set collecting and trading game that can played through in roughly ninety minutes..

Compounded’s theme starts with its components. The first is the Scoring Board, which is done as a Periodic Table. Perhaps a bit fiddly in use once everyone’s scoring counter is on the scoring track, but thematically, it is perfect. Second is its decently written Rulebook, which looks like a scuffed and battered chemistry school textbook.

The third are the scientists’ Work Benches. These have spaces for each scientist’s Element Storage Area, Lab Tools gained, and to track the progress of his Discovery, Study, Research, and Lab experiments. Each Experiment can be improved by completing certain Compounds.

Fourth are the game’s Compounds, such as Calcium Oxide, Acetylene, Nitric Acid, and Methanol. Each Compound is a square card marked with a name, its chemical formula, spaces for the elements it is comprised of, a spot to place a Claim token, and a scoring value—the latter ranging between three and eight Atomic Points. Others also have icons that grant Lab Tools and improvements to a scientist’s Discovery, Study, Research, or Lab experiments when the Compound is completed. Some also have icons indicating that they are flammable and could explode.

Fifth are Compounded’s Lab Key—a wooden key used to determine scientist order and various Lab Tool tokens—Bunsen Burners, Graduated Cylinders, Lab Keys, Pipettes, Safety Goggles, and Journals. Sixth, and lastly, there are the game’s Elements—in ascending order of rarity—Hydrogen, Carbon, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Calcium, and Sulfur (sic). These are represented by coloured chips of plastic. Again, pleasing on the eye and nicely tactile.

At game start, each scientist receives a Work Bench, the wooden tokens to indicate his progress on the Bench, and a Fire Extinguisher card. If this is filled, it can be used to stop a Lab Fire or saved until the end of the game for more Atomic Points. He also receives a Wild Element that can be used or turned in for Atomic Points and also his initial allotment of Elements. Then, sixteen Compound cards are laid out in a four-by-four grid Research Grid. Initially, these will include the yellow-bordered starting Compounds. The Compound deck is seeded with Lab Fire cards.

Compounded is played in four phases—Discovery, Study, Research, and Lab. In the Discovery phases draws Elements from the black cloth bag included in the game. Initially, each scientist can only draw two Elements and can only store four Elements in his Element Storage Area, but both can be increased by three. Once Elements have been drawn, scientists are free to trade Elements—as well as Lab Tools, promises, and so on.

In the Study phase, each scientist can use his Action tokens to claim Compounds. Once a scientist has claimed a Compound, no other scientist can score from it. Initially a scientist has only the one Action token, but completing Compounds can increase this number to four.

During the Research phase, the scientists take turns placing Elements on their claimed and unclaimed Compounds, each Element being placed on an appropriate space marked on a Compound card. Initially just two, but it can be increased to six. If a scientist does not have the Elements he wants, he can now trade in three of one type for one he wants.

Lastly, during the Lab phase, scientists score Atomic Points for completed Compounds on the Periodic Table and adjust their Experiments if the completed Compounds help improve them. Completed Compounds are replaced from the Compound deck. If a Lab Fire is drawn, Flame Tokens are added to any flammable Compounds with empty Flame icons on them—typically no more than two per Compound. Enough Flame Tokens and a flammable Compound explodes. It is removed from the game and its Elements are scattered onto empty spots on adjacent Compounds—if they have space for that type of Element.

A game of Compounded ends with one final round once a scientist has either scored fifty Atomic Points or completed three out of four of his Experiments. The game ends immediately if the Compounds in the Research Grid cannot be refreshed to a maximum of sixteen. The scientist with the most Atomic Points is the winner.

This is for the three to four player standard version of Compounded. A variant adds ‘Lab Partners’ Compounds, double-sized complex Compounds requiring more Elements. Intended to be completed by two scientists, they will both receive the Atomic Points and its benefits for completing it. A two-player variant adds a third ‘dummy’ player named Nobel, his actions being controlled by the lead scientist.

Thematically wonderful, Compounded suffers from small text and small tokens—particularly the wooden Experiment tokens and the Flame Tokens. Nor are the phases—Discovery, Study, Research, and Lab—as obviously named as they could be. In game terms, they are ‘draw Elements’ (Discovery), ‘claim Compounds’ (Study), ‘place Elements’ (Research), and ‘score Compounds and effects’ (Lab), but this is not all that clear on the Lab Benches.

Compounded is not a complex game—in fact anyone who has played Ticket to Ride or Pandemic will understand its rules and play, its complexity being light-medium rather than medium. The game is also informative, educating players about the nature of the research process and the atomical content of the game’s compounds. Beyond drawing Elements and new Compound cards, the game has no randomness, though Lab Fires can upset many a scientist’s aim of completing particular Compounds. Compounded’s chemical theme is quite gentle, which when combined with its mechanics, makes the game unthreatening in terms of play. Although Compounded’s theme might be said to be rather dry, it is not ‘pasted on’; rather Compounded fully engages in its chemical theme to create a relatively light and appealing reaction.

7
Go to the Eight-Minute Empire page
12 out of 13 gamers thought this was helpful

Eight-Minute Empire could be described as wargame. It has armies, their leaders contest for territory, and at the end of the game, the leader who holds the most territory wins the game. It is though not a wargame—certainly not in a traditional sense—but is instead a Eurogame that combines area control and card drafting mechanics with a set collection mechanic. It is a little game with big themes that can be played through in the Eight-Minutes of the title with just two players, but just twenty minutes with the maximum number of five players.

Inside Eight-Minute Empire’s small, square box can be found one double-sided map board, a four-page rulebook, forty-two cards, and five sets of armies, forty-four coins, and ten Goods Tokens. The map board depicts various continents broken up into regions, connected by safe sea routes. At the centre of the map stands a city—this is the starting point for the game. At the top of the map is a line of numbers—[0], [1], [1], [2], [2], [2], and [3]. These are the costs that a player will have to pay for the cards placed in the corresponding line placed at the top of the board. The cards are marked with an order that the leader will give his armies and with a Good such as a Carrot, Pine Tree, or a Gem. A leader will gain more Victory Points if he has managed to collect these symbols in sets by the end of the game. The five armies—in blue, green, pink, red, and yellow—each consist of fourteen cubes (the armies) and three discs (the cities). The coin tokens are used to purchase cards and the Goods tokens replicated the symbols on the cards and are used as part of the game’s advanced options.

At the start of the game, the cards are shuffled and six laid out at the top of the board face up. Each player receives his armies and some coins. Initially he will use these to bid on who goes first in the game, but their primary use is to purchase cards. He will also place three armies in the starting region. On his turn, he will purchase one of the cards at the top of the board, the cost being determined by its position in the line. Cards towards the left are free or cheap and get progressively more expensive to the right.

Purchasing a card gains a player its Goods symbol and an order that he can give his armies. This order may be to place armies (from his reserve onto the board), move armies (already on the board), move armies by sea (already on the board along a sea route between continents), destroy armies (remove an army from the board), or build cities (in a region where a player has armies). Some cards give a choice of options, others two options, while others give the player the choice of Goods symbol at the end of game to add to the sets he is collecting.

Each player has two aims in the game. The first is to dominate as many regions as possible—a player needs to have the most armies in a region to hold it, though having a city in a region will also contribute towards the number of armies in a region. The second is to collect sets of Goods tokens. At the end of the game, a player will receive a Victory Point for each Region he controls and for each Continent he controls. He will also receive Victory Points for each set of Goods cards he has, the number varying from one Good to another. For example, three Carrots scores a player one Victory Point, five Carrots two Victory Points, seven Carrots three Victory Points, and eight Carrots five Victory Points, whereas one Gem scores a player one Victory Point, two Gems two Victory Points, three Gems three Victory Points, and four Gems five Victory Points. The player with the most Victory Points is the winner.

The Eight-Minute Empire rulebook does a little cheap, but it is clearly written. The other components are all of a high quality. It could be argued that the auction at the start for first player delivers little given its potential cost. One way to balance this would be to have an auction at the start of every turn, but the game does not include enough gold for this. If it did, it would also mean that the players might have too much gold with which to purchase their cards. Another issue might the game’s lack of theme. My suggestion would be that the Emperor’s sons’ rivalry threatens to erupt into civil war, so he directs his sons to take their armies and compete for dominance without course to open conflict.

Interestingly, the game’s feel and flow will be influenced by the cards drawn. For example, the lack of Sea movement cards would limit travel to other continents, concentrating the contest for territory to a limited area, whilst lots of them, would enable the players to spread their armies and vie for wider regions. Balance this against the need to collect Goods for sets and limited gold to spend, and a player has some tight choices to make over the course of cards he must choose—varying according to the number of players, more players means fewer cards. Eight-Minute combines tactical play in its armies and area control with strategic decisions in the Goods needed for sets in a pleasing presented and re-playable package. The result is that Eight-Minute Empire is a rather charming little filler.

8
Go to the Red Empire page

Red Empire

13 out of 15 gamers thought this was helpful

GDW’s only card game Red Empire: The Card Game of Soviet Power Politics is a gently satirical game about Soviet Cold War politics under Leaders such as Kruschev, Breshnev, Andropov, Chernenko, and Gorbachev. Designed for three to six players, who each controls a faction within the Politburo, consisting of KGB, Military, and Party Leaders. Each faction aims to elevate one of its Party Leaders to the office of President of the Soviet Union, whilst also preventing anyone else from gaining the position. This can be done by denouncing an opponent, but the factions must also co-operate to deal with the crises that plague the USSR. Denounce too many opponents and a Crisis remains unsolved, eventually leading to the USSR’s downfall. Of course, the USSR will fall anyway, as Red Empire, published in 1990 almost predicted.

Red Empire consists of two card decks—the 26-card red-backed Leader deck, and the 79-card yellow-backed Play deck. Each illustrated Leader card is colour coded Blue (KGB), Green (Military), and Red (of course, for the Communist Party) and has a number representing his stature, rated from 5 to 9. The higher this stature, the more difficult it is to denounce and purge him.

The Play deck consists of four card types. Crisis cards represent a major challenge to the USSR and are marked by a Pravda style headline. There are six of these, valued 4 (Riots in Armenia!”), 6 (“Lithuanian Independence!”), or 8 (“Civil War in Azerbaijan!”), and they must be played at once. As must Mandate cards which represent elements outside of a player’s control. They include ‘Ailing Leader’ indicating a Leader who sick and dying; ‘New Leader’ which adds a Leader to a faction; ‘Disrepute’ cards temporarily reduces the stature of all Leaders from the KGB, the Military, or the Party.

Option cards provide options to play, hold, or discard. They can send a faction abroad on a foreign “Junket,” isolating it from most events at home; inflict a ‘Scandal’ on another faction to temporarily reduce the stature of its Leaders; and even make a Leader a ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’, increasing his stature and removing all denouncements on him.

Finally Action cards simply possess a strength value between one and four and are colour coded to match the Leaders. They are used to denounce and purge other Leaders and deal with the crises as they occur. The grey Action cards, represent the government and can only be used by the President.

Set-up is simple. Players receive five play cards and several Leader cards which are placed face up on the table where everyone can see them. The faction with the highest total stature that has a Red party Leader is made President of the Soviet Union. Play proceeds to the left of the President—everything in Red Empire does. On his turn a player refreshes his hand up to five cards, plays all Crisis cards he has, then all the Mandate cards, and finally he can choose to play or discard either an Action or an Option card.

Newly played Crisis cards interrupt a player’s turn. Each has the opportunity to play with Action cards on it, one per player, and only card of each colour—though the President can play government or grey cards. If the total value of the Action cards equals or exceeds the value of the Crisis, it is dealt with, all action cards played being returned to their players and counting towards their victory points. The President receives the Crisis card for his victory total. If the Crisis is not dealt with, the President is removed from office, and the next faction with a Party Leader succeeds him. The Crisis card also remains in play and cannot be dealt with, its value perpetuating the USSR’s eventual fall.

To denounce a rival Leader, an Action card is placed on his Leader card. A player must have a Leader that matches the Action card’s colour; the first Action card played on a Leader cannot match his colour; and only one Action card of each colour can be played. When the total of three Action cards equals or exceeds a target Leader’s stature, he is purged. He goes into the victory pile of the last player, while the Action cards go back to their respective players’ victory piles. A purge attempt can be countered by making the Leader a Hero of the Soviet Union, or if the President, who can also be purged in this fashion, with a Treaty card.

Play progresses until the unresolved Crisis cards equal 18 or more, or the play deck is exhausted. The player with the most victory points, gained from purging Leaders and resolving Crises, is the winner.

Initially Red Empire can be confusing because Crisis cards interrupt a player’s turn, let everyone else play Action cards to resolve it, then have the original player carry on. Also, too many consecutive Crises can exhaust the players’ hands and finish a game in two, rather than twenty minutes.

Essentially, Red Empire emphasizes co-operation and consensus amidst factional rivalry. Co-operation is needed to purge Leaders and the President, and to resolve a Crisis. This scores points, but purge too many and the ability to act, co-operate, and reach a consensus to resolve Crises is diminished. Being President grants a few more Action cards to play and ways to score points, but the role is not a strong one. Tactically, player should denounce party Leaders on principal as this increases his chances of becoming President and take advantage of already denounced Leader to score more points.

Red Empire also provides opportunity aplenty for table talk, invariably sharp and barbed, usually to denounce a Leader. Russian accents are not mandatory, but I have played wearing a Ushanka. Although abstract, Red Empire feels like it models power and government under the Soviet Union, effectively emulating ain interesting period of politics and history.

6
Go to the Fluxx The Board Game page
22 out of 32 gamers thought this was helpful

Despite having sold lots of copies, Fluxx the Card Game is divisive a design. Many players feel that the game is purely random, too chaotic, that it can last two minutes or to sixty minutes, and that it cannot be won except through random chance. To an extent, this is true, but Fluxx the Card Game is a game about change and adapting to that change—from one turn to the next. Now Looney Labs has turned Fluxx into a board game, and the question is, will Fluxx the Board Game be as good or as bad some think that the card game is?

Fluxx the Board Game uses mechanics similar to the card game, but with a board and playing pieces. The board represents objectives to be reached by moving a player’s two pieces around—such as Cookies, Money, Dreams, and so on—which are matched to the Goal cards. A player simply needs to have his pieces on these objectives to gain a Goal, but where in Fluxx the Card Game a player only needs to have his Keeper cards match one Goal card to win, in Fluxx the Board Game, a player must match and win multiple Goal cards to win. Being a ‘Fluxx’ game, everything though, is subject to change. Just as in the card game, the number of a cards a player must draw, play, and discard fluctuates during Fluxx the Board Game, but being a board game, the number of times and the colour of the playing pieces he can move, the number of Goals he needs to acquire to win, the board layout, and tile rotation are all subject to change.

The board consists of nine square tiles. One is the Start Tile, the other eight represent the playing area. Each of these eight is divided into four spaces, three Goal objectives and a sort of shunt space for multiple playing pieces or a portal to another tile. Together, the nine tiles are arranged into a square around the Start Tile. Two additional tiles serve as the Control Boards. One for the Goal cards, five of which are randomly placed face up in a stack; the other a peg board indicating how many cards a player draws, plays, pieces he moves, and his hand limit as well as if he can rotate and move tiles, and move off the edge of the board and onto the other edge.

The cards are divided between the familiar—to anyone who has played Fluxx the Card Game—and those new that take account of the new playing area. Action cards will be familiar and do things such as ‘Taxation!’ which forces rival players to each give you a single card or ‘Discard and Draw’ which lets a player effectively change his hand. New Action cards interact with the board and playing pieces. For example, ‘Back to Square One’ forces the other players’ playing pieces back to the Starting Square and ‘Rotate Colours’ forces players to change the colour of the playing pieces they control. New Rule cards like ‘Hand Limit’ will be familiar although instead of the limit being set by the card, the player now shifts the appropriate peg on the board, whilst ‘Rotate On’ and similar cards turn the board movement on or off. Goal cards remain unchanged from Fluxx the Card Game except for setting the objectives that the players need to move to claim each Goal card. The new Leaper cards send playing pieces to a particular Objective, like ‘Music’ or ‘The Eye’, or to any ‘Octagon’ or ‘Portal’ space. Lastly, the Colour cards determine which playing pieces a player currently controls.

At game start, each player gets to adjust the control pegs up once and receives a hand of three cards and a color to determine his initial playing pieces. Five Goal cards are placed on the Goal Control Board all face up, the uppermost one setting the initial objectives.

On his turn each player draws a number of cards, then plays cards and moves pieces, and then discards cards, all according to the pegs on the Control Board. A player can play cards and move pieces in any order that he wishes—which is where the game begins to get interesting. To start with, if a player moves a playing piece into an occupied space, it bumps the playing piece already there into an adjacent space—except for Octagon spaces which can hold more than one playing piece. A player can also examine the cards in the Goal stack, though not change their order, so thus he knows what Goals and what Objective spaces he needs to reach throughout the game. Plus a player can play Goal Cards from his hand onto the top of the Goal stack to claim them. This knowledge of the Goals and their Objectives enables a player to actually plan both his card use and his moves. It is even possible for a player to use his cards and move his pieces to gain more than a single Goal in just one turn.

Together, these changes add a strategic element to Fluxx the Board Game not present in Fluxx the Card Game and counter the random element so often criticised in Fluxx the Card Game. Not completely though, as the cards drawn and the actions of rival players still effectively have a randomising effect. None of this fortunately, adds anything in the way of complexity.

Although its Control Boards and pegs do not work as well as they should, the game is decently presented and rules are easy to understand. Pleasingly, rules explain the differences between Fluxx the Board Game and Fluxx the Card Game.

In developing Fluxx into Fluxx the Board Game, the designer has created a game that is more thoughtful than Fluxx the Card Game. Still a light game though, so suitable for a family audience, but still just enough of a challenge so as not to totally bore a gaming audience.

8
14 out of 18 gamers thought this was helpful

You need never be a member of Boardgaming.com and still enjoy what it has to offer—reviews, tips, tactics, and advice on a wide variety of games. Joining though, enables you to add your voice and give your opinion. Once you start doing that, then Boardgaming.com encourages you to participate by rating tips and reviews; writing reviews and giving tips; and by commenting on news. The reward in each case comes in the form of badges and gold. The badges enable both yourself and others to track your progress as you contribute more and more to Boardgaming.com, whilst the gold enables you to buy badges and backgrounds to customise your profile and express your interests.

The site will never quite list every game—after all, there are a lot of games to choose from and add to the site—and it may well not list the type of games that you like (for example, I would like to see more RPGs included, but that is just me), it does cover quite a lot. It is also very easy to navigate, it is easy to get involved with, and it is a pleasingly genteel site. Unlike other sites it does lack a means of communicating between members, but that least avoids the danger of one member being rude to another.

What really lets the site down are the bad reviews. Not reviews about bad games, but reviews that are not reviews, but are instead mere unsupported opinions. There is of course nothing to stop a person liking a game, but that is what the ‘Favourite’, ‘Rating’, and ‘Follow’ functions are for. A good review should tell you why a game works and why it does not, not simply express your like. A good review should be more than a line or two, indeed, it should be more than a paragraph—it is possible to write a review in a paragraph or even sentence, but that takes more skill than is required for a simple ‘I like this’.

Fortunately, Boardgaming.com enables a participant to mark down reviews, to mark them as not helpful. That is its measure—much of your progress as you contribute towards Boardgaming.com is peer driven. The better your contribution, the better the peer recognition.

8
Go to the Hanabi page

Hanabi

79 out of 86 gamers thought this was helpful

Most co-operative board games have the players working against the clock or the game itself, sometimes with a traitor amongst the players trying to thwart their efforts. Battlestar Galactica, published by Fantasy Flight Games, and Grosso Modo Éditions’ more recent Nosferatu are typical of cooperative games with a traitor mechanic, whilst Z-Man Games’ Pandemic and Indie Cards and Games’ Flash Point: Fire Rescue are typical of co-operative board games without a traitor mechanic. These games have made the co-operative style of play popular and accepted, the board game Pandemic having made the breakthrough in 2008. Most co-operative games revolve around the players attempting to cope with limited information that they all share. In Hanabi, the players must share information about what each other has on their cards, but they will never know exactly what they have on their own cards.

Named for the Japanese word for fireworks, Cocktail Games’ Hanabi was the 2013 Spiel des Jahres Game of the Year Winner. The players are apprentices who are attempting to put on a firework display for the emperor, but have managed to mix up the powders, fuses and rockets. To succeed, they must launch the fireworks in the correct sequence, and if they do, they please not only the emperor, but their master too.

Designed for two to five players, aged eight and up, Hanabi consists of five sets of coloured cards—red, blue, green, white, and yellow, plus three red tokens and eight blue tokens. Each set consists of ten cards, each containing three cards numbered one, two numbered two, two numbered two, two numbered two, and a single card numbered five. The red tokens are failure tokens, indicating a poorly displayed firework; the blue tokens are clue tokens, used to impart information to another player about the cards in his hands.
A complete firework consists of a single colour that contains cards played in order, from one up through two, three, four, and finally, five. Completing a firework gains the players a blue token; playing a card out of sequence onto a firework, for example, playing a white-4 card onto a white-2 card, would earn the players a red token. If they gain all three red tokens, the game is over.

At game’s start, each player receives a hand of cards, either four or five, depending on the number of players. A player cannot look at his hand, but instead holds them face out so that the other players can seem them. Thus each player can see everyone else’s cards, but not his own.

On his turn, a player can undertake a single action. He can discard card to gain a blue token; he can play a card, either to an ongoing firework or to start one if there is not yet one of that colour; or he can expend a blue token to give a clue; giving clues lies at the heart of Hanabi. To give a clue, a player points to another player’s hand and imparts certain information about that hand. This can be about the cards of a single colour in a player’s hand, such as “You have a green card here” or “You have two white cards here and here”; or about the cards of single number in the player’s hand, such as “You have a three here” or “You have a four here and here”. The clues given must be complete—so if a player has two four cards, the informing player must indicate both of them. If a player discarded a card or played one onto a firework, then he draws a new card.

Play continues until either the players have acquired all three red tokens and thus lost the game; or all five fireworks have been completed in the correct order and the players have scored maximum points, or the deck has been exhausted. In the case of the latter, points are awarded based on the fireworks completed, the top card on each firework adding to the final score. A maximum of twenty-five points can be scored, with scores of between sixteen and twenty-four at least being memorable.

Hanabi is as simple as that. During play, a player is free to arrange his cards how he likes and to an extent can talk about his hand in general terms—only the other players can be specific about his hand and only after having expended a blue token. For a game as simple as Hanabi, it requires a great deal of thought and no little care, because it is a game about memory and deduction, that is remembering where your cards are in your hand and deducing which card to play next from the clues previously given. Essentially though, it is a game about communication and understanding that communication, and about remembering that communication. Get the communication wrong and potential points are lost as the wrong cards are discarded or played onto a firework.

Hanabi is also a filler game, play being expected to last no longer than twenty minutes or so. Unlike more recent filler games, for example, Coup or Love Letter, this one is not combative. Indeed, in comparison to many other co-operative games, Hanabi is benign, the players are not really playing against a game that is set up for them to fail, as in Pandemic or Battlestar Galactica. Even its subject matter is benign, but despite that and its benign mechanics, it is actually more challenging than your average filler game because it is asking the players to think and communicate. Also, where another co-operative bears repeat play by increasing the difficulty level of the game the players have to beat; Hanabi bears repeated play if a group wants to improve its score.

Despite its simplicity, Hanabi is clever because it gives us a new playing experience. One that emphasises communication and deduction to support its co-operative play.

5
Go to the Ticket To Ride: Nederland page
22 out of 24 gamers thought this was helpful

With its fourth entry in the Ticket to Ride Map Collection, Days of Wonder has gone Dutch. Like the previous Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 3 – The Heart of Africa, Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland includes just the one map plus a new mechanic that makes game play tighter and ultimately forces a player to pay heavily in terms of points if he is too slow. As with the other titles in the series, it requires a base set to play, either Ticket to Ride or Ticket to Ride: Europe.

The map in this expansion is laid out vertically, much like the maps in Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 3 – The Heart of Africa and Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries. A riot of verdant green, cut by innumerable rivers and canals, and bound by the North Sea to the West, the Netherlands’ rivers and canals are bridged by Double-Routes, there being more Double than Single routes. Each route has a Toll value attached to it between one and four.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland also includes a set of forty-four Destination Tickets, five sets of Bridge Toll Tokens, and a set of Bonus and Loan cards. These Destination Tickets are of a high value, six of them being worth between twenty-nine and thirty-four points and another seventeen being worth between seventeen and twenty-six points. The cardboard Bridge Toll Tokens are valued either one, two, or four.

Designed for two to five players, the expansion mostly plays just like any Ticket to Ride map, except each player receives forty rather than forty-five trains, and five Destination Tickets of which he must keep three. He also receives Bridge Toll Tokens to a value of thirty. During his turn, a player can draw Train Cards as normal; draw more Destination Tickets (four, must keep one); or play Trains to claim a route. Claiming a route is where this expansion differs from other Ticket to Ride boards. When a player claims the first route of a Double-Route, he pays its value as a Toll in Bridge Toll Tokens to the Bank. If another player later claims this Double-Route’s second route, then that player pays the same Toll in Bridge Toll Tokens to the player who claimed the first route.

For example, the Double-Route between Den Helder and Haarlem has a Toll value of two. Richard claims the first route using four orange Trains Cards, paying the required Bridge Toll Tokens to the bank. Later in the game, Debbie needs the same route and uses four blue Train Cards to claim the second route. Since Richard has claimed the first route, Debbie must pay the Bridge Toll Tokens not to the Bank, but to Richard.

Obviously claiming the first routes of a Double-Route before anyone else is the key here. A player who claims a first route will probably receive the value in Bridge Toll Tokens he paid to the bank from the player who claims the second route. This gives an advantage to the players who go first, so later players start play with some bonus points. As game’s end, the players are awarded points based on the number of Bridge Toll Tokens they have in relation to each other. Should a player run out of Bridge Toll Tokens, he can take a Loan Card for each route claimed. Doing so means that a player cannot score any points based on the number of Bridge Toll Tokens he has at game’s end.
The expansion also includes rules to play the Nederland map without using the Bridge Toll Tokens, plus a two-player variant that uses them and a dummy third player. Its actions are determined in a semi-random fashion by the text at the bottom of some of the Destination Tickets. The effect of this randomness is to make this two-player variant a much more tense playing experience because the dummy player’s actions are not as predictable.

Physically, Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland is as attractive as the other maps available for Ticket to Ride. Unfortunately, its font is too pretty, especially for casual play, often forcing a player to study the map to work out where the various towns and cities are. The various Destination Ticket and Bonus and Loan Cards are equally as attractive, though not as flawed. The game’s major flaw is the inadequate packaging – the space in the tray provided to store the Bridge Toll Tokens is utterly insufficient. It is possible to store them underneath the tray, but that was certainly not Days of Wonder’s intention.

In comparison to other Ticket to Ride maps, Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland might be seen as being complex and indeed, it does add another degree of resource management in the form of the Bridge Toll Tokens. That said, what Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland brings to the Ticket to Ride family is a means to turn on the pressure during the play. That is, claim the first route of a Double-Route as there is a chance that you will get your Bridge Toll Tokens back when another player claims the second route. Essentially this adds an economic aspect to the game in that paying Bridge Toll Tokens to the Bank when claiming the first route of a Double-Route actually serves as an investment in which the player has the potential to recoup the investment made.

As with any new Ticket to Ride map, Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland presents challenges anew and should be welcomed for that. Its ‘economic’ complexity relative to other entries in the Ticket to Ride family makes Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland suited to play by the Ticket to Ride enthusiast rather than its original family audience.

7
Go to the Ticket To Ride: The Heart of Africa page
13 out of 15 gamers thought this was helpful

Unlike previous entries in the Ticket to Ride Map Collection series – Ticket to Ride Map Collection vol. 1: Team Asia and Legendary Asia and Ticket to Ride Map Collection vol. 2: India and SwitzerlandTicket to Ride Map Collection vol. 3: The Heart of Africa only includes the one new map board and set of rules rather than two. So it has to do the work of two new boards to be interesting, let alone challenging. The good news is that The Heart of Africa is challenging…

Ticket to Ride Map Collection vol. 3: The Heart of Africa consists of the new map board, forty-eight Destination Tickets, forty-five Terrain Cards (a new card type), plus the rules booklet. The map depicts not the whole of Africa, but rather the South and the West as far North as Nigeria in the West and Sudan in the East, excluding both North Africa and the Horn of Africa. As with the Switzerland map, The Heart of Africa map includes destinations that are countries rather then towns or cities, though just Nigeria, Tchad, and Sudan on the map’s northern edge. These destinations are reflected in the game’s Destination Tickets.

Physically, The Heart of Africa map reflects the Ticket to Ride line’s chronological progression. The original board game is set in 1900, whereas the India map from Ticket to Ride Map Collection vol. 2: India and Switzerland is set in the Edwardian period. The Heart of Africa map moves to the 1920s, as reflected in the artwork with its motorcar and its biplane. Elsewhere, the art on the map has a dry, dusty feel apart from the rich illustrations accorded to the country destinations depicted at the northern edge of the board.

Most Ticket to Ride maps reflect their terrain in the routes that need to be claimed. For example, the Swiss map from Ticket to Ride Map Collection vol. 2: India and Switzerland has lots of tunnels that south through the Alps. The Heart of Africa’s map reflects the terrain in the routes available, but not by route type. Instead it groups routes according to the terrain type they cross. Further route colours are not distributed across the map, but grouped – orange, red, and yellow for Desert and Savannah routes; blue, green, and purple for Forest and Jungle routes; and black, grey, and white for Cliff and Mountain routes. These groups are organised geographically; the Forest and Jungle routes threading across the map’s middle with the Desert and Savannah routes to North and South and the Cliff and Mountain routes to the North and the East.

This grouping strongly influences play. First, it makes players scramble for Train Cards of the same colour if they want to make connections through the terrain types. The map has multiple incidences of routes of one colour being connected to a destination out of which leads a route of the same colour. The need to claim these routes quickly is exacerbated by the lack of double routes in map’s interior – they run along the continent’s coast. The map also has few grey routes that can be claimed using any colour Train Cards. Second, it will be obvious to the other players what terrain group a player a wants to claim a route from by the colour of the Train cards he draws.

The new Terrain Cards specifically work with the route groupings and so come in three types – Desert and Savannah, Forest and Jungle, and Cliff and Mountain. When a player claims a route he can also play a Terrain Card (or two Terrain Cards if the route is longer) that matches the route’s colour. This doubles the value of the points scored for the route. He needs as many Terrain Cards of that terrain grouping as any other player – known because they must be kept face up on the table where everyone can see them. Alternatively, Locomotive or Wild Train Cards can be used instead of Terrain Cards. Once played, Terrain Cards and Wild Cards are discarded.

Game set-up is little different to other Ticket to Ride games. Each player receives his forty-five trains and four Train Cards as usual, plus four Destination Tickets, of which he must keep two, and a single, random Terrain Card. Two Terrain Cards are placed face up alongside the usual Train Cards. When a player decides to draw cards during his turn, he can choose to draw Terrain Cards; either two Train Cards or two Terrain Cards, or one of each. Once drawn, a player’s Terrain Cards are placed face up where everyone can see them.

The need to have Terrain Cards and the need to have as many Terrain Cards as another player forces more decisions upon a player. Drawing more Terrain Cards gives the potential for a player to outscore his rivals, though possibly at the cost of drawing and playing Train Cards to claim routes. Ignoring Terrain Cards and claiming routes before anyone else prevents a player from scoring double points. In addition, a player can draw more Terrain Cards in order to have as many as his fellow players or more as a means to stop them scoring double with their Terrain Cards. In other words, Terrain Cards can be used to block other players.

Over the course of the Ticket to Ride line, the distribution of the routes across the various map boards have got tighter and tighter and thus more competitive. The India map from the previous expansion, Ticket to Ride Map Collection vol. 2: India and Switzerland being the most recent evidence of that. With The Heart of Africa, the map is equally as tight and competitive if not more so because of the lack of the double routes and the grouping of the route colours. The tight nature and competitive play of The Heart of Africa map is enhanced by the use of the Terrain Cards making this the most challenging version of Ticket to Ride yet.

6
Go to the The Walking Dead Board Game page
25 out of 29 gamers thought this was helpful

Based on the television series, The Walking Dead Board Game is a light, fraught game in which the Survivors must visit four important Locations and return to Camp while fending off Walkers (as the zombies are called) and scrounging for guns and tools to aid their survival. Each Survivor must be resourceful, carefully husbanding his guns, his baseball bats, and his Allies if he is to succeed. Loose too many Allies and a Survivor is vulnerable to the flesh-rending teeth of the Walkers. When that happens, the Survivor is not only dead, but rises as a Walker himself to hunt down the remaining Survivors!

Initially won by the first Survivor to visit all four Locations and return to Camp, when two Survivors get turned into Walkers, the players split into two teams – Team Survivor and Team Zombie (why Team Zombie, ‘zombie’ not being a term used in The Walking Dead?), and the game becomes co-operative. If Team Zombie kills the remaining Survivors, it wins; if a single Survivor manages to visit all four Locations and return to Camp, Team Survivor wins, even if only one Survivor remains!

All of the components are nicely done in full colour and illustrated with stills from the television series. Notably, the board is actually a cloth. It has the Camp at the centre and a Location at each corner – a Police Station, the Center for Disease Control, an Abandoned Car Lot, and a Department Store. A track connects them all, with sewers, useable only by the Walkers, connecting each side. Scrounge Cards represent items and events helpful to Survivors; Encounter Cards represent Walkers and Events that will beset Survivors; and the Walker Cards are used by Walker players whose Survivors were killed. Location Cards are awarded to Survivors who visit each place and the Badges indicate each player’s side (Team Survivor or Team Zombie).

At game’s start, each player selects a character card, either Rick, Lori, Shane, Glenn, Andrea, or Dale. Each Survivor has a single ability that he can use once per game. For example, Rick can re-roll an attack with a +2 bonus. Each Survivor also receives five Scrounge Cards and two Ally tokens. The Scrounge Deck is filled with ten cards per Survivor. When it is exhausted, the only source of Scrounge Cards is the discard pile and the cards in each Survivors’ hands.

On his turn, a Survivor rolls the die and moves in any direction. Typically where he lands will lead to an Encounter Card being drawn. Others give him a bonus to the Encounter, another turn, a Scrounge Card, or No Encounter. Most Encounter Cards force a Survivor to fight a Walker, but others give him or force him to discard Scrounge Cards due to personality conflicts (in keeping with the television series).
To fight a Walker on an Encounter Card, the Survivor rolls the die and expends Scrounge Cards, mostly weapons to add a bonus to this, to beat the Strength of the Encounter Card. Walker Strength on the Encounter Cards varies between five and ten, with Scrounge Cards giving a bonus of between one and six. A roll of a six always wins, but if a Survivor loses, an Ally is lost, or if he has no Allies, then he is bitten and will rise as a Walker on his next turn. Winning an Encounter allows a Survivor to take a Scrounge Card, if there are any left.

As soon as a Survivor reaches a Location, he stops and draws not one, but two Encounter Cards, which he has to deal with in order. If the Survivor deals with both, he receives the appropriate Location Card. This gives him a permanent bonus. The Police Station gives an attack bonus, the Abandoned Car Lot a movement bonus, the Department Store an extra Ally if you visit it first, and the Center for Disease Control more Scrounge Cards, either two new ones, or one from the bottom of the discard pile – the latter is useful if you know what that card is and useful later in the game when the Scrounge Cards have been all taken.
Should a Survivor die and rise as a Walker he receives all new Walker Cards. To win he must kill the remaining Survivors. The Walker Cards allow a Walker player to increase his movement, replace an Encounter card drawn by a Survivor with a Walker Card that the Survivor must fight, cause a Frenzy and increase the Strength of a Walker on an Encounter Card, and worse, cause an Ally to be ‘Bitten!’ and be discarded. If the Survivor manages to beat a Walker Card played on him, then not only does he beat the Walker Card, but also the Walker player as well! Unfortunately, you cannot keep a good Walker down and he will rise again in the nearby sewers.

Additional rules allow for solo player, but the main alternative is a four-player Team Game. This has the game start with the players divided into two – Team Zombie versus Team Survivor, just as if two Survivors had died in the standard game. The Survivors only need to get to the four Locations between them and only one of them needs to make it back to Camp to win.

Best with four players, The Walking Dead Board Game is better than you think. It is hard for the Survivors to win and everything they do is challenging as they must carefully husband their Scrounge Cards before they all run out. It is not a challenge to learn and play and it involves more luck than skill, making the game suitable for play by fans of the television series who are not seasoned gamers. The latter are unlikely to really enjoy the game because of the lack of challenge for them and the degree of luck. That said it captures the desperation of the television series, more so if the players know the series and play to the characters on their card.

7
Go to the Smash Up page

Smash Up

32 out of 36 gamers thought this was helpful

Alien Ninja versus Dinosaur Tricksters versus Pirate Wizards versus Robot Zombies or Alien Dinosaurs versus Ninja Pirates versus Robot Wizards versus Trickster Zombies or Alien Wizards versus Zombie Tricksters versus Robot Pirates versus Dinosaur Ninjas or… Take an Internet meme like Pirates versus Ninja versus Robots versus Monkeys and whisk into a stiff froth and what you have is Smash Up: The Shufflebuilding Game of Total Awesomeness!, a card game published by Alderac Entertainment Group. Best known for its Legend of the Five Rings CCG and Legend of the Five Rings RPG, Alderac Entertainment Group has within the last three years expanded rapidly into the design and publication of board and card games. Smash Up, which was the 2013 UK Games Expo Awards Best General Card Game Winner, is a light card game, designed for play by two to four players, aged twelve and up, in which different factions team up and battle for control of the world!

Smash Up consists of eight factions – Aliens, Dinosaurs, Ninjas, Pirates, Robots, Tricksters, Wizards, and Zombies, each represented by a twenty-card deck. A ninth deck, containing sixteen cards, consists of the Bases, such as the ‘Temple of Goju’ or ‘Evans City Cemetery’, which the factions will battle over. To win, each player must take control of a pairing of two of these factions, usually randomly determined, which might be Robot Tricksters or Pirate Zombies, and use it to take control of these Bases. Score enough points from these Bases – fifteen Victory Points is enough – and a player will win.

Each faction consists of Action and Minion cards, the latter valued between one and seven Power, but at the heart of the game are the special abilities particular to each faction. Aliens zap the minions of rival players back into their hands; Dinosaurs, many with lasers for eyes, get to stomp on Bases with their big Power and scare other factions when it is not their turn; Ninjas sneak onto Bases just at the right time when you least expect it; and Pirates can set sail easily from one Base to another. Robots bring out lots of tiny little microbots that quickly stack and power each other up; Tricksters – fae such as gnomes, gremlins, and leprechauns play seemingly random ruses that protect their Minions or have consequences on attacking players; Wizards cast spells that let them play extra Action cards; and Zombies never die, but end up in the player’s discard pile to swarm back out again. Playing one faction might be easy enough, but mastering Smash Up means getting to grips with how one faction interacts with another, because the abilities of one faction will usually affect the other faction in a pairing.

The game starts with each player taking two faction decks and shuffling these together. This is the ‘shufflebuilding’ of the game’s title and it is how a player forms his deck for the game. Then a number of Bases are laid out, equal to the number of players plus one. Each Base has a Breakpoint, ranging from sixteen to twenty-five. When the total value of Minions on the Base played by everyone equals or succeeds this Breakpoint, the Base is smashed and Victory Points are scored. Each Base awards points to the player with the highest total value in Minions on the Base, and then to the players with the second and third highest totals. As soon as a Base is scored in this fashion, a new one is added to fight over. Each Base has a special ability of its own. For example, ‘The Central Brain’ grants everyone Minion a +1 bonus to its Power when played on the Base, whilst the ‘Rhodes Plaza Mall’ awards one Victory Point to each player for every Minion he has on the Base when it scores.

Each turn a player can play two cards – an Action card and a Minion card, though he does not have to play either. Played onto a Base, a Minion has a set of instructions that trigger as soon as it is played. Usually this means getting to add another Minion to a Base or sending a rival Minion away, but the exact effect varies from one faction to another, and this essentially is Smash Up. Play is very simple, but things get somewhat complex when it comes to working out how the cards interact with each other and how they continue to affect the game from turn to another. This requires keeping track of the text on the card, and that can slow game play down, as can having to add up the total value of the Minions on a Base at the end of almost every turn, though neither really impedes play. Indeed, the text on the cards actually adds a little tactical substance to the game.

Physically, Smash Up is an attractive game. The cards are very nicely illustrated and the rules are clear and simple. The language used in the rules is sometimes annoyingly, if not patronisingly, informal and should never got past the editor. The inclusion of a scoring track would have been a useful addition.

A recent trend in game design has been the ‘deck building’ game, a type of card game in which a player builds and manipulates his own deck of cards in order to create the optimum deck and so win the game. Alderac Entertainment Group has published several of these, including Nightfall and Thunderstone, but Smash Up cuts to the chase – one ‘shufflebuild’ of two twenty-card decks and a player is ready to go and finds himself playing a simple, but strongly themed beat ‘em up card game that adds a little complexity and a surprising tactical substance when working how the cards interact. Smash Up: The Shufflebuilding Game of Total Awesomeness! is light and fun, attractive and varied with innumerable combinations to try out and see who gets to Smash Up the world!

7
Go to the Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries page
32 out of 39 gamers thought this was helpful

Originally available only in Scandinavia, Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries, like its immediate predecessor, Ticket to Ride: Switzerland, is designed for two to three players. Yet where Ticket to Ride: Switzerland was merely an expansion – consisting of a new board and new Destination Tickets, all packaged into a flat, album sized box – Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries is a full game. So the game comes complete with a new board, new Destination Tickets, and new rules, but also the game’s own deck of Train cards, three sets of train pieces, three wooden scoring markers, and the new Globetrotter card.

The aim and play of Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries is relatively unchanged from other Ticket to Ride titles. The players take it in turns to draw colored Train tickets, either face up or from the deck, attempting to get enough to match the color of various routes on the board. When he has enough, a player can claim and mark a route with his trains. Each route connects two cities, and by connecting one or more routes a player can complete the full route marked on one of the Destination Tickets he received at game start, for example, “København to Narvik” or “Oslo to Honningsvåg” in Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries. Points are scored for each route claimed, the longer the route, the greater the number of points, though points are lost at game’s end for incomplete Destination Tickets.

Unlike its predecessor, Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries does not offer any new type of Destination Ticket, so no Destination Tickets that connect the cities of Scandinavia to locations beyond her borders. What it adds is a new theme that shows in the graphical design, typified by the snowbound train and waving Laplander (complete with reindeer) illustrations and the snow-covered cars on the train cards. More Christmassy than the chocolate box style of Ticket to Ride: Switzerland.

It also adds a vertical rather horizontal board as in other Ticket to Ride titles. This reflects the region’s geography which is dominated by Finland, Norway, and Sweden, which together run the height of the board. The northern tip of Denmark sits at the board’s bottom edge; whilst the Estonian capital, Tallinn, lies to the East and to the North, across the Russian border, sits Murmansk, the largest city north of the Arctic Circle. The latter is marked with both a line and with a dark mauve wash to reflect the Midnight Sky.

Given this geography, the board is dominated by long vertical routes with relatively few horizontal routes, mostly located in the South where there are several tunnels. Ferry routes run the length of the Norwegian coast and crisscross the Baltic Sea, connecting the various countries by short sea routes. Tunnels work just as they do in Ticket to Ride: Switzerland and Ticket to Ride: Europe. Similarly, the ferries work just as they do in Ticket to Ride: Europe.

The inclusion of these tunnels and ferries means that Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries feels much like a two to three player variant of Ticket to Ride: Europe. There is one major difference though – an exceptional route that runs from Murmansk in Russia to Lieksa in Finland and is nine spaces long! This breaks the usual limit of six-space routes and is worth an incredible twenty-seven points! It is a grey route, so cards of any color can be used to claim the route. As with ferries, cards of another color can be substituted to claim one or more spaces along the route, but four cards instead of three. So a player could use eight red cards and four black cards to claim the route instead of the full nine red. Lastly, the Globetrotter card is awarded for the most number of completed Destination Tickets rather a bonus for the Longest Continuous Route.

Obviously, Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries draws strong comparisons with Ticket to Ride: Switzerland. Both have fewer Destination Tickets and fewer Train pieces – forty rather than forty-five, and both are tight playing boards with an emphasis on the locomotive card. Where their use is reserved for tunnels in Ticket to Ride: Switzerland, they are used for tunnels and ferries in Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries. Further, their number is limited in this variant, so players will find themselves cycling through the train deck in order to find them and accumulating handfuls of cards in the process. Significantly, there are fewer Destination Tickets in Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries that duplicate sections of routes on other Destination Tickets as there are in Ticket to Ride: Switzerland.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries offers a more balanced two to three player variant that is as tight as Ticket to Ride: Switzerland, that whilst not as complex, offers a greater variety because it has fewer tunnels and more ferries. In some ways, it is a better introduction to the Ticket to Ride family than the original Ticket to Ride, as it provides more in the way of competition and a challenge. Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries is the best option if a group is looking for a two to three player way into Ticket to Ride family.

4
Go to the Dungeon! page

Dungeon!

36 out of 41 gamers thought this was helpful

Almost as old as Dungeons & Dragons, with Wizards of the Coast’s 2012 publication of Dungeon! Fantasy Board Game it has as many editions as Dungeons & Dragons. Originally published in 1975, it was reprinted in 1981, redesigned and republished in 1989 as The New Dungeon!, and then in 1992 as The Classic Dungeon! This new edition continues the publisher’s wave of nostalgia products that has included new editions of older Dungeons & Dragons rules and scenario collections.

Designed for two and eight players, aged eight and up, Dungeon! has heroes delving deep underground to encounter monsters and trap and hopefully return with a trove or two of treasure. The amount needed to win varies according to the hero selected at game’s start. Halfing Rogues and Dwarf Clerics need to bring back 10,000 gp, Human Fighters 20,000 gp, and Elf Wizards 30,000 gp. Play is relatively simple and straightforward and involves mostly dice rolls and luck.

The game consists of the rulebook, the game board, eight Hero standees, one hundred-and sixty-five cards (sixty-one Monster cards, eighty Treasure cards, and twenty-four Spell cards), one hundred-and thirty-nine tokens (twelve Number tokens, eleven Lose a Turn tokens, Cleared tokens, five Magic Sword tokens), and two six-sided dice. The board shows the corridors, rooms, and chambers that radiate out from the central Great Hall, spread out over six colour-coded levels, from first down to sixth level. The eight Hero standees are colour coded by Class and the Monster and the Treasure cards are divided by Level, tougher monsters and better treasure being found on the lower level. The Spell cards, Fireball, Lightning, and Teleport spells, can only be used by Wizard heroes. The Number tokens are used to indicate the location of undefeated Monsters; the Cleared tokens to indicate rooms and chambers cleared of Monsters; and the Magic Sword tokens to indicate possession of weapons with combat bonuses. The full colour, foldout rulebook is easy to read.

The game starts with each player picking a Hero, the choice determined by how much money a Hero must return and what the Hero can do. The Rogue is better at opening Secret Doors; the Fighter is an excellent combatant; and the Wizard can cast spells – Fireball and Lightning to fling at Monsters and Teleport to move between chambers across the board. Unfortunately the Cleric has no special ability – no healing ability or no ability to deal with the undead. For a game that carries the Dungeons & Dragons branding with its iconic character types, this is a disappointingly bland omission.

Then play begins. Each turn a player conducts up to four steps in order: Move, Encounter, Combat, and Loot. To move, a Hero can move up to five spaces, through any doors or secret doors (if he can open them), but must stop as soon as he enters a room or a chamber with a Monster which he must fight. Each Monster card is named and illustrated and has six target numbers listed on it, one each for the Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard classes, plus one each for the Wizard’s Fireball and Lightning Bolt spells. For example, to beat a level one Dire Rat, the Rogue must roll five or more, the Cleric four, the Fighter three, the Wizard six, and two and seven for the Wizard’s Fireball and Lightning Bolt spells respectively. These targets get higher for Monsters at lower levels and certain Monsters cannot be attacked by certain Heroes. For example, the Rogue cannot attack the Black Pudding.

If a Hero defeats a Monster in room, the room is marked with a Cleared token and he draws a Treasure. If a Monster is defeated in a chamber, a Cleared token is placed, but a treasure is not drawn. It takes three Cleared tokens to empty a chamber. An undefeated Monster can strike back as per the table on the edge of the board. A defeated Hero might drop a Treasure, be forced back to the Great Hall with half his Treasures, or be killed and his Treasures left for others to pick up!

Instead of a Monster, a Trap! might force a Hero to lose a turn or send him down a level. Most Treasures have a monetary value, but some are magic items – Magic Swords give a bonus to attack, the Secret Door card lets a Hero pass through any Secret Door, and so on. Once a Hero has the necessary value of Treasure cards needed to win the game, he only has to be the first to get back to the Great Hall to win the game.

Dungeon! is a simple game without any great depth or any extra rules beyond those for solo play. Its theme is strong and its simplicity and high luck factor make it suitable for younger players, as does its lack choices to be made in play and its lack of player interaction. This would make it solid Ameritrash, but it does not individualise particular Hero abilities enough to make it so. This lack also makes it a poor introduction to Dungeons & Dragons, as does the fact that it is not a ‘dungeon crawl’ like the more recent Castle Ravenloft board game because no strategy, decision making, co-operation, or planning goes into the play of Dungeon!. If not a dungeon crawl then, what is Dungeon!?

Dungeon! Fantasy Board Game is a race game with a dungeon theme.

Dungeon! suffers from variable production quality – the board and rules are nice, everything else is not. The game’s redesign is underdone when there was potential aplenty for expanded rules and more, perhaps fixing the Cleric class, adding player versus player combat, team play, and more. That said, the game is very reasonably priced, but may not satisfy the sense of nostalgia that many will buy Dungeon! for. Yet as a race game with a dungeon theme, Dungeon! Fantasy Board Game is really one for the kids (though older players might like the diversion it offers too).

7
Go to the German Railways page

German Railways

28 out of 31 gamers thought this was helpful

Originally published as Preußische Ostbahn by Winsome Games in 2008, German Railways is the first entry in Queen Games’ Iron Horse collection. Designed for three to five players, aged twelve plus, focuses on the foundation of Germany’s railroads between 1832 and 1872. Historically, some 200 railroads would help forge economic and cultural ties between the innumerable Germanic states, but German Railways focuses on just eight railroads and their shares. Players purchase shares and so seed each railroad with the capital necessary to increase both its network and its share value. The aim of the game is have the most money or ‘Talers’.

The game consists of three Railroad Shares, plus matching Railroad Income marker and rolling stock or Locomotives for each Railroad. Each player has a set of Player Turn Order markers and a Player Income marker. The board depicts Germany – its towns and cities, rural, hill, and mountainous regions – overlaid with a hex grid, plus tracks for the Player Turn Order, Railroad Income, and Player Incomes. Each railroad has a space on the edge of the board to hold its current capital. The game comes with rules in Dutch, English, French, and German.

Game set up involves placing the Railroad Income and the Player Income markers on the right tracks and placing the Locomotives on their starting cities. Each player receives some Talers, the amount depending upon the number of players. Then the first wave of shares are auctioned off in order – Preußische Ostbahn, Niederschlesische-Märkische Eisenbahn, Königlich-Sächsische Staatseisenbahnen, Königlich-Bayerische Staatseisenbahnen, Main-Weser-Bahn, Großherzoglich Badische Staatseisenbahnen, Cöln-Mindener Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft, and Berlin-Hamburger Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft. The other shares can be auctioned off during the game, but a whole wave must be auctioned off before the next is available.

Each player determines the total value of his shares and adjusts the position of his Player Income marker accordingly. Once Player Income is known, player order is determined. This is done by drawing five Player Turn Order markers from a provided cloth bag and putting them on the Player Turn Order track. The player with the highest Player Income puts a single marker into the bag, the player with the second highest Player Income puts two markers into the bag, and so on. This means that the player with the highest Player Income has the least chance of taking an action each round, whereas the player with least Player Income has the most chance of taking multiple actions each round.

On his turn a player can do one of three things. He can choose to pass, he can put up a Railroad Share up for auction, or he can build track. To Build Track, a player selects a Railroad in which he owns one or more Shares in and spends the capital invested in it to add Locomotives to that Railroad’s existing network. Usually three Locomotives, but may be more or less depending upon the Railroad. Each Railroad has a special feature, not always a beneficial one. For example, the efficient Preußische Ostbahn can build four Locomotives rather than three, whilst the Share Dividend focused Cöln-Mindener Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft may no more than five Talers on building track.

When track is built into urban and city hexes, it increases the value of the Railroad Share by one and thus the Player Income of any player who owns shares in the Railroad, though some cities increase the value by more than one. If track is built from one Railroad into another in urban or city hex, a connection is made and Dividends are paid out on all Shares currently owned. Anyone who owns shares in the connecting Railroad receives a double Dividend. Only one connection can be made between two Railroads to get this Dividend. When each Railroad has made two connections, the game ends.

Initially players have limited funds to invest, so each Railroad receives limited capital with which to Build Track and increase its value. Thus Dividends will be low, but as Railroads expand, their share values increase, giving greater Dividends and thus more money with which to purchase more shares. Towards the game’s end, a player must choose carefully between purchasing shares and keeping his money. The key is knowing if a share’s potential dividend is worth the auction value. Pay too much for a share and a player reduces his chances of winning.

In addition, alliances are formed throughout the game between players who own shares in the same Railroad. This is one of expediency as the opportunity to make a connection and thus gain the double Dividend will benefit the share owners of the connecting Railroad. Plus when connections are made, everyone receives a Dividend and that includes any player who does not have a turn that round.

German Railways is mostly well designed and presented, but the colours of some shares and locomotives do not quite match. Plus the colour of some shares are washed out and difficult to tell apart. Gameplay is not eased as the Railroad special features are only listed in the middle of the rulebook, whereas they should have been listed on the shares.

Some players will hate German Railways’ means of determining turn order. The clever mechanism is designed to enable trailing players to have a chance of more turns and catch up, but it often means that some players have nothing to do for a whole round. Nevertheless, they can still benefit from Dividends and can still participate in auctions. Lastly play time is listed as 60 minutes – it is more like 90.

Ultimately, whether you like German Railways or not depends upon whether you like the Turn Order mechanism. It is the game’s divisive design feature. Plus the game is a share manipulation game rather than a railway game. That said, so is Paris Connection with which German Railways shares the same publishers. German Railways is more complex than Paris Connection, but not by much and the complexity comes in determining share values. Get that right and you will be the master of the German Railways.

6
Go to the King of Tokyo page

King of Tokyo

78 out of 86 gamers thought this was helpful

Being a city planner in Tokyo must be a thankless task. After all, every few months, the city and its infrastructure gets stomped, disintegrated with blasts of radioactive breath, pulverised with claws and tails, and otherwise converted from town planner’s big dream of city life into dusty piles of rubble. The culprits are Kaiju – big monsters, of which Godzilla is the most famous. Of course, all this is beneath of the notice of the monsters – well, they are big monsters – as King of Tokyo proves.

This is a light dice and resource management game in which between two and six Kaiju battle each other to be the one and only “King of Tokyo.” They include a big ape – “The King”, a giant humanoid crab – “Kraken”, a large lizard – “Gigazaur”, a colossal alien robot – “Alienoid”, an ernormous draconic robot – “Meka Dragon”, and a lapine “Cyber-Bunny”. Suitable for players aged eight and up, the game is quick to teach, looks good, and plays in half an hour or so.

Designed by Richard Garfield – the designer of Magic the Gathering and RoboRally – and published by Iello Games, King of Tokyo consists of a card and a standee for each of the Kaiju; a set of eight custom dice; sixty-six Power Cards; a pile of Power Cubes; plus a board and the rulebook. The latter represents the city of Tokyo and is marked with two spaces, one labelled Tokyo City, the other Tokyo Bay. The space labelled Tokyo Bay only comes into play when there are five or more players. The Kaiju boards are marked with two dials, one for Victory Points, the other for the Kaiju’s Health. The Power Cards grant a Kaiju special powers or bonuses, some of which are discarded after use, whilst others are permanent. Sample permanent powers include Fire Breathing” which lets a Kaiju blast his neighbours with fire each time he inflicts damage, whilst “Giant Brain” allows a Kaiju to reroll the dice four times instead of three. Sample discard powers include “Frenzy” which lets a Kaiju take another turn immediately after his current one, whilst he gains two Victory Points and heals three damage taken with “Nuclear Power Station.” Each Power Card has a cost which is paid in Power Cubes. Some of these Power Cards possess corresponding tokens indicating their use.

At the heart of the game are the dice. There are six of these, in black marked with a lurid green with the numbers one through three, plus a heart, a lightning bolt, and a claw. In addition to these six standard dice, there are another two dice, these in lurid green, but marked in black with the same numbers and symbols. These green dice become available when a Kaiju purchases certain cards.

On his turn a Kaiju rolls the six standard dice. He can roll each die a further two times if he does not like the result, but must keep the rolls after that. For every set of three of the same number, a Kaiju gains Victory Points – more if he rolls sets with more of the same number of them. For each Claw rolled, a Kaiju inflicts a point of Damage; for each Heart rolled he heals a point of his Health; and for each Lightning Bolt, he gains a Power Cube. Power Cubes can be spent to purchase Power Cards.

How a Kaiju inflicts Damage on his fellow Kaiju is where King of Tokyo gets interesting. A Kaiju outside of Tokyo can attack and inflict Damage on the Kaiju who is in Tokyo, but the Kaiju who is in Tokyo can attack and inflict Damage on the Kaiju who are not in Tokyo. Thus the Kaiju who is in Tokyo is likely to be attacked again and again – and worse, he cannot heal himself through the use of dice. So what then, is the advantage of remaining in Tokyo? A Kaiju gains Victory Points by being in Tokyo, but he can leave any time that he takes Damage, his attacker taking his place in Tokyo.

King of Tokyo is won either by amassing twenty Victory Points or being the last Kaiju standing.

Essentially, King of Tokyo is especially luck based, and at first glance appears to involve very little in the way of tactics or decision making. True, there is little in the way of a tactical element to the game – does a Kaiju attack or not? The game does involve more in the way of decision making though, and it all comes down to the dice rolls and whether or not a Kaiju can roll the symbols on the dice that he wants, or as the game proceeds… needs. During the opening stage of the game, a Kaiju will want to inflict as many Claws as he can to inflict as much Damage as possible on his fellow Kaiju, to gain as many Victory Points as possible, and to gain sufficient Power Cubes to gain those all-important Power Cards. As the game progresses and a Kaiju suffers Damage, then he will want to roll Hearts in order to regain Health. Of course, this is what a Kaiju might want to roll on the dice, what he actually rolls and decides to keep is another matter…

King of Tokyo is a simple, throwaway filler of a game. It is easy to learn and play, and it is a fun family game with an obviously joyous love of its theme that shines through in its components and “beat ‘em up” style of play. As much as will enjoy that theme, more serious gamers will quickly become aware of the game’s flaws. First, as much as it is a game designed for between two and six kaiju, it plays poorly with two and it really only plays well when there are four or more involved. Second, the game always comes down to a battle between two Kaiju as it is a knock-out game. Once a Kaiju has been knocked out, he cannot re-join the game and so has to wait for the game to end with nothing to do except cheer for one Kaiju or another. Third, the powers on the Power Cards are far from balanced, and since this is a luck-based game, getting the right combination of Power Cards can make a Kaiju nigh unstoppable…

Ultimately, whether you like King of Tokyo comes down to whether or not you like the theme enough to compensate for the luck factor. If so, then the game is fun, it is easy to teach, and a joyously silly filler thriller.

5
Go to the Kittens in a Blender page
27 out of 32 gamers thought this was helpful

You have a kitten. You leave the room. The kitten follows you because you are not in the same room. You come back into the room and close the door behind you. The kitten miaows because you shut it out and not because it was kurious. You open a kupboard. The kitten climbs in because it can. You shut the kupboard. The kitten miaows to be let out because you shut it in the kupboard and not because it was kurious. You take a bath. The kitten jumps up on the side of the bath and almost falls in. The kitten looks at you because it is your fault and not because it was kurious.

As the saying goes, “Kuriousity Killed the Kitten.”

The Kitten Killing Kuriousity is the subject of the possibly tastelessly titled kard game, Kittens in a Blender. Published by Closet Nerd Games, it is a light, silly, simple kard game designed for two to four players aged eight and over. Both the title and the theme of the kard game are both its selling point and its downfall. After all, would you play a kard game in which you try to send your rivals’ kittens to the blender whilst trying to save your own from the whirring blades that can only give you a fur-fang feline smoothie? The problem is the kuriousity of kittens – they will klamber onto anything and that includes the kitchen work surfaces where there are innumerable dangerous appliances, one of them a lidless blender into which the kurious kittens will inevitably klimb. All that it takes is one kurious kitten to lay a fluffy paw upon the switch and MIAO-whirr!-SCRUNCH!!

Which sounds like a hideously tasteless theme for a kard game.

Then again, this is just a kard game and Kittens in a Blender is a great title.

The game consists of one-hundred-and-ten full-kolour kards, two large full-kolour kards, the rules sheet and both the lid and tray of the box that Kittens in a Blender comes in. One of the large kards is The Blender and is placed in the lid of the game box, whilst the other large kard is The Box, which is placed in the tray that the game came in. The rest of the kards konsist of four sets of Kitten kards, each set a different kolour. Each set konsists of sixteen kitten kards and each kitten is given a name, and looks ever so, ever so kute. The remaining kards konsist of the following:

“Kitties on the Move,” which allow a player to move between one and three kittens.
“Blend,” which turns The Blender on, blending all kittens in The Blender, but saving all kittens in The Box and sending all kittens on The Kounter to The Blender (though not blending them… yet!).
“Blend/Pulse” works like “Blend,” but can also be used to stop another player using a “Blend” card.
“Dog’s in the Kitchen” forces players to swap hands.
“Kittens in the Blender” moves all kittens in The Box and in The Kounter into The Blender.
“These Kittens in the Blender” works like “Kittens in the Blender,” but only affects kittens of one kolour.
“Kittens on the Kounter” moves all kittens in The Blender and in The Box onto The Kounter.
“Kittens in the Box” moves all kittens in The Blender and on The Kounter into The Box.

The game starts with The Blender and The Box being placed on the table with a gap between them known as The Kounter. Each player picks a kolour of kittens, his aim being to get as many of that set into The Box and safety as he can whilst sending his rival’s kittens into The Blender. If there are less than four players, then the sets of kittens not in play are removed from the deck. Every player then receives a hand of six kards.

On a turn, a player plays two of his kards, in any order, follows any instructions on them and then draws back up to six. Any player can play any kard, including kitten kards belong to his rivals – these kittens are destined for The Blender. Play continues until all sixteen of the “Blend” and “Blend/Pulse” kards have been played. Then all of the surviving kittens for each player are counted and skored two points apiece. Similarly all of the kittens that were blended – how exactly you can tell one blended kitten from another is not explained – and a point is deducted from a player’s skore for each of his kittens that got blended. The player with the highest skore is the winner.

Objectives and tactics are twofold. Get your kittens into The Box, either from your hand, The Kounter, or The Blender. Get their kittens into The Blender, either from your hand, The Kounter, or The Box. Once there are enough of your kittens in The Box and their kittens in The Blender, play “Blend” or “Blend/Pulse” kard – your kittens will be safe and go towards your end game skore, whilst theirs just need ice to be a feline frappe and deduct from their skores at the end of the game.

Physically, Kittens in a Blender is an attractive kard game. The kards are bright, breezy, and every one of the kittens on the sixty-four kitten kards is kute. Really kute. The rules are simple and easy to pick up. It could do with another set of kittens and kards to bring up to a maximum of six players, but then we are still waiting for a six-player full game of Ticket to Ride, so there is the possibility.

All right, so the idea behind Kittens in a Blender is a bit tasteless. Ket over it. Ket over yourself. It is just a game and no kittens are actually hurt during play. There is no “Live Action” version of this game. Seriously.

Konsole yourself with the fact that Kittens in a Blender is a not a kreat game. It is too light, too silly, too throwaway. It is though, a fun and silly well done filler of a game, one that can be fitted in between more serious games with kreater depth. We all need a filler game if not a klowder of them. Kittens in a Blender is a kute addition to your filler game klowder.

Plus Kittens in a Blender is a really kreat title.

10
Go to the Glory to Rome page

Glory to Rome

106 out of 141 gamers thought this was helpful

The year is AD 64. A great fire has struck Rome and at Nero’s command the city must be rebuilt. A number of young Patricians have come forward to answer the imperial call, hoping to win influence and a fortune in helping the Emperor. As their influence grows, they will be able to command Architects and Craftsmen who will rebuild Rome for them, Labourers who will gather the materials needed to rebuild Rome’s finest buildings, the Legions to take materials for their building efforts, Merchants to sell the hoarded materials that will ensure their wealth, and Patrons who will gather more Clientele who will also serve as Architects, Craftsmen, Labourers, Legionaries, and Patrons for each Patrician. All this must be done if a Patrician is rebuild the greatest city in the known world and bring Glory to Rome!

This is premise behind Glory to Rome, a strategy card game published by Cambridge Games. Originally published in 2005, in 2012 it was redesigned with all new artwork and a new box and funded through Kickstarter. Known as the “Black Box” edition, this is the version being reviewed here. Designed to be played by between two and five players, aged twelve and up, it is a card-based city building and resource management game with a novel mechanism. Most of the cards are Order cards that can be used not in one or two different ways, but in four different ways. Each Order card can be built as a building, used as a raw material in the construction of a building, hired as a patron, or sold for its material value. Each Order card can only be used the once, so a player will need to choose carefully if he is to gain the winning benefit from it.

Each Order card is first and foremost a building that a player can construct and then gain the special ability that the building grants. Each Order card is also a material that could be used to construct buildings, though if a player uses it as the material to construct part of another building, he cannot construct the building on the card. There are multiple copies of the buildings in Glory to Rome, so if a card is used for material in another building, another copy might pass into a player’s hand enabling him to try and build it. Each and every building grants its builder a special ability that will help him win the game.

Each Order card is also marked with one, two, or three coins. Once the building on an Order card has been built, these have a dual purpose. First, they indicate the Victory Points scored at game’s end for having constructed the building. Second, they indicate the player’s Influence. By increasing his Influence, a player increases both his capacity to hire more Clients and store material in his Vault.

Lastly, each Order card is marked with one of six Client types and an associated material. These are the grey Architects, which can also serve as Concrete; the green Craftsman, which also serve as Wood; the yellow Labourers, which also work as Rubble; the red Legionaries, which also serve as Brick; the blue Merchants, which also serve as Stone; and the purple Patrons, which also serve as Marble. Each of the six Client types performs a particular role or function in the game. The Architect can lay the foundation of a building or add material to its construction from a player’s Stockpile. The Craftsman can lay the foundation of a building or add material to its construction from a player’s hand of cards. The Labourer takes material from the game’s central pool and adds it to a player’s Stockpile. The Legionary demands material from both the game’s central pool and the hands of neighbouring players. The Merchant allows a player to move material from his Stockpile to his Vault. Lastly, a Patron hires a Client from the game’s central pool and adds it to a player’s Clientele.

So for example, the Market card serves as a Craftsman if used as a Client, as Wood in the construction of a building, but if built does two things. First, its single coin increases both the player’s Victory Point total and his Influence. Second, it grants a special ability, in this case, an increase in size of the player’s Vault above the limit set by his current Influence. Whereas the Archway serves as a Legionary if used as a Client, as Brick for constructing a building, and it increases a player’s Victory Point total and Influence both by two. The special ability that the Archway grants lets a player take material from the central pool of cards instead of his Stockpile.

Glory to Rome consists of three other card types. One is the Jack, a wild card that can be used instead of a Client on an Order card. Another is the Foundation card, which come in the game’s six material types – Brick, Concrete, Marble, Rubble, Stone, and Wood – with a Foundation card being required to be laid before construction can begin on a building. Thus a Wood Foundation card must be laid before construction can be begun on the Market. The last card type is the Merchant Bonus, there being one of these for each material. Each is awarded to the player who the most of the corresponding material in his Vault at game’s end.

In addition to beginning the game with a hand of five Order cards, a player also has a Player Camp heavy card mat. The Player Camp serves as a reference for the players, providing a brief description of what each of the Order cards does when used as Clients. Primarily though, a Player Camp mat is used to organise a player’s cards once they have been played. Order cards are tucked face up under the top of the Player Camp so that only their Influence values are visible; face down under the right hand side in the player’s Vault; face up under the bottom of the Player Camp in the player’s Stockpile; and face up with only the Client type visible under the left hand side of the Player Camp in Clientele section. This neatly organises the cards that a player has so far played. Constructed buildings or buildings under construction are kept separate from each Player Camp. There is also another card mat called the “Rome Demands” which is used with the Legionary Order card.

At its core, Glory to Rome is simple to play. On each turn one player is the Leader (there is a Leader card which is passed round the table as the leadership changes). As Leader a player chooses an Order card from his hand and announces his intention to play its Client as an action. So for example, as Leader, Dave chooses to play the Ludus Magnus card as his Order card and use its Patron action so that he can take an Order card from the pool and add its Client to his Clientele. Now each of Dave’s rivals can do one of two things. If they decide to “Follow” Dave as their Leader, then they must also play an Order card with a Patron action from their hand, play a Jack card from their hand, or Petition. The latter allows a Patrician to play to two or three (depending upon the variant of Glory to Rome being played) identical Client cards of another type to serve as a Jack. So for example, Anthony has neither a Patron card that he can play to follow Dave, nor does he have a Jack, but he does have two Legionary cards that he can play as a Jack.

If a player does not Follow the Leader, can instead “Think.” In which case, he draws cards up to his hand limit, a single card if he has more than his hand limit, or he takes a Jack. If a Leader decides not to lead, but instead to “Think,” he takes a single “Think” action and then the Leadership changes to the next player. Similarly, once everyone has followed a Leader or decided to Think, then the leadership also changes hands.

Normally, only single actions are possible from one turn to the next, but multiple actions become possible when a player has Clients placed in the Clientele section of his Player Camp. Actions for a player’s Clientele can be taken when either the player or another player Leads with the particular Client type. A player can decide to “Think” rather than “Follow” the current Leader and still have his Client take an action as long as the Client matches the Order card played by the Leader. So for example, when Dave used the Patron action of the Ludus Magnus card, he managed to take the Market card from the central Pool and add its Craftsman to his Clientele. On a subsequent turn, he managed to add an Architect to his Clientele, giving him two Clients. On a later turn, Anthony is the Leader and plays a Palisade Order card to make use its Craftsman action. Dave can choose to “Follow” Anthony and play a card that would give him the Craftsman action, so giving him two Craftsman actions – one for the card he is playing and the other for the card he has in his Clientele. Or if he does not have an Order card with a Craftsman, he can “Think,” draw cards or a Jack, and still gain a Craftsman action from the Client because Anthony Lead with a Craftsman.

Once each and every player has played an Order card, that card is not out of the game. Rather it goes into the central pool of cards from which cards are drawn as material, using either the Labourer or Legionary actions (the Legionary action also steals from a player’s neighbours as well as taking from the central pool). To an extent it is possible to deny rival players the materials that they want by not playing certain types of Order cards and thus not discarding them to this pool. Plus it is easy to track what materials that a player wants from the buildings that he has under construction. For example, Dave knows that Anthony requires Concrete because he is building a Vomitorium. As long as Dave or another player does not Lead or Follow with an Architect action, the Concrete that is on all Architect Order cards is not discarded to the pool where Anthony might be able to get it later with a Labourer or Legionary action. Anthony is, instead, forced to rely upon the Architect/Concrete Order cards that he might draw when he “Thinks.”

During the initial stages of the game, constructing buildings will take several turns, as will moving material into a player’s Vault. As a player adds Clients to his Clientele, he increases the number of possible actions that he can conduct on a turn, either as Leader or a follower. Further, completing the construction of buildings not only adds towards a player’s Influence and Victory Point total, they also provide him with a special ability or benefit that will help him on subsequent turns. For example, when constructed, the Circus Maximus doubles the ability of a player’s Clientele by letting each one act twice. Thus each time that Dave uses his Architect or Craftsman clients, they take two actions rather than one. Essentially, the more buildings that a player can construct, the more he is able to do, and what he can do, he is better at.

Glory to Rome ends when the draw pile has been exhausted or there are no Foundation cards available, at which point the player with the most Victory Points wins. Victory Points are scored by constructing buildings and by getting materials into a player’s Vault. Both of these objectives take several actions to complete. To construct a building, a player must use an Architect or a Craftsman action to lay its Foundation card and then add material to the building either from his hand (with a Craftsman action) or from his Stockpile (with an Architect action). Getting material into his Stockpile requires a Labourer action and there has to be the right material available in the central pool. To get material in his Vault, a player must use a Merchant action and the material must come from his Stockpile – so a player needs to decide whether to use a material card in his Stockpile as part of a building or to add directly to his Victory Point total in his Vault.

This is a medium weight, strategic card game with a light theme, one with plenty of replay value because of the variety of buildings and their special abilities available for construction. It offers replay value because although there are only two ways of achieving victory – constructing buildings and squirreling away material in a player’s Vault – there are multiple means to support those two ways, and those means are the special abilities granted by each building. It can be played in in an hour and it fits neatly in a surprisingly small box given the number of components in the game.

Physically, Glory to Rome is well done. The Player Camps and the Rome Demands mats are done in sturdy card. The cards are neatly designed and attractive. The previous edition had cartoon-style illustrations, but the updated “Black Box” edition opts for an elegant art style that echoes that of the classic board game, Civilisation. One issue with the cards is that they do get a lot of handling, so my advice would be to sleeve all of them.

As enjoyable as Glory to Rome is, it is far from perfect. Physically, the cards are not quite sturdy enough for the level of handling that the game calls for – thus the suggestion above to sleeve them. A primary issue is with the rules which are underwritten and thus not easy to learn or comprehend. This has an effect on the teaching of the game because the multiple uses that the Order cards is not easily nor necessarily immediately grasped. Nor is this helped by the numerous special abilities that the buildings on the Order cards grant – reading them slows the game play down and understanding how a special ability works with the game’s mechanics is one further to learning the game. Thus learning to play Glory to Rome is a challenge in itself, but once grasped, the game just motors along. Experienced board game players will have less of a problem, especially if they have played games such as Puerto Rico, San Juan, or Race for the Galaxy.

Once mastered, Glory to Rome is an enjoyable game to play. The game play is simpler than it first looks and it offers plenty of replay value as the number of buildings to construct means that no two games will be alike. Indeed, I enjoyed it so much that after my first play I purchased a copy for myself.

7
Go to the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game page
145 out of 176 gamers thought this was helpful

In 1997, West End Games published the Star Wars Introductory Adventure Game. It was the best introduction to the Star Wars d6 RPG that the classic RPG could have been given, and indeed, it remains not only the best introduction to role playing in nearly forty years of the hobby, but also the standard by which all products designed to introduce players to the hobby are measured. Now late in 2012, Fantasy Flight Games published Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Beginner Game, the introduction to its forthcoming RPG, which is the first of three. It is designed for use by between three and five players, one of whom has to be the GM.

It should be noted that this was not our first exposure to the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game in 2012. The publisher released a “beta” version of the core rules as part of a public play test effort. A full review of that is available to read here. What the Beginner Game does have, which the “beta” did not, is dice. Like the publisher’s version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, this new game uses dice marked with icons appropriate to the setting of the game rather than just standard numbers.

Of course, the box that Beginner Game comes in includes a whole lot more than just the dice. Open up the box and slide out the contents and they are revealed to be a “Read This First” pamphlet, the Adventure Book, a Map Sheet, four Character Folios, a sheet of counters, and the Rulebook. All presented in that specific order with everything being done in full colour on glossy paper and is pleasingly illustrated.

The four-page “Read This First” pamphlet starts with a quick explanation of what a roleplaying game is before presenting a two-page example of play. It uses the four sample characters provided with the Beginner Game as they play through the first scene in the provided scenario. On the back is the introductory text for the scenario, done in the Star Wars classic opening text crawl. Sat underneath the “Read This First” pamphlet is a sheet advertising the forthcoming release of the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game and a link to the Fantasy Flight Games’ website for a scenario, “The Long Arm of the Hutt,” to be downloaded and played after the scenario in the Beginner Game. Extra support for the game also includes two more Character Folios that can be downloaded and used to add more players to the game. They consist of a Human Explorer and a Human technician.

The meat of the Beginner Game starts with the Adventure Book, which is labelled, “Read This Second.” It properly introduces the Beginner Game and its contents, but is solely intended to be read and used by the GM. It is written to help him run between two and four players through the scenario, “Escape from Mos Shuuta.” Over the course of seven short encounters it guides the GM through how to run each of them, how to roll the dice and interpret their results, gives options that the player characters might take, and includes break point when the players gets to spend some of their hard earned Experience Points before the action continues. At each stage it introduces new aspects of the rules all laid out clearly so that the GM can find them as the adventure proceeds. Rounding out the Adventure Book are some tips and advice on being a good GM as well as some ideas for future adventures, both in Mos Shuuta and elsewhere.

As written, “Escape from Mos Shuuta” is designed to be run as it is read. To that end, the scenario structure is kept linear and simple. The GM is even advised to tell his players that they might have missed some clues if they have their characters step ahead of an encounter. As read, it does a good job of presenting the GM with the information that he needs at the right time. Even so, it would probably be worth the prospective GM reading through the Adventure Book in order to be better prepared. An experienced GM will probably have no difficulty in running “Escape from Mos Shuuta” as written.

In keeping with Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game, “Escape from Mos Shuuta” is set on the Outer Rim at the furthest extent of the Galactic Empire’s reach, a region that is home to scum and villainy as well as explorers and colonists, all with concerns beyond the rule of law or the rule of tyranny. Specifically, it takes place in Mos Shuuta, a spaceport in the midst of the Dune Sea on Tatooine. The four player characters, each of whom is employed by, if not indebted to, the local crime boss, Teemo the Hutt, have decided to make a run for it. For this they a need a spaceship and it so happens that one has just docked…

The A3-sized Map Sheet is double-sided. On the one side is the deck plans of the Krayt Fang, a YT-1300 Light Freighter and the docking bay where the player characters find it in the scenario. On the other side is a map of Mos Shuuta, the setting for the scenario; plus plans of a cantina and the spaceport control, both locations in Mos Shuuta.

Each of the four Character Folios runs to eight pages in length. Besides presenting a character and its accompanying character sheet, each Character Folio explains the elements of a character sheet, advancing the character, and the available Talents. Together with the skills available, there is plenty for a player to spend his character’s Experience Points on. The four characters included in the Beginner Game are a Wookie Hired Gun, a droid Colonist, human Smuggler, and a Twi’lek Bounty Hunter, each with their own background story on the last page of their respective Character Folios. In each case, this background is specifically tied into the opening events of “Escape from Mos Shuuta.” Plus, there is a counter for each of the characters included in the counter sheet along with counters for the various NPCs and vehicles encountered over the course of the adventure, “Escape from Mos Shuuta.”

Rounding out the Beginner Box is the Rulebook, which is marked “Read This Book Last.” Expanding upon the rules presented in the Adventure Book, the Rulebook covers all of the action presented in “Escape from Mos Shuuta” and more. Besides all of the extra detail and explanation, it adds support with more gear and equipment, starships and vehicles, and adversaries.

So how do the rules work in the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game? Essentially it uses a dice pool mechanic with a player required to assemble a pool drawn from the RPG’s six dice types. The eight-sided Ability dice, the twelve-sided Proficiency dice, and the six-sided Boost dice are positive dice, whilst the eight-sided Difficulty dice, the twelve-sided Challenge dice, and the six-sided Setback dice are negative dice. The Ability dice represent a character’s base skill or aptitude, the Proficiency dice his innate ability and training, whilst Boost dice are benefits granted from the situation. The Difficulty dice represent the task’s inherent complexity, the Challenge dice more extreme adversity; and Setback dice obstacles that come from the situation. The positive dice are marked with Success, Advantage, and Triumph symbols, all of which a player wants to roll, as opposed to the Failure, Threat, and Despair symbols on the negative dice, which he does not.

When rolled, the opposing symbols on the dice cancel each other out, but a player only needs to roll a single Success to succeed at a task. At its heart though, the dice mechanic in Star Wars: Edge of the Empire is orientated towards a narrative outcome rather than a simple binary yes/no outcome. Thus the symbols rolled will actually tell the story of the outcome. For example, a character might roll a simple number of Successes; no Successes, but an Advantage or two; or a number of Failures and several Triumphs; and so on. How these outcomes are interpreted perhaps represents the most challenging aspect of the game, especially for those players new to roleplaying.

The Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Beginner Game comes with fourteen dice. These consist of three Ability dice, two Proficiency dice, two Boost dice, three Difficulty dice, a single Challenge die, and two Setback dice. The last and fourteenth die is the twelve-sided Force die. This is solely used to generate Destiny Points in the Beginner Game, which both the players and the GM can spend to upgrade the dice types in their pools. An Ability die to a Proficiency die for a player character, a Difficulty die to a Challenge die for the GM’s NPCs. Destiny Points do a lot more in the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game, but common to both the full roleplaying game and the Beginner Game, Destiny Points have a dark side and a light side. The player characters use the light side, whilst the GM uses the dark side, and cleverly, when a Destiny Point is used by one side, it flips so that it can be used by the other side. Thus, when a player uses a light side Destiny Point, it switches to a dark side that only the GM can use. Several Destiny Points are included as counters in the Beginner Game.

There is no doubt that the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Beginner Game comes nicely appointed. It is also written and overall, a pleasing package. For the experienced roleplayer or GM, it is easy to open up a copy of the Beginner Game and get playing after a relatively short period of preparation. It will be even easier if the GM has read the Rulebook that comes with the Beginner Game, or indeed read either the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game beta or the forthcoming full version of the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game.

It is not though, as well an appointed introduction to roleplaying Star Wars as was West End Games’ Star Wars Introductory Adventure Game. That was as much a utility package as it was an introduction and to that end included more adventures, more support, and more hand outs. Times change though, and so production values, for the production values in the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Beginner Game are much higher, with better art and a stronger themed layout.

Yet whilst it appears to include everything that a GM and his players needs to play, there are two issues with the Beginner Game. The first is minor; the second is more of an issue. The first is that it feels concise, as if it could have included something more. The emptiness of the box that the Beginner Game comes in only contributes to that feeling, and perhaps the inclusion of a second scenario would gone some way to negating this feeling. The second is an issue for the player coming to the Beginner Game for the first time. He is just not quite as well served as the GM. Other introductory boxed sets for other RPGs, including the one for the d6 Star Wars, have provided a player with a means of learning the rules and the mechanics, usually some kind of solo adventure. Now each Character Folio does include an explanation of the dice symbols and it does indicate which types of dice have to be rolled with each skill check, but it does not explain how a dice pool is rolled and how its results are interpreted. This is perhaps the biggest omission in Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Beginner Game.

Despite this omission, the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Beginner Game is everything that a prospective Star Wars roleplayer would want. It includes the rules, an adventure, characters, maps to play on, and perhaps most importantly of all, the dice! Not just a solid introduction to the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game, but a good introduction to the roleplaying hobby too.

7
Go to the Battlestations page

Battlestations

42 out of 46 gamers thought this was helpful

Most space combat games have ships going blaster-to-blaster with each other. Battlestations does that, and also does a lot more. A hybrid between the board and roleplaying game, in Battlestations players create characters that man a single vessel. They control her helm, shoot her weapons, operate Teleporters, Tractor beams, and scanners for Targeting Locks and ECM, but when the ship is boarded or damaged, can leave their stations and rush to repel the invaders or repair the ship. All the while, the ship zooms through space!

Battlestations comes richly appointed. Besides the 112-page rulebook, the box contains 48 Starship Modules; eight hex maps with either a reference Play Aid or a Ship Control Card on the reverse; plus a profusion of counters and markers. All of which comes in thick die cut cardboard and in vibrant full colour. Only the game’s character stand-ups let the components down, being small and light. The rulebook is very well written, easy to understand, and its cartoon illustrations match Battlestations’ space opera-like frantic feel. The strong roleplaying element requires one player to be the referee.

Starships are comprised of Modules, each 3½-inch square and marked with a five-by-five square grid. They come in ten types: Cannon, Engine, Helm, Hull Stabiliser, Hyperdrive, Life Support, Missile Bay, Science Bay, Teleporter, and Tractor beam, each performing one or more functions. In battle live crew or bots man them, and without them a Module cannot function. Starship design is standardised using the same Modules, but laid out differently by the game’s six races. For example, a Scout has a Cannon, Helm, Hyperdrive, Life Support, Missile Bay, and three Engine Modules, and if a U.R.E.F. (Universal Republic Expeditionary Force) vessel, has a Science Bay. Several designs are given, from the humble scout to the powerful dreadnought, plus outposts, shuttles, and freighters.

Characters are simply defined by race, profession, and skills. There are six races and five broad skills (Athletics, Combat, Engineering, Piloting, and Science), one of which is a character’s profession and determines a character’s role aboard ship. An Engineer allocates power, carries out upgrades and repairs, while a Pilot will fly the ship. A character also has a Luck stat, spent on dice re-rolls, and special abilities, one from his race and another from the long list included. Optional rules add psionics.

Battlestations’ mechanics are simple. Roll two dice, add the appropriate skill to beat a target number. Luck, a character’s Profession, and some special abilities allow re-rolls. Personal combat is kept simple and deadly, two Blaster hits or knife wounds will kill most starting characters. The U.R.E.F. keeps a back-up clone should a character die.

Battlestations is played in missions, with two dozen included in the rulebook. Each begins with the players’ ship, initially a Scout, warping in, and upgrades conducted on personnel equipment, ship’s bots, or Modules. After a mission, players can repair, improve and even upgrade their ship, revive dead crew, and gain experience to improve their characters.

A mission is played out in rounds, divided into phases. A round starts with Power Generation and allocation by the Engineer. Then over the six phases, this Power is expended. By the Pilot to manoeuvre the ship and keep it from going Out of Control, the Marine to fire the cannon, the Scientist to maintain the shields, and so on. A mission becomes frantic if the ship is damaged or boarded, as characters rush to deal with the damage or boarders. Most Modules can be used once per round, and are easy to damage. While Shields reduce damage, damage increases the likelihood of ships exploding, missiles in particular.

Battlestations includes a setting, sketched out in two pages. This is the Universal Republic, which directs the U.R.E.F. to keep the peace and admit new cultures to the Republic. The timeline suggests a brewing civil war over continued Human cultural and political imperialism.

Battlestations has a Star Trek-like feel, but is definitely space opera. Its slick design gives lots of in-game options, plus the missions provide hours of play, with expansions promised. Above all, Battlestations is frantic and fun to play, combat is perilous, but offset by a high luck factor. All eased by clear simple design and fine components.

7
Go to the Cthulhu Fluxx page

Cthulhu Fluxx

74 out of 81 gamers thought this was helpful

First published 1996, Fluxx is both a card game and a state in which the card game exists. Published by Looney Labs, it is a game about matching conditional states which through the course of the game can flux and change. It is a chaotic game, one in which both the rules and the conditions to win can alter from one card play to the next. The play of Fluxx starts of simple. A player can Draw one card, Play one card. After that, cards can quickly alter the number of cards that a player can Draw, can Play, and even hold in his Hand. Each player’s aim is to get cards called Keepers down onto the table. If these Keepers match those on the Goal on the table, then the player wins. Of course, a player’s Keepers can change as easily as the Goal. Nothing is permanent in a Fluxx game, and that lack of permanency means that sometimes a player can win when it is not his turn because his Keepers meet the condition of the Goal.

The state of the game is one of constant evolution, the current version of the base game being Fluxx 5.0, with there being another ten themed variants available, from Zombie Fluxx and Pirate Fluxx to Martian Fluxx and Monty Python Fluxx to the very latest variant, Cthulhu Fluxx. Designed by Keith Baker – who designed Atlas Games’ Origins Award winning Gloom and its variant Cthulhu GloomCthulhu Fluxx brings the Mythos of the writings of H.P. Lovecraft to cosmic state of Fluxx and infuses it with a dark chaos. In doing so, it brings the Creeper mechanic – first seen in Zombie Fluxx – to bear as never before and adds new mechanics to the game that simulate the madness and chaos that ensues when the forces of the Mythos grow stronger and threaten the insanities of those that attempt to thwart it. The effect of the Creepers and the new mechanics is that it is entirely possible for there not to be a winner. Purely in keeping with the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, the “forces” of the Mythos can triumph over mankind and doom us all to our inevitable fate… Perhaps though, the human spirit will prevail and stave off these revelations as to the true nature of the universe.

Much of the game’s flavour and theme shows in the choice of Keepers that the players are trying to match with the Goals and thus win Cthulhu Fluxx. The designer draws on innumerable Lovecraft tales as inspiration for the game’s cards. For example, Keepers include “The Dreamlands,” “The Poet,” “The Necronomicon,” “The Cat,” “Innsmouth,” and “The Reanimator” and more. Some Keepers have special abilities, like “The Reanimator” being able to steal “The Body” Creeper if it is in play. The Goals include “Pickman’s Model” which requires the “Ghoul” and “Artist” Keepers to win; “Herbert West: Reanimator!” will want “The Body” and “The Reanimator” to win; and “Penguin Therapy” needs the “Sanitorium” and “Penguins” Keepers to win. Already the inspirations for cards – Pickman’s Model, Herbert West: Reanimator! , and At the Mountains of Madness – should be obvious to most devote and part of the pleasure in playing the game lies in identifying the inspiration and to a certain extent playing along to the narrative of the particular inspiration.

What stands in the way of both Keepers and Goals for each player is not just his rivals, but two other types of cards – the Creeper and the Ungoal. First seen in Zombie Fluxx, Creepers come out of a player’s hand as soon as he draws them to sit on the table and prevent him from winning. In Cthulhu Fluxx, Creepers are can be as much Mythos entities such as Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth as they can states like Madness and Metamorphosis. Whilst Creepers prevent you from winning, the Creepers that represent a state, actually inflict that state on a Keeper by attaching themselves to it and negating any special ability that the Keeper might have. So for example, “Nightmares” attaches itself to a Keeper that has an Investigator Icon on it like “The Reanimator,” negating its ability to steal “The Body” Creeper if it is in play. Creepers remain on the table until they can be got rid of, which is not easy. When a Creeper is attached to a Keeper, both cards stay together until both are discarded.

Despite this, Creepers are not wholly negative. Some Goals have to be met by playing Creepers and Keepers. For example, the “Herbert West: Reanimator!” Goal requires the “The Reanimator” Keeper and “The Body” Creeper to be all in play to win for that Goal.

Ungoals represent the forces of the Mythos – or in this case, Cthulhu Fluxx – beating the players and winning the game. For example, under the terms of “The Call of Cthulhu” Ungoal, Cthulhu Fluxx wins if there are six or more Doom Icons in play and the “Cthulhu” Creeper card is also in play. This of course is bad. It is of course, doubly bad because the “Cthulhu” Creeper card actually adds three Doom Icons all by itself!

Cthulhu Fluxx also has two other types of card. Surprise cards can be played when it is not a player’s turn or when it is. For example, the “Secret Cultist” can win the game for a player or it can hinder him. When played during his turn, it reveals the player as a secret cultist and forces him to lose his next turn. If played when the conditions of an Ungoal are met and the game is ended and lost by the players, then it reveals the player as a secret cultist, who as a devotee of the Old Ones actually wins the game rather than Cthulhu Fluxx itself. The last card type is the Meta Rule, which is only added with everyone’s consent. There is only one included in Cthulhu Fluxx, “Cult Clash,” which adds a final winning condition if an Ungoal loses everyone the game. The player with the most Doom Icons actually wins, unless another player can play the “Secret Cultist” Surprise card and trump everyone in the “Who is the Most Evil” stakes.

Like other Fluxx titles, Cthulhu Fluxx is all about meeting a certain condition if a player is to win. Of course, this is never easy, because not only can the conditions change from one turn to the next – and even within a turn, but so can the means of meeting them. As has been hinted at, Cthulhu Fluxx increases the array of conditions beyond the matching of Keeper and Creeper cards with a Goal card by adding Icons. These are the magnifying glass shaped Investigator Icons, the hour-glass shaped Doom Icons, and the hour-glass on its side, Anti-Doom Icons. Investigator Icons are found certain Keeper cards; Doom Icons on Creeper cards and Keeper cards; and Anti-Doom Icons on Keeper cards. Of course Doom and Anti-Doom Icons cancel each other out when determining the total number of Doom Icons are in play for purposes of meeting the conditions of an Ungoal.

The need to play both Keepers and Creepers in order to meet a Goal card’s conditions has a further negative effect in that both can add Doom Icons to the game and increase the Doom count towards any possible Ungoal. For example, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” requires the “Innsmouth” Keeper and either the “Federal Agents” Keeper or the “Metamorphosis” Creeper to win. Yet both the “Innsmouth” Keeper and the “Metamorphosis” Creeper cards add Doom Icons to the count.

Mechanically, the play of Cthulhu Fluxx is simple. Every player receives three cards and when it is his turn he follows the Basic Rule card of drawing one card, playing one card. If he has any Creeper cards at any time, these must be played on the table, invariably increasing the Doom count. If a player draws and plays a Creeper card, he gets to draw a card again to his hand replacing the Creeper just played. New Rule cards will change the number of cards that can be drawn, played, or held, while Action cards give him extra things that a player can do immediately. Action, Keeper, Goal, and Ungoal cards are played in the hope that in doing so a player will get nearer to winning, although often, the current rules on the New Rule cards in play will force a player to play them despite the fact that he might want to save them for a later turn. Or they might force him to discard them.

Fluxx is all about change and adapting to that change.

Cthulhu Fluxx is all about change and chaos and adapting to that change and chaos.

Yet as player moves cards in and out of his hand, he needs to read those cards, more so than most Fluxx games. The number of possible conditions that can win a game in Cthulhu Fluxx is greater than normal Fluxx because of the need to track the Doom and Anti-Doom Icons, making this a more conditionally complex game. Compared to standard Fluxx, this is a much more complex game.

Physically, as with all of the Fluxx games, Cthulhu Fluxx is well produced, the art is good – in fact it is better than many other Fluxx titles as their art can be cartoon-like – and the rules are solidly explained. Additionally the cards feel good in the hand and do stand up to being handled.

Standard Fluxx, is well, Fluxx. It is a game about change and to an extent, chaos. Unlike many of the other variants, Cthulhu Fluxx succeeds in exacerbating that chaos in a pleasingly fitting fashion. It brings a complexity and a theme that fits the game mechanics, and in doing so, brings it a depth and a seriousness – all relative, granted – that other Fluxx games lack. More demanding, more complex, more chaotic, more Cthulhu, Cthulhu Fluxx is not your fluffy Fluxx of old.

8
Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: Lords of Waterdeep page
65 out of 74 gamers thought this was helpful

As the owners of the great Avalon Hill brand, it is no surprise that the board games published by Wizards of the Coast to date have fallen into the “Ameritrash” category. To label them as such is not denigrate them, for their emphasis has been highly developed themes, characters, heroes, or factions with individually defined abilities, combined with player-to-player conflict and a high level of luck. The publisher’s latest title has proved to be anything but an “Ameritrash” board game, but is instead a classic style “Eurogame,” which means relatively simple rules, a short playing time, a degree of abstraction rather than simulation, player interaction, player competition rather than player combat, and attractive physical components. What is more, this is a game based on Dungeons & Dragons, and specifically on the Forgotten Realms setting. Its title is Lords of Waterdeep.

Most Dungeons & Dragons board games deal with the themes inherent in those two words – “dungeons” and “dragons.” So they focus on delving into dungeons, facing dragons, and so on. Not so, Lords of Waterdeep. It is set in Waterdeep, the City of Splendors, the most resplendent jewel in the Forgotten Realms and a den of political intrigue and shady back-alley dealings where powerful, but masked lords vie for control of the city through of the region’s organisations that include the City Guard, the Harpers, the Knights of the Shield, the Red Sashes, and the Silverstars. They send out their Agents to acquire Buildings and access to better resources; gain Gold to make the many purchases necessary to ensure their rise to power; the means to Intrigue with their fellow Lords; and hire Adventurers whom they can send out on missions or Quests that once completed with spread their influence and gain them true power.

Designed for play by between two and five participants, aged twelve and over, once learned, Lords of Waterdeep can be played in an hour, no matter what the number of players. The box contains a game board, a rule book, five player mats, one hundred Adventurer cubes, one-hundred-and-twenty-one Intrigue, Quest, and Role cards, thirty-three wooden pieces that include the game’s various Agents and the score markers, and one-hundred-and-seventy card tokens that include the Building tiles and Building control markers, and plenty of Gold. All of which fits easily and neatly into the game’s insert tray that holds all of the game’s components almost perfectly.

Lords of Waterdeep’s game board measures 20” by 26” and depicts the city port of Waterdeep in Faerûn. Besides the Victory Point track around its edge and the spaces for the Intrigue and Quest cards, most of board has spaces for various Buildings that include Aurora’s Realms Shop, Castle Waterdeep, and Waterdeep Harbour as well as empty spaces where the players can put up Buildings of their own. Each of the Buildings provides a specific benefit. For example, the Aurora’s Realms Shop gives four Gold; the Builder’s Hall lets a player purchase an Advanced Building and bring it into play; Waterdeep Harbour allows a player to use an Intrigue card; the open-air stadium that is the Field of Triumph is where you can hire Fighters; new Quests are available to take at Cliffwatch Inn; and taking control of Castle Waterdeep lets you go first on the next round and draw an Intrigue card.

Besides the nine Basic Buildings marked on the board, Lords of Waterdeep includes twenty-four Advanced Buildings. These work in a similar fashion to the Basic Buildings, but the benefits provided by each are usually better. For example, when a player visits the Smuggler’s Dock, he can spend two Gold in order to hire four Adventurers, although only Clerics and Fighters; The Waymoot accumulates Victory Points that any player can visit and collect; and when at The Palace of Waterdeep, a player can direct the Ambassador at the beginning of the next round – and the Ambassador always acts before anyone else can take their turn. A side benefit to owning an Advanced Building is that when another player uses it, the owner gains a small benefit. For example, when another player uses the Smuggler’s Dock, its owner receives two Gold, and with The Waymoot or The Palace of Waterdeep, he receives two Victory Points.

Like the game board, the twenty-four page rulebook is done in full colour. It is well written, with quite a lot of information that includes plenty of examples. There is also a reasonable amount of background information too; enough that fans of the Forgotten Realms will appreciate the references, but not enough to overwhelm the casual player who does not roleplay. Overall, the rule book requires a careful read, but the rules themselves are fairly easy to grasp.

There is a player mat colour coded to each of the game’s five organisations – the City Guard, the Harpers, the Knights of the Shield, the Red Sashes, and the Silverstars. Each mat has spaces for his Agent Pool and other resources, plus his Completed Quests, as well as indications around the side to place his Active Quests, Completed Plot Quests, and his Lord of Waterdeep card.

The game’s one-hundred Adventurer cubes are divided into four colours – white, orange, black, and purple – representing Clerics, Fighters, Rogues, and Wizards respectively. These are the game’s primary resources, which along with Gold, are what a player will need to complete Quests.

At the heart of Lords of Waterdeep, and what the players are trying to complete, are its Quests, represented by the Quest cards. There are sixty of these and they come in five types – Arcane, Commerce, Piety, Subterfuge, and Warfare. Each Quest card gives the requirements necessary to complete and the rewards it grants when completed. For example, the “Domestic Owlbears” Arcana Quest card requires one white and two purple – or one Cleric and two Wizard cubes, and rewards the completing player with eight Victory Points, one Fighter or orange cube, and two Gold. A second type of Quest card is the Plot Quest card, which when completed gives an extra reward throughout the rest of the game. For example, the Skulduggery “Install a Spy in Castle Waterdeep Castle” Plot Quest card requires four Rogue or black cubes and four Gold to complete, and when done do so, not only rewards a player with eight Victory Points, but for every subsequent Skulduggery Quest completed, rewards him with another two Victory Points.

The cards that the players will use throughout the game are the Intrigue cards. These tend to grant a player extra Adventurers or extra Gold, or penalise rival players. For example, the “Spread the Wealth” Intrigue card gives both its player four Gold and another player of choice, two Gold; whilst the “Assassination” Intrigue card forces every other player to discard a Rogue or black cube from his tavern on his player mat. If a player cannot discard a Rogue, he must pay two Gold to the player who put the Intrigue card into play. Another type of Intrigue card is the Mandatory Quest which when given to another player forces him to complete that Quest before any of the others before him. For example, the “Stamp Out Cultists” Mandatory Quest Intrigue card forces a Lord to expend a Cleric, a Fighter, and a Rogue cube to complete it before moving onto his other Quests. Sadly, he only receives two Victory Points for completing it.

The first card though, that each player will receive is a Lord of Waterdeep card. Each one of these depicts one of the members of the secret council that governs the city, along with their name, some flavour text, and an effect that in providing a benefit at the end of the game will influence a player’s actions during the game. For example, Nymara Scheiron gives a player an extra four Victory Points at the end of the game for each Commerce and Skulduggery Quest completed, whereas Larissa Neathal gives six Victory Points for each Advanced Building she controls at the end of the game.

At the start of the game, each player receives a player mat, the Building control markers, and Agents, all of the same colour. The number of Agents received varies according to the number of players. With fewer players, each player receives more Agents; with more players, they receive less. This is the game’s core balancing mechanic. However many Agents a player starts with, every player receives a further Agent at the start of the second half of the game. Each player receives two Quest cards, two Intrigue cards, and a single Lord of Waterdeep card. This last card is kept hidden until the end of the game when everyone works out their final score. Lastly each player receives some Gold, the amount varying according to play order. The player who goes receives just four Gold, the next five, then six, and so on until the fifth player – if there is one – receives eight Gold. This is the game’s second balancing mechanic.

The game is played over the course eight Rounds. In each Round, the players take it in turn to assign a single Agent and then if they can, complete a Quest. Each Agent is assigned to a space on the board in an available Building or Advanced Building space. When he does, the Agent gives the player the benefit from that Building. Most Buildings have a single space, so that once an Agent has been assigned there, no Agent can be sent there to make use of its benefit, though some Intrigue cards allow a player to assign an Agent to an already occupied building. Thus if a player wants to purchase and construct an Advanced Building, he must assign an Agent to the “Builder’s Hall” before anyone else, or wait until the next Round. In which case, he probably wants to assign an Agent to Castle Waterdeep gain the opportunity to go first at the start of the next Round. Otherwise, a player must assign an Agent to another Building.

Two Buildings – Cliffwatch Inn and Waterdeep Harbour – have multiple spaces, so that more than one Agent can be assigned there, even by the same player. The former is the source for new Quest cards, while the latter allows a player to use an Intrigue card. Once an Agent is assigned, if a player has sufficient Adventurers, and sometimes Gold, to complete the requirements given on a Quest card, he can complete it and score Victory Points for doing so.

Lastly, and after all of the Agents have been assigned, any player with an Agent assigned to Waterdeep Harbour can reassign that Agent to any remaining unoccupied Building. This rewards the player for his cunning in sending an Agent to Waterdeep Harbour and playing an Intrigue card. The Round is over, everyone receives their Agents back, and a new Round begins until all eight have been played. At game’s end everyone counts up the Victory Points gained form completed Quest cards, plus unassigned Adventurers and unspent Gold, and the person with the most is the winner.

Lords of Waterdeep plays at reasonable pace, once the rules have been grasped, and offers a decent amount of game play and replay given how simple the rules really are and how light the game is. This is helped by the variety available in the Quest and Intrigue cards, but mostly in the Advanced Building cards. With twenty-four available, it is unlikely that all of them will come into play.

In terms of game play, Lords of Waterdeep rewards careful planning. Each player needs to be looking at what he needs to complete the Quests that he has in front of him. Of course, he also needs to get to the Buildings that he wants, but with rivals competing for the same space, this is not possible, so a player should also try and get the best out the available Buildings that he can. This can be alleviated if a player goes first, but in general, the closer a player is to going first the better. There is also some advantage in purchasing and constructing the Advanced Buildings as they provide further spaces where an Agent can be assigned. Further, if another player uses one, then the owning player also gains a small, but sometimes important benefit.

All of the Buildings in Lords of Waterdeep can play an important role during the game, but three tend to be more favoured than the others. They are the Builder’s Hall, because it allows Advanced Buildings to be purchased and constructed; Waterdeep Harbour, not just because an Intrigue card can be played, but also because an Agent assigned there can be reassigned; and lastly, Castle Waterdeep as it grants a player an Intrigue card and means that he can go first in the next Round.

Agents though, are in short supply, even after the extra one is gained at the start of the game’s second half. This means that the players must assign them with care so as not to waste their action.

Physically, Lords of Waterdeep is very nicely put together. All of the playing pieces have been done in wood and the rest of the pieces in sturdy card, though the Intrigue, Quest, and Lord of Waterdeep cards have been done slightly too thin a cardstock. The rulebook itself is bright and attractive and easy to read. For an American game, the look and feel of Lords of Waterdeep is anything but that.

In terms of theme, the grimy fantasy of the Waterdeep of the Forgotten Realms does not feel pasted on, a common complaint with this type of game. This is not to say that the mechanics behind the rules of Lords of Waterdeep could not be taken and have a new theme applied to them. It would take some effort, but in the meantime, the Dungeons & Dragons theme is applied with great care, and it is a theme that avoids many of Dungeons & Dragons’ clichés, primarily because it removes the concept of going on adventures and down dungeons. This is done by placing the players in the role of hiring the adventuring parties rather than being part of them – as in so many other games.

What is telling about Lords of Waterdeep is that Wizards of the Coast describe the format of this game as being “Non-traditional.” This is an odd claim for the publisher to make. Lords of Waterdeep is not a Non-traditional game. It is more or less, a traditional Eurogame, with worker placement and resource management mechanics similar to those found in well-known Eurogames such as Agricola, Caylus, and Puerto Rico, amongst many others. All games and mechanics that the designers at Wizards of the Coast and in particular, the designers of Lords of Waterdeep will be familiar with to some degree. The only way in which Lords of Waterdeep is Non-traditional is that it is not a classic American or Ameritrash design, and to describe it as “Non-traditional” is to belittle both this design and Eurogames in general. Certainly, it shows a wilfil ignorance upon the part of the publisher.

Although its various bits and pieces and possibly the business of the rulebook make Lords of Waterdeep look more intimidating than it really is, Lords of Waterdeep is really a medium to light Eurogame that is just a step on or two up from introductory games such as Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride. Certainly, it is much lighter and less complex than similar games such as Caylus and Agricola. Similarly, the game’s Dungeons & Dragons theme might be off-putting, but it never imposes itself on the game or its players. What is pleasing about the game is that the designers have achieved a balance between the theme and the mechanics that will attract both Eurogame players and players of Dungeons & Dragons players, but whilst both will be attracted to the game, Lords of Waterdeep is still more Eurogame than a Dungeons & Dragons game. Above all, Lords of Waterdeep is an enjoyable, decently themed Eurogame that uses familiar – almost traditional – mechanics to good effect.

6
Go to the Fjords page

Fjords

39 out of 44 gamers thought this was helpful

There comes a time when a good Viking has had his fill of the sea, of visiting foreign lands for a little rape and pillage, and of Spam and parrots. When that happens, he settles down to become a good farmer and make the most of the rich meadowlands that lie between the mountains and turbulent waters of the fjords of Scandinavia.

This is the theme of Fjorde, a Carcassonne-like game from Hans im Glück in which two players work to open up the lands along the fjord and secure the most strategic spots to establish their farms. From these, each farmer can develop and expand his fields, claiming land with the aim being to have the most fields at game’s end.

This is a tile-laying game, area-control consisting of forty landscape tiles, plus four farms and twenty field markers split between two colours. All of these components are high quality, the wooden being either dark or light, and the tiles in thick card. They are hexagonal in shape, and depict three types of terrain. The blue of the sea, the green of the meadowlands, and the black of the mountains.

Fjorde is played in three rounds, each consisting of two stages. The first stage is Discovery, with players taking it in turn to lay tiles starting out from the three starting tiles, each indicated by their dark backs. Tiles must be played so that two sides must connect and match the tiles it is laid against. If a drawn tile cannot be placed, it is put aside until it can be put down on a subsequent turn. A new tile is drawn and placed instead. Once a player has placed a tile, he can also put a farm on the newly placed tile, though only on the meadowland section of the tile.

The Discovery stage lasts until as many tiles as possible have been placed. It is possible to leave gaps or lochs in the layout, but this and having tiles left over is infrequent. The second stage is Land Claim in which the players cultivate their farms. Beginning with the player that laid the penultimate tile, the players take it in turns putting down field markers. These can only be put down on empty meadowland that is adjacent to a farm or existing field marker of the same colour. This continues until all of the field markers have been placed. Both players count the number of markers and the scores noted. Another two rounds are played with the highest of the total points across the three rounds determining the winner.

Fjorde has a nice tactile feel to it, much like the publisher’s Carcassonne. Similarly, the laying of the tiles has a jigsaw-like quality. Tactically, game play centres on the placement of fields and farms to block and deny your opponent access to fresh meadowland. In this, players need to make best use of the terrain as they add new tiles. One tactic is to try and create choke points – between the mountains and the sea – upon which a player can place his farms and from there expand his fields and block access to for his opponent.

Simple and enjoyable, Fjorde can be played in half the listed time, and also be seen as pleasing, but quick alternative to Carcassonne. That said, it does not bear a great deal of replay as it perhaps a little too light. To counter that, it would be interesting to see an expansion for the game that adds more tiles and playing pieces, first to allow for more variety, and second, to add more players.

7
Go to the Elder Sign: Omens page
47 out of 54 gamers thought this was helpful

If you play board games, owning a good smart phone or a tablet is an excellent device to add to your games collection. Although neither will replace the social aspects of playing a board game nor the pleasure of handling a game’s physical components, a good version of a board game adapted to either device will capture exactly the feel and tactics of its play whilst handling the game’s mechanics. Such a good version should also offer solo play as well as play against other opponents, or if a co-operative game, allow the participants to play together. The version of Rio Grande Games’ Carcassonne adapted by exozet games is excellent example of the former, whilst Elder Sign: Omens is an excellent example of the latter. It is available on the Android and iOS platforms, this review having been done on an Android tablet.

As the title suggests, Elder Sign: Omens is the electronic adaptation of Elder Sign, the third co-operative board game of Lovecraftian investigative horror published by Fantasy Flight Games. Where Elder Sign has up to eight investigators exploring Arkham Museum to prevent the strange goings on that herald the coming of an Ancient One such as Azathoth, Cthulhu, or Yog-Sothoth, Elder Sign: Omens has a team of up to four investigators exploring Arkham Museum to prevent the strange goings on that herald the coming of the Ancient One known as Azathoth.

The game has the intrepid investigators visiting the various parts of the museum, some of which might lead to other dimensions, and casting glyphs that will counter or stop the strange goings on in each location. The investigators will each have their own special ability that will help them in this casting as various spells, items, and clues that in turn enable then investigators to hold onto glyphs between castings, add more glyphs, and re-cast the gylphs. If successful, the investigators can gain more spells, items, and clues as well as the all-important Elder Signs that they need to accumulate in order to prevent the coming of Azathoth. If unsuccessful, the investigators can suffer deleterious effects to their health and sanity; have monsters appear particular locations that need to be dealt with before the tasks there can be attempted; and let Azathoth gain more of the Doom Tokens that mean that the Outer God is closer to Earth.

Elder Sign: Omens begins by asking the players to assemble an investigation team, either by selecting from one of the sixteen available or by taking a random team. Each of the investigators is illustrated and is accompanied by a description of his or her ability. For example, Harvey Walters can alter Terror glyphs to Lore glyphs, whilst Carolyn Fern is a Psychologist who can help restore her own Sanity or that of another investigator. From there, the investigators can proceed to the Museum itself, shown by a map upon which are marked the first of the game’s many bizarre incidents. These can be scrolled through and examined before going there, enabling the players to make a choice as to which ones they tackle.<

At each incident, an investigator will be confronted by one or more tasks. Sometimes these have to be done in a certain order, but most can be completed in any order. Either way, only a single task can be completed with a single casting of glyphs. These are cast to match the symbols on each task, the glyphs either being used to match the symbols or re-cast to get the ones needed. Re-casting the glyphs is usually done at the cost of losing a glyph on the next casting. Consistent quickly leads to the investigator failing to deal with the incident and suffering various effects as described above.

The players need to accumulate fourteen Elder Signs if they are to prevent the coming of Azathoth, who only needs to gain twelve Doom Signs. This is not an easy task, especially if monsters appear that make tasks more difficult or even prevent glyphs from being cast until they are dealt with. In addition to the growing number of Doom Tokens, a sense of urgency is built into the game with a clock that regularly strikes midnight and heralds further terrible effects such as more monsters appearing or Azathoth acquiring yet more Doom Tokens. The players’ choice of investigators will ease or hinder this task, with investigators who can re-cast glyphs tending to be easier to use, if not being more useful. With sixteen investigators to choose from, Elder Sign: Omens has the capacity for the players to experiment to get the right combination of investigators that they are happy to explore the museum with.

Physically, Elder Sign: Omens is very well presented. The artwork, much of it seen in previous games of Lovecraftian investigative horror from Fantasy Flight Games, is used to great effect with some of it animated as certain events occur. In fact, on a tablet device, the artwork is better presented than in the actual Elder Sign board game, where the artwork, although very good, is too small to be really appreciated. Elder Sign: Omens also handles the physical mechanics of the game, such as the clock striking midnight and the appearance of new incidents, with a pleasing deftness that makes the game flow uninterrupted. Together, the removal of these mechanical processes away from the players’ gaze and the removal of the clutter of components that can be an issue in Fantasy Flight Games titles, combined with the use of the map to guide the investigators around the museum serve to give Elder Sign: Omens something akin to a narrative flow, which unfortunately, is somewhat lacking in the board game itself.

If anyone has played the Elder Sign board game, they will notice certain differences between it and Elder Sign: Omens. Most obvious is that fact in casting the glyphs to attempt tasks, the players are not actually rolling dice as they are in the board game, but the removal of the dice gives the play of the game much more an immediacy. The other noticeable differences between Elder Sign and Elder Sign: Omens are that only the one Ancient One is ever faced in the current version of Elder Sign: Omens and that it is not possible for the investigators to have Allies in Elder Sign: Omens as they can in Elder Sign. Neither of these should be seen as actual omissions, but rather as a streamlining that eases the flow of the game.

The final major difference is that in Elder Sign it only matters whether the investigators prevented Azathoth from coming to Earth or not, whereas in Elder Sign: Omens, not only does that matter, but so does how well they did. At the end of each game, the performance of the investigators, and thus the players, is scored. The game keeps a record of the scores, so everyone can check to see how well they have done.

For anyone new to the game, Elder Sign: Omens comes complete with a tutorial that guides you through the game with the aid of a nicely ominous voiceover – this voiceover also narrates various events throughout the game. To chilling effect. The tutorial itself needs careful attention to fully grasp how the game is played, and is probably worth watching again after at least one full play through of the game. Fortunately, the tutorials can be reset to watch again. Overall though, anyone who has played Elder Sign will have an easier time in playing Elder Sign: Omens than someone who has not.

As a playing experience, Elder Sign: Omens is an excellent solo experience. It also plays well with two participants, their discussing various courses of action and deciding what each investigator will do and what each will do with their glyphs. With more players, the game slows a little essentially because everyone is sat around a small screen and the decision making process takes a little longer. Nevertheless, having the tablet makes the game feel faster and slicker, as well containing everything needed in one easy to hold package.

7
Go to the The Resistance: 3rd Edition page
49 out of 55 gamers thought this was helpful

This last weekend I was lucky enough to try two games, both of which are semi co-operative. The first was Locke & Key: The Game, Cryptozoic Entertainment’s card game based on the Locke & Key comic book series written by author, Joe Hill. The other was The Resistance: A Game of Secret Identities, Deduction, and Deception, a social game for larger groups published by Indie Boards and Cards. That I played it twice in an afternoon of trying little games is indicative of which one of the two that I preferred. This though, will not stop me returning to review Locke & Key: The Game at some point.

The Resistance is a game of deduction set in the near future when a group of resistance fighters have banded together to bring down a powerful, but corrupt government. Members of the resistance believe that if they are to succeed, the Empire must fall. They are nearing that final objective, and need only to strike at five key bases. If three of these bases can be taken, Imperial strength will be broken, the people will be freed, and the Empire will collapse. Unfortunately for the members of the resistance, the Empire has infiltrated the subversive organisation with spies ready to sabotage the resistance’s efforts. It only takes one spy to pass information to his government masters and prevent one of the resistance’s missions from succeeding. Although the resistance suspects that one or more of its members are spies in the employ of the government, it does not know the true allegiance of every one of its members. So any leader sending members of the resistance out on a mission will have to choose carefully, and learn from the success or failure of the mission as to whose allegiance lies where…

Designed to be played by between five and ten participants, The Resistance shares many features with social games like Werewolf and Mafia, but in either case, it plays quicker, a game rarely lasting longer than thirty minutes, and nor it does involve players being eliminated from the game. It is also more focused, involving just the five missions. All the resistance has to do is successfully pull off three of these missions, whilst the spies need to betray three of the missions.

The game comes in a small box. Inside are several sets of cards, three sets of wooden counters, and a small card board. The cards consist of a Leader Card, plus Identity, Team, Vote, and Mission Cards. The Identity Cards determine which of the players are loyal members of the resistance and which of them are spies; the Team Cards are used to indicate which of the players are going on a mission; the Vote Cards to determine if a proposed team for a mission is acceptable; and the Mission Cards are used to determine the success or failure of a mission. The Leader Card indicates which player currently has the task of nominating the members of a Team that will go on the mission. The game’s board shows how many players of the resistance are actually spies and how many members need to go on each of the five missions. Using the counters, it also tracks the number of successful or failed missions, and the number of failed votes for the nominating a Team for a mission.

At game’s start, each player is dealt an Identity Card. On its reverse, it shows either a person wearing blue, in which case that player is a loyal member of the resistance; or it shows a person in red, which means that he is a spy working for the government. The number of spies will vary according to the number of players. It is never less than two, but in larger groups, it can be as many as three or four. A player’s Identity Card is never revealed, but before play begins, the spies reveal themselves to each other so that they can work together to undermine the efforts of the resistance. Everyone also receives a pair of Vote Cards, one for “Yes” and one for “No.”

Then the first Leader is randomly selected and given the Leader Card. It is his job to nominate the players who are going on the next mission. The number needed for each mission varies according to the number of people playing, but it always starts out at either two or three and grows. So in a five player game, the first and third missions only require two participants, but the others need three. In an eight or nine player game, the first mission needs three participants, the second and third needs four, and the fourth and fifth needs five. What this mechanic does is force the need to find the spies quickly as the requirement for more players increases the possibility that one or more spies will be included on the Team for that mission.

Once nominated, everyone gets to vote on the make-up of the Team. This is done by playing the Vote Cards, either a “Yes” or a “No” card. If the Vote passes, then the Team goes on the mission. If it fails, then the Leader Card is passed to the left and the new Leader gets to nominate the members of a Team for the current mission. If the Vote for a Team fails five times, there is too much dissent amongst the ranks of the resistance and the spies are deemed to have successfully prevented the mission from going ahead.

Should a Team be successfully Voted for, it goes on the mission. Each player on the mission now has the chance to determine its outcome. He receives two Mission Cards, one indicating a Success, the other a Failure. He will secretly play one of these two cards onto a mission pile. If he is a loyal member of the resistance, he must play a Success. If he is a spy, then he can choose to play either a Success or a Failure card. Once everyone on the mission has played a Mission Card, they are all revealed and the mission’s outcome is determined. If they are revealed to be all Success cards, then the mission has succeeded. If only one of them is a Failure Card, the mission has not been a success.

This continues until either the resistance has successfully completed three missions or the spies have successfully stopped three missions. The Resistance is as mechanically simple as that.

Yet, The Resistance is much more than this. Both sides are up against the time limit of five missions. Failure is an option in the game – certainly early on. Failure for the members of the resistance hopefully enables them to identity the spies, but failure for the spies enables them to hide their identities. Neither side can afford to fail more than twice of course… Whilst the primary means of working out who the spies are is deducing who played the Failure cards on a mission, a secondary means is by watching how the players vote for members of a Team.

In addition to the deduction, there is nothing to stop the players from accusing each other of being a spy. This can because one player has an idea that another really is a spy, or it could actually be a spy sowing dissension. In fact, table talk of this kind should be encouraged, and it really works if all of the players participate. Nor is there any reason to stick to the game’s futuristic flavour. Any conflict can be used as a source of flavour when playing The Resistance, whether that is Communist revolutionaries against the military junta of a Banana Republic or the Rebel Alliance against the Empire in Star Wars.

The Resistance is simple. It is quick. It is fun. It is easy to teach. It is a good group game, working well with gamers as well as non-gamers, both of whom will be able to grasp the rules and the theme of the game easily and quickly. The social dynamics will take a little longer, but for the most part, the participants are going to be supplying those themselves. It perhaps works best with six or seven players rather than five, or eight or more. At five players it is easier to identify the spies, whilst at eight players, it becomes harder, and the spies also need more than the one Failure to be played for each mission for it to fail. The Resistance: A Game of Secret Identities, Deduction, and Deception is an excellent social game, a good filler, and just working out who the spies are can be frustratingly fraught!

7
Go to the Zeus on the Loose page
24 out of 28 gamers thought this was helpful

Sometimes a game just lands in your lap. In my case it was a copy of Zeus on the Loose: A Card Game of Mythic Proportions, a new card counting game from Gamewright. I was on Twitter and Coiled Spring announced a simple competition for the game and I won. Once it dropped through my letterbox, I opened it up and read through the rules, ready to take it along to Afternoon Play, a regular monthly boardgame meet at a coffee shop in the city centre of Birmingham. I got the game out and we played it a couple of times in between longer games, in this case Ghost Story (a very difficult co-operative game about Chinese monks ridding a town of ghosts and monsters), Railways of the World: The Card Game (laying tracks, connecting cities, and transporting goods using cards rather than lengths of track), and Red Empire (my favourite game of Soviet Politburo Politics). It was agreed that it was indeed a nice little filler. So I will probably take it along next time.

The idea in Zeus on the Loose is that the Greek god has gone missing from Mount Olympic and it up to you to grab him and return him to the summit. This is done by playing numbered cards – bringing the card total to a multiple of ten (ten, twenty, thirty, forty, and so on) means that can grab Zeus and getting to the summit (represented by the card total getting to a hundred or more) with him in tow will win a player the round. In addition, Zeus’ fellow gods – Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Hera, Hermes, and Poseidon – will sometimes help you out in your efforts over your competitors. The winner of each round is awarded a letter. The first letter won by a player is a “Z.” On later rounds a player will be awarded the letter “E,” and then a “U,” and then an “S” for winning. The first player to win enough rounds to spell out “ZEUS” wins the game.

Designed for two to five players aged eight and up, Zeus on the Loose consists of sixty cards, a Zeus figure, and a foldout rules leaflet. Two thirds of the cards are numbered between one and ten, whilst the remaining cards depict the various gods and their special abilities. Each player starts with a hand of four cards and can only play one card per turn, which is placed face up on Mount Olympus card pile. If a numbered card the new number is added to the total of the cards so far, the players keeping a running total from turn to turn.

If a player brings the current total to a multiple of ten, he gets to grab Zeus and place the Zeus figure in front of him. If when a player puts a number down and another player has the same number on a card in his hand, he can immediately take his turn by playing the card in his hand. Sometimes this means that other players will miss their turns because turn order continues normally from the interrupting player. For example, the turn order consists of Dan, Geoff, and Paul. If Dan plays a seven card and Paul has a seven card in his hand, he can immediately play it with play order continuing normally – that is, to Dan rather than Geoff who misses his turn.

Alternatively, a player can play a God card. There are eight types of these, each of which provides a particular effect. These either alter the current total value of Mount Olympus, let the player steal Zeus from another player, or a combination of both. Lastly, a player has to draw his hand back up to four cards at the end of his turn or he must play with fewer cards until the end of his next turn.

Physically, Zeus on the Loose, is very nicely put together. The number cards are clear and simple, whilst the God cards are done in an attractive cartoon style. The rules leaflet is easy to read and in addition to the rules, contains a description of each of the Greek Gods that appear in the game.

Like many games from Gamewright, Zeus on the Loose has a strong educational aspect. The most obvious one being the arithmetic necessary to play, but there is also the information about the Greek pantheon in the rules and what it teaches about game play – that you need to pay attention to play well. Otherwise, a player will find himself losing turns as his competitors steal turns from him.

As intended, Zeus on the Loose is a well-designed educational game. Its designers have got the age range about right, making the game suitable for the classroom or for families with children of that age group. Adults will find the game play a little limited, more so if they are practised gamers. Nevertheless, Zeus on the Loose: A Card Game of Mythic Proportions is a nice little game that great for families and great as a gift for families.

6
Go to the Braggart page

Braggart

27 out of 31 gamers thought this was helpful

Come the end of a hard day’s adventuring and every good hero will want to gather at The Hero’s Return and boast of the fantastic deeds that he performed that day. You are not a hero, but as a regular at The Hero’s Return, you like to get drunk and regale your equally drunken and equally unheroic friends of the great feats you certainly did not do that day. Sometimes your friends believe you, other times they call you “Liar” and tell you what really happened. This is the set up for Braggart – A game of heroes, lies, and unfortunate fish, a humorous card game that won the UK Games Expo award best card game in 2011.

Published by Spiral Galaxy Games, Braggart is designed for two to six wannabe heroes, and ten and up, and consists of one hundred and twenty full colour cards divided into five types. These are six Summary cards, a My Round card, ninety-two Boast cards, ten Liar! cards, and eleven Ploy cards. The Boast cards are further divided into four types – blue bordered Scene cards, green bordered Deed cards, red bordered Foe cards, and red bordered Result cards. The Boast cards each have a Brag Value at the top, a Victory Point value at the bottom, and a slightly cartoonish illustration with a short piece of text underneath. The black bordered Liar! cards are accusatory and force a bighead to change the details of his Boast, whilst the purple bordered Ploy let a show-off steal cards from a rival or change the cards in his hand.

The aim of Braggart is to score the most Victory Points at game’s end. This is done by creating the biggest Boast in a round as determined by the highest total Brag Value of each player’s Boast. At its most basic, a Boast consists of a single Deed card and a single Foe card. Optionally, a single Scene card and a single Result card can be added to a Boast, but either way, the Boast cards must be in the following order: Scene, Deed, Foe, and Result. This is so that the text on the cards forms a complete sentence. For example, the text from the following cards, “While wearing nothing more than my boots and a smile…” (Scene card), “I woke up next to…” (Deed card), “…a rogue magician of dubious morals” (Foe card), and “…and now barmaids all over town are unable to resist me!” (Result card) when read together forms a whole sentence.

The game starts with each player receiving a hand of four cards and is played in a series of rounds until the deck is exhausted and the game ends. Each round consists of two phases, a Draft Phase and a Boast Phase. In the Draft Phase a number of cards equal to the number of players is drawn from the deck and laid out face up where everyone can see them. Starting with the player with the My Round card in front him, everyone takes one of these face-up cards each.

In the Boast phase, a player has a number of options. He can “Go to the Bar” and draw three more cards in the hopes of gaining to a maximum hand size of eight, thus ending his turn. Or he can he play any number of Ploy cards to take cards from his fellow braggers before actually making a Boast. This consists of placing a single Deed card and a single Foe card with a single Scene card and a single Result card as optional extras, down on the table face-up and reading out the cards in as heroic or as boastful a fashion as possible. In response, the other blowhards round the table can call the swellhead out on the details of his deed by calling him a “Liar!” or an “Outrageous Liar!” and playing the appropriate cards. With these cards the accuser can replace one or two of the Boast cards in the windbag’s Boast with Boast cards of his own, the aim being to force the blusterer to reveal what really happened and reduce the Brag Value of his Boast.

For example, Anthony plays a seven-point Scene card, a four-point Deed card, an eight-point Foe card, and a six-point Result card. All together this has a Brag Value of twenty-five and reads as follows: “While possessed by the spirit of a long dead warlord…” “I opened a crate and was surprised to find…” “…a necromancer and her legions of the *ed” “…and now a painting of these exploits hangs above the King’s fireplace!”. Naturally, Anthony reads this out in as heroic a voice as possible and looks around the table to see if any will challenge him as to the veracity of his claims.

With a cry of “Liar!” and a point of his finger, Dave to his left plays a “Liar!” card on Anthony’s Boast and replaces his seven-point Scene card with a four-point Scene card from his hand. Similarly, Michelle calls Anthony an “Outrageous Liar!” and replaces two of his Boast cards with a three-point Deed card and a two-point Foe card so that Anthony’s Boast now reads “In the Queen’s bedchamber…” “I was beaten and robbed by…” “…the vicious village cat” “…and now a painting of these exploits hangs above the King’s fireplace!” and has a Brag Value of fifteen rather than twenty-five. Of course, Anthony is still expected to read out his amended, but now a bit more truthful Boast, in as a heroic a voice as possible.

A round ends once every player has managed to either “Go to the Bar” or make a Boast. The player who made the Boast with the highest Brag Value wins the round and gets to keep all of the cards from his Boast in his score pile for game’s end. Any other player who managed to make a Boast gets to keep one of the cards from his Boast to add to his score pile. All other cards from played Boasts are discarded. Then a new round begins with the My Round card going to the player who scored the least or nothing in the previous round. The game continues round by round until the deck is exhausted and then everyone totes up the Victory Points scored from their Brags. The winner – the player with the highest total – is awarded the title of Lord Braggart.

Braggart is not a game that calls for much in the way of tactics. After all, all that a player is trying to do is get his best Boast out on the table whilst ensuring that his rivals make poorer Boasts by calling them Liars. The only real tactic is watching the cards that each player draws in the Draft phase, whether that is high value Boast Cards to play Liar! Cards on them or Liar! Cards to avoid having them played on your Boast. After that though, it is simply a matter of doing the dirty on the other players. For the most part, this is a random card game and the players have to make the best of their hands.

Lastly, there is the matter of the game’s full title: Braggart – A game of heroes, lies, and unfortunate fish. The “heroes” and “lies” aspects are obvious, but the “unfortunate fish”? Well, there is a single Foe Card worth exactly a Brag Value and a Victory Point total of one for which text on the card reads, “…an unfortunate trout.” This is not the only Foe Card of this value in the game, but when this is played in the designer’s own playing group, it is known as being “trouted”!

Braggart is a fun, silly, take that style game that serves as a good filler to play whilst waiting for more players or a longer game to start. It should appeal to gamers who like to tell a story, even if only very silly stories and it will really appeal to gamers who have played fantasy roleplaying games such as Dungeons & Dragons. It is also a suitably light game to play socially, be that with a drink in your hand or not, though it would be fitting as you do “Go to the Bar” in the game! Every gamer should have a selection of filler games and Braggart – A game of heroes, lies, and unfortunate fish is an entertaining game that deserves to be in your selection.

7
Go to the Elder Sign page

Elder Sign

72 out of 79 gamers thought this was helpful

The focus of so many exotic curios and occult artefacts at the museum is the cause of a new threat to Arkham. They weaken the barriers to the beyond, letting Gates open and monsters in, and laying a path for an Ancient One to make its way to Earth and lay waste to mankind. Only a number of dedicated investigators have the knowledge and will, and perhaps the allies and the tools, if not necessarily the time, to locate a sufficient number of Elder Signs that will seal the portals and prevent the arrival of the Ancient One. This is the set up for Elder Sign, the latest board game from the designers of Arkham Horror that uses the same art work and trade dress as seen in both Arkham Horror and the recently released Mansions of Madness.

Fantasy Flight Game’s third board game of facing Lovecraftian horror, Elder Sign is, like Arkham Horror, a co-operative game designed to be played by between one and eight players, with a playing time of between one and two hours. The co-operative element means that the opponents faced by players are not each other, but by the game itself and its mechanics. It also means that there is a time component to Elder Sign, not only in terms of a time limit before the Ancient One arrives, but also in terms of events (of a random nature) that occur regularly throughout the game’s play. In order to counter the effects of these events, and eventually, the arrival of the Ancient One, the Investigators will explore the Museum and have Adventures within its confines, the aim being to marshal the resources necessary to save the world.

Elder Sign is comprised of several sets of large and small cards, various tokens and counters, a card clock, and a set of customised dice. The large cards are divided between decks of Investigators, Adventures, and Ancient Ones, whilst the small cards are divided between decks of Common and Unique items, Spells, and Allies – all beneficial to the Investigators, whilst Mythos cards describe the events and effects that occur every time that the clock strikes Midnight and linger until the clock strikes Midnight again.

There are sixteen individual Investigators to choose from. Each one gives an Investigator his maximum Sanity and Stamina, his Starting Items, and a special ability. For example, Dexter Drake is a magician who whenever he gains a Spell card during play, he always gains an extra one, whilst Gloria Goldberg is an author whose Psychic Sensitivity grants her extra dice to roll when visiting Other World Adventure Cards.

During a game, the Investigators will face one of eight Ancient Ones. They include Azathoth, Cthulhu, Hastur, Ithaqua, Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, Yig, and Yog-Sothoth. Each one gives the number of Elder Signs needed to prevent it from being awoken, which occurs when the Doom Track on the card is filled; a special ability that applies throughout a game; a means of Attack once it is awoken; and a Combat Task that must be completed by the Investigators to weaken and eventually banish it from the Earth. So for example, for Cthulhu, the Special Ability is “Dreams of Madness,” which reduces every Investigator’s maximum Sanity and Stamina by one. Thirteen Elder Signs are needed to banish this Ancient One, but it only needs eleven tokens for the Doom Track to be filled and Cthulhu to be woken up. When Cthulhu does Attack, it reduces each Investigator’s Sanity or Stamina by one and adds another token to his Doom Track. The latter is a problem because in order to defeat an awoken Ancient One, the Investigators have to remove all of the tokens from the Doom Track. To remove a Token, an Investigator has to roll the given Combat Task.

Each Adventure Card has a title, a Trophy value, some flavour text, a set of Tasks that need to be completed if an Investigator is to succeed at the Adventure itself, and a set of Penalties for if an Investigator fails to complete the Adventure and a set of Rewards if he does. Some Adventure Cards also have a Terror effect that occurs if an Investigator does not complete a Task on each roll and some stipulate that their Tasks have to be done in order rather than the order of a player’s choosing. Most of the Adventure Cards take place in the Museum such as “Remains of the High Priest” and “The Gift Shop,” but others take place off world, like “The Dreamlands” and “The City of the Great Race.” In general, the Rewards and Penalties for the Other World Adventure cards are greater and they are also harder to complete.

Penalties on an Adventure Card can deduct Sanity and Stamina from an Investigator, cause a Monster to appear, advance the Clock, or add another Doom Token to the Doom Track on the Ancient One Card. Rewards can grant Items, Spells, and Allies as well as Elder Signs and Clue Tokens. They can also open Gates to Other World Adventure Cards. Not all of the Rewards are good – sometimes they are mix of the good and the bad.

The small cards represent Common and Unique items, Spells, and Allies as well as Mythos effects. They add extra dice to a Task attempt or alter dice rolls; enable an Investigator to restore Sanity or Stamina; or in the case of some Spells, let an Investigator store dice results between attempts at a Task. Allies grant another special ability, such as Richard Upton Pickman’s being able to change results on the dice in a certain fashion. Each Mythos card has two effects. The first occurs as soon as it is drawn, whilst the second lasts until the next Mythos card is drawn. For example, immediate effect of “The Stars Align…” is to add a Doom token to the Doom Track, whilst the lingering effect, “…Before Reason Fails,” lets the Tasks on Adventure Cards be done in any order, even if they stipulate that they must be done in order.

The game includes Sanity, Stamina, Investigator, Clue (these allow re-rolls of the dice), Elder Sign and Doom Tokens. There are also Monster Markers, little card strips that when summoned can replace Tasks on an Adventure Card to make them more difficult to complete. Each Monster Marker has a piece of flavour text on the reverse and a Trophy value.

The final components are the card Clock, used to measure the passing of time and determine when new Mythos cards are drawn; the Museum Entrance card; and the dice. The Museum Entrance card represents somewhere where an Investigator can go to “Receive First Aid,” “Search the Lost & Found,” or “Buy A Souvenir.” This usually requires an Investigator to expend Trophy points won by completing Adventure Cards or defeating Monsters, or to expend various tokens or items.

The dice are the heart of the game, rolled by an Investigator to try and match the symbols listed for each Task on the Adventure cards. They come in three colours. The six green dice are the most common and all of them are usually rolled when a Task is attempted. The yellow dice gives better results than a green die whilst the red dice gives better results than the yellow die. It usually takes the expenditure of a Common Item card to add the Yellow die to a player’s roll and the expenditure of a Unique Item card to add the red die. There is only the one yellow and one red die in the game.

Game set up is quick and simple. Each player selects an Investigator and receives its starting items. An Ancient One is chosen and placed on the table where everyone can see it along with the Clock – which is set at midnight, the Museum Entrance card, and six Adventure Cards. The first Mythos card is drawn and takes effect.

On his a turn, a player sends his Investigator to the chosen Adventure Card. He takes up the green dice and the yellow or red die if he decides to use an Item or has a Special Ability. The Tasks are arranged on each Adventure Card in lines and with each roll of the dice, a player must match the symbols on a single line with those on the dice. He can only attempt to match the symbols on one line at a time and if he does, he places those dice on the symbols on the card. He can then go on to roll for the Tasks on the other lines. If he fails to roll the right symbols for a line, he can continue rolling, but must discard a die each time he fails to match the symbols. On some Adventure Cards, there is a Terror effect for failing to match any symbols and rolling a Terror on the dice. If the player completes all of the Tasks, he receives all of the rewards at the bottom of the Adventure Card. He also receives the Adventure Card to keep as a Trophy which can be spent at the Museum Entrance for various effects. If he does not complete any of them, he suffers the penalties also given at the bottom of the Adventure Card.

Alternatively, a player could have sent his Investigator to the Museum Entrance. As soon as a player’s turn is over the Clock is advanced one quarter of the way round its face. When the Clock reaches Midnight a new Mythos Card is drawn and its effects applied. Since the two effects on the Mythos Cards vary greatly, often the players will find themselves hoping for one with less dangerous effects. So drawing one every fourth turn is another way in which Elder Sign can turn up the tension.

Our sample Adventure Card is “Lights Out.” Harvey Walters’ player decides that the reward of an Elder Sign is worth going for. The individual Tasks on each line are not difficult in themselves, but the Arrow symbol beside them means that they have to be done in order. Harvey has at his disposal one Unique Item – a copy of “Cultes des Ghoules” that lets him add the red die to a Task attempt, and one Spell card, the spell “Flesh Ward,” which lets him store a die roll between attempts. Harvey decides that he will use both, meaning that he rolls both the green and the red dice.

On the first roll, Harvey gets the results of 1 Clue, 2 Clue, Scroll, Scroll, Skull, and Tentacle on the green dice. On the red die, he gets the Wild Card symbol, which can be used to match any other symbol. The 1 Clue and 2 Clue symbols are enough to complete the Task on the first line and places those dice on the Adventure Card. He takes the red die and stores it on the Spell Card. This leaves him with just four green dice to roll.

On the second roll, Harvey needs two Skulls, but is unlucky and gets neither. He is forced to discard one of the green dice leaving him with three to roll. He gets 1 Clue, 3 Clue, and a Skull. He needs another Skull, so uses the Wild Card symbol on the red die that he stored earlier to match the symbols needed to complete the Task. This leaves him with just two dice and needing two Scrolls to complete the third Task and the whole Adventure Card. He rolls a Scroll and a Tentacle. Ordinarily this would not be enough, but Harvey’s Special Ability allows him to change a single Tentacle result on the dice to a Scroll, and as soon as he does he has completed all of the Tasks and the Adventure Card.

As a reward, he gains an Elder Sign and a Spell Card plus the Adventure Card to spend as a Trophy. A new Adventure Card is then added. If he failed, he would have lost two Stamina and added another Token to the Doom Track on the Ancient One’s card.

When the Doom Track is fully filled on the Ancient One’s card, it awakes and comes to Earth. At that point every Investigator has to face it, battling to remove the Doom Tokens from the Track. This uses the same dice mechanics as for the Tasks on the Adventure Cards.

Should either the Sanity or Stamina of an Investigator be reduced to zero, he deemed to have been devoured! His player must start afresh with a new Investigator, including new Starting Items. He loses those previously held by the now devoured Investigator. If an Investigator is devoured by the awakened Ancient One, no new Investigator can join the fight against him.

Winning a game of Elder Sign is not easy, but it is made all the harder when certain Adventure and Mythos Cards and Monsters appear that have the Locked Die icon on them. These temporarily remove a die that matches the colour on the icon from the game, thus reducing the number of dice each player has to roll on his turn until the Adventure Card or the Monster that has confiscated the die has been dealt with, or the effects of the Mythos Card have been replaced with a new one when the Clock strikes Midnight. Fortunately, in addition to using Investigator Special Abilities and the various Spell and Item Cards to give themselves an advantage, players can do things. First, Clue Tokens allow players to re-roll dice. Second, they can Focus a die – saving a die result for a subsequent Task, but at the cost of discarding another die, or Assist another player on the same Adventure Card – giving them a die result that they can use on their turn in attempting the Tasks on that Adventure Card. The downside to this is that it reduces the number of dice every player has to roll until the Assisted player’s turn.

Physically, Elder Sign is up to Fantasy Flight Games’ usual standards. Everything is of a high quality as you would expect, and the illustrations, all of which will be familiar to players of Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness, are excellent. The rulebook is perhaps a little succinct at twelve pages, with some more examples of play being needed to better get the play of the game across. If there is an issue with the components, it is that some of the components are just a little too small for easy handling and thus some of the artwork’s effectiveness is lost.

Elder Sign is described as a co-operative dice game, but whilst the dice rolling lies at the heart of mechanics and game resolution, the game is really a “co-operative dice and decision” game. The players have to decide where their Investigators have to go and which Adventure Cards they should attempt to resolve, this decision usually being influenced by the number of Elder Signs available as Rewards on the current Adventure Cards or the Adventure Cards or Monsters with the locked dice on them. Of course, sometimes a player will attempt to resolve an Adventure Card for the Item and Spell Cards that it would reward him. They also need to decide how to apply their dice rolls, and in all of this, a player is free to solicit advice from the other players. This then, is the game’s “co-operative” element.

In comparison with Fantasy Flight Games’ other titles of Lovecraftian investigative horror, Elder Sign is simpler, more direct, and quicker to play. It is less location focused than either Arkham Horror or Mansions of Madness, so it has less of a narrative structure to it, but because a player is rolling the dice multiple times during his turn, it actually feels like you are doing more than in either of those games, especially in Mansions of Madness where a player’s actions feel severely limited.

The combined effect of the reduced narrative structure in comparison to Fantasy Flight Games’ other Lovecraftian board games and the focus on the dice rolling to resolve the Adventure Cards is to make Elder Sign feel mechanical in play. It is possible that much of the game’s flavour and colour could fade into the background if the players do focus too much on the dice and the mechanics. That said, this is not necessarily an issue for the more casual player.

With eight Ancient Ones to face and forty-eight Adventure and eight Other World Adventure Cards, and sixteen Investigators to play, the core set for Elder Sign offers plenty of replay value. Plus, the format is ripe for expansion. The actual downtime between turns is not necessarily high, but of course with more players there is a slightly longer wait. When it is a player’s turn, the rolling of the dice to resolve the Tasks of an Adventure Card can be quite tense, which just adds to the atmosphere and feel of the game seen in the art.

Above all, Elder Sign captures much of the tension and atmosphere of fighting desperately against the Mythos. That it does so in such a self-contained and time constrained manner is a sign of a good design, at the heart of which is the clever, tension inducing dice rolling. Not too complex for the casual player, but still evocative for the Lovecraft devotee.

7
Go to the Panic Station page

Panic Station

43 out of 49 gamers thought this was helpful

In the last five years, the co-operative board game has become a familiar design, one that has regularly made it onto the tables of many gaming groups. Pandemic from Z-Man Games is perhaps the best known design, exemplifying the need for the players to work together in order to prevent the game’s mechanics from defeating them, and titles such as Fantasy Flight’s Red November and the more recent Flash Point: Fire Rescue from Indie Boards & Cards. Another type of the co-operative board game is the semi-co-operative design, one that adds the element of treachery by having player take the role of a traitor trying to undermine the efforts of the other players. It is best typified by Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game and Shadows Over Camelot, both from Fantasy Flight Games, both games that begin with randomly determining which of the players is trying to betray the others. These are now joined by another design, one that goes a step further by having the treacherous player not only working to undermine the efforts of the others, but also attempting to infect them too! The design is Panic Station.

Published by Stronghold Games, Panic Station is set in the year 2220. Contact has been lost with the mining station, Recon-6, and also with the platoon of soldiers that was sent into investigate. Now a special unit of heavily trained Troopers from the Extermination Corps has been assigned to determine what happened, each Trooper being assigned a bio-mechanical Android that only he can control through telepathic means. Despite their training and their equipment, the Troopers were unprepared for what they found – a parasite impervious to their bullets and capable of infecting both themselves and their accompanying Androids. Fortunately, the research staff at Recon-6 had developed ammunition that would the parasite bugs and discovered that the Hive is vulnerable to heat. Now all the Troopers and Androids have to do is scavenge enough bullets to hold off the bugs and enough gasoline to fuel the flamethrowers that will burn out the Hive. Standing against them though, is not only the ever present threat of the bugs, but also the fact that one of their number has already been infected and both he and his Android plans to infect everyone else in order to stop the Hive from being burned!

Designed for between four and six players, Panic Station is a semi-co-operative paranoia-driven board game that can be played through in about an hour. Each player controls one Trooper, armed with a flamethrower, and an Android, armed with a handgun. Both are telepathically linked. Play will see them progressing through the Recon-6 base, its layout randomly determined each time the game is played, scavenging for equipment and swapping equipment, whilst also fighting and avoiding the parasite bugs that scurry around in the darkness. If the Hive can be located and an Android can burn it out with three cans of gasoline, then the players will have won the game.

Unfortunately, one of the players begins the game having been infected by the Hive and as the Host he must keep his status a secret whilst trying to infect or kill the other Troopers and Androids. Infect enough of them and he can prevent the Hive from being burnt out, and so win the game. Only by keeping a careful watch on his fellow players can a player determine which of them of them is the Host or has become infected, although with a heat scan later in the game, it is possible to ascertain the number of players who have been infected.

Coming in sturdy tin, Panic Station consists of two decks of cards – the forty-six card Search Deck and the twenty card Exploration Deck; twelve Character Cards, two for each player, consisting of a Trooper and an Android in matching colours; twelve Check Cards, one positive and one negative, for each player; twelve Wooden Character Discs, two for each player, consisting of a Trooper and an Android in matching colours; ten Wooden Parasite Discs, consisting of five grey Parasites and five black Parasites; eighteen Infect Cards, consisting of six sets of three cards, a set for each player; a Heat-Check Board, a four-sided die, and a full colour rulebook. Of these, the Search Deck contains all of the items that can be found during searches, these include Heavy Guns, Bullets, Armour, Grenades, Fuel Canisters, Keycards (for getting through locked doors), Body Scanners to determine if another player is infected, Energy Boosts to give a player more Action Points, First Aid Kits for healing, Target Scopes that can be fitted to guns to allow attacks into adjacent rooms, and Combat Knives that allow close up attacks. The Exploration Deck forms the locations that the Troopers and Androids will explore. The Check Cards are used during heat scans to detect the presence of infected individuals in conjunction with the Heat-Check Board. All of these components are of a high quality and very attractive.

At game’s start, each player receives the Character Discs and the Character Cards for his Trooper and his Android; two Check Cards, one positive and one negative; and three Infection Cards. All in the same colour. The top of the Search Deck is seeded with a mix of Fuel Canister cards and random Search Cards as well as the Host Card, and each player receives two cards from the Search Deck. Together with his Infect Cards, these two Search Cards make up a player’s hand. It is possible that one of the drawn Search Cards is the Host Card, which would indicate that the player is the treacherous Host and now has the aim of stopping the other players. If the Host Card is not drawn, then it will probably be drawn within a turn or two. The Exploration Deck is also seeded with the Hive card in the bottom three cards of the deck and the Terminal Room in the lower half of the deck. This ensures that one of the last rooms to be found is the players’ objective. Lastly, the Reactor Room card is placed at the centre of the table. It is marked by the numbers one to four to indicate the cardinal directions, these are the directions that the Parasites will randomly move in at the beginning of each round. The Reactor Room is where the Troopers and the Androids will enter Recon-6 to begin their search for the Hive.

Panic Station is played as a series of rounds each consisting of two phases. The first of these is the Parasite Phase in which all of the Parasites on the board attempt to move and then attack any Troopers or Androids in the same room after they have attempted to move. The direction moved is determined by a throw of the die and consulting the numbers on the Reaction Room card. Attacks by the Grey Parasites inflict a point of damage and two points if they are Black Parasites. This damage cannot be prevented unless a character is wearing Armour. At the end of the Parasite Phase, a marker, known as the Parasite Marker, is passed to the next player on the left to indicate when the next Parasite Phase starts.

The Parasite Phase is followed by the Team Phase. Beginning by the player who just passed the Parasite Phase to the left, each player can have his Trooper and his Android act using their combined Action Points. This actually means that the player who just passed the Parasite Phase acts twice before there is another Parasite Phase. The number of Action Points that a player starts with between his Trooper and Android starts at four, but will go down if either is wounded or killed. He can spend these to Explore – add a single location drawn from the Exploration Deck next to his location; Move to an adjacent location if he can – some locations have Security Doors that need to be unlocked, but do have viewports that allow him to look into an adjacent room, whilst others contain two locations instead of one; Fire Guns, either to kill a Parasite or a possibly infected Trooper or Android; Search a location to draw from the Search Deck; Activate Computer Terminal for various effects; Heal in the Sick Bay – up to two Wounds per turn between a player’s Trooper and Android; or to Use Item.

A player can Search, Move, Fire Guns, or Use Item as many times per turn as he has Action Points, but can only Explore, Activate Computer Terminal, or Heal in the Sick Bay once per turn. Of these actions, Fire Guns requires the use of Ammunition and this must be found using a Search action. It takes a single bullet to kill a Grey Parasite and two to kill a Black Parasite. Use Item allows a player to use any of the items he has found with a Search and has in his hand. A Search action allows a player to draw a card from the Search Deck. When a player does an Activate Computer Terminal, he can perform a Perform Heat Scan to see how many of his fellow players are infected; Open All Security Doors until the beginning of the next Parasite Phase; or to Reveal Location, adding a new location anywhere on the map of Recon-6.

Each location card is doubled-sided, and the same on both sides. When first placed, a location card is placed so that the black icon on it is face up. When it is searched or the ability of the room is used, like the Activate Computer Terminal, the location card is flipped so that its red icon is face up. This means that when the room is searched again or its ability used again, a Parasite is attracted by the activity and appears in an adjacent location, ready to move on the next Parasite Phase. There are only five Grey Parasites, and once they are all out on the map, the Black Parasites appear. They take two bullets or two attacks with the Knife to kill, and inflict two Wounds when they attack during the Parasite Phase.

A Heat Scan, performed either with an Activate Computer Terminal action or as soon as the Hive Card is drawn from the Exploration Deck, involves everyone submitting their Check Cards into the correct slot on the Heat-Check Board. One slot is for the players’ true infection statuses, the other is not. This is done with the Check Cards face down and the cards in each slot are then shuffled, all so that it is not clear who played what Check Card into what slot. Then the Check Cards in the actual status slot are revealed, allowing all of the players to know how many of their number is infected, but not who… Afterwards, everyone gets their Check Cards back.

The question is, how does the Host infect another player? It comes down to fact that whenever one player moves either his Trooper or his Android into a location – though not the Reactor Room where everyone starts from – and there is a Trooper or Android already there under the control of another player, he must either attack him or trade with him. The former requires a weapon and ammunition – or the knife, but a trade can be done with any item. Each trade though, is done closed, in that neither participant knows what he is going to receive in return. This means that if the Host or another player who has already been infected can pass another player one of his Infect Cards, then the receiving player is now infected and can attempt to infect others using his Infect Cards. When a Trooper is infected, it also means that the Android he controls is infected, and vice versa. An infected player can only infect others using his Infect Cards, the ones that match the colour of his Trooper and Android. A player cannot use his Infect Cards in a Trade until he is infected, and then only three times because he begins the game with three Infect Cards.

It possible to block an infect attempt in a Trade. This is done by trading away of his Fuel Canisters, which burns away the incoming infection. It also means that the player one less Fuel Canister in the knowledge that he needs three for his Trooper to burn out the Hive. In process though, he finds out who is infected and there is nothing to stop him from denouncing the infected loudly and accusingly.

The humans win if an uninfected Trooper can enter the Hive and use three Fuel Canisters to burn it out. The Parasite wins if all of the Troopers and Androids are infected, as revealed by a Heat Scan, except that is, for the last Trooper and Android infected. They lose… The Parasite also wins if there is only one human player left and there are no Fuel Canisters to use on the Hive, or if all of the Troopers are killed, as the Androids cannot use the flamethrowers on the Hive. Dead players always lose…

Panic Station is a cleverly designed game. It has a great theme, essentially, a combination of John Carpenter’s The Thing with Pandemic. In fact, the theme is effectively implemented, and it does get very tense as the humans try and locate the Hive whilst also searching for enough resources to have sufficient Fuel Canisters to burn it out. All this and the Parasites are coming out of the ducting attracted by the humans’ frantic efforts to find the Fuel Canisters. Of course, the Parasites are the least of the humans’ worries. One of them is a Host and is trying to infect them! And the only way to get infected is through trading, which is also the main means of acquiring Fuel Canisters. The other way, of course, is searching rooms, and that attracts the attention of the Parasite bugs.

Yet Panic Station is game with a few problems. The first one is that the game is hard to teach as the rules in the tin are not as clear as they could be. This has been fixed in part with the free release of a second edition of the rules that anyone can download, but this still does not wholly fix the problem. The Trade rules are particularly awkward to teach, not just in terms of the how, but also the why. This is true of the game in general and there is a lot to explain in order to get the game’s theme across.

The second problem is how the theme has implemented in terms of the rules. It feels counter intuitive to have the Troopers and the Androids use different weapons and not be allowed to use both. Similarly, it feels counter intuitive to have a Trooper be infected by the Host and then have his accompanied Android also be infected at the same time, no matter how far they are apart on the board. It feels counter intuitive to have a Trooper and an Android pairing share the same equipment, no matter how far they are apart on the board. The presence of these limitations seems to be there to enforce the rules and the tension, and not the theme. To some they will get in the way of the play of the game.

Get past these problems though, and it will probably take more than a single play to do so, and then Panic Station sets everything up for an hour’s tense game play. Tense because of the paranoia of not knowing who to trust, but knowing that you have to co-operate in order to defeat a foe that is trying to betray you and eat you! The game’s theme should also encourage plenty of table talk – especially if the players have seen the right movies and can quote from them, Aliens being as good as the aforementioned John Carpenter’s The Thing – and if played right, this should only enhance both the paranoia and the play. If you are in the right mood and enjoy roleplaying the theme, then Panic Station is a welcome addition to the semi-co-operative family of board games.

7
Go to the Pathfinder: Beginner Box page

Pathfinder: Beginner Box

152 out of 173 gamers thought this was helpful

In 2010, I wrote the White Box Fever series of reviews that in turned looked at the then available titles that would serve as an introductions to our hobby and to fantasy roleplaying. In turn, I reviewed Wizards of the Coast’s 2008 Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Starter Set for Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition, Fiery Dragon’s Tunnels & Trolls v7.5, Swords & Wizardry: White Box Edition from Brave Half Publishing, Wizards of the Coast’s Castle Ravenloft Board Game, James Raggi IV’s Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying, and Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! An Introductory Roleplaying Game from Precis Intermedia. The purpose of this? All as a lead in to a review of the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set, the very first release in Dungeons & Dragons Essentials line that was Wizards of the Coast’s re-launch of Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition. Yet when it came to fantasy roleplaying, there was one title missing from this series – the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

The reason for that is simple. At the time of the launch of the “Red Box” styled Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set, there was no introductory set for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Now there is, and of all of the available introductory sets for fantasy roleplaying game, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box is the heaviest, the most attractive, the most well put together, and the most expensive of them all. This set is designed for use by between two and five players aged thirteen and up, and take their adventurers from fist to fifth levels.

Opening up the box reveals two sealed packets, the first containing a set of polyhedral dice, the second a set of twenty stands for use with the eighty counters included further into the box. Below this sits the “Welcome to a World of Adventure” sheet that guides the player through the rest of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box. This sheet asks what role the reader wants to take – solo player, playing as part of a group, or Game Master and then directs them to the appropriate starting point. For example, if the reader wants to get started without the need to read the rules, then he is directed to the “HERO’S HANDBOOK” and play through the adventure that teaches him the game.

Underneath is there are four expanded and pre-generated character sheets, one for each of the Classes given in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box. Each sheet explains what the Class is good at, describes each of the elements on the sheet and how they work in the rules, and gives some background on the pre-generated character. The four include a Human Fighter, an Elf Rogue, a Human Wizard, and a Human Cleric. The four are reasonable creations, although it is a pity that no Dwarf character is included in the four.

The game is explained in two rule books. The first of these is the sixty-four page Hero’s Handbook, the second the ninety-six page Game Master’s Guide. Both of these slim volumes are cleanly laid out and very nicely illustrated. They are also easy to use, each including not just an index, but also several pages of references at the rear of the book.

Rounding out the contents of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box are a double-sided Flip-Mat and a set of counters each of which can slot into the plastic stands provided. One side of the Flip-Mat displays a map of “Black Fang’s Dungeon,” the adventure described in the Game Master’s Guide, whilst the other side simply contains a plain grid pattern. Both dry-erase and wet-erase write pens can be used with the Flip-Mat. Lastly, the eighty full colour card counters are easy to punch and depict both the characters that the players can make using the rules in the Hero’s Handbook and the monsters in the Game Master’s Guide. A nice touch is that every combination of Class and Race possible using the rules in the Hero’s Handbook is covered in the counter mix. So, for the Cleric, there is a Human Cleric, an Elf Cleric, and a Dwarf Cleric, one male and one female for each Race. The last item in the box is a flyer for the next step to take once the GM and players want to go beyond the contents of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box.

Open up the Hero’s Handbook and the reader is quickly thrown into “Skeleton King’s Crypt,” a short twenty-three entry solo adventure that guides a character into a small underground complex that is thought to be one of the many sources of monsters that threaten the town of Sandpoint. It is a simple affair that easily demonstrates how the rules work. What it is not is a demonstration of how the different characters, or rather how the different Classes work, something that Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set demonstrated very effectively, though it should be pointed out the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box does a better job of creating character generation than Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set did.

After an all too short explanation of what a Roleplaying Game is followed by a similarly short example of play, the Hero’s Handbook gets down to the basics of how the game is played (mechanically, this would be roll a twenty-sided die, add any bonuses from the attributes, skills, or saving throws that apply and get as high a result as possible) and then onto character generation. Here is where the design of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box really begins to shine – and all it takes is cross-referencing. For example, letters corresponding to the sections and their explanations on the four expanded pre-generated character sheets as well as on the sections on the standard character sheets correspond to the relevant sections throughout the character creation process in the Hero’s Handbook.

By working through the corresponding sections, a player can quickly create a character. Each section gives aspects that a player needs to note down on the character sheet, most of them mandatory, some of them giving the player several options to choose from. For example, a Wizard must choose his Arcane School. If he chooses the Evocation School learns attack rather than defence or trickery spells and can cast the spell Burning Hands one per day and Force Missile several times a day. The Hero’s Handbook gives just the Universalist and the Illusion Schools in addition to the Evocation School. In comparison to earlier versions of Dungeons & Dragons, one pleasing aspect of the spellcasting Classes in Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is that they get features that they can do all of the time. For example, the Wizard can freely cast the Cantrips Detect Magic, Mage Hand, Ray of Frost, and Read Magic without using up a spell as he would in other RPGs that feature Vancian magic. The Cleric has similar features, but they are called Orisons rather than Cantrips.

To offset the lack of Dwarf characters amongst the given pregenerated quartet, our sample character is a Dwarf, and rather than the traditional Fighter, this one is a Cleric. He is devoted to Gorum, God of Strength and Battle. Had there been a Dwarven god given in the Hero’s Handbook…

Holmin Quarrysmasher
Class: Cleric Level: 1 Race: Dwarf
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Strength: 14 Constitution: 16 Dexterity: 13
Intelligence: 13 Wisdom: 19 Charisma: 7
Armour Class: +5 Speed: 20
Hit Points: 8 Surges: 13
Fortitude: +2 Reflex: +0 Will: +2
Attack Bonus: +1
Racial Traits: Dark Vision (60 Feet), Hatred (+1 VS. Goblins and Orcs), Hardy (+2 VS. Poison and Spells), Weapon Familiarity (Battleaxes & Warhammers)
Class Features: Channel Energy (11/times per day) for damaging the undead and healing
Feats: Weapon Focus (Longsword)
Deity: Gorum, God of Strength & Battle (grants Battle Rage 20/times per day; Strength Surge 20/times per day)
Orisons: Detect Magic, Light, Read Magic, Stabilise
Prepared Spells: Cure Light Wounds, Divine Favour
Skills: Diplomacy, Heal 5, Knowledge (Arcana), Knowledge (History), Knowledge (Religion) 5, Sense Motive, Spellcraft 5
Equipment: Longsword, Scale Armour, backpack, adventurer’s kit, sling, sling bullets (10), candles (10), 60gp

All four of the Classes provide everything that a player needs to know make his character second, third, fourth, and fifth level. Again these guidelines are easy to work through and apply to a character sheet. Equally, the guidelines to completing a character are easy to work through, being organised by Class and giving several suggestions as to what a player should select from the following lists of Skills, Feats, and Equipment. One issue is that the number of Feats is limited, especially if the character is a spellcaster. A nice touch is that every single piece of equipment is accompanied by an illustration.

The Hero’s Handbook is rounded out with an explanation of how the game is played. The rules cover everything that a player needs to know in terms of exploration and combat. In keeping with the rest of the volume they are an easy read, and the rules are themselves supported with a glossary of terms and a Combat Reference Guide, the latter on the back cover of the Hero’s Handbook.

Just like the Hero’s Handbook, the Game Master’s Guide gets down to the play of the game straight away. “Black Fang’s Dungeon” is just ten entries long, and although only a basic scenario, it presents a good mix of encounters. Not just combat, but also traps and puzzles as well as a little roleplaying. As written, the GM could begin running this with fifteen or so minutes’ worth of preparation – the same time that the players would need to devote to reading and understanding their character sheets. For anyone new to roleplaying, there is probably a good session or two’s worth of play in the scenario.

If the GM has more time, then the following section on Gamemastering is worth reading as preparation for running the scenario. The remainder of the Game Master’s Guide is devoted to “Building an Adventure.” The advice is good, explaining how the GM should start with the story and build up from there. Some of it is geared towards the GM creating the “Ruins of Raven’s Watch,” the first dungeon of own design, for which a map and some background is provided. To support the advice, the Game Master’s Guide explores how different environments, from the dungeon and the forest to the desert and the city, can be used to enhance a game, coupling each different environment with a lengthy list of monsters that could be encountered within each setting. In terms of rewards, hundreds of magical items are not only described, but also illustrated, these ranging from simple scrolls and potions to wondrous items like Bandages of Rapid Recovery and Slippers of Spider Climbing.

Some forty monsters and enemies are described in the Game Master’s Guide. They range from the lowly Dire Rats, Goblins, Orcs, and Skeletons, each with a Challenge Rating of 1/3, up to creatures with a Challenge Rating of 7, such as the Ghost and the Medusa. Top of the heap though, at least in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box, is the fiercesome Black Dragon, with its Challenge Rating of 8. All of these are represented by the counters also found in the box. Rounding out the Game Master’s Guide is a description of Sandpoint, the coastal town introduced in Pathfinder #1—Rise of the Runelords Chapter 1: “Burnt Offerings”, the inaugural entry in Paizo Publishing’s Adventure Path series, which the player characters can use as their base of operations.

It should be made clear that the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box does not present a full version of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. It is a streamlined version of the game, which shows in the limited choice of character Classes, Races, Skills, Options, Feats, and spells, as well as simplified combat rules – no rules for “Attacks of Opportunity” or the capacity for characters to “Take 10” or “Take 20” for example. None of these omissions should be counted against the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box as it is designed to introduce new players without burdening them with the complexity to be found in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game or facing the daunting prospect of opening up what is a weighty tome.

There are only just a few issues with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box. Ideally, the dice should not have been one colour, but each in the set a different colour to help easy identification and use during the game. The given example of play included in the Hero’s Handbook could have been longer and thus done a done a better job of showing how the game is played. The box could also have done with another scenario. The one in the Game Master’s Guide does a good job of presenting an introductory adventure, but it lacks the sophistication to be found in the scenarios available from Paizo Publishing for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. A more sophisticated adventure would also have presented the GM with an example when it comes to writing his own in addition to giving more of a challenge to the players.

As much as the red box styling and the Larry Elmore artwork of Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set delivers a one-two punch to the nostalgia nerve point, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box honestly delivers so much more. And, not just because it allows characters to go from first to fifth level. It provides more options, more ideas, and more for both the GM and the players to play and work with. You simply get more for your money!

The other thing that the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box has over the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set is that despite the name change, it will still be familiar to anyone returning to the fantasy roleplaying fold after being away for a while. After all, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is a direct descendant of Dungeons & Dragons, and even if this Beginner Box is essentially the “Basic” Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, it still makes it very easy for anyone familiar with Dungeons & Dragons to pick this up and start playing.

Of course, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box is really aimed at the new player. Any new player who opens this box will find an attractive set of contents that present the game’s rules in an easy to read and learn fashion, all accompanied by artwork that exemplifies the feel and action that those rules want to impart. The truth is, out of all of the introductory fantasy roleplaying games currently available, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box is the most comprehensive, the most accessible, and the most enjoyable. And an excellent introduction to Pathfinder Roleplaying Game to boot.

7
Go to the Ticket To Ride: India page
33 out of 38 gamers thought this was helpful

Hot on the heels of one expansion for Ticket to Ride, Days of Wonder brings us another. First Map Collection Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia and now Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India, the second in the series that provides the Ticket to Ride fan with more pairs of maps to explore and play on. The maps themselves each come on a double-sided boards and are accompanied by new tweaks to the core rules that provide new challenges and playing experiences. Like the first Map Collection, it requires the Train Cards and Trains from either Ticket to Ride or Ticket to Ride Europe to play. Where Map Collection Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia had a theme – both of its maps present different ways in which to play the game over the continent of Asia, Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India does not have a theme. Yes, one of its maps depicts India, but the other it depicts Switzerland, and that might be a bit of problem.

The problem with Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India is that its Switzerland map is not new, but instead a reprint of Ticket to Ride Switzerland which appeared in 2007 before quickly going out of print and becoming just a little collectible. Now if you are a Ticket to Ride devotee and do not own Ticket to Ride Switzerland, then its inclusion in Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India is to be welcomed. If you happen to already own a copy of Ticket to Ride Switzerland, then in buying Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India, you in effect buying something that you already have in order to gain access to the board that you do not have. Or indeed, effectively doubling the price you pay for the India map.

In addition, its inclusion means that I have to review Ticket to Ride Switzerland once again. Now, having just written a review of it, I am not going to do a full review again, but rather an overview and a summary. The Switzerland map is the first two to three player variant for Ticket to Ride that makes extensive use of tunnels and adds a new type of route card that connects cities to Switzerland’s neighbouring countries or Switzerland’s neighbouring countries to each other. The map’s routes are tight with high scoring opportunities being offered through Destination Tickets that replicate parts of longer Destination Tickets. Now, the Switzerland map is not the most popular of maps with many Ticket to Ride devotees. Some consider this map to be broken.

They could not be more wrong if they tried. The aspect of the replicated Destination Tickets is a design feature. It is not a flaw. The Switzerland map is designed with a focus on Destination Tickets. It presents a challenging playing experience that plays well with either two players or three and I recommend it. In the meantime, check out my full review of Ticket to Ride Switzerland on its own page.

So that leaves the India map for which Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India is named. Where Ticket to Ride has for the most part thematically set in the 1890s, the theme being inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, the India map moves the game on another decade or so from the end of the Victorian era onto the end of the Edwardian period. The year is 1911 and in playing the India map, the players are undertaking a Grand Tour of the subcontinent.

The India map is designed for between two and four players. The map, like the map in Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries, is vertical rather than horizontal. The area encompasses the whole of British India, including areas that are now Pakistan and Bangladesh. The island of Ceylon – now Sri Lanka – sits off the Subcontinent’s South East coast, but is not part of the map’s playing routes. The India map, unlike the maps in Map Collection Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia, does not introduce any new types of routes. Instead it keeps things very simple with its standard routes supported by a quintet of ferry routes as seen in Ticket to Ride Europe and Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries amongst others.

Indeed, the India map introduces just the single new mechanic: the Grand Tour of India bonus. This awards a player a bonus for building continuous routes between the cities on his Destination Tickets. For each Destination Ticket whose cities are connected by two or more continuous paths of the player’s Trains the player is granted a Grand Tour bonus. This bonus rises as more of player’s Destination Tickets are connected by continuous paths, up to a total of five when a player will be awarded forty points!

Essentially, players on the India map are trying to build Mandalas – “Circles” in Sanskrit – as well as completing their Destination Tickets. This takes careful planning upon the part of the players and in comparison with some Ticket to Ride maps, the India map is prone to players spending no little time mulling over their Destination Tickets before play actually starts as they try and work out what routes and Mandalas they can complete. Of course, this is further hampered by everyone trying to work where their Destination Tickets start and finish, but then Ticket to Ride has always been a fun way of introducing players to foreign and sometimes, historical geography.

In play, claiming routes and building Mandalas will be hampered by your fellow players. The author of the India map advises players to claim routes early and be careful about colour Train Cards that they draw. Good advice for any Ticket to Ride map, but on the India map, there is a plethora of short coloured routes that need to be claimed to complete Destination Tickets and if necessary, Mandalas. During play it is not only easy to find your much needed routes claimed by the other players, but also to find access to cities blocked by the other players. Both of these sometimes frustrating elements are exacerbated depending upon the number of players. They are not so vexing with two players as they do not need to be quite so competitive over the claiming of routes, nor as maddening with four players, because then the map’s double routes are open and can be claimed. Yet with three players, the map’s double routes remain closed and the competition for routes is much, much harder.

The building of Mandalas though, offers a new path to victory in Ticket to Ride. It is possible to score a lot of points at game’s end if a player has created several Mandalas. If a player attempts to score points by this means, it pays to focus on the shorter Destination Tickets as these are easier to complete than the more likely to be blocked longer Destination Tickets. Alternatively, a player can still opt to focus on completing Destination Tickets, and there a lot of them provided for the India map. At game’s end, a ten-point Indian Express bonus is awarded to the player or players who have created the Longest Continuous Path on the board.

As with Map Collection Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia, the new mechanics given in Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India can be applied to other maps available for Ticket to Ride. Not those in the Switzerland map, as these require an alternate type of Destination Ticket, but the new rules for the India map could be applied to other maps. Offhand, the Mandala mechanic would probably work with the Switzerland map and the map from Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries.

Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India is difficult to recommend. Not because of the quality and design of the maps themselves, but because it includes the Switzerland map. If you already have the Switzerland map, then it is an expensive purchase, even though the quality of the map and its cards has been improved for this expansion. If you want another challenging map, and do not mind purchasing a map that you already have, then the India map offers that. It is challenging because of the tight layout of the routes on the map and the lack of short double routes in addition to the difficulty of the new scoring method with the Mandalas.

If you do not own the Switzerland map, then Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India is another excellent purchase. It offers two good maps, both of which work well with smaller groups of players and which offer challenging and competitive play. Neither of the two maps is suited for players unfamiliar with the game, but for Ticket to Ride veterans, Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India offers new complexities and new challenges.

6
Go to the The Settlers of Catan – 5-6 Player Extension page
35 out of 40 gamers thought this was helpful

When it comes to Gateway Games – the games that you can get out and play with family and friends with aim of offering a play experience beyond the dreariness of Cluedo, Monopoly, and Scrabble – there is a trinity of titles that every gamer should have at least one of, if not all three. They are, in order of publication, The Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and the relatively more recent Ticket to Ride. Yet whilst the latter two support a reasonable number of players – between two and five, The Settlers of Catan handles either three or four, no more, no less. In order to expand the game and add more players, The Settlers of Catan needs The Settlers of Catan – 5-6 Player Extension.

As its title suggests, The Settlers of Catan – 5-6 Player Extension allows a fifth or sixth player to The Settlers of Catan. It does so by providing the wooden pieces for the two new players; new terrain hexes – including a second Desert or an extra home to the Robber Baron; new resource cards; new Development Cards; two “Building Costs” reference cards; and twenty-eight numbered tokens – with which to mark the terrain hexes; and the rules. Essentially everything to expand your Settlers of Catan game from four to five and six players, including what they can harvest, what they can build, and the extra terrain they can build across.

The only change to the rules between The Settlers of Catan and The Settlers of Catan – 5-6 Player Extension is that the players get an extra action, one that they can do between everyone else’s turns. This extra action is building. Simply, a player can build in between his opponent’s turns, though this must be done in player order around the table.

This change is necessary because otherwise, whilst a player awaits his next turn, he can quickly accumulate a handful of resource cards as his opponents roll the numbers on the hexes that he has his towns and cities alongside, so generating resources. This would not be a problem were it not for the fact that there is every chance of a seven being rolled on the game’s two six-sided dice, thus bringing the robber baron into play and forcing every player to discard half of the resource cards in his hand.

So far, so good. For what you have with The Settlers of Catan – 5-6 Player Extension is the perfectly serviceable means to expand the base game, with little change in the rules or mechanics. If you have played the basic game, then playing with this expansion is neither challenging nor does it present very much more of a challenge than is present in the basic game.

What challenges that The Settlers of Catan – 5-6 Player Extension does present come in the form of more competition for the locations that will bear desirable resources (does The Settlers of Catan have anything else?); the opportunities to build the Longest Road (well, the island of Catan just got bigger, so the Longest Road can now be a whole lot longer); and more opportunities for trade. That said, even with the rule about players being able to build between turns, one of the things that The Settlers of Catan – 5-6 Player Extension does add to the game is time. Not just in terms of overall playing time, but also in terms of waiting time between a player’s turn because there are more players who want to trade and then everyone will want their opportunity to build between turns.

Ultimately, there are faster and easier Gateway Games for five players. Not for six players though. The Settlers of Catan – 5-6 Player Extension does add that option, and it does it reasonably well. True, the joins between the base game and the expansion do show in their ability to slow game play down, but if you can overlook this, The Settlers of Catan – 5-6 Player Extension extends a classic as best it can.

8
Go to the Ticket To Ride: Asia page
33 out of 38 gamers thought this was helpful

2011 was a good year for Ticket to Ride, the introductory railway themed board game from Days of Wonder that won the Spiel des Jahres and the Origins Award for Best Board Game in 2004, as well as the 2005 Diana Jones award. In its closing months, the publisher inaugurated a new line of expansions in the form of the Map Collection series. Each title in the series features two new maps – on a double-sided map board – as well as new tweaks to the core rules that provide new challenges and playing experiences. The first of these is Map Collection Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia, and it was quickly followed by Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India, each of which requires the use of the Train Cards and Trains from Ticket to Ride or Ticket to Ride Europe to play. It is the first of these, Map Collection Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia, which is being reviewed here.

So in keeping with the series, Map Collection Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia contains two maps. The first of these is the Team Asia map, which introduces two elements that sell the Map Collection. One is team play, the other is the addition of another player, increasing the number of maximum players in Ticket to Ride from five to six, but requiring four or six players only. The second map, the Silk Road themed Legendary Asia, is more of a traditional affair designed for two to five players that harks back to Ticket to Ride Europe, but which adds a tweak of its very own. Team Asia was designed by Alan R. Moon, who also designed Ticket to Ride, whilst Legendary Asia was François Valentyne’s entry in a competition to design and have published a new map for Ticket to Ride.

Each of the entries in the Map Collection series comes in a two-inch deep album sized box. Inside Map Collection Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia can be found the new double-sided map, forty-five Trains (nine for each of the Train colours to be found in Ticket to Ride and Ticket to Ride Europe), thirty-six Destination Tickets for Legendary Asia, sixty Destination Tickets for Team Asia, six wooden card holders, and two full-colour rule books. There is one each for Team Asia and Legendary Asia, and both are twelve pages long with the rules for each map being just a page long and given in ten languages. All of these components are nicely done and nicely packaged in the box with the two maps, one per side, being very attractive. If there is an issue with either map, it is that neither clearly state which variant they are for. Whilst the graphics for each map and accompanying Destination Tickets are similar, so is the geographical region that both maps cover, and it would have been simple enough for the designers to put the name of the variant on its map. This would make game choice and set up just that little more easier, and that much quicker.

Of course, there is the usual problem of learning the geography to be found in Map Collection Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia, but there is plenty of similarity between the two maps in this expansion, and anyway, not only do the mini-maps on the Destination Tickets help, but learning about geography as basic as this and whilst playing Ticket to Ride, is after all, fun.

The changes in the Legendary Asia variant begins with its Destination Tickets. There are thirty-six of these, of which six are Long Route Tickets, such as Moscow to Calcutta and Khabarovsk to Karachi, that are worth sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen points. At game’s start, each player receives a single Long Route and three normal Destination Tickets of which he must keep at least two. Later in the game he can choose to draw three Destination Tickets of which he must keep at least one.

Opening up the map for Legendary Asia and it looks not unlike the map for Ticket to Ride Europe. There several ferry Routes which require the expenditure of wild or Locomotive Cards to complete in addition to the usual Train Cards, but there are also several where the one or two spaces on a Route are marked with an “X” such as between Kathmandu and Mandalay, a two-space Route with an “X” on both spaces. These are Mountain Routes, which when claimed, require a player to not only expend the Train Cards of the appropriate colour, but for each “X” on the Route, to also expend one of his Trains! This represents the wear and tear on the trains that traverse these Routes and is not as bad as it sounds, because for each Train discarded, he scores an additional two points. So to claim the purple Kathmandu-Mandalay Route, a player has to discard two purple Train Cards and two of his Trains, but scores two points for the Route claimed and another four points for the Trains discarded.

In addition some double Routes, such as that between Perm and Omsk has one Route that does not require the discarding of a Train Card and one that does. In other words, one Route does not go through the mountains. In most, but not all cases, the non-Mountain Route is a grey Route, meaning that any Train Card colour can be used to complete them.

The effect of the Mountain Routes is twofold. First, it increases the completion value of some of the map’s shorter Routes. Compare a three-space Route, like that between Moscow and Astrakhan, which would score a player a simple four points for completing, and the two-space Mountain Route between Agra and Kathmandu which has one space with an “X” and which would score a player a total of four points to complete, two points for the Route itself and another two for the Train discarded. Second, the expenditure of Trains to complete Mountain Routes can be used to speed play towards the moment when a player has four Trains or less and thus trigger the game’s round of last turns.

The other additional rule in Legendary Asia is that of the Asian Explorer Bonus. This is awarded for the highest number of cities connected rather than the Longest Route as on many other Ticket to Ride maps. This encourages the creation of a network of Routes rather a single long Route and emphasises the value of the shorter Routes as they are generally easier to connect to and thus create a network with.

Overall, Legendary Asia feels like a traditional Ticket to Ride board. It offers a new map, but not a radically different playing experience. It is the easiest to adapt to, and in terms of complexity, sits nicely alongside Ticket to Ride and Ticket to Ride Europe.

Team Asia though, is a different experience. It offers complexity via a radical means of play that also restricts the number of players. It is played with teams of two players, with space for either two teams or three teams. Which means that there must be a minimum of four players if there are two teams playing, and a maximum of six players if three teams are playing. During the game the members of a team have to sit together with two of the wooden cardholders sat in front of them. These cardholders are used to store the team’s shared Destination Tickets and Train Cards, this sharing being the only means that the members of a team can communicate. In other words, during play, a team cannot talk about the Destination Tickets that either has to complete nor about what Routes that either wants to complete.

At game start, each team receives its cardholders and a total of fifty-four Trains in the same colour, the extra ones being provided with Map Collection Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia. The Trains are divided equally between the two members of a team so that they have a pool of twenty-seven each. During play, a player will draw only from his supply of Trains and just like standard Ticket to Ride, when their combined supply of Trains reaches four or less, the end game rules are triggered in which everyone has one last turn, including his teammate. So a player has to keep an eye on his supply of Trains as well as those belong to everyone else, including that of his teammate.

Then the secrecy begins. Each player receives four Train Cards as normal and a total of five Destination Tickets, of which he must keep three. Out of the kept Destination Tickets, a player must take one and simultaneously with his teammate reveal it and place it in one of the shared cardholders. When a player later draws additional Destination Tickets, he must not only keep one of the new Tickets, but also place one of the Tickets in his team’s cardholder used for their Tickets. Similarly, when a player draws Train Cards, he draws two as normal, but one of them has to go into his team’s cardholder used for the Train Cards. This must be done as they are drawn – a player cannot draw two and decide which of these Train Cards to share.

One additional option that a player has during play is that he can choose to share two of the Destination Tickets in his hand with his teammate by placing them in their shared cardholder. Whilst this can be helpful, it does deny that player the opportunity to pick up new Train Cards or claim a Route.

During the game, play order is by team. Both players on a team will take their turn one after another, then the players on the next team will have their go, and so on. Players in a team always take their turns in the same order.

At game’s end, the members of a team scores together. A ten point Asian Express bonus is awarded to the team with the Longest Continuous Path on the board whilst a ten point Globetrotter bonus is awarded to the team who has completed the most Destination Tickets.

Looking at the Team Asia map, it looks quite open, if not similar to the layout of the Ticket to Ride map of the USA with its long Routes over the top in the North, and shorter Routes to East and South. Three triple Routes run the length of the Chinese coast. In a two-team game, two of these triple Routes can be claimed, possibly by both players on a team, thus wholly blocking that Route to the other team. The map also contain two unnamed destinations – they cannot be cities as neither is named – that are black instead of the grey of the map’s actual cities. Being close to Kathmandu and Lhasa, they are probably the peaks of Everest and K2 in the Himalayas.

The other addition to the Team Asia board is not a new type of Route, but a variant upon a type of Route – the Tunnel. On maps with Tunnels, such as Ticket to Ride Switzerland and Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries, if player wants to claim a Tunnel Route he has to draw three more Train Cards from off the top of the draw deck, and if any of the drawn cards match the colour of the Route, that player must pay an extra Train Card for each extra drawn. If he cannot, he forfeits that turn. In Team Asia, the number of extra Train Cards varies, being determined by the number of the Route. For example, the yellow Route between Lhasa and Cawnpore is one space long, but is marked with a six, meaning that it requires a player to draw another six Train Cards and hope that he does not draw any yellow Train Cards and so have to pay extra Trains Cards. As with Ticket to Ride Switzerland and Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries, a player could also use Locomotive Cards to complete a Tunnel Route in this fashion. Overall, this makes Tunnels a much riskier affair and more difficult to complete.

In purely mechanical terms, Team Asia is not a complex addition to the Ticket to Ride family. In play style, it is much more complex, not just for the fact that the players within a team have to keep quiet about strategy, but also for the fact that Team Asia is not a five, or indeed, a six-player board. Rather, it is a two or three player board that it is as tight as Ticket to Ride Switzerland and Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries before it, though with more trains between the members of a team than is the norm.

Another factor in Team Asia that is similar to Ticket to Ride Switzerland is the high number of Destination Tickets. There are sixty in this set, and like Ticket to Ride Switzerland, once a player has completed his current Destination Tickets, there is the chance that a player will draw new Destination Tickets that he has already completed. It should be made clear that this is not as extreme as in Ticket to Ride Switzerland, which many players of Ticket to Ride consider to be broken for this reason. In our playing experience, this is less of an issue in Team Asia as there is less replication of Routes.

Team Asia feels almost, but not quite as tight as the other two or three player options, Ticket to Ride Switzerland and Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries because its tight play is offset by the higher number of Trains that each team begins play with. The co-operative, though silent play, adds another level of enjoyable challenge to the game and means that this variant requires a bit more thought than is the norm with Ticket to Ride. The means of adding a sixth player is innovative for Ticket to Ride, and the fact that it involves team play means that it still leaves room for someone to design a Ticket to Ride board for use with six players rather than three teams of two. Similarly, the addition of Team Play raises the question of how many other Ticket to Ride maps would its rules work with, something for the game’s fans to experiment with.

For years now, Ticket to Ride has not been receiving the support that it should have been. It did not need dice or a card game variant, nor did it need kaiju themed bits of plastic that were never in keeping with the line’s late nineteenth century, early twentieth century style. What it needed was new maps. Ticket to Ride is a train game. A very light train game it must be said, but train games are all about connecting Routes to new places, whether familiar or exotic. Every single other train game series does this and it works because gamers like new maps and the new challenges that they present. It has been three years since the release of a new map expansion in the form of the two-three player base game, Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries. It has been four years since the release of Ticket to Ride Switerland, the map expansion that sets the pattern for the Map Collection series, which appears in Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India.

Hurrah! And “Hurrah!” again, because the wait has been worth it. Map Collection Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia is an excellent expansion that really does add to the Ticket to Ride family. The Team Asia gives a clever means of adding a sixth player to Ticket to Ride combined with a nice hidden objective dynamic between the members of each team. Despite it being a four or six player game, the organisation into team actually turns it into a tight two or three player board. Lastly, the six wooden card holders are nice additions can actually be used in Ticket to Ride game to hold and organise each player’s cards. The Legendary Asia is a more traditional board that offers less radical play than in Team Asia and is the easier option to get out and play. Together, Legendary Asia and Team Asia combine to make Map Collection Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia a great start to a new series of expansions and a cleverly designed challenge for the Ticket to Ride fan.

8
Go to the 7 Wonders page

7 Wonders

69 out of 77 gamers thought this was helpful

Every so often there comes along a game that acquires the status of being the new “hotness,” a game that has acquired such a cachet all by word of mouth. The latest title to do so is the board game 7 Wonders. Released by the French publisher, Asmodée Éditions, this card/board game hybrid has the distinction of being the winner of the first “Kennerspiel des Jahres” award. This is a companion honour to the “Spiel des Jahres,” the German “Game of the Year” award, and roughly translates as “Connoisseur-Enthusiast Game of the Year.” So what has got everyone, including a committee of German board game critics, so excited by 7 Wonders?

Designed to be played by three to seven players – though a two-player variant is included in the rules – 7 Wonders is a card drafting, resource management, simultaneous play card game with a Civilisation theme that can be played in thirty minutes from start to finish. All of which is done without the use of maps or extensive conflict, the heavy reliance on cards serving to simplify and ease the handling of elements that might otherwise be relatively complex in other games. The aim of game is to score the most points and 7 Wonders provides multiple means of scoring so that a player can win by being the greatest cultural, economic, military, or scientific power, or a combination of all of these.

Each player controls an ancient civilisation attempting to prove itself to be the greatest by building one of the great wonders such as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, or the Pyramids of Giza. Every civilisation is represented by a rectangular board. An icon in the top left hand corner indicates the resources generated each turn, while three boxes along the bottom mark the three stages of the civilisation’s wonder. Completing each stage grants a benefit to the player, usually Gold that can be spent or saved, or Victory Points that go towards a player’s total at game’s end. Other Civilisation Boards grant simple scientific or military benefits, but some allow a card to be played for free or a card to be played from the discard pile. Every Civilisation Board is double-sided, marked (A) and (B). The (B) side is harder to complete then the (A) side.

The cards in 7 Wonders come in seven types. Brown cards provide basic resources like brick, ore, stone, and wood, whilst Grey cards give the advanced resources of cloth, glass, and paper. Red cards are military facilities and fortifications, whilst Yellow cards are economic, either generating an array resources or making them cheaper to buy from your neighbours, or simply granting a civilisation more Gold. Blue cards are cultural, representing buildings such as alters, baths, palaces, and theatres. Each is worth a straight Victory Point value at the end of the game. Green cards are scientific and marked with one of three symbols. At game’s end the number of Green cards with the same symbol that a player has before him is squared and the total added to his final score. Points are scored for sets with one of each symbol that a player has. Lastly, the Purple cards are Guilds that each score in particular ways. For example, the Strategist’s Guild grants a Victory Point for every defeat inflicted upon your neighbours, whilst the Philosopher’s Guild gives Victory Points for every Green or science card that your neighbours have played.

The cards are also divided into one of three Ages – I, II, and III, each more advanced than the previous one. The third Age is the most advanced and is the only one in which the Purple or guilds cards appear.

At heart, play in 7 Wonders is very simple. It is played in three rounds or Ages. At the beginning of each Age, each player receives a hand of seven cards. Simultaneously, every player selects one card and plays it at the same time. When done, a player passes his hand to his neighbour, while receiving a new hand from his other neighbour. Everyone selects a new card and again, passes on the hand. This is done until each player has played six cards in each Age. The seventh card is discarded. At the end of an Age, military conflicts are resolved. This involves each player comparing the size of his military – shown on the Red cards – against that of his neighbours’, with the winner gaining Victory Tokens and the loser, Defeat Tokens. Both Tokens contribute to a player’s Victory Point total at game’s end. This all happens once for each of the three Ages at the end of which Victory Points are totalled and a winner declared.

On each turn a player takes his chosen card and does one of three things with it. He either brings it into play, if necessary checking that he has access to the necessary resources, either on the cards before him or from his neighbours’ cards. If gained from a neighbour, these resources have to be purchased with Gold. Every player starts with three Gold, but can gain more from playing certain cards or from sales made to neighbours. Such sales are automatic and cannot be stopped. Some cards are free to play, either because they are a basic type or a player has a card in front of him that allows him to play the new card for free. Instead of bringing a card into play, a player can discard it from the game in return for three Gold. Lastly, if he has access to the necessary resources, a player can build the next stage of his civilisation’s Wonder, indicating that it has been built by sliding it under the bottom of the Civilisation Board where the stage is marked.

In playing a card a player has three things to consider. If he plays the card will it grant him the resources necessary to build his civilisation’s Wonder? If short of Gold, can he discard it for more? If he does not play it or discard it, will it benefit another player? For example, if you have played a lot Blue or cultural cards and the Magistrates’ Guild, one of the Purple guild cards, comes into your hand, you might want to play it, discard it, or use it to build a stage of your Wonder in order to prevent a neighbour from playing it. If he does, you know that it will score him a point for each of the Blue cards that you have played. It should be noted though, that sometimes a player will have little choice in what he can play, and his choice will be reduced as an Age progresses, and more and more cards are played, thus lowering the hand size. Essentially, a player is always attempting to make the best of his current and immediate situation, or rather of his current and immediate hand of cards.

The first interesting point about 7 Wonders is that you only ever interact with your direct neighbours although every player’s Victory Point total is compared at game’s end. The second is that often a Civilisation Board will influence a player’s strategy. For example, if the stages of a Wonder on a Civilisation Board grant a scientific bonus, then a player might want to play Green or science cards. The third is that the game plays slightly different the more players that there are. With fewer players, the hands of cards in each Age will come through a player’s hand more than once. While with seven players, each hand of cards will be seen by a player just the once. The clever thing is that 7 Wonders scales, the number of players determining the number of cards to be added to the game, but every player always starts each Age with a hand of seven cards.

The fourth interesting point about 7 Wonders is that there is no one way in which to win. I have won by acquiring lots and lots of Gold; by having the most successful military – although the maximum number of Victory Points to be gained this way is limited; by having the most cultural Victory Points from Blue cards; and by scoring Victory Points from others via the Purple or guilds cards. No card type is necessarily more valuable than any other, although the Purple or guilds cards and the Green or science cards can score a player lots of Victory Points. For example, I have seen my friend Dave score a total of forty-eight points from Green or science cards – which is a lot. (This was done with three Green cards for each symbol, for a total of nine cards. For each set of three symbols the same he scored nine points – for a total of twenty-seven points, plus for each complete set comprised of one of each of the three symbols, he scored an additional seven points. Altogether, forty-eight points. Again, a lot of points). The fifth interesting point about the game is that it is difficult to see exactly who is winning until scoring happens at the end of the game, although it is obvious who is doing well in each area.

Physically, 7 Wonders is very well done. The Civilisation Boards are of sturdy card with excellent artwork that matches the theme, while the various card tokens are clearly marked and easy to handle. The cards are all attractive and of a slightly larger size, so are easy to read. It should be noted that this means that slightly larger card sleeves are required to protect the cards. This is recommended because the cards will get a lot of handling. The cards are also illustrated with suitable art that matches the theme. The rules booklet is actually as large as the box and is not only easy to read, but also well laid out with plenty of examples.

Since my friend Dave bought a copy we have played lots and lots of games of 7 Wonders. After all, it is easy to do given that once a game has got going, it only lasts thirty minutes. Trying it with new players has never failed to leave them intrigued and wanting to play more, a situation that I found myself in upon the first few plays. I even went through a stage of disliking the game, but actually still being intrigued enough to keep playing. Now I find it an easy game to play and do so at some pace. If there is an issue to the game it lies in the difficulty of teaching it to new players. Not that the basic rules are difficult to grasp, but what it is difficult is gaining an understanding of how the cards interact and work with each other. On our initial play throughs this meant that games were lasting more than an hour, but with practice and an understanding of the game’s card interaction this dropped to the listed playing time of thirty minutes or less. Plus we have guided a group of seven players, only three of which have played it before, through a game in an hour.

Once the hurdle of grasping how the cards work is passed, then 7 Wonders turns out to be an excellent game, one that it is going to receive a number of expansions, with the first of these, 7 Wonders: Leaders already being available. Rare is a game that offers this level of complexity for its suggested range of players, in particular seven players. It offers thoughtful play and thoughtful replay value, and while competitive is rarely adversarial. 7 Wonders manages to achieve a nice balance between the light filler game and the massive Civilisation style game without bogging a player down in a welter of options.

9
Go to the Cosmic Patrol page

Cosmic Patrol

43 out of 49 gamers thought this was helpful

In many reviews an RPG’s designer rarely gets a mention, and even if when he does, it invariably comes a long way into the review and even then not by name. His contribution usually gets mentioned in passing or obliquely, but for this review I am going to mention a name. Matt Heerdt. It is not a name that I have encountered before, though it has to be said that I rarely check those details, and to be honest, that is unlikely to change. Nevertheless, that name is Matt Heerdt. His design for Cosmic Patrol, the latest RPG from Catalyst GameLabs of which he is also the author, captures its genre to perfection with just seventeen words and one image. Done in a simple two tone design, the front cover looks exactly the manual that every good Cosmic Patrol cadet should have in his locker, whilst the back cover looks exactly like a recruiting poster for the Cosmic Patrol. It is also beautifully simple.

Anyway, Cosmic Patrol, of which Matt Heerdt is also the author. Thirty years ago in the Pre-Cosmic Era, the Earth was hit by the fragments of a comet that upon impact disgorged a horde of alien “lizardmen” known as the “Uth.” It took a united effort to wipe out the rampaging raiders who in their wake left not only a united Earth, but also a cache of advanced, disparate, but stolen technology. In order to both study this and protect the Earth from further cosmic threats, the united world government forms scientific space program known as the “Cosmic Patrol.” Within a decade, Cosmic Patrol expeditions to Mars and Venus discover humans on both worlds; within two decades, the governments of Earth, Mars, and Venus would agree to form a single organisation known as the Great Union; and within three decades, Cosmic Patrol rocketships, equipped with the revolutionary “Fractum Drive” would not only explore the outer reaches of our Solar System, but also far out into the cosmos itself, quickly discovering an on-going intergalactic war whose sides it cannot quite yet determine.

This is the setting for Cosmic Patrol, a story-telling RPG of “Rockets and Rayguns!” set in a retro future based on the Golden Age of science fiction. Inspired by the covers of classic science fiction pulp magazines, the works of E.E. “Doc” Smith, Harry Harrison, Robert Heinlein, and Philip Francis Nolan, and classic science fiction radio series like X Minus One and Dimension X, Cosmic Patrol with its mantra of “Rockets • Rayguns • Robots” is not the Buck Rogers RPG, but it could be. Nor is it the Flash Gordon RPG or the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet RPG, but again, it could be. As the Grand Union’s first and last line of defence against a dangerous galaxy, the players take the roles of Patrolmen of the Cosmic Patrol crewing rocketships that set out to explore the galaxy, investigating its strange phenomena, and responding to emergencies as necessary. They could be cocky, stalwart heroes from Earth; Red Amazon warriors from Mars armed with their infamous red steel axes; or high thinking Venusian scientists, but whatever their origins, they are not only members of the Grand Union, but as members of the Cosmic Patrol, they are its first line of defence against the universe.

Cosmic Patrol is played in a series of Mission Briefs, each beamed to the characters’ rocketship from Cosmic Patrol headquarters. It might be that a ship has gone missing in the asteroid belt or that a survey team is under attack on the surface of Venus, but in game terms each Misssion Brief consists of a setting and one or more scenes that present the patrolmen with a series of enemies and obstacles. Each scene is further down into a number of turns, the number of turns depending upon the number of players. This is because each player will undertake the role of the Lead Narrator once during a scene. As Lead Narrator, a player not serves as the GM and presents the NPCs and environment just as you would expect in most RPGs, he also ensures that each of the characters has a chance to act in the turn. In serving as the Lead Narrator, a player does not ignore his own Patrolman, but allows him to act, though he always goes last in a turn. This completes the turn and narration passes to the next player, who then becomes the Lead Narrator and sets the scene for the new turn.

Narration can be taken from events in previous Turns, but also from “cues,” little suggestions and descriptions that the Lead Narrator can take inspiration from. Cues are given for Mission Briefs as well as Patrolmen and NPCs of all stripes. Narration can also to an extent be co-operative in that a player can turn to his fellows if he is bereft of inspiration and ask for advice. If a player wants to grab the narration then he can spend a Plot Point, which can also be expended by a player to modify dice rolls – either way, regain health points, and of course, to add a plot twist! The role of Lead Narrator also has its own pool of Plot Points, which passes from player to player as the role does. A Lead Narrator can only spend Plot Points to aid the NPCs and add plot twists, but not to impede the Patrolmen. Players earn their Plot Points through good narration, whilst the Lead Narrator earns one whenever a player expends one.

Player character actions that require dice come in two types. A Challenge handles actions against an inanimate object, while a Test is against another person, be it another player character or an NPC. To undertake a Test or Challenge a character adds the results of a twelve-sided die, an appropriate attribute die, plus modifiers to beat a target roll determined by a twenty-sided die. The modifiers are set by the Lead Narrator. For example, “in a blizzard” (-1), “Experienced” (+1), “the right tools” (+1), “already performed a scan” (+1), and so on, which with the character below having to perform emergency field surgery on an important NPC, might give the result of D12 + Medicine D10 + modifiers of +2 against the Lead Narrator’s roll of a D20. The end result of 1 (D12) + 6 (D10) +2 versus 4 (D20) means that the character has succeeded.

Character creation involves assigning various dice types to four attributes – Brawn, Brains, Charisma, and Combat; a Special Die or a D10 to something that the character is particularly good at; and determining his Luck. The latter is not a Die type, but a number between one and twelve, which when rolled on any die during any test or challenge means that a character always succeeds. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of character generation in Cosmic Patrol is the creation of a Patrolman’s Cues, and Disposition. The first are prompts from which a player can draw inspiration when it comes to his narration, whilst the latter more describe his manner. “Doc” Mulligan only has thirteen Cues, leaving room for a player or Lead Narrator to add more. This Patrolman also has Tags, essentially descriptors that give the Lead Narrator the gist of the character were he to be used as an NPC.

REGINALD MULLIGAN/ROCKETSHIP DOCTOR
VITAL FACTORS
Name: Reginald “Doc” Mulligan Age: 29
Homeworld: Earth Rank: Doctor
Tags: > Earthman > Friendly > Curmudgeon
> Brilliant > Medicine > Manners > Scottish
Brawn: D6 Brains: D8 Charisma: D10 Combat: D8 Medicine D10 (SPECIAL) Luck: 11
Armour: 17
Health: 3/3/3/2/1
Equipment: antique Webley Revolver, Install MK. VII anatomical scanner, classic doctor’s black bag, and bottle of 13 year old single malt
Cues: Och no! I am just a country doctor; Quiet! I’m trying to think!; This thing isn’t even a sasanach – I need time to analyse it; I’ll drink to that; Yes Ma’am; There are things that an Autosurgeon will not repair; This might not be a single malt, but she’ll do; My word as a gentleman; Captain, you just can’t blow it to bits; It’s a man’s place to grumble – it proves he’s alive; As my old aunt Jenny would say…; By Jupiter’s Trojans!
Disposition: Trustworthy, Ever the Gentleman, Exasperated at the lack of scientific training in the Patrol, Cautious

The setting for Cosmic Patrol is sketched in broad detail from the inner most worlds of the Solar System to the Outer Planets and beyond into the Deep Black with its Coalsack Dead Zone, some twenty astrons in diameter; the Eiger Empire with its army of triple-eyed clones; and the rumoured meddling of the cosmic beings that the Patrol has named the Metatherions. Whilst there are mysteries and intrigues galore to be placed by the Lead Narrator and unravelled by the player Patrolmen, there is still room aplenty for those and more within the Solar System itself. To support the setting, the Lead Narrator is given an array of pre-generated characters, some of whom can be used as player characters, the rest being a set of entertaining NPCs that should keep a game going for a while. An octet of Mission Briefings of increasing difficulty is certainly more than enough to get a game and thus a season of Cosmic Patrol going. Rounding out the book is a good, though unexplored, bibliography of suggested reading and viewing.

Perhaps if Cosmic Patrol as a game has a weakness, it is that the advice for the GM or Lead Narrator is underwritten. Which in what has leanings towards being a storytelling game, does seem odd. Yet whilst those leanings are present, this is not an RPG that focuses like so many storytelling RPGs on handing the players narration rights in order to tell a particular type of story. Nor should that be taken as a criticism of that type of game. Rather, Cosmic Patrol is all about a lightness of touch that encourages the players to work together to tell of adventures of “derring do” against a backdrop of Golden Age Science Fiction. It does include suggestions as to how it could be run using a single Lead Narrator, but to be fair, the narration duties in Cosmic Patrol are far from onerous, especially given how those duties are about everyone taking responsibility for telling a good story.

As has already been pointed out, physically, Cosmic Patrol is well done. The book is cleanly laid out and the artwork thoroughly excellent. The lack of an index is irksome.

Cosmic Patrol has three paragraphs devoted to the Theremin. That is enough for me to recommend this RPG. The fact that this game made me want to read some of the fiction suggested in the bibliography is also indicative of how much I like Cosmic Patrol, despite the fact that the book I re-read after some thirty years was Robert Heinlein’s Space Cadet, which is not in the bibliography. Having re-read it, I would suggest that it should be. In truth, I have wanted a good Golden Age Science Fiction RPG for a long time. Cosmic Patrol is not that RPG – it is better. Rather Cosmic Patrol captures its genre of Golden Age Science Fiction to not just perfection; it does so with charm and gusto.

5
Go to the Rory's Story Cubes page
39 out of 47 gamers thought this was helpful

Rory’s Story Cubes is a set of dice that, as the game’s title suggests, can be used to tell stories. Created by The Creativity Hub and published most places by Gamewright, the set is designed to spur a roller’s imagination by giving him a set of elements to include in his story. As a game, it is at best “rules lite,” coming more with guidelines than actual rules, such that it might be better classed as a tool or a toy.

Rory’s Story Cubes comes in a sturdy little box that opens up to reveal nine cubes or dice. Each die is a chunky 19mm to a side and contains six images, such as an “Apple,” an “Evil Shadow,” a “House,” a “Lightning Strike,” a “Lock,” a “Parachute,” a “Question Mark,” a “Tower,” and a “Wand.” None of the symbols are replicated, so with nine dice in the set, there are a total of fifty-four symbols to roll, which promises several million different combinations. The idea is to do “Once Upon a time” with these symbols, incorporating them into a story as the roller fancies. So for example, I roll an “Abacus,” “Flames,” “Happiness,” a “Magnifying Glass,” a “Mobile Telephone,” a “Parachute,” “Sleeping,” a “Tepee,” and a “Tower.” So my story might go like this…

Once upon a time, there lived a man called Dave, who could never get a full night’s sleep. He had a really dull job that involved him using an “Abacus” and never gave him time to examine how dull his life was. News that his life was to change came with a call on his “Mobile Telephone” and a dull monotone voice explaining how both the job and the ivory “Tower” of a life he had built around his job had gone up in “Flames.” This gave him the opportunity to examine his life using a “Magnifying Glass” and thus decide to use a “Parachute” to jump from the top of the “Tower.” Dave did. Now Dave does not have an “Abacus,” a dull job, a “Mobile Telephone,” or the need to visit an ivory “Tower.” Instead, every night he can be found “Sleeping” in a “Teepee.” Dave has found “Happiness.”

Now doubtless, you can do better. And you are welcome to try with your own set of Rory’s Story Cubes. How you do that is entirely up to you, as the extent of the rules in the “game” merely suggest that the stories can either be told solitaire or co-operatively. The problem with this is that it means that as a game, Rory’s Story Cubes lacks the structure that would make it game, because this is essentially not only “use the dice to make up the stories you want,” but also “make up the rules to how you tell those stories.” Arguably then, not sufficient enough to make it a game given its need for further input from the participants. Plus, the clue is in the title – Rory’s Story Cubes, not Rory’s Story Dice. After all, “Dice” infers a game, whereas “Cubes” do not.

As a tool or a toy, Rory’s Story Cubes is much better. The images on the dice are large, friendly, and universal. Although due to their size, the dice feel a bit too much to all together fit in the hand, they possess a satisfying weight and heft. They would work well as an educational tool, whether that is in an education establishment, or simply as a means to spur your child’s imagination and thinking.

There is much to like about Rory’s Story Cubes. The dice are themselves physically pleasing and the concept sound. More rules would have made them even more pleasing, but as long as the users or players are happy to agree on the rules as to how they can tell their stories, then they are ready to roll their imaginations with Rory’s Story Cubes.

10
Go to the Pandemic page

Pandemic

66 out of 73 gamers thought this was helpful

Over the past few years, there has been a trend in board games wherein the players have not been competing against each other, but instead co-operate together against the game itself. For fans of the Cthulhu Mythos, Arkham Horror can be included amongst their number, alongside such other titles as Space Alert, Shadows Over Camelot, Red November, and Battlestar Galactica. It should be pointed out though, that both Shadows Over Camelot and Battlestar Galactica add in an element of treachery with at least one player being a traitor. The game I am going to review though, is purely co-operative and lacks that traitorous element – unless of course, you happen to purchase the expansion – but be warned, in playing you do hold the fate of humanity in your hands and that fate is *ed difficult to avoid. The game in question is Z-Man Games’ Pandemic.

Designed for two to four players aged ten and up, in Pandemic the players take the role of specialists working for the CDC or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Federal Agency tasked with dealing with health, safety, and research as well as having to combat the outbreak of various virulent diseases. At the start of any game of Pandemic, the specialists will be faced with the outbreak of not one, but four diseases across the globe. They have an hour’s worth of nerve wracking game play in which to not only find cures for all four diseases, but also to prevent mankind from being overwhelmed by any one of them and thus wiped out. They will need to husband their resources, conduct enough research, and get to the right cities to treat the victims and so contain any further outbreaks if they are to win and mankind is to survive. There is only one way to win Pandemic – find a cure for all four diseases, but multiple ways in which to lose. It is a hard, sometimes a very hard game to win, but all too easy to loose…

Inside Pandemic’s surprisingly small box can be found a board, ninety-six wooden cubes, five pawns, six wooden Research Stations, six card markers, over one hundred cards, plus the eight-page rulebook. Everything is done in full colour with sturdy wooden pieces and hard wearing cards. The board itself depicts the Earth marked with the major cities of world and the routes between them. The cities are divided between four colour-coded zones: blue (North America and Europe), black (Eurasia, India, and North Africa), red (Asia and Australia), and yellow (Hispanic America and Sub-Saharan Africa). The board also has room for the game’s two decks of cards and its various markers. The six markers are divided four cure markers – one for each of the game’s four diseases, and one each to indicate the Infection Rate and the number of Outbreaks.

The cards are primarily divided between two decks, one of Infection Cards and one of Player Cards. For each of the cities on the board there is corresponding card in both decks, but where the Infection Deck only has cards that show a city, the Player Deck also contains special cards (which give the players a one time advantage when played) and Infection Cards (which indicate a new occurrence of a disease and increase the number of infection cards drawn). Each of the five Role Cards grants a player an extra ability that allows him to break the game’s basic rules. For example, the Medic role card lets a player treat all of the disease cubes of one colour in a city as a single action, rather than having to expend an action to cure a single disease cube. The other roles include the Dispatcher (who can move the other players around the board), the Operations Manager (who can build Research Stations wherever he is), the Researcher (who can freely give cards to another player when they are in the same city), and the Scientist (who needs fewer cards to cure a disease).
Lastly, there are four Reference Cards – these list possible player actions, and of course, the disease cubes. These are divided between the four colours – blue, black, red, and yellow – that match the coloured zones on the board. A disease of one colour will only appear in its matching zone unless an outbreak occurs and it infects a city in an adjacent zone.

Game set up takes a little doing. Each player randomly selects his Role and receives two Player Cards. The remainder of the Player Deck is seeded with Epidemic Cards, the number setting the difficulty for the game, five being average difficulty. Everyone starts play in Atlanta – the headquarters for the CDC – along with a single Research Station. Nine Infection Cards are drawn and each of the cities that they show is seeded with disease cubes. These nine cards are reshuffled and placed back on top of the Infection Deck. This is an important feature of the game, previously drawn Infection Cards being reshuffled and placed back on top of the Infection Deck each time an Epidemic Card is drawn from the Player Deck, indicative of the fact that once a city has been infected, that it can be re-infected.

Each player’s turn has three phases. In the first phase, he can act, having four action points to spend on movement, on treating diseases, on building Research Stations, or on the special actions listed on his Role Card. In moving, he can simply move from one city to the next or use a Player Card to move to or from the city given on that card. In doing so, he discards the card in question. To treat a disease, a player uses up one action and removes one disease cube from the city he is in. A player needs to have the Player Card for the city that he is in if he wants to build a Research Station there, discarding the card in the process. A player can give a Player Card to another player, but to do so both players have to be in the city marked on the card. Lastly, a player can cure a disease simply by discarding five Player Cards of the same colour whilst at a Research Station – or four cards if the player is the Scientist.

The draw phase follows this, a player simply drawing two new Player Cards. A turn ends with the Infection Phase, in which a number of cards equal to the Infection Rate are draw and single disease cubes added to the cities shown on the cards. At the beginning of the game the Infection Rate is just two, but this will increase up to three and then four as Epidemic Cards are drawn from the Player Deck. The maximum number of disease cubes of any one colour allowed on a city is three. If a disease cube is added to city that already has three – which will happen because cities are likely to be re-infected – an Outbreak proper occurs there. The Outbreak Track goes up by one and each city linked to the Outbreak location is infected by a single disease cube. In the process, it is possible to infect an adjacent city that already has three disease cubes on it and set off a chain reaction…

If an Epidemic Card was drawn during the draw phase, its effects take place before the Infection Phase. It moves the Infection Marker up by one and adds three disease cubes to a new city drawn from the bottom of the Infection Deck. This new Infection Card is added to the discard pile of Infection Cards which is shuffled and placed back on top of the Infection Deck. The Infection Phase continues as normal, except for the fact that cities already infected are likely to be infected again!

So how do you win? Simply by finding cures for all four diseases.

So one way to win, but three ways to lose. A game of Pandemic can be lost if the Outbreak Tracker goes up too high; if the Player Deck is exhausted; or if all of the disease cubes of one colour are out on the board.

If that all sounds very mechanical, then it is. In fact, Pandemic has to be very mechanical because the game has to run itself while the players try and stop this process. And stopping that process takes no little thought and no little effort, which is of course, is made easier because a player is encouraged to seek the advice of his fellow players who are expected to suggest his next best course of action.

Even at best and with that advice, the players are fighting a losing battle. They can never quite get on top of the diseases before an Epidemic Card is drawn and cities begin being re-infected. This leads to a certain amount of Infection Card counting, the players trying to balance their actions between the location of the Disease Cubes already on the board and the Infection Cards that have yet to be drawn. This is because the top cards of Infection Deck are going to be drawn and then refreshed when an Epidemic Card is drawn, giving the opportunity for the players to learn those top cards. The other balancing act is between trying to treat diseases and collecting enough Player Cards, the latter made more difficult because a player can only hold seven Player Cards in his hand.
Of course, once you have managed to cure a disease, everything gets slightly easier. It becomes easier to treat, more so if you have the Medic in play, who no longer has to act to treat, merely pass through a city infected by that disease. If the players manage to develop a cure for a disease and remove all of its cubes from the board, it is eradicated and will not appear again. So any Infection Cards drawn of that colour have no effect. Eradicating a disease is admirable, but rarely is it worth the effort – there being too much else to do.

Despite all of this difficulty, Pandemic is still a good game. Game play is very tense, but also very quick because you do not have that all much to do on your turn. Plus, when it is not your turn, you are still kept busy, discussing with everyone what both you and they should be doing. In fact the game is so quick that it is usually completed in less than an hour. One downside is that the discussion between players can be dominated by a single player, especially if the other players are not as experienced with the game. This lessens though the more times that it is played. The other downside is that it is so very difficult. Of course, the difficulty can be decreased by reducing the number of Epidemic Cards that can be drawn, but once you have beaten the game at one difficulty, you will only want to try at a greater difficulty. The big plus though, comes when you do succeed. The feeling of having beaten all four diseases and saved mankind is not only fantastic, it is also a relief.

I will go further than saying that Pandemic is a good game – it is a great game, a classic even. It is not difficult to learn or hard to play, but is difficult to master or rather beat the game itself. It also keeps everyone involved and it demands that you play intelligently. Pandemic is just simply and frustratingly brilliant.

5
Go to the Cthulhu Dice page

Cthulhu Dice

52 out of 59 gamers thought this was helpful

The latest game from Steve Jackson Games is insanely silly, and that is the point. Cthulhu Dice – or rather Cthulhu “Die” because you only get the single die, but then how can “Cthulhu Die” since he is both alien and immortal – is a dice game in which the aim is to drive your fellow servants of Cthulhu completely mad. It is a game about losing Sanity, sometimes gaining Sanity, and when the tentacles are really on the line, summoning Great Cthulhu himself. This is really bad for everyone!

Designed for two to six players aged ten and up, Cthulhu Dice comes as a blister pack containing one large “Cthulhu Die,” a ziplock bag containing eighteen green glass beads or Sanity Tokens, and a full colour rules sheet. The “Cthulhu Die” is actually a twelve-sided die that is marked with various symbols. Most of these are Tentacle and Yellow Sign symbols, with the rest being made up of single Cthulhu, Elder Sign, and Eye symbols. The “Cthulhu Die” is available in various colours, including some glow-in-the-dark variants that are exclusive to Warehouse 23, but being traditional, I chose the green die (and will probably buy the purple die for a certain perky Goth that I live with).

Game set up is simple. Each servant of Cthulhu receives three Sanity Tokens. Then the servants take it in turns to be the Caster, choosing a victim from amongst their fellow servants to curse, with the victim allowed to counter cast against the Caster who then becomes the victim. Once this Casting exchange has been completed, the next servant of Cthulhu is given the opportunity to target a fellow cultist.

To target or curse a victim, all the Caster has to do is roll the Cthulhu Die, apply the effects of the symbol rolled. The true nature of the metaphysical universe means that casting Mythos spells or at least summoning Mythos entities can have fickle outcomes or at least wildly misunderstood ones. Most of the results on Cthulhu Dice – represented by the Yellow Sign and Tentacle symbols – have the Caster stealing Sanity from the victim and keeping it or stealing Sanity from the victim and giving it to Cthulhu, in which case the Sanity Token is placed in a pile in the middle of the table. The more rarely rolled symbols result in the Caster gaining Sanity from Cthulhu (yes, really!), in the Caster picking the symbol of his choice, or horror of horrors, in the successful summoning of Cthulhu. In which case, everyone loses a Sanity Token to the Great Old One.

If as a result of all of this die rolling, a servant of Cthulhu loses all of his Sanity Tokens he goes Mad. A Mad Servant of Cthulhu cannot lose any more Sanity nor can he gain any unless he rolls the Elder Sign symbol. Even then, he is not exactly sane. After all, not only has gone insane after prolonged exposure to the Mythos, but even after regaining a semblance of humanity, he is still willing to dabble in things that Man Was Not Meant To Know. That really is madness…

Play proceeds like this until there is just the one just about sane servant of Cthulhu left. In other words, the one servant of Cthulhu who has not gone mad. He wins the game. It is entirely possible for everyone to go Mad, though this happens rarely. Anyway, if everyone goes Mad, it is Cthulhu who wins rather than one of his servants. Which he will anyway, come the End Times and it is just the meddling of his servants that hastened his victory…

All of which takes about five minutes to play. During which time, none of the players have done anything more than choose a victim, roll a big fat die, and hope for a really nasty outcome. Which is odd, because Cthulhu Dice is a “take that” style of game, and you would expect to have more choice in the game than you actually do. In fact the only choice available in the game is in choosing your victim with perhaps a slim chance of the servant of Cthulhu rolling an “Eye” symbol and getting to select the symbol and its effects that he wants. Nevertheless, Cthulhu Dice is fun. It can got out of its pack and the rules read through in about a minute with another minute needed to teach your fellow servants of Cthulhu.

Although Cthulhu Dice is designed for two to six players, the game has a problem that it shares with various others in that the two-player option is just not as fun as it is with more than two players. The two-player variant suggests that each player control more than one servant of Cthulhu with players taking alternate turns rather than rolling in for each servant of Cthulhu. I suspect that the primary reason for the two-player variant not being as fun is that it lacks the player interaction and the table talk that you get with more servants of Cthulhu.

Obviously, Cthulhu Dice is very pocket friendly, both in terms of actually fitting in your pocket and in terms of being friendly to your wallet. That said, I would have liked it to have been even more pocket friendly. Carrying the Cthulhu Die, the rules sheet, and the eighteen Sanity Tokens in the ziplock bag is not the best option as there is likely to be wear and tear on all three just through this carrying. For a few dollars more, what I would have liked to have been given is a cloth bag to store all three components in, perhaps marked with a Cthulhu symbol? Does this mean that there is room for a deluxe version of the game?

If you put aside the fact that it is possible to gain Sanity from Cthulhu, then Cthulhu Dice succinctly models the Sanity loss that we know and love all so well from Call of Cthulhu. Of course, in being so absolutely succinct it loses all of those fruity, soggy, squidgy, and squishy bits you get in between the Sanity loss in Call of Cthulhu, but in so cutting to the chase Cthulhu Dice becomes an excellent filler game. There is nothing wrong in that, because Cthulhu Dice is silly, insane fun, and who would not appreciate five minutes of that?

6
Go to the Ticket to Ride: Switzerland page
103 out of 110 gamers thought this was helpful

Originally released in 2007, Ticket to Ride: Switzerland was the first expansion for Ticket to Ride that was not a full game all by itself. Previously available only as part of the Ticket to Ride: The Computer Game, it provided a whole new board or country to play across. Most importantly, it required a full set of Train Cards, scoring markers, and Train pieces from Ticket to Ride or Ticket to Ride: Europe is needed to play. The cards from Ticket to Ride: 1910 can also be used, but the Train pieces will have come from somewhere else. Because its distribution of Train Cards is different, Ticket to Ride: Märklin is not considered compatible with Ticket to Ride: Switzerland. So what do you get with this board? Simply, the board, the rules, and a new set of Destination Tickets.

What really set Ticket to Ride: Switzerland apart – and still does – is that it is designed for either two or three players only. Which was long before Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries. Of course, in addition, Ticket to Ride: Switzerland adds a new type of Destination Ticket and a new way to play the Locomotive (or wild) Train Cards, all tied into the numerous tunnel routes which were first seen in Ticket to Ride: Europe.

Yet the first thing you notice about this expansion is the board. It a gorgeous piece of work, depicting Switzerland and its cities and routes, surrounded by the nations of Deutschland, Österreich, Italia, and France. These are not mere window dressing, but destinations in themselves that the players can connect to by claiming routes across their respective borders. The new cards are as equally nice, although everything does feel a little too like a chocolate box.

The simplest new rule for Ticket to Ride: Switzerland is a reduction in the number of Train pieces each player starts the game with – forty instead of the usual forty-five. A player also receives more Destination Tickets – five as opposed to three. Of these he must keep two. Any rejected Destination Tickets, including those rejected after drawing more during play are discarded from the game completely, thus making it possible to run out of Destination Tickets during a game.

Of the forty-six Destination Tickets, thirty-four connect two cities. The remaining twelve connect a city to another country or one country to another. The points scored for either of these new types of Destination Tickets varies and depends upon the country connected to. For example, completing the Zürich-to-country Destination Ticket scores a player just three points if he claims a route connecting to Deutschland, seven points to either France or Österreich, but eleven points if claims a route between Zürich and Italia. If a player does not connect either destination then he loses only the lowest point value for that Destination card, so in the previous example, only three points. Harder and longer routes of course, score more points, but these new city-to-country and country-to-country Destination Tickets make it easier for a player to score points, especially later in the game when a player draws extra Destination Tickets.

The way in which the Locomotive Train (or wild) cards are used in Ticket to Ride: Switzerland is radically different to that of the standard game. In ordinary Ticket to Ride, only one face-up Locomotive card can be drawn per turn and it is the only card that can be drawn on a turn. Here they are drawn as standard cards, so two Locomotive Cards can be picked up on a turn. Once in a player’s hand, Locomotive Cards can only be played to claim tunnel routes, either using all Locomotive Cards or combining with Train Cards matching the tunnel’s colour.

The last rule previously appeared in Ticket to Ride: Europe and concerns the tunnel routes, which are clearly marked with dots along their sides. To claim a tunnel route a player first pays the correct number of Train Cards, either in the matching colour, in Locomotive Cards, or a mix of both. He then draws the top three cards from the draw pile. For each of these three that match the colour of the cards used to claim the route, the player must an extra Train card of that colour. If the player has no extra cards of this colour, he receives his original cards back and his turn ends. He or another player can claim this tunnel route on subsequent turns, but either is still subject to what is the chance of having to pay a tunnel tax.

The first challenge with playing this expansion is answering the question, “Where the heck is…?” After all, Swiss geography is not going to be familiar to everyone and learning the routes is a whole new challenge by itself. Looking at the board it is clear that this geography is dominated by tunnels (well, this is Switzerland), mostly in the South and East. About a quarter of the tunnels are grey, meaning that any colour can be used to claim them, and the majority of grey routes are tunnels.

The second challenge is one that only happens in Ticket to Ride with five or six players – competing for routes. In a game with two or three players, there is usually very little competition and the game can feel as if everyone is playing alone. Not so with Ticket to Ride: Switzerland, where there are not only fewer routes, but everyone has fewer Trains to place. Within the borders of Switzerland each city is usually connected by at least three routes, but most routes are quite short so it is easy to block access or at least force a player to find another route. This is slightly offset by the city-to-country and country-to-country Destination Tickets which provide multiple choices in terms of routes and scoring.

Initially, a game of Ticket to Ride: Switzerland lasts about an hour, but with practice our games now last less than this. What we did find is that routes were harder to claim and that there was more competition for them, and because Locomotive Cards are no longer available for use as wild cards (except in tunnels), we accumulated fistfuls of Train Cards as we waited to get the ones we needed. In fact, we wanted a means of displaying Train Cards as easily they are in the computer game, ideally some sort of display tray. The other issue we have is one of packaging. The new slimmer box is a great idea, but there is actually very little room in the bottom of the box for the new Destination Tickets. The need for components from another game in the series also adds to the set up time, but this is a minor inconvenience.

There are two problems with Ticket to Ride: Switzerland. The first is minor, and a matter of geography. Any player receiving Destination Tickets following the board’s North-South axis and thus crossing the Alps via the many tunnels will find this game much more challenging. Of course, a player is free to discard these Destination Tickets and pick up new ones. The second is more of problem. It is possible for a player to complete the routes on his Destination Tickets and then when he takes new ones to find that the routes on these have already been completed or partially completed by the player. Essentially, this is free points for the player with no effort upon his part, and often, this can be done turn after turn by a player and this can be a game winning tactic with Ticket to Ride: Switzerland. For some players this might not be within the spirit of the Ticket to Ride family, and to be fair, this is not an unreasonable point of view.

Given how tight the routes are on Ticket to Ride: Switzerland, my partner and I found it to be play a good, competitive two-player game. This is where this expansion primarily succeeds – making the smaller and shorter game more competitive and more of a challenge. The other area where it succeeds is in format, offering a new play area without making the purchaser buy a whole new version of Ticket to Ride. In fact, my partner commented on this at the time and suggested that it would be even better if future expansions in this format could have a double sided board and offer two countries to compete over. After all, other train games have done it. There are of course, problems with such a format, in particular the need for two sets of Destination Tickets, but it is an idea…

Packaged in a flat album-sized box, Ticket to Ride: Switzerland set the format for a pair of releases for Ticket to Ride in late 2011 – Map Collection, Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia and Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India. Indeed, the latter includes the Ticket to Ride: Switzerland board, itself long out of print, much in demand, and its second hand price often reflecting that. Fortunately, both volumes of the Map Collection come in deeper boxes and thus avoid the packaging error of Ticket to Ride: Switzerland. That said, whilst the re-release of Ticket to Ride: Switzerland is far from unwelcome, it is annoying that in order to get the India board, it necessary to buy it again.

The tightness of the routes and the new country-to-country and city-to-country Destination Cards make Ticket to Ride: Switzerland a challenging and interesting board. It offers all of the competition previously only found in a four or five player game of Ticket to Ride, but just for two or three players. The board itself is stunning and the routes it gives the players to take make for what is arguably the most efficient Ticket to Ride expansion to date.

5
Go to the Zombie Dice page

Zombie Dice

38 out of 43 gamers thought this was helpful

Just when we had one dice game from Steve Jackson Games, another follows closely on its heels. Thus following on from Cthulhu Dice, we have Zombie Dice. This though, is not a “take that” game, but a “push your luck” game. Its rules are just as simple and easy to learn, it plays almost as fast, but it comes better packaged with its own means of storage. Designed for two or more players, aged ten and up, in Zombie Dice you are a zombie out for braiiinnsss…

The game comes in a short thick tube that also doubles as the rolling cup. Inside can be found the rules leaflet which takes a minute to read and just as long to teach – we had a quick game whilst Dave set up Battlestar Galactica for a two hour marathon. Also inside the tube are thirteen six-sided dice. These come in three colours and are marked with three symbols: “Brain,” “Shotgun (Blast),” and “Footprints.” Each die represents a human victim. Some dice represent harder victims and have more “Shotgun (Blast)” than “Brain” symbols on them – these are the red dice. The green dice have more “Brain” than “Shotgun (Blast)” symbols on and indicate easier victims. The yellow dice are more balanced, but all dice have two “Footprint” symbols.

When rolled the “Brain” symbol indicates the successful munching of a victim’s noggin. The “Shotgun (Blast)” indicates that he fought back and the “Footprints” that he got away from a zombie’s clutches.

On his turn a zombie rolls all thirteen dice in the cup and draws the first of three dice. He rolls these and puts aside any that roll “Brain” or “Shotgun (Blast)” symbols. If any “Footprints” symbols are rolled, the zombie he can top these dice back up to a total of three and re-roll them. He can keep doing this until he accumulates three “Shotgun (Blast)” symbols, in which case he is driven off and his turn is over. Accumulating three “Shotgun (Blast)” symbols also means that the zombie loses all of the “Brain” symbols rolled on his turn and he scores nothing! If after any dice have been rolled and counted and the zombie has less than three “Shotgun (Blast)” symbols before him, he can choose to end his turn and add any “Brain” symbols rolled to his total. Play passes to the next zombie with all of the dice returned to the cup.

Once a zombie has accumulated a score of thirteen brains, he wins.

Zombie Dice is not entirely luck based as a zombie can decide when to stop rolling, based on either his number of “Shotgun (Blast)” symbols or the dice colours already rolled. It does lack mechanical interaction, but the personal interaction comes from watching or egging your fellow zombies in to pushing their luck and rolling more dice. From its rules Zombie Dice is obviously simple enough, but that it is more fun the rules suggest is a surprise. Zombie Dice is a fun filler.

7
Go to the Carcassonne: Abbey and Mayor page
30 out of 34 gamers thought this was helpful

Carcassonne: Abbey & Mayor is the fifth expansion for Carcassonne, the Spiel des Jahres award winning game based on the Roman and Medieval architecture of the town of the same name in South Western France. Players take turns to place tiles to recreate this architecture, building cities, cloisters, farms, and roads, and claiming with their followers or “meeples” (as they have become known) to score points. The previous expansions have added meeples for a sixth player, numerous new means of scoring, several attempts to diffuse the core game’s one weakness (that by careful placing of Farmer meeples, a player will invariably win the game), and given the players lots of new tiles to place. Carcassonne is an area control game in which the areas are built in a jigsaw puzzle fashion that many find appealing.

Carcassonne: Abbey & Mayor continues the game’s medieval theme. Now wealthy merchants ship goods along the roads between the cities and the cloisters, whilst cities can grow large enough to elect their own Mayors. Farmers build larger and wealthier farms, whilst the church strengthens its position and prestige by building Abbeys. If this expansion has its own theme, it is that of growing wealth and prosperity reflected in the increased influence a player can bring to bear with its new rules.

As with previous expansions, the components of Abbey & Mayor are of an excellent quality. The wooden Barn, Mayor, and Wagon figures, one for each player, come in standard six colors and are easily to identify. The 12 new ordinary tiles give slight variations upon tiles in previous expansions and will be welcome additions. The rules sheet is easy to read and illustrated with plenty of examples. At game’s start, the ordinary tiles go into the stacks to be drawn and played, whilst the players each receive one Abbey tile, and one Barn, Mayor, and Wagon figure.

The first of the expansion’s new additions is the Abbey, a new tile depicting this building enclosed entirely by a red tiled wall. It can only be placed into an empty space surrounded by the four tiles on its orthogonal sides, but does not have to match these surrounding tiles. If such a space does not exist, it cannot be placed. The placing player can also place a meeple on the Abbey and when it is completed, it scores as a Cloister. The primary effect of placing an Abbey is to complete and score the features it touches on those four sides, the result being that it can complete several difficult to finish features at once. This can also be used as a blocking move to prevent features from growing too large and another player from scoring them. The secondary effect is aesthetic, simply filling in an ugly hole in the map.

The Mayor is the first of three new playing pieces, this one looking a larger, fat pantalooned meeple. He can only be placed in a city with no other meeples, but works with the pennants on city tiles, counting for as many followers in the city as there are pennants when the city is completed and scored. This makes him very effective in larger cities which will have more pennants and thus increase his influence over who has more followers for scoring purposes.

The second new piece is the Barn, which is only played onto a new junction created by four field tiles. It immediately forces the farm to be scored as if it were the end of the game, the farmer meeples being returned to their respective players. Further, the Barn prevents any more Farmers from being placed on its field and it forces other Farms to be scored if they are connected to the field it is in. At game’s end, the Barn is scored just like a normal farm, although the points awarded for each city is connected to, are not as much. Where previous expansions have diffused the scoring potential for the Farmer, the Barn goes some way to restore this imbalance, not only by returning Farmers in play to their respective players, but also by the fact that the Barn scores a farm twice! This could be too powerful, but considering the difficulty of building these large farms, it is not as powerful as it might have been.

The last new piece is the Wagon, which is placed as normal on an incomplete city, cloister, or road, but unlike other pieces, it can move. When the feature the Wagon is on is completed and scored, the Wagon can either be returned to a player’s hand, or it can be moved to a connected, but incomplete feature. The Wagon thus allows a player to keep a piece on the board and continue scoring from it.

The four additions in Carcassonne: Abbey & Mayor are situational — they only come into play when certain situations arise on a player’s turn. The Abbey fills in a hole, the Mayor is placed in an empty city, the Barn on a field junction, and the Wagon on an incomplete feature. When they do come into play, each in its own way is quite powerful, the Barn more so, which restores much of the balance if and when it can come into play. In addition, these additions are not as fiddly as those of the previous expansions — The Princess & The Dragon and The Tower, nor do they run counter to the core game’s medieval theme. Overall, Carcassonne: Abbey & Mayor gives the players powerful new options that will happily sit alongside the core game and its first two expansions, making it the expansion to have after Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders.

6
Go to the Carcassonne: The Princess and the Dragon page
39 out of 44 gamers thought this was helpful

Carcassonne — The Princess & The Dragon is the third boxed expansion for the game, after Inns & Cathedrals and Builders & Traders. As the title suggests, it adds an element of fantasy to the game, with the city beset by a dragon, volcanoes, magical portals, an amorous princess, and a protective fairy. Besides the cute wooden dragon and fairy pieces, the expansion includes thirty new tiles, which are mostly mixed in as usual.

The first new tile is the Volcano, which does not have a follower placed on it, but the Dragon. When a Volcano is first drawn, the Dragon tiles are then added to the tile mix. The Dragon is moved to the next Volcano tile when it is placed. The Dragon tiles are each marked with a Dragon icon, and when one is placed, the Dragon immediately launches itself into the air and goes hunting. From its current location the players take it in turn to move the Dragon one tile each until the beast has moved a total of six. If the Dragon flies over a tile with a follower, it feeds on him and the follower is returned to his player. The only tile that the Dragon will not visit is one protected by the Fairy.

The Princess tiles each add to a city and when placed, target a Knight present in the city. He is removed to attend to the Princess’ whims and returned to his player. The Magical Portal tile lets a player place a follower on it or any previously placed tile. It must otherwise adhere to normal tile placement rules, but does allow a player to return a follower to a location it was previously removed from!

The Fairy piece only comes into play when a player does not put a follower down on a new tile. Instead, he can move and place the Fairy on any tile where he already has a follower, thus protecting the follower from the predations of the Dragon. In addition, the player scores a point if the Fairy is still there on the next and subsequent turns. Bonus points are scored if the Fairy is present when the feature that the follower is on, is completed and scored.

Of course, you can easily ignore all of these new rules and just add the thirty tiles into the mix. In that case, enjoy, as new tiles are always a good thing in Carcassonne. But two of the tiles are different enough to affect the ordinary play of the game. One adds a tunnel, letting a road run under a city, whilst the second locates a cloister within the walls of a city. With this, the player chooses to place his follower on either the city or the cloister.

Previous expansions have concentrated upon giving new methods of scoring within the game’s historical context. Carcassonne — The Princess & The Dragon instead focuses upon removing followers (and thus opportunities to score) from the game, the Princess specifically from cities, and the Dragon from anywhere it can reach. The point is, where followers were perfectly safe in Carcassonne, with this expansion, they are no longer.

Unfortunately the overall effect is very pendulum-like in a two-player game, and the addition of more players is necessary break up the action/reaction nature of these new rules. This is their only real downside, apart from the fantasy elements that might not appeal to the purists. Otherwise Carcassonne — The Princess & The Dragon is a solid expansion for what is still the perfect introduction to Eurogames.

7
Go to the Forbidden Island page

Forbidden Island

77 out of 84 gamers thought this was helpful

One of the most hotly anticipated games in 2010 was Forbidden Island from Game Wright – anticipated because it had been designed by Matt Leacock, the highly regarded designer of the equally highly regarded co-operative board game, Pandemic. For fans of that board game’s desperate attempt to stave off the spread of four deadly diseases, the news was and still is good. Forbidden Island is another co-operative board game, another desperate race against time rather than your fellow players, and another tense, taut playing experience. The enemy are not four deadly diseases, but the rising tides that ebb and flow, threatening to sink the island before a band of plucky explorers can land, rescue its hidden treasures, and get back to safety…

This is a game designed for two to four players, aged ten and up that can be completed in under thirty minutes. It is easy to learn – for our first game we got everything out and were playing in five minutes – and fans of the designer’s classic Pandemic will recognise certain similarities.

The first thing that strikes you about Forbidden Island is that it comes in a tin. Inside the deep tin can be found fifty-eight cards, twenty-four Island Tiles, six wooden pawns, four Treasure pieces, a Water Meter, a Water Level Marker, and an eight page Rules Booklet. The cards are divided between a twenty-eight Treasure Card deck, a twenty-four Flood Card deck, and six Adventurer cards. The red-backed Treasure Cards are divided between depictions of the game’s four Treasures, Waters Rise! cards, and various special cards. Each of the cards in the Flood Deck corresponds to one of the twenty-four Island Tiles. These Island Tiles depict locations such as Breakers Bridge, the Cliffs of Abandon, the Coral Palace, and Fools’ Landing, where the helipad is located. Each Island Tile is double-sided, showing a location in full, fantastic colour on one side, and a pale version with a blue wash on the reverse. When this pale version is face up, it indicates that the location is flooded and is in danger of sinking.

The six Adventurer cards each double as a quick reference card and each has a special ability. For example, as the Messenger a player can give a Treasure Card to another player anywhere on the island, while the Engineer can shore up two adjacent flooded Island Tiles instead of one as an action.

The Water Meter shows Forbidden Island’s rising waters in terms of the number of Island Tiles that are flipped over at the end of each player’s turn, from two rising up to five. A marker is clipped onto the Water Meter, and this marker will rise up the Meter and through the numbers until it hits the skull and crossbones at the top. When this happens, the game is over. The marker only rises when a Waters Rise! is drawn at the end of a player’s turn. There are just three of these cards in the Treasure Deck, but as the game proceeds, the players will exhaust and reshuffle the Treasure Deck several times.

Lastly, there are the four Treasures. Each of these – the Earth Stone, the Statue of the Wind, the Crystal of Fire, and the Ocean’s Chalice – is done in very tactile and appropriate plastic. For example, the Crystal of Fire is done in translucent flame red plastic.

To set up a game of Forbidden Island, the Island Tiles are laid out face up in a roughly crossed shape pattern, one each of the Treasures is placed at a corner of the island, and each player receives two Treasure Cards and an Explorer Card. Their corresponding pawns are placed on the marked Island Tiles. The top six cards from the Flood Deck are drawn and turned over to form the Flood Discard Pile, with each of the Island Tiles that correspond to the cards drawn being turned over to show their flooded side. Lastly, the marker is set on the Water Meter at a starting point that ranges from Novice up to Legendary. The higher the starting point on the Water Meter the closer the marker is to the skull and crossbones and the game ending in failure.

On his turn a player can take just three actions. He can move orthogonally – up, down, left, or right, but not diagonally (unless he is the Explorer) – to an adjacent Island Tile; he can shore an orthogonally adjacent flooded Island Tile or the flooded Island Tile that he is on – this flips the tile over so that it shows its non flooded side; he can give a Treasure Card to a player if they are on the same Island Tile; or he can capture one of the four Treasures by discarding four matching Treasure Cards on one of the two Island Tiles where that Treasure can be found. Doing any of these takes one action.

At the end of his turn a player draws two more Treasure Cards, with the maximum he is allowed to have in his hand being five. He also draws a number of Flood Cards as indicated on the Water Meter. For each Flood Card drawn, the corresponding Island Tile is flipped over. If the Island Tile has already been flipped and shows its Flooded side face up, it sinks into the abyss and creates a watery chasm that cannot be crossed – unless you are playing the Diver. Both this Island Tile and its Flood Card are removed from play. Any player caught on an Island Tile lost this way immediately swims to an adjacent Island Tile.

If a Waters Rise! card is drawn from the Treasure Deck, the marker is raised by one notch on the Water Meter. Over time this will increase the number of Flood Cards drawn at the end of each turn. The Flood Discard Pile is shuffled, put back on top of the Flood Pile, and Flood Cards are drawn as normal.

So how do you win a game of Forbidden Island? Simply by collecting all four of the Treasures, getting every player to the Fools’ Landing Island Tile, and then using a Helicopter Life card – one of the few special cards from the Treasure Deck – to get everyone off the island. The point is, everyone wins.

So, one way to win then, how do you lose? By lots of ways. If both of the Island Tiles where a Treasure can found are lost to the abyss or if the Fools’ Landing Island Tile sinks, preventing everyone from getting off Forbidden Island. If an Island Tile sinks and a player cannot swim to an adjacent Island Tile or if the marker on the Water Meter reaches the skull and crossbones. The point is, everyone loses.

The time between a game starts and when it ends – either with a win or a loss, a player will be very busy. Primarily, he will be rushing around Forbidden Island to shore up Island Tile after Island Tile, the danger being that if too many Island Tiles are lost to the watery abyss it restricts everyone’s movement and reduces the number of Island Tiles where the Treasures can be found. Secondly, he will be collecting Treasure Cards enough to collect one or more of the Treasures. In between all of this, his fellow players will be advising and suggesting on his best course of action, usually based upon the special ability granted to the player by his Adventurer Card or where a player needs to get to in order give a Treasure Card to another player or to receive a Treasure Card from player in his turn.

I found a demo copy of Forbidden Island at UK Games Expo ’10 – where it would win an award for Best Family Game – grabbed it and quickly rounded up three other players, cracked open the game, and was playing in five minutes. We lost. On Novice level. On the second try, we won. I resolved to purchase a copy the following day when it was launched. In discussing the game, we agreed that the game felt very much like Pandemic, the comparisons being impossible not to draw. It has the same strong co-operative play element; it has the same deck refreshing element that sees the same cards appearing again and again – but on Forbidden Island they are Flood Cards rather than Infection Cards as in Pandemic; and it has same tense atmosphere in play as the players try to stave off the rising waters. It also feels like a scaled down Pandemic, with a player having three actions per turn rather than four and having to collect four Treasure Cards per Treasure rather than five City Cards per disease as in Pandemic.

Yet despite the tense nature of the game play, Forbidden Island is not as doom laden. Its theme is more upbeat, more adventurous, and without the fate of the world being at stake. With its excellent artwork and the fantastic nature of the names given to the Island Tiles, Forbidden Island is more like playing a desperate adventure movie.

If there is an issue with Forbidden Island, it is in that having played Pandemic, the comparisons leave you slightly dissatisfied. This is due to this new game not having quite the same depth of play that Pandemic offers, making Forbidden Island not quite as appealing to the dedicated games player. For all its scaling down and simpler rules, Forbidden Island is not necessarily easy to win, and the dedicated games player should consider adjusting the starting difficulty upwards to Elite or Legendary. To be fair though, Forbidden Island is not Pandemic and is not meant to be a replacement or a variant, instead being a family game that can enjoyed by younger players and serious gamers alike. In fact, it actually serves as a fantastic introduction to the concept of the co-operative play. That it plays in a similar fashion just shows us how good the underlying mechanics are in Forbidden Island’s older and more polished, more intricate forebear.

Which all means that Forbidden Island is not just another fine entry to the growing family of co-operative board games, but an excellent introduction to that family. As an introduction to co-operative game play and as a family game, Forbidden Island is clever, sophisticated, and a great new gateway game into the hobby.

6
Go to the Tsuro page

Tsuro

62 out of 69 gamers thought this was helpful

Back in 2005, Tsuro: The Game of the Path was an odd release. It was the first board game to come from WizKids, a company better known for its CMGs or Collectible Miniatures Games such as MechWarrior: Dark Age and Heroclix, and their CSGs or Constructable Strategy Games like Pirates of the Caribbean and Rocketmen: Axis of Evil. Tsuro: The Game of the Pathwas a step away from all that, a complete and self-contained game that matched the European model in terms of quality, and matched its simplicity of concept with a simplicity of play. For a while it has been out of print, but now it has a new publisher.

The concept is that the Dragon and the Phoenix share the guardianship of the paths of life, maintaining a careful equilibrium between the two forces of luck and destiny. Only by finding a balance between the two, can you find the path to enlightenment. In Tsuro, this is reflected in the players having to find their way across the board, but curiously not to the other side. Indeed, a player does not want to find a path to the other or edge of the board, but rather he wants his opponents to do so. This will lose them the game, and if he can force this to happen by putting a path in front of them in front of an opponent — which he must take — then so much the better.

What strikes you first about Tsuro are the quality of its components, and the obvious thought that has gone into both its look and feel, all done in rich earthy shades of brown and following an Oriental theme. The rules are beautifully presented on a fold out card sheet, a cover sheet sits below that on top of the fully mounted board, and below that are the nicely shaped playing markers, and the glossy, hardy tiles. The only downside to the components are the plainly presented rules given in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, and the playing markers. These eight, each in a different colour and with a dragon motif stamped into them, are of cheap plastic. They just do not feel as if they match the quality of the rest of the game.

The board consists of a six-by-six grid of 2½-inch squares, the same size as the tiles. Each of the edge squares is marked with a pair of starting marks on the very edge. These starting marks align with the lines or paths that run across the tiles. Each tile is marked with four of these lines running to the sides of a tile to create a total of eight entry and exit points. Although the paths cross, they never connect across a tile, only from one tile to the next. The effect, as the tiles are laid out on the board, is to create a series of separate paths, on which the players will never meet unless their paths are connected. It is important to note that each of the 35 tiles is different, but that they can all be laid out on the board to create a variety of paths and patterns. The 36th tile is an exception. The Dragon tile is used to indicate who draws the first after the draw pile is reshuffled.

Designed for two to eight players, a game begins with each player placing his marker on a starting mark and receiving a hand of three tiles. On his turn, a player selects one of these three and puts the tile down on a square next to his marker so that it increases the length of the path his marker is on. He then moves his marker along the new section of path to its open end. If another player has his marker on a path that is connected to and extended by the addition of this newly placed tile, then the marker is also moved along the path to its open end. In doing so, should a player’s marker be connected to a path that leads all the way off the board, then he must still follow it to the end. When his marker leaves the board, a player also leaves the game. The aim of the game then, is to force your opponents’ markers off the board, whilst you try to stay on.

And that really is it. To win you must be the last player with a marker on the board. It is possible to have two winners, but only if everyone else has been eliminated and all of the tiles have been placed. There are enough tiles to fill the board bar a single square. Players can also be eliminated simultaneously, when their respective paths are connected, forcing their markers to follow each other’s path back to the starting point and off the board. Of course, a player does not have to play a tile that will force him from the board unless no other move is possible, but when players’ paths grow closer, it is highly probable. It is possible for there to be no winner, having played games in which every player is eliminated on a single turn leaving the board empty. This is more common with only a few players.

Tsuro is both easy to learn and understand. Although two can play, it is definitely a better game the more players are involved as there are more opportunities for rival paths to connect. A greater number of players also increases the playing time, but to no more than half an hour. Nor is it an easy game to win despite the simplicity. Rather it is an easier game to lose than it is to win, and to be fair, Tsuro is very, very light in terms of strategy. Which probably makes it too light for more than an occasional play by the serious gamer, being more of a side dish than a main course, making it better suited to a family audience. Even so, Tsuro: The Game of the Path is an enjoyable attractive game that has been ably executed from concept to completion.

8
Go to the Alhambra page

Alhambra

94 out of 101 gamers thought this was helpful

Alhambra is the 2003 winner of the “Spiel des Jahres,” Germany’s top gaming award. Based on the designer’s previous Stimmt So, it is a tile-laying game with resource management aspects. Its theme is simple. In Granada, 1278, each player brings together a team of European and Arabic artisans to build the finest, and largest version of the Alhambra, Spain’s most beautiful palace. Of course, they want to be paid in their native currencies.

Designed for two to six players aged eight and up, Alhambra’s components are all high quality. The Starter Tiles are marked with the famous Lion Fountain, while the Building Tiles are marked with various gardens, manors, mezzanines, pavilions, royal chambers, and towers, plus a number indicating their cost. The Money Deck is divided between four color-coded currencies: blue colored Denars, green Dirhams, orange Ducats, and yellow Florins. The Tile Reserve boards show the Scoring Cards’ information and give space to hold tiles in reserve.

The Building Market board is the game’s heart and is marked with four tile spaces, each adjacent to a symbol for one of the four currencies. After a slightly complex set-up, a player can do one of three things on a turn. He can take Money cards to spend later. He can buy a Building Tile, paying in the correct currency, indicated by the symbol on the Building Market. A purchased tile can be added to the player’s Alhambra, or placed on the Reserve Board. If the “exact” amount is paid for the tile, another turn is gained! A player’s third action is redesigning his Alhambra using his tiles in reserve.

Tiles are placed to according to simple, but strict rules. They must align correctly, and adjoining sides must match, some tile sides having walls. An Alhambra’s design can be as sprawling or as compact as a player wants. Generally, the cheaper the tile, the more difficult it is to place. Scoring takes place when the Scoring cards are drawn and at a game’s end. Points are awarded for having the most of each building type, plus the longest wall. The player with the most points is the winner and has the finest Alhambra.

Alhambra offers simple tactics, but difficult decisions. Does a player buy and lay the tiles needed to score, paying over their value, or take Money Cards to have the exact amount needed to gain extra actions? But buying now may deny a player a decent card that may go to his rival! Dominated by strong random elements of tile and drawing, Alhambra lacks any real interactive element, participants almost playing self-contained puzzle games and coming together only at the Building Market.

Despite a lack an interactive element, Alhambra is still pleasing to play, in turns frustrating and gratifying as fortunes can change within a turn or two. The nicely spaced scoring rounds also allow players to catch up with their rivals. Beautifully and cleverly designed, Alhambra is a light and enjoyable game that is easy to learn and a pleasure to play.

6
Go to the Apples to Apples page

Apples to Apples

43 out of 51 gamers thought this was helpful

Recently I got the chance to get Apples to Apples out onto the table. I have had a copy for a while after picking it up for a games party that got cancelled; and there is the nub of the issue. Like most of the people that I play boardgames with, I like to have some complexity to a game and I like to have some theme to a game. So it rare that we decide to bring out a party game and I have so few in number that I can count the party games in my collection. For your information, I own copies of Cineplexity, Gambit-7 (the Anglicised version of Wits & Wagers), Who Would Win?, and now, Apples to Apples. Originally published by Out of the Box in 1999, but now published by Mattel –and hey, who would have thought I would be buying a Mattel game at my age? – this game of “hilarious comparisons” has sold millions of copies, been translated into numerous languages and different versions, and proven to be very popular.

Designed for four to ten players, aged twelve and up, Apples to Apples comes in a neat square box that contains a single, double-sided rules sheet, and some eight hundred and forty-six cards. The cards are divided into two coloured types. The first are the six hundred and forty-eight Red Apple Cards and the second, two hundred and sixteen Green Apple Cards. The Red Apple Cards are “noun” cards that represent events, organisations, personal aspects, people, places, times, and things. For example, the “Rock Concert,” “Greenpeace,” “My Street,” “King Arthur,” “Blackpool,” “The 1970s,” and “Leeks.” The Green Apple Cards represent characteristics or descriptive attributes that can be applied to the “noun” or Red Apple Cards, such as “Annoying,” “English,” or “Philosophical.” Each version of Apples to Apples is usually tailored along a theme or a particular culture and language. As can be seen from the list of cards so far, my version of the game is the British Apples to Apples.

Apart from an appropriately coloured apple, there are no illustrations on the cards, but is there some supplementary information. Sometimes this can be silly, such “How many Essex Girls does it take to get an Essex Girl joke…?” on the Essex Girls Red Apple Card, but sometimes this is educational. For example, “From the French caboche, meaning “big head.”” on the Cabbage Red Apple Card. On the Green Apple Card the supplementary information that expands upon the descriptive attribute with three synonyms, such as “frantic, headlong, and reckless” for the “Desperate” Green Apple Card.

The aim of the game is to win a certain number of Green Apple Cards, the number depending upon the number of players – more players lowers the required number. A Green Apple Card is won by getting the current Judge to select the Red Apple Card that you played as being the best match or comparison with the current Green Apple Card.

The game starts with every player receiving a hand of seven Red Apple Cards and one person being chosen to be the Judge. The Judge draws one Green Apple Card and reads it aloud before placing face up on the table where everyone can see it. The other players each choose a Red Apple Card from their hands which they think will best match the descriptive attribute of the Green Apple Card on the table. These cards are placed face down on the table and once everyone has played a card, the Judge picks them up and examines them. He then reads aloud the Red Apple Cards played and decides which one of them is best described by the Green Apple Card he drew. The player of the chosen Red Apple Card wins that round and is awarded the Green Apple Card towards his score. All of the Red Apple Cards are discarded and the next player takes the role of Judge, dealing new Red Apple Cards to bring everyone’s hand back up to seven and then drawing a new Green Apple Card.

So for example, Anthony is the Judge and draws the “Innocent” Green Apple Card. From their hands, Dave, Jeremy, Matt, and Michele play the “Climate Change,” “Elephants,” “Michael Jackson,” and “The Ocean” Red Apple Cards. Anthony chooses “Elephants” as the Red Apple Card that compares best with the “Innocent” Green Apple Card and Michele, who played that card receives the “Innocent” Green Apple Card to add to her score.The Judge is free to select the Red Apple Card of his choice, and can justify it however he wants. Nor does his choice have to be logical or agree with any of the opinion of the other players though they are free to persuade him as to which Red Apple Card to choose. Anthony chose “Elephants” because he believes them to be innocent, but he could have selected “Michael Jackson” because in his opinion, the popstar’s fans believe him to be innocent.

One accepted tactic is called “Playing to the Judge” in which a player puts down the Red Apple Card from hand that he thinks the Judge all but regardless of how relevant the Red Apple Card is. So in the above example, Michele could have played the “Michael Jackson” Red Apple Card because she knows that Anthony is a fan of his music.

Besides the basic play of the game, Apples to Apples includes several other options such as Judging Red Apple Cards that are the opposite to, or least like the Green Apple Card played; having to play a Red Apple Card before the Green Apple Card is played; and even having to play a Red Apple Card that is most like two Green Apple Cards, these being drawn at the beginning of the round as normal. That said, given the number of cards in the box as a whole, getting through those using the standard rules before wanting to move on these variants.

Ultimately, the fun of playing a party game like Apples to Apples comes from the players themselves and their reactions to the card combinations. This also means that because the players have to bring much of themselves to the game, they have to be in the right mood to play Apples to Apples. Whilst it is too light to be a gamer’s game, it can nevertheless be fun and provide a diversion from weightier titles, and even though it is over ten years old, it is a good party game.

What it means for me is that I have another party game in my arsenal for when I need something light and undemanding that non-gamers can and are prepared to play. Of the party games that I own, I prefer Gambit-7 and Who Would Win? over Apples to Apples as there is often more of a challenge to playing either. So Apples to Apples is fun. It might not be the best party game available, but it is a venerable design and if you had to have one party game in collection that everyone could play, Apples to Apples would be a good choice.

7
Go to the The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac page
40 out of 45 gamers thought this was helpful

The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac is a push your luck, race against the clock, memory based and luck based board game from AEG heavily inspired by the exploits of Indiana Jones. Twelve adventurers have journeyed deep into the South American jungle and now stand at the entrance to the Temple of Chac, the Mayan god of Rain and Thunder. Once inside they have choices aplenty. Do they stop and look for treasure as the walls close in? Do they stop and look for clues that might get them across the lava pit? Do they stop and attempt to unlock the vaults that continue valuable treasure? As the giant rock rolls faster and faster towards them, do they leap into the river and swim in hope that they can get out before being swept into the abyss below? Or do they rush across the rickety bridge and make that final run for the exit before the giant rock reaches the end and seals everyone in? The player will face all of these choices during a game of The Adventurers. With the right decisions and a little bit of luck, an adventurer will get out alive and with some treasure. The wrong choice and bad luck will cast the adventurers to an eternal entombment, or hopefully a quick death…

The Adventurers is played out on a square board that depicts the Temple of Chac. The route from the entrance is linear, beginning in the Walls Room and winding its way past the Lava Room and the minor vaults to the Underground River and the rickety Wooden Bridge, past the main vault, before reaching the exit. Each player controls a pair of adventurers who will enter the Temple one at a time and move towards the exit, making decisions based upon the adventurer’s skill and the number of action points he has from turn to turn. There are six skills in the game: Leap, Linguistics, Lock Picking, Sprint, Stamina, and Swimming. Each of these skills is a one shot affair and are divided between those that can be used in specific circumstances and those that have a general application. Leap, Sprint, and Stamina can be used anywhere, while Linguistics can only be used determine if a glyph indicates an unsafe tile in the Lava Room; Lock Picking to open one of the treasure vaults; and Swimming to get out of the river more easily. In general, the specific a skill’s application, the more likely that it will affect a player’s tactics. For example, a character with the Lock Picking skill is more likely to try opening a treasure vault, while a character with the Swimming skill will probably try to swim the Underground River.

The Adventurers comes with lots of cards, cardboard tiles aplenty, and numerous bits of plastic. There are Treasure Cards for each of the main locations on the board, including the Walls Room, the Lava Room, the Treasure Vaults, and Underground River. Each of the Treasure Cards has a value ranging from one to six. In general, the more difficult a Treasure is to obtain, the higher its value. Some Treasure Cards depict a casket and a die symbol, meaning that their value must be rolled for at the end of the game. There are also the twelve character cards. These depict each of the adventurers in full colour along with an icon indicating his skill, plus charts for determining his Load Level on the back along with his Action Points.

There are two sets of corresponding tiles, the Lava Room Glyph tiles and Glyph Clue tiles. The former are placed Glyph face down on the Lava Room and covered with the Dark Masking Card, a square of black that hides the tiles until someone enters the Lava Room. Four of the Glyph Clue tiles are randomly drawn and placed alongside the Walls Room where they can be examined by an adventurer and committed to memory ready for when he tries to cross the Lava Room. These four Glyph Clue tiles indicate the unsafe tiles in the Lava Room.

The plastic starts with the twelve adventurer pieces. These are sculpted to match the images and are very nicely detailed. Unfortunately, they are all uniformly grey and can be a little difficult to tell apart when placed on the colourful board. The other pieces of plastic include the two walls that will the Walls Room, the Boulder that will chase the adventurers to the exit, and the rickety bridge for the Wooden Bridge. The Boulder is flat bottomed, so it slides rather than rolls, and the Wooden Bridge has several planks that are likely to be knocked loose into the abyss below as a procession of the overly laden adventurers race over it.

The mechanics from turn to turn are relatively simple. Starting with the Dicekeeper, a role that will pass around the table, the players take it in turn to roll for the number of Action Points they have to spend on their turn. To do this, each player rolls five six-sided dice, and for each die that rolls above a threshold determined by his adventurer’s Load Level, he gains an Action Point. For example, if an adventurer is carrying up to three Treasures, his Load Level is two and he has to roll two and over on each die. Carry between four and six Treasures, and the Load Level is three and he has to roll three and over on each die. An Action Point can be spent to move – walk, sprint, leap, or swim – one square; to examine any square for treasure, in the Walls Room, Lava Room, and Underground River; to examine a Glyph tile in the Walls and Lava Rooms; to make a single attempt to unlock a Treasure Vault; and to use any adventurer’s Skill. Once everyone has had their turn, the Dicekeeper draws cards to determine the movement of the Walls in the Walls Room and rolls dice to see if the Boulder moves. It moves one square for each result of three or more rolled. On the first turn, only one die is rolled, but this increases by one die each turn as the Boulder games speed until all five are being rolled at the end of the Dicekeeper’s turn.

In effect, the movement of the Boulder becomes the game’s timekeeper. As it moves faster and faster towards the exit, the Boulder closes in on the adventurers’ tail and they will find themselves having less and less time to act. At best the adventurers can hope for low rolls by the Dicekeeper when rolling for the Boulder movement, but it will definitely catch up with them. If the Boulder catches up with an adventurer, it will kill, as will falling into the lava of the Lava Room or into the abyss that the Underground River flows into, either by being swept in by the river or having the Wooden Bridge collapse under after attempting to carry too much across. It should be noted that an evil adventurer can jump up and down on the Wooden Bridge to make it more dangerous to cross for later adventurers. This can of course, go wrong for the malicious adventurer as the Wooden Bridge collapses under him…

A dead adventurer loses all of his treasure gained so far. If the player still has an adventurer waiting outside, he can enter the Temple of Chac through entrances created by the Boulder passing the Lava Room. As the adventurer is entering further onto into the Temple, there is less opportunity for him to gather treasure and he will need to find his way past the Boulder in front of him. Probably by swimming the Underground River and searching its bed for treasure. If this second adventurer is lost, then his player is out of the game.

The winner is of course, the player who gets one or more of his adventurers out of the Temple with the most treasure as determined by the value of the Treasure cards. It is entirely possible for nobody to get out of the Temple of Chac, and thus for everyone to lose.

For some, The Adventurers will be too much of a luck based game. True, what a player can do from turn to turn is determined by a roll of the dice, but it is up to the player to decide what he does with the results of the dice roll. One issue is the relative complexity of determining the safe Glyph Tiles in the Lava Room. While perfectly in keeping with the game’s theme, it can detract from an otherwise fast paced game and will probably be too complex for younger players. Also, once a player has lost one adventurer, he will find himself playing catch up with his competitors. That said, a game of The Adventurers can be completed in as little as thirty minutes and the likelihood is that you will get another game in before ninety minutes is up.

One factor limiting an adventurer’s choice is the number of players. More players mean more adventurers competing for the options in the Temple of Chac. It also means that the Boulder will move more often…

There is also the matter of cost. Given its plastic components and large number of cards and tiles, The Adventurers is by no means an inexpensive game. It gets even more expensive if the owner decides to add the painted plastic pieces that the publisher also sells. These are very nice though, the full colour adventurers in particular, which make the playing pieces far easier to distinguish than the grey of the set that comes in the game. Nevertheless, the core set feels a little overpriced given the lightness of the game play.

That game play in The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac is strong in terms of theme means that the players will soon find themselves invested in the exploits of their tomb raiding adventurers. It can be a lot of fun to see them pushing their luck in an effort to get that extra piece of treasure. It is even more fun when they fail and fall under the path of the rolling Boulder or burn to a crisp in the Lava Pit. Victory in getting out of the Temple of Chac is ever so sweet…

7
Go to the Paris Connection page

Paris Connection

33 out of 38 gamers thought this was helpful

One of the odder games to be released at Essen in 2010 was SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français) from Winsome Games. The oddity being that Winsome Games [http://www.fyi.net/~winsome/] is best known for developing, publishing, and licensing detailed, historical train games – board games that focus on the building and development of railway networks and the trading in the shares of railway companies. SNCF was anything other than detailed or historical, but was instead a simple track and share game that could be played in thirty minutes. Nevertheless, it offered up careful tactical play and was quickly licensed to Queen Games and released as Paris Connection.

As both titles suggest, Paris Connection is set in France in which the players take the role of investors in the new railway companies that want to connect Paris with the rest of France. Designed for between three and six players, aged ten and over, the aim of the game is to increase the value of shares in one of six railway companies and to hold shares in these companies. Share values are increased by laying track and building connecting routes from Paris across France to her towns and cities. The first clever aspect of the game is that the wooden train pieces that represent the track or routes in the game also represent the shares in the company, so there will come a point at which it is more profitable to own shares in a company rather than build with them. The second clever aspect about the game is that share ownership is hidden throughout the game and only revealed at the very end, though share transactions are done in public.

The game consists of a board depicting a map of France with her various towns and cities. Most towns are worth a single point when scored, but in general, the further a town or city is away from Paris, the more valuable it is to score. Around two sides of the board is a scoring track that runs from one to thirty, showing not a player’s score, but the share values for each company. Besides the main board, there is a small storage board for each of the game’s six sets of share/track pieces. These come in six colours, are done in wood, and are shaped like steam locomotives. There is a card screen for each player behind which he can hide his shares. The last two components are a black cloth bag used to determine random share ownership at the start of a game and two sets of rules. One set of rules is in French, the other in English. Both are double sided, done in full colour with one side explaining how to set the game and the other the game’s actual rules.

Game set up is simple. Each player receives a screen and a train of each colour is placed on the start of the Scoring Track and on the start hexes in Paris. The remaining train pieces of all six colours are placed in the cloth bag and given a good mix. Each player then draws a number of random train pieces from the bag and hides them behind his screen. The number drawn depends on the number of players. The greater the number of players, the fewer the initial number of shares that they can hold at the start of the game and the fewer maximum shares that a player can hold at the end of the game without their scores being penalised.

On his turn, a player has two options. He can either lay track or take shares. To lay track he takes up to five train pieces from any one storage board and places them board so that they are connected to trains of the same colour. To take shares, a player places one the shares he has behind his screen on the storage board that matches its colour and takes two shares of another colour from another storage board. This is only way in which a player can increase the number of shares that he holds.

Play continues until there are only share/track pieces remaining on the single storage board with the remaining share/track pieces either behind the players’ screens or on the board. The other way to end the game is for a player to build into Marseilles. At this point everyone reveals the shares they hold behind their screens and receives points for each share according to its value on the Scoring Track. The player with the highest value share portfolio – after penalties are levied for holding more than the maximum number of shares – is the winner.

Initially, the idea that you are not building your own railway and that you do not own train pieces of a single colour is counter intuitive. In almost every other game, you are building your own railway and you do own all of the train pieces of a single colour. Once past this stumbling block, Paris Connection presents one base tactical question and then a number of smaller questions to a player. That base question is, at what point does it become more valuable to hold multiple shares in a railway network than to extend that network? In other words, at what point do share/track pieces become more valuable as shares than as track?

The subsequent and smaller questions revolve around how does a player affect the share values in the other rail networks? The game is not complicated enough that it includes rules on how to reduce share value, but it is possible to limit the growth in share value. The most obvious means is place the share/track pieces in such a way that they do not connect to any town or city and so do not score any points. Thus a rail network’s share value is not increased for a player’s turn.

The last question that a player needs to address is, how quickly does he need a rail network need to get to Marseilles? It might be that with several high value shares in his portfolio, he might want to end the game early to capitalise on those values. Conversely, the other players might want to lay track in a high value share to both stop it rising in value and it reaching Marseilles, hopefully giving them time to improve other share values and increase their portfolios.

There are three great aspects to Paris Connection. First, there is its simplicity. The rules are not only simple to learn, they are also simple to teach. In fact, the game is simple enough that after a single read through of the rules; a group could get playing, meaning that it is entirely possible to play Paris Connection out of the box. The second great aspect is that the game has almost no randomness to it, and what there is, consists of determining each player’s share portfolio at game’s start. The third great aspect is that this is a Euro Game not for two to five players as many good Euro Games are, but for three to six, and light games for six players are not necessarily all that common.

The production values on Paris Connection are very high. The board is attractively done and clearly laid out. The screens are nice, though prone to falling over. The wooden train-shaped track/share pieces are equally attractive if a little small and perhaps fiddly to handle. The rules sheet is bright and easy to read. Yet these high production values are source of the game’s single real flaw. Paris Connection is not an inexpensive game. In fact it is an expensive game given both how long a play through lasts and how simple it is. It is engaging and enjoyable to play, but it does not offer value for money.

The purchase of the copy of Paris Connection that we have been playing was an impulse buy. The promised lightness of the rules and the upper limit on the number of players were the draw despite the price. Having played it a few times, we have found it to be light and easy, but still offering some tactical choices. Not only is Paris Connection an excellent filler game, it is also a good starter game, a title that can be played and enjoyed with casual games players… that is, if you are happy to overlook the price.

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