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Dicey Exploits

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8
Go to the Flick 'em Up! page

Flick 'em Up!

52 out of 58 gamers thought this was helpful

A swift opinion:
*Easy to learn and very fun to master.
*Comes with 10 scenarios, each adding nice degrees of variation to games without ever overcomplicating the rules.
*Varnished components ensure a great deal of control when it comes to flicking pieces across the board, making each minor victory satisfying.
*Ideal for tables 3’X3′ or larger! Any smaller and you might have some space issues!

A video opinion: http://bit.ly/1J0JTMs

A wordy opinion: Flick ‘em Up! has you and up to 9 others causing shootouts and mass panic in spaghetti western towns across America as one half take on the role of lawmen trying to prevent the other half playing as outlaws completing some dastardly schemes ranging from poisoning water to committing robberies. There’s no tying people to train tracks, though, so…not off to a perfect start, but bear with it.

There may be no classic train based calamity committed to jaunty piano tracks through black and white filters, but Flick ‘em Up’s components manage to fill the hole the lack of nostalgia leaves. Flick ‘em Up! automatically stands out with its buildings that pop up high, the towns that invade the table and slick wooden components make it an eye catching wonder, and that’s before anyone even starts thwacking each other.

Before the game begins, cowboys divide themselves up into groups, half becoming the good, half becoming the bad and a varied amount becoming the ugly dependent on who’s playing. Once everyone has assigned themselves a lawman or a member of the corrupt Cooper Clan, player’s go about causing raucous nonsense across the town.

It seems disrespectful to dismiss these town slaughters as silly calamity, but I can’t help it. The way you go about resolving these battles is so darn daft it’ll have you all in hysterics. On their turn a cowboy can do two major actions. If they want to move, they replace their cowboy with a movement disc and flick it across the table. If it hits anything, then the movement is considered void and the cowboy returns to where they started. If however, it remains unscathed, the cowboy takes up their new position in the discs space.

Alternatively, they can shoot, attempting to tear some holes through the opposition. Here they place a small grey disc on either side of their cowboy and flick it (preferably) at someone they don’t like the look of. If it misses, nothing happens. If it taps an enemy, it’s only considered to have grazed them and does nothing. However, if it knocks your opponent over, then the shot is considered a hit and the unfortunate recipient of the bullet loses 1 hit point.

That’s pretty much all you need to know. I mean, there is the tiny issue of how to win, but I can’t honestly tell you how to do that, as that’s determined by what scenario you choose to pick. Pick ‘em Up comes with a bulky scenario booklet, with 10 different seems consisting of alternative objectives, towns and rules and component additions.

The rules of Flick ‘em Up! remain simple throughout, but what I really like about the scenario booklet is the fact that each scenario’s tiny rule additions and tiny gameplay additions never overcomplicate the original formula you’re given, and you can approach these scenarios at your own pace.

The same can be said with the objectives of each scenario. They add great degrees of variation without rewriting the entire rulebook. Some scenarios see outlaws running into the buildings surrounding them and attempting to nab all the gold within them whilst lawmen follow them in to have tiny duels within. Others see factions attempting to lead hostages out of enemy territory. It’s like the designers played the Mexican Mission map in TimeSplitters 2 on all the different game modes and just said ‘Yeah, let’s make a board game out of this.’ Coincidentally, if that is your design philosophy, then more power to you my friends.

The feel of the entire game is so on point, and yes, part of that is down to the aesthetics, but honestly, I believe most of it comes down to the discs used for movement and bullets. Each have a rather lovely varnish that makes them slightly slippery to hold, and this gives them a great degree of control. It’s so unbelievably satisfying to see a movement disc stop exactly where you intend it to halt, but it doubly gratifying to watch a foe get flung backwards by the sheer power of an accurate shot. It feels so good to shoot people…um…

As the game doesn’t come with any board, and each of its towns must be constructed according to the scenario you play. As such, your table becomes the playing area. Our 3’X3’ coffee table just about manages to do the job. It’s a bit of a squeeze, but the whole game is easily playable. It does become an issue if you have to engage in duels, mini bullet flinging contests that require their own dedicated space to resolve…and we don’t really have the space to sacrifice. If your table is as petit as ours, you might need to do what we do and grab a smaller table or even simply use the lid of the box for duels.

Simple to learn, remarkably fun and a guaranteed laugh riot for anyone who lays eyes on it, Flick ‘em Up is not only a brilliantly fun game, but a rather handy toolbox. Once you’re finished with the scenarios on offer, if you don’t feel like replaying them, you can simply make your own. Still, there doesn’t seem to be any room for a train expansion of any kind…unless I grab my copy of Colt Express.

8
Go to the Forbidden Island page

Forbidden Island

120 out of 128 gamers thought this was helpful

A swift opinion:
*Simple, cooperative fare that shares mechanics similar to that of Pandemic
*Handy tutorials and swift interface ensure gameplay is rapid and smooth.
*Solid price point for a game with good replay value.

A wordy opinion:Forbidden Island is a co-op game that entices you and three others to visit its shores with the promise of four colourful ancient artifacts. What the brochure doesn’t tell you, is that all it takes is the weight of at least two intrepid explorers to force the entirety of the mainland to slowly sink. Then again, this probably should’ve been apparent when browsing for travel insurance. Nevertheless, the intrepid among you must battle through the islands glorious locales in a bid to collect all of these precious artifacts before they get wet…and dissolve. The digital edition retains the stress, drama and a few foibles of the original, but puts them forth in a tidier, cheaper, more commuter friendly form.

In the race to discover four artifacts, players take three actions ranging from moving around the island itself, to shoring up tiles and gifting items to other players. Every turn they’ll pluck up two adventure cards that show a particular artifact. Once someone has gathered four cards that show the same artifact, they can trade them in for a funky little trophy that can be gained at specific locations. Gather four and they can escape the island with grand forms of wealth.

Forbidden Island follows a rather traditional form of cooperation seen in Pandemic. It’s a welcome likeness, I mean, it’s only one of the most glorious teamwork based games of all time, but the foe in Forbidden Island comes from a greater environmental danger; the island itself. As turns go by, flood cards reveal sections of the island that become submerged in water. If a location is drawn that’s already coated in wet, it succumbs to the wrath of the ocean and sinks. It certainly create a rather theatrical sense of tragedy, and the island slowly chips away with you still on it.

However, I also find that this means of creating drama can be a bit detrimental. Of course, all cooperative games are meant to be challenging, but as rows and columns of tiles can quickly become flooded, then the game will occasionally chuck a huge wall of despair at you by cutting everyone off and therefore causing a loss. It’s not due to poor design. Sometimes the luck of the draw simply chucks you into some rather unfortunate dead ends. In other co-op games, even when you’re in danger of falling into the void of failure, you still hold out all hope against defeat, spurring on in a bid to somehow reverse the odds. In a fair few games of Forbidden Island, the despair is just altogether too strong, as players can’t reach others in time to save them from doom.

One of the biggest draws of physical copies of tabletop games in comparison to their digital counterparts is the satisfaction of holding components in your hands. The physical editions artifacts are wonderful to grasp hold of, especially after you’ve fought so hard for them. However, the digital version doesn’t exactly pale in comparison when it comes to aesthetics. The tiles retain their lovely Myst like artwork and those pesky treasures are wonderfully illustrated. Together with the slickness of animations and the fact that you’re not going to have to do any tidying up afterwards, it’s a rather minor sacrifice.

I made it clear in my review for the physical copy of Forbidden Island that it’s a great cooperative game, but that there were alternatives I would rather spend my hard earned cash on. With the cooperative game pool growing ever greater in quantity and quality, I still stand by that comment. However, with a decent price point, user friendly tutorials and a commuter friendly nature, it’s certainly worth taking the plunge.

8
Go to the Arcadia Quest page

Arcadia Quest

82 out of 89 gamers thought this was helpful

A swift opinion:
*Glorious miniatures!
*Simplified RPG mechanics may not impress veterans, but nevertheless makes for a very fun game.
*Multiple scenarios, various upgrades and a big bunch of quests ensure a hefty amount of replayability.

A wordy opinion: Arcadia Quest has you and up to three others head up a guild to storm into Arcadia and clear it of the rather unsavoury bunch of villains that have set up shop. Each game takes place in one of 11 scenarios, a segment of a 6 part campaign. At the beginning of a campaign, you pick 3 heroes with various traits and abilities and set them off in a bid to rid Arcadia of the vicious Lord Fang, who seems to think there’s nothing wrong in enveloping a city in darkness and fear.

Within a scenario, guilds are given a variety of quests to complete, from slaying beasts to gathering items. Whilst you’re all in agreement that this bunch of nasties has to go though, you’re all racing to be the first to actually accomplish the feats each scenario gives you, partly for gold, mainly for sweet, sweet prestige.

Whilst the landscapes of each scenario may change, the ways heroes tackle the arenas of anarchy remains simple throughout. On a player’s turn, they may activate a hero in their ranks by moving them and/or attacking an enemy in any order. When moving, you have three actions to move to an adjacent space, open any doors or move through portals to magically reappear on the other side of the map. If they wish, they can then delve into an attack, checking that an enemy is within their heroes line of sight and making sure nothing is blocking them (or by simply moving next to them). Once happy, they roll a set number of attack dice depending on the equipment or spell being used for an attack, count up the relevant successful icons and the enemy takes that much damage. The enemy can also defend if they have relevant equipment, attempting to deflect attacks and lower those successful hits.

Alternatively, a player could just let their heroes rest, allowing them to unexhaust any cards, reorganise any equipment and bring heroes back from the dead. Pretty lazy explanation, but hey, it’s a lazy action.

While these rather basic actions could trick someone into thinking this is a rather shallow (yet ridiculously pretty) game, once everyone get slicing, blasting and looting, the board starts to replicate the madness you find in an online multiplayer component of a video game. Arcadia Quest is all about seizing the moment, racing to complete objectives before anyone else gets a chance, and if those objectives consist of killing monsters, you’ll find yourself having to remain wary of opportunities to strike down foes in case they move away from the spot you want to make their grave, or before someone else gets a chance to ****** victory away from you. There isn’t a lot of depth here, but there are many, many instances of frantic dice rolling and tactical improv, scaled down into a familiar RPG format.

There may not be a lot of deep, tactical decisions in a scenario of Arcadia Quest, but that doesn’t mean to say you can’t develop your heroes into formidable fighting machines. Many heroic deeds grant you gold that can be spent in the end of a scenario on upgrades and equipment, personalising your rag tag group of adventurers into…well, they’ll still be pretty ragtag, but they’ll be able to slay anyone who looks down on them for it far easier. Once a campaign ends, it’s great to delve into it once again simply to try a new mix of abilities or weapons with a different set of characters, or maybe try out some of the scenarios that you had to miss out on the first run through. Alternatively you could just ignore the campaign structure and try out scenarios by themselves for a much quicker fix.

Despite its bulky rulebook, Arcadia Quest won’t find itself taking up many lobes in the brain. Its dice based combat is wonderfully simple. The semantics of movement and combat are completely logical. When we played, the rulebook rarely left its place, clarifications barely needed because everything just makes sense in relation to the action unfolding on the board.

Pictures speak louder than words, but I do have to say that all components look absolutely glorious, and whilst I may not be in the painting game myself, Arcadia Quest is doing a good job of convincing me I should take up the hobby. Their Chibi style reminds me of the glorious looking minis you find in Krosmaster Arena, and their clean style leaves room for some lovely tiny details here and there. They may likely encounter a brush of colour fairly soon.

The only negatives I can truly draw from this, the nit pickiest of cons isn’t with the game itself, but rather its infuriating inlay, or lack thereof. All miniatures are protected well, but this takes up a bulk of the box, leaving barely any space for the cavalcade of cardboard that’ll no longer have a home in punchboard after you’re first game. Yes, I am rather inlay centric. I like everything to have its place. But to not have dedicated spots for cards and equipment, especially in a campaign game where character specific items carry over to various games, it is something of a nuisance. If you don’t invest in some zip lock bags, the next time you open the box, you’ll likely find destruction and debris far beyond anything Lord Fang can muster.

Arcadia Quest’s simplicity means that it isn’t exactly the deepest experience you’ll find yourself embroiled in, but it’s certainly an enjoyable free-for-all of evolving heroes, dastardly villains and absolute flipping deathmatch madness.

8
Go to the Forbidden Desert page

Forbidden Desert

105 out of 115 gamers thought this was helpful

A swift opinion:
*Great cooperative action that is consistently stressful…and fun.
*Strong sequel with enough variants on the original Island formula.
*Welcoming to newcomers and experts alike.

A video opinion (with Forbidden Island):http://bit.ly/1Vlmh6U

A wordy opinion:Forbidden Desert FORCES you and up to 4 others to co-operate when your tiny expedition ship crash lands in the middle of a foreboding desert, leaving several integral pieces of transport littered about the place. If it weren’t for the dry art that surrounds you throughout, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for its predecessor Forbidden Island; the environment is of modular design, the artwork looks like something from a game of Myst (positive) and you play as an intrepid group of explorers who must all utilise their own unique skills in order to survive. However, Forbidden Desert poses a bevy of new threats to players which, although follows the same blueprints as its older sibling, presents an entirely new identity.

Rather than picking up several different artifacts, you and your friends will be attempting to collect parts of your ship in a bid to escape before the desert covers you all in grainicles. Hardened by their adventures on the island, the adventurers now have 4 actions, allowing them to move around the desert or excavate the clumps of sand below them in order to reveal a lost city. If you clear out a tile of sand, you can discover exactly what lies beneath. Certain tiles reveal tunnels which players can use to hide from the NEVER LEAVING sun that might drain them of fluid and thus victory. Others reveal locations that harbour funky pieces of tech that can help your team out of many a jam. The best however, will reveal clues to the potential locations of those ship pieces you’re in desperate need of.

Each attempt to tackle the desert leads to it fighting back. The 5X5 grid has a hole in its center, but rather than representing a Sarlacc Pit, it takes the role of an ever-strengthening sand storm. After a player has a turn, the storm moves around the board via a set of Storm cards. Each move it makes covers the tiles it glosses over with sand, making your job uncovering what lies beneath much, much harder.

It’s this mechanic that I appreciate the most. Whereas Forbidden Island clearly follows the Pandemic formula of co-operation, Desert’s toe clenching tension comes in the form of an ever changing landscape. Everyone’s playing a diabolical lottery of survival this tornado of grit has set up, testing their luck on uncovering the items they need whilst combining noggins in a bid to grab everything they need as swiftly as possible.

Despite most of the threats that the desert presents being out of control of the poor explorers trapped within it, they have a powerful bevy of skills and utensils to draw from. As the desert is constantly changing its layout, players are forced to work at optimal efficiency to escape. Forbidden Desert’s blistering challenge feels like it should be reserved for hardcore teamwork veterans, but as the odds can just as easily tip in your favour as much as they can tip out, it remains as accessible as any of the cooperative classics you’ll find on a shelf.

Of the Forbidden duo, Desert takes the crown for me. It keeps to a familiar formula that has worked well for co-op games in the past, whilst straying far enough away from what we’ve grown comfortable with to keep things uncomfortably tense. It’s a delightfully macabre experience to put your friends through, yet one you’ll likely want to jump into again before too long.

8
Go to the Catacombs (2ed) page

Catacombs (2ed)

89 out of 98 gamers thought this was helpful

A swift opinon:
*A remarkably great blend of RPG and dexterity games.
*Despite great simplicity in its main mechanics, there’s a fantastic amount of depth.
*Is such a great homage of the games it takes inspiration from that it’s easy to build tales around, whenever something goes right or very, very wrong.
*Needs a Catacomb Lord with a strong understanding of the semantics of the rules in order to ensure the pace of the game does not suffer.

A video opinion: http://bit.ly/1ZarSir

A wordy opinion: Isn’t it just a bit ridiculous that in order to move about or attack you have to roll dice? Can’t you do something more practical like fling your entire body at an enemy and kind of hope for the best. It’s a concept the minds behind Catacombs decided would be best for all budding adventurers, and whilst it never really ensures the safety of intrepid heroes, it does guarantee some good laughs.

Catacombs lets 1-4 players take on the role of 4 heroes making their way through the crypts of Stormtryne in a bid to find its malevolent Overseer. A Catacomb Lord summoning armies of minions to defend themselves from the blades, beacons and beaks of justice coming for their head.

In Catacombs, players will be traversing through a series of rooms or ever-increasing difficulty filled with monsters, traps and PILLARS. So…so many pillars, and they’ll be slicing yet not dicing their way through the darkening halls of the catacombs because their actions aren’t determined by the roll of a D whatever, but the flick of a finger.

In the red corner are 1-4 players taking on the role of four heroes, each with varying stats, items and abilities, but all sharing one goal: defeat the Catacomb Lord. In the blue corner is 1 player acting as the Catacomb Lord…all alone. Well, apart from the massive army of minions they’re about to let loose on the heroes. So not a role for the social. Maybe for the odd.

Through several rounds, players will be presented with various arenas of pure clumsiness and forced to do battle using their fingertips. Beginning with the heroes, teams flick their allies around the board, hoping to make some kind of progress through the catacombs. Players have three main shots they can utilise, depending on their heroes:

Rush Shots: Players flick their piece across the board. If they hit anything, then nothing happens.
Melee Shots: Players flick their piece across the board. If they hit an enemy, then their adversary takes a point of damage.
Ranged Shots: Placing a missile (arrow or spell) close to their piece and flick away. If it hits an enemy, they take one point of damage.

Once all the heroes have taken shots, the Catacomb Lord chucks their minions at the heroes attempting to kill them. If the Lord kills the heroes before they get to them, then the Overseer reigns supreme. If the heroes reach their Lair and take them down however, victory goes to the noble warriors.

That’s…pretty much it, but Catacombs manages to pack so much power into one finger. You can have poison shots, petrify shots, stun shots, fear shots, critical shots developed from RPG terminology that everyone should be familiar with. When you’re not flicking, you can buy a variety of items that can give your characters unique skills and abilities. There’s so much you can do within such simple means and we haven’t even got into how things can go wrong in a game of Catacombs.

I tend to go easy on dexterity games, because anything that goes wrong with them, it just lends to their greatness, usually through the means of hilarity. It’s a rather cheap safety net if I’ll be honest. But here, whenever something goes wrong, it just lends so much character to the game, made even funnier when you take your objectives into context. We had what seemed like hundreds of ridiculous tales of calamity come out of just one game of Catacombs, as it has you all guffawing at the shots that should’ve worked and applauding the ones that somehow did.

If there’s one thing I’d advise those sold on the idea of Catacombs, it’s to study up on the rules before your first game (as anyone would, I’d imagine), and then don the cape and act as Catacomb Lord, overseeing everything. The rulebook is a series of walls of texts which, whilst highly detailed, can be a huge nuisance when you’re looking for the slightest rules clarification to move the game forward. If you can effectively act as a DM, it’ll make the game run much, much smoother.

I could go on about the surprising depth of the gameplay, the sheer amount of substance that’s been fitted into a game so simple. Yet to do so would mean missing the point Catacombs does so well. It manages to distill all the RPG elements we’ve grown used to into a format that is rollicking good fun. I’m not entirely sure who Catacombs wouldn’t appeal to. For tabletop veterans, it’s a wily test of dexterity or skill. For newcomers…well, it’s just a bit of a laugh really, and a ridiculous giggle riot at that. As long as you’re family or friends are happy roleplaying as pucks for about an hour, it’s nigh on impossible not to uncover the fun that lies in just one game of Catacombs.

8
Go to the Tsuro of the Seas page

Tsuro of the Seas

106 out of 114 gamers thought this was helpful

A swift opinion:
*Great additions that add great tactical layers to the original without complicating it.
*Easy to entice newcomers with great components and veterans thanks to familiar gameplay.
*A welcome addition to those who fancy more dramatic games of Tsuro, but a slightly harder sell for those on the edge, considering the retail price.

A wordy opinion:
Despite its threats of dragons crashing into each other and falling of the face of the Earth, Tsuro is a surprisingly calming game. What it needs is more drama, more danger, more fury in the eyes of the dragons and hunger in their bellies. And that’s where Tsuro of the Seas comes in.

Tsuro of the Seas is the sequel to the charming ‘Game of the Path’, and plays in very similar ways. Each player captains a ship trying to make it out of some particularly treacherous seas, all of whom have a hand of cards, or ‘Wake Tiles’ with several pathways on them. On their turn, they’ll place one of these directly in front of their ship and be forced into following the track they’ve made for themselves. If they collide with another ship, they sink. If they fall off the map, then those alive prior to the 17th century were apparently correct in thinking the Earth was flat as the ship falls to oblivion and that player loses. Or, if a ship comes into contact with the jaws of a new addition, then they’ll have a rather grim demise.

Where are the dragons in this game? Well, they’re not your pals this time around. Instead, they are fierce Daikaiju, beasts with quite the appetite for ships. Maybe they enjoy the idea of having splinters in their mouths. Anyway, as soon as the game begins an army of these creatures plague the board, and with each passing turn, will threaten the safety of everyone trying to survive. Before a turn, players roll dice to determine whether the Daikaiju makes a move. With a 6,7 or 8, the creatures navigate their way around the board, attempting to consume the poor seafarers who have enough on their plate to deal with. If any come into contact with a ship, it’s lunch time.

Despite its additions, Tsuro of the Seas still remains as brief and enjoyable 20 minute battle royale. The game’s swift pace means that the addition of the Daikaiju feels in no way malicious as the game ends quickly, and chances are you’ll be eager to dive in again. In any other game, these additions could be seen as dastardly and cruel, but as its playtime is almost as swift as its rules explanation, it’s not that huge a penalty to endure.

Tsuro of the Seas may add another layer of gameplay to the original, but it in no way complicates it, making it just as accessible and enjoyable as its older sibling. Whether it’s an essential purchase depends on how much spice you want to add to proceedings. If you’re content with everything Tsuro offers you, then it’s a hard sell at full retail price. If however, you’ve played the original so much that you think it needs a little more drama, a little more spice and an environment more dynamically dangerous than anything you’re expecting, Tsuro of the Seas is well worth diving into.

5
Go to the The Phantom Society page
52 out of 59 gamers thought this was helpful

A swift opinion:
* Solid deduction game that plays quickly.
* Incredibly simple…perhaps a little too simple for the more tactical player.
* Basic mechanics let down the rather strong theme.

A video opinion:http://ow.ly/UcPgP

A wordy opinion: The Phantom Society is the game version of the hotel scene in the original Ghostbusters, and a standard game lasts about as long as the scene itself. Players divide up into two teams, one becoming spectres attempting to wreak havoc in the rooms of a luxurious hotel. The others take up the role of ghost hunters, sick of séances, attempting to bring the ghouls to paranormal justice with minimal collateral damage.

Before the game begins, the hunters close their eyes as a set of colourful ghosts hide under tiles of the same colour. On the ghost players turn, they’ll destroy a room adjacent to a hidden ghost as long as it’s the same colour and not blocked by other rooms. The Hunters on the other hand, will spend their turns searching rooms…by destroying them. Uncover a ghost however, and the hotel won’t charge them for the damage they caused and that ghost is out of commission forever.

The Hunters win if they catch all four ghosts. The ghosts win they manage to hit a certain amount of damage determined by adding up values on each wrecked room.

That’s it. It’s a swell little deduction game scaled down into about 10-15 minutes. It feels like it should be somewhat more dynamic, especially when you factor in some mechanics to add a layer of complexity to proceedings, especially when you factor in elements that are CRIMINALLY UNDERUSED.

You could determine who is in which team by bidding on which side you’ll take. You could use this to nail down exactly how much damage the ghosts will be trying to hit. Things is, the small amount of mechanical additions that come alongside the game involve such unnecessary faffing around considering how simple the game is.

Games involving hidden locations and deception are naturally theatrical, but as soon as you start simplifying them, they lose their dramatic flair. I don’t blame the designers for trying to add another layer of complexity in a bid to claw this back, but this just doesn’t feel like the right way to go about it, and The Phantom Society simply come across as a task found in the puzzle section of your local newspaper, and that’s a real shame.

With its glossy components yet Minesweeper like simplicity, The Phantom Society feels like a prize you would find in a Marks & Spencer Christmas cracker. If you’re looking for a simplified hidden movement or deduction game, I guess you’ll get the most out of it. If you’re looking for a good gateway game, I’d likely point you towards it if you had exhausted all other options…but those options are likely cheaper and frankly better. I’m not saying it’s a bad game, but it is perhaps the most average game I’ve ever played. Perhaps it earns a place on the shelf of your local limbo.

9
Go to the Mysterium page

Mysterium

133 out of 143 gamers thought this was helpful

A swift opinion:
*A wonderfully different take on a murder mystery. A fantastic variant on Dixit and a vibrant, artistic version of Codenames.
*Enables players to utilse logic, yet no answer is ever 100% certain.
*time restrictions and player voting mechanics do not feel like they work well, but can easily be swept aside if players don’t get along with them.

A filmed opinion:http://bit.ly/1MzACpT

A wordy opinion: Mysterium is one of the strangest experiences I’ve had the privilege to soak up. Based on the original Polish title Tajemnicze Domostwo, Mysterium is a game I absolutely adore. However, this English edition manages to leave my opinions flying around in Limbo. Which, considering the subject matter, is actually quite fitting.

In 1894, a murder took place in the Count of Warick’s manor that was simply put down to accidental death. With supernatural activity on the rise, it’s clear that the blameless victim is not resting in peace. You and up to five other mediums will attempt to make contact with the ghost now haunting the halls of the house in a bid to find the culprit and lay the spectre to rest.

I ain’t afraid of no ghost…because it’s my friend.

When I say ghost, I don’t mean the spooky kind, but a friendly, cooperative sort played by a member of your own party. As the police made an absolute shambles of the investigation several years ago, the ghost is the only one who really has a good idea of what happened on that fateful night, and will be attempting to convey facts about the murder to the mediums over the course of 7 hours. Problem is, years of death have made their memory quite hazy, and it’s pretty hard to communicate when you’re on a completely different plane of existence.

Each psychic has a set of leads to go on, consisting of standard Cluedo fodder of suspects, locations and potential murder weapons. As a ghoul though, you can’t simply point at the guilt ridden and say ‘Oh, it was them. Case solved.’ The ghost must send out a series of visions to the mediums by picking out a set of wonderfully illustrated cards that look like the result of what would happen if Tim Burton tried to do a reimagining of Dixit.

At the start of the game, the mediums are trying to track down suspects, and as the ghost draws up to 7 Vision cards, they AGONISE over what to do next. I can’t really blame them. They’ve just been given a set of potentially the oddest images they’ve seen in quite some time, and have to link those acid trip fuelled visions to the suspects in question without uttering a word.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? W…what is it?

The visions are filled with peculiar oddities, sights that resemble the oddest of dreams. Linking these to reality is quite the task. The clues you wish to give should be as specific as possible in relation to what each medium is trying to find…but everything in Mysterium is left very open to interpretation.

When you’ve found a number of Vision card you feel fits, you hand them off to the relevant psychic, draw back up to 7 cards and repeat the process for everyone. All the while, the mediums are left to ponder just where you’re trying to guide them.

The cards representing the leads the mediums are following are just as well illustrated as the Vision cards, with all clues contained in them grounded firmly in reality. If the psychics guess the suspect correctly, they move onto locales. Complete those and they finally move onto murder weapons.

Throughout the investigation, the mediums can also judge one another by voting on which guesses they think are correct and which are wrong. As players take their pick on where they think the ghost is leading them, others can place ‘clairvoyancy markers’ indicating. For each correct answer, you move up the clairvoyancy track, a makeshift scoreboard for the players.

If the mediums manage to guess all of their leads correctly before seven rounds are up, a group séance is initiated to find the culprit. All psychics lay their groups of card on the table, the ghost picks one group as guilty, and puts out three Vision cards linked to that set face down. What cards the mediums get to look at depends on how high they are on the clairvoyancy track. If they’re low down, they are only allowed to look at the first card before voting on who they think is guilty. Those in the middle of the track can see two visions before voting and high scorers see all three cards before handing over votes. If a majority of psychics vote correctly, everybody wins.

It’s a wonderful take on the traditional murder mystery, one in which you have to use your heart as much as your head. It’s just that there are a couple of things that don’t really sit well with me.

A Ghoul That’s Trying Too Hard to scare.

The issues I have with Mysterium come from its additions, the first being a sand timer. You’re meant to make your guesses within two minutes, flipping over a sand timer when the final Vision card is handed out. I can see why people would think this would make the game harder, but it’s actually counter-intuitive. With this timer, you’re not given the time to dwell. The time to doubt. The time to listen to everyone elses opinions and make your brain a psychological minefield. If you ditch the timer, the game becomes a more streamlined and yet more terrifying experience.

The clairvoyany tokens also don’t exist. They’re not necessarily bad, but in a purely cooperative game they don’t feel like an easy fit. Maybe if you play with more competitive pals it’ll work a bit better, but it just feels somewhat unnecessary for us. In this case, the end-game also alters. As players can no longer vote, all psychics get to look at all the cards the ghost puts out, and are freely allowed to discuss theories with one another in a bid to solve this grand logic puzzle put before them. It’s simpler yet a whole lot more satisfying.

None of these are in the original 2013 title, and I personally think the game is better for it. As these additions are all modular though, it’s easy to simply sweep them off the table. If you want to give the old rules a whirl, I will post a link to the old rulebook at the end of this review.

Far be it for me to tell you how you should be playing your games though. Whatever way you play it, Mysterium is a fantastic little title that you should definitely get if you’re looking for a reimagining of Dixit, a more artistic take on Codenames or are simply looking to make Cluedo a bit jealous.

Link to ye olde rulebook: http://bit.ly/1Nkqcxl

5
Go to the Risk: The Walking Dead page
51 out of 57 gamers thought this was helpful

A swift opinion:
*An interesting take on a traditional formula that perfectly fits the theme…
*…but doesn’t really feel like it’s been totally thought through
*Doesn’t stand up to other zombie titles, nor other Risk variants

A video opinion: http://ow.ly/TsuXh

A wordy opinion: Zombies don’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon, and it was only a matter of time before they started shambling over to classic tabletop titles. What better franchise to take them away from us than The Walking Dead, providing its own variant on the classic rendition of potential war crimes.

Risk: The Walking Dead puts you in charge of one of the groups from the series, be it Rick’s, the Greene family, The Governor’s or…the prisoners…because we needed a fourth group. Taking on the lead of one of these clans, you set about trying to make a home for yourself in a rather barren Georgia.

The Old World Still Lives

Fans of Risk will be happy to know that methods of massacring others remain pretty much unchanged through dice rolls. If someone walks into your territory, battle starts. Players roll dice equal to the amount of troops fighting and compare them from highest to lowest. Each duet of dice battle it out, with the lowest number losing a troop.

A New Means For Survival

Yet whilst the multi-coloured clans fight over who has earned the right to take over the state, shambling, decrepit grey pieces blight the land. These are the walkers, an unplayable faction (unless you play classic Risk) which act as troops who are a lot less shooty and a little more bitey. Tackle a territory with the undead and you get to add 1 to every dice you roll because they’re just a little bit dim.

However, even if your benefits don’t lead to a victory and someone dies, you have to roll another die. Roll a 4, 5 or a 6 and hooray! Your troop is dead! However, if you roll a 1, 2 or a 3 that loyal soldier turns into a member of the undead.

It’s easy to get cocky when facing off with zombies, but should you start to falter, things can go very wrong, very fast. The arrogant can find themselves outnumbered swiftly, and presents an interesting take on traditional mechanics, so yes, fantastic stuff, fits the theme, big thumb up. Does it fit well with the other alterations though?

The Spread of the Undead

Walkers spread their influence via territory cards. Before their turn, players draw one of these, revealing a territory that will have walkers added to it. If a player has already set up home here, combat is automatically initiated. On paper, this sounds great, and to begin with, it is. It kicks the inactive into combat when they might not be expecting it. However, after a while it becomes an absolute nuisance.

With each round, the amount of territories drawn and walkers added increase. By Round 4, your drawing 4 territory cards and adding 3 walkers to each. This means as you’re spreading and leaving troops behind, they’ll likely be gobbled up in your battle for conquest.

This causes a weird cognitive dissonance. If you decide to recruit troops and adding them to the frontline in a bid to spread out, those you leave behind will likely become fast food for walkers. If you decide to add more to those who look like a meal, you won’t have enough to invade other territories. As one of the prime means of victory for the game is judged by the amount of victories you own, this can be flipping frustrating as you’re not really given the chance to spread your units out.

Braaaaains…not required

Each benefit seems to have a hefty boon that outweighs it. The zombies fit the theme perfectly but prevent any opportunity for interesting movements as they force everyone into a defensive position that would be foolish to leave. Ammo crates earned after obtaining a territory provide a potentially intriguing way of gathering points or troops, but end up simply bolstering the score of those already in the lead and are traded in for cannon fodder for those on the verge of extinction.

Risk may be a simple game, but the one thing I appreciate with it is that everyone I play with seems to have a different approach to victory. Here though, no matter who I’ve played the game with, it’s apparent that if you don’t follow the game’s policy of hunkering down and making do with what you’ve got, you’ll be slaughtered by undead. The best tactic we’ve all gleamed from The Walking Dead Risk is to head home, have a cup of tea and wait for all of this to blow over. It’s Shaun of the Dead Risk.

These changes in regards to the theme are appreciated, but the issues that come with them are often rather counter-intuitive, which is a real shame. All I can really say for it is at least it tried to alter up the formula, unlike the flipping Walking Dead Monopoly…

8
Go to the Super Motherload page

Super Motherload

52 out of 58 gamers thought this was helpful

A quick opinion:
*Solid, glossy components and artwork
*A great twist on deck-building, nicely tied in with tile placement
*Not a lot of backstabbing involved due to the deck-building system

A video opinion: http://ow.ly/T8Lmp

A wordy opinion:

If I were to ask you to translate a videogame that resembles the lovechild of Spelunky and Dig Dug, and then asked you to turn that into a tabletop game, would the first mechanic you think of to suit it be ‘deck-builder’? Because the folk at Roxley thought that would be the perfect fit and y’know what…they were kind of right.

Super Motherload forces you and up to three others to form an elite team of miners in a bid to hollow out Mars all for gloriously valuable resources. These include iron, gold, platinum, emeralds, rubies, diamonds…and bombs. Because that’s what we should be looking for on Mars. Gems and explosives. Can’t see what all the fuss is about with flipping water.

All players start with 7 cards, 4 of which enter their hand straight away. They also have a market of cards that they can purchase throughout the game, personalised for each faction (one of which including Laika the dog! She lives!

On their turn, a player can do one of three things. The first is picking up two cards in an attempt to strengthen their hands leading up for the second action, drilling. By playing cards of the same colour; red, blue, yellow or RAINBOW, players can plough into Mars. Counting a series of drill icons together on each card, equalling the amount of distance they can make digging through the board. If they go through any resources on the way, they gather those up and place them onto a card in their market. If the value of resources reach or exceed its value, they add that to their deck.

Of course, if you lack patience or grace your third action can consist of bombing if you have the right cards and explosives. Using a bomb means you can make an abstract shape in the ground. It’s like drilling, but sexier…I guess.

Gathering that workforce is not only important for your deck, but for your honour. Each card is worth a certain amount of points. You can also gain points by obtaining ‘Major Achievements’, a set of goals that give players points for hiring certain sets of colours. Seeing as everyone is fighting over points for pilots, if these were the only way of obtaining victory then Super Motherload would be little more than a slightly complex race game. However, it’s ‘Minor Achievements’ that ironically cause the biggest influence in preventing the game from getting tunnel vision.

Minor Achievements are smaller goals worth less points that force you to rethink how you play the game on the fly. These achievements have a wide amount of range to them, from hoarding bombs, to power drilling five spaces, to spreading out gold in your market, to getting nine cards in your hand to making sure you have zero cards in your hand.

These are small missions that test the optimisation of the workforce you’ve been building the entire game. They’re the tiny tasks that delve into mechanics of Super Motherload that you might not have considered using beforehand. Utilise these in ways that benefit you best and you will be laughing.

There’s not an awful lot of back stabbing in Super Motherload. Every time you dig, it just leaves it open for other players to snag even more valuable commodities. Instead the game is one that wants you to focus on YOUR wants, YOUR needs rather than manipulating everyone else’s complex machines that they’re building.

If you’re looking for a deck-builder to really sink your teeth into, I can’t recommend Super Motherload. It contains a lot of individual mechanics that, when put forward by themselves don’t really amount to much. If you’re looking for a meaty deck-builder that leaps from your hand onto a board, look towards the fantastic Trains.

But the reason why Super Motherload’s deck-building is so simple is because it doesn’t have to be complicated. If it were any more complex the whole game as a package just wouldn’t work and it feels good to mine down into Mars. It feels good to grab a bunch of commodities. It feels good to hire these pilots with absolutely extraordinary artwork and it feels good to lay down a hand of perfect cards that you’ve accumulated through your absolutely astounding system and grab a bunch of achievements. If you’re looking for a great twist on your average deck builder, dig it up now.

8
Go to the Biblios page

Biblios

120 out of 131 gamers thought this was helpful

A swift opinion:
+ Card drafting and auction mechanics work a treat.
+ Surprisingly tense despite what the theme may suggest.
+ A crafty little game that’s slightly more complex than your average filler.

A filmed opinion: http://ow.ly/SRv1k

A wordy opinion:
Biblios is a high octane, no holds-barred thrill ride where you and up to three other abbots are trying to build the grandest library of all time. A library that will put every other monastery to shame. Whilst I’ve gone and placed a rather sarcastic tone on those statements, I do believe at least a third of that description holds true…don’t close the window.

In an ideal game of Biblios, players are looking to nab the most valuable cards of five different categories denoted by different colours. Brown stands for monks who’ll help with general handiwork. Blue highlights pigments that can make your literature look luscious. Green lists Holy Books which no monastery should be short on. Orange is for manuscripts full of…scribbles and red is for Forbidden Tomes that should never see the light of day. All of these cards have a value in the top left which will be counted at the end of the game, with each category being worth a set amount of points.

But which category should you fight over? At the beginning of the game, all of the categories are worth three points, represented by several dice in the centre of the table. How much these will be worth at the end of the game is up to the players. Hidden among the deck are cards that will butter up the bishop quite nicely. When picked, the value of these dice can be increased or decreased by 1, affecting the amount of points on offer for each category. Going for an unsavoury collection of Forbidden Tomes? Best convince the bishop they’re actually pretty swell and bump up the point value by one. Think someone else is too focused on pigments? Burn all the colours and decrease the points! The problem with this is that should you act beneficially on categories you’re going for, other players will catch onto the cards you need. Thanks to the way you gather cards throughout a game, those pesky abbots can find many a way of tripping you up.

You accumulate cards over two phases. The first is the ‘Gift’ phase, a process that sounds an awful lot jollier than it actually is. On your turn, you will pick up and disperse a set of cards. One of these will go in your own collection, one of these will go into an auction pile for later and a number equal to the amount of opponents you are up against will go face up in the centre of the table. On the surface, this feels like a phase of basic drafting. Dig deeper however, and you find a whole host of traps that anyone can (and will) fall into.

Once you’ve found a place for a card and reached the limit of how many cards should be there, that’s it. You are then locked out of that action for the rest of your turn, which can lead to a whole host of horrid miscalculations. If you don’t strike at the right time, not only could you be left with a dud of a card by copping out too early or relying on an ill gamble, but you could also end up giving someone else an extraordinary card for free. This is already a tense procedure when you’re attempting to maximise the efficiency of your library, before you bundle this with the fact that the values of the categories are in a constant state of flux.
Due to the entire game’s unpredictability, it’s so important to find a game plan and stick to it, no matter how many times Biblios tests your faith.

There will be a point in the gift phase where you are screwed over simply because you struck at the wrong time, and if you don’t have a strong vision of what your library will look like, you’ll likely be left bearing the brunt of a lot of bad deals. Ultimately, you can’t complain because, you got what you wanted in this instance. It’s like if you have a cake, and someone else is cutting it, and you get a slice, but you notice that someone else gets a slightly larger slice. Not enough to cause a drama but still…cake.

Blimey, we haven’t even reached the second phase yet.

All those cards that were so easily dismissed in the first phase are brought back to be fought over for cold hard cash during the ‘Auction’ phase. Gold cards that populate the deck with the values of 1,2 and 3 worm their way in here. One player reveals what card everyone will be slobbering over, and the player on the left makes a bid for it. If they don’t fancy it, they can back out. If they do, bid away.

The typical drama of an auction mechanic kicks in here, but carries over the bluffing element of the gift phase. If you’re not fond of a card that has appeared, you can still make a bid to ramp up the price, potentially ruining someone’s day. Of course, if you misinterpret just how eager someone else is, they could very easily not take the bait and you end up having to pay out of your own pocket for something you didn’t actually want.

Suddenly you realise that this phase isn’t one about nabbing what you want. If that gift phase is all about preventing others getting what they need, the auction phase is all about forcing others into a penniless existence, leaving you to snag everything for cheap. Draining funds from someone else means that if a money card comes up for auction, they’ll have to sacrifice books to get more money, or essentially kick themselves out of the phase completely.

Biblios is a tiny game that manages to subvert expectations with every turn. It manages to fit a decent amount of cutthroat guile within a 30 minutes timeframe without ever drawing blood. It’s a tad more tactical than your average filler title, but if you’re looking for a swift game with just a little bit more slyness to it, I can’t recommend much better. I didn’t think I’d be saying such things about a library-‘em-up, but I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover!

*APPLAUSE*
…please…

8
Go to the Pandemic: In the Lab page
90 out of 97 gamers thought this was helpful

Play any game of Pandemic and you feel like the cast of an 80s action thriller (a point that is heavily reinforced by the app’s outstanding music). It’s not fair though. Whilst you’re dilly dallying around saving humanity and taking all the credit, the scientists left in research stations are slaving away, only being recognised when someone’s chucking a batch of cards their way to find a cure on demand. In the Lab brings the scientist’s hardships to the players, forcing them to reconsider everything they know about saving the world.

A bunch of bells and whistles come in the form of obligatory new roles which are always a joy to add to the ranks, new events to aid your games, plus new Virulent Strain and Mutation Challenge cards for On the Brink owners. However, In the Lab’s biggest addition to the main game is the Lab Challenge , introducing an entirely new way to develop cures for the dastardly diseases. No longer can you simply chuck a dose of cards at a bunch of scientists in the hope that they will solve everything. Bundled with the expansion is a board representing the inner workings of the research stations, and rather than wiping the world clear of cubes, you’ll be using them in an attempt to accelerate a solution to humanity’s current crisis. Once a cube has been removed, it can be placed into a series of petri dishes on the Lab board in a bid to find a cure for whatever’s ailing…everyone.

While your basic actions of movement remain the same, each player now has the ability to don a lab coat when in the same space as a research station and dabble in a new set of ‘Lab Actions’. The new means of finding a cure whilst here goes as follows:

1) Characterise a disease: By playing a city card of a certain colour, players can look through the labs ‘Sequence Cards’ until they find the colour that matches the card they played. All of these DNA strand like cards contain a set of coloured circles. Each coloured circle will need a disease cube of the same colour in due time.

2) Process samples: This is where you can turn the tides in your favour with any cubes collected. Acting as a conveyer belt of illness, players can move cubes from one petri dish to another, all of one colour to one or one of each different colour in a dish to another, destroying any that don’t match the necessary requirements. They then have the option of moving cubes from this second set to one final ‘growth’ petri dish in a bid to multiply them, before moving them to a revealed sequence card. For each circle colour that matches a cube, one cube is added.

3) Testing a Cure: If things are getting a bit heated outside and cubes are running low thanks to research, you can give the cure a whirl. As long as there’s a cube on the relevant sequence card, a player can play a card of that cure colour to take a disease cube off the board.

4) Discovering a Cure: Once all circles have a disease cube on them, players can finally discover a cure. Once they’ve discarded three cards of the relevant colour, they can consider it cured.

The Lab Challenge feels like a tiny puzzle that is part worker placement, part intrinsic math trial. It’s initially a beast to get your head around, especially as those petri dishes and processes have several different terms and titles to learn. This is a tiny nuisance that doesn’t overshadow the work you truly have to do in order to defeat this challenge. As these lab actions now eat into your available AP, you need to find the ideal system that gets the disease cubes you need with minimal effort . It’s a fantastic new trial that forces the team to perfectly time their actions in order to get the greatest possible result, all the while leaving enough time to ensure that the world doesn’t fall into chaos as you do so.

Two additional modes have nestled their way in, albeit a tad uncomfortably. The new Team mode divides players into groups competing for glory. Their shared objective is reassuringly familiar: cure all 4 diseases (or cure and eradicate 3). Each have a series of personal goals as well, and must complete in a bid to obtain prestige, racing to be the first to cure and eradicate illnesses. Each individual has all the actions available as standard…but the whole team have to share 6 action points to share.

Whilst In the Lab’s competitive-cooperative Team mode is also an interesting new take on how you deal with humanity’s potential eradication, it doesn’t exactly add anything noteworthy to the game. With a team divided and less actions to dole out, each individual’s productivity drops, and in a game where you already find yourself cursing the skies and screaming ‘IF ONLY I HAD ONE MORE ACTION!’, that can really damage the flow of the game or the power player’s feel when they quash a disease. If you really want to face-off against your friends during this pandemic, On the Brink’s Bio-terrorist challenge remains ironically unrivalled.

In the Lab also comes with a Solo mode for those lacking helpful pals. It’s a decent enough addition that allies you with the CDC, an organisation that allows essentially copies the action a traditional player would have. The difference here being that you embody an ultra-human that, if at a research station, can reassign the role issued. It’s alright. Not great, but alright. That may seem like a timid opinion, but it feels like it answers a question that no one ever asked. It has a bunch of set-up conditions that need to be adhered to and a new collection of actions to learn, but it seems like unnecessary fodder when you can play with a couple of team members controlled by yourself.

These additional modes are nice little add-ons on the side, but they’re not really what you’re delving into this expansion for. In the Lab is not the must have expansion that On the Brink is, but it is a riveting new enigma that freshens up gameplay. It’s not an add-on that overcomplicates or adjusts the difficulty radically, but one that forces players to rethink how they approach the entire game. If you’re looking for an add-on that pits your group against each other, perhaps your wallet should steer towards the bulky content expansion that is On the Brink. But if you’re looking for something that reworks the blueprints of the game, something that forces you to adapt to a new solutions rather than new threats, that’ll slap masters of the original across the face and force them to reboot everything they thought they knew, it’s certainly an expansion that needs to stand alongside your Pandemic collection.

6
Go to the Forbidden Island page

Forbidden Island

89 out of 99 gamers thought this was helpful

Video review (with Forbidden Desert): http://ow.ly/AQN8T

Forbidden Island is a co-op game that entices you and three others to visit its shores with the promise of four colourful ancient artifacts. What the brochure doesn’t tell you, is that all it takes is the weight of at least two intrepid explorers to force the entirety of the mainland to slowly sink. Then again, this probably should’ve been apparent when browsing for travel insurance. Nevertheless, the intrepid among you must battle through the islands glorious locales in a bid to collect all of these precious artifacts before they get wet…and dissolve.

In the race to discover four artifacts, players take three actions ranging from moving around the island itself, to shoring up tiles and gifting items to other players. Every turn they’ll pluck up two adventure cards that show a particular artifact. Once someone has gathered four cards that show the same artifact, they can trade them in for a funky little trophy that can be gained at specific locations. Gather four and they can escape the island with grand forms of wealth.

After a player takes a turn, the island starts to grow wise to your antics and has its own turn. Depending on where the marker on the Tidal track is, a number of cards are drawn showing locations on the island. Once one shows up, it floods. If that location is already flooded, it disappears forever. All of a sudden, this horrible tension kicks in, as tiles begin to float off the table and a natural countdown commences. The ocean even infects the usually friendly artifact deck, hiding some ‘Waters Rise’ cards which raise the tidal marker upwards, meaning on the next turn, a larger amount of locations will flood. It’s all very atmospherically *ing.

But…hang on. Those ‘Artifact’ cards…they’re like the ‘Location’ cards in Pandemic. And the artifacts themselves…they’re very much like the cures in Pandemic. Is this beginning to sound a bit familiar? Well…yes, from the outset, it does look like Forbidden Island has earned an adequate GCSE at the Pandemic school of optimal co-op games. Matt Leacock seems to be rather aware that he hit a winning formula with his former co-op title and carried the same principles over here. That’s by no means a bad thing, I mean, the formula works and thankfully Forbidden Island has different ways of ramping up the tension in comparison to its inject-‘em-up sibling.

With only one way to win, there are several ways to lose, all linked to unwelcome flash floods. Should too many waters rise cards crop up, you all die. If one of you is on a tile that sinks and there’s nowhere for them to swim to, they die and you all get so upset that you can’t bear to finish the escape attempt. If the locations you haven’t gathered specific artifacts from sink, you all die of stubbornness.

Forbidden Island can be played on several difficulties, originating the Tidal Track marker on different points, beginning on higher draw numbers for the higher difficulties. However, some of this can be portrayed in the game’s modular fashion. As each location comes on its own individual tile, constructing the island itself tends to show from an early point just how screwed you will be. Such layouts affect where everyone will start, the routes everyone must take could be greeted with a slight approving nod or wild erratic nods that launch your face straight into the table in despair.

No matter what the difficulty, the trend seems to be that you HAVE to work as a strong group. In Pandemic, and often in many other co-ops, team members can often be sent to various parts of the world and entrusted with tasks without a second thought. However, here if you send someone off on their lonesome, with ongoing flooding threatening to make tiny peninsulas, there’s no guarantee they’ll make their way back. Of course if one member is lost, the entire expedition was for nothing, so you’ll find yourself forced to construct lines of humans. It’s all a boost to camaraderie as you hoist a plucky explorer away from the grasps of the ocean at just the right time. At its best, Forbidden Island is pure, unadulterated camaraderie in a box…tin. At its worst, though, it’s a concentrated barrel of woe.

Don’t get me wrong, co-op games are meant to be magnificently challenging. They’re meant to don diamond boots and put pressure on your relationships, slowly straining any form of patience from it as it goes. However, with limited room to move around getting smaller by the minute and a fairly small amount of actions to deal with, many turns simply consist of shoring up flooded locations and praying for the right cards to come up. You see, as each player is given three actions, they don’t really have enough to do exactly what they want to do. That’s fine, it’s a logical staple when balanced correctly. However, it also isn’t really enough actions to actually make yourself feel useful. The most pro-active thing you can do to escape, gather artifacts, is a huge waiting game as you hope the right cards will come up to the right people so that you can at least make some form of trade to speed things up. As you can only give cards to other players and not take them away, it kind of feels like your usefulness can occasionally be put on the backburner, and no matter how many locations you shore up in a game, you’re going to face certain death once the number of cards you have to draw outweighs the land you’ve got to run on. Compare this to Pandemic, where it feels like any player can be launched into a crisis at any time, and you begin to see that the game slowly slots into a panicked pattern.

With a lack of variables to affect as the game gets smaller and smaller, you can occasionally hit this ‘Wall of Despair’, where you realise unfittingly far away from the end of the game that there genuinely is no hope. The floods will inevitably catch up and destroy morale, and even destroy tiles on the same turn if you’re unlucky enough. Games like Pandemic have a number of variables not just to mix things up, but to empower your team and make them feel like there’s always something they can do before death creeps in. Here, if things don’t go your way, there’s not a lot you can do but sit and wait for the waves to absorb you and your friends. It’s not a bad game by any means, but after a couple of replays, a few patterns begin to emerge. Maybe Pandemic has spoiled me. Maybe, though, I’m just bitter because there’s another Forbidden place you can visit that may not hold greater treasures, but a much greater experience. Maybe you should head on over to the Forbidden Desert…

TO BE CONTINUED

7
Go to the Blueprints page

Blueprints

126 out of 141 gamers thought this was helpful

Video Review: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl5LduW9nPg

In this day and age of pioneering design choices and buildings made to look like vegetables, it seems no longer acceptable to construct a home from basic bricks and mortar. Sure, a structure like that lies on the foundations of logic, but Tate representatives will soon tut such a bland residence to smithereens. Regardless, Blueprints makes its way to the table in a bid to demonstrate just how bizarre yet effective structural design can be.

Blueprints puts you and up to three others into the shoes of architects, trying to rebuild civilisation in the aftermath of a game of Rampage. Rather than construct reasonable homes and apartments, however, you’re all more avant garde pioneers of architecture, as you will be building with dice made of wood (orange), stone (black), glass (clear) and recycled materials…so papier-mâché (green). Clever usage of these materials ensures players will obtain greater rewards for more creative spectacles. The issue is, the public’s opinion of what is deemed ‘creative’ varies over the games three rounds, and everyone has a limited supply of resources to share amongst each other.

At the beginning of a round, everyone is given a blueprint of a building to construct, showing what it SHOULD look like, along with bird’s eye view plans to ensure everything goes swimmingly. Hiding these away behind a screen, you then take it in turns to nab a dice from a pool of resources, placing it in your plans and replacing the die to make it fair game for others. Simple in premise, but as others can easily ****** away the same materials you’re angling for, you soon realise that you’re never quite going to get the building that you wanted, and thanks to another aggravating rule, you could find that you lock yourself out of the round altogether.

When a dice is taken, architects must take into account the number on its face. If players’ wish to build on top of a dice, the one they select must be of equal or greater value than the one below. This means if you’re daft enough to place a 6 on the ground floor, you could very easily lock yourself out of building altogether if the dice don’t roll your way. Misplaced planning in regulations could also scupper your chances of scoring well, as if you don’t balance the numbers and the materials you’re using in your favour, you end up with something structurally sound, but nothing more than a few planks of wood coated in glass. It can be rather demoralising to look down upon your bizarre mess at the end of the round, but it can be just as uplifting when others reveal Frankenstein based monstrosities that couldn’t even be justified on Grand Designs.

Maybe I’m being extreme. Chances are you’ll be safe enough not to scupper your chances of forming any masterpieces, but a cautious eye is needed for the best placement of materials. Each die is scored differently depending on what material it represents. Some are based on the physical representation of the die themselves, with glass scoring based on the die face and recycled materials simply stacking points on how many used. Some however, score based on their position in the build, like the wood dice that gain 2 points for each die face they touch and the stone dice, gathering more points when plonked on higher floors.

All these variables matter when it comes to assessing the final build, as the best building bags the most victory points conventionally and go on to win the game. But just to add extra layers of self doubt, they can also divert from plans to nick victory in more devious terms. If they choose to abandon their plans, they could make a tower 5 dice tall and score a Skyscraper bonus. They can even gain points for getting ambitious and dedicating themselves exclusively to one material or die number to get bonuses. Set your plans out well and make a couple of sacrifices to lady luck, and you could be rolling in victory points by the time your final die is laid. Of course, all it takes is one misplaced roll or one pal unintentionally acting like a bugger taking the die you need to let all those plans fall by the wayside.

This constant need to balance the needle of risk/reward is what sets Blueprints apart from other filler games, adding so many layers of decision making in such simple ways in attempts to tip the odds in your favour. It makes what initially looks like a happy go lucky family filler suddenly reveal itself as an exceptionally tense half an hour that never loses its lightness. If you’re looking for something swift to break out that will nevertheless add sweat to the brow of all playing it, I can’t recommend Blueprints enough. It’s just that it might get to the point where you’d want to create an entire district with dice…and there won’t be enough components to let you.

7
Go to the Rampage page

Rampage

23 out of 24 gamers thought this was helpful

Video Review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boVRLCG7phI

We’re humans. It’s in our nature to make a mess of things, whether those things are our bedrooms, our lives or even the entire economic infrastructure we all depend upon. Many of the board games I’ve played allow the players to relish in organisation, on structuring tactics that will provide a wealth of points. It’s refreshing to see that, amongst such structure building titles, Rampage appears to tear all of them down.

Rampage lets you and up to three others take up the role of tyrannical monsters spawned onto this earth after Godzilla and Puff the Magic Dragon had a rampant night out in Soho. These beasts enter a city based arena and must do battle to fill their stomachs not to the greatest capacity, but with the greatest variety of alternate tasting humans/meeples. How do we go about gaining such a wide palette? By demolishing everything.

With its alluring dimension piercing set-up, if you dump this fully formed in the centre of the table at any games evening, it is sure to seduce even the most timid of board game players. It’s not just the odd meeple balanced components or the cutesy wutesy pop culture references on the floor of each building that will entice even those cretins who say ‘You play board games? Don’t you mean I’m bored games?’ Stating you’ll be massacring this made up city is sure to entice anyone to take up the paws of one of these critters, and excitement will soon escalate when you start describing what you can do.

On their turn, players can take two actions of four possible ones. They can move about the city by flicking a monster’s feet across the table. If there’s a vehicle in their area they are in, they can pick it up and throw it around, and by this I mean put it on the monster’s head and flick it. They can breathe, and whilst that doesn’t sound like circulation is that strong of a power, it actually means you put your chin on your monster, breath in and blow buildings down. Finally, you can demolish. This means if you’re on the sidewalk of a building, you can lift your monster up and drop them, causing untold havoc…if you judge it right. With such a dynamic formula, it means you’re never really sitting in just one place, frantically darting around the board on your turn to get a good angle on what to do next like a snooker player being chased by a raptor. The game rules even allow you to sit on another player’s lap (with their permission), making this the best game in my collection for foreplay for four players.

Once you’re done having a hissy fit, you automatically get to eat anyone unlucky enough to fall from the safety of a building. The board is divided into several neighbourhoods, and if you’re in the same one as any meeples, you get to chomp them up, as well as empty floors. The floors are worth one measly point, but a set of all 6 different coloured meeples in your stomach can net you 10 points at the end of the game. This is what forces players to dart around the board, looking for alternating colours to complete sets, and the city swifly becomes a maze of risk/reward. The thing is, players have a set amount of teeth, and they can only eat as many meeples at a time as they have teeth. They lose these teeth if they’re flicked off the board by movement because the world is, in fact, flat. They can lose them if some atrocious judgement is made during demolishing and they miss an entire building, or if they manage to topple over another monster.

Players can also lose teeth if they let anyone get away from their clutches. If meeples leave the board in any way, even if it means being fired across the table from a 3 storey building, they’re considered to have ‘escaped’ and are placed on a tracker. Should this tracker fill at any point, it means a variety of negative effects can strike the player who filled it, and adds a slight tactical edge to proceedings.

When the game starts off, there’s plenty of ways to make yourself look like an absolute knob. They swiftly appeared in the first couple of games we played of this. On my first ever game, I plucked a school bus up, plonked it on my head expecting to cause wanton destruction, flicked it, and somehow managed to get the bus lodged precariously between a set of floors, leaving it dangling a la Italian Job. Another time, my fiancé attempted to demolish a building by dropping her monster on it as standard, and hit a businessman so hard on the head he flew out of the city and landed on the moon comatose, or in laymen’s terms, under the sofa. All the while, the force of such an impact meant her monster bounced off his head and completely missed the building. The best dexterity games relish in failure. Rampage creates quite frankly bizarre plots here there and everywhere and it can be bloody hilarious.

Now if I strain my ears hard enough, I can hear the throwing of coins at screens. Please don’t do that, I don’t want to be blamed for monitor damage. I can also hear the grumbles of strategists. Those who want a deeper layer of tactical destruction, and whom want to manipulate the minds of those who live in Rampageville. To address this, a variety of special cards stick themselves onto each monster to add a sense of purpose to each.

Before the game begins, each player is given a variety of cards that define their monster. The first is a character card, a goal each beast is determined to complete to bag extra points at the end of the game. Many of these involve eating the most of a certain kind of people, outing them as a misogynist, ageist or racist in the process, but others can vary away from this. You may be Gluttonous, meaning if you’ve eaten the most meeples altogether, you grab a bonus or a s**** merchant, meaning if you’re particularly skilful at pot-shotting vehicles, you’ll grab a bonus at the end for each one left on the remnants of a building. This means if you’re **** at gathering Meeple sets, you may still be alright at the end.

Another deck focuses on Secret Super Powers, those that stay hidden and can only be used once in a game, but can completely screw anyone over in hilarious ways like allowing monsters to pick up others and chuck them across the city like a vehicle or even stealing meeples from another player’s stomach which…thankfully has no graphic representation here. A variety of powers also accompany each monster that all others can see, and these powers are given to players at the start as means to personalise their monster further with in-game abilities that can be used multiple times. Thing is…this is where a few balancing issues start to occur.

A majority of Rampage’s charm comes from what can go wrong, and some cards embrace this gambling aspect. The Climber lets you plonk a monster ON a building and lets them fly across the city through move actions…but that carries with it the opportunity for monster’s to slip of the Earth altogether. The Heavyweight can make you ruin someone’s day by dropping yourself on another monster instead of a building, taking their teeth in the process…but of course, if you miss, that means you lose a tooth yourself. There are powers that can create disastrous yet hilarious anecdotes. Some however, feel like they revoke such a charm. Take the Stretchy Paws that allow you to reposition your monster ANYWHERE in the neighbourhood you’re in before movement. There have been times where a player has been lodged in the middle of two fallen monsters and a building AND STILL managed to flick their way out. But if they had this power, chances are they would’ve plucked their piece and gone about a safer route. Worse still are powers like Vacuum. Whilst the buildings are formidable foes against gusts of air, meeples fly off the board ridiculously quickly should you blow them off and this can be just another embarrassing factor players have to grasp. However, with this power, you can *******eples off the board and put them in the neighbourhood you’re in. This means that, when the game is pretty much two dislodged floors and a city of dishevelled humanoids, you can blow these lowly points off the board, plonk them exactly where you need them instead of being punished and then proceed to complete sets easily. Such actions that involve no gambles whatsoever feel cheap even to the silliest player that gets their paws on this game, and it’s enough to make the more tactical of players to take their anger out on the city far better than their monsters ever could.

Even if you’re listening to that and shaking your head at its occasionally biased perks, however, you can’t help but feel a little bit harsh criticising a game like this. At the end of the day, it waltzes onto your table, opening its wares and guarantees a fun time and it most certainly delivers with the occasionally absurd scenarios your sausage like fingers will have to put up with. It may be one floor short of a skyscraper, but if you get the right blend of goofy, zany and occasionally tipsy guests and it’s guaranteed to attack your funnybone more than the large amount of orphans left behind in Rampage’s wake.

9
Go to the Trains page

Trains

140 out of 147 gamers thought this was helpful

Trains’ box art tells us two things. One, it’s dull. Two, it’s straight to the point. The former is false. The latter is true. This is most certainly a game about trains. “But I already have ‘Ticket To Ride!’ I don’t need ANOTHER train game.” I hear a million of you cry. Well Trains captures all the joys of cross-country rail domination in a more tactical package.

‘Trains’ is the sort of game that begins training montages glaring at pictures of Dominion stuck to its mirror. A deckbuilder at heart, it gives players the opportunity to build a network of delays through a hand of trains and rails. Picking up 5 cards from their deck, a player can gander at their resources and grow their empire across Tokyo (or Osaka…if the bird’s eye view of Tokyo gets someone so angry they flip the board over to the game’s alternate map). Using trains as currency and the right cards at the right time, they can lay rails across the map or spend those trains on buying even swishier trains worth even more currency. A market exists on the side of the board, selling off sexier trains, more opportunities to lay rails or even abilities that instantly gain you victory points. Should you buy up anything that gives you points, however, you’re likely to gain cards that are literally rubbish.

Every time you pull a move that will climb you up the Victory Point ladder, you get a ‘Waste’ card added to your deck. They do nothing but stink up your deck and potentially clog up your hand, providing no aid to your networking antics. They halt those becoming heavily empowered with glossy cards. They are also Trains’ sneaky little way of making you miss a turn and still feel like a professional at rail laying. Should you skip a turn, you can banish any waste cards in your hand back into the waste deck, cleansing your deck until you clog it up again with more waste. Even with the inevitability that you’re soon going to be gargling in litter again soon, you still feel good for getting it off your chest for a few seconds.

Trains is not a game of mind-bending strategy, as any deck builder’s mechanics will rely on luck in some way or another. With just the listed mechanics in place, Trains would simply be a game of luck with a board gimmick tacked on top. However, each game not only holds the regular market of train and rails resources, but a market of eight randomly generated components. 30 resources lay in wait in the box, and at random, eight are pulled out to form a unique market each time you play. These cards are what make the game such a joy to play every time you bring it out. They give players the chance to personalise their deck with viable tactics in the future that may shower them with well-played combos or smite them with poorly planned decks. Weighing up the board with the chances of getting the right card at the right time is what presents dilemmas in this game. The stress of hoping that you picked a combination of cards that compliment each other adds with the stress combined with hoping that the others players aren’t jerks that will cut you off or steal your well laid plans for points. It has meant that my fiancé and I have played it on a daily basis since buying it last week, and there are still cards that haven’t cropped up.

The cards, for what they are, look great. It’s hard to make a set of signals seem alluring through pictures, but it’s a testament that none of this art can be considered ‘dull’. Clear instructions and icons on the cards mean that there’s very little confusion during play and it’s easy for newcomers to pick up and get to grips with the systems. Boardwise…well…I mean, it does the job. Hexagonal plains present a frank but practical view of gameplay (even though the ‘Mountain’ areas clearly look more like forests) and the wooden cubes players place to establish dominance convey…railism…in some aspect. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by TTR, but some wooden train markers would liven up things in some way.

It’s clear that I have nothing but respect for Trains, so the main question here is this. Should you buy this if you’re already a dominion owner? If you are content with watching your deck slowly build up with tasty resources and that very satisfaction is all you need, the board of Trains will seem like an unnecessary gimmick, and you’ll especially scoff when some cards mimic certain actions from that game. However, if you’re looking for that extra little layer of strategy to your card building proceedings and want a new way to board your card stacking accomplishments, playing Trains is undoubtedly the best way to satisfy your needs.

9
Go to the Pandemic page

Pandemic

65 out of 72 gamers thought this was helpful

Video Review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZewJhsfgk6o

You know that point in a film where EVERYTHING goes wrong? That point where the bomb timer suddenly drains of time for no apparent reason and every hero looks at each other with the same look of fear and camaraderie? That point where everyone suddenly crafts a plan out of desperation in a bid to clear the mess that has just hit the fan? Pandemic has at least one of those moments with every game you play, and that’s precisely why I love-nay-wuv it.

Pandemic pits up to four people against four very vile forms of the sniffles. Or swine flu. Or the return of the black plague. The colours of each disease may be clearly defined, but the names for each are left strangely ambiguous. Their anonymous nature is a gap that can fill in yourself, and that’s usually where the beginning of the story telling of Pandemic begins. It’s a nice little opener to break the ice and is pretty much the only control you have over the way the game is going to pan out. The rest of the anecdotes that form are out of complete and utter panic.

I’m getting ahead of myself though. Each turn, a player chooses to do four actions that could determine the fate of the entire populace, ranging from traversing the globe to trading in cards to cure the diseases and win the game. After a player implements their puny or powerful actions, they grab a few player cards desperately needed to find game winning antidotes…and then the viruses have a turn. The game notices the fact that you’re the only one that can grip hold of its cards, and politely asks you to flip over a set number of its ‘Infection’ cards, as if you don’t you can’t continue. Each infection card lists a city, and that city is going to get a dose of disease cubes. If you’re not vigilant about cleaning these up, the infection cards will soon mean that an entire continent could be covered in cuboids by the end of the game.

But once these cards are discarded, they’re out forever, right? Wrong. Hidden in that player deck amongst all the cards that can help you in ridding the planet of illness, there are ‘Epidemic’ cards. When one of these rear their ugly heads, EVERYTHING stops, EVERYONE groans and EVERY SINGLE INFECTION CARD DRAWN is reshuffled and place back on top of the deck, awaiting another chance to be in the spotlight. Oh, and you grab the card at the bottom of the deck, place three cubes on it and shuffle that in as well, because you can never have enough corpses in an epidemic.

This ‘Epidemic’ son of a gun mechanic is essentially the engine of chaos in Pandemic, as it primarily controls one of the many ways you can lose. To win, you have to find four cures by trading in 5 of the same coloured cards in the player deck. That’s simple. You lose by:

A) Reaching 8 ‘Outbreaks’. Should a city get hit by a fourth disease cube, it is not added, but implicates an outbreak, meaning each city connected to it gets one disease cube. Same thing applies if an outbreak hits an outbreak, causing a massacre of cuboid conundrums. If you don’t lose this way, the amount of cubes on the board will mean you lose by,
B) Running out of disease cubes of any colour. If you can’t afford to place them, it’s time to pack up and find the nearest bunker. If you’re agile and able to clean everything you see up, then chances are you haven’t been busy finding the cures, which means you’ll lose by,
C) Running out of player cards, and therefore time. As you were so busy cleaning and not finding a cure…things will go all screwy-uppy anyway.

Pandemic is not a game about perfection. It’s a game about timing, about keeping calm and, most importantly of all, teamwork. Whilst everyone has a role that specialises in a certain job on the board, if one of you gets tunnel vision in a certain field, everything begins to fall apart. Anyone who tries to act the hero might be doing a grand service one minute, but will be in a terrible place to be of any use the next. It’s like you’re all trying to juggle 5 balls. It’s difficult, but doable. But as soon as one person walks off to put the kettle on, they pass their balls along to everyone else. Whilst everyone will sure benefit from a nice cuppa, those extra balls screw up everyone else’s momentum. Two hands are barely enough to keep up with so much juggling, and four actions each are barely enough to save the world. And who’s going to be able to drink a cup of tea while juggling anyway you cretin?

Should you actually manage to dominate the game and save the world…then that’s not the end. The game has multiple difficulty levels, with games able to utilise 4 to 6 Epidemic cards for ultra carnage should players be masochistic enough. A nice range of roles drawn at random can completely alter strategies and ways to approach situations, and of course the psychopathically random and yet systematically harsh Infection mechanic ensures that each game is guaranteed to descend into mayhem in various different ways. There’s a lot of replay value here if you can ease people into its seemingly complex yet logical world.
It’s certainly not a perfect game…I mean…I shouldn’t complain about this otherwise I might have this revoked from me. The ‘Medic’ role feels supremely over-powered in comparison to the other roles, being able to clear up every cube in a city with one action and automatically clearing them up as he waltzes through a city if a cure of the same colour is found. But y’know, I’m sure if one of you randomly draw him as your character, you won’t be sullen. In fact, everyone will be elated. It’s just a…slight imbalance…that I am most certainly not complaining about.

Most people also complain about ‘Alpha Player’ syndrome, where one bossy player basically controls the team, rather than focus on having some fun, giving people a chance to work out just what they can do on their turn. The easiest thing I can say to this is get better friends if anyone one of your companions do this. However, it’s very hard not to take on this role when introducing this game to casual players. Initially, there is a lot to take in when you first see this game. The components are basic, but litter the board instantly, and whilst the actions are calmly composed on reference cards, the mayhem that kicks off the game can overwhelm. Introductory games need a leader to narrow down the potentially best options for others to take, but at the end of the day it all comes down to the player in control making the final call. When these players have gone through the initiation process of a game or two, it’s time to walk away and let them make their own calls. It just means that when you can create a plan as a unit that works perfectly, it feels brilliant thanks to the sheer level of camaraderie that sparked up to form it. After a game of tactical and methodical thinking, it’s great to have a team-based baddass moment towards the end rather than one player bulldozing everyone elses opinion.

There might be some bias here. This is the game that well and truly got me into table-top gaming. Every win feels fist-pumpingly satisfying. Every loss feels like a kick in the determination gland, sparking debate on what could have been done better…and what will be done better in your inevitable next game after a morale boosting encounter with Jack Daniels. Either way, it’s a fantastic gateway into co-op gaming whilst being a formidable challenge for the more experienced. Either way, it’s somewhat infectious…and that is worrying.

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