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Wade C.

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Go to the BattleLore Second Edition page
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8
Go to the Sentinels of the Multiverse page
80 out of 87 gamers thought this was helpful

Overview
Sentinels of the Multiverse is a fixed-deck, cooperative card game in which players take on the roles of original superheroes working together to stop the bad guy.

Setup
The most time consuming part of setup is choosing which heroes to play as, which villian to fight, and which environment to use. Choosing the right combinations is important to avoid making things too easy or nigh impossible to beat, and choosing a hero that fits with your playstyle is obviously probably important to your enjoyment of the game. The more games you get under your belt, the more you’ll get a feel for what works with what and how each hero plays, so this will take less time with each subsequent game.

Once everything has been chosen, it’s just a matter of shuffling the decks, drawing opening hands, and reading the “setup” section on the villain’s card.

Gameplay
Gameplay is pretty simple. You start with the villain’s turn, checking for any “beginning of turn” effects. Once all (if there are any) of those are resolved, you play the top card off the villain’s deck, either resolving its effect or putting it into play depending on the card type. Then you check for any “end of turn” effects and resolve them, concluding the villain’s turn.

Next come the heroes’ turns. Starting with the player clockwise from the villain, each hero will take his/her turn. At the beginning of a hero’s turn, they resolve any “beginning of turn” effects, and then have the opportunity to play one card from their hand and use one power from a card they have in play (including the hero identity card). Once they’ve done so, they draw a card or, if they didn’t play a card or use a power this turn, draw two cards. The hero’s turn ends and any “end of turn” effects resolve. Play then passes to the next hero, and continues around until all heroes have taken their turns.

Finally, the environment gets a turn. Environments and villains play fairly similarly, so this will probably sound familiar. First, resolve any “beginning of turn” effects, then play the top card of the environment deck, then resolve any “end of turn” effects. Once that’s done, it’s the villain’s turn again, and everything continues in this order until the villain is defeated, the heroes are all defeated, or an alternate loss condition (set by the villain or environment) is met.

Learning Curve
There is virtually no learning curve to the mechanics of the game. It’s incredibly simple at its core, but as with many card games, the interactions and abilities on the cards can complicate things, sometimes very much. The main learning curve, though, comes from learning the individual heroes and how to play them effectively, and learning about how the villains and environments play against you. There’s such a wide variety, even without the expansions, that it can take a few games before you really start to feel like you are able to effectively come up with a gameplan.

Components
The components are great. I normally sleeve card games, but due to the large number of cards available across the base game and expansions, I never did with this, and the cards have held up very well. They also have good, superhero-flavored art. It’s not the style that has become popular in the last 25 years in superhero comics, though, so if you’re looking for “grim and gritty” or hyper-detailed art, this won’t meet those criteria, but it fits the game’s tone exceptionally well. My only real beef with the cards is the use of Comic Sans font. I know it fits thematically, but my background in publishing has instilled a hatred of all uses of Comic Sans font. Your mileage may vary on that one, though.

The game comes with a ton of tokens and markers, though. While they’re all good quality, I can’t recommend that anyone use them exclusively, as the game becomes insanely fiddly. I suggest using a combination of the global modifier tokens and some d10’s to track life or downloading one of the available apps to track everything. It’s nice that they included the tokens, but things change so frequently, you’re constantly making change or consolidating tokens.

Overall Judgment/TL;DR Takeaway
While the game isn’t perfect, it is still my favorite purely co-op game, and hits the table much more frequently than any other ones. The member of my gaming group who typically is opposed to anything other than competitive games says he “doesn’t hate this game,” which is very high praise. If you’re in the market for a superhero game that perfectly evokes the theme, this is the game for you. Sure, the heroes aren’t licensed heroes everyone recognizes (though I personally like that they’re original creations, and many are analogues for big name heroes anyway) and it may take a few games to really get a feel for all of the characters, but it’s definitely worth it. There’s just so much variety in the box that you could play dozens of times before even needing to think about the expansions. With such a low learning curve and a hero for every playstyle, you’ll feel like you’re saving the world in no time (even though you’ll probably fail a fair amount of the time).

8
Go to the Agricola page

Agricola

43 out of 49 gamers thought this was helpful

Overview
Agricola is a worker placement game in which you, as a family of peasant farmers, attempt to not starve. Wait, come back. It’s not as bad as it sounds, I promise, and this is coming from a typically Ameritrash gamer.

Setup
The game takes a bit of time to set up, but not too much. You set up the supply of tokens (of which there are many different types), give each player a board and their starting house tiles, and shuffle and lay out the decks of cards. How many cards are being used and why types will depend on if you’re playing the “family variant” (as it’s called in the US version) or the full game. In either case, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.

Gameplay
The framework of Agricola is pretty straightforward worker placement stuff. Each player starts with two family members to work their farms (more can be added later through taking certain actions). Starting with the first player, each player places one worker on an action space, continuing until all players have placed all of their workers. Seems simple, right? Well it is at first. The game is broken up into phases of varying numbers of turns, and each turn, a card from that phase is flipped over. Each of these cards adds an additional action that can be taken, so the farther into the game you get, the more options you have. This seems great, but at the end of each phase, you have to be able to feed your family or you will lose (probably huge) points. Therefore, the additional options only add to the dilemmas you face in taking your actions each turn, as you have more and more things you need to do, and less time between harvests to get them done. The cards within each phase are also shuffled before the game, so even though you know what actions become available in a given phase, you don’t know what order they’ll be revealed in.

The actions you can take vary from collecting resources (wood, clay, etc.) for building improvements to plowing and sowing fields to gathering resources to feed your family (wheat, livestock, etc.) to building improvements to expanding your family. There’s a lot to get done, but little time to do it in, so it is important to know what you want to accomplish before you get too far into the game.

Things are further complicated by the fact that there are also major improvement cards that can be purchased, generally making it easier to feed your family or earning additional points at the end of the game for different types of resources in your resource pool. In the full, non-family version of the game, there are also minor improvements and occupation cards that can significantly alter the strategies you employ.

After the final turn there is a final harvest, and then scoring begins. The scoring in Agricola is often criticised as being “mean,” as you lose points for not having any of most types of resources and points are capped at certain numbers of each resource, but this forces players to diversify their farm, rather than just going all in on one resource and locking everyone else out, so I don’t mind it so much. Knowing that going into it, though, would probably be helpful in determining what your strategy will be.

Learning Curve
Agricola is fairly easy to learn, at least mechanically, especially when you start with the family variant. It was the first worker placement game I ever played, and it literally took one turn to see how the game worked from a mechanical standpoint. My non-gamer wife picked it up equally quickly. The complexity comes from the wealth of options that become available and the dearth of turns you’re provided to accomplish what you need to. Once we had a good feel for the basic game, switching to the full version was a simple affair. Jumping straight past the family variant to the full game may complicate things for people new to games or even new to worker placement, but I can’t say for sure since that’s not how I learned or teach the game.

Components
The components are tricky. Depending on what edition of the game you get, your box will include different things. The version I have included the standard cubes and discs for resources, as well as the “animeeples” to replace the cubes with. As I understand it, early editions did this and the most recent ones are doing it again, but the ones in between only included cubes. As far as the components everyone gets, they were pretty top-notch. The boards and tiles are nice thick cardboard, the cards have a nice coating on them to keep them from wearing out (though they feel a bit thin for what that’s worth), and the wooden pieces are a good size to make handling them easy. On the other hand, the animeeples really add to the flavor of the game and help make it less abstract. Sure, you’re still using discs for people, stone, wood, etc, but the animals look nice and have enticed more than one non-gamer to give the game a shot, whereas cubes were off-putting.

My one complaint with the components is the lack of any sort of insert. Yes, a Plano box and some baggies solve the problem just fine, but it would have been nice for a better storage solution to be included. I know it isn’t unusual for games to lack in this area, but it still irks me somewhat.

Overall Judgment/TL;DR Takeaway
In the end, Agricola is a game I thought I would hate on theme alone, but the gameplay is so tight that I love it. The constant tension and the threat of having to beg for food keep things exciting, and the way the phases get shorter and shorter between harvests as the game goes on was a brilliant design decision as far as the excitement goes. That said, some people find the tension to be too much, and I’ll admit that some games, especially the last few turns, start to feel less like fun and more like a source of unnecessary stress, so if you play with someone who is prone to analysis paralysis, you might want to go for a “lighter” worker placement game, like Lords of Waterdeep. Agricola is a simple game to teach, but it’s meaty. I’m not much of a Euro fan generally, and even I can’t deny that this game is great.

9
Go to the Suburbia page

Suburbia

128 out of 135 gamers thought this was helpful

Overview
Now that the obligatory Jefferson Starship/city building joke is out of the way in the title, let’s jump right into the game. Suburbia is a game in which you develop a town by laying various types of tiles adjacent to each other. The tiles represent different types of development zones and buildings, and each offers different benefits or hinderances to income or population. The player with the highest population at the end of the game wins.

Setup
Setup for the game can take a little bit. There are three types of tiles to be randomized and stacked on one board (labeled with an A, B, and C, respectively) along with some basic tile stacks, the “real estate market” needs to be set up, money needs to be stacked on another board, and the players need to place their starting setup tiles adjacent to their boards, as well as placing their income and reputation markers on their boards and their population marker on the population board. It’s not quite as bad as it probably sounds, but it can take a few minutes.

Gameplay
Starting with the first player, players purchase a tile from the real estate market, which is where tiles are dealt face up from the stacks created in the setup. Tiles have a cost printed on them, with more powerful tiles generally being more expensive, as well as a cost modifier printed on each slot of the real estate market that gets added to it. The tile on the far left (the newest) has the highest modifier, which decreases as you go to the right until reaching $0, as which point you just pay the printed cost. You also have the option to purchase one of the basic tile types, though you must also pay the modifier’s cost to discard a tile from the market, as well. Finally, you can pay the cost modifier to take a tile and place it face down as a lake. Once a tile has been purchased, the player places it in his/her borough. The only placement rule is that the tile must be adjacent to an existing tile in the borough.

When a tile is placed, the player makes any adjustments to their income and prestige levels, and then collects money equal to their income, and increases their population by the amount equal to their reputation level. These numbers can go into negative numbers, so it is possible that you will lose money or population at the end of your turn. When adjusting population, there are red lines on the board that, when crossed, penalize your income and prestige, so you don’t want to grow too much too quickly.

Whether a tile was purchased or discarded, any tiles to the left of the removed tile shift to the right and a new tile is taken off the stack and placed in the farthest left space in the real estate market. When the A stack runs out, you start taking tiles from the B stack; when B runs out, you go to C; somewhere in the C stack is a tile that tells you to play one more round, after which the game ends and final scoring begins.

If this sounds simple, it is. The complexity of the game comes from building your city in an optimal way. The tiles come in various zoning types. There are residential, commercial, industrial, and government tiles, and within each type, there are numerous individual tiles with individual effects. Some give a one-time bonus or reduction to income, reputation, or population, while others give a bonus or reduction based on how many tiles of a certain type surround it, how many of a certain type are in your town, or even how many of a certain type are in anyone’s town. Figuring out how to develop your city in order to maximize the bonuses can be quite challenging. Further complicating things are the additional costs in the real estate market. There may be a tile that would fit perfectly in your city, but you can’t afford it or don’t want to pay that high of a price for it. While you’re waiting for it to work its way to the left, someone else may buy it or even pay to discard it just so you don’t get it. You also never know what is coming next, so what seemed like a great move might suddenly become a very costly placement mistake.

Finally, the final element that complicates things is the presence of goals. That’s right. Goals. Some people love them, some hate them, and some just don’t care. None fo them are powerful enough to catapult someone into first if they haven’t been playing well up until then, but they are present in the game, so it is something you might want to consider. At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt two goals of which they keep one. This is their secret, personal goal for the game. There are also public goals that everyone can see and is competing for. When fulfilled, the goals give a population bonus at the end of the game. Whoever has the highest population at the end of the game wins.

Learning Curve
There’s a pretty low learning curve. It’s a game that is very simple mechanically, and can be learned pretty quickly, but still offers a lot of depth. The most difficult aspect to learn is probably remembering all of the things that have to be adjusted on each turn.

Components
The components are all very high quality. The tiles, coins, and boards are all made of thick, sturdy cardboard, and the player markers are wooden, though they’re a little on the small side. It’s a minor complaint, but it’s something. The first player marker even looks like a little skyscraper just to stick with the theme.

Overall Judgment/TL;DR Takeaway
Suburbia is a great game. It’s easy to teach, offers strategic depth, and has enough variety that games don’t really feel too similar. It feels very much like the board game version of the original SimCity with the different zones of predetermined sizes needing to be placed together in such a way that they work together. Really, my only complaints are that it’s a little too fiddly (move this marker, then move that one, and don’t forget about that one over there) and it seems like there is more room taken up by the tile and coin supply boards than players’ towns. All in all, those are obviously very minor complaints.

5
Go to the Boss Monster page

Boss Monster

125 out of 134 gamers thought this was helpful

Overview
Boss Monster is a game I first became aware of shortly after its Kickstarter ended. I was saddened when I found out about it, as I would have loved to help fund it. Instead, I preordered the retail version from the publisher and eagerly awaited the day it would arrive in my hands. That day came, and it certainly brought back great memories of countless hours of childhood lost playing NES games, but was nostalgia enough to keep me coming back?

Setup
The game is pretty simple. Everyone gets dealt a boss card to play as. Next, the heroes deck is assembled (based on the number of players) and shuffled, making sure all of the normal heroes are on top of the epic heroes. Finally, everyone draws cards from the spell deck and the room deck before choosing two to discard. This is their opening hand. That’s really all there is to it. Some shuffling of decks and dealing cards.

Gameplay
Gameplay starts with everyone playing a room face down to the left of their boss card (starting with the player whose boss had the highest XP number) and then flipping them over once everyone has put one down. This is the first room of your dungeon. Some rooms have abilities when you play them, some when you destroy them, some when a hero dies in them, etc.

Every subsequent turn starts with dealing a number of heroes equal to the number of players into the “town” (i.e. the middle of the table). Then each player builds a room either next to the existing rooms or on top of existing rooms (advanced rooms can only go on top of a room and it has to have a matching symbol–more on symbols in a moment). Spells with a hammer icon can also be played in the build phase.

Next, once everyone has played a room, you must determine if heroes are entering dungeons. To do this, you look at each hero’s card for the class symbol on it. There are four classes and four symbols (money bag = thief, ankh = cleric, sword = fighter, spellbook = mage). Each room also has one or more of these symbols, as do the boss cards. Each player totals each type of symbol, and whoever has the most of any given type attracts the associated type of hero to their dungeon. In the case of ties, the heroes stay in town until the tie is broken on subsequent turns.

Once heroes have been assigned, starting with the first player, the heroes enter the dungeon one at a time and progress through each room taking the printed amount of damage. Spells with an axe icon can be played during this phase of the game as well. If they make it to the boss without taking damage greater than their hit points, they deal a damage to the boss. If they die in the dungeon, the boss gets one point.

Eventually, once all of the regular heroes run out, the epic heroes arrive, which are more difficult to kill and deal two damage for getting through the dungeon, but also grant two points if they are killed. Otherwise, play continues in the above fashion until one boss monster has 10 points at the end of the turn or until all boss monsters are dead (bosses die when accumulating five wounds).

Learning Curve
The game is pretty simple, but the horrendous rulebook makes even a game as simple as this more difficult to learn than it needed to be. The priority system for resolving spells and abilities is also incredibly vague (even in the heavily updated FAQ), and seems to fluctuate sometimes (counterspells seem to establish a last-in, first-out stack like in Magic, though nothing else works this way). After a few games, you start to figure out what the rules were trying to say, but more than a few players may just throw their hands up and walk away before that point.

[NOTE: My copy was a first printing, so the rulebook may have been improved since then.]

Components
The art is pixelart, so you might be turned off by it already based on that, but I like it and thought it was very well done. It also evokes the theme very well. That said, the cards start to show wear pretty quickly, and the box insert wasn’t big enough to hold the cards if sleeved.

Overall Judgment/TL;DR Takeaway
When all is said and done, the game fell very flat after 10 plays or so. I started off really wanting to love the game for all of its nostalgic charms, but once the NES-era good vibes wore off, the game was just not that fun. The lack of balance and frequent potential for random screwage makes the game feel like Munchkin in all the worst possible ways. In the end, one person in our group liked the game (and is now the happy owner of my copy), while everyone else’s feelings ranged from mild disdain to outright loathing.

When it comes down to it, the game needed more substance. It’s essentially a bunch of cards that say “Hey, remember Metroid (or Mega Man or [insert classic video game/pop culture reference])?” There’s just not enough substance to the nostalgia to carry the experience, and there’s not enough substance to the game under that nostalgic veneer to make coming back worthwhile. As much as I wanted to love it, it’s game over for Boss Monster.

8
Go to the King of Tokyo page

King of Tokyo

46 out of 52 gamers thought this was helpful

Overview
King of Tokyo is a dice-rolling game with a whimsical take on Godzilla-like monster movies for its theme. Being a Richard Garfield creation, it can’t completely escape having cards come into the mix. The cards represent creature powers and events that occur in the struggle to destroy Tokyo.

Setup
The game takes virtually no time to set up. You lay the small board in the middle of the table and have everyone choose a monster. In the base game, they are all functionally identical, so this is a purely cosmetic choice (expansions grant the individual monsters unique powers). They place their monster’s standee in the plastic base and find the corresponding monster dial, setting the hit points to 10 and the victory points to 0. Next, you shuffle the cards and place three face up next to the deck. Finally, you pile the energy cubes within reach of everyone and get ready for dice-chucking mayhem. It’s really that simple, folks!

Gameplay
Determine the first player by rolling to see who gets the most “claw” results on the dice. Once that’s done, everyone’s turns will follow the same pattern. First, you will roll the six dice. You will choose any number of dice to keep and reroll the rest. You repeat the process for your third and final roll. Once you are done rolling, you look at the results. If you have three numbers of a kind, you get that many points (e.g. three “3” dice gets you three points, three “2”s gets you two points, etc.) and each additional die with that number is worth one point. Each lightning bolt gives you one energy cube, each claw adds one damage to your attack, and each heart heals a damage (more on all those in a minute). At the end of your turn, you may use any energy cubes to purchase one of the three face up cards or pay two cubes to discard them all and deal three new ones. You can purchase as many cards on a turn as you have cubes to pay for. The effects of these cards range from one-time use boosts to points or healing of damage to permanently adding to the number of dice you can roll to granting permanent powers to your monster. Once you are done buying cards (or choose not to), play passes to the next player.

Remember that board I mentioned in the setup, though? That represents Tokyo. Everyone starts the game outside of Tokyo, and the first player to roll and keep a claw result on a die gets to move into Tokyo. Only one player can be in Tokyo at a time (unless playing with 5 or 6 players, in which case two players can be). A player gets one point for moving into Tokyo, and gets two points for every turn they start in Tokyo. Being in Tokyo sounds pretty great, but there are some risks. When looking at the results of the dice rolls, anyone in Tokyo deals attack damage equal to the number of claws they rolled to EVERY player not in Tokyo. Awesome, right? Well, when calculating attacks, everyone not in Tokyo attacks anyone in Tokyo, so you will often get pretty roughed up, pretty quickly (the more players there are, the more true this becomes). Furthermore, you can’t use any rolled hearts to heal yourself in Tokyo (though card effects can still heal you). If it sounds like you’ll die pretty quickly in Tokyo, you’re probably right, but you can choose to leave Tokyo any time someone attacks you. You still take the damage, but you get out of the hot seat for a bit. Whoever was attacking gets to move into Tokyo as reward for chasing you out.

Play continues like this until there is only one monster left alive or until one player reaches 20 points.

Learning Curve
The learning curve for this game is pretty much as minimal as a game can be. Anyone familiar with dice-rolling games (Yahtzee, Farkle, Zombie Dice, etc.) will pick it up right away, and anyone who isn’t should have no problem picking it up due to the simplicity of it. Even my dad, who has never played anything more complicated that Monopoly, picked it up in less than a turn, and now asks me to bring it anytime there is a family gathering.

Components
The illustrations for the monsters and cards are great. They really establish the theme well, while going over the top in a humorous, family-friendly way. The board, though small, is sturdy. Really, the only complaint I have is with the card quality. After just 5 or 6 playthroughs, the backs of a few cards were already peeling quite a bit. I wasn’t really planning to sleeve them, since this wasn’t a shuffling intensive game or something like a competitive CCG, but I ended up doing so just to prevent further damage. Your mileage may vary with this, though.

Overall Judgment/TL;DR Takeaway
Overall, the game is great, lightweight fun. The simple rules and art style make it great for family game nights, and the competition and (slight) depth offered by the various strategies (hoard energy to buy cards, go all out on attacks, play it safe and let everyone else weaken each other, etc.) also make it a great filler game to play on game night with your gamer friends. It doesn’t revolutionize the dice-rolling genre, but it is extremely well done, incorporates some elements that add a bit of strategy (cards to buy, two paths to victory, etc.), and has a theme that most people can enjoy (c’mon, we’ve all seen Godzilla-type movies that take themselves way too seriously while being kind of a joke to everyone watching). It may not make a great choice for the main course at your next hardcore game night, but it is a great lightweight game that most everyone can enjoy.

6
Go to the Ascension page

Ascension

22 out of 26 gamers thought this was helpful

Overview
Ascension is a deckbuilding game designed by a handful of Magic Pro Tour players. Although it’s a deckbuilder, it introduces some significant changes from the basic Dominion style of deckbuilders. Do these changes make for a successful game, or just one that’s different for difference’s sake? Let’s get to the review.

Setup
Setup for Ascension is somewhat simpler (or at least more streamlined) than many other deckbuilders, largely thanks to the board and the labeled spaces on it. Each player is dealt a starting deck of three Militia and seven Apprentices. After that, you place the Cultist, the stack of Heavy Infantry, and the stack of Mystics on their respective spaces on the board. All of the Monsters, Heroes, and Constructs are then shuffled into a large deck and placed on the “Portal” slot on the board. One card is dealt from this deck onto each of the spaces in the middle of the board. Finally, a number honor crystals (based on the number of players) are piled together next to the board. That’s it. You’re now ready for the first player to take his/her first turn.

Gameplay
Much like Dominion, Ascension relies on you playing cards from your hand to “buy” other cards to add to your deck. In this game, instead of spending gold, you spend runes which are generated primarily by playing Apprentices (worth 1 rune) and Mystics (worth 2 runes). You can use these to buy cards from the middle of the board, including heroes or constructs, which have various effects, including providing additional runes, killing monsters (more on that in a moment), drawing cards, etc, or you can buy from the stack of Heavy Infantry or Mystics. As with other deckbuilders, anything you buy goes into your discard pile, and if it came from the row of cards on the board, you automatically deal another card from the Portal stack to replace it.

Unlike Dominion, this game has many fewer cards to be bought at any time, and there are monsters to be slain and constructs that can be played and remain in play. Rather than having a “buy” price in runes, monster cards have a defense number that must be exceeded by playing cards with attack value, typically Militia (1 attack) or Heavy Infantry (2 attack), though heroes often provide you with additional attack power as well. When slain, monsters are discarded and replaced by a new card from the Portal deck. They also grant Honor (victory points) in varying amounts, and can also allow you to banish cards from your deck to thin out the weaker starting cards, force other players to discard constructs, etc. If there are no monsters in play, you can beat up on the undying Cultist card. For every two attack power you have, you can attack the Cultist and gain one Honor. This isn’t a fast way to victory for certain, but it keeps your offensive cards from becoming completely dead cards if there are no monsters in play (which seems to happen more frequently than it should).

At the end of each player’s turn, all cards that were played or purchased that turn and cards that remain in your hand are all discarded. Five new cards are drawn, and play passes to the next player. Any time your deck runs out of cards, you just shuffle your discard pile and it becomes your draw pile, as with other deckbuilders. Play continues until all of the honor crystals have been earned. At that point, players total the honor value of each card in their deck (represented by a star with a number in the corner of each purchased card) and their number of honor crystals. Whoever has the most points wins.

Learning Curve
The game is incredibly simple to learn, and it should only take a turn or two to understand what is happening. For people who have played other deckbuilders, it will be even simpler. If anyone forgets, the board even has a basic turn structure printed on it for everyone to reference. Really, the only part that will take a few games to learn is what the various card interactions are and what the strategies for victory are.

Components
The board and the cards are all of very high quality. The cards are made of thick stock and have a nice glossy coating, and the mounted game board is thick enough that it doesnt feel like it’s about to tear and the folds. The art, however, is atrocious. We’re talking worse than most early Magic art (if you’re a former Magic player, think of the worst Ice Age had to offer and you’ll be on the right track). It is almost painful to look at, and much of it looks very rushed and sometimes unfinished. It’s not uncommon to see cards that look like rough pencil sketches rather than finished illustrations. Given that the guys behind this game are long-time M:tG pros, it seems like they would have had connections to better artists, though maybe they simply didn’t have the budget for better art. I don’t know, but it’s very distracting and really pulls you out of the game.

The other problem with the art (though this is more of an art direction/worldbuilding problem) is that there are different factions represented on the cards and they don’t feel like they could have believably come from the same world. One faction is very naturey, while another is more typical high fantasy style, and still another is almost steampunk. The radically different groups seem to be more than simple cultural differences would account for, which also pulls you out of the theme.

Overall Judgment/TL;DR Takeaway
The bottom line is that the game is fun, but I’m not sure how necessary it is to own. If you are looking for a fantasy-themed deckbuilder and don’t mind some horrible art, this is a good choice; if you want a deckbuilder and don’t care about theme, there are certainly better options out there; and if you already own another deckbuilder, there’s really nothing unique enough about the gameplay here to make it worth picking up. It’s a pretty good game, but in a genre as flooded as deckbuilding is, it takes more than just pretty good to stand out.

9
Go to the Race for the Galaxy page
34 out of 39 gamers thought this was helpful

Overview
Race for the Galaxy is a card game for 2-4 players in which players attempt to earn the most points through settling worlds, developing technology, and producing and selling goods. The game features a unique turn structure and fast card play once players are acquainted with the mechanics.

Setup
Setup is pretty quick with this game. Give each player the action cards for their colors (removing the two-player only cards if necessary), randomly deal each player one of the starting worlds, and shuffle all of the other cards (including remaining starting worlds) together into a communal draw pile. Finally, place the appropriate number of victory point chits in a pile (12 X number of players) and deal each player six cards, of which they will choose four to keep. Boom. Done. You’re ready for turn one.

Gameplay
Race for the Galaxy has a unique turn structure in which each player chooses one of the five possible turn phases (Explore, Develop, Settle, Consume, Produce) or two phases each in a two player game. Every player performs the associated action once (drawing cards, playing planet cards, producing or consuming goods, etc.), but each player gets a specific bonus on the phase they selected. If multiple players choose the same phase, it still only happens once, but each player that selected that phase gets the bonus. These bonuses include drawing additional cards, playing cheaper developments, and the like. Players settle most planets and play developments by discarding a number of cards equal to their costs. Some planets are military planets that must be conquered based on your military strength. Military strength is an ability granted by some planets and developments, along with other important abilities like producing and consuming goods, which often nets you additional cards or victory points. Once all of the selected phases have happened, a new round starts and everyone does it all over again until one player has 12 planets and/or developments in play or all victory point chits have been taken.

Learning Curve
For some people, the learning curve can be quite steep. That’s because the game uses a unique iconography system for each of the abilities on the planets and developments. Once you understand the basics (black circles are planets, red ones are military planets, numbers in hexagons are VP, etc.) it seems pretty logical for the most part. For instance, an eye with a one on it next to phase one means you get to look at one additional card on the explore phase, a hand holding a card with a number means you draw that many cards on that phase, a color next to consume or produce means it consumes or produces that color of goods, etc. For people who have a hard time with it, the publishers included a player aid for each player that has a key for the abilities. Everyone in my group picked it up pretty quickly after a couple of turns, but people often talk about how people have gotten overwhelmed by the iconography, so your mileage may vary. Other than that, it’s basically just a matter of knowing what to do on each phase of a turn (which is also listed on the player aid if you forget).

Components
I really like the art on most of the cards, but there are a couple of issues. First is that, though the cards feel like the stock is of standard thickness, the rigidity of the stock seems pretty flimsy. I immediately sleeved the cards because I was worried that they would start to wear out quickly. I didn’t actually try playing without sleeves, though, so I could be 100% wrong on the durability. The cards have a nice coating on them, though.

The other problem is the insert. Without some sort of after-market tinkering, the cards will just loosely float around the box, which isn’t a deal breaker by any means, but I do wish it stored more securely.

Overall Judgment/TL;DR Takeaway
This game is amazingly fun. Play progresses very quickly, especially once everyone has a good feel for how the turns progress and what the symbols on cards mean. There is also a surprising amount of depth for a game that plays so quickly. There are multiple strategies to pursue (get an economic engine going to consume your way to VP, boost your military to conquer a bunch of planets for VP, etc.) and a lot of difficult decisions along the way. While there isn’t much (i.e. any, really) player interaction, you do need to pay attention to what your competitors are playing in case they will be competing with you for similar cards or if you could shut them out of a particular important card to their setup.

In the end, this is one of my favorite games. It’s certainly enjoyable with three or four players, but I find the advanced two player rules (each player playing two actions per turn) provide for the most fun experience, at least in my opinion. Really the only thing holding it back is the lack of interaction, but that’s a minor complaint given how good everything else is.

5
Go to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords (Base Set) page
64 out of 71 gamers thought this was helpful

Overview
The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game attempts to recreate the feel of an RPG in card game format, thus eliminating the need for a DM or all that pesky role playing. It also promises to do the nigh impossible: incorporate a clear story into a card game. As someone who doesn’t enjoy tabletop RPGs (largely because of the necessity of finding a good DM or dealing with a bad one and the idea of seriously playing my character’s role) and someone who is a fan of card games (and being on the lookout for games that push what can be done within the limitations of a card game), this seemed like a perfect match for me. After numerous plays with groups of various sizes (and solo), I can say it is fun, but some flaws in gameplay and production keep it from being the revolution in card games it claims to be.

Setup
Setup can take a while. For the first play, you have to sort the cards by type and put them into the appropriate slots in the box insert. Thankfully, there’s a diagram in the rulebook that shows where everything should go, and they’re largely already grouped together by type. After that, it’s on to the rules. For RPGers, a lot of this is probably going to be intuitive. Much of it was pretty intuitive for me, and I’m not an RPG player. Simply from having played a lot of video game RPGs (particularly a lot of the older BioWare games) I was familiar enough with the idea of succeeding at checks and such. Given how little that experience adds to it, I feel confident that even people who have no experience with the concept will grasp it pretty easily (after all, it’s essentially just seeing if your dice roll totals at least a certain number). Honestly, the game as a whole it pretty simple in theory, but the rulebook is significantly flawed. There is a pretty impressively sized FAQ already on Paizo’s website to clarify things that they did a **** job of explaining, and even to add sections that they forgot to include, apparently. Basically, you’ve got your work cut out for you to wade through not just the rulebook but also the FAQ and to make sure you have it all down.

From there, you have to choose your characters and assemble your starting decks. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the suggested starting decks in the rulebook are actually what you should start with. Those have been errated in the FAQ, because some of them aren’t valid starting decks and there are certain combinations of characters that would require more copies of certain cards than they give you. Once you’ve consulted the interwebs to put your character together, you have to choose your adventure, find the locations you need for it, and assemble the location decks for each location. Each location tells you how many of each card type you need, which is nice, but it also requires you to shuffle the item, weapon, armor, spell, boon, barrier, monster, and ally decks so that you can randomly deal the right number of cards, which can take some time. Once that’s done, you make a deck of 30 random blessings as your “Blessings deck” (duh) that will serve to keep track of your number of turns. Got all that? Good, ’cause now it’s time to actually play.

Gameplay
In a nutshell, you are trying to find and defeat the boss of the scenario. You start your turn by advancing the blessings deck, then you can give a card to another player at your location, then change locations, explore, and reset your hand. Each location has different effects and different deck composition, so matching character strengths to locations can be important. To explore, you just flip the top card of a location deck and encounter it by attempting the check listed on it. If it’s equipment, a spell, an item, or an ally, you acquire it and add it to your hand by passing the check. If you fail the check, it goes back to the box. If it’s a monster or a barrier, you have to pass the check to defeat it. If you defeat it, it gets sent to the box. If you don’t, you take damage (or other effect from some barriers), and shuffle it back into the location deck. There are also henchmen and a boss. If you beat a henchman, you can attempt to close the location (each has a different requirement to close it), but otherwise you can’t close it until all cards are gone from the location deck. Closing locations is important, as if you encounter the boss, he will escape to an open location, even if he’s defeated.

If the boss is defeated and has nowhere to escape to, everybody wins and gets the benefit listed on the scenario card. Sometimes it’s acquiring an item, but on more difficult scenarios, your character gains a new skill. This is how the game replicates leveling up. If the blessings deck runs out, everyone fails, but gets to keep anything they’ve acquired. If a player must draw a card but has none left to draw, his/her character dies.

At the end of each scenario, players have to reset their decks. Each character’s card has a certain number of each card type that can be in their deck. You can choose any of the cards you have of that type to make up that number. You’ll pretty quickly replace the starting equipment in your decks with things you’ve acquired through exploration. Players can also trade cards freely with other members of the party at this point. Once the decks are set, you either start the next scenario or put your character decks in the handy slots in the insert to keep them together for next time.

The one area that really makes this game stand out is in the variety of ways you can play the cards. You can “reveal” a card (show it from your hand), “discard” it (exactly what it sounds like), “recharge” it (put it on the bottom of your deck), “bury” it (remove it from the game until the end of the scenario), or “banish” it (remove it from your deck permanently and put it back in the box). The effects these achieve get increasingly powerful based on what happens to the card. For instance, you can reveal a weapon to add a d8 to your combat check, or you can discard it to add the d8 and a d6 to the check.

Learning Curve
For anyone who is at all familiar with gaming, this should be a pretty easy game to learn. For people who aren’t familiar with gaming, it might take a couple of games to understand and remember everything, but it’s relatively simple. The learning curve is upped significantly, though, if you rely on the rulebook for your first games and then discover the FAQ. There are a lot of things that you’ll be doing wrong, even while following what it says in the rulebook, just because the rulebook isn’t always as helpful as it should be. Some things get glossed over, while others simply needed clarification to properly explain what needs to be done.

Components
The components are a real mixed bag. The box insert is great, as it keeps things separated and reduces setup time. Just don’t let the box get tipped on its side, or you’ll be sorting everything all over again. The dice are also roll well and aren’t too bouncy. The card art for the character cards, barriers, and spells all look good too. From there, things start to go downhill. The art for the other cards is something of a mixed bag (some of the monsters look good, for instance), with most of it being incredibly basic. You’ll probably find yourself thinking, “Yep. That’s a sword,” or “That sure is a skeleton.” It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just very expected, unexciting art. The cards feel good, but they start to get scuffed after a handful of plays. You could sleeve them, certainly, but then everything wouldn’t fit in the insert by the end of the campaign. I also had a card in my base set that was already incredibly damaged on the back when I opened it (the art on the back was largely torn off). It seems that this isn’t terribly uncommon based on forum posts. [As a side note, Paizo’s customer service was polite enough, but it took them two weeks to get back to me about the issue, and another three weeks for me to get the replacement card in the mail.] The coloration on the cards is also incredibly inconsistent. Some have very heavy black outlines around the logo and characters on the card backs, while others the black is virtually non-existent. The coloration is also very dark on some and very vibrant on others. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the changes.

Finally, there is a lot of errata, both for the cards and the rulebook. Sometimes it is simply because of sloppy proofreading (for instance, Detect Magic says you must pass an Arcane 14 check to recharge it, but it should say Arcane 4, and other cards are missing card types or have some they shouldn’t have), but others are missing important rules text. Blessing of the Gods, for instance, says yo ucan treat it as a copy of the top card of the blessings deck, but fails to mention that it doesn’t gain the recharge ability of those cards, which is a pretty important distinction.

Overall Judgment/TL;DR Takeaway
The basic gameplay can be quite fun. The diverse card playing mechanics are a breath of fresh air, and the persistent characters who level up over time is also a great addition to the idea of co-op card games. For all the talk of story, though, it’s virtually non-existent, or at least not more prominent than other similarly themed card games (such as Lord of the Rings: the Card Game). The story basically boils down to general, vague ideas (we’re finding the person who is poisoning people in this town, we’re hunting goblins who attacked a town, we’re fighting this dragon that’s been terrorizing a town, etc.). It certainly isn’t the narrative-heavy, story-driven experience Paizo implies it is. That’s not necessarily bad, as it doesn’t really affect the gameplay, but if you’re coming for a strong story, you’ll be disappointed. You’ll also be disappointed if you’re expecting a deeply co-op experience. While there are some benefits to being at the same location, and a few characters have abilities that help others at the same location, it’s often a better strategy to spread out. As such, most of the cooperation comes from playing cards to help out other party members and sharing loot at the end of the scenario.

Really, though, the main things that hold the game back is the seemingly amateur nature of the whole production. From the mountain of errata and rules clarifications to the mixed quality of the printing on the cards, this seems more like a product of some small independent company working on their first game. I know Paizo isn’t the biggest company in the world, but Pathfinder is a very successful brand and they’ve made enough games to do better than this. I know most any game ends up with some errata and revisions, but for a $60 investment, I expect it to be a game that feels like a finished product. One of my friends summed it up best when he said, “It’s a fun game, but it feels like we’re beta testers.”

9
Go to the Summoner Wars: The Filth Faction Deck page
15 out of 16 gamers thought this was helpful

Given that this is an expansion for Summoner Wars and requires either the Master Set or a Starter Set to use it, I’ll assume anyone reading this is familiar with the basics of the game. As such, I won’t really talk about the gameplay itself, just this faction.

The Filth are by far the most unique of the 16 factions in Summoner Wars (and were it not for the Fallen Kingdom, they’d easily be my favorite faction). This uniqueness comes from two things: they mutate common units into more powerful ones rather than having champions, and they have some cards that can be played on your opponent’s turn (an extreme rarity in this game). The latter of these is pretty self-explanatory, so the former is where I’ll focus my time.

Just like how other factions have common units, so does the Filth. Unlike other factions, the Filth don’t have champions; they have mutants. These mutant cards fill the same role as champions (the heavy duty units of the faction, often with useful abilities), but they are played directly on top of an existing common unit. As the label “mutant” implies, this is supposed to be representative of the twisted mutations the faction’s members submit themselves to. From a gameplay perspective, this makes any opponent’s cards that card about champions useless and also allows for some deceit. No weak unit is nonthreatening when any of them could suddenly become a sturdy melee attacker who also sprouted wings and can move over walls as if they were normal spaces. With some misdirection, you can approach an opponent’s front line from multiple angles and then drop the mutant on the unit(s) that he/she will have the hardest time dealing with.

If you are still fairly new to the game or like simple, straightforward factions, the Filth isn’t for you. If you like flexibility and the ability to be tricky and play a few mind games with your opponent, the Filth is a dream come true. In either case, it’s a faction completely unlike any other in the game.

If you’ve read any of my other Summoner Wars reviews, you know what’s coming. The cards are high quality, the art is good (and particularly effective at capturing the grotesqueness of this faction), but the lack of a tuckbox or any sort of storage solution once the package is opened still annoys me, so get your glue and scissors ready to make your own (a variety of user-made templates are available on the internet). All in all, though, this is a fantastic addition to the game, especially if you’re looking for something to add significant variety to the mix.

9
Go to the Summoner Wars: Fallen Kingdom Faction Deck page
15 out of 16 gamers thought this was helpful

First of all, like the description says above, this expansion requires either a Master Set or Starter Set for Summoner Wars. Assuming you have one of those, you know how the game works, so I’ll jump right to this faction itself.

Of the 16 factions available in Summoner Wars, the Fallen Kingdom is my favorite. This is the faction made up of the undead, necromancers, etc. If you’re a fan of black from Magic: the Gathering, you’ll be right at home here. The Fallen Kingdom revolves around reanimating common units from your discard pile and making sacrifices for powerful benefits. Some units also have the ability to essentially reanimate units they just killed in combat. When played correctly, this faction can generate a massive wave of units that overwhelm your opponent(s). Of course the downside of this is that if you run out of event cards or your opponent has killed a large number of your common units (thus taking them as magic points), your options become much more limited. Even then, the faction isn’t helpless, but it is significantly weaker.

As with all of the factions in the game, the materials are hit and miss. The cards themselves are of high quality, and the character art is quite good, but the repeated use of a close-up of the summoner’s face for all of the event cards gets a little tiresome. Finally, be prepared to print and assemble your own tuckbox for the deck, as there is no storage solution in the package.

Overall, though, this factions is a great addition to a solid game that maintains the game balance while adding to the variety of play styles.

7
Go to the The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game page
207 out of 214 gamers thought this was helpful

Overview
The Lord of the Rings: the Card Game is a solo or co-op card game taking place in the Tolkien’s Middle Earth (obviously) during the time period between the end of The Hobbit and the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. As such, the game features characters and locations from the novels, but doesn’t retell the events of the series (though new “Saga Expansions” have started to change this). Also, as you may have picked up on, the game is based on the novels, not the movies, so don’t expect to see Elijah Wood or Orlando Bloom showing up in the card art. Players work together to complete quests while overcoming challenges represented by a “challenge deck”.

Setup
The initial setup for the game is about on par with other LCGs. You have some tokens to punch out and a rulebook to read, but it shouldn’t take too long. The rulebook is pretty clear and the rules are relatively simple (especially for a card game), so it doesn’t take much time to get through. After that, it’s simply a matter of grabbing all of the cards for your chosen sphere for the initial playthrough.

Subsequent playthroughs may require deckbuilding if you choose to go that route which, let’s be honest, is probably part of the game’s appeal. The starting decks are also not awful but certainly not that great and are all single-sphere focused, so you’ll probably want to spend at least a little time brewing up your own. Whether you build your own decks or not, you’ll need to assemble the “encounter deck” using the sets of cards whose icons match those on the first card of the quest you selected. Assuming you keep the game somewhat well organized, it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes or so to get everything ready for play (not counting reading the rulebook).

Gameplay
Players begin the game with their heroes already in play. The quest and encounter decks are placed in the middle of the play area, players draw their starting hands, the first player is determined (first player is identified by a marker that rotates to the next player clockwise at the beginning of each turn), any initial setup described on the “A” side of the first quest card is completed, and initial threat levels are calculated (by adding each player’s heroes’ threat totals together). Play then begins with the drawing of a card and placing a resource marker on each hero. The first player then gets the chance to use the resources accumulated on heroes to play any allies, enhancements, or events they wish to play (events can also be played at the end of each turn phase or when the conditions of a “response” trigger are met). Once the first player is done playing cards, each player gets the chance to do so, going around in clockwise order.

Next comes the questing phase, which begins with committing characters to the quest. Each quest has a number of progress tokens that are necessary to be placed on it in order to move on to the next part of the quest. To do so, players commit heroes or allies to the quest. Each player decides who, if anyone, to commit and exhausts them (turns them sideways). One card is then revealed from the top of the encounter deck for each player and is placed in the “staging area”. Any “when revealed” effects are resolved, and the “threat total” of the cards in the staging area is added up and compared with the total willpower of all committed characters (threat and willpower are both indicated by values on the cards). If the willpower is higher, a number of progress tokens is placed on the quest equal to the difference between willpower and threat. If threat is higher, each player advances their threat totals by a number equal to the difference.

Then, the first player can choose to travel to a location in the staging area if the party isn’t currently already at a location. The location is moved from the staging area and no longer contributes its threat to the threat total. Each location requires a certain amount of progress tokens to discard the location. As long as the party is at a location, they must discard the location before they can travel to another or make progress on the current quest.

Next comes the engagement phase. First, each player may choose to optionally engage an enemy in the staging area. After this, if there are still enemies in the staging area, engagement checks are run. Each enemy unit has an engagement number at the top. Starting with the first player, each enemy compares this number to the players’ threat totals. If the threat total is equal to or greater than the enemy’s number, the enemy engages the player. If not, it will continue to check players’ totals going clockwise around the table until a player is engaged or all players have been checked and fail to meet the minimum threat (whichever happens first). Once all players have done engagement checks for any enemies in the staging area and any enemies are engaged, play progresses to the combat phase.

In combat, the players choose one of the enemies they are engaged with and can choose a hero or ally to defend the attack by exhausting the character. They then repeat the process for each engaged enemy. Then, a card is dealt from the encounter deck to each attacking enemy. If the card has a “shadow effect,” it is applied to the engagement (generally a buff of the attacker or debuff of the defender) Attack and defense values are then compared to determine if any damage is dealt to the players’ characters. Then, players can choose any ready (i.e. not exhausted) characters to attack the enemy. Unlike with defenders, any number of ready characters can attack a single enemy, using their total combined attack value. If an enemy isn’t killed in the attack phase, they will remain engaged with that player for all future turns until killed or returned to the staging area by an effect.

After combat, the turn ends with the refresh phase. All exhausted cards are readied, threat dials are all advanced by one, and the “first player” marker moves to the next clockwise player. The next turn then begins.

The players win by completing all of the quest cards’ requirements. A player is out of the game if all of his/her heroes are killed or if his/her threat dial reaches 50.

Learning Curve
The game is extremely easy to learn. If you’ve played any CCGs or LCGs before, things will seem very intuitive, though the fact that you’re playing against an enemy deck that plays itself rather than an enemy player does necessitate the addition of a few steps not normally found in card games. None of them should be too confusing. After a single game round, you’ll probably have a good understanding of how everything goes.

Even if you’re not a card game veteran, you’ll probably be able to pick it up just fine. Even my complete non-nerd, non-gamer wife volunteered to play the game with me and was no longer having to ask for clarification on the phases of turns by the second or third turn of her first game. By the end of the game, she was even clear on action windows and was starting to spot combos and card interactions (she also found it pretty fun, too).

All in all, most people should be more than competent players by the end of the introductory quest, which takes about half an hour to complete.

Components
The components that are included are all high quality, from the threat dials to the tokens to the cardstock of the cards, everything is quite durable. The artwork on the cards is also generally phenomenal. Whether it is portraying the beauty of the Shire, the heroic characters players use, or the ominous locations and the horrific threats you face during your quests, the art does a great job of capturing the feel of the world and the mood of each card’s subject. It’s also nice to get a fresh take on this familiar world, as the art tends to eschew the style of previous adaptations of the source material, including significant distance from the style of the Peter Jackson movies that has come to dominate most Middle Earth-related art in the last decade or so.

The rub, though, is that despite the quality of the contents, there is a significant lack of some contents (roughly half sized decks, only two threat trackers, etc.) due to what seems to be a pretty heavy handed attempt to get players to buy a second copy of the core set.

Overall Judgment/TL;DR Takeaway
Overall, the game is great. The co-op nature makes it more welcoming to non-gamers than a competitive LCG, while the challenge level of most quests and the prospect of deckbuilding will still keep more traditional and hardcore gamers interested. It’s an easy game to pick up as well as teach, and has rules for an “easy mode” too, making it something of an unexpected contender as a gateway game, particularly if you have non-gamer friends who are fans of the source material. As my wife’s enjoyment of the game shows, though, even if you know non-gamers who are barely aware such a thing as the Lord of the Rings exists, the game isn’t so dependent on the Middle Earth theme that there isn’t something for Tolkien outsiders to enjoy.

Sadly, although the game is wonderful, this core set is significantly disappointing. The core set contains a deck for each of the four spheres, as well as three separate quests of varying difficulty levels which gives you a good amount of replayability without having to buy any expansions (the fact that you’ll probably fail at least one of the quests sometimes further increases the replayability). The problem is that, like with all LCG core sets, Fantasy Flight wants you to buy two copies. As such, the decks you’re supplied with for each sphere are only about half the number of cards that are recommended for a deck. As such, you get a very limited experience with each one. The game is also designed to allow multi-sphere decks, but most of the cards that make this a significantly viable proposition are spread throughout the first cycle of expansions. Even if you attempt it with just the core set, you’re going to run into the problem of not having enough of the good cards to make a multi-sphere deck very consistent. A second core set makes this more viable, and makes the single-sphere decks stronger as well. The box also says that you need a second core set to play with more than two players, but that’s a lie. There are only two threat tracker dials included in the set (again, for seemingly no purpose other than to try to sell you on a second core set), but you can just as easily track the third and fourth players’ threat levels on paper, and if you ever run out of resource tokens (if one player were to be stockpiling them), you could always just use beads or any other type of marker.

In the end, it’s a great game, but the core set significantly hampers it (particularly as an introduction to the game) due to significant intentional limitations in an effort to force players into buying multiple copies of the core set.

10
Go to the Android: Netrunner page

Android: Netrunner

92 out of 99 gamers thought this was helpful

Overview
Android: Netrunner is a revival of the mid-90s CCG Netrunner, originally designed by Magic: the Gathering creator Richard Garfield. This incarnation has been liscensed by Fantasy Flight from Wizards of the Coast and is a part of their Living Card Game (LCG) line of products. The game throws players into a dystopian, cyberpunk setting (think a heavy helping of Neuromancer with a dash of Snow Crash liberally sprinkled in) with one player representing a Runner (i.e. hacker) and the other playing as a megacorporation defending its servers. Gameplay is asymmetrical with both players pursuing the same basic objective (gaining 7 agenda points) through drastically different methods.

Setup
The initial setup can be quite lengthy. As with most every Fantasy Flight LCG, there are some tokens to be punched out and such, but the majority of the initial setup time comes from the rulebook. The rulebook is pretty heft compared to most other card games, largely due to the asymmetrical nature of the game. This means that you’re largely learning two different sets of rules for one game: one set for the runner and nother set for the corp. The rule book discusses many of the rules well, but the FAQ on Fantasy Flight’s website is pretty necessary to fill in some of the gaps, which was frustrating initially. I would suggest watching a video tutorial to help the rules make sense more easily. The tutorial on FF’s website is about 20 minutes, but isn’t as helpful as some YouTube video walkthroughs, many of which clock in near 45 minutes. At any rate, there is a somewhat significant time investment prior to the first game if you’re self-teaching.

After that, it’s just a matter of shuffling decks. Once you have the hang of it, you can either continue playing the precon decks or, particularly with the addition of expansions, invest a potentially significant amount of time into a deep deckbuilding system.

Gameplay
Much like M:tG, Netrunner can be a complicated game to explain in all of its nuances, so I won’t attempt that in this review. Instead, I’ll just stick to the basics. One side is the Corp player, who attempts to advance “agendas” in order to score points while protecting their servers with ICE (intrusion countermeasure electronics, for those not hip to the cyberpunk vernacular) in order to keep the Runner from stealing the agendas for him/herself before they can be scored. There are four different Corps to choose from, and each plays significantly differently from the rest, from Haas-Bioroid’s beefy security programs to Jinteki’s deceptions and ambushes to NBN’s and Weyland’s significantly different approaches to the “tag and bag” style of play. The wide range of mechanics and emphases will accommodate most play styles in some way right out of the box and can be expanded in many directions with additional expansions.

Each turn, the Corp player draws a card and gets three “clicks” to use for taking actions. There are many actions available, including gaining a credit or drawing a card, playing “Operations” (which give some one-time effect upon resolving) by using a click and paying the appropriate number of credits as printed on the card, or “installing” cards by playing them facedown on the table in columns called “servers.” Cards that can be installed include ICE, Agendas, Assets, and Upgrades. A server can have an unlimited number of pieces of ICE protecting it and an unlimited number of upgrades, but only one asset or agenda behind the server’s ICE. As long as they are face down, Corp cards are inactive and grant no effects. In order to turn them faceup, the player must “rez” them by paying credits equal to the card’s “rez cost” printed in the corner. When turned faceup, assets generally provide some sort of resource benefits, upgrades (obviously) modify the cards in that server somehow, and ICE protects a server. Agendas are the exception to the rule, and though placed facedown, they can’t be rezed like other cards. Instead, Corp players can use a click and a credit to “advance” an agenda. Once it has the number of advancement tokens on it equal to or greater than the number printed on it, it can be scored, netting the Corp player a certain number of “agenda points,” which are used to win the game.

There are other cards that are advanceable, though, including assets, which gives the impression to the runner that this server contains an agenda. Some of these assets are even “ambushes” that cause damage or other negative effects when the runner accesses them. These ambushes (and some other card effects) often cause damage to the runner. There are three types of damage in the game: net damage, meat damage, and brain damage. Net and meat damage both cause the runner to discard a number of cards equal to the damage taken. They only differ in effects that can prevent one and not the other, and in the flavor of the damage source (net damage is, thematically, damage dealt by the Corp’s security systems while the Runner is jacked into their system, while meat damage is physical damage cause by real-world retaliation, such as sending goons to break the runner’s legs or something similar). Brain damage requires the discarding of cards, as well, but it also reduces the Runner’s maximum hand size by one for the rest of the game.

The Corp player wins by scoring at least seven agenda points or “flatlining” the runner (i.e. making them discard more cards than they have or reducing their hand size to below zero). As you can see, the Corp player is generally focused on building up defenses, managing resources, and bluffing the runner.

There are only three Runner factions (Anarchs, Criminals, and Shapers), but there is just as much variety available as with the four Corporate factions. The Runner, unlike the Corp, doesn’t get to automatically draw a card each turn, but they get four clicks per turn, instead of the Corp’s three. Runners can use clicks to draw cards, gain credits, play “events” (the runner equivalent of “operations”), and install cards. The Runner installs all cards faceup and has to pay the install cost in credits in addition to the click. Runner cards include Resources (generally generating credits or allowing card draws), programs (most commonly ICEbreakers, used to, ahem, break through ICE), and hardware (allowing more programs to be installed or boosting their effectiveness, generally). The Runner can also “make a run” on any of the corporation’s servers. If the server has ICE protecting it, the Corp can rez it and force the Runner to interact with it. The Runner uses ICEbreakers to interact with ICE, but only if the breaker’s strength is equal or greater than the ICE’s strength. Most ICE has multiple “subroutines” that the breaker must break in order to prevent them from triggering. This is done by triggering abilities on the breaker that generally cost credits to trigger, though some have alternative costs, such as clicks. If a Runner makes it through all ICE protecting a server without triggering an “end the run” subroutine, they get to access the cards within the server. If they access an agenda, they steal it and claim the agenda points for themselves. If it isn’t an agenda, they may have the option to pay a certain number of credits to make the Corp player discard the card, though some cards to not offer this opportunity.

The Runner wins the game by stealing at least seven agenda points or if the Corp player must draw a card from his/her deck but has no cards left to draw. The Runner primarily focuses on managing resources, building up strong ICEbreakers, and reading their opponent.

The deckbuilding is satisfying and somewhat different from card games that rely on an M:tG-style resource matching to play cards. Since all cards are played with clicks and credits, the faction-specific cards all have an “influence value” between 1 and 5. Depending on the identity you choose, your deck has a maximum of out-of-faction influence (most identities have a max of 15). This makes it easier to splash cards from another faction without worrying about being unable to pay to play them.

Learning Curve
There is a somewhat significant learning curve for the initial game for each side. There is a lot of terminology to get a handle on, which can be confusing to people who aren’t cyberpunk fans or are new to gaming. It doesn’t help that the same components for the Corp and Runner have different names. For instance, the Runner’s hand is called the “grip,” while the Corp’s hand is “HQ.” The player’s decks are the “stack” and “R&D,” respectively. The names are all highly thematic and make sense within that theme, but can seem unnecessarily complicated to some people.

The asymmetrical nature of the game also increases the time it takes to learn, since the rules are fairly different for each side. It’s similar to learning two separate but related games at once, which can be overwhelming or confusing for some people, as well.

Beyond those concerns, it’s simply a matter of learning the timing structure and when a player has priority to play abilities, which will simply take a few playthroughs. The priority system is relatively simple, though, which certainly helps speed this up. All told, within a couple of games, you should have the basics down, and from there it’s a matter of figuring out the optimal card interactions and how to read/bluff your opponent.

Components
As with most Fantasy Flight games, the tokens and counters are nice and thick, and the cards are of a good weight of cardstock and have a nice coating on them. The art is very evocative of the cyberpunk setting, but it is somewhat inconsistent. Some cards are phenomenal, while others seem a little weak. It also doesn’t help that the artistic styles of many of the artists vary widely, which keeps the game from establishing a cohesive feeling for the world. This may not be an issue for people who have played the other games set in this shared world (Android and Infiltration), but it kind of bothers me since I haven’t played those games. All in all, though, it’s a high-quality set of materials.

Overall Judgment/TL;DR Takeaway
I’ve played a lot of CCGs/LCGs in my time, and Android: Netrunner is the best of them, hands down. The gameplay is deeply strategic, and since it largely depends on bluffing/reading your opponent, simply changing opponents can drastically alter how you play. The variety of factions also keeps things fresh, as there are multiple themes within each one that players can gravitate toward as their playstyle may lead them to. The game is also incredibly well-balanced. While it may sometimes seem like one side is at an advantage, there are almost always ways to bring things back into balance. This really puts the emphasis on player skill rather than one side’s or faction’s dominance.

It’s also worth noting that, while two core sets are recommended as with most LCGs, this game plays better with a single copy than most of the other ones. There are certainly cards that you’ll want more than a single copy of down the line, but to start with, you get a lot of variety and decks that run reasonably well, which is more than can be said for a lot of the game’s LCG brethren.

In the end, if you even slightly enjoy card games, you should give Android: Netrunner a try. Its bluffing and getting into your opponent’s head, all while building your arsenal and managing your funds, makes for a commbination unlike any other game in an often too-familiar genre. If you’re a fan of the original Netrunner, you’ll notice some differences (most notably the Runner and Corp factions and identities), but it’s still the same great game it always was at its core and, if anything, the changes enhance the experience. If you missed out on the original, there’s no better time than the present to jack in to a great game.

7
Go to the Smash Up page

Smash Up

39 out of 44 gamers thought this was helpful

Overview
Smash Up is a card game for 2-4 players in which each player attempts to take over the world. This is done by taking two of the eight available faction decks and shuffling them together. Each faction is radically different from the others, so the resulting deck is a thematic “smash up” that serves as the game’s hook. Players then use these decks to try to capture locations, each of which is worth a different number of victory points. The first player to 15 VP wins.

Setup
The rule book is very straight forward and pretty short, so it shouldn’t take much time to get through. It even makes some attempts at humor. Whether those are successful attempts or not will vary from person to person, though. From there, it’s just a matter of taking each faction’s deck out of the plastic wrap, choosing two factions, and shuffling things up (each player’s deck and the deck of locations).

I’ve played two different variations for faction selection. In both, we rolled a die, and the winner chose first, followed by each other player in descending order of die roll. In one system, the faction decks were faceup and the player actively chose two factions that would play together well, and in the other they were all facedown, so it was more random since no one knew what was in the stacks they were choosing. Your mileage may vary, but I found both to be about equal. The first can lead to the final player being stuck with two factions that go together horribly, while the second can put anyone in that position.

Gameplay
Gameplay in Smash Up is very simple. Each turn, a player may play up to one minion card from their hand on a location (or “Base” as the game calls them) and up to one action. Neither playing a minion or action is mandatory. The only way to play more than one of either is for an action or minion ability to tell you to do so. For instance, Wizards are often able to play additional actions on a turn and Robots frequently let you play more than one Robot minion per turn.

Once any minions and actions have been played, each base is “checked for scoring.” To do this, the number in the top left corner of all minions at a base (not just your own) are added up. If that number exceeds the base’s “Breakpoint” (i.e. the number in the top left corner of the base card), you begin to score the base. Whoever has the most minion power at a base gets the number of victory points on the left, the person in second gets the middle amount, and the person with the least gets the far right. These generally start with the highest amount on the left and descend to the right, though some give more points to the third place player than second place. All of this becomes important when planning where to play your minions and if to use any abilities that trigger when scoring begins, such as being able to sneak in additional minions or move an opponent’s minion to a different base.

Finally, after any bases have been scored, the player draws two cards and ends the turn. Play continues like this until a player accumulates 15 victory points and wins.

Learning Curve
There is very, very little learning curve involved with this game. It really is as simple as it sounds, and it’s a great game to play with non-gaming friends or as a family with relatively young children (most kids should be able to handle the rules by age 8 or 10). It also makes it a less daunting task to teach the game to others.

Components
The cards are a good thickness and the coating is nice and glossy without feeling slick. The art is also quite good and really gives each faction a unique identity. The fact that each faction also has a unique card frame that matches the thematic feel of the faction also helps this aspect. One of the best aspects of the game components is the inclusion of a tray that holds each deck and has slots ready to go for the factions in the expansions. Everything can be kept in one box without having to resort to any sort of alternative storage or homebrew modifications to the packaging.

Overall Judgment/TL;DR Takeaway
I really wanted to love Smash Up, but instead I just like it. It’s certainly a great premise, and in theory it’s fantastic, but problems come in with the actual “smashing up” of the factions. Some factions, like the Ninjas, work very well with most other factions, as they can sneak additional units into play and other stealthy actions. Others, like the Robots, are more concerned with their own faction than anyone else. Like the Ninjas, you can sneak additional units into play and even pump your units, but they generally have to be other Robots. While these two factions work well together, it’s mainly because Ninjas work so well with other factions that it makes up for Robots’ lack of interactivity. Now, if you paired Robots with Dinosaurs, you’d have lots of brute force, but brute force only gets you so far in this game, so you’d probably find yourself falling behind. Then there are factions like the Tricksters that don’t work particularly well or poorly with other factions, but are so reactive, requiring other players to have done certain things, that you can end up with dead cards in your hand for turns at a time, which isn’t fun.

Sometimes the game works beautifully, and when it does, it’s a lot of fun. Unfortunately, sometimes the main theme behind the game (smashing together two different factions) holds the game back if the factions don’t really seem to care about the other faction. For all the talk of combo effects, there are some combinations that just don’t work like that. Sometimes you get two great tastes that taste great together, but other times you’ll get factions that go together about as well as chocolate pudding and tuna salad. Even the most fun-loving, laid back person would have a hard time making that enjoyable. If you’re willing to accept the risk of a frustrating mess in a generally enjoyable game, there are good times to be had with Smash Up. If you’re not sure, though, I’d recommend playing it a few times before settling on a purchase.

8
Go to the Star Wars: The Card Game page
124 out of 132 gamers thought this was helpful

Overview
Star Wars: the Card Game is the most recent addition to Fantasy Flight’s Living Card Game series (at least as of the time of this review). The game casts one player as one of three Light Side factions (Rebellion, Jedi, or Smugglers and Spies) and the other as one of three Dark Side factions (Imperial Navy, Sith, or Scum and Villainy). Both sides use vehicles, heroes, and creatures to defend their own objectives and attack the opposing side’s objectives. The Light Side attempts to destroy three Dark Side objectives before the “Death Star dial” reaches 12, while the Dark Side attempts to stall the Light Side (and maybe even advance the Death Star dial more quickly, if they can).

Setup
Initial setup might take a little while. As with most any Fantasy Flight product, there are quite a few tokens and markers to punch out. Once that’s done, the rulebook is about on par with the rulebooks from the other LCGs, if you’ve played any of those. If not, it covers the rules pretty well, but some times it spends a bit too much time on aspects that probably don’t need that much attention and gets a little boring. As a whole, though, it’s pretty clear. Once you have a grasp of what the rules are, it’s simply a matter of assembling the pre-made faction decks, which is pretty simple because of the “objective set” nature of decks (more on that in a minute). If all you have is the core set, you’ll only have two factions per side, as the Smugglers and Spies and Scum and Villainy factions only have a single objective set each, with the rest of those factions’ starter decks available in the Edge of Darkness deluxe expansion.

If you continue to just use the core set, you can just keep those decks together, as they don’t share any cards outside of one objective set, but two copies of that one are included in the core set. If, however, you buy more than just the core set, you can build your own decks, which is part of the appeal for most players. Deckbuilding in this game is quite different than any other LCG or CCG I’ve ever played. Rather than choosing a minimum of 60 cards for your deck, you choose a minimum of 10 objective sets. Each objective set has an objective–cards used to generate resources and, generally speaking, gain some effect–and five other cards that can be units, events, enhancements, etc. If you choose an objective set, you must take all six of the cards. If you use the minimum of 10 objective sets, this will give you a 10 card objective deck and a 50 card command deck. A maximum of two copies of each objective set can be included in the deck, though some specify that only one can be included. This is a novel method of deckbuilding that makes it easier for deckbuilding neophytes to assemble decks easily and quickly, while also providing a new spin on deckbuilding for CCG and LCG veterans, as players must evaluate sets of cards, rather than individual cards. The sets that have powerful cards generally balance them out with numerous weaker cards, forcing you to determine if it’s worth all the extra chaff just to get that one piece of wheat. While I was initially concerned that I would hate this style of deckbuilding, I actually find that I quite enjoy it as a change of pace from more traditional deckbuilding. It also gives some flexibility to the game, as you can pull it out and be playing in minutes or spend hours perfecting the perfect deck.

It’s worth noting that, although you can have up to two copies of most objective sets, both the Core Set and Edge of Darkness deluxe expansion only include one of each objective set (with one exception in the Core Set), meaning you need two copies of each in order to make the best decks you can. You can certainly get by with one of each, but I found the decks became much more fun with the addition of a second copy due to the fact that I could have more consistent draws. The individual “force packs” and the upcoming Balance of the Force expansion only require one copy, as they either include two copies or feature “limited” objective sets (i.e. you can only have one copy in a deck anyway).

Gameplay
As with many card games, the gameplay can get kind of complex, so I won’t go into huge amounts of detail here (the video tutorial on Fantasy Flight’s website does a pretty good job of giving you the basics if you’re interested), but I will give a general overview. Each player uses his/her objectives to generate resources (some units/enhancements can also generate resources) which they use to play the cards in their command deck. They use units (think “creatures” if you’re an M:tG player) to attack their opponent’s objectives and defend their own, and use enhancements (enchantments in M:tG) to improve their units, objectives, or play area, or to impede their opponent’s units, objectives, or play area. Event cards are similar to instants and sorceries in Magic and grant some (generally temporary) effect upon being resolved.

There are a few things that set this game apart from other card games, at least in my experience, so I’ll focus on those. The Death Star dial goes up by one each Dark Side turn, and when it reaches 12, the Light Side loses. There are some cards that allow the Light Side to reduce the number on the dial, and the Dark Side has ways to advance it additional times (such as destroying Light Side objectives or having the balance of the force in favor of the Dark Side). This serves as a timer on the game and forces people to make plays, which is good, but it also encourages the Light Side to rely on aggro decks and the Dark Side is rewarded for playing control-style decks since they will win by default if they can hold out long enough. If you’re playing with a group of people who are willing to experiment in the name of fun, this is less of an issue, but for power gamers or anyone else who really wants to win, it kind of limits your deckbuilding styles in order to stay competitive.

Combat also functions somewhat differently than other games. Each turn, the active player may choose to attack an enemy objective. They then declare any units as attackers that they wish to use in the fight. The defender then declares defending units. Once that’s done, an “edge battle” takes place. In an edge battle, players alternate laying cards face down from their hand until both players pass without laying one down. Once that’s done, the cards are flipped face up, and the number of force icons (little white circles printed on each card) are counted. Whichever player has the most force icons wins the edge battle and gets to resolve the first attack. Edge battles are also important for two other reasons. The first is that “fate” cards can only be played during edge battles. These cards have different effects–some deal additional damage, some restart the edge battle, etc.–but they can often make a significant impact on the game. The second reason is that many units have damage icons that are “edge dependent” and only activate if the controlling player won the edge battle. Some units even have only edge dependent icons, making them something of a gamble to declare in combat, though the payoff is often significant if you win.

Once the edge battle is decided, the winning player chooses one of their units, “focuses” that unit (kind of like tapping in Magic, though in this game focus tokens are used, which can be built up to keep units unusable for multiple turns) and resolves that unit’s damage icons. Damage comes in three types: unit damage, blast damage, and tactics damage. Logically, unit damage is used to place damage tokens on a unit. All unit damage from a card must be assigned to a single opposing unit, even if it surpasses that unit’s number of hit points. When the damage on a unit exceeds the hit points, that unit is discarded from play. Blast damage is used to damage the engaged objective. Much like units, objectives have a printed amount of damage they can take before being destroyed. Finally, tactics damage places a focus token on an enemy unit. Unlike unit damage, tactics damage can be split amongst any number of enemy units and can even target units outside of the engagement. Once the first unit’s damage icons are resolved, the opposing player chooses one unit and follows the same steps. This process continues to alternate until all units have been focused. After the engagement is over, the active player can declare an engagement against a different objective, assuming they have units available that aren’t exhausted (i.e. they don’t have a focus token) and there are objectives that haven’t been attacked yet that turn.

The final unique element I’m going to mention is the “force struggle.” Each player has three cards that they can play under a unit at the end of their turn that commits that unit to the force for as long as it’s in play (if it leaves play, the player places the force commitment card back in their stack of available commitment cards.. Any force icons on that unit contribute to that player’s force total, as long as the committed unit doesn’t have any focus tokens. The balance of the force shifts in favor of whichever side has the most force icons on committed units. If the balance is with the Dark Side at the beginning of a Dark Side player’s turn, they get to advance the Death Star dial an additional number that turn. If the balance is with the Light Side, the Light Side player gets to deal one damage to the Dark Side objective of their choosing. If the balance is with the opposing side at the beginning of their turn, nothing happens. This may seem like it would be a no-brainer to just start committing units, but if committed units take an action that would exhaust them (including focusing to strike in combat), they gain two focus tokens instead of one. That means, unless the unit can clear two tokens per refresh phase, a committed unit will be unusable for two turns and their force icons won’t count toward the force struggle for those turns either. This adds another strategic level in determining who to commit and if/when to use them.

Learning Curve
If you have played other competitive card games, this should be pretty simple to pick up. Even the unique elements I mentioned above should be pretty easy to understand. If you’re new to competitive card games, the rulebook does a pretty good job of walking you through the basics, though there are a few things that need a bit of clarification from the internet. For most players, it should only take a couple of games to get a handle on what’s going on, though it might take a few more for new card gamers to get a feel for when action windows open and how priority works. Overall, though, it uses pretty familiar rules, even if it does have some unique elements.

Components
The cards are of pretty good stock and are nicely glossy. The art looks good too, though players of the X-Wing Miniatures Game will notice a bit of recycled art. That’s not a terrible criticism, especially given that the art is generally of really good quality. The tokens, dial, etc., are of standard Fantasy Flight cardboard quality. All around, it’s a pretty good package.

Overall Judgment/TL;DR Takeaway
The game is certainly fun, and most Star Wars fans will love it. Some people will have an issue with getting past some thematic quibbles with the combat (How did that Rancor blow up this X-wing?), and the unique approach to deckbuilding might put off some hardcore traditionalists, but it’s a unique take on the competitive card game and offers a lot of variety due to the constant expansion of the Living Card Game format. Some of the expansions are a little weak, while others were pretty good, but the main meat of the game is in the Core Set and Edge of Darkness expansion, so those would be the main places to start. It’s also worth noting that you might need to invest in multiple copies to get the most out of it, though it is certainly playable and enjoyable with just one. If you love card games or Star Wars, it’s worth giving this game a look. While there are other card games that may be better, this is certainly a fun, unique game in an often oversaturated genre.

8
Go to the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game Starter Set page
85 out of 94 gamers thought this was helpful

Overview
The X-Wing Miniatures Game is a game that puts you in control of a squadron of Imperial or Rebel starfighters from the Galactic Civil War era of the Star Wars Universe. If you’re a Star Wars fan or think that commanding a space battle sounds appealing, you should check this game out. Overall, I think it’s a great game, but there are a few things that keep it from being perfect.

Setup
The initial setup for your initial game can be quite lengthy. As with most Fantasy Flight games, the rulebook is clear and covers the game pretty thoroughly, but it can take a bit to get through all of it, especially given the less-than-exciting writing. Diagrams are often used to illustrate what the rulebook is talking about, which makes things easier to understand for anyone who is more visually inclined. Once that’s done, there are numerous cardboard elements that will have to be punched out, including flight path rulers, ship movement dials, tokens and markers, ship identifiers, obstacles, etc.

Once all of that first-time-only stuff is out of the way, you have to assemble your squadron. If you’re playing for the first time, I suggest using the setup recommended in the rulebook, even if you have other ships and pilots available to you, as it is much simpler to learn the basics of the game this way. For subsequent games, if you’re playing with just the starter set, you’ll have options for pilots and a few upgrades. If you have additional ships, your options really start to open up. This can lead to long pre-game setup if squads weren’t planned in advance, particularly when it comes to selecting upgrades (including missiles, bombs, astromechs, co-pilots, etc.). Once the squads have been determined, the ships must be attached to their stands and bases, though this is a quick and easy process. Once that’s done, it’s time to fly.

Gameplay
At its core, gameplay is relatively simple. Each player chooses a manuever from the movement dial for each of their ships and lays the dial facedown. Maneuvers can be colored green, white, or red on the dial. Red maneuvers are generally longer and more difficult than other moves, so they give the pilot a stress token, which prevents that pilot from taking actions (more on that in a moment) or performing another red maneuver until the token is cleared. Green maneuvers clear a stress token, but are generally shorter and simpler moves. White maneuvers have no additional effects beyond moving the ship. Once all ships have had a maneuver assigned, the players reveal and move their ships one-by-one, starting with the ship whose pilot has the lowest pilot skill rating (a number on each pilot’s card dictates their pilot skill). After each ship is moved to the end of the movement ruler that corresponds to the maneuver they selected, the player has the option to have the active ship perform one of a variety of actions, including acquiring a target lock that lets the ship reroll attack dice or use certain secondary weapons, gaining a token the can be used to modify attack or defense results, barrel rolling, etc. Which actions are available varies by ship type and pilot, and players aren’t forced to take an action. Once all ships have been moved, the game moves to the combat phase.

The combat phase starts with the pilot with the highest skill and then going in descending order. In order to attack, players use the range-finding ruler to determine if any ships are in range and within the ship’s firing arc. A ship can choose to attack any ship that meets both of these conditions, but can only attack one per turn. Once an attack is declared, the attacker rolls attack dice equal to the attack value for its primary weapon (printed on the pilot’s card) or secondary weapon (printed on the weapon’s card), depending on what they’re using. If an attack was made from range 1, the attacker gets an additional attack die. The defender then gets to roll evasion dice equal to the ship’s agility number. If an attack was made from range 3, the defender gets an additional evasion die to roll. The number of hits on the attack dice are compared to the number of evades on evasion dice to determine if any damage is dealt. Things get a little more complicated, though, as there are hits and critical hits. Normal hits will deal a face-down damage card to the ship if not cancelled by shields or an evasion die. Critical hits deal a face-up damage card to a ship if not cancelled. Face-up damage cards still count as one damage, but add additional effects, such as extra damage, reduced pilot skill, prohibiting certain actions, etc. All normal hits must be cancelled by die rolls or shields before critical hits can be cancelled. A ship is destroyed if it takes damage equal to its hull strength.

Once all attacks have been resolved, the round starts over with players assigning all surviving ships a maneuver. Play continues in this fashion until one squadron is entirely wiped out. Games can range from 20 minutes to over an hour depending on the size of the squadrons, players’ abilities to read their opponents, and the luck of the dice. Since all combat is determined entirely by dice rolls, luck plays a huge role in this game. If you don’t like games with a strong luck-based component, this isn’t the game for you. Strategy is involved, but even the best strategy can be defeated by a series of bad dice rolls, which can be frustrating. Luckily, it isn’t terribly common in my experience.

Learning Curve
The game is relatively simple to learn, especially compared with many other miniatures games on the market. Things get a little more complicated in the details than I mentioned above, such as what to do when pilots’ skill levels are tied, what happens if ships run into each other or leave the play area, how to use some secondary weapons, etc., but the vast majority of the time, it’s as simple as I described above. Even when it’s not, the rules are clear on what to do in any of those exceptional circumstances, and the results are logical and easy to remember. Overall, it’s a very easy game to learn. Most people I’ve played with have had a firm grasp of the rules and mechanics after only one or two games. From there, it’s simply a matter of figuring out how to use the different types of ships most effectively, which just take a bit of playing with them to get a feel for the different roles they fill.

Components
In all honesty, the quality of the miniatures is one of the first things that piqued my interest in this game. All of the sculpts are highly detailed, even going so far as to include nicks and gashes on some of the unique ships (like the Millenium Falcon). That said, being plastic, some of the sculpts have parts that seem very delicate, such as the tips of the X-Wing’s wings. Maybe they seem more fragile than they really are, but I always make sure to be extra careful with them.

Otherwise, the cardboard tokens and rulers are all made from the same thick, high quality material as virtually every other Fantasy Flight product. The pilot cards are nicely glossy, but a bit thin. Since they won’t be getting shuffled, this is less of an issue, though. Some of the card art is shared between this game and Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars LCG, which isn’t inherently bad, but might irk some people. Also, be aware that if you plan to sleeve this game, you’ll need standard sized sleeves for the pilot cards and mini sleeves for the damage and upgrade cards.

Overall Judgment (aka TL;DR Takeaway)
Overall, X-Wing is a very fun game that really captures the feel of the space battles from the classic Star Wars trilogy, and the miniatures are amazingly detailed, but the game won’t be much fun if you don’t plan to expand your collection significantly. Many people are probably thinking “Duh, it’s an expandable game,” which is true, but given the cost of each additional ship and the number you will need to form a 100 point squad (the recommended standard for the game), forming a viable squad can start to get pricey very quickly, especially if you want the option to have a good squad for both sides. Also, given Fantasy Flight’s apparent inability to keep things in stock and the long turnaround on reprints, there can be long periods where selection is limited at best. If those aspects don’t bother you and you don’t mind luck being the driving force behind a game, X-Wing is a fantastic game to pick up.

9
Go to the Summoner Wars page

Summoner Wars

80 out of 87 gamers thought this was helpful

Overview
Summoner Wars is a card-based strategy game for two players (or up to four with an additional game board). Players draw cards and play spells/summon units from their hands like in other card based games, but the cards for summoned units are placed on a board and moved around the grid in much the same way as miniature figs. This grid-based unit movement and the fact that you are attempting to kill the opponent’s summoner to win have led many to compare the game to chess. This comparison gets you in the right ballpark, but the two games have little in common beyond these surface-level similarities.

Setup
The first-time setup takes just a few minutes. There are some cardboard components to punch out and some shrinkwrap to tear off decks, but not many (six in the Master Set or two if you go for one of the starter sets). The rules take a few minutes to go through, but the basics of the game are pretty simple and the rulebook is generally clear, so it’s easy to get through all of this in 20 minutes or so. From that point (and in each subsequent game), it’s just a matter of looking at your deck’s initial setup card, finding and placing the starting units and walls, and shuffling the rest of the deck. After the initial unboxing, more time will generally be spent on players selecting which faction to use than the actual setup process.

Gameplay
On the surface, the gameplay is very simple. Players choose a faction to play as, place units on their side of the board according to the initial setup card included in your deck, and then shuffle up what’s left. Players then roll a die with the winner taking the first turn. Turns normally have six phases: Draw, Summon, Play Events, Movement, Attack, and Build Magic. The first turn, however, skips straight to the movement phase where they can move up to two units (note that this is one less unit than on subsequent turns). Each unit can move up to two spaces, and diagonal moves are not allowed. Units can only move once per turn unless a card says otherwise.

Once the movement phase is completed, the active player moves to the attack phase. There are two types of attacks. Some units are melee attackers while others are ranged. Melee units have to be adjacent to the unit they wish to attack (again, diagonal doesn’t count). Ranged units can attack as long as the target is within three straight-line spaces and there isn’t a wall or unit between the attacker and target. The player can attack with up to three units per turn, and each unit can only attack once per turn unless they have an ability that says they gain additional attacks. To resolve an attack, the player rolls a number of dice equal to the number printed on that unit’s card. Each die that is a three or higher counts as a hit, and each hit causes one wound. This luck-based combat may be off-putting to some players, but the luck-based components are somewhat offset by the skill-based movement of units and use of abilities. Back to the mechanics, now. Units die when their number of wounds is equal to their hit points. When units die, they are generally placed face-down in the opponent’s Magic pile (some card effects prevent this).

Each card in the Magic pile counts as one Magic Point, which will be used to summon units. In addition to gaining MP through killing enemy units, the player can also take any number of cards from their hand and add them to the Magic pile during the Build Magic phase of their turn, which is the final phase of the turn.

After the first turn players start by drawing up to their hand size of five cards. They can then choose to summon any number of units that they can pay for. To pay for units, the player takes cards off the top of their Magic pile and places them face up in the discard pile. Each unit has a printed summon cost, with more powerful units costing more MP. Units can only be placed on the board adjacent to a wall the player controls. If no spaces adjacent to a wall are open or if the player’s walls have all been destroyed, they can’t summon any units this turn.

After the player has summoned any units they wish to, they have the chance to play Event cards. Event cards represent a variety of spells that the summoner can cast, ranging from buffs for units to dealing direct damage, to cheating units into play. Additional walls can be placed on the board during the Play Events phase. Playing a wall is free, as are Events, unless additional costs are listed on the card.

From this point, the turn follows the same path as the first turn described above, with the exception of being able to move up to three units per turn instead of just two. Play continues like this until one player kills the other’s summoner. For most two-player games, this will take about 30 minutes. For four-player games, it can take an hour or so.

Learning Curve
The basics of the game take just a few minutes to learn. After a single game, most players should have a grasp of the phases of a turn and the actions they can take. Part of this is due to the general lack of interaction during your opponent’s turns. With rare exceptions, cards can’t be played on opponents’ turns or in response to opponents’ actions. This allows the game to be simple to teach, unlike more complicated systems like passing priority and the Stack in M:tG, while still allowing for complexity through the movement of the units and the different factions’ playstyles and unit abilities.

This is where most of the learning curve will come in. Each faction plays significantly differently than any of the others. Given that there are a total of 16 factions available, this is quite a feat. They all feel well balanced, but learning how to utilize the abilities of one faction’s units in an effective strategy will take multiple playthroughs with that faction and playing against a variety of other factions.

Components
This is where my one complaint with the game comes in. The board is well-constructed and the wound markers are standard quality for cardboard components. The cards are made of good stock and are shiny enough to look nice but not so slick that they feel odd or don’t stack well. If you wish to sleeve the cards, they are a somewhat odd size that makes finding sleeves that fit somewhat difficult. The art on the unit cards is generally quite nice, but the event cards all simply have a closeup of the faction’s summoner’s face from his/her card on them. I know art can be expensive to commission, but even if the card’s art didn’t depict what it does (like on virtually every other fantasy-based card game), a bit of variety would have been nice. Sometimes the art that looked pretty good on the summoner card doesn’t look so great when blown up for the closeup. Also, there is virtually no difference between the art for a wall and a vine wall, two things that thematically are exceptionally different. These may seem like minor things, and they ultimately are, but they’re worth noting.

The real problem, though, is with storage. None of the decks have any sort of box, and the insert that apparently used to come in the Master Set has been taken out in recent print runs. Plenty of game bags are included, and they’re better than nothing, but a better storage system would have been nice. I’m no stranger to having to print, cut, and glue tuckboxes, and plenty of tuckbox designs are on the internet, but it’s still something I wish the publisher would include for me.

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