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Kevin Swift

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Go to the Pandemic: On the Brink page
Go to the Alhambra: Big Box page
Go to the Roll Through the Ages page
Go to the K2 page


110 out of 119 gamers thought this was helpful

I have played this game a number of times now: once with 4, a few times with 3 players, and the other times with 2 players.

This game’s execution is far better than I originally assumed it would be. Let me explain: I thought it would be hard to create a good climbing game and assumed this would feel more like Chutes And Ladders or Sorry than a true strategy game. However, I have found that it is well balanced; it is simple with a lot of subtle, nuanced strategy; and it is just plain fun.

To know what I am talking about, you may need to go familiarize yourself with the rules. This post will probably be long enough without trying to give context with rules explanation.

Well balanced: The board. I have only played the easy side of the mountain, but it is incredible how well the mountain gets harder as you scale the mountain both in terms of the movement required and the acclimatization required. It does not feel impossible to make the top and survive with both climbers, but you soon find out that you have to be extremely careful.
You push too hard and get caught in bad weather, your acclimatization can go down by 4 in an instant, and given the max possible acclimatization is 6, you can find yourself in trouble fast. So, especially at the top where bad weather is more common, you’d better have some large acclimatization cards to play on your next turn because otherwise your climber will die.
On the other hand, if you plan your assent carefully and move a little slower, you can be pretty certain that your climber will survive.
Getting both climbers to survive? For that you will probably find that you never get both climbers to the top if you want both to survive.

Of course, there is a bit of luck to this game too. You can get bad cards and have things go south on you. In a way, that only makes the experience more real, though; more true to the risk a K2 climber really takes. Not only could that happen in real life, but the game’s player card system (of drawing cards and choosing what you want to do) allows you to mitigate that randomness most of the time.

The cards also are well balanced. For example, there is a good distribution of 1-3 movement cards to give you interesting, different options. You have the ability to sometimes scale the mountain quickly, but if you do that, you will be forced to move much slower in subsequent turns (because you simply won’t have the cards to move fast). Of course, you can also achieve a balance, moving neither fast nor slow.

Strategy: When you go up the mountain the first time or two, you might not think there is much more to the game than the race. However, you will eventually notice how clogged the top of the mountain gets and how a player can potentially block climbers ascending or descending. Then you start to get devious. The other player got his climber to the top of the mountain first? Ok. Pitch a tent below him and camp there. You might just trap him/her on the top of the snowy, freezing mountain and kill the climber, reducing the victory points from 10 to 1. Devious and, excuse the pun, cold-blooded.

Also, each player has 2 climbers, which works way better than I expected. I thought this would make the game cumbersome, but found that having 2 climbers only enhances the strategy: now you have to decide whether to move your climbers together and/or when to break them up so one can make a rapid charge toward the mountain top. 2 climbers also gives you a better chance to block other players too, as previously described, if you can do it and keep both of your climbers alive.

Fun: The game is easy to teach and pick up as the rules are light. They are simple yet effective. Moreover, a game goes pretty fast once everyone knows the rules. You could easily complete a game within 30 minutes if everyone stays focused. Finally, with the games subtle strategies, I found myself congratulating opponents on clever moves or cursing myself for getting careless. That meant I felt like I was learning. I wouldn’t do that again, or now I know what I would do to my opponent in that circumstance next time. End result: I wanted to play again and again to not only even the score but, more importantly, see if I could pull of those new strategies I contemplated.

I have not yet played this game solo or with 5 players, but I still feel I have played this game enough to give you the solid review I gave above. It is fun, fairly simple, and has a fair amount of replayablitity. Hence my high rating. There are only a few knocks on it:
1) It can be hard to find at a decent price point
2) It is simple enough that if you played it a lot, I think you could burn out on it fast. It is replayable, but it works best for me when I bring it out every few game nights instead of playing it a lot. The simplicity is nice for new players but could reduce replay value if you game often.
3) The theme turns some people off. I love the theme but some friends haven’t wanted to play it simply because they were not interested in climbing or in a climbing game.
Nevertheless, I still highly recommend this game. Get to the top and enjoy the tense moments it brings.

Go to the Shadows over Camelot page
87 out of 97 gamers thought this was helpful

First, I must say: I thought about doing some version of the cheesy newspaper title for this review (something like “A shadow hangs over this game”), but I decided to just give you the “straight dope” and just tell you instead of annoying you with headlines that make one roll their eyes. The straight dope is that the game has what I consider a huge flaw.

Before I expound on that design flaw, I feel the need to point out the good things about the game. First, I could be wrong (I haven’t researched it), but I believe it was one of the first games to introduce the traitor element, and it is that traitor element that endears it to most people that like it. Full disclosure: the traitor mechanic does nothing for me, but others would say that it is a good aspect of the game.

In my humble opinion, the best element is the theme. It is implemented by allowing you to play as the knights of the round table, giving you little figurines for your character and everything. The pieces are well made and the artwork is great.

Given that theme, the game looks to be a lot of fun when I first opened the box. However, as I started to play, I found that the mini-games were fun but not great. Another way to say it is that they are not bad, but they are well… meh. Meh is probably the best descriptor if you are familiar with that adjective expressing something’s unexceptional nature.

After playing through the mini-games and finishing the game a few times, I found that the game was extremely difficult. This is where the major design flaw was eventually discovered. I started reading forums on, discussing the difficulty as well as the strategies to beat the game. What I found was that there seems to be one main way to beat the game.

Let me back up for a moment. When you play the game, you move your characters to the mini-games of your choice; so, the order you go to each mini-game is up to you. You can even go back and forth from mini-games, switching even in the middle of playing one of them. So, it seems, at first, that there are a plethora of permutations one could follow to achieve victory.

However, that is not the case. There seems to be one (or maybe two) best sequences to follow. If you follow that sequence, you have a good chance of winning. If you try any other order on those mini-games, you will almost certainly lose. One familiar with strategy games should see the problem here: One does not adapt their strategy much during the game. Moreover, there really is no reason to try different strategies from game to game. Instead, the players just do the same actions in the order every time. One familiar with Shadows Over Camelot might say: “But you add in the traitor, and there is great tension.” That tension does not matter if the team’s strategy must proceed in the same order every play-through in order to have a chance to win.

Sorry, Days Of Wonder, I am willing to try a co-op game with a traitor, but if the strategy is the same every time, that is going to bore me regardless of a traitor. Design a game where my team’s strategy can change as the game progresses (in reaction to the events of that particular session); then get back to me.

Go to the Pandemic: On the Brink page
91 out of 101 gamers thought this was helpful

The first game we played when I started playing games over lunch at my new job was Pandemic. Pandemic is a game I have had for quite a while, and I also have the expansion. I really don’t need to say much to convey my feelings about Pandemic: it is my favorite game. I’m not crazy in that enjoyment of the game either. My coworkers who played with me were instantly addicted and wanted to play it whenever we had the chance. We did not, though, because I can get sick of Pandemic just like any game. I have learned to pace myself and not play Pandemic too much in a short span. Otherwise, I get sick of it and won’t want to play it for months even when others want to play it. Even when I do get sick of it, though, I still come back to it. It is simply a great game. Accordingly, it gets to my table more than any other game.

So, I guess if it behoves me to write about Pandemic because it is my favorite, then it in turn behoves me to explain why Pandemic is such a great game. You should know that in Pandemic the player is on a team of specialists that are trying to cure 4 diseases before they decimate mankind. You take turns, do actions, and play cards to travel the world and hold-off/cure disease and discover cures. I now will jump right into the game’s aspects.

First, it is cooperative. Cooperative games are great because you rarely if ever get mad at each other. It is the game that is mean to you and potentially beats you, not other players. Of course, one must keep in mind that this is depend on the personalities of the players. If one person is too dominant and the other players don’t speak up, the game can quickly become a solitaire game with the one player vicariously performing all the actions. Likewise, even when their isn’t a domineering player, the game can get boring if even one player is apathetic or too quiet. In the former case, the other players may as well not play, leaving it to just the one player. In the later case, the quiet/apathetic player may as well not play, leaving the game for the others.

Part of the reason that the cooperative nature works so well is that the roles are well defined. The roles each have special abilities, and that is where the key lies. The special abilities make you change your strategy based upon them. Moreover, it is fun to see how you can roll your abilities (& thus your turn) into your friends’ roles. Using your abilities in tandem is where your team’s true power lies, and when such cooperation is done well, the resulting success is fun to watch and be a part of.

Another element of greatness is the balance in this game. Some roles seem more powerful than others, but none are over-powered or too weak. Once players have played a few times, they start to learn that none of the roles are useless and all have their place and their use. The number of actions per turn versus the amount that the disease spreads each turn is well balanced as well. One loses the game via the spread of disease either by running out of cubes or having too many outbreaks. I would say I have about a 45% win rate; that gives you an idea of that balance between a player’s ability to do actions and the ability of the disease to wreak havoc. The other nod towards balance that the designer implemented is the ability to ramp the difficulty up and down. There are epidemic cards in the player card deck. When they come up, they increase the rate that disease spreads each turn and they make it more likely to have outbreaks. So, the game rules give the option to have 4, 5, or 6 epidemics in the game session. 4 is easy, and 6 is hard. So, depending how good your strategic mind is and depending on how much you like to lose, you can shift the balance of actions vs. disease spread one way or the other. That ability to throttle difficult is fantastic; their is nothing more frustrating than a game that is too hard and nothing more dull than a game that is too easy.

The strategy and replay-ability are another superior aspect to Pandemic. They go hand-in-hand. The cities impacted by disease change every game. Likewise, the team’s strategy must evolve and change as the cities impacted change and grow. Developing the strategy (such as player 1 will do x actions so that player 2 can do y actions) is just plain fun. Since that strategy does change every game; it is an important part of what makes Pandemic excellent.

Finally, one cannot forget about the theme. The theme of racing against time to cure disease is very well done. It feels like a ingrained, required part of the game like as if one can’t have the game Pandemic without the theme (even though technically that is not true). The theme works very well with the mechanics of the game and gives a dose of the tension such specialists might feel in real life. I love it.

If you haven’t played Pandemic, you have to try it. If you have the right group of people (no one too timid or too dominant), you might find yourself so addicted that you play it until disgusted (or at least bored) at the sight of it. Then you’ll come back to it because it is just too good. Then, hopefully in enough moderation to not kill your enjoyment, you will play it again and again and again and again and…

Go to the Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game page
213 out of 253 gamers thought this was helpful

Space Hulk: Death Angel is a cooperative card game in which marines proceed through a abandoned spaceship. They are trying to get to a final room and complete an objective there before they are all killed by the aliens (called “genestealers”) that infest the ship. It sounds bleak, and that is the point; it is supposed to be bleak.

Space Hulk: Death Angel was a game I had been anxious to get for quite a while at that point. The theme of fighting aliens as the team travels through a derelict space ship was very intriguing to my geek sensibilities, and I have always liked the idea of cooperative games (even though Pandemic, Scotland Yard, & Shadows Over Camelot were the only ones I’d played at that point, and I’d only cared for Pandemic). This game was even a 1-6 player cooperative game, and the ability to play it with so many different numbers of players sounded great; that flexibility is nice. Moreover, the game had a interesting mechanic of lining the marine cards up along with location cards to determine who can shoot what, where the genestealers will be popping up, how the genestealers move, and who they will attack. (If you want more info about the game –beside my opinions to follow– you can find plenty at boardgamegeek.) Finally, the game is cheap at about $20. Despite all those points going for it, sadly, it has not lived up to expectations.

The reason it has disappointed might be because my high hopes set the bar too high. I want to say that first. The game is not bad. I certainly will be keeping it in my collection and will not be looking to sell it. Especially given the small size of the box, it is worth the room it takes up in my board game cupboard. So, what are the good points? Well, ironically, they really are 4 of the 5 things I was excited for in the first place. It was inexpensive. It is cooperative. The theme is well implemented. The mechanics of the game are good.

It is worth spending a paragraph or 2 on those mechanics. The players place location cards, and those cards determine where the genestealers are placed. The event cards move the genestealers around. The genestealers are placed next to marines who are all in a single line; the explanation for that is that the marines suits are too huge to enter any other way. This system works really well. Based upon where the location cards are and the genestealers are, one can strategize as to where he/she wants what marines, given their special abilities.

My favorite mechanic comes in how travel works. There are blip piles (piles of genestealer cards) on either side of the formation (the formation is the line of marines). Whenever one of those blip piles is exhausted, the players finish their current phase and then travel to the next room. The reason I like this so much is because I think it works very well with the theme. If a group of these marines is continually moving through the ship it would make sense that more and more genestealers would come out at them as they move. Also, it is logical that the other genestealers already engaged with the marines would either be killed, or they would follow and continue fighting. So, the idea in my mind is that once you have encountered a certain number of genestealers you must have walked far enough to get to the next room. The genestealers then become a method to track the marines’ progress as they constantly trudge through the ship.

I said that the games strengths were 4 of the 5 things I was excited about before I bought the game. That 1 left over is the fact that the box says it is a 1-6 player game. The publishers do not lie. There are rules and even different setups for 1-6 player games. However, this is not a good 1-6 player game. This is a good 4-6 player game. When you play with 1-3 players, each player has to command at least 2 sets of marines. This is crippling. Some uber board game geeks might be able to handle this just fine, but for a average set of players it is too much. The problem comes when you have to decide if your marines will
1) move & activate
2) support
3) attack
You want to coordinate the marines attacks, which means you want to cooperate with the other players’ marines. Now add a 2nd set of marines and you have to do that for both sets. So, for example, you think “should I have my yellow marines support or attack, and how would that work with my purple marines that can support or move & activate?” You think you have that figured out and then the other players tell you what they will do. Now that may cause you to change what one set of marines will do, which in turn makes you question whether your other marines are performing the best action. It’s too much; it’s too cumbersome; and it slows down the action rapidly.

When you only have 1 set of marines, it is easy to choose between 2 actions and coordinate it with your fellow players’ marines. The game moves fast this way, and that is important. When the game moves fast a story builds in one’s mind. One knows where the marines are in the ship, remembering what happened before, what the formation looks like in relation to the genestealers, and what could happen next. Managing 2 sets of marines causes such a slow down that one forgets that context. That is where the management of 1-3 marines becomes Space Hulk: Death Angel’s most glaring flaw. The context and the tension is what makes the game fun (in the 4-6 player version). With that suspense stripped away, this game crumbles fast into something that would never reach my table. Accordingly, because I don’t have fun with 3 or less, I had to dock its replay value rating.

If you like the theme and you buy this game as a 4 – 6 player game, I think you’ll love it (or at least enjoy it). If you buy it as a cheap game to play with 1 or 2 buddies, save your money because that one short coming (of it not playing well with 1-3) is what caused Death Angel be a let down for me — despite it meeting 4 other enticing expectations.

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