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Go to the Once Upon a Time: The Storytelling Card Game page
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Go to the Once Upon a Time: The Storytelling Card Game page
45 out of 48 gamers thought this was helpful

I was first introduced to this game by an author at a convention I attended about 6 years ago. It was highly recommended as a creative storytelling game, and I was sold on it when I heard the way it was described. I wound up getting the game a couple of years ago and have since enjoyed the game for its freeform mechanics and creativity.

So how does this game work? It’s actually very simple. The game consists of a wide variety of cards. There are two types: The “Once Upon A Time” cards (also called “storytelling cards”) which drive the main portion of the game, and “Happy Ever After” cards (also called “ending cards”) which represent how the story is going to end. Each player gets one Happy Ever After card which they can only play after all of the Once Upon A Time cards have been played from their hand, and is in effect the culmination of the story. To start the game, each player is first dealt a Happy Ever After card, then a number of Once Upon A Time cards are dealt to each player, the number of which depends upon how many people are actually playing the game (2 players – 10 cards each, 3 players – 8 cards, 4 players – 7 cards, 5 players – 6 cards, 6 or more – 5 cards).

While the Happy Ever After cards are just a single sentence narrative (“The monster was destroyed and the farm was safe once more”, “And she was reunited with her family”, etc.), the Once Upon A Time cards actually are quite varied and have different types. There are 5 different basic card types: Characters, Items, Places, Aspects, and Events.

Characters are the people and creatures that the story will have, and can range from a princess to a wolf and many other tiers between.

Items are object in the story that are found or used, such as a boat, a crown, a sword, etc.

Places are the locations that the characters in the story will visit or hear about, such as a forest or a city.

Aspects are the adjectives of the story, and describe how certain characters or locations are fleshed out, e.g. Angry as in “Angry Giant” or Diseased as in “Diseased Beggar”.

Events are things that happen during the story, such as a fateful reunion, a fight, or even something as basic as time passes.

Along with these 5 basic types of cards are also specialty cards called Interrupt cards. Interrupts fall into the 5 basic types of cards, but have no definitive subject of those types; when played, the one who played the card can simply choose to define what the card is based on the card type. For example, if an Item Interrupt card is played, the player who played it can simply define it as a Goblet or a Magic Wand.

After the cards have been dealt out to each player, the starting Storyteller is selected. The instruction booklet lists several different methods, but once a starting Storyteller has been selected, play begins. The Storyteller may start out the story any way he or she wishes (though traditionally it usually begins “Once Upon a Time…”), and is not restricted by the cards in their hand. However, the object of the game is to play all of the Once Upon A Time cards from a player’s hand in order to get to the finale of playing the Happy Ever After card. To do that, whenever the Storyteller mentions something in their story that corresponds to one of the cards in their hand, they can play that card to remove it from their hand. Therefore, it is in the Storyteller’s advantage to steer the story in a way that somehow ties together all the elements in their hand.

During the course of the game, the Storyteller will change from person to person. The way this happens is through interrupts. If the Storyteller mentions something in the story that corresponds with one of another player’s cards, that player can play their card from their hand and become the new Storyteller (therefore interrupting the progress of the story), picking up the story where the last Storyteller left off. It should be noted that the related subject doesn’t need to match entirely, so long as it is closely related; if the Storyteller mentions that two characters disagree on something, a player could play the Argument Event card, even though the word “Argument” was never directly mentioned. A player may also play an Interrupt card after the Storyteller has just played a card that matches the card type that the Interrupt card is. For example, if the Storyteller plays an Angry Aspect card, and a player has an Aspect Interrupt, they can play the card and name their own Aspect, such as Devious. They then become the new Storyteller and continue the story. A player may also become the new Storyteller if the current Storyteller declares “Pass” during their story, usually indicating that they have no good way to continue the story or can’t think of anything at the moment.

Once all the Once Upon A Time cards are gone from a Storyteller’s hand, they can then resolve the story with their Happy Ever After card, ending the game. The Storyteller can’t introduce any new story elements before the card is played, meaning that the story should be resolved within one or two sentences of playing the last Once Upon A Time card in their hand. The rules state that the story should be ended in a sensible and satisfying conclusion, and that is left up to the interpretation of all the rest of the players. If the ending does not make sense or end satisfyingly, the Storyteller must draw a new Happy Ever After card and a new Once Upon A Time card, while play passes to the person on the left. Since this aspect of the game is very subjective, the instruction booklet recommends that this rule is not enforced too strictly; this game is meant to be a fun and creative game, and not a cutthroat game.

Once Upon A Time is a game that is very well suited for those with a creative mindset and who love telling and listening to stories, as well as those players who enjoy a cooperative aspect to games. Though this game may seem to be something of a competitive game at the outset, it’s more about crafting something together than it is about winning the game itself. Hardcore gamers probably wouldn’t enjoy this game very much, as it doesn’t yield the same sensation of victory as playing and winning difficult games does, but this game is definitely good for the casual gamer and the family gamer. It is a pure card game, but the cards only play a backstory to the overall game itself, a guiding influence, if you will. Additional blank cards are also included in the game to write your own elements. There is also an expansion called Once Upon A Time: Dark Tales, for those who enjoy a little bit more edge to the ending of the stories. In a lot of ways, you never quite know where the story will take you in this game, and that in itself makes it entertaining.

Go to the Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport page
128 out of 137 gamers thought this was helpful

What is there to say about Lords of Waterdeep that hasn’t already been said? It is a solid game with good gameplay mechanics and lots of variability to the style of gameplay that you can choose. It’s hard to imagine improving on the current game model…and yet, here comes Scoundrels of Skullport, which adds more gameplay mechanics and more Lords, and allows for the addition of a sixth character to the game. Is it an improvement? Yes, across the board.

So what makes Scoundrels of Skullport so special? Well, first off, there are two expansions in one. Players can choose to add the Undermountain expansion, the Skullport expansion, or play with both in tandem. Both expansions include new boards to attach to the original, and both boards include new places that characters can sent their Agents in order to acquire resources. Even adding just one of the expansions increases the options for characters to pursue their goals, avoiding some of the problems with locking down locations that have one hard-to-find specific resource. However, I don’t foresee many people playing with just one expansion, when both together make the game so much fun.

How do the expansions differ? Undermountain includes locations that feature drawing Intrigue cards, playing Intrigue cards, and getting adventurers of your choice. There are also new buildings and new quests to spice up the current base set, ones that exploit greater risk and reward than the originals. Skullport features locations that can offer a huge boost over normal locations, but also include a new resource: Corruption. Corruption is a resource that negatively impacts the score at the end of the game, and is generally undesirable. Moreover, the more Corruption is taken among players, the more it will impact the score.

Corruption works like this: There is a board that is included in the game to track Corruption. The board has penalty indicators that go from -1 to -9, and with each indicator, there is a location pool that contains a number of Corruption markers. Each location pool will start with 3 such markers, with the exception of the -1 pool, which starts with just 1. As Corruption is gained, it is taken in order from the board, following the path from -1 to -9, only progressing to the next pool when one has been depleted. When a pool is depleted, it changes the value of all Corruption markers to the spent value. For instance, if there is only one Corruption marker left in the -3 pool and it is taken, then all Corruption markers will count as -3 points towards the end score at the end of the game (unless, of course, the -4 pool is depleted after, in which case all Corruption markers will equal -4 points, and so on).

So why would anyone take a Corruption marker in the first place? Because you get a lot for it. All locations with a Corruption marker give you a strong incentive for taking them, and can enable you to complete quests faster for massive rewards. Take for instance the Slaver’s Market, which will give you 2 Fighters and 2 Rogues per visit, with one Corruption marker thrown in. That can be pretty tempting, all right.

There are new Intrigue cards and buildings which can help get rid of Corruption, but these are by no means assured to come up every game. In addition, there is a new Lord named The Xanathar that takes less of a penalty from Corruption than other Lords. This can make for an interesting metagame where players try to force other players to bear the brunt of a lot of Corruption by adjusting the Corruption track to have more or less of a penalty. This can open up other locations during the end phases of the game, and make an interesting finish for the end of the game.

Undermountain and Skullport work well together, in that the quests for Undermountain become more realistic with taking the benefits (and detriments) from Skullport. And getting more Intrigue cards from Undermountain can help to deal with the consequences of Corruption. In addition, using the expansions, either singly or together, doesn’t lengthen the time of the game by any significant amount; having more options on where to go and what to do seems to make the game feel more streamlined. The only detriment to having both expansions is the set-up and clean-up time with the new tokens, buildings, and cards, but the expansions ultimately make Lords of Waterdeep more fun and rewarding to play.

Go to the Tales of the Arabian Nights page

Tales of the Arabian Nights

52 out of 60 gamers thought this was helpful

When I first was introduced to Tales of the Arabian Nights, I fell in love with it right away. What made me appreciate this game the most was the way the game felt; it was quite different than any other game I had encountered to date. It was simple yet complex, structured yet dynamic, freeform yet competitive. I knew I had to have it for my own.

So what is Tales all about? Quite simply, it’s about story. Players take on the role of one of six famous characters from Arabian stories, such as Ali Baba or Aladdin. A biography of each character is included in the instruction manual, including famous deeds and legends, but for the purposes of the game, it is immaterial; YOU will be crafting the character’s story from beginning to end through the deeds and encounters you perform during the game.

To start the game, every player selects a Story point value and a Destiny point value. These two values are the goals that players are trying to meet to beat the game, and the Story and Destiny values must add up to 20 (8 Story, 12 Destiny; 14 Story, 6 Destiny, etc.). Each player also selects three starting skills for characters to use in their travels. These skills are varied and diverse (Courtly Graces, Magic, Wisdom, etc.) and affect the outcome of some encounters during the game. Each player also is dealt a Quest card that gives them a direction they can pursue at the start of the game if they so wish. Quests are not required to be completed, but fulfilling them can often yield rewards in the terms of increased status, treasure, wealth, story and destiny points, or skills. They also provide a little backstory to get started in building your character’s story, which from an abstract viewpoint, is pretty helpful.

Each player starts out in the center location of Baghdad, and move around the board to have encounters at various spaces on the board. Movement rates are decided by a unique tracking system called Wealth; essentially, how wealthy you are determines how easy it is to get around in the world. There are two movement rates; one for land, and one for sea. A player uses the higher of the two numbers relative to their Wealth value to move, and the lower number determines a limit on that movement. For instance, if a character has the Poor wealth status (land rate of 3, sea rate of 2), they can move up to three spaces, with no more than two of which can be by sea. This can be important, if a quest or situation requires you to be at a certain place within an allotment of time, or if one wants to complete a quest quickly.

Encounters happen each turn, and most often happen with Encounter cards (The exception is with Places of Power, unique locations on the board that cannot be reached by normal means and have their own Encounter pages printed on the board itself). When on a standard location, an Encounter card is turned over. There are three types of encounter cards: Character, City, and Terrain. Character cards have three types of results depending on the time of day (Morning, Noon, Night), and Terrain cards have six types of results depending on the terrain you encounter them on (Mountain, Sea, Desert, Forest, Island, and City). Each of these results includes a page number as reference to turn to in the Book of Tales, or the letter N (which indicates to have an encounter on the N Reaction Matrix – a sort of generic encounter). In the case of a City Encounter, there is a single number listed at the bottom of the card as a page to turn to, but the City card is collected by the player to try to cash in another reward later if desired.

Each encounter has a reference to a Reaction Matrix. The Reaction Matrix is a method to determine a unique encounter, and is modified by a number of factors. A player having an encounter must roll a single six-sided die, add any modifiers for their current destiny value or location, and give the result to the player reading the encounter. They will look up the reaction matrix and tell the player what type of encounter they have (Angry Beggar) and what response Matrix to use, which is on their character board. A number of options will be provided as actions to take, such as Aid, Attack, Pray, Beg, etc. depending on the situation, and a page number will be associated with each in the Book of Tales. The player will select their option, then roll a special die called the Destiny Die. It has a blank face, a plus face, and a minus face. If a blank is rolled, just turn to the page number and read the result. If a plus is rolled, add one to the page number and turn to that page instead. If a minus is rolled, subtract one from the page number and turn to that page instead.

Once the page is selected, the storytelling aspect of the game comes into play. The player with the Book of Tales will read the encounter result aloud to the player having the encounter, with one of several results. If a player has a skill associated with the current encounter, they will be informed of it and asked if they wish to use it (except in cases where the skill is listed as Mandatory, in which case that result MUST be taken). If the skill is used, an alternate result is read; if not, the default No Skill result is read instead. Whatever the case, there will be an end result to the encounter of either gaining skills, points, conditions, wealth, etc. or losing those things instead.

Interestingly enough, characters can actually die as a result of encounters gone wrong. This is rare, but it does happen. If a character dies, the player moves back to Baghdad, minus the wealth, statuses, and treasure they may have accumulated. Skills, Story, and Destiny points are kept, however, preventing the death of a character from being a game-ending handicap.

The stories in the Book of Tales are short, but entertaining; there is a real feel of things happening to your character, because you are choosing what you do with a situation that arises as you go around the world. Both mundane and fantastic things can happen, including dealing with angry Djinn or being caught in a maelstrom at sea. The sheer variety of things that can happen means that there is a lot of replay factor to this game. It’s a game that more or less illustrates how things can happen in everyday life simply by being at the right place at the right time, with no real rhyme or reason to it.

Ironically, this same strength of the game can be termed a weakness. There are a number of people who play games with the goal to win that will be turned off by the game because it seems to lack a solid strategy to it. Encounters can be so random and unpredictable that there can be little to no preparation involved, and some skills or abilities can actually hinder players in certain encounters if used. But this game is about experiences and living the story rather than winning, and in that regard, this game excels.

Go to the Seasons: Enchanted Kingdom  page
25 out of 26 gamers thought this was helpful

Seasons is one of my favorite board games to play, because of how easy it is to play, how stylized the game is, and how helpful the instruction booklet it when it comes to answering questions. As a result, when I heard there was an expansion coming out for the game, I was keenly interested in it. I had a general idea of what the game would add, to the mix, but was unsure how it would fit. When I finally ordered the expansion and tried it out with friends, I can honestly say that expansion fit flawlessly.

The expansion itself is rather small, and only adds a few new details to the game. One of these details is the errata-ed version of two cards that existed in the base set, Balance of Ishtar and Idol of the Familiar. The changes aren’t dramatic, and so I think it’s ultimately up to the player(s) if they’d like to use the new version or not. The first time I played the expansion, I missed the instructions on replacing the cards, and played with both sets in by accident, but it didn’t affect the game much that I could see.

Another of the details is the addition of a number of new power cards to add to the mix, with helpful expansion symbols on the bottom of the cards to help you separate them. A number of these cards make use of a new mechanic in the game, and that’s the decreased energy reserve token. The decreased energy reserve token is used as a null energy to take a location in a sorcerer’s energy track, and is used when a player takes an action or plays a card that would reduce their energy track by 1. This is a severe penalty at times, but the rewards will often make up for it if timed correctly.

Also new to the game are Enchantment cards. Enchantment cards are cards that change the way that Seasons is played. At the start of the game, 1 of the 10 Enchantment cards is selected at random and placed on the field of play to remind everyone what Enchantment is in effect. These Enchantments can both help and hinder players; several Enchantments will affect the way you draft power cards at the beginning of the game, while the Enchantment called Drought will penalize the player highest on the crystal track when the season changes from spring to summer.

Lastly, there are the special ability tokens. These tokens provide a unique power for that specific individual to use, but that ability can only be used once per game. These abilities, if used, will affect the final score of the game. There are 12 special abilities in all, and every player selects three at random, then selects one of those three to use in the game. These special ability tokens fit snugly into the hole in the sorcerer’s energy track, and when activated, are flipped over to their opposite side to show that they have been used. These abilities range from gaining two energies of any type, to drawing a power card, to sacrificing 4 water energy for a return of 18 points at the end of the game. Most abilities, when used, will penalize a final score, but some (like the water example used above) will reward you at the end. Since a player will have a choice of three abilities to select, any player should be able to find a special ability that falls in with their particular strategy for the game.

I love this expansion. It doesn’t add a whole lot, but it adds enough to make the game much more interesting to play. In addition, the rulebook for the expansion follows the same model as the original, with details instructions for how the cards work in varying situations. Tack on little benefits like a first player token (not horribly needed, but helpful at times), Raven tokens (for use with a new Power Card that allows you to copy an item and its abilities – but not its prestige points), a Bespelled Grimoire reserve, and it makes this expansion quite satisfying. Not only that, but the expansion cards and pieces fit nicely into the original Seasons box, which means I can carry everything with me in one go. With a $25 price tag, I feel this one is just right for the price.

Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: Lords of Waterdeep page
50 out of 56 gamers thought this was helpful

Dungeons and Dragons: Lords of Waterdeep (thereafter simply referred to as Lords of Waterdeep) was one of those games which I heard about almost immediately as soon as it breached the market, and I got a chance to play it not long after when a friend brought it to the gaming store near me. I was intruiged right away by the style of the game and the attention to detail that a lot of the components had. As a lot of my friends are familiar with the Forgotten Realms setting (which is where the city of Waterdeep hails from), I had no trouble recognizing familiar characters and settings. My first playthrough of the game left me with a lot of good impressions…and one or two detractors.

Lords of Waterdeep is a 2-to-5 player game that involves using pawns (referred to as agents) to acquire resources on the board in an effort to complete quests and build buildings. The game is tailored so that the fewer people that play the game, the more agents that are available at the start of the game. With two people, each player gets 4 agents. With three people, each player gets 3 agents. With four or five people, each player gets 2 agents. As the game progresses, players will eventually gain another agent to use during the game. The game is played over a series of 8 rounds, during which players place agents on the board in order, one at a time, starting with the player who has the first player maker. Once all agents have been placed, there is a reassignment phase to move agents who are eligible, then all players collect their agents for the start of the next round.

Each player also receives a secret identity card as a Lord of Waterdeep. These cards are kept hidden until the end of the game, and reveal additional ways that players can reap additional victory points according to how they play the game. For example, Khelben Arunsun, the Blackstaff, is a lord that will score 4 additional victory points at the end of the game for each Arcana and Warfare quest completed by the player who has his card. This is only for completed quests; uncompleted quests of the same catagory do not matter for this additional bonus.

Resources come in the form of gold pieces (a square gold piece counts as 1 coin, while a crescent moon gold piece counts as 5 coin), orange cubes (fighters), black cubes (rogues), white cubes (clerics), and purple cubes (wizards). Gold is primarily used to purchase buildings or certain services, while the cubes are used to complete the quests. Every quest (represented as cards in a Quest deck) has an affiliation (Skullduggery, Arcana, Warfare, Piety, Commerce), a completion cost, and a reward. Completion costs require a certain combination of cubes (referred to as adventurers) along with a possible gold cost. Once completed, the player who completed the quest gets the reward, which is typically victory points (which are scored immediately on the board), a one-time boon to be used immediately, or an ongoing effect for the rest of the game. Along with resources comes cards that players can acquire called Intrigue cards, which can be used to mess with opponents or gain a beneficial effect.

The board itself features 9 basic locations that agents can inhabit during the game. Of these locations, only four actually yield adventurers when visited (Field of Triumph – 2 fighters, The Grinning Lion Tavern – 2 rogues, Blackstaff Tower – 1 wizard, The Plinth – 1 cleric). The other locations have other varied effects on the game.

Castle Waterdeep allows a player to take the first player marker to go first next round, as well as drawing an Intrigue card.
Aurora’s Realms Shop gives you 4 gold a visit.
Cliffwatch Inn allows players to draw a Quest card from the available Quests in one of three ways: Take a quest and 2 gold, Take a quest and an Intrigue card, or Discard all available Quests, replace them with 4 new Quests cards, then take one of the new Quests.
Waterdeep Harbor allows a player to play an Intrigue card from their hand. At the end of the round, players can reassign their agents on Waterdeep Harbor to other available locations on the board and gain the benefit there.
Builder’s Hall allows a player to select a building from the available advanced buildings on Builder’s Hall and claim it on the board, provided they can pay the cost in gold to build it.

The advanced buildings on Builder’s Hall are different from the normal locations. Once purchased, they go on the board and the icon of the player who purchased it is placed next to the building to show who owns it. Any player may visit that building with an agent and reap the rewards offered from that location, but the player who owns the building also gets a reward as well. The advanced buildings on Builder’s Hall will also accumulate victory point tokens per round in which they are unbuilt, offering additional incentive to build the buildings.

Typically, only one agent can visit a location on the board. The exception to these are Cliffwatch Inn and Waterdeep Harbor, where up to three agents can occupy a space. As a result, the first player has most of the control on the board, while the player who goes last often has to compromise. Because of this, there is some strategy involved with visiting Castle Waterdeep, and often the order of play will change on the fly. As additional buildings are built, more spaces become available to visit, which opens up the game somewhat, but prime locations are always at a premium.

At the end of the game, all players will mark additional scoring with resources to add to their victory point total. All players receive 1 victory point per adventurer in their tavern (resource pool), and 1 victory point per two gold pieces they possess. Then every player reveals their hidden identity and score additional victory points according to the conditions listed on their lord’s description. After these points are tallied, the winner is determined by who is furthest along on the victory track.

I enjoy this game very much, and it’s one of the games that I’m always ready to play. Having said that, there’s a few things that take away from the game slightly. Lords of Waterdeep is very balanced in its mechanics, but once players are familiar with the game, it becomes easy to figure out what victory conditions and identities players have by their style of play. It then becomes possible for other players to take on an active role in halting another player’s progress directly, which can result in some ill feelings at times. The expansion to this game fixes this somewhat, as there are more identities to choose from. In addition, while this is a Dungeons and Dragons game, there isn’t any combat or spellcasting; this is strictly a resource game, and as such, another franchise label could have probably been placed on this game without losing any mechanics or theme. It could be a little misleading for those looking for high fantasy and adventure. These issues are very minor, however, and don’t inhibit a very good game that is very easy to learn and provides a lot of different options for enjoyment.

Go to the Level 7 [escape] page

Level 7 [escape]

120 out of 128 gamers thought this was helpful

OK, let’s face it. It’s difficult for a board game to actually generate the sensation of fear. With all the exposure to movies and video games these days that have explored all the niches of terror, there’s little a board game can actually scare you with, especially since you tend to see all the pieces and components beforehand when you’re in the setup of a game. But there is one thing that board games can be really good at setting up, and that is a feeling of tension, closely related to fear. And Level 7 sets that up nicely.

The game is all about fear, actually. Only, it comes in the form of managing fear. Every player in the game has a character that starts at a certain fear value, and through the use of cards and events that happen throughout the game, the fear value can be raised or lowered depending on the situation. Being fearful can be useful in a flight-or-flight situation, while being calm and composed can help with figuring out a lock or by being sneaky. To that end, characters are supplied with adrenaline cards which represent vitality; if an injury requires you to discard adrenaline cards you don’t have have, you either get knocked out or die, depending on how injured you have been up to that point. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Basically, the game revolves around a huge conspiracy made with humans and aliens together to procude other humans as ‘test subjects’ for a hidden underground lab. Something goes wrong (or right) and the system malfunctions, allowing one (or more) test subjects to regain consciousness and attempt escape. Of course, since you’re in an underground lab, no one knows about you and no one is coming to help you; it’s up to you to find the way out and free yourself before your jailers come back to capture you…or worse.

The game is called Level 7 for a reason; you as a test subject have been kept on the lowest level of the prison. To get out, you have to find the elevator to make it up to the next level, and you have to do so before the prison goes into lockdown; failure to do so means all exits are sealed, leaving whoever has not yet escaped to be doomed to remain underground. Finding the elevator is hard enough; sometimes the power goes out or a guard has a special key, which further complicates issues. But no one ever said escaping an underground complex would be easy.

Every character starts with a couple of skills which define what the character can do. They are picked at random, and can include anything from being able to bull rush more effectively to being able to reroll attempts at certain skill tests. Most skills come with an inherent bonus to any of the four stats, making some characters better at some things than others. In addition, there are items that characters can pick up and use; some of them are weapons that can help in a fight, while others are necessary to complete a story objective or to open up other areas for use.

As players explore the prison, they effectively ‘build’ the prison, using tiles that are arranged beforehand randomly in several piles. This ensures that someone can’t just find the elevator right off the bat, as well as providing opportunities to explore and find some help in the form of items. However, some rooms will trigger events, that can result in the spawning of guards and/or aliens to prowl around the prison, as well as the raising of a character’s fear and/or threat level.

Let me explain threat; it’s effectively a measure of how deadly the guards perceive you. You gain threat by events, using a gun, etc. (pretty much aggressive acts) A higher threat means the guards will be coming for you, while ignoring anyone else. If your threat value becomes too high, the guards no longer think they can handle the situation and will put the prison into lockdown, which is something you want to avoid at all costs. Threat works in contrast to Fear, in that the Aliens LOVE fear and will go after the player with the highest fear value. However, the aliens and guards are also foes of each other, and don’t always work together; they can easily attack each other rather than the players, if the fear and threat values cooperate.

Making skills tests pretty much works the same way for combat and other tasks; players roll dice and try to beat an assigned number of symbols needed. The dice for Level 7 are very unique; each side bears a number of symbols related to a character’s stats. Three sides contain all three symbols, while the other three contain doubles of one specific symbol (fist for strength, brain for mind, and shoe for speed). When performing a test, only one type of symbol will matter for success or failure; all other symbol types aren’t counted. A character’s stat value will indicate how many dice can be rolled for a particular test, making a high stat quite desirable, while at the same time not guaranteeing success. In combat, beating the opponent by the specified amount will knock them out until they can revive, while exceeding that amount by a significant amount will kill them. Alternately, a character can use the mind/intelligence stat to trick/sneak past a foe, which leaves them active, but allows a character to move past them as if nothing happened.

What makes this game unique is that it is both a cooperative and competitive game all in one. You CAN work together with other test subjects to try and increase your odds of escape, but ultimately one or more characters will be hunted while the others are free to do as they please. In addition, once a player finds the elevator, lockdown immediately begins; if the rest of the players can’t make it to the elevator before a certain amount of time, well, tough luck.

I like this game for what it provides; each game presents obstacles that make the going tough, and it forces players to make choices all the time. At the same time, it does require some practice to get the hang of, as sometimes the rules aren’t always clear right away. It may frustrate players who are not patient, but it is a rewarding experience once the flow of a game is established. Just remember: You don’t know the people with you. At any time they could stab you in the back. Do you really want to risk your life for them? There’s no assurances anyone will make it out alive; it might as well be you.

Go to the Eclipse page


85 out of 93 gamers thought this was helpful

Space exploration and resource management are two themes in board games that seem to go hand in hand. After all, space is a pretty barren place, and resources can be hard to come by and easy to exhaust. Tack in a bit of politics, diplomacy, and space war, and things become that more involved. It can be difficult to find a blend of facets that work together and find a nice balance, but Eclipse seems to do that nicely. A game that is centered around galaxy conquest and establishing colonies on distant worlds, it manages to do a lot without being overly complicated.

So what do you need to know about this game? The first thing you need to know is that the setup time is no small feat; every player gets a playing board that outlines key components to be used in the game. Most of these components consist of small colored cubes, disks, and ships that go on a player’s play mat to be later placed on the board itself. The cubes mark three resource tracks: Money (colored orange), Science (colored pink), and Material (colored brown), essentially. As you set up colonies on various planets and stations, you can place those cubes where appropriate to increase how much you get at the end of the turn. The disks essentially indicate how many actions you can take per turn; the more actions you take, the more costly it becomes to perform each following action. Having more disks helps offset the costs you will incur. In addition, there are several ships that you can build to fly around the board. Light class ships are the cheapest, but have the weakest durability for combat. Heavy class ships are costly in material to build, but they are built to fight and take punishment.

Aside from the player mats and setups, there are a collection of technology advancements which are put into play for players to research. There are three general paths of research that you can take, and each provides some benefit to warfare, travel, or general improvements. For example, one can research better hulls for ships to withstand more punishment, or research better engines to move more hexes per turn. Or research the ability to make orbital stations which can increase production when built. Technology advancements are drawn randomly from a science bag, so you never know what will be newly available each turn. If there is only one technology token available and someone researches it before you do, you’re out of luck; you have to wait until the next tech draw and hope it comes up again if you really want it.

The game board is actually designed via hexes, and the hexes form an overall map of the playing field with the more you explore your surroundings. Each player starts in a remote system surrounding a central hex which is controlled by aliens at a starbase. The object of the game is to accumulate the most victory points by the end of the game (which is set after 9 rounds) by gaining territories, getting into fights, researching tech, and managing resources.

Each round of Eclipse has players take an action, then pass the turn to the next person. If a player chooses not to take an action, they can pass their action, indicating that their role is over, and from that point they can only do reactionary actions (as in the case of an attack). An action consists of either Exploring a hex, Influencing to manage colony systems you have control over or to occupy uninhabited territories, Researching a new technology, Upgrading current tech to newer versions you have researched, Building new ships to add to your armada, or Moving to travel to new destinations around the board. Since each action depletes your funds, it is important for players to identify what they want to do most and which actions have priority, as other players can ruin your plans if they use an action to intercept your researching of a tech or the taking of a colony. Once every player has passed, the round is over, and everyone refreshes their action disks, gains their resources, then pays the costs of the upkeep of their colonies.

Exploring is an interesting mechanic in this game: there are three stacks of hex tiles to choose from when exploring space. If you are exploring towards the center starbase tile, you draw an exploration tile from pile I. If you are exploring around the center tile, you draw from pile II. If you are exploring away from the center towards the outer reaches of space, you draw from pile III. Each pile has general degrees of difficulty; the odds of running into aliens in pile I is relatively slim, where you are much more likely to encounter hostiles in pile III. If a planet is revealed and there are no aliens occupying it, a player can colonize it for free without requiring to use an Influence action. If there are hostiles, combat will need to be initiated to occupy the area. There is also a chance to just pick up a random bonus on a tile, such as extra VP’s or special alien tech. In addition to the features of the tile, there are locations on the edge of the tiles that are wormholes. In order to travel from hex to hex, two halves of a wormhole need to align and become whole to make travel possible. There is a tech that can enable a ship to travel through half of a wormhole, but it will not always be available.

Combat is a relatively simple affair in this game. When a fight occurs, first initiative is figured out by the relative speed of the attacking ship(s) and the defending ship(s). If the attacker has a higher initiative, they will go first; otherwise the defender attacks first. To calculate hits, a player rolls a number of six-sided dice equal to the number of guns and/or missiles on a ship and tallies up the results. On a roll of 5 or 6, the attack hits and does one point of damage to the ship. Some guns and missiles are more powerful than others; those weapons will inflict more damage on a single hit if they connect. A ship has one point of damage it can take before it is destroyed, but having a hull will add more damage that it can take. In addition, having a ship’s computer will lower the difficulty of hitting, while a ship having shields will make it more difficult to hit. With the proper upgrades, even a light-class fighter can be a match for a heavy hitter, along with some good dice rolls. After each combat, each player who participated will get a draw from the victory point bag for a random value, with the winner getting to select two and keep the highest value.

Eclipse offered some opportunity for diplomacy as well; players can form alliances with one another to allow passage through one another’s territory and to form trade routes. A trade route enables a minor increase in commerce, but one should beware of breaking such an alliance; to do so means that you will gain a bad reputation from other factions, and there will be a penalty incurred at the end of the game (unless someone else breaks an agreement, in which case the focus will be shifted on them instead).

Overall, I highly enjoy this game; there is very rarely a lack of anything constructive to do, and there is a lot of strategy involved. The only detriments to this game that I can see is that there is a lot of waiting time between decisions among more than two players, which can bog the game down a little, and the sheer number of pieces that are involved in setting the game up and putting it away make the process a rather tedious chore. However, the production quality is very good, and the overall experience is well worth the time one puts into it to get the game going.

Go to the Dominion page


81 out of 91 gamers thought this was helpful

When people think of deck building games, one of the first games that typically enters into conversation is Dominion, and with good reason. While Dominion might not have been the first ever game to come up with a deck building concept, it has been around for enough time to spawn a large number of expansions which, while not necessary to playing the main game, are nevertheless enhancers to already solid gameplay. Even without expansions, Dominion has enough variability and options to ensure many different styles of play without getting boring.

For those who don’t know about Dominion or deck building games, the basic premise is that each player starts with a core group of cards, and there are a set number of card groups that are set out for players to ‘purchase’ in order to augment their decks. Typically, a deck building game will have a variety of card groups beyond what is required to play the game, so that card groups can be swapped and interchanged between games to modify the style of play. In Dominion’s case, the starting cards are Copper cards (worth 1 coin) and Estate cards (worth 1 Victory Point). Each player starts with 7 Copper cards and 3 Estate cards to compromise a 10-card deck, and at the start of the game, each player shuffles the 10 cards and draws 5 cards from the deck to compose the starting hand.

As one might guess, the way one wins a game of Dominion is through Victory Points. There are three base cards that supply those points: Estates, Duchys (worth 3 Victory Points), and Provinces (worth 6 Victory Points). Ultimately, the goal in Dominion is to build up enough resources to be able to purchase the victory cards.
Estates cost 2 coin, Duchys cost 5 coin, and Provinces cost 8 coin. To purchase those cards, Coppers are available to purchase for no cost (you can always get one if you want), but there are also Silvers (worth 2 coin, cost 3 coin to purchase) and Gold (worth 3 coin, cost 6 coin to purchase) that you can buy that will help matters. Once all the Provinces are purchased, the game is immediately over. Once any three piles of purchasable cards are depleted, the game is immediately over. When the game is over, all the VP’s of every player are tallied up, and the winner is the one with the most VP’s in their hand and deck.

For a game of Dominion, ten card stacks are selected (either by random draw or by a handy game guide provided by the instructions) to be placed in the card pool along with the Treasure Cards (copper, silver, gold) and the Victory Point cards (Estate, Duchy, Province). Each of these cards has a name, a purchase value, a card type, and a description of what it does. For example: Village (costs 3 coin to purchase, Action card type, +2 Actions and +1 Card). Some cards, like the Militia (costs 4 coin to purchase, Action/Attack card type, +2 coin and each other player discards down to 3 cards), can be used to hinder other players. To that end, there is also a card called Moat (costs 2 coin to purchase, Action/Reaction card type, +2 Cards and reveal it from your hand when an attack card is played to negate the effects against you) that can be bought and used to stop bad effects.

Gameplay is very simple. Each player gets 1 Buy and 1 Action at the start of their turn. From the 5 cards in their hand, they may play an action card (if they have one) or use Treasure cards to Buy a card from the available piles. When a card is bought, it goes straight to the discard pile; a player cannot use a card just purchased. Playing action cards often allows different effects, like drawing more cards, playing more actions, enabling more buys in a single round of play, or getting extra coins for that single round of play. Once a player is done with their turn, they discard all cards in their hand and draw five new cards from their deck. If they cannot draw cards to complete their new hand, then the discard deck is shuffled to form a new draw deck, and cards are then drawn until the player has 5 cards in hand.

There is also a Trash pile meant for cards that have been removed from play. Some Action cards will allow players to Trash cards or to have opponents Trash their own cards. An example of this is the Mine card (costs 5 to purchase, Action card type, when played, a player may Trash a Treasure card from their hand to get a Treasure card of a higher value from the pile and put it in their hand). Players can trash a Copper to gain a Silver, or trash a Silver to gain a Gold by use of the Mine. There is some strategy in this, in that the more cards you have in your deck, the harder it is to get the cards that you want in your hand at any one time.

Gameplay of Dominion is pretty fast, and it is an easy game for people to watch and pick up, leading to some pretty entertaining games. The format is so solid that virtually every deck-building game that has followed after has similar mechanics, with some individual tweaking as the rules allow. There is also enough balance of cards that no one card dominates the other (despite the name of the game itself). This is a perfect game to initiate someone into deck building games, and is worthy of being a classic.

Go to the Relic page


30 out of 32 gamers thought this was helpful

When I first saw the Relic game, I didn’t know what to make of it. The game box itself said that the game play was reminiscent of Talisman, and I thought to myself, “Well, I already have Talisman, why should I get this as well?” Well, first off, it’s a sci-fi version of the game, so if fantasy isn’t quite your thing, imagining space marines taking on all threats might appeal to you more. Secondly, there is enough of a difference between the two games to make both equally interesting for one who likes a little bit of style change and a lot of challenge.

Relic provides some backstory set in the Warhammer 40K universe, which I myself know some of but am not highly educated in. The basic premise is that a Warp Rift has formed and the Eldar, a race of beings that are akin to elves from a fantasy setting, are guarding this rift. In addition, the rift is causing corruption to seep into the surroundings, and races like the orcs and tyrannids are up in arms and openly hostile. It’s up to the agents of the Imperium to stop the rift and restore order. To that end, there are eight characters that players can select from, each with their own special power sets and rewards gained from leveling during the game. Relic also provides materials to keep track of each character’s main attributes, which are Strength, Willpower, Cunning, and Life. Strength, Willpower, and Cunning can never go below their starting values, but Life can move up or down as situations dictate.

The Relic board itself is very similar to the Talisman setup: There is an Outer Region, a Middle Region, and an Inner Region (called Tiers in Relic). The Outer and Middle Regions are free to explore as a player chooses; when the time comes to move, a player can choose to move clockwise around the board, or counter-clockwise. The Inner Region, however, is one-way; once a character enters the Inner Region, they must continue until they reach the center, or until they are Vanquished (lost all life) or Corrupted (gained 6 Corruption cards – at this point, a new character is needed). To get to the Middle Region, players must make their way to two of the corner spaces and fulfill the special requirements to move to the Middle Region next turn. In order to get to the Inner Region, a player must have a Relic card (powerful cards that have a significant impact on the game), which can only be gotten by completing three Missions (assignment cards that detail specific goals and rewards).

In the Outer and Middle Regions, there are spaces that contain Threat icons: Red, Blue, and Yellow. If a space contains one or more of these icons, when a player lands on that space, they must draw Threat cards from the appropriate Threat decks. Red Threats are usually threats that require Strength tests in order to overcome (but not always). Likewise, Blue Threats usually require Willpower to overcome, and Yellow Threats usually require Cunning to overcome. Threats come in four varieties: Events, Enemies, Encounters, and Allies. These threats are resolved in that order if more than one are in a space – Events first, then Enemies, then Encounters, then Allies. Events are one-time effects that happen to everyone in a region or to every player. Enemies are adversaries you must overcome in combat, or lose a life. Encounters are usually a skill test of some sort that benefits the character if passed, or detriments the character if failed. Allies are companions who can boost your abilities or add new skills that can aid your mission.

Movement around the board is very similar to Talisman: Every turn, a player rolls a six-sided die and moves exactly that many spaces around the board. Relic introduces a new mechanic for movement in the form of Power Cards. A Power Card has a specific ability that can be used to affect certain aspects of the game, such as being able to gain Influence (what counts for currency in the game) after a successful combat, to being able to double a specific attribute’s value for one turn. A Power Card also has a value from 1 to 6 listed on the card; this number can be used in place of a die roll for skill test rolls, movement rolls, and combat rolls. The card must be used before the roll, unless the card says otherwise. This is very useful if there is a location you need to get to on the board and you don’t want to leave it to chance, but at the same time, Power Cards are typically hard to come by. Only characters can use Power Cards; enemies cannot.

Combat is also similar to Talisman; each enemy has a number listed in the upper right hand corner of their card, and a corresponding color to that number. The color indicates which attribute will be used in combat: Red for Strength, Blue for Willpower, Yellow for Cunning. An opposing player rolls a single die for the enemy and adds the result to the number on the card to get the enemy’s overall strength. Then the player rolls a die and adds the result to their matching attribute, or uses a Power Card and adds that featured value to the attribute instead. If the result is greater than the enemy’s result, the player collects the enemy as a trophy. Otherwise, the enemy remains on the space, the player loses a life, and that player moves to the experience phase immediately. What is new from Talisman is what is known as the Explode ability: When a player or enemy rolls a six or plays a Power Card with a six value, then that character ‘explodes’ and can roll the die once more, adding that value to that six. There is no natural limit to how many times a die can explode; it is theoretically possible to keep exploding multiple times during combat, which can lead to some staggering total values. This can make even the meekest enemy a potential threat in the right conditions, or a one-sided fight suddenly a come-from-behind victory.

In Talisman, there were initiative values assigned to cards to indicate which card to resolve first. In Relic, those values are gone; if a character is to fight multiple enemies, two things can happen. If those enemies have the same color attribute, then the character must fight those multiple enemies at the same time. In that case, a single die is rolled and added to all the enemies’ attribute values to make up a single total. If the character wins, they collect all the battling enemies at once. If the numbers are differing colors, the player may choose which order in which to fight the monsters, using separate combats for each.

Like Talisman, there can only be one winner, but unlike Talisman, there is more of a cooperation mentality than an adversarial one; there are opportunities where players can help each other out in certain tasks. My thoughts on the game are that it is a fun and challenging game, but it can be frustrating in more ways than one. To have a good chance of surviving the endgame, a player must gain levels and increase attributes, but it is entirely possible to have enemies that are nigh unkillable at the start. That can make a long game even longer, and from my experience, even a two-player game can take up to 3 hours or more to complete. For challenging games, though, this one serves up enough for an experienced gamer to whet their whistle. It is simple enough for casual gamers, but don’t expect a quick game in any sense of the word.

Go to the A Touch of Evil page

A Touch of Evil

256 out of 285 gamers thought this was helpful

When it comes to horror scenarios, I think that Flying Frog Productions really has their finger on what makes powerful scenarios. It’s easy to imagine a zombie apocalypse thanks to movies like Night of the Living Dead and shows like The Walking Dead, but styling a zombie game after a cheesy B-Movie setting really lends the idea that not everyone is going to get out alive, and in that respect, Last Night on Earth really stands out. By the same token, we have A Touch of Evil, a horror game set in colonial times, where all the benefits of modern civilization do not exist and the mysterious evil pervades all of the surrounding town of Shadowbrook, marring the difference between friend and foe.

Every horror story needs to have a villain, and A Touch of Evil provides four distinct villains to choose from, each with their own abilities and strengths; The Werewolf, the Scarecrow, The Vampire, and the Spectral Horseman. Each villain has a minion event chart that is unique to each of them, and can present some interesting challenges for the heroes when a result is rolled on that event chart. For instance, the Spectral Horseman could have ghost soldiers appear on the board on certain locations, or he just might decide to fight a hero on their space, and ride back to the center of town, fighting anyone he encounters along the way.

To combat the villains are the heroes, a select number of 8 specific characters that have their own individual statistics, health, and special abilities. All heroes have a starting value of Honor, Spirit, Cunning, and Combat for their statistics. Honor reflects the amount of respect or notoriety a certain character has, and is most often used in training up Spirit and Cunning in town. Spirit reflects the amount of grit and willpower an individual has, and is mostly used in combatting certain ghostly figures and gaining investigation from eerie encounters. Cunning is a reflection of how savvy and smart an individual is, and is most often used in investigating mundane events or thwarting plots. Combat is a measure of how much damage an individual can deal out in a fight, and is usually augmented by weapons and items that are either found or purchased around town. Each hero can also take a certain number of wounds before being KOed (no one actually dies in A Touch of Evil, with the exception of Town Elders), but they can also increase their overall health value with certain items and event cards. Special abilities change the way each hero encounters certain conditions; for example, Inspector Cooke will gain one extra investigation token from encounters where he gains investigation, and Katarina the Outlaw inflicts wounds on a roll of 4, 5, or 6 in combat, where any other hero will only deal out wounds on a roll of 5 or 6.

The heroes begin the game knowing that something is seriously wrong in the down of Shadowbrook, and their duty is to investigate and deal with the looming problem. To that end, heroes will explore around the town and its outskirts, looking for items and investigation tokens that can be used for currency to get the items and training that they need. There are a number of locations around down such as the The Windmill, The Manor, The Olde Woods, and the Abandoned Keep. Heroes may go to those locations and draw encounter cards from specialized decks to search for items or to have events that can lead to making attribute tests to gather investigation. In addition, there are some other locations around down that can offer opportunities to draw event cards (which are beneficial to the heroes) or on a bad roll, can force a hero to draw a Mystery card (which are almost always universally bad). At the end of every action phase, the first player draws a Mystery card automatically to reflect the goings on around town, as strange events happen and sinister minions appear.

The goal of the game is to defeat the Villain of the game once and for all in a final showdown that results from confronting the Villain in its hidden lair. The heroes may encounter the Villain at any time during the game, but those fights are always skirmishes and don’t count for the final showdown; in effect, it’s like the Villain always manages to escape, or finds some reason to leave the hero(es) alive after beating them down. If the Villain manages to KO the hero(es), however, it does not mean they get off scot free; every time a hero gets KOed, the player must roll a D6 and lose that many points of investigation, items, or allies, in any combination they wish. To end it once and for all, heroes need to spend investigation tokens to purchase Lair cards that are the possible sight of a final showdown. In the beginning, purchasing Lair cards requires an extreme amount of investigation points, but as the darkness track fills up (a sort of timer that shows the Villain gaining in strength as time goes on), Lair cards become cheaper and more available. However, the longer the heroes wait to begin the showdown, the more powerful the Villain becomes, and if the darkness track ever maxes out, the heroes lose the game automatically.

The evil of the Villain isn’t the only thing that the heroes have to deal with, however. In town, there are six Town Elders that are pledged to protect the town, but each of these elders has a secret. These secrets can range from being beneficial (a town elder is secretly heroic and adds extra combat dice), to being a potential handicap (a town elder could be cowardly and has the potential to run away during a final showdown), to being inconsequential (a town elder is secretly a voyeur, but is otherwise normal), to finally being that the town elder is actually in league with the Villain. If the Town Elder is ever revealed to be allied with the Villain, during the final combat they actively join the Villain and act against the heroes in battle. On a personal note, it’s a nice touch that Flying Frog included an ‘evil’ side to the Town Elder cards; all you need to do is flip them over to reveal their sinister side.

During the showdown, heroes can take up to two town elders with them into the final conflict. But how do the heroes know which elders are trustworthy and which ones seek to put a knife in their back? At any time during a hero’s action phase, they can pay investigation tokens to take a peek at one of the town elder’s secrets. By this method, they can identify which town elders are trustworthy. However, during the game, other secrets can be added to town elders or existing secrets can be removed through various events. So if a player looks early at a town elder, there’s no guarantee that the town elder will remain the same by the time the showdown begins.

I highly enjoy playing A Touch of Evil any chance I get, because there are a lot of thematic elements to the game that really lend a nice atmosphere to things. Flying Frog Productions always has very nice quality to their artwork and card stock, and all of the components that come with the game are durable and easily recognizable. The instruction booklet does a good job in explaining the core elements of the game, though there are a couple instances that are confusing or that could have been better worded. There are also a lot of tokens in the game that can and will be used, so it pays to have some sort of organization so that pieces can be picked out quickly; otherwise a good portion of the game will consist of searching through the multitude of tokens for the one you need. This game really shines in a cooperative light, although it can be played competitively among players. Give it a shot sometime, and don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in the atmosphere.

Go to the Guillotine page


55 out of 62 gamers thought this was helpful

Gaming experiences have become more complicated in recent years, and a good number of games require a fair amount of startup time and cleanup time besides the actual time required to play the game itself. It’s no wonder that many games span well past an hour to play, which makes getting together for a gaming night with friends a real investment into the evening. But the thing about complicated games is that they give a sense of depth and feel to them; the good ones can become really involved, to a point where a game feels less like a game and more like an experience.

The problem with the long games, however, is that they can become exhausting, and when a group is pressed for time, they can usually only plan one or two games a night. This is where games like Guillotine really shine; a game of Guillotine can be very quick in comparison to other games, and works well as a filler or as a stand-alone game to play with friends.

So what is Guillotine about? Well, in a nutshell, it is the days of Marie Antoinette, and the populace is in an uproar. They have had enough, and the peasants are calling for blood…specifically, the nobles’ blood. And anyone else who was unfortunate enough to get caught in the mob’s path. The game is set over a course of three days, in which players will attempt to collect the most points by collecting nobles into their score pile (in reality, those nobles are getting beheaded by the executioner who waits at the chopping block for the next victim, but if you want to avoid the grim setting, one can just rephrase things to say that you’re saving the nobles instead).

During the days in which the game is set, a line of cards representing nobles is set out in front of a cardboard executioner (I believe 12 nobles in all for each day). The noble at the head of the line will be the first to be executed, followed by the noble behind him or her, and so on, and so forth, until all the nobles have been executed. Each noble has an associated point value that goes along with it, ranging from 5 at the high end, to -3 at the low end (Hero of the People…the mob doesn’t want to see him executed, but oh well). During each player’s turn, that player MUST collect a noble from the line, almost always from the front of the line. Of course, some nobles are more desirable than others, and no one wants to take that -3 hit to their score. To assist the players in maneuvering the line to the chopping block in a way that favors them, players make use of the action cards.

Each player receives 5 action cards at the start of the game, and during each of their turns, that player may elect to play one action card from their hand. There are many different types of action cards; most affect the order of nobles in some way, like moving a noble back two spaces in line, or rearranging the first 5 nobles in line randomly. Others affect point scoring, like an action card that gives one additional point for each red noble you have in your scoring pile at the end of the game. Still others can attack other players, like swapping action hands, or stealing a noble from their score pile. An effectively played action card can sometimes swing a game drastically; Double Feature, for instance, allows you to collect two nobles from the front of the line instead of one.

The nobles themselves are not simply just point values; they also sometimes have special abilities themselves. The Master Spy moves to the end of the line every time an action card is played, which usually ensures that he will be the last noble to be collected during a given day. The Clown gives a -1 to a point value, but the person who collects it can assign the Clown to someone else, making it an attack card. And then there are the Palace Guards, which value goes up for each one you have in your score pile. 1 Palace Guard = 1 point, 2 Palace Guards = 4 points (2 x 2 points each), 3 Palace Guards = 9 points (3 x 3 points each), and so on.

At the end of three days, all players total up their score piles and any score modifier cards that they have, and come up with a final score; the player with the highest score is the winner. Really, there’s not much more to the game than that. Your average game of Guillotine from start to finish is roughly about a half-hour with 4 players, with slight time modifications with greater or lower numbers of players. The game’s learning curve is such that anyone can grasp how to play the game just by watching it, and the game itself requires minimal explanation and setup. The art of the game is whimsical and amusing, which makes playing the game entertaining rather than macabre. In its own element, Guillotine quickly becomes the go-to game to just pick up and play, and for this reason, I highly recommend picking it up.

Go to the Talisman: The City Expansion  page
28 out of 30 gamers thought this was helpful

The city. It’s a big, sprawling place, filled with long streets and many merchants and individuals who are looking for coin, either legitimately…or illegally. One can get into a lot of trouble in a city. But the rewards, oh the rewards…

Enter Talisman’s City expansion, one of the newest boards and sets to be added to the Talisman family. Just as the Dungeon and Highlands expansions before it, the City expansion adds a new playing field to the board, this one centered on the City space on the board. The City space acts as normal; if you land on it, you can use any one of the abilities listed on the space. But if you have extra movement or move from the City space, you can move into the City board instead.

The City board is an interesting place; there is no backtracking, unless forced back to a specific space by a card effect. A player must follow the arrows of movement as indicated by the board itself. This means that a player typically has to traverse the city in a certain way, but there are some locations where a player can deviate from a set path. The City itself is a mass of sprawling streets, which in itself is not hard to navigate. The big difference between any of the street locations and any other locations on the Talisman board is that while landing on a street location causes you to draw a card from the City encounter deck, you can have up to three cards on a location. Which means that while the first run-through of the city might not be as eventful, subsequent trips through the city can yield lots of encounters.

In addition, the City has specified locations where players can visit shops or collect wanted posters to collect bounties on for gold. The shops themselves are useful for movement purposes; provided a character has enough movement with the roll of their die, they can end their turn in a shop and spend gold, which can be very useful for nothing else than to avoid an unpleasant space (you can’t enter a store and do nothing; you have to perform a valid action). And let me stress: I LOVE the shops. There’s a potion shop, a pet shop, an armory, an academy, among others…each shop provides a chance for something useful. Of course, you won’t get these items for free (usually). It takes some coin to get the wheels moving, but the items you can get can be really powerful or really useful. One of the most useful (in my opinion) is a pet called Lucky, who will replenish one Fate every turn. In a game where dice rolls can make or break a situation, that is huge. And that is just an example.

The City encounter deck also offers some new and refreshing encounters that deal with the City and the main board, including monsters, places, and events. It should be no surprise that quite a few of the City encounters involve money in some way, shape, or form. There are also some events that have the potential to land a character in the City Jail. Not a fun place to be. At best, you will escape to the town square. At worst, you will beaten after repeated attempts to escape and die alone and forgotten. Not the most enterprising fate for one trying to capture the Crown of Command, but it happens. Some events, however, can really land a character “in the money” and can send a character on a sudden spending spree.

The City expansion also adds some new characters to explore: The Elementalist, the Tavern Wench, the Tinkerer, the Cat Burglar, the Bounty Hunter, and the Spy. Each of these characters brings something new to the table.

The Elementalist offers great versatility with an element of risk; he starts at 1 strength and 1 craft, but once at the start of his turn, he adds 4 to either strength or craft. The right choice can really help in combat and specific tests, but the wrong choice leaves the Elementalist vulnerable.

The Tavern Wench has balanced Strength and Craft, but also has the additional benefit of starting with 5 potions (which qualify as trinkets, so take up no space), and can also stop movement when passing another character’s space to stop and force that character to give her a gold piece for a drink (which has certain effects for that character). She also never has to roll for the effects of the Tavern; she just chooses what she wants.

The Cat Burglar has very strong Craft, and is specially geared for burgling; she can attempt to procure an item from any place that sells items for free. To do so, she has to roll a contested roll with the item’s price added to it, and she adds her craft. If she succeeds, she gets the item for free. If she fails, the item is discarded and she loses a turn. She also has the interesting ability to choose in what order she encounters multiple cards, which is more useful than you would think.

The Tinkerer is an interesting character; the Tinkerer has the ability to create automaton followers from items to follow him around. The Tinkerer can actually still use these items for their original effect (which in some cases destroys the object if it was a one-shot use), and they don’t take up actual inventory space. Also, can turn constructs into automaton followers as well.

The Spy is able to peek at the Encounter deck and also peek at another player’s spells in hand. However, I think his most useful ability is the ability to “Shadow” another character in the same region. Shadowing is essentially a teleport ability; the Spy can just move to their location as his move, but does not encounter the space. Aside from just being able to choose a teleport location with a spell, this is by far one of the most useful movement abilities I have seen.

The Bounty Hunter has a high strength rating and has the ability to get that precious coin to use in the City; every enemy he defeats earns him a gold piece. He also gets additional rewards if he fights another character, and can even collect a trophy of his choosing from another player if he lands on their space.

So what do I think of the City expansion? Lot of fun! But if you’re trying to win the game, travelling to the City is not a requirement at all. A lot can happen in the City, but it’s hard to make the City work for you unless you have coin to spend. You also have to spend time getting out of the City in order to make it to the Plane of Peril, which is your ultimate goal. A good rule of thumb is to follow your opponents’ movements to see if you have time or not to make it to the City and try to make a purchase here or there. It can pad your chances quite a bit, but it might be more worth it to explore the main region and take your chances. But as a friend of mine said, the City expansion gives meaning to all the gold that you sometimes collect during the course of the game but never have an opportunity to use. It also includes several alternate scenarios to flesh out the game with optional directions. For the collector, this is a must-have. For the casual player, this is definitely a thumbs-up.

Go to the Ingenious page


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I am introduced to a lot of games via the website, and also through the intervention of my friends. I learned of Ingenious through a friend of mine named Jason, who brought Ingenious to our local game store and opened it up to play. I remember my first thought when it was shown to me as the pieces of the game were revealed, and that was, “Hmm. It kinda resembles Scrabble a little bit.” I can honestly say after having played the game many times now that it is about as similar to Scrabble as a Van Gogh painting is to a Picasso; sure, they are both fundamentally works of art, but there are pleasant differences in both.

Ingenious, at its heart, is an intellectual game. The name itself almost broadcasts this freely to the observer. But it is intellectual in a way that tests the abstract and requires a fair bit of strategy that can and often will change on the fly. Players are trying to amass points on a color pegging board of 6 different colors. Points are earned by placing colored tiles on a hexagonal-style board with hexagon locations within. Each player draws 6 tiles to start the game, and places them on a supplied tile holder a la Scrabble, but this is about where the similarity between the two games ends.

Each tile is composed of two hexagons linked together, with two various colored shapes on the face. Tiles can only be placed next to a location that matches up with a color/shape on the tile. Once a tile is placed, it is scored, and points are amassed for each similarly colored and shaped tile that is connected in a line with the placed tile. For instances, if a tile with a purple circle is placed next to two existing purple circle tiles, it will score in the two directions where those circles are, and count every other purple circle that connects in that direction in an unbroken chain. If there are 5 circles one way, and two circles the other way, then 7 points will be tallied, and the score marker will move 7 spots along the purple track. The player who places a tile then reaches into a bag that has extra playing tiles inside and draws a tile to replace the one just played.

So far, the premise is pretty simple, but the game throws a few elements into the game to really make it interesting. The most striking feature of the game is the way the game is won. The game continues until no more tiles can legally be played, or until one player succeeds in completing each colored score track to its maximum of 18 (in which case, it’s an instant win for that player). When the game ends, if there is no instant win, then the winning player is the player whose least scored color track is the highest among all the players. This bears a little explanation. Say you have a player who has all the colors maxed out on his or her scoring track except for one that they neglected; say the color yellow only has a measly 2 points. That player’s opponent has not scored as much, but has all of his or her color scoring at 9 across the board, except for orange, which is 8. By this example, the first player’s least scored color (yellow, 2) is lower than the opposing player’s least scored color (orange, 8). So, the opposing player wins. In other words, it matters how much you score, but only to the point where you take care of your weakest link.

So why would you want to score all of your other colors as high as you can, then? Well, this is because of the game’s other notable feature: The Ingenious. When a player maxes out an individual color all the way to 18, they shout “Ingenious!” and immediately get to place another tile on the board. This is important in that a player can take advantage of a coveted space on the board that would yield important points for an opponent, or help the player improve their own scoring totals in another color. This is also important in that Ingenious results stack; if an extra tile in an Ingenious placing triggers another Ingenious, then that player can place an additional tile as a result of that as well. I personally have seen (and performed) three Ingenious maneuvers in the same turn, and the results of that can be crippling to an opponent.

The game also has a handy little rule to prevent a player from getting too handicapped by bad tile draws. If a player has no tiles of a certain color, that player can show their tiles to their opponent (to show they have none of one color) and draw six new tiles from the tile bad, replacing the old tiles back into the bag after this is complete. This is done to ensure that at any point, a player can play a tile in a legal space, even if they would yield no additional points by doing so.

The game accomodates 2 to 4 players, and the board playing field expands in order to extend the game for additional players. I really enjoy how the game scales for extra players; it’s nice and neat, and doesn’t suffer from the usual handicaps that occur when you add more players to an existing game. I actually think the game benefits from a 4-player style, as the game forces you to think beyond the immediate and try to plan ahead for what you might need in the future.

My impressions of this game? I love it. I would play it anytime. The board set-up is simple and takes little time to arrange, and it takes equally as little time to put away. The rules are easy to understand, and while scoring might take a little bit to get used to, once one understands the basic concept, it comes quite naturally. Plus it is quite fun to be able to shout out “Ingenious!” and put a little bit of flavor to the game. However, like all intellectual games, this game has the potential to make someone feel inferior if they happen to lose a game by a large margin. Unlike most intellectual games, the chance of this is surprisingly low. Since the game can be won by who has the most balanced scoring, there are no real ‘blowouts’ in a game of Ingenious. And personally, I think that is the real Ingenious detail of this game.

Go to the Discworld: Ankh-Morpork page

Discworld: Ankh-Morpork

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Discworld! Discworld! Party time! Excellent! Woo-woo-woo-woo!

Hello, welcome to the review of Discworld, I’m Shamus, and with me is my most excellent partner, Death…


Oh, c’mon, Death, it’s a fun little culture reference, it’s all in good fun!


Um, fair enough. We’ll just move on, shall we?


Ok, then. Well, anyways, let’s talk a bit about Discworld. Discworld is a most interesting place; a fantasy setting in which the world is flat instead of round, and balances on the backs of four elephants, which in turn all stand on top of a giant turtle drifting in space. And no, I am not kidding. It sounds like a strange concept (and it is), but this world, delightfully invented by Terry Pratchett, is among one of the most beloved and wonderfully detailed universes in all of fantasy literature. There have been video games, movies, and animated films based off of Mr. Pratchett’s related works, so why not board games as well?

Enter this particular game. One of two board games based off of the Discworld series, Discworld: Ankh-Morpork takes place in the very same city for which it is named. The patrician of the city, Lord Vetinari, has gone missing, leaving a vacuum of power in the city that some enterprising powerful figures wish to fill. There are six individuals that seek to take control of the city…or are there? For Lord Vetinari may not actually be gone…he is the seventh individual looking to control the city, using the confusion to permanently consolidate his power base. The other individuals are Lord De Worde, Lord Rust, Lord Selachii, Chrysoprase Dragon King of Arms, and Commander Vimes of the Watch. Each seeks to take over the city in different ways, although in Vimes’s case, he just want to keep the peace; he has no interest in actually controlling the city for personal reasons.

The game itself is surprisingly simple to play. To begin the game, each player selects one of the seven hidden Personality cards at random to determine who they are and what their win condition will be. Then, each player selects a color to play and selects all the colored game pieces that correspond to that color. The individual game pieces are minions (classic meeples) and buildings; there are other community pieces like trouble markers, troll figures, and demon figures. Next, all players collect ten Ankh-Morpork dollars to use for varying costs xuring the game.

The Discworld board is a pretty simple affair. There are twelve areas of the board, each denoting key properties of Ankh-Morpork. Each of these properties has a price listing (to build a building on the property) and a number for the property; on occasion, players will have to roll a twelve-sided die for random effects, some of which include various parts on Ankh-Morpork. To start the game, all players place a starting minion in the areas on The Shades, The Scours, and Dolly Sisters. One trouble marker is also placed on those areas to start the game.

The game is played essentially as a card game; everything that happens during the game is dictated by the cards that players ay during their turn. Each player has a hand size of five cards, and during their turn, they play a single card, then draw up to their maximum hand size at the end of the turn. The card that a player plays will usually have one or more effects on the card, and those effect are to gain money, place a minion on the board, place a building on the board, assassinate a minion, remove a trouble marker, scroll (perform the written instructions in the text area of the card), draw a random event card, play another card from your hand, or play as an interrupt. The effects are resolved in left-to-right order on the card as they are printed, but with the exception of the random event, all the effects are optional, and do not need to be resolved if the player doesn’t wish to do them, or in some cases, can’t legally do them.

So what do trouble markers do? Well, they indicate strife, usually caused when two or more rival minions are in the same location. Placing a minion on the board in the same area as an opponent’s minion places a trouble marker in that area, but placing a minion in an empty area or a friendly area will not cause a trouble marker to appear. Some Personalities (like Dragon King of Arms) will win the game if a number of trouble markers are on the board. Also, buildings can’t be built on an area with a trouble marker. So how do you get rid of them? Assassination, usually.


You might also ask, what do the buildings do? Well, they count for cash for the purposes of Chrysoprase’s victory condition, but for everyone else, buildings allow the owner of the building to use the property power listed on the location. Each property can do something special once per turn, such as producing trouble markers, removing trouble markers, making money, or ignore random events.

So how does the game end? If a victory condition is satisfied and is still in effect of the start of that player’s next turn, that player reveals their Personality card and wins the game. If no one has won the game by the time the draw deck has been depleted completely, then Commander Vimes wins the game if he is one of the Personalities in play. If he is not, then the player with the most points (minions on the board = 5 points each, buildings = their cost in points, $ = 1point for each dollar, -15 for not paying off Dent or Bank card if played) will win the game.

Once you understand what the cards do and how they are played, Discworld plays fairly quickly. I have not had a game last longer than 40 minutes, even with novice players. But that hardly takes away from the experience of the game. Anyone who has read the Discworld novels knows that Ankh-Morpork is a chaotic place, and the game reflects this nature, with the potential for a lot of things happening in a single turn, with everything from earthquakes to a dragon appearing happening in the game. What strikes me about the game is how neat and tidy it is. The artwork is very detailed and entertaining, the board is small and simple, and all the cards are easy to find and manage. The characters are quite current, including Moist and Reacher Gilt from Going Postal, but nothing after that…perhaps an expanion is in order?


Oh, yes. Almost forgot. Death even has his own card, and is the only card in the game that can assassinate twice with one play of the card. Which makes him a very powerful card indeed.


Indeed, indeed. I should say that I am a bit biased in my review; I adore the Discworld series, and follow the material with a passion. But this game is a nice little package, not too complicated, but engrossing enough to provide amusing entertainment. The only detriment I can see to this game is that with only seven personality cards, it is easy to guess who a player is by their actions, and move to stop them. But I have the hope that additional Personality cards will solve this issue in the future. In the meantime, though, this is a good, solid game that shouldn’t be overlooked. Try it sometime!

Go to the Scrabble page


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When I saw that Words With Friends was coming out with an actual board game, I was stunned. My first reaction was, “Why? It already exists! It’s Scrabble!” I am sure that a lot of people probably feel the same way, or will when they hear the news; the reason for this is that Scrabble is a board game that is a true classic. Aside from being a board game that has been in existence for over a half-century, Scrabble has been featured as a game show, has been used in restaurant promotion sweepstakes, and has even had tournaments where people compete in timed events to win prizes. That’s pretty impressive. So in honor of Words With Friends throwing their hat into the ring, I would like to review this gaming classic.

Scrabble is at its heart a board game, but the game doesn’t require you to move a personal game piece around the board, requires no dice to roll, and requires no cards to draw and resolve. Instead, all you require is a tileholder…and perhaps a dictionary. You see, Scrabble is all about making words for points. You play the game with an assortment of tiles that have a single letter and a point value associated with each. You and your opponent have seven tiles with which to make words, and are awarded point values for the total worth of the word(s) placed (it is possible to form more than one word with clever placement of tiles). When a player uses up tiles to form a word, he or she immediately replaces the used tiles on their tileholder with new ones from the tile bag (or tile pool). Players continue in this manner until all the tiles have been exhausted and a player uses up all of their remaining letters, or until it is considered impossible to play any more words.

Scrabble has a small set of rules that are easy to understand, but are very important. First and foremost, you can’t legally play anything that’s not an actual word in the dictionary. So good luck playing Trogdor; it’s not going to happen. Also, names as a rule are not allowed. So Brian can’t be used as a legal play (although Jack can be used because it’s also a device or action). You also can’t just place a word anywhere; you have to build off of an existing letter on the board. In this manner, players form word chains that slowly fill up the board.

Aside from placing words, players need to be aware of the board itself. There are numerous special locations on the board that will yield additional points when used, anything from double and triple letter scores, to double and triple word scores.There are small amount of these, and they are evenly dispersed across the board, so everyone has ample opportunity to put them to good use.

The tiles themselves are rated in value according to the number of letters that are actually included. The vowels are 1 point, for example, as they will be used constantly. By contrast, letters like Z and Q are worth 10 points, and only have the one tile each. However, there are two special tiles: blanks. These tiles carry no value and cannot be scored, but they are wild tiles and can be substituted for any letter. Once a blank has been used as a letter, its value is fixed and cannot be changed; if it was used as a B, for example, someone could play Brain off of it next turn if they wanted.

Players would be wise to keep a scoring pad to keep track of points earned in the game, and write down scores accrued immediately after placing words; values of words can and will change as more letters are added on in the course of the game. Once the game ends, players tally up the points to determine the winner.

I love Scrabble. But I’d be lying if I said that the game didn’t have its share of problems. The first and most obvious is the arguments that can start over what is considered to be a legal word. The dictionary solves this; if it’s not in there, it’s not legal. But it slows the game down in looking up the dictionary constantly. And when players are looking to use some letters in a tough spot, the dictionary will get a lot of use. Also, Scrabble can be a slow game if players spend a lot of time looking for the right move (hence why tournaments are timed).

Scrabble is one of those games that everybody comes back to at one point or another. Even if you don’t play the game, it’s hard to resist wanting to help out another player in a bind if you just walk by a game in progress. It’s refreshing, really. Give it a shot sometime.

Go to the Descent: Journeys in the Dark (2ed) page
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There are a number of games out there that use the mechanic of pitting a group of players against a single player who becomes the adversary. Betrayal at House on the Hill, Last Night on Earth, and Mansions of Madness come to mind. But to my knowledge, Descent is one of the first roleplaying/adventure games to use this mechanic without putting the antagonist in the role of simply dictating what happens. Let me explain: A dungeonmaster or gamemaster usually tends to be the ‘storyteller’ for the rest of the group, and usually has very little to gain by running players through a campaign. Descent changes this, in a very creative and dynamic way.

Let me explain a bit about Descent. It is, at its heart, a roleplaying game, but it also is a board game. The board itself is modular, and the board pieces can be used to construct dungeons or overland hazards of varying complexities. Which is good, because these pieces will be usd in varying ways depending on the scenarios you play. The game provides all these board pieces, along with monster figurines, cards for each monster to describe their various statistics, a campaign book to put the players through their paces, equipment cards, player cards, and even overlord cards (the overloard is what the antagonist of the game is called). Basically, everything you need is available, and that brings me to how the game is played.

Each player who plays Descent chooses a character in which to begin their adventure. Therr are typical classes, such as a fighter, thief, cleric, wizard, and so forth, but these classes have two paths to take which describe their eventual power set. For instance, the fighter can choose to be either a Berserker or a Knight, and once that choice is made, it cannot be unmade. Each character gets starting equipment based on their choice, and a starting power they can use related to their class. Characters themselves have several key attributes: Health, Fatigue, Speed, Armor, Willpower, Strength, Agility, and Perception. Health is represented by heart tokens, of which each character receives a starting amount. Fatigue is represented by fatigue tokens (usually four of them) which a character can use to gain extra movement or activate special powers. Speed indicates how much movement you have in terms of squares on the board. Armor indicates which armor die you roll in response to attacks. The other four traits are purely used to handle specific tests that the Overlord pits the players against with the use of his or her Overlord cards.

Speaking of the Overloard, his role is significantly different than most adversary roles. The Overlord effectively functions as another character in the game. The Overlord gains experience along with the hero characters, and can level up as well. The Overlord can also select classes to advance on, the same as the heroes. While the Overlord doesn’t actually fight the characters, he or she does interact with them by playing Overlord cards to trip up the heroes, or by controlling monsters to combat or delay them. What isthe most interesting, however, is that with every adventure, the Overlord has his own agenda to keep. It’s not about killing the heroes (the heroes can’t actually die), but rather about completing some nefarious purpose…if the Overlord succeeds, he or she can become even MORE powerful as the campaign goes on.

Descent is played in turns; the heroes’ turn, and the Overlord’s turn. During the heroes’ turn, each hero activates and can do any two actions a turn: Move, Attack, Rest, Search, Stand Up (if they lost all Health the prior turn and are down), Revive a hero, use a special power, or perform a heroic feat (each character has them, and can only do so once per game). The Overlord, in contrast, can use Overlord cards at any time they are appropriate, but can only move monsters or perform scenario actions on his or her turn. Monsters typically can only move or attack.

Everything in the game short of moving is tested using special dice. The dice have special symbols on them that are related to each die roll, and different dice are used for attack and defense. Damage is determined by how many hearts are rolled, and defense is determined by the number of shields rolled. Tests for an attribute are also determined by shields rolled, but the lower the number of shields on that roll, the better; players are trying to roll under a certain number to determine success. The dice also have lightning bolts at times; these are surges, and surges can be spent to allow additional effects or increase the potency of certain attacks.

All in all, Descent is a very interesting take on a classic fantasy roleplaying genre, and it lends a certain edge to the game. Heroes have a general idea of what the Overlord is planning, but are never totally clued in, and many confrontations against the Overlord can easily swing in his or her favor if the heroes aren’t hasty or careful. A lot of the scenarios are well-balanced and fun to play, so I recommend giving this a shot. It’s different enough that it might grow on you, wheher you play a hero or overlord.

Go to the Pathfinder: Core Rulebook page
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I’ve been debating for a while how I’d like to review this game. There are so many different ways to describe it, but at the same time, none of those descriptions are set in stone. Because while the Pathfinder Core Book is a wonderful guide, it is just that; a guide, and may or may not be used as desired.

Let me explain what I mean. The Pathfinder role playing game is based off of the rules and core design of Dungeons and Dragons, specifically the 3 and 3.5 rules set. You might be wondering how Paizo can do this without incurring a lawsuit; don’t worry, it’s cool, all the legalese has been resolved already. In fact, I’m glad Paizo was able to do so legally, as the final product they produced feels much more simple and streamlined than the Dungeons and Dragons version.

If you know anything about fantasy role-playing, you have probably come into contact with Pathfinder’s role-playing style at least once. Players roll attribute scores using six-sided dice (or distributing points through an alternate table method), and then assign the resulting scores to a series of attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Each of these scores affects how good a character can perform certain actions:

Strength: Affects how well a character can attack and hit enemies with melee attacks, how much damage they can inflict, and how well a character can accomplish tasks related to brute force.

Dexterity: Affects how a character attacks with ranged weapons, determines how hard they are to hit, and affects tasks requiring finesse or delicate movements.

Constitution: Affects a character’s health as a measure of how sturdy they are, and shows how resistant they are to sickness, poison, disease, and other physical maladies.

Intelligence: Affects a character’s ability to learn and improve skills by way of skill points, and can grand additional spells per day for some magic-users. Also affects skills requiring intellectual acumen.

Wisdom: Affects how a character is able to resist attacks or situations that affect the mind, and can grant additional spells per day to some magic-users. Also affects some skills related to instinct and general survival.

Charisma: Affects a character’s ability to lead, negotiate, and improve overall reactions, and is an indicator of overall attractiveness. Affects skills related to influencing others, and may grant additional spells per day to some magic-users.

After attributes are assigned, players will select a race for a character to be. There are a number of options (like humans, dwarves, elves, and even half-orcs), and each race offers certain benefits and disadvantages to consider. Players further customize their characters by selecting a class for that character to be; classes are a character’s chosen vocation, and largely determines what a character will be capable of during the course of an adventure. A Fighter, for example, is good at managing weapons and armor, and acquires a lot of natural physical talents in being able to fight enemies and protect the party. A Cleric is not as talented as a Fighter in combating enemies, but can wield divine magic, and possesses the ability to channel positive or negative energy, which can heal or harm creatures respectively. A Wizard possesses little in the way of combat skill, but can gain access to arcane magic, which can be both incredibly useful and massively destructive.

Once class has been selected, players select feat(s), which are special heroic talents that are difficult for the average person to learn, like being able to wield exotic weapons or fire two arrows at a time. Characters then get assigned equipment according to their starting gold values, catalog any spells they know (the core rulebook has a HUGE selection of spells), and then your character is good to go. Complicated? A little. Character creation in role-playing games is almost always a big deal, but it’s also kind of nice to be able to see what goodies you can get.

Pretty much everything you do when using your character in a game is determined by a roll of the dice. Numerous dice are used in the course of playing a game, but most often, players will be rolling a 20-sided die to determine success. A target number will usually be assigned to beat with that roll, and the roll itself is modified by whatever bonuses or penalties you have at the time. The result determines success or failure, and the Gamemaster (or dungeonmaster) will let you know what happens from that point; the Gamemaster is someone who sets the stage for the rest of the players to adventure in. In some situations (like combat), a roll of a natural 20 is considered and automatic success (with a chance to critical hit), and a roll of 1 is considered to be an automatic failure (with a chance to fumble for a bad result).

What I’ve just discussed is the basics for creating a character and general play, but tells little of the Core Rulebook itself. How does Pathfinder tie into all this? Well, the Core Rulebook contains everything you need to get started with the game, and much more; the book details everything from how certain skills work in certain situations, what is required to make spells work, tips on traps and how to create non-player characters to flesh out a campaign, and even weight encumberence tables to gauge how much your character can carry.

Does it seem like too much? Don’t worry. All good role-playing books (like this one) remind the players that these rules are GUIDELINES ONLY. You can choose which rules you want to use and which ones you want to skip. Want to ignore the need for spell components? Go right ahead. Toss encumberence rules out the window? Why not? Need to keep you party members fed? You can just imagine that players are able to fend for themselves. It’s as real as you want to make it (with some exceptions, of course), and if you want to apply weather effects or have a subterranean mission, all the rules are there if you want to use them. And that’s pretty nice.

The rulebook is large, but easy to understand, so you can bet that you will get good value for your money for what it offers. Paizo is also VERY good about offering supplements or additional information, so they’re not going to be going anywhere anytime soon. As a player who has played.multiple role-playing games, I say, give this a shot. I always look forward to my next gaming session, and I’ll be rolling the dice soon enough.

EDIT: This review doesn’t cover the other books in the series, like the Bestiary (contains all the monsters you might need to present the PCs with a challenge), the Advanced Players Guide (presents more options for classes and some variants to existing ones), or the Game Master’s Guide (extra info for anyone who wants to run an expansive campaign). But all are equally easy to read and contain a wealth of information that makes the Pathfinder series an enjoyable one to partake in.

Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game page
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People who have been a part of the Dungeons & Dragons experience throughout all of its incarnations know that the general formula pretty much remains untouched throughout history. You design a character based on a set of rules (usually rolling dice to determine stats), get some adventuring gear, and wander through a dungeon or other hazardous terrain fighting monsters and completing quests for rewards. You roll a 20-sided die to see if you can attack monsters or make saves against certain types of attacks, and if you’re good enough, you can gain levels of experience that can make you stronger and more able to handle tougher adversaries.

Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft is a result of taking the standard D & D formula and tweaking it a bit with 4th edition rules, and converting the game to a board game format rather than playing D & D free-form and having to design dungeons and manage monster stats and characteristics. In particular, Castle Ravenloft is designed around a crypt where monsters and traps are waiting for adventurers to encounter, and possibly a potent and nasty vampire named Strahd who is lord of Castle Raveloft. Players select a variety of characters with special abilities and talents, and challenge the dungeons to try and accomplish their set task while also trying to keep themselves (and their partners) alive.

I tried this game out with a good background of Dungeons & Dragons lore and experience at my back, but I still didn’t know what to expect from the game. Still, I like board games in general, and I do enjoy a good session of roleplay as well, so I was optimistic going on. What I experienced was basically a session of Dungeons and Dragons, but in such a rigid and constricting fashion that it didn’t really feel like it at all. I will get into my personal thoughts on the game later on. But first, let me break down how the game is played.

Players will choose characters based on the D & D: 4th edition base classes: Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, and Ranger. Each of these characters will have statistics prepared beforehand (Armor Class, Hit Points, Speed, and Healing Surge value), so there is no stat rolling to generate a character. Each character will have special abilities tied in to them; for instance, the fighter grants a +1 bonus to AC (Armor Class) to an allied character when he is next to them. In addition, each character has a number of powers that they select at the start of the game from a card pool; these powers are At Will powers (they can be used over and over again), Utility powers (situational), and Daily powers (once per game, though some treasures can restore the use of a Daily power). This sets up a character to begin the game.

Quick Overview:

Armor Class: Reflects how hard you are to hit, or how hard your enemies are to hit. The number featured must be equaled or beaten on a roll of a 20-sided die.
Hit Points: Reflects how much damage you can take before dying. Once your hit points are reduced to zero, you die, unless you have a healing surge token handy.
Speed: Reflects how many squares you can move across the game board. A speed value of five means you can move five squares on a tile before stopping.
Healing Surge Value: If you are forced to use a healing surge, the value indicates how many hit points you get back for that surge.

Once you have your characters, you begin the game at the entrance to the dungeon. Each player can take two actions: Move and attack, Attack then move, or Move and move (known as a double move). The dungeon itself is made up of tiles that map out the terrain in which you can move on, and places that you can’t. As you explore the edge of the board, you can reveal new tiles which help to flesh out the dungeon that you’re in. It’s in this way that you can eventually locate your objective to beat the game. Problem is, as you explore the dungeon, nasty things are going to be happening. Each tile has a colored arrow on it (either black or white) which indicates which way it gets attached to the board. The color of the arrow will indicate if you encounter something nasty upon exploring the new tile. More often than not, you will reveal a monster, and that monster will be placed on the board. Whoever drew the monster has control of that monster, so during each player’s respective turns, things will be happening if more than one player controls a monster.

If you think that your party can just handle monsters as a group and take things slow, well, that’s where you’re mistaken. If you don’t explore a new location each turn, then you will have to draw from the encounter deck. Nasty things await in the encounter deck, like traps that get activated, environments that plague the adventurers, or events that the heroes will have to deal with. Players will often have to decide between letting that skeleton roam around or taking it out and having to deal with the encounter deck instead.

Combat with monsters is pretty straight-forward; you roll a 20-sided die when you attack something, or when the monster is attacking a player. If the roll equals or beats the target’s AC, then the attack is a hit, and damage is dealt accordingly (the powers that you select for your attacks will tell you how much damage you can deal; some powerful attacks can deal damage even on a miss). If the damage dealt is enough to take out a monster, it dies, and the experience value of the monster is given to the hero. If the damage dealth is enough to take out a hero, that hero is out for the turn, and a healing surge can be expended to revive that character (if there are any left) when the next turn comes around. If there are no healing surges left, that character dies, and the game is over; you win as a group, or you lose as a group in Castle Ravenloft.

Through the course of your adventure, you will receive opportunities for treasure (given as treasure cards). Some of the treasure cards can be really powerful, such as a magical weapon to make striking and killing monsters easier. Other treasure cards will provide useful items like healing potions or items that will give you additional daily power usage. Use of the treasure cards you gain is critical, as they can provide a much needed edge with everything is falling to pieces around you.

Once a character has amassed a certain amount of experience, they can level up. This can only be done once, and cannot be activated at will; a character ready to level up must roll a natural 20 on a 20-sided dice during combat to be able to accomplish this. When a character levels up, they flip their character to the reverse side, which has improved statistics and abilities.

Ultimately, heroes must survive the gauntlet of Castle Ravenloft on their way to complete their current quest. There are multiple scenarios to play, and each plays out differently, but some of them feature a boss character; take, for instance, Strahd the Vampire. These boss monsters are unlike the normal monsters you encounter; they are much more difficult to defeat, and often have some very tricky powers that they can use in the middle of combat. However, usually, when you beat the boss, the game is over; no worries about getting out of the dungeon intact.

So what do I think about this game? It is possible that my past experiences with D & D have jaded me with what to expect, but I didn’t think that this game had much to offer me as a player. It is true that I like difficult games, and Castle Ravenloft played as it is with the current ruleset IS difficult, but when I compare it to the other cooperative games I have played, it suffers in a lot of ways.

Castle Ravenloft has some good things going for it; the variable board is always good to help keep an experience fresh and new. In addition, having multiple scenarios helps to ensure that a group can do something other than the same old game every time. The minatures are a plus; they are well-designed and really stand out. But where the game really suffers is in the way that it’s played. I don’t like the idea of a party not being able to take the time to regroup; with Castle Ravenloft, if you sit still, something bad is bound to happen to you. That takes a lot of the tactical feel of Dungeons and Dragons out of the game, in my opinion; players shouldn’t be punished for making smart decisions. Also, the reliance on luck to level up just doesn’t feel right to me. Players can amass all the experience in the world, but if they never roll that magical 20, they lose out on the benefits they can reap. The instruction booklet, while it makes an effort to explains the rules in an easy fashion, still has a couple of gray areas which are open to interpretation. And this is just a personal view of mine and not necessarily a detriment to the game itself: The characters are just too generic. Dungeons & Dragons as a role-playing game allows players to give depth to their characters to really make them well-rounded individuals. But while the characters differ in their stats and various powers, there is very little in the way of individual talents, weaknesses, or depth. In any other board game, this is fine, but Dungeons & Dragons built their reputation on those traits, and I miss those here.

I have played this game several times with my friends, and Castle Ravenloft often fails to resurface at our game group because it doesn’t appeal to a lot of people there. It’s not a horrible game and it does have its good points, but it’s not for everyone. I would say that casual board gamers may enjoy this game, but fans of standard Dungeons & Dragons would rather play the role-playing game Dungeon & Dragons instead.

Go to the Infiltration page


96 out of 104 gamers thought this was helpful

How many times has this happened to you? You’re living your life in the digital age, trying to do your thing, when The Man oppressed you with his corporate dogma and puts you behind the 8-ball. So what do you do? Well, you get even, of course. By stealing the corporation’s nasty little secrets.

That’s what Infiltration is about, in a nutshell. You play the game as one of any number of cyber-hackers seeking to steal their way into a high-security building to get as much data as they can before they are discovered and arrested. Of course, just because the cyber-hackers are joined in a cause, doesn’t mean that they are joined as a group; they are out for themselves, and if someone else has to take take the fall for their crimes, well…too bad, so sad.

The game is basically played in a stairladder format; the playing field is comprised of facedown room cards that make up a first floor and a second floor as the room cards are revealed. The hackers will be exploring these rooms, one at a time, trying to gather data chips from the rooms before the swat teams arrive. There is a threat meter provided that starts at 0; every round, the person who goes first for the turn rolls a six-sided die and adds the value to the threat meter. Once the meter reaches 99, it’s game over, and anyone who is still in the building loses automatically. You win the game by escaping the building, and having the most value of data chips among the surviving players.

Each player starts the game with four action cards and four item cards. The action cards are all the same:

Advance: Moves the character to the next room in the chain.
Retreat: Moves you back one room.
Interface: Activates a room’s special function (if it has one).
Download: Allows a player to collect data chips from a room (if any).

The item cards are all varied, but can be substituted in place of playing an action card, and allow a character to a variety of special abilities, like using more than one action card a turn, moving more than one room a turn, or cracking tech locks in certain rooms.

Every turn, players select one card to play that turn, and place the card face down, where it is eventually revealed by everyone at the same time. The first person for that turn resolves their card first, then the next, until everyone has resolved. During that time, as rooms are revealed to the players, events will happen, such as npcs (non-player characters) appearing, secret rooms being revealed, and alarms going off. The latter is especially bad, as each time the die is rolled for threat, the current alarm value is added to that roll.

Ultimately, Infiltration is a game of risk management. How far do you press your luck in delving into the complex before beating a retreat? When should you turn back? Can you count on the other players not throwing you to the wolves? Each turn, the pressure increases, making every decision critical in the late game. It gets intense, and that is the Mark of a great game, one that keeps you involved and interested from beginning to end.

Go to the Gloom page


55 out of 62 gamers thought this was helpful

The best way that I can describe Gloom is a whimsical game shrouded in a veneer of misery. I mean, what more can you say about a game that you win by getting the most negative points, by afflicting family members with misfortunes like “Perturbed by the Pudding” and by winning the game by making all all the members of a family become the dearly departed?

It sounds awful, but it’s really not. Quite essentially, these families believe that the path to bliss in the afterlife is met by enduring hardships in their daily lives. The more misfortune they have, the better. And so, the goal of the game is to inflict as much misfortune as you can on your particular family before shuffling them off this mortal coil. Of course, your opponents are going to try to stop you, by playing (ugh) beneficial events on your family to boost their happiness, meaning you will have to be on your guard.

Gloom is a game that is played with 2 to 4 people, although with expansion decks, you can have up to 6 playing a single game. Each family has five individual family members. These family members are all alike, for game purposes, but each family member is wildly eccentric and whimsically macabre, like Mister Giggles, the Creepy Clown, who is literally a a skeletal clown with an afro wig. (“Mister Giggles always has a smile for the children.” Or Butterfield, the Lurking Butler. (“Whatever it is, he did it.”) These family members form the core of the game, as any modifiers that are played are played over the individual family members, and when a family member is killed off by an Untimely Death card, the card is flipped to its opposite side, which is “Our Dearly Departed”, indicating that character is no longer with the family.

Modifiers are played over the card, you say? How does that work? With an ingenious card design. You see, the cards of Gloom are clear plastic, with designs imprinted in. There are four types of cards: Character cards (the family members), Modifiers (the bad – or good – stuff that happens to family members), Events (cards that have an immediate special effect on the game or families), and Untimely Death cards (the cards that actually kill characters off). Each of these cards (with the exception of the Character cards) look the same on the back, so you can’t tell what cards are which. Well, that’s not entirely true…Modifier cards have circles that are printed that tell what the modified values are, so there are black circles on the backs of those cards. Some Untimely Death cards also have modifiers on them as well, so the cards are uncertain enough that it’s basically a ********* anyways.

Modifier cards have three locations in which modifers are visible: the upper left portion of the card, the left-middle of the card, and the bottom-left of the card. Some modifier cards have one modifier, some have two, and a few rare cards have all three. Not all modifier cards are beneficial for your family members, but that’s OK; a modifier card can be played on your opponents family members as well as your own. Any modifier card either augments any existing modifier card underneath it, or replaces it entirely – if a modifier circle covers up another modifier circle underneath it, only the visible modifier counts.

Example: Butterfield has a top modifier of -20, and a bottom modifier of -10 (two modifiers with a total of -30). A player plays a modifier card on Butterfield with a top modifier of +10 and a middle modifier of -10. The top modifier will cover up the previous modifier, turning it into +10. The middle modifier covers up nothing, so it counts as -10. The bottom modifier can still be seen through the plastic card, since nothing covered it up, so it counts as -10. So the card now has three modifiers of +10, -10, and -10, for a total of -20. By playing that modifier card, Butterfield’s value actually lost -10 points. If an opponent played the card, it was a good move by the opponent. If the player played the modifier card, it probably wasn’t a good strategy.

Modifiers aren’t just for adding or subtracting points, however; some modifier cards have additional effects. Scarred by Scandals gives a -25 modifier to the middle location, but playing it forces the person who played it to immediately discard their entire hand when the card is played. Some effects can be potentially devestating, so sometimes you need to weigh whether playing a certain card is worth it at any given time.

During a player’s turn, they can play two cards from their hand, play one card and discard one card, or discard 2 cards (certain card effects can temporarily change this, of course). There is a very important rule to pay attention to: An Untimely Death card may not be played on the second card play of the turn. There are cards that can enable you to kill more than one family member in the same turn, but this rule prevents players from stacking deaths willy-nilly. There’ll be plenty of time to bump family members off, believe you me.

Where this game really shines is in the storytelling aspect of the game. As you get further along in the game, the litany of events gets really comical to read. For example: “Mister Giggles, the Creepy Clown, was Distressed by Dysentary, was Mocked by Midgets, was Put into Prison, Landed a Legacy, was Disgraced at a Dance, was Wonderously Well Wed, but was Widowed at the Wedding.” There’s plenty of flavor text to make you giggle, and the game is different enough to set it apart from any other game you’ve likely played. I also really dig the plastic cards; the cards are extremely durable, and because they’re made of plastic, they won’t get ruined by a random soda spill like other card games would.

As much as I enjoy this game, I understand that the macabre stylings might not be for everyone. There is no outright blood or gore in the game, so it IS kid-friendly, but the subject of killing off family members might be somewhat circumspect. As long as you can deal with the slightly off-kilter nature of the game, you’ll have fun with this one.

Go to the Back to the Future: The Card Game page
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Back to the Future. Anyone who has grown up in the 80’s is familiar (or should be familiar) with the movie franchise, Marty McFly, Doc Brown, and Biff Tannen. And of course, the classic Delorian and the Flux Capacitor. So what happens when you introduce a host of characters bent on using Doc Brown’s time travel technology to change events to ensure their own personal place in history? Chaos. Absolute chaos. And also, Back to the Future: The Card Game.

The premise of this game is that each character has a timeline that conflicts with all the other characters’ timelines. For one to exist, the timeline has to be altered so that all the events in the past match up with a character’s history. One person might need to have Doc Brown Committed, while another person might need to have Doc Brown Commended instead. To change the timeline, players must play cards that allow them to change key events (called linchpins) in time that alter other events with a cascade event. Once all the past events line up with a character’s personal timeline, they must solidify their timeline and win the game by returning to the point in time where Doc Brown invents Time Travel, and prevent that event from happening. This destroys the time machine completely, and in effect, all other characters are erased from existence. Harsh, I know, but that’s time paradox for you.

Back to the Future plays a little bit like Fluxx, but is a separate type of game entirely. To start the game, the timeline is laid out on the board as per instructions: There are four different periods in time, with six different events in each time period. Each player selects a character card to represent themselves in the game, and each character card has a set of events that are required to be resolved before that character can win the game. After selecting a character, each player gets an opening hand of cards. These cards can be anything from key items that can be used to affect other cards or power others, time machines that allow you to go back in time to affect the past (or future), Double-backs which allow you to change two items in the timeline if you meet the right conditions, actions which can help you or hinder your opponents, and power actions which can be played on your opponents’ turns if desired. Any items you play are placed down in front of you, ready to be used, but items that are played this way can be stolen from you if your opponent plays the right card.

The game follows the simple play dynamic: Draw one card, and play one card. If you don’t wish to play a card, you can draw a second card instead. As long as you have an option to draw a card and haven’t exercised your second draw yet, you can substitute the play for the draw. Every now and then, something like a specific time machine can allow you to play more than one card per turn, so this is important to remember. Other than that, play functions pretty normally.

Most of Back to the Future’s challenge is figuring out what your opponents’ goals are while trying to complete your goal. This is fairly easy when you are playing a two-person game, but considerably more complex when you are playing with more than one person. Sometimes you can fulfill a key moment in your own character’s history, only to find that you have inadvertantly helped your opponent with their own goal as well. Once you’ve played the game a few times, you can get a handle on strategies to figure out opponents, but playing the first couple of times, you’ll have to just go with the flow.

Back to the Future is an interesting game, but it has a few flaws. The first (and most glaring, in my opinion) is that Back to the Future really suffers when played with a higher number of players. I have seen a game of Back to the Future (with six people) go through two complete reshuffles of the entire deck (which is considerable) and still not come up with any clear victor; the game was called on account of time. It is a game that is much easier to play and learn head-to-head with a single opponent, or even a three-way battle is acceptable. The other flaw is that the symbols on the cards that are to be flipped are too generic; sometimes it can be difficult to tell what cards are the right kind of cards to flip over, or which ones are necessary to achieve victory.

However, despite some of the flaws in the game, it is a simple and fun tie-in to the movie franchise, and it’s pretty easy to learn how to play. It helps to have knowledge of the movies to understand what’s going on (you probably won’t know why the timeline is so important unless you’ve watched all three movies), but it’s not required, and it’s an interesting little trip down memory lane to see all the different items like the Hoverboard or Mr. Fusion. The game has a very reasonable price tag, and if you enjoy 80’s nostalgia, this will be right up your alley.

Go to the Elder Sign page

Elder Sign

146 out of 155 gamers thought this was helpful

Elder Sign follows the traditional Lovecraftian saga that we have come to know and love, but this time, it takes the battle to a creepy museum, filled with artifacts and strange creatures that ache to invade our world and bring about the coming of the Ancient One. And once again, the only things that stands in the way of the people of Arkham and the coming darkness are those crazy, kooky investigators.

A lot of people compare Elder Sign to Arkham Horror, and with good reason: The investigators are the same (in name at least, but with different rules to fit the game), the Ancient Ones are the same (again, made to fit the game), and the Elder Signs that are the namesake of the game serve the same function: To seal the Ancient One away for good. Both Arkham Horror and Elder Sign use dice; the difference is that Arkham Horror uses regular dice to accomplish tasks with a roll of 5 or 6, where Elder Sign uses specially crafted dice that offer you a chance to accomplish tasks on any roll of the dice.

The way the game works is this: In the museum in which the game takes place, there are six locations that investigators can travel to, sometimes more if special events force extra locations. Each of these locations has a number of symbols on it that need to be rolled on the dice in order to collect the location as a trophy, or a number of monsters that need to be beaten (again, by rolling certain symbols). Each time a location is collected, a reward can be gained. In addition, any monsters trophies or location trophies can be exchanged at the museum entrance for bonuses, like clue tokens (which allow you to reroll dice), items, spells, allies, and elder signs. Of course, failure to complete the challenges on the die results in a penalty, usually a lot of stamina or sanity. The goal of the game is to collect enough Elder Signs (either by exchanging trophies for them or as rewards from completing locations) to seal away the Ancient One for good before it awakens, or by beating the Ancient One in a final go-for-broke battle if it DOES awaken.

Each investigator in the game contains a unique advantage that will help them in the game. Some can alter the result of dice rolls, while others can aid other investigators with unique abilities, such as allowing a free reroll of all failed dice. They also start with some items that can allow additional dice to roll, or offer more powerful dice that can be used. Some characters may get spells that can handle a variety of effects, like holding dice for use later on, or defeating monsters easier.

Now, the game itself is fairly simple. When a player participates in location challenges, he or she rolls as many dice as they have access to (some locations and/or monsters can lock down dice so that the investigators have less options) and try to match the symbols featured on the location. There will usually be three challenges to overcome, and some may require challenges to be attempted in sequence (from top to bottom in order of the card). A player can use die symbols to complete a challenge, but if they don’t have enough to complete a challenge, a player can ‘focus’ a die – this means that they can save a single die roll with a symbol that they want to keep. Only one die may be saved, though other effects can allow additional dice to be stored. Every time a challenge is failed, the player subtracts one die from their dice pool and rerolls the rest to continue to attempt the challenge. If the investigator cannot complete the challenge, he or she suffers the penalty associated in failure and their turn ends. If they succeed in completing all the challenges, the card is collected as a location trophy, and the investigator receives all the awards associated with that location.

Time is against the investigators, however; there is a doom clock that counts out the time of each turn. For every investigator turn, three hours pass. Every time the doom clock reaches 12, the mythos occurs, and something bad happens to the investigators. If the investigators dally too long, eventually the clock will enable the Ancient One to awaken. But since time is always moving in the game, there’s nothing you can do about it but just try and weather the effects of the doom clock as best you can.

Elder Sign is a game that can be played solo or with a group, and it runs fairly quickly once you understand the game and its rules. Most of the time players take is in conversing with each other to form a strategy with which to tackle the locations in the museum. The die rolling takes a little getting used to with understanding the symbols on the die and what they mean (for instance, the red die has an investigator symbol that is meant to be a wild card for any other symbol), but it is not overcomplicated.

A lot of people who have played the game make the statement that the game is easier than Arkham Horror, and in this, I would have to agree based on experience. I have not yet lost an Elder Sign game to date, where I have lost my fair share of Arkham Horror games. I think this is due to being able to interact and cooperate more easily in Elder Sign, as abilities and items are more apt to work together. I do like this game quite a bit, but if I were to muster criticism, it would be in the design of the location cards. the cards themselves can be a little difficult to understand at times, and what you need to do to complete the challenges can sometimes change from one turn to the next. Still, as dice-rolling games are concerned, it’s not bad. Set-up of the game can is not overly exhaustive, but this is not a game that you can generally pick up and play anywhere. Still, it is worth a try, for its unique system of handling tasks and general overall flavor.

Go to the Jaipur page


80 out of 87 gamers thought this was helpful

I am not the biggest fan of games that revolve around trading or selling. It’s nothing against the genre itself, but rather that games of that nature don’t really strike a chord with me. This doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate them, however. I recently got a chance to try Jaipur, and I was surprised at how simple the game was, but at the same time, how the game itself remained flexible and entertaining.

The basic premise of this game is to acquire goods and sell them efficiently so that you can gain Seals of Excellence. Gaining a seal means you won the round; there are three rounds of play, and winning two out of three rounds means you win the game.

There are 6 kinds of goods in the game. Cloth, Spice, Silk, Silver, Gold, and Diamonds. Cloth is the most common, and worth the least, while Diamonds are rare and are worth the most. There are also camel cards in the game. Camels are not goods (in the context of the game, at least – some would argue that point in general terms), and cannot be sold, but whoever has the most camels at the end of the round will earn 5 points.

The way the game works is this: You and your opponent are dealt 5 cards, and any camels that you draw are placed down in front of you (camels are never considered part of your actual hand, and you can have as many camels as you want). Three camels are placed in a trading pool to start the game, as well as two goods that are drawn from the card deck.

During a player’s turn, they may either trade cards or sell cards. When trading, a player can either take all the camels from the trading pool (if he or she does this, all of the taken cards are replaced with cards from the deck), take one good from the trading pool (it gets replaced by a card from the deck), or take more than one good from the trading pool. If a player takes more than one good from the pool, he or she must replace them with camels from their camel pool. In theory, a player who has five camels in their camel pool can collect any and all goods that are left in the trading pool. However, a player has a seven-card maximum hand size, so a player cannot trade cards if it would put them over that seven card limit.

To sell cards, a player must discard 1 or more goods of the same type from their hand. For cloth, spice, and silk, a player can sell 1 or more goods of that type, but because silver, gold, and diamonds are more valuable, a player must sell two or more at a time; selling just one gold is not allowed, for example.

When a player sells a good, they acquire a goods point token from the appropriate pile for each good they sold. these good tokens are ranked from most valuable to least valuable, and the most valuable is placed first, so the player who sells first for a particular good will get the point tokens that are worth the most. In addition, players who sell goods in bulk can get a bonus depending upon the number of goods they sell. There are mystery point tokens that are awarded for three goods sold at once, four goods sold at once, and five goods sold at once. The three-good mystery tokens are worth the least, and the five-good mystery goods are worth the most.

The round ends when all the cards from the deck have been drawn, or when three of the six good token piles are depleted. Once a round is over, players flip over all of their good points tokens that they acquired and tally up all the points that they accumulated, with the 5 point token going to the player that had the most camels at the end of the round. Whoever had the most points gets a Seal of Excellence, then the cards are shuffled back into the deck and the board is set up for the next round of play, with the player that lost the last round going first for the new round.

Because Jaipur is such a simple game, it might seem as if it might get boring after a few plays. However, the game is very fast, and it is easy to learn. Since Jaipur is played with two players, and the game itself consists of three rounds, players will be able to read their opponent’s tendencies before the game is out, and smart players will pay attention to their opponent’s trades to get an idea of their hands. Since there are no actual card effects that would make your opponent discard cards or get new ones, the game doesn’t play vindictively or get overly complicated.

After playing Jaipur, my opinion of this game is that it is a solid game that is worth looking into. It’s fast and play consists almost entirely of cards, so it can be picked up quickly by just about anyone. What keeps this game from being completely open as a play-anywhere game is the fact that you need to have the goods tokens in a specific order, and that the tokens themselves are small and numerous, so you have to spend extra set-up time making sure they are in order and in the proper piles. But the game itself is fluid, and quite worth the price tag that is associated with the game.

Go to the Seasons page


89 out of 102 gamers thought this was helpful

Ah, Seasons. What a balm to the senses you are.

Games have become more involved and more complex as a rule, and while there are simple games out there, the complex games have also, by necessity, become more complex in their explanations of the rules. This is not a bad thing overall; long explanations are better than no explanations. But many of the games that are out there that are considered to be fun to play, also suffer from instruction booklets that fail to explain everything accurately.

Enter Seasons, a game that learns from its predecessors. Seasons is not an overly complex game, but it does feature cards with different effects, and as a gamer who likes card games, I can say that cards have the most problems with keeping rules straight and concise. But Seasons has taken this into account, and has a detailed accounting of how the cards are supposed to work, even with unusual situations such as if there are duplicates of a card in play. I cannot express how refreshing this is; if you have questions about a card, you can look it up in the manual and get your answers in plain black and white.

The game itself is a mixture of card drafting, dice rolling, resource management, and general shenanigans. The object of the game is to collect crystals, which count as victory points; as most games these days are, you win the game if you have the most victory points at the end of the game. There are a variety of ways in which you can get crystals; some power cards that you play can earn you crystals, you can transmute energy to get crystals (you get more for certain energy types depending upon what season of the year you’re in), and you can get crystals from the die rolls at times. In addition, power cards that you play will have a point value associated with them that counts towards victory points at the end of the game.

The game has one board, and it has only three real functions: It keeps track of the year you’re in (there are three years in all), it keeps track of the months (3 months per season, 4 seasons total), and it tells you the conversion rate of energy to crystals when you perform a transmute action. During every season, one energy type will be worth 3 crystals when transmuted, one energy type will be worth 2 crystals, and the other two energy types will be worth one crystal. You gotta love it, plain and simple.

During the start of the game, a collection of cards will be arranged to draft from, a set of cards for each player in the game. Each player selects a card from the initial pile they choose, then transfers the rest of the cards to the next player in the cue. In this way, everyone gets access to the cards, and this continues until everyone has drafted all the cards.

Among the cards that the players draft, they will need to separate the cards into groups that they will use for the different years; three cards for the first year, three cards for the second, and three cards for the third. Players can look at the set cards at any time, but they won’t be able to use the cards until they come to the year in which those cards are set, in which case they are added to that player’s hand (prior cards from the previous year are kept if they are not used).

Each power card falls into two categories: familiars and magic items. Familiars are characters that can perform a useful and often powerful effect, and magic items are items that can perform a variety of functions. Some power cards have effects that are enhanced by magic items, and some have effects that work for familiars, so the distinction is there, but they function the same in general. Each power card has a cost to cast, and can be as little as nothing (Temporal Boots) or can require lots of energies of different types to cast. There are four energy types: Wind, Water, Earth, and Fire, and they can be gained from dice rolls and power cards.

Each player has a personal tracker board to keep track of their current energy reserves and their current summoning skill. The summoning skill is a number that goes from 0 to 15; what it represents is the number of power cards you can have in play at any one time. This can be increased by die rolls or by playing certain power cards. There are also seven slots on the board for you to store the energy you collect; unless you play a power card that allows you to store more, seven is the maximum amount of energy you can have. It also shows special abilities that you can activate, but to do so means you will take a score penalty at the end of the game. There are four special abilities and all, and you can activate any of those four abilities a maximum of three times per game. You can use one ability three times, or three abilities once each, or even just use one ability once and leave it at that. Of the abilities, one will allow you to swap two energy tokens for any other two energy tokens, one will allow you to increase your transmutation, one will allow you to increase your summoning rank by one, and one will allow you to draw an extra power card if a power card symbol is rolled.

Now, let’s talk about the dice and how they are used. Each season has colored dice that correspond to that season. On those dice, there are symbols: There is a power card symbol, a number (represents the number of crystals you collect), a star (raises summoning level), elemental symbols (feather for air, flame for fire, raindrop for water, and leaf for earth), a border symbol (if rolled, the player can perform a transmutation), and dot symbols (1 to 3 dots, representing how many months will pass). These symbols are mixed together in various combinations on the dice, and some symbols are more common in differing seasons than others.

Each player rolls the dice when their turn comes up, but every player performs their actions during any player’s turn. The player who is rolling the dice for that turn will be the first to collect a die to use for that turn, then the next player will collect a die, and so on, until only one die is remaining from the roll. The last die that remains will determine how many months pass in time, according to the dot symbols on the die. The first player resolves their die first, collecting whatever symbols are on the die and adjusting their crystal and summoning level accordingly if necessary. Then they can play power cards if they meet the energy requirements and have the summoning level to do so. If the die roll the player collected has a border symbol around the die face, they can performs a transmutation to exchange energy for crystals. After the player is finished with this, the next player can resolve their die, and so on and so forth, until all the players have resolved. Then control switches to the next player, and they then roll the appropriate dice for the current season.

In this way, the game progresses until the end of the game is reached after the third year, and all of the crystals and power card values are tallied together, along with any penalties any players have suffered for using special abilities during the game. There are some power cards that can affect the end of the game based on specific values; these will have to be accounted for as well if the conditions are met. In addition, power cards that have not been played at the end of the game count against the player that holds them, so it is best to have an empty hand at the end of a game.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the game right from the start. Though the game may appear to be complicated, it flows very nicely, and turns progress very quickly in comparison to some other games. As I stated at the beginning, the rulebook is a BIG help, and easy to read as well. About the only thing that I don’t particularly like (but it may be by design) is that power cards can be difficult to acquire; since they are based on a die roll, and only one face of a die has that symbol, it is up to pure luck whether you get the opportunity to draw one. In the beginning of the game, it can be difficult to play power cards, since you need to build up your summoning level first. Later in the game, you will likely have plenty of summoning levels, but not have the cards to utilize it. Even that, though, doesn’t hurt the game itself; there are quite a few cards that allow you to put other power cards into your hand or into play, so there is almost always something you can do.

I really hope other game developers take notice of Seasons and take notes, as the developers of Seasons took the time to make sure that the players of the game had as easy of a time of playing the game as possible. Picking up the game, I was able to jump into this one with no problem at all, and the questions I had were easily answered. Aside from the fun of playing the game itself (which was considerable), this made a really good impression on me.

Go to the The Great Dalmuti page

The Great Dalmuti

27 out of 30 gamers thought this was helpful

Every once in a while one feels a yearning to play the classics. Uno, Battleship, Monopoly (a classic that can take a LONG time)…but there are other classics that are not as well known. Of course, when I say classic, I mean in relative terms; as I write this review, it’s currently the year 2012, and some games are older than others. But I digress. The Great Dalmuti falls into the group of games that occasionally pops up at parties, and someone or other will remark, “Hey, I remember that game!” And at that point, it’s all about nostalgia.

So what is The Great Dalmuti? In short, it’s a card game designed around a pecking order. Each player is assigned a rank based on their play. The person who is the highest in the pecking order after a round of play is called The Greater Dalmuti, and the player who has the least standing is the Greater Peon (more about the order will be explained later). The game itself is comprised of cards not unlike your standard poker deck, except that there are no suits, and the number of cards differs. The value of a card determines how many of that card there are; there is 1 card of value 1, 2 cards of value 2, 3 cards of value 3, all the way up to 12 twelves. In addition, there are two Jesters. They act as wild cards with other cards, or act as a card of value 13 at other times.

The object of each round of play is to get rid of your cards first before your opponents. To do this, players lay down sets of cards from their hand. The person who leads off playing cards must be matched by the other players with cards of lesser numerical value, or else that person will continue to have control and can continue to lay cards until someone can match.

For instance, Player 1 lays down four 10’s. Player 2 happens to have four 11’s, but since 11 is a higher number than 10, Player 2 can’t play their 11’s. Player 2 has no other options, so Player 2 passes. Player 3 happens to have four 9’s in hand, so player 3 plays them to beat Player 1’s hand. If no one can beat player 3’s hand, player 3 will control the next initial play during that round. But as it happens, Player 4 has four 7’s, which are laid down to beat Player 3’s hand. Player 1 happens to still have five 6’s and five 5’s in hand (a rarity, believe me!), and could play four of those five 6’s if they desired. Player 1 could also play four of the five 5’s – either play will take control of the round. Since it is unlikely that any of the players will have four 4’s in hand, Player 1 plays four 6’s and saves the 5’s for later. No one has four 4’s, so Player 1 takes the trick, retains control and can lead off the next hand of play.

In short, Player 1’s four 10’s < Player 3's four 9's < Player 4's four 7's < Player 1's four 6's.

In card expenditure, Player 1 has expended 8 cards, Player 3 and 4 have expended 4, and Player 2 has played none. Player 1 is sitting at a large advantage, where Player 2 is doing the worst.

That explains how the game is played in a nutshell, but where this game is distinctive is the ranks that are assigned. In a game of four players, there are (ranked in order of power) the Greater Dalmuti, Lesser Dalmuti, Lesser Peon, and Greater Peon (in bigger games, there will be Merchants who are ranked between the Lesser Dalmuti and the Lesser Peon). The game actually states that to keep track of who is what rank, players will be seated according to rank, so if someone changes social standing, they will have to relocate from their chair into their newest position.

The Greater Peon is the bottom of the heap, and has to do all the menial tasks. This includes shuffling the cards, dealing the cards, and collecting the cards from everyone after a trick has concluded. In addition, the Greater Dalmuti and Lesser Dalmuti can declare taxation on the Peons; The Greater Peon trades his or her two best cards to the Greater Dalmuti, while the Lesser Peon trades his or her single best card to the Lesser Dalmuti. The exception to this rule is when a player has two Jesters in their hand; they can declare a Revolution, to prevent taxation that turn. If the Greater Peon declares Revolution, it becomes a Greater Revolution, and all the characters switch to their opposite in social standing; Greater Peon becomes Greater Dalmuti, Lesser Peon becomes Lesser Dalmuti, and Merchants swap with Merchants.

The end to this game is indefinite, but from personal experience, a good place to end the game is when two rounds have passed where no one has switched positions or social rank. This usually indicates a stable social order, and further changes are unlikely. However, the game can be decided on a specific number of rounds if so desired. In addition, The Greater Dalmuti (if agreed upon) can order the Greater Peon to do different tasks, like fetch soda or snacks from the kitchen. It's a bit of role-play, but it's all in good fun.

The Great Dalmuti is purely a social game; you rarely come away from this game feeling like you achieved any great victory, even when you come out on top. But this is one of those games that goes a bit beyond the game itself, inviting people to talk to each other or to role play and socialize. At the same time, if you do take the hand of having the Greater Dalmuti order the Greater Peon around, make sure that you do so with people who can appreciate it, and with people who won't take it too far. This game is well-known around the convention circuit, and still sees the light of day for a spot of good-hearted fun.

Go to the SET page


80 out of 92 gamers thought this was helpful

In every competitive game, there is a chance for someone to walk away from a game feeling as if they could have done better, or that they failed some sort of personal challenge. No matter how a game is geared, there is always that chance, and that turns a fun game into something else, an albatross around one’s neck. I have heard of people playing a game once, and then being trounced so badly that they never have the urge to play that game again. That doesn’t mean that the game itself is bad, however; there are just some circumstances that can happen that will color a game in a person’s eyes. And nowhere is this problem more apparent than in competitive games of a cerebral nature.

Set is a fast-paced game that deals with collecting sets of three from a collection of cards that are placed on the table for all to see. The publisher overview says it all; there are four distinct features of the cards (color, symbol, number, and shading) and it’s the player’s job to pick three cards that are either all alike in all aspects, or all different in all aspects. This might sound simple, but it is harder than it sounds.

There are three variation for every feature: For color, there is red, green, and purple. For symbol, there is Diamond, Oval, or Squiggle (a curvy shape that looks like a packing peanut). For number, there is either one, two, or three symbols featured, and for shading, there is either solid shading, outlined shading, or lined shading.

Now, some of the easiest matching that you can do is looking for qualities that are the same. But the game itself forces you to look for some different qualities because the cards are unique in the game. So you won’t ever be able to collect three cards that are alike in every single quality. At least one will be different. For example: A solid purple diamond card with one symbol on it can be combined with the same type of card that has two symbols on it, and one that has three symbols on it. Since the cards are all alike in the three qualities of color, symbol, and shading, and all different in the quality of number, the cards form a set. But if that third card had featured a different colored diamond, say green, it would not have been a set. Or if the purple color had been outlined instead of solid, it would not have been a set. For a better explanation of how sets work, view the site’s flash tutorial here and click the How to Play option. It’s much more practical to see things in action than have them explained.

Once you understand the principles involved, the game boils down to pattern recognition and speed. Given enough time, just about anyone can pick out the qualities they need to match with the cards, but the problem is, your opponents will be doing the same thing, and can sometimes find a match for the very card you are seeking to match at the same time. It’s a lot more difficult to find matches quickly when you’re trying to stay conscious of your opponent’s speed. It’s also easy to misfire – to collect what you think is a set, only to be corrected afterwards.

The game itself is very simple, but it requires players who have never played Set before to adapt themselves to different ways of thinking. Patterns are fairly easy to match, but finding different ones can be the challenge in this game, and familiarity DOES help. Players who have played Set before will most likely have a clear advantage over the new player. This is not a failing of the game, but rather human nature.

In short, I do like this game, and I think that it’s fun, but though it is simple, it’s not the easiest game to wrap your head around. And its cerebral component can leave one questioning their ‘smarts’ if they do poorly the first couple times that they play. However, it is a worthwhile game that is worth playing a couple of times to see how it works, and to engage in a bit of friendly competition. One of those games that is easy to take with you and plan anywhere you go.

Go to the Tomb page


33 out of 36 gamers thought this was helpful

I am always up for a game of Tomb.

I have to say, I consider this game to be one of AEG’s triumphs of gaming, a game that provides a unique experience in the venue of dungeon crawling. How, you might ask? Well, Tomb is a game that not only puts you in the role of adventurers looking for riches and loot, but it also places you in the role of being the crypt master, placing monsters and traps in the path of your opponents. The object of the game, like many others, is to accumulate the most Experience Points (Victory Points) by the end of the game, which only ends when the last crypt is empty.

To start the game, each player draws 3 cards from the crypt deck for their opening hand. These cards can either be treasure cards, trap cards, or monster cards. Each player takes turns placing one of those cards in a crypt location face down, then draws another card to replace it. Each crypt has a maximum number of crypt cards it can hold, from 1 to 5. Once a crypt is full, no more cards can be placed there. This continues until all the crypts are full, and then the next phase of the game begins. Players who have placed a card in crypts that can only hold one card will have an advantage of knowing exactly what is in that crypt, while crypts in which players did not solely place all the cards always contain a surprise for everyone, whether good or bad.

Let me explain the crypt cards in greater detail:

Treasure Card: Usually a weapon, armor, or artifact that will assist the player and his team in the conflicts ahead. Contains an inherent XP (experience point) bonus that needs to be ‘banked’ to collect.

Trap Card: A hazard in the dungeon that usually has a one-time effect if it cannot be disarmed. Usually requires a skill test of some sort to disarm, and the trap (if it goes off) can be relatively benign or extremely lethal, depending on the card itself. Also contains an XP value; if disarmed, the player gains the value. If not, the player gains nothing.

Monster Card: A creature with a health value and stats comparable to the adventurers themselves that will usually attempt to harm the adventurers when they enter the tomb. May also have a special effect associated with it. Contains an XP value that is usually awarded to the player that managed to defeat it in battle.

The next phase of the game involves party building in The Inn. Now that there are treasures to be won, players need to recruit members into their party to actually find them. Tomb comes with no shortage of these characters; in comparison to other games, the plethora of characters are actually quite excessive! Characters in Tomb are represented with rectangular cardboard pieces with a character portrait on the front and the character statistics on the back, depicting what each character is and what special abilities they might have. Each character in the game falls into four distinct classes: Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, and Wizard. Some characters are a combination of two of these classes, but there are no more class types than this. Fighters can usually handle combat well and take hits, Rogues have better than average trap-disarming skills, Clerics can buff (game-speak for enhance) and heal party members, and wizards can cast destructive spells or cause interesting effects.

Each character has four basic attributes: Attack, Skill, Magic, and Holiness. In addition, each of these attributes has three color-associated areas: Green, Blue, and Red. Tomb comes with a variety of specialized 10-sided dice that match these colors. The green dice have 3 success symbols on them (success symbols are represented by axes), the blue dice have 5 success symbols, and the red have 7 success symbols. A character may have a number in one or more of the color-associated areas of their attribute section; if they do, then they may roll that number of dice of that color when that attribute is being used. For instance, if a rogue was attempting to disarm a trap that required a skill check, and the rogue had the number 3 in the green area of Skill and 2 in the red area of Skill, then the player would roll 3 green dice and 2 red dice to see how many successes he could get on those 5 dice. Since red dice have the most chances for success, red dice are usually the most desirable in any attribute.

For a quick rundown of what the skills do:

Attack is used for trying to inflict melee damage on monsters, or for making attack checks versus traps.

Skill is most commonly used for disarming traps, though some weapon attacks can be affected or enhanced by Skill.

Magic is used for spell effects cast by Wizards, and can also be used to make Magic checks versus certain traps.

Holiness is most commonly used with Prayer spells cast by clerics, and can also be used for some traps and effects.

Players can only venture into the tomb if they have at least one character in their party, and each player needs to take a full turn to recruit a party member from the Inn if they wish to do so. If they do not wish to recruit a member, they may instead take two cards from any of the four Inn Card piles that are supplied at the Inn. These cards are:

Item Card: These cards represent basic adventuring gear. Weapons, armor, that kind of thing. Not as powerful as some of the treasure cards in the crypts, but can make characters stronger or more durable.

Tactics Card: These cards represent unique abilities that can be used during the game, some one-time effects and some constant. Examples are the ability to double-team a monster during an attack, or being able to disarm a trap without requiring a roll.

Prayer Card: Divine spells that can be cast by a Cleric. Can heal party members, make party members temporarily stronger, and even bring characters back from the dead. Clerics get a Prayer card for free when they are recruited.

Spell Card: Arcane magic that can be cast by a Wizard. Can cause damage, charm monsters, or even interfere with other rival adventurers in the Tomb. Wizards get a Spell card for free when they are recruited.

A player may recruit no more than 5 members into their party, but can venture into the Tomb with as little as 1. Each party has a base move of ten spaces, and can move around the game board to try and reach whatever crypts they can find. Once a crypt is found and entered, the crypt cards are passed to the player to the immediate left or right of the adventuring player (the crypt itself will indicate which.) The player who holds the cards is the crypt master for the turn, and will coordinate all of the good and bad things that happen in that crypt. Traps are encountered and resolved first, then monsters, then treasure, in that order. After checks for traps are made (if any are present), the crypt master will roll any attacks made by the monster(s), which will also feature the type of dice used on their attribute list. Each success rolled will deal one wound to a character (unless specified otherwise). Characters will respond in kind, rolling their dice to wound and kill the monsters. If all the monsters are defeated and there are characters still left alive, the party will collect any treasure left in the crypt. In this way, the crypts are systematically looted until the game is over.

Tomb offers a HUGE amount of replay factor, more so than any game I have ever seen to date. The Crypt deck is huge, and throws many different surprises into the game. Couple this with the fact that your opponents will have in-game knowledge that you lack (and vice-versa), and you will find yourself often watching your opponent to see where they are headed as much as you follow the game itself. The amount of characters to choose from in the game is massive, and you will find yourself having a unique party with each playthrough. The game also has two difficulty levels, with the board boasting a second side that has crypts that contain varying different effects upon entry. The game offers so much to do without being overly clunky or inelegant, that it’s easy to get into and enjoy. This game also offers a lot of strategy; players sometimes have to make a choice between going into the crypt early and taking their chances, or building a strong party to go after rooms that will almost certainly pose a challenge.

Tomb does, however, suffer from one or two little issues. The instruction book is…not as friendly as it could be. Also, if a crypt is entered that has a mass of monsters in it, combat can be a tedious affair; monsters tend to come with a variety of effects, and some can be quite difficult to take down. The game’s strength is its variety, but the sheer number of special abilities and effects can sometimes be hard to remember. I can easily forgive these issues, however; the game compensates with combat by having another player participate in combat as the opposing crypt master, so it keeps players involved, and other players can review their own battle strategies as things unfold. And the effects tend to balance themselves out as you go and become more familiar with the characters. Towards the end of the game, players are fighting for every inch to try and claim victory, and very often it can come down to a matter of points.

I highly recommend this game for anyone who enjoys variety and a certain random element to their gaming. Tomb is a fair game; you start the game with a certain knowledge of what is in some of the rooms you will be exploring, and it’s up to you whether you use that knowledge or not. Though you might not always get the characters that you want, there are plenty of characters that are good at what they do, and anyone can make an effective party to venture into the tomb. This game is competitive, but very rarely is it actively competitive against other players. Most of the time it boils down to the choices you make and how you deal with adversity. And I really like that.

Go to the Smash Up page

Smash Up

56 out of 59 gamers thought this was helpful

…Yep, I’m serious.

Smash-Up is a very interesting game that has been published by Alderac Entertainment. The theme is factions, and there are 8 to choose from with the game, with plenty of room for expansions later on. Each faction consists of 20 cards, and two factions are combined together to make a single playable deck, which can then be used to play against your opponents. A faction consists of minion cards and action cards; Minion cards have a power ranking from 1 to 7; 1 is the least powerful, while 7 is the most and is the domain of King Rex, the most powerful minion in the game. Action cards are just that; you can play one action card per turn (as well as one minion card per turn), and that action can do anything from allowing someone to play extra minions, to clearing an entire location of minions, depending on the faction that uses the action.

The object of the game is to control locations. At any time in the game there will be four locations available to control. Each location has a break point; a score total that will tell when the location can be collected for victory points. When the break point is reached (by placing minions on the location until the break point value is met or exceeded), scoring begins, and victory points are awarded based on who had the most points in minions placed on the location, who had the second-most, and who had the third-most. The person who has the first-place spot won’t necessarily get the most victory points, however; some locations have better rewards for coming in second place in the rankings. The locations will also sometimes have effects that come into play while a location is in play or when a location is scored, and these effects can have an effect on who ultimately was rewarded the most by that location. Once a certain number of victory points are reached, the game is over, and whoever has the most, wins.

The decks, however, are where the real fun of this game lies. When I first played this game, it struck me to how similar the formation of decks is with another collectible card game – Magic: The Gathering. Don’t get me wrong; Smash-Up isn’t nearly as complicated, and they actually managed to recapture the feel somewhat without oversimplifying it. Let me explain.

Each faction in Smash-Up does something, and does it particularly well.

Pirates can move from location to location, changing the amounts of minion points associated with that location and possibly stealing a first-place ranking out from under another player’s feet.

Robots can send other minions out via actions or minion effects, superceding the rule that only one minion can be played a turn; they’re very fast.

Tricksters are representative of fey folk; they excel in locking down a location and doing things to mess up other player’s plans.

Dinosaurs have very few additional effects, but they make up for it in sheer power, and can quickly bring a location to its break point, usually scoring at a significant level.

Aliens can bounce minions back to their owners hand (note, this can be done with the Alien minions as well), and can gain victory points through use of the Invader card.

Wizards excel at card draw, and can utilize actions that will give the player the ability to play more actions, meaning that they can often use cards one after the other.

Zombies can utilize cards from the discard pile, ensuring that zombie cards are never truly gone; they’re just misplaced for the time being.

Ninjas are sneaky, and can both kill minion cards, as well as substitute or sneak in minions to change the end result of a scoring round.

When two of these factions are united to make a 40 card deck, these abilities will combine. Zombie Pirates can place minions in the discard pile to a location on the card when there are no minions in hand, then move them to another location to force that location to score. Robot Tricksters can place multiple minions on a location, then play action cards to make sure that it will be more difficult for other players to put their own minions on that location. Alien Wizards can go on a rampage, using multiple actions to return other minions to their owners hands, then lay down an Invader to gain one Victory Point, then return that same Invader to their own hand to play again later on.

To get back to my original point. This game is like M:TG in that it combines two different ‘civilizations’ in order to produce a deck that works. Combining the decks gives things a flavor that makes for interesting synergy. Where this game trumps M:TG is that sometimes in M:TG, you can have problems playing cards because you don’t have the mana to use everything, and sometimes you simply don’t have enough power. In Smash-Up, you can play a card without paying a cost, and all the factions are designed to work together with ease. Every faction is worded so that any card that has affects a minion will affect any faction’s minion; negative effects are specified as opponent’s minions, which keeps things clear.

The game is simple to learn and easy to play, which is good. The game also runs fairly quickly once learned, which means that you can get in a couple of games for rematches with other players. Keeping the individual factions to 20 cards is good to make sure that you will eventually use cards from both factions in the course of the game, but I think utilizing 25 or 30 cards decks might have been better for longevity. Having 8 factions means you can either try something new for a game (there are a lot of combinations to exhaust), or you can stick with a tried and true favorite.

Personally, I find the fun of this game lies not in trying to find combinations that win you the game, but in finding logical impossibilities or combinations that just seem silly. Zombie Robots make me laugh, simply from the definition. Doesn’t something have to die before it comes back as a zombie? How can robots die? If they cease to function, can’t they simply be repaired? Note that you could have Robot Zombies, though…just need to catch a zombie and make em a cyborg zombie. So that only works one way. Wizard Dinosaurs is another interesting concept. Where can a Dinosaur find a pointy wizard’s hat that large? And how can a T-rex hold a spellbook with those tiny little hands? My advice when playing this game is to be as silly as possible and try to enjoy the game for what it is; a mashup of cliches that works out to be a pretty entertaining game.

Go to the Last Night on Earth, The Zombie Game page
65 out of 72 gamers thought this was helpful

There are a number of games that include zombies in them, whether as an aside or as the main focus of the game. Zombies are almost commonplace now, even crossing genres of games. But when it comes to zombie themes, sometimes you just have to go back to the place where it all began: the B-Movie genre.

Last Night on Earth is a game that takes the tried and true formula of survival horror and gives it a fresh new look, offering general play along with quite a few scenarios to play with specific goals in mind. Players of the game can play as the Heroes, a group of humans trying to survive the night, and a player can also take on the role of the Zombies, the hordes of undead that hunger for human flesh. Every turn, the zombies spawn more of their number, and it is up to the humans to survive the night…or die trying.

Last Night surpasses most of the other zombie survival games that are out on the market in terms of feel and style. This game is absolutely GORGEOUS. The board itself is a simple layout that is utilitarian and does is job in setting the field, but the Hero Characters and the various set of cards are presented in such a way that you really get a feel for the theme that the game is trying to represent. The items and characters that you see in the cards are taken from scenes that look like they might have been taken from an actual zombie movie, and even the cards themselves are titled in the style of the game and provided with flavor text that just screams B-movie.

The game as played with the base scenario plays fairly simply; the hero players need to kill 15 zombies in 15 turns, and the zombie player needs to stop the heroes from completing their objective, or take out two of the heroes. The heroes have special abilities that vary from character to character; some characters can heal their wounds with time, while others start out with weapons, or have special talents. The zombies themselves have no weapons, but the player controlling the zombies can give them special advantages through the use of Zombie Cards. Zombie Cards can provide a variety of effects, such as closing off a building, making a location dark and hard to see, or even prompting a character to be forced into a compromising action. Some Zombie Cards can even give the zombies a chance to turn a hero into a Zombie Hero, a more powerful variant of zombie that is tougher to take down than most. The heroes have their own deck, however, the Hero deck, which can help stem the tide of misfortune, as well as providing some useful items to be used in a pinch.

Combat is also simple, but the edge is largely on the side of the zombies to start. In the most basic sense, Heroes get two dice to roll in combat (though more can be added with items or abilities), and zombies get one (again, more can be added). The zombie has to beat or tie both dice with its roll in order to deal one wound to the hero. With enough wounds, that hero will die. If the hero instead beats the zombie with their die roll, the zombie is fended off, but doesn’t take any damage. To actually kill or wound a zombie, doubles have to be rolled (and the Hero still has to win the fight). This can be real trouble for the hero if he or she gets surrounded and has to fight multiple zombies and has no way to clear them out. Weapons make the task of fighting zombies a lot easier, mostly by eliminating the need for doubles to kill a zombie or by allowing extra dice to make rolling doubles easier. In true horror movie fashion, however, weapons can sometimes break, or run out of ammo. One bad die roll can turn the advantage back to the zombies’ favor just like that.

This game offers a lot to both sides (humans and zombies) to enjoy playing; Hero players will enjoy the fight for survival and looking for those key items that will give them a better chance to survive, and the zombie players will enjoy the savageness of the zombie horde trying to single out the heroes and take them down, as well as the many movie cliches that are apparent in the cards. Besides this game being fun to play, Flying Frog Productions did a fantastic job in their production value, and I believe that this game is worth getting for the card art alone.

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Defenders of the Realm

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There are a lot of references with Defenders of the Realm in comparison to Pandemic, and with good reason. Both of the games use similar game mechanics in terms of how to win the game and how to use it, and both have comparable outbreak/overrun rules with the diseases/monsters. But Defenders of the Realm and Pandemic are two completely different games, both in terms of style and cooperation. Throw in the concept of game bosses, and you have something altogether new.

For the benefit of anyone who has never played Pandemic, I will skip references to the game from this point on and refer to Defenders of the Realm exclusively from this point on. First, let’s explore the setting of the game. The game is set in the kingdom surrounding its capital and citadel known as Monarch City. This city is under siege by the forces of darkness, four very specific hordes of monsters each led by a fearsome General. These hordes will stop at nothing in their goal to conquer the land, their ultimate goal being Monarch City itself. The land is doomed; that is, unless a group of heroes (or even just one lone hero) can answer the call and defeat the legions before Monarch City falls.

These heroes are many and varied, so that the player who plays this game with friends always has the option to pick and role and not be forced into one. Each hero has a number of special abilities and benefits, from the Wizard who can teleport around the board and cast fireballs, to the Rogue who can listen to rumors in inns and escape damage from the monster hoards. Each hero is designed to specialize in something and do it well, and the heroes will need to take advantage of these abilities to their fullest extent, because right from the beginning of the game, the situation is desperate.

Along with their special abilities, each hero has a set amount of life points that they receive. These life points serve a dual function; they both serve as an indicator of how close your character is to death (when your character dies, you can simply select a different character to continue the fight), and they also serve as action points. A character’s current health is an indicator of how many actions they can take during a turn. A character can move one space on the board per action point. They can also attack monsters for an action point (this can be done multiple times), initiate an attack against a General for an action point, listen to rumors at an inn, remove a taint crystal from the board, and heal their wounds (2 at a time unless in Monarch City) for an action point. They can also use Hero Cards in place of movement, or to build a Moon Gate to be able to move quicker around the realm. Basically put, the more action/life points you have, the better.

The four Generals command their legions from specific starting points in the game. During the course of the game, Darkness Spreads cards will be drawn from their specific deck. The Darkness Spreads card typically features one to two locations in which minions are ‘spawned’, as well as a location that a General moves to. In order for the General to move, the location featured needs to be directly adjacent to where that General currently is. If this condition is satisfied, the General proceeds one step on their designated path to Monarch City. A general can only move forward on the path, never backwards (there are some special hero and quest cards that can force a General back, but these are the only exceptions). In addition to moving the General, the General also ‘brings’ minions with him, generating a number of them on the space it moves to.

Now would be a good time to go over all the ways that the heroes can win. If the heroes defeat all four generals, they win. Simple, right? Now let’s go over all the ways the heroes can lose. If at any point a General gets to Monarch City, the game is over and the heroes lose. If at any point four or more minions are within the walls of Monarch City, the heroes lose. If more than three units of the same color would spawn in a location, there is an overrun and each adjacent location gets a corresponding enemy unit, as well as a taint crystal being formed in that location (demons are adept at tainting the land, and only require three red units to taint, not more than three). If at any time no more monsters of a color can be placed on the board, the heroes lose. If at any time no more taint crystals can be placed on the board, the heroes lose.

The minions themselves are a set of four specific races: Orcs, Demons, Undead, and Dragonkin. Orcs are represented by the green-colored minion figures, Demons by the red, Undead by the black, and Dragonkin by the blue. This is important, because each race requires a specific roll on the dice to defeat, and it is possible (and highly likely) that you will have races co-mingling together in a single spot. To attack minions, a character needs to be in the same spot as the minions (usually; the ranger can attack from one space away so long as they are in a green-colored location). They then roll special colored dice that share the same colors as the minions. A roll of 3 or better will defeat an orc, a roll of 4 or better will defeat a demon or undead, and a roll of 5 or better will defeat a dragonkin. The player attacking rolls up to three dice, one for each creature in his space, and removes whatever monsters are defeated from that space after the outcome has been determined. If there are monsters left, the player can attack again with another action point, or use an action point to escape the conflict. It’s bad to stay in a spot with monsters, as the hero will take damage from any monsters that are left at the end of their turn.

The Generals won’t go down nearly so easily as their minions. Normal attacks won’t work on them. In order to take down Generals, first all of their cronies must be eliminated, leaving the General alone. Next, a hero in the same location as the General must spend an action point to initiate an attack. From that point, players must expend Hero cards that they picked up each turn in order to have a chance to inflict damage on the General. All Hero cards have a location of a certain color on them: green, blue, black, red, or purple (the color of Special cards). Only cards matching the General’s particular color can be used on them, or purple cards that feature the General’s portrait on the bottom of the card. By playing these cards, the player is effectively buying attacks against the General; the player earns the right to roll as many dice that are featured on the Hero card being played. Once all the Hero cards are played, the player collects all of their dice that they can roll against the general, and rolls with the same rules of success for the minions: 3 or better succeeds against the Orc General, 4 or better succeeds against the Demon or Undead General, and 5 or better succeeds against the Dragon General.

Each General has a health value associated with them and a special ability that comes into play when attacked. For instance, the Orc General has the most health (6) and can parry a successful hit for each one the player rolls when attacking. The Dragon General has the least health by comparison (4), but if you fail to kill her, she restores to full health at the end of combat. The Demon General requires to you to roll a die for each Hero card you use against him; a failed roll means that you cannot use that card. The Undead General prevents any ability to use rerolls against him. In addition to these abilities, the General inflicts a grievous wound against Heroes that fail in their attack, requiring the Hero to take damage and lose Hero cards. It should be noted that a Hero can stay in the same location as a General and not take damage from the General at the end of turn; it’s only when the Hero attacks a General that they are subject to a retaliatory strike. However, should the Hero(es) prevail, a powerful artifact can be gained from the General that will allow the Hero who carries the artifact to eliminate all of the minions of that General’s race on a space without having to roll for success. However, an action point will still need to be spent for the attack.

To gain the Hero cards for attacking the generals, the Heroes simply need to end their turn. Two Hero cards will be drawn automatically. But there is another way to get Hero cards, and that is listening to rumors at inns that are scattered across the board. By spending an action point, a player names a color of card, and draws cards from the Hero deck. Any color of card that was named is kept; the rest go to the discard pile. Purple cards that are drawn in this way can also be kept. In this way, players can attempt to bulk up for that General that is moving just a bit too close to Monarch City and needs to be dealt with immediately. The Rogue has an advantage when listening to rumors, and gets more cards than the average Hero.

A brief note about Special cards: they are some of the most powerful cards in the game. Special cards can be played without having to use an action point, and contain a variety of effects, from removing minions from the board, to allowing rerolls on failed dice. They can be a lifesaver if used at the proper time, but in addition, they are also good for General fights; most special cards can be used against any General in the game.

There are also quests that each Hero receives during the game. These quests unusually involve performing an action or series of actions in order to complete the quest, and contain a reward for doing so. Completing the quests are not crucial to winning the game, but they can be very helpful, and are sometimes worth looking into. The Unicorn quest, if completed, can earn you a unicorn steed that will allow you to move two spaces on the board instead of one for each action point, and also grant you luck in battle.

This game can be played solo, but the real value of the game is in its cooperative gameplay. Each hero can bring an element to the game that can be a real help in a crisis. The Paladin can cover more ground than anyone else (except for the Wizard, who teleports) and is handy in a fight, while the Cleric is adept at removing those pesky taint crystals. But the real place that the cooperative element comes into play is during the General fights. If there is more than one hero in the space with the General when combat starts, the heroes can team up and both use Hero cards to gain attacks. This is useful for when a General is just too close for comfort and one Hero alone doesn’t have what it takes to take the General down by themselves.

My personal take on this game is that is a great game to challenge oneself. The game offers just the right amount of challenge to task the players into paying attention to every facet of the game, without being so tough as to be impossible. There are ways that you can lose the game that might be surprising, but there is no element of the game that is actually unfair. You have ample opportunity to address every problem in the game before it becomes out of control, and often times it comes down to the decisions you make that determine whether you can weather the storm or not. The difficulty of the game will ramp up with the more successful you are in dealing with the threats, so at no time can you think that you are out of the woods until the last General has been laid to rest. And if you succeed in saving the realm, you get a true sense of accomplishment, which is what every gamer loves to feel. You beat a game that was out to get you. You fought the good fight and came out of it smelling like a rose. And that’s what it means to be a Defender of the Realm.

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Betrayal at House on the Hill

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There are many reasons to love Betrayal at House on the Hill: The ease of gameplay, the many scenarios to visit, the emphasis on exploration, and the uncertainty of when things will go horribly, HORRIBLY wrong. And they will.

The basic premise is this: each of the game’s characters (who know one or more people in the group due to the game’s character backstory) have been brought together to the House on the Hill through mysterious circumstances. Once they are all inside of the house, the door slams shut behind them and locks. The characters are now trapped inside of a house they have no knowledge of, and there is no exit. Bust down the door? It won’t budge. Break a window? They resist breaking. The characters’ only choice is to explore the house and try to find a way out. But there’s another problem. The house is dangerous. Things will happen that will test the character’s abilities and will, and eventually, the house will cause one of the characters to turn on their fellow comrades. This event is called The Haunting, and shows the true nature of the house, and why everyone has been gathered together…for some sinister purpose.

The game can play up to 6 players, and the game comes with figures to represent each character. All the characters have different strengths and weaknesses, but one of the nice things about this game is that each character card has two sides, that each represent different characters themselves. So there are actually a total of 12 characters in all to play. This helps to eliminate some of what I like to call Monopoly Race Car Syndrome (MRCS). “I want to be the race car!” “No, I’m going to be the race car, I’m always the race car!” The stats on each facet of the character card is different, the red character card for instance has a character that has high strength, and the reverse side has a character that is high in speed.

Each player controls a character with four set attributes: Strength, Speed, Knowledge, and Sanity. These attributes are also grouped into two catagories: Strength and Speed form Physical Attributes, and Knowledge and Sanity form Mental Attributes. During the course of a game, characters will take mental or physical damage from attacks. A player can decide which attribute to take the damage in, so long as it is in the same catagory. If a player takes 2 physical points of damage, he or she can lower their strength value by 2, their speed value by two, or split the damage into 1 point of strength damage and 1 point of speed damage. This is probably the most important thing to understand about the game, because in this game, your attributes are your life.

Before the Haunting occurs, none of the characters in the game can die. However, once the Haunting occurs, players need to monitor their attribute scores very carefully. Each attribute score, at its lowest value, has a skull at the bottom of the character. If at any time ANY of the attributes reaches the skull value after the haunting, that character has died. This does not mean the character is out of the game; there are some scenarios that turn the character into another traitor at this point. But in any case, the character will either be dead, or acting against the other heroes.

As players explore the house, they will uncover more areas with which to traverse, and encounter events that happen to these characters; some good, some bad. Usually the events will involve testing a character’s attribute(s) in some way, which can lead to new and unique events happening, or a character growing stronger or weaker in some fashion. A player may also find items strewn about the house, or be rewarded with one; items are very valuable in dealing with the challenges that the house can present. And found in specific rooms of the house are Omen cards. Omen cards usually an item or artifact of great power, but finding an Omen means that there is a chance for the Haunting to take hold.

When an Omen is found, a Haunt roll is made using the game’s specially designed dice. Each die either has a blank side, one pip, or two pips respectively. 6 dice are rolled, which mean that there is a maximum of 12 to achieve on a roll. However, there are 13 omen cards. Since the Haunting begins when a player rolls under the number of Omen cards in play, the Haunting WILL begin eventually. It’s just a matter of where and when.

Once the Haunting begins, whoever failed the haunt roll opens the Traitor’s Tome (a book supplied with the game) to the first page to see what scenario to play. There is a table which tells what scenario to play based on what Omen was drawn in what room to activate the Haunting. There is also a chart at the bottom of the same table that tells who the traitor will be based on the scenario number. Sometimes it will be the person who failed the haunt roll, but sometimes it can be whoever has the highest strength, speed, knowledge, or sanity. It can even be a specific character being played. Once the traitor is determined, the traitor takes the traitor’s tome and reads up on the scenario number in a secluded location. Meanwhile, the other characters (now called the heroes) take the Secrets of Survival booklet (also included) and look up their own version of the scenario.

Each of the books contains different information, as well as different flavor text specific for the heroes and the adventurers. The Survival book tells what the characters need to do to win, and the Traitor’s Tome tells the traitor what he or she needs to do to win. The traitor will know things the players don’t know, and vice versa. Often times, both will be pursuing completely different goals, and they may directly oppose each other, or sometimes they may not. Sometimes it can purely be a race against time. And in rare situations, there is a hidden traitor that gets revealed in time, but no one knows at the start. There are even Haunting scenarios with no traitor, which have special rules for how to handle it.

Once the players know what to do, the endgame is near. It becomes all about survival; things are still happening around the house, but one way or another, the game will end, with either the heroes able to escape, able to triumph over the traitor, or with the traitor committing their dastardly deed and dooming everyone.

I love Betrayal at House on the Hill. It is a fun game that has lots of replay value, and each time you build the house (using house tiles that represent the upper, middle, and basement floors), the layout is different each time. You can play game after game, and it will never play out the same way. The game comes with 50 scenarios to play, and it takes quite some time to get through them all, but of course, once you know them all, the game loses just a bit of its surprise feeling. Still, this is one game that you can get a lot of mileage out of, and it plays easily enough to pick up new players on the fly. Definitely worth checking out, for the established gamer or the beginner.

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Mage Knight Board Game

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I had heard of Mage Knight in some circles before I actually played the game, so I wasn’t totally clueless about the game, but I was the first one to purchase it at my local game store. I was also the first one to see the components of the game, and the first one to read the instruction booklet. And what an instruction booklet it is.

The game with all of its ins and outs can be a little daunting, but the makers of the game realized this, and they also realized that one of the best ways to learn is to do. So they included a rules booklet and a walkthrough booklet. The rules book explains the game in detail, and the walkthrough guides you through a demo scenario designed to show you how the game works. WizKids actually recommends that you play the walkthrough first BEFORE reading the rulebook, and after playing the game, I have to say that it was a wise decision. There are a lot of gameplay elements to this game, and playing the walkthrough shows you where and when those elements are applicable.

To start off, Mage Knight uses a lot of different game mechanics that have been introduced in other games, and ties them together in a format that works surprisingly well. It uses an initiative mechanic similar to Citadels, includes an exploration mechanic similar to Civilization, has deck-building and card-playing elements that can be found in a number of games, and even uses dice to manage mana to use for additional effects. The game even includes a level and experience system, as well as a means for interacting with villages and the like. It’s a vast game, and it may take a few playthroughs before you feel comfortable with the steps.

There’s way too much for me to explain about the game, so let me cover the basics. Everything your character can do in the game is influenced by your characters deck. Each character (4 in all) has the same cards in his or her deck, with the exception of one specialty card that is unique to each character. That card helps define the character’s main strength; one character is good at influencing units, another is good at being versatile in battle, one comes with a specialty attack, and the last is good at harnessing magic. The players select a character to begin the game, and depending upon the scenario you play, the win condition can change with each playthrough.

Players start out with a hand size of five cards, and use those cards to do everything in the game. Each of the base cards in the deck grants a use such as movement, influence, attack, block, or a specialty use of some sort such as healing wounds or using more than one mana per turn. Aside from the use printed on the card, players can play cards sideways (instead of placing them down on the table as you normally would, place them 90 degrees clockwise or counter-clockwise) to use the card as a wildcard which can be move, influence, attack, or block. Playing a card sideways only gives a point of one to any of those statistics, where as a card that is normally used for a specific attribute yields 2 or more. In that regard, a player can always use their hand of cards to achieve something during a turn, no matter what cards they have been dealt for that turn.

In addition, each card has a normal effect and an enhanced effect. Players get the normal effect when they play a card down (but not sideways). But if players want the enhanced effect of a card, they need to spend mana according to the color of the card. That’s what the mana dice are used for. At the start of a round (one full day or one full night), the mana dice are rolled to determine what mana is available for use by anyone. There are four basic colors: white, green. blue, and red. There are also two variant colors: gold and black. During the day, gold mana is wild and can be used for any basic color, but during the night it is powerless. During the night, the black mana is wild, and during the day, the black mana is powerless. If a player uses a mana die to power a card, they place the die on the card to show it’s being used, then after the turn, it is rolled and shows what new mana the die now represents. Only one mana die can be used per turn, however. Players can also collect mana crystals to power their cards when no appropriate die is available, or if more than one card needs to be enhanced. Any number of crystals can be used, but they go away after they are used.

Combat is done via four phases: The ranged attack step, the enemy unit attack step, damage assignment, then the player’s attack step. Explanation is as follows:

Ranged attack step: A character can attempt to kill a monster before it can attack. If the player has enough ranged or siege attack to defeat an opposing unit’s total health, the unit is defeated and the rest of the steps can be skipped. Cards played sideways do not count for this step; sideways cards count for one point of basic damage only. If an enemy unit is fortified, only siege attacks count for this step; ranged attacks will not count.

Enemy unit attack step: The player has failed to kill the monster before now, so the monster attacks. To block the attack, the player must play block cards equal or greater to the enemy unit’s attack (if an enemy unit has the swiftness ability, double the normal amount of block must be played). If the player plays enough block, the attack will inflict no damage (it is stopped) and combat skips to the player attack step. If not, then proceed to the damage assignment step; any played block cards don’t count beyond this point.

Damage assignment step: The player could not stop the attack, and so damage is now dealt. If the player has a unit that he or she recruited in down, they can assign the damage to that unit, or else the character will take the damage instead. Damage is assigned in the form of Wound cards, which go straight to the character’s hand (if the unit is wounded, it gets one Wound card and cannot be used again until it is healed). A Wound card is assigned for the initial hit, and one additional Wound card is assigned for every point of damage greater than the character’s armor value. For instance, if a monster had a total of 5 attack and a character had a value of 2 armor, the player gets 1 Wound for the initial hit, another Wound for going over the armor value (5 – 2 = 3), ANOTHER Wound card for going over the value again (3 – 2 = 1), but the last point of damage is soaked up by the armor, leaving the player with three Wound cards in their hand. After damage has been assigned, the character gets to counterattack. (Beware of enemy units with the Brutal quality: they deal twice their normal attack value if they hit!)

Player attack step: The player can now play any cards they have remaining to try and defeat the enemy unit. Unlike the Ranged attack step, normal attack cards can be used here. Just like with the Ranged attack step, if a player meets or beats the unit’s health, the unit is defeated. If the player fails to beat the unit, the unit will remain on the board, and the unit will be at full health at the start of the next combat.

Just knowing the above details can get you through the basics of the game, but there is so much more. Through defeating Mage Towers, your character can gain spells to use with great effect. By defeating Keeps, you can recruit Keep units and get one additional card added to your hand size for that turn in which you start near a keep you’ve conquered. Exploring altars can yield a chance for extra experience or powerful artifacts. And leveling up can give you an advanced action card to add to your deck, plus a special skill unique to your character, or allow you to command more units in battle.

Despite how complicated the game SEEMS, once you actually understand the mechanics, Mage Knight plays very fluidly and contains enough challenge to make every playthrough interesting. However, let me share something of my personal experience with the game: Explaining the rules to someone who has never played before takes a LOT of time. It was my misfortune to have to explain this game in detail almost every single time I played, because I wasn’t smart enough to get a group together to play at once. Once you see the game in action, you’ll pick it up fairly quickly, but trust me, get something to drink while you explain the game, or else your mouth will get very dry, very fast.

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Resident Evil Deck Building Game

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Dominion was one of the first games to come out with the deck-building format that has since seen several different iterations with various types of games. Each of these games tries to do something different with the format; some succeed, some do not. Enter Resident Evil, a game very similar to Dominion, but unique in its own format that seems to fit very well with the horror genre.

For those who are not familiar with deck-building games, Resident Evil offers the player a chance to play a card game in which you are constantly adding to the deck that you play with, using cards that are available for ‘purchase’ throughout the game. The purpose of this is to increase your chances of completing a certain goal and/or winning the game, as cards that you add to your deck are usually much more powerful and useful than those you start with. In Resident Evil’s case, you’re exploring ‘The Mansion’ with the goal of hunting the infected and taking down the most powerful infected of all, the boss. This infect varies from the base game and the expansion, but in each case, it is high on health and really packs a wollop.

Resident Evil adds some uniqueness to its own variety of play by using character cards which have varying statistics that the player selects for their own role in the game. Each character card also has a level chart (two potential levels per character) printed on the card. As you kill monsters, you achieve that level gradually and become more effective in your quest to kill the boss.

Of course, since this is survival horror, you’re going to take your hits in this game. And characters CAN die. It takes a while, but it is possible. If your character card is reduced to zero health, that character is mortally injured and loses a turn recovering. When recovering, the character is restored back to maximum health, but their maximum health is reduced by 20 each time they die. So for instance, if your Leon Kennedy has 80 health and dies once, when he recovers, he will have 60 maximum health. The next time he dies, he will have 40 health. And so on. If a character’s maximum health is reduced to zero, he or she is dead, and the player is out of the game. There are healing items available to use…but of course, you’ll need to buy them and put them in your deck before you can use them.

A player starts out with 7 ammo cards, two knives, and a gun in their deck. Ammo cards have a dual purpose in this game; they power your weapons (at least the ones that require ammo to use), and they count as gold to use to buy cards. There are three varieties of ammo; ammo that counts as 10 ammo and gold, ammo that counts as 20 ammo and gold, and ammo that counts as 30 ammo and gold. To start, you only have the 10 ammo/gold variety. As you play, you buy cards from the weapons and action piles, and/or more powerful ammo. Those cards go to your discard pile, and eventually get shuffled back into your deck to be used on subsequent turns. As you play, your deck gets bigger, and your resources get more plentiful.

Each player gets one action, one buy, and one explore on their turn. With their action, a player can play an action card from their hand if they have one. With their one buy, a player can purchase a card. And with their one explore, a player can draw a card from the Mansion deck and encounter what they drew. Sometimes it’s a monster, sometimes it’s a special item, and sometimes it’s the boss. You just never know until you explore. It should be noted that in the original printing of the rules, you HAD to explore once every turn. This made for a very brutal game. Since then, the expansion has allowed for the option to explore, which makes the game easier since you can pick and choose your moments.

When a player explores the mansion, they need to place the weapon(s) down that they are going to use if they encounter a monster. If it’s a gun, ammo needs to be provided to power a gun. A gun can only be used once during an explore, even if you have enough ammo to shoot it twice. However, any number of weapons can be used. If a monster is exposed, then combat ensues. If the player has enough damage in their weapons to meet or beat the monster’s health, it is defeated and added as a ‘decoration’ to the character’s card (decorations are what enable level progression). If the player can’t beat it, the character card takes damage according to the damage rating on the monster. It then goes to the bottom of the deck to eventually be encountered again. Once the boss is encountered (and beaten), the game is over, and all players add up their decorations to determine who the winner is of the game.

Resident Evil has a lot to offer, and does it well. There are multiple sets of cards in the game, and the instruction booklet includes examples of variants that you can play. You can also choose random cards for a completely open scenario and give this game a whirl. There are even options for team play, and a mercenaries mode as well, with different rule sets. You can adjust the difficulty of the game with ease by using variant or house rules, so it never feels like the game is really being unfair. And if it feels like the boss is too overpowered, the game has the kindness to add the Rocket Launcher, a weapon capable of destroying any monster in the game with one hit. You can’t purchase this weapon; you can only find it in the mansion by exploring. But when you have it in your hand, you PRAY that the boss is just around the corner.

One of the main strengths of Resident Evil (and in my opinion, what makes this game a winner) is that it has the capability to be played solo. You have just one main goal; take down the boss before you die. When you play this style, I would advise playing the rule that you have to explore every turn. Beating the game with this handicap is a real accomplishment, and truly adds a sense of survival to the game. The challenge is definitely there, and coupled with the fantastic art of the game, the replay factor of the game, and the simple mechanics, you will truly get your money’s worth out of this title.

Go to the Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game page
85 out of 96 gamers thought this was helpful

Anyone who has ever played Sid Meier’s Civilization or any of its sequels knows that the game is quite complex. You need to manage your cities, collect science for new technologies, expand to make your civilization grow, build city improvements, and protect your civilization from those who would see it reduced to rubble. Playing Civilization is a major investment in time, and while rewarding, it can take a long time to complete.

Civilization: The Board Game attempts to take the tenants of the computer game and translate into a board game. No small feat, considering all of the features that are in the computer game itself. The board game doesn’t quite capture everything that makes the computer game what it is, but it does retain some features that make the game instantly recognizable to veterans. Of course, some of those same features have been tweaked radically, so it takes some getting used to.

For players that have never played Civilization in any way, shape, or form, let me break it down. You start the game as a significant civilization in history, only when you start off, you aren’t quite significant YET. You start off in ancient times, and your goal is to achieve victory through four main win conditions: A military victory, an economic victory, a cultural victory, or a technological victory. A military victory is achieved by attacking your opponents on the board and capturing their capital city. An economic victory is achieved by collecting gold over the course of the game (I believe 15 coins is the benchmark). A cultural victory is achieved by collecting culture points through certain buildings, luxury items, and building wonders. And lastly, a technological victory is achieved by researching enough technology to send your civilization to space.

Every civilization has a unique advantage. The American civilization starts off with a great person and is good at production, the Chinese get advantages in city defense and culture, the Germans are good with military, and so on. The civilization that you choose largely determines what victory conditions are good for you, but any player can win with any win condition with any civilization. An opportunity to get build a Wonder early on might prompt a Cultural victory attempt, or getting the Currency tech might spur on an Economic run.

With your civilization comes a progress tracker, which keeps track of your current trade output and finances. Researching a new technology requires a certain amount of science output to get a certain level of technology. Technology in Civilization (Civ for short) works on a tech tree. In order to get a level 2 tech, you need to have two level 1 technologies underneath it to support it. After all, in order to have writing, you need to have an alphabet and a medium to write with. Civ works the same way; most level 2 techs or above require having a prerequisite technology beforehand. However, you don’t need to use just trade alone. In Civ, having gold can offset some of the cost of researching techs. Call it government funding, if you will.

In order to gather resources in the game, you need to have areas around your city that can be harvested. You can get trade, production, and in some cases, luxury items that can be traded between civilizations or exchanged for additional goods. But one city can only provide so much. So you will need to go exploring for a site to build a new city or cities to branch out and make your civilization grow. The game features an interesting mechanic of having game tiles turned over at the start of the game, and as players explore the rest of the board, they encounter obstacles like rough terrain, barbarians, and in some cases, what are known as goodie huts that can yield something nice for those who find them. Once you build another city (with a scout unit – you have another unit called an army that can explore, but can’t build cities), you can start expanding even faster, and open up new possibilities.

Production is used to build buildings that provide additional effects, like more trade, production, or currency. It can also be used to build Wonders, which have interesting and varied effects. Some wonders can produce a whopping amount of culture, while others make certain activities easier. Ancient Wonders are the earliest, and the easiest to build, but can be obsoleted by certain technologies (like gunpowder). Later Wonders can have a profound impact on the game if you can muster up the production to create them, and can significantly improve your civ’s chance to win by Cultural victory.

Culture in the game does more than just sit on the board and look pretty. By accumulating enough culture points, you can gain cultural event cards. They can have some significant effects, like forcing a trade of technologies between two players, for example. The cards you gain are held in your own personal pool, and no other players can see what they are until you play them, which means you’ll always have your opponents guessing about what ace you have up your sleeve.

Combat in this game is done with the use of unit cards. There are infantry such as pikeman and spearmen, artillery such as catapults and cannons, and mounted such as horseman and knights (later on you can get aircraft once you have the flight tech). Some units are better than others at certain types of combat, a la rock-paper-scissors. Each unit had a specific number of health to indicate how much damage it can take before it dies. These units make up your army, and if all of your units in an army are defeated, you lose your army token and you have to invest production to create another. You definitely want to have an army, if for nothing else than to protect your city in case of an attack. Leaving a city unguarded is a risky proposition if an opponent is near your city.

By now if you haven’t played Civ before, you’re probably daunted by everything that is going on in the game. Believe it or not, this is actually simpler than the computer game so far. And I haven’t even gone into all the aspects of the game. But this should give you a good idea of what you’re in for. Civilization: The Board Game is a long game, because there is a lot that can happen in any one given turn. It’s this facet that both makes Civilization a good game and a game that could be improved upon.

The main complaint of this game is the length of time it takes to get through it. Because there is so much going on, it is easy to miss things and remember them after the fact, and a lot of players will be trying to figure out their best course of action early on. Once you decide on a course of victory, it is very rarely a good idea to change tactics in the middle of the game, because someone else will be further along than you are. Therefore, early decisions are crucial. However, it is not good to neglect other areas of the game for the sake of one; every civilization needs something of everything to be successful.

There is interaction between players in the game that are accounted for by the rules, but mostly in part you will be paying attention to what you’re doing more than what your opponents are doing. This can lead to tunnel-visioning in the game, because it can be difficult enough to manage your own turn properly without understanding what your opponents are doing as well. Cooperation between civilizations is possible, but to my experience, fairly rare. Most everyone will be out for themselves from word one.

In summary, this game does a good job of translating a lot of facets from the computer game, but I know that playing the computer game was usually a solo experience against computer AI civilizations. Bringing the game to the board gaming experience opens things up a bit, but some people won’t have the patience for this game. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And yeah, we’re going out on that joke.

Go to the Alien Frontiers page

Alien Frontiers

74 out of 81 gamers thought this was helpful

Lately I have come to discover that I have a soft spot in my heart for games that use dice. I like to leave certain things up to chance, because sometimes in life you have to take risks for great rewards. There are simple dice games and there are games that only use dice as a means to an end, but rarely is there a game like Alien Frontiers, that makes the dice a central theme to the game, but doesn’t FEEL like a dice game.

I LOVE this game.

The game itself is themed around colonization and construction. There is no actual space exploration; everyone is in the same sector (as it were) and trying to gain control of territories on a planet. They do this by building colonies on the planet, and when one player has built their final colony on the planet, the game is over and the winner is determined by points on a victory board tracker. For each colony established, the player gets one victory point. If the player has control of a territory by having the most colonies, they get an extra victory point. Pretty simple, right?

You need materials to build your colonies, however. And that means navigating your ships around the board. The dice themselves are the ships, you see. You start off with three dice, and by rolling those dice, you can pilot your ships to certain areas of the board. At the solar converter, you can dock a ship to get fuel according to the value of the die you roll (1-2 gets you 1 fuel, 3-4 gets you 2 fuel, and 5-6 gets you 3). At the lunar mine, you can get 1 ore for any value of die, but you can only dock a ship there if your ship/die has a higher or equal value than the highest value die already there. These resources are important, as almost everything in the game requires their use.

Once you have resources, more options become available. If you roll doubles on three dice, then you can place those two dice at the shipyard, where spending a fuel and an ore will build you another ship (i.e. getting another die to roll). You can build up to three ships, giving you a maximum of 6 dice to roll (although there is a way you can roll 7 in the game). Each subsequent ship costs one extra fuel and ore to build, so getting your fleet is an investment. But with more ships also comes more options. In order to build a colony, you can construct one at the colony constructor if you roll three of a kind and have three ore to spend. Or you could go the slow route and place a ship or two at the Colonist Hub to gradually gain the chance to build a colony for one fuel and one or. Or, if you’re determined to plant down a colony on a territory before anyone else, on a roll of a 6, you can destroy that ship and spend one fuel and ore at the Terraforming Station. Why would you want to do that? Because with the territories comes unique advantages for the one that controls that territory.

Named for various science fiction authors and personas, each territory can grant unique abilities. The Pohl Foothills can make the use of alien tech cost one less fuel per use, which means that some alien tech can be used for free at that point. The Bradbury Plateau allows you to construct a colony with the Colony Constructor with one less ore. And the Burroughs Desert contains the Alien Ship which you can use by paying one fuel and one ore (giving you 7 if you already have your full compliment of 6).

You heard me mention alien tech just a moment ago; the game also has cards that represent alien technology. You can get alien tech by landing on and using the Alien Artifact location, and this tech can affect the game by allowing the user to manipulate dice values, reuse ships, and even gain victory points outright. There is also a way to steal technology and resources from an opponent, by using the Raider’s Outpost. It’s not nice, but hey, they’re raiders, right?

There are just so many options in this game that there is always something that you can do, and you’ll find that this game brings out the creative side in you. You’ll learn to do calculations in how to make your ships the most effective with any roll that you get, and there are so many strategies to employ that the game doesn’t become stagnated or predictable. This game is good head to head against someone or in a four-way free-for-all, and the ease of setting up the board and putting it away is an added plus; there hardly seems to be any effort involved.

In summary, this game is simple to get a handle on in the rules department, but also complicated enough to formulate strategies and remain interesting and innovative. As far as dice games go, I think this is one of the best around.

Go to the To Court the King page

To Court the King

19 out of 20 gamers thought this was helpful

I first played this game at a con I attended, and the game made such an impression on me that even despite only playing the game once, I have remembered it to this day. This should express my love of the game in a greater way than merely describing it ever could. Even now, I can remember everything about the game in almost perfect detail.

To Court The King is a dice game that offers a lot with very little. All you really need to play the game are the character cards from the game and a WHOLE lot of dice (the game comes with 12, which should be more than enough). Any six-sided dice will do, but the standard variety are the best. The game involves trying to gain the king (and queen) cards through rolling the dice. As the game synopsis provided by the publisher details, you need to do this by rolling seven-of-a-kind. Understandably, since you only start the game with three dice, one might call that a WEE bit impossible. But that’s what the other character cards in the game are for. As you play the game, you can gain the use of character cards that will give you additional die to roll, or possibly allow the manipulation of dice to get a better result.

Allow me to explain. By rolling the three dice you have, you end up with a result. You can store at least one die, or all of them if you prefer. You then reroll the ones you don’t want, at least one, then if you have any dice left, continue the process until all the dice values are set aside. With these set dice, you now have a value, or pattern. With three dice, there are a limited number of patterns you can generate. For instance, a total of 15+ on your die totals will allow you to gain a character that gives you another die that is set to the 1 value initially, that you can reroll along with the rest of the dice if you so wish to gain a different value. If you roll all even dice, you can gain a character that allows you to move one pip between two dice (moving one pip from a four-die to a two-die gives both dice a value of three). And so on and so forth. As you gain dice and the ability to manipulate dice, you can roll better patterns and results to gain more and more ability. And even if you can’t hit a roll, you always have the option to default to a Jester card, which you can get for free (he allows you to reroll one die beyond your normal rerolls).

There is no point system in the game; you don’t gain a score by getting combinations a la yatzhee. Instead, you want to get that seven-of-a-kind first. If you do, you initiate the start of the endgame. There is one round of additional rolling for all players, in which the person who first rolled the seven-of-a-kind goes last. In this round, all the players are trying to better the result of the one who gained the King card. Let me explain this with an example with a 4-player setup:

Player 1 has 8 dice with which to roll. He or she rolls 7 3’s on their roll of the dice. He or she courts the King, which announces the last round of play. Player 1 ALSO gets control of the Queen card, since he or she was the first to accomplish this task. Now all the players will roll once more, with Player 1 going last. Player 2 also has 8 dice, and fails to roll 7 of a kind. Player 2 therefore cannot court the King. Player 3 has 9 dice, and manages to roll 7 2’s on their roll of the dice. Since the value of 3 is greater than the value of 2, Player 3 also fails to court the King. Player 4 has 8 dice, and manages to roll 7 4’s. Since 4 is greater than 3, Player 4 gains control of the King card (but not the Queen). If Player 1 cannot roll greater than 7 4’s on his or her roll of the dice, then Player 4 will win. Player 1 takes their last turn, and gets one additional die to roll because of controlling the Queen card. He or she rolls 9 dice total, and manages a roll of 8 1’s. Although 1 is lower in value than 4, eight-of-a-kind trumps seven-of-a-kind in value, so therefore, Player 1 regains control of the King, and therefore wins the game, since no other player can roll.

Unlike most dice games, there is a a lot of strategy involved in the heat of the moment with this one. You want to increase the number of dice that you have, and increase the amount of control you have over the values of the die. Once you have the right setup, rolling seven-of-a-kind is easier than it sounds. But you need to pay attention to your opponents and their progress, because if you spend too much time on any one facet, you can handicap yourself if push comes to shove. This turns the game effectively into a race, and you need to be creative in order to see the possibilities that will enable you to come out on top. The game is highly competitive, but you’re not doing anything to handicap your opponents, so there are (usually) no sore feelings after leaving the table. It’s all about what you can do with the hand that you’re dealt, and those that are creative enough and determined enough can truly earn the right to court the King.

Go to the Mansions of Madness (1st ed) page
72 out of 79 gamers thought this was helpful

What to say about Mansions of Madness? I like the game, I really do. I want to like the game. I like Arkham Horror, and I like Elder Sign. Mansions of Madness was a game of a different format that I feel absolutely HAD to be made. But while I do like the game, there are some parts of it that leave me disappointed. This is not to say that I’m not game for Mansions of Madness at any point, but having played the game as both a player and the antagonist, I can see both sides of the coin with clarity.

To start, all of the familiar characters from Arkham Horror are here, and they are ready to investigate. Unlike Arkham Horror, your characters attributes and skills are determined by the starting item and talent that you give them. This makes for a very dynamic way to play all the characters in the game, and some of the abilities and items are very powerful indeed. They need to be, because the players will be at the mercy of the Keeper, a player representing the malicious force behind every awful event in the game. The Keeper is trying to accomplish some hidden goal in the game, and if successful, the Keeper wins and the adventurers lose. It can be as simple as driving a character insane, or by the investigators making one crucial wrong choice.

The game comes with a booklet that has four main set-ups featured for the game, and several branching paths within that set-up to determine what the actual story for the game is. Each scenario provides some brilliant set-up prose for the players to listen to, and you can easily tell that whoever designed the story had a gift for writing; it draws you in and sets up the mood nicely, as well as giving you an idea of what you’re supposed to be doing. Once the board is set up and the story is told, the game begins, with the investigators starting in the designated starting location for the scenario.

Right away, the investigators are under the gun. There is a time counter that is constantly moving. If the investigators don’t accomplish a certain task in a certain amount of time, bad things can happen. Not only that, but the Keeper gains threat tokens each turn, and with that threat, he or she can draw cards to play on the investigators, or summon monsters with the power cards he has at the start of the game. The investigators are going to be harried almost constantly, so actions must be chosen carefully. It should be noted that the investigators cannot affect the Keeper in any way; all they can really do is defend themselves as best they can from the Keeper’s influences.

This is not to say that the investigators are completely helpless. There are items that can be found all around the playing board of the scenario. These can be discovered by investigating certain areas where there are item cards face down. Some are nothing, but others can yield valuable resources. There are also obstacles to overcome, and locks to be undone. Obstacles are usually a puzzle or a restriction of some sort, and must be overcome before the items underneath can be revealed. Locks are more difficult, and often require a crucial item to overcome, but are often the staging area for the next crucial clue.

What are clues, you ask? Clues are indicators for the investigators as to what action or goal they should accomplish next. The clues often hold the key to the investigators winning the scenario, and failure to find these clues will more often than not doom the investigators to a grisly fate (or just the loss of the game, but this is Lovecraft we’re talking about).

So that roughly explains what the game is about. Now, let me explain what I feel gives this game a bit of a disappointing turn. There is a considerable amount of replay factor in how one plays the players, and how one plays the Keeper. Whether or not you have a lenient or a brutal Keeper can make all the difference in the world as to how the endgame turns out. However, where this gameplay is dynamic, the board set-ups and the stories are not. All of the key items for a scenario are located in one place for a given scenario, and if you know the scenario, you know exactly where to go and what to avoid. This can be circumvented by the creative gamer of changing key item locations over time, but only if one is advanced and knows how to tool the game.

Here is an example of what I speak, and those that have played the game know this scenario well. In set-up four, there is one scenario in which there is a certain room. In order to avoid spoilers, I will not say which scenario and which room, but if the investigators go to that room, they LOSE THE GAME. Period, end of story. Again, creative gamers can work around that little twist, but from that point on, you know that if you can recognize the scenario, you know not to go to that room, ever. That little bit of information takes a lot of the surprise and thrill out of things once you know it.

Now, most of the game is pretty fair and balanced. But it still doesn’t get around the fact that if you decide to play a game of Mansions of Madness with new players and you happen to recognize the scenario, you’re going to have to show some creative ignorance in order to avoid metagaming and ruining the experience for everyone else. However, this is a fun game, and if both the investigators and the Keeper are playing to win, it becomes more of a game of good versus evil, and that can be thrilling in itself.

Go to the Talisman page


32 out of 34 gamers thought this was helpful

I will start this review off right away by saying that I am biased. I love this game. Anytime anyone wants to start a game of Talisman, I’m in. You might ask why, and the simple answer is that at its heart, Talisman is an adventure game. From start to finish, your character is at odds with everything, including the other players. There’s a clear goal in sight, but you can’t get to it, and you know that if you can, you’re not strong enough to win the game right at the outset. So your immediate goal is to get stronger.

This game offers you a huge variety of characters, each with special abilities and starting attributes. The attributes are incredibly easy to manage: You have a strength value, a craft value, starting health, starting fate, and an alignment (there is also a value for gold, but this is almost always empty at the start for all characters). Whenever you encounter a monster, you will fight it either with your strength value or your craft value, and what you use will be determined by what the monster’s given attack value is. When you fight a monster, you roll a die to add to your character’s attack, and whoever is controlling the monster adds a die roll to its attack. The higher value among the two wins the combat. If the character wins, the monster is defeated and collected as a trophy. If the monster wins, the character loses a life/health point. If a character loses all of their health, he or she is dead and the player is issued a new character to play with, minus any of the items or gear the prior character had with them (it gets dropped where the character is slain).

So how do you improve your character, you might ask? For every 7 points of strength you gain in monster trophies, you can exchange for 1 point of strength for your character. Same goes for craft; 7 points = 1 point of craft for your character. These improvements matter greatly in the overall effectiveness of your character. You can also encounter events that will lend an opportunity to get extra strength or craft, followers that will help in certain ways, and items that will increase your effectiveness in battle. There are spells for the talents users of craft, which can produce interesting and powerful effects. Alignments can determine if you get some rewards from events, or if you suffer penalties instead.

The object of this game is to get to the Crown of Command, which can only be done by gaining a Talisman (hence the name of the game). There are three regions of the game: The outer region, the inner region, and the Plane of Peril. You need to have a Talisman to get into the Plane of Peril, and once there, you have to overcome tests and combat in order to even have a chance to make it to the Crown of Command. If you are the one who makes it to the Crown of Command, your quest is still not over. Your fellow adventurers have a chance to wrest the Crown from your control if you let them. You have to be the last one standing. The Crown can cast a spell to injure every opponent and take away one life, so if your player doesn’t have the Crown, he or she is living on borrowed time unless they can get to the Crown themselves. If another player reaches the one who wields the Crown, a combat will take place between the two to determine who gains control of the crown. In the end, there can be only one winner.

I love this game immensely, but that doesn’t mean that I am ignorant of its faults. The movement system is based on rolling a die to see how many spaces you move, but you cannot stop along the way. If you roll a 6, you have to move 6 spaces, no more, no less (some items, equipment, or special abilities can alter this rule). This means that fighting the enemy you want to fight, or getting the item you desperately need can be up to random chance. The game’s board allows you to move forward or backward along the region, so you have two directions to travel, but it’s still something of a hindrance.

This is also not a game that you can expect to finish in a tidy fashion. Depending upon the number of players you have and how quickly you can enhance your characters, this game will take either a moderate amount of time or an exorbitant amount of time. This is in part due to the movement system, but also because early on, your characters will face monsters that can be a struggle to defeat. Once your characters have a few upgrades under their belt, the game will gradually speed up as your characters become more capable. But a game of Talisman can easily end up being called on account of time, rather than coming to a complete resolution.

Bottom line? This game is fun, easy to play, and you really get a thrill out of building up your character to heroic proportions. But this game can try the patience for those who aren’t prepared for a marathon gaming session. Nevertheless, I recommend trying it at least once. Maybe even two or three times. If this game is for you, you will know it right away.

Go to the Red November page

Red November

49 out of 55 gamers thought this was helpful

I first saw this game being played at my local gamestore. I liked it immediately when I saw it. This game takes the classic cooperation of multiple players trying to achieve a goal and gives it a new and entertaining twist.

The object of the game is to survive a sub going haywire; bad things are happening all the time, and you’re just trying to stay alive long enough for a rescue to come. The problem is, every time you fix a problem, enough time passes that something else bad could spring up. You have a total of one hour (usually, sometimes less with more players) in in-game time to survive long enough for rescue, and basically what you’re trying to do is cut corners on the time it takes to fix a problem so that you have enough time to fix other things before they overwhelm the ship.

With multiple players, you will all be working together to keep the ship afloat (or in the case of a sub, capable of floating). But here’s where things get interesting. There is a certain item called the Aqualung that you can pick up during the course of the game. If you have the Aqualung, you can use it to escape the sub to battle the Kraken (who can show up during the later part of the game) OR…you can abandon the sub entirely and leave your former friends to fend for themselves. If you leave the sub, you win if the other players fail to make it to rescue, and you lose if the other players win. It makes leaving a big risk, but it can be just as much a risk to stay on board a dying ship.

The thing that I like most about this game is the turn/time system. Just about every action you take requires time to accomplish, from moving through hatches to collecting items. Usually conducting any sort of action requires at least one minute of game time to do. Performing a fix-it task can take anywhere from 0 to 10 minutes, depending upon what you have to help you, but you can only do one per round. So, when you take your turn, you can perform any number of actions and one fix-it action, and then your turn is done. This can take a lot of minutes to accomplish, or very few; it just depends on what you do. As other players take their turns, they too will have varying minutes of time accrued as they go about their turn. But here’s the thing; the game keeps track of time using the board’s time tracker. Whoever is last on the time tracker will go next in the order of turns. There is no set system of one playing going after another player in order. If you take a huge amount of time to perform actions, your turn likely won’t come up for a long time as everyone else will be catching up to your time position on the board. In contrast, if you take a short amount of time to perform tasks, you will have more turns more frequently.

Let’s think about this from a logic perspective. This makes a HUGE amount of sense. As one character performs a task, events are still happening around their character as he or she takes time to do what needs to be done. Time doesn’t stop just because someone is occupied. If you take 20 minutes to do something, any number of things could be happening around you that you may or may not know about. But you, as a duty bound gnome officer (yep, your characters are gnomes), have to finish your current task(s) before you can react again. In effect, everyone who plays the game has 60 minutes total, and it’s up to them how they spend it.

In terms of survival games, this game runs in the middle of the spectrum. Things will go wrong on the ship, but you don’t need to fix everything. Some hatches can remain jammed, some fires can be left to burn. All you need to do is manage the critical systems and make it to the rescue point. Sometimes the game will throw stuff at you right away, and sometimes the end of the game will be in sight, and you are thrown a near-impossible situation. But there is always the option to leave the ship for a select few. In this respect, EVERY game can be a winner…if you are willing to throw your friends to the wolves.

Go to the Tsuro page


55 out of 62 gamers thought this was helpful

At first glance, you might be tempted to pass this game up as being overpriced and too simplistic. When you open up the box, there’s not much but a series of tiles and some token pieces to be used on the board. Well, there might not be much to the game, but that doesn’t mean that this game isn’t highly entertaining.

The game follows one simple principle/rule: Follow the Path. It could not be explained any more simply. However, some addition explanation helps. The tiles in the game have lines drawn on them to represent four different paths (2 entry points on each side of the tile). To start the game, you select a token and place down a starting tile on the edge of a playing stage. You then put your token on any one of the two paths on the edge of the board. From that point on, your token will follow whatever path you initially chose. You then place tiles (in turn sequence with your opponent), and each tile you place extends the length of your path. The object is to not run your piece off of the edge of the playing field where the path would end. If your piece collides with another player’s piece, both of your pieces are also removed from the game. Simple, right?

Well, here’s where things get tricky. The tile paths are often twisty, turny affairs. They will form complicated paths, and since you can’t jump paths, your token’s fate is tied to whatever path you create for it. Eventually, your tile path will intersect with another player’s tiles, and then your token is in for a WILD ride. Just remember…stay on the path!

This game is a game that can be played with a multiple number of players, and once you start playing in the open, you WILL get more players. Tsuro is like the call of a siren: once you start playing, it draws people in. The virtue of this game is that it can easily be understood just by watching it, so new players can jump in and not feel like they will slow the game down by learning it. And once people start to play, they’ll want to play again. The game is artistic in itself, feeling more like a creative exercise than a game, and it is entertaining for that virtue alone. I recommend this game for anyone who enjoys playing a game for the sheer sake of playing.

Go to the DungeonQuest page


72 out of 82 gamers thought this was helpful

Let me start off by saying that this game has a reputation. And that reputation is, in a word, Brutal. No one I have ever spoken to has called this game easy, or even fair. But that just makes me smile. In the gaming world, there have to be games that offer a significant challenge, games that you just can’t breeze through because you know all the tricks. DungeonQuest will kick you in the teeth and laugh in your face if you let it, but you can just as easily laugh in the face of danger in turn, and that’s what makes this game enjoyable; all the absurd ways you can die in this game.

To start off, you’re trying to collect as much treasure from this dungeons before the day ends and the dungeon closes. Right away you might ask yourself, “What? Dungeons can open and close like a mall?” Well, this one can. Apparently, this dungeon only stays open for a day, and when it closes, it closes for good, trapping all adventurers inside with a dragon that, apparently, can’t be killed. That in itself is amusing to me, but wait, it gets better.

You have a choice of characters you can select, each with their different skill sets and special abilities. There are four attributes to each character, strength, agility, armor, and luck. Often you will have to test one of these four attributes whenever you encounter an obstacle or a trap. Interestingly enough, the strength attribute has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with fighting monsters. That’s right…your big, beefy dwarf is just as effective against monsters as your spindly wizard. Why is that, you ask? Because combat is essentially done with cards in what can loosely be defined as a game of War combined with Rock-Paper-Scissors.

Let me explain this combat thing in greater detail. You play cards from a combat deck you receive at the beginning of combat, and if you beat your opponent’s card value, it goes on his or her damage stack. If your opponent beats yours, it goes on your damage stack. If you tie, nothing really happens. However, if you play a card that your opponent has the right symbol for (or vice versa), they can play a counterattack card to add its damage value to the total value. If they beat your value with the new value, both the damage card and the counterattack card go to the damage stack. And of course vice versa. This can make combat really short or really long, depending upon random luck and the strength of your draw.

By the way, healing? You take your chances with that as well. There is no such thing as a healing potion. Instead, we have the unstable potion, which you sometimes find. It can heal you…IF you make the right roll. A roll of snake eyes on two dice will kill you if you drink it. Anything less than an 8 will hurt you or do nothing, which means that you better roll good if you want to stay alive. And sometimes the game doesn’t give you the luxury…you just have to bite the bullet and hope that the dice gods smile on you. There are other methods to heal, but all of them are just as risky or worse.

Here’s my favorite part of this game: You have to journey to the center of the dungeon to try and get at the dragon’s hoard. But as you move and explore, you can encounter rooms that force you to make tests on your attributes. Some are fairly benign, and the game is forgiving with some, allowing you to roll again next turn if you fail, with a determination token added in to increase your odds of making the roll. But some, like the bottomless pit, you better make the roll the first time, because you won’t get a second chance. You fail, you die, end of story. And let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like having to make a luck roll with a character of luck 4 (luck 6 means you have to roll 6 or less on two dice). Those are some hard odds right there.

The game can produce some epic stories, though. My favorite so far is one I witnessed; playing with a group of four friends, one of them actually managed to navigate to one room away from the dragon’s chambers. He attempted to open up the door, and triggered a swinging blade trap, which killed his character instantly. This was after he had been delayed for three rounds trying to lift a portcullus just to get to the room. It was the game giving him the proverbial middle finger, and we all had a good laugh about that, because it was just so like DungeonQuest to do something that mean.

This game is in the upper echelon of the challenge rating, because not only do you have to get the most gold, you have to get out before the dungeon seals you in. Which means you have to know when to cut your losses. It can be a victory against the game just to get out of the dungeon at all, really. But don’t let the difficulty of this game dissuade you. I for one embrace it, because some games SHOULDN’T be easy to win. When you beat a game that is difficult, it makes you feel like you accomplished something great, and this game is just a lot of fun to play in general.

Go to the Quarriors! page


76 out of 83 gamers thought this was helpful

There are so many things that I love about this game that trying to pick and choose among them is harder than you might think. Where to begin? Well, let’s start with the beginning, shall we?

The first thing I love about this game is the design of the box/tin itself. The box itself is a die, representing one of the most powerful monsters in the game. You could literally roll the tin as a die itself, except that it isn’t EXACTLY like a die. The bottom is indented to provide a base, and there is some edging around the opening of the tin. But the tin isn’t truly meant to be rolled itself, so moving on, yes?

The game tin in itself is elegant, in that it can contain the entirety of the game in one neat package, and is arranged in a way so that you can put everything back into the tin easily once you pull everything out. The game comes with everything you need to keep all the dice inside separated, which is a huge bonus. Oh, did I mention this was a dice game? Oh, is this ever a dice game.

The best way to describe Quarriors (as I’ve heard it described so many times before) is a deck-building game using dice instead of cards. I guess in that respect you could call it a dice pool building game instead, but the game DOES use cards. The difference is that it uses cards to represent what the dice actually are, in terms of monsters, spells and the game’s resident currency, Quiddity. Quiddity is used both to buy and summon monsters; you can’t do anything without Quiddity.

What I appreciate most is how the game designers came up with a way of making the dice represent different things. Since you can’t change what the dice are (the faces are carved in, so one type of die will always have the same symbols), you change what the dice represent by the use of the cards. Each monster and spell has several different variants that can be selected during the start of the game, and they all have special abilities that can come into play, either naturally or by rolling a burst (represented by a * or ** symbol on the die and card). This lends a lot of replayability to the game, so that you don’t get used to one die being the same all the time.

The combat system is simple, but fair. If you roll a monster symbol and enough quiddity to summon it, you can summon it to the field. It then attacks all the monsters on the field. Not the player itself, but the monsters. And it attacks all monsters at once. If the attack beats the defense of a defending monster, it goes away. There is only attack damage; there is no defensive damage returned. Every player’s monsters are attacked at once, so there is no favortism, and if you summon a monster, you HAVE to attack. This is important because you earn victory points by having your monsters survive a single turn, and if they’re still on your field of play when your turn comes around again, you score the monster for its glory (victory point) value, and it goes away. Monsters are not permanent in this game, which forces you to live in the moment rather than planning long-term.

Something else to note about monsters in this game; they have level! Yep, that’s right, your monsters can be comparatively weak or strong depending upon what you roll. Monsters can range from level 1 to level 3, depending upon what you roll, and can have varying attack and defense values for each level. The catch is that the strong a monster you roll, the more quiddity you need to pay to summon it, which means you have less left to buy monsters and spells. So sometimes you have to decide whether you want to score points, or prepare a stronger arsenal.

Quarriors is a quick game; you can get through a two-player game in a good half-hour to 45 minutes, and three and four-player games can end just as quickly. This means you can get in several games, which is good if you play people that like to play two out of three sets. There’s a lot of random luck in this game due to die rolling, but it doesn’t really feel that way as you play, as the choices you make in what monsters and spells to buy with your quiddity can make a world of difference.

Where this game really shines, however, is in its potential for expansions. There are already a few expansions out on the market, and the creators have taken the trouble to make them easy to integrate into the base game. Couple that with a game that is already easy to carry with you anywhere you go, and you can literally have a pick-up game of Quarriors just about anywhere.

The only detraction of the game I have is that sometimes, the die faces are carved in such a way that it can be difficult to make out little differences, like the difference between a 1 and 2. This can cause a little squinting of the eyes, but it’s not a detraction of the gameplay itself, so it can be forgiven. Hey, sometimes mistakes happen, right?

Go to the Arkham Horror page

Arkham Horror

127 out of 143 gamers thought this was helpful

A lot of games these days require two or more players in order to play; solo games are somewhat rare, and with good reason. Games by their very nature involve a challenge, and one of the best challenges is to go up against another player head to head. But what if you can’t find someone to play with? Well, you could play Solitaire with a deck of cards, or Freecell on the computer, but there’s very little surprises in that.

Enter Arkham Horror, with the capability of involving a large number of players in a mutual goal, OR…taking on the Lovecraftian horror solo. This is no small undertaking in any case. Arkham Horror is a very involved game with a lot of setup time and events that need to be set up and prepared. But because of this, you get the sense immediately that you’re going to be in some serious trouble at some point in the game, and with a game like Arkham Horror, that only helps.

Setting up the game takes roughly anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes, depending upon how well you’ve sorted out the components for play beforehand. The game box has a number of compartments to help sort things out, but if you’re smart, you’ll invest in a number of plastic bags to keep all the important parts separate. Also, there are a number of smaller cards that are available that will be used constantly during the game. Some might complain about the smaller size when it comes to shuffling, but I think this is well thought-out; the game itself requires a lot of space, and smaller cards means less space needed for the player. Once you get everything set up, however, the game rolls fairly steady.

A number of things happen during the game; monsters will appear based off of the draws from the ‘Mythos’ deck, events will happen in locations during the Encounters phase, and portals will weaken the boundries between this world and the other world. Ultimately, your goal is to stop an Ancient One from awakening, but if you fail in this task, you get a chance to stop Armageddon by engaging the Ancient One in one last-ditch final battle. Well, usually…there is one Ancient One that if it awakens, you lose, PERIOD. But still, pretty gripping stuff.

The purpose of this review is not to teach how the game goes, but rather to highlight what this game accomplishes that other games fail to do: make a solo run a highly entertaining experience. The Arkham Horror game can be difficult to win at times, even with a group of experienced players. Arkham Horror has a very good difficulty gauge for the number of players, however, so that the game isn’t much easier or harder with more or less players. Every game is a challenge. In fact, I would venture to say that it is somewhat easier running solo than it is with a group, simply because you have more time to take care of problems, and you know what can be done with your move.

Aside from difficulty, the game makes you feel like you aren’t alone, even when you’re playing alone. The game gives you an opportunity to collect items, weapons, spells, and allies during the course of the game. The allies are a nice touch; they will add to your strength and usually provide some other beneficial effect. Allies can be difficult to get, but their usefulness cannot be underestimated. Most of the time during the game, you’ll face difficult challenges, so having a partner is a great feeling.

The replay factor of Arkham Horror is excellent; the mythos deck is huge, so different events will happen all the time, and having a selection of Ancient Ones changes the game up in subtle ways. There are many different characters to play as, so it’s easy to step out of a comfort zone. Playing as Ashcan Pete will most definitely offer a different experience than playing as Joe Diamond or Bob Jenkins, for example.

One should beware of feeling that the game is being unfair. I’ve played a lot of difficult games in my day, and while this game is designed to be difficult, the game is really forgivable in the fact that if your character is devoured (i.e. they die permanently), you can get another character to play as. The game is only over when the Ancient One awakens and wins the final battle, or if the characters succeed in their mission. It’s not like other games, where if your character dies, you’re out of the game for good. With this type of game, renewing characters is the best way to go. Arkham Horror is a fairly long game, and no one wants to be sitting on the sidelines all that time while the others continue on.

So, in summary, this is definitely a game you want to pick up, because it is literally a game that you can play anytime. As long as you have the space, that is.

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