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Vintage Jim

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Go to the Zombie Dice page

Zombie Dice

15 out of 17 gamers thought this was helpful

I’d first heard of Zombie Dice around the time it came out, but avoided the game because it has two marks against it: a) it’s yet another zombie game and b) it’s a recent Steve Jackson game. However, I’ve been roped into playing it at gaming events since then, and I have to admit I was wrong about it.

The rules are very simple. There are 13 green, red and yellow dice, each with varying amounts of brains, running feet and shotgun symbols on their faces. The green dice have more brains, the red more shotgun blasts, and the yellow are neutral. Your goal is to roll as many brains as possible. First person to collect 13 brains (and survive the shotgun blasts), wins the game.

The turn begins by drawing three dice at random and rolling them. Brains and shotguns are set aside. If you have 3 shotgun blasts, then your turn is over, and you lose any brains you’ve rolled. Assuming you’ve survived, you can choose to re-roll, or you can score the brains you have. If you choose to re-roll, you take any dice with running feet, draw new dice at random to bring your total up to 3, and roll again. You can continue doing this until you get 3 shotgun blasts, or you choose to stop.

Zombie Dice is a nice little push-your-luck game, another one of those good fillers to have around. Admittedly the decisions aren’t all that difficult: prefer to re-roll green dice over red dice; stop if you have two shotgun blasts unless you’re behind and desperately need to catch up. But it scales well to many players, doesn’t take long to play, and is a good way to while away the hours with your friends.

(Reposted from The Vintage Gamer)

Go to the Arkham Horror: The Lurker at the Threshold page
61 out of 68 gamers thought this was helpful

We’ve played a lot of Arkham Horror in our day. At one point, we were playing it at least once a month, or perhaps more. So it’s only natural that we eventually we got sick of it. It’s since been relegated to special occasions, and only then with a handful of players to keep it from bogging down too much. Hence when a friend gave us a copy of The Lurker at the Threshold Expansion when it first came out, we just never got around to playing it until recently, when we tossed this in to see how it plays. The theme of this expansion is that there is a mysterious eldrich being that is opening gates to other worlds, and offering power with a terrible price.

In describing The Lurker at the Threshold, I’m going to assume you’re familiar with Arkham Horror in general (if not, you can give my Halloween podcast a listen). For the most part, it’s a standard small-box Arkham Horror expansion. There are some additional Mythos cards, which are fairly generic in their effects. The only nod to the theme is that some of them will open two gates instead of one, but without adding tokens to the Doom track. There are new Arkham Encounter and Other Worlds cards, which are also rather generic. And there are some new Common Items, Unique Items and Spells, most of which seem very powerful and cool.

The theme comes in with the new Gate Markers, Dark Pact Cards, Reckoning Cards, Power Tokens and of course the Lurker Herald. The Gate Markers replace the ones that come with the base game, with some additional markers for The Dunwich Horror and The Kingsport Horror expansions. They add two new elements to the game. First, some are split gates: they can take you to one of two Other Worlds, and closing them is subsequently more difficult. The remainder add an additional symbol to the gate which give it different behavior — some gates will do terrible things if to an investigator on it when it opens (e.g. devoured), some will do terrible things to an investigator when failing to close it (e.g. lost stamina), and some can move.

If the Gate markers convey the sense of gates opening unexpectedly, the Dark Pact cards, Reckoning cards, Power tokens and Lurker Herald work together to convey the “power at a terrible price.” The Dark Pacts come in three types: one allows you to trade Sanity for Power (and use Power as either a clue token or gain Stamina), one allows you to trade Power for Stamina (and use Power correspondingly for Sanity), and the last allows you to gain an ally, until the Ancient One awakens (and use Power for money). When the Herald is active, you can choose to either invoke its help with spells and then take a Dark Pact, or you can just choose to take a Dark Pact at the beginning of your turn.

The Reckoning cards also come into play when the Lurker is active. These are drawn every time a Gate is opened, and represent the price for the Dark Pacts and Power tokens. In general, nasty things will happen to those with either a Dark Pact or Power — you might be devoured, or drawn through the nearest gate, or lose Stamina or Sanity. The other effect of the Lurker is to reduce the ability to close gates.
Finally, to balance the evil of the Lurker, there is a new deck of Relationship cards, one of which is drawn per player at the beginning of the game when you choose random items. This is played to your left, and represents the relationship between you and the player to your left. This grants you such niceties as gaining money, items or allies when your partner does, or gaining bonuses on certain checks. They are always good, never bad.

So with all of that, the core part of this expansion (the Herald et al.) left me a little flat. To be fair, we forgot and didn’t turn over the Reckoning cards early on in the game, and later on we kept opening the same gates, or hitting sealed ones, so they didn’t come up. But even so — since none us had Power or Dark Pacts — the effect would have been nothing. As far as that, I have to confess I’ve never understood the draw of accepting an evil card for a short-term power boost, just to pay the price later. Since there’s nothing to force you to take such a card, most of us ignored them until we were close to wrapping up — and only then just to try them out. The only card I could find that forces you in that direction is one Reckoning card that gives Power to players with Spells. At one point I ran out of clue tokens, so I suppose it would have been nice to have the ability to generate Power and use them as clues, but nothing in the game felt urgent enough to cause me to want to do that. And on top of that, the new Mythos and Encounter cards, which can add a lot to the story part of the game, did almost nothing to contribute to the story of the Lurker (the one exception are the Mythos cards that open more than one gate).

Ironically, the optional parts of the expansion — the new Gate markers and Relationship cards — worked the best for me. The split Gates in particular were nice, and the Relationships give you more connection to other players without having to be in the same location. However, I’m not sure those alone are enough to buy this expansion. We might play with this one again and just use those bits, but we’re more likely to play with one of the other expansions instead.

Go to the Smash Up page

Smash Up

24 out of 30 gamers thought this was helpful

There are two kinds of classic geek debates: the first is who would win within a single subgenre (e.g. could the Death Star beat the Enterprise); the second is which subgenres could beat the other (e.g. zombies vs. ninjas). Smash Up provides you with a testing group for the second, with an additional twist: you can combine two subgenres together and battle them head to head by trying to take over bases and score victory points.

The groups included in the base set are zombies, ninjas, pirates, dinosaurs (with laser beams on their heads), pixies, wizards, aliens, and robots. Each has its own specialty: zombies are good at coming back from the dead, pixies are good at causing mischief, ninjas are good at deception and assassination, and so on.

In gameplay terms, these groups are represented by a separate half-deck of cards — to create a full deck, each player will pick two decks and shuffle them together and draw a starting hand of five cards. The cards are well laid out, and illustrated in different styles depending on the subgenre, which makes them nicely thematic. There are two types of cards in each deck: minions and actions. Minions have a power number and an ability; actions can be immediate or ongoing. There is also a separate deck with cards representing the bases. Each base has a number representing the “breakpoint”, three numbers showing the victory points received by the first, second and third players who storm the base, and a special ability which can affect how cards are played on it, or what happens when it scores.

Each turn in principle is simple: you can play up to one action and one minion, then draw two cards. That said, some actions or minions allow you to play additional cards beyond that. Minions are played onto one of the bases. If the total power count of the minions exceeds the breaking point of the base, then the base scores. Once the minion count is resolved (some minions can act once a base scores) the player with the most power gets the first point value, the second the middle point value and the third the last point value.

The general strategy consists of trying to get your minions onto bases without quite driving them over the breaking point until you’re ready to do so. So there could be some back-and-forth as you remove other players’ minions from a base to prevent them from taking it, or perhaps play an action on a base that makes it less appealing for others until you’re ready to swoop in and take it.

While the overall concept for the game is sound, it doesn’t quite fulfill its promise. First, with a game like this you’d expect for players to attack each other directly. But adding the base in there as an intermediate makes it feel too indirect. The other problem is more severe: some combinations in the game are just devastating. For example, I played a game with my daughter, and she combined zombies and pixies. One pixie card is the leprechaun, which is a high power card that effectively blocks lower power cards from the base. And the main zombie ability is bring cards back from the discard pile. So that **** card kept coming back, and with that and other combinations, she eventually won easily.

Because of this, I can’t recommend Smash Up. I don’t think it’s terrible; it doesn’t last forever like Munchkin, and it doesn’t require a lot of attention so it’d be fine as a beer-and-pretzel game. But in the end, despite the theme, it just doesn’t grab me.

[Reposted from The Vintage Gamer]

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