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Go to the Dominion: Intrigue page
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Go to the Nightfall page


61 out of 68 gamers thought this was helpful

One of the main criticisms of deck building games, such as Dominion and Ascension, is that you’re not really playing against another human being but instead playing a game of multiplayer solitaire. Nightfall is a game that addressees that balance. It takes many of the deck building mechanics but turns the genre into a game of direct confrontation.

In the world of Nightfall the sun has disappeared and the humanity has been overrun by vampires, werewolves and ghouls. If you’ve played any of White Wolf’s World of Darkness roleplaying games or seen Kate Beckinsale’s shiny bottom in the Underworld films then you’ll be comfortable with the theme. You take control of human and supernatural minions as you attempt to cause as much damage to your opponents as possible. Damage comes in the form of wound cards that are added to your opponents’ deck; when the wound deck runs out the game ends and the player with the least wounds is the winner. Nightfall uses a typical deck building set-up with a twist; a selection of eight sets of cards that players can purchase using influence points are set-up in the centre of the table. This is referred to as the common archive. The twist is that players also have a two card private archive that only they can buy from.

Cards come in two separate forms; minions and orders. Each minion has an attack value (how much damage it does) and a health value. The health value is marked as a series of lines on the edge of the card. When a minion is wounded the card is rotated through 90° to represent how much damage is taken. It’s a simple but effective mechanic, the only issue being that a card’s abilities get easily forgotten when the card is upside down. At the beginning of your turn all of your minions in play have to attack and then they are discarded. There is no holding minions to block against other players, it’s all in and fully represents the savage nature of this game. Orders are instant effect cards that are played during a chain. These have a range of abilities such as drawing more cards and dealing direct damage to players or minions.

Nightfall’s most interesting mechanic is the chain. To put a card into play you start a chain, you can then continue adding cards as long as it continues the chain. Each card contains a large coloured moon and then one or two smaller coloured moons. The larger moon is the chained from colour and the smaller moons tell you what colour you can chain to. When you’ve finished your section of the chain then the chain then progresses to the next player. This continues until all players have either added to the chain or passed. The effects of the cards are then resolved in the reverse order. There is also the kicker effect an additional effect that occurs when a card is chained from a particular colour.

This chain mechanic is fundamental to your success in the game. The more cards you can chain the more minions you can get into play and the more orders you can trigger. If you can get a large number of minions in play just before it’s your turn or chain card after card of direct damage dealing you are going to cause significant damage to your opponents.

In Nightfall you’re going to be taking wounds pretty quickly but having them added to you deck isn’t as bad as you first think. Of course you need to have less wound than your opponents but at the end of each turn you can discard wound cards to draw more cards. This represents your supernatural being becoming more enraged with each wound you get and means that a few wounds in your deck can help your game.

Nightfall is a furious and bloodthirsty game. The mechanics mean that it’s very difficult to sit back and build up your defences. Instead you have to try and cause as much damage as quickly as possible. Careful selection of cards into your deck isn’t just about collecting the most powerful cards but also about creating the chains needed to play those powerful cards. The game plays between 2 and 5 players and scales pretty well. There are more aspects to juggle with more players as you’ll need to keep tabs on which of your opponents appears to have the least wounds and timing when to play your chains becomes important but the chance to play onto a chain on each player’s means that downtime is kept to a minimum.

Nightfall is a complicated game. There are a lot of rules and the first few games are a bit of a struggle just to learn those rules. It gets even more complicated when you consider that every card has its own effects and your starting minions act differently to minions available from the archives. Players then have to get their head around the chaining and kicking mechanic, an issue that isn’t helped by some colours looking the same under certain lighting conditions. Nightfall lacks the simplicity of Dominion but you shouldn’t be playing Nightfall if you want a deck builder. All the other games in this genre involve the collecting of some form of victory point card that then clog up your deck. Nightfall is more a confrontational card game with deck building elements; you don’t need to build your deck to win, you need to cause damage.

The theme of the undead punch up runs throughout the game. The artwork is good (though a little ropey in places) and the characters evoke the dark world in which they live. One place where the theme falls down a little is that each minion is a named individual; this means you could have two identical characters facing off against themselves.

In the past I have described Nightfall as a mad scientist’s attempt to create a hybrid of Dominion and Magic: The Gathering. That description suggests something cruder that what Nightfall actually is. Rather than a ham-fisted butchering of the various mechanics Nightfall is a delicate surgery of the best parts of both genres. The surgeon has carefully crafted a fast and furious confrontational game dripping with bloodthirsty theme.

The good
– Deck building mechanics build into a game with direct player confrontation
– Chaining mechanic means that card combinations are key
– Wound cards have a benefit
– Furious gameplay that forces you into the offensive.

The bad
– Complicated rules that will take a few games to bed in
– Theme isn’t quite fully realised with multiple players owning the same minion

Taken from my blog at

Go to the Carcassonne page


83 out of 90 gamers thought this was helpful

What constitutes a classic? The Morgan is a classic car because of its history and enduring style. Citizen Kane is a classic film because of its great story and filming techniques that still seem fresh today. What about classic games? Monopoly? Chess? Carcassonne?

Carcassonne is the fortified city in the south of France and is also a tile laying game that is deceptively simple to play. Each turn a player takes a random tile and flips it over to reveal its features. Each tile contains sections of cities, roads, farms or a single cloister. The player then places this down so that it fits with pieces already on the table. The player can then place down one of their followers; tiny wooden people often nicknamed meeples, onto one of the features on the tile. When the city, road or cloister is completed the player scores points based on the number of tiles used and the follower is returned to the player. Farms are scored a little differently with players gaining points at the end of the game based on the number of completed cities the farm connects to. A player can’t claim a city, road or farm that has already been occupied by another player but with careful tile placing two features can be joined to steal locations off opponents.

Carcassonne’s rules are simple enough to make it a great family game but there’s enough depth to build deeper strategy. Farms can be fenced off with roads, cities can be blocked by an awkward road location and both features can be stolen. The game plays between 2 and 5 players and it tends to work best with 3 or 4 players. At this level there is a good balance of strategy and randomness and more chance that the opposing players can screw up you plans. At 2 players you can end up doing your own thing at opposite ends of the table and with 5 players things can be a bit crowded. More players also mean more downtime. Carcassonne is a game that can lead to a lot of analysis paralysis; the dreadful situation that exists when players stop and think carefully about their move causing the game to grind to a halt. The more players you have the more this becomes a problem.
The game comes with a handy scoreboard for, well, keeping score obviously.

The most contentious issue with the game is the farm scoring system. Farms are the most strategic mechanic in the game, only 3 points per city seems like a meagre amount of points at stake but if you can connect a farm to a lot of cities there are a lot of points up for grab. The concept itself isn’t complicated but scoring farms at the end of the game is prone to errors. It relies on players visually inspecting the entire board and tracing the network of road and cities that act as barriers. You may want to ignore farm scoring for a simpler game and this is strongly recommended for younger players.
Early in the game and some one has left that big city on the right unclaimed, crazy fools!

The components have a classic enduring appeal. The basic tiles are sturdy and thick and the meeples themselves are wooden, a material that always adds a touch of class to the game. What is lacking is some form of draw bag for the tiles (though one is available in the Traders & Builders expansion).

A typical game of Carcassonne will last around 45 minutes to an hour, an almost perfect game length for a game of this depth. There are a lot of expansions available for Carcassonne and these will be covered in more depth in later reviews but it’s worth noting that all the expansions add extra tiles, which in turn make the game longer to play. Too many expansions and Carcassonne loses the brevity that makes it a great game.

Carcassonne is a classic game. Like all the best games the rules are simple and easy to learn but offer a depth of strategy that give the game longevity and interest. Its quick to play and completing high scoring features is a gratifying experience.

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Go to the Dominion page


119 out of 126 gamers thought this was helpful

Dominion is a card game for 2 to 4 players. It typically takes an hour to play and is relatively quick to set up. Thematically the game has players taking the role of feudal lords who are expanding their kingdom by acquiring lands. This theme adds flavour to the cards but it isn’t binding; this game could easily be about space pirates or building a badger sett. The first thing to note about Dominion is the remarkable level of presentation. The cards are good quality, full coloured and the artwork is well done. There are a few cards where the artwork is a bit off but you’ve got to look closely to notice. What really stands out however, is the packaging. Taking pride of place in the box is a simple piece of vacuum formed plastic and a coloured reference card that keeps the entire game organised. It’s so simple but it’s so nice to see that Rio Grande Games have considered what you do when you’re not playing.

The supply
A game of Dominion uses 17 piles of cards, typically referred to as the supply. This is made up of three types of treasure cards, three types of victory cards, one pile of curse cards and ten piles of kingdom cards. The treasure and victory cards are the same in every game but the kingdom cards can be chosen randomly, selected by the players or taken from a suggested list of cards. Kingdom cards are mostly actions but can include defensive options and victory point modifiers. There are 25 different kingdom cards in the base game, with ten different cards drawn each game this leads over three million different combinations of cards. This means that every game of Dominion is different but you may find a couple of key cards can end up taking over any game in which they appear.

The mechanics
The mechanics of Dominion are simple to the point of genius; each player starts with a deck of 10 cards from which they deal themselves a hand of 5 cards. Each turn a player can play one action card and buy one card for their deck. They then discard the rest of their hand and draw a new hand of 5 cards. The game ends when either the supply of province cards (the most valuable of victory cards) or three other supply piles are used up. Whoever has the most victory points in their deck at the end of the game is the winner. That’s it, Dominion is that simple.

Where Dominion’s interest and complexity lies is in the action cards. Each pile of cards in the supply has a different effect. Some give you a second action or allow you to buy two cards in one turn. Some actions remove cards from the game or give bonuses to other cards. Some directly affect your opponent by making them discard cards from their hand or take a curse; a special form of card that gives the player -1 victory points. As the game progresses your deck grows and so do your options. Later in the game it is possible to string together a long list of actions. Any card that directly affects the other players is identified as an attack card, to counteract this there is also a defence card that gives players a chance to react to an opposing attack.

I need more treasure!
Dominion is a game all about management. The most crucial behaviour is that of managing your deck to make it as optimised as possible and to work against your opponents decks. A good example is the victory point cards. These are necessary to win the game but during the game they do nothing, they are just empty cards clogging up your hand with useless baggage. Too many victory cards too early in the game and your deck will be crippled, buy too late and all the high point cards may already be gone. You could buy ‘Cellar’ that allow you to discard cards in exchange for drawing more from your deck or you could buy the ‘Chapel’ so you can trash the low victory point cards and lean down you deck into just the high value cards. These methods change in every game depending on the supply available.

The Original and Best Deckbuilder
Those with mild OCD will love keeping their cards neat and organised.
There are some that criticise Dominions’ deck building mechanic, accusing it of being little more than multiplayer solitaire. This is certainly an issue if the supply cards chosen don’t include any attack cards but this can be remedied by players making sure at least one attack card is used in every game. For some players this may still not be enough. Hardcore gamers or those that thrive on direct combat may be better off looking into alternative deck builders such as Nightfall or Ascension.

There’s a reason why Dominion won Spiel Des Jahres in 2009 and why it currently sits at the top spot of the Dice Tower People’s Choice and that’s because it’s wonderful. It is true that many other deck builders have come along since to try and steal Dominion’s crown but it’s easy to learn rules, smooth gameplay and fun but light player interaction make it a winner. Gamers who are in love with heavy theme or complicated gameplay may take a dislike to Dominion; it’s a game that works because of its simplicity and light theme. These combine to make a game that is easy to learn, fun to master and the combination of cards available means you’re never going to have the same game twice.

Go to the Elder Sign: Omens page

Elder Sign: Omens

56 out of 63 gamers thought this was helpful

Elder sign is based on a dice matching mechanic very similar to Yahtzee. One by one you will send your investigators on adventures around the museum where they will unravel the mysteries of the Cthulhu mythos by solving a number of dice matching tasks. The dice matching mechanic transfers rather well to a touch screen device; tap an icon to roll and drag dice to assign them to the various tasks or to discard. To help you in your adventures are various clues, items and spells which all have various effects such as replenishing health or sanity, re-rolling dice or adding more dice to your pool. If the investigator succeeds they are rewarded with these items and even the coveted Elder Signs needed to win the game. If they lose they will be wounded, loose a piece of their mind or worst of all, aid the coming of the Great Old One by adding to the doom counter. After all four investigators have had their turn the clock strikes midnight and doom counter slowly advances. I say slowly, at first you feel as if you have plenty of time. The doom counter seems to advance at a snail’s pace but once one of your investigators is six feet under and another is visiting a comfy padded cell you realise you don’t have enough time or resources to stop the end of the world.

Occasionally, just to ruin your day even further, a monster will appear, these get added to existing locations and defeating the monster becomes an additional task required to complete the adventure. Thankfully defeating monster, and completing adventures, rewards you with trophies which can be spent at the museum foyer to gain equipment or heal your wounded investigators. Trophies can also be used to by elder signs but this is an expensive way to do it. Elder Sign Omens provides a good spread of different investigators to take on their maddening quest. Each investigator not only has different levels of health and sanity but also has special abilities they can bring to the table. Having this variety also brings some longevity into the game. Selecting you investigators and using them to the best of their abilities is the key strategy to success in this game.

Omens is not a full conversion of the physical game. Some elements have been stripped out or streamlined; most notable of which is the boss fights. In the real world game if the doom track progresses far enough the investigators have to battle the Great Old One. For the virtual Elder Sign, when the Great Old One awakens the game is over. The full complement of Great Old Ones has been reduced to two, plus an extra in the expansion, and these two represent two separate difficultly levels.

Where Elder Sign Omens really triumphs is mood. Lovecraft’s worlds are dark, mysterious and terrifying. The music and sound effects, although simple, succeed in evoking the mood of Lovecraft’s vision and ramps up the feeling of increasing dread. The areas of the museum are expressed via static images and the artwork used is top notch. Admittedly if you have already played any of Fantasy Flight’s Cthulhu based board or card games you’ve probably seen many of the images before but again they evoke both the 1920’s setting and the horror of the game drawing you in to the setting.

Elder Sign Omens is a game that is perfectly suited to mobile devices. It is too light a game for a desktop PC or a living room console but on a mobile device the gameplay is simple enough that you can play for a few minutes but engaging enough that you keep coming back to complete your game. There’s no doubting that the Omens is a touchpad game that just works; the dice mechanics have been beautifully transferred to mobile devices and the graphics and user interface are easily understood even on a tiny iPhone screen. The game evokes Lovecraft’s terrifying setting well and the music and sound effects add the impending sense of dread that physical games just can’t do.

In the end though, Elder Sign Omens is a game about rolling dice and is subsequently entirely luck dependant. You’re aim is to influence that luck by selecting the correct investigator for each task, and carefully using spells, skill and equipment available but if you’re after a game with more tactical control then this isn’t for you. If you are after a light foray into the Cthulhu Mythos or are waiting for an Arkham Horror videogame then this is definitely for you.

Go to the Munchkin page


45 out of 52 gamers thought this was helpful

You probably know that a Munchkin is a creature of diminutive stature that likes their roads yellow and constructed from a sturdy brick, you may know that a munchkin is a breed of small cat, and if you play role playing games you may have come across the term munchkin as a player who plays to win rather than for the roleplaying experience.

The latter term is what the Munchkin is referring to in this comedy card game for 3 to 6 players. Munchkin is a humorous pastiche (or **** take for those without A-levels) on common Dungeons and Dragons tropes. The aim of the game is for players to be the first to level 10 by amassing as much equipment as possible and killing monsters. Players take turns to enter the next room in the dungeon by turning over a dungeon door card and fight what is inside. Combat is simple; if your level and all your bonuses add up to greater than the level of the monster you win, claim the treasure and go up a level. If the total is the same or lower you have to run away by rolling a dice. Fail the roll and ‘bad stuff’ happens according to the monster’s card. Once the monster is beaten you get to take the treasure cards. These give you equipment which add bonuses or one-off abilities.

Not all of the door cards are monsters however. Some are curses that have an immediate negative effect. Some are random events that you can take into your hand and play later as either a bonus to yourself or a hindrance to the other players. Some again are classes and races that add bonuses to your character and allow the use of restricted equipment.

Often you are going to come across a monster that you can’t defeat, especially early in the game, so you can make a deal with another player to come to your aid. You then have to convince or bribe them to help you. What you offer in return can be absolutely anything. You could be offering up the treasure at stake, your current prized equipment or even having to mow the lawn or wash the dishes for a week. On the opposite hand you can try and hinder other players by playing events from your hand. This feature helps to level the playing field as players tend to pick on whoever is in the lead or the players falling behind tend to group together. This wheeling and dealing is what makes the game interesting; refusing to help a player that’s in the lead or having to give up your prised equipment for a player’s help.

The rules as written here seem really simple but unfortunately the rule book doesn’t like to put across these rules in a simple concise manner. The basic rule mechanics are fine, opening doors, fighting monsters are well explained but what isn’t clearly defined is what should happen when a class, race or effect is picked up from the door pile. This lack of rules clarity appears to be done on purpose, suggesting the game is supposed to cause arguments amongst players.

Humour comes in the form of cards and the players’ mischievous nature as you gang up on the leader or help out the runt of the group and change your allegiance at the drop of a hat. The cards themselves are funny providing you are aware of the fantasy RPG tropes, those people not au fait with vorpal swords and gelatinous cubes won’t get the joke. And the joke can run out quite quickly; in a 3 player game you will work your way through most of the deck, in a 6 player game you will easily go through the deck of cards a number of time. You can always add to your deck from one of the huge range of expansions and basic sets covering many other themes such as sci-fi, westerns and even Cthulhu.

One big drawback to Munchkin is its price. For a typical retail price of £20 you get one dice and two decks of cards. The cards are colour and are well illustrated by Dork Tower artist John Kovalic but the box seems very sparse and you never feel you are getting value for money. In addition you need something to keep track of everyone’s level. The rules suggest pen and paper or poker chips but when you’ve forked out that much you’d expect some tokens or counters in the box. You could argue that this is and expensive hobby and that seems a typical price but it comparing it to other boxed card games and you definitely don’t get as much for your money.

Munchkin is a fun game but its mechanics seem to be missing something. Its quick to set up and the game flows quickly but there is a lack of depth. The humorous cards and the blackmailing and backstabbing of your friends are what bring the game together but the jokes can wear thin quickly and it never feels like good value for money.

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