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Play Again? Libertalia

Brian Pilnick
United States
San Jose
California
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I may have missed a weekly post or two in there. Whoops. Anyway, I wanted to talk about Libertalia which I played a little bit ago now so please excuse the abbreviated explanation as I'd rather leave stuff out then get it wrong.

Libertalia (1 Play)
The theme of Libertalia is that you're all pirate captains who happen to always attack the exact same ships at the exact same time and with the exact same crew. (Sounds like they have a union.) The result is that you're all fighting over the same loot-filled ship everyday with the game playing out over three six-day weeks. (I guess even pirates get a day off now and again.)

In practice, what this means is that you'll see all the loot available for the week in advance and everyone will be dealt the same nine cards. For each day, everyone simultaneously selects which of their nine crew they'll send to grab loot. Each crew card has a rank number and they are all turned face-up and sorted using this. Since everyone has identical cards, there's sure to be duplicates and so each card is given an 'influence number' to sort by so that otherwise identical cards from different player's decks are then unique.

Now is the time I need to mention that each of these 30 potential crew members of course have some special abilities on them. Each card will have an icon showing when the power takes effect, either Day, Dusk, Night or End of Campaign (aka Week). Day abilities activate once when cards are first revealed and activated in ascending order. Dusk abilities are activated once in descending order at the same time loot is taken. Night abilities are activated everyday that the character is alive in your den (which is cleared at the end of the week). And End of Campaign abilities happen once at the end of the week if that character is still alive.

Got all that? Moving on, as I alluded, the loot is divided up by going down in descending order and each character taking one piece. Thematically, for example, the captain of course gets their choice of loot before the parrot. Thematically, I'm not sure why Blue's parrot cares that Red's captain outranks him though. The loot has some variety but the choices are fairly straight-forward. There's loot of different values but then there's a set-collection loot if you think you'll get enough over the week or even a weapon loot which lets you kill someone's character in their den. After everyone has taken loot and all the abilities have triggered, all living characters on the ship return to the respective player's den. Trigger night abilities then rinse and repeat until all six ships are empty.

That's one whole week. The one twist with the following weeks is that everyone has three cards they didn't play from the previous week. You keep those and add in six new ones. Again, everyone adds the same six, so going into the third week, everyone has six identical cards then three different cards but all from the previous weeks. This adds a nice little twist where you might see some better character interplay than others due to cards you held or maybe you just didn't want to trigger the same abilities at the same time.

So what do I think? Well, it's a fairly straightforward game with enough wrinkles to make it interesting. But at the same time, a bunch of those wrinkles take the game and make it more complicated than I feel it should be. Right away, the nine identical card mechanic creates some annoying maintenance time as one player will have a shuffled deck they're drawing from then the rest of the players each have a (hopefully) sorted deck of which they must pull out the same cards. It's not overly time-consuming but for an otherwise quick game, doing this once is annoying and doing it three times is tiresome. Next, the four different activation times of the abilities can be very confusing at least the first time through the game. I'm sure it would become natural but again, in an otherwise straightforward game, it stood out for the amount of questions it caused in our game of newbies.

Other than those nitpicks, the game was very enjoyable. It definitely has the same feeling as Romans Go Home! where you're attempting to out-think what your opponents will play. (See my thoughts on that game here.) I enjoy the double-think and planning that these games present. I'd normally be worried about a game like this getting stale fast but you'll notice that each player only sees 21 and plays 18 characters, of 30 total, in a game. The fact that you only see only about two-thirds of the characters in any given game and that the groupings they come out in can change their uses, there looks to be a lot of variance between games.

In the end though, I'm still fairly lukewarm on this game. Maybe it's because we played it right after playing Romans Go Home, but Libertalia felt like it was a smaller, lighter game trying it's best to be bigger. I'd definitely play this again but as a medium box game with a medium price to match, I don't think this game has a place on my shelf. I have other games that share similar mechanics and plenty of games that can mix experienced and inexperienced gamers. Had Libertalia been a small box game and didn't push an hour on playtime, I might be all over it.

Play Again? Sure thumbsup
A fun game that would serve well as a filler with some extra meat.

Next post, the pendulum swings far to the other side when I hope to give some comments on my recent 12 hour play of Advanced Civilization. whistle

EDIT: It was pointed out that I remembered the card draw numbers wrong so I corrected them. I also expanded a bit on why I don't see putting this game on my shelf.
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Fri Jun 28, 2013 1:00 am
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Play Again? KublaCon Part 2: Bora Bora

Brian Pilnick
United States
San Jose
California
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I'm way behind on writing this up so let's get right to it. Only one game this post since I wanted to get this out already

Bora Bora (1 play)
We got into this game pretty last minute and I have no experience with Feld games, other than Roma which I didn't like, so I went into this game with very little idea of what to expect. The theme is pretty generic: you're all tribal leaders building up your tribes, recruiting new members, currying the god's favors and the person who collects the most flowers wins! Wait, what? Ok, theme aside, the game is essentially worker placement. The impression it gave me, despite having very little in common with them, was a mix between Agricola and Troyes. I won't go into minute detail on how this game operates because it's a big game and there's already been a lot written about it so here's my attempt at a brief overview.

The general flow the of the game is each player rolls their three dice which act as their workers (there's the Troyes link) and there are eight actions you can take with them. (I've since learned that the available action are dependent on the number of players.) They are: recruiting people (man or woman), building, expanding (over land or water), placing a priest, "helper actions" and, when you can't do anything else, fishing for 2 VPs. Sorry, flowers. Placing a higher die will give a stronger effect on the action (for example, a higher die will give you move options on selecting people or deciding expansion or even just more "helper" actions) but the twist, and balance for low rolls, is that you can only place a die if it's lower than any other dice already on that action.

As the multitude of actions implies, the game has many interconnected systems. For example, expanding on the map allows you to place huts which makes room for more tribe members which gives you bonus actions once per round. Expanding also gives you resources which goes on an odd little goods grid on which you may build generic buildings; I don't think they even tried to theme them. They also didn't bother trying to theme the "helper actions." Basically you get one helper action per pip on the die used to activate it and they can be used to get goods, god cards, points flowers, 'tapping' tribe members, etc. It's basically a catch-all so it often has hot competition.

After everyone has had their three actions, everyone gets one male bonus action and one female bonus action from their tribe members. Then you resolve the tattoo track to get some points flowers and determine the new player order. Then you check the priest track for points and who gets a bonus god tile. Then you all get a chance to buy some jewelery from those on offer. Then, possibly most importantly, you process your goals. Each player has three active goals at a time but you are only allowed to complete one per turn. In fact, you MUST turn in an objective every turn. If you haven't completed any, you have to discard one. Every completed goal gives a fixed 6 points but some seemed easier than others. After discarding a goal, everyone in turn picks a new one from those that have been on display for this whole turn. I like this mechanic as it lets you look ahead as to what you want to start planning towards but there's no guarantee you'll be the one to get the token you're eying unless you make sure you're also first player. Also of note, after the fixed six rounds are up, you actually have the chance to complete the 3 goals left on your board for the possibility of 9 completed goals. I think the average in our game was about 5 or 6.

If I'm making this sound mechanical, it's because it kind of is. Even the bits that sound intriguing ended up being pretty bland. For example, the male and female actions. Every possible action appears on exactly four tiles, two male and two female. There is absolutely no difference between men and women in the game. I'm a big Phil Eklund fan and one of his games, Origins: How We Became Human, provides the perfect opposite of this. Every single card has a male and female side which do different things that make thematic sense. Yes, I'm comparing apples to oranges but during the rules explanation for Bora Bora, I was expecting, at the very least, some differences. (Update: I was reminded that there is one difference. Each villager, when tapped, which can only be done once per game, produces either tattoos or shells depending on if they are male or female.)

One last thing I should mention quickly are the god cards. They all let you tweak certain rules/restrictions in the game. One lets you place a die on an action even if it would be illegal to do so because it's a higher value, another lets a die give you a level 6 action regardless of it's value, another makes a goal requirement one less, etc. They are fairly powerful and very necessary if you happen to roll in such a way as to prevent you from following through with your plans. That being said, getting god cards almost feels like a wasted action as you're basically hedging you'll need them later. I may as well mention now that one concern I have is with the luck of the dice. One round I rolled 1, 1, and 2 and it was terrible. Even with spending god cards and the requisite offerings I couldn't get done half of what I did on other turns. Maybe this was my own fault in planning but the only consolation the game gave me is that I effectively blocked out actions I placed my low dice on since I happened to be early in the turn rotation.

So since I'm getting to my impressions, what did I think? The game itself is very good. The interlinked systems give different paths to get things done and there is some appealing interplay between them. There appears to be a good amount of depth and due to the fixed rounds, the game does not take very long. However, if you haven't picked it up by now, the complete thematic disconnect kind of turned me off. Not every game needs a strong theme, and I'm sure this will not stop many many people from enjoying this game, but there are many other games that scratch this same itch while still providing an, if not compelling at least plausible, theme.

My other big concern with the game, and this almost contradicts my statement on depth, is I'm not quite sure how different subsequent plays would be. Yes different tribes people will come out, you'll roll differently and you'll get different goals but it all felt samey. There are 12 tribes people on display each turn and there are only about a dozen different actions they can do and even between those, half of them are essentially mirror images (free man vs free woman or free land movement vs free water movement for example). And after all that, you can only trigger two of them on any given turn. The goals are varied but unless you get ones that will work together and can complete one every turn, you'll get a decent selection by discarding the difficult ones.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that I enjoyed the game but there are others out there that I'd rather explore and get my teeth into.

Play Again? Sure. thumbsup
Great mechanics with a half-pasted theme. I don't foresee sinking a lot of time into this game but I'd like to try it again to see if it plays any differently the second time around.
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Tue Jun 4, 2013 2:55 am
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Play Again? KublaCon Part 1: Scalawag! and Romans Go Home!

Brian Pilnick
United States
San Jose
California
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So KublaCon is over and I'm recovering. I played many games and have several I want to talk about so this is part 1 of...a couple. I'll just cover two games today and hopefully have the next post up tomorrow to cover two or three more. For anyone just joining in, I'm working off my scale I defined at the top of this linked post.

Scalawag! (1 Play)
Troubadour Games was at KublaCon promoting their first boardgame, Scalawag. The game pits the players as competing ship captains trying to knock each other out, either by sinking them or killing all their crew. I talked to the designer, Steve Nix, for a little bit while waiting for the previous game to end and he described the game as having elements from both Coup and BANG!. From Coup, the game has crew members who each give you a unique (or discounted) action but bluffing what crew you have is a key part of the game. From Bang, you'll be firing on your neighbors with further players costing more to reach and also having a move that makes your further away for others to reach. To be honest, I was a bit worried at this point that the game was going to be derivative but luckily, I was quickly proven wrong. There are some very interesting interplays between the two systems I just listed and more than enough differences and additions that, although you can definitely see the similarities, they feel and play very differently.

When attacking other players for example, you can either fire your cannons to do damage to their hull or you can pull up and board them to kill one of their crew cards. Killing crew definitely puts a hamper on their available actions but it's very expensive...if their hull is undamaged. See whenever a ship is damaged, the cost to board it decreases. This creates a neat pivot when at a certain point it becomes cheaper to start boarding than firing. This also has the side-effect of letting players keep their full complement of three crew for more of the game. And unlike Coup, where spending your tokens to kill someone often puts you in a weak position, you're rewarded for it in Scalawag. And, as is the pattern here, it was done in a clever fashion. If you sink the ship, the crew are still floating around and you can save one of them, effectively replenishing your injured crew. If instead you kill off the crew, you can ransack the ship in order to get materials to repair some damage on yours.

Scalawag also fixed what was my single biggest complaint about Coup: blocking actions (such as the Contessa blocking the Assassin). My problem with them is that they're very hard to convincingly bluff, especially if playing with less experienced players. At least in my experience, if you don't come back with the block without hesitation, you're gonna be called on the bluff everytime. Some may say this is a part of the game they enjoy but it just didn't work for me. It also broke up the flow of being able to challenge the initial play. Steve also made a good point that a new player working up the nerve to bluff is immediately deflated if that action is suddenly blocked. What Steve did with Scalawag then was to remove all blocking plays. Through the other design choices and elements in the game, I didn't miss them at all.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed the game. It's definitely longer than a single round of Coup (but no one ever just played one round) and because it's one big experience instead of several small ones, it feels pretty rewarding. It's been a while since I've played Bang but I'd say it was on the order of that playtime. The game also includes rules for hidden teams and more players and I'm looking forward to trying them.

I'd be very remiss if I didn't mention at this point that Scalawag is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to get the first printing done. They're asking only $20 for a copy which I think is a deal. You can find the project here.

Play Again? YES! thumbsupthumbsup
I'm really crossing my fingers for this to get printed so I can introduce it to everyone.


Romans Go Home! (4 plays)
We go from a game currently on Kickstarter to one that just finished. And they both have exclamation marks in the title...hmmm. Anyway, this is one that I came across on Kickstarter but wasn't a huge fan of the art and just didn't know enough about the game or designer to back it. The designer, Eric B. Vogel, happens to be local though and besides showing off the game at KublaCon, he also donated a copy to the Kubla boardgame library so I made sure to try the game out.

The theme is pretty light on this game but basically, all the players are competing to capture a bunch of forts, presumably to kick out the Romans. In each of the three rounds, six forts are dealt out in a line. Each fort is worth anywhere from -3 to 8 VPs but several have some special 'ability' to them as well. The lowest non-negative fort is pushed all the way to the left and the highest fort is pushed to the right. Other than that, there's no sorting of the forts. Then each player takes their identical decks of nine cards, made up of soldiers of varying values from 1 strength to 9 strength, again with unique abilities on them. Each player randomly removes two cards then decides how they're going to play six of the seven remaining. These are placed face-down in a row and will be revealed one-by-one. Everyone flips their left-most unrevealed card simultaneously and whoever has the highest total takes the left-most fort and discards all their face-up cards. If there's a tie, no one gets the fort and you move on to your next card. This repeats until you've gone through the six cards.

This sounds boringly straight-forward but there are a couple things that takes this simple concept and makes it into a real game. First, notice I said only the winner of the fort clears their face-up cards. Everyone else however is slowly building up value. Besides being a balancing factor, it's huge for the strategy of the game which comes into play when you consider the abilities on each card. For example, the 9 strength card, of which there is two (there's no 8), gets discarded if multiple players play them at the same time. This really makes you question if people are going to play it on that 8 point fort and you'll end up screwing each other. The 6 strength card doesn't allow you to capture a card on the turn it is flipped. This is great to play when a negative card is coming up or to build up a high value to get that fort you really want or to play a 1 which, if you win on the turn it is played, lets you take any fort instead of just the left-most one. Last example, the 2 card lets you reorder your remaining face-down cards. This is especially helpful when someone ties for a fort since it throws everyone's timing off and now you might have your 9 card flipping on a negative card!

As you can tell, the game really shines on the interplay between abilities and the second-guessing of what your opponents will be doing. Plus, you get all of this in a game the size of a deck of cards and takes maybe 15 minutes to play. After checking this game out of the library on Friday my girlfriend and I really enjoyed our second play. (Our first game was a bit odd because we both played nearly identical cards making for many draws which was made even more screwy when I misread the rules on draws.) We actually then got to play a round with Eric, when he stopped by when he saw his game being played, which was neat. We even played the game again later in the weekend as it became a go-to filler, along with Love Letter, and then decided to pick up a copy. You won't find yourself playing this game for hours but for a great little filler, this is one I definitely recommend.

Play Again? YES! thumbsupthumbsup
A surprising amount of content makes this a very satisfying filler.
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Wed May 29, 2013 1:55 am
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Play Again? Space Cadets and VOC!

Brian Pilnick
United States
San Jose
California
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I've not played many new games the last couple weeks due to, well, not playing many games. And when I was gaming, it seemed to always include The New Era. whistle I did manage to squeak in Space Cadets though so my thoughts on that are below. And this weekend is KublaCon so you can look forward to posts about what I see there.

Other than that, I'm going to start adding impressions of games I've had around for a while. I'm going to try to get new plays in on those (at least the ones I'd play again) before writing about them so at least they're fresh in my mind. This also gives me a good excuse to give a bit more critical eye to games in my collection so I can start cutting it down. Now, on to the games!

Space Cadets (1.5 Plays)
I hesitate to comment on this game so quickly but this is the point of my rating scheme so here goes.

This one was an odd one. I'm sure most people on this site are familiar with this one but I'll give a little explanation. All the players are crew members on the bridge of a starship, ala Star Trek. The players cooperatively try to navigate, fight enemies and mine crystals all without blowing up their ship first. Each station is performed real-time, under a tight time limit, with a minigame of various difficulties. Engineering is playing a tile laying game trying to match icons, shields is playing a sort-of texas hold'em optimization game, weapons is playing Tangoes and shuffleboard and so on. Even before picking up this game, I was worried the minigames wouldn't provide much depth and once you mastered one, you'd be bored with it.

That's yet to be seen since there are 'advanced' concepts to add in later, but what I didn't expect was the learning curve on the game. I've heard many reports of the game going over very well at conventions and demos so I figured it must be a very low barrier to entry. Well, that wasn't exactly the case. I had each player watch their demo video that the designers have put online then skimmed through the rulebook to check for little details that might not have been in the videos. After all that, we still had a large number of questions and several of them still weren't 100% answered after checking the rules after the 30 seconds time limit was up. Adding to the confusion is that there are certain damage cards that force players to swap stations. I think it's a great idea but when trying to get the game going for the first time, everyone barely knew how to work their own stations, let alone someone else's so we ignored it.

There's also large variations between different stations in terms of difficulty and engagement. The helmsman has a lot of control over where the ship goes (hopefully under advisement from the captain) and engineering's results will greatly affect how much power people have the next round. On the flip side, sensors doesn't seem terribly engaged and the jump drive is a slow burn until it's needed at the very end. Similarly, the captain is the final word on tactics and decisions but doesn't actually do anything. And during the 30 second action phase, I, as captain, felt I'd only be distracting people if I started barking orders besides the general goals we set out before.

This may sound like I hated the game but I didn't. It was at times exciting and other times hilariously difficult (core breach anyone?) but I definitely want to try it again. With a game and a half under our belts (we were incredibly unlucky our first game and died on the second or third turn, hence the half), hopefully we'll do a bit better and get to see what everyone is raving about.

Play Again? Sure thumbsup
I'll definitely be trying this again but I doubt the entirety of my original crew will sign on for a second tour. Just don't stick me with the memory game again.


VOC! Founding the Dutch East Indies Company (2 Plays of advanced version)
Considering the last thread in this game's forums were in January then the one before that was in 2010, I'm going to assume most people are not familiar with this game. The game is about early trading in the East Indies for the two decades before the founding of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or VOC in Dutch). Each player is a merchant trying to earn fame and fortune in order to secure themselves a powerful position in VOC once it forms. Now despite the theme and the publisher, Splotter Spellen whose homepage states they create "deep, complex board games for strategy enthusuasts," and it's looks (I mean, seriously, look at that image on the right) this is in fact a very silly game. And it's definitely an under-the-radar gem.

So the core conceit of the game is that ships will be sailing for distant ports but sailing maps of the time were poor and there was no way to determine longitude. To represent this in the game, the captains must draw their path on small dry erase maps, pictured to the left. They must avoid ramming islands and deftly maneuver to port...all with their eyes closed. That's right, this is a dexterity game. But all is not hopeless, if other players have sailors on the ship you're piloting, they can help you out. For each sailor they have on board, they can say one command from these five: North, East, South, West, or Stop. If you hit something, everyone yells out "Land Ho!" and the captain gets thrown overboard. The following year/turn, the next sailor in line is captain! If a ship reaches a port, the goods available there, which are fixed and piece limited per port), get distributed among the merchants on board the ship. And if a ship returns home safely with goods, the players whose merchants were on board get the goods!

But there's of course some more wrinkles. In order to place sailors and merchants into ships, you must fill them from low rank to high rank. (It's slightly more complicated than this but I digress.) And there's of course incentive to place more merchants, but if someone has most of the sailors and very few merchants on a ship, they're not going to be inclined to actually return home with goods. Placing later is also a boon as you'll be more likely to captain the ship and get first dibs on goods. Knowing this, I've poached ships by placing the last sailor and merchant then heading to a port with only one good token. I managed to pick it up and return home meanwhile wasting everyone else's time.

Once you have goods, they are actually worthless unless you have a contract to fulfill or can sell them to another player. To get contracts, you must bid on the ones that appear occasionally for who thinks they could fulfill it first. If you think you can get it done earlier, you can steal the contract from another player. But beware because if you don't fulfill the contract by your promised year, you get hit with penalties! If you don't have any contracts, or can't fulfill them yet, you can store two goods and the rest are tossed. This encourages players to trade and sell goods. You can also make good money without ever fulfilling a contract by selling goods to other players who need it. If you time it well (ie, right before the deadline), they will likely pay you well.

So that's pretty much the game. The core draw is a very silly and hilarious dexterity game but built around it is a genuinely interesting set of mechanics. You show up for the sailing but stick around because there's actually meaningful decisions to be made. And really, I can't emphasize enough how silly this game is. There's quite a bit that's unintentionally hilarious as well, helped by the fact that we don't know how to speak Dutch. One of the ships name's is "De Maen" which we of course pronounce "Da Man." The first-player is the mayor, which in dutch is the Burgemeester. If you can't have fun saying that word we can't be friends. Oh, and I almost forgot, there's an entire game phase for scurvy. I'm five minutes into explaining the rules and "Phase 2: Scurvy!", complete with exclamation point, is already getting laughs.

All is not perfect though as I do have some minor quibbles. First, the game actually takes a while to play. Part of it is due to people taking 'practice strokes' before sailing and us not strictly enforcing the minute time limit on trading. Second, the component quality, other than the dry-erase maps, is not great. The money (daalders, heh) is single-sided thin cardboard, the cards are not normal material and the presentation of information is muddied. Replacing the photos of each good with a colored icon or cube would solve 75% of that last issue. The last issue is a weird one. It's possible for a malicious captain to keep a ship at sea for quite a long time just to deny other players access to their men. Scurvy will eventually kill the rouge captain but it only comes every three years and the evil player may have the second-in-command as well. We haven't had this issue yet but we have had players stall for one year just so a merchant on board would fail a contract but we feel that's entirely within the intent of the game.

Play Again? YES! thumbsupthumbsup
If ever a game cried out for a new edition, it's this one. But until then, I'll definitely keep playing this copy.
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Fri May 24, 2013 1:39 am
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Play Again? Hanabi, New Era, and Fortune and Glory

Brian Pilnick
United States
San Jose
California
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I've played a bunch of great games recently (spoilers!) but first, a reminder (for readers AND for me) of my experimental ratings scale for limited plays, based on how excited I am to play a game again. Down in the comments, please let me know what you thought of these game or what you think of my rating system. This is still very much an experiment for me.
Play again?
Never thumbsdownthumbsdown - You won't catch me playing this again by choice. Not many games will fall into this category as I'd probably not play it in the first place.
No thumbsdown - Disliked (or saw no replay value) but would play if others wanted.
Sure thumbsup - Liked (or saw potential to like) and would be interested in trying again.
Yes! thumbsupthumbsup - Enjoyed a lot, would definitely play again.


Hanabi (7+ Plays)

I'll come right out and say that I love this game. It's unlike any other game I've played. Each player can't see their own hand but can see everyone else's. On your turn you can play or discard a card from your hand or give information to another player based on a VERY limited set of options. The goal is to, as a team, complete five suited straights. It's a coop but it's also a shared brain-teaser. To do well, the game requires a good amount of logic and getting inside each others heads to make sure your limited clues are useful.

With an experienced group, the game plays fairly quickly and since you can play with just the deck of cards, it's very portable. (The published game uses stones or tokens as counters but I have a PnP deck with numbers printed on two cards that are a replacement.) I've pulled the game out of my jacket pocket and played a couple rounds recently. Also, the game supports 2-5 players. I've mostly played with 3 or 4 and one 2 player game. The 2 player game was fairly different and the strategy changes quite a bit I think.

I don't see this game being the center of a game night but it's a fantastic little game. I'm even considering buying extra copies to leave in the car or to gift to friends, just so it'll be at their place.

Play Again? YES! thumbsupthumbsup
I probably have enough plays and confidence in this game to do a real review rather than a 'Play Again' style quick take but oh well.


The New Era (2 Plays)
A combination of several smaller things led me to pick up this game recently. First off is designer Ignacy Trzewiczek's very amusing and sometimes insightful blog. I especially liked this post about him teaching The New Era to his wife. I also enjoy Neuroshima Hex! now and again and New Era takes place in the same universe. Lastly, I've always wanted to like Race for the Galaxy.

Tangent alert. Several of my gamer buddies love RftG. Absolutely love it. They played it to death. Except it won't die. They keep adding in expansions and making the game more and more complicated and they keep improving their scores higher and higher. The last time I played Race, my final score was about 13. The winner score was something like 70. I'm fine losing, especially to veterans, but being absolutely crushed is just discouraging. Plus I had to decipher every single card I drew; there are a ridiculous number of icons once you mix in several expansions. So the bottom line is I don't play Race. Now back on target.

In my little bit of research, New Era seemed a bit like RftG but with an easier learning curve (after you get past the poor rulebook and play two rounds) and more importantly, my friends hadn't mastered it yet.

Well, after my two plays (one of which I consider more of a learning game since we screwed so much up) I'm really looking forward to playing the game again. It scratches so many gaming itches and all fits together so it scratches them all well. It's got tableau building, card drafting, engine construction, a good amount of player interaction, a touch of worker placement, etc. And below all of this, the theme is actually still visible. It's not tied to the theme, as in you can probably easily retheme it, but buildings do what you'd expect and make sense. It's enough that when someone has some synergy in their machine, the theme cements it. Obviously you want to take the output from your oil fields and sell them at a gas station for VPs, it just makes sense!

Play Again? YES! thumbsupthumbsup
This is definitely a game I can see exploring for a while. And when we're ready, I can always add in the expansion, Winter.


Fortune and Glory: The Cliffhanger Game (1 play)
I had heard about this game, saw good rankings and seen many fans of the publisher so when it came up at auction at a very reasonable price, I ignored the questionable box art and I figured I'd try it out. The game is very much trying to channel Indiana Jones as you're jetting around the world and dodging dangers to recover artifacts while collecting gear all the while fighting Nazis as they try to recover artifacts for their own occult purposes. While playing, I actually commented that Fortune and Glory reminded me most of Arkham Horror due to the coop nature, running around closing portals and fighting enemies while collecting gear. Interestingly, the game has a competitive mode and a cooperative mode. My single play was cooperative as I figured it'd be a better way to learn the game together. So far so good but what about the mechanics? The game basically boils down to an over-complicated push your luck game. Nearly everything you do is determined by a draw of a card or a roll of the dice. And the few decisions in the game are not difficult as the penalties for failure are not often that great.

I really wanted to like this game. It's got great production values (nice thick cards, a bucket load of unique figures, etc), an underused theme and c'mon, what other game has a deck for "Enemies" AND "Nazi Enemies"? I also loved how the game generates the names of the artifacts by combining two cards like "The Dagger"+"of the Gods." Now, it's possible some of the race mechanics would kick in a bit better if playing competitively but the bottom line is that the game is too fiddly, with many small rule modifiers to remember, and too long for what effectively comes down press your luck and dice rolling. I could see this being a great family game as it's fairly simple and generates some amusing stories but the final nail in the coffin for me is the HUGE box size. This is the largest box in my collection by far and frankly, I'm at the point where storage space has to be taken into account.

Play Again? Never thumbsdownthumbsdown
Ok, so it wasn't all great gaming recently. I debated if this was a 'No' or a 'Never' largely on the basis that maybe competitive would be better but when push comes to shove, I'd rather play something else. I also considered if I'd pull this out when playing with non-gamers but the fiddlyness would probably turn them away so I'd likely default to a different coop before this. If you want a more detailed review, I agree with this one to a T.
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Tue May 7, 2013 4:45 pm
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Rebooting and Such: Taluva, Isla Dorada, and Kings of Air and Steam

Brian Pilnick
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San Jose
California
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It's been nearly a year since my last post and a lot has changed in that time. Moving and changing jobs being the biggest examples. In an effort to revive this blog, I'm going to attempt shorter posts with more of a journal feel of what I'm playing and what I'm looking forward to. I'm going to experiment with some alternative rating systems also since many of these games will only have a handful of plays and I don't feel comfortable giving them an 'official' rating. See the bottom of the post for my current scale.

To that end, here's a couple impressions on games I've played recently.

Taluva(4 plays)

The first thing that drew my attention to this game was all the gorgeous photos of what the game looked like, just look to the right for an example. I picked this up a little over a week ago and have already gotten in several plays. It's surprisingly fun and challenging for such a short and, dare I say, simple game. Part of what I really enjoy about it is how the rules are very simple but organically create interesting geography and settlements. There's a good amount of planning you can do to figure out how you're going to grow your settlements and the board, especially vertically (another great aspect you don't see often), but it's never onerous because the game is guaranteed to end by a certain point not too far int he future and other people are always messing with your plans.

The closest parallel to another game I can make is probably to Carcassonne as it has the same "draw a tile, play a tile, place something on the board" turn structure. The tiles are very different, placement rules are different, especially with the third dimension, and the buildings are completely different but it still fires some of the same neurons. Maybe because it's new, maybe it's because I've played Carcassonne a lot, but right now I'd play Taluva over Carc every time. One big plus is that Taluva with four feels good but I refuse to play Carc with more than two.

Play again? YES! thumbsupthumbsup


Isla Dorada(1 play)

This is an odd game. Everyone moves as a group and bids on which direction to move. Everyone has certain areas they'd like to avoid for fear of negative points and areas they'd like to go to collect treasure and complete secret missions for positive points. Different path types, mountain, desert, water, etc, require different 'currency' to bid on them. Collecting that currency is much like the card drafting and set collection of Ticket to Ride.

So far it sounds fine but, at least for me, the pieces didn't come together to make something compelling. The game is limited to 16 turns but I really only cared which direction we moved on maybe 6 of them. A further two of those I didn't have the correct currency to actually do anything about it. So in the end, other than selecting which mission and treasures to keep, I don't feel I made many decisions. Yet I won, even with people starting to pick on me by the end. So yeah, this game fell pretty flat for me. Candice also strongly disliked the game because in those couple times where she cared about the auction, she got picked on and outbid and screwed over.

Play again? No thumbsdown


Kings of Air and Steam(1 play)

This is another game that fell a bit flat. Before getting into this more, I need to add a disclaimer that we got a rule wrong that affected market prices of goods. None of us in the game felt it would have drastically changed what any of us did. In fact, for the first couple turns it possibly could have made my repetitive actions even more straightforward.

I can see some potential for the game but it feels similar enough to other games, that I know are good, so I can't see myself ever asking to play this one again. It's a fairly simple pick up and deliver game with fixed tracks and locations. Apparently the citizens of this games are terrible at business though because no factories are connected to the rail system that connects EVERY city in the world. Instead of building the factories closer or extending the rails, they decided to make airships. Ok, fine, I've swallowed larger inconsistencies than that before. Moving on.

You can upgrade your train to deliver further and upgrade you airship to carry more cargo or get more movement options through an odd programmed movement mechanic. Had we had more competition on the board, the programmed movement may have had a larger impact when someone else grabs what you want but as it was, it typically only mattered because someone miscounted something and then had to waste turns to fix it. The game also had this weird property where later in the game, once a city was mostly filled and you're generally collecting many cubes at once, it wasn't worth using up an action to deliver there again because they can only hold one or two more goods. Lastly, while the game is obviously trying to aim for the lighter side of the spectrum, on the last turn or so, you can really start counting VPs and attempting to optimize your turns. Since you need to program movements in advance, this creates a long downtime while you eek out one or two more points from the, at this point, deterministic game. Luckily everyone is thinking at the same time but the optimization seemed out of place for the game. In the end, I walked away wanting to play Railways of the World.

Play again? No thumbsdown


Experimental Rating Scale (subject to change )
Feel free to skip this section, I just wanted to lay out a rough scale I can use to rate games after limited plays. The idea is basically to rate it based on my desire to play it again.
Play again?
Never thumbsdownthumbsdown - You won't catch me playing this again by choice. Not many games will fall into this category as I'd probably not play it in the first place.
No thumbsdown - Disliked (or saw no replay value) but would play if others wanted.
Sure thumbsup - Liked (or saw potential to like) and would be interested in trying again.
Yes! thumbsupthumbsup - Enjoyed a lot, would definitely play again.
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Mon Apr 29, 2013 8:21 pm
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KublaCon and Prototypes (Part 2)

Brian Pilnick
United States
San Jose
California
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Since I am apparently incapable of brevity, this is Part 2 of my KublaCon writeup. Part one can be found here.

The next things I wanted to get down all involved Martin Wallace. I saw him around the convention a couple times but never even heard him speak until I went to his "What's new with Martin Wallace" talk.

I need to pause for a moment here to set my expectations because it's what was immediately and continually on my mind when interacting with him. If you're unfamiliar with Martin Wallace's games, click his name and take a look. Beyond immediately noticing he has seven games in the top 100, you may notice that most of his games are relatively heavy wargames or economic games. This was never a conscience thought but due to the nature of his games and him being British (don't judge me, I don't know) I expected a very serious, maybe even intense, individual. Basically I was imagining him as German. Back to the story.

I was running a few minutes late to the talk and hopped in an elevator to head upstairs and just before the doors close, into the elevator pops Martin. I do a small double take and check his badge to make sure I actually know what Martin Wallace looks like. He comments that lunch ran late and I sarcastically reply that I'm relived I'm not late to his talk. He responds that I'll have to walk in first so he can be fashionably late. My expectation of an exacting individual is already shattered.

His talk covered many topics and upcoming games but I will not go through it all in detail since I didn't take notes and I don't believe there was much that was unknown. I did find it particularly amusing that he started his description of Mythotopia as describing it as a cash-in game. Mythotopia (not the final name by the way, apparently it means some naughty things in some European languages) is a reimplementation of his system in A Few Acres of Snow. Mythotopia supports multiple players (four I believe) and has elements, namely randomized starting decks and locations, to prevent another Halifax Hammer. (Jesse Dean has a good summary of that here.) It also struck me how freely Martin admitted that A Few Acres of Snow is broken. He outright admits that the game is broken and it is impossible to fix because, as he explains, fixing it would require changing the initial state of the game or completely removing the actual way the British won the war. Both options would destroy the historical accuracy that the game was designed around.

The other upcoming games Martin mentioned were an unnamed Civil War game with some interesting mechanics, a game called P.I. (which is a combination of Clue and Mastermind) and of course Doctor Who: The Card Game. This immediately got the attention of my girlfriend, Candice, as she is a huge fan of the current series.

Later that day, after getting embarrassingly lost, Candice and I attended a playtest session with Martin. Once he set up a couple people with the Civil War, he sat us down with Doctor Who! There's not much information I've seen on this game yet (other than this thread) so I'll give a brief rundown of the game. Please excuse any mistakes as we only played once and it was now several days ago. We also played with a prototype deck and although the game was finalized, I may use different terms than the final graphics use. Feel free to ask for more info on anything though.

In the game, each of the three to fours players (note: I asked him about two player and he admitted it may work but it hadn't been playtested) play both as attackers and defenders. Each player starts with one location card in their play area and will (hopefully) gain more as the game progresses. These locations are all places and times from the series that fans will recognize, of course. The players will defend the locations in their area while attacking the locations in other players areas. Each location is worth a certain amount of points for the owner which is either the player whose area the card is in or, if an attack against it still exists at the end of the game, the owner of that attack.

The goal is fairly straight forward but the card play is a little more involved. At the start of your turn, you should have five cards. You can play as many as you like as long as you have three cards remaining. (Yes, I know that sounds like "play two cards" but be patient.) Once you are done, you pass three cards to the player on your right and draw two cards. Martin freely admits he took this drafting mechanic from 7 Wonders. This of course has the effect of forcing you to decide what cards you want to play just so your opponent doesn't get them. The other thing you can do instead of playing cards is banking them. (I forget what the actual game term is.) You have a limit of two cards banked but it effectively lets you have a shorter turn earlier so a better turn later. For example, on your first turn, you bank two cards then pass the other three. You've taken no actions. Next turn however, you have your two drawn cards, the three passed to you plus the two in your bank. If you don't want to bank anything this turn, you can play up to four cards this turn!

The cards generally fall into four categories: attackers, defenders, locations and support cards. Attackers and defenders are obviously played onto location cards and are used in a very simple blind combat mechanism that I won't go into detail on unless asked (basically which facedown stack has the higher total). Attackers are series enemies such as daleks or cybemen while the defenders are the doctor, Amy Pond, River Song and Rory. The simple resolution felt right for the game and actually has some interesting play with stacking rules and facedown bluffs.

Location cards are what they sounds like and are played to your play area as new locations. Support cards are special actions that might reveal an attacker, enlarge your bank or gain you some time points. (More on that in a second.) Martin is very proud of getting a Jammie Dodger card into the game that cancels any attack. He obviously a fan of the show was very excited when Candice and I got the reference. Yet another time when my expectation of him was very wrong.

Time points are rewards for certain actions in the game. Many locations give a time point or two when placing it and there are many support cards that grant them. The primary purpose of them is that five time points may be exchanged for a card draw. This is yet another way to get a larger turn than two cards.

While the theme is far from inseparable from the game, it's also far from pasted on. Many small touches, like Rory having a 'run away' ability or the Jammie Dodger, make it obvious the game was designed for Doctor Who. There's even a Pandorica card that immediately defeats the Doctor but is immediately defeated by Amy or Rory. For those curious, the vast majority of the cards are from the 11th Doctor. There are a handful of enemies that I didn't recognize but that was it. Martin is hoping the game is successful enough to warrant a 50th anniversary edition next year featuring classic Doctors and companions.

Let me wrap this up with explaining Martin's intent with licensed games as he described during his talk. First, only half-jokingly, he said he was tired of being poor and wanted to make some money off his games. Then he explained that his goal is to expand the gaming hobby. He wants to take geeky licenses, like Doctor Who or Discworld, and make decent games about them. Apparently the vast majority of licensed boardgames, besides being junk, are bought as gifts then played only once, if that. Martin instead wants to make a game that these fans will want to play over and over and potentially expand into 'mainstream' boardgames. And maybe some gamers will like the game too because it's not half-bad. I think this is a fantastic plan as everyone wins. We get a decent if not terribly deep game, the license fans get a great game by their standards, we introduce new players to our hobby, and Martin Wallace get paid.

And I honestly think he has succeeded. I know Candice wants this game already and I won't be embarrassed to have it in our collection. Plus, I'm sure it'll be a great game to suck some unsuspecting fans in with.

Sidenote: While at KublaCon, we sat in on a recording of the Garrett's Games and Geekiness podcast with Martin Wallace, Susan McKinley Ross, and Scott 'Aldie' Alden. Part 2 of that episode was just posted here. The podcast will definitely give you a good idea of Martin's sense of humor. Plus, you'll actually hear me towards the end ask a question on ripoffs vs inspiration.
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Mon Jun 4, 2012 5:58 pm
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KublaCon and Prototypes (Part 1)

Brian Pilnick
United States
San Jose
California
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This past weekend, my girlfriend and I attended KublaCon. This marks the first convention either us have been to for the primary reason being boardgames. Not an important note, just tracking my descent into the hobby.

I initially wasn't going to post anything about our experiences as I'm sure better writers have already written enough about anything we saw. A friend asking if I was blogging the con and seeing a lack of info on some of the games I saw both turned me around. I will keep this fairly brief but (that failed) please feel free to ask for more details or clarifications on anything.

First, we'll start with the name-dropping. Martin Wallace and James Ernest were both special guests of the con and I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time with both of them and play some of their prototypes. We also bumped into Scott Alden and Seth Jaffee but never had a chance to go beyond some quick conversations.

It actually felt like I spent half of the con with James Ernest who you may know as the founder of Cheapass Games. I spent a couple hours each day on Saturday and Sunday playing his prototypes and made three or four of his seminars. I'm sure he was tired of seeing me walk in the room but he was always friendly and approachable. His seminars were mostly about aspects of his particular design process like designing to a theme, how to include luck in a game and how to bake fun into a game. I've toyed with the idea of designing a game (and have a notepad with a bunch of ideas) and his talks were very useful in diagnosing my own reasons for never getting past that first idea.

I got to play three of his prototypes were were in various stages of completion. Get Lucky is going to be the most recognizable and also the game I enjoyed the most. Just like the boardgame it's based on, in this card game, you're trying to kill Doctor Lucky. Instead of bouncing around rooms in his mansion however, he is taking turns visiting various guests in order, of which each player may control two. It makes a good balance between chaos and order that he is taking a predictable path (until people mess with it) but that path is totally unrelated to the player turn order. On your turn you try to beef up your characters so that your future murder attempts, which occur whenever he is visiting you during your turn, will be more powerful. During an attempt, everyone else then gets one opportunity to play cards, as luck, to fowl the murder attempt. There are of course a couple extra details, like certain cards being an instant quash for certain characters and attract cards to bring the doctor to you, that add enough chaos to foil any well laid plans and of course to add in a bit of hilarity. Also of note is that James made a few significant changes Saturday night based on our feedback and the game on Sunday was a much better game. Even as is, it's a game I would recommend keeping an eye on and I'm sure James will still be improving it.

We also played a stock trading game called Panic! (unrelated to Don't Panic!) which, on the surface, looks a bit like Pit. There are N+1 commodities, each with cards valued from 1-10 and your goal is to hold cards with the highest value. You bid for the right to peek at a few cards in the marketplace which gives you an idea of what will be worth less (and very likely negative). You pay your bid by then publicly locking in cards into your final hand. You pass cards around then do the next round. After three of these, everyone discards a bunch of cards to the market and you see where prices landed and the value of your hand. The game worked but it did feel like it was missing a little bit of something. James informed me the next day that he actually remembered a rule wrong so it could easily have been because of that. I think the greatest thematic touch in the game however, is that since you're all investment bankers, you each get a million points each round plus or minus your final hand score. This leads to final scores like 3,000,021 to 2,999,993. Completely pointless but completely hilarious.

The last game I played with James was called Acolyte. This is a Cthulhu themed party game that plays like Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity. The judge will play a card that they feel is what is wrong with the world and the others will play a card that they feel would be the best solution. The game is still very early but I will point out a few things that make it stand out from the two games just listed. First, the solutions and problems are all from the same deck. This sounds simple but it mixes it up a bit and, when you see the topics on the cards, says a bit about the humor in the game. Second, each player also gets a "junior god" that they are an acolyte of but their exact purpose is being tweaked. Third, the judge each turn can modify pretty much any rules they want. During our session, we had judges allow two solutions to be played together, a random solution from the draw pile be allowed, or the rule I tweaked, that the judge played a solution and each player had to play a problem that solution may fix. (Yet another reason a combined deck makes sense.) Finally, whenever you win a hand, you get a card to track your score but these cards also add a rule or restriction to the game. Some may make you pass point cards around or force you to stop arguing about rules (yes, seriously) while others are far more silly and require you to name-drop a celebrity every turn or continually remind people there are ten minutes remaining. If you fail to follow the rules and someone catches you, they can steal that card, and the corresponding point. This wasn't quite my cup of tea but my girlfriend actually commented two days later that she really enjoyed it and was still thinking about it.

Ok, this post is already far longer than I anticipated so I'll come back with a couple follow up posts to cover Martin Wallace, including impressions of Doctor Who: The Card Game(!), impressions of some already released games we were able to try from the library, and other random notes from KublaCon. That will also give me a chance to upload the few photos I took over the weekend and hopefully drop them in the blog.
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Wed May 30, 2012 10:02 pm
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NBG First Take: Rex: Final Days of an Empire

Brian Pilnick
United States
San Jose
California
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[Bear with me as I try to figure out a format I'm comfortable with for this and all of my posts. Until I find something better, this will be largely unstructured.]

So much for posting every week. Oops. Anyway, last week a friend of mine made an impromptu purchase of Rex: Final Days of an Empire. Since this game was already on my radar, I of course agreed to get in on the first game. This is part session report and part review after that one game. (Technically two. I'll explain.) I won't be explaining the rules in detail so some familiarity with Rex may help. When I mention locations on the map, I'll also list it's sector number so you can follow along on the map you see below.

I feel I should note here that while this same friend actually owns a copy of Dune, none of us had played it before. I was familiar with it before Rex but never got as far as reading rules.

Just from reading the rules, I immediately saw similarities with two other games from the same designers, Borderlands (BL) and Cosmic Encounter (CE), both of which I've played. (I had a copy of Borderlands custom made and I've played the Fantasy Flight version of Cosmic Encounter). Surprisingly, the rules seemed closer to CE in many ways than BL.

The battles in both Rex and CE are one of the more surprising similarities. To simplify a bit, they are both determined by the number of units, which is public, added to a bit of hidden information. In CE, that's a battle card and in Rex it's a leader. The leaders have far less variance, roughly 1-6, than the CE battle cards, roughly 0-40, so you'd think battles would be a little more predictable but you'd only be partially right. Rex also adds in traitor cards that can instantly win you a battle if your opponent plays the exact leader you happen to have the card of. There are also strategy cards that will kill the opposing leader.

Racial abilities are also a bit reminiscent of CE in that everyone gets some game-breaking ability and some have alternate win conditions. The biggest difference of course being that the powers in Rex are fixed from game-to-game. In an interesting twist, when you ally with another player in Rex, you get access to small part of their powers.

Moving on to the session. We had four players and all of us learned the game that night together. Our first game barely counted as Brian (yes, another Brian, rest assured I don't refer to myself in the third person), as Jol-Nar, did a bit of a sucker-punch on us. He rushed three strongholds for the win in the second round while the rest of us apparently overvalued the spice (err...influence) that had appeared and fought over that.

The Game Board
After a quick reset, we started again slightly wiser. Those of us who started with strongholds made a bit more effort to hold on to them this time. The first 4 rounds or so were fairly unremarkable as we were all settling in and scoping each other out. As the Sol player, I had an extra win condition if the game timed-out after 8 rounds and I held the Imperial Palace (16), so I encouraged this. There were some decisive battles but no one gained any momentum to carry them towards closure. On round 4 or 5 however, we drew a temporary cease-fire which allows for alliances to be made or broken.

A quick side-note at this point: While I appreciate limiting alliance creation to prevent immediate or flimsy alliances, we all thought it a bit limiting that we only drew one of these cards the entire game. It's hard to get the backstabbing we expected when you're prohibited from doing so. Maybe the optional betrayal cards would give us that but, from the rules, they seems rather dryly implemented.

During the cease-fire, Lee (Barony of Letnev) and Adam (Universities of Jol-Nar) decided to form an alliance. Brian (Lazax Empire) and I (Federation of Sol) were initially wary of an alliance however since we just fought a rather bitter battle over a massive stack of 16(!) spice. (Deal with it. It's what we kept calling it. It's much easier to say than 'influence.') We decided that standing alone may just make us weaker against the other two however so we did team up.

Here is where the game really got interesting. From the windfall of 16 spice and a couple other lucky breaks, combined with Sol'd little need for money from free deployments, I was sitting on quite a bankroll of expendable spice. Lee, as the Letnev, got double the strategy cards whenever he bought one so during the next bidding phase, Brian and I quickly put a plan into action to deny Lee and Adam any cards at all. This process went a bit like this:
1Brian would calculate how much money he would need this next turn to recruit and deploy all his troops.
2I would bid on the first card whatever amount Brian needed. His race meant my bid would go to him.
3Brian would bid on the second card and his money would go to the bank.
4I would bid on the third card, refilling Brian's money to the needed amount.
5The last card, I would get for free using the Lazax ally advantage which allowed Brian once per round to give me any amount of money to use on bidding which would of course go directly back to him.

The Bombardment Fleet
Another side note: The bidding is done on face-down cards so you never know what you're buying (other than the Jol-Nar of course). This is necessary so your opponents don't know what cards you have but it makes countering certain weapons nearly impossible. If someone wins a battle, they may keep their cards and use the same weapon over and over. Ideally, the counter card would pop up at some point and people would fiercely vie for it but it can't happen the way the game works. This was another oddity we didn't quite agree with.

Using this strategy, Lee and Adam got only a single card for three or four rounds. I had the perfect amount to outbid him on that last card but Lee desperately bid all 10 of his remaining spice on the last turn so I let him have it. That move then meant that, while Lee received two cards, he had no money left to deploy troops. Largely due to card denial, we were able to dominate the board. They had quite a few military victories over me in particular but whatever momentum they had fell apart in the face of our economic power. There were two battles that, had they gone differently, could have forced a stalemate but Brian and I pulled them out by a hair with some careful planning.

A major turning point also occurred around phase 5 or 6. As the Sol player, I could see where the bombardment fleet would move to next round. Each zone on the map generally had two locations, one where spice would flow and one that was shielded from bombardment. Each stronghold falls on the shielded locations. Adam had just built a rather large force, around 12 units, in the Imperial Navy Base (18) which also gave him increased unit movement. The Sol fleet was one space behind this providing a convenient blockade towards my Imperial Palace(16). I peek at the bombardment deck and, to my delight, see a 1. I'm immediately disappointed however remembering the shield over the Navy Base. Adam would lose a couple units stationed in the IAF HQ (18) but nothing more. During the bidding phase, one of the 3 cards I happened to win was to sabotage shields in any location I had at least one unit before the battle phase. A plan quickly formed in my head and I switched on my best poker face. I moved the 2 units I had sitting in the Galactic Council into the Navy Base. Up against the 12 units there, Adam wasn't worried except for possibly losing a leader to a weapon. Upon revealing my sabotage card however, my poker face cracked and he immediately knew the next fleet movement would be a 1. To add insult to injury (and to add some incredible thematic flair) I also played a tactical retreat which sent my units and leader back to my reserve instead of to their certain death. This was by far my favorite moment of the game, having sent in a commando squad behind enemy lines to take down a shield generator and then tactically retreating just before the bombardment begins. That's a story I'll remember for a while.

If you hadn't guessed by this point, Team Brian had a decisive victory in this game. We ended round 8 with all four strongholds and Lee and Adam having zero board presence. (To be fair, I barely had one since I went 'all-in' in all my battles.)

A Battle Dial
Conclusion: Overall, I greatly enjoyed the game but I'm not too sure how excited I am for repeated plays. The biggest thing to entice me back is to try out other races but there are elements none of us were crazy about. Besides the two things I mentioned in notes above (limited alliances and blind purchases), we also didn't like how difficult it was to really control any area on the board due to being allowed to move through enemies. It's necessary due to only allowing one move and one deployment each turn but it made the area control feel weak. I'm also not a huge fan of the flowchart design of the board itself. You can find some fan designed boards in the gallery that shows it's not terribly far-fetched to have done it differently. On a similar note, the bombardment fleet looks awesome but it's a bit silly and overkill for something that could have been a large token. Turn order was also more important than I'd like. With four players and eight rounds, it kinda balances out but certain tricks or moves we pulled off depended on the specific turn order that round. Having gotten burned on this in a recent game of Eclipse, it's not something I like to see repeated. Finally, some of the thematic elements seemed a bit odd (why do I gain influence for assassinating an enemy leader but not normally killing him?) and everyone agreed that Dune was probably a better setting than the TI universe despite there being a huge TI buff in the game.

On the other hand, the game had several elements I'd love to see more often, especially the battle dials. I love that you need to decide how many forces to commit to a battle and have those taken out. Do you go all-in to ensure a victory but also ensure you lose all your units? Or do you commit just enough to beat what you anticipate your opponent doing? If you guess wrong, you'll lose and end up destroying all your units, and leader, regardless! I also liked, just like CE, that each player breaks the game in some way but is still seemingly balanced.

In the end, I'd love to see a game that split the difference between Rex and Borderlands. Borderlands is heavy and computationally exacting but has excellent area control and fluid alliances complete with terrible backstabbing. If you could fuse that with Rex's battle dial tension, looser economics and player powers, I'd be on board in a heartbeat. Does such a game already exist? Let me know in the comments.
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Tue Apr 3, 2012 1:13 am
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