Chances are you just clicked on my Games Owned or Commented, saw a bunch of Munchkin stuff and recoiled in disgust.
It's not what you think, honest!
I assure you I am a discerning gamer who lives for true strategery and decisions so meaningful they make grown men weepy. I must admit, however, that I do enjoy "stupid fun" just as much as a rarified mind-fight.
So, the Munchkin thing: It's a sweet little bonbon when played by 3 or 4 RPG geeks inside 45 minutes as a storytelling/party game. And while you could play it with 6 angry people for a multi-hour marathon of boredom, bile and eye-biting I can't in any way recommend that.
With that out of the way I bid you welcome to my Carnival of Comments—where the Strong Man has a pituitary disorder, the Bearded Lady isn't, and the Geek strangles hobos on his day off.
After just three plays I don't feel qualified to rate this... the game hasn't opened it's "magic box" to me just yet.
It seems *fun enough* but every time I'm left with a "is that all there is?" feeling.
UPDATE: After sitting down to play this again over bowls of tortilla soup and Thai veggie stew I get the impression it's more of an activity than a game over which you can exert much control. Tick the "throwing cards with friends and family" box.
Truly *fun enough* but waaay too random to take seriously or bother burning brain cells over.
Though rife with shocking nudity and Masonic devilry, the game functions well enough for what it is, a "super-filler" that hosts up to seven players in 30 minutes. It's pretty, engaging, and the small decisions are nice. At the end you're rewarded with an awesome/mediocre/just-plain-sad tableau that tells the story of your soaring/forgotten/broke-ass civilization.
The game suffers grotesquely when players don't counter-pick—the player who manages to seat themselves between two milquetoasts will win with a shockingly massive score. We're talkin' 37-42-52-87-33 shocking.
"What the hell were you doing?!" I ask Ms. 87's neighbors.
They blink as if slapped. "I was building my civilization," they say.
"For the love of God," I rave, "Why did you keep passing her exactly what she needed?!"
"Well," they mumble, "I had other things to do."
"Yes," I gurgle through clenched teeth, "Like making sure she doesn't double all our scores!"
So, yeah, this game requires mouth-pooping in order to work. When everyone keeps a scatalogical eye on their neighbors—and even up- and downstream some—it's a nice little card drafting game that's over quickly enough that you don't notice the undigested corn.
When playing with people who refuse to poop in their neighbor's mouths, I strongly suggest you sit between two of them in order to maximize your score.
UPDATE: Much better (I'd rate it an 8) with the 7 Wonders: Leaders expansion. Leaders allow you to focus your strategy (just a little), or at least build some synergy. Or, with a poor selection, have hilariously random historical figures running your show. Hatshepsut in Rome?! ~LULZ
Fig. 1 — It could have been worse: it could have been a Masonic butt-tattoo.
I rate the base game a 7, but it's an 8 with Leaders thrown into the mix. If you're lucky, you get to pick leaders that work well with your civ's baseline goal (like Greek philosophers in Babylon, or generals in Rhodes) or at least people who work well together so you can build synergy across the ages. If you're unlucky, or have a neighbor who understands how to poop downstream, you'll end up with a cartoon mishmash of random historical figures.
"Hatshepsut running Rome? More like Hatshepsut's enraged mummy drinking Roman orphans all day!"
And WTF Archimedes:
Who the hell wears a towel in the bathtub? Puritans haven't been invented yet—I want sausage and a side of eggs with my historical references, please!
Purty as hell and has all the hallmarks of a classic Ameritrash filler: cool minis, art above and beyond the simple gameplay, death and humiliation. Looking very forward to this one, with expectations set to "appropriate".
Of course, the fact that this didn't come with pre-painted minis caused me to run around my mother's basement in a rage, wearing nothing but stained tighty-whities and red-faced indignation.
UPDATE: A ton of fun with the right mindset, e.g., played quickly as a simple push-your-luck filler. Played conservatively, thoughtfully, carefully... it blows. I've taken to screaming "RUN!!!" at people who treat their turn like they're setting up a zwischenzug.
Also, the boulder is the primary source of pressure in the game—when it's really rolling the game is tense and hilarious as people get popped and grease the kinetic groove with their innards. When the boulder rolls are low, the opposite is true. The game lags horribly. This makes the experience kind of hit or miss depending on those rolls.
In spite of these flaws (boring with conservative play and bad boulder rolls) The Adventurers hits the mark, at least as an occasional amusement.
UPDATE: Well, there's massive shrinkage in Hell—I picked up a copy and I'm actually looking forward to playing it!
UP-UPDATE: I can totally see how people can rate this a 10. It's charming and mildly haunting, and there are actually opportunities to dump a turd in the downstream player's punchbowl. "Yeah, I didn't need that food. I went fishing just to watch your kids starve."
Ultimately, though, this gets stuck in the dreaded 7 ghetto—good enough, but missing that special something. And that something is a theme that isn't farming.
UP-UP-UPDATE: After 17 plays I'm bumping this up to an 8. My wife loves it, and I find her enthusiasm for the game infectious. With two relatively experienced players—and wine—the game flies by; the struggle and decision-making is a pleasant diversion, and the tiny model farm you wind up with at the end is nifty.
FINAL ANALYSIS: All things being equal, the cards make or break the game. Either you get a fistful of synergy that showers you with freebies or you sit and watch someone else play that game. I suppose this could be mitigated with some kind of card draft or other time-consuming setup step, but really, the game isn't that deep or robust to support such shenanigans. This sensitivity to the vagaries of luck keeps the game firmly wedged in the "whipped dessert" category—very tasty, but ultimately nothing more than sugar and air.
Revising down to a 7 after 27 plays. Familiarity is bleeding this one out, especially after a brutal string of games with poor card draws. Also, the tension in the 5-player game is unpleasant, or, more correctly, is out of whack with the payoff for suffering it. There are only so many times you can circle the drain of reductive choice where it's pastry, pie, cookie, crumb, bowl of poop before losing your mind and fantasizing about rolling some dice and kicking in the door of the guy who wasted the sow space for baking and using the axe you invented on his family.
"You got Ceramics? I got Clogs, bitches! CLOOOGS!!!"
So far the 2p game is my favorite—it's over quickly enough that a bad hand is tolerable. Two or 3 players is definitely the sweet spot for this.
...aaand revising down to a 6 after 38 plays. Not timeless, not a classic, and it's about farming. Farming!
UP-UP-UP-UPDATE: 45 50 (!) plays, bumping it back up to a 7. My wife really, really loves it, and that softens my hard heart. Besides, our last game was really weird—I didn't try my usual min-maxing by following the script that always nets 40+ points—I went after a wheat baron's seven-room stone mansion with constant barbeques. Meanwhile, my wife deviated from her script as well, with the game ending up 24-21 in my favor. I like weird.
Finally, a solution to the 400-year-old problem of four-player farming... This "game" gets a well-deserved 1 for being the epitome of Euroslack; as a good gaming buddy always says when Euros hit the table (with a wet plop, I might add): "What am I in this one, a farmer?" It pulls a 1.11 for only being available in Ancient Atlantean (that crazy mouth-stumbling they call a "language")—note to the designer: I hope you make a bajillion dollars selling this to all those multitudes of Atlantis who are obviously going to be going game-nuts over it. Sheesh. [BGG CON III got played]
By all accounts this game is the Second Coming of Caylus With Three Testicles.* The tidal wave of hype surrounding this should be more than enough to obliterate the actions of 17 rogue BGGers. But I am intrigued by the fact that it only took 17 people (out of how many tens of thousands who traffic this site?) to rock the boat...
*Once upon a time, Caylus was the savage hotness, the blazing terminus that divided gamers into two camps—the lofty intelligentsia who breathed the Language of God and shat meaningful decisions and the drooling idiots who would mold dice out of poop and gamble with their own teeth on the outcome. In the decade between then and now (2005-2015) the turd-rollers won. They won.
How does it happen? How? How can a two-player game blow out like a prolapsed colon, 43-21? We started with the same potential, nothing but fertile humps of land and 14 cards and then... sudden bloody spandex.
THERE IS NO GOD
Man, I had plans... When I fanned those cards I saw a shining path straight out of subsistence farming and into a fancy stone house filled with thick-legged daughters who could pull plow and carry water. Instead I got a surfeit of freakishly large vegetables and one single, stunted scion.
Oh, but how the neighbors carried on, with their prize sheep and eating meat at every harvest with the progeny sliding straight out of the birth canal and into the pot. Clipped the cord with the lid, they did! Damn them all and their noisy lot, their pink-rubbed children all wearing clothing and such. As if!
The boy and I go now to bury these man-sized carrots beneath the waning Moon like five neat graves and we'll see which Dark Forces come for whom. Oh, we shall see...
The less that is said about the "Five (!) Begging Cards Incident" the better. After forty-some-odd games you'd think it was unthinkable—but there I was, helping a newb avoid disaster and starving children and BAM it was harvest time and me without any kind of food engine other than perhaps eating our own young. And so my offspring, my beloved child, haunted those woods as emaciated as a living skeleton, hollow-eyed and pantsless, with one withered arm bouncing uselessly against its side as it loped through the shadows.
And all the while those Others just watched and whispered, gathered round their groaning tables piled high with meat and veg in their cozy stone houses.
Disaster, I tell you, is the root of madness.
"Daddy," the children wail, "make food come out of the ground again like you did that one time!"
"Shut up, shut up!" I rage, drunk on fermented moss. "I swear I'll set this goddamn place on fire!"
"If only you knew how to start one," snorts my doughty farm-wife.
A novelty item that adds random weirdness to a relatively stodgy game, like using dice in chess. Agricola is no chess, but you get the idea. My opponent got several nice things while I got sent to gaol and cursed for butchering a tasty, tasty unicorn (-3 VP).
A mild, yet entertaining diversion. And, yes, you can say, "Oh, the humanity!" one too many times.
UPDATE: I really like this. You try to assemble the best zeppelin manufactory possible and then dice off like crazy to build more—and better—airships than anyone else. If you like rolling dice (and that "baby needs a new tank of Blaugas" feelin') and putting together machines of cascading card effects to let you roll more and different dice, and you happen to like zeppelins, too, this is worth a look.
It's pretty and actually more fun that it looks—all the various Frankenbits end up kind of working together, I guess... But this just really isn't my bag. Every goddamn thing gets you points, and we're all so busy drinking from the stinging gush of the point-hose that it's difficult to quickly gauge relative position until it suddenly stops and we're left standing there in the silence, blinking against the wet—soaked and dripping—and it turns out someone's more engorged than everyone else.
An RPG in a box, playable in a single evening. It's a lot of "pull a card and read the encounter" followed by lots of dice rolling. If either of those mechanics bother you, stay away. If you don't mind (and I certainly don't) then this is the best of the genre.
- A rich and detailed experience.
- High replay value.
- Cooperative play.
- Solo play!
- Art and production values to die for.
- A sprawling rulebook with almost no summary.
- Little rules that are easy to miss, and change the game when you get them wrong. (For example, we overlooked the fact that closing a gate banishes all monsters with like symbols. This made a lot of really awful monsters hang around much longer than they would have otherwise.) Expect to play the game incorrectly several times.
- The final battle is nothing but dice. (Who knew Nyarlathotep could be defeated by nothing more than the world's longest Yahtzee game?)
- It's long. Really, really long.
Arkham Horror is thick, meaty and completely immersive. This also means it takes a while, but that's not always a bad thing. It fills an evening to brimming with blood, terror and good clean fun. Recommended for players who enjoy the Call of Cthulhu RPG.
UPDATE: After several plays, the game is becoming easy—almost too easy. With a crack team of selfless, team-playing RPGers it's a pretty simple thing to win by sealing six gates or closing all gates while having the requisite gate trophies for victory. This drops the game to a 7, but it still gets the extra point for the whole Mythos thing (and the fact that it's easily handicapped).
UP-UPDATE: I have realized, with much dismay, that there really is no "horror" in Arkham Horror. It is extremely rare for anyone to get devoured, so much so that no one really ever worries about it at all. Also, the characters don't "wear out" like they do in the RPG—they are not eroded by repeated contact with the mentally-corrosive Mythos. Again, house rules will fix this (by having max sanity reduced by 1 every time you fail a Will check), but still, I shouldn't have to put the horror in Arkham... It shoulda been there in the first place.
My rating holds at an 8 for all the kicks in the knickers we get out of the experience, but just barely.
UP-UP-UPDATE: Forget all the whining. The expansions fix everything and take the experience to a well-deserved 10. So, an 8 for the base game, a 10 with any expansion (especially Dunwich—goddamn Dunwich).
ALSO: Have the First Player act as the "Interim Keeper" by drawing and reading encounter cards for all players. Makes it way more fun when you don't know what your choice (or failure) will bring when you have to make a decision. Allows for more storytelling, too.
FINALLY: I will always use the Injury & Madness cards from Dunwich and the Final Battle cards from Kingsport in every play.
PS. Played once with 8p—NEVER AGAIN. The sweet spot is most definitely 4p.
The Nyarlathotep expansion—we play with the Big N and the Dark Pharaoh herald.
Played this once, and incorrectly. The experience was... diluted. Looking forward to playing this for reals.
UPDATE: The problem with the first play was running the Permanent Exhibit with all the cards shuffled into the base game. This made the Dark Pharaoh cards very rare and the game near-indistinguishable from a base scenario. For our second play we used only the DP cards (replacing the Mythos, Gate and Arkham Encounter decks) and it made for a sweet bit of ugly: things looked utterly bleak by turn two, and when Nyarlathotep arrived (something that never happens to us anymore in the base game) we had only shut a single gate. Two players got scrubbed and it literally came down to the wire before we beat him back and shut him out of our world.
The Yog-Sothoth expansion—we play with the Big Y and Dunwich Horror herald.
Better than the base game alone, if by "better" I mean more uncontrollable wailing with less courageous investigators begging the brave for sweet release.
The new Injury & Madness cards are great—now when you go to zero Stamina or Sanity you can choose to dump half your stuff (Items & Clues) or end up with a crippled something-or-other or a mental illness instead. Ha-ha! That'll learn ya!
We play with one expansion at a time, so, Dunwich Horror alone, with Yog-Sothoth as the Great Old One...
The Dreamlands expansion—it's not the actual actual Dreamlands (dare we hope for such a thing?) and more like the threshold, the Gate of the Silver Key. Will probably play with Hypnos as guardian.
Don't much like Nodens or Bast—Nodens especially always felt like an anomalous tack-on in the Mythos. Unless you can think of his anthropomorphism as an unconscious overlay, i.e., he's just as horrible as everything else Out There but for whatever reason we see him as Poseidon/Neptune. But I'm really overthinking this, aren't I?
The Hastur expansion—we play with He Who Shall Not Be Named and the King in Yellow herald. (Yeah, I know the link is tenuous... but there you have it.)
I don't understand why we can't handle this one the Old Fashioned Way, you know, with a truck full of dynamite or simply setting that accursed theatre on fire and shooting everyone who comes running out. Should only take a turn or two, tops...
Comments for the first edition "Godslayer" version, played exclusively 2p against the iPad AI:
Originally, I hated my surface pass on this one: the art was ugly; the gameplay simplistic, derivative and limited.
Then, after like a billion plays on the iPad, I finally "got" the art, appreciating the iconic, atavistic religiosity of it*, as well as the game-wide unifying aspect of having a single artist's vision throughout; and the game that seemed so simple on the surface cracked open and exposed vistas of interaction, tactics and strategy. Every time I think I've topped out with the killer approach I find new pathways that go deeper into weird labyrinths.
To top it off, the fantasy world presented in the game is like peeking into someone's private wank-bank of bizarre fetishes; it is wonderfully nonstandard and "wiggy".
The whole shebang is a triumph of undiluted vision.
UPDATE: 8 --> 7 Honestly, just wore this one out. It was good for more digital plays than I can count (which really does put it into the "outstanding" category), a fantastic toy while it lasted but I find I'm done with it now.
UP-UPDATE: 7 --> 8 That wiggy world has pulled me back in and I find myself wanting to play constantly—it's a big badass comic book filled with interesting personalities and reality-shattering shenanigans. God help me but I love it...
The thing itself is a neat distillation of Magic's higher points (though without the attendant depth) of art/world/story, deck building, and the chaining of ridiculous combos. As a deckbuilder it's the quick-fix version of touching those nubbins in all the ways Dominion doesn't.
As a screen-time noodler it's like someone used my skull as a Play-Doh® Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shop™ to squeeze a wad of Solitaire and this is what came curling out of my head holes.
Minor sour note: The cardbacks in the expansion* are printed much lighter and less vibrant than those in Storm of Souls**, making the new cards obvious. Also, they're almost, but not quite, the same size—so riffle shuffling (the only true shuffle) is just a tad rough and the cards sort by size when overhand shuffled. Yeah, sleeves would solve all of these "problems", but I hate hate hate sleeves...
Honestly, this won't affect my ability to play & enjoy the game—they are minor issues after all—but it would be nice if everything matched up and meshed without looking like glaring add-ons.
I initially found the new card mix to be a bit head-bendy, especially after a bajillion plays of the super smooth and tight Chronicle of the Godslayer on the iPad. But the Fate mechanic grew on me, as well as the expanded play-space and fun combos you can pull off.
And if what I understand about the expansion is true—that it completes a unique story arc when combined with Godslayer, with no further expansions to that "block"—then it's genius. Not being a fan of endless expansions and bloat killing a good thing, I applaud the creators' ability to self-edit. Art wins over commerce... this time.
Story-wise, it's mega-cool that you can become that which you loathe—Samael Himself—and gather His monsters into your deck instead of sending them into the Void. Nice nod to Nietzsche.
UPDATE: 8 --> 7 Wore it out with an enormous number of digital plays.
Really cool to see how the system was tweaked in this new block, leading to a deck with mechanically familiar play but refreshingly novel strategy & tactics. And I love love love the fact that the designers are keeping things constrained in discrete blocks (big box + small box). Sure, you can use every card ever produced in one monstrous Frankendeck, but they're designed and tested to work best as separate story arcs.
As Magic pros they've distilled the best things from the Mother Game: discrete blocks of cards designed to work well together, deck building, throwing cool combos. The result is a high so sharp and pure it's like freebasing a Black Lotus.
The pleasure-density of this game is so off the charts I swear the cards are made of an alloy of Ununoctium and molten fun. Yes, it has player elimination. Yes, it is almost pure chaos. So play it like a party game—we've rarely had a game go beyond 30 minutes. Remember, it's called BANG!, not "Marshall Resources".
UPDATE: I've seen the Renegade win plenty of big games. It's tough—it's the most difficult role to play—but it just means you have to be extra double-plus crafty with a corpse's poker face and expert timing. Quit whining and embrace the challenge.
UP-UPDATE: Huh—it turns out the 4-player game is actually interesting... The Renegade knows from the get-go who the two Outlaws are and the Sheriff can start shooting willy-nilly on the first turn. Once the first Outlaw goes down there's an interesting dynamic where the remaining Outlaw can offer to help the Sheriff to keep from getting double-teamed...
New characters, new cards, new mechanics, and up to eight players! Wonderful additions to an already perfect game. Be prepared to cycle through the deck faster than a grease-slicked polecat sliding down a lightning bolt!
ADDED BONUS: Get ready to have TWO dynamite bundles lit and in play SIMULTANEOUSLY!!!
Sadly, this is the most perfect version of the Bang! experience.
It bums me out because I really love the original card game—the rich narrative that arises from the interplay of various Spaghetti Western tropes, the sheer volume of options and interactions, as well as the physical nod to poker.
But everyone I've played this with—everyone—says they prefer this to that. I will admit the designers have done a brilliant job of distilling down the raw experience with very little loss of fidelity; it really does feel like Bang! in less than 15 minutes... but I do miss the cards held close to the vest, the bluffing, the flurry of bangs falling to the table like the fanning of a Colt's hammer.
When you play this for the first time against someone with 100+ logged plays don't expect your ass to merely get kicked—expect it to go through a 2001-esque wormhole journey with a relativistic brick wall at the end, the collision with which creates a new Big Bang, giving birth to a whole universe of game-losing morons.
UPDATE: Got the iPad version to grind my head against, but it turns out the bots are worse than me. Don't think I've ever lost, even against the alpha-bot...
Surprisingly fun! There's a wee bit of strategy in deciding how to throw your dice to best whack your opponent's dice into the holes & traps; also, rolling your dice to set them into a solid defensive position (when you have to roll first). There are other choices as well—if your opponent rolls nothing but damage, you're better off simply rolling the dice for hits. If, on the other hand, he's rolled a plethora of super hits, go for broke and chuck your dice in to knock his helter-skelter!
UPDATE: Revised down to a 7... to date, none of the many expansions have caught my fancy. I just don't like the direction they took this game in, genre-wise. There's nothing wrong with it—it's a perfectly fine game—the game world just inspires apathetic ennui in me. So it's me, not you, BattleLore.
Being a huge Memoir '44 fan—and thus predisposed to liking the Commands and Colors (C&C) system in general—it was a great disappointment when the original BattleLore (1st Edition) fell flat for me. Everything I liked about C&C was there, but, man—the theme was tepid. I only got a handful of plays out of it and never bought any of the expansions...
When this came out, it wasn't even a vague shadow on my radar. And then the whole Terrinoth retheme—ugh.
So if I didn't like the original and I'm not a Terrinoth fan, why the hell would I give this an 8?
BECAUSE IT'S AWESOME, THAT'S WHY
Seriously, it's a GREAT GAME. The change from "kill 'em all" to "hold ground/secure the objective" is HUGE. We lose the weird, gamey moments in which an entire army wheels to engulf a single solitary unit at the periphery in order to cross the win-threshold and instead we get a tense back-and-forth, rain-arrows-and-push fantasy wargame feel. We get strategy and tactics and real maneuvering for position.
The whole Terrinoth thing fades into the background, leaving a plethora of unique unit abilities that must all be taken into account for combined arms synergy, as well as understanding how your abilities will interact with those of the enemy, for good and ill. It's bewildering and heady at first... but once things click the armies get dangerous.
The way armies are mustered and scenarios built is genius—with seven different scenario cards for each army we have 49 unique plays just in this box alone. As the inevitable expansions hit (a Good Thing) this number will quickly crank into the realm of the Functionally Infinite.*
Chris Tannhauser wrote:
Lady Luck Is a Carnivore...
...and we are all of us made of meat. Deren thought of the oft-repeated line, a favorite of one of his sergeants at battle school, as he sat his horse across from what looked for all the world like the host of hell vomited into the dawn. The barbarians had been up all night, howling, drumming, dancing, burning things—keeping Deren's men from their rest—and now as the sun lanced between mountain peaks he could see something horrible and huge rising unsteadily in the dung-fire haze of the enemy's camp.
The line wavered.
"Hold!" bellowed Deren, "Await the banners and trumpets!"
The horses shied and stamped as the riders faked their courage through the reins.
Deren turned to the new Lord Commander, the replacement for the one that got beheaded the previous week. "It's not just men this time, sir. New orders for the line?"
The Lord Commander shifted in his tooled-leather show-saddle, stroking his chin absentmindedly. "We'll do—" he waved a hand, "—the usual. If things change I'll let you know."
"I'm sure something will come to me. It's in the hands of the gods now." He shrugged and pointed skyward.
The boys let them fly and the wind took them, unfurling to snap this way and that.
Deren thought of that old sergeant, a slight man with a hatchet-altered smile, left-handed by circumstance. "If you lean on Her, boy, She'll bite just as soon as kiss ya—but it's not the kisses you'll remember." He would gesture with what was left of his master hand and laugh, a dark gurgling not unlike the sounds coming from the host arrayed against them.
The hunched men and worse things loped at them laughing—laughing—and with the warble of the trumpets Deren put the spurs to his mount and replaced his prayers with steel in his fist.
Preliminary rating after a single four-player game. I don't believe the potential was fully realized with this one play, and have doubts about the game with only four. Current rating based on projected potential. I have high hopes, but we'll see...
Some games require you to bring more to the table than others—the best games are far more than the sum of their parts, and contain possibilities that are not spelled out in the rulebook, or even hinted at. They must be invented by the players. "Experience" games, especially, demand much of the players. BSG is guilty of this in spades. It's intimately tied to the show, requiring that you watched it, liked it, and are willing to engage in role-playing the paranoia and terror of tooth-and-nail survival and religious genocide. The rules and mechanics serve merely as a foundation for this play—dumping cards into a skill check is boring. Paying attention to who is dumping cards and how many, who is abstaining and why, demanding explanations for a player's behavior during that check is the game. That's where facial expressions, body language, and too-passionate denials trip up the wolves and damn the innocent.
The mechanics of BSG are not, in and of themselves, sufficiently interesting to entertain for more than 15 minutes. They are indeed "boring, fiddly and repetitive". But as a foundation to support the emergent play of like minds, it's pretty damn fantastic.
So... is BSG a good game? It all depends on who you have to play it with.
UPDATE: After playing with six, this locks in at a solid eight. The mechanical aspects of what's happening on the table are nothing compared to what's happening at the table. If you sit down to this game thinking you'll be playing out tactical space battles and puzzling to solve sci-fi crises co-op style, you'll be bitterly disappointed. Oh, sure, you'll be doing those things in a small way—but really, they are only there so you can watch how enthusiastically and competently (or not) people work to handle them... The real game lies in the social interaction of wolves slinking among sheep while bleating helplessly. It's all about poker faces, plausible deniability and hiding in plain sight. It's playing on emotions, constructing compelling arguments, and working at the chinks in others'. It's pure sociopolitics, more RPG than board game—it's Werewolf with a sci-fi theme and more moving parts.
PS. With the right people, it's a hoot!
UP-UPDATE: Bumping this up to a well-deserved nine. Now that we have the rules down to the point where the mechanics fade into the background, BSG's true potential shines through. An incredible experience!
In college we played a massive Ogre/GEV campaign in which every overrun situation was resolved by a separate game of Battlesuit... It took weeks, and pony-loads of Jolt Cola. Even now, I can't look at the box art without feeling my gorge rise.
A game that both artists and engineers can enjoy equally. This is one dexterity game that has it all: strategy, tactics, bluffing, bidding, yelling and crying. Definitely one in the Why The Hell Didn't I Get This One Sooner? category. Highly recommended for families and parties.
Also: Don't build. Building is for suckers. Explore the Zen purity of the Tower That Is No Tower.
A very cool "atmospheric" game, best played at night by candlelight with one of those haunted house records spinning in the background. Replay value seems high at first glance (50 different scenarios!) but in reality the card text, while chilling the first time around, gets old with later plays. My advice: don't take it seriously (it's far too random for that) and play it as a party game. Once a year, on Halloween. In the dark.
UPDATE: A total of 11 plays as of November 2013, all of them in darkness and firelight, with that goddamn piloerecting spooky soundtrack—A Night in a Haunted House/A Night in a Graveyard (1992)—whose sound effects invariably, eerily, line up with the action. Never playing it during the day or in artificial light makes the whole affair rather... mysterious. Straining to read cards with a candle in the fist really adds a lot to the proceedings. Even now, in the happy shine of morning, I feel a vague unease upon catching a glimpse of the box...
Highlights from the last couple years:
• Once the traitor was revealed, he didn't want to go into the other room to read his plot synopsis. He was too freaked out—and we're talking about a grown-ass man here.
• My little dog had worked her way under the table and into the forest of our legs without anyone noticing. The toll of a bell on the soundtrack made her bark and everyone at the table simultaneously leaped out of their skins and crapped their pants.
Rating is as a family game—I'm currently using this as "stepping stones to the temple of Tichu" for my two sons. So far it's worked like gangbusters as a short, fun just-before-bedtime family game. My next scheme is to suck my dad & brother in with penny-a-point games...
Note: I chuck the deuce-as-top-card nuttiness and just teach it ace-high with "standard" card ranking (and refer to it as Step on the Little Guy rather than Big Two). Clears up a LOT of confusion for newbies this way.
Q: What if Nanking, Dresden and Hiroshima had an absinthe-fueled ménage à trois—and you and your friends were left to clean up the mess?
A: You'd get Blue Moon City!
As is usual in Knizia games, you typically want to do just one more thing per turn than you're allowed, leading to the agony of coming up one move short (or not) for the win. The overall strategic feel is more parasitic than cooperative—figuring out how best to piggy-back on other people's hard work.
All our games to date have been very close... this sort of "many-stooges-through-one-doorway-simultaneously" finish makes for a tense (but fun) game.
Fun & funny, though the game itself is just a coupling device for amusing minds. It would be hideous with the humorless. It's all in the metagame, arguing why a given trade should or shouldn't happen, and attempting to craft the sweetest deal.
Another game of glorious chaos from Bruno. It plays fast and brutal; agonizing decisions in every turn. I thought I was in last place, I was so poor. And then I won. It's that kind of game. Embrace the chaos!
Fig. 1 — At Last! A Contrivance to Exorcize the Devil from Idle Hands
"Gentlemen! We have discovered the cure for indolence! Through force of will—and a not inconsiderable amount of Capital—we shall transform the indigent and their natural lassitude into a veritable hive of industrious bees. Upon their backs we shall become eaters of honey! And then later we'll use steam engines to make giant robots, or something."
— The Inestimable Percy Brassacks, Esq. Vice-Consul, His Majesty's Committee on the Question of the Impecunious, 1789
Finally, a game where orphans can dig coal, shovel whatnot into foundries, and spin cotton as Nature intended! Much like Mr. Brassack's "beehive", the world of the past will crawl into the future on a moving carpet of the unfortunate. Pick a better uterus next time, kids!
Initial contact was rough, as this comes across as a bog-standard Euro where one grinds nibs to trade for nobs and score dinguses; it was with great joy that I discovered this is really a storytelling game (my favorite kind), the story of the sprouting and flourishing of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain. All those little rules, those teeny-tiny rules everyone forgets to hate, make no sense when taken at face value... They are chrome, or, if you will, the lint and coal dust that gilds the dim windows of the noisome factories. Without them you could forget that each Pound Sterling you plunk down lands squarely on someone's bare foot.
I want to play this one to death, to learn its secrets, to see into those dark depths where we trade cash for self-respect. I love it.
"We call the li'l one 'Niney', what that 'e's only got nine fingers. Well, most of 'em do—but that one there's ol' Niney anyways."
Great party game, as long as everyone knows how to swear like a nine-year-old Halo player and has a nutsack full of bile-spitting shrews. You can't just point a foam rubber gun at someone and say "Tee-hee! I will shoot you" and expect to get anything done.
You have to jam it in their eye and scream:
Spoiler (click to reveal)
"I will fucking do you, right here, right now—and then I'll do your whole fucking family, skin your kids and whip your pets to death with their wet, knotted hides and then I'll do myself so we can all meet at my pleasure dome in the afterlife where you are all my slaves and then I'll do you all again and so on forever unless you drop. The fucking. Gun! Do it! Do it now!"
My kids will never, ever see me play this game.
UPDATE: Played with the kids (who are now all of age). To my horror I find they are nasty, nasty people.
Successfully evokes the feeling of the Call of Cthulhu RPG as a desperate race against time and horrible attrition. Investigators form up into teams and pile into stories and you just have to hope that enough of them survive to get some work done. For the Mythos player, it's about meeting the Investigators halfway with a couple of really awful monsters to drive them insane and eat the leftovers. A fun little diversion, but I just can't bring myself to get on the CCG whirligig again. Ever.
Score reflects play with unmodified starter decks.
UPDATE: FFG has released a "Premium Starter Set" with two pre-constructed decks. This is THE way to play for those of us paralyzed by CCGophobia. Recommended.
tl;dr — Potentially light and mild, it's a great social game when played in 30ish minutes, but sags if it goes longer. Expansions are the seasoning and so should be used sparingly to create the game that suits your current mood. Terribly cruel when played to win, though.
Neat for what it is, a kids' game that can be played for blood (farm wars, anyone?). The vanilla version is a pleasant-enough pastime. Where Carc really shines, though, is as a game system—the mix 'n match expansions allow you to complicate or flavor the game as you will.
UPDATE: Revising down from a 7 to a 6. This was shockingly novel at first, being only the second Eurogame I'd ever seen, but now... And another thing: The 8,000,000,000 different farm-scoring schema make for bizarre parallel-dimension gaming where some people at the table have evil goatees and some don't, leading to the disastrous overlay of competing realities, some where farmers lie on their backs and gaze at duck-shaped clouds scudding by and others where you can only get promoted by stabbing your boss in the neck.*
UP-UPDATE: This is the game that made me realize that most expansions are crap—they just add plaque that calcifies a decent game into an immobile, spiky mess. (Or, to go to the other extreme, bloats it out so it can't even wear pants anymore.) Expansions, in general, are a terrible idea unless:
a) It was a part of the original game (as designed) that got peeled off to make the base game simpler/cheaper,
b) Actually adds an element that enhances repeat plays, or
c) Fixes one or more broken elements that really shoulda been caught during playtesting.
UP-UP-UPDATE: Resurrecting this as a mild social activity; as a game game it gets a 5, when consumed as a small bowl of whipped cream it's a 6. The deal with the expansions is to understand that every tile added into the mix is another turn—and if you've got multiple axes to consider (with several expansions at once) then those turns can become very long indeed. The game works best when it comes in well under an hour; it wants to be short.** I can honestly only see using one expansion at a time...
I forgot what an awful little game this can be: so much grief, so many ambitious building projects that will never be completed, so many farmers stabbing each other in the tummy with pitchforks from the backs of rage-donkeys.
I'm not sure how the rest of world plays this, but man, we are just plain mean to each other.
UP-UP-UP-UPDATE: Back up to a 7 where I expect it to stay. When grokked and played accordingly—as a shortish social activity with one big and maaaybe one small expansion at a time it's a pip.
CODA: GROINS IMPLY BOOTS
The sheer ruthlessness required to play the game competitively is entirely at odds with the presentation: cutesy li'l squares of bucolic cartoons, and the meeples themselves, adorable and nonthreatening, the very symbols of "points without pain" Eurogaming. If the package reflected the truth of it the art would be dark and violent: fields strewn with fresh grave-mounds, dangerous roads to nowhere festering with spleen-stabbing thieves, sprawling slums with gaping holes in the walls patrolled by gangs of baby-stomping kingsmen.
This is what you must do to win: sucker your opponents into fights that you either dominate or walk away from (leaving them overextended), place tiles to ensure their followers are trapped in projects that will never be completed, and never share points unless you are so far ahead it doesn't matter... and even then, hook yourself in for +1 at the last minute to steal the "joint effort" for yourself.
You must crush dreams, snap their bones and suck the marrow. You must be prepared to engineer fallen crests and hopelessness. I'll be honest: I felt like a complete jerk at first, as playing to win in Carc is really about making everyone else lose, and the constant pooping in the punchbowl can suck the fun right out of the party. But if you wish to do your best then that tile must be placed where it maximizes both personal gain and does the most harm to your opponents.
In the end the countryside puzzle we are constructing is a façade that does nothing to conceal the suffering of the nameless, numberless peasants who are too small to see from our lofty perches of intrigue.
Carcassonne is an assassin in clown paint.
Rating bumped up to an 8.
PS. A Geeklist that gathers all my Carcomments into a single, writhing mass:
*So, 12 years later, it looks like this has settled down—the standard seems to be German 3rd Edition rules with "farm-centric" scoring of cities for three points each. I like the simplification—as well as the change making the tiny two-bit mini-cities worth four points instead of two, eliminating a rules exception, always a good thing.
**The closer to 30 minutes the better.
Blind and bloated in Her subterranean cavern, the Ultimeeple births them all—
This is just about the most perfect version of Carc: the first two (and best) big expansions along with seven mini-expansions that can be added in any combination to create your own personalized mix. The number of possible unique setups easily exceeds the number of plays even the most ardent fan would expect to get out of this—there is literally a lifetime of Carc in this box...
If I had a cabin in the woods this would be in the closet.*
Inns & Cathedrals is pretty much essential (I can't see ever playing without it) and we haven't really gotten into Traders & Builders yet—but the mini-expansions should work nicely as single pinches of spice to season the game to the table's taste.
UPDATE: The lack of sack is disheartening as this forces me to buy a gallon jug of Crown Royal, and we all know how that turned out last time: Sure, I ended up with a nifty dice bag, but the public nudity and tasing were regrettable.
After years of no love, revisiting this as a mild social activity... I'd like to try my many unplayed expansions one at a time to get a feel for what they do. (I get the impression that "MegaCarc" is just too much, like eating seven-and-a-half jelly donuts while doing Jäger shots. One of either is more than enough.) But we shall see.
UPDATE: Every added tile is another turn; most people can squeeze out two turns per minute if they play in a timely fashion. Of course, the more critical the turn (especially in the later game) and the more axes of consideration (if considering the effects of multiple expansions) the longer this gets—and let's be honest:
The experience and outcome just plain do not warrant that level of ponder.
UP-UPDATE: One of the cruelest little games I own, a Hello Kitty stiletto. Definitely a timeless keeper.
PS. "The Sack" is worth the price of admission alone as it converts the metaphorical teabagging the game provides into a literal one.
UPDATE: This is really three modules that synergize well together—city tiles that grant trade goods, pigs to make the resulting city-rich farms worth more, and builders to grant extra turns to sneak into or steal features—but can be teased apart as you will.
Pigs & builders can be dropped into any game with ease.
Also: Trade good tiles work well with The Count, providing an extra incentive to "help" others complete cities in order to not only get the goods, but to stage a meeple in Carcassonne proper for later punch-bowl-poopin' deployment...
It's a petty grievance, but I can't stand the art. In "real" Carc the art is simple and services the picture entire. The art in Hunters is fussy and indistinct; instead of ending up with a map of the game at the end, you get a big, blurry scribble. Call me shallow, call me the-toothpick-counting-guy-who-buys-his-underwear-at-Kmart... but I found the art far too distracting to enjoy the game. For multiplayer I far and away prefer real Carc to this. If you're stuck with two players, The Castle is the best of the series.
The point tiles are nice for taunting, though the sixth player is waaay too much. It's cool to have a different color, but after two games at 6p I'm pretty much done with "full boat" Carc.
UPDATE: I really like what this does. The all-or-nothing gamble of the eponymous tiles adds a neat way to blow out some massive points on your side while prolapsing the bowels of your opponents on the other:
"Here—" [drops cathedral into the outskirts of an unfinished megalopolis near game end] "—the Pope says you totally got this."
UP-UPDATE: Can't ever see playing Carc without this—the base game alone feels incomplete in comparison. It's the must-have, always-mixed-in keeper.
Besides, there's never a reason not to include the acromegalic BOSS MEEPLES in all games of Carc from this moment forward, forever.
Good stuff in that it causes massive-project competition, though once the top-end threshold is reached there's really no stealing the titles away. Which I suppose is thematic; once your butt's in the seat you're gonna neck-stab everyone who has the same idea...
Has nice synergy with The Count as it gives everyone yet another reason to "cooperate" and complete features for each other.
Fig. 1 — Settlersbits work nicely as largest city & longest road markers.
I really like what this does for roads—instead of being just points-padding dump-features they become something to be fought over with almost the same intensity as cities & farms, especially when combined with Inns & Cathedrals.
It's also nifty in that it adds features to the tableau that other players can monkey around with.
Gold is for a-holes. It makes everyone horn in on your business, often finishing it for you while you watch in horror. And then they Scrooge-McDuck around with it, making really heavy, unstable pigsties and pressing peasants to death with stacks of ingots.
UPDATE: Gold is heavy—monstrously heavy—and when lifted can cause disastrous, spandex-shredding blowouts. While bowels in your pants is certainly de rigueur for Carc, it's as hard on the eyes as it is the stomach.
"I don't like gold," said Anna.
And she was the runaway winner, by something like 80 points.
Bid disks to buy sets of chits and trade them in for victory point cards.
Mildly intriguing auction & set collection that requires intensive screwage to prevent runaway scoring. The moment someone doesn't use their turn to check their right-hand neighbor that player gains advantage and everyone else starts to lose. So you either play like massive dicks or let someone run away with it.
The underlying math is nifty—casual sets will almost always add up to one fewer than you need to purchase the next VP card.
It's mercifully short, though I'm not sure how it's supposed to be a family game unless such things usually involve tears.
UPDATE: Okay, so one more play, this time without the vicious cycle of openhand slapping, e.g., everyone constantly raising their right-hand neighbor to prevent runaway progress, the lack of which changes it from a brawl to a race. This is probably closer to what the designer intended, as the vindictive bid-fights just made the game bitter.
Never-ending bid fights: low-scoring fight game with lots of retracted bids, making Syndicate cards very worthwhile.
No anal neighbor-checking: high-scoring race game with less profanity.
There's probably a happy medium, but I have my doubts we'll ever find it.
UP-UPDATE: Is this really an auction game? The bidding is resolved in super slo-mo—I slap down some coins, then I have to wait until my next turn to see if I won, or to increase the bid if I didn't. Then another turn to see how that pans out. And if you & I get into a bid fight we can easily piss away a third of the entire game over a single "auction"! So, no, bid-fighting is just stupid.
After group discussion we settled on this game really being about appraising lots and offering to pay just a little bit more than it's worth to scare everyone else off. If you undervalue it, you'll have someone come over the top and then it's probably best to wave off instead of sticking in and putting those resources out of the game for the bulk of the session. If you overvalue it you're spending out inefficiently and will lose the game to someone who shaves it just a hair closer. The goal is to "Baby Bear" it and get it juuust right so no one else wants to spend the extra +1 coin yet you end up paying an efficient minimum for it.
Don't let all the thought and discussion fool you—I hate this game.
UP-UP-UPDATE: Final score—110, 110, 105. Guess who got 105?
• "Pigs" are actually naked, shaved townsfolk crawling around on all fours squealing like piggies. Still good eatin', though.
• The Haunted Mansion has two mysterious poofs.
• There is no mechanism to determine which aristocrat loses his or her nose to syphilis; but then I'm probably confusing this with The Cankers of Burgundy.
I dunno. It hits me like Carcassonne with dice, but not really dice since there's no bell curve and you can adjust the pips up or down with workers. So it's really just a genteel eggshell-walkin' Carc where everyone engages in lonely parallel play like a bunch of four-year-olds at the sand table.
Here's an example of the heated player interaction that can happen:
Player A: [thinking] Man, I can't wait to pick chickens.
Player B: [picks chickens]
Player A: Goddammit!
Also, is "shipping pink" a euphemism for something unsavory?*
OH GOD THE SIMPLE ART, THE THIN CARDBOARD IT'S ALL SO... SO...
If the art were busier it'd be harder to suss out the relevant info on each tile; if the card were thicker nothing would shuffle or stack neatly. Was it done on the cheap? I dunno—but it all works beautifully. Nothing in the entire experience—visual, tactile or otherwise—felt "less-than".
I love the meta that the completion reward for Sleeping rooms is the one that grinds the game to an utter halt. Really puts the "AP" in "nap time".
If any tile is overpowered, it's stairs. I mean, when His Highness is drunk, and tottering at the top step, I'm overcome with terrible urges... to drown him in the shallows of Lake Starnberg. My boot upon his neck, bubbles obscuring his startled face, the scrabbling hands. I see these things as clearly as the flagellation I shall subject myself to in The Hole this evening.
Yeah, you know that by now. You have six dice with the usual resources on them—wood, brick, wheat, sheep, ore & gold—and you get three rolls, banking and re-rolling as you will, in order to build the usual roads, knights, settlements & cities to score. Two golds act as a wild. The edge of irritation comes at the ten-minute mark; that would seem to limit it to two or three players max. It's also not awful as a solo, semi-masturbatory time-waster for high score. Should you run out and buy it? Probably not. I'm not sorry I have it, but if I'd played it first I probably would have passed on it.
In the end it's all the Catan theme with none of the meat; or, as if Klaus blew up a Catan party balloon and now you get to deflate it into your mouth and get a good taste of his breath, all damp and lung-y with a hint of schnitzel and beer. Good schnitzel and beer, but still.
UPDATE: Okay, all the above makes it sound like I don't like it, and I actually do. The wife enjoys it, I enjoy playing with her, so I'm bumping it up to a 7.
UPDATE: After four "learning" games—separated by enough time to make the rules hazy, and with different players at each session—it's clear to me that this is only going to shine with complete knowledge of the various powers, and especially the contents of their decks.
On the one hand this suggests a huge amount of replay value—it would take at least four plays (once as each power) just to get to the starting point of deeper understanding—but in reality it's going to be difficult to string together connected plays with the same people in a culture where very few are interested in wearing a game out.
But I love the idea of this, the mythos and presentation, and so I must try...
Classic, unapologetic Ameritrash: theme as king, experience as a mirror to theme, and massive amounts of random ass-stabbing.
Really nails it if you can get into being a furious Ork general standing on a rock outcropping screaming orders at your stupid, milling troops. Form them up into lines as quickly as possible to send them smashing into your rivals' formations before they do the same to you.
It's purely random, with small decisions here and there, mostly of the "Whose ass do I stab now?" variety. (Hint: whoever stabbed you last, or, failing that, whoever's weakest at the moment.)
There is an entire, overwrought game world in this box—each card has a background story and a fistful of rules (with numerous exceptions) to boot. While some may see this as a negative (and I found it daunting at first) the complexity is really thick plates of chrome and story that enhance the experience once you get it down.
It's all about Orky crotch-kicking, and then pointing and laughing. If this doesn't sound like fun, then stay away—you'd probably just end up getting your spreadsheet-clickin' finger broken.
UPDATE: For best results, treat this as a storytelling party game for history nerds where Linchpins can only be flipped in person. Take the typical chrono-chaos surrounding "1963: Kennedy Assassinated" for example:
wibbily wobbly timey wimey stuff wrote:
Just as "Oswald" draws a bead on the President's head a time traveler steps out from behind a strange curve and brains the shooter with a tomahawk—
As "Jackie" suddenly pulls a switchblade and stabs Kennedy in the neck—
As "Connally" turns in the front seat and unloads a Model 642 Centennial Airweight .38 Special +P into "her" face, peeling "her" pink pillbox—
As "Abraham Zapruder" takes a knee on the grassy knoll and pops a goddamn RPG straight into the 1962 grille of the custom 1961 Lincoln Continental, blowing it to smithereens—
As a careening [nondescript] garbage truck gets air off the knoll, pulping the would-be rocketeer—
As a guy with a limpet mine (originally intended for the re-sinking of the Titanic) bolts from the crowd and clamps it to the side of the rapidly recombobulating limo—
As we all suddenly discover that limpet mine guy's mom was his dad while his dad dad was still his dad and so he cancels out like some kind of pesky denominator—
As a Fairchild FH-227D full of Jesuit proto-cannibals makes a sudden detour from 1972 and nosedives into the scene in an obliterating cone of fire—
And so Dealey Plaza becomes an ever-widening stutter of doings and undoings, up to and including the probable detonation of the Sun itself.
Time travel, you see, is not for the faint of heart—it requires real grit and the kind of single-focus determination one would imagine necessary for continual mass suicide.
Only really necessary if you play this game an awful lot, and love it accordingly. The wooden king piece is nice, but I already had a weighted Staunton king that I spray-painted gold and accessorized with purple felt... The replacement cards are nice, but I already keep 'em in sleeves... So, in the final analysis, all I really get are the new district cards.
I have to say, in all seriousness, my favorite part of this expansion is the box. It's much smaller than the original and has a nice linen finish AND IT HOLDS THE ENTIRE GAME!!! At last, I have a nice box that matches the form-factor of the game itself.
PURGED as redundant since acquiring the 2005 FFG Silver Line edition of the base game with the expansion included.
A mish-mash of mechanics (set collection cardplay, blind bidding, and a teensy bit of Tetris, among others) held together by an engaging theme and over-the-top production values. It really shouldn't work, but when played as a lighter, almost party-style game (i.e., social above all) it works brilliantly.
Corruption is the fastest way to victory points—and into the crocodile's gullet! For me the most engaging part of the game is the balance between greed (racing ahead via corruption) and trying to position yourself just enough to eke out a win. You don't need to be the least corrupt or the richest to win—you just need to be one unit less corrupt than the worst player and a single Talent ahead of everyone who's left. Really feels like walking a tightrope over a croc pit.
I hesitate to recommend it as YMMV, but around here it's worked great as a couples' game.
A kid's game where it's possible for one of the kids to be a murderer who is unaware of that fact... Hmmn.
UPDATE: What's not to love? The theme is rock-solid, the trappings are keen, and it's usually over before you know it. As a role-playing party game, it doesn't get much better than this. Use 2d6 for movement and it should take no more than 30 minutes, tops. (Or ditch the dice and go "commando".) And if you don't love the feeling you get when you deduce the answer it's because you've never experienced it. It's like having x-ray vision and one of those four-hour erections they're always talking about on TV—SIMULTANEOUSLY!!!
PS. The 1972 edition (the first one to use photos) is the only way to go.
1979 (1972) with the photographs
Has the most authentic "Agatha Christie/murder mystery" feel.
1996 with painted art
The art gets an early '90s style upgrade. Not bad.
UPDATE: Okay, in all honesty, Clue is not one of those games that works well with reskinning. The original is built up from a solid foundation of Agatha Christie-style shenanigans. It works best when we're all running around a baroque mansion accusing each other of bludgeoning, strangling, stabbing or shooting Old Man Boddy... probably for his money. The whole D&D thing just doesn't work. I'd much rather play the '70s version with the photographs.
UP-UPDATE: Now that the kids are adults, the game is over in a flash—everyone pretty much hits the solution simultaneously and then it's a race to the center... Also, I've come to appreciate the D&D flavor as the sparkle-frosting on the pinky-pink cupcake.
After one play, a nifty li'l game of brinksmanship & quintuple-think. The guy who won had four of his agents dead at one point, but he was able to out-think and rope-a-dope me across the finish line. Dammit!
Rating could go up or down with more play.
UPDATE: Rating up from 7 to 8. It's on the lighter side of tense, but that tension can be exquisite at times. And it's always good when the other guy's Master Spy gets torn to pieces in a riot.
A bidding game that is tight almost to the point of chafing. Early bets pay off well but are incredibly risky. Late bets have better odds but pay poorly. And every round SOMEONE. WILL. DIE. You will squirm—and love every minute of it.
Utility note: I originally had this (and Greece & Eastern Kingdoms) in tackle boxes like you see in the image gallery, but once we actually started playing I bagged everything. Bags are really much more convenient for storage, setup and breakdown.
Mounted board: I was perfectly cool with the one that came with the game, as it felt appropriately thematic to have a "paper" map to go with the wooden blocks, but repeat plays highlighted the negatives—too easy to bump and move, and it wouldn't lay flat, causing terrain to slip around. (A plexiglass sheet, while utilitarian, broke the "pre-battle strategy session in a sandy tent" feel for me, and I'm a pig for thematic immersion.) The mounted board is much, much nicer.
Wooden dice: The plastic dice that come with the game are just plain godawful. For ancients warfare I want a wood-paper-stone experience—not the touched-a-bug sensation of Chinese polymers. Curiously, one set of these has matte ink for all faces except the leader while the other set is apparently done up in "disco blaze" with sparkly ink for all unit faces.
Surprisingly deep when you factor in all of the possible player interaction (shifting alliances, etc.) with the boat-loads of strategic and tactical options. VERY nice Machiavellian feel. "Is it better to be loved or feared?" (Best when played with the "capturing cities" rule and at least 5 players, though 6 is best.)
UPDATE IN RESPONSE TO NEGATIVE COMMENTS: This is not a card game—it is a game of negotiation, alliances, and backstabbing. If you play by yourself, for yourself, you're missing half of what should be going on here. Dealt a bad hand? Two people pulling ahead? Form an alliance for protection. Make it 2 against 4. Hand whole cities over to each other... or get your "ally" to overextend so you can cut him off at the knees. The card-battle mechanism is very much a sideshow to a vibrant and boisterous game of bluff, counter-bluff, rope-a-dope and intrigue. It's Diplomacy lite with an extra helping of whipped cream.
UP-UPDATE: Okay, I lied—the "capturing cities" rule just makes the game go on forever. Much better to play it straight where captured cities are permanent. Makes each battle mean that much more and gets the whole thing over with inside an hour.
(The Descartes Editeur version with the gorgeous, ginormous cards and the wooden Condottiere piece.)
A classic prelude to games like Pente and Go Moku. Moderate (read: easy) look-ahead combined with just a smidgen of planning, this game works great with younger kids. As with most games like this they'll outgrow it pretty quickly—but in the meantime their brains will swell & pulse with incredible power…
Bluffing, gambling, negotiation, backstabbing, outrageous reversals—this game has it all. And a thick, gooey science fiction theme to boot! The rules are simple, almost laughably so, but that's not where the game is. The game is in finding the most clever way in which to use those rules to your advantage, no matter how bleak the situation. Taken at face value, it's pretty lame, and I can see why some people hate it so. Add in a bunch of raucous, cunning friends and the game surprises and delights every time. I'm constantly surprised at some of the subtle ways "I'm screwed" moments can turn into a big win.
Negotiated (or even forced) multi-wins are great since they keep the playing time more than tolerable (read: occasionally too short—but what the hell, let's play again!).
This game is deliciously broken—it's all about the player interaction; the most "metagamey" game I've ever played.
UPDATE: Giving this classic the 10 it deserves.
Hasbro/Avalon Hill edition: 7
2008 Fantasy Flight Games edition: 10
Bluffing, gambling, negotiation, backstabbing, outrageous reversals—this game has it all. And a thick, gooey science fiction theme to boot! The rules are simple, almost laughably so, but that's not where the game is. The game is in finding the most clever way in which to use those rules to your advantage, no matter how bleak the situation. Taken at face value, it's pretty lame, and I can see why some people hate it so. Add in a bunch of raucous, cunning friends and the game surprises and delights every time. I'm constantly surprised at some of the subtle ways "I'm screwed" moments can turn into a big win.
Negotiated (or even forced) multi-wins are great since they keep the playing time more than tolerable (Read: occasionally too short—but what the hell, let's play again!)
Played our first seven-player (!) game of this with the "large group" cards mixed into the deck—fantastic experience. The extra cards were necessary as I think the deck would have been too thin without them. Even with the extras we very nearly had the entire thing dealt out at one point. So, big plus for the extra cards.
We will be ignoring the team rules... they just don't look very interesting.
(Even though we've thrown all the new aliens into the mix, I will only be counting this expansion as played when we use the "large group" cards for 7-8 player games.)
Oof, I think I may be full. Or at least the original Cosmic box is. With all expansions including this one packed in there I think we're pretty much set for more possible games than could ever be played, even in a transhuman/post-singularity "lifetime" where the thing that thinks it's me is like three viruses infecting an immortal pack of robochimps—forever.
Pretty sure this game doesn't "need" anything else!
(Even though we've thrown all the new aliens into the mix, I will only be counting this expansion as played when we use the Reward deck or Special Ships options.)
Space stations add to the fun & I love what the Swindler does to the metagame!*
(Even though we've thrown all the new aliens into the mix, I will only be counting this expansion as played when we use space stations.)
*I suppose I should admit that I have no experience with Cosmic beyond the FFG edition and all of the gut-bustingly hilarious sessions I've had with various groups... So you should probably assume I don't know what I'm talking about.**
**I'm the guy who glued actual googly eyes on the Squee card, for Pete's sake!
Come sundown the Count prowls the streets, bellowing gibberish and obscenities in his iron mask and purple, crotchless velveteens, whipping the slower peasants with a manskin bullwhip. To call him mad would do dishonor to every last one of us, for he is but a symptom of the City...
"We have all taken our turns as the Count—and his gimp."
Has some nice synergy with The King as the person completing the largest city or longest road becomes King or Robber Baron (not the one scoring it), providing an extra incentive for nonscoring completions, the trigger for consigning a meeple into the Count's "care". Should also work well with the trade good tiles from Traders & Builders for the same reason—"helping now to hurt later."
Preliminary rating after two sessions (10ish games?)—as it's tiny, plays up to 6, and quickly, too. Oh, yeah—and it's pretty nifty. You instantaneously recognize fatal errors as soon as they leave your mouth, with no chance to bite them back... But what the hell—reset and get your revenge in the next round!
A great filler that should be standard equipment in every game night go-bag.
(I'll be recording each session—multiple games—as a single play.)
I'm not really sure about this one yet. It plays a huge number of people, it involves shooting your "friends" and yet... so many turns began with a simple, "I shoot Tod!" Right or wrong, somebody got a card.
UPDATE: Downshifting from a 6 to a 5. My desire to "figure this one out" has shrunk and winked out of existence.
Yeah, it's a stitched-together Frankenbeast agglomerated from the parts of other games: Trivial Pursuit, Charades, Pictionary, Barbarossa, various word games, etc., but that just means that everyone can find something they're better at than everyone else. It also allows for varying levels of interaction (or inebriation)—a key feature for both imbibers and designated drivers. If you remember that this is less about the game on the table and more about about the friends around the table, it's hard not to have a good time. Fun murderers, or groups with one, should probably wave off and go play something more serious like Carcassonne.
Lucky for me, my group likes snorting drinks through their noses, making the little people-pieces hump each other, and laughing until their tummies hurt. We wore out the original Cranium and two booster boxes, and, just last night, looped all the cards in the WOW edition... Unfortunately, the people I game with are sharp enough to not only remember getting a certain card months ago but they can also remember what someone did (or didn't do) specifically in the attempt to win that card for their team. Sometimes I wish I gamed with dumb people... I know I'd win more.
Booster boxes, anyone? Please?
UPDATE: We're on our fourth edition of this, having burned through three others and both booster boxes. I guess you could say this works for us.
UP-UPDATE: WARNING—MAY CAUSE HEADACHE, CHEEK-ACHE AND RIB-ACHE
"Oh god, stop—I have a headache from laughing!"
"What? You knew this was the laugh-headache game when you sat down—sack up and play!"
This is San Juan to Cranium's Puerto Rico—it takes the best things from the base game and distills them down into a streamlined format and makes it co-op to boot. The addition of time pressure increases the tension (in a fun way) while ensuring the game doesn't overstay its welcome. All in all, better than the source material. (Rating and comments reflect "party" play with three couples.)
UPDATE: No love since Jen admitted that she hates this.
There's something really awesome about playing "Brick House" on a kazoo.
UPDATE: A not-bad warm up party game, but there really aren't enough cards to give this one any longevity. I suppose if you could all agree to drink blackout levels of alcohol or sustain head injuries between sessions is could work. Or you could play with the slightly stupid.
Also, you're under 30 and aren't a music geek you're gonna spend a lot of time letting the team down.
Great family game. Seeing what everyone picked for you is like Christmas morning—my wife felt especially loved when our two boys, a nephew, and I made her ranking of selections particularly difficult; we all picked things she enjoyed, every time. That's when she knew how well we knew her, and how much attention we pay to her likes and dislikes.
Awright—that's enough sap.
The game can be learned in 4.3 blimfarks (that's really, really fast) and doesn't last as long as you wish it would. Calls of "let's play again!" are not uncommon. Recommended for families.
UP-UPDATE: After wearing out the base game and two booster boxes, we're back in the saddle with Cranium WOW. We love it!
UP-UP-UPDATE: We just looped all the cards in the WOW edition and the people I game with are sharp enough that they not only remember getting a certain card years ago but they can also remember what someone did (or didn't do) specifically to attempt to win that card for their team. Sometimes I wish I gamed with dumb people... I know I'd win more.
A decent-enough light party game. Think of it as advanced Uno with more to do than simply pitch cards. You get to match or complete sets, spell rude words, add card values to make 11... all with the wee-est bit of "take that" thrown in to keep the game spiny. Works best as a super-short family game before bedtime.
WARNING: This is, at its heart, a dice game. Much of the "action" comes in the form of "passing tests" which are nothing more than you and an opponent engaging in brainless card-play and then rolling D6s to see who gets the highest number. If this in any way bothers you, you will hate this game. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a terrific light filler (game length is adjustable) for Cthulhu fans, slathered to dripping in theme. The humor is silly, and really, what more can you ask of humor? I lost horribly in my first game—the only lap counter I got was from stealing an opponent's Gremlin-infested Engine of the Damned and taking a short-cut through the Dreamlands while drunk out of my mind on Space Mead. If that sentence gets you off, so will this game.
♪ When you're a priest of Cthulhu you're not a priest of Cthulhu for long! ♫
Another deeply misunderstood social interaction coupling device from Steve Jackson Games. At face value it's Mythos LCR; but the social game, played in good humor with good friends, is a fun-enough (brief) time waster & chuckle generator. The game resides in the choosing of the victim and the deflection and re-targeting of that choice. Bringing in outside elements and arguments adds a great deal to the proceedings: "I will give you the cherry on top of my milkshake if you zortch him instead of me—besides, he's always late to the rituals and his robes reek of urine."
This is one for the RPG crowd, the Con crowd, those who can ham it up and get into the gleeful grinding of axes. It's not for those who are unable or unwilling to argue colorfully on their own behalf to the amusement of friends.
The game isn't in the package—it's in you.*
(On the shelf; in the RPG dice bag; in the truck; in the Munchkin Conan set.)
Like other Fluxx games, not so much a game as an innocuous game-like activity... Though this may be the best theme possible for it—HPL's dreamscape more than matches the swimming-against-a-tide-of-sand insane-o sensation of playing vanilla Fluxx.
One member of our game group had a very bad experience with this and shared his pain with the rest of us; it's gonna be really hard to convince anyone to give this another shot...
The one time I did manage to get a three-player game it was marred by too few players and the fact that the other two were absolutely not into it. Suck, suck & suck.
Hopefully I can turn this around at some point.
UPDATE: After playing an actual game of this with three enthusiastic delvers and one veteran (thanks, Josh!) all I can say is that the well-poisoner who hated on it was smokin' wack. Even Anna, who stated up front that she's not a fan of "backstabby" games, was smitten.
There is a delicious tension in the competitive co-op; in the first room we ran into the Ripper and spent a good deal of time screwing around before the deathblow fell. In the second room we met the dread Hydra, and after doing the calculations of multi-headed attacks vs. our remaining life points we realized that we couldn't afford to goof off at all—it would take an all-out joint effort just to keep the party alive.
Truly, truly the game requires an intelligent balance between take-that backstabbery and co-op play—monkey around too much and everyone dies. One must think of one's comrades as tools to get you to the finalish rooms, perhaps a bit beat up, before going whole hog with the betrayal...
"After we shoot the squatters in the McDonald's we'll drink the fryer grease. Well, me 'n you will anyway—screw those other guys."
* First play was rough, as I was the betrayer (dammit!) and had no idea how to nudge things in the desired direction without looking fishy. Providence lent me a hand with a disastrous "hospital adventure" in which two survivors perished (a vivid and memorable narrative moment), but after I dumped the first real turd in the punch bowl my poker face slipped and I was caught in a lie, summarily exiled, my objective rendered impossible. Next time will be different... right?
Some crossroads cards are marked with a li'l swearing word-balloon to indicate "mature content", facilitating their removal for those who'd rather not endure potentially disturbing material.* This is a neat idea in general ("Hey! I can play this with the kids, and Gramma!") but the application seems haphazard. The cards with the symbol aren't that rugged,
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Why can't we have a debate about smothering the baby?
and at least one card that wasn't marked has a truly horrific encounter with
Spoiler (click to reveal)
your dead parents—one by apparent suicide, the other zombified and coming straight at you.
If I were lily-livered and that one popped up in front of kids I'd probably faint. A note to the designers: If you're gonna go for the jugular, get to it. Hesitation marks evoke the wrong kind of disquiet.
UPDATE: After 4 plays, this gets a 7. While the narrative moments are grand (last night we decided that exiles get their arms duct-taped to their sides, noses glued shut, with a police whistle affixed to their mouths**—they get a boot in the back to send them staggering into the icy night, all a-whistlin' to beat the band) there just doesn't seem to be much tension. Betrayers haven't been at all difficult to spot, and we've taken to exiling good people just to get the numbers down to beat a crisis or meet food requirements toward the end. Hopefully this picks up with experience, but so far the few bright spots have been awash in a sea of ennui.
*Seems ludicrous in a seriously-toned game about rooting around in the putrefying corpse of civilization while screwing each other over, but whatever.
**Because we were fresh out of air horns.
NOTE: Next time don't forget your goddamn reading glasses.
Indiana Jones does Vegas. The ruleset is simple, robust, and can be grasped in under a minute. Simultaneous play makes it go fast and smooth regardless of the number of players (up to eight). If you got a hankerin' for gettin' yer gamble on, you can't go wrong with this one—to get any better it would have to have Nazi-punching and showgirls. Or some kind of mutant combo of the two. Best as a party-style light filler or night ender. Recommended.
The only way to truly win this game is to get the anchor and the sad clown in the same tableau.
UPDATE: Genius, like a mime dangling whimsically from a sateen ribbon. I absolutely love the open-ended nature of the Storyteller's role—your "clue" can be anything: a word, phrase, sentence or full-blown tale; a poem, song, or hummed tune; or even just sound effects, hand gestures and/or facial expressions! Boring people kill this game, causing it to slump and die of ennui. Only sideways-thinking, risk-taking entertainers need apply.
While the King's away the Dukes will... FIGHT!!! Played this 2-player with a non-gamer who, of course, had never experienced a German-style game. As soon as we finished, he demanded to play again immediately! It took us about an hour per game but we didn't notice until we looked at the clock when we were finished. It's that good.
A mechanical kick in the pants. Draft cards to build an efficiency engine to hit the magical 8+ coins per hand and then start buying the big victory points... the rub being that once you start buying VPs they will clog up your machine and make it run all choppy.
Other than committing to a strategy the game really comes down to timing the switch from deck building to buying VPs. Come in too soon and you bloat the machine with crap. Come in too late and you're behind the curve and will lose, maddeningly, by something as stupid as a single card-buy.
It's fascinating to watch the different solutions grind away at the problem and to see who had the most efficient engine—and best timing—at the end.
The only knock is for the flaccid theme, which is, perhaps, thankfully thin, given how mechanical the game is and how fast it plays with experienced players. (It's not unusual for your turn to come back around before you're done shuffling from the last one.) A narrative layer would probably just slow everything down.
That said, I like to think of it as scratch-building a Ferrari and then seeing how much cocaine I can hide in the gas tank while still getting it across the border. And then maybe something about fire-breathing pimps.
"Of course you see me, watching you and your scabrous, bandy-legged 'lover' from my fabulous gazebo—lovingly carved from the world's oldest tree, hand-polished (no, really—the rich brown stain was crimson once—it's amazing what hungry children will do for pennies)—and you're thinking to yourself, We are so not falling for the exploding swan trick again—how stupid does he think we are? And I can assure you that I am not thinking about how stupid you are, at all, right now—no, at this very moment I am thinking that even though I am a heartless cad with bad teeth I have enough lucre to grease the Viscountess's knickers clean off no matter how poorly I act or smell. The genes want what they want, no? Because, my dear, I am not actually in my gazebo but contorted in the backseat of my giant-fruit-shaped carriage struggling with the 30th buckle on what I hope is the final hoopskirt. How can this be? I imagine you ask as the Viscountess's beauty mark pops off mid-gasp. Well, my dear, it is because I spared no expense—no expense, do you hear me?—on the automaton that sits quietly ticking in my gazebo. Because while I would never expect you to fall for the exploding swan trick again I do imagine you will fall for the exploding me trick. Right. About. NOW."
This ends up hovering at a sweet Lagrange point halfway between a table-top minis game and an RPG.
I like the basic game engine, especially in keeping combat to a single dice throw—range, hit and damage all in one tumble.
It can be a hellish challenge for the Marines, however (a win for them is a difficult stunt to pull off), but as long as everyone knows that from the get-go it can make for a good, albeit tense, time. (And when they do win, standing high-fives, jocular invectives, and a decent amount of crowing are well in order.)
My two sons (aged 7 & 9) LOVE it. I actually like playing it—our sessions tend to be raucous and lively—and it beats the hell out of other kiddie dice games. The best part is when you challenge another player, essentially calling the guards on them. This leads to the kid with the dice screaming "Help! Guards! Dad is escaping!" before rolling the dice. Fun!
The most fun I had playing this game was when we had a big bag of rubber bands and took turns seeing who could put the most rubber bands around their head/face. So I guess you should just get a big bag of rubber bands instead.
UPDATE: The comment above is the last time I played this as an adult, with adults, somewhere in the early '90s. As a kid I played the hell out of this... until the cards were as soft as li'l baby blankets & the box was destroyed. Fast-forward to 2011 when I loaned that once-much-loved game out to a friend with two small daughters interested in fantasy home invasion. It was a HUGE hit, firing those young imaginations and setting them on a trajectory that will surely end up somewhere in Dungeons & Dragons proper. As it should be.
So if you ask li'l me & the two battle-princesses it gets a super-solid 11!!. The 5 is sans kids.
PS. Box is long gone. Smashed flat as the loser in a fight between gravity and a shortsighted lack of papercraft engineering.
Well, if you lived next door to a pie factory, owned a gun and were immortal, then your life would be exactly like Dungeonquest. Every day you would wake to the maddening smell of fresh, hot pie; you would load your gun and hop the wall only to
get in a firefight with the geriatric security guard and catch a hot one in the neck
make it through the window above the jacuzzi-sized mixing tubs, briefly
get "raspberried" by a robot
And so on, forever, because while guns make you brave, pies make you stupid. And immortality makes you eternally susceptible to both.
Any game where you can get your head whacked clean off by a swinging blade on your first turn get an instant 8 in my book.*
Card-combat mini-game: Looks weirdly complicated at first, but gets easier with repeat play. Still, the setup, play, and cleanup just takes too long and feels at odds with the spirit of the game. Ultimately we ditched it for the DQ Combat Die, below.
First play: Combat was like hitting the pause button on the game to do this other thing, breaking the flow of play. It got to where one person was complaining every time combat occurred—since it stopped the game dead—and I learned to dread any combat. Not because it was necessarily deadly or scary, which would be nicely thematic, but because it seemed like such an incongruous bolt-on interruption of what was otherwise a hilarious character grinder.
UPDATE: Okay, I get it. The card combat is the one chance for player interaction in this, and does allow you to personally stick your finger in your neighbor's eye. I approve, I'm glad it's there, but I just wish it were more smoothly integrated with the rest of the game. It is literally possible for the person doing the cleanup to still be sorting & shuffling when their turn comes back around in a full 4p game!
UP-UPDATE: Bumping to a 9. This thing's potentially a 10, but I'm gonna make DQ work for it. The only thing holding it back at this point is the relative clunkiness of the combat system.
As an intro to D&D, this is great—I could see giving this to kids as the first leg of their journey to Geek Mountain. My only complaint would be how hard Wizards is pushing minis with this; it would be easy for one to believe that minis are *required* for play, when really all you need is paper, pencils, dice and big, fat imaginations. All that aside, this boxed set does a great job of laying it all out in an accessible, stair-stepped fashion.
A great gift for kids—especially if you're going to play it with them.
(Comments refer to the 3rd edition.)
The 4th edition starter is pretty slick, though it comes with cardboard disks instead of pre-painted minis, which is funny since unlike 3rd edition, 4th edition REQUIRES the use of minis and a battle grid... The game has morphed considerably from starter RPG to tactical dungeon combat simulator with this edition. Not a bad thing—it's good at what it does—but personally I like to keep my tactical minis games and RPGs as far away from each other as possible.
Nice enough, but I have a thing against suddenly having to play a table-top minis game in the middle of an RPG session. It yanks the players out of the consensual dream-state of group storytelling and forces them to move little bits of plastic around on the coffee table.
Theater of the mind, baby, theater of the mind!
And, worst of all, using minis really hampers the DM's "fudge perogative"—you know, where you said you were behind the barricade, hiding, and yet a kobold managed to sneak up on you anyhow... Just my 2 gp.
PS. The collectible aspect blows double-plus hard. For the love of baking soda just sell them in sets ala Heroscape.
UPDATE: The new (2006) version of this game is pretty fun. The double-sided full-color maps are gorgeous and immersive; the stat cards are now cleaned up and color-coded; even the minis have slicker paint-jobs. The rules have been tweaked to make it easier to put together a team (read: you don't have to buy bucketloads of minis just to feel like you're able to play) and victory conditions have been opened up and spread out to afford at least two paths to a win. (Kill the other team and/or occupy objective areas.) A decent improvement over the old version, but still really only viable if you're into D&D.
Disclaimer: I have not read the books and have no desire to, having previously gorged myself sick on pulp fantasy as a child. I'm already full and burping rainbows tinged with blood.
I love the way the box art evokes '70s pulp fantasy—the lurid, blacklight colors, the hero surging ferociously forward as his foes fall fatally felled. Even the title font is reminiscent of an acid rock album cover.
The game pretty much hits all those marks—psychedelic and muscular, you cleave through masses of enemies, giving each of them a gullet-loosening taste of steel or a marrow-roasting blast of black magic. And the whole time the axes wail with soul-blistering guitar solos that propel you forward into the arms of either an appropriately outsized sex object or Death Itself...
Also, few things are as satsifying as dual-wielding a hapless goblin to death who was probably doing nothing more than innocently poking his head out his front door to see what all the ruckus was about.
Rating & comments are for the 1st Printing with the screwed up rulebook; the Revised (2012) Printing gets a 7.
tl;dr — As an Arkham Horror & dice game fan I like what it does, though rules & timing ambiguities keep it from being great. Like AH expect to play it entirely wrong the first couple times, and then find it far too easy once you do get the rules down.
tl;dr After the FAQ: A kinder, gentler Arkham—and not in the good way—this game is mild and crazy-easy. The first printing is a total loss.
Progression through the first 10 plays with the rules out of the box (pre-FAQ first printing):
Thoughts after one play: I'm pretty sure that all the various reports of "too easy/too hard" are due to incorrect play (a critical issue with other co-ops like Lord of the Rings, Ghost Stories & Pandemic)—missing a single, small rule* or even just altering the order of certain events** could make the entire system cascade in one direction or the other.
The rulebook is needlessly obtuse for what is essentially a push-your-luck dice game—assemble dice pool, roll, bank or re-roll shouldn't be so hard to explain. We hit many, many rules ambiguities in our first play, several of which were only answered with a very careful line-by-line rereading of the rules afterward, as the answers were often a single sentence hidden inside a paragraph, and thus easily missed. Still other questions await an offical FAQ.
Other than that the game is pretty, the components excellent, and rolling dice is fun. Also, I think no fewer than three people got eaten by the Shoggoth in the Koi Pond.
After three plays: The key to all push-your-luck dice games is, of course, banking and re-rolls. It took a couple plays to figure out when and where this is possible, as the rulebook is less than effective at spelling (hah) it out.
• Success = keep going You can keep rolling as long as you are successfully completing tasks, but, of course, that shrinks the pool, making future tasks more difficult.
• Clues Clues are HUGE as they are the primary mechanism that lets you bank and re-roll. Spend a clue to re-roll any or all of the dice in the pool. Most games of this ilk allow a certain number of bank/re-rolls—e.g., three in Yahtzee—but here you're limited to how many clues you have.
• Focus/Assist You can bank a single die on yourself, or a single die on a fellow Investigator on the same Adventure card... but you must fail to complete a task first. A small booby prize, though with the die you lose for failure you're down two dice in the pool, so it's a gamble.
• Spells Cast before the roll (a dangerous gamble) and bank one or two dice out of a roll (though this could be brutally bad if you are required to bank). Post-FAQ update: Spells are now cast after the roll, to bank dice you already know you want to keep. Does the double-whammy of making the game easier (?!) and removing any downside to spells—removing all thematic coherence. Lovecraftian spells are supposed to be dangerous, but it's all happy fairy magic now.
Elder Sign doesn't feel like a true push-your-luck experience until you understand how to pull off clever combos with all these mechanisms. Then the game really opens up and delivers.
Still, as a tuned co-op machine it misfires badly if you forget the small rules*** or get the sequencing of certain choices or events wrong. Looking very forward to an offical FAQ to clean this thing up.
After sixseven eight plays: I almost get the sense I'm playing it correctly. Almost.
After nine plays: Okay, I finally get it. Elder Sign is a light, storytelling larf, along the lines of Talisman (Revised 4th Edition), rather than a tight, cruel co-op engine like Pandemic. Expectations reset accordingly.
Final Analysis: Man, I wanted to love this game. It's totally in my wheelhouse—Lovecraft, dice, quick co-op. But the first printing is a total loss. The rulebook is wrong on several fundamental issues (spells, focus/assist, etc.), three of the characters need to have new rules scrawled on their cards, and the FAQ changes make the game stupid easy.
Lovecraft + co-op + easy = WTF?!
A good co-op needs to have an out-of-the box win-rate below 50% in order to bear repeat play—the tension of not knowing whether or not you're going to survive is the game. It also incentivizes "beating" the game and gives big emotional payback for a hard-fought win. Elder Sign has none of this. I'm not even sure we've ever lost.
Yes, I could make up rules to increase the difficulty but that's not what I paid FFG for. If I wanted to make my own games, or houserule the hell out of the ones I own (and then blunder through personal playtesting to see if they work) then I'd be doing that. If a game is a "make-your-own" kit then say so on the box.
I'm sorry I was an early adopter on this one. Rating dropped to a barely deserved 5.
* Like adding a Doom Token to the Doom Track whenever an Investigator is devoured.
** Like what happens when you complete an Adventure card:
1. Receive reward(s) 2. Move Investigators to Entrance 3. Remove dice & take card as trophy 4. Draw new Adventure card
is important as monsters in the "reward" line cannot be put on the new Adventure card. An easily missed, teeny-tiny detail. Post-FAQ update: Nope! Monsters are now an exception and can be added to the new card. This change does the double-whammy of making the game easier while adding an exception to the rules. Just what it needed...
*** "Lose sanity/stamina" is entirely different from "adjust your sanity/stamina"—thus, the stamina cost on something like the Hallway on Fire cannot be prevented with Food, for instance. Another tiny detail that is merely implied by word-choice in the rules... and, upon closer inspection, the rules use both interchangeably. So, the question is, can you use a steak dinner to save yourself from a fire? Or kill a Ghost with Whiskey? Post-FAQ update: Yes. Yes you can.
Elder Sign is really all about the pulpy, three-fisted flavor and the delicious tension that comes from a 5-in-6 chance of instant doom as the lone bone rattles around in a sweaty fist and a depth of eyeballs stare...
...and for those rare moments of real catharsis when that 1-in-6 bit hits and the whole table erupts in exaltation.
*This play had an inordinate number of new players—three, I think—and we don't allow alpha-dogging in our co-ops. A crack team of veterans would have won this one.
**Though without the solo games this jumps to 80%. I consider solo play to be a degenerate variant as I play with a single character alone; Mr. Launius has stated elsewhere that the game is really "balanced" (or at least designed) for four characters at a time, recommending the full compliment for solo play. I dislike the fiddly overhead of running an entire team by myself, and besides, the game is much more challenging with a single character. And that's a good thing.
tl;dr — In terms of making the game harder, Unseen Forces misses the mark; but as an expansion that adds more of pretty much everything so that no two games (stories) are ever the same, it's a triumph. I would not hesitate to recommend it for those who use the game as a storytelling engine. In that regard it's a must-have.
So far we've won almost every game with the expansion, and only one of those felt anywhere near close. BUT—from a narrative perspective, all of those games were highly entertaining. Groans, cheers, laughter—the sessions evoked real emotions and made for a memorable evening every time.
The curse die, an element that looms so large in the rules—as in oh, man if someone gets cursed they are boned—ends up being a paper tiger. It's almost never an issue, is easily avoided, and except for when Tsathoggua is AO, easily remedied.
PS. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the fact that the new cards are exactly the same size as the old ones. One thing that put me off buying FFG expansions was mismatched card sizes—even when they're off by just a little bit they clump up when shuffled and are obvious in the deck. And I hate sleeves. But the Unseen Forces cards are perfect.
PPS. The expansion box top makes an excellent die rolling tray. We had been using the original box top but the new one is a much more convenient size for passing around the table, especially with larger groups.
UPDATE: The Master Mythos cards make the game as rugged as it needs to be—if they show up. It's still a cakewalk without 'em.
√ Party at Hearst Castle √ Party at Alcatraz √ Strangle a wizard
This is my favorite kind of game, a choose-your-own-adventure book cut up and pasted onto cards.*
Now that we've played enough to get the rhythm of the thing I quite like it, especially the feeling of putting your own team together, via allies, and taking on different aspects of the mega-plot while coordinating with other globe-trotting groups. You can almost see the red arrows gliding from place to place while the adventure-travel music beats a tattoo of ominous progress.
The mechanical stuff's fine, I guess—I don't really notice it, which says a lot—but so far the emergent narratives have been fantastic. Which is all I really care about.
So, does this replace Arkham Horror? Not really. They're two different beasts. Arkham is a mechanically quirky and convoluted thing (facets I find charming) about three-fisted Mythos adventures in New England, while Eldritch is the cleaner, tighter, "more modern" global version. They're different enough to be distinct and enjoyed for the unique experiences they provide.
*For best effect, have the left-hand player draw and read the card for the active player—in dramatic fashion—while keeping the pass/fail results secret. Only tell them the choices, and then once made and rolled-for, the resulting outcome—don't give away any results they didn't get. This keeps things mysterious. (It's best for the left-hand player to do this as the right-hand player may still be doing bookkeeping while finishing up their turn, and it gives everyone a rotating slot as storyteller.
**Down to the wire: Mythos deck depleted, Cthulhu rises and we are just plain not ready for it. We will lose at the end of the round. Unless... Serendipitous ticket shenanigans see three investigators converge on R'lyeh as Jaqueline Fine, bleeding from every hole in her head, telepathically transfers five clues to Lily Chen, who is armed with the carbine. Suddenly, Lily knows exactly where to put the rounds, and taking aim just past the hissing bulk of sun-blotting noise-mass-terror that is The Sleeper Disturbed she plinks away at the writhing sigils gouged into impossible spires. And just like that, it's done. (Everyone was so excited we spilled coffee on the game, a fitting symbol for the indelible stain on the investigators' psyches that would color the rest of their (short) lives.)
Holy crap on a stick being waved in your face while you're duct-taped to a folding chair in a shipping container lined with piss-stained mattresses! This should be standard issue at any gathering of more than three. Just be prepared for laugh-induced vomiting and spilled drinks! Definitely should have come with a Nerf enclosure to prevent chipped teeth when hurled. Highly recommended.
Giving this a tentative 7. It's got a lot going for it on the surface—portability, theme, art—but the simple system feels just the littlest bit clunky. If it smooths out with more plays, I could see this being a staple... we will see.
This is the cards 'n dice version of Sailor Jerry, Charles Manson and Walt Disney taking turns making Aleister Crowley airtight while the third wheel does the Buffalo Bill dance in the PCP space helmet.*
Look, there's no mystery to it—if you're not sure if this is for you, it flat-out ain't. I mean, c'mon—the title is a dead giveaway in this regard.
For me, the game effortlessly evokes the sensation I strive for in every game I play, and underscores my perennial disappointment with Euros. Epic Spell Wars is pure theme, entirely unmoored and aggressively in service to itself... and somewhere beneath that country mile of sparkly-pink frosting is a tiny, skull-cracking nut of impossibly compressed chaos of the take-that variety.
Fig. 1 — Pretty much the exact opposite of this.
You won't win because you're smart or good at games, but because you were balls-out lucky. Just like a real wizard.
In the end this is much better thought of as a party game where the goal is to entertain your friends—throw yourself into it and get that done right and everyone at the table "wins".
(Like other games of this ilk it benefits from being as short as possible and played infrequently; I highly recommend the "Quick Match Variant" over the normal—and potentially overlong—rules as written.)
*Part of a purloined spacesuit with the life support system jury-rigged to freebase PCP, ayahuasca and powdered toad; getting in and out of it is something of a chore, what with the mummified cosmonaut stuck inside. Well, most of him, anyway.
The handpicked crowd was cheering, as they were obligated to do, when we met for the last time at the podium. We smiled like the serpents we were and clasped hands as murderous apes must, and sotto voce, beyond the reach of the mic, you breathed:
"I'll see you shot or hanged. Maybe both."
My smile broadened as I clapped you on the back and turned to the auto-exaltation of the crowd. "That would be just the thing, wouldn't it," I hissed through my teeth, "Just the thing for a traitor."
All that work for all those years, from the moment of dark enlightenment through the weaving of our self-culling networks, our ambitions entwining and diverging as power increased and our foes fell away, all that work to be the one wearing Orwell's boot—forever—undone in a blink as the terrorist bomb ripped through the reviewing stand.
Our memorial statues were revealed that same day, the day the new regime promised to bring the haters of freedom to a terrible justice, for that is what, above all, the Republic stands for.
Mechanically, this is just a grind nibs to trade for nobs and score dinguses worker-placement affair... but I'm not here for any of that. Just know that all the mechanical stuff works, and works just fine.
What sets this apart, though, is the theme and the way that theme is brilliantly woven into the proceedings. For example, everyone begins the game with a revealed recruit from one of four factions, as well as a hidden recruit to be revealed later. Players sharing the same faction will end up working semi-cooperatively—helping to dig the same tunnel, pushing the same allegiance track forward to increase their faction's power. The unrevealed recruits add the wrinkle of undeclared alliances—if my mole is the same faction as your active recruit then I know we're kinda in cahoots*... something of which you're not necessarily aware. Delicious.
There are so many other bright things I could point to—the unrestricted trade of commodities, resources and artifacts; colluding to freeze other players out of constuction sites; the way low morale hinders your ability to collect artifacts (disaffected workers will rat you out to superiors); and on and on and on...
The attention to detail and the organic cohesion of theme, mechanics, and presentation are breathtaking.
I could very easily see this becoming one of my favorite games—instead of farming to impress the king how 'bout if I impress myself by lobotimizing some workers?
Get in the machine, you!
UPDATE: Enjoying this enough that I popped for the "Supreme" version, both to get the up-rezzed bits (gold bricks! brick bricks! tiny stones!) and to get the "faceless" recruits as I'm deathly allergic to "girlfriend mage". You see, the game comes with fish-out-of-water backer faces inserted into the art; not being an actual backer myself, I figured the "faceless" recruits would look like these:
But they don't... And one is even a baby—a baby.
Sigh. The moral of the story is that there's no reason to splurge and scramble for an aftermarket "Supreme" edition—"Deluxe" works just fine if you want the super-fancy stuff.
UP-UPDATE: In actual play I find that the backer-face recruits don't annoy me as much as I thought they would; in fact, the little bit of personality they add to the game is... actually kinda nice, I suppose. Still, if they ever end up offering the original faceless ones I'd grab 'em, no hesitation.
PS. If you're wondering what to do with those allegiance bonus markers, try this.
UP-UP-UPDATE: The luck factor can only be mitigated through nepotism—as you fall behind and/or are cruelly afflicted by The System you must get busy wheeling and dealing through unrestricted trade. Don't be shy about greasing palms and maintaining those connections... for only when you find yourself in that place where you have no friends are you truly hosed.
After 15 plays: 8 --> 7 Start positions are precipitously uneven and unknowable until the game begins, at which point you are either unjustly rewarded or iniquitously punished until it's over. I still like what it does, it's just that sometimes being the dystopic object lesson—again—is hard to take.
FINAL ASSESSMENT: 7 --> 6 Wore this out in 17 plays. Far too much of how the game will go for you lies in which recruits you get in the initial deal: Pick the same factions as others at the table (especially if you get a pair of a popular faction) who also give you freebies or otherwise enhance the economics of any single die placement and your game will be awesome. If not, you will lose—good play notwithstanding—to opponents of equal skill who lucked-out with better recruits. And there's just no good fix for this. I'll keep it around, but we're done with it for now.
A very good family game with bidding, multiple paths to victory, and just enough chaos and player interaction to keep things hot.
It's rather light (read: weak) as a gamer game. But with a couple of rules tweaks it can be downright nasty:
1) # of players minus 1 for number of genes each round
2) players start with zero cards, and
3) cards up for bid are face-up.
UPDATE: Been replaying this lately (Summer/Fall of '11) with the straight-up rules-as-written. Works just fine, sans tweaks, for what it is. Fun, with some neat little systems. Succeeds in evoking the weird bloat and contraction of migration, population explosion and massive die-offs. Rating up from 7 to 8.
It's like playing Mastermind after having your eyes gouged out (painlessly yet comically) so you're wearing a raw bandana of white gauze around your face with two reddish-brown circles seeping through. Your hand quivers as you present your offering of fake gems; you can smell the natives as they press in, eager to see who screws up. Hopefully, they breathe in unison, hopefully it will be that one with the big, fat head...
The kink, and what makes the game, is that ties cancel out—so that if several people would have won the bid (because they all bid optimally) they are removed from contention and the winner is sought from the remaining players. This process of elimination continues until only one person remains. This leads to a wonderful, awfully weird headspace where you are not trying to make *optimal* bids, but *unique* bids.
The result is a delicious game of quintuple-think where things very rarely ever go the way you want—if your idea of fun is trying to ride a giant electric chaos-whip, then grease up and hop on—this one's for you!
tl;dr — Don't know from the show, but as a storytelling/adventure game this works great.
This is a "story game" first and foremost—it provides, via cards and mechanics, a series of dots that you and your friends can connect to spin an engaging yarn of your time out in the black. In that regard it has far more in common with Runebound (and the like*) than Merchant of Venus. As it stands, this is a pretty middle of the road pick-up-and-deliver game—but it is an awesome story game.
I suppose I should admit that I am not a Firefly fan—I never got past the first couple episodes of the TV series (especially when they were pandering so obviously to segments of fandom that I am not a member of**), though I did enjoy Serenity. This is important to know as my flaccid interest in the license in no way detracts from this fine game.
As a licensed product this one transcends—to an amazing degree—the usually poor treatment such things get. The bits are all gorgeous and high-quality, especially the money (and I loves me some paper money***). The game is mechanically sound, works, and provides an interesting storytelling engine. Instead of phoning it in the designers and producers definitely heaped some love and skill on this.
Speaking prematurely and from the hip I get the impression that the sweet spot for this will be 3 players—I fear that with 4 there will be just too much "story" flying around as well as too much downtime waiting to get back to yours. But we shall see...
tl;dr — Light & fast = FUN; serious & slow = OH GOD KILL ME NOW
Thoughts after a single 2p game:
It works well as a chill activity with a glass of wine & some downtempo ambient. It's pretty, has neat little puzzles to solve, and everything you do nets you some kind of return, so there's a feeling of constant forward progress (as opposed to irritating impotence). I like the dark undertones of Rasputin-like manipulation of entire peoples, murder, and slave sacrifice in order to treat with demons. But that's just me.
I think it would be absolute hell with hardcore gamers, especially at max player count. Each turn can be laboriously optimized for maximum payoff with minimum setup for the next player; but this process, at least in the early game, involves brute-forcing all possible moves to climb the various branches of the game tree, a fractally-fuzzed boredom bush. This might be okay if you're playing against quantum computers (spoiler alert: you will lose), but it would be excruciating with savannah-born meat-brains (chuck a spear, check; grind n-ply game states in a timely fashion, not so much). A chess clock would be a must... or you could just hold everyone to casual play and save the thinky for heavier games where such deep contemplation is part of the intended experience.
Probably most enjoyable with your honey, family play, or two couples as a social activity.
Thoughts on the 2p rules:
It's a bummer that the process of turn-order bidding for two is merely implied in the rules—maybe more obviously for some, but still. It would have been nice to have a small, concrete example of what must otherwise be intuited.
No one wrote:
The two players will bid for four turn order slots; it is therefore possible, through clever and/or aggressive bidding, to get two (or more!) turns in a row.*
*If you go 3,4 in one turn and then 1,2 in the next that's four turns in row!
UPDATE: After 3 more games at 4p, it's a solid 7. Works as intended—a pleasant little puzzler with lots to do, Nerf®-edged back-and-forth, and gorgeous to boot.
Stuff we got wrong:
• Resource cards are hidden. Good luck finding that in the rulebook...
• Djinn & the market only refresh between rounds. What you see during turn order bidding is all you'll get until next time...
• Viziers score 1 VP each, then +10 per person with fewer than you. So if the final vizier count is 5, 4, 3, 1 the scores will be 35, 24, 13, and 1. This will crazy-change the game...
The three-player game is amazing, unlike any card game you've ever played before. The ever-shifting trumps and the card distribution (one suit is weighted to the top, another toward the bottom; the last one is evenly distributed throughout) will bend your head in the best way possible. The trick is to figure out how to get into the devil-humping business and then get out when the bottle is cheap, but not TOO cheap...
For whosoever hath the bottle at the end GOES STRAIGHT TO HELL!!!
The four-player game works, but just barely; with fewer cards in hand you have fewer options and less control. This really wants to be a three-player game.
But all in all, highly recommended—just don't confuse it with the ribald and scandalous Fleischenteufel.
Great filler—rules can be explained and grasped in 30 seconds, and the game rarely takes more than 15 minutes. Lots of opportunity for bluff and brinksmanship crammed into a little package and short time span. A must for the Serious Games Library. Recommended.
The box should come with a big, orange, jaggy-balloon sticker: WARNING—NOT AN ACTUAL DUNGEON CRAWL!!!
If anything, it's an extremely sideways abstraction of the current World of Warcraft-style MMORPG (pronounced "more-pig") craze. Which is to say, kill to level up, level up to kill. Count the pelts to find the winner.
There is a lot more going on under the hood here than the theme or rules would have you believe. The game is easier to grok (at least for me) when reduced to an economic system where you buy VPs based on your credit rating and cash on hand. The more you buy, the better your credit gets, but at the cost of your cash. The tension in the game (as stated elsewhere by others) comes down to deciding when to buy vs. when to take some free cash... Timing and position are everything.
Layered on top of this you have a tactical movement and positioning system and spells which allow you to muck with pretty much every aspect of the game.
Caused much discussion after a single play.
UPDATE: We've been playing the game horribly wrong due to the use of the term "power supply" being used in the rules for both a player's personal stash AND the communal supply. After going through the rulebook a paragraph at a time and re-collating the rules for comprehension and gameflow, the "real" game actually goes up a point in my estimation. A tight little screw-fest.
Wisdom = Level Power Chip = Endurance Take Power Chips = Resting
Makes way more sense as a dungeon crawl with the right terminology.
A wonderful party game that lets you create and live a life with all the depth and texture of the Titanic's debris field. Watch out who you pal-up with, though—some "friends" want to take you on a magic carpet ride or trade you back and forth like wood for sheep. Not for those with fragile dispositions or weak livers; but for those looking to live La Vida Gide (if only for an evening), your quest ends here.
A wonderfully themed game of cat and mouse... where the mice are stalking the cat! It comes in on the long side, but this can be mitigated if players take their turns in a snappy manner, especially Dracula. Highly recommended for patient players who are into the milieu. Others may find it too ponderous.
Man, what a letdown. This looked great, and I feel as if I should love it, but it really felt flat to me. I'm not sure what it's missing—it just came out as a mechanical exercise instead of the nail-biting, fate-hanging-on-the-turn-of-a-card experience it promised.
Perhaps I just need to relax and get into it more, but the cartoony art provides a speedbump I just can't clear. Maybe... maybe if we had a more intuitive grasp of the rules so the game flows instead of clumps. Nice idea, but that would require more plays, and this one's slipped far, far down the list.
UPDATE: So we're playing and I'm bumping along the bottom and we make it to stage III and then I get a work call that forces me to step away from the table for a bit... Upon returning I find out I won.
UPDATE: 6 --> 7 Jeez, I don't know what my problem was. This game's a riot with the right people!
UP-UPDATE: Couple things.
1. Don't let the engineer in your group endlessly noodle with the iPad app—he will build perfect ships no matter what tactics are employed against him, like "bogart all cannons" or the classic "sand timer cartwheel". And then he'll double all your scores. Forever.
2. It takes a certain kind of emotional fortitude to not weep openly when you finally finagle things to punch it to the front of the pack and run down the four-dollar pirate, putting salvo after salvo of beam weapons through his papier-mâché flying saucer, and then you're not even buzzed from your first celebratory Zgwortz when you warp around a neutron star and straight into the teeth of Voidbeard the Pirate with his nonstop fusillades that peel your battery nacelles, fountain crew into the silent black, and pick your guns and engines off one after the other and so on until you're just screaming for it all to stop stop STOP! And then the iPad-practiced engineer comes in and mops him up for the 12-dollar bounty. There are words to describe that sensation, but they carry far more meaning when screamed inside an isolating helmet rather than read off a dumb screen.
Fig. 1 — The four-dollar pirate suddenly realizes that macaroni, glue and glitter make for terrible starship armor.
NOTE 1: Normally I hate it when people use the generic term "dollar" for all intermediary economic exchange units in games when there are already perfectly appropriate game-specific designators like "ducats" or "galacticreds" or "orphan femurs", but it turns out that "four-dollar pirate" is funnier than the thematic alternative.
NOTE 2: Voidbeard the Pirate, so-called due to his hideous predilection for weaving curdled space-time into his beard to strike terror into the hearts of his victims. And man, does it ever.
This was one of the better games at Grandma's house—my brother and I used to get a big kick out of selling our kids to the poorhouse at the end... Why the hell did they get rid of that in the new versions?
"Shut up and go eat yer gruel, squealing fruit of my loins! I'm late for the yacht races!"
UPDATE: Long ago, while playing an early printing with my kids, I figured I'd teach them a valuable lesson about gambling—and inject some excitement into the game for me—by irresponsibly throwing the maximum amount of money down on the wheel every turn. (Un)fortunately my numbers hit almost every time and I ended up the winner by a massive margin.
Me: Uh, so you kids know it almost never works like that in real life, right?
Kids: If you say so.
Me: No—that's the lesson. Gambling is bad.
Kids: [dollar signs sparkling in their eyes] Uh-huh.
Rough trade in the form of cardboard and plastic. A crazy, ever-shifting puzzle that actually prevents immersion in the rich theme. If you let the mechanical aspects of the game fuzz into the background in order to provide a foundation for the experience of being a Taoist monk desperately fighting the legions of Hell, you will lose.
The game begs you to do so, with gorgeous art and super production values, but ultimately you have to look past the theme and see the grinding gears of the puzzle box if you have any hope of ever winning. Also, there's an enormous luck component (repeat die rolls to exorcise the ghosts), meaning that even optimal play can be fatally hosed with gallons of demon-tentacle spew. And the rulebook is... nigh impenetrable. I'm still not completely sure how some parts of the game work.
For all that, it's an 8? Yeah—it's stuck with me, I've been thinking about it, and I want to play it again until I beat it to death.
UPDATE: Dropped to a 7. Suffers from the same problem most co-op games do, but to a degree I just can't get over: one person masterminding everyone else's turn. Perhaps it's better suited to solo play instead of "one guy solves the puzzle while directing three chit-pushers".
(NOTE: Comments refer to the 2005 First Edition; this issue has reportedly been corrected in later printings. Not sure about the last bit, though...)
The idea is great, the execution not so much. The main problem lies in the printing on the cards—it's small, fussy, and blurred. Also, the card backs are not printed opaque enough to obscure all of the info on the front. It's not difficult to discern what kind of card you're drawing next.
In the end the transparent overlay is a gimmick that gets in the way of the actual game.
HIDEOUS TOXIC UPDATE: I went and dug this out—ten years later—and found that the cards had done something stinky, sticky and industrial. The clock turns all things to poison eventually; these just got to it sooner than expected.
I love tableau games with multi-use cards (San Juan, Race for the Galaxy, etc.) so this one's right up my blood & vomit-spewed alley... with a really nice statue of Bacchus at the end. Of course, it's mostly made of rubble, but who's to know but the architect and laborers? And I had them all, uh, "exiled".
I've always been drawn to the theme and play style of Glory while being successfully repelled by the hideous clip-art/cartoon "artwork". The Black Box Edition is absolutely gorgeous, with a very hip mid-century modern graphic design vibe. And oh, man, can I dig it.
Ordered immediately after first contact and practically vibrating with excitement to see how my regular group takes to it.
UPDATE: Six plays later... Would that I could be but the Rubble Baron, for at least that has a whiff of the Patrician to it. But alas, lying here alongside a stout and world-wending road without thumbs and sore where the boots have found me I am possessed of nothing but the fact that every road needs a ditch—these things are necessary, and I am clogging up the works.
Great fun when played as a silly party game with lots of role-playing. You can go from being the most wretched, fawning peon possible, then, as your luck changes, lording it over everyone all uber-patrician style. The game itself is a mutant strain of Chinese climbing game, reminiscent of Big Two, et al., where the goal is to play all your cards and "go out" first. But really, that mechanism takes a distant back seat to the social position shenannigans. I think the "game" would suck without them. Rating reflects play with silly-sports.
GOLDEN WIFE-QUOTE: [said with a disturbing case of crazy-eye] "I don't want to play Dalmuti—I want to play a game where I can win."
(It must be said that when we do play she spends an inordinate amount of time in the Dalmuti seat; she was just out for blood that night.)
Started out with a shaggy pony, then got dogs. We hunted whale. We hunted whale.
* The narwhal breached the ice and ironically speared Ugalik clean through the chest. He dropped his own harpoon and hacked at the great beast's tooth with his meteorite ax as he was lifted into the air and rotated suddenly legs-up and wriggling, then slapped into the black, killing water. The whale dismissed us with a wave of flukes and the sting of icy spray. And so we had no meat or blubber but Aulanurk had her choice of husbands that season.
Fig. 1 — I CAN SMELL YOUR LIVER
* BUY THE TICKET, TAKE THE RIDE
Like all Eklund games, this is one's a quirky girlfriend—deep, but not straight up-and-down, nearly unfathomable, unique, unforgettable, haunting. And here she's whipping up a human experience milkshake out of overfull scoops of
geology meteorology biology anthropology religion history
Am I forgetting some? Probably. But goddamn it's tasty. One half-baked play sent me down a fractal warren of Google rabbit holes to see just what the hell was up with that. And that. And... there goes your afternoon.
Know that you'll play this the first couple-five times all wrong and just go for it—the experience is the thing, and every play gets better and better.
Oh, and if you can't tell from the first two paragraphs above, the thing bleeds stories that beg to be told—like the time the Thule and Tunit suckered the ill-prepared Norse into hunting orca. That was a hilariously Bad Day.
Did I mention that I love this game? I love this game!
* Second Edition:
+ Oversized Elder placards instead of playing cards!
- Micro-tiny text on Elder placards. - New art. - Rules tweaks...
The new art is more than sufficient—well-done and entirely consistent—it's just that it has 100% less personality and charm than the First Edition. The overall feeling is generic and sterile, a stark contrast to the previous version's vividly organic cards. It's the difference between flipping through an illustrated book and walking through a museum exhibit—the previous version was far more evocative and "alive".*
So, tiny changes in the rules between editions, yeah.
Phil loves to tinker and I'm not sure he ever truly abandons a game, especially when you can publish changes ad infinitum on the Internet and then rescind them the moment it turns out they don't actually work that well. (Reference the High Frontier rules merry-go-round.) Given that his rulebooks read like one Phil Eklund sharing his notes with a nodding clone of Phil Eklund, this rules churn is especially annoying when it takes several plays to finally get them down, only to see they've changed again—and the natural inclination is to assume that any change made by the designer is a critical one, fixing something that's not quite right, when in reality it's just noodling for noodling's sake.
The key is to pick a version of the rules and stick with it—like we finally ended up doing for High Frontier—so your friends don't kill you because every session is tweaked and feels like yet another learning game. Or an extended playtest.
Regardless, if you're at all intrigued you should try this—it's the one of the best 3-player games I own.
* (Up-rezzed with faux ivory dice & painted wooden disks.)
*Phil's "kit-bashed" card art is almost always shocking upon first contact, but there's a kind of deep symmetry to it, an overarching and unifying ethos that gives the rest of us benighted mortals a glimpse into his brilliant mind. At first it looks like chaos, but as you play you see that it actually works—then it begins to grow on you, and when you finally "get it" your IQ goes up like fifteen points.
What could have been just a parasitic cashing-in on the current Halo fever is actually a pretty nifty game. The best clix game I've played—fast and furious with real decisions. All we need now are better maps and some cool scenarios & we're all set...
The perfect gateway game for Reformation scholars?
This is one of those games you wouldn't end up playing unless you had a specific woody for the theme (at least one would hope). Me, I get all sweaty for it. The game has two issues that by themselves are no problem, but when combined work to kill it off:
1) It takes all day to play. Our "learning game" took eight hours; and
2) It requires repeat plays to really grok the interlocking systems and possibilities.
This isn't a problem for me, personally—I enjoyed the hell out of that long Saturday spent with friends in the early 1500s. But it will take insane levels of logistics to arrange a day off with a suitable quorum of six ("An all-day game where we LARP the Reformation? Holy crap—now THAT makes my pants fit funny!"). So really we're looking at Die Macher levels of replay... like twice a year, max. And that's a bummer.
If you're here asking, "Is this game for me?" take the Here I Stand Compatibility Quiz:
1) Does the idea of nailing stuff to a church door make you sweat?
2) Do you have five friends who would fight over being the Pope or Martin Luther?
3) Not counting those five friends, are you a social misfit who has no life such that you can spend whole days gaming without pissing any SOs off?
If you said "no" to any of the above, this probably isn't for you.
Provisional rating after one play = 8.
UPDATE: The second play rockets this to a solid 10. The first game was with five n00bs, the second with only three; both were six-player games. Even though it was fraught with error and much page flipping, it was an incredible experience. Can't wait to play it again!
Ideally, the ultimate game would be the seventh one, with the same six people; six games so that everyone gets a chance to play each power (as well as get all the kinks out of the system). That seventh one would be the Real Game, with no n00bs, no one getting hammered through ignorance, and everyone knowing what everyone else is capable of... I know there are at least two of us who are completely smitten with this game, and at least one other we can reliably convince to play, but I fear those other three slots will be forever sat in by n00bs playing for the very first time. Sigh. Time to install some more D-rings in the basement ceiling and break out the chloroform so I can collect some more, uh, dedicated friends.
UP-UPDATE: Fourth play, two n00bs. Rock solid. Also, we now have so many people up for this that we actually had two alternates waiting in the wings for an opening.
We've only played with Laglor (the peg-legged six-million dollar ape whose standard is a scything sheet of hot lead) and the Orc, but that's more than enough to make me a believer. Sure, some of the powers are weak and the d20s and dice bags are shrug-enducing superfluosities—but the figures look great on the battlefield and are just plain fun. And isn't that what Heroscape's all about anyway?
The negatives have nothing to do with the game and everything to do with marketing. Making these Toys R Us exclusives and charging an insane dollar amount made me grind my teeth while cursing the anal retentive 12-year-old that dwells within me (and seems to be responsible for all of my more questionable decisions). As hard as it was to pay full price and as much as I was sure I would suffer from buyer's remorse, in the end I'm glad I picked them up. The reason? One word: dice.
The battle dice that come with each figure are fab. Now everyone who plays gets their own set of dice, in unique colors, so no one can put the bad mojo on the communal blue-n-red dice. No more having to wipe the dice off after Sweaty McGamer gets his man-funk all over them. These are MY dice, there are many like them, but these are MINE. Such a small thing, but in all honesty it's what I love most about this set. YMMFV.
They got the rules for the powers just right in this one—each hero and villain feels exactly like they should. Captain America can richochet his adamantium shield off of multiple heads; Spider-Man is next to impossible to pin down; the Hulk gets stronger as he gets madder. (It felt *perfect* to have him roll 12 (!) attack dice in the last round before he got knocked out: 6 for being the Hulk, plus 5 for being enraged, plus 1 for standing next to Cap. I swear the Abomination got knocked all the way into next month's issue... KRAKA-THOOOM!!!)
Every battle feels like a series of splash-pages with
Your inner 12-year-old will LOVE this. It's just plain fun in a Vikings-killing-robots kind of way...
UPDATE: I've raised my score on this one due to the number of whoopin' 'n hollerin' knock-down drag-out wars we've had. The combat system is fast and simple, you don't have to paint the minis, and the terrain is fab. No two games have ever been alike and the last one we played (a 500 points/side three-way slug-fest) ended with a single character with a single hit point left on the field. Can't recommend this one enough!
GOLDEN KID-QUOTE: "Why are we fighting each other? Why aren't we all fighting the guy who brought us here?"
tl;dr — After 30 plays, this has become my most favorite game ever. It is a Masterpiece, a Magnum Opus and there is nothing quite like it. If you are even remotely into space science/exploration then this was built for you. Just take your time, ease into it and don't be in a hurry to swallow the whole shebang in one go.
40 Plays wrote:
This is the best version of the game. "Legacy" High Frontier—the base game with the Expansion, and the published rules and maps as they stood in October of 2011—is a perfectly tight 5p/two-hour experience that gets exponentially better the more you play.
Colonization complicated it out the yinyang and bloated it into a game that no longer fits inside most heads or a single evening. And I'm still not sure what 3rd Edition is doing.
Right now... just seriously geeking out on the science. Shot a rover at Mars and managed to get it there, survived the aerobraking maneuver only to lose it in a sandstorm.
Intrigued and really looking forward to a proper play.
UPDATE: First play. Mind blown.
UP-UPDATE: Rockets to a solid 9 after two more back-to-back plays, one of which saw the Japanese lose salarynauts over Venus, the ESA looping the screams of their brave aströnautes (breaking up on final approach to Comet Encke) in swanky discotheques, and the UN burning in three full crews over Mars, one after the other, grinding the same doomed mission over and over again. Twenty-four cosmonauts later, Mars was his.
It's not nearly as complicated or difficult as the rules would have you believe. This is the game that dares you to figure out how to play. While the living rules and other attempts at simplified rules, summaries, walk-throughs & etc. all help a great deal, none of them are as clear or straightforward as they could or should be. Once you do figure out how to play, the game's a lot simpler than it appears. That's not to say it's not complex, but the complexity arises from the potential bushiness of the decision tree growing in the sandbox.
The obtuse rule book and the effort required to sift through the spray of Internet resources to figure out just how to play the damn thing keep it from a truly-deserved 10.
The base game is more than enough for a good while. It's a pretty enormous sandbox—you've got the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars (Phobos & Deimos), and a spray of asteroids & comets, with a deep selection of tech to get you Out There... aaand no real direction.* It's simultaneously terrifying and liberating. You can run any mission you can imagine, any way you can finagle it. While it's daunting trying to figure out just what to do, it's exhilarating when a really complicated orbital ballet comes together—solar sail a crew module out from Earth to rendezvous with a freighter carrying a high-tech thruster built by robots at your factory on a distant rock, ditch the sail and burn for the outpost where you stashed some prospecting robonauts, pick them up, refuel on an icy asteroid and wing to the outer edges of the solar system.
Ultimately, the unfortunate effort required to figure it all out is more than worth it. There's no board game experience quite like it and I find myself daydreaming of the most harebrained and unlikely missions...
Can't wait to play more!
UP-UP-UPDATE: More sandbox sim than game. There is no "rubber-banding" mechanism to help those who fall behind, and whiffing on a single risky maneuver (aerobraking or hazard) can cost you the win.** This isn't a knock against the game at all—it's a simulation with a lesson to teach, and it teaches it well: space exploration & exploitation is expensive, difficult and dangerous. It's only for those with resolve and daring. A frontier indeed. When sitting down to roll through this it's best to adjust the mindset appropriately—it's an experience, a sim, a place to experiment and fail. Attempting to game it or play it in a "gamey" fashion will result in a crippled, unsatisfying half-experience.
Surprisingly, playtime has hovered around two hours, even for our five-player games!
UP-UP-UP-UPDATE: It's really, really hard to watch Taikonauts loot your billion-dollar landing site—using your flag to erase your footprints and your commemorative plaque as a hammer. It's the kind of vandalism that hardens hearts and launches nukes...
*The pre-fab "signpost" missions are a good start, but some favor different tech over others which puts you in the Catch-22 position of not knowing good from bad without several plays. Being a sandbox experience, failure is half the fun, right?
**You can avoid taking those risks by not going there or invoking the FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION RULE (spending 4 WT to skip the die roll)... but then your game will develop more slowly than those who accept the risk and dive in head-first.
Gutted for spare parts; I loan the patent decks (including the supports from the Expansion) out for new players to study—hilarity is magnified when everyone understands completely why things went horribly wrong.
So, dipping the tippy-toes in with our first game using all the new expansion rules but no modules—yet. We'll add those in one after another for an experience snowball—Bernals & colonists, freighters, GW thrusters, Futures—to get both the full effect of each and to prolong the experience. That means, what, like 12 plays before we're spun up to the full game? Shucks, I guess we better get crackin'.
Some notes from the first play:
• With the Income op at 2 and white cards selling for 4 out of the gate the economic system—so tight and shavey in the previous incarnation—is kinda bloated. WT is easy to come by, speeding up the game and mitigating the effects of crap-blowin'-up but at the cost of tension. I'm imagining that this will tighten back up with all modules on. (?)
• Extropy via Events and triangle burns is genius—definitely speeds things up. It's cool to move, cycle a deck and then Research the next card.
• Having single factories poot out multiple black tech cards is TREMENDOUS.
• The new Solar Cycle is kinda brutal, with events kicking off every other round like clockwork. I had a Martian resupply/rescue mission* get a hole punched in it three times in a row from back-to-back CMEs and Space Debris.
♪ That's High Frontier! ♫
UPDATE: I really like the Idea Turns to get things started quickly, though I'm still suspicious of how much bloat the full game will add—our Legacy games never went more than two hours, even with 5p and all Expansion modules on—and it would be a huge bummer if this tight, tense experience became an all-day sucker.
UP-UPDATE: (6 plays) Though it's been a rough start, I really like what Colonization does. It's got a ton story built into it, with an exponential arc of explore-industrialize-colonize-ascend. There are real reasons to push politics, as well as to go to war. (Operation Scrub the Space Pope, anyone?)
It's ponderous and clumsy until you get the process of establishing dirtside Bernals down, but once you're there, it should sing. (Much in the same way getting factories was initially so daunting in the base game, but once you got that down the game rolled hot.)
I get the impression that this might fit into a three-hour timeframe with experienced players and all modules on; at least I hope that things radically snowball once labs get built and everyone's promoting cards. We shall see...
*Yeah, people still get stranded on Mars in this one. Sigh.**
**I know you're scratching your head and thinking, "But Chris, that's a total rookie mistake—how the hell did that happen after 30-some-odd games?" And all I can say is that when you're the UN, your first patent is a solar sail, and Mars is open for business, you just kinda go for it. It's not until you slide your Corvette into the valet lane at Chez Valles Marineris that you realize your hot date is just a blow-up doll filled with hydrazine.
This is the best version of the game. "Legacy" High Frontier—the base game with the Expansion, and the published rules and maps as they stood in October of 2011—is a perfectly tight 5p/two-hour experience that gets exponentially better the more you play.
As a lifelong and eclectic gamer it's my favorite game of all time.
Colonization complicated it out the yinyang and bloated it into a game that no longer fits inside most heads or a single evening. And I'm still not sure what 3rd Edition is doing.
After bending your head far enough around the flagpole to be able to grok the base game, this one comes along and ties it in a knot. And I mean that in the good way.
Nothing short of amazing, though the initial experience replaced the frustration of lack of funds with the frustration of a lack of tech that all worked nicely together. Adding in supports—and the supports of the supports, as well as the need to radiate the increasing heat-load of those support-supports—was akin to buying pants by winning a pie-eating contest; eat enough pies and you win the pants... That now don't fit. So you eat more pies to get some new pants and you see where this is going.
Once you do manage to cobble together a rocket that works you just go with it—the only thing I ever optimized on my Frankenship was the robonaut. I was afraid to monkey with anything else lest the whole thing bloat out and bust the seams in an undulating cascade of stuff needing more stuff.
All the tech that is magical and game-breaking in the base game (Zubrin, anyone?) is brutally balanced in the full game. That thing burns hot and even after dumping fuel through it as coolant you're gonna have to come up with four more therms of cooling. Also, the Metastable Helium thruster has a rad-hardness of zero, as in "nope". Suck it!
Fantastic, recommended, head-spinning—though only after the base game becomes too easy. You really oughta play that five or so times before diving into this.
[After one play without Politics, Combat or Events (though we did keep Solar Flares/CMEs because watching the angry Sun decommission someone's thruster is hilarious).]
Play time still hovered around two hours, even with all the extra doohickeys. Nice.
UPDATE: Gets better and better with each play. We bust Luna as a matter of course and don't use Politics, Combat or Events (we do, however, execute Solar Flares/CMEs). At some point I think I'll push for a "full game" with all options... and the Chinese.
UP-UPDATE: Playing the full game now, with all rules on—Politics, Combat & Events. On paper it looks like it would make the game longer (losing cards from Glitch, Space Debris and Budget Cuts... as if Solar Flares weren't bad enough) but in actual play these things only happen a couple of times per game. The rules overhead for all the extras is minimal and really pretty simple, with the end result being a tasty slathering of narrative. (When a spanner going 30,000 kph scrubs someone's crew module out of LEO, well, what's not to like?)
I am glad we stair-stepped it, though:
- Base game to - Expansion without Politics, Combat, or Events to - Full game with all rules,
waiting until we were all comfortable (and eager for a little something extra) before adding the next bit. For the life of me I can't imagine trying to learn Everything At Once as a n00b in a starter game. HF is truly a "deep experience" that requires familiarity and comfort with all the various details to realize its potential.
Rush it & play once... have patience & play for life!
Based on a single play with a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed four-year-old. Great at what it does—color recognition and matching with some minor min-max decision making. I failed to score a single snake and yet I had a blast. Recommended for little kids and the big dumb uncles who love them.
A great game of quintuple-think. Lots of agonizing choices ("I need to exhibit, and I know he knows I need to, which means I shouldn't, but, of course, he knows that, too, so he'll be expecting me not to. Or will he?") and simultaneous play make for the fastest, sweatiest Great Dada Heist you've ever experienced. I guarantee you don't have anything like it in your collection. ("What are we in this one, petulant old geezers cobbling together Rauschenbergian agglomerations of junk to try and out-Duchamp each other? Really? Wow.") Recommended.
We did this to give the wives a glimpse into our RPG life, and yea, they have stared into the Abyss...
The good news is they loved it! Everyone dressed for the various parts, with one elegant lady even renting a costume for the occasion. We dined on a very fancy dinner; everyone got into their roles and hammed it up. In the end, one person had the solution, arrived at by actual sleuthing.
We are all looking very forward to playing one of these again!
A hard-nuts negotiation game. It's like... Traders of Genoa & Acquire's crack-baby all grown up and having an ADD-fueled bipolar blowout in the boardroom. You will hear naughty words. Coming out of your own mouth.
UPDATE: This is now referred to as the "I'm Not Your Friend Anymore Game".
UP-UPDATE: Someone mean requested this at the last gamesday as a joke—knowing full well how much we all feared its power to upset and rile. Turns out that if you come into it resolved not to take anything personally the game really shines. It ends up being the "thinking man's Pit". I'm glad to see the game redeemed and back in the rotation.
Lots of good stuff in here... Whatever you do, don't let the Gnomes get the undersea gold foundry! And if you own it expect to have Gnomes all up in your biz constantly. The good news is that they're such cheapskates they tend to hire convenience store clerks to assault in Cold War-era Soviet subs. Listening to the valve sproings and reactor blowouts on passive sonar is a real Kurskapalooza!
• Fractal tentacle sex ("Nothing but tentacle sex all the way down.")
• Warbot pilot AIs
• "Infinite Cheezburgers"
• Weaponized malware that unpacks upon download, co-opts all resources in your local net, rehosts all your baseline neural functions inside every personally networked device, snow-crashes your brain and drives you around like it fucking stole it; you'll do porn and murder and murder-porn before it's done with you and dumps the body via suicide-by-cop.
UPDATE: So far half the games have been hilarious FUBAR heists where:
• Everyone gets in slap-fights over the best Wi-Fi hot spots
• Someone finds out that while next year's Luv-Luv Bot™ model is only five-foot-three and cute as hell it weighs more than 350 pounds and reverse-cowgirls like a pile driver, no, really
• Most everyone gets shot in the leg
• One lucky bastard makes it out to the rainslick parking lot where he/she/it hotwires the minivan (because Mr. White—God rest his soul—had the keys), and lays rubber onto the frontage road just in time to see the security merc APC get air off some parked cars and skid sideways across the wet asphalt, all six riot tires locked up—making the slowpokes in the lobby dolly-zoom as they crap their pants—and ram the building in a shower of glass and gore...
And the other half have been completely dull.
The random factor means that when this baby gels it sets up hard and sweaty, and when it doesn't it's boring as hell. I'm gonna call it a six.
UP-UPDATE: Because this game hinges on the random factor lining up just so**, the variants where (1) each character starts with two preset item cards and (2) the card drafting mechanism for item selection absolutely kill what makes this game work (some of the time). If you know which items are in play, there are no outrageous surprises... and that's really all the game has going for it in the end. Much better to have everyone start with four unknown bits of gear. Only then can true hilarity ensue (some of the time).
*Don't try to be clever—you'll only be plagiarizing the Master File.
**A high alarm count combined with high proximity rolls, as well as synergistic item cards.
Initial (pre-play) indications are good—a quick, light D&D-themed dice game. Or is it LCR with loose teeth?
UPDATE: First play with the kids was fun—it's goofy, you get to roll lots of dice and knock chips off of each other's piles, and it has a hearty slug of D&D flavor.
UP-UPDATE: A raucous role-playing romp! This was the runaway hit of the last gamesday. We played it at least eight times as a filler, two or three times through in a sitting, with much laughter and smack talk. Absolutely achieves what it sets out to do... and there's something deeply satisfying about taking a chair to a Halfling.
The best of the action point trilogy. There's plenty to do, and plenty of different ways of getting it done. I especially enjoy the "3-D jigsaw puzzle" aspect of tile placement as you build the terraces to out-Yertle your opponents. A definite must-have for the serious games library!
A not-awful just-before-bedtime-game where you collect sets of characteristics to capture cartoon animals, e.g., each animal has a type, color and number of dots that must be matched by cards in your hand. A mechanism for stealing animals from other players is thrown in, as well as cards to prevent the theft. The take-that/stealing mechanic can be frustrating for children—especially if through luck of the draw they don't have any (or not enough) of the anti-stealing cards. Mercifully, the game has a built-in timer: as soon as all 12 animals are captured, the game ends. Table talk tends to swirl around whether the animals will be loved, eaten, or experimented on.
Okay, it's just Kaiju Yahtzee with some game-nudging cards—but I'm a sucker for a glossy theme and this one is well-lacquered. If you have trouble managing probability, hate player elimination or can't make serviceable giant monster battle sounds then stay away; otherwise know that it plays quickly and is a real hoot if everyone can get into the theme:
Spartan-kicked through a city block
Clubbed with a nuclear aircraft carrier and raked with scintillating eye-beams
Note: There are actually people alive who have never seen a Kaiju movie—not even King Kong. When you say, "You know, like Godzilla," they stare blankly and say, "God-what?"
"Mega-spleen ruptured!""Now give 'em the business!"
Light, random filler that successfully evokes the feeling of slap-happy martial-artsy mayhem. Only for those who know what a flying guillotine looks like, can name the Five Deadly Venoms, and can list the contents of a six-demon bag.
"Magnificent invincible flying spinning bamboo pole to the head!"
The final word in B-movie zombie horror gaming. Engaging, campy and drop-dead gorgeous. It had six of us standing up out of our chairs, cheering and jeering die rolls. Can't wait to get this to the table again.
Technically it's a game (or should I say, "game") that works just fine as a brief money-funnel into some lucky bastard's pocket. When played for dollar coins or fifty-cent pieces it works, but just barely—be advised that there are no decisions (save to play or not to play) and there is no way of massaging the odds. Playing for plastic chips is just plain stupid. You might as well do coin-flips for air-kisses.
I want to give this an 8 in the worst way—and I often come by here to do just that—but something's holding me back.
I don't know if it's the player elimination—not something I normally have a problem with, as usually when people start dying the rest of the living aren't far behind, but sometimes one person will kick out early and for whatever reason the game will suddenly let up and enter a weird glide phase where things actually turn around, leaving the dead player with little to do other than dealing cards and sliding them around on the playmat forlornly.*
Or maybe it's that fragile variability where the card draws from the myriad decks conspire to make the game stutter between laughably easy and impossibly hard, with little rhyme or reason between either state.
It feels like it wants to be a story game, but all the moving parts detract from that—and it's too swingy to function as a strategy game, stranding it in an ultimately unsatisfying limbo between the two. It does neither well enough to really shine.
Also, the card art is hideously inconsistent, scribbling all over the map from cool/evocative to WTF/amateurish.
*I suppose the "Player Aliens" advanced rule would solve this for those who die by chestburster, effectively accelerating the end, but what about the poor sap who died by other means? And yeah, it's easy enough to houserule it so everyone who dies plays an alien, but that just feels like piling on... but maybe that's the whole point, right? The only problem is that I'm violently allergic to houserules.