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 Puritans haven't been invented yet—I want sausage and a side of eggs with my historical references, please!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 mind-set, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 "bee hive", 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."
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—
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
The Descartes Editeur version with the gorgeous, ginormous cards and the wooden Condottiere piece.
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.
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.)
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!"
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.
♪ 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.)
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...
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.
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."
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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 late-'50s/early-'60s 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.
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
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!
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!
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.
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!"
UPDATE: Man, this is so up in my wheelhouse I can't stand it. You can take an oar to a child, or get flaregunned in the chest over something as stupid as a bucket of chum. And those moments when you finally decide to do something about the bully, rally the rest of boat behind you and then stand up to fight—and no one else does?
*Almost as good as being sanguine in death because, hey, you got a bunch of loot secreted on your corpse for your heirs & assigns... only to get unceremoniously dumped overboard just before landfall. Bastards!
The most severely stripped-down abstraction of the stock market you'll ever see. This is Reiner showing you who's Daddy he is. (Hint: YOURS.) Is it even possible to formulate a simpler game that is more fun than this? (Other than "Throwing Rocks At the Weird Kid," I mean.)
This looks like an insta-win with just more of what makes Waterdeep a great game—top-notch art and production values*, as well as solid gameplay that's pregnant with opportunities for lordly shenanigans and emergent narrative—but only time and actual plays will tell.
At this point I'm pretty sure I'll only want to play the modules separately and just ignore the variant where you play everything all at once. Part of the base game's charm is in its sweet concision—playing a 6-player, all-bells-and-whistles "long game" is probably like trying to drink an entire bathtub of maple syrup.
Undermountain — 3 plays
Just as quick and tense as the base game, with players adapting easily to the new material. Two 40-point Quests were scored despite Mandatory Questage (horrors!) and scores were higher in general—yet it was still a close game with the victor only squeezing the win by a single point. Nice.
Skullport — 1 play
*Yeah, the cards aren't the same size as the original game and that makes real shuffling a bit of a thing... but it's such a minor annoyance for one who poops in clean drinking water daily.
Aw, great—now I can take the same drubbing I get in normal Lost Cities (at the hands of my beautiful wife) and have her chain combos on a freakin' board!
I won the first game as she was coming to grips with the new mechanics, then lost the second game soundly in what I expect will become my lot in this game...
And all that gin back at the Explorer's Club does nothing to silence the screams of my men...
UPDATE: What a great, tense game. As much as I enjoy it as a 2-player with my wife & a glass of wine (fine babe + fine wine + fine game = fine time) it really shines as a 4-player... shines like the glint off a scalpel 'neath the harsh lights of an operating theater with leather straps and no anesthesiologist. Maybe you can get a leg free and kick but no one's gonna hear you scream.
Players are suitors full of eager genetic material trying to use various flunkies and dissolute aristocrats to deliver a note to Her Royal Uterus. The winner of each round earns a "token of affection", a little red cube that most assuredly does not represent chlamydia or herpes.
UPDATE: This game is about 9,000 times more fun than it has any right to be—16 cards and some cubes? Passing notes to a princess? Really? But the end result is a quick, light farce that really does feel like scurrying through gardens and halls, of tarrying in chambers at improper hours, all on the little cat feet of whispers and meaningful glances.
The genius of the game comes from the small set of interactions possible with the cards, making the deduction element satisfying enough for the time frame involved (read: short & sweet). Were it any more vexing or longer it would be a failure—but Love Letter is a bonbon of precise proportions, mild and delicious.
This is one of those "Huh—is that all there is?" games. If you look at the action that takes place on a single board across a single turn, it's really a lot simpler than it looks. What bulks the game up into hulking-behemoth-of-German-gaming status is the fact that you'll be playing on four boards simultaneously across seven rounds. Much in the a same way that a full game of Go is more than just four 9x9 games at the same time, a full game of Die Macher will bend your head to its outer limits as you attempt to do the cognitive push-pull on a bazillion cardboard levers for five hours.
I don't feel qualified to throw an official rating on it after just one play; unofficially I'd give it a 7 or an 8—I'm not really sure right now. I was underwhelmed at first by the idea that it was just many iterations of the same mechanics over and over with little variation. I find myself, however, unable to stop thinking about it, much like after finding out the homely girl in your eighth grade class is a fantastic kisser... It definitely loses points for the fact that it takes five hours and requires a quorum of five players who get all frothy at the idea of spending an entire afternoon LARPing German electoral politics. I'd like to play it several more times to get a better idea of exactly how I feel about it, but that's going to be hard to do more than once a year or so. Perhaps I'll have an answer within the next five years. See you then.
UPDATE: Had a better handle on things after a second play, but since it took place a year after the first one, it still felt like a learning game. On the theme side I really love how cynical (and realistic) the game is: instead of having the different parties take principled stances on issues, everyone is fighting for the middle, flip-flopping like crazy to maximize vote count.
As far as Rummy-style shenanigans go, this one's tops. The raw game inside is semi-mediocre—I'm not sure how much fun it would be with cards, for instance. But those tiles make it! Washing, building the walls, drawing stacks, arranging and monkeying around with them—it's a treat for the senses.*
Recommended as a social couples' game.
*And anyone who doesn't think so can go eat a pound of salt.
A righteous hoot. Essentially a version of "lifeboat" with added bells and whistles, it feels precisely like a B zombie movie, complete with all the requisite screaming, idiocy, gun-waving, and unfortunate uncoiling of mortal coils.
I really don't know what else to say. I mean, 46 new scenarios—that's more than twice the plays that even the most ardent fan would get out of a "favorite" game. Should you manage to wear this book out you'd be a master of M'44. Even if you lost every match.
For any given single scenario there's only one way to play, and that's twice, once as each side and then comparing total medals from both games for the win (this handles the historical "balance issue"). But for the game system as a whole the only way to play, really, is campaign mode, and man, this book delivers potential years of replay value.
Currently dipping our toes into the "Island Hoppers" Grand Campaign and we couldn't be happier—not even if we had magic motorcycles that gave Nirvana-inducing blowjobs and shat gold coins. No sir.
PS. Oh, yeah—and an entire Breakthrough campaign in Normandy, to boot?
Like Hitler and Napoleon, now you too can experience the joys of Russian winter.
UPDATE: Sure, it's cosmetic—but damn, does it ever look good. And the nation-specific medals (Victoria Cross on the desert side & the Hero of the Soviet Union on the winter side) add that extra little bit.
The campaign rules that come with the board seem wonky at first glance—with no hope for anything approaching balance—but in actual play they work great. We played scenarios 4-8 from the Mediterranean Theater as a campaign and the attrition dice between rounds made for some interesting decisions, and, in at least one instance, directly helped the whipping-boy underdog score a stunning victory.
If you want campaign rules that are better balanced and more robust, go with one of the Campaign books; otherwise this works just fine for linking three, four or five scenarios into an unbalanced night of great, narrative fun.
This is, after all, a Sgt. Rock comic, not Churchill's Memoirs of the Second World War.
UP-UPDATE: Now that we're into Memoir '44: Winter Wars I must reiterate my assessment of how effing gorgeous this looks when it's all set up. One glance and you're helplessly drawn into the magic circle... I swear it makes me want to put on a sweater it looks so cool.
A nice fat wad of steam-powered chaos. It's a lot like trying to fly a coal-fired spaceship—kinda rickety, kinda scary, and with really dodgy yaw control. I'm a fan of these sorts of contraptions where your goal is to build a house of cards while everyone is taking turns punching you in the head. Overheard at the first playing: "It's like Citadels but it doesn't suck!" (For the record, I like Citadels, but I think I'm the only one in my group who does.) So if you're in the mood for a lighter, chaotic, highly-thematic romp, this one gets it done full steam ahead.
Throw up some wheat-paste signage, hire a barker or two and pack those suck—er, intrepid adventurers—into the Jules Verne Express and blast their asses to Mars!
Looking at this game on the 'Geek was really funny—I mean, all kinds of highly regarded folks were calling this one of their favorite games, and yet the box contents looked like, well, crap. I was highly suspicious. Then I played it. It's crap all right—HOLY CRAP. Holy Crap that is only to be taken out of its reliquary by the blessed hands of one who has been blinded by the fires of God's face and borne to the gaming table on the backs of nubile, yet coyly attired, virgins. Yeah, it's that good.
$ - The stuff you're collecting is also the currency you have to use to buy more stuff! Collect or spend? Collect or spend? I will chew the carpet now.
€ - Mathematically tight with the usual Dr. K's Patented CrazyScore™ System: every set you score is -100 points unless you get to 200 points, in which case you score all the points... So if you get 190 points it scores as 90, but if you cross the line to 210 you get 210! Ha-ha-ha!
¥ - It's got bluffing, hosing, teeth-gnashing, more hosing, and insano-groupthink.
It's like dumping random bits from Axis & Allies and a bunch of old-skool Microgames into a Settlers of Catan box and shaking vigorously while listening to a Yes or Asia album. The results, while veering dangerously close to disaster, actually end up being kinda groovy. Recommended as a light, fun, decidedly non-Euronated conflictorium.
An evil little filler that plays in minutes but could easily swallow a whole evening if you're not careful. And the best part is that you can kit-bash your own copy out of random crap you have lying around the house. Highly recommended.
I won't be counting individual plays, but rather entire sessions—it's so quick we never play it fewer than a bunch of times in a sitting!
Also: The free app is pretty sweet—it runs through the whole script (based on the roles in play), makes atmospheric background noises to cover the inevitable shuffle of cards, and has a configurable countdown timer which then calls for the vote.
Played so far with the new roles and action cards, and we're still losing half the time with only four epidemics (n00b setting/sleepin' kitten mode), so I can't even fathom the virulent strain, or the fifth (!) disease, or the bio-terrorist... let alone Legendary setting with seven (!!!) epidemics.
Tons of great mix-'n-match mayhem in this box. Should keep us busy for the next little while.
Like most older games that are still playable this one shines with a certain purity. As soon as I think of it, I wish I were playing it. And the best part is that any respectable gamer with enough table-cred should be able to cobble together a workable set from common household items (like Episode II Slurpee cups and scads of dice). Recommended.
This was on the floor so it was all asses in the air in no time—with five of us, two game-n00bs, enthusiastically flicking and trash-talking. I crashed so much I'm gonna be stuck with low-end endorsements like Trojan & Huggies. My jumpsuit looks like crap.
(Comments reflect the 2005 scary/Satanic "Poison" edition.)
A tight, sweaty little filler. Has a surprising amount of strategy and tactics for such a simple set up, but then, that's Reiner. The Playroom edition is embarrassingly overproduced with lush graphics and silky cards. If you dig Hearts, prepare to have all your acetylcholine receptors locked up by this, Advanced Hearts.
Man, I liked this. Nobody else did. And the solitaire version requires serious hypnosis, or something.
UPDATE: Miraculously, this made it to the table again, years (!) later... and everyone agreed that it deserves deeper exploration. Looks like it's getting moved into the regular rotation! Huzzah!
UP-UPDATE: Damn, this is a great game. The constant shift in values (with both the lot up for bid being worth different amounts to each player and the power/value of your suns (money) fluctuating as play progresses) makes for a pretty intense game of bluff, brinksmanship, and double-guessing... It's maddening to have to think about taking a lot that you have absolutely no interest in purely to keep it out of the hands of someone who will score big off of it; it's equally sphincter-clenching to find out that you've worked yourself into a corner where someone else's 1 sun is more powerful than your big, fat 13. Invoking Ra purely to goad someone into overpaying (just a tad) for something you don't want anyway is sweaty fun. I could go on and on. There are depths to this game that aren't even hinted at in the rulebook. Far, far more than the sum of it's parts. Deliciously subtle.
Three players may be the sweet spot, as our initial game with five seemed slippery and thin in the control department.
The actual ending of that 10-player game came back to me, startling me awake like a suppressed memory; it wasn't a getaway van packed with explosives (though that's how most of them end), but rather "The Enhanced Interrogation of Rudy Tickmanfan, Suspected Spy":
Team Leader: "Can we get him into the chair?"
[flops a success card]
TL: "We do! He's strapped in all cozy-like."
Me: "Check his molars for nanotech!"
TL: "Alright, we pull out the first molar—"
[everyone winces, expecting a flesh-effacing black cloud to boil out of Rudy's head]
[flops success card]
TL: "No nanotech!"
Me: "Check another one!"
TL: "We pull some more teeth—"
[flops success card]
TL: "It looks like he's clean! But is he a spy? Nope, he's not a spy after all—"
Me: "Sorry 'bout the teeth thing, Rudy."
TL: [flops fail card] "—and then I shoot all of you."
"Awright—lissen up. We're gonna hit 'em where they live. On the border with Oceania there's a pudding factory. 'Pudding', as you know, is slang for a certain... dessert item. One that won't be on their tables for a long, long time—Jenkins! Pay attention! You're gonna be driving the breaching suit for chrissakes!"
A great wad of chaos for those who like their games silly and raucous. It helps a bunch to have a solid visual/spatial imagination, but even then things often go horribly wrong. A real hoot if you're into real hoots. And I am.
This is the expansion that truly fulfills the promise of the Runebound system, showing just what can be done by swapping out a few cards while adding a few small components and a single breath's worth of new rules. The result is an entirely new adventure that feels nothing like the base game. A must-have for all Runebound owners.
Very different feel from the base game. It's an often awful choice whether to travel by day or night... do you bake in the desert sun, stumbling along with withered lips and wild eyes or do you chance getting ambushed in the pale light of the desert moon? Also, the travels and travails of the legendary quests are a great change of pace from the "kill reds until you get the game-winning one" strategy of The Rise of the Dragon Lords. You only have to kill a single red (any one will do) to set yourself up for the endgame, but even that doesn't seal the win—you still need to complete that fourth quest. All in all, great fun.
PS. A nifty detail: the more legendary quests you complete, the more narrow your possible story becomes; some legendary allies will leave you if you kill certain encounters, for example. Sometimes you have to flee a monster in order not to upset the very entourage that makes you a legend... The result is that power comes at a price—the more you can do, the more judicious you have to be. So instead of just juggernauting across the landscape and leaving a trail of dead, you actually have to pick your fights based on the legend you are building. This helps keep the stories thematic and prevents (to some extent) run away leaders.
A terrific expansion. The new story works well and it's just plain fun being a giantkiller. The non-apocalyptic endgame plays out much better than the original Rise of the Dragon Lords scenario. A must-have for all Runebound owners.
Take Puerto Rico and boil off all the fussy crap. What's left in the bottom of the cauldron is a gooey tar of condensed fun. Roll the tar out and cut it into rectangles and you have San Juan.
This one wins out over its older brother in three very important areas—it's accessible, portable and short. In the time it would take you to play a single game of Puerto Rico (not counting rules explanation (shudder)) you could play three games of this including an overview of the rules. San Juan has the potential to see far more table time than PR. That make it clearly superior in my book. Recommended.
Component shot after a vigorous "gravity sorting":
Drop-dead gorgeous production values slathered over a so-so apparatus. After two plays I'm into it and looking forward to more, but will henceforth heed the common warning that 4p is just too much. Downtime was brutal and who knows, maybe it picks up with familiarity but I'm not interested in finding out.
It feels like an 8 but I'm gonna make Seasons work for it.
Also: Big chunky dice FTW!
UPDATE: So, four plays in & I'm pretty sure this is just a 2p experience. Even with only 3p the downtime during two consecutive super-turns (with card play and effects chaining on and on and on...) is an enthusiasm killer. Especially when my stupid turn is "I gain two energy. Next!" followed by two more super-turns. Gaaah.
UP-UPDATE: Six games in, it's an 8. Play time's picking up as we become more familiar with the cards and we haven't even cracked the "advanced" set of 20. Just plain friendly and appealing. What can I say? It's... nice... like a warm, French bubble bath. I can soak.
UP-UP-UPDATE: I slipped on the Temporal Boots, thinking I was all kinds of clever—only to find myself sprinting backwards, screaming, into the Port-A-Potty to suck yesterday's dump up through the hole.
With my Largest Army I will bring The One True Religion to your wretched and benighted peoples.
A DESPERATE RACE AGAINST GENOCIDE
Four flavors of a mad religious cult—persecuted in the Mother Country—make landfall on an eerily uninhabited island* and immediately get cracking on converting the primordial landscape into armed camps and the machinery of war. An uneasy détente ensues as no one has the upper hand... but soon, soon one faction will reach the tipping point and become powerful enough to strike against the heretics and wipe them out.
FOR GOD COMMANDS IT
*The whole "robber" thing is really just a false-flag op to sow chaos.
FINALLY—a short, fun, thematically interesting game for large groups. Whenever we hit 6, 7 or 8, no one wants to break up into two games for fear of being stuck at the "unfun" table. This usually means we get stuck playing the suck. What, exactly? I dunno, but whatever it was, it wasn't memorable.
Many have been calling this a better BANG!, and indeed, it is.
UPDATE: Whoever let Hello Kitty do the translation on this one should be fired. Or is that "up-flamed into transemployment"?
A true deduction game, in the same vein as Einstein's "who owns the fish" puzzle. I enjoy it a great deal—but be aware that not everyone will. For some it feels like the Awful Tedious Bookkeeping Non-Adventure Game. YMMV.
A nifty little tactics puzzle. Played quickly with the full compliment of five. Everyone agreed that I won because I was allowed to go about my business unmolested.
NOTE: THIS GAME REQUIRES MOLESTATION
Looking forward to playing it again. I doubt my rating will rise, though it could fall once the shine comes off...
UPDATE: This is a great game. Very simple rules means that it's worked as (gasp!) a gateway game for absolute n00bz. Also, the tactical and strategic depths are both deceptively shallow—meaning that the obvious simplicity of the "pick up/put down/score" gameplay hides deeper decisions... When to bunch up into a hard knot and when to spread thin? When to decline? Who do you pick on, and how? The timing of these issues is what decides the winner.
Also, there is no shortage of absolute dick-moves in this game—I recommend mouthguards and running shoes, or someone's gonna lose teeth.
UP-UPDATE: 11 plays in (+1.4 bajillion plays on the iPad app) show this thing has functionally infinite replayability. Love it!
So much more than a mere game—this is an amazing artifact, a tool, in the exercise of teamwork, planning, and unforeseen consequences. Seriously—it could be used for real-life team training.
But before you wave off because you're worried you'll be forced to play this with your boss at a corporate retreat, know that it's tense, trying (in the good way) and most of all fun. The theme is hard-SF enough to feel serious, with just a dusting of levity that never becomes cartoony (something that turns me off of Galaxy Trucker).
I was worried the audio track would be goofy and kitschy, but instead I found it to be brilliantly immersive.
An absolutely terrific distillation of the Space Hulk experience as a card game. A real nail-biter, tense and filled with hard choices and awful almost moments. (As any good co-op should be.)
There is a real sense of increasing claustrophobia as Space Marines are slain and the formation collapses in on itself; the way swarms of Genestealers shift and wheel to flank the cumbersome Terminators induces a delicious sense of being overwhelmed.
It is a game of grand cinematic moments—after luring a great mass of the swarm into the proximity of an aeons-corroded Promethium tankage, Brother Noctis sacrificed himself to obliterate the foul xenos in a cleansing firestorm—as well as careful strategizing with teammates to interleave actions into a tightly choreographed dance of death. When you pull it off, it's exhilarating. (Most of the time you won't.)
UPDATE: Okay, anything other than a zero and I'm good—
Two to teleport, just don't roll a—
NOW YOU WILL KNOW THE EMPEROR'S WRATH AS I UNLEASH DREAD POWER IN A CORUSCATING CHAIN OF AGONY THROUGH YOUR HELLISH COHORT—
It is the number of confirmed kills, the blinking ammo display, sarge's lifesigns indicator. It is the sum total of all your efforts:
I'm not really a Star Wars fan—it's just that 89% of my childhood consisted of nothing but Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I was 10 when my Mom took me and a friend to see some weird space movie on opening day... If you were near that age and walked into it blind—with a completely naked psyche—you get it. It was like being pulled hot off the anvil and thrust into a screaming slave's belly... Tempered in death and rebirth; shocking and permanently formative. A fulcrum point for generational shift.
As a kid I built X-wing and TIE fighter model kits until my fingers bled and I hallucinated glue-fume Jawas; I would have strangled the children & little people inside the rough brown cloaks with my inflatable lightsaber for a game like this. (Still would.) So to say that the perfectly detailed, tiny model ships resonate would be a massive understatement.
Again, I am not a fan; I find anything other than the original three movies—the "Expanded Universe", crappy novelizations, comics, Prequels, video games, etc., etc., ad nauseam—to be baby laxative.
But X-Wing is the pure, uncut stuff, a high as dangerous as time travel and I'm 10 again.
I've always loved the Y-wing: armored and plodding, the thing is a pig that packs a wallop. Feels just right on the table, especially loaded with a double brace of proton torpedoes. There's nothing quite like locking a target, blasting 'em with the ion cannon to stop 'em dead and then cooking 'em off with a volley of torpedoes... unless it's doing it again!
Be the drunk guy in the lifeboat with the flare gun and the gas can... sink it out of spite to kill the other two guys and deny everyone else the boat.
An ugly little game where the land sloughs off into an ocean boiling with hungry things. You try to drive your people to safety, everyone else drives the hungry things to their appointed dinners.
Who will make it off the island alive? The hairdresser or the Nobel Laureate?
My money's on NO ONE.
UPDATE: The art & design in the new 30th Anniversary Edition are flat-out brilliant. Also, having uniform plastic meeples is actually better than the misshapen, tippy wooden ones from the previous edition.
It never hurts to make sure you're playing by the proper rules, right?
An enjoyable, light family game as long as everyone plays in a timely manner. "Stop the thinky! 'Thinky' won't make Tutankhamen's death mask materilize!" The mechanism for variability of the turn order is probably the neatest trick in the box, and where most of the actual game happened for me. Carefully choosing what to do to set yourself up for multiple turns in a row, or at least make your turn come sooner rather than later, is very cool. And, just like in real life, if you don't know much but spend a lot of time talking about it you can become more famous than the person who actually does the work...
(Also, contrary to the rumors, "mummy-Jesus" is NOT one of the artifacts you can dig up in Palestine.)
Nifty additions all around, though when treasures clump up in the dungeon deck it can lead to one player killing something insignificant and ending up with more magic crap than he knows what to do with.*
*FIXED: We play with just one of each treasure card, making them extra-special instead of so commonplace you'd swear they were selling them in the dungeon gift shop.
Traps sound cool at first but can end up more annoying than anything else.*
*FIXED: We use only one of each trap card. So, yeah, this means some of them go from six instances to a mere two in the dungeon, but having them twang off twice in an entire game is more exciting than watching a clump of four grind someone's turn into a drudgery of card-flipping for everyone.
Is it Whist on steroids? Poker on Ketamine? UNO on HGH wrung from the livers of Third World children?
Tichu is the stretch Hummer full of coked-out hookers of card games. It's just plain nuts and makes my scrotum tingle with that "gotta-gamble" feeling.
And the best part is: YOU CAN PLAY IT WITH A STANDARD DECK. Just buy two decks, strip the jokers out of one and ditch the other 52, scrawl on them jokers with a Sharpie and you're good to go. Tichu anywhere, anytime. No proprietary deck needed!
PS. The 6p game blows, and not in the good way. You don't get enough cards to build anything competitive—and chances are, you'll get a fistful of crap and sit in the stink watching everyone else play. This really, really wants to be a 4p-only game.
PPS. The top end is kind of flat. There's the initial learning curve of figuring out what the hell "good play" is, then there's figuring out how to pull off a Tichu and a Grand, and then there's mastering good partner play (to go out 1-2). Beyond that—well, things just kind of flatten out and the decision space you arrive in is a lot smaller than the one you imagined while hacking your way upward to the top of Tichu Mountain. It ends up like this: Once you've mastered all the preceding problems, the game just comes down to
1) Getting good cards, and
2) Not blowing it with bone-headed play.
And that's... just about it. There's very little you can do with a crap hand; there's really no such thing as clever defensive play with a fistful of junk. You just get to sit and take it in the face like a pornstar. I used to rate this game a 10 as I was making my way up... Now that I've topped out it's really an 8. It's still a great game—it's just that the luck/skill ratio is out of whack such that skill cannot overcome bad luck.
Here's our copy of the 2004 edition that came with one Tichu deck and one not-Tichu deck:
Fig. 1 — Lovingly hand-rubbed with CHEETOS® dust, rage and tears.
A feather-light gateway game that neatly unhorses Catan as the premier intro to hobby boardgaming.* Surprisingly tense for such a simple setup. You get to play tactically in the now, maneuver for mid-range goals as well as nurture an overall strategy. Can be taught and grokked in moments; bright colors and beautiful art design make it a sensual pleasure to play. Rating is probably slightly higher for newbies and slightly lower for hardcore gamers. Still, an excellent way for veterans of the psychic wars to disengage, drop the intellect into neutral and just coast pleasantly along as a warm-up, a night-ender or as a relaxing activity when otherwise impaired.
Fig. 1 — GODDAMMIT
UPDATE: Okay, it's just Rummy with scoring sets on a board, and secret scoring goals on the Ticket cards. And like Rummy it's a mild social game. An "eat, drink & be merry with good friends" game. Played seriously or in silence it's stupid. It's for chillin' while counting cards.
UP-UPDATE: The only way I can play this game and maintain my sanity anymore is to pretend the board is the yarn map at FBI headquarters where they're tracking all those random railway murders. Why did I have to get to Little Rock so damn bad?
(+1 copy in the camping bin.)
*I realize that today this notion is hideously out of date: "Settlers of huh-what?" But at the time it was all the rage, along with terror alerts and Nickelback.
The Legendary Asia map is neat even if they only hint, in a sideways fashion, at the Yeti taking his due from every trip over the frozen passes. It's just a little bit sad, though, that the majestic beastmen have become accustomed to the regularity of train timetables, captive and lazy with the development of a taste for human flesh.
Fig. 1 — With the sounding of the dinner whistle, Urrghlik readies himself for music with his meal, wrung from a chorus of tasty throats.
Remember that for those folks anything more than three rules is complicated and intimidating. Getting into this one is as easy as dumping the pieces in front of everyone, grabbing the sand timer and saying: "You need to completely cover the shape on your card with your puzzle pieces. First one done screams
and runs around the table slapping everyone else in the head."
Okay, that last part is actually a house rule. There are a couple of other things, like second and third place rewards, and the free draws from the bag, but you really don't need to know about any of that crap to get started.
Also, being an EXXXTREEEM!!! game it goes better with a belly full of Mountain Dew while hanging upside down from a rope.
PS. Winning at this probably means you'll be rounded up and shot into space on the tip of a nuclear missile; it's okay, though—the rest of the chimps get euthanized.
Absolute best implementation of the Oh Hell! (et al.) family.
Since we play with a deck bashed together from several "Dragon Back" Bicycle decks, the Wizards glide on ramps of moonlight and execute breathtaking 540 Cabs and Superman Seat Grabs that conjure up hosts of devils with which to have congress; meanwhile, the happy-go-lucky Jester biffs it on his first Bunny Hop and ends up in the ditch, crying a-bloo-bloo-bloo on account of having lost toes in the spokes. You'd stop to help him but, you know, he smells like pee.
PS. Always, always play with the "Drunken Canadian rule" whereby the dealer cannot make a bid that brings the total number of bids = to the number of tricks in the hand. This way someone is guaranteed to get served up a platter of finger sandwiches—no, really—finger sandwiches. Most probably made from their own fingers.
for initiating me into the world of Wizard and for creating the Anna-Monster. While bagging second place over you that one time remains a singular Greatest Gaming Moment EVAR, it was a soul-soaring thing watching you vibrate with rage as Anna whipped all of us so very thoroughly—yet adorably—like Torquemada in a Pikachu cosplay outfit.
Quick and bloody from the get-go. The endgame usually involves desperate hand-to-hand in both palaces simultaneously, each player racing for the checkmate. I find this game to be a nice break from (sometimes) head-hurty European chess.
On a side note: "Westernized" pieces are for amateurs. Use that big, pulsing brain of yours and learn the Chinese pieces. It's not that hard. If I can do it (my brain is not all that big and does not pulse) so can you.
Interactive Yahtzee where you have to wait a turn to bank the roll you just made, during which time anyone else at the table can steal it by rolling a higher set, e.g., if you make a full house and someone else gets a better full house, they can steal your roll (this even works with Yahtzees).
Fun with familial trash-talk.
UPDATE: "The card you lost was only a two-pointer, while she stole my 10-point Yahtzee... so [screw] YOU."
WARNING: May make wine squirt out nose.
UP-UPDATE: A mega-hit with my regular gaming group. Who knew? I only got it for family & the odd couples' gaming... but once my group played it EVERYONE ran out and bought a copy. It's a staple at our game nights & days.
This is, truly, Yahtzee with down and dirty Ameritrash sensibilities. It is a five-dice abstraction of groin-kicks and curb-stomping.