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 4p 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!!!
Preliminary rating after a single 4p 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 a 6p game, this locks in at a solid 8. 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 9. 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!
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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?"
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!
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.
Very good. Not only did this game pull in my non-gamer wife, it also piqued her interest in LotR in general, getting her into the movies and books! Plays much better with the tiles in the bag from the Sauron expansion.
UPDATE: I had forgotten just how great this game is—the ultimate party game for LotR-lovin' game-nuts.
For a report on the ultimate fool's errand, try my gonzo session report:
The best expansion for a great game. Finally, after two other expansions, you get to assemble the Fellowship entire. As has been stated ad nauseam elswhere, the battlefields are abstract flowcharts, a fact that bothered me at first—but all doubt fled as we commenced play. We played two games back-to-back and I didn't even notice. It felt very much like arraying troops for battle. Shouts of "Get Aragorn on the left flank," and "We need Gandalf in there NOW!" were common. Cries of triumph erupted from the group when an enemy was supposed to be activated but was already dead or hemmed in by the warrior heroes of the Fellowship. Likewise, the first time the Balrog turned up in Moria we crapped our pants.
What at first appears to be a Power Point presentation on the logic flow of an abstraction of a "battle" mechanic concept actually turns out to be the other five members of the Fellowship coming to the rescue, leading to real feelings of elation and dread as they give their all to delay the forces of darkness long enough to let the Hobbits run for their lives.
We were so used to the cooperative nature of the main game that we were unprepared for the hatred and scorn directed toward the Sauron player. I personally felt "bad" when playing as Sauron, killing off my friends and essentially ending the game for them.
After a weak-willed impulse buy at my FLGS and a single play, I'm impressed. The attention to detail on the physical design of the box and bits is breathtaking; the insert, especially, is a work of art. Everything has a perfect place and comes out of that perfect place exactly the way you'd expect it to—in other words, you reach for the thing and touch it and it hops out of its slot and into your hand. This, in itself, is brilliant. Like an amusement park for opposable thumbs.
As for those bits themselves, they are wonderfully tactile and gorgeous, like the gold pieces which, while unusually shaped (squares for singles and larger crescents for fives, all with a hole punched in the middle), are also double-sided with heads and tails having unique, baroque designs. The card art is very good and goes a long way to immerse one in theme.
This is the first worker-placement/trade-crap-for-other-crap "Euro" that fulfilled my need for a li'l somthin' extra, namely to not get stuck thinking in terms of grinding for nibs to trade for nobs and then scoring for dinguses. The "take that" cardplay is fun in a way that anal retentive geniuses cannot countenance; fair enough, but when I played "Free Drinks!" to lure a critical wizard away from another player's tavern and into my own I learned the folly of wizards too fond of the bottle—a return play of "Arcane Mishap" caused him to detonate during a "spirited" demonstration of magical power. I was cleaning innards and singed beard bristles out of the crevices for weeks.
On the mechanical side the game is quick and breezy, with occasional bursts of multi-ply puzzling to keep it engaging. I've only played once, doing very poorly until the endgame where I managed to crawl into second place by paying attention to chaining opportunities while simultaneously dropping tactical turds into various punchbowls. I enjoyed this very much.
There is a huge potential for variety in future plays, with more cards and buildings than opportunities to put them into play, as well as having them come out in a novel order each time. Lucky synergies in one game could well be absent or significantly altered in the next. How it all hangs together remains to be seen, but the obvious care, thought, and detail packed into it makes it an easy 8 for now.
UP-UPDATE: The second play had us all over the VP track coming into the final stretch; final score was 95-94-92-90. Love it!
After 11 plays: Still going strong. Yes, the "secret" scoring can be swingy, but really, it's not that secret (if you pay attention to what kind of quests your opponents are completing) and bank on all competent players getting somewhere around +30 points at the end. Playing this with the same people means all our games have been annoyingly close... so much so I am getting sick and tired of LOSING BY ONE POINT.*
After 15 plays: Bumping this to a well-deserved 9. There is an enormous and non-obvious storytelling element lurking beneath all the mechanical meeple-swapping... Open yourself to it. And then send those poor bastards to their DOOM.
D&D flavor? You get out what you put in... wrote:
The half-headed man and his apprentice sauntered into Aurora's Realms Shop to the tinkle of fine Elven bells. The apprentice locked the door behind them.
"We're here for our money, luv," croaked Half-Head.
Aurora startled, looking up from her ledger, eyes wide. "But you people were just here!" Behind the counter, a baby cooed in its basket.
Half-Head gurgled, the only part of his laugh not taken by fire or hatchet. "That was then. This is now."
"I-I-" Aurora stammered, "I don't have it!"
"Stab the baby," said Half-Head. The apprentice hesitated for a split-second, then unsheathed a rude-looking dagger.
"Oh, Gods! No!" Aurora shrieked.
"Easy, luv," said Half-Head, "you've plenty of healing potion here. The baby'll be fine. But you, you need to learn a lesson..."
After 21 plays: MANDATORY QUESTS AIN'T A THANG
I have won plenty of games where I was dogpiled with Mandatory Quests... of course, I've lost just as many, too.
The only reason they make your forehead veins stand out as you poop yourself a little is because you didn't plan for them. Always assume Mandatory Questage and prepare for it, whether by salting away materiel or factoring an action/turn cushion into all of your plans—especially the critical ones. Ending up in the embarrassingly pantsless position of only having exactly what you need to pull off that 25-pointer at the very end and getting royally hosed by a single small Mandatory Quest is not a design flaw or a moral failing of the person who played the card—the fault is entirely your own.
PS. Pimped with DnDeeples. A mandatory addition if you ask me.
*Especially when there's a bunch of table bumping and bag switching going on with the VP markers: "Oh, I'm sorry—you're blue? Where were you again?" And BANG lose by one point.
Both board games maintain the general theme while stripping out the free-form role-playing elements by reducing player actions to a small set of discrete choices. The end result is a feel similar to the mechanical surface of the source role-playing games, allowing the players to tell shallow stories without the usual RPG prep-time overhead. (Veteran RPGers will scoff at this, and they should, since experienced players can whip up a far deeper and more satisfying game in moments with nothing more than paper-pencils-dice and the Magic of Imagination.)
That said, Mansions of Madness *is* the D&D board game version of Call of Cthulhu, with all the wonder and nerd-rage that such an eldritch mash-up implies. Monsters are there for shooting at, and not as a last resort... It's best to ignore the two-fisted comic book treatment of the source material and just enjoy it for what it is.
It's a board game opportunity to engage in a plot with clues, puzzles, and—if you're lucky—a broken leg and suicide.
The combat cards are nifty; when a player says, "I'm shooting at the thing at the end of the hallway," it's rarely a simple Marksmanship test—the player can miss and hurt themselves in the process or find the thing suddenly right next to them. And even when you "win" you can wind up dead in the process.
A note to future Keepers:The story portion of the game really shines when players narrate their actions with a bit of detail—encourage this. Also, it really helps if you embellish and customize the flavor text on the cards. When fighting a cultist, for example, replace all references to the foe with "cultist" and have him or her do and say "culty" things. The game more than meets you halfway on this stuff, but if you can supply the other half it's a full-blown hoot.
The game is lavishly produced, with miniatures that actually beg to be painted. (Disregard the "chicken leg" Shoggoths and Mi-Gos masquerading as the Hamburgler.) Also, it's not nearly as complicated as the rule book would have you believe. It's refreshingly simple compared to Arkham Horror.
After one play I'm giving it an 8—though I expect the rating to rise with more plays. We're all inveterate hams and lifelong RPGers, so this drubs all the right nubbins for us.
UPDATE: Sure enough, this game is great. The only thing holding the rating back from shooting to an auto-10 is the fragile nature of the interlocking systems. They're all neat, but a single error in one place can cascade through and break the game, usually to the detriment of the Investigators. (Small mistakes magnify as the game progresses. In our first two games the win came down to time management, and early errors in movement rates meant the Investigators couldn't win. Familiarity with the systems should mitigate this.) This forces the players to slew hard left into RPG territory and hand-wave the issue away in order to save the game, something that feels unnatural and suspect in a board game.
Also, the puzzle mechanic is genius fun. It's not that the puzzles are challenging—they're pretty simple—but I'm a huge fan of props from the game world made actual size. The result is a nice bit of immersion.
UP-UPDATE: Revising upward to a 9. Our last two games have been real nailbiters, literally hanging on a final die roll. Both times the narrative elements narrowed to a satisfying climax for all players—when this game works, it works really, really well. Fantastic system.
Fig. 1 — "Shall we spread a little alarm and despondency?"
UPDATE: Played scenarios 4-8 as a campaign (using the rules included with the Winter/Desert Board) and the attrition dice between rounds made for some interesting decisions. In at least one instance, they directly helped the whipping-boy underdog score a stunning victory.
UP-UPDATE: After playing through the Battle of Gazala campaign a second time I'm convinced that this is what the expansion is all about. The first three scenarios get you used to the new units and rules so you can dive into the full campaign. The fact that the five connected scenarios can be played to completion in three hours makes for a fantastic evening with scads of drama & narrative potential.
I figured that after we played both sides we'd be done with it, but I find myself wondering if I couldn't do better and am itching to puzzle out the problems inside the five battles again. And again.
From here on out, "playing Med Theater" means doing the Gazala campaign in one go, flipping roles in the following session & comparing scores.
The experience completely blows away single-scenario play.
Wow. Just... wow. Everything about this set is completely off the charts. The art on the terrain hexes is gorgeous and evocative, the winter rules make the game feel exactly like you'd expect—vehicles are slowed and you can't see much of anything beyond immediate contact. You can fire into the fog and hope for the best, or you can maneuver into close combat and savage each other. Tense and brutal.
The Winter Combat cards add a huge amount of thematic immersion and crazy turns of event. I have watched what should have been dramatic, game-winning turns (Their Finest Hour) end up completely repulsed and negated by a couple of flopped Winter cards. Out of Fuel, Out of Ammo, and, oh, an Ambuscade, to boot! Sorry 'bout your offensive, there.
UPDATE: Take a sharp stick. Dip it in poop. Jab your neighbor in the eye.
This is Power Grid.
(To keep the profanity to a minimum, I will use the barely appropriate euphemism "fudge", though the bowdlerized form ends up sounding even dirtier what with the slight connotation of fecal matter being involved.)
Power Grid is one of the best Euros possible because of the endless opportunities to fudge your friends. And, unlike the usual passive-aggressive glory-hole fudging that happens in most Euros, Power Grid lets you look 'em in the face while you go at it.
You get to fudge them in the auctions...
"I didn't want that stupid plant—I just wanted to watch Elektros fly out of your head."
Fudge them in the commodities market...
"I'll get around to using all this coal eventually. But you, you'll be hemorrhaging debt into your underwear."
And fudge them most thoroughly on the board...
"Yeah, you're in the gimp suit until Step 2—whenever that happens."
Is Power Grid really all about grudge-fudging? Yes, yes it is. And violence, too. It's all sex and violence, what with the teeth-kicking and arithmetic.
I suppose we could play like little Fonzies* and stay out of each other's way... but the first person to get out the duct tape and baseball bat will win, and then it's on to machetes and AKs. And once the groin-kicking starts, you can't go back to just holding hands.
Sure, there's the whole "peloton" thing, which is probably supposed to act as a rubber band for the stragglers, but in reality it's just a mechanism for lining up boots with startled mouths.
So if you ever want that "just fudged" feeling without taking your pants off, I suggest you sit down with a bunch of people who don't love you and play Power Grid. (Board-flipping and fist-fights optional.)
After a single play (sans cards) of Railroad Tycoon, I was hooked. A great medium-weight train game that looks fantastic and plays fast with low rules-overhead.
After 6 plays of Railways (5x 2p (no cards), 1x 4p (with cards), all on the Mexico map):
The cards (Barons & Operations) add flavor and chaos into the mix. With the cards you have a highly thematic family (or casual) game that's still meaty at the core; without the cards the game becomes a tighter, more vicious mathematical pissing contest, akin to There Will Be Blood the boardgame, with plenty of forehead-vein-popping "I drink your milkshake" moments.
I have no experience with the parent game (Age of Steam) beyond looking at pictures on the Internet and recoiling at how ugly it is—of course, this means it's a Very Serious Game, since everyone knows the ugliest games are the most rigorous and stern. I like my math to be fun, so, yeah, it was the pretty bits that finally pulled me in... but the gameplay is solid.
Painting the "Empty City" markers really kicks the visual presentation over the top and makes the game feel like playing with a tiny model train set. Much like the satisfying diorama you're left with at the end of Agricola*, the board is beautiful after a frenzied game of financial ruination and axe handle hobo-beatings.
*Or not, depending on how often your family starved.
If you don't like Talisman or 40k then keep moving—this wasn't made for you. It's a choose-your-own-adventure where the bulk of the "choosing" is done behind a veil of kinked probability. Sure, you chuck the die, but every bounce and clatter before it stops is a poison kiss blown from Lady Luck's smirking lips. If you can't just relax and groove with it then you're gonna rage-poop yourself a little. If you're on the fence, save yourself the trouble and go play something you know you'll like.
UPDATE: Definitely a kinder, gentler Talisman. The knockouts are softer, allowing you to keep most of your crap even when your character is corrupted and bursts with tentacles and hate and scurries off into one of the Threat decks to become an encounter.* Also, while it's still possible to get royally hosed by CARDS & DICE and wind up wandering from world to world like some kind of piteous cybernetic hobo, this is less likely if you "stick to your color" and grind on worlds that bend to your strengths. Instead of the usual mid-game malaise there is a whirlwind, a heady upward spiral of mad leveling where Middle Tier encounters bring multiple foes into your dread presence to ablate hideously in the effulgence of your gaining three levels at once. This makes for a shorter game (not that brevity is expected or even desired in Epic Adventure, but still) while increasing the tension of the race... and that just leads to more ill-considered risk-taking and derring-do (read: hilarity).
UP-UPDATE: 8 --> 9 The Mission mechanism is a neat way to drive character motivation in interesting directions—you have a clear goal from the get-go—as well as making the path to gaining a relic (this game's talisman) obvious and achievable. Also, the more we play the more impressed I am with the almost perfect synthesis of game and milieu; this is the full flavor of the 40k mythos laid on thick and tasty. The game unfolds beautifully from the interplay of the random decks and static board.
When a robot tells you magic is real, reach for your gun.
7 runs, score of 25.
You know what's cool? The way the designers are playing with the play space:
Spoiler (click to reveal)
like the fairy hunt, or requiring players to take a knee and loudly state their names to unlock a card.
It's nudges like these that break you loose from the 2D tabletop and set you soaring...
Falling even more in love with this third iteration, amazed at how the meta of the game design and mechanics allow you to intuit how things should go in such a way that doesn't break thematic immersion—we are, after all, prescient time travelers, and looking at the machinery of events from the outside is what we do. And so the immersion-breaking meta actually reinforces immersion... I can't properly transmit the power of this idea without spoilers, and even then you may or may not experience it; but we did and it felt... revelatory.
It's clear that this is not just another random adventure scenario, but the third chapter in a much larger, overarching story. I am in awe at the ambitiousness of the project—using a board game as a framing device for serial storytelling—and have no idea if they can stick the landing. But goddamn, the ride. Such a ride. I'd take it into a brick wall it's so sweet.
A very different vibe from "Asylum", with comic book art and getting dumped right into the thick of it making the whole shebang intensely evocative of an early '90s action flick or video game.
PS. Be sure to play with some era-appropriate tunes—bookended by Vanilla Ice and Queensryche—to really get into the groove... Imagine you're a sexual tyrannasaurus, an ex-keytar player turned FBI, gun in hand, cruising a sonic soundscape from Nirvana to Public Enemy—
—C+C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" starts pounding on your Walkman mixtape as the doors kick and it's on.
Yeah, it's like that.
PPS. Another four-hour erection off the final solution as we realized we had all the clues necessary to puzzle it out in short order. Love, love, love how this works and what it does.
You show up at the bad guys' hideout with a squad of shivering militiamen, enough daggers for one to stab while two watch, some torches and a donkey laden with picnic baskets. Next stop: LEGEND.
This is my first foray into the "deck building" genre; I'm simultaneously glad I waited and slapping myself for not jumping in earlier.
Dominion's theme makes my head glaze over with the whole "impress the king with the most victory points" thing—I'm much more drawn to the "longest trail of dead" theme. I ignored Thunderstone for the longest time due to my misunderstanding that it was merely a re-themed clone... and just about the time I realized the truth there was talk of Dragonspire coming out as a stand-alone starter set.
And so I waited. Almost two years.
Two years I could've—should've—been playing Thunderstone and expansions.
On the theme-side it's laid on pretty thick, with all the usual fantasy tropes and more than a few nods to Dungeons & Dragons and the Heavy Metal movie, which I appreciate and find charming.
As for how it plays, it's quick and painless. Not having played—or even seen—any deck building game I had little idea of how it worked, even after reading the rules. Our first game snapped the ambiguities into crystal focus after only a couple of turns. It's really very simple. You choose one of three actions on your turn:
• Discard one of your cards from the game,
• Buy a card from the village, or
• Kill a monster in the dungeon.
In no time at all it's obvious which of these your hand is best suited for. The turns whip around the table, often getting back to you before you've reshuffled your deck. The speed of play is a cool, and unexpected, aspect.
About the shuffling: I enjoy it a great deal—the feel, the sound, the monkey-having-something-to-do bit. If you don't like shuffling, this is going to kill you.
The end result is a pleasant diversion—it's pretty, the theme is comfortably familiar with enough new stuff to keep it interesting, and the play is quick and satisfying. This will probably end up as a 10 given that each tableau is unique and the fine expansions only serve to crank the variation toward the exponential.
The depth of player interaction is simply breathtaking. Every player has the opportunity to purchase an action during every other players' turn—requiring you to be constantly engaged in the play. There is no downtime. Add to this the fact that almost every game piece is a tradeable commodity and you have the ultimate negotiation game. Highly recommended.
The absolute best implementation of table-top combat I've ever seen. The rules can be explained and understood in under two minutes; the simultaneous movement turns and superfast combat resolution make the game feel like a real WWI dogfight, with all the attendant frustrations, elations and terror.
The rule-set is excellent—neither too much nor too little. It plays fast and captures the milieu perfectly. I was amazed how quickly I adapted to the different performance characteristics of each plane; getting the results I wanted out of a given manuever deck became deftly intuitive.
The only thing missing is the pistol on a lanyard for when you catch fire...