Quick Look: Burglar's Bluff Designer: David P. Miller Publisher: Wrinkle-Free Games Year Published: 2018 No. of Players: 2-4 Ages: 12+ Playing Time: 15-30 minutes
WARNING: This is a preview of Burglar's Bluff. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.
Review: tl;dr: Entry-level bluffing gameplay with some nice player interaction.
Getting to the Game: Remove the "Final Steal" card from the deck, and shuffle everything else together. Deal each player eight cards to form their hand, then toss eight cards face up in the center. The rest of the deck is the draw pile. Quick setup already has my interest piqued.
Not only are you trying to get nine cards safely socked away in a secure location, you're also simultaneously trying to bait other players into trying to steal from your locked safes while keeping them away from your unlocked ones. If you can get them to try and rob your safe and it's locked, then the value of that safe goes up (because... reasons). Successfully bluff treasure in an unlocked safe through to the end of the game? Double points.
Playing the Game:
Your turn begins by drawing one card from the community pool, then taking one action. You can stash three matching or successively-numbered cards together, then place another locked or unlocked card on top of them, representing a safe. If you've managed to safely secure a stash through a lap around the table, then you can extend it by dropping up to three more cards in with the ones already there, up to a maximum of nine. These actions will take up the bulk of the game. Obviously, the goal is to protect your treasure with a Lock card, but you won't always have one. Also, keep in mind that treasure secured but unlocked at game's end is worth double.
That brings us to the stealing portion of today's festivities. As your action, you can attempt a steal of your opponent's treasure. Pick a safe, and try to open it. If it's unlocked, you can move the whole mess into your play area and secure it with a card from your hand. If it's locked, you get nothing. You lose! Good day, sir! If you don't want to (or can't) do either of these, you can take three cards either from the draw pile or from the face-up pile in the center.
I do have some issues with the theme. Burglars who can't pick locks seems like a strange choice, and the reward for successfully sneaking unlocked treasure through the game makes structural sense, but it doesn't really translate to robbers and loot. Perhaps a better theme would have been smuggling, or piracy. The endgame is similarly convoluted. Once someone has nine cards in their bank, they can pick up the Final Steal card, signaling the end of the game. From that point, there are two more rounds of the game. And then, you can opt to play the final steal on your last action, attempting one last big score.
Overall, this game makes sense and feels fine, but it's not outstanding in any one element. The theme, as mentioned before, doesn't really sync up with the gameplay. The endgame doesn't feel immediate enough, as if it's some sort of built-in extra gameplay to help out players too far behind. If you like bluffing games and need something you can carry around easily, it's definitely worth a look. The player interaction is fun - knocking on a player's safe to see if it's open holds a lot of tension, and bluffing a locked chest when you have no locks in your hands will make you sweat.
Artwork and Components: My copy is a preview, so I won't focus on artwork that could entirely change by the game's release. The game's components consist of a large deck of cards, and the instructions are printed on the same card stock. Overall, nothing special, but it makes the game portable and accessible.
The Good: Highly interactive, good bluffing mechanics.
The Bad: Theme doesn't make much sense.
Score: Burglar's Bluff feels like a good-enough filler game that might really sing with a group that's super into bluffing games. There's not enough else here to bring players from other genres around, which is both good and bad. It's purely what it is, and doesn't try to be anything else. I'm giving Burglar's Bluff a score of Unsecured.
Quick Look: Designer: Anthony Amato, Jonathan Gilmour, Nicole Kline Artists: Jamie Keddie Publisher: IDW Games Year Published: 2017 No. of Players: 2-4 Ages: 12+ Playing Time: 30-45 Minutes
Photos By: Andrew Nebrich Photography
"I'm not a big fan of spiders, rats, especially if they're like - I got up one morning on a holiday recently, and there was a centipede in the bed that big. I wasn't very happy about that." - Tim Burton
From the publisher:
In Atari’s Centipede, 2 or 4 players venture into the world of the classic Atari arcade game. On one side, a Player controls the Gnome, exploring the forest and trying to defeat the Centipede. On the other side, the Centipede player, eager to destroy the Gnome, must wiggle their way to the other end of the board.
The Gnome Player rolls and spends their dice to perform actions, while the Centipede Player uses a deck of cards to spawn Fleas, Spiders, and Mushrooms, trying to control the game board.
The first Player to eliminate their opponent wins the game!
Before the interweb, and before modern video game systems, video game enthusiasts had to either walk, get on their bikes, or beg their parents (this technique did not work) to play the latest and greatest games. The arcade was video game mecca, and one of the most popular games of the arcade era was centipede. It was one of the first games to feature a trackball as a controller instead of a joystick. Since its debut in 1981, it has been on almost every home video game system, from the Atari 26000 to the current generation consoles. It has also spawned a couple of board games, such as this one.
Review: Rules and Setup: One player plays as the green or blue centipede, and the other player plays as the gnome (of the non-chosen color). The centipede player takes the six centipede segments, the deck of action cards of the chosen color, and their creature speed card. The gnome player takes the gnome token of their color, dice, dice pool card, and four controller cards. The board is set out on the table and players take turns placing three mushrooms at a time, each in a certain column. This continues for all nine columns until there are only three mushrooms left in the supply (there will be twenty-seven on the board). After this, the centipede player will put out his centipede from a spawn point, and the game can begin. Theme: Retro Video Game
Mechanics: Dice Rolling Grid Movement
Game Play: The game begins with the Gnome player. He rolls all the dice and places them on the pool card. After this, the player will always have two phases.
They can refresh the Dice Pool. If there’s only 1 die left you re-roll all dice or they can activate one die and take all the actions in the order listed on that die and remove it from the pool. The effects on the dice range from move, fire, and recharge one control card. The Gnome moves from side to side, based on the number on the die. When the Gnome fires, if a Mushroom is hit it’s removed. If a Flea, Spider, or Centipede segment is hit, it’s removed but then replaced with a mushroom. The control cards are extra actions to help lead you to victory, such as move or fire, but they need to be recharged after one use before they can be used again. The gnome player wins when the last centipede segment is removed from the game board.
The centipede turn has three phases. You can play one card from your hand, taking the card's action. Next, you move the centipede, spider, or flea, if on the game board. Each has its own movement rules. Finally, you can draw one card from the centipede deck. If any of the three bugs move into the space above the gnome, it eats the gnome, and the centipede player wins.
Artwork and Components: Do you want your game reto'd? Then you came to the right place. The wooden pieces for the creatures and the Gnome are old school 8-bit, and the font on the centipede cards gives you the old arcade font feel as well. The board is as it should be and is a good representation of the game. The dice are a nice size and easy to read.
The Good: This game does capture the feel of playing the video game quite well. The 8-bit pieces added a nice touch to the presentation of the game.
The Bad: The centipede deck seems overpowering at times.
Final Thoughts: The most exciting thing about the game for me is that the game plays entirely differently. It's deck vs. dice allocation. If you want to play the Gnome side, it is going take you several plays to get efficient at it. But believe me, it's more balanced than you will think it is initially.
Players Who Like: 80s retro video games, two-player games, varied mechanics between opposing sides.
Quick Look: Designer: Federico Tini, Alessandro Veracchi Artist: Travis Anderson Publisher: Tabula Games Year Published: 2018 No. of Players: 2 Ages: 14+ Playing Time: 20-30 min.
From the publisher:
Volfyirion is a fast-paced competitive deck-building card game for two players. Lead your House into war and employ everything you have to destroy your opponent cities while building your defenses. Beware of the dragon Volfyirion, a dreadful creature powerful enough to wipe out entire regions, that decided to create its lair in the ruins near your settlements.
Will you be strong enough to bend the dragon's will and have it unleash its wrath on the battlefield against your enemies?
WARNING: This is a preview of Volfyirion. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change. Volfyirion is set to launch on Kickstarter on October 17, 2018.
Review: Overview and Theme: Volfyirion is a competitive deck-building game set in the fantasy world of Mythsea, where two Houses are waging war to see who can control the dreaded dragon and reign over the land. The theme is rich in the gorgeous artwork and card names and powers, and the two-player deck-building mechanism is strong and engaging as well as quick and fierce. Games end quickly--usually in half an hour or less--but are captivating in their storytelling and interaction.
Components and Setup: Volfyirion is a deck-building card game, and so the components are cards, plus one dragon meeple, which can be upgraded to a highly detailed dragon mini in the Kickstarter campaign.
Setup is easy--the cards have distinguishable icons on them so you can quickly separate each player's 10-card starting House Deck from the 52-card Asset Deck (Command, Troop, and Building Cards), the 15-card Wonder Deck, and the unique Volfyirion's Lair card. The prototype rulebook had a clear diagram to make it obvious how to set up the initial layout. The only thing that might slow you down is wanting to flip through the cards and look at the artwork!
Game Play and Mechanics: Volfyirion is a deck-building card game, so fans of other deck-builders will find the gameplay familiar with some interesting new twists. Each player starts with a 10-card deck, drawing a hand of 5 cards at a time, and uses the powers of those cards (Command Points, Battle Points, and Knowledge Points) to add new cards to their deck, affect cards already in play, and control the mighty dragon Volfyirion. Each time the deck runs out, a player shuffles, adding in the newly acquired cards to make their deck stronger and more effective.
Besides your starting deck, you also have 3 city cards in a tableau in front of you, with base Defense Points of 8, 9, and 10. As the game progresses, you can add one Troop and one Building at a time to each city to increase their defense and add some power to your later turns.
The goal of Volfyirion is to defeat all 3 of your opponent's cities. A city can be defeated if you have Battle Points equal to the city's total Defense Points or if you use Knowledge Points to send the dragon Volfyirion to the city and your opponent is unable to muster enough Knowledge Points on their turn to send him away again. In addition, if you are able to accumulate 16 Knowledge Points in a single turn, you can defeat Volfyirion himself and add his lair to your row of cities, making it that much harder for your opponent to vanquish you.
Having these cities to bolster and defend adds a new twist to the deck-building style of gameplay. At first, I wasn't a fan of that aspect, since I typically don't like take-that or direct confrontation in the games I play. It might not have helped that my partner quickly smashed one of my cities in the first few rounds of the first game we played!
However, as the games progressed, I found the strategy really interesting. You want to build up your Command Points to be able to buy better Troops and Buildings from the Asset Deck so that you can beef up your cities quickly...but at the same time, you want to be focusing on Battle Points so that you can take out your opponent's cities and use those Battle Points to buy the Wonder Cards (which stay out in your tableau once played), and on the third hand, you're trying to accumulate Knowledge Points so you can control the dragon and send Volfyirion against your opponent's cities (or send him away if he's come to ravage your lands).
It's a tricky balance between the three types of Points that you can accumulate on your cards. Additionally, many cards have a second-line action, which can give you a bonus if they are played with other cards of particular colors (a Synergy Chain) or if you decide to discard them from the game altogether (the Remove Option), so you're trying to keep those in mind as well.
Remember those Wonder Cards that stay out in your tableau? Your opponent can use Knowledge Points to Seal a Wonder Card (tap it) and force you to use your own Knowledge Points to Unseal it before you can use it again!
There are a lot of intriguing new mechanics in Volfyirion that make it different from other deck-builders we've played.
The Good: Volfyirion has a lot going for it: the art is beautiful and enriches the fantasy storyline. The dragon meeple is adorably fun, but backers may want to replace it with the sculpted mini available in the campaign, because who can resist a gorgeous mini?
Volfyirion is a multi-layered deck-builder with a high level of player interaction and a great depth of strategy while sticking to a relatively short play time. The quick play (and fast setup) makes it easy to get in more games, and the layered strategy will have you itching to play "just one more time" to see if a new method might let you grasp victory even sooner.
The Bad: If you're not a fan of direct confrontation or take-that in games, you might not enjoy Volfyirion, which requires you to strategically defeat your opponent's cities, send the dragon after them, and shut down their Wonders.
My other bad-but-really-good critique is that I would love to see more. I know that the small deck size keeps Volfyirion both portable and quick to play, but I would definitely be interested in seeing new cards and expansions from them in the future.
Players Who Like: Players who enjoy head-to-head deck-builders set in the fantasy world--think Ascension, Dominion, or Magic: The Gathering--will slide easily into Volfyirion. Players who like city-building, like Machi Koro or Dice City, may also enjoy the facets of Volfyirion that let you build your tableau and add strength to your cities.
Final Thoughts: Lose yourself in the fantastic realm of Mythsea as you work to build your House's strength in Command, Knowledge, and Battle. Add Wonders to your deck and strive to be the best at controlling the dragon Volfyirion to vanquish your foe and arise victorious. Volfyirion is an engaging fantasy deck-builder with a quick play time and layered strategy that we're eager to return to again and again. Volfyirion is a keeper.
Quick Look: Designer: Aaron Smith Artist: N/A Publisher: A Smith Games Year Published: 2018 No. of Players: 4-10 Ages: 5+ Playing Time: 30-45 min.
From the publisher:
A hilarious party game where you start as a sheep, and are trying to evolve into sheep-person.
Pick a category Frantically Brainstorm for one minute. Compare Answers – Items only score points if other players also put them down. So to win, you must THINK LIKE A SHEEPLE!
WARNING: This is a preview of Sheeple. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change. Sheeple is scheduled to hit Kickstarter on October 23, 2018.
Review: Overview and Theme: Are you ready for the puns?
Sheeple: The Best Game in the Ewe-niverse is full of side-splitting laughter and full-on groans as you dive into the world of a party game brimming with corny sheep puns, as you work your way from E-lamb-entary School up through the Ewe-niversity...be ready for chuckles and eye-rolls with this game, packed wall-to-wall with cartoony sheep goodness.
Sheeple is a word-listing party game with a twist--instead of unique answers, you're trying to come up with answers that the other players will also jot down. Score points for your answers and move along a board with plenty of chances to move forwards or backwards at the whims of the board or the Pun Cards. The first player to reach the Ewe-niversity will win!
Components and Setup: My copy of Sheeple is a prototype, so I can't comment on final component quality, and my pictures will reflect that! The one thing that all our players did notice was the thick, durable material used for the sheep standees--I'm not sure if it was all plastic or some type of coated cardboard, but it is rugged and very nice quality. If the same material will be used in the final copy, you won't be disappointed.
Sheeple consists of two decks of cards--108 Category Cards and 42 Pun Cards--as well as the 10 Sheeple movers, a 60-second timer, the game board, and the instruction sheet. Besides these items, you'll need to supply paper and pencil for each player.
Game Play and Mechanics: Sheeple is a party-style word game. Each round, one person will be the Shepherd who draws a Category Card and chooses one of the three categories listed there, from Drinks or Beverages, to Superheroes & Supervillians, Things in This Room, or Places to Go on Vacation. The top two categories on each card are a little easier, and the bottom category is always something a little trickier, great to use if you're playing with all adults.
Once the Shepherd announces the category, she flips over the timer and everyone has 60 seconds to scribble down as many items as they can think of for the category. You don't need to be super literal--you can include phrases, ideas, adjectives, etc. The rules also include suggestions to abbreviate for speed and also to use parenthesis to include several items on the list, writing "chocolate (cake)" to include both "chocolate" and "chocolate cake" on your list. These ideas were great, and we're already planning to incorporate them as house rules in other word games!
For holidays, you might write down Halloween, New Year's, and Fourth of July, but you might also jot down family, food, parties, and presents. You could add happy, busy, and patriotic, too.
After the timer ends, each player reads through her list of answers, crossing off any that no one else had written down. Every answer that at least two other people wrote down earns each of those players 1 point, and every answer that only one other person wrote down gives 2 points to those two players.
Tally your scores and, starting with the Shepherd, move your Sheeple mover along the game path. You'll land on several "move forward" or "move back" spaces and you will also often land on blue Pun Card spaces--draw a Pun Card like, "Explore the Lamb-azon, Forward 4" and follow its instructions. If a Pun Card lands you on another Pun Card space, keep drawing!
Some turns will turn wildly chaotic, with Sheeple moving back and forth all over the board. Once all the moving has been completed, if no Sheeple have made it to Ewe-niversity, the game continues with a new Shepherd for the next round.
The game ends when one or more players reach Ewe-niversity, and there's even a little track extension so you can see who made it the farthest beyond Ewe-niversity to be the ultimate winner. Did anyone manage to Discover the Origins of the Ewe-niverse?
Sheeple is very family-friendly--it includes suggestions for altering game play a little to include younger players (cap the number of answers each player can list, allow younger players to draw instead of write, and/or team younger players with adults) and the random movement added by board spaces and Pun Cards keeps games from becoming a blowout in favor of the adults. One good run of Pun Cards can catapult a younger Sheeple to the front of the pack.
The Good: My family loves party-style word games, so we really enjoyed laughing together over a game of Sheeple. The art is bright and bold and the puns are truly plentiful. We really appreciated the variety of modifications that the designer included to make the game work for a range of ages.
Sheeple has a different take on the standard list-your-answers word party game, and it leads you to think of things in a different way as you are deliberately trying to match the answers of others instead of heading out on your own unique trail.
The Bad: The puns did get old after a few plays for some of our players...this is a game that is most fun the first time or two you play it, and then benefits from sitting on the shelf for a few weeks before you take it down again, so the puns are a little fresher. Ewe know what I mean!
I'm curious about the decision not to include pencils and pads of paper in the box--it probably would increase shipping costs due to a heavier box, but it can be a little frustrating to have to scrounge up your own paper and pencils, especially if you brought the game to a party but the host didn't have paper readily available. Having paper and pencils in the box would make it a more complete experience.
Players Who Like: Players who like party word games like Scattergories, Boggle, and Scrutineyes will enjoy the light-hearted fun of Sheeple.
Final Thoughts: Sheeple immerses you in the land of corny sheep-puns, but beneath that layer of eye-rolling humor is a strong and enjoyable word game that is suitable for groups of many ages. There's plenty of thought in making Sheeple accessible and engaging. You may tire of the sheep puns after a bit, but for a game that is pulled out occasionally for parties or family gatherings, it's a keeper.
Quick Look: Designer: Gil Hova Artists: Heiko Gunther and Travis Kinchy Publisher: Formal Ferret Games Year Published: 2018 No. of Players: 1-5 Ages: 13+ Playing Time: 60-90 minutes
Review: tl;dr: Table drafting for fun and profit, much better with expansions.
Getting to the Game: Setup is smooth - it's just a matter of shuffling a bunch of decks of cards, then dealing out a number of them face up determined by how many players are at your table. The modular score tracker serves the gameplay very well overall and was well thought out.
**NOTE: Setup and various gameplay changes based on the expansions are outlined further below.
Learning The Networks is surprisingly easy, and alongside the fantastic playful art of the game, sells short a decently complex scoring mechanic. While you'll live or die in a given season (round) of The Networks by the amount of money in your coffers, your lifeblood is the viewers. At the end of the game, they're the only thing that matters, and while earning them may be easy, keeping them is much harder. Whichever network has managed to secure the most eyeballs on their programming at the end of five seasons wins immortal glory.
Playing the Game: I'm going to give a brief intro for new players of how the base game works overall, so if you're here strictly for the expansion content, skip on down. If you don't know how to play The Networks at all, some of this explanation might be a bit bare bones.
In varying turn order each season, you and your fellow executives will go around the table nabbing brand-new shows for your three-hour prime-time lineup, ads to keep your cash flow in the black, stars to pump up your viewers of those shows, and bonuses bestowed upon you by the shadowy powers-that-be in your network. Be the first to decide you've done enough for the season, and you can "drop and budget," gaining declining bonuses for passing up the opportunity to grab more prime-time assets. At the end of the fifth season, so as not to invalidate your choices too badly, you'll get one more round of scoring before game's end. Cash is simply a tie-breaker at that point, though, so be a good corporate citizen - don't end up taking more than you need.
Telly Time - The Telly Time expansion brings new shows, specifically geared towards a UK audience, and the standard set by the base game of close-but-not-close-enough-to-infringe-on-copyright titles still lingers here. These are just as wonderful as the original game's shows, and while it's a shame that they're incompatible with the base game's offerings, the new lineup is refreshing to an audience who have seen the old ones enough. The crown jewel of Telly Time, though, is the rework of genre bonuses. In the base game, when you land your third or fifth show of the same genre, you get viewers and a one-time boost of either ads or stars. Telly Time brings in a bingo card which forces you to diversify your lineup rather than monopolize it. I vastly prefer the Telly Time mechanic to even out the base game; it's far more cutthroat and gives even more player interaction (yet another reason I'm sad I can't use the old shows with the new expansion).
Executives - This expansion is the real game-changer. Adding variable player powers to your game is always a dangerous proposition, not only because of balance issues, but also due to the fact that you want to make sure they're all fun. Executives doubles down on this risk by not only adding player powers, but player drawbacks, as well. Each executive in the game gets a thematic ability to add to their network and a liability they have to work around. It's the latter that brings a whole new dynamic to the game for me and makes this expansion a must-grab. Additionally (as if you weren't already sold), Executives adds a new game start condition: pilot season. Instead of just assigning your three starting shows to time slots that don't matter, you're instead drafting pilot season shows that very much do. This adds a level of importance to the beginning of the game and starts your strategy engine burning. It's a phenomenal mechanic that may make sure you never play without it. I certainly won't. One last note: each executive has both a masculine and feminine side, something I'm noticing that more and more games are doing, and I applaud that.
Overall, my feelings about The Networks are mixed. I love drafting, and the choices presented to players here are just right. Ads, Stars, Shows, and Network cards are all different enough from each other and all relevant enough that the strategy involved when it's your turn feels good. On the flip side, five seasons feels too long. I felt like I had reached the limit of what the game had to offer for me right around the time we were finishing season three. I will provide the caveat, however, that every single person I played this with really enjoyed it, and while they agreed that the game felt "played" around the midpoint, the art and cards in the game gave them a reason to stick around.
The expansions solve a lot of this for me. Genre bonuses in the base game drive a big stake through the heart of player interaction, relegating you to playing defense by taking a sci-fi show that doesn't really help your network just to keep the other player from getting their fifth. I have a natural aversion to playing defense in games rather than trying to further my own win conditions, but I understand that's my personal thing. Telly Time brings the delicious bingo genre card, pushing you to diversify your genres and making the occasional sports or quiz show that pops up a table-wide need.
Similarly, Executives not only brings variable player powers to the game, but the alternate setup with the pilot season feels SO good. The drawbacks of each of the executives are a master stroke, further increasing the depth of the game. I haven't gotten enough games in yet to tell just how balanced they are with each other, but so far, they feel fine.
Artwork and Components: Formal Ferret wisely sticks with Gunther and Kinchy's art for the expansion content, and that's not only welcome from a continuity standpoint, but from a quality one, as well. The art style is delightful and each show that's a knockoff of a famous program has sometimes subtle, sometimes less so, visual clues for watchful fans. There's very little negative to be said about the artwork, and I'm glad the expansions continue to meet the high bar set by the base game.
I was provided with the "Fancy Bits" for the base game (pictured throughout), and oh YES are these worth grabbing. The wooden remotes and TV sets replace the play order discs and score tracker cubes, respectively, and I won't ever go back to the originals. The solid-black show cubes are replaced by clear acrylic, allowing you to see more clearly what's underneath. The base game components do the job, but little else. Even if I didn't have the upgrades, I'd call the base game bits boring and wonder why the art so powerfully evokes the theme, but the components are just serviceable.
The Good: Quick drafting gameplay. Game focus is well executed. Art is very good. Expansions bring gameplay elements that are very welcome and wonderfully done.
The Bad: Game can drag after a bit. Base game components are meh. No box insert can lead to a mess, especially with expansions. Game is MUCH better with expansions, which is a drag for those who just own the base game and/or can't get them. AP players could lose their minds.
Score: While The Networks for me personally fails to deliver over the five seasons it takes to play a full game, I always enjoyed the games I played with my friends. The expansions are as close as it gets to must-buy, though. They address several of my issues with the base game, and they elevate it to a more interactive experience that's ultimately far more fun. I'm giving The Networks and its expansions Telly Time and Executives a score of Tune In.
Quick Look: Designer: Łukasz Woźniak Artist: Barbara Gołębiewska Publisher: Go On Board Year Published: 2019 No. of Players: 1-6 Ages: 13+ Playing Time: 30-60 minutes
Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com
WARNING: This is a preview of Valhalla. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.
Review: In Valhalla, you take on the role of Jarl trying to get his buddies into Valhalla before Ragnarok hits. Build a team, equip them with weapons, and fight like Odin's watching. You don't want to spend eternity eating tofu and watching Friends reruns with Loki, do you?
Seriously though, even if you hate battle games, hate dice, or if there's anything else that would dissuade you from checking this out, keep reading. Valhalla has a level of craftsmanship that transcends taste. Every aspect of this is beautiful.
I knew I was in for a treat as soon as I opened the package.
I can't tell for sure if the note is handwritten, but they took the time to burn the edges and spatter it with blood. That's how dedicated they are to quality. I had very high expectations for this game, and it did not disappoint.
Valhalla isn't your usual brawler. It doesn't really feel like a battle game. You are fighting, but it's not mean. The winners go to Valhalla, and the losers get to keep fighting. Being attacked isn't a bad thing, it's just another chance to send guys to Valhalla.
The game ends when the draw deck runs out or when any player has been attacked and defeated four times. This is tracked with shield tokens.
If you attack and win, you take one of your opponent's four shields. You don't gain a shield for a defensive victory. Either way, the winner sends their activated Warriors to Valhalla. You win by having the most points at the end. Points come from your dead Warriors, shield tokens, and a few other things depending on what modules you use.
The Polish Kickstarter campaign unlocked about thirty stretch goals. The American campaign will include all that stuff, plus a ton of new upgrades and expansions. Some of the materials in these pictures contain deluxe expansions.
Rules and Setup: < 5 min Valhalla is quick to set up and teach. The cards feature clear iconography. The rule book is is laid out well. White symbols in the top right of expansion cards make it easy to sort out different modules.
This has a ton of modules that will affect setup, but the core is simple.
Setup: - Shuffle the 120 Warrior and Tactics cards. - Each player draws 3 Jarls, chooses one, and discards the rest. This will determine your active and passive abilities throughout the game. - Give each player a player board, 4 shields, and 6 dice in their chosen color. - Select the Points Card picturing the correct number of players, and the appropriate reference card (depends on expansions). - If playing with fewer than 6, discard the appropriate number of cards from the draw deck as noted on the setup chart. - Determine first player (default is the longest beard) then deal Warriors from the deck equal to the number of players +1. If Tactic cards are drawn, shuffle them back in and keep going. Starting with the last player, everyone chooses one of those Warriors to take into their hand. The remaining card is shuffled back into the deck. - Everyone draws 7 cards and discards 2. So, you have a starting hand of 6.
Basic setup looks like this:
Optional: - Set up the Odin board and fill it with Blessing cards. - Get out the appropriate King of the Kill card. - Shuffle Thor's support cards into the draw deck. - Shuffle cards from the Valkyrie, Dwarves, or Fire Giant expansions into the main deck. (You can only use one at a time.) - Draw a Loki card.
Theme and Mechanics:
A player's turn has 2 phases. Phase A: Take one of these 4-5 actions.
1. Play a Warrior in your hand to your player board.
2. Play 2 Warriors to your player board with a total attack value of 3 or less.
3. Attack another player. Roll 6 dice and play them on your active Warrior's weapon slots to activate them. Active warriors add their strength to the fight. Whichever side has the highest strength total wins the fight. Tactic cards can also be played to modify strength, rolls, or affect player abilities. You can discard a die to reroll as many of the others as you like. Do this as many times as you can afford. When you are done, your opponent defends by taking all those same steps to arrive at their strength total. Whoever has the highest total wins.
Their activated Warriors go to Valhalla (to the right of their player board). Losers and unactivated Warriors stay on the player boards. If the attacker won, they also take one of the Defender's shield tokens. Shields are worth points at the end of the game.
4. Draw two cards. Keep one and discard the other.
5. Gain an Odin card by paying the discard cost shown on its space on the track.
Phase B: Draw 2 cards. Keep one and discard the other.
Play passes to the left.
Dice: Each d6 has a weapon on 5 of its sides and an x on the 6th. All dice have the same sides.
Cards: Jarls: This is your team captain. His effects stay in play the whole game. There is a big stack of these with a lot of variety. They are all self-explanatory.
Warriors: These are your fighters. They have weapon symbols on the top left. Once on your board, they can be activated with dice that you roll. Many have bonus abilities when activated. This one requires two sets of the same weapon to activate (i.e. 2 spears and 2 shields). He adds 6 power to your attack and reduces the dice rolled by your opponent by 1. The triangles in the bottom left show how many points he's worth in Valhalla.
The guy below only requires a spear to activate. He adds 1 point of power, or 4 if your opponent has a red guy on their team. He is also worth 1 point in Valhalla. Some warriors are worth more.
Tactics: These cards are played during your attack action to bolster your strength or hinder your opponent. Some add strength. Others allow you to re-roll, negate your opponent's abilities, give you extra dice, or change die results.
Odin's Blessings: In this module, players have a fifth option in phase A. As your action, take one of the Blessing cards from the Odin track and slide it under your Jarl card. This grants you a new power for the rest of the game. There are 45 different permanent abilities in this deck. You can have up to three. The one on the far left is free. The middle two slots require you to discard one card. The far right card requires you to discard two.
From left to right these abilities are: 1. Place an ax die on this card to draw and play a random Warrior to your field. 2. Draw a card before battle. 3 and 4 each allow you to add 2 strength to one of your active Warriors of the corresponding color during a fight.
King of the Hill:
This is a module where the first player to win a fight becomes King of the Hill. The King card/mini is placed on the first slot of the Hill card. When a player starts their turn with the King in front of them and at least one Warrior on their board, they move him one slot up on the Hill card and gain the point bonus on that slot. The caveat is that opponents get a bonus 1-2 dice when fighting the King.
To win, you have to carefully draft fighters and skills that compliment each other so you can mitigate your rolls while keeping point values in mind. If you have four warriors that use spears, it's going to be hard to equip them all. If you can turn spears into other weapons, you probably don't want to draft Warriors that use spears. If you send ten guys to Valhalla who are all worth 1 point, you can easily lose to somebody who sent 5 guys who were each worth 3.
It's kind of odd that the winners of the battle die and the losers live. It makes it feel more like sports than war. While the theme might not fit the feel of play as snugly as some others, it is done very well. There is a lot of great thematic flavor in the modules. Valkyries modify the points you get from sending Warriors to Valhalla. Loki opposes the gods, so he provides bonuses for losing battles. Thor can intervene in other player's fights. Dwarves can be recruited to block the opponent's attacks or points. Ice Giants freeze your opponent's dice. Fire Giants are cheap powerhouses who make other Warriors run away. Odin will bless the faithful with additional permanent player abilities. With King of the Hill, these give you points, but makes you a target. Brothers in Arms allows players to team up. In the solo variant, you are trying to kill one giant monster. I have Fenrir, but I think there are going to be others.
I'm leaving out a lot of details. There is a lot to this game, but it's all modular, so you can mix in however much you want and learn it a bit at a time. Some of the expansions are incompatible or only for use with a specific player count.
The implementation is excellent. It's easy to add in new things. Each module significantly changes the strategy without adding a lot of rules.
Gameplay: Play passes quickly. Games take more like 45-90 minutes until you get it down. The choices you make on your turn are interesting, especially if you're laying with Odin's Blessings. That's my favorite module becasue you can have up to five abilaties to help mitigate your rolls.
My group has diverse taste. Each of us has about twenty percent overlap with two others in the group, so consensus is rare. Valhalla is one of those few that appeals to everybody. We have several players who dislike dice, direct confrontation, or card games. Everybody enjoyed this. It's easy to see why it has an 8.9 on Board Game Geek. It's not "the best game ever," but it's fun, and so solid that just about anybody can enjoy it. It's fighting where nobody gets mad. It's an engaging strategy without analysis paralysis (AP). It's as big or as simple as you want it to be. Plus, it plays 1-6, so it's always an option.
Artwork and Components:
I don't have finalized components for the American release. These comments are on the Polish first edition and prototype materials.
The artwork is beautiful. The components are all excellent quality. The only negative thing I can say is that the base-game cards are of a lower quality than some of the expansion cards. They're not bad by any means, but the expansion stuff has linen finish and generally feel like they could take a lot more abuse without wearing out. I assume one of the stretch goals in the American campaign will be linen on all cards.
The dice, art, playmat, player boards, card art, and King mini are all fantastic. The King mini is add-on bling, but totally worth whatever they're charging. There is a King Card that can be used in his place, but look at this guy.
The box and insert are also top-notch. It fits everything--including the player mat--really well, and even has some room for future expansions.
The Good: Basically, everything. Every mechanic is very well thought out. Play flows smooth and fast. Crowd pleaser. Plays 1-6. Oodles of Modules that add variety to the gameplay without adding a bunch of rules. Gorgeous art. High-quality components. Clear iconography The Bad: Cards could be a tiny bit better quality, but probably will be in 2nd edition.
The Relative: It doesn't feel like a big, bloody battle. Plays more Euro than Ameritrash; I don't think that's a bad thing, but I know there will be a few people who play this and say, "This isn't Blood Rage!"
Definitely consider backing this one. It's a keeper.
A few months ago I played another dice-placement battle game that felt like mean Yahtzee. It was like having children beating on us with sacks of nectarines, in that kids are too small to hurt you, but it's annoying and degrading, and I don't really want to do that again.
If I were teaching a game design class, I'd have them play that on day one and Valhalla on day two. I can't think of a better way to convey how important the implementation of a mechanic is to the gameplay experience. That other game was a slog. Every round you try to do something, but the dice say no. Getting an engine going in that game was grueling. At the end everybody was in a bad mood.
On the other hand, Valhalla is a strategy game. You feel like you can do stuff. Sometimes the dice are going to be hateful, but you generally feel in control. You have options. Most importantly, it's fun.
For Players Who Like: - Dice mitigation - Point-driven games with a combat theme - Variable player powers - Modular gameplay - Card drafting - Hand management - Set collection - Take-that mechanics - Lots of card variety
Quick Look: Designer: Alexander Kneepkens Artist: Henkjan Hoogendoorn Publisher: Jolly Dutch Productions Year Published: 2018 No. of Players: 2-6 Ages: 10+ Playing Time: 60-90 minutes
WARNING: This is a preview of Chartered: The Golden Age. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.
Review: tl;dr: Prospecting hidden as a stock market game with a very satisfying 3-D table presence.
Getting to the Game: While the rulebook won't do you many favors in this regard, setup can be sorted out easily once you know what's going on. There are 95 warehouses in the game, so remove 25 of them if you're playing with less than four players. Set these aside, and find the labeled warehouses with each of the enterprises on them. Set these on top of their respective stock card piles. Shuffle the building cards up (again, keep out the B cards if you're playing with 2 or 3 people), and deal everyone their starting hand and cash. Now shuffle in the level cards to the remainder of the deck and deal the correct number of open cards on the side of the board face up. Place the deck next to these. Set the stock market board near enough for everyone to see, but DO NOT put any of the stock tracker tokens on it. Industry and Logistics await!
Your primary goal in Chartered is to prospect each of the enterprises based on their upward trajectory. Unless you're playing with the optional event cards, stock values will never go down, so buying early is always a good idea- the only question is what to buy, and what to found.
Playing the Game: Each player has a hand of building plots that they have the rights to build. On your turn, you can turn in one of these cards and put a warehouse on that space. If it's empty and remote, you can found an enterprise on that space by capping your warehouse with the headquarters of a good you're into. The actual good doesn't matter at all; they're all the same. Once you do that, you place two free warehouses next to the one you built. The caveat to founding is that once you've founded and placed those two free warehouses, there must be at least three empty spaces between the new buildings and any that already exist.
If you're not founding a new venture, then the warehouse you place has to be adjacent to an existing one. Whenever a warehouse is placed next to or on top of an existing structure, the stock value of that enterprise goes up. Vertical expansion is generally better than horizontal, so if you have a level card, you're going to get more value for that then a building space.
This all sounds far more complicated than it actually is, and that's really my main concern with Chartered. We spent more time than we should have trying to suss out the rulebook and how everything worked. Once we abandoned that and just tried playing it out, it became very clear, very fast. What the rulebook needs and lacks is a clear description of game setup. The included table is very helpful for referencing what's included in games for each player count, but there's no good image for how it should look at the start of the game. This would be a relatively simple fix, and one I hope will be done before the game is finished.
I'm harping on the rulebook because apart from that, this game is spectacular. If you took all the good things you like about Ticket to Ride, Acquire, and Black Gold, you'd get this perfect concoction. Player count up to six is a wonderful addition, and the fact that Jolly Dutch took the time to add a reversible board with a new map shows that the game is clearly well-loved. It's easy to feel the care that went into this game. There are optional event cards that add a new level of suspense and interaction - these felt so correct in the game that playing without them felt like a more advanced version of the game, not a lesser one. Removing the variance the event cards provide forces you to play as efficiently as you can. In a three-player game we played without them, I thought for sure I was going to win by a wide margin. It came down to a single oversight mistake one of the other players made mid-game that I was able to capitalize on.
This might be a turn-off for some. Chartered is a game of getting in on the ground floor of very specific enterprises, and when your financial domination is threatened, you perform a merger and take them over for yourself. This mechanic feels SO GOOD when it works, and it swings the game so wildly that the first time it happened in all of our games, each new player had a giddy smile on their face. Watching people get cashed out for a liquidated minority stake in a merger, and then adding that enterprise's market value into the new one and watching the stock soar is... intoxicating. I get now why all the movies depict stockbrokers as addicts of one sort or another. It's a rush.
One more thing I'd like to mention before moving on: This game feels like it's possible to invest in all the wrong things early, and be completely locked out of the game. That didn't happen in any of the games I played, but I think it's feasible that it could. Jolly Roger must have thought about this in their testing, but there's no rubber band mechanic built in. I'm wondering if because of the diversity of enterprises, and the ability to pay rock-bottom for a "flag stock" (each player when founding can add a plastic flag of their color to the enterprise warehouse for 200, giving them four non-tradeable stock in that enterprise) offsets this somewhat? Something to keep in mind.
Artwork and Components: The art in Chartered is almost nonexistent. I'm wondering if my prototype copy might be pre-art because there's so little here. The stock cards have flat images of their namesakes, and the playing board is a drab warehouse district with tiny boxes and barrels scattered about. The cover art depicting a Dutchman grasping coins in his claw-like hand doesn't do a great job of denoting the play inside. Overall, if a player were to look at the box, then look inside, I wouldn't blame them for not being excited about getting it to the table. They'd be so wrong, though.
The components are similarly kinda boring. I would be willing to bet that the majority of the asset work in this game went toward the warehouse pieces. They're not breathtaking, but they stack well and feel great on the board and in your hand. They have a decent enough weight to them that they don't slide all around the board when you're trying to play. The cardboard coins are okay, and the card stock of the stock cards (#SeeWhatIDidThere) is standard issue.
The Good: Gameplay is so good with such a small toolkit that it's addictive. Alternate board for higher player counts is necessary and very appreciated.
The Bad: Unknown about the art. Rulebook needs a little tweaking. Might be possible to get locked out of winning with no way back in.
Score: I want to make sure that I'm clear in this review - a game doesn't need look good to be great. My GOTY last year was Ethnos, and I have on numerous occasions described that game as "ugly as sin." Chartered doesn't go that far, but I think the gameplay here rivals Ethnos for quality. It's that good. Despite my misgivings above, I think this could easily be a top-10 game for 2018 if it makes it into homes by Christmas. I'm giving Chartered: The Golden Age a score of Stacked Up.
Designers: Matthew King & Petya Kapralova Artists: Matthew King & Petya Kapralova Publisher: Mindpipe Year Published: 2018 No. of Players: 3-6 Ages: 14+ Playing Time: 30-90 min.
From the publisher:
You can be nice to play this game... but you certainly don't have to!
Draw the Cards, Tell the Story, Solve the Problem. Use your hand of 10 weird and wonderful word and picture cards to solve the peep's problem!
This is an easy to learn, versatile and creative card game of bribery, threats and weirdness. Lead your island to dominate other island with adorable assistance or devastatingly creative cruelty. Will they get the Carrot, or the Stick?
WARNING: This is a preview of Carrot & Stick. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change. Carrot & Stick is launching on Kickstarter on October 9, 2018.
Review: Overview and Theme: Carrot & Stick is a storytelling game with a very creative history. Starting with a political satire game following Brexit in 2016, the folks behind the Carrot & Stick world opened up to incorporate global political satire but then found themselves adding more elements from all facets of life, making a diverse, quirky, wide-ranging set of cards to encompass more stories and more ideas. In fact, they created even more Peeps and Locations than they can squeeze into the final version, and let fans vote for their favorites and even suggest new Peeps.
When Carrot & Stick comes to Kickstarter in October 2018, it will even have two possible variants you can choose from--the Nice deck or the Naughty one! Some planned Kickstarter rewards will include exclusive designs, custom artwork, and ways to influence the final product.
Woven throughout the process and the rules are creativity, freedom, and flexibility. Play until all the Peep cards are gone...or until you've eaten all the pizza. House rules rule--play the game as you like it most!
Components and Setup: Carrot & Stick is a card game, with decks of Peeps (characters), Locations, Picture, and Word Cards. There's also a Halo card to award to the nicest answer and a Pitchfork card for the cruelest one!
Setup is quick and easy, if your players can keep themselves from flipping through the decks just to see all the adorable artwork! Shuffle each deck separately, then deal each player a Peep and a Location to put on the table in front of them to start their World. Players are encouraged to introduce their character and their World, too. The more moments you can spend diving into the wacky world you are spinning with your stories, the richer the experience will be.
Each player will also get a hand of 10 Picture and Word Cards, and you're ready to begin!
Our deck was a prototype printing from the Game Crafter, so it contains only about 60% of the cards that are expected to be in the final version--and again, some of the actual cards may change as Matthew and Petya take feedback from fans.
Game Play and Mechanics: Storytelling and engagement are the key here. Carrot & Stick requires players to be open to being goofy, occasionally naughty, out-of-the-box, and inspired by the unusual artwork.
Carrot & Stick is a judge-and-players game--each round, there will be a new judge who flips over one Peep, one Location, and one Picture/Word Card, and sets the scene. Who is coming to choose a new home, and what problems are they facing?
Now each of the other players chooses up to three Picture/Word Cards from their hand to tell a story about what they will offer that character to come to their own World. But you don't have to be nice...you can use your cards to threaten that character into joining you, instead!
The judge listens to (and at our table, reacts in character to) all the possibilities, and then chooses the one that swayed them the most. The person telling the most compelling story takes that Peep and Location into their World, and another round begins with a new judge.
In addition, the judge can hand out the Halo card to the person who told the nicest story (and increase their hand size by 1) and/or the Pitchfork to the person with the meanest story (and reduce their hand size by 1). Most of the times that we played, it was just our family of four, and so we didn't use the Halo and Pitchfork much, just for extreme cases of Naughty or Nice!
That's it--the basics of the game are very simple. The real fun comes from engaging in your stories, building upon your Worlds and using them to entice (or threaten) new Peeps to settle there. Some haggling, a little arguing, creative thinking, and out-of-the-box uses of objects or ideas will help make your Carrot & Stick experience especially rich.
The Good: The artwork of Carrot & Stick is playfully odd and inspires great stories and imagination. My daughter and I were especially delighted that Matthew and Petya turned US into cards too--it seems like this may be a Kickstarter perk that you could look forward to!
Carrot & Stick is a great vehicle for storytelling and can be as competitive and cruel or as simple and sweet as your group wants it to be. As I said before, we enjoyed playing it as a family, but my 16-year-old son also said he would love to take it to game night with his friends too, and I imagine the stories they tell might be a little different!
The Bad: We all had suggestions for Peeps that we'd like to see added, or Peeps that we really weren't enthusiastic about--but fortunately that's the kind of feedback that the creators are very open to! My son said he'd love to see more characters with a profession attached (like Dr. Kali), while my daughter hopes for more characters from mythologies of all cultures (maybe Thoth from Egypt).
The only other complaint I heard was that everyone wanted more! Even knowing that the final game will have almost double this number of cards, everyone agreed that if the game was even bigger with a couple hundred Picture and Word Cards, that we could keep playing for hours.
Players Who Like: If you like storytelling and judging games like Dixit, Snake Oil, and Apples to Apples, you'll enjoy Carrot & Stick!
Final Thoughts: Carrot & Stick is a zany, colorful, imaginative storytelling card game which inspires ever-more complicated and intertwined stories and brings a feeling of community to the table. It was a hit with our family and we hope to see more, more, more from Carrot & Stick on Kickstarter and in the future!
Quick Look: Designer: Robert Bruce Artist: Jayce White Publisher: Mad Packs Games Year Published: 2018 No. of Players: 2 Ages: 7+ Playing Time: 15-45 minutes
WARNING: This is a preview of Pocket Ballpark. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.
Review: tl;dr: Quick and easy Baseball simulator.
Getting to the Game: Not just a clever name, Pocket Ballpark fits some pretty good tense baseball feel into just a few cards. Take the home plate card and each of the base cards, setting them out to form a diamond. Separate the Pitcher deck from the hitter deck, and find some coins or other tokens to use to mark spaces on the provided tracker cards. Play Ball!
Played over as many innings as you want (the game recommends 3, and I think this feels about right), the pitch is that both batter and hurler will choose a card from their deck and play it at the same time. You then add up the total of both cards, and check the outcome card to see what happens. Your deck is a limited resource, though, so there's a definite feel that the longer the at-bat goes, the more the batter has control (spectacularly, just like a real game).
Playing the Game: This game plays incredibly quick, which is great, but the real genius isn't in the simplicity, it's in the depth. Ultimately, yes, you're just playing one card at a time until a hit or out happens. The trick is that if the hitter gets on base, you flip over the batter card used in that pitch and make it the baserunner. This means that that number is no longer available to you until you score him or he gets out. When your deck empties, you reshuffle only the cards in the discard, so there will be times when the batter or the pitcher knows exactly what's available in the other's hand and can play to that.
The strength of this mechanic is that sometimes in an actual game, the hitter knows the pitcher needs to throw a fastball for a strike and can sit on that pitch. The drawback is that in this particular game, it happens more often than it should. We houseruled one game where when the pitcher has only one card left in their deck, they automatically reshuffle. This allowed the pitcher the control they usually have in a game, where they determine the pace of play. It didn't solve the issue for the hitter, however. It did make it feel more like an actual baseball game, usually a lower-scoring affair.
Artwork and Components: As this is a KS preview copy of Pocket Ballpark, I will say that the mechanics are far more interesting than the art, and hope that the developers have more in store than the generic art present here.
The cards here are thin and flimsy - again, hopefully the product of prototyping. What worries me a little is the lack of trackers for the important cards. The instructions clearly lay out that the players are to use coins or whatever they have lying around. Little wooden baseball discs for the pitch tracker card would be perfect. Tiny plastic helmets for the score trackers would also be very welcome.
The Good: Baseball gameplay is quick, light, and feels authentic for such a small footprint. Portability is a huge plus.
The Bad: Art and cards in the review copy are just meh. Lack of physical trackers is glaring.
Score: With so many unknowns, it's tough to give this game an overall score. The actual playing feels really good, though, so I'm willing to give a little more slack to the components, hoping they rise to meet the game. As it stands, there's plenty here to like, and the price point is pitch perfect. I'm giving Pocket Ballpark a score of A Solid Single.