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Roll Player Gets Deeper with Fiends & Familiars

Candice Harris
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Board Game: Roll Player
Keith Matejka's Roll Player began in 2016 as a puzzly, dice-drafting, fantasy character-building game and has since evolved into a full-on series with its expansions and spin-offs, Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale, Lockup: A Roll Player Tale, and the upcoming Roll Player Adventures. I would not be surprised to see a Roll Player video game or even Roll Player cereal in the future. Let it be known that if Roll Player cereal ever comes to fruition and has dice-shaped marshmallows, I'm all in.

Keith and Thunderworks Games kindly hooked me up with a copy of Fiends & Familiars, the newest expansion for Roll Player, so I could do some serious character building and monster killing.

If you're not already hip to Roll Player, let me start by giving you a brief overview of what this dice-driven game for 1-4 players (1-5 with the expansions) is all about. In Roll Player, you are competing to create the greatest fantasy adventurer and prepare your character for an epic quest. Along the way you'll get to stuff your hand into a sack filled with a ton of colorful dice that will be used to develop your characters for the game. Each player gets their own character sheet and a unique backstory, alignment, and class that grants you a special ability and target goals for each of your character's attributes.

Each round, you roll and draft dice to be placed on your character sheet to build up your character's attributes. Whenever you place a die, you can trigger an attribute action depending on the row in which you've place it. For example, placing a die in your strength row lets you flip a die (including the one you just place) on its opposite side. When placing dice, you're trying to hit target goals for each attribute based on your class card, while also trying to match colors in certain positions corresponding to your backstory card. The better you do this, the more reputation stars you earn. Whoever has the most reputation stars at the end of the game wins.

From gallery of candidrum

You also get the opportunity to buy market cards that could be skills and weapons that grant you special abilities or traits with endgame scoring opportunities. There's also some set collection with different types of armor you can buy for your character. It's a nice blend of thinky puzzle mixed with creativity since the character you're building will be unique from your opponents.

Board Game: Roll Player: Monsters & Minions
In 2018, Thunderworks Games released Monsters & Minions, the first expansion for Roll Player. With the addition of monsters and minions, Roll Player elevated to a new level giving players more options, adding components for a fifth player, and making the game a more exciting experience since the character you're building will also combat minions and a monster at the end of the game to hopefully earn you more reputation stars. Monsters & Minions also ramped up the game's complexity a hair, which I am totally cool with. You have the usual fun puzzle aspect, but you also have an added choice during the market phase of fighting a minion to possibly gain experience (XP), honor, and (perhaps most importantly) insight on the monster you'll be pitted against at the end of the game.

The Fiends & Familiars expansion, which was released in June 2020, seamlessly builds from where the Monsters & Minions expansion left off, with even more depth and the addition of fiends and familiars, special split dice, more cards, character sheets, and components. You can play the Fiends & Familiars expansion with just the base game or as recommended in the rulebook, with the base game and the Monsters & Minions expansion.

Board Game: Roll Player: Fiends & Familiars

Fiends & Familiars comes with fifteen different familiar boards that represent friendly companions, each with their own backstory and a unique power that gets activated when you place dice on it. Each familiar board sits above the standard character boards and gives players more ways to earn reputation stars.

On the left side of the familiar boards is a slot for new scroll cards that represent powerful, ancient spells. Scroll cards can be purchased in the card market and give players an immediate one-time effect. Players typically save these cards since some game effects refer to scroll cards.

Board Game: Roll Player: Fiends & Familiars
Familiar Board examples

On the right side of the familiar board is a slot for new fiend cards that are not so nice, as you'd imagine. The fiends represent creatures that have infested the kingdom, and in terms of gameplay, will be making it more challenging for players to achieve their goals. Each round, fiend cards will be on some of the initiative cards that hold the higher value dice.
Board Game: Roll Player: Fiends & Familiars
When players draft a die from an initiative card that has a fiend, they acquire that fiend. Have no fear as it is possible to banish fiends by spending gold or charisma tokens. Some of the fiends force you to pay more gold for certain types of cards, take injury tokens when performing certain actions, prevent you from using effects of skill or weapons cards, or even force you to hunt during the market phase instead of buying cards, something I unfortunately experienced with the Fiend of Duress.

As if it weren't tough enough deciding which die to draft when you're thinking about the value, or the color, or even your turn order for the market phase, now these bloody fiend cards create even tougher decisions when drafting dice. You also have to consider whether it's worth taking a higher value die along with a hindering fiend. Maybe certain fiends won't impact you much, but trust me, others will. The good news is that it's not too hard to banish those suckers so they're no longer in effect, although it can become costly to banish them if you end up accumulating several. In my case, though, I snagged the Exalted trait card that gave me a reputation star for every two banished fiend cards I had at the end of the game. With this trait, I was practically incentivized to take more fiends, but also keep up with banishing them.

Board Game: Roll Player: Fiends & Familiars
In addition to the fiends and familiars, the expansion also includes six new monsters and 23 new minions, in addition to more of all the other card types. This is excellent because if you don't already have the Monsters & Minions expansion, you can start with the Fiends & Familiars expansion and get a small taste of what Monsters & Minions adds along with the fiends and familiars, too. Then once you get hooked and are starved for more, you can get Monsters & Minions and have even more cards and dice to experiment with.

The new split dice that come in the Fiends & Familiars expansion are pretty cool. The Monsters & Minions expansion added new clear boost dice that ranged from 3 to 8, which was super helpful in terms of value, but not at all colorwise. Fiends & Familiars, on the other hand, comes with these funky, split-colored dice that count as both colors wherever they're placed. To balance out this helpful feature, the split dice range from only 1 to 4. Consequently, it'll be a lot harder to hit those higher attribute goals with these puppies, but you'll likely do better with your main character and familiar's backstory scoring. It does take some getting used to the multicolored pips, but I can always appreciate special, custom dice.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

I should also mention you can play Roll Player solo, and it's pretty fun. I prefer playing multiplayer, but I find the solo mode scratches the same puzzly itch, which I enjoy. I just miss some of the player interaction, especially with the dice drafting, when playing solo. The game moves quickly once you're all set up, especially if you're not prone to heavy AP, but it does take time to get the market deck set up since you need to remove certain cards from the giant deck (if you have both expansions), in addition to the usual market deck set-up process that requires you to separate the single-dot cards from the double-dot cards. If you're organized when you pack it up, it shouldn't bog you down much.

The artwork from JJ Ariosa, Luis Francisco, and Lucas Ribeiro, and component quality are top notch. I especially love the art on the monster and minion cards. It all ties together well and helps make the Roll Player experience more thematic.

Board Game: Roll Player: Fiends & Familiars
Board Game: Roll Player: Fiends & Familiars

The Fiends & Familiars expansion is not supposed to fit in the base game box with the Monsters & Minions expansion, but I'm going to use my Tetris skills to see what I can do. I do see that Thunderworks Games offers the new expansion as a big box on its website where you can comfortably fit the base game and both expansions as an option, but these Roll Player boxes are nice quality, so it might be worthwhile to keep them all handy.

Keith Matejka and Thunderworks Games have mastered the art of variety with Roll Player and its expansions, Monsters & Minions and Fiends & Familiars. You have a ton of different character sheets to choose from with female and male sides, 15 different familiar boards, and so many character-related cards, fiend cards, market cards, adventure cards, monster cards and minion cards. So many cards! It really feels like endless combinations are possible, and while you're running through the same phases and structure each game, it will feel different depending on what market cards and minions are revealed, the special abilities you end up with, which monster you're fighting, etc.

If you already enjoy Roll Player, whether with or without Monsters & Minions, you will probably enjoy what the Fiends & Familiars expansion adds to the mix. If you were lukewarm after playing the base game alone, I think you should give it another shot with either or both of the expansions. While I'd still probably only play the base game with more casual gamers, I think gamers who prefer a bit more meat on the bone will dig everything the Fiends & Familiars expansion has to offer. I'm pumped to see what Keith Matejka cooks up next for Roll Player, although with all of the existing content, I don't think I'd ever get bored...
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Fri Jun 26, 2020 4:00 pm
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Game Overview: Modern Art Card Game / Masters Gallery

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Modern Art Card Game
[Editor's note: On June 12, 2020, CMON Limited released Modern Art Card Game, a new version of Reiner Knizia's Masters Gallery, a.k.a. Modern Art: The Card Game, which was first released in 2009. I covered this game in depth that year on Boardgame News, and here's a reprint of that write-up from May 12, 2009, following a game summary by Greg J. Schloesser. —WEM]

GS: After playing Masters Gallery from Reiner Knizia, I joked with Keith Blume of Gryphon Games that my review would be just one sentence: "It is Modern Art without the bidding."

Truth-be-told, this is an accurate description as the game feels very similar to that famous board game, sans the bidding. One would initially suspect that removing the bidding would strip the game of its primary element and reduce it to a bland shadow of its predecessor. Surprisingly, that is not the case as the card game version, while simpler and quicker, is actually quite fun.

Interestingly, Gryphon Games has elected to release the game in two versions: Masters Gallery and Modern Art: The Card Game. Both have identical rules, with the only difference being the artwork on the cards. Masters Gallery uses reproductions of paintings from famous artists, while Modern Art: The Card Game uses fanciful art from fictional artists. The production of two different editions will likely enable Gryphon Games to obtain distribution in different markets.

Five cards — one representing each artist — are dealt in a row, which will be used to tally the scores. Cards depicting a collection of paintings from the artists are mixed, and thirteen dealt to each player. One more card is revealed, and play begins. Players alternate playing one card of their choice, the objective being to play artists that will be of the greatest value once the round is complete.

Board Game: Modern Art Card Game
Most of the time, a player plays only one card at a time. However, many cards have special icons that allow the player to alter the normal course of play. These powers can allow the player to draw a new card, play two cards (sometimes face-up, sometimes face-down), place a two-point award token on an artist, or allow all players to play an additional card. The special powers add spice to the proceedings and force the players to make some interesting choices.

At any point a particular artist has six or more cards in play between all of the players — five or more with two players — the round ends and points are scored. All face-down cards are revealed, and based on the cards in play, the top three artists are determined. In the first round, paintings of the three top artists will be worth three, two and one points respectively, plus two points if the artist has a bonus token upon it. Ties are broken in favor of the artist who has the fewest overall paintings in the deck. The object, of course, is to play your cards in a fashion so that your paintings represent the artists scoring the most points.

Things get more interesting in subsequent rounds. As in the first round, only the top three artists score points, but the points that each artist earns are cumulative, which means that points an artist earned in previous rounds are added to those earned in the current round. For example, assume an artist placed first (3 points) in the first round and third (1 point) in the second round. If the artist now places first again (3 points) in the third round, each painting of that artist is worth seven points (3 + 1 + 3 = 7). Thus, it is wise to conserve cards of these artists and play them in later rounds to score more points. The risk, of course, is that the artist may not score at all in the earlier rounds if you don't play them. That choice is at the heart of the game, which is fraught with an atmosphere of uncertainty and apprehension.

Board Game: Modern Art Card Game
Each artist placeholder shows the number of cards in the deck

Another important consideration is that players receive only two additional sets of cards following the first and second rounds, and none following the third round (except when playing with two). Thus, players must manage their hand of cards carefully as the mix will change very little. While proper timing is important in the playing of particular cards, there is also a sizable degree of luck as you cannot control the cards your opponents will ultimately play.

The game is played over four rounds, and the player with the greatest cumulative value of points is victorious. A full game can generally be played in 30–45 minutes, which is perfect for the style and depth of the game.

Board Game: Modern Art
Masters Gallery and its twin Modern Art: The Card Game play in a very similar manner as their ancestor, Modern Art. Of course, the major element missing is the auctions. Here, players actually play and possibly score the cards they are dealt as opposed to placing them up for auction. Removing the auction does simplify the game and remove an element that some fans of the original game might find abhorrent. Fair enough. However, I would urge folks not to prematurely dismiss this new game as it is quite fun and you'll have some interesting decisions to make.

Yes, it can be frustrating to play your artists in an attempt to land them in the top spots only to have your opponents play different artists and shut you out of the scoring. I also wish a score pad or chart had been included. These, however, are not enough to significantly detract from my enjoyment of the game. It works well as a light game to open or close an evening, or at family gatherings. Indeed, it may even find wider audience than its predecessor, which was more involved and required more skill to play well. Masters Gallery is more easily accessible and should have broader appeal. However, as it is in the real art world, I'm certain there will be appreciation for both the masters and the modern artists!

•••

Board Game: Modern Art Card Game
Version played: Production copy
Times played: Seven, once with 4, twice with 3 and four times with 2

WEM: Reiner Knizia's Modern Art, which debuted in 1992 and received a Spiel des Jahres nomination in the following year, has long been considered one of the purest auction games on the market. As the thinking goes, players need to know which pieces of art to sell when with which type of auction, as well as when to open their wallets and lay out some loot. Do this well, and you have a good shot at winning.

Board Game: Trendy
But I'd argue that the description above encompasses more than just auctions. Knowing which pieces of art to put up for bid requires you to read the table and count cards, remembering who has played which artists in the past and figuring out who they might be backing in the future. (Knizia later distilled this aspect of Modern Art into its own game, Trendy, a.k.a. Crazy Derby.) Tied into the trend-spotting is the need to manage your hand of art cards since, as Greg pointed out above, the value of art tends to escalate over the course of the game, so you want to hold on to the most valuable pieces for the final rounds when they'll bring the most profit — whether you're buying or selling — while at the same time trying to promote that artist in earlier rounds in order to nab that big payday.

Board Game: Modern Art Card Game
2012 edition from Pegasus
Remove the auction element from Modern Art and you're still left with the trend-spotting and hand-management challenges — which suggests that the Modern Art = auctions formula isn't as clear as some might think. Knizia said as much in my January 2009 interview with him: "[N]ot everyone likes or is familiar with auctions and the bidding process, particularly the general public sometimes gets the prices wrong and then the game is destroyed. I wanted to take a more mass-market approach and take the bidding out of it, but see if I could still make an interesting game out of it."

The special action cards in Masters Gallery mimic the role of the various auctions as they give each player hidden information (beyond the color of the cards) and a way to warp the game in their favor: I can boost the value of each subsequent piece of art from this artist; I can play the "everybody plays a card" special power and likely end the round; I can pocket a secret piece of art that will be revealed at the end of the round. Most of the cards have no action associated with them, however. In Modern Art, if one player receives several double auction cards, their auction winnings can be huge; likewise in Masters Gallery, if a single player receives multiple special action cards, they can possibly parlay these cards into a large advantage. Fluky hands are part of any card game, though, so you've been warned.

One aspect of the game that Greg overlooked in his write-up is that during the scoring at the end of a round, each player can play as many cards from their hand as the number of different artists that they played during that round. The special powers don't take effect when you do this; you simply score points based on the current value of that artist's works. Players start with more cards in hand in Masters Gallery compared with Modern Art and these "extra" cards serve as a hidden scoring mechanism since players can't account for what they can't see. [Correction as noted in the comments: For each artist you played in a round, you can play one additional card from your hand of that artist.]

Board Game: Modern Art Card Game
Sample cards from CMON's Modern Art Card Game

As with the artworks that you play, you want to save cards in hand for the final round when you know which artists will pay off the most, but if those artists don't score, then those cards are worthless. (Shades of Honeybears!) Well, semi-worthless anyway — you can still play them during a round to give you a wider portfolio on the table, which enables more plays during scoring. This bonus scoring reduces the tendency of players to follow the crowd and play the same artists that everyone else in playing, which can often benefit you in the long run. For example, if everyone plays artist A the first time around the table while I play artist B, I'll be able to pitch two cards during scoring versus one for everyone else, in addition to boosting the value of artist B's works for future rounds. Thus, even though Masters Gallery has been simplified through the removal of Modern Art's auctions, the game has tricky aspects all its own.

That said, all of my opponents have been underwhelmed by Masters Gallery, despite my enthusiasm and enjoyment of the game. One opponent, a huge fan of Modern Art, said that he felt the cards were missing something; he wanted each of them to add something to the game beyond simply representing the artist. He wanted those auctions! Other opponents labeled the game "boring" and "blah", saying that they felt no tension over what to play when or how to plan for later rounds. I've won most of the games that I've played, so maybe they're just bitter over being crushed. Either that, or my awareness that Knizia designs require multiple plays before the game clicks has primed me to be patient and play his games multiple times before passing judgment — assuming that I don't first run out of willing opponents, that is...

Board Game: Modern Art Card Game
Modern Art Card Game on display at GAMA Expo 2020
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Mon Jun 15, 2020 5:23 pm
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Game Previews: Back-to-Back with Back to the Future: Dice Through Time and Back in Time

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Back to the Future: Dice Through Time
In March 2020, I wrote about competing games based on the Back to the Future movie series. The two games are due out in June 2020, and I've now had the chance to play and record overview videos for both of them, so I thought I'd share those videos as well as a written overview to give you a sense of how they differ in both gameplay and their takes on the original material, especially since they are both dice-based co-operative games for 2-4 players aged 10+.

Back to the Future: Dice Through Time — from designers Chris Leder, Ken Franklin, and Kevin Rodgers and publisher Ravensburger — tackles the entire BTTF trilogy and leans into the time-travel aspect of those movies.

Each player takes charge of their own DeLorean that starts at the clock tower location in one of the four movie timelines: 1885, 1955, 1985, 2015. At the start of each round, you lay out 3-8 events based on the number of players, then everyone rolls their dice, then players take all their actions in turn: moving to a different timeline, moving to different locations within a timeline, punching Biff out of the way, and (most importantly) resolving events and returning items to their proper locations within the timelines.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
The 1980s influence is strong here!

To get an item, you must clear all the events from a location, and to do that, you must have the icon or icons depicted on all the event cards at that location. If Biff is at the location, you must use a fist to shuttle him to another location in the same timeline before you can clear an event or return an item.

If you have all the icons needed to clear an event and you can get there, great! If not, well, maybe you can help yourself — that is, another Marty and Doc — by leaving a die on a location that can be used in a future round on that same space or during any round in that "same" space in the future. In the image above, for example, if the orange player leaves a die in the saloon, then any Marty can use this die for an action in the saloon, at Lou's café, at Marty's house, or at Café 80's. (If the brown player left a die at Marty's house, on the other hand, this die could be used only at Marty's house or at Café 80's since it doesn't exist in the past.) This oblique interaction with yourself is a great representation of the tricks possible thanks to time travel.

Each round, you lay out more events than the number of players, so Dice Through Time gives you the sense of fighting a rising tide because you can't clear the board of every event — and at the end of a round, you advance the OUTATIME marker a number of spaces equal to the timeline that has the most event-filled locations. In the image above, if this were the end of the round, the marker would advance four spaces given what's happening in 1985, then you'd add paradox tokens to these locations; fail to clear those, and you'll likely suffer even more next round. If the OUTATIME marker hits 12, you lose.

The only way to regain time is to return items, say getting the skateboard to Marty's house in 1985. Do this, and you retreat the OUTATIME marker one space and gain a random Einstein token that contains an icon any player can use in the future — or the past or present.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Dropping dice for use by your future selves

At the start of play, you lay out 2-5 items in each year to establish the difficulty of the game. You must return all of these items before the OUTATIME clock hits 12, so returning those items matters more than anything else. The saloon in 1885 is covered with events? Who cares! Let the space-time continuum go to pot there so long as the mind-reading helmet gets to the Brown mansion.

Dice Through Time has a somewhat Pandemic-y feel in that once you lay out the events and roll the dice at the start of a round, all the info is open and players can puzzle out where they want to go in order to maximize the impact of their resources (icons) and minimize the potential damage of untouched locations that will spike your OUTATIME marker. Lightning icons allow you to re-roll unused dice, so you're not always stuck with what you roll, and you do have the ability to use any die to move a little bit and to use any pair of matching dice as an icon of your choice. These action options increase your flexibility, but every die spent moving is a die not spent removing events, so time runs short — no matter how much you can hop back and forth through it.

For more detail, here's a video overview:



•••

Board Game: Back to the Future: Back in Time
Back to the Future: Back in Time from Funko Games and its in-house Prospero Hall design team forgoes any time-travel elements to instead give you the chance to replay the climax of the first Back to the Future movie, giving Jennifer and Einstein active (and somewhat odd) roles in the game to help Marty and Doc Brown get things to the state they need to be in order to win the game and not have Marty cease to exist.

The game lasts a set number of turns, ending when the time marker moves to 10:04 p.m. and lightning strikes. At that moment in time, you need to have the DeLorean ready to roll down the street while George and Lorraine are deep enough in love that they will continue to be an item once you return to the present day. Fail to have both of these things happening at 10:04, and you lose.

Alternatively, you can lose even faster if George and Lorraine are so distant from one another (in terms of their relationship) that the picture of Dave, Linda, and Marty fades completely. You can't win if you don't exist!

From gallery of W Eric Martin
An overview of downtown Hill Valley

At the start of a player's turn, you carry out the actions listed on the turn tracker: perhaps revealing a trouble card that sets up a complication for all players, perhaps performing a love check to see whether part of that picture vanishes, and definitely revealing a movement card that sends some combination of George, Lorraine, and Biff circling the town.

You then take actions with the powers on your player card, using them to move about town or undertake specific dice challenges. You can bring Lorraine or George (but not both) with you when you move, and you want to get them together so that you can perform an "influence love" action (while in the same space with them) to boost their relationship. Other actions include fighting Biff (yes, he's a perpetual punching bag, but manure is not included), moving the DeLorean, and assembling the parts need to make the DeLorean ready for time travel.

All of these challenges require a die roll, with you spending powers, then rolling dice that match the colors of the power spent. Each color die matches a challenge — blue for fighting, yellow for moving, etc. — and when rolling a die, you have a one-third chance of rolling Biff, a one-third chance of a wild icon (which is a success), and a one-third chance for that icon's specific icon, with one side of the die having two such icons (two stars, two arrows, etc.). Biffs are locked when you roll them, but you're free to re-roll icons that don't match what you need. If you succeed, then love increases, the DeLorean moves, and so on.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Each Biff icon — whether on a die or a movement card — sends him toward either Lorraine or George, and if he's already on a space with one or both of them, then the love meter drops a notch for each subsequent Biff icon. Since you're drawing a movement card each round, and two such cards in the game's final turns, you feel like you're building a sandcastle next to the ocean, the walls constantly crumbling on one side while you work on the other side. Sure, you can influence love and boost the relationship between Lorraine and George, but nothing stays put, making this game like Pandemic akin to how a city can be cleared of disease only to be reinfected immediately.

Progress with the DeLorean is harder to undo, although trouble cards can make that happen, but you can also get stuck proceeding in the first place since you need to collect three items in Hill Valley in order for the car to leave Doc Brown's driveway.

To succeed with your efforts to keep all the plates spinning until time runs out, you want to undertake dice challenges against trouble cards and opportunity cards, with three of those opportunity cards always being in play. Roll the right icons while in a location with one of these cards, and you'll gain a random power tile, possibly giving you access to two dice on one tile, a way to re-roll Biff icons, additional movement, and the ability to treat a particular icon as wild, which means those icons will always succeed for you when you spend that power.

By resolving opportunities, you can also claim item cards that give you a unique extra action available to you once each turn. Use George's science-fiction stories for his own good!

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Thankfully Biff has now been chased away — good boy, Einstein!

At heart, Back in Time is an engine-building game, with each player needing to gain powers so that you can take more actions on your turn. Without doing that, you don't have a chance of getting to all the places you need to go, never mind actually doing things in those places. Dice Through Time has everyone roll dice all at once, then figure out what you can, while Back in Time makes only one player active on a turn, with you being able to respond to each action and die roll based on what happens.

As in Dice Through Time, in Back in Time you can share your actions with others. To do this, you need to be on their location during their turn, and you can then spend any dice you have to assist them in a challenge. They need to roll at least one die of their own, and everything that you spend will then be unavailable to you on your own turn, but sometimes you need to pool your resources to ensure things get down — which is why Jennifer and Einstein have somehow made their way to 1955. Einstein even specializes in moving the DeLorean, which is a remarkable feat for a dog!

In this video overview, I run you through four complete and nearly error-free turns to give you a feel for how it all works:

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Mon Jun 8, 2020 10:05 pm
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Build a More Epic Civilization with Through the Ages: New Leaders and Wonders

Candice Harris
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Board Game: Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization

Board Game: Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization

Board Game: Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization
Through the Ages has some serious history, and I'm not just referring to its theme. In 2006, the first edition of Vlaada Chvátil's card-drafting, civ-building magnum opus — Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization — was released by Czech Board Games.

In 2007, a new publishing company — Czech Games Edition (CGE) — was established and released its first titles: Galaxy Trucker, also by Vlaada Chvátil, and League of Six by Vladimír Suchý. Fast forward years later to 2015 when Chvátil and CGE released a revamped and slightly retitled second edition of Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization, which was followed by an excellent digital adaptation in 2017. The Through the Ages app is considered by many (including myself) to be one of the best digital implementations of a board game.

The natural next step was for Chvátil and CGE to further enhance the Through the Ages experience, so the New Leaders and Wonders expansion was created and released in 2019...well, digitally at least. Finally in 2020, the analog English-language version of the New Leaders and Wonders expansion is here. Considering that the New Leaders and Wonders expansion has been available digitally for some time, I wanted to let you know what you can expect in the tabletop version, much of which is also available in the app. (Note that I received a review copy of Through the Ages: New Leaders and Wonders from CGE.)

If you're not already hip to Through the Ages, here's a high-level overview of this challenging, card-driven, civilization-building game for 2-4 players:
Quote:
Each player attempts to build the best civilization through careful resource management, discovering new technologies, electing the right leaders, building wonders, and maintaining a strong military. Weakness in any area can be exploited by your opponents. The game takes place throughout the ages beginning in the age of antiquity and ending in the modern age.

One of the primary mechanisms in TTA is card drafting. Technologies, wonders, and leaders come into play and become easier to draft the longer they are in play. In order to use a technology you will need enough science to discover it, enough food to create a population to man it, and enough resources (ore) to build the building to use it. While balancing the resources needed to advance your technology, you also need to build a military. Military is built in the same way as civilian buildings. Players that have a weak military will be preyed upon by other players. There is no map in the game so you cannot lose territory, but players with higher military will steal resources, science, kill leaders, and take population or culture. It is very difficult to win with a large military, but it is very easy to lose because of a weak one.

Victory is achieved by the player whose nation has the most culture at the end of the modern age.
Board Game: Through the Ages: New Leaders and Wonders

The New Leaders and Wonders expansion seriously amps up the replay value of Through the Ages! Players have plenty to chew on here with the added variety of not only forty new leaders and wonders, but also nineteen new military cards and different variants for incorporating the new leaders and wonders with the base game to maximize replayability. In addition, New Leaders and Wonders includes rebalanced versions of some cards from the base game as well as additional base game cards to adjust the game length for three- and four-player games.

Due to changes in printing technologies, there was no way to match the backs of the new military cards to the old ones, so CGE ended up reprinting all of the base game military cards for this expansion due to the importance of maintaining secrecy with players' military cards. I understand this wasn't the original game plan and it caused some delays, but kudos to the CGE team for taking the extra steps to get it right.

As mentioned above, the New Leaders and Wonders expansion also includes additional cards to rebalance the base game. The rebalancing decisions were made based on the opinions of experienced players and statistics from tens of thousands of online games. I personally have not played the base game alone enough times to speak to the impact of these changes, but the good news is that you can choose to use the rebalanced cards if you like them or continue using the original version. The goal was to make some of the stronger cards that experienced players would always tend to swoop up a little less powerful, and in contrast, make some of the weaker cards more powerful to entice players to choose them more often. Here are a couple of examples of original base game cards (left) vs. expansion rebalanced cards (right):

From gallery of candidrum

From gallery of candidrum

From gallery of candidrum

You can see the new version of Napoleon Bonaparte is less powerful now that it grants only one military action (red cube) instead of two, whereas the new versions of the other examples are a bit juicier; Hanging Gardens now grants players a two-food bonus upon completion, and Fundamentalism has a reduced science cost and provides an increased military value.

CGE also addressed imbalance in the action cards between player counts. In the base game, the same number of action cards are used for all player counts, which made them harder to acquire in three- and four-player games. This was addressed by adding more action cards for 3+ players so that these games will have slightly more cards than before. Due to social distancing, I have not been able to play any three- or four-player games of the tabletop version to see how it feels, but I can certainly appreciate all the research the CGE team did to realize these rebalancing changes were needed.

Besides the abundance of new and updated cards included in this expansion, there are different ways you can incorporate the new leaders and wonders which will for sure keep Through the Ages fresh and interesting, game after game:

• You could play a "Pure Expansion" game in which you replace all the base game wonders and leaders with the expansion wonders and leaders and follow the usual game rules.

• You could alternatively play a "Secret Mix" game in which you combine the base game and expansion leaders and wonders and not know which will be included until they appear when you're replenishing the card row. You'll basically separate the cards by age and type (leader vs. wonder), then shuffle each deck and draw six leaders and four wonders for each age in a two-player game, and seven leaders and five wonders for each age in three- and four-player games. Incorporating additional leaders and wonders in three- and four-player games now is a solid tweak considering more players are competing for them.

• You could also play a "Public Mix" game, which is perhaps my favorite because it incorporates the new proxy cards that are used in conjunction with the new wonder and leader boards. This is an awesome new addition for strategic planning. You'll know exactly which leaders and wonders are coming down the pike, but you don't know exactly when they'll appear in the card row.

When playing the "Public Mix", you use the specified number of leaders and wonders, but instead of shuffling the selected leaders and wonders into the appropriate age civil card decks, you display them, one age at a time, on the new wonder and leader boards so that all players can see them before they enter the card row. How will these wonders and leaders make their way into the card row? That's where the proxy cards come into play.

From gallery of candidrum

Each proxy card has a number matching the numbers on the wonder and leader boards. You shuffle the proxy cards into the civil card decks for each age, then when you are replenishing the card row, if a proxy card appears, you discard it and replace it with the corresponding wonder or leader that matches its number. Once all the wonders and leaders have been moved to the card row for a given age, i.e., once the wonder and leader boards are empty, you refill both boards with wonders and leaders for the next age.

Seeing the leaders and wonders ahead of time really helps you plan, but does not guarantee you'll score the card(s) you're hoping for. This set-up might even save some time during the overall game since players can examine the future wonders and leaders ahead of time when it's not their turn. I'm all for trying anything to make the game move a little faster. I'm sure not everyone will love the "Public Mix" variant as much as I do, but the point is that you have plenty of options to explore, which will introduce more variety to the game.

From gallery of candidrum

When I initially dabbled in Through the Ages, I didn't quite get into it...or shall I say, I didn't quite get it. Let's face it — this is a hard game to play. After playing more, inspired by many of my friends who are TtA fanatics, I'm pretty hooked and appreciate it more with each play. I still have a lot to learn, but I do enjoy it. The engine building is challenging considering it's an extremely tight balancing act of trying to keep up with literally everything — military, science, culture, food and resource production, etc. — to stay afloat, but it feels so satisfying when your civilization starts to really develop and grow. The player interaction is incredibly enjoyable, too, with players driving the political events and having the ability to create pacts and initiate aggressions and wars with other players.

The New Leaders and Wonders expansion adds so much juicy variety and spice to an already awesome game. If you enjoy expansions like this that mainly add variety and increase the replay value of a game with minimal rules changes, I suspect you'll dig this expansion for Through the Ages. Even considering the rebalanced cards alone, you might consider this an essential expansion depending on your experiences with the base game, but for me, a Through the Ages rookie, I think I'm mainly into this for all the added flavor. Of course, ask me five years from now when I have more games under my belt and I might have a different response.

If you're already a big fan of the base game, I'm sure the Through the Ages: New Leaders and Wonders expansion is probably a no brainer, but if you're on the fence and curious to try it out, I recommend checking out the app adaption first. It's solid with an excellent tutorial, and it's a great way to see whether this is something you might want to delve deeper into.

Also, if you're interested in hearing about the origins of Through the Ages, you can check out Vlaada Chvátil's designer notes. I've found them to be quite interesting and insightful!
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Fri Jun 5, 2020 2:00 pm
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Game Preview: Dragon Gyas, or Chopping Down Giants

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: R-Eco
Board Game: R-Eco
Susumu Kawasaki's card game R-Eco was a revelation to me when I first played it in the late 2000s.

The subject matter of the game — recycling — is tightly integrated into the gameplay, with you delivering four types (colors) of recyclable products (cards) to four factories and picking up the raw material waiting at the other end of that factory. When a factory has enough product on it, the factory clears and the player who added the final amount scores a token from this factory, with the points for these tokens generally increasing over time. You score for a color only if you have at least two tokens in that color, and if you collect too much raw material in your hand, you lose some of it as negative points.

R-Eco is brilliantly designed, being thematic and highly interactive with lots of meaningful choices in a twenty-minute timeframe, and I'm dumbfounded that the game is no longer on the market.

I've enjoyed other Kawasaki titles over the years — Master of Rules, Robotory, Gauss, Stack Market, Traders of Carthage/Osaka, Discovery of World Ruins, and more — and I'm amazed at the breadth of both subject matter and game styles present in his catalog.

Board Game: Dragon Gyas

Now Kawasaki has a huge project in the works courtesy of co-publishers Arclight and Max Factory: Dragon Gyas, with "Gyas" being pronounced with a hard "g" and a long "ee". Here's an overview of the gameplay:
Quote:
While Dragon Gyas can be played by 1-4 players, the game is primarily designed to be a two-player game in which one player represents the Hexgyas and its seven supporting knights while the other player controls the Grandragon and its seven Dragonewts. All of the characters are represented by both miniatures and cardboard standees with you choosing which to use.

The Hexgyas and Grandragon are much larger than the other characters, and they're the most important figures because if you lose your main character, then you lose the game.

Board Game: Dragon Gyas
Grandragon figure

To set up, players choose a starting configuration for their large figure and seven smaller ones on their half of the game board. The Hexgyas and Grandragon stand in one of the five large hexagonal spaces, while their supporting characters occupy the smaller hexes that form a network around these larger hexes. Each player positions three pieces of armor around their large figure, designating two other positions around their perimeter as a weak spot and a critical weak spot. Players also customize a control deck for their large character with three attack cards and three special cards that are added to their six movement cards.

Board Game: Dragon Gyas
Mock-up components and game board; I laid down the cardboard standees for easier viewing

The game lasts at most five rounds, and each round consists of four phases. Players first choose initiative from a hand of five initiative cards and program three control cards for their large figure. During the control phase, players carry out their actions, moving their large figure and attempting to inflict damage on the opponent. The command phase allows the supporting characters to attack one another, but also to infiltrate the opponent's giant to discover weak spots and possibly inflict damage or pull control cards from their hand.

Deal ten damage to the opponent's larger figure, and you win instantly. If no one has been taken down after five rounds, then the Grandragon wins, having overcome the initiative advantage wielded by the Hexgyas.
Board Game: Dragon Gyas
A sampling of the game's dragonewts

I'll note that I received a mock-up version of Dragon Gyas in order to preview the game ahead of its June 2020 Kickstarter campaign (KS link), and the components shown in this post and the video below are from that copy of the game. The miniatures might be final and produced, but the cards, game board, and other components are not production quality. (BGG and I have received no compensation for this preview. I'm a Kawasaki fan, so I was curious to take a look at the game, even though it's outside my normal gaming wheelhouse.)

To fill out the overview above in more detail, at the start of the game you craft a deck from the cards available to you, giving you a deck that suits your playing style while also not allowing you to have access to every possible counter to what the opponent does and to whichever situation you happen to be in. The attack and special cards often have a cost, with a colored circle being one of your life points and a circle with a black dot being an exhausted life point. It's perhaps odd that you'd choose these cards given that you must be damaged in order to use them, but after having played two games (both with two players), I can guarantee that you're going to be damaged plenty, so you'll have those resources to spare.

Board Game: Dragon Gyas
Mock-up cards for the Hexgyas player

The Grandragon has ten life points, while the Hexgyas has seven life points and three soul points. The difference in these tokens comes into play with deck choices since some of the Hexgyas cards require an expenditure of soul (or exhausted soul) in order to play them. Additionally, in the right circumstances the Grandragon can sometimes hit for an additional soul damage on top of other damage — and while extra damage is usually good, if the Hexgyas player has the right card in their deck, they can use that damage to power up.

Dragon Gyas includes a mix of programming and tactical battles, with the programming taking place when you lock in three control cards to determine what your large figure will do on a particular round. Guess poorly, and you'll shoot fire at nothing while the enemy rains blows upon you (or also shoots at nothing). My approach in these types of games tends to be of the wasting turns variety with me being unable to anticipate what someone might do. Part of the issue, of course, is that if you don't know which control cards the opposing player has, then you can't anticipate what they're trying to do — and even if you do know all of the possible cards, that player is using only some of them, so you still won't really know what's possible until they use it against you.

Board Game: Dragon Gyas
A sampling of the game's knights

At the end of a round, you discard the three control cards you played, then take any two cards from your discard pile back into your hand. Want to keep a certain attack card? Then you might have to lose the ability to step right. Which cards will you choose?

The tactical battle aspect of the game comes from the conflict of dragonewts and knights during the command phase. Depending on the initiative cards played, players might each have four actions (in a 2-2-2-2) pattern, might have 4-3 actions (2-2-2-1), or might have 5-3 actions; in this latter case, the player with an initiative advantage of at least 7 takes all five of their knight/dragonewt actions prior to the opponent, giving you the chance to chain together moves, effects, and attacks. Each knight/dragonewt has two different effects, and after moving a figure you can use one of its effects.

The video below gives detailed examples of both the programmed movement and the tactical battles, in addition to other aspects of gameplay:

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Wed Jun 3, 2020 9:46 pm
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Game Overview: Nova Luna, or Taking Tasks to Tiles

W. Eric Martin
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Normally I present a written overview of a game along with my video overview in order to talk about that design from another perspective or to craft my thoughts in a more organized manner than the free-form nature of my video presentations, but with BGG.CONline starting tomorrow, May 20, and much still to prepare, I'm choosing to post only the video for now.

If you're curious about 2020 Spiel des Jahres nominee Nova Luna, this overview covers how to play and what the game feels like, in addition to including a full solitaire game that can watch or skip through as you like.

Conveniently, I've already posted overviews of the other two 2020 Spiel des Jahres nominees: My City (written and video overview here) and Pictures (written and video overview here), so now I just need to write something about Nova Luna...

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Tue May 19, 2020 2:33 pm
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Game Overview: Musical Chairs, or Ride the Beat to the Best Seat

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Musical Chairs
In April 2020, designer Kelly North Adams presented an origin story for the game Musical Chairs and how it came to exist in its final form courtesy of Rio Grande Games. Today I'll present an overview of how the game plays.

A game like Musical Chairs highlights the difficulty of maintaining the BGG database. The gameplay has a press-your-luck element to it, but I'd never think of this as a press-your-luck game along the lines of Diamant. The design has a quasi-set-collection element, but if I were rating that aspect on a scale from 0-5, I'd give it at most a 0.5. The BGG game page lists "movement points" as a mechanism, and I guess that's true in a way, but it's unhelpful when thinking about the nature of the game.

Better that I get into a few details so that you can come to your own conclusion: Your goal in Musical Chairs is to score more points than the other players, and you score points primarily by claiming valuable seats over the course of the game — but knowing which chairs will be valuable at the end of a round is tricky.

Each player starts with a hand of eight cards, and on a turn you probably play a card to the center of the table on a generally ascending pile of cards. Cards come in eight colors that match the eight chairs on the game board, with each color having cards numbered 1-10 and a "rest" symbol, specifically a quarter rest, a.k.a. a crotchet rest.

Whenever you play to this pile, you move your pawn 1-3 spaces clockwise around the game board. When a player can't play or chooses not to play a valid card, then the music (a.k.a. the round) stops, and everyone scores for the chair in which they're "sitting", i.e., you claim all of the played cards of the color of the chair next to your pawn. Additionally, you can score all cards of this color from your hand that have a lower value than the highest value card that you claim. If you collect a blue 6, for example, you can score any blue cards valued 1-5 from your hand. (You can also score the blue "rest" card, but that's not clear initially as the rules state that you can score "Chair cards" in this situation; a FAQ in the rulebook mentions that a rest can also be scored.)

On top of this, for the highest-valued card played in that round, you remove the cushion from the chair of the same color and place it beside the game board. If that cushion has already been removed, then you go to the next highest-valued card, and so on. Any player standing next to a cushion that's been removed from the game board can remove one card from their score pile to claim it. Cards are worth 0-3 victory points (VPs), and cushions are also worth 0-3 VPs, but each cushion has a unique special power that you'll almost certainly want to claim.

Board Game: Musical Chairs

Now here's where we get to the complications: On your turn, you must play the card from your hand that has the lowest value that's higher than the current top card on the central pile. If you're the first player in the round, then you play a 1; if you don't have a 1, play a 2, etc. If the top card is a 3, then you play a 4; if you don't have one, play a 5; etc.

However!

If you have a rest card, a repeat card, or a card of the same value as what's on top of the pile, you can play any of those cards instead. For the rest card, place it in front of you and don't move your pawn because you are literally resting. For the repeat card, play it on the pile, with this card taking on the characteristics of whatever the top card is. For a card of the same value, you play it on the pile, and for both this card and a repeat card, you move your pawn 1-3 spaces.

As a result, sometimes your turns are forced, and sometimes you have choices. You want to end up in a valuable chair at the end of a round, ideally one that will allow you to score cards from your hand, but sometimes you can't play the cards you want because they're either too low or too high, and sometimes you can't play at all because someone else ended the round. These possibilities make it difficult to assess your hand and where you want to land on the board because at the start of the round, your hand is only potentially playable and all the colors are (usually) worth the same thing: 0 points. (If a removed cushion hasn't been claimed, then you can purchase it if you end the round next to that space, so a cushion can make a color desirable even if no cards of that color have been played.)

Each round has an intriguing flow to it, and you wing it as best you can, sometimes playing a rest with the hope that others will play cards to create valuable targets for where to move and sometimes with the hope that the round will end before you have to play again, thereby letting you squat on a point-heavy seat. If you have a 10 in hand, you might try to time your moves to end on that color when you play that card, but again sometimes the round will end before that time and sometimes the values won't rise as quickly as had hoped, so you'll be forced to play more cards and skip that color.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

I've played Musical Chairs three times so far, twice with two players and once with four, on a review copy from Rio Grande Games, and I'm still not sure how to assess a hand. Maybe that's what is intended, with you winging it and a plan coming together over the course of a round, but maybe not. Maybe I need more experience to figure out how to estimate how a round might play out, similar to how you need lots of experience with trick-taking games before you can reasonable estimate how many tricks you might win.

Player count matters a great deal in the game, as with two players only one person plays between your turns, giving you a better approximation of what you might play and how far you might travel. With four players, you might have a string of three 1s followed by two 2s and a repeat, or the central pile might jump from a 4 to a 6 to a 9 to the end of the round. I've experienced both of those situations.

Another aspect of play comes when you share a seat with someone else at the end of a round. You can't split the points, so you must engage in a butt battle with them. To do so, each of you chooses a card from your hand and plays them simultaneously, with the higher-valued card claiming victory. If you tie — and a repeat card played will force a tie — then you each play another card until either someone wins or you both lose. Butt battle losers get nothing, and you can't always choose when to fight since another player might land on your space. You can hope to prepare for a battle by saving high-valued cards, but you might also be forced to play them, leaving you defenseless.

The game ends either after the final cushion has been removed from the board or if players can't refill their hand to eight cards at the end of a round. This latter condition was nearly triggered in our four-player game thanks to many more cards being scored and removed from play, but it's unlikely to happen with only two players.

I'm eager to try out Musical Chairs with more players — specifically experienced gamers who don't live in my household — to get a better sense of what's possible and what's practicable given your starting hand, but that situation will come only in some future month unknown to me, so for now I have to keep moving, pointing to this video overview along the way should you care to learn more about the game:

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Mon May 11, 2020 7:30 pm
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Solitaire Sunday: You Got Chocolate Fix in My Minecraft Travel Magnetic Puzzle

W. Eric Martin
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
From gallery of W Eric Martin
This week's "Solitaire Sunday" is a twofer, mostly because the logic puzzles I'm covering — Chocolate Fix and Minecraft Travel Magnetic Puzzle — use the same engine underneath their hoods.

The concept is simple: Use the visual clues presented in one of the puzzle's forty challenges to place all nine objects — which come in three colors and three shapes — into the proper spaces in the 3x3 grid. The puzzle concept comes from Mark Engelberg, with the individual challenges being created by Serhiy Grabarchuk Jr. Here are two Minecraft examples of these challenges:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Both of these puzzles are labeled as being for ages 8+, and the challenges tend to skew simpler than I would have anticipated, but publisher ThinkFun has been in business for more than thirty years, so perhaps it has a better idea of what's appropriate for which ages than I do. For the most part, solving each puzzle from #1 to #30 took me only a couple of minutes at most, so if you're familiar with this type of puzzle, you might also race through them as quickly as I did.

That said, I've owned Chocolate Fix for probably ten years at this point, and I've run through its puzzles multiple times over the years, bringing it out (along with other logic puzzles) to challenge my son or an exchange student with something not quite like schoolwork that can ideally still provide a specific type of learning experience. As a result, when I received a review copy of Minecraft Travel Magnetic Puzzle, I already had a background rich in this type of puzzle solving, so I was primed to tackle these forty challenges.

I then broke out Chocolate Fix to solve all the challenges once again and was pleased to discover that while the concept is the same in both puzzles, the individual challenges are unique in both, so you're not re-purchasing the same challenges with a blocky coat of paint. The difference between the two puzzles is especially pronounced in the inclusion of "negative clues" in Minecraft, with these clues showing what cannot exist in the solution of a challenge. Here's an example:

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Note the YES, OUI, and NOT in the clues — clever!

ThinkFun plays up the "brain aerobics" aspect of these puzzles in its marketing copy, and while I think the science on such things is still out, I do feel it's valuable to learn how to connect the dots in an argument to draw a valid conclusion. These challenges present extremely artificial arguments, of course, but they still function in the same manner. Grabarchuk has designed the challenges so that as you start looking at the combination of clues in one of them, you see how you can deduce some definite element of the solution — and once you add that bit of information to the clues, you can then deduce something else.

Here's an example of a Chocolate Fix challenge that highlights how information get unlocked:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

The two clues that show somewhat definitive locations of two of the pink chocolates let you know that the pink chocolate in the uppermost row will be the triangle since it's the only one that can be possible go in that row. Similarly, the two clues that somewhat lock down locations for two milk chocolates tell you which milk chocolate will be in the southwest corner — and knowing about that milk chocolate tells you where those aforementioned pink chocolates cannot be.

(Note that I bought this copy of the puzzle used, and the previous owner appears to have left some bits in the sun as the chocolates and "candy wrappers" no longer match in color. In later editions of this puzzle, ThinkFun used white, pink, and brown chocolates to avoid having two shades of brown. The publisher has also released a version with green (presumably mint) chocolate, and newer editions highlight that they contain "40 all new challenges", but I don't know whether these differ from the Minecraft puzzles or not. Someday PuzzleGeek will have all these answers, but that day is not today.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin

ThinkFun has also released a logic puzzle titled Clue Master from Engelberg and Grabarchuk, and the four puzzles depicted in the image above are included in Minecraft Travel Magnetic Puzzle, so perhaps they're all the same. More open questions!

For more about these puzzles, check out this video overview:

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Sun May 10, 2020 8:32 pm
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A Report on the Games Scheduled to be Sold at Osaka Game Market 2020

From gallery of W Eric Martin
[Editor's note: Game Market was scheduled to take place in Osaka on March 8, 2020, but wasn't held. Even so, Saigo — who translates game rules between Japanese and English and who tweets about new JP games — has translated a report about this non-event written by Takuya Ono, who runs the Table Games in the World blog. Mr. Ono has given permission to reprint the photos from his post. Many thanks to Saigo! —WEM]

Game Market 2020 Osaka, which was due to take place on March 8, was cancelled to prevent coronavirus infection. Thus, the board games that were supposed to be released there lost that occasion, but fortunately, the Game Market Management Office and several other organizations offered to sell those games online. Here is my report on playing some of those games:

たぬきのきんたま / Tanuki no Kintama (Tanuki's Balls) (from Narumi Factory)

Named after a famous phrase in the popular folk song "Tan Tan Tanuki", this is a go-out game to play cards and change the size of a Tanuki raccoon dog's left and right balls (called "Kintama" in Japanese).

The players take turns to play 1 ball card from their hand and place it on either left or right pile of ball cards in the ball area. You can play a card numbered within the range of ±2 from the topmost card on either pile. Otherwise, take the topmost card of a pile. If you manage to have the ball cards "1" and "8" in the ball area, it triggers the "1-8" (hit-or-miss) attack whereby you can make any one player (possibly the top player) draw a card from the deck.

The cards numbered "1" to "8" are used, and "1" and "8" are linked. The conditions to play the cards are not very strict, so you can play this game quite loosely like the loosely swinging balls of the Tanuki in the folk song.

DATA
Game Design & Illustration: Narumi
2-4 players / Age: 7+ / 10-20 min

From gallery of W Eric Martin

•••


The Field of the Sun (from Little Future)

This is a card game in which the players take turns to flip cards from a communal deck of cards and compete for the majority of crops.

On your turn, flip cards from the deck one by one and add them to the single row. Stop at any point and take any one card from the row. If you flip a card of the same suit as one already present, your turn ends immediately and you must take the last flipped card. The game ends when the deck is exhausted, and the player with the most cards of each suit scores positive points for that suit while all other players score negative points. Even with three special event cards, the game system is very minimal.

There are five cards of each suit, so you can win the majority if you take three cards of a suit. However, you cannot collect them so easily. If another player has a card of the same suit, should you go for the same suit to compete with them, or avoid such competition and take a card of another suit? All the cards are eventually revealed, so the dynamic competition continues until the very end.

DATA
Game Design: Yusuke Emi / Illustration: Memento Mori & Suhama Yamazaki
2-5 players / Age: 10+ / 10-30 min

From gallery of W Eric Martin

•••


おばけはおまえだ! (You Are The Ghost! from GIFT10INDUSTRY)

This is a communication game using hearing. The players take turns to choose a picture card according to the sound they hear from the earphone. One player, however, is randomly assigned to play the role of the ghost, and that player must pretend that they also heard the same sound to avoid being found out.

An eerie sound is heard from the earphone. The players take turns to receive the smartphone and earphone, press the button on the smartphone to play the sound, and take the picture that they think matches the sound. They each explain briefly why they chose that picture, then simultaneously point at a player who they suspect to be the ghost from the explanation. The ghost player gains points if they manage to trick others from finding them out, and other players each gain points if they find out who the ghost is.

Giving specific explanations helps the ghost player pretend that they also heard that sound, so the players explain the sound with some vagueness, but being too vague will make one look suspicious. It was fun playing the game, with occasions, such as the ghost player providing plausible explanations from a wild guess and a non-ghost player managing to communicate that they are not the ghost without almost any clear explanation.

DATA
Game Design: Takashi Hamada / Illustration: Toshi Murase
3-6 players / Age: 10+ / 15-30 min
English rules

From gallery of W Eric Martin

•••


ツリーラインアベニュー (The Tree-Lined Avenue from TACTICAL GAMES)

The players compete to score by planting five types of trees in rows and columns. It is like, what would happen if a communal board is used for Kingdomino?

Tree cards are arranged in order according to the number of players. The players then take turns to choose one card and place it to eventually form a 6×6 grid park. The Kingdomino system whereby taking a higher-numbered card forces one to pick later in the next round is applied. However, on the communal park board, the players each score from the trees in the same rows and columns as their gardener pawns. The players play both cooperatively and competitively by arranging trees to score and at the same time planting obstructive trees on the rows and columns where their gardener pawns are not present.

The park also has animals and facilities that are linked to end-of-game bonuses, and some high-number cards are equipped with advantageous actions. The players each have two gardener pawns to score from four lines in total, so most trees can be of some use. Because of this, there is little variation in the turn order, and it is difficult to move up in the turn order once you fall behind. The sheer number of choices requires a tactical handling.

DATA
Game Design: Yota Suzuki & Hayato Oshikiri / Visual Design: Yota Suzuki
2-4 players / Age: 14+ / 20-30 min (released at TGM 2019 Autumn)

From gallery of W Eric Martin

•••


タイムトラップTime Trap from TACTICAL GAMES)

In this card game, the players race to get rid of their hand of cards in the seventh round. If you run out of cards by the sixth round, you will be eliminated.

There are different conditions for each round, such as "Play only odd numbers" and "Play any card, but if you play '5' or '7', your card will be snatched". The players play their cards in ascending or descending order in accordance with these conditions. At the start, the players each receive a "time trap" card that allows them to reverse the ascending/descending order. Pass if you do not have a card to play anymore. After everyone has passed, move to the next round.

While it is desirable to keep your hand of cards to avoid being eliminated by the sixth round, you must play and reduce them to some extent or else you will not be able to win in the seventh round. It is also important to assess how many cards you should make others play. Before you know it, you might lose at once.

DATA
Game Design: Hayato Oshikiri & Yota Suzuki / Visual Design: Yota Suzuki
2-4 players / Age: 14+ / 10-15 min (released at TGM 2019 Autumn)

From gallery of W Eric Martin

•••


インザルーイン (In the Ruin from Fudacoma Games)

This is a flip-and-write game to use the patterns indicated on revealed cards to write routes and walls in order to bring back treasures from ancient ruins.

After the players have each written the route or wall on their sheet in the pattern indicated on the card, they move their pawn the number of steps indicated on the card. The treasure locations are indicated on the cards, and they can be acquired on a first-come-first-served basis. If you fail to connect your route to the treasure, the treasure location will turn into a wall on your sheet. Each time a treasure is taken, another treasure will appear in another location. The first half of the game ends when the deck of cards runs out. In the second half, the players must return to the starting point to escape from the ruins while collecting the remaining treasures. In addition to the treasure, you can score by forming the largest rectangular area made of roads and walls, earn bonus points for connecting specified routes, and receive a penalty for failing to draw specified patterns.

As is frequently the case in a flip-and-write game, the interaction is relatively low, but the system allows the players to be informed of other players' actions each time a treasure is found, like "I've taken Treasure B!", "Oh, no! I was almost there!" The gameplay provides a feeling of exploring in the dark.

DATA
Game Design: Yusuke Sawaguchi / Artwork: Makoto Takami
1-4 players / Age: 8+ / 30-45 min (released at TGM 2019 Autumn)

From gallery of W Eric Martin

•••

[Editor's note: This Osaka 2020 title was covered separately on TGIW by Mr. Ono. —WEM]

海拓者 / Kaitakusha (See Settlers)

Choosing Which Islands to Visit Despite Going Out of Course

From gallery of W Eric Martin


This is a board game to travel to your destination at the other side by a ship that cannot move forward, while visiting islands and constructing buildings along the way. This game, formerly due to be released at Osaka Game Market 2020, was selected as the grand prize winner of Board Game Selection 2020, a competition hosted by nine board game cafés and shops, where you could play the submitted games, in the Kansai region.

The players each start their ship from one of the four sides of the game board. On your turn, play a card from your hand of three cards for actions such as moving your ship; getting foods, cards and other items on the island you visit; and placing your crew member pawn on the island. Once you place your crew member pawn, you can get resources, such as bricks, iron, and stones, which can be collected over several turns and used for constructing buildings.

The hand of three cards lacks forward movement. Furthermore, when ending up with the same type of card, your ship can go off course tremendously. There are scoring chips in the center, but not only is it difficult to reach there, but even if you do, you are quickly surrounded by other players' ships, making it difficult to move away from there. In addition, the players must race to get the resources indicated on the displayed construction cards. You also need to take care to procure food or else your crew members will die from a food shortage.

The game ends when one of the players reaches the opposite side of their starting point or reaches the specified score. The players compete to score by adding up the points from construction cards, bonus points by type, gold and tiles in the center, and the points for reaching the goal. With so many elements, you need to examine your priorities according to your hand of cards. If your priorities coincide with another player, it will hamper your score, but such choice is made light due to the difficulty of handling your hand of cards.

Our game play with four players took approximately 45 minutes. A traffic jam occurred near the center, and while we waited for vacancies, Bashi-san reached their goal by making a detour. They also made good use of the resources they had gathered during the detour and managed to increase their points for construction. Despite the large element of luck in one's hand of cards, this game with diversified ways to score, instead of gradual engine-building, allows close competition by a narrow margin until the very end.

DATA
Kaitakusha (See Settlers)
Game Design & Artwork: Tadashi Koyama
2-4 players / Age: 10+ / 30-45 min
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Fri May 8, 2020 4:32 pm
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Mercado de Lisboa: A Thinky Filler from Vital Lacerda?!

Candice Harris
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Board Game Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games
The year 2020 continues to surprise me. Like most people, when I hear Vital Lacerda's name, I instantly think of heavy, thematic, brain-burn-inducing yet elegant games such as The Gallerist, Vinhos, Kanban, and (most recently) On Mars. Who knew the day would come that we'd see Vital Lacerda's name on a thinky filler game??

Well, my friends, that day has arrived. Julián Pombo and Vital Lacerda have teamed up to create Mercado de Lisboa — a quick-playing, easy-to-learn, deep and thinky tile-placement game for 2-4 players that Eagle-Gryphon Games plans to launch on Kickstarter in mid-2020.

Julián Pombo has worked with Lacerda as a developer and the main playtester on several of Lacerda's games: CO₂: Second Chance, Escape Plan, and most relevantly, Lisboa. As hinted in its title, Mercado de Lisboa is actually based on a mechanism in Lisboa, specifically the city-building system in which players pay money to own stalls on the market, with special stores next to them improving their profit and customer tiles that score for the matching booths.

Board Game: Mercado de Lisboa
Cover art

In Mercado de Lisboa, players strategically place stand and restaurant tiles in the market (a 5x5 grid) to influence the price of goods sold at the stands, then place customer tiles at market entrances to sell those goods — all with the long-term goal of having the most money. Fish, flower, tomato, meat, and grape stands, for example, earn you more money when placed next to sushi bar, tea house, pizzeria, burger joint, and wine bar restaurant tiles respectively. Two pub restaurant tiles are included, and these are essentially wild since they'll earn any type of stand more money when placed next to it.

From gallery of candidrum
From gallery of candidrum
Flower stand and tea house

During set-up, the game board is seeded with eleven restaurant tiles randomly drawn from a bag and placed face down (i.e., gray side up) on the marked spaces of the board. Each player receives three random stand tiles that they place face up in front of themselves, wooden stands of their player color, and 1 coin. The last player also starts with a pub restaurant tile. The left side of the board displays three stand tiles and three each of the four types of customer tiles (which show 1-4 customers).

Before starting, players decide whether to play with hidden or open money. From talking to Vital, Mercado de Lisboa was designed to be played with hidden money, but I think they wanted to give the option since some players may prefer playing one way or the other. I've played both ways, and it plays well either way, but at this point I prefer hidden money because most of the games I've played have been so close that it becomes an exciting reveal at the end of the game when you don't know exactly how much money your opponents have.

In Mercado de Lisboa, players take one of the following four actions on their turn, with players taking turns in clockwise order until someone triggers one of the endgame conditions:

(1) Open a stand
(2) Open a restaurant
(3) Bring customers
(4) Take 1 coin

• When you open a stand, you choose one of the three stand tiles in front of you with your color wooden stand and place it on a space that is empty or that has a face-down restaurant tile in the market. The cost of placing a stand is 1 coin for each stand in the row or column, including the one you are placing. (You pay the more expensive cost, so your stand creates a column holding two stands and a row holding three stands, you pay 3 coins.) After placing a stand tile, grab a new one from the designated area on the left side of the board so that you always have three from which to choose when taking this action.

It's important to note that whenever you place a stand or restaurant tile on a space with a face-down restaurant tile, you take that restaurant tile and place it face up in front of you with your available stands. You can place this restaurant on a future turn to earn 1 coin, but if you have any restaurant tiles in front of you when the game ends, you must pay 1 coin for each, so restaurant hoarding is not encouraged!

Board Game: Mercado de Lisboa

• When you open a restaurant, you place one of the restaurant tiles in front of you on a space that is empty or that has a face-down restaurant tile; this earns you 1 coin. Again, if you place a restaurant tile on a space with a face-down restaurant tile, you take that restaurant tile into your supply.

• While you can earn coins via restaurants, to make real money you need to bring customers. To do this, take one of the customer tiles on display and place it on an open market entrance space following two conditions: 1) You can place customer tiles at market entrances only where the number of customers is greater than or equal to the number of stands in the row (or column), and 2) at least one of your stands in that row must match one of the types of goods depicted on the customer tile.

After placing the tile, check to see which players earn money by having a stand in that row that matches a good on the newly placed customer tile. Count 1 for each of your matching stands, plus 1 for each matching restaurant orthogonally adjacent to your stand, e.g., a fish stand next to a sushi bar restaurant, then multiply that number by the number of customers on the customer tile, then take that many coins from the reserve. Don't forget those awesome pub restaurant tiles! They will boost your profit when orthogonally adjacent to any type of stand.

From gallery of candidrum
From gallery of candidrum
Fish stand and sushi bar

If you play your tiles right, you can take advantage of existing customers in the row and column of the new stand you place. Once customer tiles have been placed, you can get a discount or even possibly earn money when placing a new stand tile if this stand meets the demand of existing customer tiles. Needless to say, this is where Mercado de Lisboa really shines. When you place stand and restaurant tiles, you can set yourself up for profitable combos and start making some serious coin! Of course one of your opponents might beat you to the punch by placing an unfavorable customer tile where you were hoping to score big different customers. The game becomes sort of a race to place tiles at the right place and right time, with you hoping opponents don't place tiles to hinder your plans. It can feel tense, but in a light playful way, not stressful.

• If you have no better option or just need cash, you can take 1 coin. I haven't done this yet in the games I've played, but I've seen other players do it here and there. Considering that you can earn money by placing restaurant and customer tiles — and sometimes even stand tiles — I don't think this is ever an efficient action, but I understand why it's needed.

The end of the game is triggered when someone places a stand or restaurant tile that leaves only four market spaces open or a customer tile that leaves only four market entrance spaces open. This player does not get another turn, but all other players do. Once all players have taken their final turn, add up your coins, then subtract 1 for each unopened restaurant you have. Whoever has the most money wins!

From gallery of candidrum
My 2 May 2020 game on Tabletopia

I've played five games of Mercado de Lisboa so far and have been thoroughly enjoying its unique blend of lightness with depth. This game is definitely thinky, but it's not meant to be overthunk. The actions are straightforward, and the whole game can be taught in five minutes and played in thirty. Turns are quick, and in my experience each game has felt distinctly different, which I find refreshing and challenging.

While you'll develop certain strategies with experience, you must be prepared to re-adapt based on the board state and how your opponents are playing. There's also the "fun" struggle of placing stand tiles when you need to grab a particular restaurant tile from the board, but placing your stand in that position isn't optimal because it's either too expensive or not where you need it to be to set up some other combo — or the even more "fun" struggle of trying to place the right customer tiles to minimize your opponents' profits while maximizing your own. I'm a fan of these challenges and struggles as it results in a satisfying gaming experience in which all players are watching the board intensely the entire game. Definitely no multiplayer solitaire here.

While I've played Kanban, Vinhos, The Gallerist, and On Mars, I've yet to play Lisboa, which I know is a lot of people's favorite Lacerda game. Trust me, it's on my list. I'm secretly hoping that my understanding of Mercado de Lisboa becomes a stepping stone for easing me into Lisboa. From what I've heard, that was part of the goal for making it. Either way, I'm looking forward to playing more Mercado de Lisboa. It's been great playing with people around the world on Tabletopia. and I imagine it'll be even better playing the physical version face-to-face with my opponents.
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Wed May 6, 2020 5:00 pm
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