Category Archives: Game Review

The Adventurers: Temple of Chac a game review

Ever since my dad took me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark, I’ve wanted to be an archeologist. Turns out engineers make more money so I followed my brain not my heart. Surely I can’t be alone in wanting to delve into a forgotten Maya temple, avoid its traps and plunder its wealth? What if I told you that a board game allows you to do this? Right down to the gigantic boulder that chases you out the door? That game is The Adventurers: the Temple of Chac. Here’s an overview of this gem.

The Adventurers: Temple of Chac a Game Review

 

Muskegon loves to adventure
The Adventurers: Temple of Chac by AEG

Players take on the role of, well, adventurers in The Adventurers: the Temple of Chac. You will compete for the most points. Points are gained by plundering the treasures inside a long abandoned Maya temple. But beware, the more you plunder, the more weighted down you will become. And if you dilly-dally, you could end up being stuck in the temple forever!

Temple of Chac comes to Muskegon
Back of adventurer’s card

The starting player rolls the dice. The game comes with five standard six-sided dice. You will get actions based upon the dice roll and the amount of treasures you are carrying. If you are carrying 0 to 3 treasures, for example, you will get 1 action for every die roll that is 2+. If you have 4 to 6 treasures, you will get actions for every die roll that is 3+. The information is on the back of your adventurer card.

The most actions you will have is five since there are five dice. You have a few options available to you for your action selection. You can move, look at glyphs, pick up treasure or unlock a compartment. Some actions are only available at certain positions of the board but moving is always an option.

The shifting walls of the Temple of Chac
The shifting walls of The Adventureres

Players start in the room with the shifting walls. There’s plenty of treasure in this room. Players can plunder this room like crazy. There is a danger, though. The walls may move inward. Any player who is in this room when the walls finally meet is killed.

There are also glyphs in this room. Players may spend an action to secretly flip it (for real) and look at the back side. On the secret side is a strange Maya hieroglyph.  You will have 30 seconds to commit it to memory. You will use this information in the next room: the Lava Room.

The boulder is headin' towards the Lava Room!
The boulder is headin’ towards the Lava Room!

You can safely walk along the main path after you leave the shifting walls room. But you can save precious time if you traipse across the lava tiles. Each time you walk onto one you will flip it (for real). If the icon matches one of the glyphs in the shifting walls room, it’s a trap and your adventurer dies. Otherwise, you safely move there and collect a treasure. The lava tiles allow you to cut across the room and save a few paces too.

That's not the Muskegon River in the Temple of Chac
Underground river in the Temple of Chac

The last room in the Temple of Chac is the underground river and waterfall. The river is laden with treasure. But can you escape the before being carried off the waterfall? You must chuck a bunch of dice, hoping to avoid a “1” to escape. You can jettison some treasure to make a reroll but if you roll another “1”, the river carries you away.

Rickety old bridge in the Temple of Chac
Rickety old bridge in the Temple of Chac

Players may opt to move across the bridge instead. The bridge comes with five removable planks. If you are too laden with treasure, the planks might break. You will fall to your doom if the last plank breaks.

The boulder in The Adventurers
The boulder in The Adventurers

After each player has taken a turn, the first player rolls the dice. On 3+, a boulder is moved from its starting point towards the exit. The boulder is deadly. Stand in its way and you will get squished.

 

The boulder is also a game clock. When the boulder reaches the exit, the game is over. Any hapless adventurers who did not make it out will be trapped forever.

Players who escaped reveal their treasure cards. While each card has the same weight for determining actions, the treasures have various victory point values. Players count their totals. The high score is the winner.

The Adventurers: the Temple of Chac has a lot going for it. It’s got cool minis. The 3D game board elements are also nice. The cards and cardboard are all good quality.

The game play is very good too. There are plenty of decisions to be made. The game is more or less one of press-your-luck. And that mechanic fits the theme here. Each time you narrowly avoid danger the excitement level goes up a notch.

The Adventurers: the Temple of Chac is a fantastic game. It plays quickly. The box says 45 minutes but you can get it in under 30 if you are assertive. The decisions are all meaningful. The theme is fun–who doesn’t like Indiana Jones? The artwork and theme are wholesome enough to make this a family game. The quickness of the game make it a good game for serious gamers. Not the night’s main course but this game makes a nice nightcap.

The Adventurers got a reprint from Fantasy Flight. The FFG edition is the same as the AEG edition with the exception of the insert (which is disposable in either case). The game also has a promo you can get: another character. A hard-to-find set of prepainted characters was also released by AEG. No other support for this game is forthcoming.

Pick up a copy and give it a try. Or come by here and play my copy…

Muskegon Area Gamers

Muskegon, MI
186 Muskegon Area Gamers

This group is for anyone interested in playing board games, card games or any table top game. This group learns and teachs new games all the time. We welcome fresh players. We…

Next Meetup

Twilight Imperium in July

Sunday, Jul 23, 2017, 9:00 AM
6 Attending

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Game Review: X-COM

We had four over to The Gaming Annex about a week ago. After some hemming and hawing about what to play, Nick Sima pulled X-COM down from the shelf. It had been a while since we played. I’ve now logged 12 plays of this game. It’s about time I wrote a review of it.

Board Game Review: X-COM the Board Game

X-COM Terror from the Deep
X-COM Terror from the Deep

XCOM has enjoyed a successful run as a video game. It’s earliest iterations were DOS games in the mid 90’s from Microprose. It’s been updated, reimplemented and fleshed out many more times since then. The theme is always the same: extraterrestrials are threatening humanity’s existence. An elite force called X-COM has been developed to be mankind’s last, best hope for victory.

I’ve never actually played any of the X-COM video games. When the announcement was made that Fantasy Flight was going to release a board game version, I wasn’t terribly excited. Others in the group were, however. But the excitement was very cautious because board game adaptations of video games have been problematic. It was Dr. Steve who first taught us how to play…

X-COM the Board Game: the rules

XCOM The Board Game has created a lot of buzz in Muskegon
XCOM The Board Game

The rules for X-COM the Board Game are light. Like super light. Like the size of a restaurant menu. The rules are just four pages in all.

Despite this, the game was quite frustrating to learn. The lightness of the rules was an obstacle to learning the game. We had substantial questions and difficulties getting started the first few games. The rules, being so scant, were not much help.

X-COM: the components

X-COM dice and fighters
X-COM dice and fighters

Being a Fantasy Flight game, you should expect top notch components. And X-COM delivers. The game comes with nice sculpted minis like the squad members and the fighters. The artwork is good. The game board gives the feel of a war room where you and your teammates are strategizing your resources on a global scale.

The game requires an app. It’s free. And the game cannot be played without it. The app works fine. It’s sound effects add to the drama. And the user interface is easy enough. And the app will either make-or-break the game for most game groups. More on that below.

Game Play

X-COM board game review
X-COM game play

X-COM is a cooperative game where players must work together to stem an alien invasion of earth. Each player has a job they perform. And there are four jobs to be performed. Because of this, the game is ideal for four players. If you play with fewer players, you will have to double up on some of the roles.

Each game round has two phases. The first phase is the frenetic “timed phased”. In this phase, the app dictates with player/role is active and what they have to do. The player will have 8 seconds to perform the action. If you take longer than 8 seconds, more aliens will show up; if you take less time, you get bonus time at the end of the phase.

The second phase is the “resolution phase”. This is where all of the decisions made in the timed phase are resolved. You will roll dice, mitigate your dice rolls with various special abilities, make some tough decisions when the dice don’t go your way, etc.

X-COM app from FFG
X-COM app from FFG

I noted above that the app will make-or-break the game for most groups. This is because of the timed phase. If you don’t like the timed phase, you won’t like this game. And the timed phase really does require an app. Nobody could manage their own role and keep track of 8 seconds without an electronic device. If you are a tabletop purist, you will probably frown upon the inclusion of an app.

As I stated, there are four roles in the game. Each role has control over different functions. There is the Central Officer, the Commander, the Chief Scientist and the Squad Leaders.

The Central Officer assigns satellites
The Central Officer assigns satellites

The Central Officer runs the app. He reads (quickly) the messages coming from the app. The other players must be Johnny-on-the-spot if they are to make sound decisions in 8 seconds. The Central Officer is in control of the satellite defense. These satellites will protect earth’s resources so you will get more funding each round. The Central Officer has a lot of mitigation at his fingertips. He can allow other players to reroll dice and he can move pieces on the board once per game round.

The Commander in X-COM
The Commander in X-COM

The Commander is in control of the X-COM budget and the fighter defense. With only 8 seconds to make each decision, the players may accidentally go over budget. The Commander has to guard against this because the results will be disastrous. The Commander has to also place fighters on any continents to protect from aliens that made it past the satellites. Aliens cause the continents to panic. If the panic tracks get too high, the players lose.

Chief Scientist from X-COM
Chief Scientist from X-COM

The Chief Scientist uses whatever funding he can get to research new abilities for the players. He might find ways to augment the satellite defense for the Central Officer. Or find new fighter technology for the Commander. Maybe the Squad Leader needs new weaponry for his troops. The Chief Scientist must read his hand of cards quickly. The long term strategy of the game will be dictated by what technology cards are persued.

Heavy and assault
Heavy and assault

A game of X-COM is won or lost by the Squad Leader. The Squad Leader must complete enough missions for the app to say, “reveal the final mission”. Completing the final mission yields victory. The Squad Leader has four different troops he can deploy. These troops are suitable for different mission types. However, the Squad Leader must also defend the X-COM base from aliens. If the base takes enough damage, the players lose.

Thoughts

Squad leader mission
Squad leader mission

The game flow of X-COM the Board Game is unique. The app will direct one player to do a thing in 8 seconds. This could be assign troops to the mission, assign a technology to be researched, or maybe place satellites to defend the globe. But the app is random. You might be placing satellites to defend the globe before all the aliens show up. If so, you may place too many satellites (and waste money) or not place enough satellites.

The game fixes one big issue with cooperatives: each player is engaged. In many classical coops, an alpha player can dictate the activities of the other players. While that may be optimal, it is not fun. In X-COM, it’s difficult to assess what is optimal because you only have 8 seconds. Your teammates might shout their suggestions to you, but it’s difficult to communicate and analyze in the time given. This is a very good mechanic. If you don’t like this mechanic, you will not like X-COM.

X-COM is ideal with four players. If you play with fewer players, someone will have to play more than one role. This is too much, given the time crunch. I would recommend this game as a four player game only.

But if you are looking for a four player coop, X-COM offers a welcome departure from Pandemic and that ilk. The frenetic play is exhilarating. It’s not a brain burner like Pandemic but you still feel like your contribution matters. The rules are not explicit but the app is quite well designed. Once you have the rules down, X-COM will be a nice game to get your blood pumping.

 

Game Review: Empires: Age of Discovery

We had a few unscheduled attendees on Thursday, bringing our attendance to six. We hemmed and hawed about what game to play. We settled upon Glen Drover’s Empires: Age of Discovery. This was the first time in several months that this title made it to the table. The game was (and has been) a hit. I thought I would share with you why this is such a good game.

Game Review Empires: Age of Discovery

 

Theme

Game Review Empire Age of Discovery game box
Empire Age of Discovery game box

Glen Drover’s game Empires: Age of Discovery takes players back to the age of colonialism and exploration. Each player takes on the role of a European country. He musters soldiers, sea captains, merchants, missionaries and colonists to forge a New World empire.

Empires: Age of Discovery wins no points for originality. The theme of colonizing the New World has been a dozen times by major publishers. Indeed, the game was even loosely based upon a computer game, Age of Empires III. Eagle Games originally published the tabletop edition as Age of Empires III until they reimplemented it with this edition.

So if Empires: Age of Discovery is so unoriginal, why would the Muskegon Area Gamers be such big fans?

 

Components

Game Review Empires: Age of Discovery plastic
Empires: Age of Discovery

The trend at Eagle Games has been unmistakable: make games with heirloom quality components. Empires: Age of Discovery is another example of this.

There are six sets of plastic pieces, comprising 420 figures in total. There are six different sculpts. And the plastic isn’t the shoddy, rubbery plastic from earlier Eagle Games like War! Age of Imperialism. Eagle Games is making a play for Fantasy Flight’s customers–and they will likely get some.

Empires: Age of Discovery
Empires: Age of Discovery

The game also comes with the super large board that is typical of Eagle Games. It has to be big to accommodate the 420 figures and 10 plastic trade ships.

The other components are also nice. The cardboard is the high quality thick cut cardboard that lasts forever. The money is plastic coins in two denominations. I have the basic version. There is also a kickstarter version that has metal coins.

The MSRP for this monster is $120 so one should expect great components at the very least. But with that price tag, one should also expect great game play. And Empires delivers.

 

Game Play

Empires: Age of Discovery game board
Empires: Age of Discovery game board

Empires: Age of Discovery is essentially a worker placement game with area control scoring. Again, it scores nothing for originality. But it does these functions better than any other game I’ve played.

There are several areas on the right side of the game board. This is where the workers are placed.

The top area, called Initiative, is where players select their turn order for the following turn. It also gives the player a small amount of money.

The next area is the colonist boat. Players place their workers here so they can move them to one of the discovered areas of the New World. Seating is limited so make sure you get your workers on the boat. The workers do different things when they get to the New World. The missionary converts a native, immediately granting the owner an additional colonist. The merchant gives you $5. The soldier allows you to use the war/battle space (see below). The builder is worth 2 to 4 VP each.

The third area is where players collect trade goods. Trade goods are the main source of income in the game. Seating is limited to four per game round so these suckers will go fast.

Bag o' trade goods
Bag o’ trade goods

Below the trade goods is the merchant ship. Each game round exactly one merchant ship is doled out. The single player that has placed the most workers here gets the ship. However, some of the workers are worth more than others. The captain and the merchant are worth 2 of the other workers. The merchant ship is kept by the player who wins it for the duration of the game. Merchant ships act as wild trade goods, substantially augmenting one’s income. Seating in this space is unlimited but you may not get anything if someone spends more workers than you.

Capital building track
Capital building track

The next area is the capital building track. Each game round five capital buildings (cardboard tiles) are placed on this track. Players must pay for the buildings in addition to putting a worker here. The cost increases throughout the game. One of the workers, the builder, reduces the cost of the buildings by $5.

Each building gives a different special ability. The buildings generally give a once per round ability that will give players more workers, more money or some other flexibility.

The Discovery Box is right below the capital buildings. Players may place unlimited workers here. Players have the option to use some or all of their workers here to discover a portion of the New World. They select which workers they want to use. They select the discovery tile they wish to discover. Then they flip the discovery tile (flip it for real). If they meet or exceed the strength of the discovery tile, they have discovered it. They keep the tile and put a colonist on the territory. Otherwise, they lose their workers and get nothing.

Players may invest in better workers for the next game round in the training area. Players may place a worker (generally a colonist) onto one of the spaces. The space can turn the colonist into a soldier, builder, merchant, captain or missionary.

Sculpts in Empires: Age of Discovery
Sculpts in Empires: Age of Discovery

And finally there is the War space. Players may place up to four workers here. Workers here can be used to battle or go to war. When selecting a battle, the player chooses an opponent and a territory. In this territory, all your soldiers and all your opponent’s soldiers shoot. You select which enemy worker they are shooting and that figure is removed. If you select war, you must pay $10. Then you have a battle in every territory where you and the selected opponent have soldiers.

There  are three scoring rounds. Players score 6 victory points if they have the most workers, 2 victory points if they have the second most. At the end of the game, players also score victory points based upon their income level. The highest total is the winner.

 

Final Thoughts

Sculpts in Empires: Age of Discovery
Sculpts in Empires: Age of Discovery

So why is this game such a good fit? The components are quite nice. They make the game worth $100 MSRP. But the game play would be fun even with different components.

The worker placement aspect of Empires: Age of Discovery allows for a good mix of tactics and strategy. You can place workers onto the board to get things now or invest your workers for a pay out later. A soldier or a builder is substantially better than a colonist. But you have to wait a game round to get him. Playing early is generally better than playing later. But it’s also good to wait until your opponent has committed some of his workers so you can respond appropriately.

The area control aspect is simple. Games with complex area control usually devolve into analysis paralysis. But that is not the case when you mix area control with worker placement. Players cannot min/max like they normally can in an area control game.

The output of the components and mechanics is a game that could be the centerpiece of most game collections. The components and presentation are impressive. The game is approachable to new or light gamers. And the strategy is deep enough to make hardcore gamers coming back for more.

 

Where you can play this game…

https://www.meetup.com/The-Gaming-Annex-in-Muskegon

 

 

 

 

Board Game Review: King & Assassins

 I’ve redoubled my efforts to learn new games recently. I’ve learned about 10 games in the past four weeks. Now we just have to get these games to the table so I can find out if they are any good. One of the recent games I learned was Galakta’s King and Assassins. I’ve played six times now. And this game is going to be a keeper.

Board Game Review King & Assassins

 

Background and objective

King & Assassins from Galakta
King & Assassins from Galakta

King & Assassins is an asymmetrical game for two players. The game plays in about 30 minutes and takes about 5 minutes to learn.

One player takes on the role of the vile king and his knights.  The king and his entourage try to force their way through throngs of people and arrive at the palace.

The other player takes on the role of the assassins who are hidden in the throngs of townsfolk. The assassin will move the townsfolk to obstruct the king and to move his hidden assassins closer.

If the assassin kills the king, he wins. If the action card deck runs out, the assassin wins. If the king kills all three assassins, he wins. If the king arrives at the palace he wins.

 

Components

Board game review King & Assassins
Townsfolk from King & Assassins

The game comes with a double sided game board. Players decide which side to use at game set up (the rules are a bit different for each side).

There are two decks of cards: one which is used to determine which townsfolk are the assassins and one that is the action card deck.

The rest of the components are cardboard standees of the king, knights and the townsfolk.

King & Assassins does not have nor does it require overproduced game pieces. Which is a nice change of pace. The game pieces are good enough as cardboard standees.

 

Game play

Game board King & Assassins
Game board King & Assassins

The game board has depicts the promenade where the king and his subjects begin the game. The areas marked by an X are where a townsperson starts. The areas with a • are where the knights begin. The square with the + is where the king begins.

The fruitmonger's wife in King & Assassins
The fruitmonger’s wife in King & Assassins

After setting up the board, the assassin takes the townsfolk deck. There is a card for every villager in this deck. He secretly takes three of the cards. These cards depict which townsfolk are actually assassins.

The rest of the cards are removed from the game.

 

Now the players are ready to begin.

 

Action cards from King & Assassins
Action cards from King & Assassins

During each round of play, the top action card is flipped over. The king and his knights get action points equal to the number next to their icon. Once the king has completed all of his actions, the assassin player takes his turn.

Each action card has a different combination of action points for the king (usually 1 but occasionally 2), the knights (5 or 6, sometimes with the shackles icon) and the assassins (4 or 5 action points).

The king may only move on the streets with his action points. The knights may move on the streets or on the roofs. The knights may also push the townsfolk so as to make room for the king. The knight may also spend 1 action point to arrest a townsperson if the action card has the shackles icon. And lastly, the knight player may kill a revealed assassin for 1 action point.

The assassin may reveal one or more of the townsfolk to be assassins for no action point cost. The townsfolk move like the knights: on the roofs and the street. They cannot, however, push anyone. When a townsperson is replaced by an assassin, he gains the ability to kill the knights and wound the king. The assassin wins if he wounds the king twice.

 

Verdict

The king and his entourage
The king and his entourage

King & Assassins is a keeper.

King & Assassins is a nifty asymmetrical game. The two sides have very different goals and different actions afforded to them.

King & Assassins is fast. It’s almost a filler since I plays in 30 minutes.

King & Assassins has value. Because the game isn’t overproduced, you don’t have to pay for unneeded miniatures. The game board is double sided. The rules for Side B are a little different in that the king has two starting locations. This gives additional replayability.

King & Assassins is a game that fills so many niches, I’m surprised it’s not better known. If you are looking for a 2 player game that you can learn in 5 minutes, that plays in 30 minutes and has about 50 games of replayability for around $30, I recommend King & Assassins.

 

Where this and many other games get played…

 

 

 

 

Hits & Flops

You know what we haven’t done in a long while? An installment of “hits & flops”. We have played many new games at The Gaming Annex in the past couple of months. There have been several letdowns. But there have also been a few surprises. Let’s take a look.

Recent Board Game Hits & Flops

1. Crimson Creek

Recent Board Game Hits & Flops
Crimson Creek from Toystorian Enterprises

Crimson Creek is quite bad. The game is supposed to evoke the dread and horror of an 80’s slasher film. Instead, it evokes the dread and horror of a poorly designed and implemented game.

Players take on the role of a classic horror trope such as geek or jock. Then players must determine which location is the AI’s hideout. Players move about a chintzy game board. Taking certain actions causes cards to be drawn from a deck. If enough axes are drawn, a random location is drawn and all players there are eliminated. Otherwise, players must trudge onward. If you figure it out which location is the AI’s hideout, you will survive until the 2nd phase of the game–otherwise you are eliminated and can instead play a better game like Camp Grizzly.

The deduction aspect of Crimson Creek is not really all that deductive. It’s like calling Battleship a game of deduction. You have to eliminate everything in order to get the solution.

The artwork was pretty good. It did help sell the the theme a bit. But there was no real sense of suspense or doom. You have to get lucky to win the game or you have to work together with the other players. But if you work together with the other players, there is no more decision making–the strategy is completely rote.

Verdict: FLOP!

 

Red Dragon Inn: Battle For Greyport

The Gaming Annex in Muskegon Hits & Flops
Red Dragon Inn: Battle for Greyport

Red Dragon Inn: Battle for Greyport is surprisingly good. I’m not a huge fan of cooperative games. But Battle for Greyport would be a rare exception, all the more surprising given that I’ve never played any of the Red Dragon Inn games.

Each player has a unique, specialized deck. Players work together, using their respective decks, to apply damage to bad guys. Each player takes a turn where they hire retainers, adding them to their deck. But when it’s another player’s turn, you are still engaged. The monsters attack every game round. So it’s advisable to play some of your cards to help crush the rampaging monsters.

Battle for Greyport is not a deep game from what I gather. But it does fill several areas in a player’s game collection. It’s Dungeons & Dragons friendly. If you have a few friends who play D&D, you could easily get them to play Battle for Greyport. Battle for Greyport introduces people to deckbuilding. And Battle for Greyport introduces people to coops. If any of these things apply to you, this game is a good fit.

Verdict: Hit!

 

Food Chain Magnate

Board game hits & flops
Food Chain Magnate from Splotter Spellen

Food Chain Magnate has taken boardgamegeek.com by storm. It’s now rated at #30 overall with a 8.2 rating. It’s artwork is highly stylized from the 1940’s and 1950’s ad campaigns. The components are mostly wooden, with bits for your cola, hamburgers and pizzas.

Food Chain Magnate is a heavy Euro. It’s rated 4.2 in weight at bgg. The game has lots of moving parts, tons of cards to choose from and lots of decisions to make. But it is a Euro. Thus it is low luck. In fact, the only randomness in the game determining the start player. After that, there is no randomness.

Food Chain Magnate is a procedural. This adds to the game’s length and heaviness. It’s what allows for the game’s lack of randomness. It’s also adds to the game’s learning curve.

I’ve had the chance to play it just once. And once is not enough to determine if it is a hit or a flop–especially given that Dusty blew us out of the water in that one play.

Verdict: Undetermined.

 

Sanssouci

Sanssouci from Ravensburger
Sanssouci from Ravensburger

Sanssouci is your standard issue Euro. It’s a game with nice artwork, decent components and a tacked-on theme. It’s a drafting game that rewards efficiency.

All of these things make it a bad fit for my collection. Too many other games do these things already. Further, Sanssouci over stays its welcome, weighing in at 45 to 60 minutes.

Verdict: Flop

 

Eminent Domain: Escalation

Muskegon loves Eminent Domain from Tasty Minstrel Games
Eminent Domain: Escalation

You may recall a recent blog post where I lamented getting rid of some games which I later decided to obtain again. One of those games was Tasty Minstrel Games’ Eminent Domain. I picked up the expansion: Escalation. I had the chance to give it a play with Jeremy (Scott) Pyne.

The game play for Eminent Domain sans the expansion is decent. It’s a cross between Dominion and Glory to Rome but with a new theme. It’s the deckbuilding of Dominion but the role following or dissenting of Glory to Rome. In space.

The expansion adds scenario cards. This allows players to have unique (asymmetrical) starting decks and technologies. There is also unique abilities for all the plastic ships in the game. These changes make the game fresh.

If you’ve played Eminent Domain and either liked it or were on the fence, you owe it to yourself to try Escalation. It also will set the stage for the newest expansion: Exotica!

Verdict: Hit!

 

Mechs Vs. Minions

Muskegon loves Mechs vs. Minions from Riot Games
Mechs vs. Minions from Riot Games

Mechs vs. Minions has set the standard for successful kickstarters. Maybe not so much in total amount funded (which was impressive) but in actual value to the consumer. You get magnificently painted 50mm figurines–tons of them. You get heirloom quality components like an hour glass and modular game board. The game has storage space for all of these pieces: individual vacuum formed spaces for each figure. And the price was less than $100.

The game play is also excellent. It’s like Robo Rally but better. And that’s saying something! Players use programmed movement on their mechs, moving and shooting the minions while trying to complete the mission.

The rules are easy enough to learn but there is a lot scenarios that add depth to the game. Mechs vs. Minions is a must buy if you love miniature war games or if you like cooperative games.

Verdict: Hit!

 

Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow’s Walk

Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow's Walk
Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow’s Walk

I was so looking forward to the expansion to Betrayal at House on the Hill. Betrayal is a perennial classic at The Gaming Annex. It’s a goofy team game where players search a haunted house.

The expansion, Widow’s Walk, was an unexpected announcement from Hasbro, being released just before Halloween of 2016. I had the chance to play it during our Halloween Week at The Annex.

And it fell flat for me.

The expansion is just extra rooms and extra haunts. If this is what you are looking for, then the $20 is well spent. I was hoping for more. I was hoping for extra game mechanics. Something that would add depth to the game instead of adding more of the same.

Oh well.

Verdict: flop!

 

King & Assassins

King & Assassins from Galakta
King & Assassins from Galakta

King & Assassins is a delightfully devilish two player game. One player is the king and his knightly escorts. The other is the townspeople who have three secret assassins in their midst. The king must move from one area of the board to the castle before the assassins kill him or before time runs out.

A card is flipped over. The king and the knights get so many action points based on what the card says. The king can move, the knights can move or push townsfolk. The knights can arrest people or even kill a revealed assassin. The assassin player then takes his turn. He moves the townspeople. He can reveal one of them to be an assassin. The assassins can kill knights or wound the king.

Kings & Assassins plays in 30 minutes. You can learn the game in about 10 minutes. If you need a two player game, this one will probably fit the bill.

Verdict: Hit!

 

Dice City

Dice City from AEG
Dice City from AEG

When Steve brought Dice City over to The Gaming Annex a couple of months ago, I was eager to give it a go. I loved the cartoonish artwork and I love dice games.

Dice City is a very good game for anyone who likes Imperial Settlers. It’s a tableau building game of rolling dice to get resources. Resources are used to buy additional cards which will give you victory points or even more resources.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like Imperial Settlers. Both Imperial Settlers and Dice City overstay their welcome. They are fun for the first 20 minutes but then drag on for 30 more minutes. There isn’t enough meat on the bone to make Dice City fun for almost an hour. As such, I cannot justify adding it to the ol’ library

Verdict: Flop!

 

Star Wars: Destiny

Star Wars Destiny from Fantasy Flight Games
Star Wars Destiny from Fantasy Flight Games

I don’t have a love/hate relationship with Star Wars collectible games; I have a hate/hate relationship. I played Star Wars CCG from Decipher. (I  will devote a blog post to this in the coming weeks). When I heard Fantasy Flight was releasing a Star Wars collectible dice/card game, I grimaced like Professor Mike when he hears us make crude jokes.

Dusty got a few copies of Star Wars Destiny recently. He taught me how to play.

And I was pleasantly surprised.

Very surprised indeed. Star Wars Destiny is everything I like in a dice game. It’s fast paced (about 20 minutes long). It’s a tactical game and a strategic game. There’s plenty of decisions to make but there isn’t any analysis paralysis.

Players take one action on their turn: either rolling dice, using dice or playing cards from their hands. Then their opponent takes a turn. This continues until all actions are spent and both players pass. Then a new round begins. When one player has run out of cards or has both of their characters killed, the game ends.

Star Wars Destiny is set in the Star Wars universe but doesn’t feel all that Star Wars like. But players will forgive this slight because the game play is quick and fun.

Verdict: a very surprising HIT!

 

Where these verdicts are handed down like social policy

Muskegon Area Gamers

Muskegon, MI
161 Muskegon Area Gamers

This group is for anyone interested in playing board games, card games or any table top game. This group learns and teachs new games all the time. We welcome fresh players. We…

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UNCORKED Event

Saturday, Jan 7, 2017, 7:00 PM
1 Attending

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Hits & Flops

It’s that time. Another installment of Hits & Flops. We take a look and take aim at the latest games to hit the tables at The Gaming Annex. With even a single play, we either accept or reject games on Board Game Geek’s hotness. This month we will be looking at Scythe, Star Trek Ascendancy, Vast: the Crystal Caverns along with a few other games. Sit back and have a read. Don’t take this too seriously.

 

1. Scythe

Scythe from Stonemaier Games
Scythe from Stonemaier Games

If you had asked me earlier this week about Scythe, I would have told you how good it was. It has lots of opportunities for attacking your opponents while also trying to be as efficient as possible.

Scythe player mat
Scythe player mat

All actions are controlled by the player mats. There is a top half and a bottom half. The bottom actions require numerous resources so players will only occasionally perform them. But players will always perform the top actions. When choosing an action, players may do either or both actions.

Actions include: collecting resources, collect different resources, move units or collect yet another set of different resources. The bottom actions are: build a building, build a mech, improve the cost/benefit of these actions when you or your opponents take this action or improve the cost/benefit of these actions in a different way. Sounds Euro? Yep.

But if you had asked me earlier this week, I would have said this is a good game. Then we played last night. It was my third game. And it played very samey. I’ve now realized this is only a mediocre game. While Scythe currently holds the #13 position on BGG and has a rabid following, watch for its precipitous fall in coming years. There is no emergent game play in Scythe. It is a pure efficency/static game state game. Think Caylus with plastic mechs.

Verdict: Flop!

 

2. Vast: the Crystal Caverns

Vast: the Crystal Caverns from Leder Games
Vast: the Crystal Caverns from Leder Games

Vast: the Crystal Caverns is a wonderful, completely asymmetrical game. The game is so asymmetrical, that you have to play it five times to see all the different ways to play it.

One player takes on the role of the daring knight. She must defeat the dragon to win. One player is the goblin chieftain who must vanquish the fair knight. One player is the dragon who must wake from its slumber and escape the cavern. The thief tries to gather crystals and treasures. And the last player is the cave itself who must cause the cave to collapse before anyone else can win.

The Knight from Vast: the Crystal Caverns
The Knight from Vast: the Crystal Caverns

How the knight moves, levels up and performs actions is completely different than the goblins–which is completely different than the dragon. It’s like five mini-games merged under one undeniably charming theme that really works well.

The knight has action cubes that can be assigned to do different tasks. These tasks include buffing her strength, using the ancient map, moving, girding the shield or attacking the goblins. The goblins must increase their strength to damage the knight, acquire secret cards to lay traps for the knight or the dragon or acquire powerful monsters to aid in their quest to kill the knight.

The dragon has a hand of cards. And the dragon can level up to increase its hand size. These cards are spent to do different actions like firewall, feeding on the goblins or ultimately waking up completely from its slumber so as to leave the cavern. The cavern is the game clock. New tiles are laid and new event cards are drawn. The cave player decides which treasures to give the knight–to either slow down the goblins or the dragon player. But the cave can also spin walls around, confounding the knight, giving the cave enough time to begin the collapse.

Every player has a way to interact with each other. And the asymmetry is a work of pure brilliance. This game is my favorite new game of 2016. As such, the verdict is obvious.

Verdict: Hit!

 

3. Star Trek Ascendancy

Star Trek Ascendancy
Star Trek Ascendancy

Long time followers of this blog will recall our posts about Star Trek’s impact on board gaming: see here and here. Due to the sheer scope of the subject, I had to break it into two parts. The post ends with an exciting announcement from Gale Force Nine games about an upcoming game called Star Trek Ascendancy. That upcoming game hit the table at The Gaming Annex recently.

In Star Trek Ascendancy, players control the governments of the Federation, the Klingon Empire or the Romulans. The goal is to get 5 Ascendancy. Players buy Ascendancy with 5 culture tokens. The first to get to 5 Ascendancy is declared the winner.

Components of Star Trek Ascendancy
Components of Star Trek Ascendancy

Players build the map as they go. There are circular systems connected by space lane straightaways. The board is built in a bit of a miniature wargaming fashion with a tape measure used to ensure the board is the right size.

Players spend their command tokens to take actions like move ships or attack their opponents. Other actions include conquering planets or building nodes (resource producing elements) on planets. Players will take their three resource types to either build stuff (with production tokens), buy tech (with research tokens) or buy Ascendancy (with culture tokens).

Fleet tokens from Star Trek Ascendancy
Fleet tokens from Star Trek Ascendancy

The game play is similar to Eclipse except it’s much worse than Eclipse. The combat system is a lifting of Eclipse’s weapons +1 and shields -1 system. But Star Trek Ascendancy does not have any way of tweaking the ships like the ship blueprints in Eclipse. A Federation ship is identical to a Romulan ship. Both roll one die in combat and both require the same hit roll.

The galaxy building and discovery aspect of the game is also like Eclipse but much worse. Players have a say in where they place a system but first must roll the die to see how big the space lane is. Then they draw a card that tries and fails to evoke the theme of Star Trek.

In my one and only game of this, the game lasted 9 hours. Which is about 7.5 hours too long. And the only reason it ended was because of a few tactical mistakes that Nick Sima and I would not make if we would play this a second time–which we won’t.

In the long, proud history of Star Trek board games, this game falls woefully short. But what did you expect from Gale Force Nine? These guys published dreck like Homeland: the Board Game and Firefly: the Board game.

Verdict: Sadly, a flop.

 

4. Camp Grizzly

Camp Grizzly from Ameritrash Games
Camp Grizzly from Ameritrash Games

In recent weeks, I’ve been on a game trading kick. I’m getting rid of games we just don’t play. And I’m much better now at gauging what will be well received by the Muskegon Area Gamers. I recently traded Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Tiny Epic Galaxies (both owned by other members of our group) for Camp Grizzly.

Kevin from Camp Grizzly
Kevin from Camp Grizzly

Camp Grizzly lifts the theme of 80’s slasher movies and turns it into a semi-cooperative board game. Players take on the role of a camp counselor. I got Kevin, the lifeguard, who bore more than a passing resemblance to 70’s hunk Parker Stevenson. Each counselor has individual stats and special abilities.

Parker Stevenson
Parker Stevenson

Players move their counselors around the game board which is an aerial view of the fictional Camp Grizzly. Along the way, players may acquire important items, find lost campers (the children under our care) or may even encounter the dreaded Otis.

Otis is the antagonist who, like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, wears a terrifying mask. Otis’s shtick is a bear mask, a nod to the eponymous Camp Grizzly–itself a play on words for grisly. When Otis strikes, the campers die and the counselors take damage. If you die, you are eliminated from the game, so be careful.

Players must work together to get all the items needed to unlock the Finale. Then players move to the Finale and roll dice to see if they escape. This game is a semi-coop. That means some players can win while others lose. Players may work together but if C.J. is lagging behind at docks, you and the rest of the counselors may need to radio for help without him!

The artwork in Camp Grizzly really evokes the horror theme. Which may seem strange given that it’s comic book art. But it really works for this game. You get the sense of gore without the gratuitous scene. Indeed, the artwork is what ultimately drew me to make this trade. And new artwork for the upcoming five expansions(!) is what is delaying Ameritrash Game’s release dates.

We played this with a captive audience a couple of Thursdays ago. And it was very well received. Ben said it was very cinematic and evocative of the theme. And I agree. It’s light but you need an occasional light game to end the night.

Verdict: Hit!

 

5. Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor

Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer's Manor
Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor

There is a new genre of game: the one-and-done adventure. We discussed an example several months ago when T.I.M.E Stories hit the shelves and hit our table. Escape the Room is another example. Escape the Room is a new series of games from Think Fun. Players work together to solve the puzzles in order to eventually “escape the room”.

We made our first foray recently. After a brief rules explanation–which is very brief because there are virtually no rules–we delved into the mystery. The mystery is wrapped up in different envelops which you are not allowed to open unless you solve the required puzzle. The envelops then are opened, revealing another puzzle, which when solved, opens another envelop.

These puzzle games can be entertaining. But Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor was a bit too easy. Brandi, Tasha, Ben and I solved it in 30 minutes. A week later, Dusty, Jon, Kevin and Old Ben solved it in 35 minutes. This is way too easy for a $30 game.

The next game in the series, Secrets of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat, is supposed to be more challenging. That would fix my issue with the anticlimactic Stargazer Manor.

Verdict: Meh

 

6. 27th Passenger

27th Passenger from Purple Games
27th Passenger from Purple Games

I’ve been on the hunt for a good deduction game. A good deduction game requires logic, has good player interaction and plays quickly. And 27th Passenger fits the bill.

Players are dealt one of 27 different secret roles. Each round players secretly select an action to take. These actions are used to learn about the other player’s roles, gain valuable defense cards or learn about the other NPC roles (the balance of the 27 roles not taken by players). Players will narrow down which roles their opponents are in order to kill them, thus eliminating them from the game. The last player standing is the winner.

Each role has three separate characteristics. The three characteristics are appearance, their voice and their scent. There are three of each of these types of characteristics. And each role has a unique combination of them (3X3X3 =27 passengers). Using simultaneous order selection, clever play and a little intuition, you will figure out who your opponents are first.

We’ve played 27th passenger twice now. It’s grown on me. And I think I was the only curmudgeon at the table.

Verdict: Hit

 

Where the Hits keeping on coming

Muskegon Area Gamers

Muskegon, MI
139 Muskegon Area Gamers

This group is for anyone interested in playing board games, card games or any table top game. This group learns and teachs new games all the time. We welcome fresh players. We…

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Saturday, Sep 10, 2016, 6:30 PM
2 Attending

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Board game review: Domaine

There are so many new games coming out that some classics don’t get the table time they deserve. I wrote about Terra Prime a few months ago. That is a perfect example. Another game that I really enjoy but haven’t had the chance to play in some time is Domaine from Mayfair Games. According to my spreadsheet, I played it once in 2015, once in 2014 and once in 2013. It’s too good of a game to only play once a year. Let’s take a look at this game that many of you probably didn’t know existed.

 

1. Domaine by Klaus Teuber

Domaine from Mayfair Games
Domaine from Mayfair Games

Many of you know Klaus Teuber. And if you don’t, you at least know of his creation: Settlers of Catan. Klaus has many non-Catan games under his belt. And Domaine is one of them.

Unlike the Catan games–which are fun for 30 minutes but the games last for 60 minutes–Domaine is fun for the entire time.

Players place knights and borders onto a map. By placing the knights and fences strategically, players will take control of mines which generate money and take control of land which is worth points. Players attempt to reach a certain victory point threshold to win immediately or to have the most victory points when the game ends.

 

2. The Components

Components in Domaine
Components in Domaine

Mayfair Games is typically a Euro publisher. And Domaine is a Euro. But they went with lots of plastic components. Nice! All the castles, knights and borders are plastic. This was a good choice. The visual flair adds some enjoyment to the game.

Insert for Domaine
Insert for Domaine

The coins are a thick cardboard along with the game board. The game board comes in 9 pieces so the set up is variable. The cards are about average quality. The insert allows some decent storage options for all these components.

 

3. Set up and Game Play

Game card for Domaine
Game card for Domaine

Players place their castles onto the board one at a time. Each player places one and then the next player places one. This continues until all the castles are on the board. Each castle has one knight placed adjacent to it. Then each player is given a couple cards and some starting money.

On your turn, you play a card from your hand. You can pay to get the action or you can sell the card to the chancery. The cost to pay is in the top left corner; the value for selling it is in the top right. After you play the card, you then draw a card from the top of the draw deck or from the face up chancery.

The actions are: place borders, place knights, expand, alliance and deserter. You will place borders in order to build a domaine. A domaine is a contiguous set of borders that has your castle in it but no enemy castles. This scores you points and secures you mines.

Once you have a domaine established, you can play the expand action. This allows you to move the borders out that you have established, taking over additional points and/or mines. It also cuts your opponents off if you cut through his area. This is allowed if you have more knights in your domaine than your opponent. Thus, the need for the place knight action. Conversely, you could play the more expensive action “deserter” which allows you to remove an opponent’s knight and place one of your own.

The last action is called alliance. It allows you to prevent expansions between one of your domaines and another domaine. This is used when your opponent has made his move and is ready to expand into your territory and cut your empire in two.

Managing your funds in Domaine is important. You gain money at the start of your turn equal one times the number of different mines you own. The other way to get money is selling cards to the chancery. Selling a card to get money is inevitable. But if you sell a card that has the action on it that your opponent wants, you will be aiding and abetting the enemy.

The game ends if anyone reaches the victory point threshold (different for different amounts of players) or when the draw deck runs out of cards.

 

4. Why is it good?

3D Domaine at GenCon
3D Domaine at GenCon

Domaine is good because the rules are simple enough to grasp very quickly but the decisions are still tough. Should you focus on one domaine, establish its borders and expand? This will give you a guaranteed albeit small score.

Or do you play the long game, wait for your opponents to place lots of borders and then you use those borders to establish your own domaine. This will give you a bigger score but only if it pays off.

Do you secure a mine right away so you can get some income? This will give you a steady stream of one coin a turn. But it will waste some of the cheap border cards to do so.

Domaine is a good introduction to card driven games. The cards have two or more uses each. Often they have two different actions. Plus you can sell them to the chancery. If you haven’t played a CDG (card driven game) because they are so intimidating, I would suggest trying Domaine first.

 

Where you can try Domaine…

Muskegon Area Gamers

Muskegon, MI
132 Muskegon Area Gamers

This group is for anyone interested in playing board games, card games or any table top game. This group learns and teachs new games all the time. We welcome fresh players. We…

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Here I Stand (Kevin’s Pick)

Tuesday, Jul 19, 2016, 6:00 PM
7 Attending

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Hey, you got video games in my board games!

Hey, you got video games in my board games! No, you got board games in my video games!

 

Descent 2.0 from FFG
Descent 2.0 from FFG

This past Christmas I was given a gift certificate to a local game store. I promptly wanted to drop everything and spend all that money. Without consulting the current repertoire of games in the Annex I

Dice for Descent 2.0
Dice for Descent 2.0

grabbed a game that looked like it would appeal to my non-tabletop friends as well as the folks at the Annex. I ended up with Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition). I found out quickly that the folks at the Annex were underwhelmed with it for some reason or another so it quickly traveled to my house and set up shop on my gaming table.

Descent takes the hard parts out of playing a role playing game. It really scratches the same itch that Heroquest did back in the 80s and 90s. It also has incredible minis. I read the rules and begged my non- tabletop friends to play it with me. I took up the role of the Overlord (I’m not super fond of being the sole bad guy, but if it has to be done to get the game to table, so be it) My friend, Matt (not Matt S or Matt B) who claims to hate board gaming was immediately interested in the game, but his cohorts Chad and Nate were flummoxed by the game or just staying conscious at the table (we’re looking at you Nate). This lead to a lot of wins from the Overlord player. This lead to a lot of apathy toward playing the game.

Road to Legend
Road to Legend

As though Fantasy Flight knew such problems exist, an app called Road to Legend was announced and then dropped onto the App store. The app will play the Overlord, it claims. How could this be

Heroes from Road to Legend
Heroes from Road to Legend

without telling it every piece of information on the board, thus making the board extraneous? What Fantasy Flight did was realize that positioning could be handled by the players in regard to both monsters and heroes as long as the app itself knew who had been killed and who had already had their turn. This allows for a fairly seamless game play experience as long as the core rule of RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons is upheld; Keep the game moving and fun. If a decision needs to be made, just make it and keep playing.

Mapmaking
Mapmaking

So, why does this reinvigorate Descent for my group? Well, I picked up an expansion which gave us new heroes. I figured letting our old heroes paddle off into the sunset like a Baratheon bastard was fine if we had shiny new spoony bards to play. I also got to switch to the hero team which meant two players who were squaring off against one evil force.

Muskegon adores XCOM The Board Game
XCOM The Board Game

This is the second time (XCOM was the first) an iOS app has infiltrated a game for me in a meaningful way, (No, I’m not counting Avalon’s helper or the life counter for Betrayal at House on the Hill) and I’m going to say, I like it.

Game Review: Star Wars: Rebellion

Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars: Rebellion has been one of the most anticipated games of 2016. Even the Muskegon Area Gamers couldn’t escape its lure. Three of our members are now owners of the game. During the first few weeks in our group, Star Wars: Rebellion was played about a dozen times. I  played about eight of those games. Being a huge Star Wars fan, being a huge Fantasy Flight fan, this game is a natural fit for me. And yet, I have some big problems with it. These nagging problems have caused me to delay this review until I really came to peace with my feelings for a game I should love. Let’s take a look.

 

A long time ago…

Star Wars Rebellion from FFG
Star Wars Rebellion from FFG

There have been lots of Star Wars board games over the years. Board Game Geek lists 306 games in the “Star Wars” family. That’s a lot of games! And yet, there hasn’t been a definitive Star Wars game to date. There have been lots of good Star Wars games but none that captured the Star Wars saga as a whole.

Then Fantasy Flight announced Star Wars: Rebellion. This game would be loosely based on the PC game of the same name. It would encapsulate the entire saga. It would have the best components. And it promised to be great fun.

 

The Force is strong with this one

Star Wars Rebellion: the pieces
Star Wars Rebellion: the pieces

The goal of Star Wars: Rebellion differs depending on which role you play. The goal of the Empire player is to find the Rebel base and conquer it. The goal of the Rebel

Star Wars: Rebellion game board
Star Wars: Rebellion game board

player is to prevent this from happening until enough game rounds go by.

The game board is a bunch of planets from the Star Wars universe. The Rebel player will secretly select one to be his Rebel base. If the Imperial player enters this system with one or more ground units, the Rebel player reveals this as his base. If the planet and the space have Imperial units after battle but no Rebel units, the Empire wins.

Star Wars: Rebellion board
Star Wars: Rebellion board

Each player starts with four leaders. Players will place their leaders onto mission cards or leave them on their player sheet. These leaders will go on missions or be used to move ships around on the board. On a player’s turn, he will select one of his leaders. If the leader is on a mission card, he reveals the mission and attempts it. If the leader is on his player sheet, he can place it on the board and move ships.

To move ships, place a leader on the board. Your ships within one space of here can move to the leaders location. No ships in Star Wars: Rebellion can move faster than one space. Your larger ships can carry stuff so you can invade planets. If you move into a system where your opponent’s stuff is, you have a battle.

The way battles work in Star Wars: Rebellion is fairly interesting. FFG took a page from their Star Wars Armada game. Starfighters roll black dice and have black hit points;

Star Wars Rebellion player sheet
Star Wars Rebellion player sheet

capital ships roll red dice and have red hit points. The dice have unique sides: “hit”, “wild hit”, “miss” and “special”. A black die that rolls a “hit” can only be applied to a unit that has black hit points. But a “wild hit” could be applied to any unit. And the same goes for red dice. This abstracts the combat a bit but doesn’t really diminish the theme at all. The “special” side of the die can be spent to either draw a powerful combat card or play a combat card. The combat in this game feels new and refreshing.

Star Wars: Rebellion missions
Star Wars: Rebellion missions

When you go on a mission, you place one or more leaders onto a mission, placing the mission face down so your opponent won’t know which mission. The missions have a number and an icon at the top. This represents the minimum number of those icons your leader(s) must have to even go on the mission. The fist (special ops) can be performed by the likes of Chewie, Vader or Luke–but not Mon Mothma or Grand Moff Tarkin. The gold halo (diplomacy) will sway planets to your side without the need for troops. The Emperor, Mon Monthma and Leia have diplomacy icons.

Missions will either say, “Resolve” or “Attempt”. If you resolve a mission, you simply do what the card says. If you attempt a mission, you opponent may place one of his leaders from his player sheet into the system in order to thwart you. You both roll dice equal to the number of matching icons you have. You will need to roll more successes than your opponent to succeed.

The missions give you the narrative of the Star Wars story. They are a key part of the theme of this game. And they are nicely implemented.

 

I have you now

Luke fighting a battle
Luke fighting a battle

The Empire plays a game of hide and seek with the Rebel player. The Rebel player, however, can score objectives. The objectives move the game clock. The Rebel wins when the game clock reaches a certain point. The objectives are cards the Rebel player

Star Wars: Rebellion obectives
Star Wars: Rebellion obectives

draws each round. Some say, “Destroy a star destroyer” or “Control such and such systems”. There are only 12 different objective cards in the deck. This allows both players to kinda know what the Rebel  player can or could be doing.

The Empire plays hide and seek with the Rebel player. Each round the Empire draws two “probe” cards. Each card has a system’s name on it. This tells the Empire where the Rebel’s base is not since the Rebel player has the probe card of where his base is actually at. The Empire can also narrow down where the Rebel base is by taking planets. If he controls a planet, the Empire knows the Rebel base is not there.

Aren’t you a little short to be a stormtrooper?

Ground assault
Ground assault

I love Star Wars. I love asymmetrical games. Star Wars: Rebellion is both. I love games with refreshing combat. And I love games with deduction and bluffing. Star Wars: Rebellion is all of these things too.

And despite this, I cannot recommend it.

I played the game eight times. I won the first six games. Then I lost the next two. After losing the game a second time, I realized Star Wars: Rebellion is not a great game. It’s a decent game; but the randomness and luck are way too high they overshadow the strategy.

In my last game, I played as the Rebels. I scored an objective on the first game round. And then I scored an objective on the second round. This was almost unheard of in our group. I played almost perfectly. And yet I lost on the second game round–also unheard of.

The Empire happened to draw a mission card that allowed them to guess my Rebel base on the first round. Then they moved the death star towards it. During the second game round, we fought a battle. I won the ground fight (I lost to the death star, of course). But then the Empire also drew an action card that allowed them to start a second ground fight here. And they drew an action card that allowed them to fight a battle during the Assignment phase (this allowed them to fight me before I played any missions).

I feel like I played perfectly. I scored an objective on each of the first two game rounds. Typically, players cannot score a single objective until the fourth game round. But because the Empire can still win by pure luck.

It’s been over month since I last played. The bad taste of this loss hasn’t gone away yet. I might give Star Wars: Rebellion another chance some day. But I doubt I will ever consider it a good game. Any game that you can play perfectly and still lose will be a game I will only consider to be mediocre.

Trump: the Game

This blog is purposely apolitical. I don’t waste time here discussing the ongoing presidential election cycle, who’s a demagogue or who’s facing imminent indictment. But the recent news that Donald Trump is the defacto GOP candidate does afford me a rare opportunity: a timely look at a classic board game. The classic board game? Parker Brothers’ Trump: the game.

 

1. It’s not whether you win or lose…it’s whether you win

In the late 80’s, people knew of Donal Trump. This, despite the fact he was not yet a reality TV star. He was promoting himself in various financial articles in Time or Newsweek. He sat down and did interviews with many in the news agencies or talk shows. (Not much has changed). When not promoting his image or his business ventures, the tabloids would hound him. I remember hearing about him and his then wife Ivanka even when I was in high school.

In 1989, a man named Jeffrey Breslow approached The Donald about a board game. Jeffrey Breslow has several game titles under his belt

Jaws from Ideal
Jaws from Ideal

including Jaws (Ideal) and Guesstures. Breslow had an idea for a bidding/auction game. With the name TRUMP attached to it, the game stood a greater chance of getting picked up by Parker Brothers or Milton Bradley.

Trump agreed. Not because he loved our hobby but because he is a shameless self-promoter. Some stars get action figures. Some get candy bars. And a rare few get board games.

With Trump’s name, Parker Brothers agreed to publish the game. Trump starred in the commercial for the game. The tag line was quite memorable: “It’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!”

But is the game itself memorable?

 

2. Overview of the rules: the goal

Trump: the Game 1st Edition
Trump: the Game 1st Edition

The goal of Trump is to end the game with the most money. Players take on the role of a real estate mogul. Both these things are in line with a game based upon Donald Trump. +1 for theme!

There are eight properties that go up for sale. Each property has a cartridge (because it was the 80’s). Inside the cartridge is the value of the property. As the game progresses, unowned properties gather more income, simulating their accrued value. Eventually players will land on the property (like in Monopoly) and the property goes up for auction. High bidder spends his bid and claims the property. The money inside the cartridge is his. Hopefully he invested wisely.

There are two editions of the Trump game. And the rules have several differences. But in both games, the game clock is when all eight properties are owned by the players. The last phase of the game happens when the last property is bought. When the last phase is complete, players tally their money. The most money is the winner.

 

3. Action choices

Trump: the game board
Trump: the game board

Players have a choice of actions on their turn. After drawing a Trump card, the active player chooses to either roll the dice and move his pawn or play a Trump card.

Playing Trump cards, generally gives you money. The Trump cards will give

Trump Cards (1st edition)
Trump Cards (1st edition)

you money if you own a specific property. This gives players secret goals. If you draw a couple of Casino cards, you have more incentive to buy the Casino than other players.

Moving around the board is how you force certain auctions to take place. It’s also a way to add money to the cartridges of unowned properties, making their upcoming auctions juicier.

The auction mechanism in Trump is…unique. It’s a two phase auction. The first phase is closed and the second phase is open. Players secretly select how much they are going to bid on a property. Players simultaneously reveal their totals. Players who bid nothing are not allowed to participate in the second phase of bidding. During the second phase, players in turn order will bid on the property or pass. Players who pass may jump back in later. The auction ends when all players pass in a row. The winner claims the property and spends his money. All other players keep their bids.

 

4. What’s memorable about Trump: the Game

Trump: Property cartridges
Trump: Property cartridges

The auction mechanic is definitely unique. Reiner Knizia has not even designed that into one of his games. And he designed Modern Art which is nothing but different styles of auctions.

The game also has a game end that is player provoked. Players can try to force the end of the game by trying to get the last property auctioned. Games where players force the end of the game are usually more satisfying than games with a hard limit of turns.

The property cartridges were a cool component. They look pretty cool (for a 1980’s game). And they allow for secret information.

And speaking of secret information: the Trump cards are just that. You have a hand of action cards that you can use to gain some money or to slow down a runaway opponent.

All of these aspects make Trump: the Game more memorable than its closest living relative: Monopoly. And the play time is around an hour so it’s got Monopoly beat there as well.

 

5. Trump: the Game 2nd edition

Trump: the Game (2nd Edition)
Trump: the Game (2nd Edition)

Donald Trump’s empire suffered a blow in the 90’s. He filed bankruptcy and went through a messy divorce. I thought I had heard the last of him. But he somehow managed to rebuild his wealth.

And he landed a reality TV show. Since the world was being subjected to Donald Trump: the 2nd Edition, why not subject us to Trump: the Game (2nd edition) as well?

Trump: 2nd edition has several differences over its 1st edition. There is an additional action choice. Players may wheel and deal their Trump cards. Got an Airline card that’s worth $50 million to me? We can work out a deal.

You're Fired!
“You’re Fired” cards knock other players out of the bidding on a property. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Nicole Crowder

Donald Trump’s reality show coined the phrase, “You’re fired!” So the 2nd edition added several “You’re fired!” cards to the deck. These allow you to eliminate someone from an auction.

The newer edition also doesn’t allow you to buy owned properties. The original edition allowed you to “force” the sale of a property, even a property someone already owns. If you sell your property you collected the sale price. They took this mechanic out in the new edition. I think that was a mistake. I kinda like that mechanic.

 

6. Final Thoughts

2008: Campaign Manager
2008: Campaign Manager

Trump: the Game is one of the better Monopoly clones. This makes it a mediocre game. It has some kinda good ideas. Those ideas would need more work to make it a good game.

The Trump cards are a good idea. But they need more polish. The roll-and-move aspect of the game is just bad. And lazy. There are so many other ways to address this instead. Fix these issues and you would have a pretty good game.

This election cycle, like it or not, has been fascinating. Wouldn’t it be great if the design team that brought us 1960: the Making of the President and 2008: Campaign Manager were to give us a 2016 version? No matter the winner: I would buy that game!