Category Archives: Game Review

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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Sept. Games

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!

 

 

Hits & Flops

Alright. It’s been a month since we did our last hit piece. We’ve played many new games in that time. This list only comprises the games I ‘ve played. We tried out many uber popular games like T.I.M.E. Stories, Marco Polo and the expansion to Istanbul. Let’s find out if I loved them or panned them.

 

1.  T.I.M.E Stories

T.I.M.E. Stories from Space Cowboy
T.I.M.E. Stories from Space Cowboys

T.I.M.E Stories was published just last year. And it’s already #40 All Time on boardgamegeek. This game has all the elements that board gamers like nowadays.

T.I.M.E Stories is a

Panarama from T.I.M.E Stories
Panorama from T.I.M.E Stories

one and done game. There is no replayability. The game is a cooperative. Players take on the roles of time cops, working together to investigate strange happenings. T.I.M.E Stories is an adventure more than it is a strategy game. You experience it rather than concentrate on it.

T.I.M.E Stories is a good game system. The mechanics are solid. The expansions are reasonably priced, giving players new missions to investigate. And the game sessions last for an entire game night. This gives you value for your purchase.

Verdict: HIT!

 

2. Istanbul: Mocha & Baksheesh

Istanbul: Mocha & Baksheesh
Istanbul: Mocha & Baksheesh

Istanbul was surprisingly good. At least to me. The users on BGG, of course, loved it. It’s a medium weight Euro that plays in a small to moderate amount of time.

Designer Rudiger Dorn lifted mechanics from his other games like Jambo and Genoa and honed them for Istanbul. That’s why it’s rated 98 on BGG.

New board pieces for Istanbul: Mocha & Baksheesh
New board pieces for Istanbul: Mocha & Baksheesh

 

The much anticipated expansion, Mocha & Baksheesh, has been a huge success. The expansion adds new board pieces, a new resource (coffee) and a few new mechanics.

Sick Nima has been ahead of the curve on strategy in Istabul, besting our Thursday night group somewhat regularly. He read the rules to the expansion and taught it to us last week.

The expansion adds new interactions on the game board, interactions that we could not possibly scratch the surface of in one play through. And some of the new mechanics like power tiles from the Tavern were largely ignored by the group until late game. The expansion will undoubtedly add tons of replayability to avid fans of the base game.

And despite this, I cannot call it a hit. Not yet. It felt a bit of a distraction from Istanbul. Not bad. Just not good. Oh, I’ll play it a few more times to come to a more reasoned conclusion. But in a blog post about “hits & flops” and I cannot call it a hit.

Verdict: undetermined.

 

3. The Voyages of Marco Polo

Voyages of Marco Polo from Z-Man
Voyages of Marco Polo from Z-Man

Marco Polo, published by Z-Man Games in 2015, shot up the ranks on BGG. It is currently sitting at a strong #39 on the all time list with a staggering 8.03 user rating.

Marco Polo is like Kingsburg or Alien Frontiers but supercharged with bells and whistles. Players chuck dice and then place the dice onto areas of the board, collecting resources, more dice, cards or victory points. There are a myriad of ways to mitigate the values you

Board from Marco Polo
Board from Marco Polo

roll.

Did I say this game was like Kingsburg? Nah, it’s more like Troyes. It’s a brain-burning version of Kingsburg. Tons of strategy but no soul.

Sick Nima often mocks me for calling a game a soulless Euro. But that is how I feel about Marco Polo. It’s the type of game that Rocky or Dr. Steve love but it’s the type of game that makes me long for Clash of Cultures of Battlelore.

Verdict: Flop 🙁

 

4. Junta (the 2nd printing)

Junta from AEG
Junta from AEG

For me, Junta fires Republic of Rome. I am not a fan of Republic of Rome. Lots of downtown, tedious voting over petty scraps and virtual player elimination (but not actual player elimination) punctuate your standard six hour game of Republic of Rome.

Junta's game board
Junta’s game board

Junta offers the same feeling of working together but also betraying your buddies. It has some voting but not over the petty stuff of Republic of Rome. Junta is also less complex. While Republic of Rome is far more complicated than Junta, it’s not deeper. Junta offers the same depth.

Jon picked up the 2nd printing of Junta. AEG changed a few things. We decided to give the game a play through even though I rage quit during our previous play of the 1st printing–witnessed by a bemused Sick Nima who still comments about it.

Junta is a good adventure + political game. It scratches the itch of Republic of Rome and possibly Diplomacy. And if you disliked Republic of Rome or Diplomacy, you may want to try Junta out anyway. It’s a tactical combat sub-game that these other games lack.

Verdict: HIT!

 

5. Space Empires 4X: Close Encounters

Space Empires 4X Close Encounters
Space Empires 4X Close Encounters

Space Empires 4X is a wargame in space where you manage your ships and colonies with an IRS ledger. You carryover dollars from each year and add them to your next year’s income, pay for upkeep on your empire then purchase new equipment. This process repeats until someone’s homeworld (probably Dusty’s) gets conquered.

Our first game of Space Empires 4X was inauspicious. Jon’s passion for the game and his superb teaching skills could not raise the game out of the mire of mediocrity. When he bought the expansion, I felt I had to give the game another shot.

Close Encounters adds tremendous material to the game. Most of it good. Players have faction powers. There are now reasons to attack the NPC aliens. There are several new ship classes, changing the meta of the game. We gave the game plus expansion a play through last month.

After 10 hours, Kevin and Sick Nima managed to defeat Jon and me. The game ending was thrilling. Had they not won, we would have won on the following on our next turn.

The expansion is quite good if you like the base game. In fact, the expansion is a no-brainer. If you like the base game. I just cannot see myself playing 10 hours of this game very often. The arithmetic is  excruciating after that length of time.

It pains me to give this a flop so I’m adding an asterisk.

Verdict: Flop*

6. Tiny Epic Games

Tiny Epic Galaxies
Tiny Epic Galaxies

I had the joy of playing Scott Almes’ Tiny Epic Galaxies recently. This slightly larger than pocket sized game packs a lot of fun in a small package.

Planet card from TEG
Planet card from TEG

 

A player rolls some dice on their turn, taking actions with the icons that are rolled. Other players may follow the same action by spending Culture. Players move ships around the galaxy, colonizing planets with unique powers.

The interaction of the planets makes the game have lots of replayability.  And  there must be 100 unique planets in the game.

My one complaint about the game is that it takes a bit too long with five players. The game would be about right for two or three players. Too much analysis paralysis and downtime with four or five players.

Verdict: HIT!

 

7. Star Realms

Star Realms
Star Realms

I had heard that Star Realms was very similar as Ascension. Maybe so similar that it could be described as a reimplementation of Ascension. I’ve played Ascension a few times. I didn’t care for it. I played Star Realms a couple of weeks ago.

And I loved it. It’s soooo much better than Ascension. The theme is better: sci fi spacefaring versus fantasy combat tripe. The artwork is better. Star Realms sports professional artwork that is beautiful. Ascension’s artwork is amateurish–and why did they choose such a muddy palate?

Star Realms is a deck building game where your goal is to inflict damage on your opponent to bring his influence to zero. You purchase ships with unique powers and bases and outposts to defend yourself. The mechanics are simple. But the game is quick and fun. A definite hit.

Verdict: HIT!

8. Lanterns: the Harvest Festival

Lanterns: the Harvest Festival
Lanterns: the Harvest Festival

Jeremy brought over Lanterns: the Harvest Festival to the Brew House last month. I had followed it obliquely on BGG. I like trying new games so I sat down and played with him.

Lanterns is a tile laying game.

Yep.

That’s the long and short of it. Do you like Carcassonne? Then Lanterns is up your alley. Me? I was a bit bored.

Poor Jeremy. It seems every time he brings over a new game, I pan it. I believe in you, Jeremy! You can buy and teach me games I will love.

Verdict: Flop :/

 

 

 

I almost forgot how good Big City is

I had the chance to play Rio Grande’s Big City last night. It was the first time I’ve played it since June of 2013. And even in June of 2013 it was a full year since my previous play before that. This game just doesn’t make it to the table. We had a good crowd last night. We needed a four player game that was around an hour long. I took Big City off the shelf for a rare play. I almost forgot how much I like Big City.

 

1. Components

Muskegon feels like a Big City when playing Rio Grande's Big City
Rio Grande’s Big City

The components of Big City are a plasticky delight. The game comes with tons of plastic houses, subdivisions, business, post offices, shopping centers and parks.

Close up of Big City
Close up of Big City

The parts are stored in three thermoformed trays. The trays are pretty good but not great. They definitely hold the buildings in place. But in some instances, they hold onto the pieces too strongly. Also, the streetcars are barely held at all and are

The trays in Big City
The trays in Big City

prone to spilling. I’m not trying to nitpick here. I think RGG did a decent job with the trays. But I think they could improve and take the dunnage to the next step if they wanted to.

The game also comes with several decks of cards, eight in fact. One deck for each neighborhood. The neighborhoods have colloquial names like Little Italy and Downtown. Each neighborhood has a number range such as 10 through 19 or 20 through 28. These neighborhoods are added to the existing board as Big City experiences urban sprawl.

The game also includes player aids. These state what the actions are in the game and how to score. The player aids in Big City are quite good. They are full color, heavy card stock and helpful. (Fantasy Flight: please take the hint!)

Rio Grande makes good games with good components. But I dare say Big City may be their best effort yet. I love me some plasticky crack. This may be Rio Grande’s only game with plastic pieces instead of wood.

 

2. Game Play

Big City game box
Big City game box

Players score points by placing buildings onto the board. The bigger or more restrictive the building, the more points it is worth. The game ends when all the buildings are placed or when all players pass.

There are eight decks of cards that correspond to eight neighborhoods. The decks of cards have numbers on them that correspond to a space on the neighborhood board.

There goes the neighborhood
There goes the neighborhood

Players perform one action a turn. There are several actions from which to choose: place a building, discard cards and draw new ones, place street cars or add a neighborhood.

Players will score points by playing cards from their hand to place a building. The cards have numbers on them that match numbers on the board. If you place a one space residence or a business, you get 2 points. If you place a two space residence or business (which requires you to play two cards which are adjacent on the game board), you score 6 points. And if you place a three space residence or business you get 10 points!

If you don’t like your hand of cards, you can forego playing any to discard some and draw replacements from the deck(s) of your choosing. This allows you to swoop in and make a big score.

Placing street cars will double your score. If your residence or business is adjacent to a street car, you score double the amount of points. Placing street cars does not require you to play a card.

At some point you’ll probably want to expand the size of the board. You may add neighborhoods 6, 7 or 8. You get to place the neighborhood onto the table where it will most benefit you. Since you are allowed to draw cards from any deck, you could start drawing cards from the 6 deck a turn or two before you place the 6 neighborhood. This will increase you chances of getting bigger scores.

 

3. Basic Strategy

Big City game cards
Big City game cards

Big City is a game of timing. You will want to make a big play when you can. And you will want to make a medium-sized play before you opponent ruins it.

There are some special buildings in the game that are worth more than a basic business or residence. The church is worth 15 points for example. But it can only be placed on a double number (such as 11, 22, 33, etc) and it must be placed as the last building on a neighborhood. Do you hold onto a double number in the hopes that you can place a church? If you do, there is a dead card in your hand until you play it.

There are parks and factories in the neighborhood decks. A park or factory card lets you place the corresponding park or factory on the board without needing the corresponding number cards. Your opponent has drawn heavily from the 8 deck. Why not place a factory onto the 8 board? The cards that refer to the spaces the factory are on are now dead. Plus, you incur a -2 point penalty when placing buildings next to a factory. You could do the same with a park but you get a +1 point bonus for placing buildings next to a park.

You’ll have to adjust your decisions along the way. The factories and parks are always located in the same decks. So if your opponent is drawing heavily from one of these decks, be sure to adapt accordingly: throw down a park or factory if you have one; or place the street cars away from that area.

4. Final Thoughts

Aerial view of Big City
Aerial view of Big City

Big City feels a bit nostalgic to me. It harkens back to when I first discovered board games (when I was 4 or 5) and I saw people playing Monopoly. They would place their little houses onto the board. I watched this little town spring up from nowhere.

Big City is fun. It’s a Euro but there is ways to interact (or at least react) to your opponents. The amount of decisions at your disposal is just about right for its weight and time.
Big City is thematic. I didn’t realize this until yesterday. I always like building the little city (ironically called Big City). But until I smoked Nick Sima at the game yesterday, I didn’t think the game was really thematic. Then I realized how cutthroat city zoning laws are. Big City seems to mimic how powerful investors vie for city zoning permits. Want to build a big box store (business)? You will need spaces 55 and 56 if you want to maximum your score. One of your rivals is buying up property in East town? You better convince the city to place a park over there.

Big City is out of print. A game can cost over $50. But if you can get a copy, it is quite good.

Or better yet, just come over here and play it with Nick Sima and me.

 

Battlelore: I’m lovin’ it!

I’ve been looking for a game to augment Memoir ’44. I love Memoir. The simplicity of the game deceives players into thinking its a shallow game. Games of Memoir ’44 are won by clever card play, however. I was on the lookout for another game that would scratch the same itch when I wasn’t in the mood for Memoir ’44 per se. I thought Rum & Bones might fit the bill. It didn’t. I was reluctant to pull the trigger on Battlelore 2nd Edition since is largely a clone of Memoir ’44. It turns out that Battlelore is exactly what I was looking for.

 

1. Command & Colors System

Command & Colors: Ancients
Command & Colors: Ancients

Battlelore uses the “Command & Colors” system. This system is a card-driven combat game where the card you play tells you what part of the battle field you can move units on. The board is split into a left, right and center areas.

You then can move units in that area. Then you may attack with those units. Then your opponent does the same. This continues until the scenario objective is met.

Battlelore: Echelon Left
Battlelore: Echelon Left

Here we see the “Echelon Left” card. This would allow you to activate two units on your left side and one unit in the middle. You would then be allowed to move the selected units. And finally, you would be allowed to roll combat dice with the selected units. You would NOT be allowed to move one unit in the center and then roll combat with a different unit in the center.

 

Memoir '44 Pincer Move
Memoir ’44 Pincer Move

Command & Colors, Memoir ’44 and Battlelore all use this system. All these games were designed by Richard Borg so it’s not a coincidence. What this system does is: takes away complete autonomy from the player and forces him to focus on what is important.

Typically in a wargame, a player has complete control over all his units. Take Axis & Allies for example. The USSR players conducts combat movement, moving any or all of his units; he conducts combat; he conducts non-combat movement; he then places new units on the board. Then, and only then, can the German player respond.

In a C&C system, you cannot move all of your units every turn. You must activate the areas of the battle field that are urgent. If you think your opponent has not cards to activate his left flank, then it behooves you to activate your units on that side of the field.

This is why I love Memoir ’44. But I don’t want a Memoir ’44 clone. I knew Battlelore would use this same system. I was looking for something with a different feel.

 

2. The fantasy realms of Runebound

Minis from Battlelore 2nd Edition
Minis from Battlelore 2nd Edition

The theme of Battlelore is considerably different than that of Memoir ’44. One is World War II GI’s fighting the Germans whereas the other is fantasy battles. But is this enough to make the game “feel different”?

Battlelore's Chaos Lord
Battlelore’s Chaos Lord

No. The difference in theme is nice but it is not enough to make me think it’s drastically different than Memoir. But you do have to like the theme in Battlelore nonetheless. Fantasy flight lifted their existing homebrewed setting of Runebound and made it fit into Battlelore.

The races and factions you play in Runewars, Runebound or Rune Age are present here. But here it is a tactical game of combat. If you like any of the Rune games and do NOT own Memoir ’44, then Battlelore is a no-brainer. Pick it up ASAP.

But what about those of us who own everything Memoir ’44 released?

 

3. How Battlelore 2nd Edition plays

Battle Lore scenario cards
Battle Lore scenario cards

Battlelore 2nd Edition comes with 12 scenario cards, six for each player. Each player randomly draws three and then selects one to be his scenario set up. Players simultaneously reveal their chosen card and then set up their armies accordingly. Each scenario card dictates how and where victory points can be scored.

Fog of war in Battlelore
Fog of war in Battlelore

Players then build their army. Each player secretly creates a 50 point army. Some army troops are really powerful and cost 10 points. Others are weaker and might only cost 3.

Players place a card for each unit in their army onto the board. They do so facedown so their opponent will not know what unit is there.

The game set up for Battlelore is completely different than it is for Memoir ’44. In Memoir, you select a scenario; the set up is proscribed. Then you play the game. Both systems have merit. But the difference in set up has distinct feels.

But the differences do not end there.

 

4. Goal of the game

Muskegon loves Battlelore 2nd Edition
The field is set

During set up, some objectives are placed on the board. The scenario card dictates where. If your unit occupies this space, you score a point.

The game is played
The game is played

The first to 16 points wins. Alternatively, you win if you destroy all your opponent’s units.

This is a large departure from Memoir ’44. In Memoir ’44, you score one point for each enemy unit you destroy. Generally you need 4 to 6 points to win.

The makes a pretty big difference in how these games play. In Battlelore you generate points by occupying certain spaces on the board. As long as you are generating more than your opponent, you are good. If you are losing the point generation battle, change your tack.  Sixteen points for winning is just about right: not too long but long enough to give you time to adjust.

 

5. I’m lovin’ it

Muskegon board game approval
I’m lovin’ it

Battlelore 2nd Edition has the elements of Memoir ’44 that I love: simplicity of rules with depth of play. It also has assuaged my fears of being a clone of Memoir ’44. It feels different enough from Memoir to be its own distinct game.

Who would like Battlelore?

  • Anyone who likes the Command & Colors system
  • Anyone who likes the Runebound universe
  • Anyone who is looking for a miniature wargame with a more affordable price point

I give Battlelore the Muskegon Area Gamers’ seal of approval: I’m lovin’ it!

6. If you want to play Battlelore with us sometime, click on the link below

 

 

Dune the board game…a brief review

Dune by Frank Herbert was one of the best books I’ve ever read. The board game based upon his literary masterpiece was long out of print by the time I would have fancied playing it. But I’ve recently had the chance to play it not once but twice. Here are some thoughts about that ageless classic from a modern gamer.

 

1. Before we played Dune, we played Rex

Rex: Last Days of an Empire
Rex: Last Days of an Empire

Long before John S. would loan us his copy of Dune, the Muskegon Area Gamers were relegated to playing Rex.  Relegated? Nah. We loved Twilight Imperium and Fantasy Flight. We were uber excited to hear Fantasy Flight had lifted the mechanics of Dune and applied them to their magnificent Twilight Imperium universe.

Rex: Final Days of an Empire is a reskin of Avalon Hill’s Dune. The components of Rex are substantially better. But other than a few minor changes, the game is all but identical.

I got a copy of Rex for my birthday in 2012. We broke the game out and played it.

Aaaaaaaand Jeremy Pyne won on the first game round.

That was a fluke. So we immediately set up the game again for a second play. We consulted the rules to make sure we didn’t overlook anything obvious. Satisfied, we started a second game.

Aaaaaaaand Jeremy Pyne won on the first game round.

I traded Rex the next day.

2. The Muskegon Area Gamers are bequeathed a copy of Dune

Classics like Dune from Avalon Hill are favorites in Muskegon
Dune from Avalon Hill

Our game group was more or less given a copy of Dune recently. John S. said we could borrow it indefinitely. I was reluctant to try it because I was still stinging from my folly in Rex.

Kevin was not in our group when we played Rex. Nor was Nick Sima. Despite my reservations about Dune and my allusions to Jeremy Pyne breaking the game, they really wanted to try it.

Kevin (not the son of John S.) took the rules home and read them. He taught us how to play on Thursday. Then five us fought over the desert planet of Arrakis.

 

3. How Dune plays

Desert planet of Arrakis
Desert planet of Arrakis

The goal of Dune is to control three of the five stronghold areas. These areas are the reddish-orange areas on the game board. You control an area if you have one or more armies on an area.

The game round starts with a sandstorm moving around the board, wiping out armies and spice in its path. The path of the sandstorm is constant but the amount of its movement is random. Plotting your armies movements is important otherwise you will lose them to the storm.

A random event card is flipped over. Typically these cards will put spice on the game board for players to harvest. Sometimes they will cause a sandworm to appear. If a sandworm appears, there will be a negotiation round where players can ally with each other.

Then there is a round of bidding. Treachery cards are drawn face down. They are auctioned off to the highest bidder. The currency is spice. And spice is hard to come by.

After bidding, players in turn order will deploy armies from their reserves onto the board. This costs spice. And then they can move one group of troops.

Once all players have completed their movement, there is a round of combat. If two players occupy the same space, they must fight each other. Players take a combat wheel. They secretly turn it to a number from 0 to 20. This is how many troops they are going to spend in order win the combat. They select one of their leaders which adds 1 to 7 to their combat value. They may play treachery cards as well. Players reveal their combat wheels and treachery cards. Some treachery cards are attack cards and kill the enemy leader; others are defense cards and protect you from an attack treachery card. If your leader dies, you do not count his strength in the battle. Whoever has the highest strength wins. The loser loses all his troops; the winner loses those which he committed.

Players then harvest any spice on the board.

This continues until one player has three strongholds or when an alliance of two players has four strongholds or when an alliance of three players has all five strongholds.

4. Why is Dune so beloved?

Treachery cards
Treachery cards

Dune is currently ranked #143 on board game geek with a solid 7.62 rating. This, despite the fact it was published in 1979. Only one older game is ahead of Dune on board game geek: the abstract Crokinole.

So why do people love Dune?

One reason is asymmetry. Each player takes on a faction with unique powers. The powers are not just unique but their interactions make for a lots of decision making and tension. Which is the mark of a good game.

Another reason for Dune’s continued popularity is the low randomness. Treachery cards are drawn at random. But the Atreides player gets to look at them and take notes. So it’s not entirely random. The sandstorm moves from 1 to 6 spaces a turn. But you know its path. So it doesn’t feel that random. When playing a game of Dune, you shouldn’t feel like you are playing a game with lots of randomness and luck.

Dune has a nice mix of mechanics. It’s not a one trick pony. It’s got lots of mechanics. And none of them feel tacked on either. Players have to manage their economies because money is tight. There’s a round of auctioning every game round. It’s a negotiation game. Players may negotiate with other players. Players in an alliance win together plus they get a bonus power: a weaker version of their ally’s primary abilities. Combat is deterministic. There’s hidden information. At game start up, players get a randomly selected opponent’s leader to a be their traitor. If your opponent plays that leader, you may win the combat immediately by declaring that is your traitor. Most modern games couldn’t pull off this  many different mechanics. And Dune did it 1979.

 

5. What about Rex?

Sandst...er, Sol Bombardment Fleet
Sandst…er, Sol Bombardment Fleet

Our two games of Rex (the ones that ended on the first game round) were flukes. That could happen in Dune as well. But the stars have to align just right and the other players have to be asleep at the wheel.

Dusty S. (not the son of John S.) has been pining about Rex for many months. He said we were too harsh on the game and didn’t give it a fair shake. I hate admitting he’s right.

So I won’t.

But we were pretty harsh on Rex. Why did Jeremy Pyne have to spoil my birthday? Actually it’s one of his character strengths. Jeremy Pyne (not the son of John S.) will exploit game’s weaknesses, forcing us to get better as players. I cannot criticize him for it.

Dusty said he is going to buy Rex in the foreseeable future. I look forward to giving it another try.

 

6. Where the classics are played

 

Muskegon Area Gamers

Muskegon, MI
109 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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Thursday, Jan 14, 2016, 6:00 PM
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