Category Archives: Game Review

Oh, Clash of Cultures, how I love thee

I got Clash of Cultures not long after it came out in 2013. In the past two and a half years it has become a favorite at The Gaming Annex. Indeed, it is my favorite four player game. Let’s take a look why.

1. The Components

Red city in Clash of Cultures
Red city in Clash of Cultures

Nice components are always welcome. And Clash of Cultures delivers. The game comes with numerous plastic components for cities, ships and armies.

The cities fit together like a puzzle. You can place an academy, a port and a fort around your city.

The cardboard components are thick and durable. The board is made up of these thick cardboard tetra-hexes. Players also have a complement of cardboard tokens that are the same grade material. Z-Man, the publisher, has proven it COULD be a serious competitor to Fantasy Flight Games.

 

2. Game Play: the actions

Clash of Culture's lime green
Clash of Culture’s lime green

A game of Clash of Cultures is played over a series of six game rounds. In each round, players will each take three turns. And in each of those turns, players will take three actions. From set up

Player aid for Clash of Cultures
Player aid for Clash of Cultures

to clean up, a game should take about three hours.

There are six actions a player can take.

1. A player can spend two food to gain an advance. This opens up a player’s strategies and gives him needed flexibility. Also, advances are worth 1/2 a VP.

2. Founding a city is an action. A player picks up a settler from the board and replaces it with a city. This is worth 1VP. And it gives the player a stronger board position.

3. Activating a city is the most complicated action. A player must choose from three types of activation. The choices are to increase the city’s size, build units in the city or to harvest resources. All three choices are important. The more resources you have, the more units you can build. The more units you build, the more territory you can conquer. The resources you have, the bigger the cities you can build.

4. If activating a city is the most complicated action, then the move action is the least intuitive. A move action allows you to move, in up to three impulses, your units on the board. Sounds easy enough. But the actual implementation is different than most games I have ever played. So I found it counterintuitive.

5. A civic improvement action makes you cities happy. Happy cities build more units, spread their influence farther and harvest more resources.

6. The last action is the insidious cultural influence action. This replaces one of your opponents city pieces on the board with one of your own. Your opponent will still use the city piece as his own. But you will score 1VP for it at game’s end and not him.

 

3. Game Play: the advancements

Clash of Cultures player board
Clash of Cultures player board

Clash of Cultures comes with individual player boards. These boards track a player’s advancements. As players acquire advancements, they place a cube in the appropriate slot.

This “tech tree” is very visual and intuitive. Players must acquire the top level advancement before any of the three advancements below it. The dtop level advances will often allow you to start building different city pieces. For example, getting the “fishing” advances allows a player to start building ports.

There are also government advances. Players may have advances in only one form of government. There are three choices: theocracy, democracy and autocratic. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses.

The implementation of the advancement board in Clash of Cultures is inspired. New players can very quickly see what is available to them. Experienced players will find new ways to use advances.

 

4. Game Play: a look at some of the other accoutrements

Clash of Cultures: action cards
Clash of Cultures: action cards

Clash of Cultures borrows one of the inspired mechanics of War of the Ring: multi use cards. Players start the game with an action card. Each round, players draw an additional card. Players will steer their strategy based in part on their action card draw. Each card has an economic use and a combat use. The top half is normally a boon to one’s actions or economy. The bottom half is a boon in combat. And the effects can be enough to win a decisive victory.

Event deck
Event deck

Players will trigger random events throughout the game. The event deck is largely bad news. I estimate about 2/3 of the deck is bad. But players are in control of WHEN they trigger it. The amount of mood and culture you generate will trigger events. So don’t trigger an event unless you are ready to weather the storm. Also, some advancements make you all but immune to some of the nastiness.

Players will be besieged by NPC barbarians. These barbarians will attack when the event deck triggers them. Until then, players better build up a defense. Or better yet, attack the barbarians. Pack some action cards to help out a close battle and be done with the brutes!

Clash of Cultures is also a bit of an exploration game. The exploration aspect of the game is probably the weakest element to the game. The game comes with enough pieces to make the game board with a  few leftover pieces. Players will flip over tiles when they move onto a tile. Players have some in how the tile will be placed. If an aspect of the game could be better fleshed out, it would be the exploration portion.

5. The Expansion

Clash of Cultures: Civiliation
Clash of Cultures: Civilization

Christian Marcussen , the  author Clash of Cultures. is a master of understanding how to improve his own games. His expansion to Merchants & Marauders was a stroke of design brilliance.

And so was his expansion to Clash of Cultures.

Clash of Cultures: Civilizations adds unique powers and leaders for each player. Each player draws a civilization card. This gives the player four unique advances. Each civ also has a three leaders. These leaders have two special abilities. One is generally economic and the other is generally combat. Players will try to integrate these unique advances and leaders into their overall strategy.

Combat is much more interesting with the expansion. Players can acquire cavalry and elephants. Elephants can prevent damage to your army. Cavalry add synergy to your armies that have infantry. This makes the combat card system all the more compelling. The ability to use a small force, comprised of just the right pieces, can crush your enemy before he can build up a massive defense.

The expansion also adds new city pieces. The market, obelisk and apothecary are now available. This adds a ton of strategic options. The market allows you build elephants and cavalry. The obelisk is immune to cultural influence. When you build it, you are guaranteed to score 1VP. The apothecary allows you to rebuild lost units without taking an action.

CoC with pirates!
CoC with pirates!

And then there are the pirates. How can a Christian Marcussen not have pirates? The pirates are an NPC force that occupies the water ways. Players cannot harvest the sea spaces if there is a pirate present. And the pirates can be triggered by the event deck too.

The Civilizations expansion is one of the best expansions I have seen. It’s up there with Shattered Empire from TI3. There was an unfortunate hiccup when I first got the game. My copy did not come with the pirate ships. This lead to some frustration (and a tirade on boardgamegeek.com). But the customer service at Z-Man squared me away.

 

6. Theme

Happy blue city
Happy blue city

In a game of Clash of  Cultures, players eek out a civilization, develop advancements, go to war and build timeless wonders. I’ve been on the lookout for a civ-builder for years. I picked up Clash of Cultures, hoping it would scratch that itch.

It has.

Clash of Cultures is the best thematic implementation of a civ builder in board game form. You really feel like you are guiding a civilization’s progress.

The game is like Sid Meier’s PC game “Civilization”. Except I like Clash of Cultures much, much more 😉

 

7. Where to play this wonderful game

Muskegon Area Gamers

Muskegon, MI
98 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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Nerd Chapel Dec. Games Event

Saturday, Dec 5, 2015, 6:30 PM
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Happy Halloween from The Gaming Annex

This Halloween was made a bit more spooky by the good folks at Fantasy Flight Games. FFG has been the publisher of Fury of Dracula (2nd edition) for the past several years. The game went out of print, leaving many gamers clamoring for another reprint. This Halloween, FFG tricked everyone by not reprinting it. Instead FFG treated its gothic horror fans to more than just a reprint. Fury of Dracula has been reimplemented into a 3rd edition. Let’s take a look at what’s in store for our hunters…

 

1. What’s wrong with Fury of Dracula (2nd Edition)?

Dracula's fury sieges Muskegon
The Dark Lord visits the Gaming Annex in Muskegon

So why publish a 3rd edition if people are clamoring for a reprint of the 2nd edition? The answer is: money. Geeks have it; Fantasy Flight wants it.

But the answer is also because the 2nd edition had many flaws. And those flaws were beginning to show when compared to other reimplementations of FFG’s. FFG has a knack for

Fury of Dracula 2nd Edition map
Fury of Dracula 2nd Edition map

taking an old Games Workshop games from the 80’s, modernizing it for the 2000’s, and then reimplementing it again in the 2010’s.

And the reimplementations are usually great. Take Eldritch Horror versus Arkham Horror. Arkham Horror is a good game. Eldritch Horror is better. For this reason alone, Fantasy Flight stands to make money and build a stronger customer base by making a 3rd edition.

Let’s take a look at some of the differences between the two editions.

 

2. Fury of Dracula 3rd Edition: Winning the Game

Fury of Dracula 3rd Edition
Fury of Dracula 3rd Edition

The box cover for the third edition is bad. Everyone on bgg hates it. I’ll let you peruse the snarky comments there.

The 3rd edition is very similar to the 2nd edition. It’s a one-versus-many game of cat and mouse. Dracula scores victory points, winning the game

Fury of Dracula poster
Fury of Dracula poster

when his victory point threshold is met. The hunters win the game when they have caused sufficient damage to Dracula. Players move about a map of turn-of-the-century Europe, picking up items, having narrative (and sometimes bizarre) events happen to them all the while fending off Dracula’s traps and minions.

So what is DIFFERENT then?

The victory condition for the Prince of Darkness has been moved from 6 vampires (victory points) to 13 influence (victory points). This change is drastic, requiring our anti-hero to (literally) redouble his efforts to win. How can a down-and-out undead compete?

First, Dracula’s influence track advances 3 to 5 spaces for each vampire he matures. In the 2nd edition, his reward was only one space. This variance is new. I’m not sure if I’ll like it or not. We’ll find out after Jon buys the game and plays it with me.

Next, Dracula’s influence track advances 2 spaces for each hero he defeats in combat + 1 for each Despair marker in play. Despair markers are new to the game. Previously, Dracula would only get 2 advances of his track when he defeated a hunter. Despair markers are put into play at the start of each week. This forces the hunters to be quicker and more reckless in their efforts to kill Dracula. Otherwise Dracula’s track will advance more and more as time goes by.

In the 2nd edition, Dracula gained 1VP for surviving “one day” (6 game rounds). This has been removed. Dracula gets Despair bonuses for surviving (see above). But he doesn’t win by simply outlasting the hunters. This is huge. This will fix one of the most annoying things about Fury of Dracula I’ve experienced.

We would play a game of Fury of Dracula. And the sessions would seem to encourage Dracula to flee from the hunters every chance he got. Sure, he could risk it and fight the hunters. But if he simply lasted 6 game rounds, he scored a point. Now Dracula must mature vampires or defeat the hunters in combat to advance his victory track. Surviving a day (or a week) is not enough.

But what else has changed?

 

3. New turn structure

Fury of Dracula turn track
Fury of Dracula turn track

The turn structure in 3rd Edition has been overhauled. It seems more streamlined. And it is definitely more thematic.

In the 2nd Edition, the hunters would move about Europe, adjusting the clock one space after each

Fury of Dracula Map board
Fury of Dracula Map board

full turn. There were six spaces: three were during the day and three were during the night. While this game some theme to the game because Dracula had more powers if you found him at night, it also lost some theme because of distance and time scale. Players could move from Portugal to Switzerland, by foot, in a single day.

The 3rd Edition has a different turn structure. Players have a set of actions they do in the day. Then a set of actions they do at night. Then it’s Dracula’s turn. This means the time/distance scale does not break the imagination like the 2nd Edition did.

There are several actions a player can do in the new edition: movement, supply, heal some damage, reserve a ticket or take a special action. The move action is the biggest fundamental change. Previously, a hunter could move by foot or by train. If they moved by train, the player would role a die. There was a 1 in 6 chance the player simply lost his turn. This was very aggravating since the game could hinge on a stupid die roll.

In the 3rd edition, there is no movement die. Instead, you can prepare to move by taking a ticket. This is similar to the ticket mechanic in Eldritch Horror. Players can have tickets on hand to spend when they are ready to take the train. Instead of a 1 in 6 chance of a player losing his turn, now players have a choice: spend their action to get a ticket…or simply start walking.

 

4. Other changes

Dracula
Dracula

The combat system has also been overhauled. The previous system was a card driven combat system that was ahead of its time. Unfortunately, it’s now behind the times. And it’s failings are evident.

Mina Harker from Fury of Dracula
Mina Harker from Fury of Dracula

The old way was for both players to select a combat card (like “rifle”, or “crucifix”), then roll a die. Whichever player rolled higher resolved his card. This typically meant that rolling higher was much more important than card selection. I’ve played in many games of Fury of Dracula 2nd Edition where this was the case. In fact, this reason is the overall reason why I now rate Fury of Dracula 2nd Edition at a 5 (average game).

The 3rd Edition, however, has changed things up. It’s still a card driven combat system. But each card has a banner. If the icon on the banner of the hunter’s card matches the icon on Dracula’s, Dracula’s card is cancelled. No dice roll is required. Coupled with the fact that Dracula can only escape if he’s played combat cards greater than the amount of despair in play, this means each combat will require guile instead of luck. This alone intrigues me. I am really looking forward to giving this new system a whirl.

The event deck is different as well. The previous edition had an event deck that was approximately two-thirds hunter cards and one-third Dracula cards. The emblem on the back of the card would signify to whom the card belonged. And you drew from the bottom of the deck so you didn’t know if you would get something useful or not. The new event deck is a bit different. You automatically draw an event whenever you take a Supply (gain an item) action. If it’s day, you draw the top card and thus can see if you are going to have a Dracula event or a hunter event. If it’s night, you draw from the bottom of the deck. It’s not a huge difference but I think it’s a nifty change. The decision to draw an event card or not was important in the 2nd edition but it was a crapshoot. Now it’s not a decision. If you gain an item you will draw an event. Depending upon the time of day, you draw from the top or the bottom. Seems like a change for the better.

Due to all the changes listed above, the character’s powers have changed. Lord Godalming is still wealthy. But instead of getting two

Lord Godalming
Lord Godalming

rolls for train movement, he gets two train tickets. Mina has a psychic connection due to being bitten. In the 2nd edition, you had to draw a card to get a similar effect. In the 3rd edition, Mina can spend an action and find out some information about Dracula’s current location.

 

5. To Buy or Not to Buy

New cards from Fury of Dracula
New cards from Fury of Dracula

The question now comes up: should you buy this game?

I will not buy it. Not because it looks bad but because I’m pretty sure other members of The Muskegon Area Gamers will pick it up.

But if you liked Fury of Dracula 2nd Edition, picking up the 3rd Edition seems like a good bet. I haven’t played the new edition. I’ve read the rules. I’ve also had experience with FFG’s other reimplementations. And FFG has a good track record of reimplementing games and making them better. I suspect the 3rd Edition of Fury of Dracula will be another data point in FFG’s favor.

-Chris, on behalf of the Muskegon Area Gamers, wishes everyone a very spooky Halloween. Game on!

 

Steve Jackson’s Revolution: a 2nd Look

I was first introduced to Revolution! in November 2009. Bruce purchased a copy and brought it over to the Leahy Lounge (a predecessor to The Gaming Annex–don’t ask). I enjoyed the game. So much so I posted a review of it on boardgamegeek. Since that time I have played it the game a total of 25 times and have acquired (and played) both expansions. Let’s take a look closer look at this game that seems to keep my interest piqued.

 

1. Steve Jackson…made a good game?

Steve Jackson's Munchkin
Steve Jackson’s Munchkin

I had my reservations about Revolution! because of my pedigree with Steve Jackson’s games.

Steve Jackson Games has published a lot of games. They have also published a lot of bad games. It takes a high powered filter to sift the good from the bad.

The ubiquitous Munchkin is one example of “the bad”. The point of Munchkin is to have a laugh while satirizing Dungeons & Dragons. This is a nice enough goal for a game. Unfortunately Munchkin can outlast its welcome. Some games can take 45 minutes or longer. And there is little strategy in the game so it is a really LONG 45 minutes.

The problem with Munchkin (and with Illuminati) is that they are overly long and they are not serious. Both are tongue-in-cheek. Both show poor design for game length. Serious gamers want serious games. If you insist on making a silly game, at least make it a short game, say 15 minutes. There are too many long games that have tons of strategy and treat the theme seriously to even entertain games like Steve Jackson’s.

 

2. My original review 11/13/2009

Steve Jackson's Revolution!
Steve Jackson’s Revolution!

For decades, SJG (Steve Jackson Games) has been published tongue-in-cheek games like “Munchkin” and “Illimunati: New World Order”. Most serious board gamers looked passed SJG for their gaming needs. Then, in 2009, Steve Jackson did something that he hasn’t done before: publish a high strategy game with elegant mechanics and high quality bits. The result: REVOLUTION! And boy is it good game!

Players are trying to drum up the highest support total (read: victory points). In order to get support, you need to influence the 12 advisors (General, Captain, Magistrate, etc). Each advisor gives you some reward. For example: the General gives you 1 force token, 1 support point and you may place one of your player cubes in the “fortress”.

In order to influence an advisor, players make silent bids. Screens are provided all players. Players influence the advisors with force, blackmail or gold. 1 Force beats any amount of blackmail or gold. 1 blackmail beats any amount of gold. The player who offered the most influence on any given advisor obtains those benefits from the advisor.

You score points by influencing certain advisors (the Printer gives you 10!). But you also score points by controlling the spaces on the board. The player with the plurality on any building gets those points. The fortress is the most valuable at 50 points. The game ends when all the spaces on the board are claimed.

The bits in this game are quite nice. The tokens are high quality and should stand up to lots of playing. The art work is a bit cartoonish but it works. The theme of the game is decent but not real strong: you are levying support for the colonists during the American Revolution.

The only downside of this game is that it’s easy to fall behind and not recover. If you and an opponent tie each other in your efforts to influence an advisor, you both get nothing. In a four player game (the most players that REVOLUTION! will accomodate), it’s quite easy (and quite likely) that one player will fall behind on the first turn.

Aside from that one gripe, I give REVOLUTION! and Steve Jackson a solid 4**** rating. Kudos to the new direction at SJG!

 

3. The game expands: The Palace

Revolution! The Palace
Revolution! The Palace

I was very excited to hear about Revolution! The Palace expansion. It added enough pieces to accommodate 6 players instead of the base game’s four.

Revolution! Palace pieces
Revolution! Palace pieces

And it had an overlay for the center of the board. This is where you placed the palace.

The palace expansion had several good points. It played more players. The 6th player was probably not needed but the 5th player was a welcome addition.

The game had new bidding boards with new spaces to bid. These added to the different strategy approaches to the game. The viceroy allowed you to place a cube in the palace (worth 55 points at the end of the game). It also allowed you to place a cube in the guardhouse, rendering you immune to your opponent’s spies and apothecaries. The subtlety of the viceroy is that it is the only space that allows you to place two cubes on the board in one action. This allows you to move your pieces with the messenger (new to the expansion) or with the apothecary (because the guardhouse only makes you immune to your opponent’s apothecary–not your own!)

The game came with some new tokens not just to accommodate the extra players but also to address the possibilities of high scores. Players now have high scoring tokens to track scores above 200 points.

And the expansion only cost $19.99. A nice price point is always welcome to us gamers.

All in all, it was a good expansion. But it wasn’t without its faults. The expansion came in a non ziplock bag. This gave the game a cheapness it didn’t deserve. Further, the expansion really seemed to be a “programmed expansion” which is to say, it seemed like the original design of the game was to have the Palace included but Steve Jackson Games wanted to split it up to make more money. Criticisms like this can be found on boardgamegeek and I cannot disagree.

 

4. The game expands again: Anarchy

Revolution! Anarchy
Revolution! Anarchy

I was delighted to find Steve Jackson commissioned a second expansion for Revolution! in 2014. This one, entitled Anarchy, adds some interesting new mechanics to the game.

Revolution! Anarchy board
Revolution! Anarchy board

The expansion comes with a centerpiece like The Palace. This one has three different locations on it: Garden, Asylum and Jail. The garden is worth 10 points a space; no need for a majority like the rest of the board.

The asylum and jail both grant -30 points to the majority holder. You will want to stay clear of these places if you want a competitive score.

But the game comes with new bidding boards. And the damn heretic gives you a force and a blackmail but forces you to place a cube in the asylum. Is it worth it? Maybe. Getting both a force and a blackmail is not possible with any other single space.

SJG learned their lesson from The Palace expansion. They put Anarchy in a medium sized tuck box. The game comes with two more player pieces so it can play up to six players with the base game. And the player pieces are different colored than the ones from The Palace so the game could play up to eight.

Except the two expansions are not compatible…

What the heck, Steve Jackson?

The two expansions are such good fits for the base game, it’s a shame they couldn’t come up with a way to incorporate both. This is probably my biggest gripe with the Anarchy expansion. :/

 

5. It’s place in my collection now

Revolution! board shot
Revolution! board shot

We played Revolution! with the Anarchy expansion last night. We had two people who hadn’t played it before. It went over quite well. Everyone seemed to like the game.

I find Revolution! to fill a niche in my collection. It’s a good game for people newer to the hobby. The rules, icons and pieces are straight forward. Within a few minutes, new gamers feel like they are making material contributions to their outcome. And it’s a good game for more experienced. Experienced gamers will like the subtle interactions between some of the bidding spots.

I do not see my views on Revolution! dropping anytime soon. Indeed, if they published another expansion that somehow combined The Palace and Anarchy, I would be much obliged. Given how many Munchkin, GURP’s and Car Wars expansions Steve Jackson spammed, I would conclude SJG is not quite finished with their best gamer’s game.

 

6. Where the Revolution! takes place

 

 

 

Battlestar Galactica: Reflections after 25 plays

We had five over today for games. Special Guest Jeremy Pyne was one of them. His favorite game (and his favorite TV show) is Battlestar Galactica. Battlestar Galactica plays best with five players. We settled upon a game of BSG today given our number of players and because Jeremy loves the game. Jeremy introduced us to the game around June of 2009, shortly after becoming a member of the Muskegon Area Gamers. I wrote a review of the game that year and posted it to boardgamegeek. I now have 25 plays of the game under my belt. My thoughts on the game have gone through a tremendous transformation. I thought a blog post about it would be in order.

 

1. My review from November 2009

There's a cylon afoot in Muskegon!
Battlestar Galactica

My review was called, “The Consummation of Game Design with Theme”.

Battlestar Galactica is a gamer’s game. It’s rich in theme. The game is one of bluffing, intuitition and some deduction. There are ample opportunities for resource management. This is a competitive AND cooperative game. The game is enjoyable to those who are not familiar with the television–although if you like the show, you will almost certainly love this game!

I rated it a 9. I still believe the game shows substantial consummation between design and theme. The game captures what the show is all about.

 

2. The Pegasus Expansion

Battlestar Galactica: Pegasus
Battlestar Galactica: Pegasus

Despite my rave review, the base game has some problems. There were times when there was simply no action that was worth your time.

In true Fantasy Flight tradition, an expansion was released. And it addressed some of the game’s faults.

The Pegasus expansion added the Pegasus game board. There were powerful but dangerous weapons on the Pegasus. And the Pegasus had an action that allowed a player to ensure the fleet moved forward–giving you an option if nothing else seemed worthy.

There were also new skill cards. Many of which had nice actions available on them. This meant players had more options at their disposal.

But some faults with the game persisted.

 

3. Exodus Expansions

Battlestar Galactica: Exodus
Battlestar Galactica: Exodus

The base game did not have a constant tension from the Cylon fleet. Yes, there was a Cylon fleet that would pop into the Galactica’s sector. And yes, the Cylon fleet would harry the humans. But as soon as the Galactica jumped, the Cylon fleet disappeared. The overall average of Cylon fleet activity was about right but it was feast or famine. It was not constant hunger (which is what it needed to be).

Then the Exodus expansion came out. Somehow Fantasy Flight fixed this problem. The Cylon fleet board was an amazing mechanic that keeps the pressure on the humans. It actually made playing a pilot a viable option.

Games of BSG continued to be good. But there were still flaws.

4. Daybreak Expansion

Battlestar Galactica Daybreak
Battlestar Galactica Daybreak

The Daybreak Expansion attempts to give the game a climactic conclusion. It adds the Demetrius ship. This extra game board gives players the option to accomplish an epic crisis that will drastically change the game.

The expansion also gives options to force more mistrust between players. Players have conflicted loyalties even if human. There were also new skill cards included. These fixed some problematic cards released in earlier expansions.

Which brings us to the present. And our game today.

 

5. Reflections

Cylons vs. Humanity
Cylons vs. Humanity

In today’s game, we outed the Cylon in the first couple of rounds. It was apparent that Jeremy was the Cylon based upon the skill cards played.

Despite knowing the Cylon from the 3rd game turn, the humans lost. And lost badly. It wasn’t even close. It took 3 to 3.5 hours to reach this conclusion. But the humans did lose.

This experience is not atypical. The conclusion is often obvious but the game plods towards that singular outcome. This is aggravating. It seems players’ actions do not affect the outcome.

The game has tons of things players can do: fire the main batteries, launch fighters, etc. These actions are mildly fun. But if you really wanted to do these things, other games do them better. What makes BSG fun is the hidden enemy, accusation laden shenanigans.

Muskegon loves The Resistance: Avalon
The Resistance: Avalon

And too many other games do that better than BSG too. The main draw for Battlestar Galactica has been distilled by Avalon (and its ilk). And these games do it better. And they do it quicker. BSG takes 3 hours to play. Avalon takes 0.5 hours to play.

After 6 years, 3 expansions and 25 game plays, it is time for me to drop my rating of BSG from a “9” to a “5”. It’s not a bad game. It’s just an average game. Other games do it better.

-Chris, on behalf of the Muskegon Area Gamers

 

Pax Britannica: First Impressions

We managed to muster a full seven player game of Victory Games’ classic Pax Britannica yesterday. I read the rules four times to prepare for this event. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Muskegon loves old school gaming like Pax Britannica from Victory Games_
Pax Britannica from Victory Games

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pax Britannica is an epic length game about the era of colonization from 1880 to the Great War. Players take on the roles of one of the great powers: Great Britain, France, Germany/Austria-Hungary, Japan, Italy, USA and Russia. Players earn victory points by buying them at the end of the game round. Britain buys them for £10 whereas Italy buys them for £2 each. This asymmetry along with the lopsided set up gives the game its historicity and uniqueness.

The map is a large paper map that is a polar projection of the earth. I really like polar projections of the earth in board games (such as MB’s Summit). The map is teeming with regions. Each region has a £ value and a military value. Players gain the £ when they place a Status marker on the region. This is the main way in which players generate income which in turn is used to buy victory points. There are several different Status Markers, each of which offers varying advantages.

  • Interest markers give you 1x the £ value of the region. Interest markers are thematically trade agreements or open markets. It requires no upkeep. If you want some quick and easy money, Interest markers are the way to go.
  • Influence markers give you 2x the £ value of the region. Influence markers are thematically a provincial oversight that is more substantial than just trade agreements. They also require you to spend £5 in upkeep each turn. If the region is worth >£5 Influence is more profitable than Interest markers. But Influence markers have a larger initial cost than Interest markers. In addition to this, Influence markers give you an excuse to declare war if an opponent puts a Control Marker in the region whereas Interest markers do not give you such an excuse.
  • Protectorates give you 4x the £ value of the region. Protectorates markers are also a form of Control markers, meaning they greatly restrict how your opponents can place markers in the region. Opponents cannot place any Status marker in your Protectorates save the lowly Interest markers without giving you an excuse to declare war on them. Protectorates require a sizable upkeep each turn: £10.
  • Possessions give you 5X the £ value of the region. Possessions are also a form of Control markers because they utterly prevent foreign Status markers. The upkeep for Possessions is a staggering £20. Typically Protectorates are more profitable than Possessions but Possessions give you sole rights to the area. This gives the players many difficult choices to make.
  • States/Dominions give you 5x the £ value of the region. States and Dominions are types of Possessions that only the US and Britain can can employ respectively and even then they can only employ them to the regions listed on the game pieces and the rules. The addition of the States/Dominion rules adds an additional Status marker system to the game that adds a lot of historicity. For example, the US can make Hawaii a state. Even Cuba or Porto Rico can become states after the US prosecutes the Spanish-American War.

Players are required to follow several different movement systems in order to place these Status Markers. Placing a Status Marker requires a Communication link. Collecting on a Status marker requires a Communication link to your home country. Placing a Control marker requires the area to be Unorganized, Chinese Vassal or Ottoman Empire or an Independent region in Unrest. Upgrading a Status marker requires you to have a Status marker already there and then simply pay the difference in cost

The game starts in 1880. Each game round is four years. The game ends at 1916 or when the Great War starts. Each game round is made up of phases. Each phase takes place before the next begins.

  • Random Events: there are several charts printed on the board that give flavor to the game round. Did Serbia defy Austria-Hungary? Did the Liberals take over the British Parliament? Is there unrest in Canada? In our game: yes, twice in fact.
  • Administrative Record Phase: players calculate their income based upon the schedule described above for their Status markers. Also, players have to pay upkeep on their military forces that are abroad.
  • Minor Powers: Spain, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands are Minor Powers. In addition, the Major Powers that are not being played are also Minor Powers. Charts are consulted to see what these AI players will do. Typically, they will conquer their historical empires like Belgium trying to conquer the Kongo.
  • Status Change/Move Phase: this is the meat of the game. It’s a Persian bazaar atmosphere of players moving units, buying units, wheeling and dealing. This phase lasts until everyone is satisfied with their purchases and moves.
  • Colonial Combat: this phase is required if someone placed a Control marker on region. The region will need to be subdued. Combat charts are consulted taking into consideration the Major Powers military units and the regions inherent defense.
  • Status Marker: Recently placed Status markers are established.
  • Negotiation Phase is required if players placed markers illegally. For example, if the US and Russia both placed Protectorates in the same region, they must negotiation this situation. If either of them want the Congress of Europe to rule, that is their prerogative.
  • Congress of Europe: if negotiations fail or if a player asks for it, a Congress of Europe is convened. The Major Powers of Europe come up with a treaty by vote. Whatever the majority vote upon is brought before the complainants.
  • War: if negotiations or the Congress of Europe is unsuccessful, the complainants are allowed to declare war upon each. The game is interrupted as these players are allowed to move their units and battle each other. This continues until either side is eliminated, there is a stalemate or cooler heads prevail.
  • Buying victory points: the money left over from the Major Powers is converted into victory points. Each power buys VP at a different rate to allow for equivalency between them.

The game ends when the Great War erupts. There are several ways the Great War can erupt.

  • This can be at the conclusion of 1916. This means the game lasted the full length of time.
  • The European Tensions reach 100. Every war declaration, every broken treaty, every removed Status marker (along with other conditions) causes the European Tensions to increase 1 to 5 points. There is no way to push the tensions down either. Players can maneuver to provoke the Great War if they are in a good position now but feel their position will erode if the game lasts longer.
  • The Great War can erupt if several of the European Major Powers declare war upon each other. The actual verbiage from the rules is quite complicated on which Powers must be involved and may require referencing several times.

When the Great War happens, all players lose victory point as listed on the game turn track. The player(s) who caused the Great War lose triple this amount instead. At the end of the game, players score points for having completed certain conditions which have historical relevance such as the British player having substantial control over the Indian subcontinent or the US having virtual control over the Western Hemisphere.

Players score additional victory points during the game by building the Panama Canal or the Central American Canal. A trans-African railroad will net players 10 victory points if it’s east-west and 15 victory points if its north-south.

The game play allows for much negotiation. Players are encouraged to make informal agreemenst along with formal treaties. (Some treaty arrangements give some of the Major Powers bonus victory points). Players are allowed to bribe one another, make secret agreements in another room or make open agreements. Players are encouraged to bluster, vie and jockey for more points.

The game play allows for much strategy. Players can react to their opponents’ actions indefinitely until all their money is spent. Buying units and moving units all happens in a Persian bazaar manner. Players can negotiate (see above) during this time. Placement of troops can cost you money which will increase your overhead (and decrease your victory points) but players are allowed to do this to stymie their opponents’ imperialism.

The game play is asymmetrical. Italy starts with no Status markers on the board whereas Great Britain starts with half the world. Great Britain has to constantly put out fires while the upstart Yankees get to spread like wildfire throughout the Caribbean and South America. Players get Merchant fleets asymmetrically throughout the game.

The game play is rich in history. The random events chart is nothing more than a history lesson from the turn of the 20th Century. The starting positions and bonus victory points are used to encourage historical realistic outcomes.

The game bogs down in the arithmetic. We had to hire a CPA to help our beleaguered British player. Multiplying 5x his Possessions, 4x his Protectorates, 2x his Influence markers…required substantial time. And was quite tedious. The amount of arithmetic was so enormous that the entire game play was thoroughly diminished by it. Players dreaded counting their empire’s resources and then subtracting their empire’s maintenance costs. It was a huge chore.

The game suffers from horrible components.

  • The paper game board won’t stay flat on table. When Europe starts getting cluttered, this is problematic.
  • The chits are tiny, won’t stack easily and are double sided. A 10 strength Army is on the obverse side of a 10 strength Navy. Coupled with the paper game board not staying flat, it was confusing to keep track if this was supposed to be an Army or a Navy.
  • The rules state you place a “Status Change marker” on a newly placed Status marker. No such token comes in the box. The only thing in the box were “?” tokens.

The game has convoluted and largely counter intuitive rules.

  • The rules for Colonial Combat vary significantly from War despite using the same combat charts.
  • The Chinese Resentment track is an additional system that, by itself would be fun but adds time and fiddliness to this bloated system. Players provoke the Chinese by placing Status markers in the Chinese Empire (which are magenta on the game board) and by placing Status markers on Chinese Vassal areas (which are canary on the game board). The Chinese must an AI army that attacks per a flow chart schedule–requiring additional referencing and time.
  • The Ottoman Empire also can be provoked. The rules for the Ottoman Empire differs substantial from the rules for the Chinese or from Colonial Combat–an additional combat system!
  • The rules for supplying your Status markers (and thus getting paid) require a Communication link but the rules for supplying your units during War (and thus successful prosecution) require Coaling Rights. The rules distinction between Coaling Rights and Communication Link is considerable.
  • The Minor Powers are an additional layer of complexity that adds time and additional rules explanations without adding to the experience.

The game requires many plays in order to really see some of the strategies. While I’ve only played it once, I can appreciate this.

  • Buying Interest markers seemed like a no-brainer. But I couldn’t declare War on anyone when they put a Protectorate there. Buying Influence markers gives you additional protection over Interest markers.
  • Knowing the areas where the Minor Powers will act will give you an excuse to declare war. Then you can clean Portugal’s clock in Brazil for example.
  • Buying a Protectorate may not be as profitable as buying 4 Interest Markers for Italy but the Protectorate in Greece gives links to the Near East that you need.

The game could use a face lift.

  • The map needs to be mounted.
  • The Random Events chart needs to be replaced by cards. You draw a card like “American Yellow Press Journalism” might be drawn. Then it might say “Remove from the game then draw an additional Random Events Card”. This would be way better than rolling a die to determine how many events there will be, rolling two dice to determine which event takes place then rolling dice to determine where the Unrest token happens.
  • The map should make use of the empty space better. It’s a nice looking map and all. But do we really need to see the Arctic Circle at the map’s center? Put some game play boxes there. Take some hints from Twilight Struggle for example.
  • The chits need to be replaced by plastic pieces. I have tons of Risk pieces that could be used. The infantry could be 1 strength, the cavalry could be 3 strength and the cannons could be 10 strength. Pieces from Battleship could be used for navies. The use of plastic pieces would be much better than stacks of tiny triangles.
  • The AI for Chinese Revolts, War with the Ottomans and the Minor Powers needs some work. By itself, these systems are not horrible–just less than ideal. Modern game design could be used to inspire more robust mechanics than were initially employed.
  • The Administrative Phase requires substantial streamlining. I hate having to hire accountants in order to play a game. Anything that could reduce the tedium and weight of filling out spreadsheets and doing arithmetic would be superior to what is currently canon. Ideas might include cards for every region/Status Marker. You placed a Protectorate on Senegambia? Then you take the Senegambia Protectorate card which gives you its vital stats including net income.

 

If you are interested in playing Pax Britannica or any other of our games, see below.

-Chris on behalf of the Muskegon Area Gamers

Muskegon Area Gamers

Muskegon, MI
87 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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Favorite Board Game Fillers

A filler board game is

filler: n. A game with very simple rules and an extremely short playing-time. This type of game is frequently used between heavier games. (See also light)

(from board game geek’s glossary.)

The Muskegon Area Gamers definitely enjoy filler games. An evening of gaming is hardly complete without one light game. So what are some good fillers?

1. For Sale (Gryphon Games)

Players take on the role of real estate investors trying to make the most cash in the real estate market. The game is played over two phase: investing and selling. Players try to buy property at the best value during phase one by clever bidding. Then they attempt to sell it for the most money in the second phase of the game. The game does a really good job of capturing the theme given the fact this is a filler with very easy to learn rules. Published numerous times over the years by several game companies, the Gryphon Edition is easily the best quality version. Best with 4 to 6 players.

Play time: approximately 10 minutes

 

2. High Society (Gryphon Games)

Players bid on numerous fancy objects (bling) to score points. The person with the most points is the winner. However, there are a few hooks. Some of the tiles are negative so you are bidding on NOT taking them. The game ends randomly when the last red-bordered tile is revealed. At game’s end the player with the least money is disqualified. Make sure you have the most points amongst the players who don’t have the least money! The hooks in the game make this game a favorite. Like For Sale, this game was published by several companies over the years but the Gryphon Games edition is far and away the best.

Play time: approximately 15 minutes

 

3. Dungeon Roll (TMG Games)

Players build their adventuring parties then delve into the dangerous dungeons. Defeat the monsters, loot the treasures and subdue the dragon. The game has push-your-luck mechanics along with action management. The game has a lot of theme for a filler. Thieves pick locks, fighters gobble goblins, wizards waste slimes and clerics scatter skeletons. Accumulating treasures and defeating the dragon give bonus points. There are several party leaders so there is tons of replayability.

 Play time: approximately 10 minutes

 

4. Liar’s Dice (Milton Bradley)

A family game that is both fun and competitive. Liar’s Dice is a game filled with bluffing and calling. Published by many companies, the Milton Bradley version is my favorite because it comes with a board and nice dice. You can pick it up at a thrift store for <$3.

 Play time: approximately 15 minutes

 

5. Eight Minute Empire (Red Raven Games)

A civ builder that plays in 15 minutes? Sign me up! Players collect goods while taking control of the board. Players attempt to outmaneuver their opponents to eek out a victory. Double sided board, expansions and variant rules breaths replayability into this game too.

 Play time: approximately 15 minutes

 

6. Mr. Jack Pocket (Hurrican)

This is an elegant little logistica;/deduction game. One player takes on the role of Sherlock Holmes and the other player takes on Mr. Jack. Mr. Jack must slip past Holmes, Watson and the dog’s dragnets and escape before Holmes determines his true identity.

 Play time: approximately 10 minutes

 

7. Escape: The Curse of the Temple (Queen Games)

Once set up is done, the race is on! You have 10 minutes to find the exit. You roll dice as fast as you can because the clock is ticking. Roll a curse? You have one fewer dice to roll. Got stuck in a room without dice? Better have your buddy come save you. This game is a romp!

 Play time: approximately 10 minutes

 

8. Tsuro (Calliope Games)

Probably my favorite tile laying game–the fact that it’s a filler is just gravy. Players attempt to navigate their ships without fleeing the board. Clever placement of your tiles is key. You don’t want to leave the board or your eliminated.

 Play time: approximately 15 minutes

 

 

Any other fillers that I forgot? Please comment below!

-Chris on behalf of the Gaming Annex