Category Archives: Overlooked Gems

Overlooked Gems: Perry Rhodan and the Cosmic League

I recently wrote about Hellas, a nifty two player game set in classical Greece. It’s part of the Kosmos two player game set. Since then, I introduced Tasha to a couple of Kosmos two player games. The first was Dracula. The second was Perry Rhodan and the Cosmic League. Perry Rhodan is a delightful game which is altogether too often overlooked. It’s also the subject of our blog today.

Overlooked Gems: Perry Rhodan and the Cosmic League

Goal and Overview

Overlooked Gems
Perry Rhodan from Kosmos/Z-Man games

The goal of Perry Rhodan is to be the first player to reach 70 megagalax (victory points). You score points for delivering goods and passengers. These deliveries take place on a series of planets in a single solar system. You and your opponent will move from planet to planet, landing and taking off, in an effort to pick up goods and deliver them to the necessary planets.

Goods cards from Perry Rhodan
Goods cards from Perry Rhodan

Each goods card has to be delivered to a specific planet. Each is worth two or three VP. When delivered, the cards are flipped to their other side which has a different planet depicted on it. If any of these flipped cards have the same planet on them when flipped, they are removed from the game. Because of this, goods become ever more scarce.

Players also have a hand of cards. Some are passengers looking for passage to these planets. You score 3VP for taking them to their destinations.

Play ends when one player has reached 70.

Game Play

Score track in Perry Rhodan
Score track in Perry Rhodan

On his turn, a player gets two actions. There are three types of actions from which to choose: load cargo, unload cargo and purchase technology. All three require a player to be on a planet.

Players start the game with a container. They may place cargo on this, spending an action to do so. A container can only hold cargo for one planet and once there is cargo on the container, it can only be unloaded.

Players will take their cargo to the planets depicted on the cargo cards. By spending an action, a player can score points for selling all of the cargo in one of his containers.

Technology cards from Perry Rhodan
Technology cards from Perry Rhodan

The last action type a player can take is buying a technology. Players start with a technology card in play: Container/Replenishment. Each additional technology a player wants will cost him both an action and victory points. The cost in VP is equal to how many technologies he already owns.

The technology cards will give a player a lot flexibility in his strategy. Some cards will allow you to move farther, gain an additional container, give you the ability to perform one of your actions in space so you don’t have to land or to draw more cards.

Because of the VP cost, players will have a tough decision about which techs to buy. If you buy too many, you will lose too much VP ground to your opponent. Don’t buy the correct ones, and you won’t keep pace with your opponent.

Intervention card from Perry Rhodan
Intervention card from Perry Rhodan

In addition to taking two actions, a player may take two interventions. Each card in a player’s hand is either a technology card or an intervention card. The intervention cards give a player a one time bonus such as an extra action, or the ability to load cargo from a remote planet.

Your opponent can cancel your intervention if he plays the same card as you. Since you only get two interventions, you will have to use them correctly to get the edge on a savvy opponent.

To get from planet to planet, a player will have to execute a flight. This is done by rolling a die. If you roll a 1, you may reroll, adding 1 to the result. Thus, the minimum distance you will move is 2 with 7 or more being a possibility.

Players will move from planet to orbit for 1 movement point. To move from one planet’s orbit to another planet’s orbit will cost 1 movement point if you are moving towards the sun but 2 movement points if you are moving away. Some technologies will give you bonus movement. Players are free to execute their actions, interventions and flight in any order.

Why is Perry Rhodan good?

Perry Rhodan game in progress
Perry Rhodan game in progress

Perry Rhodan has four things going for it. One: it’s a short game. Counting set up and tear down, you are looking at 30 minutes to play a game.

Two: exploding 1’s. Several games have exploding dice. But usually these are exploding 6’s like in Firefly. But exploding 1’s are so much better. You are always going to get at least a 2. And if you get really lucky, you might end up with a 7 or 8. This narrows the luck factor considerably and allows for better planning.

Three: lots of interaction. This is not a two player solitaire game. You will be scooping the cargo goods from a planet before your opponent gets them. You will play intervention cards to cancel his cards. You will want to pay attention to his technology purchases so you can respond properly. The interaction is about what you would want in both a 30 minute game and a pick up and delivery game.

Four: players get two actions per turn. I can’t tell you how much I like games where this is the case. Games where you only get one action are fine and all; but they are easy to predict your opponent’s decisions, allowing for analysis paralysis. Some games give players 3 actions such as Clash of Cultures or Merchants & Marauders. This can be difficult to remember how many actions you’ve taken. But two actions in a turn? That really hits a sweet spot. You can’t game out which actions you’re opponent is going to take so you eliminate analysis paralysis. Plus you can pull off some cool combos on your turn. An example would be the classic A Few Acres of Snow. When you can compare a 30 minute game to A Few Acres of Snow, you know you have a gem on your hands.

Who will like Perry Rhodan?

Merchant of Venus
Merchant of Venus

Perry Rhodan and the Cosmic League is a good fit for most people looking for a two player game. But it also scratches a few other itches as well.

I’ve mentioned Firefly earlier. Perry Rhodan is like a two player version of Firefly. You fly around space, picking up cargo and delivering it. But it takes 30 minutes instead of 4 hours.

But Perry Rhodan is probably the spiritual successor to Merchant of Venus. The classic roll-and-move space faring pick up and deliver game probably inspired designer Heinrich Glumpler to make a two player version. For me, Perry Rhodan is the superior execution of this theme compared to the bloated Merchant of Venus.

Give it a try. Let me know if you agree.

And as always, you can come by The Gaming Annex to check it out too!

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Overlooked Gems: Hellas

I recently had the chance to acquaint Iggy to a little two player game called Hellas. Hellas was published in 2002 by Kosmos, the company that made all the famous two player games. Hellas is part of that line of games. Hellas was created by Franz-Benno Delonge, the creator of such games as Big City, Manila and Trans Europa. This overlooked game comes from this oft overlooked designer. Let’s give them the consideration they are due. Because Hellas is a helluva game.

Overlooked Gems: Hellas from Kosmos

Overview and objective

Hellas from Kosmos
Hellas from Kosmos

In a game of Hellas, you and your opponent will vie for control of the city states of ancient Greece. You can conquer cities from your opponent, explore the seas in order to find new lands to settle cities upon, levy new ships and soldiers or petition the help of the gods. The first player to control 10 cities is the winner. At your disposal are Greek armies, ships and the fickle power of the ancient Greek gods.

Hellas game board
Hellas game board

The game board is made up of modular hexagon tiles. Each tile has a city on it. Each tile has various land and water features. Some are islands, some have land on one or two hexsides, and some have land on 3 or 4 hexsides. This will constrain where you will be able to place them when you take a Voyage action. Additionally, some tiles have temples. These are useful when taking a Burst of Strength action.

Game Play

Players take turns resolving an action until one player has reached 10 cities. The actions players can take are: Burst of Strength, Voyage and Attack. Each action is important as you cannot win the game by ignoring any of them.

God Cards from Hellas
God Cards from Hellas

Players take Burst of Strength actions in order to gain armies, ships and god cards. You get a total of 3 of these items unless you have more temples than your opponent–in which case you get 4. You need armies to take cities from your opponent. You need ships to explore. And you need god cards to surprise your opponent and to mitigate some luck.

Exploring in Hellas
Exploring in Hellas

You and your opponent each start the game with 4 cities. Since you need 10 cities to win, you cannot win by simply taking all the starting cities. You will need to take a Voyage action. In order to Voyage, you will need ships. You draw a hex tile. You can place the tile if you meet to criteria: the tile’s land and water matches the game board’s land and water; you have more ships adjacent to the space where you are placing the tile than your opponent. If successful, you spend one ship and gain one army on the new city. Do this enough and you will reach 10 cities.

Poseidon cards
Poseidon cards

You may want some Poseidon cards to help you. The god of the sea can let you voyage twice. Or maybe he can let you draw a second tile from the deck.  Maybe Poseidon has new Greek armies on the island waiting to join your cause. The god of the sea offers several ways to help you when you take a voyage action.

Which way to Sparta?
Which way to Sparta?

You will need to make some attacks along the way. You may do this to slow down your opponent or to grab your last few cities. You can move your armies to adjacent cities in order to attack them. If you bring more troops than your opponent, you beat him.

But Ares, god of war, may be on hand. Many of the Ares cards allow you defeat your opponent when you are tied in power. Or maybe attack across the board instead of adjacent.

The last type of card is the Zeus card. Zeus gives players lots of flexibility such as cancelling your opponent’s card, doing extra things during a Burst of Strength action, or taking an extra extra action.

My final thoughts

Equipment
Equipment

I’m a fan of Hellas. I think all the card decks and all the actions fit together nicely into a nifty two player game. The game does have some flaws however. The cards have interactions which never received an FAQ. Keep this in mind if you pick up a cheap copy on eBay. Otherwise, I recommend it. The plastic pieces are cute. The tiles are beautiful. The card artwork is minimalist but still feels Greek.

My rating: 8.

 

Afterword

I think I will be doing my “Overlooked Gems” on a monthly basis. I’ll add this to my “Hits & Flops” and “Around the World of Board Gaming” columns. Let me know if you like this column as much as the others. Also, let me know if you want to play Hellas. I think I can muster up a copy ­čśë

 

 

 

 

 

Overlooked Gems: Eminent Domain

I’ve had the chance to play Eminent Domain a few times in November. I taught the base game along with the Escalation expansion to several new people. It really is a gem of a deck builder. I have an on-again-off-again column called Overlooked Gems where I review games that are quite good but one that was usually dismissed by the gaming community. Long time readers may recall my post about Terra Prime. Now I’m reviewing another overlooked gem from the same designer, Seth Jaffee. Let’s look at why this is such a good game.

Overlooked Gems: Eminent Domain

Oh no! Not another deck builder!?

Eminent Domain from Tasty Minstrel Games
Eminent Domain from Tasty Minstrel Games

The deck building mechanic can trace its origin to the 2008 publication of Dominion. In a deck building game, players will start with their own small deck of cards. They will add cards to it during the game–the goal being to improve their personal deck’s efficiency and point scoring ability.

Dominion is themed around building a medieval town. With its considerable popularity (7.68 on BGG), it was only a matter of time before others took the deck building idea and applied it to other themes.

This is what Seth Jaffee did with Eminent Domain. Sort of.

Research role from Eminent Domain
Research role from Eminent Domain

Everyone starts with the same cards in their respective decks. Players will acquire additional cards each turn called “role cards”. Players will play cards from their hand to take their turn, presumably to further their point scoring efforts. The game ends when two piles of role cards have been exhausted.

So far, this sounds a lot like Dominion. You add cards to your deck on your turn, presumably to score points. The game end is triggered when enough piles of cards are depleted.

But Eminent Domain has a few things going for it.

Lifting the best from Glory to Rome and Dominion

Fertile planet from Eminent Domain
Fertile planet from Eminent Domain

Eminent Domain took the deck building aspect of Dominion. This is singularly the best part mechanic of Dominion. But Dominion is largely a 4 player solitaire game. Yes, with some of the expansions you will have to pay attention to your opponent’s purchases. But largely Dominion will come down to your own efficiencies and not your timely responses to your opponent’s decisions.

Fertile Ground tech card
Fertile Ground tech card

Enter: Glory to Rome. In 2005, Carl Chudyk authored the unlikely game Glory to Rome. This is a card game but it isn’t a deck builder. Instead, you have a hand of cards and you play them, usually one at a time.

But the cards have several uses. If the card is in your vault, it’s worth victory points. If it’s in your clientele, it’s a client. If it’s in your stock pile, it’s a resource. And if it’s in your hand, it’s a role. Suffice it to say, the cards are very busy.

In addition, Glory to Rome doesn’t feel like four player solitaire.┬áDuring your turn, you will either play a role card or “think”. If you think, you draw a card. If you play a role card, everyone else can follow your role or “think”. This idea was lifted by Eminent Domain. And it works well when laid atop the deck building.

In Eminent Domain, you will take a role card on your turn. Your opponents will either follow, playing the same role card or they will “dissent” and draw a card. The effect this has is players will stay engaged when it’s not their turn.

Plus Eminent Domain has multiple use cards. Every card has icons on its top left corner. The more icons you play of the corresponding type, the more powerful the role is. It’s possible your opponent could select a role, you follow the role and you get a bigger benefit from following because you have more icons. This interaction makes Glory to Rome (and Eminent Domain) more interesting than Dominion.

More than the sum of its parts

The roles of Eminent Domain
The roles of Eminent Domain

I don’t want it to sound like Eminent Domain is just a merger of Dominion and Glory to Rome. Eminent Domain adds an important mechanic missing from both of these: the action step. In Eminent Domain you are obligated to take a role. But before the role step you may take an optional action. The cards in your hand all have actions listed on them. You may take a single action during your turn. And the actions you take are what will make you good at the game.

Improved Warfare from Eminent Domain
Improved Warfare from Eminent Domain

When you take the Research role, you will be able to get upgraded cards like Improved Colonize, Improved Warfare, etc. And these cards are similar to their standard counterparts except they have better actions on them. Finding a way to get the improved actions that synergize with your strategy is a key element of the game.

And the action step is a nice, simple difference between Eminent Domain and its counterparts.

Based solely upon base game, Eminent Domain is a 6 on a BGG scale.

It’s the Escalation expansion that bumps this game up to a high 8, low 9.

Eminent Domain: Escalation kicks butt and takes names

Eminent Domain Escalation
Eminent Domain Escalation

I was always lukewarm on Eminent Domain before the Escalation expansion. The game seemed to be on the cusp of greatness but needed a nudge. Escalation gives it a shove.

Escalation does what most expansions do: more stuff. There are more advanced cards you can research, more planets you can colonize, etc. Escalation also does what many game expansions do: adds some new mechanics. But Escalation avoids the “more mechanics” pitfall which besets some game designers. The new mechanics in Escalation patch the weak areas of the base game or breath fresh life into underdeveloped areas of the game.

Destroyer technology
Destroyer technology

The base game came with three different ship miniatures. But the pieces were all equal. This seemed odd. Well the expansion differentiates between them. You can acquire fighters, cash them in for destroyers and then cash in destroyers for battlecruisers.

Some planets you may scout out will be bustling planets or pirate havens. These planets have lush resources for you to harvest but will require a destroyer instead of fighters. And if you have a battle cruiser, you can spend it in lieu of any conflict cost to acquire a planet.

Arms Dealer scenario
Arms Dealer scenario

But the best new addition to Eminent Domain, bar none, are the scenario cards. Players are randomly dealt a scenario card at game start. Each is unique. Each gives you a specific planet. Everyone starts with a level 2 research card. And everyone’s starting deck is different.┬áThis makes the game so much better.

While your opponent might start with some advanced surveying technology, you might start with weapons emporium. Your path to victory will be quite different than your opponents. And the interactions and role choices matter greatly.

The nice thing about the scenario cards is: you don’t need to be an expert at the game to understand them. You might not be the most efficient at playing each scenario but the additional rules for the scenarios are not complicated. But the best part is the asymmetry. I love asymmetrical games.

Epilogue

Eminent Domain: Oblivion
Eminent Domain: Oblivion

There was another expansion for Eminent Domain: Exotica. It adds exotic alien planets along with asteroid planets. I haven’t played this yet. After doing this review, I will do my best to get it to the table in December.

And if that was exciting enough, Seth has announced the release of another expansion: Oblivion. This will add another mechanic along with turning the Political action card into an action/role card. This should keep the Eminent Domain universe fresh for many  years to come.

And speaking of the Eminent Domain universe, you should try Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers. It’s a nifty take on games like Citadels or Libertalia.

And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Seth will update his Terra Prime game into an Eminent Domain universe game…

 

 

 

Where you can play Eminent Domain in Muskegon