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This week the lovely looking Dice Forge made it to table at NoBoG, a simple fantasy themed game centred around how well you can roll a pair of dice.
Dice Forge box, a stylistic copy of Dark Crystal if ever there was one.

Familiar ?
Dice. The original Random Number Generator. In years ancient and dusty, dice were the venerable go to method of driving just about any kind of turn or event in a game. How far can you move ? There's a dice roll for that. Did you secure that lucrative career ? There's a dice roll for that. Did you just stab Fred successfully ? You get the idea. In fact so ubiquitous was the die that the idea of a game having any other kind of controlling mechanism was unimaginable. Gotta have dice innit. Otherwise how do you tell what's happened ? Just pick an outcome ? Ha ha ha ha ha. No. Dice inject that real world chaos, you need them. In every game. If you were being particularly special and bucking the trend just for the sheer hell of it, you might have got a spinner instead ( Game of Life ), or bizarrely, the "Pop-o-matic" a contraption formed from a clear plastic bubble, a bit of deformable metal and a die trapped forever within.
The Pop-O-Matic. If you're of a certain age you can
probably still hear the dink, donk, rattle of this going off.
An amazingly frustrating and unsatisfying way to
roll a die, unable to caress it lovingly to
encourage it not to screw you over or whisper
darkly to it that a terrible fate of the "bad dice bin"
awaited it were it to once again give you a crap result.
Scroll on to today and now dice have *mostly* been relegated to table top war games which still can't imagine a world in which dice don't determine whether you win or lose. Where dice do crop up in modern games they are often firewalled neatly behind Euro mechanisms, or constrained in their ability to rain pure Randomness onto the table, but even so, for some, any mention of dice in a game harks back to those dark old days when everything was a d6 lookup table.

So to Dice Forge. A modern game unashamedly powered by the continual rolling of 2d6. A bold strategy Cotton. Let's see if it pays off. The dice in Dice Forge are a little special. At the beginning of the game the dice have little variation in them - 9 out of 12 of the faces have 1 gold on them, but as the game goes on you have the chance to pop the faces off and replace them with whatever you can afford and fits your current strategy.
Buy new faces for your dice, pop off the old ones and add the
new ones. What new faces you choose and what you replace is up to you.

The game itself is very straight forward - roll dice and gain 1 of four resources, moonstones, firestones, gold or straight up victory points. Gold is used to buy different die faces, whilst fire and moonstones are used to buy cards from the table that have points and or powers associated with them. At the end of 8 or so rounds the game finishes and the person with the most points wins.

Everything that can be purchased in the game is limited - so getting to something first can be crucial, and getting to something powerful twice can be a game winner. Judging what balance of things to put on your dice - do you go for more stones, more money or just straight up points - and what card powers could help or hinder others is the key to winning this game.
A selection of new faces for your dice. Pay your money take your choice(s).
Are you gonna prioritize points, money choice or something funky ? Choose wisely.

The game is fairly short, plays quick with little downtime, and won't leave you agonising about what to do - the choices are straight forward and the complexity low enough that this is more of a kick back and relax kinda game than an Analysis Paralysis of perfect information deal. Building new faces on your dice is an innovative mechanic that is satisfying to do and doubly satisfying to see in the slow changing of probabilities in what you can potentially roll. Although the luck of the dice are the heart of this game, the amount of mitigation and control you feel about what results those dice can roll, and when to transition from setting up your dice to getting on with earning powers and points is very cool.  In fact if you squint there are some familiar tempos going on here - build your dice to get the results you need, then power on to use what you're rolling to garner points and powers, in much the same way that early stages of Euro games can often focus on building your engine or capabilities before you make a concerted effort for end game objectives.

Combined with the relatively short length of game and minimal downtime - all players get to roll their dice and gain stuff regardless of whos turn it is - means this game hits the sweet spot of random but not critically luck fest frustrating.
The main board - effectively a market place of cards on offer

There are however some rough edges to the game. Some choices seem overly powerful and promote a rush to who can get them first ( 6 gold die face I'm looking at you ! ). This combined without any decent kind of catch up mechanism can mean the game can be a bit of a runaway affair under the right circumstances. With all things being equal, a pinch of luck, and all players on the ball however, the number of times this happens should be fairly limited.

It also has to be said that despite you being able to determine exactly what your dice are gonna roll, if you spend all game hitting your best rolls and your opponent rolls nothing but crap, the game is going to be a foregone conclusion. Given the amount of dice being rolled however this is also unlikely to be a serious balance issue with timing of what to buy when arguably being more crucial than minor variations in luck. But with some exploitation of Over powered combinations and a bit more like than your neighbour you might at times feel like there's little you can do except wait for it all to end ( but as that's not very long, that's not so bad ).

If you're being super objective about the game, then you can also say that the schtick of the buildable dice is pure gimmick. Effectively this is a deck builder but where you shuffle your cards after every deal - you choose what die faces to put on your dice, in the same way you choose what cards to stick in your deck. The game would be far cheaper, easier to handle and also way less visually and tactile impressive if the dice were replaced with a deck of 12 cards. You could also make a case for eliminating a greater range of luck out of the game by making players rotate through their whole deck like your typical deckbuilder, instead of always having a random result from that dice roll / shuffled deck.

Overall the game is gorgeous, fun in a very tactile kinda way, and seems like an all round excellent game for the younger player, whilst also being cool for the oldsters.

* One might argue that in our contemporary Euro dominated design world, the very opposite of die driven zealotry now holds true. Dice ? In a game ? But how can you successfully plan for the future ? Just leave it to luck ? Ha ha ha ha ha. No. Picking outcomes injects that real world planning into a game. You need it. In every game. If you were diving further down the rabbit hole of game design, you might come up with a theory** that stated the nature of early Ameritrash game design with bundles of dice and probabilities represents something deeply cultural about the Anglo Saxon mindset, and that the perfect information non random everything is based on The Precise Plan in Euros represents something deeply cultural about the German mindset ( Germans being the champions of the Euro design style ).
** I didn't say a good theory
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Aunty Turner. Makes you wonder why there aren't more
actual Mad Max games kicking around instead of clones of it.

This week the glorious El Duderino ( or just Dave if you prefer ) brought along the fairly rare to be seen game The Pioneers Program a kickstarter game all about building up your base of power in a post apocalyptic wasteland whilst fending off mutants and other players alike.

This game had a very modest kickstarter back in 2016 ( to the tune of a little over £16k ), before being released to the wider public as a very low print run kinda game. If you've never heard of it or seen it before, that'll be why.

Gameplay wise you'll be building your own little tableau - your base - and filling it with structures - such as farms, armouries and schools - as well as personalities and varied items. Some of these things will supply you with resources - food, money, research and "response" -, and some of these things will demand you spend resources on them or have them leave your compound in disgust about not being paid.

Along the way you'll also probably be picking up cards to beat other players over the head - stealing their stuffs, or having hordes of mutants attack them - or even allowing you to conduct a raid in person on their settlement, either to burn their crap down, or steal their stuffs for your own gain.

Played over a variable number of rounds - from 7 to 9 - the game is won when either one of the players is on 4 victory points at the end of the round, or the final game round plays out - in which case whoever is furthest up the VP track wins.

To go with its more Euro tableau, lightest of light engine builders the game also unashamedly has one foot in the Ameritrash camp. Combat is settled by dice. 2d6 to be precise, with a light helping sprinkle from the modifier and reroll fairies. And the game also rather aggressively relies on players beating the crap out of each other to prevent a win. Munchkin style.

Throw in a truckload of post apocalyptic flavour, characters ripped from a number of IPs, a dusting of Borderlands, some mutants, attack dogs, katanas and automated turrents and that's pretty much it.


Which all sounds pretty good if you're into your post apocalyptic take that kinda gaming. Really good. There are some issues with the game however that prevent this from being a truly great game. Despite the simplistic mechanics and easy setup the pacing is questionable, the game getting in the way of you actually enjoying yourself or being able to do much of anything. Like a lot of kickstarters that roll down the conveyor belt, I was left with a feeling of a combination of nice ideas and theme, but when you get down to the brass tacks of crunchy design - how the game performs once you take away the theme and chrome - it's design has warts and you feel like its either had arse all playtesting, or the playtesting has not been critical enough ( I suspect the former here ).

Overall pacing wise the game probably breaks down into 12 or so meaningful actions in a game. This is a ludicrously small number of actions in a 90 minute game, and really is the core of the feeling you get of struggling to get anywhere. *

Progression from a small HQ to a medium HQ or gasp a large HQ also gets embroiled in pacing issues. It's going to take you between a third and half of the game to reach a medium HQ if you absolutely single mindedly dedicate yourself to this pursuit and are *lucky*. Which then has a knock on effect on Research - it's only really viable at Medium HQ or bigger, and even then is going to take 3 or so actions ( a turn and a half out of those 7 - 9 ) to finish. All the whiles someone could have beaten you there and made your research useless, or you've been attacked and had some of your stuffs stolen / burned down - or in game mechanics terms, you now get to repeat a couple of actions / turn again. Why this matters is simple - a bigger HQ gets you a Victory Point - and increases your storage and income. And getting a research project finished gets you another point.

You can palpably feel the drag in the game. This game caters for up to 6 players, but boy oh boy, when your single action consists of *literally* just picking up a card from a deck, or even worse, just giving you a couple of response tokens as you take the "plan" option, my god, the downtime and lack of interesting choices.

Gahhhhhhhhhhh.

Interestingly with five of us playing this, the game is supposed to have a line in attacks from mutants and ascended from the wastes - but because of the limited number of turns you get, and therefore a very limited card draw we didn't see * a single attack *. Not one. Zip. Nada. Which I think gives a good insight between the intention of the game, and where it actually falls because of some of its design choices getting in the way. This was actually a repeating criticism at the end of the game - that half of the things on the box art just never made it into our game. Pacing. Issues. The game haz it.

Apart from pacing there are some other really questionable bits of design going on that feel like they've been lifted from other games without any real understanding of how that works in *this* game. The market being one of them. Like many games a selection of cards is on offer in the market giving you a number of structures or much more rarely a personality that can join your compound, and like many other games the cards are priced depending on the position they are currently sitting in. The problem is that the prices range go from 0 to 6, where getting anything beyond 2 money at a time in the game is a herculean effort - more likely it's gonna take you multiple *turns* to get more than 2 money. The discrepancy between how much a card costs to buy, and how much you've got to spend just seems... utterly random. Like mashing mechanics together and never checking how much income you're likely to get and whether those costs on the cards are actually feasible. Bizarre ! Given how the game runs you've got to say that the pricing progression of cards in the market is just plain wrong and should probably run something like 0 to 3, in a 0,0,1,1,2,2 kinda deal. Often in the game with money being so tight, the free market card would disappear leaving all the other players with shit choices of cards they can't really afford. The market also doesn't clear every turn - instead just shuffling one step down at the end of a turn. Given the game can be just six turns long... yeah... you're probably only ever going to see a very small spread of cards from the whole deck at any given play.

With all that being said, lets backtrack this a bit. Pioneers Program is not a bad game. Far from it. It's a kick back and enjoy the ride kind of a game with a really rich and lovely theme that does a good job of pulling you into the whole thing. A post apocalpytic Beer and Pretzels kind of a game - one that's not going to take too much thought about strategy, has some laughs rolling dice and stealing your mates money, and has a brutal kick your neighbour mentality to spice up the table talk. And in my opinion is definitely worth a play or three.

But patience is required and it's just a shame that for such a well presented game and background theme, the game doesn't do a better job of upping the action and really making the fur fly. All too often you're left sitting on your ass waiting for the next turn already. This is one game where I would definitely like to see a few house rule tweaks to increase the flow of cards at the very least.

But then I feel this is often the fate of Kickstarters. Vanity projects without any "mean" editors ready to slice up your lovely design or tell you just how shit that downtime is. I feel like this is probably the biggest problem with almost everything that rolls off the Kickstarter conveyor belt - lack of lengthy feedback and true constructive criticism tackling the ugly parts of someones dream game. In fact I'll go one step further given the abundance of mediocrity that gets shoved out the door, I'm going to say that you actually need someone to just be downright super mean and overcritical with game design - so that by the time you've ignored half of it because it upsets your sensibilities, maybe you'll take to heart some of it and end up with a tighter game. If there's an overemphasis on being nice and not having critical editors maybe you need a hard compensation the other way, and roll in the super picky game review troll. Ultimately I think all games could do with a bruising round or two with the game review troll.

I guess in the end such games serve a dual function - one is giving the gaming public a new game to play, good, bad or just meh, and the other is about fulfilling a designers dream of pushing out their idea into the world. You can totally fulfill a designers needs without having anything like a good game. Designer is happy. The gaming public less so as they pick over yet another mild disaster in a colourful box.




* Crunchy technicals on pacing. I've spent a fair bit of time with a bunch of Euros analysing how many turns / actions they give you, what feels short, what feels long, yada. Take something like Agricola, something of a gold standard in Euros. The minimum number of actions there is 28. The maximum number is tricky to ascertain, but is most certainly North of 45. At the other end of the scale - same designer - take something like the much shorter and less involved Glass Road. Theoretically you'll get to take a minimum of 12 actions - but whilst possible you've got more chance of hitting that than winning the lottery. In actuality you probably end up on average with around 22-24 actions. And Glass Road feels short. Very short due to that compressed number of actions. Or lets look at Broom Service. A push your luck game that if you play terribly can be brutal and see you taking no actions for the entire game ! Again although theoretically possible, this isn't going to happen, unless you really are playing to lose on purpose, and in practice you probably get to play something in the low 20's action wise, with a maximum of 28 actions.
Any game in the low 20's in terms of actions is gonna be short, or feel short in terms of development. Next time you play a game of any reasonable length, count how many actions you get to take for the game.

The problems with Pioneers is that the game give you two, count em, just two, actions to do in a turn. And remember the game lasts from 7 to 9 turns. This means you're gonna get a minimum of 14 actions and a maximum of 18 actions in the entire game - not supposing you pick up a much coveted bonus third action in a turn - which to be fair you can probably expect to do at least once during the game ( but overall even a few of these don't change the length that much ).

In terms of Stuff You Get To Do 14 - 18 actions is a very small number of actions for something sorta riffing on a Euro tableau builder that lasts for 90 minutes and worse still is that a fair number of those actions will be taking filler actions just to prep for some other action - to play cards for instance you need to spend a response token. How do you get response tokens ? By taking an action just to get your response income - 1 to 3 of them. That's right. Spend one of your precious actions just taking tokens so that in your next action you can actually play a card from your hand. And how do you take a card ? Spend an action to pick up a card. So 14 - 18 actions is not *meaningful* actions. I'd probably guess you get something like 10 - 13 meaningful actions in a game.

Eesh.

I think one of the key design mis-steps here is the mechanic of requiring a token in order to play a card. This puts a nice hurdle in the way of picking up a card - oh cant play it, I need to take a turn to pick up some tokens first. Particularly as other people can steal those tokens away from you. I'm really not sure why this needs to be a thing - letting people play cards as and when they get them, or saving them and then playing them would do no harm to the game. Potentially - without any kind of hand limit, there might be a scenario where you could pick up cards all game long, then spam them out at the end, but this is easily solved either with a hand limit, or limit the number of cards that can be played in a turn. Having tokens keyed to just being able to use a card is a needless step here. Even the spend an action to pick up a card feels needlessly slow - my whole turn is just to pick up a card from this deck ? Oooookkkkk. Ooh look. It's a piece of crap that I can't use. Well don't I feel special now. I think another design tweak here where you just automatically pick up a card on every turn - and if you want to you can spend an action to ooh, I dunno, look at the top 3 and pick one - would have done tremendous things for the pace of the game. It also starts to make sense why the winning VP count is just four. Because you're struggling on your ass so much just to do anything, seeing 4 VPs is quite the thing. I think increasing the card flow, allowing people to play cards as they like, and maybe doubling the VP count would massively increase the interaction and cool things to do in this game.. and... allow you to actually see most of the aspects of this game rather than missing half of it.
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This week I managed to get to grips with FFG's new Star Wars themed romp around the galaxy board game, Star Wars : Outer Rim.

 Just in case there was any doubt that this was in fact a Star Wars IP thinger, they put Star Wars right in the title, making it easy for you, the avid Star Wars punter, to ensure you buy all things Star Wars. It's Star Wars. You love Star Wars. Buy Star Wars. If that wasn't clear enough they put a picture of the Millennium Falcon on the box along with some pew pew. You see ? Star Wars. The fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.

Star Wars Outer Rim. You can tell it's Star Wars because it has a Tie Fighter
and the Millennium Falcon on the box. Plus pew pew. And an asteroid. Always. Asteroids.

At this point, as is pretty much typical with anything with the Disney pew pew aggressive over saturated merchandising  Star Wars theme, the game features the familiar ( and dare I say cliched to death at this point ) touchstones of the Star Wars milieu but taken from the point of view of a jobbing bounty hunter / general scoundrel sleazing your way around the Outer Rim. You can probably already fill in half the details of what this includes. Millennium Falcon. Check. Han Solo, Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian. Check. Boba Fett, Firespray, Greedo. Check.

As a player you get to be one of the jobbing characters from the Star Wars IP and get to pick from a set of 8 including Han Solo, Jyn Erso and Lando Calrissian at one end of the iconic spectrum to Doctor Aphra and Ketsy Onyo at the lesser end of that spectrum.

Once you're all setup with your character and a starting ship the game settles into a turn structure of move a number of spaces, pick up / drop off / buy stuff and resolve an encounter all of which potentially is driving you towards the end game goal of reaching 10 fame before anyone else.
Han Solo on a starter ship. Like the scoundrel I am, I have not bowed to
convention and placed my character card in the character card slot. Such a rogue.

The games main shtick here is a series of Gopher Tasks which allow you to steadily accumulate more stuffs that makes you more capable via gaining new equipment and hopefully along the way completing some of those more tricky Fame Gopher Tasks. You have a movement stat - how many spaces along the Monopoly game board you can travel, a pew pew stat - how many dice you roll, and a shield stat - how many pews you can take before dying. But don't worry. Dying isn't as bad as it used to be. Dying just means you kinda lose a turn and then bounce back as good as before.
Excitement abounds. It's like being a delivery driver.
But in spaaaaace. Which is where the excitement comes in.
The epitome of a Gopher Task. Is this good game design ?

If you've ever played any kind of MMO or Computer RPG you'll be familiar with the gopher task premise - Go Here, Kill 8 Badgers*, Return for A Reward. Well Done. Boy Have I Got A New Job For You. Go Here Kill... 12 Badgers*, Return for A Reward. Rinse and Repeat. The eponymous Gopher ( go for this, go for that ) Task.

The game is also interspersed with bits of narrative polish, allowing you to encounter other iconic members of the Star Wars galaxy and have them talk to you a bit and potentially offer you some choices. Orrrr if you're not friendly with them a bit of a fight. The game tracks your reputation with four different factions - The Empire, The Rebels, The Hutts and The Syndicate. Being on Good or Bad terms with these guys will indicate the kind of response you're likely to get when say, bumping into Greedo ( a Hutt man.. alien.. thing.. if ever there was one ). I bumped into Greedo as Han Solo on my first turn. Which was charmingly bang on the nose thematically. Retcon controversially however, Greedo did in fact shoot first when I encountered him and shot me in the ass whilst I singularly failed to shoot him. This event would mark the beginning of my long and comedic career in the Outer Rim as Han Solo generally failing dice rolls and ending up being shot in the ass.

Luck. Outer Rim haz it. Tasks are invariably passed or failed at the whim of a dice roll. The collection of said tasks is also open to the vagaries of one of a number of Deck O' Cards. As is what you encounter. Pull a card. See what it says. You've won second place in a beauty contest. Collect 20 space bucks and Advance to Go move to Tattoine. Kongratulshuns. You've just been attacked by a sand snake. Roll for combat !

Boba Fett. Who went on to turn his own crew in for the bounty.
One way of dealing with difficult employees I guess.


Said dice rolls do have a degree of mitigation to them. You can be unskilled, skilled or super duper in a particular kind of challenge, which changes exactly what a "success" is and when it comes to combat - either melee or ship combat depending what you're doing - you can obtain all sorts of bells and whistles to give you an extra dice here, a reroll there or a stomping of opponents dice entirely over there. But make no mistake. Lady Luck is sitting at the table of STAR WARSSS Outer Rim and dicking you over nicely. If you dislike dice determining if you win or not, Outer Rim is gonna be like a Wookie with a temper losing at Holochess for you.

So, overall. Is it any good ? It depends what floats your boat.

Outer Rim is a laid back, none too serious, highly thematic, lightly narrative, RPG lite move and fight kind of a game. If you like games telling you stories, and dice telling you which outcome is gonna rule your day, and collecting new and shiny crap to kit your character out with, then Outer Rim is a real nice experience. If you're at all into Star Wars, then it's likely that the emergent stories that occur to you and your fellow players, the epic failures or jammy successes are going to be enjoyable to you. One caveat is that the game is long. Too long in my opinion. A game that almost certainly falls into the Takes Too Long For What It Is category. But this is going to be somewhat dependent on player count as the player downtime is of mid length depending on how much narrative is going on or how much players are dithering. Player downtime is considerably not helped by a game mechanic wherein when you die, you kinda end up missing your next turn. Did you like sitting on your ass waiting for everyone else to have their turn ? You did ? Well guess what buddy, due to dying last turn, you get to skip you turn and do it again ! You can just feel the quality excitement oozing from the design can't you. For the record, I'd guess our game took around 3 hours to bang out with a rules session included ( which arguably pushed the time up to around 3 hours 15 ish ). I think a game like this you want to be tops of 2 hours.

Sam entirely nailed the nature of the game when he said it was basically Star Wars Talisman. On reflection this is exactly what Star Wars Outer Rim is - it's Talisman that has been altered enough not to be sued, set deep in Star Wars IP. The parallels between the games are significant, choose your character, gain stuff, gain crew/characters, movement to spaces to do stuff, hand in stuff to get rewards, dice based, card deck based luck, level up, alignment/reputation changing what happens to you, slow RPG lite progression. So similar is it that I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Outer Rim is indeed a Talisman reskin project. Suitably pitched to allow FFG that no longer has GW rights to not be sued into oblivion for game stealing by the litigious trigger happy GW.

Critically speaking, the comparison to Talisman also possibly exposes Outer Rims modern gaming flaws. Back in ye olde days of the mid 80's, the design of Talisman and its luck heavy, dice heavy, tromping around a Monopoly style board and overstaying its welcome in Monopoly fashion was acceptable and fun and largely pitched to a young teen market that had nothing else like it - which was great ( I played countless hours of Talisman back in the 80's ). Today in a much more savvy world that understands what Ameritrash is and isn't, a couple of decades of some superb game design and improvement in game mechanics Talisman wilts under the glare of progress. No doubt about it, Talisman is still loved by some, and continues to be enjoyable to a new set of gamers, and for a once in a while outing can be a blast from the past, but, also without doubt is the fact that Talisman is now seen as rather quaint and clunky and not great, and in some cases generates a good deal of hate for its lumbering, luck filled nonsense than can stretch on for hours on end. Indeed I have often heard Talisman whispered about darkly in the same kind of horrified gamer tone levelled at Monopoly with The Family.

In the end I can see this being something of a Marmite game for many gamers - an "ok" game for some - an enjoyable dive into being a Star Wars mileu scoundrel for SW fans that are into laid back luck games - and an overly long Talisman reskin where luck decides your fate after 3 hours of tedious Gophering for the disgusted.

Personally speaking I quite enjoyed my time with the game. Not something I'm ever likely to go back to ( a bit like Talisman ... unsurprisingly ). I enjoyed the fact I got shot by Greedo right off the bat, had stupid Leia give me a shitty job and ended up with a crew of nothing but Wookies. I liked the various narrative bits of colour that cropped up and made the game more than just a deck draw game. But it is a bit of a zone out game. No thinking required. A bit like watching MTV back in the day - background noise, and if you "watch" it for too long your brain turns to mush and you end up turning into a sofa zombie. I disliked the fact it went on for way too long for what it was. That you have no real impact on what anyone else is doing. That dice will either make you or break you - after possibly spending 20 minutes moving around the board to find that, oh yes, you failed that dice roll, screw you. Or in Sam's case, spend 4 turns failing to roll the required strength test and doing arse all in your turn.

RATING :
If you're a munchkin kinda player into Star Wars : 8/10
If you're ok with long luck based games : 6/10
If you despise dice and think Talisman sucks ass : 2/10


* As it's Star Wars of course you wouldn't be killing Badgers. How ridiculous. How unimaginative. Ha. Only stupid fantasy games would have you do something so stupid. Star Wars is of course a rich and diverse setting, and you'd actually be killing... Womprats. See how much better that is ? You could even get a title for it in the old online Star Wars game. Womprat Slayer. https://swg.fandom.com/wiki/Womprat_Slayer *polishes badge*. Envious. Aren't you.What do you mean it's just another shitty Gopher Quest. You're just jealous you don't have the Womprat Slayer you filthy casual. To be clear, Outer Rim the board game, I'm sorry - STAR WARS : Outer Rim the board game, has no womprats. Instead it has tasks such as "Deliver Droid Parts to Tatooine". This translates in game as, move 8 spaces over there to Tatooine and place this card at the bottom of the Cargo Deck to get 5,000 space bucks. Is this better ? Debatable. No Badgers were harmed, which I guess is a positive ?
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Well, hello, NoBlog. Long time no see!

What's been going on ?

Eh yeah. You've been out of the loop a bit haven't you. Well we successfully completed the whole NoBoG venue move malarkey and moved from the Mash Tun to St. Andrews Brew House. Which went astonishingly well. No complaints. No problems. Happy faces. The space is lovely for gaming, much more of a inviting community spirit than the Tun and the food and drinks are great ! You can now get a cheeky pot of chips or sausage roll whilst you game, or if you're into that, a proper dinner ! I heartily recommend the steak pie with mash and vegetables.

Sounds good. Anything else ?

We've stress tested St. Andrews with a fairly high player count of 54, got a loose agreement to use overflow tables in a pinch where the pub isn't busy downstairs, and got some backup tables of our own to use. But to be honest, the space is a good fit for where we are currently size wise.

Which is ?

Typically somewhere in the high 30's low 40's of a Tuesday. And Mondays are typically in the high teens. Unless you count the RPG'ers. Then we're consistently in the low 20's ish.

So no venue issues then !

Well. St. Andrews is sometimes booked out. So we have to have alternatives for booked out days - of which so far there's only been one. We've started to use the Coach & Horses in Bethel Street as a small Monday venue for days when St. Andrews is booked. But so far we haven't come up with a plan for hosting alternative site Tuesdays.

So what happens on Tuesdays that are booked then ?

Good question. The standing idea was to possibly use our former venue the Mash Tun as an alternative site in all cases. But since leaving the Tun, the not so great council reviews of the health standards there, and the ever present general management woes, stock issues and high prices, people don't seem fantastically enthused on going back. At all.

Understandable. So. Backup Tuesday plans ?

Yeah. Don't have one at the moment. Everyones just enjoying being in a great space and not having to worry about venue issues ! The Tun refit was postponed a little and is due to kick off in the Summer, so after the refit, maybe the Tun will be a new and awesome place to game, and we can use it as a backup site ? I'd personally be really interested in seeing what the Tun ends up looking like after the refit, particularly with an eye on the size available, tables etc, but I'm not sure the NoBoGlins agree. Otherwise, if it's not the Tun who knows. But I'm sure we'll cope.

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At the end of last year I released the board game play stats - which games had been played at NoBoG and the approximate number of times those games had been played.

Today we have the 2018 attendance stats. A not quite complete record of people attending NoBoG for last year.

2018 was a world cup year - July 3rd the usual Tuesday NoBoG was held at Athena, hitting the lowest turnout for the year for 2018, and also causing general disruption all round. Oof.

In general the numbers show a slowly declining footfall for Tuesdays and a pretty steady one for Mondays over the course of a year. However I think the trend line for Mondays is deceiving here - there's a dip in the summer, world cup disruptions possibly at play, but a strong finish to 2018 with 3 high attendance days and 1 record equalling day ( Oct 29th ).

This year also interestingly for the first time saw Monday beat Tuesdays for attendance in some weeks. Shocking. Heretical. Three times Mondays beat out Tuesdays, week 44, 48 and 49, possibly showing that Mondays were becoming more popular towards the end of the year.

Incidentally, fair warning, missing data, weeks of zero are down to my own crappy failings rather than no one turning up for NoBoG. The 2018 Christmas period had a couple of missed weeks, other than this, if I recall correctly, NoBoG was on every day.

Click on the stat pics to embiggen.






Some related stats :

WeeklyAverage Weekly - 52
Highest weekly - 78
Lowest weekly - 30
  
TuesdaysAverage Tuesday - 36 ( first half of year this was 42 )
Most popular Tuesday - January 30th, 55 people
Most males Tuesday - May 1st, 43Most females Tuesday - Jan 30th, 16
Highest Tuesday female / male ratio - Jul 31st, 37%
Average Tuesday female / male ratio - 16.6%

MondaysAverage Monday - 16 ( first half of year this was 18 )
Most popular Monday - January 15th, October 29th, 26 people
Most males Monday - Oct 29th, 24Most females Tuesday - Mar 19th, 12
Highest Monday female / male ratio - Mar 19th, 48%
Average Monday female / male ratio - 19.5%

If you want to play with the stats yourself and mash them up into whatever nefarious datasets you like, then you can access the data here : https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/12Ktn5GobnAvm8_fQBvTZdQmLHtVghdK7uypbBbpkie4/edit?usp=sharing
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It's been almost 4 years since NoBoG went on tour and left the Ribs of Beef behind to find a new home at the Mash Tun. But once again NoBoG is debating a venue move.

To this end we will be holding a trial tour date for NoBoG at  

St Andrews Brew House
21st January 7.30pm

just down the road from the current Mash Tun venue . The aim of this is for NoBoGers to decide whether they like the new venue, and if it meets our requirements, and also for the Brew House to consider whether they like us and we meet their requirements !

If all goes well this opens up the Brew House as a possible future NoBoG venue, whether that's a permanent move for both Mondays and Tuesdays or some other split or ad hoc solution depending on what the NoBoG collective decide.




If you want to know the whys and wherefores of the venue shifting then read on.





So what's up ?

The Mash Tun has been a great home for NoBoG for the last four years. To be sure there have been ups and downs - our highest turnout ever at something around 70, and some great late night specials that stretched towards 1 AM ( unthinkable at our prior venue, the Ribs of Beef which closed up just after 11pm ), but also issues with our chairs and tables going missing, zero notice of big disruptions, and of late, the pub continually running dry of just about everything.

The Mash Tun has been going through a difficult period. One it seems that has seen it cash starved to the point that on some days, it has little if anything to offer in the way of drinks and snacks, and there have been some murmurings of it not doing a great job of looking after the beer it has ( possibly due to massive staff turnover ).

I had been receiving complaints from NoBoGers about the state of affairs since probably the summer of 2018, but as the year wound down the number and volume of complaints increased substantially, as no beer was to be had, no soft drinks could be found, and snacks were as rare as hens teeth. Some weeks were fine. Some weeks were not. And the beer prices went up substantially ( although soft drink prices dropped ). In addition to that the maintenance of the pub itself has been patchy. Light bulbs that are out for months on end - until a room has more blown bulbs than lit ones, leaving parts of the pub in unintentionally dingy lighting.

The state of affairs had been mentioned to the Tun staff over the period, and some form of line of communication maintained with a number of managers that came and went. One of the other connected problems the Tun has had has been in a large turnover of staff, and a general number of staff complaints about the management of the place - infamously staff being paid hap hazardly at one point. This meant that good communications with the pub was more challenging as new staff would continually come in and just not be aware of ongoing problems or setup.

Deciding to have a final chat with the bar manager at the Tun before we made any kind of decision, it came to light that the Tun would be closing for a period during 2019 for renovations. The length of time was uncertain but could possibly be anything from a month to 3 months given the very slow renovation of a smaller pub down the road also owned by the Tun owners.

With the pub due to close anyway for a period of the year and ongoing issues, it seemed that a venue change was being "forced" on us one way or another.

Whether a move is temporary, permanent or otherwise, the mood of most NoBoGers is one of change, and so a venue change beckons. And my hunch is that if a place was found that ticked the boxes, everyone would vote to leave the Tun for good.

This is no easy task however, as although NoBoG individual day numbers are down since our 70 highs ( now basically splitting across Mondays and Tuesdays for a similar-ish grand total ), Tuesdays can still hit an easy 40, and housing 40 board gamers in a pub means a lot of places simply don't have the room. The days of NoBoG being a dozen people able to rock up at any pub are long long gone. Also the NoBoGlins themselves are as you might imagine any demographically super diverse set of several hundred people - difficult to please all at the same time. The idea of gaming in a pub is one that doesn't seem to fade over time, despite a few protestations at a pub environment ( a bare couple are anti pub - but given a bare couple out of hundreds, this seems to be a pretty damn good margin error ), and the pub style, open to all comers type environment continues to be a unique NoBoG charm.

St Andrews Brew House is a far smaller place than the Tun, and for sure has zero room for NoBoG to grow. But given number trends I don't think this is much of an issue anymore. Mondays and Tuesdays are spreading the load to some extent these days, and whilst once upon a time NoBoG was the only board gaming group and place to game in the city, now there are a whole bunch of other possibilities and groups that have popped up which further spreads the load of newcomers ( although it has to be said NoBoG still gets a regular inflow of newcomers ).

Working in favour of the Brew House are that it's upstairs areas are largely out of the way of the main pub, meaning people can kinda choose to be left alone or not, the place seems well stocked, well lit and well maintained, and perhaps best of all, has a restaurant attached that serves good food well into the evening.

There are some other possible options to look at with regards to venue, and I also personally think it would be a shame if we never used the Mash Tun again. So who knows what the future holds for NoBoG venues !
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A short message for all you NoBoGers wanting to get your gaming on in 2019.

The first NoBoG of the year will be on Monday 7th January, followed by Tuesday 8th January.
Hope to see you there !
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2018, and this year I started recording some stats again for NoBoG - amongst them, what games were being played.

This list is a non exhaustive list of the games played, filler, party and or shorter type games being heavily under represented. This is not a conscious bias but rather an artifact of when I've recorded what games are playing - half way through the evening before a lot of shorter games hit the table.

The list therefore probably represents anywhere between half and two thirds of the total games played at NoBoG, albeit a lot of those are going to be repeat plays - things like Deep Sea Adventure that have popped up in many NoBoGgers game collections and hit the table to finish off an evening.

For longer playing games the list is within a fairly reasonable error margin accurate.

The top game played this year was Lords of Waterdeep - but this is probably boosted into that spot because of the Lords of Waterdeep competition that was kicked off towards the end of the year. If you remove that, then I think you get a no brainer most played game of Azul, which has proven very popular and as an easier to get on table, not too expensive game, managed to wiggle it's way into many gamers collections. Azul is also pretty much the only truly new game in the top 10 list for this year - NoBoGers clutching onto past favourites instead of the new ! ( Everdell is in there too, but arguably probably lands outside the top 10 ).

It is said that in times of unrest people cling to the familiar to give them a sense of stability. I wonder if that holds true for board games ?!

NB for the record I'm skipping the ad-hoc plays of D & D - and haven't counted any of the regular RPG group plays)


The Top 10 ( ish )
#1Lords of Waterdeep
Lords of Waterdeep - 20 playsPropelled to number one by a Lords of Waterdeep competition, but regardless of this, Waterdeep has a very strong year in 2018 and has seen off the pretender to the throne of Champions of Midgard. It's uncomplicated worker placement reigns supreme.

#2Azul
Azul - 17 playsThe 2018 Spiel des Jahres winner, this quick to learn, quick to play game that doesn't break the bank has proved very popular with NoBoGlins. I'd love to see a blinged up set of this using fancy ceramic tiles with felt backing !

#3Terraforming Mars
Terraforming Mars - 15 playsAnother popular game with the NoBoG masses, easy on the eye and simple enough to be picked up quickly. I'll confess I'm not a fan of this implausible science game, long winded and bettered by.. well.. just about anything. It takes the art of card drafting to a 2+ hour epic of painful non interactivity and a deal of downtime until the last 20 minutes of the game when suddenly there is - oooh - minimal player interactivity. Excitement abounds. But the cubes are pretty. Better than Lords of Waterdeep in my opinion however. *cough*. Nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2017 which it totally failed to win. Bah ha.



#47 Wonders
7 Wonders - 11 playsAnother solid older game that is proving to be popular for bigger groups of more newbie orientated folk. Great for new and old hands and with very adaptable table requirements 7 wonders is still a cool game to play, albeit the railroading can be very real in bigger games. At #4 this just reinforces the lighter game capture of the NoBoG top 10.



#5Dominion
Dominion - 10 playsDominion, the granddaddy of card grabbing deck builders rises up the NoBoG charts, some people discovering it for the first time this year and running with limited sets. The game still holds up and is fun to play a decade after it's initial release. It also increasingly sets the tone of the top 10 for the NoBoG charts this year of easier to grasp simpler style games. But damn do I hate the Dominion hot mess of a font on the box. It's artistic ! Uh huh. Awful.



#6,7,8,9Concordia, Dinosaur Island, Stone Age, Ticket to Ride
Concordia, Dinosaur Island, Stone Agea, Ticket to Ride - 7 playsInto the depths of common plays at NoBoG, and the start of individuals being able to sway the number of plays a game gets. Ticket to Ride is the big loser this year, plummeting from its no.1 spot in 2015 of 15 plays down to half a dozen. This could entirely be down to the Elliot effect who played this regularly during 2015 but has been largely absent in 2018. Concordia pops up here kind of surprisingly a 2015 Kennerspiel nominee that was beaten out by Istanbul ( iirc ! ), but again, I suspect this comes up at this level largely down to Cat at one time bringing this game semi regularly. Same can be said with Dinosaur Island - largely Phil's doing. Stone Age, another older title, 10 years old this year, appears from nowhere for a more regular play at NoBoG.



#10,11,12,13,14,15,16Brass, Carcassonne, Champions of Midgard, Everdell, Isle of Skye, Istanbul
Brass, Carcassonne, Champions of Midgard, Everdell, Istanbul, Isle of Skye - 6 playsThe venerable old Martin Wallace classic of Brass got a reprint this year courtesy of Kickstarter and a new Brass variant was created at the same time. This game still kicks ass and the reprint shakes off the old Euro classic shades of tan drab in favour of kickstarter sexiness - although it has to be said, as great as the art is, it does the game zero comprehension favours. Poor Sam who kickstarted this is still yet to play Brass despite efforts to get it to table. Everdell the new and very pretty Euro just about makes it to the top 10 ish, courtesy of Matt. Isle of Skye with its new-ish expansion also shows up, the expansion turning this fab lighter euro game into a much more crunchy mid weight euro and a very different beast of a game. Istanbul makes a good showing, only one play behind Concordia its 2015 spiel bedmate. Champions of Midgard brings up the rear proving that Lords of Waterdeep hasn't triumphed completely.


And for the full list :


Lords of Waterdeep 20
Azul 17
Terraforming Mars 15
seven wonders 11
dominion 10
d & d 5e 9
Concordia 7
Dinosaur Island 7
Stone Age 7
ticket to ride 7
Brass 6
Carcassonne 6
Champions of Midgard 6
Everdell 6
Isle of Skye 6
Istanbul 6
Citadels 5
clans of Caledonia 5
Coloretto 5
Majesty 5
Munchkin 5
Mysterium 5
photosynthesis 5
Rising Sun 5
Roll for the Galaxy 5
Root 5
Santa Maria 5
Viticulture 5
Agra 4
Colt Express 4
Deep Sea Adventure 4
Ethnos 4
Glory to Rome 4
Great Western Trail 4
Honshu 4
king domino 4
nusfjord 4
Pandemic 4
Pandemic Legacy 4
Splendor 4
The Expanse 4
architects of the West kingdom 4
Epic spell wars of the battle Wizards 4
Secrets 4
Bottle Imp 3
Captain Sonar 3
Cosmic Encounter 3
Cryptid 3
Finca 3
Get Off My Land 3
junk art 3
King of Tokyo 3
Lords of Vegas 3
One Night Ultimate Werewolf 3
Onward to Venus 3
Puerto Rico 3
Red 7 3
Rise to Nobility 3
Sechs Nimmt 3
Sherriff of Nottingham 3
Small World 3
Sons of Anarchy 3
Spirit Island 3
Tokaido 3
Tsuro 3
Tyrants of the Underdark 3
Valeria 3
Vikings Gone wild 3
Adrenaline 2
Alhambra 2
Aquasphere 2
Barenpark 2
Betrayal at house on the hill 2
Cash n guns 2
Castles of Mad King Ludwig 2
Cauldron 2
Chaos in the Old World 2
Chickwood Forest 2
clank 2
cursed Court 2
Dead of Winter 2
Euphoria 2
Feast for Odin 2
Forbidden Desert 2
Founders of Gloomhaven 2
Fury of Dracula 2
Game of Thrones : Hand of the King 2
Glass Road 2
Homeland 2
Hunt for the Ring 2
Kodama 2
Lisboa 2
magic maze 2
Manhattan project 2
meeple circus 2
Mini Rails 2
Mission Red Planet 2
Mythotopia 2
Not Alone 2
Oh My goods 2
Orleans 2
Pillars of the earth 2
Plague Inc 2
pokemon master trainer 2
pulsar 2849 2
Queen Domino 2
Race for the Galaxy 2
Rajas of the Ganges 2
Reef 2
Secret Hitler 2
stellar leap 2
Study in Emerald 2
Summoners Isle 2
T.I.M.E stories 2
Trickerion 2
Tzolkin 2
Unearth 2
Waggle Dance 2
whistle stop 2
zooloretto 2
1775 Rebellion 1
50-50 1
51st State 1
Above and Below 1
Abyss 1
All Creatures Big and Small 1
among the stars 1
Amyitis 1
anatomy park 1
Ankh Morpork 1
Antidote 1
Arena For the Gods 1
Arraial 1
Bang 1
Big book of madness 1
Blood Rage 1
Blue Moon City 1
Bohnanza 1
Boss Monster 1
Braggard 1
Briefcase 1
Broom Service 1
Can't Stop 1
Catch the moon 1
Celestia 1
Century Spice Road 1
Chicago Express 1
City of Spies 1
CO2 1
Cockroach poker 1
Colosseum 1
Container 1
Cornish Smuggler 1
Council of four 1
Cyclades 1
Deception Hong Kong 1
Dice forge 1
dice hospital 1
Dominant Species the card game 1
Dragonfire 1
Dungeon Lords 1
Escape ! 1
escape from the Dark castle 1
exploding kittens 1
Factory Manager 1
Fallout 1
game of thrones 1
Get Bit 1
Ghostbusters 1
Ghostel 1
Gloom 1
gugong 1
Hamsterolle 1
Hanabi 1
Hansa Teutonica 1
Happy Pigs 1
Hardback 1
Haspelknecht 1
hey that's my fish 1
Hospital Rush 1
Imhotep 1
Innis 1
Jamaica 1
Judge Dredd RPG 1
Kemet 1
Keyflower 1
Khemet 1
Kingdom Builder 1
Kingsburg 1
kittens in a blender 1
Lords of Hellas 1
Macao 1
Mamma Mia 1
Marvel Legendary 1
Memoir 44 1
Merlin 1
Metro 1
Millennium Blades 1
Mint Works 1
Monty Python Fluxx 1
Motherload 1
Navegador 1
Neom 1
Neuland 1
ominoes 1
Operation Flashpoint 1
Otys 1
pandemic Cthulu 1
Pax Porfiriana 1
Pikoko 1
pioneer days 1
Pitch-car Mini 1
Port Royal 1
Potion Explosion 1
power grid 1
Powergrid the card game 1
Privateer 1
professor evil and the citadel of time 1
Pulsar 1
Quartermaster General 1
Qwixx 1
Ra 1
red Dragon inn 1
regenwormen 1
Reykholt 1
rhino hero 1
Roads and Boats 1
Robin Hood 1
Robinson Crusoe 1
San Juan 1
Santorini 1
Scythe 1
Seasons 1
Secret Hilter 1
Shindig Machine 1
Sleuth 1
Solomon Kane 1
Spectre Ops 1
Speicherstadt 1
Spyfall 1
Star Realms 1
Star Wars RPG 1
Starchiefs 1
Steam Time 1
Sub Terra 1
Super Motherload 1
The Brigade 1
The Gallerist 1
Tigris and Euphrates 1
Tiny epic Galaxies 1
Tiny epic zombies 1
Tribune 1
Twelve Nights 1
Twilight Struggle 1
Unnamed Prototype 1
Unusual Suspects 1
Upstream 1
Vanatu 1
Western Legends 1
Yokohama 1
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For the last month or so, a newly released kickstarter - Root - has been regularly hitting the table at NoBoG to delight or more commonly confound players with it's highly asymmetric gameplay. I've managed to get a spot for every play, and with 4 plays with 4 different factions under my belt feel like I've got a pretty good grasp of what's going on.

So today we're gonna take a delve into Root to explore the good the bad and the ugly about the game, and what makes it different to most of the other games you play.

The Super Quick OverviewIt's a bit like Risk. With woodland creatures. And no Australia to hide in, just clearings in a forest. But every player scores victory points differently, recruits differently and gives orders differently. And not everyone is playing Risk. Player 4 is playing a simple building Euro. Player 3 meanwhile is busy collecting sets. But you just annoyed him somehow, and now he's stabbed you in the face. How could he stab your cute rabbit in the head ?! That's it. Time to lead a revolt and kick some serious trash panda ass.

Mmm.What ?!

So cute. So innocent. And liable to slit your throat and burn down
your buildings. The Woodland Alliance freedom fighters terrorists.

OverviewRoot is a kickstarted game for 1 to 4 players ( or up to 6 with the expansion ) by Patrick Leder - who formerly brought you Vast : The Crystal Caverns -  and Cole Wehrle - formerly of Pax Pamir - set in an anthropomorphic world of rabbits, mice and everything else in something of a Wind in the Willows meets Game of Thrones. If you've ever read the seminal Red Wall novels, you'll know what's going on here.

The aim of the game is to control the destiny of the Woods, tracked by victory points with a goal of being first across the line in obtaining 30 of them, but also more tellingly, also often tracked by how much of the board you control. Root is very much of a light wargame background, with direct conflict the order of the day, and in most of the factions a primitive game of Risk plays out between competing armies.

Each player faction gains victory points in markedly different ways however, meaning that the path to victory is entirely different to everyone else at the table. You are effectively playing your own version of the game. Crucially however this is not an exercise in "multi solitaire" that some Euros exhibit, wherein each player gets on with their own thing, not bothering their neighbours for an hour before coming up for air and comparing points on how well each player did with their homework puzzle solving strategy at the end of the game. Despite players having effectively their own version of the game to play, the victory point requirements are interweaved and played out on an area control map which means that conflict will occur, deals will have to be made, truces called, blood letting had.

The victory points are common knowledge, and tracked in real time, so everyone at the table can see which player is doing rather well at the moment. This serves as something of a "The Players Provide The Balance" to the game but with one exception, victory points can never be lost, so not letting someone roar off into the lead at any point in the game should be a concern for players.

Play consists in general of a fairly simple, recruit pieces to the board, move them about, fight someone, earn some VPs. However this really is an awful generalisation because for some factions getting pieces on the board is at least half the challenge, many factions gain little to nothing for fighting and for the Vagabond who has no armies, combat can be more of a stealth backstabber operation.

A is for AsymmetricRoot is all about the asymmetry. From a game mechanics point of view. From an enjoyable game point of view, it's probably all about the cute woodland creatures tussling for power - sometimes via kegs of explosives. Each faction in Root presents a very different challenge and set of rules and mechanics about how you earn points and interact with the board. Probably the most demonstrative example of this asymmetry is the setup of two of the factions - The Cats,  ( which represent the existing power, or if you imagine Root to be Robin Hood, then the Cats are the Sheriff of Nottingham ) who start with all but one of the board game areas in their control, and the Woodland Alliance ( Robin Hood and his Merry Men ) who start with nothing on the board, and must work to get sympathy out to inspire a revolt before they can even think about getting armies on the board.

Orange - The Marquise de Cat's forces
 The Cats are largely interested in only themselves. They get victory points for building new buildings, and to do that they need to control areas that have space for new buildings. Leave the Cats alone and they will happily build everything they can - ramping up their power as well as their VPs - only venturing out to fight where they need more space to build. Given that they start the map with all but one space of the map controlled, the Cats are setup for an easy time. ( The Cats are the easiest faction to play, both in terms of initial setup and how straight forward they gain VPs  ).

The Woodland Alliance on the other hand *must* inspire a revolt somewhere to get meaningfully into play.  A revolt eliminates every other player, armies, buildings et al from an area, and replaces them with an Alliance base and a small force to defend it. Robin Hood. Or maybe even a touch of Star Wars Rebel Alliance.

The Woodland Alliance gain points from spreading their sympathy out amongst the woods, and to really get their VPs moving they need to do this in person - sending out armies to spread the word to neighbouring clearings before disappearing off the map once their message is delivered. Or if you are of a much darker mindset, sending out suicide bombers to raise their profile. Freedom fighters. Or Terrorists.

Spreading insurgent sympathy is the aim for Woodland Alliance
The other factions are similarly ... different. The birds rely on being able to push out militarily, then sit on their gains, all the while coping with a pre-programmed set of orders that the player chooses to build which inevitably leads to their downfall as game conditions change. The Vagabond (Racoon aka trashpanda ) meanwhile is a sole operator. Unable to control clearings or build buildings, and militarily the weakest of all, they move between the players either hindering or helping them, and gaining points for doing both. Relationships are tracked, hostile to allied for the Vagabond, earning increasing points for helping allies, and points for killing enemies.

Trash Panda hiding in the forest away from the Cats
The wide asymmetry of the game is what makes it fairly unique in game terms. Truly asymmetric games with more than one faction are relatively rare ( COIN series being a notable exception ) - because meaningful balance starts to become a headache. Asymmetric games can be uniquely fun however in a way that symmetric games can't reach. Endless variants of the horde versus the few play out this truism, as the marines stand against the stealers in Space Hulk, or Yet Another Zombie Setting comes along pitting the mindless hordes versus the more capable living few, or if you're into your computer games, the Zerg stand against the Protoss and Humans in Starcraft. Most of those games or ideas if you look closely however are usually wargame/martial based mechanics. Where asymmetric balance comes down to measuring relative combat prowess. Easy. Ish. Board games that have to balance a whole mess of touchy feely actions *other* than just the roll of a dice for combat is a much harder prospect.

If you've never played a full on asymmetric game, Root is going to be... *weird*. Different. Unusual. Frustrating. Intriguing.

At it's best, the good, asymmetry allows very different strategies to crash into each other for cool emergent gameplay, rolls many different games into one box - each faction providing an entirely different play experience - and is a breath of fresh air in terms of gameplay.

Woodland Alliance not even on the board yet. Biding their time.
They eventually went on to win this game and utterly destroyed
the cats whilst doing so. Viva la revolucion.
At it's worst, the bad, asymmetry presents a steep learning curve. A massive wall of rules, each player dancing to their own exceptions and interactions, leaving you coping alone with what you've got to do AND trying to learn what everyone else is doing so you can meaningfully help or hinder them when it comes to it, and god help you, possibly a badly balanced game ( Chaos in the Old World and the Khorne faction suffers a touch from this ).

And for Root, both the good and bad are present - albeit the balancing in Root seems on point and extremely well done.

Patrick Leder was the designer also behind Vast. And Cole was designer of Pax Pamir. Which is something of an important point to make. Vast is another wildly asymmetric game, this one about a hero, a thief, goblins and a dragon all meeting each other in a cave. A fun and different game, with each faction having it's own mechanics and victory point gaining mechanisms, it also presents something of a steeper learning curve than might be expected for something so simple. Pax Pamir is a different beast, but also has some elements of asymmetry going on - but crucially anyone can align themselves with anything in game, and is far far less ambitious with its asymmetry.

Vast design wise is a good deal more transparent than Root - the visibility of who is winning and crucially, what you need to do to stop them winning is more obvious in Vast. Root being something of a design successor to Vast adds more complexity. You can tell the designers have pushed the concept further down the line, added in more layers choices and actions - but as a result, Root is initially a good deal harder to work out how to make an impact on the game than either Vast or Pax.

Otters. One of the expansion factions. Won the game
handily with a mass of wealth and some very aggressive
late game fighting !
Two new factions come with the expansion, and these are again very different to everything else and even for an experienced player, add in yet another set of rules and interactions to learn in order to determine whats going on. The extra factions are great. Well designed, extremely different, it's quite amazing this many different factions can get jammed into a game. But it comes at a price of more learning. More rules. More things for you to track who's doing well.

F is for FrustrationWith so much going on in the game, for new players frustration can mount. How on earth can I compete. How can I stop player X. How do I even get pieces on the board ?! The learning curve is real. And therein lies a problem. Because in a world of much more approachable and equally fun games, why waste your time struggling with one that's a bit of a bugger. I would guess this is probably double the problem where you can't get Root out regularly to a fairly regular group. IE you have time to forget what you learned or how the game works. I would guess Root is a *dire* game to play once every few years with a completely different group of people. Mostly it's going to provide a bunch of head scratching rules checks and slow learning of how the game hangs together before its put away to gather dust and forget again. Bleh !

Working for it in a very touchy feely ssshhh it'll be ok kind of way, is it's very approachable theme and overall graphic design. It's cute. It's uncluttered. For the most part it communicates very clearly what you can do and what's available. And for a game with a lot of moving parts like Root, this helps an enormous amount. Life isn't so bad. One can only imagine the disaster the game would be if it had, say, the design aesthetic of something like Pax Porfiriana. I doubt any but a hardened few would ever play it.

DesignThe game is really well designed. Each faction makes sense, has clear goals, and interacts in a meaningful way with everyone else at the table. Your choices as a player vary wildly depending what faction you are - the cats are way less of a thinky faction than say the birds or the woodland alliance. Whereas the trashpanda doesn't require a hell of a lot of forward planning. Nevertheless for each faction there are many meaningful choices. At it's heart lies a simple wargame, and as such, when to attack, when to defend, who to call truce with makes each game and each choice different.

With so many different faction, that they are all even slightly balanced is quite the marvel. It's arguable how much balance the players themselves bring to the table by stomping on the leader, but no faction so far seems like an Easy Win Condition. In the four games I've played, four different factions have won.

Longevity seems pretty good here. There is a lot of conflicting emergent gameplay to explore, and with the expansion adding two new factions and more vagabond options theres a hell of a lot of game to get through. And when that all becomes mundane, the flip side of the board has a somewhat dynamic setup where the clearings are randomised in what they represent.

Overall the game pretty much smashes the design aspect out of the park, a really quality game, one the feels like it has less rough edges than Vast and comes across as a more polished and refined variation on the original asymmetric theme.

Tinker - one of the many Vagabond character options. This guy
starts with no offence, but capable of crafting and better repairs !
ConclusionThere's a lot of concerns about this game with its accessibility. Its learning curve. This is however the nature of the asymmetric beast - if you have six truly different functioning factions, guess what, you're gonna need to learn six different rulesets to fully enjoy the game. Depending what kind of person you are, this may be acceptable or the worst thing ever - I just wanna have some fun, quit giving me rules.

But. The game isn't that complex when all is said and done. You should be able to pick it up pretty quickly after a few turns. And after a game, you'll be in a good shape to know what's going on everywhere.

And the game is very good. Almost unique in its experience - the closest thing to it is a COIN game ( which are fairly unique themselves ! ) or Vast, and Vast feels closer even though thematically COIN should be it's spiritual neighbour. COIN is wayyyy more stodgier and heavy going than Root. Root is ( despite the many rule sets ) more accessible than COIN. Root offers some old school light wargame fare of pushing armies about and smacking people over the head, but in a very modern wrapper of orders and movement limits and tricky decisions.

The great playstyle marries fantastically with the theme, and overall the game is a mustplay for anyone even remotely interested in game design mechanics, or interest in seeing new game ideas with a taste for direct confrontation. With half a dozen factions in the box(es), the game is going to present you with six very different experiences everytime you sit and play, which, off the top of my head, I can't think of any game that even gets close to this. And they are *fun*. And delightful to play off the strengths and weaknesses. Inciting a revolt as the Woodland Alliance in some massive stronghold and wiping everyone off the board is an amazing feeling of the little guy sticking it to The Man. And likewise, stomping out the insurgencies, putting down those annoying rebels can be satisfying.

Great game. Fun experiences. Beware the learning curve ! One to introduce to the inexperienced gaming family this is not !

Appendix - The FactionsMarquise de Cat ( a play on words of My Kitty Cat apparently ) - At the start of the game the Powers That Be. Controlling 90% of the board, they are only interested in building more buildings. With space at a premium however, they are going to need to be in control of a lot of area. . .

The Woodland Alliance - Entirely off the board at the start of the game, the Alliance are the insurgent faction, always with the upper hand in combat due to their guerilla warfare, even at their height of power they cannot challenge the cats or birds militarily, but they can do plenty of damage and excel in alpha strikes. All they need to win is lots of of sympathy to their cause.

The Eyrie - A bunch of haughty birds with powerful military, concentrated forces and always winning ties for control, keen on invading the woods and setting up their eyries. For every nest they create the earn points per turn, an easy path to victory. What's not so easy is their restrictive and pre-programmed orders. Play cards to give orders, but then be forced to play that order in every subsequent turn. Fail and your society falls into Chaos, costing your VPs and turns of turmoil. With a pre-programmed order list, enemy factions can see you coming, and see where your weaknesses lie.

The Vagabond - A trash panda out for number one, the Vagabond has no armies, no buildings and bugger all control. Gaining points for helping allies by giving away cards, the trashpanda trades for items with with to increase the actions possible - each item opening up more action possibilities - and also completing quests - sets of items for points. Able to also make enemies of factions and gain points for killing them, The Vagabond can be a dynamic balance of power, keeping to themselves or wading into the fray as opportunity arises. Half of the Vagabond plays out like a mini RPG, equipping yourself with stuffs for better options.

The Riverfolk - Otters only interested in setting up trading posts and offering their services. Any other player can buy their services as mercenaries, card suppliers or fast movement down rivers to give them a real advantage over everyone else. But the Otters win by accruing more money. The more they have, the more VPs they earn every turn. And if need be the Otters can go to war, always a threat along the river, able to pop up and lay waste to enemies.

The Lizard Cult - An insidious group of Lizards bent on bringing back the glory times of the The Dragon. They get points by spreading their cult gardens amongst the woods and can pop up anywhere at any time to start taking control. Also capable of turning enemies into cultists, the Lizards must carefully manage their ever increasing hand and a flow of warriors into acolytes into conspiracies !
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Who loves the Lost Expedition ? What do you mean you've not played it ? Great game that often boils down to deciding which hapless Adventurer to sacrifice. I always imagine them being eaten by the rest of the expedition after one idiotic decision too many causes them to step on a venomous snake. 

It's that kind of game.
Osprey Games have an expansion coming out for it. New ways to die ! New blameless characters to blame for your failings as Expedition Leader ! Huzzah.
You know what else releases at the same time from Osprey ? Cryptid by the talented NoBoGlin Hal and his equally talented partner Ruth. Pursue an elusive beast through unknown lands, using your excellent deduction skills to finally find the critter. Or just stumble about randomly guessing and hope you hit jackpot before anyone else. Whichever strategy suits you*.

( *note, you're very very very unlikely to win by randomly guessing, but hey, you do you ).
20th September ! ( ish ! )


Which should you buy ? 

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