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Gen Con 2019 is quickly approaching and nearly everyday I scour the Board Game Geek Gen Con convention preview, checking out what games will be popping up at the con. It’s important to me to go to the con with plan (lest I buy everything in the whole place!), so I’ve got the list locked and loaded, ready to hit the floor! Below I’ve listed some of my selections based on BGG’s prioritizing categories, explaining the whats and the whys!

Must Haves

The must haves in my list are games and expansions that we will DEFINITELY pick up at the Con if we haven’t already pre-ordered them. A lot of these are either expansions to games we already love or the next part in a series we love. These include the following:

Welcome To . . . Spring & Summer Neighborhood Expansions

In a previous review article, Ethan and I got a chance to explain what draws us to this game, so it should come to no surprise that we’re picking up the neighborhood expansions!  I have yet to play with any of the new neighborhoods, but I’m excited to try out new strategies based on the different themes.  Roll and Write (or flip and write, in this case) has become pretty hot on the board game market right now, I’m excited to see what else is coming out this year in that category.

3 Secrets: Crime Time

We always try to keep a small game tucked in our bags to pass the time, and 3 Secrets is one that has great portability, it was even my #2 game of 2017!  Easy to teach and quick to play, we’ve gone through a lot of the 3 Secrets Scenarios, so I’m excited to get a new pack to examine.  Some of the stories can be a little morbid, so viewer discretion is advised.

Century: Golem Edition – Eastern Mountains

When we dedicated ourselves to the Century series, the components and theme of the Golem edition locked us in, despite hearing that there never may be Golem expansions.  We were genuinely surprised to hear this stand-alone expansion announced and knew we couldn’t miss the chance to scoop this up!

Other Must Haves: Bang! The Dice Game: Undead or Alive, Deckscape: Behind the Curtain & The Curse of the Sphinx, Decrypto: Expansion #1 – Laser Drive, The Red Dragon Inn Smorgasbox, Unlock!  Heroic Adventures

Interested

In order to better budget our hard earned cash, I’ve planned a list of games that I’m highly interested in and may buy after trying it out. These games are mostly from publisher we like and trust and have put a bit of research into the game. Some of the games on this list include:

Pipeline

A friend of our owns this game and late one night, after one of the longest games I’ve ever played, we decided to give Pipeline a try.  Blaming it on the 8 hour game of Colonists and being up way past my bedtime, I did horribly.  I did so horribly I was sort ashamed and embarrassed at how badly I did.  But, I’m ready to redeem myself and want to give this game another go so that we can decide if it belongs on our shelf.

Letter Jam

Word games and co-ops are definitely my (absolutely intended) jam, so when I first heard about this game my interest was piqued.  The hidden information/deduction mechanic reminds me a lot of Hanabi, it can be difficult to decide what clues to give to which player, but is part of the wonderful strategy of the game.  The mechanics seem similar enough between the two games that I’m hoping it’s be a hit with our game group.

On Tour

Many young people dream of becoming a rock star and this game seems to give a glimpse of tour planning life!  This game gives me the feelings of a cross between Welcome To . . .  and Ticket to Ride, a sort of path building flip and write.  I was a bit nervous about the variability in the game, but the publisher has stated that there is a variable set up step, so I’m excited to see how this will work.

Other Interested Games: Atelier: The Painter’s Studio, Dice Hospital: Community Care, Welcome to Dino World, Rice Dice, Folded Wishes, Head Hackers, Detective Club, Planet, We’re Doomed!, Ragusa, Foodies, Mystery House: Adventures in a Box, Sanctum, Through the Ages: New Leaders and Wonders, Chocolatiers, Floor Plan, Welcome To . . .: Solo Mode, Era: Medieval Age, Atlantis Rising, Crystal Palace, Fuji, Mint Cooperative, Calico, Sagrada: The Great Facades – Passion, Until Daylight, High Rise, Sabotage, Quick Link, Tattoo Stories, Sushi Roll, Boomerang, The Crusoe Crew, Mystery, Pirates: The City of Skulls, Pirates: The Great Chase, Wordsmith, Deranged, Museum, Nagaraja, The Sherlock Files: Elementary Entries,  Battle of the Bards, PARKS, Terrors of London, Adventure Games: Monochrome Inc., Adventure Games: The Dungeon, Brainwaves: The Astute Goose, Roll for Adventure, Tribes: Dawn of Humanity, Obscurio, Pinnacle, Fight Club: The Home Game, Stockpile: Illicit Investments, Oceans, Paint the Roses, The Taverns of Tiefenthal, Mr. Face, Nine Tiles Panic, Dead Man’s Cabal, Mental Blocks, Escape from Nemo’s Island, Nobjects, Planet Apocalypse, Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein, Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write, Copenhagen, Copenhagen: Roll & Write, Horrified, ArtSee, Bargain Quest, Revolution of 1828, Time Chase, Mechanica, Return to Dark Tower, Lawyer Up, Set a Watch, Deadly Doodles, Colors of Paris, U.S. Telegraph, IT: Evil Below, Escape the Dark Castle, Rolling Ranch, Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale, Lock Up: A Roll Player Tale, Precious Cargo, Choose Your Own Adventure: War with the Evil Power Master, Hadara

Undecided

This category was a bit tough for me, it felt like there were times where there was a fine line between interested and not interested. A lot of these games were up in the air based on mechanics and theme, some of which I can be kind of picky about. Here are some games and explanations:

Machi Koro: Legacy

I’m a sucker for Legacy games, I want to try them one and all.  Friends in my game group do not hold a very high opinion of Machi Koro, so it’s difficult for me to decide if this is a game that will keep the interest of my legacy group.  If I don’t get a glimpse of the Legacy version at Gen Con, I think it will be worth it to give the original Machi Koro a try first, then gauge whether I’m still interested.

Ecos: First Continent

My love of world and city building games goes back to my days of The Sims and Sim City.  The thought of redeveloping the planet from the very beginning is interesting, and the use of a modular boards typically adds to replayability, but looking over our collection, we don’t have a lot of tile laying games.  This doesn’t necessarily stem from disliking the mechanic, but from the fact that we really love the tile laying games we own, so I’m wondering if this will be different enough to add something new to our collection.

Bosk

Area control is one of my least favorite game mechanics, I’m not a big fan of direct conflict as a main component and area control usually leads to just that.  But as pictures have been coming of Bosk and the beautiful components, I’m feeling a bit torn.  This  isn’t the type of area control games that I’ve played in the past, feeling bitter by the loss of control because of dueling armies.  So it’s quite possible that it still may make it to our table yet.

Other Undecided Games: Jurassic Parts, Point Salad, Walking in Burano, Cat Cafe, Marquesas, Carnival of Monsters, Draftosaurus, Monster Slaughter, Tales of Glory, Welkin, Silver/Silver Bullet, 20 Second Showdown, Blockbuster, Don’t Get Got!, What Came First?, Dragon Market, Kingdomino Duel, Pappy Winchester, Slide Quest, Sierra West, In the Hall of the Mountain King, Fertility, Aquatica, Barrage, Corinth, Claim/ Claim 2, Realm of Sand, 3 Laws of Robotics, It’s Blunderful, Whozit?, Dicium, Endangered, Reavers of Midgard, Dominations: Road to Civilization, The King’s Dilemma, Similo: Fables, Flip Over Frog, MegaCity: Oceania, Ishtar

There are a ton more games on the Gen Con that may fall under one of these categories, may be in the not interested category, or I may not have prioritized yet! What are you looking for at Gen Con? What haven’t I discussed that I should check out? Let me know!

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Disclaimer: This is not a paid review or sponsored content. A friend of the blog is a demonstrator for Thunderworks Games and brought an early copy of the new Roll Player expansion to a game night at a local meetup so we thought it would be an excellent opportunity for a mini-Roll Player review as well as a preview of the new expansion content! If you’d like to check out Thunderworks Games on twitter, you can find them here.

Roll Player is a game about creating a fantasy roleplaying character (à la Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder). Players start with a race, which determines bonuses or penalties they may receive to specific abilities, and a class, which provides the target ability scores the player wants to aim for. Players also get a background which gives points for placing dice of certain colors in specific spots on their “character sheet” and an alignment card, which will give (or take away) points based on how well the player satisfies it. Throughout the game, players will draft dice to build their characters, placing each one in one of the classic fantasy RPG stats (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma). Each round players can also buy something from the market, whether it be a weapon or armor, a unique ability, or a trait which provides additional end-game scoring opportunities. Once players have drafted 3 dice to each of their abilities (giving each one a range from 3-18, plus or minus any racial bonuses), they earn points for how well they were able to satisfy their class, background, alignment, and trait goals. It is a fun dice-drafting puzzle, and the theme is sure to entice any tabletop roleplayer!

Last year’s Monsters and Minions expansion added on to the base Roll Player game, and let players do something with their characters besides just building them. Each round, players have the option, instead of buying something from the market, to fight a minion. Every minion will give you combat dice based on some condition — for example, get a combat die for every completed column you have on your character sheet. Then, gain rewards depending on how well you fare in combat against the minion. At the end of the game, once characters are fully built, they will face the final monster. This is similar to a minion in that it gives players combat dice, and the better result they get upon rolling them, the more points they can earn (or lose if they do poorly). I thought this expansion made a ton of sense with the base game since in roleplaying games creating the character is only half the fun and it provides an incentive for drafting different dice and making sure your character will survive against the final boss.

This new expansion, Fiends and Familiars, adds… well, fiends and familiars. Fiends are penalties you get for drafting higher-valued dice each round, while familiars provide characters with an animal companion that gives a unique ability as well as three extra slots in which to draft dice. It also adds split dice that are considered 2 different colors, making it easy to complete backstory and familiar color goals, but only range in value from 1-4, making getting higher attribute scores more difficult.

Last night, I got an opportunity to try out Roll Player with just the Fiends and Familiars expansion. We had a three-player game with a new player, one who had played just the base game before, and me, who had played both the base game and the game with the M&M expansion. It seems like the new expansion would’ve integrated well with Monsters & Minions — the most significant difference there is removing more cards from the market deck to keep it the same size. But Fiends & Familiars keeps the “hunt for a minion” action, the final boss monster, and includes new enemies to fight. There are also new classes to choose from, so I was able to play the Conjurer, who actually (somewhat) benefited from taking Fiends by gaining XP, along with the ability to use XP to banish fiends. Otherwise, the initial setup is similar to what players with experience playing the base game are used to. The other new part added is choosing a familiar. Everybody gets two familiars to choose from, and they add a small board above your player board to draft familiar dice to. All of the familiars have power range targets, similar to attributes from your class card, but they look to be generally lower (e.g., 5-7 or 8-9). This gives you an excellent place to draft lower-valued dice without worrying too much about messing up your attributes (which generally want values of at least 14). Familiars also have an ability you can activate when placing a die in their row. As an example, my Ancient Tortoise familiar allowed me to take either an INT or WIS action when I set a die there, so being able to get a choice of what power to use made the familiar doubly helpful!

The other titular mechanism in the game, fiends, added a new challenge. Since we were playing a 3-player game, there were 4 initiative cards available to draft dice from each round, and a fiend was placed on the two higher-valued initiative cards each round. So, as a penalty for drafting higher-valued dice, you must take a fiend, which has a negative effect. Some of the fiends aren’t too bad: for instance, I had a fiend that made weapon cards from the market cost double, and another which prevented me from using weapon’s special abilities, so it was easy enough just to not buy or try to use weapons. Other fiends were more troublesome, preventing you from gaining gold from initiative cards or completing rows and otherwise mucking up the game for you. Fortunately, there is a way to get rid of them: by paying 5 gold or a charisma token, you can banish one of the fiends that are plaguing you. I really liked that this gave another use to charisma tokens, because the discount at the market isn’t always useful, especially when you can choose to hunt for a minion rather than purchase something.

Finally, besides the split dice, there is one other change added by the new expansion. For about the first half of the game, two dice are placed on each initiative card. This makes the start of the game go faster, and it balances getting early fiends a bit by giving you two higher-valued dice for them. You get to place both dice but only activate the attribute power for one, which makes for some pretty exciting decisions. I know there are some powers I rely on more than others (like the STR power of flipping a die over or the CON power of incrementing or decrementing a die by 1), so having to think about the placement to be able to maximize the use of those powers was pretty neat. Then, after a few rounds, the “Call to Adventure” card shows up in the market deck, and you’re back to the usual one die per initiative card.

Altogether, I really liked the Fiends & Familiars expansion to Roll Player! If you’ve played and enjoyed the base game and/or the Monsters & Minions expansion, I think you’ll definitely want this one to round out your collection. I really like what it adds, and I believe the fiends provide an exciting new challenge in balancing what dice you draft, while the familiars give you a few extra spots to dump dice you might not want elsewhere while still providing a benefit! And if you’ve never played it, if you enjoy puzzling out the best place to be able to use dice to meet as many goals as you can, and especially if you enjoy the tabletop RPG character-creation theme, give Roll Player a try!

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In the final installment of our review from the Top Games of 2018, we check out Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig by Stonemaier Games!

Overview

The Mad King has spoken. He has demanded a new Castle, but as you arrive to begin building, you see several other architects are here to build as well! There are tracts of land between you and you’ll have to do your best to please the king. Will you be able to work with your neighbors to please Ludwig II?

Game Play

Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is based on the games Between Two Cities and Castles of Mad King Ludwig, so if you’ve played either of those games, parts of this one may seem familiar to you.  However, if you haven’t played either, this game isn’t too hard to learn, so let’s grab our building tools and start working on the best castles we can create!

In Between Two Castles, you will be working with each of your neighboring players to build a castle — since the castles are built between each pair of players, the players are “between two castles”… get it?  At the end of the game, all of the castles will be scored, and your final score will be for your lower-scoring castle, so you don’t want to invest too heavily in one of your castles and neglect the other; you should strive to make them equally awesome.  The game is played over two rounds, and uses tile drafting to allow players to select new rooms for their castles. At the start of the game, place a throne room between each pair of players and deal out nine tiles to each player. Each turn, players will select two of the tiles from those they have available, and pass the remainder to their neighbor (pass clockwise in the first round and counterclockwise in the second).  Once everyone has selected two tiles, they are revealed, and players work with their neighbors to decide which tile to place in each castle and where. Because the tiles represent a side view of the rooms of the castle, placing tiles next to each other represents placing rooms on the same floor, while placing tiles above or below others represents putting them on a floor above or below the current room. Because the Throne Room starts on the ground floor, only Downstairs rooms and Corridors can be placed below it, and any room placed on the second or higher floor must be supported by a room directly under it, but aside from those placement rules, rooms can be played anywhere in the castle.  After playing and passing tiles a few times, each player will be left with three tiles, of which they’ll choose two to play and one to discard. Then everyone is dealt out the nine tiles for the second round, which is played out just like the first, except for passing tiles the opposite direction. At the end of the second round, the game is over and players calculate the score for all the castles to determine their final score (which, remember, is the lower scoring castle between them and one of their neighbors).

So how do castles in this game score points?  Well, there are several (seven, actually) different room types that all have different ways of scoring, in addition to some special rooms.  Food rooms score points for a certain type of room either above and below them, or on their left and right. Living Rooms score points for a certain room type in the 8 positions surrounding them.  Utility Rooms score points for groups of connected rooms of a given type adjacent to them. Outdoor Rooms score points for a given type of room anywhere in the castle, but they also can’t have anything above them (because they’re outside, after all).  Sleeping Rooms score 4 points if you manage to get all 7 room types in your castle, and 1 point otherwise. Corridors score similarly to Living Rooms, except instead of room type, they trigger on the decoration that each room around them has (swords, mirror, painting, or torches).  Finally, downstairs rooms score based on a certain room type anywhere in their column. In addition to all the individual scoring provided by each room, your castle will get a bonus after placing the third room of a given type. Each room type has its own bonus, such as drawing and placing a new room, drawing a bonus card that provides additional scoring opportunities, or placing a special room..  The special rooms are the Fountain, an outdoor room that scores 5 points, the Tower, a room that scores a point for each room below it in its column, and the Grand Foyer, which scores 1 point for each room in one of the 8 positions around it. At the end of the game, players can use the included score sheets to calculate the points for all the rooms in their castle — the score sheets allow for each room to be scored individually and then the total added up.  The game recommends that each player score one of the castles next to them to make the process faster, but for your first few games it doesn’t hurt to score each castle as a group, one at a time, to ensure you don’t miss any points. When all the scores are added up, each player scores the number of points from their lower-scoring castle, and after that the player with the highest score wins!

Artwork and Components
Amber’s Review

One of the best feelings in the world is opening a brand new game and seeing a fantastic insert. Stonemaier has begun including Game Trayz in their newer games and it’s truly a magical sight, being able to pack and unpack a game quickly is crucial to a game night and these trays, or should I say Trayz, truly help. Once you get past these beauties, the components consist mostly of the many tiles needed to play the game, the quality of the cardboard is decent but it’ll be interesting to see how they stand up to lots of plays. I hope that being in the Trayz will prevent some of the dings that other tile laying games with lesser inserts get.

Stonemaier games are typically an instant buy for us and with a fondness for both the original Between Two Cities and Castles of Mad King Ludwig, it really just made sense to pick this game up as well. One of the true successes of this game is the care everyone has taken to make sure this is a solid mashup. The core city building elements of Between Two Cities is still there, with players strategically building their cities trying to balance the cities to their left and right while fulfilling goals and making strong combos. But in comes the Mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria with his dislike of the norm and wanting things to be his way! He comes in and takes away the uniformity of your old city building life and allows you to build every which way. You have to be careful, however, as he still has his needs that he wants fulfilled. Not only that, but what will your neighbor hold on to? The introduction of the Mad King’s rules to this simple game add an interesting level of complexity not necessarily seen in Between Two Cities. Castle arrangements vary not only between players but games as well, making multiple plays of the games architecturally interesting.

The combination of the two games works really well together, but I’m 100% sure this mash up adds anything additional to our collection. Sure, having a bit more freedom to place your rooms wherever you want is great, but you accomplish that sporadic feeling by playing Castles of Mad King Ludwig. And when it comes to city building, there’s something satisfying about looking around the table and seeing perfect little boxes of tiles around in Between Two Cities. Having both parent games already, this game doesn’t seem to add anything new to our collection, which we’ve been trying to be more conscious of when adding new games to the shelves. However, if you need more tile laying or a bit of madness in your collections, this may be the game for you.

Pros:

  • Game Trayz allows for easy setup and take down
  • Two different games that mashup well together

Cons:

  • Not a necessary part of the collection if you already own the parent games
Ethan’s Review

While I like both Between Two Cities and Castles of Mad King Ludwig, I was initially unsure of how well they’d work together.  Fortunately, the combination ended up more like chocolate and peanut butter than like water and oil. The mechanics are nearly all from Between Two Cities (the drafting and collaborative building), while the flavor of the tiles/rooms and scoring mechanisms come from the Castles of Mad King Ludwig.

As you can probably infer from the above and the fact that I included this game in my top 5 games of 2018, I have a lot of good things to say about BTCoMKL.  I feel like I often include this as a positive point in my reviews, but it really is true that this game is relatively easy to teach. That can’t be understated for this game in particular, because there really is a lot going on — 7 different room types (not counting special rooms) which all score differently, in addition to the placement restrictions for the room tiles make understanding the key mechanisms of the game a non-trivial matter.  Furthermore, because of its nature as a drafting game, it’s difficult to watch everyone at the table to ensure they know what they’re doing and aren’t making any mistakes. I think this is where the collaborative building aspect comes in handy — each castle is being built by 2 players, and each player has 2 neighbors they’re working with on different castles, so there is a built-in support network to help players learn together. Building on that point, another thing I really like about this game is that since you’re working with each of your neighbors to build a castle, and because you want both of your castles to be as good as possible (since you’ll score the lower of the two), it can feel a bit more cooperative than competitive at times.  And as someone that really likes to play co-op games, that is a big plus for me! In most drafting games, there is a concept of “hate drafting”, where you take something just so that the person you’re passing to can’t get it. However, here the person you’re passing to is also working on a castle with you, so the opposite happens: if there are two tiles in your hand that will work well, you can pass without fear since hopefully your partner will take the other tile for your shared castle once you pass the stack to them. I guess in theory you could hate draft tiles away from the castles beyond your neighbor, but in the games I’ve played thus far, I haven’t felt the need to do this. Perhaps it would come with a lot of repeated plays, but for our group that likes casual, friendly games and isn’t super competitive, it strives a very good balance!

However, as I always say, no game is without its negatives.  The biggest drawback for me is how short the game feels to play.  I don’t know that this is anything that could really be changed without massively overhauling how scoring works, since it would really change and imbalance castles by the end, but two rounds of drafting, and four turns in each round makes for a really short game.  I feel like if all the players are experienced, the whole game could play out in 15-20 minutes,..

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As we continue on through our Top 5 Games of 2018, we move on next to Betrayal Legacy! We’ve tried to keep this spoiler free, but read at your own risk!

Overview

This house. There’s something about this house that draws you near. You see the others coming closer as well. There are rumors about this house. They say it’s haunted by ghosts from the past. Ghosts of you families. But what is the truth behind this house? Playing through a campaign of Betrayal Legacy may just give you those answers!

Game Play

Like many legacy games before it, Betrayal Legacy starts off with a pretty similar ruleset to its parent game, Betrayal at House on the Hill. So if you’re familiar with that game, it’ll be pretty easy to jump into the legacy game, but if not don’t despair because the rules aren’t overly difficult.  Also like its legacy predecessors, this game’s rulebook comes with a bunch of blank spots that are filled in later with stickers containing new rules that are added over the course of the game. We won’t be covering any of those here — just the basic rules and gameplay as it is out of the box to start the first game.  Technically this could still be considered a spoiler, and if you want to play the game for yourself and be totally surprised when you open the box for the first time, feel free to skip this section — it is just here to provide context to our reviews.

To begin each game of Betrayal Legacy, each player will choose one of the five available family cards. Four of the families are particularly good at one of the four traits (might, speed, sanity, and knowledge), and the last is balanced in all traits. Generally you’ll probably want to keep the same family over the course of the campaign, but you could change for each game if so inclined. Then, you’ll give your character a name and age, choose a miniature, and receive a calling card giving a unique ability over the course of the game.

In playing the game, each player has a number of possible actions on their turn. Some actions are always available, such as move, trade, and pick up, while others, such as eat, study, or operate, are available on tiles or cards. You may use each action once per turn, so even if you’re on the Dining Room tile and have the Sandwich item (not a real item), you can only use the Eat action on one of them.  The Move action is one you’ll want to take almost every turn, as moving through an open doorway will allow you to explore and add a new tile to the house. Typically revealing and moving onto a new tile will give you an item or omen card, or trigger an event card, which usually requires a check using one of your four traits. At some point during the course of the game, usually as the result of getting an omen card, the haunt will be triggered.

When the haunt happens, typically one player will be designated to be the traitor, and is now working against the other players (though there are some other types of haunts in Betrayal Legacy, but I’ll leave those for you to discover!).  Both the traitor and the other players (heroes) will be given an entry in their respective books to read, which gives special rules for the haunt and their win conditions. At this point, the betrayer leaves the table so the heroes can read and review the information they have for the haunt and make a plan as to how to tackle it.  When all players are ready, the traitor rejoins the table and gameplay resumes with the player on the traitor’s left (so the traitor is the last to take a turn). During haunts, all of the regular actions are available, as well as the attack action which allows players to make a trait roll (typically might, unless a weapon gives a different attack) against other players or monsters, causing damage if they’re successful.  The game will continue until either the heroes or the traitor successfully completes their haunt condition, ending the game and advancing the overall legacy story!

Artwork and Components

In order to keep the mysteries of the game and to allow readers to enjoy revealing parts of the game at their own pace, we have decided to omit our normal artwork and components pictures. You’ll just have to discover them for yourselves!

From Avalon Hill’s Website Amber’s Review

I believe that with some games, the experience you having playing it can sway your opinion of the game. When you have a bad gaming experience, your opinion of the game may be tainted and future experiences with that game may cause an automatic snear. When you have a good experience with a game, you may take an automatic loving of the game, looking past its faults and proclaiming its magnificents far and wide. It can be difficult when writing about board games, especially when you have emotional attachments to things like I do, to shake these feelings away and write about the heart of the game. But, aren’t these feelings what makes board gaming so personal? Enough editorializing, I’m sure you want to hear about the game!

We started off our Betrayal Legacy experiences in one of the best ways possible — with Rob Daviau himself! Rob Daviau made an appearance at our home con, Gamehole Con, and ran some events introducing Betrayal Legacy. With Rob, we got to play the prologue scenario and the first in game scenario, with the ability to ask questions about rules as well as getting a glimpse into the “game design diary,” if you will. This not only created a wonderful introduction to the game, but made me feel confident when taking our very own copy home

Designed to be welcoming to newcomers and beginner gamers, Betrayal Legacy starts off very simply, giving players a few actions they are able to take and encourages them to explore. When the first haunt triggers, the mechanics still stay simple, introducing themselves slowly to allow players to get used to them. For subsequent games, new mechanics are introduced one or two items at a time, but really lean on the base mechanics as a way of delivery. Fans of the original Betrayal at House on the Hill will feel very comfortable with these mechanics and may note a few improvements that improve some of the issues with original gameplay.

While I want to put on my emotional joy blinders, I do realize that while I had a ton of fun playing this game, there are some downfalls to this game. If you are not a fan of the original game, this game may not change your mind about how you feel about the game. While the mechanics have made improvements, the spirit of the game is still light in play and traitor-focused, so the key elements still exist. Players who are not fond of traitor mechanics may become easily frustrated when they’re put into that role, especially if your games end up unbalanced because of choices made pre-haunt. Unpredictable haunts can also make it difficult for the teams to strategize, sometimes turning the game on its head and throwing everyone for a loop. These elements can frustrate gamers of all types, so when choosing a group for your adventure, you may want to make sure they’re up to the task.

Pros:

  • Easy enough for new gamers to get into, especially for their first legacy game!
  • Improved mechanics help solve some of the issues of the main game

Cons:

  • All player must be ok with traitor mechanics and being the traitor or it can get frustrating
  • Unpredictable traitor mechanics can make the game difficult to strategize
Ethan’s Review

I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of Betrayal at House on the Hill, but I still do enjoy playing it on occasion.  And since I love legacy games, trying this campaign out was a no-brainer for us! I’ll try to keep my review as spoiler-free as possible so that if you haven’t played through this campaign yet you can give it a try for yourself sometime!

One thing that surprisingly works well in this game is the legacy story itself.  In each chapter there are two or three different haunts you could encounter, and having played the first couple of chapters twice with different haunts each time, they can be quite different from each other.  However, the overarching story of the titular house and the families who find themselves returning to it is present no matter what haunts you play, but it still works in spite of that fact. Again I don’t want to spoil too much, but even though we kind of figured out where the story was headed partway through the game, the climax and conclusion of the story still took us by surprise.  It should be no surprise that after experience with Pandemic Legacy, Seafall, and Werewolf Legacy (among others) Rob Daviau knows how to write a great legacy story, and Betrayal Legacy is no exception.

The other main plus point for the game in my mind is the tightening up of mechanics from the base game.  Betrayal has always been viewed as sort of a “rules-light” game where the story is the main element and the gameplay is secondary.  That may work for one isolated game session, but when you’re playing 13 games in a row as part of a campaign, you want to be able to have a solid grasp of the rules.  So, as detailed above in the Game Play section, Betrayal Legacy has a detailed rule book that unambiguously lays out all the game’s rules. And as a rules-oriented gamer, I certainly appreciate that!

Unfortunately, the luck factor and occasional unbalancedness of the original couldn’t be fully mitigated.  One of the biggest complaints of Betrayal used to always be that there were situations where it seemed impossible for the heroes (or conversely, the traitor) to win.  That is still sometimes the case with Legacy — oh, the player who picked up a half dozen weapons and other useful items and boosted all their stats became the traitor?  This will be a quick haunt. Or by the same token if the player with no items and damage to all their abilities becomes traitor (and doesn’t get monsters to control posthumously), you’ll soon find yourself setting up for the same game.  During our campaign, there was one game where I became the traitor, and I was able to win the game in one turn, based on what I had, what I needed to do, and where the other players were. This is really just part of the nature of the game though, and something to be aware of going into the campaign.  You’ll likely have at least one game where it seems like the odds are stacked against you, but ultimately the goal isn’t to win every game, it’s to have fun and create interesting stories and lasting memories. Likewise, you will likely be a traitor at least once over the course of the game, so going into the game make sure everyone’s ok with having to take on that mantle when the time comes.

Pros:

  • Good, compelling overarching story, exactly what you would want in a legacy game
  • Solid codifying of game mechanics; an improvement over the original game

Cons:

  • Doesn’t really solve the “unfair”/”unbalanced” problem some haunts have where it seems like one side or the other has a big advantage
  • Everyone has to be ok with being randomly selected as a traitor in some of the games over the course of the campaign


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Recently we were approached by designer Mark Hanny with Joe Magic Games and asked if we would be interested in reviewing a new game he has coming out called Monumentum. Always willing to try something new, we heartily agreed and Mark sent us a prototype of the game. What did we think of Mark’s “monumentous” game? Click below to read more!

Disclaimer: Designer Mark Hanny reached out to Ethan on BoardGameGeek and asked us to review this upcoming game that will be coming to Kickstarter.  He sent us a prototype copy of the game, and we are providing an unbiased review of Monumentum.

Overview

There’s a vast kingdom in front of you, waiting to be explored. With equipment ready and plans for monuments in place, you head out to explore the unknown. But wait, are those other explorers trying to place theirs as well? And that’s the large, frightening beast over there? Do you have what it takes to not only erect these monuments of your glory, but to defeat the monsters plaguing this land?

Gameplay

In Monumentum, each player takes on the role of an adventurer trying to be the first to complete three tasks of honor.  These tasks are: to build a gold monument, to build 4 total monuments, and to slay the dragon. To accomplish these goals, players will be moving around the board, collecting resources, improving their skills, and trying to stay one step ahead of the other players!

At the start of each round, all players select 3 of their 12 action tiles and place them face down.  Then, each player takes a turn revealing and resolving one of their action tiles until all players have used all 3 of their tiles.  Then the first player marker passes and all players select 3 of their 12 tiles again, continuing until the game ends. Each action tile has two actions on it, and you may choose to do one or both or the actions in any order.  As the board starts with all spaces filled with face down action tokens (aside from those revealed during setup), one of the actions you’ll likely want to take early and often is to reveal three tokens. The board is divided into 12 regions, 3 regions in each of 4 colors, so when revealing tokens you pick three tokens from each region of one color.  Other basic actions you can take include moving up to your character’s speed and picking up tokens. Players also start the game with 3 mission cards, and can use an action to complete a mission, earning the amount of points on the card for either having a resource or attribute token, defeating a monster, building a specific monument on a specific color, etc.  Another action involves buying a spell card, which can provide players with a special action, add to one of their attributes, or give them a bonus action (for instance, a spell card with a combat symbol may let you roll the combat die a second time if your first attack fails). Spell cards require energy to activate, which players can gain by trading in shield tokens picked up from the board.

Combat is a big part of the game.  There are four different monsters that may appear on the board, from the lowly skeleton up to the dreaded dragon.  When you take an action to attack a monster, you roll the combat die, trying to get less than or equal to your attack attribute (so having a higher attack makes it easier to hit monsters).  Then the monster rolls its defense the same way, trying to get less than or equal to its defense value. If your attack hits and isn’t successfully defended, you defeat the monster, and gain the points associated with it, along with a valor token you can use in future combats to lower a monster’s shield points.  You’ll likely need a few valor tokens from lesser monsters to get past the dragon’s shield value of 5. In addition, when you start your turn next to a monster, that monster gets to attack you before you take your action, with it rolling its attack and you rolling your defense. There is an action tile that lets players take control of one of the monsters, and other actions that let you move a monster you control, so you can maneuver monsters to attack the other players, hoping to make them lose all of their health (which doesn’t eliminate them from the game, but severely injured characters can only move, pick up tokens, and heal, limiting their actions until they’re back in commission).  Finally, there is an action that lets players attack other players directly, with the benefit that if you knock the other player to 0 health, you can take something from them (either a spell card or tokens that they had picked up).

Lastly, the other action that will help complete the tasks of honor is building a monument.  To build a monument, you need two matching resource tokens (wood, stone, or gold), and must play the action tile that lets you build a monument on an adjacent empty tile.  One of the honor tasks is to build a monument of gold, while the other is to build all four of your monuments. In addition, stone and gold monuments are worth points at the end of the game, and if you build monuments in non-adjacent regions you can earn bonus points.  The game ends either when one players has completed the three tasks (winning the game), or when the last token on the board is revealed, in which case the player with the most points wins!

Components and Artwork

At the time of review, these components are still under construction, as we received a prototype copy of the game. Please use these photographs as reference to how the gameplay works and know that they may change for future productions of the game!

Amber’s Review

Having a bit of playtesting under our belts, I was excited when Ethan was approached about an upcoming game.  It’s a good feeling to be able to help a designer find corrections and to bring new insight into their game design.  When we received our copy of Monumentum, I was pleasantly surprised how complete the game was. We have play tested games in various states of completeness and had I not known that this was a prototype, I would have assumed that it was the finished product.  As we played the game, much as we do with many of the games we plan on reviewing, we took notes with questions that came up. When we sent our questions to the designer, he was very open to answering and suggested that clarifications would be made to prevent these questions from reoccurring.  I appreciate when feedback is taken seriously and leads to positive changes to help improve players’ experience.

I know there are plenty of people that don’t care what the artwork in a game looks like, but I feel as though the art really makes the experience of playing a game more enjoyable. When it comes to the art and visual design of Monumentum, there has been a strong effort to keep with the games theme, but there are a few things that miss that mark.  To preface some of my comments, I feel it’s important to mention that I really began my journey into nerdom with two games: Munchkin and Magic the Gathering. Both being card based games, I had a quick love of clean card design with fun and engaging art. In Monumentum, while the art is clean, the layout of the cards leaves something to be desired.  The box at the bottom of the card contains the cost of the card and also the description of what the card does. Typically the card cost is separate, but it’s something I can live with. However, all of the card descriptions were written in italics. To me, this indicates that the text is “flavor text,” as many card games use italics to mean just that.  That may just be me being picky, though, but consistency between different games can be helpful in learning something new.

I can fully respect that there are games in existence that may be wonderful games, but they’re simply not for me.  There are some mechanics that simply aren’t my favorite and, with no fault to the designer, just don’t sit well with me.  I’m not a big fan of direct combat when it’s just Ethan and I playing and there were action choices in this game that really encouraged that.  We were able to skip over these and use different actions, but it made it feel as if we were sort of skipping over a big part of the game. It’s possible that I may have been encouraged to use the direct combat action cards more if there were more players in our game; it is something we will have to explore further.  But my main frustration with the game came mostly at my own fault.

In the game, there are two ways to gain a win: you can either be the first to complete all three quests or if all the tiles have been flipped up, the player with the most points win. When we were learning the game, I must have missed the difference in these win conditions and became very frustrated when Ethan completed the second of the three quests and would complete the last quest on his next action. I quickly became frustrated, wondering what the point was of even trying to earn points if situations like this were going to happen. Looking back, it was really just my mistake for misunderstanding how the rules worked, but it does seem like gaining points doesn’t seem to matter if you can quickly complete the three quests. Maybe I just had some bad luck when we played, but I’m wondering how often in a two player game all quests are completed compared to all the tiles being flipped. ..

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As we continue looking at our Top 5 Games of 2018, we take time this week to review TAGS, a new favorite party game giving us a nostalgic feel.

Overview

15 seconds. How long is 15 seconds? Not long when the pressure is on. Look at the letter, then the category. Can you think of a word? Oh no, time’s up! Do you have what it takes to play a game of TAGS? Check out the game play to find out!

Game Play

TAGS is a quick word-based party game for 2-4 players.  In this game, players try to think of words beginning with (or occasionally containing) various letters in a multitude of categories in order to earn the most points over the course of the game.  The custom insert for the box is integral in playing the game, and it makes setting up and playing the game quick and easy. First, shuffle up the letter cards and divide them among the slots on the left side of the board.  Then, shuffle the category tags and divide them into the slots along the top of the board. Finally, drop the marbles into the center of the board and spread them out into the holes so that they’re all aligned with the tags on the left and top of the board.  You’re now ready to play!

Each round, one player will go first, with play proceeding clockwise until the round ends.  At the start of the round, flip the letter and category tags around the board face up so that there are 4 letters and 5 categories visible.  Then, start the 15-second timer. The active player has 15 seconds to name words that fit the letters and categories on the board, taking the marble from the intersection of the letter and category after successfully naming a fitting word.  After 15 seconds, the board is rotated to the next player and the timer is flipped, giving that player 15 seconds to claim any of the remaining marbles. If a player takes the last marble from a category’s column, they take that category tag, earning bonus points based on the number of stars present on the tag (roughly corresponding to difficulty).  The round ends either when all of the marbles are claimed, or when all players have taken a turn without claiming any marbles. Then, players score points for the marbles they claimed (3 points for black marbles, 2 points for blue, and 1 point for white) as well as category tags, and the board is reset with new categories and letters for the next round.  The game continues until everyone has had a turn to go first, and at the end of the game the player with the highest score wins!

Artwork and Components
Amber’s Review

I will say it here for the entire class to hear: there is nothing wrong with loving classic board games. There are a lot of posts around the internet harping on the classics and the people who love them and I’m here to say that while I may throw out a few comments in jest, there really is nothing wrong with liking the classics. For me, one of my favorite classic board games is Scattegories. Any time we I was able to scrounge up another player, Scattegories is the game I would pull out. As an adult gamer, we still sometimes bust it out. We doplay other word games, but nothing quite hit that high like Scattegories did for me in my childhood. That is, until I found TAGS.

While TAGS isn’t quite the exact replica of Scattegories I could have hoped and desired for, it definitely fills the quick word game itch. The game is breeze to set up and teaching it to new players is super easy, especially if they have experience playing classics. While you can nearly play the game right out of the box, the game takes up a little bit more room than you’d think from such a simple game. While I wouldn’t call it a table hog, the full size box does make it seem like there’s more game than there really is. This is counterbalanced by the large, easy to see cards and the chunky marbles, making them easy to grab when you have your answer. I don’t think there’s a way to have this game be smaller and be as good, but it would be nice to have such an easy to play game be more portable.

The game mechanics being so easy really makes the game nice to learn and play. 15 seconds turns allows all players the same playing field and prevents dreaded “analysis paralysis” that some players get on their turns. With these short turns can come a little “thinkers block” and the extra pressure can cause a little anxiety, especially for people who have trouble with being put on the spot. While this game can be played with a lot of different kinds of gamers, it may be best to make sure people are up to the pressure and won’t get frustrated with the game play.

  • Pros:
    • Easy to play and learn
    • Chunky pieces allow for easy grabbing during quick turns
  • Cons:
    • Large game space taken for such an easy game
    • Anxious players may have trouble with quick turns
Ethan’s Review

It is really hard to talk about TAGS without comparing it to Scattergories, which frankly is fine with me because I love Scattergories.  TAGS has the same core mechanism — find words for a specific set of categories that begin with a certain letter — but adds a bit more production and drastically reduces the amount of thinking time.  Indeed, TAGS is a very fast-paced game, giving you only 15 seconds at a time to think of answers and blurt them out. And while you can think and plan your answers on other players’ turns, it can be hard to recall exactly what you were thinking with everyone’s eyes on you!

What I like about TAGS is that it’s quick to set up, quick to play, and very accessible.  You can explain the rules in less than 5 minutes and everyone would be ready to play. Word games tend to have a kind of universal quality that makes them very easy to pick up if they’ve played anything even remotely similar before.  Furthermore, I like that TAGS does involve a bit of strategy — should you go for all of the black marbles since they’re worth more points, or try to complete categories for bonus points? Ultimately, though, the game will almost certainly go to the player best able to think of things starting with a certain letter in a limited time frame.

The quick turns can provide a bit of a drawback as well though.  For better or worse, one feature that always seems to come up in word games, especially those that require some creativity like Scattergories or TAGS, is arguing over whether or not an answer fits the category or theme, with the active player defending their answer.  In Scattergories this is easy, since revealing and discussing answers comes in an un-timed period after thinking up the answers. However, in TAGS, due to the fast-paced real-time nature of the game, it’s hard to object to an answer or have the active player defend it without bringing the game to a halt and being unfair to the active player.  I guess it’s meant to be a feature in that answers need to be either unanimously accepted or quickly rejected without argument, but in practice it can make being the active player tough if you’re not 100% confident in an answer you’re giving. Another drawback is that the game only plays up to 4 people. While by the nature of the game (turning the board for each player and the limited marble supply) it would be impractical to play with more than that, it feels limiting these days to have a quick party game so limited by player count.  It makes sense for families, but when you do most of your gaming in a large group setting as we do, it’s good when light party-ish games can be played by a large number at once. I suppose you could play TAGS in teams, either working together at once or switching the answer giver per team every turn, but at its core it’s not meant to be played with more than 4 at a time.

All in all, TAGS is a quick and light word game that I really enjoy.  If you like games like Scattergories (or for a modern example, Knit Wit) where you have to think of words matching a category under a constraint like requiring a given starting letter, give TAGS a try — you might be spell-bound!

  • Pros:
    • Super easy to set up and for new players to learn
    • Great modern game replacement for Scattergories
  • Cons:
    • Quick turns make discussing or debating answers difficult
    • Only plays with up to 4 players, unless you add teams
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Continuing with our Top 5 Games of 2018, this week we are going to review The Mind! Want to dig deeper into our minds? Click below to read more!

Overview

Practice your slow breathing. Dig deep into your self. Do you remember the numbers on your cards? Good. Now think. Really think. Do you have the lowest card in your hand. Is it time to play your card? Are you sure? Dig deep, deep into your mind . . . and look below on how to play The Mind.

Gameplay

The Mind is about as simple as it comes in terms of gameplay.  It is a cooperative game where players must “meld minds” in order to discard cards in ascending order with no communication.  It is played over a number of rounds, based on the player count (from 8 for 4 players to 12 for 2, though I suppose you could vary the number of rounds for a more or less difficult game).  Each round, players are dealt an increasing number of cards from a deck that numbers from 1-100 — so in the first round players will have one card each, in the second round they’ll have two, and so on.  Then, once all players place a hand on the table to signify that they’re ready, the game begins. Again, without communicating at all with each other, players must determine the right moment to play their cards.  With a low numbered card like 3 or 5, it’ll be played fairly quickly after the start of the round, while with a very high numbered card you’re usually safe to wait a while before playing it. But with more cards as the rounds go on, and with numbers right in the middle of the range, you must figure out what the other players have and when it is safe to play your cards.  If in a round all the cards are played correctly in ascending order, the players move on to the next round. But if at any time a card is played and one or more other players has a card that goes before it, the players lose a life (players start with as many lives as there are players) and all skipped cards are discarded before resuming play. In addition, players start the game with one shuriken.  The shuriken can be used at any point with all players unanimously agreeing to use it (indicated by raising a hand). When the shuriken is used, all players discard the lowest card currently in their hand. This is useful to narrow down the possible range of numbers remaining in players’ hands. Finally, any player can stop the action at any time by saying, “Stop.” This is used to refocus concentration on the game, and can also be useful if a player has cards that follow each other sequentially and wants to prevent anyone from playing a card between them.  For most levels the players complete, they will earn a reward (either an extra life or a shuriken) that will help them to reach the final level. If they can complete the last level by discarding all of their cards without running out of lives, their minds truly have become one and they win The Mind!

Components and Artwork
Amber’s Review

There’s something about trying to figure out hidden information that really gets my brain going. When we first got into gaming, I found that I really love the game Hanabi because there was a way to logic out what is hiding in your hand in play them in order. When I first heard of The Mind, I was hoping to get that similar feeling, of being able to “figure it out” and keep winning time and time again. However, the simplicity of the game play doesn’t reflect how difficult this game can be. Depending on who you play with and how well you can read each other, this game can be a breeze or as difficult as defusing a bomb. We’ve played the game with a few different groups now and it’s interesting to see how in sync players are from varying groups! With no way of communicating, this game can really be just a guessing game, which can make it more difficult to play depending on your group.

Beside the ease of play, I think another reason this game became instantly popular for use was the ease to carry it around. Because it comes in a small box and only has cards as playing materials, it’s easy to throw in a bag or a pocket and keep it on hand for before meals, between games, and other small breaks. A small table footprint means it’s probably okay for small and cramped spaces as well, although we haven’t had a chance to try it out in an airplane or such spaces quite yet. It’s affordable, it’s small, it’s fun. It’s definitely worth having.

  • Pros
    • Fun way to see how in sync you are with your friends
    • Quick game play
    • Easy to take with you
  • Cons
    • Can be difficult to win depending on your group
    • May wear out its welcome if you play with the same people
Ethan’s Review

I first learned about The Mind from the buzz it generated on BoardGameGeek after the Origins game fair last year, well in advance of getting to try it out.  Even back then, it seemed like opinions on the game were strongly divided, with some saying that it was great and that they had played it dozens of times, while others said that it didn’t even qualify as a game, they didn’t see the appeal of it, and that it had already overstayed its welcome.  Not letting the negative opinions color my perception too much, I was still cautiously optimistic to try The Mind. After all, I love Hanabi and other cooperative games with limited communication. We didn’t get to try the game until much later, in September, when someone brought their copy to our gaming meetup.  It was a ton of fun! We played it three times in a row that first day, getting one round further each time (from 3 to 4 to 5, with four players). We’ve since gotten our own copy of the game and have played it several more times with different people, and it’s been an enjoyable experience each time. Its small size makes it very portable, so it can be carried around and played almost anywhere, and it’s super easy to learn and quick to play.  It’s pretty interesting to see how well we do with different groups. While we didn’t do so well the first times we’ve played with new groups, when we played it with Mama Meeple over Christmas, we were already so well in sync that we made it to level 9 on our first try! And while Amber and I haven’t played a two-player game yet, I feel like we’d do fairly well at that since we’re usually on the same wavelength. I can see how this game might not be for all groups though, or how some might not really get the point of it.  As those early adopters who dismissed it claimed, it may be more of an activity than a game, but who cares? It’s a totally fun activity, and that’s what’s important

  • Pros:
    • Super easy to teach and learn; you can be ready to play in 3 minutes.
    • It’s fun to see how well you can “sync up” with new groups of people who’ve never played before
  • Cons:
    • More of an activity than a game, which can be a con for the people who care about that
    • Could potentially lose replayability after repeated plays with the same group of people
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In part two of our “Top Games of 2018” review series we take a look at Space Base, Two Board Meeples #1 game of 2018! While you may guess that it will get a pretty raving review, we invite you to read more to see what all our buzz was about!

Overview

We have made it to the final frontier! We have the technology and we’re moving onward and upward, literally! We’ve headed to space and we’re ready to colonize, but it’s a race to become the best and most efficient colony out there. Do you have what it takes? Will you become the most sought after colony?

Game play

Space Base is an engine-building game that uses a mechanism that others have described as “I roll, everyone gets something”. Each player starts with a tableau of 12 spaceship cards, fittingly numbered 1 through 12. These cards have a blue action section, and on the bottom, upside down, a red action section. Most of the actions in the game contain one or more of three symbols: a yellow circle for money, a greenish planet for income, and a rocket ship symbolizing points. There are other actions utilizing special effects described in textual form, and some actions that involve small squares that need to be charged up before they can be used.

On a player’s turn, they roll both of the dice. Then, they choose to either take the numbers separately, or take the sum of the numbers. For example, if I rolled a 3 and a 5, I could take either the 3 and 5 actions or the 8 action. On your turn, you take the blue action from your ship cards, gaining money, income, points, or using their special abilities. Then, after you’ve activated your card(s), you may use your available money to buy a new card from the available market rows. There are three market rows with cards getting more powerful and more expensive in each subsequent row. Each market card also has a number from 1 to 12 in its upper left corner, and the cost and its upper right. When you buy a new card, it replaces the existing card in your tableau for that number. The existing card then is turned upside down and tucked under the top edge of your board so that only the red action is visible. If there is already a card above your board in that slot, the new card gets tucked behind that one so that you can see all of the available red actions. On other players’ turns, you also get the option of taking the dice individually or taking the sum of the dice, activating all of the red actions above your board for those numbers. With this, you always have something to do, even on other players’ turns. Aside from the cards in the market row, there are also point cards available to be purchased. There is one of these cards for each value from 1 to 12, and they are all relatively expensive, going up to a maximum cost of 42 money.  These cards have a yellow background instead of a blue action, and give a one-time immediate payout of points when purchased. The drawback to these cards is that they “lock down” that numbered slot on your board, preventing you from buying any further cards for that slot. Also of note is that when you buy a new card, you reset your money down to your income level, no matter what the cost of the card because “there is no change in space”. After (optionally) purchasing a new card, you pass the dice to the next player because your turn is over.

As mentioned above, in addition to the basic actions granting money, income, or points, there are also some special actions. Some of these actions are as simple as “gain two level one cards” (for free), or “switch this card with another in your tableau” (which makes it easier to put higher valued cards in a more commonly rolled number). Other actions require you to “charge” them up, by putting a small clear cube on that power before it is activated. Some of the more powerful actions require multiple charges before they can be activated, indicated by several linked squares for the clear charge cubes to be placed. One of the more infamous cards in the game just has a power that says “You Win”. This card is placed in the 12 slot and requires three to five charges (based on player count) and when activated ends the game immediately with that player winning. It is difficult to pull off, but can be done. Otherwise, the goal of the game is to be the first player to get 40 points. When one player has 40 or more points, the endgame is triggered. The current round is finished, and at the end the player with the most points wins!

Components and Artwork
Amber’s Review

We encountered Space Base at a local con in 2018 and I immediately fell in love. I didn’t have the experience of playing Machi Koro, a game a lot of people compare this to, but I did have the experience playing Valeria: Card Kingdoms, which has similar elements. One thing I really loved about Valeria: Card Kingdoms was how other players’ turn benefited you as well, and how you really needed to pay attention during these turns to make sure you didn’t miss out something that could really help you. I always admit that I have a hard time paying attention between player turns, so games that have player interaction between turns really spark my interest.

The mechanics of this game keep this game really easy to learn. Simplistically, you really are only doing two things: rolling Dice and drawing cards. The skill in this game comes from learning how best to build your engine to make the numbers on your board most profitable. There is an advantage to knowing the cards in the deck, so newer players may have a disadvantage when playing with veteran players.  However, sometimes a win comes from a really good dice roll which nobody but the dice Gods can control.

While I’m not typically a fan of space-themed games, this one surprisingly caught my attention right away. I think that maybe because the theme doesn’t really matter in this game. This game could have had many different other themes and it would not have changed the way the game was played. This is fine and not a big deal but worth mentioning for the people who really get attached to certain themes.  You won’t necessarily get immersed in the feeling of colonizing space for the first time, but it definitely works. I’m interested in seeing if the new expansion coming out in 2019 will change any of that.

Overall, Space Base is a great light game that is easy to teach to new players with enough strategy to interest veteran players.

Pros:

  • Easy to teach, approachable
  • Keeps players engaged between turns

Cons:

  • Theme is sort of just there, not really important
  • Veteran players may have an advantage with knowing card combinations
Ethan’s Review

Space Base is a game that everyone I’ve played it with has enjoyed.  I think there’s no greater endorsement for a game than people wanting to play it again right away, or deciding to buy their own copies immediately after playing it for the first time.  Let’s explore what has made Space Base so beloved within our gaming groups.

At its core, Space Base is a pretty simple game.  On your turn, roll the dice and activate one or two of your cards, depending on whether you use the dice separately or use the combined sum.  Then, optionally buy a card and add it to your board, resetting your money to zero (plus any income you receive). Finally, pass the dice because your turn is done.  Of course it can get more complex with the cards’ special powers, but it’s generally a few rounds before you can but the higher-level cards, so it starts off with a slow burn and players are mostly just getting money, income, and occasionally points.  That makes the game pretty beginner-friendly, as it introduces the dice-rolling and card activation slowly before you get into the more complex actions. I’ve taught this game to some folks newer to board games and they picked it up quickly, and were some of the ones who requested to play a second game right after finishing the first!  Don’t let the ease of learning and playing fool you, though; Space Base has also been heartily enjoyed by seasoned gamers also.

Where I think Space Base really shines is in the breadth of viable strategies.  Do you want to buy a bunch of cards in the 1-6 range, since those could come up on each die, or do you want to pile a bunch of cards on the 7 since it’s the most likely outcome when combining the two dice?  For that matter, do you want to invest a lot of cards in one number and get a big payout when it comes up, or have something on every number so that you’re at least getting something, no matter how small, on every turn?  Or, do you want to go for the special powers that can be charged up, letting you do lots of cool things on your turn, maybe even the “You Win” card, hoping to charge it up enough to just automatically win the game? In the dozen or so plays I’ve had of Space Base so far, I’ve seen all of those strategies and more, to varying degrees of success.  The great thing is that there doesn’t appear to be one dominant strategy that always wins, partially due to luck of the draw in what cards are available for purchase and partially due to how the dice come up throughout the course of the game. When three people roll 12 in a row, the person who risked putting several very powerful cards in that slot is going to do very well, but that strategy isn’t always going to pay off.  I feel like there may be a point when the available strategies and cards get played out, but there is at least one expansion coming out, with I believe several more planned, so there should be a lot of variety and innovation to come.

Of course, no game is perfect, and Space Base does have some drawbacks.  One of the more nit-picky things I can bring up is that the game takes up a lot of table space, especially as a mostly card-driven game with very skinny cards.  But, when you have to have out three rows of six cards for the market, plus the available point cards, plus give all players room for their board and tableau of cards, it eats up a lot of the available “space” quickly.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but is something to be aware of before trying to set up the game. The more serious critique is that the game is definitely luck-driven, as you can probably tell, with the inclusion of card draw-piles and dice, and I know there are people out there who dislike games so heavily luck based.  I talked at length about the various different strategies you can take, but really the reason they’re all potentially viable is that how the dice come up and the cards available for purchase can change things from game to game. While there is some skill in knowing which cards synergize and how to build a good engine, it is possible to luck into victory, and while that doesn’t bother me that much, I know there are people who refuse to play that kind of game.

Ultimately, Space Base is a fun lighter game that I’ve enjoyed each time I’ve played it.  If you enjoy Machi Koro or Valeria: Card Kingdoms, Space Base will feel very familiar to you (while I’ve never played Machi Koro, it seems to be a universal sentiment from everyone who has that Space Base is a better implementation of that game’s mechanics).  If you like other engine-building games and don’t mind a bit of luck, give Space Base a try; it just might an out of this world experience!

Pros:

  • Easy to learn, even for less experienced gamers.
  • Many viable strategic paths to victory.

Cons:

  • Surprisingly large table footprint for the small-ish box size and relatively light game play.
  • Double luck factor with both what comes up in the cards..
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The first month of the new year is just about finished and while everyone is looking ahead with a fresh perspective, we think it’s a good idea to look back and see where we were. 2017 was a great year of gaming for us and provided a great Top 5, but do these games still bring us as much excited as they used to? Read below to find out!

Amber’s #5 – The Unlock Series
Plays in 2018: 2

Ahh, the Unlocked Series. While these games are absolutely beloved, the “one and done” nature of the games don’t allow for good replayability. But, they keep releasing new versions, so of course we picked them up and gave them a try. This year, we were able to play “A Noside Story” and “Tombstone Express,” which provided a few new mechanics and an exciting race to the end. Since Space Cowboys has been able to keep new fun stories and mechanics, I’m sure we will continue purchasing and enjoying The Unlock Series for a while.

Ethan’s #5 – Lisboa
Plays in 2018: 0

I’m starting off my list with some sad news, in that I haven’t gotten a chance to play Lisboa again since 2017.  Our gaming last year was very diminished compared to the previous years (for reference, I logged 776 plays in 2017, but only 475 in 2018), and heavier games were hit the hardest.  While I still really enjoyed playing Lisboa, and I enjoy playing all of Vital Lacerda’s games (we’re hopefully going to be able to play CO2 this Friday, and will be getting Escape Plan from Kickstarter later this year), I’m not sure if I’d still rank it so highly just because of how hard it is to get to play.  And that is mostly a function of our gaming groups — one of the groups mostly meets on weeknights at a mall gaming store, and when we have to be out of the store by 8:15 (now 7:45 with winter hours), there isn’t always time for a big, multi-hour game. I’m hopeful that I can do some more heavy gaming this year, with Lisboa being one of the games I most want to play again, but if I were re-making my top 5 list today, it unfortunately probably wouldn’t have made the cut.

Amber and Ethan’s #4 – Magic Maze
Plays in 2018: 10

Amber’s Review: Magic Maze was a game I was unsure about in the beginning, but loved immediately after playing it once. Although we both took an extreme liking to the game, there were a lot of copies floating around our gaming group, so we decided we didn’t need it in our collection. I’m so thankful we were still able to get quite a few plays of the game in thanks to these lovely people and still found joy in playing it each time. I think the relatively quick nature of the game and it being a co-op brought it out to the table quite a bit for our group and I hope that it keeps coming out!

Ethan’s Review: On the flip side, Magic Maze is a game we played a bunch last year despite not owning it.  This game is still a ton of fun, and even new players are able to catch on to its idiosyncrasies pretty quickly.  One thing that I’ve come to find interesting is in how Magic Maze deals with the alpha gamer problem in cooperative games.  Because players can’t talk for most of the course of the game, it is a pretty good way to literally shut up an alpha gamer. However, there are a few moments when players can talk with each other and discuss the game, and in those brief periods of time, you almost need someone who can effectively lay out the situation, what needs to happen next, and how to achieve that.  I definitely still think Magic Maze is a cool concept, even among the field of other co-op games with limited communication (Hanabi, The Mind, etc.) and will likely never turn down a chance to play it.

Amber’s #3 – Meeple Circus
Plays in 2018: 3

Anytime I see the name “Meeple Circus,” I can’t help but to get circus music stuck in my head. After many fun plays in 2017, we decided to add a copy of Meeple Circus to our collection, but I’ve found that sometimes with really fun, thematic games, sometimes you have to just be in the mood to play them. It seems this happens especially with dexterity games, where you need to make sure you have enough space around the room or that there’s enough table space so that no one accidentally bumps your masterpiece. There is also a sort of hesitance with some players to try out dexterity games and I’ve heard a few reasons as to why: I’m no good at dexterity games, there’s little strategy, it’s more of an activity. None of these reasons have kept me away, however, and I’m excited to keep playing this game and trying new dexterity games into 2019!

Ethan’s #3 – Sagrada
Plays in 2018: 2

Sagrada is a great game of dice drafting and window drafting where there’s a constant puzzle of trying to fill your stained glass window while getting the most of the end-game bonus cards.  I really like puzzly games involving spatial reasoning, where you need to figure out how to best fit things into a certain space (such as Patchwork or Bärenpark), and Sagrada scratches that itch well.  Each round you have to figure out which of the dice in the common pool will help you the most while fitting into your color and number restrictions. With the recent 5-6 player expansion (which I haven’t tried out yet) and an upcoming trilogy of expansions that add more cool things, I’m sure Sagrada will be hitting our tables a lot more in 2019!

Amber’s #2 – 3 Secrets
Plays in 2018: 4

It seems like we have a game with us wherever we go, so having a more portable game to keep us busy between activities is fantastic! Insert: 3 Secrets. This game not only has a small complete footprint, but with gameplay consisting of only cards, there is plenty of room to play this game while you’re out and about. That is, except the themes of this game can get a little morbid. While viewing the scene and description on the card, players must ask yes or no questions to the facilitator to try to discover the three secrets from the card, however, these secrets usually involve murder, mayhem, or some other sort of illegality, making it a little interesting to ask some of these questions in public, so be warned! We also picked up a copy of Dark Stories 2, which has nearly identical gameplay to 3 Secrets with similar morbid themes. While only gaining 4 plays of 3 secrets, we’ve logged 21 plays of Dark Stories 2, making me believe we’ll be playing this one for a little while yet.

Ethan’s #2 – Exit/Unlock Series
Plays in 2018: 5 Total

“Escape Room in a Box” games are still in vogue in our gaming world.  We actually just played another new Exit game this past weekend, and have a standing order with our FLGS for any new Exit, Unlock, or Deckscape games that come in.  Even after going through a lot of these games, they are still able to challenge us with new puzzles and keep things fresh with new twists and surprises. Our high esteem for these games is definitely not going anywhere soon, and if I were making this list again, I’m sure they’d be rated just as highly.

Amber’s #1 – Werewords
Plays in 2018: 68 (including Deluxe)

This game was a hit with our group when first introduced in 2017 and continues to be a hit to this day. We can’t bring Werewords to the table without playing it at least 3 times, if not not 5-10 times in a night! The introduction of Werewords: Deluxe brought some interesting new mechanics to the game; the so close and way off tiles have changed the way both villager and mayor characters give answers to players and new roles have shaken games up a bit. There will be no taking this game away from OUR gaming group, as long as there are words to guess, we’ll be trying to get them!

Ethan’s #1 – Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
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