Browsed by
Author: Dave

Cry Havoc Review

Cry Havoc Review

Alright, today we’re getting back on track with our look back at 2016. There were a few games that I was especially excited to get to play this year with all of the Gencon buzz. Today we’ll take a look at one of those games.


Cry Havoc

Designers: Grant Rodiek, Michał Oracz, Michał Walczak

Play Time: 90-120 minutes

Player Count: 2-4 Players


Cry Havoc is an asymmetric, area-control game published by Portal Games. In Cry Havoc, each player controls a unique faction to try to influence the planet on which the game is set. There are 4 different factions available to play, however one of the factions is only used in a 4-player game, and when playing with less than 4, the other players control that faction. This faction is the Trogs. The Trogs are the native species of the planet. Their goal is to try to get everyone off their planet. The next faction is the Humans. The humans are trying to take control of as much of the planet as possible. There are also the Machines. The machines are on the warpath, and they are efficient killing machines. Lastly, there are the Pilgrims. They are another species of aliens that is on the planet to research the resources the planet has to offer.

The 4 different faction markers

The game is played over the course of 5 rounds, and each player is going to get 3 turns to perform their actions per round. The actions available are move, draw cards, build/activate a structure, recruit more units to the board, and enable scoring. Each player also has a special ability that they are able to activate once per round, which doesn’t count as your action. Once all 3 rounds are complete, you enter the battle resolution phase. This is one of the unique features of this game. Starting with the attacking player, you may choose to place you attacking figures on the battle resolution board. There are 3 different battle objectives. The first is Region Control. Whoever has the most figures on this objective will take control of the region in which the battle occurred. The second is Capture Prisoners. Whoever has majority of this objective will take one of their opponents figures prisoner. The last is the Attrition objective. For each figure that is placed on this space, you get to kill one of the other players figures. Once the attacker places his figures, the defender places theirs. You then get the opportunity to play cards and move you figures to different objectives until both players have passed, at which point the objectives are resolved. This happens for each battle that takes place. After all battles are resolved, you award points for prisoners that are held and if scoring was enabled, everybody will score their points before performing the clean-up actions.

Things I like:

  • Asymmetry. So far I’ve played as 2 of the different factions in the game, and they feel drastically different. You can’t try to play another faction’s strategy against it, because it is simply better at it. You have to adapt your play style to the faction you control. It makes each different faction function totally differently.
  • Tight rounds. You don’t get to do a whole lot in this game. And that’s a good thing. You at most will get 15 turns, and in some cases the game will get shortened to 4 rounds, resulting in only 12 turns. This makes every decision important. It also means that you can’t do everything you want to. It creates a great tension of trying to maximize your turns. You could play two games back to back with the same faction and take completely different strategies within that faction and have both be viable options. One game you may focus on attacking, while the next it could be more about building, but both are good choices.

The building options for the Machines
  • The Minis and Bases. The game has cool minis. What I find even cooler, is that the minis also have little pop on bases that help to differentiate the player colors. They don’t serve any other function, but it helps make it a little easier to tell you guys apart when you look at a big crowded board.

The 4 different factions in the game with the pop on bases.
  • Variety. Each faction has 3 different buildings available (the machines have 5), and each faction has 5 different special ability cards that are available to draw from at the start of the game. I mentioned it above, but there are so many different ways to play this game, and I love it.

The different special actions cards that you can start with
  • Art. Again, we have a big beautiful game with big beautiful art. The board is bright and colorful, but what really grabs me is the artwork on the different cards. Each faction has slightly different cards and each location does as well, and the art on them is fantastic.

Examples of the location cards
  • Scoring. Scoring in this game isn’t automatic. Sure, you can always score a couple points here and there, but no one will actually score for area control until one person uses their turn to enable the scoring round. At that time, the person who enabled the scoring will get to score for each area they control, as well as for each crystal they control. Everyone else will only get to score for crystals they control. You have to give up one of your valuable turns to score points, but you may net the other players points. It’s a really cool mechanic that works really well.

Things I don’t like

  • 2-players. The first time I played this game, my wife and I tried the 2-player game. We weren’t the biggest fans. You play on the back side of the board which has a different map. We played with the Humans vs. the Pilgrims. I don’t think the Pilgrims can win in a 2-player match up. Either way, it’s best to have at least 3-players. It makes the game much more fun.
  • Wrap-around Map. In order to make the map accessible from each point, the corner spaces of the map are wrap-around, meaning that you can go from one corner of the board to the opposite corner, considering the spaces adjacent. This isn’t a huge complaint from me, and I understand the necessity, but it’s not my favorite thing. With a board that gets as full as this one, it can get easy to forget this movement and can leave a “back door” for your opponents.

This is an awesome game. I’m not a huge “dudes-on-a-map” fan, but this one really works for me. It’s incredibly fun, there are great choices to make, but it’s not so involved that it gets overly complicated. I really like it, and it’s one of my favorite games from 2016.

Set up and ready to play with 3-players

GLG Rating 8.5/10

Check it out on Portal’s Website Here, and on BGG Here.

Iris Kickstarter Preview

Iris Kickstarter Preview

So today I’m going to take a quick break from my look back at 2016 to do a review of a game that is currently on Kickstarter, called Iris. I’m a big fan of cooperative games. I love working together with your friends to beat a game. Iris is a cooperative game in microgame package. Let’s take a look.


Iris

Designer: Dustin Vance

Play Time: 20 minutes

Player Count: 1-4 players


Iris is a cooperative microgame published by Captive Publishing. In Iris, you play as a group of humans trying to manage human population settlements and clone work forces. The goal of the game is to keep as much of the population alive as possible. At the beginning of the game, you place out the 4 planet cards on the table. You then shuffle the clone deck, discard two cards without looking at them, and then place one clone card above each planet. The remaining clone cards are dealt out to each player and kept with the clone data side down. The clones are, in fact, evil and trying to kill off the humans at each planet.  On the back of each clone card is the clone data, which is one of the letters A, B, M, or O.

Examples of the clone data cards.

On your turn, you can take the standard turn, which is to scan a clone (look at the ‘data’ or back of the card), place a clone above a planet, and then place a population token. You can also take an alternate turn, which are listed on the front of the clone cards. Over the course of the game, you are trying to place the clones in such a way that the words, Bomb, Mob, and Ammo aren’t spelled out using the planet cards and the clones at each location. If those words are spelled out, the human population at that location will decrease. In the easy game, you are trying to achieve the human survival goal of 7 tokens, while the standard game has a goal of 9 tokens.

Things I like:

  • The puzzle. This game is puzzley. There’s a memory component as you try to remember what cards you’ve placed at which location. It can get really difficult as you try to remember letter patterns at the different locations combined with the cards that you’ve moved around. It can get even more difficult as you start using the alternative actions to look at cards in your hand as well.
  • Play time. This game doesn’t take long to play. The packaging says 20 minutes and I think that may even be a little on the high end. You can whip out a game, check to see how humanity fared, and then shuffle up to play again. It plays really quickly.
  • The Location Art. The copy that I’ve played with has prototype components. The art is decent as it is, but having seen the final art on the Kickstarter page, I really like the new location art. It adds some nice color and pop to the game.

The Location Cards without the new artwork.

Things I don’t like:

  • Theme. This one is tough for a microgame. Generally speaking, it’s tough to have a hugely thematic experience in a package this small. That happens here as well. It doesn’t really feel like you’re trying to save human populations from an evil clone workforce. It mostly feels like you’re trying to solve a memory puzzle.
  • Difficulty. This may sound like a strange one, but I’ve found that in the plays I’ve gone through with this game, I’ve been a little more successful than I would like. I like when a cooperative game is a little more difficult and smacks me around a little bit more. The more we played this, we consistently tried to complete the standard puzzle, trying to keep even more than 9 tokens on the board.
  • Foot print. For being a microgame, this one takes up a lot of space on the table. This is a minor point, but make sure you have some space to play.

Final play space at the end of a game.

Overall, this is a decent little game. I wouldn’t say it’s anything earth shattering, but I don’t think you’re going to find that in many micro games. I think for this one, it’s just not my style of game. It’s got some nice puzzley aspects and it plays pretty well solo too. If you’re looking for a quick little cooperative microgame, this might be one to check out.

GLG Rating: 5.5/10

Check out the Kickstarter Here, or on Captive Publishing’s page Here.

New Bedford Review

New Bedford Review

So, for the first review of the 2016 review set, I’m going to go with one of the games that I was most excited to get, New Bedford. I was fortunate enough to get to playtest this game before it was kickstarted by Greater Than Games and Dice Hate Me Games, and ever since that first playthrough, I was excited to get the final copy. This review is also going to cover some of the expansion material from New Bedford: Rising Tide. The expansion adds some modular material, most of which I’ve used, but the thing I like about it the most is the addition of a 5th player. Let’s get to it.


New Bedford

Designer: Nathaniel Levan

Play Time: 75 minutes

Player Count: 1-4 Players, 5 with the expansion


New Bedford is a worker-placement/resource management game in which you take on the role of a whaling captain in 1800’s New Bedford. Over the course of the game you are trying to construct as many buildings in town while also sending out whaling crews to catch whales to earn points. On your turn, you have 2 meeples that you will place on the board. When the game begins, there are only 5 spaces to place your meeples, but that will increase as the game goes on. The actions start with basic gaining of resources, which then allow you to build ships and then send them out to sea, or construct buildings to place in town. Buildings that are built become new action spaces for subsequent turns. After all the meeples have been placed, the ships out to sea move one space closer to land and begin the whaling portion of the game. There is a draw bag which is full of whales and empty sea tiles.

The Ocean Bag, with the whales and empty sea tiles

The ship that is the farthest out to sea in the 1st position gets the first pick of the available whale tiles and it then proceeds from player to player as the ships get closer to land until every boat has picked a tile or there are only sea tiles left. If, when the ships move closer to land, any ships reach shore, they have to pay their crew for each whale that was caught, and if they are unable to, they can sell whales to the other players to help cover their costs.

The whaling board, with ships at sea

Play proceeds in this order until 12 rounds have been played and then the ships at sea get one last opportunity to process their whales. At that point, each player totals up their points earned from whales and buildings and whoever has the highest score is the winner.

Things I like:

  • Theme. This is such a unique theme. I love unique themes and this one is so cool. I know that Greater Than Games took some heat when this game released because people didn’t like that you killed whales, but I don’t think that’s worth getting upset over. It happened. It was a way of life for a lot of people. And the rulebook even talks about the negative effect whaling had on whale populations and that overall it wasn’t a good thing. Either way, I really like the theme.
  • Quick Turns. Each player has 2 meeples. Once they are both placed, that phase is done. Turns move at such a quick clip in this game. When you tell someone a game will last 12 rounds, it can sound daunting, but not so here. It’s great for the pace of the game.
  • Light press your luck. There isn’t a lot press your luck, but the longer you’re at sea, the more whales you can catch. Which is great! If you can pay for them. You might bring in a huge shipload of whales, but if you can’t pay for them, your opponents get the opportunity to buy the points right out from under you. Which may cost you the game. It’s a fun balance to find.
  • Tight scores. Each time I’ve played this game, the scores have finished over a spread of 7 or less points. That makes the above point about not giving your opponents whales, an even bigger challenge.
  • The Board. As you construct buildings, the tiles are placed on the board facing you. It’s a great way to keep track of which building belongs to which person.

The board for the 5 player version
  • The buildings. A majority of the buildings become actions that are available to all the other players. Each building can only be used once per round, and if someone other than the owner uses the buildings, they have to pay the owner 1 coin to perform that action. It can make certain buildings very profitable early in the game. Additionally, the expansion adds more buildings to the game, so there is variety in every play. One last thing to mention about the buildings is that each building tile is 2-sided. The back has the exact text which explains what the building does, but once you know the iconography, you can use the front of the tiles which are fully colored and much prettier to look at.

The top 3 buildings with the back side up, while the bottom 5 have the full artwork.
  • Bits. I know. Broken record. Really cool pieces in this game.

Wood, Brick, and Food
  • The Art. Again, broken record. But this game is really beautiful. And I’d be remiss to not throw a shout out to a fellow Michigander, artist Nolan Nassar.
One of the player boards

Things I don’t like.

  • The whaling. I love the theme in this game. I’m not the biggest fan of the execution of the whaling though. There is a big bag of tiles that you draw from when whaling. You draw the number of tiles per ship whaling plus one. I’ve played before where someone gets a boat out to sea early to get the advantage, and then they don’t get a good draw of whales. It’s the one big piece of luck in this game, and there isn’t a great way to mitigate it. That is, unless you are playing with the Ship’s Log cards         which includes the Providence deck and Omen Deck. When using these decks, you display the top card of the deck face up, and you can choose to take one of these cards instead of taking a whale tile. This helps make this something that bothers me much less.
3 Providence cards on top and 3 Omen cards on bottom
  • The player colors. Sounds nit-picky, right? Usually I don’t care about these things too much, but it causes a problem in this game. The colors included are blue, orange, yellow, black, and green. This is only a problem with the ships. The pieces for the ships are great, but they are all white with colored keels. This is fine for the blue, yellow, and orange. In poor light, the green and black are almost indistinguishable, and it’s even tough in good light. Like I said, it’s minor, but it bothers me.
The different ships. The 2 on the left are blue, and the 2 on the right are the black and green, in that order.
  • The Expansion. This may sound contradictory, but let me explain. The expansion is fantastic. That being said, I think the base game and expansion should have all been in one box. The expansion material isn’t necessary, but adds so much and fixes some things that I didn’t like, and keeps the game fresh.

Overall, this game is a success for me. I wouldn’t say it does anything that blows me away, but at the same point provides a very solid entry into the worker placement category that doesn’t feel like every other worker placement game. I really like it and would definitely say it’s worth taking a look at. Really solid game from 2016.

GLG Rating 7.5/10

Check it out on Greater Than Games Website Here

Check it out on BGG Here

Finishing up the year

Finishing up the year

So it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve posted. It’s been busier than normal. I finished up my most recent job contract on the 13th and we moved yesterday, the 14th, from Oakland, CA, down to Woodland Hills, CA, which is North LA. Like I mentioned, it was a whirlwind of a couple weeks. We spent 4 of the 5 weekday evenings last week hanging out with friends that we had made in Oakland, and we were playing games on 2 of those days. The other day was spent packing up all of our stuff and getting ready for the 5-and-a-half-hour drive. All in all, it’s been a good week, although busy.

It’s also the season where all the board game media outlets, whether that be bloggers, youtubers, or podcasters, have been putting together their best of 2016 lists. I have probably casually read or listened to at least 10 best-of-‘16 lists, and that is without really searching them out. And that’s a little bit about what I want to talk about today.

Starting for the next few weeks (not entirely sure how many), I’m going to start doing weekly(hopefully), reviews of games that came out in 2016. I won’t be doing a big top ten list or a countdown, or anything like that. I’m just going to try to highlight some of the games that were really popular this year and that were swept up in the “hotness.” While traveling around, I don’t always get to play the new games that have all the buzz, but this year we’ve done a decent job of at least playing a lot of them, and buying some of them too. That’s the big reason I won’t do a top ten. I don’t feel that I’ve played enough games to base that on.

Some of the games that will be coming in the next little while are Cry Havoc, Inis, New Bedford, Great Western Trail, and many others. Like I mentioned above, the plan is to try to get one review out per week, and if I’m feeling really ambitious, maybe more. It’s going to be kind of a miniseries/retrospective on 2016 games.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts, and if there are any specific games that you think I should try to feature, feel free to let me know on facebook at the Great Lakes Gamer page or on twitter at @TheGLGamer!

Viticulture: Essential Edition Review

Viticulture: Essential Edition Review

Alright, first off, let me start by stating and admitting that I’m a self-diagnosed Stonemaier games junkie. As I’ve mentioned before, Euphoria is my favorite game and everything they’ve published so far, I’ve liked. Actually, more than liked. I’ll kickstart whatever they want to publish because I know I’m getting a good product. Plus, Jamey Stegmaier is phenomenal at responding to questions and social media posts, and even recommends tweeting him during games if you have rules questions. That’s a company I can get behind. That’s why today’s review is another one of their games. And as an FYI, this review is for the Viticulture Essential Edition, which includes some of the modules from the original Tuscany expansion.


Viticulture: Essential Edition

Designers: Jamey Stegmaier, Alan Stone

Player Count: 2-6 Players

Play time: 90 minutes


Viticulture is a worker-placement game that is themed around not only producing wine, but also building a thriving winery and vineyard. The game plays in rounds over the course of an in-game year. During spring, players bid for turn order. Summer is the worker placement season where you get grapes, plant vines, build new buildings/structures at the vineyard and can give tours to make a little extra cash. In autumn, you get a visitor card, which is essentially an action card that can be played in either summer or winter.

Examples of Visitor Cards

Finally, in winter, you can harvest your fields, turn crushed grapes into wine, hire new workers or sell your wine to complete orders. There are more options and details than that, but it gives you an idea of what each season holds. At the end of the year, you collect income from the orders you completed, age your crushed grapes and wine, and reset for the next year. The game is played in rounds until one person has scored 20 points. Once someone hits 20, the current year is played out and whoever has the most points is the winner.

Things I like

  • The seasons/board. This could be a thing I love. You have a set number of workers in the game, but two different seasons to use them. Once you use a worker in the summer phase, you don’t get him back until the end of the year. You may have an awesome opportunity to build a structure at a discount during summer, but if you use a worker there, you might not be able to do everything during winter that you need to. It’s a nice change to the typical worker placement formula.

  • Varying player counts. On the board, each place to play workers has the art for 3 different workers to be placed there, but the circles are progressively more faded. This allows for varying player counts, because in a 2-player game, only one of the circles is available, while in a 5 or 6 player game, all 3 spots are available. You get the same good tension regardless of how many people play.

The different play spaces for varying player counts
  • Wine/Grape counters. You track the value of your wines with glass counters, similar to mancala pieces, but there are clear and much smaller. I love them. They do a great job of marking where you are, but you can still see the number underneath. Awesome design idea.
  • More bits. This is a Stonemaier staple. There are eight structures that can be built and each of them has a different wooden bit. Plus, when you bid for turn order, you place a little wooden rooster on the board. It serves no purpose than to be a place holder, but they are so stinking awesome.

Bits and bits and bits

 

Thing I’m not sure I like, but don’t blatantly dislike.

  • In game bonuses. The first bonus occurs when you bid for turn order. The lower you bid, the better bonus you get. The second bonus available is for the first person at each location on the board. I don’t inherently dislike these bonuses, in fact, I really like them when I get them. The problem that I’ve seen with them is that during a game, you don’t really need to worry about the turn order bonus because you can get bonuses at the locations. Most of the time, whoever has the first bid will always try to go first, because they know they’ll still get the location bonus. Having both bonuses in the game feels like they dilute one another.

 

Things I don’t like.

  • Getting grapes. This is the only major problem I have with this game. In the game, there are red grape cards and white grape cards. You draw these cards from the deck. To sell wine, you have to complete orders. Orders are also on cards which you draw from another deck. I’ve had it happen to me personally and have seen it happen to other players where you only draw one color grape from the deck. I had a vineyard full of white grapes and kept getting orders for red wines. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it can really decrease the experience. Part of the game is mitigating those draws and aging your wine to compensate, but every once in a while, luck has it out for you and it can get annoying.

Examples of Grape Cards on the left and Order Cards on the right

 

Overall, this is another winner for me. I really like the aesthetic of this game, and it feels like more than just making wine. You can build bigger storehouses, a wine tasting room, irrigations rigs, and so on. It does a good job of making you feel like you’re managing all aspects of a vineyard. If you’re a wine-drinker and a gamer, this would make for the perfect themed game night. It’s full-bodied fun with notes of edging out your opponent and vineyard capitalism. (Terrible jokes, I know, but I had to do it…)

GLG Rating: 8/10

Check it out on the Stonemaier Website Here

Check it out on BGG Here

Shopping Close to Home

Shopping Close to Home

As we near the end holidays, I’m sure most people have spent more time shopping during the last 6 weeks than they have in the 6 months prior. I’m not a big fan of shopping. I love to be out and about during the holiday season, and be out in the bustle of people running around and looking for those last second gifts. There’s just something fun about being in a shopping center around Christmas, especially when there isn’t anything you need to get. It’s one of my favorite things about this time of year.

Before you think I’ve gone down the rabbit hole, hold on. So far I’ve written a lot about shopping, and there’s a reason. That’s what I want to talk about today. As we near the holidays, I’m sure most people reading this have a laundry list of games on their Christmas lists. I know that I had a big list and I was given the go-ahead from my wonderful wife to put in a big order from Cool Stuff Inc. And when buying a whole pile of games, it’s so much more affordable to buy from one of the big online retailers that provide healthy discounts and quick shipping. Even Amazon, who doesn’t specialize in board games, will still have pretty nice discounts on gaming merchandise, if you keep an eye out. And like I mentioned, when buying in bulk, stacking those discounts can save a whole pile of cash.

This year’s Christmas haul

However, as you continue through the year and look ahead to future board game purchases, don’t forget about your FLGS (friendly local game store, for those who don’t know all the gaming lingo). Like any other business, the little guys take a hit with every purchase that’s made online. Now, I don’t want to get preachy. It you read this and you don’t have a game store that you regularly go to, then this may not apply to you as much. I like my money. I like things that allow me to keep my hands on it. That being said, think about what your game store provides for you. Most game stores have table/gaming space. That increases their overhead. I know that a majority of gaming events I go to are held in game stores. While we travel, we don’t always have access to tables that are big enough to play games. Game stores give us a place to enjoy our hobby while we run around the country. A lot of game stores have some form of game library. You may not always be able to check them out and take them home, but there are games available for you to play. That’s another cost that they eat, to provide a service to you. And I may be off base, because I haven’t been to every game store across the globe, but very few that I’ve seen have a cover charge to play. You can walk through the front door, sit down for a few hours in their building, play some games, and walk back out without spending a dime. Some will even offer some form of discount if you’re a regular attendee or game group member.

There are so many entertainment options in today’s society, and game stores provide a service without asking for anything other than your patronage. There needs to be value in that. I’m not saying that every time you buy a game, you need to buy it at a game store, but I really think they deserve some of your money. My wife and I always try to buy some form of soda or snack every time we go to a game store. It’s small, but it’s a way for us to show a little support frequently. We also try to make all game purchases under 15 dollars at game stores. Typical your online discounters aren’t going to give you more than 5 bucks off a $15 game. The last sort of “rule of thumb” we follow, is that we try to make a purchase of a large game in a FLGS at least once every 3-4 months. Sure, we may be able to buy it for $15-$30 cheaper online, but I think local stores are deserving of the money.

Don’t take this as rules that I think everyone should follow. These are just some decisions my wife and I have made. If they inspire you to spend a little more money at your local game store, then I’m glad you took the time to read this. We need to make sure our friendly local game stores feel appreciated. Most of us wouldn’t have the great friends we have if we didn’t have these open places to play games and meet new gamers.

Have an awesome holiday season and enjoy the last week of shopping!!

Royals Review

Royals Review

I’m a big fan of heavy theme. I love when the things I’m doing in a game feel like they’re supposed to be happening. However, every once in a while, I get the itch for a Euro game. Moving cubes around a board, thinking completely strategically, having low levels of luck. All of those things have their place. Today’s review is one of those games. It’s a little lighter on the Euro side, but still very fun.


Royalsroyals-box

Designer: Peter Hawes

Play Time: 60 minutes

Player Count: 2-5 Players


Royals is a game published by Arcane Wonders, where you are trying to influence different royals in different European countries. The board is divided into 4 different countries; Germany, England, Spain, and France. Each country has from 3 to 5 cities, and each city has 1 or 2 different royals that can be influenced, with there being 8 different categories of royals. On your turn you have 1 mandatory action: to draw cards, and an optional action: to influence a “royal.” The main deck of cards (country cards) simply has cards that come in 1 of 4 colors; red, green, blue, and yellow, and 3 of them are face up at the start of your turn. This is very reminiscent of Ticket to Ride. You get to pick 3 cards, from either the deck or the 3 face up, but the face up cards don’t refill mid turn. You can then spend the cards to claim a royal in a city. The other deck that you can draw from is the intrigue deck which has cards with 2 colors on them. You can only draw 1 intrigue card, in addition to 1 country card. These are used to “conquer” another player’s royal, to increase your overall influence in a country.

royals-cards

Intrigue cards on top, Country cards on bottom

Play continues around the table until the country deck runs out and you complete the “end of the era” scoring. This happens 3 times and then the game is finished. You score points many different ways. The first person to “claim” either royal in a city gets that city’s point token. If you claim at least 1 royal in all of the cities in a country, you claim a country’s point token. If you have the highest influence amongst all the players in a country at the end of an era, you get a point token. If you influence each of the different types of royals at least once you get a point token. Lastly, if at the end of the game you have influenced the most of a single type of royal, you get a point token. Most scoring opportunities are best if you complete the objective first, but the second and third players to complete certain objectives will occasionally score points as well.

Things I like:

  • The board. For being a game with virtually no theme, the board is gorgeous. It’s the kind of board that if you were a super geek with waaaaaay too much money, you could hang on your game room wall.

royals-board

  • The arc of the game. I’ve played Royals with different player counts, and the country deck gets smaller with smaller group sizes. This helps to make each game feel similar with great pacing. The first era everyone is trying to get the city point tokens so things get bought up quickly. The second era is when people try to get the country point tokens. The third era is full of intrigue cards with people stealing their opponent’s royals, and influence, out from under them.
  • Points, points, points. There are such a variety of ways to score points, that many different strategies can lead to victory. You can “specialize” in one country, or try for the “variety pack” and spread out, and still get lots of opportunities to score.
  • Game play. Game play is so simple in this game. It can be taught very quickly. Distilled down, it translates to draw some cards, play some cards, get points. The rule book is quick and easy, and you can do a full teach of this game in roughly 5-10 minutes.
  • Scoring in this game is blind. There isn’t a score track, you just hold onto your tokens face down and add them up at the end of the game. It provides good tension, because you never know exactly where you stand.
  • Puzzle piece points. This is small, but if 2 people tie for the most influence of a certain type of royal, the token, which is a portrait, can be split into 2 pieces. It’s not a huge deal, but I love it.

royals-puzzle-pieces

Things I don’t like:

  • Color overload. While the board is beautiful, it gets chaotic in a hurry. The 4 country colors are Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue. That leaves the 5 players colors to be something else, and they chose Orange, Purple, White, Grey, and Black. After the first era, the board is so full of cubes and other colors that it can be difficult to decipher.

royals-colors

  • When you get done with a game of royals, you have a huge pile of different tokens that you have to add up. This is probably whiny of me considering its basic arithmetic, but each time I’ve played, we always have to add up 2 or 3 times, to make sure people actually have the scores they say they do. This is minor though. It would be easier to have a score track, but since I like that the game doesn’t have one, I’ll deal with a little extra adding. Maybe this also goes to show that I need to be more trusting of other people’s math skills…

 

I really like Royals. It’s not a super heavy game, and the theme doesn’t really play a big part in the gameplay, but it’s still fun none-the-less. It’s a game that’s easy to teach and easy to play, but still gives you good decisions to make.

royals-set-up

GLG Rating: 7.5/10

Check it out on the Arcane Wonders website here.

(Not) Home for the Holidays

(Not) Home for the Holidays

I know this is a board game blog. Primarily, that’s what I write about, but I started writing this week and this is what came out. Not really about board games, but I like it. That’s why I still posted it. And if you only want to read about the board game side of things, I’ll get back to that nearer the bottom.

While traveling around the country for work has its perks, it also has its downsides. One of the biggest bummers that my wife and I experience is when we are unable to celebrate holidays with family. We’ve been fortunate, up to this point, to be able to celebrate the major holidays with family and friends. This year changes that. We are currently living in Northern California and when we started looking at the cost of flights home around both Thanksgiving and Christmas, we realized that they don’t fit in the budget. Thanksgiving was the first major holiday that I haven’t spent with my family. This will be the first Christmas that I don’t spend in Michigan. It’s been pretty difficult so far. My wife and I both called home on Thanksgiving and got to talk to our families, and we’ll do the same for Christmas, but it doesn’t do the job.

Another aspect that makes it difficult is social media. A majority of posts and tweets on Thanksgiving Day were of families celebrating. Pictures of full tables of food, crowded living rooms and tables with board games being played. Commercials don’t help. Everyone on TV has been making it home for the holidays. It also seems that the Christmas radio stations have been teaming up on us. I think every third song we’ve heard has either been Home for the Holidays or I’ll be home for Christmas.

While it has been tough, it has been good for us. It makes us realize just how excited we are to someday settle down. And it helps us to empathize with those who don’t get to go home. We get to spend time with just the two of us thinking and dreaming about what those future holidays look like. For us, that will have to include lots of family and friends. We both love the times when the people we care most about are all brought together.

That’s why we love board games so much. It gives us an opportunity to gather a group of people together and enjoy being with one another. Whether that’s divided up into a huge game of Codenames with people dropping in and out, playing a simple and light trick taking game like Little Devils, or trying to figure out what my wife is trying to communicate to the rest of us as the ghost in Mysterium. It’s not just spending the time together, but interacting and creating memories that we get to carry with us. I can’t tell you how many family Christmases I had growing up where we didn’t have at least 2 or 3 groups of people playing cribbage and I always looked forward to that time after we got done eating and the cards would come out.

That’s the beauty of this hobby. It gives us the opportunity to interact in a world where interaction is slowly turning digital. We get to put down the devices and spend time face to face with those we care about. I can’t wait until we get to instill those values and memories into our own children.

I hope everyone had a great thanksgiving and that the rest of the holiday season is awesome as well!

Game on!

Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition Review

Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition Review

A big debate in the board gaming world revolves around the use of digital media to supplement a gaming experience. Should a game have an app that may be used, but isn’t necessary, or an app that is required to play the game? Should there be no apps required for board games at all? Today’s game is the first I’ve played that requires an app to play the game.


Mansions of Madness 2nd Editionmom2-box

Designer: Nikki Valens

Player Count: 1-5 Players

Play Time: 120-180 minutes


Mansions of Madness is a cooperative mystery/exploration game published by Fantasy Flight where you play as a group of investigators trying to solve a mystery in a Lovecraftian horror story. The game requires a companion app to play and it can be downloaded for free on phones, tablets, or through Steam. When you start the game, you pick a scenario on the app and select your characters and then the app takes over. It randomizes which items you start with, and which tile you start on. It then instructs you where to place search tokens, explore tokens, and other pieces on the tiles.

mom2-fake-start

Example Set-Up

Once the set-up is complete, you begin the player turns. Each character will get to activate once per round. You can move around the environment, explore new tiles, interact with search tokens, and attack monsters, amongst other things. Almost every time you perform an action, whether you explore a new room or interact with a search token, you select that icon on the app and then the app will give you a story moment that will give you options on how to proceed. You make your decisions and then the app will tell you if you were successful or not, or which tiles to add to the game board. After every player has taken their turn, the Mythos phase begins and the app again takes over. It will instruct you through a random event, monster movement and attacks, and a horror phase where the investigators have to confront the madness surrounding them. After the Mythos phase is completed, play returns to the investigators and continues in this pattern until the game is won or lost. While the app directs the game, it doesn’t know where your characters are or where the monsters are. You still have to have the physical board for this. The app essentially functions as a dungeon master, but you still have to move all the pieces. You will also find new items or take wounds, which are represented by cards. The app directs gameplay, but it still feels like a board game.

mom2-player-space

Player Area

Things I like:

  • Total Immersion. This is one of the most immersive games I’ve ever played. It takes all the best story telling games and randomizes all of it for you, so you actually feel like you’re solving a mystery. You never know what’s behind a door until you open it. You also may not know what you need to do to succeed until you try something. It really feels like an exploration game and it pulls you into the theme.
  • The Mystery. When you start a scenario, it gives you a brief overview of what you’re trying to accomplish, but that’s it. It doesn’t tell you any specifics. You are simply dropped into the scenario and you need to figure out what you’re trying to do as you go along. This is another part of the immersive experience.
  • Randomization. I’ve played the first scenario 4 times at this point, and every single time the house that has been built around us has changed completely. Sometimes it will start to look similar, and then you open a door and there’s a completely different series of rooms.
  • The app. For my first experience with a game that requires an app, I love it. The app takes so much bookkeeping out of the game and allows you to just have fun. The app also makes it incredibly easy to teach new players the game. You can spend the first round as a tutorial and everyone is up to speed almost instantly. It makes for a really seamless experience. The app also provides background music and sound effects which, again, adds to the immersive experience.

mom2-game-set-up

Further into the game

Something I really liked, that may not be for everyone:

  • The story. One of the times we played this with a new player, the new guy wasn’t interested in the story. An interaction would occur and he would immediately look to the bottom of the paragraph and look at the outcomes and then start discussing what to do next. This game requires you to read the story and the flavor text. There are certain clues that will be given, and effects that will happen all throughout the encounters. You can’t just skip the story and plow through the game. You will miss things. It can probably be done without too many ill effects, but you really should try to take your time and enjoy the experience.

Things I don’t like:

  • The price. Normally I don’t make a big deal on the price of games, but this one feels justified. This is a $100 game. You get a lot of minis, cards, and cardboard for that price, but that’s not my grievance. The biggest problem I have with the cost is my next point.
  • The scenarios. I mentioned above that the game comes with preloaded scenarios. I love this. The problem I have with it is that there are only 4 scenarios in the base set. They all have different difficulties, which I like, but they also have different play times. The first scenario says it will take 60-90 minutes. They get longer from there. The longest scenario claims to take 4-6 hours. This isn’t realistic for most people. My wife and I, who love this game, may never get to play 1 of the 4 scenarios based on how long it takes. For 100 dollars, I really would have liked to see more scenarios included. At this point, each scenario is 25 bucks a pop. Yes, the scenarios are randomized every time you play, but the story doesn’t change all that much. The environment is different, but interacting with the different items throughout the scenario will yield similar results game to game. And I mentioned that I like the mystery. That element is also gone after playing a scenario a couple times. You now know what you need to do.
  • The minis. I really like the minis in this game, but I don’t like the bases. The enemy minis don’t have attached bases. Instead they have pegs on the bottom that press into large black plastic bases which contain a little information about the monsters.The bases are black and opaque and cover all the tile art when they’re in a room.

mom2-mini-size-1mom2-mini-size-2

A couple example of how big the bases are

Additionally, minis don’t stay in the base very well, and every time I open the game I have to try to find the matching bases for the monsters.

mom2-mini-peg

That tiny peg in the bottom left is all that holds the mini to the base

It gets annoying. In an industry where miniature production is getting better all the time, and from a company that makes as many miniatures as Fantasy Flight, I feel like this was a poor design choice.

 

To make sure I wasn’t being too hard on this game, I asked my wife what she did and didn’t like about it. We matched up on almost everything. The specific negatives she pointed out were the lack of replayability and the length of the scenarios. In my wife’s words, “I’m not afraid of long games, they just aren’t very manageable. Instead of having a 6-hour scenario, I wish there would have been a couple more 2 hour scenarios.”

Don’t get me wrong, this is an incredibly fun game. After my first play through, I was super impressed, but on concurrent plays, it seems to be losing its luster. I would still recommend playing this game to anyone, but I’m hesitant to recommend purchasing it. Fantasy Flight has announced that they will be adding scenarios to the game for $2.99 in the future, and there are already expansions out that provide 1 new scenario each. I just expected a little bit more from a company like Fantasy Flight. With that big upfront price tag, you’ll have to make the decision for yourself if it’s worth it. And I’m even going to rate this one a little differently than normal to reflect that.

GLG Rating to Play: 9/10

GLG Rating to Buy: 5/10

mom2-minis

Some more of the monsters

Check it out on Fantasy Flight’s Page here:

https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/products/mansions-of-madness-second-edition/

Story-based Campaigns

Story-based Campaigns

One of the things my wife and I are looking forward to diving into is storytelling/campaign games. I love immersive games. I want to feel like I’m a part of the world in the game. I want my decisions to feel like they have more of an effect than just moving a cube from here to there. I want characters that evolve and change over the course of the game. That is going to be one of our next steps for 2 player gaming. We’ll still play other games, but we are excited for campaigns. The two games that we are planning on playing are Mice and Mystics and Star Wars: Imperial Assault.

We’ve played through the entire base set of Mice and Mystics with some friends back in Michigan, and are really excited to give it another run through to rediscover the story and characters. In Mice and Mystics, you take on the role of a group of mice that were previously humans, as they progress through an epic story to try and take their castle and kingdom back. The great thing about Mice and Mystics is the story elements. As you play through the different chapters of the story book, you uncover new introductions and epilogues with pieces of story, as well as in game triggers that will further the narrative. This is a fully cooperative game where my wife and I will play together against minions and baddies as we advance the story.

The other game I mentioned is Star Wars: Imperial Assault. Imperial Assault (IA) takes place in the Star Wars universe between episodes 4 and 5. With IA, I’ll be playing the Imperials against my wife, who will play the part of the rebel forces. This game features much more strategic gameplay as we will be actively playing against each other. Between missions, each of us will be able to upgrade our forces as we unlock new weapons and abilities. This game still features the story aspects, but they are second fiddle to the actual gameplay. This game forces or allows (depending on your take) you to make your own story as you go. It gives you basic plot points, but rarely does it give you more than a few sentences of story.

What we love about campaign style storytelling games is that it’s a continuous experience. It isn’t a one and done type game. The decisions you make in one sitting will have an effect in future games. It almost gives you the feel of actually being inside a book or a movie. You control the characters and how they change and evolve. Additionally, I’ve mentioned before that I’m not an inherently creative person. I would never be able to write about or create a world, but I love that the frame work is already laid out for me, and I can fill in the blanks however I see fit.

I fully plan on doing full reviews of these games at some point, but I want to wait until I’ve gotten through their campaigns. I’ve played each of them a decent amount, but I want to be able to talk about them once I’ve rounded out their stories. What campaign style games do you play and why do you love them? I’d love to hear your recommendations for immersive storytelling games!