Archive for the ‘Board games’ Category

Designer: Daniel Clark, Tim Uren
Artists: Anders Finér, Héctor Ortiz
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Players: 1-8
Playing time: 240 minutes
Age range: 12+

We’ve played a lot of Arkham Horror in our day. At one point, we were playing it at least once a month, or perhaps more. So it’s only natural that eventually we got sick of it. It’s since been relegated to special occasions, and only then with a handful of players to keep it from bogging down too much. Hence when a friend gave us a copy of The Lurker at the Threshold Expansion when it first came out, we just never got around to playing it. Until this past game night, when we brought up Arkham Horror to celebrate Halloween, and tossed this in to see how it plays. The theme of this expansion is that there is a mysterious eldrich being that is opening gates to other worlds, and offering power with a terrible price.
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24
Oct

Review – PitchCar

   Posted by: Jim   in Board games, Reviews

Designer: Jean du Poël
Artists: Jean du Poël
Publisher: Ferti
Players: 2-8
Playing time: 30 minutes
Age range: 6+


(Image courtesy of Firepigeon@BoardGameGeek)

Finger flicking games have been around for a while, with the best example being Crokinole, but the most thematic is probably PitchCar (previously released as Carabande). Here the discs you flick represent cars, racing each other along a masonite track.

The rules are as simple as you’d expect. Players start by placing their discs at the start line of the track, and in turn flick the discs forward with one finger. The first trip around the track is a qualifying heat to determine the start order for the finals, then players send their discs around the track three times to determine the winner.
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22
Oct

Review – Quarriors! Rise of the Demons

   Posted by: Jim   in Board games, Reviews

Designer: Mike Elliot and Eric Lang
Artists: J. Lonnee
Publisher: WizKids Games
Players: 2-4
Playing time: 30 minutes
Age range: 14+ (10+ could probably handle it)


(Image courtesy of blueknight7@BoardGameGeek)

The first released expansion to Quarriors! (beyond just promos) was Quarriors! Rise of the Demons. This is a small box expansion with a new basic die, a new spell die and a new creature die. There are also cards for all these dice, and some new cards for the creature dice in the main set. How you add all of these into the game is up to the players — you could shuffle them into the main decks, or deal them out separately first and then fill in the rest with the original cards, or do something in between.
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20
Oct

Review – Quarriors!

   Posted by: Jim   in Board games, Reviews

Designer: Mike Elliot and Eric Lang
Artists: J. Lonnee and Chris Raimo
Publisher: WizKids Games
Players: 2-4
Playing time: 30 minutes
Age range: 14+ (10+ could probably handle it)


(Image courtesy of ZoRDoK@BoardGameGeek)

Where Dominion created the idea of the deck-building game, Quarriors! cheerfully took that and applied it almost directly to dice. You start with a basic set of custom 6-sided dice, and draw a “hand” out of a bag every turn and roll them. Depending on what you roll, you can put out creatures to attack your opponents, cast spells to enhance them, and/or buy a new creature or spell from the wilds (much like the supply piles in Dominion). All of these are represented by dice. If you can keep your creatures out for an entire round, you score points; the first player to a certain point value — based on the number of players — wins.
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17
Oct

Review: Zombie Dice

   Posted by: Jim   in Board games, Computer games, Reviews

Designer: Steve Jackson
Artists: Alex Fernandez
Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Players: 2-99
Playing time: 10 minutes
Age range: 10+


(Image courtesy of mbrna@BoardGameGeek)

I’d first heard of Zombie Dice around the time it came out, but avoided the game because it has two marks against it: a) it’s a zombie game and b) it’s a recent Steve Jackson game. However, I got roped into had a chance to play it at Balticon 2012, and at gaming events since then, and I have to admit I was wrong about it.

The rules are very simple. There are 13 green, red and yellow dice, each with varying amounts of brains, running feet and shotgun symbols on their faces. The green dice have more brains, the red more shotgun blasts, and the yellow are neutral. Your goal is to roll as many brains as possible. First person to collect 13 brains (and survive the shotgun blasts), wins the game.

The turn begins by drawing three dice at random and rolling them. Brains and shotguns are set aside. If you have 3 shotgun blasts, then your turn is over, and you lose any brains you’ve rolled. Assuming you’ve survived, you can choose to re-roll, or you can score the brains you have. If you choose to re-roll, you take any dice with running feet, draw new dice at random to bring your total up to 3, and roll again. You can continue doing this until you get 3 shotgun blasts, or you choose to stop.

Zombie Dice is a nice little push-your-luck game, another one of those good fillers to have around. Admittedly the decisions aren’t all that difficult: prefer to re-roll green dice over red dice; stop if you have two shotgun blasts unless you’re behind. But it scales well to many players and it’s a good filler or beer-and-pretzel game. And if you prefer to drink alone, there’s also an iOS app for Zombie Dice, which is initially free for a 1-on-1 single player version, but only $.99 to upgrade to 10-player multiplayer. It’s fairly low frills but it gets the job done.

Verdict: Buy

15
Oct

Board Game Review: Carcassonne: The City

   Posted by: Jim   in Board games, Reviews

Designer: Klaus-Jürgen Wrede
Artists: Oliver Freudenreich and Marco Morte
Publisher: Hans im Glück/Rio Grande Games
Players: 2-4
Playing time: 45 minutes
Age range: 10+


(Image courtesy of blakstar@BoardGameGeek)

In 2004, Klaus-Jürgen Wrede created another standalone game in the Carcassonne universe, this time called Carcassonne: The City. As you might expect, this time the theme is building a single walled city, rather than multiple cities and surrounding countryside.

The overall rules for Carcassonne: The City are again very similar to the original game (see yesterday’s post for a more detailed overview): place tiles, place meeples on features (if not already controlled), score and remove them for completed features and and score any remaining meeples at the end of the game. Components are simple and again mostly familiar: each player starts with 8 meeples and 3 towers, and there are shared piles of city tiles and wall segments.

The features in the city are familiar, yet different. Markets, designated by a green area on a tile, are similar to the cities in the original game. One difference is that you don’t need to match the edges of markets exactly — you can put a side with a market up against a side with a residential area. The second difference is that each market area has a colored good in it: the more different kinds of goods in the market, the greater score you get (there’s a similar mechanic in the Traders and Builders expansion, but these goods are printed on the tiles).

Streets wind through the residential areas, and any tile with a street on it must match a street on any tile it’s placed next to. Streets of length 1-3 tiles are 1 point per tile like the original game; streets longer than that get 2 points per tile.

The final feature on the tiles are residential areas (marked as brown areas), which act like farms in the original game, and score 2 points for every market (completed or not) adjacent to them at the end.

And then there are the walls. The game has three stages, controlled by breaking the tile set into three piles. Once the first pile is used up, the first player who completes a controlled feature (i.e. so it scores) after that point gets to place the city gate. Then all the other players in turn go around and place a wall segment, extending the city wall in either direction. At this time players can also place a meeple on top of their wall segment to act as a guard, as long as there isn’t another meeple on an opposite wall. Once all the walls are placed, the player who completed the feature now has the choice whether to add a tower. This will score 1 point for every wall segment up to the next tower or the city gate. This will happen every time a feature is scored until the second pile of tiles is used up, after which any placed tile that leads to a score will allow the placement of 2 wall segments by each player.

The game ends when you run out of tiles, or out of wall segments, or the ends of the wall are close enough together. At this point you score the residential areas. In addition, each guard scores points for each grey building in a line from its wall — unnamed ones are 1 point and named ones are 2 points. Again, the player with the most points wins.

Once again, just by tweaking a few rules, Wrede has a created a completely different feel for his signature game. The guards may be a borrowed mechanic from Knizia’s Carcassonne: The Castle (it’s unclear as they’re both listed as designers) — but whereas in The Castle they didn’t quite work, here they just feel right. By allowing the market edges to not have to match, you get a more compact board, which allows the walls a chance to surround it. And this one ends up being more of a brain-burner as well — do you place the tile that allows another player to score, so you have the opportunity to place the first wall and hence a tower, or do you try to improve the scoring potential for your guards? Or do you add that extra good that gives your big market just a little more value? Lots of tough decisions, and a lot more long-term strategy than the original game.

If that’s not enough, the real reason to get this (and the main reason I bought it when it first came out) is just because it’s just so darn pretty. In the original printing, the tiles are made of thick foamboard instead of cardboard, the walls and towers are nice wooden pieces, and the gameboard when you’re done really looks like a miniature walled city. And the whole thing comes in a big wooden box which looks great on the shelf. Even if you can’t find the original version, my understanding is that while you lose the foamboard and the wooden box, you do get the wooden wall pieces and towers, so it still looks pretty sweet on the table.

I can’t recommend Carcassonne: The City enough — it addresses many of the issues with the original game, adds some new elements that provide new challenges, and is absolutely gorgeous to boot. . It is, unfortunately, out of print (which I suppose makes it a Vintage Game), but you can find copies of it on eBay and BoardGameGeek for reasonable prices. It’s well worth tracking down.

Verdict: Buy.

Designer: Klaus-Jürgen Wrede
Artist: Johann Rüttinger
Publisher: Hans im Glück/Rio Grande Games
Players: 2-5
Playing time: 45 minutes
Age range: 8+


(Image courtesy of Firepigeon@BoardGameGeek)

When Carcassonne came out in 2000 it took the gaming world by storm, quickly followed by its Spiel des Jahres win in 2001. After the expected expansion (now known as Inns & Cathedrals), Wrede came out with a redesign set in the Stone Age: Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers.

For those not familiar with Carcassonne, players draw one tile on their turn and lay it on the board, laying it next to any already placed tiles and matching all edges. They can then, if they like, place a meeple on a feature indicated on the tile, as long as there is no other meeple on another tile connected to that feature. If a feature is completed, any meeples placed on that feature will be removed and scored. Finally, after placing all tiles, any remaining meeples will be scored. The player with the high score wins.

In the original Carcassonne, the features are cities, roads, cloisters and farms. In Hunters and Gatherers, these have been changed to forests, rivers, meadows and river systems (the meadows and river systems act like farms; there’s no equivalent to the cloister).

If a tile is placed that completes a forest, the scoring is equivalent to the original: the player with the most meeples in that forest (i.e. controls that forest) gets 2 points per tile. However, if there is a gold nugget in that forest, the player who placed the tile gets to draw one more tile and play again. At the end of the game, uncompleted forests do not score.

If a tile is placed that completes a river, the scoring is similar to before: the player controlling the river gets 1 point per river tile — but this time also scores 1 point for each fish in any lakes at either end of the river. With the standard meeples, there is no score at the end of the game for uncompleted rivers; however, you can place huts on the river instead, which are explained below.

At the end of the game, there are two ways you can get points. First, any meeples that control their meadows score 2 points for any game animals in the meadow, but cancelling out one deer for every sabre tooth tiger the meadow contains. Second, you score 1 point for each fish in any river systems (connected sets of rivers and lakes) that you control with your huts.

The end result has a very different feel from standard Carcassonne. The scoring of the meadows and the river systems is much simpler than the farms in the original game, and the way you fight over them is different as well. You might try to sabotage someone’s meadow by placing tigers in it, or you might ignore their meadows and focus on river systems instead. And rather than trying to place meeples on partially built features just to get cheap points at the end of the game, you really try to complete those features, just to make sure you get any points at all. The end result is more of a back and forth scramble for points — perhaps a little more fiddly than the original but still fun.

The art on the tiles is done by the same artist as Carcassonne, and is quite lovely. Whereas when you complete a Carcassonne game you get a bucolic French countryside with little walled towns and roads connecting them, this gives you more of a wilderness feel, but attractive in its own way.

But when all is said and done, do you need this game and Carcassonne? In my opinion, no. Part of that might be that we are not as Carcassonne-crazy as we were back in 2002. We played our fair share of it, and don’t see any need for any other versions other than original plus some expansions, and maybe Carcassonne: The City. But if you do like Carcassonne and are looking for something slightly different, you really can’t go wrong with this (it’s particularly good for two players). So for my purposes I’d give it a Borrow, but in your case, feel free to upgrade to a Buy.

Verdict: Borrow

13
Oct

Board Game Review: Copycat

   Posted by: Jim   in Board games, Reviews

(Last of a series, reviewing games I played in September 2013 at That Board Gaming Thing.)

Designer: Friedemann Friese
Publisher: 2F-Spiele
Players: 2-4
Playing time: 95 minutes
Age range: 12+


(Image courtesy of trenttsd@BoardGameGeek)

It’s common among beginning designers to lift mechanics from their favorite games (guilty as charged). It’s less common to see experienced designers do this; more often they want to break new ground. Copycat is the exception to this. It proudly states its goals in its name: directly copy mechanics from some of the most popular board games and combine them to create a new game.

In theory, Copycat is a game about building political influence, though honestly while playing I couldn’t tell if you were supposed to be a businessman or a politician (more on that later). Everyone starts with the same deck of cards — some give you money, some give you influence, i.e., victory points. You also start with some meeples (shaped like little “V for victory” symbols) that act as workers. Your goal is to use your cards and your workers to build up enough influence and become the next president.

The first familiar mechanic comes from Dominion: each turn you draw a hand of cards from your deck, and throughout the game you’ll buy new cards to build up your deck (deck-building). The second familiar mechanic comes from Through the Ages: the cards you buy from are laid out in a line, which slides over at the end of the turn and filled in with new cards — cards become better and better (but also more and more expensive) as the game goes on. The third comes from Agricola: there is a certain set of fixed actions on the board you can activate with your meeples, and a set that’s laid out in a semi-random order via cards. A fourth comes from many a Wolfgang Kramer game: there is a score track that encircles the board and tracks influence.

There are some new elements to the game. First, you don’t build up your worker pool over time, a la Agricola or Stone Age. Instead, you have cards you can play or actions that you can place a worker on that allow you to add new workers just for this round. If you buy cards further along in the track, you may have to pick up some empty filler cards (you can see them in the image above as red cards with toilet paper on them) that just act to do nothing in your deck. You can get rid of those cards if you need to, though — there are some slightly different ways to remove cards from your deck, some of which will allow you to perform other actions.

However, for me, this game feels very generic. The theme did not grab me at all — like I said, it was hard to tell whether it was about politics or business. The mechanics are so familiar that I felt myself wishing I were playing one of those other games. I also didn’t feel like there was a lot of strategy: I came in second simply by buying a lot of cards that produce a lot of influence, and doing the same with the actions on the board. And finally, for a good part of the game I was regretting that this was the last game I’d be playing at That Board Gaming Thing. In the end, it feels like an interesting experiment that didn’t quite pan out.

Verdict: Avoid.

11
Oct

Review: Riff Raff

   Posted by: Jim   in Board games, Reviews

(Part of a series, reviewing games I played in September 2013 at That Board Gaming Thing.)

Designer: Christoph Cantzler
Publisher: Zoch Verlag
Players: 2-4
Playing time: 30 minutes
Age range: 8+


(Image courtesy of duchamp@BoardGameGeek)

It feels a bit like I’ve already reviewed Riff Raff, as like Animal Upon Animal, this is a dexterity game where you’re trying to get rid of all your objects by stacking them and hoping they don’t fall off. However, there are a few differences that make this game distinct, and possibly why it was on the Recommended list for the 2013 Spiel des Jahres.

Rather than stacking on the back of a crocodile, you are stacking objects on the deck and spars of a ship, set up so it can rock in all directions. Instead of rolling a die to determine how many objects you can place, each player has ten cards, numbered 1-10. At the beginning of each turn, all players pick a card and reveal it simultaneously. The highest number becomes the Captain and goes first, the next highest number goes second, and so on in descending order. Any ties are broken by the Captain (if there’s a tie for the highest number, the previous turn’s Captain breaks the tie).

The wrinkle is that the higher your number, the higher on the ship you must place your object, so the more likely it is to fall off. Any objects that do fall off you must take back into your pile. However, any objects that you catch before they hit the table are removed from the game.

Riff Raff is certainly a cute little game, and the ship and the cargo are very cool bits. However, it takes a bit too much time to set up and play for a filler, and at $50 it’s a little pricey for a kids game (or, for that matter, a filler). I consider this more of a novelty collectible, and nothing I’d be picking up any time soon.

Verdict: Borrow.

10
Oct

Review: Spyrium

   Posted by: Jim   in Board games, Reviews

(Part of a series, reviewing games I played in September 2013 at That Board Gaming Thing.)

Designer: William Attia
Publisher: Ystari
Players: 2-5
Playing time: 75 minutes
Age range: 12+


(Image courtesy of duchamp@BoardGameGeek)

The worker-placement game has become a staple of the Eurogame these days, starting with Caylus and morphing into such diverse games as Agricola, Stone Age and Lords of Waterdeep. In my mind, the mechanic is getting a little bit tired. The latest entry is
Spyrium, which takes the basic worker placement mechanic and puts a slightly new twist to it.

Spyrium is set in a steampunk universe, where a new energy source called Spyrium has been found. You use your mines and spare workers to mine Spyrium, and then can use the Spyrium and other workers in a workshop or factory to generate victory points. You can also get points by buying buildings, or from training workers in universities, or from fulfilling event cards.

The game is played in three phases made up of two rounds, the main difference between the phases being what cards are available. The cards are laid out in a 3×3 tableau, and dictate the new actions available for that round. Unlike other games where you place your workers on the cards, and you use it exclusively, you instead place your workers between two cards, indicating you want to use one card or the other. You may place multiple workers between the same two cards.

Halfway within the round, at a time of your choosing, you then switch over from placing workers between cards to activating the workers as well as generating resources from your tableau. Activating a worker can allow you to use the card it’s next to; the cost of the card depends on the number of workers around it, from all the players. If the card is a building you take it into your tableau. Alternatively, you can forgo the card and collect money, again dependent on the number of workers around it. In both cases, you remove your worker.

What each card does depends on its type. Mines, once placed in your tableau and activated with an additional worker, give Spyrium. Workshops, factories and laboratories allow you to exchange Spyrium for points. Residences give you money or points. Neighborhoods give you workers. Techniques improve your efficiency. Unlike the other cards, Characters remain in the 3×3 grid and allow conversions or bonuses.

So in general, the game goes as described above: you want to generate more and more Spyrium as the game goes on, collect more workers and more money so you can perform more actions and buy more cards, and in general improve the efficiency of your economic engine to get as many points as possible.

Spyrium does have some nice things in it. One mechanic that I believe is new for worker placement is when you place the workers between cards, rather than on them. This has a couple of effects. First it makes more popular cards more expensive, and may force some players to choose the card on the other side of their worker. Alternatively you can use this to your advantage and cash in on the money, rather than buying the card. The other effect it has is if someone’s worker is between two cards that are bought by two other players, that worker can be left high and dry. So placement and timing when you buy cards is very important.

The other new mechanic I thought was interesting is that rather than having a fixed time when you switch from placement to activation (e.g. usually when everyone has placed all their workers), each player decides for themselves when to make that switch. Any additional workers are then used to drive their mines and factories on their personal tableau.

The one downside that I ran into is that the decisions you make early dictate the rest of the game. In my case, I was unfamiliar with the rules and got stuck with a low-performing engine. By the time I figured out what was going on, I couldn’t recover. I’m not sure that’s a terrible knock against it, but it does make it more difficult to bring new players in.

In the end, I’m on the fence about Spyrium. I think it has some nice new ideas, and lots of interesting choices, but I’m still not sure that it overcomes my weariness with new worker placement games. Perhaps I’d change my mind if I played it more, but until then…

Final Verdict: Borrow