A Dog’s Life, Christophe Boelinger

A Dog’s Life

 Design: Christophe Boelinger

Artwork: Marek Píza

Publisher: ADC Blackfire Entertainment, BETON GAMES

Players: 2-6

Duration: Approx. 30-60 mins

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A Dog’s Life is a family game about being a dog about town. And y’know what? I think it’s rather good.

This was a bit different for me to review. I play tricky card games, heavy strategy games and thinky brain burners. Sometimes I play fun fillers and sometimes I even play party games. I just really love games and I like all sorts. A Dog’s Life is branded as a family game, so when playing I had to adjust my mindset somewhat. I thought about the kind of games I played as a child, what appeals to my inner child, and what games I would like to play in the future with my daughter.

In A Dog’s Life you play as one of the awesome dog characters. (Daisy the Whippet was my pup of choice!) Your goal is to hunt for bones and bury them at your home turf before the other players. Each turn you navigate around the board with your allotted action allowance and search the local restaurant’s and trash cans for bones. You can pick up newspapers and deliver to various numbered locations, and this will earn you rewards in the form of bones or food. You need to maintain your pet’s health by keeping them fed, drinking from water fountains to fill your bladder, and then empty it on lampposts to mark (and block) a spot. You can hinder other player’s progress by fighting, and also by navigating the dog catcher van in their direction. So it’s pretty simple- move, take actions and draw from your deck to determine the outcome of your chosen action.

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Strategy may be light but there’s some to it. You choose personal objectives when delivering newspapers, choose how to spend your actions, use your character’s ability and navigate the dreaded van in your chosen direction. Players also have the opportunity to block another from a space or to use the ‘fight’ action (I would have preferred the term ‘scrap’ but that’s just me!) So we have a fair bit going on here- light strategy, pickup-and-deliver, action point allowance and minor conflict. On paper this sounds like a lot of things to be, but the good news is that it’s wrapped up in a neat and extremely cute bundle.

I like the way in which A Dog’s Life will introduce modern board gaming to those who don’t play often. For many I’m sure a ‘family game’ is still something that only surfaces during the holidays, and the game of choice will possibly be something familiar or traditional. The good thing with this game is that the theme is friendly enough to generate interest for those outside of the hobby, and is also familiar territory to those who play games often. But it still manages to retain the feel of a ‘traditional’ game in some respects. It works to guide younger players into gaming and is designed in a way that children will understand.

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The bad news for an experienced gamer is the roll-and-move aspect may grate a little when navigating the dog catching van- and going to the pound and (possibly) missing up to two turns in the process is also a slight downfall. When hunting for food or popping into the local eateries there’s an element of luck when drawing cards to determine outcome.

But this is all from my perspective, as someone who has played a lot of games over several years. For those who are new to the hobby and especially for younger players I can’t see the aforementioned points being an issue. I understand why those elements are there, as this is familiar territory to people who haven’t played many modern board games, and younger players will find it the straightforward game play (and minimal text) easier to grasp.

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I really like the feel of the game as a whole, not just because of the cute dogs, but you actually want to look after your character. The artist did such a wonderful job of capturing the various doglike expressions- both in the art and in the figurines- that it makes it impossible not to care about your character. I love how the board is super vibrant and filled with oversized fast food images, reminiscent of how a dog would probably view the local pizza joint or taco stand. A Dog’s Life really has that childlike quality about it, and actually gives you an insight into ‘the doglife’.

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As a child I loved games with adorable themes and I have nice memories are of gaming with my family, sometimes over the festive season, sometimes post-Sunday dinner. If A Dog’s Life had existed back I would have been thrilled, especially as an animal lover who never got to own a dog. I imagine my daughter playing this with her friends in a few years time and my heart feels joyous.  It achieves what I believe is intended and it does a good job at that.

A Dog’s Life was funded on Kickstarter in August, complete with ultra shiny box, round dice ‘ball’ and even more cute pups unlocked. It is due to fulfill in December ’17, so keep your paws crossed for a retail release early next year!

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Some Thoughts On Viticulture: Essential Edition

Viticulture: Essential Edition

 Design: Morten Monrad Pedersen, Jamey Stegmaier, Alan Stone

Artwork: Jacqui Davis, David Montgomery, Beth Sobel

Publisher: Stonemaier Games

Players: 1-6

Duration: Approx.45- 90 mins

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I must confess that up until a few weeks ago Viticulture was one of my ‘wish list games’ that I never felt motivated to actually buy. It was first released via Kickstarter in 2013 and was given an expansion, Tuscany, the following year. Since the ‘Essential Edition’ reprint in 2015, which comprises of the two, (but with a few changes here and there) it’s generally known as a well-liked and popular worker placement game. So why was I on fence about it for so long?

Partly it was to do with Kickstarter. A few years ago I didn’t really understand what crowdfunding was all about, and it was only when I listened to Jamey Stegmaier’s book A Crowdfunder’s Strategy Guide that I came to discover the power and joy of board game Kickstarter. Viticulture was one of the first crowdfunded mega hits, whose success paved the way for many (many) campaigns to follow. It was also the game that Stegmaier learned a few mistakes from, as he mentions in the book, and that was very interesting to me. This was actually the point that I put Viticulture on my wishlist.

When the game found me through my colleagues at Board Game Exposure I was pretty psyched to finally play it (and see what all the fuss was about). What I discovered was a well-rigged engine builder with worker placement mechanics, set in the Italian countryside. But as gentle as Viticulture appears, it beats with the ambitious heart of a entrepreneur looking to grow a winemaking empire. Theme wise I was never too fussed, I’m not a big drinker (anymore!) and not a ‘wine person’. So perhaps this was another reason I never took the step to purchasing Viticulture (more on theme later). After my first game I found that it really didn’t matter if wine was my penchant or not, because I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and couldn’t wait to play again. And I can still honestly say that I don’t give much of a damn about the stuff.

So what can I tell you about Viticulture that you don’t already know? I’m not sure. But what I can do is give you my take as to what I believe contributes to it’s success.

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 The Pacing

Like Scythe (the only other Stonemaier game I have played at this point) Viticulture has a certain pace about it, it’s a slow builder. You must get your cogs in the right place and this takes a good few turns to achieve. It is a little faster to get chugging along than Scythe, but it still takes time. Patience is key. But when you do get there it flows very nicely indeed.

 The Tension

Viticulture has an interesting dichotomy to it. For a game with a friendly theme and peaceful setting it’s so completely competitive and tension filled. I actually love that Viticulture hasn’t got any bonus points or end of game objectives to fall back on. Points are only awarded on the score track and it’s basically a one shot deal; you do well you win, you play poorly, you lose. The first player to reach 20 points will trigger the games end, and it’s so completely nail biting as you approach the finish line.

 Healthy Competition

I like that despite being highly competitive Viticulture isn’t a cutthroat game. You ultimately have the power over your vineyards destiny, and the opportunities to make it work for you (without ruining each other in the process). But you have to be strategic to get what you want. There is a level of player interaction that removes it from multi solitaire territory, but with the personal objectives you’re really setting your own goals and challenging yourself.

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Decisions, Decisions

Games with that sweet agony of difficult decision making really do it for me. Not just like: ‘Well I could do X or Y, so I guess I’ll do X, what’s the worst that can happen?’ Every decision counts- which is fun to play with, often tricky to maneuver and actually rather thematic, which brings me on to my next point…

 It’s Thematic!

Theme is quite important to me, it’s not the ultimate factor in a game, but it is a factor. Some games pull off the integration of theme and mechanics very well, some do not. Sometimes it doesn’t matter too much; sometimes it’s painfully obvious it’s not delivering. Viticulture is a game where everything makes total sense. I can’t comment on the original version (with or without Tuscany) but in the Essential Edition it works extremely well. Much like a real life business you must start from the ground up, be patient and reap the benefits later on. As it’s played over summer and winter phases it’s important to utilise your workers the right time, and choose your seasonal cards wisely. I really like these cards for their various characters & thematic abilities, and found that they have the power to turn the game around at the last minute.

 Storytelling

When discussing Scythe on The Five By podcast I spoke of the power of storytelling and world building. Although this is more apparent in Scythe it’s also present in Viticulture. For me this has a lot to do with the quaint artwork and the style of the game. Your individual play area is your domain to love and nurture. It’s satisfying to build your irrigation tower or cellar and putting the corresponding wooden shapes in their place. It feels like your creating a wonderful world of your own and it’s a good feeling.

The Yay Factor

Simple but true- there is something very satisfying about creating stuff to accumulate stuff, and seeing the fruits of your labor, every pun intended. It’s got the ‘yay’ factor when your grape(s) becomes a wine, and you complete a hefty order to grab some healthy points. It’s like ‘hey, I’m making wine! Yay!’

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So yes, I enjoyed Viticulture immensely. Similar to other games that sat on my wishlist for some time, I now regret not getting involved sooner. The actual gameplay is straightforward, but the little complexities and subtle layering make it superbly re-playable. I can see myself wanting to play this on warm summer evenings and cosy winter afternoons and it not becoming stale. Unlike the red wine I kept in direct sunlight for three years and tried to drink the other day. That was horrible.

Viticulture Essential Edition is available on many corners of the Internet and you can also play via Tabletopia or Tabletop Simulator.  Visit the Stonemaier Games website, or the BGG page to delve a little deeper into the game and rules, and keep an eye out on my channel for a future play of the Viticulture solo mode.

 Thanks for reading!

A Review of Pepper and Carrot: The Potion Contest

Pepper and Carrot: The Potion Contest

 Design: Guillermo H. Nuñez

Artwork: Julieta GarciaDavid Revoy

Publisher: Loyalist Games

Players: 1-4

Duration: Approx. 30 mins

It feels unnatural and wrong having not posted on my blog for so long. I was consumed with prep for GenCon, being at GenCon and recovering from… GenCon. For anyone who wants to find out what I got up to on my first day and how I found the experience I posted vlogs to my channel.

So, now I’m back and fully recovered I’m getting the blogging ball rolling again with a short review of a puzzle game called Pepper and Carrot: The Potion Contest.

I didn’t have any prior knowledge of the Pepper and Carrot web comic, so I was coming at this from the perspective of ‘this is a cute game about a witchy girl and a cat’, which is pretty adorable as it happens, but the theme is light here. We are simply trying to match the spells, which are laid out at random on the central board, with our own ingredients on our player board. There are three difficulty levels and I chose the easiest variant since I know that I am uniformly terrible at puzzle games. The easy level removes some of the ingredients and gives you shorter spells to follow. You can make the formations anywhere on your board as long as they match the order of the spell and are joined accordingly. This would be fairly simple, except you are governed by ‘order’ cards that mean on that on your turn you can either rotate, swap or push your tiles. In some variants you have personal order cards that you can use once during the game, and are very useful at times when you’re stuck in a tricky situation. You can also play the game solo, which is rather nice, and here you are aiming to beat the clock so to speak by finishing your spells before the order deck cycles twice.

As I mentioned I struggle with puzzles games, I guess my brain isn’t as logical as I once thought. Despite this I had a rather pleasant few games where I was unceremoniously thrashed, and I enjoyed playing the solo variant. In a similar vein to Shahrazad a couple months ago, I will always persist with games that I am not very good at in hopes to become better and improve on my skills. I like that even though it’s an extremely twee and cutesy game in appearance it’s challenging and tough to beat, and the difficultly levels can amp up the challenge.

This would be a very good one for young gamers to get their teeth into, not only because of the theme and packaging, but it’s wonderful for encouraging little minds to think logically and puzzle solve. It has that video/app game appeal with the organic feel of a tabletop game, and this is something I’m actually going to be writing about in a future article.

My minor bugbears with the game were the rulebook not being great (not terrible, or  hard to follow, it just didn’t flow too well, but my that’s my proofreaders eye talking!) and I thought that the box was a tad on the large side and could have been condensed further. However as this was a review copy it may possibly go through some manufacturing changes here and there, and again it’s not a deal breaker. To echo what Nick from Board, Deck and Dice said in his preview video it would have been nice (in the base game) for there to be additional abilities from personal order cards, but I can see that the Kickstarter stretch goals will bring in a little more flavour.

I’m very pleased for Loyalist Games that Pepper & Carrot overfunded and I wish them all the best for future endevours! If you wish to view the campaign page, find out more information on the game or contact the creators. It aims to fulfill by December so keep your eye out for it early next year.

Thanks for reading!

High Treason! The Trial of Louis Riel, Alex Berry

High Treason! The Trial of Louis Riel

Design: Alex Berry 

Artwork: Tim Allen

Publisher: Frosted Games, Victory Point Games

Players: 2

Duration: 30-40 minutes

 

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I was intrigued to play High Treason! The Trial of Louis Riel. I have a healthy (I think) interest in real life crime, and since the game’s designer is actually a lawyer I was all the more interested to discover more. I’ve considered many titles from Victory Point Games over the last year or so but haven’t gone as far to purchasing any.

I watched the unboxing of High Treason and must say that I loved the appearance. Beneath the game was a box similar to a takeaway food container. So much so that my daughter asked if it was a pizza. Alas not. But it did come with a Victory Point Games printed napkin, for the purpose of wiping the soot from tokens (post-punching). I thought this was a lovely touch. The rest of the components were no frills, and inline with the other VPG games I’ve perused (cardstock playmat instead of a board and the like).

The game itself is a true-to-life account of the trial of Louis Riel. In reality he was found guilty and sentenced to death, but in the game (where you play as either the prosecution or defense), you can alter the fate of Riel. At first glance the various symbology on the playmat and the amount of detail on the cards can seem a little complex. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s fairly straightforward in terms of gameplay, and once you get started it all clicks into place. In brief, you play across five relatively quick rounds:

  • Jury selection- you each use five cards to learn more about the jurors. By examining their traits you can attempt to keep those that may vote in your favour and dismiss others that will not be sympathetic to your case. You also ‘bank’ cards prior to jury selection and every round thereafter to use during the Summation round.
  • The Trial in Chief (Rounds 2 & 3) is where you can play cards for their abilities or action number. Actions will allow you to place sway markers on the jurors, and once a juror’s sway spaces are full they are then ‘locked’. You can also use actions to argue (move) aspects of the jurors into your favour. If you choose to utilise the abilities instead this will allow you to move the ‘insanity’ and ‘guilt’ markers, as well as arguing (moving) aspects.
  • The Summation round is when you play your banked cards, either for the ‘summation event’ or to sway unlocked jurors.
  • Deliberation is the final round. The trial is over and all traits on jurors are revealed. For any jurors you locked you can move the corresponding aspects. You then move on to final scoring.

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What struck me initially is how short a duration High Treason! is. Perhaps this is because I associate trials with being lengthy, heavy and epic, therefore I imagined the game was going to have a similar feel. The fact that it plays more like an ‘opener’ is interesting. I would have possibly preferred it to be heftier, but there’s enough going on here to compensate for the relatively short time frame.

If I’d reviewed High Treason! after one or two games I would of described it as a game of clever hand management, delicate balancing and deduction. Now I’ve played a few more times I still stand by those statements, only now I would add ‘cut-throat’ and ‘slow burner’ to the mix. The way you must manage your hand and the absolute wealth of tough choices to be made is really what makes High Treason! a thoroughly decent game for me. There’s so much to be considered- from the jury selection, to which cards to bank, to whether to use a card for the actions, or the abilities. I really enjoy the Summation round- if you’ve been smart and banked some excellent cards then you can really kick some ass. As the prosecution you have to be especially carefully about the sequence in which you play the summation cards, because you only play 3 and then the defense plays theirs in one hit, leaving you to finish. The deliberation phase is possibly the most anxiety inducing (again with the nice thematic touch). This is where you hope you’ve been wise enough lock a decent number of jurors. You’re also prepared for a last minute change of heart from one of the six, meaning that it could really go to pot for you at the very last minute (depending what cards your opponent is holding of course). It’s all about those sway markers!

It’s also about the balance, and there are so many things to be balanced in this game. The arguing of the aspects on the central play area is also very important, and much of the game is spent trying to influence in your direction. But the locked jurors can also have an effect on this during the deliberation phase, so depending on your strategy there is an opportunity to tackle this at the last minute.

I’ll end with a summation of my own (see what I did there?)

  • The plentiful and rapid decisions you must make throughout the game make for pretty stellar hand management.
  • The five short phases make High Treason! a nice streamlined package.
  • The nice thematic touches.
  • Historically it’s fascinating, and there’s much room to learn about the case and trial through the information on the cards. But it’s not essential to know (or necessarily care) about that aspect either.
  • There are many strategies to try, so much so that I almost didn’t write this review as even after several games I feel like I’m only just starting to figure them out. It’s a slow burner.
  • You have a fair bit of control over the game. The only thing that breaks this control and adds the element of surprise is your opponent of course. The good news is you have the opportunity to play it well enough so they can’t possibly win. Maybe.
  • I would have liked it to be possibly a little bit lengthier but I think it makes sense that it’s not.
  • As much as I’m all for the lo-fi aesthetic, it bothers me that the player ‘board’ doesn’t sit flat, and I don’t have a plate of glass hanging about to pop over it. I also don’t own enough games to merit owning said glass plate of glass.
  • If ‘mean’ games aren’t your thing, High Treason! most likely won’t be your thing. However it’s not mean for the sake of being mean. It’s a trial. No one is fighting fair. Obviously.
  • This is a perfect two player game, but I would of loved to see an AI option. 

Overall I found High Treason! to be a very interesting game, with many layers to peel. I was also pleased to see that this is possibly the first in a series of ‘World on Trial’ games, where further historic, and not necessarily well known trials are open to be designed. Susan B. Anthony was one that caught my attention, and I’m excited to see how this develops further.

Thanks for reading! I hope there are no objections. I’m a dork.

My First Delve Into Warhammer40K, Dark Imperium…

Note: I’m not proclaiming to be an expert on Warhammer. This is a post about how I found my initial experiences of the game and how I find it compares to board gaming so far.

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Okay, I will start by ‘fessing up; I never considered playing Warhammer.

I knew of it, and had nothing against it per se. I just wasn’t too fussed with discovering more. I was also a bit ‘meh’ about Games Workshop, who are known to have a worryingly long list of consumer misdemeanors (which I won’t comment on in this particular post). Still, I was quite keen to try the new edition of Blood Bowl last year, as it sounded fun and had a ‘familiar’ board game feel. Warhammer on the other hand is a different sort of ballpark and has a whole universe of it’s own. Warhammer40k, as I’ve recently discovered is separate from Warhammer, which is far more generic fantasy fodder. 40k however is geared toward the gothic/sci-fi aesthetic.

Sometimes it takes another person to push me into a gaming experience. Magic The Gathering, D&D and Pathfinder were things I wouldn’t have necessarily tried if they hadn’t been suggested to me. In the case of MTG it’s actually what lead me down the board gaming path, so I always think trying things is worth it. On the whole I’m pretty easy going and opened minded, whether it’s movies, games or activities. My philosophy is that you don’t know until you try, and if you’re not keen then what have you really lost? Except, possibly, an hour or two out of your life. Which in the grand scheme of things isn’t that bad- especially if you’re anything like me and will gladly procrastinate for an evening doing…well anything except what I’m supposed to be doing. So having spent a week getting Warhammer happy I thought I would write a little piece on how I found it so far, and how it compares to playing board games.

Bit of background; this is a newest (8th to be exact) edition of a 1987 game. The rulebook comes with all the information you need to play the style of game that you want and there are 22 different missions, with more to be released. But aside from the starter set (we are playing Dark Imperium) you may purchase further sets to mod your army. It’s an expensive hobby, depending how deep you want to go with it. Having watched the game being unboxed I must say it was a lovely package with gorgeous artwork. The only thing that left me a tad miffed was the outer cardboard sleeve. For a fairly costly product I wondered why it wasn’t a regular box lid. I suspect manufacturing costs are the root cause, but also that hardcore fans are likely to transfer their pieces into an epic storage unit, (a gilded trunk springs to mind), and therefore the original box isn’t so important.

What you do get is a beautiful hardback rulebook, which is lovingly detailed with backstory and illustrations. The actual core rules are also printed on a small foldout booklet. There were also ‘sprues’ (sheets) of miniatures, which was no big surprise of course. But my experience of miniatures so far has been that they are ready to go. If you want them to look pretty you have to paint them, but I was surprised that you had to self assemble them, buy your own supplies to clip them/glue them etc. I wouldn’t say that this put me off though, in fact I quite liked the idea, and I was definitely up for painting them at a later date. I assisted (somewhat) with the cleaning (scraping off the gluey nubs here and there) and assembling of the miniatures (there is a really decent guide manual) and for the most part I found it super relaxing. It was quite a departure from a regular way to spend an evening and it certainly gave my busy mind a focus. I found the more complex models a bit too fiddly and they got me feeling quite impatient and irritable. Then again this was on a different day of the week, so my mood had shifted from where we first started. One day I might be happy to fiddle around with little pieces and get super focused. Another day I might want to throw it all across the room in despair. The models I found to be impressive. They are very detailed, very attractive and so evocative. I think attractive is the wrong term perhaps, one of them in particular left me feeling uneasy and I hated handling it, it was just horrible. The fact that a model could evoke that revulsion in me is pretty interesting. So it definitely achieves what it sets out to, especially with the Death Guard (i.e.- bad guy) faction.

Last weekend the actual game was finally upon us. Data sheets (factions and their various details/abilities) had been reproduced from the manual and printed, and I must say I was a little surprised that there was nothing like this included in the game itself. Aside from the hardback manual and small rules leaflet, everything else is only available in the manual. Which is bizarre to me. It’s a gorgeous book, most certainly a collectable. Wouldn’t it being passed around and manhandled by grubby paws make every collector want to keel over and die with anxiety? Maybe we’re supposed to remember all the information, but c’mon. There was so much to remember, even with just the starter factions. Without the self made data sheets I would have been screwed. So that (to me) is baffling, but I have an inkling as to why this might be, which I’ll touch upon shortly.

We made our ‘terrain’, and as beginners this was no more than a fluffy throw rug chucked over the table and a few random objects (coasters, jars) in for good measure. For those familiar with the game, or for fanatics I can imagine making the terrain would be fantastic fun, and once again I’m not opposed to the idea of wiling away an afternoon doing so. Because actually when it came to playing the game I realised that setting the scene is important. Creating this fictional world and immersing yourself within it is important. Caring about anything you’re doing is important. Because if you take all that away then it really is just throwing dice, totting up numbers and measuring distances. I wouldn’t say that as first time players we did all those things, I certainly wasn’t playing pretend and shouting ‘over the top lads!’ or anything like that (not to say I might not in the future if the mood strikes!) but put it this way: the first night that was spent playing with the basic rules and figuring it out my brain quietly melted. I’m pretty impatient with new games and just wanting to play. I love information; my problem is I need to know it all, immediately, and when I can’t grasp it quickly enough I become super frustrated. I did wonder if I was ever going to find it fun at one point (and had accidently stabbing myself with a scalpel whilst modeling been worth it). The second night was a little more fun. This is when I could see myself enjoying it long term. It came at the exact moment I finally remembered the sequences, actions and had memorized some numbers (without continuously peering at data sheets) and I was away. I like it when I know stuff, I like when I grasp that knowledge and run with it. I just don’t find the muddling- through-feeling-like-a-blundering-idiot part all that fun.

Now having learnt the (basic) game it’s not all that complicated. It just seems to take a long time. Imagine playing a board game where each player’s turn takes 20-25 minutes. That’s Warhammer, and if this isn’t your regular type of gaming it can take a while to get used to. That’s also why you need to immerse yourself in the setting in order to give damn. Otherwise you may sit there wondering why you’re watching someone else do all the things for a fairly lengthy (by board gaming standards) amount of time. Many modern games these days tend to take this into account, and pre-empt that this may not be all that fun for other players. Games Workshop have clearly stuck to their guns and kept it traditional. The same applies to the rules manual being the only place to access information. Part of me thinks ‘good for them’. I mean you can only bend to the consumers will so much, and then aren’t you just selling the product to be like everything else? They’re keeping it old school, and that’s fair enough. It’s different for sure. But not necessarily bad! Admittedly it helps that as the rounds progress and more of your army dies off, then things start moving far more rapidly, as there are fewer pieces to utlise. The combat phase involves everybody so that’s always something to look forward to. I embrace the fighting aspect- always down for a rumble.

Without going into a full breakdown of rules (which would be agony to repeat at this point) I’ll briefly lay it out:

  • You have your chosen army faction.
  • You divide the surface area in which you are playing.
  • You each place terrain.
  • You each place objective markers.
  • Each player’s turn consists of moving, using physic abilities, shooting, charging, fighting and checking morale. Rolling dice, measuring distances with tape measures and referencing your faction’s data sheets, achieves this.
  • Victory conditions depend of whichever mission you are playing.

And that is the premise of a basic game of 40k. I’ll end this by saying that I actually enjoyed the game quite a bit, and I absolutely want to play again. I weirdly enjoyed handling a tape measure. Maybe it’s because it’s a novelty, or perhaps because I rarely have a reason to measure anything in my daily life. It was fun! I liked the precision that you have to make your moves with. I liked the combat and popping off the enemy one by one. Once again I enjoyed how good the miniatures were, from their appearance to poses, I think they work really well. I can imagine them actually fighting, what they would be doing or saying, and I can see why this is a fantastic fantasy gaming system, that you can create a world around. It’s like a grown up make-believe. I’m especially looking forward to some miniature painting, although how they’ll turn out is anybody’s guess!

To summarise, from one board gamer to another: You’ll probably like Warhammer40k if….

  • You played the original game.
  • You don’t mind a dungeon crawl style affair.
  • You like RPG.
  • You can get into the theme and the setting.
  • You enjoy measuring things and being precise.
  • You are happy to create the game from scratch, to get a little imaginative and arty/crafy.
  • You don’t mind daft sounding terminology. The word Nurgle. Hmmm.
  • If you want to play something a little bit different from the norm.
  • You don’t mind getting a little old school.

You probably won’t be so fussed if….

  • The thought of gluing together little pieces brings you out in a cold sweat.
  • You are enraged at the mere concept of a game costing well over £50 and having to self assemble the models and create your own terrain.
  • You like cards, boards, player aids and components. To your mind a game simply isn’t a decent game without that stuff (btw there’s nothing wrong with that! It’s a preference like any other.)
  • You are incredibly impatient to have your turn, in which case you are SOL with this game. There is much waiting in those first rounds.

I hope you enjoyed this departure from the usual and thanks so much for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday: Splendor, Marc André

Splendor

Design: Marc André   

Artwork: Pascal Quidault

Publisher: Asmodee, Space Cowboys 

Players: 2-4

Duration: 30 minutes

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This week I’m taking a brief trip back to Splendor. I never thought a card game about accumulating wealth (stuff) to buy further wealth (more stuff) would be as damn good and bloody difficult as it is, but apparently I was wrong. Splendor is a set collection game, where each turn players collect ‘gem’ tokens in order to purchase gem cards of varying levels. Some simply give you a coloured gem, others give you points- but once cards are in your play area you can you use them as currency to buy the higher value cards. The first person to score 15 points wins the game. On paper this sounds all fairly straightforward- dare I say… easy? Trust me when I tell you that, for me at least, 30 minutes of brain burning & nail biting ensues.

More accurately Splendor is a ‘triple whammy’ set collection game. You are collecting the gem tokens to buy cards, the cards to enable higher purchases and sets of cards to buy the favour of royalty (the objective tiles on offer- spot the depictions of historical favourites such as Queen Victoria and Henry VIII). The rules around how many gem tokens you can collect and how you collect them brings an additional layer to the mix. Reserving a card allows you to take a gold piece (one of those wonderful ‘can-be-used-for-anything’ type tokens) and is a great way to snare an expensive gem card. Becoming unseasonably peeved that your opponent has taken the gem/card/royalty you wanted is also a given fact in Splendor. 

This is why it works so well for me- there is a certain amount of conflict, but not so much so that you’re butting heads at every turn. After all there are plenty of gems for everybody! But some minor conflict is present and I like that. I very much enjoy the different elements of set collection within the game, and how damn tricky it is to get the cards you want. I also love when your wealth starts to accumulate and it feels like you’re getting cards ‘for free’, as you’re no longer relying on just the gems to purchase with.

I admire Splendor because of how well it works. I like set collection games, but some click with me and others don’t. I think the ones that don’t are often due to a piece of the design being a little…off. In those cases set collection can boil down to nothing more than ‘getting the things just because’. And then you don’t have that nice sense of satisfaction, or fun. I believe (from my experience) that it’s often a result of a game being ‘rushed’, perhaps not tested enough, like an almost finished story- that if pushed just a little bit further could have been wonderful. Splendor is a simple game, and a good gateway game because of how easy it is to learn. But it’s a polished piece.

Am I any good at it? Not massively. I take a ridiculously long time deliberating my turn and if I’m feeling a little beat I sometimes forget which card I was aiming to buy. Then colours and numbers blend into one and I forget what century I’m in. So focus is key. Early afternoon games are optimal (chance would be a fine thing!) and remembering what card you want to buy is a huge plus, obviously.

Lastly I’ll leave you with what stood out for me the most when I revisited Splendor (after a long time period of not playing). The artwork. I guess at one point I was so focused on the game I would only see the colours and numbers, and everything else was just background (which is a testament to a game not needing fancy artwork, if the game itself is a fine one). When I played recently I noticed just how detailed and vivid the artwork was, and how well illustrated the portraits were- really lovely stuff.

I’m so pleased that Cities of Splendor is to be released soon. This is a quartet of expansions in one that interact with the base game and individually. I don’t know too much at the moment, but I’ll be investigating at GenCon and will absolutely be reporting back.

Thanks for reading!

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Throwback Thursday: Once Upon A Time

Once Upon A Time

Design: Richard Lambert, Andrew Rilstone, James Wallis    

Publisher: (My copy) Atlas 

Players: 2-6

Duration: 30 minutes

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This Thursday is a bit of an unusual choice. Once Upon A Time is considered a ‘party’ game, which is a genre I’ll usually avoid if possible. It’s not that I don’t like fun. I love fun! Really. But it’s the connotations of the party game that make me a little…uneasy. What I do like however is social interactions with people I know, in an environment which I’m comfortable in. And i’m sure that this is what most games in the genre are aiming toward. It’s just that the term ‘party’ is synonymous to me with ‘organised fun’. But all that aside I have occasionally enjoyed a party game. Because I like good games, and sometimes a good game comes in a form that I’d usually balk at.

For review purposes I played Action Cats this week, a micro game currently campaigning on Kickstarter. I enjoyed it, not just for the amusing stories you can piece together about cute cats but because it’s been fully baked and nicely done. As in it’s been well designed and encourages you to be creative and play with words and imagery. It’s not using vulgarity in attempt to mask a poor game.

It got me thinking that the party games I have enjoyed involve story telling in some way. I asked for Once Upon A Time as a birthday present a few years ago. I was just getting into tabletop gaming and I didn’t really know what I liked, or didn’t like yet, so I was testing the waters I guess. Once Upon A Time is a simple card game about telling an original fairy tale. It’s also the oldest (in publishing years) game in my collection, throwing all the way back to 1993. It’s a collaborative group activity where players can win by being the first in the group to play all of their cards, and using their secret ‘ending card’ in a way that makes sense to the story that’s told. The prompts are all classic fairy tale elements that you weave a narrative around. When one of those elements is mentioned you lay the related card on the table. Other players can interrupt when a certain element is mentioned and carry the story forward. The story needs to make sense (even if it is ludicrous, it can’t jump wildly from one thing to another, it needs to make sense within the story you’ve created) so players can challenge one another if they disagree with where the story is heading. So you have the collaboration, you have rules around what you can and can’t do, you have an individual goal to meet, but it’s fluid.

Shortly after my birthday we played Once Upon A Time to finish up evening of gaming. Honestly I can still remember laughing to the point where I was actually crying and my tummy ached. It was so completely entertaining. I can’t remember the specifics of what was so amusing and even if I did it wouldn’t be funny in the present I’m sure. But at the time, in context- it was a really good laugh. It’s the people I was playing with that brought the fun, and I’m so glad they did because thanks to them I have some very fond memories. With games like this it’s all about the blend of people you play with. If you were to play with a group you were not familiar with, or those you weren’t comfortable with it wouldn’t work so well, if at all. If you were to play with people not into it, those who agree to play (with a reluctant sigh) then spend the next 30 minutes checking their phone and taking repeated trips away from the table, then it’s not going to have the same effect. You all need to be invested in the experience.

I haven’t played this game in a couple of years now, which is simply down the fact that with less free time and a larger collection I’m less inclined to suggest this one. The people I played with aren’t around as much and I’m yet to find a similar group of oddballs. But I haven’t given up on it, and I’m sure that at the right time and place Once Upon A Time will get another go-around. It’s a lovely game that you can make sweet memories with. And there’s not much else sweeter than that.

So that’s another week, another Thursday, another throwback. I hope you enjoyed it!