What I Played This Weekend

This past weekend consisted of a variety of different things; house hunting because we’re (politely) being evicted in March, eating sweets and bread as a hysterical displacement activity (I’m definitely wheat intolerant so now look like a football), being mind blown by the current events going on in the USA, watching Louis Theroux My Scientology Movie of which I spent most of the time saying ‘what the f*****k?’ whilst dealing with the usual cat vs. baby calamities in-between. Somehow, amidst all of this I managed to play three games. Those games were Inis, Troyes & Combat Commander: Europe. I was struck by how radically different each game can be to another. I don’t feel like I’ve played these three enough to review them as such, so just for fun I wanted to give you a little taster of what they have to offer…

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Inis is one of those games that got a lot of coverage, had quite a bit of hype, attracted a lot of attention for it’s beautiful artwork and then sold out far and wide.

I can honestly say it’s all well deserved from what I can tell so far. I played three games and they were all were very different from each other. The first was very much a practice run, but it’s one of those games that once you get the rules and structure clear in your mind then you’re away. What intrigued me is how the more I played I realised that this isn’t simply a game of playing cards and moving minis about. There’s a deeper strategy that you have to access to win and I’ve yet to do that. This is the kind of game I love because I’m excited to play further and tap into it. I can’t wait to give it a full review and I’ll try to get that up within the next week. As an aside the art really is gorgeous, so vivid and intricate. I was majorly into Tarot for years and the cards have a real Tarot vibe, as in they could be a Tarot deck- but instead they have wonderful player abilities in a super fun area control game. Exciting stuff. Expect more soon!

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Troyes is a pure Eurogame employing a clever dice mechanic, and I can see why this game is so well liked and the reprint much anticipated. I love the way you can utilise and manipulate your dice by using the cards available. You have secret objectives to achieve that other players can score too, so as well as trying to meet your own goals it’s also a good idea to attempt to figure out what your opponent is holding. As well as this there are negative events to battle each round and countless ways to accumulate money, influence, and of course- victory points! I love having lots of choice, where you really have to hone in on the best route to take to achieve your objectives and win the game. There’s lots going on in Troyes, and again I’ll look forward to writing a full review. I’m also a fan of the basic but beautiful artwork.

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Lastly Combat Commander: Europe is a game I never thought I would like. On the rare occasions a few years ago I would go to a game store I would almost always skip the war games section. I think I said something along the lines of ‘real life is grim enough’, which is still true, but in the respect of relating that to games I’ve moved on from that train of thought. Yes real life is pretty grim at times, things are tough, and games should be for fun. But nowadays I am very open to delving into different genres. I want to have new experiences and learning curves in gaming so when given the chance I said ‘yes’ to this one. I’ve now had three games and played three scenarios, two of which were really very good and one that fell a bit flat. Last night’s was a good one. This so different from my regular board games and I liked that that. You ‘roll’ by pulling cards from your deck that have dice printed on the bottom right corner. These multi use cards also represent a wealth of combinations that can lead you to victory if you play them right. I also liked the fact that the appearance isn’t too fancy as in there aren’t any pretty components. It’s paper maps, hundreds of cardboard bits and card stock score trackers in a muted colour palette. It was nice to focus solely on the gameplay without distractions and of course I do that in every game, but I’ll admit I’m often found whimsically staring at pretty cards or cubes with a far off dreamy expression. So this just has a different and raw feel. It does have a couple of negatives too. It’s heavily luck based when pulling for dice rolls and most of the time there’s not much you can do about it, at least in the scenarios I’ve played so far (apart from an initiative card that allows you a re-roll that then gets passed to the other player). There’s not too much freedom within the game in some instances and that can be frustrating. I seemed to have a mental block about not being able to use a second action with a unit who already had an order. Every now and then I’d go to take an action and be told ‘no you can’t do that….’ to which I would respond with an indignant ‘but why!?’ Despite the negatives spots I did enjoy myself and I’m very much anticipating trying the other scenarios and finding a favourite. I can totally appreciate why some people get fully into war games. Just to say though that I’m not actually gung-ho about real war. Y’ know… just to put that put that out there.

Funnily enough in between rounds I had a tea break and was looking at some news whilst boiling the kettle. What’s actually happening in the world is surreal and f***g frightening. Real people are going through some dark and awful times that have a knock on affect to everyone. I almost feel bad that I’m playing games and enjoying myself when so much bad is happening. I watched a great video by board gamer/designer Tony Miller aka Bearded Rouge who addressed some current issues and gave some heartfelt thoughts. One part especially rang true to me and that is you do have to have a level of self-care in hard times. I have to tell myself that it’s not selfish to look after yourself and it doesn’t mean you don’t care. When faced with stressful, difficult and negative events going on in the world, and individually in our own lives, I hope everyone out there is finding joy in something. I certainly do with tabletop games.

Thanks for reading and stay safe everyone!

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First Thoughts on Arkham Horror: The Card Game

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I’m a tad humbled to tell you at this point I have only played Arkham Horror a handful of times and tragically we are still fighting to beat Night of the Zelalot, the first campaign in the series. So it would be trifle unfair to review a game where I’ve barely scratched upon the surface. However, I did want to write up some initial thoughts and perhaps answer a few questions for anyone who is considering getting into this. Here I will touch on a few points that certainly went through my mind before and since playing.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game is the first in a new series of ‘Living Card Games’ by Fantasy Flight, a co-op horror immersed in Lovecraftian Mythos. For anyone who isn’t familiar (and bear with me because this is quite a convoluted explanation) a LCG is like almost like a trading card game without the randomisation, where new packs and expansions will be released as an ongoing series that you can choose to add to your repertoire as and when. Available so far we have: Arkham Horror- a two player card game that can play 1-4 with additional core sets, followed by Carnevale of Horrors- a standalone scenario pack that can be added as a sideline to the core game. Last week the expansion to Arkham, The Dunwich Legacy was released, which has several ‘Mythos’ packs lined up that integrate with both games. Are you still with me? I hope so. The concept of these games is to play along with the campaigns, survive intact and gain experience points that will allow you more cards to use in the next part of the story. You set up your game by each choosing a character and corresponding deck, with agenda/location/encounter cards and token bag at the ready. You have a starting hand of 5 cards (that can be increased to a maximum 8) that include assets, skills and weaknesses. You investigate locations, draw new cards, pick up clues, fight/evade monsters and advance the agenda cards to assist you in completing the campaign. Much of your success hinders on randomly drawn ‘Chaos’ tokens that will effect your action (e.g.- you play a willpower skill and need 4 willpower to succeed, your character has 3 and you draw a +1 Chaos token- success!) You are aiming to get to the end before the dreaded Doom tokens advance on the agenda before you do, then everything goes from bad to worse to dead and/or insane.

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I’m always a bit wary of LCGs, my main concern is once they are all played and achieved will I want to go back and play again, and the answer is probably not. Do I really want to pump money I haven’t really got into this Fantasy Flight moneymaker? This is the nature of a LCG, you either take it for what it is, enjoy the ride and spend the money, or say ‘nope, not for me’. I’m still very much in two minds. Part of me wants to get my moneys worth, but the greedy gamer in me says ‘but I want to try all of them’. And I certainly think part of the fun is looking forward to what’s coming next, mastering the game, exploring newly acquired decks, and building your own. But in terms of game play it’s an unusual experience- the thrill and intrigue of a campaign can be fantastic, but it will only come once then it’s lost. Until the next one.

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I come to realise this after my first couple of games of Arkham Horror, because apparently we kind of suck. Don’t get me wrong- I love a challenge. But the initial thrill of the first game has already got tired and I am concerned with how bloody annoying it’s going to be given a couple more failed attempts. The first play we read the narrative aloud to candlelight, delivered with dramatic flair, excited for the horrors in store. A couple of games later it was a bit (ok a lot) less enthused; ‘here we are in the parlor … again … sigh’. The problem is you want to persist and you desperately want those experience points. But if you already find making time for gaming difficult well let me say that Arkham Horror is an all-consuming time-eater.

Let’s move on to a positive note; what I loved about those initial first games and am excited for still is the story unfolding. Much like in a great work of fiction or good video game, the story starts slowly as you’re finding your feet and checking out your surroundings. During this time you are accumulating cards/resources, investigating locations and revealing further narrative. There’s no denying that the story telling element is strong here and when coupled with the evocative card art -a family game this is not. The real action begins when diabolical horrors starting spawning on locations left, right and center, and you soon find yourself in deep s**t with a hell of a lot to tackle. This is the part that I found really clever and wonderfully thematic. As soon as your sanity and health start chipping away it’s an uphill struggle to stay alive, sane and advance your agenda.

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I also wondered if this would be ‘just another Lovecraft game’. I am actually a huge Lovecraft fan, but at this point there are so many board games and RPGs surrounding the Cthulu Mythos that it has become a little stale for some people, myself included. But the great thing about Lovecraft is that there is a wealth of material to inspire, so it doesn’t have to be all Shoggoths & Cthulu. So far Arkham Horror seems to be slightly subtler, with a focus on hidden horrors, a steady building madness and disorientation where your locations are transformed into ghastly backdrops, stuffed to the gills with the most horrible things a mind could conjure. Y’ know…as far as I can tell from attempting one campaign.

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I was also considering if this would be too similar to Eldritch Horror, a game that I’ve played quite a bit these past couple of years. But as I’ve touched on already I think it’s the clever story telling that sets it apart, and being a card game lends it a far smoother feel. I love the simple mechanics, and the way that you can move from one phase to the next with minimal fussy business in between. Aside from all the creatures trying to kill you.

Lastly I think that you really need to be willing to co-op to play, which seems like an obvious statement, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that you need to be utilsing your character’s skill set to help each other and take the focus away from yourself somewhat. Apparently we haven’t mastered this yet, and maybe that is something to do with not playing co-op games too often that we haven’t fully grasped how to co-op to win yet. Interesting.

And with that I’ll draw this post to a close.

In summary, Arkham Horror is a chilling co-op game with a lot to offer if and when you get to the good stuff. If you don’t mind an experience that needs repeated refreshing, that will eat into much of your gaming time and you’re happy to keep buying then you’re probably going to have a lot of fun.

I’m still on the fence contemplating…wish me luck for my next game???

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Kanagawa, Bruno Cathala & Charles Chevallier

Published: Iello 

Illustration: Jade Mosch

Plays: 2-4

Duration: 30-45 mins

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Let me start by saying that Kanagawa is now firmly placed in my ‘chill AF’ game category, which previously didn’t have enough games to be construed as a category, but at this point I think there are just enough, and Kanagawa fits into it quite nicely. If there were ever a game to give you enough to concentrate on but also the headspace to sit back and just enjoy playing then this is it.

Having read a few glowing reviews and watched the promo video I pretty much knew I was going to like it from the get-go and thankfully it didn’t disappoint. I unboxed it to find a traditional Japanese style play mat, chunky ‘diploma tiles’, little paint pots and square ‘lesson’ cards depicting various pretty images that really set my heart a-fluttering. And amongst all this cute stuff is a very good little game, and attractive components aside, that’s what it’s really all about isn’t it?

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Kanagawa is a worker placement & set collection combination with a bit of card drafting and press your luck thrown in, that works beautifully and plays super smoothly. The rules are fairly simple, but the choices are tough without making your head come off and therein lay the chill factor. You find yourself enrolled in painting school on a mission to prove your art-worthiness to old Master Hokusai. You achieve this by making prints and claiming diploma tiles. You begin with a starting tile; on the top side is your canvas, on the bottom your skill board. The start player (or Grand Master) draws cards from the deck and lays them in a face up/face down arrangement as shown on the mat (your art school). You draw two at a time and the start player decides if they want to stay in school i.e. wait to see what cards are drawn next or to take what’s already there (say you desperately want a lesson card with the landscape painting skill) and the next player will take what’s left. Which isn’t always a bad thing.

You choose to place your cards in two ways: 1/ With your skills; this will acquire you more painting abilities, points, further paint pots, ability to move your pots a number of times or to gain the start playing marker. 2/ With your canvas; prints mean points just by being placed, but you cannot paint them without having the skills and the paint pots to do so.  (The bottom of the lesson card symbolises the skill you need, e.g. two blue ocean painting skills). You increase your Harmony Points by collecting sets and pinching your desired diploma tile before your opponent. Valid sets include people and buildings of different types, combinations of animals and identical landscapes. It’s very much a game of deciding what to do for the best in the moment. Are you aiming to collect tree or people prints? Maybe you want to try your hand at all of them. Should you go for a diploma tile now or wait until next turn to get the better one? What if your opponent nabs it before you? Maybe you want the lesson card with multiple painting abilities, but it will lose you two Harmony Points. Perhaps you can gain them elsewhere…but how? Have you paid attention to what seasons (top right of the lesson card) you are painting? An identical sequence of seasons will score you bonus Harmony Points (although if you gain a skill awarding you a storm token you can use it to substitute any season for a greater sequence.) For a seemingly simple game the options to explore are so varied that you want to play again immediately after you’ve finished to see what else you can do. And that is the mark of a really great game.

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In a two-player game the end is triggered when the lesson deck is empty or a player reaches eleven cards on their canvas. Scoring is based on number of prints, Harmony Points on skills and prints, diplomas, longest sequential run of seasons and a bonus two points for the last player with the Grand Master pawn.

In case you hadn’t already guessed I highly recommend Kanagawa. I love having lots of options, I adore satisfying end scoring and I enjoy games that play like fillers that are a bit fuller…and when it’s over you’re like ‘well that was lovely wasn’t it?’ which is exactly what I’ve said after every game of Kanagawa so far.

Thanks for reading!

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Kickstarter Review: Sub Terra- Tim Pinder

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When I discovered Sub Terra I jumped at the chance to get my hands on a review copy. A co-op survival game, in which players have 64 tiles and a deck of hazard cards to explore the depths of a caving system and reach the exit alive. Please note that this is a bad cave of ‘The Descent’ variety where anything that could go wrong will, and mysterious horrors lurk in the darkness.

I thought it looked like a fantastic game from the start; it has a well written and crystal clear rule book, awesome graphic design and vivid artwork. But as I’ve discovered many times in the past, a great looking package can cover a multitude of sins, but I am pleased to say that this is not the case for Sub Terra. I found the game to be fun, exciting and even when played on the ‘normal’ mode it was difficult to beat. Let me just give you a brief overview: (please note- all images taken are from a prototype copy of the game.)

The Gameplay

This is pretty straightforward- you choose your difficulty level prior to setting up the game, meaning that you play with a different number of cards and remove certain card types from your game. It plays 1-6 and depending on number of players in your game you control one or two characters such as Bodyguard, Medic or Diver, and each has a characteristic and ability that will help you along the way.

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Actions

On your turn you may take two actions, and a third if you choose to ‘exert’ yourself (after which you must roll a skill check to see if you successfully exerted yourself without taking any health damage). Actions include revealing and placing a tile, revealing a tile and moving straight onto it and running. You can traverse the tiles in different ways, and some of these can take 2/2 actions. Depending on the tile type you may require a character with a certain skill, e.g.- if it’s a ledge tile you will need a player with a rope to get in there first. All tiles must be pieced together legally through their exits and entrances.

Hazards

After actions are taken a hazard card is revealed to see what the next cave related catastrophe will be. This may be flooding, gas, a tremor or a cave-in, which will result in making tiles difficult to traverse and mean working with your team to utilise the characters abilities.

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Horrors

Horrors are an exciting part of the hazard deck. When these are spawned on the corresponding tiles they edge close to their victims during every turn. Players on the same tile as a horror will automatically become a casualty.

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Health, casualties and end of game

When you lose health you can spend 2/2 actions to gain one back or heal another player. When you lose all health you become unconscious and can longer heal yourself, and you will need another player to come to your aid. The game end is triggered when you draw the ‘out of time’ card or the exit tile is revealed. From this point onwards your aim is to end on the exit tile alive. Skill checks are rolled every turn thereafter and a failed roll means automatically losing consciousness.

Final Thoughts

What I’ve given you in a very bare bones overview, but hopefully that gives you the feel of the game. In terms of theme it couldn’t be any more my cup of tea but the game itself is fabulous. If you can imagine Carcasonne’s scary older sibling then you’re halfway there. What I appreciated the most is how it becomes apparent as more tiles are placed and hazards are drawn that it isn’t simply a case of moving around and ‘doing things’. You have to band together, very much in-keeping with the theme, to use your abilities and figure out where you’re heading. Once the cave expands and the less tiles you can legally place, the more difficult it is to maneuver, especially when characters start losing precious health and falling unconscious. If the exit tile is drawn and players are scattered there’s a strong possibility that you’re going to become unconscious before you get to the exit. So a fair amount of strategy is needed here.

I’ve tried to think of anything remotely negative to point out, but i’ve struggled to do so. As in most games, it can start off a little slow. On a couple of occasions in the early rounds the hazard cards weren’t needed as such, as there wasn’t any corresponding tiles on the table at the time. However, not only does it pick up really quickly, it also depends on what difficulty level you’re playing at. I am really looking forward to further plays, getting stuck in and figuring out how to beat it.

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Kickstarter

The Kickstarter launch is a mere few days away on January 10th. I was very impressed with the quality of the prototype so I am imagining that the final version with stretch goals will be mint. I’m in the dark (pardon the pun) as to what the Kickstarter holds and I’m very much looking forward to it myself.

If you’re interested and want to know more or want to stay updated you can pay Sub Terra and the publisher ITB a visit on their website and Thunderclap page.

 

Top Five 2016

I find narrowing down board games very difficult. I played quite a lot last year, and played quite a few new releases. I enjoyed some old Euro favourites like Madeira and Archipelago. I also played Food Chain Magnate and The Gallerist pretty regularly (though I hesitate to say I enjoyed FCM as much as I was super frustrated that I could never seem to win no matter what strategy I tried) and I played many games that I never thought I would be ‘into’.

But for my ‘5 Top Games of 2016’ post (although please note not all released in 2016) I decided to talk in brief about 5 games that really hit the spot for me and why…

 The Big One

 Arkwright seemed at first like a big complicated number laden puzzle to be solved and it freaked me out. I am exceptionally bad at mental mathematics, actually all mathematics makes my brain switch off almost entirely. But I love a challenge, and I heard good things about the game, so I endeavored to give it a try and found that I actually really loved it. What’s more I was not too shabby at playing it either once I got the general gist. I never actually reviewed this one for reasons I’m not sure of now, but you are basically choosing 1-4 factories to set up shop; lamps and bread for example, and sell shares in your company whilst balancing the incomings and outgoings in competition with your opponents. This may strike some people as dull but it’s anything but, it’s like Monopoly if it were fun and you had absolute control over what you are doing. If you add the ‘waterframe’ to your game you can increase your profits through shipping and even more to consider when taking your turns. There is so much tactical decision making to be done and you have 5 long ass rounds to do it in. I have a lot of love for this game, and it definitely improved my mental math skills. It also includes paper money that didn’t make me feel sick when I touched it. Win!

 The Hyped One

I reviewed Terraforming Mars back in October/November so please feel free to go back and have a look if you want a full view of my thoughts on the game. I also did a ‘first thoughts’ video (which was a terrible webcam experiment so never again) and as I mention in the video I really had no clue it was getting a lot of hype. I saw it on the Stronghold Games website and thought it looked liked the kind of thing I would enjoy. Economy in space! Building! Space cows! Which really were like regular cows but on Mars. So I was looking forward to it but didn’t have a load of hype to hold it up to. However, as I say in my review it was definitely deserved of the build up because it is a really good game; part deck builder, loosely co-op, all the mechanics integrate really well with the theme and it is just a beauty of a game. One of its detractors (and of course not everyone is going to like it) mentioned that it’s a bit ‘random’. I really can’t see that though. You decide how many cards you want to purchase, and yes, they are blindly drawn, but you also decide whether to keep them, ‘sell’ them and what to do with them once you have them. From the starting hand you kind of decide from that point what you want to capitalize on and then it’s up to you to build from there. So I just don’t think there’s too much randomness here. IMO. It’s a great game.

 The Kickstarter Hit

I first spotted Mint Works on Instagram, pre-Kickstarter campaign, and was first drawn to the retro mint tin look that made my eyes light up. So, intrigued, I hit up the designer Justin Blaske for an interview (which you can find back in August’s blog posts). The concept behind the game stemmed from a design competition on BGG, the idea being to create a game experience wherein all its contents were packed into a little mint tin. Justin’s design focused on using cards and mint tokens in a worker placement game set in an industrious little town. I successfully managed the PnP for this one and found it to be a really delightful, smart and fun little game. I do love my filler games and I like them to be enjoyable and light but have some interesting decision making elements, and this really ticked all the boxes for me. The great news is this game funded within hours, pummeled its way through stretch goals and funded at over $89,000. What I have found really admirable though is that post-campaign Justin has really worked hard to keep all of the backers regularly updated and happy. Which I hear doesn’t happen all the time in the aftermath of KS campaigns, and the amount of work that actually goes into managing the project is crazy hard and time consuming. More recently Justin entered the second mint tin competition on BGG, is having a supersized Mint Works playable at a convention in his home town of Nebraska, and is play testing some new and interesting ideas, so keep an eye out! You can still pre order Mint Works here.

 The Retro One

Legendary Big Trouble in Little China, in case you hadn’t guessed is one of my favourite films from the 80s, kind of a childhood classic. I really fancied Kurt Russell and his ludicrously tight vest. It’s got the best lines, the best silly monsters and OTT fighting scenes. I was so thrilled that there was to be a Legendary version, and I already liked the game system from playing Marvel. I am pleased to say it did not disappoint me. The artwork is fab, the story telling is good, and the combat is great fun. I’m going to sound corny but it really is like a trip into the movie. I love the way that some of the cards worked to reflect the characters and it fitted in to the Legendary system nicely. Sometimes I just stare at the box. It’s dreamy.

 The Unexpected Charmer

 Odin’s Ravens is a simple racing game using cards and two wooden ravens, no more or less but something about it works so well. It is just elegant and charming, and a sweet little two player about racing over the land and getting round to the other side before your opponent. You play the cards in your hands to move over the cards on the table, and the Loki cards provide tricks up your sleeve for those ‘oh dear, I appear to be stuck’ or ‘take that, because there’s no way in hell you’re winning this race’ moments. Very good fun, so reasonably priced for great quality and definitely one I’ll put in my ‘games that just work’ category.

So, as hard as that was to do, those were my five choices from 2016. Let’s look forward to all the new and exciting stuff that’s happening this year, and if you want some ‘games news’ my new video is below. Thanks for reading!