A Tale of Two Witches- Part 1- Witches of the Revolution

Witches of the Revolution

Design: M. Craig Stockwell

Artwork: James Masingo, Alan Washburn

Publisher: Atlas Games

Players: 1-4 players

Duration: 30-60 mins

IMG_5616I had my eye on Witches of the Revolution for some time. It immediately sparked my interest because I am somewhat the witchy woman. I have dabbled in white magic on and off over the years, and whilst I never fully got into a pagan lifestyle there is something about it that I find fascinating. So witchy themes draw me in- whether it’s books, movies or games. There are a few witchy games out there but I’ve been longing for one that’s just a little bit fuller than filler. So WotR immediately went to the top of my wishlist.

 

IMG_6174Witches is a co-op deckbuilder that allows for solo play, and your coven of witches are freedom fighters during the American civil war. You start with a hand of five cards (six if playing solo) from your starter (Seeker) deck. Each round a new event is spawned, and you must overcome these to sway the Tyranny track in your favour, and meet the objective cards before the event or tyranny track hits game over.

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img_6170.jpgEach turn you may recruit using a card’s pentagram symbol and similar to other deckbuilding games the recruits are far more powerful. But unlike other games of this nature you pay for recruits by permanently discarding the cards spent. The events are overcome when you can match the symbols required with cards from your hand, allowing for the corresponding symbol counter to be removed from an objective. When all objective cards are met then you are victorious!

IMG_6189What I enjoyed about this game, as with most ‘fighting’ deckbuilders (although it’s the events we’re fighting, instead of monsters or each other) is how quickly things can escalate to ‘oh this is going to go well’ to ‘we’re screwed aren’t we?’ As the event cards mount they have knock-on effects to everything else giving the game a great sense of urgency and drive to succeed. In the co-op mode you really have to work together to achieve this and the solo game is equally as challenging in this respect.

I love how the aspects of the game interact, it refreshes those typical deckbuilder traits, and the butterfly effects can shift the game in different directions, keeping you on high alert. The events can represent challenges of their own, e.g.- ‘witches and relics can only be used to overcome this event’, or ‘pay one extra symbol for every event to the left of this card’. But as further events are drawn the moon tracker ascends, and everything becomes more difficult and costly. The event movement will also result in the tyranny tracker teaching inevitable doom and recruiting becoming next to impossible. So you’ve been warned- it’s a tough one!img_6172.jpgI also like the satisfaction of removing markers from the objectives and inching closer toward clearing them, and once you’ve done so you’ll be rewarded with the card’s ability. There’s also a lot to be considered in Witches. You are not just buying ‘bigger’ recruits and going in swinging, you are really contemplating your decisions carefully. Not only for yourself but also with other players in mind. Because if you’re not careful you will over prune your deck to the point of cycling 10 cards continuously. If you get stuck in the position of being unable to recruit, which happened in my solo game, then it’s a tough spot to escape. Witches is like the thinking (wo)man’s deckbuilder and I like it.

The game is also adaptable, in the sense that you can adjust the difficulty level by creating your own event deck, using the glyphs printed on the cards (and the rulebook guidelines) to tailor your game. If you think it’s tough with the achievable events, wait until you play with the unkinder ones. It’s kind of brutal.

The artwork is superb, from the vibrant board and front cover, to the amusingly illustrated objectives and the paired down rustic feel of the coven cards. I’m a sucker for creepy artwork so the coven illustrations are my favourite.

The box insert is decent, and it’s very straightforward to set up and learn. Some people may find the rounds a little too streamlined and formulaic perhaps, however I think the contemplative nature of the game and all that comes with it more than makes up for it.

My only criticism of Witches would be that the theme is perhaps a little lighter than I would of liked, but there’s a chance that further intricacies would have over cooked the broth. However I think this also leaves the game open for future endeavors that could play around with the theme further, and with my former witchcraft experience my brain goes into overdrive thinking about potential expansion packs.

You’ll love Witches if you enjoy co-oping, or are hankering for a new solo game. If you want to be challenged and on high alert at all times then this may be the game for you. And if you love deckbuilding games that get you thinking then WotR is a must have.

I’ll see you soon for part two, where I’ll be delving into a very different witch themed game.

 

 

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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!