Life Happens in 30 Seconds…

Well, between work and everything else, my reviews have lain dormant for a little while.  But with a new year, comes new resolutions, new games, and yes, new reviews!  On tap:

“Kingdom Death: Monster”

“Kingdomino”

“Ten-Minute Heist: The Wizard’s Tower”

“Menu Masters”

…and whatever else we’ve been playing…

Dominium Eminens…in Space

“Eminent Domain”

designed by Seth Jaffee, published by Tasty Minstrel Games

Players: 2-4; Playing Time: 45 min.; Good for: Deckbuilder AND engine building fans, future galactic overlords.

Become the pre-eminent force in the galaxy in this space-themed deckbuilding game. Survey new planets, peacefully colonize them or attack by through force of arms, build resources on those planets, and then sell those resources to gain influence in the galaxy. Most influence at the end of the game wins. You begin each round by choosing to play one card for its action that only you can do. Then you choose a Role from the common stacks: Survey, Colonize, Warfare, Research, or Produce/Trade. You get to perform this action with a bonus, while other players will have the option to perform the same action, which players can boost by playing additional cards from their hand. The chosen card is then added to your discard pile, thus building your deck for later rounds. As your survey and settle planets, you will not only get the chance to generate resources, you can also Research more powerful cards to add to your deck. Once the influence points are distributed or one or two of the common stacks are used up, the game ends and the person with the highest influence from points previously earned, settled planets, and researched tech cards, wins the game and rules the galaxy in peace and prosperity. Unless you chose Warfare. Then you can pretend to rule the galaxy with an iron fist.

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Clever combination of deckbuilding, action selection, and tableau/engine building. Depending on what you focus on, you can find numerous paths of victory: build up your armada to invade planets? Sure. Research new technologies to earn points? Okay. Generate resources and trade them in for points? You got it!

One Line Verdict: With numerous paths to victory and an elegant combination of various mechanics, definitely sign up to explore this distant star.

The World’s Ugliest Checkerboard

“SECTRE”

designed by Peter Mariutto , published by Freshwater Game Company

[Note: this is a prototype submitted to the reviewer by the publisher in advance of their Kickstarter campaign, which can be found here].

Players: 2-6; Playing Time: 30 min.; Good for: Abstract game fans, people who like bright colors

Outwit your opponent in this duel to make the world’s ugliest checkerboard. Well, actually, to score the most points by laying down tiles to form different patterns on the board. Tiles feature four colors, two different colors on each side, and players take turns placing tiles on the board. The only rule is that matching colors cannot be put next to each other (basically opposite dominoes). Players thus use these orthogonal placements to form patterns simple patterns like “the line” and “the x” or more complex patterns like the “big w” to score points for the shape in that color, as well as bonus points. The game ends when the last tile is placed and the person with the most scoring cards wins! Or you simply go color-blind from all those colors on the board…you can do that too.

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Like other games of this type, the key is figuring out the best placement that will allow you to score points but to prevent setting up your opponent. The fact that the tiles are double-sided with different colors AND that you can put tiles on top of previously placed tiles allows for some brain burning strategies. But getting a cascade of different shapes when scoring points can be pretty satisfying. But with so many choices, it can also promote some crippling tunnel vision.

One Line Verdict: Abstract fans will probably enjoy this, but if you struggle with too many choices, you might want to stick with Qwirkle.

Review by Paul

We Built This City…Again

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“Card City XL”
Designed by Alban Viard, published by AVStudio Games

The Quick Summary: With the cards at your disposal, you are in charge of building the highest scoring city. With a crafty card drafting system, where the first player creates small decks of partially hidden cards for other players to choose from, “Card City XL” requires some long-term planning to optimize your town by fitting the best cards within a 5×5 or 6×6 square. You can place cards to grow your city, but optimal card placement can allow some districts to develop by themselves and grow without actually using cards from your hand! The key feature of the game is that it comes with 240 different ways of playing. Some of them are pretty similar, just easier versions of the same game, but it does have a lot of possible variations.

The Awesome:

  • A lot of potential variety when it comes to winning conditions and objectives.

The Good: 

  • Many different levels of difficulty.
  • Will appeal to both casual gamers and more strategic gamers.
  • Comes with a solo variant that allows you to try to create your own metropolis.
  • The nice combo of tile placement and organic growth of your city makes for interesting decision-making.
  • Fast setup.

The Bad:

  • The many different levels and winning conditions can be confusing at first glance.
  • A good insert to store the cards would have been nice.
  • Solo variant only measures your success based on your score. You can’t lose. You simply compare your score to the chart in the rulebook.

The Ugly:

  • The size of the city, once you reach a certain amount of cards makes it very hard to manage. You need a BIG table (or a lot of moving your city around) for 3-4 players games.

Keep it or leave it? This is a keeper since the more hardcore gamer can be satisfied because of the long-term planning required and it will also attract more casual gamers (just lower the difficulty).

Review by Sébastien

 

 

No, You Can’t Be Claire Danes.

“Homeland”

designed by Aaron Dill, John Kovaleski, & Sean Sweigert, published by Gale Force Nine

Players: 3-6; Playing Time: 90 min.; Good for: fans of the “Battlestar Galactica” game who don’t have three hours, ex-CIA; people who like semi-coop games.

Defend the United States against terrorist threats, or try to topple the country from the inside! Based on the Showtime TV show, this semi-cooperative game has players taking on one of three hidden roles: an agent, a political opportunist, or a terrorist mole. Each round begins with terrorist threats advancing, activating, resolving (if necessary) and appearing. Then the players take their turns: you have actions that you must take, and actions that are optional. First, you must you must take the “lead” on an existing threat, and then play two intel card secretly under two of the active threats on the board. These cards can either aid or hinder the resolution of that particular threat. In addition, you have optional actions where you can send in agents or soldiers to eliminate a threat or to peek at the cards underneath a threat to determine what’s going on there. Or even gain assets to help you. The terrorist mole wins if ten terrorist plots succeed, while the other players will win if they thwart ten plots.

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Clever card-driven crisis resolution steps feel reminiscent of “Battlestar Galactica,” and since you are forced to play cards, you may play bad cards into a threat and seem like a mole when you’re not. And since the opportunist gains points for actually sabotaging events, it makes the game even trickier. Since the game is based on contemporary events and the cards feature CIA “dirty tricks,” be ready for awkward questions if you play with kids: “Dad, what’s extraordinary rendition?”

One Line Verdict: Tense game-play, long odds, and clever hidden roles asks you to bring this game into the light.

Review by Paul

Duel of Ages (for Baseball Fans)

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“Bottom of the 9th”

designed by Darrell Louder and Mike Mullins, published by Greater Than Games (Dice Hate Me Games)

Players: 2; Playing Time: 5-20 min.; Good for: Baseball fans, couples, and armchair quarterbacks (to mix sports metaphors)

The game is tied, with two men on, two outs, and a full count. You stare into the eyes of the opposing batter, and you’re on your last legs. What do you do? Find out in this two-player game that recreates, well, the bottom of the ninth inning. The home team wins if they score a runner while the away team wins if they get three outs. Players begin with a “stare-down” where the pitcher chooses a pitch using two wooden disks and the batter tries to guess that pitch using the same method. Successfully guessing the pitch will give the batter an advantage, while outsmarting the batter will give the pitcher the same. Then the pitching player rolls dice to determine how well the pitch turned out, randomly determining a ball, a strike, or even painting that elusive corner. The batter responds by rolling a die, the number indicating a strike, a foul, or a hit, and even the type of hit. Players play through each pitch like this, with the pitchers earning fatigue with certain pitches and the batter trying to CRUSH THAT PITCH.

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The best part of this game is the way they use game mechanics to capture the feeling of the batter-pitcher duel. The picking of the different pitches, the way the dice offer randomness, the way contact works, and the way pitcher fatigue is built in: all nicely done, and yes, really feels like baseball in a box. The fact it only recreates half an inning also makes sure it doesn’t wear out its welcome. Did I mention unique player powers for each batter and pitcher? A lot of game in a little box, and quick enough to lose two or three games to your son, who doesn’t even watch baseball, in an evening.

One Line Verdict: Don’t leave this one on the bench, especially if you’re a baseball fan. Even if you’re not, pick this up as a great two-player experience.

Review by Paul

Shut Up and Join the Effort to Colonize Mars!

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“Terraforming Mars”

designed by Jacob Fryxelius, published by Intrafin Games/Stronghold Games

The Quick Summary: You are in charge of a corporation who wishes terraform Mars and dominate it in the process. By building up your corporation, you will have to implement projects, plant forests, create oceans, and increase the planet’s temperature to make it hospitable to future colonists. A strong mix of tile-laying and engine building mechanics.

The Awesome:

  • Very fast. A solo game can be setup, played, and stored in 45 minutes. Time increases with more players, but set up and take down is still very fast.
  • Very good theme: you get the feeling that you are actually terraforming Mars.

The Good:

  • Multiplayer is very fun. A nice mix of strategy and planning with a little take-that.
  • Can be played solo. The solo option makes for a very tense and tight game. It’s NOT easy.
  • Not many tokens to deal with. Resources cubes are used to represent many different things, depending on where they are placed.
  • Easy to understand. Rulebook is well-designed.

The Bad:

  • Projects cards are so numerous they can be hard to shuffle. It’s a THICK deck.

The Ugly:

  • Component quality is below average. Cards are thin, many resource cubes are chipped, and the player mat only needs a slight bump to mess up your current production levels.

Keep it or leave it? Totally keep it. The engine building aspect of the game is very entertaining and the theme fits very well with the mechanics. I can play this with my wife, a casual gamer, and with more hardcore gamers.

When You Control the Mail…

“Thurn and Taxis”

designed by Andres Seyfarth & Karen Seyfarth, published by Rio Grande Games

Players: 2-4; Playing Time: 60 Min; Good for: Mailmen, Eurogamers, and fans of “Ticket to Ride”

Return to the thrilling days of yesteryear as you compete to build the finest postal system in Bavaria and its surrounding regions! Each round, you must draw a card showing one of the cities on the board. Then, you must play a card down in front of you to either continue a route you already started, or if the city doesn’t link to your current route, discard that route and start a new one. Finally, you can score your current route by placing a postal house on the cities in that route: either a house in every city in one province, or a house in one city in every province the route passes through (more complicated than it sounds). Score point chits for building in all the cities in a province, or having one city in all provinces, or having routes of different lengths. Finally, collect carriages for building longer and longer routes. When the level 7 carriage is built or when a player uses up all his postal houses, the game ends, making sure all the players take an equal number of turns. Add up all the points scored from the bonus chits and carriage, minus the number of remaining cities, highest score dominates Bavaria and the mail!

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It’s like a next level “Ticket to Ride” with the card-play driven route building, but with easily the most esoteric theme in all boardgaming. The Bavarian postal system in the 16th century? C’mon? Really? However, the press-your-luck aspects of building the route and chasing your opponents for the points makes for difficult decisions and tight gameplay: do I try for the longer routes to end the game, or the quick short routes to maximize points? Choose wisely, but still lose by two points. Ugh.

One Line Verdict: Push past the theme and pick up this great little gateway to complete your Spiel des Jahres collection.  After all, when you control the mail…

 

Bad Kitty!

SimonsCat

“Simon’s Cat”

designed by Sam Mitschke & Randy Scheunemann, published by Steve Jackson Games

Players: 3-6; Playing Time: 10-25 Min; Good for: Kids, cat-fanciers, people who like filler games.

Have you seen Simon’s Cat? He gets into all kinds of mischief in an animated webseries that I knew nothing about until I found this game. In it, players try not to take “messes,” or tricks. After all the cards in the deck are dealt to evenly to all the players, the player with the Cat 3 (or Cat 4) will start the round by placing it in the middle of the table. Players will then attempt to follow the previous card played down by either color or number. If you can’t follow, you take the “mess.” Play until the hands run out, and the player with the most messes will take a Simon card, the grumpy-looking owner of Simon’s Cat. Keep playing rounds until someone takes three Simon cards: they take the blame for all the mischief going on!

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A very basic “trick-taking” game where you try to avoid taking the tricks. Differing number of cards in each “suit” – each illustrated by a different charming picture from the webseries – provides a bit of strategy to which you cards you end up playing to avoid taking a trick.

Otherwise, it’s kinda like UNO, but with an end.

One Line Verdict: Charmingly illustrated and a quick-filler, but not terribly creative or notable. Put this particular cat out.

Review by fasttrackxf

Too Many Dice? Nope! Never!

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“Too Many Bones”

Designed by Josh and Adam Carlson,  published by Chip Theory Games

The Quick Summary: You are a Gearlock (a tech-savvy mix of goblin, elf and gnome) going out for adventure. By dealing with different encounters you will gain skills and improve your stats to finally face the final boss of the adventure. You have a limited amount of days to achieve enough progress points to be allowed to face the boss. They call this a dice builder RPG, and it’s pretty much right on.

The Awesome:

  • Very high quality components (neoprene game mats, plastic cards).
  • Great feeling of really developing a character.

The Good:

  • Many different bosses with different game durations. One game can last from 45 minutes to 2.5 hours.
  • If you take the time to read the stories on the cards,  you get a nice RPG feeling.
  • Dice! Many, many dice! Each Gearlock comes with it’s own personalized dice that represents its skills.
  • Very nice dice-rolling mechanic where you need to make choices (can’t use all your skills all the time!).
  • Can be played solo.
  • Combat and health system that uses poker-like tokens is very original and works very well.

The Bad:

  • The rulebook isn’t optimal. Many rules aren’t clear or are only present on the summary sheet. I had to watch a video to understand better the flow of the game.
  • Randomness of rolling dice can be a negative for many, but you know what you get when you buy this game!

The Ugly:

  • Nothing! Except maybe the price and limited distribution (only via the editor’s web site).

Keep it or leave it? Definitely keep it. This game is a masterpiece for its art, component quality, and gameplay. Very good potential for replayability and a good challenge.

Review by Sébastien