Sunday, September 30, 2012

Story Realms

I'm not usually one to go around shilling things in public.  It often leads to blame directed back at me if something goes wrong with the item I'm promoting.  However, I fully believe in this product, so much so that I'm willing to risk the potential downside.

Story Realms is currently on Kickstarter, and will be until Thursday October 4th.  I know, that isn't much time, but seriously, go check it out.

Story Realms is being designed by Escapade Games, and if you haven't heard of them, you're not alone.  That's because they're a new company, but two amazing people are the lead designers for Escapade Games.  They are Angela Hickman Newnham and Julian Leiberan-Titus, but you would know them better as the people behind the popular blog, Growing Up Gamers (along with Angie's husband.)

What exactly is Story Realms?
It is a cross between a board game and a role playing game. More than that, it is meant for people of all ages, especially kids.  When Angie mentioned that her 6 her old daughter led a play session, I truly understood that the game is for all ages. The game plays in ~1 hour sessions, and there is a lot of material, including in depth adventures, in the initial box.  Who knows what they could do with expansions.  The game is meant for 2-7 players, with one being the story teller.

Everything I've seen, heard, read, etc. about Story Realms has maintained or enhanced my interest in the game.  I was able to see the print and play version over the summer, and that looked really polished.  

The game has already hit funding, so if you back it, you will be getting a game.  They're estimating delivery in the summer of 2013, which is a ways off.  A lot of that has to do with very high quality and high detail artwork.  All of that takes an immense amount of time, and they want to make sure it's perfect.

If you like the idea of a storytelling boardgame, please go take a look at this game.  It's worth 5-10 minutes to just peruse the kickstarter page and see what they have to say.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Collection Building: Dice Games

Many board games use dice for movement or combat, but those games would not be classified as dice games.  What I'm looking at are games that focus on dice.  The most prevalent of these games is Yahtzee.  These are games about utilizing your dice.  Sometimes, various combinations score points, other times different rolls let you do different things, but the main idea is that the roll of the dice determine what you can and cannot do.

When it comes to dice games, there are several types.  There are the quick filler games, like LCR and Liar's Dice, and longer strategy games like Kingsburg and Roll Through the Ages.  Several dice games take a pre-existing property, and transform it into a dice version. Hasbro experimented with this idea for Battleship, Monopoly, Risk, Clue, and Sorry and called it their Express line.  While I appreciate the attempt to make these big name games faster, it really changed too much of the game's identity.  Two of the big names in hobby games did this as well, Catan and Carcassonne.  Ticket to Ride incorporated dice into the game, replacing the train cards, but it is not solely a dice game.

Let's talk more in depth about a few of these games.

LCR is a very simple game.  Each player starts with 3 chips.  Each turn they roll 3 dice. For each L, they pass a chip to their left. For each R, the pass a chip to their right. For each C, they put a chip in the center.  The goal is to be the player who has all the chips at one time, meaning no other player has chips in front of them.  There isn't any strategy to the game, just roll the dice and do what it says.  I can't recommend this for gamers, but it could be a fun party game, or maybe a drinking game.

Liar's Dice
In Liar's Dice, the goal is to be the last person with dice left.  Each player starts with 5 dice.  All players roll their dice, and then the start player makes a statement about all the dice at the table, based on only knowing their own.  The next player can either call them a liar, in which case all dice are revealed, and then if the asserter was right, the player who called them a liar loses a die, but if the asserter was wrong, they lose a die.  If someone doesn't call liar, they must up the statement in some way, either by calling more of the same die face, or by calling a higher die face. For instance, if someone calls four 3's, I could call four 4's(5's,6') or five(or more) any face.
Liar's Dice actually has some strategy and some bluffing, so it is a real game.  The dice are crucial, but so is the ability to read people, and do some quick probabilities in your head.

Catan Dice Game
The Catan dice game is an interesting play.  Each turn, you roll 6 dice up to 3 times.  The faces of the dice are the 5 standard Catan resources and gold. Gold acts as a wild, which is a great help.  The game only lasts for 15 rounds, which keeps play time under 30 minutes, maybe 45 as an absolute long.  In the game, you use resources to build roads, settlements, cities and knights.  Knights grant you one free resource of a given type once during the game. They don't offer many points, but they can be a swing in the game.  Things have to be built in order, which is a little confusing at first, but it keeps the game moving along.  I've only played this a couple of times, but I find it a short version of Catan without the trading, and a fairly good competition between the players.  There's a lot less you can do to mitigate bad luck, but given the time length, that's ok.

Kingsburg fits more into the boardgame that heavily uses dice, but I think that it is a dice game at heart. In Kingsburg, players roll dice, then take turns placing one or more dice on various advisors.  These advisors give the players different resources or army points, or victory points.  Once an advisor is claimed in a round, no one else can take it.  There's a lot of strategy in how you place your dice, but even the best strategy can be foiled by poor rolls.  There is a lot going on here beyond the dice, but if you like dice games that let you do something meaningful with your rolls, Kingsburg is a great choice.

Roll Through the Ages
RTA is a civilization building game with dice.  Players have to balance workers, food and coins with the threat of disaster.  The more cities you build, the more dice you get to roll, but the more people you have to feed each turn.  If you can't feed your people, you lose points, but if you don't have enough cities, you won't have enough dice to do things to score points.  RTA has a fine balance to it, but there are a lot of ways to win.  I think it's one of the most replayable dice games out there.

I wrote a full review of Quarriors, which you can read here.  As such, I'll just summarize.  Quarriors is a dice building game, where you are trying to gather creatures to score points.  Each player starts with a very basic set of dice, but they buy more each round to grow stronger.  Quarriors has a lot of fans and a lot of detractors.  I personally fall in the "meh" category.  It's a decent game, but I don't want to play it frequently.

Scary Tales
Here's another game I've done a full review, which you can find here.  Scary Tales is all about rolling sets of icons to gather relics.  There are cards that add in symbols, making the set easier to obtain.  There's not an abundance of strategy to the game, but it is a neat game.  I recommend picking up two different sets for variety, and to allow more players.  I didn't really like it as a 2, but it's fun with 3 or 4.

Price Wars
Since we are building on a budget, let's look at the costs of these games.

If you're on a really tight budget, I'd say salvage dice from other games and play Liar's Dice/LCR.  If you've got a bit more money to spend, Roll Through the Ages is a really great value purchase. For kids, Scary Tales might be fun due to the theme.

My pick for a dice game to own is Roll Through the Ages. Word of advice, track down "The Bronze Age" expansion, it's available for free online. It really does add to the game.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sir Dances on Tables - A Shadows Over Camelot Review

Shadows Over Camelot
  • Designed by Bruno Cathala and Serge Lagent
  • Published by Days of Wonder in 2005
  • Playable for 3-7 players (5-7 recommended) 
  • Plays in around 90 minutes

The Knights of the Round Table
They like to dance on tables.
Shadows Over Camelot, now referred to as "Shadows" transports players to the time of King Arthur.  Chivalry is the order of the day, Knights fight with honor, but the Mists of Avalon lurk in the distance, and someone is destined to betray Camelot into the hands of evil.  Shadows is a co-operative game, where one person might be secretly working against the other players.  Each player is a knight of the round table, or King Arthur himself.  Players seek to complete quests, earning white swords, and avoid failing quests which earn black swords.  The game is a challenge, even if all knights remain loyal, which is a great feature of Shadows.  It was one of, if not the, first games to have a hidden traitor.  For that reason alone, Shadows is worth a look.

Camelot is under siege from the Catapults
Days of Wonder is known for their outstanding components.  They go above and beyond when it comes to unique pieces in their games.  Shadows exemplifies this idea with 7 unique knight sculpts, Picts, Saxons, catapults, Excaliber, the Holy Grail, and Lancelot's Armor.  The detail on each of these pieces is fantastic, and some of the pieces that look great even unpainted.  

Shadows thrives on two main mechanics. The first is card management, meaning, players need to know where to best use their cards, and when the right time to use cards is.  The second mechanic is the hidden traitor.  This injects a certain amount of paranoia/distrust into the game, and it keeps players from following the leader since the leader might just be a traitor.
The Saxons attack
The Picts attack as well
Shadows thrives on the hidden traitor.  Without that going on, the game doesn't have enough depth to keep gamers interested.  I have played with my family where we don't pass out loyalty cards, and it works ok, but we tend to handicap ourselves with some starting black swords to make it harder.

Shadows requires players to work together.  If everyone tries to do their own thing, everyone is doomed.  There are limits in place to prevent players from working too well together.  You can't openly discuss what's in your hand, but you can say something like "My good King, I would be best suited questing for the Holy Grail."  The whole idea here is allowing players to work with each other, without plotting everything out. It also gives players a chance to think for themselves, which is greatly needed in any co-op game.

All the Knights at Camelot
The knights have won
unless there's a traitor
Shadows is dripping with theme incorporation.  If you know even a little bit of the Arthurian mythos, you will immediately get into Shadows. Yes, Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail counts in knowing Arthurian mythos.  Every part of the game feels right.  Saxons and Picts slowly invading, Catapult siege forces looming, the challenge of the Black Knight, questing for Excalibur and the Holy Grail, and lastly, fighting Lancelot for his armor, and a Dragon for his treasure.

Learning Curve
I'd call this a medium-long learning curve.  The game doesn't take long to explain, but in order to know what to do on your own, you really have to see a couple of games play out.  There are a lot of cards, and knowing when to play them, how to play them effectively, and how to manage your hand, are all things that take some time to do well.
A sampling of the white cards

Why I like Shadows Over Camelot
Shadows has a great theme, and solid gameplay.  Trying to deduce the traitor is an enjoyable challenge.  The artwork is gorgeous, the rules are very well written.  Shadows is a solid experience from start to finish.

Why I don't like Shadows Over Camelot
A sampling of the evil action cards
Shadows does have a predictability flaw. What I mean by that, some games are going to go one way or the other no matter what the players do.  Sometimes the shuffle on the cards is completely one sided.  Those games are rare, but they can happen.

I've played Shadows 33 times, 22 of which were base game only.  Those plays have been spaced out over the last 3 years, the bulk coming in the summer and fall of 2010.  I haven't played it much lately, but that's due to the lack of a large group.  The key for me has been playing this with a lot of different people.  If I played with the same group of 5 or 6, Shadows would get boring. Everyone would have their traitor tells, and the game lacks intrigue at that point.  If you keep the group changing, even a little bit, Shadows is great fun.

Shadows is a 2 thumbs up. It's a keeper for a very long time.  The theme is accessible to new players, the co-op with a traitor is a nice change.  I have a few pure co-ops, a team game (BSG) and the hidden traitor maybe game in Shadows.  It makes for a good blend of games, and lets me pick what the group feels like.

What else is like Shadows Over Camelot?
Some similar games to look at are Battlestar Galactica and Mafia/Werewolf.  In both of these games, players have hidden loyalties, and figuring out who is on your side is a key aspect of the game.
There is a Shadows Over Camelot card game coming out soon, I think by Christmas 2012, so if you like the sound of Shadows, but not the playtime, give that a look.

Want to buy Shadows Over Camelot and support BoBG?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Top 7 Places to Play Games

Often times we focus just on the games, but this time we're going to focus on where we play games.  Environment has a lot to do with the enjoyment of a game.  You don't always want to play in a loud environment, or in an environment where you're afraid to make noise.  What most people want is a place where they can be comfortable, make some noise, have a good time.

#7 Library
Several libraries have a place for people to get together for activities.  It's generally separated from the main area so people can make some noise without disturbing the non gamers.  Libraries tend to have space for people to spread out, with plenty of tables and chairs.  They also have the opportunity to attract people who aren't gamers.  Sometimes the hours are restrictive, but they're typically free to use, so that's a plus for a game group.

#6 On-the-Go
I'm kinda cheating here, since "On-the-Go" isn't really a place, but it's a way to play games.  I enjoy having my phone and tablet to play games on long rides(when I'm not driving) or even when I'm waiting for food or a beverage.  I rarely play a full game of something while waiting, but making a move in an async game is a good use of my time.  I enjoy playing Forbidden Island or Small World on my tablet, since it is a lot faster way to play.

#5 Online
Again, kinda cheating, but hear me out.  A lot of times you can't get together with your your friends for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes they're out of town, or need to be home.  This is where playing a game online can come in handy.  Lately, I've been playing Dominion with a friend via Skype.  It gives us a chance to use the new cards, and do something we wouldn't be able to do, since we live ~300 miles apart.  There are a few different sites to play games online with people from all over the world, and I recommend hunting some down.  It can be a great way to learn a new game and try it before you invest in the cardboard version.

#4 Coffee House/Bookstore
Here's another great place to get together with people.  They're typically in an area with a lot around, restaurants, stores, etc. so you get a lot of foot traffic.  This enables passersby to come in and see what's going on.  There is also food/drink available, which is great for longer game sessions.  There are typically a lot of tables around, which gives you many places to play.  The atmosphere is also very casual, so some noise (not yelling and screaming) is perfectly fine.

#3 Game Store
Game stores are a mixed bag when it comes to boardgames.  Many of them cater to the CCG and miniatures crowd, and don't have much time for boardgames.  Other stores do have open gaming tables that people can use for whatever they want, so long as their isn't a pre-planned event.  Stores with tables offer a lot for gamers.  It gives people a fun environment to play, and it gives gamers a chance to meet other gamers.

#2 College Common Area
I spent 4 happy years in college playing games in the dorm lounges.  There were two round tables with chairs around, though we typically only needed one table.  This enabled us to get a group together without having to go far.  It also gave us foot traffic, since a lot of people come in and out of the dorms on a Friday or Saturday night.  We had a few people come back and play because they saw us playing and all the fun we were having.

#1 Private Home
Most of us start playing games at home.  As the hobby grows for us, we find other places to play for many reasons.  Sometimes it's a space issue, sometimes you just don't want to play host all the time.  I've been fortunate to have a few houses to play games at.  You've heard me mention my gaming family in other posts, and this is how they earned that name.  They continue to invite me into their home, and it does feel like I'm part of the family.

There are many great places to play games.  It really does come down to the people, but the atmosphere goes a long way towards making the gaming time enjoyable.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Collection Building: Team Games

A lot of these games fall under the co-operative banner of games, with one notable difference, someone is working against the other players.  This could be as a hidden traitor, as seen in Battlestar Galactica, or Shadows Over Camelot.  It could in a team versus team game, as seen in Last Night on Earth.  There are also 1 v all games such as, Catacombs, and Scotland Yard.

Regardless of which style the game takes, I feel that they all have a similar feel in the play experience.  Some people win, some people lose, but someone is going to win.  I enjoy team games because it gives me a chance to work together with people while maintaining the competitive spirit.

But enough of my ramblings, let's talk games.

Battlestar Galactica
I did a full review of BSG very early on, so my thoughts on the game are best represented there.  To summarize, BSG is a game of paranoia and deception.  In a 5 player game, 2 players are cylons, and 3 are humans.  Players get loyalty cards at two points during the game, the start and the middle.  This means a loyal human could become a sleeper agent and switch sides mid game.  The game does take awhile to play, around 3 hours, but it's a very immersive theme.

Shadows Over Camelot
I'm planning on getting a full review of this out later this week, so I'll keep my remarks short.  Each player takes the role of a knight of the round table.  At the start, each player is given a loyalty card.  There is 1 traitor card, the rest are loyal, so it is possible to play a game with no traitor, though unlikely in a large group.  Shadows offers players a bevy of quests to attempt, but there are too many for the knights to triumph in all endeavors.  Ergo, something must be sacrificed while focus is placed on key quests.  It takes a good balance, and a lot of trust to pull off victory.  A traitor must bide their time and act at a crucial moment.

Last Night on Earth
I've only played this once, but I had fun with it.  Players take on the role of either a hero or zombies.  The heroes have an objective, survive n turns, reach point x, etc. The zombies are trying to kill the heroes or prevent them from achieving their objective.  There are a lot of cool items and ways to do different things in the game.  It's one I'd like to explore more if/when I get the chance.

I just reviewed this, so please read the review for more info.  Catacombs is a 1 v rest game where the 1 is trying to stop the rest before the end of the game.  The heroes are trying to make it to the final room and kill the boss.  It's a dungeon-crawl game, but the game is all about flicking disks, and that makes for a lot of laughs.

Scotland Yard
This is one of the oldest 1 v rest games.  One player takes on the role of Mr. X trying to escape detection from the other players.  He has to leave clues along the way, but how useful they are depends on the skills of the investigators.  Scotland Yard hasn't aged brilliantly, but it is still a solid game and worth looking at, especially if you can find it at a yard sale.

The Resistnace
A streamlined version of BSG.  Players each have a secret role, and it's up to them act in their best interest.  There are several rounds of players going on missions and trying not to get caught.  Double agents will try to mess things up.  It plays in around 30-45 minutes, so worth a look.

Price Wars

The bang for your buck choice is The Resistance, no question about that.  Not having played it, it's hard for me to recommend.  Personally, I'd take BSG, but that's because I have the right people to play it with.  Shadows is the easiest game to get people to play, due to the theme.  Arthurian Legend is familiar to most people in some form.  It may be the most expensive game, but there's also a lot of game for your money in the box.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dungeon Flicking - Catacombs Review

  • Designed by Ryan Amos, Marc Kelsey, and Aron West
  • Published by Sands of Time Games in 2010
  • For 2-5 players
  • Plays in 30-60 minutes (though I'll say 60-90 is more likely)

Catacombs is a dungeon crawl game, meaning heroes adventure through an area, defeating monsters and trying to survive, but instead of a lot of dice rolls and stat comparisons, the game is all about flicking pieces.  If your piece hits an enemy, you do a point of damage to it. This gives the game a lot of luck, a lot of cheering and some groans depending on how the flicks go.  It can sometimes take awhile to play, but a lot of different people have had a lot of fun with this game.

How I store things in the box
Note: has 2 expansions in it.
Catacombs has a lot of nice components.  All of the monsters and heroes are on solid wood disks.  There are also arrow pieces (smaller disks) and wooden cubes to track life points.  The only bad component in the game is the money.  The area to store money on heroes is circular, but the money cards are rectangular.  It's an odd design/production choice, but it still works ok.  The art is good, not great, but not horrible.  I have the first edition of the base game, so I can't really speak to the art in the 2nd edition.

The core mechanic is flicking.  One player plays all the bad guys, and then the rest play the heroes.  This keeps the game fast and fun for most people.  There are some disputes about whether or not a piece was hit, but they're all in good natured fun.  Once the players defeat every enemy in the room, they get to go to the next room.  Eventually the heroes reach the Catacomb Lord room, aka the Boss.  If they defeat the boss, they win.  If all the heroes die at any point, the overlord wins.

The 4 Heroes
The players controlling the heroes need to work together.  Each hero has their own abilities that players need to utilize in order to do well.  A good team of heroes can help each other, get good angles for one another, and have a good strategy to win.  Even if one person dominates the creation of said strategy, each player still has to carry it out, and those disks do weird things.  There can be some good natured taunting between the overlord and the puny heroes, so that keeps things fun. 

This is your fairly standard fantasy dungeon.  The heroes are a warrior, an elf, a thief, and a magician.  Enemies include skeletons, zombies, minotaurs, cerberus, and a dragon.  There's no real surprise with the theme, but it's well incorporated.

The 4 different Catacomb Lords
Learning Curve
Catacombs is a medium learning curve.  The rules are fairly straight forward, I can teach the game in under 5 minutes, but to make sure someone understands what they're trying to do, and to work well as a team takes time.  Also, the more you play, the better you get at making shots.

Why I like Catacombs
Simply put, I don't have any other game like this.  The combination of a dexterity element with a larger game is unique.   There's a great sense of teamwork, high-fives with great shots, hanging your head when you completely whiff on a key shot.  The game is forgiving and offers a lot of variety.

Why I don't like Catacombs
An Assortment of Minions.
The game does tend to take longer than you anticipate.  I've had two hour games which felt really long, but I've had 1.5 hour games that felt short.  I wish there was a campaign mode to the game, I think it would add a lot.

I've played Catacombs 14 times with several different people.  It's not something to play multiple times in a short timespan, but once a month or so has felt about right.  There's good variety in the base game, but the expansion adds a lot.

I really enjoy Catacombs.  I have a fun time as either the intrepid hero venturing forth to slay evil, or the dungeon master who's tired of these so called "heroes" coming into my house, killing my friends, and taking all my treasure.  Each hero has a very different style, and trying to figure out the best way to defeat a room, but also do so in a way that helps long term, is a challenge.  Of course, the game comes down to flicking, and somedays are better than others.  I give the game 2 thumbs up.  It may not be the best game ever, but it is a good game, and I can't ever see myself getting rid of it.

Will you like it?
One of the boards. You can see
the heroes lined up before the white line
and then all the enemies in the back.
There are 6 bumpers in play as well.
If you're looking for a game where you can laugh at yourself and others, where you don't mind moving around a bit, and where you want to see how good you are at flicking a disk, this is certainly worth a look.  This is not high strategy.  There's a some luck, but a lot of dexterity skill.  It's more fun if you have a group who will get into character, even a little.

What else is like Catacombs?
The first game that comes to mind is Ascending Empires.  The flicking stuff in the context of a bigger game is the same.  The theme and use of flicking are completely different though.  Ascending Empires also has a bit more strategy, as it is PvP, not a team game.
If you're looking for the dexterity element, check out Pitchcar, Bisikle, RoadZsters, and the classic, Crokinole.

Want to buy Catacombs and support BoBG?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thoughts on Kickstarter

Let's start with a brief explanation of what Kickstarter actually is.  Kickstarter is a crowdfunding site, meaning that a person/business puts up an idea, people can pledge money to the idea, and if the overall funding goal is achieved, the project gets the money and produces a product to send to their backers.

What does this mean for boardgames? Well, several things.  First it means that anyone with a game idea can pursue the kickstarter route and get money to pay for their game to be published without having to take the traditional route of a publishing company.  There are a couple of ways to look at this.  One, people who do have a good game but can't find the right publisher can still have their game made.  Two, the overall quality is likely going down, because there is less quality control associated with Kickstarter.  The second thing that Kickstarter has done for boardgames is bring a lot more into the marketplace.  It's not as easy as looking at the big companies for new games anymore, there are a whole lot of other games out there.  Some are coming from long time designers who were told no by a company for one reason or another, but a lot of games are coming from completely new designers.  The potential issue here is a lack of uniform standards.  If I buy a game from Fantasy Flight or Mayfair or Days of Wonder or another big company, I know the game has been tested extensively and there won't be major issues.  If I kickstart a game, I don't have those same guarantees.  I know that most game designers want to publish a game they are proud of, but who knows how much testing they've done, how many people have played it, what styles people play with.  Ultimately, someone could design a game that works really well with their group, but it doesn't transition out of that group.

I've used Kickstarter for several games and a couple of other projects.  I've never been dissatisfied with my experience, save for every project coming in later than the estimated delivery date by at least a month, and some as many as 6 months.  Due to that, I've only received 3 games that I've kickstarted - Eminent Domain, Lemonade Stand, and Pizza Theory.  You've seen my reviews on Eminent Domain and Pizza Theory and I like both games.  Eminent Domain is a top 20 game for me, while Pizza Theory is a bit lower, but still a lot of fun, especially as a short filler game.  I haven't played Lemonade Stand enough, but I'm kinda "meh" about the game right now.  I do think that all 3 of these games are good, and they've been sufficiently tested and refined.  This is likely due to them coming from established companies, TMG, Mayday and Gryphon respectively.
I have a few kickstarter games on the horizon - Solar Circuit Racing (end of September/early October), Kings of Air and Steam (November), Fleet (October-November ish), Ace of Spies, Ground Floor, and the current project I backed last week, Story Realms.

I suppose I like smaller companies using Kickstarter for projects where they like the game, but they're unsure about the public response.  At that point, Kickstarter is one giant pre-order system, but that's ok. I think I'm still wary of the unknown designer with the unknown company and a game that doesn't have much shown.  Kickstarter for boardgames is best used for games near the end.  Development should essentially be done, and the game is ready to go except for final art, and then the whole manufacturing process.  Unfortunately, many companies use Kickstarter a bit too early in the process.  I don't think that asking for money to continue development is a good thing.  Believe in your game enough to spend your money on getting it close, then ask me for my money to make the dream a reality.

I'm still unsure of what roads I'll look at for Star Runner when I get closer.  Kickstarter is one, but I'd still love to go through an actual company.  I know if I did go Kickstarter, I'd want to work with a company like Game Salute, someone who knows the ropes of Kickstarter and can help the refinement process.

For much more on Kickstarter, visit or  The gamewhisperer does a podcast about all things kickstarter.  I've found it to be a great resource.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Collection Building: Co-op Games

Over the last 8 years or so, co-operative games have grown in popularity.  Lord of the Rings started it all, but the genre really picked up with Pandemic, Ghost Stories, and many other games.
There are a couple of things to look at when it comes to co-operative games.  The first is what they actually are.  Co-operative games mean that everyone is working together to beat the game.  The group wins or loses as a whole.  There are other games that involve two sides, either in teams, or all versus 1, but those will be addressed in another post.
The second thing to consider is if you like co-op games or not.  Some people really like playing games in the pursuit of a solo win.  They want to do the best they can do, and not have to depend on other people in order to win.  I can't blame them for that, maybe they work as part of a team at their job and they want a game to not feel anything like work.  Other people thrive in that competitive environment.
If you like the idea of working in a team, perhaps with your family, here's a small sampling of the multitude of co-op games that are in the marketplace these days.

First, let me start with three games that I have not played, but have heard a lot about.  Those three are Castle Panic, Elder Sign, and Flash Point: Fire Rescue.  Castle Panic and Elder Sign were played on Tabletop (Youtube), and that's one of the better avenues to explore to learn more about them.  Flash Point puts you in the role of a firefighter.  You have to go into buildings and rescue people before time runs out.  It seems like a really cool game, it's won a bunch of awards.  I have it sitting on my shelf, waiting for the right group to play it with.

Now, for the games I have played.
Forbidden Island/Pandemic (2-4 Players)
The best thing you can do to learn more about these two, is read my comparison of them in this post.
Both games take about 30-45 minutes.  Forbidden Island does tend to run shorter, and is less prone to the fast loss.  Forbidden Island is the more kid friendly of the two, but Pandemic is great too.

Space Hulk: Death Angel the Card Game (1-6 Players)
This is not a kid friendly game.  The theme is dark, the art is dark, and the game is really tough.  I like it because everyone has to work together to best use their abilities.  Each person does need to know the game, because there are times where they have to make decisions on their own that affect the entire group.  Death Angel does have the greater player flexibility, which I like for those larger groups.  The last time I played, we had 5 people, which was too many for any other co-op we had.  This is a great game for a group of guys, High School or later.  I'm pretty sure the game says 13+, and I'd keep to that.

Price Wars

Forbidden Island wins the price war hands down.  It really is the best bang for your buck game on the market right now.

If you get one from this list, it's hard to go wrong with Forbidden Island.  Pandemic is deeper than Forbidden Island, but also a little harder to learn.  Death Angel is probably the hardest game on the list. I'd say that my group has about a 40% win rate, maybe a bit higher, but I'm not sure.
If you're going to get two, grabbing Forbidden Island and Death Angel for under $35 is an amazing deal, and a lot of game to enjoy.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Dominion: Dark Ages Review

Reviewing expansions takes a bit of a different format for me.  I assume that you have some familiarity with the base game, either having played it, or at least heard about it.  With that in mind, let's take a look at Dominion Dark Ages.

Each Dominion set has a general theme/mechanic.  Seaside had durations, Prosperity had a lot of treasure, Cornucopia had variety, and Dark Ages has trashing.  Many of the cards give you a benefit when you trash them, or let you interact with the trash.  Dark Ages is probably the deepest of the expansions so far.  Many of the cards present subtle strategies, and interesting interactions.  They also enhance many earlier cards which have fallen out of favor, or were deemed to never be great.

If you don't want to read all my thoughts on cards, go ahead and skip down to the end now.

Dark Ages also provides a new way to start the game.  Players now start with 3 unique Shelters as opposed to 3 estates.  These shelters don't provide victory points, and only one is even classified as a victory point card.  Necropolis is an engine builder's dream with +2 actions.  Now, this is worse than a village, since it doesn't have a card draw, but you get it to start.  The Overgrown Estate is 0VP, but when you trash it, you get to draw a card.  Not great, but it's not meant to be in your deck all game anyways.  The Hovel takes up space until you buy a victory card. At that point, you can trash your Hovel.  The Hovel is the worst of the shelters, the Overgrown Estate is nice to get an extra card one time, and Necropolis is great for the bonus actions.

Some other general cards are
Spoils - A one shot treasure card worth 3 money.
Ruins - cards you typically don't want to see.  Not as bad as a curse, they are action cards, but they don't cost you VP.  There are 5 different types

  • Abandoned Mine: +1 money, basically a copper that takes an action
  • Ruined Library: +1 card
  • Ruined Market: +1 buy
  • Ruined Village: +1 action, would only be good in a Peddler game, or Throne Room, so you at least get +2 from it.
  • Survivors: Look at the top 2 cards on your deck, and either discard both, or put both back on top.  This is the Ruin I mind the least.  I like setting up my next hand. Still, it's not great.

If you haven't guessed it, I'm going to briefly talk about each card, and give some impressions on them.

  • Altar (Cost 6) Trash a card, gain a card costing up to 5.  This is a simple card, it lets you trim down your deck, and gain useful cards.  Early on you can gain big action cards, late game, gain duchies.  A very solid card.
  • Armory (4) Works like a Workshop or Ironworks in that you gain a card up to 4, but you get to put it on your deck.  I like using this early to gain a silver into my hand, but it also works well with action cards.
  • Band of Misfits (5) Use this as if it was any less expensive card in the set-up.  I've yet to play it, but it seems really powerful, but not brokenly so.
  • Bandit Camp (5) +1 card, +2 actions, gain a Spoils.  I like spoils cards.  They do help you out, even if they're temporary.  Probably not the best 5 in the game, but still a solid one and a viable strategy.
  • Beggar (2) Gain 3 coppers in your hand. Also a reaction, when someone plays an attack, discard this to gain 2 silvers, 1 to your discard pile, the other to the top of your deck.  This helps mitigate attacks like Swindler and Saboteur, ones that mess with your deck.  It makes Margrave and Minion a bit less hurtful to you.  The normal action is great for a Moneylender(Base) deck, or Gardens(Base) deck, also helps Counting House(Prosperity) and Coppersmith(Intrigue).  For a 2 cost, it's got some good things going on. Just be careful to not over copper.
  • Catacombs (5) Look at the top 3 cards of your deck. Either put them in your hand or discard them and draw 3 cards. If you trash the Catacombs, gain a cheaper card. It's a solid card. Seeing what you would draw and deciding if you like that or not is a good ability.  It's a better Smithy, which is why it costs more.
  • Count (5) Do something bad: Discard 2 cards, put a card from your hand on top of your deck or gain a copper. Then do something good: +3 money, trash your hand, gain a Duchy.  I've seen Counts work really well in 2 games.  The ability to combine saving a card and then trashing, or discarding 2 cards and then trashing is good.  Late game, take a dead end action, forward it to next turn, and then grab 3 money.  At worst it's a gold that makes you lose a card or two.
  • Counterfeit (5) Worth $1, +1 buy.  Take a treasure card and play it twice, then trash it.  It turns copper into silver, silver into $4, Gold into $6, and Platinum into $10.  It works really well on Spoils, since you're losing them anyways.  Counterfeit works well early to trim your deck of Coppers, and then works late to get you extra money to buy victory cards and get rid of the money that doesn't help you in the end.  One of my favorite cards in the set.
  • Cultist (5) +2 cards, each other player gains a Ruins, you may play another Cultist (meaning you can chain them for a grand total of 1 action).  When you trash a Cultist +3 cards (so yes, sacrificing Cultists on the Altar is both a viable strategy and a really fun combo).  I like Cultist.  I think the chaining is something fun in Dominion, but I'm glad it's not overdone.  
  • Death Cart (4) +$5. You may trash an action card from your hand. If you don't, trash the Death Cart.  When you gain this, gain 2 Ruins.  Death Cart isn't without it's drawbacks, but the ruins give you something to trash from the get-go.  Yes, Death Cart does make you want to say "Bring out your dead!"  Trust me, it's more fun that way.  Solid card here.
  • Feodum (4) Victory card worth 1 point for every 3 silvers in your deck.  When you trash a Feodum, gain 3 silvers.  I don't want to spoil too many strategies here, but Feodum is fun and makes for wonky math.
  • Forager (3) Trash a card from your hand. +$1 for each differently named treasure in the trash.  Most of the game, this is worth $1 for copper, or maybe $2 for copper and silver.  I've yet to see this with loans, talismans, quarries, etc in play.  I think those would make Foragers really good.
  • Fortress (4) +1 card, +2 actions, when this is trashed, put it in your hand.  It's a village that comes back to you when trashed.  It works well with Foragers, Upgrades, Remodels. It's a safety for Death Cart and Rats.  Not something to buy all the time, probably a weaker $4 in the grand scheme of Dominion, but a good card.
  • Graverobber (5) - Choose One: Gain a Card from the trash costing $3-$6, or trash an action card from your hand and gain a card costing up to $3 more than the trashed card.  Graverobber is a conditional Expand(Prosperity), but also a fun way to get cards back from the trash.  
  • Hermit (3) - Gain a card costing up to 3, you may trash a non treasure card from your hand or discard pile.  If you don't buy a card, trash the Hermit, gain a Madman(Yes, Hermits turn into Madmen).
  • Madman (0*) +2 actions, then you may return this to the Madman pile to draw 1 card for every card in your hand.  Madman is a great draw card.  You have to jump through a couple of hoops to get there, but a double Madman turn near the end can be the difference in the game.
  • Hunting Grounds (6) +4 cards. When this is trashed gain a Duchy or 3 Estates.  Great card to draw 4, cool trash ability.
  • Ironmonger (4) +1 card, +1 action, reveal top card of deck, get something based on what it is, discard it or put it back on top.  It's solid, but it can be luck based.  As least you get something for it, either an action, +$1, or a card, so it's never bad, it just isn't always great.
  • Junk Dealer (5) +1 card, +1 action, +$1, trash a card from your hand.  The mandatory trashing can hurt at times, but you're in control of playing or not playing your Junk Dealer.  Just be careful.  At least with so many cards that have a when you trash do ... benefit, you'll rarely be in a no win scenario.
  • Knights (4 or 5)  Each Knight does something different.  There are 10 unique knights with their own abilities.  All have an attack though, which is each other player reveals the top 2 cards of their deck, and trashes one of them between $3 and $6.  If a Knight is trashed, trashed the attacking Knight.  I've yet to play with all the Knights, but I like the variety in them.  Certain Knights are better than others, but you know what you're buying when you get one.  A fun idea, maybe not the best execution, but enjoyable so far.
  • Marauder (4) Gain a Spoils. Each other player gains a Ruins.  This is a really good attack card.  It gives you that temporary gold, it hurts your opponents, what more can you really want?
  • Market Square (3) +1 card, +1 action, +1 buy. When one of your cards is trashed, you may discard your market square and gain a gold.  The card action buy is a nice thing regardless of the setup, not great, but helpful at times.  The reaction part is great because you gain free gold.  This works when either you trash a card from your hand, or you are attacked and have a card trashed, i.e. Swindler, Saboteur.
  • Mystic (5) +1 action, +$2, name a card, reveal the top card from your deck, if they match, add the card to your hand.  This is the modified Wishing Well(Intrigue).  The bonus, if you have 2 Mystics, you're getting +$4, and at least one card for sure.  This combos really well with anything that lets you put cards back on your deck like Scout(Intrigue), Spy(Base), Wandering Minstrel(Dark).
  • Pillage (5) Trash this. Each other player with 5+ cards in hand discards a card of your choice.  Gain 2 Spoils.  Pillage is mean, no doubt about it, but it's one shot.  I like that you have to weigh the timing of Pillage with the fact that you're going to lose the card.  You're buying it to gain 2 temporary cards which will hopefully turn into a Province.  Not the best thing if you ask me, but still an interesting card.
  • Poor House (1) +$4. Reveal your hand, -$1 for each treasure card in your hand, to a minimum of $0.  This is interesting for two reasons.  First, it's the first card that costs $1.  Second, It can actually hurt you if you have too much money around, it will take money off the table from cards like Market(Base) or anything else that gives money.  I've yet to play a game with it, but it seems to have some interesting dynamics going.
  • Procession (4) Play an action card from your hand twice, then trash it and gain an action card costing exactly $1 more than the trashed card.  Procession is an interesting twist on the Throne Room(Base).  It's a good way to get rid of Ruins and Rats.  It has other uses for getting rid of actions you no longer want.  Overall an interesting card, but one that takes a good amount of forethought.
  • Rats (4) +1 card, +1 action, gain a Rats, trash a card that isn't Rats from your hand. When you trash a Rats, +1 card.  That's right, Rats multiply and take over your deck.  They go really well with a card that lets you trash something, Death Cart, Procession, Hermit, Graverobber, etc.  Rats take a careful balance, else you may find that you have nothing but Rats, and no one to rid yourself of them.  
  • Rebuild (5) +1 action, name a card. Reveal cards from your deck until you reveal a victory card that isn't what you named.  Trash the victory card and gain a card costing up to $3 more than it.  Rebuild is a great way to turn Duchies into Provinces, Provinces into Colonies, and Estates into useful $5 actions, or Duchies.  I haven't seen the full depth of Rebuild, but it's a good card, and a solid way to gain points.
  • Rogue (5) +$2. If there's a card in the trash $3-$6, gain one of them.  If there isn't, each player reveals 2 cards from their deck and trashes one of them costing from $3-$6.  Like Graverobber, Rogue takes cards from the trash.  Rogue has a way to put other player's good stuff in the trash, where Graverobber puts your own stuff in the trash.  I've had both in the same game, and we all liked Graverobber better, just due to the trash your own stuff, but Rogue is still a good card.
  • Sage (3) +1 action, reveal cards from your deck until you find one costing $3 or more. Put that into your hand, discard the rest.  Sage is a great cycler.  You're going to find something good, but near the end, you'll find Provinces and Duchies.  I like sage a lot in the early game.  It sorts through the copper and estates/shelters and finds what you're really looking for.  
  • Scavenger (4) +$2. You may put your deck into your discard. If you do, you may look through your discard pile and put one card on top of your deck.  This is a better Chancellor(Base).  The ability to have a card in your next hand for sure is a nice thing.  Not amazing, but a solid ability.
  • Squire (2) +$1 then choose one: +2 actions, +2 buys, gain a silver. When the Squire is trashed, gain an attack card.  Squires are great for the trash ability alone.  They're also good for gaining free silver, or giving you those extra actions to make your deck work.  Squire is a card I would buy at $3, so $2 feels like a steal.
  • Storeroom (3) +1 buy. Discard any number of cards and draw that many. Then discard any number of cards, +$1 per card discarded the 2nd time.  Storeroom isn't amazing, but it is good.  It lets you sort out the cards you don't want for new cards, and then the cards you don't want for money.  It isn't the focus of a deck, but it plays an excellent support role.
  • Urchin (3) +1 card, +1 action, each other player discards down to 4 cards in hand. When you play another attack with this in play, you may trash the Urchin and gain a Mercenary.  Urchin itself is a nice little attack.  The power of the card is in the Mercenary.
  • Mercenary (0*) You may trash 2 cards from your hand. If you do, +2 cards, +$2, each other player discards down to a 3 card hand.  Mercenaries work a lot better in +2 action games, just so you can use the cards you gain.  They're great to thin out Ruins, Shelters, Rats, and Curses.  The downside is the need to trash cards, but if you have things to trash, Mercenaries are great.
  • Vagrant (2) +1 card, +1 action, reveal the top card of your deck. If it's a victory, curse, shelter, ruin, put it in your hand, else put it back.  Vagrants set up your next hand.  They aren't great, but for $2, they're ok.  They stay useful all game, but are best early and late.
  • Wandering Minstrel (4) +1 card, +2 actions. Reveal the top 3 cards from your deck. Put the actions back in any order, discard the rest.  This card is an action lover's dream.  I tend to like money a bit too much, so Wandering Minstrel fails me, but for action players, it dominates.  It's cheap, so it's easy to get a lot of them.  It feels a bit too good as a $4, but in some games it won't be great.

Some of my favorite cards in this set, in no particular order, are Rats, Counterfeit, Death Cart, Cultist and Mystic.  I need to play a bit more to order that list, but you can bank on me doing a Top 7 list o Dominion cards sometime in the future.

So that's some thoughts of each of the cards.  As you can tell, there are a lot of different cards here.  There are 35 different kingdom cards for the setup, as well as Madman and Mercenary which are only from Hermits and Urchins.  I've played a few games with all Dark Ages cards, and that seems to have the best mix of cards.  Mixing them with all the others can leave you without trashers, and then the odds of Ruins and Spoils drop drastically.  

Here's the big question, where does Dark Ages rate overall?  Well, I really do like it.  The set is not friendly to new players, trashing is a complicated mechanic as it is, and Dark Ages makes it more so with cards that do something when trashed.  Prosperity is still my favorite expansion, and Seaside is still my #2, but I think Dark Ages has slid into #3 for me.  It's still a bit early to tell, but it's done something no other expansion has done.  It's made me excited for Dominion again.  If you've been reading my blog, you've noticed that I haven't played a game of Dominion (in person) all year until the end of August.  Well, you're looking at the reason I broke it out.  These cards are interesting, there's tons of depth and options that I've yet to explore.

If I was telling you what expansion(s) to get for Dominion, I wouldn't say Dark Ages first.  But if you've played some, and you're looking for something a bit different, get Dark Ages.  It certainly has the best bang for your buck.  

Want to buy Dark Ages and support BoBG?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

August 2012 Update

Welcome to September! This year is still flying by - 2/3 done now. Yikes!
August was a really slow month of games, until this last week.  I picked up Dominion Dark Ages, and I've played a bunch of games of that.  I also had a first, 2 tests of Star Runner in the same month.   I'm making small changes for me to implement, but ones that have good impact on the game.  It's still taking around 2 hours, which is ok.

What did I actually play in August?
  • Dominion x16 (all in the last 4 days of the month)
  • Tsuro x 4
  • Clubs x2 (I'm testing this for Northstar Games, and having a fun time with it.
  • Star Runner 2 tests
  • Wits and Wagers Party x1
  • Risk Legacy x1 (Game #5)
That's a grand total of 26 for August, though it looked bleak for a lot of the month since every play came after the 16th.  The running total for the year is 202, which is 2 games up on the quest for 300.  Now I just need to continuing averaging 25 plays per month to hit 300 by New Year's Eve.
I acquired no new games, but 2 new expansions - Dominion Dark Ages and 7 Wonders Cities.  Finally feels good to curtail the list.
My unplayed game count is still 20, and I'm officially calling the quest to play them all this year dead. Maybe in 2013.

Reviews!  August saw one review. Real life kept me busy, and I had very important things to do, like finding work.
I did get a review of Word on the Street in, which was voted for on the BoBG Facebook page, which you can find at

Finally, the State of the 2012 Resolutions
  • Play every game I won that I've yet to play at least once - 20 to go.
  • Finish Risk Legacy (5/15)
  • Log 300 game plays (202/300 - on pace)
  • The rest were done in months gone by.
I'm still looking for more guest authors.  Really, anything you want to talk about.  If you want to talk with me, or just talk to the readers, let's make it happen.  Want to share a review here, great!  Want to talk about why Candyland is a great game, ok, I'll bite, love to hear what you have to say.  Basically, let me know what you'd like to talk about, and we can make that happen.

Thank-you all for reading the articles and commenting, as sporadic as they are, the comments keep me going.  You keep me energized and enthused to continue talking about games.