Thoughts From The Gameroom

The ramblings of a Euro-gamer from South Dakota

Archive for the ‘New Game’ Category

The Agents

Posted by sodaklady on July 11, 2013

This blog has been the means for meeting new people on occasion and the most recent is Saar Shai. He wrote me asking if I’d like to try out the card game he’s working on which has a secret agents theme and dual purpose cards. He hit on two of my weaknesses: card games and cards with more than one way to use them. I said yes and was soon in possession of 90 cards and 8 pages of rules.

The Agents is a 2-5 player game which revolves around a secret agency that is breaking down so the agents need to band together in factions to survive. The theme is so well integrated into the game, you could tell a story about the events as they happen. I know this is important to a lot of gamers and I think those people will be pleasantly surprised at how well a simple deck of cards can handle theme.

The point cards, regular agents and Free Agents cards. Beautiful artwork in my opinion. Noir-ish.

The point cards, regular agents and Free Agents cards. Beautiful artwork in my opinion. Noir-ish.

The basic play of the game involves playing agents from your hand into factions which you share with your right- and left-hand opponents. With two players, there are two separate factions between you. The agent cards have abilities on the bottom and points  at the top. When you play an agent, it can be placed either facing you so that you an use its ability, or facing your opponent so you get the points. Whatever you face towards your opponent, he will get, so there is a balancing between making points and maneuverability within and between the factions.

The cards include 24 point cards which are dual sided with 1 point on the reverse side of 2 points, and 5 points opposite 10 points. This is an easy and efficient way to handle points for a card game, just be careful not to turn them over accidentally.

The 42 agent cards each have abilities and these will provide plenty of room for both planning and quick-thinking reactions to your opponents. The Master of Disguise lets you take an agent from a faction and replace it with one from your hand, the Undercover operative turns a non-adjacent agent, and the Gunner kills any non-adjacent agent but that’s o.k., because the Paramedic revives any agent. That’s just a sample of the 12 abilities on the regular agents. These agents can also award points in the form of 1/2 arrows along the sides of the cards. When the arrows are matched with another card the points go to the player the arrow points toward.

Along with the regular agents, we have Free Agents which do not belong to any faction but are played in the middle of the field then discarded. Each of the Free Agents also have points and abilities just like the regular agents but they are not limited to targeting your left or right hand opponent. There are 7 Free Agents including the Engineer who switches agents within the faction, the Interrogator who steals an agent from an opponent, the Hacker who turns an agent in your other faction, and the Sleeper who you can play at any time to prevent an action someone else played.

There are also Mission cards which will determine how the faction it is assigned to will score you points. There are 11 different missions such as Bloodbath, which will score you 3 points if there are 2 adjacent dead agents in faction; Reinforcement will net you 4 points if 2 agents of the same type are facing you; Virus where you steal points from other players; and Man Down which will award you points for every dead agent in the faction. Vicious, maybe but being a double naught agent is a dangerous game. (Nod to Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies.)

On your turn you can do any two of four actions:  1. Play an agent, 2. Re-activating a Command on a card that is already on the table, 3. Buy an Agent or Mission card from the decks using points to do so, or 4. Switching Missions. I would rename Switching to Retiring Missions since that is essentially what you are doing, discarding a Mission from a faction or from your hand to draw a new one and put it in your hand. After playing a card, the ability of the agent is used, points are awarded if a Free Agent is played, then a second action is taken. At the end of your turn, you receive points from the factions and missions. Then the next player in clockwise rotation takes his turn. The first player to 40 points is the winner. Simple.

But don’t let “simple” fool you, this game has a lot going on within its simple rules, set up, and turn sequence. It’s fun, clever, thought-provoking and, dare I say it…evil. Oh, yeah, if you don’t like direct confrontation, go somewhere else. This is a war of sorts, and some of us are gonna die. But all in good fun. Even when you lose, you have to admire the nice moves your opponent made which caused your demise.

This game is now on Kickstarter so get over there and check it out. The rules are available on The Geek as well as a print and play version that you can make yourself.


Posted in board games, New Game, Reviews | 3 Comments »

Suburban Blight

Posted by sodaklady on February 16, 2013

Back in the ’90s I was hooked on a computer game called Caesar, a city building game with a Roman theme. I loved seeing the results of building different buildings and working to keep my citizens happy. I played it over and over, trying different setups.

That should make a highly-rated board game that people compare to such computer games as Sim City and City Tycoon a decent option for me and my husband so I finally got a copy of Suburbia by Ted Alspach.

Image by Walt Mulder. Suburbia at Essen 2012

I don’t mind the stark graphics on the tiles because everything is clear, easy to see, and easy to understand. I’m not thrilled with the color scheme on the population score board, but it’s useable. The boards are marked so as to aid you in setup, which is always nice in my opinion.

The game play is very simple: Pay the price on the tile you want plus any extra shown above it on the Real Estate Market Board, place it in your borough of the city, then adjust income and reputation as shown on the placed tile, any adjacent tiles that are affected, any non-adjacent tiles that affected, and any tiles in someone else’s borough that are affected or that affect the tile you just placed. Oh, wait, that’s simple in theory but annoying in practice. My husband said it felt like work. Then you receive your income (or not) and population increase (or decrease) as shown on your player board. Lastly, shift the building tiles below the Market board and add a new one to the left side.

Since the newest tiles are more expensive due to the added cost on the Market Board, your choices will often be limited to the cheapest two or three, maybe four tiles. I found the choice offered very little tension or angst most of the time. During our first game, I kept thinking, “I’d rather be playing London.”

The main goal of the game is to increase your population but if your city grows too fast, you could be in big trouble. You start the game with zero income and one population. Reputation gives you people every turn, but every time your score marker crosses a red line on the population track, your reputation and income decrease by one. You can actually end up paying money rather than getting an income, and losing population instead of gaining. This is a means to keep players from running away with scoring too easily but it seems that every time I’d manage to increase my reputation, I’d cross a line and lose it again. Annoying.

There are 100 building tiles in the game but each game uses only 49-67 of them placed in three stacks with an end-game tile mixed into the bottom 10 of the third stack. That’s a lot of replayability. Add into that, 20 Goal Tiles, some known by all the players and one that each player keeps hidden. This adds to the replayability, too, but can be frustrating as well. Also, it feels a little like it was added on just to add something extra, a secret scoring that would give hope to those dawdling at the back of the pack.

Most of the things I’ve griped about are things that many, many others have not experienced. It’s a clever game with neat interactions between the buildings, and also subtle interactions between the players. But in the end, my husband and I just could not find the FUN in it. And therein lies the secret to a well-loved game: fun.

Posted in board games, New Game, Reviews | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Autumn is here. It’s Game Time!

Posted by sodaklady on September 27, 2012

Summer always seems too busy, and too tiring, for games. But it gave me the chance to discover gaming on the iPad! Even when you’re busy, you can take a couple of minutes to take your turn at several very good games. I am currently enjoying several games of Carcassonne, which I was talked into paying the exorbitant amount of $10 and it was worth every penny! Every little touch, such as the chat and the option to see what tiles remain in the draw, adds to the ease and enjoyment of the game. I also am playing Summoner Wars and patiently awaiting new factions to try out; Le Havre is kicking my butt since I was only vaguely familiar with it before the purchase; Ticket to Ride Pocket; Lost Cities,;and the oh-so-fun-and-frustrating Disc Drivin’. But enough of that–on with the board games!  (The links here are to the Video Game Geek game page, when available.)

Now that I’ve finished canning beans, making pickles, and freezing applesauce, there’s time to think about board games again. I recently bought Castles of Burgundy after finally making it through a video review of it. For some reason, I had a hard time getting interested enough in most of the reviews to watch more than a couple of minutes, and I couldn’t get into reading the rules at all, but my long-time Geek Buddies assured me with their ratings and comments that this was a game I should try. And they were indeed correct.

I set up a 2-player game to play solo, working through the rules so I could easily teach Richard the game, and after only a couple of turns knew this was fun! I love rolling dice but they are so unabashedly evil to me that I usually want to throw them across the room at some point in the game. Not so with Burgundy. You have several choices of what to do with your roll as well as “Workers” to help you adjust the count if you need to.  Any roll can be used to get you more Workers, and they are worth points at the end of the game so are always a useful commodity. There are tough choices in how you attempt to build your estate, and the game comes with several different estate layouts to keep the game from becoming the same old thing.

Castles of Burgundy

Castles of Burgundy

Speaking of dice, Richard and I have been playing Wurfel Bohnanza (the Bohnanaza dice game) whenever we have 20 minutes of so to kill, like between lunch and get-up-and-get-back-to-work. This is a light, quick, fun dice-roller so don’t let the bad rolls get to you. Roll the dice, set at least one aside as you try to fulfill the orders on your card, then roll again. Oh, wait! Those other players who seem to be just waiting around to take their turn? They need to be paying attention because if you roll what they’re looking for, they can use it to fill their order, too! This is a good little filler for people who can’t help but love to roll dice.

Wurfel Bohnanza

Wurfel Bohnanza

Another new-to-me game that I’ve had my eye on since it’s debut at Essen 2010 is Matin Wallace’s London. This is basically a card game but the board map adds another way to earn points at the end of the game. The premise is the rebuilding of London after the fire of 1666 so the cards (which represent buildings, for the most part) are divided into 3 groups to keep the theme running in chronological order. You must use a card from your hand as payment for another card that you wish to build. This, as in San Juan, can be cause for some tough decision-making. Now balance making points with making money, throw in the Poverty Points (which are bad, as you can guess) and you have a game that is an intensely satisfying experience. Yes, it may take longer than you had planned– 1 1/2 to 2 hours– but it’s the type of game my husband and I enjoy. We also love the crayon rail games (Martian Rails, British Rails, Eurorails), so if that helps you set the atmosphere, so be it.

London board game

London. I like the colors and style of the map, but others have been less than enthusiastic.

And the final new addition which we’re really enjoying is the expansion boards for Ticket to Ride, India and Switzerland. These are tight boards which are good for 2 or 3 players, and each have a little twist to the basic rules, of course. Switzerland has tunnels; lots and lots of tunnels. If you try to build a tunnel line, you also turn over 3 cards from the deck. For each one that matches what you played to build that stretch of rails, you have to play another card. You don’t lose the cards you played, but your turn is over with nothing accomplished. There are also some Destination Tickets that are more generic, giving points for connecting a specified country to any other country on the edge of the board or a specific city to any country. The points vary depending on how hard these connections are to manage.

Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride maps, India on this side, Switzerland on the back.

India is more standard in its tickets and rail-building, with the exception of Ferries. Ferries are water routes that have one or two spots on them which must have a Locomotive to fill. And there is an additional end-game scoring for “mandala”, which means “circle” in Sanskrit. Every ticket you finish which has at least 2 distinct continuous paths qualifies for a bonus; the more tickets which qualify, the bigger the bonus. This is a clever variation because of how densely populated the map is, and it may be my favorite so far.

So with the leaves falling in the yard, and the squirrel gathering walnuts from the trees out back, I’m hoping to find the time and inclination to do more writing here. And Essen is just around the corner, friends!

Posted in board games, iOS board games, New Game | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Kingdom Builder

Posted by sodaklady on January 31, 2012

Kingdom Builder box coverI’m not a fan of Dominion so when I bought Kingdom Builder, I wasn’t looking for the next awesome game by Donald X. Vaccarino; I was looking for a lighter, fun game with lots of re-play value. Did I find that? Yes. Emphatically yes.

The game is for 2 to 4 players, age 8 and over, with a play time of about 45 minutes. If you’re a fan of Dominion and think this is another deck-builder, it’s  not, in any sense; nor is it card drafting or hand-management as you only get 1 card at a time; nor is it area control, worker placement or pick-up and deliver. There are no stocks to invest in, no trading or betting or bidding. The mechanics listed on the Board Game Geek page is “route/network building” and that’s close but still misses. You’re just making points the best way you can manage given 3 random cards that set the parameters, and four random abilities provided by the map layout. And that, it turns out, is more than enough.

Kingdom Builder boards

Here are the 8 boards that come in the game. You can't build on the grey mountains at all, and only on the water with a special ability chit.

On your turn you show your card and place 3 of your wooden houses (settlements) on that type of terrain, adjacent to previous houses if possible. The “adjacent” rule is very important, limiting where you can go and possibly making your opening move a critical one. If you have built next to a location where the various ability chits are placed, you can use each of those abilities once each turn either before or after building your settlements. Then you draw a new card. That’s it; that’s your whole turn. Doesn’t sound like much, does it?

The secret is in which locations with their special abilities you build next to.  The abilities are:  place a new settlement on a desert (yellow) hex, move a settlement two hexes in a straight line, move a settlement to the terrain type on your card, place a new settlement on the edge of the board, place a new settlement on  a grass (light green) hex, place a settlement on a hex of your terrain card type, move a settlement to a water hex, and place a new settlement at the end of a row of three or more of your settlements.

Kingdom Builder location summaries

These nice location summary cards are placed next to the boards as reminders.

When you add 4 of these abilities to your placement options, it can open up your choices nicely. But if you choose poorly, you can find them totally useless in helping you achieve points as dictated by the scoring cards drawn for this particular game.

There are 3 scoring cards (out of 10 that come with the game),  dealt randomly each game. You can be trying to place settlements adjacent to mountains or water, on many horizontal lines or vertical lines, or adjacent to castles and locations. You may be trying to create one very large settlement area or as many areas as you can. Maybe you’ll have to build settlements in each of the four map sectors, or connect locations and castles. Sometimes the combination of scoring cards work together but sometimes they are such that you have to choose which ones to concentrate on.


Kingdom Builder scoring cards

Here are the 10 scoring cards with lovely artwork.

When a player puts his last settlement on the board, that triggers the end of the game–scoring occurs at the end of that round. You add the points you earned for the three scoring cards, and three points for each castle next to which you placed a settlement. The winner is the player with the most points, of course. In case of a tie, you’re all equally brilliant!

The components are nice, as you would expect from Queen Games. The colors and artwork are clear, making it easy to see across the game table, and the cheat sheets for the locations’ abilities are a nice addition. I like that the back of each map board has a score track, making it useful as well as eliminating the need for VP or money tokens to keep score.

Each time I’ve played, I’ve had a good time even if I lost. Although the game is simple in theory, there’s a puzzle-like aspect to finding the best way to accomplish the goals set out by the scoring cards. How do I get across the board or build many small areas when I am required to place adjacent if possible? Which ability tile is going to help me the most? Where should I start when I want to make one long horizontal line but the board is full of rivers?

Kingdom Builder score boardThe game may take 45 minutes to play, but it doesn’t feel like that much time has passed because the turns are quick for the most part. There is very little confrontation except when someone builds in your way, which could be on accident or deliberate, depending on the people with whom you’re playing. Around here, you can assume it’s deliberate!


Posted in board games, New Game, Reviews | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Game Day — Risk Legacy

Posted by sodaklady on December 20, 2011

Mike came by early on Sunday so he and I played one of my BGG Secret Santa games, Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. I had tried it a couple of times solo but having a partner to go questing with added a lot to the experience, as well as making some rules pertinent where they have no meaning when playing solo. We were doing pretty well, Mike taking the Leadership deck and me playing the Tactics deck; he added most of his characters to the quest and I had the big-hitters to take on the enemies… except the Encounter deck was too busy spitting out Locations to give us anything to fight!

With one location as our current quest and four sitting in queue, we were adding at least one Threat to our Threat Level each turn. The couple enemies we did encounter didn’t give us much trouble but then… dun-dun-duuunnn… OMG! Double whammy! Mike had put out a very large contingent of allies and sent them all questing with a total of about 31 Willpower. Whoa, I thought, do we really need all that? (There was about 9 threat in the staging area.) Then we drew our two cards: Driven By Shadow which adds 1 Threat to each enemy and each location! Whew, it’s a good thing he sent all of his guys questing then; we were safe. But wait! We also drew Ungoliant’s Spawn who subtracts 1 Willpower from each character committed to the quest. Oh, nooooo! That was our undoing.

And now for the main event of the day, Mike’s newest purchase, the reason you’ve all come here today: Risk Legacy! There should be no spoilers here since it was our first game and no new rules or rules changes were made, no hidden components were revealed.Risk Legacy

The box arrived at the table unopened, the seal stating, “NOTE: What’s been done can never be undone.”  Now if you’re like me, you’d want to try whatever you could to play the game but still leave it so you could start fresh, undoing what choices and changes you’ve made; not Mike. He was determined to have this be the one and only way it would be played. So… make your choices good ones!Risk sealed box

On opening the box, we found 4 packets stickered to the lid with instructions on when they could be opened. Lifting the board from the box revealed two rather large compartments also with instructions. On the back of the board is a form for the players to sign and date stating, “We, the undersigned, take responsibility for the wars we about to start, the decisions we will make, and the history we will write. Everything that is going to happen is going to happen because of us.”  Then at the bottom, “The wars started on the following date.” Fun! We all got that tingle of excitement–something cool has begun.

Risk Legacy future packets

The basic Risk rules apply but the set up is different; you only get one area from which to begin your takeover. The story is about humanity leaving all of the nastiness on Earth and landing on a pristine planet to start anew. Uh-huh, we can live in harmony. Sure. Anyway, everyone chooses one spot as their starting location as long as it isn’t adjacent to another player, and spreads out from there. Each player chooses a faction and customizes it using one of the two stickers provided for each.

I chose the Enclave of the Bear because one of my cats’ name is Bear. Oh, like none of you would do that!! I chose the attribute that lets me conquer a territory if I roll a natural 3 of a kind and defeat at least one defender. Cool but tough to do. The other choice was for the defender to subtract 1 from the lower defense die in the first territory I attack. Might have been more useful but not nearly as cool!

Balkania and Bear factions


Khan and Saharan factions

Richard took the Saharan Republic– I think he liked the hot chick with a gun! He chose the ability to maneuver to any territory you control even if it’s not connected. The other choice was to make the maneuver at any point during your turn. Oh, that might have been useful if you’re not sure which front someone is going to attack. Alas, tis done.

Dave liked the military outfits of the Imperial Balkania and chose to give them the ability to round up rather than down when dividing your territory and population for new recruits. His other option was to be able to draw a card even if you didn’t conquer a territory but you have to have expanded into 4 or more territories. That can be tough to do except at the beginning of the game when almost everything is empty so I think he made a good choice.


Mike was surprised that no one had taken Khan Industries so grabbed them for himself. He made a good choice, giving them the ability to add a troop at the beginning of his turn to each territory with a headquarters they they control. Nice. The other option seemed just as good though: add a troop to the territory you just drew a card for if you control it.

The final faction is the Die Machaniker. We group chose to let them have their starting base be fortified if they are defending it. The tossed ability is that your territory cannot be attacked again this turn if you defend it with two natural 6s.  I think we made the better choice and I would be happy to get them the next time we play.

Die Mechaniker faction

We rolled and Mike got to start. He chose to start in one of the southern territories of the US. I chose North Africa, Richard took Australia, and Dave settled for a spot in Europe. During the course of our 45 minute game, Dave was attacked from all three directions at one point or another. I came very close to winning when I took his base and then headed towards Mike’s all in one turn. If Mike hadn’t put up such a good fight in the one territory between me and his HQ, I would have made it. Instead, depleted, I watched as Richard took the win. He got to be the first person to sign the board and he created a major city and named it.

We have added a couple of “scars” to the board, two Ammo Shortages which makes the defender subtract 1 from his higher die, and a Bunker which lets the defender add 1 to his higher die. And Mike has added a minor city, naming it for one of his two sons. we really enjoyed this and all look forward to whatever changes we will see in the future. You noticed that the factions have spaces for 4 more large stickers and a smaller one just under the name– can’t wait to see what those will be! Unfortunately, that probably won’t be until after the new year.

Until then, Happy Christmas and a game-filled New Year to all!



Posted in board games, Game Night, New Game | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

Game Day: Aug. 28th– Let’s Deck-build

Posted by sodaklady on August 29, 2011

“Look, I’m no longer uni-plegic,” Dave announced as he came through the door holding up his two hands. The splint and wrapping that had hindered him last game day was gone, replaced simply by a bandaid on two of his fingers. This was great, ‘cause he was gonna need two hands for rolling dice and holding cards.

My husband, Richard, had to work so it was just the three of us. We started with a neat little game called Tsuro. This simple, fun game is a good way to start since you can talk while you’re playing, catching up on what’s been happening, discussing games you’re looking at and what you’ve been playing. I was the first to force someone off of the board, unfortunately for Dave. Then it was just a matter of seeing who had the best, read luckiest, cards in hand. Turns out it was me!

Tsuro closeup

A closeup of a Tsuro piece and tiles. I love the pieces!

Then Mike was anxious to show me his newest game, Quarriors. This is a light deck-building game using dice rather than cards. The dice represent your minions and spells which are activated to destroy your opponents’ minions. For each of your minions who manage to survive the round, you score glory points at the beginning of your next turn. I usually don’t do well with dice but in this game, they hated Mike to such a degree that he rarely rolled a minion but rather had more than his share of quiddity (the currency of the game). Any minion he did roll was soon eliminated. Dave and I fought it out, almost neck-and-neck, until I finally reached the finish line first. This is a fun little game, the only decision of note being which spell/minion to buy each turn, but if you yearn to roll dice and trash talk your opponents, this is a good choice.

Keeping with the deck-building theme, I brought out my newest game, Nightfall. This is also a confrontational game but it is not light. In fact it’s not light in two ways:  it will make you think, and the theme is dark. Nightfall is set in a world gone dark which is now peopled with werewolves, vampires, ghouls, and the people who fight them.

What makes this different from the few other deck-building games I have been introduced to? Your participation is not limited to your turn, and how much or little you decide to do on other people’s turn can make a big difference. This twist is accomplished with a mechanism called “chaining”, which is very cool in my opinion.

Nightfall cards

A sample of chaining. Notice that the Kicker kicks in on Grim Siege.

Each card has a color, represented by the large moon in the upper left corner. A card whose color matches either of the smaller moons can be linked to it. In this way the active player can introduce new minions into his play area and cause various actions to take place. Once the active player has played all the cards he wishes, the next player to his left can continue the chain. This chaining continues around the table until everyone has had the chance to add to it, then the text on each card is resolved in reverse order. If the moon on the bottom of the card matches the main color of the previous card, the “Kicker” text is also applied.

Chaining keeps people involved during other players’ turns, influences what you decide to buy, and I think it can also be a help to someone new to the genre, allowing them to buy cards by colors rather than totally understanding how the text works. And it makes you stay on your toes because being resolved in reverse order can cause you painful problems if you’re not paying attention. And sometimes even if you are!

The game was a hit. We all three started slowly but got a pretty good feel for the flow of the game after a few rounds. Mike and Dave both like the deck-building genre and this one really hit the spot. For myself, I haven’t been really impressed with the other games I tried (Dominion and Puzzle Strike) but this was fun, vicious, meaty, and quirky. Did I win? No. Dave won; Mike and I tied for wounds with Mike having the most of one type.

As Dave had something else to do, we only had time for one more quick game. Mike wanted to show us Take Stock, a Z-man Games card game. It was quick and mostly painless. Nothing special and a little annoying since the luck of the cards can really beat you up. Or maybe it’s just not my type of game.

Richard came home shortly after Dave left, and Mike and I were dying to show him Quarriors and Nightfall. I was amazed to win Quarriors again, barely beating Richard! And again, Mike barely got on the scoreboard because he could NOT roll minions. Seems there’s actually a dice game that I’m good at! 😉

Nightfall was such a hit that we played it twice more. I still didn’t win but I just don’t care. It’s that kind of a game.

Posted in board games, Game Night, New Game | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Defenders of the Realm Review

Posted by sodaklady on July 14, 2011

Defenders of the Realm is a cooperative game unlike any cooperative game you’ve ever played.  O.k., that’s a lie, but it would be too easy to compare it to another well-known game which shall remain nameless. For the sake of this review, let’s pretend that it’s a totally unique and innovative game, and see if it sounds like a fun way to spend a couple of hours with friends.

Defenders of the Realm board

In-game shot of Defenders of the Realm.

Flavor Text:

“In the ancient Citadel of Monarch City, the King calls to arms the finest Heroes to defend against a Darkness that engulfs the land. You and your allies must embark on a journey to defend the countryside, repair the tainted lands, and defeat the four creature factions before any of them enter the City. And they approach from all sides! Fast populating Orcs! Fierce Dragons! Undead that bring Fear! And Demons! All tainting the land in their wake.”

Hero sculpts

The Hero sculpts.

In this game of adventure and heroism, you will be playing one of 8 Heroes, each with their own specialities and abilities appropriate to their character:

The Wizard. He can teleport to anywhere without using a card, throw Fireballs, and has great Wisdom which allows you to discard the first drawn card from the Darkness Spreads deck.

The Paladin. Has, of course, a Noble Steed which allows him to move 2 spaces instead of 1, Bravery which means Undead do not scare him, and an Aura of Righteousness which allows him to ignore one wound.

The Rogue. Being a free spirit has it’s advantages like Hiding in The Shadows so she is not harmed by minions in her space, Thievery which lets her draw an extra Hero card if she ends the turn where there’s a treasure chest, and she’s Crafty which benefits her when she’s trying to pick up rumors at an inn.

The Ranger. Being familiar with the woods, the Ranger gets an advantage when he starts his turn or fights in a green space, and he has a longbow for firing into the next area.

The Eagle Rider. Riding an eagle lets him move 4 spaces without using a card, a Fresh Mount in Monarch City or any blue area means you get an extra action, and he can attack from the air so that the enemy cannot harm him at the end of your turn.

The Cleric. Using a Blessed Attack gives her extra strength against the Undead and Demon minions, she can Turn Undead from the space you end you turn, and she can Sanctify the Land which has been Tainted by the enemy.

The Dwarf. Mountain Lore gives the dwarf an extra action if he starts in a red area, Dragon Slayer lets him re-roll combat dice against Dragonkin, and his Armor & Toughness lets him ignore a wound.

Sorceress. As a Shape Shifter she can disguise herself as any type of evil minion which lets her remain in a space with them without harm and also Ambush them, adding strength to her attacks. Visions gives her an extra die when Healing the Land or for Quest rolls.

All of these strengths and abilities give you a lot of choices as you spend your actions moving around the countryside, battling evil minions, popping into inns to listen for rumors or on a Quest to gain items or help.

Each turn a character will spend his life points, which vary by character from 4 to 6, as actions to try to defeat the evil forces attacking Monarch City from all sides. Your goal is to defeat all four of the Generals before they or their minions reach the city, the land is too Tainted to support humans, or all of the minions have entered the land.

If in your battles you take a wound, the life point is set aside and cannot be used for actions until you Heal yourself.  I like this linking of actions to damage; it was new to me and I think it’s an interesting twist as well as being thematic.

After your actions are spent, you draw 2 Hero cards to add to your hand. These come in the four colors of the evil forces: Red for Demons which Taint the land quicker than other forces, Green for Orcs which multiply quickly, Black for the Undead which do extra harm just from the fright they give you, and Blue for the Dragonkin which are stronger and harder to defeat. There are also special cards that give you extra help in defeating the enemy.

Hero cards

Example of some Hero cards.

The cards are multi-purpose so there is a touch of hand management forcing you to decide how to use them. At the top is an icon which allows you to use the card for movement: a horse to move 2 spaces, an eagle to move 4 spaces, or a magic gate to move between gates or to the space shown in the center of the card. At the bottom of the card is one or two dice which are used to fight the Generals.

Darkness Spreads cards

Examples of the Darkness Spreads cards.

At the end of your turn, Darkness Spreads. One to three cards are drawn, depending on how many Generals you’ve managed to kill, which tell where new minions show up and if a General moves a step closer to Monarch City. If a fourth minion would be placed in an area, it becomes too crowded to sustain, Tainting the Land and overrunning into adjacent areas. If all 12 of the Tainted Land crystals are placed on the board, your country (and the game) are lost.

Generals and Minions

Scuptls for the Generals and Minions

When you and your fellow heroes have gathered what you consider to be enough cards of a particular color, you head off to do battle with that General. I say “what you consider” because you will be rolling dice, and also because a couple of the Generals have abilities that can put a real dent in your plans. The Orc commander will Parry a hit for every “1” you roll. The Demon leader has magic that can corrupt your soul, making you eliminate a card you were going to use against him for every “1” you roll prior to battle. These can seriously destroy your battle plans! In a solo game I played, I had 10 dice to use against the Demon General and rolled eight “1”s before the battle. That left me with only 2 dice to roll for hits. Would you believe I rolled two “1”s? This is when you must tell yourself, “It’s only a game; it’s only a game.”

That’s it; easy rules but difficult to win. This is not simply a puzzle to figure out because there are too many random elements. If you don’t like the luck of the draw; or, like me, the dice laugh at you, this may not be the game for you.  If you want to immerse yourself in a game with a friend or three, cheer your good fortune and curse your bad luck, this game will fill that bill better than many others of its genre, be it adventure, dungeon crawler, fantasy, or cooperative.

Two final comments, the negative one first. The font used in this game is not a favorite of mine; I find it very hard to read at a glance, often mistaking the decorative “t” for a “c”.  My husband keeps calling Bounty Bay Bouncy Bay. Is that where the mermaids hide during all of this fighting?

And finally, the positive. The designer, Richard Launius, is very active on the Geek, answering questions, asking for suggestions, and offering up a constant stream of new content to be downloaded.

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Mansions of Madness

Posted by sodaklady on March 27, 2011

My friend, Mike, brought Mansions of Madness over yesterday. He’s a Fantasy Flight fan so I am put upon to play many of their games with their wonderful sculpts, myriad quality pieces, and at least a dozen tiny decks of cards. Mansions of Madness is not an exception.

The first thing I notice as Mike is setting up is the lovely artwork on the map boards. The garden caught my eye first, and I wanted to take a lawn chair and a book and sit there enjoying the tranquility it seemed to have. Then I saw the work room next to it, a blood-spattered sheet on the table. Oh, no, there’s no tranquility here, let’s move on. The foyer is classy with its black and white checkered floor and softly colored rugs; a grand staircase leading up and branching off in two directions. The artwork truly cannot be faulted.

Mansions of Madness map

The game map tiles set up for our scenario. Isn't the garden lovely? The wonderful photo by permission of Manueld.

The set-up takes quite awhile, as usual, but Mike is a FF pro and has everything well-organized so it’s on the table in about 15 minutes even with my interruptions to show him a video of the next game I want.

I’m then presented with a stack of characters to choose from and take two. The characters seem very simple with only 3 characteristics to deal with. Ahh, there’s more; two other sets of cards to choose from, each with 3 or 4 more characteristics. That’s more like it. The artwork is nicely mood-inducing, and the fonts are easy to read even with older eyes.

Mansion of Madness character

Here's a character set. Choose what you want to start with and what action you want to be able to use. Very nice photo by permission of thinwhiteduke.

Now for the game play, which separates the men from the boys’ toys. As the good guys, I get to move 2 spaces and do one action on my turn. Actions include running (which means I can move 1 extra space), explore (turn over a card in the room), fight a bad guy/monster, use the ability of a card item I might have, drop an item I have, or use an item in the room such as a chest of drawers to block a doorway or hiding in a trunk. This seems very simple. Yet it’s not.

Some doors are locked or jammed so you may have to roll to test your strength or solve a puzzle or have a key before you can pass through. If a bad guy appears in the room with you, you can’t just run away. First you have to roll to see if he frightened you enough to damage your sanity, then you have to roll to see if you have the agility to evade him. I found this tedious, but then I’m probably not the target audience since these RPG-style games are not my favorite.

Then the bad guy, the Keeper, takes his turn, throwing bad guys at you or moving the ones already on the board. This is also the time when two good guys can trade items if they’re in the same space. Why? Why is this part of the Keeper’s turn? I found this counter-intuitive.

Another part of the Keeper’s turn is keeping track of the Event Deck, placing a token on it to keep track of the number of turns. After 3 to 6 turns, the Event takes place, moving the scenario along in its specific direction.

The good guys come into this house with only a vague idea of what they are to accomplish and must search the rooms looking for clues and items of importance. At a certain point in the scenario, they are given their objective, and hopefully they have done a good enough job of finding stuff and killing off monsters to fulfill it before time runs out (the last Event card is turned over).

My impression of this game began to blossom after the second Event card was turned over:  it’s very scripted. Between the clues I needed to find, and the Event deck keeping to its schedule, I didn’t feel like I had a lot of choices but was being shuffled along the appropriate path, like a rail shooter in a video game. By the half-way point of the game, I had decided that this was a lot of fiddly work for very little game play. I could get a better story from Last Night On Earth: The Zombie Game, have more freedom in how I wanted to approach my objective, and the luck factor would be just the same: hope the dice and the card deck favor you this night.

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Game Day – Feb. 10, 2011

Posted by sodaklady on February 11, 2011

It’s been a long time since I wrote about a game day, mainly because there have been so few of them in the last year or so. Mike’s schedule, holidays, sickness, etc. have interrupted our every-other week plan and reduced it to more like every-other month. Those few game days have been fairly ordinary with a few old favorites combined with a few new ones, mostly Mike’s, such as Small World (which I liked enough to buy my own copy), Innovation (which I totally did not like), and 7 Wonders (which left me with a “meh” impression). But yesterday Mike showed up with 2 new games that both impressed me: Forbidden Island and Power Grid.

I had ignored Forbidden Island with it’s description of being a lighter Pandemic. “Who needs Pandemic to be lighter”, I thought. Well, I was wrong *gulp*. It is not just lighter, it is less fiddly since there aren’t all those cubes to stack and keep track of, you don’t have to spend time to prepare the deck during set-up, and your choices during your turn are more obvious. Well, that last item is also a negative. It makes the game play faster but it can also make your turn feel like you have nothing important to do. There were several times when I didn’t even take all of my actions because it just didn’t matter where I went. But the game still gives you the feeling of being pushed for time, racing the island (rather than the disease) to see who can get to their goal faster. I enjoyed it very much for its simplicity, and beautiful art and components but if I had the time, I’d rather play Pandemic.

Next Mike and I played Attika, one of my favorite games to play with 2 players. I blocked Mike from connecting temples then got caught up in planning how to build my city the cheapest way so overlooked the fact that he could again connect the temples. Duh! Still a great game with lots of things to manage and pay attention to!

Then Richard came home so we set up Mike’s newest acquisition, the number 5 game on the Geek, a game no gamer worth his salt should say he hasn’t played, a modern classic: Power Grid!! Neither of us had ever played it before. Yep, that’s right, I’ve been a BoardGameGeek for over 7 years and haven’t played Power Grid. Well, it’s an auction game with a stock market element–why the heck would that interest ME? I suck at auction games and hate the math-y feel of a stock market game. I wasn’t even enthused about giving it a try but my husband knew Mike wanted to play so he said, “set it up.”

Again, I was *cough* wrong.

I thought this would be a hard game to understand but it is really very simple and elegant, the turns broken down into 4 easy to grasp phases. The auction part is not horrible since even a beginner can figure out how important something is to themselves and how much they can afford to pay. Luckily, it is not a once-around auction. That part is math-y but not terrible once you know how all the elements of the game fit together. The stock market part is not complicated, a simple supply and demand scale as goods are added or bought. Simple, but important to pay attention to. The map building element reminded me of the crayon rail games that Richard and I have been playing constantly for the last 2 months. The payout is dependent on how many cities you have the energy to power with your various power plants.

After the first couple of turns, I had a fair grasp of how it all fit together and since we were all new to the game, we were all in the same boat as far as figuring out what we wanted to do. Mike started in the Southwest, I started in the Midwest, and Richard started in Chicago. Since building toward Mike’s side of the board was too expensive, I started building to the south and east, eventually butting up against Richard’s  cities as he headed south. I had no problem building to cities, but had a hard time getting power stations that would power enough cities, while Richard managed to get plenty of power while keeping up his city building, and Mike had lots of money but was still a couple of cities behind for most of the game due to buying materials for his power plants.

In the end, I built to the 17th city, ending the game. Richard and Mike were at 15 cities. Since we were all able to power 15 cities, the tie breaker was needed and I had the most money! I couldn’t believe it. My win was mostly due to Richard and Mike having a pissing contest for one of the last power plants bought, but also I think I made some good choices along the way. We all had fun and enjoyed the game very much. We told Mike to bring it again next time. I may have to add a copy to my collection even if the two-player game isn’t recommended at the Geek.

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British Rails

Posted by sodaklady on November 22, 2010

Looking for a game to give your brain a workout without straining a synapse?
Need a game with simple rules to explain?
Want a game with a tried and true game system?
Got time to become completely immersed in a game?

I highly recommend a Crayon rail game.

This is a family of games that started with Empire Builder, which was first published in 1980, and has expanded into versions for Europe, Britain, Japan, India, Australia, Russia and China. It’s also left the planet to lay tracks on the moon (Lunar Rails) and Mars (Mars Rails).  The basic play is the same, but each map imparts its own twists to reflect the land. I admit I’ve only played this game, British Rails, but after 2 plays I’m very interested to try other offerings in this system.

So, how do you play?

You start with a map covered in dots and triangles which represent mileposts that you’ll lay tracks between– the dots are clear terrain and the triangles are mountains that cost more. There are also numerous cities in three sizes which cost extra to enter and each produces a commodity or two. The game board is covered with a glossy, slick covering so that you can use the wax-based crayons that come in the game to draw your tracks on the board as you build them.

Close up of Help box on board

The board has a helpful guide in the top corner.

You begin with a basic freight train that can travel 9 mileposts each turn and carry 2 loads. For a cost, you can upgrade your train to either a faster train which can travel 12 mileposts a turn, or to a heavier train which can carry 3 loads. Your train can be upgraded even further to a Superfreight which  is both faster and can carry 3 loads. This train is represented by a card in front of you but you also have a plastic token to show where your train is on the map.

Freight Train cards

Here are the four levels of Freight train you can have.

And of course you have to have something to haul. How about 27 different commodities? They come on a sheet of stickers that you have to place on the small plastic poker chips. When you move your train to a city, you can pick up whatever they make there or deliver what that city needs as shown on one of your Demand cards.


British Rail box insert
Here’s the box insert with a spot for everything.

Lastly is a deck of 156 cards. Twenty are Event cards which can be good or bad; the remaining cards are the Demands. They show you three different cities, what commodity they need, and how much you will earn for the delivery. You will only be delivering to one of the three cities, then the card is discarded and a new one drawn.


Demand Cards

A sample of the Demand cards.

SET UP is very easy. Everyone is given a basic freight train card, a crayon and train token of matching color, 60 million in cash to begin building your empire, and three Demand cards.

The game begins with three rounds of Building to get you off to a good start before you move your train. Each building round allows you to spend 20 million on either laying track or upgrading your train. There is no train movement for the first three rounds.

Starting track line

This is Green's beginning track. You must start at a Major city which is depicted by hexagons.

After the three initial rounds, each round after begins with the Operation phase which is when you move your train, pick up and deliver goods, and receive payoffs for your deliveries. You can do these things in any order until you run out of train movement.

After the Operation phase is the Building phase, if you have money to build with. There is no such thing as credit in this game; no loans, no IOUs. Strictly cash on delivery, so to speak.

That’s it. Keep planning, moving and delivering until someone has connected their train line to all of the major cities (hexagon shaped) in one continuous line, and has made 250 million.

What’s so cool about this game?

My family enjoys the logistics, the plotting and planning of how to get around the map quickly (and cheaply), how to move your train without wasting time or running empty, and the satisfaction of putting together a great plan from all of the information you have to deal with, and seeing it happen.

There are lots of small decisions that add up to a wonderfully rich gaming experience. Is it worth the expense to cut across the expensive mountain area but cut many pileposts off my trip? If I have to pay my opponent to run on his line this turn, will my profit still be enough to make it worth it? Should I pick up the flippin’ Jute since I’m all the way up to Glasgow even though no one on my Demand cards wants it…. yet? If two trains leaving London at the same time are traveling at two different speeds… oh, wait, that’s a math question.

What’s not so great?

It’s a little disappointing in this day of amazing components to see a game with paper money, and all black and white components. I don’t mind the paper money but I would have liked to see some color on the commodity chips so they were easier to tell apart, and the same with the different Freight train cards.

And since we’re talking about components here, I’ll mention that my game came with the commodity stickers for Eurorails instead of British Rails so I want to publicly thank user revengeisnotjustice for uploading an image of the correct stickers which I used to print my own. I’m sure Mayfair would have been prompt and helpful in getting me the correct sticker sheet but I didn’t want to wait, I wanted to play! 🙂

Another thing to take into account is if you or someone you’re playing with is geographically-challenged, which all of my family is, than this can take quite a while until you become familiar with the cities. My two games with 2 different opponents took 3 1/2 and 4 hours, but no one complained or even hesitated to keep going. We were all deep into the game and loved every minute of it. I’m sure that familiarity with the board, both in geography and commodity production, will make the game play much faster.

Final negative:  I would not recommend this to play with more than 4 people, and that might be pushing it. I loved it as a two-player game, and think 3 would be equally enjoyable. I can’t even imagine squeezing 6 players onto this particular map even though the box says 2-6.

Final assessment: I would jump on the chance to play this game any time someone asked. I want to play right now! I’m haunted by it already. Even if you don’t want to play for 2 hours, you can set a time limit and declare the player with the most money at that point the winner. I think some version of this system should be in every gamer’s collection, it’s that good.

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