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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 »

Gentlemen, start your engines. A review of Thunder Alley

Posted by sodaklady on March 1, 2013

We like race games, all kinds of races and all kinds of game mechanics from the quick and fun GMT Formula Motor Racing to slow and analytical Bolide; from dog sledding in Snow Tails to escaping pirates in Cartagena. Thunder Alley caught my attention when it was announced for GMT’s P500 list and I proceeded to follow the designer’s blog and subscribed to the game page.

This game has had quite a life already and it hasn’t even been printed. From the P500 where it lagged, to Kickstarter where it perished, and back to GMT with a guarantee to be printed this summer thanks to a contribution from a fan, it has several laps under its belt before the race even started.

The files section on Board Game Geek contains a Print and Play version for 2 players, which is the basis for my review. It contains the simple oval track, the Race Cards, Event Cards, and lots of chits representing your cars, damage markers, lap points, and place trophy points.

The two main things that separate this race game from others are that you control a team of three to six cars, depending on the number of players (2-7); and when you activate a car, it often affects many cars, including your opponents’.  This doesn’t sound like a big innovation and in truth, I couldn’t grasp how it would feel to race with these rules– what made it fun or special. That’s why I finally put together the PnP version to try it out myself.

This is the Dover short oval track.

This is the Dover oval short track.

The board shows a simple oval with an inside track that is used only as the pits. Pitting occurs at the end of each game round no matter where you are on the track. This is a simple way to handle pitting and works very well although not totally thematic for those who are anal about such things.

The player mat for each player's team also has a handy reference for damage results and End of Turn Sequence.

The player mat for each player’s team also has a handy reference for damage results and End of Turn Sequence.

Each player has a player mat to keep track of the damage for each of their cars. The damage can be either permanent or temporary, the latter being the only kind that can be fixed during a pit stop. The cars are two-sided, gray and white backgrounds so you can keep track of which cars have been activated on a turn.

Thunder Alley cards

The Race cards contain various pieces of information. At the top is the title of the card shown in a particular color which denotes the type of damage taken when that card is played. In the top left corner are two numbers, the larger is the number of Action Points used on a turn, the smaller is used only when leaving the pits. In the center is an icon to show the type of movement you’ll be using on the car you activate this turn. More on this later. Some cards have text which applies when you play this card, and at the bottom is the Team Bar which is used to choose starting positions at the start of the game and to settle any ties. Simple and very useable cards but I’d personally like to see the movement arrows reflected at the top left so it can be seen when the hand of cards are fanned.

Each round begins with dealing cards to players, one more than the number of cars they control. Then players take turns, starting with the owner of the pole position car, playing a card to activate one of their cars and continuing around until all the cars have been activated. Then you perform the end of the round sequence which is:  determine the Leader, perform Pit Stops, determine first player (the lead car), and remove any lapped cars (ouch! Keep up!)

The movement mechanic is the heart of the game, of course, and is like no other game I own or have played. It is quite simple and very effective.

Solo movement is just as it states, you activate one car and move it using the Action Points on the card. It takes one point to move to an adjacent empty space, straight ahead or laterally (sideways); two points to move sideways when that space is occupied; and three points to move forward if you must push a car that is in front of you. If you push a car laterally, it moves into the next lane unless it is already in the inmost or outmost lane, in which case it is pushed backwards one space. Doesn’t that sound like racing?

Draft movement involves a line of cars linked forward and backward to the activated car. The whole string of cars move the allotted movement points, including any cars that are picked up in front of the line as it moves. You can move laterally only at the start of movement, spending movement points as you do in solo movement; once you start forward, you must keep going forward in a straight line until all movement points are used.

Pursuit movement is rather like pushing the line of cars you have linked to in front of you. Like Draft movement, you can only move laterally at the beginning of your move. Not being a race fan in real life, this felt like the least thematic part of the game. Come on, if the car in front of me makes a break for it, I’m going to stick to his tail if I can, right? Maybe that’s it, the cars behind are just not able to keep up.

Lead movement is the final type and is just as it sounds, leading the string of cars that begin the movement linked behind the activated car. Unlike Draft and Pursuit, you can zig and zag through the pack however you wish provided you have the action points, and the cars behind you will follow your actions exactly. This really feels like finding the whole in the pack and making a break for it.

Damage (or wear) on a vehicle slows it down, the more damage, the less movement points you can use. If you activate a car that already has 6 damage markers, it is eliminated.

At the end of the race, points are awarded for the Position each car finished, one point for being the lap leader at any time, and an extra point for leading the most laps. After adding the points for each car on your team, the player with the most points wins and does a victory lap around the table, finishing with a couple of donuts if they still have tires.

We were captivated by the game in almost no time at all. It’s simple to grasp, offers a challenge but isn’t brain-burning, gives you the thrill of a real race without all the noise and fumes, and most importantly…it’s fun. There’s the feeling of racing that I can’t explain effectively, something that doesn’t come through by simply reading the rules and understanding the concept. It can only be understood by doing–by seeing the movement of cars and changing of positions that you caused with a simple turn of a card.

If you can’t print your own version or see a demo somewhere, then take just trust me on this: if you love racing or racing games, you should try this game. I’m pretty sure you’re going to love it.

Posted in board games, Do-It-Yourself Games, Reviews | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

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 »

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 »


Posted by sodaklady on September 27, 2011

Ever since caveman days, when he discovered that being faster meant that he not only had a better chance of catching dinner but more likely not to become dinner, we have been obsessed with speed so it’s no surprise that race games are a popular genre– car races, horse races, bicycle races, tortoise vs. hare races, lemming against lemming races– you name it, we’ll race it.

Bolide is a car racing game originally produced by Ghenos Games in 2005. They advertised it as a “revolutionary” car racing game and were immediately pounced upon by many who had played it as Racetrack using a pen and graph paper. I say if you want to play it with a boring piece of paper and a pen, go for it, but I’d rather play on a big, picturesque board (roughly 27 X 38 1/2 inches) with nice little plastic cars in eight colors with matching pawns.

Bolide board

The board is two-sided. This is the French track, the opposite side has a British track.

The “revolutionary” part of the game is in the physics-driven mechanism for moving your car which simulates the inertial effects of speed and turning. The faster your car is going, the wider the turning radius it will need so you are forced to slow down or run off the track. This is done using a pawn that exactly copies the movement your car just made to mark a target location for your next move.

Bolide pieces

The eight cars with their corresponding movement pawns.

Bolide movement

An example of movement: any space with the coin is a valid point for the car's next move. His current speed is 5, counting from the car to the marker.

Your movement can be to the point occupied by the marker or any point that is within two spots of the marker. In this way you can speed up or slow down by two on your turn. The two-spot limit prevents you from zooming around a corner at speed seven which would place your marker for the next move out in the middle of a field, and make you some sabertooth tiger’s dinner.

This has been a “wow” game for me and everyone I’ve shown it to. It may not be revolutionary to some but it was a new and clever mechanism for us. It is also fun if you have the right people. You can not, I emphasize “not”, spend five minutes planning out this move, the next move and the one after that. Fly by the seat of your pants, rely on experience and/or intuition, and have a good time.

Bolide in-game shot

A shot from our last game. That's my blue car in the back of the pack with only two spots on the track available for my next movement.

Posted in board games, Reviews | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

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.

Posted in board games, New Game, Reviews | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

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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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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Wild Kingdom Rummy

Posted by sodaklady on March 16, 2010

I was browsing the newest Reviews the other day and came across The Gaston Game, a rummy variant. This in turn led me to an article about a contest for people to design a rummy variant. I love rummy so I read through all of the entries, marked a few to try, and picked Wild Kingdom as my first to try for a couple of reasons.

First, the cards have 3 characteristics so that melds can be of varying strengths allowing them to attack other melds of lesser or equal strength. Oh, yeah, lets add more conflict to rummy.

The second reason is that you can pick up anywhere in the discard pile, adding everything above that card to your hand and using the card you picked up, 500 Rummy-style. I’ve always preferred 500 to vanilla rummy with the added tension that a wrong discard can be fatal. That, and grabbing a handful of cards – mmwwaahaahaahaa!

I had no problems understanding the rules, and no unanswered questions. There were examples for everything that is unique to this rummy variant. And I thought the addition of a glossary for theme-related game terms was very nice touch.

The card design is very good, the subtle colors, the lovely pictures of the animals, the iconography, and the paragraph at the bottom giving a brief description of the animal, which I think is a nice addition. The one problem we had was finding a way to see which animal we were holding since the animal name is at the top right and all the way at the bottom left, and that in tiny-sized font. I would have preferred the name to be under the icon at the top left.

Some cards from Wild Kingdom. Image by Rebekah B., the designer

The theme of the game is groups of animals battling each round to see who is superior.  The Land Group have green borders, Sea Group has blue, Air Group has yellow, big Cats are Orange, and King of Beasts are purple. There are only 3 King of Beasts cards and if you manage to make a meld of them, it’s an automatic win for that hand, leaving your opponent with zero points.

Melds are made up of any 3 cards of one Group, regardless of animal. But within the Land, Air and Sea Groups are 3 Families, each with 3 distinct Animals. The more characteristics your meld has, the stronger its Rank. So a set made up of a Gorilla, a Polar Bear and a Frilled Lizard is the weakest set being made up of three different animals from different Families (apes, bears & lizards) of the land Group. If your set is Polar Bear, Grizzly Bear and Brown Bear, it’s a higher Rank, being made up of all one Family. The King of Beasts (male lions) is the highest meld.

The Cat Family is a special Group which can be used either for a meld OR discarded to the Carrion pile to use its special ability. An Eye of the Tiger card lets you peek at your opponent’s hand, the Fast Mover with a cheetah on it lets you play two melds instead of one this turn, and the lion cubs on the Bonus cards are set aside for extra points to the player who has the most cards in the Group that wins the battle this hand.

In keeping with the theme, when played, melds of a particular Group can attack any other Group that is of equal or lesser Rank. A card is taken from the attacked meld and placed in the Carrion pile. This can be useful not only to cut down your opponent’s field but to strengthen one of your own meld’s Rank by eliminating an odd animal from your set. A set is never more than 3 cards but can be attacked and herded so as to leave only a single card in the “set”. It can then be strengthened as long as you do not decrease its Rank.

Herding is an interesting ability which can help both yourself and your opponent.  You can take one or two cards from any lower-ranked melt to form a new higher-ranked meld. You can rearrange your own field with this ability OR steal animals from your opponent. In the latter case, you could very well be increasing the strength of his meld, making it harder to attack in future.

First, there’s a lot of rules here to give Wild Kingdom its special twist on rummy. This makes it both a unique and interesting game but also challenges you when it comes to teaching it. It also means it may take a hand or two to come to terms with all you are able to do, how you can manipulate not just your own sets but your opponent’s to your advantage. In my opinion, it’s worth the effort.

I loved the theme, and the rules supported that theme very well. I loved the extra depth of card play and think there’s a lot of game here for a rummy variant. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys card games and is looking for rummy with punch.

My husband’s opinion? He wanted to know if this can be bought or is it just for download? From my non-gamer spouse, it won’t get any better than that.

Posted in Card games, Do-It-Yourself Games, New Game, Reviews | 1 Comment »

Flowerpower… sort of

Posted by sodaklady on February 6, 2010

Flowerpower is one of the games in the Kosmos 2-player line which has been out of print for quite a few years. It’s fairly popular as a wife/girlfriend-friendly game, and it’s also nearly impossible to get a copy. Fortunately someone (cuzzle on BGG) who didn’t care too much for the flower theme posted a pdf of the tiles for his big-game animal re-theme. I have to admit that the original flower version is a little on the ugly side in my opinion.

Anyway, I downloaded the file, printed it on sticky paper,  stuck the two sheets to matte board, and finally cut until my joints hurt. The next task was to come up with a board. Not a Photoshop guru, or even a student, my best effort was crayons. And since the tiles represent African big game animals, the board I created shows yellowish areas (dry, grassy plain) divided by a big blue watering hole.

Homemade board for the animal version of Flowerpower

It’s a very simple game, rules-wise, but a nice past-time for 2 people. On your turn, you pull a tile from a bag (or shuffle them around face-down) and place it on any pair of empty spaces on your side of the board or in the shared blue area.  You’re trying to create large groups of the same animal, of which there are 10 different types. You may claim the animals in the blue area only if they connect to the same animal that is on your side of the board. Your opponent can steal them if they connect to them and have a larger group on their side of the board. That adds a bit of nastiness to the game but you can also be nasty by placing a tile upside down anywhere on your opponent’s side of the board to block him, but you can only do that 3 times.

When there are no more tiles to place or when both players have run out of places to place tiles, the game ends. You then score each animal grouping one at a time, which is why there is a list of them along the edge of the board to help you keep track. Each grouping of 3-5 is worth 1 point, a group of 6-9 is worth 2 points, and 10 or more is worth 4. I had fun doing this, in fact, it was more fun than playing some versions of card-based solitaire.

I have quite a few of the Kosmos 2-player games and I think this is an excellent addition. It’s a shame that it isn’t easier to come by, but thanks to cuzzle I have my own, better looking, copy.

Posted in board games, Do-It-Yourself Games, Reviews | 3 Comments »