Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 20/10/14

Another Monday and another pie, chips, beer and games night. Game night makes Mondays almost palatable … almost.

Age of War

Players: 6 (Plays 2-6)

Duration: 30 minutes

For me there is a real thrill in picking up a handful of dice, dropping them on a table, watching them bounce, roll and spin to a stop and hoping they will land on your side. It’s a simple act full of tension. What I like a lot less is waiting for this joy and that’s a problem that Age of War has.

Gameplay is simple. On their turn players pick up the 7 custom dice and roll them. They then choose one of the castle cards in the centre of the table and commit dice to it that match one of the rows on the card. They then roll the remaining dice to try and match further rows on that card. If they successfully complete all rows then they claim the card but each time they fail a roll they set a dice aside and try again. If they run out of dice they fail their turn. Cards have points values and a colour and if a player gets all cards of the same colour then they get bonus points. It’s also possible to try and claim an opponent’s card if they have not completed it as part of a set but it gets an additional row and is more difficult. Play finishes when all castles are captured.

As a simple filler, Age of War is fine but it does suffer from a ‘wake me when it’s my turn’ problem that I am finding with a lot of dice rollers. Elder Sign and King of Tokyo are in that category too but they have some interaction whereas in Age of War you are just waiting for your turn and playing the percentages when you roll. On top of this the end game can really drag as losing players will try to keep the game going by capturing other players castles instead of those in the centre. It’s not a bad game and for a lower play count it plays briskly enough (I like it with 2) but it needs an expansion to flesh it out.

The Bucket King

Players: 7 (Plays 2-6 with just one set)

Duration: 30 minutes

This is a bit of a club favourite and for such a simple take-that card game it has some real love from the veteran gamers in the group which surprises me. Apparently we play with a fair few house rules (and 2 copies combined) so this description may be far from definitive.

In ‘Buckets’ (as it’s affectionately known) players are trying to protect their pyramid of 15 buckets (in 5 colours) from falling down. At the start, players are dealt 12 cards from a deck that consists of cards numbered 1 – 8 in five different colours. A random player starts and plays a card in front of them. The player to their left must then play a card (or cards) of the same colour which equals or exceeds the previous one, then draw one card (even if they played more than one) before play moves on to the next player. If they can’t (or don’t want to) play cards then they lose a bucket in that colour (and any buckets above it in their pyramid) and all played cards are discarded. Play ends when 3 players are eliminated (with 7 players anyway) and the winner is the one with the most buckets left. There are a few twists to this. If you match the total from the preceding player then play reverses direction. Also, any cards played stay in front of you for the current round so if play comes round to you again then you can include these cards in your total score.

That’s pretty much it. It can be a cruel game and you are at the mercy of the cards but there is always a lot of noise when this hits the table and that’s a good thing. There is a lot of talk of ‘advanced bucket play’ from the more senior members of the group which always amuses me but at it’s heart it’s a simple, friendly game of trying to screw your fellow player over. What’s not to like about that? Also, the distracting artwork on the cards of various farm animals hoofing buckets is as pointless as it is hilarious.

Ghost Stories

Players: 4 (Plays 1-4)

Duration: 90 minutes

After last week’s epic Pandemic success we were feeling confident about taking on another brutal co-op game so we tried Ghost Stories which is about protecting a village from murderous ghosts. Well, after a close game we only went and did it! I was feeling pretty damn good until I was told it was set to easy. A win is a win though, right?

In Ghost Stories the village consists of 9 distinct randomly tiles laid out in a 3×3 grid with 4 larger player tiles placed on each side. These larger tiles have 3 spaces on them that line up to the 3 village tiles they are next to. On their turn players draw a ghost card and place it in one of 3 spaces in the player tile that matches it’s colour. They then get to move one space in the village and either take the action on that village tile or attempt to destroy ghosts on an adjacent player tile by rolling that ghost’s colour on one of three combat dice. Village tiles have effects such as restoring health, reviving players, collecting tokens (which help in destroying ghosts) and collecting defensive Buddha statues. Near the bottom of the ghost deck is an extra tough ghost (more on higher difficulties) that players must destroy to win the game.

That’s how you win but like any good co-op, losing is a lot easier. If a player has 3 ghosts on their player board then they lose health at the start of their turn and if they drop to zero they die (although one of the village tiles can be used to resurrect them). Also, various ghosts will haunt village tiles which renders them useless and once three village tiles are haunted it’s game over.

This is just the basic layout of the game as extra complexity lies in the various status effects that ghosts have as well as special powers that each player has. Like a lot of co-op games it’s tense and you have to use each turn as effectively as possible. Naturally there is a bit of luck (the boss ghost materialised right next to the player that could kill him next turn) but without this random factor then the game would just be a puzzle that only needs solving once. This is definitely one I would like to try on higher difficulties in the future.

Small World Underground

Players: 3 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 90 minutes

The last game of the night was Small World Underground which is a standalone spin-off to Small World. The game is played out on a map with distinct regions (bog, caverns, mines etc.) and at the start, players take it in turn to pick a fantasy race (possibly paying a few victory points to do so) and conquer as many regions as they can. On their turn players can then either continue to expand across the map or put their race into decline which means leaving the old one to die and then picking a new one to start all over again. Points are scored by number of regions occupied as well as any race bonuses.

The basic mechanics of this game are ridiculously simple and follow the same pattern of expand, score, decline and expand again. Conquering a region just consists of placing two race tokens on it plus extra if it is occupied by an opponent. Complexity comes from special powers that the races have and attributes that are then randomly assigned to each one. These combinations mean that your tactics change with each game and no two games will play out in the same way. Even more diversity comes from special regions that confer extra bonuses to players once conquered.

For me the best bit about Small World is making that decision about when to go in decline. It takes your whole turn, your in-decline race loses all of their special powers and you can only leave one token in each region they occupy meaning they are very susceptible to destruction. However, if you leave it too late you are losing an opportunity to get a second race on the board to get more points. It’s a tough balancing act and a feature in the game that I really like. Also, I love the cutesy fantasy artwork in this game as I love a fantasy theme that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Overall it’s great fun.

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