Tabletop Round-up 18/01/16

In addition to the games below I also played Adventure Time Love Letter which is a version of Love Letter with art from the TV show and a few extra rules. Have you ever tried to watch Adventure Time? I tried once and thought I was having a stroke.

Codenames

Players: 7 (Plays 2-8)

Duration: 30 Minutes

Codenames is a simple word game that is getting a lot of plays in the warm-up hour at my weekly game group. The bulk of the game is a few hundred cards each with a different noun on like bug, Spain, fighter, comic etc. 25 cards are randomly chosen and put into a 5×5 grid in the centre of the table and players split into two teams (red and blue). One player from each team is picked as captain and the captains get to see a secret card which is another 5×5 grid with squares coloured red, blue or beige (and one black) which corresponds to the word grid in front of everyone. On their team’s turn Captains have to give a clue consisting of one word that matches some of the clues of their teams colour and the number of clues it matches. For example, the clue ‘Batman 4’ means that the captain is trying to tell their team that 4 cards in the grid match their colour and are related to Batman somehow. The team then tries to guess the full complement of cards. If they make a mistake they have to stop guessing otherwise they keep going until they have made as many guesses as the number in the clue. The team that gets all their words first is the winner unless a team incorrectly guesses the black card in which case they lose immediately.

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This game feels like it has been around for years. Like Balderdash and Taboo I am sure I played it with my family when I was a kid but it is less than a year old. The premise is simple and doesn’t require a huge vocabulary (like Scrabble) so anybody can join in this accessible word game. Rounds can be a bit slow if someone is trying to come up with a killer clue (my group are definitely guilty of this) so I would recommend using the egg-timer that comes with it to move rounds along at a brisk pace. The added time pressure makes the game a lot more fun and increases the chance of an awful panic clue that loses a team the game – far more entertaining than a good clue that someone took 5 long minutes of silent thinking to come up with.

Codenames is a solid party game that will inspire a lot of discussion in the right group. The fun wears thin quickly but if you have 15 minutes to fill and at least 4 people then it is definitely worth a punt.

Abyss: Kraken

Players: 3 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 90 minutes

On the surface Abyss looks like Guillermo Del Toro’s Little Mermaid remake but at its heart it’s a simple game of card collection with a bit of engine-building and auctioning thrown in for good measure. It’s a game I like and my full impressions can be found in a previous blog post but this one is about the expansion called Kraken.

Kraken introduces a few supplementary and a few new features to the game. The first are the new kraken allies that act as wild cards when buying lords. This is a pretty powerful effect as a wild colour can mean that you can get faster access to the lords that you want and so obtain special powers and points even sooner. There is a downside however in that players who take kraken are also forced to take an alternative currency called nebulises. More cash sounds nice but players can only spend them when they have run out of pearls (the regular currency from the base game) and nebulises count as negative points at game end (the player with the most nebulises also gets an additional 5 point penalty).

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Bolstering this feature are new neutral lords called smugglers that help players dispose of their dirty currency as well as new lands (the next level of points after lords) that relate to those tainted nebuli. One thing that didn’t come up in our playthrough is a land that lets you plunder a new loot deck which is like a push your luck minigame that can net you a wide variety of points. The loot deck seems like a bit of a novelty but still nowhere near the sea monster part of the original game which ironically does feel like an add-on. I was hoping this would be fleshed out on an expansion but it still feels quite bare.

Due to a sub-par performance by me I am tempted to say that this expansion sucks as hard as the briney blue sea but actually this expansion is a great addition to a good game. It integrates smoothly in the main game without the need for extra boards or bolt-ons and I would easily recommend it to fans of Abyss.

The Grizzled

Players: 4 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 30 minutes

The Grizzled is a co-op set in the despair and trenches of World War I. Players take the role of friends who join up at the start of the Great War and are trying to stay sane and alive until Armistice Day. The horrors of war are represented a deck of ‘trials’ cards which either depict threats (one or more of bullets, gas, whistle, snow, rain or night) or hard knocks (conditions which hinder the player and represent mental wounds on the soldiers. At the beginning of the game 25 trials cards are placed face down on an armistice card (the trials pile) and the rest are placed face down on a war monument card (the morale reserve). If there are no cards in players hands and the trials pile is empty at any point then players have made it to the end of the war and won but if the morale pile is empty then players have lost.

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Each round (or mission) consists of four steps. The first is the Preparation where the mission leader (first player) chooses the intensity number of the mission. Players are then dealt this number of cards each from the trials pile. Then play proceeds to step 2 which is the Mission itself where players take turns to play cards from their hand either into the centre of the table (no-mans land) if it is a threat card or in front of them if it is a hard-knock card. If there are ever three of the same type of threat visible across cards in no-mans land then the players have lost the mission and those cards are shuffled back into the trials pile to be faced again. To stop this happening players can withdraw instead of playing a card which takes them out the mission and stops them from losing the mission if they have the wrong cards. If all players withdraw successfully then the mission is a success and all the cards in no-mans land are discarded from the game.

Players also have two other actions they can play. If a player has a speech token (obtained by passing the first player token at the end of the mission) they can nominate a threat type and all other players can discard one card from their hand that has that threat which is a great way of emptying players hands. The last action is to use their players good luck charm which lets them discard a card from no-mans land that matches their characters threat type. However once that good luck charm is used it can’t be used again unless regenerated.

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The third step is Support. When players withdraw they secretly nominate a player to give support to. After a Mission is successful players reveal who they gave support to and if one player has received more support than every other then they get to either discard two hard-knocks in front of them or regenerate their good luck charm. If the mission was lost they only get to discard one hard-knock in front of them. Also, if a player has four hard-knocks at the end of this step then they have received too much mental damage and the players lose. Last of all is the Intensify stage where players count up the number of cards in their hands and transfer that number of cards from the morale reserve to the trials pile (to a minimum of 3) making victory further away and defeat ever closer.

I love the mechanics, theme and look of this game but it seems like it was just too easy to win. Maybe I have been beaten into submission by the gruelling Pandemic Legacy campaign I am currently playing through but I generally expect co-op games to present a real challenge. We played a 3 and a 4 player game and we were never really pushed that hard. Admittedly we didn’t play the speech rule correctly (there has been an errata rulebook published) and for the first game we played easy mode (for normal some cards have a symbol on that means you have to immediately play a card blind from the trials pile) but it didn’t feel like that would have made much of a difference. Maybe we stumbled across the winning formula or just got lucky, it’s certainly possible that we drew perfect cards but for lovers of co-op games I would be hard-pressed to recommend The Grizzled. I still like the game and would love to try it 5 player (apparently this is the most difficult player count) but overall I am a little disappointed.

Tabletop Round-up 07/12/15

Full disclosure: Last game night was an attempt to enjoy myself and stop worrying about a house move which is becoming ridiculously complicated. In an attempt to cure myself of a massive solicitor induced pain in the arse I self-administered many pints of Shropshire Gold. The views in this round-up may be affected by slight inebriation thus rendering them all bollocks. On we go!

7 Wonders

Players: 7 ( Plays 2-7)

Duration: 1 hour

If you like drafting then you will love 7 Wonders. Draft card, play card, repeat 17 times, end. 7 Wonders is a civilisation builder set over 3 Ages. At the start of the game each player is randomly dealt a Wonder Board which represents one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. At the bottom of the board are three slots that represent the stages of your wonder and a single resource type (either timber, stone, clay or ore) that your civilisation produces. Players are then given three coins and the game starts.

At the beginning of each Age each player is dealt seven cards from that Ages deck. Cards represent structures that you can build and come in a variety of types. Brown cards produce raw materials (either timber, stone, clay or ore), grey cards represent manufacturing (looms, glassworks or printing), blue cards are civilian structures (straight victory points), green are for three types of scientific research (points are awarded for collecting sets), yellow cards are commercial ventures (produce resources or provide coins), red cards are military (points at the end of each round depending on your neighbours military) and purple cards are guilds (points based on specific end-game criteria).

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When a player gets their cards they choose one and pass the rest to the next player (clockwise in Age 1 and 3 and anti-clockwise in Age 2). Once all the players have chosen a card they are all revealed simultaneously and played. Many cards have a build cost such as coins or the symbols on other cards. For example a Baths requires one stone, if a player has a structure that produces stone they can build the Baths for free or they can pay a neighbour some coins if they have a stone producing structure. Alternatively a player can discard their card to get 3 coins. Lastly, players can play a card facedown into their next available Wonder slot (providing they can get the resources). Wonders mostly provide straight victory points but some grant a unique ability or some kind of resource. Play continues until each player has only two cards. They draft one, discard the other then that age ends and military points are awarded. At the end of the third Age you total up the points represented by your drafted cards and the player with the most points is the winner.

7 Wonders is one of those games where it is very difficult to decide whether you are doing well or not especially with the full 7 players. When the game ends and the scores are tallied from the huge combination of possible cards it can be a little anticlimactic after all that drafting frenzy. It’s a good game with a lot to think about but don’t be surprised when it ends in a whimper.

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Mostly you will be looking at the civilisation you and your neighbours are building. Usually there is a good card to draft but you might want to forgo it so that the guy next to you doesn’t finish that whopping scientific combo. Do you want to build military structures or would that get you stuck in an escalating arms race? The game plays quickly and is a lot of fun especially with a lot of players as cards are swiftly passed from one player to the next. My description may make it sound a lot more complex than it is and the scoring is a bit of a mathematical exercise but for those that want a bit of a meatier filler it is well worth a shot.

Dark Moon

Players: 5 (Plays 3-7)

Duration: 90 minutes

Dark Moon is set in a failing spaceship where players are desperately trying to complete events before one of the ship’s three key systems breaks down. The twist is that some of the players are infected with an alien virus and are attempting to sabotage the mission and destroy the ship. At the beginning of the game players are dealt cards telling them whether they are infected or not, one player is randomly chosen as the ship commander and then the game starts.

The players as a group need to complete four events to win the game. If there is no event or one has just been completed the commander draws two event cards, chooses one and then discards the other. Each event card has a different difficulty represented by the number of successes that are needed to complete it. Difficult cards take longer to complete but can give some kind of bonus whereas easy cards may actually have a penalty on completion.

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Success in Dark Moon is determined by rolling and submitting dice. The faces of the dice have a value from around -2 to +2 depending on the dice but there are always four negative numbers and two positive numbers. When a player rolls they do it behind their individual screen meaning that the other players can never be sure that they are telling the truth about all their rolls. Also whenever a dice is used the player loses it until the beginning of their next turn meaning players may not want to contribute too much even if they have rolled successfully, seeding suspicion in their crewmates minds.

On their turn players can take an action. They can attempt to Repair one of the ship’s 3 systems (engine, communications or life support) by rolling two dice and submitting one. If it’s positive then the repair is a success and one damage token is taken off that system otherwise it stays as it is. A player can Call a Vote on a fellow player they suspect which, if successful, confines them to quarantine limiting their actions. A player can Lone Wolf to place progress on the current Event card. They roll 3 dice, submit 2 and if they are both positive then they are successful. Infected players may Reveal as an action meaning they show their true malicious intentions and then get access to a set of alternate Infected actions to play on their next turn. Alternatively a player can Issue an Order to another player which gives them 2 actions. This sounds great but it they are infected then they may decide to take a reveal action and then an infected action without waiting for their turn.

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After their individual player action the player draws two tasks from a task deck and chooses one to put to the team. In turn order players decide whether they can contribute to the task and if so they roll their dice (again in secret) and submit at least one to the task. After all players have submitted dice the totals are added up and compared to the value of the task card. If the dice total is equal to or higher than the value of the task card then one success token is played on the current event card. If not a key system gets damaged. Humans win when the fourth event card is completed and infected win if a key system takes maximum damage and is destroyed.

I am still not sure whether or not I even like traitor games. If the opportunity for the traitor to sabotage the game doesn’t appear then you are usually just playing a fairly basic co-op with one or two players playing sub-optimally, the big reveal never materialises and the players start coasting to a dull finish. My first experience of Dark Moon had been fairly pedestrian as every player (including myself as an infected) seemed to be rolling success after success. Any sneaky attempt at sabotage would have been fairly obvious so I just had to reveal late and hope for success. This play was quite different. As an infected (again) I decided to bomb a key task early which made it fairly obvious I was one of the bad guys but managed to damage a system almost to destruction. The identity of my key conspirator then fell between two players who were constantly submitting bad dice and failing tasks. Ironically neither of them were my infected buddy and it was actually the commander who had quietly been picking bad events from the beginning.

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This second game was a lot more fun because it had a narrative. A player turned bad right from the start and through unlucky dice rolls the group tore itself apart with suspicion before an assumed innocent was revealed as the mastermind. This is when a traitor game works. Being surrounded by good people is important but a game like this must produce a story for it to work. Often this doesn’t happen and so the game dies on the vine and comes to an unsatisfying conclusion. For me personally this games length is definitely in it’s favour. It’s a bit longer than something like Saboteur where rounds can play in just 10 minutes but doesn’t go as long as Battlestar Galactica which can take almost 4 hours. 90 minutes is just enough time to get in a good story arc but not enough to feel like time wasted if very little happens. Dark Moon is a good game when it goes right and I would recommend it for those on the fence about the whole traitor mechanic. Just try and ignore the artwork that looks like a cover from a PS2 game!

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 29/06/15

It’s been a couple of months since I have done one of these mostly due to work commitments and a complete lack of motivation but I am determined to get back on it. Except next week when I am on holiday but DEFINITELY after that.

Innovation

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 45 minutes

Innovation is an abstract card game where players use cards (which feature a variety of symbols, actions, are one of five colours and have an ‘age’ value from 1-10) to score points so they can claim ‘innovations’. In a four player game the first to 4 innovations is the winner. At the beginning of the game the ten different ages are placed into ten separate piles and players are dealt two age 1 cards. On their turn players can take two actions which are draw (from the lowest age), play (put a card face-up in front of them in one of five piles each of a separate colour), activate one of the cards in front of them or dominate (claim an innovation).

Those actions are fairly straightforward but it is the actions on the cards you have played that provide the complexity. All cards have symbols on them representing various technologies and when you activate a card it may affect other players depending on whether or not they have less symbols displayed that match the card that you have activated. Some will be beneficial to other players but some will harm them. Ultimately you are hoping to activate a card that lets you score cards as your score lets you dominate and after a set amount of dominations you win the game.

The mechanics of Innovation are so obtuse that I was halfway through the game before I knew what was going on and the game’s theme jargon and iconography really slowed me getting a grip on how the game works. On top of that many cards have quite a chaotic effect when activated meaning that the plan you have managed to cobble together gets scuppered on another players whim especially when cards in a later age feel disproportionately powerful. Miraculously I managed to get a win using just one card that let me steal and score cards from other players hands so after 8 flailing rounds of treading water I suddenly boosted to victory. I don’t mind randomness in games but it seems out of place in one that, on the surface, feels like a compact engine builder.

Battlestar Galactica

Players: 6 (Plays 3-6)

Duration: 3 hours

After the last game of Battlestar Galactica I had vowed never to play it again. The last 30 minutes were an intense back and forth between two teams but they were proceeded by over 3 hours of pure drab and then were decided by the gaming equivalent of tossing a coin. It wasn’t my most productive 4 hours so when it was proposed again I had reservations but all the players had played it before and it was a fun bunch so I dived in.

Battlestar Galactica is based on the more recent version of the TV series where players are co-operatively trying to save the last humans from an evil robot civilisation called Cylons that have replaced key human figures with identical robots in a bid to kill all humans. At the start of the game players choose a character from a roster of well over 20 and are then placed on the Battlestar Galactica, a colossal spaceship which is mankinds last hope. Two special roles (the Admiral and the President) are also then assigned. Players are trying to move the ship a certain distance before one of 4 resources (fuel, food, morale and population) runs out or before Cylons overrun or destroy the ship.

At the start of their turn players draw 5 Skill Cards. Skill cards come in 5 different colours/types (politics, support etc.) and players only draw ones that match their characters balance of skills. These cards can be played at various times depending on the card text and also have a value that is used in Skill Checks (described later). Then the player gets to move to a different part of Battlestar Galactica and take an action. Some actions come from cards but usually a player will play the action that matches the location they have moved to such as firing at Cylon raiders outside the ship, repelling boarders or drawing extra cards. The player who is the President also gets to retire to their Presidential chambers to draw special Quorum Cards which can be played on subsequent turns to give special boosts or recover resources. Finally the player draws a crisis card which will usually give the player some unpleasant Sophie’s choice, will determine the behaviour of any Cylon ships around Galactica and may move the ship further down the Jump Track which is how players win the game.

The jump track is only four spaces long but when it reaches the end the spaceship jumps into hyperspace (or something) getting closer to safety and leaving all the enemy ships behind (for now). When they do this the jump track resets and the Admiral draws two Destination cards each with a number (1-3) and some kind of penalty (eg. lose 1 food) and then places one in front of them. Players are trying to get to a total of 8 in all their jumps before then attempting a final jump to victory.

At certain points of the game (usually on resolving a crisis card) players will be asked to make a Skill Check which they must pass or suffer some ill effect. Players secretly contribute cards to this in the colours that the skill check demands and if the value of the cards is greater than the Skill Check threshold then they pass. However, two random coloured cards are added in and any cards of the wrong colour deduct from the score. So why all the secrecy? Aren’t we all working together? No, because some characters are filthy, treacherous robot doppelgangers.

At the beginning of the game players are secretly dealt a card from a Loyalty Deck which is around twice the number of players. Most cards simply state ‘You are not a Cylon’ which means business as usual but some of them (two in a six-player game) mark the player as a secret Cylon and give them a special Reveal action. Then at the halfway point (when the Destination Card total hits 4 or more) the rest of the loyalty cards are dealt out meaning that if you weren’t a Cylon before then you could be now. As you may have guessed Cylons are trying to lose the game and they can either do it by subtly failing skill checks and making poor decisions or revealing themselves using an action on their turn (they then move to a special little Cylon ship with its own nefarious action spots). Players that arouse too much suspicion can be thrown in the Brig where they can’t do much damage but once in the Brig they don’t receive their super damaging Super Crisis Card on reveal. There are a lot of finer points to the game but in general this is how it works.

For me BSG is a little too long for a traitor game. Being a human can get a bit dull but then as a Cylon it’s quite risky to do anything too obvious so you just end up acting good until you are absolutely forced to do reveal yourself or do something drastic. Because of this I couldn’t recommend it too strongly but with the right group of people it is still a lot of fun. Paranoia can really get hold until you are convinced that everyone is a traitor. Six players felt like a good top limit for it too as if players took their turns quickly then there would always be a few skill checks to throw cards into or player decisions to mull over. I would be tempted to play this again especially with a group that know what they are doing and could thrash out a game in under two hours. In the meantime I will stick with more bitesized betrayers like Saboteur.

No more NES

A few outdated circuit boards in a grey plastic box shouldn’t mean so much but last Saturday I sold all my NES and SNES stuff in a bid to clear some of the clutter from my house and I felt pretty down about it. I had been kidding myself that when my wife and I moved I would set up a little den with all the old consoles in a sort of mini-museum. Then I would be the coolest dad around when my son brought his mates round to show off all the retro classics that his old man had. Of course, this was never going to happen. I had not played these games in years despite many being readily available in-browser on sites like virtualnes.com. Actually, my first clue should have been fruitlessly reaching for cool dad status because as we all know, trying to be cool is not cool (neither is using the word cool but I don’t care, I’m not cool, my wife told me so).

I don’t regret getting rid of all those clunky cartridges and naturally it makes logical sense to take the cash but I am still a little sad, like a part of me has gone. I spent a lot of hours with those games and they became a part of my gamer identity for a long time. Games defined me but to a lesser extent, I left a part of me with them too. I don’t mean all that spit blown on the cartridge slot or all those saved Super Mario Kart lap times but something more intangible like Sauron’s magic ring or Voldemort’s snake. It’s hard to get across but when you spend so much time with something then losing it can be hard, even if you did neglectfully dump it in a hot loft for 20 years.

I am not a man prone to nostalgia or sentiment but it’s hard not to feel a bit wistful about getting a NES for my 13 birthday or completing King Arthur’s World or reaching that final level of Battletoads or finally pulling off that Spinning Piledriver or so many things. But those are just memories and trying to recapture them is folly. Leigh Alexander wrote an article about how gamers were over, an outdated relic, but while I disagree with some of her sentiment (as long as there is passion, even misguided, there will always be people attending that midnight launch or getting their ninth Mario tattoo) I would have to agree that this gamer is definitely over. I no longer want plush mushroom hats or posters.

Saying goodbye to all that stuff is an acknowledgement of change. I now accept that it’s not that I can’t, but that I don’t want to play Battlefield until 5am (although I may want to want to in my more pitiful moments). I would still say that I enjoy video-gaming but I am not in love with it any more. It’s like seeing an ex-girlfriend once the glow of love has burned away. You can’t quite remember why you felt so strongly back then. It’s a second loss but one that pushes you forward instead of keeping you in a room crying onto old photographs. I now play Trials HD with my 2 year old son on my lap, he pushes the accelerator and I do the balancing. It’s wonderful (and very difficult).

In some ways I have become the gamer that real gamers hate. I play free-to-play fodder like Ace Combat Infinity and have no interest in displacing the old Xbox 360 from it’s dusty home under the TV with a shiny new Xbox One or PS4. I don’t even care about which one is better and have no opinion about console wars. It’s unthinkable. I am now a casual gamer and I am not even disgusted with myself. It’s quite freeing really. I am a born-again noob. Besides, if anyone doubts my credentials then I can produce a PSOne memory card with a Bushido Blade save with Katze unlocked. It makes that tenth prestige look like a penny you found on the street. Oops, they are pulling me back.

So goodbye old friends, we had some good times but now it’s time to move onto fresh experiences. Well freshER. I just started Gears of War 3 which is 4 years old so I guess I am a de facto retro gamer anyway. Oh look, I am cool. Damn, almost made it.

This Weeks Addiction: Sons of Anarchy

SAMCRO are out of control. A criminal biker gang led by a man determined to take his anger out on the world and ride his club through hell’s fiery gates, casually shooting any devils foolish enough to get in the way. So far the seventh (and final) series of the Sons of Anarchy has had more double-crossing and gang violence than the previous one and I am only halfway through. I am surprised they haven’t run out of characters to put a bullet through.

It’s ludicrous. Alliances are made and broken faster than playground friendships and problems are usually solved by shooting someone in the face or a short truce followed by shooting someone in the face. They still have all the gurning angst and leather-clad bromance of previous seasons but it’s been dialled back to accommodate a chaos of shifting allegiances and shootouts where the Sons gun down rivals who ineptly return fire A-Team style into the dust. It’s like the writers have gone mad.

In a good way. Because it’s just a thrill. I am sure if you sat down and started pulling at the plot then the whole thing would unravel faster than a Primark scarf but in the moment of watching you just go with it. The idea of bikers nonchalantly murderising their rivals while the police give a we-got-nothing on-em shrug may not be very realistic but it’s certainly exciting. Like going on a 5-star rampage in GTA only to get dropped outside the court house once the police overwhelm you. Getting off on a technicality probably. Or something.

I am going to enjoy every minute of gleeful violence in the last 8 episodes or so because even though it’s full of unsavoury killers who value Harley Davidsons over human life it’s a wild and crazy ride that I can grin at while my disbelief gets firmly suspended. Then I will go and do the washing up like a normal person.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 20/04/15

Beer, running and travel. The themes for last Monday’s games are oddly prophetic because I am going to be doing exactly those three things in real life when Moorfields station closes later this year!

Metric Mile

Players: 5 (Plays 1-10)

Duration: 45 minutes

Roll and move. A snubbed game mechanism amongst gamers who would say that boiling progress down to pure chance makes the whole thing pointless. So when one of the most experienced gamers in my group pulled a race game out his bag which involves rolling dice to dictate the movement of runners I was a little confused. However once I got into the game I realised that chance was only a small part of the race.

In Metric Mile players control runners (based on actual athletes like Seb Coe or Roger Bannister) each with a unique running profile that controls the distance that they run each turn, their stamina number and any penalties for being in the front of the race or losing contact with other racers. On their turn players decide on one of 5 different movement types: ease up, normal, pick up, forcing and sprint and roll dice to see how far they have gone and how much stamina they will have lost. The faster movement type you choose the greater distance you can make but there is a greater chance of losing more stamina too. If you run out of stamina then your movement is cut short and then next turn you roll on a special exhausted movement table that, as you can imagine, doesn’t move you very far. After ten turns the racer out in front is the winner.

I had never played a race game before this one and was a little sceptical about how one would play out but the end of this game was tense. It’s gameplay is basic but there are some decisions to be made like knowing when to sprint for example. Sprinting gets you some good distance but really eats away at your stamina and once you start you can’t stop. Also, the profile of each runner is a little different meaning that some high stamina racers will want a fast race all the way through but others will want to keep it slow and steady but be able to burst out the pack for a sprint finish. It’s very interesting. The roll and move aspect is nicely pitched too as the dice only affects your movement by 10-15% making it more about risk management than a random success generator.

Overall I was very pleasantly surprised by Metric Mile. It’s a lot of fun and the thrill of a 1500m sprint finish is surprisingly well captured. I am not sure how easy this one is to get as it looks like it’s made by a basement developer but if you can get a go then I would recommend it.

Furstenfeld

Players: 5 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 90 minutes

Beer. Homer Simpson said it was ‘the cause of and solution to all my problems.’ Thankfully Furstenfeld is not about drinking it (I take care of that on my own) but it’s about profiting from it, hopefully building a lovely palace on your alcohol-fuelled gains.

At the start of the game 5 random pub cards are drawn (each with a level of demand in wheat, water and hops) and placed in the centre of the table at the bottom of a demand track. Players are each given an identical deck of building cards and a ‘furstenfeld’ player sheet which represents the 6 plots of land they can build on (initially three plots produce one unit of wheat, water and hops apiece). On their turn players draw three cards (adding them to one card they kept from the previous round), sell goods they have produced from their furstenfeld to one of the pubs and then build up to two buildings if they want/can afford to. Players then discard down to one card and put all discards on the bottom of their deck.

If a pub receives more ingredients of a particular type than it needs then the price it will pay goes down and may even go to zero but if by the end of a round they haven’t met their demand then it will creep up. Players need to exploit this fluctuating market and use the powers of buildings they place to pay for six palace buildings on their player sheet as the player to do so first is the winner. The catch is that the palace doesn’t generate any income and once built will take up one of the six plots on your player sheet. The more you build, the harder it becomes. In addition the price for palaces increases as more are built so if you wait too long then you will have to pay an awfully high amount to complete your palace.

The trick is knowing when to start building those palaces over your other more useful structures and remembering what cards are coming up from the bottom of your deck (and what order they are in). There is a subtle tipping point when you stop trying to be clever and just race for the finish. If you know you have enough in the bank to build over your plots then you need to start doing it. These simple mechanics require you to balance out your deck, your little economic engine and the demand of each of the three beer making materials. It can be enjoyed on a deeper level or just a devil may care builder. This frosty stein is definitely half-full.

Airlines Europe

Players: 5 (Plays 3-5)

Duration: 90 minutes

When gamers get sick of trains they turn to planes. Apparently Airlines Europe was a train game and then a plane game before that but was reskinned to appeal to new audiences every few years. Trains! Ugh. Planes! Ooh. And so on. So while you could apply it to taxi routes, drainage contracts, intergalactic trade or ice cream vans none of them would have cool plane miniatures. Squeeeee!!!

The game takes place across a map of Europe which features various cities and picks routes between them with each route having a few slots and associated costs dotted along them. Players start with a small amount of money and a handful of five share cards dealt from the share deck (in ten colours that represent 10 different airlines) and five share cards are played face up into the centre of the table. Around the board is a track that represents the value of each of the ten companies.

On their turn players can do one of four things. Buy a route (pay the cost to put the company of their choice in a spot on a route which increases the value of that company) and take a card from the centre (which is immediately replaced), play share cards from their hand (placed in front of them and then receive a cash dividend), swap share cards for a special 11th company or take money from the bank. Three score cards are seeded throughout the share deck and when one is drawn players score victory points based on the dividend cards they have played and the value of the companies. Having the most cards in a company gets you the largest points and so on with more points awarded to more valuable companies.

Investing in companies and building routes creates a lot of passive interaction amongst players. You want to build routes in the company you have the most shares in but then another player could just let you do all the work and then try and snaffle up all the shares. Do you focus on getting big in one company or spreading your bets for a smaller amount of points in many. It’s a tough balance and players heads are constantly swirling around the table to see what other players are doing and hopefully not piggybacking a crafty opponent to victory.

Naturally I was not an incredible businessman and my bottom-feeder strategy of trying to snatch second and third place points in multiple companies didn’t work. Whether this is even a viable strategy or not I have no idea but I enjoyed trying it and when you have fun coming (almost) last you know you have played a good game.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 13/04/15

Due to a disgustingly unfair amount of work (ie. some) I completely failed to write a round-up last week. It would have been a bumper size too as it was a bank hoilday all-dayer. Here’s the express edition. Tammany Hall (I suck), Ticket to Ride: Europe (I rule), Blood Bowl Team Manager (I really suck), 7 Wonders (cards, cards, more cards) and Stone Age (love tent). On with the latest.

Welcome to the Dungeon

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 20 minutes

This was described as ‘chicken’ on Monday and that’s not an unfair description for this minimal push-your-luck dungeon crawler. At the start of each round one player (last rounds dungeon delver) picks one of four heroes (barbarian, mage, thief or warrior) and places them in the centre of the table along with six pieces of equipment unique to that hero. Play goes clockwise around the table with players either drawing a card from a monster deck or passing. If they draw a card then they have two options, either to put it face down into the dungeon or discard it along with one of the chosen heroes pieces of equipment. Passing puts that player out for the round. Chicken!

Eventually there will only be one player left. They must then reveal one card at a time from the dungeon and see if they can use the remaining equipment to get past each monster. Monsters are essentially really only a number value so this is a swift process to see whether the player fights their way to glory or perishes at the hand of some lucky goblin. If all monsters are defeated then the player receives a victory card but if the hero should fall then they take a hit. Players win by being the first to get two victory cards or the last man standing (two hits and you are out the game).

This is the definition of a fun filler as rules are simple and play moves around the table at a brisk pace. It’s a little slice of silliness where knowing when to pass is part calculated-risk and part luck. The cute dungeon crawler theme fits it really well too and I loved how they boiled down the idea of an equipment heavy-RPG into just a few cards. For 15 minutes of fun you can’t go wrong here.

Shadow Throne

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 45 minutes

It would be interesting to see what this game might have been called had Game of Thrones not been so popular. It’s like one of those iphone games like Age of War or Modern Combat that remind you of another much more successful franchise. Thankfully, once you put its painfully generic title to one side Shadow Throne is a very unique blend of card-drafting and hand management.

The core of the game are a deck of character cards, each one belonging to one of the three factions and having an influence, a value and a price/income as well as some kind of special ability. At the start of each round players are dealt 6 cards, draft one into their hand and then pass the remaining to the next player. Cards are then drafted and passed along in this way until every card is chosen.

Players then select a card from their hand and play them simultaneously in front of them. Special powers are applied and then each card’s influence is then added to its factions power track. After four cards are revealed in this way players are awarded points equal to the value of cards they have played that match the faction that is highest along the power track. The power track is then reset, players are dealt 6 cards and a new round starts. Once a player has over 15 points the game ends and the player with the highest score wins.

The card drafting and selection is nice and simple with a lot of potential for depth but each round seemed to play out a similar way where once a faction pulls ahead in the power track then it’s too easy to fall in line and play cards of that faction. This is mitigated by having an increased cost for playing consecutive cards of the same faction but there was a definite pattern to each round. Also, card powers seemed to only have a minor effect, adding to a rounds predictability. I am guessing the designers were trying to minimise wild power swings but it would be nice to get a big surprise at the last minute. I may sound a bit down on this game which is not the case as it was good fun but a few more powerful cards could really add to the tension.

Space Hulk: Death Angel

Players: 2 (Plays 1-6)

Duration: 1 hour

Death Angel is the co-operative card-driven little brother of Space Hulk where a group of space marines explore a vast abandoned spaceship trying to avoid being torn to confetti by monstrous aliens (called genestealers) swarming through the vents. It’s a bit like Aliens complete with the same low, low odds of survival and total lack of courage under fire. Game over man.

Players take control of two-man fire teams that are randomly put into a line down the centre of the table. The object of the game is to get at least one of those marines safely through the last location card in a deck of 4-5 that are randomly assigned at the beginning of the game. Some locations have special conditions but in general the way to get to the next one is to empty one of two blip piles that aliens spawn from. Location cards also dictate terrain that is placed along the column of marines.

At the beginning of a round players issue one of three orders for each of their pair of marines, Support (place one reroll token on any marine), Move & Activate (each marine may swap with the one above or below him, change facing and activate terrain) and Attack (try to kill a genestealer in range). Each team also has a unique additional effect that they can use depending on the order that they choose. Genestealers then attack any marines they are adjacent to and are more likely to hit if there are more attacking at once. Finally a card is drawn from the event deck which has some effect on the game (usually bad, this is a co-op game after all) and dictates which terrain genestealers will spawn from and whether or not they move. Clear the last location card and the players win but if all marines have been killed then it’s all over.

It may come as no surprise to fans of co-op games that this game is tough, really tough. Marines die after one hit and once genestealers start clumping into swarms then the odds of losing a marine go from likely to almost certain really fast. Each round is like a little puzzle that you are just trying to survive through. It’s hellish. We managed to get through to the last stage which I thought was pretty good although by the time we got there the writing was on the wall. In blood.