Tag Archives: board games

Tabletop Round-Up – 17/08/16

Wednesdays are the new Mondays. Having recently moved house I have had to leave my old gaming group in Liverpool. I was sad to leave a lot of cool people but it has given me the chance to discover fresh gaming experiences with a new set of people. It has been interesting seeing how the two groups differ but some things remain the same in that everyone piles into the back room of a pub and has a lot of fun. Although now I have to drive that fun is a few pints less!

Ankh-Morpork

Players 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 90 minutes

Ankh-Morpork is an area control game set in the wacky city of the same name which featured in many of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. It’s a chaotic place where everyone has their own agenda to fulfil and where best laid plans can easily turn sour. Much like the river.

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At the start of the game players are given a Personality card which tells them their victory condition. These include causing trouble, controlling regions on the board or hoarding cash. Players put one of their minions in three regions of the 12 region board and play begins. Play is controlled entirely by cards and players start with 5 in their hand and then draw back up to 5 at the end of their turn. These cards have one or more actions on and these actions let you do things like add more minions to the board, build a building in a region, gain cash, assassinate opponents minions and a whole host of other effects that can change the board state.

When a region gets a second minion in it then a trouble marker is assigned to that region. Regions in trouble can’t have new buildings placed there and mean that any minion in them can be assassinated. Regions can only have one trouble marker though and when a minion is removed from a region the trouble marker is removed. I guess that he takes the blame for all the trouble there! Play then continues until a player has satisfied their win condition at the beginning of their turn or the deck runs out (in which case the player with the Commander Vimes card wins or if he is not in play then the player with the most wealth is the victor).

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This game is a lot of fun. I played with the full player count of 4 and it was pretty wild. Whenever I gained a foothold somewhere then another player would try to scupper my plans or rob a few coins from me. The variable win conditions mean you have to constantly guess what your opponents are up to as well as balancing your own actions. Are they causing trouble everywhere, placing buildings or just trying to run the deck down? It’s tense and staying on top takes luck as well as planning but if you keep your head down you might just win.

Terry Pratchett fans will get a huge kick out of this game too as most cards represent characters from the books that they will recognise. Even I remember Death, a great card I managed to steal from a player before being forced to discard by another. I laughed. Then plotted revenge!

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Tabletop Round-up 01/02/16

Bad winners are worse than bad losers. Just throwing that out there.

Roll for the Galaxy

Players: 4 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 1 hour

Theme really is amazing. On one level Roll for the Galaxy is about sculpting a galactic empire through trade, technology and commerce but on another it’s just rolling dice and then moving them about! At the beginning of the game players are given 5 dice which represent the workers in their fledgling interplanetary kingdom. The sides of a die represent one of five phases (actions) that can be used during the game. The EXPLORE phase lets players gain money (used to put spent dice back in your control) or select technology/planets for future projects (both are worth victory points and may grant new dice or extra powers). DEVELOP and SETTLE let players build the aforementioned technology/planets. PRODUCE generates resources on planets so that the SHIP phase can turn them into victory points.

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At the beginning of the round all players roll their dice in secret and sort them by symbol underneath a ‘phase strip’ that has the five matching symbols on it. They then choose one of the dice and assign it to one of the five actions on the phase strip in what’s called a ‘phase selection’. After all assigning has been done players reveal their dice. Players then use their dice according to the phase they rolled but only if that phase was chosen by a player during phase selection for that round. What this means is that you will be hoping that other players will select phases that you want or dice you rolled with that phase are wasted. This choice is where the real tension of the game lies and it’s very satisfying to see all your dice activated by other players. On the flip side it’s very sad when most of your dice are wasted that turn. Play continues until one player has 12 technologies/planets or until a certain number of victory points have been claimed from shipping (set by the number of players). The player with the most points is then the winner.

This game is pretty simple and once you are into the swing of things rounds fly by but it’s slow to get going. The rules seem pretty good but explaining them is another thing altogether and there was lots of head-scratching at the start when you are just rolling dice and looking at a load of symbols that don’t mean anything. Despite this I really liked this game. Phase selection is a key choice in mitigating the luck of your dice and it’s very tense when you lift your blind and see what other players have gone for (or not gone for). You will always have something to do it’s just a matter of how much!

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There are plenty of other choices to make through the game too. Special abilities on tech/planets can combo nicely if you get the right ones and you can always fish for more if you don’t get what you want. In addition some grant you extra dice in different colours which might have a different combination of faces letting you specialise in various ways. It’s also worth noting that the components are really top notch with plenty of hard-wearing dice and sturdy tiles. In case you couldn’t guess I do like this game.

Mission: Red Planet

Players: 5 (Plays 3-6)

Duration: 90 minutes

Thankfully the poor devil who had to explain Roll for the Galaxy had an easier job with Mission: Red Planet which is a simple area control game set on the plains of Mars. Mars is split into 9 regions and the moon Phobos which is separate from the main board. Each of these 10 regions produces a different resource (worth either 1,2 or 3 points) which is hidden until a player lands some of their astronauts on them. At the start of the game players are given 9 character cards and a secret objective that can net them bonus points depending on some end of game conditions. A launchpad is set up with slots equal to one less than the number of players and one card drawn from a rocket deck is put on each slot. These rocket cards have a capacity and a destination for the rocket.

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At the start of each of the games 10 rounds players choose one of their character cards and then reveal them simultaneously. These character cards put astronauts onto rocket cards but will have another effect as well such as launching a rocket prematurely, blowing up a rocket, picking up or looking at discovery cards (these attach to regions and affect end-game board state), moving astronauts and so on. The cards are numbered with the larger numbers getting to take their action first. Once these cards are used they can’t be used again until the player plays the character that brings them back to hand. Any rockets that are full immediately launch and at the end of the round they drop the astronauts onto their target region and a new rocket replaces them. Scoring happens at the end of the 5th, 8th and final rounds with points awarded for players that control a region. The number of points awarded then increases. At the end of the game those points are added to any end-game bonuses and the one with the most is the winner.

For me this game is the perfect balance of simplicity and fun but with the need to make some critical decisions. It can be so tense revealing those character cards, piling all your astronauts into that one key rocket and then hoping it doesn’t get blown up. When there are astronauts on the planet you then have to keep an eye on 2 fronts by making sure you are holding on to your key territories as well as filling rockets for further colonisation. My favourite character is the soldier which lets you kill an enemy astronaut and then parachute three others from Phobos onto any region on Mars. You can gain a lot of ground with this guy.

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I love straightforward area control games and I would add this to El Grande and Tammany Hall as one of my favourites. These all have a very simple ruleset that you can pick up very easily but with their own subtle flavour. I would contrast them with Cthulhu Wars and Blood Rage which, for me, push the complexity a little bit too far and bog the game down a little. Mission: Red Planet comes highly recommended.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 01/12/14

Getting your own game to the table can be tricky sometimes. Players at my game group are so generous that they often bring a wealth of games to choose from and your own can pushed to the back unless you are really vocal in getting it played. Somehow I managed to get two of my games out on Monday which was a nice little compensation for seeing my alien colonies outpaced and monsters outscored.

Ra

Players: 5 (Plays 3-5)

Duration: 45 minutes

I have always told myself that I don’t like auction games but having recently enjoyed Medici, Palazzo and now Ra I am going to have to change my point of view. I am still not attracted to games with longer drawn-out auctions but the short, punchy titles are tense and force you to take tough, critical decisions that won’t have you futilely playing catch-up for 2 hours. Ra is definitely that game.

Players are trying to bid for different types of tiles that score in a unique manner at the end of each of the games three phases (or epochs). On their turn players can either put a random tile onto the board or invoke Ra and start an auction for all the tiles on the board. Bidding only goes round the table once and players bid using one of three uniquely numbered sun tokens. The winning bidder claims all the tiles in the centre (some of which can be harmful) and swaps his sun token with one on the centre of the board (which always starts with a 1 value) placing it face down and unusable for the remainder of that epoch. In this way players change the values of their bids and can only bid three times per phase. Some tiles are Ra tiles which don’t go into the centre but trigger an auction instead. Once 10 Ra tiles have been drawn (in a 5 player game) the epoch automatically finishes. After the third epoch, final scoring occurs and the game ends.

Ra is a very devious game. It’s so tempting to draw a tile and add it to the auction pile but if it’s part of a tile set that an opponent wants and they have a better set of sun tokens they will be able to steal it from under you. The way the tiles score is cunning too. Some are straightforward set collection but others require you to get just one or lose points instead of gaining them and others wipe out other tiles if you win them. Like a lot of auction games it seems that knowing when not to bid is as important as winning and a cool head is required to avoid disaster. Ra is definitely a smooth little game and one I will be keen to play again in the future.

Alien Frontiers

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 2 hours

In Alien Frontiers players are colonists who are competing to get their colonies on an alien planet before their opponents. Players are given dice that represent their fleet and they roll them at the beginning of their turn and, depending on the result, use them in various orbital facilities around the planet. Some facilities give you resources (including extra dice or alien technology cards that give you extra powers), some let you build colonies and one lets you steal resources from other players.

When players build colonies they place them on the planet in one of 8 regions, each of which is related to an orbital facility. If they have the majority of colonies in a region then they get an additional point plus a bonus which corresponds to that regions corresponding facility. In this way players can try and use this light area control mechanic to try and claim regions that will help their own individual strategy.

I like this game a lot. Not only does it have the simple pleasure of rolling dice but it lets each player attempt their own path to victory by matching the regions they want with the facilities they want to use the most and the alien tech cards they have bought. Of course the dice can always scupper your turn if they don’t go your way but there is always something useful that you can do even if it’s to collect basic resources. The only criticism I would have is that the Raiders Outpost that lets players steal from each other can spoil another players plan (it happened to me) but there are ways to protect yourself. Overall a very fun game and one that plays nice and swiftly once players find their feet.

King of Tokyo

Players: 6 (Plays 2-6)

Duration: 30 minutes

More dice fun! King of Tokyo is a simple game where players play giant monsters fighting in and around Tokyo. On their turn they roll 6 dice (which they can reroll twice if they wish) to try and get victory points, attack other monsters, heal their own monsters or gain energy to buy special powers. The first player to 20 victory points or the last monster standing is the winner. The twist is that one monster (or two when there are 5 or 6 players) is the King of Tokyo and will slowly accumulate points on their go. Also, when they attack they hit all other monsters outside of Tokyo at the same time. The downside is that they can’t heal and monsters outside of Tokyo only attack them. When hit, a monster can leave Tokyo and the monster that hit him has to go into Tokyo and become the new King whether they want to or not.

King of Tokyo is a lot of fun and is all about praying those dice give you what you want and then crying when they don’t … which is all the time! The one issue I have with King of Tokyo (and it is a big one) is that it rewards cowards! For a game about giant monsters fighting across a city it’s a shame that a player that plays conservatively is usually the winner and for most of the time players will be re-rolling attack dice in favour of energy to buy boosts for their monster, only attacking by accident. I don’t play like this. For me it’s more fun to get into Tokyo as soon as possible, start throwing punches and hold on for as long as I can before bailing out to heal up and start attacking again. Of course I never win but I have a lot more fun losing in this way.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up – 17/11/14

Lost Legacy

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration 20 minutes

When I started these round-ups my original vision was that when a game was first played I would mostly explain the mechanics but on subsequent plays I would concentrate on any deeper insights that I had gained into the game itself. This is tough with Lost Legacy due to the simple draw a card, play a card gameplay and small card pool but there was one card that made me rethink about how I played this game and is worth looking at.

After playing more rounds of Love Letter than I care to count my first instinct in this game was to find the Lost Legacy card, get hold of it and keep it as long as possible. This was a mistake. The Guardian will wreck that plan as once it appears it randomises players hands meaning you are probably going to lose the Princess, er I mean Lost Legacy. The Guardian encourages you to play a bigger game by dumping the Lost Legacy into the ruins to keep track of it as much as possible. After all, the game is not about having it but knowing where it is. This is a tricky balance. Do it too early and another player might find it but wait too long and that Guardian might show up and you will end up losing it into a random players hand.

The Guardian also tells you that the player who played it almost certainly doesn’t have the Lost Legacy card so if you saw it in their hand earlier then you can guess that they have put it in the ruins and may know where it is. Have you been watching them? I hope so as if you get an earlier guess then you might be able to get the card before them. Putting this plan-busting random effect card in the game encourages two important things, using the ruins (making you play the full game) and watching other players like a hawk. With binoculars.

Bohnanza

Players 6 (plays 2-7)

Duration: 45 minutes

Bohnanza is a fast trading game about growing, harvesting and selling beans. At the start of the game, players are dealt five cards which each feature a variety of bean (red, black-eyed, soy, stink etc). They also have two bean fields in front of them where they will plant beans but each field can only contain one type of bean. Players get points by harvesting a field which means taking all the beans out of it, keeping some cards to represent points (different bean types have different distributions of payouts) and putting the rest in the discard pile. The game ends when the deck has been exhausted three times.

On their turn, players must first plant the top card from their hand (potentially forcing them to harvest if there is no spare field) and then they reveal the top two cards from the draw deck. They must then plant these unless they can trade them with another player. All trades must be immediately planted. Then the player draws three cards and puts them to the back of their hand. Additionally a player can buy a third bean field but it costs them 3 points.

I really enjoyed Bohnanza and the fast trading and intense player interaction make this the perfect noisy filler. The fact that you have to keep your hand in order and plant the top card on your go makes for some wild deals including giving cards to other players for nothing. However its greatest quality is the fact that it generated the unintentionally rude ‘I’ll give you two black-eyes for a stink’ which puts it alongside Agricola (‘can we convert children into food’), Pandemic (‘we need to address the black problem’) and, of course, the classic Settlers of Catan (‘I got wood for your sheep’). Illustrious company indeed.

Betrayal at House on the Hill

Players: 6 (Plays 3-6)

Duration: 90 minutes

You know those horror films where a group of dunces get stuck in the wilderness and decide to take refuge in a menacing haunted house built on an Indian burial ground? Well, Betrayal at House on the Hill is that. Up to 6 players get the chance to blunder deeper and deeper into an obviously hostile mansion before ‘The Haunting’ triggers and one of them turns bad. Real bad.

Players select from one of 6 characters (each having a speed, might, sanity and knowledge trait) and on their turn they can move as many spaces as their speed trait allows. The game starts in a 3×1 hallway and when a player moves through a doorway they draw a random room tile and resolve its effects if any. Some rooms are just hallways which mean the player can continue moving but on reveal most trigger a card draw meaning the player must finish moving and resolve that card.

Item cards provide you with various weapons or buffs but event/omen cards can be anything. You might get bitten by a shadowy creature, get a raving madman companion or fall down a mystic slide. The main difference between event and omen cards is that omen cards force you to make an omen roll. If the dice total is greater than the number of omen cards drawn so far then nothing happens but if not then the haunting starts, the game changes completely and players must consult the two scenario books (one for the player that just went bad and one for the rest) to see what their objective has become. Scenarios are incredibly diverse and can be a player turning into Dracula, raising an undead horde or racing to get magical items.

This game is all theme. The gameplay feels very rudimentary especially before the haunting when players are just stumbling about the mansion gaining items and encountering spooky events. Basic dice rolls are used against the four traits each player has and the characters all seem pretty much the same but when The Haunting occurs and the story kicks in then the game turns from a tame exploring game into a fun and exciting race. Betrayal at House on the Hill is one of those games that is more about the players than the game. Mechanically it’s very simple but it creates a great structure for 6 people to sit around a table, use their imagination and just have fun. Tabletop did a good playthrough that’s worth checking out.

Hansa Teutonica

Players: 4 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 2 hours

The problem with playing so many different games is that sometimes I forget which ones I have and haven’t played. I thought that recording my plays on Board Game Geek (BGG) would clear up some of the confusion but even though I am sure that I have played Hansa Teutonica, BGG says otherwise. This means that either my brain is wrong or BGG is wrong but considering my appalling score on Monday it’s probably the former. Sobs.

Hansa Teutonica is set on a map of Northern Europe (predominantly Germany) and features around 25 named cities and various routes between them with each route containing 2, 3 or 4 smaller spaces (mostly 3). On their turn players can do two of 5 actions: take cubes from the general stock into their supply, put cubes from their supply on a space, displace another players cube from a space and take it from them (they then get to move it to an adjacent route along with another from the stock as compensation), move a number of their cubes to a different route, or claim a route.

The first four actions are just about getting cubes on the board but it’s the last one that is the most important. To claim a route players must have a cube on all its spaces. Once they do they then put those cubes back in the supply and choose one of a number of bonuses. Depending on the city on each end of the route they can either claim it (controlling a city gives you points when somebody claims a route attached to it and bonus points at the end) or improve their abilities (more actions, a greater number of cubes from the supply, open up more city spaces for control etc.). Additionally some routes have additional tokens you can collect that give you a one-off instant bonus or points at the end of the game. Once a player hits 20 points they trigger the end game where points are awarded for routes, developing skills, cities occupied and any other bonuses. There are a few additional elements but that is roughly it.

This game is a tough balance. There are a lot of ways to get points and it’s easy to get dazzled by choice. I paid the price for not focussing on a clear goal and being distracted by opportunities that lead to very little reward. Of course you need to be flexible as other players will often be chasing the same thing (especially the city that grants you additional actions) but before you can do the thing you really want there is often a number of prerequisites (each with their own prerequisite) so each action must be played as efficiently as possible. A very good game and one I would like to explore more strategy for in the future. Or just cut my losses and play 250 rounds of Lost Legacy.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 27/10/14

So many traitors this week. All of which were bookended by some tough push-pull economic games.

Medici

Players: 4 (Plays 3-6)

Duration: 45 minutes

Usually the theme of a game really helps to understand it. Build train routes, mine gold, manage a power network, once you start hearing the finer rules you can track them back to this ultimate goal and pin everything together in your mind. Medici is not like this. The idea of renaissance traders competing for contracts to ship goods could be translated to intergalactic hitmen, goat herders or competitive monkey picnicking and actually seemed to make it more confusing. So when asked what the goal in Medici is, just say ‘get points’.

Medici is an auction game played over three rounds where players bid for cards. Cards come in 5 different colours numbered 0 to 5 with two 5 cards, there is also a 10 card which has no matching colour giving a total of 36 cards. At the start of each round 12 cards are randomly discarded and then on a players turn they will turn over 1, 2 or 3 cards and then put them up for auction. Bidding then goes round the table but only once giving that turn’s player the last choice of bid. Then the next player puts cards up for auction and so on until every card is bought. Players can buy a maximum of 5 cards. When the round ends players then move up one of 5 coloured tracks, one for each card they have bought in that colour and score points for being first, second or third in those tracks. They also add up the numbers on their cards (which is supposed to be a boat or something) and those with the most get bonus points.

It’s a bit of a number cruncher but I really liked Medici. Auctions are short and fiercely tactical and you are constantly having to weigh up which cards you or your opponents want. Do I go for high cards and try and get the big bonus? Do I spread myself across all colours or should I concentrate on one. There is a real tug of war between players and a strong lead can be easily lost if you don’t concentrate (as I found to my dismay). The toughest part is that there is no separate score or currency meaning you have to spend your victory points to buy cards (players start with 40) and my foolish overspending in the last round sent me tumbling down the rankings. Partially this was down to being a new player who doesn’t know a cards value but mostly it was down to greed! Medici was a fine game and one I would definitely play again.

Saboteur

Players: 6 (Plays 3-10)

Duration: 30 minutes

Then we were back in the mines for a couple of rounds of Saboteur which I really enjoyed. I have described this before so I won’t go into to much detail but I have a slight balance concern with it. You really need the right number of saboteurs or the game is far too easy for one side to win. In the first round there was only 1 saboteur in 6 and he had no chance as we just steamed directly to the gold. The second round was a bit more balanced with 3 saboteurs but the 50/50 split made it hard going for the miners who failed to reach their goal after I managed to head them in the wrong direction. Then my wicked conspirators nobbled them entirely. At one point every player had a block card in front of them. It was a lot of fun.

Werewolf

Players: 6 (Plays 5-loads and loads)

Duration: 30 minutes

Werewolf is a very popular party game where players take the role of lynch happy villagers who are trying to find the werewolf traitors in their midst through alternate night and day phases. At the beginning of the game players are all given secret role cards which either state they are a werewolf or a villager (some of whom have additional powers). During the night phase, the werewolves (who know who each other are) get to select another player for elimination and the villagers get to use their special powers if they have them (the seer can enquire whether one player is a werewolf, the doctor can protect a player from elimination and so on). At the start of the day phase the dead player is out and then the villagers (including secret werewolves) have to decide whether or not to lynch someone to put them out of the game. These phases continue until all werewolves are lynched (villagers win) or all villagers are dead/lynched in error (werewolves win).

Initially I wasn’t too bothered about playing this as the hidden traitor game isn’t usually my favourite but the group I was in made it worth playing and we made plenty of noise which is what a party game should do. Werewolf is a game that I would love to play with a group of friends who aren’t gamers as there are plenty of laughs from randomly lynching your buddies and more importantly there are a lot of resources for this game online that are free.

Also, statistic loving lycanthropes will really enjoy this analysis on the game from episode 351 of the Dice Tower podcast. It starts at 43.46.

The Resistance: Avalon

Players: 6 (Plays 5-10)

Duration: 45 minutes

Next, yet another traitor game! By this point of the evening I was desperately trying to steer our subgroup into playing something else but my subtle hints were ignored and we ploughed into The Resistance: Avalon. My inward groan became an outward one when I was dealt the most boring role in the game but was saved after a new player misunderstood what was happening and we redealt the roles. I was now a wicked Minion of Mordred and felt a bit better.

The game takes place over 5 rounds with good players trying to successfully pass missions in the service of noble King Arthur and evil ones trying to secretly fail them. One player starts as the king and selects a group of players to go on a mission (he can select himself) then players vote on whether they think it’s a good team or not. If the vote fails the king token passes to the next player but if it passes the mission starts. Players on the mission have a success card and a fail card and secretly submit one in secret to the king. Good players will always pass a success but evil ones can choose whether to fail it if they wish. The king then turns over the cards and if there is just one fail card then the mission fails otherwise it succeeds. The king then passes to the next player and a new round begins. Good or evil players need 3 successful or failed missions out of 5 to win the game.

In a six player game there are four good players, two are normal but one is Merlin who knows who the evil players are and one is Percival who knows who Merlin is. This extra information sounds good but even if the good players successfully complete their 3 missions the evil players are allowed one attempt to assassinate Merlin. If they get it right then evil can still triumph. Enjoying Avalon is very dependent on a few things. You need to like the mechanic, be willing to play a character and have a relaxed group who feel the same. Thankfully I did have those and even more thankfully I didn’t end up as the vanilla good guy which is incredibly dull. I did have a good time but will be avoiding any full on traitor games for as long as I can!

London

Players: 3 (Plays 2-4)

Duration 2 hours

After all those accusations I was crying out for a change of pace and a couple of new members arriving was the perfect smokescreen to change tables. I chivalrously gave them my spot and bounced into a game of London which was a far cry from the riotous lynching and double-crossing I had been doing up to that point.

London is all about rebuilding the capital following the Great Fire in 1666. Cards in the game represent a miscellany of London and can be dockyards, Christopher Wren, street lights, paupers, fire brigades or a whole host of London themed features. On their turn players draw a card and do one of 4 actions. They can build (by placing cards in front of them), run the city (which activates the cards in front of them), purchase a district (represented by a map in the centre of the table and provides cards and victory points) or draw 3 cards. The game ends when the draw pile is exhausted. Players then add up all the victory points on the cards they have built and districts they have purchased. After deducting any penalties the one with the highest points is the winner.

This game is all about juggling different economies. The first is money which you need to buy districts and to build or activate certain cards. It can be very hard to come by and although players can (and will) take loans they have a steep repayment cost and, if unpaid, have a victory point penalty at the end of the game. The next is hand size, you need cards so you can play them for resources but having too many can hurt the third economy, poverty. Whenever you run the city you gain poverty equal to the cards built and cards in your hand. You can mitigate this by having districts in the city or building over spent cards but this can cost money. At the end of the game high poverty can net you a large victory point penalty.

It’s a tough game and one that puts you under a lot of pressure. You know what you need to do and you know how to get it but there is often a high price attached. I only just managed to pay off my debts at the end of the game and had the lowest poverty but I had not managed to build many high victory point cards and suffered for it. It hurt my poor brain but was a masochistic antidote to all that traitor malarkey.

Next week I am going to try and play nice games about pandas. Fingers crossed.

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.

Monday Night Tabletop Round-up 29/09/14

I am a little behind schedule here but never mind. Also, I am on holiday next week so no round-up although I may put a few pictures on Twitter(@dixxie_flatline) of my wife breaking my heart as she thrashes me at Battle Line, again.

Unexpected Treasures

Players: 5 (Plays 3-6)

Duration: 30 minutes

Junk. Not the game but the theme where you have to collect as much junk as possible and turn it into treasure somehow. OK so the theme has got me a bit confused but the game is simple, quick and fun. At the start of each round players simultaneously reveal a numbered card from 0 to 5. If they are the only person to reveal that number then they get to take that many rubbish chips from a pile in the centre of the table and if possible trade them in for victory point cards (tiles and cards are replenished at the end of every round). The 0 is the robber and instead of retrieving tiles from the centre they take them from players equal to the number of unique cards played that round. At the beginning of the game each player is given a numbered chip and when the same card is played only the player with the lowest numbered chip gets to go, then players swap chips to even things out.

It sounds a little confusing but it really is quite straightforward and comes down to trying to predict what other players are going to do. If I have the 1 chip then I know that if I play a 5 card I will break all ties and get to pick up 5 tiles. But everyone knows that so they will play a 4. So should I risk playing a 4 to block them or will they call me out and play a 5. For me the game is all about the reveal, turning over your card then looking around hoping that you have read your opponents correctly. In our group one player really struggled to get going and she ended up getting frozen out a lot at the start but the game plays so quickly that it didn’t matter too much. Good fun.

Palazzo

Players: 4 (Plays 2-4)

Duration: 1 hour

Palazzo is a strange mix of bidding, buying and building where players obtain tiles to build towers which are awarded points at the end of the game based on height, number of windows and uniformity of colour. In the centre of the table is a market surrounded by four quarries with a master builder token on one of them. On their turn, players either take money, rearrange their buildings or buy/auction tiles. 5 king tiles are randomly distributed in the lower third of the tile draw pile and the game ends when the fifth one is drawn.

Each time a player takes the buy/auction action a new tile is added to the central market and one of the four quarries. Then they can either choose to buy 1 or 2 tiles from the centre (the more there are, the cheaper they get) or auction every tile on the next quarry on from the master builder (who then moves along). This is a really interesting decision. Do you take a safe purchase of a couple of tiles or a risky auction for a lot more. You might even want to buy a stack of tiles just to deny your opponents those top tiles that they really need. The last option is very satisfying.

Sometimes you play a game and everything falls into place and that is exactly what happened when I played this as I managed to get a crushing win. I seemed to pick up the right money and managed to outbid opponents on tiles they wanted as well as ones I did too. I was very lucky and will hold onto the win in the inevitable victory drought coming my way!

Puerto Rico

Players: 5 (Plays 2-5)

Duration: 2 hours

It’s hard to describe the feeling of playing Puerto Rico. On the surface it’s about creating an island economy in order to ship goods and buy buildings, both of which yield victory points, but underneath it is an incredibly tight max-min game which forces you to pay attention to what other players are doing and try to limit the benefits they can get from your turn. Let me explain.

Each player has a board with one space for plantations and one for buildings. The first player (the governor) picks up an action tile and uses it, then every other player in turn also gets to use that action too. Then the second player gets to pick an action which other players use and so on until every player has chosen an action. There will always then be three unchosen actions which get a coin added to them for the next person that chooses it. Then the governor card moves round one space and play continues. Example actions are the builder (buy a building), the settler (take a plantation), the trader (sell a good), the captain (ship goods for victory points) and the mayor (obtain workers).

The player that chooses an action does get a slight bonus but they have to be very careful not to help the other players too much and that is where the key to this game lies. Often it’s worth taking an action that may only benefit you a little but will help nobody else. That action you really want will get picked by another player so let them have choose it for you and reap the benefits. Turn order can be brutal, has that guy to your right only got coffee? Pick the trader before him and sell yours ahead of him. Mean as hell.

I can certainly see why this game has such a high rating. It has a solid worker placement system and a nice level of player interaction (by which I mean screwing over). Personally I found it to be a little bit muddy at times, some of the actions didn’t really match what they actually did which added to a layer of abstraction that could get in the way of understanding the game. However, this is just window dressing and I really liked it. Puerto Rico is a great mental workout and nothing beats hearing the 3 players to your left groaning as you pick the captain and watch them toss half their hard-earned goods in the river.