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Subject: Earth Reborn: a great game, but not quite a perfect shot rss

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Damon Asher
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Earth Reborn is a certainly a game with a very strong narrative theme. The backstory is relatively rich for a new creation, and the characters have distinctive personalities that are well-reflected by their in-game abilities. From a narrative standpoint, everything is well positioned to provide a thematic tactical adventure.

Earth Reborn is also a game chock full of innovative mechanisms, and I really admire that in an age and game genre where it is hard to come up with something new.

However, the game doesn’t quite come together for me, and it has taken some time for me to crystallize my thoughts on why that is. I think it comes down to this: while the mechanisms are well-designed, they don’t integrate well into the theme. They pull me out of the experience rather than helping me immerse in it, and that’s a problem for a game like this.

It’s a near miss here, because the mechanisms do feel like what they are representing in an abstract way, but for me, they don’t really feel like what you are supposed to be doing in-game. As a consequence I become overly conscious of dealing with mechanisms and that dampens the experience. It’s like seeing the wires that hold up Superman when he’s flying. Here are some examples to illustrate:

The order tile system.
This is the central mechanism on which the rest of the game hangs. I think the idea here is that you can’t always do what you want when you want. The tile system certainly invokes this FEELING very well. But the restrictions on actions imposed by the tile system don’t seem to sync up well to the action on the board. I have a hard time rationalizing “Now, why can’t I shoot?” Sometimes my opponent will play the Run 4 tile I need, so I’ll spend 2 CP to grab it from the discard, then I can Run 4 my next turn. Okay, I get all that as a well-designed game mechanism, but what the hell just happened within the game world?

Search.
The searching mechanism is really innovative. It has you manipulating the card deck in ways I have seen no other game do. It certainly does feel like you are methodically looking for something. However, it also feels utterly divorced from the concept of my CHARACTER on the board searching a room. Rather, it feels like I am playing some completely separate minigame with the cards that may reward me with a new piece of bling for my character.

Radio Scrambling.
Once again, the mechanism invokes the feeling of confusion and inability to act, but it inflicts those feelings directly on me rather than through the characters. Anything that makes me more concerned with gaming the order tiles just takes me further out of the game narrative.

Interrupts. Another mini-game, this time a blind bid. You wager some of your precious command points in order to react to your opponent. I may need to spend all my command points in the bid to try to take a critical shot. Again, a fine mechanism. But why do all my other characters become unable to act because one took an opportunity shot?

S.A.G.S.
Here is another great set of mechanisms, this time for creating interesting scenarios on the fly. It does invoke the feeling of strategizing. However, it doesn’t feel like you’re a commander making a battle plan. Rather, you are placing rooms and doors where they are convenient for you. You’re strategizing the game, but this takes place outside the thematic framework. So again, I get the general FEELING of the task, but don’t get the immersive connection to the action on the board.

I am not a person who demands an immersive thematic experience in every game. I love plenty of Euros, and I love some games for their mechanisms even when I don’t so much care for the theme (i.e. Chaos in the Old World). However, when I play some types of games, it is the theme that makes the experience for me. An extreme example of that would be Ninja Burger, a game with almost nothing to it gameplay wise, but I occasionally enjoy it because it’s fun to be a burger-delivering ninja. Not to hold up that game as a shining example of anything, but the game mechanisms, as slight as they might be, don’t get in the way of enjoyment of the thematic experience.

Earth Reborn feels to me like a game where the theme should be a big deal, but ultimately, all the every clever mechanisms don’t gel into something that enhances that experience. Rather, they constantly make me see the wires and yearn for a more transparent game framework.

I am at a point in this hobby right now where I am enjoying curating my game collection to the point where when I look my shelves, I see nothing but A-list winners, the finest of each game in its class. These are the games I will always want to play and will never make me wish I was playing another game instead.

I think that Earth Reborn is a great game. However, it does fail my shelf-worthy test. I have infidelity in my heart when I play Earth Reborn. For an intense corridor crawling experience, I can’t help but think I prefer the more streamlined experience of DOOM or Space Hulk. And when it comes to a game with distinctive characters and tons of fun equipment, Duel of Ages is my go-to. If it were not for these other games, Earth Reborn would likely earn a place on my shelf. However, ER ultimately does not rub me in all the right ways as well as these other games do, so I’ll be passing my copy on.

I think that if you enjoy this type of game, you’ll like Earth Reborn and should give it a shot. I do very much enjoy playing it, and don’t mean to say it is any less than an excellent game. If this is your favorite game, I totally get that, and no one should interpret this review as a harsh criticism. I wrote this because I thought it could be interesting to solidify the reasons why I would divest myself of a game that I really do think is so good.

It comes down to the fact I require different things of different types of games. My Euros need to have interesting mechanisms first and foremost; a good theme is just a bonus. My negotiation and traitor games need to be very rules-light in order to not interfere with the interpersonal interactions that define the game experience. My wargames can have a nice crunchy ruleset as long as it is not riddled with difficult to remember exceptions.

Finally, my action-packed games, like Earth Reborn, need to have a ruleset that provides for interesting decisions without standing in the way of the narrative. I find that the mechanisms that comprise Earth Reborn just don’t gel with the thematic experience. This is really my only knock on the game, but this is enough when I have other similar games that don’t have this problem. So while EB is in most respects a winner, in light of my personal biases, Earth Reborn doesn’t quite reach the Hall of Fame level I am requiring from all my keepers.
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Bryce K. Nielsen
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Earth Reborn » Forums » Reviews
Re: Earth Reborn: a great game, but not quite a perfect shot
I agree with what you've said except for SAGS. That's all pre-game anyways, and even though you'd think it would create random piles of crappy boards, more often than not it creates very interesting boards, even somewhat appropriately pieced together, and will surprise you with the missions that they even develop a nice narrative even though the entire setup was random.

Everything else is so gamey that while I get it, and creates a unique and even fun game, I really wish there was a more "traditional" way of playing with say action points etc. I really don't like the Order Tiles nor the Bidding systems (I'm okay with searching and radio and torture). I prefer to know all my options up front, not just what happens to be on the tiles I drew. Plus, it adds to the whole "the player who knows the game better wins". New players don't know the ratios of 3 and 4 CP actions, won't know when to search discard pile, etc. In Space Hulk or Doom, you know what you can do right away since your actions are set.

Anyways, I still love it but hope for an Action Point mod.

-shnar
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Muziq
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Very well said, I agree with everything you've written.

I was very impressed with the sheer number of possible actions this game throws on you the first few times I played it. When I reached the SAGS "stage" however I realized that the immersion I first felt was just about learning and applying new mechanisms instead of a thematic immersion. Add to that the endless sorting of tiles and the fact that you can only really play with someone who invested as much time in learning the game as you: I sold Earth Reborn and never looked back. A more streamlined experience is indeed the thing you're looking for in thematic games. I gotta check out Doom: The Boardgame!
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Jimmy CHAN
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Totally agree with Damon Asher.
I do have some suggestions while playing ER:
1. Use single side item card; reduce the tedious procedures in searching.
2. Combine the target and combat stages into a single action
3. Dueling is good to interrupt but I don't like too much about using CPs to bid the action.
4. The game can be streamline to a fixed number of action point (forget about the CP tokens); players can use any action based upon the number of CPs in their pool. By then, players can more focus on combat and strategic planning without limiting by their chosen CP tokens. This is similar to a war game which is called "Conflict of Heroes"
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Damon Asher
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Wasabi_Eater wrote:
Very well said, I agree with everything you've written.

I was very impressed with the sheer number of possible actions this game throws on you the first few times I played it. When I reached the SAGS "stage" however I realized that the immersion I first felt was just about learning and applying new mechanisms instead of a thematic immersion. Add to that the endless sorting of tiles and the fact that you can only really play with someone who invested as much time in learning the game as you: I sold Earth Reborn and never looked back. A more streamlined experience is indeed the thing you're looking for in thematic games. I gotta check out Doom: The Boardgame!


My favorite moments in Earth Reborn are when you finally take all your attack dice in hand, roll them, and see how much pain you've unleashed on your target. I think ER heavily borrowed its dice combat system from DOOM, but with DOOM you get to those "blowing up stuff real good" moments with much less hassle and with more frequency. I actually think Descent overwrought this system a bit as well and I'm hoping that the 2nd edition of Descent does some streamlining.
 
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Ian McCarthy
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Great review. I believe that Space Hulk is superior in pretty much every way to Earth Reborn. But, I found Doom to be pretty good, but not up to Space Hulk's or Earth Reborn's par. The too limited ammo and the powerful cards played by the overlord ruin what should be a fun romp, IMO. And each and every monster has the ability to chip too much away from the heroes, frequently hampering the run'n'gun feel of the game, instead turning it into a tactical slog.

I haven't played Duel of Ages, but it's just so aesthetically awful. I can't get past that.
 
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Fitzroy St. Sebastian

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drasher25 wrote:

Search. The searching mechanism is really innovative. It has you manipulating the card deck in ways I have seen no other game do. It certainly does feel like you are methodically looking for something. However, it also feels utterly divorced from the concept of my CHARACTER on the board searching a room. Rather, it feels like I am playing some completely separate minigame with the cards that may reward me with a new piece of bling for my character.


I suppose I'm curious as to this reaction, or rather I just have another one. To me, rolling a dice or just saying "search" or just paying 2CP and drawing a card ... that is something that takes me out of a game. With the search rules, I get the sense of my character really is rummaging through a bunch of stuff, turning over boxes, looking under tables, etc - and not always finding something useful, or that specific thing you need. True, after a few plays it does get a little "gamey" as you say (which, I don't really understand how that can be a bad thing in a game), and as the game gets closer to the end you can anticipate which cards are where (barring what my regular gaming partner and I call a "spite shuffle"), but I see this as another thematic effect - the more you search, the better idea you have of where to look. An abstraction, yeah, but why else are we playing games?

Dug the review, just have a different opinion. (Couldn't stand DOOM for some reason - move, shoot, move, don't shoot? no wait, I'll shoot) All the little "games," to me, feed into each other to produce a one-of-a-kind experience that even I'll admit can be hard to appreciate given their fiddliness. But, for me, that crystallized into an intellectual/aesthetic experience that I really like. I think the problem most people run into with Earth Reborn has is that it seems almost like a tactical RPG - the amount (and scope) of rules leads people to believe this is a simulation (... of zombie-mech fights) capable of running RPG-like scenarios. I don't think that was the intent (and certainly not the result). But for a damn-fine almost-abstract tactical shoot-em-up that asks you to suspend disbelief for a couple of hours... I'm hard-pressed to find a better one.

Again, great review.
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Aubrey Harley

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drasher25 wrote:
I think that if you enjoy this type of game, you’ll like Earth Reborn and should give it a shot. I do very much enjoy playing it, and don’t mean to say it is any less than an excellent game. If this is your favorite game, I totally get that, and no one should interpret this review as a harsh criticism. I wrote this because I thought it could be interesting to solidify the reasons why I would divest myself of a game that I really do think is so good.


I have no clue why you would think someone would say this is their favorite game whistle

I'm really glad you wrote this (thumbed up) even if I disagree with a lot of your points (if only from personal preference). My main disagreement is that most of the mechanics you say that break you away from the theme actually draw me into the game even more. I can rationalize most of the systems going on in Earth Reborn (e.g. order tiles could represent the squad's limitations of being able to think of everything at once, with searching through discards representing valuable time spent to think of tactical options), and some of the mechanics you're citing, especially searching, I feel fit the theme perfectly.

I will agree that S.A.G.S. has very little tie-in with theme, but I always appreciated the ability to generate your own matches instead of replaying the same scenarios over and over--even if it sacrifices some thematic elements.

Another thing is that I'm not sure what I'm looking for in Earth Reborn is the exact same thing you're looking for. I looked for good mechanics when I started playing this game over a strong thematic experience. I was pleased to see a strong theme, but moreso that the theme was built upon some really good gameplay. Whether that gameplay supports the theme is very debatable, as you have shown, but for me E.R. delivered. I kind of view Earth Reborn in the same light that I view Dungeon Twister--a game made by the same designer. That is, these games are kind of hybrid designs where they take some euro elements and some ameritrash elements and blend them into one wholly unique experience. YMMV.

That's not to say this game is for everyone or that everyone will have the same thoughts on the game. No game is above criticism, and one should always be aware of a game's (especially if it's one's favorite game) shortcomings, even if those shortcomings are not applicable to everyone.

In short, from someone who loves the game to no end, I am very happy that there are other views on the game that can help someone decide whether E.R. is for them or not. Thanks again.
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Andrew loses (again)
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I think Earth Reborn is a great game and a really annoying jigsaw puzzle.
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Muziq
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miscalculation wrote:
I think Earth Reborn is a great game and a really annoying jigsaw puzzle.

Yes! So the million dollar question is: do you feel that the gameplay is worth having to cope with that frustrating puzzle in the long run?
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Purple Paladin

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I have got relatively, very few plays of this game. Specifically, never have done SAGS yet.

Yes, the setup is a minor pita, but I always set up before players arrive. That said, those that have played (oblivious to the setup procedure) liked the game a LOT.

But, in my mind, some games are like "parties"; you've got a lot to do before they start, and after they are done, but it's well worth it in the end.

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Jimmy CHAN
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Have you tried to scan those tiles and generated a large scenario map from using computer? After that, print a large map (merging A4 size paper map into a large map) for each scenario in order to save setup time.
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Muziq
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Yes, that would certainly work for the normal tutorial scenarios but you're still stuck with the puzzle for SAGS.
 
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Dennis Gadgaard
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citilogic wrote:
Have you tried to scan those tiles and generated a large scenario map from using computer? After that, print a large map (merging A4 size paper map into a large map) for each scenario in order to save setup time.


Or even just use the scenario editor on the Ludically website. It's really easy to use, and all the tiles have been scanned for you
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Jimmy CHAN
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The map tile images in the website are only for making the map index. The resolution of the tile image is low and the quality is not good for printing as map for playing. The layout is only used for providing index for players to puzzling the real map tile.
 
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Damon Asher
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Played another game of this the other night. I stand by what I wrote above, but I do need to say that the mishmash of minigames that make up the ER system are very good at providing opportunities for creative play. You've got a lot of freedom if you're willing to work the system, and that is truly admirable. I may be rethinking my shelf-worthy status

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Neal F
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Quote:
Interrupts. Another mini-game, this time a blind bid. You wager some of your precious command points in order to react to your opponent. I may need to spend all my command points in the bid to try to take a critical shot. Again, a fine mechanism. But why do all my other characters become unable to act because one took an opportunity shot?


If you think about CP's more as "time points" then the whole system makes a lot more sense from a thematic perspective. Using all of your CP's to interrupt and take a critical shot at an opponent represents your character telling central command the situation, getting orders back, assessing the enemy position, taking him unaware, etc. All of this takes more time than simply walking from point A to point B for 1 CP. Your other characters have less time communicating with command (ie less command points in your pool), so they sit around waiting for orders.
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Dennis Gadgaard
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naf313 wrote:
Quote:
Interrupts. Another mini-game, this time a blind bid. You wager some of your precious command points in order to react to your opponent. I may need to spend all my command points in the bid to try to take a critical shot. Again, a fine mechanism. But why do all my other characters become unable to act because one took an opportunity shot?


If you think about CP's more as "time points" then the whole system makes a lot more sense from a thematic perspective. Using all of your CP's to interrupt and take a critical shot at an opponent represents your character telling central command the situation, getting orders back, assessing the enemy position, taking him unaware, etc. All of this takes more time than simply walking from point A to point B for 1 CP. Your other characters have less time communicating with command (ie less command points in your pool), so they sit around waiting for orders.


Thematically, I think CP represents time, and the order tokens represents that you, the player, is directing your team from a remote bunker or something. I then makes sense that you can scramble the radio to mess up the orders and even that you don't always get what you wanted the most. It has been argued that the salemites would thematically have to slap a radio on the zombies when they revive one, but hey, I can accept that leap.
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Kurt R
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An interesting thread. I'm currently up to scenario 7 and should get to SAGS next month (May). I'm keeping an open mind about things but right now I'm in a bit of a honeymoon period with the game where I'm enjoying everything. This very well may change. I will say that I'm learning to go with the flow of not getting the tiles I need and make due with what I have. Odds are that my opponent doesn't have what she needs either.

I find this reaction surprising b/c I'm very much a person who doesn't like to have is action points messed with but wants the freedom to enact my own plans. I'm generally predisposed against CDGs, for example, and only recently come to appreciate the constraints of Twilight Struggle. I've said a few places on BGG (so forgive me for repeating) that I wonder what the reaction to the game would be if it were a CDG instead of a TDG (tile driven game). People love cards and CDGs.

This sentiment doesn't resonate with me at this point:

Quote:
Earth Reborn feels to me like a game where the theme should be a big deal, but ultimately, all the every clever mechanisms don’t gel into something that enhances that experience. Rather, they constantly make me see the wires and yearn for a more transparent game framework.

Quite the opposite, I find that the tiles create a "fog of actions", the interrupts allow for surprises and ways to drain your opponent of CPs (I love bidding 0), and the radio scramblers sure bring a lot of tension (I'm still not sure if this is too much interference though). All these elements amp up the tension in a way that the cards in Twilight Struggle do. Then being able to pull off a move you've planned is so extremely satisfying.

But as I haven't even played SAGS yet, I reserve the right to come back to this thread in a month with a different opinion.
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E M
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drasher25 wrote:


But the restrictions on actions imposed by the tile system don’t seem to sync up well to the action on the board. I have a hard time rationalizing “Now, why can’t I shoot?” Sometimes my opponent will play the Run 4 tile I need, so I’ll spend 2 CP to grab it from the discard, then I can Run 4 my next turn. Okay, I get all that as a well-designed game mechanism, but what the hell just happened within the game world?


Your post is well-reasoned, and I'm not posting this to argue, I just wanted to post what Chris Boelinger wrote about this here:
http://earthreborn.ludically.com/game-design

Quote:
to my POV (Point Of View) each player is partly playing the command centre distributing orders from their remote HQ or vehicle, and partly playing the leader characters in the team he is controlling.


Quote:

The constraints:
not having always the right tiles was simulating the fact that either sometimes you couldn’t hear quite well orders, or the HQ was not really aware of all the elements of the situation and they are having a hard time selecting the right orders.


paying 2 CP to go search for a specific tile in the discard pile.
The more CPs you spend on an action the more time you are spending on this action, or the more you are concentrating on this action. This principle is valid for most of the game mechanics in Earth Reborn. So paying 2 CP to go search for a specific order tile simulates the fact that you are spending time giving HQ all the proper and detailed information on the actual situation, on the field, and you are trying to convince them that the decisions and actions to take should be these ones and not others.



But I understand that you would, thematically, rather play with direct control over the characters, so this doesn't really change anything for you. Maybe you could try one of the AP variants in that forum.
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Chris Salvato
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enzo622 wrote:
the interrupts allow for surprises and ways to drain your opponent of CPs (I love bidding 0)


I just saw this and wanted to make sure you were aware that the Interrupting (non-acting) player MUST bid at least 1 CP:

ER Rulebook, page 15, "Fighting the Duel" sidebar:
"The player who asked for the duel MUST bet a minimum of 1 CP."

Thus, you cannot ask for a duel simply to drain the opponent of CP without also draining yourself; in fact, Dueling, IMHO, is not something to be entered into lightly.
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Kurt R
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shidara wrote:
enzo622 wrote:
the interrupts allow for surprises and ways to drain your opponent of CPs (I love bidding 0)


I just saw this and wanted to make sure you were aware that the Interrupting (non-acting) player MUST bid at least 1 CP:

ER Rulebook, page 15, "Fighting the Duel" sidebar:
"The player who asked for the duel MUST bet a minimum of 1 CP."

Thus, you cannot ask for a duel simply to drain the opponent of CP without also draining yourself; in fact, Dueling, IMHO, is not something to be entered into lightly.

Thanks, Chris! We subsequently did realize that. Now at least when my opponent interrupts, sometimes I bid a few and sometimes I bid 0. I love when she bids 4 to my 0 and curses.
 
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Excellent Review Damon.

I too share your need for a game of this nature to help me feel the experience and when mechanics take you out of the action that is a bad thing.

But your review has said enough for me to warrant getting the game so I can experience it for myself. Thanks for that.
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Damon Asher
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There's no doubt this is a great game, and I've decided to keep it after all. Its greatest asset in my mind is that the complexity allows for some very creative play, and that earns it a place on the shelf. You can pull all the game's little "knobs and levers" to get the characters on the board to do some interesting things. I still find all the various "mini-game" mechanisms a little jarring, but now that I've accepted that I can enjoy the game for what it is, and what it can do.
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