Notes From the Trunk

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Session Report: Alien Frontiers: Factions

John Moller
United States
Wyoming
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After waiting a short time (in Kickstarter terms) I received my copy of Alien Frontiers: Factions, Alien Frontiers Upgrade Pack, and Alien Frontiers: Factions Pack #1. I finally got a chance to break into it all last night and had two rousing two player games with my girlfriend.

It’s important to note that I love Alien Frontiers. It’s a game I’ve taught many people and one of my most often played games (with Lord of the Rings, Carcassonne, Blink!, and Patrician.) When I play Alien Frontiers I have the uncanny (maybe?) ability to use the Colony Constructor an abnormally high amount of times and very often consecutively. I don’t always win, but if I have to put a colony on Planet Maxwell by some other means, I’m usually not having a good day. All of that is important.

My girlfriend is relatively new to Alien Frontiers (a half dozen plays maybe.) This is her second most played game that I own.

Our first game was fairly solid. I was really happy with what Factions was bringing to the table. Truth, I never docked a ship at the Uranian Syndicate, but I was able to use the benefit a few times to increase my abilities. Being so reliant on the Colony Constructor as I am, the Uranian Syndicate allowed me to keep hold of the Bradbury Plateau’s effect even when I didn’t have control of the Plateau because Katherine was trying to block me.

She used the Scavenger Fleet to great effect, getting and using ships easier. This is key in a two player game.

Agendas worked out fairly awesome (at least for me.) Since I was colonizing heavily, I relied on the end game conditions which triggered by having certain regions. I easily kept and held those regions throughout the game. She had some tough in game conditions and only made one of her end game agendas. I pulled away with the win on this game.

That game holds my new record of 7 consecutive Colony Constructor turns.

She wanted a rematch and there was time, so we went for a second game. I decided not to use my Colony Constructor strategy and chose the Proxima Centauri Scholars. My group tends to use the Field Generators very little to never, so I thought I’d give a game a whirl where I forced myself to use them. One of my Agendas relied on Field Generators, so I figured, why not.

Katherine went for the Homesteader’s Union. This adapted her strategy and she simply concentrated on the Colonist Hub. She had that combo singing. I’ve drawn a blank on the name of the region that benefits the Colonist Hub, but she acquired that fairly early and I let her keep it.

My dice rolls had become too good, achieving natural triples on three consecutive turns. I had abandoned the Field Generators in favor of the Colony Constructor. Fate really pushed me there. Five consecutive Colony Contructors in, I hit a bad patch and couldn’t use it for a turn. I didn’t have all my support cards for that strategy (only one and I had taken that as part of one of my agendas,) so I was only a little heartbroken. A turn later and I was back at it. Two more consecutive Colony Constructor turns, and then I paused.

Katherine was three colonies behind me at that point. We had a tight enough score that I wanted to be prepared. Finishing some Agendas made sense. So I concentrated on them for a few turns. I completed 2, and decided I couldn’t complete my third, so I had intended to return to Colony Constructing or even Terraforming on my next turn to end the game. Sadly, I didn’t get that turn. Katherine pulled a two colony turn (the third colony was placed on the previous turn.) Ending the game before I could take another turn. She also completed two of her Agendas. She won with a three point victory.

I was very proud of her.

We’ll be playing Alien Frontiers with Factions again soon. I’ll do a proper review at that point!

Alien Frontiers was designed by Tory Niemann and is published by Clever Mojo Games.
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Tue Jul 31, 2012 4:25 pm
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The Impossible Machine

John Moller
United States
Wyoming
DE
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Recently I had the opportunity to play a fairly new game called The Impossible Machine. I’ve looked at this card game before, but I’ve skipped trying it for reasons that…well, it was never really just trying it. Mostly the consideration has always been to buy it. I tend to not want to buy games before playing them anymore. Call me old fashioned. …so, Until I had a chance to play it I was not going to buy it.

Good news for the publisher Glow Fly Games and the Brothers Knudson who designed the game, now that I’ve played it I’ll be picking it up. Both my girlfriend and I, as well as the store clerk who experienced the game with us for the first time, enjoyed the game.

I have only a passing understanding of who Rube Goldberg really was. I’ve seen plenty of cartoon and media references to his work. We’ve all seen the game Mousetrap. If you’ve ever come across an incomprehensible mesh of parts and labor that performs the most simplistic (or strangely mundane) task with the maximum force and in the most round-about way, then you are most likely familiar with Rube Goldberg’s work too. Now, you get to recreate it in convenient card game form. Ain’t that just swell?

Everyone gets their own deck of parts. Presumably everyone’s deck is the same, they’re just shuffled so the parts will come up randomly. This is an important aspect for me. Once you are familiar with the deck make-up, the level of knowledge involved ins right up my ally. I’d almost go on to say that there’s a level of deck manipulation to the game, but that thought and gambit come at substantial risk.

Each turn you play up to three cards. You’re adding parts to a communal machine. They can add to the front, back or inserted between two existing parts as long as the inputs and outputs match. Some cards split the path of the machine, allowing more choices and possibilities. The more parts of your color you can get into the machine, the better off you are.

Once a player places a Catalyst, however, the game is on. The machine will spring to life and in a matter of turns all the bowling balls, springs, boots on fishing wire and shocked squirrels will flip (three rows per turn) and complete the machine’s task (whatever that is.)

When three machines are completed the game is over, you count up the scores (used parts are 1 point and catalysts are worth 2.) The player with the highest score wins.

There are cards which allow you to erase other cards, and that’s a great way to get your part into the machine where someone else’s is. Remember, you both have the same cards in your deck. An erased (eradicated) card is removed from the game entirely.

You don’t discard to a discard pile, you add them to the bottom of your draw deck. It’s not unheard of in a game, but it’s rare to do it that way. It’s cool though. I like it. Again, it’s part of that knowledge thing, if you can cycle through enough cards you can see your entire deck by the end of the game. We almost did in the game we played.

Once we got the hang of it, The Impossible Machine moved quickly. We had a good deal of fun with it. It’s not meaty or deep, but it’s a cute little filler game. Easily teachable, understandable and light enough to work with most groups and many age ranges.

In the end our scores were pretty close, I think it was 8 points between the lowest score and the highest score. That’s pretty good for three gamers with diverse levels of gaming experience. The great news is that it wasn’t completely based on luck. Yes, there is luck. You’re dealing with shuffled decks so you can end up with a hand of cards that aren’t all that useful for you. The great news is there are rarely turns where you can do absolutely nothing. The game doesn’t rely on card text, but a series of symbols, you’ll almost always be able to find something to do, and if not your next turn might be stronger because of it. You have the same probability of having a bad hand in this game as your opponents and we saw that. The trick is using it to your advantage.

Is the game interactive? Well, you may not get to interact when it’s not your turn, but your cards will definitely interact with your opponents. It’s inevitable and it’s the meat of the game. You’re building something gloriously awkward together. You may be scoring individually, but make no mistake, you are building the machine as unit. That’s a driving force, let it build, because small machines will be your downfall, but don’t make it so large your opponents will get too many chances to eradicate your cards or you match you on points. It’s all in the timing.

Falling lunchboxes aside, The Impossible Machine is a neat little game that I’m glad I finally had a chance to play.
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Fri Apr 6, 2012 1:42 pm
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Review: Oz Fluxx

John Moller
United States
Wyoming
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I was granted an opportunity to reviewOz Fluxx, the new release by Looney Labs Games. My friends all wondered why I would want to do such a thing. It seems the pervasive attitude among my group is that we’ve grown out of Fluxx ”the card game with ever changing rules.”

I don’t believe that. While I have become a more serious gamer, there is still room on my table for Fluxx. It sees play with a lot less frequency than it used too, but it still hits the table every few months and remains a great starter with new groups.

Add that in with my recent experience with Seven Dragons, a continued love for Chrononauts, and a soft spot for the brilliant Nano-Fictionary… Fluxx and Looney Labs are still a big part of my gaming vernacular. They’re one of the companies that really started me along the journey I follow now. Think of them as home and this as an opportunity to return home.

Oz Fluxx is the ninth member in the Fluxx Family. This game promises to ”elegantly mingle the characters, plot and locations from L. Frank Baum’s book into the fast and unpredictable game play of Fluxx."

What does that mean? The actions, Keepers, Goals and New Rules have all been adapted and given new art that reflects themes, items and situations found in the world of the Wizard of Oz. New art by Michael Hays adorns the cards…but little else is changed. It should have everything you’ve come to expect from a Fluxx game with an Emerald City touch.

Having said that, my copy of Fluxx is from the 1999 printing, version 2.1, so Oz Fluxx adds a few things that I hadn’t really seen before.

Not entirely new to my group, since we’ve had a brief and recurring relationship with Monty Python Fluxx over the last few years, are Creepers. Creepers are kind of like Keepers (hence the rhyming name,) except you don’t want them in front of you. They complicate the process of winning because you can’t win if you have them (unless a goal requires them such as “I’m Melting” which needs the Wicked Witch of the West.) I’ve never been a fan of Creepers and I’m still not. They tend to be hard to get rid of making the game go longer.


Oz Fluxx also gave us Surprises. These were entirely new to me (though not new to the world of Fluxx.) Going through the development process on my own designs, I can hear the conversation behind their inclusion: “People are complaining that there’s nothing they can do when it’s not their turn. They don’t think the game is interactive enough. They want a way to surprise their opponent.” “Well, let’s give them cards called Surprises and maybe that will help.”

Surprises are cards you can either play out of turn for one effect or play on your turn for a different effect. These were cute, but given the nature of how Fluxx plays, you are very often drawing more cards than you can play and not allowed to keep most of them. Surprises tended to be sacrifice cards more often than not. General action cards still seemed better to most players. I can see that changing with more plays. So Surprises get a passing grade from me.

We played a few games of Oz Fluxx the other night. They were generally longer than I wanted them to be. The creepers factored in every game, the player without a creeper was always the winner.

I started noticing a preponderance of Goal cards. Counting the deck later I found that there were more goals than any other major card type, by 13, 11, and 9. This perplexed me, but suddenly made sense of things I and other players were feeling during the game. Again, I have a copy form 1999 which has a much greater parity. I have noted this is a change with newer versions of the basic game.

Overall our feelings on Fluxx didn’t change much after the game. I enjoyed the new art and it gave those of us who have read the original books a chance to talk about them with people who didn’t understand why the Ruby slippers were Silver or who Ozma was. As a fan of the books this was a great moment for me, though I wish the game had gone a littler further in incorporating more. Still, mentions of things like the Golden Cap and the Green Spectacles made it all worth it for me.

Fluxx remains unpredictable, fast paced, and a wild emotional ride with laughter. The Oz theme should allow the game to reach a new level of fans.

If you like Fluxx and/or you like the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, then Oz Fluxx is great for your collection.
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Mon Mar 26, 2012 6:12 pm
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Snap Judgments: A Review of Martian Dice After 1 Play

John Moller
United States
Wyoming
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Last night I had the opportunity to try Martian Dice for the first time. It won’t be the last.

Martian Dice is a fun little “push your luck” dice game was designed by Scott Almes and is published by Tasty Minstrel Games.

I was looking for quick and easy stuff to learn and teach. I chose Martian Dice because I’d seen it but hadn’t played it. I wasn’t in the mood for strategy. I wanted something with lots of luck, something I had a better than even chance of losing.

We borrowed the game from the library of our FLGS and sat down to play. Our two player game became four players fairly quickly, all of us learning the game. The rules were pretty easy to read and grasp. I had only one issue and when I read the turn summary, they were cleared up. One read of the rules and we were ready to start abducting humans, cows and chickens. Doesn’t get much better than that.

There are five sides to each dice. Two of them Death Rays, and the other four sides are Humans, Cows, Chickens, and Tanks. You roll all 13 dice, set some aside to score, and then re-roll the remaining the dice. Repeat this process until you can’t set any more aside.

Tanks are ALWAYS set aside. Tanks are bad. You don’t want Tanks. Avoid them. If you roll a Tank, you don’t get to roll that dice again. I cannot tell you enough that you must keep control of your Tank “tank.”

You “combat” Tanks with Death Rays. You want to have as many or more Death Rays than you have Tanks or you’re not going to score. You see, the concept is that the Death Rays combat the Tanks. As long as your “Martian Military” outnumbers the Tanks, you get to abduct Cows, Humans and Chickens. That’s how you score.

So… Alright, you’ve rolled all 13 dice and removed your Tanks. You now make a choice based on the remaining dice. You get to set aside all of one type. You can always set aside Death Rays, and they combine with earlier saved Death Rays for your Death Ray total. You can only set aside Cows, Humans, and Chickens if you haven’t already set any of those aside this turn, they are not cumulative.

When you can’t save any of the rolled dice, you end your turn and score. 1 point is scored for each Cow, Human, or Chicken you have. If you have one of all three you get a bonus of 3 points.

The winner is the first player to 25 points.

That was me last night. I won. I won the game in three turns. It was…well, cosmic. My three opponents kept playing and it took them all 9 turns to get 25 points. All of them had several turns with 0 points (that’s when your Tanks out number your Death Rays.) I had such great luck in my three turns that I never scored less than 8 points.

My opponents ended the game within one turn of each other, we played till all players hit 25 cause we were having a good time. I bowed out after my win, only grabbing the cup once or twice as it passed me just for a fun roll. My lucky streak continued in my fun rolls.

The real fun came in egging on my opponents, encouraging them to make those last ditch rolls for that one point (nothing like rolling 6 Tanks, 6 Death Rays, and then sitting there with one die thinking “do I go for that one point?” Yes. Of course!

We had a lot of laughs, and not all of them were based on my opponent’s misfortune. The game played relatively fast. It’s luck based so…it can stretch a while if people are unlucky (or end quickly, like it should have last night.) It’s a dice game. That’s expected.

This one gets my approval. It’s a cute theme, fun to play, with great components and rules. The game comes with 13 identical dice in convenient sturdy cardboard cup. The art on the dice is fun, clear and thematic. The price is reasonable for the product. If you’re group is good with dice rolling fun, then you really can’t go wrong with this one. It’s on my list.

This post and other reviews like it can be found at http://www.cartrunk.net
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Wed Mar 21, 2012 3:30 pm
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Review: The Road To Canterbury

John Moller
United States
Wyoming
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From my house, the road to Canterbury is very short. It’s about two miles and I’ve driven it very frequently. It’s rather bumpy and…wait…wait. I’d rather talk about the game The Road to Canterbury than the actual road to Canterbury (which is officially in England, I think.)

I admit that I fell asleep through most of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Like most of the things I was supposed to read in high school, I didn’t really bother. You don’t need to know the source material, the concept behind the game is easy enough grasp without it.

You are a Pardoner traveling with a company of pilgrims to Canterbury. Along the way you will lead them into temptation by forcing them to sin and deliver them from evil by selling them false pardons.

Game play is fairly simple. Boiled to it’s essence Road to Canterbury is a Play 1/Draw 1 game. What you’re playing is one of three types of cards: Sins, Pardons, and Relics.

Playing a sin on a Pilgrim moves them one step closer to death (a total of seven sin cards will kill a pilgrim) and gains you more traction on the wheel of sin.

Pardoning sins will gain you gold and give you greater dominance over the soul of the misguided pilgrim.

Each action serves it’s purpose and is instrumental within the game.

Gain bonuses along the way with cleverly named relics that are generally false and home-made. Did Saint Jonah really have a snorkel? Was there even a saint Jonah*?

When a pilgrim dies, the player who played the final sin upon them gains a Last Rites token (grants the player an extra turn at a time of their choosing) and the player with dominance over that pilgrim’s soul earns the spot along the road (which translates to gold at the end of the game.)

I’ve played the game a handful of times now and I’ve become a big fan of it. I liked it after the first play, but subsequent plays have deepened the game in my opinion and make me really happy to make the trip again.

The main point of interest for me is the card drawing. The game utilizes a system of open drawing. Well, at least the sins and pardons are drawn openly. Past the opening hand you will know what sins and pardons your opponents have drawn. This is key in the game for me. It adds a lot of tension when a card comes up that you know you want…and you’re hoping that the other players don’t take it first. I watched a greed come up right when I needed it in a recent game and by sheer luck it was still there on my turn. That potentially told me two things, the player who I thought also needed greed didn’t need greed and/or they really weren’t going after what I was going after.

What was I going after? Well, I hate to lift the lid off my strategy, but since it’s worked out for me in every game so far, I tempt sin a lot very early. I head for completing the Wheel of Sin first. That twenty gold is a real bonus. I had one opponent claim that the Ten points from taking the final spot on the road to Canterbury was important, but with 30 points between our scores, I kinda think it was that 20 point bump from the first seven sins that gave me my comfortable lead. It’s after I’ve tempted enough sin that I start to pardon. This means I lose out on early spots along the road, but they’re rather small compared to the 20 gold I’ve just taken.

Yes, a 16 point pardon isn’t bad. Until my most recent game they had been rare. We must be getting better as a unit because I there were several 16 point pardons in this last game. I’ll attribute that to the preponderance of Death cards and our growing ability to use the sins on the pilgrims to our advantage. We’re playing better and having better results.

Let me take a minute because I think I keep switching back and forth, in the game gold and points are the same thing. Points are measured in gold. I have used both thus far and I wanted to clear confusion. I’m lazy (Idleness is a sin,) and it’s easier for me to write this note than it is to go back and switch the words.

I love the simplicity of most of the cards. The sins and pardons are direct and do what they do without a lot of pussyfooting around. They have a distinct purpose, the game is not in what you play but how and when you play it. This is something I really appreciate. It’s not three decks of text based cards, it’s two decks of purpose based cards…and a small deck of text based cards. I can hear someone along the way in development (before there were Relics cards) saying “But, I want to do something to hurt my opponent and surprise them with a special move that just ruins their strategy.”… That’s probably how the Relics cards came about.

I like the Relics cards and I use them, but they’re a side path and sometimes feel separate from the rest of the game. I’m taking a Relic card at the expense of drawing a sin or pardon. I’ll grant you that in a hand of five cards since I can only play 1 a turn, having 1 Relic card doesn’t hurt… so maybe it’s not a sacrifice to take one. Purely for experimentation one time, I may ask that we play the game without them.

That will be a few more plays down the road. Right now I’m pretty content with the game the way it is. It feels great, plays quick when you know what you’re doing, has a good level of passive interactivity and an awesome level of knowledge. This game really appeals to me. I’m glad there’s a copy in my game group.

The Road to Canterbury was designed by Alf Seegert and is published by Gryphon Games.

*There was.
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Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:36 pm
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Snap Judgments: A Review of 7 Wonders After 1 Play

John Moller
United States
Wyoming
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I had an opportunity to play a quick game of 7 Wonders recently. I’ve wanted to play that one for a while,but my opportunities to do so have been minimal. I almost bought the game several months ago, but decided to buy Infinite City instead(a decision I regret.)

In 7 Wonders you’re building one of the 7 Wonders of the ancient world…basically. In actuality you are charged with building an entire civilization and you’re doing it one card at a time. Sounds like it could take a long time, but it doesn’t.

The game is played in three stages and each stage starts out with every player getting a hand of cards. Players choose one of those cards to use and then pass the rest of their “hand” to another player, passing alternates right to left with each stage. It's card drafting and it's a neat mechanic.

Using a card can be playing it as building, adding it to your resource production, using it to build your wonder, or discarding it for cash. All are viable alternatives and you’ll find yourself doing all three by the end of the game.

You need to generate resources to build your buildings and your wonder. You can buy resources from the players to your left or right. In a four player game I had no access to the materials or military quibble with the player across from me. I was only concerned with the players on my direct right or left, which was nice.

Your buildings will do a variety of things for you, all of which are simple and uncomplicated. The more you own, the easier it is to build things and the more points you’ll have at the end game. Most buildings come with a resource cost that you have to pay, some buildings make it much easier to play other buildings.

Building your Wonder is fairly simple as well, each stage of your Wonder has a small cost associated with it plus one card. My first stage cost me two stone and I had to spend a turn and burn a card to erect it. That gave me points for the end game and allowed me to build the second stage which was much more powerful.

The trick with the game is the escalation. Things are very easy to build in the first stage and they get increasingly more difficult to build in the second and third stages. I mean, they get more difficult to build on face value. We’ve already talked about how some cards make building cards easier. The trick is to plan ahead, though. We sat in the last round and not one of us had built a textile production card, so we ended up with several cards in the third stage that just weren’t going to be able to be played.

You really have to pay attention to what your buddies on either side are playing early on as well, to make sure you have access to things, even if you’ll have to pay for them.

One of my favorite things in the game was the ability to deny an opponent something. One player was building quite an army, so I started denying him the military cards. It didn’t help in the long run, but it was another layer of strategy I chose to employ.

In the end the game was won by the player who was teaching the game, no problem with that. I don’t know if I came in third or fourth. By the time the game ended I had figured it out and was feeling really comfortable with it, though I was noticing all the things I wish I had done differently early on. It’s a game that’s going to get better with subsequent plays. There’s randomness in the deck shuffle and construction which makes the game different each time, but it’s the choices of the players that really make it soar.

I’m a fan of 7 Wonders. It’s quick to play and not too complex, but still deep enough to be fulfilling. It’s definitely on my buy list.

7 Wonders was designed by Antoine Bauza and is published by Asmodee
games.

UPDATE: Since this review was initially posted on my website http://www.cartrunk.net, I have played the game two more times and now own it.
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Thu Mar 1, 2012 11:48 am
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Cauldron Bubble: A Review of Alchemist

John Moller
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Wyoming
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I recently played and then purchased a copy of a game calledAlchemist (game designed by Carlo A. Rossiand published by Mayfair Games.) I’d been thinking about it for a while, since I had seen someone play it at Origins and then my local store had a used copy on sale.

Most reviews I had read said that Alchemist was an okay game with an interesting mechanic, but that it was not very interactive and not fun. That it was a mental exercise at best. This made me a little cautious about it. Was my play group going to enjoy it? The answer to that question is yes.

I found Alchemist to be just a touch more mentally challenging than Ticket To Ride, but a lot more complex. I feel really comfortable drawing that comparison, but I really can’t figure out why. They’re both solitary games with low chatter… but in Alchemist you require more from your opponent. They both rely heavily on knowing what you need to do, and making sure your opponent doesn’t do it first…but Alchemist gives you the extra mental task of needing to pay attention to what your opponent places, chooses, and chucks.

This is where it gets interesting. The head-game involved in Alchemist is absolutely amazing to me. There’s a large learning curve, but I’ve seen a new player find and abuse a brilliant strategy on their first play, so let’s say it’s not that difficult a code to crack.

You are given a secret ingredient and your job is to make sure that everyone uses more of that ingredient than any other. You use these ingredients by creating potions and copying potions. You need to create potions that other players can build that use your ingredient and you should also create potions that other player’s can create that make that ingredient. However, in all of that, don’t make it too easy for them to figure out what your ingredient is!

You also need to copy potions that other player’s create to score points, earn more ingredients to make potions your opponents have created, and “use” some ingredients (by removing them from the game.) It is imperative that you pay attention not only to what other people play and “use” but what they’re not playing! It is so very important to make sure you give people the opportunity to make and to earn your ingredient. You must make your potions easy enough to build, but complex enough to hide your ingredient…and give them a point value that makes them an appealing build…but also doesn’t let the other players run away with the score.

Yes, there’s a score and a scoring track (perhaps one of the reasons I can easily equate this game to Ticket To Ride and many other games.) Yes, you do need to pay attention to it, because that is how you win or lose. The ingredients are important, and making your ingredient the most used ingredient will net you many points, but if you haven’t gotten a lot of points throughout the game you may not win. Points are secondary…but also not.

Alchemist is a game with several interconnected levels. It’s complicated on the surface but highly learn-able. The game asks that you pay attention in great detail to every move to figure out the secrets of your opponents (kinda like Clue!) Alchemist may not be the most talkative game and it doesn’t have a high laugh factor,but I found an appealing level of depth and passive interactivity. I love the head-game and Alchemist delivers on that score!

This review and others can be found at http://www.cartrunk.net
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Wed Feb 29, 2012 2:58 pm
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Snap Judgments: A Review of Eminent Domain After 1 Play.

John Moller
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Wyoming
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During a recent board game night at my FLGS, I finally had the opportunity to play Eminent Domain, designed by Seth Jaffee and published by Tasty Minstrel Games.

The story is that I’ve owned this since Christmas and I just haven’t had the chance to get down to playing it. It sits close to the top of my pile of games waiting to be played. …but remains un-played.

What you need to know is that it’s going to hit the table again soon. I really liked it.

Eminent Domain is a deck building game. Groan if you want. I start to do that when I hear those three words together. What sets it apart for me is the high level of interaction. The leader/follower/dissent mechanic is really awesome to me. I won’t say I used it to my best strategic advantage, as I could have paid a little closer attention to what my opponent had when I chose to take some actions to better my position. My excuse there is that I was learning.

I’m a little slower on the uptake with rules than I’d like to admit, and perhaps because that mechanic was really very new to me, I had a hard time grasping it at first, but once I got it… Well, it really was a game changer. I stopped thinking of my hand as “1 action and 1 role,” but “1 role, 1 action, and 1 role.” It opened up a lot of possibilities.

If you’re sitting there lost right now, it’s because I haven’t more fully explained the game. I’m just really excited about that concept.

Basically, Eminent Domain is a space exploration game. You’re going to gain victory points throughout the game on cards or tokens by settling new planets, researching new technology, producing and trading goods.

Each turn you may begin with an action. You don’t have too, but it helps. Your action is something that you get the benefit of, no one else gets to take your action with you.

After your action, you’re going to choose one of the set role cards and add it to your deck. Each role card has three possible abilities on it: one for action, one for role, and one for leader. When it’s your turn you are the leader. Whatever role you take you can use either the role ability or the leader ability (or the leader ability augments the role ability.) Your opponents are followers on your turn. So, if they happen to have any of those role cards in their hands, they may play them for the role ability only.

This is what I felt was awesome. When my opponent would colonize, if I was lucky enough to have colonize cards in my hand, I could use them to colonize a planet. This way, when my turn came around, I could use one colonize card as my action card to settle the planet gaining a new planet in time for my role phase. Sometimes it worked out perfectly. …Just don’t bank on it.

Another option I loved doing was keeping myself prepared with production goods, so that when my opponent traded, I could also trade, leaving valuable role and action choices available to me on my turn.

It’s a trick of using your opponent’s strategy to your advantage. The balance is that if you’re both doing the same things (taking the same roles turn after turn) the game is going to end faster. This is why I started to use Warfare a little later in the game.

That was one of my problems when I was playing, Warfare seemed less powerful than colonize. I was feeling “why would someone go military?”…I started to see the benefits of that later in the game. It started to click…but it was too late. I'm looking forward to exploring Warfare in future games.

Along the way, you gain points for your planets you control and the goods you have produced and traded. If you choose to research alien technologies many of them will give you points as well.

Planets have many benefits. They can boost your role card choices, which is nice. A planet with a Survey Icon lets you survey one more planet when you survey and so on. Different planets allow you access to different technology cards and offer you the ability to produce different goods. Right now there is no difference between one good or another, I can see that changing in the future.

There’s a lot to this game. I haven’t even explained everything that I know about the game and I knot there’s stuff I don’t know yet! I’m okay with this. I really want you to discover this one on your own. It’s a great little game. It plays quick and smooth. Nothing felt wasteful, every card had a purpose and I think I used all of them at least once for each of their abilities. No…I didn’t attack. I did amass an armada, but ended up trading them for points… Anyway, Eminent Domain is a great game and I can’t wait to play it again.
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Tue Feb 28, 2012 12:34 pm
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Don't Decline the Invitiation: A Review of Small World

John Moller
United States
Wyoming
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The fantasy flavor and slightly comical/kidsy art on the box for Small World have kept me away from the game for a long time. I like the Days Of Wonder aesthetic, mostly. I’ve enjoyed the tone of Ticket To Ride, Cargo Noir, and Mystery at the Abbey. I approve of Memoir ’44 though it’s not for me. Small World has just put me off every time.

I weakened a little last week, I actually played it. The lesson I’ve tried to teach people most of my life is true. Every now and again you need to be reminded that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover (or a game by it’s box.) Small World is good and it’s now on my list to acquire at some point in the future…

I can only give you the briefest of overviews, but I hope this helps and is at least moderately correct.

You are given an opportunity to choose a race and a special ability. These come as a set and the sets are different in every game. You can choose 1 of six different sets, but you’ll have to pay a price for some of them. They are placed in a random order from 1 to six. If you take the first one it’s free. The second one will cost you one dollar, the third will cost two dollars, and so on.

Once you have a race and special ability you get the tokens for the race, a number equal to the sum of the special ability and the race. This number is going to be between 8 and 11 mostly. Though it can swing.

On your turn, you take your race tokens and starting on the edges of the board, expand inward claiming open lands and attacking occupied lands. When you run out of people’s to play, you can alter the amount of people within each land, and then gain points for the lands you control.

Your next turn allows you to redeploy your peoples if you want, for further expansion and more points…or you can put your race in decline and choose a new race.

Putting your race in decline is a really interesting concept, and during my recent game, I didn’t make use of it nearly enough. I was actually trying to get through the whole game with one race, I didn’t want to lose a turn. Sadly, what I didn’t realize that even if my race was in decline, I still go points. Otherwise I would have done it sooner. The thing is, as time goes on you’re feeling a crunch of diminishing returns, and THIS is why it’s called SMALL WORLD. It’s a world to small to contain all the races. They have to decline in order for you to succeed!

Once I did decline my race, my point totals ran back up to where they were a few turns ago. I felt awful, but it was a great experience. The thing about declining a race is that it is no longer active. You can’t expand with it. They tokens get flipped over, you lose the power…but you can get another race and power (and maybe leverage your declining race!) You can only ever have 1 active race, so keep that in mind.

Small World is an area control game, to be sure, but it’s cute, clever and quick. There is interaction, but it’s more the interaction of preparing and discouraging. There wasn’t any real “attacking” going on. You were either ready for an attack so it would never come or….you were going to lose the attack. No biggie.

One of the things about the game I appreciated the most was the fact that it’s a finite game. There is a set number of turns that you play towards. You see the end coming. As you know, I like being able to work towards a deadline. It’s helpful…or at least better for me than working towards and achievement.

I had a lot of fun playing this game and I was really digging the potential for nuance. I was really happy with Small World, you probably will be too. It may not have been a world of laughter or tears, but it’s a world that made we want to visit again, that’s no small feat given how much I really didn’t want to go there in the first place.

Small World was designed by Phillipe Keyaerts and is published by Days of Wonder.
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Wed Feb 15, 2012 12:13 pm
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Review: Discworld: Ankh-Morpork

John Moller
United States
Wyoming
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I took a trip to Discworld over the Superbowl weekend, to Ankh-Morpork specifically. Fortune did not favor me, but I had a nice time. Great place to visit (but I wouldn’t want to live there.)

This game from Martin Wallace, one of my favorite designers, feels pretty standard on the surface. You’ve got a hand of cards, you play one and then draw back up. Cards “text” allows certain things to happen and manipulate pawns around a board. …and then at some point somebody wins.

That last part is the most important part of the game. This is a game about winning. It’s not a game about playing.

There are 7 role cards with 5 different win conditions (one win condition is repeated over 3 separate roles.) Each player is given one role secretly and the others are placed off to the side unseen. Then everyone plays the game until someone achieves their win condition. Each player only has one way to win the game, but must keep in mind all the other ways to win the game or they will lose.

Discworld is a game that forces you to play your opponents. It gives you a goal that you want to achieve on your own, but saddles you with the unique burden of vigilance. You MUST remain in the game and present at all times or you will lose. I love it.

I really admire games with a hardy dose of head game. You’ve got to be agile minded and thinking a few steps ahead. No move is inconsequential. There’s a lot of passive interaction going on here, another facet I love. …and with this game, there’s also a lot of aggressive interaction.

Some people may see that as a problem, all the aggressive interaction. If you don’t like games that allow you to screw your opponent, you’re going to want to give this one amiss. This is a very competitive game. As I said, the game is about winning. It’s not scoring points and trying to get the most points, you’ve got to achieve your goal before your opponents achieve theirs. It’s as simple (and complex) as that.

Okay… I’m beating a dead horse, you get that concept. What’s the rest of the game about?

Discworld is an area control game on the surface. It uses cards to move pawns and allow actions that change the ownership and control of areas in Ankh Morpork. All the players are vying for control of the city after it’s leader has disappeared. You’ll use your minions to build buildings and gain control of areas and the special abilities. There are trolls and demons in the game and lots of conflict.

To win the game you’re going to have to control a certain number of areas, have a certain number of minions, control a certain amount of money, create a certain amount of trouble, or run the deck out… So, every action you take should help move you towards that goal…or not. If you don’t want others to figure out your goal, play to several goals.

In my recent game, we were all trying to get a handle on things. I saw the value in knowing what everyone was fairly early and had a card that let me see most of the un-used roles. I was close to determining who had which goal…but it was too late. I didn’t start the game thinking about it. Sadly, I had what is probably the toughest goal to achieve, Commander Vimes, who only wins when the deck runs out. I was playing a long game and not thinking about the short game. I suddenly found myself on the losing end. …and I loved it!

My opponents didn’t feel so overjoyed as I did, and I understand. One player was not a fan of the “negative interactions” in the game. The other player liked it after the fact (they were the winner,) but didn’t seem to be feeling the game while we were playing. I loved every minute of it. I’m strange.

I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how light this game. That it’s very different for Martin Wallace. I agree with the second statement, but not the first. I think it feels like an easy game to learn and play, but it’s going to be a very difficult game to master. I’m looking forward to that challenge.

As to the “different for Martin Wallace” remark: Yes, this game is different. Why is that a problem for some? Comparing Discworld to Steam is an interesting task, but if you look close they’re kindred spirits. Where Steam is about no randomness and no secrecy, Discworld thrives on both (having a controlled randomness in a tiered draw deck and a hand of secret cards and a hidden agenda.) They’re reverses of each other in a strangely fundamental and fun way. I don’t want every game to be a clone of another game out there. I love different. This is different. Count me in.

I really liked Discworld, but I know the game is not for everyone. I think it’s going to be a hard sell to my staple of regular players, but I’m looking forward to it. I want to play it again and the sooner, the better! I need a Ticket to Discworld!

NOTE: I have NOT read any of Terry Pratchett’s books. I am considering this series based on strong recommendations from others who have.
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Tue Feb 14, 2012 2:04 pm
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