In an effort to make something that'll be useful to folks in these socially distanced times, I'm going to take my bi-weekly window to talk about some digital board games. But not just any digital board games, no no. Board games that are ONLY available digitally!
Generally speaking I'm not into board game app adaptations. They have a tendency to reveal the cracks in lesser designs as they're far quicker to replay, and they often lack the variability of a game designed for an app. There are exceptions of course - games like Carcassonne work forever - but I'd rather just play a paper version of whatever's been crammed into the phone.
However, there are a good number of board gamey experiences that, for one reason or another, only exist digitally. This is the sweet spot for me. These games use the fact that they're digital to do things that cardboard can't, and they handle all the admin for you in the process. So for this segment I'll be breaking each game up into three parts: what it is, why it's digital, and why it's good. Let's roll.INTO THE DIGITAL REALM WE GO100% Orange Juice
WHAT IT IS: It's anime-looking Mario Party crossed with Talisman, but also not. 100% OJ has you rolling and moving around a tiled board trying to achieve your objectives (either obtaining stars or getting kills) before everyone else. It's fast, frantic fun.
WHY DIGITAL: Before each game you construct a deck, but everyone's constructed choices get shuffled into a main deck that the entire table uses. Every character has a completely different stat line and special abilities often pushing them towards one of the win conditions, some of which would be a nightmare to track and slow the game down immensely if the game didn't handle everything for you. Also you can speed all the animations up, meaning the game plays faster than human players moving pieces ever would.
WHY PLAY: Chaos. Raw, semi-mitigated chaos. If you have an affection for the madness of the games I compared it to earlier there's a very high chance you'll enjoy this. There's a ton of unlockables and if you really get into it the DLC goes on sale pretty often, but you don't need it to have a good time. Matter of fact the base game is free on Steam as of right now - what better reason to try it out?Armello
WHAT IT IS: The adventure genre distilled. Pick a Redwallian character and forge your destiny, whatever that may be. Each game has 4 distinct ways to win, tons of cards, an exploding dice mechanism that makes every fight exciting, and immense game-to-game variability.
WHY DIGITAL: Hidden information. Rumor has it that the devs were originally trying to make this a physical game, but it took TWO moderators to run it and communicate everything players needed to know. Between stealthing around, hidden objectives, and other assorted bits of info this would never work in a box.
WHY PLAY: It's everything that makes adventure games excellent packed into an infinitely replayable game that ends in about 30-45 minutes once everyone knows what they're doing. Armello singlehandedly killed any desire I have to play big FFG productions and the like that attempt similar in the genre. It does more than they do, better, and in less time. Just masterfully made all around.Greed Corp
WHAT IT IS: A hardcore symmetric strategy game on a hex board that'll have you strip mining your land so you can salt the opponent's. The only way to generate resources is to damage your own territory and risk falling off the sky-island you're mining, but the only way to win is to use those resources to destroy your opponent before they do the same.
WHY DIGITAL: Upkeep and production costs. Every time your harvesters harvest they strip a hex from all adjacent terrain, which makes them physically shorter. Imagine the setup, teardown, and bookkeeping that would entail, not to mention the expense of having that many tiles and fancy bits. No, much better to let the computer do that for you.
WHY PLAY: Of all the games on here GC might just be my favorite. It's a perfect information luck-free strategy game with complex build orders and decision trees, and yet it has so few rules that it's shockingly approachable. You can play it casually and have a great time cutting each other off and succumbing to your own hubris, but once you and your friends get the hang of it you'll be taking slightly slower turns and grumbling with your chin in your hand in the way that only the best games induce. Were GC an actual board game (not that it should be) you lot would be hearing about it far more than you do; I could talk about the brilliance of this thing all day. It's a game of chicken, tactical concession, and smooth jazz.Sumer
WHAT IT IS: A real time worker placement and auction game. It contains all of the difficult decisions you would expect from the genre, but removes the opportunity for time-sucking headscratching by having you physically move your units to where you want them before your opponents do.
WHY DIGITAL: Real time games are a deceptively tricky design space. Real time combined with a full on euro? Forget about it. This game literally could not function without the game handling the effects of your decisions as you make them.
WHY PLAY: Rare is the euro that produces riotous couch coop moments, but here we are! Sumer is an odd duck - a game that's equally approachable by board and video gamers by meeting both in the middle. I absolutely love its auction system, which has you physically pushing your character up or down to indicate price until time runs out. This means you can make a last second bid change that forces everyone else to react accordingly, lest they lose a key auction or win something they never meant to spend money on. Hilarious every time.Void Tyrant
WHAT IT IS: A solo-only deckbuilding game in the vein of Slay the Spire, but with a blackjack-esque combat mechanic. A large spread of enemy types keeps you on your toes as you make your way to the titular tyrant and attempt to take it down, and whether you succeed or fail you'll make improvements that'll stick around for your next run.
WHY DIGITAL: Setup and teardown for every fight, status effects, modifiable crit chances, randomizers that wouldn't work nearly as well physically, and plenty of other things would have every fight in this game taking at least half an hour if it was actual cards. I can't even imagine what a slog it would be. Instead it's playable at a breakneck pace and I'm grateful.
WHY PLAY: There are few mobile games that reward the time you put in like VT. Early dungeons can feel a bit easy to a deckbuilding veteran, but without going too far into the mechanical weeds I'll tell you that it'll eventually challenge you as much as you need. The blackjack combat here is far more exciting than anything done in other games of this genre, and the fact that it plays on mobile means it's far easier to pick up and put down than most.THE LAST BIT
I really hope this gives you all some fun stuff to play that scratches the board game itch. Given that we don't know when this is going to let up, games like this are increasingly valuable. Some of these are legitimate favorites of mine - Greed Corp in particular - so don't think this is just a concession due to living in interesting times. These are all winners in their own right.
Thanks so much for reading! See you all in another bi-week.
The home of the Cardboard Diogenes Club, in which I consume as little as possible and write as much as possible. Opinions and strong takes abound!
28 Mar 2020
- [+] Dice rolls
Two in one day? Yep! I'm feeling particularly self indulgent at the moment.
You all might remember that I allowed myself to consider exactly one Kickstarter for this year. It was the one for Testament:
Long story short, it ain't happenin'.
I didn't miss the KS, far from it. I had it set to alert me when it launched and at the 48 hr window. Just didn't feel the need despite the game looking good. Kickstarter is kind of an exhausting thing from a consumer perspective. At least when you buy a thing the normal way you only have to wait as long as it takes to ship and show up. KS leads to a year of updates, delays, news, delays, art teases, delays, etc. By the time it shows up it can sometimes feel better that it's over than exciting that it's here. That's no way to approach anything that's meant to be fun.
The reason I waited to talk about this for so long was that I wasn't sure how to address it. Should I bank the single KS for later? Consider Testament some kind of special case when it comes out? But then I realized: the entire point of this exercise is freedom through restriction, satisfaction through lack of need. So I'm just gonna not. I let myself have the option and I abstained. No board game KS for me this year.
Does that mean I'm never using KS again? Nah, I can't go that far. If someone I know launches a project that I want in on I'll be there to support 'em. Like it or not, the platform is the best way to crowdfund stuff that otherwise wouldn't exist. But I'm increasingly uninterested in engaging with publishers on these terms when there's no real benefit to it for the backers beyond maybe getting the thing early. Why engage with it when the tried and true retail model, be it brick and mortar or online, is so much better?
Plus on a much more pragmatic note, I find myself a lot more interested in the puzzle Unicornus Knights offers than what Testament seems to be about. That's already a pretty big box for a niche game that only comes out once in a blue moon. Probably don't need another one. Though now that I'm thinking on it, being stuck indoors with few players makes it a pretty good choice to kill a few hours...
I think I'm gonna go be mad at escort missions later.
- [+] Dice rolls
This was almost a moment of weakness. Almost.
For context: I love me some Dragon Quest. My wife enjoys it as well, in particular Builders. Since I'm weird about objects collecting dust I don't own any collectables, but the aesthetic of DQ has always been one of my favorites in any video game franchise.
But a board game though? A board game has uses. Applications. Enter Dragon Quest: Slime Race.
This is essentially a card-driven horse race that substitutes the horses for slimes and the bettors for monsters that are still bettors. Pretty straightforward stuff. We happened to see 1 remaining copy of it on an import shop's site. I threw my hands in the air because, alas, I am tapped for the month. Such is life in the CDC - the fun one, anyway. I may not be able to play Ettin much right now on account of the virus but I am still happy with my selection. Content.
And then Cindy demanded that she own it and bought it.
This in and of itself is not an issue but I feel some amount of culpability here as I was present for the decision. I want to be clear - I do not intend to use my wife as a board game mule. She wouldn't let me even if I wanted to; she's fiercely independent and very aware of my commitment to the Club despite not being allowed membership. She's also incredibly picky as to which games she selects and tends to have a better hit:miss ratio than I do as a result, so the last thing she wants is for my bad taste to affect her directly.
I just wanted to post this in the interest of full transparency/disclosure, lest it suddenly appear in my writeups and cause confusion. Let it be known: we are expecting another game at our residence, but my hands and conscience are clear.
- [+] Dice rolls
14 Mar 2020
It should surprise no one that I am not publishing a GotM this bi-week. What may surprise you all is that it's not actually due to COVID! The bat-flu will absolutely take its toll on all of our gatherings going forward and has in fact already led to cancellation of several events, but my lack of plays is due to totally unrelated maladies that I've been suffering from for the last week and a half! Hooray! For those who are concerned don't be, I'm mostly better now.
But what is a regular blog about board games to do without board game plays to talk about? It's a challenging topic, like a zen koan for nerds. I will attempt, however poorly, to address this and other developments here. Consider this a sort of state-of-the-blog I guess, like I did the last time I completely ran out of material because BGG ate the post. But first, plugs!THINGS I'VE WRITTEN RECENTLY
Did a couple pieces over at PixelDie! The first is a review of Little Town, the CDC pick for January. I intend to review every CDC selection as the goal is to focus on games in depth rather than the shallow shotgun approach I normally use. I found it to be really solid in unexpected ways, but it's not going to be for everyone as a result: https://pixeldie.com/2020/03/06/little-town-review/
The other is a numbered list. Kyle and I got together and did our top 5s to give folks an idea as to our tastes, then commented on each other's. He's not as steeped in the cardboard kool-aid as I am despite frequently serving as my guinea pig so his picks are, in my opinion, more interesting. Bada bing: https://pixeldie.com/2020/03/02/roll-for-discussion-our-top-...THINGS I'M WRITING NOW
I have several projects at multiple stages. In the interest of accountability I'll list them here, with the proviso that some of them are WAY closer to done than others.
- Top 5 video games collab for PixelDie. Since we cover both on the site it only makes sense. That's a bit outside of what you all might be into but I'll toss a link here after it goes up regardless in case you want to check it out.
- Never Bring a Knife review. Unfortunately it seems like getting that 8 player game in will take longer than anticipated on account of, y'know, the pandemic. But the game deserves to be played at the high end if I'm going to review it, so that's where that's at.
- Krass Kariert and Ettin reviews. I'm lumping these together because both of them haven't been played nearly enough yet, but blah blah CDC obligations blah blah due diligence blah blah standards in critical work blah.
- A different video game joint for PixelDie in which I purchase a mystery bundle of steam codes and play all of them, no matter how horrible they are. Stay tuned for Bundle Hell.
- The piece about cosmic horror and failure that I keep refocusing/restarting. It'll probably exist eventually. Maybe. Once I figure out what I'm really trying to say.
If you all have any article ideas for me by all means suggest away. I'm open to it. My approach to writing is weird; I make notes, have them marinate in my brain for a while, then do all of the word vomit in one go and edit afterwards. As a result pieces jump the queue when they reach peak mental marinade. Could mean your idea will get done before these depending!THINGS I WILL WRITE
So besides the obvious answer of "depends on when quarantine ends hurr hurr", what else do I intend to do?
More CDC blurbs as relevant. There have been fewer of those as I'm more or less in the groove now, though I will not lie - temptations still tempt. Level99 (one of the only companies I'm still subscribed to updates for) just sent out a coupon for their shop and are doing a charity drive with the proceeds. Do I want to pick up one of their lovely boxes and feel like a slightly better person for doing so? Goodness yes. But will I? No. Did I look at their offerings regardless despite this? I...yes. I did. Window shopping is free. That said I'm terrified at the very sight of Empyreal - it's got more iconography than a pharaoh's tomb and the box is the size of a sarcophagus. Professor Treasure looks like my kinda thing though.
GotM will continue as long as I have games to play. You all already know that I don't do it EVERY bi-week. Sometimes I just haven't played enough games/games enough times to really make one that I'm happy with, so I do other stuff. This being a good example.
PixelDie will continue to host the kind of stuff I wouldn't post here anyway. In the past I generally made a habit of posting full reviews elsewhere and linking here when complete unless I needed it up for a deadline ASAP, so that'll continue to be the plan. I'm really happy to have a site that isn't subject to other people's whims/moderation. Don't worry though, the blog isn't moving there. It ain't that kind of place. I need a spot where I can get thoughts to digital paper and this will continue to be that.THE LAST BIT
I appear to have defeated my writer's block, at least for the time being. Words come to me easier now than they used to. It really is like a workout, only it's arguably worse for your health. Posting just becomes the norm. Like breathing, or eating, or other assorted bodily functions.
Thanks for reading, as always. I'm not quite sure what the blog will look like in 2 weeks given the current situation, but you can bet there'll be SOMETHING here. If a week and a half of illness couldn't stop me what's a little pandemic gonna do?
- [+] Dice rolls
This is essentially the opposite of last month's game. Where that was sudden and unplanned because it won me over at a game night, this was planned well in advance and I haven't actually played it yet. It just came out, after all.
Ettin is, in a word, ambitious. The attribute list is all over the place:
- dedicated team game that plays up to 8
- at odd numbers, includes a friendly bot to team up with the odd one out
- alternates drafting between your adjacent ally and enemy
- asymmetric factions with unique decks, the cards from which can be drafted with said ally or stolen by said enemy
- location-grabber inspired card combat
- you can add more copies to play a whole damn crowd
I'm not bothering with that last one as it's a bit too gonzo for my needs, but woah. WOAH. The dynamic of switching between drafting with a friend and then yanking stuff from an enemy, then using those tools to take them on? That sounds fascinating. When I read the rulebook and found out what this game was trying to accomplish I knew I had to play it, and no one else in any of my groups takes Wizkids seriously (despite Zev being at the helm now!) so I went for it.
Now of course, everything I've mentioned here is subject to change once I actually table the thing. Another critic informed me that the game can take a few plays to really get its hooks in. That's unsurprising for a drafting game with this many types of cards. I think this'll end up being a slow burner as my access to large groups that don't immediately split into 2 smaller groups to play heavier games is spotty. Hopefully I can convince them to give it a go.
- [+] Dice rolls
Hey all! Before we get rolling I have a quick announcement: I have a website now!
https://pixeldie.com/ is a colab between me and a friend. We're using it as a repository, if you will, for our game writing. It's gonna have board and video game content released whenever we feel like. No hard schedule, no ads, no shenanigans, just writing about games however we want. I'll still be blogging here as I've promised in the past, don't worry! Just wanted to let you all know there's going to be even more stuff to read there.
Cool? Cool! Games now.COMMENCE GAMES
Downforce is one of Cindy's favorite games. We're kind of committed to this one - between the two of us we've taught it to dozens of people and even demoed at a RG event. I've always been really keen on it, but not necessarily loved it, y'know? The bidding often felt like an exercise in seeing how little you could pay for a car, and fighting to see who got Determined could feel a bit repetitive. You know what fixes that? Expansions! We've had Danger Circuit for a while but not played it much until recently and let me tell you, it's quality.
Danger Circuit is exactly the kind of expansion I like - more stuff. No added gimmicks beyond 1 rule for rough terrain on the cliff map, just variety for the game you already like. Full disclosure: we tested early versions of these boards before these came out, and RG's process clearly works because they came out great. I think I like both of the maps here more than the base game's. The loop is a great variation on chokepoints that gives everyone more interesting decisions to wrestle with, and the rough terrain that allows you to cut around leaders is brilliant. That coupled with 6 new powers makes Downforce feel a lot more fleshed out than it did in its base form. Are all the cards balanced? Probably not, but it's an auction game! Who cares?
Atlas Games very kindly sent this my way for review. This is not that review. I'm not quite ready to give it a full treatment yet for reasons that I'll get into, but I want to share some early impressions.
NBaK is a social deduction game, but not so much from the Resistance school. Instead of being a game focused on over-analyzing tiny nuggets of information it offers you multiple ways to get concrete info on the other players and find your enemies/teammates for certain. This works, and works well, because you use that information to play a card game.
Most of your time in NBaK is spent managing a hand of 4 cards, all of which need to be played, and probably not on who you want to. Again NBaK is generous with its info, forcing the first play on each player to be public in order to make intent known. There aren't that many card types to worry about - hurting people, blocking that hurt, making money that can be spent on heals or even more information, you get the idea. But it isn't so much about what the cards do as much as the actual play of the cards. Sure I tossed you some body armor and chose to do so publicly, but is that because we're friends or because I'd like you to THINK we're friends? That kind of thing. Very engaging.
The reason I can't properly review this right now is that I need to play it at the high end of its player count first (7-8), and that opportunity hasn't presented itself yet. I will say that I'm shocked the game functions at its low end; games of this nature typically don't but NBaK being more focused on the card game works to its benefit. Thus far I find what's going on here really interesting - a distilled version of games like Dȗhr: The Lesser Houses or Exodus Paris Nouveau that loses none of its teeth for the clearer rules. Very strong impressions thus far, looking forward to completing the obligation. Stay tuned!
I've played TIoC's family mode 5-6 times over the last week. It slaps.
I've always liked the idea of polyomino games more than the execution. Patchwork was fiiiine, Barenpark really wasn't, the various heavy euros with a polyomino element were ok I guess but felt overwrought. But Isle of Cats? Isle of Cats delivers, and a big part of that is how it spits in the face of perfection.
The first lesson you need to learn when playing this game is that you can't complete your board. Don't try. You'll fail, score badly, and be sad. Aim to chain families, complete your score conditions, and know when to let a room go. After a game or two you'll find your footing and can start hate drafting. Then you're in for some of the best polyomino gameplay in all of cardboarddom packed into 30 minutes.
What makes the family mode work so well is its simple ruleset. Draft a cat, place a cat, maybe get a bonus tile, pass turn. That's all you do! But it produces agonizing decisions in the 90's euro kind of way, where all the choices hurt and you get to choose which band-aid you rip off. I almost feel like calling it family mode undersells it because familiar players can and will absolutely spike newbies. The game's incredibly tightly wound. 5 rounds may seem like a lot but I assure you, it ain't. Don't write this mode off just because its rules are a single sheet front and back. It's wickedly clever.
We needed a no-more-than-10 minute filler before breaking into groups and I knew exactly what to do. Original Winsome ruleset, no big cubes, no rounds. Just cube or train. CUBE OR TRAIN.
Only one of our players was new, which meant everyone else got to enjoy the lightbulb moment that usually hits around the first payout. "Oh! Oh, I get it. I like this." Every time. Better writers than me have broken down why NorPac works. To my simple mind it's just a weird kind of magic. I like the magic game.
In case you missed it this was a last-minute Cardboard Diogenes selection in a month that was otherwise going to be skipped. KK knocked my socks off. Like all the way across the room. PROPELLED those socks. I never found the left one.
It's the puzzle of KK that elevates it. You're playing a weird hybrid of trick taking and card shedding, but having to manage a Bohnanza-style locked hand in order to do so? Now we're cooking with gas. This game is proof that you don't need to invent a new mechanism in order to innovate, just use the parts you have better!
The special cards are pretty spicy too. Xs for wilds lend power and flexibility, the Stop lets you snag the lead at a key moment, and the Draw 3 is a double edged sword that can save or doom you depending. Sure there's some luck there, but it's a card game. If that's a barrier for you I don't know why you're reading this entry in the first place.
Ok, lemme level with you. Intrigue is a classic. I am aware of this. I've only played it like, twice. Keep that in mind. Here we go:
I think it's pretty good but we have games that do Intrigue's tricks better at this point.
Not the spiciest take, I know, but that's really it! I like Intrigue's luckless savagery, I like the wonky incentives, I like that it's as mentally strenuous as you want it to be. But would I play it over the likes of Tiefe Taschen? Probably not, unless I really thought the game would fit that specific table better. You kind of have to -allow- Intrigue to be good, otherwise it can be a little limp and procedural. And it's especially fragile if you play it with math-oriented folks who take their time and throw hard numbers at the problem.
My god though, the brutality of this one. It really wants you to get the knife in your friends to the hilt and twist. I could see myself warming up to it even more over time just because of that alone. What a wonderfully nasty thing. Just not entirely convinced there aren't similar games that I prefer at this point.THE LAST BIT
A nice normal blog entry is a balm for the soul. Since I got my announcement out of the way up top I don't really have a ton else to say here. I've got a game of Root scheduled next week with the expansion stuff, so that's exciting! Messed around with the moles in a two-handed game so I'd understand what they were about, and I intend to do the same for the crows too. Gotta do my due diligence, you know how it is.
I'm slowly working on reviewing Little Town as well, which will likely be a PixelDie joint. Only seems right to give my CDC picks a proper writeup. Spoilers: I quite like it, but I feel it'll end up divisive among euro fans.
Oh, and I guessed I pissed off a bunch of career designers on Twitter the other day? But that's not an accomplishment, it's pretty easy to do. In summary - I want to see more original ideas and risks taken in new games as the baseline for game quality has been raised quite a bit. "Good" is no longer good enough, unless of course you're trying to fill slots in a publication schedule. That last part ruffled some feathers among folks you wouldn't be surprised to see ruffled.
Thanks for reading, as always! See you all in 14.
- [+] Dice rolls
Oh. Hm. This was unexpected. I'll explain.
As I mentioned in my previous entry I was willing to let February go un-gamed. Truly I was. But I played something recently that shook me to my very core. Something so impressive that, despite the shipping estimate being about a month away due to imports being slow, I made it happen.
Krass Kariert is a cards and numbers dynamo that's as fun as it is subversive. A trick taker where the tricks don't matter. A card shedding game where you can win without going out. A hand management game in a very literal sense. It borrows concepts from just about everywhere - Bohnanza's rigid hand, Landlord's combos, Pairs/Cockroach Poker's single loser and no winners, absolute madness. Solving the puzzle each hand presents while trying to find the balance between going out and just not dying is a tightrope act on razor wire. I really, really liked it is what I'm saying.
What pushed me from merely enjoying it into actually wanting to own it was Cindy. After a maximum-length-9-hand-4p-session she declared it as a trick taking game she actually liked. This is a coveted title that only one other game - The Dwarf King - has earned until now. She likes cards and numbers but typically bounces off of any game where the words "lead" and "follow" are uttered. For a game to not only overcome that barrier but transcend it? Brilliant. Could I proxy a deck? Absolutely. But this is worthy of having. And I will.
As I mentioned up top, this won't be arriving any time soon per shipping estimates. It's coming from Germany after all. Us cards and numbers aficionados are used to this kind of thing. It'll get here when it gets here. Regardless it is a purchase, and as such I will hold myself accountable. KK is February's game and I couldn't be more excited for it to get here.
- [+] Dice rolls
This isn't going to be a particularly interesting post. Just accountability.
I mentioned in previous entries that I was attending a local buy/sell/trade event. That was today. Sold just shy of 30 boxes, which was about 2/3 of what we brought. Overall quite happy with having less stuff.
Towards the end of the event a friend at a nearby table gifted us a copy of Intrigue. I asked if he wanted anything for it as I would have been fine with it being my acquisition for the month. He said no for two reasons: the game was responsible for a decade-long grudge held by someone he betrayed once, and he wanted to hear how badly it affected the people I play it with. I agreed. This thing is going to tear my work group asunder, I can feel it.
So what'd I buy for the month? This was the reason I'd waited, surely I picked something cool?
I expected to at least trade for something but I just wasn't feeling it. Considered grabbing Gloomy Graves as it was in stock and still might at some point in the future, but for now I'm ok. May skip February entirely. We'll see.
In other CDC news, the kickstarter for Testament went up. Per the rules it's the only KS I allowed myself to throw in for (barring stuff made by people I know, which is rare). While I'd still like to play it, I'm thinking I may just wait for it to come out. Don't need to bother with the platform when there are so many good games that already exist.
That's it. That's all I've got. I said up top this wasn't interesting!
- [+] Dice rolls
18 Feb 2020
I have to talk about Magic the Gathering before I can talk about Epic.
MtG is the stuff of legends. It single handedly keeps dozens of game stores in the black and has been doing so for decades. Set after set it constantly introduces new ideas to its simple ruleset, and it has several formats for people at all levels of involvement and dedication. Constructed and all the sub-formats within, draft, sealed, even casual pickup games with premade decks. I have fond memories of playing MtG with a pile of old cards on lunch tables in school, then getting kicked out of there and having to set up a “secret” club in a teacher’s off hours (who also happened to play). I used to deckbuild at home with the tools I had, while chatting on the phone with some of our other players, excited for the next opportunity I’d get to cheat out a Thorn Elemental.
I don’t play MtG anymore. There are a lot of reasons for that, but it’s mostly one of commitment. There just aren’t as many hours in the day as there used to be. But I frequently miss the fast fun of throwing my absurd brews against my friends. Fortunately we have digital versions of MtG and so very many other games like it that are as easy to pick up and put down as our phones. White Wizard Games, hot off the success of the excellent Star Realms, have decided to give their Magic-in-a-box game Epic the digitalization treatment.
Epic has a curious take on the wizard fight formula. Unlike most games in its genre it forgoes a growing resource economy entirely, instead having every card either playable for free or cost 1 coin. The coin refreshes each turn so you’re always able to play something. On the surface this is intriguing and it often plays well, but over time it reveals itself to often make the game even more reliant on draw luck and mulligans than comparable games are. Since decks can’t have a cost curve in Epic and constructed limits the ratio of free cards VS coin cards players are constrained to a very rigid structure. Play what you can afford, make the most of the turn, repeat. Eventually someone will get ahead on tempo, and barring a particularly powerful card effect or lack of response to a large creature that typically decides the outcome of the game. This doesn’t mean that every game is unsatisfying, but it does mean that you’ll get downer games periodically where you absolutely crush an opponent with no challenge and vice virca.
The app supports multiple formats of play: pre-constructed modes including a campaign, constructed with online support, throwing a randomized 30 card deck at another randomized 30 card deck just to see what happens, and draft. Draft is where I had the best time so I’ll be focusing on that. The rules are simple: draw 5 cards, select 1, switch hands with your opponent, select 2 more, discard the remaining cards. Repeat until you have a 30 card deck. Once cards are drafted they’re made visible so you can tell where your opponent is trying to steer and adjust your course accordingly, but since you have to play all your cards hate drafting can be a bit dodgy. Despite the inevitable pulls that don’t quite fit your gameplan, a 30 card deck feels tighter and more “right” for a game as wild as Epic is as opposed to the 60 card constructed minimum. It’s also a better way to learn the cards as you get a chance to read everything in front of you at your leisure before you actually hit the table. I found the draft mechanisms well implemented and the games afterwards to be the most satisfying of all the modes, but that it could sometimes run a bit long due to a few issues. I’ll elaborate.
The slow pace of the digital game is partially due to Epic’s attack structure being poorly suited to an app. I’m unsure whether to consider this a gameplay issue, an implementation one, or both. Every champion in play may be sent to attack individually. This means that both players must go through multiple block and reaction windows every single time, and in many cases it’s strategically most prudent to send units one by one to avoid potential reactive counter spells. This wouldn’t be as severe of an issue if there were a limit to the number of units on the board like other app-oriented card games have done, but Epic was never designed for this and that has not changed. As such it’s not infrequent that a turn can take quite a while to resolve with an outcome that would be much faster played in person.
This is compounded by UI and AI issues respectively. Because Epic is intended to be played on phones it cannot display all the cards in play at once. White Wizard tried to solve this by using Star Realms’ system for players that have several bases - scroll buttons - but unfortunately that doesn’t work particularly well for this game. The cards have significantly more information on them than in Star Realms and there’s no shorthand or iconography to speed up the reading process. Like any game you’ll eventually learn to recognize cards on sight but the learning process is held back by this interface. Additionally the AI seems to struggle when it needs to interact with a large quantity of units. I once had the AI’s turn take over 5 minutes to resolve, and 4 of those were it “thinking” about how to handle a multi-target effect against my board. One card. 5 minutes. I realize that it’s early days for the app, but that’s not acceptable in any case.
I feel compelled to emphasize that the majority of my complaints are with the app rather than the game. The game itself is fine if not entirely to my taste but the implementation just isn’t up to snuff yet. I played on both Android and PC. The PC port was perfectly functional, but on my Galaxy S8 I found the usability notably poor. Cards were difficult to parse, buttons were unresponsive, constructing a deck took considerably longer than it needed to thanks to imprecise controls, and the aforementioned slow AI issues were noticeably more pronounced. Unfortunately I couldn’t test on any other devices to see if it was just an issue with my phone, but operating the thing became far more frustrating than it needed to be.
My biggest disappointment with Epic as an app came from the inevitable comparison to Star Realms. SR is a personal favorite that I play often and a shining example of how to adapt a card game so well that it’s actually the superior version. White Wizard clearly knows what they’re doing in the digital space and I imagine that Epic will eventually approach similar levels with some quality of life improvements, but as of right now it simply hasn’t met that bar.
Disclosure: this game was provided for review by the publisher.
- [+] Dice rolls
Folks, I'm at an impasse.
I've barely played any games for the last 2 weeks. Due to a combination of life commitments and norovirus cutting a swath through my house getting folks around the table just hasn't been an option. I want to put my standard bi-weekly entry in but just don't have much to talk about. So I'm going to do handle this the best way I know how - outsourcing! To YOU!
Is this community engagement? Woah there. Look, I only know you all so well and that's a big commitment. Let's take it slow, maybe start with me pointing at games that I haven't played and you letting me know if I should peruse playing them or not. Additionally, if you're interested in seeing particular games covered maybe lemme know? I've been paying less attention to releases so I'm not even sure what the people want at this point. Anyway, let's give it a shot.VENTURE FORTH
Of course we're starting with weird indie Japanese stuff. Whose blog did you think you were reading?
Rumble Nation is a mechanical golem. Something cobbled together from parts not its own, turned into something wholly unique. It's an area control game with dice allocation, single-use powers, Pandemic style unit spreading, and a really neat tie breaking mechanism. That sounds like a lot, but it also plays in 20 minutes. Maybe that's still a lot? I dunno anymore. Board games are weird.
I really dig the way this works. You're mostly playing a dice-driven area control game, like a really simple riff on El Grande, until everyone runs out of units. Then there's a big climactic hands-off resolution phase where winning low value territories allows units to spill out into adjacent unscored ones. Conceptually this would be solvable, but you randomize all the territories Catan-style at the beginning so it's never that cut and dry.
This is the kind of lunch hour game I'm all about. Decision making, tension, conflict, replayability. Of all the games on this list it's the one I'd pick up without hesitation as my monthly. Problem is you kiiind of can't, at least not in the west. I was in talks with someone to trade a copy away but it didn't come to pass. It seems to be getting some attention here though, so maybe it'll see a US release? I can hope.
ACotIS is a deceptive box. It's not a traditional civ game, it's a civ-themed brawler. A lot of the grognard set seemed disappointed, where folks like me who enjoy historical games but don't list game weight as their primary enjoyment metric seem to be enjoying themselves. It's even in a region that I've spent a lot of time studying! Fantastic.
This one's at least partially the fault of There Will Be Games. Michael Barnes called it "Super Smash Civilizations" and I see why. It's absolutely brutal, with every player having access to an incredibly nasty deck of miserable effects that they inflict on each other. Combine that with easily mathed out deterministic combat and it sounds like a great time to me.
My only real concern here is length. I know the game length/boards used can be adjusted depending on how much time you've got, which is great, but it definitely seems like a game that wants to be played at its longer settings and I honestly have no idea if/when that'd happen. I'm increasingly uninterested in adding games to my shelves that won't be optimally played for one reason or another, even if I really like the ideas in the box. Hence why I'm looking to try it first - it could be great! I don't know.
Double feature! Roxley recently announced Skyrise, which is a reworking of Metropolys, which is a game I haven't played. In fact, until I read up on this all I knew about Metropolys was that it was "that city game with the really ugly board". Having actually looked it over I've softened on it slightly - it's not awful - but it ain't the best.
The rules of Metropolys are actually really neat though. Serious Knizia vibes. The reason they're both featured here is that I don't know if I should potentially see about playing the original or just wait for the new one. Roxley typically doesn't drop the ball, but I have concerns that they're adding too much stuff to a very clean core. Modifiable boards? Player powers? I dunno man, it's starting to sound kind of CMON-y in here.
I'm an Allers fan. I've at least liked all of his games that I've played, if not REALLY liked them. He's got a great sense for distilling the most fun parts of euros. New York Slice and Alea Iacta Est were particular standouts. Heartland was very much out of print until Gunkimono came out in 2018 and I was counting the days until I could give them my money...and then I saw the color scheme on a demo copy.
This is a digression but I'm going to take it, it's my blog. I'm not color blind but a friend who I play games with a lot is, and bafflingly they decided to use red, orangey-brown, and green as 3 of the 5 colors. In case you're not up on accessibility stuff that's an abysmal combination for most kinds of color blindness. The pieces are technically visually different, but they're all differently armed soldier dudes and that wasn't ideal either. My friend couldn't play it, and so it was a sad pass for me. I wish Renegade had put a bit more time into visual accessibility testing.
So when I found out that Allers has another formally-farming-now-something-else-domino game coming out it felt like a second chance of sorts. Gloomy Graves definitely doesn't play the same as Heartland/Gunkimono. You're not just playing to a central field and cutting each other off, you're also working on a personal 3x3. This presumably gives you some extra control as to what to aim for at the cost of potentially signalling intent to the other players. That concept, brought down to a card game sized box, is really appealing to me. The fantasy gravedigger set dressing is...less so, especially for a light fluffy tile layer, but I can look past it.THE LAST BIT
Thanks for putting up with a change in programming. I've actually got a few reviews in the oven right now (Little Town, Never Bring a Knife, the Epic app) but they're not ready yet either due to the aforementioned illness. Did I mention that norovirus is terrible? Because it is. Oh god it is.
There are, of course, some other games I'm interested in actually owning. I already said I'm acquiring Cosmic Frog and Ride the Rails this year. The former because Felli is a mad genius, the latter because I dig Iron Rails as a concept but I know no one else in my group will pick up the new one.
Please give me your suggestions for games I should look into playing! I'm not uniquely interested in new releases - if anything I'm more inclined to go for something that's already out - so any favorites are welcome. Playtime of an hour or less will make me particularly happy but by all means aim higher if you really enjoy it.
Thanks for reading! See you all in another 14.
- [+] Dice rolls