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Geoff Engelstein Sure Makes a Mean Pinball...Roll & Write

Candice Harris
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Board Game Publisher: WizKids
I have fond childhood memories of going to the shore and the Poconos with my family, hitting arcades with my older brother. We always played skeeball and pinball, and of course, Streets of Rage. Pinball was especially exciting because of the dopamine-inducing lights and sounds, not to mention the amusing variety of different themed machines from movies to rock bands and just about everything in between.

Given my enjoyment of pinball, I was curious to see how it translated to the board game world when I was hipped to Geoff Engelstein's pinball-themed roll-and-write game Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade from WizKids. WizKids kindly hooked me up with a copy so that I could give it a whirl and share my initial impressions of (spoiler alert!) the most thematic roll-and-write I've played to date.

From gallery of candidrum

In Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade, 1 to 4 players compete to score the most stars (victory points) after three rounds of roll-and-write pinball. The game comes with four unique pinball tables, each featuring a different theme and variation on the core mechanisms and ranging in complexity levels. Each pinball table is represented by two dry-erase boards — one for the pinball table and one for the backglass, which is primarily used to track your score.

A turn in Super-Skill Pinball begins with a player rolling two dice, followed by all players choosing one die result to move their ball and fill a box on their board showing what feature their ball hit, but you're not just filling any boxes — they're bumpers and targets and spinners and flippers, just like a ball hitting different parts of a real pinball machine. It's quite clever!

From gallery of candidrum
Each pinball table is split into multiple levels. At the beginning of the round, your ball starts at the top of the board, and following the laws of gravity, you move your ball down one level (or more) each turn, simulating it rolling down the table. Bumpers break this rule and give players the opportunity to stay in the bumper zones multiple turns, assuming you can get the right dice rolls back-to-back.

Your pinball will eventually drop down to the flipper zone, where there will hopefully be a box available to mark off, timed with the right dice roll, so you can flip your ball back to the top of the table; otherwise you lose the ball, and your round ends. After all players have completed their third round, the player with the most stars (victory points) wins.

In Super-Skill Pinball, players are playing simultaneously, sharing the same dice rolls, but making their own choices independently, which means players will usually start rounds 2 and 3 at different times, and it's highly unlikely you'll all finish the game at the same time. It is a bit multiplayer solitaire in that sense, but since everyone is equally invested in the outcome of each dice roll and knowing where your opponents are scoring wise, it usually ends up being exciting, and feels quite engaging.

As I mentioned above, four themed pinball tables are included in Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade, and they range from easy to advanced difficulty:

• "Carniball" is a carnival-themed introductory table covering the basics of Super-Skill Pinball and is the best place to start if you're new to the game. It features plenty of flair with ferris wheel cars, as well as carnival games like knocking ducks down by squirting a target, throwing darts at balloons, and testing your strength. Once you have the basics under your belt, then it's fun to mix it up and play the other tables and explore all the variety and twists they offer.

• The "Cyberhack" table allows players to unleash their inner hacker and try to bring down the data monopoly of corporations that run the world. This table builds off of the basic mechanisms introduced in "Carniball" and adds spinners and a fun press-your-luck mini-game played on the backglass board once you've filled up the RUN bumpers. This one pairs well with The Matrix soundtrack.

• The "Dragonslayer" table transports us into a fantasy world where players are wizards on an adventure building up their book of spells, fighting goblins and rats, casting spells to modify dice and gain bonuses, and defeating the dragon to capture its hoard and gain even more victory points.

• With the "Dance Fever" table, players flash back to the 1970s and get their groove on with disco ball bumpers, boogie bonuses, and the Disco Pinferno multiball mini-game. There's quite a bit to juggle in this one at moments, but because the graphic design is so consistent and well done across the board, you'll pick it up fairly quickly after you've played the other tables.

From gallery of candidrum
All of the different tables are fun and challenging in their own way, but I also just dig the many different ways you can earn stars. Some features like bumpers give you a star every time you hit one, and then there are even juicier points to be gained by unlocking bonuses, and it's neat how this set-up varies a bit from table to table.

As you complete various sections of bumpers, targets etc., you get to unlock different bonuses, such as multiball, which allows you to play with two balls at once, and different score multiplier bonuses, which are super helpful for beefing up your score.

Certain sections when completed allow you to select a "Skill Shot", which is a reserved result you can use at any point instead of either die result. You simply circle whichever number you want (1-6), then erase it once you use it.

In addition to Skill Shots, you can also nudge the table to modify one of the die results — or even a Skill Shot — to a different number to optimize your choices and avoid losing balls. This is awesome because anyone who's ever played pinball has probably bumped the table here and there trying to force the ball to go where you need it, so I love that this element is captured in the game.

Each game you have only three opportunities to nudge, so use them wisely. To nudge, you write the difference between the original number and the number you want in the nudge box, then move your ball accordingly. The harder you nudge, the more likely it is that you'll tilt and lose your ball(s). How does one tilt? you're probably wondering. Well, on the next roll after you nudge, you check the difference between the two die results. If the difference is less than the nudge amount, you tilt!

Nudging is a fun little gamble that you'll be tempted to do often, but sometimes it's best to save at least one nudge for round 3 emergencies. In one of my four-player games, two players nudged at the same time with two balls in play from the multiball bonus, then I rolled doubles which caused them both to tilt (since the difference was 0 and they had nudged 1). Whoops! It was a bummer for them, but we all laughed about it, and it's one of those gaming memories we won't forget. (Those nasty double 4s!)

From gallery of candidrum

All-in-all, I think Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade is really well done and worth checking out. Every time I play, I'm tickled by the fact that it's soooo pinbally — the way your ball interacts with all the different pinball elements (bumpers, flippers, targets, spinners), the nudging, the exciting bonuses, multiball mode. It all ties together so well. I've played only a handful of different roll-and-writes, but I'm pretty sure this one takes the cake for being most thematic! ...and it's also awesome to see such a unique, refreshing theme in a board game, period.

On a few occasions, I lost track of whether or not I had scored something, but it never mattered too much because the scores weren't super tight at the end; either way I was having a lot of fun and not caring so much whether or not I won the game. That is something to be wary of, however, since everyone is in their own zone trying to keep track of everything. There was also one game in which someone ended their game way before everyone else, and he ended up just rolling dice while we played for another 15-20 minutes, so that is something you may run into.

I really love how Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade captures different themed pinball machines and it feels like you have four different games in one. I also think it's cool that the tables ramp up in complexity and have a nice variety of themes. I can't help but think about all the fun expansion possibilities, too — wink wink, Mr. Engelstein and WizKids. I could also totally see Super-Skill Pinball having an awesome (and addictive) digital adaptation with some sweet pinball sound effects! In the meantime, I'll continue enjoying it analog and making my own sound effects.
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Fri Sep 18, 2020 1:00 pm
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Fort: Mastering the Art of Making Friends...or Stealing Them From Your Rivals

Candice Harris
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Board Game Publisher: Leder Games
There's a new kid on the block at Leder Games, and that kid is Fort — a uniquely themed deck-building game for 2-4 players designed by Grant Rodiek and developed by Nick Brachmann that features Kyle Ferrin's signature artwork (Root, Vast, Oath) so perfectly tailored to the theme.

I originally shared my excitement for Fort in a March 2020 post after playing it at GAMA Expo. Now that I have a copy of the beautiful finished product, thanks to Leder Games, I wanted to share more details about Fort for anyone who might be curious about it.

Board Game: Fort

In Fort, players are kids trying to grow their circle of friends, snag some toys and pizza, and build the best fort. Like most games, the goal is to have the most victory points, and in Fort, there are lots of different ways to score VPs, with those ways varying each game you play.

From gallery of candidrum
Kid card example
The gameplay of Fort is driven by a deck of 60 kid cards that players use to take actions throughout the game. Each kid card has a name, one of seven suits (including a wild), some adorably fun artwork, and (for the most part) a public and/or private action, which is how players will take actions.

At the beginning of each game, each player starts with two "Best Friend" kid cards and eight regular kid cards that together form your initial circle of friends, a.k.a. your starter deck. Each player takes a turn consisting of five phases in clockwise order until the game end is triggered.

Each turn starts with a clean-up phase, then the leader (active player) plays a kid card from their hand to perform a public and/or private action, in most cases adding supporting cards matching the suit to modify their action(s). Looking at the example kid card to the left (Kitty), the public action at the top of the card allows you to add a toy to your stuff (i.e., the personal supply on your player board) for every glue icon played, and the private action at the bottom allows you can pay a toy to gain a victory point, again for every glue icon played.

While some actions simply allow you to collect resources, others allow you to put resources into your backpack (to provide more storage space), add cards to your lookout to be used as permanent modifiers, trash cards, score VPs, and perhaps most importantly allow you to build your fort.

From gallery of candidrum

To build your fort, you need to spend the specified resources to increase your fort level. Building your fort not only generates victory points at the end of the game, but is also a bit of a competitive race. The sooner you level up your fort, the more options you have when it comes to choosing cards that provide perks (special abilities) and made-up rules (secret endgame scoring objectives). Completing your fort is also one of the triggers for the end of the game.

After the leader decides on an action card, their rivals (opponents) have the opportunity to "follow" the leader's public action by discarding a card matching the suit, so yes, there's a bit of "follow the leader" as you might expect in a kids-themed game, coincidentally published by "Leder" Games. I see what they did there.

As the leader, you stingily try to play an action card that you're hoping your rivals can't follow so they don't reap any benefits on your turn. Sometimes having players follow is unavoidable, especially at higher player counts, but also because you have other things to consider when deciding which card to play for your action, but I'll get into that later.

From gallery of candidrum
Next you recruit a new kid into your circle by taking a kid card from the park (public card market), from the park deck, or savagely, from your rivals' yard (tableau). When you take a card from your rival, you're thematically stealing one of their friends, but you're actually taking a card from their deck. Let's face it — they probably deserved it since they were not playing with them. There's nothing like taking a kid card from your rival's yard and hearing them groan a bit because it was a good card they did not want to lose, but it certainly goes both ways, so you'll be groaning on occasion, too.

With these options for adding cards to your deck, you have just enough flexibility for strategically shaping your deck and will hopefully be able to set up juicy combos for future turns. Even when your best option is grabbing a kid card blindly from the park deck, and you don't fish your wish, it's not the end of the world. Every card has its benefits since it can be used to take or follow an action, can be placed in your lookout as a permanent modifier, or can even be trashed if it's cluttering up your deck down the line.

Now's a good time to mention that several cards give you the option to trash cards from your hand or discard pile. I like to think of it as refining your circle of friends versus the sadder reality of permanently ditching the ones who aren't gelling well with others. Again, this gives you more flexibility for optimizing your deck. Some actions even allow you to gain resources for each card you trash, or on the defensive/"take that" side, some that let you discard cards from your rival's yard!

Whichever cards in your hand that you did not play for your action, with the exception of your Best Friend kid cards, now have to go into your yard to potentially be stolen by your rivals. I'm sure many games have heard of hate-drafting; well in Fort, be prepared for some "hate-recruiting". Your rivals may recruit one of your stronger cards from your yard just to prevent you from using it.

This is why I mentioned you have a few things to consider when picking your action card. Since kid cards not used for your action will be placed in your yard and can be stolen by rivals, you have to think carefully when deciding which action card to play. You want to consider what you want and need most personally, but then also what your opponents hopefully won't be able to follow, while also trying to avoid putting juicy cards in your yard to potentially be snatched by friend-hungry rivals.

When it's not your turn, following your opponents can help mitigate some of this potential loss. Not only can you get a resource or limited action when it's not your turn, but you can discard cards that you're not planning to use for your next action and avoid them going into your yard.

From gallery of candidrum

The game end is triggered when a player has at least 25 victory points on the victory track, any player reaches fort level 5, or the park deck is empty. You finish the round so that everyone gets the same number of turns, then proceed with endgame scoring. My games have been running about 45-60 minutes, but I think you could get it down to 20-30 minutes depending on how well players know the game and how quickly they make decisions.

After you've familiarized yourself with the rules and played a game or two, I strongly recommend the advanced set-up variant of drafting your starting kid cards. Not only does this reduce the randomness of your starting deck, but it also preloads your deck with potentially potent combos. If you have a deck focused on a couple of select suits, odds are you'll draw more hands that have more matching suits which will allow you to take more powerful actions — but if you don't vary it up enough, you run the risk of missing out on some sweet following opportunities. It's tricky to find the right balance, but this is part of the challenge and fun of playing Fort, in my opinion.

Fort is definitely not your average deck-builder; it's combotastic at its roots and features refreshing player interaction, significantly more so than most deck-builders I've played. Fort began as a reimplementation of Rodiek's 2018 hidden gem, SPQF, and has since been transformed into a streamlined, accessible, mainstream hit in-the-making as a result of Rodiek and Leder Games teaming up together. SPQF's ancient civilization-building theme never bothered me because the game mechanisms were fun and interesting, but the re-skin to Fort 100% clicks and seems like it was always meant to be.

From gallery of candidrum
"Made-up Rule" endgame scoring cards
Fort stands out to me because the theme is incredibly well-integrated with the mechanisms. I don't feel like I'm a kid building a fort when I play, but everything from the card suits (squirt gun, skateboard, glue, book etc.) to the resources (toys and pizza) to the fact that your friends might leave you if you don't play with them, combined with the playful, amusing artwork and kid-centric verbiage on made-up rules and perks cards, makes the design feel tight thematically. Every bit of detail poured into the production of this game to reinforce the theme is very well executed and, from my experience, lends itself to many laughs and smiles at the table, no matter how competitively everyone is playing. It's not uncommon to hear funny offerings such as, "Toys for glue?...Does anyone want toys for glue?"

Because of theme and the fact that it's fairly easy to learn, I think Fort will go over well with gamers and non-gamers alike. The theme also makes the game feel light and playful, but it's meaty enough for heavier gamers, too, since it offers plenty of interesting decisions when building and refining your deck. While there are a lot of icons to familiarize yourself with, the iconography is well done, and between the excellent, helpful player aids and player boards, you will rarely need to reference the rulebook once you've learned the game.

For me, Fort will probably most often be played as a filler game in between longer games, or as something on the lighter end of the spectrum for ending the night — but you never know as I could also see myself playing back-to-back games and turning it into a Fort-a-thon.

From gallery of candidrum

Whether you're a fan of deck-builders, curious to try one, or even just dig uniquely-themed games, Fort is worth checking out. I can only hope that if ever an expansion appears, we'll see the Fort deluxe edition packaged in a lunchbox...
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Wed Aug 26, 2020 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Finished! Redux, or If at First You Don't Succeed, File, File Again

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Finished!
1. In mid-July 2020, I posted a full playthrough video of Friedemann Friese's Finished!, a solitaire game he published through his own 2F-Spiele in 2017, but I didn't write anything about the game as I was helping to prep for the BGG livestream events during Comic-Con@Home and Gen Con Online. (Video overviews from those shows are now posted on our BGG Express YouTube channel. The past is once again the present!)

2. With more time on hand after those shows, let's now look into Finished!, which I believe is Friese's greatest design to date.

3. Your goal in Finished! will feel familiar if you've ever played Klondike solitaire or something similar: Sort all 48 cards — which are numbered 1-48 — in order. At the start of the game, shuffle all cards other than the 48 to create a deck, place the 48 on the bottom of the deck, then begin play.

4. This set-up matters because the 48 card serves as your clock. In your role as an office flunky, you've been tasked with sorting files, and each time the 48 passes through your hands, an hour has also passed, and you must drink coffee to stay awake in your fluorescent-filled 9-to-5 tomb. If you run out of coffee — and you have only seven — then you have failed your filing function, which might as well be a resignation note because you are clearly terrible at your job.

5. Your attention span must be limited — or perhaps the person who wrote the office filing protocol assumed that filers would be feeble-minded and you have fulfilled those expectations — because you can handle only three files at a time. More specifically, from the deck of files at the start of the game, you will draw exactly three file cards and place them into your "present" area, which is called "present" not because you get a thrill out of opening the files, but because this is your present activity, that is, this is where your focus is required and the only place where you can do things.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Actions, yes, but nothing to do...

For Every Action There's No Free Action

6. Each file card depicts something, typically one action that you can take with files — but to take that action you must spend one candy. Again, whoever wrote the office filing protocol was correct in their assessment of your skills because you can do almost nothing unless you consume a sweet to motivate yourself to do something. Sweets and coffee are the only things pushing you through the day!

7. You start the game with seven candy, and you can acquire more candy in two ways: First, some file cards depict a candy on them, and when you draw a candy from the deck, you add one candy to your personal stash from the candy reserve. Second, if you manage to place three or more file cards in numerical order, say, 16/17/18, then you process those cards, you receive one candy from the reserve for each card after the first — so two candies in this example. Seriously, you must have the focusing capabilities of a six-year-old because you're rewarded for doing what any normally functioning person would do automatically for no reward. Friese should have called this game "Skinner Box", but that name doesn't start with "F", so it was out.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
So many files! How did I get all of those in play on the second turn?

"Then Shalt Thou Count to Three, No More, No Less"

8. Let's go back to the beginning of the game: Draw three cards from the deck, then take a candy from the reserve for each candy depicted on those cards, then lay them face up into the designated "present" area on your desk. Do you want to use one or more of the card powers?

9. Maybe you can spend a candy to use an action to draw a card from the deck (e.g. #14 and #27), thereby giving you more things to work on at once, which is usually a good thing; after all, if you could lay out all 48 cards at once, you could easily sort them and be done for the day, goofing around with your co-workers until closing time, but rules are rules, so stick to the filing protocol.

10. Maybe you can use an action to draw one card, then put another card back on top of the deck (e.g., #22, #33, and #39). If you put a candy card back, then next turn you'll get another candy from that card when you draw it again, thereby replacing the candy you spent to take that action and leaving you in a net neutral position regarding your sweet stash.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Using #42 to jump the line

11. Maybe you can push those files in the present aside for a few minutes, that is, push them into the future (e.g., #16), so that you can work on something else. Yes, one action lets you do this, with you pushing the "present" cards away from you into a "future" row, then drawing three new cards and working on those instead. You can even do this multiple times, creating many rows of future cards that function in a FILO style.

12. A different action lets you push something into the future more selectively, with you taking exactly one card from the present, then sliding it into the future where it will stay untouched for now (e.g., #12 and #19). Think of it as copying text, then holding it in reserve while you go to a different browser tab and scroll to exactly where you need to paste it, only to get distracted by a Slack notice that you need to respond to immediately on Facebook, where you see a note from a friend who's ill and you want to respond to that with a cute GIF, and —no, no, no, don't forget you still have that text in reserve waiting for your command-V to release it! Paste that card in the future, then get back to work.

13. After all, while you can set tasks for yourself in the future, you can work only in the present.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Pushing #3 into the future in the hope that #2 will appear

The Past Was Once Your Present

14. Once you decide that you're done sorting files in the present — and without paying any candy at all, you can move those present cards into whatever numerical order you want, with low to high being typical — you set them aside; in game terms, you send them to the past, clearing the way for you to get back to work on future files (should you have any) or to draw three new file cards from the deck.

15. If you send cards to the past and more than three cards are now sitting in the past, you must add them to the bottom of the deck in FIFO order until you have at most three. Again, focus is required!

16. Another action lets you draw the rightmost two cards out of the past and back into whatever you're working on in the present (e.g., #8). Maybe you just filed 43 and 45 in the past, then 44 comes out in the present. What luck! Now you can spend a candy to activate 44, pull out those two "past" cards, and create a 43/44/45 sequence sandwich that will net you two candy when you ship the present cards to the past. You've gained a candy and put those cards in order!

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Pushing #3 into the future again!

17. Still another action ships two cards of your choice from the present to the past, then adds the top two cards of the deck to your present (e.g., #41), and yet another action lets you take all the cards from the present and ship them directly to the bottom of the deck, bypassing any cards sitting in the past (e.g., #42).

18. As I mentioned before, each time you ship 48 to the past, you must drink a coffee — and this requirement creates both restrictions and opportunities for you. If 48 is in the recent past, then you can't return cards from the past to the present because you'll drink another coffee when the 48 goes to the past again.

19. If you use the draw-one-place-one-on-the-deck or the push-one-card-into-the-future actions, however, you can delay that coffee drinking only as long as your candy supply holds out and those actions keep turning up. Why? Because each time you use an action, you must place a candy on that card, and that candy stays there until the card goes to the past, at which time the candy is returned to the reserve. If you fail to turn over an action, then the 48 shoots into the past; run out of candy, then down goes the coffee. Time is passing, and you're moving closer to death — I mean, losing the game.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Two rows of future work above the present and gutted past

"Sugar Solves Lots of Problems, That's What I Think"

20. The status of your candy stash is crucial to your success, and in your first game or two, it's difficult to know whether an action merits using. Yes, drawing cards is almost always good, but is it "one candy" good? If you have 4/12/14, then you have exactly one card that you can draw — the 13 — that will pay for itself through the creation of a sequence. Drawing something between 4 and 12 is okay, but so is scooting around your office on a rolling chair, and that's not going to get you closer to winning either.

21. What will get you closer to winning? Getting all the files in order. As in Klondike solitaire, when the 1 appears, you immediately place it in the "finished" pile to the side of everything else, then draw a replacement card and put that in the present instead of the 1. If you draw the 2 after the 1 has been set aside, then the 2 goes in the finished pile and you draw a replacement. You want to place cards in order within the deck because if you have, say, 16/17/18 in sequence, then once the 16 is placed on the finished pile, the next two cards will follow automatically.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Progress in the present? Still no #2...

22. The challenge, of course, is determining how much order is enough to get all the cards finished before you run out of coffee and lose. Which brings us back to the question of how much organization one candy is worth — and the answer is, as you might expect, it depends.

"Who Controls the Past Controls the Future"

23. The trick to Finished! is that it's not-so-secretly a memory game. The first time you go through the deck, you might focus on actions that pull cards back from the past (so that you can make sequences) or you'll use the #2 (which draws two cards for one candy) and #47 (which lets you draw one card for one candy up to three times) so that you can have lots of cards in the present.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Pushing ahead #3 one more time!

24. Once you're going through the deck the second, third, fourth, etc. time, however, you can draw on your knowledge of the card order to determine when to take which actions. Putting cards into the future, for example, pushes them behind (or after depending on how you want to think of it) the cards that are now going into the present; putting cards on the bottom of the deck does the same thing.

25. Instead of manipulating only single cards in the present — draw one card, draw another card — you can ideally take larger actions that when combined with the small ones creates more order — even if sometimes it's just pseudo-order as when you move, say, 17/28/29 in front of 19/31/35. The new sequence of 17/28/29/19/31/35 isn't strictly in numerical order, but having 17 in front of 19 and 28/29 in front of 31/35 is better than the other way around.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Another push to the future? Or am I falling prey to the sunk-cost fallacy?

26. The more you play Finished!, the more you realize that the cards aren't in order from the top of the deck to the bottom, but rather they're in order in a circle, and the actions let you manipulate cards through various positions on that circle, with the circle shrinking over the course of the game as cards are placed in the finished pile. The more cards you remove, the easier it is to manipulate cards in the circle — but the more frequently the 48 comes around for you to dodge and delay.

27. Admittedly you could play Finished! with the cards face up once you've seen them the first time through, but the memory aspect seems critical to the player experience. The challenge isn't simply to put the cards in order. Again, you could spread all the cards on the table if that's all that mattered.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Still no #2 — and now #6 will be placed ahead of #5. Argh!

28. No, you are challenging yourself to remember what you've handled when and which cards come prior to which other cards, and you must juggle many things in mind at once, with you needing to prioritize certain memories over other ones. What's important for you to remember? Do you even know? Productivity experts say that the best to-do lists have only a few items on them, and through more than one hundred games of Finished!, I've found that having 3-4 items on the next round's to-do list is typically enough to achieve long-term success.

"We're Getting Clearer All the Time"

29. Tension in the game escalates perfectly because you often have only a couple of cards, if that, in the finished pile the first time you drink a coffee. With one round of eight complete, you've accomplished...almost nothing. (Similar to how when I had completed one-eighth of my life, I had accomplished almost nothing. Similar to how I’ve written this many words, yet still haven’t gotten to the point!)

From gallery of W Eric Martin
YAAAS! I've spent almost everything, but the #13 pays off. What's more, after drawing a replacement (#11), I can now put #6 on the deck. Bonus!

30. But now you're armed with knowledge of the deck. You can recall (perhaps) that you need to push the 5 a couple of card blocks later so that the 4 can be placed aside, then the 5 (for otherwise you'll need two passes through the deck — which means two coffees — rather than one before you've finished the 5); and you need to push the 13 forward to make a sequence, gain candy, and line those cards up; and you need to use the 36 to move that block of cards forward.

31. Oh, and more than anything else you want to be cognizant of the blocks of cards themselves, that is, the groups of three cards you reveal each time that you refresh the present. Even with little to no candy on hand, you can make small adjustments to the card circle by ensuring that you're not drawing the same three cards each time you pass through the deck. (Another hidden lesson from Klondike solitaire.) If I draw 17/20/38 and don't change anything, then draw 21/24/26 and don't change anything, then I draw those same cards again on the next pass, I'm spinning my wheels.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Once the future becomes the present, #3 is finished, with #6 being drawn as a replacement and landing in the spot after #5

32. If, however, I use a "draw one card" action at some point prior to those blocks of cards passing through my hands, then I'll instead draw 20/38/21, which I can change to 20/21/38. On the next pass, I might draw 21/38/24, which again I can change. Minute progress is progress nonetheless, and sometimes the effect of your actions won't become apparent until the future. Four rounds in, you're sitting with only ten cards in the finished pile, then — ziiiiip! — eight more cards drop in on the next pass through the deck.

33. The candy ratio in the higher-numbered cards is lower than in the lower-numbered cards, so you need to have sequences in place to cover this loss of candy generation or else you're going to stall in the final rounds or not be able to forgo the smothering effect of 48.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Hitting 48, with one "extra" card to start shifting card trios

Final Thoughts

34. Finished! is a brilliantly engaging puzzle-based solitaire game that blends the familiar with the new, a game that grows more engrossing the more familiar you are with the cards and the patterns that they create during play.

35. Is this what Friese set out to do with this design? I have no idea, but when I'm assessing games, I try to figure out — based on what's presented in the box and in the rules — what the designer wanted to do, in addition to how well they achieved that goal. What doesn't work in the design compared to what they were trying to do? What could be better? What experience does the designer want the player to have, and does this design deliver that experience?

From gallery of W Eric Martin
All is in order here...

36. Obviously big spoonfuls of subjectivity are scooped into both halves of my assessment of what Friese wants to do and what he did, but in this case I think he came closer with Finished! to what I perceive his goals to be for this design than he has with any other game.

37. Don't get me wrong — I love Foppen / Fool! and think highly of Power Grid, Fine Sand, 504, and other Friese designs, but Finished! feels like a perfect design with nothing to change.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Card #37 removes all the candy from cards in the present and future, letting you re-use them should you have enough sweets

Re-Finished

38. What's surprising, though, is that the iOS version of Finished! from Eric Snider (link) improves the original design from Friese without changing any of the rules.

39. How is this possible? Well, consider the memory aspect of Finished! that runs through its DNA. The first time you play a shuffled deck, you know that all of the cards are present in some order, but you have to play the odds as to whether an action will be valuable in your first pass through the deck.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Try again? Why I'd love to!

40. Once you've completed that first pass, then (assuming your memory is of regular capacity) you'll have some idea of what to attempt to do during the second pass — but the iOS version of Finished! allows you to replay a deck if you fail to win, which means that now you'll have a memory of what to do on that first pass through the deck!

41. Yes, you can now use your memory skills to travel back in time and back better choices with the same arrangement of cards, something that wouldn't have been possible previously unless you wrote down the order of all the cards as they appeared, then rearranged the deck for a second game.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Non-final graphics with 13(!) cards in the present

42. I mean, you could have done that anyway, but it would have seemed indulgently obsessive. Thanks to the power of technology, your indulgently obsessive practices can be engaged with no effort required on your part. (You might not be more mentally balanced, but you will have another chance to put 48 cards in numerical order, so that's something, I suppose.)

43. As in Edge of Tomorrow and Groundhog Day, you now have a chance to relive the past and do better. Is every deck solvable if you work through it enough times? I have no idea, but I found it extremely satisfying to finally defeat a deck (on the fourth try) that presented the even cards 8/10/12/14/18/20 almost consecutively, with the cards filling those gaps (9, 11, etc.) scattered mostly on the other side of the circle. If you didn't know about the set-up ahead of time, you couldn't possibly move things around enough in eight rounds — and even when I did know, it still took me a few tries to win because the cards were maximally distanced and my memory is not great. I would think that I could shift the 9 enough, but I'd run out of actions or candy, then finish the 8 without the 9, requiring another trip around the wheel and thereby guaranteeing failure.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Statistics screen not up to date

44. I've now played the iOS version of Finished! more than ninety times, and as much as I love physical games and dislike digital ones, this version of Finished! is ideal for me since I often mess up my candy situation (as demonstrated in the playthrough video below) and find the shifting of cards from the past to the bottom of the deck more tedious than meditative.

45. I would love to tackle many tasks in my life in the most efficient way possible so that I have more time for other things. (For one thing, having all the words for this essay spill out in the right order on the first attempt would have been a big help.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Almost finished...

46. Similarly, I would love to redo tasks and actions that didn't go right the first time. I learn from my actions — or try to anyway — but even so not everything works out the next time or the time after that. Finished! allows you to satisfyingly work through this sensation of wanting things to be right, of rewarding you (with points in the iOS version) for having coffee and candy unspent once the files are in order. As you get better, you can increase the challenge for yourself by starting the game with fewer candies and coffees, similar to how you increase the challenges in your own life by attempting larger projects or trying to complete something more quickly.

47. As you might be able to tell, I find Finished! immensely satisfying, even when I lose. When playing a game, you place yourself within a system of artificial constraints, surrendering certain aspects of your freedom in order to prove that even so encumbered, you can do what you set out to do. And sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can't — but you can try again, and you can learn from your mistakes, and you can do better, and you can find a path that leads to your goal. Then you can do it again.

48. If you want to see even more of the game in action, here's a full playthrough video, with notes for a couple of mistakes I made along the way — mistakes that are impossible in the iOS version, which also contains an "undo" feature if you want to bring the past back to the present even more quickly:

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Mon Aug 24, 2020 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: High Rise, or City Building with a Healthy Dose of Corruption

Candice Harris
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Board Game Publisher: Formal Ferret Games
Sometimes you're passing by a booth at a convention, and you have to stop. I was originally captured by the table presence of High Rise at Formal Ferret's booth when I attended GAMA Expo in March 2020. It wasn't a booth I could just casually walk by or pause at for a few seconds, then move on. I had to stop and ask about this visually unique and captivating game. When Gil Hova, the designer and publisher, gave me a high-level overview, it sounded interesting enough that I knew I definitely wanted to play High Rise at some point.

Fast forward four months, I received a box in the mail thanks to Gil, and when I opened it, I found a large game box with one of the most beautiful covers I've seen in awhile. It came as no surprise when I discovered Kwanchai Moriya had his artistic hands in the mix. Since I had the opportunity to play a couple games of High Rise, I figured I'd share some of my initial impressions.

From gallery of candidrum

In High Rise, 1-4 players represent moguls in a new city trying to score the most victory points by constructing the tallest buildings for wealthy and powerful corporate tenants. The core gameplay revolves around a one-way track surrounding five different neighbors in the city.

Over the course of 2-3 rounds, players move their moguls to action spaces along the one-way track, taking the corresponding action where they stop. For the most part, you're collecting resources that are colored floor tiles and UltraPlastic (a wild resource), and trying to match the current round's blueprints in order to construct buildings. Some of the action spaces are tenant tiles that vary from game to game, tiles where you gain either an immediate bonus or a power card that you can use later. At the end of each round when each player's mogul has entered the stop zone, you score victory points for the tallest buildings in each neighborhood and overall. At the end of the game, just as you'd expect, the player with the most victory points wins.

From gallery of candidrum

One thing that keeps High Rise on the simpler side of the complexity scale is that there's no money to manage. Instead, you have a corruption-based economy. Actions are generally free, but some actions cause you to gain corruption or give you optional extra bonuses if you're willing to take a little corruption. Be careful, though, because at the end of each round the players with the most corruption are penalized.

From gallery of candidrum
Blueprint card (top) and
player's construction yard (bottom)
w/ floor tiles matching the third blueprint
While a few helpful actions allow you to lose corruption, it's not the end of the world if you gain a little here and there...depending on your opponents. You're definitely going to want to and sometimes have to gain corruption, so it's in your best interest to pay attention and monitor your opponents' corruption level relative to your own so that you don't get stuck with the penalty and lose victory points. There will be moments when you need to gain an extra floor tile or even stop on a specific action space that causes you to gain corruption, which might push you into having the most corruption. You have to balance risk versus reward, but I found it fun to juggle corruption, and I appreciated the interesting choices it provided.

The main way you gain victory points in High Rise is by constructing buildings. Not only do you score for tallest buildings at the end of each round, but you also score points immediately when you construct a building. To do so, you need to stop in one of the four construction zones and discard floors from your personal supply (construction yard) that match the current round's blueprints. This is typically how you determine which size building you can place, but you can increase the height of the building a couple of ways, such as being the first to build a specific blueprint or having power cards with special construction benefits.

From gallery of candidrum
After determining your building's height and grabbing the appropriate numbered building tile, you pick a neighborhood to place your building in, gain victory points equal to its height, then activate the tenant power corresponding to the space in which you placed your building.

Tenant powers are based on the tenant tiles randomly placed on the game board in each neighborhood during set-up. They come in a variety of flavors, allowing players to gain power cards and immediate bonuses such as victory points, resources, and ways to lose corruption. When you land on a tenant tile connected to an opponent's building, you get to take the action, but they'll gain a random floor tile. Alternatively, if you land on a tenant tile with one of your own buildings, you take the associated action as usual, then you can also gain a random floor tile topped with a bit of corruption because as the rulebook says, "you're clearly embezzling".

The variety of tenant tiles ups the replay value of High Rise since each neighborhood has nine different tiles, and you selecting only three or four are random each game. This is all to say, when you're choosing a location to construct a building, you have lots to consider: Do you want to place it in an area where you'll have one of the tallest buildings for end of round scoring? Or do you place where you'll immediately activate a tenant power that will help your next turn? Or do you place it where there's a tenant power you're expecting many opponents to land on so you'll get passive benefits when it's not your turn?

From gallery of candidrum
Tenant tile action spaces and their corresponding power cards

While building construction and the majority of actions are straightforward and pretty quick execution-wise, the decision of where to move is where things get challenging in High Rise. Turn order is variable and always led by whichever player's mogul is furthest behind on the one-way track. Unlike most games that utilize the well-loved time track mechanism, High Rise features a slight twist by having action spaces grouped into zones, and as a rule of movement, you must always move your mogul to a different zone and can never occupy the same space as an opponent.

Between certain zones are juicy bonus spaces that make the decision of jumping further ahead even more enticing and tend to open up a strategic can of worms. The bonus spaces include a limited amount of first come, first serve perks, from extra floors or UltraPlastic to power cards and spires that make your buildings even taller. Each turn, you'll more than likely struggle with the decision of hanging back and hopefully getting more actions than your opponents, or jumping ahead to take advantage of the bonus space goodies, or taking an earlier action space to avoid gaining corruption. Moving and deciding where to place my buildings always seemed to be the toughest decisions in High Rise.

Once all players' moguls have entered the stop zone of the final round, you do endgame scoring, score the tallest buildings, and determine who gets the corruption penalty, then the player with the most points wins.

From gallery of candidrum
High Rise includes rules for three different game modes, so you have options if you're new to the game or if you simply want a shorter or longer experience. I think many will find the standard game (two rounds) to be the sweet spot since you can bang out a game in about two hours or less with experienced players, and it feels like a full, complete experience. If you play the full game (three rounds), you'll probably discover more interesting strategies and play differently since you'll be even more familiar with the tenant tiles and how your opponents are playing, but it will take longer to play. In either case, it's awesome to have the options and flexibility.

The solo and two-player games integrate the use of neutral moguls. In a two-player game, there's one neutral mogul that players alternate controlling, and in a solo game, you control two neutral moguls. In either case, the neutral mogul can be used to either block or move. If you block, you place the neutral mogul in the first available action space in the zone ahead of the lead player, whereas if you move, you gain a corruption, but you get to move the neutral mogul to any legal space and you get to take the associated action.

In both the solo and two-player games, I enjoyed having that option of taking corruption to gain extra actions or avoiding the corruption but potentially blocking a space I needed to go to. Even though both use neutral moguls, they feel very different since your opponent could be using the neutral mogul defensively against you, but in the solo game, corruption is evaluated differently so you end up gambling a bit, the more corruption you take. In the solo game, you're trying to score as many points as you can compared to a scoring chart, which is not all that exciting for some, including myself. However, I liked playing with the neutral moguls and thought it was a clever approach to making High Rise a compelling experience at lower player counts.

From gallery of candidrum
Tenant tile action spaces w/ immediate bonuses

All in all, High Rise is a solid city-building, area-influence game with an interesting twist on the time track mechanism. It's fairly simple to play once you are familiar with the iconography, even though its eye-catching table presence makes it look much heavier. Honestly, the hardest part for me was the initial set-up. There are a lot of different components and the set-up steps in the rulebook did not have numbers corresponding to the example set-up image, so it took a lot of reading and careful flipping back and forth to make sure I was setting it up correctly. That part felt tedious the first time. Of course, after playing my first game, setting it up for future games felt like a breeze, but even still, I wouldn't call it a quick set-up game.

I loved all of the tough decisions when it comes to moving around the one-way track and having a corruption-based economy. Constructing buildings always felt exciting because you're immediately getting victory points and activating a tenant power, not to mention the satisfaction from occasionally demolishing your opponents' smaller buildings!

There's plenty of variety with tenant tiles, power cards, bonus tiles, and blueprint cards that will likely keep each game feeling fresh. However, it may cause some AP and slower turns since players will need to get familiar with each different tenant tile that's placed on the game board. The tenant tiles are not complicated, though, so I'm sure things will move quicker, as always, after you've played a few games. The rulebook has a handy appendix section with detailed explanations of all of the tenant tiles and power cards, not to mention Gil Hova's fun humor sprinkled throughout.

Most importantly, High Rise made me realize that I'm not nearly as corrupt as some of my friends, although I'm still very eager to build a 15-floor building, so who knows how corrupt I'll end up being by the time I figure that out!

Board Game: High Rise
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Thu Aug 6, 2020 1:00 pm
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Game Preview: Renature, or From Badgers to Bushes, From Turtles to Trees

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Renature
The designers Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling have released many classic games over the years, both individually and as a team. In 2020, their credits can be found on a new version of Maharaja (first released in 2004), the large strategy game Paris, the domino-based game Jubako, and a second domino-based game — the subject of my preview today — Renature from new German publisher Deep Print Games.

While new, Renature feels like a classic game from the early 2000s, with simple rules and abstract gameplay wrapped in a setting that makes no sense from a narrative point of view.

On a turn, you place one of your three dominoes on the game board, either on one of the four starting spaces or next to one or more dominoes already on the board so long as all the pieces match. (One critter at a time is a joker and can be placed next to whatever you want. The butterfly starts as the joker, and you can see multiple uses of butterflies this way in the image below.) The game includes ten types of critters, and each pairing of critters appears once on the 55 dominoes.

Board Game: Renature

After placing your domino, you can place a plant in an empty dirt space next to that domino, scoring 1 point for that plant and 1 point for each plant of the same size or smaller in that dirt area.

If your domino placement surrounded an area, as in the upper-left area shown above, then you score that area. (The domino currently being placed doesn't close an area since a 1x2 space remains open to the right of the snail.) Plants come in four sizes, and you sum your "plant strength" in an area to determine who scores it. Whoever has the most plant strength scores the larger value on the area tile, and whoever has the second most strength scores the smaller value.

As in the Rüdiger Dorn game Las Vegas, ties are unfriendly, with the tied colors in an area being treated as not present. Another similarity to Las Vegas — well, to an official variant of that game — is that each player has plants in their color as well as neutral plants, and you can try to use these neutral plants to engineer ties to keep other players from scoring. Even better, if the plant strengths in an area end up as, say, 4 for blue, 4 for neutral, and 1 for orange, then the orange player is treated as the only player in that area — and if you're alone in an area, then you score both the larger and smaller point values on an area tile. Whatever you do, you want to place all of your plants on the board because you're penalized at the end of the game for each plant unplayed.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
End of a three-player game

Each player starts the game with six cloud tokens, and on a turn, aside from your regular action, you can spend:

• two clouds to change the joker animal,
• three clouds to take another turn, or
• 1-4 clouds to reclaim a neutral plant or one of your plants (in the appropriate size) from the board as long as you have space for it on your personal player board.

A few spaces on the game board contain cloud tokens, and when you place a plant on a cloud, you place it in your reserve if you have room.

Renature reminded me of Michael Schacht designs from the early 2000s, designs like Hansa and Web of Power that have a strong tactical element, designs in which your turn often risks giving the following player a large advantage. (In Hansa, you might refill empty ports with goods, which gives others things to buy, and in Web of Power, when you're the first in a region, you can place only one piece while after that everyone can place two pieces if they have the right cards.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Kramer's own games Wildlife Adventure and Expedition contain a similar piggybacking element as in those games players share three expeditions around the world, with each new segment of an expedition being placed after the most recent one. You want an expedition to reach secret locations in your hand so that you can score them, but ideally you can let someone else spend their turns getting an expedition close to such a location, then you can profit from it with little effort.

In Renature, which I've played twice on a mock-up copy from Deep Print Games, once each with two and three players, with each domino you place, you have to consider where your opponents might go next. If you place the first plant in an area, can they follow you with a larger plant, superceding your growth? You want to claim all the areas, of course, but you don't have the plants to do so, which means you need to grow with care — although sometimes a throwaway plant will prove profitable if everyone lays dominoes in other directions and doesn't return to that area. After all, each area not surrounded still scores at the end of the game based on the division of plant strength; the area tiles are discarded instead of being awarded, but even a small area can be worth the effort if you collect both rewards yourself.

The only drawback to the game's design — aside from the setting, as I'm not sure how placing critters on brooks leads to plant growth in bare patches of dirt — is that the neutral pieces are easily confused for the white pieces. In the image above, you can see that the white pieces are oriented in one direction while the neutral pieces are at a 90º angle to the white pieces. In both games, which were played with different people under different lighting sources, it was next to impossible to distinguish the two colors. Maybe these will differ in the published version of the game, but if not, you'll likely want to mark one set of pieces to make them stand out.

As for the game's availability, Renature will be released by Capstone Games in the U.S., and the game will be available in eight languages overall, with a debut during SPIEL.digital in mid-October 2020 and a retail release date of October 28, 2020.

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Thu Jul 23, 2020 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Finished!, or Clear Your Desk Before the Day Is Done

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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I want to write many things about Friedemann Friese's Finished!, a title he released in 2017 from his own 2F-Spiele, but time has been tight this past week, so for now I must let this playthrough video stand on its own.

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Mon Jul 20, 2020 3:05 am
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Tekhenu Sheds Serious Light on Clever Dice Drafting

Candice Harris
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Board Game Publisher: Board&Dice
While I've played Tzolk'in, Teotihuacan, and Trismegistus only a handful of times collectively, I'm well aware that when Daniele Tascini designs a medium-heavy euro with a "T" name, it's bound to have interesting mechanisms and mesmerize my mind. Then you pair him up with Dávid Turczi and there's a high chance for cardboard gold. Enter Board&Dice's July 2020 release, Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun, a strategic dice-drafting game for 1 to 4 players set in Ancient Egypt.

Rainer Åhlfors from Board&Dice was kind enough to demo Tekhenu for me and a couple of friends on Tabletopia, then graciously sent me a physical copy of the game hot off the press, so I wanted to share my initial impressions since I've been playing it quite a bit.

Board Game: Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun

In Tekhenu, players take on the roles of nobles in Ancient Egypt as they build the Temple of Amun-Ra and the area that is to become Ipet-Isut. Players will draft sixteen dice from a nifty, rotating, obelisk wheel over the course of the game, using them for one of six different god actions or to simply produce resources.

Each round, players take one action in turn order. Every two rounds, there will be a rotation and restocking of dice. Every two rotations, there will be a Maat phase in which you check the balance of your scales and reset turn order. Then every two Maat phases brings a scoring round, and after two scoring rounds, the game ends, and the player with the most victory points wins.

From gallery of candidrum

Off the bat, the game board has a lot going on, and I got the same initial overwhelming feeling I got when I sat down to play Teotihuacan the first time. Similar to Teotihuacan, it's really not that crazy once someone gives a high-level overview of what you're looking at, then it gets even easier to digest after playing a round or two.

In the case of Tekhenu, the god action areas are conveniently positioned to line up where they are located on the obelisk wheel, which makes it easy to comprehend once someone explains it to you. I think it's pretty impressive that something so chaotic looking initially can make so much sense within minutes. Kudos to the team behind the art and graphic design: Jakub Fajtanowski, Michał Długaj, Zbigniew Umgelter, Kuba Polkowski, Aleksander Zawada.

From gallery of candidrum
Obelisk wheel
Tekhenu is centered around the rotating obelisk, which has sunny, dark, and shaded sides representing how the obelisk casts its shadow as it moves clockwise. During set-up, you roll and place three dice in each section of the obelisk wheel. Every two rounds, more dice come out, but depending on their colors and how the obelisk shadow falls, it might be slim pickings — so turn order is extremely important. At my table, dramatic sound effects are highly encouraged each time we rotate the obelisk.

Depending on the position of the obelisk's shadow, different colored dice will be placed on either the outer ring of the circle as pure, the middle ring as tainted, or the inner ring as forbidden. Dice are pure when they match in brightness. For example, on the sunny side white dice are considered pure, yellow and gray dice are considered tainted, while black and brown dice are forbidden. Alternatively, on the dark side, black dice are pure, brown and gray dice are tainted, and yellow and white dice are forbidden.

Each turn, players take exactly one pure or tainted die (not forbidden) from anywhere around the obelisk wheel. The chosen die is placed onto the corresponding scale (pure or tainted) on your player board. This is a key concept of the game since at the end of every four rounds during the Maat phase you check the balance of your scales — the total value on pure dice vs. total value on tainted dice — to determine the turn order for the following round. I'll say it again, turn order is extremely important in this game. The earlier you are on the turn order track, the better. When you're drafting a die, not only are you thinking about which action you want to take and in some cases, what the value or the color of that die is, but also which side of your scales it will be on since you want your scales to be as balanced as possible when a Maat phase is triggered to hopefully get the best turn order position for the next round.

From gallery of candidrum
Play board

After drafting a die on your turn, you perform either a god action corresponding to the area you drafted the die from or produce resources based on the color of the chosen die. Here's a summary of the six god actions available, some of which feel like mini games within the main game:
Quote:
Horus
Taking the Horus god action allows the building of statues, either in honor of one of the gods or for the people. Building a statue in honor of a god grants you benefits when other players perform actions associated with that god. Building a statue for the people grants favorable benefits during scoring.

Ra
When taking the Ra god action, you add a pillar to the Amun-Ra temple grid, scoring victory points and gaining resources and possibly powerful bonus actions.

Hathor
The Hathor god action results in the construction of buildings around the Amun-Ra temple complex, providing rich resources and considerable influence during scoring. This action also increases the current population.

Bastet
By taking the Bastet god action, a festival takes place, increasing the happiness of the people. However, the happiness marker can never overtake the population marker, making it necessary to strike a balance between different actions. Keeping your people happy unlocks powerful one-time benefits as well as bonus victory points during scoring and more options when taking the Thoth god action.

Thoth
The game includes three types of cards: blessings, technologies, and decrees. Taking the Thoth god action allows you to gain these cards, the type of which is determined by the happiness of your people. Also, the happier your people are, the greater the selection of cards available from which you can choose.

Osiris
Taking the Osiris god action allows you to construct workshops and quarries, each of which increases your production of one of the four resources: papyrus, bread, limestone, and granite. During scoring, you are rewarded for having the most workshops or quarries of each type.

From gallery of candidrum
Temple Complex
Tekhenu has many interesting mechanisms in play, and it's awesome that each game will be a bit different depending on the players and which strategies everyone pursues. For example, in the temple complex, whenever you build pillars performing a Ra action, you get points when you match the color of the edges of the tile borders. The value of the die you take dictates which tile you can take to place your pillar on, and if the tile you choose matches the current shadow lighting of the Ra action on the obelisk wheel, you get the bonus on the tile, too. You have to make sure you have the right resources to pay the cost of a tile that you want, in addition to having it aligned with the right dice value that corresponds to one of the dice available for that action.

Once all those stars align, then you can start thinking about placement to maximize your points by matching the edge colors. You can also gain resources depending on where you place the tile and pillar, so sometimes you have to decide whether it's more important to get more resources or more points, etc.

From gallery of candidrum
Osiris action area
With the Osiris action, it's essentially an area control battle with placing your buildings. The value of the die you use for the Osiris action dictates which row you can place your building on. While higher value dice give you more production and resources, the lower value spots at the top position you better for potential ties since the player with the building or statue closest to the top of each column breaks ties.

Instead of performing a god action, you can choose to take any pure or tainted die and produce, generating resources based on the color of the die (yellow = papyrus, brown = bread, white = limestone, and black = granite) and the current production value of that resource, which is tracked on your player board. Gray dice can never be used for production since they don't correspond to any of the resources, but they are also always tainted and never forbidden, so they're typically more available for drafting, which often makes them essential.

One little caveat with producing resources is that any resources you produce in excess of your production level will be added to the tainted side of your scale — which can be a whole nother monkey wrench to deal with when trying to keep your scales as balanced as possible. Producing isn't the most optimal option, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta to do to gain some extra resources or potentially to snag the right die for balancing your scales.

You can also gain scribes throughout the game that you can spend to modify the dice you draft +/- 1 or 2. Even better, you can spend two scribes to perform a powerful Anubis action. With this action, you can draft a die from anywhere on the obelisk wheel, including forbidden dice, and perform any action. It's quite awesome when you can perform an Anubis action. I can't tell you how many times there have been only forbidden dice left in areas where I needed to take an action. It's really helpful to have this option and flexibility with the scribes, but of course, they aren't easy to come by when you're trying to do a million other actions throughout the game.

Tekhenu has three types of cards that you can gain by performing a Thoth god action, and they all seem juicy, even potentially a bit swingy, though it's too soon to say. You have blessing cards that are one-time use, technology cards that provide ongoing effects, and decree cards for endgame scoring. In two of my games, I was able to snag the card that doesn't require you to pay bread for your buildings during the scoring phases. There are also many sweet combos to be made with some of the cards, e.g., Matt had a decree card that gave him 3 VP per statue at the end of the game in conjunction with a technology card that gave him 2 VP and 1 granite every time he performed the Horus god action, which lets you build statues! The cards can be very powerful.

We did misinterpret some of the decree cards because their wording wasn't clear. One card, for example, says, "Gain 2 VP per Statue and 2 VP per Pillar within the Temple Complex", so when scoring, we totaled all of the statues and pillars at the temple complex. Seems obvious, right? Turns out the card is supposed to score only the statues and pillars of the player who has the decree card. The game board uses an icon in multiple places that indicates something scores only "your" buildings/pillars/etc., so I'm not sure why they didn't include that icon on the decree cards or at least make the verbiage crystal clear: "Gain 2 VP per Statue you have built and 2 VP per Pillar you have raised within the Temple Complex". The good news is that the rulebook is excellent and has an awesome appendix clarifying all of the cards and now that we know it, we won't make that mistake again.

One of the many things I dig about Tekhenu is that it plays fast for a meatier, thinkier game. We knocked out a casual three-player game in just under two hours, and I can see it playing even faster the more experienced the players are. Player count-wise, I would say four players feels toughest, especially if you end up last in turn order, but timing-wise, it doesn't drag unless players are getting bogged down with AP. In all cases, the ending of the game sneaks up on you, so beware. Every time I've played, I always end up thinking I'll have more time to do this or that, but then all of sudden, we're drafting our final two dice and it's crunch time.

Tekhenu also includes a great solo mode, designed by Dávid Turczi and Nick Shaw, in which you compete against the Botankhamun bot, choosing one of three difficulty levels (easy, medium, or hard) for it. The Botankhamun bot's turns are driven by ten action tiles placed randomly in a pyramid shape during set-up, and again at the end of the first three Maat phases. You take your turns as normal, and when it's Botankhamun's turn, you flip the Deben token to determine where the progress token moves on the pyramid of action tiles, either to the right-side-adjacent tile or the top-right-adjacent tile. This dictates which action Botankhamun performs next. Just like a human opponent, Botankhamun scores points during the game from certain actions and also during the scoring phase.

From gallery of candidrum
Botankhamun action tile pyramid

You'll likely have to reference the rulebook for most of Botankhamun's turns as I did with my first solo play, but the system is straightforward, which made the game move along. More importantly, I felt the same struggles I've felt from my previous games against human opponents. This is not one of those solo modes in which you're trying to just get a high score for giggles; you are working hard to beat Botankhamun's score just as if it were a human opponent. You get just as frustrated when Botankhamun takes a die you needed, or grabs a technology or decree card you were hoping to nab, or simply takes an action that jeopardizes your position for scoring, especially right before the scoring phase.

Overall my solo Tekhenu experience on medium difficulty was challenging and stressful in the best way possible. I honestly enjoyed the gameplay as much as I do when I play with human opponents, minus the lack of social interaction.

While Tekhenu doesn't necessarily feel thematic from a gameplay standpoint, the art and graphic design pushes it in the right direction, and the mechanisms are so fun I don't even care that the theme isn't quite popping. What does help, though, is the right music. A couple of times I played, we put on some mellow Ancient Egyptian music in the background, which enhanced the game experience, then followed it up with the original The Mummy soundtrack which intensified moments of the the game quite a bit.

Tekhenu comes down to clever mechanisms, a wealth of interesting decisions, plenty of different strategies to explore, and consequently, many paths to victory. There are lots of things to juggle and think about every turn. You can roughly plan ahead each round, but you have to be able to adapt because it's very likely someone may take that die you really needed.

Every action you take feels rewarding since you're usually getting points, resources, or both. It's one of those games in which you want to do everything, but you're better off focusing on something and doing it well to maximize your points vs. dabbling a little bit all over the place. From my four plays so far, I typically find it best to build my strategy around my initially selected decree card (the secret endgame scoring objective) because I feel it gives you focus. Otherwise, you could be overwhelmed by all the options and fall down the AP rabbit hole.

While your mind is working through optimizing each separate action, again you also have to spend attention balancing your scales from round to round. I think that helps give players some focus since you're going to more than likely target certain dice to help keep your scales balanced and that limits your options. It can definitely get super puzzley...

Overall, I've been enjoying playing Tekhenu, and I'm looking forward to trying to figure it out even more. It could be that Tascini and Turczi make a killer game design duo, or maybe I just love clever dice-drafting games. I'm sure it's a bit of both. Either way, Tekhenu is worth checking out, especially if you're already a fan of any of Tascini's other "T" games: T'zolkin, Teotihuacan, or Trismegistus.

Board Game: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar
Board Game: Teotihuacan: City of Gods
Board Game: Trismegistus: The Ultimate Formula
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Fri Jul 17, 2020 3:40 pm
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Game Preview: Pandemic Legacy: Season 0, or Into the Red Zone

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Pandemic Legacy: Season 0
Following a teaser in early July 2020, Z-Man Games has announced the forthcoming release of Pandemic Legacy: Season 0 from Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau, the final title in the Pandemic Legacy trilogy, albeit one that takes place decades before the other two. Here's a quick overview of the game from the publisher:
Quote:
1962 — The Cold War continues as a new threat looms on the horizon, a deadly new Soviet bioweapon, something called "Project MEDUSA". You and your fellow medical graduates have been called up to the CIA for the critical mission of investigating and preventing its development. Travel the world using carefully constructed aliases to move swiftly between Allied, Neutral, and Soviet cities. Your missions will require you to eliminate Soviet operatives, acquire specific targets, and set up other CIA agents on location to execute your operations without a hitch. As you complete objectives over the course of twelve months, each success or failure will bring you closer to the truth.

Combatting this dangerous new pathogen is of utmost importance, but it's not the only threat you'll encounter in the field. Soviet agents are taking root in all parts of the world, and it's critical to your mission that you keep them contained before they can escalate international tensions. Luckily for you, you won't be without backup. Coordinate with other covert CIA operatives for assistance — they're particularly effective at making Soviet spies disappear...quietly. Make strategic use of CIA teams at different locations to clean up the board and keep your eye on your main objectives.

Board Game: Pandemic Legacy: Season 0
Midgame during the prologue game — no spoilers!

Designed as a prequel, Pandemic Legacy: Season 0 does not require you to have completed Season 1 and Season 2 before diving into this Cold War spy thriller. As in the first two Pandemic Legacy games, each time you play brings new cards, rules, and conditions that affect future games. Each alias you create will gain contacts and other assets to execute your plans more smoothly. And, of course, the CIA will be watching and evaluating your performance in the field. Work together with your fellow agents to prevent this new bio-threat — the fate of the world depends on it. Can you save humanity once again?
Something nice about Season 0 is that it contains a prologue game ahead of the year-long campaign that will last 12-24 games depending on how well you do. You can play the prologue game as many times as you like, and by doing so, you'll get a handle on what's taking place in 1962 and how you can take actions to confront and reveal the activities of the Soviet Union.

Another nifty element is that Soviet agents serve the role of diseases in this game, and when you would place a fourth agent in a location, instead of them spreading to adjacent locations, you pull the bottom location card from the deck, then carry out the "incident" described on it, with you possibly losing a safehouse, being shipped back to Washington, having agents show up in other places, or losing cover for your alias.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Lots going on in this pic, but with no spoilers!

I've played the preview game twice with two players on a review copy of the game from Z-Man, losing the first and winning the second. In the prologue, you must complete two objectives in order to succeed. (Having one failed objective still lets you advance in the campaign with a rating of "adequate", with you increasing funding along the way; failing two or more objectives is the only way to truly fail.)

One of those objectives requires you to have a Soviet team (which is under your control) in Novosibirsk at some point during the game to hunt for a missing agent, while the other is a deduction game of sorts. You know that a sample of "Project MEDUSA" is somewhere in Europe, but not which specific location. You can spend Europe cards to discover that location or you can see which locations are revealed in the player deck and therefore cannot be the hidden location, then hope for the best by assigning teams of the appropriate affiliation to whichever locations you haven't eliminated as a possibility.

In the video below, I cover the prologue game in more depth, while not revealing any spoilers about the campaign itself. I mean, I show sealed components from the campaign, but what's inside those packages while remain a mystery to both me and you for now:

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Thu Jul 16, 2020 7:44 pm
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Game Preview: Whale Riders, or Pearls Before Orcas

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Whale Riders
Whale Riders from Reiner Knizia and Grail Games is an early 2021 release that's being funded now on Kickstarter (KS link), but the game is new only in the sense that it hasn't existed previously.

What I mean by that is that the game feels like a Knizia design that could have been released at any point during his career. Knizia game designs often reference other games that he's released in the past, but if you removed the names and publication dates from his games and presented them to people who are unfamiliar with his work, they likely could not deduce which titles were released in which order. Lost Cities feels old to me only because I've been playing it for almost twenty years; the design feels timeless, however, because the gameplay is as much as what you bring to the table as it is the game itself.

Knizia designs feel like they're all being pulled from the same point of origin — which, of course, they are — and they largely share characteristics from the same pool of game design elements: simple choices, a slow progression toward goals, a shared game space in which your choices impact what's available to others, and the occasional radical event (under a player's control) that changes that game space.

Whale Riders does this by putting players in competition for goods laid out at ports along the coast. Over the course of the game, you will ride your whale from the sun port at the top of the board to the lobster port and back, buying tiles along the way in order to complete contracts. Each player has a hand of three contracts, and when you complete one, you receive coins immediately — which can help you buy more stuff and therefore complete more contracts — and pearls at the end of the game. Pearls are points, and that's all that matters in the end. No points are scored for stylish whale riding, alas.

Board Game: Whale Riders

Each turn in the game you take two actions from the five actions available to you, repeating actions if you like:

• Move one port. You cannot backtrack, but must move toward the lobster port, then back.
• Buy one tile at your current port.
• Take a 1 coin from the bank.
• Discard 1-3 contracts from your hand.
• Complete 1-3 contracts, discarding tiles to satisfy the demands of each contract individually.

In the image above, you can see a contract requiring two pieces of pottery and two slabs of tuna. If you discard tiles having at least that many items, you then collect the coins and set the card aside for scoring at the end of the game. No change is given, so you want to be efficient with your contract fulfillment, but occasionally you're going to toss extra goods because what's one blob of kelp here or there.

At the end of your turn, you slide tiles on the board to fill empty spaces, then draw new tiles from the bag to fill gaps, sometimes placing storm tiles that simply take up space. Eventually those tiles will slide into the 0-cost slot at a port, permanently blocking that space and making 1 the minimum cost for a tile. You also refill your hand to three contracts at the end of a turn.

Board Game: Whale Riders

The game is about efficiency and cycling, as many games are, with you trying to complete contracts to gain coins to buy more stuff to complete more contracts — all while keeping an eye on what opponents are doing so that you don't dump three shells in the lap of an opponent who's been collecting shells for 0 coins or allow someone to grab two crystals (which can be any non-pearl object).

Whale Riders ends when all the pearls in the sun port have been purchased, so the clock of the game depends on what players do: Are you cycling through tiles in a port without moving? Are you racing down (or up) the board so that you don't have to compete with someone else? Are you in the lead and want to head to the sun port to end the game? Are you giving up opportunities to complete contracts if you do?

I've played Whale Riders twice on an advance production copy from Grail Games, once with two players and once with three, and the game feels like a classic Knizia design, with lots that you want to do each turn, but only little that you're allowed to do, with others getting in your way, taking the things you need, and forcing you to make adjustments. The victory margin in both games was relatively close, and I can see how the games could vary greatly depending on what players choose to do and how many people you have at the table and who those people are. Ideally I'll be able to get more whale riders around the game board in the future once it's safe to ride whales together again...

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Wed Jul 15, 2020 8:00 pm
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Roll Player Gets Deeper with Fiends & Familiars

Candice Harris
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Board Game: Roll Player
Keith Matejka's Roll Player began in 2016 as a puzzly, dice-drafting, fantasy character-building game and has since evolved into a full-on series with its expansions and spin-offs, Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale, Lockup: A Roll Player Tale, and the upcoming Roll Player Adventures. I would not be surprised to see a Roll Player video game or even Roll Player cereal in the future. Let it be known that if Roll Player cereal ever comes to fruition and has dice-shaped marshmallows, I'm all in.

Keith and Thunderworks Games kindly hooked me up with a copy of Fiends & Familiars, the newest expansion for Roll Player, so I could do some serious character building and monster killing.

If you're not already hip to Roll Player, let me start by giving you a brief overview of what this dice-driven game for 1-4 players (1-5 with the expansions) is all about. In Roll Player, you are competing to create the greatest fantasy adventurer and prepare your character for an epic quest. Along the way you'll get to stuff your hand into a sack filled with a ton of colorful dice that will be used to develop your characters for the game. Each player gets their own character sheet and a unique backstory, alignment, and class that grants you a special ability and target goals for each of your character's attributes.

Each round, you roll and draft dice to be placed on your character sheet to build up your character's attributes. Whenever you place a die, you can trigger an attribute action depending on the row in which you've place it. For example, placing a die in your strength row lets you flip a die (including the one you just place) on its opposite side. When placing dice, you're trying to hit target goals for each attribute based on your class card, while also trying to match colors in certain positions corresponding to your backstory card. The better you do this, the more reputation stars you earn. Whoever has the most reputation stars at the end of the game wins.

From gallery of candidrum

You also get the opportunity to buy market cards that could be skills and weapons that grant you special abilities or traits with endgame scoring opportunities. There's also some set collection with different types of armor you can buy for your character. It's a nice blend of thinky puzzle mixed with creativity since the character you're building will be unique from your opponents.

Board Game: Roll Player: Monsters & Minions
In 2018, Thunderworks Games released Monsters & Minions, the first expansion for Roll Player. With the addition of monsters and minions, Roll Player elevated to a new level giving players more options, adding components for a fifth player, and making the game a more exciting experience since the character you're building will also combat minions and a monster at the end of the game to hopefully earn you more reputation stars. Monsters & Minions also ramped up the game's complexity a hair, which I am totally cool with. You have the usual fun puzzle aspect, but you also have an added choice during the market phase of fighting a minion to possibly gain experience (XP), honor, and (perhaps most importantly) insight on the monster you'll be pitted against at the end of the game.

The Fiends & Familiars expansion, which was released in June 2020, seamlessly builds from where the Monsters & Minions expansion left off, with even more depth and the addition of fiends and familiars, special split dice, more cards, character sheets, and components. You can play the Fiends & Familiars expansion with just the base game or as recommended in the rulebook, with the base game and the Monsters & Minions expansion.

Board Game: Roll Player: Fiends & Familiars

Fiends & Familiars comes with fifteen different familiar boards that represent friendly companions, each with their own backstory and a unique power that gets activated when you place dice on it. Each familiar board sits above the standard character boards and gives players more ways to earn reputation stars.

On the left side of the familiar boards is a slot for new scroll cards that represent powerful, ancient spells. Scroll cards can be purchased in the card market and give players an immediate one-time effect. Players typically save these cards since some game effects refer to scroll cards.

Board Game: Roll Player: Fiends & Familiars
Familiar Board examples

On the right side of the familiar board is a slot for new fiend cards that are not so nice, as you'd imagine. The fiends represent creatures that have infested the kingdom, and in terms of gameplay, will be making it more challenging for players to achieve their goals. Each round, fiend cards will be on some of the initiative cards that hold the higher value dice.
Board Game: Roll Player: Fiends & Familiars
When players draft a die from an initiative card that has a fiend, they acquire that fiend. Have no fear as it is possible to banish fiends by spending gold or charisma tokens. Some of the fiends force you to pay more gold for certain types of cards, take injury tokens when performing certain actions, prevent you from using effects of skill or weapons cards, or even force you to hunt during the market phase instead of buying cards, something I unfortunately experienced with the Fiend of Duress.

As if it weren't tough enough deciding which die to draft when you're thinking about the value, or the color, or even your turn order for the market phase, now these bloody fiend cards create even tougher decisions when drafting dice. You also have to consider whether it's worth taking a higher value die along with a hindering fiend. Maybe certain fiends won't impact you much, but trust me, others will. The good news is that it's not too hard to banish those suckers so they're no longer in effect, although it can become costly to banish them if you end up accumulating several. In my case, though, I snagged the Exalted trait card that gave me a reputation star for every two banished fiend cards I had at the end of the game. With this trait, I was practically incentivized to take more fiends, but also keep up with banishing them.

Board Game: Roll Player: Fiends & Familiars
In addition to the fiends and familiars, the expansion also includes six new monsters and 23 new minions, in addition to more of all the other card types. This is excellent because if you don't already have the Monsters & Minions expansion, you can start with the Fiends & Familiars expansion and get a small taste of what Monsters & Minions adds along with the fiends and familiars, too. Then once you get hooked and are starved for more, you can get Monsters & Minions and have even more cards and dice to experiment with.

The new split dice that come in the Fiends & Familiars expansion are pretty cool. The Monsters & Minions expansion added new clear boost dice that ranged from 3 to 8, which was super helpful in terms of value, but not at all colorwise. Fiends & Familiars, on the other hand, comes with these funky, split-colored dice that count as both colors wherever they're placed. To balance out this helpful feature, the split dice range from only 1 to 4. Consequently, it'll be a lot harder to hit those higher attribute goals with these puppies, but you'll likely do better with your main character and familiar's backstory scoring. It does take some getting used to the multicolored pips, but I can always appreciate special, custom dice.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

I should also mention you can play Roll Player solo, and it's pretty fun. I prefer playing multiplayer, but I find the solo mode scratches the same puzzly itch, which I enjoy. I just miss some of the player interaction, especially with the dice drafting, when playing solo. The game moves quickly once you're all set up, especially if you're not prone to heavy AP, but it does take time to get the market deck set up since you need to remove certain cards from the giant deck (if you have both expansions), in addition to the usual market deck set-up process that requires you to separate the single-dot cards from the double-dot cards. If you're organized when you pack it up, it shouldn't bog you down much.

The artwork from JJ Ariosa, Luis Francisco, and Lucas Ribeiro, and component quality are top notch. I especially love the art on the monster and minion cards. It all ties together well and helps make the Roll Player experience more thematic.

Board Game: Roll Player: Fiends & Familiars
Board Game: Roll Player: Fiends & Familiars

The Fiends & Familiars expansion is not supposed to fit in the base game box with the Monsters & Minions expansion, but I'm going to use my Tetris skills to see what I can do. I do see that Thunderworks Games offers the new expansion as a big box on its website where you can comfortably fit the base game and both expansions as an option, but these Roll Player boxes are nice quality, so it might be worthwhile to keep them all handy.

Keith Matejka and Thunderworks Games have mastered the art of variety with Roll Player and its expansions, Monsters & Minions and Fiends & Familiars. You have a ton of different character sheets to choose from with female and male sides, 15 different familiar boards, and so many character-related cards, fiend cards, market cards, adventure cards, monster cards and minion cards. So many cards! It really feels like endless combinations are possible, and while you're running through the same phases and structure each game, it will feel different depending on what market cards and minions are revealed, the special abilities you end up with, which monster you're fighting, etc.

If you already enjoy Roll Player, whether with or without Monsters & Minions, you will probably enjoy what the Fiends & Familiars expansion adds to the mix. If you were lukewarm after playing the base game alone, I think you should give it another shot with either or both of the expansions. While I'd still probably only play the base game with more casual gamers, I think gamers who prefer a bit more meat on the bone will dig everything the Fiends & Familiars expansion has to offer. I'm pumped to see what Keith Matejka cooks up next for Roll Player, although with all of the existing content, I don't think I'd ever get bored...
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Fri Jun 26, 2020 4:00 pm
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