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Recreate the 10th U.S. Election in Corrupt Bargain

Candice Harris
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From gallery of candidrum
Corrupt Bargain: The 1824 Presidential Election is a unique and accessible, political, area influence game from designer Alex Berry (High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel), published by Decision Games in 2022. “Doc” Cummins from Decision Games graciously sent me a review copy when I expressed interest after getting a sneak peak of it at Dice Tower West in March 2022.

In Corrupt Bargain 2-4 players represent one of the major candidates (Adams, Clay, Crawford, or Jackson) and their campaign organizations, competing to become the next President of the United States in the 1824 federal election. By the end of the game, if a candidate (player) obtains a majority of Electoral College (131+) votes, they win. However, if no candidate obtains a majority in the Electoral College, then the election goes to the House of Representatives where the candidate with the most states wins.

Corrupt Bargain is played over a number of Campaign rounds (depending on player count) where players resolve event cards to manipulate populace (wooden cubes) and politician (wooden octagons) influence in different U.S. regions and states, followed by a special Final Push round where players take turns playing politician and populace cards to firm up their stance before the votes are tallied.

On your campaign turn, you select one of the event cards on the event card track, resolve the events indicated on the card, and then you complete the number of actions and insights indicated on the slot you took the card from. After you finish your actions, you take the event card into your hand, then you refill the event card track by sliding cards down and refilling the 0 action points (AP) slot with a new card from the event card deck.

In a 2-player game, players alternate taking turns round after round. However, in a 3 or 4-player game, the starting player order rotates clockwise each round. Thus, the second player in the first round becomes the first player in the second round. This means each player will become the last player the round immediately after they are the first player.

This turn order rotation seemed odd to me initially, but I think it works well to balance the potential advantages of being the first player round after round. “Doc” from Decision Games showed me an easy way to keep track of this when we played Corrupt Bargain together at BGG.Spring – use a cube from each player to set the turn order, then when you move down to the next space on the round track, move the first cube to the end of the row, and voila, you have your new turn order.

From gallery of candidrum
Campaign Turn 3 of a 4-player game

There are 80 different event cards and most of them involve placing and/or removing populace and/or political tokens in different states and regions on the map. The iconography is easy to understand, albeit small, and there's also historical flavor text on each card. Some events involve adding and/or removing your own influence tokens, but there are also cards that allow you to target your opponents (rivals). In most cases, you remove some rival tokens from one region or state, and then you also add some to a different region or state. There are also events that allow you to gain politician and populace cards which are used for the Final Push.

From gallery of candidrum
Examples of event cards
Depending which slot you took the event card from, you also gain up to three action points. Each action point you spend allows you to take one of five different actions, noting no action can be performed more than once on a given turn.
1) You can campaign for political support to place one politician octagon in any one state.
2) You can campaign for popular votes to place one populace cube in any one state with a square icon.
3) You can work the back rooms to draw four politician cards and keep one for the Final Push.
4) You can get out the vote to draw four populace cards and keep one for the Final Push.
5) Or, you can take a political intrigue action where you choose a state and an opponent, then remove one of your own political octagons and two of theirs.

While these actions are all very straightforward, plus easy to learn and remember, Corrupt Bargain comes with excellent player aids which summarize all of the actions on one side, and just about everything else you need to know related to the flow of the game on the other side. With these player aids, you should barely need to crack open the rulebook after you have a game under your belt. Also, half of the rulebook is historical background information on the Presidential election of 1824, which is very cool and informative.

In addition to action points, there are two event card slots that also grant players insight. Insight is a sneaky way for players to take politician and populace cards from one another to help with the Final Push round. After you resolve an event and take actions on an insight slot, you draw two random cards from one opponent’s populace and politician cards, keep one, and return the other. If no opponents have two populace/politician cards, then you simply draw one of either type from the deck instead.

Insight is an excellent way to keep your opponents in check and prevent a player from building up a bigger stack of populace and politician cards than everyone else. I haven't explored negotiations much in Corrupt Bargain, but I'd imagine there's room to make some non-binding side deals with others to avoid targeting certain players in exchange for them not targeting you with an event or insight. This is not mentioned in the official rules, but it could be fun to experiment with when playing with gamers who appreciate negotiations.

When deciding which card to pick from the event card track, it can be a tough decision because there are several things to consider. You may want a particular event card because it gets you influence in an optimal location. You may want an event card to obtain a certain amount of action points and/or insight. You may want a certain event card solely to prevent your opponents from taking it. Or you might want a certain card because of the card suit.

From gallery of candidrum
PA is worth the most Electoral College votes and is usually locked down first...
Each event card has one of three different suits abstractly representing slavery, trade, and western expansion. If you have three event cards with matching suits, you can lockdown any one state of your choice at the start of your turn, prior to choosing an event card. When you lockdown a state, you place a black lockdown token in it and no one can place or remove tokens from that state for the remainder of the game.

I really dig the lockdown mechanism in Corrupt Bargain; it adds an underlying tension as you look around the table and see your opponents with three or more event cards in hand. You start to scan the board and try to see which state they might attempt to lockdown, and see if there's any way you can prevent it.

The potential for a lockdown also widens the decision space of choosing your event card on your turn. Lockdowns are so good, you simply don't want to miss out on securing yourself some votes when you can. Thus, you subtly try to build up your presence in a particular state and hope to secure it by locking it down as soon as you can. Inevitably, one of your opponents usually catches on, and just ahead of your turn, they add more tokens and gain the majority in the space you were targeting. You cringe inside without revealing to them that you were just about to perform a lockdown there. So there's an ongoing race to beat your opponents to locking down high-value states, and it adds a nice layer of tension to the gameplay.

Players continue taking campaign turns until everyone finishes their last turn, which is indicated on the campaign round track based on player count (10 turns for 4 players, 13 turns for 3 players, and 16 turns for 2 players). Then the player with the most populace and politician cards kicks off the Final Push round.

In the Final Push, each player plays one populace or politician card from their hand per turn and completes the actions on it. In some cases, it might have no effect due to lockdowns, but since you must play a card on your turn until you run out of cards, playing dead cards is a great way to stall so you can see what your opponents do and respond accordingly.

From gallery of candidrum
Examples of Populace cards

The Final Push round makes you realize you can't ignore getting populace and politician cards during the campaign rounds. The cards are simple since they allow you to add or remove a token or two in a state or region, but they can be powerful. They can gain you or cost you a state, which could influence the end result of the game. It's definitely something you should try to stay competitive with during the campaign rounds -- i.e. try to avoid one player having way more cards than everyone else.

From gallery of candidrum
Examples of Politician cards

After the Final Push round, you review each state to determine which player has the most cubes in the non-capital spaces, and the most octagons in the capital spaces. There are multiple levels of tie breakers, but it's usually based on who has the most politician octagons in the space or the region. There are cards for each state that you award to the player with the most influence. Then after you score each state, players tally up the votes for all the states they won. If a player has 131 or more votes, they win the game. If no player won, then you perform a contingent election in the House of Representatives.

The contingent election is determined solely by politician octagons, so at this point, cubes no longer matter. A player wins the contingent election by winning a majority of states (13 or more), regardless of how many Electoral College votes the states have.

Corrupt Bargain tends to feel abstract, but when it comes time to count your votes, you're faced with anxiety and suspense similar to real election nights. I think it's awesome that it has different ways the winner can be determined too. It reminds me of games like The King is Dead, or scoring a dominance check in Pax Pamir. I imagine the more experience you have playing, the better you'll be able to play to both potential outcomes. Either way, the ending always feels exciting as players count their votes and see how many states they've won. It's the kind of game where it's hard to tell exactly who's in the lead until you actually score it up.

While I enjoyed playing with four players most, I was happy to find that Corrupt Bargain plays well at all three player counts, and each has its own feel, with 2 and 3-player games feeling a tad more cutthroat. Beware, it has some take-that here and there with some event cards occasionally feeling brutal. Some people might take it personally when they are targeted. However, in my games, those moments usually quickly turned into jokes. I can't tell you how many times people dumped my populace cubes into Rhode Island, which is one of the north region states with the lowest vote value. Then we laughed about it when I proudly won that state card at the end of the game. It all depends on who you play with and your group dynamic.

From gallery of candidrum
Just about midway through an intense 3-player game

If you enjoy area influence games or games where you can learn about history, I definitely recommend checking out Corrupt Bargain. It's very accessible and straightforward to learn and teach, and it doesn't overstay its welcome with each game running about 90 minutes. For an abstract feeling game which may appear a tad dry-looking to many, there are a lot of really interesting and enjoyable mechanisms at work that create a fun and engaging gaming experience between the lockdowns, two different types of influence, the Final Push, two different end game outcomes, and how it everything works together.

I'm planning to keep my eye out for whatever Alex Berry works on next. In the meantime, High Treason has been on my shelf of opportunity for a while, so I hope to finally play that soon, while happily keeping Corrupt Bargain in my rotation.
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Tue Jun 28, 2022 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Cascadia, or Playing God in Northwest North America

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Cascadia
I finally got Cascadia to the table, and this design from Randy Flynn and Flatout Games does exactly what it promises to do: Gives you and your fellow players "a puzzly tile-laying and token-drafting game featuring the habitats & wildlife of the Pacific Northwest".

By chance, a friend of my wife was visiting from Seattle, saw the box, and said, "Hey, I recognize that!"

Whether you will like what you're given depends on your taste for solitairish game experiences. In my two playings, once each with three and four players on a copy from the BGG Library, we've finished the game and been like, so, what next? Cascadia is like a glass of cool water on a tepid day: satisfying at the time, but not memorable.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Landscapes that will soon be demolished

The design provides a nice challenge: Pick a habitat tile and wildlife token combination each turn, and add it to your landscape. Habitats come in five types, each tile features one or two habitats, and you want to group like habitats together as you score points for your largest forest, largest mountain, etc. at game's end.

Each habitat tile shows 1-3 wildlife symbols, and you can place only one of the indicated wildlife tokens on this tile, with wildlife scoring at game's end based on whatever scoring card you used. In one game, elk want to stand in lines, while in the next forming rings will make them happy. Foxes, on the other hand, are sociable and score based on the animals around them. Wildlife comes in five types, so you're trying to place habitat tiles to both build large regions and give you the possibility of making an elk ring, putting bears in pairs, and so on.

Gameplay has no downsides. Each turn, you add to one or two habitats, then place a wildlife token and score points for that as well. (All scoring takes place at game's end, but the only time you lose points is when you spend nature tokens to adjust what's available for you in the drafting pool.) You're not necessarily planning anything, but taking stuff as it comes and doing the best you can with what's on tap to pile up the points.

For more thoughts on Cascadia, check out this video:

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Mon Jun 27, 2022 5:10 pm
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Game Overview: Walkie Talkie, or Orange Is the New Black

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Walkie Talkie
At GAMA Expo 2022 I played a demo game of Walkie Talkie — a co-operative card game by Shei S. and Isra C. that's part of Devir's new small game line — but surprisingly a game-related event was not really the ideal setting for this design.

Instead I think Walkie Talkie excels in the slot of "game to play in a restaurant after placing your order". One reason for this choice is that the game takes only 30 seconds per player, that is, 1-4 minutes. Even at the fastest Thai restaurant, you'll be able to get in a game or two before your basil fried rice hits the table. What are you doing in this brief span of time? Ridding yourself of cards in hand as quickly as you can. In more detail:
Quote:
Everybody has a hand of six cards; cards have a letter on one side and a color on another, and you have to hold your cards however they're dealt to you. Place one card from the deck letter side up and another color side up. When the timer starts, everybody plays at the same time. You can play a letter on the letter pile as long as you can name something that starts with that letter and that "matches" the current color showing; similarly, you can play a color on the color pile as long as you can name something of that color that starts with the letter atop the letter pile. For example, when playing a "B" card next to a yellow card, you could say "Banana!", and when playing an orange card next to an "L", you could say "Lion!" You can't repeat a word previously given, and you can't name the color of the color card.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Sample letters and all the colors

Whenever you want, you can say "Roger!", and all players must flip the cards in their hand, so letters become colors and vice versa. Alternatively, you can say "Over!", and players pass their cards to the left.

When time runs out, you gain points equal to the number of stars on played letter cards, then subtract 1 point for each unplayed card. Try to score as many points as you can!
I've now played Walkie Talkie 17 times on a review copy from Devir with player counts from 2-5, and aside from that first demo game, we've always played at least twice in a row. We typically finish with a negative score in our first game, cards stranded in hand because we couldn't think of something pink that starts with any of our letters or something that starts with Z that matches any of our colors. Did we forget to say "Roger!" and give ourselves new options? Yes, we did. (Strangely, we've never said "Over!" in any of our games, and the two commands seem like they should be reversed, with "Over!" making you flip cards.)

Then we shuffle and play again immediately, and we always do better — which makes sense because you start to build a library of red things, of blue things, of green things, etc., and you can find items on those library shelves more easily with practice. Some items feel a bit of a cheat, e.g., "Underwear" because you can have a U with any color and have a match, but it's funny the first time someone says "Underwear", especially when the color is grey, which it was the first time, and after a couple of mentions of underwear, you can decide that you're going to place the underwear back on the shelf and try to think of something else...or not. Your call.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
The typeface might have you guessing a few times as with this H third from left

The first few games we found ourselves in a food rut, giving a food answer for almost everything we played, but then I banned myself from naming foods and tried to think of other things. I'm sure our score suffered, but the game doesn't worry too much about scores, not including a chart to consult to show when you score awesome, okay, and mediocre, so I'm not worrying about scores either.

What's of more concern is discovering what people say, especially when they make personal connections on an eye or shirt color or a pet or something far more out there that you never would have considered. My brother looked at E and black and said, "Entropy", and we were all like...yes, that is correct. You can protest a play, and if others protest, the card player must return their card to hand along with another card from either pile, but I've rarely encountered someone trying to cheat a card onto a pile. After all, the goal of playing isn't the score, but making a connection with others and getting a taste of what's going on inside their heads.

For more examples of gameplay, you can check out this overview video, which is twice as long as any game of Walkie Talkie you'll ever play:

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Mon Jun 20, 2022 10:02 pm
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Game Overview: Top Ten, or Playing to the Crowd

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Top Ten
At the Spielwarenmesse 2020 trade fair, I got to sample Aurélien Picolet's Top Ten from Cocktail Games and called the game "my pick of the show".

For more detail, here's all that I wrote about the game in February 2020:
Quote:
We'll close with a sneak peek at Aurélien Picolet's Top Ten from Cocktail Games, which will debut at FIJ 2020 in late February 2020 and which will not be released in English until 2021 at the earliest — which is a shame as this game would be my pick of the show, the title I would most want to play and share with others. (Indeed, I dragged Lincoln over to see it as he was doing other things when I first ran across this title during my picture-taking rounds on Sunday.)

I think what most excites me about the game is that similar to Codenames and Decrypto, you have the solid game-y structure that makes everything work functionally, but you, the player, are asked to inject your creativity into the game, and just reading the sample topic cards that Cocktail had on hand got my gears turning in good ways.

Top Ten seems somewhat similar to Wavelength, but with more detailed (yet still open-ended) topics that give you more direction in terms of creating answers. Another game along these lines is On a Scale of One to T-Rex, which like Wavelength comes from Wolfgang Warsch and various co-designers, but that game gives each player a specific task to perform at an intensity level of 1-10, with you choosing how to carry out that task, but not what the task is.

In any case, here's an overview of Top Ten:
wrote:
Your goal in Top Ten is to survive five rounds, so you and your fellow players need to figure out how to get things in order!

To start the game, place a number of unicorn tokens on the game board. Choose one player to be the round's chief. That player gives all players a random card numbered 1-10, then they read one of the five hundred theme cards included in the game, e.g., "Batman wants to replace Robin to fight the bad guys. Create a new duo 'Batman and ...' from the worst to the best." The chief looks at their number, then gives an answer based on their number. If they have a 1, they want to give the worst possible suggestion; if a 10, the best; if a 5-7, somewhere in the middle.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Example cards from Spielwarenmesse 2020

Each other player then gives an answer to this theme based on the number they were dealt, then the chief needs to decide who has the lowest number, then the next lowest, and so on. For each mistake, the chief flips a unicorn token over to its poop side.

If all the unicorns have left by the end of the fifth round, leaving you with nothing but poop, then you lose. Otherwise you win!
This description is pretty much accurate, but it's somewhat limited given that I played only a couple of sample rounds in 2020. However, following the game's nomination for the 2022 Spiel des Jahres in late May, Cocktail Games offered to ship me a copy of the game for use at BGG.Spring 2022, while also sending me a rough English translation of the cards, so now I've finally played the game for real, with four games taking place at that convention and two other games taking place with my in-laws after returning home. (Full disclosure: Cocktail Games published my game Body Party in 2014 following an advance payment in 2013. That game was discontinued within two years with no further payments, and I've had no business dealings with Cocktail since that time.)

Over those six games, I played with four, five, eight, and nine players. You use as many unicorn tokens as the number of players, except that with nine players, you still use only eight tokens because everyone but the round's captain gives an answer. Thus, with more players, you have more room for error, but you also have more opportunities to make mistakes since you have more answers to put in order.

And unlike what I initially wrote, 1 isn't automatically the worst and 10 the best because sometimes the scale isn't one of worst to best. Instead 1 corresponds with the "greenest" answer and 10 the "reddest", with green and red being defined in the particular situation, such as "scariest to bravest" or "most innocuous to most obvious".

My first impression of Top Ten — you, the player, are asked to inject your creativity into the game — has proven true over these six playings, and it's why I think Top Ten shines favorably when compared to Wavelength. In that game, only one person creates an answer that falls somewhere on a spectrum (e.g., square to round, sad song to happy song, introvert to extrovert), and that player's teammates need to guess where that answer falls. That's it. The game inspires creativity, yes, but you've got one shot at guessing where an answer falls, then you're done with that spectrum.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

In Top Ten, everyone creates an answer, starting with the round's captain, and you tend to play off of what others are doing, collectively creating the boundaries and data points on that spectrum. In one round, for example, players had to explain where they would hide during a game of hide-and-seek on a scale from "found right away" to "never found". One player said that they got on a place to (I think) Tahiti, and it was clear immediately that they had the 10 — or at least it was clear to me since I held the 9, so I was then free to give an extremely wild answer in which I hid inside a vending machine in the basement of a parking garage, which seemed like an "easier to find" hiding spot than Tahiti, yet harder to find than any other answer folks would give. One player said they ran over a couple of blocks and down the street, then someone else, apparently feeling that player gave a 3 answer, said that they ran a couple of blocks away, then ducked behind a bush — and the round's captain correctly pegged them at a 4 after getting the other person's 3.

The more I played Top Ten, the more it felt like a cross between Wavelength and The Mind. Collectively we're all trying to get into the same frame of mind so that my 7 answer lines up with what your 7 answer would be so that we can thread our answers in just the right way for the captain to figure out how to order us.

What's more, when you're the round's captain, you give the first answer, which kind of sets the stage for what's to come. Not because everyone knows what your number is, but because your tone or energy carries over to everyone else. One situation had us miming our behavior as an exam monitor, from not paying attention to overzealous; another had us listening to a talking game box and telling the group what it said, from the meanest thing to the nicest; still another put us in the role of supreme dictator, announcing our first act from really nice to really nasty. You're not just giving an answer, but performing for the group thanks to situations that are far more involved and lively than the spectrums presented in Wavelength, while still being open-ended.

The only time Top Ten hasn't worked as well as I had hoped was in my first playing with my in-laws as my father-in-law just wasn't getting the concept, seemingly trying to guess every player's number (which is the expert mode of play) rather than guessing who had the lowest answer. By the second game, he was doing better, although he'll never be the ideal Top Ten player. That said, he would find Scout or Cascadia, the other two 2022 Spiel des Jahres nominees, impossible to play due to the number of rules in them, so at least this game was kind of working for him.

For more thoughts on Top Ten and why it's my clear choice for the 2022 Spiel des Jahres, check out this video:

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Mon Jun 6, 2022 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Schnipp & Weg, or Flex Your Fingers

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Schnipp & Weg
Whenever I look at The Hotness on BGG, I notice that most of the games included are fairly complex — and while many BGGers would disagree, this label includes titles like Wingspan, Living Forest, and The Castles of Burgundy. Having hosted Meetup events with random attendees and taught games to exchange students and extended family, I know the threshold for what makes a game complex is far lower than what most gamers think.

Thankfully, I have no end of choices when looking for something to play with casual gamers, with dexterity games being a nice go-to choice as they tend to be rules light, with their complexity arising in you having a hard time making your body do whatever it needs to do.

One example of this genre is Schnipp & Weg — roughly, "Snap & Away" or "Snap & Gone" — by Dieter Zander, who first released the game in 2012 through his own Historische Spiele Zander before Clemens Gerhards licensed the design for re-release in 2021.

Board Game: Schnipp & Weg
Zander's first edition, named Kosakenschubsen, or "Jostling Cossacks"

Here's an almost complete description of the game:
Quote:
Schnipp & Weg is a flicking game for two players that's played on a game board shaped like an hourglass.

Each player starts on one end of the board with nine pieces of their own color. On a turn, you flick one of your pieces at one or more of the opponent's pieces, and if you manage to knock at least one opposing piece from the board while not flying off yourself, you take another turn; otherwise, the opponent takes their turn.

If you manage to remove all of the opposing pieces, you start the game again, but with you now having eight pieces instead of nine and with those pieces being one level closer to the center of the game board. Each round that you win, you start with one fewer piece and one level closer to the center. If you win a round after starting on the fifth row with only five pieces, then you win the game.
The only rule not included above is that if your last piece leaves the board on the same flick that the opponent's last piece leaves the board, then you re-play the round. The rules don't detail what constitutes a flick, whether you can re-flick a barely moved piece, whether you can move around the table, and so on. You can figure out all of those things with your opponent because your tastes will differ from others, and honestly those details don't matter outside of a Schnipp & Weg tournament, which I imagine is unlikely to take place anytime soon.

Board Game: Schnipp & Weg
I'm about to get schnipped...

The beauty of this game is that I can teach it to my son or in-laws in seconds. Set up the pieces, tell them to flick a piece to try to knock me off the board without falling off yourself, give them lots of practice shots, then go. They still might not enjoy the game, as evidenced in this video, but they pick up the gameplay immediately and don't feel lost, which is a situation I had encountered many times until I recalibrated my internal complexity scale to try to meet players where they are.

What's more, being simple doesn't correspond to being easy. I've won only one of the five games I've played on this purchased copy, and in that one game somehow things just came together for me and I was making shots that were impossible for me in other playings.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Clemens Gerhards edition (tray not included)

The bottleneck game board nicely encompasses two invisible game design elements: First, you naturally get a feeling of progression as you move up the board and can fit fewer pieces in your current row. Success! And yet now your opponent has fewer pieces that they need to remove in order to advance, similar to how every success in Kris Burm's YINSH removes one of your pieces from play, increasing the difficulty of you continuing to advance.

Second, not all pieces are equally useful, with the edgemost pieces being unable to zip across empty space from one side of the hourglass to the other, no matter how much my son thinks he can make it happen, which adds a tiny challenge to each round depending on which pieces end up where.

I love the craft that Clemens Gerhards puts into its releases, and I wish they were more widely available — the only U.S. retailer I've located is The Wooden Wagon, which is where I purchased this game and which no longer even lists the title — but at the same time, I know this type of production can't be scaled up easily, so perhaps these titles will remain a SPIEL treat for me in the future.

For demonstrations of play, including a full game complete with sharp and sloppy shots, check out the video below:

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Wed Jun 1, 2022 2:00 pm
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Game Overview: First Empires, or It's Nothing Personal, But Get Out

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: First Empires
In a designer diary on BGG News about First Empires, Eric B. Vogel wrote, "I really dislike wargames that reward defensive play — 'turtling' — because aggression is what is fun in a wargame."

Having now played First Empires seven times on a review copy from Sand Castle Games, I'll say that Vogel has succeeded in creating a world conquest game that encourages you to be aggressive. Each of the 2-5 players takes charge of a civilization on an alternate Earth, and over the course of 7-8 rounds, you are rewarded for controlling regions that match the dice rolled at the start of your turn (which typically requires you to kick someone out of those regions), for meeting the requirements on achievement cards (typically by picking on others), and for conquering opposing cities or having your own cities on the board at game's end, both of which require you to move into new regions.

You are rewarded for acting selfishly and taking whatever regions suit you best. If others lose their land, well, they haven't lost any people on the board because opposing forces retreat instead of being removed from play — and sometimes you can use a retreat to your advantage since you retreat to any one region where you already have a presence. As in Beyond the Sun, a "loss" in one region allows you a free teleportation to somewhere else, which can be a great thing in a game that initially limits you to 2-3 movement points at the start of the game.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Combat in First Empires is a simple thing: If I can move more people into a region than you have there, you must leave. The dice I roll (and possibly re-roll) at the start of my turn feature five colors that match the colors of Earth's regions and a sword. Should I have one or more swords on a turn, those swords stand in for my people — one person with three swords = four people — allowing me to conquer a region by sending in fewer people (and therefore spending fewer movement points). How does one person wield three swords? Presumably by spinning them really fast like a propeller, but that is left as an exercise for your imagination.

So swords are great, right? Except they often aren't, especially in the first couple of rounds when everyone is huddled in their starting city and plenty of empty land lies available for the taking with only one person. What's more, by holding regions that match the color on rolled dice, you advance on civilization tracks, which gives you better stats and more endgame points — and swords are not a color, so they allow you to take over regions more easily at the expense of not having as many colors on hand to boost you on tracks.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
My board at the end of game #1

You can choose to discard an achievement card from your hand to change a die to a sword or a sword to a color of your choice, and the rules encourage you to do the latter in the opening turns because your civilization is initially feeble. Every advancement on a civilization track boosts your chance for future growth by giving you more dice, more re-rolls, more movement, more people, or more achievement cards. Yes, you can discard an achievement card to get an achievement card, earning points in the process, and this realization is critical for you to overcome the trap of valuing potential points in hand more than actual (but fewer) points in reality.

While combat in First Empires isn't random, other elements of the game are, with the die roll at the start of your turn being the most prominent. If you roll (or re-roll) colors that match regions in which you already have a presence or can reach or take over easily, then great, you'll advance on your civ tracks, which will boost you in future turns. If not, well, you can throw away your starting achievement card to ensure that you advance on two tracks in the first round — which means you're down a card compared to lucky opponents.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Nearly every space is occupied in this five-player game

After seven games, I'm still not sure how large a role the rolls play in someone's success as the game is relatively short, and the general feeling is one of trying to maximize the opportunities available to you rather than developing a plan and sticking to it no matter what. You might have a general plan, sure, and that will determine which dice you re-roll, but you need to focus on advancing somewhere as the game lasts only 7-8 rounds, so you don't have a lot of time in which to progress.

For details on how to play, what changes based on player count, and more thoughts on the gameplay experience, check out this overview video:

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Mon May 23, 2022 6:00 pm
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Game Overview: Crescent Moon, or Bribing Friends for Area Control

Candice Harris
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From gallery of candidrum
Crescent Moon, an upcoming 2022 release from designer Steven Mathers and Osprey Games, had me at “an ambitious asymmetric area control game of tense negotiations.” Based on that description, how could this game not be my jam?!

I had been looking forward to playing Crescent Moon since it was originally announced in late September 2021, so I was thrilled to receive a review copy from Osprey to get a feel for how it plays.

Crescent Moon is an asymmetric area control game for 4-5 players where players perform actions, often negotiating with one another, to affect a shared map striving to achieve their unique victory objectives. Some players aim to gain military control of certain hexes on the map, while others might be more focused on gaining political control of hexes. Suffice to say, each player has their own motivations, and there's lot of action and intrigue that unfolds on a relatively small map.

The setting of Crescent Moon is based on the dramatic rise and fall of powers across the Midddle East from the 10th century forward, and this is tied together artistically with the beautifully illustrated box cover, cards, and map by Navid Rahman. The art direction was primarily inspired by Middle Eastern art history, as well as Persian traditions that had influence across the region. There are historical notes on the front page of the rulebook which provide a bit more context and also mention that Crescent Moon is more an abstraction of this period rather than an approximation.

Before you jump into a game of Crescent Moon, each player chooses a character to play and takes the corresponding player aid booklet and components (buildings, unit, and influence tokens). The game comes with nifty cloth component bags for each character, which is a nice upgrade included instead of the common plastic bags.

The character player booklets are integral for easing new players into Crescent Moon, and I can see them being helpful even after you've played several games. Each one highlights the corresponding character’s motivations in the world of Crescent Moon and includes strategy tips for new players, details on their available actions, along with unique attributes and scoring objectives. In addition, there are also helpful reference tables for calculating income and summarizing player components which are placed on the board.

In games with asymmetric factions like Crescent Moon, it's important for all players to understand how their opponents score points. While the breakdown of each player’s scoring objectives is clear in the player booklets, it would’ve been super helpful to have a summary of all the characters’ scoring objectives, similar to the faction menus in GMT's COIN games. It also would’ve been great to have these player aids on card stock for better durability. The booklets are already weathered after only three games. In spite of these minor nitpicks, the player booklets are solid player aids and essential for smoothly teaching and learning Crescent Moon.

From gallery of candidrum
Character player booklets

After everyone has selected a character, you create the map for your game by arranging a variety of terrain hex tiles and placing starting pieces on the map. There are five different types of terrain hexes (fertile land, wilderness, mountain, quarry, and desert) and some terrain hexes include a feature (holy site, river, or river crossing). The various terrain types impact income, card effects, and victory conditions.

There are five different map setups for each player count, plus there are variable map setup rules for players to create custom maps. I haven’t tried the variable map setup yet, but it reminds me of how you build custom maps in Twilight Imperium since each player gets to place a hex in turn order, after starting with the river crossing hex in the center. For what it's worth, controlling/influencing the holy site hex in Crescent Moon is on par with controlling Mecatol Rex in TI4.

Each of the three preset map setups that I tried had its own feel and offered different strategy options for different characters, noting I did play each game with different players, so that also naturally changed up the feel of each game. Regardless, having the option to use different map setups each game presents fresh challenges for players and cranks up the replay value of Crescent Moon.

From gallery of candidrum
Fresh Meltwater map setup

Crescent Moon is played over three years (rounds) for the standard game, or four years if you prefer to play a longer game. Each year is divided into three phases:

---Preparation, which includes maintenance activities such as income and certain characters adding units to their reserve,
---Action phase, where players take four actions, one at a time in character order (Warlord, Murshid, Sultan, Caliph, Nomad),
---• and Scoring, where players earn victory points for completing objectives.

Then, after the scoring phase of the final year, the player with the most points wins.

In the Preparation phase, all players collect income from hexes they control that have cities, towns, Sultan influence, or fertile land or quarry terrain. On top of this, the Sultan player gets extra income for all towns, cities, and Sultan influence on the map, regardless of who controls the space. This is one of the unique perks of playing as the Sultan.

After income, the Warlord, Caliph, and Nomad players calculate their reserve value to determine how many units they can add to their reserve card, which is the main way these characters get units onto the map. The Warlod and Caliph player add ordinary units (wooden discs, blank side up) to their reserve, and the Nomad adds mercenary units (wooden discs, camel side up).

Following the reserves step, there’s an upkeep step where players take character and battalion cards back into their hands, and the two power cards from the near market are discarded and the card market is replenished.

In the Action phase, starting with the Warlord, each player takes one action, until all players have taken four actions. There are several common actions, but each character also has one or more unique actions available as well. I'll summarize the more common actions first, then highlight some of each character's special actions and attributes.

From gallery of candidrum
Example of control, influence, and presence
Before diving into specific actions, I should explain how control, influence, and presence work since they are important concepts to understand when it comes to playing Crescent Moon. Only one player can control a hex. Only one player can influence a hex. The player who influences a hex can be different from the player who controls the hex. Controlling a hex means you have pieces in it that have a combat value (strongholds and units). Influencing a hex means it has your influence token in it. Multiple players can have presence in a hex since presence is any of your pieces.

As an example, the hex pictured on the left is controlled by the Warlord (black mercenary unit discs), influenced by the Nomad (camel influence token). The Warlord, Nomad, and Sultan (town/settlement) all have presence since their pieces exist in the hex.

Moving is a straightforward action that you can perform to facilitate spreading influence and gaining control of hexes, as well as better positioning yourself to score objectives. You simply move any number of units from one hex to an adjacent hex where no other player has control. Most characters can do this up to two times, but the Warlord can do it three times. It’s also worth noting there is a limit of five units per hex (or seven if you’re the Warlord).

All characters except the Warlord have a build action available where you can build up to two buildings (or three if you’re the Sultan) on the map following location placement restrictions and paying the applicable cost. For example, you can only build forts in hexes where you have presence, no other player has control, and that do not contain a fort or castle. Whereas if you’re building a castle, you’re actually replacing one of your existing forts on the board and essentially upgrading it to a castle. The Sultan not only has the ability to build three buildings at once, but they also are the only player that can build settlements (towns and cities). Each building has a cost for the different characters, and an additional cost for certain terrain types.

The buy power cards action is the main way you get cards into your hand, and having some cards seems very important in Crescent Moon. When you perform this action you can buy up to four cards – one from the near market, one from the middle market, one from the far market, and one from the Sultan’s market. While the near, middle and far markets have a default associated cost (2 coins, 4 coins, and 6 coins respectively), the cost of the cards and who you pay for the cards varies.

From gallery of candidrum
The near market and 2/3 of the middle market

When you buy power cards, if the card is in the near, middle, or far market you pay the required number of coins to the player aligned with the card. However, if you buy a card from one of the main markets aligned with your own character, you instead pay half the price to the bank. Alternatively, when you buy a card from the Sultan’s market, you agree on a price, and then pay the agreed upon amount of coins to the Sultan, regardless of which character is aligned with the card.

After you buy power cards, they go into your hand and then you replenish the market by sliding all cards to the right and refilling the leftmost empty slots. The indented market boards look nice and fit the theme, but I (and everyone I played with) found they make refilling the card market more tedious than it should be. You have to pick up each card one-by-one and place it in the rightmost empty slot. In the future, I probably won't use the main market boards or I'll place the cards further down below the slots so that we can slide cards for more efficient refilling.

The Sultan’s market is not automatically replenished, however the Sultan has a unique conspire action they can take to refill the entire Sultan’s market. With the conspire action, the Sultan player looks at the top ten cards of the deck and chooses one to fill each empty slot in the Sultan’s market. Then the cards they didn’t select are shuffled and placed at the bottom of the deck.

From gallery of candidrum
The Sultan’s market

The Sultan’s conspire action is slick because the Sultan gets to choose the cards that are in their market. The Sultan is incentivized to pick enticing cards so that players will want to buy them. The better the cards are, the more negotiating leverage the Sultan has to hopefully make good money from the other players so they can build a bunch of towns and cities for victory points. The Sultan can always buy/take a card from the Sultan’s market at no cost, which is another reason for them to pick juicy cards.

There are a variety of power cards – most of them help with combat and/or influence contests, some have actions you can take instead of the ones listed in your player booklet, and others have anytime actions which you can play anytime during the action phase and doesn’t count as one of your actions.

Cards are very helpful in Crescent Moon, especially when engaging in combat and influence contests, which I’ll get into shortly. In a game where you only have twelve total actions (in the standard game), timing when and how often to take the buy power cards action is just about always an important decision. I really appreciate that you can at least buy up to four cards as a single action to be as efficient as possible (assuming you have the money). Also, certain types of cards (character and battalion) can be used once per year/round, whereas event cards are discarded after they’re resolved.

From gallery of candidrum
Examples of power cards

In Crescent Moon, the influence and assault actions are how you gain influence or control of a hex (respectively). Move any number of your units to an adjacent hex that is controlled by another player to perform an assault action, then resolve combat. For the influence action, you can freely place one of your influence tokens in a hex adjacent to where you have presence if no other player has presence and there is no Murshid influence adjacent to the target hex. Otherwise, you place the challenge token and resolve an influence contest, which has some similarities to combat that occurs from the assault action.

Both combat and influence contests have a handful of steps that you need to resolve. Thankfully reference cards are included for both, so you likely won't need to consult the rulebook after you have some experience with the game. In both cases, all involved players secretly select any number of power cards to contribute, then you resolve the cards after they're simultaneously revealed, calculate the combat/influence strength, and determine who wins. In both cases, if the attacker is successful, they gain control or influence of the space.

From gallery of candidrum
The Warlord moved in to sack the Caliph's palace and castle for 4 VPs
When combat is resolved, both players may have to remove units as casualties, and if the winner is the attacker, they get to take over control of the hex in most cases. If the winner has one or more units that survived and there's a fort, castle, or Caliph palace in the hex, the winner may capture it to swap out the building with one of their own. This is a great way to establish your newfound control and make sure you have some muscle in the event that someone tries to take the hex from you on a future turn. Alternatively, you can pass on capturing the building and instead sack it, which removes it from the hex and puts some money in your pocket. In addition to money gained from sacking buildings, the Warlord also gains victory points. This is typically the biggest source of victory points for the Warlord, so watch out and protect your buildings accordingly.

In an influence contest, any player with presence in the targeted hex can participate by contributing power cards, then declare whether they are supporters or defenders against the attacker before the cards are simultaneously revealed. Influence strength is calculated differently than combat strength, but it's the same idea. You tally up the attacker's (plus supporters) and defenders' strength including card modifiers, and determine who wins. If the influence contest is a success for the attacker, they get to place their influence token in the hex, removing anyone else's when applicable.

When it comes to combat and influence contests, there's one little wrinkle I haven't mentioned yet...the Murshid. The Murshid character's victory conditions are centered around spreading influence and their unique attributes allow them to interfere and influence combat and influence contests, which folks referred to as "Candice's BS" (to keep it PG) when I played as the Murshid in my first game.

Ordinarily, if there's a tie in combat or influence contests, the attacker wins. However, if the Murshid has an influence token in the space, they get to decide who breaks the tie. The Murshid also counts as a participant in all influence contests if they have an influence token adjacent to the hex where an influence contest is going down. Other players can make deals with the Murshid for their support in exchange for up to five victory points. Let's say you offer the Murshid two points if they help you in a combat and they agree. Whether the Murshid actually puts in cards to help you or not, you have to give them the two points if you win. The Murshid player might not even have cards that can help, but they are incentivized to do their best to help you win because that's how they can gain some extra points. Thus, there's lots of wheeling and dealing going on in Crescent Moon with this character alone.

My game as the Murshid was filled with many laughs towards the end because everyone knew I didn't have helpful cards, but they still wanted my support in the case of ties. I learned the importance of having a variety of cards in hand, and also that the Murshid spreading too much influence too fast can be dangerous for other players.

Now that you have taste of what makes the Murshid unique, allow me to highlight the other characters special abilities and scoring objectives.

From gallery of candidrum
The Warlord's special Warfare power card
The Warlord player is all about attacking as you'd expect. Unlike the other characters who score objectives during the scoring phase, the Warlord gets the bulk of their points during the action phase when they win combat and sack buildings. The Warlord has a special mass action that helps them build up their military forces on the board, and they get three moves instead of two, to more easily spread their units and set up for attacks. Plus, they have a special Warfare card that they can use in any combat which can beef up their units' strength at the cost of sending them back to the supply after the combat is resolved.

The Caliph's goal is to gain control of as many hexes as possible and assert military dominance. They start the game with a palace on the board which can be moved around with a special move palace action. In addition, building forts and castles is cheaper for the Caliph than the other characters.

The Sultan is the local ruler who has grown powerful and rich from building cities. As I mentioned before, the Sultan has their own card market, is the only player that can build settlements (towns and cities), makes extra income, and can build three times in a single action where others can only build twice. The Sultan scores majority of their points from having cities on the board, preferably under Sultan influence and control.

Finally, we have the Nomad who leads a bunch of independent local tribes, which are represented by mercenary units in Crescent Moon. Unlike other characters that can recruit units (Warlord and Caliph), the Nomad can recruit units where they don't have presence and no one has control. The cool thing is, as an action, other players can bribe the Nomad for mercenary units or hire them from the Nomad at an agreed upon price. The Nomad player scores the bulk of their victory points from spending money, so strategically they're motivated to place mercenary units in enticing locations so that other players want to bride them to convert them into their own mercenary units. In fact, this is the only way the Sultan and Murshid can get any units onto the board. The Nomad can also earn some cash-for-points by positioning themselves well for income phases. Either way, the more money they make, the more they can spend for victory points during the scoring phase.

I didn't get a chance to play a 4-player game, but the Nomad is not played in a 4-player game. Without the Nomad, the hire mercenaries action is slightly different. In that case you pay money to the supply to hire mercenary units, but you have to place them where you have presence and no other player has control, so you lost some of the neat flexibility you can get from the presence of a Nomad player. It sounds like it'll play fine that way, but I definitely like the dynamic of having a Nomad player that has their own motivations intertwined with the other four characters since it adds another layer to the negotiations in Crescent Moon.

After players complete four actions, the action phase ends and there's a scoring phase. During the scoring phase, players score points for any objectives they completed. You announce how many points you earn, then you take victory point tokens and put them facedown.

From gallery of candidrum
The Warlord and Murshid battling for control of the holy site just before the scoring phase...

In the player booklets, each character has primary and secondary objectives which score every year. Additionally, there's a year-one objective everyone has which is not only achievable, but it gives players something to aim for as they are learning the game. I found it to be super helpful for learning and teaching the game.

In my few games of Crescent Moon, the hidden victory points kept the gameplay very interesting. You usually had a good idea for the players that were in the lead, but you can't really recall everyone's exact total. This led to mind games, and players pointing fingers at each other claiming so-and-so has the most points, don't help them, or I definitely don't have more points than them, so please help me.

In the end, most of my games were surprisingly close. There was one game where the Murshid won with 36 points, and the Warlord and Caliph tied for second place with 35 points. The crazy thing is, the Nomad paid the Murshid one point in the last year to help win a combat, and had they not done that, there would've been a three-way tie for first, and the Warlord would've won instead since the tiebreaker is most money. It was wild!

Not knowing exactly where people are with victory points creates opportunities for people to bluff and talk their ways into shifting alliances. As the player with the most experience, I really enjoyed monitoring the social experiment that resulted from players not knowing exactly how many points anyone had. Plus, scoring up at the end of the game was always exciting.

So far I've thoroughly enjoyed all three of my plays of Crescent Moon and I'm excited to play it more. Mistakes were certainly made, and like any game with asymmetric factions, there's a learning curve. Naturally, there are going to be comparisons to Root since Crescent Moon has asymmetric factions, but it didn't really feel like Root to me. The character actions are more similar in Crescent Moon and there is a lot more happening on the negotiations front than Root. I also think it's also easier to teach and for new players to grasp than Root because there are many common actions.

From gallery of candidrum
Things heating up on the map at the start of year 3...

In my post-game discussions, there were also some comparisons to Pax Pamir and Dune, which makes total sense. I get Pax Pamir vibes from the way you're working with other players to manipulate the state of the board, while trying to be clever and sneaky as you focus on your own motivations. Sadly, I have yet to play Dune, but I am familiar with how it plays, and I think that might be the closest comparison.

Similar to games like Pax Pamir, I think Crescent Moon is going to shine when you play with experienced players. If people play their character poorly due to lack of experience, it may impact the whole game. Fortunately, this wasn't a big problem for any of the groups I played with, especially for the second and third games where I could teach it better and help people understand not only their own goals, but what to look out for with other players. Plus, when everyone knows their faction and how the others work, you can play more strategically on the offensive and defensive side.

Thematically, Crescent Moon felt mostly abstract to me, but I think they nailed it with the play style of the different characters. It allows players to get into their characters and create their own stories. I loved the dynamic of how the different characters relied upon each other, making and breaking deals, secretly trying to outscore each other.

From gallery of candidrum
Fertile Valley map setup

I played the standard 3-year game for all of my games, and they all ran just about 3 hours which felt fine, but I do want to try the longer game at some point as well. With only twelve actions you really have to carefully plan your moves and it creates an interesting decision space as you figure out what you want to do with each of your actions -- I really need to get cards, but should I wait so I have more money so I can buy more cards to be efficient?, or I really need to build in that space before someone takes it over, but if I don't take an influence action now while that other space is empty, I might have to fight someone for it later. Decisions, decisions.

I appreciate the variability that comes with different map setups too. It was interesting to make observations how different people played different characters on different maps and I'm looking forward to experimenting with custom map setups too.

One friend I played with commented that there wasn't enough variation when it came to the card powers/effects. Initially I agreed, but then I thought about it more and I think it works great the way they are. I don't think you need or want a huge variety of card types and effects in a game like this. It reduces randomness and adds a dose of predictability, which makes it more about bluffing and mind games when it comes to deciding how many cards you want to commit for combat and influence contests. I know they bought card XYZ, so they could potentially play it. In that case, maybe I should play card ABC. But if I play card ABC now, then I won't have it if someone else attacks me. I really love the emphasis on negotiations, bluffing, and mind games that stem from playing (or not playing) power cards in combat and influence contest.

Board Game: Crescent Moon

It's too soon to say if I'll be loving Crescent Moon more or less after 10-20 more plays, but based on how much I enjoyed my first few beginner games with newbies, I suspect it only gets better from here. Plus, at the end of all of my games, multiple people wanted to play again and just rotate characters. That says something about the Crescent Moon experience.

Crescent Moon is not going a hit for everyone. It's the kind of game you want to play with the right group of people to create the right dynamic. If you have players that don't enjoy negotiating with other players, you probably won't get into this. However, if you enjoy asymmetric area control games, and/or games full of negotiation opportunities where you not only get to play the game, but also get to play the players, definitely check out Crescent Moon.
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Fri May 20, 2022 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Founders of Teotihuacan, or A Tile-Laying Game

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Founders of Teotihuacan
Founders of Teotihuacan from designer Filip Głowacz and publisher Board&Dice bills itself as "a tile-laying game" in the subtitle on the box, and you do indeed lay tiles during play, so that promise is fulfilled. That said, I'm not sure that's the selling point I would have leaned into for this design in which you build production buildings, temples, and part of a pyramid.

You have a limited number of actions in which to build those structures and handle related paperwork, so ideally you're scheduling your time well, and by game's end you've transformed the last of your resources into finished buildings that are worth points — yet billing Founders of Teotihuacan as a resource-management game also feels unsatisfactory.

In the game, you are represented by an architect figure that travels around your building site, and you can build only in the half of the board closest to you. Presumably your voice carries only so far over the worksite, so you need to time certain actions so that you have the resources on hand to build the temple of pyramid section you want in the location you want. Should you turn up a gold short, you might not be able to place part of a pyramid in a certain space, which means you'd need to wait four turns until you've circled the board again in order to do so, and you have at most 12-18 actions depending on the player count, so a lost opportunity might be lost forever. Even so, billing this design as a time-management game again feels wrong.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Two final boards in a three-player game

All of those elements — tile laying, resource management, and time management — are present, but none of them stand at the forefront, and they don't merge to transform into a single, larger concept. Founders of Teotihuacan is a point-salad game in which the individual salad ingredients have somehow remained distinct instead of creating something grander. The cheese and strawberry never combine into something new.

Board Game: Patchwork
In the video below, which details the flow of the game and the actions available to you in more detail, I compare the tile-laying in Founders of Teotihuacan to that of Patchwork and Ark Nova.

In the former game, each of the two players is placing tiles on a personal game board — akin to Founders of Teotihuacan — but the goal of that game is to cover as many spaces on your board as possible and you have access to only three tiles at a time. This matters because the 33 tiles in that game are quite varied, and often you desperately need a particular tile or two because it's the right shape or it provides income to buy what you need or it gets you one of the few precious single-square patches, which means you constantly need to manipulate the timing of the actions so that you can get what you need. The design is all about fitting polyomino pieces together, with the income — that is, the resources needed to get tiles — being secondary to this larger goal. Income is essential, but it's nothing more than a tool and doesn't pull focus.

Board Game: Ark Nova
In the latter game, you place enclosures in your zoo — i.e., you lay tiles on a personal game board — to hold animals, but the enclosures themselves are largely uninteresting. The game includes an endless supply of enclosures of size 1-5, so you know you can get what you need, but you need to juggle having an action that's strong enough to build what you want, having enough money to pay for what you build, building an enclosure that's right for the animal you want to add to your zoo, covering the right bonus spaces on your game board, building next to kiosks to earn income, and leaving room for what's to come in the future based on whatever other plans you have — and those enclosures are only a tiny part of everything else that you're doing, with all of these demands on your time and wallet being tightly stitched together. (I'm still surprised that I like Ark Nova as much as I do because playing the game feels like you're budgeting time and money in a second life of sorts, and my first life is already challenging enough, thank you!)

Founders of Teotihuacan doesn't fit either model with its tile laying. In the four games I've played on a review copy from Board&Dice, we haven't felt the pressure of Patchwork or Ark Nova. We typically have a fair amount of space left over, and the difference between the production buildings (2 vs 3 vs 4 stone) doesn't seem to matter much, so if one is taken, you just grab another. The green, blue, and orange temple tiles differ in costs, but their benefits are the same in endgame scoring; a different set of worship tiles is associated with each type of temple — green worship tiles convert resources into points or other things; blue worship tiles reward you for having combinations of buildings; and red worship tiles reward you for nothing...or for having combinations of buildings — but their difference seems to have minimal impact.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

An issue related to this lack of pressure involves the action allocation. In a four-player game, you play four rounds, and you start with five action discs. At the end of each round, you remove a disc from the game, so you'll have access to only 14 (5+4+3+2) discs, i.e., 14 actions. The strength of a building action space depends on the number of discs on it, whether yours or opponents, so if you want to take a strength four action on turn one, you need to place three discs on it — which means you're giving up two actions, which seems like a terrible idea in a game with only 14 actions. (In a three-player game, you play only three rounds, so you'll have only 12 (5+4+3) discs/actions. You start with an extra disc in the four-round, two-player game, giving you 18 (6+5+4+3) discs/actions.)

When building temples and pyramid blocks, if you don't have the proper strength, you pay additional resources as a penalty — but that penalty pretty much always seems preferable to throwing away an action. The only possible advantage of jumping to strength four, aside from spending fewer resources, is blocking an action space since they can have at most three discs on them — but each action area has three action spaces on it in a three- or four-player game, so you're not really blocking anyone.

What's more, since your disc reserve shrinks over the course of the game, you have fewer possible actions, and in the final round of a four-player game, you probably can't take a strength four action unless an opponent goes on a space first to give you a leg up. Whereas most games escalate over the course of play, with actions becoming more powerful or plentiful as you improve your deck, add to your family, or gain additional powers, Founders of Teotihuacan taps its brakes each round, slowing to a halt and leaving you feeling like a kid in a convenience store who has only fifty cents to spend — it's better than nothing, but not by much.

For thoughts on the game, including a storage suggestion, check out this video overview:

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Mon May 16, 2022 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Full Throttle!, or Gambling in Candy Land

W. Eric Martin
United States
Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Full Throttle!
In general, I've been having a blast with Friedemann Friese's Full Throttle!, which he released through his own 2F-Spiele brand in October 2021 and which Rio Grande Games released in January 2022.

The gist of the game is simple: Six mopeds are racing, and you're placing bets on which ones will come in first, second, and third after three laps around the track. Each round you reveal cards from the deck, with mopeds moving according to fixed rules, sometimes being bumped to a longer outer lane, sometimes being blocked and having their movement card wasted. Each player secretly drafts one of the revealed cards in the round, and only the discards — the cards not chosen — will be used for future movement.

Thus, the more you invest in a color, the less likely it is to move. It's a great set-up, with players sometimes hanging themselves because collectively they've stripped the deck of a color, thereby stranding the moped on the track. The design is a great way to model how individual "smart" decisions can lead to collective "dumb" results.

The moped movement is random, yet fixed through the first two-thirds of the game, with player choices not mattering just as you have no choice of what to do in Candy Land — yet the outcome of the race, the final one-third of the game, is completely under the collective control of all players. That hard turn fascinates me, especially since I prefer games in which you're directly affecting what happens to opponents rather than trying to manipulate a game system in a more efficient manner.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

That said, I discovered only after I posted this video that I've played ten times on a review copy from 2F-Spiele with the wrong rules, despite me reading the short rulebook at least three times. (I've been goofing rules more frequently and consequently feeling much older in a relatively short time.) We have been placing discarded cards in a separate discard pile, then when the deck runs out, we shuffle them and play from that new deck. The rules actually state that the last player in the round places the discards on the bottom of the deck in the order of their choice. If you watch the video, keep that in mind. Now I'll need to play more with the correct rules to see how that affects things, but I dig the game, so I'm okay with that.

Anyway, if you watch the video, please keep my discard goof in mind, but the overall thoughts on the game still hold up.

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Mon Apr 25, 2022 3:00 pm
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Game Overview: Berried Treasure, or Pies, Pies, Pies, Yeah

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Berried Treasure
Berried Treasure is a game of booby traps. Sometimes all of your choices are obviously bad, and you aim to do only the least self harm possible — or to take someone down with you to share the suffering. At other times, you realize far too late that you should have done something else...but if you had, then everyone else would have done something else as well, so who knows where you would have ended up?

The gist of the game is simple. Collect pies and score points. To get pies, you take the end card of one of the available rows. Cards depict one of four flavors of pies, and sometimes a card will give you a bonus: "Moar!" lets you grab another available card of the same type; grabby rodent paws let you steal cards of the same type from another player. These bonuses come only on the first card you take on a turn, so don't get greedy.

In each of the three rounds, you reveal a scoring card before the round starts so that you know which flavors are worth what, with each flavor being in first, second, third, and fourth place across the four scoring cards. Only three of these cards will be used, so that blueberry payout you long for might never arrive.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Which pie gets pinched for your first pick?

Board Game: Buried Treasure
What's more, when determining who gets points for first, second, and third place in a flavor, you ignore players who are tied. In an earlier version of this Sid Sackson design, Das Super-Blatt from 1992, you ran a newspaper and were competing against other rags in town for stories on sex, crime, sports, and big business, and I guess the idea was that if you have as many crime stories as a competitor, then you're viewed as copying one another, so the reader chooses some other publication. Here, I don't know why we don't score, but we don't. Maybe we start hissing at one another because we're jealous of another rodent with as many pies as we have?

In any case, ties are bad. Being in second is probably better than being tied for first, especially in a game with four or five players since you'll move ahead of more players than you'll fall behind — unless the rodent getting first already has the most points, of course, in which case you should definitely fight them to pie equilibrium.

Board Game: Buried Treasure
Buried Treasure, another version of this design from 1998, gave pirate players two additional ways to mess with one another. This version included five extra cards of each color and two jokers, and each player was dealt a hand of five cards at the start of the game. On a turn, you could pick a card from the bottom of a row or play a card from your hand. What's more, you could place cards in your collection or the collection of any other pirate. Ha ha, now you're tied, Blackbeard, which clearly indicates that you're not the top pirate, so maybe you want to retreat to your cabin to think about what you want to do in the future.

Berried Treasure — which credits Noah Cohen, Rob Daviau, Justin D. Jacobson, and Brian Neff for "restoration" work on this early 2022 release from U.S. publisher Restoration Games — strips away the extra deck of Buried Treasure and returns to the simplicity of Das Super-Blatt, albeit with each flavor now having the same number of cards instead of slight asymmetry. This coincides with an increased player count of 2-5 instead of 2-4, but strangely Berried Treasure includes a different card layout for two players...

Board Game: Berried Treasure

And this layout does nothing beneficial when it comes to gameplay. Each player can take cards only from their side of the board, except that "Moar!" lets you grab a free card from either player's side. If I'm the player at top in this random layout, I'm guaranteed to grab a majority in blue thanks to the "Moar!" in the left column — and I don't even need to rush for the blue cards since barriers prevent you from grabbing them first. I can lock in those 8 points for myself, while likely still competing in other flavors thanks to two other "Moar!"s on my side of the playing area.

I've played four two-player games on a review copy from Restoration Games, and over those twelve rounds I kept encountering situations like this in which one player has a huge flavor advantage over the other — and when that advantage occurs in the first round, it can compound in later rounds since you keep cards from round to round unless they're snatched away. Earlier versions of this design use the same card layout no matter the player count, and I think that would be a better choice here, especially since the three four-player games I've played have all been super tense, with you trying to maximize your holdings in a flavor, minimize pain, set up conflict between others, and invest in future rounds depending on which scoring cards haven't been revealed — ideally all in the same card choice!

(Admittedly, using the same layout for two-player games could also be unfair should, say, a single yellow card come up, but as long as that yellow is not on the end of a row, the two players would then be able to decide for themselves who is going to take it and what they're giving up to get it.)

Whatever the card layout, however, I would prefer the game with more than two players because then you're not playing a strict me-vs-you majority game. In a two-player game, you might be clawing to get a tie because you'd prefer than both of you score nothing compared to you getting second place, yet scoring nothing feels like...nothing. In our four-player games, the person who forced a tie among the leaders and profited from it would cheer and razz others, and those tied players, while disappointed, could appreciate the cleverness of how the cards were turned against them. With more players in this type of game, you have multiple clashing desires and emotions, so you're pulled in different directions and the majority scoring has more meaning.

For more demonstrations of gameplay and threats of box-related violence, check out this overview video:

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11 Comments
Mon Apr 18, 2022 1:00 pm
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