It's okay, Terraforming Mars, you can come back in from the cold now. I've got a nice new expansion for you! What's that? Will it make me love you again, like I once did? Oh, err, well, let's not be too hasty.
What more can those plucky Fryxelius chaps come up with next? We've dealt with the dusty red plains of Mars, survived the crushing, corrosive atmosphere of Venus, and beaten deep space madness on trade expeditions to the far flung moon colonies of the gas giants. What else can you possibly throw at us? Oh? The most difficult challenge of all? Governmental red tape, bureaucracy and a somewhat sinister infiltration of the Martian parliament by the terraforming corporations?
Turmoil is the fifth expansion for a game that continues, after three years on the scene, to remain a steadfast favourite for many gamers. Described on the box as an “expert” expansion, Turmoil brings the joys of governmental oversight to the terraforming process, as six political parties vie for control of the Terraforming Council, giving out bonuses and encouraging their own agendas. Outside the parliament building the universe marches on, forcing players to deal with (or benefit from) various events, natural disasters, human interventions and so on.
Let's get the lesser of the two mechanics out of the way first, the Global Events. At the end of each generation the current Global Event is resolved and these basically act as little things the players should keep in mind as they play. Some are pretty negative. Riots for example, will cost you 4MC per city you own. Some can be beneficial, such as giving out resources or production. Some are even a little bit of both, costing you resources but giving production or vice-versa. Thankfully there are limits to how much these can affect you, usually five of whatever it is (Riots being -4MC per city to a maximum of 5 cities, so no more than 20MC in total) and having some presence in the Parliament can also reduce the penalties (or increase the boons) you receive. Those of you thinking “I'm not worried about the riots, I spent all my money so there's none left to take.” better brace yourselves. The events happen after your production phase, so they almost always hit with full effect.
The events are fine. I don't love nor hate them, usually you're paying attention to the ones that give a bonus so you can play appropriately in the generation before they take effect. “Scientific Progress” giving out 1MC per Science tag? Better get those out now. Since they occur after the production phase there is little you can do to mitigate the negative ones other than try and boost your Influence. What's this Influence? Better head over to the Parliament.
The other side of the Turmoil coin is the Martian Parliament, where six parties compete for dominance and where the players (and a neutral player) will use their own delegates to grow and position these parties appropriately. Already I like the idea that the your delegates represent politicos very much in the pocket of your corporation, giving the whole thing a bit of a dark and sinister overtone. You're not representing the people (the, uh, Martian people) here, you're representing your own corporate interests. This is not democracy. This is corporatocracy. At the end of each generation the party with the most delegates becomes the ruling party for the next generation, giving out an appropriate spot bonus when their primacy is announced. Mars First ascendant? Everyone can enjoy 1MC per building tag as a thanks for developing infrastructure on Mars! Here then is the first benefit of backing the right party: Money. And lots of it, if you can co-ordinate your corporate and political strategies. When the next generation rolls around that party will put into effect their Policy, keeping with Mars First all players can enjoy a free steel resource for each tile they place on Mars. The Greens give a small rebate when forests are placed, the Kelvinists offer a heat and energy production for a bargin 10MC. Watch out for the Reds though, any terraforming during their rule is taxed at an extra 3MC per step.
And this really is the crux of this expansion: looking ahead to the future and planning to make the most of it. What you will do in the next generation becomes much more than simply “I might play this card and maybe build a city here.” and the rewards for being forward-thinking can be substantial. In one game, all of us could see that the Greens would be the next party in power and their forestry rebate policy would come into effect. Despite the risk of asteroids and other plant squashing shenanigans, we all held onto our plant stocks until the policy was enacted, discarding the immediate benefits of board presence and more terraform rating, risking our opponents drawing asteroid cards and change in turn order. In a game with Rachel, the Reds being in power stalled our terraforming efforts, with neither of us willing to pay the extra tax they demanded we instead focused on other things, expanding our engines and making sure the Reds would not get a second term. The delegates each player has can be deployed into the various parties (you get one for free each generation, each one after that costs 5MC) to try and swing the balance, having the most delegates within a party also nets you the party leadership position. If you're in charge of the party that becomes dominant, your chap becomes the Chairman netting you some of that precious Influence and a bonus TR.
Another major feature of Turmoil is the terraforming tax every player suffers every generation, losing that 1TR a round certainly makes money tighter and spending decisions in the early game become more crucial. You certainly won't be ending games with incomes of 60 or 70MC, even earning 40MC a round can feel like an achievement with Turmoil. Much like Colonies made energy production more worthwhile with energy being needed to fuel the trade fleets, projects that give money production have extra weight here. I'm not sure they really needed a boost, money is money at the end of the day, but it is definitely harder now to boost your income by terraforming only.
So, final verdict? It's no secret I'm a big fan of Terraforming Mars so getting this expansion was a no brainer. If you really like the game and it makes it to the table a lot, definitely check out Turmoil. The big difference with this one over Colonies and Venus is that Turmoil requires you to think ahead to the next generation, or even the one afterwards, to reap the benefits. With cash being harder to come by you will need to put effort into manipulating the Parliament to get the bonuses and policies that help your engine along. If Terraforming Mars is already enough of an experience for you then you can give Turmoil a pass, the extra 30 minutes game time might be a deal breaker as there is more upkeep between turns with the Events and the Parliament.
So, let's have a quick summary of all the available expansions to finish.
Hellas/Elysium Boards – Why not? A little bit of variety, no new mechanics to learn.
Prelude – Must have. Very seamless addition, I always play with this.
Venus Next – No new mechanics, you get another terraform track, another tag and another “collects on cards” resource to go with microbes and animals, so nothing that isn't already in the base game. If you want a little bit more of the same, get this.
Colonies – New mechanics with the colonies and trade fleets. Good expansion if you like the engine building side of the game as the colonies offer alternate ways to gain production and resources.
Turmoil – New mechanics with the Parliament and Global Events. If you want something that forces you to think and plan ahead, this is ideal.
Mix and match all you want, I did see a post in a Facebook group where someone complained the game took four hours, but since that turned out to be a four player game with all the expansions thrown in I'm not surprised! How Turmoil integrates with Venus and Colonies I can't comment, there are some events that affect those areas and obviously you'll get a more complex game the more you add in. I am looking forward with a sort of grim fascination to an “all-in” game, no doubt there'll be a big write-up on the blog, but Turmoil with Preludes as I've played is quite manageable and enjoyable, I look forward to playing it more.
Trials, tribulations, outdoor adventures and occasional board game commentary. Join me as I try to squeeze some gaming time into my life as a travelling IT consultant.
Archive for Reviews
- [+] Dice rolls
Blimey, it's been a long time since I did one of these hasn't it? End of February to be exact. The big gap hasn't really been due to a lack of appropriate games, more that throughout March, April and May I was only ever in one spot for a week at a time which didn't give me much chance to really get my teeth into a game and get my thoughts down before moving on.
It's time now however for another notch on the Geeklist, the teeny tiny tin of Mint Delivery has been my gaming companion whilst I've been in Edinburgh.
Mint Delivery is a pick-up-and-deliver style game condensed and boiled down into a pocket sized package. Players take on the roles of delivery drivers for a mint making magnate, taking orders, collecting mints and dropping them off at the appropriate destination. There's three different colours of mints to ship around, white regular mints, green sugar-free mints and red cinnamon mints, and orders can be any combination of one to four mints in one or two colours. To deliver your mints you'll need to move your little truck token along the map, made up of 9 cards placed in a certain 3x3 grid, stopping at warehouses along the way (to collect regular mints), factories (to convert regular mints into the green or red ones) and finally your destinations. Once at a destination you can cash in your mints and move on to the next order. Play continues until two draw piles of orders are empty, players then score all their completed orders and, as with all things in life, the player with the most points is the winner.
Like any pick-up-and-deliver game, the key to the whole thing is efficiency. Any move that doesn't get you to closer to fulfilling an order is (perhaps) a wasted one, after all one of the "rules" of logistics is never have an empty truck on the road. Plotting your route from warehouse, to factory, to town, is important and a nice little challenge. The game also offers two additional modules which can be tacked on, the first being a set of road conditions that are deployed as part of setup, for example one road might be blocked making it impassable, whilst another is made into a motorway that allows faster movement. The second module is specialised player abilities, but rather than being unique to each player there is instead a pool of three available abilities that players can gain during the game in whatever order they wish.
That's pretty much it. I don't really have a lot to say about the multiplayer game currently, I've only played it once without the road conditions or player abilities and found it quite dull, but it is on my to play list for the future. Anyway, onto the solo experience.
For just one human player competition is provided by one of five dummy players which play according to a basic AI workflow. The nine cards that make up the mint-mad locality of the multiplayer game are flipped over to reveal a mint factory, with twenty randomly chosen mints available on two conveyor belts, ten mints on each. The players' delivery trucks are now more like forklift trucks and the available orders are delivered to their corresponding loading docks rather than the towns themselves. The end goal still remains the same, fulfil more orders than your opponent. The actions the player can take are broadly similar to the standard game, but instead of white mints being the "raw materials" that need to be converted into the green and red mints, the player instead loads mints from the conveyor belts. Only the front four mints are available for selection and you're still limited to loading one colour at a time. Manipulating the available mints on the belts is one way the human can game the system, more on that later.
So while you're busy whizzing around the factory your AI opponent will be doing just the same, working through their AI workflow as conditions dictate. Firstly they will take orders up to their maximum workload (players can have 3 orders on the go, the AIs have 1 or 2), each AI has a preference for which towns they fulfil orders for first. When they have enough orders, they will head over to the mint belts to collect enough mints to fulfil their orders with. Players have to go to either the East of West belts before loading, whereas the AI player can go to a special zone between the belts and grab mints from either. When they have enough mints, they then head off to the appropriate loading area to drop off the order and the whole cycle starts again. To make things more interesting, each AI also has a particular ability to give it a certain edge. Sonic can move twice as fast, Mel plods along but scores an extra point for each order you complete. There's variety, and none of the abilities are so complex they're hard to account for.
The key to beating the AI player is to pay attention to its workflow and set up opportunities to break it, like most AI opponents it will beat you if left to its own devices, or at the very least force it to make sub-optimal choices. Taking orders is one example of the latter. You can look at the board at any moment and, given the AIs preferences, know what order it will take next. If there's a big 5-pointer lined up for it, perhaps best to snag that first. It's not perfect, by taking an order you reveal the next one in that deck (there's four decks of orders to work through) and that might just be as good if not better than the one you took, but if it means you got that 5 pointer while the AI got one worth 2 points then it paid off. Engineering the order of the mints on the two belts is another method of gaming the AI, as when either player completes an order it's the human who chooses which belts the mint go back onto. Mind you, since mints go on the back of the belt it might be a while before they become the front four again and thus available for loading, and who knows how the game state might have changed in that time.
The only time I was ever able to make an AI really seize up was playing against one that doesn't load mints in the normal way, instead it loads mints whenever I load mints. The key thing here is that it only loads mints of the same colour that I choose, so if the AI only needs green mints and I collect white ones, it won't do anything. In my game against this robot I was able to lock it up for 4 or 5 turns at a time and while it was very efficient at filling orders when it could, making sure that our mint requirements didn't overlap allowed me to pull ahead. Some of the AIs are easier than others I think, perhaps this is the way one can adjust the difficulty as there's no other means to do so, but the only time I was beaten was once, by Mel and only by 1 point.
So, some thoughts. The first downside of Mint Delivery for me is its daintiness. The whole thing is quite fiddly and while I realise that it has to be in order to fit inside a mint tin, the small components were frustrating to deal with sometimes. On some nights that actively put me off playing it, I just wasn't up for manipulating teeny wee bits whereas something with a bit more heft to it, something like Assembly with it's full size cards and chunky tokens, would have been preferred.
My biggest gripe is to do with managing the AI player. I often struggle in games to figure out what the hell it is I'm supposed to be doing, and when I have to take on the extra mental work load of an AI opponent I start to lose interest. There are plenty of instances in Mint Delivery where you as the player can decide how the AI will perform an action, usually this is to do with which belt the AI will take mints from and which belts mints go back onto once they've been cashed in for a order. Where do I draw the line here? Say the robot needs three white mints for an order. The east belt has four white mints available, and the west belt has two available. If you were controlling the AI and allowing it to play to the best of it's ability, you'd obviously take from the east belt, loading all three required white mints in one action and using the second action to start moving towards the loading dock. Alternatively, do you make the AI take an objectively worse turn and have it use one action to load the two mints from the west belt and then the second action to load the remaining required mint from the other belt? It's used a whole turn to load mints when it didn't have to, but there is nothing in the rules to say that the AI should take mints as efficiently as possible. Perhaps this is a willing oversight to allow the whole thing to be as condensed as it is, I'm sure gamers generally are aware of how decision trees can quickly spiral out of control, but I really don't like having to make these decisions for my opponent. If I allow the robot to take the move I would make, I am actively working against my own game. If I allow the robot to make bad decisions, then I'm being selfish and playing against something that offers no challenge. What's the middle ground? Make one bad decision for every good one? No thanks. I really don't want that kind of mental load.
I can't fault the game's aesthetic and compactness however. The footprint is small (definitely suitable for smaller hotel rooms with just a bedside or coffee table) and it travels well, one benefit of the mint tin package is you don't have to worry about it getting squashed, splashed on or otherwise deformed like a cardboard box might. The theme and game play is tame enough you might convince a fellow traveller to try it out. Resetting the game between rounds doesn't take long either, a few minutes to redistribute the mints and order cards, and select a new AI opponent. You'll easily crack out three or four games in an hour, perhaps a good one for those looking for a quick and easy game to fill out a solitaire 10x10 challenge.
All said and done, I don't think Mint Delivery is really what I'm looking for in a travelling game. The underlying mechanics were not very engaging, especially since the solitaire mode doesn't allow for the Road Conditions or Player Ability modes (or at least the standard rules don't, but with a bit of work perhaps). While I'm not totally averse to AI players in solitaire modes (see my scribbles about Viticulture EE and Historia for example) I vastly prefer them when their design accounts for all the decision making without lumping anything else on me. I'm happy to move the pieces. I don't want to have to decide where they go.
- [+] Dice rolls
Add another "...and again" to the title of my last post, as once again I find myself writing to you from the comfort of my Southampton hotel room. Now that I've had a somewhat productive day, run a decent 5k and smashed a cheeky Nandos like an absolute ledge it's time for another one of my First Impressions reviews.
I don't think I've ever really defined what I class as a First Impressions review, I don't really do them consistently enough, but sometimes I play a new-to-me game that triggers enough of an immediate reaction that I feel the need to pound the keyboard. Such thoughts aren't always positive, so be warned, plus I have to stress the title: first impressions. Rules are missed or misinterpreted, both players might be completely new to certain mechanics or one player might be very experienced in a particularly crucial mechanic. The player count may not be ideal, "must have" expansions may not be included, or we might simply have a hangover and simply be physically incapable of appreciating the sheer beauty. Anyway, tonight's subject game was played twice, both on one particular mode of play, so this and other similar reviews are by no means a comprehensive write-up of a title.
Anyway, what did Simon and I play that's caused such an outpouring of verbiage? Why, it's Hand of Fate: Ordeals.
First up, a personal opinion. The word "Kickstarter" in a game description is an instant turn-off for me. In my mind, Kickstarter is synonymous with over-designed, over-hyped games that rely too much on the sheer number of miniatures to draw interest and backers. Stretch goals stretch into the obscene. Metal coins. A custom made soundtrack. Embossed player boards. Another deck of cards. Bespoke 17-sided dice made from some unusual metal like tantalum or osmium. A life-sized green crystal skull that emits an ear-piercing scream when the boss monster appears. More miniatures. More decks of cards. Extra miniatures. BIGGER MINIATURES. And it goes on. And all too often, once the initial excitement dies down the game is completely forgotten about until either the whole thing collapses into a Ponzi scheme or suddenly, YEARS LATER, an articulated lorry turns up outside your house and a forklift is required to move the boxes into your living room. Several things then happen:
1a - People will start loudly moaning and carrying on that they didn't get a shipping notice, yet someone else in their game group who backed the game later and at lower band got their copy first, then the makers say that actually they didn't make enough copies to fulfil all the orders.
1b - The game is actually released in FLGSs first and much cheaper, albeit without the flashy miniatures and extras, which as it turns out most people don't give a toss about anyway, causing rage in those who backed it and are still awaiting a shipping notice.
2a - "Game arrived but actually I can't be bothered to ever play it, who will buy it?"
2b - "Game arrived but wife/girlfriend/spouse/partner saw the invoice and went mental, who will buy it?"
2c - "Game arrived but I've just realised none of my friends/family/game group are even remotely interested in playing it, who will buy it?"
3 - "Finally got it to the table and it's (pick as many as appropriate): too long / too complex / full of rules contradictions / too imbalanced / actually absolute dogshit."
There must be a board game Kickstarter bingo card somewhere.
Anyway, when Simon said he fancied giving one of his Kickstarters a go I was instantly dubious.
Imagine my surprise then that after finishing setup, what faced me was an amalgamation of two of my favourite games, Dominion and Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game, thoroughly infused with a grim medieval fantasy theme, and on top a small dollop of world exploration and resource management. Simon barely even needed to give a full rules explanation, the process of playing and resolving cards would be instantly familiar to fans of the aforementioned franchises, all he needed to cover was the movement and combat mechanics. The basic gist of the game is that the players start off as your typical fantasy idiot Level 1 adventures, naked except for a rusty axe, driven by a desire to kill the local Royalty and gain enough Fame to win the game. The Royals and various minions you encounter along the way come from four typically cliche fantasy factions (rat-men, lizard-men, bandit-men and spooky skellington-men). Finding and defeating the baddies involves exploring a grid of Encounter cards which can range from graveyards, murder-pits and bandit ambushes, more mundane civilian areas like Markets, right through to some more interesting locations and characters like Demonic Traders, Necromancers, Royal Treasuries and Blacksmiths. These latter locations will have some sort of gimmick or ability, for example locations such as the Forge and Blacksmith allow a player to look at extra cards and buy one cheaper than the listed cost. Each location can only be activated a certain number of times however, encouraging players to keep an eye on the whole board and keeping them invested in what other players reveal and providing some competition to get to these places and use them first.
In each level there's a location that corresponds to the current level of Royalty, with Jack being the lowest and recommended starting level. When the Jack's location is found, he can be fought and if defeated play progresses to the next level. The Encounters get harder and riskier with the Queen providing a tougher challenge, but overcome her and you'll get to face the King! Again, the encounters step up a level with the King not only being more powerful and tougher in combat but he will also pursue players around the board (the Jack and Queen are static, so can be avoided until players feel ready) which certainly adds an extra level of stress and tension. Kill the King and he game ends, and players add on the Fame value of cards in their deck, and whoever has the highest becomes the most famousest dungeoneer in the realm.
Players on their turn play cards from their hand and resolve the effects, with most cards falling into four categories. Food cards provide food, the resource you spend to move around the board. Effort cards provide effort, which is the currency used to buy more cards and Equipment cards provide various arms, armour and trinkets to provide protection, abilities and killing power. Finally there are Attack cards which further boost your murdering efficiency. Much like Legendary, cards can be played in whatever order you like (except during combat) and you can play however many you like, and even Legendary-style card Classes make an appearance in the form of Soldier, Wanderer and Trickster tagged cards, which some card abilities trigger off of, thus requiring a focus towards a particular class. The "Soldier's Broadsword" for example, gets extra attack power for each Soldier card bound to it. Wait, bound to it?
Yes! Bound to it. For you see, the weapons themselves in Hand of Fate are pretty weak, with most only naturally dealing 1 or 2 points of damage with some even having an attack of 0. Your skill with your chosen weapon is combined with a more intangible sense of "combat readiness" by allowing you to bind a certain number of Attack cards to a weapon to boost its power. If you're going to start a fight this round, attaching a couple of Heavy Blows and and a Night's Kiss to your sword will certainly give you the edge (no pun intended), with Night's Kiss providing no innate combat bonus but allowing instead for immediate and sneaky dispatch of a weak enemy before combat, whilst the big +3 bonus of the Heavy Blows will probably dispatch whatever is left. The game even does a good job of representing some of the initial adrenaline rush of joining combat, as when the battle starts you're allowed to add extra cards to your weapon above and beyond it's usual binding limit. Whilst this sounds great, the quality of your deck now becomes crucial. Additional Attack cards certainly help, as do any Effort cards which see their effort converted into combat power. On the flip side, any Food cards you draw will do nothing for you, nor will any of the Dominion-style Curse cards which various things dish out (these are either completely useless cards, or offer some minor effect for a corresponding penalty, either way in combat they count as zero power). Thus maintaining your deck is important, fans of both Legendary and Dominion will fully appreciate and utilise the plenty opportunities to Destroy (Trash in Dominion, Kill in Legendary) cards to keep one's deck streamlined and optimised.
If you win in combat then great, you get Fame and Shards, a sort of super-currency that can be used to buy powerful (debatable) relics between rounds. If you don't have enough power to overcome all the enemies then you can either Flee and suffer a D&D-style Attack of Opportunity from the remaining baddies, or Push to stay in the fight by paying a Food. You'll have a resolve a Pain card, usually costing you some health (which, I should mention, is very easy to lose and very difficult to gain back) but you'll get to draw and bind one more card to your weapon and have another crack at whatever is left. Again, the quality of your deck might scupper you and when you run out of Food you'll have no choice but to try and run away.
The whole combat portion of Hand of Fate is really quite enjoyable. The whole Push/Flee mechanic along with Health being so critical means that preparation is key, and players who rush into combat without at least a couple items of gear and some better-than-what-you-start-with Attack cards will really suffer. That said, enemies can often throw their own spanners into the works and Simon and I both had combats that we waded into with the utmost confidence only to quickly get bogged down. Unlike Legendary, where your total Attack value forms a pool that you can distribute at will, in Hand of Fate you have to assign the whole value of a card to an enemy and any excess power is wasted. Overkill is a thing, as is having enough cards to distribute amongst the enemies. Because of this, fighting multiple weak enemies at once can be very dangerous, especially when there's a more powerful enemy such as a Royal waiting behind them, and you'll never be more lethal than in the very first round of combat as maintaining a powerful offence gets difficult when it's costing you Food and Health to add just one extra card to your weapon, a card that could well give you no bonus. Believe it or not, swinging a battle axe around in full plate armour is awfully tiring.
Oh, but what about if you bound cards to your weapon and didn't fight that turn? Well, I guess thematically you made yourself combat ready, but if you want to keep those cards bound on the next turn you'll have to pay some Effort (it's tiring walking around all day with your sword drawn and shield ready) or otherwise discard them all.
So all told, the whole combat side to Hand of Fate is really fun and enjoyable, it's certainly more interesting than Legendary's system, and doing well in combat requires good preparation on the part of the players, to have the right cards and an efficient deck, enough Food to stay in the fight should you need to, and some extra Attacks bound and ready on your weapon. And of course, don't forget a good dose of luck.
Despite a couple of interesting mechanics, especially the combat as whole, there were some issues with the game that occasionally sapped the enjoyment and stalled our game-play. Simon was consistently frustrated by the layout of the rule-book, finding relevant passages often involved having to scan the whole document, and more often than not our queries required pausing the game to get phones out to look up an answer online. Usually these were the result of unclear card interactions, for example:
If I reveal the King and am thus Ambushed, but I use a card ability that allows me to avoid an Ambush, does the King still spawn and start following players around the board? In our first game, Simon did just this, finding the King but using his armour's ability to avoid the initial Ambush. There didn't seem to be anything in the rules about the King to account for a player dodging the King's ambush. Thus, we knew exactly where the King was and we simply spent a few turns preparing, after which I stormed in and, somewhat anticlimactically, obliterated him in one go.
How does the Crushing Mace, which "doubles the attack value of your least powerful bound Attack", work with cards that have no value, specifically with Night's Kiss, which instead of a numerical value simply has a tilde, ~. I wouldn't class ~ as a value, to me a value is 0, 1, 2, and so on, so if my bound attack cards are 3, 1 and ~ which one is doubled? The 1, to make it 2? Or does the ~ count as 0 and thus 0 doubled stays as 0? Other Attack cards have 0 or 0+ on them, so what makes the ~ on Night's Kiss special?
Those are just two example, more did come up that we either found some tentative answers for from the myriad of rules question threads in the BGG forum or from the updated rule-book on the website, but it became apparently early in our first game, just the base game without any expansion material, that there were situations and combinations that the rules as written didn't always account for. Rules not detailed enough? Lack of play-testing? Or perhaps just a result of Kickstarter-itis, an overabundance of mechanics whose cogs run smoothly for the most part but suffer a grinding of teeth when someone unexpectedly shifts from 1st to 3rd in one movement?
My next gripe could well be the result of poor play on Simon's part, or my familiarity with Dominion and Legendary meaning I was better practised with the whole deck-building part, but I won both games by a huge margin, indeed the second one was almost embarrassing, me ending on 74 Fame to Simon's 30. It seemed that the first player to get some sensible kit (Crushing Mace and Shield of the Immovable Object in the first game, and in the second game, a Shield and the Soldier's Broadsword) would easily dominate any Level 1 encounters as well easily kill the Jack. When I stumbled into the Jack in the first game I killed him in the first round of combat, and in the second I went straight to him after he was revealed and again, killed him in one. Both Queens suffered similarly at my hands, I was Ambushed by both and both were easily dispatched. Granted, the Kings proved difficult, the second one especially was difficult to overcome as he chased me around the board and actually killed me once, but I had such a great lead on Fame that losing 10 for dying didn't help Simon catch up in any way. Again, I'm not definitely saying there's a runaway leader problem here, I'm sure that Simon would happily admit that I am way more experienced than him at deck-building games and can "read" my decks composition throughout a game more easily, but I'm also sure he found it a bit disheartening to see my early, perhaps just lucky, gains of sword and board easily and swiftly translating into an impassable Fame chasm.
As a final minor thing, I also felt the Relics, bits of equipment that players need to collect Shards to purchase, were a bit lacklustre. In our two games I was only the only one to get any relics, getting three dips into the deck in the second game (once after defeating the Queen, and twice from the Demonic Trader) with only one proving of any actual use in combat. The other two were simply not suited to my deck and were actually detrimental, for example the dual daggers would have meant discarding my Shield, the extra offence not being worth the loss of defence. Also, the whole thing of having different card Archetypes of Wanderer, Trickster and Soldier was really underused I thought. There are very few cards that actually reference another card's archetype, so few in fact that at no point during either game did I really feel the need to specialise into one archetype or another. Contrast this to Legendary, almost the polar opposite, where a majority of cards reference the various Class symbols. This provides a tight-rope that players need to actively learn to negotiate, the bonuses are great and instantly rewarding, watching your abilities trigger time after time, but it punishes those who spread their abilities too thin as they struggle to gain enough attack and influence to aid the team. But if only one card out of every fifteen references those keywords, as it feels in Hand of Fate, whats the point in having them in the first place?
All that said, I would happily play Hand of Fate: Ordeals again, but not the competitive mode that Simon and I played. Thankfully the game comes with a co-operative mode that resolves around some multi-level quests which seems really interesting. Legendary: Alien always goes down well with my friends and with Rachel, and I would think that Hand of Fate's co-op mode would scratch the same itch in a deeper and more involved way. Attacks and combat have to be actively prepared for and timed correctly, the use of Effort in combat gives it a use beyond just buying more cards, and many of the Encounters offer interesting choices beyond just beating stuff up. There's some holes in the rules and perhaps the competitive mode has it flaws, either from sheer luck or maybe just player count, but otherwise it's a pretty solid and enjoyable game. It scratches the 10 year itch I've had since first being exposed to Dungeons & Dragons, but contains it within a board game that can be set up and played in a neat package. There's nothing to say that a game of Hand of Fate has to last hours as players grind through the Jack, Queen and King, instead those Royalties offer their own individually packaged Easy/Medium/Hard difficult one-shot standalone sessions. And for the truly hardcore, the rule-book mentioned an Endless mode. Hmm. I'm not sure I like it that much.
- [+] Dice rolls
Greetings from the heart of Tuscany! For this next Travelling Consultant Review, my companions Ween and Gator have something very appropriate considering my current business trip to Provincia di Siena and the mind-boggling catalogue of vineyards and enoteche it boasts. Grab the corkscrew and the nice glasses, it's wine o'clock.
The base game, Viticulture, hails from all the way back in 2013 and it certainly thrust designer Jamey Stegmaier and Stonemaier Games into the limelight with it's great artwork and high production quality. At it's core, Viticulture is an action selection and worker placement style game in much the same vein as Uwe classic Agricola. Starting with just a small, barely developed winery, each player must use their starting workers and resources to expand the vineyard and get a wine production engine going, with the final aim being to fill wine orders and score points. Once someone reaches 20 points, that round is played to its conclusion and whoever has the most points in the winner. For solo players, the game requires you best an "Automa", a card-driven "AI" player that will take up action spaces on the board and potentially scupper your plans, and you'll need to beat 20 points in just 7 rounds to win.
Full and proper reviews of this game are ten a penny, Essential Edition has nearly 70 text and video reviews listed on it's BGG page, so I'm not going to delve too deeply, if at all, into the "regular" review topics such as the mechanics and production value. Having been out for 5 years now, Viticulture has I think become an easy inclusion to most collections so I see no point in rehashing a lot of what's already been said. So let's move straight to the things we here at Travelling Consultant Reviews really want to know about.
Out of the games reviewed so far for TCR, Viticulture certainly has the longest set up time. There are seven decks of cards to separate out and shuffle, as well as meeples, money and other tokens to sort out. After a long first day on site and a late dinner it was all I could do on Tuesday evening to set the game up and play my "turn 0", dealing out a Mama and Papa card, gathering the corresponding starting hand from the mama and making the choice offered by the papa. As it turned out, the late dinner time here in Italy is what frustrated my desire to play Viticulture during the week. Being someone used to eating early, the fact that no restaurant opens before 7:30pm means it's 9pm or later by the time I'm back at my hotel and ready to wind down. When it's that late in the evening and dinner and a glass of two of the vini rosso has only added to my lethargy, wrapping my head around the intricacies of Viticulture is just not warranted. It wasn't until yesterday, Saturday afternoon, that I finally found the time to sit down, put some tunes on and get through a few games.
You'll also need a good amount of table space to get everything set up, there's both the central and player boards to consider and room around the edges for the coins, wine tokens and other bits. There is some good news though, I've found the game very quick to reset especially if one saves time by simply not shuffling any discarded cards back into their respective draw piles. The Summer and Winter visitor decks should easily last two or even three games before running out, the new mama and papa can just come from the top of their decks (no need really to shuffle the used ones back in) and even the Automa deck might not require a rebuild. You'll have to resolve at most 14 Automa cards in a single game (more in one of the variants, more on that later) so with 24 in the deck you can easily get two games out of it, that is assuming my understanding of the rules is correct and that I don't draw an Automa for a season in which I know I won't or can't be placing any workers (e.g. if I've played all of my workers in the Summer, I don't bother resolving a Automa for Winter). As such, it's possible to play a full game and have it reset ready for the next one within 40 minutes. The severity of your Analysis Paralysis might make this longer of course, but a single game is certainly possible in an evening and several in a row will neatly fill a couple hours if you have to stay somewhere over the weekend.
Viticulture includes enough components for six players so there's a lot that can be stripped out to save weight, a crucial consideration especially for those flying and packing the game in their check-in bags. One player board and the central board are required obviously, and the Vine, Visitor and Order decks all fit neatly into a standard deckbox. Mamas, Papas, Automa and the Sold Field cards all fit in a second box. I packed about half the available coins for my trip and have used very few, so one can probably get away with only needing a few £5 and half a dozen each of the £2 and £1 coins. Similarly, perhaps only half the glass beads are needed, and as for player pieces, you need just one set in your chosen colour plus the workers and score marker from a second colour for the Automa. Those travelling with a like-minded colleague or partner would only need to include a second player board and two full sets of tokens, a trivial increase over what's needed for one.
I'm sure if I really wanted to I could slim it down even more, such as putting the coins and glass beads inside one of the deckboxes, but at this point we're splitting hairs. With it all stripped down, there's plenty of empty space left in the box. Travellers like us are always conscious of maximising our available packing space, so here's a few ideas on how to fill out that big box.
Maybe you're just off on your own for a couple of days? Two pairs of boxers and two pairs socks fill up the space neatly. Whether you put the dirties back in there is your choice.
Bought a somewhat delicate gift for someone back home? Use the game box as extra packaging! These porcini mushrooms should be safe enough in here.
I'm sorry Jamey. I bet you'd never thought to see someone stuff a bag of mushrooms and some underwear into your beloved game.
Beat 20 points to win a Standard difficulty game, but there are plenty of variations.
(I think Ween just back-handed Gator)
One of the things that I really like about solitaire Viticulture is the sheer amount of variability right out of the box. As well as the Mama and Papa cards providing a variable setup for each game and a bit of a "Turn 0" in making the choice on the Papa card (usually a choice between more starting money or a building), there are five difficulty variants should you choose them, as well as an "aggressive" variant. The nice thing is that these aren't just a case of starting with fewer points or with more money, no, nothing so simple. They're all a unique yet slight twist on the standard rules such as taking an 8th round in Very Easy, or having the Automa set the target score to 23 in Very Hard. I've played five games over the weekend on just regular, Normal difficulty and won three of them, so I'm probably at the level where I need to step it up to Hard mode and ensure that the Automa takes at least two workers each season. The aforementioned aggressive variant can be mixed in with the Easy, Normal and Hard difficulties as well and requires players have achieved a certain score by the end of each round. Only on 3 points at the end of round 4? You lose, you needed 4.
Those looking for even more variety will relish the included "Campaign mode" which offers a series of eight games that twist the rules in weird ways whilst still needing to beat 20 points in 7 rounds. They tend to feature a seemingly large disadvantage, such as Game 2 which limits you to just two regular workers (you still get grande and can still use the migrant worker), with a corresponding gimmick to lessen the blow, so our small band of workers in Game 2 can take every action as the bonus version. Just 22 actions (3 workers, 7 rounds, and 1 use of the migrant) in a game, but you'll be able to harvest 2 fields, make 3 wine, and build structures at £1 discount as standard. I played the first 5 of these a couple of years ago and really enjoyed them, the first one took me about 4 games to complete but 2-5 I managed in one game each. Game 6 sounds the most interesting, having points scored just from having wine in your cellar rather than filling orders, and the final one just seems outright sadistic, banning the filling of orders completely and forcing players to score points via other means. No doubt this is where buildings such as the Tasting Room and Windmill come in handy, as well as Visitors such as the Assessor (discard your hand for 2 points) or the Uncertified Broker (pay £6 for 2 points). I've heard tell over the years of people winning multiplayer games without ever planting any vines, apparently running something akin to agriturismo than wine making, and I am reminded of the Agricola game posted here on BGG where someone scored over 100 points by just having a massive stone house. Win or lose, the special scenarios in the Campaign are a fantastic way of exploring alternative strategies and I can imagine that anyone interested in game design will be intrigued by how the small rules changes lead to very different experiences.
So, final verdict? I can only recommend Viticulture as a travel game in a very particular set of circumstances. For after-dinner, mid-week hotel room play I think there are much better options that are quicker to set up and less taxing on the mind. However, if you're going to be staying somewhere for two weeks or more and are facing the possibility of entertaining yourself within the confines of your hotel room over the weekend, Viticulture would certainly suit. The quick reset between games and wealth of variability with it's special scenarios and difficulty levels, as well as the starting tweaks offered by the Mama and Papa cards, mean you can play several games in a row with each offering it's own unique challenge.
Despite the week of unbroken blue skies here in Tuscany, the biting cold and high winds puts one off getting out and about (the wind was strong enough to nearly blow me clean off the mountain when I visited Montalcino yesterday), plus it's simply not as fun to go out exploring and visiting places when you're on your own. As such, I've focused instead on just having a quiet-ish weekend in and it's been a joy to play Viticulture again after it being sat on my shelf for so long, sending my workers out to their fields and making wine whilst the Sunday morning church bells chime through my hotel room window. It might be too much to play after a 10 hour day configuring fiscal printers and learning Italian tax law, but it certainly fills up a lazy afternoon.
- [+] Dice rolls
Whew, what a busy week. Alas, I did not get to see much of Edinburgh and my second week was moved to somewhere else but between the usual routine of work-gym-eat-sleep I was able to get some quality time with another delightful small box game that until recently I had never even heard a glimpse of. Readers, meet Assembly.
Assembly is a 2018 game by the husband and wife team at Wren Games, for 1-2 players, that revolves around hand management and action selection. The players or player are spaceship engineers aboard a space-station that’s been ravaged by the unleashing of a deadly virus. The only hope of escape for the remaining people (or person) is to finish off one of the in-progress ships, assembling its modules as per the blueprints and using it to escape. In true techno-paranoia fashion however, the computer system is listening in to the players and will take steps to hinder their plans by occasionally scrambling the blueprints and causing malfunctions. Whilst the theme might seem a bit thin at first, it enhances the mechanics admirably and even raises a few philosophical conundrums. Did the computer release the virus? Is the AI causing the malfunctions or is it malfunctioning itself? Maybe it’s right to stop you from escaping, you’ll only take the virus back to Earth in your new ship. It won’t take long before you start imagining HAL9000’s baleful red eye staring down at you, unblinking, calculating, tell you that it’s sorry, Dave, it can’t let you lock in that Navigation module.
Locking in modules is how you’ll build your ship and, with a bit of luck and good co-ordination, escape the station. The twelve blueprint cards, representing different parts of your typical sci-fi starship such as the Transporter, Medical, Science Lab, Engineering and so on, are shuffled and laid out in a circle like a clock face. The blue module discs are then shuffled and stacked face down in the middle. Shuffle the Command deck, pick a Role, and voila you’re ready to play. Setup is very quick, a couple of minutes at most, and resetting for another play is just a case of shuffling the various decks again.
The command cards are what you play each turn in order to add, manipulate and lock in the modules to their respective blueprints and they all do exactly those things. A “Deploy” card will let you add a module from the stack in the middle to a random blueprint (the AI is working against you here, it will build the module but put it initially in the wrong part of the ship). The “Swap” and “Rotate” commands, the latter of which comes in both Clockwise and Anti-Clockwise options, let you move the discs around so you can get them to the right places. The final step is “Lock” for when you get a module onto it’s matching blueprint card (e.g. the Medical disc onto the Medical card), you can flip the card over to the blue side and it can no longer be interfered with by Mr Roboto. “Wow, that sound easy enough.” you might say. Hah, wait a minute fleshbag. “Deploy” and “Lock” commands are always on the same card, meaning you often get a tough choice of whether to add more modules into the mix or lock down what you already have in place. “Rotate” is tricky too, it will move all unlocked modules around the ship, potentially shifting some that are in the right place to the wrong place. As with all these kinds of games, the key is to use your actions both efficiently and in clear combos with each other, often using actions that result in no short term benefit but set you (or your team-mate) up for a more productive round to come.
So there’s a fairly typical puzzle there to be worked out, one common to gaming generally, but just when you thought you’d got your modules in the right place, along comes our little Skynet-alike. When the Command deck runs out, the computer will take the opportunity to throw a spanner in the works and waste your time. All unlocked blueprints are picked up, shuffled, and dealt out again. Did you just spend three turns getting the Shuttle Bay and Security into the right place? Too bad, now they’re sat on the Hydroponics and Medical areas and you’ll have to start again. Of course, sometimes you'll get lucky and maybe a blueprint will end up in the right place, but don't bank on it. You’ll suffer two of these resets each game when the Command deck runs out. When it runs out for the third time, you’re out of time, GLADOS’ nerve toxin has finally got to you, and you lose the game. Oh, and you died. The two player game also has restrictions on player communication, the AI does after all have control of the comms system, and while these are obviously impossible for the game designers to enforce those players who can get on board with the theme won’t find it hard to stick to the rules. Generally, players are allowed to discuss their strategy before their turn but mentioning the actual commands (deploy/lock/rotate/swap) is forbidden, leading to some hilarious moments as players grasp at their internal thesauruses to say what they mean without actually saying it. At the opposite end, there’s a “no talking at all” option in which players must use sign language to communicate as voice comms are down (and, in a wonderful display of accessibility, two pages of the rulebook are devoted to suggested hand signals for the card colours, commands and requests, all based on proper British Sign Language, how cool is that!). Unfortunately for you, HAL9000 can read sign language as well as lip read, and even at this level players are encouraged to cease all communication once a command sign is given and they are cut off by their malevolent overseer. It's a shame then that all this is lost when playing solitaire, of course I don’t know how one would simulate it in the first place, but even after just a few two player games I’ve come to really like this part of it and playing without simply feels like a lesser experience.
When playing solitaire then the game becomes an optimisation puzzle and a race against the clock. The command deck is very slim so three passes through won’t give you long to achieve your goal, especially if you’re forced to use all of your three card hand as a wild in order to use a command you don’t have. The mental load wasn’t too taxing after a long day and a kettlebell session in the hotel gym and with a game lasting 15-30 minutes (depending how hard one thinks) it’s easy to squeeze in a play or two before bed time. There’s numerous ways to adjust the difficulty and mix up the game as well, from the various role cards available (all of which have different one use only abilities, such as a Noah who can lock 3 modules at once) to the three sets of malfunctions that trigger when the corresponding module is locked. Want to lock module 6? Too bad, you can only lock it if you lock number 12 at the same time. Just locked down the Sleeping Quarters in bay 3? Whoops! That crazy AI just unlocked a random bay elsewhere. You can also trim down the command deck to give yourself less time, by default you start the game without one “Rotate Either Way” and one (and the only one) “Wild” command cards, and the designers have suggested a couple of ways you can swap or remove more cards to adjust the difficulty accordingly.
Like Pocket Mars before it, Assembly is a small box game and thus easily portable. Laptop bags, front pouches on the rucksack and even the back pocket of my jeans easily hold the little game. However, that small footprint on the shelf expands to a much larger table presence. While you certainly won’t be playing this on a standard tray table on a train or plane, from the mouth (rather, Instagram DM) of the designer themselves you’ll need only a foot square of space which is easily achievable in any hotel room or bar table. The card-based design of the game also allows the game to fit the available space, for example if you only have a shallow but wide desk you can lay out the blueprint cards in a line from 1 to 12 rather than the circular clockface format, although it’s not as aesthetically pleasing. There’s no air in the box either, the cards and wooden module disks fill the volume comfortably so there’s no wasted space in your luggage.
Alternate linear layout that works for wide but shallow tables, locked modules can be pushed to a row above making it easier to scoop up the unlocked modules for a re-shuffle.
Given that I literally stumbled across Assembly in a Sheffield games shop (Patriot Games on Union Street to be exact) I think it’s fair to say I’ve found a right diamond here. It’s not a perfect diamond, and while the flaw may be singular it’s significant enough that I want to re-iterate it. The limited communication aspect of the game, so wonderfully justified by the theme, is such an enjoyable (and stressful) part of Assembly that solo play-throughs feel like they’re lacking that certain something. Maybe it’s a null issue, after all we are talking here about the unavoidable lack of banter and atmosphere that naturally comes from playing a co-operative game by yourself, but it might perhaps bump Assembly below those games that offer a more…”complete”…solo experience. All that said however, the whole package ticks all the right boxes for me. A solid bit of science fiction theme, a genuinely tense co-operative experience that’s greatly rewarding when you manage to finish and a really slick aesthetic design that has both form and function. This travelling consultant certainly recommends Assembly.
Now, why won’t these pod bay doors open…
- [+] Dice rolls
It's time for that difficult second album. What have Ween and Gator got for you from the comfort of this week's hotel room then?
It's not really a surprise is it? I mean, I did write it in the title. Anyway, it's teeny-tiny terraforming game Pocket Mars. Released in 2017 from designer Michał Jagodziński Pocket Mars has you managing those tricky first steps on the Red Planet, establishing some basic infrastructure for the soon-to-arrive colonists and terraformers. In the multiplayer game, the players compete for control of the four main buildings (Ecosystem, Energy, Science and Water) by deploying their colonists to these buildings.
Several spanners however are thrown (lightly, it is only a third Earth gravity after all) into the works to complicate this process and add some actual game. Firstly, apart from a couple of in-transit colonists all your dudes start off on Earth and need to be shipped via your space-ship before being shuttled down to Mars. So there's a three step journey there to contest with: Earth, Space, Mars. Once on the surface, it's not good enough to simply find your intrepid adventures a job in one of the buildings, oh no, you want to make them the boss of their respective buildings because as we all know, being the boss means you earn more victory points.
To help you move your boys and girls through space and the system are a deck of Project Cards and you'll be in possession of four of these at any time, split two and two between your hand and what's called your "Prep Module". Each card has two possible resolutions, based on whether it came from your hand or Prep Module. A card played from your hand is fairly risk free, you simply resolve the top action. For example, I might play a card that allows me to move a colonist down from my ship to join the other crewmen toiling away in the Ecosystem shed. Playing a card from your Prep Module however potentially allows you chain three actions together assuming that you meet all the relevant criteria. Firstly, if the number on your card is higher than the last card played on that building, you can move a colonist to it from your ship. Next, you can resolve the bottom action on the card. Great! I could, for example, demote Joe's boss-man in the Science building back to the rank of "Martian pleb" and get some Energy while I'm at it (Energy is used a currency, some cards require you spend it for stuff). Finally, I can use the special action on the building I played my card to, so if it was the Ecosystem building, I can now move one of my colonists in the Science building up to the now vacant boss-man position.
There are some other, more minor, actions you can take on a turn but really this card play is the heart of the game and using those cards efficiently is the real key to success. There's definitely more to it than first glances would suggest, and when introducing Pocket Mars to a couple of friends we have admittedly had awkward first games where we struggle at first to see the actual game here. The second play however is more competitive now that the systems are a bit more transparent and it certainly gets the brains working a bit. "It's a heavy weight filler!" the back of the box says. Hmm. Maybe.
Comfortably fits on the tables in the hotel lounge, just enough room left for a drink and to have the solo rules laid out
Anyway, let's change tack a bit and move onto the solitaire side of things and Pocket Mars' worth as a travelling game. The solitaire mode functions very similarly to the multiplayer version, and actually I echo the manual's recommendation that newcomers to Pocket Mars don't go cold into the solo mode and instead play a few multiplayer games first. Solo mode is played against an AI opponent who will be reacting to your moves and providing you with a score to beat. Setup is quick and very similar to the multiplayer game, instead the AI only requires two face-down cards as it's own Prep Module. More on this later. The AI's colonists make the difficulty level, normal has the AI start with five on it's ship (you only get two) and the remaining two joining your five still on Earth. To make the game harder, start the AI with more colonists already on it's ship. Personally, I found the Standard and "Super-Droid" levels too easy, I easily won three games in a row against both, and it was only against the "Cyborg" level opponent, who starts with all 7 colonists already in-transit, that I actually lost a game.
Admittedly, upon first glancing through the AI rules I was somewhat put off by the apparent complexity as it has a range of various reactions and it all seemed like a lot to take in. One of my gripes with solitaire games is AI opponents that require too much micromanagement, either by having a wide range of branching reactions to given scenarios (difficult to remember) or by me having to make decisions for them (meaning I have to "play" two games at once). I often find this exhausting and given that one of the key factors in Travelling Consultant Reviews is the ease of play after long days travelling and/or being customer-facing, the less brain-power required the better. Pocket Mars' choices are, thankfully, just about on the edge of what I'm willing to endure and aren't that difficult to learn. You take your turn first, performing one action. When you draw back up to four cards, you will always draw from the AI's prep module first before drawing from the deck. Most of the time you will take one of the available cards, leaving the AI with one. The next step is simple, you discard the top two cards from the deck. This forms the game's timer and will give you at most 15 turns to play with, though in reality it's more like 10 to 12 rounds as extra cards will be drawn to replenish the AI's Prep Module. Anyway, we're getting ahead of ourselves. After discarding the two cards, the AI has one card remaining in it's Prep Module and the colour of this card now defines what it does. Firstly, it moves a colonist to the matching building, and secondly, performs a "boosted" version of the building's ability. Once done, you renew the AI's Prep Module back to two face-down cards and do another round.
So the key to winning the solo game is managing the AI's actions as when you draw a card, you'll be defining what it does next based on the leftover card. This might force you to take a sub-optimal card just so you can prevent the AI from using it, either way I didn't find the decision making all too taxing even after long days in the office and 30 minutes running up and down Windsor's Long Walk. The real satisfaction comes from leaving the AI with 2 or 0 cards in it's Prep Module, in these events the AI "freezes" and does not perform an action, buying you precious time. On the hardest difficulty, the AI only needs to perform 7 actions to get all of it's colonists to Mars and end the game so it's crucial to be efficient and optimise your turns, potentially losing ground one turn in order to set up for a bigger and more useful subsequent turn. As already mentioned, I personally didn't find the decision making too strenuous even though at times I had to really sit and think through my options.
Behold, moving pictures!
Bed time approaches, and I'd like to get in another episode of The Punisher. Thankfully there's not much to say on the portability of Pocket Mars, it certainly lives up to the moniker being both comfortably pocket sized and set on Mars. It easily fits into the front pouch of my laptop bag alongside pens, wireless mouse, passport, spare headphones, multi-tool and a Belvita breakfast biscuit (other breakfast biscuit varieties are available), and the inside pocket of my favourite coat is a snug fit too should I be venturing out to meet friends. Indeed, I popped out into Sheffield city centre last night to meet university friend Ed and regrettably left Pocket Mars behind, it would have a been nice to play it in the pub over a pint or two of Little Critter's Shire Horse ale.
Table space required is minimal, even the stingiest pieces of hotel room furniture could accommodate it and since it's card based it's easy to re-arrange to fit the available space. The artwork, courtesy of Jarosław Wajs is bright and very functional and there's really nothing to fault with the components. Games take about 20 minutes, including setup, tear-down and ample thinking time, and resetting between rounds is as easy as moving the colonists back to their starting positions and scooping up the played cards for a shuffle and deal. Thus three games should handily fill a hour so, perhaps for that after dinner wind-down.
Mr. Burnham offered his opinion of Pocket Mars on my last blog post, summing it up thus:vk1980 wrote:It’s shite.I respectfully disagree, sir. While I won't say that Pocket Mars has wow'd me the way other games have, it does exactly what it says on the tin and for a deck of 35 cards and a few wooden cubes it packs a decent chunk of game. As long as you play it on the hardest difficulty, this travelling consultant can certainly recommend Pocket Mars.
- [+] Dice rolls
Hello and welcome to the first of what I hope to be my very own ongoing review series, Travelling Consultant Reviews.
It might not be the catchiest name, but when pondering what kind of reviews I wanted to write I quickly found a bit of a niche. I am an IT consultant, an implementation specialist to be exact, working with hotels all around the UK, Europe and further afield to install and configure their new IT systems, and as such I spend a lot of time away from home. This gives me a lot of opportunity to play solitaire board games, something I've become quite interested in especially as, after a long day working with computers and screens, pushing some wood and cardboard around a board is a great way to relax and switch off.
However, a lot of games tout their solitaire credentials, but do they really live up to them? And more so for someone like me, how well does the game travel? Can I play it on a small hotel room table? Can some of the components be stripped out? So, here's my niche. I'm not going to focus too much on going over the mechanics and components of a game, plenty of other reviewers, both here on BGG and on other media such as YouTube, do a much more in-depth and better job, nor will I mention much of the multiplayer aspects. What I will focus on will appeal, I hope, to those of you who travel often for work and are looking to squeeze a game in their luggage. So, without further ado...
Cottage Garden is a 2016 game and the first in Uwe Rosenberg's trilogy of polyomino games inspired by the success of the cute and adorable two player game Patchwork. The basic premise is planting out your little cottage gardens with flower beds and other features whilst keeping as many flower pots and cloches visible. When a board is full up with no empty soil spaces left, the player counts up their pots and cloches, moves the appropriate score markers, then puts the flower beds they used back into the supply and takes a fresh board. The boards are double sided, having a light and dark side with different layouts of pots and cloches on each meaning that in a solo game you'll be working through six different boards.
The game boils down to filling your gardens as quickly and efficiently as possible as you will only have a certain number of rounds, and therefore tiles, to work with. Leaving awkward gaps can cost you dearly, as while single spaces can be filled with a plant pot, doing so means you haven't taken a larger tile from the central board. Regardless of what you take, tile or pot, the round marker will move inexorably onwards, defining your choice of tiles (those in the row the die is on) as you go.
Once the round marker, represented by a chunky green die, hits 6 (for the solo game, it starts at 2 and with each circuit of the board is incremented) it's game over. The sum of the all the blue and orange score markers on your little track is your score, and for the solo mode it's as simple as trying to get as high a score as possible. It's easy to learn as well as bright and colourful, perhaps just the kind of escapism one needs from a drab hotel bedroom.
Setup is nice and quick, taking only a few minutes, handy when it's been a long day. The only thing you'll have to potentially agonise over at the start is which of the three boards to start with and which to leave as the spare, though when I'm too tired to choose I simply use the lowest numbered board on it's lighter side, the next highest on it's darker side, and the leftover going into the supply. A few plant pot and cat tokens and we're good to go. The table footprint isn't outrageous either, I can vouch for Cottage Garden comfortably fitting on the pictured smallish table in this week's one bed apartment, and last week's wide yet not-very-deep Travelodge desk was fine as well, although I had the board and tile path off to the side of the player boards.
A game will take you 20 to 30 minutes to finish, depending really on how hard your Analysis Paralysis kicks in, a game length I found very suitable. Long enough to get a good experience, but short enough to fit it into my evening plans after a run, shower, finding some dinner and checking some emails. Resetting for a new round is quickly and easily achieved as well, with 9 boards being provided it's easy enough to discard the just played trio and select the next three. Recharging the central supply board doesn't have to be labour intensive either, any tiles left at the end of the game can stay where they are and the empty spaces refilled in whatever order you want (I go in a clockwise spiral but that's just me) from the tiles in the path. Doing the same again after the second game means you can experience all the boards in a three game series in 60 to 90 minutes, a length that I've found comfortably fills the gap between getting back from finding dinner somewhere and getting ready for bed.
The solitaire mode itself changes very little of the base game, there's no special rules or scenarios other than a slight change to how the green die moves around the central board, two spaces at a time rather than one. The ultimate goal is simply beat your high score, something which some players might find boring, and indeed I thought I might as well. The game is short enough however that should I not beat my high score then I'm not fussed, I can reset the game in 60 seconds flat and try again. It's no big deal to get scores in the low 70s, my highest is 76, but pushing into the 80s would require some serious forward planning. If that's your thing, and you have the capacity to do it after a day with a client, then more power to you my friend!
For those wondering how to slim the game right down (perhaps you're getting close to that 20kg baggage allowance), see above. You're not going to be saving much weight as all that's surplus really are the three score boards and most of the plant pot and cat tokens. I reckon half a dozen of each of those would be more enough for solo gamers. The wheelbarrow, whilst cute, is rather redundant and can be easily done away with as anything else can be used to denote the active end of the path, one of the flower pot tokens perhaps. The game box itself is basically A4 sized so it fits easily in a cabin sized bag, nor is the box very deep either so it won't consume a lot of space.
So, final verdict? I'm not going to award scores or anything, I find it difficult to quantify something so subjective, but I am sure that Cottage Garden will continue to travel with me. It's very transportable, quick to set up, reset between rounds and pack away again, nor does it require more table space than you'd have available in the average hotel room. It's sheer pleasantness is a welcome escape, and you can put in as little or as much mental effort as desired when working out future turns. As an added bonus, Cottage Garden is simple and non-threatening enough that should you be travelling with a colleague, you could well entice them into a game. All in all, I firmly recommend Cottage Garden and it's solitaire mode as a game very suitable for the travelling gamer.
- [+] Dice rolls
18 Nov 2018
What was planned to be my very own "Gathering of Chums" became, due to a last minute attack by this year's fashionable flu strain, just a simple "Gathering of Chum" instead.
Oo-er, that doesn't sound right does it?
Yes, it's recently delivered historical card based "Brexit: The Prequel" game 1066, Tears To Many Mothers. Finally, a way to answer all those difficult questions such as "What if William had been delayed in Rouen and late arriving in England?", "What if the Saxons had been more disciplined at Hastings?" and "What if Harold had left his wife to defend the whole left flank all by herself?" All these and more are yours to find out!
At it's core 1066 is a slightly asymmetrical card game with some elements of hand management and resource management thrown in. Two players (or one in the game's included Solitaire mode, which having not played yet I won't be touching on) take on the role of either William FitzRobert, the Duke of Normandy, or Harold Godwinson, the last Saxon King of England, in a race to rally their forces and make their way to Sussex before having a good old scrap in a field.
Three main elements make up the game.
First of all, each player has a deck of cards mainly comprising a variety of Units (Swordsmen, Cavalry, Archers and so on) and Characters (all historical figures, being various dukes, counts, earls, bishops, bastard brothers and the like). There's also some Tactic and Event cards in there, which anyone with even an introductory knowledge of card games will immediately recognise as being "ongoing effect" and "one time effect" cards respectively. The Units and Characters usually have some sort of special ability associated with them that adds to the puzzle and stress of the game. A Learned character lets you draw a card when playing them, some might kill one of the opponents characters, others makes their family members cheaper. Put one of Harold's brothers into play, and the other one (when he turns up) is cheaper to play. Units are similar. Archers can lob damage onto enemy cards. Cavalry units, needing room to make their manoeuvres, gain power when placed into the third row. Hold on, what's this row thing?
Cards you play go into the play area which is divided up into three Wedges, and three Rows, giving eight (the ninth is taken up with your Leader, William or Harold) places for them to go. Cards go into any wedge but always into the highest row, nearest the enemy, so getting that cavalry into row 3 will need some other cards playing into rows 1 and 2 first. This puzzle will never cease to frustrate and stress you, in a way it reminds me an awful lot of the agonising decision space of Battle Line. I'll touch on this more later, but the sum of each wedge's Might and Zeal numbers is what will eventually decide the battle, however it's the difference between your numbers and the enemy's that counts, thus you have a constant dilemma. A noble who is weak in combat but provides resources will help you recruit more soldiers to your cause, but take up valuable space in a wedge when the battle begins. Do you spread forces evenly, potentially making the battle a grinding slog as there is only 1 or 2 points difference between your wedge and his, or go heavy on one wedge with lots of powerful, trampling cavalry whilst leaving another relatively weak?
Striking that delicate balance isn't easy even at the best of times, and made harder by the third and final element you'll have to work your way through: Objectives. Each player has seven, starting with Halley's Comet (whose arrival was seen as either a good or bad omen, the game's subtitle "tears to many mothers" is credited to Æthelmær of Malmesbury, a Benedictine monk who also tried to fly from the top of his abbey and broke both his legs doing so) and ending with the Battle of Hastings. In the middle are different objectives for each side, encompassing the main events on the respective journeys to the battle. William must hold a War Council, dedicate an cathedral to his wife ("Ey up love, 'eres a big church for ya while am gone."), and cross the Channel without drowning.
Harold meanwhile has to fend off those pesky Vikings at Fulford and Stamford Bridge, dash back down the A1 Motorway to London to get in a bit of prayer with The Man Upstairs at Waltham Abbey before going to see off William. These objectives require the aforementioned Might and Zeal to clear and will force you to change and adapt your forces as you go. The Saxons start off needing plenty of Might to see off the Norse invaders, then have to change gear into needing Zeal to recruit more soldiers in London. It's the opposite for William, who needs Zeal early on to gather nobles to his cause and then Might for his initial invasion of Sussex. The objectives give a really nice race element to the game, you want to blitz through them as quickly as possible so you can be the first to Hastings but doing so will need a good dose of luck and some skilled play.
So why do you want to be the first to Hastings? Easy. Remember that Zeal we mentioned? As soon as one player arrives at Hastings, they can start to use each of their wedge's Zeal figures to start whittling down the Wedge cards in the middle. As soon as you do 10 damage to a Wedge card, you claim it, and the first to claim two wins the battle and the game. Arriving unfashionably early and being able to get in a couple of rounds of damage on even just one Wedge from your side's higher zeal can make all the difference, and it's a wonderfully thematic way of representing your forces preparing the field to their advantage, making defences, resting up and preparing their minds, bodies and steel. I say "higher zeal" because you need exactly that, more zeal than the opposing wedge, more determination, more faith in your cause, but no matter how much more you have you only ever do 1 damage at a time. It's a little something to give an edge when the blood starts to flow. And flow it will.
The serious damage comes when both players have revealed their Hastings objectives. What now ensues is a frantic, fast-paced, bloody clash of men, horses and steel. Each wedge's Might characteristic comes into play and you will inflict the full difference in damage. A nobleman leading swordsmen, backed up by cavalry, might inflict damage numbers well into the double figures and potentially win a Wedge card in a single sweep. Evenly matched wedges will grind away at each other, inflicting damage in ones and twos. Event cards at this stage can be critical, for example "Arrow In The Eye" can inflict damage to Harold (if either Harold or William are killed, they lose the game) or any other Saxon unit. Perhaps that arrow would be better served dispatching that powerful thegn leading the Saxon axemen, allowing your Flemish spearmen to break through? Even amidst the carnage, your side's Zeal still plays a part as maintaining the determination of your soldiers will keep that 1 damage a turn trickling in and might even be enough to finally break their lines. The Saxon player might choose to deploy their signature Shieldwall, cancelling damage for one round and maybe buying enough time bring in reinforcements for a counter-attack.
Whatever cards you play, the battle will be over in a few rounds and the crown of England decided one way or the other. As a whole the game does not overstay it's welcome, our first game took one hour including rules explanation and a few consultations, and the second took 40 minutes with my Norman forces arriving in Sussex late and severely undermanned, resulting in a disastrous rout. Toby and I really enjoyed it, for what that's worth. The artwork is great, there's flavour text on every card and once rules are known it plays fast and fierce with lots of room for cunning play and agonising decisions. If you're a fan of card games generally, I don't think you'll fail to enjoy 1066, Tears To Many Mothers.
Terraforming Mars was next, with everything thrown in of course. Toby had never played with Prelude or Colonies before but they fit in so seamlessly that explaining them took mere minutes. While he went for Robinson "Got To Keep My Productions The Same" Industries, I was in something of a masochistic mood and opted for what is perhaps TM's most red-headed stepchild of a corporation, the United Nations Mars Initiative (UNMI). With a Prelude card giving me 3 energy production to start with I figured I could use that to make good use of my trade fleet and leverage the far moons as often as possible, and a couple of Venus cards in my starting hand drew me towards dominating that planet. Meanwhile I'd do my best to maintain a decent board presence.
The heat and oxygen tracks moved quickly whilst oceans languished, and given Toby's early gains in titanium production along with his turn 1 play of Enhanced Alloys I was keen to keep as many Jovian tags out of his reach as possible, taking them whenever I could in the draft. I binned almost every one, I had no titanium production of my own for the whole game, and instead focused the cash on getting cities on the board to take advantage of some early greenery my opponent had placed.
I started to sweat when I realised Toby had claimed all three Milestones, netting him a big 15 points. There were a couple I could have gone for but by the time I realised I'd spent my money for the round. Competition for the far moons was fierce, both of us built a couple of colonies each and had an extra trade fleet. Callisto was my regular stop, it's bonus energy helping pay for the fleets fuel bills, and then either Luna for a quick cash injection or Titan for floaters to keep my Venus engine going. I managed to use UNMI's ability in every generation but one, but alas my substantial lead on Terraform Rating was not enough to resist both Toby's slight lead on the board and all those Milestones. A well played 115-91 victory for him.
After a rather monstrous curry (we ended up with three portions of rice, the menu didn't mention that each curry came with rice so we ordered one between us!) we saw out the rest of the evening with Azul , Roll Player and finally The Game.
Toby had had a pretty good session the day before, willing every game we played except one of Roll Player, so on Sunday morning it was time for my revenge. After a bacon cob and fresh coffee, of course. Roll for the Galaxy and Dominion are two of Toby and I's favourites and I was glad to finally be on a willing streak again, winning four of the five total games we played.
Overall, an excellent session!
- [+] Dice rolls
If you came here expecting anything other than a first impressions review of Terraforming Mars: Colonies then I'm afraid I can't help you.
Dirty, dirty minds.
I mentioned at the close of my last post that I had received the fourth (and apparently final?) expansion for evergreen Terraforming Mars. Since I was working from home yesterday in preparation for another couple of days in lovely Dublin (I am sat here sipping a pint of The Good Stuff as I write this) it was always my plan to at least get in a couple of solo plays with the new mechanics, but since my dad was round at lunchtime I asked him if he fancied a game in the evening. A pass was issued by Command Headquarters, and I had everything set up and ready to rock and roll for when he arrived.
So, what does Colonies add? A few more corporations (taking the total up to 30 if you include the Terraforming Mars: BGG User-Created Corporation Pack), some more Project cards and, of course, the namesake colonies. Or rather, the ability to establish colonies around various other planets, though I expect "Terraforming Mars: Moons and Other Large Bodies of the Solar System" didn't quite have the same ring to it.
The new corporations and project cards are a pretty standard addition, though handily not all of the cards reference the other mechanics of colonies and trade fleets, so in the event that one doesn't like the far moons themselves keeping the Project cards in the deck will certainly add to its variety. And there sure are some monsters in there. Earth Elevator sticks out, providing an incredible +3 to titanium production and 4VP for a daunting (but justified) 43 mega-credits. There are a wealth of new Jupiter-tagged cards which provide some alternate ways to get floaters (Stop giggling at the back please!) past the various Venus cards. Of the new corporations, only Aridor saw play last night (against Dad's choice of Vitor) which has a powerful early game ability of adding to one's money production for each new tag played. Predictably, this ramps up very quickly and then tails off in the mid-game.
Two new actions are now available so that players can exploit those aforementioned moons and large bodies. For a decent 17 MC, players can pop one of their little cubes onto a free space on the available moons, establishing a colony and claiming the reward underneath. Ceres for example gives steel production, Ganymede plant production, cards from Pluto and microbes from Enceladus, assuming you have a card that collects said beasties. They're very handy as an early game boost when cards in the 20+ range might be too expensive to play right now, and ideally should be taken early on as the bonuses they give are small, thus needing time to add up and earn their keep. Players are limited to one colony per tile, but one can assume those lucky colonists are able to find their own transport out, as there is no requirement to have a Trade Fleet there already.
"Trade fleet?" you say. Indeed. We're taking this interplanetary my amigo. For 9 MC, or 3 energy, or 3 titanium, a player can dispatch their trade fleet to one of the available moons and collect a (potentially) substantial reward. The white numbers along each tile are how much of that thing your trade fleet gains when it arrives and, if a moon is not visited, the marker moves up one space at the end of each generation. There's a immediate and obvious dilemma. Do you go often, collecting small rewards each time, or let the colonies accrue resources over time? And if having First Player wasn't crucial enough in this game already, once a Trade Fleet arrives at a moon it blocks off that space for everyone else, thus adding another avenue for blocking opponents to any keen-eyed players so inclined.
It's worth mentioning as well that it's possible to send a trade fleet to a moon without any colonies being present. So what's the point of building colonies? Aside from the placement bonus they offer, each time a trade fleet visits a moon, anyone owning a colony there gets a small bonus as well. Got a colony on Pluto when Bill sends his fleet there? He gets 3 cards and you get to draw one and discard one. You still get the bonus even if it's your own trade fleet, offering incentives to those looking to mainline a particular resource. In our game last night for example, as soon as I got Stratospheric Birds into play, I built a colony on Miranda, thus giving me an extra animal every time I sent my own fleet there.
There's another, slightly less tangible bonus to colonies as well. They make the trip more worthwhile for the traders. When a fleet arrives, they obviously consume all they can, collecting their goods and then shoving the marker back down to the leftmost unoccupied space. Thus, building colonies prevents the marker from sliding back to zero each time in a wonderfully simple yet highly thematic way. With three colonies on Luna for example, no trade fleet will ever depart with less than 7MC. Thus, players can be somewhat encouraged to work together to develop certain moons. If multiple players are pursuing strategies based around floaters, colonies on Titan will make any trade fleet visits more worthwhile for all involved.
Our game rumbled on, with Dad focusing heavily on developing the board whilst I did my best to utilise my two trade fleets (the Space Port Colony card provided me with a second, players cannot build additional fleets themselves) by ramping up my energy production. Being able to spend 3 energy to send out the fleet is nice, I feel that energy is something of an underused resource in TM, and the option to also use 9MC gives players something to do that's cheaper than the cheapest Standard Product of an Asteroid at 14MC. Heavy investment in titanium production along with some discounting cards made it trivial for me to develop the Jovian system and I had a neat little engine going with the high value Stratospheric Birds and Venusian Animals.
As usual, I won. Dad managed a personal best on 130 points, but my large number of point scoring cards and animals boosted me all the way up to a pretty meaty 165 points, only 6 short of my own personal best. Regular trips to Uranus (come on, it's not like "regular trips to Miranda" sounds much better is it?) really helped me boost my animal score and I imagine that in games where multiple players have those 1VP per Animal cards such as Fish, Birds and Predators, Miranda would be viciously fought over for her furry and/or fishy bounty.
So, first impressions?
Terraforming Mars: Colonies is by no means a "must have" expansion, especially if you find TM a lukewarm experience to start with. It adds nothing the game requires, even basic TM is a very complete and airtight experience, and much like Venus Next is it possible to ignore the extra content entirely even when it's included.
However, if you're a fan of the game, I'd say get it. Like Prelude and Venus before it, the extra rules and choices slot in seamlessly, even players with only one or two previous TM games under their belt will be able to see the advantages and opportunities the distant worlds offer. Need a quick cash injection? Trade with Luna. Fancy topping up your Greenhouse Gas Bacteria? Send the fleet to Enceladus and stock up on microbes. Enough tiles are provided that you'll have a different set to play with each time and allowing the use of energy for dispatching the fleet gives this underutilised resource a new priority.
I have no doubt I will enjoy future trips to Uranus.
“Free the banned blogger”
Day 8: Remember to light your commemorative Tony candle and pray for his safe return.
Hope you don't mind Stu!
- [+] Dice rolls