Cuba Libre (Volume II), designed by Jeff Grossman and Volko Ruhnke and published by GMT Games.
In anticipation of playing Cuba Libre, I set it up, ran the playbook, and learned the rules. I even watched The Cuba Libre Story documentary series on Netflix because I was so excited to be fully immersed in its history and theme. I was eager to play it, but could not seem to get it to the table. Months flew by, and I continued to try to play Cuba Libre, but it just never worked out, so I'd continue to think, "One day….one day."
Gandhi: The Decolonization of British India, 1917–1947 (Volume IX), designed by Bruce Mansfield...but then those plans got pushed to the back burner because of the global pandemic. Once again, I thought, "One day….one day."
A little over a year after I bought Cuba Libre, I FINALLY got to play it! Even better, I played it twice in back-to-back weeks with the same group of friends — but I played staring at my laptop on Tabletop Simulator. It was not how I envisioned my first COIN game going down, but nonetheless, it was a blast, especially having the opportunity to play it again with the same group. We all understood everything much better the second time and didn't need to refer to the rulebook nearly as often.My first game of Cuba Libre!
At this point, some of you may be wondering what a COIN game actually is. GMT describes the COIN series as follows:Quote:This series features Volko Ruhnke's game system presenting guerrilla warfare, asymmetric warfare, and COunterINsurgencies around the world — in both historical and contemporary conflicts.
Colonial Twilight (Volume VII), designed by Brian Train, which I spontaneously played with my friend Drew one random Saturday night when the two of us were looking to sneak one more game in for the day. I don't think it's typical to hear "spontaneously played" followed by any COIN game. That made it all the more memorable a night.
Colonial Twilight is the first two-player game in the COIN series, and historically it covers the French-Algerian War from 1954-62. Neither of us had played it or fully read the rules, but since we both had some COIN experience at this point and a whole lot of COINthusiasm, we were able to just set it up, skim through the rules and playbook, and start playing it in less than an hour.
I had already seen the The Battle of Algiers movie, which someone on BGG or Reddit had recommended, so I was loosely familiar with the history — which helped with diving into the game without reading the historical background details in the rulebook and playbook.My spontaneous game of Colonial Twilight
The gameplay for Colonial Twilight felt very tense, like Ruhnke's award-winning, two-player card-driven wargame Labyrinth: The War on Terror, but it also felt undeniably like a COIN game with its map, mechanisms, and event cards. I was impressed with how the eligibility system was revamped for two players in Colonial Twilight, so I was naturally curious when I read about GMT's latest COIN release: All Bridges Burning: Red Revolt and White Guard in Finland, 1917-18 (Volume X), the first three-player COIN game. I reached out to Gene at GMT, and they graciously hooked me up with a copy so that I could check it out.
All Bridges Burning is a COIN game for 1-3 players designed by VPJ Arponen that's focused on the Finnish Civil War of 1917-1918. The game allows players to recreate the military and political affairs leading up to and during this historical conflict, and it features gorgeous artwork from Chechu Nieto. Nieto has contributed art for several other games in the series, including Andean Abyss (Volume I), Cuba Libre (Volume II), A Distant Plain (Volume III), Fire in the Lake (Volume IV), Falling Sky: The Gallic Revolt Against Caesar (Volume VI), Colonial Twilight (Volume VII) and Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain (Volume VIII), but the pastel textured box cover and beautiful, snowy-looking map in All Bridges Burning especially stand out to me.
Off the bat, I knew nothing about the Finnish Civil War, but GMT, as always, goes above and beyond to include a wealth of historical background details that set the tone and help create an enriching, deep gaming experience. In addition, design notes are sprinkled throughout the rulebook to further demonstrate how the game mechanisms are tightly interwoven with the theme/history. They also go the extra step to include detailed historic notes for every single event card, so there's no shortage of learning opportunities. It's fantastic!
In All Bridges Burning, three asymmetric factions — the Reds (red), Senate (white) and Moderates (blue) — compete to define the shape of Finland after the collapse of Russian Tsarist rule. The Reds represent the Finnish working class and their military support, the Red Guard militias, who are seeking to stage a successful revolt to establish socialist rule in the country. On the other side, the Senate White Guard, acquiring political support from the bourgeoisie and nobility, is trying to suppress the leftist revolt and establish bourgeoisie rule in the country. While the Reds and Senate duke it out, you also have the non-violent Moderates in the mix working to secure the political survival of parliamentary democracy and trying to keep national sentiment even keel enough for post-conflict settlement.
The factions are represented by (hexbox) cells of their corresponding color, and the Moderates and the Reds have discs representing networks and administrations, respectively. The cells are considered either active if star-side up or inactive when star-side down. In previous COIN games, it's usually bad when your cells are active because they're more susceptible to being attacked, but in All Bridges Burning active cells play a crucial role in gameplay in a different way. Depending on which faction you are, you usually want to have as many active cells as you can dispersed on the map.
You'll also have cubes representing non-player external powers — German troops (gray cubes) friendly to the Senate, and Russian troops (brown cubes) friendly to the Reds, seeking to further their geopolitical aims in Finland while providing some additional military muscle to their respective sides.
Core to all COIN games is the event deck. The event deck in All Bridges Burning is divided into two halves — 1917 event cards on the top half and 1918 event cards in the bottom half — and the entire deck is seeded with four propaganda cards to form a 40-card deck. The deck is prepared such that the first ten cards have a propaganda card seeded in the bottom five cards, stacked on top of another ten cards with another propaganda card shuffled into the bottom five cards, and so on.
When the event deck is good to go, you reveal the top card as the current event and reveal a second card on top of the deck as the upcoming event so that everyone knows which event is up next...with a slight caveat. After four rounds, when you're shifting the fifth event card to be the current event, there's a chance a propaganda card might be revealed. When that happens, you immediately pause "normal" gameplay and resolve a propaganda round, for which you're hopefully prepared.
The event deck not only brings some extra historical flavor and context to the table, but also adds an element of excitement to the game and gives players some enticing options when it comes to making decisions from turn to turn. I'll note that after you set up the event deck, there will be six unrevealed cards leftover (three each from 1917 and 1918) that won't be in the game, so if you ever get to a point that you're familiar with all of the events, this will add some mystery since you won't know which ones are out of play.
In a round of All Bridges Burning, players choose and take actions or pass in eligibility order, spending resources for commands, then eligibility is adjusted and a new event card is drawn. Play continues this way until a propaganda card is revealed, at which point a propaganda round is triggered in which victory conditions are checked, followed by a politics phase, with players gaining resources and support and resetting some things on the board.
All Bridges Burning is divided into two phases, starting with the pre-war build-up and shifting into the actual war. The shift to phase 2 can happen in two ways, either when Reds and Senate cells on the map total 27+ or after the second propaganda card is resolved.
Eligibility (turn) order is decided randomly during set-up, but after that it's based on what players choose. The first eligible faction gets the pick of the litter when choosing their move. They can execute a limited command, a command with special activity, trigger the event, or pass. Depending on which option they choose, the next eligible faction will have three choices, then the third eligible faction will have two choices. For example, if the first eligible faction decides to take the event, the next eligible can either execute a command (w/ special activity), a limited command, or pass. The only action that moves your marker to the ineligible box is when you take a command w/special activity. In four-player COIN games, the event cards themselves have faction icons in a certain order which dictates when you'll get to choose an action or pass, but when you take any action, you're ineligible for the next event. In All Bridges Burning, you could potentially take the event back-to-back turns, although I doubt your opponents would just let that happen.
After all players have taken a turn or passed, eligibility is adjusted based on the letters on the actual boxes. This is what determines eligibility order for the next round.
With this eligibility system, challenging choices arise. If you're first up, maybe you pass because you really want dibs on the upcoming event card? But then that leaves the current event open for one of your opponents, which could be harmful to you. Sometimes you have to sacrifice what you wanted to do to protect yourself from something else. Or what if the current event is way too juicy for the next eligible player, so you decide to defensively take the limited command to make sure no one gets to trigger the current event this turn. Or what if you really need to take a full command with a special activity because you know the propaganda card is likely to appear soon, but doing so makes you ineligible for the next turn. There are so many interesting decisions that spawn from this innovative eligibility system. I think it's awesome how the COIN eligibility system was adapted for three players in All Bridges Burning; it feels balanced and flows seamlessly.
Only one player can choose the current event each round. Event cards will have one or two options you can leverage to change the state of the game without needing to spend resources. There is plenty of variety when it comes to the events in All Bridges Burning, and depending on which faction you are playing, certain events could be extremely beneficial to you, while others won't pertain to you at all. There are events that allow players to gain resources and capabilities, or take resources away from opponents, execute commands, update Opposition/Support, add or remove cells from the board, and so on. I find it to always be exciting when a new upcoming event is revealed so that you can weigh your options and plan accordingly, and of course, anticipate when the next propaganda card might be coming.Event card examples
When you're not jumping on an event card, most of your turns will be spent executing commands. Usually commands cost one resource per space and you use plastic pawns to mark which spaces you're "activating". When taking the standard command, you can optionally execute a special activity as well. Because of this and the fact that you can impact multiple spaces and potentially have a big turn, you will be ineligible on the next turn. Whereas if you take a limited command, you'll be able to perform a command in only one space with no special activity, so you will be eligible on the next turn. Again, this is all super clean and easy to keep track of in the Sequence of Play area of the game board.
To give you a little more insight on the commands, all factions have a Rally command which allows you to put more cells (dudes) on the map and build up your forces. The Reds and Senate have an Activism command which mainly allows them to either reduce Polarization (which is helpful for victory conditions) or activate/deactivate enemy and friendly cells, which will help execute other commands, prevent your opponents from executing certain commands, in addition to helping gain support during the propaganda rounds. During an Activism command, the Reds can also potentially Agitate to create more opposition in spaces they control with an Administration disc, which is helpful for their victory conditions.
The Reds and Senate have a Terror command which helps remove enemies in addition to increasing Polarization. You'll place terror markers of your faction's corresponding color on the space and this makes the Rally command more expensive for your opponents, but applies to the Reds and Senate only. The Moderates just don't have time to be bothered with the Reds and Senate's petty terror antics.
The Reds and Senate have Attack and March commands, but these cannot be used until the game hits phase 2, so there's a lot of build up in phase 1, then as soon as phase 2 hits, gloves are dropped and it's on. These two commands are pretty common in COIN games from what I've seen, and they function exactly as they sound. March lets you move cells into an adjacent space and Attack lets the Reds and Senate battle each other to remove enemies. When it comes to the Attack command, there's a whole procedure to follow to determine the attack strength and it will feel a bit tedious initially, but after you go through it a couple times and follow the handy player aid, it isn't very complicated at all — just lots of different modifiers to consider. I'll also note that German and Russian troops in the battle location will fight, too, and impact the attack strength.
When it comes to the Moderates, in addition to the Rally command, they have a Message command that allows them to move and hide their cells while optionally carrying either News or the Personality token. The News tokens represent important pieces of information and are placed on the board in phase 2 by German landings and when attacks send defenders to prison. The Moderates really want to grab news and take it to their personality to benefit their cause via the Personality special activity, which helps the Moderates resolve political issues and in turn, help meet their victory conditions.
Regardless of which faction you are, never underestimate the power of passing in a COIN game. Passing lets you gain a resource, which is helpful and sometimes absolutely necessary so that you can fund future commands, but more importantly (in most cases) it will give you an eligibility advantage for the next turn which can be powerful and critical at times based on an upcoming event or other happenings on the board.
Once you get into the 1918 event cards, the Germans begin taking actions when an event card has a "German Action Phase" banner. There's a straight-forward flowchart you use to determine what action the German troops will take; they'll either land on random Landing Sites on the board, attack, march, or do nothing. However, if the Senate player takes the Coordinate special activity, they get to place the Coordinate marker on the German eligibility cylinder and decide all the details for the German action phase.
I mentioned Polarization above a few times, and I feel it's important to hone in on the Polarization track since it's something unique to All Bridges Burning. The Polarization level represents the level of national unity between the factions, and all factions can manipulate the Polarization level when executing various commands and events throughout the game. This is something all players have a vested interest in considering since Polarization impacts events, commands, and special activities, in addition to each faction's victory conditions.
As with all COIN games, each faction in All Bridges Burning has its own unique victory conditions tied thematically to their historical motivations. The Reds need to build up enough opposition to the bourgeois rule, keep Polarization on the lower side, and make sure they're not over-leveraging the support of Russian troops. The Senate need to gain enough town populations back under Senate Control and similar to the Reds, they need to keep Polarization on the lower side in addition to keeping their German vassalage level down. Meanwhile, the Moderates need to gain an abundance of resources and accumulate political will by organizing into networks and resolving political issues, while also keeping Polarization at a moderate level.
Timing is everything in COIN games. Each time a propaganda card is revealed and resolved, the first step is checking to see whether any faction meets its victory conditions, and if so, the game ends. If not, the game will definitely end after the fourth and final propaganda card is resolved. In either case, if a single faction has met its victory conditions, it wins. In a tie, the faction that reached the highest victory margin wins the game. There's even a chance that Russia and/or Germany will come out as the winners, so be careful! The fact that you have to set yourself up to be winning at the time a propaganda card reveals keeps every player engaged with what their opponents are up to. You'll often have to work together to hold someone back, and it creates a three-way tug-of-war at some moments in All Bridges Burning. You have to strategize smartly, keep your plans to yourself, and think a few steps ahead of your opponents.
If you're planning to play All Bridges Burning solo or with two players, you'll be happy to know the game includes slick non-player decks that are way more streamlined than the older, intimidating flowchart non-player system. I fumbled my way through a solo game after playing multiplayer only once and got crushed. Even with the added efficiency of having the non-player decks, it's still a complex game and you'll probably make mistakes like I did until you get familiar with the game and how each faction works. I will admit, I took the shortcut and bypassed the non-player examples of play in the Playbook, and that probably would've primed me better. Regardless, I would definitely revisit All Bridges Burning anytime if I'm looking for a heavy, thematic solo experience packed with tough decisions and plenty of complexity to stimulate my mind — but realistically, I'll probably mostly play with three players because I thoroughly enjoy the player interaction.Me getting whooped in my solo game as the Senate
I've played only a couple of games of All Bridges Burning, a couple of games of Cuba Libre, a game of Colonial Twilight, and a half game of Liberty or Death and I am by no means anywhere near an expert when it comes to understanding COIN games — but from what I have experienced so far, I think they're awesome!
I won't sugarcoat it; they definitely all require a decent amount of time and energy, as well as several plays to fully grasp, especially if you're new to the series/system. But I find the experience of learning and playing these games so fulfilling and fun, that the time and energy investment is 100% worth it. Of course, due to their complexity, they are a bit challenging to get to the table, especially during pandemic times, but All Bridges Burning is pretty accessible with its smaller scale map and the fact that you need to learn only three factions instead of four.
I think that gamers, especially heavy gamers who love or are curious about asymmetrical gameplay should give one of these games a whirl. Most of my friends who love COIN games don't come from a wargame background; they're eurogame game fans like me — and if you're into Root but haven't explored the COIN series yet, I suspect you'll dig it, especially if you enjoy historical board games. After all, Root was inspired by the COIN series.
In 2020, I dipped my toes into 18xx and the COIN series for the first time. Having played multiple games in each, I appreciate how much easier it is to get into other games in their respective series after you've played one. After I finally played Cuba Libre, for example, I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to jump into Colonial Twilight.
From a design perspective, I'm fascinated by how the eligibility system, the event cards, and the asymmetric factions all work together, blended with mechanisms that are tied so well to the historical themes. I also love that all the COIN games share familiar elements, but no two games are the same. There's always some variety and twists on mechanisms, and of course each game has a completely different setting.
The COIN series is continuously evolving in terms of gameplay, but also in terms of themes, historical or otherwise. I'm stoked to check out the upcoming releases which I'm sure will continue to bring fresh edge to the series: People Power: Insurgency in the Philippines, 1983-1986 (volume XI and the second three-player COIN game), China's War: 1937-1941 (volume XII) from COIN guru Brian Train, and the highly anticipated, Red Dust Rebellion (volume XIII) which is the first futuristic-themed game in the series.
I mentioned how Joel Toppen's Comanchería came onto my radar and got me into historical board games in my Zenobia Award post from November 2020. Well, it is also the reason I initially discovered the COIN series. I told my friend Hector about Comanchería when I was learning it, and he asked me whether it was a COIN game. I had no clue what a "COIN" game was at the time, but I'm glad my curiosity led me to this series and I'm looking forward to exploring it further!My most recent Tabletop Simulator game of All Bridges Burning, where I won as the Moderates
To submit news, a designer diary, outrageous rumors, or other material, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Archive for Candice Harris
15 Jan 2021
- [+] Dice rolls
J.B. Howell has been building a diverse catalogue of solid games. I think it's obvious when you explore some of his more recent releases such as Reavers of Midgard, a viking-themed worker placement in the Champions of Midgard universe from Grey Fox Games, or his eye-catching, butterfly-themed tile-drafting and area-majority game Papillon from Kolossal Games...and we certainly cannot forget Flotilla from WizKids, where he and Michael Mihealsick made a big splash with some fresh and innovative mechanisms combined with an engaging theme, drenched in Waterworld vibes.
Just at the tail end of 2020, WizKids released Howell's latest creation: Gates of Mara, a fantasy-themed strategy game featuring a compelling blend of layered area influence and upgradeable worker placement. I had a demo of Gates of Mara in August 2020 and got the opportunity to play a round on Tabletop Simulator. I went in with low expectations since I wasn't particularly excited about the theme, and I honestly did not know what Mr. Howell had to offer as I hadn't played any of his releases at that point — but I walked away from the demo pleasantly surprised from my experience.
After eventually playing Flotilla and being captivated with the interesting design choices there, I was looking forward to revisiting Gates of Mara. WizKids graciously sent me a physical copy so that I could finally see what it had to offer outside of my brief TTS demo.
In Gates of Mara, 2-4 players lead one of four factions — the reptilian dragonkin, the amphibious goblins, the insectoid antids, or the arboral elves — over four rounds, commanding the elements and controlling realms, with the classic goal of scoring the most victory points.
The set-up for Gates of Mara is a bit unique since there's no actual game board, but instead, a series of smaller boards, with some being randomly selected and positioned each game for increased replayability. There's an enchantment board, and then in the center of the table, the Chaos Realm board, the central gate, and standard gates placed between a varied selection of realm boards based on player count, all positioned in circle as if a ceremony of the elements were about to kick off.
When it's all set up, Gates of Mara has an eye-catching table presence, from the arrangement of the boards and all the different figures on standees featuring beautiful artwork from Nastya Lehn. It almost appears slightly intimidating initially as you're churning through all your first move options, but once you dig in, it's quite intuitive and features clean, tasteful graphic design which helps.
Each round, players spend energy (action points) to place their workers on either one of the realm boards, the enchantment board, a standard gate or the central gate. Depending on which type of worker you place and where you place them, you can potentially gain influence in one or more of the realms and activate special abilities.A few of the goblins
Everyone leads their own tribe with five different types of workers, each having their own energy cost that must be spent to place them on one of the boards. The workers mainly function the same across factions at the start of the game, with the exception of a specialist worker that has a tribe-specific innate ability, making the factions ever so slightly asymmetric. As the game progresses, players can acquire banner cards and enchantments (upgrades) to customize their workers with juicy special abilities and bonuses.
Each space where you place workers has a specific shape or shapes associated with it that matches the shapes on the bases of your various workers. For example, only leaders (triangle base) and champions (square base) can be placed on the standard gates between the realm boards because those spaces show a square and triangle.The antids champion placed on a standard gate gains 1 influence in each adjacent realm
I mentioned gates and realm boards, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of Gates of Mara is how your different types of workers interact with these components to secure your influence in the realms. As an example, your leader figure is the most expensive worker to place (3 energy), but offers a variety of placement options for crafting your strategy.
You can place your leader in any realm and gain 3 influence in that realm, which is huge! Or you can place your leader at a standard gate (between two realms) and gain 2 influence in both adjacent realms, which is also huge, especially when timed right. Orrrr you can snag the one and only spot at the central gate and gain 1 influence in all realms, which is also huge because you'll have even more options for winning claims at the end of the round. Plus you'll gain any keys stacked on the central gate when you land there, and having a majority of keys is another way to score a healthy chunk of points at the end of the game. You have many awesome choices with placing this one worker alone. I will warn you, though, the central gate spot tends to go fast, so don't sleep on that one.
For example, two spaces on each of the regular realm boards (not the chaos realm) are seeded with banner cards at the beginning of the round. One of the abilities you may activate when placing a worker on these spaces is spending 1 energy to take the banner card and attach it to one of your workers. These banner cards are pretty awesome, especially the ones that let you gain victory points and place one of your caravans for extra influence, points, or resources. Some banner cards even allow you to place a worker in an occupied space, which I found came in handy on many occasions for me to gain the extra influence I needed to win two claims. These all sound great, but I quickly discovered my personal favorite banner cards are the ones that let you gain energy. Think about it — you'll stack these on some of your workers, so when you spend energy to place them, you immediately gain some back, which will allow you to take more actions!
Along with the Wanderer figure, each game you play with two of the four elemental lord figures that each grant a different benefit when you place your workers into their corresponding realms. They add a bit of spice to the game, and players will generally want to follow them to gain their benefits. They can also be moved to different realm boards at the end of each round, in addition to boosting the replay value of the game since you play with only two each game.
If you place a worker in the realm occupied by the Earth lord and place one of your caravans, you gain an extra influence in that realm. Placing a worker in the Air lord's realm allows you to gain one of any type of element gem. When you place a worker in a realm occupied by the Water lord, you can activate the Wanderer and optionally trade any influence gained that turn for victory points.The Elemental Lords
The Fire lord works a bit differently from the others as it has no ability when you place your workers in its realm. Instead it competes with players in its realm with its own influence marker set to 4. If you don't gain at least four influence in the Fire lord's realm, you cannot place any claims there at the end of the round. However, if you do manage to gain at least four influence and place a claim, you gain a special Fire banner card that you can attach to any of your figures. The Fire banner cards are mighty juicy, too, as you gain an extra influence and victory point whenever you place the worker to which it's attached. My friend went heavy Fire lord strategy one game and ended up attaching three of those Fire banner cards to his workers, and I suppose it worked out well since he won the game — but only by 3 points...I'm not bitter at all about it.
Most of your workers will interact with the elemental lords and the Wanderer throughout the game as you place them on the various realm boards, but never your enchanters. The enchanters are a bit different and can be placed only on the enchantment board. When placing an enchanter, you can gain up to two enchantment cards by paying the cost on the card. You immediately gain some victory points, then you can attach your newly acquired enchantment(s) to your workers as another type of upgrade, giving you more special abilities when placing your different workers.
To recap a bit, players take turns spending energy to place one worker at a time. Depending on which worker you place, you may activate innate abilities (listed on player board), the Wanderer and/or elemental lord abilities, any abilities on the location you're placing your worker, and any banner/enchantment card upgrade abilities on attached to the worker. You can really set yourself up with a wonderful array of rewarding choices.
After all players have passed or depleted their energy, you evaluate each realm to award claims. As I mentioned earlier, whoever has the most influence places two claims, with the player in second placing one claim. Any players with three or more figures or caravans on or adjacent to a realm board with an elemental lord gain one key. Two public objectives are placed on the enchantment board each round, and you score 4 points for each objective you complete this round.
Finally, you update turn order and reset the board, pulling back your workers, refilling your energy, setting influence markers back to 0 in each realm, refilling banner cards, placing new objectives, etc. The Wanderer wanders clockwise to the next realm board, then the new first player gets to move one of the elemental lords to a different realm board, and the new second player gets to move the other.
Even though I'm not in love with the theme, Gates of Mara does a solid job when it comes to its mechanisms and ends up being a fun, tight game. Every single time you place a worker, you get something. As the game progresses and you upgrade your workers, you get even more goodies and trigger special abilities, and it all feels really satisfying. Plus I dig the fact that you can use one worker to gain a card that immediately upgrades another worker that you haven't placed yet that round.
There's a great deal of player interaction with the blend of area influence and worker placement...and with no score track, it's not always easy to tell who has the most points, which makes for some nail-biting experiences when you're scoring things at the very end. I love that there are so many choices and it becomes all about making the most optimal choices to earn more victory points than your opponents. With Gates of Mara and Flotilla under my belt, I'm planning to keep an eye out for upcoming releases from J.B. Howell, and I'm hoping to play some of his other existing games, too.
- [+] Dice rolls
Venture into the Galaxy with ISS Vanguard, Galactic Era, Sidereal Confluence, and Space Empires: All Good Things
25 Dec 2020
I'm sure many of us have a game (or several) on our shelves that we just can't wait to play when it's safer for larger group gatherings. For me, one of those games is Twilight Imperium, which for some reason just plopped onto my radar recently and has really resonated with me. After reading the rules and watching a
n obsessivedecent amount of videos, I'm beyond pumped to play my first game. My TI4 hypeness has shifted me into a major sci-fi and space board gaming mood lately, so I'm sharing some related releases that sound pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good (my Larry David voice).
ISS Vanguard is the big new sci-fi, co-op, campaign game from Awaken Realms, which has gotten a ton of buzz lately since Awaken Realms decided to bypass Kickstarter and launch ISS Vanguard using GameFound as a new crowdfunding platform. After checking out the first game to be crowdfunded on GameFound (ISS Vanguard GF link), I'm already loving how much easier it is to navigate the entire project because of the menu on the left side of the screen — what a concept! It's funny how such a minor thing can be such a huge improvement.
But let's shift the spotlight to the game itself. ISS Vanguard is designed by a talented blend of Awaken Realms designers — Michał Oracz, Paweł Samborski, Krzysztof Piskorski, and Marcin Świerkot — who were also involved in their previous hits Tainted Grail, This War of Mine: The Board Game, and the most recent sensation, Etherfields.
Here's what you can expect gameplaywise from ISS Vanguard:Quote:ISS Vanguard is a 1-4 player co-operative, campaign board game that will bring players into an epic sci-fi adventure as they play as four sections — security, recon, science, engineering — onboard the first human ship with the possibility to reach outer space.Jim Krohn's sci-fi 4X classic Space Empires: 4x from GMT Games, along with the Close Encounters and Replicators expansions. Even though I haven't even played the base game yet, I've done my research and already know I'm eXcited to eXplore and eXperience all of the eXtradordinary Space Empires content that eXists (5X!).
The campaign introduces the unique story written by Krzysztof Piskorski (Tainted Grail), which is full of hard player choices, twists, and branching storylines.
Gameplay is divided into two main stages: Ship phase, and landing on planets. During the ship phase, players manage their ship (a binder with printed sleeves) where every section has to make gameplay decisions.Prototype photo from the publisher
Then, you prepare your crew for landing on the next planet in search of answers to humanity's biggest questions. Together you pick a lander and customize it with modules, then each section chooses a crew member to take on a mission (with more experienced crew members having better ranks ), deck-builds a skills deck, takes equipment, and choose dice for their character.
The game comes with more than one hundred crew members, each with unique characteristics.
During all phases of the game, players will be directed to a log-book that consists of story encounters, often written in the form of action-packed dialogues between the characters.
So I was pretty stoked to read about the upcoming third and final Space Empires expansion, All Good Things, which was announced in GMT's November 2020 monthly update newsletter as a new P500 (pre-order) addition:Quote:All Good Things, the last expansion for Space Empires: 4X, provides:Space Empires:4x is at the top of my holiday gaming menu, and I already can't wait to dig into it and all its expansions!
Master Rule Book and Scenario Books: Since this is the last expansion and completes the system, it will come with a Master Rule Book that encompasses all the goodness in all the expansions. Likewise, it will include two Master Scenario Books: one for solo/co-op, and one for competitive play.
Two new, alternate empires: Similar to existing empires, but different, with fighters that don't need carriers. If the original game had fighters that were like TIE Fighters, these are more like X-Wing. They don't have boarding ships or Titans, but have a new class of ships. The other ships have slightly different stats/costs.
Variable, but balanced home systems: Everyone has the same home system for balance reasons. However, knowing what you are going to find is something that has always bothered many people. This will fix that.
Scenario cards: About thirty total, and one or two could be flipped to change the overall galaxy conditions for the game. A couple of these are from the scenario book, but most are new.
Missions: Missions are resource cards that can't be just played, but require a player to complete something on the map to gain a larger benefit. Think of the plot of a simple Trek episode.
Deep space planetary attributes: The NPA planets in deep space will now have a bit of personality. Some will be harder or easier to take. Some will really be worth fighting over.
Crew cards: Not everyone will always want to play with these, but they will bring even more personality into the game.
Facilities game: Two new facilities are added. This will really complete the facilities game.
Everything else: Extra cards of every type, Starbases, Defense Satellites, Cyber Armor, New Terrain, more terrain to support larger scenarios (more terrain is needed anyway to support larger scenarios so new terrain types are also included).
post, I mentioned the new Remastered edition of TauCeti Deichmann's Sidereal Confluence, a sci-fi trading and negotiation game with asymmetrical alien races from WizKids.
I've since received a copy of it from WizKids, and it looks stunning! I'm really itching to play, and while realistically I won't be able to optimally play it anytime soon, that didn't hold me back from punching it, organizing it, and checking out the rules and components. I am impressed with the changes I've seen so far, so I wanted to share some photos to showcase a few of the new and improved components.Beautiful new box cover art by Kwanchai Moriya
The card and tile layout was revamped with clearer iconography and color schemes.First edition (left), Remastered edition (right)First edition (left), Remastered edition (right)First edition (left), Remastered edition (right)First edition (left), Remastered edition (right)
The resources were updated so that it's easier to differentiate between the different sized cubes. I'm sure some folks may prefer wooden cubes over plastic ones, but the plastic ones in the Remastered edition are actually pretty legit. They look and feel great in my hands, though I am tempted to eat the translucent ones...and most importantly, it is indeed much easier to differentiate between the large and small cubes.Large and small gray cubes — first edition (left), Remastered edition (right)
The different ship tokens for each faction were replaced with common ship tokens to avoid unnecessary confusion.First edition ship tokensRemastered edition ship tokens
The Remastered edition also includes a nice insert tray to keep everything organized and minimize set-up and tear-down time.
Between the rulebook and teaching aid improvements and the significantly improved card iconography and resources, I can definitely see how this Remastered edition of Sidereal Confluence will create a much better, more enjoyable overall gaming experience for new players and experienced ones.
Galactic Era is a new, heavy, 4x space game to be released in 2021 from designer Channing Jones and his publishing company Seajay Games. Galactic Era introduces some innovative mechanisms, has ton of replay value packed in, and plays in three hours with 1-6 players. Sounds like a recipe for fun to me! In more detail from the publisher:Quote:Galactic Era is an epic space strategy board game with a focus on exploration, expansion and combat.
The most innovative feature of the game is that you can choose to play as the "dark" or the "light" side with the appropriate consequences. You can switch your alignment during the game though, too.
The amount of luck involved in this game is very low. Combat is deterministic with hidden information (no dice are used).
----• Many paths to victory, from peaceful to warlike.
----• Alignment determines how you can interact with other players: "Light" (STO) factions can ally with advanced civilizations encountered but may not interfere with primitive civilizations, are peaceful towards other STO players, are peaceful with STS players unless attacked first. "Darkness" (STS) factions can be as peaceful to aggressive as they wish, and are able to subjugate primitive planets.
----• Develop your civilization in across five different technology fields: Military, Spirituality, Propulsion, Robotics and Genetics. Those who are committed a single area of specialty are rewarded with epic powers, at the highest level.
----• Cooperate with other players by trading technologies.
----• Choose from fifteen unique factions, each with a unique power, sometimes even two (one for each alignment).
----• Fog of war creates uncertainty by hiding fleets with their tactical options and advantages. Fleets have advantages over others in a Rock-Paper-Scissors fashion.
----• Secret objectives give each player a surprise power, while encouraging different avenues of play.
----• Highly variable game setup that influences objectives.
----• A detailed and rich background story, based on testimony from secret space program whistle-blowers, UFO/ET witness accounts and channeled material.
- [+] Dice rolls
18 Dec 2020
As a result, solo and two-player games have been on my mind more lately, and I wanted to share some "new" and upcoming two-player releases I'm looking forward to checking out.
• Unforgiven: The Lincoln Assassination Trial is a tense, two-player tug-of-war game designed by Tom Butler for his publishing company Green Feet Games. Unforgiven was successfully funded on Kickstarter (KS link) in October 2020 and is due out in Q2 2021. I've heard it creates some "7 Wonders Duel"-like tension with a unique, historical theme.
In more detail from the publisher:Quote:"Passion governs, and she never governs wisely," — Benjamin Franklin, one of America's Founding Fathers.Fort Circle Games in this space: Votes for Women by Tory Brown in a June 2020 post and First Monday in October by Talia Rosen in a very appropriately timed October 2020 post.
Ninety years later, the very government that Franklin helped create disregarded his wisdom and trampled the constitutional rights of its own citizens in order to feed what seemed an insatiable hunger for vengeance. Now you, as the prosecution or defense, must convince a nine-panel jury that Mary Surratt, one of eight people put on trial for conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln and other members of his cabinet, is guilty...or innocent.
Unforgiven: The Lincoln Assassination Trial is a two-player game that takes place during the May 9 - June 28, 1865 trial of the first woman, Mary Surratt, ever to be executed for treason by the United States. The game begins amidst the chaos of Lincoln's assassination as the country struggles to heal over the wreckage of the American Civil War. Each player must persuading the jury to convict or acquit the accused and thereby win the game. To do so, players draft and play cards that help them strengthen their case with the jurors and recruit them to their side, while also finding overwhelming evidence for or against the accused.
In one of the most high-profile trials in U.S. history, will Mary Surratt again face the hangman's noose of American justice — or can you stop the trap door from falling?
Another 2021 release coming from Fort Circle is United States v. Aaron Burr from designer Jason Matthews. U.S. history games are no stranger to Matthews considering his prior releases, 1960: The Making of the President and Founding Fathers, both co-designed with Christian Leonhard. You might also recognize Jason Matthews from the acclaimed Twilight Struggle and the more recent release Imperial Struggle, which has been one of my favorite 2020 releases, both co-designed with Ananda Gupta.
Here's the historical background for this two-player, card-driven game covering the treason trial of America's third vice president and what players can expect gameplaywise:Quote:Many events in American history have been labeled "trials of the century", but for a young nation, it would have been impossible to top United States v. Aaron Burr. Unlike Washington, Jefferson, Madison or Hamilton, Aaron Burr came from American royalty — a founding father descended from the original puritanical stock that arrived in Plymouth. His father was the second president of Princeton. His grandfather was Jonathan Edwards, the philosopher-theologian who wrote "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," perhaps the most important American literary work of its time.GMT Games will release Commands & Colors: Samurai Battles, a new, improved and more robust version of Richard Borg's 2012 release Samurai Battles, which was originally published by Zvezda. In C&C: Samurai Battles, two players will go head to head, commanding brave warriors through combat on the battlefields of feudal Japan using Borg's famous, card-driven Commands & Colors game system.
So in 1776, if you were going to identify any of the Founders who would later stand trial for treason to his country, Aaron Burr would be the least likely — yet Burr's journey as an enormous talent born under a dark star is now well known. Less well understood is that when he shot Alexander Hamilton in the early morning hours of July 11, 1804, it would set in motion a chain of events much more bizarre than anything depicted on Broadway.
Aaron Burr never stood trial for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel. His trial was for treason, three years later, at the insistence of the Thomas Jefferson, the man Burr had narrowly lost to in the contested election of 1800. An embittered and politically ruined Burr seemed to have developed a scheme to separate the new Louisiana Purchase territories from the United States and declare himself king over the new entity. When Jefferson learned of the plot, he ordered Burr's arrest and publicly declared him guilty of treason.Prototype cover
United States v. Aaron Burr: The Treason Trial of America's Third Vice President, a card-driven game for two players, recreates the treason trial of Aaron Burr in Richmond in 1807. But by accident of recent judicial reforms, Thomas Jefferson's detested cousin, Chief Justice John Marshall, would be riding circuit and would preside over the case. The resulting legal contest would read like a list of who's who of America's Founding Fathers.
United States vs. Aaron Burr is a fast-playing card-driven game in which players seek to use events, evidence, and witnesses of Burr's activities to convince a jury to return a guilty verdict — or if playing for the defense, persuade at least one juror to find Aaron Burr not guilty. Each round, players have the opportunity to question witnesses, persuade jurors, and make points of law to the Chief Justice which will aid them in their cause. The game highlights all the events and participants surrounding one of the most important trials in American Constitutional Law — setting the precedent that the President of the United States is NOT immune from legal court orders, a precedent very much cited by the Supreme Court today.
So try your hand as a great litigator in a great trial. Perhaps you will even find yourself smiling more and talking less!
Here's an overview of the gameplay, in addition to some of the updates you can expect in this new version of C&C: Samurai Battles as described by the publisher:Quote:The Commands & Colors: Samurai Battles game rules allow players to portray important engagements of Japanese history. The battles included in the scenario booklet focus on the historical deployment of forces and important terrain features in scale with the game system. The scale of the game is flexible and varies from battle to battle. For some scenarios, an infantry unit may represent an entire clan of soldiers, while in other scenarios a unit may represent just a few brave warriors.Devir Games recently released Polis, a reimplementation of Fran Diaz's Polis: Fight for the Hegemony, which was originally published by Spanish publisher Asylum Games.
The Command cards drive movement, creating a "fog of war" and presenting players with many interesting challenges and opportunities, while the battle dice resolve combat quickly and efficiently. The Honor & Fortune game mechanism tasks players with maintaining a balance between these two important game elements. The Dragon Cards add an element of suspense and surprise that can bend the rules and instantly change the course of a battle. The battlefield tactics you will need to execute to gain victory, however, conform remarkably well to the strengths and limitations of the various Japanese unit types, their weapons, battle terrain, and written history.
Compared to Samurai Battles, GMT's C&C: Samurai Battles game has more scenarios, more units to deploy, additional types of Japanese units, and a jam-packed battlefield with more units and more terrain. In more detail, this game includes more units and more unit types than the earlier game. The battlefield comes on a one-piece mounted map board, and the terrain tiles include new types of terrain, fences, ramparts, castle walls, and more. Expansion materials are already waiting in the wings.
In Polis, two players compete — one as Sparta and the other as Athens — to build their civilizations and compete for territories in ancient Greece as described below by the publisher:Quote:Polis is a two-player civ-lite game set in the beginning of the conflict between the two major poleis of the 5th century BCE: Athens and the Delian League against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. The winner will be the Empire with more population and prestige at the end of the game.
Both players must secure their supplies and the routes to five markets to trade with them. Every turn you get goods from a territory where you have population supporting your Empire, but you should feed them.
You can fight to control the territories and siege other polis, or you might use your diplomacy to convince a polis to join your league — but polis are proud of their independence, so you will have to create some projects to gain prestige needed for your military maneuvers.
This new edition of Polis has updated revised rules and new art that will enhance your game experience.
- [+] Dice rolls
11 Dec 2020
Hollandspiele games during its 2020 Hollandays sale, and one of the games I picked up was the two-player game Dinosaur Table Battles, designed by Tom Russell, which is a dinosaur version of her 2017 historically-based release Table Battles.
Here's a quick overview of the game:Quote:Dinosaur Table Battles is a game about dinosaurs fighting each other for some reason. As in the original Table Battles game — which apparently is going to be called "Human Table Battles" from now on — players roll dice, then assign them to cards representing their fighting forces. Removing the dice triggers an attack, but that attack might be reacted to — whether absorbed, blocked, or countered — if the opposing player removes dice from a card with a reaction. The trick is that if you can react, you must react, and if you do react, you don't get to attack on your next turn. Mastering tempo is key to your success.So far, I've been enjoying Dinosaur Table Battles, and I'm looking forward to checking the OG Table Battles as well since I've heard good things about it. I love having two-player game options like this that play in 30-45 minutes or less because I'm more likely to get more gaming in with my non-gamer partner (who I'm slowly but surely converting into a full-on gamer).Not a bad idea to have a T-rex on your team!
The thing about this game, though, is that it has dinosaurs, and dinosaurs are pretty big guys and gals — so big, in fact, that each dino spans two or three cards, giving them an assortment of attacks, reactions, and rule-breaking special abilities. During set-up, players draft a team of dinosaurs, creating unique synergies to be exploited and disadvantages to be mitigated. There are over 900,000 different matches possible, and while that might not be enough to keep you occupied for 200 million years, it's probably close enough.
For a game with such a small set of rules, Dinosaur Table Battles definitely makes you think as you try to outwit and take down your opponents, but you can also just play more casually and not overthink every move and it's still enjoyable. There are probably some cool synergies to explore as you experiment with the variety of dinosaur combinations when drafting your team. Plus, I really dig Wil Alambre's colorful, 1980s cartoon style artwork on the dinosaur cards.
DinoGenics: Controlled Chaos is now available from Ninth Haven Games. It's the first expansion for Richard Keene's thematic worker-placement game Dinogenics, in which 1-5 players compete to build and run their own successful dinosaur park.
If you're not familiar with Dinogenics, here's the gist of it:Quote:In DinoGenics, each player is the head of their own corporation with access to their own private island resort. Each season, players assign agents to the mainland to compete over DNA and other limited resources. Once collected, players can build fences, various park facilities and populate their parks with dinosaurs. Parks with the most prestigious dinosaurs will attract the most visitors — but if dinosaurs are neglected or improperly penned, they will attempt to escape and spread havoc through the entire park.
Use all the tools at your disposal: DNA splice mutant dinosaurs, exploit the black market, or just try to run an honest park, the choices are yours.
Do you have what it takes to lead your corporation to victory?
Here's what the Controlled Chaos expansion adds to the mix:Quote:Controlled Chaos expands upon the foundation laid by DinoGenics and offers new ways to develop your dinosaur park. Several new species enter the genetics pool including five aquatic creatures, each with their own unique traits. New strategic options open up as well with large facilities, specialists and refined DNA.Dinosaur: 1944 is co-operative, strategy game for 1-4 players coming in 2021 from Sandy Petersen and his publishing company Petersen Games, which is most well-known for Cthulhu Wars.
Successfully Kickstarted in June 2020 (KS link), Dinosaur 1944 is a reimplementation of Petersen's 2016 release Orcs Must Die: The Boardgame. Instead of preserving your stronghold sieged by nasty orcs, you'll be playing as military soldiers in a World War II setting fending off rampaging dinosaurs.
In more detail from the publisher:Quote:CINCPAC has gotten reports of activity on Kyoryu Jima, so the US military has landed a reconnaissance force. But the Japanese aren't here at all! It is something much worse...something that threatens all humanity. Dinosaurs! Mad scientists are using Kyoryu Jima as a base for their time machine, bringing prehistoric monsters into the present day. Not content with unleashing this plague, they've gone even farther, training and enhancing the dinosaurs. It's bad enough to fight giant reptiles — fighting drug-crazed giant reptiles is absolutely the worst.There's also a DinoStorm expansion for Dinosaur: 1944 that adds some gameplay variety, allowing players to reverse roles and play as dinosaur heroes against the military. In addition, with DinoStorm you can play competitively Raptor-style (player vs. player and team vs. team games) where one player/team plays the dinosaurs, while the other player/team plays the soldiers.
Dinosaur: 1944 is a co-operative strategy game about army men vs. prehistoric monsters. In it, you and up to three other players control brave soldiers in a World War II setting, struggling to save the entire world from the threat of a Mesozoic rebirth. It is in part a battle game as you maneuver around the map and fight the enemy. It is in part tower defense as you place ambushes to help take out or slow down the incoming fiends. Each hero has unique strengths and weaknesses; your victory depends both in mastering your own hero and co-operating with your friends. As the game progresses, you face more numerous foes, and dinosaur bosses enter the field. Eventually, you face the final boss, and defeating her wins the game. If the dinosaurs devastate your base camp, though, you'll be stranded on Kyuryushima, prey to the horrors therein.
Endless Winter: Paleoamericans is a deck-builder, worker-placement game from Stan Kordonskiy (designer of Dice Hospital, Rurik: Dawn of Kiev) and the first release from new Cyprus-based publisher Fantasia Games, which has been successfully funded on Kickstarter (KS link) with a Q4 2021 release.
In Endless Winter, 1-4 players settle new lands, grow their population, and build megaliths as described below:Quote:Endless Winter: Paleoamericans takes place in North America, around 10,000 BCE. Players guide the development of their tribes across several generations — from nomadic hunter-gatherers to prosperous tribal societies. Over the course of the game, tribes migrate and settle new lands, establish cultural traditions, hunt paleolithic megafauna, and build everlasting megalithic structures.
Endless Winter is a Eurostyle game that combines worker placement and deck building in an innovative way. Each round, players send their tribe members to various action spaces, and pay for the actions by playing cards and spending resources. Tribe cards grant additional labor, while culture cards provide a variety of unique effects. As an alternative, cards can be saved for an end-of-round eclipse phase, when they are simultaneously revealed to determine the new player order, and trigger various bonus actions.
The game features a novel blend of interwoven systems and mechanisms, such as multi-use cards, area influence, tile placement, and set collection. Plus, there are many viable paths to victory. After four brisk rounds, scores are tallied, and the tribe with the most points wins!
- [+] Dice rolls
The Transcontinental will be the first release from designer/artist Glen Dresser, who plans to release the title through his Wheelhouse Games company.
The Transcontinental features interesting and engaging gameplay, a rich historical theme, and a refreshing look and feel from Dresser's own artwork. As a result, Dresser won the 2019 Canadian Game Design Award for this title and more recently won the 2020 Cardboard Edison award as well.
Here's an overview of this 1-4 player game, which has been successfully funded on Kickstarter (KS link) for release in Q3 2021:Quote:In 1871, with Canada only four years old, the Prime Minister calls for a massive undertaking: a transcontinental railway to link the established eastern provinces with the newly-added western province. Between them lay the vast, undeveloped interior. It would be a nation-defining project, opening up the resource-rich Canadian shield, the fertile prairies, and the breathtaking Rocky Mountain Cordillera, shaping not only the economy of the young country but its identity as well.[An aside from WEM:] • Another title in the works from Dresser is Palooka Precinct, a 1-4 player co-operative deduction game that features, in his words, "a unique mystery deduction system, with complex cases that you can solve through logic and teamwork. The Volvelle system makes each case highly replayable, and the game features a campaign with twelve cases." (A "volvelle" is a device composed of concentric paper circles that has you rotate the circles to do some task or calculation; the code device used in the Exit series of escape room games is a volvelle.)
The Transcontinental is a medium-weight Eurogame with worker-placement and pick-up and deliver mechanisms about the development of the Canadian transcontinental railway.Prototype components
Players are contractors who work to complete the railway. They send out telegrams along a linear worker-placement track — reserving those action spaces for themselves — then take turns in telegram order, loading and unloading to a shared train that travels across the country. Players can use these resources to complete developments ranging from lumber mills and farms to cities and national parks, or they can use the resources to bid to extend the railway. Powerful one-time-use ally cards, themed around a rich and inclusive cast of Canadian historical figures, allow players to make powerful combined actions.
Dresser won the 2017 Ion Award for game design for Palooka Precinct, but he's moving ahead with The Transcontinental first because he "wanted to focus on a game with more conventional components as my first publishing project". [/end aside]
On the Underground: London/Berlin, Sebastian Bleasdale's newest standalone game in the "On the Underground" series from LudiCreations will be On the Underground: Paris/New York.
In this game, 2-5 players compete to build the most successful lines in the iconic underground networks of Paris and New York. In more detail:Quote:In On the Underground: Paris/New York, players build the Paris Métro lines or the New York City Subway lines. Each player controls 2-4 different lines, depending on the number of players.• In 18xx land, 18Mag: Hungarian Railway History is a new release for 2-6 railroad company investors coming from designer Leonhard "Lonny" Orgler and his publishing company, Lonny Games. I'm sure many already know of Orgler's strong reputation for designing train games from his releases 18CZ and 18Lilliput, as well as 1880: China and the ever-popular Russian Railroads, co-designed with Helmut Ohley.
On each turn, four destination cards are available, corresponding to stations on the map. You can take up to four actions; an action is either building track by placing one of your track tokens on the board or taking a branch token. A player may use two branch tokens to branch out of an existing line (whereas normally lines can be extended only at the endpoints). After each player's turn, a passenger token is moved along players' lines, avoiding walking as much as possible, to reach one or two destinations determined at the beginning of the turn. Destination cards corresponding to the visited stations are then replaced by new ones, then the next player takes their turn.
Players score points in two ways:
—By building track and connecting their lines to various types of stations, by collecting landmark tiles (in Paris), by connecting stations across water (in New York) or at the end of the game if they have achieved their secret objectives (in Paris).
—By having the passenger use their lines when moving.
After all destination cards have been drawn and all players have taken the same number of turns, the game ends.
Paris is a thoughtful map offering many options. To win, you need to strike the right balance between collecting sets of tokens, connecting secret destinations, blocking other players while not being blocked yourself, and of course carrying the passenger. Paris is the refined elder sister of the original On the Underground: London map and is recommended for experienced players.
New York is a fast-paced map reflecting the hectic pace of life in the big Apple. It encourages players to mirror real life by creating lines through Manhattan, but you have to build quickly to keep up with the always-moving passenger.
Here's a brief overview of 18Mag and how it derails from the usual 18xx experience:Quote:18Mag ("Magyarország" meaning "Hungary") is an 18xx game that tells the story of Hungarian railroads and their supporting companies.• Luzon Rails is a self-published design from Robin David that was Kickstarted in late August 2020 (KS link) ahead of a scheduled December 2020 release. Luzon is the largest and most populous island in the Philippines, and the topography of the land creates many challenges for the 3-5 players who come to the table:
Depending on the player number, 13 different railway companies are drafted equally between the players. These railways operate in numerical order, build track on the map, erect stations, run their trains and always pay out their earnings 50:50 — half to their owners and half into their own treasury.
Beside those operating railroads, seven other companies offering various services for the railroads are included in the game. Examples of these services are building an extra tile, allowing a railroad to run freely over small stations, reducing costs when building bridges and tunnels, and most importantly, offering new trains. Whenever a railroad uses the services of one or more of these companies, they pay their fee into their treasury. In stock rounds, players acquire shares of those companies and after operation rounds, they distribute their earnings among the shareholders. These companies also have station markers (or in this case: factories) which can be placed on city tiles (instead of railway stations) by the president of the company, thus denying other companies passage through that city.
Contrary to other 18xx games, all trains are available from the beginning. Because of the pricing, they usually come in the accustomed order, but not necessarily! However, trains do not rust or go obsolete, but they may be scrapped voluntarily to make space for bigger trains. When the first 6-train is sold, one more set of operation rounds is played, then the game ends. As usual in 18xx games, the wealthiest player is the winner.Quote:On the island of Luzon, large mountain ranges collide with wetlands, and an already established shipping industry means that coastal cities will be profitable only to rail networks that have already established effective routes.
In Luzon Rails, players are rail investors. They buy stock in companies, seek to improve those companies, and amass wealth when company dividends pay out.
This game differs from cube rail games you may have played before. Variable company start locations mean that companies can feel quite different from game to game. Actions are selected by playing action cards either from hand or from a central pool, which leads players to make tough decisions and risky moves. How would you proceed in a round where it looks like there will be few auctions? How would that affect your own bids?
Some features on the board try to encourage varied rail types. Landlocked cities grant a long term bonus to companies that then connect to coastal cities. Manila provides a one-off dividend payment for investors who can make a company rail reach that far. And the Southern peninsula creates tight conditions if more than one company has ambitions on the cities down there.
- [+] Dice rolls
Brian Mayer's Freedom: The Underground Railroad from Academy Games, probably as a result of randomly rummaging through "Top 10 Co-operative Board Game" videos on YouTube. I was shocked by the bold idea of someone creating a board game focused on slavery in the United States, but then I was delighted and impressed after I bought it, played it, and discovered firsthand how tastefully it was designed for covering such a sensitive topic. Not only is it an excellent game, but it has a unique theme and it's educational and packed with historical facts.
Several months later, I picked up Joel Toppen's Comanchería: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire from GMT Games when looking for a challenging solo game. I loved the idea of playing a game from a Native American tribe's point of view. It was a topic I knew little about, and it made me curious and excited to understand it better.
In early October 2020, Volko Ruhnke (creator of the COIN series and designer of Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ?) noticed my enthusiasm for historical games and contacted me to tell about the Zenobia Award — a game design award and mentorship program targeted at designers from underrepresented groups and game designs focused on underrepresented historical topics.
Shortly after geeking out from the fact that Volko Ruhnke (one of my newest favorite game designers) PM'ed me on Twitter, I hopped on a Zoom with Volko and Harold Buchanan (designer of Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection) to further discuss the Zenobia Award. I was instantly on board with its mission and goals, and I knew I wanted to be involved.
The Zenobia Award was officially launched on November 22, 2020 with the following press release from volunteer, Dan Thurot (Space-Biff!):Quote:I'm really excited and grateful that the Zenobia Award has launched, and even more thrilled to be involved as a volunteer. It's a great starting effort for improving diversity in the historical board games. Plus, I'm really looking forward to seeing the results of having more different perspectives and varied historical topics developed into awesome new board games for us all to explore, enjoy, and learn from in the future.
History is big. So big that it belongs to everybody. Every individual, no matter their background or identity, connects to history in unique and important ways.
So why do historical board game designers seem to fit into the same mold? You know the type. White, male, straight, usually academic, often a part-time dabbler in spurious facial hair.
We've wondered the same thing. Which is why we're pleased to announce the Zenobia Award, a board game design contest for underrepresented groups.
That could mean you! Whether you're a woman, person of color, LGBTQ+, or otherwise underrepresented, the Zenobia Award is all about helping you break into the tabletop game industry. That can mean boards, cards, dice, tiles, miniatures — whatever your game requires, if it's about a historical setting, we want to help your voice be heard.
How will we do that? Good question. The Zenobia Award is more than a fancy name. It's a mentorship, intended to pair you with industry veterans who will help develop your game into its best form. It's an entry point, with partner publishers standing by to discover the most interesting titles and help bring them to print. And it's a contest, complete with a cash prize, public celebration, and genuine wooden trophy analog — that's right, a plaque!
Is there a hitch? Nope. There's no cost of entry, no obligation to list your mentor as a co-designer, and you keep the rights to your game — unless you sign a contract with a publisher, of course. That's entirely up to you. Being a game designer, you know the importance of the little rules. So take a look at the fine print over at ZenobiaAward.org, and welcome to the Zenobia Award.
If you're interested in learning more about the Zenobia Award, you can check out all the details on the official web site. Also, Liz Davidson from Beyond Solitaire hosted an excellent roundtable discussion with some of her fellow board members that further expresses the purpose and passion behind the Zenobia Award.
[Editor's note: The logo for the Zenobia Award will be changing in the near future as board member Geoff Engelstein notes in this tweet: —WEM]
To follow up on this - the board met yesterday and decided to commission new artwork for a logo (from a POC) that will most likely be based either on a contemporaneous coin that featured Zenobia, or the famous Palmyran columns.— Geoff Engelstein (@gengelstein) November 28, 2020
- [+] Dice rolls
Dire Wolf's upcoming release of Dune: Imperium, designed by Paul Dennen, the creator of Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure.
While on the lighter side of my gaming spectrum, I've always enjoyed playing all versions of Clank!, especially Clank! Legacy. You throw Dune, deck-building, worker placement, and Paul Dennen into a blender, and before I even experience what comes out, my ears are perked and my eyes are wide. Thus, I had to reach out to Dire Wolf expressing my interest in a review copy of Dune: Imperium, which they graciously hooked me up with so that I could navigate folded space, taste the spice firsthand, and share my initial impressions.
Dune: Imperium is a hybrid deck-building and worker placement game for 1 to 4 players that plays in about 60-120 minutes. Each player represents a leader of one of the Great Houses of the Landsraad, competing to earn the most victory points by defeating rivals in combat, forming alliances with the four powerful factions on Dune (Emperor, Spacing Guild, Bene Gesserit and Fremen), and cleverly establishing your political influence.
Each player starts the game with a leader board corresponding to their particular leader, which has two different abilities, unique from other players. You also have two agents (workers), a starting deck of cards (same for all players), some wooden cubes representing troops, and a few other components to form your supply. There's also a card market as expected in a deck-building game, and a general supply area of the main resources of the game: spice, solari, and water.
Dune: Imperium is played over a series of rounds, with each round consisting of five phases: 1) Round Start, 2) Player Turns, 3) Combat, 4) Makers and 5) Recall. At the end of a round, if any player has reached 10 or more victory points or if the conflict deck is empty (after ten rounds), the game ends and whoever has the most victory points wins.
You start each round by first revealing a new conflict card, then each player draws a hand of five cards. Conflict cards show the rewards you'll be competing for during the current round should you decide to deploy troops to the conflict.
Next you jump into the player turns phase, which is the meat and potatoes of Dune: Imperium, or shall I say, the cinnamon and nutmeg. In this phase, players take either an agent turn or a reveal turn in clockwise order until all players have completed their Rreveal turn. This is where the cards in your deck come into play, and you have to decide which cards (if any) you'll use to place agents on the board, versus which cards you'll save to reveal in order to gain resources and/or combat bonuses.
During an agent turn, you play a card from your hand face-up in front of you and use it to send one of your available agents to an unoccupied space on the board where you gain access to that particular location's effects. The location icons on the left side of the cards indicate which locations you can send an agent to with that particular card. Then the agent box on the card may grant you some additional bonus effects as well when you use that card for an agent turn. When you use the "Worm Riders" card for an agent turn, you gain two spice.
There's a decent variety of locations on the board with various effects that allow you to pursue a plethora of strategies as you play, especially when combo'd with different card effects. Like most worker placement games, there will be many moments where someone beats you to a spot you were hoping to use, but considering several cards have multiple location options, you're likely to find a clever back-up plan and work around it.
Some card and location effects allow you to gain resources, draw extra cards, trash cards, and recruit troops. There's a spot where you can spend solari to gain a Mentat (extra temporary worker) for the round, and if you're able to pony up even more solari, you can grab your third agent.
You can also gain devious intrigue cards from certain location effects in addition to other ways. The intrigue cards add a healthy dose of spice to otherwise familiar mechanisms and are one of my favorite elements of Dune: Imperium. There are plot, combat, and endgame intrigue cards that come into play at various points in the game, but the best part is that your opponents have no clue what type of card(s) you have and when and how it will impact them; it's so fun to keep everyone guessing. You might have a plot card that lets you spend a certain amount of spice to gain a victory point. If you reveal that at the right time, that one card could push you over the edge to win the game. On the other hand, you could have a beasty combat card that you reveal to push you ahead of your opponents during combat when someone else thought they were going to take it. The intrigue cards are mighty juicy...mighty juicy!
When you place your agent on one of the four factions' board spaces, you gain the location and agent box card effects as usual, but you also gain an influence bump on the corresponding influence track. You gain a victory point when you hit the second space on each of the influence tracks, then if you're the first person to get to the fourth space on a given influence track, you gain the corresponding alliance token and get another victory point...but don't celebrate too fast.
You can manipulate faction influence quite a few different ways, and it adds an interesting layer to Dune: Imperium. Some players might focus on a single influence track and try to rush to the fourth space before everyone to snag an alliance token quickly, while others might try to just get to the second spot on all four tracks to lock in those 4 victory points. Some card effects are very powerful if you have an alliance token with a particular faction, and there's even a space on the board that you must have at least two influence with the Fremen in order to use. Gaining influence always seems pretty important, but how you approach it and how competitive it gets will vary from game to game and lend itself to exciting moments.
While you're thinking about gaining influence, try not to slip too much on the combat front. This is another excellent way to gain resources, influence, and most importantly, victory points.
Certain locations allow you to recruit troops from your supply to your garrison area, and also locations that will allow you to deploy troops from your garrison area into the conflict area. If a location has the combat icon in the bottom right corner, you can always deploy up to two troop cubes from your garrison to the conflict area. In addition, some locations with the combat icon allow you to recruit, and in those cases, you can move as many of the newly recruited troops from your supply directly to the conflict area, which is a great way to get more troops ready for combat. This can sometimes scare off your opponents, but if you deploy a ton of troops and your opponents decide not to deploy any, you're basically wasting troops that you could have saved in your garrison for future conflicts where they'd be better served. Figuring out when to deploy troops and how many troops to deploy is a tough decision.
During your reveal turn, you also set your combat strength for the round if you have at least one troop in the conflict area. Each troop cube has a strength of 2, and you'll add any additional strength for each sword on your revealed cards. Then you set your strength on the combat track and place all the cards you played and revealed into your discard pile. After all players have completed their reveal turns, let the battle begin!
After combat is resolved, in the makers phase spice accumulates on certain board spaces if no one moved an agent there that round. This is similar to some other worker placement games like Agricola, where it entices players to move to those spaces in future rounds.
If the game end hasn't been triggered, you take all your agents back and rotate the first player market clockwise — but if a player has 10 or more victory points or the conflict deck is empty, you resolve any endgame intrigue cards, then whoever has the most victory points wins.
I do wish there was a better system for determining turn order other than just rotating the first player marker clockwise, with player turns going in clockwise order. It's certainly simple and perhaps that was the intention since there's already a lot to think about in the game, but for worker placement games I tend to prefer more interesting decisions when it comes to determining turn order. Turn order is really important, as you read above in my Great Flat spice pile-up story, so I do wish the players had more control over it.
I managed to play Dune: Imperium at all players counts and enjoyed them all, but if I had to pick, I preferred the two-player game the least. Solo and two-player games are played with AI opponents driven by a deck of cards with minimal rules that are easy to pick up, and therefore pretty smooth to play. There's also a handy app available that streamlines solo and two-player games, but regardless whether you use the deck or app, you'll be zipping along after a round or two with your subtly, intrusive AI rivals.
My two-player game just lacked a bit of the tension I felt playing with three and four players — and even solo. In the solo game, you play against two AI opponents and they can score points in various ways, which made me feel the pressure I feel playing three- and four-player games. The two-player game, on the other hand, adds a single AI opponent that doesn't score victory points, so you're competing for victory points only against your human opponent, which was fine, but not as exciting to me. I liked it; I just didn't love it as much as the other player counts.
Overall, I'm really digging Dune: Imperium. There aren't necessarily any ground-breaking, new mechanisms, but the way these familiar mechanisms are blended together is awesome and works well. I would say this is only a few clicks above the complexity level of Clank!, but it offers such a different and deeper strategic experience. No disrespect to Clank!, of course; I love me some Clank!, but Dune: Imperium feels more mature and sophisticated gameplaywise.
I enjoyed the decision space of figuring out which cards to use for agent turns versus which cards to save for reveal turns, especially as you start incorporating fancier cards with juicier effects into your deck. Lots of cards synergize well together or with your level of influence with different factions, so it's fun to see what kind of card combos people pull off. I also like that you have a lot of different opportunities for drawing cards mid-round. That can open some exciting opportunities during agent turns or seriously boost your reveal turn.
I've already touched on how much I love what the intrigue cards bring to the table, but I also really love the tight victory point system and having combat rewards to consider each round. Each and every victory point is important and meaningful, and everyone knows it, so it makes the game feel tense. It's great that there are several different ways to score victory points, too, so players can pursue different strategies for scoring and it feels equally competitive in a really fun way.
There were multiple games in which I had a steady lead in the early game, then as newer players got the swing of it, their scoring discs crept closer and closer, gradually closing the gap, making me feel all sorts of anxious and stressed, but in the best way possible, all up until a climatic ending. There were many "Ohhhhhhh!" moments as we each tried to outwit each other with intrigue cards or by stealing alliance tokens. I love when a game sucks me in and makes me feel that way.
Kudos to Paul Dennen and Dire Wolf for taking control of the spice, then packing it into Dune: Imperium!
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13 Nov 2020
sneakilycleverly get family and friends into board games, and sometimes there's no better way to do that than bust out a co-operative game. Here are a few 2021 co-op releases that I'm looking forward to trying:
• Cloudspire, Too Many Bones, and Hoplomachus have a new, futuristic sibling on the way! In mid-November 2020, Chip Theory Games launched a Kickstarter campaign (link) for its latest co-op release, burncycle from designers (and cousins) Josh and Adam Carlson.
Here's a description of how it plays and the challenges you'll face as your team of robots tries to take down those corrupt human corporations:Quote:A puzzly infiltration game for 1-4 players, burncycle puts you in command of a team of robots in the far future. Their mission: taking down evil, human-run corporations responsible for subjugating AI under their heel. Your team arrives at each corporate headquarters and must sneak inside, shutting down the companies' physical operations as well as their circuitous digital networks. As you search rooms and advance to the higher floors, you'll be rewarded with new items and abilities, but you'll also be challenged by threatening guards, fatal viruses, and the architecture itself, which was built to fight off robotic intruders.More glorious premium poker chips, neoprene play mats, and custom dice, but with a new theme? Sign me up!
Key to this solo and co-operative experience is the idea of "creative action sequencing". During each round of play, all players contend with a randomly drawn set of programming directives that tell them in what order their bots are allowed to take physical, digital, and command actions. Players can choose to skip over directives at the cost of having an incomplete turn, or they can disobey the directions by paying costly action dice. The best players, however, find a way to work within the "burncycle" — essentially, organizing their actions so that they benefit the team while staying within the directive order.
Each of the corporate headquarters in the game uses a unique neoprene layout on a larger mat, changing the geography of the game to suit your target. Each CEO also has at their disposal a special threat meter, which will trigger new obstacles for your robots as time runs out. If you don't complete the mission quickly, you may end up leaving bots behind, the victims of immobilizing power drains or destructive counterhacking.
Your team wins the game if you complete your objectives on every floor without losing your captain or maxing out your threat level.
Crack the Code is a limited communication, co-operative puzzle game from Sarah Graybill, John Shulters, and Indie Boards & Cards that's being funded on Kickstarter (link) ahead of a planned release in the first half of 2021.
Here's an overview:Quote:In Crack the Code, players form a hacker team that tries to build a piece of code before they run out of moves and their program is terminated. Players can see the marbles in front of their teammates, but they cannot see the marbles in front of themselves. Using a series of action cards, they work together to rearrange the marbles to build a certain sequence before they run through the deck.Sub Terra II: Inferno's Edge is a 1-6 player co-operative adventure game with some strong Indiana Jones vibes from Inside the Box Board Games designed by Tim Pinder and Rose Atkinson.
In slightly more detail, each round you action cards available equal to the number of players plus one, and each player must choose a different action card to use and discard, with the final card being left on the table for the subsequent round. The game will also include a campaign mode.
As a standalone sequel to Pinder's 2017 hit, Sub Terra, Inferno's Edge features a new objective-driven puzzle to solve; ten new specialized explorers, each with a unique style of play; more monsters and more ways to fight back; and a thrillingly explosive finale.
Here's a more detailed overview of the heated situation awaiting you:Quote:Sub Terra II: Inferno's Edge is a co-operative adventure board game. You and up to five friends must explore a tile-based volcano temple to steal a legendary artifact. To get it, you must find the path to the inner sanctum, unlock the secrets within, then escape the way you came.
This is a dangerous place. You need to work as a team to avoid deadly traps, brave scorching lava and defeat the temple's mysterious guardians. Stick together to share your skills, or split up to cover more ground, but be aware that the volcano stirs beneath you, and you're running out of time...
In Sub Terra II: Inferno's Edge, players progressively reveal new tiles, forming the board and mapping the volcanic temple from its sunlit entrance to its fiery core. As players explore the temple, they have to overcome obstacles, avoid hazardous terrain, and face the ferocious guardians of the "artifact". After a player takes actions on their turn, a random hazard activates, making careful planning of actions essential to survival.
Players must collectively locate and obtain 3 "keys" — mysterious objects that are needed to gain entry to the chamber containing the legendary artifact. Your adventures must be quick, though, as the volcano stirs and as the game progresses you get closer to the volcano erupting, flipping tiles to completely inhospitable lava flows that will chase the adventurers from the cave.
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06 Nov 2020
Ion Game Design and Sierra Madre Games launched a Kickstarter campaign for two new 2021 releases worth checking out: Harry-Pekka Kuusela's Galenus and Phil Eklund's Bios: Mesofauna, a more accessible alternative to Bios: Megafauna.
While I have only limited experience with Bios:Origins and most of the Pax series from Ion and Sierra Madre, I can't help but be excited whenever they have new releases on the horizon. I'm especially excited because their new releases seem to be getting more and more accessible, yet maintaining the special and unique gameplay elements for which they're known, which means I possibly can get them to the table a lot easier and a lot more often — well, with the exception of High Frontier. I don't know whether another game excites me and terrifies me quite as much as High Frontier. I'll try it one day, though...one day.
In the worker-placement game Galenus, we jump back to the year 176 CE when 1-4 players compete to gain knowledge, cure patients, and publish works to become the best doctor in Ancient Rome. Here's some additional background and details from the publisher on how the game plays :Quote:Medicine in Imperial Rome is an art of celebrated advances, an art of showmanship and bitter rivalry between practitioners all with their own entourages. There is one doctor above all others: Galenus. The writings of this second century Greco-Roman would be the epitome of medicine for one thousand years to come.
In Galenus, the players enter this arena as doctors starting out by studying, treating patients, accumulating reputation, and competing against each other in showy demonstrations. The goal of the game is to be the best young doctor, primus inter pares, by collecting the most favor in the eyes of Galenus over five rounds and thus becoming his friend and student. Galenus looms over everything the players do, and he will crush all who dare challenge him.Box concept art
Galenus is a worker-placement game in which you place up to six action pawns, then decide when and how to resolve them. In this way, some players can still be placing pawns while you are already resolving them. You can choose to cure patients, which will gain knowledge in one of four types of ailments; publish works based on that knowledge; show off your skills in the theater; acquire medicines to aid your work; rest to rejuvenate your own health; or adopt a new philosophy.
At the end of the round, you compete in medical contests via blind bidding that may give you more prestige. Whoever has the most points gained from these various tasks or first publishes eight works wins.Quote:Bios:Mesofauna is an alternative Bios:Megafauna, that is, it starts and ends at the same time. It follows the same sort of Achterbahn environment, same climate change, same or similar creeples, same VP, same tiles, same card colors, same cratons and drift, same basic and Achterbahn games, same catastrophes, same greenhouse, cloudiness, and oxygen. Same terrestrial settings. The setting is the same — only the animals are smaller.
Bios:Mesofauna is a deliberate attempt to reach a wider audience than Bios:Megafauna by stripping away about half the rules. Monsters, tools, horror plants, kiwi, haustorium, dark heart, Mars, Venus, shelves, blooms, Offshore, and Cheshire Cat have been dropped. More significantly, marine variant and size were also dropped, and these two decisions are worthy of more discussion.
The two games integrate with each other, making it possible to play a game with a combination of player roles from the two games.Box concept art
I'm looking forward to the day (or weekend more likely) in which I play the entire Bios series starting with Bios: Genesis through Bios: Origins and finishing off with High Frontier to see how these games flow together back-to-back. I'm sure it'll be an epic gaming experience...assuming my brain doesn't completely fry midway through!
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