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Subject: A Blue Moon rising rss

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Jim Patterson
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Blue Moon
Game by Reiner Knizia
Kosmos/Fantasy Flight Games



There's really no good excuse for me to be writing a review of Blue Moon, the card game by famed designer Reiner Knizia. There have been at least two excellent reviews of the game, including information about the other decks in the system, on BGG already (one by Joe Gola: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/110175; the other by Allen Doum: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/91298). I'm neither a terribly experienced player (only five plays logged in, all with preconstructed decks from the base set) nor a terribly good player (I've lost more games than I've won). My only excuse is that, in a very short time, I've become very fond of Blue Moon, and I want to share some of my enthusiasm.

This is my first real exposure to anything like a collectible card game. While Blue Moon is, emphatically, not a collectible game (though it is expandable), it does offer those wary of chasing after rare cards a chance to experience some of the flavor of CCGs in a convenient, economical, and fun package.

Backstory
With the creator Blue Moon gone, Blue Moon City in ruins, and two warring heirs to the throne, players take the side of one of the royal combatants, hoping to win the favor of the three remaining elemental dragons, earn the crystal shards they watch over, and re-form the Holy Crystal, bringing peace once again to the land. (It should be noted that, while a standalone game, the board game Blue Moon City is thematically related to the Blue Moon card game.)

Game overview
Blue Moon is a "dueling" card game for two players. In the base game, each player takes one of two preconstructed "people" decks, the Hoax or the Vulca, and battles his or her opponent in a series of fights. Fights are resolved over a series of turns in which each player has to match or exceed the total value of his or her opponent’s active cards in the announced element (either fire or earth) or be forced to withdraw. (For tactical reasons, a player may also choose to withdraw even if he or she could continue the fight.) The winner of each fight “attracts” a number of dragons (usually one or two) either from his or her opponent’s side of the table (if any are there) to the neutral space of the board, or from the neutral board to the his or her own side of the table. The game ends when one player has three dragons on his or her side and attracts a fourth (resulting in an instant win), when one player runs out of cards during a fight (with the game ending after the current fight is resolved), or when one player declines to start a fight and discards his or her last one, two, or three cards. In the latter two cases, the winner of the game is the one with dragons on his or her side of the table; if all three dragons happen to be on the neutral board at the end of the game, the first player to run out of cards loses.

Components
Box

The base game components are attractively and effectively stored in a small, sturdy square box identical in size to that used in such games as Lost Cities. The game is easily transportable, and cards and dragons fit snugly into the insert, with the small board lodged safely above the cards. Two card wells hold the Hoax and the Vulca decks; the only “problem” will occur when you purchase additional decks, as these aren’t going to fit in the base-set box.


Cards

The heart of Blue Moon is, of course, the card decks. As noted above, the base set includes two people decks, the Hoax and the Vulca. Each people deck consists of thirty-one cards: one Leader card (which in the base-set game is there mostly for show) and a varying number of Character, Booster, and Support cards (the exact proportion of each differing by deck).


The cards themselves are oversized, being rather larger than a card from a typical 52-card deck, and made of rather heavy stock, meaning that conventional shuffling probably isn’t going to work but also that the cards are probably going to hold up well over repeated plays.

Each card contains a number of different pieces of information. The card name is unique to each card, although cards from the same people deck tend to have similar-sounding names. The color bar behind the card name identifies the people to which the card belongs. Some cards have a special power text below the color bar; this power is read aloud to the other player when the card is put into play. Most cards have two numerical values, one in earth and one in fire. The card type (Character, Booster, Support, Leadership) is printed vertically along the left-hand edge of the card. Some cards also have icons, which add special traits to cards. For instance, a card with a Retrieve icon can be put back into the player’s hand at the beginning of any turn (but, importantly, not after he or she wins a fight in which the card is played). The bottom of the card contains some background information, or flavor text, to add some color to the game. The bottom area of the card also contains some information not terribly relevant to the basic game—specifically, card identification information and possibly a number of “moons” indicating that card’s relative power in deck building.

A very special mention needs to be made regarding the art on these cards, which is spectacular. Each people’s cards were created by different artists and reflect a different theme, some elemental, some not. The Vulca cards, illustrated by John Matson, are themed, appropriately enough, on volcanic fire, which is reflected in the names of many of the cards (Ember, Fireblast, Inferno, etc.) The Hoax cards, illustrated by Franz Vohwenkel, are a bit more unconventional, with names reminiscent of ancient Greek scholars (Zedemikras the Brain, Saragokanas the Ancient, Xelethotiras, etc.) and images conjuring up notions of wisdom and trickery. It should be noted that each people deck, Hoax and Vulca included, contains a few cards from other peoples, partly to add some variety and partly (I’d imagine) to entice players into buying other “cool” decks. I’m personally fond of all the art, but I suppose it’s fair to note that some people consider some of the art, particularly some of the Mimix people cards, too risqué, especially for young players. This shouldn’t be a major issue in the base set, although there is one Mimix card in it, but consider yourself warned.

Two marginally useful reference cards, listing the names (only) of card icons, are also included with each deck.

Dragons

The base set contains three nicely detailed plastic dragons, identical except for the colors (red, blue, and blue-green). As noted earlier, a player who wins a fight typically draws one or two of these dragons to his or her side or (if already on the opponent’s side) back to the neutral board. The dragons are a thematically and practically useful way to keep account of the vicissitudes of a game.

Board

Blue Moon’s board is a thick, narrow tri-fold laid between the two players. Anyone who’s played Lost Cities, for example, will be familiar with the shape of Blue Moon’s board. The board is mostly decorative, serving as a place to sit the three dragons at the beginning of the game and a place around which to place the draw deck, the discards, the Leader card, and the various active cards. A list of turn phases is printed at both ends of the board, and this is probably helpful for the first game or so. (An improved version of the board, with explanations of the icons, is also available for download from BGG.) It’s easy to imagine not using this board during play, but it’s attractive and atmospheric enough that I have always done so.

Rulebook
The twenty-page rulebook is easy to understand and well illustrated. It contains a couple of turn examples that also incorporate some of the trickier, more unconventional elements of the game, which is nice. Information in the book is well organized and identified, making it a pretty useful reference throughout the game. The rules explanations are very clear and understandable, and while there’s an extensive—and very well done—FAQ available on BGG (see the Files section), I’ve found that in most cases, a judicious application of the rules as written is enough to resolve most play situations.

Gameplay
Note that as with many card-based games, text on the cards adds to and sometimes supersedes the main game rules. I’ll just be talking about the typical situation below.

A game of Blue Moon takes places through a series of fights, each one usually initiated by the loser of the preceding fight. After laying aside their Leader card and shuffling the remaining thirty cards, players begin the game by drawing six cards into their hands, placing the rest of the cards face down in the draw deck. Players take alternate turns, playing one or more cards (and perhaps retreating from or declining to start a fight). The first player in a fight decides whether the fight will take place “in fire” or “in earth,” and the appropriate value on the card he or she plays (and there’s usually only one on the initiator’s first turn) establishes the power level (e.g., “two earth” or “four fire”) that his or her opponent has to match or exceed to stay in the fight.

Each turn consists of a number of phases, not all of which apply to all turns:

-- Beginning of turn. A player can, for example, sometimes pick up cards with a Retrieve icon on them at this point, or perform some other action.
-- Leadership. A player can (but doesn’t have to) play one Leadership card here. Leadership cards can allow a player to, for example, draw extra cards.
-- Retreat from Fight? A player may be unable or unwilling to continue a fight (e.g., because he or she lacks the right card combination to match or exceed his or her opponent’s announced power). If so, that player retreats, and the opponent attracts one or two dragons (one normally, but two if the winner has six or more cards in his or her “combat” and “support” areas, making long fights particularly lucrative—and risky).
-- Character. A player plays a Character card. If the player can’t play one, he or she has to retreat. (Character cards are the most common ones in the deck, but bad draws or hand management can sometimes leave a player without one.)
-- Booster or Support. A player can (but doesn’t have to) play either a Booster or a Support card. (Some cards allow for the playing of more than one.) Boosters remain active until the next Character card is played; Support cards remain active (unless somehow deactivated) until the end of the fight.
-- Announce Power. The player announces the total earth or fire value of his or her active cards (Character, Booster, Support). This total must match or exceed the opponent’s last announced value unless some special condition comes into play.
-- Refresh Hand. The player typically refreshes his or her hand up to six cards.
-- End of Turn. Play passes to the opponent.

When one of the players retreats, whether out of necessity or for tactical reasons, the other player wins the fight and attracts one or two dragons. All Character, Booster, and Support cards are scooped up and put in the discard pile for each side. (Leadership cards remain in the playing area but are no longer active.) Fights continue until one of the game-ending conditions described above is met.

What’s so great about Blue Moon
I’ve bumped up my rating on Blue Moon from a seven to an eight to a nine over the course of five plays. I’ve just bought two more of the people decks, and I may well buy some more expansions down the line. So what’s the big deal, anyway?

-- Components. As probably came through from my description above, the components, I feel, are top notch. The card art in the two base decks is great, with (to my eye) the Hoax being slightly more visually interesting. The dragons are well sculpted and add a nice visual touch. Set up with the board, the game is eye catching. The box is sturdy and the components fit into it well—no small advantage for a game that gets taken to work for lunchtime play, as mine does.
-- Value for the money. For US$25 retail (less online, of course), you get two decks (sixty-two cards plus two reference cards), the board, the three dragons, and the rules, which I consider a solid value considering the high production and art values. (Additional people decks are about US$10 retail, meaning the board, rules, dragons, and box are priced at about US$5—not too shabby.)
-- Tactics. Of course, no set of components, no matter how well priced, is worth buying if the underlying game is junk. Blue Moon is not junk, to put it mildly. Though luck in the form of the card draw plays a factor, mostly it’s just you and your opponent trying to outwit each other, decide how long to stay in a fight, and determine whether the other has better earth or fire values. Sometimes it’s better to withdraw from a fight you’re in poor shape to carry on, even if you could stick with it for a turn or two. For me, winning in this game is quite meaningful; it suggests that I genuinely outplayed my opponent, not just got lucky. Strategy guides, such as one for the Hoax by Brad Durandetta (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/100081), can also be found to aid your play. This is the kind of game that doesn’t take a long time to learn or play, but, if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself thinking afterward about how you won or why you lost—and, in either case, how you could play better next time.
-- Replayability. Even without additional decks, the two decks included in the base game provide the opportunity for many great battles, some quick, some epic. This is a game that rewards a good understanding of your deck and that of your opponent, so playing multiple games with the same deck is far from a burden. After a few plays, you start to learn which combination of cards can be devastating, which sort of cancel each other out, which are overkill. You also start to understand what counters your opponent might use.
-- Expandability. Just adding one or two more people decks fairly substantially increases the number of permutations possible. The Emissaries and Inquisitors decks, which I don’t own and haven’t played, are also there if the standard game gets a little stale.
-- Advanced play. It’s also possible to build your own decks from cards from several other decks. The preconstructed decks offer a lot of fun, but deck building offers the chance to put your knowledge of the various cards and combos to the test.
-- Play time. Players who know the rules can maybe get two games in within an hour—a nice feature for lunchtime play at work. Some games just take longer, and it can be fun, too, to be in a truly epic battle where fate turns on every card and every decision requires careful forethought. Even so, a single game should take no longer than an hour.
-- Support. Apart from expansions, Blue Moon also has a fairly small but loyal following on BGG, and there are many good resources here. There’s also opportunities for online and organized play, and the game is still something of a going concern, with the Buka Invasion deck probably out by now.

What’s maybe not so great about Blue Moon (the “YMMV” section)
-- Art style. As noted, some people are put off by the sometimes-risqué art style of some of the cards, particularly the Mimix. There are enough card images on BGG to allow you to see whether you’re one of those people.
-- Intensity. Because this game really does turn on tactics more than luck, games can get a little intense. I’ve found that because my choices largely determine the outcome, I sometimes get frustrated with poor plays on my part, tactics that don’t work out or suboptimal card laying. It’s a surprisingly involved game despite its short play time.
-- Deck mismatch? The Hoax and the Vulca are an interesting match but not always one that seems “fair.” The Vulca are, in my experience, hard hitters who have (no surprise) good fire values but also good earth values. You might suspect that the Hoax would be good in earth, not so good in fire, but in truth the reverse is the case—the Hoax have very few good earth values. Presumably, Knizia could’ve included an earth-strong deck to have a more obvious counter to the Vulca, but I think that would’ve given the wrong impression about this game—that it was essentially a slugfest, with each side trying to play always in one element. With the Hoax, a player will often have to avoid slugging it out in favor of quick retreats, cards that suppress the Vulca’s strengths, and combinations that can really hurt. Ultimately, though, some players, especially inexperienced ones, will simply find the Hoax deck too hard to play and feel the base set decks are really mismatched.
-- Complexity. I don’t consider Blue Moon that complex, but, as with any card-based game introducing new powers, exceptions to the rules, and special conditions, some players may find this a dizzying whirl of options, and some may settle in to analysis paralysis. Personally, I feel patience and experience overcome these problems (if they’re really problems), but this sort of thing won’t be to everyone’s taste.
-- Two player. Some people just prefer multiplayer games to two-player ones, and the fact that it’s two-player may make it harder to pull out on game days and the like.

Those flaws—potential and real—aside, Blue Moon is a truly great game if you’re at all interested in card-based dueling games. The base set alone should give a lot of value for the buck, and there’s more (but a manageable more) to buy should you come to like it as I do. Highly recommended.

Expansion Deck Reviews
I've started writing some reviews of the expansion decks. Besides some basic information about the decks as components (which is similar to the information provided here, as the cards are of the same quality), I discuss the artwork, the Fire/Earth values, and the nature of the Character, Booster, Support, and Leadership cards.
The Terrah
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1221810#1221810
The Aqua
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1498799#1498799
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Christopher Dearlove
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Chelmsford
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SoRCon 11 23-25 Feb 2018 Basildon UK http://www.sorcon.co.uk
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Quote:
The base set contains three nicely detailed plastic dragons, identical except for the colors (purple, red, and blue).


Red and blue, fine. The third dragon is meant to be green. Now while I can see arguments over whether it is really blueish-green, or greenish-blue, it really isn't purple.

Of course there is a really green dragon ...



Caption: Dragons: Red, "Green", Blue and Green (from Blue Moon City)
 
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Jim Patterson
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I see where I erred with the "purple" comment. Looking again, that dragon clearly is blue, not purple. I'm still having a hard time seeing the other as anything but another shade of blue, though, which I guess is why I went for "purple" for the other one. I can live with blue-green.
 
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Allen Doum
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jpat wrote:
I see where I erred with the "purple" comment. Looking again, that dragon clearly is blue, not purple. I'm still having a hard time seeing the other as anything but another shade of blue, though, which I guess is why I went for "purple" for the other one. I can live with blue-green.


Dragon color doesn't matter unless you get the Achievement cards in the Blessings deck. Since I'm storing the two games in the Blue Moon City box, I'll just use the green dragon for Blue Moon anyway.
 
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Kane Klenko
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Ridgeway
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Nice review.

My copy of Blue Moon City still had a blue-green dragon instead of a green one.
 
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