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Subject: Orientation Week at Bellwether rss

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Peter Schell
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Milwaukee
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"Bellwether" normally means a trendsetter or a castrated sheep wearing a bell. In "Bellwether" the game, it's the name of a wizard school that players can rebuild in the wake of an evil wizard's battle and demise. Was the evil wizard Voldemort, Sauron...Gargamel maybe? Who cares, he's dead now so it's the player's job to rebuild stuff and kill the villain's leftover minions.

This post is really a session report of my first game but, because I was busy learning the rules and making notes about the game itself, I didn't record all the players' actions and scores as I would for a proper session post. I'm not posting this as a review either because, as BGG advises, reviews should only be posted after the game has been played (and played CORRECTLY) at least three times.

In the interest of full disclosure I state that Mark Hanny, the game's designer at publisher Joe Magic Games, sent me a free copy of "Bellwether" and asked me to review it if possible. I'd previously posted a session report on another game of Hanny's, "The Demise of Dr. Frankenstein", and had said I'd enjoyed it (and still do).

I'll save the detailed descriptions of the artwork, equipment, rules etc. for a future review. For now I'll say it's all pretty good and fits into a nice small box. I will mention that the rule pamphlet seems to have been printed with some strange materials that smell like rubber made from dead people; not a dealbreaker but consdier yourself warned.

In general during the game, players collect resource chips and spell cards to claim building spaces on the board and creature cards from a deck separate from the spells.

The first unusual thing about the game that I noticed was that the buildings and creatures you buy will provide only VP's. They don't offer any production or abilities as you would normally expect in a resource game like this.

Instead, the spell cards provide the bonus production and abilities you need to win. Spells have an attack number used for killing creatures when you discard the spell. Each spell also has either a secondary reusable ability (extra chips or attack points, for instance) or an end-of-game VP bonus for meeting a specific condition (i.e. having a certain type or number of spells or chips after the last turn).

The next unususal thing I noticed was the "pyramid" mechanic that allows multiple actions on a turn. Normally, a player can either take chips, take a spell, take a monster or build on one board space on their turn. The four different colored chips allow you to take or build extras on a single turn in this manner: one chip for the first extra; two more chips for the next extra; three more for the next and so on. This same concept also applies to VP's for spell cards of the same suit at the game end: 1 VP for one; 3 VP's for two same-suited; 6 vP's for three same-suited etc.

Having a game with a core mechanic that applies to all actions as well as to some VP bonuses shows clever, clean game design in my opinion and it makes the rules easer to explain and remember.

My Menomonee Falls game group's first session with "Bellwether" went fairly well. A few rules were ambiguous (I posted these in the "Rules" forum) but I don't think we played any rule incorrectly which is rare for a first play.

The winner in our group succeeded because the last spell card in the deck which he drew had a bonus that just happened to apply to the chips he had left on the last turn. This left an impression of anticlimactic randomness with us. However, we generally agreed that this opinion could easily be changed with future plays.

I'm sure the designer will post rules soon and I will assemble a comprehensive review after a few more plays. Most of the group gave "Bellwether" a tentative "Not a Bad Game" grade which is a pretty high rating from us after just one play.

Before our next session of "Bellwether" I will seek not dark creatures nor magical schools but will instead secure some baking soda or dryer sheets to deodorize that rulebook. That dead evil wizard smell might fit the game's theme but I think I'll do without it.
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Mark Hanny
United States
Idaho Falls
Idaho
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I'm not sure why there was a strange smell to the rules, and I assure you that no good wizards were harmed in the making of this game....(no "good" wizards).
 
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