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Subject: Games of ‘The Game Crafter’: Review 6 – Tower rss

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This is the sixth part in an ongoing review series of games from ‘The Game Crafter’ (TGC).



It’s currently that special time of year when the opportunities for me to play board games evaporate under the summer sun. My opponents are typically post-graduate students, and as the end of the academic season approaches, their free time is frequently siphoned off into qualifying exams, reports, and urgent calls to submit papers. I managed to persuade a handful to temporarily leave the Ivory Tower to join me in constructing a very different type of ‘Tower’.



‘Tower’ is the latest game from the creator of ‘Baldrick’s Tomb’, Ben Haskett. Like its predecessor, ‘Tower’ has made its debut on TGC, and may one day be coming to a Kickstarter campaign near you. My first impressions of ‘Tower’ were favourable; the game’s cartoon-style art (by Derek Bacon) sets the tone for a fun game. It evokes the feel of a comic adaptation of ‘One Thousand and One Nights’, in particular the Disney adaptation of ‘Aladdin’ (perhaps because I am a cultural Philistine – Asia Minor reference very much intended). The cheery artwork of the various market stall traders confers distinctive personalities, and this, combined with competent and compelling graphic design conspire to give the game a strong presence on the tabletop, keeping eyes fixed on the game. While the game is certainly fun, don’t let the cartoony style trick you into thinking this is going to be a casual game – it’s deceptively deep!



The game is refreshingly easy to explain – the first player to build three tower segments wins. A tower segment is built when a player acquires all of the resources listed on their build card (varying combinations of clay, wood, wheat, and water). These resources are acquired from markets, in exchange for jewels of various hues, and each player receives three random jewels on their turn. This basic play is spiced up by the fact that a market can only be occupied by one player at a time, and jewels can be exchanged for jewels of different colours at a set exchange rate. In addition, a ‘black market’ deck confers several nefarious powers, which a player can utilise to steal resources from markets and players, prevent an opponent from receiving jewels, and receive free ‘wild card’ resources. The mechanics mesh perfectly with the theme, which ensures that learning the game is an intuitive experience. For example, black market passes can be handed in to Sali the tax-collector for a hefty reward of jewels, but these can’t be bought back later.



The components are high quality and appropriate for the game; I love the stackable tower pieces (I’m a simple soul…), and I wonder if Haskett was inspired to make a game based around them, or their availability was just a lucky coincidence. The wooden resources are also pleasing to the eye and touch, especially the exquisite water barrels. This was my first opportunity to see the tiles produced by TGC. They’re made of reasonably thick cardstock, with a glossy sheen on the printed side (unfortunately (albeit understandably) they’re only printed on one side). The printing appears to be dead on, and they look satisfyingly sturdy on the table. The table ‘footprint’ of the game is minimal, which is always appreciated. The jewels themselves are represented in game by thin, plastic ‘winks’. These do the job, but it’s very easy to accidentally grab more than you need from the drawstring bag. They also have a tendency to go shooting off the table if you don’t take care while restoring a large collection to the bag. The ‘Sali the tax collector’ tile also gets overrun with jewels/winks, and these can end up migrating onto the markets and player’s stashes, if you’re not careful where you place the tile at the beginning of the game. Furthermore, the winks used are red, green, and blue, which certain colour-blind individuals may find difficult to distinguish. The game tiles do acknowledge this reality, however, as the price of each item is indicated both by the wink colour, and an accompanying letter (r, b, or g).





The game itself requires many things to be considered each turn – where can I get my resources the cheapest? What do my opponents need, and how can I stop them (whether by buying it, or blocking the market)? Is it worth braving the unfavourable exchange rate to get the jewels I need, or waiting and hoping I get lucky next turn? Is it worth taking a punt at the black market, or exchanging the black market pass for much-needed jewels? How likely are my opponents to block my progress, and what order should I acquire the resources? There are also strategic elements that only really become apparent while playing; for example, a player who constructs a tower segment gets to choose the markets to which the used resources return; in such a situation, it’s prudent to ensure that the returned resources don’t fall into your opponent’s hands too easily. Whether you enjoy having so many options will depend to a great extent on the type of games you like. ‘Tower’ is not as complex as ‘Puerto Rico’, but it’s certainly no beer-and-pretzels game. It rewards strategic thinking, and if you think that ‘Pandemic’ destroys brain cells, this probably isn’t the game for you.



The game always has the same set-up, and there’s no potential to randomise the markets. This may disappoint players accustomed to random set-ups, and could arguably reduce the lifespan of the game. However, I suspect that a lot of work went into ensuring that the various ‘build’ cards were well-balanced (in terms of the ease of acquiring resources), and this necessitated a fixed environment. The only luck-based aspects in this game derive from the jewels your take from the bag, and the build and black market cards you draw from the respective decks. These can all be mitigated to varying extents; jewels can be traded in with Sali if you wish (although the exchange rate may not be favourable), the conditions of three build cards must be met to win the game (so a single unfavourable card is unlikely to destroy a savvy player’s chances), and the player may choose from three revealed black market cards.



The game doesn’t take long to play (around 25 minutes, in our experience). Two player games tended to run very close, while the three and four player variants introduced more uncertainty (as black market cards frequently allow you to target a certain player). I don’t feel the ‘three player problem’ is a big cause for concern in this game, as most player interaction is of the indirect sort (blocking access to markets, and competing for the same resources). The game even offers a ‘friendlier’ variant, in which the identity of each player’s build card is unknown to the other players. As such, it is able to cater for both ‘multiplayer solitaire’ and ‘direct conflict’ aficionados.



Finally, while the rule book appears generally well laid out (there’s even a Quick Response (QR) code for the rules on Youtube), several ambiguous elements emerged while playing. Some of these relate to the ‘black market’ cards: can the ‘Dubious concoction’ be used to draw 6 jewels at any time during your turn, or only at the beginning? Can the ‘experienced thief’ steal black market passes (defaced jewels) from Sali, or only regular jewels? Other problems relate to the rule book itself: while the ‘setup’ section states that, ‘each player’s build card should be placed face-up so that it is visible to all other players’, the next page states that, ‘Your turn is now over, unless you’re ready to reveal your build card and build a tower segment’, implying that the player’s build cards are not common knowledge (see the notes on the ‘variant’ above). Furthermore, the game comes with player aids that contain information not in the rule book: players who do not take an action during their turn get to take an extra two jewels. If it wasn’t for a particularly sharp-eyed opponent, I would never have noticed this extra rule.




Should you buy ‘Tower’? If you’re a fan of lighter economic fare, then yes. I can see this acting as a gateway game to heavier Euro-style games, or as a short filler before a more intense game. It may not have the longevity of more complex games, but that might be missing the point. ‘Tower’ is a game that you can you set up in minutes, making the time commitment negligible. This factor alone may help ensure that ‘Tower’ sees more table time than its bigger brethren.
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Duncan,

Wow! Thank you sooo much for taking the time to write this very in-depth review! I'm happy you enjoyed it!

The build cards and market prices in Tower (a game which, as you had suspected, was born out of a will to use TGC's stacker pieces!) definitely did receive a lot of thought. Each resource, starting with straw, is rarer than the last, and this was the main force behind deciding how frequently each one showed up on the build cards. The market prices were partly formed based on that, as well as just having a good mix of combinations--I wanted to make some destinations cheaper than others, for sort of a "competitive pricing" kind of effect.

I was incredibly pleased with the work that Derek Bacon provided. His aesthetic provides a huge amount of levity and really is reminiscent of a Disney cartoon. I'm happy you liked it too!

I'm slightly embarrassed by the mistakes in the rule book, but I'll get those fixed right away and release an errata. Thank you so much for pointing them out--not only the mistakes/inconsistencies in the rule book, but also the unanswered questions. To clarify:

• The only time the Dubious Concoction *cannot* be used is at the beginning of your turn--drawing the initial three jewels occurs before players may use black market cards. Everyone gets their three jewels no matter what, unless of course your access to the bag is barred as a result of the Falsified Records card (Note also that the Falsified Records card pevents the usage of a Dubious Concoction card).

• Black market passes may not be acquired from Salil, even with an Experienced Thief card. I will add that last bit to the rule book.

• I'll answer this in your other forum thread as well, but:

- You can visit the black market with two or three passes (or the equivalent jewels) in hand, but still only draw three cards. With two passes, you select two and put the third back. With three, you simply take the three cards.

- Unselected cards go back on top of the deck.

- You can only visit the black market once per turn. This was never a rule before, but you bring a up a good point; what if a player visits the black market, does some tuff, and visits again?

• The bit about revealing your build card is, unfortunately, an oversight on my part. The original rules had all build cards hidden--a rule that was later changed to encourage more player interaction in the game. I will correct the rule book to reflect this.

• Similarly, it was a huge oversight on my part to neglect adding the additional two jewels rule to the book.

I'm going to rewrite page 4 of the rule book to say the following:



Quote:
Your turn consists of two main phases: the draw phase, and the action phase. During the draw phase, simply reach into the black bag and randomly draw three jewels. For the action phase, you may execute any or all of the following actions, in any order:

• Buy one or more items from a single store: if one or more of the items depicted on your build card are available in an unoccupied market, and you have the required jewels to purchase it/them, you may set your builder pawn on top of the market tile and exchange your jewels for the item(s). Whenever jewels are spent, they are discarded next to Salil (see page 5). You may only visit one store per turn.

• Make trades with Salil (see page 5).

• Visit the Black Market and/or use Black Market cards (see page 6).

• Build a tower segment: If you acquire all of the items listed on your build card, then declare it to the other players, return the items to the markets (any available spot is fine, so long as the spot matches the item), set one of your three tower segments in the center of the palace tile, and finally, discard your build card before drawing a new one. Subsequent tower segments built by any player are stacked on top of the original segment, forming a tower. The game ends immediately after a player has built three tower segments.

As soon as you cannot execute any more actions, or simply choose not to do so, your turn ends and play passes to the left. If you did not execute any of the above actions during the action phase, then draw two more jewels from the bag before ending your turn.

Maximum Occupancy of One: A shopkeeper can only tend to one customer at a time. If your pawn is on a market tile, that market is inaccessible to everyone else until you leave.

However...

No loitering: You may only end your turn with your pawn on a market tile if you purchased something from that market earlier in the same turn.



I will also update the Turn Sequence tiles to remove the mention of revealing your card, and update the Black Market section to reflect the above clarifications.

Thank you so much, again, for the time you put into this--both playing the game and writing this review. I hope it gets some more time on your table!



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Hi Ben!

Thanks for getting in touch - it was a pleasure to both play and write about!!

I'm glad to hear the review was helpful, and thanks very much for clarifying the issues raised. I really like the nature of web-based Print-On-Demand in general (certainly as a starting point), as I feel it facilitates revision and innovation (and such changes are ultimately better placed to reach the consumer - although I must admit I didn't notice the online errata, which was my mistake).

I'm looking forward to introducing 'Tower' to new players soon, and I hope we get an opportunity to see new game designs from you in the future!
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Hey Duncan! Just saw that you posted your review on TGC--thanks for that!

I couldn't agree more about the fantastic boon of on-the-fly revisions to PoD board games. The first game I made, Baldrick's Tomb, went through a slew of revisions before I submitted it to 5th Street Games. Each person who played the game and told me about their experience shaped a little part of it.

The same seems to be happening with Tower--I love this "indie scene" because everyone who buys my game--or anyone else's--happily plays the role of the play-tester. And that feedback is just soooo essential.

I've been lurking around your profile these past couple of days, reading the other reviews you posted. Not only is it great that you put so much time and effort into describing your experiences, but it also seems like you didn't get a single clunker; nothing but great games! Everyone's a winner!
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You're welcome, Ben! I hope it can help to raise (pun intended) the profile of 'Tower'!

I think I've been very fortunate to have had such great games recommended to me. The day I post a negative review is the day I admit that I made an error in buying what I had assumed to be a good game...

TGC have just shipped 'City of Gears' out to me today (I'm responsible for depleting TGC of the last of its black tokens!). It looks phenomenal - I'm awestruck by how designers like yourself and Chris Leder can develop fun, well-balanced, and innovative games under the restrictions imposed by a contest.
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City of Gears?! Well, I'm confident that with this game, you won't be feeling that buyer's remorse any time soon. I was the judge for the Steampunk contest and voted Leder's little piece of heaven the winner.

This was actually back when the limit for contests was $19.99!

Any other TGC games on the radar for you?
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Yes, I've actually ordered a few games (makes it easier to justify the shipping costs!). I've ordered the 'Justice and Might' expansion for 'City of Gears', such is my confidence that we'll enjoy the game!

In keeping with the steampunk theme, I also ordered 'Doomworks'. I love the concept and the art, and it appears to be a fun, lighter affair. It seems to have received a mixed-to-positive response on BGG, so I'll have to wait and see.

I'll also be receiving another contest winner, 'Mob Town', and the well-received card game 'Villages'. So I think these and the previously-ordered games should keep me going for a while! Time is my enemy here: there are just too many games from TGC and other publishers that I want to play! I guess electronic versions with AI opponents would help, but I'd honestly rather play against real people, in the same room.
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