5 Things I Learned from My First Game of Zulus on the Ramparts: The Battle of Rorke’s Drift

Today I was able to get in my first game of Zulus on the Ramparts from Victory Point Games.  It is one of their solitaire States of Siege games, this time modified by Joseph Miranda.  In this game you play the British defenders who must hold off the approaching Zulu warriors.

After one play of the game, here are the 5 things that I learned:

1 – Don’t Fire until the Zulus Get Real Close

All of your volley cards, and the free volleys from you leaders, cannot reach beyond space #3.  You are going to want to maximize  the effects of your volleys (1-4=miss, 5=Zulus retreat 1 space, 6=one hit) by not forcing the Zulus to retreat out of range.  The best thing to do is to only fire when they get to spaces #1 or #2, get some hits and retreats, and then maybe finish them off at space #3.


In the photo above, I was able to destroy the Zulus near the North Wall by firing two volleys in a row.  Firing instead at the Zulus only half-way to the hospital will most likely only allow a single volley to be shot at them.  

Moral of the story: Let those Zulus get close…and then blast them.  Completely eliminating a stack of Zulu is much preferable to just forcing them to retreat.

2 – Use an Action to Make Leaders Available

You have a lot of things to do (resupply the ammo, build a barricade, fire volleys, form a reserve, play a leader) and you get only 1 action per turn.  Later in the turn you will get to draw a card and play one leader for free.  Thus, you might be tempted to use your single action on anything other than playing a leader.  This is a bad idea.  Most of the other actions require leaders, sometimes two of them.  Moreover, leaders can use their free action each turn, and a bunch of them fire a free volley.  The sooner you get those leaders into play, the sooner you will be building barricades, supplying ammo, etc.  


In the photo above, I have 4 leaders “available” (in other words, played from my hand and now each can use their abilities).  My ammo is already supplied (the low ammo marker is missing from its box) and I have already built one barricade.  

Moral of the story: playing leaders with your one action should be like voting in Chicago—do it early and often!

3 – Nighttime is the Right Time for a Fire

Once you draw the Night Fighting Begins card, none of your volleys can kill anymore Zulus, you can only drive them off.

The -1 DRM (die roll modifier) is going to sting.  How can you deal with it?  You need a burning building to provide light!  If a building is already burning, do not try to extinguish it.  If nothing is burning, pray that you draw a building on fire chit!  The disadvantage is that you can’t fire at Zulus on the other side of the building (and any heroic defender in the building is removed back to your hand) but this is a small price to pay to lose the -1 DRM as that glorious fire lights up those approaching Zulus all over the battlefield.

Moral of the story: Burn baby burn!

4 – Being Rescued is a Bummer

If the game goes on long enough, you will draw Lord Chelmsford’s Relief Column which ends the game.

Why is this a bummer?  Because maybe you had the Zulus almost completely destroyed!  In the photo above only one Zulu stack was still on the board, albeit with a chit beneath it (each chit is worth one hit, as is the standee).  Those silly Zulus stayed just out of range (at space #4) for about 10 turns.  Zulu movement is by random chit draw, and there are a lot of chits in the cup so movement is quite random.  So those Zulus stayed away from me—It’s like they knew that I was sitting on volley cards to blast them!  Anyway, the game was very, very dull during those turns as I literally had nothing to do on my turn other than draw a card and play any leaders.  My only hope was that those Zulus might eventually move into range—but then I got rescued instead.

Moral of the story: See note #1.  Don’t accidentally retreat those Zulus before they move within close range, you might not get another chance to blast them.

5 – Be Lucky and Roll a lot of Sixes

With only the roll of a 6 eliminating Zulu units, you gotta get lucky.  A couple times I rolled a pair of sixes with only 3 dice.  I eliminated 9 of the 10 Zulu chits plus 3 of the 4 standees.  This really helped when scoring your game on the Victory Point Schedule.


The points for eliminated Zulus counts quite heavily toward the result.  I got 9 points with leaders/groups, 27 for Zulu hit chits, 4 for one non-burning building, 18 for the Zulu standees, and 10 for the relief column for a total of 68 — Epic Victory/Zulu Debacle!

Moral of the story: It can be better to be lucky than to be good!  
Verdict: It’s a Fun Game

Zulus on the Ramparts is not as deep nor as challenging as Hapsburg Eclipse, but it has a very fun sense of danger as the Zulus rush the gates.  There are optional rules that add more cards, so I think that might add more variety and replay ability.  Overall, it’s entertaining and if you read the flavor text, you might learn a thing or two.  If you like solitaire games that resemble a “tower defense” game, give it a try!

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One Deck Dungeon Review

One Deck Dungeon

Year Issued: 2016, v1.5 2017

Publisher: Asmadi Games

Cost: $25.00 from www.onedeckdungeon.com

Playing Time: 30 minutes

Players: 1-2, 4

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One Deck Dungeon.  One should notice that all the heroes are female!  And none of them are half-dressed.  Clearly this is a good sign as this game does not invoke the Inverse Rule of Gaming (i.e. the more female flesh used to sell/promote a game, the worse that game must be)

One Deck Dungeon is a “co-operative dungeon delve for one or two players,” (and if you combine 2 sets, 4 players).  In short, it’s a game in a small box that promises a D&D like quest in a short period of time, for a small amount of money.  Does it deliver?  Read on and find out!

One Deck Dungeon: Descend through the Dungeon Floors and Defeat the Boss

The basic idea of ODD is that the hero or heroes fight their way through 3 dungeon floors, each harder than the one before it, and then encounter the boss monster at the end.  Along the way, you grab items, skills, and experience to make the heroes tougher so that they can defeat stronger and stronger monsters.  The random element in the game comes in two forms: random selection of cards and dice rolling for combat and peril encounters.  If the heroes make it all the way to the boss and defeat it, they win; otherwise they lose.


Contents of the Game

  • 5 Hero cards
  • 30 small 6-sided dice (8 yellow, 8 blue, 8 pink, 6 black)
  • 1 Turn Reference Card
  • 44 Encounter cards
  • 4 Level cards
  • 5 Dungeon/Boss cards
  • 2 Basic Skill cards
  • 1 Stairs card
  • 15 red damage token cubes
  • 6 white potion cubes
  • 1 Campaign sheet pad
  • Rules booklet (39 pages)

The quality of the components is quite high.  The rules booklet is clear and edited well.  It explains the rules twice, once with helping pictures, and then in the back of the book it re-lists the rules in a text-only format.  The front section helps you learn the rules while the back section performs as a “quick reference” to look up rules questions.

The cards are printed well and have good art on them.  The reproduction of the colors on the cards match the dice (more on this later) very well.  The cards can be shuffled easily and do not appear to wear quickly.  Also, the cubes and dice are of high quality and will stand up to a lifetime of playing.  The game box is sturdy and has a handy divider to separate different sets of cards when storing the game. Overall, I am fairly impressed by the quality of the components.


The Rules

One Deck Dungeon is a quite easy game to learn and play.  A play picks a Hero and places the Hero card in front of herself/himself.

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A Hero Card.  The Warrior will roll 4 Strength dice, 2 Agility dice, and only a single Magic die.  She also has 6 health.

The Hero card shows how much Strength (yellow swords), Agility (pink winged shoes), Magic (blue diamonds) and Health (red hearts) each hero has.  It also lists their Heroic Feat (in a blue scroll) and beginning skill (tan scroll).  The player/s choose a Dungeon/Boss card.  One side of this card provides information on the 3 floors of the dungeon while the back side has the Boss encounter.

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The Dungeon side of the Dragon card

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The Boss side of the Dragon card

The Dungeon card is slid under the Turn Reference Card, displaying the 1st floor of the dungeon.  The Turn Reference Card lists the components of a turn in order and also shows the available potion recipe (healing) that is available to the heroes from the start of the game.  A potion token is placed on the Turn Reference card at the start of the game and each time the hero/-ies level up.

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The Turn Reference Card.  Note the Dragon’s Cave dungeon card at the top with its challenge boxes for the 1st floor exposed.

The player then stacks the Level cards and places the Level One card on top.  This card explains how many items and skills each player can possess, plus any bonus black (heroic) dice.  The player shuffles the encounter cards and stacks them on top of the Stairs card (thus, the Stairs card is on the bottom of the encounter deck). Once the Stairs card is exposed, the heroes may descend to the next level of the dungeon.

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Stairs card (on 4-player side) with stack of encounter cards

At the start of each turn the player burns 2 encounter cards (reveals and discards them) to represent time (depicted as hourglass icons) spent wandering the dungeon.  Then, the heroes may either 1) open 1 of the closed doors and fight or flee from it,  2) encounter an already opened door, or 3) “Explore” which adds cards off the top of encounter deck as closed doors up to a maximum of 4 total doors (open and closed combined).

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4 Doors, with 3 closed and 1 open

Encounters are either “combat” or “perils”.  And this is where the fun in ODD truly exists!  Each encounter card has a set of challenge boxes.  Each box is color-coded toward one of the player attributes (strength, agility, magic, or “any”).  The player must use rolled dice to defeat the challenge boxes by placing rolled dice into each box equal to or greater than the listed number.  Moreover, the hero must also defeat the challenge boxes listed on the Dungeon card for the current floor and each floor already completed (e.g. if the heroes are on floor 2, they must complete all challenge boxes for floors 1 and 2.

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The two different types of encounters: Combat on top and Peril on bottom.  Note that the Peril encounter allows a player to choose which challenge box to face.  The left column of the card is its loot as an “item”, the bottom scroll is its loot as a “skill” or “potion recipe” (the top card has a skill, the bottom a potion recipe), and the lamps on each card are the loot as “experience.”

If the encounter is combat, the hero/es roll all possible dice (i.e. all strength, agility, magic, and heroic) while if the encounter is a peril, the hero/es roll only dice matching the challenge attribute plus any heroic dice.  At this point the hero/es may also use skills to increase the likelihood of defeating the challenges (e.g. turning a die from a 1 to a 6, rolling more dice, etc.).  Note that the players may transform any two dice into a single heroic (i.e. black) die of value equal to the lower consumed die (e.g. a blue 3 and pink 5 transform into a single black 3).  The value of this is that heroic (i.e. black) dice can be placed on any challenge.

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Fighting a Shadow.  Because the blue 5 challenge box is not covered, the hero will take 1 point of damage (the heart) plus 1 time goes by (i.e. 1 card from the encounter deck is discarded).  Notice also how the player’s dice had to cover the challenge box on the Dungeon card too (the right side column has peril boxes and the left side column has combat boxes).

The hero/es place dice until they either defeat all challenge boxes or cannot place any more dice.  Any challenge boxes not defeated list a penalty in either damage or time, and each undefeated box inflicts its penalty on the heroes.

Once the encounter is over, the heroes take the encounter card (whether completely defeated or not) as “loot”.  Each card can be taken as an “item,” which adds to a hero’s attributes and thus allows more dice to be rolled, as a “skill,” or as “experience,” which contributes to leveling up.

Should the hero/es survive past the 3rd floor they face the boss!  This is a multi-round combat similar to encounters.  It lasts until either the boss suffers damage equal to its health or the hero/es all die.


Game Play

The rules are easy to understand, so players can get started right away after reading the booklet.  However, I found that I made some mistakes in my first couple of games that made me start over.  The most common mistake is that once you reach the maximum number of items and skills, you can replace any of them with any new encounter card.  The old item/skill gets transformed into its experience.  It is easy to forget this rule, but once you remember it, it really comes in handy.

Anyway, the game plays pretty fast.  Basically, you burn 2 cards, encounter a card, roll dice, choose how to distribute them to defeat the challenges, get the loot, rinse, lather, and repeat.  Once you reach the stairs, you shuffle and do it again.

The game play is nicely calibrated.  Some encounters are fairly easy but do not reward you with much loot, while others are best avoided until the hero/es get stronger.  Moreover, sometimes it is best to try an encounter, even if you cannot cover all the challenge boxes, just to get the loot.  You may take some damage, but it can be worth it for a great skill or an item that you need to boost an attribute.

Moreover, as you descend the number of challenge boxes on the Dungeon card multiplies and get harder.  Thus, a goblin on the 3rd floor is going to be much tougher than a goblin on the 1st floor.

There is also a bit of depth and strategy. Do I try to get xp and level up, or should I beef up skills and items first?  Should I loot that encounter for the Magic item that I need, or take it for that sweet skill?  Do I want to cover a challenge box that causes me damage or that burns time?  Do I use that potion to heal now, or save it in case I find a better potion recipe later?  There are plenty of choices to make that do not have a dominant strategy in each and every instance.  Sometimes a choice looks good but later you wish you had done something different.  The mechanic of replacing chosen skills/items with new items does allow the player to make up for poor choices, but only after consequences of undefeated challenges are inflicted.


Assessment

I use a rating of 1-10 “Dice” for each category.  For reference, a 1 is the poorest possible rating and a 10 the best possible.

Components: 9 Dice

The quality of the cards, dice, rules booklet, cubes, is top notch.  My only gripe, and it is a minor one, is that some of the challenge boxes are too small for multiple dice.  For example, the Dragon boss has boxes of 16 or 17.  The player must use multiple dice to defeat the box, but the box only accommodates 2-3 dice.  Well, that just isn’t big enough.

Fun/Enjoyable: 9 Dice

This is a solid solitaire and 2-player game (I did not play the 4-player variant as I do not have 2 decks).  The pace is quick, it doesn’t have complicated rules to distract the player, it feels like a dungeon crawl, and the rolling/distributing of dice is easy.  Moreover, you really get a sense of fighting monsters and dodging traps.

Tactics, Strategy, and Depth: 8 Dice

As mentioned that are choices to be made, and they do matter.  Also, each boss has a different set of challenges in its dungeon plus different challenges in the boss encounter, making each game different in the strategy that must be pursued.  However, there are not enough encounter cards to truly vary the play enough to my liking.  Note that there is a Kickstarter campaign for a new set of cards, which might take care of this issue.

Balance: 8 Dice

You can lose early with a really tragic roll (for example, more than half 1s and 2s on your dice before you get enough skills to change the die rolls) but generally you will be “in” the game and have a chance to win.  If you don’t prepare for the boss, you will lose, but if you prepare you have a good shot at winning.  The 1.5 version of the game has made leveling up slightly easier which has alleviated the imbalance favoring the dungeon in the original version of the game. (Note: all product at Asmadi Games is now v1.5).

Theme: 8 Dice

The game delivers on its promise: it feels like a dungeon crawl simulated through only 1 deck of cards.  However, because of the minimalist nature of the game, there is a natural limit to how much the theme can actually come through.  I think future expansions can probably expand on the theme through more mechanics, flavor text, campaign adventures, campaign settings, etc.

Overall Rating: 8 Dice

This is a solid, solid game.  Unlike small box die rollers put out by Gamelyn Games that lend themselves to analysis paralysis, ODD does not.  The number of skills that change the die rolls/add dice/etc are minimal, allowing the player to determine the best course of action quite quickly.  Yet, picking which encounter to face, which skill to use, how to take loot, etc., is not always straight-forward, bringing a strategic element into the game.  The pace is good, the theme is spot-on, and there is even a campaign format for those who want more depth.

Hapsburg Eclipse – A Review

Hapsburg Eclipse

Year Issued: 2014

Manufacturer: Victory Point Games

Cost: $29.95

Playing Time: 30 Minutes

Hapsburg Eclipse at Victory Point Games

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The game box

Sometimes you want to play a board game, but no one else is available.  So what can you do?  Play with yourself!  Wait, I think I meant play a game by yourself!  When I find myself in these situations I grab one of the many solitaire games in my basement and give it a whirl.

Hapsburg Eclipse: Can you Save the Austria-Hungarian Empire?

Hapsburg Eclipse is one of the games in the States of Siege series for Victory Point Games.  The basic mechanic is that of tower defense–a number of units relentlessly try to get to the capital of Vienna and you must prevent them from doing so.  In this instance (and as I explain below) you have to not only keep the invading Russians, Serbians, etc, at bay, but you must also keep the multi-ethnic empire together by making the ethnic minorities (i.e. Czechs, Croats, and Hungarians) stay loyal while also maintaining the national will to fight the Great War.

Thus, while playing Hapsburg Eclipse you will fell constantly besieged!  And that’s because you are.  Trying to keep the invading armies out while soothing ethnic tension is not easy.  And there is also the wider World War going on, and as the Germans lose battles in far flung theaters of the war, your National Will will wane.


Contents of the Game

  • A 11″ x 17″ fold-out map
  • A 11″ x 17″ map comprised of 4 interlocking (jigsaw cut) cardboard pieces
  • Rules booklet
  • 2 small 6-sided dice
  • 66 game pieces (punch outs and laser cut)
  • 50 cards (representing the events and game turns)

The quality is overall quite high.  There are two interesting things about the contents, one good and one bad.

The Good: Having two maps is a blessing.  Some players like fold-outs and others like interlocking pieces.  I prefer the latter, mainly because I hate the ridges in fold-outs.  In either case, having two maps gives the player a choice of which to use.

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The two maps, fold-out on top and interlocking at bottom

You can see on the board a number of objects that will become important during game play.  First, the 4 different colored paths represent the different fronts of the war (Polish, Carpathian, Balkan, and Italian).  An invading force counter (e.g. Russians on the Polish front) will move along the path and if any of them reach the black Hexagon that is Vienna, you lose!

In the lower left is the National Loyalties Track.  It records the position of the important ethnic minorities inside the Empire: Czechs, Croats, and Hungarians.  They start loyal, but if all 3 go into revolt, you lose!

In the top right is the National Will Track.  This measures the will of the Austrian people to continue fighting the Great War.  It goes positive when you (and your German allies) win battles, and negative when you lose battles.  It also goes more negative if the advancing fronts reach key cities (the front boxes with flags) or if ethnic minorities goes into revolt.  If National Will gets to -6 or worse, you lose!  Historically, this is the way the Austria-Hungarian Empire exited the war.

The bad: The playing pieces are laser cut.  Okay, there is a positive as the pieces are sturdy and gorgeous.  But because of the laser cut process, the pieces all have black soot on them, especially around the edges.  Fortunately Victory Point Games gives you a napkin in the box.  You are instructed to use this napkin to wipe down the pieces when you punch them out.

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The napkin and a piece with soot on the edges.  Note: the napkin is not an article of clothing and do not use the napkin as a flotation device!

The pieces are indeed fairly dirty from the soot.  I spent about 15 minutes having to wipe down all of them, especially the edges of each piece.

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The used napkin and my dirty fingers

Having to wipe down the pieces was an inauspicious start to the game, but I guess a small price to pay for some quality counters.


The Rules

The game is really easy to play, as the rules are quite clear and organized well.  The 50 cards control the flow of the game and each represents a game turn.  They are divided into 3 unequal stacks: 15 Morning (Mobilization), 16 Mid-day (expanded and total war) and 19 Dusk (Great War).

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The 3 stacks of cards.  From left to right, Morning, Mid-Day, and Dusk

Each turn you flip over a card.  Then, you address each element on the card in order from top to bottom (the flavor text at the bottom can be read at any time, of course).  Thus, each turn you execute the “Effect”, then “Advance” the fronts, then “Trigger” national loyalty rolls, then take player “Actions.”  It’s just that simple.

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Battle of Dogger Bank–an Off Map Theater battle

As an example, we will use the Battle of Dogger Bank card (above).  When drawn, we read the text to see that it represents an Off Map Theater battle, basically a naval battle in the North Sea between Germans and Brits.  Starting with the Effect, we must resolve this battle.  If we roll less than 4 we lose, rolling a 4 is a stalemate, and roll 5-6 and we win.  If we have any Resources (see below under player Actions) allocated to the Naval Theater, we will get a positive DRM (Die Roll Modifier).  There is a counter associated with this battle, and based on the number we rolled, we put the counter into the “Victories”, “Defeats”, or “Stalemates” box on the map board.  If we win, the National Will gets better, but if we lose it gets worse (stalemates do not change National Will).

Next, we Advance the Polish and Romanian fronts.  If either or both fronts has an invading army on it, we move them one space to a lower numbered box (in other words, toward Vienna).  If a front is not yet active (and the Romanian one is not at the start of the war because the Romanians were not yet involved) then the front obviously does not advance (i.e. there is no army to advance).  If any front advances into Vienna, you lose!

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An example of armies advancing.  The Polish front is almost to Tarnow and the Carpathian front has moved past the Fortress. Vienna awaits!

Then, we Trigger a national loyalty check.  In this instance it’s the Czechs.  They are the most volatile and have a national rating of 4.  Rolling a die, we need to roll a 5 or 6, otherwise the Czechs move one space to the left (i.e. one space closer to revolt).  If all 3 minorities are in revolt, you lose!

Once this is done we can take player Actions.  The player has the following 4 options (plus some special ones that I mention afterwards):

  • Launch an Offensive against a front
  • Allocate a Resource to an Off Map Theater (2 actions required)
  • Repair the Przemysl Fortress
  • Attempt to improve National Loyalty

Launch an Offensive: For 1 action, the player can attempt to push back an invading army on 1 front.  You choose the front and roll a die.  If it is greater than the battle number of the invading army (for example the invading Polish Russian Army at the start of the game has a battle rating of 3) you push the army back 1 space (but never off of the track).  Roll too low and nothing happens.

Allocate a Resource: For 2 actions, you may place a resource marker into an Off-Map Theater.  You may only place 6 such markers over the course of the game and only up to 2 in any single theater.  Each gives a +1 DRM on battles in that theater. On future turns, you may sacrifice these counters.  Each sacrificed counter gives you 1 extra action (called a German Staff Operation) that turn, but the counter is permanently removed.

Repair the Przemysl Fortress: The Przemsyl Fortress protects the Carpathian front (see maps).  As long as it stands, it is easier to push back the invading Russians.  The fortress has strength from 3 to 1 and is destroyed if it reaches 0.  Each time the front is closer to Vienna than the Fortress, the Fortress gets reduced a step.  For 1 action, repairing it restores a step.

Attempt to Improve National Loyalty: For 1 action the player chooses one of the ethnic minorities and tries to move it one step to the right.  Roll a die and if the number is equal to or greater than the Loyalty rating of the minority, you move it one box to the right, otherwise it doesn’t move.  The Czechs are a 4, Croats a 3, and Hungarians a 2.  So, watch out for the Czechs, they will revolt quickly!

Extra Actions:  There are two other actions possible.  One is to activate German Staff Operations.  As I mention above, you may sacrifice a resource marker in an Off Map Theater and gain an extra action.  You had previously spent 2 Actions for the Resource marker, so I hope you got some good die rolls in that theater before you were sacrificed the counter for 1 Action.  The second extra Action is the Great Retreat. Once the Mid-Day cards have been introduced, the player may at any time declare the Great Retreat (the Russians are retreating out of Poland in order to protect Russia against German offensives) by using 2 Actions.  The army on the Polish front is removed and never returns.  In exchange, the player must move 1 counter from the Victories box to the Defeats box.  Then, for each space the Polish front was closer to Vienna than Brest-Litvosk, the player must move 1 counter from the Victories box to the Stalemates box.  If you do not have enough Victories to move enough counters, you cannot start the Great Retreat (I often found this to be the case when I played).

The card has now been played.  The only steps left are the Kaiserschlact Phase (if that card has been drawn, it is a series of off-map battles), Fortress Reduction Phase (reduce the Fortress by 1 step if the front has advanced past it), and the National Will Phase.  The National Will Phase is an important one.  Basically, you add up all your Victories counters, subtract defeats, subtract 1 for each ethnic minority in revolt, and subtract 1 for each flag (i.e. key cities) that the advancing fronts occupy or have gone past.  If your National Will is now at -6 or worse, you lose!

If you have drawn the last card and have completed the National Will Phase without losing by any of the 3 methods (Vienna falls, Minorities revolt, National Will collapses), you win!


Game Play

Once you understand the rules, the game plays very quickly.  At its heart, you flip a card, move some fronts, roll the dice a few times, and take 1-3 actions.  It can seem like a flavor-less exercise if you do not read the flavor text.  Thus, I highly recommend slowing down and reading the chrome.  The game will feel more real if you do.

Anyway, the tension is created in that the number of negative effects each turn is usually greater than the number of actions that the player gets.  If you look back at the Battle of Dogger Bank card, you will see that you will most likely lose that battle (-1 National Will), at least 1 front will advance (probably the Polish front), and the Czechs will most likely move 1 step closer to revolt.  This might not all happen, but my grasp of probability math tells me that 2 are likely to occur.  And now you get only 1 action to deal with it.

Thus, each turn puts you into the bad situation of making decisions based on what you think might work best given that you can’t stop all the threats on that turn.  Do you try to knock back the Russians on the Polish front?  Do you try to reverse the Czech dissent?  Once you know what cards might be turned over on the subsequent turns, you might try to let the Polish front go for a while, hoping that the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia will do some of your work for you.  And of course, you can’t do anything about National Will directly, so if there is a front at or closer than a Key City, you might try an Offensive to knock it back to improve National Will.

Rare are the turns where you get much help.  There are a few cards that give you aid (mainly German aid). Typically, these are counters that allow you to make Offensives easier or prevent a front from advancing.  These aid counters are temporary and can be used only once each, so using them wisely is key.

Some turns you may find that by good luck no front advances (e.g. the Italian and Balkan fronts activate later and often have either a river or trench line in place to hold them back without you using Actions) and miraculously those wild Czechs don’t get more disloyal.  In that instance, you might want to use 2 actions to fortify an Off Map Theater.  Because if you don’t help the Germans, you are going to lose more Off Map battles than the number that you win–and then your National Will is going to decline quickly.  And by placing a resource counter into an Off Map Theater you “bank” it for later when you might need to transform it into a German Staff Operation for an extra Action.

I have played the game about a half-dozen times.  Every single game has ended in Crushing Defeat as National Will collapses (like in the real Great War).  For reference, if the game ends in Ethnic revolt it also is a Crushing Defeat.  Should an army get to Vienna, you have the possibility of (in order of what is better for the Austrians): Pyrrhic Victory, Strategic Stalemate, Marginal Defeat, Strategic Defeat, and Crushing Defeat.  I won’t even discuss the possible Victories from Tactical to International, as I have never, ever been close to winning the game.  If I ever do win, I will take a photograph of the board to prove that it actually happened!


Assessment

I use a rating of 1-10 “Dice” for each category.  For reference, a 1 is the poorest possible rating and a 10 the best possible.

Components: 6 Dice

I really like the quality of the rules booklet, cards, boards and counters.  Also, everything fits into a small box (the size of 1 of the 4 map pieces), so the game doesn’t take up much space on my shelves.  But having to wipe off the black soot was a major downer.

Fun/Enjoyable: 8 Dice

The game is indeed enjoyable to play.  The rules are not so complex that you have to run back and forth to the booklet.  Most of the important modifiers to remember are listed on the board.  The game flow is fast and not cumbersome.  The tension is thick and adds emotion to your choices.

Tactics/Strategy Depth: 8 Dice

Importantly in a solitaire game, you do not want to feel like the game is merely rote rolling of the dice or flipping of cards.  In Hapsburg Eclipse you clearly have tough choices to make when assigning your actions.  Your choices have a large impact on both tactical success (a roll on a given turn) and strategic success (e.g. your performance in Off Map Theaters and overall National Will).  I am not sure yet what choices lead to victory, but I know with some certainly which ones will end in grim defeat.  Knowing which cards are going to come up helps with planning, but it takes 1) a number of games before you can start to anticipate cards, and 2) some luck because if you have to add the last two decks early, the randomness will throw any planning out the window.

Balance: 4 Dice

And thus the card draw and merging of stacks make balance a major problem.  The randomness of the card draw can break a game quickly.  You start with the Morning stack.  One of those 15 cards instructs you to advance the war marker and add the Mid-Day deck (i.e. shuffle the new cards into the remaining cards in the draw stack).  Two Mid-Day cards advance the war and eventually add the Dusk Cards.

If you draw the card that advances the war early, you are going to get swamped.

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My game where I drew Treaty of London on the first turn.  The game lasted 8 turns.  The picture shows the 8 cards that I drew in order (from left to right).

In one of my games I drew the Treaty of London on the first turn.  This was a major disaster because the Italian front activated, the two active fronts at the start of the game advanced, the Croats went crazy, and the Mid-Day cards got added.  My National Will fell apart on Turn 8.  In other game, I advanced all the way to the Great War after only 19 card draws.  All 4 fronts were active and I got mauled as once again, National Will collapsed as key cities fell in succession.

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My defeat after only 8 turns.  The ethnic minorities were still loyal, but I had lost 4 flags and was -2 on Victories-Defeats.  My National Will fell to -6 and it was a Crushing Defeat

Each game might play very, very different because of the card draw order.  The game does have an option to put the cards in order by number.  This simulates the actual Great War.  But, other than that option (which might lead to games being too similar), I am not sure how to correct for the lack of balance that comes about from the card draw.

Of course, the one advantage of getting smashed quickly, is that I was able to sweep up the counters and cards, resetting the game for another try.

Theme: 9 Dice

Particularly if you read all the flavor text, the game does evoke the Great War and the desperation of defending the Austria-Hungarian Empire.  The box cover, the map board, the pieces, and the cards all stay on theme.

Overall Rating: 7 Dice

This is a solid game.  It does a good job simulating the Great War.  The States of Siege core engine works very well in this “tower defense” situation in which the Austria-Hungarian Empire found itself.  Players might even find themselves learning about some events in the Great War that they were unaware of, so there is even an educational value (something that historical war games can add to a gaming experience).  If you like solitaire games, give Hapsburg Eclipse a try.

Tiny Epic Galaxies: The Good, The Bad,and the Very, Very Ugly

Tiny Epic Galaxies (TEG) from Gamelyn Games ( Tiny Epic series ) is the latest in their series of Tiny Epic games…games that come in a small box, but supposedly pack an epic gaming experience into it.

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TEG promises to be both a multi-player game as well as a solitaire game.  It is for 1-5 players and the box says that it will take 30-45 minutes.  In this post, I review both ways to play the game.  And so that you are not left in any suspense: the solitaire game is solid but the multiplayer game has a really giant downside to it that can ruin the fun.  Read on for my reasoning and see if you agree with me!

Multiplayer Game Play

Basically, TEG is a more sophisticated game of Yahtzee.  You roll a set of dice (and a set that can increase over time as your galactic empire grows) and take actions based on the symbols that you roll.  There are six actions, one on each side of each and every die (as an aside, wouldn’t it be cool to have some non-uniform distributed dice so that you could bias your rolls toward a particular outcome?  How sweet would this game be if you could tailor your empire toward a particular strategy?  Anyway, I digress).  The six actions are: Move A Ship, Acquire Energy, Acquire Culture, Advance a Diplomatic colonization effort, Advance an Economic colonization effort, or Utilize your Galaxy Mat/Colonized planet actions.

The start of each player’s turn is quite easy:  1) Roll your dice.  But from there it gets more complicated.  2) You can activate a die.  If you do, any or all opponents may “follow” by paying 1 culture and taking a similar action.  3) At any time you can re-roll any/all of your dice by paying 1 energy.  This may occur before or during taking actions through #2.  When you are done, play passes clockwise.

What do you do with these dice?  You are trying to get to 21 victory points to trigger the end of the game.  There are only 3 ways to get victory points: advance your empire from level 1 to 6 (with a varying set of points along the way), colonize planets with your ships by using Advance actions, and achieving your single “secret objective” (always worth 2 to 3 points).

That’s it!  It is just like Yahtzee…roll and re-roll and hope to get more points than everyone else.  Okay…to be fair, it is much more complicated than Yahtzee, but the rolling mechanism is the same.  However, you do get a cool galaxy mat and some wooden figures to move around on it.

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The player mat with ships at home, my empire at Level 3 (hex with a star on it), my energy (lightning bolt) and culture (column) at zero.  I have 3 colonized planets worth a total of 5 victory points.

Which dice do I activate, in which order, when do I re-roll, how many do I re-roll, who will follow, and what will they gain when they follow?…and why these decisions in combination can be very, very ugly!

The crux of why the game is strategic and not just multiplayer solitaire (like that crappy Race for the Galaxy game) is the “follow” mechanism.  Because other players can mimic your actions for a very small price (=1 culture) they can do almost the same thing you do…but during your turn not during their turn.  For example, if you acquire energy they might acquire more…on your turn!  Thus, the game is all about opportunity costs.  You will not want to advance your empire if 1 or more enemies do it too, you won’t want to acquire energy if other players acquire more, etc.  You are going to want to take actions that might help you and be of little to no use to your opponents.

But this same mechanism is why the game is very, very ugly in multiplayer.  For example, in a recent game I found myself on the last turn (another player had triggered the end of the game by achieving at least 21 victory points).  I knew that I could win if I could get the dice to precisely be utilized in a specific order that would 1) get me enough energy (at least two dice of energy) to advance my empire, 2) roll a Utilize your Galaxy Mat action (to actually do the advancing of the empire), 3) because of actions available on my colonized planets and the open planets, I could roll another Galaxy Mat action to help out by using a planet power, 4) perhaps if I roll two ship movements I could land on a specific open planet and use its power to get some of these other actions done, 5) get me two diplomacy to colonize a planet and VERY IMPORTANTLY, 6) because of the follow mechanism these had to be done in a particular order so that my opponent with 21+ victory points wouldn’t get more points.  Also, I thought it a priority to colonize a particular planet to get my secret objective just in case he had met his secret objective (note: at the end of the game he revealed that he had indeed achieved it).

Guess what happened next?  Well, I started with 5 energy and used a bunch of it to re-roll, get more energy, and re-roll, and get more energy and re-roll.  In between each of my actions was many, many minutes of agonizing calculations of probabilities (if I re-roll 3 dice versus holding that one ship and two dice, which would be better?  What if the other guy follows any of these actions?  What if I have to re-roll after this re-roll?  How can I manipulate my ships and energy to maximize this process for the most re-rolls?).   That last turn TOOK FOREVER! Okay, okay, it was more like 20 minutes, but it seemed like an hour!  It was just plain awful.  And what do you think my opponent was doing the whole time?  Telling me to get on with it…but I couldn’t because I knew a solution was possible.  I was frustrated, the game wasn’t fun, he was quite angry and I am surprised that we didn’t just sweep the game off the table and forget about finishing it.

And what was the end result?  After gaining energy so that I could seemingly endlessly re-roll anywhere from 1 to 3 dice, it eventually came down to a last re-roll of a single die, where I had a 50% chance of winning and a 50% chance of losing–and I lost by rolling one of the wrong 3 symbols.  All of that agonizing for a coin flip to decide it!  Yep…truly the very, very ugly!

Verdict on Multiplayer:

To use a common term (and one that has been used in another review of TEG), this game suffers from a dramatic and debilitating case of Analysis Paralysis.  The game easily can take 2+ hours.  Each activation of a die or a re-roll can be an agonizing and exhausting effort in multi-variate calculus!  As the game progresses, the number of dice rolled expands, the number of colonized planets with possible actions expands, the possible number of re-rolls and follows expands…and all of this leads to a massive headache when trying to take actions!

Why does this happen?  First, the cost of following is too cheap.  Only 1 culture is needed, and it is possible if the active player is acquiring culture to actually gain culture on his turn (he uses his dice, you gain more than him!).  This is a basic flaw in the game.  Other games with a lead/follow mechanism make following either quite expensive, or make leading more profitable (for example, check out the mechanism in the excellent game Eminent Domain ( Eminent Domain on BGG  ) by which the “leader” gets an extra benefit that followers do not get).  Second, because there are 4 to 7 dice to be activated, one by one in a sequence, there are 4 to 7 separate lead actions and much more possible follow actions (in a 4 player game, if I roll 5 dice my opponents have a potential 3×5=15 follow opportunities).  Just thinking about the order in which 4 to 7 dice can be sequentially utilized produces many, many combinations (you guys can do the factorial math on your own).

As a multi-player game, the exceptionally long agonizing over activations/follows, especially during the last turn, ruins the fun of the earlier turns in the game.  Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this game to any gaming group in which even a single highly-calculating, serious, strategic player is involved.  The last few turns play much like Chess…one guy sits and sits, calculates and calculates for minutes, and then makes a single move…except that in TEG this is multiplied by the number of dice that one guy just rolled and multiplied by the possible number of re-rolls!

Solitaire play = Quite Fun and Fast

In the solitaire version, you play against a programmed opponent.  These “Rogue” galaxies can be found on the backs of the player mats and have increasing difficulty from Beginner to Epic (duh!).

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The Beginner Rogue Galaxy!  Note the pre-programmed actions (the red bubbles).

In short, the programmed opponent never follows and you can force it to re-roll a die by spending 1 culture and 1 energy.  Its ships always colonize and never land on planets to use that planet’s action.  Its ships also colonize faster, as all of the rogue’s ships move when he rolls diplomacy or economy.  It has pre-programmed attacks that occur whenever it rolls a utilize a colony die face.  And quite importantly, when the rogue galaxy maximizes its energy it upgrades its empire automatically; and when it maximizes its culture it takes an extra turn.

The Rogue galaxy automatically wins if it reaches 21 victory points or if its empire gets to the final hex (the skull and crossbones).  You win instantly if you get to 21 victory points before the Rogue galaxy.  Pretty simple, huh?

Solitaire game play

The solitaire game is much quicker because 1) the player can follow the Rogue’s actions but the rogue cannot follow back, and 2) the Rogue is programmed so it never wastes time in calculation.  In short, each turn takes precisely as long as the player wishes to take on it.  If you want to calculate exactly the best way to follow the rogue and/or make it re-roll, go ahead and do it; if you don’t want to do the mental gymnastics, go ahead and do that instead!  Either way, there are not other players to sit around and steam while you take your time figuring out those probabilities in your head.

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The whole TEG experience! 

The solitaire game preserves all the fun of rolling the dice, deciding which dice to accept, in which order, and when to re-roll, as well as, deciding whether to spend that 1 culture on following.  You do have to work to beat the Rogue and you feel like it will race ahead of you toward victory if you make mistakes.  At the same time, the solitaire game jettisons the downtime waiting for other players and dramatically reduces the calculus needed for the active player (in this instance, the only player) to decide on a clear path on their own turn.

Solitaire Verdict:

I highly recommend TEG as a solitaire game.  It doesn’t cost much, it has an opponent who scales in difficulty, it meets the 30-45 time limit advertised on the box, it has minimal set up, minimal clean up, and is a fun time (well, as much fun as you can possibly have in a solitaire game).

Overall Verdict:

You are going to want to play TEG as a solitaire game…because if you play it multiplayer, you and your friends might get so mad at each other that you will prefer to be by yourself anyway!

 

 

Review of The Grizzled

It’s August 2nd, 1914 and the General Mobilization Order has been declared.  You and your buddies must assemble and be drafted into the armed forces to fight in the Great War!  Will all of you survive?  Welcome to The Grizzled!

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Box cover art of The Grizzled

 

The Grizzled is a cooperative game for 2-5 players set in the First World War.  It was designed in France and is published/distributed in the United States by Cool Mini or Not (CMoN).  The basic idea is that a bunch of buddies drafted into the war must survive a number of missions and stay alive until the war ends.  The art is evocative of the Great War without being unnecessary disturbing or graphic.

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Two examples of Trial cards and a Grizzled card. The Trial card on the left has the Mask and Whistle threat, the Trial card on the top right has the Whistle and Snow threat.

Rules and Components

The rulebook is short (about 9 pages of rules with a few supplemental pages) and concise.  It has plenty of examples and graphics to explain any possible rules questions that might arise.  The components include 6 Grizzled cards (the players), 59 Trial cards, a Peace card, a Monument card, some cardboard Support tokens, a handful of Speech tokens, a Mission Leader standee, and a cardboard Game Aid (which shows an overview of the turn’s components.)  The production value is quite nice!  The art is excellent and the components are all sturdy.  The components also fit back into the box quite nicely.

In short, the object of the game is for the players to successfully survive all the Trials and reach the Peace card (which is on the bottom of the Trials pile).  If the cards in the Morale Reserve run out before the Trials Pile, the Monument card is revealed (which is on the bottom of the Morale Reserve) and the players lose.  The implication is that the Peace card represents the end of the Great War and the Monument card represents the death of the players before the war’s end.

The Mission

At the start of the game the 59 Trial cards are divided into 25 into the Trials pile and 34 into the Morale Reserve (with the aforementioned Peace and Monument cards slipped underneath their respective piles).  The players choose their Grizzled character cards and the game begins.

The game is played through successive Missions.  Each mission has 4 steps: Preparation, The Mission, Support, and Morale Drop.

  • Preparation: The Mission Leader decides how many cards each player is dealt from the Trials Pile, with a minimum of 1.  The game’s first mission always has a minimum of 3 cards.
  • The Mission: The players in turn take a single action.  The most common is to play a card from their hand.  Threats go into the No Man’s Land and Hard Knocks are assigned to a player.  This continues until either all players have withdrawn or there are 3 identical Threats in No Man’s Land.  Players may also take actions to use a Good Luck Charm and Make a Speech to remove Threats or Withdraw from the mission and play a Support tile.  If all players withdraw the Mission is successful and the cards in No Man’s Land are discarded.  If 3 identical threats are present the Mission fails and the threats in No Man’s Land are shuffled back into the Trials pile.
  • Support: Any played Support Tiles are revealed.  Each Support Tile points to the left or right of the player who placed it, thus supporting a fellow player to whom the tile is passed.  If one player gets more support than any other, they can remove up to 2 Hard Knocks or recover their Good Luck Charm. If any player has 4 Hard Knocks after the Support phase, the game is lost.
  • Morale Drop: The total number of cards still remaining in all the players’ hands is determined and an equal number of cards are now transferred from the Morale Reserve to the Trials pile.
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Two examples of Hard Knocks

If at any point the Peace card is visible AND the players have no cards in their hands, the game is won.  As soon as the Monument card is visible, the players lose.

Basic Gameplay

This game is all about card/hand management.  The basic tension is that players want to empty their hands each mission BUT by doing so they are forced to play Hard Knocks (which make the game harder and harder) and to place Threats in the No Man’s Land (thus making it more likely to see 3 identical threats pop up and fail the Mission).  Withdrawing from a Mission too early means the players might have a successful Mission but will have a lot of cards in their hands, thus moving a large number of cards from the Morale Reserve to the Trials pile.  If the players do not withdraw early enough, they might be forced to play a 3rd identical Threat and thus fail a Mission and end up shuffling the Threat cards back into the Trials pile.  In general, each Mission you want to discard more cards from the No Man’s Land/Hard Knocks than you move from the Morale Reserve into the Trials pile–thus slowly whittling away at the Trials pile to reveal the Peace card.

So, it’s all about figuring out how many Trial cards to distribute at the start of each mission.  If you have no cards but another player has 3, during Preparation should you allocate only 1 additional card to each player or do you push it by allocating 2, 3, or even 4+?  Do you still have a Good Luck Charm, maybe you can distribute more cards?  Does one player has 3 Hard Knocks already, maybe you shouldn’t load up their hand?  Tough, tough decisions must be made.

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What a 3-player game looks like at the end of a successful game.  My Grizzled (Lazare) is at the bottom with 3 Hard Knocks!  Note that the player on the top had Withdrawn before the last Threat with a Whistle was played–so the Phobia card with a Whistle was no longer active.

An added level of complexity is the Support system.  Managing the flow of Support tiles is key to getting rid of Hard Knocks and recovering Good Luck Charms.  If you keep giving Support to one player, that player will end up with most of the Support tiles.  If they don’t Withdraw in a mission, no support will be given out.  And of course, if you keep giving Support to your Left, you will run out of Left pointing tiles and thus no longer be able to give any support to the player on your left.

And key to The Grizzled is that players cannot reveal the cards in their hand.  This secrecy makes the game a bit harder as active coordination is not possible.  To make matters worse, in one game I got the Mute Hard Knock and couldn’t communicate in any way to the others players until I got rid of it.

Evaluation

The Grizzled is basically a multi-player cooperative puzzle disguised as a card game.  The only random element in the game is the order of the Trails pile–which can of course make a game harder or easier based on which cards are drawn.  The game is much more about effectively managing how many cards are in the players’ hands, not letting too many Hard Knocks pile up on one player, managing Support tiles, and figuring out the proper time to Withdraw from a mission.

It took about 2 Missions before we figured out how to manage all these issues.  Playing at the Rookie level (there are no Traps–which forces the automatic and mandatory play of a card from the Trials pile) quickly became pretty easy.  I do though recommend that players start on the Rookie level, even if you are experienced gamers, just to get the rhythm of a game of The Grizzled.  Traps are active in the Normal Game and can upset even the best of plans.

The Grizzled is a challenging game and one in which players must truly try and cooperate.  The secrecy about what cards are in hand prevents one player from “solving the puzzle” and then telling everyone else what to do…a typical problem in most other cooperative games (cough cough Pandemic cough cough).

Playing the game is fun and not overly long.  The box estimates 30 minutes but our games took longer–mainly because we did not rush playing cards.  Sometimes you really need to think about the puzzle in front of you and reason out the best action to take.  There are great moments in the game when you play that Snow & Whistle threat that you thought was safe to play and the next player groans loudly–you then realize that the only cards they have in hand must be Snow/Whistle and that you have just accidentally jeopardized the Mission.

So give this game a try as it isn’t very expensive.  You can pick it up at List Price $24.99 at most game stores or find it at online retailers for about $16-19.  Once you have your copy, I wish you luck as you try to survive the Great War!

The Big Book of Madness: A Post-Gen Con Review after Two Games

The Big Book of Madness by Iello Games (BBoM) was released last December.  My brother and I got a chance to check it out at Gen Con 2016 (check out some photos Here and Here) and we purchased it.  We really enjoy cooperative games such as Pandemic and Ghost Stories, so we figured BBoM would be a nice addition.

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The Big Book of Madness

Initial Impression?  Visually Stunning and Great Theme!

One of the negatives that I got from walking about the Indy Convention Center at Gen Con 2016 was that many game companies are rushing games to market.  Without naming names, I saw a plethora of games with bad art, cheap/sub-standard components (can you say it looked like crayon on a cereal box interior?) and poor execution.  The Big Book of Madness is exactly the opposite of all that!

The art is visually stunning and evocative of the theme: students of a magic academy open a Big Book of Madness and now have to try and contain the monsters jumping forth from its pages.  The character choices (there are 8, 2 in each of the 4 colors/elements of magic) are all distinct in presentation and have different rules mechanics.

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4 of the 8 characters.  Sorry about that light source on the Green card, my bad!

Other game components are also of high quality.  The board is sturdy and supports the theme. On the board, he BBoM rests in the middle, the madness emanates from the hole on the right, and the scroll on the left keeps track of the rounds and curses.  On the scroll, the arabic numerals are rounds, the roman numerals are the 3 levels of difficulty, and the brown cards are extra curses to add each round.  Spaces for the curses are at the bottom and the large numbers are for the individual turns within a round. A book token moves along those big numbers counter-clockwise from 1 to 5 and back again.

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The Board

One of the best thematic components, and also a great source of evocative art, is the Big Book of Madness itself.  The book has a cover that is opened at the start of the game, revealing the first monster and its curses.  Each round the book is turned until it gets to the end.  Here is an example of what an open book looks like.  Looks like a real book, doesn’t it?  In reality it is a set of double-sided cards that are slowly flipped and moved from the left pile to the right.

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Example of an open book.  Pretty cool huh?

Game Play: Fun…and really, really tough!

To summarize the rules, each player manages a deck of element cards and a set of spells toward the goal of removing curses.  If the players remove all the curses on the board they defeat the current monster and get a bonus, otherwise they get a penalty.  If the players defeat the final monster they win, otherwise they lose.  Players get more and more element cards and also Madness cards as the game progresses, combining deck-building and resource management mechanics.  The game has a lot of opportunities for cooperation as players develop a common support pool of element cards and can actively give non-active players actions during any active player’s turn.

I found the level of both tension and difficulty within BBoM to be very similar to Ghost Stories (Ghost Stories at Asmodee).  We played both a 2-player and a 4-player game, and like most cooperative games, the more players involved, the harder the game felt.  We won the 2-p game but lost the 4-p game (pretty badly actually).  While bad luck certainly played a part in the 4-player loss, most of the game we felt like we were behind and struggling to catch up as the number of curses slowly increased each round. And we were playing on the lowest level (I) of difficulty!

As this is what makes BBoM very fun indeed!  Beating a cooperative game the first few times you play it should be tough.  The enjoyment comes from both trying to win and also learning how to win.  At one point in the 4-player game we were down and just about out.  On my turn I needed to draw a 3-point white card to defeat a curse that was going to finish us by draining the Madness deck.  What happened?  I drew the needed card and well…the crowd went wild!  We were hooting and hollering even though we knew that I had only temporarily delayed the inevitable defeat.  I learned a lot in my first two plays of BBoM and I anticipate that winning will be easier but probably not more likely than 50-50.

Verdict: A Very Good Game

What else can I say about BBoM?  The rules are well-written (and the rulebook is gorgeous too) and the game offers 1) enough strategy and complexity to keep avid boardgamers interested while 2) being simple enough for casual gamers to enjoy it.  Here is an example of what a game looks like in progress:

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The Big Book of Madness in progress.  Note the little Book marker on space #3.

If you like cooperative games, I highly recommend you run, don’t walk, to your nearest game store and buy The Big Book of Madness!

 

Stew’s Rant Corner:Magic Realm

In this Second Edition of Stew’s Rant Corner, Stew discusses a classic 1979 Avalon Hill Bookcase Game: Magic Realm, a game that was ahead of its time in many, many ways, but suffered from a fatal flaw.

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Have you ever had that game where you love the art, like the basic premises of the game, enjoy the attention to detail, and the storyline takes you away to that awesome place, but the rules trip you up and leave you wanting to love a game that you just can’t? If you have ever tried or played Avalon Hill’s 1979 release of Magic Realm, then you know what I mean.

The Game is SOOOO Cool!

Before I dig into the details, let me make it very clear, I SOOOO want to love this game, but I just can’t. Ask me if I like Magic Realm, and I will say, definitely, “Yes!” Ask me if I like playing Magic Realm, and I will say, “Yes!” So, why can I not love this game; read on and find out.

Magic Realm was released in 1979, and as you can see from the cover art, it is a fantasy game of adventure, individual battles, and magic. Truly, Magic Realm appeared to be Avalon Hill’s attempt to capture a role-playing game in a board game. Magic Realm contains various playable heroes, many dangerous monsters, magic items, spells, enchanted locations and random encounters. What more could any one person want? Let me be fair, I think Avalon Hill did a splendid job with Magic Realm, and here is why. I loved the art work from the moment I saw it. I loved the random game board. I loved the combat system. I loved the random encounter system. I hated that some of the character adventurers could run into certain monsters and simply had no chance: your game was over. Read on and let me explain more.

Before Its Time: Campaigns, Double-Sided Tiles, Character Cards, and Random Monsters

First, Avalon Hill laid out Magic Realm into seven playable campaigns, meant to be played sequentially, teaching any potential players the rules a few at a time. Avalon succeeded brilliant with this, as the rules make sense, are easy to follow, and you learn them a small portion at a time: beginning with searching, then fighting, they monsters, treasurers, spells, etc., until the you are playing the entire campaign game looking for victory points to prove that you are the most experienced and fame worthy adventurer. In order to facilitate this, Magic Realm had, at the time, some new and innovative mechanics. First, the hexagonal tiles provided an ever-changing landscape, different with each game. Also, these tiles representing woods, caves, and mountain passes, could be “enchanted” and flipped over to a side where they not only changed the direction paths and roads led, but they also supported one of the three different colors of magic. I can not say if Magic Realm was the first game with hexagonal tiles that could be laid out randomly to create a different map every game, but it certainly worked and we all have seen that same random map structure used in many games today.

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The Hex Tiles.  The top 3 are examples of the “normal” side and the bottom 3 examples of the “enchanted” side.

Magic Realm also had Character Cards with the statistics, powers, weapons, and spells for each adventurer that a player could choose. These character cards also contained four levels that each player could be in their development of their craft, starting with a brand new adventurer to a seasoned campaigning veteran. Magic Realm also used a unique way to randomly introduced monsters onto the map by providing “Warning” and “Sound” counters that could be laid out at random, which when revealed interacted with the “Appearance Chart”. Other counters, laid out at random, would reveal the location of different buildings or places that could contain either more monsters, treasures, spells, or natives that could be hired to help. All of this was wonderful, easy to play, and quite enjoyable. Now, let’s talk about combat.

 

The mosaic above shows clockwise from top left: the campaign “Personal History Pad”, the “Treasure Set Up/Monster Appearance” Chart, the plethora of counters, and the Character Cards (examples in top row of art on the front and examples in bottom row of stats on the back).

A Truly Good Idea: The Combat Matrix Chart…

One of the best, and perhaps worst, mechanics was the fighting chart with the “Move” and “Fight” counters. The idea was for each combat the adventurer would choose a fight and a move counter; placing them on the combat chart into one of three locations. The monster would then randomly be placed on a place on the battle chart as well. This created a rock vs paper situation where two rules applied; if the speed of the monster was faster than the adventurer’s move, the adventurer was struck, the monster could also hit the adventurer by being placed opposite the location of the adventurer’s move counter. The attack for the adventurer on the monster was the same. Armor, weapons, and spells were then taken into account. This created a unique combat system, where sometimes no one was hit, and others both were struck. However, if the first strike killed the character, no strike on the monster would be made, and of course, vice versa.

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The Combat Matrix

…That Went So Horribly Wrong!

Here, however, is where Magic Realm broke down completely. Take the “Black Knight” character. He wore armor, wasn’t very fast, and used a mace that was hard hitting, but not overly so. Now take a certain “Tremendous” troll. It struck faster than the Black Knight could possibly move, did the most damage possible in the game, and was too tough for the Black Knight to hurt it. What resulted was a situation where the Black Knight was struck every time, and if he had tremendous armor on, could survive one such strike, but the Black Knight could not kill the troll, and the troll was too fast for the Black Knight to run and get away. This combination ALWAYS resulted in the death of the Black Knight. And here lies the fatal flaw of Magic Realm: no one likes to play a game that they can just randomly lose. If the Black Knight runs into other monsters, everything is ok, but if he ran into the Tremendous Troll, he was dead. Sort of made me want to run the random encounter at the start of the game, just to see if their was any point in playing it.

 

This flaw, and a major flaw it is, does not exist for all characters, just some, but enough to make you not want to play. The more times I played Magic Realm–and I played a lot of Magic Realm, because I SOOOO wanted to love this game! I loved everything about it, but the random fatality of certain characters–the more I gave up on the game. So, in a nut shell, do I hate Magic Realm and wish I had never played it? No. I just wish it had been play tested better ahead of time. I encourage all of you to find this game in a hobby shop, or online, and give Magic Realm a try. You will fall in love with it, and you will be frustrated by it, all at the same time. It is a good example of why play-testing is so important nowadays, and obviously, back then.

Tanto Cuore — A Better Game Than Expected

The Inverse Rule of Gaming

Okay, we all know the “Inverse Rule of Gaming,” right?  You know, the basic idea that the more female flesh used to sell a game, the worse the game must be.  Don’t believe me?  Have you seen the commercials for Age of Fire?  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with Kate Upton…but whenever a game company uses attractive females to sell its product, you just know that the game probably has no other selling point.

Well, the inverse rule also applies to cartoon or illustrated use of females as well.  I am sure we have all seen the game apps that advertise themselves with some drawing of a busty long-haired warrior.  C’mon guys, you know that the app must be crap!  Anyway, since Anime is very popular now not only in Japan but across the Pacific in the United States, Anime drawings are also used to sell games.

And that brings me to Tanto Cuore from Arclight Games (Tanto Cuore).

Tanto Cuore box

A box of Tanto Cuore

As you can see from the box cover, Tanto Cuore is a game about Japanese maids!  When I first saw this game on a shelf, I thought, oh no another poor Japanese game being sold with cute anime drawings.  And drawings of maids no less!  And who wants to play a game about maids?!?  The back of the box describes the game as, “We will work with great heart when you employ us!  Be the ‘greatest master’!”  What the?  It further says, “The players take the roles of ‘masters of the house’, employ a lot of cute maids, and are served by them while slowing filling out their house (card deck).”

I don’t know about you, but I was wondering if maybe this game should’ve been put in the adult section of the store instead! Hahaha!

Okay, I checked out reviews on line and people said nice things about the game.  I really like the Eminent Domain ( Eminent Domain ) deckbuilding game so I thought, why not give Tanto Cuore a try.

The Game

Like most deckbuilding games, Tanto Cuore is pretty simple.  You use a common currency (Love in Tanto Cuore) to recruit maids from a common pool of cards which you then add to your discard pile, which eventually cycles back into your hand.

Here are two of the three Love cards:

Tanto Cuore love

1 Love and 2 Love cards

 

The heart in the upper left corner is the amount of Love needed to recruit the card (yes, you have to use Love to recruit move Love, kind of sounds like a Beatles’ song or something). Each turn a player empties their hand of their Love, counting how much is played and using that amount to recruit more cards.  The player also tries to play as many Maid cards from his/her hand as possible.

Here is an example of a Maid card:

Tanto Cuore maid

Genevieve Daubigny: one of many maids

Like many games, icons are used to convey information.  Here there are three highlighted icons and one faded icon on the bottom of the card (and remember that the heart in the upper left is the # of Love needed to recruit this card).  The stack of cards is “draw” , the heart is more “Love”, the hand is “serve” and the faded icon refers to “employ.”  In short, on your turn you can only serve (in other words, play) one maid from your hand and employ (in other words, select a new card from the common pool of cards) one new card per turn.  Put as you play maids, they can give you more servings, cards, love, employment, etc.  At the end of your turn you discard any cards that you could not play and draw back to your hand size.

Thus, there are only these four icons to memorize!  Very simple and quite easy to understand.  Literally, when I introduced this game to the other TTGC members, they quite quickly were able to get the hang of the game.  It is just this simple: lay down your Love, play a maid (and try to get more servings so that you can play more maids), try to build up as big a pile of Love as possible, and then employ 1 or more maids.  As your stack of cards gets bigger every turn, eventually you can lay down more Love and draw more expensive maids.

Of course, some maids have special abilities and/or victory points.  Here is an example of a maid that everyone begins the game with:

Tanto Cuore vp maid

Collette Framboise: note the two different spellings of her first name on this card.  Sometimes when games get translated into English mistakes like this happen.

 

As you can see above, Collette is worth 1 victory point (shown 3 times on the card with a symbol in 3 of the 4 corners).  She also has a special ability: Chambermaid.  Basically if you spend the indicated number of servings (2 in this case), you can remove Collette from your hand and place her on the table.  Doing so thins your hand and optimizes it for future draws.  Collette has no other special ability or helpful icon, so every time you draw her and don’t get her Chambermaided (is that a verb?), she is useless and gets recycled back into your hand through the draw pile.

Each game there are two victory point maids (Collette above is one of them) and 10 regular maids.  The box contains 16 different regular maids and players select 10 of them randomly or by any other method before the game starts, so no two games should be exactly alike.  Moreover, different maids combo with other maids so the overall strategies in each game are going to be different based on the 10 maids used.  There are also Private Maids, which are special maids that you do not put in your hand but rather put them into play on the table in front of you.  Here is an example:

Tanto Cuore private maid

Rosa Topaz: A Private Maid that gives you more Love each turn

 

Anyway, the game is won by having the most Victory Points after 2 piles of maids are exhausted.  The game plays very fast.  Typically after one or two go arounds, play is quick, typically with the active player playing his/her hand and one of two others shuffling their discard piles back into their draw decks.

Why you should play this game

It is very, very fun!  It is also very, very easy!  Moreover, this game is not just multiplayer solitaire.  There is player interaction.  There are cards (not mentioned here in my review) that mess with your opponents’ private maids and cost them victory points.  Moreover, as you employ cards from the common pool, you deny them to your opponents. Thus, while Tanto Cuore is not directly combative (this isn’t Advanced Squad Leader after all) there is tension between the players and you might have to modify your strategy if others start snapping up the same maids that you want.

Once you get past the whole cute maid thing, Tanto Cuore is actually a very solid game. I haven’t played Dominion, which kind of was one of the first popular deckbuilding games, but from what I have read and heard, Tanto Cuore is a slightly more sophisticated (is that the right word given all the pictures of maids?) and enjoyable game.  To be completely honest, when the TTCG plays Tanto Cuore, we almost always refer to the cards by their first names and after a while you don’t notice the illustrations at all.  Typically after a game I could tell you exactly what icons were on a card but I can’t recall the picture.  So even if Anime illustrations of maids might be a bit too much for you, trust me, you will like the game so much that you really won’t be bothered at all by them.

Of course, if cute maids are not enough for you, try Barbarossa from Kamikaze Games (Barbarossa).  It is Anime girls fighting as the Germans as they invade the Soviet Union in the Second World War.  No joke!


I hoped you liked this shorter format review.  Feel free to follow or leave comments.

Until next time: Make Mine Marvel

Kemet: A Review

Kemet boxcover

Today I bring you a review of a game that piqued my interest at the end of last year.  I had read some reviews online and it looked fun, so I put Kemet on my Amazon wishlist…and somebody bought it for me as a Christmas gift.  Well, a short time back the Toledo Tuesdays Gaming Club (info here) sat down and played a game.

Before I go into the particulars of the review, let me cut to the chase and deliver the punchline: Kemet is fun game where aggressive action is rewarded and every single turn counts.  It plays very much like Avalon Hill’s Dune (or Fantasy Flight’s Rex if you prefer an updated version of Dune): bold moves are needed to win, the battles are the most important aspect of the game, and surprises from cards can upset even the best laid plans.  In short, if you like games that can end on any turn, games that encourage decisive aggressive play, and games where one-on-one battles are tense and can swing a player’s game position 180 degrees then Kemet is for you.

The Box and Components

The box cover (seen above) illustrates a battle royale of Egyptian forces, Gods, and mystic creatures.  The text on the back of the box promises “In the Mystic Egypt of Kemet, weapons will give you victory! Raise your armies, unleash your divine powers, summon creatures, take control of temples and join the battle!”  Sounds like fun doesn’t it!

Opening up the box, you are greeted with an array of components.  The first thing to notice is the heavy, folding, double-sided board.

Kemet board

The 3 or 5 player side of the board

One side of the board is for 2 or 4 player games, while the other side is for 3 or 5 player games (the East Bank isn’t accessible in lower numbered games).  Each player will start in one of the cities, with each city divided into 3 districts (see above).  There are also desert spaces and temple spaces (look for the monuments and an orange scroll underneath).  There is also a “Sanctuary of All Gods” (which in the photo is at the center left with a blue scroll).  Obelisks also litter the landscape.

There are also cardboard power tiles, sturdy cardboard player boards, large d4s (which are pyramids), plastic troops, plastic mythical creatures, and an array of cards.

Kemet power tiles

Examples of Power Tiles

Everything is iconographic, as the game is made by Matagot (Matagot Games) in France, as is evident from the Power Tiles above.  Iconography helps make any game portable across language barriers, but it does make playing the game, at least the first few times, more difficult as the icons need to be memorized (or the players must spend time going back and forth to the rules).

Kemet pyramids units

Pyramids and Units

The Pyramids are large d4s.  Each player will get a set of 3 dice: one white, one red, and one blue, each representing one of the primary powers in the game.  White will be defensive, red offensive, and blue control.  The units are in 5 different colors (only 4 shown above) and each player chooses whatever color they wish.  We did try to match the units (which are shaped differently by color) with the player boards, but it seemed like only 3 matched well.

Kemet DI creatures

Divine Intervention (DI) Cards and Mythical Creatures

The game also features an array of cards.  Divine Intervention cards give each player a bonus that can be invoked during certain game phases.  These cards are also iconographic and I dare say a bit flimsy.  Plastic miniatures represent the mythical creatures (a couple of them are above).

Kemet battle cards player board

Battle Cards and a Player Board

There are also battle cards.  Each player will have an identical set of 6 different battle cards.  Also, each player starts with a player board.  These are functional identical, as the pyramid on each is the same, but each board does depict a different Egyptian God (this is pure chrome).  And as I mentioned previously, about 3 of the 5 sets of units seem to match one of the Gods on the player boards.

 

Rules

Did you notice how many components there are to this game?  After seeing this array of material, I began to get worried that there might be too much going on.  The rulebook is 8 pages of about 8×11 paper.  For a game that appears to have been translated into English, the rules are quite clear, well laid out, and contain many illustrations.  A sidebar on each page gives examples which I found very helpful.

The game “is a succession of Night and Day phases until at least one player wins the game.”  Simple enough.

The Night phase is a preparation phase.  Each player gets 2 Prayer Points (the Ankh symbol), one DI card, can use any “Night Powers” effects, and then turn order is determined.  Basically the player with the fewest Victory Points (VP) determines the order for the entire turn (randomly determined on first turn).

Okay, that was simple.  When we played the game, the Night Phase was easy to understand, easy to implement, and went really quick each time.

The Day phase is the Action Phase.  This is the meat of the game.  Each player will in turn order, place a single Action Token (each player has 5 of these round plastic tokens) on a single action space on his/her pyramid (on the Player Board, see above) and immediately apply the effect.  Once all players have placed their 5 action tokens, the Day Phase is over.

Seems simple right?  Well it really is…as long as you understand the iconography on the Player Board.  Looking at the board in the photo above, you can see 4 tiers: a top tier with a single “Golden Will” space, and 3 tiers of Action Spaces below it.  Each turn, every player will place 5 actions tokens on the Action Spaces and must place at least 1 Action Token in each of the three bottom tiers.  Note: the “Golden Will” space can only be used in a player has purchased the Level 4 Blue Power tile “Divine Will”.

In short, the bottom tier displays the three “Buy a power tile” actions (for each of the three colors) and a “Pray” action, which nets the player 2 Ankhs.  Prayer points (aka Ankhs) are the currency of the game and are used to play Divine Intervention cards, teleport units, buy Power Tiles, etc.  The middle tier allows a player (from left to right on the player board) to “Raise a pyramid”, “Move” units, or “Pray”.  The top tier has the “Move” and “Recruit” actions.  The TTCG found the icons to be easy to remember after the first couple turns.

Let me take a second to explain some of these actions briefly:

  • Pray.  Gets you more Ankhs=currency.  You must pay Ankhs to get power tiles, teleport, recruit and raise a pyramid.  At the top of the player boards is the Prayer track that goes from 0 to 11.
  • Raise a Pyramid.  Each player starts the game with 3 points to spread among their 3 pyramids (one in each city district, of if at level zero the pyramid stays off the game board until raised to level 1).  The d4 pyramids are numbered 1 to 4 (duh!) and represent the level of power available in that particular color.  Players may only buy Power Tiles up to the current level of their respective pyramid (i.e. to get a Level 3 blue power tile you need at least a level 3 blue pyramid in your city).
  • Buy a Power Tile. A player may buy 1 Power Tile of the color corresponding to the action space.  So each turn, a player may only buy a maximum of 3 Power Tiles, and only 1 from each color. The tiles range from Level 1 to Level 4.  The player can only buy 1 tile, and it can only be of a level equal to or less than the corresponding pyramid.  The player must also pay a # of Ankhs equal to Power Tile level.  Each power tile is unique and once gained gives a permanent bonus to the controlling player.  Tiles often make units fight better or move faster, give the player a Mythical Creature to control, get additional action tokens, etc.  In general, buying Action Tiles that work well together is a key aspect of the game.
  • Recruit. Spend x # of Ankhs to recruit x # of units from the reserve.  These units are immediately placed on the board in one of the districts in the player’s original starting city–regardless of whether the player still controls that district!  Thus, a player may recruit into a district that was invaded and now controlled by another player, triggering a battle (see below).  Importantly no space can have more than 5 units from each player in it.
  • Move.  This is really a combination of 3 actions: move a group of units (called a Troop) along the ground (usually a single space), move a troop across the Nile via harbor spaces (consumes 1 space of movement), or teleport a troop from a Pyramid to any space with an Obelisk by paying 2 Ankhs (does NOT consume any movement).  Thus a typical unit can move 1 space and then teleport or vice versa.  DI cards, Power Tiles, and Mythical Creatures can add movement capacity to units.

Object of the Game

The object of the game is to have the most VP on the last game turn.  The last game turn is signaled when any player has at least 8 VP at the end of the Day phase.  How does one get VP you ask?  Well, I am glad you asked because I have an answer!  When all players have finished their actions during a Day phase, the permanent and temporary VP are awarded.  Yes, you read that right, there are two types of VP.  If you have ever played a game like Settlers of Catan (come on now, who hasn’t played Settlers?) you know that some VP (like “longest road”) are temporary and can pass back and forth between players.  Kemet has a similar VP system.

Each temple has a temporary VP, so whichever player controls it at the end of the Day phase gains that temp VP.  Any player controlling at least two temples gets 1 permanent VP.  A player at the Sanctuary of All Gods who sacrifices two units (puts them back into the reserves) gets 1 permanent VP.  So now you see, controlling key sites is one of the ways to get VP. A few permanent VP are also available by purchasing Power tiles.  A level 4 pyramid also awards 1 temp VP to whomever controls that district in which the pyramid is located.

Battles

Oh, but here is where the game gets really interesting.  If an attacker in a battle wins the battle and has at least one unit left in the space, he/she gains 1 permanent VP!  Defenders can never win VP, even if they win the battle.  What do you think this mechanism produces?  Bloody aggressive campaigns!!!

When units of one player pass through or reach a space with any other player’s units, movement ends and a battle occurs.  The player moving is always the “attacker” and the other player the “defender.”  Each player selects two Battle Cards, the first will be discarded and the second will be played.  Each card has 3 ratings: Strength (the sickle), Damage (blood), and Protection (shield) (see photo above).  Each player can add 1 or more DI cards (if playable during a battle).  All cards are discarded at the end of the battle.  If a player has discarded all 6 of his/her battle cards, they can place all 6 back into his/her hand.

Each side has a “battle value” equal to:

  1. The Strength of their battle cards
  2. plus any attack or defense bonuses from Power Tiles
  3. plus any bonuses from Creatures
  4. plus any bonuses from DI cards
  5. plus the number of units.

The player with the higher value wins the battle.  The defender wins a tie.  Each side now determines how many units are lost.  Each player loses a number of units equal to the opponent’s damage value minus their own protection value.  It is possible to win a battle and have no units remaining and it is possible to win a battle and not eliminate any enemy units.  The defeated player must either “retreat” his units, in which the winning player puts the losing player’s units into any adjacent space (that is, an adjacent space free of other units) or “recall” his units.  Recalled units are placed back into the reserves and the player gets 1 Ankh for each recalled unit (units must all be recalled, you must either recall none or recall all).  The winner may also “recall” his/her units or leave his/her units in the space.  If the attacker was the winner, they also get 1 permanent VP.

Gameplay

Basically, the idea of the game is to teleport your units to temples and try to hold them.  Of course, since attacking is more rewarding than defense, players with units at temples are subject to getting attacked over and over.  It is also key to note that while you can teleport from a Pyramid to an obelisk, you cannot teleport from an obelisk to anywhere else (unless you get a Power Tile that says you can, hint hint).  Units that teleport to Temples, and in particular the island that is the Sanctuary, cannot often go anywhere else.

Attacking another player’s city is much harder because 1) it typically requires multiple movements across open desert spaces (which takes time and can be really obvious) and 2) city walls limit movement–crossing a city wall requires starting your movement adjacent to the wall, so you cannot move to the wall and cross it on the same movement action (unless of course you have the proper Power Tile that allows you to ignore walls or a Creature that flies over them, hint hint).

As such, the game is about getting to and holding a few key spaces: temples and the Sanctuary of All Gods.  Successfully attacking is also a good way to get VP and can be combined with getting to Temples.

The game plays very much like Avalon Hill’s Dune (Dune) or the newer and updated version, Fantasy Flight’s Rex (Rex).  Each turn a player most likely will either teleport to any open Temple and then hope to hold it or teleport to an occupied temple and hope to seize it.  If you have played Dune/Rex you know that every turn is a struggle to control a few key spaces.  Control them for successive turns and the game is probably yours to win.  Kemet plays exactly, and I mean exactly, the same way.  The key difference is that each player does not begin with a prescribed set of special abilities (as in Dune/Rex) but rather can determine their own special abilities through the strategic purchase of Power Tiles.  Do you want to relentlessly attack other players?  Buy Red Tiles.  Do you think that you can hold out in defensive positions at Temples?  Buy White Tiles.  Maybe you just want to be sneaky and buy VP tiles.  Also, since the DI stack is quite large and players only see a few cards each game, the DI cards can add surprising swings to battles and other portions of the game.  Maybe you invest time getting the Power Tile that gives you more DI cards each turn?  Is the investment worth it?  Who knows!

Summary

Kemet is a fun game to play!  Each player must take actions sequentially and react to what the other players are doing.  You only have so many recruit and move action spaces, so is it better to move first or to react?  Is it better to recruit and attack now or wait until after a battle and then recruit and attack?  How long can I let a certain player sit at a Temple before I intervene?  What if I can get another player to intervene and get both players’ units wiped out?  And what happens when my opponent puts that Mummy into play?  Is it time to buy a Power Tile or time to upgrade my Pyramid?  Which Pyramid?

The game may seem overwhelming because there is so much uncertainty.  I really think that only after 4 or 5 plays can anyone really get a handle on the best course of action.  Having said that, the game rewards aggression so I found that when in doubt, seize a Temple!  And when I lost a battle I then bought a Power Tile to stop that particular mess from happening again.  Even though there is a resource management issue (with the Ankhs) and the need to fight battles (sorry cooperative gamers, but this game is for those who want to lead hordes of Egyptian troops to victory over their rivals) the game is very straight forward.  Even the strategy-challenged can just select any one of the Action Spaces on their player board and do something.

And for those who are not strategy-challenged the game is complex enough to allow for multiple attempts at victory.  Much like Dune, the victory conditions are obvious.  And much like Dune the way to get to victory seems pretty clear cut–get and hold important spaces.  Yet, much like Dune, other players are not going to let you do that easily. If I take that Temple I am pretty sure someone else is going to come knocking!  And if I waste my best remaining Battle Card against the first player to attack will I have any remaining good Battle Cards to hold off the next attack?  Will it be better to Recall my surviving units and gain the Ankhs even though I now have vacated the Temple?  And if I leave, which player has a remaining move action: my brother the West Point tactical genius or one of my friends who is less aggressive?  So many choices and so many ways to play Kemet!  The end of the game can come quick through a brilliant attack, some surprise DI Card, a mistake by someone that left a Temple sitting open, a mistake by someone not to attack someone else, a shrewd raising of a pyramid to Level 4, a sneaky buying of a VP Power Tile, or any combination of these!  It is this possibility of a quick end through many different avenues that really adds excitement to the game.

And that is the crux of what makes Kemet a good game: the interaction between the players as they seek VPs will determine who wins and loses.  One thing that I typically dislike about European abstract games is that quite often they are a thinly disguised game of multiple player solitaire.  Each player is really just playing against themselves trying to get to victory a turn sooner than the other players.  Even games like Race for the Galaxy (Race for the Galaxy) get caught in this trap, although RftG is not technically an abstract European game.  Kemet has resource management but it truly is a competitive, multiplayer interactive game.  It might not be for everyone, but the TTGC had a good time playing it and I think most others will too.  I advise everyone to give it a try.

 

Stew’s Rant Corner: Tannhauser

Welcome to the first edition of Stew’s Rant Corner. Today I will be covering a game that came out in 2007, put out expansions following that release, and has sat on my shelf ever since the first time the Toledo Tuesday Gaming Club played it: Tannhauser.

Tannhauser 01

The Box Cover

Tannhauser was first released by a French company, Take You On, translated into English by Fantasy Flight Games and then eventually the rights were bought by Fantasy Flight Games. It was released in the United States in 2007 as a squad-based action board game. The new, innovative, element of game play that Tannhauser promoted was its “Pathfinder” system of engagement. This consisted of the board having circles instead of spaces that the players moved their miniatures around on. Each circle was either white, for a perfect line of sight, or had an alternate color providing information on various degrees of line of sight.

Tannhauser 02

Note the color-coded circles used for movement and line-of-sight determination

As is typical of a great deal of Fantasy Flight Games, each player has a small board depicting their character and numerous markers to depict weapons, attributes, etc.

Tannhauser 03

Fantasy Flight at its finest!  Gazillion’s of tokens and player boards!

As you can see from the pictures, the game is quite involved, and keeps each player keeping track of multiple attributes and weapons. Tannhauser does offer different game modes, with basic, “wipe out your enemy” mode and a career mode where the players follow a story line and try to complete objectives (though the best way to complete your objectives is to wipe out your opponents).

Unfortunately, though Tannhauser’s artwork is wonderful, the production quality is top notch (which is a trademark of Fantasy Flight Games), and the board is beautiful, the gameplay is slow, painstakingly tedious, and for a game with so much record keeping, it all boils down to “whoever shoots first, wins”. During the gameplay I found that I was moving a single character, but keeping track of multiple traits and weapons. When combat ensued, the person who shot first often won, which is normal in real life, but in Tannhauser it takes five minutes to figure out all the traits and weapons stats necessary to roll the dice and discover whether you shot anyone or not.

For a squad-based action board game, both myself and the other players found that we never got to feel any real-time squad-based action, instead all we did was look up rules for different weapons, tried to reconcile that with all of our traits, page through the rules to see what rules and numbers applied when we were attacking, spent a long time arguing about the line-of-sight, and then eventually roll to see if we hit anyone or not. What could have been a fun game of run around and shoot your opponent (which is what a game of Tannhauser boils down to, regardless of whether there are objectives or not), instead was a painstaking crawl through the mud of numerous rules and attributes.

If you want to play a third-person shooter, many console games offer a quicker resolution to pulling the trigger than Tannhauser. One of the joys of playing board games, as opposed to console games, is the interaction with your friends as you play, once again, unfortunately when playing Tannhauser you will interact with the rules book and character cards far more often than you will with your friends.

For now, Tannhauser will continue to collect dust on my shelf, and hopefully, one day, I will be able to find someone willing to pay me some small pittance to take it off my hands.


Stew’s Rant Corner is a continuing series of blogs in which Stew highlights the worst aspects of a game.  For information on Stew, take a look at the TTGC About page (About).