What did we play? Clank! Sunken Treasures!

Do you love racing through dangerous dungeons in pursuit of treasure? Do you want to stealth around and steal a dragon’s eggs right from under the great beast? Clank! simulates that fun! It’s a deck building game from Direwolf and Renegade Game Studios where players explore a dungeon looking for artifacts while simultaneously trying to not make noise (ie clank around) and wake up the vengeful dragon.

Sunken Treasures

Sunken treasures is an expansion to Clank! that adds underwater action. It has two new maps, penalties for staying underwater without SCUBA (Sorcery-Created Underwater Breathing Apparel), new cards, treasure rooms, and more. The game is the same as before: grab an artifact and other goodies and then race to get out before the Dragon knocks you out.

— one of the Sunken Treasures boards. My Meeple (I am yellow) has raced very deep under water to grab the 25-point artifact.

Game Play

The game is basically the same, except if you start your turn in a space underwater and you don’t move through or end your turn in a space with air, you suffer 1 health (hearts) damage. As in regular Clank! the board is a complicated map and players can go different directions in search of goodies.

Stew mainly raced along the top of the map, gobbling up whatever secrets he could find. I delved deep for the 25-point artifact and then Lee eventually followed the same path to grab Monkey Idols. Bob had great luck getting cards, bought a Master Key in the Market and unlocked paths that the rest of us couldn’t explore.

— I made it out first!

The Endgame

After grabbing the 25-point artifact, I quickly raced out of the underwater cave system and headed for escape. Stew and I both had a lot of damage from the Dragon, Lee was deep underwater, and Bob with his great cards had no worries at all about Dragon damage.

I made it out first and thus the endgame clock started ticking on the other players! For the next 4 rounds, every time it was my turn the Dragon would attack the other players. On the last turn, the Dragon knocks out any thief who has not yet escaped.

Stew, Bob and Lee raced for the exit! Stew got unlucky and his health cubes got drawn out of the Dragon bag and he got knocked out. Bob made it out on the third turn. Lee was the deepest in the underwater cave system…and he just quite didn’t make it out.

— The end of the game! Stew (red) and Lee (green) got knocked out, missing out on the 20-point bonus for getting out of the dungeon.

The Winner

We counted up all the victory points from gold, cards, artifacts, and other treasures….and Bob won! He used those two more turns he had (I didn’t get those turns because I was already out of the dungeon) to pick up a bit more loot and to nab a Secret Tome. In the end, that made all the difference as he beat me by 5 points.

— Bob’s stash of cards and loot that won him the game

The Verdict

Sunken Treasures doesn’t change Clank! very much, but having new maps and some new cards adds a bit of novelty to the game. The game is still fast, easy, and intuitive for players of all skill levels. If you love Clank! already, you should enjoy Sunken Treasures.

What Did We Play? Near and Far

This week we all got together to try out Near and Far from Red Raven Games. I picked up the game at Gen Con (actually, I got the next to last copy from the Red Raven Booth) this year. It is a sequel to Above and Below, a game that I have never played but have heard good things about. Fortunately, you do not need to own Above and Below to play Near and Far.

Near and Far advertises itself as a storytelling game, an atlas game, and a campaign game! That sounds like a lot…and it had me intrigued when I saw the game at the Red Raven booth. Then I noticed the artwork! I was hooked!

— Clockwise from top left: Storybook, Atlas, Town Board (dusk side shown)

The Basics

The overall goal of Near and Far is to accumulate Journey Points. You do this by preparing your character in the town and then adventuring on one of the maps contained in the Atlas.

The game is essentially an action-taking game where each turn a player places their character standee on a town location and performs the action(s) listed there. Generally, you are trying to load up on food, coins, friendly adventures, etc so that you are ready to travel out of the town on the map.

On the map, you move around looking for quests and establish camps. The camps allow you to collect coins or gems, and also allow for less exhaustive movement across the map (ie it costs fewer “hearts” to move).

— The map for the first game, as contained in the Atlas.

The game ends once one player has placed all 14 of their camps (on the map, in the mines, and/or on Threat Cards). Journey points are awarded for camps played, trade routes covered, artifacts found, threats defeated, coins, gems, faction tokens, Chiefs obtained, Reputation, and any other card/board bonuses.

Gameplay

Everyone in my group expressed that the basic standee placement and action-taking mechanism closely resembled games like Raiders of the North Sea. Turns are completely fairly quickly and each player has a chance to get something accomplished on their turn.

Exploring on the map takes a bit longer. Once a player travels to the map, they move in a point-to-point system more similar to strategic war games than typical abstract board games. If a player stops on a quest, another player reads the corresponding lettered quest from the Storybook. Each quest has two alternative acts available for the player to choose from among (e.g. help the old lady or ignore her plight) similar to games like Scythe. Usually a skill or combat roll resolves the chosen action.

Players alternate their time from loading up in town and exploring on the map, much like a pen and pencil RPG. This adds a storytelling/role playing element that adds to the fun (it also allows even players falling behind in Journey points to have a good time questing).

— my player board early in the game. I had placed two camps, recruited two adventurers to my party (next to my faithful cat companion), and added a pack bird.

In the game that we played, it seemed like each player tried a different strategy. I was trying to collect as many artifacts as possible, Lee was placing camps on the map for resources, Stew was going after quests, and Bob was mining a lot.

— The game a few more turns after the last photo but still in the early part. Note that camps have started appearing on the map as we began exploring outside the town.

The game lasted about two hours. It was our first play and it took a while to figure out what the best options were each turn. Eventually my artifact grabbing rewarded me with a very narrow victory over Lee.

— My board close to the end of the game. I was well-prepared to explore and my loot of faction tokens and gems would allow me to buy plenty of artifacts from the Mystic.

The Verdict

From one play of the game, all of us agreed that Near and Far was quite fun. Everyone felt that they were “in” the game and that no one got left behind early. Also, the exploration on the map added a nice touch that broke up the monotony of standee placement in the town.

In short, we are looking forward to trying the Campaign game and adventuring on new maps. The gameplay is solid and fun, the rules clear, and the art gorgeous. If you haven’t tried Near and Far, I recommended that you give it a shot.

Stew’s Rant Corner: Daimyo’s Fall

It’s time for another edition of Stew’s Rant Corner in which my brother Stew explains how and why a game disappointed him.

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— Daimyo’s Fall. Treasure Hunting Deck Building Card Game. Yep, that’s how it’s labeled on the box.

A Lot of Good Ideas….

Hi again, everyone.  It is nice again for me to rant about a game that I want to love, but just cannot possibly do so.  That game is Daimyo’s Fall.  Ok, you may or may not have heard about it.  But Daimyo’s Fall was Kickstarted quickly and is a deck-building card game.  It has everything that would make me fall in love with it: samurai, ninjas, leaders with cool powers, incredible card art, random cards to buy to build your deck, cards with multiple uses, deck-building, random treasurers to be had, cards with value that can be exchanged for other cards, the ability to exhaust cards, ways to duel other player’s leaders…….ok wait a minute.  How much does this game include in it?

— Some of the card art on Hero cards, some samurai and some ninja. Numbers in top left are attack and defense. Bottom left are petals (ie the timer that leads to the game ending). Victory points are top right.

…But Too Many Jammed into a Single Game…

This is the trouble with Daimyo’s Fall.  It has everything that I would want in a game, but everything sometimes means it has too much.  Every card in the game has multiple uses, which leads to stagnant delays while each player goes through the multitude of permutations of possible actions.  Every card can be used to buy other cards, or be used for its power, leading to many cost/benefit analysis decisions going on with each and every card.  It begins to become overwhelming.

….And an Objective that Doesn’t Really Work…

Another problem with Daimyo’s Fall is the objective gets lost. Ok, the objective is to supposedly replace the Daimyo who has fallen (hence Daimyo’s Fall).  In order to do that you need to get more victory points than your opponents. One of the ways to do this is to gather treasures (either Samurai or Ninja).  Oh, by the way, the ending to the game is determined by how quickly the petals fall off of a lotus plant, which happens when certain cards are played.  Unfortunately, this mechanic is there to stop the game at a certain point, since, as I will detail, there is no actual replacement of the Daimyo going to happen here.  But, as I was saying, you attempt to gather treasures to help gain victory points and make your deck more powerful.

Here is the problem with this strategy.  I played the game with two other individuals, Neal and Bob.  I got on a roll early, was gathering treasurers like bees gather honey.  Neal was doing OK with gathering treasures and Bob barely had any.  Once the last lotus petal dropped we counted victory points, expecting that I had overwhelmingly destroyed my opponents in the game, Neal had done well, and Bob had done very poorly.  You can imagine our shock when Bob’s victory point total was almost Neal’s and Neal’s was barely a point behind mine.  What?!  All of my work to gather treasures to garner victory points was for naught?  (Editor’s note here: I agree with Stew in that Bob and I did NOT have any superior strategy or gameplay than Stew’s. Yet, we were close to him on victory points. It didn’t make sense to us either.)

— Clockwise from top left: ninja reinforcement (ie the cards that you buy and sell, in top left corner is buy price=4 and sell price=2), samurai reinforcement, samurai treasure (now top left is attack and defense, not buy/sale prices; victory points at top right of card), and ninja treasure. Are you keeping up? At bottom of cards are Tanto Cuore-like bonuses for drawing cards, mon (=currency), deployments, and trades. Still keeping up? Trade points allow you to send treasures back to their piles and draw new ones. Did I mention that you shuffle traded treasures in the pile before you draw new ones? That means you can trade in a treasure and draw back the same treasure.

…Leads to Counter-Productive Game Play…

Unfortunately, this is the “everything turns into nothing” problem of Daimyo’s Fall.  The treasures are given to me randomly; and some of them hurt my victory point total.  Say again?  I was working hard to hurt my victory point total?  Yep, that’s exactly what happened.  The mechanic of random treasures meant that I got treasures that hurt my deck-building, dropped lotus leaves, and took away from my victory points.  So one must ask, why was I trying to get treasures in the first place?  I was trying to win the game by doing so.  Counter-productive isn’t it?

…Combined with too Much Randomness…

The next problem arose as several pools are set up to allow players to buy cards, either samurai, ninja, or leader.  These often contained multiple cards of the same type which led us to constantly be wasting time with actions just shuffling cards out of the pools in the hopes that the next random card would be better.  While I can enjoy a little randomness in a game, if each of the three card pools is random, each of the 3 treasure decks is random, ok what actual strategy is left in the game if everything is random?  See the problem.  Daimyo’s Fall makes winning truly random (see the paragraph above as to the hard work I did just to fall behind).

 …That Adds up to Less than the Sum of the Parts

Daimyo’s Fall is truly a case where everything leads to nothing.  The game becomes unmanageable quickly, turns stagnate as we watch each other working hard to figure out all of the combinations, randomness makes any real strategy meaningless, and working towards the goal can be counter-productive.  All of this makes me sad to say that another game that I would love to love, I will never play again.

Why Australia is the Best Power Grid Map

Okay, I really like board games that 1) have a lot of expansions and 2) have solid play testing. Power Grid is such a game. It is a classic (is is fair to call a game from the early 2000s a classic?) game that holds up well to this day. It also has multiple expansion boards that represent different parts of the globe. Expansion board rules seem well play tested for clarity, balance, and excitement.

I own all of the expansion maps, and today I am going to tell you why the Australia map is my favorite…and why it should be yours too.

— the Australia Power Grid board. In this particular game of 4 players, we omitted the yellow, central region.

The Ability to Place a House Anywhere

In classic Power Grid, to expand your network you have to place new houses close to your already placed houses due to the connect costs. Because there is no single, connected network of cities on the Australia map, you can put a house anywhere by paying a 20-Point connection cost. This mechanism allows players to strategically jump across the board on Step 2, Step 3, or any other time in order to cut off opponent networks.

The Uranium Mines

In Australia there are no nuclear power plants. Those plants are instead uranium mines. Players don’t buy resources for the mines and the mines do not power cities.

— those are not nuclear power plants, they are uranium mines!

Instead, during the bureaucracy phase the mines make money by selling on the international uranium market. The mines do not count toward a player’s power plant limit, and a player can possess any number of mines. This is a great addition to the game as it allows for a separate way to generate money (Elektros).

— the international uranium market. Players receive Elektros equal to the first uncovered space multiplied by the production of their uranium mines. In the last two photos, this player would get 20 Elektros (market price of 4 times the 5 production of the two mines).

The Carbon Tax

When Step 3 begins, Australia imposes a Carbon Tax. All prices in the energy market go up by 2 Elektros. This makes energy costs quite expensive!

— the 9 and 10 cost spaces for when the Carbon Tax goes into effect.

The Carbon Tax slows down the final progression to the game end. By making energy costs higher, it makes it more expensive to operate non-ecological power plants. It also makes those uranium mines more valuable, as they are a cheap renewable source of Elektros if a player can’t add new cities on a given turn.

The Auctions are Different

With the uranium mines being very good to get early, and the Carbon Tax looming at Step 3, bidding for ecological power plants and mines is intense! At the same time, a shrewd player can grab an efficient coal, oil, or garbage plant if other players have run out of Elektros bidding on the mines and wind turbines.

The Overall Game Play

The overall impact of the rules is to create a truly new Power Grid experience. While the victory conditions remain the same (ie power the most cities) the route to winning seems to have multiple paths. Players can opt for a traditional coal/oil/garbage efficiency route, but they better be ready for that rough Carbon Tax. Players can also try to monopolize the uranium mines. This slows down placing houses because buying a mine means that you didn’t buy a power plant with that money, but it leads to plenty of cheap Elektros that can later in the game be plowed back into power plants. Also, with the game going longer for a few turns (mainly because of the Carbon Tax), those ecological plants pay off more than in a regular game of Power Grid. In our last game by the end, two players had almost 100% resource-free power production. When do you see that in a game of Power Grid?

–Games on the Australian map can be surprisingly close. Here is the end of our recent game. My brother and I both finished with 17 cities powered. But I had only 1 Elektro in my possession and he had 6. He won, I lost. It could hardly have been any closer. Note: I was black and he was red. Can you see how he jumped from Western Australia over to the east coast? Also note the high price for resources because of the Carbon Tax. Gotta love the Australian rules!

If you have played Power Grid, or even if you haven’t, I highly recommend that you get yourself a copy of The Australian map (the Indian sub-continent) is on the back. Trust me, you will be glad that you did.

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!