Star Realms: Frontiers and Beyond!

When I got back from Gen Con there was a huge package waiting for me. Guess what was in it?

— Wow, that’s a lot of Star Realms

I got my shipment of the latest expansion to Star Realms–Frontiers….and more. A year or so ago I added Star Realms into our Tuesday night rotation. It’s a fairly simple deck building game that combines the easy to learn/play dynamics of a CCG/TCG like Magic: the Gathering. Basically draft ships and bases, then unleash them on your opponent. Last player standing is the winner. I have recently been teaching my oldest boy to play it. Star Realms is simple and lighthearted with only a small degree of strategy (basically buy cards that combo together) plus lots of luck. A great game when you don’t want to think too much and have a boatload of fun.

Anyway, now I have every published expansion plus a wild amount of promos…and a great big box to put all the cards in!

Yee-haw!

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My Haul at Gen Con

Gen Con was fun again this year! My bro and I walked for miles searching for both new and classic games. What did we find….inquiring minds want to know! Well my faithful friends, read on, read on for the answer!

— day one loot!

In the photo above you can see what I found on day one!

Smash Up! Oops, You Did It Again — I found this new expansion that I was looking for. Can’t wait to get in some Smash Up Games with these four new factions.

Scythe: Rise of Fenris — Is this expansion a set of alternate game rules (i.e. modules), a legacy campaign, or both!

Too Many Bones: Undertow — I kickstarted this game. It looks like a really fun dice builder. The components inside are top-quality. And many thanks to the guys at the booth who switched out the duplicate dice for the omitted dice that were missing from my box.

Horizons — A 4x space game. I love these sort of games (e.g. Eclipse, Ascending Empires, Eminent Domain)!

Unlock! — My wife loves these puzzle/escape room games, so I was happy to pick up a few more adventures.

Call of Cthulhu: Nameless Horrors — Six new adventures for CoC RPG, and it was only $15! Let the sanity checks begin!

Eminent Domain: Oblivion — Yes, yes, and more yes! Finally that Politics card gets to be a role! I am super-pumped to integrate this expansion into one of my favorite games.

King of New York: Anubis Monster Pack — A new monster and it even has a Pyramid die!

Day Two was more about taking in the convention than grabbing Games, but still we found a couple things.

— day two loot

Near and Far — This game looks cool…and I got the next to last copy at the booth too! Is it a legacy game, a worker placement game in the vein of Raiders of the North Sea, or an RPG disguised as a board game? Is it all three? Did I mention that the maps are in a spiral-ring notebook? The art is great too!

Cat Lady — Saw this at the AEG booth and I had to buy it for my wife. She loves cats.

Star Realms Promos — Yep, picked up some free promos. You want to know why? Well I’m not telling you…at least not tell my next post!

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.

Heart of Crown – The Tale of An Epic Game

Today I am going to recount the game of Heart of Crown that we had last night. You don’t know what Heart of Crown is? It’s a deck building game from Japanime Games. It has more streamlined rules than Tanto Cuore but basically plays the game: play cards from your hand for their effects and to purchase more cards. The difference is that at some point you “Back a Princess” (in other words, choose one princess from among the bunch of them) and then race to get 20 Succession Points so that you can Coronate your Princess and win the game.

The scenario: Crown of Sin

We had just finished a game of Tanto Cuore (where I used the online card randomizer to select the cards) where I smoked the only 3 guys. Having some time before dinner, we decided to get in a game of Heart of Crown. I have both expansions (Far East Territory and Northern Enchantress) so there are literally gazillions of possible card combinations for the Market. Okay, okay….maybe not a gazillion, but at least a billion, but I digress. One of the nice things about the game is that the rulebooks have scenarios (pre-selected card combinations for the market) so all you have to do is agree on a scenario and get started.

So, I handed the rulebooks to Lee and let him pick the scenario. He chose Crown of Sin from the Northern Enchantress Expansion.

— The Crown of Sin Scenario Cards

Why is it a sin? Strife in the Court and Infantry Battalion force opponents to discard cards; Battering Ram forces opponents to discard a territory that they played into their Princess’ domain. Only the Rampart protects against these effects–but there are 15 attack cards and only 5 Ramparts. There are very few cards that help a player trim a deck: only Regional Official and each can only be used once.

The Game: Bigger Decks than Normal

The game started out as normal, we bought up cards that gave us more card draws and servings, then tried to purchase Cities and Large Cities. Quickly we found out that the attack cards forced everyone into sub-optimal turns where each player had only 4 cards (instead of 5) and had not enough coins to buy those 6-cost Large Cities or get a 6-cost Princess.We found our decks growing large, which made getting combinations into our hands harder then normal. Before we knew it, we were running out of market cards without anyone having a Princess yet. We were now trying desperately to create card-drawing combos to get 6 coins played on a single turn.Bob started off the cascade of grabbing Princesses (okay, I didn’t mean that to sound like something out of a Harvey Weinstein news report, sorry #MeToo). He picked up Second Princess Laolily and scooped up those valuable Royal Maids. My turn was pure crap, letting Stew go next, grabbing Princess General Flammaria and avoiding having to put a Farming Village into his domain (thus avoiding the -2 Succession Point hit). Lee grabbed South Sea Princess Klam-Klam. When the round finally got back to me, I gambled on First Princess Lulunasaika and her 6 Succession Point bonus, technically putting me into first place in the race to 20 points.— The 4 chosen Princesses in clockwise order of choice from top left

The End Game

So the race was on to get to 20 points. Quickly Bob got into the lead by finding and playing those 5 Royal Maids for 10 points, but he had a Farming Village in play (-2) so he was only ahead of me by 2 points (his 8 to my 6). Lee used his Famed Horses to churn through his deck and start snatching up Dukes and their serious 6 Succession Points. Stew had more Regional Officials than anybody else and used their power to banish cards from his hand to get Dukes from the Market and trim his deck.

Surprisingly, we ran out all the Royal Maids but nobody had won yet and the game was super duper close. I had 18 points, Bob had 18, and the other two guys were within 3 points.

Then quicker than you can say “What the…” Bob played two, yes two not one but two, Dwarven Jewelers after playing 4 other, non-similarly titles cards.

— the key card that led to the Bob explosion of Succession Points!

Bob flew over 21 points and Coronated his Princess. Now every other player got a last turn to try and get their own Princess coronated: if no one could, Bob wins, but if someone else got to 20+ points, the game would go into Overtime!

My turn was next. I used card-drawing combos to churn through my deck in the hopes of getting my last remaining Duke. But I was not “top decking like a pro” (it’s a Magic the Gathering reference for those who never played that game–trust me it’s better that you didn’t, those who played it spent a fortune on those brightly colored pieces of flimsy cardboard, but I digress again), didn’t find my Duke, and was out of the game as a big loser.

Stew went next, and despite the success he had top-decking like a pro in MtG Pro qualifiers back in the day (I won’t tell you how long ago it was–the only hint is Queen Mary) he couldn’t find any Succession points and he lost too.

Lee had more luck. His card churning engine got him a bundle of points and brought his total up to 24! Overtime was on baby! The first player to 30 would win automatically. Bob got a few more points but Lee got really close (I don’t remember exactly whether he had 27, 28, or 29 points) and it looked like he would win. But Bob once again pulled out a 2x Dwarven Jeweler combo for +4 points and got to 30 first, claiming victory!

One Heck of a Game

I have been playing board games for 4+ decades, starting with the old school Avalon Hill and SPI, and now pretty much everything that I can find. I have some strong opinions about which games I like. Heart of Crown is just plain excellent! It is fun, balanced, and quite competitive. This particular session was one of the most enjoyable that I have had in a long time. I recommend anyone who doesn’t know about Heart of Crown to get a copy and give it a try.

In Defense of American-Style Games: 3 Good Reasons to Play Ameritrash as Seen by a Grognard

With the popularity of Settlers of Catan in the 1990s, Eurogames have exploded onto the American gaming landscape. The emphasis of Eurogames on indirect competition, hidden scoring, broad themes, resource-driven game mechanics, and balancing mechanisms to keep all players “in the game” has proven to be popular, particularly with younger players.At the same time, American-style Games, often denigrated as “Ameritrash Games”, have been criticized, panned, and abandoned by many of these newer players. The critique is that Ameritrash games are either based too much on luck (think Talisman), too much on direct competition (e.g. Advanced Squad Leader), too complex (e.g. almost anything by Avalon Hill or SPI), too theme specific as to not be appealing to the average gamer (e.g. Air Assault on Crete), and too long to play (e.g. The Campaign for North Africa).

Well, as a Grognard (look it up kids if you don’t know what it means), I am here to defend Ameritrash Games with 3 good reasons you should be playing them:

1 – Direct Competition Can Be More Fun Than Multiplayer Solitaire

One of my critiques of Eurogames is that often the game is thinly disguised multiplayer solitaire (in other words, each player plays alone and the end-game scoring determines who played solitaire better). Players really cannot directly confront, impede, attack, etc, each other. Thus, each player’s “strategy” is not truly an interactive strategy, but really solitaire. Good examples are Race for the Galaxy by Rio Grande Games or Cities by Z-Man Games. Often a Eurogame adds one element of direct confrontation, such as card drafting (think 7 Wonders), that isn’t really “direct” confrontation as the emphasis is on denying an opponent a resource rather than taking it from them.

Direct competition in an Ameritrash title is more than just denial, it’s seizure! Take the classic game Dune by Avalon Hill (or the new variant Rex by Fantasy Flight Games). Your units (tokens) will move quicker if they have access to Arrakeen or Carthag. Taking those strongholds gives you an advantage and removes it from an opponent. The battles that I have seen in my 4 decades of gaming in those Dune strongholds are legendary! In a similar vein, Small World by Days of Wonder encourages aggressive acquisition of territory–at another player’s expense (much like Risk). Nothing more fun than making your opponents’ units disappear from the board.

And if you haven’t played Enemy in Sight by Avalon Hill, you are missing out on how much fun direct competition can be. There is nothing more enjoyable than screaming “Breaking the Line” to the tune of Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” as you wreck an opponent’s line of ships. I have seen grudges held for years (actually it’s two decades now in one instance) over a well-played Breaking the Line card! Taking the battle to your opponent can be very fun–and memorable!

— you don’t eat the worm, it eats you!

And here is the kicker–luck is NOT involved in battle in any of these games! The common criticism that Ameritrash games are full of luck can be untrue.

2 – Randomness Can Be More Fun than Repetition

What makes Talisman work? The random discovery of what monsters, treasure, etc, lie in every space! Why do battles in Star Wars Rebellion feel exciting–because you have to chuck dice and live with the results. Let’s face it, many things in life are random, and randomness in games is a good thing not a bad thing. Now, we don’t want so much randomness that we are playing Monopoly, but adding a random element can help make a game less predictable, repetitive, and boring. Even the classic Settlers of Catan has two random mechanisms (dice rolls for resources and random bonus card draw).

The main problem with Eurogames is that they are so repetitive due to a lack of randomness. And repetition can be boring. Really good games with repetitive play (for example, Lost Cities by KOSMOS) are fantastic (much in the vein of Rummy, Solitaire, Pit, etc) but a good number of Eurogames are not fun when repetitive. In particular, I find Carcassonne to be really boring due to it being the same game over and over.

— nothing says generic, repetitive play like these components from Carcassonne

3 – Strong Themes in Ameritrash Games Make for Evocative Gameplay

Okay, one thing I despise about many Eurogames is that the “theme” seems to be an afterthought. The game is so abstract that literally any number of broad themes could fit. The classic Puerto Rico by Ravensburger or the more recent Terra Mystica by Feuerland could realistically be titled and themed anything. The games are all about the gameplay “engine”, Puerto Rico has nothing at all about it that is truly Puerto Rico–other than the tacked on place names, currency, etc.

Strong creative or historical themes build evocative gameplay. When I play Dune, I can envision that Sandworm eating my units (even if they are just little round cardboard tokens), I can see the Baron Harkonnen backstabbing me with a traitor, etc. Eclipse by Lautapelit is a rather complicated game, allowing for players to customize their spaceships. Guess what? This detail adds to the space 4X theme and gameplay. Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight is so thematic that when I play it I can actually feel the Elder Gods returning to Earth.

— Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight, a million Cards, chits, tokens, bits, etc, but well worth the hours it takes to set it up and take it down


So in short, there is a lot to love about American-style gaming, so don’t believe the “Ameritrash” label and get out there and play a dice chucking, card drawing, heavy themed game today!