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.

What Did We Play? King of New York with Power Up! And Monster Packs

Recently we got in a 4-player game of King of New York. We used the evolution Power Up! Cards plus all three of the Monster Packs! Let’s get ready to rumble!!!!

Game Summary

Bob was Anubis and the first player, so he had to claim Manhattan. Stew was Cthulhu and he quickly set the tone for the first few turns: he rolled a bunch of slaps and punished Anubis. The dreaded Pyramid Die was stealing health from whomever had the Scarab…which unfortunately was me. I was Captain Fish (boo! The only guy without a new Monster) and I broke buildings on my turn. Oh, and I couldn’t get rid of the scarab so my health was draining. Lee was King Kong and continued the slap-fest! He knocked Anubis out of Manhattan and moved in himself.

— The remains of a defeated King Kong as he got knocked out climbing skyscrapers in Manhattan.

On the second turn Anubis and Cthulhu rolled mainly energy, traded the Superstar card, and slapped the big ape a bit. On my turn I rolled 3 slaps. With my evolution power this would mean not only Kong taking 3 damage, but Anubis and Cthulhu taking 1 each. Bob used his Anubis evolutionary power to deflect it back on me! I was down to 2 health! Fortunately Lee didn’t roll more than 1 slap, so I held on. After the 2nd turn everybody was badly injured–we just weren’t rolling any hearts.

But King Kong’s time in Manhattan would be short. On turn 3, Bob hit him and then Stew slapped him hard but Lee stayed in Manhattan with three health remaining. Then Kong’s luck run out as I managed to roll 4 slaps and Kong was defeated before Lee got his third turn.

With only 3 of us left, and me in Manhattan with almost no health, it looked like the game was going to end quick. But then the Curse cards became favorable to the Scarab holder and we rolled bundles of hearts for health.

— the three remaining players and a game that started to equalize.

As Captain Fish, I grabbed Stink Attack and scattered units into boroughs to attack Anubis and Cthulhu. Stew used Cthulhu to give Bob and I madness tokens which stopped us from re-rolling some dice. Bob used Anubis’ powers to constantly steal energy from Stew and I so he could buy cards.

The game went back and forth for about 30 minutes. Bob and I each dropped Stew’s Cthulhu to zero health on separate turns, only to see Cthulhu not die (I hate that “Even Death May Die evolution card). So…slowly but surely Cthulhu wore us down while he gained fame. Stew ended up holding on and won with Fame.

— all of Cthulhu’s permanent Evolution cards that led to Stew’s victory

In the end, it was a crazy game that started out fast and furious with King Kong getting shellacked early, then settled into a game of attrition.

The Verdict

The Evolution cards are a must for King of New York. Each monster is distinct, which is an improvement over the base game. The new monsters are totally cool and the Anubis Curse Die adds a nice mechanic to the game. A really fun game got even better!

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!

Why Visiting Your Local Game Store is Good — Dice Throne and King of New York/King of Tokyo: King Kong

I am a big fan of buying games from internet sites. I can buy directly from the publisher, I can get a good price from an online retailer like Amazon, I can window shop multiple sites, etc. However, the biggest disadvantage of online shopping is that it is surprisingly easy to miss things. Amazon doesn’t have everything and search results can be more limited than it might appear.

That’s why I love going to my local game store every week to just see what might be there. For those with more inquiring minds, the closet local store to me is The Toledo Game Room. Those of you who go to GenCon might recognize the owner of the Game Room, Daryl, as “The Bits Guy” who sells all the Warhammer bits. Another good store in town is Checkmate Games. If you are in Fresno, Ca, I recommend Crazy Squirrel Game Store.

Anyway, going to the local game store turned up two games/game expansions this week.

First, I found a game that I knew nothing about: Dice Throne

I have only started reading the rules, but Dice Throne looks like a fun game where you can play 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, or free-for-all. I can’t wait to try it out with my usual suspects.

Second, sometimes I find something new for a game that I like. This time it was King Kong for King of Tokyo/King of New York.

I loved the Cthulhu expansion and I am super-pumped to bust out King Kong in my next King of New York game.

The moral of the story

So run, don’t walk, to your local game store to find unexpected gems. And do it like voting in Chicago–early and often!

Excelsior!

Roll 4 Initiative: Dice I Can Read!

Okay, today I am going to talk about a pet peeve of mine…dice that are hard to read!  At some point everyone has bought some fancy dice from the local game store or at a big convention like Origins and Gen Con.  You know the dice that I am talking about, the ones with strange glyphs instead of numbers, funky two-tone paint jobs, outrageous symbols for pips, etc.  They looked really cool and you just had to buy them.

But then the horror, the horror!  In the middle of a hot game of 4th Ed. D&D or maybe old school World of Darkness Vampire you chucked those dice onto the table and, wait on it, wait on it, you couldn’t read the result!  Okay, maybe you teenagers out there with perfect eyesight can read anything from a parsec away, but us old Grognards need some dice that we can read without having to pick them up and hold them two inches from our slowly deteriorating eyeballs!

Well, I found a solution and its called…

Roll 4 Initiative

Roll4Init02

Roll 4 Initiative: Label from the Set of 15 Dice

 

 

Roll4Init01

The Bag of 15 Dice

They are a dice/accessory company out of Southwest Michigan.  And as it says on their label, “Bigger Dice for Bigger Rolls!”  Well, you won’t roll any higher numbers (I have a special set of dice for that, but maybe I should leave that discussion for a different post) but the dice are indeed bigger.

Bigger is Better: R4I Dice are Bigger than Normal

Here is visual proof:

Roll4Init05

The Eyes Have it!  The R4I d20 on the left, a normal d20 on the right.  Visual proof that the Roll 4 Initiative die is bigger!

While it doesn’t look like very much, it is clear that the R4I d20 is just over 2mm while the regular d20 is probably slightly under 2mm.  The base of the triangle on any of the 20 sides is 1.2mm for the R4I d20 and 1.1mm for the regular d20.

The Numbers are Bigger too!

And yes, I guess you do get bigger rolls with the R4I dice because the numbers are slightly bigger/wider.  Wow, bigger in two different ways (I guess I better just leave it there before the jokes begin).

But Wait…There’s More!

Not only are the dice and numbers bigger, the dice are made plain on purpose.  Why?  So that they are even more easy to read from a distance!  You can chuck out a few dice and easily read all of them at a glance.  Here are 4 dice of different sizes:

Roll4Init03

Easy to read isn’t it?

Okay, I know what you are saying, without some other die to compare, how do I know that R4I dice are easier to read?

Well check out this comparison!  I won’t mention from which other dice company I bought the die on the right.

Roll4Init04

Which “16” would you rather read at a distance in a dim, smoke-filled room? You don’t play games in a dim, smoke-filled room…what’s wrong with you, you should!

The Best Part…wait there’s still more?!?

At Gen Con I was able to get a pack of 15 dice for only $6.  Whaaaaattttt?!?  Yep, that pack of dice in the second photo was only $6.  Think about how much you have paid for a standard pack of 7 dice in the cheap see-through plastic container with the cheap black plastic lid that cut your fingers when you tried to open it!  C’mon who hasn’t been sliced by those containers.  I hate them!

Anyway, I have no idea if they offer deals like the one I got at Gen Con from their online store (you can check here  R4I).  All I know is that I am very glad that I found Roll 4 Initiative at Gen Con 2016.

Now I need to get started on that darn D&D adventure so that I can roll some dice!