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!

4 Reasons You Should Try Dynamite Nurse

I really like deck-building games.  If you check out my Top 10 Games you will see Eminent Domain listed there.  You can also check out my review of    Tanto Cuore — A Better Game Than Expected.  And in the near future, I will post a review of El Alamein, a sequel to the card building game Barbarossa.

Anyway, this brings me to the new game by Japanime Games/Arclight Games: Dynamite Nurse!  And why I think there are 4 reasons you should give it a try!

1 – Japanime Games/Arclight Games have a great track record!

These companies have been pushing out deck-building games for years now.  They not only know how to make a solid game, but the quality of the overall product is excellent.  Cards have great art, box is solid (it’s a standard card box), rules have been play tested well, cards are balanced in terms of power, and the games generally are fun.

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The Dynamite Nurse box

2 – You really, really, really get to mess with each other in this game

Do you like games that resemble multiplayer solitaire, where each player takes a turn but you never really have to fight/mess with any other player, you know games like Race for the Galaxy?  Do you like Euro-style resource management games with rules that discourage direct conflict and give special advantages to players lagging behind?  Do you like cooperative games where everyone works together to accomplish some namby pamby  “save the world” let’s all feel good sort of goal?

Well too bad for you, Dynamite Nurse is the opposite of that!  In Dynamite Nurse each player operates a hospital and your goal is to heal patients.  But much like the real health care industry, if you see some patients that are in really bad shape or critical condition, you can assign them to your opponents’ hospitals.  You get victory points for each patient that you successfully heal and lose points if they die (you get  a Kill Mark).  So heal the patients that you can, and send the ones that might die to your opponents!  And there are plenty of cards that let you inflict pain on other players’ patients.  So if you just plain can’t heal your own patients, make life miserable for everybody else’s patients!

Disclaimer: no actual real-life patients were harmed in the making of this blog. Honest.  Only cardboard facsimiles of anime patients were harmed.

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Clockwise from top left: a Kill Mark card (you get 1 each time one of your patients dies), the backside of the Kill Mark card (listing VP penalties), Reference Letter (i.e. move those sick patients to your opponents’ hospitals), and Passing the Buck (give someone else your sick patient and take their less sick patient).

3 – There are plenty of paths to victory, because there are a lot of different strategies available from the “town” of cards

Like most of Japanime/Arclight Games deck building games, the “town” of available cards to draft is quite extensive.  Thus, there are many ways to victory.  You can concentrate on drafting cards that give you coins (used to buy more powerful cards), you can go for low-cost combo cards (like White Magic), you can concentrate on events, or you can go for cards to mess with your opponents.  There are many choices.  There is even a rule that if you don’t want to buy the top card on the event pile, you can blindly buy the next card underneath it (if you have enough gold to do so).  Also, when you cure a patient you get to draft the top card on the “Nurses” pile.  Sometimes these cards have negative VP, so there is even a sense of strategic timing involved.

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The “town” of cards to draft.  The yellow circles are costs in gold (top right corner) and benefit (bottom left corner), the red health symbols are used to heal patients.

3 – There are three timing mechanisms that add to the strategy

First, there are only 15 Kill Marks.  When the last Kill Mark is drawn the game ends immediately.  So if you better watch that pile (the Kill Marks are stacked from #15 to #1 to let players know how many are left) and plan your strategy to maximize your VP just as the pile runs out.

Second, on each player’s turn another patient is added to the line of patients being transported in ambulances to player hospitals.  On your turn, you can assign the new patient to whichever player you want (e.g. assign patients in bad shape to your opponents and assign ones with minor injuries to yourself).  However, there can only be a number of patients in ambulances equal to the number of players.  Once the ambulances fill up, patients get sicker (i.e. flip over to critical condition) as they wait to be admitted.  And patients already in critical condition will die if they wait around too long.

Third, your hospital has only two beds, and if you have more patients admitted than that, your patients get sicker.  So the proper assigning of patients to players, admitting your patients to your hospital before they die in an ambulance, healing them to open up beds, and watching that Kill Mark pile are all part of a successful strategy.

In the game we played last night, Stew and Lee were both in the lead (Bob and I were behind by a good margin), but Lee had managed to get all 3 patients in the ambulances assigned to Stew when Lee used a card to move all of them to Stew’s hospital, where he didn’t have beds for them all, they subsequently died, Stew grabbed the last 3 Kill Marks, and the game ended with Lee winning.

4 – You can be the Dynamite Nurse!

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The Dynamite Nurse card!

Whoever has the most Kill Marks has to grab the Dynamite Nurse card.  At the end of the game, it counts as two more Kill Marks, which is going to inflict more negative victory points on whoever has the card (see the photo of the Kill Mark card front and back above).  But, when you have the Dynamite Nurse card, you get an advantage: a good number of event cards and cards that mess with your opponents get put back into the town after you use them — but not if you are the Dynamite Nurse!  Instead, you can put them in your discard pile where they eventually get shuffled into your deck, get back into your hand, and you play them again!  Check out the “Reference Letter” card in the photo above.  If you are the Dynamite Nurse, that card is much like the musical Cats…you can see it over and over and over and over!

So if you like deck building games, or like anime products, or just plain like a good card game, pick up Dynamite Nurse and kill some patients…er, I mean heal your patients.  Did I mention that my wife is a registered nurse?  I didn’t?  Oh well, anyway she says that Dynamite Nurse in no way resembles actually nursing care.  I just thought that I would let you know.

 

Top 5 Multiplayer Strategy Tips

As everyone knows, a multiplayer game is a completely different animal from a two-player or solitaire game.  In a two-player game everything is zero-sum: a gain for me is a loss for my opponent and vice versa. Strategy typically revolves around finding (in Game Theory terms) dominant strategies that will lead to victory.  In other words, each time you are presented with a choice, finding the alternative that maximizes your utility.  In layman’s terms, finding the choice that strictly is better than all the other choices.

Typically, in multiplayer everyone is your adversary, but they also can be your friends.  This dynamic makes strategy in a multiplayer game more of a mixed strategy.  In others words, there may not be a single dominant strategy, rather strategies are also a gamble based on the choices made by the other players.  No strategy is inherently always going to be maximal.  As such, in a multiplayer game you must “read and play” your opponents more than just analyzing the board situation.

What follows are my Top 5 Multiplayer Strategy Tips that are applicable to any and all competitive multiplayer games.  Please note that I am not talking about cooperative games (e.g. Pandemic, Ghost Stories, T.I.M.E Stories, Grizzled, etc.) or multi-person solitaire (e.g. Race for the Galaxy) but rather truly multiplayer games where one player’s actions directly impact another player.  It can be a typical strategy game where you take something directly from an opponent (e.g. Risk) or a game where you fight for resources and territory (e.g. Settlers of Cataan) or even where the only interaction might be drafting a card from a shared hand (e.g. Among the Stars).

#1 Hide in Second Place

Okay, this one should be obvious to most casual and serious gamers.  Basically, you can read this tip as “Do not race into first place too early.”  If you sprint out to a clear lead, everyone else starts gunning for you.  If you put up the first City in Settlers of Cataan, expect that Bandit/Baron/or whatever you call it to be placed on your most productive hex.  Capture the North American continent in Risk?  Watch the attacks on Fortress America commence.  And don’t even think about building that biggest fleet in Enemy in Sight!  Your masts are going to get blown apart by every other player in the game!  Have tons of health in Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards?  You won’t for much longer as every spell gets thrown your way!

So what is a keen player to do?  Stay in second place and keep your quest for victory hidden.  Grab a Special Card in Settlers and try for a Victory Point, or maybe keep your long road just one segment less than the guy with the Longest Road.  In games with a lot of victory points awarded at the end (e.g. Among the Stars), do not build space station blocks that have immediate points, rather build the ones with points counted at the end–such a sneaky way to grab victory from 2nd or even 3rd place.

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Keep these beauties hidden so your opponents can only guess at how many victory points you have.

#2 John the Weaker Opponents

When my brother and I were kids, during holidays we always got in a long game of Risk with our uncles.  Uncle Bruce was clever and tough to beat, but uncle John always used a particular and quite powerful strategy.  He would convince one of our younger cousins that either my brother or I were winning the game.  He would argue that if the weaker player didn’t do something about me or my brother, no one else could.  So after a bit of logic, intimidation, and persuasion, my younger cousin Bruce Jr. would launch suicidal attacks against my troops.  Bruce Jr. couldn’t beat me, but he did weaken me enough for Uncle John to win.

Johning your opponent means to convince a weaker opponent to attack another opponent–thus weakening the stronger one and making your “emerge from second place to win the game” strategy pay off.  It is a very effective strategy that you can use in most multiplayer games where opponents can either pick their targets (e.g. Epic Spell Wars, Enemy in Sight, Dune, Seasons) or in games where geography allows for players to attack a multiple number of “near” opponents (e.g. El Grande, Risk, Eclipse, Kemet, Smallworld), to interfere with “near” opponents by denying them resources (e.g. Settlers, The Golden City), or by making resources more expensive (e.g. Power Grid).  Note that Johning can also be used in card “drafting” games by trying to get other players to deny cards to the “leader” or true target of your Johning strategy.  Try to John players in 7 Wonders so that you can draft a useful card while they draft a card that your key opponent needs.

5 mp tips 02

Who should those Amazons attack?  If you are the Skeletons, John that Amazon player and make him go after the Humans–convince him that clearly the Humans need some paring back!

Johning is a strategy that you should use much like voting in Chicago: do it early and often.

#3 Do Not Leave the Table for a Slice of Salami

When we were playing those childhood games of Risk, I learned a very hard lesson: never, ever leave the table to get something to eat.  I come from an Italian family and we always had multiple sticks of salami around at each holiday. The temptation of grabbing a few slices would pull me away from the Risk board often.  And what awaited me when I returned…a new alliance among two or more players hellbent on destroying my empire!  Of course, some members of this new alliance appear to have been victims of Johning, but that wouldn’t make their troops fight any less effectively.

5 mp tips 03

What the?!?  I left the table to get a slice of salami and now my Fortress Europa is under attack from all sides!  I fear an alliance has been made against me!

The moral of the story is that if you leave the table, other players can plot against you.  I recommend stacking up the food and drink within easy reach of wherever you are seated.  Oh, and develop a strong bladder.

#4 Run with the Pack/Dodge the Pack

Some games are set up to reward players who follow the same strategy and punish the lone wolves.  For example, in Eminent Domain if you try a Produce/Trade strategy by yourself, you will not win.  If no one else is leading Produce/Trade, you cannot follow.  Thus, you will have to do all the work yourself by consistently leading Produce/Trade.  Meanwhile, the other players who are all leading AND following a Warfare strategy are smoking you like a cheap cigar!   Running with the Pack will not insure that you win, but you certainly will not come in last.

Drafting games follow the opposite rule: Dodge the Pack.  Because drafting forces players to focus on accumulating one or two types of resources, each player has to ignore/pass along the resources that they do not want.  For example, how many times have I played 7 Wonders and seen the Scientific structures keep circulating?  If no one wants them, you can be sure that you can grab them all!

5 mp tips 04

So many scientific cards getting passed to me.  What to do, what to do?  I think its time for some scientific discoveries!

#5 Limit the Strongest Opponent

I know that when I sit down to play a strategic game that my brother Stew, the West Point Graduate, is going to play to win.  He likes strategy games, he is good at strategy, and he is ruthless.  Thus, I look for ways to keep him in check.  This can be overt, such as not trading cards with him in Settlers or drafting cards that he wants in games like 7 Wonders or Among the Stars.  Or it can be covert, like when I try to John the other players into hemming in Stew in Smallworld or Eclipse.  The point is to not let Stew run amok over the weaker players. Stew already would consider me to be his strongest opponent, so I can’t expect help from him.  Thus, returning the favor is the best strategy to pursue.  Sure, sometimes we end up negating each other and somebody else wins, but better the occasional loss than the beat down that an unchecked Stew can unleash.

As an example, when I play Dune (or the Fantasy Flight copy, Rex) and I have to pick a traitor at the start of the game, I always pick one from Stew’s leaders.  Why?  Because I know that if I have to battle Stew, he is going to be prepared with a weapon, defense, good leader, etc.  I will need the traitor to turn the battle my way.  Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that he has taken a traitor from among my leaders too!

5 mp tips 05

Hmmm, 4 possible traitors.  Stew playing the Bene Gesserit?  My only choice is to make Princess Irulan my traitor.

Conclusion

I hope these tips help you win more of your multiplayer games.  Remember, the main difference between multiplayer and 2-player games is that in the former you must remember to also consider the other players and their strategies.  John them, focus on the top player, run/dodge the pack, hide in 2nd place, and never ever leave the table for a slice of salami.

 

Gen Con Day One

My brother and I wandered the Exhibit Hall today and only made our way through just over half of it!  Tomorrow I will post some photos from the Exhibit Hall, but today I want to show you what we purchased so far.

Eminent Domain: Microcosm.  It’s a 2-player game set in the Eminent Domain universe and promises to last only 10 minutes.

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Two expansions for Smash Up: It’s Your Fault (fan requests) and Cease and Desist (Sci Fi/Fantasy that mimic Star Wars, GoT, etc).

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The Big Book of Madness.  A co-operative game for 2-5 players.

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Two copies of a Promo Card for Tanto Cuore.

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And the free annual Gen Con d6 from Crystal Castle.

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We have already played a couple games and I am going to write up some reviews once I get back home.

 

That’s it for now.  More good stuff from Gen Con 2016 tomorrow!

Battlecruisers: a Review

 

Let me start by saying that Eminent Domain (a deckbuilding game from Tasty Minstrel Games (website here  TMG ) is one of my favorite games.  I have a preference for science fiction themed games (such as Among the Stars, Ascending Empires) so I am usually willing to take a chance on expansions to sci fi games that I like.  About six months ago I picked up a Game Trade Magazine (Game Trade Magazine) at the Toledo Game Room (Toledogameroom).  I read in it that an expansion for Eminent Domain would be released in 2016 (it’s called Exotica, and a review of it will be coming in the next month or so).  Right next to that listing was a standalone game in the Eminent Domain Universe: Battlecruisers, which was also available for purchase in 2016.  I promptly pre-ordered both from CoolStuffInc. (CoolStuffInc) and waited for them to arrive once they were released.

After waiting about four months, a couple weeks ago they showed up at my door!  At first, I was a bit underwhelmed by Battlecruisers.  The box was very small, maybe 5 1/2″ by 4″ by 2 1/2′ deep, so I wondered what exactly had I purchased. I grew skeptical about my judgment but please faithful readers, continue reading and you will see that I would soon be pleasantly surprised for sometimes big things come in small packages.

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The Contents and Rules

From the box cover you can see that the game is for 3 to 5 players and has a duration of roughly 20 minutes.  The short play time scared me even more than the size of the box.  I can count on a single hand the number of games that last from about 15-20 minutes that I would consider worth the time playing them (as an exception to this conclusion, Lost Cities by Rio Grande Games is an example of an excellent short game).  Fearing the worst, I opened the box and poured out the contents.  165 cards, 5 player boards, and 39 tokens (mainly cardboard victory points with a few counters to indicate shields and disabled ships).  Moreover, the 165 cards are really 5 decks of similar 33 cards.  Now I was double-worried!

The rulebook is a simple 4-page fold-out just smaller than the standard 8×11 piece of paper.  The entire back page has suggested scenarios and the first page is mainly chrome and set-up.  I was getting triple-worried!

Okay, I calmed down and read the rules, which took me maybe 3 to 4 minutes to complete.  The game is quite simple and can be broken down into just a dozen or so simple rules:

  1. Each player has the exact same set of cards (6 for 3 players, 7 for 4 players, and 8 for 5 players).
  2. Each player randomly puts a facedown card in their Discard pile and randomly puts a faceup card in their Recovery Zone.  The remaining cards are their hand.
  3. Each turn every player selects and places a card from their hand facedown in the In Play area.
  4. All cards are revealed.  Cards are played in order from lowest numbered to highest numbered.
  5. If 2 or more players play the same card (in other words, two or more play Laser Cannons), each player suffers the Clash effect on the card.  If a player plays an unmatched card, they resolve the main effect. All of this, of course, in the order mentioned in #4.
  6. After finishing #5, any player with only 1 card left flips their playboard to the Red Alert side.
  7. Any player with no cards left is eliminated.
  8. All remaining players take the card (or cards) in the Recovery Zone into their hand.  Any card In Play moves to the Recovery Zone.
  9. If any player has 15 Victory Points they win.  If there is only one player left, he/she wins.
  10. If more than one player remains, return to step #2.

The playboards help keep all of this card rotation organized.  You can see in the photo below that the areas are clearly labelled, with Recovery Zone to the right, Discards on the left, and In Play on top.

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If a player has only 1 card left, he/she flips his/her board to the Red Alert side.  Their sole card gets played into the In Play zone (like normal) but now it also counts as being in the Recovery Zone.  The consequence of this is that In Play cards normally cannot be sent to the discard pile by any player’s effects, but Recovery Zone cards can be.  Thus, once in Red Alert a player can be eliminated by having to discard their sole remaining card.

Analysis

After reading the rules, I thought that the game was a bit too simple.  Across two weeks I played about 10 games with half of them being a 3-player game and the other half 4-player.  Boy was I wrong, wrong and triple-wrong!  This game is great!

Okay, let me back up and explain why.  The bulk of the game is determined by each player’s choice of which card to play each turn. Here are what the cards look like:

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The large number in the upper right is the timing element: lower numbered cards play before higher numbered cards.  The upper left are icons that represent an attribute of a card, such as people, supplies, etc.  These icons combo from the Recovery Zone with the main effects of other cards.  The box of text is the main effect, while the Clash effect is listed in the bottom right of the card.

Each player is missing at least one card from their deck, as it was discarded before the game began, so each player’s set of cards is slightly different.  Moreover, all players can see what is in the Recovery zones, giving some insight on what cannot be played by a certain player.  The goal each turn is to either get victory points, force one or more opponents to discard card(s), or play an advantageous effect such as returning cards from your discard pile to your hand, while also avoiding clashing with any other player.

As an example, here is the Card #31 Laser Cannons:

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When played, this card is going to make at least one player discard a card.  If only one player has it in play, all other players (who are not shielded) must discard.  If two or more are played, a clash occurs, and all players with Laser Cannons in play have to discard a card.  Importantly, they cannot discard the Laser Cannons, unless they are in Red Alert in which case they must discard Laser Cannons and they will be eliminated later in the turn.

Basically, the game is about managing your hand and getting a good rotation of cards moving from In Play to Recovery to your hand and back into play.  At the same time, you need to figure out what other players are likely to play and avoid clashing with them.  This makes for some tense games of chicken as two or more players try to bluff playing a certain card hoping to get another player to play a different card in response.  The most hilarious moments in the game occur when players bluff and double-bluff and then still play clashing cards!

Across the ten or so games that I participated in, I think only 2 or 3 were won by eliminating all but one player through discards.  Most of the wins were via getting to 15 victory points.  The games were faster than the advertised 20 minute playtime.  We averaged anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes.  I think veteran gamers are all going to be able to play a game in under 20 minutes almost every time.  We found this enjoyable as we were able to play multiple games, giving everyone a chance to claim at least one victory.

The Good and the Better

The game is truly fun to play!  The fear of clashing drives the tactical element, as each player has to plan ahead and manage his/her hand and anticipate the actions of the other players.  The joy of sneaking in a Captain (gets massive victory points), Attack Bots (take a card from an opponent’s Recovery Zone and add it to your hand), or the devastating Laser Cannons brings absolute joy to the player who accomplished the feat.  Moreover, there is a subtlety to purposely clashing in order to force a Red Alert player to discard their last card.

Thematically, the game holds together very well.  The art is borrowed from the Eminent Domain deckbuilding game, so the space theme is evident.  Moreover, as a player loses cards they get a sense that their battlecruiser is getting blown apart by the other players, both in the physical sense of having fewer cards, and in the functional sense of having fewer tactical options (i.e. lose your Shields card and now you cannot activate any more defensive Shields as long as the card stays in your Discards).

And now for the better!  Battlecruisers has an assigned set of cards for a “first” game.  Unlike (Shadows over Normandie) which makes its initial scenario too complicated, the cards used in the first game are quite straight-forward, with none of them having any combination effects via the icons in the top left corner.  This allow players to understand the basic flow of the game and ascend the learning curve at a nice pace.

The back page of the rulebook gives 21 separate scenarios for players who are ready to jump into more advanced play.  Each scenario, with names like “Clash of Captains,” “Tech Warfare,” “Scorched Space,” and “The Nushura Contingency,” list a set of cards to be used for that particular scenario.  We played through 4 or 5 of these different scenarios–and I can confidently say, each played differently than the other.  “Scorched Space” was a discard-fest as we blasted each other’s battlecruiser apart; “The Bad, the Worse, and the Ugly” was a grinder where it was really, really, tough to get either victory points or force discards.  The rules also encourage players to assign their own set of cards if they choose.  Therefore, replayablity seems quite high, at least after 10 or so games.

Final Words

The numbered sequence of cards is not complete, indicating that one or more expansions are probably on the horizon should sales of Battlecruisers be robust.  Given that TMG has released expansions for the base game Eminent Domain, I fully expect them to do so for Battlecruisers.

So if your gaming group is looking for a game to play in between longer duration games, or if your group likes to play a single game 4 or 5 times in a row, I recommend that you run, don’t walk, to your local game store (or hit up one of the online retailers) and get yourself a copy of Battlecruisers!