Star Wars Rebellion — Labor Day Fun and Freedom in the Galaxy

This Labor Day my brother and I finally got around to playing a game of Star Wars Rebellion. We had been interested in playing a game for a while. And we had two reasons why this game looked attractive.

Freedom in the Galaxy

First, the game is a new version of the old SPI game Freedom in the Galaxy. If you aren’t familiar with that game, it was released in 1979 and features a band of rebels taking on an evil galactic empire. The empire also has a “Planetary Stabilizer” by which it could destroy planets. The rebels had a secret base and tried to use subversive missions to unseat the dastardly empire. Sound familiar?

Freedom in the Galaxy was a thinly veiled Star Wars…but it couldn’t use that name or any other direct reference to George Lucas’ movie. But we all knew what we were playing, and Freedom in the Galaxy was a good game. It captured the fun of the Star Wars movie in a great board game.

— Freedom in the Galaxy. My copy is unpunched. My brother has the more well worn version that we used in our childhood

Fantasy Flight Reimagining and Star Wars

Second, Fantasy Flight was going to redo Freedom in the Galaxy. FFG had already reimagined the great Avalon Hill Game Dune. They updated the rules, board, and components and put out the new game as Rex. FFG couldn’t call it Dune because they had the rights to the game and rules, but not to Frank Herbert’s product. Thus, FFG set Rex in its Twilight Imperium universe. The game is good, but somehow not being set in the Dune universe took something intangible away from the game.

When I heard that Fantasy Flight Games had bought the rights to both the Star Wars license and the Freedom in the Galaxy game, I knew they would get it right this time.

Star Wars Rebellion

And this game is fun! FFG streamlined the rules, primarily by ditching the world environments and different ground units, upgraded the components, and added all the desired Star Wars elements. Now you have an actual Death Star miniature, along with all the other Star Wars personalities and units. The core of Freedom in the Galaxy is still there, hidden rebel base, missions, quick combat, so this is basically the same game…but updated from a 1979 game and made into a 2010s game with all the cards, minis, and chips that you expect from a FFG game.

— Star Wars Rebellion, the reimagining by Fantasy Flight Games

So things have come full circle: a game that was Star Wars that couldn’t call itself Star Wars is now called Star Wars Rebellion. The good game that Freedom in the Galaxy was is still there…but now you don’t have to imagine that Zina Adora is Princess Leia.

Now I can’t wait to integrate the Star Wars Rise of the Empire expansion. It has all the Rogue One content. I loved that movie!

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!

Merchant of Venus Memorial Day Spectacular

Memorial Day is a perfect time to get everyone together and play those games that you can’t get to normally.  You know what I am talking about, those games that take like 4+ hours and you just can’t fit them in to a normal work night gaming session.

So, we managed to bust out Merchant of Venus from Fantasy Flight games, a re-imagining of the classic Avalon Hill game.

Merchant of Venus 01

Merchant of Venus as redone by Fantasy Flight Games

Basically if you haven’t played it, each player flies around space exploring 14 systems.  You look for goods to trade, passengers to ferry, new civilizations, etc.  You improve your ship and piloting abilities as you go.  Whoever has the most credits at the end of the game wins.

Merchant of Venus is a typically Fantasy Flight game…in other words, it has a lot of counters, cards, etc.  It also is kind of an “Ameritrash” game in that you roll lots of dice, there is a lot of randomness, and in the end the random behavior usually makes a bigger difference in the outcome than any true strategic and/or tactical decisions.  In short, it plays a bit like Talisman–move around and hope for good luck.  But it is quite fun if no one takes it too seriously.

Merchant of Venus 02

A typical start to Merchant of Venus.  My ship card is on the bottom with lasers set to 1 and shields set to 2.

Anyway, Bob, Stew and I got in a pretty fun game.  Stew started by heading toward the Nebula which slowed him down.  I took advantage of some favorable placement of passengers and Bob started trading everywhere he could.

Merchant of Venus 03

My ship after I increased my pilot level to 2.  I am transporting the Diva and have added the Zen Paint Job and Throttle Boost.  I also have discovered two civilizations, upgraded my lasers, added cargo space, and sourced a Yellow Drive.

Through about 20 or so turns, Bob and I were raking in the credits while Stew slowly caught up to us.  The game lasts about 2-4 hours on average, and since we hadn’t played it in forever, it took some time to set up.  So after 3 hours and 21 turns, we decided to go eat and call it quits.  We didn’t figure out who won because it was just fun to play.

Merchant of Venus 04

The game board when we decided to quit.  Stew (with the Green ship) is trying to find the undiscovered civilization of the Humans.  His pilot was Human and we never found them so Stew couldn’t use his racial discount.  Bob (the Red ship) was in that system so Stew was hoping that the Humans were not there but in the system with his Green ship. 

Merchant of Venus is a fun game but you need time to play it.  If we had played to the 30 turn limit, we would’ve easily taken another hour.  So maybe on the next holiday we might finish a game…

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).