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.

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New Games that I am Pumped About: Northern Enchantress and Fragged Kingdom

Today was my lucky day! Two new games that I can’t wait to play showed up in either my email inbox or on my front door.

Northern Enchantress — Expansion for Heart of Crown

I really like the new deck building game Heart of Crown from Japanime Games. And just in the time for the holidays the second expansion, Northern Enchantress, has arrived (along with my setup playmat)! Heart of Crown is quicker and simpler to play than Tanto Cuore. The new expansion adds magic and non-humans. I can’t wait to give it a try.

Fragged Kingdom

A while back I picked up the Fragged Empire RPG. The game has some really cool ideas in it, like attribute damage, an innovative combat system, a nice “Spare Time” character development system, and streamlined rules for dealing with items and resources. Fragged Empire is Sci-Fi while Fragged Kingdom is fantasy. It promises to have rules for PCs to have “Holdings” and rule over territory, plus simplified mass combat rules. One gripe I have always had about traditional fantasy RPGs is that they typically deal with holdings and mass combat quite poorly. From my quick perusal of the rules, I have a feeling that Fragged Empire is going to get it right. I gotta get a campaign started right away!

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.

Dynamite Nurse 01

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.

Dynamite Nurse 04

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.

Dynamite Nurse 02

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!

Dynamite Nurse 03

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.