Kickstarter Finds: Shifting Realms and Horizons

I really love to gamble on new games on Kickstarter. Why you ask? Because sometimes the smaller or new game designers come up with something interesting, like when I picked up Helionox. Well, I recently received two more games. And I am telling you they are so good that if you play them it will be raining fun! So grab your umbrella-ella-ella-ella and give these games a try.


Shifting Realms

Shifting Realms is a 2-4 player game that should take about 60 minutes to play. Each player must send their scouts and soldiers across 3 different (but connected) realms trying to earn the most victory points. Each realm has a different set of structures to build and realm-specific cards and events (watch out for that dragon!).

— the 3 randomly chosen boards placed together (each is 4×4) with some structures placed. The cubes are resources (brown=wood; pink=magic; grey=metal), the yellow markers are gold=currency; the cylinders are scouts that gather resources and the Meeples are soldiers that protect your scouts or alternately run off your opponents’ scouts

The game runs on a simple action taking mechanic (ie take 3 actions on your turn) where scout placement/movement leads to resource acquisition and then the building of structures. There is some direct confrontation as a player can use soldiers to run opponents’ scouts off of resource allocations and replace them with their own scouts.

— the score track

Each game 3 Realms are chosen randomly to comprise the board (the game comes with 5 starter realms). Each has a different set of story cards, structures, resource allocation, end game condition and maybe some special rule(s). Once the end game conditions of 2 Realms are met, the game ends. The game play is fairly simple and fast. Players must optimize placing units, moving them around, obtaining story cards, and building structures.


Horizons

Horizons is a 2-5 player game along the standard lines of a 4x space game (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate). Players play either a human faction (in the standard game all players play human factions with similar abilities; in the advantages game the backside of the player boards have alien races with unique abilities).

— the faction board. Actions are listed on the left, the structure (energy collectors, metal collectors, and colonies) on the right, and the world types (with building costs) on the top.

Each player takes two actions per turn in which they try to maximize the return from these actions. Players have to “adapt” to planets before they can build structures on them. But they must first “explore” in order to find desired planets that match each player’s mission cards. The goal is to have the most victory points when the game ends (in the base game this is when any player places the last of their 5 colonies).

— the solar systems and worlds. With some collectors and colonies placed on them.

Victory points are earned by 1) completing missions from a set of randomly shuffled mission cards, 2) collecting knowledge, typically from exploring, and 3) controlling systems at the end of the game. Control is determined by counting structures: 2 per colony, 1 per either collector. Whomever has the most gets 6 VP and whomever is in 2nd gets 3 (ties change these payouts a bit, but no need to go into that here).

Key to the game are the Ally cards. Ally cards are activated when the player takes the action associated with the Ally card. For example, if a player had the Librarian Ally, when that player takes an Explore action, they both do the regular action and ALSO activate the Librarian’s action. Allies can only use their actions twice before they go back into their respective piles. So grabbing the right Ally Cards and pairing them with future actions effectively multiplies a player’s actions on a turn.

— The Librarian, an Ally card. When you take an Explore action (the grayish Star in the blue square), you gain the Librarian action: gain 1 knowledge(= 1 VP) and play a new world.

In our first game, we all played Human factions with similar actions. Lee and Stew seemed to maximize the Ally cards the most effectively. Both ended with 29 VP with Lee winning based on the tie breaker of whomever had the most resources of energy and metal.

— Lee’s winning total. He had many knowledge tokens (the purple triangle wooden tokens) plus he got VP from missions and coming in second in all 4 solar systems (VP collected at the end is represented by the purple cardboard triangles).

Overall, it was a fun and fast game with elements of 4x exploration, action management, and area control that combined nicely into an enjoyable game.

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!

Star Realms: Frontiers and Beyond!

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

— Wow, that’s a lot of Star Realms

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

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

Yee-haw!

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!

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!