Category Archives: Board Games

Kickstarter Suggestions

This is a real short post to tell you about 2 great Kickstarter projects that are really great and could use your help.

Corporate America: The political satire

This board game is a great fun satire of the American presidential campaign trail. It plays out like a cross between monopoly and diplomacy with a turn track to keep the games short(er), resulting with all the politics of diplomacy with the money grabbing fun of monopoly. Kinda, it’s the best comparison I can come up with it really doesn’t have much in common with monopoly apart from you have money and buy businesses that give you income. After that the comparison falls flat as Corporate America is far more entertaining than monopoly or diplomacy mostly due to it’s strong theme. I strongly recommend you check it out and pass the message on to any who would enjoy it.

Valiant

Valiant looks to be an excellent film, they just need the help to pay for the equipment needed to finish it off. The film is a action-adventure/scifi film that is utilising some excellent old school visual effects and have some industry veterans who are volunteering their time to help the dream come true. Go and have a look at the kickstarter for some example videos and stills of the great production value that is being put into this project.

Kickstarter Boardgames Double: The Keep and Disaster Looms review.

Intro & The Keep

So today I have 2 topics to talk about that are on kickstarter, the first is “The Keep”. A revolutionary system for storing and moving your board games ‘en masse’ that has 7 days left to reach its funding goal (and I really hope it does, these kickstarter games don’t always have the best boxes). Hit the link to find out more: The Keep (The video itself explains far better than I can) they could really do with your help.

Now onto…

Disaster Looms Review

Disaster Looms is marketed as a 2-4 (recommended 3-4, 5-6 with expansion) player 90 minute space exploration business game. The aim of the game is to become the largest corporation after the imminent demise of earth, this is achieved mainly through the ferrying of customers from earth to your own colonies with technologies and resources (money) being secondary. Now it should be noted at the start that this is an independent board game and the companies first so there were some issues with production of a few pieces and the rulebook’s weren’t quite satisfactory (really made me wish I had a Keep cause the kickstarter bonuses and the expansion really filled the box up). Thou neither stopped our enjoyment of the game one bit in respect to that I won’t be looking at components and rulebook as this has been done rather thoroughly over at the BGG forum for the game.

Mechanics

I’ll cover a few of the main mechanics of the game that we liked and those that we didn’t really get to play much with. First of all the technology mechanic. This is a semi random deck of cards that the players can buy from over the course of the game, each technology giving you a temporary advantage over your opponents. The reason I say temporary is that technologies in play are either private – they belong to a player and only he/she can use it freely (other players can pay to use private technologies), or public domain – all players can use the technology for free. A player is limited to a maximum of 3 private technologies and if he/she purchases a fourth they must sell it to the public domain. This mechanic is my favourite in the game as if you end up exploring mostly barren worlds and can’t really get lots of resources to spend on technologies, eventually they will filter down meaning that you are not left completely in the dust by luck of the draw.
I mentioned exploring which is the biggest random factor in the game, again this is a deck split into thirds of hexagonal tiles that put the most valuable worlds later on in the game but also the last third randomly has the cataclysm in it which ends the game. In our first game I happened to draw unproductive planets, empty space and asteroids but I managed to keep myself in the game by trading technologies into the public domain, usually for a profit but not always which meant that I tied for second at the end of the game. A point about the exploration tiles that greatly adds to the fun value of the game is the Event tile, these tiles have an event that occurs affecting one or more players for good or bad when it is drawn. The good thing is that most of the event tiles also allow you to draw another tile so they don’t usually detriment you too much.

Conclusion

Overall the mechanics in the game are very well balanced and unlike some games it is rather difficult to destroy someone before the end of the game, unless of course everyone gangs up on you to steal your planets, but that’s just mean – and probably not really possible. If you can get hold of it I would highly recommend it as apart from the odd issue with manufacturing, the art and presentation are excellent and fit the theme perfectly. Finally I’d like to say well done to the guys at Break From Reality Games on an excellent first outing into the board games industry.

Ventura Board Game review

So today I’m writing a review about a game I now have managed to play a few times now and have quite enjoyed. The game is called Ventura.

Overall Gameplay

The box states, 2-4 players and 60 minutes playing time. We have found that it is best played with 4 as this allows the most opportunity for varied strategy. Also as it is a strategy game we wondered how you managed to play a game that looks like complicated risk in an hour, the answer to this is that the way you win is by being the first to score 30 victory points – which is almost annoyingly easy for the first few games as this time limit restrains you to about 15 turns with one person  in control of the central territories. We found that this game has a quite high learning curve due to the large quantity of rules you need to even start playing but gladly none of these rules are fairly complicated and during play work together to make the game flow quite nicely.

Presentation

The game is well presented with the flavour text and images on the cards being top notch and well suited to the theme of 14th century Italy. The illustrations on the terrain hexes are simple and leave room for all the icons representing it’s attributes, the only issue we had with these is that the difference between a city and town – both grey bordered hexes – is on the illustrations and there is no textual way of knowing the difference (See below image that I found online that shows the difference – note that there are only 4 cities, your home city tile). My last issue is that the numbered army counters, thou nicely modelled, make the numbers on them difficult to see in anything except broad daylight without painting the raised numbers white. On the plus side your ‘family’ board doubles as a reference sheet for the phases of the game (which there are a lot) which becomes a much needed aid when learning the game.

Terrain Tiles Quick Reference

Terrain Tiles Reference

Gameplay

The gameplay it’s self is simple enough when you get past the sheer quantity of what you need to know and the number of steps to a turn. In a nutshell (and not quite in order but close to):

  • You get points and money based on your board position.
  • You get 1 free card or territory to place and then can buy extra cards if you have the cash left.
  • You modify your territories if needed (there are 2 troop types, one (the army) consolidates a conquered territory at the end of a round meaning it gives you an income next round, or the other (a company) which consolidates it after the income phase meaning you have to wait 2 rounds to get income after conquering it).
  • Deploy new troops by paying the cost and playing the cards on your family board.
  • Moving around the board and fighting other players troops.

Not too tricky, but you have about 12 A4 pages of text for all the possible difficulties – it was written by a rules lawyer I’m sure!

Conclusion

An excellent fun game, my recommendation for learning this is allow time for 2 games and one player briefly skims the book in advance (so he/she knows where to look for each bit). To explain the game he/she reads out the phase list, referring to the icons on the family board, giving a brief description of what happens. Then he/she should read out the aim of the game and the “How To Win” section on the last/second to last page, which tells you how to get victory points, briefly cover combat, then go through setup and start playing muddling your way through your first game. Then play a second game which shall be more enjoyable as you know what’s happening.

Agricola, latin german farming fun

I’ve been on holiday, so have not been doing much work but plenty of board gaming, here is a review of the game Agricola.

First Impressions.

Agricola, meaning farmer in latin and designed by a german. This game, unfortunately, has an extremely high learning curve compared to several others I have played, which layers itself on as you move off the simpler family version. The game in a nutshell is a competitive farm development game split into several rounds and stages. Each round has a number of actions that your family members may take to gain resources/food/animals, upgrade/expand your farm or expand your family. This in itself is fairly straight forward until you add more than 1 player and each action can only be done once a round – we found that this proved to be the biggest learning curve, to be able to win you have to (in increasing scale of difficulty) understand the game, plan several rounds ahead and then outthink your opponents. All together people only tend to enjoy this game if they have the tenacity to get through the initial block of “This is so confusing and different to everything else I’ve played!!!”, I have decided that Agricola is best summed up as multiplayer farm chess.

Gameplay.

As most of the complexity in Agricola’s gameplay comes from how the individual actions work and some of the description of said actions can be rather wordy I will keep this gameplay overview to a fairly high level. Inset right you can see the action board, each rectangular area represents 1 action, e.g. the one with the text ‘Plow 1 Field’. This board doesn’t change whichever version you are playing, but there is another board which changes depending on whether you are playing the family/full version or how many players are playing. Also as you can see top right of the image a space with the text ‘Round 1’ in it, this and another 2 boards have spaces for a partially randomised set of cards that gradually reveal actions over the course of the game. Now below you can see a players board with a fully built up farm, the blue disks on the left are your family members. To take an action you simply remove one of the discs from your board and place it on the action space you wish to take, that action is now yours for the duration of the round and no-one else can take it away from you! Lastly in my gameplay summary a harvest occurs every couple of rounds, in this stage you harvest fields (the little brown squares with yellow and orange discs on them), feed your family and then your animals can breed (the cubes in the fenced off area). The harvest stage is probably the most important as failing to feed your family has a big negative on your score, also it’s where you get more food (in a roundabout way through getting vege’s and grain back off your fields and breeding animals).

 

Personal Thoughts.

Due to the complexity of this game I am not going to give one of my usual summaries but more of a list of what I think about this game and more importantly why you may enjoy it as well.

  • Requires you to think multiple steps ahead.
  • Can be played solo.
  • Every game is different.
  • Once you get past the initial learning curve the game is very enjoyable and one of the most strategic games I have played.
  • Encourages flexibility in your thinking (If you want to win).
  • Decently simulates a farm, somehow.
  • Even if you lose you can still set a personal record.
  • Better than farmville.
  • So many different ways of playing one game.

Discworld: Ankh-Morepork Board Game Review

This last weekend I hosted a board-game and PC game LAN with a few friends. I had managed to secure my collectors copy of Discworld: Ankh-Morepork. The collector’s edition is only available from Treefrog Games in the UK, in New Zealand Mighty Ape is one of the best, thou it isn’t yet released here. Onto my review of the game (from those 6 or so games we played).

First Impressions

Martin Wallace of Treefrog Games has captured the madness that is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld nearly perfectly, the game is VERY well presented with the art on the cards and the board being of exceptional quality (apparently this is also how Terry Pratchett envisioned the characters and places), the collectors having the extra touch of no number 8 anywhere in the game, Discworld fans will under stand the significance of this. In our first game we played we really had to test out the gameplay a bit as it was rather unlike any game any of us had played before, requiring a slightly different mind-set. Eventually we discovered the rather backstabbing flavour of the game (We took our cue from an interview with Martin Wallace I watched about the game), treachery and subterfuge galore! This lead to great fun as generally winning outright took second seat to making your friends lose, our best moments all included a brilliant combination of cards to place yourself one step ahead while kicking your opponent in the groin!

Gameplay

The game is fairly simple to play, you have a secret personality with a victory condition to take control over Ankh-Morepork and each turn you play a card to attempt to further this aim and prevent anyone else from attaining theirs first. The best part about these victory conditions is that they must be achieved at the start of your turn (with the exception of Commander Vimes who wins if the card deck runs out first) meaning that convincing other players that you are someone different often becomes more important than outright going for your victory.

Each turn, as stated before, consists of playing a card, then making sure you have at least 5 cards in hand by drawing from the draw pile. Each card has some symbols on it telling you what to do, you also have a player reference card which is useful for reference initially on what each symbol does, but they are simple and after maybe the first game it will spend all it’s time flipped over telling you all the victory conditions and the building abilities. Some sample cards are depicted below, the green bordered ones being drawn in the first half of the game, the brown in the second half:

Each symbol does something different and an interesting rule (as you have to play a card every turn) is that all symbols except the random event symbol (the 8 pointed star) are optional so you could play a card and not do any of the actions on it, strange as it may seem I did this a few times just to swap cards. The random event cards as depicted below (with some area cards on the right) are fun in that they mess up the game indiscriminately, so you do not really want to play them, as they might hit you as well, but their other effects are sometimes worth the risk, or if you like chaos you’ll probably play them anyway.

Overall the gameplay is balanced, there are multiple ways to stop someone from winning; mostly winning yourself being the main one. With my group of friends the gameplay itself quite quickly took priority over winning as the game was that fun, then the surprise from everyone when someone got overlooked and snuck in a win. So I don’t know how the game would play with highly competitive people but with my semi-competitive group we had a lot of fun (every game giving us a chance to get back at the person who got us last time) and for me personally if I am having fun winning becomes only a nice to have at the end.

(I have skipped over the details of the gameplay mechanics as they are fairly dull and boring to explain, the sum of their parts is what makes the game).

Conclusion

This is a game I would highly recommend, easy to pick up and play and I would suggest you plan for at least 2 games the first time you play as we played 4 in a row in our first sitting and haven’t played less than 2 in a single sitting, the games ~1 hour time helps with this. Thou its short play time would suggest a filler style game, Discworld: Ankh-Morepork‘s theme, speed and general enjoyability place it in my staple games that I could quite happily organise a gaming evening around.

7 Wonders Board Game Review.

Well today I am doing a review of the board game 7 Wonders and its expansion (adding an 8th wonder) 7 Wonders Leaders.

Overall Impressions

We have played about 4 games of this now, it’s age rating of 13+ is about correct for the basic gameplay but the actual scoring of the game is tricky to get your head around as it determines your strategy for the whole game. That being said we discovered that with the Leaders expansion you get a much more strategic game as the leaders drastically change how you plan your strategy. Without the expansion the Wonder boards did this a bit, but you could ignore the boards completely and still win, with the expansion if you ignored what you picked you could potentially shoot yourself in the foot.

Presentation

The presentation of the card faces and the boards is all very well done with very beautiful and detailed art on the wonders (one of our players got annoyed trying to wipe “dirt” of their board which was actually birds in the picture). The rules are well written and don’t leave room for interpretation (which is a very good thing) and include a quick reference version, this makes it much easier to start off with until you get the hang of what the symbols mean.

Gameplay

I’ll start off by saying the learning curve for this will vary from person to person, those familiar with the drafting mechanics of the game will pick it up easily as will those who can match symbolic patterns together with their conceptual counterparts (for those of us who can do both you’ll be forming strategies by game 2!). Even for those game-players who struggle with this you should be able to get the hang of the game in a couple of games, just keep the quick rules handy. As I mentioned before the game uses a drafting mechanic, for those who don’t know what this is everyone is dealt out a set number of cards and then play commences by playing a card and then passing the remaining cards to the person next to you. The game has carefully balanced this at the different number of players by removing and adding specific cards to the deck to even the number of points available. Personally I like the drafting mechanic as it forces you to pick the card to play strategically dependant on what your neighbours are doing and what you need, also this eliminates the ‘perfect starting hand’ as all this means in 7 Wonders is that you get the first pick and then the rest of the cards will go through everyone else.

The actual game is split into 3 “Ages” denoting a single round where you “draft” through a 7 card hand, each card has a cost (could be 0, resources, or a building in a previous age) what it produces (the aforementioned resources, trading values, victory points or a few others) and what it could build in the next age. Cards with buildings as a requirement have the option of paying its resource cost or not if the previous building is built. The requirements are fulfilled by either paying to use your neighbours resources or those you have already built previously. I’ll stop there before I make it sound too complicated and you don’t try it!! At the bottom there is an example of some of the age 3 cards, as I mentioned before. Red is used for fighting points, yellow is commercial buildings, blue are victory points and green is science, the only ones not pictured here are the resources which are brown and only appear in ages 1 and 2 (you can see their icons in the top left requirements).

Lastly I will talk about the Leaders expansion, only to be tackled after at least one play of the standard game. The leaders expansion adds leaders, obviously, a new set of cards that you draft before the first age and then play at the start of each age, they give a range of bonus that will affect how you play the game – if you enjoy the base game I would highly recommend it as it allows for more focussed strategies that the original doesn’t necessarily encourage, like winning through money.

 

I hope you enjoyed this review, I’m fairly new to this review blogging so feel free to post comments with criticisms, suggestions or any thing really.

All work and no play leads to the Arena Maximus…

Well I didn’t name this blog “A Programming Gamer’s Blog” for no reason, this blog post has absolutely nothing to do with my work (web development), or even programming at all! Today I am writing about a board game I picked up recently from Mighty Ape called Arena Maximus. When I bought it, it was going cheap in one of their Daily Deals (I’m addicted to that page…) so I thought I’d grab it and have a go with my family.

Surprisingly enough it was a lot of fun with great artwork that appeals to most audiences. Now the story behind the game is that you and up to 4 friends/enemies are chariot drivers in a fantasy set coliseum, to win is very simple, cross the finish line first. The board is a series of tiles that you reveal in groups of 3 when the player in front reaches the last face up tile. This doesn’t seem so bad initially until you realise that if you are going really fast and are in front you don’t know whats under those face down tiles! Before I go on I’ll say here that each tile is either a blank piece of track, the 1 healing station or a hazard – hazards cause your chariot damage relative to how badly you failed it. The unknown face down tiles quite handily slow down the player in front as he/she can’t know in advance what to prepare for.

Now the other main mechanic in the game (apart from the optional spells, that I haven’t tried out yet, but add a whole new level of strategy it seems) is how you navigate the hazards, attack the other players (lots of fun in that) and change your speed is the card deck. This deck has a mixture of ‘Reign’, ‘Whip’ and ‘Magic’ cards that combine together at different points in the game for different affects. I’ll outline a few turns for you now so you can get the feel of the game.

In my turn I start out with the cards I have left over (keep that in mind) and the ‘Whips’ in my speed pool; these go in front of me on the table. Now at this point there is 3 pieces of clear track in front of me and I have 1 ‘Whip’ in my speed pool, this means that this turn if I do nothing else my chariot will move forward 1 space. Now as you probably have guessed the point of this game is to get round faster than everyone else, to this end I have 2 ‘Whip’ cards in my hand and play them to speed up to 3 for extra speed!! (SideNote: each chariot has a limit to how much you can change your speed pool each turn) Next I replenish my total cards in my hand to 7 (that’s 4 in the hand and 3 in my speed pool), I draw a whip, 2 reigns and a magic card. Next I move my chariot – this is generally the fun part. Moving your chariot means you have to move exactly the number of tiles as I have ‘Whips’ in my speed pool. There isn’t anyone in the first 2 tiles in front of me so I charge my chariot on ahead towards the third tile which has an opponent in it! As I move into the third square I decide to ram him twice using 2 ‘Whips’ and 2 ‘Reigns’ (a magic card stands in as a ‘Whip’ in this case) dealing a big 4 damage as he cannot counter (He only has 1 card, and he needs the same number of cards and the same type to counter). Happy in this victory I then attempt to barge past into the square, to my horror he his one card was a reign card that he plays to block me from entering the tile ending my turn!

That was just a short overview of what goes on in a turn, there is more complexity involved when you also have to avoid the track’s hazard’s and the other players attacks. In regards to the learning curve as long as you keep the rule book handy when starting off you should have all the rules down by the end of the first game (Read the hazard’s effects – they’re all different), but your first game will take about an hour as you question everyone else’s moves. I enjoyed playing this game a lot and look forward to playing it again, a well written game that appeals to everyone.