Thursday, November 28, 2019

"If It's Not Scottish...It's CRAP!" - Glen More II: Chronicles



So, a few Cabin Cons ago I had a chance to play the original Glen More by Matthias Cramer. Immediately smitten by the game, I declared that I'd be ordering it as soon as I got home.

"I hate to tell you this but the English version is out of print," Andrew replied. "The German version is still available, though."

After exhausting every avenue to hunt down an English copy of the game through my discount channels, I took a long, hard look at the German version. But as soon as I saw the names printed on the tiles, I knew I wasn't going to buy it.

"How can I be swept up in the Scottish theme when the villages are called 'dorfs'," I remember muttering to myself.

Soooo this pretty much killed my interest in procuring a copy of Glen More. Fortunately Andrew was there to spark my hope.

"Don't give up yet," he assured me. "I've heard rumors that they're reprinting it!"

Thankfully he was right. Cramer and his new publisher Funtails have brought the game back in a deluxe new incarnation that features completely re-vamped art, several new base game elements as well as eight (!) mini-expansions, all for around seventy bucks online!

So, what's this thing about? Well, here's the game's appropriately-beefy description from Tha Geek:

"Glen More II: Chronicles is a sequel to Glen More, expanding the gameplay substantially compared to the original game.

"In Glen More II: Chronicles, each player represents the leader of a Scottish clan from the early medieval ages until the 19th century, a leader looking to expand their territory and wealth. The success of your clan depends on your ability to make the right decision at the right time, be it by creating a new pasture for your livestock, growing barley for whisky production, selling your goods on the various markets, or gaining control of special landmarks such as lochs and castles.

"The game lasts four rounds, represented by four stacks of tiles. After each round, a scoring phase takes place in which players compare their number of whisky casks, scotsmen in the home castle, landmark cards, and persons against the player with the fewest items in each category and receives victory points (VPs) based on the relative difference. After four rounds, additional VPs are awarded for gold coins and some landmarks while VP penalties are assessed based on territory size, comparing each player's territory to the smallest one in play.

"The core mechanism of Glen More II: Chronicles and Glen More functions the same way: The last player in line takes a tile from a time track, advancing as far as they wish on this track. After paying the cost, they place this tile in their territory, with this tile activating itself and all neighboring tiles, triggering the production of resources, movement points, VPs, etc. Then the player who is last in line takes their turn.

"Improvements over the original Glen More include bigger tiles, better materials, new artwork, the ability for each player to control the end of the game, and balancing adjustments to the tiles for a better suspense curve. The game is designed to consist of one-third known systems, one-third new mechanisms, and one-third improvements to Glen MoreThe "Chronicles" in the title, a set of eight expansions to the base game, are a major part of these new mechanisms. Each Chronicle adds a new gameplay element to the base game. 

"Another major change to the game is the ability to invest in famous Scottish people of the time, who are represented through a new 'person' tile type. Persons not only have their own scoring, they also trigger one-time or ongoing effects on the tactical clan board. This adds a new layer of decision making, especially since the ongoing effects allow players to focus on a personal strategy of winning through the use of the clan board."   

Looking to unite all of the MacRules under the MacBanner of Clan MacBrain? Click on the following link to venture in the Highlands of knowledge!

***

TWO PLAYER GAME PLAY-THROUGH


Clan Red advances to Ratharsair, placing the tile just below her starting village. Karen then uses the  Movement Point she generated to shift her Scotsman into her Home Castle. The newly-acquired tile generates 1 Barley and a new tile is added to the rondel.

Clan Blue advances to Abernethy, and Ewan places the tile just north of his starting village. After using the resulting Movement Point to send his Scotsman packing off to his Home Castle, the newly-cleared forest produces 1 Wood and a tile is added to the end of the rondel.

The bot-die is rolled and comes up "2", which eliminates Bo Ghaidhealach. A new tile is added to the end of the track and the turn passes back to Clan Red.

Karen with Clan Red advances to Ballachulish, which she places just to the south of her Home Castle. Ratharsair produces 1 Barley and her brand new quarry produces 1 Stone. Finally, a new tile is added to the end of the rondel.

Clan Blue advances to Kerry and places the tile just to the north of his Home Castle. After Abernethy produces 1 Wood and Kerry produces 1 Sheep, Ewan adds a new tile to the end of the rondel.

The Red Clan claims Inshriach and places it to the right of Ballachulish. After Karen gets 1 Barley (the tile max), 1 Stone and 1 Wood, she adds a new tile to the end of the track.

The die is rolled it comes up "1", which strikes out Balvenie. This is replaced by a new tile at the end of the rondel.

Ewan with Clan Blue hooks up with Robert the Bruce, who introduces him to Clan McKenzie, earning him a free Barley (placed in his Home Castle) and 1 cask of Whiskey, which starts his supply. A new tile is then added to the end of the track.

A die rolls a "3" turfs Iona Marble. A replacement tile is then added to the rondel.

This exhausts the "A" stack of tiles, and a scoring round begins. Both clans have an equal number of Scotsman in their Home Castle, so that’s wash. Both have 0 Landmark Cards, so that’s also ignored. Clan Blue has one more Whiskey cask then Clan Red and subsequently scores 1 Victory Point. Clan Blue also has one more Person Tile, which nets them another point!



After selling 1 Barley for 1 Coin, Clan Red skips ahead to meet with William Wallace, who gets her in tight with Clan Chisholm. After this newly-acquired Scotsman is parachuted into Ballachulish, she adds 1 Barley to her Home Castle as well as a new tile in the rondel.

Clan Blue shifts one space ahead on the rondel to take Achfary, placing it just to the left of his starting Village. This adds a new Scotsman to that tile as well as 1 Wood to neighboring Abernathy, maxing out its capacity. A new tile from the "B" stack is then added to the rondel.

It’s still Ewan's turn, so he advances to Aberfoyle, placing the tile just east of Kerry, which adds a second Sheep to that tile. Aberfoyle's trade ability then kicks in, so the two Sheep go back into the supply for 4 Victory Points. After a Movement Point is used to shift a Scotsman in the Home Castle north to Kerry, a new tile is added to the end of the rondel.

Clan Red pays 1 Wood, 1 Stone and 1 Barley for Donan Castle, which is placed to the east of the  Home Castle. A new Scotsman appears on this tile and Karen collects the corresponding Location Card. This lets her parley with Clan Monroe and retrieve the Bo Ghaidhealach tile, which she drops in just south of Raitharsair, generating 1 Cattle, 1 Barley and 1 Stone. A new tile is then added to the end of the rondel.

The die comes up "2", which jettisons Loch Lochy and adds a new tile to the end of the rondel.

Next up Clan Blue sells a Wood for one Coin. They then advance to Drumbeg, placing the tile just to the north of Kerry. After a new kilted meeple is placed on that tile, the Scotsman in Kerry a Movement Point to head back to the Home Castle. Then 1 Wood is placed in Abernethy, 1 Sheep is dropped in Kerry and 2 Coins are paid to get a Cattle. The Cattle and 1 Sheep go back to the supply for 4 more Veeps. Finally, a new "B" tile is added to the end of the rondel.

It's still Clan Blue's turn so they advance to Glen Mhor, paying 1 Barley to place the distillery just north of Abernethy. This adds 2 casks of Whiskey to Ewan's supply! This also Activates Abernethy, but there’s no room for the extra Wood. After a new Sheep is added to Kerry, a new tile is placed at the end of the rondel.

The die eliminates Castle Stalker on a roll of "2" but then a replacement tile is added to the rondel.

Robert Stewart introduces Karen to Clan Gunn, which nets her 1 Cattle and 1 Sheep, which are placed on her starting Village and Castle respectively. A new tile from stack "B" is added to the rondel.

It’s still Clan Red's turn so they advance to Pulteney, which is slotted in just south of Ballachulish. Karen settles up, paying 1 Stone which earns Clan Red 1 Whiskey barrel. Karen then uses the Pulteney tile to magically transmogrify 1 of her Barleys into Whiskey. Then the Scotsman-adjacent tiles Activate, so she also collects 1 Cattle from  Bo Ghaidhealach, 1 Barley via Ratharsair, 1 Stone mined from Ballachulish and 1 Wood hacked down from Inshriach! Wow, what a haul! A new "B" tile is then added to the end of the rondel.

Clan Blue selects Culbockie and places the tile to the north of Aberfoyle. After that tile generates 1 Barley and Kerry births a Sheep, Aberfoyle returns 2 Sheep to supply for 4 more Victory Points. A new tile is then added to the end of the rondel.

The die comes up "1", eliminating Galloway but then a new tile is added to the end of the track.

Karen heads off to Loch Shiel, placing it just west of her starting village. After plunking a new Scotsman down on that tile, she adds 1 Whiskey to Clan Red's supply. The resulting 1 Movement Point diverts a Scotsman from Ballachulish to Pulteney and Ratharsair gets 1 Barley, but it's maxed! A new tile is then added to the end of the rondel.

After spending a whopping 3 Coins to get a Cattle and 2 more to get a Stone, Ewan then discards both of them, along with 1 Lumber, to claim Duart Castle, which he sets up just east of his Home Castle. After adding a Scotsman to that space and the corresponding Location Card to his supply, Ewan gets 1 Coin back and 2 more monies after he befriends Clan MacLeod. A new tile is then added to the end of the rondel.

A die roll of "2" turfs Lochridge and a new tile is added to the rondel.

Clan Rouge advances to Tomintoul Fair, paying 1 Wood to place it just east of Donan Castle. This generates 1 Wood from Inshriach. One Cattle, Wood and Stone are returned back to supply to generate a respectable 6 Victory Points via the newly-placed trade tile. Finally a new tile is added to the end of the track.

Clan Blue advances to Glaikmore, paying 1 Wood to overlay the tile on top of Culbockie. With the resulting Movement Point, the Scotsman in Duart Castle moves into his Home Castle and a Barley is added to Glaikmore. A new tile from stack "B" is then added to the rondel.

Clan Red lays claim to Cheviot, placing the tile just west of Loch Shiel, gaining a Sheep in the process. The final "B" tile is added to the rondel, so the game is paused again for scoring.


Clan Blue has one more Scotsdude in his home castle than Red, so he scores 1 Victory Point. Red has one more Landmark Card than Blue so Karen gets a Veep. She also has tied for Whiskey barrels so no more points there. Finally, Clan Red has one more Person Tile than her rival and scores another single Victory Point. The tables are turning!



The die roll comes up "2", removing Loch Lochy and adding the first "C" tile to the end of the rondel.

Clan Red selects Elgin, placing the tile just south of Loch Shiel. Subsequently, Cheviot gets 1 Sheep and the starting Village generates a Movement Point, so the Scotsman in Donan Castle moves to Tomintoul Fair. Ratharsair would get Barley but it's maxed out. Bo Ghaidhealach generates 1 Cattle and, after Elgin is Activated, the 2 Sheep and 1 Cattle are sent back to supply for a whopping 7 Victory Points. A new "C" tile is then added to the end of the track.

After Blue meets Mary Stuart, she introduces Ewan to David Hume via Clan McKay for 2 Coins. A new tile is then added to the end of the rondel.

A "2" on the die eliminates Halkirk and a replacement tile is added to the end of the track.

Clan Red pays 1 Cattle and 1 Sheep to overlay Inverness on her starting Village. This lets Karen place a new Scots(person) on that tile and nets her the Inverness Location Card, which, in turn, adds 1 Barley to the new tile and a Whiskey cask to her supply. This also generates 2 Movement Points, so the new occupant of Inverness treks over to the Home Castle. This also generates 1 Stone in Ballachulish and would give 1 Barley to Ratharsair but it's capped out. Unfortunately, Karen doesn't have any of the livestock required to activate Elgin, so she just adds a new tile to the end of the rondel.

It’s still Clan Red's turn so she's off to meet with Fionnghal nic Dhomhnaill. Try saying that five times real quick! Karen pays 1 Coin to pick up some drive-thru haggis for Clan McDonell, which lets her Activate one Material Tile and 1 Whiskey tile. After she collects 1 Stone in Ballachulish, Pulteney lets her transfer 1 Barley into a Whiskey keg! After that amazing turn, a new tile is added to the end of the rondel.

After the die knocks out James II, a new random tile is randomly selected to replace on the rondel.

Clan Blue leaps ahead, placing Dunface just north of Achfary. The new tile produces 1 Sheep, Abernethy gets 1 Wood and a new "C" tile is placed at the end of the track.

Karen guides Clan Red to Clachaig Inn, paying 1 Whiskey barrel to construct it just south of Tomintoul Fair. This generates 2 Victory Points but it also Activates Inshriach for 1 lumber and triggers the Fair. This lets her trade in 1 Barley, 1 Stone and 1 Wood for 6 more Victory Points. A new "C" tile is then added to the rondel.

A die roll of "1" means that Rothiemurchus is discarded and a new tile is placed on the rondel board.

Clan Blue advances to Kenmore Fair, paying 1 Wood and plopping it down just to the north of Drumbeg. After growing 1 Barley, he trades this in, along with 1 Sheep, to score 4 more Victory Points. A new tile is then added to the end of the rondel.

A die roll of "2" lands on and eliminates Dornie. A new tile from the "C" stack is then added to the rondel.

Clan Red pays 1 Coin for 1 Barley and 1 Coin for 1 lumber and then spends 1 Stone to claim Armadale Castle, which she constructs south of Inshriach. After adding a new Scotswoman to that tile, she collects the matching Location Card. Spurned on by a Movement Point, the Scotsman in Loch Shiel travels to Elgin. Karen then gets 2 Victory Points from Activating Clachaig Inn as well as 1 lumber for Inshriach and 1 Stone for Ballachulish. Unfortunately, the trade ability on Pulteney still has no fuel. Karen ends her turn by adding a new new tile to the rondel.

Since Karen is still further back on the track, she goes again, this time opting for Iona Abbey, paying 1 Wood to overlay the tile on top of Inshriach. This tile immediately Activates, generating 1 resource of her choice, so she opts for Cattle. She immediately sells this "harry kew" for 3 Coins! This also generates 3 Movement Points, so the Scotsman in Pulteney schleps all the way over to her Home Castle. After collecting another 2 Veeps from Clachaig Inn, she spends 2 Coins on both lumber and Barley to give all this stuff (plus her remaining Stone) back to supply for 6 more Victory Points via Tomintoul Fair. After this stellar turn she adds a new tile to the end of the track.


Clan Blue starts his turn by selling 1 Barley for 2 Coins. He then drops 3 Coins for a single Sheep so he can buy Soay and overlay it on Abernethy. In the resulting Activations, 1 Sheep is added to both Dunface and Kerry and 1 Cattle is added to Soay. Finally, a new "C" tile is added to the rondel.


The die is rolled and comes up "1", so the Muir of Ord is sent packing. Since the die is still in last place, it’s rolled again and this time it comes up "2" which discards Ayrshire. Two tiles are then added to the board, including the "World's End" tile which triggers a scoring round!

Red has 3 Scotsman versus Blue's 2 Scotsman in their respective Home Castles so Karen earns a Victory Point. Red has 4 Landmark Cards to Blue's 1 so, with a difference of 3, she gains 3 more Victory Points. Clan Red has 1 more Whiskey barrel than Blue, which earns her 1 more Victory Point. Finally Clan Blue has 4 Person Tiles versus Red's 3, so they score a single Victory Point.

Looking to put the nail in the coffin, Clan Red advances all the way to Charles I. They then spend 1 Coin to break bread with Clan Sutherland, generating a whopping 8 Victory Points from their 6 continuous River segments. A new tile from the "D" stack is then added to the rondel.

Clan Blue moves up to Achanarras, placing it just north of Glaikmore. This results in 1 Stone being furnished by that location, 1 Barley in Glen Mhor and a Movement Point. Kenmore Fair is Activated, so 1 Stone, 1 Sheep, 1 lumber and 1 Cattle is returned to the supply for 8 Victory Points! Since Stein Inn was skipped, 2 tiles are added to the end of the rondel board.

A "2" is rolled on the die, so it eliminates Coille Coire Chuilc and since Glengorm was skipped over, it's also thrown out. As a result, 2 new tiles are added to the rondel.

The die is rolled again and gets a "1", which dustbins Edradour. A new tile from the "D" stack is placed on the track.

Clan Blue advances to Taynuilt, which comes pre-loaded with a new Scotsman. Ewan also gets 1 Stone from Achanarras and 1 Barley from Glaikmore. After selling the Stone for 2 Coins and a Barley for 1, he spends 3 Coins to get another Cattle. It goes back, along with a Sheep, for another 4 Veeps courtesy of Aberfoyle. A new tile is then added to the track.

With a roll of "3", the die lands on the "World's End" tile, so it’s done for the game. A new tile is then added to the track.

Clan Blue sacrifices the Scotsman in Taynuilt to add Loch Ness west of Achfary and claim the matching Location Card. After Dunface produces 1 Sheep, Loch Ness lets Ewan get 1 of any tile's Resource so he gets Achnarras to produce 1 Stone remotely. A new tile is added to the end of the track.

Clan Red hooks up with Robbie Burns. She visits Clan McKinnon, getting 2 Coins and placing a brand new Scotsman in her Home Castle. Another new "D" tile is placed at the end of the rondel.

In Ewan's final move, he advances all the way to Elsie Inglis. He then sells 1 Sheep for 2 Coins and then pays 1 money to meet up with Clan Brody. Since they have 4 Villages, this results in a whopping 8 Victory Points being scored. A new tile is added to the end of the rondel.

Clan Red advances to Rothesay Harbour, placing it to the east of Tomintoul Fair. This gets her 1 Wood and 1 Stone as well as 2 Victory Points from Clachaig Inn. She then sells 1 Cattle for 2 Coins, 1 Stone for 1 Coin and 1 Wood for 2 Coins.

End game scoring: Red has 4 Scotsmen in their Home Castle versus Blue's 2, so they gain 2 Victory Points. Red has 4 Landmark Cards versus Blue's 2, so they get another 2 Veeps. They have 1 more barrels of Whiskey compared to Blue, so they get 1 Victory Points for that. And, finally, they're tied for Person Tiles with 5 each, so no points awarded there.


In final game scoring, both Clan Red and Blue have 15 tiles so there’s no points awarded there. Because Clan Red has Armadale Castle, all 8 of their Coins double in value for an additional 16 points! As well, Clan Blue gets 6 more points for their remaining Coins!

FINAL SCORES

Clan Red:  66    Clan Blue: 46

Clan Red Wins!!!




***

REVIEW

Pros
  • Mechanically the game is super simple: just advance your meeple as far as you want on the rondel, pay for the tile you settled on and then add it to your design. But what tile you pick and where you place it is where the game gets deep!
  • The bot-die makes the game perfectly playable with three people. It also speeds up the game nicely when you use it with three or four players.
  • The production values are INSANE. Except for a few Person Tiles that make the depicted historical figure look like they're indulging in bath salts and not whiskey, all of the art on the board, tiles and cards is absolutely phenomenal.
  • There are so many options to explore now! In the original edition of the game, it was just about dropping tiles to create a synergy between them. But here, in Glen More II: Electric Boogaloo, you also have famous Locations to explore and as well as the Person Tiles and the related Clan Board. 
  • The only landmarks you have to contend with now with regards to tile placement now are rivers. The roads in OG Glen More resulting in a lot of take back turns and felt more frustrating than anything else. 
  • In a lot of rondel games, you can jump way ahead to cherry pick your favorite tile, but then your opponent would get a slew of moves before they got ahead of the pack and passed the turn. And while you can still technically do that, you don't wanna have a lot more tiles than your opponent because the end game penalties are gonna wreck you. This means that a focused strategy is still required.
  • Creating an engine is imperative and the game really rewards the completion of grand schemes. There's something supremely satisfying about dropping a new tile into the middle of an 8-tile square and reaping a crap ton of benefits. 
  • The base game has plenty of replay value, but the presence of eight additional mini-expansions gives owners a metric crap-ton of options for such a low price point.
  • If you're falling behind, don't despair! As the play-through example illustrates, it's pretty easy to storm back of you focus on a set strategy. 
  • You can tweak the playtime. If you want a shorter game, place the "World's End" tile on top of the "D" stack. Want a longer game? Just place it in the middle of the final stack!   
Cons
  • It's surprisingly fiddly. I guarantee that, during your first game, you'll forget to add tiles to the rondel after every turn and you'll probably cock-a-leekie-up what tiles Activate when you place a new one. For example, I know that Clan Red won the game I played out, but I can guarantee that there were miss-plays and the final scores aren't 100% accurate. I'm also confident that these issues would likely be mitigated after a few plays. Just remember: the location of Scotsmen dictate placement options and adjacency determines Activations.
  • The language on some of the Clan Board rewards and some of the tile actions is kinda soft. For example, I'm still not sure if I interpreted this one properly.   
FINAL THOUGHTS

When I first played the original Glen More, I though the rondel mechanic was the greatest invention since sliced bread. Since then, many other games have employed the same gimmick, but this new iteration of Cramer's classic still feels fresh. It's far from perfect, but the Scottish theme, simple but nuanced game-play, Carcassonne-killing tile placement and overall value of what's in this gorgeous box makes it a must-buy in my mind!

Glen More II: Chronicles scores five pips out of six with a big-ol' tilt up to the top of The Royal Mile!


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Review Quickie: "The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31"

Notwithstanding the fact that John Carpenter's classic sci-fi / horror remake is one of my all-time favorite flicks, The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 is quickly becoming my go-to deduction / social engineering game!


Game play itself is pretty straightforward. In clockwise order, players take turns being team leaders, revealing a new "Mission Log" to determine the head count and character skills required to tackle the next task. After hand picking their squad as well as a room to explore, team members secretly contribute equipment cards to try and overcome the challenge. If they succeed, they get to examine the room's contents, which will either be the equipment they need to progress or an alien, which immediately results in combat.

Of course, as in all other traitor mechanic games, one person around the table is secretly a "thing", looking to sow paranoia and chaos among the group. The alien player has to walk a very fine line, pretending to help at first so as not to cast aspersions on themselves. If they tip their hat too early, they could be subjected to a blood test to determine their true nature, get tied up with rope (skipping their Leader turn) or even incinerated with a flamethrower!

As more human players theoretically get converted, the "things" can dare to get more brazen when it comes to sabotage. Admittedly, the human team is hard-pressed to win, but that's just in step with the movie's theme. A human victory is truly cause for celebration!

Despite the game's amazing components and straight-forward rules, there are some odd game play choices that are actually anathema to the film's plot. For example, the humans can lose the game if too much of the base is destroyed. This actually run's contrary to the films plot, which sees the survivors voluntarily attempting to destroy the base in a last-ditch effort to kill the alien invader.

The game might not be as thematically engrossing as, say, Battlestar Galactica, it does plays very briskly and in a fraction of the time. The experience is also no less tense.

The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 scores four pips outta six with a huge tilt up towards the skies...that you should be watching!


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Review Quickie: "Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure"

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, loyal readers of this blog already know that I consider  "MARK I" deck-builder Dominion to be more of an introduction of a cool and original mechanic and less of a fully-realized game. But thanks to varied titles like Thunderstone Quest, Star Realms and A Few Acres of Snow, fans of this relatively-new game mechanic have a lot of intriguing options to explore.   

The landscape got even richer back in 2016 with the introduction of Clank!, a multi-faceted and rewarding deck-builder that pairs its board-based, dungeon-crawl theme with a ticking clock element, resulting a compulsively-playable game.


In Clank!, players are "master" thieves who are looking to infiltrate a subterranean dungeon below an abandoned castle in order to steal artifacts from a sleeping dragon. Aaaaaand we all know that always works out well. To that end, players begin the game with an identical deck of mediocre cards, five of which are randomly drawn and played out every turn to get your character moving into the maze. This also generates the Skill required to draft new, and generally superior, Dungeon Row cards into your deck.

Starting decks also include the titular "clank" cards, which represents the noise players make while they drunkenly careen their way through the dungeon.Whenever these cards hit the table, the owners have to contribute an equal number of their colored cubes to the board's "Clank Banner." Later, when the Dungeon Row is refilled with cards bearing the "Dragon Attack" symbol, these cubes are dumped into a black bag and then "X" number are randomly drawn based on the dragon's ever-increasing  Rage level. Any cubes that match a player's color are placed on their respective Health Meters, which simulates the dragon going after the noisiest interlopers. When this meter fills up with cubes, you die.

Well, not quite. If you die in the castle portion of the board, the locals drag your sorry ass out and you can still count your points. However, if you get knocked out in the dungeon level, the villagers are all like "Fuck dat!" and leave your charred carcass down there as a jerky treat for the dragon.

Since the goal of the game is to snag at least one artifact and get out, the first person to achieve this goal actually triggers a terrifying endgame countdown. On every subsequent turn, the escapee presides over an increasingly-nasty dragon attack and, after four rounds of this punishment, the dragon goes completely HAM on all the remaining interlopers, killing them wholesale. Needless to say, this mechanic really drives up the game's growing tension.


For a deck-building game that downright wallows in its blatantly-Ameritrash theme, it sure sports a lot of interesting chrome. Such as:
  • Boot symbols generated by your cards let you move efficiently through the maze, but the board itself throws in a few wrinkles. Certain passageways have impassible locked doors, difficult terrain (requiring double movement costs), "wandering monsters" that guard corridors and cavernous Crystal Chambers that soak up excess movement. The board also "wraps around", Pac-Man style, yo!
  • You're encouraged to incorporate cards featuring Swords into your deck to deal with those pesky, aforementioned wandering monsters. You can also use this potential damage to gank Dungeon Row as well as the poor, eternally-renewing Goblin, for profit.
  • If you can reach one of the four mid-board Market spaces, you can then spend all of that stolen lootz on cool upgrades. This includes Keys to unlock doors, Backpacks to ignore the "one Artifact per intruder" limit and Crowns, which dovetail nicely with certain cards that appear in the Dungeon Row. 
  • Adventurers can recover Major and Minor Secrets which feature helpful perks.
  • Some chambers have a Fountain of Healing to provide much-needed rest and respite.  
  • The sheer variety of cards that appear in the Dungeon Row gives the game a crazy amount of variety, including the ability to Teleport to inaccessible parts of the maze. 
  • The flip-side of the game board features an even more challenging layout!
In fact, the only thing I really don't like about the game is it's woefully milquetoast art design. If this ever gets reprinted with some Warhammer-esque grit and a few expansions tossed in for good measure, I'll be all over it like a dragon on a nude beach.

The really great thing about Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure is that neophytes to the hobby won't find the rules overly  daunting but it's just meaty enough to keep veteran gamers amused. This one scores five pips out of six with a slight tilt down towards the subterranean depths!


***

Hey, folks! If you're digging these mini-reviews, please consider buying me a Coffee! Even a coupla bucks goes a long way towards keeping my motivation up. Cheers and game on!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Friday, May 24, 2019

Game Night: "Fallout"

Sometimes the heavens align and I get a rare chance to throw down wif mah O.G. gaming peepz. Getting together with people I've known for years to take the piss out of each other, make the sort of puerile jokes that would make a 12 year old kid wince and experience a collective cardboard adventure together is downright therapeutic! I'd forgotten how much I miss this.

This past Wednesday night we tackled the tabletop version of Fallout, a fun but flawed take on the seminal video game series. For the record, Chad did a phenomenal job explaining the rules, so hopefully I won't dishonor his efforts here.

You start out by selecting one of Fallout's seminal character templates, such as the "Ghoul" (me), the "Super Mutant" (Dean, natch), the "Vault Dweller" (Alex) or the "Brotherhood of Steel Outcast" (Chad). Of course, every character has some sort of cool, thematic special ability. My Ghoul, for example, had a lower health cap but regenerated hit points whenever he passed through irradiated areas on the map. He drinks that shit up like lime-flavored Kool-Aid.

In order to keep track of your shiznit, every player gets a handy-dandy cardboard "pip boy", which you'll use to record skills, conditions, experience points, radiation levels and health. At the bottom of each template there's a place to equip your limit of one weapon, one armor and one companion. You also have a backpack which holds up to three unused items. 


The location tiles are head and shoulders above the shitty "drink coasters" included in Star Trek Fleet Captains. The muted and detailed art is super-slick and really evokes that post-apocalyptic vibe. As you can see, the character minis are great but the monsters are just wargame-style cardboard chits. Easy to read and nicely illustrated chits, I'll concede, but chits nonetheless. The cards are either miniaturized or made busy with a riot of micro print but this doesn't render them impractical, so no demerit there.

Striking out from the starting tile, players take turns performing two actions which they'll use to explore the concealed map, search locations for loot, get into assorted scrapes and pursue the expanding storyline. If your character is standing next to an unflipped tile you can use an explore action to reveal it. When you choose to move, you can typically can travel two spaces, but red-bordered difficult terrain eats up all of your movement while green bordered irradiated regions bump up your rad levels. If your radiation level ever intersects with your dwindling life points, you dead, son.

You can also croak in combat, which is cleanly resolved in a single die roll. As veterans of the video game will attest, it's all about hit location and the customized combat dice, featuring icons for arm, leg, head and body shots, elegantly reflects this. Each creature you fight is susceptible to certain types of damage and if you roll enough matching icons to overcome its "level", you'll kill it and gain some experience points. Re-rolls, courtesy of equipment, skills and being refreshed from the "camp" action, will hopefully mitigate a spate of bad luck.

You end up taking damage based the number of pips generated from the same die result, multiplied by the enemy's "level". In other words, a level two monster deals 8 damage with 4 pips to an unarmored character. Yikes! Word to the wise: find some armor and a decent weapon as soon as you can. Unsurprisingly, you're pretty vulnerable out in the wasteland without these two important assets.

Fortunately, as it is with most video games, death isn't the end of the game. After respawning back home and chucking out anything in your backpack, you're ready to strike out again. This might seem kinda weak sauce, but going "back to start" typically puts you so far away from any Victory Point goals, so I think its suitably harsh.

Leveling up in the game is ridiculously elegant and certainly reminiscent of the original IP. Just like in the video game, each character's abilities are covered by the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. acronym, which represents Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck. After gaining enough ex pees to clear a level, you draw two new random letter tokens, cherry pick the one you like the most and then slot it into your pip boy. With the appropriate attribute now unlocked, you'll get a re-roll whenever your use the matching skill. Like I said, easy and elegant. 


But, honestly, the scenario details and the branching story deck is what gives the game its main appeal. For example, our scenario, featuring a turf war between two rival factions, set up a co-operative ticking clock situation, influenced our revealed character affiliations and determined the frequency of hostile threats on the board. Also, when you do an explore action, you're often faced with an Above and Below-style story adventure choice that challenges one of your character's skills in order to score some new reward or avoid a terrible punishment.

When these are resolved, it usually opens up a few new quests and avenues to explore. Needless to say, completing these quests provides the victory points you need in order to win. If anything, quests popping up all over the board makes the board game feel more like it's original source of inspiration than anything else.

Fallout is far from perfect, however. A full compliment of four players can really drag the game out, especially if someone is prone to analysis paralysis. We started at 7 pm and finished just after 11. Yikes!

Also, if you fall behind, the game has a tendency to keep kicking you right in the blocks. Given the fact that I was at full health and my irradiated surroundings promised plenty of potential recovery, I felt pretty confident taking my first low-level enemy right away. Unfortunately my notoriously-bad dice rolling skills were characteristically awful and, since I had no way to re-roll, I got spanked pretty badly right out of the gate.

That's when I found out that enemies go after the weakest characters first. Thematically that makes sense, but becoming the entire board's punching bag because of one bad call and some crap luck kinda blows.

And trust me, I tried to improve my odds. I really did. I took approximately one-hojillion in-town explore actions, just begging for the chance to go on a simple shopping trip and buy some basic equipment. But I got denied over and over again to the point where I had close to 30 caps (I.E. cash money for the uninitiated) and nothing to spend it on. I think I only scored some proper armor in the second or third final turn of the game.

But, you know something, I still liked this stupid game. Like, irrationally liked it. Granted, that's probably because I'm a sucker for adventure / exploration type story games, especially ones with a post-apocalyptic vibe. Lately I measure my appreciation for a game based on whether or not I'd play it again, and, given half a chance, I'd venture back into this cardboard wasteland anytime.

Fallout scores three pips outta six with a huge tilt up towards the perpetually ashen sky!

 


Saturday, April 27, 2019

Game Night: "Indian Summer", "MegaLand" and "Walk the Plank"

I played a decent little trio of games awhile back but didn't report on it here...so better late than never!

First up was Indian Summer. Even though a case can be made that Uwe Rosenberg's Patchwork is nothing more than a side mechanic cast off from his sprawling masterpiece, A Feast For Odin, it still became a huge surprise hit on the two-player game circuit back in 2014.

Well, fast forward three years and the same designer's Indian Summer provides a more elaborate  game experience that can be played with anywhere from one to four players. Between the deeper rules, which have you constantly striving for and chaining together special actions, an infinitely more charming theme which appeals to the outdoorsman in me, and considerably more tasteful art design, I dumped Patchwork days after playing this one.


I guess my only niggling issue with the game is its unnecessarily problematic name. I just can't fathom why Uwe didn't call it something more politically correct like New England, Fall Hike or Grab Deez Knutz.

Despite the potential trigger-factor, Indian Summer rates four pips our of six with a big ol' tilt up towards the top of yonder oak tree!



We also got into the new(ish) Ryan Laukat / Red Raven title MegaLand.

This "blink or you'll miss it"quickie plays out like the A.D.D. love child of Incan Gold and Machi Koro. Every player enters into an abstracted dungeon delve to see how far they're willing to push their luck for loot before they're knocked out. Sets of treasure can be traded in for buildings or extra health which, in turn, helps you mitigate risks and earn the coins required to win the game.


Honestly, my only complaint with the game is that, just as it starts getting interesting, it ends. But, then again, you can always house rule the victory conditions!

MegaLand scores four pips outta six with a slight tilt up.


Finally there was the completely goofy programmed action-er Walk the Plank. In a nutshell, there are certainly worse ways to kick start or end a deeper night of gaming.

This one borrows elements from River Dragons and Mayday's own Get Bit. Players table three action cards from a sizable deck of options, trying to feed rival pirates to the kraken whilst keeping their own dudes safe.The more powerful cards have a cool down period to ensure that they're not tabled over and over again.


This might not be the deepest pursuit ever, but the grin-enduring artwork and trash-talk-inspiring game play make it a fine little diversion.

Three pips out of six with a healthy tilt up towards the crow's nest!


***
Hey, folks! If you're enjoying these mini-reviews, please consider buying me a Coffee! Full disclosure: I probably won't use the money to by java; I'll probably just use it to buy critical sustenance like mushrooms, nuts and berries!

Well, just mushrooms and berries, actually, 'cuz, like all proper nerds, I'm positively ridden with life-threatening allergies. 

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Game Night: "Mice and Mystics"

If you've read a lot of my blog entries, you know that I love Dungeons & Dragons and, as such, I'm a huge sucker for dungeon crawl games. If you're like me, you probably want to introduce as many of your friends as possible to your peeps to wonderful world of role-playing, but what if they break out in hives every time you start talking about orcs, trolls and elves?

The answer to this quandary may very well be Mice and Mystics, an endearing co-operative fantasy adventure game inspired, in large part, by the Mouse Guard comic book and subsequent RPG. Like all good campaign settings, M&M has an intriguing back-story. Players take on the role of various fantasy archetypes, such as cleric, wizard, warrior and thief, who are all are all in the orbit of a royal family living in an expansive castle. When rivals of the royal family stage a coup, the group is captured and imprisoned, forcing them to transform into tiny mice in order to escape!

In their quest to restore the rightful rulers to the throne and regain their original forms, the group must navigate through the castle, which is now twenty times its normal size! Along the way they're forced to contend with a host of deadly traps and battle a horde of vicious vermin, including cockroaches, rats and centipedes. Only by working in tandem will our heroes survive the perils of their over-sized new world.

Game play in Mice and Mystics is pretty straightforward. When you move into a new location, plastic miniatures representing your character and various enemies are dropped onto lavishly-illustrated grid boards which facilitate movement and battles. The game then turns into a simplified version of D&D tactical combat, with cards representing the various characters and threats getting shuffled together and drawn at random to determine their initiative order.

Naturally, every character has a unique combination of speed, hit points, and methods for dishing out damage, whether it be melee, archery or magic. Characters are further distinguished by different weapons and special maneuvers that let you break the regular rules of the game. On a turn you can move and attack, or vice versa; the effectiveness of which is determined by rolling customized dice for additional movement points, swords for melee hits, bows for ranged hits, shields for blocks and, of course, cheese! This latter result is a particularly cool consolation prize, since it lets players collect a cheese token, which can be spent on fueling special abilities or unlocking new ones.

As battles wind down, you can search your environment for more equipment, but you can't tarry too long. At the end of every action round, an increment of time passes and when this clock fills up, new threats appear. So, needless to say, the pace of the game is rather brisk.

In our game Cheryl was Tilda the Healer, Trevor was Maginos the Wizard, Rachael was Flich the Thief and I took on the role of Nez the Warrior. The game threw us right into the action, just seconds after we'd transformed into mice. On that first tile, out goal was to defeat the rat-guards and sneak out through the floor grate:


This accomplished, we soon found ourselves in a subterranean sewer, attempting to ford across a waterway, all the while being assaulted by hordes of voracious cockroaches!


After clearing this obstacle and battling our way through a corridor, we opted to go top-side to the kitchen in an attempt to liberate a potential ally:


Unfortunately that's where our adventure came to an end. Even though we dispatched the roach infestation with considerable aplomb, the event clock ushered in the kitchen's terrifying guardian and the player's arch-nemesis: Brodie the Cat. Regrettably, the colossal feline made short work of us diminutive mice.

***

There are a slew of dungeon crawl options out there, chief among them being Fantasy Flight's Descent: Second Edition. Descent is great and all, but Mice and Mystics has one primary advantage: no one has to be the overlord and play the monsters. Everyone plays a mouse character and everyone tries to work together to win!

The down side is that games which use this "programmed movement" system for the enemies can often generate a lot of rules questions, either because the game isn't play-tested enough or the rule-book is vague and / or poorly organized. And while Mice and Mystics isn't the hazy mess that Castle Ravenloft and Ashardalon can be, it does have its own issues which caused us to go spelunking into the manual to seek answers to some pretty obvious questions.

For example: is diagonal movement possible on those irregular cobblestone floors? Also, as part of their "programming", enemies are supposed to close on the closest characters and attack, but what do they do when multiple figures share the same space? Or several are equidistant from one another? From what we could gather, it's based on initiative order, but I'm still not 100% sure.

Then there are the scenario or location-specific rules, like the ones governing the actions of Brodie the Cat. The programming doesn't account for all of the possible in-game variables that can occur, so we often found ourselves putting the action on hold to go rooting around for an answer. Even when we found the relevant section, the rules were so general that we were forced to apply the sort of group interpretation usually reserved for deciphering the glyphs on ancient stone tablets.

Otherwise the game is pretty solid. When new environments are revealed, players have to think tactically, leverage all of their character's advantages and work in close conjunction in order to survive. I really love the branching options in a game, which forces the group to make interesting decisions on the spot. Do we take this dangerous detour to earn a potential reward or just make a bee-line for the exit?

And, as evidenced by the photos, the designers clearly spared no expense where it comes to the  game's lavish production design. The tiles and cards feature evocative artwork, the dice are durable and cool, the cheese tokens are super-cute and the plastic figures are incredibly detailed. In fact, if you plug "painted Mice and Mystics miniatures" into the ol' Google machine you'll marvel at the amazing results that talented artists have produced from these tiny l'il hunks of plastic.

I know this might be sacrilege, but I think I'd be more likely to play Mice and Mystics over Descent: Second Edition. It's an easier game to jump in a game of M&M because the combat is more straightforward, the branching choices are just as frequent, the art design is more unique and no-one gets stuck playing the asshole who's trying to murder everyone else. Interestingly enough, it's the last element that gives Descent a strong rebuttal since the threats are represented by one of the players. As a result, the monster "A.I." is a lot stronger and you won't waste time trying to interpret some vague instructions on a creature card.

Still, Mice and Mystics is a wonderful way to introduce imaginative kids and gaming neophytes to the deeper aspects of RPG's. As such, this one scores five pips out of six with a tilt down into a cockroach-infested basement!


Hey, y'all! If you're enjoying this blog, please consider buying me a coffee by clicking on the link below. Although I enjoy writing about games from a place of passion, it's also nice to get a l'il bit of compensation from time to time.

Thanks for reading and game on!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com



Monday, February 25, 2019

Game ̶N̶i̶g̶h̶t̶...er...Day: "Thunderstone Quest" and "Paper Tales"

Got in a game of Paper Tales and Thunderstone Quest recently.

Back in 2008, game designer Donald X. Vaccarino had a brilliant idea: "Hey, everyone loves collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering...why not design a game where you build your deck as you play? Whaaaaaaat?!?" The resulting game, Dominion, was an instant smash hit, but then, just one year later, Mike Elliot's Thunderstone came along and added an actual theme to the concept...a dungeon crawl no less!

And, with that, Dominion was deader than disco to me.


Admittedly, that inaugural version of Thunderstone had a coupla pretty prominent warts, which necessitated several "new n' improved" editions over the years. The latest, Thunderstone Quest, released just last year, represents a high water mark for the design.

Just like in every other deck-builder, players start off with a handful of mediocre cards, which include pencil-necked adventurers armed with lame-ass weapons, as well as strength boosts to carry heavier stuff and light sources to delve deeper into the dungeon. Players also produce gold which can be used to, *surprise, surprise*, buy equipment and recruit hirelings from the Town Board's Marketplace and Guild's Quarter.

As these party members "level up" and start wielding increasingly-powerful equipment, players will look to "trim the fat" from their decks to create a lean, mean, monster-killin' machine. Naturally, the ultimate goal is to build an efficient engine that doesn't leave you sitting around polishing your longsword during any given turn.

I enjoyed Thunderstone Quest. The production design is fantastic and the art is breathtaking. Since you can typically plot your turn out well in advance, the game keeps chugging along at a nice clip. There's a ton of different weapons, equipment, characters, monsters and spells, which drives up the game's re-playability. Also: bonus point for linking the number of cards you draw to your current health and using poison cards to create dead spots in your hand until you heal.There's also a genuine visceral thrill going after powerful monsters, knowing that their impending death will yield tremendous rewards.

Victory points are so understated that I completely forgot about them and just spent every one of my turns getting ready to battle monsters or battling monsters(go figure). As a result, my final score sucked kobold balls (koballs?), despite an decent start and what I thought was a fair effort. Also, the co-operative final boss battle involves rolling dice to see what hirelings and equipment you'll lose in the fight. Naturally, given my Wheaton-esque proclivities with dice, I lost a bunch of random stuff right at the end.

I'd rank it a lot lower than A Few Acres of Snow, which I think is the perfect marriage between theme and mechanics. And even though the art in Clank! is vastly inferior, I still think like that one a shade better since moving around the board / exploring a maze does wonders for my immersion.

Thunderstone Quest rates four pips outta six with a big tilt up towards the top of dat Elven Outpost!


In Paper Tales, players secretly draft five cards, reveal them, pay their recruit cost, place once in reserve and then table the others. Two cards are placed in the front rank to battle against opponents sitting to the left and right while the remaining two are placed in the back rank to either support the front line or produce assorted resources.


Resources can be used to great production synergies between cards, create victory point engines and/ or construct buildings. The latter is great because they let you table more cards in future drafts, help bolster your troops, give you moar veeps and add to your resources. Basically the buildings help bolster your prevailing strategy.

At the end of a round, remaining characters get an "aging" token, sticking around for one more round before they "die", thus making room for new recruits. This mechanic alone requires some pretty deep planning, since new acquisitions will be taking over vacant slots and some even take advantage of the collective number of aging tokens on all of your cards.

This one has a lot going for it. Even though the building iconography is a tad muddy, the overall art style is whimsical and charming. The game is also surprisingly deep, requiring players to ponder through-line strategies and draft accordingly over the course of four rounds. Points gained from military wins are great, but if you ignore all other development then there's a really good chance that your l'il civilization will stagnate.

Paper Tales is a great choice for folks who have graduated beyond Sushi Go or they just don't wanna be bothered with a long and sterile-looking game like 7 Wonders. This is definitely one that'll have you agonizing over decisions and chomping at the bit to play again and again.

Five pips outta six with a mild tilt down into the crystal-filled Mine!


***
Hey, folks! If you're enjoying these reviews, please consider buying me a Coffee! Full disclosure: I probably won't use the money to by java; it's much more likely I'll use it for frivolous stuff like heat and hot water. All the heat-related things. Hey, it is winter, after all!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com