Monday, January 29, 2018

Star Wars Destiny Galactic Rumble - Part One

So, with the recent release of Legacies, I put together a few new Star Wars Destiny decks and tweaked my preexisting ones.

Here's what they look like:

Imperial War Machine


Characters: Ciena Ree - Adept Pilot, General Veers - Field Commander, Veteran Stormtrooper
Battlefield: Imperial Academy

Supports: Imperial HQ,  E-Web Emplacement, Armored Support, Attrition, Tech Team
Vehicles: Speeder Bike Scout, AT-ST, AT-DP
Droids: Interrogation Droid, Probe Droid

Upgrade: n/a
Abilities: Imperial Discipline, Promotion
Equipment: Plastoid Armor
Vehicle: 74-Z Speeder Bike
Weapons: Infantry Grenades, T7 Ion Disruptor Rifle, EMP Grenades

Events: Take Prisoner, Tactical Mastery, Imperial Envoy, First Strike, Occupation, Flanking Maneuver, Covering Fire, Probe, Firepower, Imperial Backing,  Imperial War Machine, Imperial Might, Pinned Down

"What's A Padawan?"


Characters: Luke Skywalker (Elite) - Unlikely Hero and Obi-Wan Kenobi - Mysterious Hermit
Battlefield: Obi-Wan's Hut

Supports: It Binds All Things, Your Eyes Can Deceive You, Perseverance 
Vehicles: n/a
Droids: R2-D2

Upgrades: Journals of Ben Kenobi
Abilities: Force Focus,  Akashi Training x 2, One With The Force, Inner Strength, Psychometry
Equipment: n/a
Vehicle: n/a
Weapons: Hidden Blaster, Lightsaber, Hunting Rifle x 2, Heirloom Lightsaber, Shoto Lightsaber

Events: Heightened Awareness, Invigorate, Guard, Distraction, Force Vision, Voices Cry Out, Rejuvenate, Noble Sacrifice, Alter, Mislead, Bestow, Krayt Dragon Howl, Mind Trick

Millennial Falcon

 
Characters: Rey - Force Prodigy, Padawan, Finn - First Order Defector
Battlefield: Starship Graveyard

Supports: It Binds All Things, Jedi Council, Awakening 
Support - Vehicles: Quadjumper
Support - Droids: BB-8

Upgrades: n/a
Abilities: Second Chance, Force Heal, Force Training
Equipment: Jedi Robes
Vehicle: n/a
Weapons: Rey's Staff, Rey's Lightsaber

Events: Draw Attention, Take Cover, Riposte, Heroism, Defensive Stance, Draw Attention, Deflect x 2, Unpredictable, Dodge, Block x 2, Mind Trick, Willpower, Negotiate, Use The Force, Flank, Daring Escape, Let The Wookiee Win.

Servants of the Dark Side


Characters:  Servant of the Darkside and Darth Vader (Elite) - Sith Lord
Battlefield:  Emperors Throne Room - Death Star II

Supports: Power Of The Darkside, Emperor's Favor
Vehicles: Darth Vader's TIE Advanced
Droids: n/a

Upgrades: Now I Am The Master
Abilities:  Force Choke, Force Throw, Immobilize
Equipment:  Sith Holocron
Vehicle: n/a
Weapons:   Lightsaber Pike, Vibroknife, Grand Inquisitor's Lightsaber

Events: Pulling The Strings, Dodge x 2, Force Strike x 2, Lightsaber Throw, Isolation x 2, Block x 2,  Abandon All Hope, No Disintegrations x 2, The Power Of The Force x 2, Your Skills Are Complete, It Will All Be Mine, Lightsaber Pull, Battle of the Wills

Charming Rogues


Characters: Han Solo - Scoundrel and Lando Calrissian - Galactic Entrepreneur
Battlefield:  Port District - Bespin

Supports:  Double Dealing, Street Informants, Black Market, Outmaneuver
Vehicles: Millennium Falcon
Droids: n/a

Upgrades: Con Artist, Hidden Agenda
Abilities:  n/a
Equipment:  Comlink, Quickdraw Holster
Vehicle: n/a
Weapons: Scatterblaster, DL-44 Heavy Blaster Pistol x 2, Bowcaster 

Events: Bravado, Confidence, Cheat, "Fair" Trade, All In, Block, Hyperspace Jump, Scramble, Shoot First, Smuggling, Dodge, Let The Wookiee Win, Double-Cross, Never Tell Me The Odds, Against The Odds, Take Cover and Quick Draw

The Dork Side


Characters: Kylo Ren - Vader's Disciple, Captain Phasma - Elite Trooper, Nightsister
Battlefield:  Frozen Wastes - Starkiller Base

Supports:  Power Of The Darkside
Vehicles: First Order TIE Fighter
Droids: n/a

Upgrades: Lure of Power, Force Stasis, Immobilize, Mind Probe
Abilities: n/a
Equipment: n/a
Vehicle: n/a
Weapons: Kylo Ren's Lightsaber, Captain Phasma's Blaster, F-11 D rifle

Events: Feel Your Anger, Firepower, Isolation, Closing The Net, Pulling The Strings, Enrage x 2, The Power Of The Force, Parry, Drop Your Weapon, Kill Them All, As You Command, Ruthless Tactics, New Orders, Decisive Blow, Leadership, Undying Loyalty x 2, Tactical Mastery, Subjugate, Clash.

Wonder Twin Powers - Activate!


Characters:  Luke Skywalker - Jedi Knight and Leia Organa - Born Leader
Battlefield:  Moisture Farm - Tatooine

Supports:  Launch Bay x 2, Strike Team, Outpost
Vehicles: n/a
Droids: C-3PO and R2-D2

Upgrades: Teamwork
Ability:  Fearless, Force Training, Coordination, Force Protection
Equipment:  Jedi Robes
Vehicle: n/a
Weapons: DH 17 Blaster Pistol, Lightsaber, Luke Skywalker's Lightsaber

Events: Daring Escape, Our Only Hope, Willpower, Block, Leadership, Dodge, Deflect, The Day Is Ours, Fierce Resolve, Defiance, Take Cover, Determination, Force Misdirection, Lightsaber Pull, Strategic Planning

We DO Need Their Scum


Characters: Boba Fett (Elite) - Deadly Mercenary and Bossk - Wookiee Slayer
Battlefield:  Mos Eisley - Spaceport

Supports:  Weapon Cachet, My Kind Of Scum, Black Market, Infamous, Hutt Ties, Underworld Connections 
Vehicles: Z 95 Headhunter, Hound's Tooth, Slave-1
Droids: n/a

Upgrades: Prized Possession
Abilities:  Deadly, Hunter Instinct, Jetpack
Equipment: Mandalorian Armor, Cable Launcher 
Vehicle: n/a
Weapons: Thermal Detonator x 2, Hidden Blaster, Relby VE 10 Mortar Gun, Flame Thrower, Wrist Rockets

Events: He Doesn't Like You, Threaten, Entangle, Subdue, Go For The Kill, Take Flight, Relentless, Pursuit x 2, Evade

ROUND ONE

Wonder Twin Powers - Activate! Vs. Servants of the Dark Side 

The Dark Side might have had the initiative but Luke and Leia got the duke in this one. Leia was defeated but Luke survived the match with only a single damage. This is due, in no small part, to the vicious combination of C-3PO and Launch Bay.


Notwithstanding some horrendous luck, my Servants of the Dark Side deck could also use some damage mitigation and perhaps the ability to destroy Supports, if such a thing exists. I'm also thinking about swapping out the Battlefield and pairing a single Vader up with Thrawn, but I'm hesitant to break up the Elite Sith Lord.

Winner: Wonder Twin Powers - Activate! 


"What's A Padawan?" Vs. The Dork Side 

Kylo and company kicked off this one. Luke's insane Power Action made short work of the Nightsister but Ren struck back with a Mind Probe, eventually defeating Luke. Ben returned the favor by annihilating Phasma. Ben Swolo ultimately had his revenge, paying one Resource to resolve a three-point Melee strike to win the game with seven health left remaining.

Obi-Wan had five Melee and three Ranged damage in the hopper so this one really could have gone either way. Giving Kenobi One With The Force was awesome but the Dark Side's consistent use of the Mind Probe's Special was even better.


In the next tournament I'll swap out my Elite Trooper Phasma for the Ruthless Tactician version.

Winner: The Dork Side

Charming Rogues Vs. We DO Need Their Scum

Han and Lando started things off. Bossk took an early beating but Fett clobbered Lando with both his Special Ability and equipped Flamethrower, eventually turning him into a briquette. Han polished off Bossk and then played Scramble to shake up Fett's lethal-looking dice pool but it resulted in a frying pan / fire situation. The resulting four point Flamethrower killed Han, leaving Boba with a single life.


Another close one. I don't own Chewbacca - Loyal Friend but he's on the way and I may sub him in. Having said that, I really like Lando's ability to start with an extra Resource.

Winner: We DO Need Their Scum

Millennial Falcon Vs. Imperial War Machine

The Impies started things off but it took forever for both decks to get going. The Imperials definitely need more vehicles and weapons and the Finn / Rey deck could use a spruce up, since I haven't added any new cards to it since Awakenings.

Eventually the Veteran Stormtrooper got killed under a combined hail of Ranged and Melee damage. Fun fact: by the mid-way point of the match the Imperials had zero Upgrades on the table and I'd forgotten to perform Rey's bonus-Action-for-an-Upgrade special ability on at least two occasions.

Now appropriately pimped out, Ray proceeded to go ham on Veers, eliminating him. The bad guys finally got the AT-DP and a Speeder Bike Scout into play (augmented with Imperial Might) but it was a case of too little, too late. The Padawan was defeated but Rey countered with her Staff for five Melee damage, knocking Cienna right the fux out.


Full disclosure: the Imperial deck had some pretty crappy luck. I did pull the AT-ST, but only right at the very end of the game. * cue sad trombone sound *

Winner: Millennial Falcon


ROUND TWO 

Wonder Twin Powers - Activate! Vs. We DO Need Their Scum

Luke and Leia had the initiative in this match. Fett used Relentless Pursuit to move damage from Luke to Leia, killing her. Luke then got rocked by a combination of Fett's special and 2-Ranged damage from Bossk's Relby. Launch Bay came into play late, initiating a crippling three-card discard.

Fett and Bossk conspired to deal another whopping six damage to Luke in one Action. Luke battled back, delivering five points of hurt to Fett, killing him. Bossk then made short work of Monsieur Skywalker with a combination of the Headhunter's three damage augmented with a +2 from Slave-1.

Note: before Fett was lost I had a Flamethrower, Bossk's Relby, Hunter's Instinct, the Hounds Tooth, a Headhunter, Slave 1 and Underworld Connections all on the table. A pretty brutal tableau indeed!


Winner: We DO Need Their Scum

The Dork side Vs. Millennial Falcon

Kylo and pals went first but it was another slow start. The bad guys drew first blood, using Power Of The Force to polish off the Padawan. The Quadjumper provided a pivotal Focus and Rey used the resulting three Staff damage to conk out the Nightsister. Phasma then used another Power Of The Force to get the Resources required to pay for a four-point Ranged attack against the wounded Finn, killing him.


The good guys got a bit greedy trying to set up a 7-point Melee damage turn which required one Resource but the plan was deflated when they failed to notice the TIE's single Disrupt. Phasma clobbered Rey for six damage and the First Order TIE delivered the coup de grace after Kylo used Enrage to generate the one Resource needed to fuel it.

Winner: The Dork Side

CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH

The Dork Side Vs. We DO Need Their Scum

Kylo and company had the first turn. Fett and Bossk delivered a tsunami of damage, quickly ganking the Nightsister. The TIE and Phasma returned fire, dealing five points of damage to Fett. A timely re-roll allowed Fett and Bossk to foist an insane seven damage back on Ren and then they Prize Possession-ed him on the next turn! Phasma retaliated with three damage on Fett and then dealt one more next turn, finishing him off.


Bossk fired back, killing Kylo. After the Trandoshan procured his customized Relby, he plowed Phasma right in her chrome bucket for three points of damage. Undeterred, Phasma responded with a well-played re-roll to accumulate seven Ranged damage.

Bossk answered with Hunters Instinct for two damage and managed to sneak in another two next round but this would be the bounty hunter's last gasp. Phasma paid one Resource for three points of damage on Bossk, courtesy of the TIE Fighter. She won with only two health remaining!

Winner: The Dork Side

Final Standings

The Dork Side...3 Points 
We DO Need Their Scum...2 Points 
Millennial Falcon...1 Point 
Wonder Twin Powers...Activate!...1 Point
Servants of the Darkside...0 Points
Charming Rogues...0 Points
Imperial War Machine...0 Points

***

Hey, that was fun! After I build a few new decks and tweak my existing ones I'm gonna do a few more of these posts and keep accumulating the stats.

Feel free to make make suggestions for improvements or list your own favorite designs in the comments below. Just keep in mind that my main motivation for including a given card in a deck is that it just so happen to have the featured character's pictures on them!

Sorry, but if I have a choice between "killer deck" and "thematic deck", I'm always gonna go with the latter!

Have fun out there and don't be afraid to discard to re-roll! 

Friday, December 8, 2017

"Vikings and Pirates and Mayans...OH MY!" - Ranking the Games of Cabin Con 2017

For the past five years, me and four amigos, namely Andrew, Chad, Dean and Mike, have traveled to an isolated cabin in Cape Breton to play board games for anywhere between three to four days. I've detailed prior events here, here and here.

Cabin Con is one of the genuine highlights of my entire year. I don't do much gaming during the summer since I'm always outdoors, so this event marks that special time of year when I get back into my beloved indoor hobby. And since attending my weekly game night isn't really an option anymore, Cabin Con gives me a chance to catch up on all the games that I might have missed out on recently.

For whatever reason, I didn't do a report on Cabin Con 2016, which has led to some major regrets. As such, I didn't want another event to go by without commemorating it in some way, shape or form. So, what follows is a list of games I played during this past October's Cabin Con, ranked from least to most favorite.

Please note: my ranking isn't necessarily based on the best designed games, just the ones I enjoyed playing the most and wouldn't mind adding to my own collection.

Alright, are you ready? Then, here goes!

(18) Adrenaline


Designer: Filip Neduk

Description: "In the future, war has left the world in complete destruction and split the people into factions. The factions have decided to stop the endless war and settle their dispute in the arena. A new virtual bloodsport was created. The Adrenaline tournament. Every faction has a champion, every champion has a chance to fight and the chance to win. Will you take the chance of becoming the next champion of the Adrenaline tournament?

"Play a first-person shooter on your gaming table. Grab some ammo, grab a gun, and start shooting. Build up an arsenal for a killer turn. Combat resolution is quick and diceless. And if you get shot, you get faster!"

My thoughts: Man, I absolutely hated the shit outta this game. First off, the positives:
  1. I like that you become a less-valuable target after you're fragged. 
  2. I dig the simple line-of-sight rules. 
  3. I appreciate the sheer variety of weapons and whatnot included in the game. 
  4. It's great how the momentum mercifully picks up towards the end. 
Aaaaand that's about it.

Here's what I absolutely loathed about Adrenaline:
  1. I don't know what it is about Czech Games, but man, I effin' despise their aesthetically-bankrupt, intro-level Photoshop art design. Honestly, the sheer ugliness of otherwise great games like Galaxy Trucker and Space Alert has flat-out prevented me from buying them. I find the art style completely uninspired and the color palate is either boring or garish. 
  2. The characters in Adrenaline are so bland, generic and disposable that I can't conjure up a single recollection about any of them. 
  3. Creating a universal language of iconography is a great idea but the symbols they use are so abstract and convoluted that you find yourself constantly dipping back into the rule book anyway. 
  4. Wanna make a strategic fighting withdrawal to recoup or hide behind some cover so you can re-enter the fight at a more advantageous time? Nope! The maps are so small and claustrophobic that you can reach anybody at any time and frag 'em.
  5. Since your foes can reach you at any given time, wasting actions to pick up another weapon just makes you a glaringly-obvious target.
  6. You can 99.9% kill a motherfucker but then some jabroni can waltz in, finish them off and earn most of the reward. Lame.      

Hey, I'm open to the concept of a fast n' furious, Halo-style first person shooter-type board game but I actually liked Tannhäuser better than this, and that shit was legit broke. But, hey, at least the later looked cool and wasn't an absolute bore to play.

(18) Unlock! The Island of Doctor Goorse

 
Designers: Thomas Cauët, Cyril Demaegd

Description: "Unlock! is a cooperative card game inspired by escape rooms that uses a simple system which allows you to search scenes, combine objects, and solve riddles. Play Unlock! to embark on great adventures, while seated at a table using only cards and a companion app that can provide clues, check codes, monitor time remaining, etc.

"In Unlock! The Island of Doctor Gorse, you and your team have crash-landed on the island of an eccentric antiques collector. Two to six players will be split into teams, separated in the crash, and forced to escape from two separate starting points. The twists and turns of this challenging adventure will test even the most talented escape artists. With your lines of communication cut, can you and your teammates find a way off the island?"

(17) Exit: The Game – The Pharaoh's Tomb


Designers: Inka Brand, Markus Brand  

Description: "On an Egyptian holiday, players are visiting the highlight of the entire journey: the stone pyramids! But after rising through the narrow, labyrinthine corridors, they discover that they've lost the rest of the group. After wandering for hours, they end up in a mysterious grave chamber — and suddenly the stone door closes behind them. The players are caught. On the floor is a sand-covered notebook and an ancient spinning code dial. Will the players escape in time or be forever buried under stone?

"In Exit: The Game – The Pharaoh's Tomb, players must use their team spirit, creativity, and powers of deduction to crack codes, solve puzzles, collect objects, and earn their freedom bit by bit."

My thoughts: We played two "Escape Room"-style games that weekend. And while I think the whole point of doing an activity like this is to be physically immersed in the environment, if you're looking for a co-operative, puzzle-heavy game experience that doesn't involve spending forty bucks per person, this is a pretty decent choice.

I'm not gonna spoil anything, just suffice to say that, of the two games we played, The Pharaoh's Tomb was a better overall experience than The Island of Doctor Gorse. Escape Rooms, and subsequently, these games, can definitely stumble if participants feel like they need psychic powers to figure out what was going on in the designer's brain when they came up with a certain puzzle. And while scenarios should be challenging, they should also be reasonably intuitive.


With this in mind, The Pharaoh's Tomb gets the duke. Sure, there were a few groaners in the Exit game but Doctor Gorse often left us stymied and frustrated; more the pity since the latter throws a creative monkey wrench into the ability to table-talk. Unfortunately, Goorse gets increasingly-annoying and ends with a puzzle so mind-bendingly esoteric that it pretty much sinks the whole affair.

Where the Unlock! series shines is in the use of an app which does all of the heavy lifting for you. Exit has to simulate these nigh-infinite possibilities via a series of card decks and a dopey-looking puzzle wheel. Unlock!'s app also provides an atmospheric soundtrack and the ability to deliver audio clues.

Re-playability is another consideration. In Exit, you physically destroy the game's components, rendering it useless by the end of the adventure. It's literally a 45-90 minute one-shot game experience, after which the box and everything therein becomes a useless brick. In fact, after we finished playing The Pharaoh's Tomb, we actually used it to stoke the fire:


Unlock! is a great option for people like me who have a crap memory. Since all of the cards are still intact at the end of the game, I can just set it aside for about a year, crack it back open and experience the adventure anew. If your memory is considerably more elephantine than mine, you can always sell it or give it away to a friend.

Given the right scenario, Unlock! has the potential to be the best "home escape room" experience. But as it stands, the Exit game was a lighter, more enjoyable, less-frustrating time that provided a few genuinely-memorable "Eureka!" moments. Barring the tactile and visual experience of physically being locked up inside a decent escape room, you could do a lot worse than The Pharaoh's Tomb.

Side note: I've since tried The Formula, which I also thought was kinda "M'eh". Even though the Unlock! app should give that line of games a distinct advantage over Exit, I still liked The Pharaoh's Tomb best.

They've got nine other scenarios now...surely one of them must be fun?!?

(15) Risk Legacy

 
Designer: Designer Rob Daviau, Chris Dupuis

Description: "Risk Legacy represents what is if not a new, at least a rare concept to boardgaming: campaigning. At its core, the game, particularly at first, plays much like regular Risk with a few changes. Players control countries or regions on a map of the world, and through simple combat (with players rolling dice to determine who loses units in each battle) they try to eliminate all opponents from the game board or control a certain number of 'red stars', otherwise known as victory points (VPs).

"What's different is that Risk Legacy changes over time based on the outcome of each game and the various choices made by players. In each game, players choose one of five factions; each faction has uniquely shaped pieces, and more importantly, different rules. At the start of the first game, each of these factions gains the ability to break one minor rule, such as the ability to move troops at any time during your turn, as opposed to only at the end.

"What makes this game unique is that when powers are chosen, players must choose one of their faction's two powers, affix that power's sticker to their faction card, then destroy the card that has the other rule on it – and by destroy, the rules mean what they say: 'If a card is DESTROYED, it is removed from the game permanently. Rip it up. Throw it in the trash.' This key concept permeates through the game. Some things you do in a game will affect it temporarily, while others will affect it permanently. These changes may include boosting the resources of a country (for recruiting troops in lieu of the older 'match three symbols' style of recruiting), adding bonuses or penalties to defending die rolls to countries, or adding permanent continent troop bonuses that may affect all players.

"The rule book itself is also designed to change as the game continues, with blocks of blank space on the pages to allow for rules additions or changes. Entire sections of rules will not take effect until later in the game. The game box contains different sealed packages and compartments, each with a written condition for opening. The rule book indicates that these contain the rule additions, additional faction powers, and other things that should not be discussed here for spoiler protection.

"The winner of each of the first 15 games receives a 'major bonus', such as founding a major city (which only he will be allowed to start on in future games), deleting a permanent modifier from the board, destroying a country card (preventing it from providing any resources towards purchasing troops in future games), changing a continent troop bonus, or naming a continent, which gives that player a troop bonus in future games. Players who did not win but were not eliminated are allowed to make minor changes to the world, such as founding a minor city or adding resources to a country.

"It should be noted that although cards are ripped up over the course of the game, there are so many cards added via the sealed packages, that the game does not suffer. Nor is this a 'disposable' game, merely a customized one. The game can continue to change beyond the 15 game campaign, and even when it finally does stop changing, you still have a copy of Risk that is completely unique, and plays better than any other version of Risk."

My thoughts: I've already talked about Risk Legacy ad nauseum here and here, so I'm not going to go into a lot of depth. Just suffice to say that if you want to win this game all you need to do is:
  1. Turtle in South America, Australia or Africa. 
  2. Try to conquer one and only one region per turn, preferably taking them from different opponents so as not to raise the ire of any one person. 
  3. When you've earned enough cards to drop a metric crap-ton of armies on the board, go after a few "low hanging fruit" capitals to win the game. 
  4. Roll well. 
  5. Most importantly: never, ever look as if you know what you're doing.

This certainly worked well enough for me in game one. I deliberately picked the faction that gave me a free unit in my capitol every turn, hid out in Africa for a sweet continent bonus, and expanded just enough to increase my reinforcements and collect a card every turn. Then, after turning in a suitably-valuable card set, I dropped a metric shit-ton of armies on the board and went on a tear, capturing Mike and Andrew's capitols to win the game.

It also didn't hurt that my luck with the dice was uncharacteristically good. 

In the next match I made the classic mistake of wanting to do something slightly different. Picking another race and setting up shop in Europe was bad enough, but my cardinal sin was winning the first game. As predicted, I became the table's default punching bag, to the point where I nearly got exterminated. Entrenched in Australia, Mike was in the perfect position to win but he was a bit too tentative and his campaign quickly fizzled out. Chad started out in Asia and, like myself, he soon found himself besieged on many fronts. 

In fact, as soon as the board was set up, I was pretty sure that Andrew was going to win. He took Africa this time and pretty much followed my game one playbook note for note.


The fact that you can knock off a game of Risk Legacy within 30-90 minutes renders the original version completely obsolete in my book. I also appreciate the game's evolutionary qualities, which I won't presume to spoil here. Just suffice to say that customizing every copy with unique mods and shaking things up via surprise factions and other tweaks definitely adds to the appeal.

Otherwise, I find the experience of playing Risk Legacy kinda tedious. It's the same gripe I have with games like Zombies!!!! or Munchkin: I.E. its not so much about how well you play the game overall, its more about recognizing when to "go for it". It's shooting for Level Ten or scrambling for the helipad when you realize that no-one can stop you.

Sure, the game can be thrilling when you gamble on a win, but it also becomes a miserable slog if your premature bid for victory fizzles out. Or, even worse, if you have a giant target on your chest just because you won the previous game. Other than wondering what remaining revelations Risk Legacy may spring on us, I'm not particularly enthused to to keep playing.       

Sometimes I think Dean is smarter than all of us put together for avoiding this one like the plague. But, like I said, the game's quick play time and my rank curiosity RE: any remaining plot twists ensures that I'm in it for the long haul.   

(14) Rum & Pirates


Designer: Stefan Feld

Description: "In Rum & Pirates, players take on the roles of freebooters who, back in their pirates' hideout, spend their time with all kinds of competitions - drinking, fighting, etc. All players move the main playing figure, the captain, through the alleys of the village, with the goal of gaining as much rum and reknown as possible. The end of each of the five rounds is also marked by a highly variable fight to claim the best sleeping spaces on board the ship (bed or board?). The game is a mixture of tactics, strategy, and luck. The die plays an important role in the game, but you still get the feeling of being at the mercy of fate only rarely."

My thoughts: Quick personal aside: my drink of choice during Cabin Con weekend was the Zombie, made with three different types of rum. Needless to say, Rum & Pirates makes a lot of sense after a long day of heavy, um...gaming.

We actually played this one during last year's Cabin Con and the general consensus was that it was mindless good fun. The sheer variety of dumb shenanigans you can get into is what makes the game so charming.

You can pay coins for safe passage through dodgy back alleys to reach key spaces.You can pick up straggling pirates to increase your range of movement. You can set-collect different wares or sell duplicates for gold. You can locate the other half of a treasure map for victory points. You can even charge your table-mates for a drunken pub crawl, which amounts to a glorified game of craps over money and veeps.

Then there are the "ARRRR"-rated shenanigans that Feld had to white-wash in order to give the game a family veneer. The one that always cracks us up is "rendezvousing" with a potential "bride", which is basically a thinly-veiled analogy for "slipping 'Toothless Jenny' the ol' 'belaying pin'".


The treasure chests also never fail to amuse. Not only are these things worth substantial victory points, opening them can sometimes reveal a scorpion with the number ten to twenty-one printed next to it. The person who revealed the treasure rolls a die and then passes it on to the left. That player rolls and then adds their result to the previous number and so on until someone rolls over the limit and gets "stung" with a -2 victory point chip.

I know this sounds totally stupid and random but whenever this comes up we hang on the results like a bunch of senior citizens during a particularly heated game of Bingo.
 
Perhaps the most charmingly-idiotic thing in the game happens when you tap out for the round and place your remaining pirates back on the ship. That's when you start "wrangling for sleeping places" with other pirates. This amounts to yet another goofy dice-fest which ultimately results in one pirate getting the top bunk Bedroll tile for bonus victory points. Again, you'd be forgiven if this whole thing conjures up shades of a clothing-optional Greco-Roman wrestling match.

Fortunately, all of this dice-related luck is mitigated somewhat by the presence of the titular Rum, which you can pick up at various junctures. Every time you spend one you can re-roll the die twice. Needless to say I highly, highly recommend that you pick up some of this shiznit as soon as possible, since you pretty much hafta roll dice to scratch your ass in this game.

I have no idea why I like this stupid thing so much. As the most subconsciously-inappropriate kid's game ever designed, Rum & Pirates offers endless laughs at its own expense. Beyond being the board game equivalent of a fart joke, I pretty much love anything featuring maps and mazes. To me its fun to drop a conga line of pirates down on the board to see how many angles I can exploit in a single turn.       


It's also fun to see how critical darling Stefan Feld kicked off his career. Everything about the game's tacky cover art and graphic design screams "sophmoric". Indeed, Rum & Pirates is a bizarre hodge-podge of traditional design elements and a healthy dollop of luck. And even though there's a sweet simplicity to it, I can't help but think that Feld has spent the balance of his career deliberately trying to excise these elements from his games.

The funny thing is, given the choice between Rum & Pirates and Bora Bora, I'd actually opt for the former most nights. Especially if I had every ingredient on hand to whip us a few Zombies.    
      
(13) 10 Days in Europe


 Designer: Alan Moon

Description: "All players pick tiles up one at a time, examining them and placing them onto any empty spot on their tile holders. Then, in turn, each player draws one tile and may replace one of their lined-up tiles with it. (Tiles may not be rearranged.) Tiles are drawn from one of the face-up discard piles or a face-down pile. The drawn card or replaced card is then discarded into one of the face-up piles. The first person to have all ten tiles satisfy the travel connection requirements wins."

My thoughts: Mike asked me to bring this one to Cabin Con and during a brief lull we managed to get a few games of it in.

Years ago I added this one to my collection after playing it with Andrew and few other folks. Admittedly, I was a pretty easy mark for 10 Days in Europe because I love the idea of creating a dream European travel tour. The map board, the tiles and especially the 10-day itinerary rack also make for some hella-charming components.


I like this one 'cuz you need to think smart even while drawing your starting tiles. For example, if I randomly pull Iceland, Wales, Albania and Turkey I'll try to put the first two at one end of the tile rack and the last two at the other end. Then I'm free to plop centrally-located countries like Germany smack dab in the middle. It's also wise to place counties of the same color one space away from each other so you can easily link them together with a matching colored flights.

Game play itself can also feature some pretty tense gambles. For example, a tile you need might be in the wrong place, which will require you to throw it out into a discard pile. Until your turn comes around again you'll be on pins and needles, hoping that no-one else snatches it up or buries it. You also have no clue as to how your opponents are doing so when someone announces that they've completed their itinerary, you're always surprised. 


I used these tactics to win game one, but Mike's a quick study and he stormed back to win the second match.

10 Days in Europe will always have a home in my collection. I like the game's elegant simplicity and the "travel plans" I make in game are pure wish fulfillment.     

(12) Not Alone 

 
Designer: Ghislain Masson

Description: "It is the 25th century. You are a member of an intergalactic expedition shipwrecked on a mysterious planet named Artemia. While waiting for the rescue ship, you begin to explore the planet but an alien entity picks up your scent and begins to hunt you. You are Not Alone! Will you survive the dangers of Artemia?

"Not Alone is an asymmetrical card game, in which one player (the Creature) plays against the stranded explorers (the Hunted).

"If you play as one of the Hunted, you will explore Artemia using Place cards. By playing these and Survival cards, you try to avoid, confuse or distract the Creature until help arrives.

"If you play as the Creature, you will stalk and pursue the shipwrecked survivors. By playing your Hunt cards and using the mysterious powers of Artemia, you try to wear down the Hunted and assimilate them to the planet forever.

"Not Alone is a immersive, thematic card game, where you use guessing, bluffing, hand management, and just a pinch of deck-building to achieve your goal, which is survival for the Hunted... or total assimilation for the Creature!"

My thoughts: This one's unique 'cuz you've got one person as the Creature versus a bunch of players as the Hunted, who need to work together to throw their foe off the scent. A time track is used to keeps tabs on how well each faction is doing. Since the Creature is outnumbered, the Assimilation track isn't nearly as long as the Hunted's Rescue track.

Each Hunted player starts with the same five cards corresponding to different locations on the planet. Every turn they secretly pick one card and place it face down. The Creature player then tries to anticipate where they're going by placing their search token on one of the five locations. They also have Hunt Cards at their disposal, which can be used to cover additional locations, nullify Place abilities or sneak a peek at the Hunted's remaining cards.

If the Creature can guess where a pesky carbon-based life-form is hiding, they're "caught". This removes one of the victim's three Will tokens and also drives the Assimilation marker one space towards victory. Conversely, if the Hunted elude pursuit, they get to take advantage of the Location's special ability, which might include accelerating their rescue, retrieving previously-played options or cherry-picking new cards.

The latter is particularly importantly. If a Hunted successfully makes it to the Rover they can add cards representing locations six to ten to their arsenal. Not only does this force the Creature to cover more ground, it gives players the ability to recoup Will, fake-out their pursuer and draw helpful Survival Cards which they can then play to aid their efforts.


Our game started with Creature Chad scoring some key early captures, which really put us behind the eight-ball. Andrew, Mike and I quickly picked up on some key tactics and after we added a smattering of new cards to our repertoire, the match was soon joined. We went on a really good run, making up lost ground until both the Assimilation and Rescue tokens were neck and neck.

Like, literally neck and neck. By the end, both tokens were just one space away from victory. Despite my timely arrival at The Source for some Will recovery, Chad managed to nail Mike, forcing him to lose his last token. Chad won, but it was crazy close and the whole experience was admittedly tense and engaging.

The Hunted need to add new Place and Survival Cards to their hand as quickly as possible, since this gives them more options to obfuscate the Creature. The Creature has to offset this by keeping tabs on what's been played so far, anticipating the Hunted's most likely moves, and playing Hunt Cards every turn to cover the most ground. This becomes increasingly difficult when the Hunters have more than five cards at their disposal.

Choosing what Place Card to table is always a tense moment for the Hunted. You may find yourself thinking 'Hmm, playing this card right now is super obvious...perhaps so obvious that the Creature might choose something else'. It's particularly harrowing when you get down to only two options. That's when you start to think 'Should I do the sensible thing and get a few cards back or hope the Creature is preoccupied and just go for it?'

Not Alone is a solid, fun little bluffing game. I have no idea if it's as balanced as it seems to be, but I wouldn't mind playing it a half dozen more times to find out.

(11) Jórvík 

 
Designer: Stefan Feld

Description:  "For several decades during the Viking age, parts of England were occupied by the Norsemen. Under their influence, one of the larger cities turned into a flourishing center of trade and craftsmanship. The Vikings called the city and its surrounding kingdom Jórvík, which is today known as the city of York.

"In the game Jórvík, players assume the roles of Viking jarls. They gather prestige points by trading goods, holding big feasts, funding pillages, commissioning craftsmen and hiring soldiers to defend the city against recurring invasions. The player with the most prestige points wins."

My thoughts: A little while back, Andrew ran Feld's Die Speicherstadt for us. Set in Hamburg around 1900, you play a wholesale merchant who's trying to procure spices, coffee, tea and carpets (?) at a decent rate. Before you sell this stuff, you need to keep it in a storehouse called, you guessed it, the speicherstadt. Hoarding goods for a long period of time isn't advisable since fire can break out at any moment to destroy your holdings. As such, an early investment in fire-fighters can help mitigate this and net you some quick victory points.

This is a prime example of how a game's theme can make all the difference. I liked Die Speicherstadt well enough, but marrying the same mechanics with a viking theme really snagged my attention. For example, the looming threat in Jórvík isn't fire, it's invading Picts. That's much more exciting, n'est pas?

You can deal with this by acquiring Warrior Cards which act like the Firefighters in Die Speicherstadt. If you provided the most Warriors to repel the Picts you get a Victory Point bonus. Conversely, if you're not pulling you're own weight in defense of the realm, you're gonna take a hit. 

Naturally, you'll have to procure cards to build an effective economic engine. Beyond Warrior Cards, the Ships provide eight different types of goods in the game. Feast Cards stack in value based on how many you've collected. Journey Cards are just worth straight-up Victory Points. Artisan Cards let you swap goods for Veeps and Trader Cards give you Coins for Goods.


Tha...tha...that's not all, folks! Skald Cards help capitalize on the strategy you've been pursuing all game while Oracle Cards let you turf oddball goods for Victory Points. There's also a metric crap-ton of Buildings that offer extra storage space, money, discounts, and bonus workers. And, as if that wasn't enough, Loki cards let you straight up fuck with your opponents while Defender Cards give additional bonuses for fighting off the Picts. 

Whew! Didja get all that? Well, strap yourself in, 'cuz the cards aren't what makes this game so original, it's how you get 'em. If you want a particular card you can place one of your workers in the first Interest space. Now, if no one else places a worker behind you, then you'll get that card for a measly one coin. But for every other worker in the same lane, the cost is driven up by one!

Since you can nab a clutch card for a song if no-one else plops a worker down in the same Lane, the game gets super-tense. Half the time you're silently praying that no-one goes after the same thing. For extra yuks, try putting several of your own workers in the same Lane to make it cost prohibitive for other players.

So, between all of the different cards you can go after, the unique strategies you can use to acquire them and the knowledge that the Picts will inevitably try to stomp a mud-hole in your collective asses, the game is actually quite deep.

I didn't do particularly well because my tableau was, for all intents and purposes, a completely random assortment of cards. I scored a few early points by leading the defense of the village but I had to let that slide in order to play catch-up. Also, by neglecting Traders, I didn't have the money to outbid my competitors for the power cards I needed. The weak-tea Artisan Cards that I acquired at the start of the game never got replaced and were rendered borderline obsolete by my competitor's vastly more efficient upgrades.

Even though I was relegated to the role of spoiler towards the end of the game, I still had fun playing Jórvík. If you're a Feld nut like Andrew, I'd say this is a must-buy. It's not quite there for me but its unique bidding mechanics, card variables, and Norse theme makes it much more tempting than Die Speicherstadt.

(10) Inis

 
Designer: Christian Martinez

Description: "Inis is a game deeply rooted in Celtic history and lore in which players win by being elected King of the Island (Inis). Players can try to achieve one of three different victory conditions:

"Leadership: Be the leader — i.e., have more clan figures than any other player — of territories containing at least six opponents' clans.
    
"Land: Have your clans present in at least six different territories.
    
"Religion: Have your clans present in territories that collectively contain at least six sanctuaries.

"Over the course of the game, players also earn deeds, typically chanted by bards or engraved by master crafters, that reduce by one the magic total of six for any condition. While one victory condition is enough to claim the title of King, a game of experienced players usually has a tight balance of power, emphasizing the leadership of the capital of the island.

"At the start of each round, players draft a hand of four action cards (with 13 action cards for three players and 17 for four players) during the Assembly. Action cards not played at the end of one season are not held for the next. Players also have access to leader cards for the territories that allow it and where they were elected leader during the assembly. Each Assembly reallocates those cards. 

"Finally, they collect 'epic tales' cards that depict the deeds of the ancient Irish gods and heroes, like Cuchulainn, the Dagda, Lugh and many others. These will be kept and used to inspire the clans and achieve extraordinary feats...under the right circumstances. The cards provide a variety of actions: adding clans, moving clans, building/exploring, and special actions.

"Careful drafting, hand management, bluffing (especially once players understand the importance of passing their turn), good timing, and a precise understanding of the balance of power are the keys to victory. After a discovery game you'll be ready for a full and epic game, where an undisputed player will be king by the Assembly for his merit and wisdom.

"While Inis has 'dudes' that are 'on a map', it's a beginner's mistake to play this as a battle game because eliminating other clans reduces your chances of scoring a Leadership victory condition. Peace among different clans, with or without a clear territory leader, is the usual outcome of a clan's movement. Battles will occur, of course, as the Celtic clans can be unruly and a good player will listen to his clan's people (i.e., his hand of cards). That battle aspect is reflected in the clan's miniatures representing warriors. Woodsmen, shepherds and traders complete the set of twelve minis for each player; these occupations have no impact on the game, but give it flavor."

My thoughts: Of the three Matagot area control games (Cyclades, Kemet and Inis), this one falls right about in the middle for me.

I like Cyclades the best because it reminds me of the area control games of my yoof. Sure, you have god-like powers and titanic beasts to wrangle but you also start out from a clearly-defined home base and try to expand out from there. And while Kemet also features territorial expansion and mythical monsters, it's at the bottom of my list because the ability to arbitrarily teleport turns the game board into a glorified mosh pit.


Inis splits the difference. I like how you build the board as you explore it. I like the whole "rule of sixes" victory conditions, where you can win either by holding dominion over six tribes, having presence in six territories or presiding over six Sanctuaries. It's also kinda cool that you have to declare yourself "The Pretender" when you're on the verge of winning the game. This gives everyone else around the table a chance to knock you down a peg or two.

And while this might reduce a lesser game to a rock-paper-scissors /  Risk Legacy-style crap-shoot, Inis has Epic Tales cards to compensate. Some of these cards let players collect Deed Tokens, which, in turn, decrease your victory requirements. The cards also provide plenty of cool, unexpected twists that really shake the game up. Though not all Epic Tales cards are created equal, the well-timed use of certain ones can certainly have a major impact on a round.

Turns are built around drafting Action Cards. Just like in (*spoiler alert*) Blood Rage, this simple mechanic gives you the chance to pursue a certain strategy without cornering the market on it. When battles occur, they're quick, painless and, most surprising of all, mutually agreed upon. Combatants can continue to eliminate opposing tribes until their pool of Action Cards runs dry.

If Sanctuaries are present in the region, defenders can retreat one of their tribe figures into it. Not only does this prevent a complete wipe-out if a battle goes against you, it actually speeds up the game. I love that victory conditions reward players for dominating over their opponents, not exterminating them. 

Sadly, I wasn't particularly focused during the first draft of our game, leading to a schizophrenic handful of Action Cards and a pretty ineffectual first turn. I did grab the capital and held sway over it for several turns until Andrew got bored and decided to take it from me as a lark. We then proceeded to bash each other over the head with our respective shillelaghs, giving Chad an opportunity to fill the power vacuum and win the game.

Even though I'm pretty terrible at it Inis, I'll merrily play it over so many other area-control titles simply because it's not a three-to-four-hour time investment. And even though it's missing a roster of legendary Celtic heroes and monsters like the other two Matagot titles, its also the most METAL-looking game since Kemet. Between the gorgeous graphic design, thematic card play and unique win conditions, Inis provides plenty of incentive to keep coming back to the table.

(9) Great Western Trail

 
Designer: Alexander Pfister

Description: "America in the 19th century: You are a rancher and repeatedly herd your cattle from Texas to Kansas City, where you send them off by train. This earns you money and victory points. Needless to say, each time you arrive in Kansas City, you want to have your most valuable cattle in tow. However, the Great Western Trail not only requires that you keep your herd in good shape, but also that you wisely use the various buildings along the trail. Also, it might be a good idea to hire capable staff: cowboys to improve your herd, craftsmen to build your very own buildings, or engineers for the important railroad line.

"If you cleverly manage your herd and navigate the opportunities and pitfalls of Great Western Trail, you surely will gain the most victory points and win the game."

 
My thoughts: Well, color me disappointed when I sat down to play Great Western Trail and instead of getting an open-ended, Wild West-themed sandboxian adventure game filed with quick-draws, bar fights, horse chases, dirty varmints and shady desperadoes, I got a game where you travel along a dusty road, save up money to buy different types of cows and try to make your choo-choo go faster.

But, the really funny thing if that half-way through the game, it won me over. Like big time. In fact, I Great Western Trail was the biggest surprise of Cabin Con 2017 for me.

First off, I like the game's nominal deck-builder elements. Everyone starts off with the same plain ol' cows but during the course of the game you'll generate cash to add more exotic bovines to your herd. This is important because your duplicates ain't worth a good gorram at the end of the trail. Pro tip: hire Cowboys to gain quicker access to rarer and more valuable cattle.


The cash you generate also lets you buy new buildings. Like in Lords of Waterdeep, you can place these new structures along the trail as additional action spaces to help you out and / or soak your opponents for more money. If you plan on getting into real estate, invest in some Craftsmen to unlock better (and cheaper) options. And, let me tell you, son...there are a metric crap-ton of options.  

As you generate more and more money and start to hire some Engineers, you'll drive your trains to increasingly far-flung destinations to score additional victory points. Points also come via money, buildings, cattle, workers, and objective cards which give you a chance to double down on your chosen strategy.


You can also create various micro-efficiencies on your player board to increase your movement, get bonus money, customize your hand, drive your train faster or purge unwanted cattle out of your herd. Although it's tempting to seize on and doggedly pursue a specific course of action in the game, if you don't construct a well-balanced engine, you'll likely get left behind in the (trail) dust. 

Even though the game wasn't what I expected, it turned out to be a genuinely-pleasant surprise. Although I probably won't buy this one, I'm also keen to have another bash at it sooner rather than later.   
 
(8) Skull King


Designer: Brent Beck, Apryl Stott

Description: "Grandpa Beck's Scheming and Skulking, a.k.a. Skull King, is a trick-taking game similar to Oh Hell!, Wizard and Spades, with players needing to state how many tricks they think they'll win each round. Special cards can throw off your best efforts, however, so watch how others bid and play carefully.

"Skull King uses a 66-card deck that consists of five 'escape' cards, four suits numbered 1-13, five pirate cards, 1 'Scary Mary' card, 1 'Skull King' card, and 2 mermaid cards. The game lasts ten rounds, and in each round, each player is dealt as many cards as the number of the round. All players simultaneously bid on the number of tricks they think they'll take by holding out a fist and on the count of three revealing a certain number of fingers (or possibly a closed fist for a bid of zero tricks).

"Standard rules apply for the playing of cards, with one player leading off a card and other players following suit, if possible, and playing something else if not; however, a player may always choose to play one of the special, unnumbered cards — and the power of those cards might let you win a trick that otherwise would have gotten away. In more detail, the black skull-and-crossbones suit trumps the other three suits, a mermaid trumps the black cards, a pirate trumps the mermaid, and the Skull King trumps everything — except if he appears in the same trick with a mermaid, in which case she seduces him and wins instead. An escape card can't win a trick, and the 'Scary Mary' card serves as either a pirate or escape card as desired by the player. Whoever wins a trick leads in the next trick.

"If a player makes his bid exactly, he scores 20 points per trick; if he collects more or fewer tricks, he loses 10 points per trick he's off. If a player makes a bid of zero tricks, he wins points equal to ten times the current round number — but if he takes even a single trick, he loses this many points instead. If a player catches pirates with the Skull King, or the King with a mermaid, he scores bonus points. Whoever has the most points after ten rounds wins."

My thoughts: Back in my university days I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table for a game of Hearts. And to think: all my friends had to do was to scrawl crude images of pirates on the cards and I would have willingly plunked my ass down anytime with a hearty "Yo, Ho! Ho!" in my heart.

This is a game that you can ease into. The first few rounds aren't worth a lot of points, so noobs can telegraph the first few plays without getting set too far back. And since each new round becomes increasingly valuable, the tension keeps mounting as the game wears on.

Predicting the number of tricks you'll take is what makes this game so much fun. Blessed with what looks like a stellar hand, you might wager four tricks in round seven but be thrown for a loop when your opponents reveal similar bets. Conversely, if your round five hand is awful you might wager "0" in an effort to nab fifty points. But then, when everyone else reveals a low bid, the threat of getting stuck with at least one trick will shiver your timbers.


Skull King is more fun than any card game has any right to be. I can't think of anything I've played recently that has generated so much tension, dirty looks, gratuitous swearing and outright celebration. When you meet you're predicted number of tricks you'll feel genuine triumph and you'll want to keel-haul anyone who sticks you with a trick after wagering zero.

There's no better testimony of a game's quality than its success rate. I've tabled this for both hard-core and casual gamers and everyone's walked away happy. One word of advice, tho: be sure to have all of the rules locked down cold before you teach it. In particular, make sure everyone knows that Jolly Rogers are just like any other suit, except that they trump Parrots, Maps and Treasure Chests. Also establish that the player to the left of the dealer leads and you must follow suit.

Also be aware that there are several different versions of the game floating around out there. We played Andrew's Schmidt copy, which I kinda like a bit better than my Grandpa Beck's edition. The former adds Mermaids to the mix to ramp up the game's unpredictability and features more stylized art work.  

For being the ideal kick off (or end) to an evening of drunk (or sober!) gaming, Skull King scores top marks.   

(7) Pandemic Legacy: Season 1

 
I've already reviewed this one right here so I won't bore you with a re-hash.
 
Just suffice to say that Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 really rewards skill, co-operation and experience. Chad, Mike, Andrew and I knew precisely what roles to take and how to maximize every action on every turn to increase our odds of winning. And even then it wasn't a cakewalk. In fact, it literally came down to the last few actions and victory was by no means inevitable.

*** WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS PICTURED BELOW ***


And, that, my friends, is the sign of a well-designed game.

(6) Flash Point: Fire Rescue


Designer: Kevin Lanzing

Description: "The call comes in...'911, what is your emergency?' On the other end is a panicked response of 'FIRE!' Moments later you don the protective suits that will keep you alive, gather your equipment and rush to the scene of a blazing inferno. The team has only seconds to assess the situation and devise a plan of attack – then you spring into action like the trained professionals that you are. You must face your fears, never give up, and above all else work as a team because the fire is raging, the building is threatening to collapse, and lives are in danger.

"You must succeed. You are the brave men and women of fire rescue; people are depending on you. This is what you do every day.

"Flash Point: Fire Rescue is a cooperative game of fire rescue.

"There are two versions of game play in Flash Point, a basic game and expert game.
In both variants, players are attempting to rescue 7 of 10 victims from a raging building fire.
As the players attempt to rescue the victims, the fire spreads to other parts of the building, causing structural damage and possibly blocking off pathways through the building. Each turn a player may spend action points to try to extinguish fires, move through the building, move victims out of the building or perform various special actions such as moving emergency vehicles. If 4 victims perish in the blaze or the building collapses from taking too much structural damage, the players lose. Otherwise, the players win instantly when they rescue a 7th victim.

"The expert variant included in the game adds thematic elements such as flash over, combustible materials, random setup, and variations on game difficulty from novice to heroic. The game includes a double sided board with two different building plans and several expansion maps are available."

My thoughts: My biggest problem with vanilla Pandemic is that the I never really feel like a member of the CDC tamping down diseases. I just feel like I'm gaming mechanics. But when I play Flash Point: Fire Rescue, I can almost smell the smoke and feel the residual heat coming off the game board.


You can shake up a game of Pandemic via the characters you pick, the difficulty settings and where the initial disease cubes end up. Flash Point has all of this plus combustibles, a double-sided board, vehicles, action point banking and the ability to swap out characters mid-game. Not only does this ensure that turns are less linear, it also cuts down on Bossy Veteran Syndrome, whereby people familiar with the game essentially play the turns of noobs for them.

Our moderate-difficulty match started out pretty rough. However, by working in close tandem with each other we managed to stabilize the situation. Chad used the Driver's water cannon to stave off several catastrophes. Mike switched over to the Generalist for more action points after his Imaging Technician helped us zero in on several Victims. As the Fire Captain, I did my best to co-ordinate our efforts. Finally, Andrew's Rescue Specialist got us to within a pair of retrievals away from victory before the entire building collapsed on our toasty asses. 

Challenging, thematic and engaging, I'm seriously thinking about turfing my copy of vanilla Pandemic in lieu of this one.  

(5) Blood Rage


Designer:  Eric M. Lang

Description: "In Blood Rage, each player controls their own Viking clan’s warriors, leader, and ship. Ragnarök has come, and it’s the end of the world! It’s the Vikings’ last chance to go down in a blaze of glory and secure their place in Valhalla at Odin’s side! For a Viking there are many pathways to glory. You can invade and pillage the land for its rewards, crush your opponents in epic battles, fulfill quests, increase your clan's stats, or even die gloriously either in battle or from Ragnarök, the ultimate inescapable doom.

"Most player strategies are guided by the cards drafted at the beginning of each of the three game rounds (or Ages). These 'Gods’ Gifts' grant you numerous boons for your clan including: increased Viking strength and devious battle strategies, upgrades to your clan, or even the aid of legendary creatures from Norse mythology. They may also include various quests, from dominating specific provinces, to having lots of your Vikings sent to Valhalla. Most of these cards are aligned with one of the Norse gods, hinting at the kind of strategy they support. For example, Thor gives more glory for victory in battle, Heimdall grants you foresight and surprises, Tyr strengthens you in battle, while the trickster Loki actually rewards you for losing battles, or punishes the winner.

"Players must choose their strategies carefully during the draft phase, but also be ready to adapt and react to their opponents’ strategies as the action phase unfolds. Battles are decided not only by the strength of the figures involved, but also by cards played in secret. By observing your opponent’s actions and allegiances to specific gods, you may predict what card they are likely to play, and plan accordingly. Winning battles is not always the best course of action, as the right card can get you even more rewards by being crushed. The only losing strategy in Blood Rage is to shy away from battle and a glorious death."


My thoughts: In my humble opinion, Blood Rage is pretty much the perfect area control game. Why on Odin's green earth would you ever want to play, well, any version of Risk when you have games like this to choose from?

First off, from a completely superficial standpoint, Blood Rage is top shelf. The art design is gorgeous, the components are perfect and the miniatures are some of the best I've ever seen. You can totally get your money's worth outta this thing just by setting it up on your game table and staring at it for hours on end.

Mercifully Blood Rage is more than just a pretty face. The card drafting process results in some pretty tense decisions even before the first turn begins. After the kick-off, the timing of your actions is crucial. Since you can only make a single move on your turn, game play is fast and furious.

There's certainly no shortage of turn-by-turn objectives that you can set for yourself. For example, you can try to complete one of your hand-picked Quests. You can slap down any challengers who bar your attempt to plunder a territory for its resources. You can go on a random murder-spree. Even the "Valhalla" strategy, where you deliberately send your warriors out to die in hordes, is a valid option.

Conflicts are inevitable and resolved with a simultaneously-revealed single card play. This elaborate game of rock / paper / scissors is actually quite tense and adds considerably to the game's appeal. The fact that you can recruit legendary monsters to fight on your side for the balance of the match is also the stuff that board-gaming dreams are made of.

It might be tempting to go after low-hanging Glory (I.E. victory points), but don't do it at the expense of tribal development. Taking steps to increase your "Rage" meter lets you do more actions, while "Axes" gives you more veeps per battle and "Horns" let you keep more figures on the board. Woe to anyone who neglects these evolutionary opportunities, 'cuz they'll soon find themselves outpaced by their opponents. 

Mental agility in Blood Rage is key. As soon as you realize that your rivals are going after the same objective, you can either double down or change your focus to compensate. I love the turn-by-turn flexibility that this game not only allows but also encourages. It means that there's no hard-and-fast path to inevitable success.

I encourage all fans of area control games to add this one to their shelf.
 

(4) Champions of Midgard with the Valhalla and Dark Mountains expansion


Designer: Ole Steiness

Description: "Champions of Midgard (formerly Defenders of Nidaros) is a middleweight, Viking-themed, worker placement game with dice rolling in which players are leaders of Viking clans who have traveled to an embattled Viking harbor town to help defend it against the threat of trolls, draugr, and other mythological Norse beasts. By defeating these epic creatures, players gain glory and the favor of the gods. When the game ends, the player who has earned the most glory earns the title of Jarl and is recognized as a champion of Midgard!

"Placing workers allows for the collection of resources and warriors, which players may then send on journeys to neighboring villages or across the sea to defeat monsters and gain the glory they need for victory. Resources are used to carve runes, build ships, and feed your followers. Viking warriors (custom dice) do battle with the myriad enemies the town faces."


My thoughts: Along with fellow winners Caverna and Orleans, I also played Champions of Midgard during last year's Cabin Con and immediately felt compelled to rush out and buy it. But alas, since I'm poor, I've yet to add that particular gem to my collection, sadly.

Looking at this list I think it's safe to say that I like worker placement games. I mean, I already own Viticulture Essential Edition, Lords of Waterdeep and the aforementioned Caverna, so do I really need another one? The answer is a resounding "Yes"! But why? What does Champions of Midgard do that makes it so special?

Well, first off, there's the super-cool dice element. As much as I love Eurogames, y'all know that I'm a sucker for the element of luck. In Champions, you recruit warrior dice which give you a chance to earn glory in battle against a slew of mythical Norse creatures. You can also set-collect the noggins of different colored monsters for additional renown. Finally you can heap shame tokens upon your rivals, taking the game's runaway leaders down a notch.

Killing regional creatures gives you a dash of fame, but the really big rewards come from "driving your ships to new lands", "Immigrant Song"-style to take on the big fatties. Again there's an element of strategy here: do you rent a boat on the cheap or invest in your own ship for long-term use?

There's also the very real possibility of encountering something en route to your quarry. A crew-member might go overboard during a storm, some of your victuals might spoil or you might find yourself wrasslin' with a kraken even before you reach your intended foe. This prompts some hard question about how many warriors you take along and how much food to pack.

The expansions add even more options. First off, you get a powerful leader die with a cool special ability that you can leverage during the course of the game. Your dead warriors also produce matching-colored tokens which you can trade in for various power-ups. An additional land-based board offers some temptingly-glorious challenges which might make you reconsider the whole "all-seafaring-all-the-time" strategy.

Honestly, there's nothing about his one that I don't love. Some of the games I played that weekend were arguably more original, fun and compulsively playable, but Champions of Midgard is one of the best at what it does and what it does is pretty damned sweet. 


(3) Xia: Legend of a Drift System

 
Designer: Cody Miller

Description: "Xia: Legends of a Drift System is a 3-5 player sandbox style competitive space adventure. Each player starts as a lowly but hopeful captain of a small starship.

"Players fly their ships about the system, completing a variety of missions, exploring new sectors and battling other ships. Navigating hazardous environments, players choose to mine, salvage, or trade valuable cargo. Captains vie with each other for Titles, riches, and most importantly Fame.

"The most adaptive, risk taking, and creative players will excel. One captain will rise above the others, surpassing mortality by becoming Legend!

"Customize: Each player begins the game by choosing and customizing a Tier 1 starship. Invest all your money in engines and be a rapid, yet fragile, explorer. Put all your credits into an uber missile and watch other players flee in terror. Get a small engine and save space and credits to invest in buying and selling cargo. Or create a well rounded ship, ready for anything. In Xia, the choice is always yours.

"Adapt: The goal of Xia is to become the most famous captain. Completing missions, besting ships in combat, purchasing higher tier ships, selling Cargo Cubes and claiming Titles are all ways that players can earn Fame Points. The best pilots will adapt to their surroundings, making snap judgments and changing plans on-the-fly. If you can think on your feet, you'll do well in Xia!

"Sandbox: The real fun of Xia is that each game will be different. There is no set direction of play, players may choose to be peaceful traders, fierce pirates, workers, miners, opportunists, etc. The game board is randomly laid out and explored each time you play. Players might choose not to explore at all, creating a tiny arena for swift and deadly combat, or explore all 19 sectors and have a large play-scape to exploit. It's up to you!"


My thoughts: "Sandbox" indeed! Of all the games I played during Cabin Con, this is the one that filled me with the most giddy, child-like glee. And, hey, you guys know me. I love narrative games and this one has theme and adventure in spades!

I started off with a very simple ship with the ability to self-power itself. But a few turns in, I stumbled upon a massive derelict cargo vessel that I towed back to space dock, refitted and then started bombing around in. How cool is that?!?

As the photos bear out, the game itself looks great. The tiles are beautifully illustrated and easily navigated. The starship minis are some the best I've ever seen. And while the graphic design on the templates and the cards are a tad "Czech Games-ish", they're functional and clear, which is the main thing. And, hey, check out them groovy space-coins!


Every time you explore the edge of a star system you can either scan it for an action or just dive in nose-cone-first. Be warned: if you opt for the latter you just might end up "pulling a Dave", I.E.  licking a supernova at close range. New tiles can reveal planets of different affiliations as well as wormholes, asteroids and other exciting features.

In many ways, Xia out-Firefly's Firefly, mainly because its so damn easy to jump right into it. For example, ship upgrades are simple graphic overlays that you place into your cargo hold. And even though I like the whole "Aim to Misbehave" angle in Firefly, the abstracted ease of mining or salvaging in Xia keeps the game flying along at warp speed.

Also similar to Firefly, threats in the form of 'bots controlled by the game start zooming around the board, targeting outlaws or raiding the good guys. You can recover resources and trade them on planets via a simple and elegant economic system. There's also a bunch of Missions to tackle, some noble, some dodgy. Naturally, flirting with clandestine deals will earn you warrants which the 'bots and other players can try to claim. And unlike other "pick up and deliver"-type games like Merchants & Marauders, resolving combat here is quick and painless.

 
All is not well in the galaxy, however. By all accounts, the base game's economic engine is downright broken, requiring a fix included in the pricey expansion. For simplicity's sake, failure during a Mining or Salvage operation just boils down to either damage or gettin' "blowed up". For example, even though my recovered container ship could hold a lot of swag, my piss-poor Mining rolls ensured that I had to keep limping back home for premature repairs.

Since the penalty for getting killed is pretty minor, I should have done Salvage more than Mining. I just hated the possibility of rolling a 1-3 on a d20 and 'sploding outright. My luck with dice is god-awful so not dying in any game is kind of a point of pride for me. Conversely, Chad rolled like a champ, unlocked a mission, recovered a bunch of resources and got a giant boost for his good luck. If I tried that same maneuver, my atoms would most likely get scattered across the universe.

Dean also had a pretty rough go of it. His ship was specifically designed to sneak through planetary shields, but Lady "Luck" kept kicking him in the Space Balls as well. Just about every one of his re-entry or departure rolls were terrible, meaning that he kept taking on damage and then wasting time going right back for repairs.

Translation: the game definitely needs a way to mitigate the effects of sour dice.

Still, this one is a blast-and-a-half. We need a second edition which works out all the kinks and puts everything into one box. If that ever materializes, I'll rush out and buy it right away. But until that happens, I'll just stick with Firefly, which is still a great option thanks to it's beloved setting.      

(2) Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar with Tribes & Prophecies Expansion

 
Designer:  Simone Luciani, Daniele Tascini

Description: "Tzolkin: The Mayan Calendar presents a new game mechanism: dynamic worker placement. Players representing different Mayan tribes place their workers on giant connected gears, and as the gears rotate they take the workers to different action spots.

"During a turn, players can either (a) place one or more workers on the lowest visible spot of the gears or (b) pick up one or more workers. When placing workers, they must pay corn, which is used as a currency in the game. When they pick up a worker, they perform certain actions depending on the position of the worker. Actions located 'later' on the gears are more valuable, so it's wise to let the time work for you – but players cannot skip their turn; if they have all their workers on the gears, they have to pick some up.

"The game ends after one full revolution of the central Tzolkin gear. There are many paths to victory. Pleasing the gods by placing crystal skulls in deep caves or building many temples are just two of those many paths."


My thoughts: I've already reviewed Tzolk'in and given it a perfect score. Playing it again just reminds me that I really, really need to add it to my collection post-haste. If you wanna know my thoughts about the core game, click the link above. Otherwise, I'm just gonna talk about what the expansions add to the game.

First off, the asymmetrical powers are great. The first tribe I used gave me a free corn boost and the second one gave me a discount on technology. Arming everyone with a special power they can exploit during the game and kicking things off with variable starting resources certainly gives the proceedings even more variety.

The Prophecies were pretty cool. They usually demand that you sacrifice a particular resource or fulfill some kind of condition to either get a little perk or suffer a minor set back. Ultimately, they prevent you from being strategically single-minded during any given turn. Also included are additional buildings and components to allow a fifth person to play. And, since there aren't a paralyzing number of options to confound players, having a full compliment around the table doesn't slow down the game that much.

The only thing we were all kinda "M'eh" on were the "Quick Action Tiles", which allow you to take a special, minor, time-limited bonus action. Unfortunately, the Quick Actions often don't align with your immediate plans so the extra cost of performing them always felt like an after-thought.

If you read my original review of Tzolk'in you'll know that my main gripe with the core game is that there are a few rules you can easily misinterpret or telegraph. For example, towards the end of our first game, we realized that we'd monumentally borked up a major detail concerning bonus resources. But since we all love this one so much, we promptly reset everything and re-played it all over again, this time to its proper conclusion. Now, that's the sign of a good game!

Yeah, this is definitely a must-buy for me, fo' sho'.

(1) A Feast for Odin


Designer: Uwe Rosenberg

Description: "Using the central board in A Feast for Odin, players have to hunt, gather basic materials, refine those materials, develop their production-buildings, build/buy ships, and raid settlements.

"The resulting earnings are placed on the players' board in the best possible pattern to produce income and (later) victory points."


My thoughts: This was definitely my favorite game of the weekend. Caverna was towards the top of last year's list of Cabin Con games and this year another Uwe Rosenberg title takes the coveted top spot. #ConfirmedRosenbitch


There's a ludicrous amount of diverting and flavorful things to do in this game. You can build boats to go whaling or raiding or set sail for far-off lands. You can raid the countryside for lumber, stone and ore to create buildings or funnel these resources into other ventures.You can deal in animal husbandry. You can make and upgrade goods.

As with every other Rosenberg worker placement game, you're encouraged to increase your minion pool so you can take more actions per turn. This also increases your food costs. Thankfully, Feast for Odin has a particularly innovative way to keep track of this.

First off, everyone automatically gets a new dude every round. Since you don't have to waste time and resources "making" new workers, there's more competition over action spaces and you can explore different strategies quicker. Whenever your new peeps are "born", you remove them from your player board, revealing their additional food requirements underneath. Now you need to cover up these spaces with harvested food or coins in order to avoid any penalties.

 
Fortunately, unlike the punishing Agricola, procuring edibles isn't a completely daunting task. While breeding animals can certainly help with this, the game encourages you to keep 'em alive for victory points or stitch them into manufactured goods. Having said that, its great to have a sheep or cow tied up out back in case you need to huck one into Ye Olde Meat Grinder.

The twist here is that your player board is covered with a metric crap-ton of negative victory points which you need to cover up with coins, upgraded goods and various other phat lootz. This also serves to keep track of your burgeoning economy, since the more slots you fill up, the more coins you'll earn at the start of your next turn. It's a simple mechanic that works beautifully.

 
And, for the love of Loki, don't follow my example and blindly set sail for a certain new(found)land just because it happens to be your home province. Or, if you do, at least try and offset all of those negative victory points by dropping some developments down as soon as possible.


As you can see below, my up-front score was pretty good, but this irrational goal really drove my negative score through the roof. Even more regrettable: I totally forgot that you can voluntarily dry-dock your ships for victory points at any time.


Honestly, this one gets top-marks and is one of a handful of games I played that weekend that I'd seriously consider buying.  

***

So there it is folks, my ranking of the Games of Cabin Con 2017! Feel free to click on the images below to learn more about any of these titles and keep this blog sittin' fire-side!