Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Game Night: "The Downfall of Pompeii", "Parks" and "Seven Bridges"

Sometimes it's fun to chain a few filler games together in one evening. Such was the case on our last game night, which saw us table three unique titles that were not only easy to jump into, they really showcased just how diverse and variable the hobby has become.

First up was The Downfall of Pompeii, by Klaus-Jurgen Wrede, the same sprightly gent that gave the world Carcassonne. I've picked and pawed this one in many a retail store, but finally decided to pull the trigger recently because I've always been fascinated by the doomed city. Recent headlines have only served to get it trending back in my fevered brain.   


Color me surprised when I discovered that the game is remarkably straightforward, like a light Euro version of Survive: Escape from Atlantis. In the first phase, participants take turns playing color and number-coded Pompeii Cards to place their rotund little meeples in various Buildings spaces on the board. 

In the second phase, the placement rule expands considerably. If you drop a dude or dude-ette into a given Building, you can place bonus citizen based on the number of flat-mates they have. For example, if you placed a person in a Building with two friendos, can drop two more bonus "Relatives" in different sections of the same abode, another color-matched structure or a neutral Building. 

At this stage, players will also start to pick up and play Omen cards, which are used to  huck rival citizens into the Volcano. Typical targets for these sacrifices are meeples close to the exits or owners who have already made an enemy around the table. 

Things go absolutely banana-cakes in the final phase of the game. Instead of placing any new citizens, Lava Tiles start dropping on the board. Naturally, these tiles can be used to block potential escape routes and kill whole swathes of fleeing citizens. In an elegant reflection of "mass panic", escaping meeples move a number of spaces equal to the total number of Screaming Mimis in their starting space. For example, if one of my peeps has two others companions in its square, that jobber can move up to three spaces towards the gates.

Notwithstanding the fact that it's kind of a pain in the dodecahedrons to set up the draw deck, this game is a blast (pun vaguely intended). Even though the rules are simple, there's a fair amount of strategy to placement in phase one and movement in phase three. Social  engineers will also enjoy goading rivals into an Omen-fueled sacrificial tit-for-tat.


A little bit o' strategy, a nice dollop of luck and the gleefully-anarchic ability to sink enemy meeples from downtown into a plastic Volcano...what's not to love? This one scores four pips outta six with a terrifying tilt up towards the top o' that ominously-smoking mountain.


Next up is PARKS, by Henry Audubon. 


In this delightfully-beautiful game, players take on the role of Hikers venturing out on the Trail to revel in the Sun, Water, Trees and Mountains. By collecting these elements, players can Visit famous American National Parks for victory points. Along the way, participants can take Photos for additional veeps and vie for control of the Camera, which makes this endeavor more efficient. 

Players accomplish these tasks by moving their two explorers inexorably along the Trail, jostling for position and picking up the "ingredients" they need. Normally there's a "one hiker per space" limit, but participants can flip their Campfire Tokens once per round to break this restriction. 

Players can also collect Canteen Cards, which let you convert Water into the more rarefied elements needed to visit certain Parks. At the end of the Trail, Hikers can pay the matching elements to Visit a Park, reserve a Park or purchase helpful Gear Cards which give you rules-breaking powers.  

End game victory points are tallied from the value of Visited Parks, possessing the First Player Token, the total number of Photos you've taken and from one of two secret objective Year Cards selected at the start of the game. Ergo, the winner is always in doubt right up to the very end. 

So, basically, Parks is Tokaido if the paths between the Inns changed and expanded on every leg of the journey. 

Thematically, the concept of going on hikes to get the elements needed to be the sole visitor to a famous park is a bit wonky to me. And, since secret objectives are highly dependent on the Park Cards that appear in the limited three-slot "market", your ability to complete these tasks feels like a bit of a crap-shoot. 

Nevertheless, as a nature freak, this one is right up my alley. And it certainly doesn't hurt that the game is patently gorgeous. The First Player Token, evocative Park Cards and Hiker / Resource Tokens are all top-notch. And although they didn't need to make all of the wild-resource Wildlife Tokens unique, they did, and this sort of attention to detail really deserves praise. 

But Parks isn't just a pretty face. The variable Trail order, Advanced Site Tiles and Season Card resource tweaks alone make for a more varied experience than base-game Tokaido. And, since there's no limit to the number of Canteens and Gear you can collect, you aren't limited to a single character power that virtually dictates what spaces you should visit. Heck, clever players can even forge a pretty decent efficiency engine for themselves! Add in the "photography competition" and you've got an experience that's tons o' fun.


Side note...Dear Keymaster Games: please gimme a Canadian expansion already!

Parks scores five pips out of six!


Finally, we played Seven Bridges, one of only two roll-and-write games that I've actually enjoyed! After both That's Pretty Clever and Imperial Settlers fell completely flat for me, I started to think that maybe "R&W" games just weren't for me. 

But, as it turned out, I just needed a designer to marry appropriate, compulsively-playable, mechanics with an appealing theme...I.E. the same criterion I have to any other type of game. Cartographers, with its Tetris-y spacial relations and "throw-a-spanner-in-the-works" player interaction, did this particularly well. And, lo and behold, Seven Bridges appealed to both the gamer and the shut-in tourist in me!


Over the course of five rounds, players draft customized dice that let them fill in a "walking tour" around the beautiful city of Königsberg. As they pass by Landmarks on the map, they unlock special Bonus actions. These are either Immediate, like filling in one or more "free" map spaces, or Reserved, such as unlocking the ability to traverse previously-blocked Footpaths or re-rolling * slash * re-distributing dice. 

In the end, players score points for their optimal enclosed route, which is determined by the number of right angles multiplied by the number of Bridges crossed during your stroll. They also get exponential points for all of the Bridges crossed and Landmarks visited, Buildings and Trees they passed by, points next to visited map edges, and the scores associated with unlocked Bonus actions.      

The simple act of filling out the matching pattern on a drafted die to expand your footpath around the city is simple, fun, intuitive and elegant. Ron Halliday, the designer of Seven Bridges, is a professional cartographer ..and it shows. The mini-map is visually appealing and the custom dice are hella-sweet. 

I know this probably sounds ridiculous but, in some tiny way, playing Seven Bridges reminds me of something I genuinely miss, and that's strolling through the streets of some beautiful, historic European city to see as many wonders as I can before it's time to go home. 

And, for that, I just want to thank designer Ron Halliday. I know it's a small comfort to me, but it's a comfort nonetheless. 


Seven Bridges scores five pips out of six with a massive tilt up towards the weather-vane on the top of Königsberg Cathedral!


***
Hey, folks! If you're enjoying these mini-reviews, please consider buying me a Coffee, which, full disclosure, will likely go towards the future purchase of more Seven Bridges map pads!


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Monday, January 4, 2021

* insert obligatory "soaring"-pun here * - Wingspan

So, among the many hats I wear to make the filthy luchre required to survive financially in this wacky day and age is to teach board games to people. And, yes, to answer your unspoken question, it's pretty much like that episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets his dream job at the bowling alley:


Yep, identical...

...w-e-e-e-ell, except for the fact that I spend my time making games look purdy on store shelves versus straightening bowling balls on the rails. And, only rarely do I spray my co-workers shoes with Lysol.

You know who you are.

Anyhoo, even though I've memorized the rules for hundreds of board games, there are many, many more that I don't know. It's bound to happen; you can't learn every game! So, the trick is to know "X" number of games in "Y" number of categories to be successful in the "professional game instructor" circuit.

Now, where things get really interesting is when I get an inordinate number of requests to teach a specific game that I don't know. There's a tipping point where I feel obliged to learn it, not because I have a vested interest in it, but because there's a groundswell of public interest in it.

Such was the case with Wingspan. I resisted learning anything about it because I don't really care that much about birbs. I mean, don't get me wrong, I have nothing against them. It's not like a flock of crows tried to Hitchcock me Nan; I'm just indifferent.


But after telling a small handful of folks that I didn't know Wingspan, I broke down and watched a "how to play" video. Well, halfway through the vid, I distinctly remember thinking to myself: 'Great...now I gotta go out and buy this stoopid friggin' birb game.' 

Unfortunately, it was completely sold out at the time so it took several months for it to arrive. Fortunately, I had the chance to play it on Tabletopia...and I immediately ran out and snagged the European Expansion because...d'uh!

So, if, like the wily Athene cunicularia, you've been nesting in a burrow for the past two years...

(goddammit....I'm actually learning about these friggin' things, , osmosis-style!) 

...then here's the official word about these feathered fiends directly from those lovely mad scientists at Stonemaier Games:

"Wingspan is a competitive, medium-weight, card-driven, engine-building board game from designer Elizabeth Hargrave and Stonemaier Games. It is the winner of the prestigious 2019 Kennerspiel des Jahres award.

"You are bird enthusiasts—researchers, bird watchers, ornithologists, and collectors—seeking to discover and attract the best birds to your network of wildlife preserves. Each bird extends a chain of powerful combinations in one of your habitats (actions). These habitats focus on several key aspects of growth:

  • Gain food tokens via custom dice in a birdfeeder dice tower
  • Lay eggs using egg miniatures in a variety of colors
  • Draw from hundreds of unique bird cards and play them
"The winner is the player with the most points after 4 rounds."

Wanna take a peek at the complete field guide? Then click on the following link to get the full Audubon of rules!

***

GAME PLAY-THROUGH

THE PLAYERS

Michael - Red

Shiera - Green

Thom - Blue 


ROUND ONE

ACTION ONE

Michael plays a Carolina Wren in the Forest habitat of his player mat, paying one Fruit back to supply. The Wren's "When Played" ability then kicks in, which lets Mike draw two Bird Cards, so he goes for two blind picks off the top of the deck.

Shiera takes the "Gain Food" action, collecting one Seed from the supply.

Thom also decides to take Seed from supply.

ACTION TWO

Michael overlays the Eurasian Hobby on his Carolina Wren, for free no less! This officially "Tucks" the Wren for an end-game point!  

Shiera pays an Invertebrate, a Fruit and a Seed to play the Red-Headed Woodpecker in her  Grasslands. Um, my apologies in advance for this, and all future inadvertently-suggestive sentences!  

Thom then spends one Seed and one Fruit to lure a Cassin’s Finch into his Forest. It’s “When Played” power activates, so Thom draws two new Bonus Cards, keeps “Cartographer” and chucks out the “Omnivore Expert.”

ACTION THREE

Michael gets a Fish token after removing the matching die from the Feeder. Since he’s advanced one space in his Forest habitat, he has the option to discard a Bird Card to gain another Food, but he decides not to.

Via the “Lay Eggs” action, Shiera places two Eggs on her Woodpecker. Since she’s working from the second column of her Grassland habitat, she has the option to discard a Food to place another Egg, but she passes on this option. She then activates the ‘Pecker's power, which lets her cache a Seed on the same bird. 

Thom helps himself to a Seed from the feeder.

ACTION FOUR

Michael spends an Invertebrate and a Fish to place the Common Goldeneye in his first Wetlands habitat space.

Shiera needs Food, but decides to re-roll all of the dice first. She removes an Invertebrate die and takes the matching token from supply.

Thom takes a Seed from the Feeder. 

ACTION FIVE

Michael takes the “Lay Eggs” action, dropping two of ‘em on the Common Goldeneye.

Shiera takes an Invertebrate from supply.

Thom also does the “Lay Eggs” action, placing two on Cassin’s Finch. 

ACTION SIX

After taking the “Draw Bird Card” action, Michael discards an Egg to pick up a spare, since his first Wetlands slot is occupied.    

Shiera invests an Invertebrate to play the Red-Eyed Vireo in the first slot of her Forest habitat. It’s “When Played” action lets her play a second Bird in the same section for its normal cost, so she pays one Invertebrate and one Egg drop the Eastern Kingbird down next door! 

Tom pays two Seeds and one Egg to drop the Red Crossbill in the first slot of his Forest.

ACTION SEVEN

Michael decides to “Draw Bird Cards” again, hucking out an Egg to collect both the Mallard and the Gray Heron from the tray. 

Shiera's Red-Eyed Verio and the Eastern Kingbird both "Lay Eggs". The Red-Headed Woodpecker‘s ability than activates, but, unfortunately, there’s no Seed dice in the Birdfeeder to snap up!

Thom sets aside a Fish die to "Collect Food." Since only Rodent symbols remains, he decides to re-roll all of the dice before picking again. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get the Seed he wants, so he picks another Fish. The Red Crossbill’s activation powah then kicks in, giving all players one Seed from supply.

ACTION EIGHT

Michael spends his last action “Laying Eggs”, places both on his Common Goldeneye.

Shiera goes for a blind pick on a “Draw Bird Cards” action!

After converting two of his Fish, Thom spends the resulting Seed, along with one Invertebrate, to lure a Stellar’s Jay into his Forest. This triggers Shiera’s Eastern Kingbird's ability, so she gains a free Invertebrate! 


END OF ROUND ONE

Normally the Common Goldeneye’s “End of Round” ability would kick in, but since Michael has no other Birds with that particular nest type, it doesn’t activate.

Victory Points are then recorded for the Round One Goal Tile, which is who has the most  Birds worth more than 4 Victory Points. 

Thom has the Red Crossbill for six points and a Stellar’s Jay for five, so he’ll snag 4 Veeps at the end of the game. Neither Michael nor Shiera played a Bird with a value higher than four, so, in avian-themed parlance, that's a big ol' goose egg for both of them.

The remaining Bird Cards on the tray are discarded and replaced and the First Player Token moves to Shiera.

ROUND TWO

ACTION ONE

Shiera “Gains Food” to take a Fruit and then re-rolls the dice, since only three Invertebrates are left. Sadly, not much changes, so she gets stuck taking an Invertebrate anyway.

Thom takes the same action, collecting an Invertebrate and a Rodent. Thanks to the activated ability of his Steller’s Jay, Thom removes a Seed die from the Feeder to get a token. Then every player gets a Seed thanks to his Red Crossbill! 

After paying one Seed and one Egg, the Mallard "quacks" the second slot  of Michael's Wetlands habitat! Sorry, I'll show myself out...

ACTION TWO

Shiera picks up a Black-Crowned Night Heron from the tray on a “Draw Birds Card” action.  

Thom takes the same action, selecting the just-flopped Eurasian Collared Dove.

Michael follows suit, collecting the newly-arrived Hooded Merganser from the tray and a blind-picked Little Owl. Then the Mallard’s power lets Michael draw a new random card, which turns out to be a Eurasian Golden Oriole.

ACTION THREE

Shiera converts two Seeds into a Fish and then pays one Invertebrate, one Fish and one Rodent to drop the Black-Crowned Night Heron into her first Wetlands spot. 

The “Lay Eggs” action lets Thom place two of 'em on his Steller’s Jay.

Since there’s only one die left in the Feeder, Michael re-rolls before “Taking Food.” After helping himself to an Invertebrate he discards a Bird Card to pick up a bonus Rodent.

ACTION FOUR

Shiera discards a Fruit token to place three Eggs on various Birds. Since there's no Seed in the Birdfeeder, the Red-Headed Woodpecker’s ability has no fuel.

Thom decides to collect Food, removing both a Fruit and an Invertebrate. The power of his Steller’s Jay has no Seed to gain from the Birdfeeder but the Red Crossbill’s activation activity gives him, and his opponents, a free grain!  

Michael invest an Invertebrate and a Rodent to place the Little Owl in the first slot of his Grassland Habitat.

ACTION FIVE

With only one option left in the Feeder, Shiera decides to re-roll all of the Food Dice. She then sets both a Fish and an Invertebrate die aside to take their matching tokens.

Thom spends a Seed, a Fruit and two Eggs to place the Eurasian Collared Dove in the fourth space of his Grassland Habitat. 

Michael opts to take more Bird Cards, going for three blind picks.

ACTION SIX

Shiera spends an Invertebrate, a Seed, a Fish and an Egg, to play a Roseate Spoonbill in the Wetlands section of her player board. The Spoonbill’s “When Played” Ability immediately lets her draw 2 Bonus Cards and keep one. She decides to hold onto “Photographer” and jettison “Platform Builder.”

Thom picks up a Bell’s Verio from the tray.

Michael invests a Seed and an Egg to place a Brewer’s Blackbird in the second slot of his Grassland Habitat. 

ACTION SEVEN

Shiera decides to plop out more Eggs, laying two on her Red-Headed Woodpecker. This would normally Activate the ‘Pecker’s Ability but, alas, the Feeder is still barren of Seed. 


With a single Invertebrate and an Egg, Thom ensconces a Bell’s Verio in the second slot of his Grassland.


With the “Lay Eggs” option, Michael places 3 Eggs on his Common Goldeneye. The Brewer’s Blackbird activates, letting him Tuck a Bird Card and plays an Egg on top of it! Then the Little Owl’s power lets him steal one Rodent token from Thom and cache it there. As a consolation prize, Thom takes an Invertebrate from the Birdfeeder.


END OF ROUND TWO

End of round Bird powers are resolved! Since he has no spare Bird Cards, the ability of Thom’s Eurasian Collared Dove fizzles while Michael’s Common Goldeneye let him lay one Egg on the Goldeneye for every other Bird with the “Cavity” nest type. Since the Little Owl is a match, the Goldeneye gets a spare Egg!

Then the Round Two Goal Tile is scored, which is the most Eggs in a “Cavity” nest. With three Eggs on the Red-Headed Woodpecker and two on the Red-Eyed Verio, Shiera has five. Michael is second, with four Eggs on the Common Goldeneye, and Thom has zippo! 

All the Bird Cards on the tray are flushed and three new ones are revealed.

The first player token then moves to Thom.

ROUND THREE

ACTION ONE

Thom picks up a House Finch with the “Draw Bird Cards" action.

Michael “Takes Food”, but re-rolls the dice first, since the Feeder is infested with Rodents. After selecting Fruit from the new options, he throws out a Bird Card to also collect a Fish.

Shiera “Draws Bird Cards” and picks up two randos. This activates her Black-Crowned Night Heron, so she throws away an Egg to pick up an Invertebrate. 

ACTION TWO

Thom needs Food, so he collects an Invertebrate before re-rolling for his next pick: a berry! With no Seeds in the Feeder, the power of his Steller’s Jay is moot, but the Red Crossbill’s ability gives everyone a grain token from the supply.

Michael pays one Fruit and one Egg to place the American Robin in his second Grassland slot.

Shiera invests an Invertebrate, a Seed and an Egg to place Cetti’s Warbler in the third slot of her Wetlands section.

ACTION THREE

Thom spends a Seed, a Berry and an Egg to release a House Finch into the third section of his Grasslands.

Michael decides to leggo some Eggos, dropping three on his Robin and discarding a Seed to place a fourth on the same bird. The American Robin’s power triggers, so he Tucks a Bird Card and then takes a blind pick. He then throws out another card to place a single Egg on his Brewer’s Blackbird. The momentum ends there, however, since there's no Rodent around the table for the Little Owl to steal.

Shiera needs more options, so she returns one Egg to draw a total of three random Bird Cards. Her Black-Crowned Night Heron immediately wakes up, letting her throw out a single Egg to get an Invertebrate.

ACTION FOUR

Thom "Lays Eggs", setting three on the House Finch. He then chucks a slug to place an additional Egg on the same card. With no spare Bird Cards in hand, the Finch’s power fails to activate.

Michael gains a single Fish from the Feeder.

Shiera also takes the “Gain Food” action, collecting an Invertebrate and a Fruit token from the supply.

ACTION FIVE

Needing more feathered friends, Thom opts to “Draw Bird Cards”, picking up a Brant from the tray. 

Taking advantage of the Gray Heron's “When Played” ability, Michael invests a Fish and a single Egg cover up two of his Wetland spaces!

With one Invertebrate, one Fruit and a single Egg, Shiera plays her Ash-Throated Flycatcher in the second space of her Grassland area. The Catcher’s “When Played” Power triggers, letting her lay an Egg on every Bird she has with a “Cavity” nest. So, the Flycatcher, the Woodpecker and the Red-Eyed Verio (with it's “Wild” nest!) all get free Eggs!

ACTION SIX

Thom pays 2 Seeds to place the Brant in the first slot of his Wetland habitat. This immediately sets off it’s “When Played” power, which let him collect all three of the Bird Cards currently in the tray!

Michael draws 4 random birbs from the draw deck, a number buffed by the Mallard’s activation perk.

Shiera places three Eggs on her Cetti’s Warbler. Unfortunately, once again, the Birdfeeder is bereft of Seed and the Red-Headed Woodpecker's power does bugger-all.


END OF ROUND THREE

“End of Round” Bird power time! Michael’s Common Goldeneye lets him place an Egg on any other Bird with a Cavity nest, so the Little Owl gets a spare! If applicable, Shiera’s Cetti’s Warbler will double its value for the purpose of the end-of-round Scoring Goal. Thom’s Eurasian Collared Dove lets him throw out an Invertebrate to tuck a random Bird Card underneath it. 

The Round Three Goal Tile, I.E. whoever has the most Eggs in a Bowl-type nest, is then scored. Michael has a grand total of 6, 4 on his American Robin and two on his Brewers Blackbird. Shiera has a total of 3 on her Cetti’s Warbler and two on her Red-Eyed Verio, which has a “wild” nest. Thom also has a total of five.

NOTE: the appendix specifically states that, if the goal is counting Eggs, the number of Eggs on the Cetti’s Warbler isn’t doubled. Which, IMHO, really calls this l'il dude's value into question!  

In the final steps of end-round clean-up, all of the Bird Cards on the tray are discarded and replaced and the first player token goes back to Michael.

FINAL ROUND

ACTION ONE

Michael “Lays Eggs”, placing three on various Birds. Via his American Robin, he tucks a Bird Card from his hand underneath it. The Brewer’s Blackbird then Activates, so he discards another Bird Card to place a bonus Egg on that same feathered friend. Unfortunately, since no-one around the table has a Rodent to spare, the Little Owl’s ability does nothing.

Shiera “Gains Food”. She sets an Invertebrate die aside before re-rolling everything and taking another slug.

Thom "Draws a Bird Card", snagging the Eurasian Nuthatch. He then heaves out a single Egg to draw a random card.

ACTION TWO

Michael “Draws Bird Cards” and gets four new options, three for having all but one of his Wetlands spaces filled up and +1 for the Mallard. He snatches the Double-Crested Cormorant up from the tray and then pulls three blind picks from the deck.

Shiera collects one Fruit and one Seed via the “Gain Food” action.

Thom also opts for snacks and helps himself to a berry. With only one die left in the Feeder, he re-rolls everything before his next pick, which ends up being a Seed. With some tasty leftovers still remaining, he discards a Bird Card to snatch up a grub. This activates the ability of his Stellar’s Jay, which lets him select a Seed die and cache the resulting token.  Then the Red Crossbill’s power kicks in and everyone gets a grain from supply!

ACTION THREE

Michael “Gains Food”, but with nuttin’ but Fruit in the Feeder, he re-rolls first and then selects a Fish die.

After trading in a pair of Seeds, Shiera pays the resulting Invertebrate, plus a berry and an Egg, to play a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo in her third Forest space.

Thom invests 2 Seeds, 2 Eggies (from the House Finch) and 1 el grubbo to place the California Quail in his fourth and final Grasslands slot.

ACTION FOUR

Michael keeps going HAM on Eggs *snicker*, placing two on his Little Owl and investing a Seed to play another on his Gray Heron. He then activates the Robin’s ability and tucks a card. Unfortunately, the Brewers Blackbird is already at maximum egg-pacity, so no bonus there! The Little Owl’s activation power is also ignored, since no-one was courteous enough to stockpile a Rodent for him to steal! The “out-of-turn” ability of Shiera’s Yellow-billed Cuckoo then triggers, so she docks an Egg on the Eastern Kingbird, thanks to its "Bowl"-style nest.

Shiera takes the “Lay Eggs” action, placing one on the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, one on the Black-Crowned Night Heron and one on the Roseate Spoonbill. Sadly, there's no grain in the Feeder, so the Red-Headed Woodpecker’s power has no juice!

Thom also goes “full omelet”, adding two Eggs each on the Eurasian Collared Dove and his Bell’s Verio. He then activates the California Quail’s ability, which gets its own Egg! This also triggers the House Finch, so Thom tucks a card and then draws a rando!

ACTION FIVE

For his final action, Michael decides “Lay Eggs”, placing three on his Mallard. The activation chain reaction then begins! Shiera’s Yellow-Billed Cuckoo drops a single Egg on her Cetti’s Warbler and the American Robin lets him tuck a card and then draw a random replacement. As for the Brewer’s Blackbird, he opts out, while the Little Owl still has no mouse to thief!


Shiera also keeps ploppin’out dem Eggs, placing one each on her Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Black-Crowned Night Heron and Rosita Spoonbill. Since there still isn’t any Seed in the Feeder, the Red-Headed Woodpecker’s activation ability is ignored.

Thom follows suit, dropping one Egg each on his Red Crossbill, Brant, the Steller’s Jay and the California Quail. Activation time! The California Quail gets a free Egg and Thom tucks a card underneath his House Finch and draws a new one. This would normally trigger Shiera’s Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, but every bird in her aviary with a “Cup”-style nest is at max "Egg-age."


END OF FINAL ROUND

Round-end Bird powers activate! Since it can’t hold any more Eggs, Michael’s Common Goldeneye sits dormant. Shiera’s Cetit’s Warbler is similarly burdened. Thom spends one Fruit to tuck a card behind his Eurasian Collared Dove.

Time to score the “end of round” goal: I.E. whoever has the most Eggs in a “Platform”-style nest. Michael has a grand total of four, with two on his Eurasian Hobby and two on his Gray Heron. Shiera has eight: two each on her Yellow-Bellied Cuckoo, Black-Crowned Night Heron and Roseate Spoonbill and two on her Red- Eyed Verio, which has a “Wild” nest. Tom has four, with two on the Eurasian Collared Dove and two on the Bell’s Verio, which also has a “Wild” nest.

ENDGAME SCORING

BIRDS

Michael - 17 points

Shiera - 37 points

Thom - 33 points

BONUS CARDS

Michael 

7 points for having 8 Bird Cards in hand with the “Visionary Leader.”

Shiera 

6 points for having six colored Birds for “Photographer” and  3 points for having eight Birds with at least one Egg thanks to “Oologist."

Thom

6 points for 3 different power colors in his Grasslands for “Ethologist” and 3 points for having 2 geography-related birds for “Cartographer."

EGGS + CACHED CARDS / FOOD

Michael 21 + 7 + 1 = 29

(21 Eggs, 7 Cached cards and 1 Cached Food on his Little Owl)

Shiera 15 + 1 +1 = 17

(15 Eggs with 1 Cached Food on her Red-Headed Woodpecker)

Tom 12 + 4 + 1 = 17

(12 Eggs, 4 Cached cards and one Cached Food on his Steller’s Jay)

END OF ROUND OBJECTIVE POINTS


ROUND ONE

Thom  - 4 points

Everyone Else - 0

ROUND TWO

Shiera - 5 points

Michael - 2 points

Thom - 0 points

ROUND THREE

Michael - 6 points

Shiera and Thom -  3 points

ROUND FOUR

Shiera - 7 points

Michael and Thom - 4 points

FINAL SCORES

Michael

17 + 7 + 29 + 12 = 65

Shiera

37 + 9 + 17 + 15 = 78

Thom

33 + 9 + 17 + 11 = 70

WINNER: SHIERA! 

***

REVIEW

PROS

  • I don't have a lot of games like this in my library, so it's a very welcome addition. As engine builders go, it's kinda perfect because you start off with a ton of actions to lay the groundwork. Then, as the game goes on, you get fewer and fewer actions but, by then, your turns are becoming increasingly complex 'cuz your engine starts to power on! 
  • There's a reason why so many light Eurogames follow the "here-are-the-four-things- you-can-do-but-you-can-only-do-one-of-'em-per-turn" model. The action moves quickly and games like this are often compulsively playable. 
  • I challenge you to find a game with more charming components. I'm not talking twee, overtly cutesy crap...there's plenty of that around. I'm talking about well-designed and visually appealing. The player boards, eggs and that impossibly-adorable bird feeder are all top-notch. The art design on the Bird Cards alone is rave-worthy. 
  • Once you wrap your brain around the concept that adding birbs to your player mat is a reward unto itself, the game's core rules are virtually impossible to forget. Pro tip: make sure you're pretty familiar with the rules before you try and teach it to others. If folks in your game group have never played an engine-builder, there's a chance that they may turn into pretentious actors and start muttering "What's my motivation?" over and over again like a mantra. 
  • There's something supremely satisfying about your progress in this game, especially if you fill up an entire habitat. Creating perks for yourself and chaining together a bunch of benefits is a flocking blast. Diversification over specialization is a constant that players will wrestle with!
  • The sheer variety of birbs is absolute madness. And although their cost / powers / egg capacity and victory point values are all reasonably well-balanced, not all of them are created equal. Learning to recognize the best birbs for a given game, situation and / or environment is a significant part of the strategy.
  • For folks who avoid aggro-style, head-to-head competition, this one is a must-own. You might curse someone out for snagging a key birb, poaching the last good feeder die or dinging them with an activation-fueled theft, but there's nothing here that will inspire thoughts of table-flippery. 
CONS 

  • I would be flat-out lying to you if I said that Wingspan was perfect. Players are blithely sequestered away in their own environment and there's scarcely any player interaction to speak of. That might not be a big negative for folks like me, but others will despise the lack of sparkage around the table. Like Karuba, it's nearly a solitaire game, but instead of  coming up with your own puzzle solve, you're cobbling together a bird-themed Rube Goldberg machine and then powering it up in the hope that it'll perform better than the other contraptions arrayed around the table. Like I said, I don't see this as a flaw, but many others will. 
  • Invariably, in round four, everyone's player mat gets treated like the cheapest and richest house on the block during Halloween: they all get Egged back to the Stone Age. 
  • Some folks might balk at the concept of Eggs being used as a cost to play Birds, but e. I've always thought it simulated territorial competition. After all, the more species that move into a habitat, the more competitive it becomes to find suitable nesting space. 
***

Even though the European Expansion gave a few more options RE: late-game play as well as player interaction, it certainly wasn't a sea change. By all accounts, the new Oceania Expansion really upsets the egg carton, so hopefully I can give it a whirl soon and report back to you.

As it stands, I really love this dumb birb game. Its neither flawless nor wildly original, but it is one of the games in my library that I always seem to have a genuine craving to play. And, frankly, in my experience, this inexplicable and impossible-to-quantify x-factor is the number one reason why new light Eurogames go from modest hit to inclusion in the hallowed pantheon of modern gateway games, shelved next to such library staples as Catan, Carcasonne and Ticket to Ride.

Wingspan scores five pips out of six with a massive tilt up towards that Bar-Headed Goose, soaring high above that Himalayan peak.

Well, frig






 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Star Wars Destiny Galactic Rumble - Episode III


Star Wars Destiny
is dead. Long live, Star Wars Destiny

Like a child with ADD, Fantasy Flight unceremoniously dumped my beloved collectible card n' dice game back in January of this year. Admittedly I was somewhat relieved that the constant conveyor belt of expansions would stop disposing of my disposable income, but I also knew that there were plenty of alternatives to keep the game fresh, affordable and approachable. 

In fact, Fantasy Flight themselves quickly presented a great option in the form of a new "print-and-play" set called Transformations set. Which kinda proves that collectible game expansions don't have to be 160 cards, they can also be 24 cards and re-use existing dice. Or, if you want a completely original micro set with new dice, why not use the non-collectible "living card game" model, a la Arkham Horror? 

Besides, how can you possibly underestimate the popularity of "Lone Wolf and Cub" here? Dumb-asses. Every single episode could have been a new subscription-style sub-set. People would be murdering their own Nans for a Baby Yoda card!

A part of me seriously wonders if The Rise of Skywalker was the only thing Fantasy Flight's development team had to look forward to. They watched that POS once and thought: "Wow, Disney is really screwing the pooch here. We'd better get off this sinking ship before the whole thing founders!" I'm sure Decipher, who produced the now-legendary Star Wars: Customizable Card Game back in the late 90's, was in some way genuinely relieved when Lucasfilm dumped them after the prequel trilogy soured that once-rich, sweet-ass Star Wars licencing milk.   

Now, I'm sure the real reason Fantasy Flight dust-binned Destiny was because they were wringing a lot  more profit out of X-Wing, Armada, Legion and / or Imperial Assault. I've also heard that FF are pretty notorious for failing to supply product in the face of demand and / or yanking the felt out from under the ol' Wyrmwood anytime a beloved game's profitability starts to wane in the slightest.   

Regardless of the "why", I still love Destiny and, apparently, so do a bunch of passionate online devotees. Soooo, after buying a pretty hefty local lot  of cards n' dice and snagging several booster boxes at a deep discount, I'm ready to wade into a new Galactic Rumble, the third in a series that started here and here. In a act of insane hubris, I've since tweeked or built from scratch 48 (!!!) different decks to participate in this spectacle. 

FULL DISCLOSURE: I DO NOT MAKE KILLER DECKS...I MAKE THEMATIC DECKS. "What's that...you've built a kick-ass Ewok / Clonetrooper / Holdo deck?" Well, guess what: I care about that just about as much as Gungans care about speaking the Queen (of Naboo's) English.  

In fact, while building decks I'm constantly asking myself the following questions:

  1. "Do these characters have some sort of close connection? If not, do they have at least some history together?"
  2. "Hey, look...a card with one or more of the featured characters pictured on it! Yep, that's goin' in!"
  3. "Hmmmm, I've run out of cards with the featured characters depicted on it. Okay, time to get creative. Watto's been known to drive a 'Hard Bargain', so let's throw that one in!"
Admittedly, this can result in some howlers being thrown into the mix. During the tournament, I took note of whenever this happened and I'll adjust the deck accordingly for future tourneys.

Also note that I'm using both the online rules reference and the Infinite Holocron to gauge current character values and sub-types.  

Okay, let's move on... 

To determine the match ups, I'll roll a 6-sided die with 1-2 being Light Side, 3-4 being Dark Side and then 5-6 being Fringe. Then I'll roll a second time to generate an opponent from one of the other two factions.

For example, if I roll a "2" it's gonna be a Light Side Deck. Then, when I roll again, 1-3 will be Dark Side and 5-6 will be Fringe. Then I'll roll to determine which random decks will square off in each group. 

Single-game match ups will pare the contestants from 48 to 24 to 12 to 6 and then finally to 3. The three remaining combatants will play a series, with everyone facing off against everyone else once. The team with the most points will be declared the Galactic Champion!

So, without any further ado and / or lamentations, let's get into it!

ROUND ONE

MATCH ONE

"What's a Padawan?"


Elite Luke Skywalker - Unlikely Hero (11/14) + Obi-Wan Kenobi - Mysterious Hermit (was 16/20, now 14/18)

TOTAL POINTS: 28

Location: Obi-Wan's Hut

Upgrades: Hunting Rifle, One With the Force, Journals of Ben Kenobi, Macrobinoculars, Lightsaber, Heirloom Lightsaber

Supports: It Binds all Things, Your Eyes Can Deceive You, Perseverance, Training Remote, R2-D2, X-34 Landspeeder

Events: Noble Sacrifice, Alter, Rejuvenate, Voices Cry Out, Finishing Strike, Safeguard, Luminous Beings are We, The Force is With Me, Bestow, Strength Through Weakness, No Questions Asked, Adapt, Mind Trick, Distraction, Mislead, Guard, Krayt Dragon Howl, Force Vision

VS.

The Huntsmen

4-LOM - Calculating Criminal (12/15) + Zuckuss - The Uncanny One (was 10/13 now 9/12) + Quarren Tracker (8)

TOTAL POINTS: 29

Location: Outer Rim Outpost

Upgrades: Hidden Blaster, Bounty Board, Underworld Connections, Bounty Hunters Guild, Backup Muscle, DX-2 Disruptor Blaster Pistol.

Downgrades: Death Mark, Dead or Alive, Wanted

Supports: Black Market, Mist Hunter, Streetwise

Events: In the Crosshairs, Armed to the Teeth, In a Bind, Tireless Pursuit x 2, Quick Thinking, Free-For-All, Lying in Wait x 2, Only Business Matters x 2, Skullduggery, Shakedown, Rogue Tendencies, Act of Cruelty. 

***

Ben and Luke start off. R2's assist for Luke is brutal, quickly wiping out the Quarren Hunter. After Ben gets all "One with the Force", it's practically over. Zuckuss takes a nasty 4-point Melee hit, augmented by a "Training Remote." Three more damage on a subsequent turn eliminates him, then Luke piles on the remaining hunter with 3 more Ranged damage and a 4-Melee strike from Ben. 4-LOM sets up a bulwark of 3 Shields, but it's like a band-aid on a sucking chest wound, with cards like "Black Market" and the "Mist Hunter" arriving far too late. At the end of the match, Luke was 1 point away from defeat and Ben had taken 7 damage. 

In addition to the aforementioned supports, cards like "Distraction", "Mislead", "The Force is With Me" and "No Questions Asked" did a bang up job mitigating damage from the bounty hunters!

WINNER: "What's a Padawan?"

***

MATCH TWO

Hot Shots: Part Deux

Poe Dameron - More Than a Pilot (11/15) + Admiral Ackbar - Perceptive Tactician (was 10/14, now 9/12) +Temmin "Snap" Wexley - Recon Specialist (9/12)

TOTAL POINTS: 29

Location: Launch Bay - Home One

Upgrades: EL-16 Heavy Field Blaster x 2, Poe Dameron’s Blaster, Tactical Aptitude, Wingman, Resistance Ring.

Supports: Firm Resolve, C-3PO, Resistance Crait Speeder x 2, Resistance Trench Fighters x 2, Black One (from both “Awakenings” and “Across the Galaxy”), Resistance HQ, BB-8, Resistance Bomber x 2, Astromech.

Events: Natural Talent x 2, Blaze of Glory, Lightspeed Assault, Happy Beeps, Take Control, Deploy Squadron, Roll On, Inflame, Dogfight, It’s a Trap!, Aim.

VS.

Anakin is a Dumbass

Darth Vader - Dark Apprentice (13/17) + Palpatine - Darth Sidious (was 16/20, 14/18)

TOTAL POINTS: 27

Location: Imperial Palace - Coruscant

Upgrades: Hate x 2, Force Storm, Palpatine’s Lightsaber, Sith Teachings, Lightsaber.

Downgrades: Secrets Laid Bare.

Supports: Bloodletting x 2, Galactic Deception.

Events: Fit of Rage, Block x 2, A Tale of Tragedy x 2, You Were My Friend x 2, No Mercy, Manipulate x 2, Unyielding x 2, Pulling the Strings, I Am the Senate x 2, Conflicted x 2, Doubt x 2.

 
Poe and company deliver a whopping 7 Indirect Damage, mainly to Vader, thanks to a combo from the “EL-16” and the “Resistance Trench Fighters.” After Poe finishes off "L'il Evil Ani" with his “Blaster” Special, he then proceeds to do the exact same thing to Palps!

With all the effort of crushing a bug underfoot, Poe polishes off the aspiring Emperor with a 4-damage Ranged hit! At the end of the match, Poe has taken 7 damage, Temmin 2, Ackbar 3.

This Dark Side team-up should make perfect sense, but since I can’t Elite either of them, it isn’t very practical. In addition to taking a long, hard look at alternative partners for Palpy, I also need to go through all of the doubles here to make sure they’re actually useful. For example, even one “Hate” on that version of Vader is pretty useless, let alone two! At the very least, a 3-point Plot should be mandatory here!

WINNER: Hot Shots: Part Deux

***

MATCH THREE

Spectre 2 

Elite Sabine - Artistic & Resourceful (13) + Hera - Phoenix Leader OR Seasoned Captain (9) + Chopper (8)

TOTAL: 30 points

Location: Occupied City - Lothal

Upgrades: Custom Paint Job, Darksaber, DX-2 Disruptor Blaster Pistol, Laser Cannon, Mandalorian Vambraces, Mandalorian Armor, Thermal Detonator, Rocket Boosters, Grappling Arm, V-1 Thermal Detonator, Thermal Paint, Dorsal Turret.

Supports: Sabine Wren’s TIE Fighter, Ghost (from “Covert Missions”), Phantom, Improvised Explosive.

Events: Partnership, All In, As One x 2, Embark, Truce, Lead from the Front, Controlled Chaos, Explosive Tactics x 2, Sneak Attack, Electroshock, Disassemble, Planned Explosion.  

VS.

Nightsithsters (Are Doin’ It for Themselves)

Asajj Ventress - either version (12) + Old Daka (9) and Mother Talzin (9) 

TOTAL: 30 points

Location: Nightsister Lair - Dathomir

Upgrades: Energy Bow x 2, Ancient Magicks, Talisman of Resurrection, Lightsaber Pike, Chain Sickle, Bloodlust, Crystal Ball, Bardottan Sphere

Downgrades: Possessed, Recurring Nightmare, Hex x 2, Uncontrollable Rage.

Supports: Stifle, Nightsister Coven, Dark Empowerment.

Events: Witch Magick x 2, At Odds, Weave the Ichor x 2, Attunement,  Twin Strike, Spell of Removal x 2, Dark Magick x 2, No Mercy, Dark Ritual.

With a roll of 4 vs. 3…the Sithsters start! "Leads from the Front" clobbers the Old Daka for 5 points of damage, but “Weave the Ichor” and “Witch Magick” bounces her back!

In a tragic moment, “Spell of Removal” turfs the precious “Darksaber” but the Spectres have their revenge when Chopper “Disassembles” the “Uncontrollable Rage” curse. Thanks to Hera's Special, the Ghost jets in, activating both Sabine and itself with the resulting Ambush.

A “Bloodlust”-ed Asajj keeps chopping away at Chopper, but the ornery droid stays focused and polishes off the Ol’ Daka. Mother Talzin finally shows up to the fight, blasting Chop into bits with her Sith sorcery. The Ghost and the Phantom then team up to reduce the not-so-good Mother into a pile of bloody creamed corn.

After Ventress finally gets a few decent Upgrades in the form of “Chain Sickle” and a “Lightsaber Pike”, she starts to threaten the Spectres with running out of cards. Fortunately, Sabine's 11'th hour “Thermal Detonator” Special / 2-Ranged damage combo sends the former Sith apprentices' budding bounty hunter career spiraling down the privy.

I think this Sithwitch (mmmmm, sithwitch) deck is actually reasonably good, but the luck needed to get it to pop just wasn’t there. I think it would do fine against low-level opponents, but the concentrated awesomeness of this Spectre deck is way too much for it to handle!

WINNER: Spectre 2

***

MATCH FOUR

"My Sister?!? NOOOOOO!!!"

Luke Skywalker - Jedi Knight (was 15/20, now 14/18) + Leia Organa - Born Leader (was 12/16, now 11/14) + Hoth Trooper (5 pts)

TOTAL POINTS:  30

Location: Moisture Farm - Tatooine

Upgrades:  Fearless, Handheld L-S1 Cannon, Force Wave, Rebellion Leader, Force Training, Luke’s Lightsaber, Force Speed, Force Meditation.

Supports: Perseverance, Strike Team.

Events: Return of the Jedi, The Day is Ours, Willpower, Force Misdirection, Fierce Resolve, Leadership, Stronger Have You Become, Daring Escape, Lightsaber Pull, Free Fall, Deflect, Endurance, Determination, Defiance, Strategic Planning x 2, Bring Balance, Beguile, Our Only Hope, Block.

VS.

No, Not That Mandalorian

Elite Bo-Katan Kryze (was 15/20, now 13/18) + Fenn Rau (11/13)

TOTAL POINTS: 29

Location: Military Camp - Kaller

Upgrades:  Armor Plating x 2, Flame Projector x 2, Flame Thrower x 2, A-300 Blaster, Cable Launcher, Mandalorian Jetpack, Wrist Rockets, Auto Cannon, Jetpack, Mandalorian Armour x 2, Mandalorian Vambraces x 2, Supply Pack.

Supports: Seeking the Truth, Fang Fighter x 2, Remote Stockpile, On the Mark.

Events: Unify x 2, Reversal x 2, Unshackle, Lead from the Front, Controlled Chaos, Fresh Supplies.

4 vs. 3…the Mandalorians start! Fenn's “Focus” gives Bo the 2-Melee “Flame Projector” damage needed to fricassee the Hoth Trooper. Luke hacks at Fenn for 5 Melee damage but Bo fights back with 4 Melee damage as well. Luke's Saber Special eventually ends Rau, but then Bo discards to re-roll her dice, getting 4 Melee to knock Leia out!

Now it just boils down to a slugfest. Luke deals 5 damage with his Saber, but Bo retaliates with 2 Specials for a total of 4 damage, plus another 3 from a re-roll! Luke re-rolls his Character die, thanks to “Defiance”, getting 3 Melee (and healing 3 damage) while setting up a brutal 8-damage kill strike to end the match just in time!!!

All told, a really close match up. Both decks are vicious beat-sticks, and I think either could prevail against the other, given a good bounce of luck.

WINNER: "My Sister?!? NOOOOOO!!!"     

***

Note: I've already completely every match for Round One, so check back next week for a few new results! Until then, enjoy the game and don't forget to pass if you need to!