Saturday, August 24, 2013

Apocalyptically Good: "Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar"

Our humble l'il gaming group sure has come a long way.  It started pretty modestly, back around 2005, when Andrew, Dean and I started to play through our budding collection of board games on an ongoing but irregular basis.  Five years later, on January 6, 2010, we finally made it official and locked down Wednesday evenings as our weekly gamin' night.

The format was simple: the three of us would take turns picking a game, prepping it and then hosting.  It was a decent little arrangement but with only three players, our options were pretty limited.  Two-player games were rare unless someone cancelled in advance and games optimized for a larger group of people, such as like Shadows Over Camelotwere useless to us.      

As such, we quickly added Chad to our hallowed fraternity just a week later.  Whip-smart, good-natured and casual, the rest of us knew right away that he was a perfect addition to the group.  Having a fourth player also meant that we could finally split into pairs for two-player games.  We still didn't have enough bodies to pull off truly epic games like Twilight Imperium, but we certainly had more options then before.


Wary of "outsiders", years ticked by before we added a fifth player.  In fact, in order to deter any undesirables, we'd freak out potential pledges with fraudulent initiation rites:

"Yeah, um...sure you can join our gaming group.  But first you gotta run naked down the full length of a football field with the Envoy Marker from Kingsburg between your butt cheeks.  Oh, and if you drop the Marker before you make it to the end zone you gotta swallow it."

Undeterred by the Holy Rite of the Tiny Wooden Dildo, Mike was informally added to the mix on September 1'st 2010.  At first we didn't offer him permanent membership, perhaps because we were laboring under the fallacy that we already had enough people but more likely because he worked so many weird, irregular late shifts that he often had to bail.  But by June 15'th 2011 his schedule had normalized and we were delighted to welcome him into the fold.  


As soon as we added Mike we knew we were finally cookin' with gas.  He truly represents the kind of person everyone should have around the game table: someone who's easy-going, ludicrously genial and a level of enthusiasm that's downright infectious.  As an added bonus, when Mike came along, we finally had the manpower to do justice to titles such as Battlestar Galactica or A Game of Thrones.

We've since added two more reserve members to the group in as many weeks.  Chad and Andrew's former co-worker Jeremy joined the week we played Love Letter and King of Tokyo.  And now we're hoping to add Kris to the mix, at least until he opens up Halifax's first ever board game cafe, appropriately dubbed The Board Room.  I say this because he's gonna be busier then a one-legged man at an ass-kicking competition when the place opens up in a few months.

It's great having so many players to pool from; we can now run several games simultaneously in one night.  The downside is that my tiny apartment can barely accommodate seven people much less multiple games.  My game room can comfortably seat four people at the most, which means that everyone else would be exiled to the dining room.  Ergo, it just makes sense to default to Dean's voluminous basement, even when its my pick.

Such was the case back on the 14'th of August.  I really wanted to table Star Wars Miniatures, since it's been forever and a day since we've played it.  But when all seven of us were confirmed, I abandoned that plan and picked one of Andrew's more intriguing recent acquisitions: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar.  


With its rondel-style board, cryptic iconography and Mayan theme, this one's been on my radar since it was released last year.  In fact, in some circles, it's being hailed as a modern Euro-style classic.

So what's the lowdown on this one?  Welp, here's the official proclamation from the stern-but-fair gods at Czech Games:

"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…"

Looking to auger additional signs from Plzdntmkmeevokethasterix, lord of all rules lawyers?  Then sacrifice a few moments, click on the following link and all shall be revealed.

***
Since the game is optimal with four players, Andrew, Jeremy, Kris and I tackled this one while Mike and Dean played an exhibition game of Blood Bowl.  Here were our color choices:  

Andrew...Red
Me...Yellow
Jeremy...Green
Kris...Blue


Noting the importance of an early stockpile of Corn and building materials, Jeremy split his Workers between the food-and-Wood-giving Green Palenque rondel and the Gold-and-Stone rich Gray Yaxchilan track.  By the time his industrious little ants were finished, he'd harvested three Gold, three Wood, twelve Corn and a Wood and Corn Harvest Token.  

Still haunted by nightmares of Agricola-style meeple starvation, I set about improving my food production.  After Kris made an off-handed remark about the value of Farms, I set about collecting the resources required to built one, sending my Workers up the Palanque and Yaxchilan tracks.  After collecting seven Corn, four Wood and a matching Harvest Token, I plunked a Worker down on the Red Tikal rondel.  Eventually I became the proud owner of brand, spankin' new Farm which would feed all my Workers for half the normal rate.  

Having played the game before, Kris was quick to diversify.  After pulling his Workers off the Palanque and Yaxchilan track he had all the raw materials needed to make some key builds.  After a few spins on the Tikal track, Kris erected a Shrine which improved his Resource Extraction Technology.  After that he constructed a low-grade Farm which allowed one Worker to go without Corn and a Tomb which gave him a +1 bump on the Chaac Temple Track.  Even after all of that he still had two Wood and a matching Harvest token left over.  Nice!   

Andrew tackled the game with his characteristic aplomb.  After swiping the Starting Player Marker from Jeremy, Andrew dispatched one of his Workers up into the mountains of Yaxchilan where he recovered a mysterious Crystal Skull cleverly concealed behind a waterfall.  On a subsequent turn the Skull found a permanent home on the sacred fourth sconce of Chichen Itza, which earned Andrew seven Victory Points and some major brownie points with Kukulcan.  Pleased with this result, he promptly dispatched two more workers on the exact same path.  


After wrestling the Starting Player Marker back from Andrew, Jeremy dropped one of his Workers on the Yellow Uxmal path and eventually added a new hire to his staff.  He then hedged his bets, scattering drones across the board in order to cover as many options as possible.  He put one dude on the Green Palenque fields for some Corn, sent another guy questing into the Yaxchilan mountains, and then dropped another gent on the Tikal track to speculate on some real estate.  After experiencing a serious food shortage he quickly invested in a Farm that halved his Corn requirements and then got a one point nudge in Theology Tech by placing a Shrine.  At the conclusion of this segment he was left with two Gold a painfully obvious Corn shortage.  

Noting Andrew's instant-gratification Victory Point windfall, I sent a coupla dudes up into the nosebleed seats to try and ferret out another Crystal Skull as well as some much-needed Gold.  I also put a jobber on the Red Tikal Track, hoping to leap him off at an opportune moment.  Jeremy's partial starvation also made me extra-paranoid, so I sent another minion into the field looking for a bushel of maíz.  Prior to this I'd already set aside two Stone and six Corn.  Sorry, but when it comes to my l'il meeples beggin' for table scraps I turn into Sally freakin' Struthers.  

Kris continued to out-Donald Trump the rest of us, snatching a dude off the second rung of the Tikal wheel in order to construct a duplicate Farm for one Wood.  On a subsequent turn he parleyed two Wood and one Stone into the first Civic Building of the game.  This structure gave him a one-up in the Resource Extraction Technology and a bonus Wood every time he earned that resource.  Despite his expenses, he still had three Gold and Two Wood left over at the end of this segment, along with a pair of Gold and Corn Harvest Tokens.  

If anything, you certainly can't accuse Andrew of failing to recognize a successful strategy.  In the race to get up Yaxchilan Mountain and steal more Skulls, two of his neckless goons trampled my poor lone Worker.  S'funny, I always thought those things were rare, but apparently they're as common as Pez if you know where to look for them.  Anyway, by the end of his turn Andrew had acquired two new Skulls, a Wood and one permanently-stuffed Worker thanks to his new Farm.  With the Skulls burning a hole in his loincloth, Andrew plopped a Worker down on the Blue Chichen Itza rondel and kept him in place until his previous Victory Point reward was eclipsed.

  
The voracious appetite of Jeremy's platoon of Workers continued to be a liability, seriously hampering his development.  In an effort to produce more nachos, one of Jeremy's peeps hopped on the Tikal rondel for a much-needed one-point advancement in Agri-Tech.  He also managed to score a Victory Point by disembarking a flunky on the Uxmal roundel and edging one step up towards Kukulcan's temple.  In an attempt to stockpile some badly-needed supplies, he also sent some henchmen for a spin on the Palenque and Yaxchilan Tracks, netting three Wood, a Stone, a Gold and another Wood Harvest Token.

My plucky little explorer dropped his skeletal payload on the eight Victory Point space in Chichen Itza.  Woot!  Unfortunately, that was pretty much the highlight of my next few turns.  I took a couple of rides on the ol' Yaxchilan merry-go-roundel, getting a second Wood Harvest Token and a few bushels of Corn.  I also kept a guy on the Tikal wheel long enough to earn a one-pip advancement in Agriculture.  Yay for bonus ears of Corn!

Kris kept plugging away, trying to optimize every turn and every action.  Already well-stocked for sustenance, he set his eye on some advanced developments, placing a Worker on the Tikal path and carefully reviewing the available Monuments.  To ensure that he had all the required building materials, he gave one of his peons a pick axe and a tin pan and then pointed towards the summit of Yaxchilan.  He also sent a worker to the Uxmal markets, hoping to translate a few timely, god-pleasing offerings into some permanent production perks.      

Andrew discovered Gold up in them thar Yaxchilan hills.  He also got some corny grist from the Palenque mill, earning his first Corn Harvest Token in the process.  He also kept crawling on his hands and knees up the steps of Kukulcan's Temple via some Uxmal Track ass-kissery.  In addition to a chunk of Victory Points, Andrew also earned a free toaster...er Crystal Skull for all of his dedication and devotion.  Even though he was sniping a ton of in-game points, would he have enough to withstand Kris's long-term development plans?


After Jeremy was forced to beg for Corn, he immediately lost favor in the eyes of the Great Plumed Serpent and his Victory Point score dipped into the negatives.  He quickly roared back with several trips up the Palenque Track, which finally gave him a surplus of chow and yet another Corn Harvest Token.  With his economy finally getting off the ground, he dispatched several developers to Tikal, setting himself up for some potential construction during the end game.

I worked my ass off on the next few turns, locating and then dropping a new Skull on the Chichen Itza promenade in order to curry favor with Chaac, the Mayan rain deity.  After some additional sacrifice and prostration via the Uxmal track, Captain Lightning Axe finally rewarded me with a modest windfall of Victory Points and the gift of Stone.  I then parleyed a successful Gold-prospecting expedition in Yaxchilan into a dual-purpose Shrine to Chaac and Kukulcan.  Hey, why put all of your prayer eggs in one divine basket?  Digging the bonus Corn provided by my Technology upgrade, I turned the Tikal rondel into a Tilt-A-Whirl, scoring similar advances in Resource Management, Architecture and Theology.  At the last minute I noticed that the cupboard was bare so I chucked a few Workers on the Palenque wheel to generate a theater-sized tub of popcorn and a matching Harvest Token.  Whew!

After spending the previous turns patiently laying the foundations, Kris made a few key acquisitions.  Armed with a slew of resources, his minions went to work, investing two Gold and one Stone in a Shrine that gave him a Tech upgrade in both Resource Extraction and Architecture.  Thanks in part to these bonuses, he built another Shrine for three Gold which gave him a two-step boost towards the apex of Quetzalcoatl's Temple.  All the while he maintained a symbiotic level of resource replenishment, finishing his turn with a stockpile of four Gold, two Wood and four Stone.

Continuing with his "Hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy, Andrew stockpiled Crystal Skulls like they were Happy Meal Toys.  He littered two more of them around in Chichen Itza, earning a slew of Victory Points and nigh-penultimate approval from Kukulcan.  When he wasn't aggressively brown-nosing the serpent god, Andrew was intent on resource management and long-term planning.  He ended the next Food Day phase with two Wood, one Gold, and a smattering of leftover Corn.  Even better, he still had three Workers optimally placed on the Palenque, Tikal and Chichen Itza roundels.       



The last few rounds were pretty intense.  Jeremy crawled out of his Victory Point deficit by purchasing a Shrine for two Stone and making nicey-nicey with Chaac.  He also picked up a very handy Monument which promised an end-game wad of Victory Points for each one of his Workers.  All of those hungry mouths might pay off for him after all!  To ensure that history would never repeat itself (and earn some eleventh hour Victory Points) he sent his entire contingent of Workers out on the Palenque path, acquiring twenty-five bushels (!) of Corn, two Wood, another Wood Harvest Token and and three more Corn Harvest Tokens.  Unfortunately he ran out of time before he could place his first and only Crystal Skull acquisition.    

Thanks to my Tech advances I finally stopped worrying about food production and snapped up two Green Civic Buildings.  The first cost me two Wood and one Stone and gave me a +1 bump in Resource Extraction, earning me a bonus for those same two resources.  This let me gather up the three Wood and one Stone required for my next build in record time.  Not only did this second Green Civic Building give me yet another Tech boost in the same category ("Yay!  Bonus Gold!") I also got six free Corn out of the deal, finally silencing my irrational fear of mss Worker starvation.  Just as the game was about to wrap up I acquired a Monument for two Wood, three Stone and one Gold which promised four game-end Victory Points for every one of my Green structures.  That left me with two Gold and two Wood as well as one Corn and three Wood Harvest Tokens.

Kris retained a laser-like focus on his end-game strategy.  For two Gold and one Wood he snared a Tomb which immediately earned him eight Victory Points.  Suddenly Andrew's lead was shrinking!  He then broke the bank, spending three Stone and three Gold for a highly-prized Monument which offered a slew of Victory Points for his best Temple step advancement.  Naturally he picked Quetzalcoatl's crib, where he'd managed to make it to the second-last space.

Ever-steady Andrew altered his course slightly when he suffered a contagious bout of Food Day paranoia.  After sending a few workers into Palenque field to look for spare Wood and Corn he finally broke down and bought his second Building of the game for two Wood, which made one of his Workers immune from hunger.  Even after all of this he still had a modest surplus of five Corn, one Stone, one Gold, and a late-arriving Corn Harvest Token.  From there on in, he was free to drop two more Crystal Skulls in the now-cluttered environs of Chichen Itza for a borderline obscene end-game Victory Point total of 44.  



END-GAME VICTORY POINT TALLY 

Andrew...44
Kris...19
Me...13
Jeremy...0

FINAL TEMPLE VICTORY POINTS

Kris...20
Andrew...18
Me...9
Jeremy...4

 VICTORY POINTS FOR CONVERTED RESOURCES

Jeremy...10 
(2 Wood and 25 Corn + 3 VP's for a Crystal Skull)
Andrew...3
(5 Corn, 1 Gold and 1 Stone)
Me...3
(2 Gold, 2 Wood and 1 Corn)
Kris...0

VICTORY POINTS FROM MONUMENTS

Kris...18
Jeremy...18
Me...12
Andrew...0

***

FINAL SCORES

Andrew...65


Kris...57


Me...37


Jeremy...32


***
OBSERVATIONS

Based on most worker-placement games, Jeremy's plan to recruit new Workers ASAP was sound in theory.  Unfortunately he quickly got undone by their diva-like Corn demands.  Fortunately he rallied nicely at the end, nabbing some key resources as well as the best possible Monument to dovetail with his inadvertent game plan.

My strategy could best be described as "Hey, let's throw this at the wall and see if it sticks".  Although I was motivated by a Corn feeding frenzy at first, I soon flirted with Andrew's Skull tactic and then  pulled the Green Building Victory Point Monument thing out of my ass at the last second.  The most complimentary thing I can say about my effort is that it was scattered and experimental, designed to test the boundaries of the rule set.


Kris played a very solid game, highlighting improved efficiencies and quick access to construction materials in order to build post-match Victory Point buildings.  Marry this with a pious devotion to Quetzalcoatl and we're left with a pretty balanced effort.  Indeed, if he'd just managed to get one more matching Monument out it probably would have swung the game in his favor.

Like a villain from an Indiana Jones flick, Andrew did nothing but steal Skulls from their proper resting place and then use them to kiss ass with the Gods.  Annoying as fuck, but, hey, it worked.

***

REVIEW

Pros  
  • The game is a triumph of production design.  The board art is gorgeous, the iconography is evocative, the color selections are intuitive and the Building and Player Boards are high-quality.  The tableau is pleasant to look at and the components are great to handle.  Plus: Crystal Freakin' Skulls - ZOMG!!!
  • The roundels actually feel like an organic and logical part of the game.  In other words, they aren't just a gimmicky tack-on.  Timing Worker removal from the wheel is a fascinating and original dilemma that I've never experienced in a game before.   
  • For the sake of full disclosure, Kris had played the game before and Andrew had prepped the rules but Jeremy and I went into this one completely stone cold.  I think I can safety speak for him when I say that the sheer wealth of options presented to players on any given turn can be somewhat baffling.  As a result, analysis paralysis can sometimes creep in.  Having said that, it feels downright churlish to criticize a game for presenting too many choices.  
  • Once again, we get another game with a myriad of strategies and a debate as to which ones are  most valid.  Even though Andrew's "plunder n' plop" Skull tactic was formidable, all Kris really needed was another relevant Monument and the final score might have been a lot different.  
  • For a Euro, the Aztec theme of Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar comes through like a clarion call.
  • The turns fly by very quickly.  At no point did I ever feel preoccupied or disengaged.
  • I haven't stopped thinking about this game since I played it and that's always a good sign.  
Cons
  • The game has some fiddly rules that are easy to miss and the myriad of sometimes-abstract iconography can result in the commonly heard table-refrain "What does this one do again?"  Of all the games I've played recently, this one really cries out for some one-sheet Player Aids.  
***

Whenever I encounter a game as good as Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar my immediate impulse is to dump my entire collection so that I can dedicate all of my time to practicing this new obsession.  This one virtually demands that you test its parameters in an effort to determine whether or not it's as dense and brilliant as that first play might suggest.  It's the board game equivalent of a drill sergeant yelling in your face, demanding that your soft, flabby brain get better at it, PRONTO.  

At face value, Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar is game enough for anybody.  


***

Looking to ass-kiss a bigger snake then your real-life boss?  Click on the image below to order Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar and help support this blog!  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Wheaton Effect Part Six: "King of Tokyo"


Although my first exposure to King of Tokyo was actually Davecon 2012, I really didn't feel compelled to buy the game until Wil Wheaton and his cohorts featured it on Tabletop:


I can definitely relate to Wil's preamble about seeing his first Kaiju film on T.V. in the late Seventies as a kid and becoming completely bespelled by it.  For me, whenever I saw a photo of Godzilla in a book or a magazine, I was instantly mesmerized.  Let's face it: the image of a three-hundred foot tall, fire-breathing giant lizard stomping a major metropolitan city into a mudhole is nothing short of kid catnip.  

Over the years several game designers have given us their take on the classic monster mash with decidedly mixed results.  In 1979 Greg Costikyan brought us The Creature that Ate Sheboygan, an olde-skool wargamey approach to the subject which came complete with cardboard chits and an honest-to goodness Combat Results Table.  Despite showing its considerable age, I still maintain that an updated reprint of this game has the best chance to pay homage to its rubber-suited inspirations.

When Avalon Hill was in its death throes in 1998, J. C. Connors and Ben Knight offered up the low-fi, eleventh-hour die-chucker Monsters Ravage America.  Seven years later, Hasbro decided to blow the dust off this defunct title by repackaging it as Monsters Menace America.  While doing their usual awesome job on the production side of things, Hasbro didn't go far enough when they revamped the rules.  Even though the city destruction / army battling phase of the game is fun, the clunky and arbitrary conclusion left a lot of players cold.  

Then, in 2011, fans rejoiced when Toy Vault announced that the Big "G" himself would get the full board game treatment in Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars.  Even better, the game would be designed by Richard H. Berg, who gave us such grognardian classics as Blackbeard and Terrible Swift Sword.  Unfortunately Toy Vault must have spent their entire production budget on the stellar miniatures, because the rest of the components were either slapdash or impractical and the paper pamphlet rulebook (which looks like it was reproduced on an 80's-era library photocopier) was Beta-level at best.

Fortunately, that very same year, the vastly superior King of Tokyo reared its scaly head.  The brainchild of Magic: The Gathering designer and Wizard of the Coast demi-god Richard Garfield, the game played out like a fusion between Zombie Dice, collectible card games and that playground favorite "king-of-the-hill".  Unlike its predecessors, King of Tokyo completely eschews simulation in lieu of an all-out, main-in-suit monster brawl.  The game's fanciful and humorous graphic design only adds to its charm.

Here's an un-dubbed synopsis of the game from Iello's website:

"Slap around your enemies and become the King of Tokyo!

"Play mutant monsters, gigantic robots and other monstrous creatures, joyfully whack your opponents, rampage the city and become the one and only King of Tokyo!

"Combine your dice to gather energy, heal your monster or just slap others.  Spend your energy to trigger permanent or one-shot special powers: second head, body armor, nova death ray...

"Stop at nothing to become the King of Tokyo... but that’s when the real trouble begins for you!

"Rules Review:

"At your turn, you get three successive throws after each of which you choose whether to keep or discard each of the six special dice.  Your final combination will enable you to win destruction points, hoard energy, restore your health or whack other players into understanding Tokyo is your territory.

"The fiercest player will be crowned King of Tokyo... and will end up facing all the other monsters alone until he wins the game, gets whacked out of the game or decides to let another player take over the city.

"Top this off with special cards purchased with energy and granting a permanent or temporary power, and you hold one of the most explosive and fun games ever!

"In order to win the game, one must either destroy Tokyo by accumulating 20 destruction points or... be the only surviving monster !"        

Still looking for the game's full weigh-in?  Then pound on the following link to get the full tale of the tape!

***

King of Tokyo plays so fast n' smooth that we managed to get four games of it in on the very same night we played Love Letter.  Here's how those games went down:

GAME ONE

THE MONSTERS
Chad...Meka Dragon
Me...Gigazaur
Jeremy...Cyber Bunny


First player Chad managed to score an Attack result, giving Meka Dragon the right to lumber into Tokyo. After scoring a metric shit-ton of Energy, Chad augmented ol' M.D. with Camouflage, giving him the opportunity to shirk one point of damage for every Healing result rolled.  As Gigazaur I tried to focus on what would win me the game, scoring four Victory Points and delivering a sneaky cheap shot to Meka Dragon in the process.

After rolling four different die results on his first toss, Jeremy decided to specialize in Chad-damage, three points of which managed to sneak past Meka Dragon's Camouflage.  He also stockpiled three Energy for later use.  Gigazaur then piled on, knocking Meka Dragon down by three more points.  Chad managed to roll one Heart in response, but his scaly avatar still took two points of damage.  That same round I also hauled in three Victory Points and one Energy Cube.

Weary of getting picked on, Meka Dragon scored three Victory Points and then delivered a single point, Three Stooges-style communal slap to both of his rivals.  Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.  Cyber Bunny responded by netting five big Victory Points on an avalanche of "2's" and then thwacked Meka Dragon for another point.
In stark contrast, I only ended up with a single Victory Point and a paltry pair of Energy Cubes on my next turn.  I promptly exchanged the latter for the "Complete Destruction" card, which would give me nine Victory Points if I could pull off a full house of die results.  

Chad continued to invest heavily in cards, acquiring the powerful "Freeze Time" ability.  After rolling triple "1's" on his very first try, Chad activated the card's ability and played out a bonus turn with one fewer die.  By the time the dust settled he'd scored one Victory Point, collected three more Energy Cubes, further augmented his monster with "Parasitic Tentacles", and then bitched slapped both of us for two points of damage!  

Meanwhile, Jeremy's Cyber Bunny got stuck with a crappy pair of "2's" and "3's".  All he managed to do that turn was stockpile two Energy cubes.  After rolling a "1", a "2", a Heal, an Energy and an Attack on my very first throw, I felt downright obligated to go for "Complete Destruction".  After all, if I could just roll a "3" on two attempts, I'd walk away with nine big Victory Points!  Unfortunately, I ended up rolling two Energy. Even with such a scattered final result I still Healed one point, collected one Energy and, most importantly, dealt one damage to Meka Dragon!

Still clinging doggedly to Tokyo, Chad managed to "Freeze Time" again for a bonus turn.  In the end, he waltzed away with three Victory Points and also managed to double clothesline Cyber Bunny and Gigazaur in the process.  Jeremy tried to return the favor but Meka Dragon went all Camo on him.  He ended his turn with one more Energy Cube and three Victory Points. 

I kept adding to my Victory Point total by conjuring up four "3's".  Gigazaur then lashed back at Meka Dragon but the big dumb jerk was still cloaked so my single strike hit nothing but air.  I also made sure to apply a badly-needed point of Healing.  Hey, even giant monsters need a siesta once and awhile!

For the third time in a row, Chad pulled off "Freeze Time", netting two Energy Cubes and one Victory Point on his first go-round and then dishing out three points of communal hurt on his bonus turn!   Determined to polish off Meka Dragon and claim Tokyo for his own, Jeremy diced up three damage in response.

We all watched intently as Chad rolled his Camouflage die, but he could only conjure up a single Heart.  Like an infinitely cuter sumo wrestler, Cyber Bunny hurled Meka Dragon out of city limits, where the beast crashed to the ground, dead as disco.  

On the first die throw of my turn I rolled a "1", a "2", a "3", a Heal and an Attack.  Currently sitting pretty with 11 Victory Points, I just couldn't resist the siren call that is "Complete Destruction".  Again, the entire table was rapt as I tossed the die once again, scoring an Energy, fulfilling the cards requirements and winning with 20 Victory Points!  
           

Winner: Me!  
Without even setting foot in Tokyo no less!

GAME TWO

THE MONSTERS
Chad...The King
Me...Gigazaur
Jeremy...Cyber Bunny


After three rounds of rolling I was left with four "3's", a Heal and an Attack.  Even though I couldn't use the Heart, I did end up with four Victory Points and Godz...er, Gigazaur picked up a bus, threw it back down then waded through the buildings towards the center of town.  I'm in Tokyo, bitches!    

The King, clearly incensed that his turf had just been usurped, came flying into the Ginza district, delivering a four-damage double axe handle to Gigazaur and scoring two Energy in the process.  In the face of such vicious fury, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and surrendered the city to the giant, brain-damaged ape.  Meanwhile, Jeremy quietly worked on his Victory Points, scoring three "3's" in quick succession. He decided to celebrate by firing a few rockets into The King's homely mush, scoring two points of damage!

Clearly still woozy from that last assault, I got stuck with a pair of  "2's", leaving me stranded.  I decided to take out my frustrations on The King, delivering a solid claw-rake for two points of damage!  Unfazed, The King gathered up four Energy and then performed a spinning fist attack, dealing a point of damage to each of his rivals.  Chad then used his Energy cubes to pimp out the King with "Alien Metabolism", giving him a sweet price break on new cards.  He immediately used this ability to buy "Omnivore", which would give him a bonus Victory Point every time he rolled a straight of "1", "2" and "3"! 

Smelling blood (or rather, detecting blood via a complex network of sensors), Cyber Bunny pounced, drop-kicking Meka Dragon clear out of town.  Before taking his place as the new champeen, Jeremy also collected two Energy and a single point of Healing.  He was gonna need it.  After rolling two "3's" and a crummy "1", Gigazaur grabbed Cyber Bunny by his adorable metal ears and promptly made a wish.  Despite the three points of pain, Jeremy decided to stand his ground.  

The King wisely spent a turn licking his considerable wounds by applying two Healing dice and then collecting 3 Victory Points.  Even in traction, he still couldn't resist the temptation to fling his feces at Cyber Bunny for a single point of damage.  After wiping the Suzuki Fit-sized chunk of poop out of his ocular display, Cyber Bunny concentrated on making the most of his stay in Tokyo.  He collected three Victory Points on four "2's" and also picked up a single Energy cube.

I finally had a decent round, scoring three Victory Points on as many dice.  I also summoned a point of Healing and one Energy, building up for the perfect time to strike.  The King has no such restraint.  After compiling three Energy and one Healing he waded back into the fray, and then man...er...monkey-handled Cyber Bunny for two points of damage.  Jeremy held fast, collecting two Victory Points for holding Tokyo for a round and earning four new Energy cubes in the process.  He spent this little windfall on a "Giant Brain" for Cyber Bunny, which would give him a highly-prized free re-roll every turn!  

After regenerating one damage with a Heal die, I also decided to get my claws dirty, kicking Cyber Bunny right in the metallic junk for three points of damage!  To my surprise and consternation, Jeremy surrendered Tokyo and I suddenly found myself right in the eye of the storm.  Not particularly choosy about who to pound on, The King lashed out at Gigazaur with a mean single-point left hook.  He also Healed a point of damage, collected four Energy cubes and then  purchased "Alpha Monster", which would give him a bonus  Victory Point every time he attacked.  Yikes!  

Using Cyber Bunny's newly-acquired "Giant Brain", Jeremy orchestrated two points of Healing, a new Energy Cube and three Victory Points!  As a reward for fending off all challengers in Tokyo, I scored two Victory Points at the start of the round.  Despite stranding a single Healing die, I managed to rake in four Energy cubes and lash out at my opponents, dealing a point of damage to each of them.  I then spent four cubes to purchase and then play "Commuter Train" for two more Victory Points!  

After Chad fortified The King with two more Healing dice, the giant ape clipped Gigazaur right in the pie-hole for a point of damage.  Even though it wasn't a powerful hit, I was in really bad shape and I certainly didn't want to stick around for Jeremy's turn.  Ergo, I ran away with my spiky tail tucked between my legs. For performing an attack as the "Alpha Monster", Chad also bagged a single free bonus Victory Point!

Jeremy conjured up two Heart symbols for some Healing and three Energy cubes but couldn't do anything with a stray "2".  He re-rolled one of his Energy results and got a Claw, which delivered an inadvertent yet welcome eye-gouge on The King!  Seeing how close Chad was to victory, I really wanted to roll a slew of Claws, but it just wasn't to be.  After three rounds of rolling I ended up with two "3's", a "2" and three Hearts.  Healing definitely wasn't going to stave off the inevitable!  

As we feared, The King got exactly what he needed on his next turn: three "3's" a "2" and a "1".  Not only did the triples give him three Victory Points, Chad also had everything he needed to fulfill the requirements of "Omnivore" for two more Victory Points.  Chad then capped his win with a flourish: buying and playing "Tanks".  In spite of the three damage delivered by this heavy armor, Chad banked four more Victory Points for the win!     


Winner: Chad!

GAME THREE

THE MONSTERS
Andrew...Alienoid
Me...Gigazaur
Mac...Cyber Bunny
     

Because of Mac's crazed blood-lust, this one was almost over as soon as it started.  In an omen of things to come, I ended up moving into Tokyo on a wretchedly horrible roll of one "3", two "2's" and 3 Claws. Andrew came out of the gate rather well, scoring four "3's" a single Energy cube and a stray "2".  Meanwhile, Mac began his reign of terror by dicing up one Energy, three "3's" and two Attack results.  This was my first bloody nose among many.

The lethality continued as I busted out two Energy and three Attacks, which did little to endear me to my table-mates.  Andrew's Alienoid actually took the high road, rolling two "3's", a single "2" and 3 Energy. Mac, obsessed with bringin' tha' pain, nailed me again for a single point of damage.  In retrospect, I should have bolted right there and then, but I had idea what was coming next.  Clearly disappointed by the distinct lack of carnage thus far, Mac parleyed the three Energy he'd acquired that round into "High Altitude Bombing", which dealt three damage to every monster, including his own.  Sweet Jezum crow!

Undeterred by superfluous crap like strategy or common sense, I diced up three Energy and three Damage for Gigazaur.  In the face of Mac's withering rage, Andrew was reduced to an almost benign presence, rolling two "3's", plus one each of Energy, Attack and Healing.  With only a single Life Point left, I was a prime target for a finishing move from Mac.  After acquiring three "1's" and two Hearts for himself, he then polished me off with three points of damage.  With that, the mighty Gigazaur was felled, leaving the city vacant for a triumphant Cyber Bunny.  


But his victory would be short-lived.  On Andrew's turn, his monster decided to chow down on a Gas Refinery.  After the facility detonated and destroyed the better part of Tokyo, only the Alienoid could be seen lumbering away from the wreckage! 

Winner: Andrew!

GAME FOUR

THE MONSTERS
Andrew...Alienoid
Me...Gigazaur
Mac...Cyber Bunny
      
Cyber Bunny took the initiative, netting three energy and then stomping into the heart of Tokyo via two Attack dice.  Still bitter about last game, Gigazaur chomped down on C.B.'s metallic extremities (?) for three damage whilst scoring a single Energy cube.  Reigning champion the Alienoid decided to add to the chaos, building up one Energy cube and then blasting Cyber Bunny right in the back of the dome for three more points of damage!  Nasty! 

Doggedly clinging to Tokyo, Cyber Bunny struck back, dealing out three damage to the interlopers while nudging his Energy reserves up by one.  Taking Mac's bait, I kept pummeling away with Gigazaur, gnawing on the Bunny's elbow for three more damage.  Andrew, perfectly content to sit back and watch the two of us beat the tar out of each other, calmly stockpiled five Victory Points on five rolls of "3".

Fighting like a cornered badger, Cyber Bunny performed a 360° fire spread, blasting both the Alienoid and Gigazaur for three points of damage.  I responded by accumulating two Hearts and two Energy and then swinging back with single claw strike.  Half-dead, Mac was finally forced to relinquish Tokyo to me.  My reign didn't last very long, however, as the Alienoid built up three Energy and then sniped me from behind for a single point.  Knowing that I was unlikely to survive another full assault from Mac, I crawled out of Tokyo, yielding the city to the Andrewenoid/Aliendrew. 

His red rage exhausted, Mac spent his next turn building up three Energy and Healing one point of damage. After earning two Victory points on three "2's", I rolled one each of Energy, Healing and Attack.  That single errant strike was enough to dislodge Andrew and I suddenly found myself back atop the heap.  Andrew, conspicuously docile that turn, opted for one Energy, two Hearts and three Victory Points instead of attacking.  

In an attempt to string together a bunch of "2's", Mac tried to use Cyber Bunny's newfound "Stretchy" ability
but Andrew forced him to re-roll one die via "Psychic Probe".  The resulting Heart negated any Victory Points but it did earn him a point of Healing.  Andrew proved to be just as annoying during my turn by negating a Claw.  Mercifully, I still finished up with four Victory Points and two Energy, the later of which I traded in for the defensively-minded "Wings".  This acquisition immediately proved fruitful after I avoided two points of damage on Andrew's turn by burning two Energy.

This led to a bit of a debate.  I assumed that I needed to spend two Energy every time I wanted to use my "Wings", but both Mac and Andrew thought that I could only activate them on my own turn.  In other words, they believed that by paying two Energy on my turn I'd be insulated from harm until my next turn.  Although this sounded a tad overpowered to me, I accepted the consensus.  

So desperate was he to heal, Mac actually altered one of his Claw results to a Heart.  Still playing the trickster, Andrew forced him to re-roll, so Mac ended up with three Victory Points, a single "2", one Energy and a lone Heart.  My dice next turn were equally schizophrenic: two Energy, one Claw, a "2" , a "3" and a Heal.  This was so pathetic that Andrew didn't even prompt a re-roll, he just recovered two Life Points on his turn and then purchased Rapid Healing after picking up two more Energy cubes.  

Mac finally got the Healing roll he wanted, five Hearts in total!  Naturally, Andrew refused to let that slide and forced Mac to re-roll one die, leaving him with four Hearts and a single Energy.  On my turn I managed to get three shots in on Andrew and then insulated myself from harm via "Wings".  

Against my better judgement, I renewed my case that we were playing "Wings" incorrectly and this time everyone agreed with me.  Since acquiring two Energy every turn is pretty easy, I could conceivably camp out in Tokyo indefinitely, virtually impervious to harm.  From that point forward we switched to my original interpretation, which made a lot more sense.  Any charges of "Asterisk!" were quickly silenced after Andrew pulled out the win by patiently camping out in Tokyo for two Veeps per turn, using "Psychic Probe" to scramble our best efforts to unseat him and then rolling up some consistently-high Victory Point totals.  

Winner: Andrew!   

***

REVIEW

PROS
  • Innovative gameplay feels like a mash-up between a "King of the Hill" Halo match and Zombie Dice.
  • Rules are clear, concise and very easy to teach.
  • Games are fast and furious and never seem to drag.  We easily played four matches in three hours and still had time for some other quick games.  
  • The variable card powers add a ludicrous amount of replay value.
  • Our four games are clearly indicative of several perfectly valid strategies.  Do you stay out of the fray and let every one else beat the snot out of each other?  Do you invest heavily in creature augmentation and go for surgical strikes?  Or do you march right into Tokyo bold as brass and start chuckin' knuckles?      
  • The components are fantastic.  As some point in time you may find yourself compelled to pull a Pac-Man and gobble up a handful of those green Energy cubes.
  • The game's art is fantastic, evoking shades of 50's-era sci-fi films while retaining plenty of familial appeal.
CONS
  • Some of the card text is a bit vague, leading to misinterpretation. Combining several of these effects together can also result in some big-time head-scratchery. 
  • Although King of Tokyo is a lungful of fun, I'd still prefer an Ameritrash-style simulation.  I wanna wade my official Toho-brand monster miniature through tiny high-tension wires and buildings, whilst tearing up bridges and sticking trains and buses in my toothy maw.  I wanna char tanks and the national guard with my atomic breath and gobbling down populace units like Pez.  In other words I want the handsome and brilliant love child of The Creature that Ate Sheboygan and Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars.  Get on that, Fantasy Flight!    
***

As a nuanced and tactical little beat-'em-up, you can't do much better then King of Tokyo.  It easily earns five pips outta six, with a tilt up towards The King's hairy nutsack.  

           
***
Looking to re-enact your very own version of Gigazaur vs. Cyber Bunny vs. Meka Dragon vs. The King vs. Alienoid vs. The Kraken, I.E. THE GREATEST MOVIE EVAR!?!  Click on the pic below to order a copy of King of Tokyo and help support this blog! 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Courting Her Royal Hawtness: "Love Letter"

Given all the recent buzz about Love Letter, I really wanted to know how a simple and decidedly effeminate little card game was prompting quartets of hulking, neck-bearded fanboys to plunk down on convention floors everywhere to play it.  Given its Belle from Beauty and the Beast card backs and frou-frou red satin carrying pouch, it's probably the most incongruous game to inspire such glorious sights.


So, when I noticed that Monster Comics Lounge had procured a few fleeting copies a couple of weeks ago I decided to roll the dice and pick it up.  Hey, who am I to resist THE HOTNESS, especially when said HOTNESS only set me back ten bones?

Just in case you've been living under a rock with no wi-fi for the past year, here's the game's deceptively simple premise:

"In the wake of the queen’s arrest, all the eligible young men of Tempest (and many not so young) seek to woo Princess Annette. Unfortunately, she has locked herself in the palace, and everyone must rely on those within the palace to bring their romantic letters to her. Will yours reach her first?

"Love Letter is a game of risk, deduction, and luck, for 2–4 players. Get your love letter into Princess Annette’s hands while keeping other players’ letters away. Powerful cards lead to early gains, but make you a target. Rely on weaker cards for too long and your letter may be tossed in the fire!"

Looking to peruse the full romantic missive directed at Her Grace, especially all the acrobatic Kama Sutra bits?  Then here's a link to the game's shorter-then-an-actual-love-letter rules on AEG's website.  


Keen to see what at the fuss is about, Andrew, Mac and I decided to give this one a spin last Wednesday night.  Here's a rough idea of how the game went down:

ROUND ONE

I managed to knock Andrew out of contention by using the Priest to gawk at his hand and then outing  his Baron with a Guard.  After a Kingly (and annoying) trade, Mac used his own Guard to call out the very same Handmaid he'd just given me.  Jerk.

Point: Mac  


ROUND TWO

I traded the Princess to Mac with the King and then revealed his hand the following round with the Guard.  I then used another Guard to ferret our Andrew's Countess in what amounted to a wild guess.

Point: Me  


ROUND THREE

After I forced Mac to dump his hand with the Prince, Andrew went on a tear.  First he card-counted Mac out of commission and then he used his Baron to humble my lowly Guard.  

Point: Andrew  


ROUND FOUR

Even though there were barely any cards on the table, Mac managed to ferret out Andrew's Baron.  Then, after the King's directive forced Mac and I to swap hands, he used the Baron to overwhelm the Guard that I just picked up.    

Point: Mac


ROUND FIVE

After I virtually eliminated myself with an ill-timed King, Andrew used a Guard to call out Mac's Princess after EVERY SINGLE FRIGGIN' CARD HAD BEEN PLAYED.  "Powers of deduction", my ass...

Point: Andrew


ROUND SIX

After I exposed Andrew's Baron with a Guard, Mac's Princess beat off my King under the orders of the Baron.  Kinky!    

Point: Mac



ROUND SEVEN

With an early Guard, Andrew dragged Mac's Baron kicking and screaming out into the light.  After trading my own Baron to him for a Countess, I nailed Andrew on the following turn with my very own hired goon. 

Point: me 


ROUND EIGHT

After Andrew called out my King with a Guard, Mac nailed him not long after with a Kreskin-like deduction.  At this point in time both Andrew and I became fearful that Mac might have ESPN.  

Point: Mac 


ROUND NINE

Mac used the Baron to outmatch Andrew's Guard with his Handmaid.  After Mac became Mr. Teflon thanks to a second Handmaid I was forced to Prince out my own Princess.  Okay, I know that last sentence sounds mental, but if you get chance to play this game you'll know what I mean.  

Point: Mac 


ROUND TEN

I managed to score my third Token of Affection by revealing Mac's Baron with a Guard.  On a subsequent play, another Guard led me directly to Andrew's closeted Prince.  

Point: me


ROUND ELEVEN

I tried to keep the momentum going by sniffing out Mac's Baron with a Guard, which really wasn't that difficult, since he always seemed to have one in his hand!  Based on the cards that were already down on the table, I had a fifty-fifty shot of eliminating Andrew with my own Baron.  Unfortunately, he revealed a King, which easily trumped my Prince.  As the old saying goes: "if it wasn't for bad luck I wouldn't have no luck at all." 

Point: Andrew


 ROUND TWELVE

Mac knocked Andrew out after his Guard managed to finger Andrew's Countess (!).  When about half of the cards had been tabled, Mac used his unearthly powers of deduction to glean determine that I was secretly concealing the Priest.

Point: Mac    

***

FINAL SCORE
Mac...5 Tokens of Affection
Andrew...4 Token of Affection
Me...3 Tokens of Affection

Mac wins! 

***

REVIEW

PROS
  • Although the game looks ridiculously simple at face value, there's a lot of strategy inherent in those innocent-looking cards.  Not only do their abilities neatly mirror their roles (as well as the game's elaborate backstory), they can also be combined together for some pretty devious results.  For example, a wily player will soon learn the optimal timing for playing a King card.     
  • As a corollary, every play is a potential tell.  For example, if someone plays the Countess late in the Round, then it could very well mean that they're holding the Prince or the King.  Having said that, if it's their first or second card play, then such an action could be perfectly innocent.  
  • The game really rewards players for being observant.  I can't stress this enough: keep a constant eye on what's in your hand and what's down on the table.  
  • For only ten bucks, this is a surprisingly deep game.
  • The rules are crystal clear and quick to pick up and, as such, would be a great game for tenderfoot board-gamers.
  • The production design itself is a conversation piece.    
  • Some may grouse that the game's limited card variety becomes painfully obvious towards the end of a round.  Yes, glancing around the table to inventory the cards that have already been played might not have anything to do with deduction, but this is mitigated somewhat by the absence of one random card every round.  It also creates an immediate sense of urgency, forcing players to act quickly before their identities become blatantly obvious.         
CONS

Honestly, nothing really worth mentioning.

***
Since I have the attention span and learning capacity of Scrat from Ice Age, Love Letter certainly isn't my strong suit, but I can certainly see its appeal.  As a quick n' dirty deduction / trump-playin' card game, this one can pull double duty as either filler or icebreaker.

Given its simplicity, clarity, price point, appealing components, quick play time and surprising strategic depth, there's no reason why Love Letter shouldn't be included in every board gamer's collection.   

As such, the game rates five pips out of six with a tilt towards the Princess's tower window high up above.   Awwwwww...   


***

Looking to pen your very own royalty-inspired Penthouse letter?  Then click on the link below to order a copy of Love Letter and help support this blog!