Monday, September 23, 2013

Frakkin' Awesome: "Battlestar Galactica"

The tabletop game world is littered with terrible licensed products. Far too often cynical companies produce board games based on a popular movies or T.V. shows just for the express purpose of parting fans from their hard-earned cash. This has resulted in some of the most notoriously awful games ever made.

Case in point, the spin-n'-move Cheers boardgame shit-fest which saw players shuffling their cardboard characters around a map of the famous pub and then struggling to answer such brain-burning trivia questions as "Does one go upstairs or downstairs to enter Cheers?" The prime-time soap opera Dallas was inexplicably spun off into a laughably bad role-playing game (!) from SPI (!!), in which players finally got the chance to live out a second life as Grampa Ewing or Miss Ellie. Then there's the incongruously vapid Doctor Who: Collectible Card Game, the mere mention of which will still get you lynched in some circles.

Back in the day, I could excuse the existence of these abominations merely because people didn't have a lot of ways to research a game to determine whether or not it was good. Nowadays, there are plenty of internet-based resources to determine whether or not a licensed game sucks monkey knutz.

In spite of these safeguards, unscrupulous game publishers continue to fleece oblivious people by pinching out titles that bear about as much similarity to a board game as Robin Thicke does to a vocalist. Invariably, this results in fans getting pissed off at something they (used to) like and also leaves a bad taste in their mouths about the entire board gaming hobby.

Mark my words, in a month or two dives like Calendar Club will crop up in malls everywhere, their shelves choked with such excretable dust-gatherers as:

World War Z: The Game Given its dearth of choices and over-reliance on luck, one Board Game Geek reviewer wryly observed that this one "stinks more than a rotting, reanimated corpse." Another astute gamer added: "Looking for a great zombie apocalypse game on a global scale? Look no further than Zombie State."  Testify, brotha.

Dexter: The Board Game  I know what you're thinking: "How in Odin's name could you possibly  make a shitty game based on such an awesome show?" Welp, apparently the organ donors at GDC-GameDevCo Ltd. (a subsidiary of Lame-O Corporation) managed to pull it off. Why someone would put a friggin' roll-and-move mechanic in a modern board game is beyond me. What, did you think that the average shmoe would be totally baffled by something slightly more complicated than Clue?  They're called "Action Points", people! It's not hadron collider physics! Sadly many of the exact same issues plague the equally-abysmal Walking Dead game.

The Big Bang Theory: The Party Game A.K.A. Generation Y catnip. Even if you actually like the original show, the board game isn't going to reinforce your irrational love for this Tee Vee equivalent of a naked Emperor. As a slightly naughtier rip-off of Apples to Apples (which, in itself, barely qualifies as a game IMHO), why not go for broke and play Cards Against Humanity? Or, better still, why not dip your nether regions in Tang orange flavored breakfast crystals and then teabag a fire ant nest?

As dire as that sounds, there are a few diamonds in the rough when it comes to licensed games.  Leading Edge's Aliens did a fine job replicating the frantic chaos of that film's intense action sequences. Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit is actually the best thing to come out of the for-the-love-of-God-someone-please-invent-a-Neuralyzer prequel trilogy. Buffy the Vampire Slayer provides a deceptively- deep, almost RPG-style action game experience. Later this year, another Whedonian project might get a fair shake in the form of Firefly: The Game.  

Now these gamers are good, but there's only one game that's the best. A game so well-designed that you literally feel like an active participant in a alternate reality version of the show.

And that game is...Battlestar Galactica:


No, no, no!  Not that Battlestar Galactica, this Battlestar Galactica:


So, what makes this the best licensed game amongst a host of thinly-veiled toaster-like facsimiles? Clues can be found in this here synopsis, lifted directly from Fantasy Flight's website:

"Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game provides a unique gaming experience. Unlike most games where players win individually, Battlestar Galactica is a cooperative game, with the added complication that one or more of the players is a secret Cylon traitor – your entire side will win or lose, and you might not even be certain who is on your side until the game ends!

"Each player is secretly assigned his or her loyalty at the start of the game. Players will either be loyal to the humans, or to the Cylons. Humans and Cylons have specific and conflicting winning objectives. The human players win by reaching Kobol, but the Galactica will be be threatened by a host of challenges along the way. Only through the cooperation of the humans will the ship (and fleet) survive. The Cylon player(s) wins by either destroying the Galactica with attacks from the Cylon fleet, or, through sabotage, by reducing one of the necessary resources (Food, Fuel, Population, or Morale) to zero.

"Either all of the humans win together, or all of the Cylons win together…but both sides must figure out who they can trust in order to achieve victory.

"Players' identities are secret and no one will know for certain at the beginning of the game who they can trust. Keep your eyes open and watch how the other players play. Can you trust them to watch out for Humanity’s interests? Or are they Cylons bent on destroying Humanity?

"If your gaming group enjoys highly-thematic political intrigue, and can handle some good-natured infighting and backstabbing, you'll enjoy Battlestar Galactica.

"If you like playing a game where there is a continuous challenge, and victory is always a very close call, Battlestar Galactica is for you.

"If you're a fan of the hit Sci Fi Channel show, and want to simulate the twists and turns on your game table, then Battlestar Galactica is the game you have been waiting for!"

Looking to cut through all the felgercarb and seek council directly from the Quorum of One, a.k.a. designer Corey Konieczka? Then push the following turbo button to read the game's full rules!

***

So last Wednesday night, Mike chose Battlestar as his official game pick. Andrew, Chad, Jeremy and I gathered at his new board game storage facility, ahem, I mean his new house in order to play out what was sure to be another unique and memorable episode. After the complete and total fiasco which was the last game we played, the humans were itchin' for a little payback!    

In order to properly communicate each agonizing decision, I've decided to present our game session in the form of a five part podcast.

Needless to say, no portion of this audio session report is even vaguely suitable for work.

CHARACTER/LOYALTY SELECTION AND RULES

Andrew...William Adama
Chad...Tom Zarek
Me...Sharon "Boomer" Valerii
Jeremy..."Chief" Galen Tyrol 
Mike...Kara "Starbuck" Thrace




PART ONE: THE SEEDS OF DISCONTENT

Starbucks gets all "Pew-Pew-Pew" on the Cylon Raiders and then we fumble our first Crisis amongst many, causing our Population to dwindle.

Adama whiffs an attacks against the Cylon Basestar which proves to be equally impotent. He then opts to lose one Population and one Food in a heart-rending "lesser of two evils" Crisis selection.   

After granting a crew member the fictional title of Vice President, ex-con Tom Zarek helps to tamp down a "Witch Hunt".   

Boomer annihilates a flying toaster. Sadly a flubbed "Terrorist Investigation" prevents her from determining the loyalty of a key crew member.  

After soldering a bunch of Vipers back together, Tyrol makes a stunning accusation.  



PART TWO: FRACKIN' THE HORNET'S NEST

After a three-unit jump burns an equal amount of fuel, Starbuck goes out on patrol, shirking off a "Cylon Accusation" in the process.  

Adama dispatches a few wingmen to aid Starbuck. Following the consensus around the table, Adama decides to pick a fight with a Basestar and three Raiders. Meanwhile, ship-wide Morale starts to dip and more superfluous civilians show up. 

In order to spring himself from the Brig, Tom Zarek is forced to "smoke a lot of hogs". Leave it to Andrew to keep things classy.  

Boomer peels out in a Super Viper too try and head the Cylons off at the pass. "Return To Duty" sees the Basestar take a pot shot on Galactica while the plucky Boomer gets swarmed by Raiders as soon as she's clear of the launch tubes. 

Awestruck by her brave stand (and her cute posterior), Tyrol shows favoritism by passing the Veep position (!) to his main squeeze. Inbound Raiders are thwarted after Starbuck and Adama turf some serious Skill Cards. Meanwhile, a sneaky Heavy Raider makes its way into boarding position!




PART THREE: WE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN

Starbuck gets a second shot at a critical target, but another foe waits in the wings! Thanks to Tom Zarek's call for transparency, we won a badly-needed spike on the Jump Track!

Adama drops a bombshell, but it ain't a nuke. Also: a nasty saboteur gums up the Armory and blasts our stockpile of frozen fish sticks out of the airlock.

Tom Zarek tries to stabilize our increasingly precarious situation with THE POWER OF POLITICS by appointing a Mission Specialist. On the same turn a "Terrorist Bomber" is thwarted with gusto and a Cylon boarding party digs in like an Alabama tick.

Boomer tries to contend with an entire wing of Cylon ships. Once again, Tom Zarek's "Investigative Committee" lends a hand during a Crisis and the Cylons end up drinking some poisoned Kool Aid.



PART FOUR: CHOOSE YOUR POISON

Using spit, chewing gum and prayer, Tyrol tries to put the Armory back together and then takes a pot-shot at our unwanted guests. To halt our spiraling Morale, a critical component is sacrificed in order to cobble together a bullshit "Cylon Detector" while the toaster infestation creeps deeper into the heart of the ship.

Starbuck leaps out of her Viper even before it skids to a halt and heads to the Armory in an attempt to beat off (?) the invaders. The Food loss required by the next Crisis is mitigated somewhat when Starbuck and El Presidente join forces to discard a slew of Skill Cards.

Despite being infected with a deadly cargo and pursued doggedly by Raiders, the Galactica succeeds in making another jump. Now only four centons away from Earth, more Loyalty Cards are handed out and a second wave of paranoia and fear begins anew.

The dirty, filthy Cylon traitor scumbag dumps his initial Super Crisis Card, presumably for something even more bastardly.

Via "Executive Orders" Tom Zarek inspires Tyrol to keep blasting away at the Cylon interlopers.  Unfortunately the engineer would be hard-pressed to hit a Centurion in the ass with a nuke.

Torn between the immediate crisis onboard Galactica and the looming disaster coalescing around the civilian fleet, Boomer opts to tackle the invasive element on board the ship. And by "tackle" I mean "wave-to politely". Along with Tom Zarek, Boomer chucks a mittful of Skills Cards in order to avoid more Food spoilage.

Tyrol urges Boomer to jump in a Viper and combat the pursuing Raiders but she can't get there quick enough to attack. The dumb and ill-bred Cylon Player makes sure that a "Crippled Raider's" kamikaze strike lands true.




PART FIVE: DEATH THROES

Cylon Raiders kick the ever-lovin' shit out of the civilian fleet and then cripple the Armory again! After Starbuck shrugs off a clingy Tyrel she manages to repair the damage. After some "Resistance" overkill the humans get a temporary reprieve.

The Cylon player / molester of goats moves to Caprica (now renamed Ca-PRICK-a, btw) and plays a Crisis Card which spurns on the board party, who are still buried in Galactica's hoo-haw like a bouquet of metallic dicks. In a moment of life imitating art, Starbuck provides a temporary reprieve. After a "Tracking Device" threatens to end the human race, Boomer's "Mysterious Intuition" finally comes into play!

Meanwhile, the swarm of Cylon Raiders tailing Galactica laser-fucks three more fugitive ships. The human Population is now hanging by a thread!      

Zarek dittos his "Executive Order" on Tyrol who apparently can't hit the broad side of a Basestar. A"Mysterious Message"gives us a much-needed push!

Boomer attempts to Death Blossom an entire squadron of inbound Raiders. During the subsequent Crisis, the foul-smelling Cylon creep at the table conspires with the Destiny Deck to drain our Fuel and destroy a Raptor. What a dick, amirite?!? 

The Galactica pulls off another FTL jump, but is she running on empty?

  
     

***

REVIEW

PROS:
  • The components of the game are perfect: practical enough to play with, evocative enough to sell the theme and simple enough to avoid any unnecessary confusion.  
  • I love the variety of available characters and their customized powers and weaknesses. So much so that the game sometimes feels like a lite n' breezy RPG.  
  • A corona of Raiders, Basestars, boarding parties, fleeting resources and Crisis Cards simulate the show's "walking on a razor's edge" tone with elegant precision.     
  • The paranoia and suspicion generated by the possible presence of one or more Cylon spies is palpable. While the humans have it tough enough as it is, baseless mistrust and unfounded accusations will only make it ten times worse.
  • A really good Cylon player can spell the difference between victory and defeat. They can also experience gleeful moments of abject cruelty, like charring ants underneath a magnifying glass.    
  • Every match I've played that far has told its own unique narrative. No other licensed game I've played (save perhaps War of the Ring) has even come so close.       
  • The game forces players to make one agonizing decision after another.
CONS:
  • None. Even the fiddlier rules are there for a reason and contribute boundlessly to the game's thematic awesomeness!  

The main thing I really wanted to communicate with this post is that Battlestar Galactica is a totally different animal than the typical crappy licensed games which have long-plagued our beloved hobby. It's smart, engaging, tense, respectful, and permanently ensconced in my Top Ten Favorite Games of All Time.

As such, it easily earns a perfect score: six pips outta six.

  
***
Tired of interrogating your kitchen appliances? Click on the link below to order a copy of Battlestar Galactica and the Exodus Expansion to help support this blog!  



Friday, September 13, 2013

Little Wars: "Eight-Minute Empire"

Love destroying your opponents in a Risk-like game of global domination but don't have an entire evening to set aside? Then, Eight-Minute Empire might be the title for you!


Here's the game's declaration of war right from the Red Raven's website:

"Build an empire and conquer the land in around eight minutes!

"In Eight-Minute Empire, 2-4 players take turns selecting a card from six displayed. The card gives a good, and also has an action that the player takes immediately. Actions help players take over the map, but sets of goods are worth points at the end of the game, so players have to balance the two aspects.

"Eight-Minute Empire is the super-quick area control game with tough decisions. It’s easy to learn and perfect for when you only have a few minutes."

Looking to craft the optimal strategy for a realm-wide victory?  Take a few seconds to read the rules pamphlet right hur and in no time you'll be ready to charge into battle!

***

So, last Wednesday night was Mike's pick and he opted to go with Battlestar Galactica. Just hours before go-time Andrew sent around the following email:

"I have a game called Eight-Minute Empire that I was hoping to get played tonight.  I checked with Mike and he has no problem with us showing up around 7:30 to get it played while he puts his kids to bed.  Any of you willing to show up for 7:30 to play a new game?"

Andrew's cryptic invitation was enough to lure all of us in.  Chad, Jeremy and I arrived at Mike's place thirty minutes prior to our official BSG kick-off time of 8 pm.  Within moments Andrew managed to  set everything up, explained the game and get us started!

COLOR SELECTIONS
Andrew...Red
Chad...Yellow
Me...Blue
Jeremy...Green


ROUND ONE

With a successful bid of two Coins, Jeremy won the right to play first.  He quickly snatched up an Ore card and then marched one of his Armies out onto Anvil Island to the south west.  

Andrew paid an extra Coin to claim a Gem card. He then placed two new Armies in the starting space.

Chad dropped a Coin in order to procure a Carrot (?) Card. This gave him four available moves which he used to spread out like a yellow fungus across the continent.  

I grabbed a free Ore card which let me move one of my Armies three spaces into Carrot Corner (??) to the south east.  

ROUND TWO

Keen on starting an Ore collection, Jeremy paid two Coins to purchase a second one. Armed with three points of movement, he then completed his subjugation of Anvil Island.  NOTE: This was actually a bit of a cock-up but Jeremy caught his mistake and fixed it in Round Four.

Andrew spent two Coins to buy a Vegetable Card. He then moved his Armies to the edge of the starting continent, clearly intent on branching out into the hinterlands.

Chad took on some hot, double-Carrot action and placed three new Armies in the starting space.

I paid zippo for a Tree Card, which let me decree a stately pleasure-palace in my newly-conquered neck of the woods.   

I can't believe no-one took the Cylon Basestar.

ROUND THREE

Taking a cue from my last move, Jeremy took a Veggie Card and then placed a castle on his Island Fortress of Doom.  

Andrew secured a Tree Card, marching two Armies out towards the North West quadrant of the board.  

Chad took a Carrot (to the knee?) for the express purpose of destroying one of Andrew's Armies on the starting continent!  Awwww, snap! Shit just got real, yo!

*sorry*

I took an Ore Card and placed three new Armies on my utopian paradise.  
  
ROUND FOUR

To rectify his error in Round Four, Jeremy placed three Armies with an Anvil Card instead of taking the movement option.  

In a truly outrageous move, Andrew used a new Gem card (Heh, see what I did there?) to march his Army past The Wall in the north-west, eventually subjugating the Gem province.  

Chad blew two coins to capture the first Wild Card of the game.  

I picked up my second Tree Card and then stretched my forces out over the South East continent. OooOoo, roomy!  


ROUND FIVE

Jeremy used another Anvil Card to place three new Armies on the start space.

Andrew picked up an Anvil Card to re-enforce his holdings to the north-west and spread out in the opposite direction! 

Displaying more vegetable-related obsession then Jamie Oliver, Chad bought yet another Carrot card in order to place three new dudes on the main continent.  

I took an Ore Card and then shifted one of my Armies onto Andrew's turf in the north west. 

ROUND SIX

Jeremy harvested a free Tree Card and then diverted three Armies onto Andrew's now-embattled nation!  

After scoring his own Tree Card, Andrew hastily erected a City. Now he could crank out re-enforcements right on the spot!  

Chad diversified, paying one Coin for a Gem card that let him place another new cube. While everyone was pre-occupied trying to foil Andrew's plans, Chad's stranglehold on the main continent was growing tighter and tighter!

I bought an Anvil Card and then placed a rival City on Andrewonia, much to the Emperor's dismay and consternation.

  
ROUND SEVEN

Jeremy pilfered a Gem card and then dropped two new Armies onto the starting space.  

Andrew beefed up his new City's garrison with three new Armies, thanks to an Anvil Card.  

Chad began the process of engulfing the main continent with a 6-move Tree Card.

I also picked up a Tree Card, using it to reenforce my new City with two new Armies.  

ROUND EIGHT

Spending the last of his cash reserves, Jeremy acquired a Double Anvil Card.  This gave him four points of movement, which he used to cut a swath through the north-west continent.  

With four movement points provided by an Anvil Card, Andrew eked out as much space as he could in the north-west.  

As if Chad hadn't already horked up enough real estate, he used an Anvil Card to move three Armies to the far reaches of the starting continent.  

In a pointless moment of overkill, I dropped three Armies onto my existing fortress in the north-west.    


So, literally, after about eight minutes or so, the game was over and began to add up our Victory Points.  

VICTORY POINTS FOR REGIONS CONTROLLED

A player collects one victory point for each region on the map he controls. A player controls a region if he has more armies there than any other player (cities count as armies when determining control). If players have the same number of armies in a region, no one controls it.

Chad...8
Jeremy...6
Andrew...5
Me...4

VICTORY POINTS FOR CONTROLLED CONTINENTS

A player collects one victory point for each continent he controls. A player controls a continent if he controls more regions in the continent than anyone else. If players are tied for controlled regions, no one controls the continent.



Chad...1
Me...1

VICTORY POINTS FOR SETS

A player collects victory points for his sets of goods. The amount of victory points each good is worth depends on how many cards of that good he has and is listed in the middle of the card in four amounts.  If you control a region with a goods symbol add one to your count.  

Andrew...6
Jeremy...6
Chad...4
Me...4 

FINAL SCORES

Chad...13 points
Jeremy 12 points
Andrew...11 points
Me...9 points

Chad wins!!!

***

REVIEW

PROS
  • Eight-Minute Empire delivers on its promise. We played through an entire game in less time then it takes to cook a soufflé.
  • It's easy to throw down and explain and, as such, us pretty much the perfect icebreaker / time-killer / filler game. 
  • The components are colorful, whimsical and durable. ALL HAIL THE ALMIGHTY CARROT!!!
  • Three methods of scoring make the game deceptively deep.
CONS
  • Izzit just me or does it seem kinda wonky that all of these rival Armies originate from the exact same place.  Whatupwitdat?!?  
***

This is a surprisingly brilliant little game. As an olde skool wargamer I kinda wish that it had more chrome to give it some heft, but I also know that making it longer and more complicated is counter-intuitive to the game's mission statement. Through what I'm sure must have been a painful process, designer Ryan Laukat really trimmed the fat, delivering a game that's fast, cheap and out of control. New maps, cards and variants are sure to appear, but I'd almost hate to see this game lose its sweet simplicity.  

Eight-Minute Empire scores four pips out of six with a global tilt upwards!  


***
Looking to clobber your Risk-obsessed friends in the same time it takes to boil an egg?  Click on the image below to add Eight-Minute Empire to your collection and help support the blog!
  

Monday, September 9, 2013

Conspiracy Theory: "Imperial"

So on Friday the 23'rd of August I received the following email from Andrew:

"I'm giving you guys notice regarding next game night. I'm playing Imperial with Kris running it.  The game is optimal with four so I'll be looking for two more players to join. Who is interested in playing Imperial? First two to ask are in!"

As soon as I read this my thoughts were immediately filled with visions of stormtroopers, Death Stars, biker scouts, AT-AT's and Sith Lords. Suspecting that I might be a tad off-base I decided to investigate further and stumbled across this box cover:


I'd be lying to you if I said my enthusiasm wasn't dampened a little bit. That is until I saw the game board:


Now I may not be the strongest Eurogamer on the planet but show me a map of Europe and all of a sudden my brain turns into a friggin' computer. I hastily responded to Andrew's email:

"The theme intrigues me so I'd like to try it."

To put the following session report into context here's an overview of Imperial

"Europe in the age of imperialism. Internationally operating investors aim for the highest political influence in Europe. By giving credits they gain influence over the six imperial nations Great Britain, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy and France. 

"These nations desperately need money to build up their economy and to buy troops and fleets. With their growing power in Europe, they collect more taxes and pay their rising interests to their investors. Because the six imperial nations are under changing influence of different investors, strategic alliances and conflicts arise between them. Sometimes this leads even to war!

"The players represent internationally operating investors who stay in the background. The turns in the game are executed by the six imperial nations, not by the investors themselves, who only impose their financial influence onto various nations. Only the investor who gets the best return on his investments, who gains influence over the most powerful imperial nations, and who can influence the European diplomacy to his benefit, may win the game.

"Imperial is a challenging strategy game without any luck of cards or dice."

In order to properly appreciate all of the brilliant subtleties documented in my infallibly-captured play-through (*Snort!*), feel free to read the full Imperial rules.  You can find 'em right here under "Download Game Assets" on the right hand side of the page.

***
After Mike signed on as the fourth player we were locked in. We gathered down in Dean's underground bunker back on Wednesday the 28'th to play this one out. Kris did a great job explaining all the rules without reading verbatim from the rule book, which, as we all know, is equivalent to a living death.

INITIAL FLAG/BOND DISTRIBUTION 

Andrew received 4 million dollars worth of bonds in France and 9 million in Russia giving him a controlling interest in both countries.

I got 9 million dollars worth of bonds in Germany and 4 million in Italy, giving me sway over Germany.

Kris got a 9 million dollar investment in Austria-Hungary and 4 million in Germany, giving him full powah over the former.

Mike received a 9 million dollar stake in Italy and 4 million in the United Kingdom, granting him control over both nations.

Here's how the board looked at the start of the game:


Oh, by the way, I apologize in advance to anyone out there with a weak stomach 'cuz yer gonna be seeing a lot of that ugly-assed table cloth.

Since everyone (except for Kris, apparently) thought that we were playing some sort of balls-deep wargame, things quickly degenerated into the board game equivalent of a knife fight. Feeling penned up in France, Andrew quickly built a new Armament facility in Dijon and then cranked out a handful of Armies which he promptly used to invade Belgium and neutral Switzerland.

Flushed with this early victory, Andrew became the first player to try a Taxation Action, which gave him +6 on the Tax Chart and +1 to his Power. France's blue chip value was already taking off!

Andrew was even more aggressive with Russia, hastily assembling an Armaments factory in Warsaw before amassing a Fleet and two Armies in St. Petersburg. He made Kris twitchy by pushing a few vessels off their slips into the Black Sea and then conducting a surprise invasion of Romania. On the economic front he began chipping away at Mike's holdings, sinking a 2 million dollar investment into the United Kingdom.       

For me, old wargaming habits die hard so I spent the first thirty minutes of the game building up Germany's military.  This involved the construction of a new Factory in Munich and the subsequent conscription of two Fleets and four Armies. Naturally if you build up your military, you gotta use it right?  In short order I occupied the Baltic Sea with a Fleet, stood toe-to-toe with Andrew over the Low Countries and invaded Prague for particular. Secretly plotting to steal control of Italy away from Mike I also purchased 2 million dollars worth of pomodoro-flavored Bonds on the down-low.

Mike played to the strengths of the United Kingdom by launching two new ships and then occupying the English Channel, the North Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea and the Bay of Biscay.  He also ramped up Italy's defense, building a new Shipyard in Genoa. This facilitated the appearance of one new Army and four new Fleets which proceeded to annex the Western Mediterranean Sea and the Ionian Sea. On the main continent, two of his Armies pushed the French out of Switzerland, leading to Andrew's first open declaration of war among many. Oblivious to the forces conspiring against him, Mike failed to shore up his economic hold on his two patron countries.

As Austria-Hungary, Kris spent the first segment of the game trying to put out a myriad of small fires. He started by assembling an Armament Factory in Lemberg, requisitioning a Fleet in Trieste and paying extra money to take the Import Action so he could drop three new garrisons on the board. To Kris's credit he seemed like the only person at the table who realized that Imperial didn't come with a d6 and a Combat Results Table. After letting my incursion into Prague slide, Kris tried to negotiate an accord with Mike for peaceful co-existence in the Ionian Sea but talks broke off seconds after they said "Hello" to one another. He finally let ship the dogs of war by skirmishing with Andrew and occupying the West Balkans.


Kris did what he could to eke out some space for Austria-Hungary in a very competitive part of the board. After their dispute over the Ionian Sea grew heated, his poor, beleaguered Fleet in Trieste got clobbered by Mike's Italian flotilla. Since it was the only place left on the board that hasn't already been overrun, Kris diverted troops by rail from Lemberg and Budapest, annexed Romania and Greece and then drove the Russians out of Bulgaria.

He then celebrated these with a Taxation Action which placed Austria Hungary on the 9 space of the Tax Chart and bumped his nation's Power level up to 4.

I then made the mistake of letting Andrew pressure me into a naval detente with Russia in the Baltic Sea. Just seconds after our captains started blowing kisses at one another, Andrew conducted a ballsy amphibious assault, conquering Sweden with a single Army. He then stepped up naval production down south, knocking new vessels out of the Odessa shipyards and into the Black Sea. The flotilla already stationed there immediately sailed into the East Mediterranean, bearing an invasion Army destined for Turkey. To facilitate these bold moves he also doubled the size of his standing Army, stationing one unit each in Moscow and Odessa and two in Warsaw to protect his front-line production.

After Andrew took a well-timed Taxation Action, Russia hit the 10 space on the Tax Chart, gaining +5 in Power and earning the first Multiplier of the game. Up to this point in time, Andrew was doing a fine job translating Russia's expansionism into genuine market value!

Meanwhile, despite France's precarious economic condition, Andrew kept her battling on. He got into a costly and protracted naval scrap with Britain which purged the North Atlantic of Mike's ships but also saw France's navy decimated several times over. Things went moderately better back on the continent. After making sure that Germany and Italy didn't get any funny ideas by stationing troops in both Belgium and Marseille, the French went on to recapture Switzerland. On the economic front, Andrew continued to hedge his bets by "being the first one on the block to collect 'em all"; purchasing 6-million dollars worth of assets in Austria-Hungary.    

Galled by Andrew's bold invasion of Sweden, I began to formulate a German scheme to strike back. A major component of this plan involved ramping up naval production, which I initiated by constructing a Shipyard in Danzig and prepping a new Fleet. Not only did this set me up for some big moves up north it helped to pacify Britain's expansive Navy. On land I continued to raise Germany's credit rating by over-running Denmark and also gave Andrew pause for thought by re-enforcing Munich with a second Army.

Naturally, a Taxation Action made a lot of sense at that time. This placed Germany at the 8 space on the Tax Chart and gave her 3 Power Points in the process.   

Just as Mike was bringing Italy to the height of global prominence, I decided that the country was ripe for a hostile takeover. After a few well-timed Investor Actions I used the resulting capitol to purchase 6 million dollars worth of Italian bonds, making me the nation's majority shareholder and, subsequently, the country's new puppet master.

I continued Italy's tradition of bold expansionism. To drive my future plans, I opened up an Armament Factory in Florence and garrisoned that province with two Armies. Intent on a series of amphibious invasions I produced two more Armies in Rome, shoved another Navy out into the West Mediterranean and then used the existing ships there to facilitate an invasion of Spain.    

After rising to prominence so quickly, Mike found himself on the receiving end of a pretty serious backlash. As if losing control of Italy wasn't bad enough, the United Kingdom's massive navy got systematically curb-stomped into oblivion by a joint French/German effort. Although he still technically had control of all the sea-zones around the British Isles he didn't have a single ship left to defend them with! Mike tried to shore up this house of cards by building a new Armaments facility and then conscripting two Navies and one Army. This put a pretty brutal strain on Britain's already-shaky economy. Even more inexplicably, Mike dumped 6 million dollars into this sinking ship when he probably should have looked at investments elsewhere.

Despite his shaky war-footing, Mike kept up appearances by elevating Britain to the 8 spot on the Taxation Chart and scoring 3 Power Points in the effort.


At this stage in the game, Germany was flying high. After building another navy in Hamburg I launched the existing Fleet into the North Sea, taking it away from Britain and setting myself up for an invasion of Norway. I launched a second Fleet into the Baltic Sea, retaining my peace accord with Russia for the time being. I'm pretty sure that Andrew's Spidey Sense started to go off around then, especially after my troops landed in Norway and I began to prep more battleships in Danzig. Just to keep the barbarians at bay, I also added an additional battalion in Berlin.  

I decided to augment my slow-but-steady military momentum with a Taxation Action, putting Germany at 13 on the chart and adding 8 more Power Points for a total of 11 and a x 2 Multiplier. Germany was swiftly becoming a "Triple-A" investment!

That turn I also unleashed the full power of the Italian Navy. Although I lost two Fleets in action against Russia, it kept Andrew's aspirations for the region tamped down. I also performed two amphibious landings, diverting troops from Rome to Algeria and Tunis.

Seeing how well the Taxation Actions were working for Germany, I applied the same tactic to Italy, jumping her all the way up to 11 on the Tax Chart and recording a respectable 6-point Power increase!

Penned in by Germany's army to the north, Russia to the East and a Mediterranean Sea choked with hostile Fleets, Austria-Hungary's options continued to be very limited.  About all Kris could do was wade into highly-contested Switzerland with two Armies and then eliminate my standing forces in Prague. Frankly, I'm surprised they lasted that long!
     
Desperate for more options, Kris paid a cool 12 million dollars to wrestle control of the United Kingdom away from Mike, leaving him virtually homeless! He then went about restoring Britain to its former glory by industrializing Edinburgh with a Shipyard and patrolling the English Channel and the North Atlantic with two new Fleets.

Kris also continued to project an air of economic confidence, bumping Austria-Hungary up to 11 on the Taxation Chart, which added 6 more Power for a total of 10 and hit the x 2 Multiplier. He also tried to improve Britain's curb appeal by moving her up one space on the Tax Chart to 9 and gaining 4 Power for a total of 7.

After losing yet another Army to the Swiss meat grinder, Andrew decided to buy his way out of the conflict, purchasing 6 million dollars worth of shares in Austria-Hungary, swiping it away from Kris and instantly pacifying his continental rival. Given this incongruous climate of peace, France experienced something of a renaissance, allowing her to go on a more defensive footing and turn her attention back towards the sea. After assigning all of his Armies to Factory guard duty in Paris, Bordeaux and Dijon, Andrew launched two Fleets into the Bay of Biscay in an effort to shore up his coastline.

He also tried to prop France up as a reasonably-attractive investment, using a Tax Action to nudge her two spaces up the chart and bringing her total Power to 4. It wasn't much but at least it was a step in the right direction.        

Clearly unnerved by my shifty moves, Russia diverted troops from Moscow to Norway and one army from Warsaw to Turkey.  There was also a nasty clash at sea in the Mediterranean which saw the Russian Fleet outmatched by the Italians.    


Even though the game was winding down, the drama certainly wasn't.  Italy continued to expand virtually unchecked. After launching the Genoa Fleet into the West Mediterranean, I used sea transportation to subjugate Portugal and Morocco with Armies from Florence and Rome.

With the Mediterranean now mare nostrum, I did everything in my power to make Italy an attractive investment companion piece to Germany. After hitting the 15-point ceiling on the Tax Chart, Italy claimed 10 Power Points, becoming the very first nation to win the coveted x 4 Multiplier!  

After considerable planning I finally launched a series of incredibly dickish moves, Pearl Harboring Andrew's Russian Fleet in the Baltic Sea with my German ships. Via sea transportation I then diverted several Armies from Berlin and Munich to Sweden and drove Andrew's forces into the sea. As expected, Andrew was less then pleased by this turn of events and vowed to go after me to the exclusion of all else. Inside I was laughing at this epic-level role-reversal. Whenever Andrew jacks up an opponent he expects them to say "Thank you, sir, may I have another?" but when it happens to him he suddenly turns into The Bride from Kill Bill.  

Even though I knew that a brutal reckoning was inevitable I bought 2 million dollars worth of German stock because I knew that Kris was sniffing around and I didn't want to lose control of the country quite yet. And although I knew that Germany's market value had probably peaked, I still hit up the Tax Track to score +7 Power and a x 3 Multiplier for the embattled nation.

After requisitioning a battleship in Trieste that would never be christened, Austria-Hungary was twisted towards Andrew's Ahab-like thirst for revenge. Pretty soon my Factory in Munich was besieged by his Army in Switzerland. Russia was no less brutal.  Andrew took the Import Action to produce three Armies, just for the express purpose of destroying my Factory in Danzig. Wow, talk about your sour grapes!

In any other game, Andrew's preoccupation with murdering me would probably have worked out, but not in Imperial. So intent was he on my blood that he failed to take Taxation Actions for Russia and Austria- Hungary. As such, the economic growth of both countries began to stagnate. A few turns later, Andrew seemed to realize his oversight and took a Tax Action for Russia, moving his marker up to the 10 slot, gaining 5 Power for a total of 10 and a x 2 Multiplier.    
    
Tired of being a global hobo (a globo?), Mike poured 3 million dollars into a discounted France. But even before the ink on this new deed was dry, the entire French navy was sent to the bottom of the Bay of Biscay by the British Fleet!

Despite his myriad of problems, Mike still took a Taxation Action.  Unfortunately he couldn't raise France's rating any higher then 8, which still gave him a +3 Power increase for a total of 7 and a x 1 Multiplier.

In addition to the action taken against France, Britain stationed troops in Dublin and then reclaimed the North Sea from the German Fleet. Kris also made a couple of big economic moves, shoring up support for his reconstituted U.K. with another 9 million bucks.


Not every nation got a final turn in the mad rush to the top of the Power Point track. Austria-Hungary's position was largely unchanged at game's end, save the fact that Andrew moved her Tax Chart up to 12, adding 7 Power and limping into the x 3 Multiplier slot.

With very few avenues of expansion left, Italy reinforced the West Mediterranean from a possible British incursion by shifting a Fleet from the Ionian Sea. I then took Switzerland away from Austria-Hungary by using a combination of naval and rail transportation from Algeria and Tunis.    

Mike made a few "Hail Mary" plays with France, rallying troops from Paris, Dijon and Bordeaux to drive the Italians out of Switzerland. This gave Mike the ability to place his marker on the 10 point level of the Tax Chart and score +5 Power for a grand total of 12. Granted, France's economy was still in the bidet but at least she manged to crack the x 2 Multiplier.

As my final act as Germany's secret Chancellor I used the Baltic flotilla to eliminate the British Fleet in the North Sea and re-build my Factory in Danzig. Now that I was slowly and inexorably driving Germany into the dirt, I chose not to pursue any new economic initiatives.

Meanwhile, contrary to such frivolous things as strategy and common sense, Andrew continued to use Russia as his vengeance-inspired beat-stick of choice. After moving a Fleet from Odessa into the Black Sea and another from the Black Sea into the East Mediterranean, he diverted Armies from Moscow and Warsaw to Danzig for the express purpose of destroying my Factory. Again. His blood-lust temporarily sated, Andrew then took a step down on the Tax Chart to 9 but at least he scored +4 Power for a grand total of 14. I think even Andrew felt kinda embarrassed when he realized that Russia had only managed to achieve a x 2 Multiplier, which is pretty sad considering how much of an international busy-body the county had been. 
Under Kris's guidance, the United Kingdom hit dizzying new economic heights. Despite the fact that his North Sea Fleet got trounced by the Germans, he took a perfectly-coordinated 11-tier Tax Action, granting  him 6 new Power Points for a total of 20. Right at the last second, Kris managed to net a x 4 Multiplier for Britain!      

Armed with a bunch of capitol earned from flipping the U.K., Kris starting looking around the board for a good investment. In a surprising coup, he dropped 20 million dollars into Germany, ousting me from the helm!  He also managed to hit the 12-point space on the Tax Chart, racking up 7 more Power Points to cap out at 25 and end the game!  For Kris, reaching that x 5 Multiplier was like knocking the bell off the top of a High Striker machine!


And, with that, the game came to an end and we hastily calculated our final points!

ME 


Italy...$56 Million
Germany...$50 Million
Reserve Cash: $15 Million 
Net Worth: $121 Million Dollars

KRIS


Germany...$60 Million
United Kingdom...$36 Million
Austria-Hungary...$12 Million
Reserve Cash: $1 Million
Net Worth: $109 Million Dollars

ANDREW


Austria Hungary...$33 Million 
Italy...$20 Million
Russia...$16 Million
United Kingdom...$4 Million
France...$4 Million
Reserve Cash...$10 Million
Net Worth: $79 Million Dollars

MIKE


Italy...$44 Million
United Kingdom...$20 Million
France...$6 Million
Reserve Cash...$9 Million
Net Worth: $79 Million Dollars

Winner: Me!!!

***

REVIEW

PROS
  • The Tax and Power Point Charts combine to create a simple and elegant mechanic that nicely simulates the ebb and flow of a nation's wartime economy.    
  • The rondel system of available actions works brilliantly and the overall absence of luck in the game is extremely welcome. One-for-one military losses ensure that your strategies won't be totaled by a single errant die roll.  
  • The rules are short, sweet and deceptively brilliant.  
  • At first it's hard to wrap your head around the fact that you're not in direct control of one specific country for an entire game. Instead, think of yourself as an opportunistic puppet master, manipulating military victories into share values in order to validate your investments.
  • You can use Armies and Fleets to stomp a mud-hole in your opponent's collective asses all you want but if you don't give Taxation and Investment actions an appropriate amount of love, then it's gonna be all for nought.   
  • Wanna pursue a more pacifistic path to victory?  Beyond the traditional military and economic routes, you can eschew ownership of a country and play the entire game as the neutral Swiss Bank! Although I've been told that this is a perfectly valid strategy, it sounds about as boring as being alive. 
  • The game re-enforces my conspiracy theory that the entire world is run by a bunch of rich assholes.  In fact, winning a game of Imperial leaves you feeling decidedly unsettled.     
CONS

  • This ugly duckling needs a makeover, stat!  Although the components are durable, the colors are garish and the sketchy art screams "Yeah, I know a guy."  Imagine if the game board looked like this instead?  
***
This game falls right square in my wheelhouse.  As a kid I was weaned on a diet of light wargames such as RiskAxis & Allies and Diplomacy. And yes, while I know that Imperial bears only a passing resemblance to those titles, I still have this weird affinity for grand strategy games.

When we were kids we used to play a dumbed-down, borderline broken, Ameritrashy little number called Supremacy which combined a similarly-abstracted military conflict with a supply-and-demand stock market mechanic.  Unlike Supremacy, though, the economic heart of Imperial beats very strongly.  

Oh, and there's no "everybody loses because we've thrown around too many nukes" rule.  Stoopid nuclear winters.

Imperial scores a wealthy five pips outta six with a penthouse suite tilt upwards!  


***
Looking to make war profiteers like the Bushes, the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers and the DuPonts look like a bunch of penny-ante noobs?  Click on the link below to acquire a copy of Imperial and help support this impoverished little blog...

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Booze, BBQ & Board Games: A Winning Combination!

After the rousing success of Davecon 2013, some of the attendees tried to convince me to run it again later on in the year. I countered by expressing my hope that one day everyone will host their own annual board gaming event. Naturally I proposed this for entirely selfish reason since all I want to do is read a few rule books, show up with a coupla beer and play board games all day long without having to deal with any pesky logistics.

Welp, Mark and Dawn called my bluff, announcing their very own "BBQ, Booze & Board Game" day on June 19'th. After months of patient waiting, the big day finally came on August 17'th. We arrived at their beautifully-appointed home around 3 pm and after a few drinky-poos and some gratuitous chin-waggery out on the back deck we finally got down to brass tacks.

Prior to the event I'd prepped five games in total, including that 80's family classic *slash* proto-Euro Survive: Escape from Atlantis!  Lured in by the colorful bits and scary-looking Sea Serpents, I had no problem stranding Mark, Sabina and Claudia on the island with me.


PLAYER COLORS 
Claudia...Red
Me...Blue
Mark...Green
Sabina...Yellow



The initial climate of nauseating courtesy started to waver a bit when the keel of my first rescue boat hissed onto the sandy shore. You could almost feel the storm clouds start to gather as three of my peeps disembarked to safety. Things got even more icy around the table after I swore to fuck up any enemy boats and swimmers without a shred of hesitation!


Claudia was the next person to get some survivors to safety. When she started to load up a second boat, Sabina couldn't resist the temptation to sic a Sea Serpent on her!  Only at game's end did we learn that this particular attack had killed two of Claudia's biggest V.I.P.'s!


After openly declaring my hostility towards my opponents, I quickly became Public Enemy Number One. Most of the tiles that were drawn resulted in one of my poor, scared little meeples being dropped into the Shark n' Serpent-infested dunk tank.  

Mark also had a rough go of it.  The boat pictured below was smashed into matchsticks by a Whale just seconds after this photo was taken, leaving two pokey swimmers to flail around like water-logged hors d'oeuvres:


Weary of getting picked on, Claudia took out her frustrations on a boat that Mark and I were co-piloting. After sinking our protective bateau, her Sea Serpent promptly gobbled up the fear-tenderized meeples contained inside!


Since most of my friggin' movement rolls were for Boats, Whales and freakin' Dolphins, Sabina experienced very little grief getting her refugees to shore.  So, by outing myself as an early aggressor, all I did was draw aggro while my piss-poor dice rolls insured that I'd never be able to follow through on my initial threats.  Grrrrrr!!! 

Eventually we ran out of Beach and Jungle tiles and, wouldn't you know it, Mark pulled the Volcano as his very first Mountain Tile. Instantly the entire board went nuclear and every hapless meeple still on the island, in the water or on a boat was instantly vaporized!

BEST FAMILY GAME EVAR!!!


After mourning all of those poor, lost, wooden souls, we counted up our points and declared the winner:

Sabina...16 Points
Mark...11 Points
Me...10 Points
Claudia...5 Points


SABINA WINS!

Man, I'm soooooo glad they reprinted this game. I totally missed picking it up back in the 80's probably because it wasn't as all-pervasive as Clue, Payday, Monopoly and the like. Which is a bloody shame since it blows all of those games out of the water, no pun intended.

Although I dig the reprint, I have a few minor quibbles about it.  First off, the idea of having each terrain elevation represented by variable tile thickness might have seemed like a good idea on paper but in practice it's a ginormous pain in the nards.  Do you know how impossible it is to distribute these tiles randomly when you know exactly they are as soon as you touch them?  Usually I chuck 'em all in the box top, roll 'em around for a bit, put the lid on a flat surface, close my eyes, randomly place my finger on one and then draw and place it.  Annoying as fux.

Even though I always play with Challenge Rule 5 (I.E. the Dolphins and Diving Creatures variant) I always forget to explain how the Dolphin tile works.  Since the tile doesn't have an "arrow down" icon, players usually take it into their hand instead of playing it immediately.  Invariably this leads to a debate over where the tile was drawn from in the first place.  Would it have killed them to include an alterna-tile with the proper iconography?

Finally, given all of the colors they could have picked for the meeples why in Poseidon's name did they go with dark freakin' navy?  It's nearly impossible to read the black numbers printed underneath them or tell what gender they are.  Sheesh!

Despite all of my bitchin', this is still an awesome game.  The components are high-quality and colorful, the gameplay is simple and cut-throat and the victor is always in question right up to the very end.  It's hilarious to watch everyone play nicey-nicey until someone tips over a boat with a Whale.  Shit gets real quick.

After Mark left to start grilling up the bovine meat patties and pureed flesh tubes, Angela, Claudia, Sabina and I indulged in a quick game of Love Letter.


At the start of the final round, Angela, Claudia and I were locked in a three-way, four-point tie. The next series of card plays would likely decide the entire match. 

Via the Guards, things kicked off with a few random identity guesses. Angela used her Priest to peek at Sabina's hand. I pulled a second Baron card, forcing me into a showdown with another player. I picked Angela and she immediately trounced me.

Knowing that Angela's card value was at least higher then a "3" Sabina guessed that she had the Prince and knocked her out of contention. Attempting her own crap shoot, Claudia called out Sabina for concealing the Princess and then immediately won the game!     


CLAUDIA WINS!

Given that I'd already played Love Letter several times, I felt pretty confident about card timing and how they work in conjunction with one another. Unfortunately, I was also up against a bunch of very crafty ladies and the competition was fierce!  

Overall my table-mates seemed to dig the game's clean aesthetics, deceptively deep card play and unforgiving process of deduction.  Yay for more Love Letter converts!  

After this we spent some time gabbin' between bites of tasty, flame-broiled goodness. After about an hour or so we finally decided to get back to business. With Andrew, Audrey, Dean and Kris still tied up with the protracted-but-awesome-looking Bora Bora and several other players distracted by an Amazing Race DVD game (!), Mark and I decided to chuck some Martian Dice while we waited.        


Mark came out a-swingin' in the first round with four points to my one. He got skunked in the next round and I stormed back with three points to tie the game. The third round of rolling saw the momentum swing back yet again after he racked up four points and I completely washed out.

Round Four was a high-scoring affair, with Mark walking away with five points to my eight!  It's always great when you net bonus points for rolling at least one Human, one Cow and one Chicken! Mark then fell into a terrible drought, crapping out with zero points four rounds in a row!

Now most players with a modicum of luck would be able to capitalize on this somehow and polish off their opponent, but nope, not me!  During Mark's dry spell I only managed to score ten points over the course of four rounds. That left Mark with thirteen points to my twenty-two; just three points shy of victory!  ArRggGHHH!!!

Naturally this provided the perfect opportunity for Mark to stage an incredible comeback which he promptly did by dicing up nine freakin' points in one round. I then proceeded to not rise to the occasion and laid a big, fat ol' goose egg. Mark then added three more points to his score in the final round, bringing his grand total to twenty-five.

All I needed was one - one - decent turn to eclipse his score but as soon as I tossed a handful of Tanks on my first roll I knew that I was sunk.

MARK WINS!     

I've said it before and I'll say it again: if I played games to win 'em, I'd never play games.

What can I say about Martian Dice that hasn't already been said?  Just suffice to say that a certain undead-themed dice game has been gathering a lot of dust since it first appeared on the scene!  On days like this when you want to play a bunch of games but find yourself waiting for more players to free up their time it's pretty much the perfect interlude.

Perfect example: by the time Mark was done kicking my ass, Sabina, Dawn, Joey and Heather were free to join me in a round of Saboteur.   


As soon as we played Andrew's copy last-year during Hal-Con I was totally hooked on this one.  I bought it not long after but didn't have a chance to play it all year long since you really need a decent number of people to run it properly.

I got all "traitor-y" in the first round but Joey and I couldn't prevent Dawn and her cadre of loyal gold-diggers from hitting the mother lode and scoring a nice little vein of nuggets.

I was true-hearted in the second round but it took forever to reveal the first two coal deposits. The saboteurs did their best to undermine our efforts but we finally hit paydirt with the third revealed Goal Card. Once again, it was Dawn who made the actual discovery so she got the biggest reward and a l'il sumfin'-sumfin' when the stack came back around to her.  Joey and I only ended up with one measly ol' nugget in the deal.      


There was another titanic struggle in the third and final round.  Once again, Joey and I lapsed back into evil.  Hey, this is what happens when you short-change your friggin' staff!  This time out I was determined to see our rivals fall flat on their stupid little dwarf faces!

It's tough being the Saboteur since you don't want to out yourself right away. After playing a few genuinely helpful cards, I began my campaign of concentrated devilry, laying down a few Path Cards that forced the diggers to divert.

"Hey, that's all I've got in my hand!" I wailed in my defense.

After my cover was pretty much completely blown, I began to flop down some dead ends like they were goin' outta style. Yeah, y'see that left turn Path Card in front of the middle Goal Card in the photo below? Pure Dave...

Joey was equally ruthless, forcing the path to either trail off to the side or double back on itself. I'm pretty sure he outed himself as a bad guy after he plopped a dead-end path right behind the starting card! *Snort*.

As you can very well imagine, Carts, Lanterns and Pickaxes were being smashed with impunity. By the end of the match gold-digger Heather was paralyzed by a broken Cart while I managed to recover from my third successive knee-capping. Accusations were flying everywhere and for several turns I had absolutely no idea who my co-conspirator was. In fact, at one point in time early in the match I was totally convinced that Dawn was an ally!  

Eventually everyone's allegiances came into focus. Dawn regained her momentum and used a few Treasure Maps to hone in on her goal. Although this final photo shows all three Goal Cards revealed, the only one Dawn turned over was the winning Gold card.  As a result she got the pick of golden litter once again!


After this third dollop of nuggets were handed out, we tallied up the final standings:

Dawn...9 Nuggets
Sabina...6 Nuggets
Heather...5 Nuggets
Me...1 Nugget
Joey...1 Nugget

DAWN WINS!

After the epic game of Bora Bora wrapped up, Matt lured Kris, Andrew and I into a game of Boss Monster.  Recently acquired from a Kickstarter investment, Matt was pretty jazzed to table this intriguing dungeon-building card game.


Here's a rundown on the game right from the publisher's website:

"Designed for 2-4 players, Boss Monster is packed with nostalgic references to 8-bit video games, dungeon-crawling RPGs, and geeky pop culture. Players compete to become the ultimate villain: the final boss at the end of a side-scrolling dungeon.

"The goal of Boss Monster is to attract and destroy adventurers more quickly than your opponents. As a Boss, you will build your dungeon one Room at a time. Each room has a treasure value to lure in Heroes, and a damage value to destroy them. The Heroes aren’t too much of a threat, but you run the risk of Wounds if you build a dungeon that’s all attraction and no bite. With Spells and 'Level Up abilities to spice up the gameplay, Boss Monster has a great balance of fast-paced fun and strategic depth to entertain a table with a range of casual and hardcore gamers."  




I placed several rooms designed to attract Fighters, but they scarcely appeared at the start of the game. At first I didn't mind because I didn't think I had the ability to defend myself. As it turns out, this was probably true since I'd mistakenly built my dungeon with the entrance on the left hand side. This explains why I placed the Minotaur's Maze (which sends Heroes back one space) to the right of the three-damage Neanderthal Cave. If I'd placed it properly, this combo had the potential to deal six damage to any interloper dim enough to venture inside.  D'oh!!!

The point turned out to be moot since Matt lured all the Fighters into his own maze. In fact, if not for an oversight from Andrew and my own Mimic Vault I wouldn't have scored the two casualties I ended up with.




Both Kris and Andrew faced similar struggles.  After they both got smacked around a little bit during the first few rounds, they scored a few kills before Matt's dungeon became the realm's hottest nightspot. All of a sudden every new Hero gravitated to Matt's side of the table like Garfield to a pan of lasagna. Meanwhile, the rest of us just kinda sat around, twiddling our appendages and feeling as if we were all dressed up with no-one to kill.  


When Matt inadvertently attracted an early tsunami of adventurers we started wringing our hands in anticipation, expecting him to get clobbered. Despite the crush of intruders and the amount of damage he sustained, Matt survived the assault, pimped out his dungeon and then started killing off every single new visitor, one after another. The back-to-back Dizzygas Hallway and Trash Compactor Traps proved to be particularly lethal in that regard.   


MATT WINS!

Gamers weaned on NES-era Japanese RPG video game graphics will absolutely love the look of Boss Monster. Personally the whole 8-bit thing is completely lost on me and I think that the game would be much more flavorful, atmospheric and cool if the cards were illustrated with creepy Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay / vintage TSR-style art.  Yes, I know the game is supposed to be "Gen Y" visual catnip but for me a Minotaur should never, ever look cute and cuddly.

Besides, in order for the game to be "nostalgic" for crusty fucks like me, the Heroes would have to be nothing but a square carrying an arrow.  And that's just sad.  

As for the gameplay I'd like to have another bash at it before I pass final judgement. On the one hand I really dug the Dungeon Lords-Lite theme, with all the maze construction and putting rooms together in order to maximize carnage. But, on the other hand, I found it really difficult to reconcile my dungeon's initial weakness with the need to voluntarily invite assholes over to kick the shit outta everything.

My fears were probably unfounded.  After all, Matt himself thought he was toast after he mistakenly attracted a swarm of Heroes to his dungeon early on in the game. But he didn't just survive the onslaught he went on to win the game. Something about that just seemed kinda arbitrary to the rest of us.

Anyhoo, I still wanna give this one another bash someday.  Especially if someone tables a version that features Russ Nicholson art instead of winsome, super-deformed Neanderthals with saucer-shaped eyes.

The final game of the night was La Boca.  



La Boca is a new, real-time, team-based, spacial relationship assembly game. Initially offered by Kosmos in Germany earlier this year, it'll be available in our neck of the woods sometime this Fall courtesy of Z-Man Games. I think Kris snagged this copy from Gen Con so it was kinda cool to play a game before its official North American release.

Here's the game's elevator pitch on the Z-Man Games website:

"In ever-changing teams, two partners must combine their sense of observation to reproduce a depicted construction. But building is not everything; since their effort is timed, they will want to succeed as fast as possible for them to score the most points. Once their task is done, a new team is formed and a new task begins. 

"Will you be the one whose building skills will rise above the competition?"

It really is as simple as that. Or at least it's simple until you try to play it after someone has started a timer and you've been imbibing "adult beverages" for the past eight hours!

To be perfectly honest, I kinda cringed when Kris first unboxed the thing. As soon as I heard the synopsis my enthusiasm went from "lemme in there!" to low-level dread. For people who have a tendency to freeze up like a deer in headlights whenever the spotlight falls on them, this game has the potential to be your worst possible nightmare.

But then something magical happens. You get a couple of confidence-building rounds under your belt, the inhibitions start to melt away and you catch yourself striving to do better.  The fact that your partners constantly change is another godsend since teams won't crap out based solely on one person's poor performance.      

The game play itself is pretty intense. As soon as the Task Card is revealed, both team-members use the enclosed wooden blocks to try and replicate their designated construct.  Even if you manage to accurately recreate your half within seconds, it's still a work in progress if it doesn't jibe with what your partner's trying to do. That's when the depth of the game's four-by-four playing grid starts to factor in. When both partners are pleased with their handiwork and all overhanging pieces have been eliminated, the timer is stopped and the scoring chart on the box is consulted. For the record, I think the best time our game produced was nineteen seconds, which was worth nine big points!


Here were the final scores:

Matt...45 Points
Andrew...38 Points
Me...35 Points
Kris...33 Points
Cheryl...27 Points

MATT WINS!

Although this game initially made me recoil like Superman being offered a Kryptonite condom, I now see it as a pretty decent little icebreaker or a filler game.

Having said that, I still have a few minor gripes:
  1. Since the players are constantly sliding the damned thing around, the game will eventually look more threadbare then an Ikea furniture box. My low-fi solve: always play La Boca on a tablecloth! 
  2. Some of the Tasks are a helluva lot more difficult then others.
  3. If you play the game constantly how long do you think it would take before you can build all of this stuff in your sleep? 

Regardless of what I think of it, the game probably has a very interesting origin.  Designers Inka and Markus Brand were likely inspired after they visited the famous Argentinean barrio or at least saw some photos of it. Although La Boca is clearly a theme-less abstract I love how this real-world location inspired such a fun, colorful and intense little game.

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When La Boca ended just after midnight most of us decided to pack it in. Between the awesome supper, tasty beverages, cool company and wicked board games I think its safe to say that the event was enjoyed by all. Thanks a bunch to Dawn and Mark for hosting such a great day!

I sincerely hope this sparks a trend and then everyone will have a special event game day to call their own!

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Looking to replicate Mark and Dawn's "Booze, BBQ and Board Game" day? Click on the images below to order some of the games featured in this post and help support this blog!