Thursday, February 19, 2015

WHATTA TWIST! - "Star Wars: Imperial Assault"

When Star Wars: Imperial Assault was first announced I distinctly remember scoffing at the idea. Soooo, lemme get this straight...you're gonna re-skin Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition) with a Star Wars theme. Really?!?

A game of star-fighter combat like X-Wing I can understand. Ditto for a skirmish game like Star Wars Miniatures. But shoehorning Star Wars into a dungeon crawl seemed like a dumb idea to me.

But then, when the damned thing started to appear on store shelves, it initiated a long and protracted process of me picking the thing up, marveling over the size and weight of the box, reading every detail on the back, sniffing it thoroughly and then putting it back down on the shelf over and over again. This was all set to the running commentary of one person after another telling me that it was the greatest thing to happen to Star Wars since The Empire Strikes Back

But I refused to buy it blind; I had to test drive it first. So, back on February 4'th I got my apartment in order and volunteered to host game night again. My only corollary: Andrew had to bring Star Wars: Imperial Assault and he had to run it.

 
Sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the opening title crawl for the game directly from Fantasy Flight:

"Imperial Assault is a miniatures game of tactical combat and missions for two to five players, offering two distinct games of battle and adventure in the Star Wars universe!

"Imperial Assault puts you in the midst of the Galactic Civil War between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire after the destruction of the Death Star over Yavin 4. In this game, you and your friends can participate in two separate games. The campaign game pits the limitless troops and resources of the Galactic Empire against a crack team of elite Rebel operatives as they strive to break the Empire’s hold on the galaxy, while the skirmish game invites you and a friend to muster strike teams and battle head-to-head over conflicting objectives."

Looking to watch the entire saga from start to finish? Then use your Force powers to click on the following link and find out what it takes to bring law and order to the galaxy!

*** 

John also joined us that evening and since he'd already played the game before as a Rebel he was keen to see how the other half lived. This worked out rather well since Andrew had run the game a week before for Chad as the Empire and this would also give him a chance to switch roles.

I was pretty happy with this arrangement since Andrew could give Mike and I some time-tested strategy tips on how to win the scenario. Nice thought, but unfortunately it didn't quite work out so well.  

More on that later.

So, here's how the role selection shook out:  

IMPERIALS

JOHN, starting with one Probe Droid, one Imperial Officer and three Stormtroopers. 


REBELS

ANDREW - MAK ESHKA'REY 
"Bold Renegade"

  
ME - FENN SIGNIS 
"Hardened Veteran"


MIKE - JYN ODAN
"Sly Smuggler"


We decided to play Scenario One in the Campaign Guide. Our mission: destroy the four computer Terminals on the map within six Turns. As the Imperials, it was John's task to run out the six-Round clock and protect the Terminals or Wound each one of us.

So, here we are appearing at our insertion point on the map:


Between Mak's Longblaster and Jyn's "Opportunist" trait, Andrew and Mike quickly put one of the Stormtroopers in the dirt. In order to maximize my "Lone Wolf" ability, I decided to move away from my allies, risking a reprisal from John in the process. This allowed me to blast both Troopers at once with my "Havoc Shot" and recover Strain at the end of my turn.


We made short work of the Stormtroopers but, as expected, John used the Probe Droid's "special fist attachment" to give Fenn an ungodly rogering under the directive of his Imperial Officer. Andrew and I started blasting back while Mike snuck around to the other side to try and outflank our foes.


Thanks to our combined fire, we eventually managed to put down the Probot, leaving a lone n' scared Imperial Officer to oppose us.


We quickly dropped him like a bad habit. During this brief lull in the battle I quickly took the opportunity use two Rest actions to flip my Hero Sheet back to the "unwounded" side.


This also gave us a chance to sabotage the exterior Terminal. Andrew, ever the team player, decided to help himself to a med pack that he "yoinked" out of a nearby Crate. Unfortunately, just as we completed our handiwork, John brought another Probe Droid onto the battlefield!


Knowing that we were rapidly running out of time, Andrew and I urged Mike to whip open the bunker's blast door. Upon doing so, we found ourselves face-to-barrel with an E-Web Engineer. Deeper inside the bunker, another platoon of three Stormtroopers and an Officer prepared to defend themselves against this "terrorist" incursion.


Caught between a rock and a hard place, we decided to storm the bunker right away. Jyn dodged around the corner to try and start clearing out the control room. Ignoring the Probe Droid breathing down our necks and the E-Web about to paste us, both Fenn and Mak started pelting away at the Terminal in the corner of the room. 


And that's when it happened: John remotely sealed the external blast doors, trapping Mak, A.K.A. Andrew, A.K.A. one-third of our friggin' strike force A.K.A. the one person around the table who shoulda known better, outside of the friggin' bunker!  


As you might expect, things started to go downhill almost immediately. Jyn "Solo" got an unexpected amount of push-back from the Imperials she was trying to murder in the next room, I got smeared against the inside bunker door by the E-Web and Andrew deservedly ended up with a Pringles-can-sized poop chute thanks to the "Grope-Bot 3000" that he was now trapped outside with.


Even though I was "Wounded" again and Andrew had the friggin' med pack, we tried to forge on. Fenn rushed past the E-Web emplacement in the first room and joined Jyn in attacking the first Terminal. John, in perfect Empire style, struck back, forcing Mike to flip over his Hero Sheet as well. Not only were things looking dire on the Damage front, we only had a few turns left to try and pull off what amounted to a miracle.


Knowing that there wasn't enough time to blast through the bunker doors, Andrew used the med pack on himself to stave off a third Wound and then backed away from "Mr. All Arms", hoping to destroy the Probe Droid at a distance.

Meanwhile, inside the bunker's control room, things were swiftly turning into a galactic mosh pit. John brought in yet another wave of three Stormtroopers. Thanks to our communal "Heroic" Card, Mike leveraged his second activation to blast away at our foes as well as the third Terminal. Unfortunately, the durability of the damned thing had been improved considerably thanks to the horde
of Imperials guarding it.

After a few pot-shots, I took a Rest actions to recover my Strain hoping to exploit my Havoc Shot during the final turn.


True to my word, I used the double activation to start firing at will, causing widespread damage to both the closest terminal as well as the Imperial troops. Unfortunately it wasn't quite enough to destroy any of them. Mike cracked open a nearby storage Crate, hoping to find a concussion grenade but coming away with some sort of crappy com-link instead. 

Meanwhile, John performed an authoritative curb-stomp, moving a Stormtrooper onto the only undamaged Terminal in an effort to cock-block us.


In the final round, Andrew finally broke up with Fifty Shades of (Metal) Grey outside. Unfortunately his ex was immediately replaced by an equally-randy twin just moments later. *yay* 

Mike and I destroyed a third control Terminal at the end of Round Six but we still had one remaining.

But with that we were officially out of time and the evil Galactic Empire was victorious!


JOHN  WINS!

***

END GAME ANALYSIS & STRATEGY

Y'know, I still have no friggin' clue what happened here. Andrew, I'm looking in your direction.

He ran this scenario before as the Imperials, so surely he must have known about the whole "locked bunker door" option?!? You were the only person around the table with even the slightest inkling that this could happen yet your character was the only one who locked outside? Whutupwitdat? Please tell me that you recently received an unmarked Paypal money transfer from John recently, 'cuz that's the only thing that makes sense to me.

Seriously, you gotta explain this one. Until you do, you are, for all intents and purposes, completely dead to me.

Oh, and here's another question: why is it that your brain turns into a super-computer whenever you're playing a highly-competitive game where it's every last man, woman and child for themselves yet when faced with the daunting prospects of playing co-cooperatively you immediately get chump-blocked out of contention?

Oh, strategy tips? You want a strategy tip: DON'T PLAY THIS GAME WITH ANDREW!!!

***

REVIEW

PROS
  • The game's productions values are the best I've seen yet from Fantasy Flight. The Threat / Round Dial, Map Tiles, Doors, Hero Sheets, Cards and Tokens are all top-notch. The sculpts for the miniatures are so detailed that they practically beg to be painted. And I haven't even pawed all over the the AT-ST yet!
  • The designers do a pretty good job taking Descent mechanics and marrying them with the Star Wars Universe. The Stormtroopers, Imperial Officers, E-Web Cannons and the Probe Droids feel thematically appropriate. And between the standard issue Infantry Rifle, the "Havoc Shot" special ability and the "Lone Wolf" trait, Fenn Signis felt distinct enough to stand out from his peers. I think it would be an absolute blast to guide a single character through an entire campaign and watch them improve with better gear and more skills. 
  • Set up time was deceptively quick and we got into the action right away. Basically, if you've played Descent then you're pretty much ready to go.
  • To paraphrase George Lucas before he lost his marbles, "a battle without an objective is a pretty boring thing". Yes, you can play just a skirmish but campaign mode is infinitely more interesting to me.
  • Branching choices within the same scenario! I love how John was given a choice between two different options which completely changed the game conditions. I'm left wondering if the Rebels will also get a chance to do these things and whether or not the decisions effect the overall campaign. Clever options like this make me feel like I'm playing a simplified version of the old Star Wars Role Playing Game!
  • The custom combat dice make range and damage determination a breeze. 
  • Not only does each scenario feel like a set piece from a Star Wars movie, you can play at least some of them out in less time than it takes to watch a Star Wars movie!  
CONS
  • The ability to spend double movement points to elbow your way through a scrum of enemies may be forgivable in a melee-based game like Descent but it feels pretty goofy here. Yes, the firefights in the Star Wars franchise weren't very realistic but they had a certain internal logic and still felt perilous. Whenever our heroes encountered hostiles in the movies, they'd quickly jump into cover and then start blasting away from across the battlefield. Not once did I ever see Luke, Leia, Han or Lando make a suicidal bee-line charge into a pack of Stormtroopers, stand right up next to them and then try to cap each one in the helmet gangsta-style at point blank range. It's times like this when I thank Monte Cook and company for the simple, elegant "attack of opportunity" rule in the third edition of D&D. 
  • From the time a scenario starts to the time it ends you'll find yourself locked in incessant combat. This slog through endless waves of enemies can sometimes get a bit tiring. Wouldn't it be great if the Imperial player could spend Threat to hard-lock a bunker door like they did in Return of the Jedi? This would put combat on hold for a moment as the heroes tried to hot-wire it back open via some sort of puzzle-like mini game. Varied tests like this would give players a brief respite from the endless spigot of battle and challenge them in creative ways. I'm hoping that the more involved scenarios that come later do something like this. 
***

Like I said in the preamble, when I first heard about a Star Wars / Descent hybrid I thought it sounded ridiculous. Perhaps it's because the first edition of Descent, with its plodding, repetitive, ceaselessly-violent Gauntlet-meets-Doom style game-play, was still stuck in my head. I'd forgotten that the newer iteration of Descent made tremendous strides to feel like an adventure, like a mission to be completed.

So here I am now, eating crow. I officially stand corrected. Imperial Assault is some kind of wonderful, a bonafide space miracle. I look forward to playing through an entire campaign and growing l'il Fenn Signis from raw recruit to Rebel hero.

As such, Star Wars: Imperial Assault scores five pips outta six with a strong tilt up towards that orbiting, half-completed Death Star.  


***

Wanna Probe (Droid) your opponent's Thermal Exhaust Port? Then click on the following link to learn more about Star Wars: Imperial Assault and keep this blog strong in the Force!  

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Pulp Diction - "Paperback"

Our game of Small World flew by so quickly that Mike had a chance to bust out his copy of Paperback.


So, what exactly is Paperback? Well, in a nutshell, it's Dominion meets Scrabble.

Desirous of a less abstruse rubric? Then unerringly peruse the subsequent delineation via the endeavor's conclusive thermionic infobahn:

"Paperback is a word game where players create words. It's 2-5 players and takes about 45 minutes. You score words in order to buy better letters with cool abilities. But scoring won’t win the game – you must finish novels to make it as a paperback writer. All Kickstarter extras included - even a cooperative mode! Sturdy Two-piece box, 200+ grey-core linen-finish cards, full color instructions, wooden counters, dividers for organizing."

Wanna read the full rules dictionary? Then click on the following link to plow your way on through from Chimpan-"A" to Chimpan-"Z".

For the sake of full disclosure we used the following Optional Rules:

"Bounty" If you get stuck forming a word, your opponents can provide assistance. If you accept someone's help, they're given a wooden cube token which can be turned in later for a 1¢ bonus.

"Discount" When a card is purchased off the top of an offer pile, the corresponding alternate card gets a wooden cube token. Each token on a card reduces its cost by 1¢.

We also used the following Common Cards:

"Spacebar" Create two words with the cards in your current hand to score a bonus 1¢. If you end up taking the card into your deck, you can use it to create two words whenever it comes up.

"Dyslexic" Play it to reverse the order of any two-letter card. If you end up collecting the card, you can use it to reverse a two-letter card whenever it's played.


Like most deck-builders, everyone starts with the same load-out of cards. In the case of Paperback all players get a set of 1¢ letters  ("T", "R", "S", "L" and "N") plus five 2¢ Wild Cards. After this deck is shuffled thoroughly you draw five cards offa the top to begin the game.

I tried to supplement my initial card assortment with a slew of new ones, including a few 2¢ expendable vowels, a 4¢ "S" and two 5¢ acquisitions: a "D" and a "Y". Since there are a lot more options to choose from than say, a basic game of Dominion, the memory component inherent to all deck-building games becomes even more important. For example, I somehow ended up with two 5¢ "Y"'s even though I certainly didn't want them both.

Showcasing the importance of the two-letter cards, Andrew started building more and more complicated words. I tried to compensate for my initial oversight by snatching up a 4¢ "A"+"R" as well as a 3¢ "E"&"S". With these resources now available to me I began to construct more and more valuable words. Eventually I parleyed these into a decent little pile of Fame Cards.


Having played the game before, Andrew seemed to have his strategy locked down cold from the get-go. He quickly invested in a lot of two-letter cards which gave him a quick jump on building some pretty advanced words. As a result, he quickly out-paced the rest of us in money which allowed him to snap up all of the Common Cards. Like, literally, all of the Common Cards. During this time he leaned heavily on the "Spacebar" card, giving him a 1¢ bonus whenever he came up with such erudite word combinations as "PENIS LOVER". Ah, Andrew...always keepin' it classy.


In stark contrast, Matt kept things well above-board, coming up with some pretty impressive words along the way. He did quite well for himself under the "Bounty" rule, offering sage advice to both Mike and Andrew at times. He also snagged a respectable amount of Fame Cards but Andrew always seemed a step ahead of us in snapping up the Commons.


And then there was poor Mike, bless 'em. If I'd didn't know any better I'd say that he was picking letters completely at random. Occasionally he got a bit stuck and had to dole out a few "Bounties", but I also seem to recall him helping out Andrew at least once. In the end, he just seemed content to replicate Kevin Smith's career and spell "FART" over and over. Sure it was amusing, but it didn't earn him a lot of Fame Cards.


FINAL SCORES

Mike...24
Matt...33
Me...37
Andrew...77 (!!!)

***

PROS
  • The game is super-easy to learn n' play: you just draw five cards, play 'em, make a word and then buy something new. We all jumped into it right away and never looked back. The only thing that gave us brief pause was determining whether or not a certain word was legal. Just keep a Scrabble dictionary or a Google machine close by and you'll be fine. 
  • The theme is engaging and interesting. Between this and Star Realms, Dominion is deader to me than disco. 
  • I love the graphic design, which includes a cool-looking box, a charming mascot named "Paige Turner" (natch!) and some delightfully-trashy-looking Fame Cards. Nice!
  • Even though it helps to have a voluminous vocabulary, players familiar with the game's scoring will still have an edge. Just look at how Andrew destroyed the rest of us by maximizing compound letter cards, snagging Commons and then using longer words to score big payouts to buy those heavy-duty Fame Cards.
  • Even within the parameters of the basic game there are still plenty of interesting choices to make every turn. Do I snap up a bunch of practical but one-shot vowels? Should I pick up more exotic letters like "Q" and "V" just for their raw monetary value? Or do I recruit certain letters purely for their special abilities? When it comes to the end game, should I the trust the "Wild" capabilities of the Fame Cards or snag those Expansion Commons to improve my earning potential? Like I said, there's a lot going on in this deceptively small-looking box.
  • The play options here are positively prolific. Even though we used the "Bounty" and "Discount" optional rules as well as the "Spacebar" and "Dyslexic" Common Cards, there are also "Attacks", "Player Powers", "Awards" and "Themes". Hell, there's even a "Co-op Mode", fer Crichton's sake! 
CONS
  • For the first few turns I kept mixing up the cost of a new card, shown in the lower left hand corner, and the money you make from a word, which is shown in the upper left hand corner and referred to in the rules as the letter's "Score". I'd clarify things. I'd like to see "Money Earned: ___¢" clearly indicated on each card. Trust me, I teach games to people all of the time and the more visual assistance and reminders you have working in your favor the better. 
  • Yes, the game is positively chock-a-block with options and replay value but that north-of-$40 price point is a deal-breaker for me. Right now the only feasible way to get a copy at a decent price is directly through the designer so, needless to say, that's really driving up the cost quite a bit for us Canuckleheads here in Canada. I'm confident that Paperback'll get a wide distribution sooner rather then later which should lower its production costs and, ultimately, it's retail price.
***

Paperback is a ton of fun. Yes, the deck-building mechanic isn't a new innovation, but it's still super-exciting whenever theme and mechanics are so perfectly married together. This thing is compulsively playable, easily teachable and a definite must-buy for me as soon as the price dips into the realm of sanity.  

As such, the game earns five pips outta six with a huge tilt up towards that triple-word score!



***

Looking to score mondo cash with such poetic phrases as "ASS_GOBLIN" and "TURD_BURGLAR"? Then click on the image below to learn more about Paperback and help this blog spell "SUCCESS"!

Friday, February 6, 2015

"Small World", Big Fun

Lately I've been making a concerted effort to try and keep my place reasonably clean. Now that poor, hideously-overworked Dean can't host game night for the foreseeable future, I either have to schlep out to Lower Sackville to Andrew's place or over to Mike's house in, like, Sheet Harbour or wherever the hell he lives now. 

The old adage of "If You Keep It Tidy, Gamers Will Come" is certainly true. Actually it's more like "If You Invite Gamers To A Place With Indoor Plumbing They Will Come". If there's a decent-sized gaming table, enough seats to accommodate a few sedentary asses and coupla "Mountain Dew's" on da chill, your true friends won't give a rat's ass what shape your place is in. But, hey, I care and that's the number one reason why I don't host game night as often as I want to.

But two Wednesdays ago I made a special point to get my digs in order. It was Matt's pick and he went with Small World, primarily to test drive all of the expansion Races that he'd been feverishly collecting over the past few years.


I've touched briefly on Small World before (right here and here) but now it's time for a proper in-depth session report and review. So, without any further ado, here's Days of Wonder's version of "Once Upon A Time...":

"Designed by Philippe Keyaerts as a fantasy follow-up to his award-winning Vinci™, Small World is inhabited by a zany cast of characters such as dwarves, wizards, amazons, giants, orcs and even humans; who use their troops to occupy territory and conquer adjacent lands in order to push the other races off the face of the earth."

Looking for the full tale of this epic saga? Then click on the following link to read the full rules.

***

INITIAL RACES AND TURN ORDER

MIKE: BEHEMOTH SCAGS

Racial Trait: Randomly select and place one Loot marker face down in each Region you conquer. You may look at it only only after you have selected it and placed it on the board. When an opponent conquers one of your regions, reveal the Loot marker. If the Loot marker is a Skag Attack marker, the conquest is cancelled and the opponent loses one token (he cannot re-try any attack against this region during this turn). Otherwise, the opponent collects the Loot token. If you abandon a Region, leave the Loot token behind. When you go in Decline, or at the end of your last turn if you didn't go in Decline, reveal all Loot tokens in your regions and collect them.

Special Power: Your two Behemoths are each represented by a stack of tokens that matches the number of Swamp regions you currently occupy. These two stacks can never be split or mixed. Each Behemoths’ stack counts as an equivalent number of Race tokens for attack AND defense. The number of tokens in each stack is adjusted each time you capture or lose a Swamp region. A Behemoth must always be accompanied by at least one Race token. If the region it occupies is conquered, only the accompanying Race token is lost; redeploy your Behemoth (keep it as a single stack) at the end of your attacker's turn, as normal.

MATT: HILL PYGMIES

Racial Trait: Each time you lose a Pygmy token, roll a reinforcement die and receive as many new Pygmies from the storage tray as you rolled pips on the die (up to the number of Pygmies left). Deploy them on the board at the end of the current player's turn.

Special Power: Collect one bonus Victory coin for each Hill Region you occupy at turn's end.

ME: HISTORIAN ICE WITCHES (WTF???)

Racial Trait: Ice Witches collect one Winter marker for each Magic Source they control at the end of their Redeployment phase. At the end of their Redeployment phase, Ice Witches may place their Winter markers in their own Regions or any adjacent Region (there cannot be more than one Winter marker per Region though). A Winter marker permanently augments the Region's defense by one. It remains on the board as long as the Ice Witches are active. Regions with a Winter marker that are not controlled by an Ice Witch earn 1 less Victory coin than usual.

Special Power: Collect one bonus Victory coin for each Race In Decline at the time you select the Historians. While you're active, collect one bonus Victory coin each time another Race goes In Decline, and one final bonus coin when your own Historians go In Decline!

ANDREW: RANSACKING FAUNS

Racial Trait: During Troop Redeployment, collect one new Race token for each active region you conquered this turn. Your victims also receive one new Race token for each of their regions you conquered.

Special Power: Each time you successfully conquer a Region containing an opponent's active Race token, he must immediately pay you one Victory coin from his own personal stash (unless he has no coins left).


TURN ONE

Mike's Scags made short work of the southwestern quadrant of the board. By the time the dust settled, four enigmatic-looking Loot Markers were left scattered all across the realm, virtually goading the rest of us into attacking him just to see what they were. Before passing his turn, Mike stationed his two Behemoth bodyguards in the southern and eastern hinterlands of his domain.

Lured by the heavy concentration of Hills in the northwestern section of the board, Matt's Pygmies made significant in-roads there.

I made a point of staying well-clear of the brewing fracas, opting instead to enter the board from the northeast. Pretty soon my horde of Madonna-bra'd frozen tartlets had redecorated a Swamp, two Forests and some lakeside property with a sparkling sheet of wall-to-wall hard-ice flooring. As a final exclamation point, I used the two Magic Sources I'd captured to drop a pair of snow-globe Winter Markers on the board to bolster up my defense.

Well in-step with his aggro style of play, Andrew's Ransacking Fauns made their debut. His marauders entered the board from the northern Forests and then streamed down through two Farmland Regions, isolating one of Matt's armies in the process. At the end of this rampage he collected several bonus Race Tokens for conquering active Regions and stole a couple Victory Coins from Matt to boot!


TURN TWO

Mike continued his inexorable drive north, annihilating a Lost Tribe Token in the process. In a classic pincer maneuver, the Scags made an amphibious landing on the northwest peninsula, swarming the Farmland and then steam-rolling over yet another Lost Tribe living in the Swamp next to Matt's borders. This resulted in three more uber-tempting Loot Markers getting plopped on the board. Anticipating an attack to the north, he moved Mr. and Mrs. Behemoth to the vanguard in an effort to dissuade any potential aggressors.

Kicked around in the previous turn, all Matt could do is re-capture the northern Forest that Andrew had used for his entry point. At least the two Hill Regions he retained provided some measure of reparations.

Like Elsa from Frozen on a baths salts bender, I continued to capture and deep-freeze every single eastern Magic Source, snatching up a Swamp and two Hills in one fell swoop. This gave me dominance over no less then three mystical sites and when I blanketed my entire empire with Winter Markers I couldn't help but wince. I'd expanded very far, very fast and I knew that my rivals were thinking about sending some flamethrower-armed Welcome Wagon volunteers my way.

Meanwhile, Andrew continued to kick the crap out of Matt, driving his forces out of a Hilly region out west, collecting more bonus Race Tokens and ill-begotten booty in the process. This put him on a collision course with Mike, foreshadowing an epic conflict in the next Turn.

  
TURN THREE

Since Mike's Behemoths got a major perk from Swamps, he smashed his way through a Farmland-dwelling Lost Tribe and then conquered my marshy lakeside holdings. This also prompted the introduction of yet another Loot Marker to the board. He then diverted his two 'roided-up Behemoths to stand guard over these new acquisitions.

Still slavishly devoted to collecting his preferred terrain, Matt annexed the Mountainous region to the south and then made Mike run from the Hills to the West, scoring an unremarkable Loot Marker in the process. During this time, the Reinforcement Die was pretty cruel to Matt and he failed to score any bonus Race Tokens from the Pygmy's Special Power over the course of three separate turns.

Thinking that my Ice Witches had run their course, I decided to be the first player to put a Race into Decline. Not only would this give me the pick of the litter for next round I also scored a bonus Victory Coin thanks to my Historian Special Power.

Andrew's Fauns took back the Forest region to the north and also wrestled a Swamp away from Mike. He then expanded into the Mountains along the north bank of the central lake. Between his ability to snag free Race Tokens with every successful battle and rob Coins from his victims, this Era continued to be quite lucrative for him. This, of course, begged the question: would the Fauns ever go into Decline?


TURN FOUR

Mike's Scags went into Decline, and not a moment too soon! By the time the Turn was over, everyone else around the table did their best to make this Race of no-necked, meat-headed goons as extinct as brontosaurus shit. Mike still made out okay since he got to keep all of those stupid Loot Tokens that he'd been hoarding, many of which paid off with free Coins! 

When the Scags faltered, Matt was quick to step into the vacuum, helping himself to a Swamp and a Forest Region. The luck with his special Racial Trait seemed to improve slightly and he finally scored a few free re-enforcements but it was definitely a case of too little, too late.

Meanwhile, I came roaring back onto the board with these guys:

ALCHEMIST HOMUNCULI

Racial Trait: Each time a Homunculi Race combo is bypassed, in addition to a Victory coin, you must also add a Homunculus token taken from the storage tray (if any left) to the combo. These tokens are added to those normally received when the Homunculi combo is finally picked, along with any Victory coins.

Special Power: Collect two bonus Victory coins at the end of each turn your race hasn't yet gone into Decline.

Even though these guys hadn't racked up a lot of bonus Victory Coins, they still had a decent number of starting Race Counters and their Special Power was clear and concise. I entered the board from the unoccupied Farmland to the east, taking care not to do any damage to my now-retired Ice Witches. Next up I booted Mike's Declined Scags outta the Swamp on the east bank of the lake, smashed into his Farmland to the southwest and then rooted him out of the Swamp further west. Contrary to these triumphs, every single time I tried to capture a Region without the requisite number of Race Tokens, the Re-enforcement Die would boot me right in the crotch. 

To no-one's surprise, Andrew kept the still-flourishing Fauns a-rollin'. He foisted Mike's flagging Scags out of the Swamp to the northwest and then bounced poor Matt out of his precious Hills along the west bank of the lake. Even though he was still scoring free Race Tokens and thieving Coins left, right and center, Andrew knew that this pace just wasn't sustainable.


TURN FIVE

Mike's new Race hit the board this Turn.

CATAPULT DWARVES

Racial Trait: Each Mine Region your Dwarves occupy is worth one bonus Victory coin, at the end of your turn. This power is kept even when the Dwarves are In Decline.

Special Power: Once per turn, you may place the Catapult in a region you occupy to conquer any region that is one region away (but not adjacent) at one less token than usual. The Catapult may be used to attack a region beyond the Lake, but not over Seas. The region with the Catapult is immune to enemy conquests as well as their racial and special powers. The Catapult disappears when you go into Decline.

Mike began this new incursion at the southern edge of the map, in a Hilly Region with a Mine. He then wasted no time launching his Dwarves into a Mountain area two spaces away which also contained a Mine symbol. He then back-filled the Farmland space in-between with a single Race Token and finished things off by branching out into the Forest region towards the east.

Deciding not to overstay their welcome any longer, Matt's Hill Pygmies finally went into Decline. In retrospect, he probably should have put these guys out to pasture a lot earlier since the tiny handful of Coins he scored during his first four turns virtually crippled his final score.

Unburdened by any terrain-specific agenda, my Alchemist Homunculi continued to cut a swath across the hemisphere of the board. First up they conquered a Mountain, then snatched up some Farmland and finally they destroyed one of the last Pygmy holdouts in a Swamp on the western edge of the board. 

Even though he was still in control of no less then nine different territories, Andrew knew that his Fauns had reached the apex of their civilization. Anxious to occupy another large swath of the board with a new, vibrant Race, he put the Fauns into Decline, forfeiting his turn in the process.


TURN FIVE

Mike continued his Catapult-based Region-hopping campaign by parachuting into my southwestern Farmland. Unfortunately he ran afoul of Andrew not long after who came galloping through with his new crew. At least Mike managed to score a few bonus Coins just for holding onto two Mine-related Regions.

Matt then introduced us to his new Race:

PEACE-LOVING SHRUBMEN

Racial Trait: All Forest regions occupied by Shrubmen become immune to opponent's conquests, racial and special powers, even when In Decline.

Speacial Power: Collect three bonus Victory coins at the end of each turn during which you have attacked no active Race. You have no love for In Decline Ghouls though, and may attack them without forfeiting your Peace-loving bonus.

True to this highly-thematic and imminently-logical combination, Matt entered the board from the northeast, which was like Boca Raton for my long-defunct Ice Witches. In quick succession he snapped up a Swamp and two Forests, the latter of which instantly became unassailable fortresses for the duration of the game.

Fearing that my Homunculi had no further tricks up their sleeve I decided to put them into Decline. In retrospect this decision was a tad premature since it gave Andrew an opportunity to come bombing in with his...

MOUNTED TROLLS

Racial Trait: Place a Troll's Lair in each Region your Trolls occupy. The Troll's Lair augments your region's defense by one (just as if you had an additional Troll token stationed there), and stays in the Region even after your Trolls go into Decline. Remove the Troll's Lair if you abandon the Region or when an enemy conquers it

Special Power: You may conquer any Hill or Farmland Region with one less Race token than normal. A minimum of one token is still required.

Well, as we should all know by now, the worse thing you can do is give Andrew an excuse to be even more conquer-y. Sensing that I'd become his greatest threat, his Trolls entered the board IN THE EXACT SAME FRIGGIN' PLACE THAT MY HOMUNCULI CAME ONTO THE BOARD LAST TURN.

He annihilated my active minions in the eastern Farmland, made my Ice Witches extinct by subjugating their Hilly homes, kicked another Homunculi off his Farm on the southern side of the lake, terrorized some poor frightened Lost Tribe in the woods down south and finally crushed Mike's Dwarven guards presiding over Farmlands to the south. I swear that he only stopped 'cuz he ran out of map. Even worse: he dropped a friggin' Troll Lair in every single one of these territories, making them doubly-hard to recapture. Well, fux.


TURN SIX

Still preoccupied with leap-frogging from one Mine to another, Mike doggedly kept using the Dwarves. He snatched the Swamp from my Homunculi in the south-west corner of the board and actually captured a few more Regions before experiencing some collective kick-back from the rest of us.

Matt continued to play to type, polishing off his own defunct Pygmy in the Farmland to the north and then evicting two of Andrew's old Faun Tokens in both the Forest and the Farmlands.

I started Turn Six by introducing my new Race to the world:

CORRUPT SLINGMEN

Racial Trait: Slingmen may conquer a Region that is one Region away from one they currently occupy, provided they do not control a Region adjacent to it. When a Region is conquered this way, they immediately take one Victory coin from the stash. They may conquer Regions beyond the Lake, but not over the Seas.

Special Power: Collect one bonus coin from any opponent each time they successfully conquer
one of your active regions.   

I picked these guys mainly because they'd been passed over a few times and had a small stockpile of Victory Coins on them. Plus I just assumed that Andrew was going to come after me so I wanted to give him pause for thought via the Corrupt trait. My newly-minted Slingmen then landed on the Farmland at the tip of the north-west peninsula, deposing one of Mike's last remaining Scags in the process. Next up they drove two of Andrew's endangered Fauns out of the connected Swamp and Hill Regions.

When Andrew sent his Trolls into Decline after only one turn it might have come as a surprise, if not for the fact that he'd expressed an irrational desire to play the Lava Orcs as soon as they became a viable option. Compared to my one turn with the Homunculi, it wasn't as crazy as it sounded since those damned Troll Lairs made Andrew's territories a helluva lot harder to conquer.


TURN SEVEN

Mike flung yet another one of his Dwarves onto the centrally-located Mountains. I think holding on to the Dwarves this long was a major oversight on his part. Yes, he now controlled four Mines for four bonus Coins, but at the end of the Turn he only occupied four Regions in toto. Bottom line: if you're not earning at least double digits per turn in Small World then you need to realize that someone else around the table probably is.

On the other hand, Matt had learned his lesson from his overdue Pygmy declination (?) and turned his Shrubmen to the monochromatic side.

I stayed the course, swallowing up a Farm, a Swamp and a Forest in the north-west corner of the board with minimal effort. I was trying to be as brazen as possible, daring Andrew to come at me, bro-style.

And eventually he did, with these clowns:

LAVA ORCS

Racial Trait: Each not empty Region your Orcs conquered this turn is worth one bonus Victory Coin, at the end of your turn.

Special Power: At the end of your turn, for each Mountain Region you occupy, you may place one Lava Token in any Region adjacent to that Mountain Region (excluding Regions protected by Special and Racial Powers). All tokens in this Region are taken in hand by the defeated player and treated as if the Region were conquered (except there is no loss of tokens). The Region may not be entered by any other player until after the beginning of your next turn. At the beginning of your next turn, remove all Lava Tokens from the board and proceed as usual.

Andrew is nothing if not consistent. One again he'd selected a race that dove-tailed perfectly with his style of play. Funneled between Matt's verboten Forests, Andrew surged across the northern reaches, trampling Shrubmen into the bog, then uprooting more Shrubmen in the Hills and the pasting even more Shrubmen in the Farmlands. Unfortunately he ran out of gas before he could Fed Ex some bribe money to me.


ROUND EIGHT

Seemingly oblivious to the impending conclusion of the game, Mike just kept tossin' his Dwarves (?). This time he launched one of the runty little bastards clear across the central lake in order capture yet another Mine Region from me. Again, Mike really needed a fresh start at least two turns ago. By the time Matt's new Race careened through the southwestern corner of the board, Mike's Turn Eight score was only six Coins.

Indeed, Matt really came aboard with this populous new Race:

(_______) KOBOLDS

Racial Trait: You may never occupy (nor conquer) a Region with less than two Kobold tokens. When going In Decline however, keep a single token in each Region, as normal.

Special Power: I don't have a clue. The photos don't reveal this and no-one can remember. Boo-urns.

A veritable tidal wave of these multitudinous, foul-smelling, dog-faced, mean-spirited little shrimps poured across the southern border. They quickly overwhelmed Mike's Hill Dwarf duo and then murdered two of my last Homunculi, one a tranquil Mountain-dwelling hermit and the other a poor jobber who was just tryin' to eke out a peaceful life in the Swamp. He then blitzed through some southwest Farmland and finished up by going all ISIS on Mike's Swampland Mine Dwarves. Yeeeeeeesssh!     

I expanded briefly but then ran afoul of Andrew's advance. This wasn't such a bad thing since I earned a few cheap Victory Coins by playing Quisling to a bunch of magma-fueled Orcs.

My anonymous Benedict Cumberba...er, Arnold gave Andrew the back-door key to my Farmland just northwest of the central lake. I earned even more payola when the traitor in my midst leaked some key military secrets, leading to the overwhelming defeat of two Swamp-stationed sentries. Oh, the humanity!

This pretty much ended Andrew's expanse. The vanguard of his army settled into a nice little patch of Farmland, literally surrounded by the armies of every single one of his opponents. 


FINAL SCORES

Matt...75 Victory Coins

Mike...79 Victory Coins

Me...80 Victory Coins

Andrew...85 Victory Coins

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REVIEW

PROS
  • Like every other game produced by Days of Wonder, Small World looks gorgeous. The board is practical and colorful. All of the game Tokens are high-quality and charmingly-illustrated. It's just a tremendous production all-around.
  • The game is a breeze to set up and learn. Once you've played a Turn or two, you don't have to worry about dippin' back into the rules to puzzle stuff out. You might spend a few seconds wrapping your head around some of the more esoteric expansion Races and Powers but even the more complicated ones are intuitively designed. Basically the rules serve the fun and there's plenty of fun to be had here. 
  • The sheer multitude of Race Banners and Unique Special Power Badges provide a lot of variable play options. Even Small World veterans will be be left scratching their heads when faced with such oddball pairings as Barricade Amazons, Historian Igors and Were-Halfings.
  • Even though combat is heavily abstracted, the Reinforcement Die provides a nice little dash of random luck.    
  • Since there's no running tally of Victory Points, players are kept guessing about the winner right up to the very end. 
CONS
  • Going first sucks. Like, really, really sucks. If everyone decides to lean on you in the same Turn it could prove disastrous to your final score.
  • Although the art style is a huge draw for some people, I prefer my fantasy more Warhammer and less Disney. 
  • The game's a bit too light n' fluffy for me. Given the choice I'd much rather play History of the World.  
  • Some of these expansion Races and Powers feel pretty "bottom of the barrel". Marauding Barbarians I get but Diplomat White Ladies is all kinds of yawn. What the fuck is that anyway, an army of Hillary Clintons?

***

Small World is a fast, fun, easy-to-learn-n'-play area-control game that fans of light fantasy will positively love. It's devotees would probably argue that it belongs in everyone's game library and, quite honestly, that might very well be case. It just doesn't belong in mine.

As such, Small World gets four pips out of six with a slight (and disturbing) tilt up towards the Hung Giant's crotch.  


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