Saturday, May 22, 2021

OOP # 2 - How Leading Edge's "Aliens" (1989) Proved That Licenced Games Didn't Have To Suck

After Axis & Allies turned me and my squad of High School nerds into Yahtzee armchair generals, another major cultural juggernaut soon came down the pike to stake a claim on our free time.

In 1987, we all saw the movie Aliens together at our local theater. It was the headliner in a double-bill with Near Dark, which, in retrospect, was a pretty cool tie-in since both films featured Bill "Hudson" Paxton, Lance "Bishop" Henriksen and Jenette "Vasquez" Goldstein. And while Kathryn Bigelow's southern fried vampire flick was one of the best of its genre, we all hailed Aliens as a modern-day sci-fi /horror / action masterpiece.  

One member of our group of gaming misfits, Stuart, always seemed to have the 80's equivalent of the BGG "Hotness" list on hand. In addition to Axis & Allies, he also owned two other Milton Bradley "Gamemaster" titles, namely Fortress America and Shogun (now Ikusa), as well as Supremacy and HeroQuest. Of course, this was back in the day, when only twenty notable games were released per year as opposed to per month.

So, you can well-imagine our collective excitement when Stuart invited all of us over one Friday night and we saw this sucka on the table:

I'm not sure how a wee l'il game publisher like Leading Edge managed to snag such a lucrative licence at the time, but these guys really took the ball and ran with it. And even though the matching RPG they produced was pretty unmemorable, we all had an absolute blast with the board game.  

Here's the game's blurb from the back of the boit:

And here's an old play-through of the game that I stumbled across recently:

Aliens - Reactor Room 

Turn One

There are no "Bonus Bugs” (which are added to the placement pool whenever you roll doubles) but five Aliens enter the pool, arriving at co-ordinates 1-9, 3-4, 3-5, 7–7 (which jumps on Drake!) and finally 8–8. Drake attempts to snap-fire his Machine Gun. He needs anywhere from a "0" to a "2" to hit but rolls a “4”! The Alien attacks Drake with roll of  “3”, so he’s both “Wounded” and “Grabbed.” Yikes! 

Apone moves one space and tries to knock the Alien off of Drake. He needs a "0" or a "1" to hit but rolls a “2”! He tries again and rolls another “2” - no luck!  

Vasquez performs a double aim...she needs a “7” or less to hit the lead Alien to the north, which is five columns away. She rolls a “2” which hits and kills her target! 

The currently “Grabbed” Drake can’t do anything and Frost moves up two spaces. 

Crowe takes a pot-shot with his Pistol at the Alien approaching Wierzbowski from the south. It's three spaces away, so he needs to roll a long shot "0" and the resulting “3” is a miss! He then moves up one more space.

Dietrich moves up one space and then tries to melee the Alien on Drake. She needs a “0” but rolls a “3”, a miss! 

Wierzbowski double-aims his flame unit at the Alien bounding towards him from the south. He needs a “9” or less and rolls a “0”, success! 

Hicks moves up three spaces and Hudson moves up two. 

Turn Two 

Aliens appear at 1-5 and 6-5. The Xenomorphs lurking by the stairwell and in the corner close in, while the one on Drake drags him off! 

Apone moves up one space, and then double-aims his Flame Unit at an Alien approaching from the west. He needs a “9” or less to hit and gets a “2” - that critter is TOAST! 

Vasquez double aims at the wave of Aliens approaching from the rear and fires! She needs an “8” to hit and rolls a “1” - success! 

Frost moves up two spaces, Crowe maneuvers two spaces next to Apone and both Dietrich and Wierzbowski also move up two spaces. 

Hicks moves two squares to flank Vasquez, then fires at the Alien in the stairwell. He needs to roll anywhere from a "0" to a "2" and scores a “2” which pastes his target! 

Hudson then hustles up two spaces.

Turn Three 

Again, there are no “Bonus Bugs”, but the lone Alien approaching from the north moves up and new Xeno’s appear at co-ordinates 7-2, 9-8 and 3-2. 

Apone blazes ahead three spaces. 

Vasquez takes a single aim action at the northern Alien, which is only two spaces away. She needs a “6” or less and rolls or “2”, which is a hit! She then moves up a single space. 

Frost moves two spaces and flanks Apone, while Crowe moves up two spaces to trail the Sergeant. Dietrich moves two spaces, just behind Crowe. Wierzbowski also moves two spaces, squeezing in between Dietrich and Vazquez. 

Hicks moves two spaces and shoots at a nearly-concealed Alien, requiring a die roll range from "0" to "2" to hit. He throws a “0”...success! 

Hudson maintains formation, moving up two spaces.

Turn Four 

Two Aliens in the western part of the room move four spaces towards the Marines. Mercifully, no “Bonus Bugs” appear, but new Xenomorphs pop up at 3-5, 5-2 and 8-5. 

Apone double-aims his flame unit at an Alien that’s three spaces away. He needs “9” or less to hit and scores a “0”...resulting in a BBQ'ed Xeno! 

Vazquez double aims at the stairwell Alien, which is four spaces away. She needs an “8” and scores a “5”, which mulches her target! 

Frost double-aims his Pistol at an Alien two spaces away to the south. He needs to roll anywhere between a “0” and “6” but he misses with a “7”! 

Crowe, Dietrich and Wierzbowski all keep pace, moving two spaces. 

Hicks also moves up two and single-aims at the Alien menacing Frost. His target is three spaces away, so he needs a "2" or less...and gets a “2”,  scoring a hit! Unfortunately, there’s a chance that Frost or Crowe might get caught in the resulting Acid Splash! They roll a “2” and an “8” respectively, which means Frost is Wounded! 

Hudson move two spaces and then Hudson catches up to the pack by moving two spaces. 

Turn Five 

The Aliens rush the Marines! One bug, lurking behind the pillar, is exactly three spaces away from both Apone and Crowe, so a random roll sends it charging at Crowe. The Private tries to perform a double-aim snap fire at his assailant. He needs “6” or less and rolls “4”...a hit! The resulting Acid Spray rolls are: “6” for Apone, “8” for Crowe, “4” for Dietrich and “7” for Frost, so, by some miracle, no one is affected. 

The one Alien in the west side of the room charges towards Apone and Crowe, while new bugs appear at coordinates 3-9 and 3-8. 

The Sergeant fires a flame burst at this encroaching western threat and then moves two spaces. He takes a single aim action, which means he needs to roll anywhere between a "0" and an "8." He rolls a “0” which is a hit! 

Vasquez and Frost both move two spaces and Crowe nestles in between Apone and Frost. Dietrich then shifts up two spaces, clustering in with the rest, along with Wierzbowski. Hicks moves up three spaces and Hudson closes up ranks, trailing two spaces behind Vazquez.

Turn Six 

The Aliens nipping at the Marine’s heels move up, leaving one standing right next to Vazquez. New bugs then appear at 6-1 and 1-4. 

Apone charges ahead two spaces. 

Vasquez fires point-blank at the Alien about to pounce on her. She needs an “8” or less to hit...and an “8” is exactly what she rolls! Her Acid Spray roll is “6”, so she’s fine. She then pivots to fire at an Alien that’s three spaces away. She needs a range of  "0" to "3" to hit and scores a “2”...success! 

This gives Frost, Crowe, Dietrich, Wierzbowski and Hudson the freedom to move two spaces towards their exit point. 

In a characteristically-heroic move, Hicks holds back to help Vasquez cover the rear.

Sharp eyed readers will notice that a certain member of the cast was pretty protective over their likeness rights at the time!  

Turn Seven

The Aliens in the north and the west section of the room all converge on our heroes. Although no bonus bugs appear, new Xeno’s pop up at 6-1, 4-0 and 4-0. 

Apone fires his flame thrower at the Alien reaching out to grab him! He needs an “8” or less and scores a “6” - a hit! He then moves up one space and fires a burst at a target four spaces away. He needs anywhere from a “0” to a “4” and rolls a “2” for another hit! He's literally a house on fire! 

Both Vazquez and Frost hustle up two spaces. Crowe also moves up two, now leading Apone and Frost. 

Dietrich double-aims at an Alien that’s three spaces away. She needs to roll anywhere between a "0" and an "8" to hit, throws a “2” and fries her target. 

Wierzbowski leap-frogs past her. Hudson moves up two behind Dietrich while Hicks moves up three spaces.

Turn Eight

Two Aliens loitering by the exit move up, leaving one close enough to give Crowe a not-so-friendly hug! New bugs appear at 3-9 and 1-9...both charging in from the rear. 

Apone shifts up one space and flames the closest Alien. He needs an “8” or less and rolls “0” which is a hit! He then targets an Alien that’s two spaces away. He needs a “6” or less for this shot and scores a “1” for another kill! #MVP

Lagging behind, Vazquez moves up two spaces and so does Frost. Ditto for Crowe, who now leads the pack. Dietrich pulls in behind Apone while Wierzbowski closes up ranks with Frost, Apone and Dietrich. Hicks then scrambles three spaces and Hudson moves up 2. 

Turn Nine

The Aliens congregating in the east corner of the room move up. The closest is seven spaces away from Vasquez, so the Marines have a temporary reprieve, but new Xenomorphs also appear at locations 9-6 and 9-8. 

Apone surges ahead three spaces and Vasquez moves up two. Frost pulls up next to Apone while Crowe jumps ahead of the pack. Still playing catch up, Dietrich moves into the middle of the group. Wierzbowski jumps in between Frost and Dietrich, while Hudson moves up to trail the medic. 

Knowing that Vasquez is in danger of being overrun from the rear, Hicks comes to a screeching halt to guard her.

Turn Ten

Four Aliens move, the closet now just three spaces away from Vasquez. New bugs appear at 2-3, 2-1 and 4-6 but at least there are no "Bonus Bugs"! 

Apone shifts one space, close to the 2-3 Alien and takes a double aim action. He needs a "9" or less to hit and roll a “6” - smoked ‘em! 

Vasquez backs two spaces away from the slavering horde. After moving, Frost is two spaces away from the exit, Crowe one, Dietrich four, Wierzbowski three and Hudson is just behind Dietrich. 

Exhibiting nerves of steel, Hicks holds the line to guard his escaping comrades. 

Turn Eleven

The Alien wave rushes towards the back ranks! New Xenomorphs appear at 5-4, right in front of Vazquez, and 7-9, waaaay behind the pack. 

Apone also holds up, intending to cover his platoon’s escape. 

Vazquez then uses her Machine Gun’s special ability to target two Aliens adjacent to one another. This is hella-risky because they’re both standing right next to her! She needs an “8” or lower to hit and she throws an “8”...success! Her first acid splash roll is “7”, which is a miss, but her second is “0”...which means that she’s killed outright! Yikes! Even worse: the adjacent Hicks also rolls a “0” and he's also killed! Double-yikes! 

Frost and Crowe both escape the board, but Dietrich is still two spaces away from the exit. Wierzbowski is one space away from deliverance and Hudson is three away.

Turn Twelve 

The Alien pack is now nipping at Hudson’s heels! New bugs also appear at 4-5 and 2-0. 

Apone needs anywhere from a “0” to a “4” to flame the new arrival dropping into 2-0. He rolls a “1”, turns his foe into a briquette and then moves two spaces towards the exit. Both Dietrich and Wierzbowski leave the map, while Hudson retreats two spaces.

Turn Thirteen

The Alien swarm bounds forward and one tries to hop on top of Hudson! He snap-fires with his Pistol,  needing a “6” or lower and rolls a “0”, which is a hit! His Acid Splash roll is “7”, so he’s safe! A new bug then appears at 2-1. 

Apone quickly scrambles off the board and Hudson is right behind him, which ends the scenario!

"Secure that 'Game over' crap, Hudson! Wait...whut?"

Here's my Board Game Geek-list observations about this one from waaaay back in 2007:

"My love affair with licenced games continued when a buddy of mine introduced our gaming circle to this beauty. I can't think of too many games that do such a fantastic job replicating the action of the movie it’s based on. This game also taught me that board games can devalue due to poor quality components or appreciate because they've suddenly gone out of print. As soon as I heard about E-Bay years later, this baby had to be mine!" 

And here's the breakdown:

PROS

  • The action point system makes everything super simple, allowing you to move, fire and aim with ease! Whereas Another Glorious Day in the Corps uses a complicated deck depletion system (oddly reminiscent of another defunct game, Decipher's clunky Star Wars Customizible Card Game), Aliens just uses those lovely, elegant little action points. 
  • The unique combat charts (flipped to a reduced side for Wounded characters) nicely distinguished the top-billed characters from the grunts. 
  • The A.I. used to run the Aliens is foolproof. Their movement is fixed, their attacks are resolved with one die throw and you have a round to knock them off your squad-mates before they get abducted.
  • Acid spray!  It's baffling to me that such an important combat risk in the movie is virtually non-existent in Another Glorious Day in the Corps. Here it's simulated elegantly and simply here.
  • Co-operation is key. Not unlike Space Hulk, the odds are really against the Marines. If they don't co-operate or foolishly fritter their actions away, they're going to get decimated.  
  • Just enough crazy random stuff happens to simulate the chaos of the film. I mean, look at this play-through for example! With Drake, Hicks and Vasquez all eliminated, it makes me wonder how the rest of the scenarios would play out with minor characters thrust into the forefront! P.S. my money's on Apone!  
  • To that last point, the Expansion lets you play out an alternate history of the entire film, from the attack on Ferro and Spunkmeyer on the dropship right up to Ripley's Power Loader battle with the Alien Queen. Bonus: just like every set piece of the film, each scenario feels distinctively different.

CONS

  • The rules aren't perfect, which led to some great, fan-designed articles in Avalon Hill's sadly now defunct General magazine and various online resources. Various fixes include imposing aim penalties on characters carrying Incapacitated Marines, introducing the ability to snap-fire at Aliens when they're about to pounce on characters, improving the practicality of Pistols, scaling down the insanely-lethal blast radius of Grenades and giving Ripley the opportunity to come to the rescue in the Reactor Room Scenario.    
Although I loved The General magazine, it was clearly a "house organ." I can forgive the begrudging praise for Aliens and the snotty "we-would-have-done-better" attitude here, but comparing Aliens to their hot garbage Starship Troopers game is unforgivable.    
  • At a single glance, you can tell that the game was produced in an era waaaay before companies like Gale Force Nine, Fantasy Flight and Days of Wonder turned the hobby into a visual delight for the eyes. The production quality here is rock bottom, with bland, monochromatic rule books, easily-worn paper maps and crappy punch out character cards and stand ups! Sadly this sucka is not built to last!

All told, this game is one of my all-time favorite out-of-print games. No disrespect to what Gale Force Nine tried to do with the licence recently, but I kinda wanna upscale the maps in this original game so I can just use the miniatures from Another Glorious Day in the Corps. Or, maybe I'll just use all of the components from the newer version and use the rules from the Leading Edge game.

So, in closing, I'll just leave you now with my Board Game Geek "capsule review" of Aliens

"Awesome movie tie-in nicely replicates the frantic action of the film. Easy to play, with just enough chrome and the expansion allows you to recreate the entire story.  The co-operative gameplay is well-realized.  One of my all-time faves!"  

Aliens scores five pips out of six with a massive tilt up towards the orbiting USS Sulaco!  



Thursday, May 13, 2021

OOP # 1 - "Axis & Allies: Europe" (First Edition) and the Demise of Avalon Hill

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the titles that revolutionized my view of boardgames and transformed me into a life-long wargamer was Milton Bradley's "Gamemaster Edition" of Axis & Allies, released back in 1984. 

So what inspired that fourteen-year-old kid to buy this thing in the first place? Well, given my budding interest in both chess and World War II, a compelling case could be made that it was already well within my wheelhouse. But these vague predilections soon blossomed into full-fledged mania after I encountered the following book at the local library:

The Complete Book of Wargames chronicled the history and biggest titles of the war-gaming fad, which hit the apex of its popularity back in the 60's and 70's. Even though the book was a tad late to the party when it was published in 1980, it was still a bonafide revelation to me and the hobby was far from dead. After discovering that there were games out there which simulated famous historical battles, well, that just blew my fragile eggshell mind!

But my immediate obsession quickly turned to crashing disappointment. Sure, it was great to read about all of these cool games, but, as a kid growing up in small town in Newfoundland in the 80's, I no place to buy them! We were decades away from online shopping and even researching possible mail order options was a non-starter! So, unless the Sears catalog started carrying Panzer Leader, I was shit outta luck! 

I sought out Risk as a consolation prize but, even as a kid, that venerable "classic" really failed to impress me. It was unrealistic, abstract and players could turtle down in Australia. Where were my amphibious landing craft and columns of marauding tanks, dammit?!  

And that's when I saw an ad for this delectable snack in Dragon magazine:

Oh, Milton Bradley...why do you torture me so? These Gamemaster titles looked tailor-made for me: they were historic, deeper than Risk and had a toy factor that my prepubescent brain still found very appealing. Unfortunately, I had no way to get it into my hot l'il mitts. 

Mercifully, I soon discovered that a hobby and craft store in Corner Brook called Leisure World carried a host of cool games, including some that were actually featured in The Complete Book of Wargames! As it turned out, they also carried Axis & Allies, so, after saving up every last penny of my meager allowance, I decided to splurge on this extravagant beast.

In hindsight, taking the lid offa Axis & Allies for the first time was akin to cracking the cellophane on the "Red Box" Mentzer D&D set. It immediately set the fire the tinderbox of my imagination aflame. The unprecedented quality of the production design was all the incentive I needed to diligently digest the innovative rule-set.

Via some crusty ol' Geeklist entries from back in 2005 and 2007, here are my recollections about that first version of Axis & Allies:  

Finally I had my columns of tanks! We played the hell out of this one. Some games would get really heated. In fact, two of my oil n' water best friends often came close to blows over this one, even when they were supposed to be allies! 

Also:

Ah, the game that ruined me for all other wargames!

As a kid with a surplus of time to spend on the complete consumption of a single game, this ruled my life for a few years. At the age of 14, I thought this game had everything: distinct economies and resources for each individual nation, mind-blowing components, co-operative game play, technology development and characteristic unit combat.

Then we played it to death. In doing so, the game continued to reveal it's flaws. Where were paratroops? Artillery? Why didn't the game start in 1939? Where were the Free French and the Italians? Why were the all of the unit's combat values generic? Why did the strategies seem so scripted?

I think I've been looking for Advanced Axis & Allies ever since.

After I went to university, Axis & Allies pretty much fell off my radar. For me, the 90's were all about livin' life large...that is until Magic: The Gathering and The Settlers of Catan pulled me, Michael Corleone-style, back into my beloved hobby.

Around that same time, I became aware of the trials and tribulations of Avalon Hill, a venerable wargame publishing company that I'd learned about in The Complete Book of Wargames. CCG's and computer games were really eating into Avalon Hill's sales and, in 1998, they were bought out by Hasborg, er...Hasbro. It immediately became apparent that their new corporate overlords had zero interest in crusty, grognard-y, hex n' chit wargames...so they promptly laid off the entire development staff. Gross.

Granted, the lion's share of Avalon Hill's titles were too complex for my pea-brain, but I always had a deep respect, appreciation and genuine interest in what they did. I even bought lighter fare like Diplomacy, Blackbeard and Hitler's War at one point.  Unfortunately, as soon as Hasbro bought them out, their entire catalog went out of print. 

I can only imagine what the post-acquisition convo sounded like behind those Hasbro board room doors...

HASBRO EXEC: "Awrite, it sez here that we just bought something called 'Avalon Hill'? What the hell is that...some sorta retirement community?"

DRONE #1: "No, sir, they make wargames."

HASBRO EXEC: "What, they made Wargames? Like, the Matthew Broderick movie?"

DRONE #1: "No, sir, wargames. You, know, like...Risk and stuff..." (looks pleadingly around the room for help)

DRONE #2: (takes opportunity to pile onto vulnerable rival for promotion)  "Well, I'd say more complicated games than that, sir."

HASBRO EXEC: "Complicated?  Whaddaya mean 'complicated'? What games have they published?"

(spate of nervous chatter and uneasy shuffling in chairs) 

DRONE #3: (locates a specific piece of paper and starts reading) "Um, let's see here...we've got Advanced Squad Leader, Titan, Hannibal: Rome versus Carthage...

HASBRO EXEC:  (muttering) "Jesus Christ..."

DRONE #3: "Republic of Rome, We the People, Advanced Third Reich, 1830..."

HASBRO EXEC: "Okay, hold up, hold up, hold up...lemme just stop you right there. Why the fuck did we buy these guys?!?"

DRONE #1: (nervously) "Well, you see, sir, studies show that the library of games we recently acquired through our purchase of Parker Brothers has very limited appeal to the um...thirty to sixty-year-old demographic."

HASBRO EXEC: (massaging brow)  "Good gawd. Okay, so, forget about all of that other crap. What can we crap out under this banner to tric..er, I mean entice, these basement dwellers into opening their wallets?"

(dead silence for a beat)

DRONE #2: "Well, we also own Milton Bradley, and they've got Axis & Allies. We could do something with that!"

HASBRO EXEC: "Finally, somethin' I actually recognize! Quick, get Larry Harris on the horn! DRONE # 2, you're promoted! Now, walk along behind me for awhile..."    

Even though I was still a year shy of that key demographic back in 1999, I'm ashamed to admit that I fell for this fictional, exaggerated, cynical, and yet likely-100%-accurate business plan, hook, line and sinker. I bought the very first thing that this new, definitely-not-improved Avalon Hill cranked out with the words Axis & Allies stamped on the box: I.E. Axis & Allies Europe.

As someone who desperately wanted to have the brain power to decipher complicated grand strategic games like Rise and Fall of the Third Reich or the unnecessarily-convoluted rules of Hitler's War, Axis & Allies: Europe seemed to strike a middle ground. Not only was the focus on the European theater appealing to me, the fresh new rule-set also promised some evolutionary thought.

I came across this old play-through for A&A:E the other day. It's not very long or detailed, but it does convey the game's thematic flavor:

AXIS AND ALLIES: EUROPE

Current IPC’s:

United States 40 Germany 41 United Kingdom 26 Russia 22

Turn One

Looking to wipe out all sea-borne opposition before challenging the Allied shipping lanes, the Germans manage to eliminate all but one American transport and destroyer, one Canadian transport and destroyer and one Russian sub. It's a costly operation that results in the loss of six out of their ten subs! 

After making some effort to reinforce North Africa, the Germans then turn their attention to the Russian Front, where things initially go in their favor. A pincer move isolates East Poland and they capture the Ukraine, Bessarabia, the Baltic States and Karelia all in one fell swoop. After witnessing this startling success, the German High Command decides to divert all armor to the Eastern Front and then heavily invest in offensive hardware like tanks, artillery and fighter aircraft.

Turn Two

The Germans lose another two U-boats in the Atlantic. The Russian counterattack in Karelia is brutal and doubly-so in the Baltic States, which is left virtually unoccupied after the battle of attrition there. Once again, the Germans opt for a powerful offense, producing four armored units, one bomber and one transport; a wise move after losing a bomber and fighter squadron while sinking a Canadian destroyer and transport! At sea, a U-boat attempts to snare a Russian sub, but it narrowly escapes. 

After German troops successfully land on Malta, the buildup in the east is finally unleashed, leading to a massive assault of armor and aircraft in East Poland. The Russians are completely overrun in the first wave, leaving a whopping ten German armored divisions behind to garrison East Poland. Army Group North, consisting of four infantry and two artillery units, moves into the Baltic States, while two more artillery shift from Germany to Poland. 

In a few more key strategic moves, infantry in Hungry and Bulgaria move to defend the southern flank, while two infantry units are diverted to bolster the defense of Finland. There’s more offence on the way at the end of Germany's turn, with four armor and one bomber produced in the homeland and a transport launched into the Adriatic Sea.

Turn Three

The Germans put up a stout defense on the Eastern Front. After enduring a massive Russian offensive, Army Group Center still has three armored divisions remaining. Meanwhile, the escaped Russian sub attempts to double-back on its pursuer, but the German U-boat turns the tables and sinks them! There's more bad news for the USSR as the Finns drive the Russians back even further. 

Not long after, the remaining British destroyer in the Mediterranean wrecks the new German transport. The British press in North Africa, routing the nominal German garrison in Tunisia. A significant American force makes landfall in Morocco and promptly digs in. Both the Americans and the Brits have virtually re-constituted their navies, which means that the next turn will feature some critically-important offensives for Germany. This is further underscored when the British engage in a risky, but very punishing, air raid on Axis production.

Current IPC’s:

Germany 43 Russia 15 United Kingdom 26 United States 41 

Turn Three, continued

While unopposed German U-boats help themselves to a Soviet convoy route, a destroyer-supported invasion of Tunisia from Malta is proposed. Two Wehrmacht battalions storm Tunisia with scarcely any resistance and the British presence in North Africa is completely eliminated. A battleship and a U-boat pack engage the same British destroyer (and its accompanying transport) that eliminated Germany’s newly-minted transport on the previous turn. The battleship is heavily damaged in the action, but all of the enemy units are destroyed. 

Four infantry units, supported by bombers, then surge into the Ukraine. Again, there is negligible resistance. Karelia, on the other hand, is soundly defended, leading to a long, drawn-out battle and the loss of two Luftwaffe squadrons. Because of this, the German land units in that region are forced to retreat, leaving High Command worried that something similar might happen in Leningrad. Sure enough, they’re met with heavy anti-aircraft fire and two more squadrons are lost. The region is captured, but at a very high cost. Only two armored divisions are left to defend from the inevitable Russian counter-attack. 

The Germans intend to keep pounding away on the Russians and hope that the U.S. and the U.K. don't produce an insurmountable fleet in short order. Unsure as to how long they’ll be able to keep supplying their forces in North Africa, the Germans opt to invest heavily in armor and aircraft during their build phase.  

Turn Four

Things look fairly promising in the Atlantic for the Allies. The Americans have landed in North Africa with a diverse invasion force of armor, infantry and bombers. The British continue to rebuild their Navy, choosing Canada as their base of operation for this. 

The Russians try to strike back, but they’re essentially a house of cards. German forces defend well in Leningrad, leaving only a single armored division left to hold the city. Their victory in the Baltic States is considerably more decisive, with two armor and one artillery unit left to hold the newly-captured ground there. 

Again, the Germans invest heavily in new armor and aircraft, hoping to deal the knockout blow to Russia. This leads to a three-pronged assault, with Army Group South (consisting of two armor and three infantry divisions) poised to strike at Stalingrad, which is currently defended by four infantry corps. After they were badly stung by anti-aircraft fire last time out, a risky decision is made to eschew air cover for this attack. 

Army Group Center, consisting of one infantry, one artillery and one fighter division, attacks Belarus, which has just a single infantry brigade defending. Army Group North, boasting four armored divisions and a flight of bombers, assaults the Baltic States, defended by two armor and one artillery. 

In the resulting battles, Army Group South scores a decisive victory, with the infantry fighting particularly well. This results in two infantry and two armor left to garrison the freshly-conquered territory. Army Group Center experiences a blitz victory with no major losses. Army Group North, on the other hand, is completely routed by the wily Russian defenders in the Baltic States. Despite this, the fall of Russia now looks like a foregone conclusion. 

In an effort to lean heavier into this strategy, the Germans decide to withdraw troops from North Africa, at least for the time being.

***

Confession time: Axis & Allies: Europe wasn't my only dalliance with this "new" Avalon Hill. I also bought Star Wars: Queen's Gambit (2000), Axis & Allies Pacific (2001), History of the World (a 2001 reprint of an original Avalon Hill title), the revised Axis & Allies (2003), Axis & Allies D-Day (2004), Betrayal at House on the Hill (2004), Axis & Allies Miniatures (2005), Monsters Menace America (2005), Nexus Ops (2005) and RoboRally (2005). For the record, the games in bold are still in my game library.  

If anything, this list is proof positive that the company should be abbreviated as AHINO, or "Avalon Hill In Name Only." It's pretty obvious that the current incarnation of Avalon Hill is scarcely interested in wargames, they don't publish anything particularly deep and they have zero interest in reprinting their classic games. They even released this Scooby-Doo themed Betrayal game, fer Chrissakes!

So, what do I think of Axis & Allies: Europe? Honestly, if I had my time back, and more space, I probably wouldn't have sold it. Sure, it's since been completely eclipsed by its deeper, sexier, younger brother, but there's something to be said for the simplicity of this first incarnation. 

It should be noted that Europe was the first A&A game to feature the following changes and innovations, which I've divvied up down below:

PROS

  • Artillery, which augments infantry, and destroyers, which target subs, are both wonderful new additions.
  • Battleships can take two hits and be repaired. Finally!
  • Submarines can't even be targeted unless an enemy destroyer is in their space. Smart! 
  • German ships can occupy Allied shipping zones to reduce their IPC's, elegantly simulating the Battle of the Atlantic.
  • Each nation has a variable amount of IPCs at the beginning the game. This is actually a really good idea, since it makes the game feel less scripted right off the jump. 
  • Germany goes first, followed by the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and then the United States. In the 1984 game, Russia went first, so I think this change makes sense given Europe's start time and setting. 
  • Fighter can escort bombing runs and defenders can scramble enemy fighters to attack bombers! Awesome!
  • There's something resembling an Allied / Soviet Lend Lease program! 
  • To simulate the economic impact of the Axis controlling the oil-rich Middle East, the Allies must pay IPCs to Germany if they control those regions. 

CONS

  • Players can't build any new Industrial Complexes. Lame. You should be able to build minor Complexes over the course of several turns with reduced production. 
  • There are no tech advances. Really?!? I really wish Larry Harris would have come up with something, since the game's unit feel very same-y and never evolve at all. 
  • Neutral countries are completely impassible, even by air units. I've always hated this rule and I'm glad the 1940 version of the game finally addressed it.  
Notwithstanding these "1-HIT!" versus "6-MISS!"  alterations, as well as some niggling balance issues, the original Axis & Allies: Europe looks great and also plays in a fraction of the time needed to table it's heftier brethren to completion. So, I'll just leave it to 2007 me to deliver the final verdict:

I'm partial to this game despite the cries of it being scripted and heavily-weighted towards the Germans.

I want to take this thing and cross-breed it with Hitler's War. I'd like to add hexes, weapon development, re-set the clock to 1939, customize national units and add a bit more chrome.

All told, let's give her four pips outta six with a tilt down with that depth charge! 


Photo credits:  

Axis & Allies 1984 Game Box Cover: Wikipedia 

Axis and Allies: Europe 1999 Game Box Cover: Board Game Geek

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Explaining my Cock-Eyed Game Rating System (plus my review of a certain "edgy" card game)

Okay, so, by my calculation, this post is about, ummmm...I dunno, almost a decade overdue!

So, at the end of all of my game reviews, I usually post a pic of my over-sized six-sided die turned to a number. Sure, it fits in with the theme of the blog, but what heck does it mean?!?

Some folks (Andrew) have been asking me to switch to a different scoring method, like maybe using a ten-sided die, but until someone (Andrew) buys me a novelty set of polyhedral dice, than those people (Andrew) will just hafta shut their cake-hole and be content with the following breakdown of my admittedly-oddball rating system.

Alright, are y'all sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin at the top!

Six pips outta six, I.E. the best possible score that I can give to a game. To earn a "6", a game either has to...

  1. Do something wildly original OR
  2. Do what it does, really, really well OR
  3. Alter my very existence in some fundamental way. No pressure.
A good way to tick off that first criterion is to design a wholly original mechanic that truly elevates the game's overall theme and enjoyability. For example, Dominion might have introduced the concept of deck-building, it's always felt more mechanic than game to me. 

Conversely, the second edition of A Few Acres of Snow uses the mechanic of deck-building efficiency to mirror the logistical challenge of colonizing / warring over a vast overseas nation. Orleans also gets a perfect score from me because it's highly innovative, compulsively playable and I'm a huge sucker for the medieval art design.

Then there's T'zolkin, which certainly didn't invent worker placement, but the whole roundel / wheel timing system is so clever that the game easily earns a "6" from me. Also, despite being in a crowded market of similar games, both Rajas of the Ganges and Champions of Midgard distinguish themselves by being tight like a tiger.   

And I'm sure this is no surprise to anyone, but condition #3 is the toughest to meet. In fact, this hallowed pantheon currently includes a mere five games, namely Axis & Allies, Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, The Settlers of Catan and Puerto Rico. Are all of these games perfect? NOPE. Do they all get perfect scores because they revolutionized board games and literally altered the trajectory of my very existence? You bet yer sweet ass...

Some games I've given 6 pips to include: Above and Below, Feast for Odin, Combat Commander: Europe, Francis Drake, Le Havre, OrleansPuerto RicoScoville, Settlers of Catan (purely for its life-altering effect on me, more realistically it's a "4" tilted up)The Princes of Florence and T'zolkin. 


A five-pip game might not re-invent the wheel or result in some personal epiphany, but it still deserves top marks. 

So why give it a "5" instead of a "6"? Well, here ya go...
  • Honestly, it might be due to some very stupid and / or superficial reason. For example, I'd love to give Clank! a perfect score but I just can't get over its uninspired art design. 
  • Maybe the game is just missing that key bit of chrome to launch it into the stratosphere of perfection. No word of a lie, I legit crave playing Wingspan because it's a very pretty-looking, engine-building game sporting a unique bird theme. But, when all is said and done, I'm forced to admit that the base game is kinda shallow.
  • The game is great but the theme is completely bland to me.
  • I have concerns about re-playablity or game length. 
  • A particular element of the game just doesn't resonate with me.
So, basically, I think these games are great, but maybe there's some niggling irritant or lingering concern that's holding me back.    

Games I've rated five pips: 7 Wonders: Duel, Battlestar Galactica, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Blood Bowl, Castles of Burgundy, Castles of Mad King Ludwig,  Clank!, Dead of Winter, Descent: Second Edition, Eclipse (First Edition),  Eldritch Horror, Euphoria, Glenmore II: Chronicles, Hallertau, Imperial, Lords of Waterdeep, Lost Ruins of Arnak, Mice and Mystics, Mysterium, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, Parks, Power Grid, Rex: Final Days of an Empire, Robinson Crusoe, Root, Seven Bridges, Shadows Over Camelot, Sonora, Space Alert, Specter Ops, Star Trek: Fleet Captains, Star Wars: Imperial Assault, Star Wars: Outer Rim, Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit, Star Wars: X-Wing, Star Wars: Destiny, Steam, Wildcatters and Wingspan.  


If I rate something a "four", it means that it's a good game, but not something that'll blow you away. A game falls into this bracket for the following reasons:
  • Chicken-or-the-egg vagaries abound in the rules, a la Godzilla: Tokyo Clash
  • You really enjoy the game but suspect that there may be some balance issues. Jaws is an example of that.
  • Maybe you recognize that the game is perfectly fine but it's not the deepest experience in the world. Ticket to Ride: Europe springs to mind here. 
  • My initial experience with the game was poor but I suspect that there's still some promise in there, I.E. Spirit Island.  
  • The game is good but the set up / tear down time is ridonkulous, like Heroscape
Needless to say, most of the games I review fall into the "4" category, including 110 Days in Europe, 5 Minute Dungeon, Among the Stars, Batman: Gotham City Strategy Game, Brewcrafters: The Travel Card Game, Carcassonne, Cave Troll, Century: Spice Road, Dicemasters, Drakon, DungeonQuest (Third Edition), Eight-Minute Empire, Elder Sign, Firefly: The Board Game, Forbidden Island, Gloom, Godzilla: Tokyo Clash, Tokyo Clash, Heroscape, Indian Summer, Infiltration, Kemet, King of Tokyo, Kingdom Builder, Kingsburg, Love Letter, Martian Dice Marvel Legendary, MegaLand, Merchants & Marauders, Merchants of Venus, Middle Earth Quest, Midgard, Pandemic, Paperback, Paper Tales, Quantum, Raptor, Rise of Empires, Road Kill Rally, Small World, Spirit Island, Star Trek Panic, Star Wars: Original Trilogy Risk, Survive: Escape From Atlantis, Takenoko, Telestrations, The Downfall of Pompeii, The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31, The Resistance, Through the Desert, Thunderstone Quest, Timeline, Tokaido, Tsuro, Warband: Against the Darkness, Worm Up and Zombicide.


A level-three game ranges from "fine" to "m'eh", with varying mileage based on the reader's own level of interest. These games aren't terrible by any means, but they may have a noticeable flaw that affects game play in some detrimental way. 

Here are some tell-tale signs of a "3" boi:
  • It BASIC as all get-out.
  • The game overstays its welcome.
  • Poorly-written rules make it feel unnecessarily complicated. 
  • It provides no interesting choices from turn to turn and game play is kinda repetitive.
  • Things happen arbitrarily despite your best efforts. 

Games I've given a "3" to include: DungeonQuest (Revised Edition), Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft, Fallout Shelter, Fallout, Walk the Plank, Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars (with new rules), Photosynthesis, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Star Fluxx, Zombie Dice and Zombies!!!   


Everything I said about level "3" games can be repeated with a "2"...but the problems are often numerous and a lot more pronounced. A short descriptor for this rating is: buyer beware!
 
What makes the game a "2":
  • It's downright brain dead or more activity than game. Apples to Apples, I'm looking in your direction. 
  • It's an IP game that totally fails to delver on its theme.  
  • The rules are so bad that it would require a ton of FAQ's, hacks and / or house rules to get it to vaguely work and, even all of that effort, it still kinda sucks.

Games I would give two pips to include Apples to Apples, Crappy Birthday, Friday the 13'th: Horror at Camp Crystal Lake, Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars (out of box) and Marvel Heroes. 


The "1" rating exists in case I lose control of my faculties and agree to play something that looks awful at face value. This might happen if I get outvoted amidst a group of people who have all the gaming taste of a cardboard Popsicle.   

In order for a game to earn this dreaded Scarlet Number it must be:
  • Completely broken.
  • Really boring.
  • Deliberately stupid, insulting or try-too-hard "edgy."
  • Barely a functioning game.
  • Complicated to the point of being unplayable. 
I've only recorded a single "1" here, mainly due to the fact that my blog's by-line ("Because life's too short to play crap games...") is advice that I also live by. Let's face it, our beloved hobby is a veritable minefield of awful "1's". If you don't believe me, then just visit a Calendar Club store or hang out at a board game cafe on a Friday night. 

Case in point, this fucking dreck... 

    
So, if you've ever played Apples to Apples you can probably recall a time when someone either deliberately or inadvertently made a pervy or inappropriate card combo. Maybe some weirdo in your group played "Hot" in response to "Helen Keller", I dunno.   

You just know that this is the Cards Against Humanity origin story, since the designers built an entire "game" around making people think 'Tee-Hee-I'm-SOOOO-bad-for-playing-this-card!'. If anything, it kinda makes you wish that mechanics could be trademarked after all.  

Cards Against Humanity isn't really a game. At best, it's a social activity and, as social activities go, it generates its laughs in exactly the same way an expired gas station egg salad sandwich inspires regularity. 

Essentially, CAH is a simple and easy way to boiler-plate a pre-fab sense of humor onto a group of basics. Sure, some of the surreal language and combinations are engineered to crack people up, but, if you're anything like me, you'll probably feel like a bonafide POS after doing so. And that's not because the game is "edgy", it's because it goes out of its way to insult entire swathes of people in the laziest manner possible.

Now, I'm not gonna sit here and righteously claim that I've never laughed at a Cards Against Humanity combo or even claimed that it "completely killed" the aforementioned Apples to Apples. I also recognize that it's long past trendy to crap on this ancient, scarcely-relevant artifact and that this "hot take" is about as bold and insightful as coming out as "anti-COVID." 

But I also think it's telling that Cards Against Humanity is literally the first thing that popped into my head when I wanted to illustrate the sort of garbage that would earn my lowest possible rating.  
 
As such, Cards Against Humanity scores a generous 1 pip out of 6. 


***

Let's face it, Andrew is absolutely right; my rating system is idiotic...but so is every single other rating system. Let's face it, assigning an arbitrary score to a movie, book, concert, television show or game is inherently stupid. There's really no way to encapsulate your thoughts on something via a number, letter or cluster of stars. 

And that's why it's so important to read into the body of the review itself. 

I've also taken to giving my scores a "tilt" in an effort to make them a bit more accurate. For example, if I give something a "3" with a tilt up, it's closer to a "4" than a "2".  Or, if I give a game a "3" and then tilt it down, you know that's probably a game I don't care to ever play again. 

Full disclosure, in the process of writing this post I've actually tweaked several of my scores, and I'll likely change more. Maybe I've played a game a bunch of times since my first introduction to it and, in doing so, I've discovered major flaws. Or perhaps an initially off-putting experience has since revealed a hidden gem. Or maybe a new and improved game has come down the pike and eclipsed its original inspiration. 

One final point to illustrate how subjective all of this is. I played Terraforming Mars when it was first released...and I thought it was amazing. 

But if I was asked to rate it right now, I'd give it "5" pips.

Why?  

Because I don't really care for space stuff, the cubes always slide around on your player board and the cards are butt-ugly.  

But at least now you know that a "5" for me can also be a "6" for everyone else!  
 
Alright, that's all I've got for you today, folks. 

Thanks for reading and keep playin' games to keep ya sane! 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Game-Night(s)-A-Palooza!

So, I've been playing a decent l'il panoply of great games lately!

First up is the new Uwe Rosenberg title, Hallertau. Granted, it's yet another farming-adjacent worker-placement game, but this one deviates from the designer's recent fetish for negative points mitigation / tile placement, a la Patchwork, A Feast for Odin and Cottage Garden

Photo by Chad Seward

In this one, you dispatch workers onto an action board to gain building materials, sheep or crops, the latter of which you can plant to increase your supply. These resources are then used to progress your cottage board, unlock more workers and score mondo veeps at game's end!

There's a whole lot to admire here. I love how the action cards you acquire can be played at any time and you can leverage them to drive your strategies. I love the components and the art design. I love the game's breezy, six round play time. I love the elegant rules RE:  planting crops and how it exhausts the land while plots left to fallow are enriched. I love how action spaces are rarely unavailable, but get more costly to visit the more they're in demand.  

What I don't love about Hallertau is math-ing out everything you need to advance your cottage every round but, hey, that's my failing, not the game's. Just because I have the attention span of a squirrel and get distracted by shiny, if not altogether practical, action spaces...that's all on me, not Uncle Uwe. 

To bear this, out I've played this game twice and ended up dead last both times just because I miss generating some specific resource. As a result, I invariably end up looking like this during phase nine, circa turn three and beyond:

Anyway you cut it, Hallertau is another example of Rosenberg's design brilliance. Like Caverna, I'll never hesitate to play this one given half the chance. 

Hallertau scores five pips out of 6 with a mega-tilt up!

Next up: a pair of titles that share a similar theme, but interpret that theme in completely different ways! 

First up is Spirit Island, a co-op game where players take on the role of godlike entities that use their special powers to aid the native population in a bid to stem the tide of foreign invasion.

As the anti-Catan, Spirit Island a great concept, and it's really fun to chain together your destructive elemental powers together in order to wreak havoc on all of those annoying, presumptuous interlopers. Having said that, I'm not particularly keen on the game's art design and, like a lot of co-ops, it definitely suffers from BVS, or Bossy Veteran Syndrome, a phenomenon whereby experienced players often play out the turns of less-experienced folks. 

Although we won, the game is still largely a giant enigma to me, partially because we played with all of the expansions. I wouldn't mind trying just the vanilla game again one day, and within a group where I'm free to make my own catastrophic cock-ups. As it is with all good co-ops, I think you're meant to uncover strategies through trial and error, and not worry about getting buzzed out just because you didn't propose the optimal move.

I give Spirit Island four pips outta six with a slight tilt up.

Next up: a fairly obscure little title called Warband: Against the Darkness. It's a not-so-co-op game where players take on the role of fantasy races that use their special powers to aid the native population in a bid to stem the tide of foreign invasion. Sound familiar?

Unlike Spirit Island, however, this one is more straightforward but also more abstracted. It employs evolutionary powers, limited manpower, clever card play and jostling for preeminence among the infantry, cavalry and archery wings of the titular warband in order to score the most prestige points whenever victories occur.

At the very least, Warband is quite unique, offering up some interesting choices and tempting players to pursue disparate strategies based on the wide variety of different races. My main demerit is that the races seem wildly unbalanced and the "warband" you end up staffing with your peeps (read: black wooden cubes) is nothing more than a hierarchical chart printed on the board. Needless to say, that doesn't do much for the game's theme.     

I think I came in third out of four in game one and second in game two. 

Warband gets four pips out of six with a mild tilt up!

Although I never considered buying Castle Panic 'cuz the OG art design is effin' atrocious, I was all over Star Trek Panic when it first released back in 2016. 

In this version, players take on the iconic roles of the original crew and guide the U.S.S. Enterprise in battle against iconic threats such as the Romulans, Klingons and the Tholians, all the while muddling through various missions based on classic episodes of the original series. Curiously, "Spock's Brain" or "The Way to Eden" are not included.  

I'll come right out and say this: I have an irrational love for Star Trek Panic! Unlike Spirit Islandthe game's co-op aspects always seem more conversational than dictatorial, although those conversations can sometimes feel like you're trapped in a temporal causality loop. 

I love how varied the missions are, and some of them make navigating the ship just as important as phaser-ing threats. Character powers definitely feel like they're on point and the game's production values are ridiculously good, though arguably a tad impractical, especially as the ship takes damage.

My only issues stem from a lack of clarity RE: certain mission objectives and the confusion that can sometimes result from the movement and attack matrix of cloaked ships and unique enemies. 

Mike / Kirk, Chad / Chekov and myself (Scotty) managed to complete our five year mission, which included "Outpost Defense", "Distress Signal", "The Day of the Dove", "The Deadly Years" and "The Enemy Within." But...*whoof*, as evidenced below, the ol' Enterprise definitely needed a refit and some shore leave when it was all over!   

Check out my full review of this one right here!        

The next two games are original mechanical fusions which really illustrate just how varied this hobby can be.

Sonora is a "flick and write." Players flick numbered discs, Crokinole-style, onto an illustrated board. Wherever your puck lands, you score points in one of the four mini-games. Tha...tha...tha...that's all folks!

Honestly, this one is pretty durned awesome. The four mini-games are gloriously distinct and players with a decent aptitude for flickage will definitely have an advantage over their rivals. In the game we played, I came in first! Huzzah!  

A part of me wishes that the score sheets were paper, 'cuz the minuscule mark n' wipe mat is not only teeny, it can also be messy and / or inadvertently erase-able, But, hey, that's just a minor quibble. I'm seriously tempted to buy this one myself!

This one gets five pips outta six!

Next up: Lost Ruins of Arnak.

Full disclosure: between its marriage of deck building and worker placement and the Indiana Jones-style jungle adventure / artifact recovery theme, this one might as well have been called Lost Ruins of Dave's Bank Account. Add in amazing art design, the ability to string several actions together, the option to pursue several different victory point paths and a compulsively-playable pace, this one is a legit winner! 

I have no idea if it'll hold up to repeat plays but, dagnabbit, it's another rarity that actually tempts me to loosen my increasingly-tight purse strings. 

In our two-player contest, Andrew was the wiener.  

Granted the game doesn't do anything wholly original, but the mechanical fusion is perfectly executed!

Arnak scores five pips out of six with a tilt that nearly puts it at a perfect score!

Then there's this goofy l'il filler game Fallout Shelter. This one is a lot quicker and less cumbersome than its parent game, which I reviewed here. Basically players build up a pool of workers designed to expand their collective environment and protect the shelter from irradiated interlopers. Victory points are doled out for eliminating threats, visiting certain spots in the shelter and building new rooms.

Andrew and I played this one after Arnak and it proved to be a decent little diversion. There's not a whole lot going on here, but it is a great way to either kick-start a game night or cool down after a brain-burner. With a big push on expanding my worker pool, cranking out new rooms and putting my shotgun to good use, I managed to secure the dubya!

Fallout Shelter scores three pips out of six, with a healthy tilt up.

I also finally tackled Root. Given all of the fuss since its release, not to mention my love for asymmetrical, area control war games, this one has been at the top of my "must play" list since forever! In fact, the only thing holding me back from buying it outright is the twee animal theme and the lukewarm review given to the game by my beloved Shut Up and Sit Down crew. 

So, the most daunting thing about Root is teaching participants how to play the game and then teaching everyone how their own unique factions work. For example, at the start of the game, the downright legion Marquis de Cat is looking to set up a Saruman-esque military/industrial complex, while the birds of the Eyrie go from zero to 100 with their litany of increasingly-cumbersome programmed moves, the Alliance sets up dissent and executes rebellions and the individual Vagabond tries to play nice with all of the factions while trying to foster their own secret agenda.


Photo by Samantha Burns

Despite my initial reservations, I had a lot of fun with this one and, honestly, it really resonated with me. As expected, I absolutely loved the asymmetrical elements of the game. IMHO, every decent war game has to be asymmetrical because no faction is ever truly equal in a realistic conflict. Things like terrain, resources, economy, political structure, secret agendas and initial starting military power are all elegantly simulated here. 

In fact, the relative complexity of the different factions actually works in the game's favor since new players can take the relatively-straightforward Marquis de Cat and experienced players can choose the Alliance or the Eyrie! Granted, I'm still not the hugest fan of the cutesy components, but even I have to admit that they tend to disarm any rancor that often starts a-brewin' in most directly-conflict-y games. 

In fact, just about the only flaw I think of is that it shares an unfortunate trait with garbage games like Zombies!!! and Munchkin in that, as soon as someone starts to close in on their 30'th victory point, the other players dog-pile onto them in order to knock 'em down a peg or two. Then another player makes a bid for it and suffers a similar fate. Rinse and repeat until someone makes a move and wins just because everyone else around the table is fresh out of tricks!   

Regardless of this inherent flaw, Root has lingered with me more than any other game I've played recently. I'm not sure if it has an audience in any of my game groups or a future home in my library, but I'd definitely be willing to play it again sometime down the road.

Root scores 5 pips outta five with a wee l'il tilt down.

Finally, I recently revisited Above and Below.

This is another fascinating fusion of worker assignment, world building and "choose your own adventure"-style story gaming. Triple threat Ryan Lauket designed the game, did all of the amazing art and also wrote the storybook. In the immortal words of Darth Vader: "Impressive...most impressive."

Just about my only quibble about this one is that it seems to end just as everything gets geared up, but just as strong a case could be made that the game doesn't overstay its welcome. In the game we played the other night, I eked out the win. 

F#ck it, I give Above and Below a perfect six pips outta six with the wee-est of tilt's down. Many games have come and gone outta my game library, but this one's got a permanent spot on my shelf.  

Coming up: more micro-reviews including the deck-builder The Taverns Of Tiefenthal, a retrospective look at Caverna: The Cave Farmers and much, much more! 

Stay tuned, yuz nerds!

***

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