Monday, August 18, 2014

Dicey Desperados: Desperados of Dice Town

Desperados of DiceTown is a simple game with some interesting strategic twists. Here's the deal.. Each player is assigned a gang of 5. Each of these gang members is shaped like a double sided coaster. If there is any place that the publishers scrimped on it was the thickness of these circular figures that are used so much in the game. I fear that they will wear out quickly, for they are doubtful no thicker than a piece of construction paper. Each of these gang members has an icon-- a bottle, a fist, a knife, a derringer, or a two-gun. The stronger characters (named last) are hardest to get into play but do more against other players once they are in play. The characters start out in jail... Each of them placed in a way where the largest number (on the strongest character it is a six) placed at the top. When the player activates this character he rotates the circular marker to the next number and when he reduces past the number 1 the character is released from jail. Until a character is out of jail he cannot attack or defend, so this is vital. The game is built around dice rolling.. There are four dice provide and the available faces are one of the five character icons or a big EXPLOSION type icon that indicates an action. A player may roll up to three times, choosing to reroll as he wishes, attempting to collect at last one character icon and one action icon. The number of action icons rolled will always be a maximum of three, but a player may roll two action icons and two character icons and divide up his actions, should he choose. Once the character is out of jail he begins to attack other players. So, the two-gunned characters attack (steal money) has more affect than a 3 numbered character (the fist)... However, if the other players have that character out of jail then his character blocks the attack. This really tends to slow down a 2 player game. So, a player attacking with a fist character attacks all players who have not managed the release of their fist character. This can get wild and wooly in a four player game (the maximum number of players).. Should a player not manage to get an action icon, he or she will be rewarded with a dirty trick card to be played on a later turn. When money is stolen, it goes to the center of the table (My Doomtown roots has me calling it the town square) and normally will not be returned to the player. (There are two exceptions-- one a special power and one a dirty trick card)... So losing money is very bad. If a player is bankrupt he is out of the game. At any point that a player has all of their characters out of jail and has the most money he/she wins the game. So balancing out attacks and getting your characters closer to release is essential. The special powers also add some flavor to the game. Each leader has special abilities.. For example, Pedro is able, when activated, to retrieve money from the table).. another leader is able to facilitate the release of his gang faster... yet another leader joins his gang in attacking the bad guys... and finally, the last one picks up extra dirty trick cards. These special powers help advance strategy, which helps make this a bit more than ad advanced yahtzee game. The game has a neat western flavor, and unlike some games I play, that flavor is actually there to enhance the game a bit. The artwork is very well done, and the game components like the money counters (poker chips) are nice, with the exception of the cheap coaster-like character markers. The cards are not full-sized, but neither are they the tiny things found in some Euro games. Desperados of DiceTown is a neat little quick game, nice for when you are waiting for others to play something more serious and of greater length. It is family friendly, and seriously a lot of fun. Better than one would think a simple dice gang could be.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Riding the Rails Again- BOXCARS

Players who are familiar with Avalon Hill's "Rail Baron" may be delighted that it is back in print. Well, sort of, anyway. Rio Grande Games has released the game under its original title "Boxcars." The game is essentially the same game with only 1 or 2 minor rules changes. Perhaps best described as Railroad monopoly with rail movement, this classic game inspired many nights of pleasure in our home, in fact, I think my copy is pretty much worn out.. Not even certain where it is.. so I'll be upgrading. The goal of the game is to move to destinations and then purchase railroads. As players reach destination they are paid for their trip. However, they must pay $1,000 per turn on a railroad line that they don't own. If they own the line, costs are reduced to nothing.

Boxcars features one major change, a double-sided board that allows players to choose between playing in the United Kingdom or the United States (I prefer the United States version).

The components are really quite nice, with some exceptions. I like the deed cards, which are mounted on a board instead of being flimsy cardstock. However, on the map the specific logos could have had the distinctive track pattern printed below them for ease of reference. The destination and payoff charts will cause the player to go blind trying to read the tiny font. However, there is already a smartphone ap for choosing homes and/or destinations and it when it is used it also gives the expect payoff a player will receive when he reaches that destination. The ap is really nice, but does not excuse the poorly designed destination charts. Also, Rio Grande should have printed those charts on the back of the rulebook or at least printed extra charts so every player could easily access these.

Boxcars is a real taste of nostalgia, but brings Rail gaming back for a new generation. An excellent game, easily played and enjoyed by young gamers as well as older. I highly recommend this title.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

We didn't Start the Fire- Cavemen: The Quest For Fire

I've had several opportunities now to play Cavemen:The Quest for Fire, a card game published by Rio Grande Games. This game was interesting enough that I purchased a copy for myself. This is a very interesting game with a lot going for it. There is always something a player can do in this game, though at time, nothing a player can do to win. Each player begins with a tribe containing a leader and a hunter. Then a random player is chosen to begin by pulling a card and seeing how many DOTS (pebbles) it contains. Every card in the game has a number of these pebbles for randomization, etc. That player becomes the bearer of the CONCH shell, which demonstrates that he is a GREAT leader, I guess. The holder of the conch shell will get to take the first action in a round as well as a bonus action after all other players have taken their actions. A number of cards are displayed face up. There are cavemen cards that a player may pay the cost and recruit into his tribe. There are invention cards and players must have a certain level of cards with the light bulb icon points (some of the thinker cavemen have level 1 or level 2 thinking capability- expressed by a number adjacent to the light bulb icon) on them within his tribe in order to claim an invention. For example, to make fire and win the game a player must have a minimum of 7 light bulb points in his tribe in order to complete and win the game. (He also must control the conch in order to make fire and win the game).Players may pay the cost to "discover" a new cave, thereby creating room in their tribe for additional tribesmen. Perhaps the most important aspect, though, is that players may also choose to HUNT a dinosaur card. Players must have an adequate level of hunting skill in their tribe in order to hunt the dinosaur. If he does, he can claim the reward, payable in meat and teeth (the coinage inthe game). After hunting, the player must flip the top card of his deck and if he has any member of his tribe that matches the number of pebbles on that card then the player must lose a tribesman (his choice which) card. Hunting can be brutal, but players can reduce their chances of losing a tribesman by selecting tribesmen cards that all have the same number of dots, but that will slow down the game considerably for a player and probably not a recommended course of action. Players can safely forage, which means that they total up the foraging icons (represented by an apple) and get that amount of meat with no danger to themselves. The invention cards are well-thought out and allow the player to break normal rules. For example, the coolest card in the game is the bow and arrow which allows a player to hunt without risk of losing a tribesman card. Other inventions provide bonus teeth or meat, or simply increase skills such as hunting or thinking. The key to the game is really controlling the conch shell and knowing when you should bid for it. Unfortunately, the conch shell bidding is ALL done using teeth, which are more difficult to get than meat. Another problem is that he who controls the conch must feed his people better than non-conch holders. Normal cost for feeding your tribe is one piece of meat. The conch holder must pay one piece of meat for each tribesman. Therefore, early in the game, players must begin recruiting hunters, killing the biggest dinosaurs and collecting teeth, because teeth are needed to bid for the conch shell, and to create fire, players need the conch shell, the requisite amount of thinking power, and the FIRE invention card, which may not be displayed when the player is ready to create it. The fact that other players can view your tribe means that they know when you are able to win the game. This can create a sour moment as all players can realize that player A has the elements needed to win, AND more teeth than other players so the winner is usually determined by all players conceding that he\she is unstoppable. I managed (in my fifth or sixth game) to gain a SNEAKY win, but it was more because players were not paying attention to what cards were available during the bidding phase. This will likely be rare. The game is a short one. Most games seem to last thirty-forty minutes, and it is easily learned. At the last gathering we lamented the fact that this is a simple building game and there was nothing players could do to really affect the other players other than taking a card that they might want. We're hoping that an expansion will include some sort of raid card. Either way, this is an interesting card game with a lot of things going on. I'd give it a score of 7 on a scale of 1-10.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Underground Railroad- FUNDED via Kickstarter

I got this email from Academy Games today. I first read of this game via a link on facebook and responded that the game looks like it is pretty buys, sort of multipersonalitied! I also pointed out some possible ahistorical problems.. However, the game looks interesting enough, I wanted to let my readers, few as they are, know it is around. The problem I think I will have with the game is that it is a COOPERATIVE game, and I don't often like those. 'Freedom' on Kickstarter 'Freedom - The Underground Railroad' exceeds its funding goal in the first 24 hours! Freedom is a cooperative game for 1 to 4 players who take on the roles of Abolitionists striving to end slavery. Cooperatively, you build and finance the Abolitionist cause, while helping to move Slaves from southern plantations to freedom in Canada. Large Game Board with the Economic and Political engine on the left and the Underground Railroad movement and Slave Markets on the right. You will be countered by Slave Catchers that react to every move you make, along with opposing laws and social events that you must together react to and overcome in order to win. Slave Catchers react by moving along their specific paths towards Slave movements. Captured Slaves are sent back to the Slave Markets, which re-populate the Southern Plantations each round. If players have not moved enough Slaves out of the Plantations to freedom, excess incoming slaves are moved to the Slaves Lost Card,which when filled ends the game in a loss for the players. You may purchase Abolitionist Cards to help your cause against Slavery. However, Opposition cards may be revealed and can devastate your plans, so you must counter them quickly! Freedom is a challenging game that will keep you and up to three of your friends playing over and over.

Friday, June 7, 2013

First Look: Another D & D boardgame: Lord of Waterdeep

Let me preface the following remarks by reminding my loyal, faithful, readers that when I reference a first look I am describing a game I have played on a limited basis, providing reasons why I did or did not care for the game, some elements I may have found interesting, and finally telling whether I will play it again. Later on, I might provide a rebuttal, especially if extended play reveals a broken game mechanism or element. ****************** I'm not a real fan of placement games. You know where you and your opponents take turns placing tokens, taking up available spaces and some sort of privilige or resource before the other guy can do so. However, my friend, Marty, brought this one to a small gathering (there were three of us) and we played this one twice. It is published by Wizards of the Coast and set in a D&D setting, but doesn't really have any RPG type elements.

Players have two tokens (agents) at the beginning of the game. They recruit adventurers (which serve as primary resources) of various colors. It isn't really important to know that the purple cubes stand for cleric and the black cubes represent rogues, etc. When a player places his token on a space he might earn cubes, gold or a card, or a privilige.. he might also purchase building which come into play under his control and therefore obtains a benefit should any player place his token onto that building. Gaining gold and various color cubes is important because players earn victory points and some other benefits by completing quests. Every quest requires an expenditure of resources, whether gold or cubes. Some quests have ongoing benefits for the remainder of the game. Some provide a return of adventurer cubes and\or gold. Harder quests reward with large victory point payment. Players are able to see, for the most part, who is winning the game, but that, of course, changes as the game progresses. I say that players can see who is winning for the most part because every player has a "secret" Lord which provides various alternative objectives. For example, each completed quest with the piety trait might provide a Lord with extra victory points at the end of the game, so there is some secret stuff. At the heart of the game are the intrigue cards. These cards are typically "stick-it-to-your-opponent" cards or they provide some much needed assistance. These cards may take cubes from other players, provide a player with extra cubes, or allow some other action that affects the game. The limitation is that in any game round only three intrigue cards can be played because a player must place his token on the space to play that card and there are only three spaces. However, another cool feature is to allow the players who choose to RE-ASSIGN tokens places on that space AFTER all the normal placement for the turn is complete. I found myself struggling to find a proper strategic balance in this one. In the first game I was always short of gold and so in the second game I found myself using placements that would earn me gold. In the first game I owned and controlled no building, in the second game I was the player who owned and controlled the most buildings. In the first game I fought hard to complete quests and was ahead of the other players for most of the game. Honestly, I did not find the right strategic balance, but I can see that it is there, but there is some chaotic stuff going on based on the other players using intrigue cards or placing on the space that I need-- so I can see that the best laid plans of mice and players can easily be messed up, usually unintentionally. I can see that a FIVE player version of this game (the maximum) would be very, very difficult and perhaps frustrating. We played three and I felt it was well balanced for a three player game because two players could not agree to tag-team a third player. It doesn't look like a two player game would be much fun, but I will reserve a solid opinion until I see such. All in all, my first two games were enjoyable and we asked our friend to bring it to our next session. It looks like it might be a nice game to add to our rotation and thus far we've enjoyed it. However,

Monday, March 11, 2013

Thrift Store Games

I love shopping at the local Salvation Army or Goodwill. In the area near the church where I pastor there are four thrift stores within blocks of each other, all well stocked. I like to browse the stores in search of anything game related and occasionally I actually find something. In one of my searches, I found an intact, unplayed boxed campaign set for Dungeons and Dragons' Dark Sun campaign. Since I don't play it-- it became available on my ebay account. I paid $2.00 for it and sold it for $12.00 as I recall. This stoked the fire and I intensified my search. I discovered a copy of Avalon Hill's "Feudal" and it also went via ebay for a small profit. Then, I thought I hit the jackpot-- I found a still in shrink wrap copy of "Carcassone"-- I bought it not knowing whether I would play it or sell it. Months later I let it go for $15.00 on ebay, a profit of $12.00. Another find was a copy of Risk 2210 (or whatever the number is) but I discovered it was missing a number of pieces and I sold it for parts. By the time I paid the shipping I underestimated, I lost about $2.00. Not to mention my time. My friend, Alfonzo, seems to do better in his quests than I do. Perhaps he just hits the stores on the right days or shops in a better neighborhood than I do. I picked up a copy of Avalon Hill's Alexander at a thrift store, and really enjoyed it messing around solitaire with it. I paid like $8.00 for it, but felt it to be a bargain. Once upon a time, these old games went in the trash, but now we recycle them via thrift stores, or more likely, EBay. Americans don't seem to throw anything away.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Few Acres 0f Wilderness War

One of the most interesting conflicts in American history is what we call the French and Indian Wars, though it was but an extension of the Seven Year War in Europe. It was a period of terror for those on the frontier because both sides were using Native American Allies to strike fear into the settlers. It was primarily a period of expansion coupled with raids and sneak attacks. As a fan of GMT's "Wilderness War" I was anxious to try "A Few Acres of Snow" from the time I first heard a podcast describing it. I got a chance to get a quickplay at a local Con about a year ago and I was impressed. Recently, my buddy Mark and I played three games in a row at a receent game club. "A Few Acres of Snow" designed by Martin Wallace uses deck building to build interest and to drive the game. Each turn, players may take two actions. A player might discard cards to gain money, or he might expand territory, or send Native Americans out on a raid, or begin or continue a siege of an enemy fortification. He might place cards in reserve (visible to his opponent and possibly vulnerable, but available for a later turn) or he might "draft" (buy new cards -- some cards are free). Settlement is rather clever, because a player has to have a card that allows him to "leave" a location, a second card with the proper icon to travel to the location he wants to go to from that location, and a third card with a settlers icon in order to settle an area. Expanding a settlement requires playing a location card and a card with a settlers icon on it. We played three different games with varied results. There is a shallow learning curve and we kept grasping the simplistic mechanism but the depth of strategy. I was really thrilled that both of us used a different strategy each game with varying results. In our final game, as the British, I made a foolish decision to continue pressing a siege that would've offered me a very minor return in victory points even if successful, while my opponent wisely let the siege continue while expanding his settlements (which doubled his victory points for those controlled locations). We both learned the importance of fortifications (Indians cannot raid past them) and the importance of cards that block raids. (an unblocked raid can deprive an opponent of a victory point, and is worth at least two victory points for the raider)... Players also earn "location" cards when they settle an area. For example, the British player settles Cumberland and therfore the Cumberland location card is added to his deck. Location cards have icons on them that allow them to add military to a siege, or possibly obtain gold, or fur that can be traded for gold, or settlers, etc. They also might have a transport icon (ships, boats, roads) to allow a player to move to a new location. But also, each location card has "connections" that allow players to move to other locations. The game is really cool and in a six hour period we played three games and all three were different, even though my opponent and I stuck with the same side both times. The rules were well organized and very, very clear. They were short and simple, and best of all, available in PDF format so that I could easily access them via my ipad. I'm glad to see more and more game publishers doing this. There seems to be a lot of game and a lot of variety in this game. When I describe it as a deck-building game some might think of "Dominion" a popular Euro style game. This game is not really "Dominion" and there are many more choices in a turn. I think this is a great entry level wargame.. no charts, no dice.. just cards and blocks. Is it any wonder that the first edition of this game sold out and was going for an arm and leg on Ebay. The 2nd Edition has now been released (with some minor rules tweaks) and soon I will manage to get a copy for myself. This is a quality game and I think it is one of those games that comes along once in a blue moon that is worth playing over and over. I've got FOUR plays under my belt. Stay tuned and if my opinion changes, I'll let you know here and I'll let you know why.