Tag Archive: “board games”

ORIGINS GAME FAIR, June 14-18 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center

by David C. Obenour & Kris Poland

It’s Con time of year again and Ghettoblaster’s intrepid editor and gaming associate editor were thrilled to be out there in the crowds (well, maybe not always thrilled about the crowds) doing the hard and dirty work of demoing, demoing, demoing! With belly’s full of bourbon and Lan Viet’s delicious grilled pork ban mis we dove into the Columbus Convention Center once again for another amazing few days of gaming! Here’s the first of two posts of what we played.

 

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Lazer Ryderz (Greater Than Games)

Dave: Man, who gives a crap about how this game is played – look at that packaging! A Tron-like sci-fi game from out of what looks like a shelf worn VHS box set? Hell yeah! Thankfully, after you’ve spent hours dazzled by the game box and its components, getting to the rules proves pretty damn rewarding too! You’re riding your lazer bike around, leaving a trail of lethal lazer behind you and collecting power prizms for points and glory! With a similar move mechanic to Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing Miniatures Game it seems quick to pick up on and play. Let’s go Lazer Ryding, boyz!

Kris: Excellent over-the-top 80s art direction and refreshingly straightforward game mechanics make for a perfect match here. As Dave mentioned, Lazer Ryderz takes the simple movement mechanics from the X-Wing Miniatures Game and turns it into a fast-paced race to claim Power Prizms. A healthy dose of randomness in Prizm placement ensures that every game is anybody’s game, and a relatively brief playtime makes this one a strong candidate for either a quick diversion or a lengthy tournament scene.

 

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Attack on Titan: The Last Stand (Cryptozoic Games)

Dave: Cryptozoic has finally found the perfect use for their ubiquitous cardboard stand-up! Included with almost every game from the publisher, the stand-up model for Attack on Titan: The Last Stand is the towering and terrifying titan! With multiple levels up and down the stand-up, and two more levels for the nearby castle, all but one of the players roll dice to cooperatively swing back and forth, fire, stab, and dodge their way to taking down the monster. The other player takes on the role of the titan, using sacrificed player dice to eat villagers, attack other players, and generally be a big jerk. As one of the two companies to continually surprise with their licensed games (GaleForce Nine being the other), Cryptozoic does not disappoint here!

Kris: As far as I’m concerned, this one was an early contender for cooperative game of the show. Knowledge of the Attack on Titan anime and/or manga isn’t required, but it certainly helps get into the spirit of things. I like the way each character has specific strengths that require good teamwork and communication in order to reach their greatest effect. The Titan is a constant threat, and its ability to grab other players’ dice when its face is rolled make for constant risk/reward evaluations. Licensed properties are good again? What a time to be alive.

 

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Vast: The Crystal Caverns (Leder Games)

Dave: A dungeon crawl unlike any other, Vast has players taking on the role of a knight and a thief (okay, still like others), goblins and the dragon (a little more uncommon), and… the cave they’re all in? Utilizing different goals and play mechanics for each, this really reinvigorates one of the most classic gaming themes out there. Vast is currently on their second printing, and the folks from Leder were also teasing an upcoming asymmetrical sci-fi 4X board game called Deep.

Kris: What a cool concept! This almost seems like a tool for better understanding quality level/dungeon design in games of all sorts. So rarely do most of us concern ourselves with thinking about the ecology of a game environment that when a game reminds us of such relationships we can’t help but think, “Why hasn’t anybody already done this?” Check out Vast to peer behind your GM’s screen and see just how much work they do for you!

 

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Castle Flutterstone (Lion Rampant)

Dave: Castle Flutterstone is definitely a family game. Players place lightweight bats on the bellows, line them up and then slam down to release a gust of wind that lifts their bats up to the game board. Go through the hole – move x, land on a platform – move y, first player to reach the end wins! Unfortunately the less than exact art of bellow-lifting will probably make this little more than a fun but short diversions for those without kids. Still, there are worse ways to spend 20 minutes!

Kris: I like dexterity games quite a bit. In fact, Dave and I had lengthy discussions throughout the weekend in an attempt to answer one question. “What game is this year’s Coconuts?” In other words, what game is easily-accessible for the youngest gamers but still offers enough strategy and complexity to maintain adult gamers’ interest? Castle Flutterstone may not fully meet those criteria, but it nevertheless appears to be a good time in short spurts.

 

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Paradox (Split Second Games)

Dave: I didn’t fully get the rundown of Paradox as I was in the back of a group and no amount of peeking through or wiggling to the other side really seemed to help me. That said, what I did hear (and later confirmed online) was about a cool game on a space-time disturbance that is fracturing entire worlds’ existences! As scientists trying to repair these connections in time, Paradox utilizes drafting, set collection, resource management and more. They also enlisted 15 different artists for the game, which was a cool way to showcase the vast difference of the unknown universe.

Kris: Sounds like Interdimensional Cable to me [ed note: nice Redgrin Grumble reference, Kris!]! A strong theme can either be that element that gives a game immediate curb appeal or that slowly pulls you into a bigger picture over time. Dealing with the problem of space-time getting wonky is a perfect setup for a chaotic game, and drafting is a mechanic that really jibes with such a narrative. Art can make or break a game experience, so kudos to Split Second for addressing that thematically with a myriad of art styles.

 

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Element (Rather Dashing)

Dave: For all of the promise of Element, the game did prove more than a little bewildering in our demo. Players utilize the four primal elements; earth, wind, fire and water in an attempt to trap the player counter-clockwise from them on the board. The only problem with that is as you move around the board it becomes a little hard to remember which player that was. Also, play advances counter-clockwise too, which… why not go clockwise as in almost every other game? It’s a shame these two issues proved as confusing as they did (especially because 4 colored cardboard tiles would solve one problem and omitting “counter-” would solve the other) because the different flow of elements and the rock-paper-scissors succession of elemental strength was really interesting.

Kris: Ah, how many times have I walked away from a game demo bewildered? Sometimes it’s the game itself that deserves blame. Often it’s the person running them demo’s attitude or personality that can turn one away from a game. Nevertheless, sometimes certain people and certain games don’t mix. Who knows? Element may be perfect for your gaming group. It just isn’t necessarily a good match for ours.

 

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Onitama (Arcane Wonders)

Dave: Simple rules can often make for strategically rewarding games. Taking inspiration from Chess, Onitama pits two player’s rows of four pawns and a king against each other. On their turn, players utilize one of two available moves on cards and then swap that card with another idled move to the side of the board. The next player then does the same, leaving the two players swapping between one of five available moves in a race to capture the other’s king or take their king to the other king’s starting position. No luck here, it’s all about getting out ahead of your opponent and forcing the finishing move.

Kris: This one quickly grabbed my attention with sleek, simple design and deceptively deep tactical play. I disagree with Dave in that I believe there is a single element of luck in Onitama. You don’t know which of your opponent’s two movement cards will be implemented. Enemies can be baited, but plan too far ahead or rely too much on access to that one card you desire and you’ll likely fail. A small and simple game with huge tactical possibilities, Onitama nears the top of my list at this year’s Origins.

 

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Lisboa (Eagle Games)

Dave: Designed by the creator of The Gallerist, Lisboa is a heavy Euro (and just pick up the box to see it’s heavy in every sense of the word) from Vital Lacerda – who actually walked me and my friend through his own game! #nerdout

Anyway, for Lacerda’s new game, players take on the role of rebuilding the capital of Portugal in 1755 after it was destroyed by an earthquake, followed by a tsunami, and finally followed by 3 days of raging fires. In the broadest strokes possible, this is done through courting the favor of the king, the marquis, and the royal builder. With a number of different interactive mechanics, the theme still relates well in the gameplay and the art helps to break up the charts to provide a breath-taking visual.

Kris: I’ve learned something about myself as a gamer over the last few years. It’s something that could immediately reduce my gamer status to pariah in certain circles. Oh well. Time to out myself. I don’t like heavy Euro games. I won’t go so far as to say I hate them, but that style of game will always be the last I want to play. Therefore, I ask you to please just read through Dave’s thoughts again. I’ll be over here checking out some Reaper Miniatures.

 

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Three Kingdoms Redux (Capstone Games)

Dave: Capstone Games are doing the noble work of re-releasing critically acclaimed European games Stateside. They started with Arkwright and my only issue with that game is the same issue that I have with Three Kingdoms Redux – the art. It’s not that either game is particularly unattractive, but both being dense Euros the boards end up looking like a set of charts that would intimidate even an accountant. After playing Arkwright I mostly got over this, and I hope the same would be true of Three Kingdoms Redux. The theme is captivating with the unification of Feudal China (the same as with Koei’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms) and the idea of a well-balanced three-player game is interesting too.

Kris: While Dave was checking out another “dense Euro” I continued to browse miniatures. A figure with pointy ears dressed all in black approached me. “YOU LIKE REAPER MINIS?” he asked in a booming baritone. “Sure,” I replied. “IS THERE ONE THAT YOU REALLY DESIRE?” the stranger inquired. “Not really. Just browsing,” I said, slowly backing away. Who knows what wonders I missed out on by cowering away from that conversation. This wondrous stranger may have gifted me the resin model of my dreams… or he could have tied me up in a van down by the river.

 

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The Climbers (Simply Complex)

Dave: I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’ve got a thing for building with blocks. You add in a set of rules and turn building blocks into a game and you’ve got me completely! Adding new blocks each turn, players’ goal for The Climbers is getting their meeple to the highest point possible. Did I mention this game also comes with ladders for climbing the blocks? Ladders that can double as bridges as you build up separate towers alongside the main one? Originally released in Germany, Capstone Games offshoot Simply Complex has also increased the quality of art and components for this new edition.

Kris: You are not alone, Dave! Building blocks remind us of our early years, of simplicity and imagination. They fulfill our need for play in the most primal sense. While I cannot claim to understand the popularity of customized meeples, I certainly get their utility as game pieces. The Climbers taps into that childlike wonder of creating something you know is only temporary. There is great joy to be found in building, destroying, and rebuilding in this game. The Climbers is a sure bet for kids of all ages.

 

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Dimension (Kosmos)

Dave: We’ve established that building with blocks is fun (or at least I think so), now we get to build with balls! For Dimensions, players take from the four colored balls at their disposal to build the biggest tower possible. For each round, new rules are introduced that penalize any transgression – white can’t touch green, orange can’t be on top of any other balls, all green balls must touch orange. You’ve got 60 seconds to build the best one possible! As a timed game, this one’s all about the adrenaline rules cross-referencing as you build to maximize within the parameters.

Kris: More building. More tactile feedback. More exploration of the deepest elements of play. Dimension is another dexterity game, only this one requires quick decision-making while the timer ticks down. Building one’s creation within the strict timeframe of only a single minute adds an element of stress that drives competition and keeps us coming back for more. Stacking spheres is rarely this fun!

 

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Unearth (Brotherwise Games)

Dave: As a fan of the great phone puzzle game, Monument Valley I was immediately drawn to Unearth. It features the same unmistakably modern take on Escher-esque geometric and mind-bending art… accept the same artist didn’t do it. Potentially murky inspiration versus replication issues aside, Unearth proved to be as fun in the playing as it was to look at. Players roll D4s, D6s, or D8s to add up your claim to ruins, but low dice rolls allow players to collect stones – yet another way to earn victory points. Brotherwise Games currently has a pre-order up too.

Kris: I sincerely thought Dave was going to get litigious regarding the similarities between Unearth’s visual design and Monument Valley. I’m just relieved he didn’t cause a scene. There’s a lot of potential here, regardless of your opinion of the game’s artwork. I’m a man who enjoys rolling big handfuls of dice, so there’s an immediate appeal for me when a game uses different dice to achieve different goals. Promising!

 

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Super Show (SRG)

Dave: I first saw this game at Gen Con last year, but it was in a shared space with another developer and when I went back through for a demo the table had something way less cool being played. What really caught my eye this year was a number of cool new promo packs for wrestlers like Colt Cabana, David Starr, Johnny Gargano, Lio Rush, Kenny Omega and more. They were a little pricey at $15 a pack, but apparently the wrestlers get a rub from that – so that’s cool! Anyway, Kris is the real professional when it comes to wrestling (I’m just a not-particularly-smart mark) so I’ll let him take this one.

Kris: It’s difficult to capture the unique intensity of a pro wrestling match in a tabletop setting. Many have tried, and only a few have succeeded. Super Show actually does a great job at merging the two worlds into one. It’s clearly made by people who love wrestling for people who love wrestling. Players choose a wrestler (or tag team) and enter the squared circle. Dice are rolled, stats are compared, and cards are played. Pins are handled well too, adding a heightened intensity to every match. Excellent attention to detail makes each wrestler feel unique, and officially licensed likenesses of independent wrestlers elevate Super Show to the next level! Kudos to SRG for taking wrestling games seriously and having a hell of a time while doing so!

 

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Macroscope (Mayday Games)

Dave: Mayday Games are masters of simple and fun. Two years ago they gave us monkey flinging action with Coconuts. Last year they gave us balancing trash in an overflowing bin with Garbage Day. I’m pretty sure both games were made with children in mind, but that didn’t stop them from being two of our favorites. This year we’ve got Macroscope, which features a beautiful 3D playing board that hides simple line drawings underneath small covered holes. On a player’s turn they lift a piece and determine whether they’d like to hazard a guess at what’s the drawing underneath. Without the dexterity element of Coconuts and Garbage Day, the “simple” is laid a little too bare for this to appeal to older audiences. Still, I’m sure this would be tons of good family fun!

Kris: I love this! Macroscope reverse engineers the pixel hunt games that eat up space on smart phones around the world. Instead of looking for minute details in big images, players try to identify a simple line drawing by revealing little bits of it at a time. It’s clearly geared toward young ones, but any age group can have 15 minutes of fun with a few rounds of Macroscope. The design is clean and appealing, and there are enough images on the included double-sided cards to play for a long while before repeating the same game twice. Keep it up, Mayday!

 

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They Who Were 8 (LudiCreations)

Dave: They Who Were 8 was a really unfortunate example of demos and walk-throughs being heavily reliant on who is doing the walking-through. On our first pass, we were given a somewhat distant and very tired run down of the game, complete with a few opinions on its short-comings. Granted, it was 20 minutes before the hall closed, so I get fatigue. But really enjoying the art I went back the next day to ask again with someone new behind the table. This time we were explained a really interesting game of bards telling tales of gods! For this, players were given two god cards, one paired up with the player to their left and one paired up with the player to their right. Glory and infamy tokens get piled on each god and the goal is to be in the most glorious pairing, but being the more modest of the two gods.

Kris: A fairly simplistic game with absolutely beautiful artwork, They Who Were 8 is a cool little game. As Dave mentioned, players are bards singing of the virtues of their two gods. Bards must interact with their rivals to either side, and gobbling up all the praise doesn’t guarantee a win. Enter modesty as the game-winning quality, and you have an experience unlike anything else we saw on the convention floor.

 

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Near and Far (Red Raven Games)

Dave: Racking up a ton of awards in 2015 and 2016 for Above and Below, and having a buddy who got it and won’t stop raving about it, I was really interested to hear more about Above and Below and their new game Near and Far. Unfortunately, Red Raven Games was only offering ticketed demos at Origins and didn’t have an open copy of either game to leaf through and marvel at. From what I could gather, Near and Far is a sequel to Above and Below and is run like a campaign as players try to reach the story’s end. Maybe like a choose your own adventure meets RPG meets board game? It all sounds very novel and cool, so I hope to find out more for you (and me)!

Kris: Like Dave, I’ve only heard tales and never had the opportunity to get my hands on this one. The only thing I can say for certain at this time is that I am intrigued!

We’ll be back with part two of our review with more games from Origins!

SAGRADA (Floodgate Games)

One of the most visually striking games we played at Gen Con last year, Sagrada’s Kickstarter is completed and finished games are now available. All of the promise from the already amazing prototype has been wonderfully realized for the finished boxed game – what will probably be the most eye-catching on your shelf.

Before talking any more about the art and components, let’s get to the game. Sagrada is a puzzle-centered game that scratches a similar itch to a Sudoku. Assorted colored dice are plucked at random from a bag, rolled, and then players take turns placing them into their stained glass windows. The only guideline is that dice have to be connected and that dice of the same color or number (shade) can’t be placed side-by-side. Gameplay expands with every game however from a deck of backing window pattern cards granting different amounts of favor, secret objective cards, and a deck of tool and public objective cards  where you only use three in any single game. Each turn’s actions take a lot of thought in considering future moves and private and public objectives, but the rules can be explained in under five minutes (there’s also a full play-through video by JonGetsGames that the rulebook provides a link to).

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Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s a super fun and thoughtful game but back to those components.

With a rainbow of transparent colored dice for filling up beautifully illustrated stand glass frames, Sagrada will captivate everyone around the table. Floodgate Games is completely aware of this too and included a card encouraging players to take a photo of their winning window and post it to Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #SagradaGame. Pretty ingenious… and I do mean pretty. (Floodgate Games) by David C. Obenour

ZIMBY MOJO (Devious Weasel Games)

Being a Zimby is to hunger. To hunger to rule. To hunger for magical powers. To hunger for the flesh of your fellow Zimbies. Everyone agrees that the king has outlived his use. Not everyone agrees who should replace him. Now you must lead your tribe of ferocious warriors into his compound, working with the others to get his crown, then working against them to keep it for yourself.

In a brilliant twist on the cooperative game, Zimby Mojo unfolds as two different games in one. To start, players work together to thwart the king’s thugs, unlock his protecting wards and take him down. Then, the game transforms into something else completely as players fight against each other in a mad dash to bring the crown back safely to their own tribe’s lands.

This all works so well because very few things in Zimby Mojo can be done on your own. Most fights require multi-tribal stacks of warriors to sway the odds or well placed magical barricades and mindless Zimby Zombies to break up escape routes. It demands cooperative play, but cautious and guarded cooperative play that leaves you in a better position than the others.

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The great game art and background information provided in the rules is an immersion into the vicious world of Zimby Mojo. The backstory is also a nice reassurance that no, this isn’t some outdated imperialistic view of the dark jungle continents and their “savage” inhabitants. Zimbies are entirely fictional humanoid-type creatures with their own cultures and evolutions.

Outside of this rich narrative, the main problem with Zimby Mojo does come from its rules. It’s not that it is an overly complicated game, but the mechanics can get a little sticky with all of the things you have to remember. The rules don’t do the worst job in conveying how to play, but they also fail to give a clear and concise rundown without having to rifle through a number of pages. Even a player aid that I found online was four pages long. This makes explaining the game to new players daunting and you almost have to approach your first game with a mindset of playing the game just to learn its rules. Our first play through was riddled with “Oh, you can do that?” and “Wait, you can’t do that,” and then looking back we still got a few rules wrong.

The complication with the rules mean that Zimby Mojo probably won’t appeal to casual gamers, which is a shame because it really is an enjoyable twist on the cooperative game that is bringing so many new folks to the table. It’s also a fun theme (who doesn’t want to be the cannibal king?) that works well with the mechanics of how the game is played.

If you are someone who can have fun while being confused Zimby Mojo is a game unlike any other on your shelf. You’ll be plotting two-sided team ups for a backstab, only to be backstabbed yourself before you’re even halfway through your original plan. No time for hard feelings though because last turn’s traitor is this turn’s only way to stop someone else from winning. (Devious Weasel Games) by David C. Obenour

BLOOD BOWL (Games Workshop)

Are you adequately prepared for some fantasy football?! Let’s hope so, because Games Workshop has released the long awaited update to one of its most popular specialty games, Blood Bowl.

In this game, players field their own football teams comprised of races from the Warhammer Fantasy setting. Aelves (elves), dwarves, orcs, and Skaven (rat-men) each have their own team which possesses unique strengths, weaknesses, and look. Speaking of appearance, Games Workshop again shows why they are a leader in miniature modeling. The figures included in the base game are incredibly detailed and dynamic. There is a great sense of motion to all of them. The box game comes with 12 figures each for a human team and an orc one. A small but greatly appreciated update is now the figure bases include a hole for the ball to insert into to signify which player is currently in possession of the ball.

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The double-sided game board is really well done too and printed on high quality, heavy duty cardboard. Offering home fields for both sides, with a muddy and gruesome orc side and the slightly better kept human grassy field, this breaks up the monotony of playing on the same game field each time.

The included accessory sprue is also a nice benefit, especially the improved passing ruler. Finally there’s not just one, but two sets of the specialty dice needed to play the game! Everything about the physical design of this edition just screams high quality.

As someone who played quite a bit of Blood Bowl in previous editions, I am glad to say that the rules remain basically unchanged. With the transition of the Warhammer Fantasy to the much different Age of Sigmar system, I was concerned that Games Workshop would attempt to “improve” the rules by further streamlining them. No worries here though as the tactical grid based system remain the same.

My one complaint is that the base game box only comes with rules for playing the human or orc teams. If you want to play as one of the other teams, such as dwarves, Aelves, or Minions of Nurgle, you will have to pick up a copy of their Death Zone: Season One supplement. You also need this extra rulebook for rule on league play. Blood Bowl is complete in what you get, there is just a lot more you can do but to do it you’ll need to look out for additional supplements.

For those who are long standing fans of the game or those looking for a skirmish level miniatures game that has a ton of character, Blood Bowl is a can’t miss. (Games Workshop) by Adam Talicska

ESCHATON (Archon Games)

There is no hope left for this world. Fanatics and acolytes run the street. Civilized religion has collapsed into cults of primal fear and aggression. Monsters and gods awaken to loose havoc. There is no hope left other than to embrace Armageddon’s arrival. The end is upon us, brothers and sisters. Join me!

A deck-building meets dudes-on-a-map game, Eschaton bares a number of similarities to wildly popular deck-building game, Dominion. Players draw a hand of five cards every turn and use those cards to draw more cards or buy others. Players pick and choose the new cards added to their deck to create machines (ongoing chains of plays to maximize each turn) that grant them advantages or deny them to their opponents.

Unlike Dominion, cards also give the ability to draw from a special divination deck of demons, relics and more, and move and fight their pieces on the map. Using the map as a game board, players send their cultists out in an effort to gain control of territories end game values and in turn advantages. It’s as fun in gameplay as it is thematically, as you spread your horrible cult in a hope to win the most favor at the last judgment.

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An aspect of Eschaton that more strictly strategic players might be frustrated by is the Events and Omens deck. At the beginning of the game three stacks of two Event cards are shuffled with an Omen card and a forth stack is shuffled with the Armageddon card that marks the game’s end. Stacks are combined and at the start of each round a new card is flipped. It isn’t the same shuffled 8 Events and 3 Omens either as those cards are drawn from two much larger decks of possibilities. The unpredictable boons and goals punish and reward with little or no warning. You may have just spread thin your cultists and now a foreign invasion forces you to remove one from each territory, you may have just marched to the island of The Old City only to have a plague break out there, an Omen of sacrifice may put your opponent in the lead through no prior planning on either of your parts.

However if winning the game isn’t the only reason you play, the Events and Omens deck is just another part of Eschaton‘s brilliant immersion into the volatility of a world on the brink of Armageddon. The theme is further established with an awesomely evil looking screen-printed cloth board and even darker card illustrations. The design isn’t always clearly indicative to the rules or gameplay, but it’s a small sacrifice in making a game that feels like the best metal album of the year.(Archon Games) by David C. Obenour

VIKINGS ON BOARD (Blue Orange Games)

Take control of the harbor and send your ships out to sea, filled with supplies (or at least gamble correctly on who else will be so fortunate) as clans compete for power in Vikings on Board!

For this game, players take turns over seven or more rounds selecting from the 11 available actions at the Village. Some of these actions are more useful than others, but fall further back in the order of the Village. It’s a pretty brilliant and easy to follow mechanic as players place their Viking pieces from one side of the Village (the current turn’s order) to the other (the upcoming turn’s order). Take a strong turn and you’ll be limited next time. Make small moves and set yourself up for a big next turn. Play continues this way until seven of the eight ships at harbor have set sailed at round’s end.

The 11 Village actions are primarily used to move, swap and rearrange your’s and other players’ ship segments to determine control. Sections contain one to three shields in one of the player’s colors, denoting power. The player with the most total shields when a ship is sailed is given control and in the case of a tie, the tied player with the segment closest to the front is given control.

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But having control may actually score your opponent more points… if they played it right! The actions not associated with ship segments include adding supplies to the ship, increasing the value of supplies, and gambling on which clan will have control. Having control of a ship gets you first pick of that ship’s available supplies, but then the second most picks, and the third the most and so on, circling back if supplies remain. Supplies won are worth one point at game’s end, but players can choose the market Village action to raise the value of any supply type to up to four points! Gambling is the final aspect of control looked at after sailing as players can place one of their four gambling tokens face down on a clan’s color and secretly score that token’s points if they gambled correctly.

For as simple as the rules are and with only two ways to score there are still a number of ways to play Vikings on Board. Do you focus on collecting a single supply type and raise its value? Do you keep a keen eye on ship control and gamble accordingly? Do you play spoiler to your opponents trying to execute their plan? Many games might have been tempted to add a deck of randomizing cards as an action, but the lack of chance involved makes every decision unfold many times over throughout the game.

Finally, the attention that Blue Orange Games put into the production of Vikings On Board is brilliant. Being pretty purely decisions-over-luck in its gameplay, the mood is set with great game board art, cartoony Viking miniatures and smartly crafted cardboard ship segments. Whether you’re playing with younger gamers or are just someone who appreciates more thematic games, the game itself keeps the Viking theme central and saves play from feeling too strictly puzzle and strategy based. (Blue Orange Games) by David C. Obenour

THE NETWORKS (Formal Ferret)

From just filling the timeslots on cable access to landing ad spots for the country’s latest hit crime show, The Networks puts you at the head of programming. Will you bring in viewers by signing the biggest stars to host your sports shows or by developing large budget dramas or by unifying programming around a single genre? The choices are endless, but your budget is not!

As a game, The Networks is played over five seasons of quick single action turns from diminishing options. On a player’s turn they can develop a show, sign a star, land an ad, take a network card (game advantage), attach a star or ad to a show in their lineup, or drop out and budget to end their season. With the actions related to shows, stars, ads and network cards, each season only provides so many available cards to choose before the season change. As more turns are taken so are the better cards, leading to hard decisions on when’s best to drop and budget, giving you better positioning for the next season. After all players have dropped from the season, income and expenses from active cards are determined, show viewership is added to your total, shows age into their next season (usually with fewer viewers) and the cards for the new season are dealt. After five seasons the player with the highest viewership wins!

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As a fan of thematic play one of the best things about The Networks comes from the genre bonuses. After programming the 3rd show of the same genre, players immediately gain five viewers and can draw and pick from a number of star or ad cards, and on the 5th show players gain 5 more viewers, can draw from star, ad or network cards, and can exchanged money for viewers. This rewards creating a network that makes sense in the real world. People watch ESPN because they like watching sports, SyFy because they’re interested in sci-fi shows and TLC because they… well, I don’t really know why people watch TLC.

As with most all games, the first few turns of The Networks may be a little rocky as you try to understand the different options and advantages that come with each available action. The rules aren’t complicated but the changing options that come with each season’s new show, ad, star and network cards take careful consideration. It’s just accessible enough that anyone who’s interested should be able to not get lost and just complicated enough that serious gamers have plenty to weigh out too. Tune in! (Formal Ferret) by David C. Obenour

AGE OF CONAN (Ares Games)

Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian inhabits a world completely void of the mundane. The rippling muscled champion set off on scores of adventures filled with treacherous villains, mesmerizing beauties, the fury of the wild, high-stakes politicking, countless treasure and much more. Tattered paperbacks transport readers to the heart of this swarm of sword and sorcery. It was awesome when it first came out over 80 years ago and it’s maybe even more awesome today.

Beautifully capturing this setting, Age of Conan provides another entry to this world as players take charge of one of the four main kingdoms vying for power and influence in the time of Conan. The game is divided into three ages, each comprised of four adventures by Conan. To start his first and each following adventure, players secretly decide on bids for Conan with their bidding tokens and strategy cards. The game then begins with the winning player taking control of the hero and rolling the seven fate die that will determine the next actions available to players on their turn. Turns unfold with military and diplomatic campaigns against the neutral provinces and other kingdoms, savvy collection of strategy and kingdom cards to amass benefits and the thoughtful guidance of Conan as he sets off on adventures. At the end of the fourth adventure, the age change phase gives players a chance to collect gold, build cities and raise troops, complete objectives, take control of artifacts and set up play for the next age.

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While that is a broad overview, the rules for Age of Conan are rather long and involved and it’s very likely your first game may take more than two or three hours after set up and explanation. Released earlier by Fantasy Flight (and experienced gamers probably already know what I’m about to say) the rules can be a little dense to navigate. They aren’t poorly written or particularly hard to follow, but something about their games always seems to take a little longer in the learning. Just have fun with it though and count the first play through as a learning experience.

The main disappointment for Age of Conan however is the titular champion’s limited role. While he can affect outcomes, often times he just seemed to wander about between starting location and his adventure’s goal. You can put out raid tokens and he can help your armies in battle but really, when you play a game with Conan in the title you want more Conan in your gameplay!

Thankfully, an expansion entitled Adventures in Hyboria is available. This expansion provides all of the flavor and adventure that thematic gamers will be looking for from Age of Conan. It introduces new, more interactive adventure cards for Conan, story cards that can alter the hero’s path and an evolving mood and experience track for Conan. It would have been hard to include all of these rules in the initial game, along with the introduction of spies and prisoners rules, but after you’ve mastered the core game’s rules, this expansion really is a must have. (Ares Games) by David C. Obenour

 

One of the biggest gripes hobby board gamers have about games like Monopoly is the so-called “roll and move” mechanic. I roll a die or two and move that number of spaces. Around and around the board we go in perpetuity, leaving the length of each movement entirely up to chance.

The games I’ve listed here are some of the best scenario-based board games. Rather than rolling-and-moving, players work to complete some objective, which will differ from game to game. While this is not, by any mean, an all-inclusive list, the games here will give you somewhere to start on your journey for a more fulfilling tabletop experience.

1. Descent: Journeys in the Dark—This wonderful semi-cooperative dungeon crawl pits up to four hero players up against one bad guy player known as “The Overlord.” While the heroes are hoping to complete their objective, the Overlord is setting traps and setting out monsters in attempt to thwart them. Gameplay is made up of several quests (one session each) that make up an entire campaign. The success or failure of the heroes determine subsequent quests. The recent creation of a Descent app means you no longer require the Overlord player to play cooperatively, and you can also play solo.

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2. Dungeons & Dragons: Temple of Elemental Evil—This game, in my opinion, is the best of the bunch when it comes to the D&D “big box” dungeon crawler games. Fully cooperative, ToEE is played over the course of 12 scenarios, some of which take place in a spooky dungeon, while others go down in the town. Your scenario might call for you to obtain some relic and survive long enough to get it out of the dungeon. This was one of my favorite games from 2015.

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3. Last Night on Earth—I don’t see this game getting a whole lot of love, and that’s a shame, because it can be a lot of fun. In Last Night On Earth, there are two teams of players—one plays as a horge of undead zombies, and the other are the heroes trying save the day. The scenarios in this game are a blast. There’s one where the heroes have to gas up a truck and find its keys in order to flee the town. Meanwhile, the zombie players are trying to eat the heroes’ brains. The standalone expansion, Timber Peak, adds a bunch more scenarios and makes the game even more fun by adding elements such as fire, which can burn of control. One of the best things about this game is it can play up to six, so if you have a big group, this one’s for you.

4. Dead of Winter—You’ve probably already heard of this semi-cooperative anxiety attack in a box. In Dead of Winter, players take the role of survivors of a zombie cataclysm. The team of players will have a group objective for each scenario. It might be something like, “collect 10 gallons of water for your camp.” But then, each player has their own individual hidden objective. Hidden objectives might be helpful for the camp, or they might be completely at odds with the group objective. A player might have a hidden objective of “poison the camp’s water supply,” which would screw all the other players. Dead of Winter is a serious nail-biter. The release of Dead of Winter: The Long Night earlier this year means there are even more scenarios to play with.

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5. Pandemic Legacy—This game is an absolute treasure to play with family. If you like the original Pandemic, Pandemic Legacy will only enhance your love of the franchise. The game is played over 12 to 24 sessions, each adding a new element to the gameplay. So, while the first session is basically just regular Pandemic, the next session you’ll add something, then something else, until the game becomes quite heavy. It’s almost like a game that includes 11 expansions right in the box it comes in. While not scenario-based in the same way as the games mentioned above, each session does have its own goal. The way that it plays out, I could really see this game being a movie or book, which makes me wonder if there is Pandemic Legacy fan fiction. If there isn’t, there should be!

 

TINY EPIC WESTERN (Gamelyn Games)

Well, howdy there, partner. You ain’t from around these here parts, are ya? Well, saddle up. We’re gunna talk about Gamelyn Games’ new one, Tiny Epic Western.

I’ve been a fan of the “Tiny Epic” series for quite a while now. These are small-box games that play in a half hour and have surprising depth of play. Notable entries in the series include 4x fantasy area-controller Tiny Epic Kingdoms and sci-fi dice masher Tiny Epic Galaxies.

With Tiny Epic Western, one can see that designer Scott Almes has improved at his craft in the years since the series launched. There’s a bit more going on with this one. The game is alive with its theme. From the wagon wheel layout of the play area to the characters’ special abilities, you can practically hear the spurs rattling.

At its heart, TEW is a worker placement game. Of course, like all such games, players have meeples (here called the “posse”) that they will assign to spaces on the play area to collect resources. Resources include law, force, and gold, and are used to purchase buildings where posse members could be placed in future rounds. These purchased buildings are also worth victory points.

Before you groan at the buzzwords “worker placement” (I’m getting sick of the mechanic, too), let me explain the ways in which TEW is different. First of all, many of the placement spots allow players to choose between taking either an immediate effect or waiting until the end of the phase. If instant gratification is your thing, you collect just a little something. If you prefer the long game, waiting til the end of the phase will result in a tastier reward than going for the immediate effect.

Unlike other games in the genre, cowpokes also have the option to duel if they want to try and steal a spot away from a player who has already placed their posse member there. The deluxe edition comes with four d6s that are shaped like bullets, for the purpose of gunning down your opponents. Dueling is mostly a contest of who rolls the higher number, with some opportunities to reroll or modify your roll.

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There is also this whole poker element that makes TEW quite unique. At the beginning of each round, poker cards are dealt face-up between each building. Players are dealt two cards. They pick the one they want and discard the other. After the placement phase, each player uses their poker card to make a 3-card hand with the cards on either side of any buildings where they have posse members assigned. Though the hands are typical poker fare—pairs, straights, flushes, etc—the suits are unique to TEW. Players compare hands if there is more than one posse member assigned to a building. If only one player’s posse in on a building, their hand is compared to that of the “rival,” a dummy player who also gets a card at the beginning of the round.

During the final play phase of each round, players make a 3-card hand out of their card and the cards shouldered on the sides of the building that matches their posse color. Whoever has the highest hand gets to advance one of three industries, which will give players bonus victory points at the end of the game.

Tiny Epic Western is played over the course of 6 rounds. Once players are acquainted with the rules, a game takes about 30 to 40 minutes.

I very much enjoy Tiny Epic Western. Fans of poker will certainly take the most satisfaction from the game, but even those who’ve never gambled can get into it. There are a few rules that I personally found a little shaky and weak, but for the most part, TEW is a solid game with smooth gameplay. Though I was hoping it would be my new favorite in the series, I’d rank TEW as much better than Tiny Epic Kingdoms, but not quite as good as Tiny Epic Galaxies. With Gamelyn’s Zelda knockoff, Tiny Epic Quest, coming to Kickstarter on October 28, we may have a new contender for best Tiny Epic game.

So YEE-HAW! Don’t miss out on this fun little game. It fits in your pocket and plays fast. You can’t really go wrong with Tiny Epic Western. I give it 4 out of 5 cattle prods. (Gamelyn Games) by Josher Lumpkin