Tag Archive: “card games”

GUNS & STEEL (Tasty Minstrel Games)

Take the technology trees of classic 4X video games like Civilization and turn it into a card game. That’s the easiest way to sum up Jesse Li’s Guns & Steel, but such a description doesn’t quite feel like it does the game justice. Important decisions must be made in each and every player turn. Often the true repercussions of such decisions do not manifest until much later in the game. For a $15 game packed into a box no bigger than two decks of cards, Guns & Steel offers an impressive amount of depth and replayability.

Each player begins the game with a hand of five cards. There is a technology tree of civilization cards available for purchase that begin with the Horse Age and progress through the Gunpowder Age, Oil Age, Earth Age, and finally the Space Age. Additionally, there are Wonder cards that players can automatically obtain by meeting certain criteria at the end of one of their turns. Wonders and the more advanced civilization cards are worth victory points that will determine the winner at the end of the game. All cards are double-sided. One side is a resource that can be depleted to purchase new cards, while the other side is a development that accomplishes a specific task. Starting hands include three food recourses and two steel resources. The development side of these cards execute basic tasks like replenishing a resource or attacking an opponent. Players take turns building their hands by purchasing new civilization cards until either all Space Age cards are purchased or every Wonder is built. It’s all fairly straightforward while boasting more tough decision-making potential than other much larger games.

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While the title might suggest differently, Guns & Steel can be played (and even won) without focusing on military might. Strong attack cards are great at depleting opponents’ resources and even stealing their Wonders! However, a well-timed tactic played as a counter can leave an opponent desperate and playing catch-up. For such a little game, it truly features a wealth of options.

We tested Guns & Steel in both two-player and four-player sessions and found the most pleasure to be had in one-on-one duels. Again, every choice matters. In four-player games it can be a little too easy for one player to fall behind and get left in the lurch while everyone else advances. Cards are scarce (the entire game is played with 50 or fewer cards), so missing out on just a few purchases can make for a frustrating experience. Two-player games allow gamers to acquire most of the cards they want but still leave room for tactical purchasing and stymying of one’s opponent. The two-player experience also removes three attack and two tactic cards from the supply area (or tech tree), thus making it less likely for one player to achieve military dominance too easily or quickly.

Tiny games like this are a nice alternative to expensive tabletop games that take hours to setup and even longer to play. Guns & Steel isn’t going to replace a session of Civilization that lasts for months, but it doesn’t intend to. Instead, it offers players a laser-focused, small slice of that classic 4X experience in an affordable package. I’m impressed! (Tasty Minstrel Games) by Kris Poland

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

by David C. Obenour & Kris Poland

Welcome back, proud nerds and gaming geeks! We’re returning with more coverage of the 2017 Origins Game Fair. Last time we covered 16 of our favorite offerings from the exhibitors hall. This time we have 16 more games that piqued our interest. Origins may be where gaming begins, but it certainly doesn’t end there! Check back later in the summer for our thoughts on the largest gaming convention in North America as Ghettoblaster takes you to Gen Con 2017.

 

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Rabbit Island (Infinite Heart Games)

Dave: As an enthused Watership Down reader from childhood, Rabbit Island immediately jumped out at me (get it? “Jumped”? Rabbits? …anyone?). Rabbit Island doesn’t delve into the harsh realities of nature and humanity like Richard Adams’ book though, you’re just hopping around Rabbit Island, exploring, collecting carrots and building dens. Sure, some other rascally rabbit might come along and thwart your hard work, but you can always go back to finish it later. Currently in it’s Kickstarter, this was a fun, tile-laying, 4X’er.

Kris: Our first game, and Dave has already succumbed to bad wordplay. If you’re into the cute and cuddly side of rabbits more than teeth-gnashing and bloodletting, the G-rated competition of Rabbit Island might be just the thing for you. Modular tiles keeps things fresh with multiple replays, and action cards keep things from getting too predictable during a single game.

 

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Armageddon (Queen Games)

Dave: Sold to me as a mix between The Walking Dead and Mad Max those are two pretty amazing franchises to live up to! In Armageddon players build up a post-apocalyptic community of soldiers, engineers and scavengers. This motley crew will go out and claim you more land, help build up infrastructure and most awesomely, construct amazing wasteland dune war buggies! Getting a quick explanation between their ticketed demos for the games, it sounds like the one thing that may prove a problem for some is a lack of balancing mechanisms. Apparently Armageddon isn’t a welcoming place.

Kris: Who knew a nuclear hellscape would be so inhospitable? Pretty much everyone. Armageddon is a competition to rebuild society while constantly warding off attacks by wasteland raiders. There’s bidding, worker placement, and plenty of meeples. The art has the necessary post-apocalyptic feel. I’d just like to see more of it. Also, when I think Mad Max I think action. In this sense, Armageddon is like Mad Max in theme alone.

 

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Oktoberfest (Rio Grande Games)

Dave: A game about Oktoberfest in Germany? Of course I want to play this ultimate beer and pretzels game! For Oktoberfest players take on the role of supplying beer to one of the many tents of tipsy revelers. This is accomplished by stocking up on kegs, building demand in the tents, and then closing it down before your opponents transfer the demand to something that they’re better stocked on. Oktoberfest’s artwork had me thirsty for our entire demo, but the game doesn’t adapt much of the theme into its play. Still, it’s a well-balanced mix of push-your-luck and stock-holding mechanics for a fun 40 minutes or so.

Kris: I don’t like beer. [ed note: Kris was playing in a Magic tournament when we demoed this – pretty obvious who’s more fun, right?]

 

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Hounded (Atlas Games)

Dave: A really good two-player game is hard to come by. A lot of the fun that comes with gaming is the “well, what is the other guy going to do?” When it’s just one-on-one, the other guy’s probable options are more limited. Hounded is the perfect head-to-head contest though as one player takes on the role of the hunter and hounds, while the other assumes the role of the cunning fox. Running around the forest, the hunter’s goal is to corner the fox, while the fox’s goal is to expose the morning, noon and night tiles to have outlasted the hunter. Clever use of mechanics mixed in brilliantly with a novel theme. Gotta love games like this!

Kris: Dave’s right. It’s hard to find a recent two-player offering that does something new. Classics like chess and backgammon are difficult to improve upon. Hounded draws players in by focusing on clean design, simple gameplay, and portability. There’s some degree of tactical depth here too. The fox, master, and various hounds all have different rules for movement. It sort of reminded me of Onitama on a larger grid with slightly more complex rules of movement. Hounded promises a lot of fun in frustrating one’s opponent.

 

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The Lost Expedition (Osprey Publishing)

Dave: Osprey Games have quickly emerged as one of my favorite publishers over the last few years. From their brilliant and easy to pick up Frostgrave miniatures rule set, to great reissues like Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space and Escape from Colditz, I’ve spent a lot of hours enjoying their hard work! Their latest game, The Lost Expedition comes from Let Them Eat Cake’s (another Osprey title) designer Peer Sylvester with art from comic illustrator, Garen Ewing. Taking on the role of jungle explorers, there are three ways players can play – solo, head-to-head, or as a cooperative. With a deck full of the hardships that come from adventuring in the tropics, it’s a race to be the first to find the prize – but can you survive?

Kris: Masterful use of Garen Ewing’s pulp-style art, Osprey! It perfectly fits both the theme and intensity of the game and immediately pulls players into this battle for survival against nature. Kudos as well to the young man who explained everything we needed to know about this game in well under ten minutes. There’s the underlying race, the battle against the elements, and plenty of risk-reward balancing. The Lost Expedition is one of very few games that stuck in my head for days and had me excited to play more.

 

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Rocky Road a la Mode (Green Couch Games)

Dave: I’ve said it before, but Green Couch Games really knows how to pack an amazing game into a small little box. They also know how to put it all together for a really reasonable price! For Rocky Road a la Mode players circle around the block selling ice cream from out of their cool little truck meeples. Cards are used for supply and demand and jingle volume as you attract folks of all ages to your truck. They sent us home with a copy and I can’t wait to get this one to the table!

Kris: I’m going to agree with Dave again here, but don’t get accustomed to it! Green Couch are the masters of tiny, budget games. Other board game designers could learn a lot from their efficient use of space and small (but detailed) components. The only aspect of their games that isn’t condensed is the delight gamers enjoy when playing them. I just wish the creepy guy driving the ice cream truck in my neighborhood better represented the wholesome, delicious fun of Rocky Road a la Mode.

 

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Guns & Steel (Tasty Minstrel Games)

Dave: Given a quick run over of this one, I was initially drawn to Guns & Steel by misremembering Guns, Germs, and Steel (a really smart book I own and should really read one day). Not sure if there’s a direct correlation there (maybe they could make a Germs Expansion) but it seemed to be a similar idea. Build your civilization up through scientific advances to best all of the other civilizations. Taking such a weighty theme, Guns & Steel gets you through all of known history in under an hour by utilizing a card pyramid mechanic of advances that you’re only allowed to unlock once the ones below it have been discovered.

Kris: Upon first look at Guns & Steel I thought to myself, “Okay. This is Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Card Game.” Turns out I wasn’t that far off the mark! Players can invest in their culture, build magnificent wonders, or focus on military might. There is even a technology tree, as players attempt to advance from horseback riding to rocketry. If you’re looking for a card game that plays like Civilization and requires under an hour of your time rather than weeks or months, then Guns & Steel may be the perfect game for you and up to three other friends.

 

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MoonQuake Escape (Breaking Games)

Dave: MoonQuake Escape’s awesome mix of plastic and cardboard that sticks out of the game board can only be compared to Mousetrap. Taking place on a planetary space jail, the captors made one big oversight in construction as the planet’s unstable core is erupting and the whole thing is about to blow! Fortunately, there’s only the one spaceship – so it’s not like all of the jailed aliens will escape. Your goal is to be that one lucky space convict as you battle your way to the surface and spaceship in a race to get off this doomed rock.

Kris: The board may look like Mousetrap, but this is a very different game. There’s an undeniably frenetic feel to the gameplay. Players must not only rush to escape on the single rescue rocket but also deal with an ever-changing board layout. I didn’t get to spend much time with this one, but I immediately fell in love with its wit and whimsy. Bonus points awarded to MoonQuake Escape because designer Jeff Johnston, who gave us the most memorable demonstration throughout all of Origins, is a dead ringer for one of the Ghettoblaster staff’s favorite comedian Andy Daly! Seriously though, Jeff’s energy and enthusiasm and passion for his product was much appreciated. Check it out!

 

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Merchants of Araby (Daily Magic Games)

Dave: Negotiation games are ones that people either really tend to enjoy playing or don’t. A certain amount of conflict and battle over interests is needed, and without that thoughtful negotiation, these types of games can really fall flat. That said, if you are part of a gaming group that is willing to hash it out over what’s good for me and what’s good for you, and won’t be at each other’s throats at game’s end, Merchants of Araby is a fun game of shrewd moves.

Kris: Maybe I was just hungry for another banh mi, but all I could see was Arby’s in this game’s title. Anyway, the design concept was to combine Magic: The Gathering with the classic Euro-style board game (I’m about half on board knowing that). Dave’s right that negotiation is quite the divisive mechanic. No amount of rules lawyering or clever planning can account for what may happen when deals are struck. All of these disparate elements may combine perfectly to scratch your gaming itch. The coolest thing about Merchants of Araby to me was how the magnetic box cover also acts as the play board. I expect this design aspect to be copied a lot in the next few years.

 

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Kerala (Kosmos)

Dave: Every time I walked by Kosmos’ booth I’m pretty sure I audibly said “Oooo! Pretty!” when looking at their new game, Kerala. A tile-placing, puzzle-based game, in Kerala players are trying to claim the most impressive fairgrounds with the most elephants possible. Named after the Indian province, artists Claus Stephan and Antje Stephan did an inspired job that is sure to bring even the most skeptic of non-gamers to the table.

Kris: Those are indeed some aesthetically pleasing elephant meeples! Kerala seems to offer a pleasant midpoint between simplistic kids games and five-hour sessions of deeper experiences. Players want to claim as many adjacent tiles of the same color as possible. While simplistic on the surface, there’s a lot of depth to enjoy as players familiarize themselves with the underlying tactics of Kerala.

 

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Arena: For the Gods! (IELLO)

Dave: Man, IELLO really knows how to make a game look fun! King of Tokyo, the Tales & Games series, The Phantom Society and Dungeon Fighter, it’s really hard to see these and not want to sit down and play them. Arena: For the Gods is no different and from the quick description I got it sounds like its as fun to play as it is to look at. Players start the game with an auction on mounts, weaponry, and armor. The catch is, you’re paying from out of your health for the arena! So you may be able to get super kitted out, but you’re going to be a little worse for wear in battle. Health is kept secret and it’s a race to strike the first killing blow for the gods!

Kris: Gladiatorial combat from the people who brought us King of Tokyo? I’m in! IELLO really know how to make cardboard cutouts appealing with designs that are instantly recognizable. Bidding life points for equipment is an ingenious way to strike a balance between quality gear and a hearty pool of HP. It seems to streamline the whole gaming experience in Arena. I also like how it can be played with up to six people. That must make for a chaotic experience in combat!

 

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H.I.D.E. (Mayday Games)

Dave: I’ve already talked about how great Mayday Games is in part one, so I’ll save that whole song and dance this time. For our second new demo from these purveyors of fun, we tried out H.I.D.E. Feeling similar to Ca$h ‘N Guns in its hidden identity, threat of assassination, prize grabbing goals and mechanics, H.I.D.E. introduces a few new welcome twists to the former’s simple game play. There’s still a lot of bluffing still, which I think I’m just horrible at so it all just feels like random chance to me, but if you’re into it than have at it!

Kris: I really enjoyed H.I.D.E., or Hidden Identity Dice Espionage. There is randomness in the dice rolls, but a much larger emphasis is placed on aspects like deduction and trickery. It can be played very aggressively if players want to assassinate their competition. Alternatively, gamers can instead choose to hide in the shadows and wait for their rivals to make a single deadly mistake. While a bit more complex than their more kid-oriented games, H.I.D.E. is just as appropriate for pre-teens as it is for adults.

 

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Century: Spice Road (Plan B Games)

Dave: As more of a thematic gamer, I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed Century: Spice Road. It’s not that there isn’t a theme, players take on the roles of merchants trading goods, but the theme is secondary to the mechanics of set collection, deck-building and hand management. Which I know, I know, could be argued is the sort of wheeling and dealing that you do as a merchant, but still, this is a very mechanic-centric game. When the mechanics work this well together though, it’s sort of just argued details. Brilliantly developed and designed, Century: Spice Road was one of my favorite games of Origins 2017.

Kris: I didn’t get to spend time with this one, but it sounds a helluva lot like Dominion to me. Trading spices isn’t the most enthralling theme in my mind, but a good game is a good game regardless of artwork or thematic details. I’m definitely eager to see where the Century series goes in the future. The possibilities are infinite!

 

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The Shared Dream (Odam)

Dave: Only getting a description from one of the game’s designers, this impression is going to fall woefully short of everything that seems to be promised by The Shared Dream. As Odam’s first board game, The Shared Dream is an adaptation of their RPG series Of Dreams and Magic (oh damn, that’s O.D.A.M.!). Players work cooperatively in both the dream world and the waking world, utilizing a dreamed persona and a “real” persona to try and combat the coming nightmare. Utilizing scenarios, a campaign, and a tile-laying mechanic, it seems like there are hours of gameplay here and rich opportunities for replay.

Kris: The Shared Dream is a unique concept that shows a great deal of promise. I tend to enjoy the interactions between two different realms, realities, or the flip sides of the same coin. They remind me of Silent Hill and Stranger Things. I’m curious as to how these interactions work in this tile-based interpretation of their already established world. A board game version of the same intellectual property could also serve as an excellent gateway to Odam’s RPG offerings.

 

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Flipships (Renegade Games)

Dave: Nostalgia alert! Flipships is a board game version of Space Invaders mixed with a drinking game. If that doesn’t appeal to every 30-something year old out there that still kindles even the smallest flame of fun, then I don’t know what will. The mothership is sending out wave after wave of kamikaze fighters to attack earth. Our core will stay strong for only so long. Do you have what it takes to flip your missiles onto the oncoming waves of aliens and ultimately the mothership itself? Better limber up them digits!

Kris: Another dexterity game! This one has the twist of combining a classic video game with that paper football game we all played when we were bored in elementary school. Players flick a cardboard disc onto cards representing incoming starfighters or into the gaping maw of the mothership. Alien ships are relentless in their approach, so player’s flicks must be both accurate and precise. Flipships does stellar work at combining different aspects of other games into a singular, cohesive experience. Great job!

 

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Pinball Showdown (Shoot Again Games)

Dave: The second of my favorite games from Origins this year had to have been Pinball Showdown. Developed by a professional pinball repairman, Diane Sauer has created the second best thing to actually playing pinball. For Pinball Showdown players are the balls released during a multi-ball. Targets can be struck and points earned, but momentum needs to be spent. Go down to the flipper and you don’t get points, but you build back momentum. Heck, if you can get some awesome music and flashing lights, this may be just as good as playing pinball!

Kris: Dave and I both love pinball, so this one immediately grabbed our attention. The main issue this game addresses is a simple one that has plagued designers for years. How does one translate a game that is perfectly fun in its original form to an equally enjoyable tabletop experience? Diane Sauer figured it out. In Pinball Showdown players act as the actual pinballs during a brief period of multiball mania. It’s all about maintaining the perfect balance between speed and control. The all-important multiplier also comes into play and can be the difference between a high score and a humiliating drain. If it’s in both of our top fives, you know this one rocks!

 

That’s it for Origins this year! Thanks so much to the organizers at GAMA, all of the great exhibitors, and throngs of volunteers that made for a great few days of gaming for Kris, me, and about 17,000 other passionate gaming nerds.

Be sure to check back in a couple of months when we hit up all of the great games at Gen Con!

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!

GAME OF TRAINS (Brain Games)

As a fan of the very simple yet very fun classic family game, Racko, Game of Trains immediately appealed to me. If you haven’t played Racko, let me explain it in two sentences.  In Racko you’re dealt 10 cards from a shuffled deck of cards numbered from 1 to 60. Lining those cards up in the order in which they were dealt to you, the goal is then to draw and replace a card each turn as you try to be the first to have your cards in order from low to high.

In Game of Trains the goal is the same, but with a few tidied up rules and a few new ones to introduce additional strategy and fuller gameplay. Starting with seven cards, players order them not in dealt order but in reverse numerical order (limiting the benefit of a lucky deal). After everyone’s train is lined up, players draw as many cards as their place in the turn order (one for first, two for second, etc) and replace one card in their train with one of the drawn cards. For everyone but the first player, the additional drawn cards will be discarded face up, making for the starting actions draw pile. With an action on every card, players now have the choice on their turn if they want to draw from the draw pile face down to replace a card in their train (which is then discarded to the action pile) or if they’d like to draw a face up card to play as an action. These action cards allow players to swap or move cards in their own line, discard cards from their’s and other’s lines, or lock in and protect a card in their train.

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Having additional rules doesn’t always improve games. I remember being disappointed by Tsuro of the Seass additions, feeling that the original version’s simple gameplay had been cluttered with a thematically fun, but frustratingly random new set of rules. Thankfully that’s not the case for Game of Trains as the new rules it introduces build on Racko‘s simplicity with new ways to hem and haw over what to do with your turn. Also the art is really rad. (Brain Games) by David C. Obenour

GEN CON, August 4-7 at the Indiana Convention Center

by David C. Obenour & Adam Talicska

Gen Con never really feels over until we’ve published the second part from our gaming round up and so with this post we say adieu to Gen Con 2016! The games, the food, the friends – a beloved annual tradition for gamers the world round. But enough getting misty eyed! Gen Con 2017 is on the books already and you’ve still got more games to read about.

 

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Grimslingers (Greenbrier Games)

Dave: Having spent much of the last 3 years reading through Stephen King’s Gunslinger series, Grimslingers is one of the games I went into Gen Con most excited for. Taking place in a familiar world adjacent to our Wild West, but twisted by raw and powerful magic, the inspiration is apparent and purposeful. While Roland’s boots are certainly big ones to fill, game designer, Stephen S Gibson has done a great job with this deck-building meets RPG game. Perhaps most impressive is that for the very reasonable price of $30 players are treated to two distinct styles of play for Grimslingers with a multi-session co-operative campaign or a shorter single session versus game… No, on second thought most impressive has to be the art. The cards are all beautifully illustrated with great uses of foil to make certain magical elements pop.

 

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Rattlebones (Rio Grande Games)

Dave: People who complain about “too much luck” in games will not enjoy Rattlebones. But who needs those grumpy old rules-lawyers anyway? Welcoming you into a creepy and colorful carnival is ringmaster Rattlebones who invites you to play his many different games of chance. Circling around the board, players pop out and add new die faces to the three game dice they choose from each turn. Some die results win you prizes, others can win you in-game advantages. It’s a balance of which mechanic you want to rely on all while knowing there’s only so much you can do without the right rolls. It’s a lot of fun if you’re more concerned with having a good time then winning.

Adam: As a completely new style of game than I had played before, Rattlebones really piqued my interest. I heavily enjoyed the ability to pop off the die faces and replace them with new ones that granted different abilities when rolled. However, there wasn’t much depth of strategy to the game. I found that I focused solely on building my primary and secondary dice and completely ignored the third once I got those abilities I needed. It then became a race to get those more desired die faces.

 

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Scythe (Stonemaier Games)

Dave: It would be an omission not to include Scythe because it certainly was one of the games tucked underneath arms all weekend long. Reimagining 1920s Europa after the First World War players take on the role of a fallen leader, looking to restore their faction to its former glory in this 4X game (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate). While there’s no denying its beautiful artwork and well-designed pieces, the level of popularity was surprising for a game so long and complex in a market ruled by Euro-style.

 

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Dragoon (Lay Waste Games)

Dave: There seems to be a growing trend over the last few years of coming at well-known gaming themes from the opposing side. For Dragoon’s part, players play not as valiant knights but as prideful and treasure-hoarding dragons, terrorizing and extorting the oncoming throngs of humans looking to colonize their island. Without getting a chance to play a full game, Dragoon still could be one of my favorite games from Gen Con. The only thing holding it back is a rather hefty $75 pricetag. Is the metal they used for the dragon playing pieces cool? No doubt. Are they expensive to produce? No doubt, again. Could Lay Waste Games have sold out of copies by no later then midday Saturday if they’d have used more affordable plastic pieces instead? …maybe?

Adam: Possibly, but come on Dave. It’s metallic dragons made from actual metal!

Dave: Okay, okay. That is cool.

 

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GKR: Heavy Hitters (Weta Workshop / Evolver Studios / Cryptozoic)

Dave: Seeing the awesome marketing materials on display at Origins it was great to get a chance to look at GKR: Heavy Hitters in all of its plastic and cardboard glory at Gen Con. Unfortunately this was another one of those hot games where it was nearly impossible to get a playtest without investing a couple of hours in waiting around or getting up and rushing the doors far earlier then I was willing to do. From what I could tell, GKR is a lean and mean miniatures meets board-type game, taking less then an hour to play. Created by a conceptual design company with history in movie and film, Weta Workshops has designed their entire own world through awesome and comic book-y art and… I mean guys, the game is called Giant Killer Robots: Heavy Hitters, what more do I really need to say here to get you excited?

 

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Alan’s Adventureland (Rio Grande Games)

Dave: The best introduction for a game came as we were patiently waiting for a playtester to walk us through this bright and colorful amusement park building game. Coming over to our table we were greeted with, “Hi, I’m Alan and this is my Adventureland.” It was pretty funny how dryly game designer Alan Ernstein said it, but he was then very helpful in explaining his game. The theme for Alan’s Adventureland really serves as more of a vehicle for this intricate and puzzle-ish game. This could be disappointing if you were hoping for strategic park building (he did mention he was currently working another game more like this), but it was still a fun game of thoughtful victory point collecting through a wide variety of different plays.

Adam: I have always hoped for a fun adventure park-building game that would replicate the park building experience. While this game doesn’t really capture the feeling of designing your own amusement park you do get a really colorful game where you place ride tiles on a grid to represent your park. I felt that the scoring system was pretty interesting even if it did take some time to puzzle out. Do you upgrade your rides for that extra thrill factor, or do you spread out with a wide variety of rides and attractions?

 

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Unfair (Good Games Publishing)

Dave: Where Alan’s Adventureland didn’t really provide the payoff of a more thematic park-building experience, Unfair does! On each turn players build attractions and food vendors, add on upgrades and thematic elements, and hire personnel to man their parks. This is all done through stacking cards that provide further benefits and income to go buy and hire more cards. Turns progress with an at first helpful but later obtrusive local government for you to navigate your own and complicate your opponent’s projects. Unfair is currently on Kickstarter and I’d definitely suggest you consider backing it!

 

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Saloon Tycoon (Van Ryder Games)

Dave: Saloon Tycoon five times lapped their Kickstarter earlier this year and looking over the finished game at Gen Con it’s not really hard to imagine why. In this game players take turns in building up their wild wild west saloons from the ground, or in this case the board, up. Using the same sort of layer stacking used for Rampage, players upgrade their saloons with additional rooms and business. The game also makes use of character cards, hidden agendas and of course, “goooooold!” (shouted in an old timey prospector voice).

 

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Save the Cupcake! (Asmadi Games)

Adam: There was a lot of fun buzz about this game at the show, but there is only so much time to demo games and I missed it! Your thought’s Dave?

Dave: I thought I heard wrong when the people at Asmadi compared Save the Cupcake! to the famous Price is Right game Plinko. Nope! Plinko is exactly what they said and what you get from this fun little 2-player card game. Arranging a pyramid of cards, the defending player hides their cupcake in the bottom row. The attacking player then runs his chips through the array of cards, displaying differing routes when landed on. I wasn’t sure it could be done, but dag gum it! Asmadi sure did it. Save the Cupcake! is an inventive and fun fifteen minutes.

 

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Ticket to Ride: Rails and Sails (Days of Wonder)

Dave: Ticket to Ride is one of the greatest modern day board games. The easy to explain rules, the quick turns, the balance of strategy and luck – everything’s there. With its well-deserved success there have been a number of expansions, keeping the game fun (and highly profitable). For this stand-alone release, players build train and shipping routes across the globe and around the Great Lakes on a double-sided board. While the addition of ships and ports are fun twists, they probably don’t offer enough difference for the casual player. But if you’re not the casual player, you’ve probably already bought and thoroughly enjoyed Rails and Sails.

Adam: I have to echo Dave’s thoughts on this game. Chances are, if you consider yourself a boardgamer you have played some variation of Ticket to Ride. Each new game variant changes up the mix oh so slightly, but the excellent core gameplay remains the same; collect cards, claim routes, and complete tickets. I have to say though, having grown up in Michigan I am a sucker for the Great Lakes map.

 

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Junk Art (Pretzel Games)

Dave: This is a game I saw at both Origins and Gen Con but unfortunately didn’t get a chance to try. I’m glad Adam did though as every time I’d pass by it sure seemed like people were having a blast!

Adam: The demo table for this game was busy all show long and it wasn’t hard to see why. Junk Art is a fun stacking game with multiple variations of play, all of which revolves around placing different shaped blocks and pieces onto a base. Each piece comes in four different colors and has a corresponding card. Some of the gameplay versions include a speed stacking one, another where you create the most precarious sculpture that you opponents then have to add to without knocking it over, and one where you try to place the blocks with the highest point value in your construction. At first it appears that the blocks are just random “junk,” but they all connect in surprising, ingenious ways. My only gripe with the game was that the demo board was made up of pieces much larger than the home version of the game. I kinda wish I could have bought a version with the demo sized pieces!

 

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Vikings on Board (Blue Orange Games)

Dave: Vikings on Board was definitely one of the most eye-catching games at Gen Con, a fact that wasn’t lost on Blue Orange who produced a large-scale demo to further elicit the “wow” factor. After being drawn in by cardboard Viking longboats crashing on the beaches, hearing a run down of the game felt somewhat reminiscent to daily Gen Con sell-out and Spiele das Jahres nominee, Imhotep (which we reviewed earlier this year). One main way where Vikings seems to differ is with the betting mechanic that allows players who may not have been as fortunate to pick the sailing conditions a chance to still profit off of their fellow Nordic marauders. It’s hard to say more without having played a full game, but I’m definitely on board… for Vikings on Board. (yukyukyuk)

GEN CON, August 4-7 at the Indiana Convention Center

by David C. Obenour & Adam Talicska

Midwestern modesty makes it hard to acknowledge, but there’s no denying that Gen Con is one of the largest gaming events in the world. And while nerd culture going mainstream has derailed other conventions into watered-down celebrations of all things pop culture, Gen Con has remained dedicated. That’s not to say there aren’t things to do that aren’t gaming related (including a full section of the guide book somewhat humorously titled SPouse Activities or “SPA”) but if gaming’s what you’ll want, well then gaming’s what you’ll get! And since you’ve asked so nicely for gaming here is our first batch of highlights from 2016.

 

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Sagrada (Floodgate Games)

Dave: Sagrada is a great example of masterfully matching a game’s components with its theme. In this puzzle-styled game, players fill the panes of a stained glass grid with different beautifully colored translucent dice. The grid patterns are limited by varying levels of difficulty that determine where dice can be placed and how many resources the player has available at the game’s start. Dice can’t border other dice of the same color or same number and certain patterns score bonus points at the end of the game. It’s a little like a Sudoku, but arguably way more fun. The Kickstarter comes in September.

 

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Mechana Rising (Dimension Games)

Dave: If you look back through all of the gaming conventions we’ve covered, you can tell I’m not much of a collectible card game guy. It seems most walk-throughs start off with, “You know Magic, right?” and then they go into how they’ve supposedly perfected one of the best selling games of the last two decades (which I’m not that big of a fan of either). All of which makes it pretty surprising that I really enjoyed Mechana Rising! A starter set providing four factions gives you a number of different ways to play this sci-fi battle. Only the human and mutant decks were available to try at Gen Con, but the interesting mechanics of humans starting out heavily equipped while the mutant slowly added their mutations worked well in the game and thematically. Also of note is the heavily stylized work of illustrator Dashiell Kirk who did an amazing job with the oversized playing cards.

Adam: I will second Dave’s comments about the art.  It was really refreshing to see such a different style of artwork in a game.  Too many times games fall into the same high fantasy, hard sci-fi, or european resource-management art styles.

 

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Let Them Eat Cake (Osprey Games)

Dave: Having been introduced to Osprey Games just this year with the great fantasy miniature ruleset of Frostgrave and then releasing Kris and my favorite game of Origins with Escape From the Aliens in Outerspace, this English publisher seems to be able to do no wrong in my book. Unfortunately I didn’t get to play Let Them Eat Cake, but Adam did so I’ll let him take this one.

Adam: Let Them Eat Cake is a really fun multiplayer game in which each player is a member of the Revolutionary Committee.  Gameplay consists of electing your fellow players to positions of authority, forming alliances to gather power, all the while deciding on how best to betray said alliances and send your opponents pawns to the guillotine in order to amass the greatest amount of cake!  Through a simple system of colored cards to represent votes it allows what appears to be a fun, silly game about the Revolution to become surprisingly political.  As Dave said, Osprey continues to be a game developer produces high quality games that deserve greater recognition.

 

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Karuba (HABA)

Dave: A nominee for this year’s Spiele des Jahres, Karuba is a smart and accessible tile-placement game from all ages designer HABA. In it, players lay path tiles on the grid of a jungle island to lead their explorers from their beached ships to the hidden temples. Tiles are drawn by a caller and each player arranges the same tile on their individual map or uses it to move their explorer along the trail. The concept is similar to what Days of Wonder went for with Relic Runners but streamlined. This is the sort of easy to explain and highly replayable game that should sell as well at Target as your FLGS.

 

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The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games)

Dave: A fun and unique concept sure can go a long way in making a board game. And what’s more fun then getting to play as the truly ruthless paleontologists of the Great Dinosaur Rush of the mid to late 1800’s? Playing as the too ridiculous to be made up historical figures of the era, players collect different dinosaur bones (leg, head, rib, exotic and more) to assemble in whatever fashion gets them the most notoriety. Steal bones from each other, sabotage work sites and influence public opinion, learning sure can be fun when you don’t realize you’re doing it!

Adam: I loved the aspect of making up your own ridiculous assemblage of dino bones into the most shocking configurations.  Behold!  The Seven-Necked Frumposaur!

 

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Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (USAopoly)

Dave: Hogwarts Battle was another undeniably hot game at Gen Con, selling out within the first hour of each day. It’s hard to tell whether this response is the doing to a wildly popular series made even more popular with a recent book release or if the game itself is to credit. As playtests were hard to come by and most copies seemed to be sold before anyone would have had a chance to get one anyway, it seems to be the former but that doesn’t discount the latter. A 2-4 player cooperative deck-building game, players take on the role of Harry, Hermoine, Ron and Neville as they defend Hogwarts against you-know-who. Licensed products are sometimes a red flag, but USAopoly has been on a roll these last few years so it will be interesting to find out more.

Adam: I am a little concerned about the replay value of the game due to the idea that every game takes place during a specific year of Harry’s education at Hogwarts. Before each game you open up a specific pack of cards corresponding to that year and add them to your collection.  Unfortunately we were unable to get a look at the cards, but I am hoping that a simple mechanic of marking the cards with the years that they come from would allow players to sort them out and play any specific year.

 

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Eschaton (Archon Games)

Dave: Archon, formerly Travesty Games, makes some beautifully evil looking games. We first encountered them at last year’s Gen Con with Deathfear and though I’d surprise past me by saying it, they’ve topped themselves with Eschaton. In this deck-building meet dudes on a map game, players take on the role of a cult leader fighting for the dark one’s admiration in the dying days of civilization. Zealots march across the map, slaughter each other and then rise up with renewed fervor. An ever-building deck of cultists, monsters and spells dictate turns like a game of Dominion where you get to orchestrate the destruction implied from the flavor text. Selling out of the limited number of handmade copies made available ahead of the Kickstarter’s completion, Eschaton was my game of the convention. You should go back this right now.

 

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Meow (Asmadi Games)

Dave: Asmadi may have perfected the light-hearted in between games game with We Didn’t Playtest This at All. It’s fast-paced, silly, but also surprisingly engaging. These quick type of games seem to be their market and Meow plays to that. For this particular card game, you draw from a deck of cards that are mostly illustrations of cats that say Meow, but some that aren’t cats that say Not Meow. Either way, after you draw a card, you say “Meow” and play continues. That is unless someone accuses you of having a Not Meow card. At that point you show all of your cards – if any are Not Meows, you’re out, but if none are Not Meows, they’re out. That’s all there is to it! It’s definitely fun for a little bit and that’s all it’s really meant to be.

 

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You Gotta be Kitten Me! (Stone Blade Entertainment)

Dave: Continuing the theme of light-hearted and fast-paced card games about cats – enter, Stone Blade Entertainment’s You Gotta Be Kitten Me! I’m not as familiar with their back-catalogue of games but this definitely occupies shelf-space next to Meow. Slightly more complicated, each card has an illustration of some cute animal(s) wearing or not wearing different colored hats, glasses and/or bow ties. On your turn you say an ever-increasing number of accessories or a color. Example “five bowties”, then “seven red”, and “eight hats.” Whenever a player doesn’t believe the number, they exclaim, “You gotta be kitten me!” and cards are revealed to show whether they were right or not. Hands are then redealt with whoever was wrong drawing one less card. Whoever last has cards in their hand wins. Not a bad little game, but emphasis is on little game.

Adam: A different take on the bluffing game Liars Dice,You Gotta Be Kitten Me! is pretty easy to pick up and play, but not very deep in the strategy department.  The cutesy black and white pictures of puppies and kittens bedecked in bowler hats or glasses can definitely bring the “d’awwwwwww,” factor though.

 

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Ice Cool (Brain Games)

Dave: This may win Gen Con for most outside of the box board game. An award that’s made a little confusing as Ice Cool comes in a box that’s filled with other boxes that make up the playing board. Does that make this more of an inside of the box game? Nevermind, let’s just talk about it already! You’re a rascally penguin that’s trying to skip out of class (Ice Cool, High School – get it?) and scarf down some fish. To do this you’ll flick your penguin from room to room, all of while avoiding the hall monitor. It’s similar to the poison rules for croquet but on a tabletop! Lots of people were talking about this game and they were right to be.

Adam: So many times at the con I observed people playing this game and invariably a stranger would stop and ask questions about it.  It has such a unique look with it’s multiple box rooms it really catches your attention.

 

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Sea Fall (Plaid Hat Games)

Dave: Sea Fall wins the gamer rage award as copies of the highly-sought after Legacy game were snatched up by VIGs on Wednesday before the exhibitor hall even opened to joe schmoe attendees. I even heard a few slighted vendors grumbling about how they denied sales in favor of those lucky VIGs. Marketing strategy and the fairness of this will probably be hotly debated on forums, but as for the game itself all I can say is that Sea Fall does look awesome. Designed by Rob Daviau of the popular Risk and Pandemic adaptations, this is his first wholly self-designed game for the multiple play sessions Legacy format. I didn’t get in a playtest as those lists filled up each morning in a matter of minutes, but I did lean over shoulders and tables and drooled heavily. (sorry)

Adam: I too like many missed out on a playtest of this game.  Having encountered strong word of mouth about it, I was disappointed that there was not nearly enough copies to meet even a fraction of the fervent demand.  I was really intrigued by the system of discovering and developing of islands and how choices in each game can influence how following games are played.  Hopefully Plaid Hat is hard at work churning out more copies to get in the hands of these rabid fans.

 

We’ll be back next week with part two of our Gen Con review, featuring Scythe, Grimslingers, Rattlebones, Dragoon, Unfair, GKR: Heavy Hitters, Adventureland, Saloon Tycoon, Vikings on Board, Trash Art, Save the Cupcake!, and Ticket to Ride: Rails and Sails.

ORIGINS GAME FAIR, June 15-19 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center

by David C. Obenour & Kris Poland

Another year, another kick off of the tabletop games convention season with Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio! Fueled exclusively by Lan Viet‘s bánh mì sandwiches, we took advantage of the expanded exhibitor hall (stretching game demo space into two larger halls), manageable crowds and friendly volunteer playtesters, to get into a whole lot in those few days. So let’s get to what everyone actually cares about: the games!

 

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Salem (Passport Games Studios)

Kris: I didn’t get to play Salem, but I watched over Dave’s shoulder as he finished up his demo. It looks a lot like the dozens upon dozens of Are you a Werewolf? (Or Mafia. Whatever.) style games out there right now. The biggest difference between Salem and the rest of the crowd seems to be that while the rest are more focused on fun, lighthearted social play, Salem is a serious logic puzzle to be solved by serious players.

Dave: Kris is right that thematically, you would think that Salem sits alongside a number of party games already out there – but this is no party game. The research that went into Salem is nothing short of remarkable. The four trials that represent turns take place on the historic Salem Witch Trials and each of the 49 characters represented were real participants and have a few sentences back story written beneath their token. The art is also very dark and fitting of the concept, with heavy ink lines for deep shadows. As for the game itself, Salem plays out like a logic problem or Sudoku channeled through a more involved version of Clue. Having not used this part of my brain in years there was a rather bewildering learning curve, but that too added to the game’s experience as you were forced to make accusations and vote on guilt.

 

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TANKS (Gale Force Nine)

Kris: Gale Force Nine have been killing it of late. It’s truly surprising to me to see a company that began in gaming accessories churn out some very cool-looking and playable games. TANKS looks to continue that tradition with skirmish-level miniature battles that can be setup and played in a matter of minutes rather than hours. The models look great, with nice details and variable armaments, and the price point for entry is incredibly reasonable. I’m very excited to get my hands on the starter set and take TANKS for a test drive.

Dave: X-Wing has brought a whole new wave of gamers to the tabletop and with it a whole new wave of games. Taking its roots from Gale Force Nine’s Flames of War system (even sharing the same tank models), TANKS is a quick to pick up and play game of World War II tank combat. The core set is only $25 and comes with all of the rules and a Panther and Sherman tank. Is TANKS a cleverly marketed gateway drug for Flames of War? Perhaps. Do I care? Guys, we’re talking about battling tanks, here!

 

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Garbage Day (Mayday Games)

Kris: Garbage Day is elegance and simplicity in game design wrapped up into an instantly understandable product. Perhaps it’s just a case of rules overload, but I find it so refreshing to play these straightforward, streamlined games that absolutely anyone can pick up and enjoy. There’s very little depth to Garbage Day, but there doesn’t need to be. There’s the skill element of balancing cards on the trashcan and the gambling element of managing how messy a player’s room becomes. That’s it. This is a must play for everyone from family gamers to hardcore rules lawyers who need to be reminding of the importance of fun in gaming.

Dave: One of the greatest things about the rising popularity of board games is all of the creative concepts that publishers are willing to back. Now, from the gaming company that brought the West monkeys flinging rubber coconuts into plastic bushels, we have the game of avoiding taking out the trash! If that sounds like a dig at all, you obviously haven’t played Coconuts (read our summary from last year’s Origins) or Garbage Day yet. Packed inside a plastic garbage bin, Garbage Day has players drawing from a deck of trash, to then either store in their room, hide in their opponent’s room, or precariously balance atop of the bin. One of my favorite games of the weekend.

 

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The Refuge (B&B Games Studio)

Dave: The Refuge’s art really drew me in but after hearing the run through it sounded like… a more complicated version of zombie-themed checkers? That’s not entirely fair as we didn’t get to play this one. Honestly, Kris seemed a little more into it so I think I’m just going to let him take it.

Kris: It blew me away to learn that The Refuge was in development for two years. The game is incredibly straightforward. Think Frogger but with zombies instead of traffic. Get from one side of the board to the other without dying. That’s about it. There are weapons and ways to switch places with other players and a handful of other elements that ought to keep gameplay from getting too stale too quickly. There’s potential for a lot of fun here, but The Refuge isn’t going to replace Dead of Winter on anyone’s shelf. Hopefully that two-year development time meant that they play-tested the hell out of it in order to make it as balanced and smooth as possible.

 

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Avalanche at Yeti Mountain (Green Couch Games)

Dave: For just being a deck of cards, a couple of plastic holders and a handful of wooden pawns, Avalanche at Yeti Mountain does a great job of feeling like it’s more. Laying out a slope of 12 cards, players ski and rocket jump their way down the mountain, trying to avoid the yeti and outrun the avalanche. Adding to the affect, the avalanche is represented by a stood up card with a track on the top to indicate its speed (which increases with every rocket jump). It’s a fun and clever game designed in a fun and clever way.

Kris: I completely agree with Dave on this one. For such a tiny box, there’s a lot of goodness packed into Yeti Mountain. It’s about risk and reward and the balance between competition and cooperation. Players take the role of skiers testing out experimental rocket boosters. If everyone moves as fast as possible down the mountain, the avalanche speeds up and ultimately consumes them. If everyone plays it too safe, they quickly become Yeti chow. Don’t be fooled by its diminutive appearance. There are great times crammed into that itty bitty package. Kudos to Green Couch!

 

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The Networks (Formal Ferret Games)

Dave: Hire your stars, pay for new shows, solicit advertising and set that primetime schedule, in The Networks players fight for viewers as growing television stations. Turns represent seasons and each new season some shows get circulated reruns, reruns go into the archives, and a variety of new show, ad, star and action cards are available to add to your station. It’s a unique concept that’s translated very well through simple rules with a variety of decisions. I’m not sure how it would work out (for that matter, neither is the entertainment industry) but it could be neat to see an internet streaming expansion.

Kris: The Networks instantly won points with me for its lighthearted graphic design and stylish presentation. It’s a game that immediately looks fun to play. The titles and images associated with the television programs, stars of the small screen, and ridiculous advertisements will bring smiles to the faces of all but the most dour gamers. We only had time to experience two seasons out of the standard five season game length, but it was enough exposure to the game’s core elements to see there there’s a lot of variety in strategy and fun to be had with The Networks.

 

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Klask (Oy Marektoy Ltd.)

Kris: Klask is a weird one. I prefer to think of games of its ilk as games of skill as opposed to games of strategy or even luck. It’s more akin to foosball or air hockey or Subbuteo than to Catan or Axis & Allies. I see this as a positive trend. The more variety in gaming the better! Klask seemed fairly pricey for what it was offering, but I choose to assume that it’s hand assembled from quality parts. Dexterity, patience, precise movements, and a patient hand will all be key components of success for any Klask players. If we get our hands on one of these, I could see tournaments in the Ghettoblaster offices becoming fiercely competitive. I’m comin’ for you, Dave!

Dave: There don’t seem to be enough yet to call it a trend, but more parlor-type games have been showing up at conventions. It’s the logical progression too, after popular games like Space Cadets have reintroduced dexterity and physical challenges to gaming. So here we have Scandinavian publisher Oy Marektoy and their very Ikea-looking take on air hockey, Klask. As the box says, “Get your hand under that table! Try to score but watch out for the hole.. Klask!” Those are pretty much the rules. The magnetized pawn moves as you drag it along from below, trying to knock the ball into your opponent’s hole while also trying to avoid trapping it in your own. Three magnets sit in the middle and if two of them latch onto your pawn, it’s trouble. It was definitely fun, but its simplicity may land it on the shelf for stretches of time between playing.

 

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Bottom of the Ninth (Greater Than Games)

Dave: I didn’t get much more than a brief rundown of Bottom of the Ninth but this might have been my favorite designed game at Origins. The player cards resembled old Topps baseball cards, the tones are all done in a dusty, Middle of America coloring scheme, and there are two sets of double sided baseball discs – one with High and Low, one with Inside and Away – for the batter and pitcher to size up each other with on every pitch. The game only simulates those high stakes last three outs as it’s the bottom of the ninth and the game is tied, so play time is short and exciting.

Kris: Color me impressed. Most baseball simulations do absolutely nothing for me. My eyelids grow heavy and my focus wanders whenever hitting percentages and RBIs are even mentioned. Bottom of the Ninth, however, boils baseball down to the most exciting scenario in any game. It’s the last inning and the game is tied. It all comes down to one pitcher and a handful of batters. The player cards look phenomenal, and the pitcher/batter face-off component is smart. There’s a lot of potential for amazing showdowns here. I’m definitely looking forward to spending more time with Bottom of the Ninth.

 

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Crazy Karts (Portal Games)

Kris: A good (or bad) demo can make (or break) a game in the hearts and minds of gamers. That’s why it is unfortunate that our session with Crazy Karts felt manic and confusing. My heart goes out to those volunteers that spend hours on the convention hall floor dealing with gamers who cover the entire spectrum of interest, etiquette, and hygiene. Nevertheless, my experience with Crazy Karts was less than stellar. There seems to be a lot of spectacle and forced mirth around a concept that is, at its core, fairly barebones. I do believe that there is some potential for fun with this game, but I’m uncertain as to whether or not it’s worth putting in the effort. Just play one of the many versions of Mario Kart for your Nintendo console of choice instead.

Dave: It can be hard to judge a game on a demo because admittedly the play-testers are often running you through a simplified version to save on time. So it’s entirely possible that there’s more to Crazy Karts than what we experienced. What we did experience though felt a little too complicated to be so simple. The straight racetrack tiles were only broken up by intermittent obstacle spaces (without any twists or turns or jumps) and even though the racetrack tiles were double-sided, the illustrated terrain had no effect (the bridge spaces on one tile were effectively the same as the water spaces). The team dynamic of having two players on each kart lead to some exciting guesswork and the real time rush to distribute each turn’s power cards within five seconds of the first team’s completion kept things moving along. There were definitely things I like about Crazy Karts but maybe not enough to make room for it on the shelf.

 

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Beyond Baker Street (Z-Man Games)

Dave: A fun things games can do is take a well known concept but come at it from a different angle. In Beyond Baker Street players take on the role of not Sherlock Holmes or Watson but members of the Scotland Yard, continually embarrassed by this upstart detective always getting their man. Working together, players share evidence but there’s a leak and every time information is shared Holmes gets one step closer to solving the case. The designers execute this through gameplay in a brilliant appropriation of Hanabi’s core mechanic –holding cards faced outwards and giving clues based on the color or number. This was my sleeper hit of convention.

Kris: Every nerd has his blind spots. One of my biggest blind spots encompasses all that is Sherlock Holmes. As with steampunk and Dr. Who, I just don’t care. I guess that goes to show just how much a theme can matter to a game. Ultimately, play mechanics and strategic depth and fun-factor keep us playing. But a good theme can draw in new players. It’s a shame too because the idea behind Beyond Baker Street is great! It’s the equivalent of GCPD to Batman. I’ll have to take a closer look.

— but wait, there’s more —

Come back later this week for the Games of Origins, 2016: Part Two – featuring Dead Last, Epic Card Game, Tiffin, Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space, Conan, Ruckus, Battlecruisers, Feuer Drachen, Wasteland Express and Last Friday!

RENAISSANCE MAN (Rio Grande Games)

It takes a lot to become a Renaissance Man – there are so many fields to study! The Dark Ages aren’t going to end themselves though and if mankind ever hopes to reach the Age of Enlightenment it will take a number of dedicated thinkers.

For Renaissance Man, players build a card pyramid of scholars, bakers, merchants, knights and renaissance men. With the exception of titular card, each worker card provides its player with an available game action and each available tier of their pyramid offers an additional action per turn. The catch is that every time you recruit or hire a new worker, it covers two workers lower on the pyramid – adding to additional tiers, but decreasing available actions at a 2-to-1 ratio. This forces players to think a number of turns ahead, storing actions, collecting cards and adding and subtracting workers from their pyramid in the race toward training the ultimate Renaissance Man.

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It’s definitely different from most modern games, playing out more like a traditional card game. Unlike a traditional card game though there isn’t much chance involved (with the exceptions of exceedingly lucky or unlucky dealt hand). The cards drawn are more about reshaping a winning strategy as opposed to waiting for that one perfect card.

There’s definitely not much to Renaissance Man in terms of narrative and the rulebook doesn’t offer any background or introductory fluff. But if the how’s of a game are more enjoyable to your playing than the why’s, Renaissance Man might just be for you. (Rio Grande Games) by David C. Obenour

FLUXX DICE (Looney Labs)

Fluxx is a great little game. The rules are simple: draw a card and play a card. The goals for winning change, the actions each turn can entirely reset the rules and overall it’s a lot of good, light-hearted fun. There are also a bunch of different themed decks (notably Batman and Adventure Time, which we reviewed just the other week) to mix and match to your hearts content.

Fluxx Dice is an expansion for any of your Fluxx decks that introduces a fun little trick with a draw and play die. These two dice are rolled at the start of each turn to determine how many cards are drawn and played. Not knowing how many cards you’ll be able to draw and play definitely limits the strategizing from turn to turn, but Fluxx has always been more about playing the game than winning it. Some people won’t like not being able to meticulously plan out their victory, but those people probably didn’t like Fluxx that much anyway.

If the game is in steady rotation at your table, it’s definitely a nice bit of randomness to shake things up (and then roll them). (Looney Labs) by David C. Obenour

 

 

BATMAN & ADVENTURE TIME FLUXX (Looney Labs)

By David C. Obenour

Any game that you can explain in a sentence and still be entertained by is pretty great.

In Fluxx the rules are draw a card, then play a card.

Just say that, let it hang there, and enjoy the befuddled look on your friend’s face.

“…but you spent like a half hour explaining the last game to me?”

That was the last game, pal and we all need a bit of a break from the high-stakes world of medieval farming and battling back ancient unspeakable horrors.

As Fluxx goes on, played cards introduce new rules, draw and play amounts, hand limits, goals for winning the game and a bunch of other actions to shake things up. It’s fun, it’s silly and as long as no one pulls any funny business, you’re pretty sure you’ve set up a plan to win in the next three turns. Spoiler alert: there will be funny business.

Taking this concept, Looney Labs has released a number of different Fluxx decks designed to excite nerds of all persuasions.

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Batman Fluxx is the latest and probably greatest too. While other licensed product decks have been fun primarily due to the art and warm feelings of recognition with that art, the game integration for the Batman cartoon was really well thought out. The deck is full of villains (which any Batman nerd will tell you is the best part) and there are plenty of fun mechanics like the Bat Signal card you can exchange for Batman, or the Arkham Asylum card where villains are discarded underneath and if it gets cancelled, dealt back out around the table, or the Bruce Wayne card which must be discarded if Batman is ever played (plus, try reading “The Joker Got Away” goal card without humming another verse or two of “Jingle Bells”). Admittedly, comic book inspired art might have looked better, but that won’t stop you from having a fun time.

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Next up is Adventure Time Fluxx that, while a fun game, does suffer from what I’d mentioned previously. It’s fun playing with Jake, Finn and Fiona, but most of the cards fit pretty well within the standard Fluxx format. One action card that’s a favorite though is “The Arena” which has all players submit a keeper or creeper for combat and then have a debate about who would win in battle. If you like Adventure Time, you’ll like Adventure Time Fluxx. It’s pretty much that simple.

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Finally, with other licensed decks like Monty Python, Regular Show and Cartoon Network, along with nerd favorite themed decks like Cthulhu, Pirates and Zombies, it’s tempting to mix decks together to make your own crossover episode game. Finn and Jake mixing it up with Mordecai and Rigby against the undead? You know that sounds like a good time!

There aren’t exact rules for mixing decks though and doing so can present a few problems. First off, goal cards for winning the game are generally related to the deck from which they came in so finding a specific card requires more deck-digging. Second, sometimes rule cards from different decks may clash with each other. That said, as long as you don’t have a rules lawyer around the table (and really, it’s a fun 5-15 minute game) it’s nothing some good-hearted, on-the-spot playtesting can’t handle. (Looney Labs) by David C. Obenour