Tag Archive: “Rio Grande Games”

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)

TIFFIN (Rio Grande Games)

Every day over a quarter of a million hot lunches are delivered to workers in Mumbai, India. Carried in metal, stackable tiffins, these lunches are distributed through an amazingly effective organization of dabbawallas (delivery people) who pick up the meals at the customer’s home, bring them to a sorting facility, load and then later unload them from a train, resort, route and finally deliver the lunches. It’s a fascinating system and one that you get to participate in for Tiffin.

Assuming the role of the dabbawallas, players take turns loading tiffins and delivering them along the routes. A semi-cooperative game, players work together to complete routes but also need to focus and predict which routes they can play on to maximize points while also minimizing their opponent’s.

All of this is done through a fairly simple dynamic of single action turns for collecting different colored delivery cards to use to complete different colored route boards, in a fashion somewhat similar to Ticket to Ride. After the route boards are filled, they are scored for the three highest contributors through a progression of tiffin tracking cards of ascending value.

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The reference to Ticket to Ride isn’t to say that Tiffin owes a great debt to the popular game. While some of the mechanics relate well, there are different dynamics at play too. There’s an element of push-your-luck as you load tiffins for additional points but then also open up a route for others to play high value delivery cards and take majority scoring bonuses. Also for as many things that can be planned out, each player has two single use action cards to shorten or lengthen routes, and certain delivery cards trigger the competitor’s possible involvement on routes. Throughout the game there’s a lot to consider and also a few things to concede that you can’t really consider until they happen.

It’s exciting to see how well the designers were able to pair the game mechanics of Tiffin with the thematic inspiration. The art is also vivid and colorfully done, bringing all of the sounds and smells of a bustling Indian street to mind as you play. Games with rules and playing times twice as long would be lucky to be so immersive. (Rio Grande Games) by David C. Obenour

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

by David C. Obenour & Kris Poland

Day 12 of bánh mì withdrawl: Miss you Columbus’ Northside Market. Miss you everyday… and we also miss all of the good times we had in playing our way up and down the aisles (and then again and again) at Origins Game Fair! If you missed part one, go back and check it out, but without further ado, here’s part two!

 

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Dead Last (Smirk & Dagger Games)

Kris: Dead Last reminded me a lot of Ca$h N Gun$ in that it involved players taking the role of criminals who are probably going to all kill one another. All forms of table talk are allowed and encouraged, from open alliances to subtle nods. The coolest part of Dead Last is that the last two players standing enter into a final standoff where they can either cooperate or duel to the death. Accommodating up to twelve players increases its likelihood to come out when lots of friends are over, even if some of them aren’t all that familiar with gaming.

Dave: I’m normally very wary of party games. Most substitute hackneyed nostalgia, shock humor or socially acceptable nerd culture references in place of a good game. May I also add, get off my lawn! Now that I’m done being a curmudgeon Dead Last looks like a really fun game! Like Kris mentioned, my first thought was of Ca$h N Gun$ too – a fun party game but one that we already own. Thankfully we stuck around for a quick explanation where we were told all of nuances of Dead Last. Everything from texting to meaningful eyebrow stroking can be used to communicate with your fellow players. Party people seemed to be having a rowdy good time with this one all weekend long and for once I think I agree with them!

 

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Epic Card Game (White Wizard Games)

Dave: Honestly, collectible card games (CCGs) are more of Kris’ thing and while I could appreciate what was going on with Epic Card Game (and am a big fan of White Wizard Games other creation, Star Realms), I think I’ll let him handle this one.

Kris: This is easily in my top three games of the fair. The design goal of Epic, unfortunately one of the lamest game names ever, was to make every game turn feel like the craziest turn of a Magic: The Gathering duel. Mission accomplished. Anyone familiar with Magic will instantly pick up the idea and run with just how much they nailed it. For those who may never have played a CCG, Epic’s rules are few and simple enough to avoid intimidation. The starter deck comes with 120 cards from four different colored factions that can be used as standalone decks or in drafts or various other formats. A handful of boosters are also available. Epic is an impressive followup to the equally impressive Star Realms.

 

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Ruckus: The Goblin Army Game (Goblin Army Games)

Kris: The volunteer demoing Ruckus directly told us that the game was not good. This was a huge bummer, as secretly lining up blocks of goblin infantry in different formations looked to be right up my alley. I just feel bad for the designer that this guy who clearly did not care for the game he was presenting to gamers immediately turned us away.

Dave: The unfortunate reality is that the person presenting you with a game, and the people demoing a game with you, really color your opinion. At first glance, Ruckus appeared like a beer and pretzel game, and already owning a few goblin-themed beer and pretzel games, I wasn’t that interested. Then I was told that in fact this was a fairly long and involved tactical game but as soon as I got somewhat interested I was told that it really wasn’t that good of a game. Sorry we couldn’t be more helpful! Hopefully they’ll be at Gen Con with someone more helpful explaining things.

 

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Tiffin (Rio Grande Games)

Kris: I never would have guessed I could be so drawn in by a game about delivering hot lunches on a bicycle. Tiffin lands in my top three because of its unusual theme, easy-to-learn gameplay, and lively pace. This is another example of how an excellent game demo can make a world of difference. Dave and I played a full three-player game with a polite and friendly stranger after the Rio Grande volunteer ran us through the rules in five short minutes.

Dave: Yeah, Tiffin really was on the opposite end of the spectrum from Ruckus: The Goblin Army Game. Rio Grande has developed a great group of friendly playtesters who know the company’s games up and down and seem genuinely happy to explain them to you. For this game, each player has a number of tiffins (hot meal containers) that they load up on delivery bikes before sending them out into the busy streets of India. As the game progresses, the deliveries become more valuable and the player that dedicates more resources to the delivery scores more points. Easy to learn, quick to play, and still with a number of decisions and wagers, Tiffin was a lot of fun!

 

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Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space (Osprey Games)

Kris: Like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the title of this game explains everything. From the folks who brought us the brilliantly streamlined miniatures game Frostgrave comes my favorite gaming experience of Origins 2016. Players secretly become humans or aliens on a spaceship. Armed with only dry erase notebooks full of ship layouts and a marker, aliens try to track down and kill humans while humans try to make it to escape pods. Fans of Nuns on the Run will instantly understand the appeal of Escape, and newcomers will pick it up in a flash. It’s one of the most exciting games of cat and mouse tabletop gaming can offer.

Dave: This was my favorite game of the con too and the only one I actually played twice. Everything about Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space is on point. The art is bleak and eerie and adapts easily to the gameplay. The rules are quick to explain and easy to understand. There are a number of different spaceship maps and playing variants to keep play exciting and new (plus, it’d be ripe for expansions). It’s probably the most excitement I’ve felt in playing a non-real time board game.

 

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Age of Conan (Ares Games)

Kris: I didn’t get much of a look at Age of Conan outside of a very brief explanation. It’s definitely a dudes on a map game that looks to have significant depth. All of the components did well to represent the brutal world of monsters and warlords that make Conan’s adventures such an enjoyable celebration of violence.

Dave: Almost two weeks out from Origins, Age of Conan is the game that haunts my dreams. The castles, the armies, the kingdoms on the map, the varying quests of Conan as he wrecks havoc across Hyboria, cleaving men and bedding women… this game is a metal album or dusty paperback novel that you get to play out! I didn’t get a chance to demo this one but the super friendly staff at Ares’ booth gave me a very in depth run through. Also of note is the recently released Adventures in Hyboria expansions which “takes Conan from a two-dimensional character into a more dynamic presence” in the game. Sounds like a must have to me!

 

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Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers (Tasty Minstrel Games)

Kris: This was the first game of the con that we played, so we were all jazzed up to try something new. It’s a shorter, fast-paced game in which players captaining huge battlecruisers gun it out with hands of cards. All captain’s decks are identical, and if they play the same cards in the same turn the results can be disastrous. Though hands are small and decks burnt through quickly, the game comes with a lot of cards that can be mixed and matched and lead to interesting tactical combinations. I can see a lot of replay value in Battlecruisers.

Dave: Yeah, there’s no denying the white-hot enthusiasm as my inner voice chanted, “Games! Games! Games!” for the first play test of Origins. Thankfully Battlecruisers proved to be a lot of fun as our first game too. Sometimes what I like to do with demos is play them thematically and see how that works for gameplay. The first card I played was the Reckless Pilot, so after playing that and needing to burn a card it only felt natural that a Reckless Pilot would have no use for a Captain and all of his by-the-book ways. This lead to the type of fast and loose game that you’d expect, which showed a great marrying of concept and design.

 

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Fire Dragon (HABA)

Kris : I didn’t get a chance to experience this one at all. Dave?

Dave: Fire Dragon or Feuerdrachen as the large German title on the box proclaims is a game for children or adults that are easily impressed by shiny things. Guess which one I am? In the game players fly their two dragons around the volcano, collecting the rubies spewed out with each fiery eruption. The volcano sits in the middle of the board and is a neat, two-part aluminum cup that you pull apart on each eruption – spilling the rubies onto the game board. It’s fun, short and silly for people of all ages.

 

and now, some teasers

 

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Wasteland Express Delivery Service (IDW Games / Pandasaurus)

Kris: Who wouldn’t want to be the Pony Express of a Mad Maxian world? That sounds crazy fun! I was really excited to see this. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to speak with anyone about it much. From what I gather players make their way across interlocking terrain tiles while balancing speed of delivery against avoiding radiation poisoning and murderous marauders. I love the theme, the artwork is phenomenal, and one of the designers also made Dead of Winter. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this one.

Dave: The whole time while watching Fury Road I kept thinking, “I want to play this as a game!” Soon, thanks to IDW Games and Pandasaurus, we all can with the upcoming release of Wasteland Express Delivery Service. The artwork is awesome and kind of reminded me of the hyper-detailed work of comic illustrator, Brandon Graham. We didn’t get much more than core concepts and a look at a decently assembled prototype, but that’s plenty to be excited about!

 

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The Last Friday (Ares Games)

Kris: Probably the game that I am most eager to play, The Last Friday is a slasher movie game that pits a murdering psychopath against sexy teenage campers. Its main gameplay mechanic is hidden movement, similar to Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space. The narrative plays out slasher movie style across four acts with all the splatterific tropes fans of the genre have come to love. Whether you grew up cheering for Jason Voorhees or just want the thrill of surviving a lakeside massacre, The Last Friday is full of potential.

Dave: This game looks so cool it’s almost not fair. I love Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan as much as most everyone else, but The Last Friday? C’mon. Railroads across Europe and frantically trading for stone to get the largest army or running for your life from a deranged 80s horror archetype? Sure, with a playing time that tops at out two hours this game isn’t going to be for everyone but you’re on game 20 of a two post long review of a gaming convention. You know you’re every bit as excited as I am.

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

ARCTIC SCAVENGERS (Rio Grande Games)

It’s the year 2097 and humanity’s plunged the world into a new global ice age. 90% of the population is dead and the remaining few are left as… Arctic Scavengers. (cue theme music)

In this deck-building game from Rio Grande (makers of another great deck-builder, Dominion) players take on the role of a leader for one of these leftover, shivering tribes, competing for resources, food and ultimately, more members.

As a deck-building game, Arctic Scavengers follows along with a lot of what you’ve come to expect. You start out with a limited hand, use that to acquire better cards, then discard and draw back up – each turn getting better and more effective hands.

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The main difference Arctic Scavengers has from other deck-building games comes in the melee phase. After each player takes their turn of hunting, exploring, scavenging and recruiting more tribe members, any unused cards are carried over in a fight for contested resources. These are kept face down, so cards that wouldn’t be effective during your turn can be held on to for bluffing your opponent into holding on to more cards in the hopes of winning that turn’s melee. It’s a really great and unique mechanic that makes for more player interaction (sometimes deck-builders can play out like separate games of solitaire) and takes dead cards and still utilizes them in gameplay.

The second latest printing included the HQ Expansion with a number of different ways to play including the really fun Tribal Leader concept – starting players off as a themed leader: a Cannibal, Religious Fanatic, Gangster, Butcher and many more.

Finally, if that’s not enough to entice you, a new printing is out now that includes the HQ Expansion along with the new Recon Expansion (separate Recon Expansion packs are also available). (Rio Grande Games) by David C. Obenour

ORIGINS, June 3-7 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center

by David C. Obenour & Kris Poland

Welcome back, dear reader! We’re continuing our coverage of the 2015 Origins Game Fair with round two of our game previews, observations, and insights. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of every game at Origins. We’re just hitting some of the highlights. Be sure to check back soon for in-depth reviews and interviews featuring some of the titles discussed here. Enjoy, roll them dice, and grab them cakes!

 

ENCOUNTERS: BRAVEST WARRIORS (Catalyst Game Labs, unreleased)

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David: A really simple, really fun push-your-luck game set in the world of Cartoon Hangover’s Bravest Warriors. Choose a warrior, utilize their ability and then it’s off to slay monsters! Monster cards are flipped one at a time, exposing an encounter value that players need to meet exactly with one or more of their six D6s rolled in a turn. After each successful encounter, players can choose to flip another enemy, but an unsuccessful roll gives your opponent the chance to steal all of your glory from that turn. Short, sweet, and full of glory and defeat! Can’t ask for much more.

Kris: Pendleton Ward’s simple, bubbly character designs are already iconic representations of cartooning in the 2010s. They’re also a perfect match for a simple, bubbly game like Encounters. Having already struck gold with Adventure Time: Card Wars, Catalyst nailed it again with another of Ward’s creations. Encounters is quick and fun as a two-player game and begs to be played for just one more game. Adding the blue and red sets together makes for up to eight-player games that likely take longer to complete but are just as straightforward in the rules department. A nice, inexpensive break from the rules-heavy games that dominate tabletops of late, this one is highly recommended for adults and/or kids.

 

CONVERT (Yodeo Games, 2014)

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David: No matter how old I get, blocks will always be fun to play with. A simple and sharply designed puzzle game, Convert pits two-players against each other as they place different shaped blocks on a 4×4 grid to convert rows to their solid color for points. Blocks have to be placed within the grid and must be full supported underneath (no hanging moves allowed). At the end of the game, bonus points are awarded for each exposed brick of your color on top and the highest brick decides ties. Eat it Kris! I’m the highest! (Also, as a bonus, if you follow Yodeo Games on Facebook they release a monthly puzzle for you to try to replicate with the blocks provided. More playing with blocks!)

Kris: Whoa, Dave. Way to get aggro. Win or lose, there’s an undeniable charm to Convert. The chunky wooden blocks feel great in-hand, and the minimalist black and white design offer a much needed reprieve from the incredibly busy and colorful box art that most games use to grab players’ attention. Ian Reed has created a game that is quietly understated but has tons to offer. It rewards thoughtful play and strategic planning. Monthly downloadable puzzles offer an awesome bonus that mean endless replayability. And you don’t even have to bother with Facebook. Just look for the monthly puzzle on Yodeo Games’ site.

 

WAR STORIES: THE GAME (Level 42 Media, unreleased)

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David: Party game, story-telling, celebrities and inappropriate humor. Eh. There’s a kind of cool story about this being used to help the designer’s friends deal with PTSD but I don’t know if I really want to talk about this one. Do you?

Kris: Sure. I’ll give it a go. War Stories: The Game is not to be confused with Artana’s War Stories: Liberty Road and War Stories: Red Storm. The latter two are wargames in which WWII battles are fought. The former is a competitive storytelling game. Each player gets a minute to tell their story using as many cards as possible. Cards feature items, locations, heroes, villains, and more. Once a storyteller’s time is up, it’s up to the rest of the players to decide which cards were used correctly. There are plenty of opportunities to take cheap shots at celebrities, and the only real limit is a player’s imagination. This could be a strength or weakness depending upon players’ creativity or likemindedness. I fear a similar weakness to games like Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity. That being that they aren’t really games. They’re more ways to find out the political leanings, prejudices, and limits of taste of the people with whom you’re playing.

EDIT: It looks like War Stories Kickstarter has been cancelled after they noticed what Kris noticed – Artana already has a game called War Stories. Hopefully they will regroup and be back shortly!

 

ROLL FOR THE GALAXY (Rio Grande Games, 2015)

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David: Admittedly, I was late to Race for the Galaxy but it’s been in pretty heavy rotation since we picked it up. The original version was a deck-building sci-fi game that focused on maximizing card synergy to get the deepest discounts and score the highest victory points. You could choose to focus on military, colonization, technological developments, producing and consuming or any combination to any degree. Each hand plays out differently based on what you get and what you do with what you get. For as many options as there were, design and gameplay were smartly crafted to assist and not overwhelm. Yeah. It’s a great game.

After a number of expansions, we now have Roll for the Galaxy. I spent so much time describing Race because Roll is essentially the same game in everything except for how it plays. It shares the same theme, the same art, even the same end goals. However, trading card based play for dice make it play surprisingly different. Collecting cards let you plan out in advance, but rolling dice throw wrenches in the works, forcing rethinking and adapting. It’s all of what makes Race for the Galaxy great, only different.

Kris: Race for the Galaxy never really grabbed my attention the way it did with Dave. I played it twice and must say I found it more complex and overwhelming than the other players did. Thus, I spent the period of time Dave checked out Roll feeding quarters into Reaper’s gumball machine amassing as many cool Bones miniatures as I could. However, I like the element of randomness that dice rolling adds to any game. Given that, this might be the version of an already popular game that manages to sink its claws into my brain.

 

BILLIONAIRE BANSHEE (Game Yay FunBreaking Games, 2015)

1 billionaire

David: I’m not the biggest party game fan, but Billionaire Banshee is pretty fun (and quick enough that as long as you don’t play it into the ground it will stay that way). On your turn you flip a perk and a quirk of a person to hypothetically hookup with, you secretly pick whether you’d date or deny them and then your friends all try and guess your answer. It’s funny, it’s inappropriate and it uses 8-bit art – and though 8-bit art is feeling about as played out as zombies these days – those are all the touching points of a successful party game.

Kris: One of the first cards we came across in our first game of Billionaire Banshee was “Butt Stuff”. Oddly enough, I can’t remember if that was a perk or a quirk. Regardless, this is a fun little game. After a few rounds, our friends made our own rules that basically turned Billionaire Banshee into our own version of Comedy Bang! Bang!’s Would You Rather? I’d argue that’s a significant strength in a game. We could build on the already salacious cards, making them even more ridiculous as we played. Plus, designer Steven “Razlo” Bailey spent a good ten minutes discussing Japanese wrestling with us. Bonus points!

 

DUNGEON FIGHTER (iello, 2014)

1dungeon fighter

David: It’s fun seeing more and more games of skill coming out these days. After spending a couple of hours building a Medieval farm or banishing an ancient Lovecraftian horror, giving the right brain a break while you roll dice from under-the-leg to land onto a target damage board is a welcome change of pace. Somewhere between party game and board game, games like Dungeon Fighter offer up something that most everyone can appreciate. It’s cooperative too, so everyone’s on their feet, rooting you on.

Kris: I wouldn’t necessarily call Dungeon Fighter (again, not to be confused with Dungeon Fighter Online. Let’s make up some original game titles, people!) a party game. I’d say it’s a board game with dexterity elements. Players team up to explore dungeons and fight various monsters along the way. The monster battles are where things get interesting. There are three main dice (red, green and blue) that correspond with a special ability belonging to each character. There is also a pool of white dice available to all players. The catch is that once a player rolls a dice of a certain color that color is no longer available to other players. This adds a small amount of teamwork and planning to the often hilarious, dexterous dice rolls that follow. Players must bounce dice off of the table and onto a target to determine how much damage (if any) they will inflict on a monster. If their chosen die lands with its symbol facing up, that player’s special power activates. Dungeon Fighter seems like a feasible alternative to get players out of their seats between marathon rounds of D&D or Axis & Allies. As an added bonus, the artwork is light, playful, and very high quality. It sort of reminds me of the cover of a Terry Pratchett novel.

 

COCONUTS & COCONUTS DUO (Mayday Games, 2013)

1 coconuts

David: I was pretty skeptical when Kris picked up this game. Flinging coconuts into baskets from a little plastic monkey? What seemed silly and childish quickly became a good-hearted, emotionally-charged game of skill as we lined up are monkeys and drew back their spring-loaded arms. It also quickly became a drinking game.

Kris: I’ll admit it. This was my favorite game of the convention. I was thrilled to see it, and purchased it immediately. I’ve been excited to get my hands on Coconuts when I first learned of its hardcore following and tournament circuit in South Korea. Maybe my brain is just getting softer as I age. Perhaps I’m burning out on rules-intensive gaming. Whatever the cause, this game is just what I needed. 95% dexterity with 5% tactical card playing turned out to be just the right combination of what I was looking for. It’s just as appropriate for kids as it is for adults, and it can be played as a quick diversion or a lengthy tournament. The addition of Coconuts Duo is awesome as it turns a three-to-four-player game into a two-to-six-player game when combined with the original. Kudos to Mayday for seeing the simple brilliance of this game and purchasing North American distribution rights. Laugh at me all you like. I’ll have a blast playing with my Coconuts.

 

CASTLE ASSAULT (MomentumVolsk LLC, unreleased)

1 castle

David: The jury’s still out for me on the whole combat lane mechanic. Part of me thinks it’s overly simple and confining but another part of me thinks that I haven’t played them enough to pick up on the nuances. Either way, Castle Assault is a quick and fun enough take on the style. With a number of race decks to choose from (undead, vampires, elves, humans, etc) players are pitted head-to-head in a, you guessed it, castle assault. Each deck has its unique strengths and weakness, and the designers did a great job of fitting those within the game. Great art too.

Kris: In another somewhat rare occurrence where Dave and I disagree, I’m totally into combat lanes. I’m not sure if there are a lot of nuances to pick up as much as it’s just a case of surrendering to certain limitations. I like that each playable race not only has its unique tactical advantages, but they also have completely different art styles on their cards designed by a different artist for each race. Our game was awesome in that the ending came along in a totally unexpected fashion. I thought I was in a great position to take Dave’s castle out, when he suddenly wiped out my castle’s hit points in a single attack. It was one of those moments for which we all play games. I’m not saying every single instance of Castle Assault will play out as such, but it’s a game that certainly has that potential.

 

…and that’s all for the games of Origins! Be sure to come back in a little over a month as we bring to you the games of Gen Con 2015. 

 

CAVEMEN: THE QUEST FOR FIRE (Rio Grande Games)

Looking at it from the outside, Cavemen: The Quest for Fire has a surprising amount to offer from its small box. Taking on the role of prehistoric tribe leaders, players recruit thinkers, scavengers, elders, explorers and hunters into their tribe in a, you guessed it, quest for fire.

While being quick to pick up, easy to play and fast to finish, Cavemen’s focus on proactive decision-making over random element reactions keeps it from falling within the “beer and pretzel” category of games. Which isn’t to say you can’t finish off a beer or two during a game, it may even help you tap into your alpha (fe)male lineage!

Divided into five phases, the turns move along quickly as your decisions are manageably limited in their scope. First, the card pool is refreshed, flipping over a new mix of tribesman, discoveries and wild game cards for players to acquire. Second, the conch is bid on – determining the first player for that turn. Third, players feed their tribes. Fourth, players recruit, hunt, invent, forage and explore from the card pool, starting with the conch-holder. Finally fifth, the player to the right of the conch-holder discards three cards from the pool.

And that’s really all there is to it!

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The balance of how the game is won is really where Cavemen shines. To discover fire, your tribe needs to have enough thinkers in it to come up with the what’s and how’s of starting and feeding a fire. Thinkers aren’t that great at hunting, scavenging or exploring though. Your tribe needs to be comprised of enough hunters and scavengers to keep everyone feed and explorers to scout out new caves to keep everyone housed. Too many of one type of tribesman and not enough of another and you miss out on opportunities in discovering new inventions, new areas or just keeping enough food at camp so people don’t wander off.

I’d also be remiss in not mentioning the art on Cavemen, which is entirely done in claymation. Smart and unique – just like the game itself! (Rio Grande Games) by David C. Obenour

GEN CON, August 14-17 at the Indiana Convention Center

by David C. Obenour & Adam Talicska

While I always look forward to Gen Con with excitement (games! games! games!) there’s also the anxiety (crowds! crowds! crowds!). Thankfully, even while reaching record high attendances, this year’s Gen Con expanded their exhibitor hall (arguably the heart and soul of the event) and there wasn’t the panic attack inducing moments of claustrophobia.

Arguably, even if there were those moments though it would have been worth it. Gen Con brings together the largest selection of all that’s out there when it comes to gaming. Games about diners, the expanding and eventually collapsing universe, biker gangs, the ol’ west, elder gods, a cartoon slacker raccoon and blue jay, Gen Con has it all and here were some of our favorites.

 

STAR WARS: ARMADA (Fantasy Flight, unreleased)

armada

STAR WARS: IMPERIAL ASSAULT (Fantasy Flight, unreleased)

imperial

Probably two of the most highly anticipated games shown at Gen Con with lines snaking through the surrounding aisles, Fantasy Flight continues it’s great run with the Star Wars franchise for Armada and Imperial Assault. After the awesome fun that is their X-Wing table-top game, many of our minds immediately went to, “but wouldn’t it be cool to do this with Star Destroyers?” Fantasy Flight apparently thought that too and with Armada the answer seems to be, “yup, it would be very, very cool to do this with Star Destroyers.” The other new game goes to the complete opposite end of the scale spectrum (well, not all the way down to splitting midi-chlorians) and Imperial Assault offers a dungeon crawl-esque Star Wars adventure good for scenarios or longer campaigns.

 

SPACE JUNK (Lamp Light Games, 2014)

space junk

Gen Con is the analog gaming community’s equivalent to what Record Store Day is for the music industry. That makes it all the more unfortunate to see someone who wasn’t able to pull everything together in time for what’s arguably gaming’s four biggest days of each year. Lamp Light Games have a great, and soon to be available game, called Space Junk. In the not too distant future, mankind has doomed itself with all of the junk that we’ve thrown out into space. Using a modern solution for a modern problem, Space Junk casts players as stars in a junk-collecting reality show. Some junk’s good for attacking and some junk’s good for speeding around, but all junk is worth points in this fun and easy to pick up game.

 

DOOMTOWN (AEG, 2014)

doomtown

When I heard that AEG was planning on bringing back the card game Doomtown after fourteen years, I had to slap myself to ensure I wasn’t dreaming. Based on the “Weird West” setting of the role playing game Deadlands, Doomtown was a storyline driven game of gunfighters, indians, and the wild west with a heavy dose of horror thrown in. Would a re-release of the game live up to my lofty expectations? Happily, I can say AEG stuck with a “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” approach. Gameplay remains the same from the original with some minor rules clarifications. Instead of being collectible, the game follows the popular constructible card game approach with every card included in the base set. They even reference the original storyline with a few returning characters. However, this game still remains at best a 2-player game. If you liked the original game of Doomtown make sure you pick this up. [Adam Talicska]

 

SONS OF ANARCHY: MEN OF MAYHEM (GaleForce Nine, 2014)

sons

Generally it seems like the better the licensed product the worse the game turns out. Why spend all of that effort into creating a good game when you’ve already got lots of fans and collectors in line? Thankfully, GaleForce Nine’s Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem turned out to be the standout surprise of Gen Con. Taking control of one of four rival gangs, players send out members and prospects to buy and sell guns and contraband, all in the name of money and power. Hopefully your old ladies won’t pressure you out of the game early.

 

LEVEL 7: INVASION (Privateer Press, 2014)

invasion

Whew! While I didn’t get to play test this one (they were only displaying it and answering questions in the exhibitor hall), the third installment of the Level 7 series seems like quite the intricate doozy of a gaming experience. While the other Level 7 games function in more of a RPG-meets-board-game style, Invasion takes a global perspective with players taking on the semi-cooperative roles of Earth’s international leaders. Caught in the crossfire of two battling alien races, humanity’s only hope is to align with one and hope for the best. Getting more than a little lost during the explanation, I had some doubts on Invasion’s overall playability – but it’s a fun concept, original take on the cooperative play style and ultimately, hard to say without having played.

 

PRESSURE COOKER (Rio Grande Games, 2014)

pressure

Real time games seem to be all of the rage these days with great examples like Escape: The Curse of The Temple and Space Cadets. While not quite as hectic as either of those mentioned, Pressure Cooker pits you as a short order cook – tossing salads, flipping burgers and boiling lasagna noodles. Table orders come in and then the players frantically search through the ingredients to find what they need. The first person to complete three orders yells, “Order up!” and then timer starts for everyone else to complete their outstanding bills.

 

THE BATTLE AT KEMBLE’S CASCADE (Z-Man Games, 2014)

kembles

Ah, childhood nostalgia. You hook me in most every time. The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade adapts a scrolling space battle arcade game into a scrolling space battle board game. The rotating rail system that serves as the board (think in terms of how the Egyptians used to move large stones for the pyramids) is a cool mechanic and works really well for the game. Players can also expect to lose lives throughout the game, but don’t worry – no additional quarters are necessary.

 

H.P. LOVECRAFT’S KINGSPORT FESTIVAL (Passport Game Studio, unreleased)

kingsport

Designed by Kingsburg’s Andrea Chiarvesio there’s a lot to like about H. P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport Festival if you’d been a fan of Andre’s previous work. While they weren’t play testing the game in the hall, the great folks at Passport Games offered a very thorough break down and it seems many of Kingsburg’s mechanics remain in place. Thematically however, instead of rolling dice to influence members of the king’s court to help build up your province this time you’re a cultist calling upon the elder gods for the destruction of all. Fun!

 

EONS (Gamer Nation, 2014)

eons

Alright all you fellow Cosmos, nerds – take notice. In this deck building card game, players take the role of universal architects – crafting stars, planets and other galactic phenomenons. The science behind Eons seems to check with the knowledge from my long-past semester of Astronomy 101 too. Stars are built using combinations of Hydrogen, Carbon, Oxygen and Iron and then perform fusion to produce other resources until the eventually burn out. Pretty heady stuff, but the rules are easy to follow and the game plays smoothly.

 

REGULAR SHOW FLUXX (Looney Labs, 2014)

I didn’t get to play test this one, but it’s Fluxx so you know what you’re getting. Draw a card and play a card until the new cards played tell you to do differently. The latest version of Fluxx takes its theme from Cartoon Network’s ‘buddies dodging work to go on adventures’ cartoon, Regular Show. There’s not really much else to say other than, “Yeayuh!”

 

ALSO OF INTEREST WERE…

Roll for the Galaxy (Rio Grande Games, unreleased)

Five Tribes (Days of Wonder, 2014)

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Skull & Shackles (Paizo, 2014)

King of New York (iello, 2014)

Space Cadets: Dice Duel – Die Fighter (Stronghold Games, 2014)

ORIGINS GAME FAIR, July 11-15 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center

by David C. Obenour

The annual warm up for Gen Con, what Origins lacks in size it delivers in less crowded halls and less hurried play-testing tables. Having to awkwardly defend your space behind a fellow gamer for 15 minutes while they finish their play-test isn’t much fun and neither is having someone lurk over you when it is your turn to play. So taking advantage of this more laid back convention, Ghettoblaster was able to get in a whole lot of gaming! Not all of the games featured here are brand new, but they were new to us and maybe you too.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a lot more to do at Origins besides just playing games and some of our past reviews have covered all of the great food and fun that surrounds this five-day event (see Origins 2012: Day One).

But without any further ado, onto the games!

 

KAOSBALL (CoolMiniOrNot, 2014)

CoolMinisOrNot lives up to the first half of its name with the new, Kickstarter funded, Kaosball! Sure the base set with a board, rules and four teams retails for a hundred clams, but as a parental figure may or may not have told you growing up: you get what you pay for. Fantasy teams made of trolls, lycantropes, valkyries, cowboys, steampunks and more, all battle for your insatiable appetite for blood sport. Players control runners, bruisers and ringers as they fight, steal and tackle their way to possessing the ball and holding on for dear life, and points, atop of the scoring zones. Each team has their own special rules, and cool figures too, so Kaosball can potentially be a dangerous cash sink, but when you’re having this much fun…

 

RIVET WARS (CoolMiniOrNot, 2013)

2 rivet wars

Let’s time warp back a year (and to last review): CoolMinisOrNot lives up to the first half of its name with a previously successfully Kickstarter funded project, Rivet Wars! While steampunk is a pretty polarizing style, the World War I fashioned robo-minis made for Rivet Wars are pretty undeniable awesome looking. Infantry, artillery and vaguerly tank-ish looking contraptions fight through trenches and over hill and dale as provided by the nine double-sided battlefield terrain tiles. Unlike some military tabletop games, the rules are fairly uniform and simple, plus the battlefield is grid-ed out so you don’t need a tape measure for shooting or movement. Again, retail for this starting game set is $100 (though Amazon has it new for only $70) and again with a number of additional expansions with more cool minis it’s a potential cash sink… but also again, fun.

 

XENOSHYFT ONSLAUGHT (CoolMiniOrNot, 2014)

10 xenoshift

The ‘get your attention while walking through the Exhibitor Hall’ pitch is that Xenoshyft Onslaught is a cooperative, deck-building, tower defense game. For those of you not fluent in geek, that means you’re using a starting deck to acquire more and better cards, using those cards to stop your enemy, and all working together as a team. Concept-wise, Xenoshyft is pure Avatar. Humans have scoured the galaxy, seeking out resources, and in this case, are mining a planet dry of its inhabitant’s main food source. Players take the role of department heads (Med Bay, Weapons Research, Science Lab and Armory) for the company, NorTec Military. Each round a new wave of sunken-eyed, famished aliens assault the base and players must work together to defend each other and the base. It’s not easy, and you can tell the designers wanted you to feel torn about what it is your actually doing, but it’s still fun.

 

FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (Academy, 2012)

4 freedom

Freedom: The Underground Railroad is a remarkably well-made game. For all of the mindfully-done and historically influenced mechanics that it employs, once the turn order is ran through and understood the game plays fairly intuitively. Not getting bogged down in complex decision making minutia allows players to appreciate Freedom both as a game and as a look back at a time when America was most divided. Taking on the role of historical figures from the abolitionist movement, players work cooperatively to help guide escaped slaves along the Underground Railroad while evading slave catchers, and work to raise funds and support for the cause. Each character has his or her own special abilities, so a smart group utilizes their individual strengths to help the team. The main possible flaw for Freedom comes with this, as it does with most cooperative games, in an overly controlling alpha player can easily takes the reigns if not checked.

 

STAR REALMS (White Wizard Games, 2014)

6 star realms

A head-to-head deck builder, Star Realms is deceptively simple and insanely addictive. Players take on the role of star fleet admirals and amass ship and base cards. Most all cards come with an alignment (either The Trade Federation, The Blobs, The Star Empire or The Machine Cult) and the more cards you’re able to play in a turn from the same alignment the more bonuses you receive – drawing more cards, additional attacks, higher purchasing power, etc. The starter set for a 2-player games is only $15. Want to add a third or fourth player? All you have to do is buy another set! There’s really not much else to say about Star Realms or maybe there is but writing about the game just makes me want to go play it again… I’ll be right back.

 

QUILT SHOW (Rio Grande Games, 2014)

5 quilt show

Admittedly, a game about competitive quilting doesn’t sound all that exciting at first but then a new game from Rio Grande sure does! Designed with the help of longtime quilting advocate and designer, Judy Martin (having published the most number of original patterns, she’s the Robert Pollard of quilting) Quilt Show is a fun little game. Players collect scraps of different colored fabric, much like collecting different colors of trains in Ticket to Ride, and use these combinations to acquire quilt square tiles of varying intricacy and point value. After a set number of quilt squares have been made, the first of three quilt shows is triggered. Players arrange their squares in patterns either different or alike, add up their quilts’ point value and ribbons and cash prizes are awarded. The fun twist here is that your unused fabric cards and quilting squares carry over to the next show, so while you might not have done well this time you’re in a much better position for the next show.

 

COPYCAT (Rio Grande Games, 2012)

9 copycat

The overall concept of Copycat matches its theme completely. Designer Friedemann Friese took all of the best mechanics from some of our favorite games – Dominion, Agricola, Through the Ages, Puerto Rico and Power Grid – and implemented them for a game about political campaigning. Benefit from and then take credit for the work of others. Perfect, right? Friese’s work isn’t completely void of it’s own inspiration though. While a lot of games can suffer from this sort of direct… copycatting, Copycat borrows enough different mechanics and uses them in a way that you never find your mind wandering to thoughts like “this is fun, but I’d rather just be playing…” or “I already kind of own this.”

 

TSURO OF THE SEAS (Calliope Games, 2012)

7 tsuro of the seas

Tsuro of the Seas takes much of its game play from the classic 2004 puzzle game, Tsuro. Players place tiles with interweaving paths, trying to keep those paths from the edge of the board for as long as possible. However, with the seas come monstrous daikaijus that add an element of randomness to play by devouring ships whenever their paths cross. The Veterans of the Seas expansion (2013) adds even more twists with Tsunami, Uzushio (Whirlpool), Taihou (Cannons) and Mystic Portal tiles. Ultimately, a lot of the original Tsuro’s beauty lay in its simplicity so Tsuro of the Seas’ variants, while interesting and beautifully designed, only clutter the concept.

 

RARRR!!! (APE Games, 2014)

3 rarrr!!

The Zombie tide has crested (or at least plateaued) and rising from the murky depths to challenge the undead’s pop-culture dominance is the mighty daikaiju. While a constant staple, over the last few years Godzilla and the Godzilla-like have been gaining more and more favor as the next big nerd theme. The aptly named Rarrr!!! starts with players building their Japanese movie monsters by drafting single syllable cards (creating fun names and divvying out electrical, toxic, radioactive and fire powers). After your monster is created another round of drafting creates your starting hand of power cards and you’re ready to clash over the major cities of Earth. Though different in its play mechanics, there did seem to be a fair amount of similarities in the look and feel to iello’s 2011 game, King of Tokyo. That said, there’s probably enough room for two hulking monsters on your gaming shelf.