Friday, June 15, 2012

Pirate Dice

In my line of work, I have always found steering a pirate ship to be more difficult than it seems. What with the ropes and the sails and my complete lack of nautical knowledge, even I find it trying at times. However, every now and again a game comes along to truly inspire a new generation of young lads and lasses into becoming a pirate and taking to the seas on one of these awe-inspiring vessels. Today, this game is Pirate Dice: Voyage on the Rolling Seas.

Friday, March 2, 2012


Word games are not my friend. Growing up my mom loved to play Scrabble, but would pull no punches. So when you're 8 and are proud of spelling "cat", having mom throw down "scapulary" for a double word score you tend to not want to continue to play. But to each their own because if anything "Words With Friends" proves that plenty of people out there like the challenge of knowing more than me. Montage does a great job of doing this, while also adding in color coded word jumble, crossword puzzles, and clever clues while being timed. Its a wonder any who played with me survived.

Montage is a recent Kickstarter project from Gryphon Games, which is actually a remake of the game, originating in 1973. In the very retro feeling box you will find a board, a sand timer, an arrow, brown pips, and a bunch of colored pips - each color being associated with 5 different letters. 

To play the game, you'll need three other players since this is a 2v2 partner game, and can only be played with 4. Once you find three people who are smarter than you, you set the board up to match a starting pattern with both the brown and colored pips (the game comes with a 4 page visual guide of different starting patterns to challenge you). To begin playing, the first player will choose a space to "build" their first word in their home zone, and then think of a word to fill that space in with. Words must begin and end either between two brown pips or one brown pip and the edge of the board, and must contain at least one colored pip that you build upon. This is not terribly difficult when there is only one colored pip somewhere within your word, but when you have three or four, you have to be clever and think fast.

This is where your word would go
Once you've found your space for your word, and you know what your word is going to be, you now need to get your partner to guess what that word is by giving them clues. However, your clue can be no longer than 5 words, and everyone playing has a chance to guess what that word is. If both of your opponents "knock" in, then you are SOL because your partner wasn't quick enough to comprehend your clues. Whoever does guess the word correctly will then put down colored pips to spell out the word, with the side up that represents their team (can be black or white). Each pip is worth a point, and when a team scores 10 points in a zone, they win the zone. First team to get 4 zones wins.

Did I mention that you are trying to do this all while being timed?

Yes, you will have a minute to do the following:
  • Think of a word with 1+ predetermined letters
  • Find a place on the board to do it
  • Think of a 5 word clue that your partner will get but your opponents will not
What that row looks like after someone gets it right
When we played this, it was me and a buddy vs his wife and mine. To share how unfair this matchup is, his wife is currently playing 12 different games of "Words With Friends" and winning all of them, my wife loves riddles/brain teasers, where as my I couldn't find Waldo to save my life. On my first turn, I got "lucky" and had a 3 letter word that I could play (Jug) and so my clue was "Moonshine Container". Granted not the best of clues as far as they go, but what else would you put moonshine in? Needless to say he didn't get it, and it went downhill from there.

While I do not like playing this game, it is a very clever game that I would easily recommend to anyone who likes word games. That said, it still has its own issues, especially since it does require you to have four and only four people playing the game. The game is also as much about words as it is about working with your partner and knowing them well. If you are partnered with someone you've never met you might do well, but your clues may have to be so watered down that the oponents would "knock" in as fast as your partner. With a good balance of players who both want to play word games and are knowledgable of real words, Montage could be a lot of fun that won't end with your brain exploding like mine did.

Game in action, my team is about to loose.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Ah yes, the carnival. A place where one can go to watch the oddest assortment of people wandering the fairgrounds. It is a place where mullets are in, and sleeves are out, and a mans self-worth is measured only by how much fried food can fit in his belly. It is the one place where you can go and see people who call you neighbors but you never knew of their existence. In a simpler time, these people were not allowed outside the sideshow tent, but we are a more accepting society now. And now, there's a game based on all the excitement there is to be found at the carnival. And what is this mysterious games name you ask?

Ok, so pretty much none of that fancy lead in is true about this game, but how cool would it be if there was (hope you're paying attention Cherilyn - that's the premise for Carnival 2: Carnie Boogaloo). Carnival from Dice Hate Me Games is their first release, and at its heart is a set taking card game with a minor "worker placement" mechanic to drive the action of the game. In the box you'll find dice, an action board to assign the dice, and cards used to build the rides at the carnival, and tickets. Lots of glorious tickets.

In the game, you take on the role of a glorious carnie setting up the rides on the midway. In typical carnie fashion, you are trying to be the first to build four out of five rides to win and become the carnie king. Nowadays there are unions that keep this timeless tradition from happening, but back in the day carnies would race to get their rides set up first and would steal and sabotage each other while MacGyvering their way to the top.

Game designer Cherilyn Joy Lee Kirkman has simulated this in card and dice as you belittle your friends to a win. Through the playing of cards, players are trying to complete four rides, each consisting of four different parts. During their turn, players will roll the dice and assign two dice to actions on the board corresponding with their roll. These actions are:

  • Draw a card
  • Take a discarded card
  • Steal a card from another players hand
  • Trade a card from another players hand
  • Trade a card from another players midway
  • Steal a card from another players midway

Once their actions are complete, players will then play cards from their hand to complete rides along the midway. Now, along the way other players will try and steal and trade away your cards that you need to win in order to screw you and win themselves. This is where the glorious tickets come into play, as they will block an action from happening so that "yellow seat" card that you've been holding on to will remain safe, for at least a little bit longer. These tickets can also be used to modify or reroll the dice if the actions they produce do nothing for you.

The game is a light, fun game that has a bit of chaos to it, but with some strategy as well. I like the idea of rolling dice and assigning them to actions, and its simple enough that you can pick it up and learn pretty quickly and be moving within 10 minutes. It's not really a deep thematic game, but its theme adds to the fun, especially if you play the part of a carnie while playing (note - may freak your significant other out in the process). I had issues with the included rules as I found them a bit out of order, but I accept the fact that my logical progression does not always match that of others. Also, the first time we had a chance to play was on New Years Eve and several drinks were had by all at this point, so I'm sure that didn't help much. In the end, everything you need to play is in the rules and as long as you read it all you're good. 

But heres the thing - in a world where Kickstarter makes it possible for small indie publishers like Dice Hate Me to fund a project like this, the world has become smaller and more accessible. I was able to tweet the team behind the game for rules clarification, and within a few minutes they tweeted back with an answer. While not every publisher may be this accessible, it's pretty fantastic to know that the games put out by a pair who are willing to connect with their audience and help make the experience more ideal and personable. 

**Make sure to check out Dice Hate Me's second game Viva Java - Currently on Kickstarter and awaiting you to back it!**

Friday, January 13, 2012


Ever wanted to build a series of islands in a timed fashion?

Mondo is a tile placement world building game from ZMan in which players compete against each other to build a consistent landmass while being timed. In the box you'll find 4 double sided player boards, a bajillion double sided land tiles (consisting of water, desert, forest, and plains), some additional tasks tiles, score modifier tiles, score sheets, and a timer.

The game has three rounds is played as thus: Set the timer, play tiles to build your island making sure to match the edges (desert to desert, forest to forest, and so on), repeat. Incredibly simple but actually very hard to do since you are racing against the clock (7 minutes per round), are fighting others for the tiles, you can't rearrange the tiles once they are on the board, and you can only use one hand. Seriously, its in the rules. During the building phase anyone can "tap out" at any time by grabbing the bonus chip, which will give you 1-4 points depending on when you go out. Of course as soon as you do this, then you're done for the round and can not add anything else to your board. After the round is over, be it because everyone tapped out, or the timer went "Ding!" its time to score. You score the following way:

2 points for properly connected tiles (forest to forest, etc) (land only, not water)
1 point for every animal on the board
1-4 points for bonus points, based on what you grabbed
-1 point for every active volcano you have on the board
-1 point for every misconnection (desert to forest, etc)
-1 point for every blank spot 
Points for if you played with the modifier/additional task tiles (advanced game)

Can you figure out my score for this round?
Player with the highest score during the round gets the volcano chip which counts inactive volcanos as active for purposes of scoring. At the end of three rounds, whoever has the highest score wins.

So yeah, thats it. Theres a large variety of tiles with different land combinations to them that make digging through them crazy. After a few games you know exactly which tiles you are looking for but with up to 3 others playing against you who are after the same tiles as you in real time makes for an exciting and frustrating time. The player boards are double sided (one side has water boarders, the other has all four tile types) and really force a change in how you play since you need to build off of previously played tiles.

The game is a lot of fun and forces people to spatially think on the fly, which in theory should keep those players who suffer from analysis paralysis from holding up the game (gooooo timer!). That said, for those same reasons its probably not for everyone. If you don't do well in a timed environment, you're probably screwed (unless you are playing with others). If you don't do well with spatial placement, it'll frustrate you. My wife is competitive but gets frustrated by this game due to the timer and spatial placement isn't always her strong point, so this isn't her favorite one to play. Honestly I'm surprised our timer hasn't sailed through the air to its untimely demise against the refrigerator with springs and bells strewn across the floor. 

In the off chance of that happening (or if it has already happened to you) I have created this fantastic tool for you to use - the Youtube Mondo Timer:

Please keep your computer in a safe place that can't be thrown across the room.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Panic Station

Cooperative games are a chaotic mess. More often than not there is a shared goal where players are supposed to come together and work as one in order to win. A few cooperative games do this well, like Pandemic or Forbidden island, and to an extent the D&D board games unified goal of "Get 'em" works for it. So much i happening all at once that it can be hard to keep track of what is happening, especially when players get to choose 2 or 3 actions from a list of like 40 things that they get to do during their turn. Yet through it all, everyone is on the same page, they do it up, and in the end its usually a pretty fun time, win or loose, because we're in it together. The shared experience, its what mom always wanted, where you play nice with your brother and sister and everyone has fun.

Then theres the games with the dirty traitor.

Panic Station from Stronghold Games is a cooperative game with a traitor mechanic designed to be full of paranoid delusions where in the end you're out to get everyone you came to the station with, because they are all out to get you. See, at Panic Station, theres a hive of parasites who want to kill you dead. You and your l33t team of androids and marines show up to kill them dead, yet along the way, someone gets infected and betrays the rest of the team, slowly infecting everyone else to protect the hive. Sounds fun, right?

In the tin box (TIN!) you'll find wooden discs representing marines and androids (2 per color), parasite wooden discs, item cards, room cards, player cards, infection cards, positive/negative test cards, a board to put the positive/negative cards on, and a die.

So, to play the game, players start off with four actions with which they can choose to do a combination of 7 different things (move, explore, search, use the computer, use an item, heal, or shoot your gun) that they can split accordingly between either their android or marine. If there are parasites present in the station, then they will have a chance to move and attack the players, which can impact how many actions they can have per turn (actions are directly related to the players health). During the game, the players are trying to work together to explore the station, find the hive and destroy it the only way they know how - with a flamethrower. Along the way, a player will become infected and will secretly try to turn the other players into infected as well. But, the players can thwart them by using future sciences best cure for infection - gasoline. Fun fact, in order to win the game, your marine must use gasoline with their flamethrower to incinerate the hive.

Now, there is more to it than this, but not really. Somewhere in the top 8 cards of the item deck is a host card that causes one of the players to betray the others. In theory, it should be The Resistance meets Pandemic with the cast of Aliens, what could go wrong?

So...I'm not sure if it was the group that I was playing with, but something went wrong. Now, according to the game, everyone starts off in the same room and moves out from there in search of the hive. You have to search the room during your first turn, which causes you to draw cards from the item deck. Since the host card (the card that makes you the traitor) is one of the first 8 cards in the deck, this card can be acquired within a players first two turns. When you enter into a room with another player, you have to trade a card from your hand with them, which is how you, the infected, can infect others.

Thats all well and good, but if the first card that you draw from searching is the Host card, you might as well strike while the iron is hot, especially in a 4 player game. Well, thats at least what happened in our game. My wife got the Host card first draw, then proceeded to track down the other 3 players, and infected them immediately, winning the game within 2 turns. Of course the problem with this is that then you need to still find the hive since the only way for the infected to "win" is to do a heat scan at a computer terminal. Theres only one public terminal to use, so unless you can find a keycard to get to a private one, you have to explore and find one. So, onward we explored, but along the way we also managed to set off about 7 parasites who were running around the station. at one point, we had 5 in the same room, and it was instant death if you came across them since the only way to kill them is using the android who is the only one with a gun.

Now, I don't know about you, but I learned something from Terminator - DON'T GIVE GUNS TO THE ROBOTS BECAUSE THEY WILL TURN ON YOU!!! Seriously, we as society are doomed if we don't learn from our historically inaccurate mistakes in the future through the eyes of Hollywood. This happened in Terminator, the Matrix, I Robot, Captain Power, Centurians, and countless others. This is especially true because the infection is also communicable to the androids. THIS IS WHERE IT STARTED PEOPLE. IT STARTED AT PANIC STATION!

Ultimately, I was underwhelmed by this game. It was promised to me as Battlestar Galactica in 45 minutes, full of intrigue, excitement, and paranoia. Instead, I was just bored with it. We played 3 games back to back because the rules were not particularly well written for ease of play, so the first game is a given that it didn't go according to plan. But, the reason for the third game is because we wanted to like it, so maybe if we play it again the way its supposed to be played, it'll be fun. Nope. Playing it the way its supposed to be played is just as equally underwhelming, which is a shame. There are some clever mechanics to the game, and at its heart its a cooperative game of paranoia. If we were to tweak it a bit and make some specifically drastic changes to the rules, I think it'd meet its hype. I think it'd actually be a great senario for the D&D board games, but as a standalone, I wasn't in a panic by the end.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War

Back in the 80s there was a secret war going on. Also, the Cold War was happening which was not quite as cool as Spiderman and Wolverine high fiving on a distant moon in an alternate universe after beating up space Nazis and drinking cold beer, but it was a bit more well known of an event. Spies were everywhere, stealing secrets and hosting cooking shows. It was a pretty big deal.

Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War from Stronghold Games tries to capture the feel of running a team of secret agents without the assassination and french soufflĂ©. In the end, its a fun game without soufflĂ©. In the box you'll find a bunch of Russian and American spies, blocks that say how they move (think of them as the spies directives), a top secret brief case, a massive game board, and two equally massive secret dossier that allows you to track the movement of your opponent.

Gameplay is fairly simple, though it does take a bit of getting used to the first time round. To win the game, you need to pick up the top secret brief case and get it across enemy lines (the back row on the the board closest to your opponent) without getting eliminated. Each piece has a special and unique movement that only that spy can do, except you don't know what it is. In order to move your pieces, you need to ask your opponent if the move you would like to make is legal based on the movement piece that only they can see. If they say yes, then you can move accordingly. If the say no, then you can't. Then its their turn, and so on until you have properly deduced what your pieces can do so you can win the game before your spies are killed.  Using the dossiers, you track what you know about each of your spies, as well as what your opponent knows about theirs.

What comes of this is an interesting game play where you have to stumble around in the dark for the first turn or two until you think you understand the basics of what your spies can do, and which ones can do what. Each spy can potentially be one of thirteen, each with a subtilely different movement. While you don't need to track it, it certainly helps since you have so many potential options that you need to limit down so you can grab the top secret briefcase and bust a move. However, in the middle of all this is a double agent, adding even more doubt to what you're doing.

The double agent is pretty much the most brilliant piece of the entire game. Your opponent can tell you whatever they want with the double agent, and can have it turn on you in a moments notice. Just as you are about to get the case across enemy lines, the double agent suddenly stops moving and hands it over to the enemy.

In the end, it plays like a cross between checkers and reverse stratego with an insane amount of deduction going on, but with spies. I've played a handful of games to date, each being a bit different from the last. The not knowing if you're going to win until you do is a pretty cool feeling to have, and the mystery of what you can and can not do is both frustrating and keeps you on the edge the entire time. I found some of the pieces are difficult to read in low light, specifically the white on red letters, which required me to have to either lean in close or pick up the pieces and look closely, but that doesn't take away from the quality production of the game, or how it plays.

Confusion has been a great game to play with a lot of replayability in it due to the randomness of the inner pieces and where they will end up. The first couple games play quick, followed by some really deep in-depth game play that will leave you questioning yourself right up until the end, in a good way.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Knock Your Blocks Off

Like to flick dice, throw dice, or drop dice on or at other dice? Me too. I used to get into dice fights with my brother growing up where we would build the dice up in to massive towers and then start knocking them over with other dice. Eventually the dice would grow into tennis balls, then bowling balls, then straight up fist fights. Ah to be young, dumb, and full of dice. But that is then, this is now. Nowadays, this fun is organized and sold to you as a game that will teach you about patterns and matching too.

Knock your Blocks Off from GameWright Games is a quick and easy sorta dex game for both kids and adults. In the box you'll find four sets of patterned dice with a matching crown die, a destruction dice, chalice coins to use for scoring, and building reference cards.

To play the game, everyone races to build a structure listed on their reference card, making sure that the faces of the dice match where they touch (white to white, color to color) and then put their crown die on the top of the structure. First one to build theirs grabs the destruction die from the center of the table. After everyone is done building, players check each others structures to make sure they were build correctly, and then the fun begins.

Starting with the player who grabbed the destruction die, players will roll the die and attack another players structure and try and knock the crown die off the top. To determine how you attack, you roll the destruction die, and will either flick it (boulder symbol), drop it (dragon), or throw it (ogre) based on what was rolled. Depending on what structure you build (or your chosen opponent) you will get certain benefits to use when you attack. You might get to attack a second time if you weren't successful the first time, or you might get two rolls of the destruction die and pick which one you want to do. Or, you may build one that is immune to certain types of attacks, making you win automatically.

The game is very light, fast paced, and made fun because you get to purposely throw and flick dice at other people. While it is intended for a younger audience, like most GamesWright games its still very fun for an adult group. Even a group of grownups still have problems understanding that color to color actually means color to color. Plus, it easily can turn into a drinking game (for adults) with the incorporation of a few house rules and 6/30 packs. Its definitely not a main course game, but as a filler/"party" game it works great, and can easily be played in 10 minutes.