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.

Friday, October 21, 2011


In the last couple of months, I have found myself playing a lot of Pitch Car and have become an internationally acclaimed dexterity-based racing champion. Not a day goes by without being recognized for my innate ability to flick stuff around a wooden track. My fame has gotten to the point where I have had to cancel all of my scheduled TV appearances out of fear of fan frenzy. Yet, I manage to stay humble.

For those three of your who do not know what Pitch Car is, it is a dexterity based racing game from Ferti and distributed by Fred Games where you flick a wooden disc around a wooden track. In the box, you will find straight tracks and 90 degree turn tracks, as well as eight race car discs and a bunch of guard rails.

Along the way to international racing fame, I have found that there are two different views to this game:

1. People absolutely love this game and have a fantastic time playing it for hours on end and can't say enough good about it.
2. People think it is the dumbest thing in the world and don't understand why anyone would waste their time on it.

Now, this is true about many things in life, but there is usually a grey area in between the two as well. With Pitch Car, its very black and white.

To play the game, racers will build the track using all or most of the pieces. Then, they will take turns flicking their race car around the track. First person to go around the track three times is the winner. That is the entire game.

I know that there isn't much to this, and it very easily can be seen as a very dumb game concept, but when you and seven of your buddies are all standing around a raised table at 11:30 at night taking turns to find just the right shot to bounce around the leader and glide into first and then do it without flying off the track, that dumbness goes right out the window. Its simplicity lends itself to being able to focus on what matters when you're playing a game - fun.

I'm not going to lie to you, there are much more complex games out there that are much more fulfilling, but for a fun time with a bunch of beers, this can't really be beat. By no means is it a brain burner that'll keep you up all night contemplating what you'll do next time when you play as Turkey, but with the right folks it can be up there as a crazy memorable and fun experience to remember for a long time.

The game does have its faults however. First off, it takes up a ton of space, so playing on your kitchen table with all the of track may be difficult for some (I mean, look at our table. the track is barely on in some spots.) Similarly, even having a big enough table space may present a problem within itself. On numerous occasions, we have had to pull several tables together, and due to the puzzle piece nature of the track, not all the track will be flush, causing "speed bumps" mid track that can cause your car to change direction, fly off the track, or just stop suddenly. clearly that isn't a good thing. also along these lines is that given time and humidity, track has been known to warp, adding to this "fun". Because it is a dex based game with some serious flicking action, it can be difficult for some who may have physical dexterity limitations. Adaptations can be created/made/used, but it may not be ideal for them, but you never know til you try.

All this aside, the game is great fun with endless track design possibilities. there are also a series of expansions to the base game that add sharper turns, jumps, longer straightaways, and bottlenecks to up the technical skill needed in order to play. Recently I had a chance to play the game with all the expansions and it was pretty batshit insane and fun.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Angry Birds: The Board Game

Ok, so you have a problem with a pack of irate green pigs who want to sit on all of your furniture and random sheets of glass. You're pretty much at a loss as to what to do, so why not launch birds at them and hope that that solves it. I mean, whats the worst that can happen, right? well...

Angry Birds is a game that more or less every one is familiar with in some capacity. Be it they've played the video game on their iPhone/Android, or they've given a stuffed bird as a gift to someone, theres a really real chance that they are at the very least familiar with Angry birds. Question is, did they know there is a board game?

Board game is a loose term in this regards, but it does exist. In the box, you'll find a red bird, a yellow bird, a black bird, a various amount of pigs, plastic lumber, a fake star, a fake set of eggs, a bunch of cards, and a catapult.

In the game, players will draw a card from one of four levels of difficulty (level 1 being the easiest and so on) which will have a structure that you need to build with the plastic lumber and stack pigs on accordingly. Then, you need to take the birds and launch them at the structure and knock the pigs off of said structure. If you do so, then you get the points. If you don't, then you are SOL. First person to a certain amount of points wins the game.

And thats it, but its not.

You see, in theory this is the coolest game ever and how can there be any problems? I mean you get to launch plastic birds at plastic pigs who are loitering on plastic lumber, who are all sitting on your kitchen table. How is this a bad thing? Well, that depends on how you define it.  In the video game, each of the different birds have a special ability that you can use to your advantage in order to get the most things knocked over. The yellow bird could be double tapped and fly extra hard and extra fast into a very specific location. The black bird would land and blow up as if it were a keg of dynamite. These were pretty bad ass effects that you'd hope you would get to replicate somehow in a killer board game of the same name. Except you can't.

In the board game, all the birds have the same effects and are purely included for the sake of completion, not competition. It'd be pretty cool if the black bird was full of lighter fluid and would spray it everywhere as its flying through the air, and then setting itself on fire upon its landing, but that makes very little sense. But nope, black bird flies the same as red bird, which is to say not very well.

Which brings us to a pretty key point of contention with this game. The catapult is not made very well. The games directions call for setting up the structure that the pigs are supposed to live on about a foot a way from the catapult. when you got to launch your birds, they will either fall about nine inches short of your target, or will sail right over them without any remorse. This is a pretty serious issue in game play because in both scenarios you don't hit the stupid structures and are left with an army of pigs staring back at you and laughing. Check out this series of action shots (below)

And that is the catapult in action

Now, I accept that I may not be the best person to launch a bird into the air at an army of pigs due to my recreation degree. But when shared with friends, they faced the same challenges as I. Some one at some time should have hit some pig with some bird. But you never will. And that is a problem.

For whatever reason, the catapult was not made for these birds in mind. In turn, the birds included in this game are extremely light weight and has made it increasingly difficult to actually make a difference in the game. Honestly, its just the catapult that is an issue. There really isn't anything you can do to get the birds to do anything unless you were to whap the yellow bird out of the air after you launch it, or blow up the black bird when it lands, but then you're house ruling it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Elder Sign

Insanity! Madness! Woe and despair! All things that happen if you try to read an instruction manual from FFG and expect to play the game in the same night. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly seems to be true. The first time I tried to play Arkham Horror I sat down with the rules a full three hours before we sat down to play and started going through them, and we still had difficulties in understanding what we just read. In all fairness, that was a while ago, we started late at night, and there was much drinking to be had,  but not when reading over the rules mind you. Since then, AH has been a great game to play, but it rarely makes it to the table due to the sheer time commitment it takes to actually play the damn thing. However, FFG has recently release a game that is heavily similar in theme and plays in about a 1/5th of the time.

Elder Sign from Fantasy Flight Games is a card and dice based game focused on the Cthulthu mythos, and is set in the same setting as their Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness games, and is just as rich in H.P. Lovecraft theme and lore as either of them. In the box you'll find 6 green dice, a yellow die, a red die, clue tokens, stamina and sanity tokens, and a lot of cards, covering characters, weapons, spells, items, allies, adventure/events, other worlds, and elder gods.

Some of the different investigators
In the game, you play as an investigator from 20s, each of which has a unique background which lends itself to their starting sanity and stamina, as well as their special abilities. You find yourself in a museum late one night, investigating as you do, when all of a sudden crazy shit starts happening, books start bleeding, monsters want to eat your soul, cultists want to sacrifice things, and oh yeah, theres an elder god on the verge of waking up that you'll have to personally fight if he does in fact wake up.  So yeah, crazy stuff.

One of two tasks completed
During your turn, you'll move from card to card (referred to as adventures) trying to complete tasks to battle bad guys and resolve these adventures. To do so, you need to roll dice and match the symbols accordingly to the tasks at hand. If you roll and can match the requirements needed to one of the tasks, you lock those dice in to complete that task. You then take your remaining dice and roll again, doing the same thing over again in order to complete other tasks on the card. Once you complete all tasks, you have completed the adventure, and are rewarded accordingly with clues, weapons, spells, and elder signs. These elder signs are what you need in order to win the game by collecting a number of them equal to or greater than a specific number that is associated with each elder god, which needs to be done before they wake up and devour you.

The basic setup

And that is the basic ongoing gameplay to the game. Players are trying to work together to avoid the catastrophic doom that will occur if one of the elder gods awake, and are racing against a clock throughout the game. No seriously, they are. There is a clock that advances after every turn, and every time it strikes midnight, more bad stuff happens, and the elder gods doom track advances. Upon completion, they awake. So, to avoid this from happening, players will play cards from their hands or complete certain adventure cards that will assist in either slowing down the clock or removing doom tokens from the board, all the while working to get those elder signs that will win the game.

Several of the adventure cards

The game is pretty fun, and plays well with a variety of players (box says 1-8, but have only played it with groups of 4 and 5 so far). The characters in the game are straight out of AH/MoM, and provide a large variety of special abilities that when used in conjunction with each other make for a very powerful investigative team. Which is good since it seems that nothing but terrible, horrible things happen in this game as it progresses. Many adventure cards have situational effects that are constantly in play and do bad things to you when you fail a task and roll a terror symbol. If you fail to complete all the tasks to an adventure, you loose sanity and stamina. Monsters show up and want to kill you constantly. Even when you complete an adventure and collect your rewards, many of the cards have the symbol that makes you either put a monster in play or advance the doom track by one.

Cthulhu Elder God card

Throughout the course of the game, you are rolling dice and playing cards to modify rolls or assist other players in completing tasks, so at no point does it really feel that you have down time in it. Its theme and goals/objectives are similar to AH enough that folks may consider it to be Arkham lite, but the mechanics are for the most part very unique to it by comparison.

The game could benefit from a physical board to play the Adventure cards onto, as well as give the clock a physical stationary place it could live, but thats super minor and me just being petty. Elder Sign is fun, and made moreso if you are familiar with and enjoy Call of Cthulthu and the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Definitely a solid alternative to Arkham Horror when you want the feel and the flavor but don't have the time.

The Elder Sign

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

City Square off

City Square off is a two-player game from Gamewright Games that puts players in a head to head competition of of city planning. You will immediately note that this is not a very good simulation of city planning, as it plays out in about 15-20 minutes, and involves no mechanics for planning committees, public hearings, budgeting sessions, or zoning. As much as I love planning committees, I think is safe to say that is probably for the best.

In the box you will find two 9x9 gridded player boards, two sets of 21 "cityscape" pieces in various tetris-like shapes, four starter pieces in the shape of buildings, and a deck of cards that match each of the 21 cityscape pieces.

The gameplay is very straight forward; players will each pick a starting building, each with a unique footprint and place it approximately in the center of their boards. From there, a card from the deck is flipped, and players will simultaneously place the cityscape piece coresponding with the card on their player board. The cityscape pieces must touch at least one previously played piece, and must fit onto the 9x9 board. If a player can't fit a piece on their board, then they loose. If both players can't fit a piece on their board, then the player with the largest unused space wins.

And thats it really. It's fast and fun, allowing for plenty of gameplay. As far as tile-placement games go, it has enough uniqueness going on for it that you can't really compare it to games like Blokus. We played this several times over the past week, and each time presenting new and different problems. Because of the deck, there is no one key strategy to go off of, and each of the starting buildings unique footprint means that you can't copy your opponent either.

While it is designed as a two-player game, it easily can be played as a single player game as well since each player has their own board. Granted, playing solo will not be as desirable an accomplishment when applying for city planner and they see this on your resume. They usually are looking for accomplished planners, and will be looking for people with a solid two-player career.

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