Sunday, April 17, 2011


Ever dream of being a monk in the middle ages, spending all your time and money copying and creating books and tombs of ancient and forbidden lore, just so you can say you are the best? As luck would have it, that is exactly what you do in Biblios.

Biblios is a fast card based auction game in which you are a the middle ages, actually just read the first part again for the basics. In the box you will find 87 cards, five dice, and a board to assit in keeping track of scoring (sort of).

During the game, you are trying to collect the most cards in each of five different categories over the course of two phases - the gift and auction phases. Starting with the gift phase, the player will draw 3-5 cards (depending on how many people are playing) one at a time and will do one of three things; claim the card and put it into their hand, put it into the auction pile (these will be used in the auction phase), or into the public pile.

Five different categories, get the most in each to get the points
During the turn, the player must put only one card in their personal pile and only one card in the auction pile, the rest going into the public, and can do so in any order they choose. Once done, everyone else will pick a card from the public pile. When all cards are drawn, the phase is done and you move on to the auction Cards are flipped one at a time and bid on by players with and coins they acquired during the gifting phase, highest bid wins. If the card in question is coins, then players will bid cards.

This continues until all cards are bought or discarded, then the game is done. Players reveal their hands, and points are awarded based on who had the highest values in each of the categories, whoever has the most points win.

Dice are used to keep tabs on the value of each category

Church cards change the value to each category
I like that the game plays so quickly with little complications to it, but still has some strategy to it. As you play church cards will come up that will let you change each categories point value, so do you up the value of the cards you have, and if so when? You will have to decide when to pick up what, and and if you're willing to pass on a card you can use now in favor of a card you don't know about.

While there is nothing wrong with the game play, there are some odd things with the game itself. When you open it for the first time, its "new game smell" You know that smell when you open up a bottle of bubbles? Well, ferment that and you are pretty close. The cards, while good looking, are a very heavy laminated card stock that stick and are difficult to shuffle.

Though it has these odd quirks, the rest of the components are great. The games box opens like a book, with a magnetic flap to it to help keep it sealed, and has all the cards, their values, and how many of each listed inside the games cover. Each card in all the categories have their own unique artwork that is very well done and add quite a bit to the game (check out the link at the end to see all the different cards). Because of the quick gameplay, you can easily get a few games played in a night, and allows for repeated play. The strategy to the game is not very deep, but if you are looking for a light fun game, it works well.

More photos here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

7 Wonders

7 Wonders is a civilization building card game, where you are responsible for the development of a city that houses a "Wonder" throughout the ages. The game itself came out in late 2010, and almost immediately sold out at the publisher due to its popularity. As of April 2011, the 2nd printing of the game is just now starting to hit store shelves. If you were not able to find a copy of the game locally when it almost immediately came out, you were subjected to having to go online and find it for almost twice its suggested price.

Within the box, you will find seven 2-sided Wonder boards and a lot of cards split into three decks, each representing a different age of play, and coins used for money. The first printing of the game includes wooden coins, but beginning with the second printing, the game will include paper-punch coins.

The Wonders of 7 Wonders
The game is played over three rounds called ages, where what you do or build in the early ages make a difference as to what you can do later on. To begin, everyone will randomly receive a Wonder board, which features your starting resources and the benefits from building up your cities Wonder, and is dealt a hand of seven cards. From these cards, the player must pick a single card to be played simultaneously with everyone else. Players reveal their cards at the same time, resolving any actions as needed, followed by handing their remaining cards to the person next to them. When players get down to two cards left in their hand, they discard the last one. Military battles are resolved, players are dealt a new hand from the next age, and do it again. And thats it really, a fairly straightforward easy to understand game. But its in what and when you play that matters.

Card games are not very sexy to photograph
The game has 7 different types of cards that each have their own rewards for playing. Some allow for the resources to build their empire, others give military might to defend it. Some will allow for better commerce both within their city and with their neighbors, while others will create cultural benefits to the people. And the Science (the SCIENCE!). Depending what you play early on will directly impact what you can play later. Most cards have a cost associated with them (found in the upper left corner), usually resources, sometimes money. If you have the resources in your city, then you can build them. But if you don't, you can always buy them from your neighbors, assuming they have them. In later ages, some cards can be built for free, assuming you played the right cards early on.

Imagine the excitement of building your Wonder!
It becomes an intricate balancing act as you play, as you need to decide early on how to best build your city. Should you build this ore mine to increase your resources, or play this other card and increase your science? If you focus too much on a particular type of card, then you may get dominated later by another. But if you diversify too much, then you may not be able to afford some of the bigger cards late in the third age. Throughout all of this, you are also trying to build your wonder. By completing a stage to your Wonder, it will give you unique benefits that only you have access to - sometimes money, sometimes resources, sometimes victory points. You may find yourself in a position where you can not do anything with the cards in your hand, to which you can discard and get more money.

The Score Card
By the end of the game, everyone has built an impressive empire across the table, but who has won? It's very difficult to gage how any one person is doing overall during play, due to the the game being scored simultaneously in seven different categories. With everyone having different starting resources, it means there is no one proven strategy that will work for everyone. Points are scored on how well you did in military, civics, finances, commerce, science, the building of your wonder, and what different guilds you have in your city. each are scored uniquely, some from just adding up the points that are on the cards to others requiring the use of multiplication tables.

The sexy cards in their sexy sleeves
Its only real setback to the game is that the cards are amazingly cheap, and can easily get damaged. After playing for the first time, the cards in my set started to show wear almost immediately, so sleeving the cards is not a bad idea (as ridiculous as that sounds). The cards themselves are also oversized, so standard sleeves will not fit. In fact, the only place that I know of that you can get sleeves for the game is through Mayday Games.

The game is fantastic, and plays amazingly well. It accommodates for 3-7 players, and can be done in 30 minutes time, easily allowing for several plays over the course of an evening.  The hardest part to the game is initially learning what all the different cards do only because there are so many. Once you get playing though, its very fluid. The artwork on the cards is fantastic, and the large variety of strategies that can be played are impressive. After every time that we have played, it has left us talking about our approaches to victory for quite a while afterwards.

The Money Shot
More Photos Here (but not many)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Letters from White Chapel

Opportunity presented itself last night to get together with some friends and play games. The criteria for the evening - games needed to be strategic and/or Cooperative (also capable of accommodating 6 players). Enter Letters from White Chapel.

Letters from White Chapel is a fairly new (2010) game that has recently arrived in the states. The game itself focuses on the Jack the Ripper murders from the 1880s and is set in London. Within the game, one player takes on the role of Jack the Ripper, killing prostitutes left and right by gaslight, and the other 1-5 players take on the roles of police detectives and constables that were actually associated with the original murders who are trying to track down and arrest this savage unsavory killer.

There are 199 possible locations for Jack to hide.
Within the box you'll find an impressively massive 6-panel game board depicting a map of the White Chapel district of London, circa 1880, prostitute meeples and chits, investigator meeples and chits,  Jack the Ripper meeples, a bunch of clear miniature discs (clear, red, and yellow) that are used to mark murder victims and clues within the investigations, and a Ripper screen for Jack to secretly track his whereabouts on the board.

In some ways the game is similar to Scotland Yard or Mister X (which makes sense, because one of the game designers was the designer for Mister X) as one player is secretly moving around the board trying not to be found by the other players, but that is about where it stops. The games theme is much darker in tone (you know, killing prostitutes), Jack's location is only revealed once per turn, Jack and players can not and will not ever be on the same spaces (which requires them to search for clues and make arrests in order to catch him), and Jack can never cross paths with the police during his turn when trying to get back to his hideout. These make for a more intense and interesting play for all, especially for Jack.

The prostitute chits

The game begins with Jack secretly choosing his hideout and marking it on his sheet, followed by placing the wandering prostitute chits on the board at the designated starting locations of his choosing. Most of these chits are marked on one side with a red dot, while two are blank. The ones with red dots represent potential targets once the game gets going, where as the blank ones are "fake" prostitutes. At this point, only Jack knows which are real targets and which are fake.  

Photos of the investigators of the original murders
The investigators will randomly choose a chief of investigations, who will take the investigator chits, and more or less do the same thing that Jack did with the prostitutes, except five of the chits will correspond with one of the five different investigators (there are a couple of fake ones too). With the investigators in place, the killing begins.

The elusive prostitute meeple
Jack will reveal which of his marks are real, replacing the chits with Prostitute meeples. He has the option of killing one of his marks right then, or lay in wait. By waiting, the police chief gets to move the prostitute meeples on the board, preferably in favor of the investigators, making it more and more difficult for Jack with each move. This is followed by Jack revealing one of the investigator chits, letting him know the whereabouts of an investigator. Jack can wait up to 5 times before he is forced to strike. But when he strikes...

Investigator near the crime scene (red chip)
and a clue (clear chip)

Jack has killed, the hunt is on. A red clear token is placed at the crime scene, and he is off to his hideout. The investigators start to move in on him,  deducing the route he has taken tracking him down space by space to arrest him before he gets to the hideout. For every turn that Jack is left to his own devices, it becomes more and more difficult for the investigators to find him because the possibilities of where he has gone keep growing, and the investigators window of opportunity to find him gets smaller. Jack has 15 movements each night to increase his distance from the investigators and/or get home. 

Once Jack has safely arrived at the hideout, the night comes to a close, and the killing begins anew. The new night begins the same as the first, except that when the newly elected chief of investigations positions his chits, he places one where each of the investigators ended the night before. Over the course of the four nights, the investigators will try to hone in on where he is hiding, deducing where he is at, and make the arrest to win. Investigators will investigate locations for clues to see if Jack had passed through there. If he has, they can follow the clues to him and set up a sting for the next time. If they think they know exactly where he is at, they can make an arrest. If Jack is in the location they make the arrest in, he is captured and the investigators have won. If the investigators can ever keep Jack from getting to his hideout, then they have won. However, if Jack can kill 5 women in 4 nights, then the investigators have lost.

The actions of the game, listed on the players card
First time out of the box , playing the game can seem a bit daunting. The included example of play has 2 main phases, the first phase having about 9 steps to it, but this is all the initial setup and lead in to the game. As soon as all the chits are down, it quickly moves along and you are playing in no time. Because of its semi-cooperative style of play (5 vs 1), it does require the investigators to work together to coordinate their movements and actions. 

Our play of the game was fun, with a lot of back and forth with the investigators using mock English gentlemanly accents, and many a duels of fisticuffs were issued to one another. These fell to the wayside as soon as the killer struck, however, as we had to put our heads together to try and determine where Jack was going, and coordinate our efforts of corraling him to a smaller area of the board. From start to finish, it took us all five nights to finally catch the killer, and it was actually on the last possible turn of the game. Had we hesitated, Jack would have made it home, and we would have lost - quite the harrowing jaunt through the darken streets of jolly ole London.

While our gameplay experience was light-hearted, pleasant, and supportive to everyone's suggestions throughout, a couple things became apparent. As with most cooperative-play games, it can easily into a 1 vs 1+us type of game where one player has taken control and the rest are along for the ride. Also, the sheer distance from one side of the board to the other can leave one or more players out of the action. If a kill is made on one side of the board, and your investigator is off chasing tail on the other side of town, by the time they get near the murder, Jack is in his hideout (I can personally attest on at least one night). Due to the deductive nature of the game, it may not be as obvious for some as to what is going on, or where Jack is located (specifically or generally). For others, it is the perfect amount of math and deductive reasoning that will keep them amped and coming back for more. If you can play with a good balanced group of personalities, this can be a very fun, constantly different gameplay every time.