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  • .e 6:24 am on February 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    TIME Stories non-review 

    We’re midway through the first scenario so no genuine review it, but it really is a fantastic experience. I “get it” now.

     
  • .e 6:17 am on February 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    Stone Garden, review 

    So before we start, this is about the Japanese only version of the game, technically named ??? or Karesansui, and called Stone Garden on Board Game Geek. This is not the American game Zen Garden and/or Karesansui from Eagle-Gryphon. All clear on this point? Ok.

    Stone Garden midway. Player boards on outskirts, rock store in middle, cheat sheet between

    Stone Garden midway. Player boards on outskirts, rock store in middle, translation cheat sheet between

    Got to play this thanks to Tomo who ordered it from Japan for our work lunchtime plays (thank you Tomo). The game is conceptually a strange Carcassonne with more player interaction, more complicated scoring, and amazing quality pieces. Each turn you pick up a tile, decide whether you’ll play it (possibly having it stolen), gift it, store it, or discard it. Gifting earns you virtue, discarding loses it, and stealing loses even more. You then can move your assistant (the little pawn), have him buy and place a stone, or have him meditate to gain virtue.

    The first level of complexity lies in the virtue management and the associated risk balancing. You might hold off on placing a critical tile until your opponents don’t have enough virtue to steal it, but then you give up your only storage spot, possibly wasting a great tile later. Buying stones moves your virtue to zero, which means that for one turn you can’t discard. Drawing a terrible tile then can mess up a whole arrangement.

    The second level complexity of the game lies in the scoring and choosing between going slower for maximum points, or rushing with sub-optimal tiles, but hopefully finishing first and forcing your opponents into suboptimal gardens (the game speeds up once the first garden is finished). You get positive points for pleasing patterns of sand and moss, negative points for unmatched edges, big bonus points for your hidden objective, and then you get to the rock rules. Various rock patterns count for points, while other rocks simply score points by being present in the right place.

    What’s nice is the game is genuinely rooted in the art of stone garden design, so you do learn a tiny bit from gameplay. You won’t be an expert by any means, but you’ll learn why certain rocks are placed where they are, and what they are symbolically meant to signify (famous islands, ships, etc).

    Stone Garden box

    Stone Garden box. Each rock in a custom spot.

    What made the game a such a word of mouth hit is the quality of the pieces though. Cause of how good the rocks look, while working on your fake stone garden you genuinely create what looks like a really pretty little stone garden. There’s a genuinely joy in seeing everything come together as the game runs, which then leads to people tweeting photos of their gardens, and the game then spreads from there.

    Like this: a game winning garden in the making (3 more stones coming)

    Like this: a nice, though game losing garden (poor stone placement). Symmetry in middle row though.

    The high quality also leads to a scarcity: the publisher simply can’t make the games very fast, so the game is difficult to find most places. And even once acquired you still probably need to get a good translation sheet for the rules, gardeners, and scoring patterns.

    Having said that, I definitely think it’s worth it. The gameplay is genuinely interesting, and the components are just incredible. I genuinely hope it manages to come to the US without loss of quality because it’s a fantastic and unique take on euro-gaming, with a beautiful theme on top.

     
  • .e 4:16 am on February 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    Fairy Tale, review 

    Tomo did a shopping order to Japan and I on a whim I ordered a Japanese micro that seemed be one with the least language requirements: Fairy Tale.

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    Fairy Tale, final scoring. Mass combos on my side

    (Turns out it has an English version through Z-Man. Heh)

    So this is a drafter, in the vein of Sushi Go or even more like Tides Of Time if you’re familiar with that one. You draft 5 cards in each of the 4 turns, after which you will play 3 of them and discard 2. Which if nothing else is very mathematically pleasing: 5 4 3 2.

    The cards are used in 2 ways, the first being complicated scoring methods, just like other drafting games. This includes normal linear cards (“2 points”), exponential cards (“1 if 1, 4 if 2, 9 if 3”), conditional cards (“9 points if you have most dragons”), and ‘friend’ cards (“3 points for each bard you own”). The game is nicely balanced in these, but that’s not super groundbreaking.

    The other layer to this game is that as cards are ‘played’, meaning added to your side, they have effects that fire. This includes flipping other cards face up or face down, or possibly intercepting cards before they hit the table and disable their powers early. This adds an element of combat to the game as players will often draft cards that they don’t intend to play just to make sure others can’t use those cards against them. Remember, you get to discard 2.

    For example, in the game above I drafted every single demon card that flips human cards face down to avoid losing my combo cards. Two demons would have cost me two homesteaders and about 12 points, a third of my score.

    As a bonus, I was pleasantly surprised to learn the cards used English words for “you” and “all” which made things easier, and came with a translated instruction manual to boot. Also, the design has that Japanese doujin-game style to it, which has it’s own unique charm. The only downside is unfortunately the paper it was printed on was kinda flimsy, but nothing a bit of penny sleeves can’t fix.

    It’s a good game fun lightweight and a steady entry in our medley of “lunchtime at work” games, as it can easily be ran through in 45 mins. We’re fans of it here.

     
  • .e 10:21 pm on February 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    Tsuro mini-review and strategy tips 

    Tsuro strategy tips? Surely you’re joking. Nope, not at all. First though, a mini review.

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    Tsuro. Green wins

    The players have 3 tiles in hand and have to place one in front of their stone. This makes a path. If you connect to a different path, you have to travel along it. If you crash into someone, you both are eliminated, if you go off the board, you are eliminated. It plays in about 5 minutes, is pretty fun and easy to teach people, and you already know all this. Cool? Cool.

    So here we go, Tsuro Strategy Tips, or “how to win against your family on that one day a year where you all hang out together”.

    3 basic ideas, all of which amount to “maximize your options, minimize others’ options”:

    1. Play bad tiles as early as possible
    2. Stay in the center
    3. Force opponents to the outside

    Play bad tiles as early as possible

    First, let’s explain what makes a tile good or bad since a lot of people treat them equally. Each tile has 4 sides, meaning it can be played 4 ways for your stone. Each path on it links your stone to one of 7 possible result spots. The quality of the tile is how varied the different locations it points to are. A good tile has 4 unique directions it can end up sending you to, one for each side. A bad tile has the same result 4 times. 2s are poor, 3s are ok.

    Think about it, you always want options. If you end up in a situation where going straight will kill you, and the only tile you have is one where ever side sends you forward, you lose. On the other hand one where 1 U-turns, 1 turns left, 1 turns right, and 1 goes forward could save you here.

    So rule 1: play your bad tiles as soon as you can, save your good tiles for when you need them to survive.

    Stay in the center

    Again, we’re talking about maximizing your options. If you’re heading towards the empty center, all your exits are safe. If your in the corner, at least 4 of your exits are automatically death. So rule here is simple: stay towards the center.

    Force opponents to the outside

    Since you can’t force opponents to play good tiles directly, your only aggressive action (other than just sending people directly off the map) is to minimize their choices. Whenever possible, always steer your opponents towards edges, or corners (corners preferred). Even if they survive, they will have to use better tiles to get back, getting you a bit of advantage.

     

    So there you go. Some simple tips to get you a tiny bit of an edge in Tsuro. Now go out there and crush your little cousin.

     
  • .e 10:07 pm on February 1, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: box   

    TIME Stories box 

    Haven’t got to play it yet, but I just want to say how much I appreciate how nice the TIME Stories box organization is.

    IMG_3321

    I love a good organizer

     
  • .e 10:05 pm on January 31, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , asymmetric, dice combat   

    Cthulhu Wars, review 

    David brought over the colossal box that is Cthulhu Wars, so I finally got to try it.

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    Early game, the King in Yellow spreading the good word

    First things first, the miniatures really are all that. They’re genuinely fantastic, interesting, well made, and huge. See the photo above? the little human guys with books are the size of your average miniature. There’s not even in any elder gods in that photo, the big things are just regular monsters.

    Second things second, this is not a generic miniature cash-in, which I was rather worried about that from seeing photos. The game does involve area control and there is dice based combat, but the game plays much more about power building and give-and-go of gate control vs “throw all your people into all his people and whoever rolls better wins”.

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    Tactical view. Nyarlothotep (blue) off to a great start

    Let me expound more on that cause it’s pretty key to whether you’ll like this game or not. Every faction has very different units with very different powers, but they all share the same winning condition which is “Control gates and keep your old ones alive, then spend power points to double each turn’s winnings”. The differences are in how the factions go about keeping their gates controlled, monsters resummoned, and power points growing, and the differences are significant enough to keep the game interesting. Each faction starts with a bunch of cultists, one gate, and one power. Throughout the game you will achieve conditions that will unlock new powers, sort of like victory points in Twilight Imperium, or (as the manual says) Xbox achievements.

    The powers tend to be pretty interesting and there’s actual strategy to what order you need to come out. For example, I played Hastur. My special ability is as a faction I can desecrate areas which will then give me power points as long as I keep a unit there (units from multiple factions can coëxist without fighting). One of the early power I chose was whenever I lost a cultist, I gain a power point. It’s a faction that doesn’t gain much from fighting and is actually kind of powered by avoiding conflict. Some other examples were Nyarlothotep moving twice as fast as anyone else, Cthulhu being able to resurrect for bargain prices, and Shub-Niggurath bypassing the 1 summon per action limit.

    So the game isn’t much Cthulhu Risk as much as it’s a weird asymmetric Nexus Ops (or a very minimalist Twilight Imperium if you’re not familiar with Nexus Ops). There wasn’t much combat in our game, actually. Maybe 3 or so actual fights total (4 players), and a few more cultists getting kidnapped and sacrificed, which happens without die rolls.

    It also plays pretty quick: we finished under 2 hours and that was with mostly new players.

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    Let’s be honest, the real reason why any of us played this game. Look at those things.

    Keeping it real, there’s really one reason you’re going to play this game: the giant honking minis. And that in itself is enough to check it out, I’m just letting you know that they managed to make a pretty good area-control game underneath all that, once you actually get those giant things on the board.

     
  • .e 7:50 pm on January 19, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    Pandemic: Contagion review 

    The rest of the world might be playing Pandemic: Legacy, we’re just catching up to Contagion, the one where you play as the disease.

    The game is neat inverse of the original Pandemic. You have stats that determine your diseases strengths, you have cards that you use to either infect cities or improve your disease, and each turn a new event card is flipped that you have to deal with.

    Pandemic: Contagion. The Pandemic for those of us who prefer the eschaton

    Pandemic: Contagion. The Pandemic for those of us who prefer the eschaton

    The depth of the game comes from the powers on the cities that trigger for the player who finishes them (usually card draw, so tempo basically), from the fact that you can use double the cards to account for ones you’re missing (also tempo), and from the details of the event which add a bit of helpful randomness and favor those who think ahead to prepare.

    We played the 2 player variant which includes rules for a ‘bot’ who plays along with the players. I’m not embarrassed to say that the bot managed to beat me by 10 points, though Angelica crushed it. Well, maybe somewhat embarrassed I suppose.

    If it’s not obvious, this is not a deep game, though decently clever for a 30 minute play. It’s fun, but I do want to say that it comes with one caveat: the manual is not super great. We ended up with a false-start game based on us misunderstanding rules, and then finished the game with a laptop open to the “FAQ and Errata” page. After you get the details though, the game flows pretty easily afterwards, it’s just learning that first time that’s a bit of a challenge.

    Also, the little petri dishes are very cute.

     
  • .e 9:13 pm on January 11, 2016 Permalink
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    Abyss + Abyss: Kraken review 

    Abyss was something we checked out at GenCon after seeing the amazingly good box art in our local store a few times, and it was the right sort of middle-weight euro-ish game that Angelica likes best. We re-checked it out last weekend, this time with the Kraken expansion, and definitely still liked it though I’m not sure how much more with the Krakens.

    First things first about this game: the art is amazing. Every Leader is different and each one is absolutely beautiful. The theme is consistent and it’s a joy to look at.

    Unintentional action shot of "where will the next location go"

    Unintentional action shot of “where will the next location go”

    The goal is the euro-style “collect victory points”. The main flow of the game is revealing little ally cards of various ocean themed suits. Everyone else has a chance to buy it off you before you get a chance to take it. If they don’t you can take it or keep exploring for new cards. Any cards you don’t keep are added to little piles of unwanted allies. On future turns people can take one of those piles instead of drawing new cards.

    The cards are then spent to buy Leaders. Leaders come with various powers that alter game rules. You see where this is going.

    There’s also an added complexity of Locations that alter scoring and remove powers from leaders. It adds a bit of (pardon) depth to this ocean abyss themed game.

    Full board + various other bits

    Full board + various other bits

    The game’s hook is mostly tied to the great art, very solid design of all leader cards, and in the clever “pearl economy” manipulation. Pearls let you break the rules slightly by buying cards on other people’s turns or not paying the full price for leaders. Flip side, if you use it to buy allies out of turn you give them directly to your opponent and now they can use it right back against you.

    The above is for the base game. This time we played with the Kraken as well and this adds some interesting dynamics. The big one is a new wildcard Kraken race that when used provide you with Black Pearls that count for negative points. Possibly quite a lot of negative points. This mechanic is a lot like the corruption track in the Scoundrels expansion of Lords of Waterdeep: not so bad if you have a  couple, but very bad if you’re the one with the most.

    It also adds some other less interesting mechanics like “reserve this spot” Leader tokens and treasure matching Push-Your-Luck locations that we never managed to draw. And while interesting, it doesn’t really fit with the game at all, almost feeling like a mini-game in an RPG.

    So overall, Abyss is still a great game if you like the genre, and especially if you’re someone who appreciates good art design. Plays quickly and is quite fun. As far as Kraken: if you find yourself bored with the base game and want it to be a bit more competitive, then give it a shot, but it’s not nearly as imperative as Scoundrels is for Lords of Waterdeep.

     
  • .e 12:18 am on January 3, 2016 Permalink  

    First Game of 2016 

    First game of the year was a 6 player Lords of Waterdeep, with Scoundrels expansion

    2016-01-01 15.53.57

    6 person Waterdeep

    I played as the lord who gets points for buildings, and someone else got 4 gold for each built building. To boot, the second one in play was the Zoarster. Yeah, there were quite a few at the end:

    2016-01-01 17.17.21

    Most buildings I’ve ever did see in game

    Slight brag, I won by 2.

     
  • .e 6:22 pm on December 31, 2015 Permalink
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    7 Wonders: Duels review 

    Went to store to get one last present, left with present and 7W:D.

    IMG_3268

    7 Wonders: Duel. Pretty much perfect for us

    It’s a card builder and a variation on the drafting formula. It’s 2 player, has multiple ways to win, contains strong strategy, and plays in 30 mins. It’s basically perfect for us.

    The game is comparable to a simpler 7 Wonders, or a more complex Sushi Go, but instead of drafting (which is always awkward with 2 player, Tides of Time excepted), you pick the cards, solitaire style, from the table, as long as there’s no other cards on top.

    About half those cards are face up, and half are face down. As they become available, the face down cards flip up, which prevents perfect knowledge (and the accompanying paralysis). The result is an interesting dynamic between choosing the best card for yourself, taking the best card for your opponent so they can’t have it, or playing towards the unknown and hoping nothing amazing comes up before your next turn.

    IMG_3267

    7 Wonders: Duel. An early metropolis

    The game is at its heart a “buy cards, use cards to pay for bigger cards” style game, with a few complexities like money, a war tracker, scientific research, and the titular wonders that everyone competes for. Cards can be sold for money, money can be used instead of resources, and certain cards ‘chain’ so that owning it can pay the cost of a different card later. And it’s all modified by the rule changing scientific research and wonders.

    It’s also a good example of design where there’s a lot of long term strategy, but only a few choices available at any single moment (only so many cards that can be picked up) so there isn’t much decision paralysis. Makes the game interesting without being stressful as there’s less you juggle in mind as you play.

    It’s really a quite neat game. We’re liking it a lot.

     
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