Mystic Vale, short review

We got to play the upcoming Mystic Vale at Kingdom Con in San Diego. A cool entry in the tiny field of ‘card builders’.

Mystic Vale. Tough to avoid glare on this one
Mystic Vale. Tough to avoid glare on this one

The gimmick of the game is the translucent card fragments. You start the game with a hand of cards which will never grow or shrink. Onto each card you then build up more and more effects which all fire whenever the card gets played. Spend those effects to gain more and better effects and acquire points. The one to finish with most points, wins.

So what’s the details? Each card is a little envelope with a single starter ‘background’. Some are blank, some contain an effect. All the starting ones are either a standard “gain 1 gold” or a red icon. The red icon is the other clever bit of the game: you draw cards until 3 of those are visible. You can then press your luck and draw more. No red symbol? Add the effects on the new card to your hand. Red symbol? Bust. Lose this hand, but gain an extra gold for next turn. Adds a nice extra dynamic to the early game especially.

The card ‘stacking’ works really well; it’s visually very much like Gloom. They’re easy to read and clear, though they don’t photo well. One mistake that’s happening in the photo above is I’m overlapping the cards on the right. I learned not to do that cause you can miss some of the trigger effects that don’t have a visual icon on the left.

The feels more like a deck builder then not: you set up combos, you hope they fire in the right order to let you best use the market. The lack of card shedding gives it a different feel obviously, but it’s familiar to make sense quickly.

My only complaint is that the game would probably feel shallow after a few plays, as you explore the range of cards. I fully expect there to be a few expansions that will help with that. Also, I’m now approaching my 200th game of Star Realms with just 1 expansion, so I personally don’t think a tight well balanced deck/card builder has anything wrong with it.

Looking forward to the final release of this. We’ll be picking it up.

Bioshock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia review

Tomo picked this up on one of those online sales so I finally got to play what I passed on to get Evolution instead.

Bioshock Infinite: The Siege Of Columbia
Bioshock Infinite: The Siege Of Columbia

This is pretty much the quintessence of a Ameri-game. Miniatures for area control. Combat with custom dice. Completely theme based. Simple rules that involve a lot of weight up front. If you like the genre, you’ll like this.

For those unfamiliar, the board game is based on a video game of same name. In it you try and rescue a girl from a floating city while factions fight for domination. In the board game you represent one of two of those factions, while similarly to Lord Of The Ice Garden, the protagonist of the original story wanders about the map causing massive destruction.

The game was introduced to me as “basically Nexus Ops with a Bioshock skin”, and that’s a very good starting point to understanding it. The game is won by placing your 10th victory point, and they’re placed by either succeeding in a VP objective, or by holding an area of the board. The first are yours forever, the second only until you lose the area.

The main driver of the game are cards. They are dealt to players each turn and represent the units available to the faction. They can be spent to gain money (allowing purchases of units, buildings, and upgrades), to give bonuses and special effects in combat à la Game of Thrones, or to win votes to pass new laws that change the rules slightly each turn.

On top of that there’s the aforementioned protagonists. They run around the board willy nilly, sometimes knocking out entire districts, sometimes killing all units, sometimes helping whoever they share the sector with.

Top down view of Bioshock Infinite
Top down view of Bioshock Infinite

If the game sounds kind of random, it rather is. There’s the combat dice, the card draws, Booker’s movement, Elizabeth’s effects, the laws you vote for, and the victory point conditions. None of these do you have any real control over. On top of that, 1 card in either deck is game-changingly powerful: the Songbird / Airship ones. They add a giant amount of points to the fight, on top of letting the unit teleport in and bring its die with it. It means that you basically get a free win each time you draw it. I used that to win the game but taking over a needed final point, despite my opponents best efforts all game to prevent that.

I mean, it’s not a bad game. The theme is done well and it looks great. But it definitely feels a bit like everything they could think of from every FFG game they liked was picked up and throwing into a pot. Check it out if you’re a hardcore Bioshock fan, but you’re probably not and you’re probably ok sitting this one out.

The minis are ok
The minis are ok, the cardboard buildings are nicer


Pax Porfiriana (solo) mini-review

This one took a while to hit table despite my best efforts since the rules are a bit long, so I finally did the optional solo variant by myself.

Pax Porfiriana, solo, in progress. Diaz on right.

I realize this really is a very mini review even by my standards but I just want to say how fantastic the game really is. It’s a card builder-style game with lots of details and intricacies that all come together to provide a consistent whole (vs feeling like distractions). I say card builder-style game cause unlike with most builders your cards tend to get killed quite often. You’re perpetually building, fixing, defending, and rebuilding, while also destroying everyone else’s cards.

This on top of a very interesting and original theme, researched with a satisfying amount of detail. While playing you learn a little bit not only about the history of the time, but also about how difficult it must have been to live at the time.

And yes, this is an Ecklund game. The manual comes with an extended political/economic treatise by the author of slightly sophomoric quality, and the cards are intimidating at first with symbols all over the cards, some upside down, some back to front. They become very second nature very quickly though, thankfully.

The solo game isn’t perfect as the bot player, Diaz, doesn’t require money and as so never builds an engine that you can attack. This makes a few of the cards not particularly useful to the player other than as self-attacks to build Outrage and liberate slaves (building Revolt points).

My only modification to the solo game rules is to change the way Diaz picks his cards away from the d6/d6 method cause there’s too much money to be made in speculating on the 16s. I have a D16 from Dungeon Crawl Classic so maybe give that a shot. Something like 1-5 buys from column 1, 6-9 from 2, 10-11 from 3, 12-13 from 4, 14-15 from 5, and 16 from 6. We’ll see.

Incidentally, I (barely) won with a Revolution victory.

Viva La Revolution

So yes, this was a mini-review. Proper review after we get a multi-person game of this going.

Dice City, review

David brought Dice City to game night so I got to check it out.

Dice City player board. The dice land on intersection of number and color
Dice City player board. The dice land on intersection of number and color

The game is the exact middle ground of Machi Koro and Imperial Settlers. It takes the dice from Machi Koro and combines it with the resource management of Imperial Settlers.

You start with a large board in front of you filled with useful but unexciting builds. You roll all your dice and place them in their correct spot (where the color of dice and number rolled meet), and then activate that building. Sometimes you get a resource, sometimes you get an attack point, sometimes a weird power up goes off. You then use those resources and attacks to get new cards and VPs, perhaps attacking and disabling your opponent’s buildings.

That’s pretty much the entirety of the game mechanically, actually. Get resources, spend resources, hope that the numbers you need roll. This isn’t a criticism, simple mechanics for card building combined with interesting cards is all you need. So let’s talk about the cards.

Full setup of Dice City
Full setup of Dice City

The cards are definitely more Machi Koro than Imperial Settlers. There’s more of simple combos such as “Activate every harvest card in your row”, and very little of the more complex meta-cards of Imperial Settlers, which makes sense as those complicated Settlers engines require colossal hand draw and complete control of what plays when, which is quite literally impossible to set up in Dice City.

I think Dice City never quite jelled for me because I already played and got familiar with the games at the two extremes of it’s gameplay. It’s a perfectly good game in it’s own right, but for light card building and dice rolling I’d prefer Machi Koro, while for deep card building Imperial Settlers is much more stimulating. I’d recommend this if you have neither of the two above but are interested in the genre, or if you feel that Machi is too light while IS is too heavy, but me personally I feel like the two games on either side are better experiences overall.

Xenon Profiteer, review

Grabbed it on sale from Eagle Griffin cause we like clever deck builders here. This one is even more clever, to the point it plays more like a card builder (like Mottainai) than a proper Deck Builder.

Xenon at work
Xenon at work

The premise of the game is you want to ‘isolate’ xenon in your hand by removing all other cards, then use it gain victory points. This is done primarily by a once a turn ‘distilling’ step where you remove from your deck all the cards of the most common gas in your hand (so all nitrogens if you have nitrogen, all oxygens if you have no nitrogen, etc). The catch of the game is that to get xenon cards into your deck you also must take a nitrogen, oxygen, and krypton, then you spend all your effort on removing those cards.

The non-gas cards are divided into 3 types: power ups, pipelines that increase your hand size, and contracts that convert xenon to points. Power ups can be used like in a deck builder (once per shuffle), or can be installed at a cost to go off every round. This means that it’s possible to play and win this deck-builder without ever buying a card to your deck. You would still need to take air in, but that’s done as a separate action from buying.

So the one half of the game is the above, a multiplayer solitaire to get the most points possible out of the objects you buy, about when to switch to ‘overtime production’ which allows you to distill twice, at the cost of not getting any new cards, and when to buy what. The player to player interaction comes through the process of bidding.

Xenon Profiteer to go
Xenon Profiteer to go, at Tea N More

Bidding is placing your player token on a card available for purchase. It lowers the price of the card for you buy 1 (including going into negatives, meaning the card can pay you to purchase it), but perhaps more importantly it means that whoever buys that card will also have to pay you on top of the normal price.

This leads to the primary interaction with other players: trying to block their purchases and convert what they need into a slowdown for them and acceleration for you.

A playthrough is about I’d say 20m per player, and has a similarity to Mottainai in that the two main strategies are either to go slow and get as many points as possible, or to go as fast as you can in order to get the game to end quickly before the slower decks manage to ramp up their engines. In our experience this can go either way.

It’s a great game for us, not very heavy but interesting in a puzzle solve-y way, while still including a bit of player interaction without making it too aggressive. Recommended if those things sound appealing to you. The unique play style and theme also helps. Wish it was just a hair quicker cause it’s just barely too long for work lunches with our usual 3-4 people.

Imperial Settlers Campaign Mode, review

So “Play games by yourself when Angelica is traveling” series continues with the extended version of Imperial Settlers called Campaign Mode. It’s a free update from Portal Games available here: Incidentally, thank you Portal for consistently making these free expansions for your games. Also, happy almost birthday to this mode which I really should have played earlier, heh.

Imperial Settlers Campaign Mode
Imperial Settlers Campaign Mode (aka, the rule sheet in the corner)

The idea is an iterative, shortened 1-player game. You’re still building for points, still competing against the raiding opponent, but you also get an ally you can make deals with, and after each game you get a new effect, as well a cost you need to pay for. On top of that, you can also spend your victory points to gain more power ups.

So for example: you play a normal 4 round 1-player game. If you won in the last turn, count up your victory points. Then roll on a bunch of different tables to find out what sort of a province you conquered. Misty Mountains? Ok, you get free stone each turn, but have to pay 1 wood each turn or you lose it. You then spend the victory points on a little power up, like “your neighbor offers you two deals instead of one, and you pick one”. Repeat until the costs of maintaining your civilization are greater than you can possibly afford, then collapse spectacularly.

So for something that’s such a small change, I’m really enjoying the mode. The addition of the empire narrative adds a nice alternate winning condition the game for when you don’t feel like min-maxing the best score. The removal of the 5th round also really speeds up the 1p game. While it’s only 20% of the rounds, the last round is easily the longest of the game, probably amounting to close to 1/3rd of it.

So if you have Imperial Settlers and want to try something for a slow solo evening, this is a really pleasant way to do so. Assuming you’re ok with the whole “build empire and watch it collapse” thing, which if you’re playing a Portal game, you probably are.

Viceroy review

We ran through Joe’s fancy kickstarter version of Viceroy from Mayday Games. It’s a card builder apparently based on a Russian CCG called Berserk.

Viceroy, one person's pyramid
Viceroy, one person’s pyramid

The only thing I knew about the game going in is that it has a gem building mechanic. I was assuming this would end up being very important, but it turns out it was at most a detail (though a fun one). The real gut of the game was the bidding and adjusting your strategy based on the bidding of others.

Every turn, 4 new character cards become available, each randomly tied to a color. The players blind bid for which one they want, then resolve their bids simultaneously. If your claim is unique, you take it, otherwise you lose your bid and a second card is added to that row and you bid again. In case of ties between 2 players in a color with two cards, you take one of the two cards based on the initiative of the pyramid.

This is the mechanic that drives the game. You end up not only picking for yourself (“Oh, another Scroll character would go nicely with my high scroll scores”) but also bidding to block others (“But man, if he gets another gear that will let him complete a 2nd set so maybe I should block him on that”).

Another nice small thing about the game is it just looks nice on the table with all the pyramids going up:

Viceroy, the whole table hogging 4 player thing
Viceroy, the whole table hogging 4 player thing

The scoring is a hair confusing at first with lots of steps and ways to earn points, making this a game that gets better on repeat play. Especially since at first play you have little grip of when to build for more resources, and when to start building for points. Overall a good mid-to-light card builder.