Aug 072015

pic2509383_t[1]By Paco Garcia Jaen

Chaosmos came out thanks to Kickstarter a few months ago and it puts you in the position of an alien race that’s trying to survive the end of the universe.

See, all things die and the Universe is not exception. And every creature out there has a survival instinct and aliens are no different. And in this game the Universe is dying and is dying quickly.

However not all is lost. There is The Ovoid, a mysterious and powerful artifact that will ensure you can jump straight into the new universe that’s about to be born out of the demise of ours. And yes, you’re going to need it if the civilisation you represent as a player is to survive.

Let me tell you, the box is really full of components. From a circular counter to cards, envelopes, small screens to hide things behind, some miniatures, hexagons, cards, tokens… How they’ve managed to get so much stuff in the box is a mystery. How to put everything back in again another. It’ll take a bit of time to get everything together once you’ve played, so be patient.

I won’t talk too much about the components because you can see my unboxing video here, which will show you all the components. I’ll only say, just in case you don’t want to watch the video, that the artwork is patchy in its quality and the art direction could be improved somewhat.

Setting up time is long to start with, but it’s not too painful. One just has to get to grips with what’s meant to happen for the first time and then it’s a lot easier. However I’d strongly recommend keeping your components well organised to make sure you don’t have to look for what you need when you start your next game.

I also have to say the game is easier to play than the rules would make it look. They are quite verbose and long, but the mechanics are rather easy. I’d suggest watching the video tutorials Mirror Box Games has in their website. Seriously, the game is easier than it would appear.

And talking about playing…

The board is set by placing the hexagons with the planets, one for each civilisation and each one of those planets has a small envelope with some cards in them. Those cards are only visible when you get control of the planet and then you can use some of the cars and swapping for cards in your hand. Each player has a hand of 7 cards.

The cards contain traps and locks to stop other players to access the envelopes and also equipment, weapons…. And the Ovoid.

Each player has a number of actions and they can do one thing during each action. Like going from planet to planet, looking at cards, swapping cards, beating the crap out of each other… That sort of fun!

The combat is bloody. Two dice determine the damage, which you can help/deter with some equipment. Nothing to scientific, but fun and tense as you never know how well you’ll do.

Eventually time runs out, as in the number of rounds come to an end, and the player who has the Ovoid wins the game. That simple. The rest of the players will look miserably at the winner while their universe collapses and they become nothing while the winner creates a new universe of their own.

OK, that was a bit over dramatic.


Chaosmos is really good fun. The game starts as a treasure hunt as the players will need to find where the Ovoid is. However they might not want to keep them in their hand right away as some cards can take it away and then start the chase again. Instead the Ovoid can be hidden away.

And you have to have a good poker face, or a be a good bluffer and pretend you know – or don’t know – where the precious artifact is.

Although the game could have a tighter art direction, it doesn’t really detract from the game experience, so I won’t lambaste the game too much for that. Just something to keep in mind for when the second edition of the game comes out.

If you’re blessed to have a group of people like mine to play with, this game is carnage and it doesn’t matter how long it takes, it can be enjoyable. However be careful because the game can be a bit dull to start with if the Ovoid is not found quickly enough.

Overall this game is well worth it and it has good replayability value for me. With a bit of luck there will also be some expansions or even a follow-up called Creasmos where the civilisation that jumps into the new universe has to conquer it.

One to get out on the table and enjoy around a drink!

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Oct 312014

pic2099804_t[1]By Paco Garcia Jaen

Alf Seegert is one of my darling designers and a dear friend of mine. Yes. He is a proper friend and I love him to bits. That means that this review is biased. Mind you, it doesn’t need to be because the game is excellent, but if it weren’t, this review would be biased.

There. That’s my contribution to ethics in games journalism.

Anyway, Alf teamed up with Steve Poelzing to design Cubist, a game in which the players create works of cubist art and setup their exhibitions and build a museum. In reality the game is a dice rolling abstract game with a theme very cleverly attached to it.

The production is pretty excellent. The game comes with *a lot* of dice in four colours 81 in total; 20 dice per player, plus a red dice that marks the first block of the museum the players can build during game. The dice are marble cubes or loveliness, I have to say. I really like the marbled effect and the size of the dice is big enough to roll nicely in your hand.

The game also comes with five small boards, four for the players, and one for the centre of the table. The central board is the board where the players can place their dice to build the museum. The player boards have been printed both sides – unnecessary but not unwelcome – and, handily enough also comes with the turn sequence printed, so no one will get lost. The different areas of the board show the reserve dice (two of them), and the two rectangles where the players can setup their own exhibits.

There are also three decks of cards. One with the shapes of the exhibits, a small one with the shapes of the museum and a third one with extra actions the players can use during the game.

To make matters even better, the whole game has a cubist art direction. The cover is a cubist painting and the cards are all based on cubist artists. And the thing is that it works. Cubism is not my favourite art style and yet, I absolutely love the looks of this game.

The gameplay is simple. The exhibit cards display shapes that the players need to match in order to score points. The more complex the shapes, the more points the player gets.

Now where it gets tricky is that one can’t just choose any number on their dice to build up the exhibit. You choose the number of the first die you place on your building area, but after that you have to place a consecutive number. Say that you put a 3 as your first die, you can only put a 2 or a 4 adjacent to that dice in order to make the shape you’ve chosen.

Once you pile up enough dice to match the shape on the card, you score the points. The cool thing is that any player can attempt to create the same shape and the first one scores the points. So yes, there will be some sighs of frustration at the table as you steal those precious points away. The game ends when you get a few of those exhibits, or the central museum is complete.

Every round, you roll two die and you can choose to use them to build the exhibit, keep them in your reserve (a maximum of two dice) or place them to lock one of the activity cards for later use.

The abilities you can lock will allow you to turn a dice into a particular number, copy a die one of your opponents have in their reserve, remove a die… add a bit of depth to the game.

When you score a card, you can also lock some dice on that card with specific numbers that you can use to finish another shape, or to help build the central museum, which will also give you some points come the end of the game.

The gameplay is very balanced. Although there are a good number of decisions to make every turn and the dice provide with good variance, it is never too much to instil analysis paralysis or too small to hinder your choices and the rules are easy enough that in a couple of rounds you’ll be up to speed without a problem.

The rules are clear enough, though they suffer from a bit excessive text, something Griffon Games do very often, I have to say. Although they are not confusing, they could also do with being a bit more succinct.

Having all the cards listed with a description of their abilities is very handy and you can expect to check on those the first few times you play. Once you have them under your belt, the gameplay will be even quicker.

Overall I have enjoyed this game a lot, and so have the people I have played it with. It is an excellent light game, perfect to bring people into gaming too. However if you expect a lot of very deep thinking and gaming, this will probably fall short. This is not the sort of games you can build an engine around and get a headache with the effort of cracking the winning strategy. Luck is a huge part of this game, but not enough to be all it takes to win or lose.

If you want something quick, easy, beautiful and ultimately very satisfying, this is indeed for you.

Another hit for Alf Seeger and Steven Poelzing.

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Jul 252014

pic1729369_t[1]By Michael Chamberlain

Published in 2012 by MAGE Company, Wrong Chemistry by Tony Cimino is a game of scientist trying to create new elements using an action point system to move the molecule you share with your opponents towards your next score card. The game plays two to four players and plays in around half an hour in my experience. The box recommends it for players eight years and older which I see no reason to disagree with though I can see children wanting to play against other children at that age rather than seasoned gamers as they will simply be out thought.

The components of this game are seven hexes (one blue and six yellow), five large white wooden discs (Agricola worker size), four small black discs, a stack of element cards, two reminder cards and a multilingual rule book. The version I have been playing with is the Kickstarter backer version I received when it was first released. The box is a light small box that loosely holds the cards and components. The art on the cover has a more detailed and less whimsical style than the cards inside but it does get across the theme. The seven hex boards are all of a good size and of nice thick card stock that have been more than up to the play they have received and the wooden discs are very clear against then. The cards that are the major component that players will be using are very clear and with a comical, whimsical art and the names on the cards are puns and humorous spins on the elements of the periodic table (Sillycon and Phonesforus are a couple of examples). Each card shows the number of points the card is worth (one to three also identifiable at a glance by the colour of the background) and a picture of the molecule you need to create to score that card. The cards are of light enough stock so that I have sleeved mine from the start to protect them from wear.

Set up for the game is really simple, you set up the start molecule (blue hex in the centre surrounded completely by the six yellow hexes with a alternating white and black markers on top of them), the two reminder action cards (Restartium and Extramovium) are place in sight of both players, the deck of molecules is shuffled and lastly each player is dealt a starting hand of four cards.

Each player starts their turn with four action points with which they can manipulate the molecule. For each action point you can take one of six actions; three of the actions relate to adding, moving or removing the coloured discs from the molecule, one lets you move an empty hex to another position, Restartium is an action you can take once per turn which returns the molecule to the setup configuration described above and the final option is to discard one of your cards in hand. If you manage during your actions (which is after all the point) to create the configuration of a molecule that you have on a card in your hand you may score that card placing it in front of you. Once you have a card in front of you it scores you points at the end of the game (between one and three) and if you manage to create a run of atomic number you gain bonus points for doing so. Also once you have scored cards in front of you you’re able make use of Extramovium, by discarding a scored card you gain an extra three action points (this action can be taken any number of times in a turn). After a player’s turn they draw back up to three cards in hand, if there aren’t enough cards in the deck to achieve this then the game ends. Players then score points for the molecules they have created and any bonuses for runs in atomic numbers and the player with the highest score wins.

Wrong Chemistry was a game I was excited enough about the concept of to back it on Kickstarter and while initially I was disappointed that it wasn’t a deeper game it has stood the test of time well. It’s still an occasional filler game that sees play and when it comes out it is a nice light way to round out an evening. The game play is quick enough and light enough that it is enjoyable to chat over and I feel plays best as a two player game. The game has a lot of random in it based on the luck of the cards and I have seen this be game breaking for players with them having no hope of winning. This pushes it further from the pure abstract than I would like. This game is something of an enigma, I enjoy it (often in fact) and yet I feel it gets picked over better games. If you get the chance to play this one I would recommend it as it seems to hit a very different spot on the gaming spectrum from many and it’s certainly possible to have a lot of fun playing it.


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Jul 252014


Joss Whedon’s Ultimate Misbehavior Is Lifting Ideas From Other Games

By Peter Ruth II

The world of the TV show Firefly, and the fiction surrounding it, is quite a far cry from your average Sci-Fi, with an odd, kind-of-mystic, pseudo Western/Chinese vibe. As I’m sure you know, the show was incredibly popular, but apparently not so much that it could last more than one season plus a movie, but that hasn’t stopped a subculture of fans from reliving its short-lived glory. Enter Firefly: The Board Game, licensed to Gale Force Nine, who up until relatively recently pretty much made its name as a tabletop war game publisher. They seem to have a thing for licensed IP because they’ve made this and one other board game, based on another show, which is still incredibly popular and well-received by the hobby game community. Firefly seems to be doing the same thing, for the most part, and at GenCon last year people were going fully bat crazy over it. The truth is that sometimes people want something to be better than it is because they like the theme or license, as can be attested to by a litany of really crappy Star Trek computer games.

The thing about this game is that I feel as if I’ve played it several times before, but the oCardsther times it was called Runebound, Return of the Heroes, and Merchants of Venus. See, there’s nothing remotely new about this game, to be honest, because it’s essentially a portmanteau of a bunch of other games, with a Firefly-branded theme slapped on. As much as I liked the show, I really am a little disappointed because while the game is sort of fun, it’s just that it’s so much like other games I’ve played that it feels like I’m walking the same old ground. The base game, even with the “Breakin’ Atmo” expansion which is just a small deck of cards with more stuff to buy and people to hire, amounts to running around doing pick-up-and-deliver missions with a skill check at the end. With some missions, there’s not even a skill check, you just declare it complete and that’s it. All in all, it’s just not that engaging or exciting because it’s just not that different from other stuff I’ve played. There’s very little player-on-player action unless you get the latest expansion “Pirates and Bounty Hunters”, which I own, and I think that it’s omission from the game’s launch was either a huge misstep or a marketing calculation to sell you new stuff down the road, knowing that it’s like Tribble Crap…if it’s licensed, it will always sell.

That said, this latest expansion changes the base game profoundly, allowing you to steal other players’ crews, kill, murder, maim, pirate, and basically be a dirty, rotten scoundrel for a living. I was much colder on the game before I had this, but considering that I’m about $80.00 USD deep in the game at this point, I’m quite pleased to say that we really dug the game a lot more when we added it in. It quite ably brings CashMoneyBitchesthe game up to the level of “something new and exciting”, and more importantly, it does so without adding bullshit, chrome rules that add complexity for complexity’s sake.  It’s quite surprising that one little expansion could make such a difference, especially when it doesn’t change the basic premise of the game.

Pairing with the new PvP action are new cards and jobs that are indisputably criminal and nefarious, not to mention that it adds the single most interesting character from the entire show, the bounty hunter Jubal Early. Two new ships are in the mix as well, one of which is essentially a Firefly version of Slave One, with the other being a great big, slow, unwieldy cargo ship for doing a bunch of legitimate, or not so legitimate, cargo runs. All said, I would likely have traded Firefly and the first expansion away for something else had I not bought this expansion on the recommendation of the Grand Poobah of Ameritrash Criticism, Michael Barnes. So compelling was his argument that despite his continual execration of the Euro classic game, Stone Age, I could no longer demur and bought in, despite my lingering reservations about the play quality of the base game. I hate it when he’s right, and I hate it more when I agree with him.

Now, if there’s one thing that can be said about this game and its expansions, it’s that the components are top notch. I don’t think I’ve ever seen paper money that was so outstandingly illustrated, to begin with, and the little plastic ships are pretty cool too, despite the players’ ships being identical in all but color, unless you include the new ships from Pirates and Bounty Hunters. The cards are all illustrated well, with the backs being really nice looking and the fronts being printed with images from the show, and with legible, understandable text, complete with colored and highlighted key words. I wish more games would do that. The board is probably the weakest point, with it having a total mess of space delineations. Sometimes you just have to kind of wing it because there’s no real guidance as to which space is considered to be in a specific area, and it matters because some jobs require you to go to that area, but you’re not sure which planet is the target. All in all, they could’ve done better there, but that said, we just house ruled it and moved on.

Firefly_Leader_EarlyGameplay is quite brisk, and even then, the game can be an hour for a two player game or three hours for a four player game. Turns amount to players taking a couple of actions, in turn, which can include moving one space, moving several spaces and drawing cards each turn to determine if bad stuff happens, buying and selling, or completing jobs. Some jobs are legal and simple, but the illegal jobs such as hauling fugitives or contraband across the galaxy are not. There’s a sort of police force in the game, but it’s really just there to annoy you and screw your plans up, and honestly, the Alliance Cruiser which represents the cops doesn’t shot up very often, especially since it can only travel the inner part of the board. Now, the outer part of the board can be particularly nasty because there’s a Reaver ship, representing space anarchists of a sort, that also occasionally shows up at your doorstep to kill and steal everything you’ve got. The card-flipping mechanism is a little bit interesting in that there’s a tension you feel because it triggers the cops and Reavers, but it also tends to slow the game pace down a little. The whole card-flipping thing is removed in a two player game, and I think that accounts for the brevity of the game when playing in that format.

The real meat of the game, though, is doing jobs and earning a space buck. These are initiated by talking with contacts, strewn about the galaxy, and simply choosing them from the discard deck. This looking at the discards is a neat way to ensure that you know what’s available at all times, and this is a lot like Runebound in that sense, but with Firefly, this applies to jobs as well as items and people to buy. Once you’ve got the mission, you are told to go somewhere for the first leg, then go somewhere and do something else on the second leg, at which point you’re paid for a job well done. There’s a reputation system at play so when you do a job, you become “solid” with a contact, and end up getting more options. Some jobs, however, are highly dubious and require one or more skill checks, initiated by drawing a “Misbehave” card. Some require you to have certain items or skills just to start them, and many are incredibly tough because they have high bogeys to hit via a die roll and then adding your workers’ skills of a type. All in all, there’s not much new here but it works, is simple, and is pretty fun.

Basically, if you like Runebound, this will probably be a nice change of scenery while being a very similar game, eFirefly-Shipsspecially if you like Runebound and always yearned for a simpler, English version of Return of the Heroes. There’s a lot to like here, especially if you’re going to buy the base game and the expansions in one fell swoop. I can’t say that I’d be recommending this without the Pirates and Bounty Hunters expansion, because it’s such a retread of what I’ve already played ad infinitum, but I think the Circus as a whole is pretty split on that matter. Some players really dug it, and those were unanimously the same ones that never played Runebound. My wife and I both were very tepid, having played Runebound so very many times, but once I introduced the expansion, we both agreed that the “missing piece” that could make the game shine was now present. The short version is that we intend to keep flyin’ for a good long time, but we’re a little miffed that we had to have an expansion to get to that point. To add to this, there’s yet another expansion that’s releasing at GenCon, Blue Sun. It appears to add a new side-board of sorts to expand the space you can explore, which is a good thing, because once Jubal Early starts flying around, space gets very small, very fast.

Why I’d Wear A Brown Coat, Even If It Was Made Of Poo:

  • Production values are absolutely dynamite, especially with the paper money
  • Replay value is there, for sure, because there’s a ton of cards
  • Brisk pace ensures that there’s the perfect amount of downtime
  • Very few expansions have ever done so much with so little
  • Two Words: Jubal Early. Does that seem right to you?

Why That Brown Coat Is Probably Made Of Poo:

  • The base game is lackluster and feels very samey in relation to older games
  • The wee player ships are identical, except in color, which kind of sucks
  • Card-drawing during long moves mostly serves simply to slow the game down
  • How many pick-up-and-deliver jobs can you do before you just get worn down?
  • It’s really hard to fit everything in one box if you have both existing expansions


The base game could be great for someone who hasn’t played similar games, but it’s certainly not going to replace Runebound in my collection anytime soon. The first expansion was also quite lackluster and uninspired, but does add a few interesting items and characters. The latest, though, is that whole “you complete me” kind of expansion that I can’t help but wish was in the base game to begin with. I can’t recommend the game highly based on the base game, but when you toss in Pirates and Bounty Hunters, all of the sudden this is a game that has some teeth, which is kind of odd, since it is essentially retains the same pick-up-and-deliver core, while adding a big dose of “screw you”, and making traveling near other players quite dangerous.

Rating (Base w/ Breakin’ Atmo expansion):

3/5 Stars

Final Rating (Base with all expansions):

4.25/5 Stars

Learn more about the Firefly game here, at Gale Force Nine’s page:

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Jul 232014

Revolver-Box-376x372[1]By Peter Ruth II

I know I’m late in reviewing this, but nobody has ever really talked much about this one, so here I am, a year after first playing it, talking about it. Let’s just get one thing straight: I really don’t like very many card games. I’m a board gamer, and these deck building games, trick taking games, and other card-based games just don’t do it for me, by and large. Some card games can transcend their disability (read: being a card game) with me because they’re not quite card games, really, such as Summoner Wars or Trick or Treat, and it’s that way because they’re not really card games as much as a poor man’s board game because the cards are really more like flat, rectangular units or locations.

Well, when “Dangerous” Dave Roswell, a dear friend I met at Fortress: Ameritrash, turned me onto it, my first thought was, “Crap. Another card game I won’t like.” It turns out that not only is the game very good, it’s so much different than many of the card games that I’ve played, both in style and play, that it might actually be one of the best card games I’ve ever played. It is so good, in fact, that I just bought a second copy to replace the one I got from Dave and subsequently loaned to my friend Chris, knowing I’d probably never ask for it back. Only a very solid game would cause me to own it not once, but twice, especially when it’s a card game in one of those abhorrent tins that doesn’t seem to fit well on a shelf full of games.

Revolver, from Stronghold Games, has an “American Wild West” theme which is both very different than the usual fare (read: not zombies or generic fantasy tropes) and truly exudes a Wild West feel. Being a two-player game, it pits the good guy”Colonel” player and his posse against the “Outlaw” player in a game that’s part battle and part racing against the clock. There’s several cards in the tin which represent locations and have a sort of timer mechanism printed on them. These represent the battlefields which the two players will battle over for around four turns, until the time runs out and you move to the next. You simply place cards with icons on them on your side of the battlefield, the other player does the same, and then you see who has more hits. If the good guys do, the bad guys lose one of their gang members, but if the bad guys do, they get one step closer to escaping across the Mexican Border. 

It’s a very simple game, mechanically, but there’s a lot of strategy that goes into it because many cards cause special effects to happen which bolster your side’s ability to make war upon the other. Some allow you to play extra cards, some block the opponent’s ability to place cards on a battlefield, some give you auto-kills of the bad guys, and a whole lot more. I was kind of surprised how much I liked the game, and it has a very different feel to it. It almost feels like a John Clowdus game in some ways (which is a good thing), but without the multiple-purpose cards. The best part is that it only takes maybe 30 minutes or so to play, and setup only takes about 3 minutes, if that. I’ve brought my wee tin all over the place, and I’ve played it with friends and the wife over dinner at restaurants, at the park while the kids attempted to shatter all the bones in their bodies on the jungle gym, and so on. 

From a value perspective, I think it’s a pretty slick deal because at around $20.00, it will provide you with a whole lot of fun. I’ve probably played it 10 times at this point, and I’m still all about playing it again. Carp, the kids are at their aunt’s house for the next couple of weeks, so me and the missus are going to be all over this at night when we’re about half in the bag thanks to Mr. Tanqueray and Stella Artois. It’s also worth mentioning thaRevolver Ned[1]t the art is actually pretty damned good, and the components are top quality, with well painted wooden blocks, thick cards, and great little punch-board tokens. There’s a handful of cheap expansions as well, two of which Fortress: Ameritrash’s Josh Look was kind enough to sell me on the cheap. I’ve not played them yet, but the first expansion changes the core rules a little, such as being able to set ambushes for the bad guys by placing cards underneath a battlefield, and the second expansion adds a new Prison location from which the bad guy player can free his defeated cronies.

As I said, it’s a good game that I, my wife, my 12 year old, and several of the Circus Freaks have enjoyed. Not a single person said anything untoward about it, although it was rated a little lower than I’d have expected when I polled them all. If I had to name just one flaw with the game, I don’t think I really could, to be honest, if we’re talking the game itself. Now, I hate those little tins that come with this, Panic Station, and the original edition of Quarriors. They never fit anywhere right, and the art isn’t nearly good enough to be a little display piece. Other than that, though, the game is solid, really fun, fast, and portable. I think, since I’ve been thinking about this game for an hour or so now, that I’m going to get the wife out of bed right now, set this up, and whip her ass at it. Or try, at least.

Why My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys:

  • Nice art and good components make this look nice on the table
  • Tons of replay value allow this to not end up a shelf toad
  • Just the right amount of randomness due to card draws make each session different
  • The price point is perfect

Why This Bronco Needs To Be Put Down:

  • Cremated bodies are the only thing that should come in embossed tins
  • I think it’s slightly easier to play the good guy side, but not by much

Revolver, with its unique Western theme, fast play, portability, and price make this a game that is very good, although probably not great, and that is simple to learn, teach, and play. While it is the epitome of a filler game, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing because it’s not expensive and is so accessible that you can literally teach it in just a few minutes at best. We highly recommend it if you like quick-playing card games that don’t involve set collection or trick taking.

4/5 Stars
Learn more about Revolver at Stronghold Games’ Revolver page:

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Jul 182014

LOTR_card_game_boxBy Evaldas Bladukas

Today my friends we venture into lands wrought with peril and danger, where many board game fans fear to tread. Where wallets collapse and melt like clocks in a Dali painting. Where addictions develop faster than the spreading of narcolepsy when the in-flight movie comes on. We are talking, of course, about collectible card games. Specifically, Fantasy Flight’s own special brew labelled “living card games”. No, the pictures don’t come alive to devour you. You see, it’s the collectible model that is somehow alive but in reality the cards mostly just sit in a box, meticulously organized with dividers, just like any other CCG. What differs is sales, and this is what brings all the cardboard boys to the yard because their booster packs are better than yours. In fact, there are no ‘booster packs’ per se, as the card packs you get in LCGs are non-randomized.

Fantasy Flight did a very clever thing here. They recognized what upsets entry level gamers most and removed it with a fine scalpel. Instead they release monthly packs with 3 copies of each card – the maximum you can have in most LCGs (there’s some variation and it’s always accommodated). You never have to worry about not having a particular card. You never have to shell out fifty bucks for the tournament staple when the electricity is about to be turned off and all the cat’s had to eat for two days was stale bread straight out of the bag.

lotr-lcg-layout-finalSo what’s the catch? Well, there are three problems. First of all randomization creates a secondary economy for those rare and precious cards. Think of that what you will, but often an investment in a valuable card retains its value. With LCGs, individual cards have no value and the only way you’re getting some of your money back is if you decide to sell your collection. Second, shops aren’t too big on organizing LCG tournaments. The reason they like randomized models so much is because the hobby retailers get their money from on the day sales. With FFG card games, when players come to a tournament, they already have everything they need and there’s no incentive to buy anything else. And last, but definitely not least, getting into an established LCG competitively is incredibly expensive. The Game of Thrones card game has been going since 2008 and has produced 11 cycles of packs, 6 packs each retailing at 15 bucks. Plus an additional six expansions! To catch up with all of that seems as likely as stealing dinner from your dog. You might pull it off but it sure is going to hurt.

tokensEnter Lord of the Rings which is so unique that it completely ignores all of the problems I just mentioned. First of all, it’s a co-operative game. So you build your decks and look for synergy and crazy combinations just like in your bog-standard house trained CCG but then, on your own, or with up to three other friends, you take on an adventure, which is a randomized system of challenges you need to overcome. Think about it. It makes so much sense thematically. Why would you compete in a Lord of the Rings game? The story was always about friends and heroes banding together and overcoming adversity by being true to each other. The Fellowship of the Ring? That book is all about the importance of loyalty and putting the good of the common goal before the individual. That is why Boromir’s betrayal not only hurts so much but also feels so… human.

Because there’s no competition, you never feel like you need to buy all the adventure packs to stay competitive. It’s an expandable game that lets you choose your own pace. Have you beaten all the adventures in your possession? Well then it’s time to get a new pack and not only do you have a new challenge, but you also have some new cards which often inspire you to completely rebuild your decks. It doesn’t really create a reason for shops to organize tournaments – but you see, that’s OK. There really is no reason for a Lord of the Rings tournament – this is a true kitchen table card game, one that never forces you to optimize or build decks based on what the champions are playing. Do what you like and no one will ever judge you.

Instead of using movie stills, Fantasy Flight chose to do their own Lord of the Rings inspired art which works incredibly well. We don’t feel like we need to say much about how the game looks except that it’s utterly gorgeous. The encounter deck cards do a remarkable job of looking like they are the bringers of all things vile and dark. Even the locations, which thematically are not necessarily evil places, feel barren and desolate or mysterious and treacherous. If I had to pick a fault, I’d say that sometimes the Hero cards don’t stand out from other more impressive looking ally cards. Honestly though, I’m just being picky because I feel I should be objective somehow.

Hero cards! Ally cards! Encounter decks! If you haven’t played the game you probably have no idea what we’re talking about so let us explain some rule things. Your deck starts with your heroes and you can have up to three, although realistically you’re always going to have three because having less seems incredibly punishing and the trade-off for going the other way is just not worth it. There are four influence spheres and each hero belongs to one of them and dictates which cards you can include in your deck. The other cards that you play with are allies, equipment and ecardsvents which, if you think in Magic the Gathering terms, are creatures, artifacts and instants. There’s also the very uninspiringly named Encounter deck, which I suppose is less cheesy than something like “Sauron’s plots”. It’s composed of enemies, locations and treacheries and governed by a very small quest deck. This little quest deck drives the entire adventure. It tells you what sets of cards you need to compose the encounter deck from and what your goals are. There’s also a little thematic summary of what’s going on in the adventure. It’s great because it’s so clear, precise and direct – the set up for each game will take no more than five minutes. Before you know it, you’re thrust into the wilds of Rhovanion or exploring the deep caverns of Moria.

The game itself is driven by a card tapping economy. Anything you want to do with your cards requires you to tap them, which you can only do once a turn, unless of course a card lets you untap something. Like any good co-operative game, it forces you to make decisions. Decisions that are not pleasant. Do I send my heroes questing? That’s the thing that actually progresses me through the adventure. If I don’t send enough I might get threat and if I reach 50 threat – I am out of the game. But if I send all my guys adventuring I won’t have anyone to defend when the enemies eventually pop out of the encounter deck.

But that’s not it. Even if I do have some guys to defend, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m safe. So say I draw an enemy card from the encounter deck. If its engagement value is lower than our threat, it will engage one of the players (the one with most threat). It will then attack said player. They can choose not to defend, but then it will just deal its damage to one of their heroes’ hitpoints directly – they don’t even get to apply their defence bonus. If they do decide to defend, they have to declare an ally or hero that defends. In this instance the defence value does get used and is subtracted from the total damage dealt. Only after all the enemies have attacked can you strike back, and only with an ally or hero that is still untapped.

So with all the fluffy talk we might have made it sound like this lovely dovely game is a wonderful thematic romp through the Shire, visiting farmer Maggot’s crop in Buckland and maybe having a nice feast. Well, I have a secret to tell you. Let me whisper in your ear.

At this point in the game we stabilized. We thought it was going to be OK. We thought we would make it. And then we flipped the top card of the encounter deck…


more_cardsWait? Isn’t Sauron the Dark Lord? Well, yes, but before him there was Melkor and, basically, Sauron is a wooly sheep in comparison. That’s how devastatingly hopeless this game is. Yes, you can win but usually not on your first playthrough of an adventure. Admittedly, every adventure has a difficulty rating but even the average ones (difficulty 5) really punish you. From turn one you are bombarded with enemies and other cards that cripple your ability to progress through quests until you deal with the present threats. All the time you’re thinking, OK, if we execute this plan to its perfection and if we get a little lucky, maybe, MAYBE, we can survive another turn. What you’re forgetting is that even though you can deal with everything on the board, new threats develop continuously and have a tendency to wreck the best laid plans of hobbits and men. As you play more and more and your card collection increases, you will find it easier to beat the early scenarios. But fear not, because print on demand saves the day with nightmare mode variants. This game. Am I right?

With all this constant shifting and pushing LOTR LCG makes a good stab at dealing with one of the biggest problems plaguing co-operative games – the alpha gamer syndrome. How many times have you played a co-op and were really getting into it and then some guy gets up and says, “this is what we should do”, detailing an exact plan of action. And the painful thing is that he’s right. His plan is a good plan. It works. It’ll let you win. But it’s not your plan and you stop playing the game and just go through the motions. The difficulty in Lord of the Rings doesn’t let people plan out the game, at least not on your first playthrough of an adventure if you don’t spoil it for yourself by reading through all the cards before you begin play. But most importantly, players are not allowed to discuss what cards they have in their hands. So you can plan just as far as what your hand tells you and can never dominate the game.

So that’s the good stuff but what about the bad? There are some minor issues with Lord of the Rings but nothing that’s going to burst my infatuation with the game. I’m not a big fan of the timing of actions and when you can take them. Certain cards will let you do something as an action and there’s a very specific table that tells you when it can be done. What it does is it stops you from doing things like healing your characters in response to them taking damage. And that complicated timing structure is fine in a competitive card game but I want Lord of the Rings to be more relaxed because I want to enjoy it with my friends without worrying all the time whether I can do an action or not.

But that’s something I can live with because Lord of the Rings is one heck of a game.  It even got Elaine into deckbuilding, which she normally abhors so if that’s not a recommendation to buy, I don’t know what is. There’s a steady supply of excitement and adrenaline because you just never know what card you’re going to flip off the top of that encounter deck. And there’s hope. No matter how bad things are there’s always hope.

And today I’d like to leave you with a question. When I play Lord of the Rings I like to go into each adventure blind. I deliberately avoid looking at the cards in the encounter and quest decks to avoid spoilers. I love to learn the game by myself and if my deck isn’t good enough, I want to rebuild it so I can beat it. Are you the same with games? Or do you like to go in armed with as much information as possible? Not to throw a personal slant, but that always feels like cheating to me. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m right. Tell me why.

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