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…

THIS GAME IS SO BRUTAL AND HARD IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN DEVELOPED BY THE DARK LORD MELKOR HIMSELF!!!

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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Jun 022014
 

pic1988268_t[1]By Paco Garcia Jaen

Although children can get jolly scared when they have a nightmare, more often than not they fight their monsters in their dreams with the help of their favourite toys. Or that is what Bedtime Heroes would want us to do.

In this light and simple game, the players are put in the place of children who fall asleep and are given a choice of monsters to fight and defeat in their dreams to stay asleep.

Before I go any further I will issue a disclaimer here. The version of the game I got to play was a prototype that was sent to me before the Kickstarter campaign started and it wasn’t the final version of the game. The rules were still being tweaked and the artwork, although define it its style, wasn’t complete either. Therefore my impressions might end up being very different once the game is finalised.

At the time of writing this review, the game components are three decks of cards, a set of dice with coloured dots and some chocolate gold coins. Yeah… for real. :)

The smaller deck contains the player cards, the next contains a number of toys illustrations and the last deck contains the monsters the children will have to fight and hopefully defeat to get a good night’s sleep.

Each player has a card with the illustration of a child. On the one side the cards show the child asleep and on the other side they’re awake. While the children are asleep they can fight the monsters. If they can’t defeat the monsters, then they wake up and the turn ends until they fall asleep again.

One of the actions the players can perform during every round is fighting the monsters which is done by rolling a number of dice. If the right combination of colours come out as result of the roll, then the monster is defeated. If the monster is not defeated the child wakes up.

Every time a monster is defeated, gold coins are awarded, which, as another action can be used to buy items that will help with dice rerolls and other aids.

And lastly another action is to go back to sleep.

The game ends when the deck of monsters has been depleted.

Although I can’t comment on the quality of the components, I can comment on the quality of the artwork I have seen and I have to say it looks lovely, although at the moment of writing this piece the game lacks a bit of variety in the artwork. The naive looks with child-like illustrations fit perfectly with the theme and are a joy to behold.

Play wise the game is super light. Although the presence of toys adds a bit of variety and strategy to the game, there’s no doubt the ones to enjoy it the most will be children of 7 to 10 years of age and adults will probably get bored with the “rinse/repeat” nature of the mechanics.

Overall the game has a massive potential for development that could (and probably will) be met by the time is published, so I look forward to seeing the evolution of a game that could keep children entertained for hours on end.

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Sep 052013
 

pic1365445_md[1]By Michael Chamberlain

Do you think with the help of friends you could sort coloured cards numbered from one to five into that order and by colour? That is the question that Hanabi asks of its players.

Hanabi is a three to five player cooperative game about creating a firework show. It won this year’s Spiel Des Jahres award for best game and as I have played it a good number of times I figured I would put down my thoughts.

Firstly, it is safe to say that if you’re looking for game of the year, you’re unlikely to pick up this very unassuming looking box roughly the size of a pack of cigars with its bright coloured fireworks on the cover. Given the size of the box, it comes as no surprise that the contents are a number of cardboard chits of good quality, a rule book and a deck of cards.

The quality of the cards is nice without being anything to write home about, and the silhouette of a Japanese building and a tree branch with a number of fireworks going off in bright colour is actually rather pleasant. The relevant information on the cards is the colour of the firework and the number (also printed in the same colour) which are both very clear to see. It’s also worth noting that the cards have a symbol denoting the colour which, hopefully, eliminates the barrier for colour blindness.

Set up for Hanabi is really simple and quick. Firstly you shuffle the deck of fire work cards (five colours for the basic game, six for more advanced play) and place the deck and the box lid within reach of all players; then lay out the three life tokens and the eight information tokens next to them. Players then draw their hand of opening cards, four or five depending on the number of players. Players need to take care when doing this – and when drawing cards during play – to ensure that the cards are drawn facing outwards. This sounds a simple enough thing but it takes a little getting used to as in Hanabi you will be the one player who can’t see your cards. Once this is done you are ready to play.

Players attempt to play cards to the table starting at one and getting to five for each of the colours. At the end of the game, how far you get with this determines your score as team. Make enough mistakes and the team loses as your firework display goes up in flames.

On a players turn they have three options: they can play a card, give information or discard a card. If a card if played it is revealed to check if it continues a sequence or starts a new one. If it doesn’t continue the sequence for a played colour or start an unplayed colour (only one sequence of each colour can be in play) the card is placed into a discard pile and the players loose one of their lives – in the shape of the cardboard chits – placing it in the box lid.

Given that at the start of the game you know nothing about your own cards you are unlikely to begin this way. During this game communication is limited and the only way to acquire information about your cards is to be given it by other players during their turns. When doing this a player can tell another which cards they have of a set colour or number, not both. They must identify all cards that have that quality. The player then places one of the information tokens in the box lid. So for instance at the start of the game it is quite likely you will tell another player “these cards are ones” so they can start building the fireworks. By doing this hopefully you will be able as a team to lead players to laying cards that build fireworks, rather than confusing them into playing cards that risk turning your display into a towering inferno.

You only have eight information tokens and there will come a point when you need to replenish them, this is done by discarding a card from your hand allowing you to return one of the information tokens from the box to the pool. This is facilitated by information from other players. Taking again the example of “these cards are ones”, if all of the colours have already had their ones played, that player now knows that those cards can be discarded without limiting the players score. Where each colour has three ones, two twos, two threes, two fours and just one five, it is possible to end up not being able to play later cards in that sequence meaning that this two can become information to help choose which cards to discard. The game ends when the draw deck ends, you complete all fireworks or if the team loses all their lives and the display explodes.

I really enjoy Hanabi as a challenge and, while it feels to me far more like a communication exercise than a game of the year, there is no escaping how broad an audience this game appeals to. Hanabi is not a game you should expect to pick up and win in the first couple of plays. It would worry me if that were the case, for just about any cooperative game, as it takes time for people to start seeing how others are try to lead them towards the cards they need. There is naturally a feeling of frustration when information is forgotten; it happens to everyone eventually it seems, but it is a part of the challenge of the game to work out how much information you can expect any player to handle.

When I started playing Hanabi I didn’t expect to find much depth to it. In this I have been pleasantly surprised as a lot of the depth is in trying to set up the right player and tracking what everyone else knows. More depth can be found for those who enjoy card counting and really want to track what cards are left in the pack, and use that to further garner information about the contents of their hand, which fireworks are still live and which colours are now dead cards, fit only to be discarded. For what it is, a deck of cards and a few chits, the result is a remarkably streamlined and enjoyable experience well worth trying and potentially owning.
Mav.

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Aug 052013
 

pic1247682_t[1]By Michael Chamberlain

Fleet, released in 2012 and published by Gryphon from designers Benjamin Pinchback and Matthew Riddle is a card game themed on building your own shipping fleet. The game plays 2-4 players and play time comes in at a very pleasant 30-45 minutes and so far I have found no reason to disagree with this.

Upon opening the box you are faced with a bag of 100 blue wooden cubes, a deck of boat cards, a deck of large licence cards, rule book and a yellow boat marker (also wood). All of this turns up in a custom insert that holds it all nicely, even if the space for the boat cards could do with being a little deeper to stop all movement within the box. The two decks of cards are beautifully finished and the larger size of the licence cards is a really nice touch when it comes to game play as they are something that needs to be seen from all round the table during play.

DSCN0656Set up for fleet is a mix of really simple and complex depending on how many players are in the game. Regardless of player count each player get a starting hand of one of the six types of boat card (Shrimp, Lobster, Processing Vessel, Cod, Tuna and King Crab). The licence deck is set up by removing the premium licences (King Crab and Fishermans Pub cards) then shuffling them into the lower portion (player number dependant) of the licences deck to ensure they don’t come out during the early turns of the game. And then place 25 cubes per player in the centre of the play area.

Play for the game is split into five phases starting with the auction phase. During the auction phase a number of licences (equal to the number of players) will be face up. Then beginning with the start player they can either put one of them up for auction or declare that they are out of the auction and may not bid on any licences for the remainder of the phase. Licences are bid on using the boat cards each of which has a number of £1 coin depicted on it, as card hand’s are hidden you cannot declare a bid which you cannot afford to pay. Bidding is a fairly standard affair where offers are made until no one is willing to raise the bid then the winning player must discard cards to the value of the bid if they have to over pay using cards no change is given in this game. Each licence gives you two advantages; firstly you can only launch ships of the related type once you have a licence to fish them. The second reason you would want a licence is (and the only reason you would want multiples of the same type) they all grant special abilities based on the number licences of that type you have, with the exception of the Fisherman’s Pub and King Crab which just gives you points. The abilities are either linked into card advantage; (card management is very much the main focus and challenge of this game) either reducing the cost of buying and playing cards or granting you more cards. The Shrimp Licence reduces the cost when paying for auctions reducing the cost by £1 for each Shrimp licence you own. After each player has either won an auction or declined, the auction is over and the auction area is replenished with cards from the licence deck ready for next turn.

DSCN0655Phase two is launching boats and hiring captains. Once you have a licence and can launch boats you may can play one boat card of that type a turn face up to the table paying its launching cost (by discarding yet more boat cards, but thankfully this is also reduced by the Shrimp licence.) The Cod licence is the one that cares about launching boats. In any turn you launch any boats you get to draw a number of cards equal to the number of Cod licences you have. It also allows you to launch two boats (but only one bonus) a turn. Hiring captains for your ships is a simple as placing one of your boat cards face down under an uncaptained boat. The card you want to use as captain can be of any type but as with launching you are limited to once per turn. The licence that cares about captains is the Lobster, granting you free cards based on the number of captains you have and also allows you to captain twice a turn.

Fishing phase comes next, in which you simply add a crate of fish (blue cube) to each captained boat each player controls. Boats may never have more than four crates on them though.

Processing, is a phase players only act in if they have a Processing licence. If they do they may take a cube off of each of their boats (maximum of one off each) and place them onto their Processing licence. Once you have cubes on a processing licence you may remove one of those cubes each turn to draw you a number of cards equal to the number of Processing licences you have. Any remaining cubes can be used either to gain cards on later turns or removed as additional coins for launching and auctioning. As great as this sounds there is a draw back as each of those crates is worth a point at the end of the game as long as it is on a fishing boat, on the Processing licence it is worth nothing at the end of the game.

Finally comes the draw phase and this is the only time you get to draw cards unless you are making use of any licences that allows you to draw cards when you launch boats or hire captains. During this phase each player takes two cards from the deck and chooses one to add to their hand and the other gets placed on the discard pile. The Tuna licence allows players to keep more cards and to have more cards to choose from depending on how many of the licences you have. Play carries on like this until there aren’t enough licences to replenish the auction area or the fishing crates run out. Final scoring is as simple as totalling the victory points you get from your licences (including the special King Crab ones which grant bonus points based on either Crates, Captains or licences and the Fisher’s Pub cards), points on your launched boats and a point for each of the crates of fish on a boat.

DSCN0657I will readily admit that looking at Fleet I didn’t expect to find half the quality of game that I did. To my mind this game is a really nice filler game, which I can see getting a lot of play, as the choices all feel relevant and it has a really nice play length for the depth of game it is. Lots of little details make for a really comfortable play experience. Particular credit to the boat cards that have a lot of information and remain clear and also to the concept of the licences being available to see all through the launch to draw phases, which really allows you to plan ready for that next auction phase. The abilities all do relatively similar things and yet manage to avoid becoming samey. This is in part due to the different coin, launch and victory point values for each type of vessel linked to a specific licence but remains a real credit to this game. If I have a criticism of this game it has to be the rule book as some of the concepts in this game could really use less bulk text and more pictorial help in making them clear. Granted I can make reasons/excuses that it is a small box and they had a lot to get in but it is a problem when learning the game. There is also one inconsistency in that the costs on the cards are written in dollars while the coins on the cards are quite clearly pounds, it doesn’t affect game play at all but it is a niggle. Despite a few really minor issues I had getting to grips with the game; this is now a staple round the table when we need a short but gratifying game.

Mav.

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Jun 122013
 

cag201_1[1]By Michael “Maverick” Chambelain

Unexploded Cow has been around since 2001. It has just received a lovely reprint in March this year (2013) and on the advice of a friend who told me it was great fun, I gave it a try. The theme for this game is one of the more joyously off the wall I have encountered. It is, in short an answer to what you do when the cows in England are mad (BSE) and there are too many unexploded bombs in France.

On opening the box there are three boards of nice card stock money chits in a variety of denominations. They have pictures of different mad cows on them, very much like real currency have famous people. There are also two decks of cards in the game packaged together: One is the draw pile for the game, the other is the city deck. The art in the draw deck is an absolute joy, with certain cards that are just plain funny. “Your country needs MOO” on the recruiting card is a personal favourite, and everything on them is very clearly laid out with all of the needed information. The city deck sadly doesn’t follow this through, with some cards where I can say the back of the card is more visually interesting and attractive than the front. In their defence I can say that they are just as well laid out and functional. Also the box contains what feels like a bottom of the line six sided die, we just grabbed a nicer one to play with but it is there.

And so to game play. This game is a very simple tit-for-tat card playing game, with some cards that will add cows to a herd and event cards that allow you to do a variety of sometimes crazy things. The cows each have two values on them; a deploy cost and a reward value when they are blown up. When you play a cow you can play it into any herd. The owner of that herd will have to pay the cow’s deploy cost, these arc between 100 and 300. When a cow explodes the owner of that cow will get to collect the reward for it. Why would you play a cow into someone else’s herd? Well that is because six of the cows in the deck, denoted with red backgrounds have a negative reward value, meaning that when they die you end up paying in rather than receiving a reward. Also some of the cows have an ability, these range from exploding the cows next to them to infiltrating other herds while remaining owned by you. The event cards do a variety of things from allowing you to take a card out of the discard pile to making extra bomb rolls. So on your turn you will get to draw two cards, starting hands of four, and then you can play as many cards from your hand as you wish. After you are done playing cards you make a bomb roll. To make a bomb roll you simple roll the six sided die and starting at your rightmost cow count left passing to the next herd on your left if you run out of cows in your own herd, until you reach the same number your rolled on the die. This cow then explodes. If your die roll hits another players herd their cow explodes and they can claim the reward. If you roll a six you pass the die to your left and that player then makes the bomb roll. If one of your cows exploded on your turn you get to claim the city card and resolve the text on it, this ranges from taking more money to taking cards. The city cards also have a city point value. Once the last city card has been taken the game moves to a final round where the players simply take it in turns to try to blow up cows with bomb rolls with no further cards being played, the first turn of this going to the player with the most city points. When the money runs out or the last cow explodes, taking all the remaining money from the pot, the game is won by whoever has the most money.

I want to start by saying others I have played with have loved this game. They have had fun and wanted to play again. I have tried to find anything other than the art and theme to enjoy, in this I have failed miserably. For me the game falls apart on a very few things, but they are so huge that at least to my mind, there is no escaping it. There are a pair of cards called “Mission Creep”, these cards make you skip your bomb roll to pass all herds to the left. There are two copies of it and yet we had it played four times in one game. There are cards that let you take any card out of the discard pile to play again. This “Mission Creep” was the best choice (twice) with half the deck in the discard pile and its pretty much a no brainer of a choice at that. Once you have access to this card you just stop playing cows for a couple of turn (at least into your own herd) and wait for others to play them so as you can steal them and then dump your hand as well. This would be perhaps more understandable if there was perhaps any card that passed right in the game. Equally there isn’t any kind of card that just denied the action, but both are sadly lacking. Now I agree it’s fair to say that if you over extend you should expect to be punished, but on the penultimate city card it’s fair to say you shouldn’t be expecting to get another turn and given the way the final stage of the game plays out it makes sense to dump your hand onto the table. Now if the cards get passed left and the player to your right has nothing, your just stitched and there is nothing you could ever have done to improve this. The frustration this has caused me and others is just not worth it. Would the game play better with this card removed? Probably, but I have yet to try it and I would struggle to find the desire to get this back to the table, that said it couldn’t hurt. There is one other balance issue that really vexes me and that is the city cards. There is no balance in them what so ever. There is never a time you’re not going to try to get a city card as that is points and money for you, but sometimes you will get one city point and take 100 off every other player and others you will get five city points and the same 100 off every player as well as being able to take any card from the discard pile. Surely it makes more sense for the balance of a game for the amazing effect to come with fewer city points?

The theme is hilarious and there are certain pieces of art that I really like, I just wish they were in a better game. If you want an activity with friends and you don’t mind the total chaos and lack of skill, sure this could be for you and as other I have played it with would gladly attest you can have fun with it. For me this game is just ghastly. Would I play it again? I’ve already spent too much time trying to find the good in it I’m moving on.

Mav.

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Jun 062013
 

Sentinels of the Multiverse[1]By Michael Chamberlain

Sentinels has done a wonderful job of making a name for itself since it surprised everyone in 2011. Each of its expansions seems to have been very well received and I was accordingly very pleased to get to borrow this one. The cooperative game is themed around being comic book super heroes fighting a variety of villains in a variety of environments and this theme pervades every aspect of the game.

First impressions of this game are great, granted I had the enhanced edition. All of the cards are beautifully presented and easy to read, though where some of the decks are split between different wraps in the packaging there is a difference in the warp of the ones I played, but that is very minor. Token and chits are all of really nice card stock and once again clear and beautifully presented. The one thing I can see being a disappointment to those who don’t know when this edition came out, is the inclusion of all the dividers you need for some of the expansions. So if you think “I really like the look of that character” there is a chance it won’t have a deck in the box sadly.

And so to game play. Firstly, set up once you have the box sorted is a doddle, if occasionally long winded. The choosing of characters is a major aspect of the fun I had playing this game. The hero characters are familiar enough while being different, which allows for a preference without any prior knowledge. The giant villain cards that come in the enhanced edition feel like they are a huge improvement to play with compared to the smaller ones. This is just an impression as I didn’t give the smaller one much of a chance, where the large ones were so obviously preferable for me. The most different of the decks are possibly the environment decks. These were so very flavourful that even when I hated the environment cards I could feel the connection to that theme. Game play is a major learning curve for this one. There is a real risk that players can be put off by a selection of characters that fail miserably, making the game feel like a torturously slow exercise in attempting to gain ground while digging through your deck for options that aren’t there. That said, if the characters are right the game can be very easy to win. This game really is a pain to describe when it come to how it plays as the different decks play differently. There are decks that play like you would expect, dealing copious damage each turn just by throwing cards at the table, while others play almost like a Magic: the gathering combo decks. Whatever decks you play with and against the games many tokens are a blessing for making visible the multiple effects that it would be easy to miss by having tokens that are bright comic style banners that you can lay across the cards to make it super clear. The villains are as diverse with some being a huge threat on their own with only a few support cards, while others will flood the table with cards leaving you wondering how you will ever clear enough to make progress against the villain itself. I wish I could do the game play more justice, to describe it would simply be unwieldy given the number of different decks, but I will try to be clear as to my feeling of where it is on point and where it is perhaps less so.

If this game does anything perfectly it is the theme. It is so pervasive while playing the game that even when you’re essentially sitting there waiting for someone else to finish their choices, the cards art and flavour text is captivating enough for all but the worst analysis paralysis. Special mention should go to the flavour text on the cards, which are presented as if they are lines lifted right from actual comics complete with issue numbers. Not a functional part of the game, but something that many of those I played with notice and commented on how much they loved. As a cooperative game it does suffer a little from the risk of one player trying to run everyone else’s turns. However, it seems to be less so than in many other games like it. The final stand out success for this game for me is the variety and dearest gods there is a lot of it. With so many different decks for heroes, villains and environments even in just the base game the number of set ups possible is simply staggering.

When trying to think of this game’s faults I am very conscious of the fact that I was disappointed, not so much in the game itself as the fact that all the hype had made me feel here was something really fresh and different and as good as it was, it just wasn’t equal to that hope. While there is nothing I would slate, there are certain things I feel this game is lacking. Firstly, is a good starting point. Where there is so much choice and certain combinations are frankly howlingly bad, in the hands of very new players I feel an advised first game set up in the rules would have been great. For what it is worth, I would recommend for a first game fighting Baron Blade in the Ruins of Atlantis using Ra, Legacy, Fanatic and Haka. Another problem I just can’t get over is just how this game scales. Granted, I can see how a group of four heroes will have an easier time fighting the villain and his hoard than two will and this is once again a tribute to the theme, it just falls flat for me as a game. The villain and the environment get the same number of actions each round regardless of how many players there are. There are certain cards that make use of the number of players but they are very far from a majority. The favoured mechanic seems to be cards just singling out either the player with the most health or the player with least for damage or punishment and with more players this spreads out making a much easier game.

I wanted to love this game, I expected to love this game and sadly I don’t. Would I play it again? Gladly, and it would be great to play the expansions and see if they improve on the experience or not. As it stands there are just other cooperative games I get a much bigger kick out of with less glaring balance issues that concern me.
Mav.

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