With Spiel approaching, I’m starting to look to the games that will be coming out there.  Today, I’m going to look at two titles from American publisher Bezier Games – one that came out at GenCon, and one that is coming out at Spiel in October.  We’ll start with the one from GenCon:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Subdivision is a new game in the Suburbia line.  It was designed by Lucas Hedgren, is for 1-4 players, and takes 45 minutes to play.  While it is thematically tied to Suburbia, the game is actually quite different.  In this one, you’re building a neighborhood instead of a city, and the game features dice rolling as well as drafting and tile placement.

The game comes with four double-sided subdivision boards, 80 hexagonal zone tiles, 24 hexagonal bonus tiles, 47 park tiles, 47 school tiles, 47 lake tiles, 64 sidewalks, 60 coins (in denominations of $1 and $5), a parcel die, and a score pad.  In the beginning, each player gets a board and $2.  The zone tiles are shuffled into four 20-tile stacks, and bonus tile is placed on top of the second, third, and fourth stacks.  Everything else is set aside for later use.

Subdivision lasts for four rounds.  At the beginning of each round, each player draws five tiles from the current round’s stack and puts them into their hand.  Then, one player rolls the parcel die.  Each player may then place a tile from their hand on a space matching that parcel die.  Alternately, you can spend $2 to place a tile anywhere, or not place and discard a tile to get $2.  This is done at the same time.  Once your tile is placed, you activate all zone tiles adjacent to the one you just placed.  This can allow you to place a park, school, lake, road, or sidewalk.

Once your tiles have been activated, pass your remaining tiles to the left.  A round ends when there is only one tile left (four have been placed or discarded).  That last tile is discarded.  At the beginning of the second, third, and fourth rounds, the bonus tile on top of the corresponding stack is evaluated and bonuses are awarded accordingly.  At the end of the fourth round, the game ends.  You score one point per occupied parcel next to a park, points for one of your sidewalks (up to 20), eight points for a school stack that is three tiles high, one point per $2 you have left, and five points per zone tile that has highway access.  If you have any uncovered parcels, you will lose or gain points according to what is printed on the board.  The player with the most points wins.

As I mentioned, this game is thematically tied to Suburbia, though it is very different.  You’re still placing hexagonal tiles, but rather than having a shifting market to buy from, you’re drafting tiles.  This means that you’re not only trying to play the tiles you need, but you’re also trying to prevent your opponents from getting what they need.  It also seems to be a little more abstract than Suburbia.  Still, it looks like fun with lots of avenues to gain points.  I look forward to trying it out sometime.

On to a game that is not part of the Suburbia brand, but has been called Suburbia 2.0:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a game by Bezier Games founder Ted Alspach.  This is a 1-4 player game that takes 90 minutes to play.  The game is about King Ludwig II of Bavaria, a real king who funded the construction of a number of elaborate castles.  In this game, you will be building those castles, trying to build them to the king’s liking and score the most points.

Castles comes with a triangular contract board, two room boards, a corridor board, and a score tower.  These all come together to form the storage area, room market, and score tracker.  You also get 24 King’s favor tiles, 96 coins (denominations of 1000 and 5000), 50 room cards, 27 bonus cards, 6 stairs tiles, 9 hallway tiles, 75 room tiles of various shapes, 4 foyer tiles, 4 player markers, and a master builder token.  In the beginning, the boards are assembled and cards/tiles are all placed in their respective spots.  You’ll reveal one favor tile per player, then draw 5/6/7 cards (for 2/3/4 players).  These will tell you which room shapes to reveal.  These are placed under the board.  Each player gets a foyer, three bonus cards, and 15,000 cash.  One player becomes the Master Builder, and places their score marker on zero, with each subsequent player around the table placing on the next available space.

At the beginning of each round of play, the Master Builder fills in any empty spaces on the market track with rooms determined by room cards.  He then chooses which room is which price (1,000 to 15,000).  Beginning with the player to the left of the Master Builder, each player can then purchase a room or pass.  If you purchase a room, the money goes to the Master Builder (when the Master Builder purchases, money goes to the supply).  If you pass, you get 5,000.  You can also choose to purchase stairs or a hallway for 3,000 (money to the Master Builder).  Any room that was not purchased gets $1,000 placed on it to make it more tempting next time.

Purchased tiles are placed immediately in your castle.  Entrances must line up, and rooms cannot overlap.  Rooms will give you points (or penalize you) based on what is adjacent or present in your castle, as well as a standard base amount of points.  Additionally, rooms have completion bonuses if all entrances connect to other rooms – living rooms allow you to rescuer points, activity rooms give you five bonus points, sleeping rooms allow you to add rooms to the room card stack, outdoor rooms give you 10,000 money, utility rooms give you a bonus card, food rooms give you an extra ten, corridor rooms allow you to place a hallway or stairs at no cost, and downstairs rooms give you access to any of the other rewards.

The game ends when the room cards have run out.  Once that round ends, the game is over and players score bonus points for favors, as well as points for rooms that have been depleted, points from bonus cards, and points for money (1 per 10,000).  The player with the most points wins.

You can definitely see Suburbia’s influence in this game, from the storage board to the placement to the general feel of the game.  However, it is different in many ways.  It is very visually distinctive due to the different room shapes.  The aspect of having the Master Builder determine the price of each room is really intriguing to me – it’s like a reverse auction where the Master Builder decides how much people want what he’s selling.  If he makes them too cheap, he’s not going to get much money.  But if he makes them too expensive, he’s not getting any.  To me, this aspect seems like it will be one of the most interesting parts of the game, and also the part with the most potential for AP  Still, it’s a game I’m looking forward to trying.  I keep hearing great things about it, and I’m excited to see how it does.

Over the years, it’s been nice to see Bezier Games develop from the House That Werewolf Built to a company that is really trying to put out some quality games in different genres.  Both of these look quite solid, and I’m excited to give them a try.  Hopefully, you are too.  Thanks for reading!


Buzzworthiness: RoboRally

Today’s review takes a look at the ultimate programmed movement game

image by BGG user Livinus

image by BGG user Livinus

RoboRally was originally published in 1994 by Wizards of the Coast, designed by Richard Garfield.  It’s currently published by Avalon Hill, though Hasbro owns both companies.  RoboRally is a game for 2-8 players where you will be programming your bot to try and touch each flag in sequence before the other robots, all the while avoiding lasers, chompers, pits, and other robots.

I want to start off with the background story of this game.  Apparently, Richard Garfield was shopping this game around to different publishers in the early 90s.  When Wizards of the Coast saw it, they liked it, but were looking for something else at the time.  Garfield offered to help, and ended up designing Magic: The Gathering, which created the collectible card game genre and remains the king of it.  I love this story because it means that if it weren’t for RoboRally, we wouldn’t have Magic.  Take that as you will.

RoboRally comes with eight robot minis, four double-sided map boards, a double-sided docking bay board, 8 program sheets, a sand timer, 26 option cards, 84 program cards, 8 flags, 40 life tokens, 60 damage tokens, 8 power down tokens, and 8 archive markers.  Each player gets a robot and randomly places them on one of the eight spots of the docking bay.  A map is created, either using one of the book scenarios or making your own up.  Flags are placed accordingly around the map.  Each player is dealt nine cards, and you are ready to play.

The first part of each round is the programming step.  Each player chooses five cards from their hand and places them face down on their program board in the order they wish to play them.  These could be move straight three spaces, turn right, make a U-turn, and so on.  It’s very important that you put them in the correct order.  Once everyone has played their cards, everyone simultaneously reveals their first program.  The robot with the highest number moves first, and so on until the lowest number is reached.  If a robot bumps into another robot, it pushes it (if possible – you can’t push through a wall).

After everyone has moved, the board activates.  All conveyor belts move as indicated, moving whatever is on them.  If a robot is next to a pusher, it is pushed over a space.  If a robot is on a gear, it rotates them 90 degrees.  After this, you move on to the next card in your register.  Once all of your cards have been played, you get a new hand.  You’ll get nine cards, minus one per damage you have taken.  If you get under five damage, you not only take fewer cards, but the last actions you played are locked.  You can choose to skip your next turn and power down, at which point you’ll be fully healed if you don’t get destroyed (your robot stays in place).  If destroyed, it’s OK because you get three lives, but you’re out if you lose them all.

As you play, you are trying to touch all flags on the board in order.  Along the way, there are opportunities to get option cards which give you special abilities.  The first player to to touch all flags wins.

COMPONENTS: I have an Avalon Hill edition of RoboRally that I got several years ago, so component quality may be different.  That said, I generally like the components.  The robot minis are pretty cool, and each one has its own personality, even though there’s really no difference between them.  But, just like people in Monopoly have their favorite pieces to play with, so do people have their favorite robots (I’m Twonky, and don’t you dare try to take him from me).  The cards are pretty good, and it’s very clear what to do with each one.  The number of each card is clearly visible so you easily know who goes first (as long as you can remember that high numbers go before low).  The sand timer is also pretty nice – it has red sand, making it visually distinctive from most sand timers out there.

My biggest complaint about the components is the quality of the boards.  They aren’t cardboard, they’re pretty much just cardstock.  They’re very thin, and a little flimsy.  They work for what they are, but I would have preferred something sturdier.  The player sheets are made form the same cardstock, which is a little more acceptable.  The board is pretty clearly illustrated as to what is where, though the walls that separate some spaces are not noticeable if a robot is sitting on that space.

Again, I don’t know if these have improved since my edition.  I know it’s a cost-saving method, I just wish they had found something else to cut so we could get a sturdier board.  Maybe reduce the box size – it’s big flat square, thinner but wider than the standard Ticket to Ride size box.  It doesn’t fit on a shelf, and is not the same size as anything else.  It could probably easily be reduced.

THEME: The theme of this game is simply that you’re programming robots to move around a board.  There’s not really a reason for these robots to be competing against each other, but hey, it’s a fun theme.  It makes me think of the show BattleBots that aired on Comedy Central in the early 2000s.  In that show, robots went head to head and tried to destroy each other.  It was an interesting concept, but the show was BORING.  I would have much rather seen a RoboRally show, where destruction is inevitable but not the main purpose.  I still want to see that.

MECHANICS: As I mentioned, RoboRally is a classic programmed action game.  I did an edition of The Eleven about a year and a half ago that covered some games in this genre (read for yourself) as it’s a mechanism that always captures my attention.  Many games in the genre have you programming 1-3 moves in advance, but RoboRally has you doing five.  There’s no specific time limit on this, though the sand timer is used to shame the last person still looking at their cards (which I happen to love – fight that analysis paralysis!).  The cards are very clear in describing what you will do, though there is a good amount of three dimensional thinking going on – a common sight during the programming phase is people with their heads twisted in all directions as they try to envision how their robots will move.

Damage works in a very intriguing manner in this game.  Every time you take a hit, you essentially lose a card from your next hand.  This means you have less choice for programming later.  Once you get under five cards, you have to start locking cards in place.  So if you have five damage, you’ll be dealt four cards and the fifth card from your previous turn remains in place.  This way you know that that’s how you’ll be ending your turn, so do your best not to drive into a pit.  Fortunately, there’s the ability to power down, the intention of which should be announced in your previous turn.  I usually play with a house rule that you can choose to power down at any time before your are dealt cards.

Player elimination is a possibility in this game.  If you are destroyed, you return to your last save point (a flag, the start space, a repair site) and lose a life token.  If you lose all life tokens, you are out of the game.  I don’t usually play like that.  I usually just say if someone dies that much, they can keep coming back, but they start with lower health (usually 7).  I don’t mind player elimination in general – I think it adds some good tension to a game.  There is good player elimination (King of Tokyo) and bad player elimination (Monopoly).  This falls in the middle – to its credit, player elimination not a goal of the game, but it still doesn’t work well.

Movement of the board can get complicated even though there aren’t a lot of steps.  Conveyor belts move first, then pushers, then gears.  The difficulty comes when something moves in a way you weren’t expecting.  You stepped on a conveyor belt and it moves two spaces instead of one.  Or you step on a gear that is rotating clockwise, but you thought it would go the other way.  It’s not that the board is changing, that can all be attributed to human error.  But it’s ridiculously easy to fall into that trap.

I will mention that there is the possibility for a runaway leader.  Robots tend to clump around the flag, pushing each other around and jockeying for position.  If someone makes it out of the fracas before others, they can potentially get some distance and get the rest of the flags with little interference.

STRATEGY LEVEL: There is a good deal of luck in RoboRally.  You get nine cards from which you will choose five, but it seems that far too often, you’re getting everything EXCEPT what you need.  That’s just luck of the draw, and you just have to do the best you can with what you have.  Spatial awareness is integral to the experience as well – the ability to think in several directions at once is crucial.  But you’re also going to need to think about what others are going to do.  You can have a perfect move set up, only to get pushed a single step off course and end up at the bottom of a pit because of it.  So there’s a lot of luck pushing involved, but also a lot of opportunities for strategy and tactical movements.  It’s a giant puzzle to solve.

ACCESSIBILITY: This isn’t an easy game to learn.  The programming aspect is complex, and new players often get confused about how all the board elements and other robots will affect their movement.  However, it’s also not an inaccessible game for people.  Once you get it, you get it.  You may not do well, but you at least understand what’s going on.  I’ve had non-gamer friends and family try this game and go out for their own copies.  I’d put this solidly as a next step type of game.

REPLAYABILITY: Because of the different board layouts, as well as the different cards you’ll get, this game has high replay value.  You can never have more than four boards out at once (unless you buy multiple copies of the game), but be warned that more boards means more chaos and a MUCH longer game.  There are people out there with all the original expansions that just lay everything out and go nuts.  I’m personally happy with just the base game – each board provides its own unique challenge, and there are some scenarios in the rulebook to help you build your maps.

SCALABILITY: RoboRally is playable with 2-8 players, and this is a game that I definitely say is better with more players.  2-3 players is kind of dull without much conflict going on.  The sweet spot is probably 5-6, but I like it with a full complement.  There’s no downtime since everyone is programming at once (other than waiting for slowpokes), and the movement phase goes relatively quickly.  Eight players is extremely chaotic, and I wouldn’t want to try that many with new people, but for experienced players, eight is a blast.

FOOTPRINT: This game takes up quite a bit of space, particularly with more boards and more players.  Each player has to have their own register board space, and the map will take up a variable amount of space.  This is definitely a big table game.  Plus, it takes up a weird amount of space on your shelf (see my comments earlier on the box size).

LEGACY: As I’ve mentioned, RoboRally is the ultimate programmed action game.  There’s really nothing else that comes close.  It really is the purest form of the mechanism, and I love it.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  Despite its flaws – player elimination, luck, possible runaway leaders – it’s a ton of fun to play.  Wild and chaotic, sure, but a blast from start to finish, win or lose.  I highly recommend it.  Thanks for reading!

The Eleven: Gateway Games

Last month on The Eleven, I looked at Bait Games, short and simple games that can be used to bring people to the table that might not otherwise make it.  This month, we’re going to take a look at games that can be used once they have been reeled in by the bait.  These games are often called Gateway Games, because they open the door to the wider world of gaming while remaining accessible enough to be enjoyable to players of all skill levels.  In recent years, there has been a movement to abandon the term Gateway Game in favor of Casual Game.  Their argument is that people should be allowed to enjoy games for what they are, and not have to go deeper if they don’t want to.  In short, you stop at the gateway, admire the view, then enjoy what you enjoy without further exploration.  This is a fine concept, and I fully support people who just want to be casual.  However, for purposes of this list, I’m going to stick with Gateway Games.  I’m trying to introduce games that can be used to help usher a potential gamer into wanting to know a lot more.  Without further ado, here we go.


image by BGG user yayforme

image by BGG user yayforme

Bohnanza was originally released in 1997, designed by Uwe Rosenberg and published by AMIGO.  Rio Grande Games publishes it in the US.  This 2-7 game is all about bean farming, and the trading of beans in order to make the most money.  There are a number of different types of beans in the deck, and you start the game with a hand of five.  This hand may NOT be rearranged at any time during the game – the order it is dealt to you is the order it is in.  On your turn, you must plant the first bean in your hand in one of your two bean fields.  Each bean field can only hold one type of bean, so you must harvest if necessary.  Then you may plant the second bean.  After that, you draw the top two cards of the deck, reveal them, and start a trading phase.  Anyone can trade with the active player with any beans from their hand for either of the two revealed or any beans from the active player’s hand.  Once you’ve finished trading, you must plant any beans you got (even the two revealed from the deck if you still have them), and draw three cards to the back of your hand.

Harvesting involves removing all beans from one field and turning them in for an amount of money indicated on the card – a certain number of beans will get one coin, more will get two, and so on.  Once the deck has been cycled through three times, the game ends.  All players may harvest any remaining fields, and the player who has collected the most money wins.

Bohnanza seems extremely dull on the surface, but once you start playing, you’ll be amazed at how entertaining it is.  You find all kinds of shrewd negotiation skills you didn’t even know you had, and you have to work to manage your hand to get useless beans out of the way.  Bohnanza is a great introduction to trading, hand management, and unconventional play – the first thing you’re going to want to do is rearrange your hand, and you can’t.  I’ve used this with gamers and non gamers alike to great success.  If you’ve never played because of the theme, give it a try.  It’s not nearly as dry as it seems.

image by BGG user BigWoo

image by BGG user BigWoo

Carcassonne is a 2000 release from Hans im Glück and designer Klaus-Jürgen Wrede (Z-Man currently publishes the game in the US).  It’s a tile-laying game where players are trying to build up a region in southern medieval France.  On your turn, you draw a tile and place it somewhere on the map.  Land features, like roads and cities, need to match up with each other between tiles.  Once you’ve played your tile, you can place a follower (aka meeple) on one of the features of the tile – a road, a city, a monastery, or a field.  You can’t place a meeple in a contiguous feature that already has a meeple.  Once an area is complete, you score – one point per tile on a road; two points per tile and shield in a city; and one point per tile surrounding a monastery.  Meeples in fields (farmers) don’t score until the end of the game, even if the field is completely surrounded.

Once all tiles have been placed, the game ends.  Incomplete roads, cities, and monasteries score (though cities score one point per tile and shield instead of two).  Farmers score three points per completed city touching their fields.  The player with the most points is the winner.

Carcassonne has long been considered one of the classic gateway games.  It is very simple to understand – you place a tile, then maybe place a meeple.  Scoring is also generally easy to understand, though with new players I usually leave out the farmer scoring.  This is a great game to play with new players, and definitely one of the best gateway games.

image by BGG user nrihtar2

image by BGG user nrihtar2

Coloretto is a 3-5 player card game published in 2003 by ABACUSSPIELE.  It was designed by Michael Schacht and is published in the US by Rio Grande.  The game is a simple color-based set collection game.  On your turn, you either take a row or draw a card to place in a row.  Each row can hold 1-3 cards, and you can’t take a row with no cards.  When you take a row, you’ll organize the cards you take by color, and you’re out until everyone has taken a row.  At this time, you set the rows up and start again.  At the end of the full round (there’s a end-of-round card placed 15 cards from the bottom of the deck), you score your three sets with the most cards – 1 point for one card, 3 points for two, 6 points for three, 10 points for four, 15 points for five, and 21 for six plus.  You then subtract the score from all other colors you got.  So if you have four pink, four orange, three green, two blue, and a yellow, you score 10 + 10 + 6 – 3 – 1 = 22 points.  You play as many rounds as you want (typically one per player), and the winner is the player with the most points.

Coloretto was the basis for Schacht’s later game, Zooloretto, which in itself is a really good gateway game.  I tend to prefer Coloretto because of its simplicity – you’re just collecting cards, there’s no other added things to distract you (babies, limitations on animals, food stands, etc).  Coloretto is very easy to pick up, it’s extremely portable, and it’s very fun.  The digital implementation at Memoirs of a Board Gamers was one of the first online card games I found shortly after entering the hobby, and really works very well if you want to check it out for yourself.

image by BGG user stofke

image by BGG user stofke

Dice Town is a Wild West themed dice game from 2009.  It was designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, and is published by Matagot/Asmodee.  The game is for 2-5 players, and involves rolling poker dice – six-sided dice with 9-10-J-Q-K-A instead of 1-6.  At the start of each round, all players will roll their dice in a special cup, then will look at what they rolled and decide what to keep.  If you keep one, it’s free.  For each additional die you keep, it costs $1 more.  This money is paid to the stagecoach  If you choose to keep nothing, it costs $1, also paid to the coach.  Once everyone has chosen, reveal and pay up, then roll your remaining dice.  When someone locks all five of their dice, every other player gets one more roll and must keep what they get (you don’t have to pay on the last roll).

Once the rolling is finished, you resolve.  The player with the most 9s gets one gold nugget per 9 they have.  The person with the most 10s robs the bank, with money from the stagecoach moved to the bank after this heist.  The most Jacks draws one General Store card per Jack rolled, and keeps one.  The most Queens steals one card per Queen rolled from another player, and keeps one.  The most Kings gets the Sheriff badge, which means he decides who wins ties (bribes are encouraged) and gets five extra points if he still has it in the end.  The player who has the best poker hand get the first card from the land line, plus one per Ace in that hand (with a maximum of three cards taken).  Anyone who didn’t win anything this round gets to visit Doc Badluck, and can gain nuggets, money, cards, or protect land cards from being stolen.

The game ends either when all the land cards have been taken, or when all gold nuggets have been claimed.  The player with the most points wins.

Dice Town is a great game that takes a familiar mechanism (poker) and turns it into a highly successful set collection game, where you are trying to be the best in order to gin certain benefits.  There’s a lot of luck-pushing going on, and plenty of strategy to be found in what you’re rolling for.  Because poker is so familiar to people, this becomes an ideal gateway game that can introduce people to a whole new set of gaming concepts.

image by BGG user monteslu

image by BGG user monteslu

Dominion first came out in 2008, and had an immediate impact on the hobby.  The game (designed by Donald X. Vaccarino and published by Rio Grande Games) was the first of what has come to be known as the deckbuilding genre.  Each player begins with a deck of 10 cards – 7 coppers (valued at one money) and 3 estates (valued at one point).  You begin each turn with five cards in hand.  On your turn, you follow an ABC format – Action, Buy, Cleanup.  You may take one action by playing one of your cards.  This may give you more actions, or more buys, or more money to spend, or more cards.  When done with actions, you can buy one card (more if allowed by your actions).  Bought cards can either be new action cards, victory point cards, or money.  In the Cleanup, you discard all cards you played, all cards from your hand, and any cards you bought to your discard pile.  You then draw a new hand of five.  If your deck runs out, reshuffle the discards and keep drawing.

Once three piles are empty (completely bought out) or the last province (most valuable victory card) has been bought, the game ends.  Players count up all points in their deck, with the player who has the most points winning.

Historically, Dominion represented a major shift in gaming.  Deckbuilding had been around as a part of games before, particularly in CCGs like Magic: The Gathering, but this was the first time it became the WHOLE game.  Since then, the mechanism has become very important in gaming, and pops up everywhere.  However, most games try to add something to it, whereas Dominion keeps it pure.  And so I think Dominion has to be included on a list of gateway games, particularly if you’re trying to get into DBGs.

image by BGG user kherubim

image by BGG user kherubim

King of Tokyo initially came out in 2011, designed by Richard Garfield and published by IELLO.  In the game, 2-6 players are monsters that are fighting over control of Tokyo.  On your turn, you will roll six custom dice.  You have up to two rerolls, and may keep whatever dice you wish between rolls.  After the third roll, your dice are all locked, and you resolve them.  If you have three of a specific number (1, 2, or 3), you get that many points (1, 2, or 3), plus one for each additional identical number.  Lightning bolts gain you energy cubes, which can later be spent on cards that give you special abilities.  Hearts heal damage, though you cannot heal if you are in Tokyo.  Claws attack other monsters – if you are not in Tokyo, you automatically attack whoever is, and if you are in Tokyo, you automatically attack everyone who is not.  After being attacked, a monster in Tokyo can choose to flee, at which point the attacking monsters takes over.  You get one point for going in, and one point for remaining there on your next turn.  When a player reaches zero health, they are out.  The game ends when all but one player have been eliminated, or when one player reaches 20 points.

I think King of Tokyo is a good gateway game specifically because it takes the Yahtzee mechanism of rolling and rerolling to a new level.  In fact, I usually call the game “Godzilla Yahtzee”, which attracts people to want to try it.  The game then introduces other concepts, like player interaction, victory points, and resource management.  There’s decisions to be made, and different strategies to pursue as you try to become the ultimate King of Tokyo.  The sequel, King of New York, expands upon this system and adds more to think about, but I think King of Tokyo as it is can be called a great gateway game.

image by BGG user RodneyThompson

image by BGG user RodneyThompson

Lords of Waterdeep is a 2012 game designed by Peter Lee and Rodney Thompson.  It was published by Wizards of the Coast, and is set in the Dungeons & Dragons universe.  In the game, 2-5 players are collecting resources to try to complete quests.  It’s a worker placement game where players take turns placing a worker on the board, resolving it, then possibly completing a quest by turning in the required resources.  Different actions you can take include collecting cubes or money, getting new quests, collecting or playing intrigue cards (which give you a small advantage or mess with others), or constructing buildings which can later be used.  After eight rounds, the game ends, and the player who was collected the most points is the winner.

There are several games that could be considered as good gateway worker placement games.  I chose this one because I think it does a great job keeping things simple while still providing multiple paths to victory.  There’s a lot of luck in the quests and buildings that come out, but it tends to balance out well.  Each player also has a secret objective that helps them get going in the beginning.  Plus, with the D&D theme, the game brings in people who wouldn’t normally try this type of thing.  So I say it’s probably the ultimate gateway worker placement game.

Forbidden Island - image by BGG user keebie

image by BGG user keebie

Forbidden Island came out in 2010, designed by Matt Leacock and published by Gamewright.  This cooperative game has 2-4 players trying to collect treasures around an island that is sinking below their feet.  On your turn, you have four actions – you can move, you can shore up a sinking tile (flip it to its non flooded side), give cards to another player on your space, or turn in four identical treasure cards in the right place to pick up a treasure.  Once all four treasures have been collected, all players must make it back to the helicopter and someone must play a helicopter card to win.  After every turn, new tiles go underwater, and if a tile that is already underwater sinks again, it is removed.  Additionally, Waters Rise cards come out every now and then, which increases the number of tiles that sink every turn.  If the water level gets too high, or if anyone for some reason has no way to get back to the helicopter, or if a treasure becomes unrecoverable because its associated tiles have disappeared, the game ends in defeat.

Forbidden Island is basically a rethemed and simpler version of Leacock’s 2008 cooperative classic, Pandemic.  And that’s a game I also think is a good gateway game, I just think this one is better for a wider range of people.  It’s playable by all ages, and provides lots of challenge while still introducing cooperative concepts.  Plus, the components are fabulous.  So you can see Forbidden Island as the gateway, then Pandemic or Forbidden Desert as the next step.

image by BGG user Aingeru

image by BGG user Aingeru

The Settlers of Catan is the classic gateway game, and the one that got countless people (including me) into the hobby.  Originally released in 1995, this Klaus Teuber design was published in the US by Mayfair Games, becoming the first Eurogame to achieve wide success in the States.  3-4 players are settling the island of Catan, building settlements, cities, and roads all the while.  On your turn, you roll two dice, and anyone who has a settlement bordering a terrain type that contains that number collects some resources.  Rolling a 7 means you get to move the robber and steal stuff.  After collecting resources, you can spend some to build, and can even try to trade with your fellow players to get what you need.  The first player to reach ten points is the winner.

Catan has a great reputation, though it has fallen out of favor with a lot of people over the years, including me.  I haven’t played it in a few years, more because the dice hate me than any problems with the mechanics (whatever numbers I am not on are practically guaranteed to earn more resources than anything else).  I do still respect it as a great way to get people into the hobby – there’s more choice than in something like Monopoly, and it’s got great interaction through trading and blocking.  I still recommend it as an excellent game to introduce someone to Euros.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Splendor is the most recent game on this list.  Published in 2014 by Space Cowbys, this Marc André design was a nominee for the Spiel des Jahres this year.  In the game, 2-4 players are attempting to collect gems and trade them in for tools that will make future purchases cheaper.  On your turn, you can either collect three gems of different colors or two gems of the same color.  You can instead choose to reserve a card to buy later (which also gains you a wild) or spend the necessary gems to purchase a card.  Each card that you buy goes in front of you and gives you a specific gem discount on future purchases.  So if you have two rubies in front of you, you’ll be able to spend two fewer red gems when buying a card that has gems.  Some cards also have points, and you can gain three-point nobles if you meet certain conditions on your tableau.  The game ends after someone has reached 15 points, and the player with the most points is the winner.

I was disappointed that Splendor did not win the Spiel des Jahres this year because I think it’s one of the most pure gateway games to come around in a long time.  The mechanics are extremely easy to understand, and the game really flies once everyone gets their head around what they are doing.  The set collection aspect of the game works really well, and it has some great bits (the gems are high quality poker chips).  Definitely a good one to introduce to new players.

image by BGG user Fawkes

image by BGG user Fawkes

We’ll close out this list with the ultimate gateway game, Ticket to Ride.  Originally published in 2004, this Alan R. Moon design from Days of Wonder took the world by storm and has shown no signs of slowing down.  It’s a rummy style train game where players are trying to complete routes by placing trains between cities.  On your turn, there are three possible actions, and you can do one: draw 1-2 new cards, claim a leg between cities, or take new tickets to gain new routes.  Legs are claimed by discarding a number of identically colored cards that match spaces on the board.  Each leg gains you points, and completed tickets score at the end of the game (with incomplete tickets actually counting as negative points).  The game ends when one player gets down to two or fewer trains, at which point everyone gets another turn.  The player who accumulates the most points from legs and tickets is the winner.

Ticket to Ride is a classic because it is sooo easy to teach and has sooo much strategy.  You can try to go for a lot of short tickets or a few long tickets.  You can choose to spread out all over the map, or you can choose to concentrate in one area.  You can play your own game, or you can try to figure out what others are doing and try to block them.  This is my choice for the greatest gateway game, an opinion that I know is shared by many people.

Of course, this is just a small sampling of the gateway games out there.  Your mileage may vary, and you may find that other games work just as well, if not better.  Please tell me some of the games you like to use to introduce new players to the hobby.  Next time, we’ll be looking at where to go next.  Thanks for reading!

Buzzworthiness: Red

Today’s review is of a small game I got to play five times in one sitting:

image by BGG user angelkurisu

image by BGG user angelkurisu

Red is a game that was co-designed by Carl Chudyk (of Glory to Rome and Innovation fame) and Chris Cieslik (owner of Asmadi Games who also publishes the game).  The game is for 2-4 players, and takes five minutes to play.  If that.  The object of the game is to be the last one standing.

The game comes with 49 cards, including 1-7 in each of the colors of the spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet).  There are also four reference cards and a red starter card.  At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt a hand of seven cards, as well as another card face up in front of them to begin their palette.  The red starter card is put in the discard pile.  The top card of this discard pile determines the rules of your current game – to begin with, you are playing Red, meaning that the highest card wins.

On your turn, you play a card.  You can either play it in front of you, or into the discard pile.  The only thing is – if you aren’t going to be winning by the end of your turn, you are out.  And so you have to be winning with the current rule, or you have to change the current rule by playing into the discard pile.  If nothing you do will get you the win, you’re out, and play continues until there’s only one person remaining. With that, here are the seven rules:

  • RED – Highest card wins.
  • ORANGE – Have the most cards of one number.
  • YELLOW – Have the most cards of one color.
  • GREEN – Have the most even cards.
  • BLUE – Have the most cards of different colors.
  • INDIGO – Have cards that form the best run (i.e. 3-4-5)
  • VIOLET – Have the most cards below 4.

As you play more rounds, you can try out the advanced rules.  These include not being able to discard a card lower than the number of cards in your palette, and scoring points for winning a round by removing the cards you used to win and keeping them in a score pile.  There’s also icons on the odd numbered cards that give you special actions when you play one to your palette.

  • 7 – Discard another card from your palette.  It becomes the new rule, so make sure you’re still winning.
  • 5 – Play another card from your hand to the palette.  You can still discard.
  • 3 – Draw a card from the deck.
  • 1 – Take a card from another player’s palette and put it on top of the draw deck.

And that’s all there is to it.

COMPONENTS: Red comes with a deck of 49 cards, plus four reference cards, plus the initial red card.  The cards are simply their color, with a splatter located behind the number and a darker border on the bottom and top.  There’s a smaller number in the upper right and lower left corner, and the rule of the color is printed on the right and left sides of the card.  The colors are very nice, but the issue in color-based games is always how do you adapt it for the color blind.  The splatters are different shapes (though the same within each color), but the differences are sometimes subtle.  The initial prototype printed the color on the card, but I think that was dumped since the rule on the sides can be used as the differentiation.  Blue, indigo, and violet are all fairly close, but the rules are how you can tell the difference.  The starter card is easy to spot since it’s the only one with the rule printed in the center.  The cards seem to be pretty good quality, and it’s a good thing since you’ll probably be playing it several times in a row.

THEME: There’s no theme here.  I guess you could say it’s a game about the color spectrum, but that’s really just more of an organizing factor rather than a thematic element.

MECHANICS: All you have to worry about when playing this game is where you play a card.  You play it in front of you to strengthen your claim on the current rule, or into the discard pile to make the rule into what you need.  This is opposed to the “draw one, play one” mechanism found in games like Fluxx.  What this means is that everything you are ever going to have in the game is in your hand from the very beginning.

The advanced rules add another layer to the proceedings.  The not discarding a card higher than the number in front of you rule is tough to remember, but I do really like the scoring and icons.  The scoring makes the game more than just a fast one-off thing, and the icons add a bit more strategy to how you play.  Both are welcome additions that add to the experience, but they certainly aren’t necessary to enjoy the game.

Red is a game that features player elimination.  If you can’t be in the lead by the end of your turn, you’re out.  Some people will probably see this as a negative, but to me, it fits more in the Love Letter model – the game is so quick that who cares.  Play several rounds if it bothers you.

STRATEGY LEVEL: As I have mentioned, you have everything you’ll ever have in the game from the beginning.  This limits you, and you are dependent on the luck of the draw.  However, the game mostly becomes a puzzle as you try to figure out the optimum way to introduce your cards in order to give yourself the best chance.  It’s essential to know which rules you can win, and what cards are needed in order to win those rules.  So, despite the luck factor, there’s a good amount of strategy there as well.  The advanced rules, of course, add to this as you have to think more about what you’re playing.

ACCESSIBILITY: On the surface, this is a pretty easy game to pick up.  You play a card into your palette or the discard pile, and you must be in first place after your turn.  It’s the intricacies of the game that will mess people up.  You really have to think around corners, and that can be a barrier to entry.  But it’s fast enough that you can play a practice round to get the hang of it, then play again.  So I’d say it’s pretty accessible.

REPLAYABILITY: Surprisingly enough, this game is one that can be played a lot.  You’re going to have a different combination of cards every time, and you’ll always need to try to find new ways to win.  Throw in the advanced rules, and you’ve got even more ways to play.  But just the basic game has plenty of replayability.

SCALABILITY: Red is for 2-4 players.  With more players, you get a little more time in between turns, but you’re ultimately going to have to react on your own turn.  The game flies by, so more players doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be long.  I think it plays well with all numbers.

FOOTPRINT: This is simply a deck of cards.  There are 54 cards, exactly like a standard deck – 49 for play, 1 to start the discards, and 4 references.  You need a little space in front of you for the palette, and a spot for the discard pile.  It’s a very small and portable experience.

The question becomes: is this a microgame?  I say no.  It certainly plays like a microgame – like Love Letter, it’s fast and can be played a number of time in a row and fits in a small package.  But I feel like having 49 cards makes it a little big to be a microgame (that is, if you use microgame as a measurement of size rather than gameplay).  I’d be more comfortable calling it a Pocket Game, which I use to describe any game that fits in your pocket.  I think that’s a much better descriptor of size, and you can say that all microgames are pocket games, but not all pocket games are microgames.

LEGACY: I’ve compared this to Love Letter several times, but they really don’t play anything alike.  I mentioned Fluxx earlier, and this game is far superior to Fluxx – it’s not nearly as random, and is over much quicker.  If you line it up with some other Chudyk games (particularly Glory to Rome and Innovation), you’ll see a slight similarity in that cards can be used as multiple things (palette or rule).  But this is really a unique game that is unlike anything else I’ve played.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Absolutely.  It’s a very unique game.  It’s a good deal faster and lighter than games like Glory to Rome or Innovation, but provides a ton of unique strategy in a very small package.  I also want to applaud the designers for coming up with such a great game in a small amount of time – from what I understand, it was hammered out over Skype in about an hour and a half.  And it’s a great result, so definitely check it out.  Thanks for reading!

Game Buzz: Impulse

Carl Chudyk is absolutely one of my favorite designers.  Despite a relatively low output, two of his games (Innovation and Glory to Rome) are solidly in my top eleven favorite games.  Also, just recently played Red – love it too (a review will be coming soon).  For now, I want to take a look at one of his most recent games, called

image by BGG user angelkurisu

image by BGG user angelkurisu

Impulse is a new Chudyk design recently published by Asmadi Games (publishers of Innovation).  It’s a 2-6 player card game that takes about 30 minutes to play.  The idea is that it’s a quick-playing 4X game set in space, and you are trying to convince native populations of an unexplored sector to join your interstellar federation.

The game comes with 108 action cards, a sector core card, 78 ships, 6 command centers, a prestige board, an impulse marker, and an invisible space fiend.  Each player begins with a command center and the 13 space ships of its color.  One of these ships goes on the prestige board at 0.  The action cards are shuffled and dealt face down into a hexagonal map, with the sector core in the middle.  Each player is dealt five cards and claims a card from a corner of the map where their home will be based.  From these six cards, choose one to place in your home spot face up.  Three ships are placed on your home, with two standing up and one on its side facing the sector core.

The first thing you do on your turn is add a card from your hand to the end of the Impulse line.  Then, you can use one of your two techs.  There are two basic techs printed on your command center, one common to all, and one specific to you.  As the game goes on, you’ll be able to upgrade these, i.e. get new techs to replace old ones.  Then, you can use each of the action cards in the Impulse, from left to right (or top to bottom, if that’s how you have them).  The tech is basically an action that you alone can use, while the Impulse contains up to four cards that everyone will be able to use.  Here are the available action types:

  1. Command: This allows you to move your ships around the map.  You have transports and cruisers, and these will help you explore and occupy various spaces.  Transports allow you to use the action of the card you have landed on, while cruisers allow you to patrol cards (block enemy transports) and start fights.  If you move onto a face down card, you explore it by taking it into your hand, and replacing it face up with a card from your hand.  This could be the same card you picked up.
  2. Research: This allows you to upgrade your techs.
  3. Execute: Perform an action card’s text, then discard it.  This means that no one else gets to do it.
  4. Build: Construct new ships.  You are limited to 12, since that’s all you have.
  5. Sabotage: Destroy enemy ships without fighting them head on.
  6. Plan: Add cards to the end of your Plan line, located on the right side of your board.  You’ll get to use these later.
  7. Draw: Draw cards from the deck.  You have a hand limit of 10 cards.
  8. Trade: Discard cards from your hand or the deck to score points.
  9. Mine: Add cards to the minerals section on the left side of your board.  These allow you to boost later actions.
  10. Refine: Convert minerals into points.

After using the Impulse, you may choose to use your Plan.  If the Plan has four cards, you must use it – otherwise, you can choose to wait.  Once used, the entire Plan is discarded.  You’ll then score one point per fleet you control that patrols the sector core.  After this, you will draw two cards and trim the Impulse to three cards.  This means that you take off the oldest card (furthest left or closest to the top), and discard it.

As you play, you’ll be scoring points.  Every time you destroy a ship, you score a point.  For each ship fleet you have patrolling the sector core, you get a point.  You also score for trading and refining.  When one player scores 20 points, the game is over and they win.

This game has ALL the hallmarks of a Chudyk game to me.  Lots of actions that can be shared by multiple people, a mat used to organize your stuff, and lots of variety in the things you can do.  And yet, it seems completely different than Glory to Rome or Innovation.  It looks and feels very unique, and that’s something I think Chudyk shines at.  I’m really looking forward to seeing how all the actions work together, and trying out the different combinations I know I’ll find.  The rulebook is frankly kind of a mess, but I think there’s enough helpful information online that it shouldn’t be too tough to figure things out.  The game is getting some very good buzz from those who have their own copies, and so I’m very excited to get to play it sometime – it looks like another winner from a great designer.  Thanks for reading!

I haven’t done a SHOWDOWN! in almost two years, so it’s time to haul it back out for a fourth appearance.  In previous editions, Innovation beat Glory to Rome for my favorite Carl Chudyk game; Core Worlds beat Eminent Domain as the best space-based deck-builder; and Shadow Hunters beat The Resistance and Ultimate Werewolf as my favorite social deduction game.  This week, in honor of the eminent NFL season, two football games are going to be vying for glory – Pizza Box Football versus 1st & Goal!  Let’s meet the contestants:

image by BGG user DrChek

image by BGG user DrChek

Pizza Box Football

  • Designed by Erik and Scott Smith
  • Published in 2005 by On the Line Game Company
  • 1-2 players
  • A dice-based football game where players call plays, roll dice, and compare results to a chart to see what happens
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

1st & Goal

  • Designed by Stephen Glenn
  • Published in 2011 by R&R Games
  • 2-4 players
  • A card-based football game where players call plays with cards, compare results, and roll dice to see what happens.

Here are the rules of this SHOWDOWN!, which is going to be a little different than previous iterations.  I have selected eight categories in which to compare these two.  There are two categories per quarter.  In each category, each game will get either a field goal (3 points) for my ability to recommend the game there; a touchdown (7 points) for being exceptional; a turnover on downs for not quite being up to snuff; or a turnover via some boneheaded mistake for completely failing at being redeemable in the category.  This is all very subjective, and your results may vary if you run this simulation at home.  Nevertheless, here we go.

1st Quarter, 1st Possession: Components

We kick it off with a discussion of the bits in each game.  Pizza Box Football is based out of a box that is meant to evoke the thought of, you guessed it, a pizza box.  This is more than just a gimmick – the box opens up to lie flat so the cardboard football field can stand up in it.  The board shows the field with holes on every yard line, and your team is represented by pegs that move up and down the field in those holes.  There’s a yellow peg that marks the first down line, and other green pegs for tracking score, time outs, and time remaining in the game.  Dice are used to determine the outcome of each play, with modifiers based on what the defense thought you were doing.  There are also charts so you can compare the results of your rolls and find out what happened.

Overall the components in Pizza Box Football are nice and functional.  I happen to be a big fan of peg boards – I think it’s an extremely elegant way to ensure accuracy.  And it works well here.  The board is fairly sturdy, though it can be difficult to get it set just right in the box.  There are tracks for score and time, but the pegs used for those are all green and blend in with the rest of the board.  The dice are fairly standard, with some small ones.  There are references as to what die is used when, it’s sometimes hard to remember.  It doesn’t really matter – they’re all d6s, and you can use them whenever.

The biggest problem with the components of PBF is that you have way too many charts.  Whenever you roll, you have to flip to the appropriate section on the chart to see what happens.  Sometimes, this will refer you to another chart.  Field goals and punts are separate, and there’s a lot of shuffling around.  It can get annoying.  The charts themselves are good quality, I just wish they had found a better way to organize the info.  Field goal.

1st & Goal has a magnetized board showing the football field, with hash marks used to mark downs and a magnetic ten yard chain to mark first down.  There are also clear plastic discs that you use to track timeouts and score.  There are also two decks of cards – one for the defense, one for the offense.  Each card shows the name of a play or defense, and which dice are used against each type of opposing play or defense.  The dice are big plastic cubes that you apply stickers to.  Additionally, there’s a plastic coin used for determining first player.

As much as I love a peg board, I have to say that the magnetic board is really more practical since there aren’t so many holes.  And if we were only comparing boards, 1st & Goal would be the clear winner.  However, I have to mark them down for the plastic discs.  I know they wanted to make the numbers underneath visible, but what about magnetic rings that WON’T go everywhere when the board is bumped?  You protected the ball, not the score.  I also am never a fan of having to sticker anything, especially dice.  I really wish they had either done it themselves, or printed the symbols and numbers on each side.  The dice are different colors so you can tell them apart, but the penalty and play dice are both white and ALWAYS get mixed up.

I think the cards work really well as a solution to the chart problem I have with PBF – all the information you need is right there on the card you play, so you don’t have to flip through a ton of charts to find the answer.  And I’m also glad they included a coin – it’s cheap brown plastic with a face on one side and a pig tail on the other, and it’s monochromatic so you may have to squint to see which side you’re looking at, but it’s there.  I like the board and cards a lot, but I can’t give 1st & Goal extra credit for the dice and plastic tokens.  Field Goal.

  • PBF 3, 1&G 3

1st Quarter, 2nd Possession: Theme

It’s difficult to compare theme here as both games have a very strong football theme.  Neither one is a game that, when you get to the end, feels unrealistic as a football game.  Scoring happens about as frequently as you would expect in a real game, and the final score seems like something you would actually see from a game.  There’s also a certain amount of abstraction going on since you are rolling dice and looking up the results of the plays.  However, I would say that the theme is strong in both places.  I’m giving the edge to 1st & Goal simply because the cards name plays, and it’s easier to visualize what’s happening in your game.  In Pizza Box Football, it’s all run, short pass, and long pass.  There’s not a lot of detail there, and then, once the dice are rolled, you are told what happens.  With 1st & Goal, you get play names, and then there’s the possibility of penalties or turnovers with the roll of the dice – it’s not all dictated by a chart.  So field goal for PBF, touchdown 1st & Goal.

  • PBF 6, 1&G 10

2nd Quarter, 1st Possession: Mechanics

Pizza Box Football and 1st & Goal are similar thematically, and both have a core mechanism of rolling dice to determine what happens.  There’s also a bit of rock-paper-scissors feel to both games as you try to outguess your opponents.  In Pizza Box Football, it takes the form of the defense choosing whether to defend against the run, short pass, or long pass.  The defensive die roll will determine the modifier when the offense rolls for the result of the play.  In 1st & Goal, each player is choosing a play that will have the maximum success against the other.  The run defenses are better against the run plays, and pass defenses are better against pass plays.  There are also specific plays that are designed to get you rolling a lot of dice unless the opponent successfully defends.

So dice rolling is important in both, but the mechanism is used differently in each game.  PBF uses dice with modifiers and has you comparing the results to a chart.  In 1st & Goal, the type of dice used are indicated by the play/defense combination.  Also, you’re always rolling a defense die and the play die, and there’s always a chance of a turnover or penalty.  In PBF, turnovers are possible only when rolling certain numbers on the dice – everything is pretty much set in stone.

Timing in the game works differently as well.  In PBF, each play takes a certain amount of time, and you move a peg accordingly.  For example, a successful play or run takes four units of time, while an incomplete pass only takes two.  It’s REALLY easy to forget to move the peg, but you can easily see how much time you’ve got left with this method.  1st & Goal uses the decks of cards – when they run out, the half is over.  It’s much easier to do, although it’s not always obvious how much time is left.

Both games pretty well.  However, PBF only gets a field goal since it feels a lot clunkier than 1st & Goal, which plays very smoothly.  1st & Goal gets a touchdown.

  • PBF 9, 1&G 17

2nd Quarter, 2nd Possession: Accessibility

The inherent problem with football games is that they’re really only going to appeal to the segment of the population that likes football.  As large as that segment may be, there’s still a good chunk of people that don’t like the sport.  If you aren’t a fan, or don’t really know the game that well, you’re going to have trouble getting into both games.  I think PBF is probably even more difficult than 1st & Goal since there are so many charts to flip through.  1st & Goal strips things down and makes it relatively easy to pick up.  However, I’m not giving any more than a field goal to 1st & Goal, and no points for PBF.

  • PBF 9, 1&G 20

Time for the halftime show!

And we’re back!

3rd Quarter, 1st Possession: Replayability

First of all, for this category, I’m going to assume that you like football.  If you don’t, you’re not going to want to replay this game.  If you do like football, you’ll find endless enjoyment in both games.  You can keep stats, you can make up names for your players, and you can add commentary throughout.  They’re both very immersive, and you’ll want to play them again and again.

I’m going to give Pizza Box Football the edge in this category simply on the strength of expansions.  For the first few years of the game, On the Line published expansions with customized teams for the NFL.  You can get these (2006-2010) at their website for free.  Also, they hold an annual contest to predict the winner of the Super Bowl, releasing the two customized teams and having people play with them to determine who will win.  1st & Goal has six expansions, each with four customized teams.  However, these are $15 each, making it much more expensive to expand your game.  So, because both are fun to play again and again, both score.  On the strength of the expansions, 1st & Goal gets a field goal, Pizza Box Football gets a touchdown.

  • PBF 16, 1&G 23

3rd Quarter, 2nd Possession: Scalability

I can’t give either game any points for this.  They’re both for 2 players, and certainly can be played with more if you play as a team.  1st & Goal suggests that one person play defense, and the other play offense, but I think it’s better as a two player game.

  • PBF 16, 1&G 23

4th Quarter, 1st Possession: Time

Both games can take a long time.  They’re based on football, which is a long game, and play can take a while.  They’re not ridiculous, and it is possible to play only partial games.  Pizza Box Football has the edge because there are four modes of play that you can use to customize how long games take.  And it’s a quarter-based game, meaning that there are four segments rather than two halves as in 1st & Goal.  So, since I think PBF is easier to make as long as you want, PBF gets the touchdown while 1st & Goal gets a field goal.

  • PBF 23, 1&G 26

4th Quarter, 2nd Possession: Strategy

It all comes down to this.  Pizza Box Football is a game where the strategy comes primarily from choosing your plays and defenses.  The defense has to think what the offense will do in this situation, while the offense has to think about what the defense thinks they will do.  After that, it’s just dice rolling.  But that’s enough strategy to give PBF a field goal.

1st & Goal, on the other hand, has a rotating hand of cards you choose from.  You’re choosing between as many as eight options at a time, and while you have to make the determination of what the other side thinks you’ll do, you also want to give yourself the best chance to succeed.  The number of dice for each possible play is shown on the cards, and you can weigh your options like that.  I think it offers more strategy, and so we have a last second touchdown for the win!

  • PBF 26, 1&G 33

And there you have it.  1st & Goal has defeated Pizza Box Football.  I enjoy both games, but 1st & Goal has definitely replaced Pizza Box Football for me.  I highly recommend it – there’s even a new iOS app for the game.  I haven’t played it yet, but I’m watching for it to go on sale so I can give it a go.  Thanks for reading!

Kickstarter Blitz #8

It’s time for my eighth monthly Kickstarter Blitz.  13 projects to cover this time, so let’s get to it.

image by BGG user ChrisHandy

image by BGG user ChrisHandy

Pack o’ Game (Chris Handy, Perplext) is a collection of micro games.  Initially, there were four planned for the project.  Two more have been unlocked, and more are coming if stretch goals get met.  The interesting thing about these games is that each fits into what amounts to a pack of gum.  Each game consists of 30 narrow cards.  The games that have been unlocked so far are as follows:

  • HUE: An abstract game where players are trying to form the largest contiguous area of single colors.
  • TKO: A two-player boxing game where players are simultaneously choosing actions (punch or block) to try to score points and win the TKO belt.
  • GEM: Players are collecting jewels to try and gain the most valuable set.
  • FLY: A dexterity game where players are trying to drop a fly swatter onto flies.  Any flies completely covered by the swatter get collected by the player.
  • TAJ: A voting game where players are trying to arrange rugs in the Taj Mahal in specific color schemes.
  • LIE: Essentially Liar’s Dice with cards (that have dice printed on them).
  • BUS: A pick-up-and-deliver game where you are dropping off passengers around a track.

There’s a possibility of two more games in the stretch goal queue right now, so we’ll see if they get funded.  I like the concept behind this project a lot.  These anthology collections of small games (i.e. the Level 99 Games Minigame Library and the Dice Hate Me Rabbits) really appeal to me.  I appreciate the work involved in putting together a cohesive set, and these are definitely distinctive.  The games are all different, but use the same aesthetic – thin cards, small decks, unique packaging, and three-letter names.  I’ll be interested to see how this does beyond Kickstarter.

  • Project Ends: August 30 @ 11:00 PM CDT
  • Goal: $30,000 (funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: June 2015
  • To Get A Game: $6 for one, $24 for the original four plus all stretch goals, $44 to add a POD (carrying case)
image by BGG user ezeqiel

image by BGG user ezeqiel

Dungeon Saga: The Dwarf King’s Quest (Jake Thornton, Mantic Games) is this month’s big miniatures game.  I haven’t gotten a chance to read the rules yet, or even watch the hour long demo game video on the Kickstarter page.  But from what I can tell, it seems like a fairly standard dungeon crawl with a modular board where you’re taking your party in, killing a bunch of stuff, leveling up, and moving on.  One player is the Necromancer, trying to prevent the party from succeeding at their goal.

I think what has gotten this game around half a million dollars so far is the miniatures.  Mini games often do super well on Kickstarter, and this one seems to be falling right in line with the trend.  I honestly don’t know what sets it apart from something like Descent, but it’s doing quite well.  Check it out if interested.

  • Project Ends: August 31 @ 5:59 PM CDT
  • Goal: $50,000 (funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: August 2015
  • To Get A Game: $100
image by BGG user jguitarstring

image by BGG user jguitarstring

Fidelitas (Jason Kotarski/Philip duBarry, Green Couch Games) is a game about medieval citizens trying to become the most influential leader.  It’s a card game where players get secret missions to complete in a race to 10 points.  On your turn, you’ll play a character card from your hand to one of the locations out on the board.  Characters have special abilities that trigger when played.  If your play has completed a mission, you score it and take a new one.  Otherwise, you draw a new character and that’s the end of your turn.  The first player to ten points wins.

This game seems to fit in the base attack genre, similar to games like Smash Up, Balloon Cup, and Blood Bowl Team Manager – there are locations, and you’re spreading out your cards to try to accomplish your objectives.  The difference here is that you’re not scoring the locations, but trying to get locations to certain levels in order to score.  It’s pretty compact, looks like it’s fast playing, and looks like something I’d really like to play when it comes out.  They’re well funded at this point, but you can still get in on the action.

  • Project Ends: August 31 @ 10:59 PM CDT
  • Goal: $12,000 (funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: January 2015
  • To Get A Game: $19
image by BGG user krakengames

image by BGG user krakengames

Asking for Trobils (Erin McDonald/Christian Strain, Kraken Games) is a worker placement game set in space, where you are trying to rid the star system of Trobils (which are a kind of pest).  On your turn, you do one action – place a ship on the board, or retrieve your ships from the board.  The different locations allow you to do different things – collect resources, collect Trobils, throw Trobils into a star for money, collect Riffraff, collect Traps, and gain new ships.  When the final Trobil is captured and the final city is revealed, the game ends.  The player with the most points from Trobil cards is the winner.

This game has a very distinctive look.  The board and bits all make heavy use of the color orange, which really makes it stand out.  Certainly, that’s what made me take notice.  It does look very nice.  The game itself seems to be a fairly light worker placement game, kind of like a sci-fi Lords of Waterdeep.  Because of its distinctive look and what seems to be very simple gameplay, I’m making this my PICK OF THE MONTH.  Take a look, and consider backing it – I know I’m very interested to see it when it gets released.

  • Project Ends: September 1 @ 11:59 PM CDT
  • Goal: $25,000 (funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: March 2015
  • To Get A Game: $42
image by BGG user gsquirrelgo

image by BGG user gsquirrelgo

Pack the Pack (Meg McGinley, Games by Play Date) is actually on its second campaign, having cancelled the first in July.  This one looks at what happens in a dungeon crawl once all the monsters have been vanquished – you have to get the loot out somehow.  In the game, you’ve got 88 treasure tiles, five of which are face down in front of you.  On the word “PACK”, everyone flips up their treasures and tries to make them fit in their pack.  You are trying to make completed gems of the different colors.  As you place treasures, you can take more from the center.  If you want to return a tile, you yell “JUNK!”, put it face up in the center, and take two new pieces.  When you have tiles touching three sides of your pack, you can say “TO TOWN!” and you’re done.  Once the second to last player has said this, the round is over.  You then score points for each completed gem, plus bonus points for the order you made it back to town.  The player with the most points wins.

This is a lot like Galaxy Trucker in the frantic placement of tiles.  There’s no journey at the end, but I get that vibe from the puzzle.  That alone is enough to pique my interest.  It does have a post-dungeon crawl theme, but I think it’s more of a game about making patterns than anything terribly fantastical.  Also, I’m unsure why you would want to stop first – the bonus points don’t quite seem like enough.  But I haven’t played, and maybe it will make more sense if I ever get the opportunity.  So, this is something I’d like to see once it’s out.

  • Project Ends: September 3 @ 2:01 PM CDT
  • Goal: $5,000 (funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: December 2014
  • To Get A Game: $35
image by BGG user Eagle_Gryphon_Games

image by BGG user Eagle_Gryphon_Games

Clockwork Wars (Hassan Lopez, Eagle Games) is a fantasy-steampunk war game that features a modular board for increased playability.  There are four races – Purebreeds, Troglodytes, Rhinochs, and Mongrels, each with unique units and traits.  There are seven turns in the game, grouped into three ages.  The ages determine available discoveries and when scoring takes place.  During a turn, players take Spymaster actions, recruit workers, deploy units, engage in combat, and research discoveries.  Scoring happens after the second, fourth, and seventh rounds.  The player who has the most points in the end is the winner.

That’s of course a very simplistic breaking down of what looks like a fairly complex game, and I’m not going to go into all the rules here.  I really like the look.  The map tiles are double sided, with terrain on one side and a more functional abstract design on the other.  The art looks pretty good from what I’ve seen, and there is a ton of stuff in the box (hence the high price tag).  If this type of thing is something you enjoy, be sure to check it out.

  • Project Ends: September 3 @ 8:54 PM CDT
  • Goal: $25,000 (funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: July 2015
  • To Get A Game: $79 (early bird)
image by BGG user toyvaultinc

image by BGG user toyvaultinc

But Wait, There’s More! (Jay Cormier/Sen-Foong Lim, Toy Vault) is a party game from the designers of Belfort, Train of Thought, and This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The 2-4 Of Us (which is my favorite title for a game ever).  The idea here is that you’re trying to pitch products in a 30-second infomercial format.  Each player has a hand of features, and at the beginning of a round, a random product everyone is selling will be revealed.  You select a feature to go with that product, and then you have 30 seconds to make your pitch.    About halfway through that pitch, you must say “But Wait, There’s More!” and flip over a random feature from the deck.  You must include this in your pitch.  Once everyone has pitched, players vote on their favorite pitch (not their own).  At the end of the game (three rounds), votes are tallied, and a new Billy Mays is crowned.

Since the release of Apples to Apples in 1999, many many party games have adopted the voting format for determining a winner.  This one varies from the model a bit by having everyone vote on their favorite.  This helps take away some of the inherent bias of voting party games – the majority rules here, not just one person.  So I’m glad to see this varying from the model of other pitch games like Snake Oil and The Big Idea.  It seems like it will be pretty fun, and it is streamlined to the point that it shouldn’t drag on too long.  With a lot of players, it may be tough to keep track of all the pitches, but if something is particularly memorable, that shouldn’t be a big deal.

  • Project Ends: September 5 @ 10:59 AM CDT
  • Goal: $3,000 (funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: December 2014
  • To Get A Game: $25
image by BGG user HoggerLogger

image by BGG user HoggerLogger

Hogger Logger (Shaun Duenas/Ryan Shapiro/Charlie Winkler, Hogger Logger LLC) catches my eye JUST because of the title.  It is described as a “fast-paced, cutthroat guessing game with lumberjacking pigs.”  Each round begins with four face down cards and one face up card.  If it’s your turn, you choose one face down card and guess if it is higher or lower than the face up card.  If you’re right, you guess again.  If not, the player to your left becomes the new guesser.  The player who guesses the last remaining face down card wins.  This in itself would be pretty boring, but there are ways to mess with your opponents.  Anyone can play a number card at any point to increase their own odds or decrease their opponents.  If you play an 8, or play the same number that is the active card, you get an action card.  These give you different abilities.

This seems like a pretty silly game.  It’s not necessarily one with a lot of strategy, but I can imagine a lot of opportunities to mess with each other.  As much as I like the theme of lumberjacking pigs, it’s not really important to game play.  The name Hogger Logger came from Higher or Lower, they just wanted to make it more fun to say.  It looks fun, so check it out.

  • Project Ends: September 14 @ 10:59 PM CDT
  • Goal: $9,500 (not funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: December 2014
  • To Get A Game: $14
image by BGG user JustChristine

image by BGG user JustChristine

Heist (Pair-A-Dice Games) is a card game about art theft.  It takes exactly three minutes to play.  It comes with 36 cards, a timers, and 4 pawns.  Four rooms are laid out face down, and then each player gets five cards.  On your turn, you play a card then draw a card.  These cards will help you to steal cards from others, move your pawn forward, force others to discard, etc.  If you make it to the Vault and play an Art card from your hand, you win.  If time runs out, whoever is furthest along wins.  If there’s a tie, play again – it’s only three minutes.

This is a game that I think is a little big to be called a microgame.  It’s still very small, but I see microgames as being smaller (the debate over the definition of microgame can wait for another time).  Pair-A-Dice is calling it a pocket game, and I like that designation.  It’s a race, and it’s a quick real time game, one that I think will be pretty fun.  I don’t know if it will conquer the world like Love Letter did, but at least it’s only three minutes.

  • Project Ends: September 15 @ 12:00 AM CDT
  • Goal: $3,500 (funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: July 2015
  • To Get A Game: $10
image from Kickstarter project page

image from Kickstarter project page

Slap .45 (Gnarwhal Studios) is a Wild West duel that involves…well…slapping.  Each player gets a home base that goes between themselves and the player on their left.  The six members of that home base go in front of you.  This is your gang, and it has a special power.  On a turn, you flip over a card, then everyone reacts to it.  If the card revealed is a gun, you can slap it and making a pistol at another player, or slap a home base to protect yourself from being shot.  If it’s gold, you slap it to claim it.  If it’s a Move card, you need to slap a home base.  If you get shot, or are the last person to make it to a home base, you lose a gang member.  The last gang standing wins.

When I was in college, my friends and I would spend HOURS playing ERS, which involved a lot of slapping.  After some injuries, we had to make it a rule that no jewelry was allowed.  I haven’t played that much since leaving college, but this is the exact group this kind of game is meant for.  It’s not something I’d play a lot of now, but it would be good for some of those loud social occasions with some silly people that don’t mind getting a little violent.  If that describes you or your group, take a look.

  • Project Ends: September 17 @ 10:23 AM CDT
  • Goal: $18,850 (funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: April 2015
  • To Get A Game: $35
image by BGG user Brando Calrissian

image by BGG user Brando Calrissian

Clockwork Kingdom (Brandon Allen, Mr. B Games) is ANOTHER steampunk game about battle for control of an empire, though this one is more of a worker placement game than a combat-based game.  On each turn, players take turns placing workers around the board, then resolving the actions.  These actions could be acquiring resources, acquiring alchemy stones, taking or completing schematics, searching for ancient technology, doing battle, training professionals or acquiring new workers, acquiring production facilities, or determining turn order for the next round.  Whoever has scored the most points after nine rounds is the winner.

Mr. B has been coming on strong of late, especially with the recent successful Kickstarter releases of Spurs and Alien Uprising, so most of my interest lies in seeing what they do next.  This game has an interesting look to the board, with a round kingdom kind of like a clock.  It’s a worker placement game that doesn’t really look like it does much new mechanically, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good game.  If you like steampunk, or worker placement, or are just interested in what Mr. B is doing, or some combination of these, check it out.

  • Project Ends: September 23 @ 4:30 PM CDT
  • Goal: $20,000 (not funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: June 2015
  • To Get A Game: $45
image by BGG user binarysunrise

image by BGG user binarysunrise

The Pirate Deck (Jared Bond) is on its second Kickstarter drive.  I covered the first one back in Kickstarter Blitz #4, so I won’t say a lot here.  It’s a light card game where you’re trying to match up coins in order to make money.  I got a chance to play the prototype and make some suggestions, and it’s a game I like.  It’s got a nice puzzly feel to it, and is fairly simple to pick up.  Plus, there are pirates.  Do check it out – it’s about halfway to its $6000 goal.

  • Project Ends: September 24 @ 5:01 PM CDT
  • Goal: $6,000 (not funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: June 2015
  • To Get A Game: $12 (early bird)
image by BGG user tartujik

image by BGG user tartujik

Skyway Robbery (Philip duBarry, Game Salute) is all about being a notorious criminal aboard an airship cruiser line.  The game is a kind of programmed action deck building game where players are simultaneously playing three secret action cards, then resolving them one at a time.  You can try to catch opponents red-handed, acquire new assets, pickpocket to gain more cash, perform a local heist, bust gang members out of the brig, start a turf war, do a side job, or repeat an action you played previously in the round.  When the airship reaches the end of the location track or the last location’s loot card has been taken, the game is over.  The player with the highest reputation is the winner.

This game looks great.  The art looks fun, the game looks like it plays really well, and it has the pedigree of a designer like Philip duBarry (making his second appearance on this list) to boost it up.  But I think some people will be scared away from backing it because of the involvement of Game Salute.  Game Salute has not been doing well in recent months, delivering late, breaking promises, and ticking off designers.  And I wonder why their name is NOWHERE on the Kickstarter page – their logo is not even on the box they show (though it is on the image included on BGG).  I also find it interesting that there’s no stretch goals, and they don’t intend to include any.  You can make assumptions from this information as you will – I’m sure conspiracy theories will abound.  But I also think Game Salute is ready to start correcting some mistakes they have made in the past, and want nothing to get in the way of this being a great game.  I think you should check it out – it does look very good.

  • Project Ends: September 25 @ 7:00 PM CDT
  • Goal: $32,000 (not funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: September 2015
  • To Get A Game: $45

That’s it for this month’s edition of the Kickstarter Blitz.  Thanks for reading!


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