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Posts Tagged ‘Donald X. Vaccarino’

In 2008, Dominion was released.  It absolutely revolutionized the world of board gaming, introducing the deck-building mechanism.  Now, as we swim in a sea of such games, the eighth and final expansion is being released with not as much fanfare as there once was:

image by BGG user m_knox

image by BGG user m_knox

Guilds is the “final” expansion of Donald X. Vaccarino’s ground-breaking game.  “Final” is in quotes because I don’t think Rio Grande is going to let it die just yet.  They may not come out with any further cards for it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they take the franchise in another direction (Dominion: The Board Game, anyone?).  Guilds is the third small expansion for the game, with 13 new kingdom card decks and and 25 coin tokens that go with the game.

As is my tradition with these expansions, let’s look at the cards.  I’ll look at some of the new mechanisms as they come up.

  • Advisor (action, costs 4): +1 action.  You’ll reveal the top three cards of your deck, and the player to your left will choose one.  You’ll discard that card, and keep the other two.  So, basically you get two cards, and your neighbor gets to make the decision about which two they are.  It could be an easy choice (two estates and a gold) or it could be much harder (a gold and two attacks).  Pretty interactive – I like it.
  • Baker (action, costs 5): +1 card and +1 action.  Playing this card gets you a coin token.  Coin tokens can be kept and spent before buying to increase your money pool.  This means that you can save some money, and that frustrating seven coin hand that happens all too often is not quite as maddening.  Generally, players start the game with no coin tokens, but everyone gets one at the beginning of a game where Baker is in play.
  • Butcher (action, costs 5): You get two coin tokens, then may choose to trash a card and pay any number of tokens.  If you trashed something, you gain a card with the cost of the trashed card plus your coin tokens.  Another way to use coins, and a new way to remodel your deck.
  • Candlestick Maker (action, costs 2): Well, you had to know this was here with the Butcher and Baker.  It’s simple – +1 action, +1 buy, and take a coin token.  Seems like a pretty good card for only a 2 cost.  I guess it helps if you have another action in hand with this one.
  • Doctor (action, costs 3+): Name a card, reveal the top three cards of your deck, and trash the matches.  If you’ve been taking Curses or Rats, this might be a good way to take a shot to try to get rid of them.  Additionally, this card has an overpay bonus (note the 3+ in the cost).  If you buy this card with more money than it costs, you will get to look at cards from the top of your deck (one per coin you overpaid by).  You can choose to trash them, discard them, or put them back.  So, if you have 5 coin and buy this, you can look at two cards.  I don’t know about you, but I frequently have too much money for what I want – this is a pretty welcome mechanism, in my opinion.
  • Herald (action, costs 4+): +1 card and +1 action.  Additionally, you reveal the top card of your deck and play it if it is an action.  This card also has an overpay bonus – for each coin your overpaid, you take a card from your discard pile and put it on top of your deck.  What a great way to recycle cards quickly.  This one seems like one I’d really like, and would probably play a lot when in the game.
  • Journeyman (action, costs 5): Name a card, then reveal cards from the top of your deck until you have three cards that are NOT the named card.  They go into your hand.  This is a little bit of a contrast to Doctor – you’re not trashing anything, just looking for cards that aren’t something.  So if you have a bunch of duchies in your deck, you can try to avoid them.
  • Masterpiece (treasure, costs 3+): The only treasure in this set.  It’s only worth one coin, BUT, for every coin you overpay, you get a Silver.  So, if you spend 6 on this, you gain what is essentially a Copper, but also three Silvers.  Always nice to have more money.
  • Merchant Guild (action, costs 5): +1 buy, +1 coin.  When you buy a card while this is in play, you get a coin token.  Just another way to collect coins, but it seems to be kind of over-priced.  If I want to pay five, I would hope to get at least an extra action or some more virtual money to spend.
  • Plaza (action, costs 4): +1 card, +2 actions.  If you discard a treasure card, gain a coin token.  This is more like it – it’s a little bit better than a Village because of the coin token, and gives you a reason to keep Coppers around.
  • Soothsayer (attack action, costs 5): Gain a Gold, while each other player gains a Curse and, if they do, draw a card.  It’s like the Witch, except you get big money, and your opponents get to draw a card.  It has no immediate benefits for you, but hopefully it will have long-term benefits.
  • Stonemason (action, costs 2+): Trash a card from your hand and gain 2 cards, each costing less than the trashed card.  The overpay effect for this card, however, allows you to gain 2 action cards each costing the amount you overpaid.  So, it’s a like an inverse Remodel, where you get more coins but they cost less than the trashed card.  The overpay effect is kind of neat – it forces you to think about things as you’re purchasing.
  • Taxman (attack action, costs 4): If you trash a treasure from your hand, each other player with 5+ cards discards a copy of the card you trashed, or reveals a hand without it.  You gain a treasure costing 3 more than the trashed card, and put it on top of your deck.  So, this is sort of like the Mine, though cheaper and with a bit of an attack attached.  It’s not overly mean, just a discard.

And with that, Dominion is “complete”.  This looks like a more strategic expansion than some – you have to think about overpaying, you have to think about how to best spend your tokens, you have to sometimes think about to best do your actions.  Most of the cards look pretty good – the only one I’m not happy with is Merchant Guild.  But I like the idea behind overpaying, and I like the ability to save some money.  Definitely an expansion I hope to play.

Since I’m here, I feel like I should do some reflecting on the Dominion phenomenon.  I don’t think anyone will deny that Dominion is one of the most important games to be released in the 21st century, for good or bad.  After Monopoly and Yahtzee, it is probably one of the most copied games out there.  It spawned a whole genre, and while some people think it has been surpassed, people will be playing for years to come.  I’ve talked to people who are not as immersed in the hobby as I am, and they play Dominion all the time.  I would be very surprised if this is the end of the line for the game.  It’s probably the end of Dominion 1.0, but I would imagine that Rio Grande has plans to take it into its next phase.  Kind of like they’re doing with the mythical Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts expansion.

For me, I have played all the expansions (other than this one) at least once, and own Prosperity and Alchemy.  I don’t really feel then need to own them all, but I have enjoyed finding out about all the cards as they come out.  And it’s a game I will happily play whenever it comes out.  I feel that it’s a great game for gamers and non-gamers alike, and I think it will be around for a long time.  Thanks for reading!

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I’ve been avoiding talking about Kickstarter games here for a while, but there are a fewup right now that hold some interest for me.  First up:

image by BGG user T Worthington

Gauntlet of Fools is a game currently up on Kickstarter from Indie Boards and Cards.  It’s a new design coming to us from Donald X. Vaccarino.  It’s a thirty-minute game for 2-6 players aged 13 and up, and is an adventure game where you’re running around a dungeon collecting treasure.  However, it differs from your traditional dungeon game in that you are guaranteed to die.  But you’re trying to die with the most treasure.

In the game, you get 20 class cards, 20 weapon cards, 50 encounter cards, 30 dice, 30 boast tokens, 20 wound tokens, 50 gold tokens, 41 ability tokens, 28 penalty tokens, 30 bonus tokens, and a playmat.  At the start of the game, you’ll deal out as many class cards as there are players to the center of the table, plus one weapon per class card.  These are the Heroes for the game.

The game starts with a Boasting phase, which is a kind of auction where you’ll claim your Heroes for the game.  You’re trying to claim the best Hero.  What you’ll do is either take a Hero from the center of the table, or take one from another player.  If you take one from the center, you can add Boast tokens or not, it’s up to you.  However, if you take a Hero from another player, you must add at least one Boast.  The Boasts are things that will make it a little more difficult for you, and make others think twice before taking it from you.  There are six types of Boasts, and you can only have one of each:

  • Blindfolded: Reduces a monster’s treasure unless you get hit.
  • Hopping on one leg: Reduces your defense by 2.
  • One arm tied behind your back: Ignores rolls of 1 or 2 when attacking.
  • While juggling: Reduces the number of weapon ability tokens you have, and reduces your attack strength by one.
  • With a hangover: Roll one less attack die and reduce your defense by 4 until you kill your first monster.
  • Without breakfast: Doubles your first wound.

The boasting continues until everyone has a hero.  You’ll then move on to the Gauntlet phase.  In the Gauntlet phase, you will first determine the encounter by drawing an encounter card.  This encounter card is for everyone, though each person is dealing with it individually.  It could be a special encounter, which you resolve before drawing another.  It could be a modifier, which could help the next monster to come out or give you a choice of two encounters.  It could also be a monster, in which case you’ll have to attack.  You roll the number of attack dice indicated on your class card, add the total and apply any effects of weapons, class abilities, boasts, penalties, and/or bonuses.  If you defeat the monster, you get its treasure.

After attacking, whether you killed it or not, you must defend.  The monster has a certain attack strength, which you must counter with your total defense.  If you are hit, you take damage.  If you get to 4 wounds, you are dead and out.  If you’re not dead, you draw the next encounter.

The game is over when all Heroes are dead.  The one with the most treasure at the time of their death wins.

This is an odd concept for a game.  Rather than trying to enjoy your cash, you are recklessly forging ahead under the assumption that you can in fact take it with you.  It is possible to win if you die first, but it’s also possible to be racking up the gold while everyone else is dead.  I don’t really see a reason to keep playing if you know you’ve won.  Maybe it’s not that obvious.  It may be quick enough that you’d want to play several rounds, with different Heroes each time.  That’s probably how I’d want to do it.

I can imagine that the Boasting phase would get kind of silly, and that’s probably the appeal of the game.  I think I’d like to see more possible Boasts, but there it is.  Maybe that’s an expansion.  At any rate, it seems more fun than a standard auction.

Donald X. Vaccarino games always seem to feature vairable set-ups that determine the flow of the game from the outset.  This seems to be no different.  I don’t know how well it will be received, but it has raised twice its goal as of now, with 45 hours to go in the Kickstarter campaign.  Check it out if your interested, and thanks for reading!

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It’s a semi-annual tradition.  Rio Grande puts out a new Dominion expansion, I take a look at it on the blog.  The newest one is:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Dominion: Dark Ages is the seventh expansion to the popular deckbuilding game (following Intrigue, Seaside, Alchemy, Prosperity, Cornucopia, and Hinterlands).  This is supposedly the penultimate expansion to the game – designer Donald X. Vaccarino has said that the next one should be the last.  There’s a certain amount of cynicism surrounding that pronouncement, but I’m willing to take him at his word.  My guess would be that after Guilds (the next expansion), the system might get rebooted into something else.  We’ll see.

Dark Ages was released at GenCon, and I saw a ton of copies on the shelf, at least on Thursday on Friday.  We walked by the store on Saturday and the guy was selling his last 15 at an inflated price, which I thought was pretty classless.  Nevertheless, they all got sold.  This is probably the biggest expansion so far – the 500 cards includes 31 new action card types (10 of each), a new treasure card (10), a victory card (12), 20 Rats cards, 10 Knight cards, 35 randomizers, 5 Ruins cards (10 of each), 3 shelter cards (6 of each), 15 Spoils, 10 Madmen, and 10 Mercenaries.  My tradition is to go through each card and give some initial thoughts on each, so beware of spoilers ahead if you don’t want to know what’s coming in the set.

We’ll start with the Shelters.  These replace the Estates in your starting hand if you’re only using Dark Ages cards (you get one of each type).  Each has a cost of 1, though you can’t actually buy them, and they have no supply pile – they only have a cost so they can interact with some other cards.  Each has a small benefit associated with them.

  • Hovel (reaction): Can be trashed when you buy a victory card.  It’s like you’re moving out of a broken down shack into something nicer.
  • Necropolis (action): Gives you two additional actions.  Which is always nice to have.
  • Overgrown Estate (victory): Worth 0 points, and gives you +1 card when trashed.  So you trash this one and replace it with a new card from your deck.

These seem much better than Estates, just because they’re a little less useless.  Now, let’s take a look at the kingdom cards (35 of them):

  • Altar (action, cost 6): Trash a card from your hand, and gain another costing up to 5.  So you could dump a copper for a Market?  Nice, no wonder this is so expensive.
  • Armory (action, cost 4): Gain a card costing up to 4, putting it on top of your deck.  I can see this creating a nasty combo of gaining lots of armories in subsequent turns.  Good thing there are no extra actions involved.
  • Band of Misfits (action, cost 5): This is like a wild card.  You can use it as an action card in the supply that costs less until the end of your turn.  So, you can’t use it as a treasure or a victory card, but it still could be quite useful.
  • Bandit Camp (action, cost 5): Gain a Spoils from the Spoils pile.  Spoils are a treasure that get you 3 coins, but are returned to the Spoils pile once used.  It’s not part of the supply, so it doesn’t contribute to the end game if it runs out.  Seems interesting – a treasure that is not yours forever.  Hmm.
  • Beggar (action/reaction, cost 2): Gain 3 Coppers into your hand.  When another player attacks, you gain two Silvers, putting one on top of your deck.  The Silvers might be worth it, but the Copper isn’t.  Not unless you have the Coppersmith or something.
  • Catacombs (action, cost 5): You can look at the top three cards of your deck and keep them, or discard them and draw the next three.  So, no matter what, you get three new cards, but you have a little control over what you get (or, rather, what you don’t get).  You can also gain a cheaper card when you trash it, which might be nice if forced to trash something.
  • Count (action, cost 5): You can either discard 2 cards, put a card from your hand on top of your deck, or gain a Copper.  You can also choose +3 coin, trash your hand, or gain a Duchy.  That…could be interesting.  I need to see it in action.  Could be awesome.  Discard two good cards and trash the rest, or gain a Copper and +3 coin to put you over the top for a Province, or save that Gold until next time and get a free Duchy.  Yes.  Very possibly awesome.
  • Counterfeit (treasure, cost 5): This is the one kingdom treasure card.  It gets you 1 money, then allows you to play a treasure from your hand twice, trashing the treasure after use.  Might be a good way to double the value of your Coppers before dumping them.  Still, not quite seeing the greater benefit here.
  • Cultist (action/attack/looter, cost 5): Gives you +2 cards, and each other player gains a Ruins (which are slightly better than Curses – more on them later).  Additionally, if you have another Cultist in your hand, you may play it.  When you trash the Cultist, you get +3 cards.  This sounds VICIOUS if you have a bunch of them.  Maybe Dominion: Cthulhu should be a future expansion…
  • Death Cart (action/looter, cost 4): You get +5 coin to spend and may trash an action card from your hand.  If you don’t, you trash the Death Cart.  This seems way powerful for a 4-cost card – until you find out that you gain two Ruins when you gain the Death Cart.  I guess you have to decide if it’s worth it.
  • Feodum (victory, cost 4): This is the only victory card in the kingdom set (except for Dame Josephine).  It gives you 1 point for every three Silvers in your deck, and gives you three Silvers for trashing it.  Interesting that you can trash a Feodum to make your other Feodums more valuable.
  • Forager (action, cost 3): You get an extra action and an extra buy.  You can also trash a card in your hand, then get +1 coin per differently named treasure in the trash.  Could be very valuable.
  • Fortress (action, cost 4): You get an extra card and two more actions.  When you trash it, you put it into your hand.  That’s nice – a card protected from being trashed.
  • Graverobber (action, cost 5): A choice with this one – gain a card from the trash costing 3-6 (it goes on top of your deck), or trash an action from your hand and gain a card costing up to 3 more than it.  I like it.
  • Hermit (action, cost 3): You can look through your discard pile, and either trash a card from there or from your hand (as long as it isn’t a treasure).  You also gain a card costing up to 3.  If you discard it without buying anything, you trash it instead and gain a Madman.  The Madman gives you 2 extra actions.  If you then return it to the Madman pile, you get an extra card for every card in your hand.  VERY NICE.  Gives you an incentive not to buy anything when the Hermit comes into play.
  • Hunting Grounds (action, cost 6): You draw four more cards.  When you trash it, you either gain a Duchy or three Estates.  It would probably be good in the early game, and then you can dump it for points.  Nice.
  • Ironmonger (action, cost 4): You get an extra card and action.  You then reveal the top card from your deck, and may discard it.  Whether you or don’t, you get +1 action if it’s an action, +1 coin if it’s a treasure, and +1 card if it’s a victory card.  Sounds fairly useful.
  • Junk Dealer (action, cost 5): You draw a card, get an extra action, and have an extra coin to spend.  You can also trash a card from your hand.  Since so many cards give you benefits when trashed, this makes the Junk Dealer quite valuable to have.
  • Knights (each cost 5): Knights are a bit different.  There are 10 different knights, shuffled up and placed in a pile.  You can only gain the top one.  Each one forces the other players to reveal the top two cards of their deck, trash one costing 3-6, and discard the other.  This is a pretty mean attack, but you can fight back by trashing a knight, forcing the attacker to trash their knight as well.  Each knight does have a special action associated with it:
    • Dame Anna: Trash up to two cards from your hand.
    • Dame Josephine: This is a victory card worth 2 points.
    • Dame Molly: You get two extra actions.
    • Dame Natalie: You may gain a card costing up to 3.
    • Dame Sylvia: You get 2 coin to spend this turn.
    • Sir Bailey: You get an extra card and an extra action.
    • Sir Destry: Draw two cards.
    • Sir Martin: You get two extra buys this turn.
    • Sir Michael: Each other player discards down to 3 cards in their hand.
    • Sir Vander: When you trash Sir Vander, you gain a Gold.
  • Marauder (action/attack/looter, cost 4): You gain a Spoils from the Spoils pile, and every other player gains a Ruins.  Spoils are only temporary, and Ruins aren’t as bad as Curses, so I don’t know about this one.
  • Market Square (action/reaction, cost 3): You draw a card, get an extra action, and get an extra buy.  When you trash a card, you can discard the market square to gain a Gold.  So, even though it’s missing the extra coin from the base game Market, it costs two less and seems more valuable to me.  I would probably load up on these.
  • Mystic (action, cost 5): You get an extra action and two coin to spend.  You can name a card, and reveal the top card of your deck.  If it’s the named card, you put it in your hand.  This seems like a gamble, but if you know exactly what’s on top of your deck, this might be very useful.
  • Pillage (action/attack, cost 5): The action here is to trash the card.  Each other player with five or more cards in hand reveals their hand and discards one that you choose.  You then gain two Spoils.  I like this attack – you can deduce what your opponent is going to do and remove an important card from their plan, but the attack is limited because you have to trash it to use it.  Cool.
  • Poor House (action, cost 1): A kingdom card that costs 1!  It gives you +4 coin to spend, but you must reveal your hand and subtract one for each treasure card in your hand (no less than 0).  That’s interesting that it only helps if you don’t have a lot of money.  Might be good if your deck is clogged with victory cards.  I don’t know how many times I’ve only had one coin to spend and had to pass because I didn’t want a Copper.
  • Procession (action, cost 4): Play an action from your hand twice (a la the Throne Room), then trash it and gain a new action card costing exactly one more than it.  That sounds pretty nice – use an action twice, then get something better.
  • Rebuild (action, cost 5): You get an extra action, then name a card.  Reveal cards until you reach a victory card that is not the one you named.  Trash the card, and gain a victory card costing up to 3 more.  Discard the others.  This looks like a nice way to upgrade your victory cards without spending anything.
  • Rogue (action/attack, cost 5): You get +2 coin.  If there are any cards in the trash pile costing 3-6, gain one.  Otherwise, each other player reveals two cards from the top of their deck, trash one costing 3-6 and discard the other.  This is like a Knight, but without the danger of having to trash your own.
  • Sage (action, cost 3): You get an extra action, and reveal cards from the top of your deck until you reveal one costing 3 or more.  That card goes into your hand, and the rest get discarded.  Not too great, I suppose, but maybe a good way to cycle through your deck.
  • Scavenger (action, cost 4): You get 2 coin to spend, and may put your deck into your discard pile.  You then look through your discard pile and put one card on the top of your deck.  So, you can discard your deck, then look through everything to find one card.  That would be cool.
  • Squire (action, cost 2): You get 1 coin to spend, and choose +2 actions, +2 buys, or gain a Silver.  When you trash the Squire, you gain an Attack card.  The choice is nice to have, but there wouldn’t be a point to trashing it with no Attacks in play.
  • Storeroom (action, cost 3): You get an extra buy.  There’s then a two step discard process – you can discard any number of cards, gaining one card per discard; you can then again discard any number of cards, and get +1 coin per discard from the second time.  Seems a little convoluted, might be fun.
  • Urchin (action/attack, cost 3): +1 card and +1 action, and all other players discard down to 4 cards in their hands.  If you play another attack card while the Urchin is in play, trash the Urchin and gain a Mercenary.  The Mercenary allows you to trash 2 cards from your hand.  If you do, you get 2 cards and 2 coin, and each other player discards down to 3 cards in their hand.  Unlike Madman and Spoils, you can keep this one after playing it, but like the other specials, it’s not a part of the Supply and can’t be bought.
  • Vagrant (action, cost 2): +1 card and +1 action.  You then reveal the top card of your deck and add it to your hand if it’s a Curse, Ruins, Shelter, or Victory card.  It would be a good way to cycle through some garbage, and you might get something useful.  We’ll see, not too sure right now.
  • Wandering Minstrel (action, cost 4): +1 card and +2 actions.  You reveal the top 3 cards of your deck, put actions on top in any order, and discard the rest.  It would be bad to get rid of treasures, but it would be nice to stack some actions.

Ruins are dealt out by Looters.  There are 50 Ruins cards that you shuffle, and only use 10 for 2 players, 20 for 3, 30 for 4, 40 for 5, and 50 for a full six player game. Like Knights, you assign the top card in player order when passing them out.  They are actions, they can be bought, and they are part of the Supply.  As I mentioned, they’re slightly better than Curses.  They don’t really do much, though they do do a little:

  • Abandoned Mine: +1 coin.
  • Ruined Library: +1 card.
  • Ruined Market: +1 buy.
  • Ruined Village: +1 action.
  • Survivors: Look at the top card of your deck, discard them or put them back in any order.

So there you have it.  Lots of stuff to do with trashing cards and upgrading things.  I’m looking forward to playing it sometime soon once it finds its way into my gaming group.  Thanks for reading!

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It’s that time of year again, where the eyes of the gaming world turn to Germany and the annual awarding of the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year). The SdJ has been around since 1979, and is commonly thought to be the most prestigious award in board games. It’s like the Oscars. Criteria for the award include originality, clarity of rules, ease of play, and quality of design. It is important to note that, since this is a German award, the only games that are eligible are those that have been released in Germany within the last year.

Last year, I dedicated a post to each nominee (as well as a post to the nominees for the Kennerspiel des Jahres). This year, I’m going to combine the nominees for the SdJ into one post, and will include some uninformed and completely baseless predictions.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

The first nominee is Eselsbrücke (English translation: Donkey Bridge). The game was designed by Ralf zur Linde and Stefan Dorra and published by Schmidt Spiele. There’s no English version, though I’m sure there will be if it wins the big prize. The game is for 3-12 players aged 8 and up. It’s a memory/storytelling game where you’re building stories off of cards. There are seven rounds. In the first two rounds, players will take three pictures and invent a story that will help the other players remember the pictures. They’ll then put the cards face down on their board in the appropriate spaces. In the third round, you’ll get more cards for a story. You then pass out the cards from the first round. Players then take turns naming one of the cards from the story (not the one they got). If you’re right, you get the card as a point. If you make a mistake or can’t remember, you’ll lose points by giving up cards (though you can never go negative). If no one made a mistake, the storyteller gets a blocker card on top of their points cards. When a blocker card comes up as you lose points, it means that you can stop giving up points for now (you also give up the blocker). This process repeats through the fifth round. In the sixth and seventh rounds, no new stories are told, just guessed. The player with the most points wins, with ties broken by blockers.

Eselsbrucke seems like a good storytelling experience that seems like it is actually a game. Unlike something like Once Upon a Time, there’s a goal and a limit to how you play. It seems like you have good incentive to tell good stories so you can get blockers, important for limiting your damage as well as breaking ties. It’s also interesting that it’s a memory game, as that genre is not usually seen as having much weight in the gaming industry. But I think the stories will really help people who are traditionally bad at remembering. Eselsbrücke seems like a really good family game, and one that I hope makes the transition to the States at some point.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

The next nominee is Kingdom Builder. I actually know something about this one as I covered it on the blog before it was released at last year’s Essen Spiel. As a reminder, this is a game from designer Donald X. Vaccarino and Queen Games. It’s for 2-4 players aged 8 and up, and takes about 45 minutes to play. The game is about building up your kingdom by building settlements across the land. You have one terrain card which you play, then place three settlements in unoccupied matching terrain hexes that are adjacent to settlements you already have. If you build next to a location, you claim a location tile that gives you more actions on future turns. The game ends after someone has built their last settlement. You collect gold based on your proximity to castles, and you also get gold based on three Kingdom Builder cards that will change the scoring conditions for each game.

I have not yet played Kingdom Builder, but I’ve been watching it since last fall. Play seems very simple, and the game looks quite beautiful. A lot of the complaints I’ve heard about the game center on the lack of control you have over where you place and the relative randomness of the game. Scoring comes from three random cards drawn at the beginning, and you only get one card to use when placing your settlements. The one card, however, is reminiscent of Carcassonne where you draw a tile and that’s what you have to work with, so you need to make the most of it. The random scoring conditions are something I’ve come to expect from Donald “Mr. Variety” Vaccarino. It seems to be a style he’s developing, that no two games will ever be the same. I commented in my original post that I didn’t think Kingdom Builder would revolutionize gaming like Dominion, and it hasn’t. Still, an SdJ nomination is nothing to sneeze at.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

The final nominee is Vegas. This is a medium box game from alea and designer Rüdiger Dorn. It’s a very light dice rolling game for 2-5 players aged 8 and up that takes 25 minutes to play. Basically, you’re rolling dice to try and earn money at six different casinos. On your turn, you roll your dice, then choose one number and add all dice of that number to its corresponding casino. The next person then rolls, and so on. When it gets back to you, you reroll all remaining dice, and the process continues until everyone has added all dice to casinos. You then look at all casinos, and if anyone added the same number of dice to any one casino as another player, those dice are removed. Players then get paid out – there is at least $50,000 at each casino, with banknotes in denominations of $10k-$90k. The player with the most dice in a location gets the highest present banknote, and everyone else that is still there goes in descending order. After each casino has paid out, you restock the casinos with money and go again. The player with the most cash after four rounds is the winner.

I had heard that this game was pretty light, but after reading the rules, I’m kind of surprised just how light it is. alea is known for some pretty heavy stuff, but even their lighter fare (like Witch’s Brew) doesn’t seem nearly this light. There may be some strategic choices in determining which cash pile you are going for, but you’re still gambling on dice rolling. That’s a big push-your-luck element, which I normally like. However, it doesn’t seem that interesting to me here. The money distribution is a lot like Cash ‘n Guns, which I don’t really like (mostly because I’m always dead by the fifth round).

PREDICTION TIME!

I don’t usually do too well with my predictions. Since I started trying, I got Dominion in 2009, but guessed Roll Through the Ages in 2010 (Dixit won) and Forbidden Island last year (Qwirkle won). I guess I’m glad that Matt Leacock isn’t nominated this year, maybe I’ll have a shot. Wait, he was nominated in 2009 too. Crud.

Eselsbrücke was the only nominee I hadn’t heard of before its nomination. That may be because it’s a German game and hasn’t made it to the States. However, looking through the rules, I really like the concept. My wife is a librarian, and we’re always looking for good story based games. I think this one will encourage more actual storytelling than Dixit, whose main appeal (I think) was the art. Dixit’s recent win may hurt Eselbrücke’s chances, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Eselsbrücke will win the 2012 Spiel des Jahres. I think it has novel mechanisms, good replayability, and really encourages interaction in a way the other two really don’t.

Kingdom Builder has been a frontrunner for a while, and most people were sure it was a lock for the nomination. I think it’s probably deserved. It seems like a really simple gateway game that features a lot of replayability. It may not be the most novel game, but I think that since every game is different than the previous one, it gives Kingdom Builder a good shot. It’s not very interactive, but people bumping into each other on the board should provide some good tension. I strongly considered making it my pick, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it won. Vaccarino’s win for Dominion may hurt Kingdom Builder’s chances – the last time a designer won the SdJ for the second time was 2004 (Alan R. Moon for Ticket to Ride). Stefan Dorra has never won – he was last nominated in 2006 for Buccaneer.

I’m putting Vegas down as my long shot. While it’s light and easy to understand, I think it’s probably a little too light and dependent on luck. Like Kingdom Builder, I don’t think it’s very interactive, and it seems more like a race to roll the right numbers. I would be surprised, and probably a little dismayed, to see Vegas win. And it’s too bad – Rüdiger Dorn has been designing games for a while with no wins (last nominated in 2005 for Jambo), and alea has surprisingly never won (though Puerto Rico should have won in 2002 over Villa Paletti).

So there you have it. I’ll be back soon with the nominees for the Kennerspiel des Jahres. I think I’m going to skip the Kinderspiel this year – listen to the Spiel if you want to find out about those. Thanks for reading!

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I never played Android, Fantasy Flight’s 2008 cyberpunk murder mystery.  People thought it was too long, confusing, frustrating, and way too cluttered.  But most people were very positive about the theme and the world that was created.  Now a new game is coming out in that universe, a game called…

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Infiltration is a 45-minute game for 2-6 players aged 14 and up from Fantasy Flight Games.  It was designed by Mr. Dominion himself, Donald X. Vaccarino.  The game is a kind of push-your-luck, take-that, modular exploration game.  You and your fellow players are thieves breaking into the mega-corporation CyberSolutions Inc. to steal data.  You want to grab as much as you can and get out before it’s too late.

Full disclosure here – I playtested the game.  I think it’s OK to say that since my name is in the rulebook that just got released.  I can’t talk about the prototype version, so don’t ask, but suffice to say that I was interested enough to be looking forward to the release.  I will be interested to see what they’ve done with it since I tried the game.  I’m not otherwise affiliated with Fantasy Flight in any way – I’m not getting anything for this blog post, just trying to fan the flames of interest in the game.

Infiltration comes with 114 cards – 32 room cards, 6 operative cards, 30 action cards, 35 item cards, 6 special cards, and 5 NPC cards.  There are also 149 tokens, including 6 operative markers (that also come with plastic stands), 117 data file tokens, 13 lab worker/tech lock tokens, and 13 interface tokens.  There a d6 in the game, and it just wouldn’t be a modern Fantasy Flight product without a dial – this one is called the security tracker.

Layout – image by BGG user Abyad

At the start of the game, you’ll deal out 13 room cards – 6 first level cards, 6 second level cards, and one secret room – and put them face down in the pattern seen to the left.  The first level cards represent the first floor of the facility, where you’ll enter.  After going across those six, you’ll be able to move up to the second level.  You also may be able to access the secret room at some point, so it is in the center of the layout.  Each player gets four item cards (random) and four action cards (advance, retreat, interface, and download – each player gets one of each).  Players also get one operative and place it on the first room card, which you reveal and resolve.  The first player gets the die and the security tracker, which is set to 0 for both proximity and alarm.

You’ll play over an indeterminate number of rounds.  During each round, there are four phases – selection, resolution, NPC, and security.

SELECTION: In this phase, you’re going to choose an action or an item card to play.  Once everyone has chosen, you move on.

RESOLUTION: In player order, each person will reveal their chosen card and resolve it.  Here’s what could happen:

  • Advance – Your character moves forward one card.  If it is flipped face down, you’ll flip it face up.  If it has an “enter” function, you resolve it.  If you’re standing on the last card in the building, you can’t use this option.
  • Retreat – Your character moves back one card.  If it has an “enter” function, you resolve it.  If you are on the entry card, you escape the facility and cannot participate in the game any more.
  • Interface – If the card your character is standing on has an “interface” function and an interface token, you can choose this option.  After using the function, you may need to remove the token, meaning no one else can perform it.
  • Download – If you choose this, you can collect data tokens from the card (if there are any left).  If you are the first one to download this turn, you get two.  Everyone else gets one.  The data tokens are face down, and are valued at 1-3 points.  If there are no more data tokens, you’ve wasted a download.
  • Items – Items give you a special ability.  Whereas action cards go back into your hand after playing, items can go back into your hand, discarded, or removed from the game.

NPC: After everyone has resolved their actions, any NPCs (non-player characters) on the board are activated.  What they can do is shown on their card.

SECURITY: The final thing that happens in a round is that the first player rolls the die.  Add the alarm level (which can never be more than 8), and increase the proximity tracker that number.  The game ends when the proximity dial hits 99, and everyone who has not left the facility loses.  If you haven’t reached 99, pass the security dial and keep playing.

The game either ends when all players have escaped, or when the proximity dial hits 99.  Everyone who made it out adds up their data, and a winner is declared.

Push your luck games always seem to go over well in my house.  They may not be the most strategic, but they appeal to our sense of adventure.  There’s a lot of luck to be pushed here, both in how far into the facility you’re willing to go, and what actions or items you’re going to program for your turn.  That’s another thing that appeals to me – I always like games with programmable actions.  Here, you’re only planning one turn at a time, but you have to try to figure out what your opponents are going to do, particularly if you’re later in the turn order.

Donald X. Vaccarino seems to like putting a lot of variability into his games, and this game seems to be no different.  With 32 possible rooms and only 13 used during the game, there will probably never be two identical layouts (especially if the expansions come as fast and furious as I suspect they will if this game is a hit).  Throw in the different items and several variants in the rules, and you’ve got yourself a pretty replayable game.

As I said, I’m very interested to see how this game looks in its final form.  It’s definitely one I’m looking forward to playing some more.  Thanks for reading!

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It’s arguable that there hasn’t been a game in the 21st century with as much influence as our next selection in our ongoing series of the ABCs of Gaming.  D is for…

image by BGG user monteslu

Dominion was first published in 2008 by Rio Grande Games, designed by Donald X. Vaccarino (2-4 players, ages 8 and up, 30 minutes to play).  The game is about building up a kingdom, but the theme is largely unimportant.  The real attraction of the game is the deck-building mechanism that it introduced, which then gave birth to a whole genre of games – the DBG, or deck-building game.  For purposes of this poll, Dominion and its first expansion, Intrigue, were combined into one entry, even though they are counted as separate games on BGG (with both in the Top 10, but Intrigue two spaces higher).  Dominion’s 41.9% rate on the poll was not the highest percentage of the whole list, but more people voted for Dominion than any other game across all polls.

Dominion is a card game and comes with 500 cards.  Among thoses are 252 kingdom cards, 130 treasure cards (Copper, Silver, and Gold), 48 victory cards (1-pt Estates, 3-pt Duchies, and 6-pt Provinces), 30 curse cards (-1 pt), 33 placeholder cards, and 7 blank cards to make it an even 500.  The storage tray was designed with slots to fit every different type of card and works pretty well – however, these inserts do not help with carrying all expansions in a single box (something that AEG has been trying to fix with their DBGs).  Each player begins the game with the same 10 cards – 3 Estates and 7 Copper.  The remaining treasure and point cards are placed in the display, along with 10 randomly selected kingdom card decks, each consisting of 10 cards (except for Gardens, which has 12).

Dominion is turn-based, and each turn can be boiled down to a simple mnemonic device that goes along well with this series: ABCD.  A is for ACTION, where you can play one action card from your hand.  This action card may give you other actions, extra cards, extra money to spend, extra buys, or other special abilities.  Attacks go after other players; reactions are things done in response to other players.  Part of the fun of the game is trying to create combos of actions – play a Village, which allows you to draw a card and gives you two more actions; follow it with a Market, which gives you a card, another action, an extra buy, and another coin to spend; play a Witch, which allows you to draw two cards and gives everyone else a Curse; then end it off with a Chapel, which allows you to trash (discard from the game) worthless cards from your deck.

After playing your action (or actions with a combo), move on to the next step: B is for BUY.  You can use the treasure in your hand to buy one card from the display.  You’re not technically spending your money as it will stay in your deck – you’re just using it to acquire more cards.  Some actions give you more buys, but you can’t spend more money than you have available.

After your buy(s), C is for Clean-Up.  Take any cards left in your hand, any cards you played, and any cards you acquired, and place them in your discard pile.  End your turn with D is for Draw, drawing five new cards into your hand.  If there aren’t enough cards in your deck to draw, draw what you can, shuffle your discards, and continue drawing.

The game continues until the pile of Provinces (the 6-pt cards) is gone, or until any three piles are gone.  At that point, everyone counts up the points in their deck, and the player with the most wins.

When Dominion came out in 2008, it set the world of gaming on fire.  Deck building was not new – CCGs like Magic: The Gathering are games where you build a deck for competition, a deck that will be different than your opponents and that will hopefully give you some advantages.  Deck building was not a mechanism of the game, however – it was more like a pregame ritual.  Dominion marked the first time anyone successfully turned deck building into a game.  You have to build your engine throughout the game, trying to produce tons of points at the endgame.  You could try to get points at the start, but point cards generally did not provide any in-game benefit (this was changed in some expansions), so generally, early turns are spent acquiring actions and money.  You want to try to get actions that will combo with other actions, giving you a string of things you can do with more cards, more buys, and more money to spend.  There are lots of different strategies to pursue, and since the game changes every time, you’ll never play the same game twice.

I know I’ve talked about the expansions on the blog before, but as a quick overview: Intrigue, the first expansion, was the only standalone expansion in the series (meaning that you didn’t need the base game to play).  It added more interaction between players, as well as choices between options on the cards.  Seaside introduced duration cards, those that could be played one turn and kept until the next.  It also gave the first extra tokens and player mats seen in the series.  Alchemy gave us potions, extra treasures needed to buy certain cards.  Prosperity emphasized money, adding very expensive cards, colonies (worth 10 points), and platinum (worth 5 money).  Cornucopia tried to get people to have variety in their decks, while Hinterlands gave you extra things you could do while gaining cards.

This game was the clear winner in the D category, and I heartily agree.  It won the Spiel des Jahres in 2009, a well-deserved honor that emphasized its value as a family game.  I think it’s a pretty good gateway game as well.  With simple rules and engaging gameplay, I think it’s pretty accessible to a wide range of players.  Even if they don’t get it right away, there’s enough there to keep them coming back, and I think that’s key.  There’s been some that argue against it, saying deck-building is not a natural mechanism for people to grasp.  Well, fine, but I would argue that Dominion is a good enough game to make it more natural.  As the DBG spreads more throughout gaming, I think Dominion will be seen as the way to get in.

In second place came Dominant Species, last year’s big hit from GMT and Chad Jensen.  That game about evolving different species has really captured the hearts of a lot of people, and I still need to play it.  Dixit, the 2010 Spiel des Jahres winner from designer Jean-Louis Roubira, came in third.  This is a party-style game about coming up with stories based on art, and then guessing what the storyteller had in mind.  The classic 1979 game Dune (designed by the same team that did Cosmic Encounter) came in fourth.  This political game set in Frank Herbert’s world is really not my cup of tea, but it’s being reprinted soon by Fantasy Flight as Rex (set in the Twilight Imperium universe).  Descent: Journeys in the Dark was #5 – a Kevin Wilson designed dungeon crawl which is really a lot of fun, and is getting a second edition soon.  Dungeon Lords (from my boy Vlaada Chvátil) came in #6.  Other was #7, and nominees included Dice Town, Diplomacy, Divine Right, Domaine, The Downfall of Pompeii, Dragon Delta, Dragon Dice, Duel of Ages, Dungeons & Dragons, and Dust Tactics.  #8 was Defenders of the Realm, the Pandemic inspired fantasy co-op from Richard Launius.  Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon Board Game (the second in a recent series of D&D board games) and DVONN (the fourth game of the GIPF project) tied for ninth place.  Dream Factory came in last – this Reiner Knizia designed game has previously been known as Traumfabrik and Hollywood Blockbuster.

Another letter in the books.  What will E be?  Thanks for reading!

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I’m still in denial that the next Dominion expansion isn’t going to be called Dominion: Bestiary.  My guess is that the top brass at Rio Grande altered the laws of time and space to change it to:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Dominion: Hinterlands is the newest expansion for the Dominion system.  It was only three years ago, at Spiel 2008, that Dominion premiered and rocked the world of gaming, introducing this brand new genre now known as deck-building.  Six expansions later (Intrigue, Seaside, Alchemy, Prosperity, Cornucopia, and now Hinterlands), it’s still going strong.  Designed by Donald X. Vaccarino and published by Rio Grande Games, Hinterlands is a big box expansion that includes 26 new kingdom cards.  The theme of this expansion is things you can do when you gain cards.

As is my tradition with the Dominion overviews, I’m going to go through every card and give some initial thoughts.  I make no promises as to the quality of my assumptions.

  • Border Village (cost 6): The Village for this set give you an extra card and two actions when you play it, exactly like the base game Village.  What makes it cost twice as much is the gain power – when you gain a copy, you can also gain another card costing less than the Border Village.  So basically, you’re paying 6 for a Village (normally cost of 3) and something that would typically cost you 5, for a savings of $2 and having the equivalent of two buys.  Seems useful.
  • Cache (cost 5): This is a treasure, worth $3.  It’s $1 cheaper than a Gold – what gives?  Well, you’re gaining two Coppers when you get the Cache.  Newer players to the game may see that as a good deal – hey, you’re getting three treasures for the price of one!  But more experienced players may be leery about getting more Coppers in their hand.  I can imagine that this would work well with a Coppersmith strategy.
  • Cartographer (cost 5): This action gives you a card and an action.  You also get to look at the top 4 cards of your deck, discard however many you want, and put the rest back in any order.  Nice for cleaning out some useless stuff, but I feel like I’ve seen this before.  I just can’t think of it – it’s probably just a variation on another card in another set.
  • Crossroads (cost 2): When you play the Crossroads, you reveal your hand.  For each victory card you have, you get another card.  Plus, if this is your first Crossroads on this turn, you get three more actions.  A nice cheap card that might get you some good stuff.  I like it.
  • Develop (cost 3): You’ll be able to trash a card from your hand and gain two cards in return – one that costs 1 more, and one the costs 1 less.  The gained cards go on top of your deck.  This is a variation on the remodel/upgrade style cards, and if you like those, you’ll probably like this, particularly if gaining cards with another gain action.
  • Duchess (cost 2): This card gives you $2 to spend.  In addition, every player gets to look at the top card of their deck and either discard it or put it back.  You can also get this card for free when you gain a Duchy (but only if the Duchess is in play).  Another cheap card, but you have to know that it might help your opponents as well.
  • Embassy (cost 5): Playing this card gives you five extra cards, which you follow by discarding three (the three don’t have to come from the cards you just drew).  That’s very nice, but when you gain the card, everyone else gets a Silver.  That could be a problem, and would probably make me hesitate about acquiring the card.
  • Farmland (cost 6): This is a victory card, worth 2 VP.  When you buy the farmland (buy, not gain), you trash a card from your hand and gain another card that costs exactly 2 more than the trashed card.  It’s like a Duchy and a Remodel rolled into one.
  • Fool’s Gold (cost 2): This is both a treasure card and a reaction.  On the treasure side, the first one you play in a turn is worth $1.  All others you play in that same turn are worth $4.  This means that if you have three, they’re collectively worth $9.  That in itself is a reason to get a bunch of them.  But on the reaction side, you can trash Fool’s Gold when another player gains a Province.  You can then gain a Gold, which goes right on top of your deck.  At a cost of 2, I predict that these cards will go VERY FAST when in the game.
  • Haggler (cost 5): You get an extra $2 to spend.  But it also gets you a free card.  If Haggler is in play, you’ll gain a card (not a victory card) costing less than something else you’re buying.  That’s kind of a cool thematic link – buy a Province, and I’ll throw in this Gold for free.  Could be pretty awesome.
  • Highway (cost 5): You get one card and one action.  While the Highway is in play, all cards cost 1 less.  You could play a bunch of highways and stack the discounts, so you could potentially get something for free.  However, the price can’t go less than 0.  I think that sounds like a good deal, particularly if you get a bunch of these.  It’s less valuable if you just have one – basically a Market without an extra buy.
  • Ill-Gotten Gain (cost 5): Another treasure, this one worth $1.  When you play it, you may gain a Copper into your hand, but you don’t have to.  I would imagine that the reason people would get this card is the gain power: when you gain it, everyone else gets a curse.  So, not a very valuable treasure, but it can do some immediate damage to your opponents.  This is not an attack, so it can’t be blocked by cards like the Moat.
  • Inn (cost 5): You draw two cards, you get two extra actions, and you can discard two cards.  When you gain the Inn, you can look through your discard pile and reveal any number of actions, which you can then shuffle into your deck.  This card seems like it will slow down the game, but it will be really nice to take some action cards back into your deck without having to worry about extra superfluous cards.
  • Jack of all Trades (cost 4): A bunch of actions with this one.  First, gain a Silver.  Next, look at the top card of your deck and discard it or put it back.  Then, draw up to five cards in your hand.  Finally, you may trash a card from your hand as long as it’s not a treasure.  Seems useful, particularly if you have extra actions to blow through.
  • Mandarin (cost 5): An extra $3 to spend, plus you put a card from your hand on top of your deck.  The gain power here is that you put all treasures you currently have in play on top of your deck in any order.  So the money you just used to buy the Mandarin will be in your next hand.  Could be nice.
  • Margrave (cost 5): This gets you three extra cards and an extra buy.  All other players draw a card, then discard down to three cards in their hand.  It’s like the Militia and Council Room in one delicious card.
  • Noble Brigand (cost 4): You get an extra dollar to spend.  When you buy or play the card, the other players reveal their top two cards and trashes a Silver or Gold, your choice (and you keep it).  If they didn’t reveal a treasure, they gain a Copper.  This seems to be an improved Thief, without the problem of accidentally depriving an opponent of a worthless Copper (and the possibility of giving them another one).
  • Nomad Camp (cost 4): Here, you get a buy and $2 to spend.  When you gain it, it goes on top of your deck, so that’ll nice to have.  I like being able to use cards immediately.
  • Oasis (cost 3): Nothing too special here – draw a card, get another action, have another dollar to spend.  You also have to discard a card.  Pretty harmless, could be helpful.
  • Oracle (cost 3): Everyone (you too) reveals the top 2 cards of their deck.  You can either choose for them to discard the cards, or you can choose to put them back on top of their deck.  After this, you draw two cards, so you might draw the cards you just replaced.  It’s an attack sort of similar to the Spy, I guess.
  • Scheme (cost 3): You get a card and an action.  At the start of your clean-up phase, you choose an action you put in play, and put it on top of your deck (as long as you were going to discard it anyway).  This would be good to recycle some actions.
  • Silk Road (cost 4): This victory card is worth one point for every four victory cards in your deck.  I’m a big fan of the Gardens strategy, so I can imagine that I’d be all about trying this one out.  Particularly if you’ve got victory cards with actions so they’re not clogging up your deck.
  • Spice Merchant (cost 4): If you trash a treasure from your hand, you can choose between getting two cards and an action, or $2 and a buy.  Trashing a treasure is apparently optional.  I was going to say something snarky about “why would you play it then”, but then I realized that sometimes you can do things based on the actions you have in play.  This card would be a great way to dump some Coppers, or even those Ill-Gotten Gains you just picked up so others would get cursed.
  • Stables (cost 5): If you discard a treasure (there’s that optional action again), you can draw three cards and get one action.  This is weird – it costs one more than the spice merchant, but it seems very similar.  You discard instead of trash, making it more useful in the long run.
  • Trader (cost 4): Trash a card from your hand, and gain a number of Silvers equal to its cost in coins.  So if you trash Ill-Gotten Gains, you get FIVE SILVERS.  You could also trash a Silver for three Silvers, which is kind of awesome.  This card is also a reaction, allowing you to reveal it when you would gain a card and gain a Silver instead.  This would be a great defense against people handing out Curses or Coppers.  I like it.
  • Tunnel (cost 3): This is a victory card, worth two points.  It’s also a reaction.  If you discard it for any reason other than normal clean up (someone forced you to reduce your hand size, for example), you can reveal it and gain a Gold.  I like this one too.

So that’s the 26 new cards in Hinterlands.  I keep bringing up other cards that seem to be tweaked by cards in this set.  For the most part, they seem to be improvements.  I like the gain abilities, and I have a feeling they’ll serve to speed up the game.  It will be interesting to see how everything works when I get a chance to play.  Thanks for reading!

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As we continue to roll towards Spiel 2011, here’s another new one from Donald X. Vaccarino:

image by BGG user Scott Tepper

Nefarious (The Mad Scientist Game…muahahaha) is being published by Ascora Games.  It’s for 2-6 players aged 8 and up and takes around 30 minutes to play.  Basically, you play competing mad scientists trying to (what else) take over the world.  The theme alone is pretty cool, and throw in the fact that it’s another game from the designer of Dominion, and I want to know more.

A Nefarious box comes with 6 Lair mats, 30 wooden minions, 24 action cards, 64 invention cards, 36 twist cards, and 90 moneybag tokens.  The minions look nice – they’re basically your hunchbacked assistants.  Not those little yellow goobers from Despicable Me – though those guys WERE awesome.  Players begin the game with a Lair, 5 minions, 4 action cards (the same for everyone), 10 money, and 3 invention cards (randomly dealt).  Two twist cards will be drawn and placed face up, affecting gameplay.

A game of Nefarious is divided into rounds.  There are four phases per round: select and reveal action cards, collect bags of money, resolve actions, and check for a winner/retrieve action cards.

SELECT AND REVEAL ACTION CARDS: Choose one of your four action cards (speculate, invent, research, or work), and play it face down.  When everyone’s ready, reveal.

Lair - image by BGG user Scott Tepper

COLLECT BAGS OF MONEY: If you have any minions in the investment areas of your lair (the colored spaces at the top that match the different actions), check to see if your adjacent neighbors played an action matching that space.  If so, you collect one money bag from the supply for each minion present.  You get double in a 2-player game.

RESOLVE ACTIONS: You’ll resolve your actions now in numbered order.  So, all players who selected Speculate go first, followed by all players who chose invent, etc.  Here’s how they work:

  1. Speculate – Pay a certain amount of money to place a minion in one of the spaces on the Lair.  To place in Speculate is free; to place in Research or Work costs one; to place in Invent costs two.
  2. Invent – You’ll choose an invention card and reveal it simultaneously with all other players who chose this action.  You pay the cost, then take the benefit.  Invention cards could allow you to draw or discard invention cards, remove or place minions, or gain or lose money bags.  Effects could target you or the other players.  Inventions get you points as well.
  3. Research – This simply gives you two moneybags and an invention card.
  4. Work – You get four moneybags.

CHECK FOR A WINNER: If at least one player has 20 points, the game is over and the player with the most wins.  However, if there’s a tie, or if no one has enough points, you continue playing until there’s a winner.

This game is really a lot lighter than I was expecting.  I saw the 8+ age range, but it didn’t really connect with me that this game would be quite so simple.  I have no idea about the fun factor, but I can’t imagine that the game would be that replayable.  I haven’t talked about the twist cards yet, which change the rules somewhat.  Without knowing what they are, I couldn’t say whether or not they would significantly change the game play.

I’m also coming at this from an adult gamer perspective.  I bet kids would have a blast with the game, and I can even see people having fun with the theme (maniacal laughter, funny accents, and so on).  A couple of the pieces remind me of other games – collecting money based on your neighbor actions reminds me of 7 Wonders, and the simultaneous action selection is a bit reminiscent of Race for the Galaxy (though not everyone does everything that gets chosen).  Maybe this will be a good gateway game.  I don’t know – I reserve final judgment until I’ve played it.  But of the Vaccarino products coming out at Spiel this year, I’m probably most interested in Dominion: Bestiary (which apparently got changed to Hinterlands since my discovery of the next seven expansions back in April), then Kingdom Builder, then Nefarious.  We’ll see…thanks for reading!

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The next game I’ll be talking about doesn’t interest me because of the theme, but because of the designer.

image by BGG user chaddyboy_2000

Kingdom Builder is the big Essen release for Queen Games.  It was designed by Donald X. Vaccarino, whose last game (and only published game to date) was Dominion.  So there’s going to be a lot of scrutiny here to see how his sophomore effort works.  This is actually one of three games he has coming out soon, though this one is the most visible at the moment.  Kingdom Builder is playable by 2-4 players aged 10 and up, and takes around 45 minutes to play.  The object of the game is to…well…build up your kingdom.  The winner will be the player who is able to collect the most gold.

Boards - image by BGG user chaddyboy_2000

Kingdom Builders comes with a modular board.  There are eight pieces featuring a map on one side, and a scoring track on the other.  There are nine different types of terrain that you’ll come across – grass, canyon, desert, flower field, forest, water, mountain, castles, and a unique location for each board.  There are 28 location tiles, including 2 oracles, 4 farms, 4 taverns, 4 towers, 2 harbors, 4 paddocks, 4 barns, and 4 oasises…oases…oasi?  You also get summary cards for each type.  There are 25 terrain cards, 5 for each of the five types that are suitable for building (grass, canyon, desert, flower field, and forest).  There are also 10 Kingdom Builder cards, only 3 of which will be used in the game.  Finally, there are 160 settlements (wooden houses) and 4 gold markers (little wooden discs), as well as a start player tile.

Layout - image by BGG user chaddyboy_2000

The playing surface is set up by choosing four of the eight boards and assembling them into a rectangle.  One of the unused boards is flipped over, and all players put their gold marker on the first space.  The location summary that matches each board used is placed out, and 2 corresponding location tiles go on each location hex.  Each player gets 40 settlements and a terrain card for their hand.  Three kingdom cards are drawn.  The oldest player gets the start player tile.

A turn works like this: you play your terrain card, you build three settlements, you take an extra action if you can, you draw a new terrain card.  When you play your terrain card, you have to build three settlements in unoccupied hexes of the type shown.  A settlement must be adjacent to one of your existing settlements if possible.  If not, it can go in any matching hex terrain.  This action is mandatory.

If you ever build a settlement next to a location hex, you claim a location tile if there’s one available.  You only get one tile from a location.  This tile is yours for the remainder of the game (unless you move a settlement away from the area).  These tiles give you extra actions (starting on your next turn), which can be completed after your mandatory build settlements action (they aren’t required, however):

  • Oracle – Build an extra settlement on a hex of the same terrain type as the card you played, adjacent if possible.
  • Farm – Build a settlement in a grass hex, adjacent if possible.
  • Oasis – Build a settlement in a desert hex, adjacent if possible.
  • Tower – Build a settlement on the edge of the playing surface in any one of the five available terrains, adjacent if possible.
  • Tavern – Build a settlement at the end of a string (a straight line) of at least three of your own settlements, as long as the terrain is suitable for building.
  • Barn – Move any one of your existing settlements to a hex of the same terrain type as the card you played, adjacent if possible.
  • Harbor – Move any one of your existing settlements to a water hex, adjacent if possible.  This is the only way to get settlements on the water.
  • Paddock – Move one settlement two spaces in a straight line, jumping over anything in the way, to a suitable empty space.  This one does not necessarily have to be adjacent.

After you’ve finished your actions, discard your terrain card and draw a new one.  Play passes to the left.

Once someone has built their last settlement, the end game has been triggered.  You keep playing until the player to the right of the start player finishes their next turn, and then the game ends with everyone having had the same number of turns.  You’ll now calculate your gold.  You earn three gold per castle hex next to which you have built at least one settlement.  Additionally, you get gold based on the Kingdom Builder cards:

  • Fishermen – You get one gold per settlements built adjacent to one or more water hexes.
  • Merchants – You get four gold per castle or location that can be linked through a chain of your settlements to another castle or location.
  • Discoverers – You get one gold per horizontal line of game board space in which you have built one settlement (a horizontal line is parallel to the long side of the board).  This encourages you to spread out.
  • Hermits – You get one gold for each settlement cluster, and for each settlement that is by itself.
  • Citizens – You get one gold for every two settlements in your largest cluster.
  • Miners – You get one gold for each settlement built adjacent to one or more mountain hexes.
  • Workers – You get one gold per settlement built next to a castle or location hex.
  • Knights – You get two gold for each settlement built on the single horizontal line with the most settlements.
  • Lords – For each quadrant of the board, you get 12 gold for building the most settlements, and 6 gold for the next highest.  Tied players all get the full amount.
  • Farmers – You get three gold for each of your settlements in the quadrant that contains the fewest of your settlements.

The player with the most gold wins.

This looks like an extremely simple game.  You don’t have a lot of decisions to make on your turn, and in fact are limited to what you can do by the card you draw.  Strategies will largely be determined by the Kingdom Builder cards, and will change every game.  The board layout also changes, so even if you do get the same combination of  goals, it’s unlikely that you’ll get the same combination of goals with the same board setup.  That variability is something we saw a lot of in Dominion, along with the loose medieval theme.  Other than that, there’s not a whole lot of comparison between these two Vaccarino games.

This game is not Dominion.  I highly doubt that Kingdom Builder is going to revolutionize the gaming industry the way Dominion did, but then, that’s a lofty standard to be held to.  Apart from the absolutely gorgeous board layout, I don’t know that this game offers a whole lot in the way of depth.  I’m sure it’s a fine game for families and people looking for lighter Euro fare, but I don’t think it will really catch on with a lot of gamers.  The draw one card and play it aspect in particular might not appeal to people who would like some choice – I’m guessing some people will be advocating a hand of three cards to choose from when playing (as some people like to do with Carcassonne).  That’s not to say that I don’t want to play – I do.  I’m interested to see how the Kingdom Builders work together to create different experiences, as well as the way extra actions from location tiles will help your strategies along.  I’m interested to try it, I just don’t know if it has legs to last for long in a collection.  Thanks for reading!

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Dominion: Cornucopia - image by BGG user senseless

It’s that time of year again – time for Rio Grande to roll out its latest expansion for the best-selling phenomenon that is Dominion.  This time, it’s Cornucopia, a small expansion along the lines of last year’s Alchemy.  The box comes with 13 new kingdom card sets, as well as 5 prize cards that can be acquired.  Each expansion so far has had something new to bring to the table when playing: Intrigue added interest to the game by adding lots of cards with choices to be made; Seaside brought in tokens for use with specific cards and introduced duration cards, which had lasting effects; Alchemy brought potions into play, a new treasure that was required for certain cards to be available; Prosperity upped the money and the stakes.  Cornucopia’s main idea seems to center around encouraging variety in play.  I’m excited about this because that seems to fit my style of play.  I’m always interested in finding out good combinations of cards, and it sometimes frustrates me when people just focus on one thing to purchase every turn.  It always seems to work for them too, and that makes me even crazier.

All Cornucopia Cards - image by BGG user lympi

With this post, I’m going to be going through the information I have about the cards and trying to come to some conclusions.  Here goes:

  • Fairgrounds (cost 6) – This is a kingdom card worth victory points, much like the Gardens in the base set in that its value is dependent on a certain set of conditions.  The Fairgrounds is worth 2 points for every 5 differently named cards you have in your deck (rounded down).  This means that if if every card in a typical game was in your deck (Copper, Silver, Gold, Estate, Duchy, Province, Curse, and one of each of the ten kingdom cards), you’d get 6 points for each Fairgrounds.  Using colonies and platinum from Prosperity takes the total up more.  Add some extra cards from the Black Market, Tournament, or Young Witch, and it could go higher.  I love playing with a Gardens strategy, so this is another similar concept I look forward to exploring.
  • Farming Village (cost 4) – This card gives you two more actions and allows you to reveal cards until you come across a treasure or action card.  The original Village gave you two actions and a card as well, but that card could be a victory card or curse that wouldn’t help you, so this one seems a bit better.  It still feels like something I’ve seen before.  I guess they can’t all be big winners.
  • Fortune Teller (cost 3) – This is an attack card that gives you two extra dollars to spend and forces the other players to draw until they get a victory or curse card, which then goes on top of their deck.  This seems a bit like the Bureaucrat, though the victory card comes out of the deck instead of your hand.  It could also serve to make the opponent discard some cards that may or may not be helpful to them.
  • Hamlet (cost 2) – This one gives you a card and an action.  You can also discard a card for another action, or discard a card for another buy, or discard two cards for both.  It seems like this one could be used in some interesting ways, but I’m not seeing them yet.
  • Harvest (cost 5) – For this one, you’re harvesting the top four cards of your deck (drawing and discarding them).  You get one dollar to spend per differently named card.  This is another one that encourages variety – the more different things you have, the more chances you have to make it worth more.  Of course, you run the risk of discarding some cards that would be helpful to you, so I’m not sure I’d be going after this one.  It would be worth at least one, and no more than four, but depending on your card distribution, it could be worth it.
  • Horn of Plenty (cost 5) – This is a treasure card that has a base value of 0 coin.  However, you can use this card to gain another card costing up to one coin per differently named card you have in play.  The catch is that you have to trash the Horn of Plenty if you get a victory card with its power.  It doesn’t count as an extra buy, or an action.  However, it’s probably a good thing to have if you have multiple buys – I know I’m frequently upset when I have $1 leftover with multiple buys.  Having this card should offset that.
  • Horse Traders (cost 4) – This is the reaction card for this expansion, meaning it has effects when someone else plays an action.  Its base power is that you get an extra buy and three extra dollars to spend, but you also must discard two cards.  The reaction is that you’re able to reveal the card from your hand and set it aside when someone else plays an attack card.  It doesn’t protect you like the Moat, but it gives you an extra card and goes back into your hand at the start of your next turn.  Sounds interesting.  It seems like a nice way to get a free card, but the reaction will only help for one turn.
  • Hunting Party (cost 5) – You get an extra card and an extra action.  In addition, you reveal your hand and start drawing cards until you get one that isn’t a duplicate of one in your hand.  That one goes into your hand, and the rest get discarded.  So basically, you get two extra cards and an extra action.  I don’t know if this one is that great – it that it might be pretty easy to get a victory card in your hand.  It seems like the Laboratory with a little more flexibility in getting one of the cards.
  • Jester (cost 5) – Another attack, and this one is kind of nasty.  You get two dollars to spend.  Also, the other players discard the first card from their deck.  If it’s a victory card, they gain a Curse.  Otherwise, either they get a duplicate of that card OR YOU DO.  You can’t gain a copy of the victory cards, which is probably a good thing – if you could grab a free Colony out of this one, it would completely break the game.  I’m eager to bust this one out on some people.
  • Menagerie (cost 3) – You get an extra action.  If you then reveal a hand with no duplicates, you gain three extra cards.  If there are duplicates, you only get one.  It seems like a nice tie in to the theme, rewarding variety.  This sounds like the type of card I’d like to have, particularly with the possibility for three cards to get that second action.
  • Remake (cost 4) – A variation on the Remodel card.  Trash a card and gain a card costing exactly one more.  You get to do this twice.  I never really have been able to figure out the best way to use the Remodel card, and this one seems like it will likewise befuddle me.  It would be a good way to get Coppers out of your hand (gaining nothing in exchange) or upgrading your Estates to more profitable cards.
  • Tournament (cost 4) – You get an action.  Then, every player (including you) may reveal a Province from their hand.  Each player who reveals a Province can gain a Prize or a Duchy (if there are any left), which goes on top of your deck.  If none of your opponents reveal a Province, you get to draw a card and an extra dollar to spend.  Prizes include the Bag of Gold (+1 action and a Gold for the top of your deck); the Diadem (a treasure valued at 2 coin, plus one for each action you have but didn’t use); Followers (+2 cards, gain an Estate, everyone else gains a Curse and discards down to three cards);the Princess (+1 buy and makes cards cost 2 coin less); and the Trusty Steed (you can take two of these actions: +2 cards, +2 actions, +2 coin to spend, or gain 4 Silvers and discard your deck).  The Tournament seems like it might be pretty valuable particularly if you can get a Province long before anyone else.  The Prizes seem like they will be great to have.
  • Young Witch (cost 4) – This is like the Witch, except seemingly less powerful.  You get two cards, but you also must discard two cards.  Each other player must then gain a Curse if they don’t have a Bane card.  Bane cards are an extra supply set of kingdom cards costing 2 or 3 coin (essentially an eleventh kingdom pile) that can be used as protection against the Young Witch.  I think you can still use the power of the cards.  It seems that I would rather have the Witch…but I guess that’s why this one costs one less to buy.

So there you have it.  Is it necessary?  Probably not.  Do I still want it?  Yep.  It just adds more spice and variety to the game, and that’s a good thing.  Hope you enjoyed this completely uninformed analysis – if anyone has played the expansion and wants to weigh in on some of their favorite cards, feel free to comment!  Thanks for reading!

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