Game Buzz: AEG Pocket Games

With GenCon coming up in August, it’s time to brace ourselves for convention season.  I guess it technically started with Origins, but the big releases in the US are coming at GenCon, and then the big European releases are coming at Spiel in October.  We’ll start with AEG, and three games coming out in their so-called “Pocket Games” series.  First up:

image by BGG user Game Geek
image by BGG user Game Geek

Agent Hunter is a new two-player game from designer Mike Elliott.  This 15-minute game is another in the growing genre of compact games that got kicked off with another AEG game, Love Letter.  The theme here is about secret agents – you’re both trying to eliminate the other’s safe houses.

The game comes with 20 agent cards (10 red, 10 blue, each set numbered 0-9) and 10 decoy tokens (5 red, 5 blue).  One player takes the red set of components, the other takes blue.  Each player will choose one of their agents to go in each of three safe houses – place them face down in front of you.

On your turn, you take one action: attack from your hand or safe house, or switch agents.

ATTACK FROM YOUR HAND: Reveal a card from your hand and target a safe house.  The opponent declares whether the agent is higher, lower, or the same as the one in the safe house.  If it is higher or lower, you return your agent to your hand.  If it is the same, your opponent’s safe house is eliminated – your agent is placed on theirs (both are out of the game).

ATTACK FROM YOUR SAFE HOUSE: Reveal an agent in a safe house and target an opponent’s safe house.  If you are higher or lower, your safe house is eliminated with the identical card from your opponent covering it up (if in a safe house, it is replaced from their hand).  If the same, you have eliminated your opponent’s safe house.

SWITCH AGENTS: Reveal an agent from a safe house, then put it back in your hand and replace it.  You may replace it with the same card if you wish.  You spend a decoy token every time you do this.  If your five tokens have been spent, you can’t do it.  Decoy tokens are placed next to any one of your safe houses.

When all three of a player’s safe houses are eliminated, the game is over.  You get one point per safe house you eliminated, plus one point per decoy token next to it.  Whoever has the highest score wins.

Much like its predecessor (Love Letter), Agent Hunter has a deduction element within a small number of cards.  There is inherently some luck in the game as you could hit exactly with one shot.  Unlike Love Letter, however, there aren’t any special abilities on the cards, so this is more of a numbers game.  I’m glad the ability to switch agents is limited, but I find the scoring system at the end odd.  I would think you’d win if you eliminated all of your opponent’s safe houses, but the use of decoy tokens could mean that someone who did not take out safe houses could win.  I know there needs to be some kind of deterrent to switching agents, but still.  It seems a little wonky.

I’m still interested in trying this one out, but I don’t think it’s going to catch on like Love Letter did.  I could be wrong, I guess – people are really digging this tiny game format.  On to the next one!

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Card of the Dead is a 2-5 player card game from designer Motohiro Nakamura.  This 20 minute game is, as you might be able to tell, a zombie game.  However, unlike a lot of the ultra graphic zombie themed games coming out these days, this one looks a lot sillier and cartoony.  You basically are trying to survive.

This game is a little bigger than Agent Hunter, with 56 cards in the box (no tokens, however).  There are three types of cards – zombie cards, action cards, and event cards.  At the beginning of the game, each player draws 10 cards from the deck and chooses up to three action cards with only one movement point (listed in the upper right corner).  This means it is possible that you’ll have no cards, either by choice or necessity.  The rest are returned to the deck and shuffled back in.

On your turn, you draw a card, then you may play a card.

DRAW A CARD: Three things can happen.  If you draw an action card, you put it in your hand.  If you draw a zombie, put it on the table in front of you.  If you draw an event card, follow the instructions.

PLAY A CARD: You can only have action cards in your hand, but these can be used in two different ways.  If you use it as an action, you follow the instructions on the card, then discard it.  If you use it for its movement points, play it in front of you.

If you ever have a set number of zombies in front of you (3-5 depending on the number of players), you are surrounded and can no longer use cards for movement points.  If you ever have 5-7 zombies (again, depending on the number of players), you are eaten and out of the round.

The round ends if  one player is the only one alive, at which point they get five points.  It can also end if a player gets to 5-7 movement points (number of players), at which point all players not eaten get points equal to the number of movement points they have out.  They also get these points if the round ends due to the deck running out.  The game is over after three rounds, and the player with the most points wins.

Zombies don’t really do anything for me, but I do appreciate the ones that don’t focus on the horror and emphasize the ridiculousness of the topic.  This one looks like it falls on that end of the spectrum.  The art all looks pretty silly, and the game is light enough that you could probably have a good time despite its inherent randomness.  I don’t know the exact ratio of cards in the deck, but I imagine it might be possible to only draw zombies and never get an action that will help you.  I guess that’s why you play three rounds.

In summary, I think this is probably a light, silly experience that you can’t take seriously or you will go mad.  Kind of like Zombies!!!, but without the graphic art and way too long playing time.  Next!

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Maximum Throwdown is a 2-6 player game from designer Jason Tagmire.  It’s a 30 minute game where players are throwing cards, attempting to have their icons visible to score points.  There’s not much of a theme, but it looks like you have several factions in the tradition of Smash Up, though without the special abilities.

This is the biggest game of the series with 90 Throwdown cards (6 decks of 15 cards each) and 6 starting location cards (score pad not included).  The locations are laid out on the table and each player gets their deck.  Your turn has five steps:

  1. Evaluate Active Icons: Look at your face up cards to see which icons on them are completely uncovered.  These are active, and will be used in the turn.  The icons are Draw, Throw, Attack, Steal, Break, and Points.
  2. Score Points: For every six pips that are active on your cards (Points icon), you score one point.
  3. Attack and Steal: If you have Attack active, choose an opponent and discard the top card of their deck.  If you have Steal active, draw a card from your opponent’s deck and throw it, face up (they’ll get the actions) or face down.  These may be done in any order, and once per icon.
  4. Draw: Draw one card, plus one for each Draw icon that is active.
  5. Throw: Throw one card, plus one additional card for each Throw icon.  Cards come from your hand – if you can’t throw them all, you’ll return the rest to the top of your deck.  When a card is thrown, it must touch another card or it has missed and is discarded.  You can throw from anywhere, but your arm should not go over the playing surface.

When a player runs out of cards, they can still take their turn by activating icon abilities as long as they have icons visible.  After all players have run out of cards in their deck, the game is over.  There is one final scoring round, and the player with the most points wins.

This game reminds me a lot of FlowerFall from Asmadi Games and Carl Chudyk.  However, it differs in a number of ways.  First, you’re throwing cards, not dropping them.  Second, icons give you special abilities, not just points at the end of the game.  Theme doesn’t seem to matter in either, but this one has more sci-fi/fantasy art instead of flowers.  So which one is better?  No idea.  This game sounds like fun, but one that you can’t put a lot of stock in for strategy.  It’s just one of those games that is good for a group that can get really loud and obnoxious about what they’re doing.

So there’s the Pocket Games series from AEG.  Three small, light card games that presumably can all fit in your pocket (maybe not at the same time).  It’s interesting that AEG has these three games making their debut at GenCon, a place where big games usually rule.  They do have big games going too, but I think there’s a place for these smaller efforts too.  I bet they’re going to go quickly – all three look fast, fun, and probably fairly inexpensive.  I’m looking forward to hearing more about them as people start to play them.  Thanks for reading!

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