Posts Tagged ‘Donald X. Vaccarino’

Rio Grande Games was one of the first American company to really embrace European style games.  Owner Jay Tummelson was instrumental in bringing Settlers of Catan to the US when he worked for Mayfair, and started the company in 1998 with the mission of partnering with European publishers to bring their stuff to the US.  Not known for their original games, RGG did score major hits in 2007 and 2008 with Race for the Galaxy and Dominion.  They haven’t had very many hits since then, but they are producing three games this fall that all look pretty interesting to me.  So, let’s take a look.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Rattlebones is a 2-4 player game from designer Stephen Glenn (of Balloon Cup and 1st & Goal fame).  This 45-minute game is about…well, I’m not exactly sure.  It looks like an amusement park type of game, but from the art, it looks like we’re dealing with possessed toys.  At any rate, it’s a dice-building game where you actually build the dice – all sides are removable and customizable.  This game has been in the RGG lineup since 2011, and now it looks like it is actually coming out.

The game comes with a board, 16 player pawns, 12 board tiles, 12 customizable dice (with 72 starting pip sides), 180 action die sides, 20 gold pieces, 20 star pieces, 5 stock tickets, one gamble die, one Rattlebones pawn, 4 side poppers, and a train.  Seven tiles are randomly placed on the board.  Each player gets three dice (one of each color), and places their three monkey tokens on the start space.  The Rattlebones pawn starts on #55, #60, or #65 of the score track, while players start with their monkey pawn on  0.

On your turn, you roll one die.  If you want to roll 1-2 extra, you can spend 1-2 gold to do so.  Depending on your roll, you’ll get different actions which you can take in any order you wish.  If you roll a number or the Rattlebones icon, you’ll move a pawn.  If you roll Rattlebones, you move the RB pawn one space towards zero.  If you roll a number, you can move one of your pawns exactly that many spaces (it’s a roll and move game!!!).  The space where you land will allow you to add a new side to the die you used to move there.

If you roll an action side, here’s what you can do:

  • Gold – Take a gold piece from the supply.
  • Star – Take a star piece from the supply.  Stars can be sold at the start space – one star will get you 3 points, two will get you 7, three will get you 11, and four stars will get you a whopping 15 points.
  • Roll Again – Roll this die again, as well as a previously unrolled die.  If you roll Roll Again again (wow, that’s an awkward phrase), you can do it again.  If all dice have been rolled when you get Roll Again, you disregard.
  • Train – Earn a number of points equal to the train’s current location.  Then move the train one space.
  • 9-Pip – Move a pawn 1-9 spaces, then add the side shown.
  • 1-5 Points – Score 1-5 points.
  • Thief – Steal a star, gold, or stock from the other players.
  • Arrow – Whichever face is pointed to by the arrow is the action you can take.
  • 1234 – Score points equal to your place on the score track.  So, first place scores one, second scores two, and so on.
  • Stock – Take one of the five stocks.  When all five have been taken, score them.  The player with the most scores 10 points, and the player with second most scores 5.  After scoring, stocks are returned to the supply.
  • x2 – Doubles the number of gold, stars, or points rolled that turn on one die.
  • Gamble – Roll the Gamble die.  If you roll 2-5 points, score them.  If you roll Rattlebones, move him.

If Rattlebones ever reaches one of the pawns on the score track, the game ends and whoever is in front is the winner.  Ties are broken by whoever has the most gold, stars, and stocks.

This game looks super cool.  It’s probably really luck driven, but there are decisions about where to move since you have three pawns and can move either direction.  I just think it sounds fun that you can actually customize dice as you go.  It’s not dice-building like Quarriors, which is deck-building with dice, but it’s actually building and customizing dice.  It’s a great idea, and it’s one that I’m very excited to try out when it finally comes out.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Roll for the Galaxy is one I heard about when the prototype made an appearance at the Gathering of Friends in 2010.  The game, which is a dice version of Race for the Galaxy, was designed by Wei-Hwa Huang and Thomas Lehmann.  It’s a 2-5 player game that lasts 45 minutes.  Your dice are your people, and you will be using them to develop technology, settle worlds, and ship goods.

Roll for the Galaxy comes with five dice cups, five credit markers, 5 player mats, 5 player screens, 5 player strips, 9 faction tiles, 9 home world tiles, 55 game tiles, a cloth bag, 33 VP chips, 5 phase tiles, and 111 custom dice.  Players draw two game tiles from the bag, placing them in their construction zone – one development side up, one world side up.  You also put three white (home) dice in your cup, and two white dice in your citizenry.  Worlds will grant you more dice, either for your cup, citizenry, or to be used as a good.

In a round, you complete five steps – roll, assign, reveal, resolve phases, and manage your empire.  For the ROLL step, each player rolls all dice in their cups behind their screens.  For the ASSIGN step, you’ll place each matching die face underneath its match on the phase strip – explore, develop, settle, produce, ship.  You can assign one of these dice to a space on the phase strip, which chooses the action you want to do for the round.  You can use any worker for this, it doesn’t have to match the phase.

For the REVEAL step, each player lifts their screen and announces the phase they have selected.  Any unchosen phases will not be used, and dice assigned to them are put back in your cup.

For the PHASES step, you go through and resolve the phases that were selected.  If no one chose it, you don’t do it.

  • Explore can be used to scout for a new tile – draw a tile, examine it, choose if it will be a world or a development, then put it on the bottom of its construction stack.  You can abandon tiles in construction stacks to draw more tiles.  You could also use explore to stock, taking two galactic credits.
  • Develop can be used to work on developments.  Each developer die can be placed on the construction stack, and when the number of developers equals the cost of that top tile, you can build it.  You can complete multiple developments in this phase.  Developments provide bonuses that you can use once completed.
  • Settle can be used to settle worlds.  This works pretty much the same way as development, except that worlds only provide a one-time effect (more dice).
  • Produce allows you to put goods on worlds that produce them.  Each world can only have one good.
  • Ship can be used to trade goods for galactic credits, or consume them in for points.

For the MANAGE EMPIRE step, you can spend credits to move dice from your citizenry to your cup.  You can also recall developers, settlers, or goods, placing them in your cup.  If the VP chip pool was exhausted, or if any player has placed 12 or more tiles, the game ends.  Whoever has the most points is the winner.

Dice versions of games aren’t new.  But they are very hit and miss.  Recently, people have really liked Bang: The Dice Game, Nations: The Dice Game and Pandemic: The Cure.  But for each success, you also have Carcassonne: The Dice Game, the Catan Dice Game, and of course, Phase 10 Dice.  Time will tell how successful Roll for the Galaxy will be, but it does look like a pretty interesting translation of the original.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Temporum is a new game from Donald X. Vaccarino, designer of Dominion (among others, but that was his first).  This 2-5 player game is all about time travel and being in control once time travel is invented.

Temporum comes with a board, 48 zone cards, 60 player cards, 50 crowns, 5 pawns, 6 paths, and 48 coin chits.  In the beginning, ten zone cards are dealt face up to the board – one Time I card, two Time II cards, three Time III cards, and four Time IV cards.  Paths are placed on the board in between cards.  Players get starting money based on their turn order position.  They also place their pawn on the second card from the right in Time IV and add ten crowns to the track in Time I.

There are four phases to a turn.  The first thing you can do is CHANGE HISTORY.  To do this, you may switch the path directly below your pawn to the left or right.  You can’t do this from Time IV since it’s at the bottom of the board.  This will change what is “real”, which is basically an uninterrupted path from bottom to top.  If anyone is on a zone that has become unreal, they move to the real zone for their time.

The second phase is MOVE.  You move your pawn to any zone that is currently real.

The third phase is VISIT A ZONE.  You follow the instructions on the current zone card.  This could score crowns, or require you to play a card from your hand, or probably some other tasks that I don’t know since I haven’t seen the cards.

The final phase is CHECK FOR VICTORY.  If all of your crowns are in Time IV, you win.

I love alternative history.  I love to think about what would have happened IF.  I also really like time travel as a theme, and it always makes me sad that I have never played a good time travel game.  I’ve played Khronos and Back to the Future: The Card Game, and didn’t like either of them.  This one looks fun, though I don’t know how well the theme will come through.  At the very least, it has the Donald X. auteur stamp of a lot of variety in the setup, leading to variety in play.  I doubt it will set the world ablaze like Dominion did, but that’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.  Still, it doesn’t have to be Dominion to be a good game, so I’m looking forward to finding out how people like it.

So, there you have it.  Three new games from Rio Grande that should be available soon, if not already – I know they are supposedly at BGG.con, happening now in Dallas.  Thanks for reading!


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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).


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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