Three Ring Circus: Automobiles

 Board and Card Games, Reviews  Comments Off on Three Ring Circus: Automobiles
Feb 192017
 

If tracksuit bottoms are “give up on life” pants, then I am at the stage in life where I drive “give up on life” cars. I’m past the need for speed BMWs and sporty VWs, instead I like my cars to be tax efficient and thrifty.  With this in mind it is appropriate that I have found a car racing game that doesn’t like waste and even gives you a hybrid option.

Automobiles is a racing game with a difference, because you’re building the engine that drives your car as the race goes on. It’s a bag building game, where you are drawing coloured wooden cubes to drive your car around the circuit. It plays from 2 to 5 players, with the game time dependent on how long you want to make the race.

The game comes in a pretty big box.  Inside there’s a double sided board with an oval circuit on one side and a more Formula 1 style track on the other. The rest of the components are; two plastic cube trays to hold the 10 different colours of cubes, 5 bright red bags, player boards and a slim set of cards. Finally you have a wooden car and lap marker for each player.

Setup

Set up for the game is very quick when compared to a deck building game because the cubes act as a proxy for different cards sets, and this means that you won’t be pulling cards out of a box for fifteen minutes.  Once the board and cube trays are out, all that’s left is to select a set of action cards to use.  There are four cards for each of the five colours and they are themed around; gears, garage, pit, handling, performance and engine.  So you might get the green Gearbox card, which lets you move the same number of light grey spaces as your race position, (and one extra if you are last), or the blue Rotary engine, which moves you as many white spaces as you have different colours in your discard area.  The game has suggested combinations which will keep you going for a few games and, after that, you can go wild.

Every player has a set selection of cubes in their bag at the start and these are added to with a one off buying phase. How much you get to spend depends on grid position. How you spend them is up to the player, upgrades or gears?

Play

Over the course of the game you will be building a bag of cubes and drawing from it to propel your car around the track with increasing speed and efficiency.   

You draw 7 cubes from your bag at the end of your previous turn so you have time to think about what you’re going to do.  

The race? It’s in the bag.

The rules split each turn into 5 sections:

    • Actions.  Which is where you use cubes to activates the power of the associated card colour.  Actions are split between those that manage the cubes you have available and moving your car around the track.  The former are activated and placed in the used area on the player board and the rest go out on the track to plot the course of your car on that turn. The track is colour coded.  Higher gears let you go faster / further and this is reflected in the board’s design.  On the home straight you can pootle along in 3rd gear which takes 8 white cubes, or fizz down in 6th, which only takes 2 black ones. You can switch to adjacent lanes and not through other competitor’s cars, which adds a slight puzzle element as the order you use the cubes can make a difference to your distance travelled and the lanes used.
    • Buy.  Any cubes not used in the action phase become spends.  Each cube has a value and you can buy new cubes up to that value.
    • Car.  Here you move your car as far as your cubes, (placed in the action phase), let you.

      Yellow is moving through the gears.

    • Decline is where you clear the track of your cubes and take wear for your track movement and any, wear inducing, actions.  If you manage to position your car directly behind another competitor you are considered to be drafting and this reduces your wear overhead.  Wear cubes don’t do anything apart from slow you down by clogging up your draw bag.  Incidentally, if you  draw a hand full of wear you can choose to take a pit stop.  This is like a “miss a turn” option, but you do get to return that wear to the supply.  You finish your turn by placing your used cubes into the discard area of your player board.   
    • End  Draw another 7 cubes from your bag.  If you don’t have 7, all the cubes from your discard area go into the bag to be drawn.

Play continues until a player makes it over the finish line. All players take the same number of turns and whoever makes it furthest past the chequered flag is the winner.

Playing with Three

Three isn’t quite the magic number with Automobiles. There is definitely a bit more on track action in a four or five player game, but it’s not a drastic improvement, just a case of drafting and manoeuvring having more importance.  

How easy is it to teach the game?

The game is mainly about the turn structure; actions, moment, buying, taking wear and cleaning up.  Passing that on isn’t too hard and movement can be covered with examples.  The rule book is really well written and helps a great deal.  The one area that needs to be stressed is the difference between the cost of a cube and its buying power. It can be a bit confusing.

Can complexity be scaled?

There is a suggested first play set up which eases players into the game. The standard game is three laps. Playing with 2 laps doesn’t change the complexity, but it will level the playing field, as the benefits of building a good bag tend to come out in lap three onwards.

Can you handicap other players? Do you need to?

I haven’t tried it.  Increasing starting money for the initial cube buy should work fine.  One thing to consider is playing with Gearbox because it gives a great catch up mechanic.  It’s no coincidence that it’s in the suggested first play set up.

How likely is your child to flip the table half way through?

Seeing you car being lapped can be a dispiriting experience, shorter races could help.

What do I think?

Automobiles is a solid game and having a deck-builder that doesn’t rely on victory points is refreshing. Does it replicate the action of motor racing? Not really, but that doesn’t matter so much, because it does translate the tension of a closely fought race.  The last race we ran saw 6 white spaces between 1st and 3rd and the difference between winning and losing coming down to a single cube colour not being there when you needed it.  OK, I was the one in 3rd and I’m not bitter about that.  I made some buying mistakes and got what I deserved.

Each game set up needs a different approach and picking the cubes for the job is where the nub of the game lies. It is a nice marriage of strategy, in building your bag, and the tactics of using your 7 cubes to the max.  There are questions to answer on each turn and, because a cube can be used for its action or currency,  they are more varied questions than a standard deck-builder.  There’s a great balance to the game play and the pace is good too.  It starts slowly and revs up to the final laps, which can pass in just a turn or two.  

If you like deck-building and want something a little different, it’s definitely worth giving Automobiles a run out.

About Neil Robinson

Some say Neil spends too much time thinking about board games. I disagree. What is true, is that I moved to the coldest and wettest part of England, guaranteeing plenty of chances to play games with my family.

The Climbers – wonderfully wooden abstract about climbing, with real (tiny) ladders

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Dec 132016
 

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I was recently introduced to the abstract game The Climbers at the Granite Game Summit. I was immediately taken with the components and the game play. Nice, chunky wooden components and decent strategy! Let’s take a look at The Climbers and see what it has to offer. Climbers is a game for 2-5 people, ages 8+ and plays in anywhere from 15-45 minutes. Players pick a figure of a specific color and can only climb on blocks with that color, or grey facing upwards. Blocks can be moved and turned to facilitate climbing.

How to Play

When you first open the box, you’ll see it’s packed tightly with all of the components. 35 wooden blocks of varying sizes, 5 short ladders, 5 long ladders, 5 colored figures and 5 colored blocking stones. Two of these wooden blocks, the largest, are solid grey while the rest of all of the varying five colors on them. The wooden blocks come in 1?, 2? and 4? sizes.

Setup: To set the game up, the two large, grey blocks are placed upright next to each other. This forms the core of the climbing structure. Next all of the colored blocks are placed around the two grey blocks so that the grey blocks are completely obscured. This is done randomly and can be a fun little exercise if everyone starts grabbing and placing blocks rapidly. They can be placed horizontally or vertically. All of the blocks must be placed so that they are entirely on other blocks (or the table) but they can be placed offset of each other. Each player chooses a color. They take the pawn and blocking token of that color and both a long and a short ladder.

The blocks are all configured so that Red is opposite Yellow, light Blue is opposite dark Blue and Purple is opposite Grey.

Play: At the start of the game, all of the pawns are simply hanging about on the table. Here’s how a turn works.

First, a player may move an empty block to a new location or rotate it. The blocks must end up connected to another block, with at least 1/4 of the surface touching that other block. They cannot overhand, nor can holes be created. Blocks can be placed on other ‘occupied’ blocks (with a pawn or pawns on it) provided that there is still enough room for those pawns. Each pawn takes up 1/4 of the surface of a block. Blocks can’t be loose, inclined (tilted) or skewed. And you can’t move the same block someone just moved on the prior turn.

Next, that player may move their pawn (called the “climber”). You can move the pawn up, down, horizontally or in any combination of those. Your pawn may only move upwards or downwards 1? without the assistance of a ladder. They may use the short ladders to climb up the equivalent of a 2? block or the long ladder to move the equivalent of a 4? block (so that could be 4 1? blocks or any other combo). Once the ladders are used, they’re discarded – you only get one shot with them! Also, your pawns may only move onto a block of your color or a grey block.

Lastly, you may place a blocking stone on any unoccupied block. No players may move onto this until the start of your next turn, when the blocking stone is removed from the game. Again, you only get one shot with the blocking stone!

Winning: If no players can move higher during their turn, the fist player who couldn’t move their pawn higher gets one more shot. If they somehow contrive to legally move higher, the game continues. If not, the highest pawn wins! If two or more pawns are the highest, whoever arrived first is the winner.

Why you should play

There’s a few rules to digest in this one, but I assure you that once you’ve played a few turns, you’ll get it. From there on in, it’s a fun, fairly quick little puzzler of a game that will have people up out of their seats, wandering around the table to look at it from all angles. There can be a bit of a take-that aspect of the game, but there can also be a surprising bit of cooperation – nothing forbids players from working together to attain greater heights.

This game could I think best be described as absolutely charming. Even when you’re doing a bit of a take-that move, it doesn’t feel like you’re denying other players so much as settling on a very decent strategy for yourself. Lots of people love playing games that give you the feeling of having built something at the end – a decent card engine, an engaging and interesting city, a massive army. This not only gives you that feeling but collectively all of the players are building a colorful, if abstract tower while also climbing that same structure.

The game is completely random at the start in that the tower was built with no plan. From there on out though every single factor of the game depends on how the blocks are moved by the players and where they place their ladders and blocking stones. The strategy in this game lies not only in getting your pawn to climb higher, but doing so in a way that makes it harder for others to do the same while they only move or rotate one block.

I very much enjoyed my time playing this game and am looking forward to adding it to my collection. The components are nice, chunky wood, the game is simple to explain, easy to teach and very fun to play. It’s also pretty quick for a 2-5 player game – after the first play I think most games could be played out in 20-30 minutes tops, even with five players. If this sounds like the kind of abstract game you’d enjoy, you can pick it up at the Strategic Space site in the US or at your FLGS.

 

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

Luca’s Gaming Corner: Dream Home

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Oct 312016
 

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Dream Home

Note: Asmodee supplied a copy of this game for this review.

Dream Home is published by Asmodee.  This house making game is for ages  7+ and takes about 30 minutes. 2-4 players can play. Dream Home is a game where you make a  home using different types of cards such as Room cards and Resource cards. You also use a score pad,reference tile, a game board, home boards, a starter token, and Decor tokens. The goal of this game is to have the most points by adding up all your room cards, roof cards and your decor cards.

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Set Up

The set up is pretty quick. Each player takes a home board and a reference tile from the box. The home board looks a big house looking board. Next, place the square shaped fame board in the center of your table/ game board. Shuffle all resource cards and place them face down on the matching space on the game board. Place 4 cards in a row next to the deck of cards. Skip the space that has a home picture. After that, do the same with the  room cards but put them below the resource cars and place 5 cards down. Place the decor tokens somewhere near the game board. The youngest player begins but really anyone you want can start. NOW YOU CAN BEGIN DESIGNING YOUR DREAM HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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How to play

This fun filled game may look very simple but really it takes a lot of thinking! The rules are pretty easy to learn.

This game has 12 short rounds. The youngest person starts the game with the first player token. Each round the player with the first player token goes and it proceeds clockwise. During a player’s turn they chose a card on the top row and takes he bottom one too. (One room card and one resource card) If they chose the card below the house picture, then they take the first player token. Put the card you took and put it on your house board. You cannot put a room card on the top floor if there is no card directly below that. On the very bottom of the board there is 2 card spaces, those are only meant for cards with the blueish green. Try to get the same card type next to each other to get more points. If you get a Decor card then take the matching decor token and place it where it says to.There are numbers on the cards and those mean if there are that many of those cards then you get the points on the cards. The card shape space is how many cards you can have of the same room. Try to get 4 of the same color roof cards.  If no one picks the card below the house then the person with the first player token goes first again. After everyone takes a turn then discard all the cards on the game board. Discard them in 2 different card piles. The resource cards go in one and the room cards go in another.When there are no more cards in the deck then the game is over.

Scoring

After finishing the 12th round then begin the scoring process. Add up your points on the score pad that comes with it. Don’t forget about the tool and helper cards, they may add something for you at the end of the game.You score for decor tokens, room cards, roof cards and home functionality. Most cards are scored for how many cards you have of the same type next to each other.The decor tokens have numbers on them and those are how many points you get. If you have different color roofs then you get 3 points and if you have 4 of the same colors then you get 8 points. And the person with the most points win!

Why you should play

You should play because it is so fun and you can learn it super fast. I like how the cards look because they have good artwork and some have kids on them. Also i like it because there is a way to break a tie. The person with the most kids win.

I give this game 8/10. Go buy this game, it is so worth it. It is a good family game for all ages. It takes a lot of a thinking for a kid game!

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Thank You For sending this game to me!

(A note from the editor: Luca is my 10 year old daughter. She’s been a gamer for just about her entire life and over the last few years has played a variety of non-family, non-kid games with me, my wife and friends. Some of her current favorites are the DC Deck Builder series, Isle of Skye, Love letter and a little game called Swamped. 

She’s been interested in writing game reviews for a while now and I’m slowly showing her the ropes here on Troll. I’ll edit her writing for format and spelling (as best I can) but I’ll leave her style to her.) 

About Luca

Luca is 10 years old and is Ben's daughter. She is an avid gamer and is excited about writing her own reviews.

Help Me! A ten minute review of a five minute game

 Board and Card Games, Reviews  Comments Off on Help Me! A ten minute review of a five minute game
Oct 242016
 

help-me-post

Help Me! published by Libellud, designed by Dong-Hwa Kim for 2 players, ages 8+ and plays in literally five minutes.

Here we have a charming little game first published waaaay back in 2011. It’s a strictly two player affair that features cool illustrations of nature spirits and a simple tile placement/stacking mechanic. It’s actually quite fun and can be found for relatively cheap.

How to play

Here I’m going to indulge myself and copy directly from the instructions for once so you can get the whole of this game in a simple sentence. Score more points than your opponent by placing your creatures on top of stacks of tiles which will be made during the game. That… is a pretty easy to learn game, right? Lets look a bit deeper. If you want to skip the how’s and get to the why’s – head on down to the Why you should play section.

The game consists of 30 Avatar tiles, each featuring one of six creatures. Each creature has five of their own tiles, numbered 1-5. There are also six Creature tiles. The Avatar tiles are shuffled about and laid out in a five by six tile rectangle. The six Creature tiles are shuffled and two dealt to each player, who keeps them secret from their opponent. The remaining two creature tiles are not to be looked at for the rest of play. Now you’ve set up the game!

help-me-2

Each player, on their turn, must move an Avatar tile or a stack of Avatar tiles according to the following rules:

A tile or stack of tiles can be moved to a space to the right, left, above or below of its starting position, but cannot move diagonally. Tiles (or stacks) must move onto an adjacent tile or stack. When you’re moving a stack (that is more than 1) of Avatar tiles, you must move the whole thing – it cannot be split. Once a player has made their single move, it’s their opponent’s turn. Now you know the rules! The game is over when no more Avatar tiles can be moved. Let’s get on to scoring.

At the end of the game, players reveal who their two Creatures are (on their Creature tiles) and score up stacks. Any single Avatar tiles are claimed by the player who owns that Creature tile. Any stacks of Avatars belong wholly to the player who claims the Avatar tile on top. A stack is worth the number of tiles in it (so three tiles = 3 points). A tile by itself, regardless of the number on it is worth 1 point. Now here comes the bit that slightly harder to follow. A tile is worth the number of points printed on it if and only if these conditions are met: It can’t be on the top of a stack, it must be the same creature that is on the top of the stack and it must match one of the two creatures that the player owns.

That’s the game, the first one should take you about ten minutes and each game after that perhaps four or five minutes with an extra minute for scoring.

Why you should play

help-me-1First and I think most important, this game is straight up, simple, easy to learn, hard master fun. Well, not terribly hard to master but still a heck of a lot of fun. It plays in about the same time as a hand of Love Letter but feels like a complete game.

While game play itself is simple, pick up a tile or stack of tiles. move them up/down/left/right, the scoring is where your strategy comes to the front. To score more points, you must ensure your higher point tiles are in a stack of other tiles with that same creature on the top of the stack. You can spend a few moves getting a decent stack of tiles together only to have your opponent move an unrelated creature to the top and strand those tiles so no more can be moved on them. If you’re not careful it can be a little frustrating  – the good news is that a whole game lasts just five minutes, so your chance for revenge won’t be far off.

Add to that the gorgeous artwork, small size and equally small price tag (most retailers should have it for under $10) and you’ve got a great two player game that you can kill fifteen minutes with in a best of three series.

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

Patchwork – Competitive quilting for two

 Board and Card Games, Reviews  Comments Off on Patchwork – Competitive quilting for two
Oct 202016
 

patchworkbox

A game about quilting. That kinda threw me for a bit but everyone and their sister were raving about it so I had to find out for myself. Turns out, everyone and their sisters were right.

Patchwork is a game for exactly 2 players, ages 8+ and plays in about 30-45 minutes.

How to play

Thankfully this game involves no actual sewing because the last time I tried that I ended up in the ER with a sheepish grin on my face. You’ll find Patchwork to be a bit different than your average game in both set up and play. To begin with, each player will take a Quilt Board representing their as of yet not started sewing project. The Quilt Board is divided up into a number of 1×1 squares. They’ll then take 5 Buttons (the currency in the game) and a Time Token.

There’s a third board in the game which is the central Time Board. Players will each place their Time Token on the starting space of the Time Board. Now, the most fun setup can really begin. There are a whole bunch of Patches – shaped, Tetris-like tokens – that you’re going to arrange randomly in a (fairly large) circle around the Time Board. Locate the smallest Patch (a 1×2 square Patch) and place the wooden Neutral token between that and the next patch, going clockwise. Each of these Patch tokens will have a little tag image on it that will show a number next to a button to indicate how many Buttons they cost, and a number next to a timer icon, to indicated how many spaces on the Time Board you’ll move your Time Token if you choose that Patch.

Lastly, you’ll lay out the special 7×7 bonus token and place the five special 1×1 patches on the Time Board.

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The first thing you should know is that Patchwork doesn’t necessarily alternate turns. The player who’s Time Token is furthest back on the Time Board will get the next turn, which could (and will) mean players take multiple turns in a row.

On your turn, you can do one of two things. Advance your Time Token to the space just after the other player’s Time Token on the Time Board and get yourself some buttons or take and place a Patch on your Patch board.

In the first option you’ll receive as many buttons as spaces you’ve moved to get past the other player’s Time Token – advance three spaces, get three buttons. And that’s it, since the other player’s Time Token is now behind yours, it’s their turn. Remember, Buttons are currency in this game.

If you choose to take a Patch, you’ve got to follow these five steps. First, the patch must be within three patches in front of the Neutral Token you placed amidst all those patches in the game setup. Second, you’ll move the Neutral Token to be next to the Patch you’ve chosen. Third, you pay the number of Buttons indicated on the patch (some patches are free). Fourth, you will place the Patch you just bought on your Quilt board. Last, you move your Time Token on the Time Board the number of spaces indicated on the Patch token you just placed on your Quilt Board.

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Some of the spaces on the Time Board have some special powers on them. There are five Special Patches, which are 1×1, leather looking Patches. These can only be gotten off the Time Board, and you only receive them if you are the first to move your Time Token onto or past them. The second special power are the Button icons. If you move past a Button icon, you then receive Button tokens! Look at your Quilt Board – many (but not all) Patches will have graphics of buttons sewn into them – count each individual button and take that many Button tokens.

When you’re placing that patch on your Quilt Board, you have to follow a few simple rules too. You can flip or turn the Patch any way you like as long as it fits entirely on the board and doesn’t overlap any other Patches. That’s where the Tetris aspect of the game comes in.

Finally, there’s a special 7×7 token – the first player to fill in a 7×7 grid completely on their Quilt board receives this token and scores an extra 7 points at the end of the game. Speaking of which….

End of the game and scoring. The game ends when both player’s Time Tokens reach the last space on the Time Board and players determine their scores. Add up the number of Button tokens you have left, and subtract 2 points for each empty 1×1 spaces on your Quilt board. That’s your score. If you had for example 11 buttons left and had managed to snag the 7×7 token, you’d start off with 18 points. If you had six empty spaces (6*2=12) you’d subtract 12 from 18 and end the game with 6 points.

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Why you should play

Answer this question truly and honestly. How many games in your collection have a sewing or quilting theme? Now how many games in your collection with this theme are really engaging, allow for some interesting and thinky strategy, have just a bit of a puzzle aspect to them, allow you to build something of substance during the game, and are extremely well balanced?

Patchwork checks all of these boxes and does so in a really compelling way. You’re looking ahead in the Patches portion of the table to see where the Neutral Token will next fall, while trying to calculate how many spaces forward you want to move to get more Buttons and maybe grab that 1×1 patch you need to fill in your 7×7 grid so you can finally get that extra points token. You’re opponent is doing that very same thing too, and perhaps plotting a way to take two turns before you’ll get your next so that the Neutral Token will skip over that one Patch you really need.

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It’s a lot of fun and sometimes a little frustrating in that good “oh, I can’t believe you just did that to me!” kind of way. I’ve enjoyed quite a few games while waiting for another friend to show up or between my wife and I or Luca and I. Patchwork hits that sweet spot of a 2 player filler game that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and still offers a complete gaming experience. It’s what I’d expect from Uwe Rosengberg who’s designed (among many, many wonderful games) another tight, small game I love, Bohnanza.

Be warned however, for such a small box the game ends up taking up quite a bit of space! It’s those Patches you’ve got to spread about. There’s a whole bunch of them! Other than that extremely minor thing I don’t have much in the way of criticism – rather I’m still pleasantly surprised that a game with a quirky theme is so much fun.

 

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

New York 1901 – Building the Big Apple

 Board and Card Games, Reviews  Comments Off on New York 1901 – Building the Big Apple
Oct 172016
 

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New York 1901 is one of those games that immediately strikes me as a perfect introductory game to modern hobby boardgames. In other words, a ‘gateway’ game. It’s not without it’s flaws though – mainly in the rule book. A while back this game made a huge splash but then the fervor died down and of course that’s when I got a copy. I think this is a good time to take a second look though – if you’re at all the kind of gamer that has newer players and would like to get them deeper into the hobby, you’ll want to take a look at this one. It’s also wonderful for a lighter evening of gaming if you’re not into burning your brain but are into a bit of strategic puzzle solving with this fairly forgiving title.

New York 1901 is published by Blue Orange games and designed by Chénier La Salle for 2-4 players, ages 8+ and plays in an hour or less.

How to Play

As you might have guessed, it’s 1901 and you’re in New York! A fledgling builder looking to take the city upwards towards a more modern day skyline. This game takes a little bit from Ticket to Ride, a little bit from Tetris, combines them with some card drafting and comes out with a nice, eminently playable game.

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First, you set out the game board, which is divided into five Districts, each represented by a different color. Each District is divided into 13 territories which come in two sizes – 2 space territories and 3 space territories. Dividing all this up are five important streets, which will be relative at the end game for scoring. There’s also a scoring track around the outside of the board à la Ticket to Ride, which not only tracks scores but also shows when certain in-game things are unlocked.

Each player will choose one of four different colors and then get their 18 skyscrapers (cut-out cardboard chits), their 1 starter building, 4 plastic workers, their King token (which looks like a trophy) and their score tokens, which are decently formed little Empire State Buildings in the player’s color. Every player also gets three action cards – you’ll be able to use them once each during the game, or save them for one bonus point each unused card during the end scoring. Player’s skyscrapers come in three flavors, bronze, silver and gold. Generally speaking, they’re worth more points moving from bronze to silver and then to gold.

Each player gets or chooses a character card – this determines where they’ll place their starting building on the board. Each of those five streets are also represented on a card – three of these are dealt out at the start of the game. The person with the largest number of skyscrapers on each street at the end of the game will score five bonus points. There’s a deck of Territory cards that remind me a bit of the train cars in TTR. There’s one card corresponding to each territory on the board. These are shuffled and the top four dealt out in a line next to the deck, called teh Open Market. These are available during each players turn. Players will place their starting building, and remove one Territory card that matches the color/size of the territory that their starter building now occupies.

In the game there are also four Legendary Skyscrapers. These are put to the side of the board and will be available to all the players. Each player may build only one during the game and they’re worth extra points.

You’ll also have a chance to deal out one of the Bonus Challenge cards (if you’re not playing the beginner setup). These cards offer a chance to score additional points by completing the conditions on the card – either during the game or at game’s end, depending on the Bonus Challenge you draw.

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During a players turn, they can do one of two actions.

  • Expand
  • Demolish

Once you’ve chosen one of these actions, you then Build.

Again, you’re going to find a game that’s fairly simple at heart but has some complex strategies and thoughts going into it based off of these two actions. Let’s delve deeper.

Expand: As any good land baron is want to do, you’re going to expand your empire. If you choose this option, you’ll start with your four plastic workers. If you have one available (i.e. not on the board) you can take any one of the four face up Territory cards in the Open Market. You then place a worker on a Territory on the board that matches the color and shape represented on that card. The card then goes to rest on your character card for the rest of the game.

When you claim a territory, it becomes part of your estate and no one else can take or touch it.

Now you can Build if you wish to but it’s not mandatory (though you’ll often want to). To do so, take one of your available skyscrapers (again, available meaning not already on the board) and place it on a territory occupied by one of your workers. There are some rules you’ll need to follow when it comes to building. Skyscrapers must fit entirely on your estate, if you’re looking to build anything other than a bronze skyscraper, you’ve got to have scored enough points to do so. Six points is enough to unlock silver skyscrapers and eighteen points will unlock gold skyscrapers. These are also marked right on the scoring track so you can easily see when you’ve reached them. Skyscrapers must touch a street or a park, they may be built across multiple territories and districts and do not need to completely fill the territories they’re built on. You also can’t build one building on top of another.

As soon as you build a skyscraper, you score the number of points printed on it. You’ll then replenish any cards taken from the Open Market and your turn is over.

Demolish: Here’s where you replace one or more of your already standing skyscrapers with something newer and worth more points (hopefully!). To demolish a Skyscraper, you must build a new skyscraper of a later generation – that is, where bronze was you can build silver or gold, where silver was you can only build gold. You return any demolished buildings to the game box – they’re done for the game. Also, if your new building leaves any of the previously occupied territories completely empty, you must place a worker on those territories. If you can’t place a worker, then you can’t use the Demolish action this turn.

Now you must build – and that means replacing your demolished buildings with a new one following the rule above. Once you’ve done that, your turn is over.

Those four fancy Legendary Skyscrapers? They count as gold buildings and one can be built by each player instead of their normal gold buildings. Once you’ve built one of these, place your King Token on it so you can remember who it belongs to and know you can’t build any more of them.

Remember those three action cards you were dealt? They also can come into play during your turn. There’s the Construction Boom which allows you to build an additional building on your turn, the Market Shift where you can remove the four Open Market cards, shuffle the deck and then re-deal them and the Land Grab card, where you can gain two territory cards rather than just one.

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That’s the whole game! The only thing left is to end it and score. As soon as one player has only four unbuilt skyscrapers or there are only 3 cards left in the Open Market and the deck is empty, the game end is triggered. The player who triggers this completes their final turn and every other player gets a last turn and then we score.

You’ve already been scoring your skyscrapers as the game moved along. Add to that one point for each unused Action Card, get any bonuses from the Bonus Challenge cards, and get five points for each player who’s got the most buildings on the three Streets of New York cards.

There are some alternate setup rules for 2 players but they’re not anything like some games where there’s a phantom third player or the entire game changes.

Why you should play

This game is, at it’s core a fairly simple gateway game. There are a few concepts in here which may be a bit challenging for those completely new to modern hobby board games but I don’t think they’re insurmountable at all. I realize after looking back at my post and it’s length that it may not seem that way – what is important to note is that there are those concepts and mechanics which take a bit of explanation. When the game actually kicks off and the players are building away, it flows quickly and smoothly, with each turn taking perhaps a minute.

What this game has to offer that other so called gateway games don’t though is a very tense, very strategic level of play for people more familiar with it. It can be a real challenge figuring out which of those two actions is the best for you right now and then implementing them without being blocked by other players. The Tetris-like puzzle aspect of the game, while not overwhelming or the entirety of the strategy, is also a blast. It’s hard to beat that feeling of actually building something in a game. In the hour or so it takes to play this, win or lose, you still feel like you’ve accomplished something and that’s a very rewarding feeling.

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The game isn’t without it’s flaws but most of those exist in the rule book, not the rules or mechanics themselves. It took me three plays and three different versions of the rules to finally play this game correctly. Ultimately what saved me was this set of rules uploaded to BGG by the designer, Chénier La Salle. They make everything far, far clearer than the original rules and turned the game from a bit of a head-scratcher, kind of fun experience to a real, challenging, fun, tense game.

Now that I know how to play, the game is a heck of a lot easier to explain – I can teach someone to play in 10 minutes tops and we’re off and running. I do think like many games this one rewards multiple plays but it’s one I plan on playing multiple times with some of the same folks so I’m okay with that. This is, I think a great opening game for a game night, a great convention game and perfect for events like my Extra Life game day where I can show people how to play without actually playing myself. Not that I wouldn’t mind a playing! My nearly 11 year old daughter very much enjoyed this one as well so I suspect It’ll continue to see time on my table.

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

Fly Casual – a review of Risk: Star Wars Edition

 Board and Card Games, Reviews  Comments Off on Fly Casual – a review of Risk: Star Wars Edition
Oct 112016
 

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Note: This is a review of the Black Edition of the game, which comes packed with higher quality everything. Game play is the same with either version. 

Some games are destined to be modern classics for hobby game enthusiasts. Risk… is not one of those games. One could argue the ‘classic’ part of the argument I suppose. Risk: Star Wars edition – based off of the hard to find and very expensive Queen’s Gambit though is a bantha of a different color. This time Hasbro hit it out of the park with this tight, 2 player game that is thematic and, well, good.

Risk: Star Wars Edition – 2 (or 4) players, ages 10+, plays in about 45 minutes.

How to play

As always, this isn’t a deep dive into the rules. I’ve purposely not gone over every single rule here in this summary.  Also this review game play wise is for either the standard or Black edition of the game but the pictures will reflect the Black edition and hot damn do they look good.

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To start, set up the TIE Fighter looking board which is pretty neat in and of itself. The center board will feature the Death Star smack dab in the middle surrounded by a whole lot of TIE Fighters and Rebel Fighters. Either side (the wings of a TIE-Advanced) are dedicated to either Luke and Vader or the forest moon of Endor. Then players decide who’s going to be the Rebellion and who will be the Empire. On the Rebel’s side of the board, a number of fleets of X, B and Y wing fighters and the Millennium Falcon are organized around the Death Star while more fleets are held in reserve on tabs that attach to the main board. On the Imperial side, a whole ton of TIE fighters are set up along with the hefty Executor class Star Destroyer.

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Not pictured: I may or may not be actively salivating.

What you’ll see once you’ve gotten the board set up is that there are really three intertwined but different games going on at once. In the center is the Death Star, surrounded by Rebel and Imperial fleets. On one side of the board is the Shield Assault area. This represents the Rebels attempting to take down the shield generator on Endor. On the other side you’ve got Luke versus Vader – representing the iconic clash between the new Jedi Luke and the seasoned Sith Lord Vader.

Coming along with all this each player also gets their very own deck of Order cards. Once shuffled each player draws six cards into their hands. Order cards let each player choose one of several actions. The Empire may choose to attack with the Death Star and take out some Rebel ships, or use Force Lightning to ruin Luke’s already sketch afternoon. The Rebel players are often given the choice of attacking with ships, attempting a run on the shield generator or having Luke take a shot at Vader.

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Once each player is ready to go, they both choose 3 of their 6 cards and place them face down on the table.

Each player, starting with the Rebels, flips over the top card on the 3 card stack and chooses one of the orders on that card to play. Once played, it goes face up into your discard pile.

If you can’t play what’s on the card, it just gets discarded.  After each player has executed (or failed to execute) all 3 orders, 3 new cards are drawn and the next turn begins. Once the decks are depleted, the discard pile is shuffled and forms a new deck.

The Empire wins the game by destroying all of the Rebel ships. The Rebels win the game by destroying the Death Star. Here’s the big, bold HOWEVER. The Shield generator has to be taken out before the Rebels can even attempt to attack the Death Star. At that same time fleets of ships are maneuvering and attacking each other and the Death Star is taking out whole swaths of Rebel ships while the Rebels are fighting to take down the shields and Luke and Vader are confronting each other too. The fight between the two is to the death – unless Luke can successfully redeem Vader. Ship to ship and ship to Death Star combat is ruled by the roll of the dice, with different ships being more or less effective.

If Luke is destroyed, the Empire gets some bonus cards. If Vader is destroyed, the Rebellion gets some bonus cards and if Vader is redeemed, more bonus cards are in order for the Rebellion.

Why you should play

This game takes everything you love about Return of the Jedi, compresses it into 45 minutes of game play with some really stressful decision making (in a good way) and stays on theme the entire time. It’s challenging with both players managing three different fields of battle and once you get the hang of it, the whole thing works surprisingly well!

Who doesn’t want to sit on the bridge of a Mon Calamari cruiser and direct the entire freaking Rebel fleet in a massive attack on the Death Star? Or sit in your strangly lumpy metal throne and cackle evilly while that very same Death Star blows up the entire Rebel Fleet? Oh hey, you’ll also be coordinating a ground attack and a light saber duel.

If that’s not good enough for you, I should also mention that the Black Edition comes with just a ton of miniatures too.

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The game has a lot of tight, meaningful choices and scenarios where you’ve got two or three good options and are forced to pick just one. Assaults between ships and the Death Star are determined by die rolls, and of course the cards you draw determine what orders are available. There’s certainly a random, perhaps slightly chaotic side of this game but I don’t feel like this detracts from the game play at all. Many of these rolls, particularly towards the end game, are of the stand up and fist pump variety.

It can be easy, especially on the first play, to lose track of the side boards (Luke vs Vader and the assault on the shield generator). It’s very important for both sides to pay attention to these though and the will become apparent towards the middle and end of your first game. Without lowering the shields, the Rebel ships will be slaughtered. The loss of Luke or Vader can deal real blows to both sides by providing a pretty decent advantage to the other.

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Now this is not a high strategy, brain straining euro-style game. Nor is it a carefree, chaotically random dice chucking game where your strategy doesn’t mean diddly. It’s something of a hybrid of those two states. Your decisions do matter and without a solid strategy you won’t win the game. But you can expect to be thwarted by the occasional card draw or die roll too. It is also a Hasbro game so don’t expect FFG level minis. The TIE fighters and Rebel ships are the same Risk plastic we’ve come to know. The Black edition does come with some nice metal Minis and a handful of tiny plastic storm troopers.

For the price, I think you’re looking at an extremely good 2 player, head to head game that really bears no resemblance to classic Risk whatsoever. If you go into the game expecting a bit less than an hour and some light strategy and dice chucking, you’ll come out of it very satisfied. The game plays well with 10 year olds and adults. There’s also a four player variant but I’ve not tried this. I’m very impressed with the game itself – apparently a reworking of the Queen’s Gambit which I’ve not only never played but never even seen.

The standard version doesn’t feature quite as many miniatures but is available for an MSRP of $30. The Black edition is sleek and well packaged, has more minis and is available for an MSRP of $50.

If you get either version of the game, I’d highly recommend downloading the rules summary sheet found on BGG.

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

Onitama – a relaxed, fun chess-like game that isn’t anything like chess

 Board and Card Games, Reviews  Comments Off on Onitama – a relaxed, fun chess-like game that isn’t anything like chess
Oct 062016
 

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I tend to look at my board game collection as an investment. Not in the monetary sense but more in the sense of time well spent or time that could be well spent. I’ve got games in my collection that I have not yet played and probably won’t play for a year or two. Why? Because I think they’d be a great fit for my almost 11 year old and me when she’s a bit older. Or that they’d work really well with some friends who I just haven’t been able to get together to play games with. Others are there because I could see myself playing them now and for years and years to come. Onitama fits into all of these categories.

Onitama is a game by Shimpei Sato, published by Arcane Wonders, for two players ages 8+ and playable in 15-20 minutes.

How to Play

The actual rules for Onitama are easily fit on to a single printed page. It’s not terribly complex in execution. The strategies and tactics that you’ll find yourself employing while playing however are anything but simple. Here’s the first comparison to Chess – there’s just a few pieces and a board consisting of 25 square spaces (compared to Chess’ 64).

Players unroll the board, which is printed on a play mat, and set up their pieces. Each player gets one  Master piece and four Disciple pieces. There are also 15 different movement cards, of which five will be used every game. The Master piece is placed on that player’s Gate (the middle of the 5 spaces closest to that player) while the four Disciples are placed on the two spaces on either side of the Gate.

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Shuffle the movement cards and deal out two to each player. Flip over the top card of the deck to determine who goes first – each movement card has a colored icon to represent one of the two players – blue or red. This fifth movement card will be placed next to the starting player’s right side of the board. The movement cards are each named after a (real or fictional) animal and show one black space and several lighter spaces. The black space represents the current location of the piece you’re moving. The lighter spaces represent spaces relative to the starting space where that piece will end it’s move.

The starting player selects one of their movement cards and executes the move on it. They then take this card, slide it up to their left hand side of the board and take the fifth movement card placed to their right side of the board.

The second player does the same, and play moves forward with a continuous exchange of just-used movement cards.

If either the Master or the Disciple pawns ever end their movement on a space occupied by an enemy pawn (either Master or Disciple) that enemy pawn is knocked out of the game. Players can move through their own pieces while executing a move but cannot end their move on one of their own pieces.

Play continues until either one player’s Master is removed from the game or your can position your Master pawn on an opponent’s gate (which is the middle space on the row closest to that player).

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Why you should play

Onitama is one of those rare games where I don’t just play it. I play it four, five, six times in a row – generally against the same opponent. I could easily burn an hour or two playing, resetting and playing again. It’s wonderfully addictive, easy to teach, always the same basic game but constantly different as each game unfolds. No two games really play the same when you’re only using a third of the available moves in each game and those constantly change with a shuffle.

This game is one that I love playing now. My daughter enjoys it but hasn’t quite gotten the hang of it – as she gets older though I can see her mastering this more and more. I can also see myself playing this game essentially for the rest of my life. Once you get the hang of it, you really want to spend more time with it so you can start to master it. That’s where I just can’t escape the Chess comparison. There’s a lot going on and you have to think several moves in advance. On the surface it’s simple, deep into the game though it’s really a match of wits with your opponent and game play can get very complex in the back and forth. So it’s not Chess, even though it shares some qualities.

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The components are beautiful, from the box that houses the game right down to the individual cards and pieces. The artwork is minimalistic but elegantly so and clearly reflects the spirit of the game. The theme is, well, about as appropriate as that of Chess. It’s a fight you’re entering into with each game but it’s an elegant fight.

I’d say that Onitama would make a perfect opening game except I think I’d find myself playing it a whole bunch and having it turn into one of the main courses. It is a great lunch time game if there’s two of you. Once you have the basics down (which takes one play) you can get 3-5 games into an hour, depending on how much long and your opponent think during your turns. While this game is no longer in the ‘new hotness’ category, I’d highly recommend picking it up if you haven’t already and have a place in your collections for a two player game.  This is a game that I can see myself playing for as long as I play games.

 

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About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.