Rapid Review: Dr. Finn's Games

In this week’s review we have a double header from Dr. Finn’s Games — a fine purveyor of quality filler that will entertain, enrich and engage players. In Gunrunners, you play federal agents hunting down the infamous Merchant of Death (an international weapons smuggler) through a variety of international locations and utilizing the best law enforcement your country has to offer. In Scripts and Scribes: The Dice Game, you are a medieval monk, competing against other monks to increase the prestige of your abbey. The good Doctor Finn also has something crashing up on the shores of Kickstarter that I think you should check out, Let Them Eat Shrimp!, a family game that has enough depth of play to appeal to everyone.


But enough of that! Let us gather around and I will bewitch you with a story of the brave women and men who hunted down the evil “Merchant of Death” with only their cunning, their wits and a strange desire to compete against each other. I speak, dear friends, of Gunrunners…

gunrunners boxIn Gunrunners, players work to collect the largest cache of confiscated weapons. In order to achieve this, they deploy agents (cards) into a location represented by 2-4 cards on the table (Middle East, North Africa, Central America, Southeast Asia). The Merchant of Death is not lazy, each turn [s]he has crates of weapons represented by small or large wooden cubes delivered to the different locations or warehoused for later dispersal. Each agent has a numerical strength and some “Special Operatives” have abilities to help your organization “bust” a location and confiscate weapons. Careful deployment, planning and some luck will help you bring the Merchant of Death to justice and maybe gain that juicy promotion from the home office.

Each round of the game goes in four phases:

  • Phase 1: Deliver Crates – The active player roll the die to see which county location receives an illicit delivery of crates. Crates can be stockpiled in the Warehouse or delivered directly to a location, depending upon the roll.
  • Phase 2: Deploy an Agent – The active player then chooses to deploy an agent [card] from her hand as either a “probationary agent” or an “undercover agent.” The probationary agents are placed face-down to the left of the location. Each location can hold only one probationary agent each and the active player can only place a probationary agent in a spot currently occupied by a “probie” of an opponent. When a probationary agent is placed, the former one becomes “active” and enters the “field” by being flipped over to the right side of the location. To deploy an “undercover agent,” the active player places a card from her hand face down on the right side of a location and to the right of any previously deployed agents. This dude[ette] is already fully trained and ready to go but each player can only have one undercover agent at a time deployed.
  • Phase 3: Special Ops: The agents usually only have a numerical value on their card representing their strength (1-5). Some agents though, have special roles and abilities which are written on the cards (Director, Informer, Saboteur, Spy, Manager and Runner). These abilities are applied when the agent is flipped from probationary to active status (such as when a player placed a probationary agent and causes the former probie to be flipped to the active (left) side of the location). If this happens, the player’s whose agent is activated gets to apply that ability and better secure placement in the pantheon of do-goodery.  Players can also place a special operative as an undercover agent, but then lose the ability. Bottom Line: You only get to use the power of your special operative when it is revealed by another player.
  • Phase 4: To Bust or Not to Bust: After checking for a deployed special operative, it is checked if a bust is possible. If there are four face up cards to the right of a location it signals a bust. All cards to the right of the location (including any undercover agents) are counted and the player with the highest numerical value wins the bust. That player gets half the crates (rounded up), the player with the second highest agent strength at that location takes half of what is left over (also rounded up)…and so on until all players occupying the bust get their reward. Two crates are then moved from the supply to the busted location with an additional crate sent to the other locations (that Merchant of Death is not lazy). The Bust Card is then moved up one (or two, if there are two busts at once — which is possible) space[s]. Game ends when the Bust Card hits its limit.

Gunrunners Set-Up
Gunrunners Set-Up [source]
What did you think? This is a fun, filler game that can be taught quickly and played fast. Unlike the many games that say that very same thing, this one is actually satisfying. I think this was due to the use of probationary agents. It became a slight bluffing game with player knowing, that by placing a probationary agent, they will be activating an opponent’s card. Did they place a bum card or something good? The game is pleasantly tactical but the decision space does get a bit sapped near the end of the game once a bunch of the cards have been deployed. In my library group this game received a warm welcome and was generally enjoyed. The name was slightly outputting until I explained that you were trying to catch a gunrunner and not actually playing the devious Merchant of Death. We paired this game with The Great Heartland Hauling Company and found that in combination the two were quite enjoyable…if only they could be combined in some way with Compounded you would have the perfect Breaking Bad game…anyway, I can dream! This is a total recommendation for the game. At $16 it is worth it if you need some quality filler for your game nights.  

scripts and scribes boxYou, gentle traveler, look tired. That last game was such a rush! All that hectic chasing around the world…that pace will kill you! Why not settle down with a nice book. It has been a long day of copying, illuminating and embellishing this fine abbey’s collection of rare and worthy manuscripts…why don’t you retire to the back-room for some much needed meditative rest and perhaps a pint of al…wait. WHAT? The Brothers of the Tentacled Masses completed the Necronomicon? Horse Muffins! Brother Theseus, get your bony, sacrilegious arse back on that chair and get to work on the  De Vermis Mysteriis. Cthulhu’s Nuts, there is no way those backwards, gill-flapping, sister-smacking hicks from the valley are going to one-up me on this. I read and transcribed The King in Yellow without losing a night’s sleep (although, I did cut off my ear and choked a goat with it). MAKE IT WORK PEOPLE!

The goal of Scripts and Scribes: The Dice Game is to acquire gold from collecting resources – scrolls, manuscripts, ink, pigments, quills  – which you can, in turn, exchange for more gold. Each resource has a track which shows how much a player has and a value (represented by a die face) which shows how much the resource is worth. The players may also influence the abbot (or Cthulhu, as I like to think of this game in terms of copying and selling arcane texts of pure evil). Each turn is determined when the active player rolls ALL THE DICE! Depending on how the Gold Die falls (gold coin symbol, dice symbol, gavel or sack) determines one of the following four options for play: A Standard Turn, A Re-Roll, Auction for Resources, or Auction for Gold.

Standard Turn: If the Gold Die falls to a gold symbol (1, 2, or 3 gold coins and 50% probability) a standard turn occurs. The active player chooses one of the dice and takes it associated action. If he picks up a resource, he gets all the dice showing that resource and moves up on the resource track accordingly. If he picks up a gold die, he takes that much gold. If he picks up an adjustment die. he adjusts the resource value accordingly. This is perhaps, the most dull turn with every other player getting to take a dice and the associated action.

Re-Roll Option: If the Gold Die falls to the dice symbol, the active player may chose to pay gold to re-roll dice. The first dice costs 1 gold to re-roll with the next dice costing 2 and the next 3 … then players get to pick dice as in a standard turn.

Auction for Resources: If the Gold Die falls to a gavel symbol, then the turn is delayed for an auction for resources! Each player, starting with the active player, bids gold (cards) in a blind bid by placing a number of cards face down in front of them. Each subsequent player can choose to bid, pass or to up the bid with more cards. The active player gets to choose when to start to end the bidding process by announcing that the auction will end in a fair amount of time for people to get their final bids in. The winner who bid the most gold pays the gold and gets ALL THE DICE and completes the actions! Other players retain the amount of gold bid and place the cards back in their hands. Then the active player gets to ROLL THE DICE AGAIN!

Auction for Gold: If the Gold Die falls to the sack symbol, then an auction for gold begins! The active player can either pass or bid by stating how much gold (0-10 gold) he wants in exchange for removing his icon permanently from one of the resource tracks. Bidding continues as players bid lower than the previous bid. Lowest bid wins with the winner removing his icon from one resource track and gathering up the gold bid. The turn continues with the active player rolling for a standard turn.

The game ends when either one person reaches the top of the Abbot track, any three icons reach the top of any/all resource tracks, any player has removed all icons from the resource track.

Scripts and Scribes Set Up
Scripts and Scribes Set Up [source]
What did you think? Having not played the original Scripts and Scribes or the Iello version Biblios, I was not sure what to expect. The theme seemed dull and I do not really enjoy the “dice version” of already established games. However, I am learning to love big games in small boxes so I was happy to receive a review copy. And SURPRISE! This has been one of the biggest hits at my library gaming group. Yelling, laughing, table-shaking joy! Mass hysterics! The reactions from the players were priceless. Part of this was due to the well designed interaction between the dice drafting/rolling and the auctions in the game. The auctions made this game amazing. Usually they tend to be rather dull (auctions, that is) and the added player interaction from the active player subjectively determining when to end the auction created a crescendo of noise from that table. Usually filler games are either too steeped in player interaction to be deep or completely devoid of it. In Scripts and Scribes: The Dice Game, it is doled out is proper proportions and the flow of the game never suffers from it. Instead of hearing someone say…”OK, now it is time to auction.” in a dull-monotone, it was a rousing scream of “AUCTION!!!!” This is a filler game that has become a mainstay of the group: A destination rather than a distraction. My highest recommendation for this game! It is a joy.

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