Candy Crash – a game designed by Luca for 2-4 players – grab your Print and Play here!

Candy Crash is a die rolling, card playing game for 2-4 players, aged 8+ which plays in 15-20 minutes.

In Candy Crash, each player takes on the roll of a teen, working a job such as lawn mowing or a paper route. They’re all saving up to buy the best candy on the street at the local candy shop.

Every turn, each player does their job and earns one coin. If they do an excellent job, they may earn a tip and start taking home some of that delicious candy!  Players earn money, purchase upgrades to their dice, special skills and compete to be the first on their block to take home the ultimate candy prize.

Luca came up with the idea for this game a few weeks before Christmas. Since then we’ve been hard at work on testing this and refining the rules! We’ve put together a Print and Play version and we’d love to hear what you think. You can download the PDF from right here. What you’ll need are 10-20 6-sided dice (depending on if you have 2-4 players), a printer and some scissors. That’s it! We’re also looking for a new name, as Candy Crash may be a little too close to some other, popular online game.

We’ve also entered this game into the Cardboard Edison 2017 Game Design Contest. Here’s the video we put together that gives you a good idea of what the game’s all about.

Musivational – a new album of electronic “RetroWave” music from Ben is now available everywhere!

Not gaming – but certainly Creative. I’ve been hard at work on an actual musical album, called Musivational (also the name of the band). Hard to believe but this album is out… now! It’s all electronica in style, and belongs to a sub-genre called RetroWave – which harkens back to the glory days of the 80’s. Think Terminator, Stranger Things and heavily synthesizer influenced TV soundtracks and you’ll have a good idea.

I’ve been listening to a lot of trance/dubsteb/electronica lately as it’s a wonderful way to relax. I can simply listen, or work on something else creative while the music plays and I find it keeps me very focused. I’ve tried to recreate that with my own work.

Another influence is the the artist Simon Stålenhag – who’s evocative artwork gives me the chills! I think back to the RPGs we played in the 80’s, the fiction I read and Simon’s artwork is the best of all of that squeezed into some amazing pictures.

All 16 songs were generated on one lowly iPad – using Garageband. Lots of loops, lots of me performing electronic instruments and just a few vocals as well – though heavily digitized.

If you’d like to hear it, you can listen right here:

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=359138304/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/transparent=true/

If you’d like to buy it, you can go to Bandcamp, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Music and more. Also – it should be on Spotify and Pandora by now as well. Please let me know what you think and feel free to rate the album wherever you listen to it or purchase it. Thanks!

Turbo Drift – a real space racing game done in just 18 cards

Before the holidays came and ate up my entire life, I was given a copy of one of the three newest Button Shy Games productions – Turbo Drift by Rob Cramer. For a long time I’ve been admiring Button Shy’s devotion to the very small game space – it’s an interesting design challenge to make good games that fit into 18 cards or less and a little plastic wallet. I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised a number of times and Turbo Drift is, while a very different kind of game for Button Shy, no exception. Turbo drift is on Kickstarter right now!

How to play

Turbo Drift is a racing game for 2-4 players, taking about 20 minutes for ages 8+. In the game, players will place a series of Barrier cards onto the play space, decide where the racers will be starting from, place their Car cards there and then determine where the Finish Line card will be. The Car cards have a plain and a B side – make sure they’re on their plain side. Now, take the Path cards (there are six of them and they’re double sided), shuffle them up and lay them out in a 3 card by 2 card grid. You’ll end up with something that looks like this (but probably neater).

That Stoplight card you see at the top right is the First Player card – whoever is designated as the first player should have that in their clutches. Clutches. I’ll give that a moment to sink in. The game progresses over a series of rounds until a player’s Car card touches or overlaps the Finish Line card, when the game ends and that player has Champaign poured all over them.

Each round goes like this:

  • The first player places the Burning Rubber card behind their Car card to move forward, or in front of their Car Card to move backwards.
  • Now just go ahead and pick your Car card right up.
  • Choose your Path cards – by either selecting a vertical row of 2 cards, a horizontal row of 3 cards or any 1 card. (If you’re crazy like a fox, you can take ALL of the cards in a Nitro action once per game as well).
  • Now, connect your Path cards in any order you like to the Burning Rubber card to see where your Car will be moving.
  • Flip your Car card over (so if the B side wasn’t showing before, it is now) and place it at the end of your Path cards, like so:

In the above example, the White Car has nearly won the race, while successfully not crashing into anything like that Barrier card below it or the Black Car card.

If, when placing your Path cards you do encounter a Barrier or Car, you crash! This means you remove that path card, place your car back on the playing surface and you’re done with your turn this round. It’s possible to not move anywhere if that was your first (or only) Path card.

If you manage to run across one of those Turbo Boost icons on a Barrier card without actually touching the Barrier (your Car can overlap a Barrier card as long as the actual barrier isn’t obscured by your Car Card) then you get to Turbo Boost! That means you get to take the Burning Rubber card and place it at the end of your full path – even if you’d be going through/jumping over another Barrier or another Car.

Now that you’ve moved, flip over the Path cards you’ve used and add them back into the grid. It’s the next player’s turn this round. If all the players have taking a turn this round without crossing the finish line, that round ends and the next round begins starting with the first player.

The advantages to taking 2 or 3 cards are obvious – you move further! Unless you’re like me and crash into a barrier on your first card. The advantage to taking just one card though is that you get to reassign the First Player card to whoever you wish – usually it’s yourself. This reassigning can happen several times over one round though depending on what tactics the other players are employing. There is also a certain strategy to making someone who’s about to crash go first to see if they can get out of their potential collision.

So that Nitro action? Once per game, you can scoop up all the cards. You cannot however choose what order you play them in. You start at the top and work your way down. You can stop at any time though (whether it’s one card, somewhere between one and six or all six).  Be careful though – if you crash into a barrier or another player, you go up in a giant ball of flame and that’s the game for you! We’ve had a 2 player game end rather quickly and abruptly this way and it was spectacular.

Real Space Racing

As in, it takes place a real, physical space, not on an x,y,z axis in a near vacuum. That’s a concept I’m finding in a few games and I’m really loving it – you basically take the space that’s available to you and utilize it as your game board. This can be your table, the floor, the air craft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) if you happen to have clearance and a lot of time on your hands. What this does is effectively turn an 18 card racing game into a game that fits into whatever space you have – it can be a big game if you want it to be. Another game that immediately comes to mind that utilizes this is X-Wing from FFG.

Why you should play

Turbo Drift manages to capture the essence of those funky old 8 or 16 bit, top down racing games for older computers that I still love. The cars are all equally matched, all equally hard to control, the course is ever changing to your own designs and it’s just plain fun. After the first few turns of your first game you’ll find that the game plays out very quickly. Our first game took us a good 40 minutes but after that we were down to the stated 20 or so minutes for a full 2 or 3 player game.

Turbo Drift manages to cram all of this into 18 cards and does a fantastic job at it. Players are really never bored even while watching someone else take their turn because you never know what will happen – crashes, driving off the table, getting <—–> that close to the finish line but juuuuust missing it. The game is actually pretty exciting for us and we’ve had a few moments where we’re all standing in anticipation of what may happen next. Can they pull of that last Turbo Drift to scoot across the finish line or will they end up facing the wrong direction and having to throw it into reverse?

There’s a bit of luck in that the grid of Path cards is constantly changing but you can still choose which among them you’ll take and if you’re careful enough or crazy enough, you just might win. I tried several strategies – the slow and steady wins the race strategy and the driving like a crazed, caffeine infused cheetah strategy. I’ve met with equal success with both although the crazed strategy is a bit more fun.

Button Shy recently posted a few suggested setups for various race courses on the Kickstarter page, which I’ve added below. You can set up the Barrier cards however you like though.

Here’s a 20 second gif of an entire race between Luca and myself if you’d like to see what a 20 minute game looks like.

And now for something completely different – Music

A long time ago, in a galaxy somewhere up in New Hampshire, I used to play in a band. I’ve always loved music and have always fooled around a bit with musical production. Over the past year or so I’ve very much gotten into electronic and dubstep music – mostly because I love having something trance-like on while I’m thinking, writing and creating. Over the past month, I was given the opportunity (free time) and the tools (Garage Band, electronic instruments) to actually create something of my own. So I did.

Musivational is what I’m calling it. The concept behind the music is a re-imaging of my childhood in the 80’s. It’s influenced strongly by my own memories, awesome 80’s flicks, shows like Stranger Things and the artwork of Simon Stålenhag www.theverge.com/2013/8/27/466484…i-tech-were-real which you should really check out if you’ve not already.

This is a complete, 100% experiment on my part. The neat thing is – I’m actually launching an album which will be available from just about all electronic music distribution formats. iTunes, Play, Amazon and the rest. Here are links to two songs if you’d like to check them out. The actual album drops January 23rd. This will be the first, and possibly the only time I’ve ever tried to make money from music. We’ll see how it goes. It cost me very little to do this. I can make back what I’m spending to keep this album in circulation (which is approximately the cost of a nice dinner) for a year, I’ll keep going with projects like these. If I can’t? Well, at least I’ll have done this!

Please let me know what you think. Constructive criticism always welcome!

Kanagawa

Welcome to the beautiful prefecture of Kanagawa (BGG, Amazon)! You are all students at Katsushika Hokusai’s art school and hope to create your own masterwork through the teachings of the great master himself. The publisher of Kanagawa, Iello, provides some of the best art direction in the board game industry. Iello games look and feel polished and refined and Kanagawa did not disappoint. Everything about the game fits into the theme and looks gorgeous. The artwork on the cards is interesting and flows well so that it does seem that you are creating a large art scroll. The gameboard is a bamboo mat which unrolls in front of you for your lessons. This elegant touch feels perfect – I love it. The paintbrush tokens are these neat little miniatures when they could have just been little cardboard tokens. Iello makes me feel all warm inside.

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Three columns of cards in a three player game. Some cards are placed face-up and some face-down (the red squares).

The card drafting and tableau building mechanisms are very similar to those I discussed in Dream Home by Asmodee. In both games you are drawing one column of cards and adding them to your personal tableau. In Dream Home you are choosing two cards (one room and one improvement card) or one room card and the first player token. Kanagawa is slightly more complex with an added element of press-your-luck. Lesson cards are placed in rows to help students develop their studios or their prints. At first only one row of cards is dealt on to the board equal to the number of players. Players can take a card or pass and wait for a second row and take a column of two cards or pass and wait again to get three cards. In the end you can get more cards but you run the risk of other players snagging cards you really need.

The lesson cards are delightful. I love multi-use cards. I absolutely adore multi-use cards when they are intuitively designed with clear iconography. The iconography is practically flawless and can be picked up and understood quickly. You barely need to examine the cards closely before knowing what they can do. Besides, I would much rather spend that time enjoying the amazing water-color artwork. 

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Jade Mosch did the water-color artwork on the cards.

The core of the decision space is after you choose your cards. Once cards are drafted, you can add them to your print to expand your painting and score points or you can add them into your Studio to help you gain the skills needed to add to your painting. It is here that Kanagawa felt nicely streamlined. There are no wasted actions. Sometimes when you draw cards in games like this you end up with cards you can’t afford to use or don’t have the requisite abilities to use causing you to discard. This causes frustration in younger players (and honestly, it bugs me as well). In Kanagawa you can always add cards to your studio to gain more skills. It is always an options and adding to your studio provides more options during later turns. There is a slight difficulty with the game here. Let’s compare to Dream Home again. In Dream Home you choose a column and then place a card. Since the cards in Kanagawa have multiple uses and you can have up to three of them to place during your turn, there tends to be a bit of analysis before the next player can take their cards. It slows the flow of the game down. Nothing dramatic but it isn’t as snappy as Dream Home.

img_7192
Some artwork and barely functioning studio.

You earn points at the end of the game primarily from Diploma tiles which have their own press your luck element to them. There are usually a few different tiles for each scoring element (number of buildings, tree, portraits, animals, number of identical landscapes, and number of brushes/arrows in your studio) increasing in points and number of elements to earn the diploma. For example you can earn the 3 point yellow diploma tile if you have 2 different buildings. Or you can wait to earn 4 points and a storm token with 3 different buildings. Or earn 7 points and the Assistant pawn if you have 4 different buildings. When you reach an objective (2, 3, or 4 buildings) you are required to announce it and then decide whether you take the diploma tile or wait to earn the next. If you wait then you can never go back and take the earlier tile. There are lots of them diploma tiles (a total of 19 of the seven colors) and you can never have more than one of the same color. You also earn points by having a long stretch of one season in your print and by scoring bonus points on some lesson cards. 

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The Diploma tiles are not that confusing but they do slow down the flow of the game.

Overall the game is gorgeous and the artwork beautiful. The gameplay is a rung above Dream Home in complexity so if you like the card drafting in Dream Home (and I do!) but feel like you need just a bit more decision space (like I do!), then Kanagawa is a great choice. Tableau building games provide a strong feeling of creation and accomplishment that really shines in Kanagawa. There are other amazingly fun tableau builders that are too dry but with solid mechanics (San Juan), can be too cut-throat for some families (Citadels) or too complex for beginning gamers (7 Wonders, Eminent Domain) and Kanagawa fits in nicely where those games fall short. It is great family (or library) fare, with attractive and accessible art, and satisfying after the first play. The only difficulty in teaching the game was explaining the diploma tiles and dealing with the large amount of them. It may take a few plays (or at least some time examining each tile) to really understand each one. The shear number can be potentially overwhelming for younger players but not necessarily intimidating or off-putting. Just take the time to explain each one when you get a chance throughout the game.   

Best Board Games of 2016

This was an amazing year in board games with many games popping up perfect for your personal library. As I stated in 2015, it is nearly impossible to play and review even a large portion of all of the game that comes out in a year. And it is even harder to be able to recommend them to libraries when that audience is so diverse and community so varied. That said, I think I limited it to eight games that will certainly make a wonderful addition to your personal collection.

I try to recommend games with a small learning curve so most of these games are perfect for a budding library collection (Dream Home, Happy Salmon) and if I do include more complex game, they are worth the extra time it takes to learn and will be a better addition to an already established collection (Terraforming Mars, Beyond Baker Street).

Some games just barely missed the cut. Scythe contained too many components for inclusion and those minis go missing too quickly to keep up. The Grizzled: At Your Orders is an expansion and is mandatory (the base game was included in my 2015 list). Great Western Trail looks amazing but I couldn’t get a copy and thus never made it to my table. A Feast For Odin is just too complex.

There are dozens more worth discussing and recommending to you, and I hope that this shortened list serves as a good representation for what 2016 has offered.

The Strategy Game: Terraforming Mars

(BGG, Amazon) After the success of The Martian, expect a whole glut of mars-themed board games next year and a whole bunch of red boxes in the future. At quick glance you have Surviving Mars, First Martians, Martians: A Story of Civilization and a reprint of Mission: Red Planet. So, you know what you have to do.

The goal of Terraforming Mars is simple: make Mars habitable for colonization and exploitation. Getting it done, however, is far from easy. The entire game unfolds over generations as futuristic mega-corporations battle to change Mars from a red planet to a greenish blue one. This is accomplished by building cities, encouraging vegetation and creating water. To make the planet habitable and end the game three things must happen: atmospheric oxygen rises to 14%, the temperature rises to 8 degrees Celsius (that’s correct, in this game you are encouraging global warming) and the oceans are filled.

This game is a chunky engine-builder and full of strategic potential. Unlike many science-fiction themed games, Terraforming Mars focuses on scientific accuracy, attention to detail and technical consistency. You know that part of The Right Stuff where all the engineers are struggling to brainstorm how to make a new thing with a box of old things? It’s like that mixed writ large and combined with the Weyland-Yutani Corps (“Building Better Worlds”) from Aliens. You have hundreds of years to introduce moss, melt icecaps and crash meteors into Mars before it is any good to humanity.

Fair warning though, it is also really, really, really ugly. The artwork is inconsistent and the graphic design is unfortunate. So, if you are looking to “wow” patrons into gaming at first glance, this isn’t the best pick. But if you want to bulk up your collection with a thematic thinker and encourage your patrons to grow, then give Terraforming Mars a chance.

Terraforming Mars has great gameplay and lots of strategic potential to bulk up a collection. It is an amazing game that rewards repeated play. It is best to pair it with, obviously, The Martian by Andy Weir.

The Party Game: Happy Salmon

(BGG, Amazon) Stop reading right here and go buy this silly, ridiculous real-time game for your library—you won’t regret it. Happy Salmon is one of those games that children will love, adults will pretend they don’t like (but actually do) and can be just as much fun to watch to play.

The game is snappy and fast and, honestly, it takes longer to read the tiny rulebook than to play one full game.The goal is simple: get rid of all your cards. You place the pile of 12 cards facedown in front of you. Everyone flips over the first card. There are four types: High 5, Pound It, Switcheroo and Happy Salmon. Once you see your card, you yell out the title of the card until you find someone yelling the same thing, make eye contact and perform the action on the card. Once you do that, you discard that card and go to the next one. Three to six people will be giving each other high fives, bumping fists, trading places at the table and doing the happy salmon (grab each other’s wrist and slap your hand against each other’s forearm).

Listen. It comes in a pouch shaped like a SALMON. It’s simple, silly and hilarious. You can at least do a round or two at the start of departmental meetings with this game and consider it money well spent. Pair this game with Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss and Salmon Fishing in Yemen by Paul Torday.

The Tiny Box Big Game: Kodama: The Tree Spirits

(BGG, Amazon) Invoking images of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, Daniel Solis’s Kodama: The Tree Spirits is a masterfully designed card game in a small box and it will totally enchant you upon first play.

In Kodama, you tend to the homes of the tiny bobble-headed spirits who inhabit your forest. To appease these helpful spirits, you need to tend to their tree according to their exact, and maybe strange, specifications. Their happiness and your success depends one how many caterpillars, fireflies, flowers, mushrooms, are at home in your tree and how many clouds or stars can be seen from their branches. You compete against other players to grow the best trees for your new tree-dwelling buddies. Happy Spirits keep a Happy Forest!

The true beauty of Kodama is the ability to grow your tree. Each player starts with an oversized trunk card and then each card they choose throughout the game is a branch extending from the trunk. The result, at the end of three seasons, is an massive splay of cards representing the tree you created. Everything from the whimsical art to the simple gameplay makes this a perfect game for families. They even included additional cards specifically designed for younger players.

Kodama is adorable, family friendly and best of all, lets you create something satisfying at the end of your game. In Kodama, it is a large, branching and likely lopsided, tree. Games like these leave you satisfied, win or lose, because you created something. Pair it with anything from Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.

The Dexterity Game: Ice Cool

(BGG, Amazon) In Ice Cool, you are all students at a penguin high school. Get it? High School. Ice Cool. Penguins? Right? A little word play and I’m yours forever. Remember that. Anyway.

One player is the hall monitor and the rest of the players are students. The students are trying to collect three fish located throughout the school, and the hall monitor is trying to catch the students and collect their student IDs. As players meet their goals, they draw cards with points on them. At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins.

Each penguin is kind of like a Weeble. They weeble and they wobble but they don’t fall down. When players want to move their penguin across the board, they flick them. The students just need to go through the doors to the rooms where the fish are and the hall monitor needs to flick themselves into the students. A round ends when either a student collects all their fish or the hall monitor has collected all students’ IDs. At the start of a new round, a different player becomes the hall monitor and you begin again until everyone has had a chance to be the hall monitor. You tally the points on the cards collected through the game and the player with the most wins.

Fun, loud and nicely contained in a box that doubles as the game board. If you want to drum up interest in your board game collection, get a family or two playing this game out in the open and it will definitely draw a crowd. Pair this with reruns of Saved By the Bell.

The Two Player Game: Tides of Madness

(BGG, Amazon) There is plenty of bite in this delightful card drafting game for two players with only 18 cards, a handful of tokens and stunning artwork.

Generally, games with heavy themes (horror, science-fiction, fantasy) have not circulated well at the library but small, simple, light games with heavy themes that it can be demoed at a service point may just work. Tides of Madness offer a tense 20-minute duel where you score points by collecting sets while drafting cards back and forth. At the end of the round you tally any madness tokens you may have accumulated, choose to keep one card for the next round and discard another out of the game. You’ll need to anticipate which cards your opponent needs and obfuscate which ones you are looking for while keeping an eye on the madness tokens. They can accumulate, and if you delve too deeply into the arcane, you may lose your sanity and the game.

Only 18 cards in a quick, snappy drafting game, and totally tense! Tides of Madness is to two people what Love Letter is to four. Pair with The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins.

The Editor’s Choice: Kanagawa

(BGG, Amazon) Dear Reader, if you have not been introduced yet, let me introduce you to Iello. Iello games have, bar none, the best art direction in games today. Every game in their catalog looks like it couldn’t possibly belong anywhere else and every game is aimed straight to the heart of the family gaming market.

In Kanagawa, it is 1840 and you are a student in Master Hokusai’s painting school. Your goal is to earn different diploma tiles representing your many artistic successes at the school. To achieve this you will need to expand your studio, learn new techniques and create an epic masterpiece of your favorite subjects (a combination of flora, fauna, architecture and notables) across the Japanese countryside. But you are still in school and your master will be offering many lessons to a select few represented by tiles placed on a rattan central board. You can take a tile quickly or wait until later to get more, but if you wait too long another student may grab your slot, leaving you with whatever is left over. You add tiles to your print (your painting gets longer) or to your studio (your skills improve and you are able to paint different subjects).

Rattan. Game. Board. It rolls up when you are done. I’m flabbergasted and completely in love with this. Best paired with The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima.

The Cooperative Game: Beyond Baker Street

(BGG, Amazon) A spiritual successor to the cooperative card game Hanabi, Beyond Baker Street from publisher Z-Man Games has two to four detectives working together to solve a mystery before that insufferable show-off Sherlock does.

Players have three leads to work on in order to solve the mystery—Subject, Motive and Opportunity. Each player has a handful of clues, witnesses and evidence. What makes the game a challenge is that players are unable to look at their own cards and instead have their cards facing out towards the rest of the players. Cooperation is elementary as players provide clues to each other in order to place the correct cards in the correct places before Sherlock solves the case. On your turn you can provide a hint to another player about what is in their hand, play a card on a lead, confirm a lead, discard a card or eliminate a lead. There is more to the game but if you are familiar with Hanabi (which uses the same cards facing outwards mechanism), then Beyond Baker Street will be quick to pick up. If you are not familiar, it will take five minutes to read the rules and you will be right as rain to play.

Beyond Baker Street adds some added thematic elements including different cases to increase the challenge and character cards that provide special abilities, which make this a nice upgrade to Hanabi or a great starting point into cooperative games. Best paired with Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz.

The Family Game: Dream Home

This game is so adorable I just want to hug it. Look at all those happy people on the box top! The future has so much potential.

(BGG, Amazon) In Dream Home you are building your perfect house, and also a better house than everyone else. Each player gets an empty house tableau with 12 room spaces in it; five on the second floor, five on the first and two in the basement. Players get to choose from a pair of cards with one room and one resource (helpers, handy-persons, architects, tools, etc.) to use in building their home. The room gets placed according to some simple rules, and the resource can be used immediately or later to score more points. You can expand rooms for more points (a playroom is nice but a huge playroom is even better), add decor to provide the perfect finishing touch for a room and get bonus points for functionality.

There is very little room for improvement in this light family game. It is a complete joy to play with people of all ages that plays in 30 minutes. Perfect after-dinner game in your newly remodeled kitchen. Best paired with A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia McAlester.

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

climbers

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.

 

As some of you may have noticed, the site died for a bit

Yup – the database shrugged it’s virtual shoulders, and jumped right into a hole.

Unfortunately the last uncorrupted backup of the DB I was able to get was from Nov 25th. So we lost a few posts and about 3 weeks of traffic. All was not lost however, for which I’m grateful! Off to do some better backups (again) and see what happens from here. Hopefully we’ll stay afloat another 8 years!

-Ben

Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space

Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space is a minimalist game of bluffing and secrecy set on the damaged research ship — the SELVA. All systems are down and the entire ship is dark. Captain and crew are trying to make their way to escape pods and an unknown, alien virus is transforming the crew into blood-thirsty monsters. If you are human you quietly and swiftly try to make your way to the escape pods and hope they work. If you are an alien, you quietly make your way towards the humans and hope they are tasty. Rather than utilizing a central board like Scotland Yard, Letters from Whitechapel, or Fury of Dracula, Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space has each player marking their movement on a personal map sheet which remains hidden from the other players. Players use a dry erase marker to record their movement, location, and any additional information they can glean from the others in 40 rounds.

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There are several map sheets to choose from, each featuring a specific zone of the SELVA. Each map is made up of different numbered hexagonal sectors. At the start of the game, each player agrees to the same map (since your personal map is secret, it is important that everyone starts on the same page). Each zone has a specific name such as Galilei — The Research Zone — and come in varying sizes, layouts, for recommended player counts and levels of experience. After a map is chosen, a number of character cards equal to the number of players are drawn and secretly dealt to each player. For even numbers of players, half of these should be alien cards and the other half should be human cards. For odd numbers of players, you add an extra alien. Each character card (both alien and human) has a unique ability.

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Characters: Red for Aliens and Blue for Humans

Payers take turns moving from one sector to another and recording their movement on their sheet. Humans start from a different sector than aliens and attempt to move to the escape pod sector[s]. Aliens start moving towards where they think the humans are currently located. Aliens can move one or two sectors (three after an alien successfully devours their first human) and humans can only move one unless aided by certain cards. When players move into a dangerous sector (colored grey on the map) they draw a card. There are different types of dangerous sector cards. Some require a player announce their location, some require you bluff and announce any location, some allow you to remain silent, and some are items that can be used by humans immediately or later in the game. Regardless of species, all cards drawn are kept in front of the players and remain secret. Since aliens can’t use items, only humans should be looking at their cards occasionally. Humans, remember your cards. Aliens, pretend to reference your cards at all times just to blend in.

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Item cards plus a dangerous sector card in red

At the end of their aliens can declare an attack on anyone else in the sector. Players, either human or alien, in that sector must announce their presence and promptly die and reveal their character. When humans are killed they respawn as aliens from the alien starting sector and begin to hunt. When aliens are killed they are eliminated from the game and either start making snacks, mixing drinks, or picking the next game to play. To counteract this, human players can utilize items any time during their turn. Items can help them attack, teleport, defend against attack, or force other players to announce their location.

The game ends after 40 rounds, when all humans escape, all humans are eaten, or some combination of the above. The aliens win if they can kill all the humans remaining on the station. Any human killed by an alien loses and any human who escapes wins.

Escape from the Aliens of Outer Space is a mixed bag of a game. Let’s start with the unsatisfying ending of the game. As an example of a satisfying ending, take the hidden movement game Letters from Whitechapel. Jack can win if he escapes detection for the game and the constables win if they can locate Jack. The endgame rewards cunning and secrecy for Jack and rewards teamwork, communication, and cooperation in the constables. Either way it is certainly satisfying. The ending of Escape from the Aliens of Outer Space is a weird “every person for themselves” for the humans and a secretive game of teamwork for the aliens. However, with no central board to work from it is difficult for the aliens to subtly communicate with each other to determine who is an alien and a lone human survivor can’t really celebrate since what feels like a cooperative (humans surviving versus aliens hunting) game was really a competitive (get outta my way, this is my escape pod!) one.

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A sector map with starting locations for Aliens and Humans and the numbered escape pods in the back.

A better role for dispatched aliens could have been designed. When humans die they are respawned as aliens. But aliens killed by aliens result in having a player potentially removed from the game early on. This is, in my opinion, a design flaw. Granted, Escape from the Aliens of Outer Space should only last 30-45 minutes but if one person is removed early it ruins their experience of the game and then makes it much harder for the Aliens to win. I prefer to have an attacked alien revealed as an alien. This makes the game difficult for these two aliens (now revealed to everyone else — location and identity) without removing one from the game. Any way to keep people playing should be the goal of the design, unless the game is specifically a player elimination game which doesn’t seem to be the intent of Escape from the Aliens of Outer Space.

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Here you record your movements for 40 rounds and a kindly reminder for all to the items

That small design flaw aside, the game is certainly tense and if you place a strict time limit on movement, the game can move quickly (to meet the 30-45 minute time expectation on the box rather than the 45-60 minutes it takes with larger groups) and the experience can be memorable. But, like any hidden role game, it depends on the group. Some games can be horrendously silent and slow. Others can be rousingly thematic and exciting. If you want to play this game and have a positive experience you need to seriously read your game group well. And despite the simplicity of gameplay, it is not a gateway game.

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Hilariously, not all of the escape pods actually are functioning…because everything wasn’t bad enough already.

Bookkeeping can also be a challenge. Unlike Letters from Whitechapel where only Jack is required to keep a careful log of movements, in Escape each player needs to be meticulous in their records and also able to keep an eye on where everyone else is potentially located. In the wrong hands this game looks like a large and boring rendition of Battleship with announced coordinates and a quick jot of a note. To be fair, in the right hands you feel like you’ve been transported to the set of Alien. The game really is only worth a play at higher player counts and thus the downtime can be excruciating. That said, there are eight maps to choose from so you can customize your game experience to your group by using a larger or smaller map. This plus your ability to go online and use the map editor (http://www.eftaios.com/mapeditor.html) provides a ton of variability.

This game could have gone a route to be bigger and more component heavy, especially in a market that rewards miniatures and intense components. It could have had a central board and more planning. However, it minimizes the overhead to maximize the immersive experience — you are alone and in the dark trying to get out or to hunt. This does place the onus solely on the player to provide the atmosphere. My recommendation is that if your group loves Letters from Whitechapel, lives and breathes Battlestar Galactica, and washes it down with The Resistance, then you have a winner here. Escape from the Aliens of Outer Space sits nicely in the realm of hidden movement and hidden role games, providing a large depth of immersion for a game that is so very easy to learn that exceeds at higher player counts for a true experience game.

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