Game Dev Tycoon ($9.99 on Steam) puts you in control of your very own video game company. Build it up from your parents’ garage into a multi-million dollar corporation behind hit games. YOU have the power.
Great Wargamer Destinations
Summer is a time to relax and go on vacation. Why not also gather some inspiration for wargaming to boot?
- USS Constitution in Boston, Massachusetts USA
- Plimouth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts USA
- Yorktown Battlefield/Colonial Williamsburg/Jamestown in Virginia, USA near Jamestown/Williamsburg
Scale Military Modeller International
The June 2014 issue is briefly, very briefly, reviewed. It is worth picking up if you can. The cost is 4.25 GBP. Visit Scale Military Modeller International for more information.
Age of Empires 2 HD
Almost 20 years ago Microsoft released one of the most incredible real time strategy (RTS) computer games ever. More recently they updated and optimized the classic Age of Empires (AoE) 2 to work on modern computers. Age of Empires 2 HD is quite a game.
For a limited time you can purchase it for $2.49 (regularly $9.99) via Steam. If you do, be sure to look us up on Steam. Our username is WargamingRecon. We’d love to game with you and relive the days of hearing “Monk…I need a monk” and “Long time no siege” while playing Age of Empires.
We apologize that our scheduled guest, Steven MacLauchlan, does not appear in this episode. He needed to cancel for personal reasons. We’re working to reschedule him to come on an episode sometime in September 2014.
1775 the Boardgame
Some games are so good that they grip you from the very beginning. 1775: Rebellion by Academy Games is one such game. If you can’t get it near you why not pick up a copy from our Amazon affiliate link: Buy 1775: Rebellion by Academy Games.
Escape: The Curse of the temple
Even the most mundane tasks can be enlivened by putting a time limit on them. Shaving, washing up and ironing all gain new life with a countdown. Consider taking old grandma to the supermarket. It’s probably not the most exciting task, but setting yourself 10 minutes to get down the aisles and back to the checkout with granny in tow. Wouldn’t that be fun? Who wouldn’t want a trolley awash with prune juice, gingernuts and gin.
If you want to get the adrenalin pumping, but don’t want to be banned from your local supermarket you may want to check out Escape: The Curse of the Temple. It is a breathless 10 minute rush through a temple and plays cooperatively for 1 to 5 players. Expect to roll dice, shout for help and curse black masks. The game is designed by Kristian Admundsen Ostby and published by Queen Games.
In the box, you will find custom dice, large temple tiles, player pieces, crystals, treasure and curse tokens, as well as a CD and an egg timer, (if you wish to play quietly). As is usual with Queen Games all the components feel well made and ready to withstand a lot of gaming.
Aims and goals
The goal of Escape: The Curse of the temple is, (and I don’t think I am giving anything away here), escaping from the temple. You do this by exploring the temple and finding the exit. It is simply a matter of starting from a central chamber and placing tiles domino style until you find the exit. Well, it would be simple if it were not for three things; dice, crystals and time. Actually let’s make that four: we can add people to the mix, oh and tables. Yes tables are pretty important too.
Each player gets 5 lovely dice to roll. They are all the same, with sides displaying a torch, key, black mask, golden mask and two faces with a running man.
You need to roll the dice to draw new tiles, move around the temple and place crystals. The design makes it clear what you need to do, with icons clearly displayed on the tiles. To draw a new tile, roll two running men, to move to the next room you need to match what is shown on that tile. You can roll your dice as fast as you like and keep the results of any dice you need. When a dice roll results in a black mask, it is locked, but rolling a golden mask unlocks two black masks.
The crystals start the game stored in a trunk. At the end of the game you need to roll more keys than there are crystals in the trunk to leave the temple. You complete dice rolling feats to place the crystals in the temple and improve your chances of escape. If you get to the exit without placing any, you will be trapped.
I mentioned the game’s 10 minute running time a couple of times earlier and this is because it is the keystone. Without a time limit this game would fall apart.
The game comes with a soundtrack on CD, (also downloadable from the Queen Games website), that guides you through the three phases of the game:
- Explore and run back to the starting room and recover.
- Explore and run back to the starting room and rest.
- Head for the exit and escape.
The soundtrack has everything you would want for a temple escape; drums, gongs, jungle sounds and slamming temple doors. It sets the tone for a frenzy of dice rolling and shouting and blind panic.
Everybody loves people. In Escape all the explorers need to exit the temple before the final door slams, or the game is lost. This means working together, which can be great when you have black masks and a friend in the same room shares a golden mask with you. It can be great when you are at the exit and those on the outside pass you an extra dice to roll the required number of keys. It can be terrible when a friend cannot roll anything but black masks and gets stuck on the other side of the temple.
You will be shouting for your friends’ help. You will call and you will be disappointed because they want to be in the starting room when the clock ticks down. The start room is safe, if you are not there when the shutters come down you lose a dice. You don’t want to lose a dice, you will be a lame duck and a beak is no good for rolling.
Do not play Escape on a small table or an unlit room. You need to keep your dice on the table, scrambling for dice is not part of the escape plan.
Playing with Three
Escape is great to play with two to five, but I haven’t played with one, somehow it doesn’t seem right. The starting crystals increase with the player count to scale the difficulty and this works pretty smoothly.
How easy is it to teach the game?
Say goodbye to any thoughts of teaching while playing and if you have read this far you will understand why. This is a game about rolling dice and the designers have come up with a design that helps lead you through what you need to roll, (even the temple tiles have two torches on the back to remind you).
I have found running through some examples in slooooow mo helps get the points across.
Can complexity be scaled?
If you want to make it easier, just reduce the starting crystal count. The basic box also comes with two small expansions, (Curses and Treasures). I recommend leaving them out for the first few plays.
Can you handicap other players? Do you need to?
Yeah! It’s a co-operative game, so this section can remain blank.
How likely is your child to flip the table half way through?
Your child will not have the breath left to even lift one of the cardboard tiles, let alone complain. 10 minutes of extreme dice rolling will not test anyone’s patience.
Beyond the game
It has been a good way to introduce the Indiana Jones films. We have not discussed the morals behind grave robbing or culture theft.
What do I think?
Escape: The Curse of the Temple would be a below average example of temple exploration, were it not for the ticking timer that piles on the pressure.
The curses and treasures tiles that come with the game bring another level of complexity to extend the life of the game once the standard version loses its challenge. My feeling is that the pain of the curses outweigh the benefit of the treasures. The sort of pain that can see you struck dumb and holding one hand on your head, or permanently losing a dice if it goes off the table.
Escape is a really intense experience. So much so that I cannot play more than two games in a row. I wouldn’t want to lose this from my collection, as you can play with children and adults together on a level playing field, and teaching the game is simple enough.
Do I want to play the game every night? No, I am happy to play every month or so and do not feel a pressing need to buy any expansions. Like a high speed senior citizen shopping expedition – it is fun, but not the sort of fun I want to experience every day.
In Belfort by Tasty Minstrel Games you play a Master Builder chosen by the city planners to provide the city with the buildings and districts that will be a testimony to the glory that is Belfort. However, due to a minor (minuscule really, no reason to knock it up to the administrative offices) bureaucratic error, the planners hired all the builders. Now we have an issue – one city, five districts, 2-5 competing Master Builders and their crews of snotty elves, drunk dwarves, and meticulous gnomes. The only way to make it through is to start gathering resources, forming guilds, constructing buildings and trying to gobble up the choice pieces of property in each district. Get moving people! This ancient, mystical wood ain’t gonna deforest itself! These hill-giants won’t strip-mine without proper supervision! Paper needs pushing…forms need to be notarized…
Designer: Jay Cormier, Sen-Foong Lim
Game Length: 120 minutes
Category: City Building, Economic, Fantastically Ineffectual Bureaucracy, Stupid Gnomes
Mechanic: Area Control/Majority, Worker Placement, Drunken Dwarves
How do I play?
The goal of Belfort is simple…hire workers, gather resources, build buildings and gain a majority in as many cities districts as you can. All while keeping an eye on the taxes you will need to pay, the buildings and guilds available, and don’t forget those horrible, horrible, horrible gnomish bureaucrats.
Set-up: Oh my! Set-up is a bear. In fact, the one thing keeping this game off of my table were the insane amount of bits and pieces that come in the box. This isn’t a huge problem but new players may be a tad bit intimidated by the shear avalanche of stuff that will be spread out on the table. So…bottom line, this game comes with a veritable gnomish explosion of bits. Also the modular, 5-district, Game Board plus the Calendar Board plus the Collection Board and then the individual Player Boards tend to shock new players into a coma. Everything is wonderfully illustrated, well designed and high quality. Generally, I am not a huge fan of fantasy tropes in my games (this is despite being a huge fan of fantasy fiction and shouldering a young adulthood of RPGs). However, Josh Cappel’s amazing graphic design and artwork on this game will turn anyone’s head – even those who prefer more realistic settings. The artwork is welcoming and endearing.
The set up goes something like this:
- Place the 5 Game Boards together to create a pentagon. The scoring track that circles the boards should be intact in numerical order.
- Put the Collection Board next to the Game Board and pile the resources next to the appropriate spots.
- Choose Guild tiles and place them on the Guild spaces on the game board.
- Place the Calendar board next…..
By the Gods! OK. Listen…read the instructions for the rest or watch a video. Watch It Played has an AMAZING tutorial that is absolutely mandatory viewing for new players. We played it with 5 newbies and one experienced moderator and everyone appreciated the video to get them started. Even then it takes a round or two to get everyone moving. This is the most challenging element of the Belfort and well worth the effort. The massive footprint of the game can chase newcomers off as can the amount of mechanisms and decision space in the game.[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDCR-sLLKhc%5D
Speaking of a dwarven ton of mechanisms, in Belfort you primarily have worker placement, area control, resource and management, and variable turn order to spread your cognitive ability across like so much jam on toast. For fans of Stone Age, Lords of Waterdeep, and The Manhattan Project, the worker-placement element of the game is fairly straight forward. Your workforce consists of elves and dwarves, each of which can do some similar and specialized actions. The iconography of the board is shockingly simple and well done to facilitate placement. The various locations around the districts (the guilds for example) will have a circle and a square which means either elf (circle) or dwarf (square) can take an action there. The Resource Board has similar markings with elves able to cut down trees for lumber and dwarves mine ore but both skill are required for other actions. Elf and Dwarf workers can also be promoted to Master status to collect more resources than their lesser brethren. Gnomes have the ability to unlock the bureaucracy of certain locations to allow newly constructed building to open for business. Most of the newbies in my group loved this element of the game and were quickly able to fall right into the strategy of the specialized abilities of each fantasy race and the importance of hiring and placing these dependent upon the player’s overall strategy.
My one complaint is that the variable turn order is critical to the the strategy of worker placement and it tended to be forgotten by new players and will totally be taken advantage by the experienced players. During the placement phase of the game, players can choose to place a worker in the King’s Camp. I assume to gain the King’s favor and thus move up in the turn order. However, going first is not always the best tactical place to be. This provides a nice balance of tactical and strategic thinking that most experienced players will relish in but many newbies will struggle with slightly. The fact that, at times, especially near the end of the game, it is more advantageous to see what other players are doing rather than going first. This allows more flexibility and more tactical variety. While this led to many newbies in having a tough time near the end of the game, it was a point of strategy that could be explained during the game or afterwards during a debrief. My concern was that this subtly would detract from the game or cause some frustration. However, the pure joy of placing a worker to gain a benefit tended to outshine any lapses in decision-making.
Another element to the gameplay is hand management. So, not only are players managing resources in order to construct buildings and jockeying for turn order, but they also must make a determination of which buildings to purchase and hold in their hand. At the beginning of the game each player is drafted three property cards which represent the potential buildings located in each district. Similar to the guilds within the district, each building provides certain abilities for the player who construct and then opens/unlocks the building (via a Gnome). In order to build the correct buildings to gain majority in each of the districts, players need to choose the cards and buildings in a manner which allows for optimum control of the city. Cards require certain resources, money, and may need a Gnome (those dastardly gnomes) to unlock the bureaucratic red tape in order to provide the benefit of the building and place your influence into a district. Most cards allow for one building in a district but some such as the Gatehouse allow for one building in two adjacent districts and the Keep allows for two buildings in one district when constructed. Other buildings allow for a single building as well as some added benefit that may be activated once or repeatedly with a placed worker.
Lets talk about guilds, shall we? So far Belfort is hella heavy in the Euro category but the guilds provide a bit of excitement and are one of my favorite parts of the game. First of all, one random Guild tile is placed in each district for a total of five. This provides for some increased variability in play and can, potentially, change the strategy for a game and increase player interaction. This shift away from playing an optimization game really appealed to me. The Guilds are categorized into basic, interactive or resource types but the interactive types really make the game fun. I like the Spies’ Guild which causes all other players to reveal one card from their hands and then the activating player can choose one. The Wizards’ Guild allows the activating player to switch two locations of the same type and switch ownership and, lastly, the Bandits’ Guild allows for thievery. Some games can be completely free of these elements, while others can be chock full of them.
Finally, the last element of this game is area control/majority. Each building you construct provides you with abilities but it also provides you with some added influence in the district you choose to construct the building. When I think of area control/majority I usually conjure up an image of Tammany Hall with the constant ebb and flow of influence becoming almost impossible to track. Belfort is different in that the potential area for expansion is small enough that you need to be cautious about placement but can easily track the strategy of everyone on the board. Since I am fresh off of a few games of Alien Frontier, I found the area control/majority element of both games to be very similar with a limited amount of placement for huge payoffs. During the scoring rounds of the game, the players with the majority in each district garner 5 points. Second place gets 3 points. Since the scoring rounds are during the 3rd, 5th and 7th rounds (marked on the calendar by a big red “X”) players will spend the preceding rounds building up influence and planning for a big push right at the end.
Goodness, so much stuff and so many moving parts! Before I continue, I should reiterate that this game is [can be] friendly to newcomers to Euro-games while still providing enough depth for experienced players. However, it serves better as an step up from a gateway worker-placement games such as Stone Age or Lords of Waterdeep but before T’zolkin or Yedo. Give at least one practice round to teach everyone the mechanics and understand how they interact with each other.
Let’s briefly talk about the phases of the game.
- Calendar Phase: Move the Calendar Marker up by one. If the month is marked by a big red “X” then it is a round is punctuated by a fifth scoring phase.
- Placement Phase: According to turn order, players assign workers to locations on the game board (guilds), cards or the collection board for resources. Only one worker is placed at a time unless the player goes all in and ends their turn by placing all remaining workers on the collection board for resources.
- Collection Phase: Players collect their workers, starting with resources, the recruitment center and the King’s camp.
- Action Phase: In turn order, players take actions. (building walls, properties, and/or guilds, activating workers on the Game Board, using the trading post, hiring a Gnome, and lastly, buy a Property card.
- Scoring Phase: If the round is marked on the calendar be a large red “X” then players enter a scoring phase and score points for majority city district and worker majority.
What did you think?
Components: Nice heavy wooden components and I love the square vs. circle (dwarf vs. elf) to determine placement of workers. There are stickers to place and some people hate placing stickers on pieces but the bits are chunky enough that it could be done easily enough. The pentagon board can be a pain when pieces slide around and this will happen when people are constantly reaching over it to place workers on the Resource Board or trying to pick up cards. It isn’t a huge issue but evidently people have constructed a wooden board to hold everything together so I suppose some people have issues. The game has a big footprint and will take up some table space.
Gameplay: This is a very tactical game with a seemingly, at first, random hodge-podge of mechanisms thrown in. At first glance, Belfort seemed to suffer from design by committee with extra mechanisms added on a whim. I was worried that the hand/resource management, area control and worker placement elements of the game would be too clunky and cumbersome for my group. Especially when they are used to smoother worker placements like Coal Baron or Stone Age. However, after the first few rounds the gameplay is surprisingly fluid and the interactions of the mechanism are chaotic at times but that allowed for more depth and a nice space with multiple strategies and plenty of tactical decisions. The big question for me was whether or not Belfort was a good second tier worker-placement game for those emerging gamers who have already done Lords of Waterdeep and Stone Age. With the groups I played complete newcomers, emerging, and experienced gamers had a great time playing and were willing to play past the first two learning rounds. The gameplay is accessible but a moderator or experienced gamer was helpful in teaching the game. It has a bit of a learning curve which is not insurmountable but assume that you need some extra time, a few videos and some patience for that first play through. Since the interaction between the elements of gameplay were not too interconnected, the decision space did not get too cluttered. It fell back to (1) gather resources, (2) buy buildings (3) Place buildings where they give you a majority. While this strategy, by itself would not guarantee victory, it allowed new players a nice strategy to fall back on as they learned the game. Compare this to Euphoria where the sum of the mechanisms introduced into the game tended to multiply the decisions space to the point where newbies were lost, Belfort is a bit more accessible. And unlike Stone Age which can get formulaic after a few plays, Belfort relies on the guilds and property cards to add some replayability and increased player interaction. It was refreshing and pairs well with Alien Frontiers.
Theme: When asked whether the game was actually about elves and dwarves and gnomes, I explained that it wasn’t. The theme of the game is managing the bumpy road of bureaucracy with fantasy creatures. And here the theme integrated well. Taxes are a pain. Growth can make you a target, and it helps to play with your plans close to your chest. The design is delightful and I love Josh Cappel’s artwork and iconography. The cuteness of the characters allows for the theme to be more accessible to players not usually attracted to fantasy themed games.
Bottom Line: Worker placement knocked up a notch. It plays the line between complex and complicated. The added number of elements introduced into the games system can look intimidating but generally players were comfortable with the decision space and the added ability to just go “all in” on the Resource Board was oddly comforting at times. The mechanics, when taken separately, are simple and, when combined, add to the gameplay without making the system too complicated.
Would you rather?
Would you rather play Belfort or Stone Age?
The gameplay in Belfort is accessible for beginners but I still will fall back on Stone Age for the gateway into worker placement. Although, after one or two plays with Stone Age, I will jump a group right into Belfort for the added mechanisms and player interaction. If you are asking me whether I would prefer to play Belfort over Stone Age then the answer is Yes.
Would you rather play Belfort or Lords of Waterdeep?
The theme in Belfort is more attractive to me than Lords of Waterdeep. Belfort gets the fantasy feel across well without burying players in magic-users and Owlbears. The cute artwork is attractive to everyone and masks what can be a bit of a mean game. Both have nice replayability. But, in a pinch, I would go with Belfort if I have the time to set up and teach the game. If I am limited on time and people have decent vision, then Lords of Waterdeep.
Would you rather play Belfort or Castle Panic?
They are completely different games but I like the idea that the castle from Castle Panic looks like the city from Belfort and I think the two should be played together. First you build the city in Belfort and then you protect it from monsters in Castle Panic as the beasties from the woods come in waves to knock down your walls.
Alien Frontiers or Belfort?
Both! They introduce some more thematic elements and player interaction while keeping a tight Euro-base of gameplay. If I had a group that were primarily Euro gamers and I wanted to subversively herd them to space epics and dungeon delves then I would keep these two games in reserve.
The game looks intimidating but much like Ernest Hemingway, is a teddy bear at heart. It can play a bit long but can be shortened easily enough by only playing 5 rounds.
Special guest Dean Emmerson is a member of the Maine Historical Wargamers Association, which organizes HuzzahCon in Portland, Maine. He joins the episode to share why you need to attend HuzzahCon 2014. Some of the highlights are shared. Dean and Jonathan discuss great places to eat in Portland, Maine.
The duo express their love for the Boston Trained Bands gaming club along with the many individuals and companies that make Huzzah a success.
Wargaming Recon previously covered HuzzahCon in:
Want to stay current with Huzzah?
Don’t forget to peruse Dean’s online book and toy store: BrigadiersBookshelf
It is a scientifically proven fact that everything is improved by adding a robot or a spaceship. As always, there are exceptions and readers of a certain age in the UK may want to reflect upon ITV’s Metal Mickey and shudder. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metal_Mickey
Gravwell, Grav….well as soon as I heard about it, I knew that I needed to play this game. Just the name brought the movie The Black Hole to mind and with it a flashback: a voice intoning, “The black hole, so powerful not even light can escape it,” over a green screen graphic of water going down a plughole.
Have you ever been stuck in a black hole and turned to chemicals for a way out? If so, you will recognise the desperate plight that you find yourself in when you start Gravwell.
Your status? Alone in a small ship, marooned in a singularity.
Your aim? Flying to the safety of the waiting warp gate.
Your method? Injecting chemicals into your engine to manoeuvre your ship.
Looking further out, you see two lifeless hulks. A reminder that the cost of failure is an eternity drifting in dead space.
By careful mining of asteroids, you gain chemicals, (well elements, but that would have spoiled my introduction), to fuel your engine and manoeuvre your way out. Use some elements, and your engine rockets you towards the nearest ship, others push you away and sometimes your tractor beam can be energised to pull everyone towards you.
The elements are represented by 26 cards, each one is named after a different element from Argon to Xenon. The cards are divided into three types: attractive, repulsive and tractor beam, each has a strength between 1 and 10, (for how far you move).
By this point in the review, you might be thinking, “Elements, singularity, manoeuvre? Is that the time? I have a hedgehog to pluck!”* That would be a big mistake. This isn’t a dry simulation of physics and escape velocities. Oh, no, no, this is a fast game where everyone plays simultaneously and you will have finished in half an hour.
Don’t Dodge the Draft
Your bid for escape takes place over 6 rounds. Each round is split into 2 phases.
Phase 1 is the draft. The element cards are dealt in pairs, one face up and one down. The piles are chosen in turn, (player furthest from safety goes first), until each player has six cards. Three quarters of the cards are “attract” type, so any other sorts showing will be a popular choice.
In the second phase, the cards are played and ships moved. This is a bald statement that hides the nub of the game. Let’s think about this process:
All cards are selected and displayed simultaneously.
Cards are activated in alphabetical order.
Your ship moves towards or away from the nearest ship.
Unless you have played the tractor beam.
In a perfect world, your are just behind another ship and when you play Radium, BANG! You slingshot 9 spaces past them. In the real world, your opponent played Carbon to move before you did, and BANG! You find yourself heading back towards the singularity. This mass card reveal turns the game into a series of deductions, second guessing and ridiculous reverses.
Smart players might be able to remember which cards other players picked, and use this to their advantage. You will not find me in this group. Fortunately, if you find you yourself staring down the barrel of a one way trip back to the singularity, help is at hand with a, once per round, Emergency Stop card that does just that and saves your blushes.
The round continues until all cards have been played, or someone makes it through the stargate to end the game. Once all cards have been played, the cards are shuffled and the draft begins again.
Playing with Three
The game plays up to 4. I have played with 1, 2 and 3 players, and found the enjoyment increases with the player count.
How easy is it to teach the game?
This is one of those games that is best demonstrated. Running through a couple of rounds is enough to pick up the basic concept of play order and card effects. With the basics in place, the other nuances like, what happens when you are equally spaced between two other ships, drop into place. My top tip? Don’t do what I do, instead, let everyone move their own ships to reinforce the learning.
Can complexity be scaled?
Not really, it’s a simple game and there isn’t much that can be stripped away. There are variants that change the draft or restrict the emergency stop, as well as the previously mentioned solo play.
Can you handicap other players? Do you need to?
You can restrict the Emergency stop card to once per game, or take it away altogether to level the playing field.
How likely is your child to flip the table half way through?
‘Take that’ style games are not the sort you want to play with your children, unless you are bearing a grudge. Gravwell has some ‘take that’ opportunities, but their impacts are minor and often backfire, so do not upset.
Everyone is going to find themselves at the back of the pack at some point and there is no shame or harm in that. Being behind allows you first pick in the draft. It offers a chance to plan ahead and slingshot into the lead.
Beyond the game
The designer Corey Young is active on the Board Game Geek forum for his game and has suggested some variants. I also enjoyed reading his explanation for the invented elements in the game. We thought the game deserved some better spaceships and spent way too long searching for some miniatures for the game. You can see the results in the accompanying pictures.
What do I think
Gravwell is a fast and fun step up from a filler game. It delivers laughs and face-palms in equal measure. I like the way that it can be played as seriously as you like: from almost random pick -a-card, right through to full on card-counting.
If it came in a Love Letter size package, I would be happy to put a rocket in my pocket and take it everywhere.
If you like space ships and want something a little different, give Gravwell a try.
*This column does not endorse or encourage hedgehog plucking.
Didn’t make it to TotalCon 2014? Don’t worry, you can walk in Jonathan’s shoes by listening to this episode.