Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp

Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp is a recent release to get the Gold Banner treatment from Victory Point Games. For anyone unfamiliar, Victory Point Games is a smaller publisher who does its own printing. In the past, they have relied on their moto, "The Gameplay's the Thing!" to excuse bagged games and pretty underwhelming component quality. Victory Point has since upgraded their printing facilities, however, and the games released in their Gold Banner line come in a box and include high quality components that I absolutely love.

With all that out of the way, is Infection's gameplay "the thing?"

First, Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp is a solo game. With that short sentence, I suspect many of you are immediately turned off, and a few of you may be a bit more interested. I have to say, that although the prospect of solo gaming has always intrigued me, I don't have a game in my collection that I regularly go back to play by myself. So I am always on the lookout for that game that I'm able to pull out when I have the itch to play something, but no one else is around.

In Infection, the player is in charge of a lab that is trying to find a cure for a disease (either a viral or bacterial infection - which is on the reverse side of the board) that is ravaging the world and could spell the end for mankind.

Each turn of Infection consists of 4 phases.

During the Status Report Phase, an event card is drawn, which may cause positive or (more likely) negative effects.

The next phase is the Player Action phase. During this phase, players will spend their resources to research molecules of the disease in order to create a cure.

Next, the player rolls a d6 to see if the disease can be contained, or if it spreads to infect more of the population - and moves the player closer to losing the game.

The final phase, Clean Up, consists simply of setting everything up for the following round.

The bacteria is depicted to the left. In order to research each molecule of the bacteria, players have to purchase proteins that match the ones pictured on the research board (pictured on the right). Once a player has purchased all of the necessary proteins, the molecules that match the letter and have at least 3 sides open can be removed. In this case, the B molecules would all be able to be removed.

The players can also spend their money on scientists or equipment cards to help them work on a cure. 

These cards help players in various ways, like making containment rolls easier or allowing players to purchase more than 2 proteins a turn.

They can be pretty expensive, but used correctly, they can be the difference between victory and defeat.

The game ends when either the death toll rises too high, when all the molecule protein tokens are on the board and none can be drawn, or when all of the spaces on the virus or bacteria board are occupied.

The first con I have for Infection is that the game can be really hard. I played the game several times, and I absolutely lost more times than I won (far more). While this is something I don't care for too much in games, this certainly won't be a con for everyone.

The second thing I wanted to mention is that sometimes when playing Infection, I felt that the randomness of the game could really swing the direction of a game. Every game, 5 lab cards are removed from the game. I played one game where all 5 of those cards were person cards. Of course, adjusting one's play to adapt to each game's conditions is an important factor for replayability. I have also played games where I have failed every Containment roll, even when using the abilities of scientists and equipment. While this is certainly thematic, and something that is possible when dice are involved, it wasn't fun.

My favorite thing about Infection is probably how "puzzle-y" it is. The game definitely creates a tense, interesting experience. On a player's turn, there are a few actions to choose from, and the decisions usually revolve around risk and risk management. "Do I spend money now to get this card now? Do I use this card now and to help with my Containment roll? Should I buy a second copy of this equipment card, which is super expensive but makes it even more effective? Which molecule should I dedicate this protein to - one that requires more but will give me a bigger benefit later, or the smaller one?"

Another positive for Infection is that despite how much I lost, the game often ended close to me succeeding, with a high stakes Containment roll. This makes the game feel all the more thematic and really helps to keep the game exciting.

One last thing I would like to mention is that even though the game box says that the game plays with 1 player, playing this game with 2 or even 3 people is certainly feasible. Players could take turns being in charge of the lab, or players could all collaborate and play each turn as a team.

Overall, I would give Infection a 7.0. It is a solid solitaire game,with easy setup and rules, interesting decisions, a compelling theme, and great components. Even if you don't care for solitaire games, I think this one is worth taking a look at.

Jim would like to thank Victory Point Games for providing a copy of Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp for review.

Disc Duelers Review

Disc Duelers game in play

So, if this is your first one of my reviews - hi.  I'm Josh.  I love dexterity games.  And so, the people that have been checking out my site for a while will in no way be surprised that I sought out a copy of Disc Duelers to try out.

In Disc Duelers (the normal version - there are about 4-5 various ways to play), each player has a handful of characters, represented by discs, that they are using in an epic grudge match against all of their opponents discs.  (Of course, they are mortal enemies, since they were not selected for the same Kickball team years ago...  what?  There's not any real justification for why they want to kill each other?  Oh well.)  Each disc has a corresponding card that represents how many moves and attacks that disc can make, as well as any special rules it might have.  When setting up the game, you will place random (heavy) objects on your table as "terrain."  When moving, you may freely bounce off this terrain, but if you hit a different disc, you will take damage.  When attacking, you will deal damage to any opponents discs that you hit, but you will also take damage for hitting terrain.  Any disc that goes hurtling off of the table (this happens a lot) also takes a point of damage (regardless of turn).  Play consists of players alternating turns with one of their characters until each of the characters have been destroyed (by taking 5 points of damage).  When only one player has any discs remaining, then they have won the epic disc grudge match!

The first pro that I have for Disc Duelers is that I like the concept of my discs being different - representing actual characters that would be fighting in the arena.  It makes sense that they are not all made the same - some people should fight better than others; and others should be able to run around and get in position, hide, etc.  And, though this could be represented in different sized discs (Catacombs does this to an extent), I appreciate both ways of handling this.  Additionally, Disc Duelers lets you draft your characters so that you get at least some say in your army's makeup - thus tailoring it to your skills.

Terrain picture for Disc Duelers board game
The great elephant terrain!
The next pro that I have for Disc Duelers is how they have built table size and terrain into the game.  In most flicking games, obstacles are either game-specific pieces that you buy (I'm thinking of things like ramps in PitchCar), or you are supposed to make sure that the playing surface is clear.  However, I think that it's a fun and unique element that Disc Duelers suggests for terrain - find things that are lying around near you, and set them on the table as terrain.  And, this doesn't only give your pieces places to hide behind (and change the attacking player's vectors), but the terrain even has rules about it!  If you hit terrain when attacking, or when it's not your turn, then you take damage.  They took things that are lying around your house and added strategic effects to them!  I could see someone being really creative with this and adding ramps and overhangs, and all kinds of sweet terrain to this game.

However, though there are some pretty sweet elements to Disc Duelers, there are also some fairly sizable drawbacks.  First, the rulebook is awful.  For instance - when picking your characters, many of them talk about ranged attacks.  I would estimate that about 1/3 of the characters have a ranged attack of some form.  Want to know how a ranged attack works?  Me too!  The rules don't discuss it.  (If you found this page by searching for that, here is how they work: you use the small red discs and place them near your character and flick them instead of your character's disc.  There is a thread on BoardGameGeek that covers it more thoroughly.)  Aside from the ranged attacks, I remember having to make up or assume things about many other situations that we ran into while playing the game.  (What happens if you shoot your disc off the table, but it has attacks or moves left?  Based on some other rules, we assume that you take a damage and your turn is over.  But, this isn't really clearly covered anywhere.  Are you allowed to move, attack, move, attack, or do you have to do all of your moves together and attacks together?  Do you have to move first?)

Disc Duelers character cards
A few characters
The next con for Disc Duelers is that it is hard to keep track of who your characters are, and where they are (not to mention who owns all of the other discs).  The discs each have a sticker on them that matches (part of) the art on their character cards.  However, as you play, there will be over 20 different discs on the table in ever changing positions, with each one looking the exact same except for the picture - which may even look similar.  So, when different pieces are hit, it's generally easy to remember whether you own a given piece (though when attacking, you may have no idea which player you're targeting).  However, each turn will probably start with, "Ok, I have these characters alive and untapped - now where are they?"

My final con for Disc Duelers is that items are, for the most part, a neat sounding non-factor.  In the game, you must use each of your characters before you are allowed to re-use a character.  You may also, optionally, play with items.  (In my opinion, using items is the "full" game.)  Whenever a character picks up items, they go on the character that picked them up (hit them with his disc).  This, of course, makes sense.  However, depending on which characters you have used, you will have to live several rounds with your character before you can actually use that item.  If the item sounds good, you will probably be dead by the time that would happen.  Five points of damage does not last very long when you can take three damage from a single attack; and even more if a player uses their first few attacks to barely tap your disc, thus leaving you in position for them to attack you with the rest of their attacks (remember that most characters have three or more attacks).  As I type this, I realize that the repeat attack strategy is also an annoying con.

Overall, I give Disc Duelers a 7.0/10.  It has all of the flicking fun that I enjoy, but it also has a bit more down time than I would prefer in a dexterity game.  That combined with the rulebook keep it out of the upper echelon of dexterity games - at least in my opinion.

If Disc Duelers sounds fun, you should also check out Crokinole, Elk Fest, and Catacombs.

I would like to thank Level 99 Games for providing me with a review copy of Disc Duelers.

Splendor Review

In Splendor, players take the role of wealthy Renaissance merchants buying and selling gems to turn into beautiful refined jewels. Splendor is an abstract game of card drafting and engine building that takes about 30 minutes for 2-4 players to play.

The components in Splendor are few, but very high in quality. The cards are a nice stock, and have white borders on the backs (to help minimize the appearance of wear) and very attractive images on the fronts that look great without a border. There are also gems of 6 different colors which are very nice quality poker chips. 

Gameplay revolves around the card display. On her turn, a player can execute 1 of 4 available actions:
  • Take 3 gems of different colors
  • Take 2 gems of the same color (as long as all the gems of that color are present in the bank when you take them)
  • Reserve 1 development card and take 1 gold token
  • Purchase 1 face-up development card or a previously reserved one
There are two ways to get points. There are development cards which are worth points, and there will also be a number of nobles available each game who are also worth points.

The above player would be able to purchase development cards for a discount of 2 black or red gems and 1 blue, green, or white gems.

To purchase a face-up or reserved development card, a player has to discard the tokens indicated in the lower left hand corner of the card. There are two benefits of purchasing development cards. First, they might be worth points. Second, the card will give the player a permanent discount when purchasing future development cards.

A player could attract the noble (and his 3 points) on the left by having 3 each of black, red, and white gem cards in front of her.

To attract a noble to visit her, a player checks at the end of her turn if she has at least the number and color of cards for which the noble is looking. 

That pretty much sums up the game! The game is a race to 15 points. Once a player has 15 points (and everyone has had the same number of turns), whoever has the most points wins.

My biggest problem with Splendor is definitely mitigated by its light weight and its quick play time. The luck of the draw can be a swinging factor. In a multiplayer game, the board can change a bit, and seeing a card you really need come and go before you even have a shot at it can be frustrating. Similarly, in a two player game, purchasing a face-up development card carries the risk of drawing out a card your opponent can really use. 

Even without a board, Splendor looks great on the table.

There are a lot of things I love about Splendor. The first thing would be its simplicity. When I think about how much I like a game, there are two main ratios I have in my head - how long it takes to set up in relation to how much fun I have playing it, and how long it takes to play in relation to how much fun I have playing it. Since time is the most important resource we have, these comparisons make sense to me. And on both of these scales Splendor hits it out of the park. The game takes 90 seconds to set up, about 5 minutes to explains, and maybe 30 more to play. And within that time, there is a very satisfying, juicy game experience. 

I also like the noble tiles. The 3 separate decks of development cards are distributed exactly evenly, so no color gems are inherently more valuable than any of the others. The noble tiles change that - any color gems the nobles ask for are made instantly more valuable than the others. Even though the decks of cards are static, the nobles do a lot to keep each game dynamic.

I've mentioned that Splendor is a simple game. Turns are very short, and there are not many rules. Despite those features, this is a game that can (and likely will) get bloody fast. Players who make unwise decisions can find themselves out of the game within a couple of turns. Attempting to wait until you have enough gems to afford the one card that would make everything in your gem-buying world perfect could result in utter, soul crushing despair when one of your opponents swipes the card off the board, and is rewarded with a wild gold token for her trouble. 

Two rules I haven't yet mentioned keep the pace of the game moving. Players can never have more than 10 gem chips in hand. So your plan of amassing a large number of gems and then going on a spending spree is out. The other rule I left out is that each player can only have 3 cards in her reserve at a time. So sure, you can snatch those cards you just know your opponents are eyeing up - but wouldn't those 3 reserve spots be better suited to holding cards you really need? 

Splendor also keeps the tension of a good card drafting game by keeping each player's tableau and gem stock public - the balance between going for more cards for yourself to further your engine and going for cards you think your opponents need. Splendor adds a feeling of worker placement to the mix by giving players the ability to instantly remove a card from the display even if they can't pay for it at that moment. 

Splendor is a magnificent game that I'm sure will fly right under the radar for many people. It is not flashy, doesn't have a big name designer or publisher, and there aren't any Netrunners or X-Men in the box. But Splendor is the best example of an engine building game boiled down to its core components. No resource conversions or 5-step victory point plans - just pure engine building, through and through. The game does not necessarily reach for the stars, but it absolutely nails what it does aim for - giving players the feeling of quickly and inexorably building the greatest and most kick buttingest card drafting gem engine the world has ever seen!

I really enjoy Splendor and would give it a 9.0/10. Go grab a copy. Now.

Capo Dei Capi Review

In 1920s New York City, selling alcohol is illegal - but that doesn't mean people want to stop drinking. In Capo Dei Capi, players take control of two mob families struggling for control of the Big Apple. Can you lead your family to domination of the city?

Capo Dei Capi is a two player dice game from Dr. Finn, the designer of the excellent Biblios. It features area majority and push your luck in its gameplay. It is easy to teach and learn and features interesting decisions and gameplay. Let's take a closer look!

The main action mechanism in Capo Dei Capi is quite simple - roll the dice, and from the results, choose from among a narrowed set of actions. After taking the action, decide to either roll again (and risk busting and losing all progress made that turn) or stop while you're ahead, and commit to the changes your mob family has made this turn.

A player wins the game by having won more area cards than her opponent. To win an area card a player must have the most influence on it by the end of the game.

With a 6, players will be able to place value cubes on area cards, which will increase that card's value for whoever wins it at game end. 
When a player's turn begins, she rolls two six sided dice. The choices she has for the turn depend on the higher of the two dice she rolled.

If both dice are 3 or lower, the player will place a influence token that matches one of the dice on an area card that matches the other die. So in the above example, the active player could place a 2 influence token next to the white 1 area card, or a 1 influence next to the 2 black area card. One thing to keep in mind is that tokens go next to area cards. They aren't placed onto the area cards until the active player decides to end her turn - this way if she busts, it is easy to removed anything she had done on her turn until that point.

If the extortion track ever goes past 6, a player busts and ends her turn without earning anything.

If the highest die is a 4, the extortion level on the mayor track goes up by the number on the other die, and  a mayor chip gets placed next to the mayor card - which is currency that can be spent to perform special actions. With a 5, a player will be able to either place a new bribe token (an influence token with a hidden value), or turn over a bribe token that was already placed by her opponent.

Rolling pairs is interesting because the actions they provide are more powerful, but rolling doubles is also one of 3 ways to bust. Once a player rolls doubles, she takes the hit-man pawn. Rolling doubles while she already has the hit-man will cause her to bust. Players can also bust if they are unable to perform an action (usually because they have already performed that action previously on this turn), or if the extortion marker on the mayor card goes past 6.

The game will end once one of the following occurs: the stock of value cubes runs out, the stock of bribe tokens runs out, or the influence tokens of any 1 value runs out. At the point, players will check to see which of them has won each area card, adds those points to any value cubes they've collected, and the player with the most points wins!

Capo Dei Capi is a lighter game, so one of my biggest issues with it is how confusing the dice actions can be. Because although the game is simple, the mechanism of first determining which die is higher, and what action goes with that, and then what the other die means for that is a little wonky and unfamiliar. Thankfully, Dr. Finn has included two very excellent player aids that summarize very clearly what each roll means, what players can do with mayor tokens, and it even has a nice FAQ on the reverse side.

The other issue I have with the game is more of a warning than anything else. The game has a good number of very nice components, and looks good on the table, but remember - this is a light, push your luck game. There are interesting decisions to be made, and the number of components give it a nice "weighty" feel (even for a light game), but this is more of an appetizer than a main course.

That being said, as far as appetizers go, this is a tasty one. Capo Dei Capi fills an interesting slot in my collection, in that it is a nice and easygoing dice romp, similar to something like Zombie Dice, but adds just enough "game" to Zombie Dice's "do I roll again or not" decision to make it more interesting. I would probably never pull out Zombie Dice to play with my wife on a weeknight when Agricola just isn't in the cards for either of our brains - but Capo Dei Capi is another story. This bridges the gap between games that are light, and feel light and games that are light, and feel heavier.

The game also gets a thumbs up from me for being an area control game that is fun for two players. Anyone familiar with modern board games will likely know that the 2 player area control game is a rare beast - so anytime I hear about one coming along, my ears perk up a little.

Overall, I like Capo Dei Capi, and would rate it a 7.0/10. As I said, I can definitely see this getting played on weeknights with my wife, or with a friend when I'm either too early or too late for a game day. I think that this game very nicely fills a hole in my collection I didn't even necessarily know I had. Earlier I compared Capo Dei Capi to an appetizer - I think it is the perfect game for when you don't want a big 12 oz steak, but you are in the perfect mood for some nice wings and mozz sticks.

Jim would like to thank Dr. Finn Games for providing a review copy of Capo Dei Capi.