Game of Thrones Review

Game of Thrones board game mid play

Another game from this weekend to review (while its fresh in my mind) is A Game Of Thrones.

In Game of Thrones, each player takes on the role of one of the noble houses from George R.R. Martin's book series A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire) (which I recommend, as it is a great fantasy series). From there, at the beginning of each turn various random events will occurs including mustering new troops, adjusting players' supplies, having the "Wildlings" attack, bidding on positions of power, etc. After this, all of the players place "orders" at the same time, and after all of these have been placed, then the players will execute the orders in turn order. At the end of 10 rounds, or once someone has taken a certain number of cities/strongholds, then the game ends and the person with the most cities and strongholds is declared the winner.

There are several things that I like about Game of Thrones. First off, I like the orders, where there is a limited number of things that are available to you each turn. For example, there are only 3 orders with which you can attack, and they each have a different attack modifier. If you are only planning on attacking once, then you can use the +1 modifier - if you plan on attacking with all 3, you wind up using a -1 modifier for one of your attacks. Another aspect of orders that I like is the concept of the "Raids". These orders are executed before any others and can allow players to destroy some of the other players' orders. Overall, the concept of how the orders works is incredibly well executed and adds a lot to the gameplay.

The next thing that I like about Game of Thrones is the combat system - specifically the support. One of the available orders is "Support". If a player places this on some of his units, then those units are able to lend their combat strength to any battles that happen adjacent to them (even if they are not directly involved in the combat). This is a neat system, as it will allow a third party to potentially determine the winner of a battle, and thus they can determine who they want their closest aggressor to be. Also, when battling, at the end of the battle each player chooses a "character card" to add to the total combat value (and affect other aspects of the battle such as casualties). However, once the character card is used, it will not be available again until all of the other cards have been used. This aspect of the game allows a prudent player to attack when they know someone doesn't have their valuable character cards available, and also forces players to sometimes choose how critical a fight is (in addition to adding a bluffing aspect to the game).

A third concept of Game of Thrones that I liked was the positions of power. There are three positions: the Iron Throne, the King's Messenger, and the ruler of the Fiefdom. Players bid "points" on these positions, and not only does the winner matter, but placement matters as well. For example, the winner of the Iron Throne gets to break all (non-combat) ties, but the order on the Iron Throne track also determines what the turn order is. Another example is that the King's Messenger gets to adjust one of his orders after all of them have been revealed, however the order on the messenger track affects how many "special orders" a player can play each round.

There are, unfortunately, a couple of cons with Game of Thrones. The first one is that it does not scale well. If you read the rules, it states that it is a 5-player game that can be played with only 3 or 4. It means this. With less than 5 players, the game is not especially well balanced and a lot of time is spent expanding each player's kingdom without running into any opposition by other players. This makes the game mechanics not work as well.

The next aspect of the game that I did not think worked very well dealt with random events.  As stated previously, at the beginning of each turn various random events occur - one of these events is a "muster" event in which players are able to gain reinforcements. Unfortunately, these cards, since they are randomly pulled out (and since there is a card that does nothing but reshuffle the deck) may occur very frequently but also have the potential of not occurring for the entire game. (In the most recent game that we played, it was a 7-round game and a muster came up once.) Another frustration that I had with the random event cards is related to how frequently the card can come up that allows players to re-bid on positions of power. These cards have the potential of coming up very frequently, which would mean that a player gets very short term benefit from gaining a position, but they could also come up hardly ever which would cause people to have the position for longer than they should simply due to random luck. (In the latest game we played it took several turns for one to occur, but then they occurred back to back, which meant that the first time positions went for about 10 power points, and the second time they went for about 1-2 points.)

Overall, Game of Thrones gets a 7.5/10. It has a lot of good aspects, but unfortunately the difficulty of getting a game together (since it really needs 5 players) limits how often you will wind up being able to play the game.  Also, you need to be willing to deal with random elements of the game being... well... random.  Being familiar with the books will help a player enjoy the game a little bit more, but is not a prerequisite for being able to play and enjoy the game.

Some other Fantasy Flight games that you might be interested in reading about are Game of Thrones: The Card Game, Battlestar Galactica, Chaos in the Old World, and Civilization.

Skallywaggs Review

After a fun weekend of gaming, it is time to start writing up some reviews. First up is Skallywaggs.

Skallywaggs is a simple pirate game in which each player is trying to get enough pirates in his crew in order to be able to set sail with his ship. In order to do this, each player matches up different cards representing a pirate's legs, chest, and head. If the player is able to play a set of these cards that are all for the same pirate (such as the "First Mate"), then they will get bonuses and it will be harder for their opponents to disrupt that pirate. Finally, there are also cards that allow a player to perform actions other than just simply matching.

There is not too much to this game, so I will keep the pro's and con's section fairly abbreviated. When thinking of the pros and cons of this game, unfortunately, it's biggest pro is that it's "cute." This is a game that may attract some people because it seems neat at first (and is fairly inexpensive), but the pro's really stop right about there.

The biggest con of this game is that its not particularly fun. All of the game mechanics work, but after about the third turn I was tired of playing the game - unfortunately it lasted closer to 20 turns before it was over. After discussing it with others after the game concluded, I realized that they didn't find it particularly fun, either.  The strategy consists primarily of holding cards in your hand until you are able to match a pirate, and then hope that your opponent doesn't immediately get rid of that pirate on their turn.  It really just did little to hold our attention.

Overall, Skallywaggs receives a 5.0/10. This may be a game that children may be able to enjoy, but for the most part, I would recommend that you look at other games instead of purchasing this one.

Falling Review

One of the games that I pulled out of the back of my closet to play again and then review was Falling. (FYI - I have an older printing of the game than the one in the link, so the image will not match entirely).

In Falling, the concept is that you are all falling to the ground (skydiving gone horribly wrong, perhaps?) and that you want to be the last person to hit the ground. One person plays as the dealer in the game, and everyone else plays as people falling to the ground. There are no "turns", but the dealer goes around giving players cards until everyone but one has been eliminated by getting a ground card. While the dealer is giving out cards, each of the players has certain "actions" and "riders" that he can play. A rider is something like "Hit" (which gives the player it is in front of an extra card), "Split" (which gives the player it is in front of an extra pile), or "Skip" (which prevents him from getting any cards). The actions are things like "Push" (where you can push a rider from in front of you to in front of another player) and "Grab" (the opposite of Push).

Falling is an interesting game. The concept is different than I've seen anywhere else, but ultimately, there seemed to be several cons. The first of which was that it was hard to physically play the game. You need to be able to reach across the playing area in order to be able to play riders in front of any of the other players. We played some games with 4-players (minimum required) and some games with more, and the biggest problem we ran into was people running into each other's arms as they are trying to play cards.  Also, if the game were to be played 8-player (maximum suggested), you would have the problem of not being able to reach in front of other players to play riders.

The second problem with the game is related to the concept of it - the speed of the game. Theoretically, you should be playing the game faster as you have more experience with it. Unfortunately, the initial "slow" speed that we played was hard enough to follow - there were often times where players had multiple riders in front of them (which is not legal), and there were several out of place cards that nobody could explain. The dealer is supposed to be the moderator in these situations, but since he is busy dealing out cards, he is not able to follow all of the flow of the game, so he is not really able to make an educated decision on what to do in these situations.

Overall, I give Falling a 5.0/10. The concept is unique and interesting, but the actual execution of the game was somewhat frustrating. If you are a die-hard "speed" player, then this might be a game to checkout, but for most gamers, I would recommend looking elsewhere.

Stone Age Review

Stone Age board game in play

One of the games that I was able to find a copy of to play earlier this week was Stone Age.

Stone Age is a worker placement game in which the players are each trying to place their workers in the right positions to gain resources, new workers, etc. in order to gain the most victory points. Each turn, the players will go around taking turns placing one (or more) of their workers. Some of the places that they place workers can cause them to: gain a new worker, increase food production (workers have to eat), increase "tools" available, or have an immediate gain in the amount of food or resources the player has, or allows the player to build buildings or gain "civilization" cards (these primarily gain victory points).

Whereas there have been many different worker placement games to come out recently (such as Caylus, Le Havre, etc), Stone Age adds some new concepts to the genre. The first area in which Stone Age seems to distinguish itself is through resource gathering. Whenever you place workers at a given resource, you are allowed to place several workers at once, but whatever you place that first time around is the total number of workers you place on that resource for the round - if you start with 3 workers trying to collect wood, then you cannot add another worker later if your other plans don't work out. Also, when gathering resources, the number of workers that are placed relates to the number of dice you roll in order to gather that resource. The better the resource, the higher number that you have to roll per resource gathered. How this works is that, if you are trying to gather wood, you roll a die for each worker and then divide by 3 (round down), whereas if you are trying to gather gold, you roll a die for each worker and divide by 6 (round down). This resource gathering works pretty well, and I haven't seen any other games that have a similar mechanic.

The next positive aspect of Stone Age is directly tied to the first, and it is the use of "tools". As described above, you roll dice to determine how many resources you gather. Die rolling can often be very frustrating (like in The Settlers of Catan). Here comes the use of tools. When rolling dice for a resource, a player can (after rolling) add one of more of his "tools" to the die roll, thus helping him get the total number he needed. (For example, if a player is trying to collect wood, and he needs multiples of 3 to do this, and he rolls a 7, the player can then add 2 "tool" points to the roll to make it a total of 9 - thus collecting 3 wood.) The use of tools makes this game work very well and helps the resource gathering not to be burdensome.

A third aspect of Stone Age that helps the game is in feeding your workers. There are 2 different ways of doing this: increasing farming (the food automatically gathered each turn), or by hunting (which works just like resource gathering). I found the gathering of food to be an important part of the game, but whereas this can often be a very frustrating aspect of other games (as I found it to be in Agricola), in Stone Age it just added a new facet to the gameplay.

A final pro that I will point out about Stone Age is the scoring system (which I will admit that I was at first very skeptical about). At the end of the game, each player scores points for a few different things - food production, tools, cards, buildings etc. However, these points are scored by multiplying the initial number by the number of civilization cards that match with that value. For example, if a player's food production is 10, and he has civilization cards showing 4 farmers, he will get 40 points for farming because it will be 10 farm production x 4 farmers shown on cards (and similar mechanics for buildings, tools, etc). This mechanic forces players to determine how much to specialize (as this can be worth a lot of points) against how much to balance their play (which will help them as the game goes on and can also help them to score in multiple ways). This mechanic adds definite value to the gameplay. In addition, since all of each player's cards are kept facedown, you are never able to tell who will win the game until the very end.

The only thing that I can say negatively about Stone Age is that it is a bit simple. To me, Stone Age is a "Caylus-lite". That is not all bad - it means that it can be played much faster and can be taught to a wider audience, but the strategies that go into the game seem a bit more stripped down than the strategies available in some other worker placement games. With that said, however, Stone Age still had enough appeal and depth to cause me to want to play it some more.

Overall, I give Stone Age an 8.5/10. I did not think it was quite to the level of some of the other worker placement games, but the areas that were lacking allow for non-gamers to more easily be introduced to it.  With that said, I felt like it was definitely worth playing, and I would encourage people to try it out if the opportunity presented itself.

If Stone Age sounds interesting, you might also want to check out Glory to Rome (Black Box Edition), Innovation, and Kingdom of Solomon. Or, if you're undecided and want to read more about this one, you might check out this Stone Age Review at I Slay the Dragon.

Road Kill Rally Review

An interesting new game that I played this week was Road Kill Rally.

In Road Kill Rally, the players are participating in a "death race" where it is not only important to finish first, but it is also important to take out pedestrians and the other racers along the way. On each player's turn, they will have the option of slowing down or speeding up, then they move along the track (attempting to hit all of the pedestrians in the way), and finally they can attempt to shoot at the other players if they are within range and can get a clear shot.

One of the biggest pro's of Road Kill Rally is this: it is fun. Whereas there are lots of different things that can be said positively about a game, saying that a game is fun is one of the highest compliments that I can give to a game. Similarly to Pirate's Cove, Road Kill Rally is a game that is enjoyable to play whether you win or lose.

With that said, Road Kill Rally is not especially strategic. This will be a con to lots of people. The game winner will be determined at least as much by whoever can roll dice well at the right time as it will by whoever had the best strategy. Every element of the game is determined by die rolling - shooting at other players, running over pedestrians, and even wiping out on oil spills.

Another thing to note about Road Kill Rally (not a pro or con) is the following - there is an alternative "elimination" mode that can be played. From what I have seen, this mode looks like it may be the preferred method of playing a 6-player game. If you do not play in the elimination mode, then the game can last a little longer than desired, especially the first time through when players are just understanding the rules.  Speaking of length of time to play brings up another pro - the time is adjustable.  There are a certain number of road tiles that are played, and you play until people cross the line with the finish line on it.  For a shorter game you can easily move the finish line further up in the stack, and for a longer game you can move it down.

Another aspect of the game that I am undecided about is how the damage works. All of your life total is determined by the number of "Rally" (action) cards that you have in your hand. If you are dealt damage, then you give your cards to your opponent. You also use your cards as ammo for your weapons, and for other actions during your turn. This means that to perform most of the actions in the game, you must actually harm yourself. The good side of this, however, is that it gives the game a balancing effect in that you must carefully determine if you're going to use your last cards to power your weapon or whether you will keep them in an effort to avoid wiping out.

Overall, I give Road Kill Rally an 8.0/10. This game (as stated previously) is fun. You should try it. I believe that it is the best racing game that I have played. Just know going into it that strategy won't win you the game - shooting your opponents and rolling dice well will win the day.

Caylus Review

Caylus board game in play

Now for one of the games that epitomizes the euro-game genre: Caylus.

In Caylus, the players are attempting to gain the most fame through helping out in different elements of reconstructing the castle. The players can get fame for contributing directly to the castle, through royal favors, and through providing services to other players. In each given round, the players will go around deciding how to use their different workers. The workers may be used to collect resources, build new buildings, contribute to the construction of the castle, suck up to the king ("joust"), etc. After one of the players is ready to pass, they will stop placing their workers but other players will continue having the option of placing their own (but at a higher price than before). After all of the players have passed, then the different tiles ("buildings") that have workers on them will allow the player to perform the specified action. (Yes, this summary is pretty pitiful, but the game play is somewhat involved and hard to sum up, thus leading to the game's first pro...)

Caylus is very elegantly involved and yet simple. The initial learning of the game (if there is not someone present to teach you) will seem confusing, but after the first couple of turns, the game flows very smoothly and all of the players will easily understand what is going on.

Caylus is also incredibly versatile when it comes to strategy. Whereas many games allow for players to have a couple of options when it comes to strategy, Caylus has more strategic options than almost any game I have ever played. You can do very well by gaining royal favors, by building lots of buildings, focusing on constructing the castle, or a number of other things - or by any combination of one of these strategies.

Another aspect of Caylus that sets it apart from a lot of other games is the play balance. Each player must carefully balance the value of placing a worker against the cost to play it, the benefits of when to pass (which causes other player's workers to cost more to play), what will be gained, and the opportunity cost of not placing that worker elsewhere. This balance along with the versatility of strategies and the elegant flow of the game shows that there must have been immense thought and play testing that went into the design and creation of it.

The one thing that I will note that can be considered a positive or a negative depending on who reads this review is this: Caylus causes you to think strategically, but in a different way that you normally think. The strategies that I often use in games like Puerto Rico, The Settlers of Catan, and even Dominion do not work in this game. Instead of having an overarching strategy in Caylus, players will have to have a more fluid strategy as everything they have available as options will be influenced by what other players do each turn.  This is a concept that is hard to articulate, but some games just play differently strategically than others, and I think that Caylus falls into that category. (As a sidenote - as I write this, I realize that Caylus may cause you to think strategically in similar ways to Le Havre, but I believe that this is because some of the elements of Le Havre were influenced by Caylus. As I was not involved in the designing of either of these games, I cannot say that with certainty - it is only my educated guess).

Overall, I give Caylus a 9.5/10. It is a phenomenal game that is a true credit to the euro-style of board games. I would recommend that everyone at least try this game once.

Galaxy's Edge Review

A game that I was able to find pretty inexpensively (and thus tried out) was Galaxy's Edge.

In Galaxy's Edge, each player takes on the role of a budding galactic empire. On each turn they are able to move their flagship and either place a colony or a military installation. After placing a colony or installation, the player will roll a die - this will let the player either draw or play a card, or it will move one of the players' "ban" tokens (the ban token prevents all players from placing any colonies or installations in that sector).

One of the interesting concepts of Galaxy's Edge is how the military installations work. When placing an installation, a player may choose to place a 1, 2, or 3-tier military base. When resolving who influences a sector, you determine which tier is the lowest one in which only one person has that tier of an installation (what this means is that, if 2 different people have a 1-tier base, 2 people have a 2-tier base, but only one person has a 3-tier base, the person with the 3-tier base wins). This causes players to do more than simply place the biggest military base possible each time.  However, the aspect of this that seems more frustrating is that if two players have military bases around a sector, then they will cancel out and the person that doesn't have any military will wind up keeping their settlement.

Another interesting concept in Galaxy's Edge is the difference in placing military installations and colonies. Colonies score points at the end of the game, but military installations can allow a player to take colonies from other players when all of the systems in a sector have been settled. Overall, however, this aspect doesn't seem to work very well as it winds up being much more beneficial to simply place colonies and go for the end of game points almost every time.

Another concern with Galaxy's Edge is that it is a very generic space game. There were no new concepts introduced in the game. Whereas most space games allow you to take on a race, and that race has different powers, Galaxy's Edge just gives each player a generic spaceship to start with. There are races that each player can have the most "influence" over (only used in end of game scoring), but even then these races are pretty generic.

The next problem with Galaxy's Edge is that there were several aspects of the game that seemed almost pointless. Moving your flagship towards the end of them game and the "ban" tokens both seemed to be just tacked on at the end of the game. Also, the playing of cards was more frustrating than helpful - since you had to roll a die to either draw or play a card, you will wind up not playing very many and being frustrated wishing you were able to play them occasionally.

The main problem with Galaxy's Edge is that it isn't especially fun. We played through the game, and all of the mechanics seemed to work, but playing through the game didn't motivate me to play it again. Obviously each person will have their own opinion of what is fun, and so some people may enjoy this more than I did, but the 3 other people that I played the game with agreed that the biggest thing missing in this game was a sense of fun.

Overall, I give Galaxy's Edge a 5.5/10. If you are really a huge fan of space games and find this one cheaply, you may check it out, but overall there are better games in the genre that I would recommend playing first.

Pirate's Cove Review

Pirate's Cove game from Days of Wonder - setup to play

One of my last games (currently) from Days of Wonder that I need to review is Pirate's Cove.

In Pirate's Cove, each of the players takes on the role of a pirate, and the goal is to gain the most fame. Each turn, there will be 5 outer islands which will have various rewards for successfully exploring there - however, if you encounter another pirate at that island, you will have to fight it out, and only the last person at the island will get the treasures. Once you have all collected your treasure (or been defeated in battle and forced to flee to another island to repair your ship), then you are able to upgrade your ship. Your ship has 4 stats on it: sail (how fast you are and so who shoots first in battle), cannons, crew (cannons and crew work together to determine how many shots you can fire), and hull (how much treasure you can carry). However, you can only upgrade the stat for the island that you have explored this turn - there is an "outer island" for each stat, plus an island that lets you draw "tavern" cards and Treasure Island in the center where you bury treasure to gain fame. Another thing to watch out for as you are exploring is the dread pirates - these pirates represent already powerful and famous pirates, like Captain Hook and Blackbeard, who will fight you if they wind up at the same island as you.

Overall, Pirate's Cove has a lot of great aspects. First, it is one of the best implementations of Days of Wonder's formula of making games that are engaging enough for a gamer but simple enough to easily bring in a non-gamer. I have played Pirate's Cove with groups of gamers, non-gamers, and a mix of both, and it has played very well with both.

The next thing I like about Pirate's Cove is that you actually have control over what is going on in the game - whether you encounter other players is based on whether you both choose the same island to explore in a turn (revealed at the same time). This means that if you are able to read people's tendencies then you will be able to more easily determine which island they might be going to and go there or avoid it depending on whether you want to fight them or not.  Also, since they have removed any concept of "transit time" between the islands, the game is very fast paced so that it can focus on things other than sailing.

A third aspect to mention about Pirate's Cove is both a pro and a con - the battle system. When battling another pirate, you will first determine the fastest player at the start of each round. After this, in speed order, you will each declare who you are attacking, and which part of their ship you are firing on. Then, for each crew/cannon combination you have, you will roll a die, hitting on 5's and 6's. The pirate you fired on will immediately take damage, and if they are damaged beyond a certain threshold they will retreat (before firing again). This works very well except for the die rolling. The die rolling (as it is in lots of games with dice and chance) causes this experience to be very frustrating sometimes - you may have your opponent completely out-manned and out-gunned, but when you roll all low numbers and they roll all 6's, there's absolutely nothing you can do about it.

Adding more to the luck element of the game are the "tavern" cards. You can earn or buy these cards in various ways, and they are all useful in the right situation. However, there are 4 cards (representing the parrots of famous pirates) that are much more powerful than any of the other cards in the game. This is great if you draw one, but is frustrating if your opponent draws one at the wrong time.

Overall, I give Pirate's Cove a 9.0/10. It is by far the best pirate game I have ever played (defeating at a minimum: Sword & Skulls, Dread Pirate, and the constructable mini's game). A note about this game, however, is that you need to go into it realizing that if you have bad luck in the game, this will defeat even the most sound of strategies.With that said - this is one of very few games that I have seen in which almost all of the players enjoy simply playing the game, regardless of whether they are winning or losing (after all, it becomes amusing after a while if you cannot hit the broad side of a barn with your cannons).

As a final note, I will mention a variant of the game which I enjoy. The standard rules suggest that you play with 1 or 2 dread pirates depending on the number of players in the game, and then move the pirates around the islands in ascending order. I prefer to randomly pick 2 dread pirates (that have not been defeated/killed) each turn and then roll the dice to determine which island they are going to - after the players decide where they are going. This prevents them from simply running away from the pirates all game, even though it adds even more of an element of luck.

If Pirate's Cove sounds interesting, you might also check out Cargo Noir, King of Tokyo, and Dixit (a storytelling game).

Acquire Review

Acquire 3M game in play

A game that's been in my collection for a while, but that I'm just now getting around to playing and reviewing is Acquire (in all honesty, my version is the original 1962 version from 3M, not the latest reprint by Avalon Hill that I have linked to).

In Acquire, each player is taking on the role of a hotel mogul, and the goal of the game is to earn the most money. In order to do this, each player will be both buying stock and developing hotel chains. On each turn, a player will start with 6 tiles that represent potential hotels. They will choose one of these tiles to place on its appropriate position on the board (a grid that is labeled 1-A through 12-I). This placement can cause several things to occur: a hotel chain may be founded, two hotel chains may merge, thus causing a buyout of the stock of the smaller chain, or a single hotel may be placed in isolation. After placing their tile, the player will then have the option of buying up to 3 stocks of any of the hotel chains that have been founded. Once one of the hotel chains has grown large enough, or several of the chains have grown to sufficient size, then the game is over, all the players sell their remaining shares of stock, and the person with the most money is the winner.

Acquire has some very interesting features. First, the drawing and placement of tiles works pretty well. It gives the players strategic options as to where to place each turn, but still forces them to make the best of what is available to them. This keeps the game from becoming too redundant, as the game will be different each time simply based on where people are able to found hotel chains and when they are able to merge them together.  This aspect of the game is one of the main strategic pieces while playing Acquire.

Next, the buying and selling of stock works well. Each player is able to buy whichever stocks they want (and can afford) each turn, but only up to a maximum of 3. This helps prevent a player that has had a windfall of money from being able to buy all of the shares of one or more of the chains and helps maintain competitive balance. Also, the selling of stock - specifically the fact that there is a majority and minority shareholder bonus - encourages the players to have certain stocks that they invest more heavily in. Once a player begins investing in a chain, it is also important to figure out when to try to grow the chain and when to try to have it bought out by a bigger chain (thus freeing up some money or giving you more of the bigger chain's stock for a cheaper rate).

There were a couple of drawbacks that I saw to Acquire. First, Acquire is a game in which you can be defeated well before the game is over. In some games you always feel like there is a chance (however remote) that you will be able to come from behind if things go well, but Acquire is not like that. In one of the games we played, in fact, one of the players (yes, through poor strategy) had rendered himself irrelevant within the first few turns with nothing that he was able to do but place tiles - he had no way of buying or selling any tiles to generate any more money. I prefer games in which you always have a chance of coming back, or in which several of the players that are doing poorly have a chance of joining forces to come back against a player that is running away with the game.

Another problem that I see with Acquire is that there are some fatal mistakes that players can make. Specifically, if a player runs out of money for more than a couple of turns, this often means that he will lose. It seems like in the game the emphasis is more on selling stock than it is on growing a hotel chain to be larger, and I would have preferred that there was more of a balance which would allow both strategies to be feasible alternatives.

Overall, I give Acquire a 7.5/10. It is a good game that I will continue to play occasionally, but it is not something that I will play on a regular basis. If you are interested in playing stock based games, I would recommend trying Chicago Express before playing this game, but if you run across a copy fairly inexpensively or have a friend that has a copy of the game, it is definitely worth trying out.

Some other games that you might also want to check out are Monopoly Deal, Innovation (a card game) and Bootleggers.

Chicago Express Review

The newest board game that is slated for review is Chicago Express (Wabash Cannonball).

In Chicago Express, each of the players takes on the role of a new entrepreneur that is investing in different railroad companies. The players each start with a certain amount of money, and are not able to perform any actions until they are owner (or co-owner) of one of the starting railroads. This initial ownership is determined by auctioning off the first share of each of the starting 4 companies. After this, the players will take turns auctioning more stock from companies to raise funding (or to gain partial ownership), construct railroad tracks with one of their companies' funds, or develop land around where they have tracks laid. At the end of each round (which ends once a certain number of 2 of the 3 actions have been taken), then each of the railroad companies will pay dividends to be split among their respective owners. Once one of several end conditions occurs, then whichever player has the most money will be declared the victor.

There are several incredibly neat aspects of Chicago Express. The first thing is that each player must carefully weigh how much they are willing to pay for each share of stock. There is a lot of strategy with this because the player must factor in: how much it is worth to start collecting dividends in that company, how much it is worth to prevent another player from collecting as much in dividends, and how much operating capital they want their new company to now have to spend.

The next interesting thing about Chicago Express is what happens with the money used to purchase stock. The money that is spent from the auction goes to the company, and they must purchase their tracks using only this money. This is a game mechanic that I have not seen previously, though it more accurately represents real life than most stock based games. After the player purchases the stock, they have a say in what that company does by being able to use that company's funding to purchase track. Therefore, if a player buys stock in a company that doesn't do well, it is their own fault (or the fault of one of the other owners - potentially a minor shareholder that is wasting the company's money) for not handling the company's finances well - after all, there is no element of chance in Chicago Express.

Another awesome thing about the game is how well it plays with different numbers of players. Since the number of stock and companies available in the game stay consistent from 2-6 players, the strategy completely changes. In 2-player, each of the players will probably start with 1-2 companies that they are the sole owner in and have a lot of operating capital with, whereas with more than 4 players, there will be at least one company that will be split from the beginning. Because of this, the strategies that can be implemented successfully in 2-player may fail miserably in 6-player and vice versa.

A final thing that I cannot stress enough about Chicago Express is how well balanced the game is. Between the number of actions that occur per round, to how the money is divided to start the game, to how the interactions between players works because of the way dividends are paid, the game shows amazing balance in every aspect.

Overall, I give Chicago Express a 9.5/10. Going into this review, I was planning on giving it a 9, but the more I think about it, the more I fall in love with this game. It is easily the best stock-based game that I have ever played, and it may also be the best train game I have ever played (I need to replay Steam: Rails to Riches before saying that definitively, but it is far and away better than Ticket to Ride). I would recommend that everyone try this game at some point.

Chicago Express on Noble Knight Games (about $50)
Chicago Express on Funagain Games (about $48)
Chicago Express on Amazon (about $43)

Yinsh Review

Yinsh game in play

One of the newest board games that I have been able to play has been Yinsh, so I figure its time for a review

In Yinsh, each of the players starts with 5 rings of their color, and the object is to have 5 dots in a row of their color. The first person to do this 3 times is the winner. In order to get dots, you are able to place a dot inside any of your rings. Once you have placed the dot, you must then "jump" your ring to another location along any of the lines that it intersects. There are some rules about jumping, but you essentially are able to jump over already placed dots while doing this, but all the dots that are jumped are flipped over to the other side - both yours and your opponents. This continues until someone gets 5 dots in a row. At that point, the 5 dots are removed from the board, and the player who successfully got the 5 in a row must remove one of his rings and place it on the scoring track. This then leaves that player at a disadvantage as the game continues because he will have less movement options and defensive abilities (a player cannot jump over a ring, so you can put them in the way of your opponent in order to prevent him from jumping your dots).

Yinsh really forces players to think differently. There is no luck involved in the game - the entire outcome rests on the plays of each player, similarly to Chess, Othello, Hive and several other games. Along with this, the strategy in Yinsh is far different from most traditional board games, which I count as a definite advantage for the game.  You must think through spatial strategies as opposed to normal point gathering (or war) strategies.

Another very nice thing about Yinsh is that it is an awesome balance between easy to learn and difficult to master. After playing a few games, I knew how all of the mechanics worked, but I still did not feel like I was very good at the game - and yet, I still enjoyed playing it.  I know that it is often common to like or dislike a game based on how well you do in your first few plays, but I do not think that people will form their opinion this way in Yinsh.

A third nice feature of Yinsh is that nobody really "dominates" the game. Even if I were to play it against someone that was much better than myself, I do not think that I would ever get the hopeless feeling that comes with watching your opponent have an insurmountable advantage in a game (like in Monopoly when your opponent has everything and you have a single railroad). In Yinsh, because of how quickly the dots can flip and the fact that winning gives you a disadvantage, there is always the feeling of hope, even if your opponent is winning 2 rings to none.

The only thing I can think of to say in the way of "con's" for Yinsh is that some people may not like the spatial reasoning of the game. If you do not like games like this where you must determine the best placement of pieces and flipping pieces, etc, then you will not enjoy this game.

Overall, I give Yinsh a 9.0/10. It is a nice, simple game that I can see myself playing often and enjoying, and I would recommend that everyone try it out for themselves.  I try to reserve 9.0 and above for games that I can see people getting together with the sole intention of playing that game (which is why as an example, Tsuro did not get as high of a score even though it is a great game), and the more I think about Yinsh the more I see it being able to fall into that category.

If you want another opinion on Yinsh, check out this Yinsh Review from the Board Game Family. Or, if you want to read about similar games, you might check out Gipf, Pentago, and Ingenious.

Lord of the Rings Review

Another cooperative game that I have played recently has been Lord of the Rings.

In Lord of the Rings, each of the players takes on the role of one of the hobbits (as a note, this is based off of the books, not the movies, so it is up to 5 player, and the 5th hobbit is "Fatty"). The object of the game is to destroy the ring before the ring bearer becomes captured by Sauron. To do this, each turn a player will flip Event Tiles (some good some evil) until you they flip over an event tile that is not evil. After flipping Event Tiles, the player will have the option of playing cards (thus advancing the hobbits in their quest), drawing new cards, or healing their hobbit (moving them further away from Sauron). Once the current scenario has reached a certain point, then the hobbits will advance to the next scenario (there are 4 scenarios, each of which has a different board that is used). Upon the completion of a scenario, you will also perform some cleanup such as determining the new ring bearer, but also determining if any of the hobbits take damage (from not having earned enough "Life Tokens" during the completed scenario). There are also powerful "Gandalf" cards that a player can use to their advantage at the ideal time during the game.

The obvious first thing to note about the game is the subject material. Fans of Lord of the Rings will obviously enjoy the game more than players who are disinterested in or unfamiliar with the Lord of the Rings story.

With that said, Lord of the Rings has some pro's. First, the cooperative nature of the game works well. It is important during the game to determine when it is best to perform each action - sometimes it will be better to not complete a scenario too quickly so that more hobbits will be able to collect their life tokens, and sometimes it will be important to rush through a scenario so that less evil actions occur. It is also important to determine when to best use Gandalf cards, and ultimately, it is more important to protect the Ring Bearer than it is to protect any of the other hobbits - thus forcing players to sometimes hurt their own character for the good of the team.

A second aspect of the game that Lord of the Rings includes that is important in cooperative games is an adjustable difficulty. The hobbits are all placed on a track with all of the hobbits on one side and Sauron on the other. If someone were to play Lord of the Rings often, they would be able to increase the difficulty of the game by moving Sauron closer to the hobbits to start the game, which would help keep the game fresh.

Another aspect that I like about Lord of the Rings is how the "evil actions" work. Whereas in Shadows Over Camelot and Pandemic (feel free to read my reviews on both of these games as well) a player will take an evil action every turn (in Shadows the player gets to pick the action whereas in Pandemic they only perform the action), in Lord of the Rings, there may or may not be an evil action to occur on any given turn. How this balance works is that there is a pile of "Event Tiles". These tiles are shuffled to start each scenario and are then flipped over at the beginning of each player's turn. If a good tile is flipped, then the good action is performed and the player continues their turn. If an evil tile is flipped, then the evil action is performed and another tile is flipped until a good tile occurs. I enjoy this mechanic because it means you can never be too comfortable with what your hobbits' position on the board, because at any time several evil things could occur at once.

Another aspect of the game that works both for and against the game is the scenarios. The scenarios are all based on the subject matter, so the hobbits will go through Helm's Deep, Shelob's Lair, etc. Whereas this adds some interesting flavor to the game, it is also predefined, thus reducing the replayability of the game. Each time through, all of the hobbits will be going through the same scenarios in the same order and with the same events and so the variety is somewhat minimal.

The only other aspect of Lord of the Rings that I will discuss is something that is fairly common in cooperative games (I do not consider this a pro or a con - just a point of note). Because the difficulty of the game is in having the players work together to a common goal, the actual mechanics of the game are somewhat simple. With that said, I feel these mechanics are implemented well in Lord of the Rings.  Essentially what happens is that there will be 3-4 tracks on each scenario that signified by a different symbol (translating to Fighting, Hiding, Traveling, and Friendship). In order to move your hobbits along one of these tracks, you must play a card that matches that symbol. Overall, however, this mechanic has about the same level of complexity as I have seen in other cooperative games.

Overall, I give Lord of the Rings an 8.0/10. I highly recommend this game to Lord of the Rings fans, but I also recommend that everyone else try the game. The only real reason that the game did not get a higher score was because of the replayability issues based in playing in preset stages. However, with that said, this is a good game to have in your collection to pull out every few months and play through again.

Blue Moon City Review

Blue Moon City game in play

Another game that I was able to play last night was Blue Moon City.

In Blue Moon City, you are attempting to reconstruct the city of Blue Moon and by doing so you earn crystals - these crystals are then used to make sacrifices on the obelisk to win the game. Each turn, you will be able to move your pawn up to two spaces to one of the city tiles. Next, you can make contributions to reconstructing that city tile (you play cards that match the color of the tile and that add up to the number shown on the contribution you are trying to make). While contributing, it will often be important to use the "power" on some of your cards - this may allow you to change the color of a card, play a wild card, or even move the dragons to your city tile (this earns you scales, which are later traded for crystals). Finally, you are able to discard 0-2 cards from your hand and then draw 2 more than you discarded.

Blue Moon City plays pretty well. The different elements of the game are very well balanced and there is definite strategy involved in which tiles to contribute to, when to complete them, and when to move the dragons. The powers on the card allow you to determine how best to use your hand and prevent the game from being a simple "match the colors" game. In addition, you get bonuses for all of the adjacent city tiles that have already been completed when your current tile is completed. This means that you must determine when you should complete the tile and when it is best to leave it alone hoping that others get completed first.

Though the mechanics of Blue Moon City work fairly well, the biggest problem in the game is that it doesn't really have anything that struck me as special. The game works, and is somewhat fun to play, but there's nothing about the game itself that jumps out at me as unique. I don't think of Blue Moon City as anything other than a fairly generic game - because of this, I don't mind playing it, but I'm never really thinking "man, I really want to play Blue Moon City."

Overall, Blue Moon City gets a 7.0/10. The game plays well, and is fairly fun, but (as shown by the somewhat brief review), there was nothing that really struck me about it as really positive or really negative. Feel free to try this game out, but I don't recommend going out of your way to try to find a copy. Also, if you think of something really unique about the game that I have missed, please add some comments - I'd love to know what other people thought about it.

In addition to Blue Moon City, you might also consider checking out Forbidden Island, Heroscape, and Lords of Waterdeep.

Arcana Review

Arcana card game in play

Last night I had the chance to play Arcana again, and it seems always best to review these games while they are fresh in your mind, so here we go...

Arcana is a deck building game (similar to Dominion, Heroes of Graxia, Thunderstone, and Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer). Arcana is played in a series of rounds. Each round starts with all of the players having 4 cards in their hand. There will also be 5 piles of cards (4 in 3-player) showing which new cards that each player has available to them. However, only one player will get each card - and that is the player that has the most points of the right resource next to the card (each card has a primary resource that you must use to try to earn it and this isn't as complicated as it sounds). Next the players will take turns playing the cards from their hands. The primary objective in the game is to get more cards (thus more victory points), and you do this by playing "agents" next to the cards in the different piles. In addition to playing "agents", you can also use relics to try to "bribe" a personality card, thus allowing you to get the card before the round is over - before someone with more points would have the chance to collect it. Finally, there are location cards, which can be played to adjust some aspect of the game - you can play them to switch the card on top of two different piles, move around agents, etc.

The first thing that I like about Arcana is that there is the ability to bluff. Each player can play their agents face down against the piles on either side of them (again, 5 piles - one to the right and left of each player, and one in the middle of the table). This bluffing works pretty well, especially in 3 and 4-player, because nobody can guarantee that they are going to collect a card.

Another thing that I liked about Arcana was that the game was played in rounds. Instead of all of the other deck-building games that I have played, the moves of each player can directly affect which player, including which cards that player can collect.  (This did make the pace of the game a little slower, though.)

A third concept that I like about the game is the ability to bribe personality cards. Unfortunately, this leads into my "con's" section, because I did not like the execution of this part of the game. The distribution of cards seems to be about 1/3 location, 1/3 personality, and 1/3 relic. Since you can only bribe personality cards, this means that often the relic card you draw will be useless. Also, the "bribe cost" of the personalities are all the same. They can all be bribed for either 6 or 7, and there is no variety to represent that some people would be able to be bribed much more easily than others.  So, what winds up happening is that starting about halfway through the game almost all of the personalities get bribed instead of being collected normally.

The next aspect that I did not like is that this is a deck building game in which your deck doesn't ever get better. There are 3 main stats on a card, and a number of points split between these stats. The personality cards that start in your deck have all of their stats add up to 6. The ones that can be acquired add up to 6 or 7. Therefore, all you see are different combinations of the same basic cards (you may see a card with stats 3-2-2, 6-0-1, 2-4-1, etc, but they all add up to 6 or 7). Something that may have worked better is if you were getting cards that were better than your starting cards during the beginning and middle of the game and then even better (and more expensive) cards later in the game.

A third aspect that did not work well about Arcana was simply seeing what was going on in the game. Since a 4-player game has 5 different piles of available cards, and each player can play against each pile, there are 20 different piles to keep track of, some face up, some face down, and all pointing in different directions to symbolize who played them - in addition to your normal draw and discard decks.

A fourth aspect that seemed a bit shallow to me was the victory points. The victory points went as follows: 1 point for a relic, 3 points for a personality, 5 points for a location.  I think this game could have used more variety.

A final couple notes before the overall ranking - since all of your cards wind up being different variations of the same thing, you wind up spending most of your turns reacting to what you draw much more than in most deck building games. What this means is that if you draw a whole lot of points in the 2nd stat (military power), you will go after the cards that use that stat, regardless of whether you actually need the card or not. Secondly, from the games that we played, Arcana just didn't hold our interest very well, and we spent more time talking about other things than actually playing the game.

Overall, Arcana gets a 5.0/10. I liked a few concepts about the game, but the execution was off and there were just too many problems with the game to give it any higher score. I recommend that if you are interested in Arcana, you definitely find a way to play it before you buy it.

Since I obviously wasn't a huge fan of Arcana, I would recommend that you might instead consider Star Trek: The Next Generation Deck Building Game, Summoner Wars, Race for the Galaxy, or 51st State.

Quo Vadis Review

While reviewing some of the games from my collection, I decided to replay Quo Vadis and then do a review of it while it was fresh in my mind.

Quo Vadis is a fast-paced political game in which you are trying to get the most points by getting your potential senators into higher ranking positions and by helping your opponents get their pawns promoted (when it is to your advantage). On each turn you are able to move a pawn onto the board, move a pawn up to a higher rank (assuming that you can get the majority of the votes from his current position), or move the Caesar (which allows you to get promoted without having enough votes). The two ways that you can score victory points are by 1) getting your pawn promoted from a 3 or 5 member committee (you get the number of victory points shown on the path that is crossed) or 2) lending votes to another player's pawn so that it can get promoted (here you get 1 point per needed vote). If you are unable to move any of your pawns, then you are able to move the Caesar - he allows you to get promoted without the correct number of votes, but does not provide any reward for doing so. You must also be careful not to just be a "yes man", because at the end of the game, if you have not gotten any of your pawns promoted to be a Senator, then you lose - no matter how many points you have earned.

The first thing that I like about Quo Vadis is the political aspect of the game. It is very important to know when to allow other player's pawns to be promoted (and gain your victory points) and when it is important to prevent this. In addition, it can be just as profitable to be the swing vote in a committee as it is to get your own pawns promoted.

The next thing that I like about Quo Vadis is the depth level. The game is strategic enough to make for an engaging game but is simple enough to introduce new players easily. A normal game of Quo Vadis should only take about 30-45 minutes, which makes it very manageable to play in most gaming situations.

The main con with Quo Vadis is that I think it would be difficult to find enjoyable people to play it with. Because of the depth level of the rules, the real strategy in the game involves interacting with (manipulating) your opponents. Whereas this is fun, it is often hard to find the type of individuals that make a game like this enjoyable.

In addition to finding the correct group of players to play this game, I am also unsure of how replayable it is.  I believe that it could be replayed several times, but overall the game will play pretty similarly each time through, and this prevents it from really being on the top rung of the board game world.

Overall, I give Quo Vadis a 8.0/10. This is a simple yet engaging game that I enjoy playing. I would definitely recommend checking it out if you have the opportunity - and the more players, the better I think it should work.

Thunderstone Review

Thunderstone game

I've been on a deck-building kick recently, so sticking with that genre, it is time to review Thunderstone.

As far as I know, Thunderstone was the second widely produced game in the deck-building genre (after Dominion, but before Ascension Chronicle of the Godslayer, Heroes of Graxia, The Resident Evil Deck Building Game, and Arcana). In Thunderstone, each player must decide on their turn if they will go to the village, where they can level up their heroes and buy new cards for their deck, go to the dungeon, where they will attempt to defeat monsters to gain victory and experience points, or finally if they "rest" - thus being able to trash a single card from their hand, draw a new hand, and end their turn. If they go to the village, they are able to first level up any heroes that are in their hand assuming that 1) they have enough XP (generally earned from defeating monsters) and 2) the next level of that hero is still available in the common card piles (there are 3 levels for each hero, and the number available at each level gets lower). After leveling up heroes, they are able to use the remaining cards in hand to purchase new heroes, equipment, spells, etc. - collectively known as "village cards". If they choose to go to the dungeon, then the player reveals all of their cards, totals their attack and magic attack totals along with their "light" total, and then chooses which monster to attack and determines if they are successful.

Thunderstone, as the second deck building game, added a lot of new concepts to the genre. First, it added the RPG element of heroes and monsters. Instead of buying cards just to help in buying victory points, you are now buying cards in order to be able to defeat monsters (Resident Evil borrows heavily from this).

Even within the standard RPG elements, however, they did this well. One element that shows the game is well thought out is that the XP goes to a different pile instead of in your deck. If it were to go in your deck, then you would wind up with issues related to having to draw the XP and the heroes in the same turn, and it would really cause leveling up to become a non-factor in the game. I appreciate how the XP is treated. Also, they added to the standard "dungeon crawling" RPG element the concept of light. The further into a dungeon you go, the harder it is to see the monsters unless you have brought light with you. Whereas this sounds like a no-brainer, this is the first game where I have seen this actually play out, and it plays out simply but effectively - for each light you are missing, you must add 2 more points of attack, and some monsters can't be killed unless you have enough light.

With all that said, Thunderstone struggles in a few places. For one, killing monsters isn't often intermixed throughout the game. What winds up happening is that people spend the first half of the game building their deck, and the second half of their game killing monsters, while only visiting the village when they have a bad draw. Some of the village cards make this effect even more dramatic (specifically one called the "Trainer" which allows you to get rid of your basic cards to gain XP without killing monsters).

Another more trivial issue is the packaging. Whereas Dominion's box is setup to keep all of the cards separated so that you can easily pick out which cards you are using in any given game, Thunderstone is not. Thunderstone has a few packaging features that are supposed to help this - some larger cards for separating different piles and some raised parts in the plastic holders, overall it does not work very well and you spend a lot more time looking for cards than is needed.

Overall, I give Thunderstone an 8.0/10. I appreciated that it was not a simple derivative form of Dominion, but that it truly added some new innovations to the genre, but overall it is not as engaging of a game as Dominion. If you are a fan of the genre, however, and are looking for something new to try, Thunderstone is a good option.

You can also check out my reviews of Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin, Thunderstone: Dragonspire, and Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements.

Tsuro Review

The next game on my list to review is Tsuro: Game of the Path.

Tsuro is a very simple game and is easy to learn and fast to play. The time from opening the box until you have successfully completed your first game will probably be around 20 minutes (or less). Here is what happens: each player has 3 tiles. Each of these tiles has 8 points of entry drawn on them that are connected with 4 lines. On a given player's turn, he will place a tile, move all of the markers that are affected by that tile, and then draw a new tile. The object of the game is to be the last person to have their pawn remaining on the game board. How this works is that after you play a tile, if there is a pawn that was next to one of the entry points for the new tile that was placed, that pawn follows the route to wherever it dead-ends. If that dead-end is the edge of the game board, they are eliminated.

There are several great aspects about Tsuro. First, it is a great filler game. I do not envision people getting together just to play it, but when they can't decide what to play next, or just have about 15 minutes to play, it is perfect. Also, Tsuro is very flexibile. It can be played with 2-8 players, and it plays equally well with any of those numbers. Next, it is incredibly easy to teach and is a game that draws people to it. If you play Tsuro in a public place, people will see it, be drawn to it, and then be easily included in the next game - thus attracting both gamers and non-gamers alike.

The only real drawback to Tsuro is the opposite side of the coin of its greatest strength - simplicity. The game is so simple that it is not really a game that people will get together to play. It is a game that people, who are already together for another reason, will choose to play.  More than a get together game, it is a front porch or coffee shop style of game.

Overall, I give Tsuro an 8.0/10. What it does, it does extremely well! I would definitely recommend it to all ages that they try the game, and if you are looking for a good front-porch style game that can be played with non-gamers, it is one of the best options I have encountered. The game play is completely different, but I put this game in the same vein as Fluxx when it comes to fast, easy to learn but fun to play games.

BattleLore Review

Now that I have played BattleLore several times, I figure it is a great time to write a review.

In BattleLore, each player takes charge of an army in a variety of different scenarios - some historically based and some fantasy based. From here, on any given turn, the players will choose a command card to play (thus determining which units and how many are able to be used on that turn) and possibly a Lore card (which affects the standard flow of the game - it may help attack extra units, change die results, or something else entirely). They will move the units ordered by the Command card, attack with these units (if successful at attacking and using the correct units, possibly re-attack with these units), and then they replenish their command card hand and their Lore.  (For those of you familiar with Memoir '44 or Command & Colors Ancients, the mechanics are supposed to be the same other than the Lore cards.)

BattleLore has several aspects of the game that work incredibly well:
  • There are several different types of units - for a basic footman, he may be inexperienced, normal or experienced (and heavily armored), each of which can move a different number of spaces and roll a different number of dice.
  • Not only are there important differences in the level of the unit, there are also several different types of units that come in the base game (and more available through expansions such as BattleLore: Call to Arms and BattleLore: Heroes Expansion) - goblins, humans, dwarves and a giant spider.
  • Another positive about BattleLore is the scenarios. Instead of fighting just to fight, there are a number of scenarios that can be played that make the game feel different every time it is played through.  Scenarios can also be easily customized by selecting different "War Councils" from the ones that are suggested so that even more replayability is added.
  • The strategy in which Command cards to play and when to play Lore cards (the magic cards that can be played whenever) is deep enough to be very engaging while not being so complicated that it would prevent new players from having a good play experience.
However, with all of that said, there are some fairly important negative aspects of the game.  The primary problem is in how battles are resolved.  When a unit attacks another unit, the attacker rolls a number of dice based on its level.  From there, each die may roll a hit, a special attack (which is sometimes a hit sometimes a miss depending on the unit), retreat flags, or a "Lore" icon which allows the attacker to collect Lore tokens to play Lore cards later.  This system sounds reasonable, but in actual playing, it seems to undermine a lot of the strategy of the game.  Too often you will encounter a situation in which you are able to play the perfect Command card (and/or Lore card) to get your units into position just to have them completely miss, whereas the next time you will attack with a single unit that is not even in a good position and hit on every die roll.

Other than the battle mechanic, BattleLore's only other problems are minor - learning curve and setup time.  There are a lot of minor rules to remember the first few times that you play through, such as how far each unit can move and what terrain does, etc.  This is mediated by cards that tell you about each aspect of the game, but since this means you wind up with about 15 cards in front of you, it adds to the play area needed when playing.  The other concern is setup time.  All of the human pieces look very similar, so it can be time consuming to find all of the figures that are needed.  A quick and easy way to fix this problem, however, would be to get colored stickers and place them on the bottom of the figures so that when you are looking for a "blue" footman, you can find him and distinguish him from the red and green footmen quickly.

Overall, I give BattleLore an 8.0/10.  This is a fun game, and I will continue to play it, but because of the frustrations that the battle dice cause, it prevents it from being closer to the 9 range.  I do not recommend this for people that dislike rule intensive games, however, because BatteLore's rulebook is one of the thickest rulebooks I have ever encountered (80 pages, but yes, there are lots of pictures).

Ticket to Ride Review

Ticket to Ride

Continuing with my recent theme of Days of Wonder games, its time to review Ticket to Ride.

In Ticket to Ride, each player is attempting to build the most well rounded network of railroads by connecting various cities together. On any given turn a player can draw train cards for use in building railroads later, they can build a connection from one city to another if they have the appropriate number of matching train cards, or they can draw new "Destination cards" which will give them two cities that they can score points for connecting.

Ticket to Ride has several pro's and con's. The first pro is that the game is incredibly easy to learn. In fact, the instructions are 2 pages front and back (with a lot of pictures). This game could easily be taught to any level of board gamer, and would even be ideal to play with younger children (Days of Wonder recommends age 8+).  This is nice, because the number of board games that actually include strategy but are able to play with younger children is somewhat limited.

Another pro is that Ticket to Ride is fairly fast paced and engaging. Each turn goes pretty quickly, and so there are not the long pauses in between turns where players can get disengaged.  This is another thing that makes Ticket to Ride work well with all ages from 8 through adults with limited attention spans.

However, the ease of learning Ticket to Ride has unfortunately come with a con - the strategy is somewhat limited. Since the number of available actions is so small, the overall strategies in the game are not very numerous, so it can quickly feel like you are playing the game the same way every time.  The basic strategies primarily lie in when to build railroads and when to wait, and occasionally in when to draw new destination cards.

Overall, I give Ticket to Ride a 7.0/10. It was very enjoyable when I first learned to play it, but I felt that the replayability was a bit low. (I realize that many people will disagree with both the rating and the replayability, and they should feel free to comment - please, just be tactful when leaving comments.) This is a game that I would recommend playing two or three times, and if you still enjoy it purchasing the game at that point if possible, instead of purchasing it up front.  If you are looking for a high quality child friendly game, Ticket to Ride should be near the top of your list.

Shadows Over Camelot Review

Shadows Over Camelot board game in play
Speaking of cooperative games (we were, weren't we?), its time to review Shadows Over Camelot.

Shadows Over Camelot is primarily a cooperative game in which the players are working together to get enough "white swords" before too many "black swords" are earned. Both of the types of swords are collected from quests - successful completion of quests will earn white swords, whereas failure in a quest will increase the number of black swords. With that said, on a typical player's turn, they must choose which evil action occurs (this is how the game plays against you), and then they make a "Heroic action". The evil actions, as I'm sure you guessed, work towards you failing different quests, and thus enhance the chances of you getting black swords, whereas the Heroic actions are ways in which your knight is able to work quests towards successful completion. Some of the Heroic actions that can be taken include moving to a quest, playing cards towards a quest, playing special cards, healing, and (if playing with a potential traitor) accusing another knight of being a traitor.

Shadows Over Camelot is an incredibly well balanced game. There are several different quests that are all going on at the same time, and it is up to you as the knights of the round table to make sure that you don't ignore any of them for too long, or else you will fail them and start getting negative victory points (black swords) very quickly. Also, some of the quests are harder than others, but many of the quests that are more challenging are also more rewarding - you may discover Lancelot's armor or the Holy Grail.

Another good thing that Shadows Over Camelot introduces is the potential of their being a traitor (this is an optional way to play). Whereas in Pandemic you know that nobody will betray you and in Battlestar Galactica it's just a matter of time, in Shadows Over Camelot you have to deal with the possibility. And if you start accusing people wrongly of being a traitor you will 1) turn your white swords into black swords and 2) probably have people start accusing you (thus causing another sword to flip over).

Another factor of Shadows Over Camelot that adds to its replayability is the different knights involved. Each of the knights has a special power (similar to a role in Pandemic), which allows them to help your team in a unique way - whether that might be by moving to a quest for free, drawing cards, giving cards to other players, or something else. This element of the game allows you to play differently many times through, and especially if playing with the potential of a traitor, it is interesting to see how a traitor tries to use his special power in negative or useless ways without getting caught.  (As a note, if you do ever play the game out, there is an expansion - Merlin's Company - that allows you to get some more plays out of your game.)

One final interesting aspect of the game is that your knights can die. If you fail enough quests, your knight's life will eventually expire, thus causing you to be eliminated from the game. In fact, one of the ways that the traitor can win is by letting all of his fellow knights be killed off.

Overall, I give Shadows Over Camelot a 9.0/10. The more I think about this game, the more I think that it is on the same level as Pandemic when it comes to cooperative games, and so I felt it was only fitting to give them the same score. However, whereas Pandemic is for 2-4 players, Shadows works very well with a larger group, and can be played with 3-7 (and works best with lots of players when using the traitor).

In addition to Shadows Over Camelot, you might also check out Cargo Noir, Castle Panic, and Mystery Express.