Forbidden Island Review

Forbidden Island board game in play

A game that I heard great things about and finally got an opportunity to play (thanks to my wife for the present) was Forbidden Island.

In Forbidden Island, each of the players takes on the role of an adventurer on an ancient deserted island. The adventurers are attempting to discover the 4 ancient artifacts on the island, but lo and behold, the island is booby-trapped and is starting to sink. In order for the adventurers to win, they must collect the 4 artifacts, all return to the helicopter pad, and then take off. How a normal turn will work while attempting to accomplish this goal is as follows: take 3 actions (move, trade cards, return a tile to a non-flooded state), draw 2 cards (hoping to not get a "Waters Rise"), and play as the board to flood a certain number of tiles. (Yes, this is very Pandemic-ish).

The first pro of Forbidden Island is that it is simple to learn, and quick to play (and can be played with all ages - the game says 10 and up, but if you have smart children, you could probably do it at 8). The instructions are only about 5 half-sized pages, and the game claims to take 30 minutes. As opposed to lots of games that horribly lie about estimated time, this is actually a pretty close estimate. Fortunately, whereas many games equate "quick" with "lame" or "non-strategic", Forbidden Island actually has enough depth to it that you do not get bored after the first play, but you actually want to play again. I will say this again: this is actually a quick game with depth to it. Hoorah, we have found one!

The second pro is that it has an adjustable difficulty level. When first learning how to play on Novice, we smoked the game. Had this not been adjustable, I would have dropped the game as quickly as I could. However, when we were looking for a real challenge and played it on Legendary, we lost. As bad as it sounds, I'm glad we lost. If we had won each time we played, I would have also moved on from the game. With the varying difficulty, there is enough challenge to keep me coming back to play it more.

The final pro I will mention is that the game itself (components) are very high quality compared to the cost. It comes in a nice tin, and the artifacts are quality molded plastic, and the list price is around $15. Honestly, this is what scared me off from the game at first, and why it took me so long to try it. I thought that the game must be pretty lousy for $15, but I'm glad to say that I was wrong.

Now for the cons: the players did not seem especially balanced. Here's an example: the pilot versus the diver. The pilot is able to, once per turn, take one action to move anywhere on the board. The diver is able to move through sunk tiles. If it were me, I'd rather have the pilot every time.

My next con is that there seemed to be too many times in which you had nothing to do with some of your actions. Obviously this happened more on the easy difficulty settings than the harder ones, but it would've been nice if there were a few more things you could do. (Yes, I realize that I bragged about the depth of the game a lot, but this still bothered me.)

The final con was related to the hand limit.  This is especially problematic in a smaller game - such as 2-player.  The hand limit is 5 cards.  There are 5 copies of each artifact card in the deck and you need 4 of them in order to discover the artifact.  The problem comes in when you wind up having two different artifacts that you have multiple copies of.  You will have to throw away enough copies of one of the artifacts that you will not possibly be able to discover it until the second time through the draw deck.  This means that no matter how well you played, because of the hand limit and unfortunate drawing, you are guaranteeing that you get at least 4 "Waters Rise" cards (the number in the deck).  Since one of the ways you lose is by having the waters rise too many times, this just seemed frustrating as you may wind up losing in a way that could not possibly be avoided if the "Waters Rise" come up the second time through the deck before the artifact cards that you needed.

Overall, Forbidden Island gets an 8.0/10. I would recommend playing Pandemic first, but honestly, if you do that, it may ruin you for Forbidden Island. It is really just Pandemic-lite in my opinion. My other final point of note is this: you will wind up playing on Legendary (as we did) if you want any kind of challenge.  Just know this going in so that you won't be disappointed.

If you want another opinion, check out the Board Game Family's Forbidden Island Review; or if you want to read about other cooperative games, check out Flash Point: Fire Rescure, Defenders of the Realm, and Yggdrasil.

Josh's note after initial posting: after more plays of this game, I must give it credit that sometimes it can be quite challenging even on the easier settings, as I found myself challenged and even badly defeated on "Normal" mode.

Puerto Rico Review

Now it is time to review a game that is on my all-time classics list: Puerto Rico.

In Puerto Rico, each of the players takes on the role of a governor on the newly discovered island of Puerto Rico. As governor, they are in charge of planting new fields, building public buildings, ensuring that they have enough workers to man their buildings and fields, sending goods back to the old world, selling goods, etc. At the end of the game, whichever governor has ruled most successfully (as determined by victory points) wins the game.

The first significant pro for Puerto Rico is related to a game mechanic that it introduces - roles. When playing the game, the players will take turns selecting which "role" they will implement - Captain, Mayor, Trader, Settler, etc. Within each role, the person who selects it will get to perform that role's action first, and will also get a bonus for being the player to select it, but then each other player will have the opportunity to also perform that action. (For example, if I take on the role of "Builder", I will be the first person to have the opportunity to build a building, and my bonus is that I can build it for 1 doubloon cheaper than list price. After I purchase my building, however, then each other person in turn order will get an opportunity to build a building.) This mechanic works amazingly well, and forces players to strategize by determining when the best time is to take on each role. Since he knows that whatever role he chooses could help other players too, he must ensure that whatever he selects will help him more than anyone else.

The next pro of Puerto Rico is the balance in the game. As I briefly stated before, each time a player selects a role, he must determine which role he can perform to maximize his benefit and to minimize the benefit of all of the other players. Here's an example: if a player chooses to ship goods back to the mainland, he will get an extra victory point for being the "Captain." However, if other players will be able to ship more goods, then he may wind up having a net loss of victory points because they will be able to ship more, and so this would be a poor selection.  Another example: if a player has 10 doubloons, and he looks around and sees that no other players have any money, it would be an ideal time to be a builder because he would be able to purchase whichever building he would like without anybody else getting any benefit.

The third pro to mention about Puerto Rico is the sheer number of strategic aspects in the game. (This pro is specifically important because these factors change based on number of players, so this adds to the replayability of the game because a successful 3-player game's strategy may fail miserably in a 5-player game and vice versa). Some of the things that a player must balance between include which type of crops to plant - should they plant corn which can easily be grown and shipped, but is not worth anything to sell, or coffee which they cannot grow as much of, but will sell for significantly more. Are all of the other players growing a certain crop? This could mean that there will be a higher chance that there will be a ship containing that good in the Captain phase, but it also might get full more quickly. Players must determine which buildings to build and when - would it be better to get a wharf and have a guaranteed ability to ship goods, or to get a harbor and gain extra victory points when successfully shipping goods. The strategic elements go on and on.

Finally, even though Puerto Rico is so balanced and contains so many strategic elements, it is also very easy to learn and teach other players how to play. The game can be played in around an hour, and can be taught in about 5-10 minutes (from the instructions, it will be a bit longer), and so the appeal of the game is very widespread.

Overall, I give Puerto Rico a 9.5/10. It is one of the best games that I have ever played, and I would recommend it to absolutely anybody that enjoys playing board games. If you have not played this game, go find a copy and try it.

Puerto Rico on Noble Knight Games (about $25)
Puerto Rico on Funagain Games
Puerto Rico on Amazon (about $40)

Axis and Allies: Pacific (2000 Edition) Review

Axis and Allies Pacific

A game that I finally pulled back out of my closet to give it another shot was Axis & Allies Pacific.

In Axis and Allies Pacific, each of the players is taking on the role of a super power in the Pacific Theater during World War II (and if you are playing 2-player, then one person takes on both the United States and the United Kingdom). From here, the Japanese player is attempting to financially outlast the rest of the world, whereas the Allied powers are attempting to either capture Japan or make them financially irrelevant by taking (almost) all of the countries that they control. If you have played Axis and Allies in any version before, you will be very familiar with the mechanics of Pacific, but there will still be a few things like Kamikaze attacks, Naval and Air bases, and the new victory conditions that you will need to become familiar with.

One of the biggest pros with Pacific along with all Axis and Allies games is that they have a good unit and purchasing system. There are different units, each of which has it's own movement, attack rating and defense rating, but the different units cost different amounts of money "IPC's". You earn IPC's at the end of each turn based on which countries you control and throughout the game this amount will fluctuate based on what you have successfully invaded and what has been taken over from other hostile powers. I believe that Axis and Allies invented this system a long time ago, and it has been used in all of their boardgames since because, frankly, it works very well.

The next thing that I like about Pacific is that it gives you a change of pace from the normal Axis and Allies. If you are a true fan of Axis and Allies (and if you're not, why would you be playing it anyway?) then you will probably get tired of playing the normal scenario. Pacific allows you to focus on elements of the game that are sometimes less consequential in the original version of the game like naval combat. In Pacific, if you do not focus on the naval aspect of the game then you can expect to be completely slaughtered - you are unable to move any of your units around or get any strategic positioning without naval combat in this version of the game. In addition, the change in victory conditions in Pacific also forces the players to think through their strategies a little more, and the game seems weighted well for the new victory conditions. (Whereas Japan starts with a large number of units and only has to "survive" a certain amount of time in the game in order to win, the Allied powers, specifically the United States start with economies that are more than triple that of Japan.)

A final pro that Pacific introduced was the ability to blockade trade routes.  Since all of the islands are only useful if trade can get to them, Pacific focused on this feature.  To do this, the game established some water spaces that are on "convoy" routes - if the Japanese player can take these water spaces from the Allies, then they can deprive them of IPC's, even though it doesn't gain any for the Japanese player.  There are also islands that are part of trade routes and so, if the Japanese player is able to block the water around the island then it prevents anyone from gaining IPC's from the territory.  If the Japanese player can take the island as well, then they are also able to gain these IPC's.

Though there are a lot of very positive aspects of Pacific, there are a few drawbacks. First, all of the drawbacks of the original Axis and Allies are still present - setup time, length of time to play, and dice rolling. Briefly, the game takes quite a while to setup. It also takes several hours to play (which is a pro or con depending on who you ask). Finally, all of the battles are determined by rolling dice. If you are able to roll dice very well and your opponent is not, then you will have a significant advantage beyond what any strategy can give.

The next con (this one unique to Pacific) is that you can wind up spending a lot of time fighting over territories that don't matter.  Whereas in the original Axis and Allies each territory was worth something, even if it was just one IPC, in Pacific there are lots of territories (most of China and tons of the islands) that are worth absolutely nothing.  None of the territories I'm referring to are worth IPC's, but a lot of the islands aren't even useful for bases (naval or air) - they are just places that you can land troops.  If you can cut off all of the transports to that island, it doesn't even matter who controls the island itself.

Overall, Axis and Allies: Pacific receives a 7.5/10. I kicked this number around for a while and if you ask me in 30 minutes it may be an 8.0 instead, but I think that it is just a touch worse than the original Axis and Allies (and also less innovative - I give credit for innovation). If you are a fan of Axis and Allies and looking for a way to play it a little differently, or really enjoy the naval combat part of World War II, then you should definitely look into the game. If you are new at the Axis and Allies system, however, I would recommend trying the original Axis And Allies. (Note: I think these games are out of print, so you may wind up paying a ton if you're not careful, but the new Axis and Allies Europe 1940 and Axis and Allies Pacific 1940 look promising. I believe you are able to play both games separately but also put them together for the full war if you would like.)

If you like war games, you should definitely check out Risk: Legacy, Risk 2210 AD, and Test of Fire: Bull Run 1861.

Arkham Horror Review

Arkham Horror Game by Fantasy Flight Games

When getting together with my sister and brother-in-law, it is a time for playing games.  This time, they brought one, and so I got to play Arkham Horror.

In Arkham Horror, each of the players takes on the role of an investigator attempting to determine what is causing the influx of monsters into the city of Arkham. When doing this, the investigators will often encounter monsters which they will either need to sneak past or fight, and will also be sucked through gates and find themselves in other worlds. Fortunately, if they can find their way back from the other world, they will have the opportunity to close (and maybe even seal) the gate that led them there - thus preventing more monsters from escaping from that world for a short time. If they are able to seal enough gates or close all of the open gates, then they are able to ward off evil and restore peace to Arkham. If they become too overrun with monsters, then they will either be destroyed or have to fight the supreme evil monster in an attempt to restore peace.

Arkham Horror had several definite pros. The first pro was replayability. The game provides you with enough different investigators and supreme evil monsters (or whatever they are called) to play the game through several times without it feeling the same. The supreme evil monsters are also different enough and affect the game just enough that they prevent the feel of repetition (as opposed to a game like Castle Ravenloft where the game is the exact same until you get to the final monster). In addition, there are enough random monsters, items, encounters, etc that, though you will probably see the same ones several times if you play repeatedly, you will not feel like you know them all (until you play it a whole lot - but that happens with every game).

The next nice aspect of Arkham Horror is that it is a very challenging but still possible to defeat cooperative game. This is a very difficult balance to reach, and shows that a lot of play testing has taken place. Many cooperative games are far too easy, which causes players to lose interest; many other cooperative games feel impossible, which has the same effect. Arkham Horror seems to be one of the games that has struck the difficult to achieve balance between challenging yet possible.

However, it is not all roses and sunshine in Arkham Horror (ok, well, it is a horror game so none of it is roses and sunshine, but you get my point). The first aspect that detracts from the game to me is the length of time to play. Our first game took 5.5 hours, and the second one took "only" 2 hours (because we were completely decimated by the game). I think that if we were to continue playing this, it would average around 3.5-4 hours. This is a very long amount of time for most gamers, and so it will probably cause you to wind up playing this game less than most of your others.  Plus it is difficult to keep my attention for quite that long, and, in fact, during the 5.5 hour game I found my interest occasionally waning.

The next negative aspect that I found in Arkham Horror was that the encounters were a bit too random. The more you play the game, the more familiar you will be with the potential encounters, which will help solve this problem. However, when we played, we would have "Other World" encounters that could range anywhere from helping you gain Sanity, Clue Tokens, etc, to causing you to almost instantly die. It seemed very difficult to actually prepare your investigator to go into the Other World in an attempt to close a gate. This detracted from the strategy side of the game as you wind up just going to the Other World and hoping that you can make it, whether your character is at full health or about to die - it took luck to successfully make it through either way.

Overall, I give Arkham Horror a 7.5/10. I debated this score anywhere from 7.0-8.5, as I think that some people will love the game and others will be less excited by it. I think that the two major things that will turn people off from Arkham Horror are the length and genre of the game. If these things don't deter you, however, then I would say you should try the game. If you really like the horror genre, I would also recommend Betrayal at House on the Hill, which is semi-cooperative and can be played quite a bit faster.

As a final note, if you like zombies and horror themed games, you might also check out Nightfall, Resident Evil: Deck Building Game, and Zombie Dice.

Poo: The Card Game Review

The latest little game that I am ready to review is Poo: The Card Game.

In Poo, each of the players takes on the role of a monkey that is flinging poo at all of the other monkeys. Each player holds 5 cards in his hand and each turn is able to either play a card (normally flinging poo at another monkey or cleaning himself off) or can discard any number of cards and draw back up to 5 cards. Between his turns, each player will have to be ready to defend himself from poo that is thrown in his direction - if you have the right cards, you may be able to block poo, dodge it, or even use your buddy's face to block the poo. Once all of the other monkeys are too filthy to keep going, then that leaves the cleanest monkey as the winner. (Sound like Lunch Money? Yeah, it did to me too, and for good reason - they play very similarly.)

The biggest pro for Poo is that it is appropriate with all age groups. If you attempt to play this with impressionable young children, yes, you may have to clean up after them if they decide that it is a good idea to fling poo at other people, but you will not have to explain to their principal why they were fighting like if you taught them Lunch Money. In addition to the theme being a bit more kid friendly, the cartoonish art on the cards is well done and is quite amusing. You will find yourself being entertained by playing the game, but also by the name of some of the cards like the "Montezuma's Revenge" defense card or the "Mighty Joe Young Poo" that you can throw.

Now that the biggest pro of Poo has been discussed, its time for the biggest con. (Yeah, with games this simple, I don't really feel a need to go too in-depth with too many pros and cons. If it takes longer to read the review than the rules, I may be a bit too detailed!) Poo does not have the level of depth as some other card based fighting games. Whereas, in other games you may have the option of grabbing your opponent after a block and doing several rounds of countering and re-countering attacks, Poo does not do this. In Poo, there are several cards that your opponent can do nothing about. This makes the amount of countering pretty shallow, and thus causes players to rely much more heavily on luck. As an example, if someone throws a poo worth 4 points of filth at the person next to me and they play "Buddy's Face" and use me to block it, there is nothing I can do - I just take the 4 points of filth. Overall, however, if you are looking for a light, quick game, you should not let this detract you from playing the game.

Overall, Poo gets a 7.5/10. I personally prefer Lunch Money, and would recommend it (to people of the appropriate age) over Poo, but Poo is a very fun little filler game, and since the MSRP is around $10, I don't think that you'll be disappointed if you buy it. (Assuming that you're someone who was interested in the game in the first place - if you aren't interested in a goofy game about throwing poo, then obviously you probably won't like it.)

If you like card games, you might also want to check out Bang!, Monopoly Deal, and Famiglia

Back to the Future: The Card Game Review

In case you haven't read enough reviews on Back to the Future: The Card Game, I will now finally get around to writing my thoughts on it, but since I've personally seen several reviews of it floating around, I probably won't be as in-depth as I would on some other games.

In Back to the Future (which is a re-implementation of Chrononauts, which I never played and thus will not mention again in this review), the timeline is laid out in front of all of the players. From there, each player represents a potential descendant of some of the characters from the Back to the Future movies. The goal of the game is to set the timeline up correctly so that your character will be born, and then to go back in time and ensure that time travel is never invented. To do this, there are different "linchpins" and "ripple points" in the timeline. Various cards allow you to change what happens in a linchpin event, and this causes a "ripple" through the timeline - thus flipping cards onto their opposite side to reflect the new outcome of the linchpin event. Once all of your correct events happens, you must go back in time and keep Doc from hitting his head when hanging his bathroom clock and getting the idea for time travel.

The main thing that I liked about Back to the Future was the concept of the timeline. If you assume that time travel is possible, then it makes sense that changing an important event in the past would then ripple through other events and cause different outcomes. This concept was reflected well and was well executed in the game.

The next thing to mention about Back to the Future that many people would consider a "pro" (though not necessarily for me) is the amount of flavor in the game. If you really enjoyed the Back to the Future movies (and watch them often enough to remember what happened in each of them) then you will really enjoy looking through the cards, the timeline, the characters, etc.  (As an added bonus, you will probably also get to go first when you play, as this is decided by whoever has watched them most recently). However, as I have not watched them in quite some time, I wound up ignoring most of this flavor text and simply paying attention to things like "C-3 flips C-5".

Now to the cons... the first thing that I didn't like about the timeline was that it was difficult for me to follow by looking at it. Whereas I said that I like the timeline mechanic in the "pros" section, and I stick to that, I still had some concerns with it.  I think that a lot of this was because I ignored the actual flavor text and only paid attention to which linchpin number flipped which ripple effect numbers, but it was something that I felt was difficult to follow visually. In general, I'm not sure that there is a better way of laying out a timeline, however, so this is a fairly minor complaint.

The main thing that I did not like about Back to the Future was how the victory mechanic worked. Once you had all of your character's events setup, you had to go flip the linchpin trying to get Doc not to get the idea of time travel. There are 5 linchpin cards in the corresponding pile, and you flip over the top one - if it is the card that says that he successfully hangs his clock, then time travel never occurs and you win the game. If it is one of the 4 other cards, then the game continues. I do not like that whether you win or not is random. I understand not wanting to guarantee that a player wins the game (though I don't necessarily agree with it), but I would like that player to at least get some kind of advantage by flipping over an unsuccessful card. This would mean that at least their turn is not a total waste, and they also didn't waste whatever card allowed them to flip the linchpin in the first place.

Overall, I give Back to the Future a 7.0/10. It is a playable game, and I would not mind playing it more. If you're a big fan of the movies, then you should definitely check it out, but if you are just a gamer looking for something to play, you may want to try it before you buy.

Steam: Rails to Riches Review

Steam Rail to Riches game in play

One of the games that I had the privilege of playing again this week was Steam: Rails to Riches.

In Steam, each of the players take turns building tracks, delivering goods, increasing the power of their locomotive, and even improving or building new cities (so that there will be more goods available and more places demanding goods). Any given round the players will get to choose an "action" tile, which will give them an advantage for that round as well as determining turn order for the following round - if you take one of the more powerful actions like improving your locomotive outside of the normal improve locomotive phase, then you will go later, but if you take something more innocent like delivering goods first, then you will go earlier the next round. (Of course, if you are desperate to go first in the following round, one of the actions doesn't help you at all this round but guarantees that you go first in the following round.) After players choose their actions, they are able to build track - this helps the map have inter-connectivity between different cities, and how much your track costs to build depends on what type of terrain you are building onto and how fancy of a track you place. Next, players deliver goods by moving goods along completed tracks until they get to a city with a demand matching the good available (assuming their locomotive level is high enough). Finally, they will collect income or pay expenses and set up for the next round. (Note: I played the basic and not the "stanard" game, but after investigating the rules to the "standard" game, the game works essentially the same way, but the standard game is made for more experienced players and forces them to plan out their turn earlier in each round.)

There are several pros about Steam. First, I like how the money and victory points work. There is both a victory point track and an income track. During the game, whenever you score points from goods being delivered, you must choose whether the points you score are added to the victory point track or to the income track. The income track will help you much more during the game, but it will be worth half as much at the end of the game, so players must balance between how much they make and how much goes straight to victory points. This is a neat mechanic that I have not seen elsewhere.

Another thing I like about Steam is the intricate strategy of the game. Whereas players can attempt to plan out their turn and what exactly they want to do, this does not mean they will have he opportunity to do it because other players will have the opportunity to affect their decisions. One of the actions allows a player to deliver goods first, and another one allows a player to lay track first. This means that, even though you are the first player of the round, you may not actually do anything first other than pick your action - and the only person guaranteed to be able to do what they want on a turn is the first person to get to take that action.

Another balancing aspect in the game relates to the goods on the board. Once the goods are delivered, they are removed from the game. This means that you will not be able to abuse a really impressive connection that you have had to make. Once you deliver all of the good using your nice connections, you will have to decide if it is more valuable for you to add more goods to the board (thus more goods that you can deliver) or whether you need to perform other actions - like making sure that you deliver goods first so that if someone else adds goods to the board, you will get to use them first.  In fact, you will even have to decide earlier in the game if it is worth it to deliver the goods quickly along short tracks (not many points), or if you want to risk waiting and hoping that you can deliver them later along a longer connection.

Another thing that I like about Steam is in how the price is determined for placing track. It has found a way to be both realistic and simple. To determine the cost of laying track you add the number of track connections that are on an edge of the hex with the number of things that you are building on top of (river, city, hill), and if it is built on a hill, add an extra dollar. Whereas I may have not made this sound simple, it is much easier than mechanics that I normally see for calculating costs for things.

A final aspect that I enjoyed about Steam was the finances of the game. You were never (ok rarely) unable to build whatever you wanted to build, regardless of your money level. Instead, whenever you needed to build something that you couldn't afford, you "sold more stock" and thus your income level went down by $1 for every $5 that you needed. (If you were already at -$10 income, then you started losing victory points, and if you had neither left then you are in the scenario in which you were unable to raise more funds.) This mechanic allows players the flexibility to do whatever they want to do each round, but makes them weigh the pros and cons of whether it is worth it to reduce their income to perform that action.  (Note: this is the main place where the basic and standard rules were different.  In the standard rules, players had to take out all of the loans they wanted to take at the very beginning of each round instead of as they needed the money.)

One thing to note that is neither a pro nor a con - the rules are very involved. This will be viewed by many players as a great thing, since rules without examples and that do not cover each situation that a player may encounter during a game can be incredibly frustrating. On the opposite end, however, it means that it is hard to pull the game out of the box for the first time and immediately start playing. It will take a while to go through the rules and understand them - I recommend playing it with someone that can just teach you how to play if at all possible (of course, I always recommend this).

There were only two minor cons that I found with Steam.  First was the pace of the game. Because of the fact that you would often have to rethink your turn based on what other players had done, the game could sometimes slow down quite a bit to where each player was taking quite a while sitting around and thinking between turns. Obviously, this will be affected by who you play with (if they are slow in other games, they will be slow in this one, too) and what experience level the different players are. I just felt like the pace of our game was slow enough a few times with players who normally play fairly quickly, and so it was worth noting.  Secondly, because Steam had so many different types of track that you could purchase, it could take a little while  to look through the pile of 136 two-sided hexes to find the one you needed.

Overall, I give Steam a 9.0/10. I really enjoyed the game, and I think it is the best "train focused" train game that I have played.  (I still prefer Chicago Express in a very tight race for train games, but Chicago Express is really a stock based game where you happen to have trains.)  I would recommend Steam to anyone who enjoys more complicated strategy games. And, as one final note, this game reimplements Age of Steam, which has tons of expansions. So, if you love the game, it may be worth picking up that version if you are interested in having different potential expansions.

If Steam sounds interesting, you might also consider Glory to Rome, Le Havre, and Power Grid.

Zombie Dice Review

Zombie Dice is a quick easy zombie game

Next up: Zombie Dice.

In Zombie Dice the players take turns rolling dice, three at a time, attempting to get brains and not shotgun blasts until they decide to pass their turn. There are 13 dice total - 6 green (with 3 brains, 2 footsteps (a re-roll), and 1 shotgun blast), 4 yellow (2 brains, 2 footsteps, 2 shotgun blasts) and 3 red (1 brain, 2 footsteps, 3 shotgun blasts). If a player gets 3 shotgun blasts on his turn, he gets no points. Otherwise, he gets a number of points equal to the number of brains he has rolled when he ends his turn. Whoever scores 13 brains first wins (yes, I did essentially describe Farkle if you were wondering).

How do I write a pros and cons section for a game with this level of deep strategy? I have no idea, so the next bit of this review will probably look very much like rambling (yes, it may even be rambling). In fact, I'm thinking about describing things like TV shows I watched or things you should buy on Amazon just to fill this review out and make it look lengthier (and as a side note, if you want to buy a PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii or anything else on Amazon through my links, it'd be appreciated. You don't even have to buy stuff that I link to, you can click on the links and then if you realize something else that you want to buy while you're on Amazon, that works too.)

Anyway, now to actually evaluate the game. Zombie Dice is really simple, in case you hadn't noticed this yet. It has some level of fun, but if it were me, I'd just assume play Farkle. After all, Farkle even has more depth than Zombie Dice does. That's about all I can say about Zombie Dice before running out of material.

Overall, I give Zombie Dice a 6.5/10. This was honestly one of the hardest ratings for me to come up with. I try to keep in mind the purpose of a game when giving it a rating, and that is why this number is so high. If it were on a scale of depth or strategy, obviously this number would be significantly lower. However, Zombie Dice was created as a simple way of throwing dice and having a Zombie theme. Do you like throwing dice? Do you like games at least loosely based on Zombies? Do you like to kill 5 minutes occasionally while shaking a really noisy tube? Then you'll like Zombie Dice. Do you not like these things? Then you'd probably be ok not playing it.

Ideology Review

Ideology game in play

Next up on the review block: Ideology. (Note: my copy is the 1st edition, and the link is for the 2nd edition).

In Ideology, each player is trying to control a super-empire of countries around the world.  This can be done by adding influence in foreign controlled or neutral countries, or by warring with another player's influence and (if successful) flipping their influence to yours, in addition to developing your own countries. Each turn, all of the players will draw cards based on the amount of countries they control and the development level of these countries. There are 3 types of cards - Military, Economic and Cultural Influence. After drawing, each player has the option of discarding and redrawing a number of cards equal to the number of countries they are currently influencing. Next, players can develop their own countries or purchase new developments (which primarily make it cheaper to play your own influence or more expensive for others to play their influence against you). Next, players add influence to countries they don't own, conflict over influence markers, and then determine their diplomatic stances and turn order for the next turn. This cycle continues until one player has a strong enough empire to rule the world (12 influence points).

There are several good aspects of Ideology. The first aspect is in the balance of the game. Each player must decide whether it is more beneficial to develop his empire or to expand. He must also weigh the pros of developing his countries against purchasing new developments. Another balance in the game comes because of the limited number of influence cards each player has. If a player starts doing very well and influencing a large number of countries, he must contend with exhausting his influence deck, which will then prevent him from being able to expand on his next turns.

The next thing that I like in Ideology is how the alliances work. Each turn, you can negotiate political stances with each player. If you are at war, you can attack each other with any of the 3 influence markers, if you are neutral with each other, you cannot attack militarily, and if you are at peace, then you can only attack using cultural influence. Whoever takes the more aggressive stance determines the current diplomatic level (after all, if I pretend we're at peace, and you tell me that you're waging a war against me, I'm pretty sure that a war will be waged whether I like it or not). However, once these diplomatic stances are set, they cannot be broken or renegotiated for the whole turn. This causes the diplomacy to play an incredibly crucial role in the game!

The main con in Ideology was that the game was not as engaging as I would have liked in relation to the time it takes to play. The game is about 1-2 hours long, but the mechanics are very simple. If you enjoy negotiating and having a back and forth game in which you are able to influence countries, they are re-taken from you, you re-take them, etc, then this will be no problem. However, in games of this length, I generally prefer to have different ways of taking over - if I am not gaining any ground in one area of the game, I like to be able to advance my position in other areas in the hopes that they will help in the long term. Ideology really only has a few different aspects, and so it does not allow something like this to take place.

Overall, I give Ideology a 7.0/10. It is a game that I will keep in my collection and will play occasionally, but it will not be on the monthly list of games that I need to break out and play. However, on a semi-regular basis, it would be fun to try to use my influence to take over the world.

If Ideology sounds interesting, you might also check out Twilight Struggle, Washington's War, and Glory to Rome.

Flagship Review

The latest game that I tried out at my local game store was Flagship.

In Flagship, each player takes on the role of an inter-galactic super power that is skirmishing in a space battle. To start with, each player will get a certain number of points to pick their fleet, which must include a flagship and a commander, but then can hold any number of other ships (up to the point total). From there, the players will be able to take turns in which they maneuver and attack the other player's ships until one of the flagships has been destroyed (at which point the player who still has a flagship will be victorious in a 2-player game, and in a bigger game the player who has the most points from destroying ships will be victorious).

Flagship was an interesting game to play. One of the interesting things about it is the different types of attacking that are allowed. There are direct fire attacks, boarding attacks, and guided attacks. Each attack works slightly differently, and each race will be better at some attacks over others. This allows each player to try to maneuver their ships to be able to take advantage of their better fighting abilities and minimize those of their opponent. Another facet of these different kinds of attacks is that the counter-attack cards to be risky to try to use. If you hold on to the wrong kind of counter-attack, then you will have wasted a card in your hand, and you will not be able to counter their attack because they attacked with direct fire instead of a guided attack, or something similar.

The biggest pro of Flagship was that it could be played using scenarios and different races. The rulebook laid out several different scenarios that players could use.  An example is where one race is out-manned significantly but the other side gets to surprise attack them to get significant advantages in the first few rounds. This scenario based combat and the mix of races could keep the game from being as repetitive and could keep people who enjoyed the game interested for longer.

The first con that I saw while playing Flagship was that ships other than your flagship seemed trivial in many situations. For the most part, since your flagship will always be alive (unless you have lost), you will put all of your crew members on your flagship - thus preventing them from dying. However, when this happens, there is no way to get rid of crew members. Everyone is just able to stack as many as they want on their flagship, and thus the other ships become inconsequential as their attack values will not be strong enough without crew members to deal damage to the opponent's flagship (and thus cannot help the player win). I think it would have been better had there been ways to destroy crew - perhaps with boarding attacks, for example, and if there had been more ways of allowing smaller ships to damage the flagship. 

The next problem that I had with Flagship was that the fun of the game did not last overly long. I played through one game and enjoyed it, but during the second game (with slightly bigger fleets to start with) the game seemed to drag on more.  It seemed to me that the game was designed to be fairly fast paced, and so anything beyond a small skirmish became somewhat dry.

Overall, I give Flagship a 6.5/10. I have never played a spaceship battle game that worked out quite like this one, but Flagship didn't seem to be able to handle anything beyond a small skirmish to me. I think I would rather play Mag Blast if I were looking for a game of this type, unless you are really drawn to the scenario based combat.

Fictionaire Review

Now to review the Fictionaire series of games (which consists of Classic, Naturals, Fool Science, and Tall Tales). The specific version that I played was Tall Tales, but the actual game is the same, but with different themes and questions.

In Fictionaire, each player takes turns being the "host". The host will read the question at the top of their card and then (without reading the answer) will pass the box of cards (with the answer hidden) to the next player. Each person in turn will either make up an answer to the question or will use the correct answer on the bottom of the card.  (Someone is required to use the correct answer - if nobody has used it previously, then the last person is required to use it). Once all of the potential answers have been heard, the host will pick the answer they think is correct. Whoever they pick gets a point, and then if the host is correct they will also get a point - if not, then the person who tricked them gets a second point. The game goes around until each person has been the host twice. At that point, the player with the most points wins.

Fictionaire is not an especially innovative game. In fact, it is admittedly a dressed up version of the old kid's game of Dictionary in which kids use a dictionary to do this same concept. With that said, however, the place where Fictionaire shines is in the actual questions and answers. I played the Tall Tales version, and I was completely amazed at what some of the answers were. The game is fun not only to play, but also to read the extra information that is provided at the bottom of the cards. This is a great game in which the players are learning (though not necessarily learning anything "useful") while enjoying themselves.

There are two main cons to Fictionaire. The first con is really only a con for the ultra-competitive. In Fictionaire, since the host knows who gave each answer, they can be spiteful and choose answers that they do not think are correct simply so that certain people will not get points as a strategy to winning. Hopefully, you are able to play this with a group that views it as a fun little party game and does not get caught up enough to use this strategy.

The second con with Fictionaire relates to replayability. Once you have played through all of the cards in the set, the game no longer really works, since you now know the answers. However, with 120 questions per set, you are able to play 15 games with 4 players (the minimum suggested) or about 8 games with 7 players (the maximum suggested). That is quite a bit of replayability for $10, so I think that this fact was factored into the cost, which is why I did not let it prevent me from trying this game out.

Overall, I give the Fictionaire series an 8.5/10. For what it is and the cost it comes at, I think it is worth trying out by anyone that enjoys word games. This is also a game that I think could be utilized in schools and libraries as a fun and educational activity, and I have recommended it to at least one school librarian already.