Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements Review

So, this will be my first review of an expansion to a game that I have not bundled with the base game's review. There hasn't really been a reason that I've always previously bundled them except that at the time that I chose to write about the expansion, I hadn't written about the base game yet, so I killed two birds with one stone. Anyway, if you're interested in my review of the base game of Thunderstone, feel free to check it out here (or you can also navigate to it with the right-hand widget where the reviews are listed alphabetically). With all that said, it's time to review Thunderstone Wrath of the Elements.

Instead of talking about how Wrath of the Elements works (which would be a complete repeat of how Thunderstone works), I'll point out a few highlights and then get right to the pros and cons. The main things that Wrath did was 1) improved the box/storage layout 2) added "traps" and "guardians" 3) added several gameplay variants and 4) added lots of new cards of all kinds.

The first pro of Wrath of the Elements is the improved storage. Now, I realize that you are all incredibly concerned and think the game must not have been good if this is my biggest pro, but that's not at all true! Instead, it's important to realize how much I hated the storage of the original game. In fact, I believe it was my biggest con when I reviewed Thunderstone. Not only has AEG fixed this problem with Wrath of the Elements, they have also fixed my biggest complaint with Dominion. Both at the same time! I won't really discuss the pitifulness of the original Thunderstone storage, because there's really no need, but I will mention my complaint with Dominion - I liked the game and so I bought a ton of expansions. And then I had a ton of big, bulky boxes. Finally I stopped bothering to play it because it was a pain to carry around. Well, in Wrath of the Elements, the box (as seen in the picture) is wide enough to hold two rows of cards and has file cabinet style labeled separator cards to distinguish the different piles of cards. The separators are even color and symbol coded. And both the original game and Wrath fit in the box (except the original instruction book is a bit too big, so you have to fold it over the top or leave it at home), and they even left room for several more expansions so that I can carry it all around in a single (heavy) box. This made me incredibly happy before I even played the game.

Now that I have gotten off my soap box about storage, here are some gameplay pros. I really liked the traps, and my only complaint is that there weren't enough different kinds of them (I'm sure they'll fix this with more expansions). Whereas in the original version of the game monsters would come out and you never really had to worry about them unless they had breach (and then you were still safe unless they reached the first rank), the traps can occur when replenishing the dungeon cards, and can affect one or many players. I liked how this played out in practice.

The next significant pro (this may have been the big one if it weren't for the storage) is the different variants. I believe there were about 5 different variants on how to play the game. Whereas most of the variants were pretty similar, there were a couple that I deemed worthy of mentioning. First, there is a single player variant. Honestly, I haven't played this variant yet as I prefer to play multiplayer, but this variant looked interesting enough to me that I will probably try it out in the "near" future. Secondly, they added a variant in which the monsters don't just sit still in the dungeon waiting on you. We did try this variant out, and I will say I'm hooked. In the original, each player can wait out the other players before going to the dungeon - unless another player goes, there's no real need to go to the dungeon early when you can build up your deck in the village. This is no longer the case; if everyone starts going to the village, the monsters will escape from the dungeon and players will gain negative victory points (and others might breach, and traps might come out....).

Aside from those points, there were also new cards of every type. I am yet to play with all of them, but from what I have seen there are some that I like and some that I am indifferent about - just like in every deck building game. I would like to point out that we did try all the new monsters and I really liked them; they seem nastier than the monsters in the base set. Especially when paired with the variant rules about monsters escaping (a lot of the new monsters have breach).

Really, the only "con" is that the game is still Thunderstone. If you didn't like Thunderstone in the first place, you're obviously not going to like the expansion. Fortunately, I thought the base Thunderstone game was solid, and so this didn't bother me.

Overall, I give Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements an 8.5/10. I very rarely give expansions a higher score than the base game, because they often don't add very much, but I really thought that Wrath added a lot to the basic game and now that I have it, I can't imagine going back to just the basic game. If you are a Thunderstone fan, I can honestly say that I think you should check this expansion out. (And if you're not a Thunderstone fan, and you read this far into the review.... why did you read this far? You knew a long time ago that you weren't going to play this game.)

I would like to thank AEG for providing me with a demo copy of Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements to review.

Dvonn Review

The latest game in the GIPF project that I was able to check out was Dvonn.

In Dvonn, each of the players takes a stack of discs and is attempting to control the most discs at the end of the game. To start, three red "Dvonn" discs are placed on the board. After this, players take turns placing discs one at a time until all of the discs have been placed and all of the spots on the board are covered (when placing discs, they must each be connected in some way to the "dvonn" disc - either directly or through other discs). Once all of the discs have been placed, the players begin to "jump" their discs into stacks. The distance that each stack must jump is dependent on the size of the stack - if it is a single disc, it jumps exactly one space; if it is a stack of 6 discs, it must jump exactly 6 spaces. The two special rules here are that the stacks cannot jump to an empty space and any pieces that become disconnected from a "dvonn" disc are immediately discarded. Once no legal moves are left, each of the players takes the stacks that they control (the ones with their color of disc on top) and stacks them on top of each other (this is to make counting the discs faster). Whoever controls the highest stack wins.

Pros and cons of all of the games from the GIPF project are very difficult for me to write (and thus wind up sounding very similar). This is because I am not accustomed to spatial reasoning games, and so they challenge my traditional way of thinking about games. With that said, this is the first pro for both Dvonn and the project as a whole. The strategy of these games always makes me think using areas of my brain that have become rusty. They challenge me to not think financially and militaristically (like most games) but to think spatially.

The next pro about Dvonn is the number of strategic elements in the game. Whereas I felt that Zertz occasionally struggled with depth of strategies, I feel like Dvonn exceeded my expectations. Players must strategize where to place their discs initially, which stacks to jump, when to jump them, how to stay connected to the dvonn discs, when to remove connections from the dvonn disc, etc. This depth allows players of Dvonn to keep coming back and to continue being challenged.

The first con that I have found with Dvonn was related to some of the levels of strategy that I just mentioned. Some aspects of the game that I'm convinced are very strategic I have a difficult time determining what that strategy should be. Specifically, when placing initial discs, I have no idea what good "strategic" placement of discs entails. All of the games that I have played consisted of both players placing these semi-randomly and very quickly in order to get to the "meatier" part of the game (the part where thought we could have a decent strategy). Whereas this depth level of the game is good, it is still somewhat frustrating to have this part be so abstract that I have no idea if I did it well or not.

Overall, I give Dvonn an 8.5/10. I still think that I like Yinsh just a touch better, but in a very close race. I would highly recommend Dvonn to anybody that likes abstract spatial reasoning games, and I would warn off everybody that does not.

Heroscape Review

Heroscape with dragon

One of the games that I have lost the most money because of is Heroscape. (Note: Heroscape is at this point a game system more than a single product. The link is to one of the 4 master sets that was produced. Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast has discontinued the entire line, but it all started with Heroscape: Rise of the Valkyrie.)

Heroscape is a miniatures based war game. Before the game can be played, one (or several) of the players must build a map out of plastic interlocking hex-based terrain. The terrain pieces available include rock, sand, grass, ice, lava, water, trees, roads, ruins, castles, etc. After the map has been built, each of the players picks an army of approximately equal value (each hero or squadron is given a certain value in points for this purpose). Once the board is set and armies are made, at the start of each round all of the players place order markers on their army cards (ranging from 1-3 with an "X" for a decoy). Next, the players each role a 20-sided die to determine "initiative" (who goes first), and the first player starts by taking his turn using his "1" army card (an army card can represent either a single hero figure or a 2-4 unit squadron). For each figure on his army card, the player can move a designated number of hexes and then attack any figure(s) within range. This continues until whatever game objective is being used has been met. (You can play elimination, capture the flag, king of the mountain, or just about anything else.)

Now for the pros of Heroscape. First of all, Heroscape is incredibly replayable. With the sheer number of figures that Hasbro created, and the fact that the maps can be custom made each time through, the only reason that a game should feel the same way twice is due to a lack of imagination on the part of the people playing (or if they have favorite figures that they use too often).

The second aspect of Heroscape that counts definitively in its favor is that it is simple enough to play with and teach anybody, but deep enough to keep most people's interest. As opposed to most miniatures games, Heroscape has no measuring (with rulers). To determine whether a unit is in range, you count the number of hexes in between them for distance. To move a unit, you simply move a certain number of hexes. To go up to higher elevation, each extra hex of height costs a movement point. To attack, you roll a number of attack dice (and defend the same way). However, each unit has special abilities - some units fly, some get to attack twice, counter attack, scale walls, etc. This allows the basics of the game to be incredibly simple to teach, and new players only need to worry about special abilities that are on army cards that are in their current game.  However, since each army card has unique abilities, it gives the game enough flavor and diversity that it will keep even seasoned gamers interested in playing again.

The third pro for Heroscape is that the terrain can easily be adapted to many other miniatures games.  Whereas I do not really play other miniatures games (this is a pro that was pointed out to me by other gamers), it seems to be sized appropriately for figures from Heroclix, Warhammer, and possibly even Axis and Allies Miniatures and Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures.  This would allow you to have more three dimensional terrain in those games (and more easily measurable in Warhamer) if that is something in which you are interested.

Now that the pros have been highlighted, here's the biggest con: dice. This is one of the most frustrating games I have ever played when it comes to dice (along with The Settlers of Catan). All of your best laid plans and strategies can be destroyed when your figure with 9 dice for defense gets killed by a figure with 2 dice on attack. I cannot say how frustrating that is. (And yet, this has not deterred me from playing the game. Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, and maybe I just really like the pros that much).

Now for the next con: dice. Yeah, I really hate that part, so it counts twice.

Now for the second (actual) con: setup time. This will not be a con to many people, and so I suppose I should've listed it more as a point of note. The setup of the map can take quite a long time. With that said, many people will enjoy setting up the map as much or more than they enjoy playing the game (the same kind of people who are attracted to Warhammer because they enjoy painting the miniatures). I personally enjoy the game more than the setup, but my wife seems to truly enjoy building maps. Either way, the time required to setup and tear down the maps for Heroscape have limited my ability to play it for the last couple of years, and so it is something that you should definitely be aware of.

Overall, I give Heroscape an 8.0/10. It is a very fun, very addictive game that (I think) I have played in excess of 100 times. Unfortunately, it will be pretty hard for new players to get in, as the game is no longer in production. If this is a title you're interested in, I recommend trying to pick it up as quickly as possibly, because I'm guessing that prices will go up before they go back down (if ever). Your best bet will probably be to try to pick it up on Craig's list or at a garage sale.

Inca Empire Review

Another game that crossed my gaming table was Inca Empire.

In Inca Empire, each of the player takes on the role of an Incan leader attempting to gain the most victory points. They can do this by building roads that connect their center of power to cities, temples, garrisons, etc. They can also do this by building the previously mentioned buildings and by conquering neighboring cities. Specifically, there will be different "phases" of the game that will occur within each "round" of the game, which will occur within the "era"s of the game. (Lost yet? It's not as confusing as it sounds.) Essentially, there will be parts of the game where each player will get new workers based on what civilizations they've conquered and what they have build (workers are the currency in the game), there will be times that players will play star cards (I have no idea what the actual term was but these are cards that affect the players abilities to build stuff), and there will be times when the players build roads and either build buildings or conquer peaceful neighbors. At the end of a prescribed number of these phases, the players will get extra points for buildings that their civilization connects to. This will continue through the different "eras" of the game, and at the end of the game, whoever has the most victory will win.

Now for the pros. The main thing that I liked about Inca Empire how the star cards worked. There was a 2x2 grid where each player's color was a divider between two quadrants (so that each player's color was adjacent to two quadrants and not adjacent to the other two quadrants). Each player was allowed to play a star card in turn order on one of the quadrants that had not yet received a card (face down). Once all 4 quadrants had received cards, they were all flipped over, and the cards in the 2 quadrants adjacent to your color affected you for the rest of that round. This worked really well, because you had to decide whether to help yourself and one of your opponents or whether to mess up two of your opponents. Since you only were allowed to play one card, you knew that playing a card on your opponents would probably cause you to have bad cards played back at you since that may be the only quadrant they would be allowed to play in.  Also, trying to play detrimental cards against an opponent you shared a quadrant with could also significantly impact your own play. This is a new mechanic to me, and I really enjoyed this part of the game.

The second major pro for Inca Empire is that the game is balanced very well among the players. We played with 4 players, and the game was a pretty consistent see-saw battle between the different players on who was in what place. This is a difficult balance to master in games, so I am glad that Inca Empire was able to achieve it.

The next element of the game that I don't know if I consider a pro or a con is the amount of road building. You were able to score a lot of points in Inca Empire based on connecting to various buildings through your roads. This means that the main thing you are doing is building roads. However, there are certain star cards that allow players to build roads on the same path as your roads, thus preventing you from truly being able to block anyone's path. The roads aspect of the game is neat in that you are able to score victory points by connecting to what the other players have done, but is also frustrating because it seems like everything winds up being connected, so you basically wonder to yourself why you bothered having to build roads in the first place.

Now for the first major con: Inca Empire was very long and repetitive. There were not very many different things that you could do on your turn, so you wound up performing the same actions over and over. Each turn, you would look around to see where you should best place your roads. That was one of the main elements and this element became boring after doing it 10 times. Unfortunately, I think that shortening the game (removing rounds) would skew the balance of the game, so I don't really see a way around this.

The second major con in Inca Empire was that it was very difficult to quickly see what was going on in the game. The pieces are very small and clustered all over the board because of the sheer number of roads and the symbols on the star cards are not very intuitive, so you must really concentrate and double check things to see what is going on. I much prefer being able to quickly see how I am doing in a game, and what different things are affecting my ability to play.

Overall, I give Inca Empire a 6.5/10. I could play the game again, but due to the length of time it takes, and the repetitiveness of it, I probably will not. If you enjoy road building games, then this would be one to check out because the pros that I mentioned truly are good things, but overall there are a lot of other games out there that I would rather play instead.

Mousquetaires du Roy Review

Mousquetaires du Roy board game in play

A new game that I was incredibly psyched to play was Mousquetaires du Roy.

In the Musketeer game (as I will refer to it, as I can type it much more easily and not have to constantly check my spelling), one player takes on the role of "Milady" and tries to disgrace the queen, siege the city, and destroy the musketeers. All of the other players take on the role of different musketeers (yes, from The Three Musketeers books) and try to restore the queen's name by completing several epic quests (to find the queen's diamonds and whatnot). To start the round, Milady will secretly select which location she will go to (she can try to hinder the musketeers directly at certain locations, and at other locations, she can get extra cards that will let her indirectly hinder them by doing things like dishonoring the queen and causing the turn track to move faster). After she selects a location, she is able to play a new Paris card (quest that seriously jacks with the musketeers), and finally she can either draw or play a treachery card (continuing with the theme, this also jacks with the musketeers). Next, each of the musketeers can take their turn (in any order). They each get a certain number of actions based on the number of players in the game. With these, they can move, draw cards, attempt challenges and duels (these are how they complete quests like the Paris cards and the epic quests that win them the game), buy upgrades, and exchange cards/equipment. The heart of the game is in the musketeers working together to thwart Milady's evil schemes. Finally, there is some round cleanup - the siege is adjusted, the time track advances, and the queen is possibly dishonored. If the musketeers can work their way through all 4 of their quest boards before Milady reaches any of her victory conditions, they win!

The first thing that I found interesting about the Musketeer game is that the Musketeers could take their turns in any order. I can't think of any other games with this mechanic, and I think that it really added to the gameplay. Since Milady was able to determine many different things (such as what was at various quests and how they were to be completed), it was really important not only to make the most of each Musketeer turn, but also to do them in the best possible order. There will be many situations in which one of the Musketeers will be the best at completing a challenge and so the other Musketeers will go before him to clear out any potential duels that he may encounter or to help equip him by drawing extra cards and giving them to him. I can't speak highly enough of this mechanic - it is a very small thing and easy to miss (in fact, I missed it until about halfway through the first game), but it is a nice addition.

The next thing that I must talk about is the role of Milady. First off, I really enjoy cooperative and semi-cooperative games. I have put in lots of time in Pandemic, Shadows Over Camelot, and Forbidden Island. The problem is, the board is not able think, but can only react. Because of this, it winds up being quite random. You can play one game of Pandemic in which you win without the game even being close, and the next game you get absolutely destroyed, and it is all dependent on which cards are drawn. The Musketeer game fixes that. In the Musketeer game, Milady is essentially the role of the board and, if you find a strategic gamer to fill this role, it can cause the game to be incredibly challenging every time.  This is the second innovative element that I have seen in the Musketeer game, and so I appreciate this as well. However, if you noticed, I didn't directly call this a pro. Here's the reason - playing as Milady is wretchedly boring. Everyone may not share this opinion with me (I asked my wife, and she had no complaints about playing the role), but I definitely had that feeling. We played a couple games where I was a Musketeer but before writing the review I felt it was important to play both ways. When playing as Milady, I would spend about 1-3 minutes per round (if that) doing my turn and then about 5-15 minutes (or more) waiting on the Musketeers to take theirs (with very little that I could do to affect their turn, but still having to pay attention in case they went to my secret location). Now, I will admit that part of this may have been the people I was playing with not playing quickly, and part of it was definitely that we were still new enough at the game that we had to think through things, but I was still a much bigger fan of playing a Musketeer over playing Milady. Before wrapping up the discussion on this topic, there is one more thing to note - a rule variant is included that allows the players to play without Milady and for her turns to be executed randomly (returning the game to a more Pandemic-like state). If you run into an issue where nobody wants to play the role, this may be for you - hopefully, you will find at least one player in your group that enjoys the role (my wife) and you can allow them to play it in most games.  (Hmmm... my wife likes playing the role of the evil character......  I guess I'll try not to read too much into that.  Especially as she proof-reads this over my shoulder.)

The next pro is the balance of the game. This is a pro that I probably use too often, but this particular game's review would be completely lacking if I didn't cover this topic. The game in which I played Milady was just about the closest game of any kind that I have ever played. On the last round of the game, the Musketeers completed the final quest on the last Musketeer's turn (and by using the mechanic that allowed them to pick the order in which they went). If they had not been able to complete everything on that round, then I was going to successfully disgrace the queen to start the next round. Balance like this shows good playtesting, and I think that is one of the reasons that I bring is up so often. Kudos.

Now that I have covered the most important pros, the main con is the learning curve. The first time through the game, half of the time was spent trying to look up rules to see if we were doing things correctly. In fact, I would recommend that everyone playing read through the instructions before the first game. A single person teaching others how to play this game will most likely fail, but I do believe that a group of players introducing a single new player would be able to teach them sufficiently. I'm not really sure what it is about the game that made it so difficult to figure out at first, as the group we were playing with all consisted of seasoned gamers, but it was a definite issue that we experienced.  (For full disclosure, I was the one who had read the rules and was teaching the group.  Josh fail.)

One last thing to note: the game is easier for the Musketeers if there are more of them.  Whereas there are elements in the game that attempt to balance that (such as them having extra actions and cards in smaller games), there are a couple ways that aren't really offset.  First, if there are more Musketeers, the number of wounds that can be distributed among them before any of them if knocked out is higher, and second, having a Musketeer knocked out is less detrimental.  Think about it for a second, if you are playing with 3 Musketeers with 4 actions, and one Musketeer is knocked out you lose 4 actions, whereas if you're playing with 4 Musketeers with 3 actions, you only lose 3 actions when one is knocked out.  This doesn't really affect the gameplay either positively or negatively, but is something worth noting when you play the game.

Overall, I give Mousquetaires du Roy (the Musketeer game) an 8.0/10. I enjoyed the games that I have played, and I will keep it in my collection. I would recommend trying it at some point, and it would be on my "want list" (if I didn't already have it), it just wouldn't be at the top (because those are reserved for games that are closer to 10... but then again, as an educated reader, you should've been able to figure that out. And so maybe that entire last part was unnecessary. Oh well. You read it anyway.)

If Mousquetaires du Roy sounds interesting, you might also check out Mice and Mystics, Star Wars: The Card Game, and Talisman 4th Edition.

I would like to thank Rio Grande Games for providing me with a demo copy of Mousquetaires du Roy to review.

Sector 41 Review

Another game that crossed my gaming table recently was Sector 41.

In Sector 41, each of the players takes on the role of an alien race that is trying to loot the galaxy. The point of the game is to collect more Glynium points (resource points) than all of the other players. Unfortunately, at the start of the game, none of the sector has been explored. Therefore, the players on each turn will get to take an action with their mothership, then move an explorer, and finally will have to move the guardian (this is essentially a mechanic to make the game go faster as it will explore for you at the beginning and then start removing tiles from play towards the end). The game ends when one player has enough Glynium points that none of the other players can catch up - then that player is the winner.

Sector 41 was not a wonderful game, but did still have a few highlights. The first positive aspect of the game was a concept that it introduced called "folding space". As one of the actions that a mothership could take, you could "fold space". The game was a 9x9 grid of tiles, and what this action consisted of was taking the tile on the far end of the grid from where the mothership was and moving it to directly in front of the mothership (and shifting the other 8 tiles one farther away from the mothership). This along with a few of the tiles' special abilities allowed the players to manipulate the sector, which was interesting and worked fairly well.

The second positive aspect of the game was that much of the art was high quality. A lot of the images used in Sector 41 were taken from NASA, and so they were not only high resolution, but they were also actual images from outer space.

A final positive aspect (and most of the strategy of the game) came in determining the best path to get to the Glynium and to tow it back home. Different tiles allow you to continue moving, such as solar winds, space rifts, etc, and so each player would have to try to discover the fastest way to get to the Glynium before it was all harvested.

With that said, Sector 41 had several negative aspects, the first of which was the learning curve. Though the rules are very short, there are 22 different types of tiles, many of which look very similar, which you must look up when discovered. On a typical turn, especially at the beginning of the game, there will be a lot of exploring.  Every time you explore you will have to figure out what the new tile does (it does not say on the tile itself) and so you will immediately be forced to look it up on the rules sheet (fortunately, there were 4 rules sheets provided, so it was like a race to see who could figure it out first). This mechanic was cumbersome enough to cause us all to be very tempted to quit after the second round. (Thankfully we did not, as it would have gotten a 2.0/10 had I quit that early - continuing to play it allowed me to get a better impression of the game and to actually appreciate the positive aspects of it.)

The next negative aspect was the combat system. Essentially, combat was non-existant - whoever showed up last won. If you have an explorer on a tile and your opponent moves his explorer onto that tile, then your explorer is immediately moved back to your mothership - and if you were in an asteroid belt, then your explorer is destroyed. There is no form of defense, and so nothing you can do to try to protect your ship.

Finally, from a negative perspective, Sector 41 was just overall clunky and not fun. The combat system was an example of how it was clunky, but I also had complaints with how several other things worked and questions that the rules didn't very clearly answer. The production quality was low - my copy came in a warped box, had to have a rules update taped to the front, and had all 4 copies of the rules/player reference sheets stuck to each other (I was able to peel them apart with minimal damage) and even the tiles were stuck together. Oh, and again, it was not especially fun, which made it all not worth playing again.

Overall, I give Sector 41 a 5.5/10. As I stated before, I was very tempted to quit this game after the first two rounds, but I am honestly glad that I did not. After finishing a play-through, I see how it could have appeal to some people, but I do not think that it will have a very broad appeal. If you wind up playing this with someone, I recommend playing it out, as it seemed to get better as we went, but that is not the same as me saying that I recommend you play it in the first place.

(Some of you may have seen this post previously if you are subscribed to my RSS feed.  I published it while trying to figure out how some things worked on Blogger, and, apparently, deleting a post does not remove it from the RSS feed.  Lesson learned.  If you have already seen this, and you're now getting it as a duplicate, I apologize.  I actually write the posts when I play the games but do not always publish them immediately.  This keeps me from swamping my RSS followers on the weeks that I get to play tons of games and leaving them with nothing to read on the weeks that I play old games.)

Battlestar Galactica, BSG: Pegasus and BSG: Exodus Reviews

Battlestar Galactica board game with all expansions

Battlestar Galactica

Whereas I normally avoid games based off of movies and TV shows, I heard good enough things about Battlestar Galactica that I gave it a shot when it came out.

In Battlestar Galactica (which is based off of the Battlestar Galactica TV Show) each of the players takes on the role of one of the characters from the show. From here, each player receives a loyalty card. If you receive a "You Are Not a Cylon" card, then your objective is to reach Earth without having the Galactica damaged too badly and without running out of resources. If you are a Cylon, then you have the opposite goal - kill off the dirty humans (preferably without letting them know that you are doing it). Each turn, the active player draws skill cards, moves, and performs an action (and then is royally scrutinized about whether his action was helpful enough or not with lots of yelling and trash talking if you're playing it right). After their action, a "crisis" occurs - sometimes the cylons arrive, sometimes they have to worry about supplies, etc. One of the other things that the crisis cards allows is the FTL drive to get readied and cylons that are surrounding the Galactica to start shooting at it. Once the FTL drive is ready, the Galactica can jump. Once the Galactica has jumped 8 parsecs, then one final jump will lead the humans to Earth.

By far the best thing about the BSG board game is the complete lack of trust that you can put in any of your friends. It breeds paranoia better than any game that I've ever played. Whereas in games like Shadows Over Camelot there might be a traitor, in BSG there is at least one cylon (the number is dependent on the number of players). What is more, each of the players gains a second loyalty card after the Galactica has jumped 4 parsecs. This means that, even if things are going smoothly at the beginning of the game, suddenly any faith you had in any of the other players is completely shattered. This paranoia is the most intense that I've ever seen in a game - very well done.

The next pro to discuss relates to the difference between complexity and being complicated. Most games consider these to be synonymous. However, occasionally you will find the rare gem that lets you play a game that has great levels of depth and complex strategies but without 30-60 minutes worth of explanation before the game begins. BSG is an example of this. The game has many layers of strategy but the actual time to learn it is fairly short (assuming you are learning it from someone who has played - I don't know how long it is to read through the rules).

The final pro that I will mention is related to implementation of theme. Of all the games that I have played, I don't know any that have integrated game mechanics into a theme as well as Battlestar Galactica.  Now, the down side of that is that people who enjoyed the television series will enjoy it much more than people who either disliked the show or never watched it, but, hey, that's life.

The biggest con of BSG is the flip side of it's greatest pro. Because of the amazing ability in this game to generate paranoia, I am not able to play the game all that often. I think that if I started playing BSG on a daily basis, I would quickly stop having any friends. I wouldn't trust anybody. However, the occasional endeavor into the game of BSG I am able to look enjoy immensely.

Overall, I give Battlestar Galactica a 9.0/10. Fans of board games and the Battlestar Galactica TV show should all try this. In fact, anybody that does not completely hate games of suspicion should try this game.

Battlestar Galactica: Pegasus Expansion

Now for The Pegasus Expansion.

If you have played through the base game, you have probably realized one thing: you want to be a cylon. Of course you want to be a cylon - everyone wants to be a cylon (at least everyone that I have ever played with). Because of this, Pegasus adds Cylon Leaders. These Cylon Leaders allow a person to start out as a revealed cylon, along with extra abilities (like the Non Cylon players have). What is more, each of the Cylon Leaders has a secret victory condition, and so they might not even be trying to kill the humans. Their condition may be that the humans win but have less than a certain amount of population, or that the cylons win but the humans have gone a certain distance. Nothing like adding extra levels of paranoia to the game that I already consider to be the most paranoid game I have ever played.

The other main things that Pegasus added were the Pegasus itself (which includes several new locations in which the players can perform actions), Treachery cards (which are cards that help cylons mess with the humans during a human crisis), and the New Caprica game scenario (which occurs when the humans have gone a certain distance). Oh right, and the airlock. You can start killing those players that you don't trust - good stuff.

Overall, I give Pegasus an 8.5/10. It was well executed, and it added to an already high quality game. If you have played and enjoyed Galactica, you should consider adding this to your set.

Battlestar Galactica: Exodus Expansion

Finally, it is time to discuss the new Exodus Expansion.

In Exodus, there is a new basestar location that is placed out alongside the Galactica (and Pegasus if you are using that expansion). First of all, this new location adds to the options that a revealed cylon can perform. Also, it prevents the humans from ever really getting a free pass. In the previous versions, if a "raiders activate" or "basestar fires" or some such icon appears but there are no ships surrounding the Galactica, then nothing happened. Now, whenever this situation occurs, new ships appear on the basestar card, and once this situation has occurred a certain number of times, all of the ships jump to surround the Galactica. This mechanic works well, and I'm glad that it was added.

The next main addition that Exodus adds is the concept of "allies." To start the game, each player gets 3 "trauma tokens" and there are 3 allies placed out on locations in Galactica with a random "trauma token" assigned to them. Whenever a player ends their movement where there is an ally, the trauma token flips over. Depending on what this trauma token is, the ally will either help you in some way or make your situation even worse. Allies can throw people in the brig, destroy cylon ships, reduce resources, etc. What is more, once an ally has been revealed, the player that revealed the ally places one of their trauma tokens with the newly dealt ally - secretly of course. There's nothing like adding yet another way of not being able to trust the other players in the game. After all, a fully loyal human may place negative trauma tokens every time simply because that is what they were dealt. It sure won't look loyal to me, though.

There are some other additions to Exodus like a new scenario at the end of the game to replace New Caprica, some new skill cards, new player cards, etc. This all adds new life into the game if it had started becoming stale somehow and is all done well.

Overall, I give Exodus an 8.0/10. It wasn't quite as dramatic of an addition as Pegasus (no Cylon Leaders), but it was still a very solid expansion. Players of BSG should seriously consider adding this to their collection.

Like Fantasy Flight's games? Try reading about Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, Blood Bowl: Team Manager, and Talisman.

Civilization: The Board Game (2010 Fantasy Flight Games) Review

A game that I was quite intrigued by and definitely wanted to check out was Civilization: The Board Game. Since I finally got that opportunity, now it's time to ponder on my experience with the gameplay for your, my dear reader's, enjoyment.

In Civilization, each of the players takes on the role of one of the different historical world leaders who is attempting to grow and lead their civilization into world domination, whether that domination would be in military, technology, economy or culture. Each turn, players will collect an amount of "trade resources" (these are primarily research points but can also be used to help build things). Next, after they are allowed to trade with each other, each player uses his cities (up to 3 of them) to do one of the following: 1) build new units, buildings, etc, 2) gain cultural points, or 3) collect resources. After this, each of the players is able to move their various markers representing the locations of their military and their scouts. Finally, they are able to research a new technology assuming that they have enough trade resources to do so. This continues until one of the players has achieved one of the 4 victory conditions stated previously.

There were a lot of things that I liked about Civilization and a lot of things that I was not a fan of. The biggest thing that I liked about the game is that they "simplified" it (assuming you can call a game that takes about 3-4 hours and has 26 pages of rules "simple".) Essentially, they allowed you to have the feel of the computer game but without most of the monotony that normally comes with board games that are too closely tied to computer games. One of the best examples is troop movement. In this game, each of the players has "figures" which represent where they have troops deployed, and they also have a pile of cards representing their "standing army" which is their total military might. Instead of keeping track of exactly which pieces you have in which locations and having to move dozens of pieces each turn, there were only a few figures which had to be moved, and it allowed the movement phase of the game to flow smoothly.

The next aspect of the game that I need to discuss is how the battle system works. I really think a lot of the mechanics of the battle system are awesome, but I must confess that how this worked in practice made me so angry during the game that I was very tempted to quit and walk away. As stated previously, each of the players has a deck of cards which represents their "standing army". There are 4 different kinds of cards that can go in this deck - infantry, mounted, ranged, and aircraft. Within these cards, there are three different levels of cards and when the players purchase new units for their standing armies, they get a random card from the pile that they choose (ie, they can choose to get an infantry unit, but cannot choose how good that infantry unit is). Also, each of the cards is divided into quarters, with each quarter representing the strength of that unit for whichever technology level those units have. (That was a really complicated way of saying that if your infantry is at level 3, he is 2 points stronger and has a cooler picture than if he is at level 1.) Here's one of the places where I feel that this part breaks down - I do not feel like a good card that happens to be level 1 should be evenly matched with a crappy card that is at level 3, and this is a situation that you will in fact encounter.

Continuing with the battle system, each of the 3 basic unit types (aircraft are not really a "basic" unit type) has a unit type which it defeats and a unit type that it is weak to in a rock-paper-scissors system. Therefore, when buying new units, each player must make sure that his "standing army" is fairly evenly distributed. Once a basic battle starts, each player gets three random cards from his standing army deck (he can get more depending on if he has another figure in the square, what his government is, etc). These three cards are played one at a time, and each time a card is played the results of that skirmish are immediately determined. If a unit fights a unit type that it has a strength against, then it is able to deal its damage immediately without receiving damage in return (if it deals enough damage to successfully kill the opposing unit).

The rock-paper-scissors works pretty well. The difficulty comes in drawing cards. A situation that I encountered (when I was so frustrated I wanted to give up) was this: I had 3 level-3 infantry, 2 level-1 mounted and 1 level-1 artillery at the beginning of the turn. I intended to upgrade artillery during the research phase (after all the fighting), and so I bought 2 more artillery (while they were still cheap - now I had 3 level-3 infantry, 3 level-1 artillery, and 2 level-1 mounted). I went and fought barbarians (they get a level 1 unit of each type). For my three cards, I drew all 3 of my level 1 artillery (none of which were especially strong cards to start with because of a bad draw when getting them initially), and got absolutely destroyed because they drew good cards. This, in practice, just seemed like it did not work out well. I have played enough games to realize that this is the aberration and not the norm, but it was still excruciatingly annoying.

Now that the battles have gotten some press, its time to talk about the tech pyramid. I liked how the tech pyramid worked (well, mostly). Instead of having certain technologies which are prerequisites to other technologies, Civilization had a concept of a "technology pyramid". How this worked in practice was that you had to have 2 Level 1 techs before you could build a Level 2 tech, 3 Level 1's and 2 Level 2's before you could build a Level 3, etc. This was a neat, streamlined way to handle techs and prerequisites. Unfortunately, the world is still not all roses and cherries, as this system gets quite frustrating at the end of the game. If you play games like everyone that I know, you will start getting the best technologies as quickly as you can. Because of this, you don't do a great job of building the base of your pyramid. What this means in terms of actual gameplay is that towards the end of the game, you will be generating tons of resource points, but you will waste them all on some Level 1 technology that you care nothing about so that you can build a Level 2 technology the next turn (that you care nothing about) so that you can eventually buy a Level 3 technology that is actually helpful.

Now for pondering about cities. In this take on a Civilization game, each player is only allowed 3 cities (and the 3rd one only after you have a certain technology). I'm pretty sure this was to keep the game streamlined and "short" (short.... 4-5 hours.... hmmm... I guess it's better than 12 hours or more.)  Each city is only allowed to do one thing per turn (and if it is building, it can only build one thing - unless you have the right technology, then one of your cities can build two things). What's more, the only buildings that you're able to build during your turn are ones that you have discovered the technology to unlock. Perhaps I just built way too often and should have focused more on other things, but I regularly had significantly more production points available than I was able to use. This seemed a bit messed up to me.

Since I have rambled on much more than I normally do, I'll just hit a few more points of note quickly and without explanation:
  • Governments seemed useful but not especially important (I never changed mine)
  • Economic and Cultural victory seemed much harder to achieve than Technological and Military
  • The way that city attacks worked grows on me the more I think about it
  • How resources work is interesting, but I don't know if I like it
  • The game turned being "cultural" into being able to back-handedly screw your neighbor through culture cards
  • I wasn't a fan of the terrain limitations for building buildings - this seemed unnecessarily
  • I liked that the different civilizations actually had different traits and victory conditions that they would more easily be able to achieve
Overall, I give Civilization a 7.0/10.  Almost everything I liked about the game also frustrated me, and so I'm really confused about whether I like it - that makes it hard for me to really give it a great score.  With that said, though, there were a whole lot of things that I liked about the game.  If you're a huge fan of empire building games, then you should give this a shot.  However, for my time, I think I'm going to play Through the Ages instead.

Love Fantasy Flight Games? Some of my favorites are Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, Battlestar Galactica, Blood Bowl: Team Manager, and the often under-appreciated Lord of the Rings (Knizia's co-operative version).

Furstenfeld Review

A new game that I was able to try out today was Furstenfeld.

In Furstenfeld, each of the players is attempting to build their palace.  To fund this endeavor, they must collect barley, hops, and spring water and sell it to the local breweries (they can also collect money from banks). Functionally what happens is this: each player starts with their own board with 6 potential building sites. Three of the building sites start out populated with fields  - one that creates a single barley, one that creates hops, and one for spring water. Each turn, the players are able to choose a brewery and sell the goods that they've produced to one of the breweries. If they oversell certain goods, then the demand will immediately go down, thus causing the next players to not get as much money from that good at that brewery. After selling their goods, the player can place new cards on some of their 6 tiles (possibly covering things that were previously there), and discarding everything that they don't build except for one card. Once someone finishes building their 6th palace tile, the game is over and they are the victor.

There are several good elements of Furstenfeld, so I will just hit some of my favorites. First off, I really liked how aggravatingly small your tile sheet was. It really reminded me of Smallworld when I was dealing with constantly having to overbuild things and decide what was worth keeping and what could be discarded.  Specifically, the fact that palace pieces were worthless (except for winning, if you're into that kind of thing) and get in your way was frustratingly brilliant. You constantly find yourself debating whether to build palace tiles or whether you should build something that is actually useful. What's more, the game is setup so that the cost of the palace tiles goes up as more of them are built - so if you wait too long, then your palace will be incredibly expensive to finance.

The next thing that I liked about Furstenfeld was that each player had their own deck of cards. This really allowed each player to customize his strategy since he is able to both influence what remains in the deck (whatever he didn't build) and chooses the order in which he puts discarded cards under his deck. (This I believe is supposed to be one of the key strategic elements of the game but didn't honestly play much of a factor in our games - we didn't bother remembering in what order we discarded cards).

Another thing that I liked about the game was that the standard strategy of make tons of money doesn't work especially well if it is all you do. Now for a little sidetracked discussion. I read another review in which one of the cons is that towards the end of the game you wind up just sitting around hoping to draw your final palace cards, as you are only able to keep one card at the end of each turn and so, inevitably, you will wind up discarding palace cards and have to re-draw them. Whereas I saw this occur, this was really a flaw in strategy, I believe (and I can say this because I tried this strategy myself). There are several cards that allow players to keep extra cards in their hand or that let them draw extra cards each round that really minimize (if not totally eliminate) the effect of sitting around waiting to draw palace cards. These cards really are important and should not be neglected as would occur in the money-centric strategy.  Again, I am not saying that this element of waiting to draw palace cards will not occur - I saw it when I played - I just don't think that it is a major factor, and it definitely was not a big aspect of our games.

After that rambling pro, I'll mention one other. The game seemed to play well with a varied number of players. We have played with both 3 and 5 players, and both worked very well. The number of breweries in the game and the speed of palace tiles increasing in cost are both dependent on number of players, and so it keeps the game from breaking down with different numbers.

Now for the cons. First of all, and most majorly, this game is hard for me to both spell and pronounce. (Whereas this is true (I'm not German), this isn't really a con... I just figured I'd slip that in, because I don't think that I've pronounced the title of this game correctly yet.) Really, though, the first con had to do with drawing cards. The downside of each player having their own draw deck meant that some players could wind up with significant advantages early in the game simply by what they draw. One of the specific cards that is really powerful in the game is the "Building Crane" (I may have remembered the name wrong) which allows you to build all of your other cards for 2 less. If you draw this card in your opening hand, you'll have a significant advantage over someone who doesn't draw it until he nears the bottom of his draw deck.

The only other con that immediately comes to mind is that some of the cards seem pretty trivial. I honestly see the value in all of the cards, but some of the bonuses are small enough that you wind up not using them in the game since you are only allowed to have 6 different buildings at a time, and you are not allowed to remove them from your deck. I wish that the game had allowed some way of getting rid of cards that you didn't want without just having to build them and then build over them. I'm not really sure that something like this could have been added without breaking the balance of the game, however, so this is a more minor concern.

Overall, I debated the score in my head for a while and have come up with an 8.5/10. I like Furstenfeld and am glad to have played it. I would recommend that you all try it out if you get the opportunity.

I would like to thank Rio Grande Games for providing a demo copy of Furstenfeld for me to review.

Famiglia Review

Today I was able to bust out a little card game called Famiglia, and so (of course), it is time to review it.

In Famiglia, each of the players takes on the role of a rival mob boss that is attempting to recruit the best gang. (Determined by victory points - isn't that what the real gangs use?) How this actually plays out is that the players are able to "recruit" new gang members by playing two cards from the same gang but numerically one lower (ie, if you're trying to recruit a "Bully" of value 2, you play 2 "Bully"s of value 1). You are also allowed to recruit gang members of 0 value for free. Finally, each of the gang members belongs to a different gang "family" which have abilities. One family is able to be used as a wild card during recruiting, another family allows you to retrieve used cards, another intimidates potential gang members (thus causing their number to be lower), and the final family is just worth extra points. The players go through the draw deck a couple of times recruiting in this fashion, and then whoever has the most victory points wins.

The first pro about Famiglia is the depth level of the game. Honestly, when I first looked at the game and saw that it only consisted of 60 cards, I did not expect much. The designer of the game, Friedemann Friese (who also created Power Grid), managed to significantly exceed my expectations. The recruiting system works well, and the different abilities of the cards also allow there to be some strategy beyond just "recruit whoever I can" (though that happens sometimes, too).

Another pro of this game (that I think I've started using as a pro far too often) is that it is incredibly quick and portable. It can fit in your pocket (my wife points out that this specifically fits in a man's pocket and would not fit in hers) so that it can be easily carried around and played wherever you wind up having some table-space. I am always glad to have some games like this, especially when they are fun enough to play multiple times.

My biggest con of this game is related to it being "quick". Because the game plays fairly quickly, you don't wind up getting to use your gang all that much once it has finally gotten strong enough to be effective. This happens in most games, honestly. Specifically in Famiglia, though, I was just starting to recruit the "level 4" gang members when the game was over - I was barely able to intimidate people with them at all.

A couple final notes that aren't really pros or cons... Famiglia is only 2 player. This is sometimes good (two player only games normally play better with 2 than games that are 2-5 players), but also can be inconvenient when you have a third person around. Also, the game claims that it is for 10+ ages, but I would imagine that it would be suitable even for 8+ year olds, assuming that they are children of gamers.

Overall, I give Famiglia an 7.5/10. In full disclosure, I have no idea how to rate these card games. I try to keep in mind a game's intent when I give it a score, and I realize that Famiglia was going for a small, lightweight card game. It did that fairly well. Maybe I should wind up with a new rating system for card games sometime.... Anyway, yes, 7.5 will be the highly subjective score for this game. For the MSRP of around $10, it's worth checking out.

I would like to thank Rio Grande Games for providing a demo copy of Famiglia for me to review.