Alhambra Review

Alhambra - a tile laying game - in mid play

A game that I tried out based on a friend of mine mentioning it to me was Alhambra.

Alhambra is a tile placement game, similar to Carcassonne. In Alhambra, a player may choose one of three actions each turn: either they can take a currency card (or several as long as they add up to no more than 5), they can purchase and place a new building tile (which doesn't count against them if they spend the exact amount of money), or they can rearrange their alhambra (by removing a tile, adding a tile purchased on a previous round, or exchanging a tile). When replenishing cards after a player takes a currency card, a scoring card may appear which then will initiate scoring. Scoring occurs three times during the game - twice based off of cards, and once at the end of the game. When calculating scores, whoever has the most tiles of a certain type gets points (and in later scoring rounds, whoever has 2nd and 3rd most also get points). Finally, players also receive points for the longest exterior wall that they have built around their alhambra. At the end of the game (when no more tiles are available), the player with the most points wins.

The first thing that I like about Alhambra are the walls. The walls force a frustratingly delicate balance - they are worth points, so you want to connect a lot of walls, but they also limit your future tile placement, so you have to decide if it is worth it to seal off that part of your city. In one of the games that I played I wound up with a lot of exterior walls too quickly, and it caused me to not be able to place all of my tiles - but I was scoring 21 points for my walls. I like the delicate balance here, and it leads me to my next pro.

I like the tile placement rules. They are pretty intuitive once you are playing, but they can still be very limiting. One of the specific rules that can affect you if you wind up building a ton of walls is this: you cannot leave an empty square that you have built completely around. This caused me some frustrations during the end of our games because I ran out of places that I could put new tiles - I wouldn't be allowed to place them to complete my exterior wall until I had finished building all of the interior. And most of the interior pieces that were valid for me to play had already been purchased.

A point of note that's neither a pro nor a con is how currency works in the game.  There are 4 different kinds of currency (represented by different colors and a small symbol) and 6 different kinds of tiles (represented by color and number of diamonds).  When purchasing buildings, you base the purchase price on the number on the building tile and the purchase square that the tile is in (which shows the currency needed).  I thought that how the different currencies worked was really neat, but I thought that the conflicting color coding was pretty confusing.  I'm sure that if I keep playing the game, I will get used to it, but it takes an adjustment at first to know that I need to pay 4 blue for the green tile (and not 4 green) when it is on the blue space.  Make sense, or did I throw too many colors around?  If you're confused, then at least I'm not the only one.

With those pros, my biggest complaint with Alhambra is that it just didn't really excite me to play it. I'm realizing that I may be biased against tile placement games (I wasn't in love with Carcassonne either), but this game didn't really "strike my fancy." I could play the game again, but I could also not play it and be about equally happy. As a disclaimer, I will point out that we played the game two player, and we both agreed that it would probably be ideal to play with 4-6 players instead, and so you should factor that in with my previous comments.

After "much" internal debate (maybe 2 minutes worth), I give Alhambra a 7.5/10. I did not dislike playing the game (thus it does not get lower), but I'm also not itching to play it again. If you like tile placement games, you should check it out, because it seemed to be a good variant of the genre, but I think I will move on to other genres.  I also gave it a bonus 0.5 because I think that it would work well as a game to be played with non-gamers.

If you like tile laying (unlike me) you might also want to read about Tsuro (this one is good enough I forget it's tile laying), and my favorite "traditional" tile laying game - Architekton.  Or, if you're looking for games that you can play with non-gamers, you might read my review of Monopoly Deal or Sorry! Sliders.

Pylos Review

Pylos game on display

A new game that one of my friends brought over was a little game called Pylos.

In Pylos, the point of the game is to place the top-most piece of the pyramid. Each turn a player chooses where to place a new piece. If they are able to form a square of only their color by placing this piece (or a line in the advanced version), then they are allowed to remove 1-2 pieces of their color that have been placed. This continues with the players placing (and removing) pieces back and forth until the pyramid has been complete.

Now for the pros and cons. The first pro is that Pylos is a very pretty game. In fact, my friend who brought it over told me that he purchased it because he thought it would look good sitting on a table - indeed, this is a very nice looking ornamental game.

The next pro is that there is more strategy than there initially appears. Between having to block your opponent from forming lines (and squares), as well as trying to setup your own, there is some definite give and take in the strategy.

However, even though the depth of strategy is better than expected, it is still not what I would call "deep." In fact, unless you play the full version with both squares and lines, the game winds up stalemating much too often (like tic-tac-toe). In fact, when we first played the game, we almost gave up on it (I had written a review where it got a 2.5). After re-looking at the rules, we found the advanced set, and it gave us enough depth that we thought the game was tolerable.

The next con is that you can spend way too much time going back and forth removing pieces.  Some of the games we played wound up having me form a square and removing some pieces, which then freed up my opponent to form his own square and remove pieces; now I would be free to form another square or line and remove pieces.  And then he could.  And back and forth until you're not convinced that the pyramid is actually growing instead of shrinking.

Overall, I give Pylos a 6.5/10. It is a game that I could play every now and then, and I can think of much worse ways to spend 5-10 minutes, but overall, I think that my friend was right; this game is pretty. If you are interested in a pretty game, this would be a good option. Otherwise, there are much better spatial reasoning games (Yinsh, Dvonn, Gipf, etc.)

Like abstract strategy? You might want to read about Zertz, Quoridor, Quadrago, and Punct.

The Heavens of Olympus Review

Heavens of Olympus

This weekend I was fortunate to get to play The Heavens of Olympus.

In the Heavens of Olympus, each player takes on the role of a minor god that is attempting to gain the favor of Zeus. In order to do this, they must set the stars in the heavens in beautiful and diverse ways. How the game actually plays is that it is broken down into 5 days, each consisting of 3 phases. At the end of each day, the players score points based on where their stars are placed and which of those stars are lit. During each phase, the players choose between one of four options: 1) create new stars in a limbo state, 2) place the stars that they have created, 3) increase the number of stars that they will have lit, or 4) switch positions of two stars (at least one belonging to them). Once the scoring occurs, players then score points for the lit stars that they have that give them the greatest number of stars in an orbit, and also for the stars that are lined up into constellations. The game continues in this manner for 5 days, and at the end of the 5 days, whoever has the most favor wins the game, thus being welcomed in by Zeus and his fellow Olympians as a greater god.

The first pro that I found in this game was the limited number of options available. Whereas I was initially hesitant about the fact that there are only 4 actions that you can choose, it actually works out quite nicely. All players select their actions at the same time.  Then, when they reveal their choices, if multiple players selected the same action, those players must pay "power" in order to perform that action (and if you are out of power, you must pay victory points). This works very well, as in 3-4 player you will often choose the same options as other players, and in 5 players, every phase will consist of at least 2 players selecting the same option. Because of all of the overlap with other players, it is important to decide both whether that is the best option and whether it is worth the risk of paying extra if other players perform the same action.

The next factor of the game that I liked was the balance between keeping stars together and separating them. If you place all of your stars together, then you are able to get much larger constellations, which can be worth quite a few points. However, if you place your stars in regions where you do not yet have many, you are able to get significantly more "power" which you can spend to do other actions later. (And of course, since you can switch positions of stars, you can place them to get points and then move them to get constellations - but at the cost of an extra action.) This worked really well and made the decisions often much more agonizing (which I'm sure was by design).

The final pro that I will mention about the game was that it introduced two different game mechanics that I don't recall seeing elsewhere (at least not in quite this way). The first mechanic was keeping your stars lit - which continuously ate into your actions. At the end of each day, 2-3 of your stars would become unlit. In order to keep them lit (and thus valuable for scoring), you were forced to choose the action of lighting them each day. The other mechanic was that the stars that you build go into a limbo state before they were actually placed on the board (and there was a limited number (3) that could be in this state). These mechanics combined for a fresh new gaming experience, and I really appreciated that The Heavens of Olympus was very different than anything else I can recall playing.

Now for my neutral point of interest. The Heavens of Olympus is not really "haha" fun. By that, I mean that this isn't the type of game that you go and joke around and laugh during. Instead, it is fun in a cerebral way much more like playing Chess, Go, etc. It is a game that is very mentally taxing, as you must carefully consider each move and the decisions are very challenging as there are often several actions that each player needs to perform each phase.  This forces them to weigh the pros and cons of what to do. This also happens during the "trade stars" action - you must carefully decide which stars to switch based on what is most advantageous for you versus whether you can defend your new position (by doing things like preventing people from breaking your constellations).  Each decision that is made in this game seems crucial, because there are only 15 total actions that you will perform each game! Because of this, it seems that every "trivial" decision is of grave consequence.  Whereas I thought that the game would be fairly light and jovial by looking at the box, it turned out to be a highly strategic challenge. I think it will appeal more to people that enjoy games like Power Grid than people who enjoy games like Ticket to Ride.

Now for my first con. It can be hard to visualize what is going on in the game, and this can lead to the game slowing down sometimes. Since the orbits are all lined up in concentric circles, my eyes often wandered as I was trying to follow the orbits to see who had the most stars on each one for both scoring and determining which stars I should swap. I don't know how this could have been done differently, and it doesn't significantly detract from the gameplay, but it was something that affected the game enough that I felt it was worth noting.

The next con that we found in the game was that it was very "high maintenance".  Because of the being lit versus being unlit (and that a swapped star couldn't be re-swapped in the same round), it felt like we were constantly flipping the star tokens from one side to the other.  Again, this didn't really detract from the gameplay, but it did add some potentially unnecessary length to the game.

Overall, I give the Heavens of Olympus an 8.5/10. This is a very solid game that I can see myself playing when I'm looking for a mental workout.  I look forward to the next titles that this designer creates.

As one last point of note: the designer, Mike Compton, has posted a link detailing the design process for The Heavens of Olympus here, which I found to be very interesting.  Regardless of whether you decide to play the game or not, you should go read his post, as it really gives good insight into how a game becomes what you see at your friendly local game store.

If Heavens of Olympus sounds interesting, you might also check out Glory to Rome, Fealty, and Space Alert.

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

Cargo Noir Review

Cargo Noir game by Days of Wonder in play

As many of you may know, I really like Days of Wonder. Because of this, I was incredibly excited when they announced the release of Cargo Noir.

In Cargo Noir, each player takes on the role of a smuggler that is attempting to trade his smuggled goods for power and prestige. Each turn every player will place all of his cargo ships to either collect coins, collect a random good, trade a good with the "black market", or attempt to purchase all of the goods at one of the outer ports (which will range from 1-4 goods). (This is the only thing that happens on the first turn, but happens last every other turn.) On the second through last turns, the players will also collect everything they have acquired from the previous turns (and may add extra coins at outer ports in which other players have outbid them). After collecting all of their goods and before placing their ships back out, players will also have the option of trading in goods to purchase victory points. This continues for a designated number of turns and then the player with the most victory points is declared the winner.

The first thing that I like about Cargo Noir is the auction aspect of the game. At each outer port, the goods go to the highest bidder. However, instead of there being an auction phase in each round of the game, in Cargo Noir each player must determine how many coins they are willing to commit to a port from one turn to another - and only collects the goods on his turn if he still has the most coins at that port. If a player wants to purchase the goods at an outer port, they must place one of their ships (you start the game with 3) alongside the number of coins that they are willing to spend at the outer port. After that, each other player may (on their own turn) place one of their own ships on that same outer port, as long as they place more coins than the previous player. Once it gets back to the original player, if he is the only person with a ship in that port, he collects all of the goods. However, if he is not the only player with a ship, he can choose either to withdraw from that port (thus conceding the goods to the other players) or place more coins under his ship. The reason that I like this mechanic so much is that the players must determine not only how much they are willing to spend on the goods in question, but must also determine how much they are willing to spend to scare off the other players. After all, if you get outbid, then your ship was essentially unproductive for a round; and with the limited number of ships available, it is important to make them productive as often as possible.

The next reason that I like the bidding mechanic is because of the interaction it allows between players. The fact that I can adjust how other players play by forcing them to bid different amounts helps the game to be replayable. If I play the same way every time, then my opponents will learn how much they have to bid to defeat me. Because of this, it forces players to subtly adjust their strategies including their opening and maximum bids so that they will have a greater chance of winning the goods that they need (and forcing their opponents to overspend).

The next part of the game that I enjoy is how players acquire upgrades to their smuggling operation. When trading in goods for victory points, some of the options are "Smuggler's Edge" cards; these cards allow players to gain extra ships, store extra goods, or collect coins when they are outbid at outer ports. However, the Smuggler's Edge cards are not worth very many victory points. This forces the players to determine which bonus they most need at any given point in the game, and also whether it is more valuable long-term for a player to gain an advantage in the game or to gain more victory points. I always enjoy decision making aspects like this in games.

A final brief pro that I will mention is the ability to teach this game to anybody. As with most of Days of Wonder's games, Cargo Noir is a game that could easily be taught to non-gamers. My personal term for this is a "Gateway Game", and Cargo Noir definitely fits into this mold.

An aspect of the game worth mentioning that I'm not sure if I really like or not is how trading goods works. When you trade goods, you get points based on the number of the same kind of goods you trade (you get the number squared; ie 3 "Cars" get you 9 points to spend), or you get points for the number of different kinds of goods (every extra kind you trade gives you one more point than the previous one; ie the points go 1, 3, 6, 10, 15...) I think I like this mechanic, but it also encourages hoarding. My main concern is that winning the game can be based a bit too much on luck - if you have 8 "Jewels" and are saving up for the victory point card that requires 9 of a kind, whether or not you have a "Jewels" available is based on what is drawn out of the bag of available goods. Which leads us into the cons.

One of my concerns with Cargo Noir is that there is too much luck involved in the game. When I say this, I realize that there is very little luck in the game - the problem is that if a player is lucky in those small areas, they can have a significant advantage. One of the things that a player can use his ships to do each turn is pull a random cargo from the bag. If a player has 7 of a kind and pulls 2 of the type they need, they suddenly have a huge advantage in the game. The other luck aspect in the game is what I mentioned in the previous paragraph - if the goods you are collecting stop appearing on the board, then you aren't able to get as many points and there is nothing you can do about it in the game.

The next concern that I have about Cargo Noir is the replayability. The simplicity of this game makes it hard for me to envision playing this game too often. There are really only a handful of decisions that a player must make - which ports to go to, when to trade, and how much (and when) to overbid your opponents. The major aspect that adds to the replayability of the game, however is the player interaction; that is the saving grace that allows me to consider playing this game on a more frequent basis than some other games that have a similar level of complexity.

Overall, I give Cargo Noir an 8.0/10. It is a solid title from Days of Wonder, but I honestly don't know how often I will play it due to the simplicity of the game itself. However, the player interaction may keep pulling me back in - and it will definitely be a good option when looking for a gateway game to teach to a non-gamer.

Do you like Days of Wonder games? You may also want to read about Pirate's Cove, Shadows Over Camelot, and Ticket to Ride.

Lost Cities Review

Another game that I found a demo copy of (thanks again to Great Hall Games in Austin, TX) was Lost Cities.  Since it appears that everyone talks about this game all the time, I guess I should go ahead and post a review of it (that you'll all disagree with).

In Lost Cities, each of the players takes on the role of an adventurer leading an expedition to different ancient cities. At the beginning of the expedition, each player has the option of "investing" in each one of their expeditions (assuming they have the investment card). After this, the player begins their expeditions by placing an expedition card (a number card between 2-10). Once an expedition has begun, each new card on the expedition must "advance" the expedition (be a higher number than the previous one). After playing a card, the player draws a new card and his turn is over. This continues until the draw deck is empty, at which time the players add up the points for each of their expeditions. The players repeat this for a certain number of rounds, and then the total score (from each round) is added up to determine the winner.

The biggest pro for Lost Cities is that it is a relatively quick and portable game that could be played easily. Since the number of rounds played each game is decided beforehand, this makes Lost Cities work very well when killing time in an airport (yes, I used to travel a lot, and so I like games that serve this purpose). There is enough depth to Lost Cities (between determining which expeditions to follow and which to abandon) that it would be a game that I would consider for this role.

Unfortunately, there are several cons of Lost Cities. First of all, there is a ton of math. I have a background in computers, so I really feel like this would have worked better as a computerized game. Here is how I would (in my computer thinking) explain how to determine the score. IF (cards were played) THEN score = (total value of cards played - 20) * (number of investments + 1) ELSE score = 0. Yes, that isn't all that complicated (to me), but you must now do this for each of the five cities for each player. We found that we spent a lot of time calculating the score at the end of each round, and very little time actually playing the game.

The next con is that the best strategy in the game is simply to draw the right cards and draw them in the correct order. If you draw an investment at the end of the game, guess what - it doesn't do anything. The same can be said for the 2-5. Drawing high cards at the beginning also isn't especially helpful (though it at least lets you know what you may be able to play without getting a -20 penalty on some city). The interaction between players is also pretty minimal... it consists of laughing at them when you just drew the 10 in the color that they needed. And that's it.

Overall, I give Lost Cities a 6.5/10. I could play it again, but I'd just assume play a meatier game if given the choice. However, if someone busted this out while I was waiting on a flight, I would play it with them. (Of course, if I were the one bringing the game, it would probably be something more like Race for the Galaxy, though it is a touch bigger. It easily can be shoved into a much smaller box and put in a backpack, though.)

Final note: I saw an ad on Board Game Geek for this game on Facebook, just FYI.

1960: The Making of the President Review

1960 The Making of the President game mid play
A game that I've been eager to play for quite some time was 1960: The Making of the President.

In 1960, one player takes on the role of Richard Nixon and the other player is John F. Kennedy, and they are both attempting to win the 1960 presidential election. The game is played over 9 turns. In 7 of the 9 turns, the bulk of the turn consists of playing 5 cards. The cards can be used either to activate their event or for their "CP" value. If you use the CP on the card, you can do one of the following 3 things: campaign (and each CP translates into influence in a state, or allows the candidate to move), position yourself for issues, or mount an advertising campaign. Each time that a card is used for CP, your opponent has the opportunity (if they have enough momentum) to activate the event that is in the text of the card (unless you preempt them using your momentum). The final card(s) each turn are placed in your "campaign strategy" pile. The 6th and 9th turns work differently. These turns represent the Debates and Election Day. During the Debates, the candidates use the cards that they previously had placed in their "campaign strategy" in order to try to win the debates (to get more state influence). During Election Day, the players get to perform a few last support checks to try to get extra influence, and then they add up their total number of Electoral Votes to determine the winner.

The first thing that I really enjoyed about 1960 was how "support checks" worked. Various things (like campaigning where your opponent was located) require support checks. There is an opaque bag which is originally seeded with 10 cubes of each color. Each turn, as players play cards, they gain "rest" cubes (the lower the card's CP value, the more rest they gain). At the end of each round, these rest cubes are added to the bag. Any time that a support check is required, cubes are pulled from the bag and if you pull your own colored cubes, the support check is successful. This was a really interesting mechanic, and was also nice to help balance cards that are weaker in the game - if the card is less helpful immediately, it will be more helpful long term.

The next aspect that I liked about the game was Momentum. There were a couple of ways of getting momentum: either through successfully positioning yourself on issues (you would gain momentum at the end of the round), or by playing events that gained momentum. Here's what Momentum was used for: one momentum triggered an opponent's event when they played a card for it's CP value; two momentum preempted an event to prevent your opponent from triggering it. The actual triggering of events may not actually occur all that often in a game (because you are typically trying to avoid allowing your opponent to activate your events), but it definitely plays a major role. Instead of being able to play the cards that help your opponent without any penalty, now you must be very careful of the order that you play cards and how much momentum your opponent has while playing them. This may have been my favorite aspect of this game.

A third pro that I found while playing 1960 was the importance that all of the different options had in the game. If each player plays all of their cards for campaigning (gaining cubes in states), then the game would be quite boring. However, because of things like momentum, it is important that you use some cards to position yourself on issues, some to campaign, some as events, save some for debates or election day, and use some to advertise. Any of the elements of the game that you ignore can significantly be used against you. As an example, if you don't position yourself on issues, then I will gain extra momentum (letting me trigger events on your cards) and gain endorsements (allowing me to win in states which neither player has influence over). Another example, if you fail to campaign, I will simply defeat you by having more influence.

My final pro for the game is true for each of the games from these designers (they also designed Twilight Struggle and Founding Fathers if my information is correct) - the historical depth of the game is amazing. I am by no means a historian, but here is something that I now know because of the game: Eisenhower was horrible for Nixon's campaign. Every time that I drew a card with Eisenhower's picture on it when I was playing as Nixon, I knew the card was going to be horribly negative for me. The pictures and the flavor text for the cards help me learn history while playing games - sweet!

The neutral thing for me to mention is the tug-of-war aspect of the game. This is neither a pro nor a con, but definitely something you should be aware of going into the game. Since the game is based on winning favor of the different states back and forth, there is definitely a tug-of-war feel. You may be going back and forth with a single state most of the game (New York), and thus you're really frustrated if you lose that state - even if you win the election!

Now for the cons. The first con is that I felt like "controlling" a state did not matter enough. You "lead" a state if you have influence in that state, but you "control" the state if you have four or more influence in it. Controlling a state forces your opponents to perform "support checks" when trying to add influence to that state. However, with the sheer number of events that add state influence directly (with no support checks needed), there are far too many ways to break an opponent's control without having to perform this check - and so it winds up being fairly pointless to spend enough influence to actually control a state. This really frustrated me about this game, and was the single biggest factor for which I dropped it's score.  I also think that this limited the replayability of the game to an extent.

The next con to the game is more of a "missed possiblity" than a true con. The candidates in the game are too similar. I realize that this was setup to balance the game, but it would have been nice for the candidates to have more personality. Whereas in the game as it is now, it does not matter too much which candidate you play, I would have liked for it to matter much more. I would have liked Nixon and Kennedy to have different strategies, strengths and weaknesses, or something like that. There are different cards that set them apart, but most of the cards balance out, as do starting positions, and everything else in the game.

Overall, I give 1960 a 9.0/10. I debated this back and forth, and I definitely don't like it quite as much as Twilight Struggle. But, I do really like the game, and if you enjoy games where you're constantly struggling back and forth with your opponent, this is something you should try.

If 1960 sounds interesting, you might also check out Campaign Manager 2008, Glory to Rome, and Mage Wars.

Thunderstone: Dragonspire Review

Thunderstone Dragonspire game in play

Now that I've had the privilege of playing Thunderstone: Dragonspire, it is time to post my review.

So, this is the part of the review where I normally summarize the game. I'm going to assume that you have already played the base game, and if not, you should probably read my review of Thunderstone. Instead, I'll try to focus on the differences that set Dragonspire apart from the other iterations of Thunderstone that I've played. In all honesty, I skipped Thunderstone: Doomgate Legions, so I'm not 100% sure what was introduced there instead of in Dragonspire, but after doing my due diligence on Board Game Geek, I think I have a pretty good handle on what aspects were introduced in each set.

Dragonspire really doesn't introduce very much in the way of new mechanics to Thunderstone. The only two things that I saw that seemed to be new were Settings and a new cooperative way of playing the game. However, it did include everything necessary to play the game (it is a fully playable standalone game), and also expanded upon all of the features that were added in previous expansions (new Thunderstones, Treasures, Traps, Mercenaries, and Guardians). Therefore, whereas the game isn't especially innovative, it does allow a new player to jump into the fully developed Thunderstone game.

Now for the pros, cons and something in between. We'll start with the in between, which is the packaging. If you have read each of my previous Thunderstone reviews, I thought that the packaging for Thunderstone was absolutely atrocious. However, I thought the Wrath of the Elements packaging was amazing. I personally think that Dragonspire is somewhere in between those two. Instead of the sleek, spartan packaging of Wrath of the Elements, AEG went back to the ridged plastic dividers, but with the ridges meant to keep the cards from sliding instead of to separate cards.  They have also continued providing nice, labeled dividers. I'm not completely sold on this being "better" than what was in Wrath of the Elements, but it is definitely better than what was in the original game. Along with the new packaging design, they also included plastic experience tokens and a dungeon board (to help keep track of light, guardians, etc). These are (though unnecessary in my opinion) nice little additions to the game that make you feel more like you get your money's worth. Regardless of which packaging I prefer, I have converted all of my cards to be in the Dragonspire box, because it is big enough to actually hold the board and the instructions (which annoyed my about the Wrath of the Elements box because it wasn't big enough to hold the instructions from the original game).

Now that I've had the obligatory discussion about packaging, time to get more into the actual game. I'll do one quick note about Settings, and then I'll go on to the cooperative play. So far I like the Settings mechanic. What the Settings do is change the actual overall game. They add rules like "every time you defeat a monster you gain a disease" or something similar that makes one game of Thunderstone different from the next. This is a plus, in my eyes - especially since they are optional, and if certain players find them annoying they are easy enough to leave out.

The innovation that I found in Dragonspire was around the cooperative play. My wife refused to play this game competitively with me after our first game (I have lots of deckbuilding experience and she has very little, and so she found the experience quite frustrating). With a new cooperative game, I was excited that I felt like I could convince her to try again (and in fact, I was successful at this). The cooperative game works very similarly to the advancing monsters game variant that was introduced in Wrath of the Elements, where the monsters attack and cost the players points every certain number of turns. There were a few big differences, though. In the cooperative version of the game you have a shared experience pool, you can trade cards (to a limited amount) when resting, and you can turn in monsters when visiting the village to gain experience (and remove them from your deck). This mode of play worked fairly well, and I would be willing to continue playing it. I really appreciate the fact that each release I have played has added a new game play option.

Another quick pro is that in Dragonspire, the heroes have diverged from the standard setup. Whereas in the previous versions all the heroes had levels 1-3 and the same number of cards (from one hero to the next) for level 1, 2, and 3. This is no longer the case. In Dragonspire, some heroes have 4 levels, some have 2, and therefore the heroes are actually becoming more unique. This helps the game not feel like it is the same every time through.

The next thing that I have learned to really appreciate about AEG (through my interaction with their Thunderstone brand) is that they seem to both learn from their mistakes and fix them. As an example that was stated previously, the original Thunderstone storage was horrendous. AEG realized this and setup the Wrath of the Elements box to use labeled dividers between the card sets. The problem was, these were not included in the original set. AEG, fixing their mistakes, provided labels in Wrath of the Elements for both the original game and the Wrath expansion. They have done this again in Dragonspire. They determined that it would be very convenient for the randomizer cards to have different colored backs. Therefore, they provided new randomizers for each of the previous sets. I really wish that all companies tried to fix their mistakes like AEG has done with the Thunderstone brand.

Now that I have talked about the pros, here are a few cons. First off, I noticed more than ever that you need to be careful when picking the heroes and village cards that you play with. If you randomly select them, you will often get cards that do not mix well together and so you will have several cards that are essentially unusable in your setup of available cards. Fortunately, this is pretty easy to fix - look at the cards selected and make sure they work together; ie, do not have a wizard that works well with spells and then no useful spells available (this happened to us).

Something that I have mentioned as a con previously in the Thunderstone set, but that I noticed again (and so I will mention) is that the game seems to be setup where nobody attacks the dungeon for quite a long time. It seems to be all buildup for the first half of the game, and then attacking for the second half, but not intermixed. Because of this, I will continue recommending that you play with the advancing monsters variant that was introduced in Wrath of the Elements.

There are several other pros and cons to the game, but these are the same as what can be found in the previous versions of Thunderstone, so I don't really feel the need to retype them, since you can click on those reviews from my links on this site.

A few final quick notes before wrapping this up... First, I like Treasures and Mercenaries (these were introduced in Doomgate Legions, and I will write more about them if I play and review that expansion). Second, the game seems to work best with about 3-4 players, as with 2 your deck will get too watered down with monsters, and with more than 4, you will not have the opportunity to purchase many village cards.

Overall, I give Thunderstone: Dragonspire an 8.0/10. It is not nearly as innovative as the original game (and so I seriously pondered giving it a 7.5), but it introduces some useful new aspects to the game and so I keep them on par with each other. If you really enjoy the Thunderstone brand, then you should pick it up, because it will add more replayability to your sets. If you are debating whether to try out the Thunderstone system, I would recommend getting this set before the "original" base game, as it includes everything the base game had plus more.

If you want to read about more Thunderstone, I've also reviewed Thunderstone, the Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements expansion, and the Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin franchise reboot.

I would like to thank AEG for providing me a demo copy of Thunderstone: Dragonspire to review.

Bootleggers Review

Sometimes when shopping for games you wind up getting a great deal. One of the games that I had never heard of that I bought because of this reason was Bootleggers.

Do you remember prohibition? If not, then (like me) you probably weren't alive in the 1920's. Fortunately, to teach young gamers about this time, Eagle Games created a game about it. In Bootleggers, each player takes on the role of a mafia which is trying to make the most money by creating whiskey and selling it to speakeasies. (Yeah, "speakeasies". More things that you might not be familiar with if you weren't alive in the 1920's.) To play the game, there are several phases. First, each of the players picks one of their "muscle" cards. Next, in muscle card order, each of the players gets to take a special card. After this, players can "send in the boys" in order to influence speakeasies. Next, players produce whiskey based on the number of stills that they have available (each still provides a die that determines how much is generated). Finally, the players sell their whiskey to the open speakeasies and make money for it.  (How much depends on who controls the speakeasy and how much demand the speakeasy has - again determined by dice.  Bigger speakeasies have more dice.) The game continues like this until one of the players has made a certain amount of money or the players have played a certain number of rounds. At the end, whoever has the most money wins.

The first pro of Bootleggers (which has a con associated with it) is how the muscle cards work. Each of the players starts with one muscle card for each round of the game (8 in a short game, 12 in the full game). The muscle cards are separated into 4 different colors, which each represent a spread of about 15 numbers. (ie, cards 1-15 are red, 16-30 are yellow, or something like that). The different colors are shuffled separately and then dealt to the players so that they get the same number of each color. During the game the players must determine how important it is for them to go first each round, as they will wind up playing all of their muscle cards during the game - if they burn their highest cards in the first round they will get stuck going last in the later rounds. Plus, each muscle card has a dollar amount associated with it that the player must pay - the little cards are free, but the higher cards cost quite a bit (though now that I think about this, all the cards wind up being played and all of the players have roughly equal cards, so all the players will spend approximately the same amount throughout the game on cards.  Seems like this element of the muscle cards may be pointless).

The con of how the muscle cards works is that it makes the game not "fair" (or "even" if you prefer). Most of the middle cards balance out throughout the game since you play them when you just don't want to go last, so they're not really important. What is important is what each player receives on the high end. There will most likely be a round during the game in which several players desperately want to go first. In this round, they will all play their highest card, and whoever wound up getting the highest card dealt to them goes first. I'm not really a fan of how that winds up playing out, but it is somewhat minor and didn't detract from the game too much.

The next pro about Bootleggers is how well it implemented the theme. Whereas lots of games take a game mechanic and then plaster a theme onto it, I felt like the theme was integrated well here. Granted I'm not very imaginative, but I can't really envision the mechanics used in Bootleggers in a game with a different theme (unless it was incredibly abstract - yes, euro games may be able to use these mechanics).

Finally, Bootleggers was a pretty fun little lighthearted game. It plays relatively quickly, is pretty easy to teach people and I enjoyed playing the game. That is definitely a pro. However...

Bootleggers lacks replayability. I enjoyed my first few games of it, but then I found a strategy to the game that seems to be overpowered. Since you have stumbled upon my site, I will generously share with you this strategy... control a decent speakeasy and sell all of your whiskey there. It often takes quite a bit of patience to do this (and you look like you're getting destroyed during the first half of the game, which is actually useful because the player in last gets extra influence markers on certain turns).  Nevertheless, if a player focuses on collecting influence markers and then keeps all of them until they have enough to permanently take control of a speakeasy, it is almost impossible to beat them. As much as I enjoyed this game, once I realized that there was really only one strategy that worked, I essentially gave up on playing it.

Overall, Bootleggers receives a 7.0/10. I enjoyed the game, but it doesn't hold my interest for long enough to receive a better score. I think you should definitely play this game once, but I wouldn't go out of my way to buy it, because you probably won't get more than a few plays out of it. Also, you should try to get as big a game of it as possible going when you try it, because the mechanics seem to work best when it is a full game (6 players I believe).

Scotland Yard Review

An old-school classic game that I played once it was "only" 26 years old (at least the copy we used) was Scotland Yard.

In Scotland Yard (which is even more of a hide and go seek board game than Mr.Jack), one player is a criminal that is trying to elude all of the other players (the detectives). As in real life, there are different means of transportation - taxis, buses, subways (and for the criminal, ferries), and each player is limited to the number of times he can use each method. In each round the criminal will move (and show all the other players what he used to move) and then all of the other players will move in an effort to either capture him or pin him down (to catch him on a later round). Every few turns the criminal will reveal himself (and then the detectives will frantically have to go in the other direction because they realize he slipped past them). If any of the detectives wind up on the same square as the criminal within 22 rounds, they win - otherwise, the criminal has successfully eluded them and he wins.

I thought that there were some interesting aspects in Scotland Yard. The different modes of transportation and the limited supply of rides on each one made for a neat mechanic. When to use each transportation mode was critical as you could easily go right past the criminal without knowing it (or for that matter, as the criminal you could go right past the detectives).

The next part of the game that I enjoyed was that the criminal had several different ways of sneaking around the detectives. He gets a limited number of "wild" transportation tickets which can be used for a taxi, bus, subway or a ferry to prevent the detectives from knowing which way you took. In addition, he has two "2x" cards that he must use at some point which allow him to move twice (which can be critical if timed just right).

Though I thought the game mechanics were really neat and I saw why lots of people would enjoy the game... I thought the game was horribly boring. I do not remember the last time that I was so bored while playing a game. First of all, the game is about 2-3 hours long, but I remember sitting during the game and thinking to myself that it felt like doing a chore to play. I do not blame other people for enjoying it - my friend that brought Scotland Yard really likes the game (but he doesn't write the blog, so it gets written based on my opinion). I realize that this is subjective, and that I've given you no reason that I thought it was so boring, I just do. In all honesty, I think that the appeal for this game will be to engineers to calculate the different places that the detective could have gone from the last place where he emerged. Playing the game reminds me of building a circuit board - why would I do this for fun?

Overall, I give Scotland Yard a 5.0/10. The mechanics were fine, and I have no problems with them. However, in my admittedly subjective opinion, I don't think the game is fun. I could have written more on this review to keep telling you that I think it was boring, but how many ways do I need to say it?  You can disagree if you want. That's ok.