Yggdrasil Review

Yggdrasil cooperative board game in play

A pretty interesting Norse based cooperative game that recently came out was Yggdrasil.

In Yggdrasil, each of the players takes on the role of one of the Norse gods attempting to prevent Ragnarok by keeping their enemies out of Odin's house. Each turn, the active player starts by flipping the top Enemy card - at which time the enemy represented on the card advances towards Odin's house, and also has a special evil power occur (such as bringing forward one of the other enemies, causing a frost giant to appear, or causing one of the Valkyries' islands to submerge). After this, the player is allowed to perform 3 different actions of the 9 available (one of the gods can actually perform the same action twice), and often the actions will culminate in an attack on one of the enemies (this helps knock them back away from Odin's house. The game continues like this until a certain number of enemies advance too far (one is in Odin's house at the end of the turn, 3 are across a certain barrier, or 5 are across a different barrier) in which case the players lose and Ragnarok ensues, or until the "Enemy" deck runs out of cards (at which point the gods have prevented Ragnarok and won the game).

The first thing that I liked about Yggdrasil was the number of available actions. Many other incredibly fun and challenging games (ahem, Pandemic) sometimes feel a bit repetitive because there are only a few actions that a player can perform. Yggdrasil has more actions than I have seen available in any other cooperative game, which really helps the game to feel like you have more options.

The next thing that I like about Yggdrasil is how the "vikings" work. When fighting against the enemies, a player must achieve a certain strength (normally 5) in order to win the battle. To do this, he can contribute any number of vikings that he has available (before rolling the die), add the value of his enemy-specific weapon, roll a die (which can add 0-3 strength), and finally add elves if his die roll was not high enough. This is all fine. However, what I really like about the vikings is how you get the vikings. There are 4 different islands that the Valkyries can go to. Each of these islands is represented by a bag full of vikings and fire giants. One of the actions that a player can perform is to move the Valkyries by one island (the closest islands have the worst odds of getting vikings), and then to pull out 3 pieces from the bag; any vikings pulled are kept by that player and available for future fights, but any fire giants pulled are put back into the bag (thus, getting a "good draw" stacks the odds against getting further good draws). There are also two other actions that a player can perform on his turn related to the vikings. He can take an action to move 5 vikings from the "deceased" pile into one of the bags, or he can pull 4 pieces out of a bag and remove any fire giants pulled (but put the vikings back). Therefore, the players are constantly adjusting the odds of getting the crucial vikings from any given bag - and if he neglects any of these actions, he could easily find himself unable to get enough vikings at a very critical juncture in the game.

The next definite pro of Yggdrasil is the number of players that it allows. Often cooperative games struggle with only supporting a very limited number of players (the new Lord Of The Rings: The Card Game only supports 1-2). Yggdrasil supports 1-6! What's more, I think that Yggdrasil would actually be fun with each of those numbers of players. Because of how weapons work (they are specific to each enemy, and you can only get the +2 weapon if you already had the +1 weapon for the corresponding enemy) I think that the different numbers of players would even add different strategic choices and conundrums.

The final pro that I will mention about Yggdrasil is how frost giants work. When a Loki card is flipped, he brings out a frost giant. The frost giants handicap the gods in some way while they are out (prevent them from performing certain actions or causing an enemy to become stronger). This in and of itself makes an interesting dilemma in the game, as players are forced to expend resources fighting the frost giants instead of the enemies. However, the frost giants can also be put together to form certain runes, which give the gods major bonuses (such as gaining 15 vikings that they can split amongst themselves). This causes the frost giants not to only be a pest, but also a potential source of "giant" boosts for the gods (hehe... I like puns) - players might even choose to fight the giants before they are even revealed by Loki in the hopes of completing one of these runes!

Now that the pros have been covered, I really only found a couple of complaints about Yggdrasil. First, this game is incredibly anti-climactic. Throughout the game you are constantly fighting off the enemies and frantically trying to strengthen yourself for the next fight. It can feel very exciting and can keep you nervous throughout the entire game. But the game ends by the enemy deck running out. You don't really accomplish a major goal like finding the cure for the diseases in the world, escaping an island, or completing your quest. You simply survive. You flip over the last enemy card, advance his figure, and then see that you didn't die - which means you lived. I realize that this is simply how it will have to be in this game because of how the mechanics work, but it still seemed a bit disappointing. I honestly have no suggestions for how I would change it, though, because I think any real change to this would drastically change the game.

One other thing that I should mention is a common difficulty in cooperative games. Since everything is fully known in the game, an incredibly outspoken (bossy) player can easily dominate the game and reduce the enjoyment of all of the other players. This really happens in a lot of cooperative games where "discussion of best potential moves" can quickly turn into "do it this way, or you're stupid." My fix for this - tell those people to shutup... but then again, maybe I'm the outspoken one in my group.

Overall, I give Yggdrasil an 8.5/10. I really enjoy this game. I think that anyone that enjoys cooperative games should definitely give this one a few plays, as I don't think that you'll be disappointed.

If Yggdrasil sounds interesting, you should check out Space Alert, Hanabi, and Lords of Waterdeep.

I would like to thank Z-Man games for providing a demo copy of Yggdrasil for me to try out.

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (2011 Fantasy Flight) Review

Lord of the Rings Living card game solo play

A game that I thought would be innovative (and thus I really wanted to play) was Lord Of The Rings: The Card Game.

In Lord of the Rings, players can construct a deck of cards and heroes, and then they play cooperatively to attempt to defeat one of several scenarios that are available (each consisting of a different mix of enemies and events that the heroes will face). Each turn the players will collect resources for each of their heroes with which they can then play ally and attachment cards (or wait and play events when they would be most effective or use them for special abilities). Next, they may send some or all of their characters to go on a "quest" (this is the crux of the game - if the players never send anyone on the quest, they will lose). After questing, players can "travel" to a location - which essentially makes questing a bit easier. Next comes encounters and combat; based on how much "threat" each player has, the monsters will be divided up among the different players - and then those monsters attack. Players can choose who to use as a defender (who only serves as a shield), and then from whomever is still not "exhausted" (tapped), they can attack the monsters in front of them. Finally, the players do cleanup - untap, increase threat, assign a new first player. This continues until either the players are all dead (through having their heroes die or gaining too much threat), or until all of the phases of the quest have been completed.

My first pro of the Lord of the Rings card game is that it has found a way around the "a super-bossy person making a cooperative game miserable" problem. Often, in great cooperative games like Pandemic, a single bossy player will essentially tell everyone what to do (while all the other players are thinking of telling him where to go... and I imagine it's not a nice place) and attempt to play the game as if it was one player and he was just taking everyone's turn. However, in the Lord of the Rings card game, each person is holding an ever-changing hand of cards that only he knows. This means that each player is forced to make his own decision of what the best play is at any given time. This really helps the cooperative genre in general, and I hope that future games continue to do something like this to fix the annoying bossy guy problem.

The next pro for the Lord of the Rings card game is two-fold. First, you may construct your own deck before playing; secondly, there are different scenarios. When I first heard about the game, my immediate thought was "once I create a deck that wins, why would I ever bother buying any new expansions or creating anything else?" (Which seemed very short sighted of Fantasy Flight, the kings of the board game expansions sales.) Well, this is where quests come into play. This is the first cooperative game that I know of that has this concept of playing with different win conditions each time. (Though it's not actually win conditions - the win condition is always beat the quest; but the quest does change.) Since there are different quests, with different levels of difficulty, a player may need to construct his deck in a different way for one quest versus another - and, of course, a really dedicated player would try to create a deck that could defeat any of the quests. However, as soon as he does that, the next "adventure pack" will probably come out, consisting of a new quest for him to defeat. This will let him know if his deck really is awesome (as he assumed), or if it still has weaknesses (and the adventure pack should have new cards he could add to his deck to address these). These two concepts fit together masterfully, and I was quite pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

The next thing that I will list as a "pro" (though it's more of something that I think is interesting) is how the characters are used. Each character gets exhausted when he is used on a quest, to defend, or to attack. And, if you don't wind up putting characters in each of these three areas, you will probably lose the game. This causes an interesting balancing act. The specific thing that I think is interesting is that the characters that you use to defend get exhausted by defending and don't have the opportunity to attack. I don't think that I've ever played a game in which my characters could not attack whatever enemy was attacking them - but it adds a very frantic dynamic to the game, as you never feel like you have enough characters (which is good for a cooperative game).

As a neutral point of note before moving on to the cons - the Lord of the Rings card game seems to scale in difficulty with number of players. I have played it a few times with 4 players, and I have played it solo. With 4 players, we actually won a few times, and normally at least made progress on the quests (using the basic, un-constructed decks). I attempted the game solo with a constructed deck (albeit not a "well-constructed deck"), and I got completely obliterated each time (I need to construct the deck better, apparently). I have tried to figure out what makes it so much harder, as the number of monsters and such you see from the encounter deck does scale based on number of players. I think that it is ultimately that you cannot cover all of the different areas of strength without having extra players. (For example, some heroes heal well, others fight, others quest, others defend, etc. With less than four players, one of these areas will be missed at least to a degree.)

My first con for the Lord of the Rings card game is that there are lots of minor things to remember. Once you play it several times (especially with extra people helping keep track), the game flows pretty well. However, after about 5-7 plays, I am yet to be able to play the game without the instructions next to me as a reference guide to step through each stage. Even things that sound basic like an enemy attacking you have extra steps - you play other cards from the encounter deck on top of the attackers before they attack to see if they have a "shadow effect." It makes the game much harder to teach, and also harder to play.

The next thing that annoyed me about the Lord of the Rings card game is that it seemed designed to force you to pay extra money to get the full game. The basic starter set is designed for 1-2 players, but claims to be up to 4 players if two starter sets are combined. The main two reasons that a single starter set is only up to 2 player is that 1) there are only 2 "threat dials" (which you can remedy with a scrap piece of paper) and 2) there aren't enough cards to allow you to make 4 "tournament legal" (50 card) decks. However, if you play with scrap paper and the basic introductory decks, you can support 4 players out of a single starter deck. This really isn't a game play issue at all, but it just seemed disappointing to buy the game to immediately realize I had to buy another copy of it if I wanted to be able to play with a group.

Overall, I give Lord of the Rings: The Card Game a 9.0/10. I really enjoy the game, I appreciate the new elements that they have brought to the cooperative genre, and I look forward to seeing what the new adventure packs bring. If you aren't completely turned off by constructing a deck or by cooperative games, I would recommend trying it out.

For more reading about this game, you can check out this Review of Lord of the Rings LCG from Play Board Games, or another Review of Lord of the Rings LCG from Games With Two. You can also read my review of the Shadows of Mirkwood Expansions for Lord of the Rings, my Game of Thrones living card game review, and my Star Wars living card game review.

Warhammer Invasion Review

A game that I was really excited about was Warhammer Invasion.

Warhammer Invasion was one of the first "Living Card Games." This means, like Magic, Pokemon, etc, you would construct a deck out of cards and play against your opponents; however, unlike with normal Customizable (or Trading) Card Games, in Warhammer, the packs were not randomized. Now for gameplay... In Warhammer, each player controls a capital with three different area - the battlefield, kingdom, and quest areas. The object of the game is to destroy two of your opponent's three areas. First, you get to generate resources based on the amount of power in your kingdom area; next, you draw cards based on the amount of power in your quest area. After this setup, you use your resources to play any units and/or support cards in any of the areas of your capital. Next, you can attack your opponent, and finally, it is the other player's turn.

The first pro for Warhammer Invasion is that it is a Living Card Game. I personally loved playing CCG's when I was younger - my CCG's of choice were the Star Trek and Star Wars CCGs made by Decipher. Unfortunately, I have one of those personalities that gets addicted to buying packs. Therefore, LCG's are a great way that I can still enjoy all of the elements of deck construction, playing the game, having tournaments, etc, without having to worry about how many packs I will wind up buying or how much I will spend on the game in any given week. I really appreciate Fantasy Flight introducing several of their new games in this format.

The next pro that I have for Warhammer Invasion is how the different areas of your capital work together. Whenever playing a new unit you had to decide which area you want to place them in - do you want to use them to get more resources, more cards, or to be able to attack? If you put them in the kingdom or quest areas, they may help more in the long run, but they will also wind up serving primarily as defenders. Whereas, if you place your units in the battlefield, they really serve only as attackers - but if you don't play any attackers, you can't possibly win the game.

The third pro that I will mention for Warhammer Invasion is that each of the races plays differently. Honestly, I expect this in a deck building game (such as the different colors in Magic), but it is still an important element. Fantasy Flight did a good job in making sure that playing as the Dwarves (who have a lot of defensive things they can do) takes on a different feel than playing as the Orcs (who are almost exclusively attackers - even injuring their own units to attack more), or the Chaos (whose specialty is "corrupting" units), Humans (who are able to move units between areas of their capital), or any of the other races.

A final pro about the game is quests.  One of the types of cards in the game is the "quest" card.  These are placed in the Quest area of your capital, and once you have played one, you have the option of having your units (as you place them) be "questing".  While questing, a unit builds up resources that can then be spent for a bonus (for example, one of the Dwarf quests allows you to discard the unit on the quest to destroy two attacking units - but only if there are at least 3 resources on it).  I really think that the quests are a neat concept, and I'd be interested to see how different people would be able to use them when constructing their decks.

The biggest con that I have for Warhammer Invasion is that it really didn't have a very unique feel to it. As one of my friends put it, "it feels generic." Whereas I liked the different areas of the capitals, there wasn't really anything else that set this game apart (even the quests seem to just be a different way to represent an effect that has to "charge up"). I could continue playing it, but I don't feel like it has brought something entirely new to the table.

Another con that I had for Warhammer (that I have heard was fixed in later expansions) is that they don't give you all the cards needed to build the deck however you want. As with all deck building games, there is a limit to the number of copies of a card that are allowed in a deck. This is true in Warhammer as well. However (at least in the base set and the first few expansions), instead of the set of cards including enough copies of each card to allow you to put the limit of each card in your deck, the sets have several copies of some cards and only one copy of others. Therefore, if you wanted to build a deck consisting of several of the card you only had a single copy of, you would have to buy several of the packs - and then you would get around 9 copies of some of the other cards, with absolutely nothing to do with them (you don't really trade cards in an LCG format), so you might as well throw them away.

There's really not all that much more to say about Warhammer Invasion - the complexity of the game (as often happens) doesn't lie in the mechanics of the game, but rather in the cards and their interactions. Learning the game is really fairly simple and straightforward (another pro), but the number of different cards prevent the players from constantly playing the exact same way. To me, the key aspect of pre-constructed deck building games is how many other people in your geographical area are playing them - if a lot of people are playing them, then you have lots of opponents and have the possibility of playing in tournaments, and the game can be a lot of fun. If nobody else around you is playing, then you probably won't wind up playing it, and you won't have a great desire to work on improving your deck.

Overall, I give Warhammer Invasion an 7.5/10. I enjoyed the game well enough that I would continue to play it if the people around me played. Unfortunately, since I don't know anybody that actively plays the game, my hope for being able to enter a tournament is basically non-existant; and so I will probably wind up getting rid of my cards.  And, in full disclosure and fairness to the designers of the game, there's a really good chance that I would have liked this game a lot more if I had the opportunities to play it more as it was meant to be played - where I would construct a deck and try it against many different opponents.  This would have also kept me in the game long enough for them to further develop the 4 base races as well as the races that they introduced in the expansion sets.

Warhammer Invasion on Noble Knight Games (about $35 for the Core set)
Warhammer Invasion on Amazon (about $29)

Cleopatra and the Society of Architects Review

Another game that I picked up simply because of the Days of Wonder logo was Cleopatra And The Society of Architects (yeah, I'm a bit behind the curve on this one since it came out a few years ago).

In Cleopatra, each player takes on the role of an architect that is trying to build parts of Cleopatra's new palace in order to gain her favor. While doing so, the architects may (will) be tempted to cut some ethical corners to try to get ahead. It's ok, everybody does it... but if Cleopatra finds out about it, she will throw you to the crocodile! How this plays out is that each turn a player will be able to either draw new cards from one of the three draw piles (and then a new card is added to each draw pile), or he will be able to go build new buildings (these get victory points). Various deeds during the game, like drawing cards to have more than 10 in your hand, or playing certain cards, will gain you "corruption" tokens. At the end of the game (which occurs when all but one of the different types of architectural elements have been built), whoever has the most corruption is fed to the crocodile god (Sobek?) and instantly loses. Of the players still alive, whoever has the most victory points is the winner.

The first thing that I really like about Cleopatra is the corruption. When I first read through the rules, I thought to myself, "this sounds interesting, but I'm guessing people will just avoid getting corruption to prevent this. It'll unfortunately become a non-important factor of the game". Me, you were wrong! The game is set up very well so that there's not really a way to avoid getting corruption tokens. Since whenever you draw cards you draw the entire stack, you will at some point or another end up with some corruption tokens. Because you have some, you're at risk anyway, and so you are more willing to get a few more - after all, you see your opponents getting "probably" more than you, right? And there are also a few ways to get rid of corruption tokens - you can do that by building a sanctuary (this deals with how you place certain elements that you build; I won't go into it, but needless to say it lets you remove about 3-8 tokens at the end of the game), and through sacrificing to the Great Priest (which I'll talk more about later).

The next thing that I really like in Cleopatra is a very minor thing. When setting up the draw deck, you take half of the cards face down and half of them face up and shuffle them together. After this, whenever cards come out, they stay in their current orientation (face up or face down). Therefore, when you are drawing a pile of card (normally containing 1-5 cards), you don't know entirely what you're getting. As I said in the previous paragraph, you can't always avoid corruption - and here's one of those times. If you draw cards with the corruption symbols you might as well use them because, if you don't, they are worth corruption at the end of the game (if they're still in your hand). Aside from the corruption aspect, it is also a neat concept that you take a pile either because it has some of what you want or because it might have something useful to you. As I said, this is a fairly minor point, but I really like it.

The final pro that I will mention is the visual quality of the game.  As you can tell from looking at the picture, the game is beautiful.  The designers, publishers, or whomever was involved were really creative in making this game amazing.  You actually take the bottom of the box and flip it over to represent a raised level, and you build things on top of the box, around it, and in front of it.  Playing the game takes up a decent amount of space because of this, but it is really gorgeous.

One of the things I promised to talk about is the sacrifice to the Great Priest. I consider this a neutral point in the game. Every time that a player builds on his turn, he must roll all of the dice that are not currently showing an ankh symbol. Once all five dice are showing an ankh, a sacrifice occurs to the Great Priest. Players each secretly bid victory points (which they don't get back), and based on how much each player bids, you will either gain or lose corruption tokens (1st place loses 3 corruption, each other player gains at least 1 corruption). In theory, I really like this mechanic and think it is a good addition to the game, but it occurs so infrequently in practice that it becomes a non-factor. Only 1 of each of the 6 sides of the die is an ankh, so most of the dice rolled will be blank. I personally think this would have worked best if on average the sacrifice occurred 1-3 times per game, but whenever I have played it happens more like 0-1 times per game. I think if the dice had 2 ankhs on them, it might help.

For the main con, the game suffers (to a lesser degree) from the same problem a lot of Days of Wonder games suffer from - replayability. Days of Wonder makes excellent "gateway" games that can be taught to gamers and non-gamers alike (I didn't write this in the pros section, but another pro is that it is easy to teach to anybody). However, to achieve that level of ease in teaching the game, the games are often not very involved; thus limiting the number of strategies that can be applied in the game. Fortunately, the corruption element of Cleopatra adds quite a bit of replayability compared to some of their other titles, but I still don't know how many times I will play it long-term. Again, I think that this does have more replayability than several of their other titles, but I don't see myself playing it as much as something like Dominion or Pandemic. Honestly, though, replayability is based more on what your friends fall in love with than anything else about the game; so if your friends love Cleopatra, you may be able to play it dozens of times with no problems.

Overall, I give Cleopatra an 8.5/10. I bought the game knowing nothing about how it worked, but only based on the fact that Days of Wonder made it - and I was quite pleasantly surprised. This is a quite enjoyable game that I think most people should try.

Cleopatra on Noble Knight Games (about $35)
Cleopatra on Amazon (about $31)

Say Anything Review

Another party game that I have played recently (yes, I've played way more of these recently than I normally do) was Say Anything.

In Say Anything (also known as "what Apples to Apples wishes it could be"), players take turns as the moderator. The moderator selects the top card and then picks one of the 6 questions on the card for the other players to supply their best answer to (questions like "In my opinion, what is the best animated movie of all time?" and "In my opinion, what would be the most ridiculous thing that could happen right now?" - and they are all opinion questions). After the moderator has provided a question, each of the other players must write a response on their small dry erase board. The moderator selects which answer is his favorite (at which point Apples to Apples would have ended the round), but in Say Anything, the non-moderator players now have 2 bidding tokens on which they can select which answer they think the moderator has picked! Finally, the moderator reveals the "best" answer, and players score for having supplied that answer, but also for bidding that the moderator would pick that answer. The game goes around until each player has been the moderator twice, and then whoever has the most points wins.

The first thing that I like about Say Anything is that you are able to bid on which answer the moderator will guess. Whereas in many other games like this you can only score points by supplying the "best" answer, I really like that you can score points in different ways in this game. This way, even if you're not quite on the same wavelength as the moderator (they might not think your jokes about Michael Jackson are funny, for example... when they definitely are hilarious), you are still able to score points.  This aspect of the game really keeps players from becoming disengaged in the game.  I have played several party games where certain players thought they were coming up with great answers (yes, I was one of them, but I've also seen it happen to other people), just to have the moderator select someone else's answer; those players normally give up on the game about halfway through.  And that makes the game less fun for everyone.

The next thing that (I think) I like about Say Anything is that the answers aren't supplied for you. This, honestly, can be both good or bad. If you are playing with a group of people that aren't especially creative, then it could be really good to have answers already supplied that you simply pick from. However, if you are playing with creative people, you can get much better answers to questions like "In my opinion, what would be the most shocking secret that someone's mother could reveal?" than would be available on a card. (The winning answer was "Her nipples are on her back; and you were breastfed," just in case you were curious. And as a point of note, there is also a Say Anything: Family Edition that tries to have questions that will get a bit more tame of answers. Though, really, it should be pretty easy to scale the level of "adult" answers based on who is playing.)

Now that you know the pros, I really only had one con for Say Anything. Say Anything has a target number of players that it works best with. The game is officially 3-8 players (and you really can't easily go above 8 players since the game wouldn't really work very well in teams and the "Select-O-Matic" (secret selector for the moderator) only has 8 answers.  Though now that I've started rambling to myself, I guess you could make it more than 8 players if you had extra dry erase boards, and the moderator just wrote who had the best answer.  Anyway...) Unfortunately, I don't think the game is nearly as much fun with 3-4 players, either, because of the limited number of answers and the fact that everyone will be bidding on the same few answers available - you really need 5-8 players to play. This is really unfortunate, since most party games have more of a "the more the merrier" aspect to them. With that said, 3-8 players is actually quite a broad spectrum for most games; it's just somewhat limiting in the party game genre.

Overall, I give Say Anything an 8.5/10. I really enjoy the game, and I think that it has bumped Apples to Apples out of circulation in my gaming world. I would recommend this to anyone that likes party games or that likes games that require creativity.

I would like to thank North Star Games for providing a demo copy of Say Anything for me to play - twice! (They provided one before and one after the tornado.) I would also like to thank them for the generosity they showed towards the people of Joplin by donating several games to the tornado victims in the city.

Ra Review

Ra board game in play

An auction game that I picked up in a math trade recently (and then donated to my FLGS after it got quite wet in the tornado) was Ra.

In Ra, players are attempting to purchase different tiles to ensure that they either score victory points (or don't lose victory points) at the end of each epoch (scoring phase). To do this, each player starts with three bid tokens of different numbers. On a player's turn, he gets to choose between 1) drawing a new tile from the bag and adding it to the set of tiles available for auction (this could potentially start an auction), 2) purposely start an auction, or 3) steal one of the tiles that is currently in the auction pile (this can only be done if they have a special "god" tile that they have previously purchased). Whenever an auction begins, the players each have one opportunity to place their bid using one of the bid tokens that they have available. The winning bidder gets all of the tiles that were on the board, in addition to the bid token that was in the center of the board (which they turn facedown until the end of the epoch), and then they place their bid tile in the middle of the board. Play continues this way until all of the players have run out of face up bid tokens, or until a certain number of "Ra" tokens have been drawn (Ra tokens are tokens that instantly start an auction when they are drawn from the bag). One of these conditions signifies the end of an epoch. At this point, players score based on the number and selection of tiles they own. Rinse, repeat. (At the end of the third epoch, a few extra things score). After three epochs, the person with the most victory points wins!

The first pro for Ra is how the bid tokens work. I absolutely love this mechanic - and it really gives the game a different flavor than any other auction game that I have played. I love so much about them, that I'll probably have to split this into several "pro's". The first bid token pro is that they switch out whenever you win an auction. Because of this, the person with the highest token at the start of the game won't necessarily have the ultimate trump throughout the game. In fact, depending on what he purchases, he has a chance of trading in his high token for the #1 (worst) token, in which he'll only be able to win an auction if nobody else bids! This causes there to be a sub-game inside of Ra - each player being careful to not only collect the best tiles, but to also make sure that they don't wind up with the worst bid tokens. But even then, a skilled player can do well with very low bid tokens if he adjusts his strategy; he must simply start auctions more often so that the players with the better tokens don't get the luxury of spending them on a large set of tiles! The bid tokens are just plain awesome.

The next thing that I like about the bid tokens is that when you win an auction, you have one less token available to bid with for that epoch. Therefore, nobody can ever win more than three auctions in an epoch. This really helps keep any single player from gaining too much of an upper hand in the game. It does, however, allow an opportune player to have the privilege of having a "push your luck" element at the end of an epoch. If one player can outlast everyone else to where they have used all of their bid tokens (thus he is the only player still playing), he can keep drawing new tiles from the bag - but if he fills up the Ra track, then he will lose all of the tiles that have been drawn, as there is not an auction once the last Ra is drawn! The bid tokens continue to be awesome.

The last pro that I will mention about Ra is that there are both positive and negative tiles that can be drawn. Some of the tiles are "destruction" tiles, and whoever wins the auction that contains these tiles loses two of his useful tiles of the given type (for example, gaining a "Pharaoh" destruction tile makes you discard two of your "Pharaoh" tiles). This prevents the push your luck element that I previously mentioned from becoming overpowered. It can also drastically change the mood of a set of tiles instantly. A set of tiles that would easily draw out the largest bid token can go from being completely wonderful to only being somewhat good in a single draw. This is a nice element to the game; whereas the game would probably still play well without it, this element really adds a nice touch that helps take Ra to the next tier of games.

The only real con that I found when playing Ra is that passing the bag around for everyone to draw a tile on their turn winds up taking about as much time as the actual gameplay. After the first time playing, we quickly gave that up and designated a single person to draw for everyone. This speeds up the game as you're not constantly worried about passing the bag, making sure that the tiles don't fall out, and making sure you don't accidentally cheat while drawing.

Overall, I give Ra a 9.5/10. In my opinion, this may be the best auction game on the market. It is quick and easy to play, but also has the depth to keep me wanting to play it again and again. I would highly recommend that anybody that doesn't have a strong aversion to auction games make a point of trying it out.

If you like auction games like Ra, you might also want to check out Princes of Florence, Power Grid, and Furstenfeld. And, for another opinion of Ra, you can check out this Review of Ra on I Slay the Dragon.

Tornadoes: Two Weeks Later

Well, this one probably won't be as exciting of a read as the last two posts (no shocking new pictures, or startling revelations), but for those of you who are concerned with what is going on, I figured it would be good to give you an update.


In Joplin, some wheels have started turning. I know of a City Meeting tomorrow (Monday) at 6:00 PM at the local University's basketball arena. They have encouraged anyone who experienced damage to attend, and if that actually occurs, it means that the traffic and seating will be atrocious. Nevertheless, they are supposed to have some paperwork there that property owners (me) can sign to give the city permission to start clearing the land. That's good. I have heard that the Army Corps of Engineers is supposed to be coming to help clear it, and that the Federal Government is funding 90% of the cleanup costs (as of last time I heard, it hadn't been determined if the city or the state was covering the other 10%).

I have also seen some construction beginning already - but it was in the fringe areas that were damaged, not in the center of the destruction; after all, until the land is cleared, there won't be any construction that can begin. Oh, right, and the city has started to smell bad in the parts that were hit. Lots of frozen turkeys and other kinds of meat that are suddenly in 95 degree weather instead of the freezer - you do the math.

Finally, city news related, the official missing persons list is now down to zero people. Everyone that was on the list has now been accounted for. Unfortunately, I hear rumors of people that they keep finding that weren't on the missing persons list. It's very unfortunate.


Now for what's going on with me. We spent a couple of days last week looking for a place to call "home." Lots of people have asked us recently what we need, and first and foremost, we need a place where we feel like we belong - and not just as guests. Don't get me wrong, the family that I'm staying with has been beyond accommodating, but after a couple of weeks, you really start to feel like it would be better if you found a more permanent place to stay. Fortunately, I think that things are going to work out so that we have a garage apartment that is mostly furnished that we can rent starting in early July. That will be nice. It's a bit of a drive from Joplin (30 minutes to work instead of the 5 that it used to be), but that's probably for the best right now as it is very depressing to drive through the city at the moment.

At some point I'm going to have to go back to work. "Life goes on," right? Well, I have been hemorrhaging my vacation time since this started, and so I'm hoping to go back to work sometime next week. I can't honestly say that I'm excited or looking forward to going back (though I normally don't mind my job), but either way I need to return. Maybe it will give me a sense of normalcy in all of this. But I don't honestly expect to experience that until July once we've moved into the apartment.

On the insurance front, things seem to be going well. We have received our payment for the house, for external structures, our first check for personal property (we should get more once we send them the itemized list of what we owned - yeah, everything that we owned), and a check to cover a year's worth of rent. Though, honestly, we probably won't spend most of this money for a while (aside from obviously having paid off the mortgage). Our current plan is to wait a few months and then try to decide what we want to do for long-term living arrangements; whether we want to buy a new house in Joplin, or whether we want to move somewhere else.

Since my car got totaled, Anna (my wife) has been asking me what kind of car I want to buy to replace it. I honestly have no idea. I've never been a car guy (which is ironic, as this is one of my Dad's primary hobbies), and so I've always just driven whatever I wound up getting for cheap. This often meant whatever my Dad was able to find a good deal on. Once I go back to work, getting a car will probably become the most pressing need, as I will need it to drive back and forth to work without leaving Anna stranded at the house.

Board Games

The most exciting part of my week this week has been going up to Changing Hands Book Shoppe (where I am receiving most of my mail) and seeing what packages had arrived for me in the mail that day. So many of you have been sending board games to help replace my collection (and to be donated to the church), that I normally have at least one thing waiting for me when I get there. It's been a blast to see what people have sent to me - this week I know I've received a couple of games from Numbskull Games and Zombie State Games, I've also received Vegas Showdown that someone ordered for me from Boards & Bits, I've gotten Amun-Re, Dixit, Settlers & Seafarers of Catan, Star Wars:CCG Cards, and about 9-12 other games for me to donate to the church! Thank you all for making this happen, and for bringing me so much joy! The response from the board game community has really made me proud to be a part of it.

With that said, hopefully this will be my last Tornado-specific update. If life starts returning to normal, I hope to have this site return to normal with it. I have been able to play some new games (like Hey, That's My Fish!, Chaostle, and the Lord of the Rings LCG) which I'm hoping to review at some point, and I am receiving a lot of new titles that I also look forward to trying. With that said, I will make a confession that I've made a few times before - my posts (for game reviews) are often games that I reviewed quite some time ago. I try to write the review when the game is fresh in my mind, but I also try to have my posts occur on a somewhat regular interval. Because of this, I have quite a few "drafts" that are already ready to post (for games such as Aquarius, Lunch Money: Sticks and Stones, Talisman, and many others). So, even if I'm not able to start posting new reviews for the next few weeks, I should be able to post some of these for you to read until I'm able to get some new ones written.

Thank You

I've said this repeatedly to most everyone that I've encountered recently; but, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. So many people have supported me and my wife during this time and I really cannot express how much it has meant to us. Without friends, family, and the board game community, this natural disaster would have wreaked havoc in our lives. I consider myself blessed to be supported by so many wonderful people. Thank you, thank you, thank you.