Biblios Review

Biblios card game in play

When asking for games with depth that can be played in 30-45 minutes, someone recommended that I check out Biblios. So.... I did.

In Biblios, the goal is to get the most victory points by having the highest score in (enough of) the five different categories.  To start the game, each category is worth three points.  On a player's turn, he will draw a number of cards equal to the number of players plus one.  After looking at each card, he must decide if he will keep it (one per turn), put it in the auction pile (one per turn), or put it face up in the middle (all the others).  After he has gone through all of his cards, the other players get to take the cards that he placed in the middle - thus each player gains a card every turn.  Any time one of the players gets a "church" card, they immediately adjust the value on one or two of the dice (and thus a category's value).  After the deck has been exhausted, the auction phase begins.  One at a time, all of the cards that were placed in the auction pile are auctioned off to players - who use cards to buy gold cards, and use gold cards to buy everything else.  After the last auction, players compare scores in each category and the highest total in each gets the scoring die.  Whoever has the most points from scoring dice is the winner!

Very ironically, I received my copy of Biblios at approximately the same time as I received a copy of Pax - and both games seem to have a similar core mechanic of "draw X cards, one at a time, and put them in different places."  I listed this as a pro in Pax, and it is also a pro for Biblios - this mechanic forces the players to make meaningful, simple, and yet difficult decisions.  If you make a mistake in the first round and accidentally give your opponents a powerful card, you're not going to instantly lose - but if you regularly give your opponents better cards than you keep, then you don't really stand a good chance of winning.  And, with more players, these choices get tougher.  You get to look at more cards with more players, and so you will have a much harder time deciding what to do with a mid-value card that you draw early.  Should you take the safe bet and keep it?  What if something better is drawn?  But, you also don't want your opponent to have it!

Biblios scoring dice
Scoring dice - what each category is worth
The next pro that I have for Biblios is that I think the auction works well.  I have played this game with two and three players, and the auction works well with both (and I would imagine works at least as well with four).  It's tough to find a two-player auction game that actually works, but for some reason this one does.  I think that there are a couple of factors with this - first, you know that any card you don't win counts directly against you.  With three and four players, you might be able to spread out cards in a category so that you can still ultimately have the highest score, even if you don't have a majority.  With two players, every card that you don't take goes to the same opponent.  Also, the game is built where you must buy things in the auction to win.  You put as many cards in the auction pile as you put in your own pile at the beginning of the game, so the chances of you winning any category without auctioning are very slim - the odds of you winning several categories without the auction are basically zero.

The third aspect of Biblios that I like is that not all of the cards are in the deck in each game (the number of random cards pulled out is different based on number of players).  Because of the rule that you have to have the most points in a category to score, you are often trying to get the majority in that area (at least I was).  The inner cover tells you the card breakdown, and so you can know when you have the majority.  But!  Not all of the cards are in the deck - and so you might have a majority without knowing it.  And, a player that is better at figuring out when they have "enough" cards, without wasting extra card draws and money on getting a guaranteed majority will probably win over a player that always guarantees their majority.
card from Biblios game
Church cards adjust scoring dice

The final pro that I will mention is that I like the church cards.  Now, with that said, I don't like being the one to get stuck with the church cards - I would rather increase my score in one of the categories.  However, the church cards are a good way to mitigate the fact that you know an opponent is going to beat you in certain categories.  They are also useful for improving the value of your majorities.  But, there is a touch of a bluffing element here, because if you are always increasing the value of the same category, your opponents will realize that you have a lot of points there, and they will focus on lowering it.  But, at least in the auction phase, you can prevent them from doing so, by buying all of the church cards - but that will get expensive really, really quickly.

I don't really have any "cons" for Biblios.  I found the game to be very fun, and I could play it repeatedly.  I think that it is a great filler game or lunch game, but I don't know that I would go to a gaming session explicitly to play Biblios (though I'd consider it), which is the only thing that keeps it's score out of the upper echelon.  And, with that said....

Overall, I give Biblios an 8.5/10.  I think that it is a brilliant, light game, that can be enjoyed by gamers and non-gamers alike.  If you have the opportunity to play it - do so!

If you are looking for games that can be played over lunch, you might also check out 1955: The War of Espionage, China, and Ra.

Rise! Kickstarter Followup

So, some of you may remember the Rise! Review that I wrote a few months ago.  Well, while I was writing that review, I was playing a prototype version.  Now that I've received a full production copy, I figured I'd share some better photos and a bit what has changed!

Here are the main things I noticed:
  • I'm really impressed by how similar the game looks to the prototype that I received.  They referred to their prototype as a "professional prototype", and this helps me realize just how much pride they took in those protoypes!  The full version has better color (in the prototype "red" looked more like brown), but otherwise, the game looks almost exactly the same.
Faction Sticker

  • You can "paste on" a theme.  Specifically, there are six different "factions" that you have stickers for.  However, you will only be able to use your favorite four - one on each side of the red disks, and one on either side of the blue disks.  This, obviously, doesn't change the game at all, but it's a nice little touch.  The factions are Pirates, Knights, Aliens, Zombies, Wizards, and (of course) Ninjas.

  • Ballistic Expansion

  • It comes with the "Ballistic Expansion."  This expansion provides you with a few extra pieces that seem overpowered.  I haven't actually tried them out yet, but I'd recommend playing the basic game a few times before trying these pieces - then play with or without them, however you most enjoy the game!

  • And, again, if you're not familiar with Rise, I'd recommend you checking out my full Rise! review.

    I would like to thank Crash Games for providing me with a review copy of Rise!

    Innovation: Echoes of the Past Review

    Innovation Echoes of the Past card game

    After enjoying Innovation, I decided that I should track down a copy of it's first expansion Echoes Of The Past. As I normally do in my expansion reviews, I will assume that you are familiar with the original game - if you're not, then please check out my Innovation Review.  There are four main additions in Echoes of the Past, and so we'll simply go through them: Foreshadows, Echoes, Bonuses, and Extra Achievements.  

    Foreshadowing is the first new concept, and is probably the "most different" from what you experience in the base game.  Various new cards will give you a dogma effect that allows you to "foreshadow" a card.  When you foreshadow, you take a card of the appropriate value and place it in your "foreshadow" area next to your score pile.  Then, on any future turn in which you perform a meld action, you can play a foreshadowed card of value less than or equal to the card just played - and immediately perform it's dogma action.  This is a neat way of stacking up extra cards and getting a nice one-two punch on turns, but in the games that I have played, this hasn't really been done especially much. 

    The next new concept is "Echo" effects.  Some of the new cards have text in the place of an icon (this is the "Echo" effect).  When you perform a dogma effect for a color that is showing one or more Echo effects, these Echo effects are performed first, just like additional dogma effects - they are even shared between other players that perform your dogma effects.  I like the Echo effects.  I think that they can be very useful, and I like that they are balanced by the fact that Echo effects takes up an icon space, which prevents the card from being overpowered.  And yet, if you have several Echo effects, you can really make certain colors incredibly powerful.

    Innovation expansion card
    Artificial Heart has a huge bonus!
    The third concept is Bonuses.  This is really my favorite new mechanic, though it's one of the more simple ideas.  Essentially, certain cards have point values in place of an icon.  This value is added to a player's total score (for purposes like determining if you can achieve).  However, to keep the bonuses from growing too powerful, you only get the "full" value for your most valuable bonus, and you get one point for each of the others.  So, if you have a "10", "12", "8", and "5" showing, instead of getting 35 points, you only get 15.  But, this is still a nice way of getting points by melding instead of always having to find ways to add points to your score pile.  Again, this is my favorite addition to the game.

    The final new mechanic is "extra achievements."  Essentially, certain cards will allow you to achieve a card if able.  This includes achieving an Age that you have already achieved.  But, to keep this from being waaaay to powerful, each time that you achieve the same Age, you have to have add the Age's score requirement an extra time - so, the first time you achieve in Age 1 you have to have a score of 5.  The next time your score would have to be at least 10, then 15, 20, and so on.  This element just adds another way for players to gain achievements, which adds more diversity in possible strategies, so I also like this new concept.  (There are also some new "special achievements" that the expansion adds, which provide even more ways of acquiring achievements.)

    another Innovation expansion card
    Bangles uses three new mehcanics
    Now, with the primary new mechanics covered, I should mention the setup.  In the basic setup (there is a variant that can be used also), you shuffle some cards from the expansion with some cards from the basic set, but the basic cards significantly outnumber the expansion cards (by the way, this makes the setup and cleanup a bit of a nuisance).  Because of this, some games will have a lot more of certain new effects like foreshadowing than others - after all, some games may not even have cards that allow you to foreshadow!  The thing that I really like about this new setup is that it changes the color distribution of the Ages - instead of having 2 card of each color (minus the achievement card) like in the basic game, you could actually have 4 cards of one color and none of another in a certain Age.  Realizing this and trying to capitalize on this knowledge can really be helpful - especially when using dogma effects where you are guessing colors and drawing cards accordingly.

    Overall, I give Innovation: Echoes of the Past an 8.0/10.  I didn't find it revolutionary, but I did think that the new concepts were well implemented, and added some additional variety to an already enjoyable game.

    If you like engaging card games like Innovation (and Echoes of the Past), you might also check out 51st State: The New Era, Friday, Glory to Rome, and Sentinels of the Multiverse.

    I would like to thank Asmadi Games for providing me with a review copy of Innovation: Echoes of the Past via Game Salute.

    Top Ten Cooperative or Solo Board Games - Summer 2012

    Last January, I decided to start doing an occasional top ten list.  They're fun to write, and they can start interesting discussions!  Now, please keep in mind that this list is completely my own opinion, and that means that it only contains games that I've personally played.  If you think that I'm missing anything, feel free to let me know in the comments.

    Most of these games I've reviewed, but a few of them I haven't yet.  If I've reviewed it, then I'll give you a link to my review.  With all that said, here come my

    Top Ten Cooperative and/or Solo Games!!


    10. Yggdrasil

    You can tell that this is a list of amazing games when Yggdrasil only comes in at #10! Players take on the role of Norse gods protecting the holy tree by fighting off ice giants and all kinds of other mythical monsters.

    9. Shadows Over Camelot

    Shadows Over Camelot was a lot higher on my original list until I realized that it was cheating. I absolutely love this game, but only when playing with the possibility of a traitor. This dropped it down this far on the list - but it is definitely a highly recommended game!

    8. Wok Star

    Z-Man Games has promised to do a large print run of Wok Star for a few years, and having played the original Gabob version, I think that they would make a lot of money if they did so! This co-operative game uses real-time elements to force players to work together to ensure that everything happens before the timer runs out!

    7. Space Alert

    Another unique title, Space Alert forces the players to coordinate the defense of their space station.  But... it has a sound track!  How many games can claim that?  Each of the games only lasts about 10 minutes - but those 10 minutes are frantic as everyone tries to program his character's movement (and double check them to make sure he isn't the weak link on the team). This game really works a lot better than I was initially expecting, and gives a pleasantly stressful gameplay experience!

    6. Hanabi

    A game that I'm still looking to add to my collection, Hanabi refutes the claim that "all cooperative games can be played solo." Hanabi is all about trying to figure out how to communicate effectively with other players so that they know what they have available to play. The theme (shooting off fireworks) is a bit cheesy, but the mechanics help this game score highly on my list.

    5. Lord of the Rings (Knizia Version)

    Ok, so "Lord of the Rings" isn't an uncommon name for board games, but this is the co-op that Reiner Knizia created around 2003. This game seems to be one of the originators of this genre, and is still fun to play and sports a different feel than the other titles on this list. I have all of the (now out of print) expansions in my closet, regularly begging me to play them.

    4. Flash Point: Fire Rescue

    Ok, now we're getting down to some tough decisions. This game jumped up to the top of my list very, very quickly. I really debated placing it as high as #2 on this list! The theme really makes this game beautiful, but some slight fiddliness keeps it from cracking the top 3.

    3. Pandemic

    This game might not deserve a place quite this high on the list, but it is the game that introduced me to the genre - and made me fall in love with it. I know many people have claimed that they have "mastered" Pandemic - but, I'd imagine that they've played it dozens of times (and still occasionally lose). Shouldn't a game that calls you back dozens of times land pretty high on a top ten list? I think it should.

    2. Friday

    Ok, now to get more controversial - Friday is the only truly solo game on this list. However, after trying out Friday, I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you ever travel for business, I recommend that you invest the roughly $20 that it costs to throw a copy of Friday in your carry-on. It's brilliant.

    1. Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game

    If you've been following my site for a while, Lord of the Rings: LCG coming it at #1 probably doesn't surprise you. I think that this game is amazing - plus, with the continual release of new adventures, the gameplay is constantly shifting. More than any others on this list, I can see people investing hours upon hours in Lord of the Rings, and I can see their interest stay strong for years to come.

    Honorable Mentions

    It amazes me that some of these titles didn't make it. However, other very solid co-operative games include Defenders of the Realm, Legend of Drizzt, Castle Panic, Sentinels of the Multiverse, and Forbidden Island. There's also a little game called Ghost Stories - I need to play this game at some point to see if it should be on the list next time!

    So, what do you think?  Anything that I missed?  Any "oh my goodness, how did he rank that so high (or low)?"  Feel free to let me know in the comments!

    Flash Point: Fire Rescue Review

    Flash Point Fire Rescue board game in play

    FIRE!!!!  What?  Oh right - that's the theme of Flash Point: Fire Rescue.

    Flash Point is a cooperative game in which the players take on the role of firefighters attempting to save victims from a burning building.  As with all fires, things can get unpredictable, and it's difficult to initially know where all of the victims are.  Each turn consists of spending four action points (this can be different on some characters).  You can use action points to move (and the cost is modified if you're moving through fire, with a victim, or carrying hazardous materials), open/close a door, extinguish smoke and/or fire, chop through a wall, drive the fire engine and/or ambulance, change crewmen, or fire the deck gun.  Any unspent actions are saved until the next turn.  Next, you roll dice to see where the fire spreads.  There are lots of rules we won't go into, but this can lead to large numbers of explosions and a lot of smoke turning into fire very quickly.  Finally, if there are less than 3 "POI" (victims and/or false alarms) on the board, more are added.  Once you have rescued 7 victims (by carrying them to the ambulance), you win!  (Or, on a harder difficulty, once you have lost 4 victims, you lose.  Or, if you run out of damage cubes, the building collapses and the game is over.  It doesn't explicitly say it, but I'm going to go ahead and say you lose then, too.)

    Flash Point game closeup of Firemen
    Cool firemen meeples - feeples!
    The first thing that I like about Flash Point is that I can save action points.  Rather, I love that I can save action points.  This game (along with all cooperative games that have come out recently) is often compared to Pandemic, so I might as well start the comparisons now. The fact that I often wasted an action in Pandemic is really nuisancey.  I love the fact that I can save them in Flash Point.  Plus, it just makes sense.  Moving into fire or while carrying a victim costs 2 action points.  If you couldn't save action points, you would often waste them simply because you had an odd number of points left.  Thematically, it seems to represent the fact that you moved halfway to the next location, and mechanically, it works really well, too.  After all, if all you do is save action points, then the fire will overwhelm you while you sit and watch, so it's really a self-regulating mechanic.

    Speaking of theme, that is definitely my second pro.  In my opinion (which is the main one you'll find here), the game is bursting with theme.  Now, I don't really care especially much if a game even has a theme, but when it has great mechanics and a great theme, it's wonderful.  I really think that the theme is most noticeable when resolving the end of turn "advance fire" rolls.  I don't know the designer, but I have a hard time imaging him as anything other than a firefighter.  The rules are just too specific for me to think he is anything else - I really think that they came from years of dealing with real fires.  Smoke re-ignites into fire, flare ups in the building can quickly cause havoc all over the place, improperly stored cleaning materials can explode.  Then, you can also chop through walls to get to your POI's - and after all of that, it might have been a false alarm!

    Flash Point Imaging Technician card
    One of the unique roles
    My third pro for Flash Point is that I really like the different roles.  The roles in Flash Point are much more distinct than in any other cooperative game that comes to mind.  Most cooperative games have the same character, but with slightly different benefits.  In Flash Point, the different characters have different amounts of action points, and are very specialized at performing specific actions.  For example, the Rescue Specialist can be a critical part of the team.  She gets her normal 4 action points, plus 3 extra movement points.  However, if she is fighting fire (which is not what she's good at), it costs double the number of action points.  This means it would cost all 4 of her normal action points to put out a fire on a single square.  But, not only do I really like the roles, I also love the fact that you can change out roles.  Now, this is probably one of the more shaky things to me, thematically (along with the fact that you get the same credit for saving a cat as a person - and it takes the same number of action points to carry a cat and a person... I digress...), but mechanically it is very helpful.  If you start your turn on the fire engine, then you can use 2 action points to take one of the unused characters and continue the game with that character.  Again, mechanically, this is amazing.  But, thematically, are there really lots of firefighters sitting around waiting to be tagged in?  I guess to an extent, everyone might not rush in at once until they know more about the situation, but it still seems odd.

    The one point of the game that I'll mention before getting to cons is dice rolling.  It's important to realize that, to simulate the randomness of a fire, the "advance fire" part of the turn involves a lot of dice rolling.  As with any dice game, this means that crazy things can happen.  Rolling dice never works out statistically how it "should" (if I roll a 1 on a 6-sided die, and then I roll it again, it's not going to be friendly and go "oh, he rolled a 1 last time - I shouldn't roll that again until he's seen all the other numbers.")  What this means in game terms is that you might be able to extinguish a lot of the early fires and then just deal with smoke popping up.  Or, you might roll flare ups every turn and have the entire building explode regardless of how well you (intended to) play the game.  In the games I have played, the dice have worked well and have been a good balance of explosions and smoke.  However, in one of the games we played, nobody rolled any flare ups until one person rolled about 4 of them in a row.  This is just something to be aware of.

    Really, I only have one con for Flash Point.  The advance fire section of the game is a bit fiddly.  I think that there are two reasons for this - first, there are simply a lot of steps that you have to check for and then perform if appropriate.  Second, Flash Point uses similar sounding firefighting terms that aren't part of my normal vocabulary.  For example, what's the difference between a "Flashover" and a "Flare Up"?  I've played the game several times, and I still had to just look up which one was which.  This causes you to spend a decent amount of time grabbing the instructions and going, "ok, what was that again?"  After you play it through several times, this upkeep phase will become much more fluid, but it still remains a touch fiddly.

    Overall, I give Flash Point a 9.0/10.  I expected it to be a good game, but what I found was a game that rivals Pandemic or any other cooperative games, trying to be my favorite.

    If you want a second opinion, check out the Board Game Family's Flash Point: Fire Rescue. If you want to read about other cooperative games, you should check out Yggdrasil, Space Alert, and Forbidden Island.

    I would like to thank Indie Board & Cards for providing me with a review copy of Flash Point: Fire Rescue.

    Pax Review

    A very interesting game that I recently was taught by one of my newer gaming friends was Pax (that link is to the publisher's site - it's not on Amazon).

    In Pax, you are rebelling against Rome.  Well, at least most of you are.  To successfully rebel against Rome, you (as a collective group of players) must defeat Rome in 4 of the 7 categories.  Each turn, you will draw three cards, but you will see them one at a time.  One card goes in your hand, one goes on the bottom of the deck, and one goes under one of the "legion" cards.  Next, you may buy a group of "legion" cards by paying the cost of all of the cards in the pile.  Third, you may play cards from your hand in front of you - the first card is free, and each additional card costs one more than the card before it.  Finally, you collect income based on the pile you just added to that has the most cards.  Once all players have had a turn, whichever legion pile is worth the most gold goes into Rome's pile.  This continues until the deck has been exhausted.  At that time, players compare their strength in each category against Rome.  If Rome is stronger than (or tied with) all of the players in at least 4 categories, then Rome wins!  And thus, whoever has conspired with Rome (which means they have the most points in the "conspiring" category) is the winner!  Otherwise, players add up points (getting bonuses for various things like having more strength than Rome in a category) and whoever has the most points is the winner.

    This is the person betraying you.
    So, for everyone out there that enjoys games with multiple paths to victory, this is a game for you!  Now, "multiple" in this case mostly means two.  You can win by scoring the most and having the players defeat Rome, or you can win by sabotaging the players and conspiring with Rome.  I've seen both strategies win in both the two and four player games (I haven't played a three player game yet), so I know both are possible.  However, I think that in the four player game, (at least) one person has to be much more intentional about strengthening Rome's position by adding expensive cards to legion piles in order for the strategy to work.  Either way, I have found this dual victory condition mechanic to work very well, and it makes me hope that more games do something like this.

    The next thing that I liked about the game is that each of the different categories was valuable.  With this, you could even argue that there are more than two paths to victory - within the "defeat Rome" strategy, there are different categories you can focus on.  Some of the cards give you points, others give you money, one type lets you buy legion piles cheaper, and one even allows you to draw more than one card at a time before deciding where they go.  Every category is useful - though some are much more useful at the beginning of the game, whereas others are much more valuable late.  Plus, the designer avoided making any of the categories unbalanced.  Specifically, the conspiracy cards could quickly become overpowered (they can give you instant victory), and to compensate for this, you don't collect any income on a turn that you play a conspiracy card!  That's a nice little touch that keeps the game balanced.

    My final pro is that I like that your decisions in this game are simple yet challenging.  What do you do on your turn?  For the most part, you're simply looking at a card and deciding what to do with it.  But, since you have no idea what's coming next, it can be tough.  For example - if I draw a card that I could use, but isn't especially helpful, what should I do?  Should I bury it under the deck, even though I can use it?  Should I keep it, and hope that nothing better comes out?  Should I put it in a legion pile - but what if I don't buy it and it helps someone else (or even Rome)?  Pax gives you meaningful and tough decisions to make, and makes you decide how much you're willing to gamble on what you will draw next.

    Your legion piles might look like this.
    Now, the one con that I see for Pax is that there is a bit more luck involved than some people will like (so far I'm ok with it, but if I play it a lot more, it might eventually bother me more).  This luck primarily comes in two forms.  First, there are 3 cards given to Rome to start the game.  These cards are face down, and most of the time you will not know what they are (you can actually spend an entire turn to look at them, if you want).  So, when playing a close game where someone has been conspiring against Rome a lot, these three cards can determine whether the players win or whether Rome wins.  (One game that we played had 2 of the 3 cards give Rome a lead in a category, thus giving them the lead in 4 categories and having them win!)  The other way that luck plays a role in the game is simply in what you draw, and when you draw it.  As I said before, certain categories are valuable early, and others are valuable late (more specifically, are bonuses to scoring, so it doesn't matter when you play them, but they give you no in-game bonus).  If you draw a lot of scoring cards early, you will be at a significant disadvantage over a player that can get a lot of other bonuses in the first few turns.  The person with the victory point bonuses might officially be "winning" after a couple of turns, but the person with the discount on purchasing will have a better chance of victory.

    Overall, I give Pax an 8.5/10.  It's a brilliant little game, and I look forward to playing it more.  I don't necessarily see myself getting together just to play Pax, though, so it doesn't quite crack the 9 threshold.

    If Pax sounds interesting, you might also want to check out Atlanteon, Wizard's Gambit, and Orbit Rocket Race 5000.

    I would like to thank iRon games for providing me with a review copy of Pax.

    Take It Or Leave It Review

    Take it or Leave it game in play

    Hey, look - it's time to review more kids' games!  This time, it is Take it or Leave it.

    Take it or Leave it really strikes me quite a bit as multiplayer Yahtzee (yes, I realize that Yahtzee is officially multiplayer, but playing with more people does nothing to change the game aside from making you wait longer for your turn).  In Take it or Leave it, you have a hand of combos that you are trying to complete as well as an action card.  Each round, the starting player takes a ton of dice and rolls them - there are blue, orange, and red (wild) dice that can be used in combos.  Next, players take turns taking a single die out of the middle and/or playing an action card.  Players may also pass if they no longer have dice that they think will help them.  Once all the dice are gone (or all players have passed), then each combo that is completed scores points, and each extra die that was taken (and every wild die) scores a negative point.  Play continues through several rounds, and whoever has the most points wins.

    Now, if you have ever read any of my posts about Gamewright games, this first pro will not surprise you.  I like that the game is kid friendly, easy to learn, and has very high quality components.  This, to me, is Gamewright's trademark, so it should come as no surprise that Take it or Leave it has these characteristics as well.  Specifically, this game focuses on teaching kids probability and "visual discrimination."  I agree with both of these areas, and I really like the probability part - probability that a six will be rolled and probability that your opponent won't steal the die you need.  I would say that it also focuses on addition since you might have combos that are "at least 15 on orange dice," thus forcing you to add up your different values and see what other numbers you need to complete your combo.

    Take it or Leave it cards
    Actions and Combos
    As a second pro, I like the fact that there is player interaction, and it comes in a couple of different forms.  You can either steal a die that your opponent needs, or you might even be able to re-roll several dice.  Either of these actions can quickly cause your opponents to have to abandon certain combos and see what other combos they can attempt while using the previously taken dice.  So, the person that wins will normally be the person that is able to readjust their strategies quickly as they play - or is able to thwart their opponents' strategies.

    Finally, I like that you lose points for taking dice that you can't use, and even for using the wild dice.  I also like that your combos are secret.  This combination of rules works incredibly well to allow you to attempt to thwart your opponents, but makes it challenging to do so.  Since you don't know if all of their cards require certain numbers, or colors, you can attempt to guess and make (for example) the orange dice run out quickly, hoping that all of their combos depended on orange.  Or, you can take all of the high numbers, or all of the 5's.  Or, if you wanted to be really devious, you can play an action card to re-roll all of the blue dice available after the first couple of rounds (when they have already started taking dice) - thus changing the numbers on what they planned on taking.  But, any of these strategies for thwarting your opponent are balanced by (and contingent on) the fact that you lose points for taking unusable dice - so, you attempt to make your combos by taking the dice that they need.  But, if you focus too much on stopping them and take extras, you will lose points (but, if you succeed and they get stuck with extras, they lose points)!

    more cards from Take it or Leave it
    More Actions and Combos
    The main con that I have for Take it or Leave it is that the actions don't seem especially helpful - especially since you only have one available at a time.  At the right time, an action card can be amazing and can save you (or earn you) several points.  However, as I think more about the actions, many of them can be used to try to mess up your opponents, but the ones that are useful for you will be used less often.  For example, one of the actions lets you add one or subtract one from a single orange die.  This can be helpful, but you really probably want to get the rest of the combo taken before you use that combo.  And, if all the orange dice are taken, or if the die that is close to the right number is taken, or if you were able to simply take a die with the right number, this action is useless.

    Overall, I give Take it or Leave it an 8.0/10 as a kid's game.  The game isn't enthralling enough that I will come back to it over and over, but it is currently one of my preferred dice games - one that actually requires skill other than rolling dice well.

    If you like dice games, you might also want to check out Martian Dice, Zombie Dice, and Catan: Dice Game.

    I would like to thank Gamewright for providing me with a review copy of Take it or Leave it.

    Crokinole (and Mayday's Crokinole Board) Review

    Crokinole game in play

    The reigning king of dexterity games, to me, has to be Crokinole. Crokinole, like Chess, has a lot of different manufacturers that create boards. So, here I will review the game itself and then will review the Mayday Games board, as it is the one that I have, and it will let you know if it would be a good choice for you.

    Crokinole Review

    In Crokinole, the goal is to score more points than your opponent by having your disks close to the center of the board at the end of each round.  The game can be played by 2 or 4 players (on teams).  The first player takes a disk and shoots it towards the middle of the board, where there is a hole slightly larger than a disk (and is worth extra points if your disk lands in this hole).  After this initial shot, each player must hit one of his opponent's disks, assuming they have one on the board, in order for his shot to be legal.  If you don't hit any of your opponent's disks, then your disk is removed, along with any of your other disks that it hit on that turn.  And, to make things trickier, there are several bumpers lined up around the center of the board, obstructing your shooting line.  Play alternates back and forth like this until all of the players run out of disks.  Then, whichever team scored more points gets a number of points equal to the difference between the two scores (so, if one team scores 20 and the other scores 15, then the first team gets 5 points).  The first team to 100 wins the game!

    I absolutely love the fact that you have to hit your opponent's disks.  This rule is wonderful.  I have played a lot of dexterity games with a "get it closest to X" goal, and some of them are very fun.  However, all of these games have something in common - you can ignore your opponent if you want to (unless they are in your way).  Crokinole forces you to react to your opponent's moves, and a really skilled Crokinole player can take advantage of this by leaving their disk in a part of the board that is hard to reach.  Or, a really skilled Crokinole player will learn how to score his disk in the middle after deflecting his disk off of his opponent.  (And a novice Crokinole player will accidentally knock their opponent's disk into the center.  This can also be amusing.)

    more playing of Crokinole
    The bumpers add a neat aspect to Crokinole
    The second pro works very well with the first one - I love the bumpers.  Hitting your opponent's disk on a big round board really isn't terribly hard.  Assuming you can line up the disk and shoot it straight, you can handle this.  Of course, with the bumpers, you have a lot harder time lining up those shots.  The bumpers can be used both intentionally and accidentally to your advantage (or disadvantage).  You can try to hide your disk behind a bumper to give your opponent a harder shot - or you can bank off of a bumper to hit your opponent's disk.  Of course, you can also accidentally hit a bumper and then deflect into another one of your disks (or two) and miss him entirely - thus costing yourself a lot of points.  Or, more commonly, you can slam straight into a bumper and go careening straight back off of the board.  Overall, though, the bumpers (along with having to shoot at your opponent's disk) do a fabulous job of setting Crokinole apart from any other dexterity games that I've played.  And, in this case, "set apart" means better.

    Just as a brief aside, I will mention why I currently enjoy Crokinole better than PitchCar (my second favorite dexterity game).  PitchCar is sweet and allows for customizing the gameboard.  But, the downside of this customization is that any minor imperfections in the board are translated into ridges on the track that will send your disk flying.  Crokinole, since it is played on a single, unified board, avoids this issue.  Though, I really think that both games are awesome, and I plan to continue playing them both.

    mid round of CrokinoleNow, with that said, I can only think of one con for Crokinole.  If all of the players are really, really good at the game, then it is hideously boring.  Everyone would simply take turns shooting the disk into the middle.  This then removes the entire first pro - there is never an opponent's disk to shoot at.  However, if you're good enough that you are really running into this con a lot, then you should probably be competing in Crokinole tournaments!

    Overall, I give Crokinole a 9.5/10.  As I said before, I consider it the reigning king of dexterity games.  I absolutely love this game.

    Mayday Games Crokinole Board Review

    Now to turn our attention to the Mayday Games Crokinole board.  Crokinole boards, from what I've seen, generally range anywhere from about $150-$500 (or higher).  There are a lot of absolutely gorgeous, handcrafted boards, but these are (as you'd expect) generally on the higher side of the price spectrum.  The Mayday boards, however, are by far the most inexpensive way to play Crokinole.  (Well, aside from convincing your friend to buy a board and play with you!)  I've even seen them on sale for around $110 before!

    Mayday Games Crokinole board closeup
    Barely noticeable imperfection.  (Look closer!)
    Here are the big pros for my Mayday board - it is inexpensive, and it plays great!  I have played it quite a few times already, and I've not run into any problems with it.  The play area is smooth, the disks slide well, and the bumpers work like a charm.  If you only care about playing Crokinole, and not having an immaculate board for display, then I highly recommend this board.  Plus, the board comes with eye hooks installed on the back so that you can run a wire across the back to hang it on your wall, if that is your preferred method of storage (though, ironically, the "how to take care for your board" part of the instructions tells you not to do this).  The board also comes with a nice wooden box for keeping score and storing your disks when you're not playing.

    another closeup of Mayday Games Crokinole board
    Light reflection added so you can see the imperfection more easily
    With all of this said, the biggest problem that I have with my board is cosmetic - it has some visible imperfections where, I assume, clamps were applied during the manufacturing process.  (I am assuming this because there are several of these imperfections, each approximately the same size, and they are evenly spaced on the face of the board.)  These imperfections are primarily noticeable when playing (because you're closer to the board), and in the right lighting.  Basically, you notice that the light doesn't reflect evenly.  (And, as a final note, all of the pictures are of my Mayday board, so hopefully they have helped you to gauge how much you like the aesthetic aspect of the board.)

    Overall, as I said before, I'd recommend the Mayday Crokinole board to anyone that is looking for a board simply for playing Crokinole.  If you're looking for a display piece, then I think that the handcrafted boards are probably a better option - especially since you can choose different patterns, etc, that you like.

    If you like dexterity games, you should also check out Catacombs, Caveman Curling, and (of course) PitchCar.  Or, if you want to read more about Crokinole itself, there is a Crokinole Review at Play Board Games, and another review of Crokinole on I Slay the Dragon.

    I would like to thank Mayday Games for providing me with a Crokinole board for review.

    EDIT: After talking to a few of my readers, I feel that it is important to point out a few things.  First of all, this review is based on my experience, which was a positive one.  I dealt with a customer service rep named Jeremy, who was incredibly friendly and helpful.  There was a shipping miscommunication along the way, but everything was worked out with no problems (this is not the first time I've run into this with review copies from different companies).  Other people have had differing experiences with Mayday, some of which sound shady, to put it mildly - I'm sure if you search Google, you will quickly find what I'm referring to.  Again, this was not my experience, and I feel that it is important that both experiences be expressed - both negative experiences (which have been expressed elsewhere) and positive experiences (which I have expressed here).  In the same way that I hope you do not buy any game based strictly on my opinion, but you balance it with the opinion of other reviewers, I would hope that you read other opinions on this game as well. 

    Star Wars Customizable Card Game Review

    Star Wars Customizable Card Game by Decipher

    Ok, now for a blast from my past - I am going to take the time to review one of my favorite games of all time - the Star Wars: Customizable Card Game (or CCG for short).  This is a game that I played heavily throughout my high school years, and was really one of my first deeper strategy game.  This review specifically will cover the Premiere set, and if I continue re-playing through this game, I might have several more posts that cover some of the expansions.  At first, when I was thinking about writing this review, I was thinking about how silly it was to write - after all, nobody was going to hunt down a fairly expensive, out of print game from 15 years ago, right?  Well, then I kept thinking about it, and you can currently buy a complete set of the Premiere set on eBay for around $40-50 (if you are patient and willing to buy the White Bordered (Unlimited) version).  So, this puts the pricing fairly comparable to Fantasy Flight's current Living Card Games.  But, honestly, you'd probably want to buy 2-3 sets or so if you legitimately wanted to play the game (and again, to be fair, I've bought two copies of both the Game of Thrones Living Card Game, and the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game, so we're still not talking too outrageous on the pricing).  But anyway - I should review the game now, right?

    Star Wars CCG Darth Vader
    You'll want Darth if you like winning
    In the Star Wars CCG, two players construct decks and then fight over the universe.  (Small task, I know.)  One person constructs an Imperial deck, and the other player uses a Rebel deck.  To start the game, each player selects one location from their deck and these comprise the current battlegrounds - after all, there has to be somewhere to fight!  Then, based on the number of "force icons" on the locations in play, on a player's turn, they "activate force" by moving cards from their deck into a different pile called their "force pile." This is the currency with which they will play cards.  Second, if a player has control over various parts of the universe, they can drain their opponent of life (this is called a "force drain") - their opponent must discard cards from either his hand or one of the piles of cards in front of him (which are collectively his "life force").  Once this initial turn setup has occurred, the active player may put new cards into play by spending a card's cost in force.  Now for the good stuff - a player may spend one force to initiate a battle if both players have forces at the same location.  When fighting, each player (depending on how force attuned his troops are) may get a bonus called a "battle destiny."  For this battle destiny, you flip over the top card from your deck - each card has a number in the top right hand corner.  This number is added to your total strength - but it also represents a battle's attrition, and so it forces your opponent to sacrifice troops (using their "forfeit value" - another stat on each card) to equal the total destiny drawn.  Whoever loses the battle must lose a total value equal to the difference in power - they can lose it by using their troops' forfeit value, discarding cards in their hand, or discarding from their card piles in front of them.  Next, you can move troops, and finally, you can draw cards from your force pile.  Play continues back and forth in this manner until one person runs out of cards in all of the piles in front of them.  Note - yes, I simplified this a lot!

    Star Wars TIE Fighter
    Oooh... starships!
    The first thing that I love about the Star Wars CCG is that it is a Star Wars game all about fighting.  There are different ways of defeating your opponent, such as force drains, but mostly you will defeat your opponent by getting a giant group of troops and beating the snot out of your enemy's troops.  The battling system in the game is (though complicated) incredibly fluid, and it just works.  Characters differ - some are stronger than others, some are force attuned.  Some characters are more valuable if you sacrifice them in a battle - this is all represented on the card (and the amount of force to play a character is costed accordingly).  The base set has different weapons that are available to add to the intricacy of the battling - and to also allow you to force your opponent to lose certain characters.  And yet, the battle destiny mechanic has an ability to represent the random things that occur in battles.  But, even then you even have control over your randomness - each person gets to build their own deck, and the destiny drawn will be one of the cards that you chose to put in that deck!  (Which, in my opinion is drastically better than rolling a die!)

    The next thing that really impressed me is how many different things from the Star Wars universe are represented both in the base set, and in the game as a whole.  Now, notably, there are some very important Star Wars characters that aren't in the base set - specifically, R2-D2 and Chewbacca (they are in the first expansion), Yoda (he is in a later expansion) and the Emperor (yet another later expansion).  However, in the basic game, you have the ability to fight on land and in space.  You can travel between different planets through docking bays or through hiring a smuggler (this is an Interrupt card).  You have several different weapons (lightsabers of course), and you have fun strategies that you can try out based around Jawas and Tusken Raiders!  (These strategies wouldn't have done very well in tournaments, but most likely you're not going to be reading this review, deciding to play it, and then look for tournaments 15+ years after the game came out.)  And, they did all of these things well!  You have a real feeling of the imbalance between the Rebels and the Imperials, and yet through that you have a very balanced game.  For example the Imperials have Star Destroyers - these things are huge and powerful.  But, they cost a lot of force to deploy.  The Rebels, on the other hand, have Corellian Corvettes (which aren't nearly as strong as the Star Destroyers), but they also have tons of X-Wings and Y-Wings with very talented pilots - which are inexpensive to deploy, even as a combination.  So, though you might not have the sheer strength of a Star Destroyer, Dutch in Gold 1 and Han Solo in the Millenium Falcon might still be able to take them down due to the attrition rules.
    Rare Event card from Star Wars
    It's amazing everything that is included

    My third pro is that I think the use of force is brilliant.  It just flat out seems to work better than the currency to play cards in a lot of other games.  Since it creates a new pile of cards, its very easy to keep track of your force and how much you have built up over several turns.  Also, since you draw your cards from your force pile, you are forced to make difficult and important decisions about how many cards you want to draw every turn.  After all, you never know if that last card will be the Darth Vader that you were hoping for!  But, the challenging decisions that this flow of force presents become even more pronounced late in the game.  When you only have 10 cards left in your deck, you have to decide - how many force will I activate?  If you activate too many, you won't have destiny cards to draw in your battle; if you activate too few, you won't have enough force to execute your turn!

    Though I could continue thinking of more pros and gushing over how much I enjoy this game (I mentioned it was one of my favorites), I guess I will be honest with myself (and you) and mention some cons.  There are really two that come to mind, and they are two sides of the same coin (well, then a third one came to mind).  One, some cards are flat better than others, and two, this was a collectible game, and so you had to buy zillions of packs of random cards to try to get what you wanted.  For the first con, some cards are just better - if I can choose between putting Darth Vader in my deck or a Stormtrooper, it will be Darth Vader every time.  Same with Obi-Wan and Luke.  Essentially, if it's someone that you know by name from the movies - you want them in your deck.  Now this is fine, and all games have some cards that seem (or are) better than others, but it seems much more pronounced in Star Wars than in most non-collectible games.

    Star Wars Millenium Falcon
    Can you guess the Rarity?  Yup Rare1.
    Which leads back to the second con - this game is collectible, and it can be a pain to track down the cards that you need.  Now, this is mitigated at this point by the sheer age of the game; most likely if you are interested in trying it you will just buy a complete set or two.  However, when the game came out, there were three rarities - common, uncommon, and rare.  And in each of these, there was a level 1 and level 2.  So, for example, Darth Vader (and all the main characters besides C-3PO) were "Rare1" cards.  Each booster pack contained a single rare - and 1 out of 3 boosters contained a "Rare1" (if I remember correctly).  I've played games that had worse rarity systems (like Mega Man), but I was happy when, a few sets later, they gave up on the 1 and 2 breakdown.  (And, recently, I've been much happier to buy living card games that give me everything in a single pack.)

    The third con that I wound up thinking of was that the game can be very confusing when you are initially learning it.  There is a lot going on.  I've known the game for long enough that I often forget about this, but I was incredibly lost when I first tried to learn it.  I think that part of this is because several of the mechanics are pretty unique (so you won't be going, "oh, like in Magic..."), but also the simple fact is that there are a lot of rules - many of them are small or only matter in certain situations, but either way, there are a lot of them.

    Overall, I give the Star Wars: CCG a 9.5/10.  (Really, did this surprise anyone?)  In my opinion, it is the best Star Wars game that I have ever played.  Though it is out of print, and many other Star Wars games are coming along, I intend to keep my cards, and I will break them out occasionally to play this game which I find myself still enjoying after 15 years.  If you are looking for a game with deck construction, or if you are a Star Wars fan, you might at least consider checking out this old gem.

    If you enjoy games where you get to customize your deck prior to playing, you might also check out Game of Thrones Living Card Game, Lord of the Rings Living Card Game, and (possibly) Existenz: On the Ruins of Chaos.

    Scallywags Review

    Today's review from the "children's game reviews by a guy with no children" series of reviews (I just made that up) is Scallywags.

    In Scallywags, the goal is to get the most loot.  However, unlike most games with this goal, you cannot win by gaining the largest number of coins - you play until everyone has exactly six (or eight) coins, and so your goal is to have the most valuable coins.  To setup the game, you dump all of the coins out on the table and then spread them out so they're not stacked on top of each other - and you leave them how they fell, face up or face down.  Next, each person gets three cards.  On each turn, you may play a card, take a face-down coin, or discard a card and draw.  Play continues like this until everyone has the correct number of coins.

    The first pro for Scallywags should be obvious.  It's great for kids.  It really fits well into the Gamewright mold - games that are great for kids, inexpensive, and have high quality components.  One thing that I've started paying more attention to with Gamewright's games is what you can use the game to teach kids.  According to the box, this game focuses on teach kids addition and strategy.  Whereas I don't think there's especially much addition in the game (except adding up the final scores), I can definitely agree with the strategy part.  The game is simple, yet I think that it would be engaging for kids, and there is enough strategy in the game that (most likely) the person with the best strategy will win.

    My second pro for Scallywags is really an off-shoot of the first one.  (To be fair the first pro included several: kid friendly, inexpensive, great for kids.)  I think that the theme is one that kids would enjoy.  The theme is essentially cartoon pirates.  None of the theme is very serious or gritty - it essentially allows pirates to be fun and lovable.  Now, unfortunately, if I know kids (which I don't), this means that you will also have to hear phrases like "Avast, Me Hearties!" well after the game is over.  

    When playing Scallywags, I really only came up with one main con - the game can stagger a bit if too many coins are face up.  When you look at your actions, you can either play a card or take a face down coin - otherwise you have to just discard and pass.  Well, many of the cards only work with face down cards.  So, if a lot of coins wind up falling face up, you can run out of face down coins in the middle, thus rendering a lot of cards useless.  So, you can get into a situation where a lot of people have to pass in a row.  (I'm guessing this happens if 75% or more of the coins are face up?  It is much more noticeable in a six player game where you have more total coins taken.)

    A very minor con is also that not all of the rule questions that we had were addressed by the rules.  Now, it's pretty simple, so it's impressive enough that we even had a rules question.  However, there is a card "Hands Off Me Booty" that prevents another player from taking coins from you.  But, when do you draw back up after playing this card?  At the end of their turn, your turn, or never?  We went with "at the end of every turn all players should have 3 cards" - but we didn't actually see it addressed in the rules anywhere.

    Overall, I give Scallywags an 8.0/10 as a kid's game.  I think that if you were a parent that bought this for your kids, your kids would really enjoy playing with you.  Be aware, though - I think the strategy is simple enough for a 4 year old to be able to play, but there is enough text that your kids will need to at least be able to read in order to play the game.

    If you are looking for kids games, you might also check out Hey, That's My Fish! (my all time favorite kids game... for now), Rory's Story Cubes, and City Square Off.

    I would like to thank Gamewright for providing me with a review copy of Scallywags.