Washington's War Review

Washington's War game in play

One game that I was incredibly excited to receive a copy of was Washington's War.

Washington's War is a Revolutionary War board game.   One player takes on the role of the British army, and the other takes on the role of the Americans.  The game is played over a series of rounds - each round representing a year between 1775-1783 (in a long game).  On each turn, both players get to draw 7 cards.  These cards can be either "Ops" cards, or Events.  Events simply do something to alter the game, or a phase of the game.  They can help in combat, determine when the game ends, move the French closer to a treaty with the Americans, have Benedict Arnold betray the Americans, and many other things.  There are two types of events - Mandatory and Optional.  With Ops cards, a player can bring in reinforcements, move a General (possibly to attack), or gain Political Control in different regions of the board.  At the end of each round, many troops are lost to winter, and Political Control can shift if certain parts of the board are isolated from others.  After a certain number of turns (based on which events are played), players check for victory conditions - and whoever has Political Control over enough of the colonies is declared the winner!

The first thing that I like about Washington's War is that a lot of the elements of the game give it a nice historical theme.  Specifically, some of the things like winter attrition, though incredibly challenging in gameplay terms, make complete sense in the setting of the game.  One of these elements is the fact that, even in battles, you generally don't kill especially many troops.  I think that this really depicts the inaccuracy of the muskets used during this time - it's much more likely that you will destroy a large army by catching them in a place where they can't flee (thus getting them to surrender) than it is to wipe out them out on the battlefield.  Honestly, this element of a war game where you are pushing armies around instead of killing them reminds me of the Game of Thrones Board Game and, though I didn't really like it especially much in that game, I think that it works well in Washington's War.  (It helps that you can wipe out an entire army if you can force them to surrender.)

board for Washington's War Revolutionary War game
Ok, I thought the flash made this picture look cool.
My next two pros really are very intermixed, so I'll talk about them at the same time.  First, I liked that both sides had significantly different advantages and disadvantages (this also works with the historical feeling to the game), and second, I liked how "Isolation" and placing Political Control markers worked.  The two sides in this game play quite differently.  And, if you want to win, then you truly have to capitalize on your strengths and find ways of exploiting your opponent's weaknesses.  Specifically, the British player gets a lot of troops, especially early, and has major combat advantages to start the game.  The American player, however, is able to quickly get small armies positioned on different parts of the map in order to gain Political Control and isolate the British player's control - and winning the game is about Political Control (and not killing things), so this is a very useful ability.  One of the elements of the game that you check at the end of each round is called "Isolation."  Basically, it means that if you can't find a way to connect your Political Control markers to some troops or some neutral areas of the board, then you will lose your control in those areas, as the people will feel isolated from your influence.  It isn't generally very easy to isolate your opponent's political markers, but successfully doing this at the right times during the game can really determine which player wins and which player loses.

Now that I've mentioned several things that Washington's War did very well, there were a few areas that I disliked.  First, this game is overly complex.  One of the reasons that I was so excited about this game is that it has a 90 minute playing time - and, for the most part, I've found this to be accurate.  However, it also has a 24 page rulebook that is very text heavy (there are a lot of diagrams and such - I'm more focusing on the length than the quality), and also has another 14 page book for examples of play, strategy tips, and design notes.  To read through and really understand the rulebook will probably take around an hour.  I read it three times before my first game.  And then, I referenced it repeatedly every time that I played.  Basically, here's how it reads, "the British player performs this rule like X, but the American player does Y.  Exception: in Z situation, everything is different."  There really feels like an exception to every rule.  Oh, and the French armies (obviously) work differently than either the American or the British armies.  Yes, I realize that much of this is attempting to capture the historical feel of the Revolutionary War, but it seemed quite excessive.  Additionally, I thought that, though the rules covered everything, they weren't one of GMT's better rulebooks.  Rules weren't laid out in the actual order that you would encounter them in the game, and I often wanted to look up rules, but wasn't able to find what I needed in the index.  This led to flipping pages and trying to remember what section covered that exception.  The complexity and the rules will definitely be your biggest hurdle in enjoying Washington's War.

My next con was that I really disliked Mandatory Events.  More specifically, I really disliked that Mandatory Events made your hand significantly worse.  Some Mandatory Events are fairly neutral - they set what year the game will end.  However, other Mandatory Events would actually help the other team!  I've played card based political games (like Twilight Struggle) where you might draw your opponent's cards and you have to make the most of a bad situation.  However, in Twilight Struggle, there are ways of mitigating the impact of these cards.  In Washington's War, if a British player draws one of the strong American Mandatory Events, then he is forced to play it, and he doesn't get to redraw a card.  So, not only does it help his opponent, it also hurts his hand because he has one card that is functionally useless.  If you draw an opponent's Optional Event, then you can at least use it to give yourself an advantage in combat, or discard it to perform a political action.  With the Mandatory Events, it's like having a card in your hand that says "Pass."

Training the Continental Army in Washington's War
Playing this card helps.  A lot.
The final con that I will mention for Washington's War is that I felt that it was far too luck based.  This luck came in what cards you draw and how important single die rolls were.  Now, I'm really okay with luck in games.  However, I feel that there is a disconnect in Washington's War - rule intensive games have a highly strategic feel to them.  Generally, the longer it takes to learn a game, the more I want random factors of the game to be mitigated.  Here's an example of a card that is amazing - "Baron von Steuben Trains the Continental Army."  To start the game, the British get a +1 advantage in every combat.  Why?  Because the American troops are horrible and throwing pitch forks at them.  However, this card permanently removes this bonus from the British.  See how this is useful?  So, if an American player draws this card early, then he will have a much easier time than if the British player draws it and is able to discard it during a combat.  Another element of luck is in determining your General's combat rating.  To start a fight, each player rolls a die.  On a 1-3, the General's rating is cut in half for that battle.  That hurts quite a bit.  But, then the battle is also determined by a single die roll (with modifiers).  I can outnumber my opponent by 3-4 troops (5 troops is a massive army in this game, and is the most that you can ever attack with), have the better General, and discard a card to give myself an advantage and still lose the combat.  Yes, this represents the fact that things go horribly awry in battle.  But, the winner of a battle coming down to how players roll a six-sided die became frustrating to me.

Overall, I give Washington's War a 7.0/10.  If you can get through the rules and start playing the game, then there is quite a bit to like about the game.  However, with the very steep entrance barrier mixed with the fairly high luck factor for the game, it didn't quite live up to the expectations that I had for it.

If Washington's War sounds interesting to you, then you might also want to check out 1989: Dawn of Freedom, Game of Thrones, and Twilight Struggle (really, everyone should check out Twilight Struggle if you haven't yet).

I would like to thank GMT Games for providing me with a review copy of Washington's War.

Top Ten Most Played Games of All Time - Fall 2012

Ok, that's a pretty lofty title.  But, more specifically, this is my top ten most played games.  And, to determine this, I am basing it off of total time that I have invested in playing a game - not my current feelings about a game.  After all, there's a decent chance that I've played some of these so often that I'm at least a bit burned out on them.

There are a few caveats on this list, though.  First, I don't actually pay attention to how long I've played a game, so this is all based on guesswork and conjecture.  Second, I'm basing this off of total game time, not number of plays.  So, a game that takes three hours to play may wind up much higher on the list than a game that I play dozens of times but doesn't take as long.  Third, I didn't count anything that you can play with a standard deck of cards.  Finally, I'm not counting time playing the game in an electronic format (otherwise Dominion and Axis and Allies would be much higher).

With all that said, lists are fun - so let's get to

My Top Ten Most Played Games of All Time!!

10. Power Grid

I love Power Grid. That should be obvious by it being on this list! This is one that I love so much, that I wrote a computer version of it in order to learn a new programming language. Though, admittedly, I may be remembering the time spent doing that, and it may be clouding my judgement about how much I've actually played the "real" game.

9. Betrayal at House on the Hill

Want to know how great this game is? I don't even care about horror themed games, and it still made this list! I absolutely love the thematic gameplay, the betrayal half-way through the game, and the book of scenarios!

8. Battlestar Galactica

This became one of my office's lunch games. Unfortunately, lunch breaks are only an hour. Do you realize how hard it is to maintain a lie over several days? However, the game is so amazing, that we put up with that slight nuisance for the opportunity to play it - again and again.

7. The Resistance

I said in my review of The Resistance that, for the money, this is the best game that I've ever bought. I can't even speculate on how many times I've played this game - or how many times I've fallen for someone's deceit!

6. Shadows Over Camelot

Both the first co-operative game I played and the first game with a traitor element. This combination adds up to playing back to back games for hours on end. Unfortunately, for some of my friends, they have been permanently branded as a traitor from all of these sessions. (If you're curious, I am referring to my good friends "Traitor Nic" and "Traitor Heath.")

5. PitchCar

How does a game that takes 5-10 minutes to play get on a list like this? You play it a lot. I have probably averaged playing PitchCar five times or more every week for a year and a half. Yeah. That's how it's on the list.

4. Star Wars: Customizable Card Game

This was my high school game of choice. "Obsessive" probably doesn't quite cover it. If the time I spent building decks was factored in, instead of just the time actually playing the game, this one would be #1. However, depending on my parents for transportation kept my ability to play in check, and keeps it "down" at #4.

3. Monopoly

Everyone was a kid sometime, right? I loved this game as a kid. Loved it. However, just because I loved it didn't mean I could convince people to play it with me. It did have a brief re-emergence in my graduate school days. And, for that matter, I'd still be willing to play it if anyone was interested.  Many people hate Monopoly, but I'm not one of them.

2. Risk 2210

Risk 2210 is probably the first game that started my deep plunge into "strategy" board games. After discovering this gem while working on my bachelor's degree, I started playing this with friends from my dorm every day. We knew when each other's classes ended each day, so that we could immediately start a game afterwards. And I would dare say that I spent half of my waking hours over at least one Spring Break playing this. I'm currently on my third physical copy of the game, having worn out one copy and had another one stolen.  There's a fair chance that I'll wind up with a fourth copy soon, as my current copy is also fairly "well loved." 

1. Heroscape

I own everything that Heroscape has put out. Did you catch that? (In case you're not overly familiar with Heroscape, they put out around 50 small expansions, 6 large expansions, had over 10 promo items, and had 4 master sets.) Yeah - that's how much I love this game. While working on my master's degree, I had a Heroscape board permanently set up in my dorm room. And, fortunately, I had several people that enjoyed playing with me, to the point that we played every night for around a year.

Honorable Mention:

Some of my other all time favorites didn't quite make the cut. They include Puerto Rico, Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (I expect this one to be on a future list), Dominion (I have played the base game over 500 times on my iPhone; I just checked), Pandemic, Settlers of Catan, and Axis and Allies.

Well - there you have it, the 10 games that I have played the most!  This list is a bit hard to argue over, unless you've been secretly following me for all of my life and timing how long I've played various games.  However, I would be curious - what are the games you've invested the most time into?  Feel free to let me know in the comments!

King of Tokyo Review

King of Tokyo game in play

One game that I've been hearing about for several months now is King of Tokyo.

In King of Tokyo, each player takes on the role of one of several monsters attempting to destroy Tokyo.  But, though Tokyo is fairly defenseless, the other monsters are contesting you, as they want to be the ultimate destroyer of the city!  Each turn, you run six dice.  You can keep any number of them that you want, and you can re-roll the other dice up to two more times.  Based on those dice, you can do a few things - with claws, you attack whichever monster is in Tokyo (or, if you are in Tokyo, you attack everyone else), with hearts, you heal damage (unless you're in Tokyo), if you get three matching numbers, you score that many victory points, and if you roll lightning bolts, you gain energy.  Whenever you attack someone in Tokyo, they must decide if they are staying in Tokyo, or leaving.  If they leave, then you are forced to take over Tokyo - which gives you one point, while making you a target.  But, for each of your turns that you are still in Tokyo, you gain two points.  At the end of each turn, you may also use your accumulated energy to buy upgrades.  The first person to score twenty points wins.  Or, since you're awesome monsters and fighting each other and such, the last monster standing wins!!!  (This is actually how most of my games end.)

The first pro for King of Tokyo is that it's incredibly fun to play.  This is one of those pros that is really hard to quantify or explain, but some games are simply more fun than others.  I think that some of the things contributing to the fun of King of Tokyo are the goofy theme, the awesome upgrades, and breaking all odds with die rolls.  (How can you be angry when someone in Tokyo rolls six claws and wipes out everyone else at the same time?  I have seen this happen at least twice.  No, it was never me being awesome like that.)  Of course, it also helps to talk about your monster in the third person.  One of the guys in my game group always uses Meka Dragon.  And generally, when going into Tokyo uses his best Meka Dragon voice to announce, "Meka Dragon new King of Tokyo!"  This is just a light, enjoyable game that you can play while joking around with your friends.

Meka Dragon - one of the King of Tokyo monsters
An upgraded Meka Dragon
The next topic for King of Tokyo is both a pro and a con - the upgrades.  The upgrades really make the game play differently each time.  The upgrades are awesome.  You can heal, deal damage to everyone, deal extra damage every time you attack, gain victory points, take another turn, etc.  Buying upgrades and making your monster even more phenomenal is really fun.  However, the upgrades can also make the game imbalanced - if one person gets amazing upgrades, then they can really run away with a game.  Also, if really expensive upgrades are dealt at the beginning of the game, then they can become a bit of a non-factor, as it will take longer before players are able to actually purchase any of them.  Now, you are allowed to clear out all of the upgrades (at the cost of two energy) to provide yourself with better options.  However, this is not done very often - especially since you may unintentionally set the next player up to be able to purchase an upgrade that you can no longer afford.

My third pro for King of Tokyo is that I appreciate that it is interactive.  There are several dice games that have come out recently (Martian Dice and Zombie Dice come to mind).  But, in those games, it doesn't really matter if you're playing by yourself, or with five friends.  The only real difference is that you have to wait longer between turns.  However, in King of Tokyo, your decisions are heavily influenced by the other players.  Did someone just hit you for five health?  Guess what - you're going to be trying to roll hearts.  Is someone in Tokyo down to two health?  Sounds like the perfect time to try for claws to finish them off!  This really sets King of Tokyo apart from other dice games to me.  This is a game that you can enjoy with friends, and the more the better (up to the six player that it supports).

King of Tokyo monsters
Potential Kings of Tokyo
So, whereas I don't have any more "cons" for King of Tokyo, there is one thing that I will mention.  (I considered leaving it out, since I consider it fairly obvious.)  There is a lot of luck involved in this game.  It is a game about rolling dice.  Yes, there are upgrades, and yes, you get to make some decisions about what you keep and what you re-roll.  With that said, rolling what you need is a better strategy than planning ahead.  If you don't like luck based games, or you're not in the mood for a game with a high luck factor, then don't play King of Tokyo!  (Until later, when you are in the right mood.)

Overall, I give King of Tokyo an 8.5/10.  The game is a blast to play.  Whereas it won't be for absolutely everyone, I would encourage everyone to try it at least once if you have the opportunity!

As a final note - I was at a gaming event recently and saw someone that had taken some figures from Monsterpocalypse and was using them for King of Tokyo.  This was amazing!  I may need to find some of these for my own copy.  After all - beautiful plastic figures are better than cardboard figures.

If King of Tokyo sounds fun, you might also check out Liar's Dice, Dixit, and Martian Dice. And, since everyone has their own opinion (which doesn't quite match mine), you might also want to check out Play Board Games' King of Tokyo Review, or this other review of King of Tokyo by Games With Two.

I would like to thank Iello Games for providing me with a review copy of King of Tokyo.

Empires of the Void Review

I would like to thank my guest reviewer Chris C. for his thoughts on Empires of the Void!

In Empires of the Void, 2-4 players control alien races competing to wrest control of the galaxy from the crumbling Pyrious Empire.  Each race builds a fleet of ships while expanding its civilization’s
influence farther into interstellar space and researching new technologies.  Competition over high-value planets is fierce, and inevitably these budding empires come crashing together in space
combat.  In the end, the race which has best managed expanding its empire’s scope, diplomatic ties and technological expertise will win.

To long-time gamers, this will all sound pretty familiar.  Empires of the Void is a great example of a classic genre called “4X” games: players explore, expand, exploit and exterminate.  The granddaddy of space-themed 4X games is Twilight Imperium, an epic game of interstellar conquest.  While Twilight Imperium is a masterpiece, many gamers have a hard time getting it to the table because of its 4+ hour play time and complicated rules.  In the last two years, there have been several attempts to put out new games that capture the Twilight Imperium experience in a more reasonable play time and with a simpler rule set.

Empires of the Void does an excellent job of integrating and re-imagining many of the classic elements of the 4X genre into a new game.  Players start with only their race’s home world, and must build a fleet and expand into neighboring systems to gather more resources. Each race has unique abilities, and I found these to be interesting and fairly balanced while still clearly distinguishing each race and suggesting a particular play style.  The expanding civilizations quickly collide, and neighbors must fight or negotiate over planets between them.  Diplomacy is important here - two players wasting resources battling over their shared space will quickly find themselves at a disadvantage to the other races.  With a small number of high-value planets at the center of the board, though, peace can not last forever.  Managing your resources carefully and building an effective fleet is essential.

The artwork on the board is well done
The game also adds a number of unique and fun mechanisms to the standard 4X formula.  A novel turn structure keeps the game moving at a brisk pace.  Each turn begins with a building phase where players construct ships and research new technologies simultaneously.  Then a card is drawn triggering an event - perhaps space pirates invade a planet or a wormhole is discovered linking two distant parts of the board.  After the event, each player gets an action phase in turn order to move their ships, conquer planets and attack other civilizations.

The game takes place over 11 rounds.  In the 5th and 8th rounds, the event is replaced with a scoring phase where players earn victory points for their planets, technologies and “influence” (explained momentarily).  There is also a final scoring round after the 11th turn.  An upcoming scoring round tends to spell conflict as players try to grab points from each other.  I loved the way this prevented anyone from getting too comfortable and kept things moving.

Diplomacy plays a central role in expanding your empire and winning in Empires of the Void.  There are two distinct ways to take control of a planet.  A player may conquer a planet by attacking it.  This provides access to the planet’s resources and victory points.   Alternatively, a player may attempt to ally with a planet by sending a diplomat and playing diplomacy cards corresponding to the type of race that lives there (planets may be peaceful, scholarly, mysterious, militaristic or capitalistic).  Each planet has a unique special ability that is available only to its ally (for example, access to unique ships or technologies) and allied planets contribute to a player’s “influence” total, giving them a chance to control the galactic council for additional points in scoring rounds.  Allied planets also provide  resources and points like conquered planets, but diplomacy is a bit harder than simply taking over a planet.

Empires of the Void features bright artwork and nice components.  Each civilization has a beautiful player board with a large colorful illustration of that race.  The player boards also have helpful reminders about the turn structure, the available actions, and the cost of each ship and the required corresponding technologies.  The modular board is large and attractive, always getting lots of attention at my game club.  There are many types of ships, represented by thick cardboard pieces with nice illustrations.

Very colorful components, all around
The game does have a few flaws.  While the rulebook is easy to read, it has a few errors and doesn’t explain every situation that can come up during the game.  We found ourselves checking the internet for clarifications several times in our first two games, though the rules are mostly simple and straightforward.  Some of the event cards can be particularly brutal, possibly taking away control of a crucial planet in the early game.  In my group, we’ve taken the worst ones out.  Additionally, it’s very possible for players to fall behind a bit in the early game and have trouble catching up due to bad die rolls.  On the bright side, the designers have put a free promo up on their website that addresses this problem by giving players a way to slightly modify some rolls.  We like this promo a lot and always use it now, though it can extend the game length a little since players will be able to set up bigger civilizations more quickly.  Also, while the board position is randomized in each game, all of the tiles are used every time - I wish they had included more map pieces for added replayability.

So where does Empires of the Void fit into the world of new space-themed 4X games?  In my opinion, this game does a better job of capturing the epic feel of Twilight Imperium than its two main
competitors, Eclipse and Space Empires 4X.  Eclipse is an excellent and very popular new game, but it feels more like an economic optimization game than Empires of the Void or Twilight Imperium.  Diplomacy plays a less central role in Eclipse, and players aren’t forced to deal with each other as quickly or directly.  Space Empires 4X is more of a gritty war game than Empires of the Void.  It does an excellent job of setting up epic space battles, but it plays best as a 2-player direct conflict game and lacks the unique alien races and bright artwork of Empires of the Void.  Each of these games is
excellent and each excels at a particular aspect of the space conquest genre, but Empires of the Void does the best job of condensing the full range of possibilities that exist in bigger games like Twilight Imperium into a 2-hour play time.

I highly recommend Empires of the Void.  It’s great both as an introduction to 4X games and for hardened space-combat vets that are looking to get their fix in a shorter game.  As with any game that
features direct conflict, play it with folks who won’t take it personally when their prized planets are snatched out from under them.  The game has beautiful art, is easy to learn and adds several neat
mechanics to the genre.  If building an intergalactic space empire and conquering alien worlds sounds like fun to you, pick this one up today.

If you are interested in Empires of the Void, you might also want to check out Civilization, Galaxy's Edge, and Risk 2210 AD.

I would like to thank Red Raven Games for providing us with a review copy of Empires of the Void.

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game Review

Star Wars X-Wing Miniature Game

What game has been calling my name for a solid year, desperately wanting me to buy it?  Well - none other than Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game.

In X-Wing, each player takes on a faction - either Imperial or Rebel.  Then, that player takes their respective ships and selects a pilot for each of them, setting the ships on their side of the play area.  Each turn, both players will simultaneously select a maneuver for each of their ships to perform.  Then, in order of pilot skill (from worst to best), players will execute these moves and optionally take an action to prepare for the upcoming firefight.  (This represents that better pilots can react to what the other pilots are doing.)  Once all of the ships have moved, then they begin to shoot at each other - this time starting with the highest rated pilot.  In order to attack, the pilot checks to make sure that the targeted ship is within range, and then takes dice equal to his weapon value (plus one if the enemy is at close range).  All of the attack dice are rolled, and modifiers are applied.  Then, the defending player takes dice equal to his maneuverability (plus one if he is at long range).  Dice are rolled and modifiers are applied.  If there are more hits than evades, the targeted ship takes damage - first from shields, then from hull.  If his damage equals or exceeds his hull value, then he blows up in a spectacular fashion.  (I've seen the movies - I know what they're supposed to look like when they blow up; though I'm unwilling to take a firecracker to my game to actually see it firsthand.)  Once only one person has any ships remaining, he is declared the winner!

Star Wars X-Wing and TIE Fighters
Chasing down TIE Fighters
The first pro for X-Wing should be inherently obvious to anyone that has actually seen the game.  It is absolutely, phenomenally, gorgeous!  Let's all admit something together.  As we have grown older, we have lost much of our imagination.  Remember as a child, when you would set up your army men, GI Joes, Ninja Turtles (my favorite), or Star Wars ships all over the living room?  Then, you would grab them and run around the room yelling "pew! pew! pew!" to simulate the laser fire from the X-Wings?  You didn't need rules.  You just ran around shooting them at each other.  It was inherently obvious to you which ships got hit, and which ones were missed.  Basically, that's what this game is.  But for adults.  Since we've given up on being imaginative, we now have a set of rules that allow us to play with beautiful toys as adults, without feeling embarrassed.  (After all, if you saw a 30 year old man running around his living room with toys shouting "pew! pew! pew!" you probably wouldn't think nice things about him - admit it.)  So, instead of being creative, now we are able to experience this same joy, but with the "clickety-clack" of dice rolling instead of our own sound effects.

The next pro that I have for X-Wing is that the ships are actually fairly easy to maneuver, even for a new player.  The game that X-Wing most resembles is  Wings of War.  That actually concerned me quite a bit.  Why?  Because I was completely awful at Wings of War.  I just circled around my opponent forever, never getting a clear shot - and the only times I did get a clear shot were because we were shooting at each other in a head-on collision.  X-Wing's movement system is a bit more forgiving, and I had far more situations where I had been able to guess my opponent's moves and shoot at him from the side (or vice versa).  Overall, the movement system for X-Wing seemed to be one of the strengths of the game instead of a source of frustration.

My final pro is that, if you decide to delve deeply into this game, there are a lot of different elements that you can tinker with.  You can build your own fleet using different astromech droids, upgrades, and pilots.  You have three playable missions that are provided with the basic game.  There are also very nice, small touches that Fantasy Flight has put into the game system itself.  Things like - different ships have different maneuverability.  Some of these moves cause stress on your pilot, which makes him less effective.  There are obstacles that you can play with - like fighting through an asteroid field.  Some ships can perform barrel rolls to move laterally.  Others can use their ship's computer to acquire a target lock.  Essentially, there are lots of small elements of the game that work together to allow you to dive in headlong.

Star Wars game TIE Fighter Minis
These are all the ships you get in the base game.
Unfortunately, that leads directly into my first con.  To play a "full" game of X-Wing is incredibly expensive.  I realize that Fantasy Flight's business model is to come out with games that are good enough to sell lots of expansions.  And, honestly, I have no problem with that.  I've complained a bit before about some of their great games that I felt a bit gypped by (like Lord of the Rings: LCG and Game of Thrones: LCG).  But at least with each of those, I felt like I got a complete game - though I wish the component breakdown had been different.  In X-Wing, I feel like I paid full price a sample game.  The recommended size of your fleets in the game is 100 points.  The game comes with one X-Wing and two Tie Fighters.  The best pilot that the rebels have (Luke Skywalker) is 28 points.  He is also unique, so you couldn't even use him three times if you had three copies.  Assuming that you upgrade your ships (thus spending a few more points) you're still looking at needing three copies of the base set in order to play a "full" game.  Or, you could buy a lot of the single ship expansion packs.  None of these additional purchases are inexpensive (because of the amazing quality of the miniatures).  So, in order to play a "full" game of X-Wing, you are looking at around $90-120.

My other con for X-Wing is that by the end of some of my games, it felt like we were just rolling dice back and forth.  Generally, the X-Wing would sustain some minor damage while shooting down the first TIE Fighter, but then it would be down to one X-Wing against one TIE Fighter, as the players circled each other trying to get the better position and hoping that the die rolls went their way.  None of the ships in the base game roll more than three dice on attack, so it was really just rolling a couple of dice back and forth to see who eventually won.  Most of the strategy of the game seems to be gone once the game gets down to one on one.  I would imagine that this con is a product of my only playing with the components of the base game, instead of mixing in any additional expansions.  However, I'm reviewing the game, and not the expansions, so I think that this con is warranted.

Overall, I give Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game an 8.0/10.  It is a good game, and I can definitely see why people would delve into it.  Giant 100 point (or higher) battles would be fun to watch or to play.  And, in fact, I'm very curious to see what other ships they come out with - I'd love to see some Star Destroyers, Corellian Corvettes, and eventually a mission with the Death Star.  And, to go absolutely crazy, it'd be amazing if Fantasy Flight got the Star Trek license, and made a Star Trek game that was compatible!  With all of that, the ultimate question that you need to ask yourself when deciding if you want this game is, "how much am I willing to spend?" 

If Star Wars: X-Wing sounds interesting to you, you should also check out Wings of War, Battlestar Galactica, and Heroscape.

Puzzle Strike (Third Edition) Review

A few months ago, I stumbled upon a "little" game called Puzzle Strike.  I really enjoyed Puzzle Strike, and so I wrote very kind things about it.  Because of this, I had the opportunity to try out Puzzle Strike (3rd Edition).  Since, as I just mentioned, I've already written about the Second Edition of the game, I'm going to assume that you're familiar with the basics.  If not, I'd encourage you to read my original Puzzle Strike Review, since in this one I'll really only cover the major changes between the two editions.

First and foremost - the majority of the chips have changed.  There are a few reasons for this.  Some of them have minor tweaks to make their text more clear in some of the new game modes.  Some of the chips were overpowered and have been made slightly worse to balance the gameplay.  Others have been re-costed.  Some have had one of their abilities altered.  But, of these changes, there are two that are most noticeable: Combine and Argagarg/Rook character chips.  In the second edition of Puzzle Strike, Combine allowed you to combine two of your chips, take another action and gain a dollar!  This chip was awesome!  In the third edition, it allows you to combine two chips, take another action, but you lose a dollar.  This chip is still very strong (and, if you ignore it because of the -$1, your games might drag on a bit), but at least it's balanced enough that you have to think about whether it is worth playing, instead of being an automatic buy and automatic play.  On the character side of things, Argagarg and Rook were generally agreed to be the most powerful choices in the previous edition.  Which is unfortunate, as you really want the characters to be all different but equal.  So, because of this, their chips have been altered to give them the same feel and general abilities, but not give the person using them a major advantage.  As an example - Rook's "Stone Wall" chip previous reflected all gems back to the opponent that sent them (awesome), but now reflects them to the bank (useful, but less awesome).

Argagarg has a new makeover
The next major change is that when crashing gems, you don't have your own personal punching bag.  In the previous version of the game, every time you crashed gems, you targeted the person on your left.  And, unless you were playing two player, they couldn't really do anything about it (aside from counter-crashing you), except for glare at your or flip the table.  Now, however, the rules have changed so that you can target any other player when you crash.  This combines with another new rule, however to make a new dynamic to the game.  Also introduced in this edition is that the game is over once one person has 10 or more gems in their gem pile at the end of their turn (instead of a last man standing rule - this was to avoid player elimination).  These two rules work together to give an "always attack the leader" element to the game.  After all, unless you are the leader, there is no reason to attack someone who isn't winning.  What this actually causes is for the leadership to shift, and it also means that the person who has played the best doesn't necessarily win.  Specifically, if I make a very good bag of chips, and I'm winning for most of the game, but on the last turn I get attacked two or three times (since I am winning), then I might not be able to defend myself from all of the attacks, and thus wind up having a few more gems than another player.  Whereas, previously, any given player only had to worry about being attacked once per round.  Overall, though - if you don't like this rule, it's simple enough to play it the previous way.  I wish that the previous way of playing had been mentioned as a rule variant.

Speaking of rule variants, they are one of the other changes to third edition.  To me, these are really just nice bonuses to try out once you get tired of the basic game, but it is always nice for games to include new ways of playing that can keep the replayability fresh through extra gameplay.  The gameplay variants in third edition include: 2x2 team play, free for all, custom clockwork mode, and tournament rules.  Most of these modes are roughly what you would expect if you've played other Sirlin games (such as "custom clockwork" means create your own character), and it's also worth noting that the tournament recommends using the two-player game (to avoid what I mentioned in the previous paragraph about the person who plays the best not necessarily winning).  But, the one that I found most interesting was that in the free for all mode, anyone can counter-crash.  So, if someone is attacking the weakest player, and is about to knock them out of the game, then one of the other players can jump in and protect them!  A very interesting dynamic, though it would also slow the game down, as it is regularly pulling gems out of player piles, whereas you want to put more gems into player piles for a fast game.  (And, at this point, I feel that I should admit something.  I can't absolutely guarantee that we played the 3-4 player basic game correctly.  It was unclear to me in the rules whether the basic rules that I read were for 2-4 players, and that free for all mode was supposed to be an optional variant when you had 3-4 players, or if the basic rules were for 2 players, and free for all was the were the basic rules for 3-4 players.)

Rook is also a bit weaker
The final rule change (that I will mention) is put in place entirely to make the game go faster - Panic Time!  Once several piles of chips are empty (equal to the number of players), you start anteing a 2-gem.  Once another pile is empty, ante a 3-gem.  Another pile runs out, ante a 4-gem.  Another pile runs out - ok, at this point, how has nobody lost yet?  This rule is a nice safety net to keep the game from dragging on.  However, it didn't really come into play very much in the games that I played.  We ran into panic time very briefly in one of the games.  Ultimately, if you are building your bag of chips well, you should be able to knock each other out before these modes really affect much (unless you have certain chips that you really like, and you buy out the piles early on).  I like this rule change, and I'd encourage you to try it out, even if you're playing with one of the previous editions.

Overall, I give Puzzle Strike (Third Edition) a 9.0/10.  Why?  Well, because I gave Puzzle Strike (Second Edition) a 9.0, and I would recommend this game equally highly as the last one.  I feel that, though the game has undergone some minor surgeries, the skeleton is still the same.  If you are deciding between buying one of the previous editions and this one, then I would encourage you to go ahead and buy the latest.  However, if you are deciding whether you want to upgrade, I think the main reason to upgrade would be if you are bothered by the balance of your previous game.  And, as a note, both editions should be compatible with the Shadows expansion.

If you like Puzzle Strike, you might also check out Flash Duel, Thunderstone, and Yomi.

I would like to thank Sirlin Games for providing me with a review copy of Puzzle Strike: Third Edition.

Campaign Manager 2008 Review

In the series of political games by Christian Leonhard and Jason Matthews (all of which I've played and enjoyed), the lightest weight one seems to be Campaign Manager 2008.

I feel like I shouldn't have to tell you the point of the game, but for my readers that aren't in the US, I will anyway - the object of the game is to become president.  Specifically, it is to become president in 2008 (and, no - a time travel machine is not provided; and so this is much more difficult than you would think).  Specifically, one player takes on the role of John McCain, and the other takes on the role of Barack Obama, as you fight over the swing states from the 2008 election.  At any given time, you will have four states that you are fighting over.  Each state has an issue that they currently care about - Defense or the Economy and a Demographic that you can pander to.  On each turn, you have the option of either playing a card or drawing a card.  When playing a card, you will often be able to place influence for your candidate on a certain issue.  If placing this influence allows you to capture all of the influence on a state's currently "hot" issue, then you win the state, select a new state, have an event occur, and re-convene the campaigning.  Once one player wins enough electoral votes to win the election, he is declared the new president-elect of the United States!

So, the first thing that I like about Campaign Manager is that it has an element called "going negative."  Why?  Because it's a game about politics, and politics haven't been about issues at any point during my life.  After all, why bring up issues, when you can say mean things about your opponent?  (Wait, wait - I'm tripping over a soap box, here.  I was talking about a game, if I remember correctly.)  In the game, there are several cards that are incredibly powerful.  They represent saying mean things about your candidate like that he enjoys punching elderly people, or something equally despicable.  However, there's a slight chance that this negative campaigning could come back and haunt you.  (After all, what if they can prove that they didn't really take away popsicles from little children during the heat of summer?)  This backlash is represented by rolling a die and, depending on what you roll, giving your opponent a bonus.  For example, you may be able to gain two influence in a single state with a single card - but, this may allow your opponent to draw two extra cards.  I like this element in the game, and I think that it does a good job of allowing you to have powerful cards, while maintaining a gameplay balance.

At least someone campaigned in Montana.
The next thing I like about the game is that I think that it fits the theme well.  Specifically, I imagine that you have to make some decisions in the game that are similar to what candidates actually make during the campaigning season (obviously with far less on the line).  For example, when you start losing horribly in a state without many electoral votes, you have to decide - is this state worth fighting for, or would I be better off using my cards to gain an advantage in more populous states.  But, spending too much effort in a larger state and then having it taken away from you can be quite devastating, as you may have spent so many resources on the lost state that you're not positioned well in any of the others.  By the way, I need to take a moment to address Montana.  Montana, I'm sorry.  I've never bothered to campaign in your state.  You have three electoral votes.  It's not that I think that Ohio is prettier, it's just that she has so many more votes.  I know you have land; but much of that land is apparently empty.  I hope that you accept my apology.

My third pro for Campaign Manager is the drafting element.  What drafting element, you may be asking?  Well, the drafting element that I didn't tell you about.  To start each game (assuming you're not playing the intro game), you draft the deck that you will draw from.  Specifically, there are 45 cards available for each side in the game, and each time you play, you will only use 15 of them.  So, to set up your deck, you go through the cards drawing three of them and selecting one to keep until you have exhausted your entire pile.  This element of the game allows you to focus your strategy and remove a lot of cards that do not factor into that strategy.  For example, if you choose to focus completely on the economy, you can draft those cards and throw out the others.  If you decide to focus on demographic groups, you can keep the cards that work with that strategy.  And, if you decide to run a slander campaign, you can keep all of the going negative cards.  I really enjoyed this mechanic, and it really adds a bit of a game-within-the-game as you attempt to draft cards that both work well for your strategy and give you the edge when attempting to thwart your opponent's strategy.

Rude things to say about your opponent.
However, with this drafting element, there are some cards that are just flat out better than others.  Every card available can be very useful at the right time, but some cards are useful at all times, whereas others are useful occasionally.  A lot of the game (possibly too much) is determined in this initial draft - if I draft very poorly, then I may lose before we even start placing influence.  And, drafting well can be a factor of strategy, but can also be a factor of luck.  There are three cards that I can think of that I would want in the Obama deck every time that I play, because they are that good.  If I draw them all at the same time and only get to pick one, then my deck will be greatly weakened.  At the same time, if I draw three cards that all do similar things, and that thing doesn't fit well into my strategy, then I will have a junk card cluttering up my deck. 

The other con that I found for Campaign Manager 2008 was that the game is fairly repetitive.  Your deck only consists of 15 cards, and so you will see them over and over.  In addition, some of these cards do the same thing.  Not similar things - the exact same thing.  So, your deck may only have 12 different cards in it.  And, the strategy isn't overly complex - win states when you can, capitalize on advantages, get bigger states if the opportunity presents itself.  Oh, and don't let your opponent have the big states.  Whereas I enjoy the game, this con will keep me from playing many times in succession - it's a game that I will need to spread out in order to continue enjoying it.

Overall, I do enjoy Campaign Manager 2008 and give it an 8.0/10.  I would recommend it to someone that's looking for a lightweight political game, or that just loves drafting elements.  I anticipate playing it more, but I will keep some time in between plays, to keep the game fresh.

If you like political games, you should also check out 1960: The Making of the President, 1989: Dawn of Freedom, and Ideology.

ARC Review

arc the game in play

An interesting little game about time travel is called (I believe) ARC (yes, admittedly, I'm not 100% sure of this name; more specifically, I'm not sure if it is called "ARC" or "ARC: The Game", and I believe it used to have a different name).

In ARC, each player controls an Aeon (time traveler), and your goal is to kill (or "knock unconscious" if you want to have a PG-13 rating) your opponent's Aeon.  Each turn you draw one card and then play or exhaust as many cards as you want.  However, when playing a card, you must meet the Arc Energy requirements.  Arc Energy consists of the number of cards in your hand in addition to any cards (such as your Aeon) that give you bonus Arc.  When playing cards, you can find Relics, attach Trinkets and Armaments to your Aeon, encounter Events, or even lay Traps to spring on your opponent.  Many of these cards are attached to a given era on the timeline, and if your Aeon "Rifts" between eras, the cards that are attached to the previous era will be left behind.  Each card, when exhausted, can no longer be used - with the exception that each Aeon can be exhausted twice.  Players alternate turns attacking each other until only one player remains standing.

There are really a lot of interesting concepts in ARC.  First, I really like how Arc Energy works.  Since your Arc Energy is calculated based on the number of cards in your hand, you won't want to play everything that you can every turn.  Some turns, you will need to save up to play an expensive item.  However, once you play that expensive item, you have two options - unload the rest of your hand in a furious flurry of attacks against your enemy, or keep most of your hand intact in order to have enough Arc to play another massive card the next turn (assuming you draw another one).  Overall, the balancing of these energies is critical for the game.  Unfortunately, this balance isn't quite as difficult as I would like - your Aeon always adds Arc (unless you are using the Mercenary), some Trinkets add Arc, you draw a card at the start of each turn, and your Aeon can draw a card as an action (once per turn), so you can pretty quickly accumulate the necessary Arc to play almost anything.  That is, assuming that you are patient enough to wait the 1-2 turns needed to build up.  Plus, since there is no penalty for playing your entire hand in a turn, you aren't actually losing out on anything by building up your Arc - you're simply stalling when all of the cards in your hand are played.

factions for ARC
Currently available sets
My second pro for ARC is that I like Traps.  Basically, you can play a Trap in your era, but it comes into play exhausted (and facedown so that your opponent can't see it - otherwise it wouldn't be a very good Trap).  So, on your next turn, the Trap becomes refreshed (and ready to spring).  I thought that this was a nice element to the game.  And, though it's a bit confusing to me that you're not able to set a Trap without your enemy knowing that it's there, it still makes sense to me that you have to wait a turn for the Trap to be ready.  And, since your opponent does get to know what's there, simply having a Trap might discourage them from attacking you; regardless of how potent the Trap is.

Another thing that I thought was interesting about ARC was that your Aeons can exhaust twice.  However, this is really a tricky thing.  If your Aeon could only exhaust once, then the game simply wouldn't work - each turn one Aeon could run away, and the other Aeon wouldn't ever be able to catch up and attack (with their Aeon; they would still be able to attack with cards).  But, because you can exhaust twice, this means you can't ever run far enough away - your opponent can always just rift to your era and then attack you.  (I said "run far enough away" and, to be fair, this is assuming that I played the game correctly.  I was unclear on whether, when rifting, you had to go to an adjacent era or if you could go to any territory.  Really, though - if I am able to travel through time, it better not be in a linear fashion.  Otherwise, I need a better time travel machine.  And, yes, I did just complain about a machine that lets me travel through time!)

However, with all the things that I like about ARC, there are a few things that are definite cons.  The first one is the rulebook.  The rulebook was designed to look pretty - not to be functional.  This game desperately needs an FAQ before you even play the game!  (And, I'm not sure if one even exists.)  I've already mentioned one rule that is unclear.  Here's another one - when playing a card from your hand, do you count it towards your Arc Energy total?  No idea.  Can you play the same Trinket or Armament on your Aeon multiple times?  (On this one, at least the example image of what the game should look like implies that you can.)  But, if you play the game, expect to be house ruling various situations and rules, because the rulebook simply won't answer them - and if it does answer your question, you might spend a bit of timing looking and flipping the rules over back and forth until you find it.

Aeon cards moving around the board
Aeons in their respective eras
My next con is that the time travel theme, though exciting, seemed a bit artificial.  There is really nothing unique about the fact that you are traveling "through time" that wouldn't work exactly the same if you were traveling to different locations on a map.  You can only attack someone if you're in the same era?  This would be true if you are in different places on a map.  When you leave, you have to leave Traps and Relics behind?  I don't see people bringing Stonehenge with them when they go home.  Now, theme isn't really much of a requirement in games that I play.  Gameplay is much more important to me.  With that said, the biggest draw for ARC will probably be that it is about Aeons fighting through time - so I wanted you to be aware that the theme isn't really interwoven throughout the mechanics before you decided if this game is right for you.

Finally, I really didn't like the effects of some of the eras.  Specifically, the "Future" causes the game to be artificially lengthened.  If you end your turn in the Future era, then you gain two health.  Most attacks do around three damage - some actually do only one.  So, if most of your game occurs in the Future, then the game will be much longer than it should be, simply because both players are healing at the end of each round.  And, unfortunately, you can't force an opponent's Aeon out of a given era - so if they aren't willing to leave the Future, then there is nothing that you can do to avoid fighting in this era.

Overall, I give ARC a 7.0/10.  The game works, and I really don't mind playing it.  Additionally, it is using the Living Card Game model that allows you to customize decks, but without having to buy randomized packs, which I appreciate.  However, though I think that ARC is a solid game, there isn't really anything that pulls me in and makes me want to play it repeatedly.  I would be willing to play it more, but it probably won't be a game that I suggest.

If you like card games like ARC, you might also enjoy Game of Thrones: Living Card Game, Nightfall, and Star Wars: Customizable Card Game.

I would like to thank Tech Lab Games for providing me with a review copy of ARC.

Gamers For Cures Featured Charity

I am very proud to introduce a new addition to this site.  This is my first in what I hope will be a series of posts about "Featured Charities".  Since this site is about board games, these charities will (hopefully) all be related, in some way, to board games.  This may mean that you can donate board games, play board games, or simply that they are run by board gamers.  I would like to thank Dan Patriss for sharing about his charity Gamers for Cures.  Now, let's get to it!

My name is Dan. I am an avid gamer, pharmacist, husband, and most joyously a father of 2 wonderful up and coming child gamers. My daughter Lauren (8) had been struggling with growth and stomach issues for close to 4 years. Doctors were very baffled as to the origin of the problems, but thankfully about 2 years ago they found their answer when she was diagnosed with Turner Syndrome.

Turner Syndrome (TS) is a chromosomal condition that describes girls and women with common features and is caused by complete or partial absence of the second sex chromosome. Common problems include short stature, premature ovarian failure, thyroid problems, and heart and kidney abnormalities. TS occurs in approximately 1 of every 2,000 live female births and is responsible for as many as 10% of all miscarriages. After diagnosis, we began treatment - which included medication for her hypothyroidism and human growth hormone shots. She has grown 11 inches in height since her diagnosis and has doubled in weight.

Inspired by my daughter, I have created a charity called Gamers for Cures.  Next thing I thought of was - how can board gaming be used as a tool to raise money for the Turner Syndrome Society of the US? I knew about 24 hour video gaming events that raised money. People often would play MMO's, such as World Of Warcraft, or console games over 24 hours for charity, but I had never heard of board gaming used this way. I approached the store owners of the FLGS (friendly local game store) where I regularly game, Crystal and Scott, , about my idea for a 24 hour board game marathon to benefit Turner Syndrome Society of the US. They welcomed the idea with open arms.

Our 24 hour board game marathon is an event which started out as a pipe dream, but before it was over we could not believe what we had done - and what we had been a part of.

We hope that this year's event will be no different. Donations have been pouring in from publishers and the community for our door prizes and various raffles we do throughout the day. We have two larger raffles and also hourly free door prize raffles (every hour the store is open).

For the larger raffles we have two different types. The first, and simplest, is a big raffle. First prize last year was an iPad, and second was a rare MTG "from the vault"; the other 3 prizes were Dominant Species (the board game), Defenders of the Realm plus an expansion, and Ticket to Ride plus the Alvin and Dexter Expansion. These tickets were $5 each or 5 for $20. We had 500 tickets made ahead of time, and I brought a handful to various local game stores in the area along with other businesses who were kind enough to help us out. We ended up selling nearly 600 of these before and during the event!
Some of this year's prizes

The other raffle we had was a numbered box raffle. We had 50 items behind the counter, each with a number on it. These items were mostly board games, along with some war games (1st edition ASL books). There were also boxes with little holes in them numbered 1-50. People would buy tickets for $1 each and put them in the box with the item they wanted. This way they could load up on tickets, but more importantly they could try and get exactly what they wanted. (Again this was a HUGE hit.)

This year, like last year, we will have some tournaments running throughout the day, including my personal favorite the Ascension tournament. The others are still under wraps but I can tell you, they will be fun for all involved - so keep an eye on our web sites for details.

The number one thing, outside of raising money for an amazing cause, is spreading the gaming hobby to the public. We had such a high amount of foot traffic that gamers new and old alike intermingled and played throughout the day. We showed the community that there are a TON of great games outside of Candy Land and Monopoly, and I have even started to see some of the new initiates to the hobby at local game nights at some of the stores in the area.

If you would like to donate either money or new games/promos to this year's event please feel free to contact me through Josh or through the Gamers For Cures web site. Or, monetarily you could go to our First Giving site.