Telestrations Review

Telestrations party pack unboxed

Today's review is of a game that truly took me by surprise - Telestrations (which is available in either an 8-player or 12-player format, depending on how many friends you think you have).

Telestrations is really a very simple premise.  In fact, one of the reasons that I waited so long to try it is because, frankly, I probably felt like I was too good for it.  ("Oh?  That little party game?  Sure - you guys have fun with it."  Good thing I eventually got over that.)  So, Telestrations takes two classic games and smashes them together - the game of "telephone" (where you whisper something into someone else's ear, and they whisper to the next person, etc.) and Pictionary.  So, in Telestrations, each person starts with a booklet of dry erase pages, and writes something on the first page.  Then, they hand the book to the person next to them.  That person looks at the text, and they draw a picture of it - and hand the picture to the person next to them (that isn't the original person, obviously).  That person then writes down what they think the picture is representing, and pass the book.  Then I can continue typing this same thing, but ultimately, it just keeps going like this until it gets back to the original person.  That person then flips through the book, shows all of the other players the transformation of their term, and laughs.

You may now be thinking, "Wait, how is this a game?  You didn't tell me how to win!" And you would be right!  I actually view Telestrations as an activity more than a game - in fact, the rulebook even states: "Are you a winner?  Did you have fun?  Well, then you've won!"  And I agree with it.  However, if you must compete to enjoy things, there are also rules for how to make it competitive - give points for your favorite answers, etc.  Basically, very Apples to Apples style scoring rules.  However, you don't need any of that to have fun.

Example of Telestrations drawing
A Teddy Bear Confessional
So, what do I like about Telestrations?  I like writing something ridiculous down to see how my original statement transforms, and how people try to depict it.  For example, one of my favorite things that I've written down was "Runaround Sue" (a song from the 60's).  When I got my book back and flipped through the pages, I was pretty impressed with the (first) drawing I saw.  The first picture had a picture of someone running, a circle that was going around, and a picture of a sewer, indicating to drop off the "er."  (After all, how do you draw the name "Sue"?)  Unfortunately (ahem, as I intended) the next person wasn't quite able to figure out what the artist was going for, so they took it a completely different direction.  Another time, I wrote down "Code Monkey", and wound up with a Teddy Bear Confessional by the time that it got back to me.  Basically, watching how different people interpret different clues is really fun - and hilarious.

The next pro that I have for Telestrations is that the components are well made.  Ultimately, you could play Telestrations without owning the official box.  However, the published version provides you with materials to make it really easy to play for as long as you'd like.  The Dry Erase boards have plenty of room, while also being Dry Erase, and thus not wasting tons of paper.  Plus, the box includes different cards that you can use in case you struggle with coming up with ideas for what to write down.  So, though the game can be played without using the "official" version, it definitely is enhanced by using the tools that the official version provides you with.

Telestrations game example
Some people actually draw well, even when rushed!
So, were there any real problems (cons) that I found with Telestrations?  Well, first off, is people's preconceived notions of it - like my own.  You may have trouble getting strategy gamers to play Telestrations, because they will assume that they don't like it.  That's not really the game's fault, but it is definitely something to be aware of, as I have seen a lot of this bias against the game.

The next con that I found for Telestrations is that a lot of the fun is dependent on the creativity of the initial concepts.  For example, far too many people can draw a "good enough" fire hydrant.  So, if that is the initial clue, then you won't have the satisfaction of flipping through the pages and going, "how the heck did my clue turn into this??"  So, I highly recommend that your clues are more complex - perhaps song titles, or other compound concepts.

Overall, I give Telestrations an A+.  I realize that's not a score between 0-10, but as a nod to it being a party activity more than a competitive game, I felt like it deserved it's own scale.  Really, it's a lot of fun, and I'm glad to have a copy to take with my to future game nights!

If Telestrations sounds fun, you might also check out Rory's Story Cubes, Time's Up, and AttrAction.

I would like to thank USApoloy for providing me with a review copy of the Telestrations 12-player party pack.

Julius Caesar Review

Julius Caesar is a 2 player war game from Columbia Games and designers Grant Dalgliesh and Justin Thompson. As a gamer, I have an appetite for all kinds of games - except that I have not played very many war games. The closest I've played to war games are a couple of the C&C games and (my favorite game of all time) War of the Ring. So after doing some searching on BGG for good intro wargames, I was excited to hear that Columbia Games was willing to send me a copy of one of the most recommended titles - Julius Caesar.

The starting position for the Pompey army. 

Julius Caesar is what is known as a "block wargame." In these types of wargames, player's units are represented by wooden blocks, with information on only one side. This means that players are unable to see exactly what enemy units are in each location - just where the other player has units.

The only VPs outside of Rome (worth 2) that start the game up for grabs.

The game will end either after 5 rounds, or immediately after a round where 1 player controls cities worth 10 or more victory points.

The number in the red banner is the card's movement value. The number of silver medallions is the number of levy points the card is worth.

A round begins with each player being dealt 6 cards from the 27 card deck. There are two kinds of cards - command cards and event cards. Each player has to discard 1 card from their hand. Then both players select 1 card to play. determines both who moves first, as well as how many movement points and levies the player receives. 

Some of the event cards in the deck. If 1 player plays an event card, that player goes first. If both players play event cards, they are discarded with no effect.

Unless one of the players plays an event card, whoever plays the card with the most movement goes first. This player will first move any blocks he wishes to move and then can either "heal" a block on the board for a levy point or deploy a block from her levy pool for a levy point. Then, if any cities contain units from both armies, battles are resolved. 

Each unit has a strength value and a combat value. A unit's strength value corresponds to how many dice it will roll when it attacks. It also represents each unit's "hit points." Each time a unit suffers a hit, a unit's block is rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise - thus decreasing its strength. 

In this example, Antonius would roll his 2 dice first, causing hits on 2's or lower (which would be assigned to the Roman legion, because it is the strongest opposing unit). Then Pompey would attack, and so on.

Battles are fought in phases, with all defending A units rolling attacks first, then attacking A units, then B units, then C, and so on. As mentioned above, units roll a number of d6's - each die that is the unit's combat value or lower is a hit. Hits are immediately assigned to the strongest opposing unit. Battles are fought until one side is eliminated, one side retreats, or until the end of the 4th round of combat (when the attacking force needs to retreat). 

Play continues in this way until the players have played all five of their cards. Then a winter phase takes place, where each side needs to check stacking limits - each city on the board can only hold 3 units during this phase (more if the city is worth any VPs) and any surplus units are removed from the board. 

The game will end during the winter phase when 1 of the armies has at least 10 VPs or after 5 winters.

One of the things I didn't care for about Julius Caesar was the number of exceptions to rules. There may not be many for a wargame, but for someone fairly new to the genre, I found myself checking the rule book pretty regularly even after having played the game a few times.

Another nit I would pick with the game is the size of the map and the size of the blocks. The map looks very good, but on a few occasions it became unclear which units were in which city. Stacking the blocks helps a little, but they fall down and remembering how strong the units that fell were was a hassle.

I wasn't sure what to expect before playing Julius Caesar. I had never played any of the Ancients C&C games - so I had never played a block wargame, or really any game where not knowing what or where your opponent's units are is a feature of the game. This part of the game - not being sure of what you are marching towards, or thinking you remember what units are in that city, and being totally wrong - is very enjoyable. I also really liked the balance of having to go get 10 VPs but also knowing that defending armies have a pretty big advantage in combat (attacking first) is really interesting. I found myself moving my armies close to my opponent's, hoping she would attack so that I could (hopefully) wipe out her force while I had the defensive advantage and then march towards the points she was holding.

I also really enjoyed the combat itself. I liked the almost puzzly feeling of trying to assemble an army that have a good balance of early attackers (As or Bs), likely hitters (high combat value), and strong units (lots of dice), and then taking those armies out and seeing how they do in the field.

On the whole, I really enjoy Julius Caesar. I would give it an 8.0 out of 10. I really like the combat, the hidden units, and while I don't know much about the historical context, I like the theme as well. I think I would rather play this over something simpler than Memoir, and would also gladly play it if I wanted to play War of the Ring and the other player wasn't in the mood for something so long. I think Julius Caesar is a great game to look into if you haven't played many wargames, but are interested in dipping your toes into the water. After having enjoyed my time with Julius Caesar so much, I'm now looking into getting copies of games like Hammer of the Scots and Crusader Rex.

Jim would like to thank Columbia Games for providing him a review copy of Julius Caesar.

Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp

Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp is a recent release to get the Gold Banner treatment from Victory Point Games. For anyone unfamiliar, Victory Point Games is a smaller publisher who does its own printing. In the past, they have relied on their moto, "The Gameplay's the Thing!" to excuse bagged games and pretty underwhelming component quality. Victory Point has since upgraded their printing facilities, however, and the games released in their Gold Banner line come in a box and include high quality components that I absolutely love.

With all that out of the way, is Infection's gameplay "the thing?"

First, Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp is a solo game. With that short sentence, I suspect many of you are immediately turned off, and a few of you may be a bit more interested. I have to say, that although the prospect of solo gaming has always intrigued me, I don't have a game in my collection that I regularly go back to play by myself. So I am always on the lookout for that game that I'm able to pull out when I have the itch to play something, but no one else is around.

In Infection, the player is in charge of a lab that is trying to find a cure for a disease (either a viral or bacterial infection - which is on the reverse side of the board) that is ravaging the world and could spell the end for mankind.

Each turn of Infection consists of 4 phases.

During the Status Report Phase, an event card is drawn, which may cause positive or (more likely) negative effects.

The next phase is the Player Action phase. During this phase, players will spend their resources to research molecules of the disease in order to create a cure.

Next, the player rolls a d6 to see if the disease can be contained, or if it spreads to infect more of the population - and moves the player closer to losing the game.

The final phase, Clean Up, consists simply of setting everything up for the following round.

The bacteria is depicted to the left. In order to research each molecule of the bacteria, players have to purchase proteins that match the ones pictured on the research board (pictured on the right). Once a player has purchased all of the necessary proteins, the molecules that match the letter and have at least 3 sides open can be removed. In this case, the B molecules would all be able to be removed.

The players can also spend their money on scientists or equipment cards to help them work on a cure. 

These cards help players in various ways, like making containment rolls easier or allowing players to purchase more than 2 proteins a turn.

They can be pretty expensive, but used correctly, they can be the difference between victory and defeat.

The game ends when either the death toll rises too high, when all the molecule protein tokens are on the board and none can be drawn, or when all of the spaces on the virus or bacteria board are occupied.

The first con I have for Infection is that the game can be really hard. I played the game several times, and I absolutely lost more times than I won (far more). While this is something I don't care for too much in games, this certainly won't be a con for everyone.

The second thing I wanted to mention is that sometimes when playing Infection, I felt that the randomness of the game could really swing the direction of a game. Every game, 5 lab cards are removed from the game. I played one game where all 5 of those cards were person cards. Of course, adjusting one's play to adapt to each game's conditions is an important factor for replayability. I have also played games where I have failed every Containment roll, even when using the abilities of scientists and equipment. While this is certainly thematic, and something that is possible when dice are involved, it wasn't fun.

My favorite thing about Infection is probably how "puzzle-y" it is. The game definitely creates a tense, interesting experience. On a player's turn, there are a few actions to choose from, and the decisions usually revolve around risk and risk management. "Do I spend money now to get this card now? Do I use this card now and to help with my Containment roll? Should I buy a second copy of this equipment card, which is super expensive but makes it even more effective? Which molecule should I dedicate this protein to - one that requires more but will give me a bigger benefit later, or the smaller one?"

Another positive for Infection is that despite how much I lost, the game often ended close to me succeeding, with a high stakes Containment roll. This makes the game feel all the more thematic and really helps to keep the game exciting.

One last thing I would like to mention is that even though the game box says that the game plays with 1 player, playing this game with 2 or even 3 people is certainly feasible. Players could take turns being in charge of the lab, or players could all collaborate and play each turn as a team.

Overall, I would give Infection a 7.0. It is a solid solitaire game,with easy setup and rules, interesting decisions, a compelling theme, and great components. Even if you don't care for solitaire games, I think this one is worth taking a look at.

Jim would like to thank Victory Point Games for providing a copy of Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp for review.

Disc Duelers Review

Disc Duelers game in play

So, if this is your first one of my reviews - hi.  I'm Josh.  I love dexterity games.  And so, the people that have been checking out my site for a while will in no way be surprised that I sought out a copy of Disc Duelers to try out.

In Disc Duelers (the normal version - there are about 4-5 various ways to play), each player has a handful of characters, represented by discs, that they are using in an epic grudge match against all of their opponents discs.  (Of course, they are mortal enemies, since they were not selected for the same Kickball team years ago...  what?  There's not any real justification for why they want to kill each other?  Oh well.)  Each disc has a corresponding card that represents how many moves and attacks that disc can make, as well as any special rules it might have.  When setting up the game, you will place random (heavy) objects on your table as "terrain."  When moving, you may freely bounce off this terrain, but if you hit a different disc, you will take damage.  When attacking, you will deal damage to any opponents discs that you hit, but you will also take damage for hitting terrain.  Any disc that goes hurtling off of the table (this happens a lot) also takes a point of damage (regardless of turn).  Play consists of players alternating turns with one of their characters until each of the characters have been destroyed (by taking 5 points of damage).  When only one player has any discs remaining, then they have won the epic disc grudge match!

The first pro that I have for Disc Duelers is that I like the concept of my discs being different - representing actual characters that would be fighting in the arena.  It makes sense that they are not all made the same - some people should fight better than others; and others should be able to run around and get in position, hide, etc.  And, though this could be represented in different sized discs (Catacombs does this to an extent), I appreciate both ways of handling this.  Additionally, Disc Duelers lets you draft your characters so that you get at least some say in your army's makeup - thus tailoring it to your skills.

Terrain picture for Disc Duelers board game
The great elephant terrain!
The next pro that I have for Disc Duelers is how they have built table size and terrain into the game.  In most flicking games, obstacles are either game-specific pieces that you buy (I'm thinking of things like ramps in PitchCar), or you are supposed to make sure that the playing surface is clear.  However, I think that it's a fun and unique element that Disc Duelers suggests for terrain - find things that are lying around near you, and set them on the table as terrain.  And, this doesn't only give your pieces places to hide behind (and change the attacking player's vectors), but the terrain even has rules about it!  If you hit terrain when attacking, or when it's not your turn, then you take damage.  They took things that are lying around your house and added strategic effects to them!  I could see someone being really creative with this and adding ramps and overhangs, and all kinds of sweet terrain to this game.

However, though there are some pretty sweet elements to Disc Duelers, there are also some fairly sizable drawbacks.  First, the rulebook is awful.  For instance - when picking your characters, many of them talk about ranged attacks.  I would estimate that about 1/3 of the characters have a ranged attack of some form.  Want to know how a ranged attack works?  Me too!  The rules don't discuss it.  (If you found this page by searching for that, here is how they work: you use the small red discs and place them near your character and flick them instead of your character's disc.  There is a thread on BoardGameGeek that covers it more thoroughly.)  Aside from the ranged attacks, I remember having to make up or assume things about many other situations that we ran into while playing the game.  (What happens if you shoot your disc off the table, but it has attacks or moves left?  Based on some other rules, we assume that you take a damage and your turn is over.  But, this isn't really clearly covered anywhere.  Are you allowed to move, attack, move, attack, or do you have to do all of your moves together and attacks together?  Do you have to move first?)

Disc Duelers character cards
A few characters
The next con for Disc Duelers is that it is hard to keep track of who your characters are, and where they are (not to mention who owns all of the other discs).  The discs each have a sticker on them that matches (part of) the art on their character cards.  However, as you play, there will be over 20 different discs on the table in ever changing positions, with each one looking the exact same except for the picture - which may even look similar.  So, when different pieces are hit, it's generally easy to remember whether you own a given piece (though when attacking, you may have no idea which player you're targeting).  However, each turn will probably start with, "Ok, I have these characters alive and untapped - now where are they?"

My final con for Disc Duelers is that items are, for the most part, a neat sounding non-factor.  In the game, you must use each of your characters before you are allowed to re-use a character.  You may also, optionally, play with items.  (In my opinion, using items is the "full" game.)  Whenever a character picks up items, they go on the character that picked them up (hit them with his disc).  This, of course, makes sense.  However, depending on which characters you have used, you will have to live several rounds with your character before you can actually use that item.  If the item sounds good, you will probably be dead by the time that would happen.  Five points of damage does not last very long when you can take three damage from a single attack; and even more if a player uses their first few attacks to barely tap your disc, thus leaving you in position for them to attack you with the rest of their attacks (remember that most characters have three or more attacks).  As I type this, I realize that the repeat attack strategy is also an annoying con.

Overall, I give Disc Duelers a 7.0/10.  It has all of the flicking fun that I enjoy, but it also has a bit more down time than I would prefer in a dexterity game.  That combined with the rulebook keep it out of the upper echelon of dexterity games - at least in my opinion.

If Disc Duelers sounds fun, you should also check out Crokinole, Elk Fest, and Catacombs.

I would like to thank Level 99 Games for providing me with a review copy of Disc Duelers.

Splendor Review

In Splendor, players take the role of wealthy Renaissance merchants buying and selling gems to turn into beautiful refined jewels. Splendor is an abstract game of card drafting and engine building that takes about 30 minutes for 2-4 players to play.

The components in Splendor are few, but very high in quality. The cards are a nice stock, and have white borders on the backs (to help minimize the appearance of wear) and very attractive images on the fronts that look great without a border. There are also gems of 6 different colors which are very nice quality poker chips. 

Gameplay revolves around the card display. On her turn, a player can execute 1 of 4 available actions:
  • Take 3 gems of different colors
  • Take 2 gems of the same color (as long as all the gems of that color are present in the bank when you take them)
  • Reserve 1 development card and take 1 gold token
  • Purchase 1 face-up development card or a previously reserved one
There are two ways to get points. There are development cards which are worth points, and there will also be a number of nobles available each game who are also worth points.

The above player would be able to purchase development cards for a discount of 2 black or red gems and 1 blue, green, or white gems.

To purchase a face-up or reserved development card, a player has to discard the tokens indicated in the lower left hand corner of the card. There are two benefits of purchasing development cards. First, they might be worth points. Second, the card will give the player a permanent discount when purchasing future development cards.

A player could attract the noble (and his 3 points) on the left by having 3 each of black, red, and white gem cards in front of her.

To attract a noble to visit her, a player checks at the end of her turn if she has at least the number and color of cards for which the noble is looking. 

That pretty much sums up the game! The game is a race to 15 points. Once a player has 15 points (and everyone has had the same number of turns), whoever has the most points wins.

My biggest problem with Splendor is definitely mitigated by its light weight and its quick play time. The luck of the draw can be a swinging factor. In a multiplayer game, the board can change a bit, and seeing a card you really need come and go before you even have a shot at it can be frustrating. Similarly, in a two player game, purchasing a face-up development card carries the risk of drawing out a card your opponent can really use. 

Even without a board, Splendor looks great on the table.

There are a lot of things I love about Splendor. The first thing would be its simplicity. When I think about how much I like a game, there are two main ratios I have in my head - how long it takes to set up in relation to how much fun I have playing it, and how long it takes to play in relation to how much fun I have playing it. Since time is the most important resource we have, these comparisons make sense to me. And on both of these scales Splendor hits it out of the park. The game takes 90 seconds to set up, about 5 minutes to explains, and maybe 30 more to play. And within that time, there is a very satisfying, juicy game experience. 

I also like the noble tiles. The 3 separate decks of development cards are distributed exactly evenly, so no color gems are inherently more valuable than any of the others. The noble tiles change that - any color gems the nobles ask for are made instantly more valuable than the others. Even though the decks of cards are static, the nobles do a lot to keep each game dynamic.

I've mentioned that Splendor is a simple game. Turns are very short, and there are not many rules. Despite those features, this is a game that can (and likely will) get bloody fast. Players who make unwise decisions can find themselves out of the game within a couple of turns. Attempting to wait until you have enough gems to afford the one card that would make everything in your gem-buying world perfect could result in utter, soul crushing despair when one of your opponents swipes the card off the board, and is rewarded with a wild gold token for her trouble. 

Two rules I haven't yet mentioned keep the pace of the game moving. Players can never have more than 10 gem chips in hand. So your plan of amassing a large number of gems and then going on a spending spree is out. The other rule I left out is that each player can only have 3 cards in her reserve at a time. So sure, you can snatch those cards you just know your opponents are eyeing up - but wouldn't those 3 reserve spots be better suited to holding cards you really need? 

Splendor also keeps the tension of a good card drafting game by keeping each player's tableau and gem stock public - the balance between going for more cards for yourself to further your engine and going for cards you think your opponents need. Splendor adds a feeling of worker placement to the mix by giving players the ability to instantly remove a card from the display even if they can't pay for it at that moment. 

Splendor is a magnificent game that I'm sure will fly right under the radar for many people. It is not flashy, doesn't have a big name designer or publisher, and there aren't any Netrunners or X-Men in the box. But Splendor is the best example of an engine building game boiled down to its core components. No resource conversions or 5-step victory point plans - just pure engine building, through and through. The game does not necessarily reach for the stars, but it absolutely nails what it does aim for - giving players the feeling of quickly and inexorably building the greatest and most kick buttingest card drafting gem engine the world has ever seen!

I really enjoy Splendor and would give it a 9.0/10. Go grab a copy. Now.