FlickFleet Preview

Well.  Let's see if I can remember how to do this.  It's been two years since I've written anything here, but when Jackson Pope, the nice designer of FlickFleet reached out to the wider community asking for reviewers that like dexterity games, my name came up.  (Apparently I haven't done a good enough job convincing everyone else in the world, and thus new reviewers, that dexterity games are truly the greatest kind of game there is.  (Well.  I mean, I guess if you consider sports to be dexterity games, then I'm in the vast majority of the population as a whole in thinking that dexterity games are the best.))  And then I started hearing things like "new dexterity game" and "flick pieces for movement" and all of the normal things that immediately gather my attention.  So here I am.  Wow, that was a long winded way to say, "Hi, I'm back for now, but don't expect this to be a regular thing."

So, what is FlickFleet?  It's a game.  There's flicking and stuff.  The end.  Free game acquired.  Obligation fulfilled.  *Boom*


A tricked out Destroyer lives up to its name
Ok, fine.  FlickFleet is a new dexterity game about sci-fi spaceship combat.  There are several kinds of ships, but they basically take 2 forms - the ones that have a board where you have to track stuff on the side, and the ones that don't.  The ones that don't have a board associated with them are called fighters, and they start off with three pieces that fit together, and you track everything about them based on how many pieces remain.  When they get to activate, you can move them by flicking them, and then you can attack by setting a die on top of them and flicking it towards your opponent's ships.  You get to shoot once per remaining section, and one type rolls a ten-sided die, the other rolls a six-sided die.  The second kind of ship is a capital ship, and there are a few different types of them.  Each of them has a board to track actions, and they can fire (some of them can do this in two ways and thus can use two actions for it), some can launch fighters, they can repair hull damage and/or shields, and they can move.  They also don't always get hit when you hit them with a die, because what face the die ends up on determines if they're hit.  A six-sided die always hits, but the ten-sided one only hits on 1-6 (unless you had shields, in which case you're also hit on 7-10, because apparently shields are easier to hit).  Players alternate taking turns activating ships until all of them have activated, then they start over.  And they keep doing this until everyone dies.  Wait, that's not right.  Only your opponent has to die.  If you died too, then you played too long.  Sometimes there's a different ending based on the scenario, but for the most part, it's a 'til death kind of situation.

Okay, so I've said there's flicking of ships and dice.  Is there anything different about this one, or is it basically just a clone of all the other flicking games?  Well, there are a few differences that I can point out compared to your standard flicking game.  First, there is the dice flicking element.  The only other game I know of that has dice flicking is Tumblin Dice, but that one is (at least pretends to be) a bit more strategic about it.  In FlickFleet, the dice flicking is meant to be a bit more random; basically, it's meant to be a combination of flicking and die rolling in a single element, where the die roll affects the outcome of the attack.  (That's at least my opinion on it.)  Another difference between FlickFleet and other dexterity games is that there is a strategic component to it in action selection for your (capital) ships.  Deploying fighters at the right time, and balancing when to move, attack, and heal can affect the outcome of the game (though this element isn't as crucial as being good at the dexterity element of it, as you probably would have assumed).

A heated battle in the works.
There are a couple other things I also want to point out before I get into the "who would enjoy it" part of the post.  First, you actually have to have some control with your flicking in this game, which I find as a pleasant added challenge.  Specifically, if you flick your ship off the edge of the board, it just flat out dies.  So, don't do that.  But, when you are flicking a die at a ship, if the die goes off the edge of the board, then it's a "wild shot" and misses completely.  So, you shouldn't just blast it as hard as you can, like you might be tempted to do in some other games like PitchCar or Catacombs.  Second, FlickFleet has a handful of scenarios (four in the prototype that was sent to me, but I think they're planning to expand that online after launch).  The scenarios let you have a little bit of variety in how you play.  They don't really change the crux of the game, but they add enough variance that it doesn't feel like you're doing the exact same thing each time, and they can also affect how you approach the strategic element of the game, which is nice.

So, for the part you actually care about.  Who would enjoy FlickFleet?
  • Flicking fans that want to add a random factor into the game.  Specifically, if you enjoy dexterity, but want the ability to blame the game if you lose, then this game gives you that scapegoat option by blaming the die flicks.  ("Well, if I hadn't kept hitting you with 9's, I would have clearly won!")
  • Dexterity fans that like to be able to customize their game from play to play.  You can customize the setup with scenarios and with building custom fleets (there is a costing system provided for figuring out how to balance the number of ships in each fleet).
  • People who want decision flexibility in their turns beyond only moving and/or attacking.  (I've played a game where I decided to never spend an action on movement, because I just fired my weapons the entire game.  And I won.  Take that however you would like.  For added clarity, it was during a scenario where there was a black hole pulling the ships towards the center of the board after each turn, so I was slowly moving - just not using actions for it.)
  • Dexterity fans in general.  Let's be honest.  This is who the game is meant for.
Getting ready to shoot.  This "should" be an easy shot.
Who should avoid it?
  • People who hate dexterity games.  But, if you hate dexterity games (the best genre of games as we've discussed earlier), did you really get this far in the post?
  • People who want instant setup of their dexterity games.  This one takes a couple minutes to find the pieces and get the fleets prepared.  That's the cost of the customizability.  (Basically, the setup is more like Catacombs, where you have to grab all the pieces you'll need for the scenario you're playing, and not like Crokinole, where you put the board on the table and immediately start playing.)
  • People who want the person who is better at dexterity games to win every time.  If you are just plain better at flicking than your opponent, then yeah, you'll win most of your games of FlickFleet.  But if you hit them with a 7-10 every time you flick the die, you'll lose.  
  • People who believe "when it's dead, it's dead" about destroying their opponent.  Since I only briefly mentioned this earlier, I should elaborate now.  The capital ships have shields.  One of the actions you can take with them is to repair your shields.  This can lead to situations where a ship keeps healing all of it's damage, and their opponent feels like they can't finish it off.  More specifically, it can also lead to situations where their opponent can't finish it off (if they are only firing a single shot each round; just concede, my friend).  Not everyone will love the ability to repair the shields.  Though, frankly, its easy enough to create a scenario where there's some kind of "spatial anomaly" that prevents shields from being repaired, if you really hate shields coming back.
Overall, I enjoyed my plays of FlickFleet.  That shouldn't surprise anyone.  If I find a lot of dexterity gamers in my gaming group, then I could see it continuing to hit the table, but for people that aren't partial to dexterity games, I typically go with goofier ones like Coconuts when I occasionally convince them to dip their toe in the beautiful waters of dexterity.  So my continued play of it will depend pretty heavily on who I am playing with.

If FlickFleet sounds like something you'd like, then check it out on Kickstarter.

I would like to thank Jackson Pope of Eurydice Games for sending me a preview copy of FlickFleet.

Ice Cool Review

Ice Cool board game

Every now and again, a new game comes along that looks a bit different and draws me back in to say a few words about it.  Most recently, that game was Ice Cool.

In Ice Cool, players take charge of a penguin in a game of tag.  Each round, one player plays the role of "catcher" and the other players are "runners."  The catcher's goal is to hit each of the other players' penguins.  The runners, meanwhile, are trying to successfully collect 3 fish by going through 3 doorframes on the board (and they collect a fish card every time they successfully go through a doorframe with one of their fish on it).  Once the catcher has hit all of his opponents' penguins, or a runner has caught all 3 of their own fish, the round is over.  At this point, the catcher takes a fish card for every runner that he successfully ran in to, plus one for being the catcher.  Then, a new round is started with another player taking the role of catcher.  Whoever has the most points worth of fish cards (each card ranges from one to three) at the end of the game wins.

closeup of Ice Cool game
The penguins are weighted on the bottom
Clearly, the best part of Ice Cool is the wonky penguins.  The penguins aren't weighted like a "normal" flicking thing.  I've played PitchCar, Catacombs, Crokinole, Bisikle, and basically every other flicking game that I can get my hands on, and this is the biggest difference between Ice Cool and those games - the penguins are not symmetrical.  What this means is that you can (try to) intentionally make the penguin do odd things - like jump over a part of the board, or make an arced shot to go around obstacles.  Now, I am not very good at this, but I have done it often enough to envision someone getting very good with these trick shots.

The next pro that I have for Ice Cool (aside from it being a dexterity game, and thus great fun by default) is that the one-point fish cards aren't complete disappointments.  In most games where you get a random score card for doing well, the lowest card sucks, and you just stare at it in irritation when you collect it.  In Ice Cool, there's a minor bonus prize for collecting ones - at the end of your turn, you can flip over two cards of value one to get another flick.  (You don't lose the points, either.)  I'd still rather collect three point cards, but the extra flick can definitely be very valuable.  (Though, it's still annoying when you collect them as the catcher at the end of the final round.)

Box in a Box picture
I would have to say that my biggest complaint with Ice Cool is something that only ever existed in my mind.  When I heard about the game, and saw pictures of it, one of the pictures I saw was the "Box in a Box" picture.  Now, what this picture is trying to communicate is that inside the box, there are several sub-pieces that fit together.  (In fact, you take these out and form the playing area, with walls and such.)  However, in my mind, I saw the picture and thought, "oh my gosh - how awesome is that!  A flicking game where the playing surface isn't completely flat, but has different angles and stuff!"  That's not a thing - the playing surface is flat.  So, whereas I was horribly disappointed with this, it's not likely something that will bother anyone else!

Does my personally being very bad at making jump shots land where I want count as a con?  No?  Oh.

Overall, I give Ice Cool a 8.0/10.  It's not going to replace PitchCar for me, but it does have enough of a difference to it that I can see myself coming back to it (not to mention that it's much lighter and faster to set up).

I would like to thank Brain Games for providing me with a review copy of Ice Cool.

Imperial Settlers Solo Campaign Review

Imperial Settlers with expansions and campaign mode

I've started playing solo games a bit more regularly lately.  So, when I first heard people talking about Imperial Settlers, I heard that it had a solo mode - but also a solo campaign mode (note that the link is to Portal Games' dropbox where they uploaded the rules for the campaign).  I was intrigued, so I went to check it out.  This review will focus on that mode of play, and is going to completely ignore the multiplayer (normal) mode.

(If you've never played Imperial Settlers, read this paragraph, otherwise, you can skip to the next one.)  In Imperial Settlers, you play over a series of rounds in order to get the most victory points.  You gain these in a few different ways - but typically by building buildings.  You start the game with a few cards - some specific to your faction, and some common.  Each round, you gain more cards in the Lookout phase, you collect resources in the Production phase, you "do stuff" in the Action phase, and then you discard any excess resources and reset your buildings in the Cleanup Phase.  Most of the "doing stuff" consists of playing or activating cards.  With most cards, you can play them in a few different ways - as buildings, as "Deals," or you can "Raze" them.  There are good and bad aspects, strategically, of each way to play a card, and you balance this as you play the game.  That's really where the strategy lies.  After a few rounds, if you have enough victory points, you win the game!

Imperial Settlers solo campaign tracking
Tracking the solo campaign
So, the solo game of Imperial Settlers adds a "Virtual Player Attack" after the Cleanup Phase.  This is done by flipping cards from a special deck, and matching the Raze icons on your buildings - if a building matches, then it is destroyed.  At the end of the set number of rounds, if you have built more buildings than the Virtual Player (who gets everything they Raze, along with some in the Lookout Phase), then you win.  The campaign strings together several of these games (and makes them shorter - you play 4 rounds in the campaign instead of 5).  To start each game (after the first), you have an Event occur.  The Events typically shift some of the rules of the game - emphasizing Production buildings, making Food more scarce, punishing you for using Raze tokens, etc.  If you win a game, you add a Province to your kingdom.  This Province typically gives you a bonus, but also requires you to pay for it in goods during the game, as well as with victory points after the game.  Finally, the solo campaign mode adds Achievements - these allow you to get permanent bonuses to help offset the Events and the cost of your Provinces.  There is no "end goal" for the campaign - you simply build your empire and see how well you can do.

The first thing that I like about the solo campaign is that it makes your victory points matter.  In most solo games that I play, typically once I beat it, there's no real reason to play again.  And, for that matter, if I just played the basic solo rules for Imperial Settlers, it would fall into this same category (well, you might play solo with each faction, but that's about it).  However, with the campaign, it suddenly is different if I win with 10 VPs instead of winning with 95.  With 95 VPs, I can buy some nice Achievements - whereas with 10 VPs, I might not even be able to pay the Control Cost of my Provinces.  This has changed the game for me - instead of "phoning it in" late in the game, since I know I've already won, I am trying to maximize my VP output until the very last play.

The next pro that I have for the solo campaign can probably be said for Imperial Settlers as a whole - the factions play very differently.  As an example, the first campaign I started was with the Barbarians.  They are very straightforward - they get VPs primarily by building tons of buildings, but they can also activate some buildings to trade goods for points.  The next campaign I played was with the Atlanteans.  The Atlanteans don't get VPs from their faction specific buildings (other factions get 2 VP per faction specific building), but they get a lot of "technology" tokens, which improve common buildings.  This meant that I had to build a ton of common buildings (they also only win if they have more common buildings than the virtual player - instead of buildings of any type).  Building all of these buildings meant that I got buildings Razed by the virtual player almost every turn - but the technology tokens caused me to generate huge piles of resources to help offset those losses (and to feed into buildings to generate VPs).

Imperial Settlers Japanese faction in play
A growing Japanese empire
Though I've really been enjoying the solo campaign, there are a few points that I have been annoyed with while playing it.  First, I feel like the "hard games" I've played have been due to the (poor) luck of the draw.  With some of the Provinces, you have to pay an upkeep cost every round.  So, for instance, if you've won 5 games, you may have to pay 1 Worker, 2 Stone, and 2 Wood at the end of each round to pay for your Provinces.  However, if you start a game by not drawing any Production buildings, then there's a good chance that you won't be able to pay this cost - and there's nothing that you could do about it.  (This is worse with the Atlanteans, as many of their faction cards provide technology tokens instead of normal goods, so it reduces the chance that you will be able to get the goods a Province needs by making a Deal.)  Granted, the Achievements should help you offset the costs of your Provinces, but regardless of what Achievements you have, there will be some times that a bad draw can derail your empire.

The next con that I had for the solo campaign is that there is a lot of upkeep in different places, and so it is very easy to "cheat" without realizing it.  It's one thing to inadvertently cheat in a multiplayer game - when you realize it, you point it out to your opponents, and you collectively decide how to handle it.  But, when you inadvertently cheat in a solo game, it's much more frustrating (in my opinion), because you don't know if you "really" would have won the game.  I know that there have been several games where I cheated by forgetting to pay the upkeep, not remembering what the upkeep cost was, or forgetting the event.  At the same time, I've also forgotten things that would help me like abilities that a Province provided.  When you have built a large empire in Imperial Settlers (like 10+ Production buildings, along with Features and Actions), it's hard enough to track what all you produce, without having to also reference other sheets.  As you play, you get better at tracking all of this, but it's still quite a bit.  (I know of some efforts within the player community to try to convert the various aspects of the campaign mode into cards that can be printed off - well designed cards should help with this, but as far as I know, there is nothing official yet in this regard.)

Before the wrap up, you may have noticed in the pictures that I played this with both expansions.  Here's a quick rundown of what the expansions add to the solo campaign, so that you can decide if you want them.

Virtual Player expansion cards
New Virtual Player cards (shown with their faction decks)
Why Can't We Be Friends:
This expansion focuses mostly on the multiplayer game (though you could shuffle in the new buildings if you'd like).  However, for the solo mode, it adds 2 cards that represent the Virtual Player, and this causes your Virtual Player to play a bit differently.  One Virtual Player attacks 3 times instead of 2, and the other gets more locations - so both make the game harder.  These are nice, but I don't consider them critical.

The Atlanteans expansion adds... well... the Atlanteans.  They are another playable faction that can be included in solo or multiplayer.  It also adds a corresponding Virtual Player card that you can use for them in games where you're not playing as them.  They play quite differently from the other factions, so if you enjoy going through the campaign with all of the different factions, then you might want to pick this one up so that you can play through with a 5th faction.  However, you are probably safe holding off on this one until you've played the campaign a couple of times to make sure that you enjoy it first.

Overall, I give the solo campaign mode for Imperial Settlers an 8.5.  I really enjoy it, and I think that I'll play through it more in the future.  It hasn't dethroned my favorite solo game, but it is definitely in the upper echelon for me.

I would like to thank Portal Games for providing me with a review copy of Imperial Settlers along with its expansions.

Between Two Cities Review

Between Two Cities board game

So, as you may have noticed, I haven't really written many reviews recently.  Yet, after trying Between Two Cities, I decided that I wanted to explore the game some more - including fleshing out my thoughts in writing.  (So, here we are!)

In Between Two Cities, you create two (4x4) cities - one with the player on your left, and another with the player on your right.  The game is played in three rounds - the first and third round are drafting, and the middle round is simply picking a (larger) tile.  Each time that you select a tile, you select two tiles, and everyone reveals their tiles at the same time.  Once revealed, you can place either of your tiles in either one of your cities (but one tile must go in each city).  Each type of tile has certain ways of maximizing its score, and at the end of the game, your total score is the point value of your lower scoring city.  So, the challenge of the game is to balance your two cities so that they both do well - even if it means preventing one of your cities from becoming amazing, in order to allow them both to be great.

The first thing that I like about Between Two Cities is the partnership element of the game.  It really has a very unique feel in that you are working with other players all game.  (You don't have your own city.)  However, this is a double-edged sword.  Because, though you're working with two people, each of those players is also working with someone else, and there will be times when they will make a decision that hurts your city, because they feel like it is more important to help their other city.  This causes a very strange balance in the game - especially since you are drafting tiles and passing the remaining tiles to one of your partners.  Since you know what they are receiving, you can select and place accordingly.  But, just because they take the tile that you want them to draft does not mean that they'll actually place it in the city that you both share!

Between Two Cities second round of the game
Placement in the second round is a bit more constrained
The next pro that I've found for Between Two Cities is that the simultaneous play keeps the game very engaging.  Many games scale linearly in time with the number of players - which often translates into sitting around waiting while other players take their turns.  However, in Between Two Cities, you are selecting and placing your tiles at the same time.  Yes, there will be times when one player takes longer than the others, but ultimately, there is very little down time in the game.  You truly feel like you're participating the entire time.

The third thing that I really enjoyed about Between Two Cities was eluded to earlier - I like that when drafting, you are passing your unselected tiles to one of your partners.  This knowledge (and foreknowledge) of what tiles are available and can be selected really makes the decision of what to select a bit more intriguing.  Obviously, this is still only limited knowledge, in that you don't know what you will draw in future rounds, or what tiles will be passed to you.  Yet, this small bit of additional knowledge makes the game feel more strategic.

One thing that I will point out about Between Two Cities that's a bit different from other drafting games is that there isn't really any "hate drafting."  What I mean is that there aren't really opportunities to select tiles simply to prevent other people from getting them.  There are a couple reasons for this.  First, everything that you draft has to go in your city; so if you draft something that's not useful, you're hurting yourself more than your opponent.  Secondly, you only select three times in each of the drafting rounds, so the tiles simply don't go that far around the table.  It is drafting, but is a much more abbreviated draft than in a game like 7 Wonders.

Completed city in Between Two Cities
Factories make you want more factories!
The main "con" that I have for Between Two Cities I go back and forth with my feelings on.  What's the con?  It's really annoying when I can't draw what I want!  As an example, one tile type, factories, is worth a lot of points if you have the most of them - and worth far less if you don't have the most.  So, if you're drafting factories, you want to draft a lot of factories.  If you draft a bunch of factories in round one and then don't draw any factories in round three, it can be quite annoying, and make the game feel a bit luck oriented.  Yet, I've never seen a "perfect" city be built (I calculated up that I think 69 is the top possible score).  What instead tends to happen is that each city has one specific type of tile that it scores most of its points with.  And so, what you are able to do with your backup tiles tends to be the difference between winning and losing in the game.  So, with all that said, it is still frustrating to not draw what you want - and there is admittedly an element of luck in the tiles drawn; yet there is still strategy involved in how to handle these situations (as with all drafting games).

Overall, I give Between Two Cities a 9.0/10.  I have enjoyed the games of it that I've played so far, and I expect that I'll be playing it many more times.  With the speed of setup, explanation, and play - along with the nice 3-7 player count - I see it being easy to get to the table.

I would like to thank Stonemaier Games for providing me with a review copy of Between Two Cities.