Code 777 Review

Code 777 game in play

A game that I paid little to no attention to until it was mailed to me after the tornado is Code 777.

In Code 777, each player has 3 tiles that are placed on a board in front of them. All of the other players can see what that player has, but they cannot - the goal of the game is to figure out which numbers you have. Each turn, the active player gets a question which he must read aloud and answer to all of the other players. Questions like, "How many numbers do you not see at all?" This information will then help other players determine what their tiles are. Whenever a player thinks that they know what their numbers are, they are able to guess - but if they are wrong, then they lose their tiles and get new ones. This helps their opponents and forces them to start over. Play continues like this until one player guesses their numbers correctly.

The first thing that I like about Code 777 is that each tile has both a number and a color (you only have to guess the number, not the color). This really helps the questions to be much more diverse - "Do you see more green or blue tiles?" Therefore, there are a lot of different ways that you can narrow down which tiles you may or may not have. And, whoever is best and narrowing this down is normally able to win.  (And as a note, the Stronghold Games version of Code 777 is color-blind friendly.  Each piece has both a color and a matching symbol on it.)

The next major pro to this game is that it is incredibly fun. As an honesty check, I really only played this game to see what it was like since I had a copy available to me, and after playing it, I was intending to pass it along to someone else (that can also be read "it sure didn't look fun"). However, after the first play, I got hooked! This game is one of the most fun games that I have played in quite some time. It is incredibly difficult to objectively describe this, and I have no idea what even causes this game to be fun (by all typical gauges, I'm convinced that it should be boring), but everyone that I have played it with has had a blast!

The third pro that I will mention is that I really liked the balance of the "number pyramid."  Each number has one more tile available than the previous number (there is one "1", two "2"s, etc).  In addition, each color is used four times - there are four brown "4"s, there are three black "3"s and one black "5", etc.  This careful balance in the game (and realizing that it is there) really allows the questions to be much more useful whether they are about numbers or colors.

The final pro that I will mention is that I think that Code 777 is kid (that can read - so maybe more "tween" (between child and teen)) friendly. Anyone should be able to grasp the rules, and I think that kids would have fun playing the game. (Note: this is based on conjecture, I don't have kids. I have played it with kids that were around 12-15, however, and they did enjoy it.) Playing with young kids might be frustrating if they are too impatient to actually wait until they have figured out their tiles and just start guessing, but if they are willing to actually try to figure out their tiles logically, I think that Code 777 could be fun for everyone!

However, though I really enjoy the game and will continue playing it, there are still some cons. For example, some of the questions seem to give away significantly more information than others. For example, several questions can immediately let you know that you have a certain number. Things like, "Do you see more pink sixes or green sixes?" Well, if you see the same number of each (excluding the active player's board), but your opponent answers that they see more of one or the other - you immediately know that you have at least one of the number they stated. A lot of other questions will help you in much more vague ways like determining that you have at least as many green tiles as red tiles. To be fair, the questions are really a lot of what I think brings fun to the game. Sure, in certain situations some questions will help a lot more than others, but if the questions never gave any useful information, then the game simply wouldn't work.

Perhaps the biggest con with Code 777 is how frustrating the game can be when you guess incorrectly, and you are convinced that you are right. Now, this can happen for a couple of different reasons - first, someone actually mis-answered a question. If this were to happen, it breaks the game. I don't think that there's any way that they could have designed around that, in the same way that any game might not work if you don't follow the rules. The second way this can happen is if you eliminate something twice, when you should have only eliminated it once. This happened to me. Because of this, I can offer this helpful advice for if you ever play Code 777: mark your paper differently based on if you have logically eliminated a piece or if you have eliminated it by seeing the piece. If you mark them the same way, then you will be prone to mark something that you have logically eliminated off when you see it because of someone drawing new tiles after a missed guess. Be careful - don't do this! It is beyond frustrating!

Overall, I give Code 777 a 9.0/10. This game is fun, replayable, and can be played by anyone that can read. In addition to all of that, it forces you to stretch your brain by trying to solve the puzzle of what tiles you have! It's a blast and I'd recommend that anyone try it out.

For another perspective, check out the Board Game Family's review of Code 777. And, in addition to Code 777, you might also consider checking out Mice and Mystics, Innovation, and Dixit.  

I would like to thank Stronghold Games for providing me with a copy of Code 777 to help rebuild my game collection after the tornado.

Family Business Review

A game that I picked up in a trade on Board Game Geek was Family Business.

In Family Business, each player takes a mob family and attempts to "take care" of all of the members of the other mob families. To do this, the players take turns; this consists of drawing a card and then playing an Attack or Defense card. If an Attack card is played, any player can play a Response card to counter the Attack card just played. In order to take out opponent's mobsters, you play Attack cards to put them on the Hit List (and Defense cards to remove your own). Once a mob war starts (by playing a card, having a certain number of mobsters on the Hit List, or having few enough mobsters left in the game), the mobster at the front of the Hit List is "whacked" at the beginning of each player's turn. The game continues like this until only one mob is left with any members still standing.

With the simplicity of Family Business, I don't really feel the need to include too many pros and cons. However, this wouldn't be a review if I didn't include any, so here we go. One of the first things that I immediately liked about Family Business was how Response cards worked. If anybody chose to play a Response card, it became that player's turn (skipping anybody in between). I really liked this rule for a couple of reasons. First, it was a fairly unique rule that I hadn't seen in other games. Second, it really allowed two mobs to start fighting each other. (What would happen is one mob would attack another mob and get countered. The mob that was attacked would then attack back on their turn and get countered. This could go on for several iterations while the other players are sitting back and watching, while hoping that they will kill each other off.)

The next thing that I liked about Family Business was that it was a pretty lightweight, easy to play, and yet still fun and engaging game. I think that most anybody could play this game, and I would even think that it would be ok for kids, since most of the art is cartoonish (keep in mind that I don't have kids, so I am no the expert on what is child appropriate). In addition, this could easily be carried around and played in around 30 minutes, and so it works well in a variety of situation - potentially even as a game to play at work during lunch.

Whereas I enjoyed this game, it suffered from a common problem that occurs in a lot of card games: luck of the draw. If you draw the correct cards, you can do really well and take down your opponents. If you draw poorly, you can quickly get a lot of your mobsters eliminated, or have a hand full of worthless cards. Whereas I realize that it is difficult to have a card game without drawing cards, I felt like Family Business had a bit more card drawing luck than some others that I have played recently.

Another con that I found in the game is that each mob family was the same, and each mobster within each mob family was the same.  Though the game was focused on "putting a hit" on other players' mobsters through the use of Attack cards, I thought it could have had more depth if the actual mobsters (or at least mob families) had some kind of unique characteristics or powers in the game.

Overall, I give Family Business a 7.5/10. I never have figured out how to rank these simple card games against my other board games, but this is a game that I definitely feel is worth keeping. I enjoyed the game, and I can see myself breaking it out and playing it periodically, but I think it will live out most of its life as a filler game.

Return of the Heroes Review

I finally played Return of the Heroes again, so I felt it was time to review it (disclaimer: I couldn't find the English version on Amazon).

In Return of the Heroes, each player takes on the role of a fledgling hero that is eager to perform tasks and slay monsters in order to gain experience and eventually defeat the ultimate evil bad-guy slobbering super villain. Each turn, the player is allowed to move a number of spaces equal to their movement value (which is different based on which hero/race you play as). Any undiscovered encounters that cross their path cause them to temporarily stop their movement and flip the tile; if it is a monster, they must fight it, but if it is an encounter or a task they have the option of performing the associated action or continuing their movement. Ultimately, the heroes are all attempting to complete their "heroic quest" which allows them to gain a "precious stone". This stone is the key that allows them to enter the lair of the ultimate evil bad-guy slobbering super villain. Once they feel their brave hero is strong enough, they can go challenge the ultimate evil (and then he destroys them... oh wait, I mean, they fight gloriously or something... but chances are he defeats them).

The first pro for Return of the Heroes is the leveling system. Each character has three primary statistics: melee, ranged, and magic. They have a starting number in each statistic, which represents the number that they have to roll less than or equal to (on two dice) in order to pass a check in that stat. There are two different ways that a hero can improve one of their stats; either they can increase the number on their stat (by using a trainer) - thus increasing the odds of the die rolls being successful, or they can increase the number of dice they can use (and pick the best two results) by gaining experience - thus allowing for more chances of getting the lower numbers. It is really a neat system, and is the biggest draw that I have to this game. I wish that more games implemented stat checks and experience like this; it seems to dampen the annoying aspects of everything being completely based on how well you can make a single roll.

The next positive aspect of the game is that the task system actually works. I have played other games in which players are supposed to perform tasks, but they are incredibly long and arduous, and each player can only have a single task at a time, and so it feels like a monotonous grind to complete them. In Return of the Heroes, each hero can have up to four open tasks at a time (and also their heroic quest), and the tasks are normally pretty simple and gain the player experience. It is a nice system that is a change of pace from many other role playing games.

The final pro of the game is that Return of the Heroes feels like a more quick-paced role playing game (seems like an hour time frame). However, with that said, I mentioned that the ultimate evil monster at the end of the game destroys you. It seemed quick until we realized exactly how difficult that challenge was. Which leads me to my first con.

I thought that the final monsters did not scale well with the rest of the game, and I felt like the game would be a monotonous grind in order to actually get your heroes strong enough to defeat him. Perhaps this was just the monster that we were playing against (he healed every time he wounded you), but the difficulty from defeating the "Nameless One's Guard" (the second most challenging enemy in the game) to defeating the "Nameless One" was astronomical. We each breezed through all of the monsters until we got to the final enemy - and we were all killed. (The official rules state that if you are killed, you get to keep an artifact and lose all experience and other items. We just said you were killed and moved on.) I really think for the game to not get boring at the end, you may need to play with house rules to make the final enemy challenging but not quite as hard as the game has them.  One reason that the game would get so boring at the end is that the players would have plenty of extra dice; the experience that they would need would be increasing the number on their statistic (the number that has to be rolled less than or equal to).  To do this, you must hire a trainer, and to do that, you must have money.  At the end of the game, there is really only about one way to get money - kill the thief.  So everyone would have to chase the thief, kill him, and then go hire the trainers and hope that the thief comes back out near them.

The next problem with the game is that the rules were horrible. First, they are written as if the heroes are explaining them to you, so it is all written in dialog. This makes them unnecessarily lengthy and also makes it more difficult to find anything. After reading through the rules, we were often unsure of how certain things worked, and spent quite a bit of time blindly wading through rules with no success.  Part of our lack of success was because many things (I think) were simply not covered by the rules.  A good example of this is that, even though there is a "quick start" setup guide, it doesn't actually tell you where everything goes to start the game. We just assumed that everything went how the picture depicted them and hoped that they were showing the "official" setup and not and example setup.

The final problem that I had with the game is that it needed more diversity of monsters. There were a handful of monsters that started the game as random encounters, and there were the Nameless One's minions (that came out when his chit was pulled from the bag). However, the Nameless One's minions are removed from the game after they are defeated and are all essentially the same monster, anyway. I thought that there should be more diversity in starting monsters - especially since they go back into the bag to get redrawn. Essentially, there are about 5 monsters that you will see repeatedly throughout the game.

Overall, I give Return of the Heroes a 6.0/10. This was one of the most difficult games I have ever assigned a number to. I pondered whether the difficulty of the end boss made the game "broken" and should get a sub-5 rating. I also love the leveling system, so I was tempted to give it around a 7.5. However, I wound up splitting the difference. As opposed to most games with scores this low, however, Return of the Heroes will stay in my collection for the time being.  As awesome as the leveling system is, I'd have to recommend that you try either Runebound or Talisman instead.

City Square Off Review

An unimposing little game from Gamewright that I initially overlooked is City Square Off.

City Square Off is a spatial reasoning game in which each player is "planning a city" (placing Tetris-style pieces - oh and get used to Tetris comparisons) on a grid board. Both players start with a "city" in the middle of the board (each of a different shape). Once this incredibly simple setup is complete, each turn a player will flip the topmost card from the deck (representing a tile piece), and both players will have to place that tile on their board. Play continues like this until at least one player cannot place the appropriate tile, at which point the player that can place the tile is declared the winner. If neither player can place the tile, then the player with the largest number of uncovered contiguous spaces is declared the winner.

The first thing that I like about City Square Off is a combination of the city and tile pieces. Initially, I just assumed that this game was going to be a board game Tetris, but these pieces are what proved me wrong. Since the city pieces are each different, this forces both of the players to be playing differently - you cannot cheat and see what your opponent is doing, because that may not even be a valid play on your board. And with the tiles, there are no repeated shapes - once that tile has been placed, it will never be played again. In addition, I like that the tiles vary in number of blocks - they range from consisting of one block all the way up to five (this really helps set it apart from Tetris where they are all four blocks). Since the number of blocks in each piece are inconsistent, it really forces you to actually think instead of going into auto-Tetris-pilot.

The next thing that I really like about City Square Off is the high quality of the components. Normally, I don't really care about component quality - rather, I like high quality components, but I don't bother telling you about whether a game has them or not. However, with City Square Off, I believe that the game would be incredibly frustrating if they hadn't made the components so well. Since your goal is to set these pieces up, and it is crucial that they stay in place, if each player was given a flat board the pieces would slide and you would immediately get annoyed by the game. Fortunately, Gamewright took this into consideration and made sure that there were small "nubs" (for lack of a better word) on each grid point - and the tiles have small holes in them that allow them to lock into place with these nubs. Thus, no sliding of components, and the game is playable!

A very brief third pro that I have for City Square Off is that not all of the pieces fit on the board.  Therefore, you can't play the "perfect" game in which you successfully go all the way through the deck and place all of your tiles.  You will run into a time where you can't place things - it's simply a matter of "when" instead of "if".  I like this.

Finally, as with all Gamewright games, the final pro is that it is incredibly kid friendly. Anyone can play this game, as it is very simple to understand the rules. Yet, if you play this with kids, I think that it will help challenge their spatial reasoning skills and force them to plan ahead. If they don't pay attention to the fact that certain pieces are already used, then they will lose - until they learn that they need to watch for that.  Games that children can play, and yet are forced to expand their thinking are really good in my opinion.

The only real con that I see in City Square Off is that, though it did distinguish itself from Tetris to an extent, it does not force me to think in new ways as most spatial reasoning games do. The thing that I love so much about games like Abalone, Dvonn, and Yinsh is that they are so unlike anything that I have ever played or seen - and so they force me to think in entirely new ways. City Square Off challenges me more than Tetris, but feels comfortable enough that I don't feel my brain being stretched. With this, I must acknowledge that Gamewright's games are aimed primarily to be able to be played with children, and I believe that children will not experience this same con - they didn't all grow up playing the same games that I played.

Overall, I give City Square Off an 8.5/10. I debated this back and forth, planning on giving it only an 8 for a long time, but that was primarily because I prefer Dvonn and Abalone, each of which also received 8.5's. (I'm not convinced that I'm very consistent with my scores; but at least I never claimed to be.) Judging it based on it's own merits, City Square Off is a very solid game with the added advantage of being inexpensive and very kid friendly - so 8.5 it is.

If you're looking for games that you can play with kids, then you might try Monopoly Deal, Sorry! Sliders, and possibly Heroscape.

I would like to thank Gamewright for providing me with a review copy of City Square Off.

Gubs Review

Gubs game before starting play

A cute little game by Gamewright that captured my attention is Gubs.

In Gubs, each of the players are attempting to play and protect (or steal and protect) the most Gubs (weird snail-type creatures, but without the shell). To do this, each turn the active player has the option of drawing a card (this is not required, but you cannot skip the draw step two turns in a row). Next, he may play any number of cards from his hand - allowing him to protect Gubs, steal Gubs, trap Gubs, etc. Finally, he must discard down to eight cards and then play passes to the left. Whenever an Event card is drawn, however, it immediately resolves (most of these are nasty and greatly affect the game). Included in the Event cards are the letters "G", "U", and "B". Once all three letters have been drawn, the game is immediately over, and whoever has the most free or protected Gubs is the winner.

The first thing that I like about Gubs is the fact that it is kid friendly. Specifically, it must be played with someone that can read, so it is more "tween" friendly. I believe that Gubs can easily be compared to games like Old Maid, Uno, War, Phase 10, and others of that complexity. Of these, I would much rather play Gubs because, even with it's flaws, it is a much more entertaining game than any of the ones I just mentioned. Plus, there is at least some strategy involved in winning Gubs as opposed to a game like War.

The next thing that I like about Gubs is the artwork. Gamewright did a great job in making Gubs feel like you are in an entirely different (very small) world. Suddenly mushrooms and toads can be viewed as useful protection, but wasps seem to be mortal threats! This is probably the greatest asset to the game - the wonderful imaginative world that serves as a backdrop for Gubs.  (And, the tin that Gubs comes in is also a nice touch.)

The third pro that I will briefly mention about Gubs is that no player even feels like they can't come back.  I have played dozens of games in which I knew that I had no chance of victory less than halfway through the game.  Gubs is not like that.  Because of some of the cards in the deck (such as the "Super Lure" which allows you to steal all of one player's free and protected Gubs), the last place person can in one turn become the leader.  With this, there is a definite con...

Gubs' biggest con (to me) is that it is primarily Luck based. The subtitle for the game is "A game of wit and luck." Therefore, the amount of luck in the game should not come as a surprise to anyone.  Though I would say that the game is much heavier on the luck aspect than the wit. With that said, this will not be a con to many people that play games just to pass the time and enjoy company. For me, however, I much prefer playing games in which I feel like whether I win or lose is at least greatly affected by how I play. (Though, I must admit that I do enjoy their being something random in most games.)

Because of the amount of luck in Gubs, it led to my second con - I became disinterested in the game. Since I felt like my actions did not matter (with the exception of keeping back a few defensive cards to counter a couple of the particularly nasty events and traps), my enjoyment and participation in the game quickly waned.

Overall, I give Gubs a 7.0/10. If I were to play this strictly with my typical group of gaming friends, this score would be even lower. However, factoring in the fact that Gubs can be engaging to a much younger audience (and, in fact, this is what all Gamewright games I have played strive for), I decided that 7.0 was appropriate. If you have children that can read (and would rather pull your hair out than play another game of Uno), then I would recommend checking Gubs out. If you're primarily a strategy gamer that plays games with an older audience, I would suggest that you pass.

If Gubs sounds interesting, you might also check out Hey, That's My Fish!, Dixit, and Rory's Story Cubes.

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

Sending The Resistance to US Troops in Afghanistan

So, when I returned home from GenCon, I returned with a little game called The Resistance. The Resistance is a game that we quickly fell in love with in our office (and you can read my full review of it here).

We played this game dozens of times each day any time that we could - lunch breaks, after work, etc. One day as we were thinking about when we should play next, my boss (who was previously in the military) mentioned that this was a game that he would have loved to play while he was deployed. Immediately, a plan developed. Using some of his contacts in the military, we have been placed in contact with deployed troops in Afghanistan to whom we can send games. Using my contacts in the board game industry, I managed to negotiate (beg) a special rate for buying The Resistance in bulk from the generous people at Indie Boards & Cards.  Our goal is to buy them by the 24 game case!

What's left? Funding! Without help, our office will hopefully be able to send an entire case of The Resistance to US troops deployed in Afghanistan. With your help, we can hopefully make this much higher! So that I am not doing this forever, however, I am also setting an end date. With this month being the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, and thus the fact that the US has had troops in Afghanistan for 10 years, I figure that this is a good month to raise funds. Therefore, donations will be accepted until the end of the month, and I will send as many copies as I can on October 1, 2011.

Do you want to help? If so, you can donate to help the cause on PayPal. All you have to do is go to PayPal and donate money to the email address we have set up:


Test of Fire: Bull Run 1861 Review

Battle of Bull Run game in play

I have been fascinated by the (American) Civil War since I was a child. I realized a little while back that I also hadn't ever played any good Civil War board games (or, to be fair, any Civil War board games - good or otherwise). Therefore, when I first heard that Mayfair Games was coming out with Test Of Fire: Bull Run 1861, I jumped (metaphorically - not physically) at the chance to play it!

In Test of Fire, each player takes the role of one of the opposing sides - the Union or the Confederacy (at the first battle of Bull Run). The goal of the game is to either control two of the three objectives by the time one of the decks of cards runs out, capture your opponent's headquarters, or to kill enough troops that you are able to Rout your opponent (one of the cards is a "Rout" and is successful based on how many opponents were killed). Each turn, you roll dice to determine which orders are available to you (Union gets four orders, Confederacy gets three). These orders can include drawing cards, moving troops (potentially into a skirmish), firing artillery, or using your Leader to do any of the three actions. True to form, Test of Fire depicts the inaccuracy of Civil War weaponry by the odds of actually hitting anyone while fighting being fairly atrocious. When rolling with artillery, you score a "hit" on a roll of a 5 or 6 - from there, you roll again to see if the enemy retreats (on a 1-5) or if you inflict damage (only on a 6). In troop combat, the odds are significantly improved of hitting (troops get two dice instead of one, but still only hit on a 5 or 6), and you are able to damage your opponent on a roll of 4-6. Play continues like this until one side meets one of the instant win conditions (capture Headquarters, or a successful Rout), or until one of the sides has drawn their deck of cards and has an order to draw a card - at which point whoever controls two objectives at the end of the Confederate turn is the winner.

The first pro for Test of Fire is the historical accuracy of the game. Between the board setup, the informative lesson about the battle contained in the rules, and how the artillery fire, orders, and troop combat play out, I am quite impressed with the game. I think that this game could easily be used as a fun teaching tool for anyone trying to learn (or teach) American History. Unfortunately, along with it being historically accurate, this leads into my first neutral point of note.

The Civil War was a war of attrition. The Union won because they had more troops and better supplies. For the most part, the battles consisted of shooting back and forth at each other with inaccurate weaponry until one side or the other was exhausted and retreated. Many troops were killed, but thousands more were violently injured (but survived). This is depicted well in Test of Fire. Most of the game will be spent in a tug-of-war fashion where the Union charges into the battle and is beaten back while causing a few Confederate troops to retreat. Both sides will wind up with most of their troops damaged, yet only a few will actually be killed. I believe that this is actually very accurate of the war that is being represented in the game, but it is something to be aware of when considering whether Test of Fire is a game for you. If you are not interested in a war of attrition, then you may want to look at games based off of other wars.

The next thing that you should know about Test of Fire is that there are a lot of dice that are rolled. I am classifying this as a "neutral point of note" instead of a pro or a con, but I'm leaning towards how the orders work being a pro - I'm just not 100% decided on that yet. I believe that how the orders work simulates the breakdown in communications of the Civil War. It was not always easy to get a message to your troops to ensure that they are doing the correct thing (indeed this happened a lot at Bull Run specifically). In the game, this plays out by you often not being able to do what the strategically best option is. It can be very frustrating as the Union player to see the Confederate line finally about to break, only to roll all artillery orders - thus not giving you the option to capitalize. However, since both players get orders the same way, I have seen the Confederate player see this same situation and desperately hope to reinforce - only to have all their orders used to draw cards. The same dice rolling applies for fighting - the odds of actually hitting anything are not in your favor, and it can be very frustrating to see your troops completely miss the incoming enemy. However, it can be quite rewarding later in the game when you finally roll a majority of "hits", finally dealing massive damage to your opponent.

The main con that I have for Test of Fire is that I think the replayability of the game is fairly limited. There are some variants that are included in the instructions that can add a little bit of freshness to the game (and attempt to balance out the game if one side is winning far more than they should be - which is the Confederacy when I play). However, even with these variants, the battle is going to be essentially the same each time through, as will the strategies for both sides (draw as quickly as possible with the Confederacy, and charge like a madman with the Union).

Overall, I give Test of Fire: Bull Run 1861 an 8.0/10. I debated this number a bit, but I think that since the game only lists at $30, I can forgive some of the replayability issues that I listed. If you enjoy war games or are interested in the Civil War, you should definitely check this game out - I think that you will get your money's worth.

For historical based games, you may also want to read about 1960: The Making of the President, and Axis and Allies: Pacific, or if you like war games you might consider checking out Risk: Legacy.

I would like to thank Mayfair Games for providing me with a review copy of Test of Fire: Bull Run 1861.

Guards! Guards! A Discworld Boardgame Review

Guards! Guards! Discworld game in play

The first game that I have heard of that uses Terry Pratchett's Discworld as it's theme is Guards! Guards! Because of the theme of the game, one of my friends immediately decided to buy it at GenCon, and I was honored to get to play it with her.

In Guards! Guards! the library has lost several of it's spells, and they have been scattered throughout the city. Since this job is far too big for any one individual, each of you has been assigned only five of them to return - indeed, even your share of spells is more than you can handle, so you go around recruiting allies. These allies will help return the spells to you once you have found them (navigated to them on the board). You must be careful, however, as some of your opponents want to look good by returning their spells first. Therefore, as you send your allies to return the spell, they might encounter some of your opponent's saboteurs who might attack them, or even try to convince them that they are working for the wrong person. After your allies manage to return to the library, the spells still aren't immediately returned - the library has defenses to prevent anyone from just walking in! You must pass various skill checks (depending on which spell is being returned) in order to get it all the way into the library. The first person to return all five of his assigned spells is the winner! (Oh, and there are also dragons and crazy luggage in the game.)

The first thing that I must confess in this review before writing any pros or cons is that I am not really familiar with Discworld. I have never read any of the books, and so I am forced to review this game only on it's merits as a game. I can tell you second-hand that the references to the books are quite amusing, and that my friend who owns the game thoroughly enjoyed reading through the ally cards, looking at the art, and reading the blurbs about each person.

The first pro that I see to Guards! Guards! is the crazy, runaway luggage. Specifically, the luggage is looking for it's owner (it won't find it), and so it is wandering around the city. And, unfortunately for you, it is apparently much bigger than you, as if you are in the same place you suffer enough injuries to go to the hospital! This is an interesting mechanic that is wrapped in a goofy theme and seems to work well. Each time a new ally joins someone's party, the luggage is moved a certain number of steps around the board (and his path has several forks in it that force the current player to choose a direction). Whereas this sounds insignificant at first, it is amazing how much a player's movement will be influenced by where they land on the path relative to the luggage. And, moreover, the person that doesn't pay attention to this may find himself in the hospital more often than not.

My second pro is that the game has dragons. I really like dragons and feel like they should be in more games. However, with Guards! Guards! you don't actually encounter them very often (in my limited experience). But, when you do encounter them, they can drastically alter the game! A quarter of the board will become fairly useless until the players choose to band together to defeat it (which is no easy task).

Now for the first con - I absolutely hate the end of game mechanic. On the final spell, you are forced to make a Magic 9 and a Guild 9 skill check to return it. This means that you roll an eight-sided die and add your Magic value (an attribute that you can increase throughout the game but that has a maximum of +5) to it  - and this number must equal or exceed 9. Next, you do the same with your Guild value. Magic and Guild are very challenging attributes to upgrade.  Some of the allies give you boosts to these stats, and when you return a spell you can choose to upgrade one of them as well. However, even if you get all of the possible upgrades, it still boils down to a die roll. And, since the games I have played have actually been fairly even between players, this ends the game with the players simply taking turns rolling until one of them eventually gets the die rolls that they need to win. Yes, the person that has more upgrades has a better chance of winning, but poor die rolling can indefinitely keep him from that goal. The more I think about it, the more this end of game mechanic reminds me of the one in Killer Bunnies, which annoys me so badly that I won't play it (Killer Bunnies)! At least in Guards! Guards! you are able to feel like you are in charge of whether or not you win, since you're the one rolling the die.

The next con to Guards! Guards! was simply that the game wasn't especially engaging. More than anything, it seems to be a race around the board to see who can hire the better allies and return their spells the fastest. Yes, there are some ways (like setting up Saboteurs and running them over with Luggage) to affect your opponents, but strategically, it doesn't always make sense to slow them down at the cost of returning your own spells (after all, a Saboteur can't return a spell for you while they have an ambush set up for your opponent). Some things affect your race to return the spells, but I think that good die rolling (when charming allies and returning spells - you can move 6 spaces each turn and don't roll to determine that) and which allies you have the opportunity to hire affect who wins the game much more than anything else. I simply found myself disengaged with Guards! Guards! each time that I played it.

Overall, I give Guards! Guards! a 6.0/10. Obviously, if I enjoyed the Discworld lore, this number would probably be higher. However, from playing it strictly as a game I was very disappointed. There were a few neat aspect to the game, but in the future, I would just assume play something else.

The Resistance Review

The Resistance card game components laid out before play

A game that I had never heard of until I innocently posted a Tweet looking for new games to try is The Resistance. After reading a review and looking into the game, I decided it would be a great one to buy and play in my office.

The Resistance comes with a base game and an expansion in the same box. I view this similarly to a simple and advanced ruleset. For the purposes of this post, I will be writing about the combined game that uses both, but I have played it both ways quite a few times and it is highly enjoyable either way - but be warned, once you start using the expansion, you will never want to go back.

In The Resistance, each player is dealt a loyalty card to determine if they are a member of the Resistance, or if they are a Spy. Based on this, they want their side to succeed on three of the five missions. Unfortunately, the Spies have an advantage - a single failure will fail an entire mission. To start each round, the Leader will draw cards from the "Plot" deck and hand them out to other players (this is what the expansion adds). These cards will allow players to look at other Loyalty cards, look at Mission cards as they are played, etc. After these cards have been handed out, the Leader will pick a set number of people to go on the Mission. Based on his selection, all the players will vote on whether or not they think that Mission should go ahead, or if the leadership should pass and another team should be assembled. Play continues in this way until either there is a successful vote or everyone has been the Leader and been voted down (which counts as a Spy victory). Next, the players that are on the Mission each get to select a single Mission card - either Pass or Fail. If a single Fail is played on the Mission (or two of them in certain situations based on the number of players), then the Mission is a failure (Spy success). Otherwise, with all Pass cards, the Mission is a success for the Resistance members. Next, if neither side has achieved three victories, then Leadership passes and a new round begins.

The first pro for The Resistance is that the game is a lot of fun. This is a very hard pro to measure and elaborate on, but some games just "click" and are a blast to play.  The Resistance is one of those games.  It is easily the best value for the money of any game that I have played in several years. The game retails at $20 (or $15 on Amazon), and I have played it dozens of times; it is highly addictive and only rarely is a game of The Resistance not enjoyable.

What's more, the game can easily be taught to anybody. I don't necessarily mean that it is appropriate for all age groups, but it could be taught to people that have never really played strategy board games, and they can quickly understand what is going on in the game - even becoming key contributors. I would especially see people that love bluffing games (such as Poker) loving this game (assuming that they love the bluffing and not the gambling aspect of Poker). I have taught this game to 90% of my office, many of which have never played "my kind of board games," and we haven't had any problems with people not understanding.

The third pro is that The Resistance truly gives you an immersive gameplay experience without taking a large amount of time. The game claims to be 30 minutes long, but I would say a typical game is anywhere from 15-30 minutes, depending on the number of accusations and distrust. Therefore, if you are looking for a game that you can play quickly when you need a break, The Resistance is a great choice - if everyone understands the time crunch, you can normally fit in a game in less than 20 minutes with no problems.  I can't think of many other games that can be played so quickly and yet are engaging enough that you find people talking about the game hours after it has been played.

The final pro that I will mention for The Resistance is the depth of strategy that the game has simply because of the social interaction of the game. When you start playing the game, strategies will be fairly basic - if you're a Spy, fail every mission. After a few games, however, people will expect that, and so you will start passing some missions to throw people off of your trail. But then, people will realize that Spies are passing missions, and so they will start suspecting people, even though they have only ever passed missions! And the Plot cards (the expansion) add even more of this! Suddenly, when I reveal my Loyalty card to someone and they tell you something about me, you have to determine - are they lying, and both are Spies? Are they telling the truth and they're both Resistance? Are they telling the truth because they're a Spy and want you to think that they are Resistance? Why did that person decide to reveal their card to the other player in the first place, instead of to a different player? The paranoia factor in this game is off the charts, and I must say that though I doubted it to start with, it truly does capture the cylon feel of Battlestar Galactica incredibly well.

With all the pros, there are some minor cons to The Resistance. First, there will be (very rare) games in which only Loyal players are picked to go on missions. The first two games that I taught The Resistance to my friends saw this occur. We sent two players on the Mission, and it passed. So we sent them again and added a person - and it Passed. And the next Mission still only required three players, so we sent the same three - and it Passed; Game Over, Resistance wins (zero fun was had by all). This happened twice in a row! In the dozens of games I have played since then, I have only seen something like this occur one other time. When it does happen, it is quite annoying, but those games are incredibly few and far between.

The second con for The Resistance is that it definitely has a number of players in which it works best.  With 7-8 players, the game is off the charts phenomenal.  However, with less players (5-6), you are much more likely to run into the anomalous games that I mentioned in the last paragraph.  With more than 8 players, you don't actually have to figure out who all of the Spies are to win (you have 6 Resistance members, but only send up to 5 players on any of the Missions).  In fact, we actually started trying to play 9 player games with 5 Resistance and 4 Spies (the official rules state that it should be 6 Resistance and 3 Spies), because we felt that it was too easy.  This doesn't mean that The Resistance can't be played with these numbers of players, or even that it's not fun - it just means that it isn't as fun.

The final thing that I must mention gets classified as a "point of note" instead of a con; you must be very careful with your Mission card vote versus your discard. We have had at least two situations in which all of the players thought that they had played a Pass card, and yet a Fail somehow occurred. I recommend that everyone holds the card that they are discarding in their hand until the votes are gathered up to be revealed.  Whereas this is definitely a fault of the players and not of the game, it is something to make sure that you are careful about when playing the game.

Overall, I give The Resistance a 9.0/10. As I stated before, this game is easily the best value for the money of any game that I have bought in years - and possibly ever. Unless your group of friends truly hates social deduction games, or doesn't normally get up to 7 players, I would highly recommend that you pick up a copy of this game!

If you like betraying your friends, you might also check out Shadows Over Camelot, Mousquetaires du Roy, and Betrayal at House on the Hill. If you're looking for another opinion (in addition to the review I shared earlier), you might also check out this review of The Resistance from the Board Game Family.

Crappy Birthday Review

Crappy Birthday game - what's in the box

A new game that North Star Games has come out with (that they are marketing as something to bring to a party instead of a bottle of wine or case of soda) is Crappy Birthday.

If you've played Apples to Apples, then basically you already know how the game is played. Each player has five cards in his hand representing "really awful" birthday gifts (awfulness like beauty is apparently in the eye of the beholder). Players take turns being the person receiving a birthday present. Your job, as someone who apparently hates your friends, is to give them the worst gift imaginable. Do you happen to know that your friend hates heights? Then you should of course give him Skydiving sessions. Does he hate board games? (Then why is he playing?) Then you should of course give him (my personal favorite card) a Crappy Birthday Party (this card is awesome, because it is actually a picture of the people from North Star Games playing Crappy Birthday)! The person who is receiving the gifts then takes all of the cards, shuffles them up, and reveals them to all the players for everyone's amusement. Next, he picks which one is truly his most hated gift and whoever played that card receives a point. The first person to get three points is the winner (and you might be leery when receiving a present from them in the future)!

The first pro for Crappy Birthday is that it is designed to be amusing. Whereas with Apples to Apples (you're going to get a lot of comparisons to this game since they use the same mechanics) you are trying to get the best match, and thus you are supposed to play "seriously" (I always play the funniest one either way; and I rarely win), in Crappy Birthday you are actually playing what you think is the most atrocious - and these are much funnier. So, though Apples to Apples is marketed as a fun game with a lot of laughs, the rules to Crappy Birthday actually encourage this amusement and, in my opinion (which is the one that gets published since I'm the author of the blog) this makes the game much funnier.

The next thing that I liked about Crappy Birthday are the pictures on each card. This is probably the biggest difference to that other game that is named after Apples. In Crappy Birthday, each card has a picture of what this awful gift would look like. After all, what if you weren't really that imaginative and couldn't think up what a Hairless Cat would look like. They provide the picture to help you realize just how horrible of a gift that would be. I must say that some of my favorite pictures (aside from the Crappy Birthday Party mentioned earlier) are the "Decorative Urinal", the "Taxidermy Your Pet", and "A Llama Named Lloyd."

Unfortunately, there are also some cons to Crappy Birthday. Most notably (and ironically, since North Star Games is actually the company that fixed this con in Say Anything) is that if your cards aren't being picked, then you can quickly feel a bit left out of the game. This is a glaring problem to me in both this game and the Fruit game - after a few rounds of playing the card that you think is "perfect" and still not getting picked, it is pretty easy to start eagerly waiting for the game to be over. Say Anything fixed this by allowing you to bet on what answers you think would be picked so that you were always engaged, but I guess that North Star was trying for a simpler game that could more easily be brought and played as a party favor. I'm sad that they re-introduced this con by doing so, however.

The next con that I have for the game is that there are a lot of "horrible presents" that all of my friends would love. For example, I got this game at GenCon, and I played it with my friends who were with me at the convention. (If you read this and don't know what GenCon is, GenCon is a gigantic gaming convention currently held in Indianapolis. Also, since you apparently enjoy games but aren't insanely obsessed with them like me, please share my site with your friends - I like helping people find games that they will like. I think that there's a game out there for just about everyone. Anyway…) Cards like "Star Wars Collection," "Weeklong Renaissance Fair," and "Suit of Armor" aren't ever helpful to play. Everyone that I was playing with would have been very excited to receive any of those things. And so if you are unfortunate enough to draw too many of these wonderful "crappy" birthday presents, then you won't have a chance at winning. (I think the point of the game is to "have fun," but I am very competitive. It's ok, I'm nice to the people I play with while secretly hoping I crush them.) And, yes, I know that my friends are weird. I did start this paragraph by telling you that we were playing it at GenCon, though, so you should've expected that.

Overall, I give Crappy Birthday an 8.0/10. I debated a bit on this game and what I thought the score should be, especially because it's not especially innovative. However, I think the game is solid and, more specifically, I think that North Star really succeeded on their goal for the game - to make a game that you could inexpensively buy and bring to a party and know that you will have fun playing it with a group of friends. I don't think that they were worried with if you would be able to play it dozens of times - I think they were more concerned on whether you could get $15 of enjoyment out of it, and I think you can.

I would like to thank North Star Games for providing me with a review copy of Crappy Birthday.  In addition to being available at Amazon, Crappy Birthday will be available at Barnes & Noble starting September 2011.

RIP Hurley's Heroes Giveaway #1 Winners

So, first of all, thank you to all of you for entering my giveaway!  I hope that even if you don't win, you enjoy my reviews and that you are glad to have discovered my site.  Now for the numbers... We had 216 Facebook entries, 58 Blogger Follower entries, and 30 Entries by adding a link - for 304 total entries!  So, as promised, two winners!

The first winner is:  Blogger Follower "Korey".  Korey, please post a comment on this blog (which will not be published, I'll be the only one to see it) with your email address so that I can verify that I'm sending it to the correct person, and so that you can tell me which game you want and where to send it to.

The second winner is: Facebook Fan Bill Fogarty.  Bill, please leave your email address as a comment as well (again, this will not be published), and then I will have you confirm your identity on Facebook to ensure that I am contacting the right person.  You will have your choice of any of the games that Korey did not select.

Thanks again to all who entered, and please keep reading the site for more Board Game Reviews (by Josh)!