Star Trek: The Next Generation Deck Building Game Review

Star Trek the Deck Building Game

So, I was a bit of a Trekkie as a kid (I know, you're shocked that someone with a blog about board games was a Trekkie), so when I heard about the Star Trek: The Next Generation Deck Building Game, I was immediately quite interested.

In Star Trek, you start the game with a handful of faceless officers (literally), and a couple of standard maneuvers and setup cards. Each turn, you are able to play the faceless officers to gain XP, which you spend to recruit better personnel, learn improved manuevers, and gain extra setup items. At any given time, a player will have nine different cards available to choose from when spending his XP. However, once per turn, a player may "search" for better cards by discarding one of these nine cards and replacing it with a new card from the draw pile. In addition to buying cards and searching, a player may play any setup and/or maneuver cards from his hand, and he may go exploring (this is, after all, a Star Trek game). When exploring, the active player flips a card from the top of the explore pile and attempts to resolve the appropriate mission. This is where mission (victory) points can be earned. This is also how better flagships can be acquired (stolen?), and where wars can begin. Players continue taking turns until one person has successfully gained 400 mission (victory) points.

So, for the most part, I don't care about themes in games. I'm just as happy playing Puerto Rico and Ra as I am with most any other game, even though settling the new world and pleasing the Pharaoh aren't necessarily things that I find interesting. However, occasionally a theme is interesting enough to me to warrant playing a game. Ahem, playing a good game. (Read, "not Stargate SG-1!"). Whereas this Star Trek game isn't quite Battlestar Galactica good, it is good enough that it being Star Trek themed adds to my enjoyment of it.

The next thing that I like about the Star Trek DBG (Deck Building Game) is that it has found a happy mix between the reactionary elements of deck building that can be found in Ascension: Chronicle Of The Godslayer, and the more planning-friendly elements of Dominion (man, that's a lot of links). In Ascension, I felt like I wasn't really able to plan at all because the cards in the middle would all be gone before it was ever my turn. In Dominion, whatever was available was always available. Star Trek finds a nice balance between these two extremes. Sure, you must work with what is available; however, with the ability to search, this doesn't seem like a hindrance. Plus, since most players will not be able to remove more then two or three cards from the available selection, a player will be able to at least partially plan on what cards he would like to purchase on his turn.

Star Trek Borg Scenario
Special Borg scenario cards
The next nice aspect of Star Trek DBG is that it has various scenarios. Specifically, there is an exploration (every man for himself), a Klingon Civil War (2 on 2 teams), and a Borg scenario (co-operative). I must admit, as of the time of this writing I am yet to play the Klingon scenario.  But, both of the other scenarios are enjoyable enough to make me think that the Klingon scenario should also be solid. One of the things that I especially like about how scenarios are implemented in Star Trek is that each scenario has a different exploration deck. This allows the different scenarios to truly feel different, instead of being the same game with a minor change.

The final pro that I will mention about Star Trek is that I really liked how they implemented XP in the game. Honestly, I like this both in the art of the cards and the game mechanics of it. I like that your characters that are "building block" characters are generic faceless officers. I don't know why - it just feels right. At the same time, I like that these officers are primarily valuable for their XP but can also be helpful in missions. The Ensigns and Lieutenants both add one statistic, and Commanders add two. This means that you have two different reasons to try to upgrade your low level officers to Commanders. Plus, with the fact that each starting deck has "Starfleet Academy" (a card that lets you upgrade a character card to a better character card), you feel like you are making progress as your low-level XP cards turn into better XP cards, and eventually into our well known characters.

However, with all that Star Trek DBG did right, it is definitely not perfect....

Star Trek DBG Sheilds typo
"Raise Sheilds!"
Sheilds. Yes, Sheilds. This is the name of a card. So, it is in CAPS.... and bold.... and in a bigger font.... and misspelled.  SHEILDS

Next (and probably more important for the actual play of the game) is that I felt like the scenarios were a bit unfinished. It feels like they spent quite a bit of time developing the exploration decks for the scenarios, but then they neglected making sure that the cards you used to build your deck worked correctly in them. For example, several of the characters abilities allow you to interact with your "opponents," and are costed in XP accordingly. However, in the Borg scenario, you do not have "opponents," as you are all playing against the game. Therefore, these card abilities are suddenly useless (so those characters are just horribly overpriced). And, what's more, they expect you to just assume that this is how the cards work. After looking through the instructions, the FAQ in the back, and even going to their site, I was forced to post my question about "who is my opponent in the Borg scenario" on their forums before I was able to get a very definitive answer. I counted, and approximately 10-15 cards cannot use their game text in the Borg scenario, but are still costed as if they could.

The next problem with the game is that it lasts a bit longer than it feels like it should. You could also state this as the game seems to drag at times. In the exploration scenario, this could be remedied by changing the starting decks to include a Commander in place of one of the Ensigns, or something similar, to speed up the game. However, this kind of adjustment would break the balance in the Borg scenario. Specifically, in the Borg scenario, you are at the game's (and destiny's) mercy as to how long the game will last. The game lasts until you are able to defeat the Locutus mission. Of course, to defeat it, you must first draw it! Therefore, you may spend a lot of the game in a state where you are able to win if you could only draw the end of game card. This can be a bit frustrating.

The next thing that I'm going to list as a "con", but that could also be a point of note is that flagships seem a bit overpowered. Now, with this said, I really like the flagships in the game. How this works is that each player starts with a pitiful flagship with a defense (hull) value, and no other statistics. However, when exploring, you may encounter other ships. If, when doing so, you have the Speed to avoid getting shot, while having the Diplomacy (Gold Pressed Latinum) to convince them to join you, then you can use the new ship as your flagship. From there, you have improved statistics for the rest of the game. If I am able to get the USS Enterprise as my flagship, and you are only ever able to recruit a Scout Ship, I will have a significant advantage against almost every card in the encounter deck and will have a major advantage if we go to war. Whereas I think that it is really awesome that you can get new flagships as the game goes along, I think that the flagships should have had a value for when a player is attempting to recruit or battle it and a different value for when a player is using it as his flagship. This would help alleviate some of the imbalance that I felt here.

Overall, I give Star Trek: The Next Generation Deck Building Game an 8.0/10. Sure, it's not perfect, but I enjoyed it. If you enjoy deck building games and are a Star Trek fan, don't worry. This game is good enough that you won't be too annoyed that they used the license here (again looking at you Stargate...). I recommend checking it out, and I recommend that you don't neglect the alternative scenarios - the Borg scenario (since we are all able to play at the same time) is my favorite way to play; it is able to keep everyone engaged and minimize on the drag that the game can encounter.

If you like deck building, you might also want to read about (aside from the Dominion and Ascension that I linked to earlier) Thunderstone: Dragonspire (which I recommend above the standard Thunderstone).  Or, if you enjoy sci-fi, then you might try the Star Wars X-Wing Minis Game, or the Star Wars living card game.

Rory's Story Cubes Review

A while back, while listening to The Little Metal Dog Show podcast, I got to hear an interview with the creator of Rory's Story Cubes. My mother is a middle school librarian for Tulsa Public Schools, and so I immediately become intrigued by them (I need to stop listening to the Little Metal Dog Show - it's a great podcast, but always makes me want to buy things). Fortunately, I was later talking to the fine people at Gamewright and mentioned that I was interested in their game - *poof* I was able to receive a review copy!

Here are the rules: Roll the Dice. Then, tell a story based off of them.

Well, now for the pros and cons. Wait, no, that would be really boring. Instead, I will use the game to tell you a story (let's hope it's halfway decent, as I haven't actually come up with it yet, because doing that before rolling the dice is somewhat cheating).

Once upon a time, there was a fabulous Blogger named Josh. He was successful in all that he did, was stunningly good looking, and had taken the Internet by storm! (This is how you know it's not actually about me.) He often wrote blogs about a variety of topics - sports, body building, growing flowers, and, of course, board games. After a while, he got bored with his success, and decided to take on a real challenge - the challenge of slaying a dragon! (Which, needless to say, is quite a challenge in the 21st century - he first would need to find a dragon!)

So, waving goodbye to his friends, family, and wonderful followers, Josh embarked on his new journey. Not knowing which way he should go (and not taking a computer, as he felt like "Googling it" might not be effective when it came to finding dragons), he found an old sage in a distant land. This sage, as with all crazy old hermits, decided that he would not just share his knowledge with Josh. Instead, he decided to make him go on quests to prove his worth. He sent him on quests to find food, quests to recover water, and quests to find his long lost daughter.

Well, being the practical sort, Josh went into the town that was only half a mile away from the crazy old hermit and bought food and water. While at the store, he decided to go ahead and ask the clerk if they knew anything about the hermit's long lost daughter. Sure enough, they said, she lives just at the edge of town. With his hopes up, Josh went to the home that they had directed him to. He knocked on the door, and looked around - but everything was run down and locked! Surely, this couldn't be right. However, as he looked around the house, a person emerged from next door and asked him what he was looking for. "I'm looking for my sage's long lost daughter," he said.

"Are you kidding me? Sage? Do you mean that crazy old man just outside of town? Yeah, I'm his 'long lost daughter,' but I don't know why he thinks I'm lost - he came to visit me just last week!" she replied.

Immediately, a light went on inside Josh's head, and he realized that he had been tricked! All that time sleeping outside and running errands for the man - he probably didn't know where any dragons even were. Josh, taking the "sage's" daughter with him, stormed straight back to the old man.

"Here's your daughter," he said. "Now tell me where I can find a dragon!!"

Startled by Josh's sudden anger, the man said, "well, right here, of course," and showed Josh a small jar with a tiny lizard in it. Annoyed, Josh decided that it wasn't worth his effort to continue dealing with his sage, and that it would just be cruel to kill a baby lizard. In fact, he started wondering why he wanted to hunt down and kill any animal that wasn't causing harm to anyone. If it took that much effort just to find a dragon, the dragon probably wasn't really hurting anybody. So, Josh went back home and took a nap, shaking his head and muttering to himself about the crazy old man. Wait, muttering to himself! When did this start? I suppose the old sage rubbed off on Josh after all.

(Yes, the picture is showing the dice that I used during that story - feel free to try to match up what parts of the story came from each individual die.)

Anyway. Overall, I give Rory's Story Cubes a score of "Apple" on my new Apple-Banana-Carrot grading scale. What does that mean, you ask? It means that Rory's Story Cubes isn't really like any other game (after all, there's not even a score or a winner), so I didn't feel like I should grade it against other games. The story cubes are really neat, though, and I think that anyone who wants to be creative and would appreciate a bit of inspiration would enjoy them. It's also something that I think most young children would be able to play with and love - after all, young children are still creative, instead of being boring old codgers like adults.

I would like to thank Gamewright games for providing me with a review copy of Rory's Story Cubes.

Orbit Rocket Race 5000 Review

A game that I first tried at GenCon and enjoyed enough to receive a review copy of is Orbit Rocket Race 5000.

In Orbit Rocket Race, each player is attempting to get rid of all of his cards. In order to do this, he must play a card in the innermost "orbit" that is not full. Every card must be played adjacent to at least one previously played card - but if you play adjacent to two previous cards you can force another player to draw a card or, if you are able to play adjacent to three cards, then you can take another turn. Where the game gets interesting, however, is in the rules about "wormholes." If you are able to setup a situation in which no cards can be legally played (based on the color distribution on cards in the game), then a "wormhole" is created. The person creating the wormhole immediately takes the top card of the deck and places it facedown on the spot, reverses the order of play, and then takes another turn. Finally, some of the cards have special icons on them - robots (his name is "Orbot") allow the player to take another turn, the laser gun forces an opponent to draw two cards, and the satellite lets you pick a card from an opponent's hand and play it facedown (and get any bonuses from playing it just like if you had played it from your hand). Once a player runs out of cards, he wins.

The first thing that I like about Orbit Rocket Race is that it is strategic enough to be worth playing, and simple enough to be social. Orbit is not so deep that you must constantly be focusing on what your next move is (though careful planning and scheming will help you win), and yet it is light enough that you can socialize with friends while playing the game. Especially when it's not your turn.  Specifically, when it's not your turn you'll spend a lot of time making fun of your friends for constantly flipping their cards over and over trying to match up colors.  Of course, when it is your turn, you will have to ignore them as they make fun of you for doing the exact same thing.

The next thing that I like about Orbit are the wormholes. These are really the most strategic aspect of the game. Setting up a wormhole so that the player after you is able to complete it is actually advantageous - even though it helps them. Since it causes the order of play to be reversed it means that, after your opponent takes his second turn, you will get to go again without waiting on everyone else in the game to play (so you get rid of cards faster - you know, because that's the point of the game). Plus, a careful player may be able to use his cards with Orbot (the robot), or a Satellite on them to setup wormholes and/or take extra turns.

Another pro is that I believe Orbit could easily be played with children. Having no children of my own (and not renting any while playing the game), I can't say for certain what ages could handle Orbit, but I would guess that somewhere around six or older could handle the game. Everything is color and symbol based (no reading required) so it could possibly even be played with a younger group. The only hesitation I have is that the game can take a while to play, so it could lose the interests of the younger children (and your scattered adult friends).

Finally, I like the reversing turn order. This is a neat mechanic - especially since the players are in control of this, and it is not luck based. Play can be reversed in two ways. The first way is by playing a wormhole. The second option is that a player can play his "challenge token." Each player starts the game with a challenge token. Whoever goes first sacrifices his challenge token but has the advantage of both going first and getting to play two cards. All of the other players have the opportunity, once per game, to use their challenge token to reverse the order of play (at which point no other player can re-reverse the order until a card has been played).

One point of note before going to the cons of Orbit - not everyone will like the social aspect that I mentioned. One of the reasons for the social aspect is that the game itself has a laid back feel (to me). I think most people will like this part.  Another reason is that there is not too much planning that you can do when it's not your turn. Perhaps this is simply that we aren't good enough at the spatial aspect of the game to plan ahead.  However, you will normally be deciding what your best options are based on what the players in front of you have played. The fact that you cannot do much to plan turns before they occur will bother some players - I was fine with this aspect.

The main con that I have in Orbit Rocket Race is the "Orbit" rule. In fact, when I was taught this game by the designers at GenCon, I even told them that I disliked the rule - so it should not surprise them to read it here. Here it is: when you are down to one card, you have the option to say "Orbit". If you don't say "Orbit", and one of your opponents realizes that you only have one card, they can call say it for you and then you have to draw. Sound familiar? Exactly like Uno? Yes, yes it is. I don't understand why a game as different and creative as Orbit Rocket Race 5000 chose to associate itself with Uno. However, I was able to resolve this problem by voting with my fellow gamers to not use the rule before the game started. Feel free to play the game with the rules as they are written (with the "Orbit" rule), or feel free to take my free variant and ignore it.

Another con to Orbit is that with all of the reversing in the game, a player can become a bit bored if he doesn't get a turn for a while. One of the first times that I played the game, I did not feel like I got a turn for the entire first half of it. When the game was over, I actually didn't have many more cards than anyone else because, when I was able to play, I was able to take several turns in a row. However, it was still quite boring until my turns occurred.

Overall, I give Orbit Rocket Race 5000 an 8.0/10. I won't play it every day, but it is a game that I could see myself playing every few months and thoroughly enjoying.

I would like to thank 42 Games for providing me with a review copy of Orbit Rocket Race 5000

RIP Hurley's Heroes Giveaway #2

As many of you who have followed my blog for a while are aware, one of the game stores in Joplin that I frequented has decided to stop selling games. Because of this, and the fact that I enjoyed their store, I made a deal with them to buy their remaining stock. Why? Well, first off because I wanted to support them. Secondly, because I wanted to use them for giveaway prizes - you know, as a vain attempt to increase my stats. Therefore, this giveaway could also be called...

The quest for 1,000!

Here's how it works: I think it would be really cool to have 1,000 Twitter and 1,000 Facebook followers. Because of this, I am going to bribe you to follow me! (I prefer that you continue following me after the giveaway - I'll tell you about cool reviews and such, but if you don't want to, I understand).

The details

At 500, 750, and 1,000 followers for each site, I will give away one game. I will run the contest until I either reach 1,000 for each site, or until November 18, whichever comes first. And, so that nobody feel cheated, I will give away a game on November 18 to a follower on each site if that site hasn't yet received 1,000 followers. That means, regardless of if I lose followers or gain followers, I will give at least one game away to my followers on each site. But, if we get to 1,000 on each site, I will give away six games for free!

What games can you choose from? Here's the list:
Dominion: Intrigue
Vegas Showdown
Castle Ravenloft
Resident Evil Deck building Game
Resident Evil: Alliance
Back to the Future: Card Game

Who's eligible? Anyone. You can live in or out of the United States (though I'm cheap and prefer that someone inside the U.S. wins - I won't stack it, though). You can know me personally, work for a game store, game publisher, etc.

How will you be notified? I will post the winner at the very least on the site where that winner is following me. I will probably also post it as a comment on this post.  I will try several times to make contact with the winner, but if after what I consider to be a reasonable effort I can't get ahold of them, I will pick a new winner!

Remember - the more people that enter, the more games I give away. This means that (though you don't have to - in fact, you can follow me on Twitter for an entry without even sharing it with your friends), the more friends that you tell, the better your odds are that you or one of your friends gets a game!

Questions?  Feel free to post them here, or to email me. Thanks, and good luck!

Architekton Review

Architekton game in play

A game that I picked up without knowing anything about it (I was trying to balance out a trade on 'the Geek'), was Architekton.

In Architekton, players take turns placing tiles (building and/or landscape) in an effort to make their cities connect to each other and to connect to the correct landscape. Players take turns placing 2 tiles from the 6 available face up tiles (3 building and 3 landscape). The tiles must be placed in a checker pattern of landscape surrounded by building and vice versa. Any time a building tile is completely surrounded, it is immediately scored - if it is surrounded on all four sides by the correct landscape, the owner scores a point. If not, the owner loses a point per incorrect side (and can lose the city that he has on top of it to mitigate one point of the loss). The game ends either when a player loses more points than he is able to lose (by scoring a tile with too many sides surrounded by the wrong kind of landscape), or when a certain number of tiles are placed. In the first condition, whoever hasn't been eliminated is the winner; in the second condition, players count the number of points they have scored and the number of cities they have in their largest connected group of cities and adds a point per city - then the person with the most points is the winner.

Before getting too deep into pros and cons, I must make a confession. I don't like tile placement games. You may be asking, then 1) why do you play them and 2) why should I read this review? Well, dear reader, I play them because I try to play everything - especially if I own it... and before you ask, I didn't know it was tile placement when I got it (like I said in the intro). Secondly, why should you read it... because you like me? I don't know that I have a better answer. I will try to be objective, but at least you know my bias going in. And, I suppose more specifically, it's not that I don't like tile placement, it's more that I haven't found any tile placement games that were good enough to make me like the genre, and so I blame the genre instead of the games.

For the first pro of Architekton, I really like the fact that the players are able to directly affect each other. Whereas this is somewhat possible in Carcassonne (especially with some of the expansions), in Architekton, through careful tile placement, you are able to put the wrong landscape around your opponent's buildings. This can cost him lots of points long term by making him lose his cities, or can cost him the game if done effectively enough. (As a point of note: you cannot play any tile anywhere; the new tile must match at least one side of the existing tiles. We missed this the first game, and it is critical - otherwise you could just place the wrong landscape around your opponent and the first person to play a city would basically lose.)

The next thing I like about Architekton is that my interest in the game seems to last about as long as the game play. This can't honestly be said about very many games - a ton of games take way longer than I care to play them, and some games are over when I just started to get engaged. In Architekton, however, the game takes about 20-30 minutes, and that seems about right for the complexity of it.

The next thing that I like about Architekton that is especially important since it is a tile placement game is that you have several tiles to choose from. Instead of drawing and placing a tile each turn (and thus far too much of the game being based on luck), you have 3 landscape and 3 building tiles to choose from each round. You still may not have the exact piece that you are looking for, but you at least have options of what and where you can place.

Now for the cons; first of all, there's not really that much to Architekton. I suppose I could look at this as a pro, and call it a filler game, but most filler games for me are very lighthearted. I'm thinking of games like Gloom, Lunch Money, and Liar's Dice; there may not be that much to those games, but there is that special something that makes you want to play it more.  Architekton seems to be a serious strategy game trapped in a filler game's rules set. Therefore, it doesn't really fit into the filler category for me, nor does it fit into the serious strategy game category for me, and I don't envision myself playing it very much.

My other con is that it is tile placement.  And I think tile placement is boring.  This one isn't as boring, but I still didn't really find it very exciting.  So, when you look at the overall score, and you say, "hey, he had 3 pros and 1 con, why did it get such a low score?" now you will know.

Overall, I give Architekton a 7.5/10. Though I don't care too much about tile placement games, Architekton seems to be my favorite one that I've played. With that said, I intend to give my copy to a friend that really enjoys tile placement, and I will play it with him occasionally when he bothers to bring it.

If you're looking for easy to teach games, you might also check out Monopoly Deal, Sorry! Sliders, and Pentago.

Landlord! Review

Landlord card game in play

An older game that I pulled back out of my closet recently was Landlord! (sorry, no Amazon link).

In Landlord, each player takes on the role of a slum lord who is trying to make the most money by stealing tenants from the other landlords and, when necessary, performing some illegal acts to sabotage the other landlords. To start the game, each player receives 5 cards and $5. On any given turn you must first check for squatters (these tenants cause your useful tenants to move out), then you can build new apartments and play cards. The cards are double-sided with one side showing an apartment, and so whenever you build an apartment complex it consists of several cards showing "apartment side up" with a roof on top (I thought this was neat - consider it a pro that I won't talk about later). After playing all of the cards you want to play, you collect rent from all of your tenants (unless they're not paying for some reason such as you being in jail or they decided to withhold it). Finally, you are able to buy new cards - the first 5 on the turn cost $1 each, any others you may wish to purchase cost $2 each. After the deck has run out (in 2-4 player), each player gets a final turn. After that, whoever has the most money is the winner.

The first pro that I have for Landlord is that it is a creative and amusing theme. The concept of stealing other people's tenants, killing off their highest paying ones (if you couldn't steal them), demolishing their buildings to force people to move and avoiding the police when you play sketchy cards seems amusing to me (maybe I'm deranged).

The next pro is that I like having to purchase new cards. This forces you each turn to determine whether it is more important to have as many cards as you can, or whether you should save the money to count as victory points (or to buy them cheaper the next turn if you have already bought 5). I've seen the mechanic of victory points being used to purchase things elsewhere, but I think that it was especially well implemented here.

The next pro is that the game flows pretty well (once you get the rules down). Each turn you must balance how many cards you want to play (keeping in mind that whatever you build will not last very long) against which ones might be more useful to keep. Also, you must decide whether you should go on the offensive against the other players, or more specifically, when you should attack them.

There are several cons to this game as well. The first one that is worth mentioning is the art on the cards. Quite a few of the cards have art that is questionable. This is a game that may be appropriate for adults, but the art on the cards has made this a game that is inappropriate for children or even many conservative adults.  I don't really understand why they chose to do this, as it doesn't add any value to the game - it just limits their audience of potential players.

The next con is that the mix of cards seemed a bit off. An example is the number of police cards to cards that countered the police. When someone murders your tenants or bombs your building, you are able to play a police card to put them in jail. However, there are about 3 police cards in the deck, whereas there are about 7-10 cards that counter the police. This causes the threat of being arrested to be pretty small (though maybe this was intentional to allow people to play Murder and Bomb more often). Also, there are often situations in which you cannot draw cards that are helpful. An example here is that late in the game, it is critical to get tenants so that you can gain one extra turn's income from them. There may be turns, however, where you draw 8 cards and none of them are actually tenants that you can place in your building.  I think one thing that could have potentially helped this is if the "roof" cards (which are necessary to build buildings and thus there are a ton of them in the deck) were kept in a different deck that players could purchase cards from.

One more thing to say about the game that is neither a pro nor a con, because I think it was intentional, is this: there is little to no defense in the game. I believe that there are 6 cards out of the 100+ cards that defend against things. This can get frustrating as you sit there and watch other players steal your tenants, demolish your buildings and send squatters your way, but I am guessing that the game was designed to be offense-oriented, and that was why this happened.

Overall, I give Landlord! a 6.5/10. This was a decent game that I don't mind playing occasionally, though you must be very mindful of the offensive artwork when determining if and when to play this game.

If you like card games, you might also check out Innovation, Glory to Rome, Gloom, and Dixit.

Wok Star Review

Wok Star board game in play

A game that sounded very interesting to me after reading a review was Wok Star (sorry, no Amazon link).

In Wok Star, you are running your own fast food Chinese restaurant. Because of this, you are constantly serving customers whatever they order - and you better hurry up and do it before you start turning away customers (or giving free meals for taking so long). How this works in game terms is that you will flip over a "customer" card. This card represents a customer that has placed an order. Next, you must locate the corresponding "recipe" card to determine what ingredients are necessary to complete that order. If you have all of the necessary ingredients prepared, then you can decrement them all by one and serve the customer. If not, then you must prepare the ingredients (by using different dice combinations) before serving them. And the unique part is that a sand timer is running as soon as the customer card is flipped - if you do not serve the customer before the timer runs out, then you have to decide whether you still serve them (but without making money), or whether you turn them away (where they will go about telling people how horrible your restaurant is; maybe even making up lies about what is in your "special sauce"). Play continues until all of the customers in the customer deck are either served or turned away. Now the end of turn cleanup occurs - this is where you can get extra dice, and you can use money to buy new recipes, upgrades to your ingredient preparation cards, or advertise to get more potential customers. Play six rounds, and then see if you have made enough money to pay off your loan. If so, then congratulations - you can keep serving these whiny customers that barely pay you and don't appreciate your business! Otherwise, you go bankrupt (and can go get a different job where you get paid more and work less.... is this really losing?).

The first thing that I like about Wok Star is that it is nothing like any other game that I have ever played. It has enough real-time strategy to it to remind me of a few games (like Jab: Real-Time Boxing and Frenzy), but it also has down time where tough decisions have to be made. If your motor and cognitive skills are too slow to serve the customers that get flipped, then you're going to lose. If you make bad decisions about when to advertise as opposed to upgrading or buying new recipes, you will also lose. I am very impressed with how these elements play together. After my first (only) time of beating the game, I thought to myself "oh, this is easy. I have the strategy down - I've conquered this game." Then I played it a few more times. And it reminded me of a little characteristic called "humility" that I need to work on - by destroying me.

Now to talk about each of those two aspects of the game in a bit more detail. This game helps break people of "analysis paralysis" (thinking too long and making the game drag along). Yes, there are decisions to be made about which dice to use for preparing each ingredient, and yes, these decisions are incredibly important, but they must also be made quickly. If you wait too long, then you will wind up serving the customer for free, or even turning them away! And turning a customer away means you can never make money from them again (oh, and you can instantly lose if you turn eight customers away)!

Next is the "thoughtful" strategy element. I firmly believe that it is important to purchase all of the $0 recipes (easy recipes) early in the game. You can only get extra dice by collecting more customer cards in a round than the number of dice you own. The easiest way to do this is by serving the easy recipes that only use two ingredients. However, beyond this, I do not know how to carefully balance my money. I also like that you win the game by how much money you make in the last turn. This forces you to spend your money to upgrade things; you cannot win by simply serving the same customers repeatedly and keeping the income. I also think that this "thoughtful" strategy element varies between number of players. I cannot confirm this (having never won in anything other than four player (on Easy mode)), but I believe that the ideal decisions made may need to be different based on the number of players in the game.

Before getting to cons, there is a point of note that I need to make about Wok Star. Wok Star isn't your traditional "let's play that again" kind of game. It's more of a "that was awesome, let's play it again next week" kind of game. You really have to be in the right mindset to want to play it because the real-time element forces your brain to go into overdrive.  Whenever I have played it, our group has felt a bit too drained after the first game to want to play it a second time in a row - we normally switch to something else that has more thinking and less moving.  Oh, and we get soda... because we like soda.

With all that said, my biggest frustration with Wok Star is that I always felt like I was missing something. There are so many things going on in the game that it feels like you must be forgetting things or doing them wrong. When I take a little while to serve a customer and look up to see the timer has expired, I sometimes am forced to ask myself, "Did that actually run out, or did I forget to flip it?" In addition, sliding the ingredients up and down the track very rapidly often causes them to wind up somewhat on two different numbers, and nobody has any idea of how much of that ingredient is actually available.

The other thing that I must mention about the game is the double timers. Wok Star has two sand timers. At any given time you only actually pay attention to one of them. This is useful, as you are able to have one timer that is mostly expired whenever you need a timer to flip. However, the problem with the timers is that there will often be times when you will complete your customer's order quickly and both of the timers will be mostly full. When you run into this situation, you often wind up waiting (stalling) to let one of the timers be closer to expired before flipping the next customer. This creates a weird pendulum between playing as quickly as possible and waiting before starting again.

Overall, I give Wok Star an 8.5/10. I really applaud the designers of Wok Star for creating a very unique and innovative gaming experience. However, the cons that I mentioned keep it out of my absolute upper echelon of games.  It is still a game that I would highly recommend to anyone that enjoys real-time elements in board games.

If Wok Star sounds interesting, you might also check out Hanabi (another interesting cooperative game), Space Alert (another real time game), and Glory to Rome (just because it's a great card game).

I would like to thank Tom from Gabob Games for loaning me his copy of Wok Star so that I could try it out and write this review. That was really cool.

7 Wonders Review

7 Wonders game mid play

A game that has been hyped to ridiculous proportions (and so I desperately needed to play it) was 7 Wonders.

In 7 Wonders, each player (very loosely) represents a civilization that is trying to build their trademark Wonder (such as the pyramids of Giza, Colossus of Rhodes, etc... though you're not penalized in the game if you choose not to build your wonder). The game actually plays out through 3 "ages". Each age consists of the players starting with 7 cards. From these cards, they must select a card to play and pass the rest to the person next to them. This continues until they only have 2 cards left, at which time they play one and discard the other. After each age the players compare military might against their neighbors (thus gaining or losing points). This continues until the end of the third age, at which time players count up points for military conquests and different kinds of buildings built, with the player having the highest score winning (I know you're shocked by this outcome).

The first (and most obvious) pro that I have for 7 Wonders is the draft mechanic. I have seen this mechanic before (in Magic booster drafts), but I have never seen it in an actual game. Therefore, I find it very innovative that 7 Wonders was able to take this mechanic and build a high quality, strategic game around it. I appreciate any time a game introduces a new mechanic, and this one worked especially well.

The next pro that 7 Wonders does better than most games on the market relates to flexibility with regard to number of players. 7 Wonders claims that it can be played with 2-7 players (though the 2 player game is a variant), so the main game can be played with 3-7. More importantly, the game can be played well with 3-7, without really feeling like it is too long (players make decisions at the same time) or unbalanced (you primarily interact with the people next to you) if you add or subtract players. This means that I can carry 7 Wonders around with me and play it without having to worry about whether that week 3 people will show up, or whether there will be 7 - definite pro!

The next pro that I will mention is in the different paths to victory that 7 Wonders allows. With that said, I don't believe that any player will be able to win by focusing only on one aspect of the game. However, between military conquest, science, religious buildings, and constructing your wonder, there are enough varying elements to the game that different strategies can be applied, each of which will have a legitimate chance at winning.

The final pro that I will mention here is how you are able to borrow resources from other players. To build certain cards, you must have certain resources available. Since no player will have all of the resources they need all of the time, the game has been designed so that you can trade with your immediate neighbors. Knowing that you may be fickle with whether you want to trade with your neighbors, the designers of the game didn't give you the option - you can't say no (though, as a good businessman, you do get paid when they use your resources). This and all of the other rules related to trading work very well and help the game to flow smoothly (as well as allowing for more strategic options such as whether you want to build resources or just rely on borrowing from the people next to you).  (Just as a note before moving on, I also liked the concept of a predecessor building - where you don't have to pay the resource cost for a building if you have built the correct "predecessor" building already.  This also added more options on how to pay for construction costs.)

Now with all of the glowing part of the review out of the way, it is time to mention some of the things that I didn't like as much. First, 7 Wonders takes us tons of space! Ignoring the fact that the cards are all oversized, each player will wind up with about 10-18 cards in front of him by the end of the game! Yes, several of the cards will be stacked on top of each other, or hidden under your wonder, but this still winds up being about 1-2 square feet of play area per player (maybe more). I have not been able to play a full 7 player game yet, but I am not entirely sure whether it would fit on a standard sized table - I'm almost completely positive that it will not fit on my dining room table.

The next, less cosmetic, con is the depth level of the game. After a few plays where I tried out several different strategies, I began realizing how few options are actually available in the game. Most of the decisions you are making are: 1) how am I going to pay for buildings? (through predecessor buildings which let you build later ones for free, through my own resources, or by using other people's resources), 2) do I care about science, or am I just trying to keep other people from getting it? and 3) how much military am I going to build? With this said, mixing up the number of players and the seating position will help with some of the replayability of 7 Wonders, but overall these are the basic decisions that will be made each game. After all the hype going into it, I was really hoping for more choices out of 7 Wonders.

One neutral aspect of 7 Wonders that I would be remiss for not mentioning is the amount of iconography in the game.  What each card does is depicted only in images.  Because of this, the game can take up less room (it doesn't actually take up less room, but it theoretically could).  More specifically, it means you can quickly see what you have in play.  This works very well once you know what all the images mean; however, you should expect to look up what different images mean repeatedly through your first play or two of the game.  On the bright side, since you know that you will be passing these cards to the next player, you can go ahead and hand them the cheat sheet on the back of the instructions to look it up when you pass the cards - because they'll have no idea what it means, either.

Overall, I give 7 Wonders an 8.5/10. It is a very good game, but it took a little while to grow on me (I think part of this is that it didn't live up to my heightened expectations). Whereas I think I will continue playing the game repeatedly, I don't see myself getting together with people for the sole purpose of playing it - it will probably serve more as a high-end filler game than a "main entre."

Want a second opinion? Check out Play Board Games' review of 7 Wonders or I Slay the Dragon's 7 Wonders review.  Or, to discover more games, check out Glory to Rome, Innovation, and Smash Up.