51st State: The New Era Review

51st State New Era game in play

After playing the original 51st State and thoroughly enjoying it, I felt it was appropriate to track down a copy of 51st State: The New Era to play.

Since The New Era is an expansion to 51st State, I am going to assume that you are familiar with the original game (and if not, please click on the previous link and check out my review of it). Therefore, I'm going to focus this review on the differences between New Era and the base game - though you should know that New Era is a standalone expansion that can be played without a copy of 51st State.

The Hegemony card from New Era
The Hegemony
First, The New Era is playable with 2-5 players instead of the 2-4 from the original game. In order to do this, they have added in the "Hegemony" faction. In addition to this faction, they have included all four of the factions from the base game, and those factions are completely unchanged. I felt like this was an area that could have been improved. Instead of using the same factions from the base game, if they had created 5 new factions, there would be much more replayability when combining the two games. Instead, if you combine the games, then you have a useless copy of 4 of the factions. In addition, though the game is now 5-player, I am not sure who would actually play it with five. Due to the length of the game (which seems to grow proportionally with the number of players), I think that four and below really was adequate. Either way, extra factions are always nice as they allow you to have a different feel when playing the game (which, again, is why I wish that they had different factions from the base game).

The next topic is directly related to my biggest complaint with the base game. The base game was incredibly hard to learn and teach. Whereas the New Era isn't entirely clear (I read the rules, played with someone else who had read the rules, and still had a few things I was unclear about), the instructions have added an "Abbreviated Game Guide" on the back.  This really helps when teaching the game. There are simply so many different actions available that it is hard to remember them all when explaining. This very small addition makes it much easier to make sure you don't leave them out.

Ultimately, there are two big changes in the gameplay. First, the leaders from the base game have been eliminated. If you combine the sets, then the leaders are still legal, but they did not include any new leaders in the expansion. I'm fine with this change, as I thought the leaders may have been a bit too powerful and helped favor whoever had the good fortune of drawing one.

Refinery card from 51st State New Era
Note the blue/red arrow
Secondly, the New Era has added player interaction. The cards now include a blue/red arrow that indicates how far the location is from the other players. So, in addition to making agreements with cards from your hand (playing them for the blue side), you can now make agreements with cards that other players have played as locations (white)! This is a nice addition. The other aspect of the player interaction (red half of the arrow) is that you can blow up your opponent's locations. If you successfully destroy your opponent's location, though, he can fairly easily rebuild it (assuming he has access to brick), and gains a victory point for doing so! Therefore, attacking other players can be useful when done strategically (specifically in games with three or more players), but if done haphazardly can actually help your opponent by essentially giving him extra redevelopment actions. This player interaction is done well, and I think that it adds value to the game.

The only other real change that I noticed was in the components. Instead of having seemingly hundreds of very small round cardboard chips (that were hard to pickup), resources have been replaced with wooden tokens. I think that this helps the game feel higher quality, but actually may be a touch more confusing during gameplay - instead of very easily knowing that a cardboard chip with a gear on it represents a gear, you now have to mentally convert a wooden gray disc into a gear (which is trickier with the brick and gun since the orange and red discs are somewhat similar in color).  They have also replaced the faction cards indicating what the faction's permanent actions are with a single sheet showing all four of those actions (including the redevelopment).

51st State and New Era cards
Old and New Faction components
Overall, I give 51st State: The New Era an 8.5/10. You may be thinking, "but that's what you gave 51st State!" Indeed, it is. I think that The New Era is an improvement over the base game, and I would recommend that people purchase it instead (or in addition) to 51st State. However, the gameplay isn't distinct enough that I thought it warranted a higher score. Either way, it is a very solid game that I enjoy playing!

If you like New Era, you might also like Race for the Galaxy, Eminent Domain, and Summoner Wars.

I would like to thank Portal Games for providing me with a review copy of 51st State: The New Era.

Caveman Curling Review

One of the newest dexterity games that I've been able to check out is Caveman Curling (which isn't available on Amazon at the time of this writing).

In Caveman Curling, players take turns sliding their "rocks" (disks) in an effort to get them closest to the center of the cave. After each shot, the active player has the option to use one of his hammers or totems - if you play a hammer, then you are allowed to lay the hammer on the board and move your rock to the other side of it. If you place a totem on the rock, it "protects" it - if the totem is knocked off later, then you have the option of leaving the rock in it's new location, or picking it up and re-shooting it at the end of the turn. Once all six rocks have been shot/flicked/hammered/curled (plus any totem re-shots), whoever is closest to the center of the cave gets a point for each of his rocks (fully inside the cave) closer to the center than his opponent's closest rock. Next, pull everything off the board, and try again. Continue playing until one player (or team) has six points.

The first thing that I like about Caveman Curling are the magnetic board holders ("slammers" - but I can't say that without thinking of pogs). One of my greatest concerns when I received my copy of the game was how the board was going to lay flat - it was pretty obvious that the board was rolled up inside the box, and it is really important in a game like this that the board isn't "curling" (hehe), but is laying flat. Fortunately (in case you can't tell from my picture) the game includes two magnetic strips that clamp together on each side and help force the board flat - this part of the component design was great!

Totems give you "protection"
The next thing that I liked with Caveman Curling was the option to use the special tokens. Instead of being strictly dexterity/skill based, these allow you to have a few "cheats." However, we found in our games that it seemed like you had a few too many special objects available - we didn't like the fact that you could use a special object on every shot. Fortunately, unless you're planning on taking Caveman Curling to the far extreme of tournament play (you'd probably have to run the tournament, too), there is nothing forcing you to play this way. We thought of variants that you could try that let you include the special objects to the level that you prefer - you can try playing without them, playing with them but only allowing each to be used once per game (instead of per round), you can cut the number of them in half (one of each object instead of two), or you can use them as the game designer suggests. Whatever you choose, it is nice that you have them available as an option - it might even be good to use them as a handicap to balance out the gameplay between experienced and novice players.

Finally, I thought that the board art was both amusing and very functional. As an example of amusing, if you look closely, you can even see that the credits are "written in the snow."  When it comes to functional, the circles in the middle of the cave really help distinguish which rock is closer to the center, to where I have never needed to pull out a ruler to measure who is winning.

Now, with this said, there were a few "less than good" things that I will mention about Caveman Curling. The first is that because of the weight of the "rocks" it is a bit too easy to slam all of the rocks. Specifically, if one team has done very well and has three rocks clumped together in the center of the cave, the other team will (if they are good at shooting their rocks - but then again, why are they losing like this if they are good at shooting?) quite possibly be able to shoot a single rock and knock out all of his opponent's rocks. This wouldn't happen in actual curling or bocce ball (the other games that score like Caveman Curling) due to the weight of the objects being moved, but I don't think this was avoidable in this kind of tabletop dexterity game with very lightweight pieces. And, I wouldn't want to change the game to where you can't dispel your opponent's pieces.  After all, part of the fun of the game is to try to knock your opponent's pieces out of the way. Maybe if the board were a bit longer.... which leads to...

Amusing board art
The next thing that I will mention is more of a missed opportunity than an actual con. I felt like it would have been pretty sweet to have a variety of gameboards so that you could mix up the size of your game. If you're playing with inexperienced players, you could use a shorter board - if you're playing with better players, you could force them to shoot it further. This would also add more importance to the special objects, and would keep the pieces from clumping together as much (on the bigger boards), thus addressing the previous con. (Well, we have a plotter at my office, so I may be able to resolve this issue on my own - at least for my copy!  Now, I'll just have to find a table big enough to play the "slightly modified" version.)

The final "less than good" thing is the only one that is truly a con. I was disappointed with the actual components of the game - specifically the gameboard. The gameboard is a piece of paper. It is a nice piece of paper (the lint textured kind - sort of like paper money), but it is still a piece of paper. When I received the game, I was expecting it to be a mousepad-type of playing surface. My wife was incredibly frustrated that it wasn't at least laminated. She likes to point out PitchCar and the fact that it's game pieces will last a long, long time because of the quality of the wooden board. However, with Caveman Curling, I am concerned that my copy will wear out a bit too quickly.

Overall, I give Caveman Curling an 8.0/10. This number was a bit hard for me to decide on, so I'll share how I came up with it. I like Caveman Curling better than Fastrack (which received an 8.0), but less than PitchCar (which received a 9.0). This pretty easily makes it an 8.5, right? Well, I have a personal rule (previously unpublished - you're now in the secret club!) that 8.0 or higher means "I wouldn't have been disappointed if I had bought this." This is where the scoring got tricky. Caveman Curling lists around $50. Because of the paper board, I really can't see myself having spent $50 and opening up the game to see the paper board and not being disappointed (before I even played the game). Well, this means it should be a 7.5, right? So, eventually, I decided to give it an 8.0 thinking that if I had backed it when it was on Kickstarter, I would have spent $39 to get a copy with shipping included. Since this was a review copy, I can't tell for sure, but I don't think that I would've been disappointed at that point. Either way, I do actually enjoy Caveman Curling and recommend that dexterity game lovers should look to try it - I just think that there's not that much in the box for $50. (But this can lead into a much longer discussion of whether or not you should be paying for the components and pieces in a game or the idea of a game when buying it - but that would be an incredibly long post, so we won't get into that now.)

If you're interested in other games that were funded through Kickstarter, you might want to check out Orbit Rocket Race 5000, Alien Frontiers, and Eminent Domain.

I would like to thank Eagle/Gryphon Games for providing me with a review copy of Caveman Curling.

Final note: Currently I believe the only way of preordering Caveman Curling is through Eagle Games' website here.

Mob Ties Review

One of the more recent games to be published through Kickstarter is Mob Ties.

In Mob Ties, each player takes on the role of a rival mob family that is trying to take control of the city. To do this, you need influence. And, of course, your goal is to have the most money. But you must be careful of the Feds - they'll try to crack down on your empire if you're not careful. Of course, if there's a member of some other family present when the feds crack down... well, I guess the Feds aren't all bad. During each game round you will first decide on who is the Don for the round - based on who is able to garner the most influence in the Don's Mansion (the Don gets extra cards and is able to serve as the tiebreaker for all other showdowns). Next, you go around each of the other locations and determine who has the most influence - and those players collect money. During this phase, you can also buy new cards (for killing your enemies). Next, each player must move one of his mobsters to a new location. After this, the Feds show up; you flip a number of "Fed" cards based on the current "Heat Level" (this goes up as more mobsters are killed or thrown in jail). If there are more than four Fed markers at a location, then the Feds will arrest somebody (the person with the most influence gets to choose which Family loses a mobster) unless Weapon cards are played (which reduce the number of Feds). Finally, we get to the "Action" phase (that's a polite way of saying the "Kill all of your Rivals" phase). During the Action phase, different cards can be played - but mostly you Attack your enemies... or try to convince the other players to attack each other (possibly by greasing the wheels with a few thousand dollars). Finally, you can bail your mobsters out of jail (if you have the money for it), and then you check to see if the Heat Level is raised. Once the Heat Level is raised three times, the game is over, and whoever has the most money (living mobsters that aren't in jail count towards this) is the winner.

The first thing that you need to realize about Mob Ties is that it is a game of "negotiation" (bribery, extortion, threats, black mail, etc). You are trying to win the game, but you won't do very well if you don't play well with (manipulate) the other players. Sometimes you will need the Don's influence, sometimes you'll be bribing other players to exact revenge for you when you lose a mobster. Sometimes you'll be bribing other players not to attack your mobster. If you enjoy negotiation and social interaction driving a game, then you'll really enjoy this part of Mob Ties. If you play with a group that doesn't enjoy social aspects of games (the kind of people that don't bother making treaties when playing games of Risk (2210)), then your experience with Mob Ties might not be a positive one.  With this negotiation, you also have the option of playing with "Honor Among Thieves" (where you must actually hold up your end of the bargain) or "All Bets Are Off" (where people will regularly stab you in the back after you make a deal).

Mob Doctor's can save a life
Secondly, you need to realize that Mob Ties is not intended for a younger (or easily offended) audience. I have not noticed any profanity in the game, but all of the artwork is intentionally dark and sinister (I showed the Mob Doctor card as an example - it is definitely not one of the worse cards). Plus, one of the locations is "Kitty's" (a strip club), and the artwork shows a woman's butt in a bikini-like outfit. There is nothing in this game that wouldn't be in a PG-13 movie, but if you're going into it looking for a more "family friendly" (hehe... get it?  I like puns, so, if you didn't laugh then you're only punishing yourself) mob game like Family Business or Famiglia, you will be in for quite a surprise!

With that said, my first pro for Mob Ties is the interaction. I like the negotiation aspect of the game, and I especially like the role of the Don. Depending on who plays the Don, the game can work quite differently. A good Don will do everything that he can to be bribed as often as humanly possible. Each turn he draws two cards; one of them he gets to keep, and the other he has to give to another player. A savvy Don will ensure that he doesn't "give" the card to anybody, but makes sure that he gets his at least a few thousand dollars out of this card. I like that the game balances the Don by having it be a location like any of the others - but without a direct monetary aspect (yet with the potential of being either the most or the least valuable location on the board).

The next thing that I really like about Mob Ties is that it has a large amount of variants that you can play. In fact, there is an extra instruction manual included with the game just for these variants (and you also have pieces that are included in the game for them). Do you feel like players are getting eliminated too quickly? Then you can play with the mercenary variant that lets you buy extra mobsters. Do you think that the Feds aren't doing enough? You can start the game by drawing an extra Fed card. Do you really just want to play on everyone's paranoia? Then you can play with one of the player's Associates being an Undercover Fed (of course you don't know which one.... so I guess you need to "take care" of all of them).

The Capo - the king of your crime syndicate
One of the final things that I think is interesting about Mob Ties is that it is a very bloody game. Depending on how you and your friends play the game (and how many of you are playing), it is quite possible that five or more mobsters are killed in the first round. The game helps encourage this by having a "first blood" bonus of $25,000 to the first player that kills an enemy's mobster. Of course, once you kill a mobster, you've given that player a really strong reason for attacking you - revenge! So, from the very beginning, many players will be attacking each other. And then they'll realize that one of the players has been left out a bit too much - "What, you still have five mobsters? Hmm... here's an attack of 3. Oh, and here's a car bomb. While we're at it, let's go ahead and poison your spaghetti... Oh, was that your Capo?  How sad for you."

Having played the game and done very well, and having played it and done very poorly, the main con that I would list is that it is very hard to catch up to other players once you fall behind in the game. Once you lose a couple of mobsters, you will really struggle to do well. Even if playing the mercenary variant, with only three (or less) mobsters it will be hard to control a location. If you don't control any locations, then you don't make any money. If you don't make any money, then you can't buy those mercenaries (or more cards to defend yourself with). For that matter, with no money, you can't even bribe your opponents to fight each other - you have to just convince them with your smooth talking. And if that doesn't work, you just go around sad as you watch other people's crime empires blossom as yours crumbles around you.

Overall, I give Mob Ties an 8.5/10. I didn't see this one during it's Kickstarter campaign, but it is really one of the more pleasant surprises that I've had recently among games offered to me that I wasn't already familiar with. Obviously, if you don't like negotiation games or your friends would be offended by the seedy artwork, then this isn't for you. However, if that's not the case, I would definitely recommend checking it out.

If you like games with large amounts of social interaction, you might also check out The Resistance, Battlestar Galactica, and possibly even Ideology.

I would like to thank Hostage Entertainment for providing me with a review copy of Mob Ties.

Loch Ness Review

One of Rio Grande Games' latest offerings is Loch Ness.

In Loch Ness, each of the players takes on the role of a photographer trying to get a picture of the elusive Loch Ness monster. In order to do this, they must make sure that their best cameras are positioned in the place where Nessie will (hopefully) appear. Each turn, the players will get to select a bonus for the round - improving their camera's value, moving a bonus camera, hiring an extra camera, stuffing hotdogs in their pockets to try to convince Nessie to go just a bit further (ok, officially in the game you use "Bagpipes" for this, but you tell me - I think that Nessie would respond better to hot dogs) etc. Then the first three players will select a move card; the sum of these cards will determine how far Nessie will move along the board once all of the players are situated(. Once these are selected, each player will be forced to move one of his cameras (hoping to get that great photo!) and then will have the option of moving a second camera. Finally, the move cards are revealed, and Nessie moves along the inner gameboard based on what cards were revealed. Anyone that is directly in front of Nessie gets to collect a card (or two, depending on where she lands), and is attempting to get a collection of Nessie's head, body and tail. Finally, everyone with a camera in the area that Nessie appeared (regardless of if their camera was directly facing Nessie) scores points equal to their camera's value. Also, "little Nessie" moves along the score track a number of spaces equal to how far "big Nessie" moved. Once "little Nessie" moves 65 spaces, the game is over, players turn in their cards, and whoever has the most points wins. (And then has to find a writer that is willing to claim that the Loch Ness Monster is real - maybe the photos will help!)

"Big Nessie" and "Little Nessie"
My first pro for Loch Ness is that it is a game that can easily be played with children. This game is simple enough that I think kids could pretty easily understand the rules and the strategy. Yet, there is at least some strategy to it, so that they will do better if they plan ahead, instead of a game where they are simply trying to roll dice better than their opponents (here's looking at you Heroica and Sorry).

Secondly, I like that there is an element of bluffing involved in Loch Ness. Since nobody knows exactly how far Nessie will move, you must guess based on your opponents' actions. The first three players all know one piece of the puzzle - if I played a five, then I know that Nessie move at least seven spaces. Conversely, if I play a one, I know Nessie will not move more than eleven. What's more, if I perform the "Church" special action (this lets you look at one of the move cards), then I can even know two of the three pieces. However, I can never know exactly how far Nessie will move. Unfortunately, once I move one of my cameras, everyone else will know what I think Nessie is going to do, and (since I know more than they do in this hypothetical) they will probably try to position themselves accordingly. This leaves open the possibility of tricking your opponents - setting up a smaller camera where you know that Nessie won't go, hoping that your opponents will set their larger cameras near it, so that you can then place your larger camera in a better position.  Another way of bluffing is in picking numbers - if you get the impression that your opponents think you normally pick high numbers, to go low (or vice versa).  If you can do this successfully, you will often allow yourself to get situated well; assuming that you don't fall for your opponents doing the same thing.

Overall, my main con with Loch Ness is that there just isn't enough to draw me into the game, nor is there enough to make me want to keep coming back for more. The game works, and as I said before, I can see it being something fun to play with kids. However, I don't really see a strategy gaming group being eager to play it, and unfortunately, I don't even see it being used as a filler. I guess the main gist of this con is that I struggle to see who Loch Ness' target audience is. It claims to be for ages 8 and above, but I think that it would be best suited for about ages 6-12 (along with their parents). Now, to be fair, I think that it could be played easily enough with kids that were age 6 and above if their parents wanted to teach it to them (but then again, I could be horribly wrong - I don't have kids, and they really are an enigma to me).

Overall, I give Loch Ness a 7.0/10. I gave it a score this high because of it's ability to be played with kids as a game that can be used to start teaching them more advanced games (and I have convinced myself that this probably is the intention of the game). However, though there's nothing really wrong with this game, it isn't something that I really seem myself continuing to play. Whereas Rio Grande has made a ton of games that I really love (Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Ra, Princes of Florence, Dvonn, etc) this one didn't really click for me.

If you are looking for games to play with your kids, you might also consider Hey, That's My Fish!, Stomple, and Rory's Story Cubes.

I would like to thank Rio Grande Games for providing me with a review copy of Loch Ness.

Risk Legacy Review

Risk Legacy game

I have drooled over Risk: Legacy since I first saw that it was coming out. So, when I moved to Philadelphia and was offered a spot with a group just starting a campaign of it, I jumped at the chance to join them! Now, let me tell you that we have played 5 of the 15 games so far - so, I have a good feel for how the game is played, but have not opened every pack. However, I am also intending to write this review without spoilers: so if you're looking for spoilers, this may not be for you, but if you're looking for a good feel on how the game is played, you don't have to worry about me ruining anything - everything I tell you should be found in the rulebook or was at least known to us before we started playing our first game. (Note: I had a pretty picture of the board that we're using, but I realized that if you looked too closely, you might see a spoiler, so I removed it - I have checked all of the other pictures, and they are safe.  The Enclave of the Bear pictures shows only a starting power - which you select before your first game.) With that said, let's dig into Risk: Legacy!

new Risk Legacy Game faction
Select your faction - with a starting power
Risk: Legacy is Risk; but with extra stuff. In Legacy, each player starts with a headquarters and a handful of troops; all of which are on the headquarters. He also starts with a faction from the game. The first time that you play, each player selects a faction, but also gets to select which of two abilities that faction will be able to use - and that faction (not necessarily that player) will use it the rest of the time that you play Legacy. Your goal is to capture four "stars." If a player has never won a game, then he starts the game with a star. Each headquarters is a star, and you can also turn in four "resource" cards to gain a star. When playing the game, you basically play with standard Risk rules. You add up your number of territories (and add population based on cities that you own - this part is new), and divide by three, rounding down. This is the number of armies that you collect each turn (minimum of three). You also get extra armies for each continent you control. From here, you can attack as many territories as you want. The attacker can roll with up to three dice, the defender with two, and the defender wins ties. If you take a contested territory on your turn (ie, you kill somebody else to do it), then at the end of the turn you get a card - when selecting a card, you can either select a card of a territory you control (territory cards can be worth anywhere from one to six resources), or you receive a standard resource card if you do not control any of the available countries. On future turns, you can trade in four cards for a star, or you can trade in cards for additional armies - if trading for armies, then the number of resources on the cards is added to determine how many you receive (with a bonus for having larger numbers). The only in-game change that I haven't mentioned are that you each will start the game with one "scar" card. These cards specify when they can be played, and to play them, you peel the sticker off of the card, place it on the appropriate territory, and then this affects that territory the rest of the time you play this copy of Risk: Legacy! Gameplay continues like this until one person has collected four stars. Then, they win the game, and sign the board (meaning they will get a "missile" instead of a star to start the next game; missiles let you change a single die roll to be a 6). After signing the board, they have the option of naming a continent (giving them a permanent one army bonus whenever they control that continent), place a major city (a city with a population of two that only they can start in), destroy a resource card (rip it in half and never use it again), or a few other things. Anyone that was still alive can either place a minor city (population of one, but nobody can start there), or add a resource icon to a territory.

Ok, that was one of my longer introductions, but now it's time to get to the pros and cons. The first pro is that Risk: Legacy is the most innovative game that I believe I have ever played. I was incredibly hesitant when I first heard that you write on the board, destroy cards, and generally make your game vastly different than when you bought it. However, this part of the game works incredibly well. You truly feel like you are in a campaign throughout the game, and in later games, you will remember what happened in the earlier ones. This will also affect how you play - for example, we had one time when a player had named Australia. He refused to play any negative scars in Australia, because he knew that it would negatively affect him if he controlled Australia in future games. This ever-changing game is an amazing concept, and I am really hoping that more games do something similar.  And, when I think about it from a financial perspective, if I pay $60 for a copy of Risk: Legacy, and I play it and enjoy it for the 15 games of the campaign, then I'm paying $4 per play - I have paid a lot more than that per play for many of my games!

Risk Legacy Do Not Open Ever
I'm ready to open this!
Next, I think that it is awesome that not each game has the same cards. When I was first reading about the game, I thought to myself, "ok, that'll be neat, but once I've played it 15 times, I'll have to move on." I now realize that I was wrong. First of all, for those of you that really enjoy the basic game of Risk, there's no real need to stop playing the game after 15 games - just because the world is no longer changing does not mean that the game itself is no longer playable. You can continue to play the game, and it will really feel like it is "your" version of Risk; because you and your friends will be the ones that caused the board to be setup how it is. However, if you constantly want the game to change, you can also figure out how to tell which copies have the same cards (I believe this is by serial number) and get a new copy of the game - one with different contents, and play through it again! Now, I don't know what all is different in the games, but I have looked at spoilers for the "Do Not Open. Ever." pack (oh, don't give me that look - we are playing on a friend's copy, and he keeps refusing to open it; you know "do not open" means "open me immediately"), and this has confirmed to me that there are different variants.

Now, those are really my only two pros to Risk: Legacy. But they are huge pros! So, instead of me trying to make something else up, let's just acknowledge that they are gigantic pros and count them both twice. So, now we're at four pros, and I can move on to the cons. Oh, I just remembered another one - the game goes much faster since you only have to get four stars instead of eliminating everyone. There you go, five pros.

The first con is that there is really very little change in the gameplay. Whereas all of Risk 2210's changes are to the gameplay itself, in Risk: Legacy I found myself playing through the game in order to get to the post-game. I was ready to customize the board, open packs, etc., and the game itself was all secondary to this. If you enjoy Risk, you will have no problem here at all! However, I do not enjoy the standard Risk, so I would often find myself bored while waiting for the game to end.

The second con is really more of the same. I don't like how easily strategy is derailed by poor dice rolling. There are some scar cards that can modify dice (make them plus one or minus one), but most of the game will be spent seeing who is better at rolling six-sided dice. I am not good at this. So, this part is incredibly frustrating.

Next, Australia is still overpowered. Whoever controls Australia will probably win the game. Fortunately, this one has a caveat - you can fix this. Since the winner of a game can make a continent bonus plus one or minus one, you can make Australia only worth one extra army instead of two. Plus, one of the scar cards (ammo shortage) makes it harder to defend a country. In addition, players cannot start on "scarred" territories, so this also can prevent players from being allowed to even start in certain territories in Australia. However, in your first few games, this might be a problem.

Risk Legacy What is in the box
What's in the box
Finally, because of the abbreviated timeframe in Risk: Legacy, I think that a player who is close to being knocked out (the difference between "knocked out" and "eliminated" is that if all of your armies are destroyed, you start your next turn with half of your initial armies on any valid starting territory; "eliminated" means there are no starting territories) has very little chance to come back in the game. Not only have you probably lost your own headquarters, but it is incredibly difficult to ever accumulate enough armies to actually challenge the other players that are still doing well - especially since they are collecting more armies than you each turn. Your only chance is to somehow stay alive (if you are knocked out, then they get to take all of your resource cards), gather enough resource cards to get a large amount of reinforcements, and hope that your opponents fight a lot in the meantime. And, if they see you gathering resource cards, they will probably only leave you alone if one of them is close to winning the game (since they will know that they can steal your cards, which will help them win).

Overall, I give Risk: Legacy an 8.0/10. I absolutely love the ever-changing game. However, the ever-changing game is all centered around Risk. I wish that they had started with Risk 2210 and had then added the changing board to it - having a combination of new gameplay and new outside the game effects. Either way, I love that Risk: Legacy has introduced an entirely new idea into board games - one that I am very excited to see if people will incorporate into future games!

If you like war games, you might also check out Summoner Wars, Test of Fire: Bull Run 1861, and Axis and Allies: Pacific. Or, if you want another opinion, check out this Risk Legacy Review on Play Board Games.

NOTE: I have been informed since writing this review that the only packet with variance is the "Do Not Open.  Ever." packet.

Castle Panic Review

Castle Panic game in play

A simple cooperative game that I people recommended to me is Castle Panic.

Castle Panic is like a tower defense video game - swarms of evil monsters are coming at your castle, and your job is to stay alive. (Yes, killing them is nice, but for all that is good, just stay alive, man!!!) Each turn, you start by drawing up to your hand limit. Next, discard a card (if you want) and draw a new one (if you discarded one); and then you can trade a card with another (willing) player. Now - smash the enemy!!! You can play as many cards from your hand as you would like (normally as many as possible). Primarily, this is done by playing cards that match the color and circle that an opponent is in, which inflicts a point of damage per card played (the map is built with four rings surrounded by a forest - each ring except the center one has corresponding cards in the draw deck). Finally, the bad guys do stuff - first they all move closer to your castle, and then you draw two more of them from the pile. This continues, again and again. Until the game is over - because you have either died off by allowing all of your castle towers to be destroyed, or because you have stayed alive through all of the swarms of (pile of) enemies, and have managed to kill off all of them.

The first thing that I liked about Castle Panic is that it is very simple. It's easy to learn, and also incredibly easy to teach. What's more, the game flows well and is fairly intuitive once you have learned it. This allows it to be played by just about anybody - friends that don't like "complicated" games, kids (probably starting at around 8 - though I made that number up, because I don't have children, so I really have no idea), or anyone else.  Unfortunately, the simplicity of the game comes at a cost - and the replayability suffers.

Castle Panic - now time to panic
My castle is never unscathed
The next thing that I like about Castle Panic is that it feels intense. The main thing that I heard when I asked people about this game is that "it's a bit too easy." Of the games that I have played, I never felt like I ran away with a game. Sure, I thought that at various times throughout my first game, but then the monster draw pile decided to smite my arrogance by having me draw 9 tiles on one turn! (We drew a "Draw 4 monster tiles," and the Boss that forces you to draw 3 monster tiles on the same turn. I will admit this probably isn't the normal situation, but I'd guess that other people encounter it periodically.) Even in the games I won, I felt like I was close to being annihilated, as I always had at least half of my towers destroyed.  So, I think that the people who think Castle Panic is too easy really enjoy playing masochistic games like Forbidden Island on the "you start off the game drowning" difficulty.  (Oh, there's also a variant of Castle Panic where you start the game without castle walls.  I feel that everyone who thinks the game is too easy should play with this variant and then tell me if it solves their problem.)

However, though I liked Castle Panic, I had a few cons. First off, it's somewhat disappointing that there is no difference between players. For example, you have no "roles" like in Pandemic. Really, the only difference between playing with one player versus playing with six will be how often it is your turn, and how many cards you can draw and trade. This simplicity keeps the game from having as much replayability as I would like.

The next con that I had was that it was too difficult to kill a monster that made it into your castle. Specifically, there is one card in the deck that lets you kill a monster in this situation. One! Yes, if you are playing well, it doesn't become much of an issue. Yes, monsters do lose a hitpoint each time they destroy a wall or a tower (I hadn't told you that part), so they will slowly die either way. But, there is only one card that allows you to kill a monster that makes it's way into your castle.  One!!!

Finally, I thought that the "Giant Boulder" was a bit too random. Essentially, this monster tile simulates the enemies massing together to roll a giant boulder at your castle. The boulder will destroy everything in it's path (even other monsters), and will only stop once it destroys a wall or tower. This really seems to be one of the main ways that walls and towers are destroyed (there are four Giant Boulders in the game). So, whereas I see the need for these tiles in play balancing terms, I still wish that it were a bit less random than "hey, you drew a tile and so now something is going to instantly blow up."

Overall, I give Castle Panic an 8.0/10. It's fun and easy to play - definitely worth a look. However, the game feels too similar from one play to the next for me to envision myself wearing out a copy.  Yet, it's good enough that I will occasionally pull it out and give it another game.

Want more opinions?  Check out Play Board Game's Castle Panic Review or Board Game Family's review of Castle Panic. Alternately, if you want to read about other cooperative games, you might also check out Reiner Knizia's Lord of the Rings, Shadows Over Camelot, and Sentinels of the Multiverse.

I would like to thank Fireside Games for providing me with a review copy of Castle Panic.

Fealty Review

An interesting area control game by a small publisher (Asmadi Games) is Fealty.

Fealty, at it's core, is a very simple game. The (full) game consists of eight rounds, in which players each place a single piece. Specifically, each player starts with three cards in his hand. Each player selects one of his three cards and all of the players reveal them at the same time. Whoever placed the lowest numbered card places first, followed by the other players in ascending order. Finally, each player draws back up to three cards. There are a couple of rules to note when playing pieces (your cards each correspond to one of your pieces), though. First, you cannot place on the same "duchy" (one of the boards that makes up the playing area) as another player in a single round. Also, you cannot place in the same row or column that you have placed a figure in earlier. Finally, you can't place on top of "obstacles" - mountains (apparently there are no dwarves in Fealty), other pieces, etc. At the end of eight rounds, you add up influence - again, starting with the lowest numbers claiming tiles, and continuing until all of the pieces have claimed everything that they can. Whoever has the most influence is the winner.

The first thing that I like about Fealty is it's simplicity. Essentially, the designers have been able to distill area control to it's core; and what is left is the game of Fealty. Everything you need for a quality area control game is included, but there is really very little excess. This allows you to have a game with depth, yet it can be played in around 30 minutes. You are able to have a give and take interaction with other players where you can block them from claiming influence (of course they'll do the same to you), or you can peacefully each try to claim as much as possible (well... at least theoretically you can do this - I've not seen it.  Of course, I'm normally the one doing the underhanded blocking of my opponents, so maybe I'm the wannabe warmonger in this scenario.) Due to the nature of the scoring, it is entirely possible to remove most of the value of your opponent's early placed piece by placing a piece of your own (with a slightly lower number) which will claim several of the squares around your opponent - thus cutting off his access to other tiles.

The next thing that I like about Fealty is it's replayability. The game comes with double-sided terrain, and also comes with two different sets of pieces. You can play the game where all nine of your cards are available to you from the beginning, or you can play where you draw three at a time. You could even play where you get to pick cards from each of the two sets, if you really wanted to.  These fairly minor inclusions add quite a bit of replayability. I could play it repeatedly (which is really the definition of replayability - which Blogger keeps telling me isn't even a word; stupid Blogger, it should play more board games) and not feel like I always know where the best placement of my figures should be on the board (since the board will be different every time).

The third thing that I will mention is the collapsing options throughout the game. I thought this part was very interesting. Since you can't place in the same row or column that you have previously used, the number of options you have throughout the game will decrease (and the importance of some of the pieces' powers that allow you to move will increase). This adds quite a bit to the strategy (though I'm far from having mastered it). You have to decide whether you want to use your large pieces, which can claim a lot of territory, in the middle of the board early (while you can still legally place there); thus opening yourself up to having your opponents block most of your scoring, or if you want to wait until the end to place that large piece. You have to decide if you should leave an open spot somewhere in the middle for your piece(s) to be placed towards the end of the game - and hope that your opponents don't take it from you. As the game progresses, your options become more and more limited as you eliminate a row and column each round, and if you're not the first person to place, your opponents will even be eliminating entire duchies!  By the end of the game, you may only have about 5-10 legal placements.  And these placements may be horrible if you don't plan ahead (author's note: this is from experience; my final placements in Fealty are often horrible).

However, I did have some cons with Fealty. First, I felt that the rules were unclear on some points. Fortunately, there were examples, so I was able to figure out what I think the correct rules are, but I'm still not entirely sure. I wish that they had addressed some of my issues more directly. Specifically, (I will admit that I may have missed these things in the rules) I never saw the rules explain what a "conflict marker" does (we assumed it was an obstacle). I also never saw it clearly tell me if an opponent's influence marker counts as an obstacle to prevent you from drawing a path through them to claim tiles on the other side. (An example suggests that opposing influence do count as obstacles, so we played it that way).

The other con that I have is harder to explain. Because of how the scoring works in the game (and that the person influencing any given tile might change from one round to the next until final scoring), the first game or two will be very hard to see how well each player is doing. Until the end when you place all the influence markers, you won't know if you are doing winning or getting obliterated. However, once you get past this initial blindness, you run directly into "Analysis Paralysis" (taking a long time to decide what to do on a turn because of too much information or too many choices). Since the influence is not immediately visible, you will have to continually look around the board to determine what positions might be valid. And, inevitably, once you finally find the correct position it is illegal because of your previously placed pieces (there's an alliteration for you), and so you have to start looking all over again!  This is almost begging for a computerized version of the game that allows you to highlight where each person is successfully influencing (and where you can legally place).

Overall, I give Fealty an 8.0/10. I was actually quite pleasantly surprised with the game. It's not something that I'm going to yearn to play repeatedly, but I thought that it was very intuitive and really a very solid title. This is now the second game I've played by Asmadi Games (Innovation being the first), and I am pretty impressed with this small publisher!

If you like Fealty, you might also read about Princes of Florence, Smallworld, and Alien Frontiers.

I would like to thank Asmadi Games for providing me with a review copy of Fealty via Game Salute.

Puzzle Strike Review

Puzzle Strike pink box

A game with an interesting take on the deck building mechanic is Puzzle Strike.

Specifically, you could say that Puzzle Strike is "what Quarriors was trying to do" (build a "deck building" game without cards). Instead of cards, Puzzle Strike is played with chips. And, instead of the traditional means of victory (victory points of some sort at the end of the game), it mixes in an element of classic Nintendo-style puzzle games like Tetris. Each turn you ante a gem into your pile (like having rows fall down on your screen), and the last person to have his ante pile filled up is the winner. So, to start each turn, a player takes a one point gem and puts it in his ante pile. Next, he is able to perform an action using the chips in his hand (actions can include combining chips into larger chips and "Crashing" chips to remove them from your ante pile and send them to the opponent on your left (who can counter Crash, etc)). After playing an action, you have to buy a chip from the bank. If you have no money, then you have to buy a wound chip - which does nothing, but it makes your deck worse because it keeps you from drawing something useful. Finally, you discard all of your chips and draw back up to five. And, depending on the size of your ante pile, you may draw some bonus chips (one bonus chip for every three points in your ante pile). Finally, you check to see if you have ten or more points in your ante pile - and if you do, then you lose (after all, your screen has filled up - you can sit there envisioning a TV screen with a pixelated "Game Over" label flashing).

Panda chips for Puzzle Strike
Gambling Panda
The first thing that I love about Puzzle Strike (yes, love) is that there are character specific chips. Each "deck" starts with six one-point gems, a Crash gem, and three character specific gems. I have not played enough to see if any of the characters are overpowered (I've played 4-5 times), but they at least all seem balanced. However, each character plays quite differently. Some are good at defense, some help you perform extra actions, one transforms into "Dragon Form" which causes him to ante 2's instead of 1's, but also makes his crashes un-defendable - and one (the Gambling Panda) has a chip that can only be used when he has 10 or more points in his ante pile (is about to die). I wish that more games would start doing this! Can you just imagine playing the Star Trek: Deck Building Game and getting to pick whether you're using the Klingon, Romulan, or Federation starting deck? Sure, Nightfall allows you to draft at the beginning of the game to make player-specific piles, but Puzzle Strike is the only game I've seen that allows you to actually start with different items that have different powers - and it does it well!

The next thing that I like about Puzzle Strike is the vintage puzzle game feel. I really think that this theme allows it to be played and enjoyed without feeling as competitive. Yes, I want to win (as with all games), but the theme is just relaxing and allows you to enjoy the act of playing the game - almost like it reminds me of my childhood to an extent.

Puzzle Strike Leprechaun
Dragon Form!
Next, I think that it's interesting that, essentially, the entire game is played with a countdown timer. Every turn, each player gets closer to losing. Sure, you can counteract this by playing Crash chips to send some of your pile at your opponents, but unless you actively do something to prevent it, you will lose the game simply by playing. For whatever reason, this mechanic resonated well for me.

Finally, I like that the closer you are to losing, the more chips you get to draw. This leads to more combos being played. If I am doing incredibly poorly, I am more likely to draw several Combine chips (these let you combine two gems in your ante pile and perform another action) and then Crash a larger gem at my opponent. It also gives me a better chance of drawing something that helps me to defend. It can do quite a bit to balance out the luck of having to draw the right chips at the right time.

For the most part, I really enjoyed Puzzle Strike. However, there were a few things that I should point out. First of which is that a lot of the chip piles will be left untouched in most games. Whereas, in our first game every chip seemed crucial (and, truly, I haven't seen any chips that aren't ever useful), some are simply better than others. Specifically, Crash and Combine are better than a lot of the other Action Chips - so unless there is a chip that lets you string together several Actions, you will probably find yourself mostly focusing on buying the Crash & Combine (and 2-4 of the other chip piles; especially if there are some that let you steal other people's Crashes and Combines... and then you'll be quite pesky.  And other people will have to play the "Really Annoying" chip on you.  That's right - that's what the chip's name is.  Why?  Well - because it's really annoying.). To be fair, though, this is true in any deck building game - you are trying to hone your deck as much as possible, and so you will often avoid buying good cards in an effort to get better cards. (*cough* I mean chips.  Did I say cards again?  It's like there's not really a difference or something.)

The next con is something that has already been addressed by the game company. It is very easy in Puzzle Strike (during your turn) to get your hand, in-play chips, and ante piles confused. And, if this happens, it can inadvertently change the game dramatically (by changing how many gems are in your ante pile). Fortunately, the Puzzle Strike Upgrade Pack provides you with playmats to keep track of each of these things separately.  Sweet - now if only it weren't $25.  I'd guess at some point they will combine them and sell them together for a discount.

Those are really my only two (very minor) cons. I will mention two other things briefly, though. Using chips instead of cards is unique. It doesn't really affect gameplay at all (which is why I kept referring to chips as cards), but it does reinforce the theme, so that was nice. Finally, the rule that forces you to buy a chip each turn is interesting. It forces players to pay attention to how they construct their deck to ensure that they can always afford to buy something. At the same time, it can water down a deck - which I think is intentional. This prevents the game from dragging out if several players are all able to build decks that consist of only Combines and Crashes.

Overall, I give Puzzle Strike a 9.0/10. I was quite pleasantly surprised by this game, and I'd recommend that anyone that likes vintage puzzle games or deck building games should "hit start" on this one.  (Whoa!  Vintage Game reference!!!  If only anybody else thought I was nearly as funny as I did!)

And, if you like deck building games, you might also want to read my reviews about Thunderstone or Dominion; or if you like the Fantasy Strike world that Puzzle Strike is set in, check out Yomi.  Or, for a complete change of pace, you might check out Glory to Rome.

I would like to thank Sirlin Games for providing me with a review copy of Puzzle Strike via Game Salute.