Revolver Review

One game that I've been really excited to try out (and finally received a copy of!) is Revolver.  (Sorry, no Amazon link yet - I may go back and add it later.) I love Bang!, and so the theme of Revolver really appealed to me.

In Revolver, one player takes on the role of the Colty gang - who, led by Jack "The Crow" Colty, has just robbed a bank. Along with his 15 other gang members, Jack is now trying to catch the 3:15 train to escape. The other player takes on the role of Colonel McReady, who is trying to help bring the gang to justice - Wild West Justice (so, you're trying to kill them all). The game progresses through a series of battlefields, and to start each turn, the Colty player will advance the turn marker to indicate how close he is to escaping to the next battlefield (and ultimately to escape on the train). Next, on either player's turn, the active player draws two cards and then plays as many cards as they want from their hand. Some of these cards will go to a battlefield, where the McReady player is trying to shoot the members of the gang, and the Colty player is trying to shoot back and take cover in order to stay alive. At the end of the McReady player's turn, the Colonel will attack the Colty gang. Players will compare their fighting total, and if the Colonel wins, he kills one of the gang members. And, if the Colonel does not successfully kill any gang members on his turn, then they get a bit closer to escaping to Mexico (you remove a token from the "Mexico Border") card. Play continues like this until either Jack "The Crow" Colty has been killed, he has escaped on the 3:15 train (he survives until the end of the train battlefield), or his gang has escaped to Mexico (all of the tokens were removed from the Mexico Border card).

The "bad" guy
So, the first pro for Revolver has to be the theme.  The Wild West theme is incredibly fun, and is integrated well into every part of the game.  Between having all of your gang members out, fighting through different battlefields, and occasionally having a Buffalo Stampede charge at you, I think that anybody looking for a Wild West game will really enjoy the lore that this game creates - the back two pages of the rulebook even go into details about all of the members of the gang, and give you a back story about them all.  A nice little touch that I really enjoyed (because I've done a minor amount of coin collecting) is that the Colty player's cards show a pile of Morgan Dollars on the back of them (silver dollars that were in use at the end of the 1800's).

The next pro, and truly the main strategic choice in the game, lies in balancing when to play various cards.  Because the pursuit changes locations, setting up an ambush for the Colty gang cannot happen all at once.  If you put all of your deputies in a single location, then you'll definitely kill some Colty gang members there - but once they escape that location, you won't be able to continue your pursuit!  Essentially, each battleground has a certain number of turns that you will be there (which can go up or down based on cards).  Especially around the last turn of each battleground, both players have to weigh the value of playing a lot of extra cards at a location - it will help them win the next fight, but then those cards will be stranded at that location and unable to move!

With those pros listed, there were also a few cons with Revolver.  The first one is simply that certain things aren't especially clear.  For example, the cards have small icons in the bottom left corner that say things like "Action," "Character," and "Firepower".  Yet, some Action cards appear to work the same as the Character and Firepower cards - by being played and staying at the location.  Yet, one of the rules is that "The Colty Gang has a three card limit.  This means he can only play a maximum of three firepower cards at each battlefield.  Once three cards have been placed by the Colty Gang player, he may not place any more cards at that battlefield..."  (I added the italics.)  So, how do Action cards fit into this?  One specific action card is the "Gatling Gun."  This Action is very powerful.  Does it being an Action imply that it goes away after a time?  This doesn't fit well with the rest of the rules, however.  I have looked through the rules repeatedly and also looked through the official FAQ, and I haven't found the answer to what these symbols mean.
If he's good, why's he killing 16 people?

The next con to Revolver is that the winner truly seems to be determined by the luck of the draw.  Both players have some pretty useful cards, and whoever draws more of these powerful cards will probably win.  The McReady player has several cards that let him instantly kill bandits - if he draws several of these early in the game, then there is very little that the Colty player can do.  Yet, the Colty player has three cards that let him move through a battlefield more quickly.  If he is able to get all of these (along with some of his other more valuable cards), he might be able to rush through the game and get the victory.  But, though there is some strategy in determining what to play, and where to play it, there is a lot of luck involved in who can draw better cards.

The next couple of things I will mention aren't pros or cons, but are things to be aware of.  First, I am not sure if the game is balanced.  Now, I have played it a few times, but not nearly enough to say with any certainty whether it is balanced or not.  In addition, I have seen both sides win, so I know that it is possible.  Yet, it still seems like the game is skewed in favor of the Colonel McReady player.  He has so many cards that let him instantly kill bandits, that it is very hard to stop him from killing the gang.  In addition, he also has significantly more cards that let him draw an extra card (which is really a bonus in itself), and also has a couple that let him keep the Colty player at a battlefield longer.  Again, I don't know this for certain, but it at least gives me the feel that the McReady player has an advantage - if you've played the game a few times, I'd love to hear in the comments whether you have the same thoughts on the balance of the game.

Finally, the cards have black borders, and they show wear incredibly quickly.  I actually noticed that my copy was showing wear during the first game.  If you are a person that likes to put sleeves on your games in order to keep them pristine, you will want to have your sleeves ready before you start playing.  I don't think that any of the cards are showing wear to the point that either of my decks is marked, but I was still a bit disappointed that before I finished my first game, it looked like I had played the game dozens of times.

Overall, I give Revolver a 7.5/10.  I enjoyed the theme, and I think that the game is fun to play, yet I think that the game is luck driven enough that I probably will not play it too often - just occasionally as a nice, light, change of pace.

If you like Revolver, you might also check out my reviews of Bang! (of course), Wyatt Earp, and Gubs (if you have kids).

I would like to thank Stronghold Games for providing me with a review copy of Revolver.

Frenzy Review

Here's a game that I played almost ten years ago, and then ran into again recently: Frenzy.

In Frenzy, there are three different rounds, and in each round three different Battlefields. The goal of the game is to score the most points by winning Battlefields. Frenzy is real-time, which means that you don't have to wait for your turn. There are seven total piles of cards on each side of the table - one under each Battlefield (this is your Front Line - you and your opponent compare these to see who wins that Battlefield), and one under each of your Front Line cards (these are your Supply Line, and the top card of each pile goes to whoever wins the Front Line). Finally, each player has a Headquarters where he can only place Heroes. Each round ends when one player has placed three Heroes in his Headquarters, or when one player has run out of cards. At that point, each player scores the top Supply Line card for each Battlefield he has won. Repeat two more times and whoever has the most points wins.

The best thing that I see about Frenzy are the Heroes. They usurp the normal order of power in the game. Each player has Warriors with strength from 1-4 and some Heroes in their deck. If there were no Heroes, then almost every game would end in a tie with both players playing a strength 4 Warrior at the front of their Battlefield. Fortunately, there is an Assassin (Hero) that defeats strength 4 Warriors but loses to every other unit. Without these Heroes, this game would not function.

In addition, Frenzy came with four different "Factions" that could be purchased. These included the Undead, Orcs, Humans, and Dwarves. Each of these have the same basic deck, but include a different additional Hero (such as the Lich for the Undead). This adds slightly more variety to the game, but each of these Factions had to be bought separately, and it they did not really add enough extra variety to justify the extra $10 or so that it cost to purchase them.

Now for the biggest con with Frenzy - the game is too trivial. Unfortunately, even with the Heroes, I don't think that Frenzy managed to strike that elusive balance between having enough things to concentrate on to make the game challenging while having little enough that players can play it quickly. Striking that balance is the crux of a good real time game.  Specifically, I think that Frenzy does not have enough that a player must pay attention to. Basically, if you only pay attention to the front lines and ensure that you are winning them, you will wind up winning the game. Yes, there are cards that could actually cost you points by winning a Battlefield (specifically, if you wind up scoring a Wizard, they remove themselves and one of your other Score cards from your Score pile), but it doesn't hurt enough to force you to actually watch for them. Whereas Jab: Real-Time Boxing forces players to pay attention to everything that is going on to prevent themselves from losing in whatever way they are neglecting (knockout versus judge decision), Frenzy only has the one path to victory, and thus becomes too simple.

Overall, I give Frenzy a 5.5/10. It is honestly better than I remember it being the first time I played it, but it is still not good enough to warrant me recommending that you try it out, unless you really just love real-time games.

If you like little card games, then you might also want to check out Lunch Money, Poo: The Card Game, and Skallywaggs.

Nightfall: Blood Country Mini Review

Since I love Nightfall, I am glad that I was able to try out Nightfall: Blood Country. In this review, I will assume that you are familiar with Nightfall - if not, I recommend checking out my review of it.

Here is the extent of the changes in Blood Country - when drafting, all of the extra cards that will be shared by the players are revealed before players select the cards for their private archives.  That's it.  This is a nice change, as you can actually draft knowing whether or not your cards will work with some of the center cards.  However, it's obviously not a huge change.

The first thing that I will talk about with Blood Country is that the packaging is very small.  Because of this, some people might balk at the MSRP being $35.  However, the box comes with 24 new archive cards.  Considering that the "promo" archives that they offer wind up being $5 per archive, $35 for 24 archives really isn't very expensive.  Secondly, if you decide to combine all of your cards into a single box (for ease of carrying), then why would you want a large empty box?  All of the cards from Nightfall, Martial Law, and Blood Country easily fit into the original or Martial Law box.  Plus, if you want to carry around just Blood Country (or a different subset of cards), the box is large enough to hold all of the new cards as well as the starter decks and wounds from the other sets (as well as a few favorite archives), and takes up much less space.  So, overall, I think that the packaging (though initially causing the expansion to look way overpriced) is ideal for what you receive, and the product itself seems priced appropriately.

Those are really the only additions and controversial issues with Blood Country.  So, now I'll just mention a few of my favorite cards.

The first one is called "Pipe Bomb."  Pipe Bomb lets you shuffle the bottom two wounds from the wound stack (the extra wounds), and shuffles them into one of the archive piles.  This card really seems very unique, and can also be very powerful at slowing down (or at least punishing) a player that is buying lots of cards from single archives - especially if they are coming from his private archive.

Another one of my favorite cards is "Harley Doberman."  Harley forces all players to discard a card from their hand each time they put a minion in play - and if they can't discard a card (or choose not to), then they receive a wound.  I love playing a couple copies of this card at the end of a really long chain. Because of how the chain resolves, Harley will be in play before the other minions, and so your opponents will either have to discard all of their cards, or (more likely) will wind up receiving a lot of wounds for the minions that they have in the chain.

Overall, I give Nightfall: Blood Country an 8.0/10.  If you are a Nightfall fan, I think that this is a great option for adding a lot of extra minions in a fairly inexpensive way.  Plus, several of the minions add new strategies to the game aside from just gaining minions and dealing direct damage.

If you like the darker theme of the Nightfall games, you might also check out Mob Ties, Gloom, and Betrayal at House on the Hill.

I would like to thank AEG for providing me with a review copy of Nightfall: Blood Country.

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game - Khazad Dum Expansion

So, because of my obsession with Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, I was very excited when I was able to purchase the Khazad Dum Expansion. In this review, I'm going to focus on what the Khazad Dum expansion adds, and so I will assume that you are already familiar with Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. If you're not, then I would recommend reading my review of it.


Player Cards

The sweet new Axe
The Khazad Dum expansion is, essentially, the dwarf set. Both Heroes are Dwarves, and there is only one player card that is not a dwarf or directly related to dwarves. Along with all of the cards that were previously available, I think that this allows for a player to make a solid dwarf deck. However, there aren't any cards strong enough that I feel they should go in any deck, even of a certain color (cards like Gandalf or Steward of Gondor) - but, if too many of those cards are made, then the game would become unbalanced. Since I have a deck that I find incredibly powerful, I have not actually used any of the cards from this set (my deck is not built around dwarves). Yet, some of the cards added are definitely good enough to motivate me to consider building a dwarf deck next time I rebuild.  (My favorite new card is the Dwarrowdelf Axe - it can only be put on a dwarf, but it adds +1 to Attack, and it instantly deals one point of damage to whatever it attacks.)


Into the Pit

The first adventure included in Khazad Dum is entitled "Into the Pit." This adventure is a three-step quest that focuses on exploring locations. To start the game, you pull out three locations. After exploring each location, the next one becomes available, and you cannot proceed beyond the first stage of the quest until you have explored all three of those locations. This can cause the first quest step to be the longest one in the game, but what I like about this adventure is that it gives you time to expand your group of allies before you are attacked. The first location goes into play as the active location, and it prevents enemies from (even optionally) engaging you. This allows you to quest without worrying too much about enemies attacking you (one goblin can actually immediately engage an enemy when it's revealed), but also causes the enemies to pile up in the staging area until you have completed this step. Thematically, this really works well, especially since the second questing step causes more enemies (including a Patrol Leader) to be added to the staging area - and if you manage to kill them all, you automatically advance beyond that step. Overall, I really enjoyed this scenario - it was tense, but didn't feel too overwhelming.

The Seventh Level

Do NOT let this attack you
The next adventure is a very basic two-stage questing scenario. The only real twist in this scenario is that you are provided with a Book to start the scenario (it goes away in stage two), and this Book allows you to quest a hero without having to exhaust them. The consequence of this is that you are not allowed to attack with this Hero (so, I used my Hero that allows me to exhaust it to draw two cards). If you are able to generate a lot of quest points, then you can defeat this scenario pretty quickly. However, if you have an unfortunate draw, there is a Cave Troll that is specific to this scenario that I believe is the main challenge in the entire scenario (he has 4 Threat, 6 Attack, 4 Defense, and 7 Health - and his excess combat damage attacks another character). There are two Cave Trolls in the scenario. I recommend trying to defeat the scenario before the Troll comes out. Overall, I enjoyed this scenario, though not as much as the first one.

Flight from Moria

The most unique adventure of the three is the third adventure (the hard adventure). Essentially, this scenario is representing the Heroes attempting to escape, but getting lost in the process. There are only two stages to the quest, but there are seven different cards representing the second stage. Whenever you are going to the second quest, you flip over the top card, and two of the cards can lead you to an exit. However, one of the cards can only lead you to an exit if you have gained the "Abandoned Tools" objective card (fortunately, a different stage two quest card can let you search for this objective). The other possible escape card forces each player to discard the top card from the encounter deck, and if it is a Treachery card, then that player is eliminated. Unfortunately, I often play this game solo, so basically I get to decide if I want to risk instantly losing the game. I think that this adventure is really unique and innovative, but unfortunately, I find it to be very frustrating, as too much of the difficulty of the scenario is based on random elements, and I can lose regardless of how well I play. Though this is a neat, unique adventure, I probably won't play it very often.
Randomly decide if you lose


So, the one other thing that you need to know about the Khazad Dum expansion is that you will have to own it if you intend to play the adventures in the Dwarrowdelf set of expansions. In the same way that you use encounter cards from the base set in the Shadows of Mirkwood sets, you will use the encounter cards from Khazad Dum in the Dwarrowdelf series.

Overall, I give Khazad Dum an 8.5/10. I enjoyed two of the three adventures, and I think that the player cards add new deck building options, so overall I was pleased with the set.

If you love the Lord of the Rings card game as much as me, you might also want to check out the Game of Thrones Living Card Game, Yggdrasil, and Knizia's Lord of the Rings

Epigo Review

A game that I've been wanting to review for quite a while is Epigo.

Epigo truly strikes me as the love child of Robo Rally, Abalone, and Yomi. The basic game is fairly simple. You have pieces numbered 1-7, and they are setup in a line (along with an X) in whatever order you would like. Your opponent does the same thing, and at the same time, you reveal your pieces. Now, on each turn, you and your opponent select three pieces to move (and a direction) and you reveal them the same time (Robo Rally). The higher numbered piece goes first, and you execute all of the moves. If both players show the same number in the same move (for example, if you both are trying to move the 5 as your second move) the orders cancel and do not occur (Yomi). If when trying to move your piece, but there are more of your opponent's pieces in front of you than your own pieces (at any point on the line), then you cannot make your move (Abalone). The goal of the game is to push three of your opponents tiles off of the board (More Abalone).

Whereas I mentioned that Epigo has elements of other games that I have played, it really melds them together into a fresh and unique gaming experience. Each turn you are trying to figure out how to move your pieces to successfully push your opponent off the board - or set it up so that you can do it later. At the same time, you have to balance preventing your opponent from pushing yours off - and sometimes the only way to do that is by successfully canceling their order! Sometimes, however, if you can out-think your opponent, you might be able to even move out of the way just in time and get him to push his own piece off the board! I like that the game is very simple, and yet can really make you think (and overthink) your moves. It truly strikes me as an elegant design and gameplay that works remarkably well.

21 variants!
The next pro for Epigo is the replayability. Even in the base game, because of the element of out-thinking your opponent, there is significant replayability. However, in case you are one of those people that likes to play something new every time (I'm like that), Epigo has 21 two-player variants included with the base game. 21! And, that's not including the four-player variants!! I have definitely not played all of these, but I played around with some of them, and I enjoyed what they added. Some of them seem a bit confusing, but some of the others do interesting things. One of the ones that I really enjoyed has you setup the board a bit differently, but also has you leave your "X" marker on the board after setup - and this piece acts like a black hole and any pieces that are pushed into it are lost, just as if they were pushed off of the board. I would say that more than anything else, the greatly varied options of Epigo are it's greatest strength.

There's really not that much to Epigo, so I will go ahead and move to the cons now. Really, I only had one con. For whatever reason, Epigo didn't grab me and leave me wanting to play it more. I enjoyed the game every time that I played it, but I still didn't find myself wanting to pull it off the shelf. I think that this might simply be because I'm not very good at pre-planned movement games (like Robo Rally and duck, duck, Go!). I'm willing to admit that I'm not good at these games - and I'd bet that if I were better at them, then I would enjoy them all quite a bit more.  Either way, though, I can only base my opinions of a game on my experiences - and Epigo isn't one that I run to the closet to grab.

Overall, I give Epigo an 8.0/10. If you like Robo Rally, then you will really enjoy Epigo. If you like Abalone, you will probably enjoy Epigo. If you like the out-thinking your opponent aspect of Yomi, then you might like Epigo. If you like planning movement in advance, or really like games with variants, then you will love Epigo!

If you like Epigo, you might also check out Yinsh, Stratum, and Quoridor.

I would like to thank Masquerade Games for providing me with a review copy of Epigo.

Dungeon Lords Review

A game that I traded for a while back on BoardGameGeek since it looked quirky (and I didn't want the other game) was Dungeon Lords.

In Dungeon Lords, you, evil genius ("evil"? slanderers!) are trying to protect your home, which some stupid townspeople are calling a "dungeon." In fact, those townspeople are really annoying and you'd like to eat them, but for the most part, you're leaving them alone. Though you're hungry. Anyway... you are simply focusing on building your glorious underground mansion - and then you hear that the obnoxious townspeople have hired people to come attack you! So, as any good home protector would do, you also hire monsters and set traps to keep people from breaking in. After all, you would protect your home if people tried to break in, right? How this plays out is that the game is played in 2 "years" each consisting of 4 rounds. In each round, you get to send your minions out to do tasks for you. These tasks include collecting food, convincing the townspeople that you're nice (which I find highly amusing), mining gold, digging tunnels, recruiting imps, building traps, hiring monsters, and building rooms. After the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th rounds, adventurers will come towards your dungeon, and at the end of the 4th round they will attack it (how rude!). Hopefully you have collected traps and monsters! When they attack, you are able to use your traps and monsters to defend against them, and fighting is fought over a series of up to four rounds. Each round, if there are surviving adventurers, they will conquer one part of your dungeon (fortunately they will suffer fatigue first, which will injure and possibly even kill them). At the end of the four rounds, if there are any adventurers left, they give up and go home (claiming total victory over the "Wimpy Overlord" - I told you that they are slanderers!). After two years, you count up your victory points based on things like "Most Evil" and "Most Unconquered Rooms" along with negatives for having had tiles conquered and other bonuses for things like number of adventurers captured.

Which ones are the good guys?
The first amazing pro for Dungeon Lords is the theme. The theme is utterly brilliant, as I have never played a reverse dungeon crawler. In fact, after the first year, you deal with harder adventurers - because of some magic called "Leveling Up." I find the theme to be incredibly enjoyable, and whereas you might be able to take these mechanics and make a different game out of them, I don't think that it would have the sheer amount of fun as Dungeon Lords.  (So, another pro - Dungeon Lords is fun!)

Second, I really like how the minion placement works. This is really the crux of the game, as it is how you build your dungeon (thus this is a "worker placement game" or, more specifically, a "minion placement game"). Any given round you have two actions which you cannot perform (based on what you performed in the previous round). From the remaining actions, you select three and place them in order on your board. All players reveal, and then in turn order all players place a minion on their first choice, then all place on their second, and finally on your third choice. After this, all of the actions are performed in order, and normally the last person to place a minion on that action has the biggest benefit. However, there are only three slots on each action - so in a four player game it is possible to not get to place your minion if you wait too long. So, you need to balance waiting with making sure that you will get to perform an action. You also have to balance when you want to place various actions - after all, you can't have the best position on all of the different actions. And while you're trying to position yourself to be able to buy the best monster, your opponents are probably doing the same thing! This flows very well but adds a lot of depth to the strategy of the game.

The third pro that I will mention about Dungeon Lords is that fighting the adventurers (once you understand the rules) is straightforward yet engaging. Essentially, every round they attempt to take over one section of your dungeon. You can place a trap and a monster to try to kill them. After your trap and monster damage them, they might heal or cast magic (if they have a priest or wizard) and then they experience fatigue. If they're still alive, they conquer a room. There's no dice rolling or complicated comparisons. Each monster does a certain amount of damage; each trap does a certain amount of damage (though this can be reduced by an adventuring Rogue). Yet, with the system put in place, there are still different types of adventurers, each adding an important and different element to the game.

Worker imps look awesome!
The final pro that I will mention is that the design of the gameboards is amazing. Having not played Dungeon Lords in a few months, I was able to pull out the game and remember 97% of the rules from the boards themselves - it's all there! I think many other games would benefit from looking at how Dungeon Lords laid out it's components in a compact yet helpful way.

With all that said, my biggest con for Dungeon Lords is that there are a lot of rules that you can easily forget. If you're like me, then you will often have a few months between two plays of any given game (because I have "a few" others to choose from). Whereas the gameboards really help to jog your memory in Dungeon Lords, chances are that you will forget some of the smaller rules - like moving one step towards the "nice" side of the evil-o-meter after having a dungeon tile conquered. That one, specifically, is clearly marked on the gameboard, but there are enough small rules that unless you play it on a regular basis, some will probably be missed.

Overall, I give Dungeon Lords a 9.0/10. I almost slipped this score down a bit, but eventually decided not to. I really like Dungeon Lords - I think that it has a solid theme and mechanics that flow very well. And, even as a Dark Overlord, the game doesn't have a dark or creepy feel, so it's theme is really open to everyone.

If you like Dungeon Lords, you should also check out Age of Empires III, Cookie Fu (if you like quirky themes), and Through the Ages (which is by the same designer as Dungeon Lords).

Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin Review

playing Thunderstone Advance

The latest and greatest (literally) version of Thunderstone has broken onto the gaming scene - Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin.

In case you're new to my site - hi! I hope that you keep coming back (and note, that you can follow me with RSS, Twitter, or Facebook). But, you should also know that Thunderstone Advance is definitely not my first Thunderstone review. So far I've reviewed Thunderstone, Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements, and Thunderstone: Dragonspire. So, I'm going to assume that you're familiar with Thunderstone, and I'm only going to cover the new elements introduced in Advance. If you aren't familiar with the game, you should definitely check out the basic Thunderstone Review - and maybe the Dragonspire one, too (though Wrath of the Elements introduced some new concepts, too).

The first new addition that Advance introduces is that Monster groups now have "Levels". This is small, but is by far my favorite new feature! Yet, not when I play the game by the "official" rules. I think that one of the biggest problems with Thunderstone is that the dungeon often fills up with gigantic monsters, and so nobody will ever go fight them - thus the game gets really boring. (One of the expansions, I believe Wrath of the Elements, introduced a variant of "advancing monsters" that also helped address this problem.) So, in Advance, the official rule is that you select a random monster group from each of the three levels. And, that is the extent of their role - you shuffle them together and play the game. However, it is easy to come up with a slight variant that helps keep the game flowing - either stack all the Level 1 monsters on top, followed by Level 2 then Level 3. You could also shuffle the Level 1 monsters with half of the Level 2 monsters, and the Level 3 monsters with the other half of Level 2. Or, any other combination that you like. No matter what, you actually have the freedom to setup the dungeon hall to prevent this stalling!

familiar from Thunderstone Advance
One of the more awesome Familiars
The next new feature introduced in Thunderstone Advance may seem a bit "familiar" to you (hehe - I love puns). You can now gain a Familiar. The first time that you defeat a monster in the dungeon, you gain a Familiar. This card goes in front of you and gives you extra abilities that you can perform. Some of the abilities require you to own Experience Points (though you don't spend it). The Familiar stays in front of you every turn until you use it - at which point it goes in your discard pile. But, once you play him again, he will again stay in front of you. This is a neat concept, but I dislike that your Familiar is random and that you have no ability to change it. They all seem to be fairly balanced, but I still think that in a game where one of the main objectives is to tune the cards you play with, it doesn't make sense that you get a card at random with no ability to decide which one to get - though you can prevent yourself from having to draw it by never using it (thus never discarding it). But, if you do this, then the other players with Familiars that are helping them have a slight advantage.  Overall, Familiars are a nice addition, but they won't change gameplay very much.

The third major change (do you like how I've now upgraded that first change to "major"?) is that you now have a fourth option on your turn - you can "Prepare". When Preparing, you simply discard what you want from your hand and keep the rest. Then you draw back up to six cards. This is a very small action, and yet it can be incredibly helpful. When you draw all weapons and no heroes, you can keep a few and hope to draw heroes. When you draw three amazing heroes and three cards that only help in the village, you can keep what you need for next turn. When you get a bunch of useless trophies, you can keep the useful cards. This action will really be used much more than you would originally think, and it mitigates some of the inherent luck involved in trying to draw the "perfect" hand.

There are a ton of other changes that Thunderstone Advance makes to the brand, but I won't cover them all. I will say that I think they all improve the game. Here are a few more (without discussion about how useful they are):
Guardian from Thunderstone Advance
One of the new Guardians
  • The game end condition is based on a Guardian instead of a Thunderstone (thus, no free points to whoever ends the game unless they kill a huge monster)
  • "Militia" have been turned into "Regulars" and have been improved slightly
  • "Iron Rations" has been replaced with "Thunderstone Shards" which are worth actually using
  • The game comes with a board that helps you in setup by preventing you from overloading a single card type (Weapon, Spell, Villager, Item)
  • You can play in a Dungeon (light penalty of 2) or a Forest (light penalty of 1)
  • The packaging is better than the original Thunderstone but not as good as in Wrath of the Elements (yet the cards stayed in place when I carried it vertically in a backpack - kudos!)
  • Diseases are replaced with Curses, and each one has an Ability that lets you destroy it (by suffering a temporary penalty)
  • There are more cards that encourage you to go to the Dungeon even when you don't have a guaranteed victory
Overall, I give Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin an 8.5/10.  If you disliked the previous Thunderstone offerings, there's not enough in Advance to pull you back in.  However, if you liked the previous games, or you were interested in trying out the game, I think that this is a good set to buy.  I think that Advance improves on the game in a large number of small areas, which add together to make a better game.

If you like games like Thunderstone, you might also check out Nightfall, Warhammer: Invasion, and Runebound. Or, if you're looking for more opinions on this set, you can check out a Thunderstone Advance Review from I Slay the Dragon, or another Thunderstone Advance Review from the Board Game Family.

I would like to thank AEG for providing me with a review copy of Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin.

Castle Panic: The Wizard's Tower Expansion Review

People complained that Castle Panic was too easy.... the designers listened - and they came up with Castle Panic: The Wizard's Tower. (In this review, I will assume you are already familiar with Castle Panic. If you are not, I recommend reading about it first (the link was to my review of it), as I will be focusing more on the new elements that the Wizard's Tower introduces, and not rehashing the basic game.)

Going from Castle Panic to the Wizard's Tower is (in video game terms) like going from the "Normal" difficulty setting to the "So Insanely Difficult That You Won't Win Unless You Never Do Anything But Play This Game" difficulty (I think Halo had these difficulty settings - though they called the second one something else.. "Legendary" maybe?). Basically, you take the basic game of Castle Panic and you add a lot of nasty monsters. Plus, you remove some of the standard, "easier", tokens and replace them with more monsters. Oh, and on top of all of that, you have "mega" monsters (which are insane - like the Hydra that for each point of damage you deal to him causes two Imps to show up in the Forest). Fortunately, you have been smart enough to employ a wizard (do not let him die!), and so he is helping you in your fight. Basically, the big differences to the gameplay are that 1) there are a ton of big, nasty monsters, 2) there is a wizard deck that you can draw from when performing a discard and draw action, 3) things can catch on fire. Since I've covered the first two, I'll briefly mention fire. If a monster is caught on fire, then he takes a point of damage at the end of each movement phase. If your structures catch on fire three times, they are destroyed. Also, when on fire, structures do not damage monsters that attack them - though they do catch those monsters on fire.

The first new element of the Wizard's Tower are the new monsters. I like the new monsters - I think that they add quite a bit of variety to the game (though it can be annoying to have to look up what they do on your cheat sheet every time one comes out in your first few games). There are monsters that are immune to damage in certain rings, but can be killed by one hit in other rings. Other monsters can climb your walls, move two spaces at a time, bring out imps, have four damage, and several other things. Also, the Wizard's Tower introduces the "mega" monsters. These monsters are the Superman of monsters - and the game would be harder, even if they weren't included! Each game that you play, you randomly pick 3 of the 6 mega monster tokens (using their "harbinger" tokens, which have the standard triangular shape so that you will still pull tokens randomly from the new monster bag). All of these "mega" monsters have more than three hit points, but they also have some extra abilities - some of which are especially powerful, like the Hydra (mentioned earlier) and the Basilisk, which prevents you from being able to perform the "discard and draw" phase of your turn.

The wizard's tower and mega monsters
The second new element of the Wizard's Tower is... the wizard's tower. One of your standard towers is replaced with your fancy new wizard's tower, and as long as it is not destroyed, you can draw cards from the wizard deck when you perform the "discard and draw" action. These cards are crucial, and without them, you would have no chance in the game. These can allow you to rebuild towers, hit every monster in a single space for one damage (very useful if you just killed a Hydra and it spawned 8 Imps), prevent monsters from moving for a turn, and many other things. I think that this is a neat element, and the wizard fits thematically. However, I'm not sure if I prefer the separate deck, or if I would have preferred the new cards to simply be added to the standard castle deck. (As a note, there are also a few cards that are added to the castle deck - mine were just barely larger than the original castle cards so that they didn't shuffle especially well. This was probably my biggest complaint with the entire expansion.) Overall, I don't think that it takes anything away by having separate decks - and it forces you to protect your wizard's tower more than the other towers, so it probably is better to be a separate deck.

My only victory - it was close!
Finally, there is fire. I have played several games, and I have only ever seen one structure be destroyed by fire. However, I have seen several monsters be heavily damaged by it. I guess it wouldn't make much sense to have the monsters affected but not the castle itself (unless it was "poison" instead of fire). However, in my experience it feels like adding the fire to the castle seems a bit like busy work, since you probably won't lose your structures to flames. Fire is a helpful thing for slowly killing large monsters, though. Also, fire is a way of allowing the dragon to make more sense - he doesn't directly attack your castle, but he breathes fire on it. In summary, I like that you can slowly deal damage to monsters, but I think that fire is fiddly on the castle structures.

Overall, I give the Wizard's Tower expansion an 8.5/10. (Oh, yeah, I really have no idea how to score expansions.) I gave Castle Panic an 8.0, but now that I've played with the Wizard's Tower, I don't think that I'd ever want to go back and play the basic game without it - which I guess is really the trademark of a great expansion!

While we're talking about expansions, some other expansions that you might want to read about are Thunderstone's Wrath of the Elements Expansion, Nightfall's Martial Law Expansion, and Lord of the Rings: The Card Game's Shadows of Mirkwood Expansions.

Finally, I would like to brag... I have defeated the Wizard's Tower expansion... once.  And, more finally (and for my amusement), here are some other ways you could describe the difficulty of the Wizard's Tower expansion:

"Like Trying to See Through a Blindfold While Being in the Forehead with a Taser"
"Like Trying to Defeat Superman in an Arm Wrestling Contest while using a Prosthetic Arm"
"Watch me Die!" (this was an actual difficulty setting in Doom 64)
"Like Trying to Make an NFL Team as a Freshman in High School"
"Playing Call of Duty on XBox Live"
"Beating Tiger Woods in Golf Using Nothing but a Putter"
"Hitting Off of Nolan Ryan While Standing ON Home Plate"

I would like to thank Fireside Games for providing me with a review copy of Castle Panic: The Wizard's Tower expansion.

Defenders of the Realm Review

Defenders of the Realm game in play

About a year ago, a sweet looking new game showed up on the shelves of my game store in Joplin. It was called Defenders of The Realm. And, once I found out it was cooperative, I decided that I really must try it!

"Defenders of the Realm is just Pandemic with monsters and dice." Well, there are definite similarities - but, no. Defenders truly does stand on it's own as a different game.  In Defenders of the Realm, players will alternate taking turns - each turn consisting of performing actions, drawing Hero Cards, and then drawing "Darkness Spreads" cards (which bring out minions and move Generals). If the heroes are able to kill all four evil Generals before any of the loss conditions occurs, the they win. If a General (or five minions) enters Monarch City, the land becomes entirely tainted, or if you run out of minions, then you lose. When performing actions, you can move, attack minions, heal the land of taint (not available in Pandemic), build magic gates, listen for rumors at an inn (not in Pandemic), and a few other things - the number you can perform is based on the number of hit points your hero has remaining (also different from Pandemic).

Defenders of the Realm giant Dragon
Generals also look awesome
The first thing that I like about Defenders is that the Heroes, Generals, and Minions all have different characteristics. This (to me) is the main thing that sets it apart from Pandemic - many of the mechanics feel similar, but whereas Pandemic has a very generic feel to it (every disease is the same and every city is the same), Defenders is much more engaging thematically. Minions change in difficulty - an orc is much easier to kill than a dragonkin. Because of this, when attacking orcs, you must roll a 3+ on a die to kill it; against a dragonkin you need a 5+! Likewise, each General has special abilities that make it unique - along with a different life total and die number needed for hits. Some Generals are able to block attacks (if you roll 1's along with your other attacks), some prevent re-rolls, and some are just hard to hit! Fortunately, different characters have different abilities to help them prepare for the fight. I think that (in the game) the most useful of these is the rogue - the rogue is able to listen for rumors at the inn incredibly well, which can help him draw a lot of cards of a certain color quickly; thus preparing him to fight a General. I could continue talking about how well I think the different characteristics of each part of the game are executed, but I believe you get the point.

The next thing that I like about Defenders of the Realm is that the game gets more difficult as you do well - not just as you keep playing it (like both Pandemic and Forbidden Island). There is a "War Status" track in Defenders - and each time that you defeat a General, the War Status is increased. As the War Status increases, more Darkness Spreads are drawn. However, not all of these cards bring out more minions. Each Darkness Spreads card has both minions that are brought out and a picture of where a certain General will attack (if he is in position). As the War Status increases, more cards will be drawn, but some of these cards will only be used to help Generals move forward - after all, as you defeat Generals, less of the "Generals move" icons will be applicable. So, this War Status keeps the game from getting much easier as you keep playing.

playing Defenders of the Realm includes lots of dice rolling
I hope you roll well.
The next thing that I must mention is the die rolling. I like and absolutely hate the die rolling. Each time that you attack anything - whether a general or minions, you roll dice to see how successful you are. This is really sweet, because when you attack a group of three minions, you get to roll a die for each one of them using a single action! However, if you hit all but one of them, you could spend the rest of your actions that round attempting to hit the final minion, and never hit him! This causes a player to decide if it's truly worth attacking single minions (often the answer is no). However, when attacking Generals, this like/hate relationship grows. In my opinion, if you don't kill a General in a single attack, you're probably not going to kill him. They heal very quickly. Therefore, your goal is to attack him when you have enough dice that you should be able to defeat him. Yet, there is never a guarantee. One game that I played, I attacked a General that required 5 hits, and a roll of 4+ to hit him. I attacked with 11 dice (if you are good at statistics, you know that I "should" get 5 hits, 5 misses, and one that is either a hit or miss). I hit with 4 dice - not quite enough.  Since I lost, I had to roll a die to see how much damage my character took. I rolled a 5, which was all of the life I had left - instantly killing myself! So, again - I think it's neat... but since I don't roll dice well, it can be very frustrating.

Now, for my first true con - I felt like the game should scale your hand limit based on the number of players. Specifically, in a solo game. Each player has a hand limit of 10 cards. This works fine in most games, as all of the players are collecting cards to attack a General together. However, in a single player game (assuming you're not pretending that it is multiplayer and using several characters), you can only have 10 cards in your hand at the end of any given turn (during the turn it can be higher by listening for rumors at the inn). This makes it impossible to attack a General with more than about 12 dice. And, as I just mentioned about die rolling, this is far from a sure victory!

Defenders of the Realm card
Where are Windy Pass and Raven Forest??
The next con that I will mention is not about gameplay as much as about graphic design. When you flip over Darkness Spreads cards, you have to place minions in certain locations on the board. Yet, there is no way of knowing where on the board those locations exist (without playing the game repeatedly). I have had several turns where I spent far more time looking for where I should place minions than I did performing my actual actions.

The final con that I will mention is that my copy of Defenders seemed to be a production anomaly. My "Special Action" Hero cards were a smidge bigger than my other Hero cards - this made them hard to shuffle, and also hurt your thumbs when you tried it. I also received an extra copy of the Wizard and the Undead General character cards (fortunately nothing was missing). I haven't heard anyone else say they had any issues with this game, so I'm assuming that I somehow just received a rare bad copy. I'd also guess that if I asked, the people at Eagle Games would replace my Hero deck for me so that the cards were all the same size, but I got my copy for free from them, so I decided not to press my luck! Oh, and I also thought it would have been cool if the different minions had different molds - instead, they all look the same, but with different colors. Since the game is $85 MSRP, I thought this could be a nice touch, but it doesn't affect gameplay.

Overall, I give Defenders of the Realm a 7.5/10. This score is only this low because the game costs $85 MSRP, and I felt like (though I like the game) I may have been disappointed if I had paid that much. (And, this is making me reconsider whether I should even factor in the price of games when I do my reviews.) If you enjoy cooperative games and fantasy themes (and don't hate dice), then you will love Defenders. If you like cooperative games (and don't hate dice), then you will like Defenders. If you hate dice rolling, then stay away.

I'm not the only person to review this one - if you're looking for more opinions, you might check out the Board Game Family's Defenders of the Realm Review, or even Play Board Game's Defenders of the Realm Review. Or, if you want to read about other cooperative games, you might check out Knizia's Lord of the Rings, Castle Panic, and Sentinels of the Multiverse.

I would like to thank Eagle Games for providing me with a copy of Defenders of the Realm to help rebuild my game collection after the tornado.