Samurai Sword Review

Samurai Sword card game in play

I love Bang!  My wife loves Bang! even more.  So, when I heard that a re-themed game was coming out in the Bang! system - but without player elimination, I immediately put it on my want list.  And, that game is Samurai Sword (sorry, I couldn't find an Amazon link).

In Samurai Sword, each player is given a character (which has special abilities) and a "role."  Based on which role card you receive, you will be on a team with other players.  However, you do not know who is on that team with you, as the roles are all kept hidden - with the exception of the Shogun, who reveals his role to everyone.  Once this is completed, each player starts with a certain number of "honor points" - and the Shogun (as the easy target) starts with one extra.  On each turn, you have the option of playing as many cards as you want, but only one weapon card per turn.  And, if you successfully remove a player's last "resilience point" (life point), then you take an honor point from them, and they are "harmless" until their next turn, when they will restore their resilience points.  (Harmless means they cannot be attacked and are immune to the various "attack everyone" cards.  You can also be harmless if you do not have any cards in your hand.)  Once one player runs out of honor points, the game is over.  (And, to speed this up, each time that the draw deck is exhausted, everyone loses an honor point.)  Once the game is over, everyone reveals their role and counts points.  Based on your role, your points might be worth more than one point each, and whichever team has the most points at the end of the game wins!

Now that I've given you the summary, I'm going to really start comparing this game to Bang! If you're not familiar with it, then I'd recommend that you check out my review of Bang! (And, while there, you might notice that I gave it an 8, and at the top of this post, I said I love Bang!  I haven't decided if I just gave it too low of a score to start with, or if it has grown on me a lot since then.  Oh well.)  I assume that you will want one of these games - after all, I did say that I love Bang! (which means you should too), and so this comparison will hopefully help you decide which one. 

Different roles for the Samurai Sword card game
New roles
The first, most obvious, and biggest difference between Samurai Sword and Bang! is that there is no player elimination.  A lot of people hate games with player elimination in them, since the eliminated player gets to sit around playing tiddlywinks until the game is over.  (Two confessions - I don't actually know what tiddlywinks is, and the rise of smartphones has made it to where people normally just play on their phone when eliminated.)  And, in fact, I have played games of Bang! where I am the first one eliminated - and that isn't any fun.  However, in my experience, the lack of player elimination causes Samurai Sword to drag on a bit longer.  If it weren't for the mechanic that everyone loses an honor point when the draw pile is exhausted, the game could turn into a never ending tug-of-war back and forth between the players, as players knock each other out and steal honor points, just to lose them to someone else when they are knocked out.

Another aspect of the lack of player elimination (and the score being calculated based on points) is that it is suddenly much more important to try to figure out who is on your team.  In Bang!, there is a good chance that I will kill an Outlaw, even if I am an Outlaw, as it allowed me to draw more cards.  However, in Samurai Sword, you really want to make sure that you are working together with your other teammates (if you have any) to gain as many points as you can.  And, an interesting element of this that I discovered, is that it might occasionally be good to kill off your teammate (or let them kill you off) if they are running low on health - after all, it is better for you to steal an honor point from them than for one of the the other teams to steal it!

The third effect that I noticed of changing to the scoring system instead of the player elimination strategy is that the "Ronin" role (the player on a team by himself, similar to the Renegade in Bang!) is suddenly feasible.  I have played a lot of games of Bang!, and I very rarely see the Renegade win.  He is a crucial part of the game, to keep the Sheriff's team from getting slaughtered, but it is definitely the least victorious role.  However, if you draw the Ronin in Samurai Sword, you actually have a very strong chance of victory.  Why?  Because your points are all multiplied at the end of the game to compensate for you not having teammates.  In a 6-player game, all of your honor points are worth three victory points each!  So, the game feels a lot more balanced as the Ronin - you're not necessarily going to get an easy victory, especially if the other players figure out who you are, but you definitely stand a better chance of victory than before.

Weapons - Samurai Sword adds different ones than Bang!
Weapon cards - showing difficulty and damage
The next aspect of Samurai Sword that I will mention is the "Harmless" mechanic.  It makes sense for a character to become Harmless if they run out of health.  What surprised me, though, was that you also become Harmless if you don't have any cards in your hand.  After playing, I actually thought that this was an improvement - it removes the frustration of having everyone attack you when you run out of cards.  It also adds an interesting strategic element to the game.  Now, it is suddenly very good to be able to play all of your cards on any given turn (even though some of them can be worth honor points if they are in your hand at the end of the game).  And, there are at least two different kinds of cards that allow you to either force every other player to draw a card, or to force a specific player to draw a card.  And so, just because you are Harmless, doesn't mean that you will stay that way!

The last thing that I will mention about Samurai Sword is that weapon and attack cards have been combined into "weapon cards."  And, some weapon cards are able to do more than one damage (which I believe is another aspect of not having player elimination - after all, you don't want to be hit for three damage, if that is going to kill you and make you sit out).  You still calculate distance (or now, "difficulty") by counting how many players are between you and the player that you wish to attack, and now you must play a weapon card that has that high of a difficulty rating.  I actually liked this tweak to the attack system, as you don't run into situations where you have a lot of amazing weapons, but no ammunition (Bang! cards) to go with them.  And yet, they were able to keep the aspect of the game that it is always easiest to attack the players next to you - thus causing confusion about who is on each team.

Overall, I give Samurai Sword an 8.5/10.  I really enjoyed the game, and I will probably play it more.  When deciding between Samurai Sword and Bang!, I think that the main decision is whether you like player elimination.  If you do, then you should play Bang!; if not, then you should play Samurai Sword (or, as I call it, "Japan Bang!").

If Samurai Sword sounds fun, then you might also want to check out Lunch Money, The Resistance, and Poo: The Card Game

I would like to thank dv Giochi for providing me with a review copy of Samurai Sword.

Discworld: Ankh-Morpork Review

Discworld Ankh Morpork game in play

Quite a while ago, I requested a review game from Mayfair.  Due to my previous reviews, they thought that I might enjoy Discworld: Ankh-Morpork.

In Ankh-Morpork, each of the players takes on the role of a different character attempting to take control of the city.  However, these goals are secret.  Some characters might be attempting to control a certain number of territories, some may want their minions throughout the city, some are trying for money, other want trouble, and one character just wants to thwart everyone else until the deck runs out.  To do this, the gameplay is fairly simple.  On your turn you get to play a card.  This card will allow you to do various things - place minions, assassinate minions, build a building, draw more cards, earn money, and possibly play more cards.  After you have played any cards that you are allowed to play, you draw back up to five cards, and play passes to the next player.  Once someone has achieved their victory condition, and still has it at the start of their turn, they win!  If this never happens and the deck runs out, then one of the specific roles wins.  If he's not playing, then you add up points to find a winner!

Let's start this review off with a confession.  I've never read any of the Discworld books.  (Though, now that there are two games about them, I'm thinking that maybe I should!)  So, just like I said with Guards! Guards!, any of the flavor or humor of the game will be missed on me.  So, I'll just be reviewing it in terms of gameplay.  If you are a Discworld fan, I think that it's safe to assume that you will like the game better than I did, simply because there's an entire layer of the game that is I'm missing!  So, at the end, when I give a score, I think that you're safe to add 1-2 points to that score, if you enjoy the theme.  With that said, let's start talking about the game itself.

Discworld secret characters
The seven different secret characters
The crux of the game are the secret identities/agendas.  If this is something that you enjoy, then this game is one that you should consider.  When playing Ankh-Morpork, just like playing any other secret agenda game, it is very important to attempt to bluff a different agenda.  Are you attempting to control a certain number of territories?  It might be smart to start off the game spreading out as much as possible so that everyone thinks that your agenda is to have minions all over the city.  This way they will spend all of their efforts (and good cards) on stopping you from completing the wrong agenda - which may allow you to swoop in and complete your actual agenda.  I thought that this part of the game worked well, and so I consider this a pro for the game.

The next thing that I liked about Ankh-Morpork are the "trouble markers."  Trouble markers are placed on territories any time a minion is placed in or moved to a territory that already has a minion present (and doesn't already have a trouble marker).  This trouble marker does two things - it allows assassinations to occur, and it prevents buildings from being placed.  However, as soon as a minion leaves the territory (through movement or assassination), the trouble marker is removed.  These markers really added quite a bit more strategy than I would have initially assumed.  It seems like they are always in the opposite state of what you want - if you're looking to build a building, then it seems like there is going to be a trouble marker there, and if you're wanting to kill someone else's minions (ok, you're always wanting to do this - but, if you are wanting to do this and actually have a card that lets you), then there will inevitably be no trouble marker.  So, Ankh-Morpork has an interesting dynamic in trying to figure out how to add or remove trouble markers while still being able to do the action that you actually care about - instead of simply helping the player after you.

The third pro that I will mention for Ankh-Morpork is that it is really simple to teach, and I think that it could be easily learned by anyone, regardless of how many games they have played in the past.  I consider this to be really important, especially since I think the game will appeal to Discworld fans and not just "normal" board gamers.  This means that, if you are considering buying this game for someone that you know that is a big Discworld fan, but they haven't played a lot of strategy board games, then Ankh-Morpork is a game that they should be able to learn without feeling too overwhelmed.  Which means that they'll actually play it!  (Which is a good thing - a played game is always better than an unplayed one.)

Discworld Ankh Morpork game cards
Example cards - I missed all the references
However, I still had some complaints with Ankh-Morpork (really, just one major complaint).  My complaint was that there seemed to be too much luck involved in what you draw.  Specifically, cards that allow you to play another card are better than anything else.  This is because they allow you to chain cards together to turn into a super-card.  For example, a card that lets you gain $3 and then play another card doesn't sound that great.  However, if you have another card that lets you play a building, then suddenly you have the ability to gain $3 before building a building - and there's a good chance that the $3 will provide you with the funding that you need to complete that building.  And, if that card allows you to play another card, then you might also get to play a minion on your turn.  And if that lets you play more cards... you get the picture.  So, cards that allow you to play an extra card are better than any others.  Then, there are some other cards that are just drastically awful.  There is at least one card in the deck that does nothing.  Nothing.  Playing it is the same as passing on your turn.  It is only helpful if you get a bonus for discarding or if an opponent plays something that forces you to give them a card - because then it will clutter up their deck, instead of yours!

Overall, I give Ankh-Morpork a 7.5/10.  But, as I said before, you have to keep in mind that this score is completely devoid of enjoying the theme.  If you enjoy the Discworld theme (or just really love secret agenda games), then I think that Ankh-Morpork will be a great choice that you should definitely consider buying, or at least consider looking for an opportunity to play.  If, like me, you have never read any of the Discworld books, then I still think that you can enjoy Ankh-Morpork, but there are probably games that you will enjoy more.

If Ankh-Morpork sounds interesting to you, then you should check out Guards! Guards! A Discworld Board Game, Battlestar Galactica, and Cosmic Encounter.

I would like to thank Mayfair Games for providing me with a review copy of Discworld: Ankh-Morpork.

Dungeon Command: Tyranny of Goblins Mini Review

Dungeon Command Tyranny of Goblins

The latest army set that I've been able to check out for Dungeon Command is the Tyranny of Goblins army pack.

In my original review, I focused on the pros and cons of Dungeon Command.  And, while doing so, I was using the Sting of Lolth and Heart of Cormyr sets (though I didn't necessarily go too much into details about the sets themselves).  If you haven't checked it out before, I'll encourage you to go ahead and read my Dungeon Command Review, as this review will be focus on mentioning some of my favorite elements of the new set.

The first thing to mention about the Goblin set is the leaders.  I actually like both of the leaders, though their powers are quite different.  "Snig the Axe" has a special ability that allows you to deploy creatures during your Refresh phase.  This does a couple of nice things - first, it allows you to react to what your opponent is doing each round.  Second, you don't have to wait an entire round to have your reinforcements join the fight.  The other leader is "Tarkon Draal."  Tarkon's ability costs his opponent an extra Morale any time they cower.  This is a small thing, but it really helps you finish off their troops, as an extra Morale really adds up if they start cowering.

Dungeon Command Goblin minis
A new friend, and an old one.
A couple of creatures deserve to be mentioned.  First is the Feral Troll.  And, specifically, I need to say "hello" to this figure, as it feels like it is becoming an old friend.  Dungeon Command is (at least) the third different game in which this figure has been sold - he was in the original Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures game, Heroscape, and now Dungeon Command.  However, he is also fairly useful - he has a "Regenerate 10" ability that allows him to heal 10 damage at the start of each turn.  This, along with 120 hit points is a pretty amazing combination.  But, the figure that is probably my favorite is the "Bugbear Berserker."  Why?  Because he has Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution (thus making it easy to actually play order cards with him), and he also untaps each time an adjacent enemy creature is destroyed.  So, as long as you're killing, you get to keep on killing!

Dungeon Command Tyranny of Goblins cards
Some of my favorite new order cards.
When it comes to Orders, there are some cards that would be useful in any set, and also some nice combinations that are provided within this set.  One of the cards that I would currently put in most any Order deck that I built would be Grovel.  It is a Level 1 that can be played by any creature, and it prevents 30 damage at the cost of 1 Morale - an exchange that I'm willing to make (after all, it's Cowering at 1/3 the cost).  The more interesting combination in the set centers around "Mortal Wound."  Mortal Wound allows you to prevent all damage to a creature from one source.  However, it attaches to the protected creature, and will kill him during your next Deploy phase.  Fortunately, there are four other cards that allow you to remove all attachments from a creature.  So, if you can use Mortal Wound to prevent large amounts of damage, and then remove it on your next turn, then you have suddenly been able to save yourself quite a bit of Morale.

Overall, I give the Dungeon Command: Tyranny of Goblins set an 8.5/10.  I thought that it added some useful creatures and order cards that can be included into your other sets, and the leaders are strong enough to warrant playing with the Goblins if you enjoy their faction.

If you're interested in Dungeon Command, you might also want to check out Heroscape, Yomi, and Legend of Drizzt.

I would like to thank Wizards of the Coast for providing me with a review copy of Dungeon Command: Tyranny of Goblins.

Dungeon! Review

Dungeon board game in play

Recently, Wizards of the Coast decided to re-print a classic game from the 1970's - Dungeon!

In Dungeon! each player takes on the role of a different adventurer with the goal of looting the dungeon.  Each character has a certain amount of loot that they are attempting to collect before returning to the Great Hall for victory.  Each turn, you can move your adventurer up to five spaces - but you are stopped if you go into an uncleared room or chamber.  In these rooms and chambers, you must fight a monster.  After selecting the monster of the appropriate level, you find the number that your adventurer must roll.  After rolling the dice, if you have rolled high enough to defeat the monster, then you gain loot (if you are in a room or the monster had stolen loot).  If you do not defeat the monster, then you roll again to see what happens - this can range from nothing, to losing some of your loot, to being killed and having to start over.  Turns continue in this manner until one player has collected enough loot to win and successfully returns to the Great Hall (with that loot).

Dungeon monster card - Hill Giant
Find the number your character needs to roll
The first pro for Dungeon! is that it is easy to teach anybody.  Now, this pro comes with a caveat.  Though it is easy to teach anybody, that doesn't mean that adults will enjoy the game.  This should probably be considered a kid-friendly game more than a non-gamer game.  However, with that said, it seems like the kind of game that you could enjoy with young children.  The amount of luck and die rolling involved would help put both children and adults on approximately equal footing when it comes to chances of victory, which I think could add even more to the children's enjoyment.

Oh, and the next pro for Dungeon! is that it's inexpensive.  A suggested retail price of $20 for a full board game with any kind of role playing element (however small) is essentially unheard of.

Now that I have listed all of my pros for Dungeon! it's off to the cons.  There is a ridiculously overpowered strategy in the game.  Do you want to know what it is?  It is to roll the dice well.  This strategy will defeat any other strategy that players choose to implement (like not rolling well).  Basically, the entire game is dependent on luck.  The higher you roll against monsters, the better your chance of victory.  However, as opposed to games like Runebound where you defeat the smaller monsters to level up and get better weapons before continuing onto the harder monsters, you will have essentially the same chances of defeating a huge monster at the end of the game as you would at the beginning.  (The one exception is that you might be able to get a "magic sword" which can give you a +1 or +2 bonus to your rolls - normally a +1; again, unless you roll well.)  So, if you're going to go after gigantic monsters, you might as well do it right at the beginning before you have loot to drop.  But, then you might get really good loot and drop it later where someone else can go get it.

Dungeon board game close up
You better play friendly with those dice!
The next con for Dungeon! is related to the first con.  If you choose the sub-optimal strategy (you don't roll well), then you are going to be very frustrated in this game.  I played a game of Dungeon! where one of the players spent significantly more time without loot than with loot.  Each time they earned any loot, they immediately lost to another monster (of a level that they were "recommended" to be fighting), and then would have to spend the next several turns fighting that monster in order to re-gain their loot.  After all, once you've already lost all of your loot, there's not really much downside to losing to a monster.  However, it can be incredibly frustrating to play the game and constantly roll slightly too low to beat the monster - just to see your high roll get used by determining how the monster smashes you in return.  (This is the kind of frustration that makes people want to flip the table.  I'm not condoning this action - just stating that this is an example of what could possibly cause someone to want to do that.) 

That's really all there is to Dungeon!  Overall, I give it a 6.0/10.  And, honestly, I only gave it a score that high because it can be played with kids.  However, like Uno, just because your kids will enjoy it doesn't necessarily mean that you will.  If you're looking for a highly luck based game with a lot of die rolling and a slight role playing element, then you should check out Dungeon!  Otherwise, you should probably stay away.

If you are looking for games for children, you might also check out Hey, That's My Fish! or Scallywags; or, if you're looking for a role playing game, you might check out Runebound or Legend of Drizzt.

I would like to thank Wizards of the Coast for providing me with a review copy of Dungeon!

WWE Topps Slam Attax (Rumble) Review

WWE Slam Attax game setup to play
Hello.  My name is Josh, and I am an adult that enjoys watching professional wrestling.  Because of this, I buy wrestling games that I know will be awful.  At least I have a board game review site, so that I can at least pretend to have a reason for buying these games. Recently, this meant I bought WWE Topps Slam Attax (Rumble).

In the WWE Topps Slam Attax game, each player chooses nine wrestlers and sets them face-down in front of them.  Now, after determining who goes first, the active player will select one of their wrestlers and decide if they will attack or defend - and, optionally, can specify a sub-category of this (such as reverse or block for defense).  Their opponent must select one of their wrestlers and do the opposite - defend an attack or attack a defender.  Both players flip over their cards, and whichever one has the highest number wins.  The person who wins five of these matchups first wins the game.  (There is also a weapon card that you can use once per game to increase your number by the number of stars showing on the weapon - but as far as I know, you can both do this at the same time and cancel each other out.)

WWE Big Boss Man card for Slam Attax Rumble
Some cool classic wrestlers are included
There's really one pro for this game - it has cool, collectible WWE cards.  And some of them are pretty and shiny.  And (at least where I bought them), they're cheaper than other collectible WWE cards.  Granted, I don't really buy a whole lot of WWE collectible cards, so this pro is only somewhat useful.  That's it - I'm done covering pros.  And, now that we've covered the pros, are you ready for the cons?

First of all, the rules are absolutely awful.  Awful!  There are supposedly three different ways to play - standard, Rumble, and Match play (if I remember the names correctly).  But, do you want to know the differences between the three?  Yeah - so do I!  I bought the standard starter pack, and it told me basic rules.  Then I searched online to see the different versions - nothing.  I searched harder - still nothing.  I have no idea how to play the versions that aren't explained on the back of the package.  Also, the different cards have various icons on the back of them - such as which part of WWE they are affiliated with (Raw, Smackdown, Divas, etc) and a star rating.  As far as I know, these don't mean anything.

WWE Slam Attax Rumble cards
Know what these do?  Nothing!
And, speaking of not meaning anything, my second con is that there are a lot of completely worthless cards in this game.  I don't mean that John Cena is stronger than some random guy you've not heard of, and so taht guy seems worthless.  I mean that there are a lot of cards that have absolutely no gameplay element whatsoever.  Such as the pay-per-view cards (Wrestlemania, No Way Out, etc) and the match cards (Ambulance Match, Steel Cage Match, etc).  You know what you do with these?  You set them off to the side and pretend that this is the setting of your game.  To the best of my knowledge, that is all you do.

But, I briefly mentioned that John Cena is better than a lot of the other people.  Do you know why this is important?  It's because the strategy in this game is to have all of the good wrestlers.  If my nine cards all consists of the major superstars such as John Cena and the Rock, then I don't have to have any strategy whatsoever to win - I'm going to flip a card better than yours.  Because you didn't obsessively collect the best ones.  (And, by the way, what were you thinking??)  I've played a lot of collectible card games where it's important to have all of the good cards.  But, in those, you have to use the cards in the right way.  In this game, if you have better cards than your opponent, you're going to win - it's like if you were playing the card game "war" and one person had Aces and the other had 2's, and you were playing to see who could win the first four matchups.  Doesn't that sound exciting?  (Short answer - no.)

Overall, I give WWE Topps Slam Attax (Rumble) a 2.0/10.  This game is awful.  You really shouldn't play it.  However - if you want to collect shiny WWE cards, it might be something to look into.

Whereas WWE Slam Attax isn't one of the better games I've played, I would recommend checking out Gloom, Dixit (which is a storytelling game), and Glory to Rome.

Glory to Rome (Black Box Edition) Review

Glory to Rome card game in play

One Kickstarter game that has brought forth some very strong opinions is Glory to Rome: Black Box Edition.

In Glory to Rome, each player is attempting to help rebuild Rome after the great fire of 64 AD.  To do this, you will need the assistance of clientele.   Each turn, you will select a role from your hand to play (the roles are Patron, Merchant, Craftsman, Architect, Laborer, and Legionary).  After you select your role, each other player has the option to follow you or to "think" (draw cards).  When performing the action associated with the role, you may boost the action if you have any more "clients" in your clientele.  In order to initially gain these clients, you must perform a Patron action.  However, you are limited to your number of clients based on your influence.  You gain influence by building buildings - with the Craftsman and Architect roles.  Briefly, the Legionary helps steal from your neighbors, the Laborer prepares you for other actions (by putting cards in your stockpile), and the Merchant helps you earn victory points.  The game is played until one of the end game conditions is met - either the deck of cards is exhausted, all of the "in town" building sites have been used, or one of the end of game buildings is built (Forum or Catacombs).  At that point, whoever has the most victory points wins - unless the game ended because of a Forum, in which case, the person who has the Forum wins!

Glory to Rome is designed by Carly Chudyk.  He is also the designer of Innovation.  I like to classify his games as "balanced by being broken."  Essentially, what I mean by this is that there are cards in Glory to Rome (similarly to Innovation) that are ridiculously powerful.  For example, there is a building that doubles the number of clients that you may have, and also lets you add an extra client from your hand during every Patron action.  This card is amazing, as it quickly lets you get exorbitant numbers of clients, which then lets you have large bonuses every time any player performs an action.  However, there are other ridiculous cards that can come back and stop it.  Such as the Colosseum, which allows you to use the Legionary to steal clients from your opponents (instead of cards in their hand) and put them in your vault (this is where you get victory points, and normally putting cards here is a much longer process that requires the Merchant action).  So, you are now hurting your opponents and gaining victory points!  There are other cards that suddenly allow all of your clients to count twice.  Others allow you to take all Jacks (wild cards that you normally get in the "think" action) that your opponents play into your hand.  So, there are amazing combinations in the game.  But, building one certain building generally doesn't guarantee anyone the victory.  Especially (and this is the final one I'll mention) because there is a card that allows you to steal any of your opponent's constructed buildings!

playmat for Glory to Rome Black Box
Typical player board with clients, stockpile and vault
One of the other things that I think is really interesting about Glory to Rome is that you can both think and follow in the same turn.  I initially did not believe the people that taught the game to me.  In fact, when teaching other player later, I verified this rule.  If the active player decides to perform an action - Craftsman, for example - you may think and draw cards.  Yet, if you have the corresponding client(s) in your clientele, when the action comes to you, you may still use your clients to follow the chosen role.  This is a really interesting and powerful dynamic.  And it also makes clients significantly more useful.  Instead of having to have the correct card in your hand in order to follow (thus causing your clients to only be helpful if you have drawn well), they are always available.  And, what's more, you can wind up doing quite a bit more on an opponent's turn than on your own.  Thinking to draw cards and then also getting the benefit of the actions is, simply, amazing.

The next thing that I like about Glory to Rome is that there are meaningful (and tough) choices to make.  Every card that you play can be used as an action, as a building, or as material for a building.  But, it is very important to decide which way you are going to use any given card.  Is it more important to start building a building that gives you an amazing bonus, but that you know you won't complete this turn, or is it more valuable to follow the action being performed by the active player?  Would you be better off using that incredibly powerful building to complete the "under construction" structure that you have, or should you keep it so that you can build it next?  What makes some of these choices even harder is that keeping a card for later clutters up your hand.  When performing a "think" action, you are allowed to draw cards back up to your hand size (generally five), draw a jack, or draw a single card.  If you are keeping a card in your hand, then that is one less card that you will be drawing whenever drawing back up to your hand size.

Glory to Rome artwork
Very bland artwork
The final pro that I will mention for Glory to Rome is that I enjoy how the different elements of the game work together and keep each other in balance.  For example, you are limited in your clientele and your vault by the amount of influence you have.  You gain influence by completing buildings.  Yet, it would be really helpful to have a lot of Craftsman and Architects in your clientele to help build these buildings.  Also, in order to utilize your Architects and Merchants, you have to have cards in your "stockpile."  To get cards in your stockpile, you have to use Laborers and Legionaries.  But, you often don't see the immediate benefit by playing these two roles.  However, ignoring them winds up making your other roles useless.  The different elements of the game really flow together well to make a beautiful experience.

My only real con for Glory to Rome is that I dislike the artwork.  Really, I've played (and owned) both this version of Glory to Rome and the previous IV version, and my complaint has been related to production both times.  In the old version, I disliked the box - it was a plastic clamshell container.  The art was very cartoonish, and many people disliked it.  I really had no problems with it.  However, in the Black Box, I felt like the art was all very cheap Clip Art styled images.  This con obviously doesn't affect gameplay, but it makes the overall experience of Glory to Rome a bit worse.

Overall, I give Glory to Rome a 9.0/10 (in either edition).  I think that the gameplay is wonderful, and I look forward to playing it more and more!

If you want another opinion, check out this Glory to Rome Review on I Slay the Dragon. Some other games somewhat like Glory to Rome, also include Eminent Domain, Puerto Rico, and Race for the Galaxy.

I would like to thank Cambridge Games Factory for providing me with a review copy of Glory to Rome: Black Box Edition.

Smash Up Review

Smash Up what's in the box

One of the games that I've been eagerly wanting to get my hands on this year is Smash Up.

Smash Up is a "shufflebuilding"game.  What this means is that you select two factions at the start of the game, and then you build your deck by shuffling them together.  During the game, you will be using the minions and actions of your new deck to attempt to break different "bases".  Each turn, you are allowed to play one action and one minion (in either order).  The minions are played on bases, and at the end of a turn, if a base has a certain amount of power (from minions) around it, the base "breaks", and players score points based on if they were first, second, or third in power.  Then, all of these minions and the base are discarded, a new base is drawn, and the next player takes their turn.  Oh - you also draw two cards at the end of your turn.  That's basically all of the rules.  You play until someone gets 15 points.

The first, and most obvious, pro for Smash Up is the theme.  This is a game about Aliens, Dinosaurs, Ninjas, Pirates, Robots, Wizards, Tricksters (Fairies and such), and Zombies.  When you play this game in public, people want to play it without knowing anything about the game.  The theme is cool.  The only thing that instantly comes to mind that is missing is Dragons.  (I consider them different from Dinosaurs - after all, everyone knows that Dragons breathe fire, and Dinosaurs don't.  Maybe if Dinosaurs could breathe fire, they would still be around.  And really, stinkin' scary!)  I also think it would be amusing if Chuck Norris was given his own faction.  But that would probably cost a lot of licensing fees.  You could also do a professional wrestlers faction (and probably use made up people).  Either way, there are a lot of new factions that they could add to Smash Up to make it fresh and add replayability.  Yet, one of the other things that I like about the factions that they already have is that they all play differently.  Instead of simply going for theme and making eight decks that work exactly the same but have different art, they made a game where each faction has definite abilities that you need to capitalize on in order to win.

different factions you can play with in Smash Up
All of the different factions!
The second pro really surprised me.  And, mainly, it is because I had this game taught to me.  The rulebook is actually really amusing.  After playing a couple of games, I was teaching the game to others.  I had a rules question (who wins on ties, or something else minor that hadn't come up in a previous game).  So, I started flipping through the rules.  And seeing things like a section with the header "Cheater!  Y U Action Twice?"  Or, in the tie breaker rules, "If there is a tie for the most, keep playing turns until there isn't.  No sharing!  Except for your two factions.  You guys are BFFs."  Plus, every question that I've had has been quickly and easily answered in the rules.  Very rarely do I mention the instructions as a pro for a game, but Smash Up has one of the best rulebooks that I've ever dealt with.

My third pro to Smash Up is that the actual game is fun.  Why did this not make it until third?  Well, because the other two pros are really, really strong!  But, there is quite a bit of depth to figuring out which base to attack, when to attack it, whether it's better to kill your opponents minions (or leave them there to help break the base), when to play action cards that help you instead of ones that hurt your opponent.  There are really a lot of strategic choices to the game.  And, each combination of factions will give you a variation of these choices.  For example, with the Aliens, I played the game completely opposite of how my wife played them.  When I played as the Aliens, I played one of my minions that gave me a Victory Point when it entered play.  Then, I regularly used my other cards to beam him back into my hand so that I could play him over and over and keep scoring more victory points.  When she played the Aliens, she beamed up everyone else's minions whenever they came and threatened the bases that she was attempting to break.  Two completely opposite ways of playing the exact same cards - and both work well!

But, with all that Smash Up does right, there are some cons that need to be mentioned.  First, the game is very text heavy.  Or, more specifically, it is very text heavy for what kind of game it is.  Smash Up is (I believe) a non-gamer friendly, easy to learn, fast and easy to play game.  It can appeal to people beyond just gamers because of it's theme, and it is an easy way for them to play games and have fun.  Yet, with this, most every card that they will draw will do something different that they will have to read (and understand).  So will every base.  And every card that everyone else plays.  Once you have played the game a few times, this really won't be an issue anymore.  However, every time that you teach the game to someone new, you will immediately see what I am talking about - the game begins with a lot of sitting there and reading.  It just seems that the amount of text just doesn't fit the style of game.

mid play of Smash Up - calculating bases
Now how much power is at each base??
The next con for Smash Up is in the same vein.  There is a lot of math going on in the game.  By "math", I mean simple arithmetic.  You will constantly be adding and re-adding how much power each person has at a base, how much total power is at the base, and how much more power you need at the base.  Then, for strategic purposes, you will be adding how much power the cards you play will give you, and how close you will be at that point.  And, some minions gain extra power when it's not their owner's turn.  So, you have to remember that and add it in.  Another minion gains extra power based on the number of minions its owner has in play.  So, you have to add all of that in, too.  None of this is difficult, but it does serve to slow down the game, whether you've played it once, or you've played it dozens of times.

Finally - there's no score markers.  Really?  Do you think that I have dice just laying around that I can use for this purpose?  (Ok, stupid question - but that doesn't mean I remember to bring them with me.)

Overall, I give Smash Up an 8.5/10.  I enjoy the game, and I intend to continue playing it.  I am also eager to see what new factions they release in the upcoming months and years.  And, whereas I won't be playing Smash Up on a weekly basis, I look forward to getting to pull it out and teach it to new people and watch as they enjoy getting to throw Ninjas and Dinosaurs together to see what happens.

If you like Smash Up, then you might also want to check out 7 Wonders, Flash Duel, and Revolver. Or, if you want to check out some more opinions on Smash Up, I'd recommend checking out this Smash Up Review on I Slay the Dragon, or another Smash Up Review by Games With Two.

I would like to thank AEG Games for providing me with a review copy of Smash Up.

Hooyah Review

Hooyah cooperative board game in play

Since I'm a big fan of co-operative games, I was intrigued by the chance to play Hooyah.

In Hooyah, the players represent a team of Navy Seals that are attempting to complete a Mission.  In order to complete this Mission, they must successfully execute several Operations, during which Events can occur that might impede their progress.  The game is broken up into a series of "Preparation" and "Ops" phases.  In the Preparation phase, players are able to draw two cards - either from a face up group, or from the deck.  They may also play Preparation Equipment cards.  When deciding on cards, they are generally looking for colors that match the current "Ops" cards.  Once the Lt. Commander (one of the roles), feels that the team is prepared for the Op, then they call "Hooyah" and the Op begins.  At this point, a number of Events are handed out to the players.  The Events can be skill checks that you can pass by discarding a matching card, they can force you to lose Health or cards based on a condition, and they can do a few other things.  Once all of the Events are completed, the team goes around playing cards until they play enough cards to pass the Op (for example, they might need 5 purple and 3 orange cards).  If they pass the Op, then they might gain extra Health, depending on how long was spent in Preparation.  If they fail the Op, they lose Health and start over on the Op, after discarding their hands.  After five Ops, they must immediately (no Preparation phase) each face one more Event, and then attempt their Mission (which works just like an Op).  If they succeed on the Mission, then they have won the game!

completing and op in Hooyah the Navy Seals card game
Completing an Op - Colors matter more than theme
The first thing to discuss about Hooyah before even getting into pros and cons for the game is the theme.  The theme is definitely American oriented, and more specifically, patriotic American oriented.  In fact, each of the missions is based off of a real life Navy Seal mission.  That part I think is pretty interesting (you could even call it a "pro").  One of the specific missions that people will probably easily recognize is "Mission: Compound Raid.  Objective: To capture or kill Osama bin Laden."  So, I think that some people will really enjoy the theme quite a bit.  However, I can see a lot of other people actually being turned off by it.  Yet, with all of that, I felt like the theme was a bit shallow when it came to actually playing the game.  Essentially you are worrying about matching colors much more than you are worried about why you are attempting to complete a Mission.  So, the Compound Raid is a "2 Yellow, 3 Red, 2 Blue," and this means much more to you during the game than anything else.

Now off to the pros and cons for the game.  The first pro that I have for Hooyah is that I felt like it had an interesting communication element.  Specifically, players were not allowed to discuss what they had in their hand.  Yet, if they drew their cards from the face up selection, then the other players would at least have some indication of how much they could help.  Yet, the face up selection often will provide irrelevant cards (though they might be helpful on later Ops or for skill checks), so you must decide between letting other players know what you have, and hoping to draw something useful.  And, after each completed Op, the Lt. Commander (LTC) has to remove one of the face up cards, so the public knowledge grows more scarce as the game progresses.  To mitigate some of this lack of communication, the LTC can perform a "Roll Call" at the end of his turn.  When doing this, each player goes around and says the number of cards that he would be able to play towards a single color (without stating which color it is).  This helps the LTC have a better indication of if the team is ready to begin the Op.  (As far as I'm aware, you are allowed to tell the LTC things like, "hey, lets go on the Op already!"  However, just how much you want to communicate like this should probably be discussed before starting the game, since much of the challenge is in guessing what people have.)

Now that I've gotten all of the pros out of the way for Hooyah, there were several things that I considered cons for the game.  First, is that there is an Event that states "Lose 1 Health for each completed Op."  Each player starts with 5 Health.  Various things throughout the game can gain you or cost you some of this Health.  However, for the most part, at least some players will have 5 Health or less.  There are 5 Ops in the game.  So, if you draw one of these Events after completing the 5th Op (when about to attempt the Mission), then you die.  Instantly.  With nothing you can do about it.  There are 2 Equipment cards in the deck that allow you to discard an Event card and draw another one.  One of the roles (Interrogator) allows you to do the same thing (once per game).  So, you can deflect a maximum of 3 of these nasty Events.  There are 6 in the deck.  And, most likely, you will not be prepared to deflect more than one of them.  So, at the end of the game, you are basically just hoping that you don't instantly die.  (I'm not really sure what this Event represents - all I can think is that it is your character stepping on a landmine!)

different Seal roles in Hooyah the board game
The Interrogator saves you.  Once.
This leads to the next con for Hooyah - the tension in the game doesn't seem balanced correctly.  In most co-operative games (Pandemic comes to mind) bad things are happening.  You try to keep them in check.  Slowly, you feel more and more like your hair is on fire, as there is nothing that you can do to stop the onrushing doom that is coming!  Your only hope is to reach the game end condition just seconds before you all die.  That's really one of the fun things about co-operative games - feeling like you're about to lose at any given moment, yet having the ability to reach out and steal a victory.  Hooyah is basically the exact opposite.  You very rarely actually feel like you're doing poorly.  In all of the games that I've played, we've been easily slaughtering the game.  And then, at the end, we hope that we don't draw an instant death card.  Because if we do, then we had a loss handed to us in the midst of our victory.

The last con that I had for Hooyah was that I felt like there weren't very many meaningful choices.  Basically, it was "hey, that card is the right color - I should draw it."  There are a few choices for the LTC to make - specifically, when should the team attempt the Op, but most everything else is a bit trivial.  Part of this, I believe, is that the Equipment cards don't serve much of a role.  I believe that one of the choices that you are intended to make is "should I use this Equipment card."  (Equipment cards can do things like letting you discard two other cards to make a card of the needed color.)  However, since the game is generally easy enough that you don't need to utilize the Equipment, you get back to just drawing the matching color and hoping to not draw the death Event.

Overall, I give Hooyah a 6.5/10.  The game functions, but without much of the excitement that I've found in most other co-operative games.  Plus, doing very well throughout the game and then suddenly losing because of a single Event card can definitely leave a sour taste in the mouth of new players.

If you like co-operative games, you might also check out Yggdrasil, Defenders of the Realm, and Space Alert.

I would like to thank U.S. Games Systems for providing me with a review copy of Hooyah.

Extra Life Featured Charity

After hearing a lot of people talking about having gaming marathons for Extra Life, I became very curious.  I was given the contact information for a wonderful lady named Megan that works for the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.  She was kind enough to share this information with me:

Extra Life was started 5 years ago by a guy named Jeromy Adams. A radio DJ working on a Children's Miracle Network Hospital's radiothon in Houston, he met a lively leukemia survivor named Tori Enmon. Though Tori eventually lost her battle, Jeromy realized that gamers wanted to give back—they just didn't have a way to do it yet. From there, he created Extra Life. For the first two years, it only benefited Texas Children's Hospital—where Tori was treated. Since 2010, Extra Life has been a national program through Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, raising funds for our 170 network hospitals throughout the US and Canada. While many of our participants chose to play video games, you can play whatever you'd like. Tabletop games, video games, card games, basketball—anything. We're looking for you to do something fun, challenge yourself to do it for a longer amount of time, and ultimately raise lifesaving funds for kids in need by reaching out to your family and friends for support! Just be sure to sign up at to get started.

Now, of course, I didn't let Megan off the hook that easily.  This just brought up some more questions that I had.  So, here are a few more questions I asked, as well as the answers that she provided:

Can someone organize an Extra Life campaign at any time during the year?
  • Our official date is October 20th, but you can play whenever you'd like! Just be sure to sign up at to get started. (Our 2012 player fundraising pages will be shut down to make way for the 2013 ones by the end of December though.)

Do you have a list of Extra Life campaigns, specifically by geography? I think that this would help people see if there was a campaign they could join.
  • During registration, each players picks their benefitting hospital. Essentially, we are one big program tied to all our partner hopsitals. Wherever you are in the US and Canada, you can find your local CMN Hospitals affiliated children's hospital. A great place to do that is right here: CMNH Search This will allow you to search by state or zip code to find your local children's hospital. The other great part about this is that say you grew up in Indiana, but you moved to Washington, D.C. You could choose to play for either hospital; it's totally up to you as the player!
Should they go to if they want to know more?
  • Yes— is the very best place to learn more. From there, you can also access our blog to see what's the buzz.
If you want to know more about the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, you can check out their site. However, if you want to read a personal testimony of how the CMNH have affected lives, then I'd encourage you to check out this write-up by one of the members of our own board gaming community: Baby Toolkit's Writeup about Children's Hospitals.

So, having heard and read all about Extra Life, I was fortunate to discover that there was a gaming marathon very close to where I lived!  So, on October 21, I was able to participate in a 12 hour gaming marathon at Games Keep in West Chester, PA.  The entry fee was "officially" $5, but you could contribute as much as you'd like.  Pizza was provided by the store owner, and several people and/or game companies had provided games to be raffled off during the event.  That was all amazing, but I really would have showed up just for the 12 hours worth of gaming!  Ultimately, I had a blast at our gaming session, and I was thrilled that I was able to play games while supporting an amazing charity.  (Not to mention I discovered an awesome "Local" Game Store.  If it took me less than 45 minutes to get to Games Keep, I'd go there much more often - if you live near West Chester, I'd really encourage you to check it out.)  Hopefully, I can participate in another Extra Life gaming marathon next year.  Or, who knows - we might eventually try to have multiple events per year.  After all, I like gaming, and there are always sick children!