Hollywood Blockbuster (Dream Factory) Review

Hollywood Blockbuster board game in play

Recently I've gotten several opportunities to play a game called Hollywood Blockbuster.  You should know - there are several different versions of this game, and I think that the current one is called "Dream Factory."  However, I'm not entirely sure what (if anything) has changed, so I will go ahead and review based off of my version of the game.

In Hollywood Blockbuster, each player takes on the role of a movie studio trying to have the most successful year.  Success is based on the number of stars on a movie as well as the number of awards the movie earns.  Play is divided over four rounds ("quarters"), and at the end of the year, best movie awards are handed out.  Each quarter consists of a number of auctions and parties.  In each auction, the players are bidding contracts (the currency of Hollywood), on various pieces for their movie - it could be for special effects, sound work, actors, guest stars, directors, or agents (which are wild).  All of the auction tiles are face up from the beginning, so that you know what else is available.  Whenever a player successfully wins and auction, he must immediately place or discard all of the new tiles that he has purchased (generally you win 2-3 tiles).  In addition, once the winning bidder pays for his new tiles, all of the other players get to divide the contracts spent among themselves.    Parties work a little differently.  Once you arrive at a party space, all of the tiles are flipped face up.  Then, starting with the player that has the most actors and guest stars ("star power"), each player gets to select a tile (for free) to add to his board.  As soon as a player completes one of his (up to three) in progress movies, he calculates the score and collects the corresponding scoring tile; then he receives another potential movie from the stack.  If he has completed the first movie of a given genre, then he wins a smaller award.  Plus, at the end of each of the first three quarters, whoever has the overall best movie gets a small award.  At the end of the game, all of the final awards are handed out, and the player with the best total score between awards, completed movies, and leftover contracts wins the game.

Hollywood Blockbuster unstarted movies
Each movie has different needs
So.  I've realized recently that I love auction mechanics.  As I perused my collection for games to take to game night the other day, in addition to Hollywood Blockbuster, I was tempted to bring For Sale, Modern Art, Vegas Showdown, Money, and a bunch of other auction games.  (Eventually I decided I should diversify a bit.)  But, with all of these auction games available, what is different or unique about Hollywood Blockbuster?  There are really two auction mechanics in this game that I think fit well together that I want to discuss - and I'll go ahead and list them as separate pros.  First, I like that whatever you pay is immediately divided among all of the different players.  One of the beautiful things about auction games is that players truly set the value of everything in the game - in one game, things may even go for half as much as in the next.  However, in my experience, this has never been more true than in Hollywood Blockbuster.  Since the contracts are constantly flowing back and forth, your group can really set the value for tiles as high or as low as you want.  I've played games where everything went fairly inexpensively, and I've seen games where almost every time someone bought something, they had to spend all of their contracts.

The second auction element that I think works well is the fact that tiles are grouped together.  There is only one auction per round in which a player buys a single tile - the first auction (which is for a 4-star director).  After that, the auctions will always be for at least two tiles.  I like this because it will cause more bidding wars than if the players were bidding on single tiles.  Sometimes this war will be because one player wants the sound board, and another wants the special effects.  Sometimes it will be because both players are just desperate to fill several empty places on their movie.  Sometimes the only special effects available for the round are paired with the best actor.  But, overall, auctioning several things at a time allows much more tension and excitement to be in the game.

My third pro for Hollywood Blockbuster is about the only other way of gaining tiles - parties.  I like the intrigue that parties present, where you don't know how good they will be.  Because you don't know what will be available, you always hope for the best.  What this indirectly does is increase the value of actors.  In addition to helping you with your movie, if you are able to purchase a lot of actor tiles, then you will get to pick first at the party, thus potentially giving you a nice 3-star tile for free.  And, of course, the downside of not having actors is that your opponents might get to pick a nice 3-star tile for free!  Of course, you might show up to the party, and there is nothing that you want.  I feel like the parties are a perfect element of controlled randomness in the game.

Various awards from Hollywood Blockbuster (Dream Factory)
You don't have to win awards - but you should
The final pro that I will mention for Hollywood Blockbuster is the awards.  First of all, what kind of game about movies would be complete without awards?  So they definitely make sense thematically (well, except for the one that is for "Worst Movie").  However, the awards add an extra layer of strategic decisions.  Suddenly, you're faced with the following questions: Should I complete this now and get best of the quarter?  Should I complete a bad movie in order to be the first one to complete a comedy?  Do I really want to complete this movie now, when a drama will be the next movie, or should I wait, since someone else has already completed an amazing drama?  Should I make this movie awful and try for the Worst Movie award?  And, the awards also allow players to have a second path to victory - instead of simply getting the most stars on movies, getting the most stars on the right movies can also lead to victory.

The last thing that I will mention about Hollywood Blockbuster is more of a "point of note."  My copy of the game doesn't have licenses to any movies or actor names, so they are all spoofs.  You will see things like "Star Battles" instead of Star Wars, "The Prince Groom" instead of The Princess Bride, "Jim Scarry" instead of Jim Carrey, and "Dental Washington" instead of Denzel Washington.  Some people will like this, and will enjoy trying to figure out what all of the spoof names are referring to, whereas other people will probably be annoyed by it.  I know that at least one German version of the game is able to use actual actors and actresses (I'm not sure about movies), but it uses historically famous people - like Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra.  I am unsure of how Dream Factory addresses this issue.  Anyway, if this is something that is important to you, I'd recommend you looking at the different versions to decide which one will fit your tastes.

Overall, I give Hollywood Blockbuster a 9.0/10.  I really enjoy the game, and I intend to keep it in my ever-growing collection of auction games.

If Hollywood Blockbuster sounds interesting, then you might also check out Mice and Mystics, Notre Dame, and Legacy: Gears of Time.

Cave Troll Review

Cave Troll board game by Fantasy Flight Games mid play

Now it is about time for us to check out the little game of Cave Troll.

Cave Troll, at its core, is an area control game - but with the areas represented by rooms in a dungeon.  On each turn, the active player gets to take a total of four actions.  And, for those actions, they can choose any of the following (repeating them if they so choose): draw and play a card, move a hero or monster, play an artifact card, and use a hero or monster ability.  Certain cards have a picture of a sand timer on them.  When you play these cards, they remain in play as a count down to a scoring round.  When there are more than four sand timers visible, then each room scores a number of points equal to the amount of gold pieces showing on it to whoever has the most heroes in it (with bonus points if a treasure chest or dwarf is in the room).  Once a player's deck runs out of cards, there is a final scoring round, and whoever has the most points wins the game!

My first pro for Cave Troll are the Cave Troll cards.  Shouldn't this be obvious?  The game is named after them!  Basically, the Cave Trolls are nuclear bombs that you can drop on a location.  When you play them, each player can move one of his units out of the space where the Cave Troll is played, but after that, it's like the space no longer exists - treasure chests are destroyed, nobody scores points for it, and you can't even move through it.  Additionally, the Cave Troll also cannot move.  In the games that I've played, the Cave Troll generally doesn't wind up doing much damage.  But, because of the threat of someone playing him, it forces players to diversify their actions.  This helps there be less spaces on the board where players collect all of their units trying to pile up all of their different bonuses.

Cave Troll card and figure from Fantasy Flight Game
Cave Troll the destroyer
Well, honestly, the Cave Troll isn't the only special unit that I like in the game.  I guess, ultimately, I would list all of the special figures as a pro - they really add some spice to the game.  Without them, it would simply be a dry mechanical puzzle more than an enjoyable game.  There is a thief that can immediately move to anywhere on the board, a dwarf that doubles the gold value of a room, and a knight that prevents opponents from moving through his space.  Oh, and you also get monsters!  (Monsters could be considered a third pro.)  The monsters don't even count towards you controlling a space.  You use them only to harass your opponents!  For example, there is an Orc that can kill heroes, and a Wraith that can push them around.  (And, of course, there is also the Cave Troll, which is classified as a monster.)  It's also nice that they provide an alternative sets of cards for the figures - this lets you play one game with a "Knight", and the next game with a "Paladin", each with its own abilities.

However, even with the extra set of cards, my main con for Cave Troll is that I don't really view it as very replayable.  I think this is because the strategies are fairly straightforward.  Ultimately, you're simply trying to spread out and get as many rooms as you can for as minimal a cost in units as possible.  And, you want to get one high value room with your dwarf in it, and make sure that you can keep it.  That's about it.  Now go make that happen, and you'll win.

My next con for Cave Troll is that there probably need to be more special units.  I realize that grunts are important, as they represent standard pieces in area control.  And, if everything were special, then nothing would truly be special.  However, the problem lies in the fact that the deck is randomly shuffled, and you draw the top card.  Which is probably a grunt ("adventurer").  And then probably another grunt.  And another one.  And, though the Orcs and Knights and Barbarians are cool, there is a good chance that you will not draw them until the end of the game, whereas your opponents may get them immediately (or vice versa).  This can highly skew the game - especially if one of the first things drawn is a dwarf, which can enhance actual scoring.  Essentially, because of this aspect of the game, you really need to view Cave Troll as a fun little game to play instead of as a strategic challenge.

figures from Cave Troll board game
Don't stack too many special figures together
The last con that I will mention for Cave Troll is that there is quite a bit of a "pile on the leader" element, at least if you play with more than two players.  Since you score a few times in the game, it is very obvious who is winning.  And, in order to catch them, you must stop them from scoring additional points while also improving your own score.  Which makes sense and is the valid way to play most games.  However, when you have three players that are all attempting to take points away from the same player, it can be a frustrating experience for that player - especially if they wing up losing not because they played poorly, but because all of their opponents targeted them.  (Though, you could argue that they played poorly by making themselves a target.  But we won't go into that.)

Overall, I give Cave Troll a 7.5/10.  I was pleasantly surprised with the game.  Whereas I will probably wind up trading my copy, I did enjoy my time with the game and would probably be willing to play it in the future if someone else brought a copy.

If Cave Troll sounds interesting, you might also check out Babel, Defenders of the Realm, and Smash Up.

Bang! The Dice Game Review

 Bang The Dice Game box

As a dedicated fan of the Bang! series of games (I think I have played every variant and expansion), when I heard about Bang! The Dice Game, I was very excited to try it out.

Bang! The Dice Game take the basic formula from Bang!, and provides a simplified and faster play experience.  To start the game, players will be dealt a character and a role.  Depending on your role, you will have a different victory condition - kill the Sheriff, kill the Outlaws and Renegade, or be the last man standing; and depending on your character, you will have a different special ability to help you accomplish your goal.  On each turn, you get five dice, and three rolls.  In between each role, you have the option to re-roll (almost) any of your dice, but whatever you have rolled at the end of the third roll must be kept.  The different faces on the dice represent a Gatling gun, which hits all other players if you have rolled three of them, a one and two distance attack which attack other players, beer which heals a player, dynamite which cannot be rerolled and will end your turn while inflicting one point of damage if you roll three of them, and arrows which immediately upon rolling them forces you to take an arrow from the middle (you take wounds equal to your number of arrow once the arrow pile is exhausted).  Players take turns rolling dice and shooting at each other until one of the victory conditions is achieved!

The first pro that I have for Bang! The Dice Game is that there are die faces that matter while rolling the dice.  The basic Yahtzee formula for die rolling has been left essentially unchanged for a few decades now.  You can see examples of it in many, many games, and it is always the same.  Roll three times, and keep the final result.  However, Bang! changes this - arrows do things immediately.  And, dynamite locks your die.  These die faces actually make for some interesting decisions about when to keep re-rolling, and when to accept what you have.  For example, one time that I played, I was trying to finish off one of my opponents.  However, the arrow pile was very low, and I knew that if I re-rolled and got too many arrows, I could inadvertently kill myself instead of my opponent.  I risked it.... and it did not work out in my favor.

Bang the dice game picture of dice
Arrows and Dynamite have immediate effects
The next pro that I have for Bang! TDG (I'm sick of typing "The Dice Game") is that it is much faster than the original game of Bang!  Now, let's go ahead and throw this out there - I enjoy Bang!  I think that it is a fun game, and I am generally up for playing it.  However, since I often am teaching it to new players, the game can really drag along sometimes.  That is not the case with the dice game.  Between the decisions being streamlined and the extra death that arrows can inflict (along with not being limited to playing only one "Bang!" card per turn), the game generally lasts around 20 minutes.  Which I think is the optimal length of time for Bang!  This change has caused several people that I've played with to actually prefer Bang! TDG over the original.

The third pro that I will mention for Bang! TDG is that it does a slightly better job of allowing your secret identity to actually be secret.  Because of the dice being random, and because you are forced to use the dice, you can sometimes get away with shooting the sheriff and calling it an accident.  This is easiest in a four player game where the sheriff is sitting across the table from you ("whoops, I didn't mean to roll a "2" hit - sorry..."), but can also happen with Gatling guns and by causing arrows to damage him.  Plus, Gatling guns clear out the arrows in front of you in addition to hitting all of your opponents, so they help add some confusion into the mix of "why did he just shoot me?"

However, there are still a couple of cons that I have for Bang! TDG.  First, the Renegade role is still terrible.  Yes, the Renegade can occasionally win - I realize this.  However, generally the Renegade will not win.  It is very, very hard to be the last man standing.  Actually, it might have become even more difficult in this version, because the sheriff no longer gets penalized for finishing off his deputy, so if he sees a weak opponent, he is more likely to pounce.  (Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that the Renegade is included in the game series, as trying to figure out who is the Renegade and who is the Deputy is the best part of the hidden identity element of the game.  Plus, it helps balance things out so that the Sheriff doesn't get obliterated by the Outlaws from the beginning.  However, that doesn't mean that I even want to be the Renegade.)

Bang TDG during game picture
Dueling it out with friends
The other con that I have for Bang! TDG is that some of the characters just feel better than others.  Specifically, one character never takes more than one wound from Indians/arrows, one character can take all of his damage as arrows (which is amazing when there are not many players left), and one player can re-roll dynamite.  Most likely, each person will have their favorite characters that they think are the best, but these are the ones that I think may be a bit too strong.  With that said, I haven't really seen anyone be able to runaway with a game simply because they had one of these characters.  The team aspect of the game does a nice job of keeping a slightly overpowered character in check.

Overall, I give Bang! The Dice Game an 8.5/10.  I haven't completely decided if I like it more than the original game of Bang!, but I definitely like the tempo of the game more than the original - especially when teaching new players.

If Bang! TDG sounds interesting, you might also check out Catan: The Dice Game, King of Tokyo, and The Resistance.

I would like to thank dV Giochi for providing me with a review copy of Bang! The Dice Game.

Money Review

Reiner Knizia's Money card game in play

So, the game that causes the most awkward conversations has to be Reiner Knizia's Money.  (Conversations like, "Hey, can I borrow Money?" or "I'd really like you to include Money in the trade.")

Anyway; other than being an awkward conversation starter, Money is also an interesting little auction game.  To start the game, each player starts with a handful of cards that represent money in both different currencies and denominations.  Every turn there are two piles of money, each with four different "bills" (cards).  Players now take cards from their hand and perform a silent auction.  Revealing at the same time, players get to select a pile of money and exchange their bid for if (starting with whoever bid the most).  Interestingly, instead of only purchasing the piles of money in the middle of the table, you can also buy other player's bids (still by exchanging your bid with theirs).  At this point, you might be wondering what the point is in this futile exercise.  Well, the reason that this isn't an exercise in futility is the scoring.  At the end of the game (when the deck runs out), each player scores points based on what they have collected (not necessarily how much).  Each set of all three 20's or 30's of the same currency are worth 100 points.  Additionally, each currency type in which a player has between 100 and 200 "dollars" is worth the total value minus 100.  Next, any currency in which a player has at least 200 "dollars" is worth its full face value.  Finally, there are Chinese 10's - these are always worth 10 points.  Whoever has the most points wins the game!

Example pile in Money card game
A typical pile of cash!
So, my first pro for Money is that I think that there are a few different ways that you can try to maximize your points.  Either you can try to make as much money as you want, and assume that some of it will match (or just make as much as possible early and then make things match), or you can immediately go for matching values.  So, if your goal is to make as much money as possible, then in the early auctions you may bid very low - hoping that everyone else will bid high, and you will profit.  (Since you have last pick, you will probably be collecting another player's bid.)  However, if too many people do this, then you might wind up only "earning" $10, while other players that bid slightly higher are the ones to actually make a decent profit.  So, not only are there different overarching strategies, but you are really forced to adapt your strategy to how your opponents are playing.

The next pro that I have for Money is that "it takes money to make money."  Which means that in any given round you have to bid something.  Which also means that you are probably not going to (immediately) recover whatever you are bidding.  That's often not a problem; but, if you have done a really good job of collecting only cards that are relevant to the currencies that you're collecting, then it might be a huge problem.  If might force you to go ahead and abandon one of the currencies that you were just starting to collect - at least for a time.  (Which, in turn, might make another player very happy, if they had been wondering where the rest of that currency was!)

My final pro for Money is that I really like that you don't simply win by making the most money.  If that were the case, then I think that the game would be fun to play once or twice, but would have its novelty disappear quickly.  Instead, you really must specialize (and adapt your bids to what you are specializing in).  Early in the game, it might be beneficial to simply collect whatever pile has the highest face value.  However, at the end of the game, a single bill might be worth 230 points!  (This could happen if you have $190 in a currency, and you have two of the three 30's in that currency.  The final 30 would be worth 100 points for completing your set of 30's, an additional 100 points for putting you above $200 in that currency, and also worth its face value!)  So, the biggest bills in the game aren't necessarily the "best" ones.

A hand of bills in Reiner Knizia's Money
A typical hand in Money - including a "bluff" card
The main con that I have for Money is that it is very math intensive.  You are constantly calculating and re-calculating things in the game - your score, your bid, which pile is "better" for you, how much an opponent might make off of certain things, etc.  None of these calculations are difficult.  They are all basic addition.  However, when you start making a lot of these calculations, some people will get turned off to the game pretty quickly (and others might start taking a long time to make decisions).

The second con that I have for Money is that the tie-breaker in the silent auctions can be frustrating.  When two players bid the exact same amount of money, the tie breaker goes to the player that bid using the lowest serial number on a "bill".  This generally corresponds to whoever bid using the lower bills (20's have lower serial numbers than 60's), but can wind up just arbitrarily picking someone.  Whereas I realize that there has to be something to break these ties, it can be very frustrating if you lose out on a choice pile of cash simply because your bill's serial number wasn't low enough.

Overall, I give Money a 9.0/10.  Honestly, I only tried the game because they were briefly giving away the iPhone version.  However, I'm quite glad that I did!  I think that Money is a fabulous little auction game that fits nicely into most any collection.

If Money sounds like a game that you would enjoy, you should definitely check out For Sale and Modern Art - as well as Ra.

In the Shadow of the Emperor Review

In the Shadow of the Emperor game in play

A neat little game that I got in a trade is In the Shadow of the Emperor.

In the Shadow of the Emperor is an interesting political game in which the different players attempt to gain the most victory points by moving their house forward in different areas.  Each turn, the players start by collecting money based on what they control.  Next, all of the aristocrats (pieces) on the board "age," and if any of them die as a result, then they are removed from the board.  Third, all of the players check to see what kind of descendant they have produced - this is based on what action cards you selected in the previous turn.  Finally, the bulk of the game begins - the action phase.  Players alternate turns selecting from a limited number of action cards.  In order to take an action, you must first pay the amount of money listed, and then take the card.  These actions can help you get more people on the board, move people, place knights, build cities, marry foreign princesses, and attempt to become the new emperor.  After everyone has completed their actions, each of the different areas of the board is scored to determine if there is a new elector (thus giving the new player both the elector spot which provides an extra power, a vote in the emperor phase, and two victory points).  Once all the electors have been decided, then the players get to vote on a new emperor.  The winner of this election becomes the emperor (if he wasn't already), and he gets to take the emperor actions (which generally consist of collecting victory points, but may also give him another bonus).  At the end of five rounds, whoever has managed to score the most points through careful advancement of his aristocrats wins the game!

Aging pieces for the game In the Shadow of the Emperor
Different ages for aristocrats
The first thing that I like about In the Shadow of the Emperor is the aging mechanic.  Each aristocrat has the numbers 15, 25, 35, and 45.  When they come onto the board (aside from initial placement), they come in at age 15.  At the start of each subsequent turn, they will advance to the next highest number, and if they age beyond 45, then they will die.  However, there is also an action in the game (the "doctor") that allows you to either make a piece older or younger by one turn.  This can be very important as you can kill off some of your opponent's older pieces that are challenging you in various places (or protect some of your crucial pieces); and, since the number of actions is limited, you may even be able to take this action and prevent him from being able to retaliate.

The next series of pros that I have all center around the actions, and the different strategic elements that go into choosing which action you want to take.  First, I like that the actions are very limited.  Some of the actions only have one card, some have two, and some have more.  So, when performing an action, you must decide which one you want to take, and when doing so, you realize that there is a good chance that many of the other options will no longer be available by your next turn.  Additionally, actions cost money.  This gives you a bit more knowledge on what may be available on your next turn.  If you have significantly more money than your opponents, then you can expect that the higher cost actions may still be around on your next turn - so, you might be better off selecting a lower cost action that will run out instead of the higher cost action that is more critical (but will still be available).  Balancing these decisions is a wonderful aspect of this game.

But, there is another element that factors into making these decisions - the actions that you take determine what kind of descendant you will produce.  The actions are color coded either blue or pink.  If you select more blue actions than pink actions, then you produce a son, and you can place a new aristocrat on the board at the start of the next turn.  If you select more pink actions, then you produce a daughter, which you can attempt to marry off to one of the other player's aristocrats (helping them because a married couple is worth two influence instead of one, and helping you by scoring victory points), but if you are unsuccessful, then you get a few coins (as she becomes a nun).  Whereas I won't really judge how this works thematically, strategically it is brilliant.  It really encourages you to take actions that you might not otherwise consider.  In addition to their listed bonus, the different actions might also give you the bonus of a new aristocrat on the next turn.

Different actions in In the Shadow of the Emperor
Blue/Pink Actions
The last pro that I will mention for In the Shadow of the Emperor is that I like that you score two victory points when you become the new elector for a region.  Holding on to an elector position is still good - it gives you a vote for the emperor, and you can use the elector's ability (which can be very powerful).  But, because you gain victory points for taking an elector space, it really encourages you to move your aristocrats around and repeatedly take different positions (even at the cost of losing ones you already controlled).  Balancing taking the new positions, losing your old ones, and maximizing the benefits of whichever power you have at any given time are the keys to winning.

However, though I really like In the Shadow of the Emperor, there are a few cons that I will mention.  First, the rules are awful.  I will admit that I didn't learn this game from the rulebook - but I have consulted them throughout my games.  However, the person that I was learning the game from had several important rules highlighted in his rulebook so that he could actually find them later, as certain rules aren't where you would expect them.  Plus, the copy that I have came from a trade - and it included "How the game works: An explanation in plain English," as the previous owners of it had apparently also struggled with the rulebook.  The game is worth playing, though, so I'd encourage you to persevere through this issue.

My second con is that I think that there is quite a first player advantage in this game.  Or, more specifically, I think that there is a last player disadvantage.  To start the game, a first player is selected.  That player becomes the emperor.  Then, in turn order, every other player gets to select an electorate to control.  After this, the game begins, starting with the first player.  So, the last player gets both the worst elector power and has the last choice on actions.  Whereas this disadvantage isn't large enough to cost them the game, it is still a bit more hefty than I would like.

Finally, I'm not sure how well this game plays with less than four players.  Why?  Because my group has played with less than that and refuses to do it again.  So, I take that to mean that it doesn't play especially well with less than four.  (And, looking at the game and how the tension plays out in a four player game, I can see how that would be true.)  But, again - my games were all four player; if you've played with less, feel free to relate your experience in the comments.

Overall, I give In the Shadow of the Emperor an 8.5/10.  I enjoyed the game quite a bit, but one of it's main drawbacks is that it is hard to get to the table.  However, each time that I have managed to play it, I've enjoyed it quite a bit.

If you're interested in other games with a political nature, you might also check out Twilight Struggle, Quo Vadis, and 1960: The Making of the President.

Riff Raff Review

Riff Raff game in play

In my continuing efforts to try out every awesome sounding dexterity game that comes along, I've unsurprisingly hunted down a copy of Riff Raff!

In Riff Raff, each player has a pile of miscellaneous pieces that he is trying to stack on a boat.  Sound easy?  Well... the boat is leaning.  And, you have to place your pieces on certain sections.  Specifically, each player is given a hand of cards ranging from 1-10, which correspond to the different parts of the ship (four on the lower part, and six on the masts).  Each card can only be used once (hence the game can only last up to ten rounds).  To start each turn, all players reveal a card.  Whoever plays the highest card gets to place a piece on the ship first (in that section), followed by the other players in order.  Players cannot touch the ship or previously placed pieces directly, but are allowed to bump them with their current piece.  If a piece is successfully placed on the boat, with nothing falling off, great!  If pieces fall off, then the active player can attempt to catch them.  Any pieces that are caught are removed from the game - and any fallen pieces that were not caught are added to that player's supply.  The first person to run out of pieces wins the game!  (Alternately, if nobody is very good (which happens regularly), whoever has the least number of pieces after the tenth round is the winner.)

Riff Raff closeup of ship
Crewmen holding on for dear life!
The first pro that I have for Riff Raff is that the game is ridiculous.  It can be incredibly fun to watch, as well as to play.  Not only does the boat lean, the boat will often look like it is about to fall over.  And when the boat is at a 45 degree angle, you very well may only have cards left in your hand that have to be placed where they will immediately slide off.  So, your only chance is to try to somehow balance the ship (without knocking everything off), and also balance it with your chosen piece.  You probably will not succeed.  However, everyone nearby will get a kick out of watching you try!  (And you'll probably have fun at it, too.)

The next pro for Riff Raff is that I the components are very well made.  This is not something that I generally care much about, but in a dexterity game, it can be critical.  And, more specifically, the components for Riff Raff are very well made for the design of the game.  It's not "hey, this is a good piece of cardboard," but it is "this piece makes the game play better."  The main piece that I'm thinking of is the ship, and it's balancer.  The box has a cardboard insert that folds up and sits on top of the plastic insert.  The ship sits on top of this (on a wooden ring), but the ship has a large wooden piece with a metal ball attached to the bottom of it.  This metal ball is what causes the ship to lean every direction imaginable without toppling over.  No matter how many of your pieces you set on the top ledge of the ship, it will not topple, because it is weighted well.  So, as I said - the pieces being made well enhances the game, instead of simply being a nice cosmetic aspect.

There are some elements of the game that I'm going to mention that aren't really pros or cons.  One of them is that in my copy of the game, the boat is often leaning from the beginning.  It doesn't really lean very far (maybe 10 degrees), and if you mess with it enough, you can get it to lean even less than that.  I can't decide if this is something wrong with my copy, and it really should stand up straight to start the game, or if this was something intentional to make sure that the game is challenging from the beginning.   And if it is something "wrong" with my copy, I haven't decided if it makes my copy better or worse.

Riff Raff game in play
A mostly empty boat
The next thing that I will mention is more of an "I wish they had added this."  The pieces in the game are all very smooth.  In most games, this is a sign of being high quality, and in fact, that is still the case in Riff Raff.  However, with as smooth as the pieces are, and as angled as the boat is, the smoothness of the pieces can increase the challenge.  I wish that the mast pieces were double sided with one side smooth and the other side with a bit more texture.  This would allow the game to be played with two different degrees of difficulty, as the players could choose which side to play with in any given game.

My only real con for Riff Raff is that I dislike the rule about catching pieces.  Or, more specifically, I dislike that you can catch the piece that you are currently placing, and it goes out of the game.  It is far too easy to balance it for half of a second, and then as it falls, catch it.  And catching it that way is almost as good as playing it!  (I say almost, because it is still better to play a piece so that there are more pieces for the next player to potentially knock off.)  I think that this can be fixed with house rules - either everyone has to play with just one hand, or the current piece cannot be caught, or something of that nature.  However, whenever I feel the need to make a house rule, I am disappointed.

Overall, I give Riff Raff an 8.5/10.  It is a fun game with amazing components, and the designers have managed to find something unique within the dexterity genre, for which I applaud them.

If Riff Raff sounds interesting, you should also check out Crokinole, Hamsterrolle, and Catacombs.

Neuroshima Hex 3.0 Review

Neuroshima Hex 3.0 game in play

Though Neuroshima Hex has been around for quite some time, I finally was able to explore the game in the latest edition - Neuroshima Hex 3.0.

Before I get into the main review, I wanted to address what has changed in the new version.  Having not been totally familiar with the old version, I may be a touch off; but here are the things I am aware of: there are solo puzzles, there is a new faction, and the art is different.   The solo puzzles are a nice way of exploring the game and honing your skills.  However, having played several of them, I found that the setup time took longer than actually solving the puzzle, so they may be something that you try without bothering to set the pieces up on the board.  New factions are obviously a plus, and I found the new faction (Doomsday Machine), to have a very unique style of gameplay.  I think that if you played the previous versions, you will definitely appreciate this being included.  Finally, there is new art.  Based on what I have read, the new art makes it unappealing to mix in the previously released expansions - I believe that you can, but the art style is different enough that they don't feel like they "fit".

Now then, for those of you that are new to Neuroshima Hex, let's review the game!  In Neuroshima Hex, each player selects an army and attempts to raze his opponent's base.  Each turn you draw three hex tiles, discard one, and either play or keep each of the other two.  There are three types of tiles to play - units, modules, and actions ("instants").  Units and modules go out on the board and can cause different effects - attacking in melee, at range, improving other units, trapping opponents, etc.  However, none of these units will perform any of these actions until a battle is performed.  Alternately, the action tiles do various "one and done" things - they can start a battle, move a unit, attack a single unit, or push back an opponent.  Whenever a battle occurs (either from one player using a battle action or the board being filled), casualties are determined in initiative order - with the higher initiatives attacking before the lower ones, and with all units within the same initiative attacking at the same time.  Play continues in this manner of placing units and battling until one player's HQ has been destroyed, or until one player runs out of tiles - at which point the player with the healthiest HQ is the winner!

board closeup for new Neuroshima Hex game
Four-player death match
The first pro that I have for Neuroshima Hex is that I really like the skirmish system that it implements.  Is that cheating?  Essentially, this first pro is "I like how the game works," as the skirmish system is the game (just using more eloquent terms).  It all works very well - there is a nice tension about when a battle will occur.  Essentially, at the end of most of your turns you feel like you are positioned well and wish a battle would immediately begin.  Yet, by the start of your next turn, you feel (sometimes justifiably) like you are going to get obliterated.  And, whoever does finally start the battle will generally be using one of their two tiles in order to trigger the event, which means they will not be able to position their armies as much as they would like.  Everything fits very well together, and the flow and balance of the game make it great for anyone that enjoys skirmish-style games.

The next pro that I have for Neuroshima Hex is the initiative system.  Much of the positioning of units is centered around this.  A great example of this is when one player has a very strong unit positioned to attack his opponent's base.  Yet, that strong unit will quite likely have a low initiative - and so his opponent may be able to destroy the unit before it would be able to attack, assuming he can play a higher initiative unit.  Which then can be countered with an even higher initiative unit.  The fact that the units' attacks are staggered makes the placement of units much more important and is a brilliant facet of the game.

The third pro that I will list for this game is that I like that the bases all attack in melee.  Specifically, each of the bases has an initiative of zero and performs a melee attack in every direction (though it cannot damage another HQ).  This minor element of the game is helpful in two ways: it prevents the board from stagnating, and it also helps avoid one player running away with a victory.  It prevents the board from stagnating by killing units - specifically units that are directly helping a player win.  Regardless of whether a player positions a different unit to kill those tiles, they will be destroyed by the headquarters, thus clearing space on the board for players to place the next wave of reinforcements.  It also helps avoid a runaway leader by removing the units that are most directly helping a player to win.  For example, if I have a unit dealing three points of melee damage to my opponents base, and the base doesn't attack him, all I have to do is protect that unit and I will probably win.  However, since the base itself attacks, my strategy will have to change as my units die and as I draw new units.

two player example of new Neuroshima Hex game
Two-player game where blue has the advantage
The last pro that I will mention for Neuroshima Hex is that I enjoy the differences of the armies.  There are five armies included in the game, and each of those armies plays differently.  Some of them have really neat ranged powers, others are major melee attackers.  Some armies have an advantage by attacking repeatedly with the same units, and others use area affects to attack.  One of my favorite elements in games is when each player has a completely unique (yet balanced) way of playing, as it adds tons of depth to the game.  Neuroshima Hex is an amazing example of this, and I think that designers should desire to achieve this aspect in their games.

Though there is a lot to like in Neuroshima Hex, there is at least one element of the game that can be frustrating.  My primary con is that the game can swing drastically based on the luck of the draw.  This problem is most apparent after a battle.  Often, after a battle, one player (or team) will have an advantage - such as being the only team with units on the board!  This is generally the team that initiated the battle, as you wouldn't want to start a battle that you are not going to win.  Fortunately, the game balances itself by allowing the other player (or team) to take their turn immediately after the battle - thus the weaker team can immediately reinforce!  Yet, if they draw a combination of modules and action tiles (if you draw all actions, you can discard and redraw), they will not be able to improve their position.  And, the next player might be able to improve his position while triggering another altercation.  I have seen this occur in multiple games that I have played, and it generally means that the player at a disadvantage will not recover.

Overall, I give Neuroshima Hex 3.0 a 9.0/10.  If you are looking for a tactical skirmish game, this is probably the one that you should try first.  It is not for everybody (as some people have no interest in skirmish games), but after trying it, I understand why it has been published and re-published, and why so many people enjoy this game.

If Neuroshima Hex sounds interesting, you might also want to check out 51st State: The New Era, Summoner Wars, and Star Wars: The Card Game.

I would like to thank Z-Man Games for providing me with a review copy of Neuroshima Hex 3.0.

Trains Review

Trains board game in play

One of the newest deck building games that has been generating buzz is Trains.

Trains, simply put, is "Dominion with a board."  (If you haven't heard that phrase yet, then you probably haven't heard much about the game at all.)  Each player starts with a train track in a single city on the board, as well as a very basic starting deck (consisting of "Normal Trains" which are money, and a few cards that allow you to interact with the board).  On each player's turn, he is allowed to buy, play actions, lay tracks and build station improvements as many times as his cards allow (based on icons and available money).  When buying cards, they simply go into the player's discard pile.  When performing board related actions, the active player will also collect "Waste."  Play continues in this manner with players attempting to lay tracks to connect different cities while also building stations in those cities until one player has exhausted their supply of track, all of the stations are built, or four piles of cards are exhausted.  At that point, whichever player has the most points based on what they have built, what they have bought, and what they have played is the winner!

The first pro that I have for Trains are the Waste cards.  Every time you do anything beneficial, you gain a Waste.  Want to lay track?  That's a Waste.  Want to improve a station?  Waste.  Buy victory point cards?  Waste.  Go where another player already is?  Extra Waste.  Granted, the Waste cards slow down the game by causing each player's deck to be suboptimal, but Waste management is also a nice addition to the genre.  In previous deck building games, there have been bad cards that clutter up your deck, but in Trains, dealing with these cards is a central facet of the game.  Additionally, there is a rule built just for this - a player has the option of passing his entire turn and simply trashing all of the Waste in their hand.  (Seems fitting to trash waste, doesn't it?)

Trains board closeup showing cities and track
Building multiple stations can be valuable
The next pro that I have for Trains is that there is quite a bit of replayability to the game.  The board is double sided, and there are 30 different piles of cards to choose from each game.  (These are called "kingdom cards" in Dominion, but do not appear to have a specific name in Trains.)  Of these 30 options, you only use eight piles per game.  Thus with the double sided board and 30 different options for available cards, there are a large number of different setup choices.  This will allow people who fall in love with the game to play it repeatedly without worrying about it growing stale.

The game also plays smoothly.  But, instead of spending time fleshing out that, let's move on to an element that I haven't decided about.  There has been a strong tendency in the games that I have played to ignore the board.  How does this work?  Well, instead of gaining points by connecting cities and building stations, you can also gain victory points by purchasing certain cards.  The crux of this strategy lies in Waste management.  Whereas improving a city multiple times and connecting different cities on the board may gain a player 5-10 Waste cards, buying a victory point card only nets a single Waste.  Therefore, it is much easier to build a deck that can buy a lot of victory point cards than it is to build a deck that can utilize the board efficiently.  In the games that I have played, I have not seen anyone win while completely neglecting the board, but there does seem to be a strong strategy around ignoring the board for the first half of the game.

This leads to my first con.  If you have improved several cities and built your infrastructure, it is far too easy for other players to connect to your cities and earn the same points - and this can be very frustrating, as there is nothing that you can do to stop them.  At the end of the game, cities score full points for each player that has built a track in them.  To build where another player already has track costs some extra money and gains extra Waste, and building in a city that has been upgraded also costs extra money.  However, there are cards that allow you to ignore each of these extra costs.  So, it will happen that one player will improve several cities, and another player can swoop in and claim equal credit - and do so much more quickly (and inexpensively)!  I wish that there were at least an occasional option (possibly one of the card piles) that allowed a player who was already in a city to prevent other players from being able to build in it.  I would imagine that something like this would be coming in future expansions.

basic setup cards for Trains
Here are your basic currency: worth 1/2/3 money
My second con for Trains is that it feels a bit too similar to Dominion.  Essentially, it feels a bit like a re-themed expansion to me: "Dominion, the Board Expansion!"  Whereas I think that Dominion is a brilliant game, the similarities cause Trains to conjure up thoughts about Dominion throughout the game.  Then, Trains can start to feel a bit incomplete as it has not had the time to build the vast array of expansions that Dominion has.  I will freely admit that not everyone will share this con, and many people will like Trains much more than Dominion as they will feel like they are doing something with their deck, instead of building a deck just for the sake of having a deck. Yet for me, I don't know that I can play Trains without thinking of Dominion.

My final con is simple.  I cannot shuffle the cards in Trains (which is really annoying in a deck building game).  I have actually played on two different physical copies, and when I shuffle the cards, they clump together.  Now, when I say this, please keep in mind that I have been shuffling cards for 20 years or longer, as I have been playing games of some sort my entire life.  Each of the individual piles of cards seems to be the same height, but I think that some of the cards are a fraction of an inch different than others - which causes this problem.  And, now that I've said this, also be fully aware that many people that I have played with think that this is all in my head.  I'd be curious to see if other people have experienced what I'm talking about here - please leave a comment and let me know if you have noticed this, or if you can shuffle the cards with no problems.

Overall, I give Trains an 8.0/10.  I think that it is a very well made game, but (as you're tired of hearing), it is so similar to Dominion, that I don't see myself pulling it out instead of Dominion, except for with friends that really didn't like Dominion.

If Trains sounds interesting, you might also check out these deck building games: Nightfall, Puzzle Strike (which is actually "chip building"), and Quarriors (which is "dice building").

I would like to thank AEG for providing me with a review copy of Trains.

Lords of War Preview

Card game of Lords of War in play

A British game that just hit Kickstarter is called Lords of War.  Specifically, they are Kickstarting the latest faction pack, which is a fully playable game that can be combined with their previously printed packs.

Lords of War is a two-player skirmish game in which each player takes control of a different fantasy army.  Each turn consists of playing a card, removing any destroyed units from the board, and then "reinforcing" your hand back up to six cards.  (You can either draw a new card or sometimes take a card back into your hand from the table.)  With as simple as the rules are, the strategy lies in placing cards.  Each card can attack with different strengths and in different directions.  This is represented by arrows with numbers on them.  A card can attack in anywhere from 0-9 different directions, and I have seen them attack with anywhere from 1-5 power!  (If they can't attack in any direction, they are probably a ranged unit, which has slightly different rules.)  Play alternates in a "survival of the fittest" (aka, your guys keep dying) manner until one player has killed 20 of their opponent's units, or has defeated four of their "command" units - their best units.

Lords of War mid-game picture
Fighting was intense on the rear flank in this game
So, taking from the format of my Dungeon Roll preview, I'm going to try to answer the three main questions that I think you need to know as a potential Kickstarter backer.  First - what does Lords of War do differently?  The first thing that comes to mind that sets Lords of War apart are the placement rules.  In Lords of War, each card that I place must be oriented towards me.  This is important as many of your troops will have one side of the card which they fight best with - some strongly in front, others in back, and some even on one side (or even on one side diagonally).  So, these restrictions force you to think about your strategy a bit differently (and you'll have to resist the urge to turn your cards).  Second, in Lords of War, all of my units have to be placed adjacent to an opponent!  (There is an exception in that "Support" units can be placed adjacent to friendly units.)  This rule forces the combat to be heated, and causes players to immediately be engaging each other - thus preventing the downtime of a more defensive struggle.  Next, I haven't played another game that uses the directional attacks in the same way as Lords of War.  The closest game I can compare this with is Neuroshima Hex (which I haven't reviewed yet), but it still has it's differences.  In Neuroshima Hex, each unit dies (or takes a wound) as soon as it gets hit.  In Lords of War, each unit has its own defense value, and it is not defeated until this value is exceeded.  This forces players to position multiple troops around a stronger unit in order to defeat it.

Lords of War lizardmen cards
Some of the Lizardmen
The second question to address is: who would like this game?  Well, Lords of War is a tactical skirmish game.  Players will find themselves reacting to what their opponent has played (as well as what they have drawn), and trying to make the best decisions accordingly.  Also, Lords of War is not text heavy - each of the units is set apart from the others based on what and where they can attack, not by a block of text that describes different abilities.  This allows Lords of War to be pretty easy to teach, but may not have the same card combinations that other games present.  (I'm thinking of Omen: Reign of War here as a text-heavy opposite.)  So, overall, if you are looking for a light, easy to teach skirmish game where positioning is key, then Lords of War might be for you.

The final question is: who would not like this game?  Well, the obvious route is to point out the opposite of everything in the last paragraph.  If you like games with overarching strategies where the decisions you make in the first turn will affect your abilities in the middle and later turns, then this is one to avoid.  Another group of people that may want to avoid this game are players who prefer the "turtle and defend" strategy.  If you played Starcraft and built 8,000 turrets before attacking your enemies, then you might want to pass on this one, as Lords of War does not allow for that option.  The fighting will be heated from turn two, and you cannot put too much value on any single unit.  The last group that may want to avoid this game are those who are looking for a long, incredibly deep struggle.  Lords of War is on the lighter end of the spectrum (lighter than Summoner Wars in my opinion) and, though I think that the strategy of the game grows so that your third and fourth play are deeper than your first, it will not give you the plethora of options of something like Mage Wars.

Overall, what do I think of the game?  The more I think about it, the more unique it becomes in my mind.  It had the unfortunate privilege of me learning it on the same night as Neuroshima Hex, and so they are linked together in my mind.  Yet, Lords of War provides some different takes on the skirmish genre and, as long as you're looking for a light game, it is a game to consider. If you want to go check out their campaign, you can see it here.

If Lords of War sounds interesting, you might also check out Dungeon Command, Pixel Tactics 2, and Smash Up.

I would like to thank Black Box Games for providing me with a review copy of Lords of War.

Pixel Tactics 2 Review

This review of Pixel Tactics 2 is brought to you by guest reviewer Jim F.

Pixel Tactics 2 is a stand alone sequel to 2012’s Pixel Tactics that can also be used to expand the original game. Both games were designed and published by D. Brad Dalton and Level 99 Games, respectively.

In Pixel Tactics 2, players control a leader and a group of fighters of varying fantasy classes in a tactical battle against 1 opponent. Each player will have a hand of cards, and a 3x3 grid in front of her, called her unit. Each player’s unit is a 3x3 grid. Before the game proper begins, each player will place a leader in the center spot. During the game, a player’s unit is made up of 3 ranks - vanguard, flank, and rear. When played to her unit this way, the cards represent Heroes that will have a different ability depending on which rank it was played to. Cards can also be played directly from a player’s hand as an Order (usually an instant, one-time event).

Gameplay proceeds through waves, one for each rank. So, during the Vanguard wave, each player will get two actions, only able to recruit, move, attack, etc., with heroes in the vanguard rank. The other two ranks will get a wave, and then gameplay moves back to the vanguard wave, with the first player marker changing hands. The game goes forward thusly, until one of the player’s Leader is reduced to 0 (or lower) health. The rules say that players should play best of 3 or 5.

The first pro I have for Pixel Tactics 2 is the sheer variety of everything you get in the box. Each and every card can be used in 5 different ways. One of those ways is to be played as a unit’s Leader. Leaders have powerful ongoing abilities that will drastically change a player’s overall strategy from game to game. That by itself lends a huge replayability and variability factor. Add to that the fact that all the Heroes you can play in the game will also have varying powers depending on where they are placed, and the game starts to feel almost infinite in its possibilities.

The next pro I have to Pixel Tactics 2 is its simplicity. Despite all the variable uses for each card, the overall structure of the game is quite simple. Each player takes two actions that correspond to the phasing rank, and then they move on to the next rank and repeat until one of the Leaders is killed. That’s it. I think Brad (the designer) realized that since the cards permit so much rules breaking, it was important to keep the rules structure that drives the game easy to understand.

My last pro for the game is that it does a good job of making players feel very powerful - with all the awesome options for Leaders and Heroes and Orders - but it also does a great job of making players feel very limited, and thus gameplay is very tense. I think there are two main factors that contribute to this feeling. First, card and hand management is very important in this game, so drawing more cards is very important, but with only two actions per turn, spending an action to draw one card is an agonizing decision every time. The second thing that contributes to the game’s tension is the fact that players are not allowed to attack with Heroes that have been moved or recruited during the current turn. This ensures that players need to play Heroes they wish to use next time around, and ensure that said Hero survives until then!

Pixel Tactics 2 is a strong design that I’m sure adds to the experience of Pixel Tactics. The game does have its flaws, however. The first con that comes to mind goes along with my first pro. There is so much to do with each card, that the game can get bogged down with new players or AP prone players. [Josh’s note: “AP” stands for “Analysis Paralysis” - the situation when a player spends large amounts of time thinking about each move.] This can change this tactical battle game into a drawn out, overly long game.

The next con I have is also related to another of my pros. The limitation of only two actions per turn was a little too limiting for me. I would have liked at least one more action per turn. As it is, the game does produce a great sense of tension and scarcity, but I would have liked it if the game moved a little bit faster. Even without an AP opponent, with only two actions per turn, the game can take a little bit longer than I would have liked to develop.

Overall Pixel Tactics 2 is a very solid game that just did not jive with me. I would give it a 7.0/10. I absolutely see the innovative and creative ways cards are being used here, and am not surprised in the least to see that the game has such a strong cult following. This game falls solidly in with other games that I would never ask to play, but that I would also rarely say no to if asked by someone else. I generally do enjoy these style of card based tactical battle games, but for me, this one took too long and felt too restrained me too much to enjoy it.

If Pixel Tactics 2 sounds interesting, you should also check out 51st State, Omen: A Reign of War, and Revolver.

I would like to thank Level 99 Games for providing a review copy of Pixel Tactics 2.

Final Note: The images from this post were originally posted on BoardGameGeek.com, and were used with permission of the publisher.

One Millionth Pageview Winner

Congratulations to my the winner of my One Millionth Pageview - +Matthew Foster.  Congrats, Matthew, you won a copy of Galaxy Trucker!

In case you're curious, here were the top +1'ed games:

Mice & Mystics - +54
Android: Netrunner - +47
Terra Mystica - +47
Galaxy Trucker - +46
Le Havre - +45
7 Wonders - +42
Alien Frontiers - +41
Through the Ages - +41

Thanks to all who participated!

Noah Review

Noah card game in play

A lightweight little card game that I was able to play recently is Noah.

In Noah, you are attempting to help Noah load animals onto ferries - which are then shipped out to the main ark.  To do this, each turn consists of loading an animal on a ferry, and then moving Noah.  When loading an animal onto a ferry, you must be careful not to overload the ferry (because it would be a bad thing if they sank - and so they game doesn't let you).  What this means is that each ferry can hold a total weight of 21. (21 what you ask?  Pounds?  Kilograms?  Tons?  I have no idea.)  Each animal weighs a certain amount, and will contribute his weight to the total on the boat.  Also, when placing animals on the boat, the animals must either be placed in alternating gender, or a boat must consist only of one gender.  (Again, you may be asking - why?  Because it makes the game more interesting.  Why, thematically?  Because apparently Noah like arbitrary restrictions for his ferry owners.)  And, if you successfully play an animal that matches the previous animal (two pandas in a row, for example), then you get to take another turn.  If a player cannot legally play a card on the current ferry (the one where Noah is located), then they must pick up the entire stack of animals, and then play whichever one they want from their hand.  After playing an animal, the current player must move Noah.  There are five ferries laid out in a hexagonal pattern.  If a male animal is played, then Noah must move to either of the ferries that are not immediately adjacent; if a female is played, then Noah can only move to an adjacent ferry.  Once a player manages to play all of their animals, then all of the other players count the number of tears that they make Noah shed by allowing their animals to drown.  The game is played over three rounds, and the player that makes Noah cry the least is the winner.  (Seriously - I didn't make that up.)

fat animals from Noah card game
Noah with the fat animals he dislikes
So, what is good about the game of Noah?  Honestly, my first pro is something that I didn't mention in the rule overview - some of the animals have different abilities.  For example, when you play a giraffe, you can look at an opponent's hand.  When you play a snail, it can be played as a male or a female.  More interestingly, a donkey prevents Noah from moving, and a woodpecker reduces the total weight limit on a ferry from 21 to 13 - because he can't help pecking at the ferry.  These different animal abilities allow you to have more options and strategic decisions when playing the game.  For example, if you use a giraffe to see what an opponent has, then you can make better decisions about where you should move Noah to prevent them from being able to play.  Or, if you hold onto a snail as one of your last animals, then you will have extra flexibility at the end of the round.

The next pro that I have for Noah is that it is light and easy to teach.  Anyone can understand the rules of Noah, regardless of how many "strategic" games they have played in the past.  Games like this are useful to have in your collection, as you never know who might wind up interested in a game.  Plus, with the theme of Noah's ark, many people will already be familiar with the subject material (though the theme doesn't make terribly much sense if you inspect it too closely).

So, with the pros about Noah, what are some of the cons?  Well, first, there are some things that make sense in game terms that make no sense thematically.  For example, different animals make Noah cry a different amount.  Specifically, Noah really loves pandas, but cares nothing about your fatter animals - giraffes, rhinos, and bears.  And, honestly, even in game terms I don't really love the fact that there are animals that aren't worth any tears.  If I successfully get rid of all of the cards from my hand, I feel like either I should get rewarded (for making Noah happy), or my opponent's should be punished (by making Noah cry).  But, since Noah doesn't care about fat animals, it's quite possible that you will be the first one to get rid of all of your cards, and yet at least one opponent may not get any points.

panda and Noah tile
Noah with his beloved Panda
The other con that I have for Noah is that the game isn't engaging enough that I would want to play it repeatedly.  Now, I realize that each person has their own opinions on what makes a game engaging, but in Noah, I felt like my decisions were far too repetitive.  Which animal do I want to play?  What about gender?  Should I fill the boats up with fat animals that Noah hates, or get rid of my lightweight animals that can easily fit on most boats (but that Noah would cry over losing)?  Where do I want to move Noah?  These decisions are important in the game, and making the best decisions based on what you have is strategically crucial.  However, I still found the game to be missing the "it" factor that made it really engaging.

Overall, I give Noah a 7.0/10.  The game is fine as a filler, or as a lightweight game to play with either kids or non-gamers, but it isn't one that I will really look to bring to the table very often.

If you're looking for games that can be played by anybody, you might also check out Dixit, 7 Wonders, and Crokinole.