Jim's 10 Favorite Board Games of All Time!!! (and a giveaway!!)

Jim's Top Ten Games of all Time!!!

I love lists AND I love ranking things, so it was only a matter of time until I got to work on this post. One thing I do want to make clear is that these are not what I think are the best games of all time, but rather my personal favorite games of all time. This distinction may be small, but I think worth mentioning.

Without further ado, please enjoy this list of my favorite games! (Followed by a game giveaway!!)

10. London

This was one of the first games I played that involved building up a tableau and I fell in love with it almost immediately. I really enjoy having to balance building up on the board, with building up your tableau, with not taking too many poverty tokens. Knowing how many piles of cards to have in your tableau and when its OK to build over a card are awesome decision points.

This is the newest game on the list by a couple years. If you read my recent review of this game, you'll know already that the original Pandemic has a very special place in my gamer heart, as the first modern game to really captivate me. Pandemic: The Cure has all the fun, puzzlyness, cooperation, and heartache of the original - but it adds dice! If I had to only keep one of the two games, I think I would choose The Cure over original Pandemic. But only if you forced me to choose. =)

One of my favorite designers is definitely Mac Gerdts. I haven't played everything he has put out, but everything I have tried, I have really really enjoyed. Navegador was the first of his that I've played. I really enjoy working within the confines of Mac's evil/glorious rondel - doing what I can to bend its inflexibility to my will better than my opponents. I like that there are several directions for players to go in pursuit of victory, and I like even more that those different paths to victory not only feel different, but are all pretty viable.

Just like many of the games on this list, I don't get to play Lords of Vegas as much as I would like (in fact, I own the expansion, Up!, and haven't gotten to play it yet!). This is even more true for Lords of Vegas, since it really isn't worth playing with only 2 players (which is how I play most of my games). Lords of Vegas has a lot that I really like about board games. I really like the stock market aspect, as well as the acquisition of property. The risk/reward present in Lords of Vegas is so much fun, going for hostile takeovers and paying double to develop properties that might just go to someone else when the card comes up. There are things in Lords of Vegas I don't like, but I always have a great time when playing it.

Stratego was one of those "classic" games that I played when I was younger that I remember really enjoying. The concept of having your units be secret from your opponent was just so great. I really like the Lord of the Rings movies, so The Confrontation is a perfect fit for me. The game is pretty abstract, but still feels pretty thematic. One of my favorite things in games is when the "Vizzini effect" comes into play. I know that you know I  might play this card, but you know that I know that you know that, so maybe I should play this card...etc. Many games can create similar situations, but none do it better than Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation.

This is definitely my favorite "gateway game." I like Ticket to Ride, but I find this one just so much more interesting (and really not nearly as mean as TtR can be). I really like games with stock market mechanisms, and Airlines Europe implements a stock market-ish system really well, and is really simple to play and teach. 

I love Star Wars. When I heard that FFG got the license for Star Wars card and RPG games I immediately got very excited. I love this game. I love how much it feels like Star Wars, I love how gorgeous the art is, and most of all I love how the game plays. The only thing I don't love about this game is that my wife doesn't care for it. I don't get to play this game very often, but that just makes the times when I can play that much more special. This entry in my list also hold the honor of being the most likely to be replaced within the next few weeks - by another FFG game in fact...=P

I love to laugh. I don't think I've ever played a game of Bohnanza that didn't involve me getting out of breath from laughing too much at least once. This is another game that I can bring out with really any group of people who want to play a game, and it is 99% guaranteed to be a great time. I like playing it with close friends the best, but this is a great game for people who don't already know each other to play - its remarkable how quickly you can get to know someone while planting and trading beans.

Uwe Rosenberg is my favorite designer of all time. That, despite the fact that I have acquired, given up on, traded, and reacquired Agricola no less than 3 times. Yes - the copy of Agricola I currently own is my third. It took me a few plays to warm to the game, but I absolutely love it now. I love how the base game is mostly the same from session to session, but the cards you draft can change so much about how you go about pursuing the best farm. Agricola is one of those games that I am always willing to play, no matter what.

War of the Ring is a thematic masterpiece. Middle Earth absolutely comes alive on my table whenever I get to play it. I certainly don't get to play it very often, but whenever I do, the experience is always epic, and always so much fun. I get to experience one of my favorite stories of all time - but I also get to change it and manipulate it in different ways to see what would happen. War of the Ring is my favorite game of all time because it is simultaneously very strategic and solidly story based, but also keeps those exciting moments and randomness and chance with the card draws, die rolls, and chit pulls. Every single game of this leaves me in awe of both the design and of Tolkien's masterpiece itself.

There you have it! My 10 favorite games of all time!

One of the most interesting thing I find about this list is that even though one of my favorite things about games is playing and learning new ones, most of the games on this list are more than 2 years old. That's not much time in the grand scheme of things, but for a cultist of the "new," a lot of games get released in 2 years.

I think what this says is that while I really like exploring brand new game spaces, its takes a lot for a new release to be good enough for it to supplant any of the games on this list. I am always searching for great new experiences in games, and even though I've played many games I've really liked in the past few years, almost none have been fun enough for me to add them to this list.

Now, as I promised, a game giveaway!! One of the best new games I've gotten to play this year is Imperial Settlers, from Portal Games. So, to celebrate my list, the holidays, the end of the year, my awesome readers, and the fact that Imperial Settlers is awesome, I'm going to be giving a new copy of it away to one of you!

The Rafflecopter thingy is down below - I know some people don't like using Rafflecopter, but just know that there is only 1 mandatory entry - please leave a comment on this post that includes both your favorite game on my list above as well as your favorite game that is not on my list.

Remember that leaving a comment on this post is a requirement for entering!! You MUST do so in order to qualify for the prize!!

You can earn extra entries every day from now until the contest is over - Sunday, December 22 at midnight EST!!!

Please note: I will put $15 towards shipping, which will fully cover you if you live in the US. International readers are more than welcome to enter, but know you'll have to help me out with shipping.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Pandemic: Contagion and Pandemic: The Cure Reviews

Today, dear readers, you are in for a treat! Not one, but TWO reviews for the price of one! (Still free.) I'm going to take a look at two new games in the "Pandemic-verse," - Pandemic: Contagion and Pandemic: The Cure.

Pandemic has a special place in my gamer heart. It is the first modern board game I played (I had already tried Carcassonne and Catan at this point) that really captured my imagination and made me think, "Wow - we can do this with a board game?? What else is out there??"

Pandemic is the game that is responsible for me doing new things with old friends, meeting great new friends, having an owned games list over 200 (and a previously owned game list approaching 1000), and for writing these silly game reviews.

When I heard on the Dice Tower that a Pandemic dice game was in the works, I was definitely interested. I obviously love Pandemic, but I also really enjoy cooperative games and dice games in general. I was also excited when I heard about Pandemic: Contagion - the idea of playing as diseases sounded neat, and I wanted to see what Z-Man would do with that concept.

The first thing I should mention about Pandemic: Contagion is that it is a stand-alone competitive game. It has Pandemic branding, but aesthetics is pretty much where the similarities end. In fact, Contagion is not designed by Pandemic's designer, Matt Leacock. Contagion was designed by Carey Grayson.

As I mentioned, in Pandemic: Contagion, players are diseases, trying to infect and kill off as much of humanity as possible. Countries are represented by cards, which players will be placing their cubes onto - each cube represents that disease infecting 1,000,000 of that location's population.

On a turn, a player will have two actions available. Players can draw cards (Incubate), infect a location card, or mutate their disease. Cards are the currency of the game, and come in 6 suits - one matching each continent in the game. In order to infect a new city, a player must discard two cards matching the color of the city, but to spread an infection where a player already has her disease present only costs 1 matching card.

Mutating your disease means discarding cards in order to move up on 1 of 3 tracks. The first two tracks dictate how many cards a player draws and how many cubes she places each time she takes an Incubate or Infect action, respectively. The last track, the Resistance track, symbolizes how resistant a player's disease is to the effects of humanity's medical and epidemiology communities. Each round, a new event card will be revealed. If the effect is negative, being higher up on the resistance track means a disease will be less affected by the event.

Players will score points by having the most or second most disease cubes in a city when the total number of disease cubes meets or exceeds the total population of the city.

Play continues in this way until either the event deck runs out or when there are only two city cards left. All remaining cities are scored and the player with the most points wins!

Pandemic: Contagion is not a bad game. It is also, unfortunately, not a good game. I really like when games have upgrade tracks that each player can move up to individualize how they will play the game. I was hoping that this is where the interesting decisions in Contagion would be. Unfortunately, Pandemic: Contagion does not have anything interesting here. Not much changes from game to game, and although I haven't played the game over 10 times, I would feel pretty confident in saying players should always upgrade their Incubation ability, then their Infection rate, and then their Resistance level, if they feel like it. In all of the games of this I've played, the first few rounds consisted of everyone taking the same exact turn - Incubation action then grade Incubation track.

The game starts to get interesting once a few players decide to stop upgrading and get infecting the board. But even then, the game doesn't have much to offer. There are some interesting decisions to make when infecting, since the player who places the cube that triggers a scoring gets a one-time special action, but that's about it. Even the once a round global events deck is rather boring.

Pandemic: Contagion is a very simple card game with a neat theme. It is inoffensive enough, but I found myself bored while playing it. I can't recommend it. 5.5/10.

Jim would like to thank Z-Man Games for providing him a review copy of Pandemic: Contagion.

Pandemic: The Cure has a lot more in common with its big sister than Contagion. The Cure is cooperative, and it was also designed by Matt Leacock, the designer or the original Pandemic. In Pandemic: The Cure, players are a team of specialists, working together to cure 4 diseases ravaging humanity worldwide, before either the number of outbreaks or the number of infected become overwhelming.

The world map is represented by 6 tiles, arranged in a circle. Each tiles has a continent on it and is assigned a number from 1-6. Players can move their pawns to adjacent tiles by using a boat die result, or to any tile by using an airplane result.

Much like the original, players will all win if they can cure all 4 diseases. In The Cure, they do this by collecting samples of the disease, and finding a cure by rolling the samples and getting a result of at least a 13 or higher. 

Disease cubes in The Cure are actually 6 sided dice. At the end of each player's turn, a number of cubes are drawn from a bag and rolled. These disease cubes are placed onto the continent tile that has the number matching each cube's die result. Any cross symbols are moved to the CDC tile as resources the players can use whenever they wish.

On a player's turn, she will roll all of her available dice. Any Biohazard results must be kept and will advance the Infection Rate. The player can take actions according to her die results, or she may reroll her dice. In fact, she may continue rerolling as long as she has not used all of her available dice.

Aside from the Biohazard symbol, the player dice also have the basic actions of Fly (move anywhere), Sail (move to an adjacent location), Treat (take a disease cube from your location and place it into the Treatment Center), and Collect Sample (take a disease cube from the Treatment Center and put it onto your role card, with the Collect Sample die on top).

Each player's dice will also have special symbols on them, depending on their role. Some roles are better at moving, some are better at treating and curing, while others have special faces that are unique to their role.

At the end of any turn which a player has enough samples, they can attempt to find a cure for a disease. To do this, they roll all the disease cubes they have collected, and if the result is a 13 or higher, a cure for that disease has been found! If players find a cure for all four diseases, they win! If either the Infection Rate or the Outbreaks markers reach the end of their tracks, or if there are no disease cubes left in the bag and more need to be drawn, the game ends and the players all lose.

I think the biggest gripe I have with Pandemic: The Cure is that depending on how the dice get rolled, the players could either have a cakewalk or have their butts handed to them. This is not too much of a con, since this was also true for the original Pandemic - I've certainly experienced both the "cakewalk" and "butt-handed-to-me" varieties of that game as well. 

One of my favorite parts of this game is (unsurprisingly) the dice. First, the disease dice are not simple D6 dice with a cross on one side. They are weighted very differently - the red dice, for instance, do not have 2, 3, or 5 sides. This means that certain diseases will mostly affect certain continents, which makes outbreaks more common. Another thing I like about the disease dice is that because they all have a cross side, each time a player draws disease dice from the bag, there's always hope that at least a couple of them will come up as crosses, which can be spent by the players during the game to pay for communal event cards (which all have positive effects).

Thirdly, I really like the player dice. It is really neat that the dice for each role have custom sides, but I also really like the press your luck mechanism of players being able to roll as much as they wish, but all bad results must be kept. It really adds a lot of excitement to each turn and to each roll.

While Pandemic: The Cure is a bit shorter than the original, I would say that it retains much of the feel of the "full game." The Cure even simulates the collection of cards in Pandemic by forcing players to temporarily give up dice while they are looking for a cure. 

I really like Pandemic: The Cure, and would be hard pressed if asked which game I would rather keep, original Pandemic or The Cure. Fortunately, I don't have to make such a ridiculous decision. =) I'd rate Pandemic: The Cure 8.5/10.

Cahoots! Proceeds Going to Charity

In honor of the holidays, all of the proceeds I earn from Cahoots! sales through the end of the year will go towards clean water projects via Compassion International.  (Obviously, this only includes proceeds I earn - not the share that Apple takes, nor the share due to the game's designer.)  So, please take this opportunity to check out a game that I think is great, and support a great cause!

Pyramix Review

Gamewright isn't exactly known for strategy games. They make wonderful, family friendly games with fun themes and simple but entertaining gameplay. Pyramix keeps with the Gamewright tradition of beautiful components with simple, family friendly gameplay.

Pyramix is an abstract strategy game with a light Egyptian theme. Gameplay starts with the cubes being randomly set up on the board in the shape of a pyramid. A player's turn consists only of selecting a cube from the pyramid and adding it to her collection. Cubes can only be taken from the pyramid if they have at least two sides showing, are not touching a serpent cube, and taking the cube will not result in the board being exposed.

The game ends when there are not legal moves left - usually when there is a single layer of cubes laying on top of the board. Players score 1 point for each ankh, 2 points for each crane, 3 points for each Eye of Horus, and 0 points for each serpent. Additionally, if a player has the most ankhs in a color, they will receive all of the remaining cubes that math their color and score those as well.

In this situation, if any player takes the teal crane of ankh,
the next player will be able to take the orange Eye.
The one thing that I don't love about the game is the "dots" feeling that can develop. There will be many times, especially in a two player game, where there is a cube that is two moves away from being able to get taken, so it is in no player's interest to make that first move. The interesting thing about this is because the game happens in 3 dimensions, players will have to keep all of these moves in mind as they spin the board and look for moves that won't set up the next player.

As I said in my introduction, Pyramix is a very simple game. But subtle and interesting strategies present themselves as you play the game. As the game progresses it may become clear to you which color you will have the most ankhs in. This could mean that you might want to take cubes so that other cubes of that color do reach the bottom of the board. If this happens, you'll receive the cube anyhow, so you might as well get a different cube and secure the first cube as well!

Pyramix is a great abstract game. Gamewright has put out another quality product that is attractive, fun, and quite thinky! And with a $20 price point, I think picking up a copy of Pyramix is a no brainer. There is randomness, and this isn't the next chess, but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of depth I found in Pyramix. I'd rate it a solid 7.5/10.

New Bedford Kickstarter Preview

This post is not a review, but a preview for a game that is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter. Final art, components, and rules are subject to change.

Dice Hate Me Games was one of the first board game publishers to get their start on Kickstarter. They have done quite well for themselves and have a very strong reputation as a great company that puts out consistently great games.

Five of the Town action spaces
Next up from Chris and company is New Bedford. Designed by Nathaniel Levan at Oakleaf Games, New Bedford is a worker placement game set in the titular Massachusetts city during the time of whaling. Players will use their workers to collect resources, build buildings, and go on whaling expeditions.

Play takes place in phases. The first is the Action Phase, where players will take turns placing workers onto the seven starting action spaces, as well as any built buildings, and resolving their effects immediately. Town spaces are not blocked once workers are placed on them, but the player who places on each space first will get a bonus.

Light colored buildings can be used for actions,
while dark colored buildings are worth points at the end of the game.

Players will also be able to build their own buildings. Unlike Town spaces, buildings can only be used once per round. Additionally, the player who builds a building owns it, and can use it on future turns for free, while other players who use the building will have to pay the owner $1. There are also buildings which cannot be used as action spaces, but rather score the owning player points at the end of the game

After all players have place their workers, the Movement Phase will begin. All ships at sea will move 1 space up the whaling track towards the Return space. Then, the Whaling phase begins. Whaling tokens are drawn from the bag equal to the number of ships on the board. These tokens are then drafted by the players, with players who have ship farther out to sea choosing first. Whale tokens chosen this way are placed on the player's board, next to the corresponding ship. Any whale or open sea tokens that are leftover will be returned to the bag at the start of next round's whaling phase.

When a player's ship returns to port during the Movement phase, players will have to pay a "lay." Each whale token paid for, will earn the player points indicated on the token. Players can also choose to (or they may have to if they can't afford lays for all their whales) sell any whales tokens that return to port. When a player sells a whale token, she receives half of the cost of each sold token from the bank. Then, moving in clockwise order from the seller, each player will have the opportunity to purchase the sold tokens for the full cost. Any amount paid goes to the bank, and if a player cannot or chooses not to purchase whale tokens, the next player clockwise will have the opportunity, and so on.

The game continues in this way for 12 rounds. At the end of the game, players receive points for any whale tokens in their possession, any buildings which score points, and for leftover money ($5=1 point).

That's New Bedford! It is a very enjoyable game, with a refreshing mix of familiar mechanisms. The worker placement aspect is fun, since it both removes the tension of being locked out of spots, but retains the tension of having to prioritize placement because the bonuses for being first at a Town space are pretty good. The whaling mechanism is always very exciting, especially as the game goes on and the bag really only has a few whales mingling with a mess of worthless open sea tiles. I especially like the choice of having to either pay for your whales or sell a few for some much needed money. Should I sell for some quick cash, but then risk giving my opponent's the opportunity to score points? And once you've gone through that decision, the next time you're at sea you'll think twice before automatically taking the big 4 point whale (which costs $8 to bring back)! Or maybe you'll spend most of your time in Town, building up a bustling economy, and then waiting at the docks to buy the leftover whales from your overeager opponents with too many whales!

New Bedford does a lot of things right - but the best thing about the game is that it is one of those games that is easy to both learn and teach, but will surprise you with its depth after you dive in for subsequent plays.

If you think New Bedford sounds great, go pledge your support for the game on Kickstarter today!

Argent: The Consortium Review

Argent: The Consortium is the newest game from Level 99 Games. It was wildly successful on Kickstarter back in January, funding over 450%. In Argent, players use their wizards to earn enough votes from the consortium of a university in order to become the new chancellor.

Argent is primarily a worker placement game, but there are elements of card drafting, set collection, and special player powers also integrated as well. 

One of the best things about Argent is that there are 5 different kinds or workers (wizards) that each have a different ability either before or after they are placed. The red wizards, for instance, have the ability to knock other wizards off of placement spots, take the spot for themselves, and send the injured wizard to the infirmary.

Players' turns consist of taking a single action, which can consist of placing a wizard, playing a card, casting a spell, or passing. Worker spaces don't trigger until the end of the round. Once the round ends, the tiles that comprise the board trigger one after the other. All tiles have several spaces for wizards, and while the best ones are at the top of the tile and trigger first at the end of each round, these spots also require a badge - of which players only start with one.

There are three types of cards in the game. Spell cards, which players will acquire and then be able to activate once per round for a special ability, supporter cards, which will sometimes grant a special ability, and vault cards, which are a mix - treasures stay in play and can be activated once per round and consumables are played and discarded.

As I mentioned above, the goal of the game is to attract the most votes from the members of the consortium. The trick here is that the members of the consortium all start the game face down and secret. Players have to use their wizards to earn marks in order to gain information about what each voter is looking for - some will vote for the player with the most supporters from a certain school of magic or the player with the most money at the end of the game, etc.

The game ends after 5 rounds. End the end of the fifth round, the consortium cards are revealed, and rewarded to whoever meets the voters criteria. 

Argent: The Consortium does a lot of things differently from many worker placement games. First is the fact that players' turns do not always involve placing a worker. Adding card play into the mix changes the normal prioritization of worker placement games - not only do players need to decide which spots they need to take first, they also need to time snatching up those spots with resources or abilities they might need by taking an entire turn to play a card.

One thing that fell a little short for me is the hidden scoring conditions. Before my first couple plays, I was really excited about this concept. I really liked acquired marks so that I could get information about final scoring that my opponents didn't have and give me a direction to go in. The problem I have with this part of the game is two fold. First, there are 12 consortium votes available each round - but it was very rare in any of my playthroughs to see any players who had not placed out all or nearly all of their marks. The problem is that there are so many voters available that the variation of which voters are available each game is not very big. For the most part, players will want to try to get the most of everything, and need to find the consortium voters who are looking for specific color spells and supporters. I guess since my expectations for this mechanism were so high, I got to be a little let down after the fifth time I marked the "most gold" voter - not super exciting.

Another thing that I didn't love about Argent is the feeling that, even though the game adds a lot of really interesting twists to the worker placement genre, at its core, Argent's basic gameplay of "place a wizard, get resources," is still pretty stock worker placement. The different wizard's special powers didn't come into play nearly as often as I would have liked, and their abilities are not super exciting anyway.

Although those two factors didn't hit for me, I did have a great time playing Argent. The theme is great, and the twists the gameplay does offer are fun to play around with.

In addition, one of my favorite mechanical twists Argent throws in is the end of round trigger. In each game, there are a number of Bell Tower cards which grant a one-time bonus. Players can take one of these as their entire turn, but once the last card is taken, the round ends immediately. So players also share control over how long each round will last. Do you take the Bell Tower card with the resource you really need before the resolution phase? It's the second-to-last one there...will you have enough turns before the last one is taken to get everything done you need to get done?

Argent: The Consortium isn't going to set the worker placement genre on fire, but it is a very solid game, and one that I would recommend checking out! 7.5/10.

Jim would like to thank Level 99 Games for providing him with a review copy of Argent: The Consortium.

Thunder Alley Review

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I am not a stock car racing fan. I know almost nothing about stock car racing, and have never really given an effort to learning about it. This is what I brought with me before sitting down to play Thunder Alley - my expectations were not super high.

In Thunder Alley, players are put in command of a team of stock cars, and will score points according to the place each of their team's cars are in when the race ends (the round after at least 1 car crosses the finish line). Basically, players want as many of their team's cars as close to the front of the pack as possible by the end of the race.

The biggest thing I kept hearing about Thunder Alley is that it is a racing game without dice. Indeed, Thunder Alley's action is "driven" (hehe) entirely by cards. Each round, players will be given a hand of cards, and a player's turn consists simply of choosing one of her hand cards, choosing which of their still unactivated cars to use it on, and executing the actions indicated by the numbers and the text.

There are 4 basic types of movement in Thunder Alley:

  1. Solo movement - a single activated car moves by itself
  2. Draft movement - an activated car and all linked cars in front of and behind it move together
  3. Lead movement - an activated car and all linked cars behind it move together
  4. Pursuit movement - an activated car and all linked cars in front of it move together

Links between cars are created when cars are in the same lane, and are immediately adjacent to each other. A link could theoretically exist among all of the cars in a race, if they were all lined up in the same lane and there were no empty spaces separating any of them.
The movement cards in Thunder Alley are sometimes simply one of the four movement types listed above with a numerical value, and sometimes they involve a slight twist - like only being able to move towards the outside/inside wall this turn. Most of the cards with higher movement values will also include a damage icon.

There are two main types of damage in the game - temporary and permanent. As the names' suggest, temporary wear can be repaired, while permanent wear cannot. After receiving 3 wear tokens of any type, a car will suffer a penalty to its movement. And after taking 6 wear tokens a car will be removed from the race altogether. So managing wear tokens gets more and more important as the race goes on.

Players take turns playing cards and executing movement until everyone has activated each of their team's cars. Once all cars have been activated an event card is revealed, which could result in some of the cars receiving extra wear tokens, or a yellow caution flag, or even a premature end of the race due to rain. 

In between rounds players will have the option of pitting their cars. Doing so will allow the player to remove all temporary wear tokens from the pitting car, but will require the car to not only move back 5 spaces, but will also cause the car to suffer a movement penalty on their next turn.

The race will end once at least one car finishes the required number of laps. Any cars that cross the finish line are awarded the highest value trophy token available. After all the cars have been activated, for the round the game will end, and any cars that haven't crossed the finish line will be awarded trophy tokens according to their current place.

Thunder Alley has a theme I don't care about, more randomness than I usually care for, and fairly boring (though very nice looking) components. All that being said - I have had a great time playing this game. 

The strategy of the game is fairly clear - keep your cars on the inside lane and grouped with other cars as much as possible - but playing the game is a lot of fun. The chaos of not knowing what the other players are going to do, coupled with the excitement of the temporary alliances and rivalries that are formed as players move other teams' cars either purposely or inadvertently make for a really great experience.

As I mentioned, there is a good amount of randomness in the game - I had at least one round a game where I had drawn a full hand of cards that I simply did not want. This, while frustrating, is mitigated by the fact that since multiple cars are usually moved each turn, player's cars may actually be moved more on other players' turns than on their own. 

Thunder Alley is a great racing game, and the team aspect of the whole thing really sets it apart from any other racing game I've played. It is by far my favorite of the genre. I give it an 8.0/10.

Jim would like to thank GMT Games for providing him with a copy of Thunder Alley for review.

Peptide Kickstarter Preview

This post is not a review, but a preview of a game currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.

Genius Games is an independent publisher that had recent Kickstarter success with their first title, Linkage. That game was about DNA transcription. The game currently on Kickstarter, Peptide, is about using RNA to build proteins. Sensing a theme here?

Peptide is a set collection card game that also combines elements of card drafting and action selection in interesting ways.

There are 3 main types of cards in the game. Organelle cards are drafted by players and used to take actions. RNA cards are collected by players through the use of Organelle cards, and are used in order to create the Amino Acid cards (which are worth points). 

The meat of the game is in the Organelle cards. To start each round, 2 cards per each player is flipped face up in the middle of the table. Then, to start, each player will select one card from the middle of the table for themselves. This will continue until each player has taken 2 cards. 

After the draft, players will resolve the actions of their chosen Organelle cards. These actions include things like drawing Amino Acid cards, gaining ATP energy tokens, drawing RNA cards, matching RNA cards to an Amino Acid card, scoring completed Amino Acid cards and flipping it over and adding it to the player's Peptide chain.

That is pretty much it for gameplay. The game is very simple and flows very well. It has opportunities for some great choices and definitely has educational value! I really like how the different Organelles do different things, and the way the cards are laid out on the table are a great (rough) visual representation of what goes on during this process.

Right now, Genius Games reminds me of Academy Games. Their two games are lighter than Academy Games' stuff, but Peptide, just like Linkage, is one of those rare games that is fun, but also sneaks actual learning in as well. 

If you think Peptide would make a good addition to your collection - or your classroom - go ahead and back it now!!

Super Show Preview

SuperShow game packaging
The prototype came in a Chinese food takeout box

As an avid wrestling fan, when I saw The SuperShow on Kickstarter, I was immediately curious!  (Disclaimers: I own several hundred professional wrestling DVDs, and have played several games about pro wrestling, including Wrasslin', WWE Topps Attax, the WCW Nitro card game, and a few others.  I am almost undoubtedly the target audience for this game.)

Now that I've gotten the disclaimers out of the way, let's get into the game itself, and try to figure out who would enjoy it.  I think that when considering this game, the first question you should ask yourself is, "Do I enjoy professional wrestling?"  Followed by the second question, "Do the friends that I play games with also enjoy professional wrestling?"  If you answered a resounding no to either of these questions, then this probably isn't the game for you.  However, if you answered, "of course!," then you should definitely keep reading.

The game is rather straightforward - in order to defeat your opponent, you must perform your finishing move, and then pin him for the 1-2-3.  (This is modern day pro wrestling - we're not letting you win with a cheap roll-up.)  In SuperShow, there are three types of cards - leads, follow ups, and finishers.  On your turn you draw a card, and then you can play a single card.  There is no requirement to play a lead, but to play a follow up, you must have a lead in play, and to play a finisher, you must have a follow up in play.  ("In play" means you've already hit this move.)  Each of your cards has additional text to go along with the type - some of these let you draw cards or fish them out of your discard pile (these are both really helpful since you'll only have 3 finishers in your deck).  Other cards, however, can be played out of turn as "Stops" - if your opponent tries to hit specific types of moves, then you can Stop them to prevent that move from landing.

Now that you know the basic flow of playing cards, there is another concept in the game - where you roll against your opponent.  At the start of the round, both players roll a die to see which stat they compare - and the person with the higher stat starts the round.  (There is a six-sided die that correlates to the six stats on your card.  If you roll "Power," and your Power is 6, then you compare that to what I rolled - say, "Technique," where my Technique might be a 7; and so I would go first.)  This rolling mechanic also occurs after you hit your finishing move.  If I land a finisher, then I roll a die to see how well I executed it (some finishers give you bonuses to certain stats so that this roll will be higher).  Then the person who is pinned (because you pin people after you hit finishers - in the game just like in real life) gets three rolls to equal or exceed the number that their opponent rolled.  If they successfully roll high enough, then they kick out - the board gets cleared, and the "Crowd Meter" goes up by 1 (this number is added to the finisher roll so that as the game progresses, each finisher is more likely to avoid getting kicked out of).  If they don't kick out, then they lost the match!

Since this game is still in what I consider prototype form (I don't have the final version, since it is still on Kickstarter), my goal in this preview is to help you understand the gameplay so that you can figure out if you will like it, and also clarify who I think will and will not enjoy it.  Now that we've covered the gameplay, here's some other stuff you should know.

SuperShow wrestlers with finishing moves
The two wrestlers that came in my 2-player box
First, what's in the box!  This is a bit tricky, as there are several backer levels (and I did not get the standard level for this preview.)  However, I believe this is what you receive in a basic 2-player game (the $25 level):

  • Two wrestlers - a wrestler consists of 4 unique cards - the wrestler itself, and three unique finishers that get shuffled into your deck.
  • Two standard 27 card decks - each of these decks is the same from what I can tell (at least for now - they have teased that they might change this with the expansion, which is available at another level).  I also think that if the designers are smart, they will make rules that allow you to customize these decks or, in the future, give each wrestler a slightly different deck so that they feel a bit more unique.
  • Two custom dice - these dice have the six different stats depicted on them for the rolls that I described earlier.
  • Six Crowd Meter cards - these allow you to track how many finishers have been hit (and kicked out of).
  • Two Kickstarter promo wrestlers - consisting of 4 unique cards like with your normal wrestlers.

Now, the crux of this preview - is the SuperShow something that you might enjoy?

People that will enjoy the SuperShow:
SuperShow cards
Each of the cards has the move drawn correctly, which is nice!

  • Wrestling fans - especially indie wrestling fans, as the wrestlers in the game have much more of an indie feel, and the game isn't licensed.  However, if you are a wrestling fan, you will probably really appreciate the artwork - I think that this game may have the best art of any of the wrestling games that I've played.  (Aside from possibly Raw Deal, which used images from actual WWE programming.)
  • Players who are looking for quick, fairly random games - games I have played have occasionally ended in three turns (lead, follow up, finisher - and they didn't kick out), and have sometimes lasted quite a long time, as 2-3 finishers have been kicked out of.  
  • People who enjoy playing in tournaments for fun without worrying as much about whether they win (the randomness will cause you to lose sometimes, even if you are "better at the game" than your opponent).  I can see game store owners that enjoy wrestling having old wrestling matches playing in the background as they have a SuperShow tournament running, with the winner getting the "championship belt." (Yes, I believe that they have promotional championship belt cards that you can acquire somehow.  Or, if you're super dedicated, you can buy actual replica championship belts.)
People that will not enjoy the SuperShow:
  • People that ask, "You watch wrestling?  Really?  You know that it's fake, right?"
  • People that are looking for a deep strategy game.  I have reviewed a lot of those on this site - but the SuperShow is much more similar to Lunch Money (without having to memorize all of the cards), than it is to Viticulture.
Overall, I have enjoyed my games of the SuperShow, and I have some friends that I think would enjoy it with me, but the people I played with (non-wrestling fans) haven't shared my excitement for the game.  Overall, I am curious to see what they do with the game going forward.  I have hopes that they expand the game to give it a bit more variety - hopefully allowing you to customize the starting decks, and play to each wrestler's "strengths."  (For example, right now if you have a 10 in Grapple, it doesn't mean that you have extra Grapple cards in your deck - which I think it should.)  There are also areas about each wrestler that I think they could continue customizing as each wrestler comes out.  (The wrestlers I've seen all have the same stats, but in a different arrangement.  I think that they could make some wrestlers have worse stats but better special powers, as an example of how to add more variety.)

If you think that the SuperShow sounds like something you would enjoy, make sure to check it out on Kickstarter.  As I write this, it is over halfway funded, and has about 3 weeks to go!

I would like to thank Steve Resk for providing me with a copy of the SuperShow.

City Hall Review

City Hall board game in play

As a board game enthusiast, occasionally I get to play prototypes of games.  These can be hit or miss, with most of them still needing to be refined.  But, every now and then the prototype is amazing and you want to play it a lot more.  This is how I initially played City Hall.  And, after two years of waiting for it to be published in its final form, I finally have a copy!!

In City Hall, the players are competing to become mayor of New York City.  In order to become mayor, they have to win the most votes - by bringing people into the city, and also making sure they have a high approval rating among the people they bring in.  The game consists of a series of turns, with each turn having all of the players select different roles to be performed.  However, whenever a role is performed, there is an auction of Influence (one of the currencies in the game), and whoever spends the most Influence gets to do the action associated with the role.  And, if the person who selected the role chooses not to perform it himself (chooses not to win the auction), then he gets to keep all of the Influence from the high bid.  These roles allow you to purchase land, build upon your land, run campaigns to increase your approval, bring people into the city, acquire extra Influence or money, and move the turn order.  Whichever roles aren't selected at the end of each turn have an Influence placed on them to incentivize players to select them later.  Play continues turn after turn until a player has maxed out their approval, or until all the players have collectively improved enough land.  Then there is a final turn with all of the roles being activated, one final population check, and then the final vote to see who becomes mayor!  (Note: there is no chance that some guy from Boston that wasn't even playing comes in at the last second and wins the vote - one of the players always wins.  I know, I ruined some of the excitement of the election.  Second Note: that was supposed to be a joke.  I'm pretty sure it failed miserably, though.)

Board Setup for City Hall
The board design is also slick - each role is with what it affects
My first pro for City Hall is that I like how the role selection works with the auctions.  This mechanic really encourages you to sometimes select roles that you don't even want, just to give you a better chance of getting to perform the roles that you need.  For example, if you can't earn very much money from taxes, but all of your opponents can, and you don't have much Influence, it might be better to select the Tax Assessor than a role that you want to perform.  Hopefully your opponents will all want to perform the Tax Assessor, thus letting you collect quite a few Influence in preparation for whatever role you need.  Conversely, if you have a lot of Influence, getting to select the role that you need can be very powerful - as the person selecting the role, you make the final say over who gets to perform it (such as yourself), and if you have enough Influence to match any bid, then you can guarantee to perform it without accidentally bidding more than you need to (or risking getting outbid).

The next pro that I have for City Hall is that I don't feel like there are any bad roles (which is impressive, since there are seven roles).  Now, there are some roles that will be performed more frequently than others.  But the less frequent roles can really make a large impact on the game when they finally are selected.  The roles that I see selected least frequently are the Deputy Mayor (which allows you to move to the top of the turn order), and the Lobbyist (which allows you to collect Influence based on your Approval Rating - and then you can buy or sell Influence).  The benefits of these roles may appear minor, but once you also factor in the number of Influence that might be sitting on them from having not been selected in a few turns, they can really shift the balance of the game.  Selecting Deputy Mayor and suddenly getting first choice of roles each round lets you select more roles that have Influence on them, and lets you avoid overbidding for the role you most want.  And, being the Lobbyist when you have a lot of Influence, and selling that Influence for money can sometimes give you all the money you will need for the rest of the game!

Housing layout example
Queens was popular in this game
The last pro that I will mention is that I appreciate how City Hall encourages you to buy land that is unpopular.  Each time you gain new land, you have three locations to select from.  Whichever two locations aren't selected will have $5 placed on them.  (When buying land, you must pay $20, but at the beginning of the game you get some land for free.)  So, if a certain location is regularly passed on, it may have $20 or more on it!  Then you can choose between getting a free piece of land that might be in a less ideal location, or paying for land in a better location.  And, which decision you make (and how you're able to capitalize on that decision) can really swing the outcome of the game!

Now that I have praised City Hall, there is one con that I need to mention.  Initial placement on the board seems to have a very strong influence on the game.  Whereas I want initial placement to matter, it sometimes feels like it matters too much.  Each type of building you play has a maximum number of stars that can be placed on it.  (Stars are used when determining how many people come into the city - you want a lot of stars.)  Also, each type of building gains or loses stars based on what other buildings are next to it.  So, Housing specifically can be powerful if it is near other Housing.  It has the most stars possible (5), and it gets more stars for being near Housing (2) than any other type of building.  Your buildings also play off of each other player's buildings - which is pretty cool.  But, if two players start with adjacent Housing, and the other players start elsewhere without the ability to get as many stars, then the players with Housing might be able to dominate the population all game without the other players having much ability to catch up.  This is especially the case if either of those players is able to place another Housing next to the existing ones.  I have not played the game enough to say that Housing is overpowered, or that there is a single "right" initial move (and, in fact, I don't think there is, since all of the placement can be affected by what your opponents do), but I do have concerns that an early lead in stars feels almost insurmountable.  (If you're wondering, the initial placement options other than Housing allow you to earn extra money but have less stars.)

Overall, I give City Hall a 9.5/10.  I have loved my playthroughs of this game, and I want to play it more.  Rarely do I find games that I think work incredibly well with each player count, but I've enjoyed City Hall at 2, 3, and 4 players, and I would gladly play again at any of these counts!

If you enjoy City Hall, you might also check out Goa, Notre Dame, and Puerto Rico (one of my very early reviews).

I would like to thank Tasty Minstrel Games for providing me with a review copy of City Hall.

Slaughterball Kickstarter Preview

Nemesis athlete figure 3d renders
This post is not a review, but a preview for a game currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.

Slaughterball is a board game simulating a future blood-filled sport where 2-4 teams battle it out in a pit. In Slaughterball, teams score points not only by scoring goals, but also by attacking and injuring opponents - that and the name Slaughterball, should tell you pretty much all you need to know about this game!

Athletes in Slaughterball have stats like accuracy, agility, brawling, speed, and toughness. These stats tell how many dice the athlete will roll when testing certain skills. The interesting thing about this is that there are four different types of athletes, who can each perform any of the available actions, but each of them have specialized stats so they are much better at doing certain things. 

On a turn, each player will go through Draw, Onslaught, and Cleanup phases. During the Draw phase, players can discard as many cards as they would like, and draw the same number back into their hand.

The Onslaught phase is the main phase of a turn. Players will activate a number of their athletes one at a time in order to take actions such as Chop, Move, Pass, and Shoot. 

The Cleanup phase is where players may be able to return athletes who have previously been sent to either the Penalty Box or the Slaughter Box. 

Prototype athletes and boardThe game ends after 6 rounds, and the team with the most points wins! Players can score points being the first to move onto the central Meat Grinder spaces with the ball, by scoring goals, or by knocking down or injuring opposing athletes. 

Slaughterball certainly invites comparisons to the other big sport-combat game this year, Kaosball. I've played both now, and I have to say that Slaughterball blows Kaosball out of the water. Slaughterball is much more streamlined and intuitive, and more successfully combines the aspects of sports and combat that I think both games aspire to achieve. 

Extra Life Charity Event Announcement - Gaming for Good 2014: Sponsored by Z-Man Games

The crowd at last year's event after 10 hours!
The open gaming area in Karl's new location
is twice this size - let's fill it up!!!
For the third consecutive year, I and my friend Karl (owner of the Games Keep in West Chester, PA) are putting together an Extra Life charity board gaming event to benefit Children's Miracle Network Hospitals and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Over the past two years we have been able to raise over $2,500 through these events. Each year, we get a bunch of friendly, caring people together, and we play games, give away prizes, and have fun spending time with each other - all while raising money to help sick kids.

This year's event is going to be held on Saturday, October 25, 2014, at the Games Keep - 521 East Gay Street, West Chester, PA 19380 - from 11:00 AM Saturday until 1:00 AM Sunday morning.

Some Ticket to Ride
at last year's event!
Admission to the event is $15, which grants the attendee access to the Games Keep's large open gaming area and game library for the duration of the event, 10 free raffle tickets to use on the awesome prizes we'll have up for raffle, snacks and drinks (generously provided by the Downingtown Wegmans), and hopefully some lunch/dinner deals at some of the local restaurants.

As was the case for our previous two Gaming for Good events, many generous game publishers have stepped up and made donations to help promote our event.

Our Main Sponsor, Z-Man Games, has donated copies of:
Russian Railroads
Tales of the Arabian Nights
Prophecy + Expansion

GMT Games, AEG, APE Games, Arcane Wonders, Portal Games, and Stronghold Games have also donated the following titles:
Twilight Struggle, Thunder Alley, Thunderstone: Numenara, Maximum Throwdown, Agent Hunter, Cheaty Mages, Love Letter (Boxed Edition), A Matter of Honor, RARRR!!, Mage Wars, Theseus: The Dark Orbit, Little Devils, and Crazy Creature of Dr. Gloom.

A Stonemaier Ambassador will be in attendance to demo Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia, and then give away the copy of the game to one of the people who sit down for a demo!

An AEG Vanguard will also be on hand to demo Thunderstone and Valley of the Kings!

Gil Hova, designer of Battle Merchants, will also be attending! He will be giving demos of Battle Merchants, and will also be giving away a copy to someone who sits down for a demo!!

Lastly, Karl and I will also be raffling off two $75 gift certificates for the Games Keep - and if you've ever seen the Games Keep's amazing prices and superb selection, you know that is a fantastic prize!!!

We really hope you can make it out to our event! But if you can't, and you would still like to help, please share this post on Google+, Facebook, or Twitter!! You can also donate to my Extra Life team here: My Donation Page!

If you have any questions about the event, feel free to leave them in the comments, or to contact me at jim.flartner@gmail.com.

Thanks so much - hope to see you there!!

"Extra life is where you can spend hours having a blast with fellow board gamers while saving lives."

- Khanh Nguyen

"I've been to the event every year it's occurred and it's awesome to see it grow each and every year. I get to see familiar faces and make some new friends, all while donating to a great cause. My wife is even joining in on the fun this year!"

- Michael Green