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

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

All Hands on Deck! Kickstarter Preview

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

All Hands on Deck! is a family set collection game with a fun, cartoony pirate theme. The game consists of 108 cards made up of 3 different bands of pirates (colored suits) as well as a variety of actions cards. 

A Deckful of Pirate BootyThe goal of the game is to assemble a team of winning pirates - either 7 consecutive pirates from one crew, or 3 consecutive pirates from all 3 crews. Players go about this by participating in auctions and through clever play of their action cards.

Each round, there will be a card from the deck put up for auction. All players will put up cards from their hand into the blind bid auction. All pirate cards values are added up, and the highest bid wins. Any actions cards that are included in the bid are also resolved in turn order.

Once someone assembled a winning hand, the game ends!

The 'Pirate King' Action CardThat it pretty much it! The game is great for families - it is easy to understand, has fantastic artwork, and a fun theme. Decisions in the game - like knowing which cards to give up in your bids and which to hold onto as sets (as well as which type of set to shoot for) are simple, but also not so easy as to make the game uninteresting. All Hands on Deck definitely has enough gameplay to be enjoyable for everyone, and definitely doesn't outstay its welcome!

If you think All Hands on Deck will be a good fit for you, go check it out on Kickstarter!