June has been all about games – I’ve managed to rack up well over 40 plays across a dozen or so different games, and there’s been very little time for anything else!
On that note, this month’s geek is pretty light on other things – I’ve only read one book and hardly put brush to paint, but we have managed to watch a short box set on the TV.
I’ll cover all that lot next month, for now though, let’s take a look at the games.
A slightly different format this month, as I’ve played so many games for the first time, I though I’d offer up my first thoughts. There are several games I purchased at the UK Games Expo, and a few that I backed on Kickstarter, which have finally arrived on the doorstep – there’s also a few thoughts on U-Boot, which I received some time ago and featured an unboxing post on, however, I have yet to review it.
Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth
So far we’ve played through the first scenario twice, the first time was a bit of a disaster!
Journeys shares a few similarities, other than requiring an App to play, with Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition. One of them being that you can’t hang around sightseeing, you have to push towards the goal all the time.
In our first play-through we got distracted by things that bore no relevance to the main aim, and before you know it the minions of evil are spawning left, right, and centre.
At one point, poor old Gimli was engulfed by about 12 monsters, and the way the evade system works he would have been pummelled if he’d attempted it. Also, after you attack, the enemy get’s a chance to retaliate, often with quite dire consequences – he was in a position where no matter what he tried to do, he was done for.
This was probably down to bad play on our behalf rather than an issue with the game, and indeed, the next time we played through was much better.
Thematically the game plays really well, with the App building tension as things progress. You really have to play as a team, and each member needs to play their role – for example the pathfinder should be the one out in front, exploring and seeking out possible leads for the others to then follow up on.
I would have to play the game a little more before I decide upon whether I like the card system for skill testing. In the first game I really wasn’t keen, but during the second I began to see how to make the most of it; it comes down to preparing cards and working out your chance of drawing successes, as well as having enough influence to change certain results.
I’m looking forward to gaining experience and tailoring the make up of the characters decks.
So, after minimal time playing this one I’d say things are looking good – Once you’ve got the hang of how the cards work it plays fairly swiftly, and it’s very thematic. I wish the time constraints weren’t so tight, giving you the chance to explore the world a little more, and, similarly to Mansions, I think it is going to be quite a challenge.
Since writing the above we managed to squeeze in the second scenario, which involves using the battle map.
I after say we really enjoyed it, especially Yasmin who gave it a play score of 8.5, the highest I think she’s awarded this year!
The battle map brings with it a tactical approach to the battles, and teamwork is vital. For example – the centre was held by a group of Orcs, which we couldn’t bypass because of walls, and there was another Orc on our flank and yet another, an ache this time, off past the walls in a more defensive position.
There was a portcullis in the far corner, which if we could get to it we could sabotage to prevent reinforcements getting in, but the Orcs were in our way.
Legolas picked one off with his bow and damaged another, and Elena charged forward to finish him off, leaving just one more in that group. Aragorn took him on, damaging him severely, but then played a card allowing Elena to attack again, which she did finishing the final Orc of the group off.
This then enabled Beravor to sprint to the portcullis through the gap we’d opened, and she started to sabotage it, which she completed next turn.
This is just a small insight to how the game plays, and I was very impressed by the tactical options one had on such a small map, excellent stuff!
Another game I’ve spent little time playing, but that’s only because the theme doesn’t appeal to the rest of my family.
Black Orchestra is all about plotting to do away with Hitler, not something that is going to make a 13-year old girl jump up and down with excitement!
Fortunately this is a very good solo game, so once the excitement of playing all the other new games has died down, I’m sure I’ll be left to my own devices to explore this a little more.
So far I’ve discovered that the game plays very thematically, mainly because of its grounding in history. All the characters you can play were real people, and their cards tell a little about their history and the role they played as a conspirator. This coupled with the event cards, which again reflect events that actually took place during the period, all help to create a really immersive and atmospheric game.
I like the way the game opens up as time advances, with new locations to travel to as you try to collect the resources to attempt a plot, and all the time you’re trying to avoid the Nazi leaders who are moving around and generally making a nuisance of themselves.
To carry out a plot, firstly, you need to have a plan, basically a plot card describing a number of resources that will be required. You will have to meet the required element – usually being in the same space as Hitler – and then meeting some of the optional elements, such as being a member of the Abwehr, can increase your chance of success.
You will also need to have the motivation to carry out the plot, and events that take place throughout the game can vastly alter this. Usually you need to be committed, but for certain plots you have to be reckless!
Your level of suspicion also influences your chance of success – the more suspicious you are the less chance you have of pulling it off.
Trying to carry out your attempt is so thematic, especially when you’ve become too suspicious, so you try to carry out normal military tasks like delivering Intel in order to blend in and lower your suspicion just before you try to bump him off!
The rules are fairly straight forward, though it will probably take a game or two before you have them nailed down completely, and we made the odd error in the first couple of games, but it didn’t extract from the experience.
Its certainly not an easy game, and I’m looking forward to exploring the different strategies that can be employed, so I’m sure this will be seeing plenty of table time in the very near future.
Take a pack of cards numbered from 1 to 100, deal an amount of cards to each player, then, not allowing any communication, expect the players to put the cards down in ascending order – this is the basis of The Mind!
Sounds difficult? It is.
Doesn’t sound like much fun? Well, it is!
When you first explain the concepts of the mind to someone, you can see them thinking, ‘That’s impossible, and where’s the game?’
Five minutes later and they’ll be perched on the edge of their seats, trying to do a crash course in telepathy, and communicate by alternatively staring at their cards and then at everyone else.
Your first few games will inevitably be over very quickly, even with a small amount of lives and a few ‘Shuriken’ to throw in, things won’t last long. But, as you get to know each other’s mannerisms and how they act dependant upon the cards they hold, things will slowly improve.
Before you know it you’re each dealt five cards (you start with one each and add an extra card every level) and things become very tense indeed. If you’re lucky there may be a consecutive run of cards, but even then timing is everything as you have to make sure you get the next card in before someone pre-empts you. If you’re unlucky you’ll all be stuck with cards that have too big a gap between them and you’ll make to play a card only to have second thoughts and withdraw it; at which point everyone glares at you, trying to decide what you meant by that action!
This is a great little filler game, and coming in a small box, very portable – you can draw some funny looks playing it down the pub!
The whole family have come to enjoy playing this – it takes no time at all to set up and there’s no real rules to learn, so you can be up and playing with anyone within minutes.
Is it fun to play though? It’s a strange one in that sense; when you’re actually playing the game I wouldn’t exactly saying you’re having fun in the laugh out loud sense, but it is an enjoyable experience. But when you complete a level or find yourselves losing, then you sit back and have a good laugh about the way you all reacted – the fun comes after the event!
We’ve played this several time now; each time adding in a little more from the extra Kickstarter stretch goals, and it’s becoming something of a favourite.
Players have their own museum to fill, and each is slightly different in layout.
Imagine you are wandering round your local museum; the collections all make sense. A collection of Egyptian rarities, or a ancient Roman collection, which then blends into a fine gathering of barbaric weaponry taken from across the world. Well, this is exactly what you’re trying to fill your museums with – sets that make sense!
A set can be either from a civilisation (Egyptian, Celtic, etc.) or a domain (Culture, Warfare, etc. but each item needs to be from a different civilisation). Best of all though are having items, which when correctly displayed within your museum, fall into both a civilisation set and a domain set, thus strong you lots of points.
The skill of the game is all in laying out your museum so that it flows, from one set to another, seamlessly, just like a real museum. But once you’ve placed an item into your museum you can’t remove it, but you can move it around, and in-fact you are given a chance, just before final scoring, to jig your sets around as until you’re happy with them.
The majority of the game is taken up purchasing items from the ‘market, or, and this is something I really like, from other players discard piles!
You have to be canny about what you’re discarding (imagine your discard pile as being your overflow warehouse, where you keep things you may wish to use later) – throw something vitally important to another player, and they’ll snap it up, possibly giving them a chance to complete a big set. But on the other hand, you can try to entice players to buy from your pile, as they have to pay you, and you really could do with the prestige this brings!
Thematically, the game’s pretty good, though it can be very heads down at times as players shuffle their layouts around, but there’s enough player interaction to stop things becoming as silent as, well, a museum!
It’s an easy game to learn and teach, other than the end scoring, which may give new players a headache as they try to get to grips with the crossing over of sets within the museum, and we scored very badly the first few times we played.
But once you get into it plays very quickly, we can knock a game out in under the recommended hour, and it’s one of those games that leaves you feeling very satisfied with your achievement – at least when you win!
Teotihuacan: City of Gods
I was looking for a Euro style game that could be played solo when I came across Teotihuacan, and boy, what a great find!
Teotih… enough, let’s just call it City of Gods, is a worker and resource management game, where your works are all dice. These workers progress in skill from 1 to 5 as they carry out tasks around the board, and when they hit 6, they ascend, getting their own place on the Avenue of the Dead, and becoming a new worker at level 1.
The board is split into 8 areas to visit as you travel around it in a clockwise only motion (moving up to three areas at a time), and the position of these areas can be varied using the action board, so there’s bags of replayability here.
You can visit the forest, quarry or the gold deposit, all to gain resources from, or you can spend time at the palace or do some alchemy to invest in technology, or you can drop in on the nobility and build them something nice. And you’ll probably want to add to the eye-catching centre structure of the board, the Pyramid. Here you can place tiles, building the pyramid up in all its glory, or you can choose to add decorations, enhancing its beauty and, of course, gaining you a healthy number of victory points in the process – maybe even allowing you to advance in one of the three temples.
There’s lots to do here and it takes some strategic thinking in how to go about everything, and how to employ your workers – having more workers on a tile usually increases its benefits; it also allows you to advance the level of more workers at a time, but it’s all fine balancing act.
You can also lock a worker into a worship area, where you’ll have to pay to unlock them unless some other wannabe worshipper kicks you out!
On first looking at the board it’s easy to be overwhelmed, it is covered in iconography, though it does look really good set up.
The rulebook, whilst the game is pretty easy to play, will be in constant use as you try to remember what all the tiles do, and even after several play-throughs I still had to refer to it – though that might be down tome having the memory of a goldfish!
Easy to play yes, but with a wealth of depth to game play, which opens up a vast number of differing strategies, and it is this that really fascinates me about City of Gods. Every time I play I discover a new way of doing things, and though the solo opponent is fairly easy to beat, it does play consistently.
For a Euro game the theming is actually quite strong here, and you get the feel of advancing your civilisation as you play – building that pyramid, worshipping the gods, advancing your standings within the temples.
Because you’re playing on a Rondel system, always advancing around the board in a clockwise motion, your choices of where to visit are fortunately limited. Otherwise the game would grind to a halt with analysis-paralysis, as it is it turn length isn’t too bad, and you can mostly plan ahead as others are taking their turn.
I really like the dice workers, and the problems they present to the player. When to ascend a die is an all important consideration, as is how you progress each worker in relation to your others – do you keep them all at the same level, or spread their capabilities around, there’s pros and cons to both methods, and part of the fun is finding this out!
Also how you move them around takes some thinking about, as grouping them together reaps greater rewards, but spreading them around can be advantageous when you want to gain different resources quickly – oh, there’s so much to think about!
It’s also very good value for money, with some very nice components, and, as I’ve already alluded to, bags of replayability.
I’ve even thought about introducing it to my daughter, who’s interested in the theme and really like the look of it on the table, but so far other games have had a greater draw.
Star Realms: Frontiers
I took a chance buying this at the Expo, I new very little about the game other than it was a deck builder and could be played solo, but I’m so glad I did!
This has quickly become my go to game when I’ve got 15-minutes to kill. It sets up within a minute, and the solo bosses offer a pretty decent challenge. A game lasts about 10 – 20 minutes solo and doesn’t take up much space to play.
Unlike some deck builders, in Star Realms you get to play every card in your hand, there his no cost required, and this makes it so fast to play.
If you hadn’t guessed it from the title, Star Realms has a science-fiction space theme, where you use trade gained from the ships and bases you play, to purchase others from the market. Ships and bases can also gain you authority, or reduce that of an opponent, or they may allow you to gain or discards.
Play several cards of the same faction and you can use ally abilities, and before you know it you’ve got a whole multitude of space ships and bases in front of you, giving you a rather pleasant ‘Admiral of the Fleet’ feeling. But it’s short lived as all but your bases get swept aside at the end of your turn – think of it as the ships returning to base.
Some bases are classed as outposts, and playing these gives you a level of protection against attack, as they have to be knocked out before you can take damage yourself (actually it’s a decrease to your authority rather than damage).
It isn’t a complicated game in the slightest, being very easy to play, but it does require some though to strategy, especially when playing one of the bosses.
Two-player games, which tend to last a little longer than a solo one, can turn into a vicious dogfight, swinging back and fore. Here you have to decide upon how to build your deck pretty quickly; it can be advantageous to having a single faction deck, but you have to think about the frequency that they’ll appear in the market. Whilst a multiple faction deck is quicker to put together, you can lose out when it comes to ally abilities, so there is some skill in the game.
But for me, it is the speed you can play it at, which means you can play several games in quite a short space of time, so there’s always that, ‘One more game, just to get revenge,’ kind of thing.
The theme is pretty light once you’re actually playing; like most games of this ilk, any theme could be bolted on to the game play. But the artwork is interesting and very colourful, and there’s even some flavour text cropping up here and there, and on the whole I quite liked the theming.
There’s several games in the Star Realms universe and they’re all compatible with one another, and playing Frontiers has certainly made me want to go and search them out.
Time of Legends: Joan of Arc
I’ve said a fair amount about this game already in my recent unboxing post, and I’m planning to review it pretty soon, so this is going to be brief (what me, brief!).
Joan of Arc stands in the middle ground between a miniatures war-game and a narrative board game – in a way it’s both, but in another, it’s neither!
Miniatures war-gamers (as opposed to miniature war-gamers!) may be put off by the lack of tactical detail such as flanking, and by the constraints on movement and attacking.
Board gamers may complain it’s too much like a war-game to appeal.
So, is this going to satisfy anyone? Damn right it is; we love it!
The core rules are easy to understand and apply; there are some complication that start to come in with the scenario special rules, but get the core ones nailed with the simpler scenarios and it’s one less thing to think about.
The activation cubes, and the way in which the round cards limit them, brings in a whole range of differing strategies, even when playing through the same scenario multiple times.
Also, the way the hexes are laid out for the scenario effects your movement, especially when trying to move a large force. Going from small segments to large segments and vice versa means you have to plan your use of activation cubes just right, otherwise you’ll fizzle out before you can make an impact.
Reactivation cubes can be devastating if held back for just the right occasion, enabling you to do a double attack from the same area. If you can get the combination of a charge, activation, then a reactivation in then that can be a game winner, but just try doing it!
Game play is also quite fast, and there’s no real down time to speak of at all, as you’re always involved whether it’s your turn or not.
The use of the dice for attack and defence is also pretty neat – it’s not all about outright kills, you can disrupt units, sending them to the infirmary where they may linger never to return, or you can push them back, splitting a concentrated area of foes up to be picked off one at a time.
There’s a bag full of strategic and tactical decisions to be made, and you really feel like a general in charge of an army.
That’s just the historical battle like scenarios; throw in the mythical side of things and you start getting these great story led scenarios, like tracking down werewolves or trying to save a woman pregnant with the next saviour!
There are a few downsides, like the age it takes to initially set it up – sorting out and identifying the required miniatures is a real pain in the… And then you have to read through the scenario you intend to play very carefully, just to make sure you have everything you need, as there is no individual scenario component list.
The individual scenario rules -every one seems to introduce something new – can take a bit of figuring out and could have been explained in simpler terms.
But get past that and you’re in for a great time, and the game looks absolutely fantastic on the table, and once painted, will even more so – it has such a presence.
So far I’ve enjoyed every moment of this game, and so has my daughter, and there’s so much replayability here that it’s going to be some time before we tire of playing.
The 7th Continent
So far I’ve put about five hours into playing 7th Continent solo, and the only reason I ‘saved’ the game was to explore Joan of Arc.
If you like ‘pick your own path’ adventures, as I do, then you should take a close look at this, possibly the best of them all.
You’re exploring the 7th Continent searching for a cure to a curse that has been placed upon you, and the way you do this is pretty simple really. You reveal your starting card and place your representative figure on it. Around this card are placed a number of exploration cards, dependant upon the number of ways you can move from your current card.
Also on your current location there may several actions indicated, which you may or may not decide to take. These could be things to investigate, see, or do, and each may have a cost, a success requirement, and the number of a card, which you draw if you’re successful.
To take an action you draw a number of cards, at least equal to the cost (this number can be modified by skills and equipment you have), from the action deck. The number of complete stars you can make from these drawn cards is your number of successes – again this may be modified. Before discarding these cards you may take one and additional to your hand of cards. It may be a skill or an item card, or possibly something else!
So, sounds easy. The thing is that the action deck also represents your life force; once it’s empty you’re living on borrowed time, and could die at any second. So, everything you think about taking an action, you have to ask yourself, ‘Do I really need to do this?’
There are ways to replenish your action deck, eating being the main one, and of course, a nice hot meal is better than a cold one, so maybe a fire is a handy thing just here too?
The immersion of this game is incredible, you almost feel like you are really there, stranded and alone, and every decision could mean live or die.
You can only carry a limited number of items, but you can combine them, and again, how you do this causes some agonising decision making – I really want to combine this with this, as they share a common keyword they work better together, but that stack is already full and if I put it with this I’ll only get one use of it!
The exploration cards are random, so you never quite know what you’re going to bump into, at least not until you’ve played the game a zillion times to learn what they all may be. So, even though the actual map you’re exploring is the same, there’s a lot of replayability here, especially as there are four curses to solve.
There are several different characters to choose from too, and they all play slightly different – playing solo I’ve been using two characters, which I believe does make the game slightly easier; at least so I’ve been told.
I may be wandering aimlessly around the Continent, I’m pretty sure I didn’t take the expected route off the initial island, but I don’t care – just exploring is fun in itself. Making all those hard decisions and seeing some of them pay off is so rewarding – like hunting, catching plenty of prey, then cooking it over a nice roaring fire to replenish the action deck – it’s a most satisfying way to spend your time.
And then there’s the handy ‘save game’ facility, where you follow a few simple instructions and the game disappears into the box. But, when you next set it up, the map has shrunk back to just your last location, meaning that, though you may remember where you need to go, there may be new encounters waiting for you just around the next corner!
Star Wars: The Outer Rim
I’m just starting to write a review on this one, so you’ll have to wait a little longer to find out what I think about Outer Rim.
First impressions of a game can be a real killer, and for me this is the perfect example. I jumped on this as soon as it appeared on Kickstarter – I’ve always enjoyed submarine games on the computer, and hoped this would be everything it was billed as, namely a submarine simulation.
Up front and honest – I have only played U-Boot with the early release App and the original rule-set; it hasn’t been back to the table since.
To some extents it is. The App is excellent, and really helps to simulate that feeling of being on a submarine and stalking your prey. Unfortunately, for me, the simulation ends there. The board game side of things I felt, let things down, especially with its unrealistic order system.
After spending 25 years in the military I feel I can talk with some experience on how giving orders and their effects on morale work, and just maybe this could be the reason why I found the game disappointing.
Having a system where morale decreases with every order the Captain gives is so removed from real life that I found it especially annoying. Can you imagine the state of the armed forces if they plunged into mutiny just because they’d been given one order too many for the day?
You might respond by saying that, ‘on a submarine the crew are in a high-pressure situation, where been asked too much of them will only resort in a lowering of morale.’ – Cobblers!
A military team, whether it is Army, Navy or Air Force, works at its best when in operational situations; it’s what they’re trained for. It’s when they’re carrying out their peacetime, everyday roles that things start to go awry, but drop them in a war zone and suddenly everyone switches on, and gets down to doing what they do best.
After a little research I could find no evidence of a U-boat crew ever mutinying!
I’m guessing that the game needed a system of control over the amount of actions that can be done within a set period, but without going down the path of having a strict turn based mechanism. If you play the game totally real-time then this should in theory control the amount of things you can do, and the more efficient you and your team are, then the more actions you’ll get done.
Putting the order track to one-side; I felt the rest of the board game part very underwhelming, with little to do that required any depth of thought. If you play with four players, unless you really get into playing the roles, it can all be a bit dull, as well as unrealistic.
For example – when you have a shift change officers flip their crew sheet over to the other shift. Each crewman on a shift has certain skills, but they are in a different layout on each side of the crew sheet, so you end up with all your crew in the wrong places on the ship and have to spend an order putting it right.
Look at this realistically – when you change shift, the shift boss sends out an appropriately skilled person to take over the task being carried out. They don’t send Bob, who’s an electrician, to take over from Wendy, who’s carrying out engine maintenance, now do they! So, this has been done in this way for game reasons rather than realism – so why bill it as a simulation?
Maybe, if the game hadn’t been billed as a simulation, I would find these things easier to bear, but as it is they really get my goat!
Even played solo I found there wasn’t much to do once you get the hang of flipping through the App and working out how to plot a course, and I found some of the ‘mini-games’, which seem to have been thrown in to give people something to do, mostly an annoyance – preparing meals, and the Chief Engineer’s, ‘putting a map together when there’s a leak’ – I mean why, every person on-board is trained to deal with a leak, it’s second nature, it’s their lives at stake after-all; so trying to assemble a small map against the clock, again feels so unrealistic.
Anyway, this is supposed to be first thoughts, not a rant, and there’s bags of potential in this game. I know some of the early criticisms of the game have been addressed; namely the need to spend an order every time you change course or look through the periscope, and this could well change my perspective of the game – I really do hope so.
And, because the App really is very good and fairly independent, there’s nothing stopping me from building a set of rules for the board game side that works in a way that I’m happy with – it just takes time!
My problem now is the enthusiasm to get in back to the table. With so many great games to play at the moment I can’t see it happening any time soon, but I will give it a fair crack at some point, playing with all the latest version of the App and with all the errata; then, and only then, will I think about reviewing the game.
It really has been a brilliant month for games, and I think I’ve been lucky that so many of them are truly great games.
Of course, there have been other games we’ve been playing too, mostly Dominion, but we recently played the second scenario in the Dunwich Legacy of Arkham Horror The Card Game, and it ended highly thematically…
Yasmin played Agnes and I was Roland…
The scenario was, ‘The House Always Wins.’
We’d made a really good start and advanced the first act by the end of our first turn. The Pit Boss was intent on following Roland around so he put some distance between himself and Agnes, who had made her way down the hallway and was investigating the Art Gallery.
The agenda advanced and the criminals lost their aloofness, thus engaging with us, and of course there was the abomination to deal with.
Agnes needed one more clue to then move to the VIP area and advance the act, but could she manage to get the last one from the gallery, not on her life!
So Roland, being the gallant gent he is, moved back to the hallway to cover her, unfortunately things didn’t go as planned and he became overwhelmed with criminals and abominations. With only one health and one horror left, he made like Caeser and accepted his fate, but not before putting a light to the dynamite he was holding!
Killing two criminals, badly injuring the Pit Boss, and doing some severe damage to the abominations, he went out with a smile on his face, knowing that the Pit Boss would be destroyed by the abominations at the start of the enemies turn.
This came to pass, and then the abominations both advanced into the Art Gallery and set about Agnes.
Surrounded by the vile things she pulled out her fire extinguisher and expelled it fully. In the cloud of gas she made her escape, evading everyone and slipping back into the hallway. Things weren’t looking good, she was badly hurt and time was running out – better to live and fight another day – she slipped out of the door and into the back alley, making her escape…
When it comes to thematic games there aren’t many that create better stories than Arkham Horror The card Game, and since I coerced my daughter into playing, there’s going to plenty more where that came from!
That’s it for this month, thanks for reading.