Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Dungeons and Dragons 4: First Thoughts

October 21, 2008

I know I’m pretty late to the party, but I’ve finally had a chance to read through my new copies of the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide, and I’m pretty impressed with them.

The rules are presented clearly and are well explained, and the system has been streamlined from the Third Edition. Everything is less random, from the creation of statistics through to the number of hitpoints and on to the allocation of skills. This makes is quicker and easier to create a character.

I’m not sure how the system will play, but it seems to have been focussed more on the combat, especially the use of miniatures to deal with the positioning of PCs and NPCs. I think you will need to be careful not to foucs on the combat to the exclusion of all else, but roleplaying can happen no matter the rules system.

As a GM I’d be careful how I use maps and figures, making sure to only bring them out after combat starts, or to use them throughout a dungeon. Suddenly bringing them in to play at the start of an encounter would be a hint that it’s a combat, and it’s best not to railroad people into these outcomes.

So, my initial feelings are that it’s goning to make the game easier to get into (and so drag people away from Warcraft and its ilk), but could lose some of the depth previously available, which the GM will have to work to replace.

Flames of War

September 9, 2008

I’ve just picked up a copy of the main Flames of War rulebook. It looks really good, well laid out, with lots of examples and diagrams.

It’s fairly expensive, but no more so than a comparable Games Workshop product. Before I can get a real idea of how good it is I feel I’ll need to pick up at least one other book (an Army list book), and some miniatures. I’m looking at mid-war Soviets to start with, then I’ll see where I’m inspired to go next

To get going with enough for two players will set me back in the region of around £100-£150, which is a fair investment for a game, although it can be made of a period of time.

I’ll check back in on how it’s going, and what I think of the system, once I’ve had a chance to get more of a detailed feel for the rules.

Twilight Imperium – Shattered Empire

August 17, 2007

I finally got to play Twilight Imperium with the Shattered Empire expansion over the weekend.

We dealt out a random board, which makes the initial setup faster, and the board was more interesting than usual, some people had good starts, others had worse, it wasn’t the standard bland similarity I’ve often seen on player laid out boards. I’d advise giving it a go.

There were seven players, the expansion allows up to eight, with the inclusion of an extra ring of tiles to expand the galaxy. I was initially given the Embers of Muaat, a new race, who start the game with a War Sun, but not the ability to immediately produce more. Our play group has decided that they are a bit powerful compared to other races, so a quick re-selection lead to the Yssaril Tribes, who are quite fun to play with (Skipping actions allows you to always move after everyone else has already showed their hand, I was often playing long after all other players had passed).

The new game with Shattered Empire is bigger, and slower. The new role cards don’t give a player 2VP each turn, and don’t give the guarantee of new public objectives. Combined with the extra ring on the galaxy, it takes longer to move to new places, and longer to gain VP. Adding an extra player also lengthened the time each turn took.

Saying this, the new role cards are more interesting than the old. We saw more political action than I am used to, I liked the cheaper tech advances and the warfare card is good, but doesn’t mean you can charage across the galaxy in a single turn.

I enjoyed the new rules, and I think the game is better with the expansion. It should be playable within a day if everyone knows what they are doing, has played with the Expansion before, and doesn’t play too slowly. If they don’t it’ll take two days, or more.

Infernal Contraption

July 30, 2007

I had a chance to play the new Privateer Press game, Infernal Contraption, yesterday. It’s a standalone card game for 2-4 players, where you build machines, and then use them to attack other players.

It’s quite fast to play, and quick to learn, with only a couple of pages of well illustrated rules. It has some interesting mechanics, where each player has an even share of the deck to begin, that makes up their parts deck. Players draw a hand from this deck, and use the cards to create their machines. When a player is attacked by a machine, then damage is done to the player by forcing them to discard from their parts deck. When a player has no parts left, they are out.

There are various rules regarding which cards can connect to each other, and all cards must be connected to a power source to function. These restrictions provide much of the tactical play in the creation of a machine.

Each turn you can play one card to build up your machine, you can then discard a card to play another, allowing you to build a machine quickly. This is a potentially dangerous move, as you draw up to 7 cards at the end of a turn, so playing quickly can exhaust your parts pile, and put you out of the game.

When you have finished playing cards, you pick one opponent and attack them with your machine. Each card in your machine has an effect on your opponents, as well as forcing opponents to discard from their parts deck,  there are cards that let you add to your parts deck, make opponents discard from their hand, and other special effects.

I found the game quite fun to play, but I don’t know if it has enough depth to hold my interest for long. In the game I played it became obvious towards the end that the turn we were playing was the final turn, and that one player had the opportunity to decide who won, and was not in a position to win themselves. I think that this could be a common occurrence in games of Infernal Contraption.

Nottingham

June 19, 2007

I have recently played Nottingham, a card game from Uwe Rosenberg. It is a very simple game, quick to pick up, and quite fun and fast to play.

The players take on the role of tax collectors, and use every means at their disposal to collect revenue from the populace, while the sheriff is patrolling Sherwood Forest.

Each player must collect sets of cards, and can trade in three of the same card to score points. They can also try and collect other sets (three pairs, four pairs, one of each card or five of a kind) to score bonuses. Only two players can score each bonus, and each bonus is worth between 10 and 30 points (sets of three are worth 7 to 13).

Each time someone scores, the sheriff moves through the forest. When he returns to the castle, the game ends.

As well as forming sets, each of the cards have a special action. These actions enforce card trading amongst the players, helping you to complete sets, and hindering your opponents. These special actions ensure that most players are always engaged, and avoids any periods of downtime.

I believe that it is a sensible strategy to attempt to complete sets quickly, and score often. As the sheriff moves, cards are given to players with small hand sizes, and taking advantage of this often is a major benefit. I think that a score of 100+ in a four player game should guarantee victory.

The playing pieces are of high quality, but the rules are somewhat confusing. As is often the case it’s much easier to learn to play by actually playing the game, especially if you can play with  someone who has played before. Expect to make a few mistakes in a few games until you get the hang of the rules, but after that, it’s a game that should take less than 45 minutes to play, including set-up time.

Alhambra

June 15, 2007

I played Alhambra for the first time in a while last night. It’s a tile placing/set collection game, where each player collects money, then uses money to buy building to place in their Alhambra (loosely, this means palace). The player who controls the most of each colour of building scores points in the three scoring rounds that happen throughout the game, and the player with the most points wins.

The game is an interesting exercise in optimisation. You need to manage your available resources to ensure that you control enough buildings to score points, but buying too many buildings, or spending too much money on them will reduce the benefit you gain.

Your other resource is space in the Alhambra. Tiles can only be placed in a single orientation, and some are surrounded by walls. Walls can only match walls, and open spaces can only match open spaces. This means that you can be stuck unable to place a purchased tile, which is when the palace must be re-arranged.

In a turn, you can only take a single action, you can pick up money, buy a building, or rearrange your palace. If you pay over the odds for your building, you don’t get change, but if you spend exactly the right amount, then you can take an extra turn.

I think there is a fairly obvious strategy, that will tend to serve any player well. In the early game you need to collect money. When you hold lots of money cards, it is simple to take multiple turns, which is a big advantage. The early scoring round is not worth much compared to the other two, you can afford to miss out on much of the scoring in this round to build a base to work from later in the game. The best buildings to purchase early are those with no walls, as they allow for easy expansion later. Then look for buildings which will help you extend your outside wall (as this scores points), but will still allow you place any tile that you could purchase. Finally, look to take buildings that help you control a set, as this is worth points.

After the first scoring round, start trying harder to control sets of buildings. If you can gain control of three colours, then this should be enough to win the game with 4 players. Taking two, and having second place in others should also ensure victory.

When making play decisions, it is important to note that you have seen all of the money taken by each player. You should know exactly what they can buy at any point, and this should allow you to hold off on purchases if only you can make them, giving you longer to collect money, whilst still being certain of picking the building you want.

The components are all very nice, and they pack neatly away into a relatively small box, which is always a consideration for those of us that own more games than we strictly need.

I like this game, it’s not as good as Puerto Rico, but it’s still good fun. It takes less time to play, and less time to explain, so it’s probably better for more casual gamers than Puerto Rico. It won the 2003 Spiel des Jahres prize, which is always a good indication of a fun game.

Social Games

April 4, 2007

There are a large number of what I consider to be social games available on the market today. These are games which appeal more to the social side of gaming to the serious tactical side.

I’m going to look at the characteristics I think tend to be seen in this style of game.

These games are generally card games, quite simple to play, with simple rules. They often play quickly, and can accommodate a number of players. There is generally a humour element in the game, and also a large random element. Game balance is often sacrificed in favour of speed and simplicity, the quick play time means you can just start again if you have a particularly bad game.

The defining archetypes of this style of game are Munchkin, and the Chez Geek series. These two games have spawned many imitators, such as the B-Movie series. I also consider Fluxx as one of this style of game, although it is different to the others listed.

You will see that these games are all cheap when compared to a full board game, as you’d expect with a game consisting of only a couple of decks of cards. The cheapness of these games is an advantage, they cost around the same price as two cinema tickets, and often seem to provide a similar amount of enjoyment. The best of these games are played often, the worst will never see more than one or two outings.

The social card games usually take advantage of several genre conventions. The theme and style of the game will link to a particular genre (fantasy, sci-fi, movies, geekery and so on), and the games themselves take advantage of the card game genre to allow a large amount of shorthand in the rules (dealing, hands, playing cards and discarding).

The genre conventions popular in these games are conductive to sequels and spin-offs. There are many Munchkin games and expansions, and many similar extensions for Chez Geek. These are interesting to play, but dangerous to include many in one game, as the extended play time and complexity can kill much of the social atmosphere that is the game’s greatest strength.

I hope that I’ve covered the relevant points the describe these social games, and that you’ll bear them in mind when designing new games in this style, or deciding what to play.

Princes of Florence

March 28, 2007

Princes of Florence is a game published by Rio Grande games. Princes is a city building game, with auctions to determine which actions you can take in the game. The number of turns and actions are fixed from the start, you only have a limited amount of time to gain your objectives.

As with all Rio Grande / Alea games, the game components are excellent. The rules are generally well explained, but quite complex, expect to play a few times before gaining full understanding.

There is a simple strategy that is almost certain to win the game, if you are allowed to complete it. Bidding for ‘Jokers’ early in the game will give you a massive advantage, if you can buy them cheaply enough. For this reason, I think it is a strategy that should be avoided unless all players know of it, otherwise the game will be over before it has really even started.

In my opinion, Princes feels like an first draft game of Puerto Rico. It has many similar elements to Puerto Rico that are more fully developed in the later game. Puerto Rico doesn’t suffer from the obvious strategy issue, which is a bonus.

If you’ve never played Puerto Rico, then I’d advise it over Princes of Florence, but if you want to try out something new, and have played Puerto Rico too much recently, then Princes is certainly worth the effort to learn.

Twilight Imperium – Shattered Empire

December 15, 2006

Twilight Imperium has an expansion, Shattered Empire. This provides four new races (to a total of 14). The ability to play with 8 players (Adding another ‘ring’ to the Galaxy), and new political, action and strategy cards.

As usual, I am somewhat concerned about a new expansion, I worry that they take more from the game than they add, bringing extra rules and complexity where it is not needed. Twilight Imperium is already a complex game, taking almost a whole day to play with 6 players, so taking it to 8 might just be a deal breaker on the time front.

The extra races sound interesting, and can probably be safely added to the mix without endangering the playability of the game.

I’ve heard that the new strategy cards reduce the dominance of the Imperial card somewhat, which is vital, in my opinion.

In all, I like Twilight Imperium, and I’m willing to give this expansion a try, and I want to give the game a go with 8 players, to see if it really slows beyond playability. It should be available in the shops now, it appears to be $39.99, or around £20-£25. Hopefully I will get a go with it soon, and when I do, I will let people know what I think.

Twilight Imperium

September 28, 2006

I played Twilight Imperium last weekend, it’s a good game, but takes a while to play.
The game has familiar elements to anyone who has played Settlers, Puerto Rico or any of the German style board games. The basic premise is a galaxy inhabited by six races, who each vie for supremacy, aiming to complete various objectives to score victory points, the first player to score 10 points wins.

The game is ideally played with six players, but there are variant boards available for as few as three players.

There are various random elements to the game, starting with the selection of the races, and the layout of the board. Each players chooses one of the ten available races at random, and five of the galaxy cards to build the galaxy. Each race has it’s own set of special rules, with different strengths and weaknesses.

Once races are selected, the board is built. Each board tile contains different features, planets, wormholes, asteroid fields and so on. Generally you will attempt to place helpful planets near your own base, and less useful tiles near other players.

The game begins with player colonising the various planets, and building up fleets of space vessels. They can try and complete their own Secret Objectives, which are generally worth
two victory points.

As well as moving ships around, and attacking other players, there are various role cards available, much as in Puerto Rico. The best role is Emperor, which is worth 2VP. The next best is Initiative, which allows the player first selection in the next round (so an ability to take Emperor). Other than that, the other six roles allow various benefits to the selecting player in the realms of trade, politics, diplomacy and technological advancement.

There are several types of card available, notable Action Cards and Political Cards. These are made available as the game progresses, but you will generally only see a few of the possible cards in a single game. Action cards either help you or hinder your opponents, Political Cards require a vote, and will generally alter the rules of the game slightly.

I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s available, and this post is already getting long. With 2 experienced and four new players, the game took around an hour to set-up and explain well enough to start playing, and an hour to play the first round. Subsequent rounds were faster, but creeping towards an hour again towards the end, as the board grew more crowded, and the decisions became harder. In all, you can probably expect to devote most of a day to a full game, possibly an afternoon or evening if all players know the game, and play quickly.

I’d certainly rate this as a game I’d like to play again, but not quite to the level of Puerto Rico or Settlers, due to the time taken to play. This isn’t a game you play once every couple of weeks, it’s for once every few months.