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Monthly Archives: March 2013

First Hand Review: Santa Cruz

One of my friend brought Santa Cruz last Sunday and we had the chance to try it with 4 players. The game was little known to us (except the owner) by that time and it was our first play of the game. What I did know are the game designer and artist, Marcel-Andre Casasola Merkle and Michael Menzel. Yes it’s Menzel, the illustration of the game board is beautiful, depicting the bird’s eye view of Santa Cruz islands in Menzel’s realism painting style. I believe it’s a quick and simple game, putting the game right between family and light medium Euro game category. Information on the box shows 45 minutes game duration, which is pretty quick and nice for medium filler.

Game End Condition

Game End Condition

The components are in great quality, nice looking board with sturdy material, linen finished cards, colored wooden parts and tokens. After the quick setup, my friend started to explain the rules and how to play the game for about 15-20 minutes long. The game setup is quite a major random factor of the game, since most of the tiles are faced down in random. The game played in 2 rounds. In  the end of the game, player with the highest VP wins the game, Judging by the look of the board, it’s definitely an exploring game with card driven mechanic to support networking and building aspect of the game.

So, each player will choose a deck of 7 cards to start with (signed with letters A to D). These decks have different combination of cards in amount based on each type. There are 4 types of cards, Coastal, River, Road and Double build. There are also scoring cards that will be given to each player before choosing the deck. Each player gets 2 scoring cards and decide which deck of cards that support his scoring cards the best. The last player will choose which deck he wants to take in the first round, clockwise until the first player take the last deck available. The game starts with each player, starting from the first player clockwise, plays a single card.

A player may either play a scoring card or a building card during his turn. The board depicted Santa Cruz islands with various spots all over the islands. Each spot contains a single tile based on it’s type. Either it’s a Coastal, a River or a Road. At the start of the game, the Coastal tiles are placed face up, known to players. Before the first round, players will get an initial placement on the board in one of the Coastal spaces. In this game, if a player built a building in a tile, the adjacent tiles by legal connection (whether it’s a river or road connection) are flipped face up. Now, the first turn and so on, players must play a card to build or score. Each tile has different value points and icons. There are 3 building types on the tiles, a Lighthouse, a Church and a House. Some of the House tiles have resource icons like Sheep, Fish Flour, Wood and Gold. And some of the buildings have bird token icons. To build on a tile, players must play a specific card from their hand with the same type of connection from one of their previous buildings (except Coastal cards, that can only be played in Coastal and may be played ignoring the connection restriction). The building restriction has minor confusion tendency. The fact that buildings with a road connection can only be build with Road cards and in adjacent position. While buildings with a river connection can be build with River cards as long as the player has at least a building in that river’s course. Some buildings can be build through more than 1 connection type (it has more than 1 network branching out from it).

The scoring cards are the most tricky of the game. These scoring cards have their own objectives and may be played during a player’s turn to score that objective. The tricky part is, the scoring takes place for all players that meet the objective, not only for the player who played the card. Because of this, players must carefully plan their building actions and perfectly timing when will he play the scoring card. The idea of the game is how to score your scoring card alone and manage to score from other players’ scoring cards. After all cards in players’ hand are played, the first round ends. All buildings on the board are returned to the owner. Then players are given another scoring card from the draw pile. Based on the newly drawn scoring card, players determine (starting from the last player on the scoring track) which deck he wants to choose. After each player has chosen his deck, he may discard one of his 3 scoring cards face down. The second round starts with the tiles condition like after the end of the first round (most of the tiles are likely opened and known by now). The second round played just like the first round. After the second round ends, the final scoring takes place, Each player also adds his bird token points.

The game was fun and simple. It has unique feeling of push your luck and timing. I would consider that the first round has high randomness factor. Players still blind guessing other players scoring cards and playing cards in not as effective as it would be since all the non coastal tiles are still faced down (except flipped tiles from initial placement result). The second round has higher challenging value and I agree with my friend, that the game has become more tactical than the previous round. Each player has several insights including tiles position on the board, others’ scoring cards and such. It’s a nice looking game and fun but the half of the game seemed just a warming up for the other half which ended prematurely (in other words, we started to play the game in the 2nd round but the game ends to fast). but overall I like the game and would gladly to try it again in the future. It’s perfect for family game and it’s Menzel’s!

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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in Board Games, Euro Games, Reviews

 

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First Hand Review: Copycat

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Game in progress

Today I had the chance to try the newest game by Friedemann Friese (Power Grid, First Sparks and Friday), Copycat. So what’s interesting about this one? The hype upon Copycat is that the game mechanic combined (or more suitable copied) several famous games’ core mechanics into a single game. It’s quite a hit on the Essen 2012 buzzlist and I was curious how it goes.
A friend brought the game in special meetup today and we played 4 players game around 90 minutes. 15 minutes for the rules breakdown.
The rules are simple and easy to understand. Basically it’s a deck building game with the addition of worker placement and first player bidding mechanic. You can feel the worker placement mechanic is very similar to the famous Agricola from Uwe Rosenberg.
In this game players compete to be the most potential candidate for precidential seat. And in order to do that they need to achieve points. Each player has the same starting deck of 10 cards.each card on the game has number on it for bidding purpose. The main board shows possible action slots very similar like Agrocola. There are 5 stages that will be revealed one by one. There are basic actions that already opened from the beginning along with additional actions based on number of players on the left side of the board, just like Agricola. And 10 (I think) slot on the bottom for cards for olayers to buy and 1 deck of cards. The game ends when one of three conditions are met, the card deck is empty, the round ends or if one player succeed to reach 95 points.
There are 2 currencies that influence the game play, which are points and coins.
At the start of the game, players draw 5 cards from their deck. The game is played in 4 phases each round: bidding, worker placement, actions, end of round.
The first phase players choose a card to bid the turn order. The player who played card with the highest number get the first player and so on descending. If there are ties, the tied players switch their positions. After the turn order has been updated, the second phase begins. Starting from the first player, each player one by one place one of his workers to the action space. In this phase, players may play blue or purple or grey cards during his turn including the blue space on the board.  After all players had play all his workers (the default number of workers a player has each round are 3 workers) the third phase commence. Starting from the first player, each player play all his cards and resolves his workers on the board. Usually there are several actions that can be chosen, get coin(s), get point(s), buy card(s), draw card(s), copy one card in play area, discard 1 card to draw 1 card and destroy 1 card to gain 1 coin.
Players buy card(s) by spending coins from his hand and/or activate workers. The recently bought card can be used immediately if it’s yellow or green card. Yellow cards are for coins and green cards for points. After all the players already played all of his cards and acrivated their workers the phase ends. The last phase is to redeem the point chips received from occupying spaces that have green chip(s) on it. These chips are placed on spaces that are not chosen by player on previous round. So it’s like a reward for players to take less interesting action. After all phases are finished, next round begins. New card is revealed in the next round space and the card slots are refilled. Chip points are added to empty spaces (no workers). Then all workers on the board are removed. Each player then take the default number of workers and refi his hand to 5 from the draw deck. The next round is ready to begin.

The game is surprisingly simple and even Agricola was related to this game for the core mechanic of worker placement, this game is not a heavy game like Agricola. In fact, it’s surprisingly light and easy to grasp but still holds very good strategy and planning. The turn order mechanic is interesting, with more powerful cards have higher number and price, players must decide and plan carefully. To get the first player order, players must sacrifice a card with high number to be the clipboard and cannot use the effect of the card.
The worker placement actions are similar like Agricola but do not have complexity level for almost the actions are simple and not complex. So you won’t be having your brain melted like playing Agricola. It has easy conversions of coin, points and cards.
The components of the game are great, the cards are linen finished, wooden colored workers in subtle colors and cute rounded rectangular green chips. The artworks are colorful with good and funny cartoony style vector illustrations and bright and soft colors.

Pros:
– Good artworks
– Good components
– Nice game play
– Easy and simple to understand
– Casual gamers friendly
– Interesting turn order mechanic
– excellent iconography

Cons:
– weird tie breaker for the turn order mechanic
– actions are not mandatory
– to simple for heavy gamers
– the gold and white colors are hard to differentiate in poor lighting

Overall
I like the game, it’s easy and simple to understand. I think it has potential to reach non gamers and gamers alike. And by the nature of the game it has come to my mind the question, that is this worth a trade with Agricola? But I guess from the component factor, the epic components of Agricola surpasses Copycat by miles.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2013 in Board Games, Card Games, Euro Games, Reviews

 

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Rolling In The Sky

Art Cover

Art Cover

Skyline Review
A simple dice game from David Short, the game designer of Ground Floor. This game is part of Ground Floor Kickstarter exclusive stretch rewards. The project had reached $75K to unlock this additional game for each backer. At first the game was not known by anyone, the project backers were pleased for having an additional game from a game they backed. All they knew was it’s a game of dice rolling with a city building theme (well, though it’s not literally a city building, more like a dice building game). The first thing we knew about the game was the cover, which was an okay. The rest were revealed right after the stretch reward was reached and I was half of ignorant about how the game played, since I was more lean toward the main game (Ground Floor) instead of this one and pretty much ready to receive this additional bonus for whatever it was.

1. Theme
I guess there’s really not much of a theme in this game. It’s practically a dice ‘building’ game with pasted on theme of skyline buildings. For such a simple and short game like this, theme is never such a big deal in the fist place. It’s a filler alright and people don’t care about the theme. What they care is, this game answers their need for a quick and simple game to fill in their gap time.

2. Artworks
Gavan Brown did the art of the game. The box art really depicts his style. You can check his other creations like Eminent Domain planet cards, Jab Real Time Boxing and Undermining. These artworks have the same style of colorful vector arts. Few things to notice though, the colors are combined very well and really stand out, and also the building tiles have various shapes and colors even for buildings with the same value. These attention of detail is a plus in my opinion though not an essential aspect to the game play.

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3. Game Components
Dicefest, yes indeed there are a lot of dice in the game (I’m talking of 60 custom six-sided dice), it’s a dice game after all. The black based dice are divided into 3 categories: ground floor dice, upper floor dice and penthouse dice. These specific type of dice has different color on their sides, to determine the type of buildings, a low rise (purple), mid rise (blue) or high rise (orange) building. The building tiles are plentiful with double sided card board in different values (1 / 4 / 9 / 16 / 25 / 36) in different colors and shapes of the building.  There are also a simple piece of game board for reference and round track and a single piece of small black cube for the round marker, The overall quality of the game is quite good, the bad side is the color quality of the dice are very poor. There are lots of dice with mismatch color, it’s like applied with washed effect. For example the orange color of the dice does not consistent in each die, some have lighter color of orange, some have darker ones. But, this downside does not affect the game play, since you can still easily differentiate the type of building (either it’s a low rise, mid rise or high rise) on the dice. This shows not only you can mark the building type by color, but you can also mark it by the iconography of the dice. A low rise building only has 1 window and mostly in blocked color, while the mid rise has several lines that form window panes. In the other hand, the high rise building has more lines (which means more window panes) than the mid rise. The game board quality is very good, it consist of a round track and also the building and space references. The board is double sided and has a smooth finish applied to it (my favorite finish beside linen finish).

Custom six-sided Dice

Custom six-sided Dice

4. Game Play
Though it’s a simple and easy to learn game but I managed to understand it clearly after several times reading the rules and playing the game once. It’s not that the game is hard to understand, it’s just the rules are not pretty much clear with the walk through actions. In this game players compete to gain as many points as possible in 9 rounds by build buildings from dice. The game play area consist of 3 spaces (the main board, the construction yard and the abandoned district). The pool of dice are placed  on the construction yard space based on the dice types, set the round marker in the first place of the round track and place one die of each dice type in the abandoned district (which always forming one die of each type minimum available for every one’s turn). Player’s turn consists of several phases, which are Take Dice, Roll, Action and Roll Again.
TAKE DICE
During player’s turn, the player can choose to take dice from the construction dice or from the abandoned district. If he choose to take dice from the construction yard, he takes 3 dice (from whatever type whole or combination). If he choose to take dice from the abandoned district, he takes all the dice available on that space (there will oft be more than 3 dice in this district).
ROLL DICE
After taking dice, he rolls his newly taken dice and check the results. With these results he may take an action.
ACTION
Basically there are 3 actions that can be chosen. Player can either build, abandon or demolish. The most important thing is after player rolled the dice, he’s must take an action. If he choose a build action, he may build his dice as a building (of course each building starts from the ground floor). He only needs to match the type of building and level of the dice. Once a penthouse part is completed, the building is considered complete and immediately exchanged for building tiles of the specific level (the dice returned to the pool). Beside BUILD action, players may abandon the dice by set aside one or a group of dice into the abandoned district. The other option is to demolish. This is done by demolish a player building (completed or incomplete) to return dice back into the pool.
RE-ROLL
After players take an action, they may re-roll the leftover dice and choose another action. Or they can choose to resign and end their turn (they return their leftover dice back into the pool).
The game ends after the last player take his turn on 9th round. Player with the highest value point of buildings win the game.

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5. Replay Value
This game is certainly a filler. You can play it alone or with 3 more friends while waiting over anything (waiting in the restaurant, class, coffee shop, or maybe waiting for another heavier game to be played). It has it’s uses, not really a thinker game and maybe with several plays, you’ll have enough of it. I would say it has low replay value since every game should be no different, there is no element to add variant of the game.

My Thought of The Game
Personally this is a good game, easy to learn and quick to play. It’s good to play the game with non-gamers and you can done all that in 30 minutes more or less. Though the game is just about rolling your dice, there are several decision makings in this game. A short and simple plan is needed for deciding which dice you should take and which dice you should choose in you actions. Whether you need to abandon or demolish your dice. But it’s all end up in your luck of the dice. I sucks at this game and til now I still cannot win against my girlfriend over this game. She just never run out of luck. At first I did not thought the depth reward of the demolish action, what pushed players to lose points / incomplete building by demolish action. The main reason is not to let players after you to get additional dice in his disposal from the abandoned district. But considering the possible actions and outcomes, is it worth it? And at what cost? So it’s a good thing if you stock one or two low rise ground floor dice in your building area just in case you are forced to take the demolish action.
I think it’s a good and worthy game considering I got it from Kickstarter exclusive reward, it’s the same to say that I got the game free.

The Board

The Board

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2013 in Dice Games, Reviews

 

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Behold, The Card-a-clysm!

Rune Age Cover

Rune Age Cover

Rune Age Review
So, Realm of Terrinoth is not a stranger for FFG Ameritrasher in the world of board games. It’s a fantasy realm created by Fantasy Flight Games  for some of their games (Runewars and Runebound). Right now, the newest title that using the same realm as it background is no other than Rune Age. Rune Age is a deck building card game from Fantasy Flight Games, designed by Corey Conieczka, the man who brought us Mansion of Madness, Battlestar Gallactica, A Game of Thrones: The Board Game, Descent: Journey in The Dark (2nd Edition), Runewars, REX and many other Amaritrash board game titles. So, let’s look this 2-4 players card game a bit closer, is it good enough for your taste or not.

1. Thematic
Basically the game has high thematic value with strong story and background from the realm. There are 4 different factions involved in the game which each of these factions has different approach to the game based on it behavior. Such as the thematic implementation of Reanimate unit, Berserker’s berserk ability and Foot Soldier unit. The thematic is not stop right there, the 4 scenarios available also induced with powerful thematic elements. This is shown from the different feel of the scenario game style. A semi cooperative play, full cooperative and also competition play.

2. Artworks
When looking at the artworks of the game, it’s clearly a solid fantastic artwork done by many good artists. The consistency of the realm visual appearance is the key on the artworks. Rune Age succeeded to maintain the illustration and appearance consistencies from the Realm of Terrinoth. The cover is amazing, you can see the beautiful artwork from only the cover, depicting a grand city from a far with a dragon and it’s rider in the close up.

Warlock Chieftain Illustration

Warlock Chieftain Illustration

3. Game Components
Most of the game components are cards, hundreds of them (around 250 cards) with good quality card stock and linen finish. The rest are the damage tokens and a single custom six-sided dice with skull icon engraved to some of it’s sides. The damage tokens should’ve came with different shapes based on the denominations for easier recognition during game play.
The box comes with a nice looking insert with monotone version of the cover illustration. Not a crucial part but better to keep it than throw it away. One thing to keep in mind though, the normal use of the insert might impose problem in the storage. The simple solution is to invert the folding direction of the insert which would give you 2 separate spaces. This would do the trick, the center inside of the insert could also contain deck of cards.

Box Insert and Cards

Box Insert and Cards

4. Game Play
Rune Age is basically a deck building game with variable player powers. The game shares some core mechanics from Dominion or Thunderstone. In short players take turns by playing cards from their hands. After the last player’s turn, event phase is resolved. The objectives of the game varies depending on the chosen scenario. Each player controls different faction with different units and abilities. The 4 different factions give the game an asymmetry approach to the game play and strategy. The play area is broke down into several parts. Each player barrack, play area and central area (which consists of neutral, gold and city cards).
There are 4 scenarios that can be chosen. The first is considered as an opening scenario for new players (Resurgence of The Dragonlords) as in this scenario, the challenge is a bit light and there is a semi cooperative element in it. The second one however (The Cataclysm) offers high level of challenge. You can say it’s not meant for the faint-hearts. The Monument scenario is likely for players who do not want direct confrontation, since player who first build a monument win the game (no combat against home realms). The Runewar scenario is more dynamic version of direct confrontation that the first scenario has to offer since there are dragon runes that can be used for players advantage. Not only different units a faction has, the neutral units and cards make the game more balance for it scenario purpose. Yes, each scenario has different setup on the event cards and neutral cards. There are 4 basic factions in the game (Human, Elves, Undead and Evil), these factions have several strategies and game play styles to choose for. The Human and Undead are factions that almost alike, they have cheap units that can do chain combos from their discard or draw pile. The Uthuk Yllan is the evil faction, which really into sacrificial thing with their units. The elves on the other hand, is the most delicate factions on the game, which is quite hard to master for they manipulate influence and not base their strength on pure strength value.

The Attrition Die

The Attrition Die

There are 3 basic currencies used in the game, they are gold, influence and strength. Players use gold to buy units from their barracks. Use influences to hire neutral units, gain wealth and also tactic cards. Strengths are used for resolving combats. There also an Attrition die (a black custom six-sided die) that is used for battling against enemies from event cards. These attrition die is rolled to determine how many unit will be destroyed by the enemy every time a player facing up an enemy. For each skull symbol on the side of the die, the player must destroy a unit in combat immediately. The attrition die has from none to 2 skull symbols distributed on it’s sides.
There are basic concept of the game about ‘wound’ and ‘destroy’ which closely related on the combat phase for each unit. When wounded, units are destroyed (back to barrack or neutral cards area) in the end of combat phase which they still contribute their strength. On the contrary, when destroyed, units are immediately returned to barrack or neutral cards area which they do not contribute to the combat strength.

5. Replay Value
I must say there are different levels of replayability options here. The combination between different factions and scenarios are the general replay values. Players can experience 4 different scenarios combined with 4 different factions, this could led to 16 different plays. In addition, a single faction also has different strategies to choose for thanks to different units available at players’ disposal. That’s been said, so the replayability is quite high. And with the additional expansion, Oath and Anvil, the game gets a powerful booster as 2 new factions, 2 new units for each basic factions, new neutral cards with mercenary cards are available. There are also 2 new scenarios that can be chosen and new event cards for basic scenario.

Cards in Hand as Uthuk Yllan

Cards in Hand as Daqan Lords

My Thought of The Game
I love this game, it replaces Thunderstone (which also a game that I like) in my collection. So, why do I choose this over Rune Age? The reasons are simple, the game has different scenarios, so rich on the game play, different factions specialized the game play and strategy, and the most important thing is, Rune Age offers more direct interaction between players with combats and such. The expansion is a must have in my opinion, it adds more balance to the game with new units and 2 new factions with different styles. I personally think that the Ascent of the Overlord is an interesting and great scenario to have one player against many. My favorite factions are Waiqar, The Undead and Uthuk Yllan. For those who like deck building game with a rich fantasy theme and various game play to choose for, this game is great for your collection. I almost forget to mention that this game offers you solitaire play in some of the scenarios (The Resurgence of The Dragonlords and The Cataclysm).

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Card Games, Reviews

 

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