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Counting Spells GO!

pic2209219_mdAbraca…What? Review
This game is hilarious. It’s from Korea (Dive Dice / Korea Board Games), designed by Gary Kim and illustrations from Marie Cardouat (Dixit). I got my copy from South Korea and I love to play this with hilarious casual group with spontaneous reactions.
Abraca…What? has a nice theme with a bunch of wizards trying to remember their spells correctly in a competition to be the best wizard in town. The interesting part of this game is that players will have to cast spells without knowing their own spells. Huh? Okay let me break it down to you. You can play with from 2 up to 5 players in the game and usually a game takes 30 minutes or so.

In the game, there are 8 different spells (number from 1 to 8) and the amount of each spell is the same as its number (there are only one spell of Spell number 1, two for Spell no. 2 and so on). The spells come in the form of plastic blocks (with thin insert to place the spell tile inside each of them) and these spells will be randomly shuffled face down. Players then will take 5 of these randomly and place it in front of them with the front side facing outward without looking at them. So players cannot check their own spells but can see their opponents’ spells (This would remind you of Hanabi from Antoine Bauza). Place 4 spells face down in the game board and the rest in the center. Each player choose a color and receive 6 life tokens with the respective color.

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Game components

The game is played in rounds. In each round, starting from the first player clockwise, they must cast a spell. If they guess a spell that matching their spells, they managed to cast it and that spell effect is resolved. Place the spell in the game board on it’s corresponding slot. After that, the active player can choose either to cast another spell or end the turn. If they choose to cast another spell, the restriction is that the spell cannot be lower than what was already cast this turn (same type of spell can be cast again).
If the active player incorrectly guess the spell, that player’s turn ends and lose a life token, the player then refill their spells back to 5 spells.
The round ends in one of two conditions, either one or more player runs out of life token (by himself or the active player managed to make at least one player run out of life tokens) or the active players managed to cast all the spells on their hand.
Player who managed to eliminate a player gets 3 points, while surviving players get 1 point each. Eliminated players gain nothing. Each Secret Stone that the surviving player have also gives one point. Then next round begins from the start, shuffle back all the spells. The game ends when one player managed to get 8 points.

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Life tokens, player markers and a six-sided die

The game involves deduction from spells that are available to check, you can check these spells from opponents’ hands, the already cast spells and the secret stones. It has pretty interesting deduction element, not just by eliminating the available spells but also by judging players’ guesses. It also has a very small bluffing element in the game, not really major but can still give interesting touch in the game. It’s a hilarious game, light and players very quick. Easy to teach, learn and play, has a high take that and push your luck element, leader bashing but restricted). Spells have different abilities, lower spells have more powerful effect while higher spells are less powerful, this is balanced by the amount of each type of spells. Spell number one has a very powerful effect that can force all players to lose some damages but there’s only one in the game, and it’s pretty hard to cast among all other spells if you not pretty sure you have it. But I have seen several players managed to cast this spell early in the game, which I believe a pure pushing their luck. Even if they managed to cast that spell, they also have to roll a six-sided die to determine the amount of damage (range from 1 to 3).

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Spell tiles

The game feels fresh at first though repeated plays might force the game experience to feel samey and boring after a while. Different group plays differently, though playing it with a group of casual, non-gamer, family or children can be quite fun.
From my experiences, the pattern usually starts from spell number 4 or 5, getting a winning streak in a single turn is very rare. My tips for the game, appoint a person to check active player’s guesses (usually the player to the left), this is to ensure that no one else pointing the spell which could lead to break the game if there’s more than one spell that the active player guess and more than one person pointing to different spells. And do your best to play in a round table or round formation, since checking everyone else’s spells could be difficult in certain angles and in some degree you could accidentally see your own. You mainly target your neighbors, targeting another player other than your neighbors can only be done with spell number 1 and 2, and there spells are only 3 in the game, so rare.
Also playing with different number of players are surely different. If you are playing with less than 5 players, there are some random spells removed from the game (with 3 players, remove 12 spells, 4 players remove 6 spells). So playing with 5 players assures all spells are used, while in 3 or 4, there is uncertainty which spells are not used in a game. If having control over the game means important, playing with five is surely a good option.

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Game in progress

The 8 spells are:
Ancient Dragon (1): roll a die and other players lose that amount of life tokens.
Dark Wanderer (2): gain 1 life token and other players lose 1 life token.
Sweet Dream (3): roll a die and gain that amount of life tokens
Night Singer (4): choose and take one secret stone from the board, place it aside in front of you face down.
Lighting Tempest (5): player to your left and right lose a life token.
Blizzard (6): player to your left lose a life token.
Fireball (7): player to your right lose a life token.
Magic Drink (8): you get a life token.

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Spell board

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2017 in Board Games, Reviews

 

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Information Breakdown

pic3407521_mdH.I.D.E Hidden Identity Dice Espionage Review
H.I.D.E caught my attention a while back and when I had the chance to visit South Korea, I picked it up cause it’s quite interesting enough for me. It’s from Korean designer, published by Dive Dice / Korea Board Games. It can be played from 3-5 players. The minimum player count did make me hesitate at first, but since it’s a very quick game, why not? And what the acronym stands for is pretty neat, thematic and fit nicely.

The Theme
In this game, players are spies / secret agents who are trying to gather as many intel as they can. The goal is to have seven ranks to be a legendary agent or have the most rewards at the end of the third round. If you judge from the visual presentation it’s more like a James Bond secret agent kind of thing. You are trying to get intel from different locations and sometimes there are other agents (players) that also want you dead. Eliminate other agents seems give them better ranks. There’s nothing special about the artworks. It’s plain simple, not really that stunning. Fortunately the symbols look clear.

Game Components
Colorful dice, yes… lots of them (there are 4 colors, with 8 dice in each colors). The dice colors are vibrant, yellow, blue, red and purple. It has good material and finish, smooth to touch and has rounded corners, to make it easier to roll. Each player has a thick player board (pretty nice considering that it serves less important role to the game play) and screen (this one is important), and the rest are cards.

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Inside the box

The Game Play
In the game, each player gets a player board and one screen. The game lasts for three rounds where in each round players will get a random gadget card (placed face up in front of them), one rank card on the respective space (right space of their board). The start player then reveal one intel card in each of the four locations (there are helmet, nuclear, submarine and satellite symbols, each symbol represents a different location) on the location board. These intel cards have different value rewards, range from $3000 to $10,000. Starting from the first player (clockwise), each player randomly take a single die from the dice bag (without looking) and secretly hide the drawn die behind their screen, and then decide which side they want to set (this is their identity die). The dice have 6 sides with different symbols (Submarine, Helmet, Satellite, Nuclear and 2 Gun symbols). Players must set their die to any symbol they want except Gun, they cannot set the symbol to Gun for this purpose, cause Gun symbol doesn’t refer to a location. After they set their die, they no longer can change it until the rest of the round.

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Colorful Dice

After all players already set their identity die, the starting player draw a group of dice from the bag randomly (with the total of number of active players plus one) and roll them. Then in clockwise direction, starting from the starting player, each player choose a die from the available. The die then must be placed either in the player board or on top of the screen. To place the die, there are some restrictions to keep in mind. To place it on the player board, the die must not share the same color AND symbol of that player identity die. This action shows that the player’s identity die is surely not of that color and symbol. While in the other hand, to place a die in the top of the screen, the die must share at least the color OR the symbol of the identity die (though it can share both color AND symbol). After placing the die on the top screen, the player then guess an identity die of another active player (still active in the round). They must correctly guess both color and symbol. If the guess is correct, that player takes all the rank cards from the chosen player, place one rank card to their ranks and place the rest face down as a reward on the left side of the player board. The chosen player is eliminated and no longer participate in the given round (this player is not considered active). Then, the turn change to the next player. If the guess is incorrect, the chosen player just say no and the turn change to the next player. After all players take a die, the starting player card change to the player to the left of the starting player and the leftover die(dice) is returned to the bag and the new starting player takes another group of dice from the bag and roll them. Players can also use their gadget card (once in a round) to change one of the available dice to any side (not the dice that already taken by players), ignore the symbol on the card for this purpose, it’s only used during a showdown. This can be done before or after they choose a die, tap the card sideways to show it’s already been used.

This is repeated until all the active players have already taken 4 dice, where the round ends. All active players then reveal their identity die. If a player is alone in a location, that player takes all of the intel cards on that location. But if there’s more than one player in a single location, showdown must take place. In a showdown, the players who participate add their identity die to the top of the screen along with the dice that they already placed during the round, and if their gadget card has the same symbol as their target location, then they add another die to the top of the screen. These dice count as their life during showdown. In a showdown, players roll a single life die, when a gun symbol shows as a result of the roll, that player successfully shoot their opponents (other players in a showdown lose a life die). They do this repeatedly until there’s last man standing, in which that player takes one rank card from the draw pile and add it to the ranks and take all the intel cards on the location. Then the next round begins. If it’s the third round, the game ends and player with the most money from intel cards wins the game.
It is possible that there’s last man standing before the round ends, if this happened, the last man standing can decide to take intel cards from any one location ignoring his identity die’s symbol. Also if during the game a player have seven rank cards, that player immediately becomes a legendary agent and wins the game.

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Gadget Cards

My Thought About The Game
Surely the game is a deduction game, from dice. In turns players are trying to guess other players identity dice without revealing their identities, while whatever players do, they involuntarily give information (possibly valuable) to the others. The game is simple if you already get the gist of it, which usually takes half a game to know clearly what you really should do. The game really lies heavily from information gathering, where you need to carefully observe what players do, say or think. It’s essential to guess other players identity. Every thing players do give information to other players, so carefully observe what other players do, say or anything could be very useful in later turns. You need to initiate table talk, in order to lure people talk, this is a great way to spill their beans. But be wary, the same thing goes for you. Basically taking a die gives information, though placing it on top of your screen do gives more information, but of course it depends on the current dice you have that determine the amount of information exposed. Getting the same dice over and over is a great advantage.

If you go deeper, there’s another layer of deduction to keep in mind, which is the set of dice left out after choosing a die are very important to figure out why you choose that die. So be careful on what dice you leave and observe what other players leave. The symbol on the gadget cards also give certain information on player’s tendency to follow the advantage given during a showdown, and the other hand, the amount of intel cards available in the locations also plays a great deal to determine which one is more favorable than others.
The game looks very interesting, and it plays better with 4 or 5 players. Though one minor thing that I think it’s pretty much logic, eventually you will get caught from information bashing from many players. Each incorrect guess leads to more greater possibilities until down to one, your true identity. So it’s a matter of time and what you do before you out of the round is critical. Be aggressive and try to eliminate players before they eliminate you is a good idea and a valid strategy the same as playing it safe.
I can accept the fact that that’s how the game works, if you incorrectly guess one’s identity, the next player has the advantage and that’s how it works. This makes the turn order really matter and players should consider this before their action.
I love the tense the game offers, many hilarious moments in the game, the AHA moments and surprise feelings when you got knocked out or fail to guess correctly in a 50-50 chance.

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The location boards and intel cards

Replay Value
Well, the game comes as it is. You play all the contents in the game except some special Intel or Reward cards that can be included in the game or not. So adding them gives more variation to the game, though I do not think it’s not change the game play in a major way. So the replay value is not really high, you should have the same kind of game play over and over again, the only different thing is your group. How players play in your group will determine how the game really works out in the end. Whether they play aggressively from the beginning or play it safe to ensure not getting caught easily.

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Game in progress

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2017 in Board Games, Dice Games, Reviews

 

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Play Tennis Anywhere!

Box Cover

Box Cover

Grand Slam Review
So, you want to play Tennis but don’t want to get sweaty or tired because of running back and forth the court to return services or even smashing? Someone told you to do some sports but you’re too lazy? This one is a solution for you, Tennis for lazy people some say. Grand Slam is a small card game about Tennis from Korea Board Games and designed by Ariel Seoane (the artist behind Ground Floor). It’s published recently (2014) and managed to hit Essen 2014. I managed to get a copy from Essen through my friend that was attending the event. It’s a pocket-sized game with mainly cards and tokens. The game, of course, is about tennis (obviously), which the game’s original title was “Love Means Nothing”, yeah I know, what a weird name for a Tennis game. So what’s about the title? Love means nothing derived from the word “love”, a term that commonly used in Tennis scoring to show blank score or zero or none. Now the phrase really shows the real meaning “Love means nothing”. If you only have love, you don’t score which is not good for you. Once you score, than your score is no longer “love”. Something like that.

The Game
The game comes in a pocket-sized box, easy to carry for travel purpose. It contains 4 decks of cards, 2 parts of court cards, 8 ball tokens and bi-lingual rulebook (English and Korean). The game can be played with 2 or 4 players. With 2 players, you have single game of Tennis, while with 4, you have double match, thus it’s a tag team game, 2 vs 2. Before the first game the ball tokens need to be punched from the cardboard, but I recommend not to throw the punched board, for it can be used to placed the ball tokens again for storage purpose. With the current box it’s impossible to sleeve the cards, the cards wouldn’t fit back into the box.

Game Contents

Game Contents

How To Play
Players will get a symmetrical deck of cards that they can play from their hands. First set up the court cards so it resembles a tennis court. Players sit on face to face where the court is and shuffle their own deck. While playing singles, draw 6 cards to form a player’s hand. Set aside the ball tokens to the side of the court. The first player will have to serve to start the game, draw a top card from his draw pile and place a ball token in the corresponding space of the opponent’s court. Now the opponent must receive the serve with cards from his hand by placing receiving and direction cards. The receiving card have to cover the space where the ball is. The direction card determines where the ball will be returned.
Players can also use Smashing when returning the ball, to do this, the player needs to play another direction card that has the same direction from the first direction card. When this happened, flip the ball to it’s back side (you can see the red-flaming ball, instead of the normal ball). To receive smashing, a player need to receive with two of the same receiving cards, and if he wants to return that smashing with smashing, he needs to play two of the same direction cards. In total, he play 4 cards in a single turn. After taking a turn, players will end their turn and draw cards into his hand up to a total of 6 cards.
If a player only has one card to receive an opponent’s smashing, he can play it but this will make him off-balance. While off-balance, the player cannot draw cards back to six at the end of his turn. Players also can make a diving receive if they don’t have a matching card to receive, they must discard a card from their hands and play the top card of the draw pile. If that card is matched with the ball, then the diving receive is a success. Players cannot draw more cards and cannot play smashing to return the ball (this rule is not available when playing double matches).
If a player cannot return the ball, then the opponent scores. Place a ball token to one of the slots as a score. The round is reset (players shuffle back their deck and start again with 6 cards) and player who receive the service in previous round make a service.
The first side who gains 4 points, win the game.

Double Match in Progress

Double Match in Progress

The double match has similar rules with few differences, in double match, players take turn to receive the ball and there is a deuce when the score is 3-3. Players cannot use diving receive move but can help their teammates to return the ball out of their turn. To do this, the active player must discard one card and the teammate can cover up as he’s the one to return the ball. The catch is, he doesn’t refill his hand back to 6 cards, but the active player does.
This way, when the next turn the teammate has to return the ball, his options are more limited than normal.

Final Thought
It’s a simple fun and quick card game, has a unique theme (not many games with tennis theme). It’s pretty much a straight forward take-that card game, players luck is heavily depends on what the cards they draw. But how you manage your cards as resources can have a bit of impact on your performance. Smashing is a good move, but if with smashing you limit your options to receive the ball next turn, it’s not wise to return the ball with smashing. Hand management also plays important role, along with memory. You need to know what cards have been out from your deck and what not. Playing with a fun group can make the game shines, but if you play seriously the game just wouldn’t work.
Playing double matches are hilariously fun and interesting, since the players interaction would also emerges among the teammates or even opponents.
The game does not have high replay value, since each game would likely be the same game over and over again, but considering this as a small pocket game, having this one in your pocket while traveling or waiting someone would be very handy.

*some images are credit to BGG users.

End Game - Single Match (4-3)

End Game – Single Match (4-3)

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2014 in Card Games, Reviews

 

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A Korean Twist

Box Cover

Box Cover

Koryo Review

Koryo is catchy, is it not? Easy and fun to pronounce, but it’s definitely a strange to our tongue, unless of course you’re a Korean. Koryo is a card game from Korean designer Kim Gun-Hee, published on 2013 by Asmodee and Moonster Games. I honestly don’t know the origin of it’s title but it surely is interesting. A friend asked me to look into it and with only a handful of cards (okay one deck, but still…) this game is surprisingly good and interestingly fun.

Kim Gun-Hee’s name probably a stranger for our ears but he’s not a first time game designer. Actually he had design several small games like Spice Merchant, Tales & Games: The Hare and The Tortoise and Black Swan. He’s also The president of KBDA (Korean Boardgame Designers Association), which sounds prestigious indeed.

Koryo has nice steam punk anime style (Korean style I guess) over the artworks (Thanks to Stephane Gantiez and Ian Parovel), but I must admit the cover is a bit too bland and non-thematic. You can find a someone in the cover, miraculously (maybe with the help of some unknown technology) draft cards in front of him, seemed cool but in short it’s like really straight-forwardly explains that there is no story in the game, just you as players, play cards. Thank God it’s just the cover, the cards have amazing thematic artworks. The game contains 63 cards in total (45 Character cards, 10 Event cards and 8 Season cards), 8 VP tokens, first player marker and rules, packed in a small simple box, easy to carry, can be played in 15-30 minutes and very easy to learn by 2-4 players.

THE GAME
Okay, let’s breakdown the game inside. The character and event cards are shuffled together to form the draw deck while the 8 season cards are sorted in ascending order from top to bottom based on the season number. The game is played over the course of 8 rounds (Season), and at the end of the last round, final scoring takes place and player with the highest point wins the game.
There are 9 different Characters over the 45 Character cards and each character has distribution as many as it’s value (range from 1 to 9). These characters have different effects listed in the form of symbols and brief text description on the bottom part of the card. Event card is more like an action card that can be played during the game, and only consist of 2 types of event (5 cards distribution for each event).
A round is divided into 4 phases, Card Distribution, Order, Action and Round Ending Phase. During Card Distribution Phase, each player is dealt a number of cards from the draw deck based on the current season card, in which player choose simultaneously during Order Phase. Players can only choose 1 type of card to play, discard the rest. On Action phase, once they already choose the cards, beginning from the first player clockwise, each player reveals the cards and some cards can be activated if the requirements are met during that time. After each player has play the cards, the round ends, the first player marker is moved clockwise from the current first player to the next and then check the number limit for player’s tableau. If a player has more cards than the limit, he needs to discard down to the limit, the only restriction is he cannot discard event cards, they can only discard character cards. Once players check their tableau limit, the next season card is revealed and next round begins.

Game Components

Game Components

The game is simple, the season cards are sorted from 1 to 8 with different numbers as limit for card distribution and tableau. First round has high number of card distribution (with 10 cards) and low number of tableau limit (3) and with each round the limits are one by one added and subtracted, when at the last round, the card distribution limit is 3 and the tableau size is 10. So based on this clever system, we can see that the game has tableau building mechanism. Players build their tableau with cards to gain the effect and scoring points at the end game. Character cards have 9 different characters which can give certain benefits if (only if) a player has a clear majority of that character during his turn (only this the character’s effect can be triggered).
An event card has immediate effect on being played, but cannot be discard in normal way (like discarding cards out of tableau limit effect), since each event card on a player’s tableau will give minus 1 point in the final scoring.

Players' Tableau

Players’ Tableau

In the final scoring players get points out of the value of a character that they have majority on and also VP tokens minus event cards on their tableau (if any). Player with the most points win the game, if there is any tie, the tied players share victory. Okay that’s the second clue of how the game works, character majority and set collection. Now, onto the characters:

1. The Omniscient (only 1 card in play) which only gives 1 point in the end game but it surely is powerful during the game since it can break ties in card effect majority resolution. So with this card you can still win the majority even if you tied with other players.

2. Spy (2 cards in play) gives 2 kind of powers / abilities. The first power is stealing a VP token from another player (if any) and the second power is protection against Lobbying events (only in effect if there is no Guardian around in the player’s tableau).

3. Senator (3 cards in play) gives you extra +2 tableau limit, which is very useful to collect more variety of cards and gain majority.

4. Priest (4 cards in play) gives you the ability to discard an event card if you majority. This is the only way you can get rid of event cards.

5. Ship Owner (5 cards in play) gives you the flexibility to play 2 cards of 2 different types instead the normal 1 type of cards. This is also very powerful to get more than 1 type of card in a single turn.

6. Banker (6 cards in play) let you take 1 VP token from the bank (if any).

7. Guardian (7 cards in play), when a player has majority of Guardian, that player cannot be targeted by Barbarian event cards.

8. Broadcaster (8 cards in play) gives you an extra card during the card distribution phase.

9. Merchant (9 cards in play) gives you only victory points at the end game, it does not give players in-game benefit.

Barbarian event card (6 cards in play) let players to destroy (discard) a character of one player, unless that character is protected by Guardian effect.

Lobbying event card (4 cards in play) let players to swap 2 cards in anyone’s tableau (including his tableau), unless that player is protected by Spy effect.

Character Cards

Character Cards

IMPRESSION
The first impression playing the game is the shuffling, yes you heard me, as for a small game like this, it surely needs to be shuffled a lot (8 times) because each round the discarded cards are shuffled to form the new draw deck, so you definitely need to sleeve the cards to protect them worn out easily.  The game play is quick and very easy once you grab how all the characters work and I’ve tried several plays with 2 and 4 players. Though essentially with that range of players, there is no different setup or rules, the game play is somewhat different. It’s a bit more tactical with 2 players compared with 4 which more chaotic and unpredicted. The turn order is more important with more than 2 players since it’s very crucial who’s going first and who’s after. I like the clever way to put decision making in this game is more and more important in each round since you will get less and less cards as rounds progress. Event cards provide the core tableau manipulation in later rounds where majority is pretty important for players to decide which they want to keep and lose as well as deny other players points.

It’s a good filler game with some nice depth and decision making, though of course it’s quite sucks if you don’t get certain cards in certain times. I tried the game with my gaming and non gaming friends, and they all seemed enjoy a game or two.

pic1859178_md

A 4-player game setup

 

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2014 in Card Games, Euro Games, Reviews

 

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