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Top 10 Board Games in 2017

I’ve played a few 2017 release games, not many but enough for me to rank up the top 10 games. Though it’s not really justified because of the log plays and other stuffs but it’s my top 10 (from my opinion). Feel free to disagree and discuss. Here are my top 10 list in countdown order

#10. EX LIBRIS
Lets start with Ex Libris, the board game for librarians (or anyone). It is a worker placement game in the setting of arranging books in alphabetical order. The theme is unique (though not that really attractive for gamers and to be honest I also didn’t have this game on my radar at first. But once I realized that the game has different unique workers (with special abilities and unique shapes), I started to find out more. Upon research I found one unique worker that made me just “wow”! It was gelatinous cube (which unlike other wooden meeples, it is a cube made from plastic resin in a transparent green color). That made me want to get the game. I bought it though it was quite expensive for what it’s worth. Played it and turned out it’s a simple game. The goal is to build / arrange your own library of books. In order to do that you need to get the books by assigning three of your assistants to different locations. You need to arrange them based on alphabetical order, the stability of your shelf and your collection of prominent, focus and banner books. I found the game to be somewhat a race to collect books but rather multiple solitaire in form and without tense or climax. I do have some grimes about the game, though those are still acceptable.
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#09. DICE FORGE
This game is very innovative. It’s not the first that uses dice customization mechanic, it applies the same concept from older game called Rattlebones, which players can swap sides from the dice to get different effects. The dice in Rattlebones seemed like a side mechanic not the core of the game, but here they made that as the core of the game. Players will constantly roll and modify their dice. It has a very beautiful box cover (oh yes I have to mention it). The game is simple and plays rather quick (30-60 mins). On a player’s turn, all players roll dice and get resources. The active player either buy a card or buy die faces. The game ends after a number of rounds and the final scoring takes place. The dice use innovative system and have great quality materials. There are some strategies to go for in the round, most of the cards are useful and important if you can get them all compatible with your strategy. The game is very suitable for casual players, newbies and gamers alike. It would be better if they gave a small lever to remove the dice’s face, because without it, I sometimes find it difficult or hurting my fingers.
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#08. LONDON (2nd Edition)
I haven’t try the first edition but it was already on my wishlist / radar for quite a long time because of the designer alone (Martin Wallace). I like Brass and some of his games, so this one is also interesting to try. Luckily I had not get the first edition when this one was released. In my opinion, the second edition has a very artistic cover artwork, if not the illustrations on the cards are already beautiful. I like the game very much, it’s a tableau building game with a twist. When I tried it for the first time, I felt a classic Euro game within this game and it’s a very good thing. It’s been quite a while to get that classic feeling from Euro games nowadays if you know what I mean. It’s simple, has easy rules and simplified components, but the game offers depth decision making and strategies. Of course the replay values seems low due to the nature of the cards (all of them are used in a single game). I wonder if the game has randomizer system like deck building games, where not all cards are used in a game. This one definitely a keeper.
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#07. NEAR AND FAR
After Above and Below, Near and Far was one of my two anticipated games from Red Raven Games (another one is Empires of The Void II). It claims to offer more depth to the strategy and exploration aspects of the game instead the storytelling in Above and Below. I felt intrigued, Above and Below is great, it gives immersion to the game play with the storytelling aspect but that is it, it’s a bit too simple for my gamer’s soul. So having another game with the same spirit but offers more complexities and depths with different variants of game play, my expectation was high. For this game’s sake, I bought the game a bit pricey and to be honest I was a bit disappointed. Don’t take me wrong, the game is good, it’s interesting and I would still enjoy to play it in future to come. But I expected more from this one, the campaign system doesn’t really rewarding from play to play, aside from the story, players in the end just compare / tally points from all maps. Not sure there’s a connecting story from one map to another and character / player progression, though there’s a skill / talent that can be purchased, but I think it’s not that much big of a deal from scenario to another. And there’s a character progress variant, haven’t try this one, but I don’t think it offers enough to significantly increase the game play experience. But of course I like this one better than Above and Below, still offers deeper and more complex game. I like how Ryan considers the adventurers’ compatibility to be played with Above and Below.
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#06. RAJAS OF THE GANGES
For me Village was good, just good. But it didn’t leave me such impression that I should own the game. So the designers then released Rajas of The Ganges, which also gave similar visual appearance with this one, classic Euro games. At first I wasn’t really hooked on the game, but I decided to give it a try. My biggest concern was the racing mechanic. Yup, of of my most undesired mechanics in a board game, racing game. This game though it looks like the usual Euros, this one hides that racing scoundrel in those two point trackers (fame and money). Though it seems that players collecting points throughout the game, the reality is that these points are just progress. Yes the ugly truth, you try to get your two markers on the tracks meet or overlap each other in order to win. This will trigger the game end, although there’s a possibility for other players to catch up that would lead to tie breaking to determine the winner. But when finished my first play, I was hooked, not very hooked, just ok hooked. I like it, interestingly engaging and feels like Euro engine building, maybe because of the tile laying, dice rolling, worker placement and set collection aspects that overshadowing the racing element, who knows. The important thing is I feel rewarded when playing this the game, that’s what makes me to like the game. This game feels very similarly like The Voyages of Marco Polo, though it’s quite different.
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#05. PULSAR 2849
I had to include this into this list and kicked out Flatline to eleventh place. Just managed to play this game in early January and I was very surprised on how good this game is. It has very simple and common mechanic that can be find in other games, but the combination and formula make it a perfect and interesting game. The dice drafting and initiative order are brilliant, with interesting ‘exploration’ aspect in the game where you place stations throughout the the star system and claim pulsars. How the designer balanced the dice selection is so damn amazing. In general you will want high value dice, but to gain them you need to pay with energy / initiative markers. These two aspects are important and giving away loosely for higher value dice would really hurt you in turn order and energy bonus aspects. More of it, deciding which die not to take also affecting players in during action phase because players can copy the leftover die using a bonus die. Played the game back to back and even I was lost to my wife, I was so furious and couldn’t figure out how to win it, I want to play it again and again. Try with different number of players and different strategies. There are so many actions in this game, even how bad your dice are, you can always take actions. Gyrodynes are important, it’s the soul of engine building from the game. Though other things could also help you. The tech tree and goals would determine game’s objectives. The game is played in 8 rounds, with each round players will choose 2 dice per player. This means basically each player gets minimum 16 actions plus potential 8 actions from the bonus die. The implementation of the bonus die is kinda unique, since there’s a limitation that a player can only use at max a single bonus die in each round, but the source to get it and actions to use it are so many. And looking back, this game was designed by Vladimir Suchy, the man behind Shipyard (Last Will if it matters), one of our favorite games (me and my wife). For this we expected at least this could match Shipyard, and turns out, it is way better than Shipyard for me.
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#04. THE 7TH CONTINENT
Okay I had a very high hope for this one, backed the Kickstarter project of the first edition instantly. I was hooked with the storytelling concept of the game. The game is likely similar or adapt the same concept like T.I.M.E Stories, where players must figure out the case / or you might call it as scenario / puzzle to be able to finish the game (successfully). There’s an element of surprise in the game which is no longer a surprise once you finally able to experience it. Unlike T.I.M.E Stories, this game lies heavily in cards as main components while T.I.M.E Stories also involves dice roll for success check. Card laying exploration game that form the map and action cards that come into the game with hand management mechanic. There’s a push your luck element too as the success parameters for actions, which is very simple and traditional but looks quite interesting. Though once you finish / complete a curse the replay value just almost gone, the thing is that to complete one curse you need to play it several times. You will figure out where to go and what to do after consecutive plays, this gives you play logs for just one curse. And my biggest admiration to the game is the amount of story related element that was poured into the game itself. It perfectly grabs the feel of the game and how it can feel different in each play because of the ever-changing environment. Of course there are fixed things, like the map. That place will always be there forever, not gonna change from play to play. But the event or situation will be different, maybe yesterday you met a grizzly bear, today you find what’s left of that bear is only it’s corpse. I find this element to be very interesting. You wouldn’t know what lies ahead. Of course it’s not perfect, I found some flaws in the game, but it still a very good game.
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#03. LISBOA
Here is another Vital Lacerda’s games that worth to be praised. The Gallerist was the first game of this scale that made me want to collect His series, like Vinhos. Now I own three of them. Not a fan of the publisher (Eagle Gryphon Games) with their KS projects, but hey I still admire their production quality and standards and also Vital’s amazing games. Though I struggled to like Vinhos (maybe it’s because of the theme), turns out I like Lisboa. It’s not tied with The Gallerist in my opinion, but of course the number one is still Kanban. Unfortunately it’s not in the same series as Lisboa and the likes. There are so many things going on in this game. I had troubles with my first play, dissecting the rules from that rulebook. I must say that it’s not the best rulebook I ever encountered. But finally it paid my efforts full. Love the synergy of the game, the visual presentation is stunning, though it might be overwhelming to some point. This is by far the most beautiful Lacerda’s games aesthetically in my opinion. But I think it’s not really thematic. In this game, players will try to be the best influential noble who contributes efforts to rebuild the desolate city of Lisboa from the triple disasters back in the day. The game is long as usual, around 3 hours play with 4 players. It’s broken down into 2 ages where players will need to rebuild stores and public building, trade routes, relationship with prominent figures and also the church / cardinal as well as producing goods. Unlike The Gallerist, Lisboa is more focus on card plays, the tableau building by building your portfolio is really essential. There’s no worker placement mechanic as it is found in The Gallerist, though by looking at the game components, there are workers / meeples. Just like most Vital Lacerda’s games (I think all of them) the game consists of simple actions. During your turn, choose to play a card. That card can be played differently, either play the card into your portfolio or to into the Royal court. If you choose to play it into your Portfolio (tableau) you resolve the effect first and then get to choose one of the two available action, trade with the nobles or sell goods. If you choose to play it into the Royal Court, you can visit a noble’s office or sponsor an event. When visiting the noble office, your opponents may follow the action. Each action may provide certain benefits for you to gain prestige points in the bigger picture or longer run instead of short term or immediately. Player interactions are tied in the building site and ships where they will compete or look for opportunity to score and claim the best choice.
The components are definitely top notch as expected from Eagle Gryphon Games, thick card board material as a standard, nice linen finish cards and amazing-working plastic trays that hold the components inside the box, one issue thing usually occurs is that some complaint their player boards are bowed, must have something to do with the dual layer finishing.
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#02. ANACHRONY
Oh man, I love everything about this game. I own the Leader Box from KS and it’s huge as well as heavy. It’s definitely a big game, fully loaded with many great components inside. Lets just say that it is a box of delight. I was one of the backers that immediately jumped to back this KS. Mainly because it’s from Mindclash Games. I was very satisfied with their work in Trickerion. After took some research on the game I was immediately on board. I love the theme, it’s deep heavy Euro game with strong theme. Totally epic. There aren’t many games with this theme. It fulls of cool stuff like exosuit miniatures, variable player powers, interesting time travel mechanic, the use of multi-layered workers and etc.
When I unboxed the game, the box was full of good stuffs, after punched the tiles out, the card board wastes didn’t help to loosen up the contents inside the box. It’s still fully packed and heavy. I like how fierce the worker placement can be during the game, fight over resource management while need to execute your plan in timely manner in order to complete super projects and other things. There are several different strategies you can after to get most points. Some modules give more variation and different feels, such you can modify your exosuits and go explore the outer world, while more details and challenge on the timeline and having neutral exosuits that can be bought each round with different abilities. There are so many things.
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#01. GLOOMHAVEN
The one and only, Gloomhaven. I was so excited when this game launched in Kickstarter several years back, 2015 if I am not mistaken. The game is epic and full of great things. It’s weighed almost 10 kgs (9.7 kgs precisely). I fell in love with the game instantly. The main reasons are because it’s a very thematic theme, with original contents and a breakthrough of the common RPG background. You won’t find any elves or orcs or trolls here. All the characters are new and made just for this game from the scratch. The designer, Isaac Childress poured his dream, efforts, ambitions and total dedication into this game. He is practically one-man-army behind Cephalofair games. He made a new universe and it also used for another game after this one, Founders of Gloomhaven (a very different game but still within the same universe). I backed this game more like a gamble because though I really love this kind of game at heart, my wife doesn’t. She had a very skeptical opinion on the subject and constantly states her dislike but didn’t deny the opportunity to try. So with half of her feet out of the door, I pessimistically but hopeful, asked her willingness to try the game. When the game arrived (after it was delayed in post office), I was so excited, the box was huuuge, my biggest game in my collection no doubt about it. Sadly it arrived in bad condition (the box had tears all around the edges). I punched the game together with my wife and my arms felt so tired. There are so many components inside the game.
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I immediately jumped into the rulebook, learnt the game and played a campaign with my wife. I was blown away with how awesome it is. There are so many brilliant things in the game, how the combats resolved and the cards played are amazing. At first there are only a handful of characters that can be played, but as you progress through the campaign, you would unlock more new characters, not only with different abilities, but also different play styles. Though it has the same genre with other games of the same category, the game is dice-less, meaning it uses no dice in any part of the game, which commonly used by other games in the genre for combat / battle resolutions, skill checks, etc. It uses interesting deck building (sort of) for the modifier cards as the character progresses. There are lots of things going on within the game and you can say the rules are fiddly, which I think any game couldn’t evade this kind of issue while maintaining interesting and engaging game play. When players choose a scenario within a campaign they will embark to the location from the city of Gloomhaven, which there will be Road event (this could be good or bad) that in a way affecting players condition before the scenario, so there’s the element of surprise.
After that, within the scenario, players and monsters will take turns based on the initiative order decided by the cards they play. Players choose 2 cards for the round to use the top part and bottom part and decide which initiative they use to determine their character activation. Despite the game is a cooperative game, there are secret information within players, this is one of the many reasons why the game is interesting. Players cannot reveal the initiative value they choose to another, only just a hint whether it’s high or small to keep decisions more interesting and have impactful consequences. Without the full information, players’ actions are not entirely effective because the situation changes based on the turn order. Monsters also have initiative that shown as part of its Ai system. When revealing initiative, a card will be drawn from specific deck for each type of monster, this will determine the initiative value of that monster and the action that they will do on their turn. I find the monster Ai to be very clever, every type of monster has different deck, this shows how different they are based on each type characteristic. These situations come into the game more like a puzzle that players must face and solve to complete the scenario.
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Battle are amazing, aside from the ability cards that show the base value of the action, players and monster also have a modifier deck specifically designed for that character (monsters use a single modifier deck) which can be modified as the character progressed based on the character sheet. So there’s no way characters have the same deck composition. This is truly amazing because it reflects their behaviors or attack styles. In addition, each character also have personal goal, given from the beginning, that will determine their involvement within the campaign. Once that character complete that goal, that character is retired and unlocks something (events and new characters). Players must stop using that character and choose another character to continue playing. There’s an interesting approach towards the game progression in overall. Players are forced to make changes so that the game is dynamic, not only in term of general campaign but also how each scenario plays out. Characters also advance their levels by spending XP gain from scenarios. Advancing levels does mainly to increase HP and unlocking new ability cards that players can choose to keep. Higher level cards have more powerful abilities but each character has a hand size of ability cards that they can carry on a scenario. So even if they managed to unlock lots of cards, they need to choose which ones work best in a given scenario, which I think it’s very amazing! The hand size also works as timer, since in most scenarios, players will race against time, which are  their hand size. Once their hand runs out of cards, they will be exhausted and out of the scenario. Luckily in this game, you can still complete the scenario even there’s one or more player eliminated (dying or exhausted) as long as one character still remain to complete.
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I must admit, there are many amazing things about the game and the easiest way to do that is to sit down with me and let me walk you through all of it by playing the game. But the game also has its own downsides. I own the first edition and though the game is so freaking amazing, I am kinda disappointed by the weaknesses or errors happened during the first edition. The box is too thin to handle the component weigh, but I do plan to get a custom box made for this game, still waiting for possible expansions. Also the actual HP and XP trackers failed to work, so I need to get Dial tracker add-ons for it. You need to commit time and space and gaming partner to finish the whole campaign. The time it takes to set up and tear down the game is equal to play a session of medium Euro game (lol). And to end this, it beats Eclipse as my number one game of all time.

Notable games:
FLATLINE
We start with Flatline from Renegade Games Studio. It’s a real-time cooperative dice rolling game with the same setting of FUSE, the sequel from the same game designer, Kane Klenko. It still involves the same dice rolling mechanic as FUSE, but different implementation. In FUSE, players constantly roll their dice until they found the side they’re looking for, but in Flatline, players only roll their dice one time in each round and then allocate them to different places. At first I wasn’t really interested on the game, mainly due to its cooperative genre. But of course when I checked upon the game components, the first thing that caught my attention were the dice. No doubt the dice looked very attractive, colorful custom dice and they’re plenty. I love it, always a sucker for dice fest (especially customized). So I decided to get it and my first play was a blast (even it’s only a 2-player game). I was pessimist with the tension of the game play regarding players assign dice to many different places within a certain time limit. Before playing the game I thought it’s not a big deal and we can deal with it pretty easily, oh boy I was wrong. Okay player count does matter, with more players the game feels more chaotic because the communication between players just clash into each other. It’s fun, full of tension, lots of shouting, frustrations and totally freeze your brain from thinking straight.
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Posted by on January 30, 2018 in Article, Board Games, Insight

 

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The Convention Man

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Yesterday a friend of mine said the title above. It’s a foreign word and I was hardly understand him at first, though in the end I think I get what He meant by it. We were talking about playing board games while we’re in a board game event. The topic of the discussion was about our time to play games within the event, as we tried our best to play as many games as we can during the event. Sadly we usually not satisfied with the result, we still think our plays are lacking. Need to play more, and more and more, but there’s so little time. What’s the difference between playing in an event and playing in a private group? Well, one thing for sure is the privacy. What I mean with privacy here is that in private group you can focus to the game 1000%, no hindrance, no distraction and other things. While in an event or convention sometimes people come and go, we meet some people have a little chat here and there, need to do some errands for a second or two, loud and noisy, hard to focus, playing with the staff or something else.

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Time is the constraint, which we cannot do time travel in reality.

So in that time, we had a set back in play time because there were several things got in the way of our session and the game that should last 2-3 hrs, tool 5 hrs to finish. That practically almost a day, or half. So when talking about this issue, my friend mentioned that we are no longer a convention man. Funny, it sounds that way at first, as well as cool at the same time. When I think it over again, it is true, that we (my friend and I and maybe some of you guys) are no longer them convention men. Who have time to play all day, play freely and there’s nothing in the way. Sadly we are becoming men that need to make schedule to any of our plan or action. Who need to prioritize what to do or get gaming as a privilege. We now put more variables in our gaming life, such as family, couple, work, job, relax, rest and other things. Which in fact could sink gaming to the bottom of our ocean.

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Go for a whole day!

Funny as it was, in the past we can spend the entire full day playing in a gathering event or play day with no worry through anything. We can sit there on the table for hours, not eating even we’re hungry. We play non-stop without breaks between heavy games. That’s us, convention men.

Hence we’re not really suitable to get what we want in conventions, but we should be more satisfied with private group gaming session. There we can maximize our playing time to the fullest. But of course the vibe, the ambiance of a convention is not something that can be replaced and it is truly one of a kind. So I hope not just me, but all of us can still do both.

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Teaching board games is always something I look forward to.

Time to play!

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2017 in Article, Board Games, Events

 

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Back From the Dead in Tabletop Day

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Holla, I am back, writing. It’s been what, months since my last post? Dunno for sure but, here I am with another post (not sure there’s someone really anticipating my post or even read it like a big of a deal. So what happened in the past few months? Well many or not many, but one thing for sure I am (and we are) celebrating International Tabletop Day (Sat, 29th April 2017), which is a topic worth my fingers numbing. So how’s your Tabletop day? Playing and celebrating with some friends? Mine wasn’t heavy into gaming, just stay home with my wife and luckily our friends came over from out of town and we did play some games, good ones.

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The Name of The Rose to celebrate International Tabletop Day

Lately I’ve been resting with the usual gaming sessions, and instead taking the fast non-stop train of Gloomhaven campaign. Do you know it? It’s on Kickstarter right now for it’s second printing and it’s spectacularly on fire right now by surpassing 3 million dollars pledge level. Congrats Isaac Childres (it’s game designer), keep up the good work. In case some of you want to know more or back, there’s still time, just go ahead to the project page and find out yourself about the awesomeness of the game. Find the link here.

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Its just unusual to me to put hold all the gaming sessions and play this game in rows instead, well there’s always the first for everything. I played the campaign with my wife, each of us handle 2 characters. It’s been a joyride, we love it, we cannot wait to find out what scenario we will take and what it has in store for us. Though I might say that the game took hours to play and we consumed our nights just like seconds burned through our delighted and enthusiastic characters. I think it’s safe to say that we are addicted to this game right now, which is completely amazing feat, since my wife is known to be not really a fan of this kind of games, and I also do not have history and experience in such games. But hey, whatever makes us happy is worth our time. And I will be doing another write (review) about this specific game in the next post but I still stand at zero. Hope things can be smooth and I can start writing them to the upcoming post.

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Starting the Campaign

So let’s take a loot (oh, I mean “look”) at another general matter. I also starting to introduce heavier meatier game to my gaming group at office, they’re complete noobs and to be honest this is something that kinda risky, but I can always tune it down when I think it’s necessary. From Camel Up to Takenoko, Codenames to La Isla, Parade to Potion Explosions and Grand Slam to 7 Wonders. And they seemed fine with it, a good sign. So let’s just wait how the ordeal goes in the next future. Hope to bring more meat after this. Maybe The Name of The Rose, El Gaucho or even The Castles of Burgundy.

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Also I just came back from our seventh gaming camp couple’s week back. It’s fun, though there’s just a few of us, but the spirit still the same, play games and have fun. We started up late and got many friends caught up with something can couldn’t join. It’s definitely our fault not to broadcast it sooner. We played a good deal of quality games, like The Colonists, Adrenaline, Anachrony, Kanban, Food Chain Magnate and such. This year was different because we changed the days, from Saturday to Monday, to avoid the post holiday rush on our way back, so we can actually relax and save time in the trip home. This was very good and everyone agree with the idea, and that surely will be implemented in the subsequent annual camps.

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The 7th IBG Gaming Camp, 2017

Here are some event photos you can check out.

Still strong on the gaming camp hype, our team sat down to talk some ambitious project regarding convention, first big convention for our community, to help gamers get to together and play games as well as to keep our community alive well and strong. Though we have some problems and limitations, we did have a good discussion and planned to get something going whatever it is. So all we have to do first is to pull some strings. Let’s hope there’s something good and big come out from it. Crossing fingers.

Apparently Roxley games launched it’s rework of Brass in 17th April and this was something I highly anticipated since a long long time ago. Goodbye EGG version, it’s a good decision not to get that version and waited long enough for such a masterpiece from the legend, Martin Wallace. So, a bit of a note, I dislike EGG business model and I do have personal vendetta against them due to my experience on backing The Gallerist which totally made up my mind not to back any games in KS from them. And the other thing was because the Brass ordeal. You sir, just make up into my shit list.
Okay so how’s the next Brass is going to be? So friggin’ awesome. I opened the KS page, check what they have to offer, read the pledge levels and “click” I backed the bundle pledge. Roxley has overdone it with this one, great revamp on the artworks, omitting the dull tone (though based on the theme, it seems reasonable but not expected) to a high contrast and beautiful art style from Mr. Cuddington, they’re so talented and they’ve made Brass into a work of art. And  not only Roxley revamps the game, they also create another version of Brass, with different game play and rules so in short, they make 2 games in this project, Brass Lancashire (the old and classic one with revamped art and streamlined rules) and Brass Birminghamp (same revamped art but different game play and rules). And guess what, Roxley even offers the bundle package with same cost shipping (USD 19 to Indonesia for both games, so sick cheap). I can’t wait for the games to arrive, though the custom fee for them will hurt my wallet.
Find the KS link here.

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Ain’t this beautiful?

Let’s move on to another topic, with Gloomhaven on my play list, I kinda short list my acquisitions lately. Well can’t say lately since I just starting this month. But for what it’s worth, I usually posting my loot monthly, so each month I will take a group photo of my newly acquired games all in the same month, and then post it on my facebook or instagram. And for April, there is none! Yeaaay… isn’t that something? Though I must say that I cannot do the same in the next month, since right at this moment a friend of mine is hand carrying Cottage Garden from Netherlands, weee…. Okay it’s been something that we (my wife and I) have been looking for, cannot find it here. So I hope Gloomhaven will occupy my gaming time in the near future and keep my purchase into a tight belt, there are good and bad sides to that, sadly.

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Time to go back into Gloomhaven

Okay, though it’s already 30th April and Tabletop day is passed, but not the spirit, we’re going to play some more and tomorrow I will attend a small event near my place held by my FLGS, Monopolis Wonder. Will demo one or two good heavy Euro games, hopefully things go smooth. In case you interested to join me, check here.
See ya and happy gaming!

 

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That Rush of Blood Up to Your Head

pic2439223_mdBlood Rage Review
Eric M. Lang is a great designer, no doubt about that. He has his own fans, to say the least. One notorious work He had done is Chaos in The Old World and damn, its so friggin’ amazing. I love it, not just because the theme, but the asymmetrical aspect of the game, the clever plays, interactions and full of conflict. “No offense, you’re just in my way” is something you recall it often when playing this.

So years after He designed Chaos in The Old World, He announced a new title that He claimed, shares the same concept but better than Chaos in The Old World. He even meant that it’s what Chaos should be. The game is Blood Rage, not published under Fantasy Flight banner but Cool Mini or Not, which was a potential publisher to be reckon with. The game was on Kickstarter and managed to amassed a great deal of pledges. So let’s join me to see what Blood Rage really is.
A reminder that what I talk about here is the Kickstarter edition, not retail, so expect some differences in components.

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What you get: Kickstarter Exclusives

The Theme
Blood Rage is a bloody game (you probably could guess it by its title). It sets in a Norse Mythology where Vikings believe in. Vikings go to battle, to win wars, come out victorious, plunder the glory or die in Valhalla in the name of Odin, their God. In this game, players take control over a Viking Clan (Raven, Wolf, Bear, Serpent) and try to appease the Gods so they will reward them with glory. The game takes place in the nine realms with Yggdrasil or The Tree of Life located in the center connecting those realms.

The Artworks
As you might already see, this game has many particular reasons why it’s so appealing, and one of them is the artworks, created by Adrian Smith. Smith is definitely one talented artist that could bring the illustrations and imaginations to life. His drawings are simply amazing, really evoking with the theme, setting and tone of it. Each character here is drawn very detailed and has its own persona or characteristic. Given by the theme and the clear visual cue about the game, I remind those who do not like images with horror and terrible looks, gruesome, dark, bloody and a bit of nudity, so not really a good choice for kids underage.

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Unboxing

The Game Components
This is for The KS version, with KS exclusive monsters. The most eye candy of all are of course its miniatures, with the total more than 50 miniatures.  Thanks to Kickstarter, each clan has 2 different poses for the warrior figures, so a bit of flavor and variant there. The monsters are excellently sculpted, they’re the ones that draw many attentions on top of the table, like Sea Serpent, Fire Giant or Fenrir (they’re big). And considering this is CMoN collaboration with Studio McVey, no surprise the quality is top notch. The board and cards are okay, wished that the player boards weren’t too flimsy but if they were thicker  the box wouldn’t able to fit them all. And speaking of the box, it’s just like the usual square box with more depth, due to the many components inside. The cover art is evoking, though upon close inspection, I did find the figure posed quite off. Aside from the box, there are two separate kraft-boxes inside the game box. These boxes are used to store all the miniatures inside. One for monsters, and one for units with plastic insert inside. Pretty cool to get things organized but unfortunately this also means more effort on setup and clean up. There are differences between retail and Kickstarter editions, which really shown in the components. Kickstarter editions have more monsters, plastic tokens instead of cardboard and also plastic figures for first player marker and the phase tracker, pretty neat things.

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The Monsters from Base Game

The Game Play
When you get a first look on Blood Rage, the visual presentation, some of you might think that this game is about hack and slash your opponents down to nothing. Just kill and destroy to win the game. This is where you are wrong. Aside from the visual, this game is pure Euro with a shot of direct conflict, not a regular Ameritrash (AT). The theme is strong, but when you strip them down, it has remarkable Euro feats such as drafting, area control and tableau building.
The game lasts for 3 ages (rounds), each age is broken down to several phases: God’s Gifts Phase – Action Phase – Quest Phase – Ragnarok Phase – Release Valhalla
God’s Gifts
The game is mainly divided into 2 major parts, this is the first. In this phase, players are given 8 cards, where they will draft until they have 6 cards. Discard the leftover cards and go to the next phase.
Action Phase
In this phase, from the first player and continues clockwise, players will take turns to do one of the possible actions (Invade, March, Upgrade, Commit Quest and Pillage). Before getting into the actions in detail, each player has a player board which contains spaces for upgrade cards, tracks for Rage, Glory and Honor points. Players will play upgrade cards to improve their factions, advance in Rage track to do more actions in each age, advance in Glory track to score more points  when winning battle and also advance in Honor track to increase their unit limit in the board. OK let’s back to Actions.
Invade – This is the basic action how to place units into the game board. In a single turn, player can take this action to place a unit (exactly one) into any unoccupied slot on the outer province (not in Yggdrasil, which cannot be invaded through basic action). Each province has different (and limited) amount of slots and once it’s occupied, no unit may occupy the slot. Invade with a unit costs rage points (the amount is usually based on the unit Strength,shown in the left top corner of the card / image) except if it’s a leader unit (the rest being warrior or monster units), which is free to invade.
March – If Invade is about adding units inside the game board, March is about moving units from one province to another. This is the basic way to move your units on the board. The cost is cheap, only 1 Rage to do a March, in which you can choose more than one unit in one province to move into another province (Yggdrasil also counts, so this is the basic way to move units into Yggdrasil). Yggdrasil is an area that is located in the center of the map / board (surrounded by all provinces), and it doesn’t have slots for units, there’s no limit in this place.
Upgrade – This action requires players to play an upgrade card from their hand. Upgrade cards are divided into several types such as warrior, leader, clan, monster and ship upgrades. Players play these cards into their board by spending Rage points shown in the left top corner of the cards. These cards is the core mechanic that make players have asymmetric powers one from another along the game progresses.
Commit Quest – Quest is one out of many ways to gain points. To complete a quest, players not only to do / achieve some sorts of condition or tasks but also they have to commit on the quest first. To do this, they have to have a quest card (from the drafting) and play it when taking this action (by committing the quest) and only then they can gain the rewards from completing the quest. But no worry, even if you cannot complete the quest, there is no penalty at all (aside from failing to get points), kinda weird huh? Well, the interesting part doesn’t lies in that reason. There are many things going on in this action, at first I thought there’s not enough incentives not to play quests or why not if there’s no penalty. The twist here lies on timing and situation, which in this kind of game, are very important things.
Pillage – One last action is Pillage. With pillage, players try to conquer provinces, and sometimes if there are other factions join in, it turns to battle. It doesn’t cost players rage point to do it, but the trick is the player must still have rage points. Pillage can only be done when the player has at least a unit in the questioned province and it’s still not successfully pillaged yet. When doing Pillage, other players in clockwise order from the pillager have the opportunity to jump in if, there’s still unoccupied slot in that province and They have a unit in adjacent province to spare. After that, battle happens (if there are 2 or more factions in the disputed province). The battle is simple, pillaging players must play a card (if they have any) from hand and reveal it simultaneously. They sum the strength of their unit and the strength value listed on the battle card played (only battle cards are counted), don’t forget to resolve the effect in the card if any. Player with the most strength wins the battle, gain the reward listed in the province, glory points and discard his played card. The losers, may keep their card and all their units are moved into Valhalla (destroyed).
This phase ends when all players have passed their turn. Then players must discard their hands down to 1 card.
Quest Phase
Now players check their committed quests, whether they fulfill the quest or not. If they fulfilled their quests, they receive the points listed and have to advance one step from one of the three tracks. Luckily, if you cannot complete the quest, no harm’s done.
Ragnarok Phase
During this phase, Ragnarok happens in the province shown in the progress board. All the units in that province are destroyed and sent to Valhalla. Seems bad, right? Well, not entirely bad if you want it, at least it compensates you with glory points for each unit dying in Ragnarok. This could be profitable for players, since the points for each unit dying because of it increase over age. So this could be a strategy to keep in mind, especially in the last age because there is no point of having units at the end of the game, why not make them give you points.

The game ends after the third age, which players tally up their scores based on their tracks (each track gives +10 or +20 points when reached the last or second to last place in its track. Player with most glory points, wins the game.

The game core mechanic is drafting, which is essential because the cards drafted will determine players’ actions and strategy. Players will build their factions by the cards they played, adding monsters into their faction and improve their clan or units. The cards in each age are different, they’re progressing in strength and also reward. This drafting requires players to know the cards first, what they can do and how they works with other cards to make better combos. So for new players, this could be a disadvantage but since everything will  be easier in the subsequent plays, I suggest do not worry about this, consider the first play as learning session.
The cards (or you can say faction progression / improvements) provide the strategy aspect of the game, meanwhile the deployment of units represents the tactical side of the game. This game is very tactical in nature, where you deploy units and when, really affecting the outcome of the game in a very big way. Even a small decision can make or break your plan. Units deployment is very important because it affects a lot more than you can imagine, the slots are limited, so first one get dibs. Players also has limitation of unit on the board and also rage points strictly limiting your options. Timing also takes a great part in this game, since placing units and pillaging will relate heavily on your opponents’ plans.

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Miniatures with plastic insert

My Thoughts on The Game
The game is great from many aspects, components, theme, the artworks and also the game play. At first this game had been compared with Chaos in The Old World, another game the designer made in the past (which also one of the greatest game ever made), even at some point the designer himself said that Blood Rage is the kind of game where He wanted Chaos in The Old World to become, this statement was really intriguing, but after experience it in person, I must admit that this don’t have that material to be on the same level as Chaos in The Old World, but make no mistake, it doesn’t  mean it’s bad and it doesn’t have better things than Chaos in The Old World itself. It’s a whole different kind of game. Chaos relies heavily in the asymmetrical aspect of each factions and this brings issue in the player count that leaves unbalance play. Chaos has such deep and clever play of cards and units throughout the map. Blood Rage has simple rules and easy game play and of course with shorter game length. The miniatures are top notch, better than Chaos, obviously.
While it presents with direct conflicts, Blood Rage doesn’t place the winning strategy winning battles, players may also pursue different strategies, this leads the game to have another interesting aspect, which is bluffing in the card play. “Sometimes losing is the best way” phrase really plays its part in this game.

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Aside from many goodness of the game, the game also has bad sides, which in my defense aren’t many. I thought the box quality is too thin given the weight of the components, the player boards and Age tracker are too flimsy thin, the cards aren’t in linen finish but that’s okay. The only big disappointment for me is the box is already too full to accommodate the expansions and fifth player expansions (you can put it all but need certain modification to the insert which already good enough for me and wanted to keep it that way).

Replay Value
To be honest, there’s not much replay value in the game, aside the different card plays and combinations. There is no variable player powers, the boards always the same, monsters in play can offers good variables but that’s also limited. All the cards are almost used in the game, so not many variability involved. Of course there are expansions, the God of Asgard and Mystics of Midgard which add game play variants. The rest lies in the player interactions and how they play.

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Posted by on January 10, 2017 in Board Games, Euro Games, Kickstarters, Reviews

 

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