Thursday, January 5, 2012

2012 Board Game Review – Part 2

This is a continuation of my game reviews of games played at Lone Star Gaming Fest 2011.  In Part 1 I reviewed Hamsterrolle (a.k.a. Hamster Wheel), Inca Empire, Defenders of the Realm, and Martian Dice (along with Zombie Dice).

Endeavor (3-5 players)
Endeavor is set in the Age of Sail and you are attempting to build your empire to score the most points when the game ends.  Your empire is a separate board from the main board where you keep track of buildings built and resource “tech” levels, plus resource cards from overseas colonies.

I was hoping for a more “conqueror the board”-style game and this isn’t it.  This is more of a “build up our ability to do things so you can do more things”-style game.  You start with the same “tech” as everyone in four categories: “buildings”, “people”, “recycle people”, “hand size”.  These are not their actual names, but what they do.  “Buildings” determines what level of building you can build, with higher level buildings being more flexible in granted abilities or just more of them.  “People” is how many tokens you get at the beginning of the turn to do things with.  “Recycle People” lets you pull people off of buildings (jobs) they were put on last turn, both giving you more people to do things with this turn and clearing the buildings to be used again.  “Hand size” is how many resource cards you can hold at the end of your turn, starting at one and going up to five.

Buildings are the primary way to get actions beyond “put a guy in an empty space in Europe”.  You need buildings to sail to the other parts of the world, buildings to attack places settled by other players, and buildings to draw resource cards.

I did everything wrong in this game.  I built a barracks to seize a site in Europe from another player to grab a resource when I should have either built a building to improve the resource or (more likely) built a building to so I could sail to other areas and get the resources without losing a guy to combat.  Because my ability to go overseas was limited to the use of one-shot tokens I captured during play, I was hindered in doing just about everything else.  Not surprisingly, I came in last.

I want to play this game again, knowing what I know now.  This seems to be that kind of game where the first time you play you get drubbed but learn how the game really works.  I’m not certain I’d buy this game right now, it depends on how my replay goes.  If you like a resource development game, this game should work for you.

Shogun (2-4 players, but really, you need 4 players)
Shogun is an old fashioned “conqueror feudal Japan” game, which I like.

The game is technically eight rounds long, with each round being a season (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter), but the winter season is mostly checking for revolts due to lack of rice and scoring points.  In each round (except winter), ten actions are taken in a random order determined by shuffling a deck and dealing out the actions.  The first five are dealt face up, the second five face down.  Players perform each action together in player order.  Actions are assigned at the beginning of each round by placing one of your territory cards face down on your action board (shows the ten actions and gives a place to play one card for each) in each space.  You also have five cards for bidding on turn order, which can also be put on regular actions to indicate you are not performing that action.  You have to place a card on each action and only one card, so you are going to do each action only once per round, including gather rice to feed your army and raise taxes to pay for things (like building castles, temples, and No theatres and raising more troops).  There are two attack actions, so you can attack twice, but from two different regions.

Oh, and remember that you only know the order of the first five actions when you are planning, the next five will be revealed one at a time as the round progresses.  Hope your raise taxes action happens before that territory is captured.

Armies are represented by cubes and combat is done by putting invading cubes and defending cubes into a dice tower and comparing what comes out.  Cubes will get stuck in the tower and reappear later, which adds randomness to the combats.  Territories produce different amounts of rice and taxes, so you want to place better territories on those actions, but each time you do those actions that territory gets a revolt marker.  Once you get above one marker, a revolt will be triggered and you have to fight peasant armies.  And peasants stay angry, even when a new player conquerors the territory.

The winter phase causes rice usage and spoilage based on a mechanism I won’t go into here, but is well done.  Run out of rice and you get revolt markers on random territories and, as above, if you get two or more on a territory, you have to fight the peasants.  Then you score points.  Points are scored for territories owned; castles, temples, and No theatres built; and having the most of each building in a region (group of about 8 territories).

I played a three-player game of this and remembered why three-player games like this are bad: they end up being two players versus one player games, not three player games.  I, of course, was the man in the middle.  Plus side, the game is relatively short, so the agony was finite.  Minus side, you REALLY need four players to play this.

I might buy this game eventually, but it is not a high priority unless I can get it cheap.

Age of Steam (3-6 players)
Age of Steam is a rail game where you place track tiles and move cargo from source cities to destination cities.  The resources are randomly placed at the beginning of the game (they are represented by colored cubes), so no game should be identical, providing a high re-playability.  Money for doing things is gained by issuing shares.  Money is used to lay track, costs dependent upon what you have to build over and how complex the track depicted is, and bidding on turn order.  However, at the end of the turn you have to pay your shareholders and upkeep on your train, so spend your money wisely.

That’s really about it.  There are expansion sets that add new maps and tweak the rules.  We played on the map of Ireland, which is in Expansion set 1.  I liked this game a lot.  I was leery about a rail game with shares (I’m not a fan of the 18xx series of games), but this is abstracted and no representations of shares are actually used, just a track to keep track how much you owe at the end of each turn.  It is about as complex a rail game as I care to play and kept my attention.  I could teach this to an average person and not lose them.  I will probably track down a copy of this game and buy it so I have access to it.  It will be the upper end of railroad games I teach at my wife's tea get-togethers.

Fortune and Glory (1-8 players)
Fortune and Glory is a game about pulp action heroes searching the world for ancient artifacts.  This game can be player either competitive (the basic game) or cooperative, which is something I look for in a game nowadays (the cooperative part, not the ability to do both, although that is cool as well).  In the cooperative mode, you race against Nazis or Mobsters, trying to gain enough fortune tokens before the opposing vile organization meets their (lower) quota.

Artifacts are comprised two cards, an artifact (like a crown or hammer or throne) and an adventure (of Poseidon, of the Monkey God, of Lost Souls).  Each deck is 30-40 cards (I haven’t counted them), so the odds of a repeat combination is very rare.  The players go to various locations across the world (drawn randomly when the artifact is drawn) to find the artifacts.  There they have to overcome 2 to 5 dangers before they can claim the artifact.  The dangers require the adventurer beat a test based on one of their four stats: Agility, Lore, Cunning, and Combat, with each character being ranked between 2 to 4 in each.  The stat tells you how many dice you get to roll, the test tells you the target number and how many successes.  Many danger cards give you an option between two dangers, but sometimes you just get one option.

Ok, bad news up front: this game is $100.  The good news: it’s worth it.  The production quality is high, there are a ton of components (something like 11 decks of cards to draw from, plenty of tokens to cover the board, pieces sculpted to look like all the characters and the major villains, pieces for Nazi goons and mobster thugs, dice, and even a soundtrack CD), and the game is a lot of fun.  There is a very high replayability factor game as the combination of artifacts, locations, and bad guy results varies from game to game.

I’ve only played cooperative mode, but others borrowed my copy to play competitively.  I’ve played a couple of games where we got close to losing to the vile organization and a couple of times when the bad guys weren’t much of a threat.  I think the difference is in the random placement of the artifact locations: if they are clumped together near the character starting points, the game is easier than if they are spread far away.

I would have bought this if I had not been warned I was getting it for Christmas.

Factory Fun (2-5 players)
Factory Fun is about quickly placing machines on your factory floor and connecting them to reservoirs (you start with one each of four colors) and output reservoirs (so they don’t spill on the floor).  Note, if you have trouble telling colors apart due to color blindness, this game may cause you some trouble.

Each player starts with a stack of 10 random machines and simultaneously flips the top one over with the other players.  You then grab one you think you can place (not necessarily your own), put it on your factory board, and then place the reservoirs and/or connector pipes.  Each machine is worth a certain number of points (I saw values from 4 to 13).  Adding pipes, source reservoirs, output reservoirs, or moving previous placed items cost points.  Subtract the cost to legally place the machine from the points the machine gives and adjust your score.  At the end of the game there are bonus points for connecting the output of one machine to the input of another.

This sounds simple, but you have a limited number of sources (one of each color) and only three output reservoirs, so about half way through you have to start getting creative to connect the machines in, using over/under pieces and T-shaped pieces to get things where you need them.

The game needs a rule that states you cannot pick up a machine until you are ready to add it to your factory.  There may be such a rule, but I did not get a chance to fully read the rules and learned from folks who were playing nice.  The second group was more competitive and had an annoying habit of picking up the most valuable machine and then seeing if there was any way to actually place it, holding on to it until they were certain they couldn’t actually use it and then tossing it back.  This behavior slows the game down as players wait to see if a better piece will get thrown back by someone who had no reason to pick it up in the first place.

This game was a lot of fun for me as I enjoyed puzzling out how to add pieces, but if you are not quick at this, this game can be very frustrating as the other players grab all the better stuff first, especially if they grab for points and not for usability.  I plan on buying this game, but instituting a house rule about players getting prematurely grabby.

Mondo, King of Tokyo, Cargo Noir, Olympos - some of my favorite games all convention

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