Monday, January 4, 2016

2015 Board Game Review

I was not able to make it to Lone Star Gaming Fest (again!), but I have played several new boardgames recently, so I’m reviewing them as my semi-regular boardgaming review.

Aye, Dark Overlord (4-6 players)
I played this at Jon Con 1, a memorial convention/wake for a friend of mine who died very unexpectedly this year.

Aye, Dark Overlord is a game where the players take turns being the Dark Overlord while the rest of the table are the Dark Overlord’s goblin minions.  The Dark Overlord’s latest Evil Plan has failed and the minions have to explain why it wasn’t their fault, deflecting blame to the other minions until one of them is finally executed.

This game is all about spontaneous storytelling and blame deflection.  The Dark Overlord gives a sentence about what the Evil Plan was and then starts accusing the minions of making it fail.  The Minions have to come up with plausible (and entertaining) explanations of how it wasn’t their fault, it was the fault of one of the other minions.  There are cards that assist in shifting the blame, but the real fun is in the spontaneous stories of why you can’t be the reason the Evil Plan failed.

Also, it is NEVER the Dark Overlord’s fault, even when it is his fault.  Pointing out it was the boss’s fault to the boss is a fast ticket to being executed.

I enjoyed playing this a lot.  The first game was a bit stiff as the players learned the game.  In the follow-up games things loosened up and we all had great fun playing.  We played about 4-5 games in a row before I moved on to get snacks and a soda.

The Stars Are Right (2-4 players)
I played this for the first time at Jon Con 1 this year.  The Stars Are Right is a board manipulation game to make patterns of stars on the board to summon Cthulhu Mythos servitors.  First to 10 points of servitor creatures wins the game as the stars are now right to summon a Great Old One!

Each player has a hand of cards, each being a servitor of three levels of power.  The “board” is a grid of cards, each showing a number of stars, a phase of the moon, an eclipse, or a comet.  The servitors allow you to manipulate the board tiles in several ways.  If you get the stars on the board to match the configuration shown on a card, you “summon” that servitor into play, which grants you more abilities to manipulate the board each turn.  Servitors are also worth points each, which are necessary to win the game.

I liked the puzzle solving aspect of this game – how do I manipulate the board so I can summon one of the servitors in my hand, preferably one worth many points or providing a needed board manipulation capability.  As every player is manipulating the board on their turn, planning ahead is limited as the board can be completely different than when it was your turn last.  This means you need to think on your toes and be good at pattern recognition to spot possibilities on the board.

Splendor (2-4 players)
My wife hosts a tea on the second Sunday of each month, which tends towards board gaming with up to 7 different kinds of tea available to drink.  This game was brought by a couple who irregularly attends.

Splendor is a game of first to 15 points being the winner.  Points come from gem cards purchased by chips representing different gem colors or having enough gems to garner a patron(s).  On your turn you pick up additional chips, buy a gem card, or reserve a card and get a gold chip (which is wild, color-wise).  Gem cards also supply chip equivalents each turn, allowing you to buy more expensive cards with fewer chips.  There is a fixed number of chips in the game and the colors can run out if multiple players want a particular color.

This one is a lot of fun and, while it may sound complicated, can be taught to non-gamers quickly.  It is on my list to acquire myself now that Christmas has passed.

Cyclades (2-5 players)
I played Cyclades during my Christmas holiday and everyone at the table enjoyed it.  Control of islands on the board gives you gold pieces (I wished they had called them obols, but that’s my Classics degree speaking up), gold pieces are used to give offerings to the gods, the gods let you do things on the map.

There are 5 deities, four of which get shuffled each turn into a different turn order (Ares, Poseidon, Zeus, and Athena) and one that is always last and helps keep you in the game (Apollo).  Bidding is like bidding for genes in Evo – each player in turn order places a bid on the deity of their choice.  If a later player overbids them, the earlier player either bids on a different deity or ups their bid on this one until each player has an uncontested bid.

The deities let you do multiple things: Ares allows the builder to build armies, move armies across an previously existing bridge of ships to another island, and/or build a fortress to defend an island.  The overall goal is to control two metropolises by either building them or conquering them.  They are built by either having a set of buildings that the different deities grant access to or have 4 philosopher cards (from Athena).  There are also classic Greek monsters available as cards that can be purchased and that grant different one-shot abilities.

I very much look forward to playing this again

Mission: Red Planet (2nd Ed.) (2-4 players)
I bought Mission: Red Planet after looking at it several times over several visits to my FLGS.  Sending Victorian astronauts to Mars and fighting for control over the resources?  Sounds good to me, but will it be fun?  Then some Christmas money found its way into my pocket and quietly burned a hole large enough for this game.

Each turn each player chooses one of nine roles in their starting hand.  Each role adds 1-2 astronauts to waiting rockets and does something else.  Once the role is used, it goes to a discard pile, but one of the roles recycles the discard pile back into your hand.  When to do this is a critical choice that has to be made – the game is 10 turns long and you have to play a role each turn.

The roles are also numbered from 1 to 9 and each turn after roles are secretly picked, a count-down starts and when it reaches the number of the picked role, that player takes their turn.  In case of tie, the player who is closest in line to the first player goes and then the next and so on.  First player moves each turn to the person who went last the previous turn.

Mixed into the turn clock are three production rounds.  In the first round, each mine pays out 1 token to the player with the most astronauts in that region.  The second and third production rounds generate 2 and 3 tokens per mine, respectively.  These tokens are the victory points of the game.  There are also secret missions that score points, but I’m not going into much more detail to keep this review short (-ish).

A good game with multiple levels of strategy and a beautiful set of components - well worth the price.

Tokaido (2-5 players)
Tokaido looks beautiful game and follows its theme very well.  Players are traveling the Tokaido Road following different goals.  There are multiple ways to gain points and each traveler had a different power, so there is no one perfect way to play.

Movement is based on who is furthest behind going next.  Each stop on the road allows the player to do a specific thing, from getting money to giving offerings at a temple, to stopping to paint (gaining a piece in one of three painting sets to be collected).  Villages allow you to collect sets of tchotchke souvenirs.

I’m not certain how I feel about this game.  I’ve played it twice and there are two things that seem to grant too much favor to lucky players.  The first is which two travelers you get to choose between and the second is starting position.  Initial turn order is random and some of the most desirable stops in the first stretch of the road are the first ones.  Those fill up by player 3, so players 4 and 5 have to go further down the road to less desirable locations and wait for the other players to pass them before going again.  Some of the travelers have abilities that will always happen during the game, others have to land on specific locations to use theirs and go the entire game without being able to land on one of those spots.

This is a game I’m willing to play again, but I’m not certain I’ll ever buy my own copy.

Zombicide: Black Plague (2-6 players)
Zombicide: Black Plague is Zombicide with a fantasy re-skin, so I won’t go over how it’s played – you either know already or you just need to know it emulates zombie movies very well and is worth the price tag.  I recommend Zombicide: Rue Morgue for your modern day zombie apocalypse needs.  What I’m going to cover are the differences between the modern and the fantasy versions.

Players play one of six peasant survivors after the zombie plague swept over the kingdom.  The player cards are smaller and fit onto a tray that makes it easier to display what is in your hand(s) and what is in your backpack.  Pegs show what powers are active and the experience track is integral to the tray with a built in slider.  This is all good stuff.  Players also can take three hits before going down under a pile of zombies and can carry up to 5 items in their backpack, both of which are improvements from the 2 hits and 3 items in the modern game.

There are no cars, so this version inserts vault rooms with two entrance/exits on the board and vault rooms each hold an advanced weapon: either the Orc’s Crossbow or the Inferno spell (I might be wrong on the spell name).  In most quests (read: scenarios) you will need to find the blue objective to get the key to the vault(s), but not in the Tutorial.

The addition of necromancers to the zombie mix adds an additional sense of urgency.  They appear at one spawn point (bringing an additional spawn point with them) and try to leave the board by the next nearest one.  If they escape, that new spawn point becomes permanent - kill him and you get to remove any spawn point on the board.  Get six permanent spawn points on the board and you lose.

I like that they kept the starting equipment rules from Zombicide: Rue Morgue.  Being able to select who gets what from the starting items avoids early frustration in the game.

I’m interested in seeing what expansion material comes out for this version of Zombicide.  The 6 starting characters are good, but I’m used to playing with a wide range of characters to choose from.  I’m also used to playing with sets of Zombicide that have multiple add-on packs of zombies.  The second game of Black Plague I played we died due to walkers getting extra actions three times in a row because we weren’t killing them fast enough and ran out.

Worth the cost (once the retail copies make it into the shops - only Kickstarter versions available right now).