Thursday, January 4, 2018

2017 Board Game Review

I made it back to the Lone Star Gaming Fest again this past New Year’s weekend.  For fiscal reasons my wife and I were only able to attend three of the four days, but we still had a great time.  Next year we should have enough saved up to stay at the hotel at least three nights and attend all four days of the convention.  I am very much looking forward to that.

Now, on to the game reviews.

Twilight Imperium, 4th Edition (2-8 players)
Released in November 2017, the fourth edition of Twilight Imperium is exactly what I wanted from a long form strategic game: clear play without crunchy-rule inspired game delays.  I last played TI using 2nd Edition and it was a slogfest that lasted all day.  They’ve made tweaks to the rules and presentation of tech so that the game with 3 new-ish players (none of us had played 4th edition) and one teaching player only took six hours from box opening until we had a winner.  Actual game play (as opposed to board setup and rules explanation) was about 4.5 hours.  The player mats had all the ships and their stats laid out and tech upgrade cards to ships fit right on top of the old ship stats.  This allowed players to easily see what each other’s ships could do without having to continually ask what was upgraded and what wasn’t.  The public objectives are now do-able for modest payouts and none of the secret objectives were stupid hard, speeding up scoring during the game and shortening overall game length.

I liked this enough that I want to join the local TI player’s group so I can play it more.  The $150 price tag is a bit steep for me to buy a copy myself, but if I get more plays in this year, it might become reasonable to do.

Unfair (2-5 players)
The goal of Unfair is to build the best theme park using Rides, Upgrades, and occasionally throwing dirty tricks at your competitors.  The game lasts 8 turns (with players getting 3-4 actions in rounds each turn) and whoever has the most points in rides at the end wins.  Rides score points based on the number of upgrades added and I should note the scoring chart goes up to 36 upgrades with the value per upgrade increasing the further up you go.  Points are also scored for money in hand and a few other methods based on cards played in game.  The artwork is great and the color text on the cards is a hoot.

Like Smash-up, there are different themed sub-decks that are selected and added together to create the common decks the players will draw from.  The themes are fun and add flavor, but don’t dominate gameplay.  The game I played included Robots, Jungle, Gangsters, and B-Movies (a theme being play-tested and not currently published).

This was very fun and is now on my Must Acquire list.  Gameplay was about 2 hours, but it was getting late and we started losing track of whose turn it was.  I think with repeat play the playtime will drop down noticeably.  This game is easily teachable to non-gamers.

London Underground (prototype) (2-6 players)
There were several prototype games being played at the convention and this was one of them.  It was Saturday morning, I was looking for a game, and allowed myself to be roped into playing this one.  I was surprised by how engaging it turned out to be.  It uses an actual map of the London subway system, which was attractive.  You moved your token along the rails making deliveries (it is, in its essence, a train game).  At the end, the person who won did so just before I was going to and another two players were within stabbing distance of a win as well, so the balance was good.

I can’t go into more detail, but when this comes out I think I want a copy.

Liar’s Dice (tournament) (2-8 players)
This was fun, but the rules version where a failed challenge cost you the difference in dice washed me out early.  The version of the rules I’m familiar with costs you only one die and losing four in one go was a surprise.  Still had fun and stayed to watch my table play out.

The sets used in the tournament were home-built using components from a teacher supply store with printed rules and a board to show the current “bet”.  My wife scored a set for home use after the tournament.

Sol: Last Days of a Star (1 to 4 players)
Confession: I love this game.  Friends own a copy of Sol and I ask to play it every time they bring it over.  It is on my Must Acquire list, right at the top, and where part of my tax refund is going this year.  I taught the game to three other players, including the owners of this particular set who owned it but had never played it.  There is also a solo version of the game, but I've never tried those rules out.

In the far future, the sun is dying.  The far descendants of humanity need to power colony ships to escape before the sun goes nova.  To get the power they need, they must harvest it from the sun.  This is further destabilizing the sun, making the nova more immanent.  Game on!

The colony ships orbit the sun (also providing a mechanism to track whose turn it is) while smaller sundiver ships dive into the sun to build the structures necessary to harvest energy, transmit energy to the colony ships, and build more sundivers.  The deeper into the sun the stations are built, the more effective they are but the faster they destabilize the sun.  Destabilization is handled by drawing cards from a deck, the deeper the layer, the more cards drawn (from one to three cards).  In the deck are 13 Flare cards.  When the 13th one is drawn, the sun goes nova and only the colony ship with the most momentum (victory points) escapes.  Everyone else dies in the nova.  This makes the game a balance of getting things done versus blowing up the sun before you are ready.  When the deck starts getting low, things get tense.

This game is worth the cost.  The components are beautiful and the theme meshes well with the game play.  Gameplay is about 2 hours, depends on how much analysis paralysis your players are susceptible to.  The only downside to this game is that the silver colony ship looks like a pair of kids scissors (which has no bearing on play, but really guys?).  I don’t know what the manufacturers were thinking, but there it is.  (I always play blue.)  Other than that one minor thing, this is really a perfect game.

Divinity Derby (3-6 players)
Divinity Derby was just released in December and is beautiful.  The fully painted mythological monsters are beautiful, the board is beautiful, the cards are beautiful.  There was some argument over whether or not the players have enough information at the beginning of the game to place their bets on the racing monsters.  I think there is from 3 to 5 players, but for 6 players maybe not.  As a result of this argument, two of the five players left after the first of three races and the game ended, which was unfortunate.

The players sit around the table and between each player seat is a card holder with six cards.  You can look at the cards adjacent to you and use that information to place face-down 2 bet cards on two different monsters.  Part way through the race you will be able to place a third bet.  The bet cards have one to three race positions on them.  The more positions listed, the less the bet is worth.

Once bets are placed, players take turns playing one card each from the two racks next to them.  The Race cards show a monster and two values (ranging 0-3 plus a 5), one greater than the other.  Of the two cards, the player plays one at the high value and one at the low value.  The values are how many spaces the monster on the card will move, then the cards are discarded.  The race ends when all the Race cards are played.  Some of the cards can be played as dirty tricks, which risks the monster being disqualified by Zeus at the end of the race, depends on whether he was paying attention or not (random draw).

There are also two special power cards for each deity that are unique to the deity and either modify race positions or bets or whether or which dirty tricks might get noticed.

I liked this game and want to play it again.  I’d also like to read the rules instead of having them explained to me.  There was a point that came up that I would have liked verified.  At $40 this is a good deal.

Camel Up Card Game (2-6 players)
Racing camels and betting on them each round and for the over all race – that’s Camel Up Card Game.  This is the Camel Up (originally Camel Cup) board game in cards.  Each round the players choose 3 of 6 cards to be included in the race, some being shown and some being kept as a hole card.  This provides great replayability as you never know exactly which camels will move or how far each round.  Each turn a player performs a race action (which moves the camels along the races track) and optionally performs a betting action (which is where you get points).  Our race lasted three rounds because I pushed the lead camel across the line, so 3-4 rounds seems likely for each game, meaning a 30 minute play time is possible.  I think 45-60 minutes will be more likely, depending on how chatty the players are and, again, on analysis paralysis.

If you like Camel Up, you will like this game.  If you want a short racing game, you’ll probably like this game.  For $19.99, you can’t go too far wrong.  I’ll be buying this game this year, now that I’ve played it.

Azul (2-4 players)
Another beautiful game that is tactilely pleasing, Azul is literally a tile placement game where the players are selecting sets of tiles from the common play area to slowly fill a tile floor pattern on their play card.  Options for tiles are to draw a set from factories, discarding the remaining tiles to the center, or drawing a set from the center.  Like Yahtzee, you can only score sets of fixed numbers, ranging from one-of-a-kind to five-of-a-kind.  Extras fall to your workfloor row and count as negative points at the end of the round.  Points are scored at the end of each round for adjacent tiles and at the end of the game for complete sets and rows or columns of tiles.

This game can play quickly, but analysis paralysis will kill it, dragging out what should be a relatively quick game.  Non-gamers will be able to understand this game and it makes a good family game (for, you know, gamer families).

The bad news is that this game is currently out of stock.  If you can get it for the MSRP of $40 or near that, do it.  Otherwise, wait until the restock in March 2018.  It’s worth it.

Mystic Vale (2-4 players)
Mystic Vale is a deck building game where the sleeved cards can be upgraded with inserts.  The game comes with more than enough sleeves for the player decks.  The inserts stick a bit when the game is first opened, so you need to separate them before attempting a shuffle.  They did not re-adhere to each other during play, so that seems to be a one-time issue.  The rules are laid out well for learning the game.

The number of cards you have to work with each turn varies from 2 to “a lot”.  How many cards you get is limited by the blight icon that appear on cursed lands and some of the upgrades (you stop at 3 and bust on 4).  There are two economies: mana for card upgrades and spirit symbols for vale cards that provide constant benefits each turn.  The card upgrades are on transparent cards that with images that occupy the top middle or bottom of the card.  You may not overlap images and some of your starting cards have images on them, so this will limit you.  Plan ahead with your upgrades.

The MSRP is $44.99 and this seems to be a fair price for everything that comes with the game.  There are already three released expansions and likely more on the way.  If you like deck building games, this is a good game.  If you are so-so on deck building games, you might still look at this.  The number of cards in your deck never changes, but the cards keep getting better as you play.  This avoids the long wait for a particular card that can happen in games like Dominion.  My wife, who hates deck-building games, loves this game.


One Deck Dungeon (1-2 players, 4 with two sets of the game)
I didn’t play this at the convention, but it ended up among my games when I got home and unpacked.  It had ID in it, so I know who to return it to, but in the meantime, we played a couple games of it and loved it.

One Deck Dungeon allows one or two players (four if you combine two sets) to explore a small dungeon, represented by a deck of cards.  The deck of cards are a timing mechanism for each of three dungeon levels (you flip two cards to the discard pile each turn) and represent the rooms with monsters you can explore for experience, loot, or skills.  Each turn you either explore (and draw face down cards so there are 4 rooms to explore) or kick down a door and face either a monster or trap.  If what you find behind the door is too scary to face right now, you can flee and end your turn.  Otherwise, you roll dice to resolve the trap or kill the monster.

You will always kill the monster of get past the trap.  What you are really doing is rolling dice and placing them on the card's threat spots to minimize the consequences the room.  If you don’t roll well enough with the right dice (yellow for fighting skill, pink for agility, blue for magic, and black wild dice) to cover all the challenge squares on the card, you take the effects of the uncovered squares.  This can be damage, time lost, or both.

At the bottom of the deck is a stairs card.  When this comes up you either descend to the next level of the dungeon or linger on this level to finish kicking down doors.  The danger of lingering is that there are no more cards to discard for time, so instead you put damage tokens on the deck.  Every time there are three tokens, the players must allocate a point of damage to a character.  Linger too long and a character can die and the dungeon wins.

After the third level, you must face the dungeon boss.  This fight will take multiple rounds as the boss only takes damage from certain threat spots on its card and can take more damage than can be dealt in one round.  If you have not improved your characters enough, this fight can be very, very tough.  Again, if either player dies, the dungeon wins.

I plan to buy a set of this and a set of the expansion when the expansion comes out at the end of March.  Depending on how well they play together or separate, I may buy a second set of both for 4-player mode.  At $20 for One Deck Dungeon and $25 for the expansion/second game, it’s a good deal.

That's it for this year.  Session 3 of Under the Mountain will appear next week.

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