Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Freedonia Falls

[This is the beginning of what I'm working on right now.  Would you read more?]
Sol Asteroid Belt, 2235 CE

“Captain, I’ve got engine traces on my screen.  Military ships, based on their velocity.”  The rest of the bridge crew sat upright at this announcement.

Captain Darnell Witfield, a fit black man in his late forties, stepped over behind his sensor officer’s station to see her screens.  “Where are they, what’s their heading, and can they see us?”  Delivering supplies to the asteroid colony wasn’t exactly illegal (yet), but military ships arriving in response to the colony declaring it was not part of the United Government of Earth was not a good sign.  Better to play it safe.

“They’re on the system plane, at 90° from our current vector and heading to Freedonia,” Devorah McCandlish, a woman in her late thirties with curly blonde hair, responded.  “With our latest company sensors we have a roughly 25% advantage in range over them, so I don’t believe they see us yet, but at their current velocity…”  She pressed a few keys and the display changed to show the approaching ships estimated sensor coverage.

“I see it.  They’ll get a glimpse of us soon.”  The captain returned to his own station and spoke to the helm officer, Jason Brownlee, a black man also in his late thirties.  “Mister Brownlee, power down our engines completely.”  The captain then opened the intra-ship channel on his comm unit and stated, “Attention all crew, switch to quiet running.  Repeat: switch to quiet running,” and then shut off his comm unit.  “Comm, send a focused message to Freedonia and warn them they’re about to have UGE visitors.  Then keep our ears open.” 

Most of the crew was familiar with this drill and quickly responded as the background hum from the ships engines quickly died out.  Jo Wagner, the communications officer, a pale woman with long brown hair in her late twenties, was relatively new to the crew of the Rhinesburg and after sending the message to the asteroid colony, she turned and asked the captain, “Why are we hiding from UGE ships?  If they catch us here, won’t they just fine the company?”

“The UGE military has a…history…of over responding,” Captain Witfield replied, biting on a thumbnail.  “This isn’t likely to end well if the UGE sent a military taskforce in response to Freedonia’s declaration of independence.  If Freedonia’s actions have been declared illegal or even treasonous, then any ship caught having just delivered supplies to the colony would be just as guilty and share in the penalty.”

“Which would be…” Jo asked.

“Well, I’m certain their letters of condolences to our next of kin would be very convincing.”

“Ah,” was Jo’s only reply before returning to her console.

“UGE ships are arriving at the colony now,” Devorah interjected.

“I’m getting transmissions on the public frequencies,” Jo added.

“Put them on the main screen and display throughout the ship,” Captain Witfield ordered.

The main viewscreen switched from an exterior view to showing a man in a UGE Navy uniform with a touch of grey in his otherwise black hair.  When he spoke, he had a British accent of some sort, Captain Witfield could not pinpoint from where.  “I am Captain Evan Claibourne of the UGE Fleet.  Per the UGE Charter, no independent governments are allowed.  As you are not a registered Orbital Corporation, you are in violation of UGE law and found to be in open revolt.  As a representative of the UGE, I have been tasked to end this revolt expediently.  Weapon’s Officer: fire.”  The transmission then abruptly ended.

“McCandlish, show me what they’re doing,” Captain Witfield snapped at the sensors officer and the main viewer switched to a display of the UGE ships and the colony.  The paniced response from someone in the colony could be heard over the public channel.

Captain Witfield was able to identify the three UGE ships as a Hound-class destroyer and two Hammer-class corvettes.  The destroyer was just firing its five missile launchers at the colony.  The missiles raced to the asteroid and detonated their nuclear warheads.  The few surface structures on the asteroid were scoured away and the surface of the asteroid fractured.  There was a brief inferno inside the passages and chambers of the colony as the heat from the five nuclear warheads ignited and consumed the air in the colony.  All transmissions from the colony ceased.  The bridge of the Rhinesburg was just as silent.

As the fury of the blasts died down, the UGE ships turned and headed away from the now lifeless asteroid, returning the way they came.

“McCandlish, will any of the debris hit us?” Captain Witfield asked quietly.  When he got no response he repeated himself loudly, “McCandlish!  Will any of the debris hit us?”

This snapped the sensors officer out of it and she looked down at her screens.  “No, sir.  Not for a couple of hours.  We are nearly ten light-minutes away.”

“Good,” Captain Witfield replied.  “Brownlee, once we are out of the taskforce’s sensor range, plot an elliptical course to Mars and then make best speed.  I do NOT want want to run across that taskforce on our way to Mars.”  Captain Witfield got up from his chair and headed towards the exit from the bridge.  “Brownlee, you’re in charge until I return.  I’m going to my cabin to throw up.”

Copyright 2012 by Patrick Walsh
All rights reserved.

Monday, January 23, 2012

An Unusual Beginning to the Year

So, normally (as in for the last 10 years or so), the beginning of the year is a slow time for me at the DayJob and I can easily spend lunch time writing either blog posts or game stuff.

This year...not so much.

I've been solidly busy with a large document where the subject matter expert is a PRIME example of why engineers need technical writers.  If you cannot get your thoughts across in writing and explain your results, that year long study you just did is actually a waste of time.  So I'm at 200+ pages of document so far and I think I have another 200-300 pages to go to get the draft done so his boss can review it and verify he did what was asked.  Of, and the draft is due Feb. 10.  That's do-able for me, but not much time for slacking.

Additionally, the company I work for has recalled all company laptops for a security upgrade they are pushing out through the corporate network.  This will take 3-5 days as the push outs are random to keep the network from getting overloaded, with no way for remote workers to trigger it so we could get in and out in a timely fashion as we are under 10% of the workforce.

Long story short (too late!), I don't have my regular laptop and my back up is about 5 years old and has a bum power cord that keeps the batter from charging, meaning I have to always keep it plugged in when I'm using it.  Not very conducive to going out to some place and writing for an hour or two when most places don't have public plugs.

OK, now I'm just whining a bit.  I'll stop.

In other news, I've got a story for a sci-fi book I want to write and most of my writing time I have is now going to that.  I've been story-boarding and have the first arc outlined.  I'm fleshing out the major points right now (still in story-board format).  When I have some material for folks to look at, I'll post a notice here and request solicitations for reading and feedback.  That won't be for a couple of months as my writing time is somewhat crimped right now.  I'll keep you updated.

Oh, and I now have 6 sessions of Aldelle Group notes needing transliteration into readable format (with another one happening by the time you read this).  Sigh.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2012 Board Game Review – Part 3

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). In Part 2 I reviewed Endeavor, Shogun, Age of Steam, Fortune & Glory, and Factory Fun.

Mondo (1-4 players)
Mondo is an odd little game where the players are racing each other and a clock to build a world for point. Each player has a world board, which is a small grid of empty spaces. One side has water borders, the other’s edge is quartered with each quarter having one of the four environment types: water, desert, plains, forest/jungle. When the timer starts (7 minutes for a 3 player game), the players draw from a common pool of tiles to fill out their world board. The tiles have one to three of the environments on them and you use the multi-environment tiles to form the borders of each biome, which is important as you lose points for mismatches and you can’t move the tiles once they are on your world board (honor system rules used here). There are tiles with bonus points for first to stop building (completed world or not) and you have to grab those. Once you take one of those, you may no longer add tiles to your world, even if you finally spot that perfect piece that will complete your world. Oh, and the pieces are double sided, so the cool piece you want that perfectly borders your desert and ocean biomes? Another player may have played that tile for the flip side, a blank ocean square. Tough luck.

Once time runs out or all the players are done building, scoring happens. Points are scored for animals on tiles, completed biomes (bordered all the way around like a city in Carcasonne), and order you finished. Points are lost for active volcanoes (and all the best pieces seem to have active volcanoes), tile mismatches, and empty spaces. Then you clear the boards and play two more rounds, highest score at the end of the three rounds wins.

I liked this very much and will likely buy a copy sometime this year. The down side is my wife doesn’t enjoy this style of game, wanting more time to contemplate her selections and not having to compete with the other players for tiles, so I won’t get to play it at home a lot without having enough people over to run two games at once so she can play in the other game. Luckily, this happens about once a month when she hosts a tea, so the game is viable for me. In college, this game would have been played often.

King of Tokyo (2-6 players)
In King of Tokyo you play one of six giant monsters fighting each other to be King of Tokyo. The game has stand-ups for each of the monsters, which include a giant ape (The King), a giant robot controlled by a rabbit (Death Bunny), a Godzilla knock off, a Cthulhu knock off, and two others I can’t remember off the top of my head. The board has three locations: the suburbs (where all the monsters start), Tokyo (big enough for one monster stand up only), and Tokyo Bay (equivalent to Tokyo, but only used in 5 and 6 player games). There are 8 dice, but normally you only use 6 of them. Each die has a clawed hand, a heart, a lightning bolt, and the numbers 1, 2, and 3 on them. You get three rolls, keeping what you want each time and rerolling the rest. After your third roll (or if you stop earlier) you apply the icons you have. The numbers 1, 2, and 3 score points if you have a three-of-a-kind and score the number shown, so three 3s scores three points. Each extra of the same number scores a single point more, so five 2s scores (2+1+1=4) points. Hearts heal damage you’ve taken, unless you are in Tokyo. Claws do damage to the monster in Tokyo if you are in the suburbs or ALL the monsters in the suburbs if you are in Tokyo. If you are in Tokyo and get hit, you can yield Tokyo to the attacker (remember you cannot heal while in Tokyo, only take an do damage). Lightning bolts score power cubes, which can be used to buy power-up cards from a deck, the top three cards of which are face up beside the board (so you have a selection to purchase from and know how many cubes you need). In addition to scoring points from the dice, you score one point when you enter Tokyo and TWO points if you start your turn there. First person to 20 points or last monster standing wins the game.

This is on my must purchase list. I had so much fun playing it the first time (even though I died early) I immediately played three more times. Strategizing which dice to keep and which to reroll provides just the right amount of strategy for a game like this. My favorite card was “Throw a tanker”, which gave me two victory points whenever I did three or more damage on my turn, simulating my monster throwing an oil tanker on the other monster(s). Least favorite: poison spit – it was too easy for monsters to get rid of the poison tokens, so I never did more than a single point of extra damage.

Cargo Noir (2-5 players)
In Cargo Noir you are playing a pulp era criminal group fighting for control of ports so you can smuggle goods to buy things: extra freighters, syndicates, extra warehouses, or things for sheer victory points like dive bars, the film industry, or even a principality of your own. “Combat” is done by committing resources in the form of one of you freighters and a stack of gold coins. Control of the port goes to the highest bidder after the other players either don’t send anyone there or withdraw their bid if they did send a freighter there. The port gives you one to four cargo tiles (number is fixed and based on the port and randomly stocked from a bag of tiles), which you either store in your warehouse or turn in sets to buy the cards showing the things mentioned above. At the start your warehouse only holds six cargos and you only have three freighters, so an expansion plan is necessary to get the cargos to pay for the more expensive goods (victory point cards) and the means to expand. Additionally, you can send freighters to either the Black Market or casino in Macao to swap cargo tiles/draw a new one from the bag (Black Market) or make 2 coins (Casino), which is the only way to get the coins to bid for control of the ports to get the cargos to buy the victory points.

There’s a lot going on in this game and I’m skipping a few bits to simplify this, but it is a very fun game. Since the convention I have purchased my own copy of the game and plan on playing it at the tea this weekend. If you get a chance, play this game – you’ll probably want to get your own copy shortly after that.

One note, you cannot return to a port you’ve abandoned in the same turn and syndicates are single payouts, not each time you abandon a port. We missed this one game and it warped game play to an unfun spot. Afterwards we re-read the rules and found our mistake.

Olympos (3-5 players)
In Olympos you are moving your tribe (in the form of counters) across Greece, parts of Turkey, and three isles of Atlantis (which appear on the board south of Greece, but not in the real world). The turn structure is fairly unique: the outer edge of the board is a time track and you move your marker based on the cost of the action you performed. When you finish, whoever’s counter is further back goes next. It often happens that one player gets to take a few small turns in a row if the other players make expensive actions on their turn. Placed on spots around the time track are Olympos cards that represent the gods getting involved and either help or hinder a player based on the god and who has the most or least Zeus tokens.

On your turn you can do an explore action or a discovery action. The explore action involves moving one piece on the board and involves combat if you land in a territory previously controlled by another player. You always win, but how many actions it takes depends upon your combat “technology” (for lack of a better term). Discovery actions involve allocating resources you have under your control to make tech discoveries or build wonders. Examples include horse riding (which makes movement on land dirt cheap in actions), medicine (which makes it cheaper to bring new tokens into play), and things that have swords on them (representing fighting technology – more swords is better). You have two pools of tokens: personal and general. General is used on the tech chart to grant a bonus of some sort for discovering a tech (examples include tokens for your personal pool, one use resources, or hour glass tokens that reduce the cost of your next action). The personal pool is all of the tokens you have to place on the board. As you need to leave a token on a territory to claim its resource (to buy discoveries), you always need more, especially if you are feeling ambitious. Points are scored once all the players pass the last Olympos card, which marks the point where each player gets one last turn. While this could mean that several players have to wait while the other player(s) finish, in practice the players tend to hit this point at about the same time.

This is described as a “gamers game” and I agreed. Sending a piece across the board may look tempting, but it takes a lot of actions to do, meaning it will be a while until your next turn and you may get bored waiting. I plan on buying this game this year. It probably ranks above Mondo and Age of Steam, but I don’t NEED it right now.

That’s it for this year. I’ll post reviews if I play anything new this year before the next Lone Star Gaming Fest. In the meantime, I’ll be posting Aldelle Group adventure journals until I catch up – I’m five sessions behind now as it is and Things Have HappenedTM.


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

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2012 Board Game Review – Part 1

I’m back from Lone Star Gaming Fest again, four days of nothing but boardgaming.  This year we were at a new hotel as the previous one was remodeling (something known about), but part of that remodeling was a reduction in conference space by half (something found out only at the end of summer).  The new facilities were good physically, but the hotel had air conditioning issues, especially during the middle of the day.  My room was OK, but the conference room got warm and the public men’s room was as warm and humid as an indoor pool, including the chlorine smell.

(Note: Yes, it was New Year’s weekend and we are in the northern hemisphere.  Air conditioning was none-the-less necessary and I spent the weekend in t-shirts and shorts, wearing flip flops.  Welcome to Houston “winters”.)

That aside, it was a great con and I had the chance to play several games I wanted to check out and several games I’d never hear of.  Here is my first set of reviews of the games I played at the convention, all for your edification.

Hamster Wheel (2-4 players)
This is a German game and is actually named Hamsterrolle.  Sadly, it is out of print at the moment, which will make it more difficult to track down a copy and I want one.  The game is a block balancing game where you are trying to be the first person out of blocks.  The trick is that you are balancing the blocks on short ledges INSIDE a wooden wheel about a foot in diameter.  Everyone has to put them on the same side, which causes the wheel to roll, moving along the table as each new piece is added.  As previously added pieces climb the “backside” of the wheel, they will eventually fall out.  If that happens after you place your piece, you get all the pieces that fell out of the wheel.  Now you have to place those as well before going out.

It sounds simple and at its core it is, but the strategy comes from placing your next piece in a way that forces the next player to have to play on the next “spoke” up, a spoke that might be angled so their piece will not actually stay or, even better, cause several other pieces to fall when the wheel rolls.

We played on a table with a table cloth, which I think slows the wheel from turning.  On a hard surface, the wheel should roll easier, making the game more challenging and jerk-moves even jerkier.

All the components are made of wood and consist of the wheel and four sets of seven pieces, each piece in a set a different color and shape (although 5 of the 7 are planks of varying lengths).

Inca Empire (3-4 players)
This was a Christmas gift from my in-laws.  I saw a picture of the board when doing a Google image search for something else and new I needed to own it, so I put it on my Christmas list.  The game did not disappoint, although we were doing scoring wrong the first time we were playing, which soured my wife on the game.  The second time I played it, we did the scoring correctly and it made a big difference.  Turn order changes at set point in the game and is set so the person losing goes first and the person winning goes last.  Early in the game, going last can suck.  Later in the game, there is some advantage to going last.

Inca Empire is mostly about placing sticks (one-inch long wooden pieces) on the board to claim paths from the starting area to city sites (where you can build cities and then temples on cities, all for points), outpost sites (where you can build outposts for points), and to territories to conqueror (which both score points and contain the city and outpost sites you want to build on).  You can also build terraces which grant a single victory point each, but also provide more workers.  Conquered territories provide one to three workers and zero to four victory points based on the markers randomly placed on them (face down) at the beginning of the game.

The game plays over four eras, each era having one to three rounds with scoring at the end of each round (except the first round, but that is an exception).  The rounds have a number of phases based on the era with four types of phases: Inca Phase (get workers), Sun Phase (place sun card, which help and hinder, on the Sun Board - more on this later), Worker Phase (where things get done), and the Supa Inca Phase (at the end of the each round and when scoring happens).  The whole thing is laid out on the board with a piece marking the current phase, so players can easily see what phase is coming up next and how long the game has.  The board has a three-player side and a four-player side, the only difference being the starting territory being split for three or four players.

This is essentially a rail building game with an Incan theme, but it has the right level of complexity that makes it fun to play without being overwhelming for new players.  Once cities, temples, and outposts are built and scored, any player can build a path to them and get points for them, but only one path per link on the board, so strategy involves playing paths to get you what you want, but make it difficult for others to access thing you built.  The points for building is better than the points for merely being connected during the Supa Inca phase, so building is very worthwhile.

The Sun Cards, as stated, do either something good or something bad and you have a hand of three of them to select from during the Sun Phase.  The tricky part is that you play them on the Sun Board in turn order and the Sun Board is divided up into sections equal to the number of players, each section bordered by two different player colors, and limited to on Sun card play per section each Sun Phase.  This means any card you play will always effect two players, for good or ill, and you might not be able to play that good card so it affects you if you are late in the turn order.

I’ve now played two games of this with three players and it plays well (especially when you do the scoring correctly).  I look forward to playing it again with four players.

Defenders of the Realm (1-4 players)
Defenders of the Realm is Pandemic with a fantasy theme and dice rolling for movement and fighting minions (what would be disease cubes in Pandemic).  Instead of curing each disease, you have to fight the general leading each villain faction, each of whom is slowly marching in to Monarch City, a space in the center of the board.  The amount of dice you roll to attack the generals is based on what cards you discard and you have to discard cards with the correct color.  Then you roll the dice and count how many dice beat a target number (based on which general).  Then you check to see if you rolled enough successes to actually kill the general, which requires about seven or eight successes.

As per a collaborative game, there are many ways to loose.  If one of the generals gets to Monarch City, the players lose.  If you run out of minions of any color, the players lose.  When you reach critical minion mass in a place (based on number of counters, not per color) you place a taint counter AND spread minion counters to adjacent areas.  If you run out of taint counters, the players lose.  The only way to win is to defeat all four enemy generals.

As you may be able to guess from my short summary, I am not a fan of this game.  The dice mechanism just makes the game take longer and can be frustrating, especially against the generals.  There is a ton of free material for this game online from the designer, but after playing it and getting a feel for it, I think I’ll pass.

Martian Dice (2-however many players you have)
Martian Dice is a dice rolling game where you are Martians gathering samples from “Earth”, trying to determine who is actually in charge there: the chickens, the cows, or the humans.  You roll all 13 dice at the start of your turn, each die having one tank, one human, one chicken, one cow , and two death rays.  You set aside tanks (which are bad for you) and then select all the dice showing one of the other four symbols (chickens, cows, humans, death rays).  Set aside the tanks and whichever set you chose and decide: stop here or roll again.  If you roll again, you re-roll the dice you did not set aside.  If you stop, you check to see if you score points.  To score points, you have to have death rays equal to or more than in number than tanks.  If you do, the other dice score one point each with a bonus of three point if you collected at least one each of the chickens, cows, and humans.

To complicate things slightly, after you roll and set aside any tanks you just rolled, you cannot keep dice matching dice you previously kept (except death rays, which you can always choose).  Stated another way, if you kept humans on the last roll, you cannot select humans for the rest of this turn.  If you every roll dice and the only things you rolled are things you already have (except tanks, which are bad, and death rays, which are an excepting), you stop rolling and score.

This is fun and quick and plays anywhere you have a rolling surface.  The one house rule I’m thinking about adding states that any death rays you keep over the number of tanks you have score one point each.  I’ve seen folks with 2-3 tanks and eight or more death rays because of how the dice rolled.

As an aside, I strongly recommend Zombie Dice from Steve Jackson Games.  A similar style game and the game Martian Dice wanted to be without getting sued.  You roll three dice at a time and the dice not in use stay in the cup.  Dice have brains, footprints, or shotgun blasts.  How many of each depends upon the color of the dice: red dice have 1 brain, 2 feet, and 3 shotgun blasts; yellow dice have two of each; and green dice have 3 brains, two feet, and 1 shotgun blast.  There are three red dice, four yellow dice, and six green dice and you blindly draw dice from the cup, so you are never certain what you are going to get.  When you roll, you set aside brains to one side and shotgun blast to the other, footprints are kept for re-rolling.  Then you can stop or draw dice (until you have three) and roll again.  If you accumulate three or more shotgun blasts you fail that turn, put the dice back in the cup, and pass the cup to the next player.  If you stop, you score the brains you have accumulated this turn, put the dice back in the cup, and pass the cup to the next player.  When one player gets to 13 or more points, everyone else has one last round to beat the leaders score or lose.

Next Up:
Endeavor, Shogun, Age of Steam, Fortune & Glory, and Factory Fun

Monday, January 2, 2012

Starting This Week: Board Game Reviews!

Starting this week I'm going to post a series of board game reviews.  These will all be games I played at the Lone Star Gaming Fest this past weekend.  I will also intersperse these with Aldelle Group adventure logs so I can catch up on those - I'm only five behind at this point!  :)