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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Space Crusade

So, those of you keeping up with my new What I’m Playing gadget (in the blue sidebar) you’ll notice I’ve been playing a lot of Space Crusade.

Now, as has been noted many times throughout this blog, I play games primarily with my family and most often with my youngest brother (who suffers from a form of Cerebral Palsy) and Space Crusade is one of our latest family games.

I own a large number of high plastic content games. D&D the Board Game (plus both expansions), Heroquest and Darkworld (plus the two expansions) and I generally dislike playing these games for one simple reason… They are just too simplistic. After all, why play these when you could be playing real D&D?

Concept

I always assumed that Space Crusade was the same game as Heroquest, but set in space, I was wrong! I also assumed it was to Space Hulk, what Heroquest is to Warhammer Quest. Space Hulk, along with so many other GW side projects, like Bloodbowl, Mordheim, Gorkamorka, was something I always wanted to own and never did, so when we found Space Crusade in a charity shop for £5 I thought, “Eh… Close enough”

So… In Space Crusade you control a group of Space Marines from one of three chapters, Ultramarines, Imperial fists or Blood Angels, tasked with boarding a space hulk and destroying all alien life aboard (at least in most cases that’s the mission.) Meanwhile a mishmash of alien critters attempts to take down your marines.

Gameplay

Yup, so the story element of the game is pretty threadbare and the presence of Gretchin, Orks, Chaos Space Marines, Necrons and a Dreadnought all aboard the same vessel remains an unexplained mystery… but are the game mechanics the game’s hidden gem?

Well… no, probably not. Before each mission all the players have a lot of choices to make. You have 4 Marines and a Commander and you need to equip them. The Commander has 3 weapon options, the Marines have four. In addition to that you have to then chose one of four orders and four of eight pieces of equipment. That’s a lot of choice! Interestingly each chapter has unique equipment that makes them all play a little differently. I don’t think much thought was put into balancing the equipment though.

Once they marines are set up they can enter the board which is constructed from four pieces that can be assembled in different ways to make different maps. It would have been nice if these were double sided for additional variety. Although that said, the layout of the map has very little impact on the game at all because it is always, essentially, a square. There are no special room effects, no indication of where monsters should be placed, it looks and feels featureless.

So, each Marine can move once and shoot once or fight in close combat, exactly like Heroquest. Marines carrying heavy weapons can only move 4 spaces (except the Imperial Fists), all other Marine’s can move 6. When a Marine enters a board quarter for the first time the Alien player can place as many Blip tokens as he likes anywhere on that quarter. These are face down tokens with a picture of an Alien on the back. I like this concept, it has a very space-horror-film feel about it, you know there are Aliens out there but you don’t know what they are. I play the Alien player and I generally just put the blips down without looking at them, that way I am not accused of favouritism when I decimate a particular team with the Dreadnought.

Once the Blips are placed the player may then move and shoot with all his other Marines. Once all three Marine players have gone the Alien player draws an event card. Most of the time these aren’t that useful and some of the time they help the Marines. However nothing beats drawing the Genestealer card. This allows you to immediately place a Genestealer (An incredible close combat alien) and attack a Marine, usually killing it and netting yourself 10 points and nearly always when that Marine was one turn away from escape… Bwahahaha!

Once the event has been drawn the Alien player may move all of his blip tokens on the board and attack any Marines that are visible to his Aliens. Unlike Heroquest and other games the Aliens in Space Crusade can open doors and move out of their starting rooms. This can be a lot of fun as you can chase Marines that are trying to escape and they have no idea what is following them. Also, as blips have a move of 5 they can overtake and cut off the heavy weapon Marines that can only move 4.

Combat in Space Crusade is nothing spectacular either. Most of the time you’ll miss. The most common Aliens roll 2 white dice, which have 4 zeros, a 1 and a 2 on them. Marines have an armour value of 2, meaning an Ork or Gretchin has a 3 in 36 chance of killing any given marine. The heavy weapons that the marines carry however do significantly more damage, but they can also be pretty devastating to anyone stood nearby. Luckily, taking out another player’s Marines by accident with your Plasma Gun or Missile Launcher can be very beneficial.

This process of the move and shoot continues until the all the Marines have returned to their boarding crafts. At that point everyone works out their scores. 30 points are award to the player who completes the Primary Mission (usually kill the most aliens, or take out a specific alien or group of aliens) 15 to the player who completes the Secondary Mission if it came up in the Event Deck. Minus 10 points are awarded for every heavy weapon Marine killed and minus 5 for every Bolter Marine killed and minus 10 if your Commander is killed. Each Alien taken out is worth 2, 3, 5, 10 or 25 points as printed on the token. The alien player gets points for every marine killed, either 5 or 10 depending on their weapons. Whoever scores the most points wins the mission.

As you can see this game is significantly different to Heroquest. Although it employs the same move and attack turn order, the concept of co-coordinating a squad makes this a totally different gaming experience. That said there is more dumb luck involved in this game than there are tactics. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to someone who likes Chess for example. But there again, I don’t think MB and GW were aiming to create a tactical wargame, I suspect they wanted a fun, all out, blood bath and that is exactly what this is.

Table Time

If you read everything I just wrote and thought, “This sounds crap” then you would be justified in asking, why is it getting played so much? And here is the answer… This game is fun! Sure you can try and plan and develop a strategy four turns in advance, but as soon as a horde of aliens rushes at you, you’ll just start shooting and running back to your ship! The number of critters the Alien player can throw at the Marines is immense, no matter how safe you feel behind all that armour, the shear number of attacks that can come your way can devastate your team. Nothing beats the shock and awe of the mighty Dreadnought. Entire teams have been decimated trying to take this titan down for the 25 points it is worth. In addition, its double width base can cause Marines to become trapped in a room unable to escape it’s fire.

The board may be featureless and the aliens un-explainable, but this game is driven by instinct and adrenaline. A single attack can turn a group of big tough Marines into quivering wrecks that turn tail, and run, with whatever is left of their squad, back to their ships.

It is mindless, it is simple, but it is brutal… and I like that!

Campaign

As Campaigns go, Space Crusade is poorly designed. After all the points are totalled players compare their scores to a table to see if the can earn Honour badges, which give them access to additional equipment, or a rank which gives them an additional Order card. The first player to go up four ranks wins.

Of course, in general, this reward scheme means the first player to win the first game will go on to win the campaign because they have access to better gear and orders sooner. Also, because the campaign is point driven and not story driven it really doesn’t feel like it has a beginning or an end.

I do however like the fact that the Alien player can win too, (I am currently winning) because it gives me a good excuse to not hold back. 

Fiddly As All Hell!

The title of this section says it all. The board design for this game is appalling. Each of the four sections clips together with the weakest, most pathetic clip ever invented. Getting the first two pieces together is easy, but adding a third knocks the clip off the first. This is, without a doubt, the most irritating game set up imaginable! 

Unboxed

Ok, so we know the game is fun, but not deep and that the components are fiddly and the randomisable board is actually rather bland, but what about quality?

Firstly, this is what you get inside:

50 Citadel Miniatures
4 gameboards
4 walls
5 wall clips
24 doors with bases
64 full colour playing cards
12 chapter cards ( 3 sets )
28 alien event cards
1 Primary Mission token
1 Secondary Mission token
6 Honour badges
12 Rank Badges
4 marks of Chaos
32 Blip Tokens
32 Reinforcement counters
1 alien control panel
3 commander scanners with adjustable sliders
3 Marine reference charts
3 Marine docking boards
3 airlock doors
6 special combat dice
1 24 page Mission Manual, with 12 missions
1 Rule Book

The miniatures are the standard 1 piece models from the 40k boxsets available in the 90’s. Which means, for the £5 I spent, I got a lot of good quality plastics. The tokens aren’t Fantasy Flight quality but they are quite nice. The cards are pretty standard for the time when the game was made. The boards are a little disappointing quality wise and very difficult to clip together. The scanners, although a cool concept, really are way too big for what they do. They are used to track your minus points (just count up the marines of your colour that the Alien player is holding and mocking you with.) to track your commanders 6 hit points (use a 6 sided dice) and which of your weapons have rerolls.

The reference cards and equipment cards all have plenty of information on them. The dice are custom dice and quite thematic to look at. However, of all the components, my favourite are the docking boards. So completely pointless really, but I just love setting them up and then going “Ptsssh” as I remove the airlock door and let the Marines board…

And…

So, there isn’t much more I can say about this game. It isn’t going to win any accolades for the design or originality, but there again I can’t think of any other game in my collection that is so brutal. I can’t think of any other game that creates the same sense of fear. One minute you can be decimating everything in sight, the next minute your commander is standing there, splattered with the blood of his four comrades.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend this game at the prices currently set on ebay, but if you find it in a charity shop (and believe me, there are other copies out there) then snap it up, because there is very little else that can give you this much fun and fear for less than £5.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The Only If List… Stone Age

A couple of weeks ago I awarded Battlestar Galactica the “If Only” Game of the Year award, what’s worse, I suspect BSG might win the award again next year! However, I thought it might be fun to look at the rest of the “If Only” list.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be rambling about all the games on this list, don’t ask what’s on the list… it’s an ever-expanding project!

Let’s start with a game that I’ve been scouting ebay for everyday since Christmas, however, clearly, the game is sooooo good, nobody is giving away their unwanted version they got for Christmas… And that game is…

Stone Age

So why Stone Age? I am constantly on the look out for new games that I can play with my family. They adore Settlers but I want to expand their horizons and I settled on Stone Age to do that for many reasons.

  1. I am looking to replace or at least supplement Settlers so I am not looking for a game based on or “similar” to it. Stone Age is a worker placement game, which, although similar in some ways i.e. gathering resources and building things, is different enough to employ entirely new strategies and game play mechanics.
  2. The two people I play with are my parents, both of whom are getting on and dislike complicated rules, which is why Settlers suits them so much. And it is also the reason that I chose Stone Age over games such as Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. The game is simple and the board is very well laid out as a functional player aid as well as a playing surface.
  3. The theme of building a civilisation has already proven popular with the family with games like Settlers and Citadels. Plus it features a Love Hut and what’s not to like about that?
  4. The final and possibly least important reason is just how pretty the game is. I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, or a board game solely on its components… but… It is pretty.

So there you have it. Stone Age seems like a great fun, resource gathering, Worker Placement game, with multiple paths to victory (no more “You put the Robber on my land” arguments.) and it looks great on the table too…

Come back next week for a new game review…

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Citadels

Well… It’s been a long time since I did one of these. It’s taken me a long time to settle on which game I want to talk about today, but I finally decided on Citadels.

Produced by Fantasy Flight Games as part of their Silver Line games range, Citadels is card game about building a city.

Concept

In Citadels you play a Lord in charge of a city. You can influence various high powered characters to help you out, such as the assassin who can stop other players taking a turn, or the Warlord who you can pay to destroy other players districts. The winner is the first player to complete their city by having eight districts.

Gameplay

The reason I awarded Citadels “Best Box Small Game” last week in my Games of the Year awards was because of just how easy this game is to teach.

Each player starts the game with 4 district cards and two gold. Districts cards look like this:

Each District card has a cost in gold coins on the right hand of the card. Each district also has one of five colours (Purple, Red, Blue, Green and Yellow) in the bottom right corner. Finally, each district has a name, you may only have one of each named district in your city.

At the start of each turn each player must choose a character card, the way this is done varies but in each game there is at least one character dealt face down to the table and only the first player knows who it is. Starting with the oldest player and preceding clockwise, each player takes a Character card of his choice.

Once everyone has a character the King (the oldest player in the first turn and then whoever chooses the King character in subsequent turns) calls out the characters in the following order.

  1. The Assassin – When the assassin is called he names any other character. That Character may not perform any actions at all this turn.
  2. The Thief – When the Thief is called he names any character other than the assassin or the assassin’s target. When the named character starts his turn the thief takes all his gold.
  3. The Magician – The Magician may exchange district cards with the bank on  a 1:1 basis, or he may swap his entire hand with another player, even if he has no cards.
  4. The King – The King always chooses his character first and he also collects 1 additional gold for each Yellow district in the city.
  5. The Bishop – The Bishop collects 1 additional gold for each Blue district in the city. He is also immune to attack from the Warlord.
  6. The Merchant – The Merchant collects an additional gold just for being the Merchant and 1 additional gold for each Green district in your city.
  7. The Architect – The Architect takes 2 cards for free from the bank and adds them to his hand. He may also build 3 districts instead of 1.
  8. The Warlord – The Warlord collects 1 additional gold for each Red district in your city. He may also destroy any one district, yours or an opponents for 1 gold less than the districts cost.

On your turn you may perform one of two actions. Either take 2 gold or draw two cards and discard one. That’s it. Once you perform your action you can build one district. At any point during either your action or building phase you can activate your character’s power. For example, if you are the King and you had a yellow district in your hand, you could build it, then use the King’s power to claim 1 gold for having a yellow district in your city.

Once one player reaches 8 districts the current round is played out and then each player adds up their points. Each district is worth the number of gold it costs to build. 4 points are awarded to the first player to reach 8 districts and 2 points to each player who managed to reach 8 before the end of the game. 3 bonus points are also awarded to any player with all five colours in their city. The winner is the player with the most points.

My Lack of Success

I’ve played this game four times since Christmas and I haven’t won once, not even in two player. However that hasn’t blunted my enthusiasm for the game. Each time we play the game I notice my family using different strategies, in the last game I was just about to win when I was assassinated, but that is why I enjoyed that game so much.

Unboxed

So what do you get in the box for your £20?

Not a whole lot and that was a disappointment, but the ease of play and complexity of the strategies makes up for it.

  • 66 District cards
  • 8 Character cards 
  • 8 Reference cards
  • 30 gold coins
  • 1 wooden crown marker
  • 10 Bonus character cards
  • 14 Bonus purple district cards

The cards are linen finished and are beautifully illustrated and very clear to understand with a simple design. The coin counters are beautiful, the wooden marker is simple but nothing very impressive. The box itself is very sturdy with nice compartments to separate the cards. The Reference Cards are very useful, although one card for the King with the order of characters might have been nice.

The current version of Citadels contains the Dark City expansion, which is only 24 cards (not much of an expansion.) and provides some interesting variants to the game, but I have not yet used them… (look out for a Ramble in the future about the additional characters and districts.)

Well…?

So, this game is simple, so very simple to understand, that I would have no problem pulling it out in front of non-gamers without having to worry about them complaining about the complexity. The reference cards contain all the information you need to know, except for a little explanation about the Characters, but that is something that is easy to do in game during the first round. The game works well with four players (the way I play.) but unlike a lot of games it can support up to 8 or as few as 2 players and that is reasonably unique for a small card game like this.

With 8 different characters in the game your options in each round are certainly not limited, even the player who chooses last gets choice of two characters. The Purple districts in the game, although generally expensive to get into your city can add really interesting special rules. I particularly like the smithy, which for two gold allows you to take 3 cards.

This combination of different districts and the way they interact with the different characters is what makes this game so strategic, but at the same time the simplicity of each turn keeps the game fluid and staves off analysis paralysis. The paths to victory are many and varied. Do you build 8 low cost districts quickly utilising the architect or do you slowly build high cost districts for large points totals at the end of the game. Do you build lots of districts of the same colour to benefit from the extra gold characters like the Bishop or the King can give you, or do you build one each colour for the bonus 3 points at the end?

It really is simple but strategic and that’s why I like it!

If you want to see what Games I’m currently playing check out the Board Game Geek gadget in the blue sidebar.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Game of the Year…

So I’m back after two weeks off and plenty of game playing. Next week will see the first review of the new year but this week I want to talk about the games I’ve added to my collection this year and which have stood out above the rest.

Bargain of the Year

The cheapest game I bought this year was Munchkin 3: Cleric Errors, which I picked up on Ebay for just £6 inc. P&P. M3 is certainly the funniest expansion for Munchkin I own so far and the fact that I got it dirt cheap makes me love it all the more.

Best Expansion of the Year

Obviously, these categories are awarded to the games I personally purchased this year, they are not based on what year the game was actually released. So expansion of the year has to go to….

Seafarers of Catan. Why? Because we play Catan a lot and the addition of Seafarers has really helped keep the game fresh, unlike T&B or C&K Seafarers does not add complex rules so it is the easiest way to keep the game new and interesting and different every time, without the headache of constantly explaining rules.

Best Small Box Game of the Year

Being able to transport games is quite important so this award goes to the best game with the smallest footprint. If I were judging the award on which game I would take with me when playing with my main gaming buddy, it would be Settlers of Catan the Card Game. However, If I were to judge the award on which I would take to a gathering of friends or a family holiday then Citadels would win hands down.

Not only is the box small enough to fit in the pocket of a pair of combat trousers, but the game is simple enough to pick up and understand within two or three rounds of playing, without ever having read the rulebook. 

Best Two Player Game of the Year

Hands down, without a doubt, it really couldn’t be anything else, the best Two Player Game of the Year is Warhammer: Invasion! Why? Skip to the Game of the Year Award to find out… Oooops… Did I just give away what won Game of the Year?

Best RPG Book of the Year

Every year my collection of RPG books expands and this year was no exception. However, if I had to pick my favourite, which I do to award the category, it has to be 3.5e’s Dungeonscape. Technically I’m only two chapters in but the amount of inspiration I’ve found just in those first couple of pages has been staggering.

Let Down of the Year

Sometimes I get over excited about things and then they cannot hope to live upto my expectations. Those are the games that are nominated for this category. They are not necessarily bad games, just not as great as I made them out to be in my head. I could easily name Need for Steed or Demented Dungeons here or Runebound, but oddly the award goes instead to Pandemic.

WHAT??? This may be because the family refuses to play anything but the introductory level (4 epidemic cards and all hands visible) but for some reason the game just doesn’t feel as awesome as it sounded in all those reviews I read. So unfortunately it gets the rather unprestigious title of Let Down of the Year… but on the upside it did win something.

The “If Only…” of the Year

The winner of this award is the game that I really wished I could have fitted into my budget but just couldn’t. The nominees are many, including Stone Age, Descent, Twilight Imperium, Dust, Tide of Iron, Agricola and quite a few others, but in the end the award goes to Battlestar Galatica.

Game of the Year

Yup… You guessed it… The best game I bought this year is…. Warhammer: Invasion! Why? Firstly I got £14 off at IGUK using my rewards, so it was cheap! Secondly the game comes with 4 factions meaning that even if you only play each possible combination of armies once you could play the game 12 times, multiply that by the possible combinations of cards and the game becomes replayable to the nth degree. It’s Fantasy Flight, a name now synonymous with quality and components. It’s expandable too. But what really makes it game of the year is that I played it for five hours straight with my gaming buddy last week and not once did we think “We could be playing Settlers instead!”

So I hope you’ve enjoyed my mini award ceremony. Obviously I still have plenty to say about the games I’ve talked about here, so join me again next week for a brand new review. On what? Who knows…

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