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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The If Only List… Dust

With only a few hours left to vote it looks like the underdog Dust will win by a landslide. After the success of the last Poll I thought that this week’s would be a complete bust, so thanks for voting. The result was not a surprise to me, Dust has been on my radar as a Risk replacement for almost a year now.

To put this all into perspective, I own 4 copies of Risk. I have regular risk (the one with real missions like Conquer Europe, Australia and and a third Continent of your choice, Conquer 24 territories, Destroy the Black player, that kind of thing) I recently bought Risk Balance of Power for a better 2 player experience, I own Risk Clone Wars and Lord of the Rings too, enabling me to player both Fantasy and Sci Fi.

Back in the great summer of 2001 I was sweet sixteen and for an entire summer three of us would meet up and play wargames. We played Warhammer, Lord of the Rings, a Warhammer RPG hybrid I designed, a WWIII game also designed by me, but at the end of the night we would always play Risk.

We used to play a variant game which allowed for territories to be traded, which eventually led to a game we called “One Turn Risk” in which whoever went first won. After six games turned out like this in a row, we stopped trading.

So… I’ve played a lot of the Risk, but when I saw Dust I wanted it. Now that I’ve read the rules I want it even more. So without further ado, lets look at the list:

  1. Dust would replace Risk and Clone Wars Risk, swapping two large boxes for one box seems fair enough to me.
  2. Dust is beautiful… I mean really really nice. It’s also Fantasy Flight, which means as well as looking awesome all the fiddly chits will be top quality along with the box, cards and board.
  3. Dust is simple enough to teach quickly, all the information you need for the game round is on the card you play. Everything from turn order to movement and combat. However, it is also deeper than Risk, adding extra levels of strategy and, in my mind, fun.
  4. Different units have different abilities and are not just representative of having multiple troops. Yes, this makes it more complex and you have to remember a couple of stats, but doesn’t it also make it more realistic? (as realistic as a post apocalypse sci-fi world can be!)
  5. Different sites have different abilities. In the game particular locations such as power centres and factories affect game play, which adds another layer of strategy that Risk just doesn't have.
  6. What other game lets you control 800 tanks, mechs, planes and subs? You know that’s cool!

All good so far then… but why didn’t I buy it?

  1. Dust costs around £40, that is a sizeable chunk of my gaming budget for a game I don’t think the family will play. Basically, like Twilight Imperium, Battlestar Galactica and Tide of Iron, Dust failed to make the cut for one very good reason and that is simply that the amount of times it will hit the table just don’t currently equal the price tag.

And that’s it folks, I have no other qualms with Dust, it is on the “to buy” list the moment that it becomes a more playable game, hopefully within the next two years but as it stands Dust remains on the shelf at my Local, Friendly, Internet Gaming Store. *sob*

Again I would like to thank everyone who voted in the poll. I will try and run one every two weeks and then talk about the results in the fortnightly rambles. Some will be just for fun others will actually be serious questions about what games I should add to my collection.

Until next week, keep on gaming!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Carcassonne: Traders and Builders

Ok, so it hasn’t been all that long since I reviewed Carcassonne and if you recall I was rather lukewarm about the whole thing…

Introducing the fix… Traders and Builders!

What is it?

Traders and Builders in an expansion for the core game, but it is one that you will always play with once you introduce it (like the River) rather than something you might add or take away.

T&B is the second expansion to the core game, but the first one I’ve bought, check out the unboxed section below for the reason why.

What does it do?

As the title suggests T&B adds traders who work out of completed cities, builders who help complete the sprawling roads and cities of Carcassone and, of course, Pigs (Pigs???), which allow the knights to snack on bacon strips and increase the farmers prosperity.

Of course, as with regular Carcassonne none of this really happens, it is all abstracted with little wooden pieces and cardboard chits, but that doesn’t stop it making the game more fun.

How does it do it?

So the game comes with, surprise surprise, more tiles. But these tiles have on them little symbols that indicate trade goods. There are 5 Cloth, 6 Wheat and 9 Alcohol, completing a city with any of these symbols in it gets you a token for each symbol. At the end of the game if you have the most tokens in one type of resource you score 10 extra points. This can be a good way to earn a lot of bonus points. It also gives you an incentive to complete other players Cities so you can collect the trade goods. Sure you might give the player some points but if you let them complete the city they will get the points and the goods!

Builders and Pigs can only be placed in places you already have Meeples. They are also placed instead of a Meeple (you can’t place a Meeple and a Builder/Pig in the same turn) and they do not “count” as a Meeple for the purposes of controlling a farm, road or city.

Pigs can only be placed in fields but if you control that field at the end of the game each city is worth 4 points rather than 3.

Builders can be placed on Roads or in Cities. Every time you add to the road/city with a builder you get another turn.

Unboxed

So, in the box you get:

  • 24 Land Tiles (9 Wine, 6 Grain, 5 Cloth, 4 without Goods)
  • 20 Trade Good Tokens (9 Wine, 6 Grain, 5 Cloth)
  • 6 Pig Followers (1 x 6 Colors)
  • 6 Builder Followers (1 x 6 Colors)
  • 1 Cloth Bag
  • Rules Sheet

The quality of the tiles and Meeples is, as always, excellent. The bag itself is nothing special but it means the game is set up as soon as you open the box. It also means you can add the original starting tile to the mix of tiles because no one can see the different coloured back. It also helps to stop people picking their tiles OUT OF TURN! Sorry… that used to happen a lot! The rules are pretty clear although they make the builder sound more complex than he is.

So why did I buy the second expansion first? Well look at all that stuff you get! The first expansion has 18 tiles and a total of 11 Meeples for £10. I bought the core game for £15 and that has 84 tiles and 40 Meeples. The cost just doesn’t seem right to me.

So why the Fun?

Why has Carcassonne hit the table so much since adding T&B? I guess it’s partly because it’s new, but also because I find the game more fun. I used to get Carcassonne out because it was quick and it meant I didn’t have to player Settlers for the third time that evening. Now however the game is actually really enjoyable. T&B adds a ton of City pieces which gives you a good chance of finishing that huge city you’ve built. Also the addition of the Builder gives you the incentive to build bigger more impressive structures and be rewarded for it.

Although the pieces are still abstract they defiantly have more theme about them than the Knights and Thieves in the core game. Theme is important to me and T&B adds this to Carcassonne. 

T&B also adds a lot more strategy to the game. It is easier to join in other people’s cities to share the points. The bonus points for trade goods mean that completing other players cities is a positive for you. The time for the game remains pretty much the same, but the fun factor and ability to screw with your opponents definitely increases.

Traders and Builders defiantly gets a big thumbs up from me!

Don’t forget there is still a week left to vote in this week’s poll… Which is better Risk or Dust?

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Accidental Games and Smallworld Poll

As followers of this blog will be aware I have a list of games that I like to call “The If Only…” List. This is a list of games I really want to own but for one good reason or another have not yet bought. “Accidental” games are pretty much the exactly opposite.

These are games I had no intention of buying, but because of one reason or another I did. In the last two weeks I have bought three of them! Risk: Balance of Power

The first was Risk: Balance of Power. This was the least accidental as I was quite interested in seeing how Hasbro had engineered a specific 2 player variant of Risk that actually worked. I have only gotten it to the table once since I bought it and I got trounced. I like the ideas of cities and capitals and special actions you can purchase with your dead troops (which basically helps equalise the game). I don’t much care for the new plastic arrows, mainly because you need 60 neutrals on the board split between 10 territories and trying to fit 6 of the arrows into Belgium or one of the other small areas is impossible. I can’t see what was wrong with army men! The arrows look nice and sound like a great idea but they don't work well in practice. Maybe if they had included some 3 troop arrows for the neutrals… but Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrotthey didn’t.

My second purchase has yet to arrive but it was the blue starter pack  for Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot. I accidentally bought this after being outbid for it on ebay when it was going cheap. After I lost the auction I decided I probably did want to try the game so I bought it. However Royal Mail seems to be holding the bunnies hostage so I can’t comment on it.

The third and final accidental purchase was FFG’s Cosmic Encounter. I used to own the Games Workshop edition of this game and I got separated from it when I broke up with my Girlfriend. I had only ever really played the game once and found it difficult to get others to play because of the perceived imbalance in the powers system. Cosmic EncounterBecause of that I never really thought much of the game and when I saw FFG had reprinted it my gut instinct was “Why?”

So, curious, I watched Tom Vasel’s review on the game, which confirmed my fears, the alien powers were still unbalanced as all hell and so I dismissed the game and never thought about it again. That is… until I started to listening to the Dice Tower regularly as Tom and Eric and various other contributors couldn’t praise the game highly enough. I even checked out the very down to earth Scott Nicholson and he too loved the game. Then I saw a copy on ebay cheap and so I accidentally clicked the Buy It Now button and a couple of days later I have the game in collection. (Although not from Ebay… No, the company *cough Evo Books cough* was out of stock, so I picked it up even cheaper with Board Game Extras)

Other than punching all the cardboard out and bagging up the bits I haven’t really checked the game out. I’m putting it away for my birthday, but, as always with FFG, I’m impressed with the bits!

And so that was my three accidental purchases. I also picked up a copy of Stone Age for Easter, the expansion to Settlers of Catan the Card Game, Traders and Builders for Small WorldCarcassonne and Deathmaster’s Dance for Warhammer: Invasion

Finally the results of the Small World poll are *almost* in. There are still a couple of hours left to vote. When Tom Vasel reviewed this game I turned the review off halfway through as the game just didn’t sound interesting to me. It’s odd, I like fantasy, I like Wargames, but Smallworld just didn’t seem to have any dynamism, It seemed bland and uninteresting. However, as I listened to old episodes of the Dice Tower on my way to work a couple of weeks ago, I felt I may have been hasty in my judgement.

I went back and watched the review, all the way through this time but I still couldn’t fathom the hype and so I asked you guys to tell me honestly… is it really that good?

And the results? 5 votes for “Yes! Buy It Now!” no votes for anything else… Really… That good???

Well… I don’t think it’ll be going on the If Only list (unless someone can be really convincing) but it may end up as another Accidental Purchase if the price is right… and who knows I might be pleasantly surprised.

Until next time… Keep on gaming.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Seafarers of Catan

It feels like a suitable amount of time has passed since I last talked about Settlers and as you can see from my “Games I’ve Been Playing” gadget, Seafarers has been getting a lot of table time lately.

In this review I will be talking about the Seafarers core concepts and how they change Settlers of Catan, as well as giving an overview of the contents of the box. Like with Traders & Barbarians I will do follow up posts to this one about the Scenarios included in the expansion.

What’s It All About Then?

Catan has always been an Island, rigidly constructed from 19 hexagons. However it is not the only Island in the chain and now, with Seafarers you can set sail and explore the islands that surround your beloved Catan.

So then, Seafarers is about Boats and Islands! Did you expect anything different?

Game Play

So how does the expansion change the way you play Settlers? That partly depends on the scenario, but essentially it adds a larger map with sea hexes and islands that can only be reached by boats.

image

In most scenarios the enlarged map offers more space to expand and in most cases 3 hexes for every possible number combination (although rarely 6 or 8 and never 2 and 12). Boats are built using two resources, exactly like roads, except that they use Wood and Sheep. They also count as roads when determining the “Longest Road”. They may only be built on water, can only connect to land via a settlement and you can never build a road and boat on the same space. However you may move one boat per turn. You may not move a boat that is connecting two Settlements together. You may also not move a boat that would break your trade route. Finally you cannot move a boat you built this turn.

image

Example: Here are 2 open shipping routes. In either case, you may move the ship farthest from the homeport (as long as you didn't buy the ship this turn). You may move one of the two ships to any of the edges marked “X” that connect to that ship's route.

The ability to build boats changes the game dramatically. Firstly it makes Sheep more valuable as they now allow you to build 3 of the 5 available options (Boats, Development Cards and Settlements). Secondly, the ability to move boats allows you to change strategies mid-game. In original Settlers, being cut off by an opponent could be devastating, however in Seafarers you can move your trade route elsewhere, meaning you never build a “useless” boat.

In addition to that other strategies offer themselves up for use. You can choose to build a boat instead of a road for your starting settlements, if you build on a coast at the start of the game. This allows you to build a boat in an area you might not really want a trade route in order to get good resources, then move the boat on a later turn to extend your main trade route. You can also use boats to “reserve” costal spots that you want to place settlements or roads on and then move the boats to make way for these and at the same time as increasing your Trade Route length.

Already you can see that Boats are incredibly versatile. Seafarers also introduces two new terrain hexes, the first being Sea, which can only be traversed by placing boats. The second being Gold. These hexes produce any resource of your choice when the number of the hex is rolled. This is a nice idea but can lead to some analysis paralysis while players figure out what they want. I plan to start imageusing an actual Gold resource when I get my Deluxe Euro tokens from Board Game Extras, this way you can make the decision when you hand the token in, rather than when the number is rolled. 

The last thing Seafarers adds is the Pirate Ship. Remember when I said boats were versatile, well this is the solution to that problem. The pirate ship can be moved instead of the robber on a 7 or when using a Knight card. It may only be moved to a sea hex, but you can draw a resource from any player with boats on that hex. In addition no-one can move boats from or build boats on a hex with the pirate ship on it.

It can actually be very strategic to use the pirate ship instead of the robber, because if a player has to choose, when playing a Knight, between being able to build boats or free up their resource production, 9 times out 10 they will move the robber. Also, you shouldn’t compromise when moving the pirate ship, by placing it in a worse position just to get a resource, it is often more beneficial to block the other player than to draw a random resource. In addition, being able to move the pirate ship means you can leave the Robber blocking valuable spaces instead of having to move it on a 7.

So hopefully that gives you a good overview of what Seafarers will add to the base game, now lets move on and open the box.

Unboxed

  • 6 Frame Pieces
  • 19 Sea Hexes
  • 11 Terrain Hexes (Tiles):
    • 2 Gold Fields Hexes
    • 2 Desert Hexes
    • 1 Fields Hex
    • 1 Forest Hex
    • 1 Pasture Hex
    • 2 Mountains Hexes
    • 2 Hills Hexes
  • 50 Catan Chits
  • 10 Number Tokens
  • 10 Harbour Tokens
  • 60 Wooden Ships (15 x 4 Colors)
  • 1 Pirate Ship
  • 1 Games Rules

    When I bought Seafarers I felt underwhelmed by the amount of components for the price. For the same price you can buy the core set or Traders and Barbarians, both of which come with more cards and pieces. However, the amount of extra fun and strategy that this expansion adds is worth the price… easily.

    The rules are easy to understand and well illustrated with examples. The 9 additional scenarios are excellent but I will talk about those elsewhere. Although I will say that I felt Mayfair could have provided 5 cards for the Wonders of Catan scenario, rather than expect people to either cut up the rule book or print their own.

    The new tiles have more of a matt finish than my core set (which allows me to tell them apart easier) but they look gorgeous as always. The frame fits together quite well, although with the largest maps it sometimes wont stay flat. All in all though it’s a pretty nice package. It could have easily come in a smaller box but I’m very glad I have it in my collection.

    Four Player, Three Player and Two Player

    Some quick observations about how the game plays with different numbers of people. First off, I have yet to play with 2, so expect an update on the blog when I do. Four player feels very competitive, most scenarios in seafarers require at least 12 Victory Points, so all that extra room doesn’t make the game any less competitive. Even with bonus VP’s for settling foreign islands I find that competition for space is pretty intense.

    Three players however is much freer. When playing a three player game of Seafarers going out to sea feels much more like exploring and, although players can cut each other off, there is generally another route available to you. Three is my favourite number of players for this expansion, but perhaps that's because of who the fourth player is :P

    Conclusion

    So that’s about it, as always the PDF rulebook can be found in the Rulebook tab. I really enjoy what Seafarers adds to the game and I really like most of the scenarios in the book. Look out for more Seafarers posts in the future, as well Traders and Barbarian’s scenario posts, which will now talk about the Seafarers variants as well.

    Next Week I talk about “accidental” game purchases and the hype about Small World. Don’t forget to have your say on Small World and vote in the poll in the sidebar. Until then, keep on gaming.

  • Wednesday, 3 March 2010

    House Rules… Talisman

    Well, thank you to everyone who reads this blog, this month has seen my total visitors rise from 300 to 500 which I guess means I’m doing something right!

    Now down to business. Taking a break for the moment from the If Only List I wanted to takpic78067_mde some time to talk about how we play games. This week’s House Rules segment will focus on Talisman and the rules my family and I play by.

    A couple of months ago I reviewed the 3rd Edition of Talisman and like all Games Workshop games the rules are open to interpretation. Here is how we play:

    Main Board

    • We don't play that to enter the inner region that you must land on the Toll Bridge by exact count, you must simply pay a gold and continue your movement on the other side.
    • We do however play that you must land on the Causeway by exact count.
    • All board features, such as the Chapel count as a Place, meaning that any monsters or spirits placed on them must be fought before the Place can be activated.
    • The Cursed Glade stops all items from functioning, including things like the Bag of Carrying and Soloman’s Crown (possibly reducing your craft low enough for you to lose spells).
    • Although it’s not a rule we play by, I believe that no magical effect should be able to take place in the Cursed Glade, including Magical Vortex, The Magician and The Imp. This is a rule I hope to implement soon.
    • All Characters are generated randomly from a list of 39 to stop players selecting over powered characters.

    The Realms

    • In the forest you must follow the directions of the arrows. Although I may implement a rule that allows players with the Forest Guide to move in either direction.
    • When exiting the Forest you do not move you simply draw an adventure card in the Woods space in the inner region.
    • When exiting the Dungeon, you come out on the Causeway and may move as normal, including entering the tower the turn you exit.

    Adventure Cards

    • Whenever an adventure directs you to move to another space you must encounter that space… Otherwise, why would the Harpies, Trapdoor, Dryads dump you in the spaces that force you to draw three cards? This mechanic has proven to be very deadly in the past.
    • An Enslaved monster (Staff of Mastery) does not count as a Follower. This is a ruling I want to overturn, it was put in place because my little brother was going to fight the Dragon King with an enslaved monster and he rolled a 1 or 2 for it, so I pointed out that it technically isn’t a follower… Now everybody uses that excuse.
    • Characters that have the ability to Eat followers are allowed to eat the Hag, Poltergeist and Jester (another rule I don’t agree with)
    • The Doppleganger can be enslaved and has the same strength as the monster it is fighting.
    • The Willow the Wisp card in the Forest causes you to draw 3 cards from the main adventure deck, which can often make the Forest a more tempting place to visit if the Magical Stream appears in there.
    • The Gong is a pointless card!
    • All events that last for one turn, include your own next turn because in most cases they would not affect you otherwise.
    • Items lost to the Witch are discarded. However items dropped in the Witch's space due to becoming a Toad are not and can be collected by anyone not turned into a Toad when visiting the Witch.

    There are probably more rules that we implemented as we went along but these are the ones I can remember. What I was hoping to show was how “in the moment decisions” become “rules” that seem unbreakable.

    Do you have any House Rules for your Talisman games? Or any comments to make on our House Rules. Comment below!

    I thought I’d leave you with one of my Home Brewed characters, possibly the most broken one I devised: The Paladin.

    Paladin

    [Click Here to open Full-Sized Version]

    Not only does the Paladin start the game with 4 Strength and 4 Craft but he is immune to the Plague and Pestilence and he can Heal a life instead of taking experience points when he kills a Monster/Spirit. However he must encounter players whose spaces he lands in. He must fight evil players or heal Good and Neutral players if they have less than 4 lives.

    The reason the Paladin really ended up broken was that his abilities are dependant on him remaining of Good Sir Michael, PaladinAlignment. Unfortunately only Neutral Players can be “Forced” to change alignment so the only way the Paladin could lose his powers would be by choice.

    All that said, I don’t actually recall the Paladin ever winning a game. If you liked this Home Brewed segment don’t forget to comment and let me know and I’ll bring you more of my creations.

    Finally… Don’t forget to vote in the Small World poll. I will be posting my thoughts on whether or not I want to get this game in two weeks time, but your opinions could really help sway me as I’m pretty much on the fence about it at the moment.

    Join me again next week for another Unboxed Review and thanks for reading…

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