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Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The If Only List… Tide of Iron

But first, the results from this weeks poll.

Price  3 (33%)

Theme  5 (55%)

Components  6 (66%)

Art  4 (44%)

Designer  0 (0%)

Publisher  1 (11%)

Playing Time  1 (11%)

Number of Players  5 (55%)

Mechanics  3 (33%)

So, with 66% of the votes Components wins. Theme and Number of Players came a close second. What I found odd was that no one buys games based on the designer. Every review on Board Game Geek seems to cite which designer made what games and what expectations the reviewer had playing the game based on his or her experience with the designers previous attempts.

Personally I’m in the majority here. I buy a lot of my games because I like how they look. Stone Age would be a perfect example of a game purchase that was driven by just how good it looked. Theme also features heavily in my purchases. I enjoy dungeon crawler type games so that theme always gets me excited, but when buying Euro games I find that I’m less bothered about theme.

Number of players is never really an issue for me but I can see why everyone else has rated it so highly. The only game I’ve had difficulty getting to the table because of player number restrictions is Illuminati, although for the same reason I can foresee problems with Battlestar and Cosmic Encounter.

I always find the results of these poll really interesting and I’d like to thank everyone again who voted.

The If Only List…

Regular readers of this blog will know that the If Only List is a semi regular segment that talks about games I want to buy but for one reason or another I haven’t done yet. This week I plan to talk about Tide of Iron, which for me ticks all the boxes in the top end of the poll. Quality components, great art and a deep theme, but I still don't own it… lets examine why.

  1. I have actually very nearly owned Tide of Iron on several occasions by “accidentally” bidding on it on ebay. Luckily I’ve always been outbid. Why luckily? Because TOI is huge! Like Descent, Twilight Imperium, Horus Heresy and Runewars, Tide of Iron remains on the If Only List primarily because the box would take up most of my room. Add to that the 3 big box expansions and we’re talking a game that could literally take over the world.
  2. Tide of Iron is a war game. I own many miniatures war games, but they are all primarily fantasy based. I have always wanted a WWII war game ever since I used to play with toy soldiers as a child and with all the customisability of Tide of Iron, it seems like it would scratch that itch for me without being overly complex. However, TOI is a war game, I can’t even get my family to play risk, so getting anyone to sit down and play a war game with a 40 page rule book would be impossible.
  3. Two Players. TOI is a two player game, which makes finding an opponent easy (assuming that point 2 is not a factor), however like all games of this style, adding extra players to each side, each controlling portions of the army, is a very easy way to extend this game to four or more players. In fact, there can be so much going on on each side of the table that extra players can really help keep the game moving.
  4. Customisable. Tide of Iron is so flexible as a system, which is primarily the reason that I want it. I’m not really talking about the way that the squads can be interchangeable, I’m talking about the boards. The game comes with 12 boards which can be configured in any way and are (I’m pretty sure) double sided. Add to that the addition of the map overlay tokens that add additional features and this game seems like it could be a great box of tools for other games that require (or could be improved by) adaptable hexagon maps. I’m hoping that this system will be interchangeable with the new Battlelore system (Battles of Westeros) for even more customisability.
  5. As far as Wargames go, Tide of Iron is simple. Compare it’s 48 page rulebook (the first 6 of which are just pictures of components) to Warhammers 200 and something pages. However compared to a euro game with a maximum of 8 pages of rules, Tide of Iron is a complex game. So, for my wargaming friends this game would probably come naturally, but for my increasingly senile parents the game would be an uphill battle.
  6. Deep and Immersive. Theme is incredibly important to keep people interest in a game but it can also push people away. WWII in particular is a deeply significant theme for a lot people, but war as a theme can also be a huge put off, especially for the fairer-sex gamers. What I like about TOI is that the theme is always there and that the game tells a thematic story. Everything from the terrain set up and troop choices to the victory conditions and special cards available, make each game feel like a different experience from the last.
  7. It looks awesome. I always rave about FFG and their component quality and Tide of Iron is no exception. The board and tokens are, as always, superb, but even the plastics (which can be a bit hit and miss with FFG) look stunning. 
  8. The final reason and probably the most important reason that Tide of Iron remains on the If Only list is price. For a game I may get to play once or twice a year, £60 is simply too expensive. If I lived with (or, at least, not 200 miles away from) my friend who plays games like Flames of War, then buying this game would be a no brainer, but because I don't the game, sadly, remains on the If Only list.

Join me next week for another review and another opinion poll. Until then, keep on gaming and thanks to everyone who helps to make this blog worth doing.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Board Game News: Issue 2

Days of Wonder have announced a new small expansion for their hit game Small World, along with reprints of Cursed and Dames. The new expansion Tales and Legends is basically an event deck that will help to randomise the game even more so that no two plays will ever be the same. Read more about it here.

Expansion 8 for Carcassonne is now on sale in the UK. Bridges, Castles & Bazaars adds, unsurprisingly Bridges, Castles & Bazaars to the base game, introducing a new auction mechanic, further point stealing mechanics and yet more ways to fill gaps you were finding difficult. All that said, this expansion certainly looks better than The Catapult. Rio Grande have yet to include full info on their website, but you can read more on Board Game Geek here.

Alchemy the latest expansion for Dominion is also now on sale in the UK. Introducing 12 new decks plus a new form of currency to the game. You can find more information here.

Z-Man have added Pocket Battles: Orcs and Elves to their Sneak Peaks page. The previous PB game was highly praised by Tom Vasel in his Dice Tower Video Review here. Also a whole slew of new games are slated for a July release, including the controversial Road Kill Rally where you are awarded points for killing pedestrians, a two player Sci-Fi game Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League and Duel of the Giants, a game of Tank on Tank combat by the designer of Duel in the Dark, to name just a few of the new releases.

Steve Jackson has come out with a couple of new dice games recently, including a push your luck game called Zombie Dice.

Finally Fantasy Flight Games has announced this week’s releases including the New Tannhauser rulebook, it’s 96 pages for only $10 which seems pretty reasonable. Also announced this week, the release of Talisman: The Highlands, an Iphone app for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and an adventure for Dark Heresy.

If that wasn’t enough, there is a great new video on the site about the big box game Horus Heresy that really got me thinking… “Maybe I should get this…” and I don’t even care that much about 40k. Check it out here.  

Don’t forget there are still a few days left to vote in the poll and tell the world what is most important to you when buying games.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Carcassonne the River II

Yes, this really is a review of what is, in effect, a starting tile, however the River and the River II, when combined do something really interesting.

The Point

The point of the Rivers is to replace the original starting tile in Carcassonne offering players more options from the start of the game as well as helping to spread them out.

Unboxed

So what do you get in this tiny little box?

  • 12 Tiles
  • Rules

Yup, twelve, very nicely made, tiles. There is a spring, which is identical to the one that comes with River I. I wish they had included the spring from the mini expansion instead though, not only for  Spirng with Roadvariety but because the road on that tile would help eliminate larger fields. (See image)

Also included are two lakes. The first ends with a City which is useful for reducing the size of the fields, the second ends with a Volcano which is good for getting the Dragon into the game straight away.

The rest of the river tiles feature, an additional Inn, a Pig Farm (making fields worth a bonus point and which stacks with the bonus point gained from Pigs in Traders and Builders.) and finally a branch. Of all the tiles included in this set the branch is the most important and I’ll explain why in a moment.

Choices

The point of the original river was to offer you more choices at the start of the game, however you could only place your river tile in one place on the board, so the choices were really only an illusion. With the addition of River II, choice becomes a reality. If you combine both rivers and the branch, every time you draw a tile you will have three choices of where to place that tile. This has the effect of making the opening game feel much more strategic and much more like Carcassonne. It also reduces the likelihood that the player who places the lake tile will be unable to place a meeple, therefore people are no longer forced to waste a turn.

Combining and Randomising

I always use both spring tiles in our games now. What is nice about this is that you can orientate them in any direction, meaning that each game will be different. Sometimes I start the two tiles touching each other, other times I will place them with a one tile gap. The second configuration allows for more devious play with farmers. I then mix the other 22 tiles (including the three  lakes) into a pile.

(The Twelve Tiles from the River II)

In this way the rivers can end up being of a variable length and no one can guarantee which tiles they will end up with. Each turn, until the branch comes out, the players will have two options as to where to place their tile, this could be very important when playing with the Princess and the Dragon as you wouldn’t want to place the volcano right among your own meeples.

Conclusion

All in all I think, for the price, the River II is an excellent expansion, I might even go as far as to call it essential. The additional choices it offers during the set up phase are very welcome, plus the additional features such as the city that stretches over the river, or the Pig Farm all make for more interesting and strategic games. Playing with combined and varied length rivers means that from now on no two games of Carcassonne with be the same.

Don’t forget to fill out this week’s poll on what is more important to you when buying a game. Don’t forget you are allowed to choose multiple answers as well. Until next week, keep on gaming.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Board Game News: Issue 1

I read a lot of articles every week about upcoming games so I thought it was about time I start to advertise it somewhere. Obviously I don't have any insider knowledge and you could simply visit four or five websites to gather all this info yourself, or you can just let me do all that leg work for you.
Steve Jackson Games have announced that Munchkin will now be printed in full colour from the 19th printing. I was already dubious about this news, but the fact that this upgrade also represents an increase in price for a game that was already overpriced seems to be bad news in my opinion. Plus if you already own Munchkin Quest you’ll already have full colour cards. Read the full article here and the news about the price increase here.
Mayfair games have announced that they will be producing a new Settlers game that is crossed with a train game “Settlers of America: Trails to Rails” and it will be part of the Catan Histories series. Check out the full story here.
Fantasy Flight has announced new games (surprise, surprise), these include Dragonheart, a 2-player card game about bringing balance back to the Realm. Space Hulk: Death Angel, a co-op card game based on Space Hulk and designed by Corey Konieczka (designer of Battlestar Galactica and Runewars), a cheap affordable alternative to the over priced special edition from Games Workshop and knowing Corey previous work, possibly even a better game. 
On top of this FFG has announced the first expansion to Battles of Westeros, adding to the forces in the core set. But most importantly Arcane Fire, a battle pack for Warhammer Invasion is finally on sale!
Z-Man Games has finally released the cover art for Geoff Engelstein’s game, the Ares Project. Plus there is a preview of their latest game announcement Earth Reborn in issue 17 of their newsletter.
Sure, that’s not all the news but it’s a start. I will continue to post new bits as I find them and possibly make this a regular weekly feature. If you like this section give it thumbs below and I’ll continue to produce it.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

How and Why We Buy Games…

So the results of this week’s poll are in…

Just stare at it with wonder… 0 (0%)

Caress it…  2 (18%)

Sit cross-legged on the floor and play with all the bits…  3 (27%)

Carefully bag up every component…  2 (18%)

Read the Rules, Cover to Cover…  2 (18%)

Read the Back of the Box…  1 (9%)

Toss it aside and grab the next one in the pile…  1 (9%)

Thanks to everyone who voted. What conclusions can we draw from this..? Who knows!

This week’s poll was just a bit of fun really for me to see if I’m any different from the rest of the board gaming community when it comes to buying new games. I have to admit that when I tear the shrink wrap off I generally bag everything, then sit cross legged on the floor, pour out all the bags and play with the bits, so I’m glad to see I’m not alone.

So, since Christmas I’ve bought a lot of new games and expansions and I mean a lot! I don’t get review copies or anything like that so to keep reviews going on the blog I have to buy new games and I have stack now so deep I shouldn’t need to buy a new game for the rest of the year. Lets take a look at what I’ve bought…

  1. Warhammer Invasions – Every Battle Pack plus Assault on Ulthuan
  2. Carcassonne – The base game plus Traders and Builders, Princess and the Dragon, River II and Siege, Cult and Creativity.
  3. Red November
  4. Colossal Arena
  5. Cosmic Encounter
  6. Stone Age
  7. Killer Bunnies
  8. Risk: Balance of Power
  9. Space Crusade
  10. Runebound – Walkers of the Wild
  11. Myth: Pantheons
  12. Agricola and Farmers of the Moor plus all the Mayday components.
  13. Settlers of Catan the Card Game Expansion
  14. Battlestar Galactica
  15. Zooloretto and Zooloretto Exotic
  16. Talisman Fourth Edition

That’s 21 games in 5 months. Now I probably should add that I got them all at bargain prices, Zooloretto Exotic for example was £5.49 from Board Game Guru, so I’m not massively out of pocket. Also, a large number of these are now in boxes in the loft to be kept as birthday/Christmas presents so they wont all see reviews in the near future.

But Why?

So why do we buy the games we buy and how do I decide what to buy? If you take a look at the list above, there is a good mix of games. There are tile laying abstract strategy games, there are Ameritrash games and Euro games, card games and collectable games, war games and co-op games. If you had asked me a couple of years ago to play a board game I would have broken out HeroQuest or suggested playing Warhammer instead, if you had asked me to play a board game about farming in the 17th century I would have politely laughed my socks off.

As you can see my tastes have expanded, sure I still play those dungeon crawler type games and I love a good rpg or wargame, but at the end of the day, these are not games my family will play. So, as the only game buyer in my family and my group of friends I buy an eclectic mix that will hopefully keep everyone happy.

But that still doesn’t explain how I make my choices. Of course, there is no “one way” that I choose new games to buy, but generally my first port of call is The Dice Tower. I watch all of Tom’s video reviews, mainly to be kept abreast of new games that may become part of my collection. I also listen to the Dice Tower podcast, which not only has a news segments about new games, but will often cover old and even out of print games. In this way I find out about games that I might have otherwise have passed over.

For example, based solely on the box cover and rather pretentious looking name, I overlooked Carcassonne for years. Stone Age, Agricola, Settlers would have been passed by in favour of a big box with a dragon breathing fire on the front. However, the Dice Tower only really gives me the spark, sometimes I’ll buy a game based solely on Tom’s review, but more often that not I’ll keep looking around. Board Game Geek is often my next port of call where I will read the shortest reviews and I will generally try and find a negative one so that I can get a jaded view of what the bad points of the game might be.

THIS DOES NOT ALWAYS DO ME GOOD… For example I read so many bad things about Runebound that I became jaded about it myself before even playing the game. That coupled with a bad first couple of games soured me a little towards the game.

I also scout about on the publishers websites, primarily Fantasy Flight, Z-man and Rio Grande in the hopes of finding the next best new game in my collection. Of these FFG is the best, they publish, on average, 3 posts a day about new/upcoming/recently published games and all this publicity does a very good job of getting me excited about a game.

Finally I will check around for other video reviews, Scott Nicholson and Board To Death Tv are two of my favourites. Once I’m happy that I like the look and sound of a game I hunt it down. Once it’s in the post I think… “Oh… It might be a good idea if I read the rules.” This is because I am a genius, and that, was sarcasm. Luckily I’ve never really been burned by doing this.

So but Why???

Why do I buy games? Well for many reason. Some games I buy to play with my family, some to bond with my friends. Other games I buy because I love the look of it, Battlestar might fall into this category.

Other times I buy games to bulk out an order. For example you can general add the small box Carcassonne expansions to any order without increasing the postage. Or to see if the hype is justified (see my purchases of Carc and Agricola as proof).

However, I guess the major reason why I bought all of these games is because they were cheap. Farmers of the Moor £15, Space Crusade £5, Talisman £20. Where I live in the Uk the cinema costs £7, you’re average pub meal £7, a diet coke £2, add in popcorn and petrol and you could easily buy most of the games on the list for what it costs for one person to go and see the latest Marvel film… and that my friends is why we buy board games.

And that is it for this week, next week will see another game review, you’ll have to wait and see what it is though (because I have no idea!) I will also put up a new poll at some point during the week when I get some time.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Stone Age

This is the first review of a game on the If Only list and the game is Stone Age. Stone Age is my first worker placement game, it’s produced by Hans Im Gl├╝ck/Rio Grande Games and it is possibly the most beautiful game in my collection.

Admittedly that’s not that hard a prize to achieve, but Stone Age is gorgeous. Anyway, that’s enough drooling, lets get on and look at the game.

Da Story

Once upon a time, a long time ago, people lived in caves and hunted saber toothed animals of all shaped and sizes. Then along came the stone age, the industrial age of the –lithic times. Suddenly man was not content to doodle on his walls and defecate in his living room. Now was a time of civilisation, of hunt building and farming and fertility. The nomadic hunter gathers began to put down roots, Starting Playerbuilding alongside the river, but they were not alone, other tribes followed suit, which bred competition for resources and apparently hotel rooms where you could seduce your mate.

Any way that is the meat and bones of Stone Age, you play a rather uncouth bunch of cavemen looking for ways to become more civilised, by building huts, developing their society, having plenty of offspring and setting up workshops. You must compete with the other players for limited resources and whoever has built the best society by the end of the game, wins.

Da Viscera

When you open stone age you get that delicious rush of smell that always comes with a Rio Grande game, freshly cut cardboard, chunky painted wood… but there is a rather sinister undertone… it seems to be dead cow!

  • 1 gameboard
  • 4 individual player boards
  • 58 wooden resources
  • 40 wooden people
  • 8 wooden markers in 2 sizes
  • 53 food tiles
  • 28 building tiles
  • 18 tool tiles
  • 1 start player figure
  • 36 civilization cards
  • 7 dice
  • 1 leather dice cup
  • 1 information sheet

That’s right, the Leather Dice Cup wins the award for worst smelling game component ever! Other than that all the components are top notch. The cardboard huts are as chunky as the tiles in Carcassonne, as are the meeples and the wooden resource tokens. The main board Dice Cupand the player boards are beautifully illustrated… ON BOTH SIDES. Obviously this a fact you only appreciate as you set up the game and  put it away again, but it is appreciated all the same.

If I was going to complain about any part of the game, other than the smelly dice cup, it would be the cards, which are quite thin, but even then I’m only trying to find something to pick on. Oh and I had to glue the feet onto the starting player token to stop them falling off all the time.

The graphics on the cards, boards and tokens is superb, the best in my collection. However, even better, is the fact that the graphics are incorporated seamlessly into the game mechanics. Every facet of the game becomes obvious after the first play through just by looking at the beautiful artwork but that’s enough raving, lets get right into…

Da Gristle

So how does one play with this masterpiece of graphic design? You begin the game with 5 meeples, 12 food and nothing else. At the end of each round you will need to feed your people 1 food per person, so you begin the game with enough food for two turns, assuming you’re not overly fertile.

Stone Age Board Map(Click For Larger Image)

The starting player is determined randomly and they become “Chief”. They may then place any number of meeples on the board in a single location, assuming there are enough circles in that location for those meeples. For example, you can play only 1 meeple on the Farm, Tool Hut, any of the Four Hut Token spaces or any of the Four Civilisation cards. However you could play up to 7 meeples in any of the resource gathering areas, assuming there are enough open spots remaining.

Once you have played any number of meeples into one area play passes to the next player and continues round until everyone has placed some meeples in one area. Then you get to go again, you cannot place any of your remaining meeples into an area where you already have meeples or into an area that is already full. For this purpose each card and hut token is a separate area. So for example you placed your first meeple in wood, you cannot place any more meeples in wood this turn. You place your second meeple on a hut token, on a later turn you may place another meeple on a different hut token because they are considered separate areas.

Once everyone has placed all of their meeples, the Chief recalls his, performing the action associated with the space. The Farm increases food production (as shown by the track at the side of the board). The Tool Hut gives you +1 tool. The Love Hut gives you +1 meeple (you must always place two meeples in the Love Hut in order to use it). Cards and Hut Tokens must be paid for with resources.

Resources are gathered by rolling a dice for each meeple in the forest (wood), clay pit (clay), quarry (stone) the river (gold) or the hunt (food) adding up the total and then dividing by the “cost” of the particular resource. Food has a cost of 2, wood 3, clay 4, stone 5 and gold 6. (As can be seen on each players board)

Stone Age Player Board

After all the players have retrieved their meeples, the Chief changes to the next player to the left and the same procedure is repeated. The game ends when one of the Hut Token piles is depleted (there are 7 huts in each pile) or there are not enough Civilisation cards to fill the four spots on the board.

Da Shiny Things

So that’s how to play, but what about scoring. Sure it’s fun to try and build a balanced economic engine, which is what you’ll do in your first game, but it probably wont score you that many points. Stone Age is less about surviving (we’ve already mastered that) and more Hut Tokenabout bettering yourself. That is why points are awarded for building huts (these are scored instantly) and by buying civilisation cards (these are scored at the end of the game.)

The actual process of scoring is a little complex at first, but it becomes second nature by the third or fourth game. Each Hut Token is worth the printed cost. Each civilisation card has two parts, the top part is an immediate in game benefit like +2 stone or +3 victory points. The bottom part is either Green or Yellow. There are 8  different “Green” cards, with two of each variety. These cards are Stone Age Card Examplesmultiplied by themselves to give you points. So if you have 3 different greens they  are worth 9 points, but if you get a fourth they would be worth 16 etc. Duplicates are worth 1 point extra.

The Yellow cards have one of four different icons, a Tool Marker, a Shaman, a Hut Builder or a Farmer. Each depicted figure is multiplied by your tools (for Tool makers), your meeples (for shamans), your huts (for hut builders) or your position on the food track (for farmers.) add up all these, plus 1 point for each remaining resource (food doesn’t count) and you will finally know who amongst your friends is the most civilised.

That was about as clear as mud wasn’t it?

Da Kill

Ok, so the scoring seems complex and doubtless, nobody will truly “get it” on the first play through, but once you understand it, the scoring is actually much simpler than working out Farms in Carcassonne.

So what do I think of the game, other than how pretty it is? I love it’s simplistic mechanics. I love how the cards and the boards work together to act as player aid. I love that there are multiple paths to victory and I love that the game rewards you for trying your best to be better.

This last part in particular is true. You can end up being forced to choose between feeding your people or scoring extra points. If you fail to feed your people you lose 10 points. However, letting your people starve might just give you what you need to clinch a victory. In that way Stone Age makes me feel like I am always striving to be the best I can be, despite adversity.

My family loves the game too. The multiple paths to victory means that you can always adapt your strategy when things don’t go your way. Although you can block other players, there is no direct confrontation (i.e. The Robber in Settlers of Catan), which makes for a friendlier, less argumentative game. 

So all in all, am I happy with Stone Age? Yes… very happy. Will it continue to see table time after Agricola arrives? I hope so. Stone Age is a great way to spend 60-90 minutes. Yes there are times when the dice hate you, but that is life, sometimes you go out on the hunt and come back with nothing. But the addition of tools should really help to offset the luck factor. And yes, the dice cups smells and yes the Cheif’s feet might need a little glue, but the game is beautiful and happily it’s not just a pretty face!

That’s just about it from me don’t forget to vote in this week’s poll, “What do you do first with a new game?”

See you next week for more Board Game Rambles. 

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