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Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Dwarf King

I’ve been a fan of Bruno Faidutti since I first played Citadels, so this small boxed Whist variant intrigued me. Bringing a mix of familiar trick taking and Bruno’s patented style of chaos to the table in a fast, pocket-sized package, but is it any good? Let’s find out!

Theme

Dwarves, Goblins and Knights, all the elements you need for a great fantasy story game, which is exactly what Dwarf King isn’t. Dwarf King is a simple trick taking game with a fantastic artistic style but no narrative to speak of.

Unboxed

Now, before we open the box, let’s discuss the box itself. ILLEO have done a superb job here, it’s small but it hold everything nicely and securely, the box is sturdy and the artwork is brilliant, but my favourite bit? The magnet that keeps the lid closed. Genus!

  • 39 basic cards
  • 14 special cards
  • 20 goal tiles
  • Rules

Again I can’t stress enough how much I like the artwork on these cards, it’s well done, it’s fun and it’s super cute! I’m a sucker for great artwork and I’m not afraid to admit that the box art plus Faidutti name is exactly why I picked this up!

Playing the Game

Dwarf King plays exactly like most variants of Whist with a couple of exceptions. Firstly there are only 3 suits and there are no “Trumps” meaning that the colour that lead the trick will always beat any other colour and the highest card of the lead colour will win the trick.

Secondly 1 random special card is always shuffled into the deck each round (there are 7 rounds per game) The special card is always revealed before shuffling so the players know what it is and how it should be played.

These special cards add a layer of mystery and chaos and usually score bonus points, however some of them cause all players to swap hands and other chaos!

Thirdly, the points for each round are determined by a quest card. Traditionally players would score points for taking (or not taking) tricks, but in Dwarf King you only score points based on the current quest. A single quest is used each round. The quests are quite varied, such as scoring points for each Knight (blue card) taken, scoring points for taking an exact number of tricks or scoring points for not taking a specific card.

The game is played over seven rounds and the player with the most points at the end wins.

Thoughts

Dwarf King plays very very well with three and four players and the mechanics of the game are familiar enough to most players to get everyone started straight away.

The game plays quickly, even over seven hands and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. The special cards and quests keep the game fresh and interesting, allowing for different strategies with each hand. Because Dwarf King is not necessarily about winning tricks, the tactics become about how best to play your cards and a skilled player will shine through, despite the randomness inherent in Bruno’s design.

One negative point now, some of the quests allow for a large number of points to be scored (one player in a game we played went up 42 points in round one) while other quests are capped at 5 points. This can lead to a runaway leader who simply cannot be caught, making the other rounds less fun to play out. This is a minor gripe though and it’s mostly because I’m not very good at the game!

Final Thoughts

I like it! I like the artwork most of all, but I also like the small twists on a familiar concept. I like the randomness because it keeps the game fun without stripping it of meaningful, tactical decisions.

Also I like the small box and the fast set up and play time, an excellent game you could easily play on a train or during a lunch hour. If trick taking card games are up your street you really owe it to yourself to check this one out.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Thunderstone Advance: Caverns of Bane

And I’m back! I apologise that my absence went on longer than anticipated but I’m back and I hope to get back into the weekly reviewing schedule. First up is an expansion that has been sitting on my desk for a few months now. I got my first look at Caverns of Bane back in the summer when Mark Wooton kindly spoiled a few cards for us in a video interview at the UK Games Expo.

 

Needless to say as a massive Thunderstone fan I couldn’t wait to get my own copy. One of the issues I had with the release of Thunderstone Advance was an increase in the complexity and the playing time. Caverns of Bane doesn't fix either of these issues. Caverns simply does two things, it provides more variation and it reintroduces Treasure cards. 

Right before we go any further, lets see what you get in the box?

Unboxed

Components:

  • Nearly 300 new cards
  • Dividers
  • Redesigned travel box
  • Rule book

Component quality is, as always, very high. I like most of the artwork in this set more than I did with Towers of Ruin. Also, as Mark points out in the video, the border colours have been lightened to make the cards easier to tell apart.

It may be worth noting that the Caverns of Bane box divides differently than previous boxes making it the strongest box yet, it also has a handy central compartment for storing tokens. Needless to say, like all my previous Thunderstone boxes, I’ll be transferring other games into this box!

New Stuff

Lets talk about Treasure Cards. Treasure Cards were a bit random in the original game and were generally disliked, although not as much as traps. In Thunderstone Advance the treasures come out and attach themselves to a monster in the hall, granting that monster a new Battle ability. So, in order to claim a treasure you must slay the monster wielding it. The treasure makes the monster more challenging, so gaining a reward feels justified.

Multiple treasures can attach to the same monster and it gains all the battle abilities. If you defeat the monster you gain the treasure and it goes in your deck just like any other card, giving you gold, vps and some kind of special ability when it turns up in your hand.

Overall I like the treasures, certainly more than previously and I’ll be happy to see more turn up in future expansions.

Heroes

Okay, so lets take a look at the new good guys that come in the box.

Disowned – These guys are interesting, powerful fighters that destroy accompanying heroes. A good way of getting rid of your Regulars maybe, but devastating if you only draw all level three heroes! The highest level Disowned can carry two weapons, but he is neither as strong nor as powerful as the Toryn!

Forcemage – The Forcemage is powered by spell cards, each granting him additional magical attack. As he advances he also allows you additional card draw.

Patternmage – This is a handy hero to have as she allows you to look at the top of your deck. Her later incarnations allow you to look and draw. However, where this card is really handy is in dealing with monsters than get bonus attack based on the top card of your deck, such as the Avian Covaxis in Towers of Ruin.

Rapparee – This handy thief comes with a high gold value and the ability to buy village cards as spoils!

Skinshifter – Got a hand full of diseases? This hero can burn through useless cards and turn them into attack and strength.

Spellsword – This warrior mage powers up from each magical item, weapon and spell in your hand and at the highest level he allows you to buy one such card as spoils.

Tuath – A typical ranger (with the –1 gold value) she allows you to place monsters from the hall back to the bottom of the deck, stopping the game from stagnating.

Village

Animal Talisman – This card is super cheap for the versatility it offers. Providing either magical attack, light or strength, however it’s 0 gold value can make it annoying to have in the village.

Bloodhound – This is one of my favourite cards, the Bloodhound requires a hero to be effective, giving it +2 attack, but the hound also gains +1 attack for each other Bloodhound, making a pack of these creatures very deadly indeed!

Castellan – A very expensive villager the Castellan allows you to draw three additional cards in the village and destroying him allows you an additional 3 and an additional buy!

Charm of Venery – This is the cheapest way to gain two light, however you may not visit the village while it is in your hand, so buy wisely.

Dwarven Ale – This is super potent stuff, attack and strength +1 for every hero, plus you can destroy the card to give a dwarf hero +4 attack!!

Force Blast – This is a weak spell for its cost, only offering +2 Magic Attack, but it does also gain light equal to the highest level wizard present.

Historian – This is a nice XP granting card which you can destroy for an additional card draw when you refill your hand.

Liveoak Staff – Time to equip your Regulars! This card has +6 attack minus the strength of the equipped character.

Owl Eyes – This spell allows you to ignore darkness, however light in your hand counts as –2 per point of light.

Reckless Conjure – You need to be in a seriously dire position to use this spell, draw 2 cards, discard 4! Unless you have gotten a massive number of diseases or you know your next two cards are awesome this one seems like a massive gamble!

Seedbomb – This is an inexpensive magic weapon which you can destroy to keep a hero that is levelling up, instead of destroying him.

Taproot Blade – A magic weapon that powers up from discarded cards.

Thorn Caltrops – These cancel Raid effects and can be destroyed to cancel one Battle effect.

Monsters

Thunderstone has always been influenced by popular fantasy worlds, but this time Dungeons and Dragons is the obvious influence. Classic monsters like the Gelatinous Cube and the Purple Worm make their appearances, alongside artwork for the trolls that comes almost straight out of the original monster manuals!

Chiroptid

Humanoid Bat-like creatures the Chiroptid make use of the Ambusher keyword, destroying cards with Light, stealing XP and destroying village cards. They also feature some ambushers which gain health equal to the gold cost of the top card of your deck.

Doomknight Undead

The Doomknights return, this time they power up based on the number of monsters present in your hand. With an average of 9 health these beasties can be tough to remove.

Elemental Salamander

These cards allow you extra card draw, however if it is the wrong type of card the monster powers up and/or destroys cards in your hand!

Ooze

For only the second time ever (i think) a monster group that features 11 different cards. Each Ooze is different requiring a varied strategy to dispatch them all!

Troll

Famous for their ability to regenerate the Trolls don't leave the hall after they have been fought but not killed. Also many of them dish out nasty curses too!

Worm

The worms vary in type, but most are going to destroy your heroes, so having a few spare Regulars is always a good plan!

Guardians

Finally this set introduces three new Guardians.

Goron Singlemind – This mean Thunderstone Bearer has 16 health, however he suffers –2 for each class present in your hand, so it pays to diversify.

Mowtil, Djinni Lich – I’m not sure how a Djinni-Lich is possible but here he is, 8 heath +1 for each card you have (Reckless Summon could be handy!!), also magic attack is required and if you fail to defeat him you must destroy a card with a vp if able!

Xobmokt, Ichor King – I think there may have been a spellcheck malfunction on the day this guy was named! 12 health and a global effect: Whenever a player discards a card before the end of his turn, the card is instead destroyed.

Thoughts

As a big D&D fan this expansion brings some great classic monsters to the table, resembling their RPG counterparts in more than just looks and name, their abilities are often spot on.

I really like the reintroduction of treasures and I look forward to seeing if traps can be reworked to better fit with the new system.

Overall the production is great, I like the new artwork and design work for the most part and I think the selection of cards is a good one. The cards manage to be different without being convoluted, drawing on keywords more heavily than previous expansions, but without most cards being rendered totally useless unless X card is in play.

I was a little disappointed that more familiars were not included in this set as there were only seven in the base set.

Final Thoughts

If you like Thunderstone there is no reason not to pick up this set, it doesn’t do anything ground breaking, it just expands the game and offers a greater number of choices. If you are a classic D&D nerd then this set will offer you some great nostalgia. A solid first expansion to the Thunderstone Advance line.

AEG Provided a review copy of this game.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Running out of Steam - Hasbro Retires a Monopoly Piece Forever

Hasbro recently ran a facebook vote to determine which Monopoly piece would be forever consigned to the vault. Watch the video below to see who lost... *Hint* it wasn't the race car, because that's the best one!!!

So the iron is gone forever, it probably wont change the game, despite the myriad of editions to come out over the years Monopoly has changed very little and altering the playing pieces will have little effect. Still it's interesting to see which way the public voted. Of course with the Iron gone the world needs a new token, with a choice of Robot, Ring, Cat, Helicopter and Guitar, find out which one the people chose by visiting the link

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