Why I love board games Part 2 The Rules

18 Jan

This sounds nutty I know, but I love getting stuck into a good rule book. I’m terrible when it comes to actually remembering the rules when I prepare to play a game, but I love learning about game mechanics. I love looking at the gorgeous art. I love discovering new types of games that I’ve never experienced before. Most of all though I love the promise that a rule book offers.

When I’m reading a rule book I imagine how those scenarios will actually play out in an actual game. I love thinking about how my friends are going to enjoy certain situations, and I love thinking how we will react to those situations. I love the anticipation, the thought that very soon I’ll be sitting around a table with people I enjoy, and that these simple words, phrases and sentences will become something more. Something tangible.

Some games like Fortune And Glory have a starter rule set and a more complicated rule book. I obviously love reading both, but will still make mistakes.

Yes I get frustrated with ambiguous rules (who doesn’t) but I love the satisfaction I get when I finally work something out and finally get it when it all clicks into place. Granted, I’ll often have the points pointed out to me by my virtual friends at Rllmuk, but it’s a lovely Eureka moment. The kind you get when you finally work out how to take down a boss in a video game, or finish a particularly difficult crossword.

Some rules are harder to understand, but that's also part of the fun.

I love how the vast majority of rule books I own are like precious little tomes, full of gorgeous artwork, and beautiful presentation. I’m sure there are clunkers out there, but the many ones I have are dripping with theme, and make you even more excited about playing.

Perhaps most of all though I love that I can get excited by simply reading a rule book. I guess that’s part of the magic of this hobby that we all enjoy.

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Cyclades Review

16 Jan

I’ve not played many board games that intentionally blend genres, but if they all do it as well as Cyclades does then I’m going to start tracking them down. Cyclades is a board game designed for 2-5 players, but it’s definitely suited for larger play groups, and is even more enjoyable if you’ve a love for Greek mythology.

How Long To Set It Up?

You can get all the pieces together and ready in about 5 minutes. It’s relatively straightforward to do, but does require a decent amount of space.

The Win Condition

Build or secure 2 metropolises before your opponents. You do this by either building four of the different structures that are available, collecting 4 philosphers, or simply taking a metropolis from another player by force.

What Makes It Special?

Cyclades big draw is that you must make offerings to 4 gods in order to get their help. Ares, the god of war grants you the ability to buy and move soldiers, and build fortresses, while Athena allows you to gain and buy philosophers and build universities. Poseidon lets you build fleets and move them and also allows you to build ports, while Zeus lets you buy priests and exchange monsters for new ones at a cost of one gold.

Only one player can earn the favour of a god, so everyone has a turn to place the highest bid (providing they have the gold) to earn a god’s favour. The starting play group determines how many gods are in play at any one time, so whoever fails to earn a gods favour (or simply wants to save money) can visit Apollo. Apollo gives you one gold and a horn of plenty piece that can be placed on one of the player’s island. Players get one gold piece for each horn of plenty icon they have, meaning sometimes it pays to purposely visit Apollo.

The gods have different abilities. You can only bid on one a turn, so be sure you get a god's favour when you actually need it.

How Does A Turn Work?

Quite simply really. First the order of the players (for bidding purposes) is randomly determined and the gods are shuffled and placed in vertical order on the left hand side of the board. Then gold is given out based on what a player owns. Once everyone have made a successful bid, the player who made the highest bid on the lead god goes first. He can perform any actions, or special actions that the god offers and also has the option to summon monsters, which can hinder the other players. Play then continues until every player has had a turn. It’s worth noting that priests allow you to bid less gold (one less for each priest you had) which makes Zeus very powerful early on in the game.

What are the components like?

Generally of a very high quality. The board is a little small for the box (it comes in two pieces with a flap that bends down) but it seems sturdy. A nice touch is that the board can also be flipped, so if you are playing with more people you have a larger playing area. There’s a large number of men and boats for each player, 8 in fact, while the game also comes with 5 large monster models. These monsters are very well detailed, but a little prone to bending (my centaur was in terrible shape and must be bent back at the start of each game). Monsters, philosophers and priest cards are nicely illustrated and sturdy, meaning they should soon plenty of use before they start getting dog-eared. The presentation throughout is of a very high standard, and I was extremely pleased with the amount of stuff you get for your money.

The monster cards are beautifully illustrated. In fact the overall quality of Cyclades is very good indeed.

What Are The Rules Like?

Pretty good. There’s a little disambiguation to be found, mainly with regards to the offerings, but there are plenty of illustrated pictures throughout the six pages that make many of the rules far easier to follow. The back page of the manuel also reveals how the set-ups for various players should be completed.

How long does a game take?

This obviously depends on the amount of players, but we’ve been managing 3 player games in about an hour and a half. The turns are relatively fast-paced as well, meaning that there’s very little downtime for each player, as they’re waiting between turns.

Should I buy it?

Definitely. I’ve been very impressed with Cyclades. It looks the business with excellent visuals and sturdy, well designed models. The game plays very quickly and it’s just as fun with 2 players as it is with 5. The theme is incredibly strong, and it does a great job of blending different genres. It’s worth noting that Cyclades doesn’t do anything new, but it’s very, very polished and highly enjoyable. Pick it up if you’re looking for something a little different.

Why I love Board Games Part 1

12 Jan

Man updating this blog regularly is hard work, goodness knows how people like Tom Vasel manage it all the time. All my spare time gets eaten up so quickly that before you know it, the time has just disappeared, and a new day has begun.

Still that’s not the point of this latest update. The point is that my busy days reminded me how much I actually look forward to getting home and playing board games, so I thought I’d start putting those points together as I remembered them.

By far the most important aspect it that I can play them with my family. Being a modern family, it means that we don’t do a lot of things together. We might be in the same room, but I’ll be browsing my iPad, Alice will be playing on her DS or reading a book, Emily, my eldest will be browsing clothes shops online (she’s obsessed with shopping) while the wife will be reading one of her many novels. We’re all in the same room, but aside from the odd snatch of conversation, or a quick break to make a cup of tea (which always seems to be my turn). That’s as far as the interaction goes. We’re with each other, but we’re not with each other, if that makes sense.

Board games changed all that. There’s something truly satisfying about sitting around a table with your friends or loved ones, and enjoying a game. Any game. Yes, the wide age difference between my two daughters (Alice is 6, Emily is 11) means we can’t play every game together, but experimentation has revealed plenty of titles that we can all play. Carcassonne, Zooloretto, Wildlife Adventure and It’s Alive are the most popular ones, and I’m sure we’ll add many others as time goes by.and my youngest gets older.

You can’t be passive when playing board games, you have to participate, you have to join in, you have to query rules, you have to challenge people when they’re trying to do something on the sly, you have to touch and caress the lovingly created pieces. Most importantly though you have fun and you’ve had that fun with people that matter.

Scooby Doo Haunted House Board Game Review

8 Jan

Scooby Doo has been entertaining children for over 40 years and in that time he’s featured in hundreds of different types of merchandise, including lunchboxes, videos, jigsaw, books and anything else you could care to mention. He’s also appeared in a number of board games, and it’s one of these titles we’ll be looking at today.

Scooby Doo: Haunted House, has you effectively trying to solve the riddle of a scary ghost who’s terrorising the local old house on top of scraggly hill (I’ve made up this location as I like the sound of it). Players do this by entering the haunted mansion and making their way through its trap-laden halls, where they will eventually come face to face with the tricky ghost and discover his true identity.

You only get cardboard figures, but the house itself is well constructed.

Scooby Doo: Haunted House is ideally suited for up to 5 meddling kids, as they will then be able to replicate the full adventures of Mystery Inc team. It scales down to 2 players just fine though, and if anything works a little better, as it’s a lot harder to disrupt the board. A spinner is included on the base of the board, and players take turns to spin it. You can move up to six spaces at once, although only one 6, 5 and 1 appear on the 9-numbered dial. Should you hit a gravestone there are no mishaps and you are free to move your character and finish your turn. Hit a ghost tile however and the Haunted House is activated. This is achieved by pressing down on the ghost at the top of the castle, until you hear him click. This will then activate the 7 traps found throughout the playing area, which range from a cage, to shaking stairs and falling platforms. It’s a nice throwback to the old game Haunted Castle, but everything is done mechanically.

Should your charater get knocked over or trapped you must then return to the beginning of a set area, or what until the trap is once again activated so you can escape from it. Once a player finally reaches the top of the house, they can unmask the troublesome ghost and win the game.

As you might expect, Scooby Doo: Haunted House is best catered to the taste of younger players. It’s is a very simplistic game, with players at the mercy of the mechanical traps that can strike without warning. It also has a few issues that can make the game needlessly tricky. For starters, the spinner is part of the main board, meaning younger children can knock down player pieces by overzealously spinning the marker. The cramped area of the game also means that it can be easy to catch yourself on the board itself and again knock characters over. Oh and the included instructions are a real pig, as they pictures are very small and hard to look at. Finally, the house itself is extremely noisy when traps are activated.

And yet even with these issues it’s a fun game for the very young and a nice introduction to board games as a whole. It’s dripping with theme, and will go down extremely well with fans of the TV show.

Expansion Madness #1 Carcassonne Catapult

6 Jan

Expansions are a great way of extending the life of a board game, so join me as I look at some of the best and worst that are currently available. First up I’ll be taking a look at Caracassonne The Catapult.

Carcassonne is a brilliant game that I always have trouble pronouncing properly, and sometimes even spelling properly. While it appears deceptively simple – you do little more then lay tiles each turn, which edges must match other tiles that are already on the board – it proves to be a deceptively strategic game. A game that my 6-year is absolutely amazing at, constantly trouncing me by a good 70 points whenever we play. She’s like the Rain Man of board games, so good is she at grasping the mechanics of most titles. But I digress.

You get 12 new tiles with Carcassonne Catapult. I like the one that looks like a cat's head (top left second in).

There are many expansions for Carcassonne, befitting for a game that’s so popular, and it’s a typical ‘Gateway’ title, essentially a stepping stone to other types of board games. Although there’s a certain randomness to the game (in so much that you don’t know what tile you’re drawing) it’s balanced enough that you’re rarely stuffed by a draw, as there’s always somewhere that you can place the tile.

Sadly, Carcassonne The Catapult, ignores this careful beautiful structure and throws a barrel load of chaos into the mix with a healthy side order of randomness. In short my six year old loves it.

Here's the catapult itself. It appears to be made out of a sturdy balsa wood. I've included a bumper pack of Pringles for comparison purposes. The Pringles were very nice.

The main draw of Carassonne Catapult is the catapult that comes with it. It’s a fairly sturdy construction and i’d imagine you’d have to apply a lot of pressure in order to break it. Which you’ll want to do, as it’s one hell of a frustrating addition to the game, mainly because it’s about as accurate as hitting a square peg into a small round hole. Whenever you flip the catapult it rarely lands where you want it to. While this randomness delights young children, it becomes very frustrating as it’s possible to lose larger number of points due to randomness that’s completely out of your control. Take a look at the following new cards to see what I mean…

The new tiles from left to right: Target Hurling, Catch, Knock Out, Seduction. I hate you all.

Each player is given 4 tokens, one of which can be played whenever you draw a Catapult tile from the bag or pile of tiles you have. The first tile shows a bullseye and is ‘Target Hurling’. If you play this, you must take it in turns to try and hit the last placed tile. Whoever gets closest scores 5 points. The icon showing a ball is called ‘Catch’. Here players use the included measuring tile to mark a halfway line between an opposite player. You must then attempt to flick your tile past this line. Points are scored by your opponent if they catch it or you don’t shoot far enough, and you score points if they miss it or you shoot to their side. Next up is the blue knock out tile – one of the most horrid tiles in all Carcassonne creation (at least in those I’ve played). If this little bugger comes into contact with an in-play meeple, it immediately removes it from the board (you can lose your own this way as well) as horrible as it sounds. Lastly we have the yellow ‘Seduction’ tile. Successfully land the tile on the board and you can switch the nearest meeple of an opponent with one of your own. It’s a nice idea, but like all the other options, is flawed due to the unpredictability of the catapult itself, which turns the game into a complete luckfest. Fine if you like that sort of thing, dreadfully frustrating if you don’t.

While I recommend Carcassonne The Catapult to those with small children, the sheer randomness and the low precision targeting of the actual catapult makes it hard to recommend to anyone else.

First Innistrad Draft Of The New Year

2 Jan

The Innistrad block is proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Upon its announcement I cynically felt that its clash between Human, Werewolves and Vampires was nothing more than an attempt to ensnare the Twilight crowd. Upon playing it, I now realise that I’m a complete douche.

There’s too much great stuff to say about Innistrad, so you can see some of my points about the set here.

I’m far more interested in sharing with you how my first draft of the new year went. But first a quick lesson.

  • I Suck At Playing Innistrad online

I love it you see, and play it a lot, but I just can’t get my head around the various archetypes that are available to draft, and there are a lot of them. I’m also pretty slow at realising when a colour is open, meaning I often get screwed out of decent cards during the second pack. Anyway, it was the start of a new year. Surely things would go right this time?

The first card I opened was Mikeaus, an insane mythic that can pump up all your other creatures to insane levels. I then drafted Hero of the Meek, a white rare that lets you draw a card for 1 mana if the creature you’ve just cast has power 2 or less. My 3rd pick was Sever the Bloodline, a ridiculous black rare that exiles cards and has flashback.

Needless to say I went black/White. Here’s a look at the deck I drafted.

 

It’s a little light on white, but there’s some nice synergy with the cards, particularly the Cathars, who can be sacked to boost Mikeaus. In fact I would often play him asap, just so I could start pumping him up to a significant size.

  • Game 1

My first opponent had a very good white/blue deck with fantastic synergy between Stitcher’s Apprentice, Galvanic Juggernaut and his how Hero of the Meek. Every turn he would create a 2/2 creature, draw a card of it, then sack it to untap his juggernaut. He was wrecking havoc, but some home sever the bloodline always won me the game. The matches were close though, and I think he had the better deck. I think he did as well, as he refused to communicate with me. I won this match 2-1

  • Game 2

This player was blue/black and had some great removal, a zombie theme and graveyard recursion. Fortunately for me, he made a number of silly mistakes, and was unfortunate in having a lot of his genuinely great cards like murder of crows milled away. I actually won this match 2-0.

  • Game 3

My final opponent was playing a very nasty green white human deck with spider spawn back up. Fortunately spider spawn didn’t make an appearance in the first game, and thanks to a well played banshee from me, I was able to make him concede the first game. The second game was far tougher, particularly when he cast Spider Spawning as seen here.

My board presence was decent, but his spiders were tokened up and as I only had 5 minutes left to win, it looked like the tables had turned. on my next turn I attacked with the banshee. He died, but I did take out one of his spiders. I then used unburial rights to get back my banshee, which proceeded to kill his remaining buffed spider. He played spider spawning again, but the falkirk noble, alter’s reap and repeating the banshee trick allowed me to win with about 2 and a half minutes to spare. It was a great result netting me 4 booster packs. One day I may attempt an 8/4 draft, but that day is a long way off 😉

New Year, New Games

2 Jan

So it’s the start of a brand New Year, so I thought I’d post what I received, or gave for Christmas. One of the great things about my new hobby is that the family enjoys it just as much as I do, so I was able to give presents that would not only benefit them, but also me. Cracking, and not something I’ve ever been able to do with videogames.

Anyhoo, I won’t go into too much detail here, simply because I haven’t had much time to play the games in question. This in itself is typical. You have an entire 10 days off for the Christmas break, and don’t give yourself enough time to do anything. Very annoying.

Anyway. Let’s take a look at the actual games…

  • Carcassonne The Catapult

This was actually a gift for my 6-year old daughter Alice. She’s a huge fan of the standard game, and already owns The Princes And The Dragon. This new set is a little too random for my liking, mainly because the included wooden catapult is pants, making it very hard to genuinely judge where you want tiles to fall. Still Alice likes it, and I guess that’s what really counts.

  • Quarriors! Rise Of The Demons

Another present, this time for my wife. She loves Quarriors! so the expansion was something of a no brainer for me. We’ve not played it yet, but it features a brand new monster, a new spell, a new type of basic corrupted die and corrupted versions of all the main monsters from the core set. It looks like a lot of fun.

  • Thunderstone Heart Of Doom

This is a gift for my 11-year old daughter Emily. She’s absolutely amazing at this game, so much so that we dread playing it with her. There’s something completely devastating about being regularly beaten at games by a child, but we plug on with it regardless. Anyhoo, we’ve not played this yet (there’s a theme building here) but it looks like a very cool set, with some great new monsters, including a mighty living thunderstone that requires a stupid amount of hit points to kill. If you fail, or if it breaches, it’s game over!

  • Power Grid

This was a present from my wife and one I’m greatly looking forward to playing. It’s a great resource game (according to those who have played it) and sees you building your own power companies to take over either germany or America. Great theme, and something I can’t wait to get stuck into.

  • Summoner Wars

Again, another game from my wife, and another game I’ve not played yet. It’s basically Magic: The Gathering, but without the need to spend an absolute fortune on cards. This sounds right up my street, as well as my mate’s Greg, so I’ll be playing it later this week.

  • Fortune And Glory: The Cliffhanger Game

I want to love this with all my heart, I really do, but so far something is stopping me. It’s steeped in theme and is effectively Indiana Jones the board game, just an unofficial version of it. you play 1 of 8 adventurers and must travel around the world retreiving artifacts and battling nazis. It’s dripping with theme, but it’s over reliance on dice is making it feel a little too random at the moment. I was playing it wrong though (I’m a chump like that) so expect a more balanced review when I’ve had some more time with it.

So that’s my new games, hope you all got great stuff as well.