I’ve gotten way behind on my board game reviews — I’m blaming it on the fact that I spent most of the summer preparing for a move, and then couldn’t unpack my board games for a while when our basement was getting renovated. Lately, it’s largely because, well, I just haven’t been able to get my gamers over frequently enough to actually sit down and play games more than once. (Some of my friends have had new babies, so I’m cutting them some slack, but the rest of you …)
It’s not quite time for my year-end list, and I know at this point you’ve probably already done all of your holiday shopping and it’s too late to put any of these on wishlists, but I wanted to share at least a few tidbits about a few games which hopefully will get the full GeekDad review treatment in the new year, in case you want to start saving up your pennies. (Or, you know, if you get some nice gift cards to spend on board games.)
First, two hidden movement games that are quite different from each other: Nuns on the Run from Mayfair and Ninja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan from AEG. I mentioned Nuns on the Run after PAX Prime this year, where I got to play it once. One or two players are the Abbess and Prioress, and the rest of the players play novices. Each novice has a secret wish, and is therefore out of bed, breaking curfew, in order to retrieve a set of keys which will unlock the room to their particular vice. The Abbess and Prioress have to catch the novices a certain number of times for victory, while each novice is attempting to retrieve their secret wish and return to their room. The game is a twist on many hidden movement games (like Scotland Yard), which tend to have one person running from many. In this case, it’s many people running from one or two. I liked the way that the mechanics worked but there were some potential flaws in the “line of sight” rules that will take more plays to sort through.
Ninja, from AEG, is set in their Legends of the Five Rings universe, a Japanese-like society with many clans, each with their own distinct personalities. I haven’t actually played any of the L5R games (there’s an RPG and a collectible card game that have both been around for a long time) and so I’m not as familiar with the world. However, it looks like it’s not really necessary to play this particular game, either. A ninja from the Scorpion Clan is infiltrating a fortress belonging to the Lion Clan, assisted by a traitor inside the complex. The ninja and traitor (either one or two players) work together, tracking movement on a pad of paper. They have specific objectives they need to accomplish in order to win the game. The Lion Clan, on the other hand, has to catch them before they succeed — and they get to decide where specific objectives are placed. I haven’t gotten to play this one yet but it looks like a fascinating game of cat and mouse, for those who want something a bit more serious than Nuns on the Run but perhaps not quite as gruesome as Letters From Whitechapel.
Fortune & Glory from Flying Frog Productions is a monster of a game, with an enormous board, piles of miniatures, and lots and lots of cards and tokens. (And, of course, a CD soundtrack.) As with Last Night on Earth and Invasion From Outer Space, this game is like a miniature movie production: Flying Frog eschews illustrations for photographs, using actors in costumes and staging scenes for all of cards and character sheets. However, Fortune & Glory doesn’t use the same mechanics as the other games: it’s all about the pulpy world of cliffhangers and adventure movies, and there’s a press-your-luck element as you go after treasures.
I have gotten to play it a few times (including at PAX Prime) but I wanted to give it another go before doing a full write up. At $90 (retail, anyway), it’s not cheap, and it’s not a game for everyone. However, for the right group of players, it’s the sort of game you’ll be playing over and over again.
And now for a couple of deck-builders. As you may know, I’ve become a big fan of the deck-building genre, and it’s been fun to explore all the different types of mechanics and themes now that the genre has really exploded. Rune Age is from Fantasy Flight Games and is set in the world of Terrinoth (like Runewars and DungeonQuest). One of the differences between Rune Age and other deck-builders is that it has scenarios: you set up for a particular scenario, which will have certain win conditions and particular card sets that will be used, including Events. Also, each player plays one of four factions, each with their own pool of cards that can be added to the decks. Finally, you can even attack each other throughout the game, which means that there is player elimination. I haven’t played this one enough yet to discover if that can lead to a player sitting out for a long time while others finish the game, but it’s an intriguing start.
Another deck-builder that got a lot of buzz surrounding its Kickstarter campaign a year ago is Eminent Domain by Tasty Minstrel Games. It’s a space-exploration game, which combines deck-building with a role selection mechanic that’s a bit like Puerto Rico. Each player will choose a role, which gives them and the other players the chance to perform a particular action. The person taking the role will also get some sort of bonus. As you progress, you discover new planets and either colonize them or conquer them using warfare, and then are able to use them to develop resources or invest in new technologies. There’s also an interesting feedback loop that occurs — the more you use the “attack” role, the more warfare-based your deck will become, making it easier to conquer planets but harder to colonize instead. I liked the space theme, since many of the deck-builders I’ve played have a fantasy theme; however, the number of technology cards available can be a bit overwhelming at first, making it a bit harder to teach to new players than, say, Dominion.
I’ve been meaning to give a shout-out to Greater Than Games, creators of Sentinels of the Multiverse. It’s a cooperative comic-book superhero game, where you each take a character (with its own deck of cards) and team up against a big bad guy. Each game also takes place in a certain environment, which has its own effects. The GTG guys are a new company and the game isn’t as polished as some others, but they’ve put some work into making the game inhabit this comic-book universe, and there’s a lot of nice little touches to help get you in character. They recently successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign for the Rook City expansion, which brings a darker, grittier feel to the world. The game kind of goes the provide-your-own-bits route and just gives you lots of cards: 10 heroes, 4 villains, and 4 environments, but you have to provide your own way of keeping track of hit points. So that means that you do get a lot of game for your money, but without fancy pieces. Still, if you’ve wanted to put yourself in a (non-franchise) comic book world, this is a pretty fun way to do it.
Speaking of counters and hit-point trackers, though, Icehouse pyramids are one thing you could use. I’ve actually been a fan of Icehouse pyramids (made by Looney Labs) for a while, and have amassed a pretty good collection of them. They’re small plastic pyramids, open at the base so they nest and stack, with three sizes. They used to sell them in “stashes” of 15 pyramids of a single color, but have since repackaged them for different types of games. The latest is IceDice, which comes with two rainbow stashes (30 pyramids in all) and two dice, in a little zippered pyramid bag. The game itself is a little like Zombie Dice: it’s a press-your-luck game, though the ultimate goal is to get three “trees” of a single color. There are also rules included for Launch Pad, but the best thing about Icehouse pyramids is that you can play a whole bunch of different games with them. At some point when I’m a little more caught up I may introduce you to some of them.
Here’s one from another smaller company: Strain, by Hungry Robot. I love the subtitle on the box: The Family Game of Competitive Bioengineering. In Strain, you compete to build microorganisms using cytoplasm and organelles. You’ll have to expend ATP for certain functions, and you can also generate toxins which can be used to attack other organisms. Play viruses on your opponents to wreak some havoc, and defend yourself by completing your cell membrane. Get enough building blocks on an organism and you can score it — or keep it around to help you continue generating ATP and toxins. The game has really cute graphics and is pretty clever, although it’s one of these huge-box-small-game deals, and might have a balance issue that I’ll examine in more detail in future plays.
And finally, one last one:
This one, like Fortune & Glory above, is a pricey game that is packed with stuff. As you can see from the photo above, it’s immense with the number of tokens, boards, dice, cards, and miniatures. But here’s the thing: you have to assemble the miniatures yourself. If you’re familiar with that sort of thing, then this is probably right up your alley. I’ve never assembled miniatures before in my life, and I spent probably about five or six hours over the course of the weekend gluing teeny tails onto teeny kobolds. My main beef with Soda Pop Miniatures is that the game seems to assume that you’re familiar with assembly and painting and whatever else miniatures hobbyists do, so there are no instructions on that, just on gameplay.
Still, from everything I’ve heard it’s a lot of fun to play, and on a first reading of the rules it sounds like a blast: sort of a board game version of manga-esque RPG video games, with one player controlling monsters and up to five heroes. I’m really hoping to get a few people together to try this one out during winter break.
All right: there you have it. I apologize if this is came too late for you to go shopping, but … you can always celebrate New Year’s Day with a new board game or two, right?