Thursday, January 31, 2008

Announcement - Contest Winners

The winners of the Thanks for Reading contest should have received your winnings by now, except for third place, because I forgot to bring it with me last weekend. I do that a lot, actually.

Anyway, first place scored two packs of Battleground cards. I hope you like that game. I'll have a review up... sooner or later.

Second place got a shiny new Foot Locker dice tower from VixenTor Games. I even picked one out that wasn't wobbly, because I'm that cool.

Third place got a tube of dice, or he will if I ever remember to give them to him.

Fourth place was absolutely giddy to get my copy of Atlanteon, and I was absolutely giddy to get the damned thing out of my office.

Once more for the cheap seats - thank you all for reading this rambling trainwreck of a review site. I have more games to give away for more contests, so stick around and we'll see if we can't get those out of my office, too.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Board Game Review - Risk 2210

Is anyone else out there a fan of 'All Your Base'? You know, that stupid little intro from Zero Wing where the bad guy drops into the ship and tells them he's winning the war? Because when I play Risk 2210, I pretty much spend the whole time thinking, 'that's right, take off every zig for great justice, bitches.'

You start with Risk. You have a bunch of little armies that are trying to take over the world, and you roll a bunch of dice a bunch of times. Now, in old Risk, you had one guy who turtled up in Australia and just loaded up on guys, and then you had one guy who swept all over, grabbing land and leaving just one army at a time behind them. Then you had the one guy who never had a real plan and ended up leaving key areas unprotected so that the rest of you were dismayed as the really aggressive guy won because of the dork who wouldn't pay attention. And whether or not you had all those guys, you were still up until four in the morning even after everybody knew who had won, because that one guy's 72-unit invading army had taken out everything except that last 24-unit defending spot, and that loser was rolling one die at a time because he won ties.

So that was then, and this is now.

Now you've got the same guys, but there's no way the game is going to take as long. For one thing, the game is over after five turns, so you can all get to bed before your beer buzz wears off. For another, now you can fight on the moon with little robots and space commanders, and now you have cards that let you set somebody up the bomb.

In my old man's box of Risk, all the armies were little wooden cubes. Not that representative, really. My box of Risk 2210, on the other hand, is full of little robots called MODs. These are not 60s hipsters, though, they are Machines of Destruction, so named because their opponents find themselves on the way to destruction.

Risk 2210 also has a bunch of cards. There are five different kinds of cards, matching up with the five kinds of commanders each player can summon into play. You get energy tokens every turn, and you can spend them to hire these commanders, play cards, draw cards, or build bases that may or may not belong to us.

Commanders are awesome, and really make the game. If you just plain need to win a spot, throw the nuke commander into the battle and watch him clean house with his eight-sided combat die. All of the commanders let you draw cards and play them, as long as you've got the right commander in play. Like you can't launch nuclear missiles without the nuke commander, and you can't settle the moon without the space commander. Your diplomatic commander will help you win the game, because he know what he doing. He get signal.

A great feature to Risk 2210 is that you can no longer hide in Australia. Thanks to the advent of undersea colonies, you can send your sea commander into battle to secure a string of locations that lead right up Australia's ass. The turtle guy who spent his whole game hiding can't cover up one spot and hope to hide behind it the whole game. If he just sits there, he has no chance to survive. Make his time.

Luck is still present in Risk 2210, perhaps more so than with old Risk. The introduction of cards that let you drop nuclear warheads on random places around the globe, or launch rocket attacks, or just kick up a few extra points at the end of the game, all tend to lead to a little more luck than the old-school strategy. A fair amount of maneuvering is still required, but it's not as much as it used to be. You don't sit there planning these long runs across the board, hoping to kill someone and steal their cards and turn them in for another 20 armies on the spot. Instead you fight a few battles, then go, 'How are you gentlemen!' and it's the next guy's turn.

I can't find anything to complain about with Risk 2210. I like it a lot more than old-school Risk, and even more than Godstorm, which used the same theory but didn't let you have enough resources to take advantage of all the extra stuff. Some fans of old-school Risk may be ready to yell,'what you say?!', but I don't care. 2210 is more fun.

The only real downside is that Risk 2210 was made by Avalon Hill after Wizards got it. And then Wizards ran it into the ground and left it on life support, cranking out the odd Axis & Allies game now and then and leaving us wondering what happened to all the great games they were making for a while. I'm not a Wizards basher by any stretch of the imagination - I think they're a very fan-friendly company that usually gets it right - but I am saddened because Avalon Hill has pretty much quit making anything I like.

It makes me want to turn on some really high-energy music, jump into my spunky little fighter zig, and shoot stuff in a little side-scrolling tunnel, all the while yelling, 'For great justice!'


Turn limit means you're not playing for eight hours
Cards, commanders, undersea colonies, and the moon
So much more fun
It has bases, so whenever you grab your opponent's last base, you can drop a horribly over-used Internet joke

A bit more luck than the old one

If this review made you want to set yourself up a 2210 bomb, go here and buy a copy:

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dice Game Review - To Court the King

I'm still trying to ingratiate myself with the guys at Rio Grande, so I figured this was a good time to review one of my favorite Rio Grande imports - To Court the King. Hopefully the marketing guy over there will be like, 'wow! This guy really likes that game - I wonder if he'll like this other one?' Because let's face it, that's why I do this - free games. I can pretend like I'm gaming elite because I'm a board game journalist (like that's tough to pull off), or that I do this for the respect of my peers, but the truth is, I do this because I don't make enough money to buy all the games I want to play. Maybe I would make more money if I quit staying up late typing game reviews, but I choose to ignore that possibility.

To Court the King is a dice game. It's like Yahtzee, if Yahtzee shot pure adrenaline into its chest and then ran around punching everybody in the kidneys. Where Yahtzee is an entertaining dice game if you're living in a retirement home, To Court the King is an entertaining dice game for anyone who likes strategy games, whether or not they're still able to chew their meals.

For starters, I should point out that while To Court the King is not a Reiner game, that's just because it's not blood simple (or what the BGG guys call 'elegant'). The theme in this game is pointless. You could strip away the theme completely, leaving the game fully devoid of any connection to anything outside the game, and it would play exactly the same. There is no reason for this game to have a theme at all, outside of some stunning art and the fact that you can sell about twice as many games if you pretend there's a theme.

Normally I don't like games without themes, but To Court the King still hits my table almost once a month - more if I can arrange it - because the game play is completely fantastic. There's obviously an element of luck - it is a dice game, after all - but strategy and planning is the deciding factor in this game. And since the theme is tangential to the game, I think I will apply my own theme, just for this review.

There are two basic pieces to this game. The first, obviously, is dice. Players start off with three dice to roll, looking for doubles, high rolls, all odds or all evens. The goal of the game is to roll at least seven of the same thing. In case you're not paying attention (or in case you're really bad at math), that poses a problem, since you only roll three dice and have to get seven of a kind. If you get all seven, you get a chance to try for the win - an extremely intimate evening with Jessica Alba. Of course, the game is far less interesting, and just calls it 'courting the king.' Yeah, like there's a nerd who's seen Fantastic Four and would rather be with a fat guy in a lacy frock.

So to make that big batch of dice a little easier to run down, there are the second batch of components - the cards. There are 20 character cards, representing everyone from Ann Coulter and Ed Asner to Shakira and Ozzie Osbourne, and they are all played face up in the middle of the table at the start of the game. Each card has a specific requirement to take it - you need all evens to get Tim Robbins, and you need four of a kind to get Ted Nugent. If you roll absolutely nothing, you can get Johnny Knoxville, or if you roll a six-die straight, you can get Keith Richards (and in case you're still not keeping up, you can't get a six-die straight with three dice. Pay attention!).

The point to getting cards is that each card lets you do something with your dice. Bill Gates lets you reroll dice. Jenna Bush lets you add +1 to any number of your dice. David Copperfield lets you change a die to whatever you want. But the best way to roll all those extra dice is to get the add-a-die helpers.

There are eight cards out of twenty that let you add a die to your pool. James Cromwell gives you one additional die to roll, and George C. Scott gives you two more, but there are six others who each give you an additional die in a specific value. In fact, if you've got all six of them, you can get that six-die straight without rolling any dice.

You can use each card you have once per turn, and every turn, you'll be getting another card, even if it's just Johnny Knoxville. But when you do get a card, you have to think carefully - do you need a card that lets you change a die, or one that lets you get an extra die? It's a tricky balancing act, because without the extra dice, it's not possible to roll as many as you need, but without the changers, it's all up to luck. To make matters worse, there are limited numbers of cards, so not everyone is going to be able to get Joaquin Phoenix, or Shirley MacLaine, or Jeremy Piven. You may want to grab a Bruce Willis when you can, even if you could have nabbed a Bono, because it might be the last one in the game.

There are two elements in To Court the King that make it all about skill over luck. First you've got the card-picking part. Choosing the right card can make all the difference - every card is an advantage, but is it the one you need? And then you've got the actual die rolling.

The part where you roll dice is incredibly entertaining. At first, it's not a big deal. You roll three dice, then two, then one, and take what you get. But by the end of the game, you're manipulating, sliding, plugging in dice, turning them and planning elaborate moves. When you've got nine or ten dice in front of you, and the ability to twist most of them just once, it's like solving a tricky puzzle. Good players just see the combinations, and bad ones don't. So the good players win.

So what if the theme could be swapped out for tree frogs, superheroes or over-the-counter cough medicines? You're not going to play this game to be dropped hip-deep in theme. You play this one for the mental puzzle and tricky strategic challenge it provides. If you want theme, you're in the wrong place, but if you like a great game that you can play with your kids and still finish inside an hour, To Court the King is an easy pick.

Now hopefully I can get a copy of Gloria Mundi.


Tough decisions make good gameplay
Great components (the card art is gorgeous)
Every turn is like a tricky puzzle
Fun, easy to learn, and family-friendly

Theme could be stripped out and replaced with names of condom brands

I like To Court the King. So should you. So go get it here:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Board Game Review - Age of Gods

If I were a god, I would be the God of Ass-Woopin'. I would even spell it with an apostrophe, and make my followers cuss a lot while they kicked people in the head. Chuck Norris would be my prophet, and he would spread the message of ass-woopin' to all the people of the world, one round-house kick to the face at a time.

Unfortunately, the new Asmodee game Age of Gods does not include a God of Ass-woopin'. There's a God of War, but he's really just into fighting more than face kicking and profanity. There's a Goddess of Vengeance, but she doesn't really fight, she just takes your plasma screen and chucks it out a third-story window into the roof of your Miata. There's a God of Death, but all he does is mope around in eyeliner and complain about how everything is so pointless.

So the bad news right out of the gate - no God of Ass-Woopin'. But you do at least get to be a god. You can't just grab the one you want, but you get to choose between one of two, so you can make sure you don't get stuck as the Goddess of Peace and have to drive around in a VW Bug and listen to the Eagles.

Once you choose up your gods, all the players start meddling in the affairs of mortals, to try and guide this or that specific race to their destiny as rulers of the world. Now, you're not controlling those races, you're just pushing them a little. So when the giants stomp a mudhole in the goblins, they can say, 'the God of Bad Teeth made me do it.' Except that there's also no God of Bad Teeth.

The map of the world has a bunch of territories, and each is controlled by one of 26 different races. Some races are more powerful than others - orcs start off with four spaces, and fairies only get one. And if a race loses its last territory, it's extinct. I'm pretty sure this is based off what happened to the dinosaurs - the lemurs may have started small, but they managed to knock the thunder lizards out of their last territory, and there were no necromancers to bring them back. And if Jurassic Park has taught us nothing else, we at least know that it was lucky for us that the lemurs won.

Every turn has four phases. The destiny phase has each god either randomly picking a new race to push around or making one of the undeclared races pick a fight. I think gods think that's funny, making guys fight for no reason. Apparently the God of Inappropriate Practical Jokes likes to instigate dust-ups between people for no real reason.

In the fortify phase, each god can tell the people living in a territory to build a fort. Forts make it harder to whack the people living in the space with a fort. It's kind of a courtesy nod that the gods give to their followers, sort of like when the Goddess of Mom makes you wear a coat to school because it's too cold, even though all the cool kids are wearing short sleeves. But the Goddess of Mom will just ask if you would follow your friends off a cliff, remind you to wear your hat, and tell you that you'll die of pneumonia.

Then gods start fights. This phase just has every god telling one group on the board to fight with another group. You can even make people start fights who aren't your followers. You might do this to control the growth of another god's nations, or just to act like the God of Being a Dick. If those people you choose win, they kick out the people who were in one territory and expand there.

Finally, you get to do special stuff. You play action cards that let you do things like teach your goblins how to use guns, or make the giants use guerrilla tactics, or make the sorcerers migrate to an empty territory. This is tricky because you get a limited number of action cards, though you do get to know what they all are when the game starts, except for a few questionable possibilities down the road.

When the game ends, all the gods have to reveal who their followers are, then add up all the territories controlled by their followers. The winner is the god whose followers did the best.

Now, throughout the whole game, each god gets to use special powers. Like the God of Luck can reroll the dice all the time, and the God of Protection can build extra forts, in addition to his ability to make sure his followers are all using condoms. The God of Trickery will let you conceal your actions, though you have to be careful, or he'll sell you a really crappy used car.

Age of Gods has a lot of different elements working. There's the world conquest angle that reminds you of Risk, and there's the limited action thing that reminds you of a lot of Euro games. There's a little bluffing, and a whole damned lot of planning ahead. There's a good bit of luck, but it's not a game-breaker. There are tons of opportunities to make huge mistakes or really blow it, but with a fair amount of planning and a little luck, nobody really knows who's winning until the game ends and everyone reveals who they've been building up.

The art in Age of Gods is pretty damned good, but for some reason there are tons of little cardboard circles with art that looks like it was done by a webcomic artist in Illustrator. There are these amazing paintings on the cards, and there are these horrible little pictures on the discs. If it was up to me, the little discs would have been replaced by little plastic figures molded in a lot of different colors, but I tend to think that would have made the game a lot more expensive. A lot cooler, but a lot more expensive.

Now, I'm still not too happy about not being able to be the God of Ass-Woopin', Beer Drinking or Getting Laid, but I have to tell you, this is one of the best new games I've played since GenCon. Lots of people will disagree, but the only really new games that I think are better than Age of Gods are Last Night on Earth and Battue. I shake my head at the decision to uglify the race markers, but for sheer joy of gameplay, I have to give Age of Gods the highest marks I can muster, even if I'm not allowed to be the God of Hard Liquor and Cheap Women.


Great art on lots of the game
Killer gameplay combines the best of Ameritrash and Euros
Amazing theme plays out wonderfully

For some odd reason, really bland race markers
No God of Ass-Woopin'

As always, I encourage you to read other reviews and see if this sounds like your cup of tea, but if it does, go get it here:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Console Game Review - LEGO Star Wars II

Through the annals of time, there have been some really dumb concepts. Walnuts in ice cream. Hydrogen zeppelins. Crocheted underwear. Feeding dead cows to the live ones. Watermelon on quesadillas. So maybe in comparison, a Star Wars video game using LEGO blocks is not as bad as it sounds.

Star Wars, of course, is ten pounds of awesome in a five pound bag. If you disagree, don't tell me about it. Just shut up, because you're wrong. Star Wars is the cat's pajamas.

And LEGO Star Wars is also a fantastic idea. Take what is arguably the greatest science fiction series ever made and let us build all the ships, bars, forests and walking vehicles. This is also a magnificent idea, and should not be at all compared to the ET game for the Atari.

But a Star Wars video game with LEGO versions of everything? Why would that make sense to someone? Who was the video game executive who signed off on this? Jedi Academy - that makes sense. Dark Forces - excellent. Battlefront - wicked awesome. Rogue Squadron - yes, thanks, I'll have another. But LEGO blocks? Why tell the coolest sci-fi story ever using digital interpretations of toys that are really only fun if you can actually play with them?

But that's what they went and did, and apparently it was such a big seller, they made a second one. And then they made a third one to put in even more stuff. Now we're approaching a level of absurdity previously reserved for Guitar Hero (honestly, I've tried it, and it's one of the stupidest games I've ever played).

Now, for me to be reviewing LEGO Star Wars II, I have to have played it. I won't review games if I don't try them. And in the case of video games, I have to play them a lot, or I can't say whether the game is really any good. If you only ever play one level of Duke Nukem, there's no way you could say if it's a top-to-bottom keeper. So I've played LEGO Star Wars II... and I confess to loving the hell out of it.

There are a bazillion reasons LEGO Star Wars II is incredibly awesome. For starters, it's only the original trilogy. No Jar-Jar, no Hayden Christiansen, no goofy diners and convoluted plotlines. Just Luke and Leia and Han and Darth Vader and Boba Fett and a galactic civil war. It's the best half of the best sci-fi ever made.

Plus the game doesn't take itself seriously at all. They know they've got perfectly cylindrical heads and round claw hands, and they don't care. When Vader force chokes someone they literally fall to pieces with a plastic-on-plastic clattering sound. The cut-scenes are hilarious - when Ben Kenobi gives Luke a light saber, Luke accidentally chops off C3PO's head, and when Vader reveals to Luke that they're related, he whips out a family photo.

And best of all, LEGO Star Wars actually lets you play with LEGOs. You can take Boba-Fett's head, put it on Han Solo's body and give it slave Leia's legs (which are not nearly as hot when they're just boxes with holes in the back). And throughout all the levels, you'll run across piles of blocks, and you send your guy over and build stuff with them! For instance, to get out of Mos Eisley, C3PO, R2D2 and Obi-Wan have to work together to build an AT-ST out of spare parts. You'll open a door and find a bunch of leg pieces, then you build feet, then you build the chamber, and then Obi-Wan force-pushes the whole thing together and you jump in and blast the crap out of the hive of scum and villainy.

But just because it's funny and light doesn't mean there's no action. Obi-Wan can swing a lightsaber like nobody's business, and Boba Fett can fly around on his jet pack and blast stormtroopers by the dozen. Once you unlock a character, you can play him in free play mode, and so you can switch from Yoda to Chewbacca to a Gammorean guard without batting an eye. And different characters have different abilities - jawas can climb through little holes to retrieve hidden items, and bounty hunters can throw thermal detonators. And if you get shot too many times, you fall apart and all your collected LEGO studs (the game's currency) go bouncing all over the place.

There are so many things to collect and unlock in LEGO Star Wars II that finishing the story is just the first step to finishing the game. At one point, you can unlock an entire LEGO city and just wander around blowing stuff up and getting paid. And you'll want to do that, too, because Ghost Yoda is really expensive.

I would not have believed a game like LEGO Star Wars could be cool. That just seems like an idea as stupid as naked slip-n-slide (which only sounds like a good idea if A) you're drunk and B) you've never done it). But it is executed brilliantly, with fantastic graphics and great sound and awesome game play, and doesn't include that stillbirth of a prequel trilogy.

I guess now I'm going to have to try on a pair of Crocs.


It's Star Wars, and it's the original trilogy
You get to play with LEGOs
Hours and hours of fun
Like a cross between an action game and a puzzle game

Can get a little dull running through the Death Star for the fifth time trying to find that one missing piece so you can build a model of the Millenium Falcon

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Card Game Review - Warriors

In my continued search for games my wife will play with me, and that I want to play, and that we can enjoy with our clothes on, we bought a game called Warriors. This was a year or so ago that we bought this game, and we have played it off and on since then. I would be a disgusting liar if I said that I look forward to every game, but like many other games I play, it does have a distinct advantage in that the rest of my family doesn't leave the room when I bring it up. I wish to God I could say the same about Last Night on Earth.

Right from the outset, Warriors looks like a big winner. It's designed by Alan Moon and Richard Borg. If you're not that educated about board games, that might not mean anything to you, but if you follow big-shot game designers, that should get your attention. Alan Moon has been making games since the 90s - you may have heard of a little game called Ticket to Ride that has done fairly well. And Richard Borg should be a gaming household name, because even if you throw out Memoir '44 and Battlelore, he's got a game designing resume longer than your arm.

The theme of Warriors should be a pretty big draw, too. It's this thing where each player is commanding armies from up to six different races, and sending those armies to battle armies controlled by opponents. Elves battle trolls, undead battle barbarians, dwarves battle goblins - it's an old-school fantasy yard stomping. Add in wizards and catapults and you can see how the theme might seem pretty cool.

Each player gets a bunch of cards, and each card represents a member of one of those six races I mentioned. There are infantry, cavalry and archers for every race, including the undead, who ride some really skinny horses. You might also get some a wizard or two, or maybe a few catapults. You organize your forces and get ready to march to war at the head of several different armies.

Then you get your play hand, which will include some reinforcements and hopefully some attack cards. You need attack cards to get aggressive, because without them, you can't attack. Probably why they call them that. Then you send one of your armies off to fight an opponent's army.

You roll dice to determine who wins. The attacker gets one die for every infantry card, up to three, and the defender can roll up to two dice. You use archers for a slight advantage (to add to your die rolls) and cavalry to fight someone else after you finish the first fight. Every card you kill gets added to your score, and every card you lose goes to your opponent. Catapults can be used any time to take out any cards, anywhere, and wizards protect your armies at the cost of not letting them fight.

There's obviously more in the rules, but the idea here is to tell you if the game is fun, not put you to sleep. Unless it's past your bedtime, in which case you should either drink some Nyquil or maybe go look up a review at BGG. I'm here to educate and entertain - not necessarily in that order.

The trick to Warriors is in choosing the right battles and keeping the right cards. The dice can be capricious, and you can't win if you never attack anyone. Your opponents are certainly not going to hit your toughest guys - they're going to come after your pathetic one-card armies with their archers and stuff and mow them down like wheat, so you have to take the offensive and do unto others before they do it to you. Which means you need reinforcements to beef up that attacking army, and you need attack cards to start fights, and if you pull a catapult you better add that, but will you really need that wizard?

There are several tricky decisions to make, which makes Warriors a fairly cool game. Unfortunately, the game comes back around and bites itself firmly in the ass, leaving some ugly bruises that can be tough to explain in the emergency room.

The reason Warriors doesn't hit my table every weekend is because there's way too much luck. If you pull a crappy hand, it doesn't matter how good you are, you're screwed. And I've seen rounds where nobody has any attack cards. It's kind of sorry when you go, 'so nobody has any attack cards? OK, I guess the game's over.' A little anti-climactic to go right from round two to counting up scores.

But then, it is a fun game. The art is amazing - good enough that I had to go look up the illustrator (, in case you're interested). The rules make it play really fast, and while there are some meaningful decisions, they're not tough enough to make you shut down for half an hour while you debate your next move. It's light, it's fun, and it's pretty. Come to think of it, maybe the reason I like this game is because it reminds me of my high school prom date.

Which gives me an idea for another game to play with my wife.


Quick and easy to play
Fantastic art
Finishes fast
Meaningful decisions without trauma-inducing analysis

Waaaay too much luck
Not quite enough depth to pull me back in for game after game

If you want an easy game that's somewhere between filler and deep thoughts, break off twenty bucks and go here:

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Party Game Review - Good Question!

Not every game I play is meant for my gamer buddies. Some games work best when you're out at the lake house, or stuck in a motel room, or hanging out after a big meal. My usual pick for a neutral game for a crowd that includes non-gamers is a party game. And since you can't swing a dead cat in Target without hitting a party game, it's not usually hard to pick one out.

Good Question! is a party game from the same unhinged guy who made Ca$h 'N Gun$. But where that classic has players shooting each other with fake foam guns, Good Question! just makes you ask each other questions... which explains the name.

There are basically three components to Good Question! There are a bunch of theme cards, to give you an idea of a theme to use. There are question cards, that have answers on them. And finally, there's a little bell like you would ding to call a motel clerk back from his soaps. Technically, there are also little scoring chits, but it's easier to just use a pen and paper, so I didn't count those.

The way the game works, everyone is dealt a question card, which has 16 different words or phrases that are intended to be an answer. Then one player pulls a theme card and announces the theme for that round. Players take turns asking questions based on the theme and trying to get the other players to guess their answer. The trick is that you want the first two guesses to be wrong for maximum points, so it can't be too easy, but if nobody gets it, that's even worse because you get no points, so it can't be too hard.

Once every player has asked a question, the question cards are handed in and the next player picks a theme and it starts all over again. The game ends when you've run through 40 question cards, which typically takes about half an hour.

So we need an example (and this is where I go for cheap jokes and make the game do all the work). Let's say there are four players around a table - Joe, Doug, Anne and Kira. Joe picks a theme and announces that the question must be related to hospital stays. Anne thinks for a moment while Doug looks at her boobs (Anne's pretty hot, and Doug is a swinger). Then Kira has a question and says, 'I have a question,' which is a pretty appropriate way to announce that you have a question.

Kira says, 'I might have to stay in the hospital if I get bitten during-'

Doug, a one-track-mind kind of guy, interrupts and slaps the bell. 'Sex!' he says. Kira says, 'no, and you're a pig. The rest of the question is 'if I get bitten during a river tour of the Amazon by one of these.'

Joe slaps the bell before Anne can get to it and says, 'tarantula?' That's not quite right, so Kira shakes her head, and Anne goes, 'any kind of spider?' Kira's has chosen the word, 'spider' on her card, so Anne's answer is right. Since Anne was the third respondent (due to Doug being unable to focus), Kira and Anne each get three points.

Next Joe goes. 'I hate those little gowns that don't cover this body part.'

'Boobs!' says Doug, because he's a sex-addled moron. 'No!' says Joe, and hits Doug for continuing to look at Anne's rack, because Joe and Anne have been dating for a year now.

Anne is disgusted, but Joe and Doug go way back so she knows she can't just tell Doug he's an ass. Instead she says, 'your butt?' Joe's card does not say butt, but since Anne and Joe are dating, Joe pretends that his card did say butt instead of legs, and he and Anne each get two points, since Anne was the second one to answer.

Kira is skeptical. 'Let me see the card,' she says. Sheepishly, Joe hands her the card, and Kira says, 'This card doesn't say butt at all!' Then the game devolves into total chaos, with Kira leaving Doug to find his own ride home, and Joe and Doug getting into a fistfight in the kitchen while Anne finishes off the rest of the margaritas and goes to bed early.

OK, that was a convoluted example, and I'm not sure how much of it actually relates to the game. The point is, you get one point if you're the first one to answer and you get it right, then two points, then three, but then it goes back down again, so if nobody has it in five tries, it doesn't matter, nobody gets any points.

This is a really simple game to learn and play. It should be pretty obvious from this really long play example that only barely relates to the game that there's not a whole lot to talk about. But even if it is a very easy game to play, it could not have been easy to create. The words on every question card are carefully chosen, so that you can almost always come up with a good question using the theme and one of your answers.

For instance, here are some examples of answers you might find on a single question card (I pulled a card out of the game for reference, so I'm not making this up): Cage, 9 months, potato, Coca-cola, reproduction, and machine. Those are just six out of sixteen on this one card, so there's almost always something you could invent.

The theme cards are somewhat less interesting because of the way the game works. You can use them at first, if you want, but eventually you should be able to just take turns making up themes. In fact, the fifth option on every theme card is 'Theme of player's choice,' so you could just put away the theme cards and make them up as a you go. The less creative players might have to use the cards to choose between 'when I die,' 'long vacations' and 'the police,' but some people will just go, 'organized crime!' when it's their turn.

There are good point and bad points to Good Question! The good point is that my family really likes it, and asks to play it without any prompting. The bad news is that I can't get them to play what I want to play, like Shadows Over Camelot (with cheating, of course). It's not my new favorite game, but it appears to be a huge hit with my wife and kids. So rather than look a gift horse in the mouth, I'll just go play Good Question!, because it is pretty fun, even if it's not the kind of reckless Ameritrash I like to play.


Easy to learn and play
Good variety on the question cards keeps the game from getting stale

Not much depth - which is about standard for a party game

If you want to entertain your family or a group of friends, Good Question! might be just the thing. Get it here:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Board Game Review - Shadows Over Camelot

It's not often that I get to compare a game to prison rape, so I've been looking forward to reviewing Shadows Over Camelot. I'm not going to tell you not to buy the game. I'm just going to warn you to bring plenty of lubricant.

Shadows Over Camelot is an interesting game because, unlike most games, it's cooperative. Shadows Over Camelot has you trying like hell to prevent the fall of the Round Table. Players take on the roles of Sir Gawain, Sir Galahad, King Arthur and a bunch of other knights as they do their best to stop Camelot from being abused in the showers by the forces of evil.

Every turn, each player has to start off by doing something that hurts Camelot, and then something that helps it. Hurting Camelot can be one of three things - put a siege engine around the castle, play a black card to further the progress of evil, or just take it in the shorts and get wounded. The good things tend to be a little harder to pull off - you play white cards to save Excalibur, stave off the Picts, find the Holy Grail, beat up Lancelot and otherwise keep from wearing a dress. Even moving takes a turn, so by the time you move to a place and do something, the bad guys have been able to go like a dozen times. The game is designed to kick you in the teeth right from the outset.

To make matters worse, one of you is a traitor. One of the knights is operating in secrecy, telling the worst bad guys when you take naps and bribing the guards to make sure you work in the laundry. He's doing all the same bad stuff and good stuff, but he's actively working to make sure Camelot falls. At some point he might be revealed, but usually that happens once he's won the game. He's like that friend who sits next to you at every meal and then shivs you for your cookies.

You fight the forces of evil by completing quests. Every quest you complete gets you white swords sitting on the Round Table, and every quest the bad guys win gets you a black sword. The best case scenario is that the game ends when the Round Table is full of swords, and more of them are white than black. The worst case is that the castle is surrounded by siege engines and the Saxons corner you behind the tool shed when everyone else is in the yard.

In case the heavy-handed metaphor is lost on you, Shadows Over Camelot is one hard damned game to win. It's ridiculously frustrating, and for some players is an exercise in futility. Last time I played it, most of us wound up ready to pitch it out a window. It's incredibly frustrating to be parked at the Grail quest, and every time you think you're making progress, the game slams you against a wall and steals your virginity.

It's not all bad, though. The game does have some fans, so it can't be completely worthless. I played this with my wife and kids, and we managed to squeak out a win. Of course, we didn't play with the traitor and we cheated a little besides, but it was nice to win, so we didn't care. After all, who wants to lose to a cardboard box?

This is a Days of Wonder game, so it's pretty as a pinup. You've got 40mm scale miniatures to represent each of the knights. You've got wonderfully illustrated game boards and cards. There are little plastic siege engines and miniature Picts and Saxons. It's like opening a box full of toys - until they beat you half to death and make it hard to sit down.

Shadows Over Camelot is widely considered a very bad game, but there are people who love it. It's so incredibly frustrating that only the most seasoned players tend to win very often, and even then they have to work together and have a razor-sharp strategy. Playing a game where you all end up walking funny is not my idea of a good time, but I have found a way to enjoy the game.

I cheat. And I never bend over to pick up the soap.

EDIT (1/17/08): In the interest of full disclosure, Shadows Over Camelot has a fairly decent rating at BGG, and as you can see from the comments below, it has a lot of fans. I still say it's really hard, and I know a whole lot of people who hate it. So there are two morals in this story - first, don't base your purchases on just one review, and second, some people actually enjoy prison sex.


Interesting mechanics mean that everyone has to work together
It's very hard, but you can win if you're smart and a little lucky
The game looks mighty nice

The game thinks you look pretty, too

Shadows Over Camelot is one hell of a hard game to win, but if you're into pain, you can get it here:

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Contest - Thanks for Reading

I plan on doing contests down the road to draw in more readers, but for my first contest, I thought I would thank the people who have been reading faithfully so far. I'm not announcing this one anywhere but here, and you don't have to do anything special to win. For future contests, I'll make people dance to amuse me, but for this one, I just want to throw out a big Donkey Shin to everyone who has made this work so far.

To win, all you need to do is email me your name and address. That's it. You don't have to say which review was your favorite, or what games you play, or fill out a survey. You don't have to hunt through the reviews for dumb crap I said at some point, or come up with captions for comics that aren't funny anyway. Just email me and tell me where you live, and at the end of the week I'll pick four winners at random, in order. Then starting from the top, each winner can take a pick from my prize bucket.

The prize bucket for this first contest contains:

A VixenTor Games Foot Locker dice tower (

A tube of spring pearl blue dice

Two decks of cards for Battleground - whichever ones I send you

A copy of Atlanteon, one my absolute least favorite games

I'll pick four random winners on January 20 and let the winners know so they can pick. So you've got until next Saturday to email me at:

And thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Board Game Review - Key Harvest

Usually when I get a review copy of a game, I really want to like it. I want to say wonderful things about the game so that I can get the company in question to send me lots more games. Yeah, I'm a whore like that.

But when I got Key Harvest, I wanted to hate it. I wanted it to be really bad so I could mock it. I wanted to say, 'this is a game about farming!' and point and laugh at it like it was a third-grader with mismatched socks.

Because it really is a game about farming. A week or two ago I joked about how Germans made exciting recreations of farming, and here I am getting a game about farming. I'm ecstatic to finally get review copies from Rio Grande without having to weasel them out of Knucklebones, but the first game I got was a game about farming. If the big-voice movie announcer did this one, he would go:

"From the minds who brought you Carcassonne and To Court the King comes an epic game of..."

And then he would stop and turn to the other guys in the sound booth and go, "Is this right? It's a game about farming?"

But then I played it. I read the rules carefully to make sure I could see where it would be bad, and sat down with my family, and we ran through the game. It played out in 90 minutes, just like the box said it would. And after 90 minutes, I couldn't believe it - I had a blast. Key Harvest is a great game. About farming.

Rio Grande Games has this reputation for publishing awesome games. Those two games I mentioned, Carcassonne and To Court the King, are two really great Euro games. I should have known better than to think they were going to make a stinker just so I could mock it.

Each player in Key Harvest has a card representing his or her countryside. Each card is marked off in hexes, and each hex is numbered from A1 to G7. There's a registry in the middle of the table where players will be placing field tiles that they blind-draw from a cloth bag. Every player has a store where they put those field tiles, along with crop markers to indicate how much those tiles are worth to them.

At first glance, this doesn't make any sense at all. Store tiles, country boards, crop markers, workers, events... there's kind of a lot going on here. You can tell Reiner didn't make this one, because there's just too much happening. On your turn, you get two actions, which can be one of four things:

1) Put some field tiles in your store, and put a bid in front of them. This is how much you're willing to pay for those, and how much someone else has to pay if they want them.

2) Buy field tiles, from your store or from someone else's. If you're at an opponent's store, that player gets to keep the crop markers you pay for them. If you're buying from your own store, you just discard your crop markers that you put down as a bid. Then take the field tile you just bought and put it on your country board. Congratulations, you just planted some wheat. Or hops. Or wine (I don't know how you plant wine, but you can sure harvest it).

And to keep people from putting stuff out for free, you can't take tiles from your store on the same turn that you put them there. Everyone else gets a crack at them.

3) Play or remove a worker tile. These helpful little buggers get you a free action that you wouldn't otherwise get - harvest out of turn, buy stuff you couldn't usually afford, and other neat goodies. They're helpful, but they're not always easy to place - a number on each worker describes how many field tiles that worker has to be adjacent to. If you've only got three fields on your board, you can't even put out the four-point worker. But if you could you can do some stuff that's not even fair, like buy fields from someone else's store with the wrong kind of crops.

The real strategy behind the worker tiles comes from the fact that if you play a field tile on top of a worker tile, you can replay the worker immediately and use his ability again, and now it really is a freebie. In fact, if you're good, you can chain these together and get two or three extra actions in a row. And then the other players will hate you, which is unfortunate but often hilarious.

4) Harvest. This is where you get all those crop markers you need for buying field tiles. You just pick one connected series of field tiles, flip them over to their harvested side, and take crop markers.

But wait! There's more! When you place a field tile from the registry onto your store, you draw another tile to replace it. And the bag is full of events, which make some crazy stuff happen like your fields disappear or you get to harvest stuff without flipping it over. They're generally very nice to see - but not always. Sometimes every one else will be giddy, and you'll get hosed.

The game ends when ten events have been drawn. Then everyone counts their field tiles - you get one point for each tile in your largest connected series of tiles, and two points for the second largest. This interesting scoring twist is an incentive to make two balanced fields, rather than one big one. It creates a tricky balancing act where the last thing you want to do is connect your two big farms into one and end up missing out on all those great double points. Other stuff adds to your score, like workers and having lots of crops, but the real determining factor is the size of your farms.

That's basically the game. It's a game about farming. It's not even a game where you could swap out the theme and make it a game about killing stuff - the farming thing is really pretty important to the game, and the game makes a lot of sense in the context of farming. Of course, to make it more interesting to Ameritrash fans like myself, it could have been a game about farming in space, but either way, it's about farming.

But I figured out why I was able to really enjoy a game about farming - the stuff you farm is not carrots and beets. You farm hops, cider apples, wheat and wine barrels (like I said, I don't know how you grow wine barrels). They knew I was going to be playing it, and said, 'OK, if it has to be about farming, how about making it about farming stuff that can be made into booze?'

And that's why I love it, because it's thinly-veiled propaganda trying to get us to drink. And since I just really love to drink, I was bound to like the game. They knew better than to make us farm boring crap like string beans and artichokes. No, we're farming for alcoholic beverages, and I can get behind that theme. I just didn't understand that's why I liked it so much.

See, until I read what all the crops are supposed to be, I thought I liked the game because it's an excellent game. I thought the fantastic decision-making, quick turns and careful pricing mechanics worked together marvelously to create an exciting game... about farming. I thought I loved it because it was magnificently balanced, so that you could never pull far ahead with one brilliant move, or get too buried with one dumb move. Every decision is do-or-die, but somehow not so important that you can't recover if you make a mistake.

It turns out that Key Harvest is actually made by British people, who I always thought shared our enjoyment of things that blow up. After all, Brits made Warhammer 40K. But I guess there are British people who also like to drink, and when they drink, they get inspired to make really great games.


Tautly-balanced game
Great mechanics
Intense decision-making
Lots of pre-planning and strategy
Rewards smart play without over-penalizing mistakes

It's about farming

If you're a big Euro gamer, you won't have any problem with the farming theme, and then Key Harvest is a must-buy game. And if you're not, it's still a really fun game. Get it here:

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Party Game Review - Werewolves of Miller's Hollow

Werewolves of Miller's Hollow is a sort of modern update to an old high-school classic. You remember when you were horny all the time and always going to parties to meet girls, but you were too scared of girls to actually talk to any of them so you just sat in the back yard with two of your friends and watched the cool guys take the girls upstairs? This is one of those games you might have played at one of those parties, only it could have been called a lot of different things - Werewolf, Mafia or Killer, for example.

In the game, two or three people are werewolves, and everyone else is a townie. At night everyone closes their eyes, and the werewolves pick someone to kill. Then everyone wakes up and the townies pick someone to kill. The townies win if they can kill the werewolves, and the werewolves win if they can kill all the townies. And when you were playing this in high school, you always got killed first, and the cool guy always won because the girls would never let him be picked to get killed.

You can play this game with a deck of cards, or if you don't have cards, you could use scraps of paper. You don't really need a specialized deck of Miller's Hollow cards for the way you played in high school. All you need is a sheet of notebook paper, a pencil and a willingness to bury your self-esteem issues long enough to sit next to the head cheerleader for 20 minutes. Not that it would have mattered - your throat was going to go dry as soon as you sat down, and all you could have mustered to say to her would have been, 'How! Hi are you?', and then she would have thought you were asking if she was stoned and been horrified, and the cool guy would still have taken her upstairs, but possibly only after he hit you in the stomach for your impertinence.

If you do happen to buy the Miller's Hollow version of Werewolf, you get more for your twelve bucks than you would with the afore-mentioned college rule and a Bic pen. The Miller's Hollow version comes with several specialty cards, like the sheriff, whose vote counts double, the little girl who is allowed to spy on the werewolves, or Cupid, who makes two people fall in love (a great card if you're already sweating profusely and feeling self-conscious about your acne). These extra cards add a lot of variety to the game and introduce new elements of distrust and bluffing. Plus if you're really lucky, the asshole jock might pair you up with the hot chick from art class as a joke.

There are two reasons to buy Werewolves of Miller's Hollow instead of just picking up a pack of playing cards and shuffling in the jokers. First, Miller's Hollow comes with seven different kinds of townies and a lot of really cool cards. If you're going to play Werewolf, this is the right way to do it.

The second reason to buy Werewolves of Miller's Hollow is that it's only twelve bucks. A deck of cards is going to set you back five bucks anyway, and it won't be designed specifically to play Werewolf. So for another seven dollars you get all the cool cards and a good rulebook.

I guess a third reason to buy the game might be so that you can relive the awkwardness of wishing to hell the girl with the tongue stud would notice you while hoping to God the auto shop stoner didn't decide to sit next to you. But that's not that great a reason, because for many of us, we're grateful to not have to live through that again.


Neat art
Easy to play
Lots of variety compared to the original

Social awkwardness
You can play this game with a pad of Post-It notes

I wouldn't rate Werewolves of Miller's Hollow at the top of my list, but it's a fairly cool little party game, and it's wicked affordable. If you want it, go here:

Monday, January 7, 2008

Game Review - Ca$h 'n Gun$

Let's pretend you're having a little get-together. You've invited several of your friends to come over and play some games, and you need a good game with easy rules that you can jump right in and enjoy. Let's further pretend that all your friends are misanthropic violence junkies who love nothing better than pointing guns at each other (in other words, they're Americans).

The game you want is Ca$h 'n Gun$. It's not exactly a board game, because there's no board. It's not a card game, because the cards are not the basis of the game. If it's anything, it's a foam pistol game, because every box comes with six foam guns. But whatever its classification, Ca$h 'n Gun$ is a fun game.

The premise behind Ca$h 'n Gun$ is that everyone is a fellow crook meeting up at the warehouse for the split after a big heist. But since crooks are greedy bastards, nobody's letting the split go down fair - guns mean power, power means money, and dead crooks mean more for everybody left alive. Until, that is, the survivors get shot, too.

Every player gets a foam gun and eight cards. These eight cards show three results - Bang!, Bang! Bang! Bang! and Click! (yes, they all have exclamations. These are very emphatic cards.) You pick a card in secret, count to three out loud, and everyone points guns at the same time.

And now it gets hot, because there's a pile of cash in the middle of the table, and you can't get it if you chicken out now. You can't get shot if you dive for cover, but then you can't get your share of the loot, either. You're not chicken, are you? Because there are two kinds of players in Ca$h 'n Gun$ - the rich and the scared. Oh, and the dead. So there are three kinds of players - rich, scared, and dead. Or unlucky. Which I guess makes four. There is no fifth thing (hey, if it's funny for Monty Python, it's funny for me).

If you've got a bunch of guns pointed at you, it might be wise to grab some cover and wait for a later round. But then, if those guns are all empty (because the cards you can't see say 'Click!' instead of 'Bang!'), then you can laugh at them and stick around for your cut. And even if one of them has a Bang! card, you might have a Bang! Bang! Bang!, which would go first, wound your opponent and make him drop his gun. Heck, if he's already shot twice, it'll kill him. So you have to ask yourself - do you feel lucky?

Once everyone has a chance to hide, cards are revealed. Bang! cards wound players and make them drop out of the round, and if you get shot three times, you're dead (and in case it's unclear, that means you can't have any money). Then every player still standing splits the loot on the table. Then more loot hits the table, the scaredy cats from last turn come out from behind their mom's apron, and you start it all over. You do that eight times, and then the player with the most cash wins, unless he's dead or has everyone laughing at him for spending too much time hiding under the table.

You can play Ca$h 'n Gun$ with up to six players if you just have one box, but for a really chaotic good time, try mixing in another box and finding a dozen gangsters to threaten each other. The game scales up, and a large crowd makes it way more exciting.

One thing to understand about Ca$h 'n Gun$ is that there is very little skill. In fact, when we play any more, most of us just shuffle our cards so we don't even know if our guns are loaded. There is some very shallow strategy, but it doesn't really matter. Because let's face it, you're Americans, and you want to point guns at each other and steal wads of cash. The name of this game is a perfect example of truth in advertising.

If you play several games with the same group, you can expand it. There are more cards in the box for stuff like special powers and secret identities. You can play a game where one character is an undercover cop, and at some point he calls the police, and then just has to survive until the end of the game. Or you can play with super powers, where you can steal guns from dead people or wait to point your gun until you see what everyone else is doing.

Any time I go to a game night where we're going to have more than four people, someone brings Ca$h 'n Gun$. I've played the game with upwards of 20 people (though not all at the same time), and I've only ever known one person who didn't like it. When a game can woo 95% of everyone who ever plays it, that's a success where I come from (I come from America, which explains why I love the game so much - we get to point guns at each other and steal cash).


Great foam pistols
Hilarious game art
Crazy fun
Simple rules

No real strategy, just pointing guns and laughing all night

Ca$h 'n Gun$ is outstanding. If you play with crowds on anything resembling a regular basis, you should make sure someone in your group has it. Get it here:

Friday, January 4, 2008

Card Game Review - Anachronism

My wife and I run on parallel, non-intersecting paths when it comes to games. She'll play Fable, I'll play Halo. She wants to play Whist, and I want to play Risk. I like PiƱa Coladas, she likes getting stuck in the rain. She plays games, and I play games, but we don't enjoy the same kinds of games. (For the record, I actually really love Fable, but she hates Halo.)

So one night we sat down and started talking about the kinds of games we could both enjoy. I like some tactical maneuvering and long-term strategy. She likes fast turns. I like some pre-planning, and she hates deck-building. So I started looking for games that we could finish in 15 minutes or less, with fast turns for her and some tactics for me. We needed something - playing games is my second favorite thing to do with my wife, and with the kids staying up later all the time, it can be hard to find time for our favorite mutual pastime.

We found several games that we both wanted to play (and that wouldn't scar our children for life if we got caught playing). My personal pick of the batch was Anachronism.

Anachronism asks that age-old burning question: If Joan of Arc was wearing Daniel Boone's coonskin cap, and Genghis Khan was using Beowulf's shield, and they fought, who would win? And then, in a fast and exciting game that's over in five minutes, Anachronism lets you find the answer.

Anachronism is about half card game and half miniatures game. Except that your 'deck' is only five cards, and your 'miniature' is one of those five cards. The entire play area is four squares wide and four squares deep. So while there are elements of both card and miniatures games, Anachronism is really more like a board game - except there's no real board, just a playmat. I hope that's not too confusing, because it puzzled the hell out of me when I first got it.

To start off a game of Anachronism, you pick your four cards and lay them face down in whatever order you plan on revealing them. Then you each put your character card on the play mat, and start playing.

Each character typically gets three or four actions. An action will let you move one space, turn, attack, or use one of your character's actions (if he or she has any). So it could take you two or three actions to get into position, especially because every character has blind spots where he can't attack. If you're standing directly in front of Ramses II, he can't hit you. But then, he can always just slide one space to the right or left, and then he can whack the piss out of you.

Each support card has a weapon, armor, inspiration or special ability. For instance, Beowulf has Sverd (a weapon), Skjold (a special), Grendel (an inspiration) and Byrnies (armor). At the start of each turn, both characters reveal the next support card in line. You can't use a card until it's revealed, and many cards only take affect for the turn they're revealed. Carefully choosing when and where to strike and defend is key to winning - if you wait to reveal your armor, you could take a beating before you can bring it out, but if you don't get your sword out fast, you lose all those lovely attack bonuses.

Combat is easy - each player rolls two dice, and high roll wins. Of course, that's not all - you can make a basic attack with a low roll, but not from very many positions. You could make a weapon attack if you've got one, which will add to your roll and offer more flexibility, but you only get one weapon attack per turn. Since the game is only four turns, you kind of want to take your attacks when you can, and not spend the game running around the board.

Anachronism takes like five minutes to play, start to finish. If you don't mix up your characters, and just do a straight Sun Tzu versus Paris of Troy battle, you don't have to spend any time making a deck. You just jump right into the game, lay out your cards, and away you go. Entire tournaments could be played out in an hour. There are even multiplayer rules, in case you can arrange for more than two people to play at the same time.

If you're a graphics whore like me, Anachronism should top your list. These cards are easily the best-looking cards in gaming, hands-down. Holofoils, matte varnishes, amazing illustrations and metallic ink make every single Anachronism card a work of art. They're simply amazing.

There are hundreds of different warriors from dozens of different cultures available for Anachronism. Vlad Tepes, anyone? Yes, thank you, I think I will. Chick pirates? I'll have another. How about Jim Bowie, Samson (from the Bible!), Ivan the Terrible and William Wallace? If you're not hooked yet, you're either immune to historical awesome or you're not reading this.

And the best news? My wife likes Anachronism. She's looking forward to trying out Joan of Arc. Of course, as soon as the kids are both in college, we'll probably never play games again unless they include poorly-produced DVDs and flavored oils. Until that happens, though, we've got ourselves a game.


Incredibly fast game play
Rewards careful planning
Amazing art
Great characters

Can't think of one. And I'm trying.

I love Anachronism. I need to go pick up the rest of the cards I don't own. So do you: