Thursday, February 28, 2008

Mass Combat Game Review - Battleground: Fantasy Warfare

Around summer of '06, a guy in a game store mentioned a game to me. "Hey," he said, "this game is pretty cool. You should check it out."

Now, I'm always ready to hear about a cool new game, so my interest meter turned on.

"It's a fantasy game of mass combat..."

My interest meter dropped way off. Ooh, how original. Mass combat in a fantasy world. Why is every third game trying to be Lord of the Rings?

" know, orcs and humans and elves and dwarves..."

Now I was actually starting to figure out how I could get away. You know when a really avid nerd corners you in a game store, and you start wondering if pulling a gun and shooting out the lights would get you out the door? It was like that.

"...and it's basically a miniatures game..."

For the love of all that is holy, I had to get out. I like the concept of a miniatures game, but I hate using a tape measure to play games. And normal game nerds are bad enough, but it was starting to look like I was trapped by one of those Warhammer nerds. Those guys make normal game nerds look like jet-setting secret agents.

"...but it's all played with cards."

BAM! Just like that, I'm back in. More than anything, I was curious. Intrigued, even. All the fun of a miniatures game, but without having to paint your figures? And what kind of mechanic can you use to simulate figures with cards?

I wandered away from the nerd, leaving him still talking, to get online and find out more about this game, get a few starters and try a couple games.

Turns out, I like it.

Battleground: Fantasy Warfare comes in decks the size of your standard CCG starter. There are a bunch of troops in every box, and every box is a different army. You've got your Tolkien standards - dwarves, elves, orcs, humans - and a few D&D standards like undead and lizard men. Plus there are tribesmen, which are just about the only non-derivative army type. Every kind of army also has a box of reinforcements, which are basically more of the same guys you get in the starter, with one or two additional specialty units.

Building an army is the standard point buy. Really impressive units cost way more than smaller units, everyone has the same point cap, blah blah blah. If you've never built an army, why are you even reading this? Go read about My Little Pony or something.

Now here's the part where this is different - each card represents a unit of soldiers. Instead of having to spend $80 and two months painting an army, the entire thing is right there in a nice top-down rendering. And this card thing gets better, because it lets you do all the accounting right on the card.

See, the cards have a really decent laminate on them, and you can write on them with a dry erase marker, then wipe it off when you're done. There's a little circle for writing standing orders and little boxes at the bottom for marking damage. You don't have to keep a roster or accounting sheet or anything else - it's all right on the table. Yet another point in its favor - no need to bring your notebook to remember what all the units can do.

The rules are a little different than some other miniatures games. Instead of just pointing at your guys and saying, 'this guy moves there, and that one goes there, and these guys stand and fire, and these guys are all pissed about getting latrine duty so they're going to stop and smoke a joint before they do anything,' you give each unit a standing order. The orders are Hold, Close and Range, and cover most of what you probably want a unit to do. But if you get lazy here, you could wind up with your archers closing into melee combat, or your heaviest hitters standing around in the middle of the field going, 'hey, the boss said stay here, we'll stay here.' You can add modifiers to the orders, to tell units to seek out particular units, or move to a certain point and defend it, or shoot only at one particular group.

Each player, on his turn (could be a her, but that's not likely, so I'm not saying 'her' any more), gets three commands, which can be used to invoke special army powers, change standing orders, or the most likely action, draw command cards. Command cards are special cards that let you make your troops fight better for one fight, or move faster, or defend really well, or whatever, and they're fairly powerful, so if you can hand out good standing orders, you can build a pretty good hand of these bad-ass cards and really lay down some smack.

Moving is easy, too. Instead of the tape measure (which I hate), you measure movement in card widths. A slow unit might move one long side of a card, while a fast unit might move three short sides. You don't have to wind the tape around obstacles and have it knock down everything just to make your move, which makes moving pretty quick.

The rules for Battleground are too long to run down in detail. Suffice to say there are good rules for routing, reducing effectiveness over troop loss, and other stuff you may want to do. The reinforcements decks contain rules for adding terrain, so you can even rumble over creeks and hilltops and forests. There's a lot here, and it's a pretty deep game.

Now the downside. When your troops get ready to jump into face-to-face fisticuffs, the rules get wacky. Not bad, but not easy to interpret. You might slide your card a little to one side to line up with another card, or move it to fit the center point, and before you can move you have to determine which guy is closest, which can be tricky because it's not always the guy who is closest. I would have loved to see these rules distilled down to something clever, but you're going to see the same kind of thing if you play Epic 40K, so I can't complain too much. My kid and I both thought it was a pain, but not nearly enough to keep us from playing.

Now, the thing is, miniatures gamers tend to like their games because the field looks like an actual battlefield. These hard-ons paint hundreds of figures in meticulous detail, build ruined buildings and grassy hills and paved roads and all manner of madness to make their battles look like little stop-motion movie scenes. And when you're representing those miniatures with playing cards, and forests with green construction paper, you kind of lose some of that representative feel.

But I did mention I'm not usually a minis gamer, right? I think those little battles look neat, but I don't have enough time in my day to try to build a scale model of Waterloo. And I'll be dipped in hog manure if I'm going to paint 100 miniatures just so I can make it all look realistic. So the lack of tactile interaction means nothing to me. I don't care if I can see the shading on my orc warrior's codpiece. I don't even care if I can see my orc warrior's sword, as long as I can still take the damage bonus for it.

Which means Battleground: Fantasy Warfare is just about perfect for me. All the fun without all that annoying building and painting. Good, solid rules, attractive cards, reasonably quick games, and best of all, it won't cost you a car payment to buy all that metal.

So the game store nerd was right. I'm glad he pointed the game out to me. I'm also glad I've never seen him again.


Clever rules eliminate minis and bulky terrain
Easy to store
Great card mechanics eliminate bookkeeping
Cool cards

Not nearly as pretty as an actual miniatures game
Closing rules are a pain in the ass

If you're intrigued, it's really cheap to check out the game. Hell, you can play with just one starter deck, as long as you're into fratricide. Go here and get some:

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tile Game Review - Wooly Bully

You would think wolves have it made. They basically lie around all day, sleeping until they get hungry enough to hunt. Then they go rustle up some grub, eat it, and go back to bed. That's my kind of life - sleep and eat and not much else.

But in Wooly Bully, wolves kind of get the short end of the stick. At first, their life seems pretty easy - they just wait at the edge of a forest and get to eat a bunch of sheep. But as you'll see, it's not quite that easy.

See, in Wooly Bully, each player is a shepherd trying to keep his flock safe. This is a tile-laying game, with each edge of every double-sided tile showing part of a herd of sheep, a forest, a village, a wolf or a hunter. That hunter is really a problem for the wolves, by the way.

You know what color sheep you're trying to corral from the start of the game, but nobody else does. You just lay down tiles, trying to get the biggest herd you can fence off. Other players can hose you by fencing in your herds before you get them big enough, or by making your herd so big you can't finish it. At first, there's not much to this game - you just lay down tiles and draw replacements.

But there are wrinkles that make this a lot more interesting. For one thing, like I said, you don't know what the other people are playing. If there are less than four players, one color of sheep isn't represented by anyone, so you don't even know if you're screwing someone else when you drop a Big Bad Wolf into the forest next to their field. But if you feel like revealing your true colors, you can take three turns in a row, so strategically timing your reveal can give you a huge edge when you really need it.

Another twist is that you can drop out of the game if you think you're winning. The player who drops out first gets six points, second out gets three, third out gets one and that last player (who then has the entire field free to try to lay tiles as long as he wants) gets no bonus. If you think you've got the winning field, it makes sense to pass early on, but it can be tricky - leave too early, and everyone else has a chance to try to beat you. Leave too late, and you have a wide open field, but it may be too late.

Finally, you've got the wolves. You can put a wolf into a forest, and any herd that borders that forest is discounted. The wolf gets a free meal, and gets to eat until he's ready to go back to bed. Which, like I said, would be pretty cool for a wolf.

The problem for the wolf is the hunter. These tiles go on top of wolves, and then your poor, downtrodden wolf, who is just out looking for a snack before bedtime, winds up mounted on a wall somewhere. That's not even fair. The poor wolf goes to grab a bite and gets shot for his trouble. The shepherds get to eat mutton, but the wolves get to eat lead.

Wooly Bully is a very light family game. It's easy to learn and easy to play, but there's a fair bit of strategy in placing tiles and timing your big moves. Time your moves incorrectly, and you could be up a creek. Time them well, and you could drop a wolf into the forest, finish a huge herd and block everyone else from winning. The biggest strategy in Wooly Bully is timing, though placing the right tile in the right place is a big consideration.

One thing that makes Wooly Bully fun to play is the art. The game just looks great. The sheep are all wearing sweaters with different patterns, which means that not only do they look quite natty, but color-blind gamers can still play without wondering if they just put red sheep in a blue field.

All things considered, Wooly Bully is a great way to enjoy half an hour at the cabin, or after dinner and before desert, or while you're waiting for that last guy who is always late. It's not going to blow your mind with its clever game play, and it's not going to be the game you stay up playing until everyone has bloodshot eyes and a headache. It's not exactly a filler game, but it is fun and easy.

Unless you're wolf. It's decidedly less fun and easy if you happen to be a wolf.


Easy to learn and play
Clever and strategic
Great art

A little on the light side
Unfair to wolves

This is a fun game, and it's downright affordable. Go here and get one:

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Board Game Review - Risk: Black Ops

I concede without reservation that I am a small-time game reviewer. I'm not Tom Vasel or Erik Arneson. I'm not on the short list of people who get review copies from everybody who ever makes a game. I've never even been to Essen. But I still get some pretty kick-ass bragging rights, because I got a copy of Risk: Black Ops. Ha! Take that, Vasel! (Of course, I'm pretty sure Tom got one himself, and I hope he did, because he's a great guy and totally deserves it.)

Risk: Black Ops is the pre-release version of the new Risk game, which will be out in summer or fall of this year. It's a completed game, and it's gorgeous, and it's really hard to get a copy. I may be small-time, but I'm sure going to be crowing about scoring this game for a long time to come. I guess when you're just a two-bit amateur game reviewer, you take your successes where you can get 'em.

So there's this new, complete game created and released in minuscule numbers just to get people talking, and it's not even like a beta version. It's done. It's beautiful, and it's ready to play.

The rules are about what you remember from the version you used to play when you had free time and could spend all night watching that last guy try to blast the little pipsqueak holdout out of Australia. This isn't 2210, with commanders and moon colonies and robots. This is really a return to classic Risk, with little wood blocks for armies and even the triangular oblong pieces to represent three armies together. The nation cards are back, but instead of the three-of-a-kind symbol matching to get more soldiers, the cards have stars on them. Turn in cards with a bunch of cards at the top of the turn, and you'll be placing so many extra troops that your enemies will fall before you like old ladies at a monster truck rally.

The key difference between classic Risk and Risk: Black Ops is the inclusion of objectives. The goal of the game is no longer world domination - you don't have to eliminate everyone, you just have to nail down three goals. These goals are basically a quick way to tell who's going to win if you play until the bitter end. The goals are minor objectives like 'Control Europe' or 'Control North America', or major objectives like 'Control Two Complete Continents' or 'Control 18 Territories.' When you can accomplish any three objectives, you win.

Objectives also come with rewards, which can make it a lot easier to win. Bonus defense or attack dice, airfields that help defend strategic locations, or guaranteed cards at the end of every turn can really help you take over the world. Being able to make two free moves at the end of your turn can make sure you're not leaving key areas exposed, or can help you mass troops for next turn's sweeping invasion.

Some of you might be wondering how this compares to the big fat Risk variants like 2210, Lord of the Rings or Godstorm. There's really no comparison. Those reinvent the game and make it a whole new beast. Risk: Black Ops is Risk, but quicker. There aren't nuclear bombs or Atlantis or the One Ring. There are cities and capitols, but they really just make the game go faster by letting you mass troops in a bigger hurry. All those bells and whistles in the variant games completely reinvent Risk, and make it very different from the game you used to play with your old man, when he would get so mad at you for dropping the dice in the middle of Kamchatka and sending all of your brother's wood blocks flying all over Eastern Europe. Risk: Black Ops brings you back to that game, but it saves you the all-nighter. You won't need to inject Mountain Dew intravenously to finish a game in a single night, and that's basically the key difference.

The end result is really simple. If you like classic Risk, you'll like Black Ops. That's the long and short of it. Same great game, but you can finish in an hour. Sort of like light beer, but not disgusting.

Too bad you can't play it. But if you come to my house, I'll let you touch the box.


Just like Risk, but faster
God bless America, is this game pretty
I have one and you don't

What cons? It's Risk, but you can finish in an hour. How can there be cons?

You can't buy Risk: Black Ops, but here's what you can do while you wait for it to come out:

Friday, February 22, 2008

Party Game Review - Cineplexity

Quick, think of a movie that has Susan Sarandon, Sharon Stone or Sylvester Stallone, and that has a character who is Mexican or Mexican-American. Stumped? Yeah, me too, and that's why I don't really want to play Cineplexity again.

Cineplexity is a pretty straight-forward party game. One person draws two cards, each of which has different elements from movies, and then everyone else tries to be the first to come up with a movie that contains both of those things. Most of the time, it's not that hard to think of something. Like if one card says, 'A Guy Film' and the other says, 'Interracial Buddies,' you could run down a long list, at least half of which would contain Eddie Murphy or Jackie Chan. Incidentally, Eddie Murphy is also a good starting point for answers to 'An Actor Plays More Than One Character.'

But then you've got nearly impossible matches that occur now and then. For instance, one card might say, 'A Barrymore, Baldwin or Fonda' where the other one says, 'Rock Hudson, Dustin Hoffman or Woody Harrelson,' and then everyone just sits there and looks at each other (don't bother to post your obscure movie you found with a lengthy imdb search. I don't care).

Another problem with Cineplexity is that it requires a very specific group of gamers. You have to have a roomful of people who really know movies. Don't even bother to play with kids. If the answer isn't a Disney movie, they're out. It might be a little easier if the game allowed TV shows, but then, that opens it up too wide, and how does the adult in the room verify that Hannah Montana actually has a scene in a convent?

You can't even really play this with a bunch of people who are all equally matched in their lack of movie knowledge. When 'Noteworthy Kiss' gets matched with 'Vehicle with Unexpected Features', everyone is going to sit there and look at each other until they decide to put it away and just spend the rest of the night drinking beer and talking politics.

As concepts go, Cineplexity isn't that bad an idea. It's got hundreds of cards, so there are thousands of possible connections. And to be perfectly fair, I would probably love the game if I were a movie buff. But I use most of my Blockbuster rentals to get HBO shows or movies about war, so I'm going to get beat down by every film major on the planet, and I'm completely hosed if anyone in the room is a big fan of art-house movies. No way can I keep up with someone who likes French movies. Now, if the room is prepared to allow the inclusion of adult films, it might be interesting, but I would still lose because I never remember the titles.

There are lots of way better party games out there. Catch Phrase can get a roomful of drunk girls laughing like hyenas. Good Question is a lot more engaging, and can make you think a lot more. Even old standbys like Pictionary and Taboo have more potential hilarity than Cineplexity. Mad Scientist University, which I just reviewed earlier this week, is more interesting. Hell, Out of the Box makes better party games - Apples to Apples is great with the right crowd.

But then, like I said, Cineplexity has its place. Movie lovers could really get a kick out of this one. If you really know movies, you could have a blast searching your memory for a movie based on a true story that has a former SNL cast member.


Thousands of different combinations make movie lovers think

If you don't know movies, you will suck at this game

I didn't really like Cineplexity, because I'm not a movie buff. But if you are a movie fan, you can go here to get a copy:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Crappy Game Review - Penguin

I'm overdue for a Reiner roast. It's time for me to take some cheap shots at my least favorite game designer, by abusing the hell out of one of his stinker-est games. So sit back and enjoy this review of Penguin, a game you should avoid at all costs.

Penguin is a typical Reiner Knizia game, typically overproduced by Fantasy Flight Games. The premise is simple - you've got four different colors of penguin, and you stack them, but a penguin can only stand on two penguins, and one of them has to be the same color. The penguins are all plastic, with these little stands on their shoulders, and so you pile them up and make this big stupid penguin pyramid. At the end of the round, you get penalty points for the penguins you're still holding.

This game had a tiny bit of potential - if it had been a card game. It still would have been boring, but it wouldn't have been as entirely frustrating. But in typical FFG fashion, what could have been a simple affair was turned into a plastic nightmare. Sure, it seems like a cute idea, and sure, it's easy to learn.

But those penguins won't stack.

You can push them, twist them, balance them and force them. You can whine, cajole, piss and moan, and those damned penguins won't stack. The picture at the top up there? I don't know how they did that. My family walked away from this game three times. I tried to bring them back, but everyone said, 'those penguins won't stack.'

So what you've got is a game where you stack penguins to win, only you can't actually get the damned things to stack. They just don't fit. Sure, maybe two or three levels, you can make them fit. But when the pyramid gets taller, the tolerance is shot, and then what should be a five-second turn ends up being five minutes of you taking the whole thing apart to find the one wonky penguin, cramming it all back together, then carefully (with both hands and some help) pushing another penguin on top. It's not fun. It's work. If you're going to play this game, you should be getting paid.

You can tell this is a Reiner game, too. There's no reason for this to have penguins at all. I mean, you could change out the theme with cheerleaders and it would make more sense. For that matter, you could change it out for homeless men climbing over each other for a discarded cigarette. It would have made the most sense as an abstract game with wooden blocks, but heaven forfend that FFG should make a game that makes sense, especially if Reiner is coming up with the theme. This is the guy that made undersea warfare into a boring math game. Theme has never been Reiner's strong suit.

In all fairness, Penguin could have been fairly cool if they had thought about it a little. Wood blocks would have been cool, and then if you don't like the game you can always make a model of the Alamo. Cards would have worked, too, and been a lot easier to handle. There's no reason for this horrible game to have penguins, and no reason for them to be poorly-stacking plastic exercises in frustration.

I don't actually have this game any more. In a particularly mean-spirited moment, I took it to a tournament as a prize table offering. I actually pity the poor bastard who took it home. Let's hope he has the sense not to try to play it.


At its most basic, there was a concept that could have worked

Plastic penguins won't stack
Basic premise turns into frustrating crap game
Theme that could be traded out for bodies in a mass grave

You should not buy Penguin. Here's a link to a place that is smart enough not to carry the game:

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Social Game Review - Mad Scientist University

It's hard to review Mad Scientist University sober. But then, I don't write very well drunk, so I'm stuck in a quandary - sound as insane as the game, or sound intelligent and have trouble conveying the madness? Of course, I'm probably giving myself altogether too much credit - I doubt I sound very intelligent either way, so I'll just save the Johnny Walker for after I finish.

This wacky game from Atlas Games is really easy to explain. There's a big stack of unstable element cards, and a stack of insane assignment cards. Everyone gets an unstable element, an insane assignment is chosen, and then everyone figures out how to complete the assignment with their different elements. Then one guy (who didn't get to play that round) judges which plan is his favorite. Do a few rounds of this, and the person with the most 'favorite' votes wins.

The part that's tough to explain - and the reason I think I would actually make more sense if I had been drinking - is the seriously insane results. For instance, when the assignment was 'Write your name on the moon,' one player used an army of lawn gnomes to take over NASA. In order to kill all the insects, another player wrapped a giant statue of his head in explosive, time-release, poison bubble wrap.

The madness of Mad Scientist University really comes from several sources. These are:

1) The cards. There are hundreds of elements, from anti-depressants and cardboard to ninjas and plastic flamingos. The insane assignments range from the mundane (find on-campus parking) to the absurd (destroy the moon). So when you have a player using squirrels to solve the energy crisis, there's some wackiness on the hoof.

2) The players. If your players are too literal, or if they're boring, or if they lack imagination, you're hosed. But if they're willing to get pretty crazy, you can hear really wild stories of how you could use sombreros to trigger devastating world-wide floods. The zanier the players, the more fun this game will be - but beware the player who cries, 'that's stupid!' He is clearly not prepared to enjoy himself.

3) Strong drink. I cannot emphasize enough how much better this game could be after several rounds of sex on the beach (and then maybe some drinks - ba dum dum!). In fact, while I encourage you to keep off drugs (Nancy Reagan wants you to Just Say No), I can really see a place for this game if you're all enjoying a little herbal remedy. I can't verify the playability of the game stoned - I'm a gamer nerd, I'm scared of drugs - but I can only begin to imagine the Wizard-of-Oz-meets-Pink-Floyd bizarre that would result in the combination of Mad Scientist University and a loaded bong.

If you're looking for a game you can win, this isn't it. It really doesn't matter who wins. You just want to hear the mad-cap stories. You want to hear how a guy is going to use giant cucumbers to develop the uncommon cold. You want to see a player flail trying to explain how bongo drums are going to help him make his lab partners pull their weight. Win or lose, the fun is in playing - which is how good games should be.

If there was ever a game that begged for variants, this is it. Play with a dozen people broken out into two-player teams, and everyone has to combine elements. If you thought it was fun to see how you would use earwax to win the election, just wait until you hear how it would work if you had to use rubber chickens and bubble gum! Or you might just give each player three elements, and instead of having a judge, let everyone play and vote, but you can't vote for yourself. There are lots of ways to enjoy this nutty little game.

There is a lot to love about Mad Scientist University. It doesn't pretend to be more than it is - there are no complicated rules, no strategy, and nothing to ensure fairness. It's easy to break out and enjoy for twenty minutes, or you could spend hours playing while you wait for everyone to get sober enough to drive. It requires a pretty silly mindset, and you can't play with an anal-retentive nerd, but if you can just ride your buzz and get silly, this can be a whole lot of fun.


Cool art
Hilarious cards
Simple rules

Not as much of a game as a story-telling group activity

Mad Scientist University is cheap and fun at parties, like the perfect college date.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Computer Game Review - Smugglers 3

I don't usually like to play games on my computer. I like to sit on my sofa with my feet on the coffee table, directing bloody destruction with a wireless controller. I mostly use my computer for working, not gaming.

But I recently heard some buzz about independent game developers, and the idea intrigues me. People make these games on virtually no budget, with teams of like one or two guys, and by all accounts, some of them are pretty good games. And not those crappy Flash games you play on the Internet - these are actual video games with stories and characters and everything.

Of course, they're not big-budget shooters. Halo 3 isn't going to come out of a studio with two guys and a dev kit. In fact, most of these indie games aren't even action-oriented. Take Niels Bauer Games, for instance. The company is in Germany, and when I wrote for review copies, the guy that got back to me was Niels Bauer. That's like if you call Wal-Mart and get Sam Walton, except that Niels Bauer, evidently, is not dead.

Niels Bauer Games makes a few games, but their big hot-shot game is called Smugglers 3. This game series has won several awards for being a good game from an independent studio - apparently the awards people are so impressed when indie games don't outright suck that they give them medals.

Smugglers 3 is a space game. You buy a ship, put some guns on it, fill the cargo bay and head out to conquer the universe. The galaxy is at war for much of the game, and you'll be running across pirates all the time. You'll trade goods, and if you're good at it, you'll make a ton of cash doing it. You'll have to make a lot of money if you want to really advance, because at some point you'll get weary of delivering four boxes of Jujy Fruits and want to carry a 52-crate collection of illegal weapons.

At regular intervals during the game, you'll get into fights with other space ships. These ne'er-do-wells will be enemy fighters, pirate cruisers, or even peaceful ambassadors of goodwill that you attack to score a ransom. And when you get into one of these mid-space throw-downs, you'll play out a moderately tactical, slightly strategic, and completely unattractive space battle that is essentially you repeatedly selecting the button that reads 'shoot your weapon at the bad guy.' So it's not that exciting, really. The space combat part could have been a LOT more interesting.

As the game progresses, you'll get older, and the game will remind you that you're aging. You'll get promotions and what-not, and your list of medals will grow, and at the same time you'll see photos of your character with grayer hair and a receding hairline. I heard a rumor that if you play long enough, your character has an oxygen mask and a bottle of Geritol, but I retired and quit the game before that happened, so I can't verify that one.

The interface for the game is fairly intuitive, but in my opinion, not intuitive enough. For instance, I couldn't figure out how to save my game the first time, because you have to dock and go into a spaceport to find the save and load functions. Hiring crew requires a visit to a bar, and if you didn't know that, you could try flying your Paladin corvette-class starship around by yourself.

The graphics could have been a whole lot better. The buttons look like they came off an e-commerce site selling generic vitamin supplements - just plain text in a gray box. All the illustrations are 3D renders, though those are fairly decent. The star map leaves a lot to be desired, in terms of visual interest - mostly just black with dots. Combat isn't even that thrilling to look at - your radar is a green box with a circle in it, showing how far off your opponent is.

But if you want high-end graphics, go play an Xbox game. When your indie game got made by one guy working nights after his IT day job, you're not going to get some Gears of War graphics overload. You play indie games because you want to see games where people still put some feeling into their work, where they put a ton of effort into making sure the game works smoothly, not looks like a million dollar budget.

And Smugglers 3 manages to pull that off. At first glance, this might seem like one of those games you can download from Yahoo and that has a 1-hour time limit before it sticks out a hand for a $20 bill. Some of those are pretty decent, but this game is for serious gamers, not 12-year old kids who don't care if they download viruses to their moms' computers. Smugglers 3 has an incredible amount of depth - every piece can be upgraded, from weapons and shield to cargo holds and jump drives. There are five different kinds of crew members, from officers to robots. There are hundreds of planets with consistent economies, complicated warring factions, penalties and rewards for illegal activity, and inherent dangers floating around in deep space.

If you're an old-school gamer like me, you might remember an old game called Wing Commander: Privateer. This game combined the best of smuggling and carrying cargo with upgrading your ship and fighting space battles. Unfortunately, Smuggler 3 takes half of that interesting combo and sort of drops out of the other half. The trading and ship upgrading is better than Privateer, but the space battles are not interesting at all. As a guy who likes games with body counts, it's disappointing when the violence is the least interesting part of the game. I can appreciate a turn-based tactical game more than most gamer nerds, and would have loved to see a lot more depth in the space fights.

But even if the space battles aren't that awesome, I still look forward to playing Smugglers 3 a lot more. I want to see if I can get married and make the Federation promise me my own planet. I would love to be the guy who puts an end to the war, and I really want to make admiral. I want to command a huge ship with hundreds of crew members and four missile bays. There's so much to do in Smugglers 3 that I really want to play it a lot more.

The nice thing is, you can try out Smugglers 3 for free. Most indie games will let you take them for a spin and kick the tires, because it's not like they have a big advertising budget. You can try the whole thing, from interstellar trading to sadly dull space battles yourself, and see what you think. And if you like it, you can get the game for an easy twenty bucks. There's even a cool add-on to the game that lets you get drunk and married for just fifteen dollars. It's like Vegas, but even cheaper!

One final commentary on Smugglers 3 should put across my opinion of the game - I lost about four hours of sleep last night playing it. I've never had Halo 3 be that addictive. I've played Baldur's Gate that obsessively, and I went almost start-to-finish on Fallout in three days, but I can usually remember to go to bed. I literally fell asleep playing Smugglers 3, and then woke up and played some more (which would explain why this review is a little late). And now that the review is written, I'm going to go play it some more.


Tons of stuff to do
Cool career mode
Lots of depth and decision-making

Bland graphics
Boring space fights

I'm not going to tell you to buy Smugglers 3, but I definitely think you should download the demo and try it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Board Game Review - Amyitis

Have you been suffering from a shortness of cash? Are you tired of trying to impress a woman, and just coming up short? Are you leaving the woman of your dreams unsatisfied?

If you answered 'yes' to all these questions, you may be suffering from a condition known as Amyitis, a rare condition that strikes Babylonian kings who take brides from far away lands and then find out they actually liked it better where they came from. Symptoms include a disappointed bride, a court full of sycophants sucking up at every turn, and a constant need to look better than everyone else.

But there is good news. There is treatment for Amyitis. Recent clinical trials have indicated that Gardenz will satiate that foreign goddess, and even increase your own prowess in the eyes of the ruling queen.

Should you wish to see just how Gardenz works, Rio Grande Games (not a subsidiary of any major drug company) has released a trial version aptly titled 'Amyitis.' This recreation of the treatment of Amyitis will allow you to see for yourself how building gardens in the palace will allow you to improve your own standing with the foreign queen.

In Amyitis, each tester will assume the role of a sycophant plagued with the desire to win favor in the eyes of the new Babylonian queen, a condition commonly known as Amyitis. The best treatment for Amyitis is to build gardens in the palace, though improving your own palace will also improve the queen's opinion of you and help in the treatment of Amyitis.

You will travel around the lands of ancient Mesopotamia in order to purchase the plants you need to create Gardenz. You will perform engineering miracles to irrigate the tiered palace, and you will recruit priests, peasants, engineers and merchants to aid you in your travails.

You will, of course, need money to recruit these helpful people, and you must recruit them, for after all, as a court sycophant, you know nothing of worship, farming, irrigation or driving camels, just sucking up and wearing too much makeup. Your first recruitments may be had for free, but further recruiting will cost money, and only by actively pursuing your financial interests rather than taking actions to further your goals will you be able to earn the money you need. You must choose wisely - fail to recruit help, and you will be unable to raise the resources you need to create Gardenz. But too much action has a price as well, because only through inaction can you raise the money you need to recruit, and you could find yourself unable to deal with your Amyitis if you plan poorly.

Once the peasants have gathered resources for you, the priests have made your sacrifices to the temple, the engineers have irrigated the waterways of the Babylonian palace, and the merchants have secured you camels for your caravan, you will be free to travel to the various cities of Mesopotamia. Some cities carry plants, it is true, but others will provide you with better caravan drivers, bankers to earn you money while you act, or palace improvements that help to alleviate your bad case of Amyitis by earning you prestige. But you must decide carefully when to move the caravan, for if the caravan passes a city, you may not return there until the caravan has passed all the way around and returned. And should you progress too far with the caravan, another court noble may be in position to move to the city he wants, and further his own needs at the cost of yours.

In the end, of course, the best treatment for Amyitis is Gardenz. By planting ever more impressive plants in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, you will impress the queen and earn more prestige. As the test comes to a close, the tester who has most impressed the beautiful but capricious queen will find that his case of Amyitis is the best alleviated.

Amyitis will not have the same symptoms for everyone. Amyitis can be difficult to understand, at first, especially if you are suffering from a lack of talent when it comes to resource management. Amyitis can be difficult for young children, and nearly unbearable if not shared with an adult. Amyitis may remind you very much of Euro games, and if you are an ardent fan of games with big explosions and ugly sword fights, you may find that you need to avoid Amyitis.

However, many people who experience Amyitis will find that they thoroughly enjoy it. Amyitis will force you to make difficult decisions, any of which could save you or ruin you. Amyitis has no dice, and very little luck, and for those who like a tense game of managing resources, tense decision making and careful interplay of other players, Amyitis could be quite enjoyable. While it may not have the simple appeal of many Euro games, Amyitis could be slightly addictive for those who like a game with a great deal of depth.


Incredibly deep decision-making
Your ability to plan ahead will make or ruin you
Your ability to adapt will be just as important
Minimal luck - but your fellow players can still screw you pretty well
Interesting theme

No tactical play may disappoint Ameritrash devotees
Name of the game sounds like a social disease

If you believe you may have a case of Amyitis and would like to see if Gardenz is right for you, you can get the game here:

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Abstract Game Review - Coverup

Remember when games were simpler? When rules could be explained in seconds, games could be played in minutes, and there was no setup time? I remember that time. I called it fourth grade.

And when I was in fourth grade, our games were simple. I wasn't retarded enough to think tic-tac-toe was a challenging game, but I loved Connect Four. I never did see the point of Cooties, but I could still get a kick out of a good fart joke.

When I played Coverup from Out of the Box Publishing, I was instantly hurled through my past to a time when I could not understand Othello, and when I inexplicably liked the taste of that horrible paste we used with construction paper. Coverup is so simple to learn and play that you can give the game to a couple idiot savants (otherwise known as children) and they'll occupy themselves for as long as it takes you to walk out of the room. Of course, as every responsible parent knows, as soon as you leave a couple eight-year-olds on their own, someone will get something lodged in his or her ear.

Happily, the pieces in Coverup don't seem to be small enough to put in your ear. There are a bunch of little discs in three different sizes, and a tray meant to hold them. The tray is a five-by-five grid with holes... you know what? There's a picture. Look at it.

Anyway, you have to get four in a row to win. Only it's a little tricky, because when you think you blocked someone, they can just drop a new piece on top of your blocker, and then you'll feel stupid for not blocking it. Or they can move one of the big ones after they put it down, and not only do they reveal the piece underneath (if there is one) but they might be able to complete a string with that extra piece. These subtleties may be overlooked by anyone with the kind of attention span required to enjoy most Nickelodeon cartoons, but the neat thing is, adults can play each other at this game and still be challenged.

Obviously, this isn't going to be one of my longer reviews. You can mostly tell what the rules are by looking at the pieces. The game is so intuitive that you can teach it in the time it takes your average third-grader to eat a booger. It's quick enough to let you blow through a dozen games, and deep enough that you don't mind playing twelve times in a row. And the greatest part? You're teaching your little trained monkey of a rugrat spatial skills or forethought or perception or some retarded thing parents always pretended they were teaching us when they were really just giving us something so we would shut up long enough that they could discuss their soaps.

I kind of wish there was more to this game, but that's really because of how much I like to say disparaging things about children. For what it is, Coverup is great. Casual gamers can enjoy this one with no warm-up period, and kids will love it. Adults can find enough depth to stick around a while, and the little Ritalin junkies that keep climbing on the back of your couch just might stop screaming long enough to do something besides get pizza sauce on the ceiling.


Really easy to teach
Quick to play
Surprising depth
A lot more fun than I thought it would be

Not enough to write about, so I had to quit making up bad things to say about children

If you've got kids, or just easily distracted adults, they might appreciate it if you go here and buy Coverup:

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Board Game Review - Battlelore

Richard Borg is not just my favorite game designer, he's one of my favorite people, period. If the guy were any nicer, we would name a state after him. He's modest, hard-working, friendly, approachable - hell, he's Andy Griffith. All he's missing is a podunk accent and a funny story about football.

But you probably didn't come here to read about Andy Griffith. You're here to find out if you ought to buy Battlelore, or if you already have, to see if you agree with me. But I like writing about Richard Borg, because, as I may have mentioned, I think he's a pretty cool guy. If you don't like it, stuff it in your ear. It's my blog, and I'll write about Richard Borg if I want to.

Besides, in order to completely understand Battlelore, you have to kind of understand Richard Borg. Aside from being a great guy, he's got a game design pedigree as long as my arm. And his previous games have all lead up to Battlelore. Like the saying goes, you can't understand where you are if you don't know where you've been, and just like understanding Andy Griffith means you have to know about Mayberry, you need to understand Richard Borg's history to know how we wound up with Battlelore.

Battlelore is the most recent in a long line of very successful games called the Commands and Colors games. Before this one, there was Battle Cry (a Civil War game), C&C: Ancients (Romans and Greeks), and Memoir '44 (World War II). These games all share similar traits, but each has rules that make it unique. They all sprang out of Borg's idea for a single game system that could be customized for several different eras. That, and he needed a way to keep Barney Fife out of trouble.

In all the games, the board is split into three flanks - left, middle, right. You get cards that tell you which units can get commands, based on where they are on the board. You have special dice that tell you if you hit. Your units are composed of multiple miniatures (or in the case of Ancients, wooden blocks), and as your units take damage, you lose miniatures (or blocks). And all the games are pretty damned popular, because they're pretty damned fun.

The C&C game system works amazingly well. Turns are fast, strategy is crucial, tactics are key. Luck plays a pretty serious role, which can make some gamers unhappy, but at the same time, the better player wins more often than not. There's enough luck so that you're never too upset about losing, but not so much that you can't enjoy winning. Every now and then, even Opie can win a game.

The real strength of the C&C system, however, is its flexibility. Basic changes in the rules can completely alter the way every game feels. Antietam has a completely different feel from Normandy, and neither feels like Agincourt. But you still know how to play the game, because the basics are the same. So what I'm trying to say is, Richard Borg is not just great company, he's a frigging genius.

Battlelore takes the entire C&C system and kicks it up a notch. Battlelore is intended to serve dual purpose as an historical recreation of some of the battles from the Hundred Years' War and to let you play out crazy fantasy battles. In order to facilitate the fantasy stuff, Battlelore gives us a separate deck of cards, called the lore deck. You build a war council with wizards and clerics and thieves and warriors, and then your lore cards let you use those guys to blast your opponents with fireballs, sneak attack, heal your units, or just fight better. Lore points limit how often you can use these abilities, and their power depends on the council you build. A really great wizard can be helpful, but you won't be able to use thief skills very well. Get a little of everything, and nothing is all that powerful.

So there again, Richard Borg is brilliant, even if he doesn't know how to make pie with Aunt Bee.

Then Battlelore gives us these great critters. Giant spiders, earth elementals, hill giants - these bastards can completely ruin your opponent's day, and they let you recruit some huge hitters that can be tough to kill and still maintain some game balance. The creatures have special abilities, like the spider's web or poison, that can make them worth their cost.

Battlelore also emphasizes the importance of holding a line to prevent routs by giving bonuses to units who are adjacent to two other units. It's hard as hell to make a supported unit run away, and even worse, if they don't run, they get to hit back on your turn. More than one great charge has been undone by losing an entire unit on your own turn when a supported target battles back.

Now, it should be noted that the rule book for Battlelore is like 80 pages. That's a lot of rules. It's a stunningly beautiful book, and there are tons of illustrations, but every now and then you'll play wrong because you got the rule wrong. And then some rules lawyer will come along and start berating you for moving the wrong guy, and you'll have to hire Matlock to defend yourself (see what I did there? Still Andy Griffith, but completely different show).

While it's not entirely related to either Richard Borg, Battlelore or Andy Griffith, it's worth mentioning that the Days of Wonder guys have some of the best customer service you'll ever find. Like there was an issue right after Battlelore's release when some of the dice were fading - and they just sent everyone free dice. They love their fans at Days of Wonder, and their fans tend to love them.

And everybody loves Richard Borg.


Richard Borg
Great tactical/strategic game play
Absolutely gorgeous game with incredible components
Hundreds of great miniatures

Lots of luck
All those miniatures make me feel inadequate because I haven't painted them

The only game I've played more than Battlelore in the last five years is Heroscape. I think you should buy it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

General Gaming Rant - Casual Gamers

If I were to poll everyone who reads this site, I predict that 95% or more of you are pretty serious gamers. You might even call yourself casual gamers, but let me try a quick litmus test on you.

1) Which do you like more, Risk or Risk 2210?
2) Do you like the simplicity of HeroQuest or the depth of Descent?
3) Which is better, Soul Caliber or Tekken?
4) What is your favorite CCG?
5) Do you prefer pre-painted plastic miniatures or unpainted pewter?
6) Would you rather go to GenCon or Origins?
7) Old-school Basic red box or Third Edition?

If you're even able to answer any of these questions, you're not a casual gamer. You may not play games as often as I do, and you probably know someone who smells a lot worse than you, but you're not a casual gamer. You may be casual compared to the guy who has five thousand dollars invested in his Warhammer collection, but in order to be an actual casual gamer, your answers have to look something like this:

1) Is Risk like that Truth or Dare game? We played that a lot in high school.
2) Hero what now?
3) Those are video games, right?
4) What the hell does CCG stand for?
5) Do you mean like Precious Moments? I thought those were all porcelain.
6) I went to Ensenada once.
7) I have no idea what you're saying right now.

Casual gamers don't know that the biggest board game market is in Europe. They don't even know Europeans make board games. They play Parcheesi, Monopoly, and Life. And when you ask a casual gamer about card games, he thinks you mean poker or pinochle.

The ironic thing is, casual gamers are most of the market for games. You may not like Monopoly, but you have to have seen the hundred different versions of the game that are out there. In fact, for those of you who do care about Monopoly, did you even know that they're working on a version right now called Here and Now: World Edition? You can go to and vote for which cities should be on the board. In case you care, Montreal and Paris are currently beating the pants out of anything in America. For that matter, Istanbul is beating Chicago.

Most of the guys you think of as 'casual gamers' would rather choke on rat poison than play The Game of Life - and who can blame them? There's virtually no strategy, just rolling the dice and moving your car. You win if you can manage to have a lot of kids and get richer than God. And yet that game outsells anything Reiner ever created, plus every single game from Avalon Hill, plus Battlelore, Memoir 44 and C&C: Ancients put together.

Like it or not, we're outnumbered. For every gamer who can build a Magic deck, there are a hundred gamers who can beat your ass at bridge. For every gamer dad who buys a copy of Drakon to teach his kids, there are a hundred families playing Sorry. And for every video gamer who reserved a copy of Halo 3, there are a thousand drunks playing video golf in a bar somewhere and thinking they're bad-ass at it.

You know what would be awesome? If those casual gamers would join us for a game of Settlers of Catan. Or if you could hand one of those poker sharks a pre-built Magic deck and see if they could last four turns. Or if you could get those barflies playing trivia games on the big screen at Friday's to join us for a Halo LAN party.

Of course, that's not likely to happen. Anyone who has ever been to GenCon can tell you why those people don't play with us - too many of us avoid soap. I have known way too many gamers who bathe every Sunday, whether they need it or not, and all too often I meet them on Saturday. We're scary, because we're the epitome of counter-culture. Those gamers with greasy hair and cold sores mention Yu-Gi-Oh just once in a crowded restaurant, and no casual gamer within a quarter mile is going to consider learning how to play.

And then add in that we're kind of scary, even if we're clean. We use terms like 'elegant rules' and 'twenty-sided dice.' For casual gamers, a dice mechanic sounds like a guy who fixes games of craps. We can open up a game, read a twenty-page rulebook, and sit down to beat the pants off everyone at the table. We're not going to play Monopoly. We hate Monopoly, even though we love to talk about German games that involve lots of resource management (there's another term - for casual gamers, that means making sure you don't run out of paper clips).

I don't have a really good answer for how to get casual gamers to play with us. We're such big fans of games that we turn up our noses at Clue and then get all excited to play Mystery of the Abbey. We're bored by Connect Four but love to play Ingenious. There's a huge gap between the people who play games when they spend their weekends at the lake house, and those of us who schedule monthly game nights where we break out Ca$h N Gun$.

I think what we have to do is take it one casual gamer at a time, and be willing to compromise. Play Trivial Pursuit all night, and then see if anyone might be willing to learn Carcassonne. Learn how to play that ridiculous Golden Tee game, then mention that with reflexes like that, your buddy might dig Wii Sports. Don't break out games with really complicated rules, and for God's sake hide your miniatures and D&D books. Remember, these are normal people, not real gamers.

And for God's sake, wash your ass, you smelly bastard.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Minis Game Review - Elfball

I think it is fitting that, as I write this review, millions of football fans are sitting down to watch the biggest sporting event our country can muster - the Super Bowl. It's fitting because I'm reviewing Elfball, a game that is a fantasy version of football mixed with rugby mixed with horrible beatings. As I play, I like to imagine that John Madden is calling the game.

Let's hear it for Joan Jetblack and the Dark Elves, ladies and gentlemen! Is there a man still alive in this audience? Yeah, I thought so! Today, your Desert Dogs do battle with the Pharoahs of Vihktora in the Elfball arena! Are you ready for some Elfball?!

Impact Miniatures makes hundreds of different pewter miniatures in more than a dozen teams to compete in a brutal fantasy sport game. The miniatures are incredibly detailed and, if you have the patience, a ton of fun to paint. Most of them would only make sense in a sports-type game - all of the Desert Dogs, for instance, have football helmets, and most have shoulder pads - but a lot of these minis could be used for just about any fantasy game. The Pharoahs, for instance, mostly are just really cool figures that could show up to harass any tomb-diving adventurer.

The game is played in a large, round, hex-grid arena. There are white lines and yellow circles all over, showing starting points for players and the ball, the boundaries of the field, and scoring zones. The goal is to carry the ball into your opponent's scoring circle and to keep your opponent from yours. To start off this event, both opponents select a team member and pit them against each other over the ball in a face-off challenge.

Well, folks, the Desert Dogs have chosen Abdul Hussein Muhammed for their face-off champ, and the Pharoahs are going with Anubis. The Desert Dogs' dervish looks like he can't wait to get a piece of that jackal-faced god clone - he's actually foaming at the mouth! But Anubis doesn't look worried - he's just sneering and sharpening his knives. The whistle blows and - oooh, that looks like it hurt. Anubis is down, and the dervish is dancing on his face! The mad Dog has completely forgotten about the ball!

Pretty much anything you want to do in Elfball requires you to roll a challenge. There are six dice that come with the game. One side of every die shows a big black X, which you don't want to see, and three sides show successes. One of those successes even lets you get to keep the success and roll that die again. It would seem difficult to fail a challenge, especially when you usually need just one success, but with the number of times you roll dice in this game, you're going to spend a lot of time cursing those black X marks.

The Desert Dog striker, Ahmed Guda Bin Guda, has raced forward to scoop up the ball. He reaches for it - but slips in wet grass, falls and smashes his face on the dervish's flying cleat! The ball shoots out from under him and rolls across the grass!

Bin Guda's tough. We've got a guy who spent most of last season recovering from a debilitating injury after a Valkyrie ice troll ripped out three of his ribs and ate them with steak sauce. The wizard-healers patched him up, but it looks like he might still be a little slow.

Once the game gets started, there's a lot of slow-down. Everything you might want to do - in some cases, even just running - involves a die roll. The rolls themselves are fast enough. There's no math, just counting, but when there are three or four rolls in a single turn, two irritating things can happen. First, the game can take a long time to resolve, and second, the odds of seeing those unlucky flops gets uncomfortably high.

Anubis rolls away from Muhammed and he's up, running for the ball! He grabs it, looks around, and chucks it to Ra, the thrower rookie from Cairo State. Muhammed makes a grab for it, but it slips through his hands and it sails clean to Ra. Here's Ra with the catch... no! He's dropped the ball! It bounced off his beak and is now rolling toward Bast, the Pharoahs' striker!

Possibly the most exciting part of Elfball is the tackling. You'll find yourself running around behind your opponents to hit them in the back, even if they don't have the ball, on the off chance that you can roll enough successes to put them in the infirmary. The midfielders in this game appear to be perfectly suited to either carry the ball or beat the holy hell out of the other team. The defenders are the toughest hitters, though they are a little slow.

Bast is having an incredible day! A huge run across the field, dodging tackles left and right while Thoth and Nehkbet cover for her, and she's within one short sprint of the Dogs' goal! She's just got to get past Faruk Faruk, the Desert Dogs' defender, but that could be a problem. They don't call him the Sand Devil for nothing! He leaps at Bast, hits her hard, and she's down! Folks, you could hear that hit from the stands! Faruk gets up, but Bast looks bad. Wait... yep, Faruk knocked out her spleen. Looks like she'll be sitting out the rest of the season!

A single goal in Elfball can take from 20 minutes to most of an hour, and a three-point game can go for two hours. If you're a casual gamer, this can get really old, really fast, but if you're really into miniatures games, or if you remember fondly the days of Blood Bowl, Elfball might be just what you want. This is no fancy-schmancy pre-painted miniatures game you can finish in 30 minutes. This is seriously old-school, from painting your team and carrying them in padded containers to careful maneuvering and tactical positioning. And let's not forget luck - as often as these dice roll, the best-laid plans can be completely undone by a streak of flopped die rolls.

Unbelievable, folks! This game looks like one for the history books! Butros Butros Ramadin, the Dogs' thrower, has scooped up the ball and made an incredible dash! His midfielders have done an amazing job protecting him, flattening the Pharoahs like a house of cards while Ramadin runs it right up the left side! It's just him and Sobek, the Pharoahs' defender, and the giant croc takes his shot!

OH MY GOD! Sobek has tripped over his own tail and fallen! Ramadin leaps over his scaly hide and slams the ball down in the goal zone! The game is over, the Desert Dogs are this year's world champs! Look at Ramadin's end-zone dance! He looks like he's about to whip out a machete and start carving up the Pharoahs! Wait, he is! He's chasing Thoth all over the field screaming something about infidels! What a game, folks! What a game!

In the final assessment, Elfball has potential, but it's not for everybody. The 40K crowd is much more likely to get a kick out of this than any kind of Euro gamer. There's huge amounts of violence, ridiculous luck, and lots of careful positioning and maneuvering. If you like miniatures games and sports games, Elfball could be your new favorite game. On the other hand, if you love games with quick turns and a minimum of luck, you probably want to avoid this one.


Magnificent miniatures
Cool concept with rules that fit the theme
Neat dice mechanic

A little slow
Tons of luck sometimes counters good planning

The guys at Impact! Miniatures love what they do, and it shows. They assemble every game themselves, so go here to get yourself a copy, and pick up a couple teams of pewter gridiron champions while you're there:

Friday, February 1, 2008

Board Game Review - Carcassonne

Meeples do not have it good. For one thing, they're not even people. They're meeples, which is like sheeples, except that they can't even follow. They just have to go where they're told and then stand there and try to be productive.

Take Carcassonne, for example. In this game, the meeples don't have any say over their jobs at all. They get stuck farming, even if they always wanted to be monks. The knights might have always wanted to be hairdressers, but they got stuck guarding cities when all they ever really wanted to do was sing showtunes and fix hair, probably because their fathers pulled some, 'no son of mine' crap and made them feel bad about not taking up the family business.

Carcassonne is especially bad to its meeples. Every turn, a player is adding a new tile, which might have city parts, roads, cloisters, or little towns at crossroads. Then a player can put down a meeple, and just by where the poor bastard gets parked is how he knows what he does for a living! Like say you drop a meeple on the road - now he's a thief, a brigand, a highwayman, and he never had any say in the matter. Society made him what he is, and society will punish him, and no matter that he was raised by his stepmom because his old man was always off drinking and whoring. Put a meeple in a growing city, and suddenly he's a knight, and it doesn't matter if he had a scholarship to art school. Drop him in a field and he's a farmer, and now he's stuck tilling the earth until the end of the game!

To make matters worse, Carcassonne throws these poor meeples into a job, and then once they produce something, once they're finally getting the hang of it, they get fired! It's not even remotely fair. As soon as the city is completed, the knight guarding it is laid off and returned to the player who placed him. Once a cloister is surrounded by well-kept tiles and lush green farmland, the monk who made it all possible is sent back to his player. Finish a road segment, and the thief you've assigned to plunder that road is sent packing, probably off to be a ward of the state. And what have these meeples done to warrant joining the ranks of the unemployed?

They made you money! These meeples are unwaveringly loyal. As soon as you complete the city, surround the cloister, or cap off the road, the meeples that you have placed in these locations gather all the points they have earned for building a big city, developing the countryside or haunting a road and deliver them to you. And their reward is to be removed from the growing countryside, placed on welfare and made to sit through Oprah and The View.

You should be nicer to those meeples. You've only got so many of them. If you make them all farmers, you won't get to see them again until the end of the game, when they will make you money by selling their produce to the cities close to their farms. You won't get to ask them if they would like to join the clergy, or give them a sword and assign them a city. You won't get to invite them to Sunday brunch or have them over in the summer for a backyard cookout. And when you've got no meeples to put on roads or churches or cities, when you've assigned every meeple to an uncompleted task and you have no way to take advantage of those huge ripe fields overflowing with riches, you'll have only yourself to blame.

Then comes the end of the game. The last tile is placed, the countryside is completed, and everything is scored. Every meeple you've got on the board collects whatever money he can, even if he has not finished his job, and brings it to you. And does he get to stay in this lovely world he's helped create? No! He simply hands over his points to you, then dives into the box, only to be followed shortly after by the country he's helped create! The tiles are all dumped into the box. The world is destroyed, and the meeple is homeless. No gratitude is given to these champions of commerce, these tireless workers, these little wooden warriors.

Of course, the meeples don't need thanks. They love you, and in return you push them around and take their jobs. Won't anyone think of the meeples?

(Oh, yeah, this is a game review. Carcassonne is fun, lots of tough decisions, maybe a little simple for me to play on a regular basis. But at least Reiner didn't make it.)


Really quick to learn
Very fast play
Pretty pieces and lots of expansions

A little simple for me, but lots of people just plain love it

If you want to abuse some meeples, you can get Carcassonne at this link. Hell, the meeples will thank you for giving them something to do.