Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Board Game Review - Colosseum

Maybe you were in a fraternity or sorority in college and think you know how to have a party. Maybe you were a merchant marine, and know that you know how to party. And maybe you're John Hughes, and not only do you know how to party, but everyone who saw Sixteen Candles knows that you know how to party.

But there's no way you were an ancient Roman, so no matter how much you think you know how to party, you can't hold a candle to a real Roman shindig. Romans knew how to party, and they had the corpses to prove it (even though they probably knew better than to use the word 'party' as a verb). When you play Colosseum, you get to be one of those ancient Roman madmen in the biggest party the Empire has known - and you get to plan the entertainment.

Each player in Colosseum gets an arena, and they'll try to get the emperor and his cronies to stop by when they put on a show. The nobility is on a long bar crawl around the board, stopping in at the different events (and at any orgies they might pass, though the game just calls them 'rest areas', like they were a few picnic tables in a grassy spot alongside I-20, and not a whole lot of naked people getting crazy with cheap wine and porn painted on the ceiling).

You'll start every turn by investing in your arena. The problem is, you can only make one investment, and you'll want to make more. You might want to add on to the arena so you can fill it up with water and have sea battles, but if you do, you won't have time to install the emperor's box seats, or upgrade an area for season tickets, or read over the latest scripts from the hack writers who keep churning out event plans like Greenwich Village hipsters writing off-Broadway musicals. It's like when you're already fixing the sink and your wife tells you the air conditioner is making that weird thumping sound again, but you can't fix both because you've got the water turned off to the house and you're going to have to go to the hardware store and buy a sackful of plastic washers before anyone can take a shower. Then again, that might only happen to me.

Once you sink a little money into your nightclub-slash-arena of death, you get to hire talent. After all, you can't have a gladiator show if you don't have some gladiators. You might want some lions, but then, chariots might be nice for a different kind of event. A priest might add some pomp to your show, or a comedian might help you sell drinks (as long as you tip your waitress). But the other players might want to hire the guys you need, so there will be messy bidding wars to make sure you get the performers that can draw a crowd. And since lots of these actors are package deals, you'll have to recruit entire entourages, and then swap them with the other players to get rid of the torches you don't need and get cages so that your lions don't wander around eating all the Christians before you can fill the seats.

And then, after all this planning and swapping and trading and shopping, it's time to put on the main event. The Roman Writers Guild will supply you with scripts, but you'll have to supply your own people. One script might call for three gladiators and a chariot, while another might have you recruiting Robin Williams and The Eurythmics for a musically bizarre comedy (which may or may not be hopped up on cocaine and absinthe). The really big shows are expensive to buy and require enormous casts, but they sure can draw a crowd. If you can get the emperor to drop by, you might have the hottest show in town. You'll be invited to all the right dinners and get your pick of all the best orgies.

Of course, there's always a reckoning for putting on a big show - this isn't Vegas, this is Rome, baby, and they party for keeps. Every time you put on a show, somebody dies. It would be a pretty lame gladiator show if you didn't have some blood, you know? And just because this is that kind of party, even if all you do is hire a couple musicians and float them around on pleasure barges, somebody still ends up six feet under. You know you've got a wild party when you can't even recite poetry without a body count.

So back to the grind you go - put in some new season tickets, buy an event program, hire talent, and do the whole thing again. You've only got so many chances to show off before the emperor remembers that he still wants to enslave Gaul and gets back to work, so you have to really crank it up. You better put on the best show in town, because when the party ends, the only one who gets remembered is the one who drew the biggest crowd. Everybody remembers Studio 54, but nobody even knows what happened to the first 53 studios.

Just like Romans knew how to raise the roof, Days of Wonder knows how to make a game. Colosseum has instantly hopped into my top twenty, and I can't wait for another chance to play it again. The pieces are absolutely exquisite - it's like a box full of toys, and there's even a magnificent storage tray so that everything goes back in the box (Fantasy Flight could use some pointers in that department). It takes planning and luck to win this one, and an early mistake can kick you in the jewels for the whole game, but even if you don't win, you'll have a blast playing Colosseum.


Tons of great pieces
Excellent theme
Parties that would make Charlie Sheen look like Bill Gates
Brilliant storage tray
Body count makes every show an adventure
Incredibly fun

Can't think of one. No game makes my top 20 if I can think of serious cons.

The only way Colosseum could be more fun would be if it had mosaic pornography, and then you couldn't play it with your kids. Go here and get yourself a copy - you'll be glad you did:

Monday, July 28, 2008

Miniatures Game Review - AT43: Operation Damocles

My recent review of Mutant Chronicles CMG started with a hypothetical, and one that is worth revisiting for the sake of this review. See, Mutant Chronicles is a huge disappointment, like finding out that the woman who just offered to chrome-plate your trailer hitch has man junk. AT-43 is also a pre-painted minis game, though the starter is significantly more expensive, and just like with Mutant Chronicles, the anticipation of the game could start off with as much promise as a bar full of Girls Gone Wild.

The sci-fi theme of AT-43 is really cool. There are walking tanks, creepy skeletal aliens with sonic guns, armored troopers and laser rifles. This is gritty, hardcore, exciting space fighting, and to continue our analogy, the theme makes the game compare easily to a busty college co-ed who has been drinking wine coolers for the last three hours at a house party just off campus.

Then you find out the game is pre-painted miniatures, and you see the magnificent sculpts and the flat-out gorgeous paint jobs, and suddenly you start to find out that this co-ed has a really cute best friend who likes to party. And the box comes with a whole bunch of awesome pre-painted terrain, and it's all in standard miniatures scale, and now these two crazy college girls are about to prove to you - right there in the bar - that they're not sporting any man gear.

So the only way to find out if this game is actually as good as a threesome with a couple nubile college hotties is to get it back to the apartment and play. You're certain that they're not dudes - you've seen the miniatures, and they're the most attractive pre-painted minis on the market, with the possible exception of Confrontation (which, to make a total side analogy, is like a rich heiress - she might have a lot going on, but won't even look at you if you're not driving a Ferrari). The terrain is awesome - you can even open the doors on the cargo container and hide a squad inside to stage an ambush. The only thing that could spoil this party is if the rules suck (or if the girls sober up too soon).

The rules are not particularly complicated. They're pretty straight-forward, as they are for most miniatures games. The scenarios in the starter set (Operation Damocles) start with basic movement rules and add new rules as you play, so that by the time you play the final scenario, you've seen how everything works. It does a great job of teaching while you play, and the rules are fun and easy to learn. This is the dream scenario you read about in Hustler - the girls are ready to go and more willing than you had hoped.

And then one of the girls falls asleep. The squad cohesion rules hurt the game the way too many jello shots will make your three-way into a one-on-one. The lack of individual movement and the required clumping of soldiers combines with the overpowering might of the oversized squad to hurt - but not ruin - what started out with lots more promise.

The figures in a squad have to stay too close together, so it's tough to perform a flanking maneuver with a single squad. Since every figure in a squad fires at the same time, a larger squad is far more deadly than smaller squads, even if the smaller squads have more figures. But you know what? That second girl is still wide awake, and once she gets her roommate to bed, she's still more than willing to show you why she bought a fold-out sofa.

The squad rules hurt the game, sure, and there are a couple other smaller factors that can make some experienced players frown a little (like a complete lack of morale rules), but this is still a very fun game. You may not have scored the Letters to Penthouse threesome, but you'll still have a real good time. The only reason you would be disappointed in Operation Damocles is if you set your sights too high. Every game has flaws, but AT-43 suffers from fewer flaws than many games and is the most attractive sci-fi pre-paint on the market. It's priced reasonably and comes with everything you need to play, including a tape measure and lots of reference cards.

So to close out, AT-43: Operation Damocles does not disappoint. There are no man parts on this game. It may not turn into the wild night you thought it was when you brought it home, but it's a damned sight better than coming home to an empty apartment.


Really awesome pre-painted miniatures
Great terrain
Everything you need in one box
Super-cool theme
Fun rules

Squad rules can hurt the game
A few minor problems that keep this from dialing up to 11

Eighty bucks might seem like a lot for a starter set, but when you consider how much is in the box, it's actually a pretty good deal. Go here to take a set back to your apartment:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Card Game Review - Ticket to Ride: The Card Game

This could be the shortest review ever. I could just say, 'it's just like the board game, but with cards.' Somehow, though, I tend to think that might not be all that satisfying, and I'm pretty sure the guys at Days of Wonder might be a little irritated at having sent me a review copy.

So instead, I'll actually tell you about the game, and you, loyal readers (both of you) can make up your own minds.

The Ticket to Ride card game does, in fact, bear a striking resemblance to the board game, but at its core, this is a card game, not a card version of a board game. You still have colored trains, and locomotives, and tickets - otherwise it would be something else, and not Ticket to Ride. I'm not sure even Days of Wonder could sell Something Else: The Card Game. But if they did, it would probably be pretty cool.

Anyway, you get a number of tickets with train routes - Denver to El Paso, New York to Denver, Denver to Miami, Chicago to Denver, and lots more, some of which don't even have Denver in there. And the routes have these colored spots, which indicate the colors of train cars you have to put in your 'on the track' stack to score the route. If you've played the original Ticket to Ride, this part should basically make sense.

The differences, though, are greater than the similarities. For one thing, there's no board, so you're not claiming tracks. For another, you put trains into the railyard, and then every turn you can move one to the tracks (which is the pile you'll count up at the end of the game). You can't put out colors you've already got in the railyard, and you can't put out colors someone else has in their railyards, unless you can put out more of that color. Plus you can only put out cards in specific hands, so you have to gather the rights cards to make the plays. Plus if you totally suck, there's no board to flip up in the air and hurl profanities. This sounds like a game my idiot little brother might want to avoid - he loves throwing the board, almost as much as I like profanity.

The fun part, though, is that if you do put out more of a specific color than the guy who's got some out now, he loses that train. In the board game, you might claim a track just to hose an opponent. Now you can claim a color, and make him throw out the card he needed, and hopefully stick him with the unconnected route when you toss out that one crucial train he needed. Of course, you won't know if you hurt him until he has to throw out the card and starts cussing you like you kicked his mom.

The play is incredibly fast. Every turn can happen in 15-20 seconds. You move a train car to the tracks, and then you either draw new cards, play from your hand, or draw new tickets. The game is practically action-packed - or as action-packed as a game can be when you sit on your ass and look at cards for half an hour. If you really want action-packed, take up martial arts. Maybe you can learn to do the splits like Jean Claude Van Damme, and then have threesomes with Drew Barrymore and Alicia Silverstone. But short of that, this is a pretty action-packed game, and let's face it, you're getting too old for the splits, and Drew hasn't been returning your calls (Alicia would return your calls if you could get her a job, though).

There's a lot of depth, too, for a card game. Kids can play, but adults will probably win. Do you play the big pile of red just to hose your opponent, or do you draw that locomotive you need to get from L.A. to Memphis? Do you take that big coast-to-coast trip, or just make another run to Dallas to try to pick up the bonus points? Do you make everyone wait while you return another Mountain Dew to the ground water, or do you just hold it because the game is so fast?

Ticket to Ride: The Card Game is a fun and interesting new version of a classic favorite that is easy to learn, fun to play, and quite clever. I would probably break it out for non-gamer friends when they ask, 'hey, do you have any games we might like?' It's also great for family night, or whenever all the guys who usually drink all your beer and disrespect your toilet cancel just as you're setting up Risk 2210, and the only people who make it are your token normal friend and his latest squeeze.


Same great art as the board game
High-quality cards
Clever and slightly tricky
Fast as greased lightning

Not as interesting as a threesome with Drew Barrymore

I had a very good time playing this game, and if you regularly play with people who don't spend most of the year planning what games they'll bring to GenCon, you might just end up wearing out the cards. Go here and get one:

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

General Gaming Rant - I Heart Hate Mail

As many of you may have noticed, I often copy my reviews to boardgamegeek.com. I am a shameless attention whore, and having reviews there gets me readers here, which makes me smile. It also gets me more free games, and God knows I love free games.

One unexpected side benefit of posting my reviews at the Geek is that people respond there a lot more than they do here. Most people here are at least sort of fans, and are not that inclined to call me names. Happily, the geeks at the Geek are often delighted to hurl metaphoric feces at me for offending their finer sensibilities. I wish my ardent detractors would take the time to write me emails, but since they don't, I thought I would use this site to answer some of the more outraged respondents, the ones I call Babes in Geekland.

Our first piece of sneering disgust comes from the Geek user blindspot, who wrote a very erudite reply to my review of Darjeeling:

"I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that a reviewer on a board game site would have feelings strong enough to wrap them up in his own feelings about gender roles and sexual orientation. Does that mean you don't drink tea either? Or wear pink shirts?"

Dear blindspot,

Thank you for your intelligent reply. To answer your questions, yes, I sometimes drink tea, but no, I do not own any pink shirts. I also do not own any pink frilly undergarments. Can I borrow one of yours?

That one wasn't too bad, so let's go on to thorgn, who had a slight issue with my review of Fire & Axe, in which I joked that there were no female Viking raiders:

Although humorous, this is not actually true. A Viking named Freydis, daughter of Eric the Red, was on one of the Norse explorations of North America. They had a large battle with the natives, and she proved the turning point in the battle, turning it from defeat to victory. So although it was the norm for Vikings to be men, this was not an exclusive rule.

Dear thorgn,

Allow me to offer the most sincere of fake apologies. Had I known that once, in an obscure Viking story only known to people descended from Norwegian fishermen, a female Viking did something besides fetch ale and tend babies... I still totally would have said the same thing. But my most sincere fake thanks for sucking the humor out of the gag like a fourth-grader with a 7-11 slushy.

History lessons are fun, huh kids? Maybe not.

OK, how about this angry reader. The first two might have just been looking down their noses and being proud of their ancestral heritage, but this guy was really hacked when I said that Tsuro was a game invented to occupy drunken Chinese emperors:

Ummmm... excuse me, but do you have any idea how offensive this post is?
I don't want to be a stickler for historical accuracy (especially when humor is involved)... but this just isn't funny.
This is an example of how ignorant people can be about other cultures, and how bullsh*t racial stereotypes are perpetuated.

Please leave this crap to your blog, thank you.

Dear Chrome-Plated Douche Nozzle,

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to write this politically correct reply. I know it must be hard to work in time for replying to humorous board game reviews, especially when you've got your hands full making sure none of the other preschoolers has any fun - and even that job has to be done between washing loads of your mom's underwear.

I should point out that when I wrote that the scroll was shoved up the ass of a terra cotta soldier, I knew that wasn't true. The rest, though - reports are conflicting. The grad student may have been trying to get the clay warrior to give him a half-and-half.

Oh, and you're wrong - this was funny. The guy who made the game laughed at it. Enjoy your Bob Hope records, and leave the rest of us to have fun now and then.

But my favorite angry readers are the ones who are upset when I don't like their favorite games. The most flak I've ever received was over my review of Apples to Apples, which, in case you haven't read the review, is a stupid game. Don Eskridge wrote this pithy reply:

Simply because you can't grasp the social strategy involved doesn't make it not a game. Look at Poker or Werewolf. It's called reading people, understanding who they are, their feelings, what they want. Maybe you should get out more.

Dear blunt-witted dingbat,

I grasped the social strategy. The game still blows. Maybe you should shut up more, or at least talk in complete sentences.

A good friend of mine named Reapersaurus was apparently less irritated with my dislike of the game, and more upset that I hadn't been friendly (you might be surprised how often that happens):

Insulting to women. I don't think it's misogynistic, but other people have been told they are for much less.

Insulting to men who don't like to play stuff where people die.

Insults over 3 million people.

Insults them again, in case it wasn't gotten across the 1st time.

Dear Reapertardus,

Looks like I nailed it!

Finally, havoc10 made my day. He was incredibly angry that I didn't like his dumb game.

Why didn't you just write: "I'm a better gamer than everyone, but I didn't win, so the game must suck."?

Get over yourself, man.

So you had a better answer than someone else, and it didn't get picked. Let me guess, you might even have been needled a bit cause "Mr. Puerto Rico didn't win! BWAH HAHAHA!"

This is a game where the best gamer, or even the person who plays the game the best, is not guaranteed to win. And I think that appeals a lot to people that don't game as much as some of us here do.

I could certainly understand if you lost out in the $10,000 buy-in World Series of Apples to Apples on
Penguins=Harmful. The moral of the story is don't play A2A for large sums of money.

If you can't sit at a table of friends and family and have fun with this game, so be it, but your "I'm right and you 3 million clowns are wrong" attitude is laughable.

Apologies if you are 11 years old or younger.

Dear Irritated Bowel,

I can't tell you how happy I am for your reply. I completely understand your desire to read reviews that either agree with you absolutely or offer no opinion whatsoever. However, for those of my readers whose lower intestine is capable of digesting more than unflavored oatmeal, I like to actually say how I feel about a game. I apologize in the most insincere manner possible if my opinions of your favorite stupid game have shaken your weakened digestive tract to the point that you will spend the next two days alternately filling your drawers and passing the kind of gas that could fell a mule. I suggest you avoid dairy until your colon calms down a little.

As far as 'getting over myself' - there is no chance of that happening. Do you have any idea how arrogant I have to be to write this column? If I were to suddenly become filled with humility and the desire to avoid harming the tender feelings of even the most frightened basement-dwelling cave nerd, this site would be so boring, I would retitle it The Dice Tower.

And no apologies are necessary, as I am quite a bit older than eleven.

That should do it for this little tour through the virtual mailbag. My most sincere thanks for every retard, halfwit, numbnuts dingleberry and drooling caveman who ever wrote to tell me how offended you were. I mean it - I really do love hate mail.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Board Game Review - Senji

As far as I can tell from my limited research (meaning, I did no research whatsoever), Senji is a Japanese word that means 'not as complicated as it seems.' Because if you read the rules for Senji, the game of Japanese diplomacy, economics and warfare from Asmodee US, you may be a little daunted. Hell, if you play the game, you may still be a little daunted, but after a while you'll get the hang of it.

In Senji, all the players are trying to become the shogun of medieval Japan. To become shogun, they have to conquer their enemies, play tricky diplomacy games (and often screw their counterparts), and get paid. In game terms, that means they have to get 60 honor points (another definition of Senji I've discovered is 'getting 60 honor points through diplomacy, conquest and trade'. Again, that's based on no research at all).

There are three ways to get honor. First, you can kick some ass. When you beat up a foe, you kill a whole lot of soldiers, and in typical feudal Japan style, more dead soldiers means more honor. Combat isn't that tricky, but it does have some cool dice with pictures all over them. When you roll all these dice, the pictures that match your family get your more battle prowess. And to help with the honor, when you win a big fight, everybody loses a bunch of people, so you can claim honor points not just for the dead guys from the other team, but from your own pile of corpses. And the coolest part is, if someone attacks you while you're holding their family members hostage, you can totally execute them to get more honor. It's like Americans made this game!

You can also get honor by hosting the family members of your enemies, or by working out deals that give you the opportunity to look all honorable. It might do in a pinch, but this is not the best way to earn honor. Honor in diplomacy is about as effective as being compassionate in a knife fight - it might earn you points with the crowd, but you might also wind up trying to hold in your kidneys with a moist towelette.

The third way to get honor - and historically, the best way to get anything - is to make money. You can swap economics cards for honor, which is basically the same thing as trading cash for power. It's kind of like running for office - the more you spend, the better you do. Everyone knows that if you can afford to hire Carl Rove, you can be president, even if you have to fire him later for being a crooked cheating bastard.

There's a lot more to Senji than just swapping stuff or killing people for honor. The diplomacy stage of the game works great, by giving each player a handful of diplomacy cards that they can trade for favors down the road. Like you might offer up your grandma as a hostage if another player will agree to help you out in a fight later - but then you better not attack, or granny's going to buy the farm. Or you could offer trade concessions for the option to act first later in the round. The sky is the limit here - anything and everything can be bartered during the diplomacy phase, so good wheeling and dealing can take you a long ways.

Then you've got the action phase, where you put down order markers to say if you'll be recruiting soldiers, attacking your enemies, or making the land produce (which actually gets you cards, not rice, because another definition of Senji is 'get cards when you grow rice'). One player always decides the order in which these actions take place, so if that guy really wants to give you the shaft, he'll make you go last, after everyone else has had a chance to kick you in the jimmy all turn. It might be worth trading him a few cards to make him smile on you. But then, he could still totally hose you and just keep your cards, so it might be better to stab him in the pancreas and just go whenever you want.

Finally there's the trading phase, where you swap card combinations for honor, or use them to hire samurai. This part can be a little tricky, and you have to watch out for your opponents, because you can totally lose in a single turn just because of this trading phase. Some sneaky devil might sit quietly the whole game, collecting cards and not starting any fights, and then trade in a stack of cards as thick as your thumb to get like a bazillion points at once, leaving the rest of you wondering how the hell you got stuck at 47 points when he's at 128.

All things considered, Senji is complicated, but not as complicated as it seems. It's very fun, but if you really want to get the most out of the game, you need to play it more than once. This isn't a game you play once and then put away for a year. The more everyone plays Senji, the better the games will be. When you understand the subtleties of diplomacy, warfare and trading, and the way different things will work at different times, you will be better able to understand the intricacies of the game. There's a lot happening here, and Senji is much better suited to a hardcore, dedicated gamer than to your buddies who come over to drink beer and maybe break out a game now and then.

So I'll share one more definition of Senji that my complete lack of research has uncovered - 'kind of tricky but wicked fun.'


Cool diplomacy
Great art
Tricky gameplay
Lots of planning
Awesome dice with cool pictures
Really neat components
Pretty damned fun

Not for stupid people
High learning curve

Senji might be a little tough to learn, but once you do, this is a really fun game. Go here and get one:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Board Game Review - Dead Man's Treasure

It's been a while since I took some cheap shots at Reiner Knizia, my least favorite game designer. It's also been a little while since I said mean things about a game I didn't like, so today will be more about the cathartic experience of bashing something that doesn't deserve my ire than it will be about educating the masses.

Reiner Knizia is a mathematician (and incidentally, mathematician is kind of a pain in the ass to type, which makes it odd that I decided to type it twice). He makes games about math, because that's what he does. He must be fun at parties - you can almost picture the event:

Jerry Seinfeld (surrounded by people laughing uproariously): So why he decided to put a sock in his pants, I'll never know!

(lots of laughter)

Reiner: I once counted all my socks and determined that I have three times as many red socks as plaid socks.

(dead silence and blank stares, before everyone turns back to Seinfeld)

Reiner: I have to pay for sex.

So Dead Man's Treasure, being a Reiner game, is all about math. Happily, it's just adding this time - God knows how many times I've had to do multiplication in my head to play a Reiner game. I guess he's getting soft, because in this one, you just have to put down numbered cards and then add them together.

There are six islands in Dead Man's Treasure, and each island has several treasure chests with numbers on them. The chest with the 7 is better than the chest with the 3 - it's not tough math. Just some adding. And if there were more to the game than putting down cards and then adding, it might be interesting.

You've also got Ben Gunn, who is a moving 10-point treasure, and Captain Flint, who makes all the treasure dry up like the joy at a Reiner dinner party. These guys move around the islands when you put your numbered cards at their islands, so there's some strategy in placing a card just to get them to hop around a little.

You've got eight pirates card, numbered 1 to 7, plus a cannon. Mostly these just improve your position at a particular island, except for the cannon, which kills people. Normally this would suck - killing people, I mean - except that killing people make the math easier. You put down these cards, try to kill your opponents with cannons, try to move Gunn and Flint, and try to steal the most treasure chests.

So I've got two reasons why I won't ever play this game again. First, it's freaking boring. It takes about 15 minutes, during which you're just putting down numbered cards, and then you do math. If you don't like doing math, you should not play Reiner games anyway, and this game shows why. Boring math. Not my favorite.

Second, the theme is like nearly any other Reiner game. I think he has a stock pile of themes that he puts on a deck of playing cards, and then draws one at random. This didn't have to be pirates. It could have been all about bunnies chasing carrots, and instead of Captain Flint, it would have a farmer, and instead of the cannon, it would have a crackhead with a shotgun. Hell, it could have done without the theme completely and just been honest. I can respect a game that would come right out and say, 'Hey! I'm a boring math game!' I wouldn't play it, but at least I wouldn't be disappointed when the whole thing is an exercise in adding. If I want practice adding, I'll buy flash cards.

I know lots of people like Reiner games. That's OK - no reason you have to agree with me. But if you like games where something happens (anything at all), you're not going to be a great big Reiner fan. If you're able to enjoy math exercises masquerading as games, Reiner games should line your shelves. And considering the number of crappy math games he's made, you should be able to fill all your bookshelves with boring Reiner garbage.


Cool art

Boring math game
Pointless theme
Boring. Yeah, I said it twice.

If you think Dead Man's Treasure sounds like fun, you might consider this game, too:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Board Game Review - Ice Flow

In urinary terms, Ice Flow sounds incredibly painful. It sounds a little like a frozen kidney stone. Luckily, Ice Flow has absolutely nothing to do with taking a piss. It's about actual ice - big chunks, the kind cartoon characters jump on and then ride around the Arctic while they get chased by crazy penguins.

In Ice Flow, you're all explorers trying to cross the Bering Strait. For those of you who haven't finished sixth-grade geography, the Bering Strait is the tiny bit of water between Alaska and Siberia. If the game is to be believed, there's some part of the year when it freezes so solid that you can actually run across it. Apparently there used to be some kind of land bridge there, which is how the Eskimos got to Alaska, but now it's split and you may have to swim a little. You'll be well-equipped for the trip though - all you need is fish and rope. Not even scuba gear or anything. This should be a breeze.

Personally, I would prefer to take a helicopter, but in Ice Flow, the only way across the Bering Strait is to hop from one floating chunk of ice to the next, trying to get all three of your intrepid (but not real smart) explorers across to Siberia. Only there are polar bears floating on those ice cubes, and those frozen rafts keep moving and spinning, and if you're not careful, you may wind up stranded.

The pieces in Ice Flow are fantastic. There are hexagonal ice floes cut from clear blue acrylic, wooden polar bears, wooden fish, wooden gimps (supposedly explorers, but they look like physically handicapped meeples), and wooden ropes. I guess actual rope would have been a little unwieldy.

On your turn, you do an ice floe action and then an explorer action. It's pretty simple, and since the game actually says at one point, 'nobody dies in Ice Floe', this has to be a Euro game. If I was looking for a reason to punch myself in the mouth, I might even say the rules are elegant. But I'm not looking to pummel myself any more than I'm looking to pass a frozen kidney stone, so I'll just say the rules are short and easy to follow.

Ice floe actions include moving an ice floe, spinning one, or discovering a new one. Apparently there has been a lot of littering in the Bering Strait, because most of the new ice floes have crap on them, like fish and rope and polar bears. There may be candy wrappers and empty beer cans, but since those don't actually have anything to do with the game, there are no cards for them.

Then after you do something with the ice floes, you send your explorers jumping across the floating ice rafts to try to get across to Siberia. The trick is to try to move an ice floe so that you can get as far as possible with your explorers. It's not hard to do, especially if you use rope to cross broken pieces of ice or throw fish to distract the polar bears. It would be a lot easier if the other explorers would quit moving the ice road all over the place, so that what was a clear path for four ice chunks winds up stopping right in front of Smokey the Polar Bear.

Ice Flow is pretty fun. It's light and easy to understand, plays reasonably fast, and requires a lot of planning and flexibility. You can finish in about 90 minutes, and it looks great while you're doing it. So basically, it's nothing like a frozen kidney stone.


Incredible pieces
Easy rules that make for lots of strategy
Plenty of ways to hose your friends

The plastic ice floes can be too small to accommodate all the flotsam that can wind up on them
No body count
Not a frozen kidney stone

Ice Flow is clever, tactile and darned pretty. It's not too deep, and you don't get to kill anybody, but it's still fun. Go here and order one:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Board Game Review - Memoir '44

It's a well-established fact that war is awesome. Guns, tanks, paratroopers, barbed wire, sucking chest wounds, dismemberment, and permanent shellshock - that's good stuff. Well, it may not be as awesome if you're actually in a war, but there can be no doubt that games about war are awesome.

And if you want to make an already awesome game (being a game about war) even more awesome, you need the mother of all wars - Dubbaya Dubbaya Aye Aye. More games have been made about World War II than all other wars combined (that is a completely undocumented statement, incidentally, and could be totally false). And the reason all those awesome games get made about that awesome war is because games about WWII are the pinnacle of awesome.

And then there's Memoir '44. You start with a game about World War II - easily the most awesome war - and then add Richard Borg, who as I said here, is completely awesome, and the level of awesome is enough to make you sell your children to gypsies. I don't know why games this awesome make you sell your children to gypsies. I don't make the rules, I just live by them.

Memoir '44, for the uninitiated, is the WWII entry into the Commands and Colors series of games. Other games in this series include Battlecry (about the Civil War, which sadly was not as awesome as World War II), C&C: Ancients (which lets you play as Carthage or Rome - nowhere near as awesome as WWII), and Battlelore (which loosely spoofs the Hundred Years War, but is more fantasy than anything else, and that is considerably less awesome than WWII).

Memoir '44 uses the same three-flank map and command card system as the other games. Since I expect all my readers to have read everything I ever write at this site, I'm not going to describe it, but in case you missed it, you can find a rundown in this review. It's a really awesome system that is quite flexible and adapts easily to a variety of wars, including the awesome WWII.

Unlike Battlelore, the dice have different sides for the different unit types. Where Battlelore makes you roll red, green, or blue, now you're rolling stars, infantry, armor or grenades. Shooting at infantry makes you very likely to do damage; shooting at tanks, not so much.

Plus there are lots of cool terrain components, like villages and rivers and barbed wire. Some will slow you down. Some will make you harder to hit. Some will just be awesome, because this is, after all, a game about World War II.

The base game has a bunch of scenarios for letting the Allies fight Germans in France and Germany. As anyone who knows anything about the incredibly awesome Second World War will tell you, there was a lot more going on than just Germany - so that's why there are expansions. There are expansions for North Africa, the Soviet Union, and the Pacific Theater (which, it turns out, is not an actual theater. They don't have movies there; mostly, just killing. Which, because it was WWII, is awesome).

One thing to keep in mind when you play Memoir '44 is that the scenarios reenact actual battles. And even though World War II was awesome, it was seldom very well balanced. Hitler and Roosevelt did not sit down and pick out 500 point armies. What this means is that most of the time, one side has a definite advantage. If it bothers you to play unbalanced but historically accurate battles, you are not awesome enough for Memoir '44. That, or you just need to play one game, then spin the board and play again, this time from opposite sides.

Also, there's a buttload of luck in Memoir '44 (though it's not quite as bad as Battlelore). If luck bothers you, then you should find a game that is less awesome. Maybe a game about baking or carving wood would be more your speed. Someone in Europe has probably used those exciting activities for themes, and then you won't have to be intimidated by awesome games about World War II.

In case you're not getting the general idea here, Memoir '44 is awesome. It's tons of fun, plays really fast, and is all about the most awesome war ever. If you know how to spot awesome, you need to get yourself a copy of Memoir '44.


Great production values
Beautiful plastic figures
Smooth and fast-paced rules

Doesn't even try to be balanced
Has lots of luck

If you like things that are awesome, you should go here and get Memoir '44:

Friday, July 11, 2008

Board Game Review - Metropolys

There's a big trend in the country right now - not just board games, but the whole nation - to be environmentally friendly. What with all the cars that run on dog farts and recyclable garden gnomes, it's refreshing to find a game that knows what's important - getting paid.

In Metropolys, you're a big-city developer putting up high-rise office buildings and downtown lofts. And not those trendy lofts with big garden spaces - you're tearing down that worthless green crap to put up some quality, climate-controlled living space. Metropolys is growing, and you're going to cash in by building towering high-rise condos and enormous rental properties. Of course, you'll be living on your ranch outside the city - who needs all that pollution? - but the citizens of Metropolys will thank you for giving them someplace to buy Chinese garbage.

Of course, it's never as easy as just bribing the planning & zoning committee and sending in a work crew. The other players want to build their buildings, and the city council has to get paid somehow. Otherwise, why would they bother to run for office? So you have to bid for the spots you want, and outdo the other developers to pave over that useless walking trail and put in a nice shopping mall.

Apparently, the city council is a little picky about what buildings they want. Each contractor gets an allotment of 13 buildings, from size one to size thirteen. The biggest building is the easiest to build, but you can only build one of each. After all, the Metropolys city council is concerned about smog and impact on butterflies and fruit-tailed hawks, and can't let everyone just build the Sears Tower everywhere. To put in a really big building, you have to pay a really big bribe. Or at least donate heavily to the re-election campaign fund.

So on your turn, you put a building down in a neighborhood in Metropolys. This is just to show the parks & recreation committee where you'll be bulldozing next, so that they can start fitting the children with respiratory machines and start writing the obituaries about how the old people are dying from 'natural causes'. You don't actually get to build right off the bat, because if another player wants to build a taller building in an adjacent neighborhood, they'll outbid you (bigger buildings means bigger bribes). Then the next person can propose an even bigger building, and maybe you'll get a chance to outdo them. It goes on until everyone decides to let the highest bidder build, or if they just can't bring themselves to destroy the last refuge for the Metropolytan fruit bat. The guts to do what has to be done - in this case, mowing down two hundred trees to put in a Whole Foods grocery store - is what separates the winners from the losers. The winner gets to build; the losers go home empty-handed.

Of course, there are complications even after you get the building permit. Some of those neighborhoods have subway access, and that will raise the rental rates for your condos and office parks. Some of those neighborhoods might have a Starbucks or T.G.I.Fridays already, and that makes them trendy - and thus more desirable. And then still other neighborhoods could have trouble - historically significant buildings. Then the pathetic protesters will come out, and write letters to the editor, and cry about how the first mayor of Metropolys once dropped a deuce in the outhouse behind the place, and you'll end up having to shell out more cash to hire an arsonist to burn the place down before the peacenik hippies block you from putting up your progressive, 34-screen movie megaplex.

The real trick is to make sure you build in the right place. Every player has extra tax incentives for building in particular places - one developer gets a check for building at the edge of the city, another gathers royalties for building next to the lake, and yet another might be able to raise his rent if he builds next to the fountains and statues that clutter up the city landscape. And even though it's not really in the game, you know everyone will make some money if they can lease their mineral rights to some unscrupulous mining company who will build a giant, noisy, explosive gas rig right next to a daycare center.

Once one contractor has put up his last building, the game is over and you count up your income. You get points for building in the right place, or lose them if you had to knock down the decrepit tenement building where the nation's president nailed his mistress two hundred years ago. As usual, the person with the most money wins.

It's so nice to see a game that doesn't pay lip service to tree-hugging environmental crap. It's even better that Metropolys is a really fun game. It's tricky, and clever, and requires lots of planning and weighing risks and capitalizing on the weakness of others. In that, it's a lot like trying to build a huge, ugly apartment building in the middle of what used to be Central Park.


Intense strategy
Great wooden buildings make the board look really cool
Fun and clever
Great 30's-style art
Includes an advanced game that's even trickier
Very Euro - no luck anywhere - and that's awesome

Hippies with bullhorns

If you know what's important (fun games, and building huge buildings in national wildlife preserves), you'll love Metropolys. You can go right here and get it:

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Game Expansion Review - Battue: Walls of Tarsos

Violent games are my personal favorite. I'm a red-blooded American male, so I like games where I get to kill people. And in Battue (originally reviewed HERE), you get to kill a lot of people, because you're in charge of an army of horse-riding barbarians sacking a perfectly civilized city. That's a Jerry Maguire moment right there - 'you had me at barbarians.' And I even hate that stupid, overused line, so you know I must like the game to stoop to using a bad movie-line cliché.

And if there's a way to make an awesome and violent game more violent and awesome, you know I'm a sucker for it. Battue: Walls of Tarsos is the second release from Red Juggernaut, and it takes the original game of Battue and turns it up to 11 (another overused movie cliché. Sorry). Now there is more violence, more mayhem, and more cool stuff to completely wreck in the rich city of Battue.

For starters, the expansion has these wall tiles. These sit on top of the walls that are printed on the board, and replace the values that were there. If you attack at a gate, you've got a good shot of getting in, and if you start at a tower, you're probably going to get to see some violence when all your guys get killed and you're out of the game on the first turn (not a great way to start, by the way). If you can eventually take a tower, though, they have great special abilities that will really help you. So don't start there, but get there sooner or later. You'll have to shed some blood to get what you want, but then, if you're squeamish, go play Tiddlywinks or something and let the grown-ups get some gore under their fingernails.

The new event cards add a lot more blood and guts, especially because some of them create a new horde on the board. This horde is controlled by the opponent who draws the card (well, mostly controlled - they have an ugly tendency to get out of hand and hit anyone who happens to be close, which is a kind of like my idiot little brother). And if they sweep in behind you, they can really ruin your day. I know, because it happened to me, and I wound up walking with a limp for the rest of the game (you know, because I got kicked in the nuts).

The new loot cards are cool, too. There's a new kind of loot card, the reaction, that lets you do something about the mayhem that gets tossed in your lap when someone else decides it's your turn in the barrel (like, say, if a horde of uncontrolled horsemen gallops through your back yard and then kicks you in the nuts). Plus there are some cards that give you a bonus when you complete a quest, usually occupying a particular building. These cards don't add much more violence, but they do add more variety, so I'm all for them.

And of course, the Battue expansion would have been worthless without new building tiles. My favorite thing about Battue is the way you can build this big, beautiful city and then discover it one piece at a time, and new buildings means new stuff for me to discover. And happily for those of us who also want to see some scrapes and bruises, these new tiles are real ass-kickers. A bunch of them are apparently rigged with booby-traps, because as soon as you flip them over you lose a warrior. Then they'll be really tough to beat, so you end up losing even more warriors, especially because you're not so tough after losing that first guy. Now that's my kind of violence - complete eradication on the whim of a die roll.

All this new violence comes at a price, though (I mean, a price beyond those who have to die to entertain me). The original game of Battue was heavy on the luck - if you wound up bashing your head against really tough buildings before you got going, you could wind up watching the game go by as you kept recruiting new allies instead of killing someone. And the combat was just a single die roll, which could easily go south for you and end up costing you, big-time.

Walls of Tarsos keeps that luck factor high, and since so many of the new buildings can so radically change the game, actually jacks it up even higher. If you were irritated with the luck before, you'll really hate it now. One game we played ended with a final score of seven, four, twelve and fifty. Yeah, the winner beat all the rest of us put together. And even he was the first to admit that it was all luck.

But you know what? I still had a blast. I don't care if it does all come down to luck, Battue is still one hell of a fun game, and Walls of Tarsos makes it even better. More violence, more mayhem, more chaos, and more fun. And if that's not a reason to get the expansion, I don't want to know what is.


Lots of new toys for your toybox
Great new buildings
Cool new cards
Even more violence than before

Luck can play a really huge factor
New tiles don't match the old ones, so you know when you're about to raid an expansion tile

If you play Battue even now and then, you should really check out this expansion. It's a blast, and you can get it here:

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Board Game Review - Change Horses

Today's review is a game called Change Horses. A better name for it might have been Change Games, because if you play this, there's a good chance that's what you'll want to do.

It had to happen sooner or later - Rio Grande made a game I didn't like. I've enjoyed everything else they've made, and even when I didn't think a game was my cup of tea, I could still see that it was a good game.

Change Horses, on the other hand, falls flat. I can't even say that the rules are bad. It's just that it's not very much fun. It's a little like inventing stuff when you're stoned - it seems brilliant on paper, but fails in execution.

Change Horses seems fairly interesting. You're racing horses, but the goal is to be the owner of the last horse, not the first. If your horse is too far ahead, you can play your wild card (you get two) and switch horses mid-game. You play cards to advance or slow your horses, and the card-playing part is clever and tricky and should be cool. But it's not. Like making a bong out of a weedeater, it seems brilliant until you're actually holding the acetylene torch and the rubber tubing.

You move horses by selecting and playing cards. These cards each show two horses. Everybody plays a card, and then the horses move. If a horse's color is on the board an even number of times, the horse doesn't move, but if the color shows up an odd number of times, the horse moves that far forward. It seems like choosing your card should be critical, and figuring out what your opponents will do should be key. And that amazing lyric about the invisible donkey should have been your ticket to fame and fortune.

Unfortunately, that's not the case - the game isn't as clever as it looks, and nobody wants to hear a remake of Horse With No Name. Mostly, you just want to be the last person to put down a card, because if you are, you pretty much control the whole race. The advanced game has carrot cards, which you can use to bid on turn order, and that actually helps the game a lot by removing the random element of the turn orders, but that just makes this a bidding game. The last player still controls the board, and if the game is almost over, that last player is almost certainly going to win. Also, it turns out that once the THC wears off, paper underpants just aren't marketable.

Even with the bidding, Change Horses just isn't fun. I can see why the game got made - it is clever, and it seems like it ought to be really interesting. I can even see why it got imported, because it's got a lot going for it, in terms of innovative rules. I just don't see why I would play it again, and everyone who has played with me agreed - the best move in Change Horses is to play something else.


Interesting card-playing rules
A sort of second game with bidding (if you play the expert rules)
Neat little plastic horses

It all comes down to playing last
Not fun

I have a migraine setting in (which would explain why I wasn't very funny), so I'm not going to bother with the clever link. It's not out yet anyway.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Party Game Review - Controversy

Today is Independence Day, the day we celebrate our declaration of freedom from the rule of the imperialist British Empire by having parades, blowing stuff to pieces, and cooking outside. And to commemorate the holiday, it's only appropriate that I review a game about the Revolutionary War.

I think Wooden Ships & Iron Men would be perfect. I used to play this all the time with my old man, pitting our sailing ships against each other just like my favorite hero of the Revolution, John Paul Jones. When his ship was sinking underneath him after a particularly vicious battle at sea, and the British commander of the enemy vessel told him to surrender, he said, 'screw you, bitch! I'm just getting started!' (that's kind of a paraphrase). Then he boarded the other ship and claimed it for himself. Yes, that game is perfect for Independence Day.

Too bad I don't have it. So instead I'll review Controversy, a party game where you get into fights about trivial arguments until someone starts crying. And no, it doesn't have anything to do with the Fourth of July. So much for celebrating.

Controversy is a party game from the NY Game Factory. This small game factory has somehow managed to make party games that don't suck. Considering the overwhelming majority of party games make me want to punch a kitten, that's quite an accomplishment.

The goal of Controversy is two-fold. First, you have to guess how a particular person feels about a particular topic. And second, you have to persuade that person to agree with you. Neither goal is easy, even if you think you know your friends.

First off, the topics are not stuff you talk about every day. For instance, most married couples do not sit around debating stuff like 'abstract art is not art' or 'women are more likely to become gay after a bad relationship'. There is the occasional 'Al Gore versus George Dubya' card, but mostly, these questions are not things you probably consider on anything like a routine basis (except for that lesbian thing - I wonder about that all the time).

Second, even if you can guess another person's position with any kind of accuracy, you still have to persuade that person to agree with you. Good luck - you could be as eloquent as Benjamin Franklin, but it's still hard to make an Elvis fan agree than the Beatles were more important to modern music. And you'll never persuade me that teen actresses from Disney Channel aren't likely to need rehab, parenting lessons, or penicillin shots (that's not actually one of the cards, but I really don't like those Disney Channel girls, so I'm slipping in a cheap shot).

The most fascinating thing about this game is the debating. Sometimes an argument will be really focused and concise and brilliant, and you'll want to agree. Sometimes an argument presents something you hadn't considered before, and you'll want to agree. Of course, sometimes your friends are retards, and their arguments suck, in which case you'll probably not want to agree with them. Unless you're Rush Limbaugh. Because, you know, he's an idiot.

If one player is a particularly good debater (as opposed to a master debater, in which case you probably don't want him spending too much time on your leather furniture, especially if he's still thinking about that lesbian question), you can try to shut him down by playing the special cards you have. You can make him put a sock in it and skip his turn to argue, or you can steal the chance to have the last word. Sometimes that makes all the difference. Sometimes nothing will help - if a person is dead-set on believing that dinosaurs and humans actually inhabited the planet at the same time, something as obvious as common sense and overwhelming evidence is not going to help.

The problem (and maybe the best thing about the game) is that you don't always end up keeping score. I've played this with lots of different people (all of them adults), and more than once, the game has just evolved into pulling out cards, reading them, and debating loudly. Generally, this has a higher chance of happening if you've been drinking lots of beer, and then the debates also tend to be louder, though they have a much lower chance of being even remotely coherent.

If you read many of my reviews, you'll notice that I have a low opinion of many party games. That's because most party games are idiotic pap designed by sleep-deprived college students kept awake on Red Bull and cocaine, catering to people who can't stomach rules more than two paragraphs long. When we can have party games as good as Controversy, people who make crappy party games should be taken outside and beaten with a rubber chicken until they repent and go back to their jobs as horrible postal employees.


Lots of interesting questions on the cards
Enormous possibilities for intelligent debate
Actually a good party game

Rules tend to be forgotten and you may wind up just reading the cards out loud and then arguing a lot

I don't like many party games, but I love Controversy. You can get your copy here:
(really long link)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Card Game Review - Rock!

I've been thinking about this all day, and discussed it with my wife, and I'm scrapping the review that was here. Edgy is funny, but the danger with edgy humor is that it's not hard to cross a line. I think yesterday's review was freaking hilarious, but it was also more inappropriate than even I should run. I prefer humor like Dave Barry; yesterday was a little too Dice Clay. And not sex jokes Dice Clay, but the jokes he tells that make you wish he would fall into something with sharp points.

So here's a quick summary of Rock! - it's too simple. Each card has either rock, scissors or paper, and you play your cards at the same time, and the person who calls out the winning card wins that pair of cards. After about two minutes, you're both out of cards, and you count up. The winner is the one with more cards.

This is not a fun game. If you have are smarter than a fifth grader, you'll be bored to tears before you finish the game - and that's saying something, because it takes two minutes to play.

So that's it. Short review, no links, just an apology for going too far with the original review, and a quick summation of a poor game that has no business being made.