Sunday, August 31, 2008

Contest - Clean My Office

My office is a train wreck. It's great getting games in the mail all the time, but after a while, it can be a real bitch to store them. I tried to clean, but there just wasn't room, and now I've got a tower of games I don't want sitting in the middle of the room, threatening to fall over and bury me so deep I'll need a huge furry dog with a Red Cross jug of whiskey around his neck to drag me out.

So you gotta help me out here. These games need a good home. Some of them are cheesy kid games. Some are party games. Some are actually really good Euros, but I'll never play them again, so I might as well send them to someone who will.

If you can find it in your heart to give my games a good home, send me an email ( and tell me your address, along with the top five games you want from the list below. A week from now, I'll choose five names at random, and then give those five people games from their lists. See how easy that is?

So here's the list of games you could take off my hands for me:

Monster Mayhem
En Garde
Kung Fu Fighting
Wooly Bully
Monster Quest
Refraze: Christian Gospel
Refraze: 90s Country
Refraze: 80s Country
Refraze: 50s/60s Pop
Refraze: 70s Pop
Party Pooper
Pokemon Master Trainer
Would You Rather...
Medici VS Strozzi
Akator Temple Race Game
Geomag Magnetic Challenge
Tricky Town
Delta V
Terra Nova
Lord of the Rings Trivia Game
Key Harvest
Change Horses
Dead Man's Treasure
In A Pickle
Employee of the Month
A box of Zatchbell boosters
Lord of the Rings for kids
Pokemon Yahtzee
Monopoly Jr. Diggin Dinos
Charades for Kids
Disney Charades

You gotta admit, that's a lot of games. There are toy stores that don't carry this many different games. There must be something you might like. There almost has to be. So, one more time for the cheap seats:

Send me an email.
Give me your address.
Tell me your top five games from this list.

It's painless, and if recent contests are any indication, your odds are pretty good - like about 1 in 5. Plus you'll make me really happy when you help me clean my office.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Video Game Review - Geneforge 4: Rebellion

Not very many computer games make me take time away from my busy Xbox 360 schedule. Most of the time, a computer game just moves too slow, requires too little intellectual input, and mostly just sort of bores me compared to the joy of blowing things all to hell in a rapid frenzy that could entertain the shortest of attention spans for days at a time. But when I play games from Spiderweb Software, I end up losing five hours of my night and not even knowing for sure where they went.

Spiderweb Software makes lots of really affordable computer games that you can download and play. They have huge demos, so you can play for days before you need to pay. And at the prices of these games, there's no reason not to pony up the green and just get the whole game. The first game I reviewed from Spiderweb Software was Avernum V, and I loved it. I dedicated a huge piece of my life to that game, and I don't even want it back.

The most recent Spiderweb game I played was Geneforge 4. If you've played Avernum, you'll recognize most of the elements here - attack buttons, magic, and inventory are all nearly identical. The graphics are the same basic sprites and blocky terrain. The actual mechanics of the game are very similar to Avernum, but that's where the similarity stops.

First off, the world is completely different. Geneforge takes place in a world dominated by a group of magic technicians called Shapers, who are capable of creating wacky life forms and commanding them. These guys build their own armies from scratch, and they're more or less assholes. They're tyrannical and just plain mean. Sometimes they even take tags off mattresses, and you know what kind of douchebag does that.

Enter the rebellion. These dissidents can use a special piece of biomachinery called the Geneforge (thus the name) to make normal people into Shapers. You start off as a normal person, but quickly gain the ability to build your own monsters. It's kind of like Pokemon, but with acid puke and dismemberment.

As the game progresses, you'll lead your party of monsters around the world and fight all kinds of bad guys, from crazy cults of lizard-worshippers and rogue creations to full-blown villainous bad guys capable of making dozens of critters from thin air. You'll get tougher and be able to create even better creatures - basically, you start with that little yellow electric mouse and wind up with that weird pink psychic cat that can blow up the world.

One great thing about this game is that there are lots of possible endings. Early in the game, you can be recruited by the Shapers to switch sides, and then you spend the game undermining the rebellion. Or you can tell the Shapers to stick it in sideways and break it off, in which case you'll be dodging magical bullets the whole game. Right up to the very last decision of the game, you can change sides, and given the moral ambiguity each side presents, it can be a tough call.

The combat is the high point to Geneforge. It's all turn-based, but unlike Avernum, it's not quite as grid-based. The movement is a little more fluid, and the options are a lot broader. You can beef up your hero to be a weapon-swinging bad-ass, or you can hide behind your magic squids and fire-breathing dinosaurs. You may decide to be a master of magical mayhem, or you might get really good at shooting things from a distance. Your play style can vary according to what you like the most. In fact, it's possible to finish the game without ever actually attacking anything, though you will almost certainly have to tell your pet wookie to break some heads.

There are a few factors that make me prefer Avernum V to Geneforge 4, though. First, the fact that you're only one hero means that you can't win a fight with just one man standing and then run back to a town to heal up. It also means your inventory is going to get real crowded, real fast, because you have 1/4 the room you have in Avernum. And instead of specializing in four directions (one for each character), you end up trying to become a jack of all trades.

The second thing is the fighting itself. There's really only one downside here - you can't block very well. You have to really surround someone to shut them down, because you don't lose any speed when you slip past an enemy. In Avernum, you could lead off with your meat shields to protect your healer, and as long as you kept yourself spaced properly, the bad guys would have a hard time closing in. Now, though, it's nearly impossible to set a pick and fire from cover, even if you've got monsters the size of ankylosaurs that fart lightning.

However, if you ask me which game you should play, the answer is easy - both. They're really affordable, hopelessly addictive, and downright brilliant. If you're normally just a board game nut, you'll still be able to appreciate the subtleties of the turn-based combat. There is a ton of depth, lots of stuff to discover, and endless hours to spend fighting for whichever side you like.

I'm kind of bummed I'm finished with Geneforge 4. It's so much fun I may go back and play it again from the other side, just to see all the places I couldn't enter because those damned bad guys kept shooting at me. I still like Avernum V better, but only a little, and I'm itching to play another Spiderweb Software game.


Great turn-based combat
Neat build-your-own-allies mechanic
Amazing depth
Multiple endings
Lots of cool stuff to explore

Some minor combat issues make it slightly inferior to Avernum V (but still better than any turn-based game ever made by someone else)
Still the same choppy sprite-based graphics

I love all the Spiderweb Software games, and if you like turn-based games at all (board, card, computer, console - I don't care), you'll get a good kick out of Geneforge 4. Go here and try the demo:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Card Game Review - Hex Hex

So it's game night, and you want to play something easy and fun, but most importantly, you really hate your friends. You need Hex Hex!

Hex Hex is a crazy little card game from Smirk & Dagger Games, whose motto is "games are a lot more fun when you can stab a friend in the back." And they do their best to live up to that motto with twisted games like Run Candyman Run, where you tear a little gingerbread man to shreds, and Cutthroat Caverns, which is a little like a cross between HeroQuest and a street mugging, but with cards.

In Hex Hex, you and a handful of people you like to hurt each get a hand of five cards. Then someone launches a hex at someone else, and then wacky hijinks ensue. The target of the hex has to deflect, dodge, or redirect the caustic spell or get blown up - but the deflection can't last long, because every time you avoid getting whacked in the pee-pee by the hex, you have to spend a card to do it. Sooner or later, someone is going to run out of cards, and then that guy is going to wear the hex like a cucumber face mask.

The cards used to avoid the hex are the stars of the game, and really the only component that matters. The easy cards say stuff like 'Deflect Across' (sends the hex across the table), 'Duck' (sends the spell to the next player to the right or left), or 'Turn Aside Right' (makes the guy to your right punch you in the kidney). These are pretty easy to understand, and easy to play, and if the whole game only had these cards, it would suck like the vacuum of space.

The real joy to Hex Hex is in the special cards that come in the box. You can boost the spell so that it does double damage when it explodes. You can split it into two identical hexes that bounce around the table and make everyone lose cards twice as fast. You can force it to travel to the right, exploding on anyone who can't pass it in that direction. But the really juicy cards, the ones that you hope you can pull, are so awful that you'll be begging for the opportunity to use them on your loved ones. Especially if it's Thanksgiving and you have to spend the whole evening with your family, and nothing makes you laugh more than angry cousins.

The really special cards are the coolest part of the game. They can make the hex blow up when it's on top of someone you don't like, or make everyone discard their cards, or get you extra cards (a decided advantage when hand size determines how long you're alive). There's a Deception card that you can use to fake out opponents. And there's the craziest card of all - Hex Hex, which makes the hex explode on the last player to throw down his cards and put his hands in the air. I totally did that last one to my son. It was awesome, and almost makes up for him hiding 50 half-eaten granola bars in his room until ants came out of the walls set up shop in his bed.

Hex Hex is not a traditional game. After blowing each other to magical fairy dust a few times, you'll have a winner - and that guy gets to make a rule for the next game. This can be anything, though he has to follow it, too. My son likes to make retarded rules like 'play with one hand in the air' or 'bark like a dog when you play a card.' My daughter likes to make totally benign (and slightly worthless) rules like 'smile all the time' or 'clap when you get your cards' or 'go totally insane because you're a hormonal junior-high girl who freaks out when her favorite shirt gets toothpaste on it'. Come to think of it, that last one applies all the time, whether we're playing a game or not, but my daughter is the only one who follows it. My son has a completely different set of psychoses.

Unfortunately, Hex Hex is not particularly deep. That's really irrelevant, given the fact that you're only playing to blow up people you pretend to like, but it's a consideration if you're looking for a strategic challenge. This is not chess - which is good, because chess is boring and Hex Hex sticks a magic firecracker right up chess's ass and lights it with an acetylene torch.

It may not be strategically challenging, but Hex Hex is a total blast, and the cards are beautiful. The art for the game is perfect. If you happen to be an artist for a living (like me), you might just pick up the game to be impressed by the combination of skill, talent and taste that went into this one.

One last note - Hex Hex is a fairly crazy game, but there may come a time when you're sitting around saying to yourself, 'blowing up my friends is all well and good, but what I really want is a way to make this really insane. I need Hannibal Lecter crazy.' And when that happens, you need to pick up Hex Hex Next, which has the same rules, but cards that are even more completely loopy. It's a little more complicated (God only knows how many times I just said, 'nobody move until we figure out who gets blown up!'), but it's far more unpredictable, and there are even more ways to shiv your friends like prison bitches.


Crazy, fast-paced action
Gorgeous graphic design
A whole game lasts less than 30 minutes

Not all that deep... but who cares?

If you like to play games where you hose your buddies, Hex Hex should be in your library. You can get a copy here:

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Board Game Review - Conquest of Pangea

You've probably played games where turns took a while. Like in Senji, each turn takes a year, or Mission: Red Planet, where you can pilot a spaceship to Mars every turn. Games can have turns representing anything from a matter of seconds to a couple years, and sometimes every turn can feel like a couple years while you wait for that guy who has to move every piece and count every space, until his turn takes so long you could drink a fifth of scotch, pass out in a puddle of your own vomit, wake up and make a greasy breakfast, and shower before your opponent decides if that one unit should be on the hill or not.

But those games have nothing on Conquest of Pangea. Each turn in this game takes a minimum of 2 million years. By the time four players have taken turns, continents start to drift apart and species evolve. Good thing the turns don't take that long in real life, because even the Dalai Lama would run out of patience waiting 20 million years for his chance to dominate a forest in the middle of the African continent.

In fact, I think that's one of the coolest things about Conquest of Pangea - you're simulating the evolution of the human race and the shifting of continental plates. Each turn, you grow your species, expand into neighboring areas, battle for dominance in rich territories or lead your people in oceanic migrations. And then you draw a card that tells you how long your turn took, and every 25 million years, a continent breaks off of Africa and floats away. This can be particularly disastrous if you're trying to build up a group home for wayward cavemen, and then half the population suddenly floats out to sea, but it's also sort of a balancing effect, because the most powerful players tend to be hurt the worst by these breakups as their massive armies have to be shuttled across the ocean in wooden rafts.

The game has several self-timers that make sure it starts out slow and builds to a big finish. For one thing, you start out with just a few points to spend on expansion, so on your first turn, you won't even be able to take the best areas, because you're broke. But as the game progresses, you'll gain dominance in particular areas and your species will evolve, gaining physical strength, agility, keen senses or gills. It becomes a lot easier to dominate an area rife with waterways if your species can breath underwater, for instance, and mountains become more assailable if your species evolves goat legs. I just wish you could evolve laser eye beams, because then you could rule comic book stores everywhere.

Over time, you'll start to build up a good hand of power cards, which can be added to your attacks and defenses to either grab new areas or resist opponents. You have to be careful, though - commit too many resources to a battle for dominance (a really slow battle, since it could take 15 million years, which would probably make for a pretty boring movie) and you'll open yourself up to invasions on your own turn. But if you never commit to those hostile (but really slow) takeovers, you'll spend the whole game sitting on your hands and wishing you had just one more tundra area so your species could evolve into something that makes a good steak.

A little bit of controlled chaos adds an element of random excitement to the game, because nearly every turn, disaster strikes. Maybe an earthquake tears up Eurasia. Maybe volcanoes explode all over North America. Maybe the Jonas Brothers have a #1 hit CD. Some species are better at surviving these horrors, but these cataclysms can change the balance of power or empty whole regions. It's a little crazy and a lot random, but it's fun (except for that Jonas Brothers thing - have you ever heard these guys? They make the Monkees sound like Van Halen).

The end result of all this evolutionary expansion and planetary destruction is that Conquest of Pangea is a lot of fun. I break it out now and then and never have much trouble running down someone who will play with me. It's prone to some pretty huge luck factors, and it's not the prettiest game ever made (though it's not unattractive, by any means), but it's very enjoyable. It incorporates some of the resource management and planning of a Euro game with body counts that would make Fantasy Flight green with envy (when you can wipe out the entire population of a country in a single turn, that's a pretty awesome body count).

And the best part? Even if every turn represents an entire epoch, a player can usually break off a turn in a few minutes, and the whole game can finish up in an hour and a half. So get out there, grow a prehensile tail and horns on your forehead and take over the Sahara by any means possible - including meteor strikes.


Easy to understand after a couple turns, but still full of subtlety and tricky decisions
Great theme evoked wonderfully by the rules
A penchant for natural disaster that can keep you guessing and revising strategies the whole game
Bodies stack like cordwood

Luck swings that might irritate the anal-retentive Euro gamer
A little weak on the graphic design

The evolution of species is a pretty cool theme, and the breakup of the continents keeps it interesting. If you want to get yourself a copy of this really fun game, including the Atlantis expansion, go right here:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Kids' Game Review - Battleground: Crossbows & Catapults

When I was about 13, my brothers and I got a copy of the old Crossbows & Catapults game. We played it until the rubber bands broke, and then we replaced the rubber bands and played it until the catapults broke. It was a blast, and we could spend hours sitting on the floor shooting plastic discs at each other. Sometimes we even tried to hit the targets we were supposed to shoot.

Fast forward a couple decades or so, and some enterprising Australians are recreating my youth. They've changed the title a little, but this is still the awesome disc-hurling madness I remember from when the closest I could get to seeing a naked girl was to read a magazine.

I'll be completely honest here - I don't remember all the weapons and stuff that were in the original game. I know there was a catapult, and I remember a crossbow, but those would probably be hard to forget, given the name of the game. So instead of comparing the two, I'm just going to tell you all about why you should buy your kids this game.

First off, each side (orcs and knights) gets the same three weapons. The catapult is great for elevated shots to knock out stuff hiding behind walls. The crossbow is accurate, but not too powerful, and the cannon is kind of a happy middle ground between the other two. Each side also has a castle with a catapult in it, and if you can hit the door of your opponent's castle, plastic flames pop up and kill whoever was manning the weapon.

You each set up a little army of plastic guys with very few rules. Mostly those rules are that you can't hide everyone behind the castle, and you have to have a plastic guy near a weapon if you want to use it to shoot. You build flimsy plastic walls from little bricks, which provide the illusion of safety but really just crumble the first time they're hit, dropping debris all over the poor bastards hiding behind them or sending bricks bouncing against the castle gate to kill the dude on the ramparts. But you build the walls anyway, because if you're getting a box full of toys, you know you're going to have to use all of them, even if it's a handicap.

Then you take turns shooting at each other. This can actually be kind of tricky - pull back the catapult arm too far, and you'll send a disc into your opponent's eye. Go too easy, and you won't hit anything at all. Personally, I recommend shooting the discs at each other as often as possible, unless you need to finish quick and clean up so that your wife can vacuum.

Because that's just about the biggest problem with this game - you need lots of space, and it's better if it's not carpeted. When we break this out at my house, it has to be when Mom is out grocery shopping and the kids and I are supposed to be doing the dishes. Of course, then we get all distracted shooting each other with chunky plastic bullets, forget to mow down the enemy armies, prolong the game too long, never get to the dishes, and end up sitting on the floor looking up like guilty two-year-olds when Mom opens the door and says, 'well, looks like you guys were busy.' Of course the kids always blame me.

If you have a big living room and hardwood floors, and you can talk Mom into sitting on the floor and manning the cannon, you should be in good shape. We end up moving the furniture, after which you can see what a piss-poor job I did sweeping up the dog hair, and then trying to push the floating hairballs back under the couch so that we don't have to stop playing to clean. And my wife is not about to sit on the floor to play a goofy shooting game - she's got a bad back, and besides, she needs to finish cooking dinner. I really ought to stop and set the table, but I just want to shoot one more plastic disc at my son before I run away so he can't shoot me back.

In fact, if I could offer one huge reason to buy this game for your kids, it would be irresponsibility. When you break this out, put together the weapons, and spend four hours firing hard chunks of plastic at your kids' faces, you'll go back in time to when you thought the coolest thing ever was sticking a playing card in your bicycle spokes so it sounded like a motorcycle. You'll finish up a game and wish you could go spin around the driveway in your Big Wheel. You won't think about the laundry, or the bills, or the dripping faucet. Screw the mortgage - for the next thirty minutes, you're a ten-year-old kid without a care in the world.

At least until your wife comes home and reminds you that you still have to finish fixing the fence.


Great fun for the whole family (unless Mom won't play)
Trip down memory lane
The weapons are surprisingly accurate
In fact, all the pieces are really cool
Irresponsibility rules

Not much depth... but it's about shooting, not thinking
Not as colorful as the old version

I love breaking out this game every now and then and just forgetting everything but wiping my nose on my sleeve. If you could use an hour of child-like fun, go here and score your own:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Contest Results

Here's the moment you've all been waiting for - who will win GenCon promos?

I have to admit something very sad - I was not able to get the Heroscape exclusive. I'm as bummed as you are, because I was really hoping to give one away. As it is I'll probably end up buying one on eBay.

Anyway, here's what you guys won:

Andrew Wodzianski wins a Crystal Caste d6 and a Q-Workshop d4 (these are cool dice)
Clay Hales wins a 30-card Magic deck
Matt Messina wins two little Blue Dragon booster decks and the rules to the game
Terry Knight scores two boosters for the Maple Story CCG
Brett White wins an empty box that has Star Wars pictures on it

Those prizes suck, I know. But I'll also throw in a copy of the Monsterpocalypse promotional comic book for everyone who pulled a prize, and I'll have another contest in the next week or two to clean out my office. I'll get these prizes out in the next day or two.

Kids' Game Review - Operation

OK, you see the title and think, 'this has to be a joke. Everyone knows how to play Operation.' But it's not a joke - I got a review copy of the latest version of Operation, and so I'm reviewing it. Plus it's awesome.

The neat thing about reviewing an updated version of a game everyone has played before is that you already have a pretty good idea whether you want to play Operation. It's not like you're going, 'hey, I've never heard of this game before, because I grew up in a cave in West Virginia where we mostly just played with the lice we picked out of each other's hair.' Unless you were a seriously deprived kid, you probably have tried Operation.

In case you were raised by wild marmots and spent your youth foraging for nuts and berries, I'll explain a little about the genius of Operation. There's a picture of a guy laid out on his back like he was on an operating table, only he gets to keep his skivvies and his nose is a light-up red bulb. He's got all these holes in him that are lined with metal, and you drop little plastic pieces into the holes and try to get them out with the tweezers that are wired to the board. If you touch the sides of the holes, the guy's nose lights up and you have to pass the board to the next player, who will now get to probe around inside the cartoon dude with a wired set of crude surgical tools. Really, it's a wonder any of us grew up even remotely balanced.

The little pieces inside all have funny names. Like in the original, you removed the pathetic bastard's funny bone, Adam's apples or broken heart. Those are fun, because there's no way kids will be traumatized by pulling a guy's Adam's apple out of his throat with a pair of tweezers. Heck, it's so fun, you should try it on your friends!

The new one is a little more innocent. Instead of ripping out a guy's bread basket to see if he bleeds to death, you're removing a frog in his throat or cell-phone finger. It's not like tearing his wishbone out of his chest like you were about to make the world's goriest wish.

But the real appeal is not the new funny art or the fact that you're removing water from the guy's knee. The real appeal is the noise. The game has a tinny little speaker that tells you which piece to remove, like the sneeze that has you pulling the snot out of the patient's runny nose, or the flushing toilet that lets you know to yank the bad plumbing. The gurgle and the burp that go with burp bubbles is funny, but the fart that goes with toxic gas is the greatest. Once you pull a piece, you pop the dude in the nose to let you know you pulled it off, and the board starts making new noises.

If I had a totally demented wish, though, it would be that the new Operation had more interesting ailments to repair. Blood in the stool could be a little chair located in the dude's ass. AIDS could be a little Liberace that you yank out of his mouth. And my sophomoric sense of humor is duly served by the thought of extracting an enlarged prostate - a little plastic wang that you pull out of his drawers. Just the image of an innocent little eight-year-old girl using tweezers to remove a plastic johnson from a hole in a cartoon man's crotch makes me giggle like a teenager at a poop joke.

The new Operation isn't particularly hard unless you've got either a short attention span or multiple sclerosis. Even on the hard setting, you can pretty much just pluck the little pieces out for as long as you want. I remember this being a lot trickier as a kid, but then, I also had trouble sitting through all of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, so I may just have been impatient. Now I can run the board like a pool shark at the local Boy's Club, and my son ran nine in a row before we just said, 'OK, put them back and let someone else play.'

So maybe Operation isn't the game that will replace Black Ops in your weekly game club, but if you have kids, it's an easy call. The game is cheap, and it's fun, and your kids will shut up for a while so you can finish mowing the lawn in peace.


Funny new ailments to pull out of a man's body cavities
Goofy and entertaining sounds to go with the new ailments
There's a fart joke built into the game

Not as challenging as I would like

So Operation isn't the next big Ameritrash hit, but it's fun for kids and grown-ups will get a couple chuckles out of it. You can get it here:

Friday, August 15, 2008

Event Review - GenCon 08

It may be a little early to be writing this review - it's only Friday night, and the show still has two days left. In fact, I'm virtually certain that by writing this before I have a chance to see the Saturday afternoon parading freak show, I'll miss something. But I've seen most of the event hall, and I've seen more of many women than I ever hope to do again, and since I plan to be too drunk to type tomorrow night, you'll have to settle for a review of GenCon 08 at the halfway mark.

If you've never been to GenCon, it's difficult to put into terms that make sense. See, if I tell you that there are a lot of weird people, you can't actually fathom exactly how weird these people really are. For instance, today I saw a dude get fitted for a corset... as part of his Sailor Moon costume. And that's not even the weirdest thing I've seen since Thursday morning. Since the guy was reasonably clean, it's definitely not the weirdest thing I've smelled.

Speaking of odor, there's nothing that can prepare the GenCon virgin for the foul stench perpetrated by the unwashed masses (and that's not a euphism or catch phrase - there are literally masses of unwashed people). Some of these people avoid water and soap like it would wash all the mojo off their favorite dice. The wafting odor of ass and armpit is enough to make you wish you had skipped breakfast. It's a little like the smell you might find inside the tent of an Arab camel salesman who hasn't scrubbed his pits since the last sandstorm. We were hoping to sell out, so we could just stand by the booth and hand out little bottles of hotel shampoo.

The source of the stink is not always easy to identify - if three guys in a crowd of five smell like they sleep in a filthy gym sock, how do you know which one to dowse in Febreeze? - but it's not hard to see the cause. These people run around like crazy when they want something. The Game Nerd Shuffle is my favorite instance of this madness. As soon as the doors open, these hundreds of people who have been sitting on the carpet outside the convention hall for the last 45 minutes rush madly to get to the front of the line to pick up whatever obsession drove them to attend and made all sense of hygiene a secondary priority. But the security guards will tell them not to run (these game nerds have less sense than a hallway full of seventh-graders), so they walk really fast, head tucked down and arms swinging like pendulums as they do the nerd power walk to get ahead of all the other power-walking nerds. All that fast movement combines with an average body fat ratio of 87% to create sweat stains that drip all the way to the ass crack, and release armpit stench that could kill small forest animals.

And it's not just the boys that are socially inept. The most fascinating thing to see at a show like this is the gamer nerd chick, especially if she's in a costume. Now, in all fairness, there are several girl nerds at these shows who wear costumes that make most grown men have to adjust their pants, but unfortunately, those hot nerd betties are the exception, not the rule. Far more likely is the 55-year-old woman dressed as a fairy princess, whose top does not come far enough down, leaving a fold of stretch-marked flab drooping over the over-tightened belt of the gauzy skirt that is far too short, allowing the luckless onlooker to realize that Grandma Fairypants is wearing age-appropriate undergarments. If that ridiculously attractive vampire girl in the leather chaps would just replace all the 450-pound women who think they look good in a corset (you don't, incidentally. You look like a muffin), the show would be so much easier on the eyes. But then, it would also be a lot less hilarious.

I know what you're thinking, though - "I didn't come here to read about goofy people! Tell me about the games!" Well, if you thought I would miss an opportunity this good to make fun of people who are so far outside the social norm that you wonder how they hold down jobs, then you must be new here. Welcome to the site. Oh, by the way, I mock people.

There are a few big games, some surprises, some disappointments, and some people selling wooden sticks wrapped in foam padding and duct tape. The Monsterpocalypse debut was huge. Mayfair ran yet another Catan event, to the utter surprise of anyone who has been to any of the the Catan events that have happened in the last ten years. Wizards had no Heroscape display, but there were still plenty of Scaping tourneys. I talked with lots of game companies, so I should be able to review all kinds of new stuff over the next few months.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to review the best game that was at GenCon, because it doesn't exist yet. Well, technically, it does, but you can't buy it, because it was a prototype of a game that I was lucky enough to play last night, a game called Summoner Wars. I play hundreds of games a year, and Summoner Wars was the best game I've played in a very long time. I'm hoping Wizards will buy the game and produce it, because I would buy every single thing anyone ever made for it.

I'll close out this review with an idea I got from a reader, and throw it out there for your consideration. My no-nonsense approach to game reviewing (such as calling Mutant Chronicles a crossdresser, calling Seismic ugly and boring, or saying that a better name for Change Horses would be Change Games) is starting to make it hard to get review copies. For some odd reason, after you tell a publisher that their games are crossdressing homosexuals, they don't want to give you things. So I'm looking for feedback right now - if I had a PayPal button that let you request specific game reviews for a few bucks, would you use it? It would give you the chance to fly your own personal finger at the game companies who give you turds and tell you they're candy bars, and make your desire for honest reviews known. But then, it might also go right to my head and make me act like a prima donna rockstar, so give me some feedback here and we'll figure something out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Road Trip Review - Dallas to GenCon 08

When planning a cross-country road trip, the most important first factor is to choose a good vehicle. A roomy passenger van might be the most comfortable choice, but it may not supply any decent kind of gas mileage (important when you're driving on continual alert for the cheapest gas prices, so that when you wait five minutes and find a five cent difference, you pump your hand in the air and whoop like a football fan). You might want a little hybrid, but those can be cramped, and after a day spent folded up like a newspaper coupon insert, you probably won't give a flying rat's ass about conserving fuel.

I know one vehicle I'm not taking on a road trip - the Pontiac Vibe. This is a half-car/half-SUV that was apparently named by a fourteen-year-old boy with too many Hustler magazines. Seriously, who would name a car after a sex toy? What's next, the Chevy Dildo? The Dodge Giant Rubber Dingus?

Once you pick your vehicle and get on the road, you can start building your road memories. I don't know what it is about road trips, but the most memorable thing to me is almost always the gas stations toilets. Hollywood might make long car trips seem like great adventures on the American highways, but in reality they're mostly just 12 hours of highway punctuated by painfully full bladders and not enough cigarette breaks. So in the end, the thing that ends up sticking with me is the condition of the various gas stations you find between two cities a thousand miles apart.

For instance, when we stopped for lunch, we ate at Arby's. This is easily memorable to me, not because of the horrible sandwich or cold fries I had, but because when I went into the public restroom to relieve my overburdened bladder, someone had been thinking Arby's all over the crapper. It looked like chopped meat sprayed out of a garden hose.

But then the toilet at the gas station in the back side of nowhere looked like it might have been in a five-star restaurant. The only thing that was missing was an ethnic minority doling out cologne spritzes. There wasn't even a condom machine (because all the prophylactics and lube was sold out front with the cigarettes).

Which brings me to a second memorable thing about road trips - adult book stores. For some reason, once you get outside cities, there seem to be XXX-rated viewing centers every five miles. Their billboards are bigger than the signs that tell you that it's 30 miles to the next gas station. I can only imagine the clientele of a porn shop that has to be located an hour from anything even remotely civilized - probably all truckers and inbred hermits who keep questionably unnecessary livestock.

Our particular trip exposed us to another beautiful landmark of civilization - the Indian casino. As you drive through Oklahoma, you'll be indundated with gigantic flashing billboards all advertising the loosest slots in the state. The most amusing thing about Indian casinos (which should probably be called Native American casinos, but nobody actually says that. Political correctness tends to fade in the face of reality) is that they don't serve alcohol. I don't much enjoy casino gambling in the first place; if I had to do it sober, I would hate it even more. I would probably win more money, but I would have less fun.

When it comes down to it, though, my favorite part of the Dallas to Indianapolis road trip is in Illinois, just hours away from the destination. It's a chain of convenience stores/gas stations titled with what may be the most unfortunate name in retail history - the Kum N Go. I am not making this up. The name conjures images of anonymous gay trysts in roadside rest areas, which does very little to persuade me to visit. I've never actually been inside a Kum N Go, but I love to laugh every time we pass one like a high-school freshman who still laughs at his own farts.

I'll tell you this, though - if I ever do decide to visit a Kum N Go, I'll bring a Pontiac Vibe. And if I do, I hope to get one of their staff to deliver the company mantra - We Go All Out.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Contest - Win A Promo

There are lots of different kinds of reporting in the gaming world. Some are great. Some are worthless. OK, most are worthless.

First, you've got reviews. Some are awesome (like mine), and some are boring (like 80% of the unreadable, boring crap that gets 14 stars and a thumbs-up at BGG). Some are useful, and some are obvious shills. Not a whole lot of reviews compare games to hookers, but that's why mine are awesome.

Then you've got press releases. These are not actual news, but they get noticed like they were. 'Ooh' people say, 'this new game company just announced this new game that I just HAVE to own! I will go right out and preorder it now without giving it a second thought!' But somehow these same people won't buy soap. Go figure.

Sometimes you have general interest articles. These are mostly in places where the editors are concerned with appealing to the masses and roping in those people who have only ever played Backgammon and three games of Crazy Eights. These are almost uniformly dull. I've written a few of these, so I know. I was writing them for Knucklebones Magazine, and while the publishers and my editor both thought they were worth printing, most people would probably have thought they were worth wiping your ass if you ran out of toilet paper.

And then you've got the world's most boring kind of game reporting - convention reports. Why anyone believes we want to read about how some loser geek got his picture taken with Reiner Knizia and got to hug a booth babe dressed like Xena is beyond me. I can never bear to read these dull recitations of whatever gaming crap the writer found while he was at a convention I missed. I've written one of these, too, and it was about as interesting as a Saharan weather report ('looks like it will be hot again. Dave, over to you.').

But I'm planning on changing all that. I'm going to tell you all about GenCon this year, and by God it will be interesting if I have to hand out tinfoil hats and Old Spice. I've got a booth (stop by VixenTor Games at booth #2334 for a free punch in the eye!) and so I'm going to the show. Only I'm bringing lots of help so I can wander around a lot, so I'll be able to get the lowdown on all kinds of new stuff.

Which brings me to the point (yeah, I know, took me long enough). It's time for another contest, and this time I'm giving away GenCon promos. I don't know what they'll be - I haven't gone yet - but I know I'll get a bunch. Whether they're dice with company logos, con-exclusive miniatures, special cards or just those ugly bobble-head dogs, I'm going to collect a bunch of them. And when I get back, I'll give them away.

So here's how you can win your own little piece of GenCon. Just email me at and tell me your name, address, and favorite kind of game. That's easy, right? You can handle that, right? Then when I get back, I'll pick the top five names at random and send them random GenCon promos. I'll try to match the promo to your favorite game - if you like card games, you'll get cards, and if you like sex toys, you'll get very big dice.

The next three reviews will be on a slightly modified schedule, due to the fact that I will be out town. Wednesday's review will be posted Wednesday night, and I will be reviewing the road trip. Friday's review will be posted Friday night (really late), and I will review GenCon highlights, along with my analysis of the percentage of costumed freaks who wander past my booth. Then the next review will be written Tuesday the 19th, and then I will announce the winners of this contest and maybe talk some more about GenCon. Hopefully more mocking will take place.

I should warn my readers that the next two articles I write here may sound suspiciously as if I was drinking. This is due largely to the very high probability that I will be drunk. Something about going out of town for a week, staying at a hotel within stumbling distance of every bar in downtown Indianapolis, and seeing dozens of friends who are also drinking heavily tends to put me in a frivolous mood. So if you don't want to read my drunk ramblings, well then you can bite me, because I'm drinking, and then I'm writing, and there's not jack squat you can do about it.

So anyway, yeah, the contest. Email me your name, your address and your favorite kind of game, and see if I send you something. And come back Wednesday night to see me rant about rude truckers and ugly hitchhikers.

Here's my email again, in case you missed it:

Friday, August 8, 2008

Sweaty Game Review - Baseball

OK, no, baseball is not a board game, unless it's one of those weird sports games where you pretend to play baseball, but without the sweating. But last night I went to watch the Yankees play the Rangers at the Ball Park in Arlington, and saw lots of similarities between the games we play and the crazy, sweaty, hard work that goes into the Great American Pastime.

I'm not going to explain the ins-and-outs of baseball. That's silly. It's like reviewing checkers. Everyone knows the rules - you hit the ball, you take a base, the other guys try to stop you. Unless you were raised by wolves, you probably know most of the stuff that happens in a standard game of baseball.

But despite knowing how the game works, most people - especially most gamers (by which I mean people who spend more time figuring out how to get high ground on a plastic map than they ever spent trying to decide if they wanted to sacrifice to right field) - don't really pay attention to how much mental effort goes into playing baseball. We might read Sun Tzu to learn all about the art of war, but we don't bother to understand why you would switch out a pitcher in the eighth inning after only two pitches.

And I think that's a shame. There's a tendency to look down our noses at sports fans (and having been to a big game last night, I can see why), but we have a lot more in common than we might think. We wear shirts with dice on them that say, 'that's how I roll'; they wear hats the size of microwave ovens that declare their allegiance. We carry dice bags; they take off their shirts and paint their flabby stomachs in team colors (come to think of it, there may be a good reason we mock them).

Baseball depends on two factors. First, you have to have good players. There's a reason Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter make a boatload of money - they're good at what they do. They make catches that normal players miss. They can spin and hurl a ball to first before an average man could even pick it up off the ground. And they can hit a fastball so hard it leaves the park, which I dare any reader to even try. Hell, if I was staring down a major league pitcher who could throw a leather ball of pain at 90 miles an hour, and who could totally hit me if he wanted, I don't think I could hold the bat up without peeing myself.

But the real strength in baseball is not the players, it's the coaches and the manager. It doesn't matter how good a pitcher you've got on the mound, after he pitches 100 times, his arm's going to be tired. And if he's facing a really good left-handed batter and trying to protect a one-run lead with two men on base and two outs, it might be a good idea to send him to the bench and bring in a fresh lefty to choke up on that designated hitter.

It makes me wonder if Tommy LaSorda might have been a gamer. He could make decisions and pull smart moves and call for steals that left the other team tied up in knots. That kind of strategy and tactical maneuvering is the same kind of brilliance needed to win Heroscape tournaments. It's all well and good to be able to dive after a line drive and chuck it to second for the double play, but if the gamer nerd in charge of the team can't time a replacement or sign for a walk, you could still lose to a team with worse players.

And playing the game isn't the only time these guys have to be good. We like to talk about army building like it was a newly-discovered art form, but professional sports managers have been doing it for decades. A weaker second baseman with a good bat can be offset by a good shortstop and a covering center field, and these managers build a starting team the same way you might assemble a warband. Late-game replacements take more thought than we ever put into building our side decks, and they're often far more important. Watching Mariano Rivera come in at the top of the ninth to protect a small lead, and then going three up and three down, lets you understand why he's the big closer for the Yankees, and why they always save him for last.

But just as we can have poor sports in games - guys who fudge die rolls, or get mad when you surprise them with a flanking maneuver, or who pout when you kill their big guns - professional sports is rife with sore losers. One thing I noticed last night is that the fans at Rangers games have an incredibly high RRR - relative retard ratio. Sweet Mexican jumping beans, there are some dumb sons of bitches who go to baseball games. Here's an example - the second at-bat of the game, Derek Jeter hits a home run. The next time he comes to the plate, the stupid bastard three rows back yells, 'Jeter! Go home!' To which I replied, 'He already did once!' And don't get me started on the wave, the kissing contest, the signs, or the screaming cheers. GenCon is a convocation of atomic scientists compared to the stands in a ball game.

To make matters worse, sports fans must be some of the world's most easily amused humans beings. The ballpark feels compelled to distract us between innings, with some of the most insipid garbage ever passed off as entertainment. They pass out these little tickets with different colors for the sixth-inning dot race, and then three people wearing suits that make them look like Kirstie-Alley-sized M&Ms run around the field and then fall down. And people cheered for them, probably because they had spent six innings drinking seven-dollar beers, and maybe most of their childhoods eating lead paint chips.

The whole thing makes me think, though. Comparing gamers to sports fans, you've got one group who sits around coming up with fantasy teams, obsesses about stats, and collects obscure and rare paraphernalia to round out closets full of irrelevant crap. And then there are sports fans. Both of our obsessions require us to know tomes of minutia that could end up deciding the game. Both make us learn strategy, tactics, and timing. Both tend to involve a great deal of trash-talking. We're not so different, when it comes down to it, and I think if we could see the similarities instead of the disparities, we could both learn something. Maybe it would make a better world if sports fans and gamers could get along, and see that neither one is necessarily better than the other.

But at least we don't watch board games on television.


Lots of strategy
Team construction is crucial
Timing is everything

Fans are retarded

I'm not about to give up my Saturday afternoon game club to watch baseball games, but I can sure see the draw to a professional baseball game. If you attend a game, you could even get to see this guy:

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Board Game Review - Seii Taishogun

I swear it's not Japanese Conquest week. I don't have samurai on the brain or a sudden desire to take up ninjitsu (that particular desire has been in place since I was seven years old. I just haven't got around to pursuing it yet, outside some limited training for a Ninja Burger delivery job that I didn't get). It just worked out that I ended up playing a lot of these 'Battle to be Shogun' games in the last couple weeks. Maybe I will go buy a ninja sword, but I doubt it will have anything to do with games. I just want a really cool way to cut bread.

This latest Japanese takeover game is called Seii Taishogun, and it comes from my favorite upstart miniature game company, Small Box Games. In typical Small Box fashion, it resembles pretty much nothing you've seen before, and to really make things interesting, now it comes in a bag. I've been wondering if John Clowdus, the mastermind behind Small Box Games, is going to change the name to Small Bag Games, but if he does, I hope he makes bigger bags next time, because I can barely cram the whole game back into the bag. That's good and bad - there's a lot of game in this bag, but it's a pain in the ass to put away.

I do understand why the bag replaced the box, though. For one thing, the bag is an actual game component, not just a storage container. You blind-draw samurai poker chips out of it while you play. Plus it's got to be easier to put stuff in a bag than pack all those little boxes John used for his first four games. If you're one guy making games in your garage, and you assemble every game yourself, anything that keeps you from spending every night folding boxes probably also helps get you laid now and then. Being available makes it a lot easier to make time with the wife (or so I've heard. I may have to try that).

The chips are the main focus of the game, but there are also four different islands mounted on wooden cards (yeah, I know that sounds weird, but that's what they are). There's also a bag full of wooden cubes in four colors, to let each player show what areas he's claiming. Finally you get a stack of Sengoku cards to tell you which location is the battleground.

The idea of the game is that you try to take locations on the four islands by building the best 'hand' of samurai tokens. You draw a bunch of tokens from the bag, and then when fights break out, you assemble an army of tokens by placing them face down. Then you all flip the armies at once, and the best army (determined by the makeup of the army) wins the battle and gets to claim a location in Japan.

It can take a little bit to warm up to this chip-betting thing, but once you get it, it's really clever. It's like poker, but with wooden chips instead of cards. In fact, we took to calling it Samurai Poker because we were continually competing for the best hands of samurai. You can bluff by putting down total garbage and hoping the other guy folds, you can play hard with a winning hand, and you can back out if you're not feeling lucky. It would really make the game if you could get comped for a room and then tip a floozy in a cocktail dress to bring you martinis all night, but you can only fit so much into a cloth bag. Besides, there may be some legal issues trying to bring the bleach-blond waitress across state lines in a canvas bag.

Winning battles, as I said before, lets you claim provinces, and claiming provinces gets you points when the game ends. So beyond just trying to bluff and deal and fold your way to a winning bid for power, you also have to weigh how much each spot is worth - the castle might be a juicy target, but if you can grab both pagodas and a temple after everyone else plays all their power, you can rock their faces off (for the record, I mostly end up with a single castle. Other people get all the pagodas and temples. Because I suck at this game, almost as much as I suck at poker).

The strategy in Seii Taishogun takes a little while to figure out. About the time you start to see how the game works, you start to develop some idea of what you need to do to win. Which means that my dumb ass completely got thrashed in the first game I played because everyone else figured it out faster than I did. But practice makes perfect, and so like most games that are any good, it's better to play with people who have played a few times before. Not that it will do me any good - I'm going to have to find some Special Olympics kids to play if I want to win this one.

If you like the strategy of poker and the excitement of samurai battles, you should go to Vegas and visit one of those theme hotels where the waitresses dress like geishas and only serve rice wine. But if you can't afford Vegas (and with the price of gas, who can?), you can also play Seii Taishogun, whose unofficial new name will from here on be Samurai Poker.


Original and interesting hand-building mechanic
Neat art
Plays fast
Easy to learn
Way more clever me

It's really hard to tell the purple from the red
The bag's too small

I've got bad news - this puppy is already sold out. If you're not on the Small Box Games bandwagon yet, you better pay attention. Every game goes faster than the one before. If you don't own a copy of Seii Taishogun, here's the boat you're missing:

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Board Game Review - Shogun

When you start talking about the game Shogun, you have to clarify which one you mean. There's a sort of Euro game out there called Shogun, whose most identifiable feature is a dice tower that doesn't work right. Then there's an old game called Shogun from Milton Bradley that got renamed and called Samurai Swords, and it's so out of print you can mostly only find it on eBay. This review covers that old one, not the new one with the wacky dice tower.

You may be wondering why I'm reviewing a game that's over 20 years old, out of print and not even called what it used to be called. I've got two reasons - first, some readers were talking about the game and asked what I thought of it, so I figured I would give it a spin and tell them what I thought. The second reason is that I've had the game for two years and haven't had a chance to play it, and a review was the perfect excuse to squeeze in a game.

I've been really lucky recently to get a local game group started (if you're in Arlington, Texas and want to play some games on a Saturday afternoon, drop me a line). The people in this group are awesome, but I've decided that just in case they all like me, I need to give them nicknames so that they'll have a good reason to kick me in the shins next time we meet. For the purpose of this review, I'll only be naming three of them, since those are the guys I played with when I was playing Shogun last weekend.

Rockford is a high-school teacher and a mad gamer, and last time we played he showed up in a Hawaiian print shirt that showed off his gray chest hair like an 80's TV detective, only about 20 years older. He's funny, and tricky, and often pulls out moves you never saw coming. Spaz is an Asian student studying at the local university, and he's smart and shrewd and a tough player. He also throws the dice on the floor about as often as he hits the table. And finally, The Shark is an unassuming, quiet dude that seems like he ought to be an easy mark, but he wins just about anything he plays. I've never won a game when The Shark was playing.

So we sat down to play Shogun last Saturday, and the first thing we had to do was explain the rules. Between explaining the rules and setting up the game, we didn't get started for about 45 minutes. It took Rockford three tries to understand how it works to hire the ninja, and Spaz kept slowing me down to repeat stuff I said too fast. So at the start, I was a little worried, because that's a lot of rules.

Then we started playing, and all worries were set aside (except that once he figured out he could hire that damned ninja to spy on us or assassinate people, Rockford got him every time). Hot damn, Shogun is a fun game.

Basically, Shogun is Risk, but in Japan. You can be the Shogun if you can grab 35 provinces (and then you win). There are about 60 provinces on the board, so that means you'll need to do some pretty hardcore smackdowns to win this one. But unlike Risk, where the board gets really messy with all the armies you build, Shogun has three armies on a separate card that let you see exactly what troops are in your mobile military forces.

There are other differences, like the way turn order is determined by drawing plastic swords with diamonds on them, or how, when you lose a province, you have to give up the card showing it and it sits empty on the board until someone claims it. Attacks all have to be declared at the same time, so you can't go, 'wow, that didn't work like I had hoped, I better send in these other guys.' And sometimes you'll declare an attack that might not do any good, just to hedge your bets.

The amount of strategy in Shogun blows my mind. There's a fantastic mix of strategy and tactics, and lots of room for pulling rabbits out of your sleeve. For instance, when I declared a double attack on Rockford's weakened army, surprise ronin popped up to fight me, and then the ninja killed the general of one of my attacking armies, after which Rockford proceeded to stomp a mudhole in me.

There's also lots of dice rolling. When you fight a battle, you go through step-by-step rolls for each kind of combatant - first the bowmen, then the gunners, then the daimyo, and so on, so the dice just keep rolling. Which means that Spaz has plenty of opportunities to stand up, get excited, and then hurl the dice halfway across the room. The odds still work out so that the better player will win - the dice just make things interesting (and even more interesting if you have to keep hunting for them on the floor).

And the best part is that adequate planning and distribution of your armies will make you a really tough player to beat. The Shark quietly consolidated most of the southern part of the main island, and by the end of the third turn, had three huge armies rolling across the country virtually uncontested. In the meantime, Rockford, Spaz and I just kept smashing into each other, which The Shark used to his advantage by striking a couple diplomatic deals and quickly rising to power.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you how the game ends. We played for about two and a half hours, and then Rockford and Spaz had to leave. And at that point, we had just finished three turns. There's no way we would have finished before dark, and we started at 1:30 in the afternoon. Shogun is a big game, and a ridiculous amount of fun, but this isn't the game you should pick if you're short on time. This is a stay-up-late-with-good-friends game. This is not a quick-afternoon-pickup game.

This is also a really pretty game. There are figures for bowmen, gunners, spearmen, and more. There are little plastic castles and a great big board with great art. The colors are subdued (and I'm not entirely sure part of that isn't a little sun bleach on my copy), and the art works wonderfully. Rockford kept exclaiming how much he liked the setup, and we all agreed. It looks great.

I would love to play Shogun again. I had a blast. It's part cutthroat, part planning, part tactics, and all fun. It's a huge game - the box is bigger than any other game I own - and it can take several hours to finish, even if you know what you're doing. But the whole time you're playing, you'll be having a great time, especially if you can rope Rockford, Spaz and The Shark into playing with you.


Awesome pieces
Great tactics
Intense strategy
Careful diplomacy
Incredibly fun

Lots of die-rolling means lots of luck
Really long game

I don't have the foggiest idea where you can find a copy of Shogun. If you do look for it, you might have better luck looking for Samurai Swords, which is the same game. That way you won't accidentally buy a Euro when you're trying to buy Risk: Japan.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Board Game Review - Mission: Red Planet

Going to Mars should be easy. I'm not the only one who thinks so - Bruno Cathala and Bruno Faidutti both agree. They made Mission: Red Planet because they're as outraged as I am over the fundamental lack of investment opportunities on Mars. Do you have any idea how much real estate is available on Mars? And right now, every piece of real estate is sold with extremely valuable mineral rights.

I plan to write my congressman and ask why I can't go to Mars. After all, if the astronauts in Mission: Red Planet can get to Mars this easy, why can't I? The game obviously recreates a potentially lucrative industry - exploration and exploitation of the red planet. It shows how easy this would be, especially if we could just get enough important people involved.

To show how this works, Mission: Red Planet combines a couple key elements. First, you've got spaceships. Obviously, you can't get to Mars in your Suburban, even with OnStar and XM Radio. You'll need a spaceship.

Also, you'll need interesting people. Mission: Red Planet gives each player a deck of nine different characters, who represent real people such as the explorer, the pilot, the soldier and the secret agent. Each turn, you pick one of these people to work for you, and you assign astronauts to the spaceships accordingly. So if you pick the travel agent (we definitely need more travel agents to book trips to Mars!), you'll put three astronauts in one ship. Of course, they probably all have to share a crappy room, and the agent probably forgets to mention that the entertainment is Ashley Simpson, but they'll get a great rate on a hotel and rental car when they get there.

Other characters do other interesting things - the scientist doesn't let you board as many astronauts, but he'll do a little research on the planet and find out where the soil is bad. The femme fatale will let you turn one of your opponents' astronauts to work for you (on further consideration, we may not want to hire these women when we actually put the Mars Space plan into action). And the saboteur will let you blow up a ship, as long as it hasn't reached Mars (we may also want to screen to make sure we don't get this guy on staff).

Once a spaceship is full, it launches for Mars. It's that easy. No puttering around the runway for three hours while traffic control clears some air space, no sitting in the ship with no air running while you wait for the stewardesses to show up. You fill up the ship, and you leave. It's that easy. And it should be that easy.

What's even easier is the flight times. Right now it can take all day just to fly from Dallas, Texas to Manchester, New Hampshire, but these ships take off for Mars and land the same day! It's obvious to me that someone is hosing us somewhere. Mars is waiting, people! Call your state representative and complain about the lack of proper space transport!

Each ship lands on a different territory of Mars, and then the astronauts leave and start digging for minerals. There's celerium in the ground up there, and God knows we could use more celerium! What, the energy crisis is going to just solve itself? I don't think so.

If you can get more astronauts in a single territory, you'll be able to grab up the great resources that grow there. Celerium is there, sure, but there's also sylvanite. C'mon, you couldn't use more sylvanite? I know I could! And there's something else in those great red deserts - ice. Back on Earth, we could be drinking warm margaritas pretty soon, so we need to harvest all the ice we can get.

The game also simulates how life should work with the winning conditions. At the end of the game, the person with the most stuff wins. If you've got the highest valued resources, you make the most money, and everyone knows that's what counts. You can also do side missions for Galactic Geographic, and score a few extra bucks for exploring particular areas.

Mission: Red Planet is fun. It's not amazing, but it's fun. It's clever and tricky and fast, with very little luck and neat pieces. The art is reminiscent of steampunk crossed with Looney Tunes, and it's a lot of fun, too. But most importantly, the game teaches a valuable lesson: We need to get to Mars. And fast.


Clever card allocations
Expressive (and very fun) art
Rules follow the theme
Valuable motivation to begin the Campaign for Mars Exploration

Not quite deep enough to grab you for a long time

For a light, fast game that teaches us about the benefits of Mars travel, I think Mission: Red Planet is a great pick. Go here and get a copy: