Friday, January 30, 2009

CMG Review - World of Warcraft Collectible Miniatures Game

I wasn't going to buy this game. I swore I wasn't. Aside from the fact that it's incredibly expensive (it might be cheaper to collect sports cars), I don't tend to like collectible miniatures games. I don't mind expansions, but I generally like to know what I'm buying when I plunk down my money.

But a friend told me I should give it a shot, and I figured I could roll it into a review week. The people at Upper Deck weren't about to start sending some upstart web reviewer free boxes of their hugely popular and expensive game, so I just ended up dropping eighty bucks for a couple starters and trying it despite my better judgment.

You sure don't get much for eighty bucks, I can tell you that. I bought a regular starter and a deluxe starter, and now I have ten figures and a board, along with some dice so crappy they could have come right out of the old D&D red box. I'm surprised I don't have to color them with a crayon (actually, some of the ink fell out of the 7 on one of the dice, so now it looks like a 1, and I probably ought to break out the Crayolas).

And while we're talking about crappy stuff, let's talk paint jobs. You would think that with miniatures roughly twice the size of anything else in your collection, they could have at least thrown a wash on them. The last couple Mage Knight releases are prettier than some of these figures. Sure, they're detailed, but would it have killed them to dunk them in a little dark stain and pull out some shadows?

And the instructions tell me to insert these figures into the round U-bases (stupidest name for a game component since meeple - why should my figure base sound like a German submarine?), only every time I pick up a figure, the base drops on the table and I lose track of how much life my guy has. Stupid U-base (with a stupid name). I ended up just taking the figures off the bases and breaking out a bunch of poker chips to use as health counters.

So now I have ten figures (five Alliance and five Horde and no monsters, plus ten worthless U-bases) and I'm a little skeptical. The sculpts on these figures are great, but if this game doesn't have some serious game play, I'm going to be regretting this purchase in a huge way. The board is not all that impressive - apparently Tanaris is the boring map - and the customizable terrain tiles are all exactly the same. So I can make a whole lot of hills, or flip them over for a whole lot of ruins. Not really that pretty. Or customizable. Or interesting.

Fortunately, the game play is pretty easy to understand, so it wasn't too hard to test the game. And it's not like I'm going to have to spend hours building a party - I hardly have enough figures to build a good team anyway, so we'll just play with what we have, and not bother figuring out synergies and attack strategies and whatever else I want to see in a good customizable minis game.

The trickiest thing to grasp about the World of Warcraft CMG is the clock. Every character uses his U-base to track both his hit points and his personal clock (unless the figure falls off, probably because an English destroyer dropped a depth charge). And at the end of every turn, you advance the turn counter by one, and every time it matches the clock of a character in your party, that bruiser can act. Actions advance your personal clock, so if you do something spectacular, you'll be standing around for a while like an old man with Alzheimer's whose kids left him at the bus stop. This took a few reads to figure out, maybe because I shouldn't drink right before I start reading rules.

But then it starts to make sense. Every figure has a card with different abilities, and the really good ones cost a few more clicks of the personal clock. Instead of paying for abilities with tokens or beads or tapped mana, you pay for abilities by spending time. This suprisingly cool mechanic will make a good player wait now and then, timing his attacks to maximize their effectiveness. It's great to swing your weapon every chance you get, but it won't do you any good if all your backup isn't in position. And by reserving your hits for later, you can really wreak havoc while all of your opponents stand around wheezing for air.

Fighting is easy. It uses a lot of ten-sided dice (and there are not nearly enough in a starter), and has an exceptionally high rate of success. So there's definitely luck, but when you're rolling six ten-sided dice and succeed on a roll of 4 of more, the luck kind of works itself out. The dice do a better job of telling you how badly you hurt your opponent, rather than being an irritating all-or-nothing attack sequence.

And to really improve your strategic play, every figure gets two action bar cards, which let you cast spells and rush and buff and turn into a bear. These can be activated any time you want to pay for them, but once you use one, you have to wait until the end of turn 10 to use them again. This balances really well, so that you can't just rely on blowing all your resources up front for a quick win. The player that uses these cards better will probably win.

The action bar cards do a magnificent job of allowing for customization. If you want direct damage, it's there. If you want to move faster, it's there. If you want to kick a puppy because the U-base won't hold your miniature, well, that's there for sure.

In perhaps the coolest army-building rules ever, you don't actually pay for your heroes. Take all the biggest, baddest dudes you want - but instead of paying up-front costs, you pay in victory points. If your army is huge and your enemy's army is tiny, you're going to have to slaughter him a whole lot of times, and he only has to get lucky two or three times. This works out fantastically well, because you don't have to worry about filler heroes or using up those last ten points. You just take what you want, and play it to win. (The game recommends limiting your figure count, because there's a point where no amount of luck would save a small army from a big one.)

After playing this a few times, I have to say, the game is pretty fun. I enjoyed it a bunch, and my wife even said she would like to play it again (a major score in my book - she never did like Heroscape, which caused me no end of sadness). It moves fast, and there are lots of great opportunities for strategy and tactics and planning and other stuff that makes a game fun for me. The minis could be better (like, they could be 28mm, for instance), but they could be a lot worse (like, they could be boring sculpts), and they actually look pretty cool on the board. In fact, I dare say the game is good enough to make me ignore the unfortunate scale decision, and the desperate need for a simple ink wash, and the bland game board, and the horribly irritating U-base (potentially full of Nazi sailors).

But it's not good enough for me to overlook the cost. No matter how good it is, I'm not happy about paying eight bucks per mini. I found boosters online that are fairly cheap, and bring the cost down to about 3 bucks a mini, but I still can't see myself sinking the hundreds of dollars into this game that it would cost to collect a whole big lot of them. I know I won't be completing any sets.

On the other hand, if anyone wants to trade off some spare figures, I feel certain we can work something out. I know I'll be playing this one again, and I'm glad to report that I'm not regretting my initial purchase at all.


Excellent strategic and tactical play
Easy to learn, and yet the experienced player will still win more often
The sculpts are awesome
Extremely customizable

Rather boring paint jobs hide the cool detail in the figures
Horrifyingly expensive
U-bases have stupid names and won't stay on

Even though the World of Warcraft CMG has some considerable flaws (mainly in production), the game itself is great. Thank Ryan for finding this link to cheap WoW CMG minis:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Collectible Card Game Review - World of Warcraft TCG

I don’t tend to get caught up in collectible card games. It’s not that I don’t think they’re fun – quite the opposite, in fact. I remember the early 90s with Magic, and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. At one point, I had every single Doomtown card up through the Mouth of Hell expansion. But I tend to avoid getting into card games because when I do get really into a new CCG, I have to cut back on my crystal meth.

So I was hesitant to play the World of Warcraft TCG. I got a free starter at GenCon 07 and never even opened it. The last thing I needed was another reason not to pay my bookie. But then some friends started playing it, and all I heard was that it was a really fun game. At that point, I was actually relieved I had dumped that first starter.

In retrospect, that was not a good call. When my curiosity overwhelmed my common sense, I ended up having to buy the very same starter I gave away at GenCon a year and a half ago (well, not the exact same one – I bought a new one). And then, because I meant to review the game, and you can’t really write about a collectible card game without having a good selection of cards, I bought another two-player starter and a box of boosters. There goes this month’s budget for hookers.

It gets worse, too. If the game had sucked, I would have been relieved. I could have shoved all the cards into a box, sold the rares on eBay and lived happily until another siren call of cardboard crack pulled me back in. But no, the game has to be all brilliant and fun and crap. GREAT. Now I’m never going to be able to afford my cocaine addiction.

The thing is, the World of Warcraft TCG doesn’t even do anything that original. It’s pretty much stock formula CCG stuff. You’ve got instant cards, and attacking and defending and a health counter and a bunch of other stuff you’ve seen before. The game is basically a brawl between two heroes, who may or may not hurl direct-damage spells at each other and may or may not hire hordes of allies to assist in the beatings.

One reason that the World of Warcraft TCG is going to cost me some drunken binges, though, is that you get dozens of ways to build a cool deck. You can be a mage and do massive direct damage without lots of allies. You can be a druid and use abilities to make your hero an impressive killing machine. You can be a hunter with lots of pets popping up all the time. You can create hordes of cheap help, or get just hire a few tough guys and boost them over and over. You can build fast decks, or slow decks, or tricky decks, or solid decks, or whatever you want – and that’s just with three starters and 24 boosters. I can’t wait to see what I can build with all the new cards I just bought on Amazon (I wasn’t doing so well with my off-track betting anyway).

Another reason I’ll be squandering my kids’ college fund is because the game play is really smooth. It can be tricky the first time, but you’ll learn it fast, and then it comes easy. That’s not to say you’ll be an old pro, just that you can figure out pretty quick how to do what you want to do. It’s intuitive, and even if you’ve got a complicated series of maneuvers, you can finish your turn surprisingly fast.

Now, I will say this – I’m a little disappointed in the continuity of the game. The last time I got really hooked into a CCG, it was Doomtown, and I was almost as interested in the developing storyline as I was in the game itself. If there’s an ongoing story in the World of Warcraft TCG, I haven’t seen it yet. I guess that’s what you get when your theme starts with a gigantic online video game. The TCG is a solid game, but I just don’t get the feeling that I’m playing out a story. I’m just playing out a couple of goobers beating the piss out of each other. Not that I can’t have fun doing that, but I do love a good story, and it’s kind of surprising to me that I am enjoying the game so much when there’s a rather weak backdrop.

But then, I probably wouldn’t care about the lack of story if I played the video game. Fortunately for my budding heroin habit, I really don’t like those MMO thingies. If I did play the game, I would probably be really thrilled by the card game. But if I were into the video game, I wouldn’t have time to play cards anyway.

And to really make me overlook any story issues, the World of Warcraft TCG has several additional reasons for me to give up Thai hookers and opium – raid decks. This is the most original thing I’ve seen in collectible card games in a long time. It’s a pre-built deck full of bad guys, and one guy plays that deck, and everyone else plays their decks. It’s like a cross between Descent and a card game. In fact, I think raid decks deserve their own reviews, so I’ll be talking more about them another day.

With incredibly flexible deck-building and smooth, nuanced game play, the World of Warcraft TCG is a good reason to give up some bad habits. Hell, I’m never going to have money again. At least, not until I go back to rehab.



Really clever deck possibilities
Great art
Smooth and easy game play
Rewards clever play
Raid decks are the coolest development in CCGs since… CCGs
Lots of new releases to expand the game regularly

Not a great continuing saga
You’ll have to get a second mortgage and quit feeding your kids

I never really went to rehab. That was a lie. You can go here to get some cards:
(really long link to Amazon)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Board Game Review - World of Warcraft Adventure Game

With all the hubbub about World of Warcraft (otherwise known as WoW), I thought it would be cool to have another theme week. I have three World of Warcraft games - the adventure game, the miniatures game and the collectible card game. I'm going to review all of those this week, starting with the adventure game. And I'll warn you right up front - the adventure game blows goats. I'll leave you in suspense on the other two until later this week.

WoW Adventure Game is kind of like Runebound, in that it's almost exactly Runebound. You wander around, you fight bad guys, you get treasure, and you try not to get killed. You level up, you get stronger, you get more bitchin' gear, and you explore the world. So far, this is Runebound, but with a Blizzard license.

But there are differences. For one thing, the Runebound board is a really pretty overland map with a cool hex grid, while the board in WoW Adventure Game is a bunch of trails that connect circles, and it looks like it was crapped out by an artistically inclined brontosaurus. Runebound lets you pick from a huge stack of characters, and the WoW game gives you exactly four to choose from. Runebound has very straight-forward, basically sensible rules, and WoW has some weird crap that will take you two read-throughs to understand. The placement of discovery markers is almost absurd. The resource tokens aren't a bad idea, but they're poorly executed. There are only four characters in a game that would play best with six.

A huge difference - and one of the only two places where WoW outshines Runebound - is the quest system. In Runebound, you're all racing to defeat one guy. In WoW, on the other hand, there's a big deck of quests, with different points for completing each one, and you win when you get eight points. This means you're not four people trying to do the same thing, which is nice, because now you're not all hustling around the board trying to recruit enough allies that you can throw them away when you finally get up the nerve to face the big red dragon.

The biggest difference between Runebound and WoW, though, is the ability to punch the other players in the junk. Where Runebound almost ends up being a solitaire game that six people can play at a time, WoW provides ample opportunity and motive for attacking, slowing, and otherwise irritating your opponents. In fact, many of the character abilities focus on causing harm to your fellow players. Blocking an opponent in WoW means more than just taking the encounter they were after. Now it means putting a bomb in their underpants drawer to slow them down long enough that you can run up and jab them in the eye with a sharp stick. That's a lot more fun, and let's face it, a far more hilarious picture.

Unfortunately, when I consider these two elements that I like about WoW, I don't find myself wanting to play it again. Instead, I find myself trying to figure out how to add quests and more player fights to Runebound. In any way that really matters, Runebound is just plain way better than the WoW Adventure Game. The rules are easier to follow. The combat is more engaging, and actually requires a little strategy. The theme plays out better. Runebound takes the WoW Adventure Game outside and beats it until it cries, then steals its lunch money and pushes it into the girls' bathroom.

For me, the WoW Adventure Game is an exercise in wasted potential. The character interaction could make this a really tense game, but they would be fantastic with six people... only the game gives you just four. The quests would add a lot of diversity to the game, and more replay value, if only you didn't have to wade through all the anti-climactic battles and pointless token placement. And when I play a game just for the theme, call me a spoiled little artiste, but I want it pretty. I don't want it to look like a two-year-old painted the board with the contents of its diaper. Why bother giving me all these cards with cool art if you're going to dump this bucket of hospital waste and call it a game board?

Basically, the World of Warcraft Adventure Game comes to the table with some cool ideas, drops them and then wanders away to pick its nose. If you want to play a game that's a lot like Runebound, just play Runebound.


The quest mechanic could really help Runebound
The player interaction could make some really frenetic, high-energy games

Tweaky little rules all over the place don't seem to go together
Butt-ugly board
Not enough characters to play
Like Runebound, but not as much fun
Great ideas with crappy execution

If you want a game like Runebound, just buy Runebound. You can get it here:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dice Game Review - Scrabble Express

If you read my reviews of Monopoly Express and Sorry Express, you can probably guess that my hopes for Scrabble Express were not all that high. I figured it would be something with a tenuous connection to the original, something insipid and shallow, something where the value of the container was higher than the value of the game. I admit that my expectations were damned low when I popped the lid on Scrabble Express and read through the rules.

But this isn't like those other Express games. Because Scrabble Express is... wait for it... still Scrabble. I know, I was surprised as you are. Probably more, because you probably don't really give a fart in a whirlwind and just read my drivel to see if I make a good joke about retarded kids or monkeys or something.

It's not exactly like Scrabble, mind you, or you couldn't finish it in twenty minutes. You won't find a big box of tiles that are all going to get lost or stolen by hoodlum teenagers to spell out crude phrases for oral sex or noisy body functions (you know what I'm talking about - don't pretend you didn't do it yourself, when you were 13 and got dragged to Grandma's house to watch her 50-year-old black-and-white television while your parents pretended they still liked the old broad so they wouldn't get written out of the inheritance). Instead there are a dozen dice with letters on them. Every time it's your turn, you'll roll seven dice and use the letters you roll to spell words on a miniature fold-out Scrabble board, complete with triple-word and double-letter scoring spaces. Then you'll leave your word, remove any other dice, and the next person rolls. It goes pretty quick, and like actual Scrabble, it takes a few turns to get to the high-scoring outside spots.

The problem with only ever having one word on the board is that in some cases, the same letter will get used over and over. Like if you have the Qu die on a double-letter score, just spaces away from a double-word score, everyone is going to be doing their level best to use that Qu, which means it will stay in play until someone scores 60 points for one word and the game ends. Since you're only playing to 200 points, it only takes four or five turns to win the game using such a tactic, and it feels a little cheap (though it's still a damned site better than having the game end before you get to take a second turn, which can totally happen in Sorry Express).

And Scrabble Express is a lot less portable than the other Express games. Sure, it still fits into that completely awesome round container, but you'll need a little space to set up the board. We played Monopoly Express in an airport waiting for a plane, but Scrabble Express turned out to be a little trickier without a table. We managed it by putting the board on top of my carry-on luggage, but we still ended up chasing a couple dice past a couple college kids trying to sleep off their weekend.

But Scrabble Express still has a lot going for it, even if it is a little tough to play while you're flying coach (but then, if you've been on an American flight in the last year or so, you know you can't even play rock-scissors-paper in coach any more. They've got us crammed in tighter than a factory-farm milk cow). In some reviews, I try to explain who would like the game by describing turn order and game length and stuff. This is easy - if you like Scrabble, you'll like Scrabble Express. It's Scrabble, and you can play a whole game in ten minutes, and you can take it anywhere. So if you hate Scrabble, you know to save your money for a nice mani-pedi, and if you love it, you'll want one to play in the RV when your over-optimistic father decides a family vacation to the Grand Canyon sounds like a good idea.


Same great package as the other Express games
Plays really fast
It's just like Scrabble

You could see a lot of words with X in them
It's just like Scrabble

Of all the Express games I've played (and I sure wish I had Risk Express), Scrabble Express is the best. You can get one here:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dice Game Review - Sorry Express

For the second Express game review, I'm going to tell you about Sorry Express, and why you should only buy it if you can get it real cheap and you only want it for the pieces.

Of the Express games I've played, Sorry Express continues the tradition of being, well, sorry. I never did care much for the board game, even as a kid, though it did have a certain amount of strategy, mostly involving splitting the dice. OK, come to think of it, that was a pretty lame amount of strategy, and that's pretty much why I never really liked playing Sorry.

So I don't know why I had higher expectations for Sorry Express. I mean, I even like Monopoly, and was a little disappointed in Monopoly Express, but I don't like Sorry. Why I thought I would enjoy a dice game version of a boring board game that relies heavily on dice is still confusing me. I may have been on some pretty heavy medication, or just a little short on sleep.

Maybe I thought Sorry Express would be better because it's pretty much nothing at all like original Sorry. You have four pawns of each color, and they all start out on the launch pad board. Every player has a disc with four colored Home spots and a spinner that only reveals one at a time, and the object is to get four pawns of any color onto your board at the Home space. You do this by rolling dice and moving pawns from the center board to your spinner board. You have virtually no control over anything - you just roll three dice and they tell you what color pieces to put on your board.

Now, that's not entirely fair, but I'm not feeling charitable, because I played Sorry Express several times and still can't figure out how this damned game has a point to it. You do have Slide and Sorry sides on the dice, and these let you spin your board or an opponent's to a different color or steal pawns from the other guy's Home space. But they're still pretty much completely random, and it's not like there are varying levels of strategy here. If you've got four of one color on your board, and you roll a Slide, you win, period. And your opponent can only have one space exposed, so when you roll Sorry on the dice, you know damned well which pawns are leaving. I have more opportunities for decision-making when I sit on the toilet.

As if playing a game that's almost completely random isn't enough, Sorry Express adds the indignity of possibly ending on your second turn. Seriously, we had a game go this way - I rolled, my opponent rolled, I rolled again, and won. So on the one hand, I was irritated that I had even opened this game that could just arbitrarily end in less than two minutes, and on the other hand I was just damned glad it was over.

Now, I will say this for Sorry Express - like all the Express games, the packaging is awesome. I wasn't kidding about getting this one just for the pieces. The pawns are really pretty and you could peel the paper off the dice and use them for something else. And as with all the Express games, you get a really cool round plastic container that you could totally repurpose for something else. You could store miniatures in it, for instance, or Reese's Pieces, or just use the bowl to roll your dice. You could even throw out the lid and wear the bowl part like a retarded round hat. Or you could download some of the Express variant games that have been made out in fan-land, and keep the pieces in this incredibly versatile and useful round plastic box. Heck, you could just peel the label off the package and fill it with all the condoms you won't ever get to use because you play games made for children.

So that's two Express games down, and one to go. So far, I'm underwhelmed - the box is nice, but the games aren't that awesome. Monopoly Express is fun, but a little arbitrary, and Sorry Express has virtually no reason to exist. Join me Friday evening for the final Express review, and I'll let you know whether you should consider picking up a copy of Scrabble Express.


Wow, is this box nice
The pieces are neat, too

Can end in two turns
Two turns is still too long

If you think Sorry Express sounds fun, here's another completely random thing you might enjoy:

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dice Game Review - Monopoly Express

Hasbro is the biggest game publisher for a good reason – they have good ideas and make them happen (it might also have something to do with slightly ruthless business maneuvering, but we're giving the benefit of the doubt). They appeal to gigantic audiences, identify problems, and offer reasonable solutions at acceptable price points. Of course, that means they don’t have any good dungeon crawl games, and their idea of a European game would be selling Heroscape in Belgium, but they make a buttload of money, so that’s something.

The cool idea I’m going to discuss all week is the Express game. See, what Hasbro did was say, ‘man, these games are cool, but they take a long time and normal people have the attention span of drunk fourth-graders.’ So they made a bunch of games that are super-short, portable versions of classics. Tonight will be a review of Monopoly Express.

If you want to play Monopoly, but you only have twenty minutes, then you’re screwed. You can’t play Monopoly in twenty minutes unless you have some brilliant plan for throwing the board up in the air after nineteen minutes (you know, to give you a minute to clean up the mess). And the game won’t be very much fun, because after twenty minutes, all you’ll have is a few properties and a big wad of cash. That, and a handful of irritated players who only got to play for a few minutes and really wish if you were going to pull out a game, you would pick something you could actually finish, and not throw the board into the air.

Of course, there are other things you could do in twenty minutes, like drink a fifth of tequila, but you may not be able to go back to work when your lunch break is over, so a game could be a way better idea. And if you want a quick, fun game, you could try Monopoly Express. Now, I’ll be right up front here – the Express version has virtually nothing at all in common with the full-blown version. It’s a dice game, not a board game (though there are people who would say the same thing about regular ol’ Monopoly), but you can definitely finish in twenty minutes.

You take turns rolling this huge handful of dice. The dice show colored circles with scores in them, or pictures of train cars or utilities or policemen. You roll and try to get groups of the same thing, like two dark blues, or three pinks, or four trains. You pick the dice you like, put them on the little round board, and then decide if you want to roll whatever’s left. Because if you get three policemen, you’re busted, and you get no score at all for your turn. It’s not really original, or anything, and it’s nothing like Monopoly, but it’s fun, and has the added benefit of being palatable to your co-worker who normally spends every lunch break talking about golf.

You get more points if you can finish groups, and you can get houses that might get you even more points. The first person to 15,000 points wins the game. It’s not particularly deep, but if you want to play a game in twenty minutes and still have a good time, this will do it.

One thing that makes Monopoly Express especially cool is the packaging. It comes in a round plastic container with a snap-top lid, and once you take the game out of the package, you can roll your dice in the ready-made dice bowl. Now that is handy. In fact, the whole thing is so small and portable and self-contained that you can take the game on vacation and play on the bed while you sit naked in your hotel room with the hookers you picked up on Bourbon Street. Because no matter what anyone else says, that’s a kick-ass geek fantasy if there ever was one. It might even trump Princess Leia in slave gear. And it’s all made possible by Hasbro’s brilliant package design. Any game company that makes games that go well with French Quarter whores is OK by me.

Basically, Monopoly Express is a dice game with a Monopoly theme that you can play on a smoke break. It’s not a board game, it’s not a deep game, and it’s not a geek game. But it’s fun, and you can play it with your co-workers, and you can fit it all back in a fanny pack. Try doing that with Monopoly.


Super-easy rules that even stupid people can figure out
Interesting game play
Fun game design
Fantastic packaging

Nothing like actual Monopoly (might be a positive, depending on how you feel about Monopoly)
Not very engaging, all things considered
A little on the shallow side

If you want to play a quick, fun, easy game, Monopoly Express is pretty cool. You can get one here:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dexterity Game Review - Sorry Sliders

I like to laugh. It's one of my favorite things to do. I like hearty chortles, raucous roars, and malicious giggles. And that's why I like Sorry Sliders, because after playing it for an hour, my stomach hurts from laughing, and since I smoke too many cigars, I also cough up half a lung (that part is not as awesome).

Sorry Sliders is a brilliant game. It's simple, and you can play it with anyone old enough to know not to put the pieces in his mouth (or that weird cousin who still puts stuff in his mouth, so don't play with him, either). It seems like it would be too simple, until you start playing and realize that it's actually more fun than the grown-up version, which is played extensively by old people on cruise ships.

The board can be configured in lots of different ways, but the overall idea remains the same - slide your pawns down a ramp and onto the scoring pad, trying to land close to the center spot for more points. You're also trying to knock your opponents' pawns into low-score zones, or better yet, off the board completely. Score enough points, and you can move your score pawns (which are not the same as the sliding pawns) and try to get them Home. Once they're home, they're safe, but if one of your sliding pawns goes off the board (or if your hand goes over the foul line), the unprotected scoring pawns can go back to the starting line.

That's it. One paragraph, and you understand the game. I'm not even kidding - those are all the rules. So why on Earth does this game make me laugh until I pee? Is it even possible for a grown man to enjoy a game so obviously made from children?

Hell yes it's possible. It's hard not to enjoy this game. And riddle me this - if this is such a kid's game, how come there's a variation of it in bars all over the world? That's right, because it's damned fun.

But just being fun isn't enough to make me bust a gut until my eyes water. Otherwise, I would laugh myself retarded every time I played Rock Band. No, the reason this game is so downright hilarious is because it's so incredibly easy to screw up.

Take my son, for instance. We're playing a variant (there are four in the box) where if you drop your pawn into the center hole, it's as bad as falling off the board. This isn't easy to do, mind you - the hole is only slightly larger than the actual pawn, and lots of times they just end up perched on the edge. And yet, eight times in a row - eight times - he put his pawn in the hole. I was laughing so hard I almost fell over.

Or when my daughter is about to win the game - she's got three score pawns Home and the last one perched within scoring distance of the winning circle. She needs just one point to win, and all her sliders are out, and she's got that point. The only way she won't win is if I can knock one of her sliders off the board, sending that last scoring pawn back to Start. So I line up the shot, toss my slider - and my guy bounces off one of hers and sails clean off the board. This is hilariously awesome (irony kicks ass), and I start laughing, and then I notice that the pawn I hit ricocheted off another pawn and knocked one of hers out, too. And now I'm shrieking with laughter. I think I peed a little.

The whole game is like this. Unless you're playing with really boring people, Sorry Sliders is light-hearted, vindictive hilarity. You'll chuckle when you manage to bump someone out of the lead position. You'll giggle when an opponent pushes your pawn into a high scoring spot. You'll chortle with glee when an opponent manages to knock every single pawn off the board at the same time, and you'll fall out, holding your stomach and gasping for air when someone at the table manages to blow a commanding lead with a horribly clumsy move.

You can finish a whole game of Sorry Sliders in anywhere from five to twenty minutes, depending on the variant you're playing. You can set it up in a few minutes, play in less than half an hour, and clean it up and put it away in less time than it takes my son to announce his urgently full bladder when there's work to do.

If you have kids, you should get Sorry Sliders. If you don't have kids, and just have friends, you should get Sorry Sliders. If you don't have anyone else to play with, and spend every day in miserable solitude, you should get Sorry Sliders (there's a one-player set-up in the rules). Basically, if you like games at all - and I don't mean just hobby games, but any kind of board or card game - you should get Sorry Sliders. No, wait, I'll extend that just a little. If you have a heart beat, you should get Sorry Sliders.


Incredibly simple
Easy enough that kids can play, but engaging for adults
Brilliant, hilarious fun

You might laugh until you poop

There's an easy test to see if you would like Sorry Sliders - breathe on a mirror. If the mirror gets cloudy, go here and get the game:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Board Game Review - Raise the Ruins

I joked once that Dwarven Dig should be commended for its eco-friendliness - all the pieces look like they were recycled from somewhere else. In some cases, the pieces look like they may have been recycled from a factory floor. But just because life likes to make us regret our cynical cracks, tonight's game really is recycled.

There's a little history here. Earlier in 2008, Small Box Games released Temple, which I reviewed and pretty much didn't like at all. I wasn't alone in not liking Temple, and it didn't sell for crap. So Small Box Games was stuck with a pile of games taking up garage space and stinking of bad game. But you can't keep John Clowdus down - he took the cards and pieces from Temple, then went out and made a whole new game.

Raise the Ruins is composed almost entirely of pieces scavenged from Temple. There are a few additions, like temple cards, but everything you need to play Temple comes in Raise the Ruins, except the board and rules, and John tells me that pretty soon, you'll be able to download those from the Small Box site pretty soon. I can't imagine why you would want to do that, but you could. If you're so inclined, you can also come paint my bedroom or wash my car. You know, as long as you're doing stuff that isn't very much fun.

So right off the bat, Raise the Ruins might seem to have a strike against it. A game constructed from pieces of another game's corpse might seem destined to disappoint. It probably won't reanimate, kidnap a little girl and then run off to the North Pole, but it still might suck. To decide whether or not Raise the Ruins comes to life, or just lies on the table after the lightning strike, we put it through a set of rigorous tests.

OK, the tests were not that rigorous - we just played it. And then I asked Clowdus about a few rules clarifications, and he revealed that there are some updated rules. So it's not like we hooked the game up to a heart monitor, but I think we tested enough to make up our minds.

Raise the Ruins has a deck of cards, some other cards, a couple more cards and some markers... which you put on the cards. Players can do two of three things on their turns - draw cards, woo the gods or work together to raise a temple. Sucking up to the deities and trying to finish temples both use the cards, so you'll be constantly balancing between your need to get cards and your desire to use them. There's also a really cool Puerto-Rico-style element where you do one thing twice, then everyone else gets to do it once, then you do one more thing. It makes it critical to plan your moves, because you could end up doing more favors for your opponents than you do for yourself.

When enough people chip in to build a temple, it gets raised. Once that happens, score points start flying. You score for being the owner of the temple. You score for sucking up to the gods who like that temple. You score points for helping out (if you helped out enough). And since you're only playing to nine points, getting three points in one turn is a big deal.

The game goes pretty darn fast. You'll blow through your turn in minutes flat, then wish you had just one more thing you could do. You might need more cards, and want to steal a god from someone else, or have enough resources to make something happen, but be out of actions. There's an excellent mix of planning and flexibility here, and yet you still aren't going to end up paralyzed by decision-making.

The cards are nice - in fact, the temple cards are almost glittery. The art on the deity tokens is really small, unfortunately, so we frequently had trouble telling the tusk-face god from the hair-dude god or the corn-chick god, but it's not like that really slowed the game any. I actually really dig the art on these cards - they're very thematic, in what is quickly becoming a recognizable Small Box style. Even with the little bitty god pictures, the game is fun to look at.

So after the lightning hits, this reanimated beast actually comes to life. And unlike its fictional counterpart, it doesn't turn on its creator and then get chased off by a crowd with torches and pitchforks. The rules you get with the game have a few problems, but the revised rules fix all those problems and then some. If you already have a copy of Raise the Ruins, you really need to download the new rules. John has assured me they'll be on the site soon.

I guess recycling from the gaming graveyard can work. In fact, if it works for games, it might work for my horribly misspent youth. I think I'll go back and see if any those girls I was too scared to flirt with are still around. Hopefully my wife won't come after me with a torch and a pitchfork.


Neat art and good components
Smooth and fast
Requires lots of planning and flexible strategy

Rules have a few problems, so you'll want to download the updated rules, once they're up

Like every other Small Box game, your window for buying a copy is limited. If you want a copy of Raise the Ruins, hurry up and get it before they're all gone.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Board Game Review - Timber Tom

There's a big school of thought that says that a game is good or bad based solely on the rules, that components don't matter and a game can kick ass when you play it with pieces of paper and random bits of broken glass.

Timber Tom does not belong to that school of thought.

Usually when I talk about a game, I start with the theme, then discuss the rules, then make crude jokes that make you feel dirty when you laugh. Somewhere in there I'll talk about the components, probably as sort of an afterthought, like, 'the theme is fun, the rules are good, here's a joke about hookers and blow, oh, and the pieces are nice.' It's sort of a formula, and it's worked for me so far. But Timber Tom is different, and so before I tell you all about how you run around a mountain and plant trees and call in artillery strikes, I'm going to tell you about the pieces.

I'll start small. There are a bunch of cards in the game, and they're printed on the kind of stock usually reserved for very expensive Euro games. There are also some little figures, all sculpted to look like cartoon mountain men, kind of like the ones that Bugs Bunny tricked to dress like girls and hit each other with their blunderbusses. The figures are also very nice.

Then there are all these little plastic bags of gold and barrels of supplies. These are super nice, and if the game stopped there, you would have some really nice components. But if that was all, I wouldn't spend three paragraphs discussing the components.

When you see the foam-padded, custom-cut storage tray, you'll be impressed. There's a place for everything, even a little square cut-out where you can stuff the die. But to really appreciate the awesome factor here, you have got to see this board. It's three-dimensional - not like the Game of Life, where you have a flat board with some plastic crap to make little kids think it's a toy. It's a full-on topographical map of a valley surrounded by mountains, with all these little holes to stick your hillbilly hikers and all the trees you'll plant as you travel. It's jaw-dropping, and the only way the publisher can afford to make this game as cheap as he does is because you can only buy the game direct. If the game went through normal distribution channels, it would cost you eighty bucks, easy.

So all these pieces go together so you can play out the hunt for Timber Tom's hidden treasure. Old crazy Tom hid bags of gold at the tops of four different mountains, and you'll run around the mountain trying to pick it up. This is no roll-and-move game, though - most of the time, you'll know exactly how far you'll move on your next turn, because except for flood zones and blizzard-stricken mountain peaks, your move is based on where you start your turn. Easy foothills let you move six, while steep mountainsides limit you to four. And you have to move your entire move - no fair stopping at two spaces just so you can take a nap at the cabin.

At first glance, Timber Tom doesn't seem like a particularly strategic game. But then you add in the trees. Just about every turn, you'll plant trees to impede the progress of your opponents, and the only way they can move through them is to use their axes - only you only get so many axes, and if you want more, you have to stop at an out-of-the-way cabin. You could skip the whole thing and use the helicopter to move you around, but you only have so many helicopter trips before you're stuck hoofing it, so you may want to save the chopper trips for when you really need them. And you have to watch out for flood waters, and broken bridges, and bear attacks, and lots of other stuff, and all the time you have to manage your supplies, because if you run out, you can't climb the mountains, which means you can't get the treasure, which means all the other kids are going to laugh at you, and the mean kids will knock your books out of your hands and steal your girlfriend.

There's actually a surprising amount of strategy in Timber Tom, which is nice. When my kids saw the game, they said, 'oh, please let this be a good game.' It would be such a waste to have this amazing board and fantastic pieces if the game sucked. But happily, the game is a whole bunch of fun, and the board just makes a good game an amazing game.

Timber Tom does not reinvent the gaming industry, or break out with amazing new mechanics unlike anything you've ever imagined. The real gold here is not on top of the mountains. The real reason that Timber Tom is a treasure is because it's a damned fun game with some of the most amazing aesthetics you'll ever hope to see in a game, and those aesthetics actively improve the gaming experience to the point that it would not be nearly as awesome without them.

But there are not actually any artillery strikes. I lied about that. Sorry. Oh, and your mom's a tramp.


Topographical game board - can't emphasize enough how awesome this is
Fun game with lots of opportunities to be clever
Incredibly high-quality components
Ridiculously affordable, especially considering the amazing production values

No artillery strikes

Timber Tom is gorgeous and fun and easy to play with your whole family. You can get it here:

Friday, January 9, 2009

Card Game Review - The Great Potlatch

It's amazing what you can learn playing board games, even when they're not educational. Like when I played Ten Days in Asia, and found out that you could walk from Turkey to North Korea in just three days, or when I played Senji and found out that Japanese warlords used to swap wives like a Rodney Dangerfield joke. But the most educational lesson of all came from The Great Potlatch, where I found out about... well, the great potlatch.

A potlatch is a Native American thing where these families would get together and give each other gifts, with the families actually competing to see who could give away more stuff. The overall idea was to redistribute wealth a little bit (and no, Obama did not think of it, and neither did the people who hate Obama and latched onto one phrase so they could call him a Communist). At first, I thought this was bogus, but Wikipedia says it's totally true. Another site says it's something about an ultimate frisbee tournament, which was also interesting, but that doesn't really relate to the card game very well.

To reenact this wacky Indian festival, players each represent a family trying to give away the most crap and give the most honor to the ancestors. The game lasts eight turns, and each turn, everybody carves totems, honors ancestors, performs rituals, and tries to give away the most crap.

Now, that may seem like a lot to do in a game that comes in a cloth bag the size of a cow scrotum, but a few very cool rules make it work. First you've got the actual potlatch ceremony. Every day, you'll choose a few cards to give away. You can give away as much as you want, as long as there are little matching symbols. The guy who gives away the most comes out smelling like roses, and everyone else gets a little bad rep. This part is simple, really, and doesn't even count for scoring, aside from that dose of bad reputation (but as my good friend Joan Jett is fond of saying, I don't give a damn about my bad reputation). Mostly this part gives you first pick of roles in the next round.

The roles are really the meat of the game. Every turn you pick from three roles, and you don't want to pick the same thing as the person who picks first (you can, but there's a penalty). The elder can make offerings to the ancestors. The carver can use those offerings to make a totem. The shaman can burn up potlatch gifts to perform rituals. Different elements in here get you different bonuses, and I could go way into this, but honestly, the rules will hurt your head the first time you read them, so there's no way I'm going into them right now.

Several elements make this a really tricky, really cool game. For starters, every potlatch card has three different parts to it, useful at different times. The potlatch swap-meet uses the symbol at the bottom. The elder's ancestor gifting uses the ones in the middle and the top, and the shaman uses the top part. So if you've got six cards, and four could work to make a totem, but you'll need three for the gift-a-thon, and you want to keep a couple for the shaman's ritual thingy, you have to balance them all and figure out what to use where. Screw this up, and you'll blow your whole turn and feel retarded. Do it right and you'll be able to gloat, which as we all know is only slightly less awesome than hearing the lamentations of your opponents' women (see Wednesday's review).

Another killer element is the balancing act of the different parts of the game. The potlatch section gives you a chance to dole out a little bad rep and sieze control for the next round, but if you put all your efforts into that part, you won't have the heat you need to work with the elder. If you don't work the elder this turn, you won't get to use the carver next turn, but if you don't grab the speaking stick you may not get the chance to be the carver. Every part of the game is important, but you can't do them all at once, and it takes some real presence of mind to be able to compete across the board. Sometimes, too, you just don't draw the cards you need, and then you're hosed anyway.

Now, I gotta tell you, there's a downside to making a game with rules this original. That downside is that, until you're about halfway through your first game, it makes no sense whatsoever. I mean it's more confusing than trying to rewire your entertainment system after the cable guy installs a converter box, or trying to assemble your new outdoor grill using only the Spanish section of the instructions and the crappy pictures drawn by some Chinese fourteen-year-old using Microsoft Paint and a roller ball mouse.

But once you play through the game once, you'll see that it's actually freaking brilliant. You'll want to play again, if for no other reason than because now you know how. It's a bitch to teach to other people, but it's awesome to play with a group of people who have played it before. The delicate play balance and kick-ass production (as always, everything is hand-made by John Clowdus, except the cards, which are printed in America) makes The Great Potlatch the kind of game that should be in every gamer's closet. Unfortunately, Clowdus only makes like fifty or so at a time, so every gamer can't have one, and if you want one, you better hustle your ass up and buy it.


Incredibly original rules
Great balancing act
Really brainy - lots of priorities, not enough resources
Damned fun once you know what you're doing
Hand-assembled and damned pretty

Rules don't make sense until you play
Incredibly limited production run

Seriously, you need to get this right now. Don't wait.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Board Game Review - Monopoly

I've got two reasons for writing a review of Monopoly tonight. It may seem a little silly, because if you play enough games that you're reading my site, you already know whether or not you like Monopoly. I don't think I've ever met anyone who hasn't played Monopoly, and most hardcore gamers hate it like the plague. But a review of Monopoly will give you a kind of baseline, to let you know what kind of games I like, what I look for in a game, and if I'm your kind of gamer.

The second reason is entirely practical - I have like a dozen games here, but I haven't played them, and so I can't write about them, and I don't want to skip an update just because we got new bedroom furniture and I've spent most of the week painting and cleaning the house. Basically, I'm writing about Monopoly because I'm completely unprepared.

To remove any suspense and totally ruin the surprise ending, I love Monopoly. It's an old-time favorite staple, and I'll play it nearly any time. Sure, there's lots of luck - but I still win most of the time. Yeah, it's a basic roll-then-move-then-do-something game, but there's still a lot of strategy, and I love making deals. Plus Monopoly gives me the chance to do something you just can't do in a lot of other games - be horribly underhanded and terrifically cruel. There are good plays in most games, but it's rare that there are plays so good that everyone else at the table looks at you like you keep kittens in the freezer for midnight snacks.

The first thing to understand about Monopoly is that it might seem like it's all luck, but it's not. Yes, you're completely at the mercy of the dice - but you can control your fate, at least a little. You can decide not to buy that last property that would make you mortgage Park Place (but I always will, because Park Place is best used as a short-term income stream, especially if someone else has Boardwalk). If you know what properties are really valuable, and you base a strategy around obtaining the properties that will help you stay solvent and build your real estate empire, you've got a huge edge.

For instance, if I ask which monopoly is the most valuable, most people will say dark blue. I piss on your dark blue. I insult it in public, then sleep with its mom and steal her drawers to hang from a power line outside your dark blue's front yard. The best monopoly in the game is orange. It's cheap, with awesome return on investment, and it contains the property that you're most likely to land on at some point in the game. Hotels on orange might not earn quite as much as hotels on red, but they cost half as much, and if you're coming up on my stretch of fully developed orange properties with a couple hundred bucks, the difference between $950 and $1100 is purely academic.

And I just plain love to get both dark purple properties, drop five notes, and put up hotels to take your Go money. It's petty, sure, but it keeps me solvent. And it makes the other players crazy, which is always a bonus. It's never a game-winner - you're not going to break someone with a $450 rent - but it's almost priceless for its ability to frustrate and irritate the other players, not to mention giving you enough to build a couple more houses somewhere.

It's also a total hoot to have one or two monopolies, and enough other properties to keep anyone else from getting one of their own. That's hard to arrange, but it's always a blast when it happens. The desperate deals people will make to get that last piece of a monopoly are the high point of the game for me - when someone is willing to give me an absolutely unfair number of properties just to get that last yellow property when they don't have two nickels to rub together and couldn't improve them if they wanted, that's hilariously awesome.

But then, as anyone who has ever played Monopoly knows, it's not that hard to get completely screwed. I've lost the game just because I went around the board twice before I ever got a single property, and by then everyone else was already putting up houses. Kind of hard to stay in the game when the most you can earn is $200 for getting around the board. And unfortunately, my family members know what a dick I am when I play, and they'll give each other properties in stupid trades, and then bend me over for a utility.

I know a lot of people hate Monopoly, and honestly, I can't blame them. You have to possess a certain mindset to enjoy Monopoly. It's not just whether you win every time - you have to love making deals, and planning ahead, and counting your money to make sure you don't spend too much too soon. The luck will make you crazy, especially when the other players seem to roll exactly what they need to avoid paying you on the properties you've just spent a fortune building up. There are ridiculously arbitrary rules, like three doubles sending you to jail or spots on the board that just take your money for no reason. There's a theme, but Monopoly does a horrible job of interpreting it, and I never have figured out what a dog, a shoe and a thimble have in common with a game about real estate (though I suppose I could probably find out if did a bunch of internet research, but I don't really care, and so if you do care, search for yourself).

Monopoly is so traditional that it's not really Ameritrash or Euro. It's too old to care about your game classifications, and doesn't even try to compare itself to Agricola. Monopoly knows what it is - it's like the biggest game ever (based on my simple observation of the number of Monopoly games on the shelf at Target, and with absolutely no supporting statistics of any kind). Monopoly is the grand-daddy of the modern board game, even if it is the old grampa who pinches your wife's ass, bitches about how his generation was tougher than you are, and farts at the dinner table. But it's still intensely popular - it's sold all over the planet, translated into more than 20 languages, and just came out with this great big version where you buy up whole cities all over the world. It's not going anywhere, sort of like that old grandfather who is too mean to die.

I love Monopoly, faults and all, and I don't apologize for it. There's nothing that says you have to like it, because compared to most of the games we play, it's really not that great a game. There are no clever mechanics or elegant rules, and the dice can screw you like a cheap hooker. But it's a hell of a lot of fun - at least, it's a hell of a lot of fun for me. If I make you mortgage your last income property to pay a stupid railroad fine, it might not be as fun for you.


Everyone knows how to play
Tons of history
Great deals to be made
A lot more strategy than haters will admit
Monopoly guy is awesome

More luck than the Blarney Stone
Theme has almost nothing to do with the rules
Arbitrary and nonsensical rules

If you need a link to find out where to get Monopoly, you don't need to be playing games. You need to be figuring out how you found this site in the first place.

Monday, January 5, 2009

General Gaming Rant - Fool Me A Lot Of Times

I play a lot of games, and most of them, I only play once or twice before I move on. That's mostly because I average about three new games a week, which doesn't leave a lot of time to go back to my favorites. I do repeat some now and then, but a game has to really impress me to get a replay.

And what I've found is that, most of the time, I can tell in one game if I want to play it again. In fact, I can usually tell in the first hour of a game whether it's one I'll put on my repeat list. I can usually tell, right off the bat, whether or not I'm actually going to enjoy finishing a game, even if I just started. Not always, you understand - some games might actually require a little repeat study before I can render a verdict - but nine games out of ten require only one attempt for me to figure out that I'm not going to have fun playing them twice.

And yet I hear, over and over and over, that I didn't understand the game because I didn't play it more than once. So here's the deal - if you want to tell me I have to play a game a dozen times to appreciate it, you can shove your head right up your ass and break it off at the neck.

If I read a novel, and after two chapters I'm going, 'this book is stupid,' I don't finish it. It's that easy. You can tell me that it gets a lot better later, but this is entertainment, and I'm not planning on doing a bunch of work to get to the gooey Tootsie Roll center of the story. Right off the bat, I can say, 'hey, this book sucks!' And then I can put it down and walk away, because I'm reading the book to be entertained, and if I don't like it, I'm not going to keep doing it. Otherwise my entertainment becomes work, and frankly, if I'm going to work, I can do something that's actually useful.

If I watch a movie, and after twenty minutes I'm bored and irritated and angry that I paid for a ticket, I don't need to watch the rest to determine that I'm not entertained. Right off the bat, I can determine that I'm not digging this movie, and I could better spend my time drinking malt beverages and reading comic books (two activities that I know for certain I enjoy).

Let's take it one step further - if I actually finish that boring book, and I still think it was a waste of my time, under no circumstances should you tell me that I would like it better if I read it again. Here's the deal, you arrogant bastard - if I hated it once, I'll hate it twice.

Same thing goes for movies. If I watch a movie from opening scene to closing credits, and I hate it, what kind of asinine butt-monkey would tell me that I would like it if I watched it again? I tried the stupid movie, and I hated it. Tell me all about how I missed the parts that you thought were brilliant. Describe how the director really did a good job, and that wooden acting and horrible singing is actually supposed to make me appreciate the film. Talk all you want, but a crap movie is a crap movie, and I'm not apologizing for not liking it.

So let's apply that to games. I can almost always tell in the first hour of a game whether or not I like it. Most of the time, I'll still finish the game - but if everyone at the table is saying, 'what can we do to make this end so we can go do something better, like clean the patio furniture?', I know I've got a stinker on my hands. I don't need to keep playing, because right off the bat, the game sucked. I don't need to waste an entire evening being frustrated and pissed because I played a stinking turd of a game. That first hour is enough to know that I don't want to get that one out of the box again.

And let's say I do finish the game, and get to the end, and now I hate it. I do not need another 30 plays to determine that I don't ever want to see that game hit my table again. I can make that decision after one game. Also, if I stab myself in the thigh with a knitting needle, I do not need to stab myself five more times to figure out whether or not I like it. If you don't like something once, don't do it twice. It really is that easy.

We're talking games here. Entertainment. Stuff we do because we like it. Stuff we do to have fun. And if a game is not fun, it is not a good game. You don't eat a cookie that tastes like cow manure and somehow think four more will improve the flavor. If you don't like your dessert, you don't eat more, and if you don't like a game, you don't play it again.

If a game doesn't appeal to me, the blame lies with the game, not me. I don't have any responsibility to a game to play it a bunch of times just to see if I end up liking it better. It's supposed to be fun, and the burden of responsibility is on the game, not me. It's not my job to make myself like a game. If the game can't make me like it, the game gets put away and never played again, and anyone who wants to complain that I did something wrong can kiss my wrinkled white ass. I play games to have fun, and I'm not apologizing for it.

So the next time someone tells me to play a game again after I said I didn't like it, I'm going to punch them in the face. Then I'll say, 'yeah, that sucks the first time, but it gets better if I keep doing it.' They should completely understand.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

War Game Review - Squad Leader

A guy at BGG Con had a copy of Squad Leader on sale for five bucks. I don't know how it lasted through Thursday and Friday, but when I saw it, it didn't last any more. I used to play the hell out of Squad Leader with my old man, and this set was in incredible condition. The guy had all the little cardboard chits separated in little cardboard cigar boxes, and there were two sets of boards in the box. For me, this was like finding Warhammer Quest at a thrift store and realizing that not only were all the pieces in the box, but none of the weapons had broken. Or like going out on a weekend and finding out that the bar you're in has dollar drinks and it's nymphomaniacal lady's night. I mean, this was a score.

The reason this was such a great deal for me is that this was one of the first times I remember thinking, 'there might be something to this gaming thing.' This isn't Advanced Squad Leader, with all the iterations and expansions. This is the orange box that I used to break out with my dad to spend our weekends shooting at each other and sending machine gun squads into hand-to-hand combat while other guys shot flamethrowers and chucked satchel charges through the windows. This was a walk down memory lane, and I couldn't believe my luck.

But to make this a review and not just a brag-fest about my killer find, I guess I could try to actually describe the game. In today's market, this is horribly outdated. There are cardboard chits instead of miniatures. The board is flat, and you really don't have much reason to want 3-D terrain, because it would just get in the way. Combat resolves on tables and charts, which is a mechanic that is almost universally reviled among modern gamers. The rulebook is more dense than a brick in bathtub, with tons of little rules and some really small type. In fact, looking at it after having played modern games with plastic miniatures, color rules and glossy game boards, Squad Leader looks like a dog that lost a fight.

But we played Squad Leader all the time anyway, because it was just plain fun. The turns were exceptionally fast. You can't stack miniatures, and there's something horribly intimidating about rushing a position where squads, leaders and support weapons are stacked an inch high. The maps are brilliantly designed, and if you're any kind of history buff, you have to be impressed by the accuracy of the scenarios. The rules start off slow - you play the introductory scenario with just squads, leaders and machine guns, and then add stuff as you go, until you're crawling under barbed wire in the middle of the night while tanks rumble through the streets and your radio man frantically calls in an air strike. And while the rules might be intimidating for a player used to full-color rulebooks full of extravagant art, they're still far less complicated than they seem at first glance. In fact, I've played modern games with rules that are a lot more confusing.

One reason Squad Leader is so easy to learn is because it is a simulation game more than anything else. It doesn't try to drop in fancy mechanics or clever card play. The rules make sense because they're based on real life. When you're firing into a platoon of charging Russians, it's not hard to remember to hold your fire until they're next to you so your machine gun can mow them down like a tornado in a trailer park.

The downside to the original Squad Leader is that it's kind of stuck between other games. It lacks the expansions and enormous player base of Advanced Squad Leader, and so doesn't appeal as well to hardcore wargamers. And being a cardboard-counter-slinging wargame, it's going to automatically repel 90% of your standard gamers. It's not that it's a bad game - quite the opposite, in fact, because I flat-out love it. But it can be tough to find players, because wargamers tend to gravitate toward Advanced Squad Leader and non-wargamers tend to avoid it like it was capable of performing acts of tentacle porn.

I don't care, though. I can play it with my son, and when my dad visits, I'll play it with him. I might try to hook a few of my friends - if these nerdy losers can wade through the rules to play Warhammer 40K, they can sure wrap their heads around Squad Leader. The historical accuracy, swift gameplay, great maps and fantastic tactics make Squad Leader one of my favorite games of all time, and if you don't dig it, I won't ask you to play it with me. But if you're ever in North Texas, drop me a line - I'll set up this game any time.


Awesome maps
Killer historical accuracy
Intuitive rules
Excellent action and fast play

All pieces are little cardboard squares that tend to get a little unwieldy
Rulebook as dry as chewing a mattress
Player base a little sparse

You're in luck - you can still get Squad Leader from Troll and Toad. They've got three copies: