Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Board Game Review - Cavum

Every now and then, I write about a game that I just got in the mail, and I didn't even know it existed until it shows up at my house, and then I go to BoardGameGeek and find lots of people who have even less of a life than I do, and have been playing this tiny niche game since they bought an ugly prerelease copy at a German gaming convention.

I suspect that might be the case with Cavum, though I confess to not having checked yet. I prefer to put off reading other reviews until I finish my own - not because I want to avoid tainting my opinion, but because I can't really be bothered. At first glance through the rules, Cavum looks like a classic heavy-weight Euro snooze fest, the kind the BGG nerds go all loopy over.

And to a degree, that first glance is right. If you're looking for an introductory game to get people into the hobby, this is not it. This would be like trying to teach your teenager to drive by putting him at the helm of a nuclear submarine. I had to read the rules four times and still keep them handy while we played (not sure if that's because they were complicated and tough to follow, or because I'm getting old and stupid). And it's very much a European-style game - you put down tiles to capture resources with limited actions and an abstract board, and nobody dies. So right out of the gate, it can't be a man's game, because there's no body count.

In Cavum, you're all miners in the same mountain. You dig tunnels (but only the ones you have on your tiles) and then you go spelunking for treasure. You fill orders for jewelry vendors and build stations in cities. You have to be able to trace complicated paths through the developing honeycomb, to make sure you can always collect as many precious stones as possible. But you only get a limited number of actions per turn, and unlike most games where you can do the same thing every time, you actually must perform twelve different things. There's an incredible amount of stuff to learn, and a lot happening all the time, so even when it's not your turn, you have to be paying attention.

To really draw the Euro fans, the theme is almost completely abstracted and nonsensical. You get hired by people to get them the gems they need to make one piece of jewelry, then you dig through the mountains furiously, trying to decide where best to place the giant stash of rubies the size of shooter marbles that you evidently carry inside your hat so you can place them wherever you want them. Only you can't just dig tunnels wherever you want, because every turn you have to dig a minimum of one straight tunnel, one T-intersection, one crossroad, and one six-directional hub. Because traditional miners always took the time to dig six different directions, with dead-ends going no place in particular, right? They especially put in that much effort for the money they would make from providing raw materials for a single diamond brooch.

So the rules have the density of carbon steel, and the gameplay reads like it was right out of a Berlin bistro where men in black turtleneck sweaters argue quietly while they sip harsh black coffee. But once you start playing, it all changes. Well, OK, it doesn't change very fast, because new players are going to spend the first turn or so trying to figure out what the hell to do with the dynamite tile. But once everyone knows the rules, this game revs up a lot.

For one thing, all this complication makes for an incredibly deep game. Winning strategies are as important as cautious game play. Plan ahead and build in contingencies. Watch for ways to hose your opponents, because those opportunities abound, and you want to do unto others before they shove a stick of TNT up your ass sideways (which, as I mentioned before, will not kill you).

And there's so much interaction, beyond just using the dynamite to cause irritable bowel syndrome. You can use stations to block opponents from gathering resources. You can stall so that you can place the last stockpile of gems and then be the only one to collect any. You can break up monopolies in cities, screw your opponents out of the stuff they need and otherwise get seriously cutthroat, but in a family-friendly German-board-game kind of way, where instead of saying, 'Ha! I took your capital!' you say, 'well, now, Franz, it appears I have broken your scoring hold over the city, and yet I feel no remorse, just a desire to be condescending so that I can hide being torn apart with internal guilt over my relationship with my mother.'

If you're not a fan of games that require focus and concentration, you'll hate Cavum. Stupid people should not play this game at all, and even smart people may want to decide whether they have the mental stamina to pour into a game. If you're all excited to watch Predator, you're not going to want to sit through Amadeus, even if you moonlight as the New York Times movie critic.

Now, I may not have made this sound like the board game version of a Roman orgy, but I'm telling you, this is one enjoyable game. Maybe instead of comparing it to Amadeus (which is an intelligent yet brutally boring film), I should compare it to The Usual Suspects (which is an intelligent and FREAKING AWESOME film). No, it's not a popcorn game, but if you can put some effort into enjoying yourself, then A) your wife might have fewer ‘headaches’, and B) you'll dig Cavum.

Unless you're a real man, and only play games where people die.


Lots of strategic and tactical options
Very little luck
Really deep game
Can appeal to anyone who likes a good game, Euro fan or not
Lots of effort went into making this sucker real, real pretty
Replay out the wazoo, because you'll be learning every time you play

Intimidating complexity
Mistakes are punished rather harshly

If you think you've got the mental stones to play a game this heavy, you can go here and give it a shot:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Card Game Review - Zombie Fluxx

A friend and I were talking about stuff in general, and we agreed that with only a few exceptions, you can add zombies to nearly anything fictional and improve upon it. Movies, for instance - how much cooler would Four Weddings and a Funeral be if there had been a zombie? Hilarity ensues! Or Rambo - man, that would have given ol' Sly Stallone something he could kill with no remorse (not that he seemed to have much remorse about the actual living people he killed). We didn't really think you could add zombies to something like Gran Torino (actual punk-ass gangsters, in this case, made better antagonists, though there are very few movies where the run-of-the-mill bad guy couldn't be replaced with a zombie. In fact, some of them might do better death scenes). But even classics like Reservoir Dogs or Fight Club could have zombies in them, even if it was just for a couple minutes, and be better movies.

The same applies to games. Slap some zombies into Railways of the World, and you've got a post-apocalyptic railroad contest that I would play any time you bring it out. Or, how cool would it be if you could get a couple zombie armies in RISK, and maybe be able to keep some of your opponent's dead soldiers and add them to your own ranks? I can't think of very many games that couldn't be made just a little more interesting with zombies, and apparently, Looney Labs felt the same way, because they took the classic-but-pointless-and-bizarre Fluxx, added zombies, and made a better game.

The basics are still the same - you try to get the keepers to win, and get rid of the creepers that stop you from winning. The rules change, and wacky stuff happens, and you never really have any idea if you're winning until you've won. So basically, it's just like Fluxx - but now it's SO much better. Because now the creepers are zombies, and there are tons of them, and the keepers are things like friends and chainsaws and lumber (because anyone who has ever seen a zombie movie knows that the first thing you have to do is barricade the windows. The second thing you have to do is not get laid, because the zombies always eat the stupid people who decide to get naked in the middle of a zombie apocalypse).

As I said in my review of Martian Fluxx, what Fluxx needs is a theme, and in this case, a zombie theme is perfect. With zombie creepers gathering around you, friends being eaten, and shotguns running low on ammunition, Zombie Fluxx does a pretty good job of making light of a situation in which everyone you know has been turned into mindless killers who want to gnaw on your brain.

(Total aside - are zombies picky about their food? I mean, say they finally get your skull cracked open to get to your brains, but then the brains fall onto the ground? Does Mom Zombie yell at her kids, 'Don't eat that brain, it's been on the ground!'? Does Dad Zombie get a three-second rule, the way I do with cookies that hit the linoleum? And if they leave the brains out on the counter, does Mom Zombie come in and yell at the kids? 'This stuff doesn't just grow on trees, you know! Your father works very hard to put brains on the table! Is it too much to ask that you put the brains back in the fridge when you're done making yourself a plate?')

The theme in this case is carried out very well through nearly everything in the game - you might be able to use the shotgun to eliminate your creepers, but you might also just end up sending them shuffling around to bother someone else. The goal might be to stock up on food (so you'll need sandwiches and donuts), or it might be to make a zombie baseball team (in which case you need nine zombies and a baseball bat). To be clear, this game is funny - I did not make up that zombie ball club. That's a goal. And there's the ending-to-nearly-every-zombie-movie-ever goal, in which the zombies overrun the humans and everyone dies. That's not as funny, but it's still awesome.

The actions are good, too. You'll find yourself destroying all the zombies in one fell swoop, calling the hordes over to yourself to hold 'em off, or running out of gas in the chainsaw. New rules have you groaning like a zombie when you draw a creeper, or you get to open up a can of whoop-ass and blast some zombies back to the grave. With only a few exceptions, everything in Zombie Fluxx serves to enforce the theme and make this game better than the original.

Now, in terms of comparison, we couldn't really figure out why, but we all had more fun with Martian Fluxx. I think part of that is the theme, and part is the fact that Martian Fluxx works a little better. Not that Zombie Fluxx doesn't work - it's as much fun as being locked in the mall with a horde of walking dead can be - but Martian Fluxx just seems to have ironed out most of the kinks and kept gameplay moving faster and more interesting. Plus in Martian Fluxx, you're the invading enemy, and that's wicked fun.

The games of Looney Labs continue to grow on me. Every time I try a new one, I like the company more. I sure am glad they didn't take too much offense at my review of Are You the Traitor, because Looney Labs is on the fast-track to becoming one of the most consistently impressive game companies I know. The games are light, fun, and occasionally clever, and if they keep up at this pace, they'll be making fun games for a long time to come.


Fast and light (because it's Fluxx)
Cool theme executed well
Fantastic art

Not as good as Martian Fluxx, but still really fun

If you like games with zombies, then you have a soul. If you like zombies and Fluxx, then you should buy Zombie Fluxx:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Card Game Review - Bartender

I have had a hell of a time recently getting a good night's sleep. It seems every time I stay up late to finish work on a Friday, something stupid gets me out of bed early on Saturday. At this point, if I had to get on a plane, I would have to check my overnight bag, because the airline people would call the bags under my eyes carry-on luggage. I hate that, because I'm never as funny when I'm tired. And let's face it, if you just wanted a review, you could go anywhere. You come to Drake's Flames to see me crack wise (or if you're that one asshole who keeps posting his garbage about the child molesters, you come here because you think making me spend five seconds to delete your asinine comments is somehow payback for some imagined slight you thought I committed in high school. Look, jackass, that wasn't me. For the last time, the guys who hung you by your underwear and put Icy-Hot on your ballsack were jocks. I was out that day).

When I'm tired and I need to be funny, I have to fall back on my easiest material - making fun of very bad games. To that end, I've chosen to review Bartender, which is so bad, we couldn't finish it. We understood it very well, and played by all the rules, and absolutely, thoroughly despised it. A game this bad means I have lots of amusing material.

Let's start with the art. The short version is, if you can't afford the budget to get a real artist, you can't afford to make a game. And if, by some chance, you can afford to make a game despite not paying an artist, you should still spring for a two-week account at a decent stock art site. You should not, under any circumstances, use a clipart collection that came with Windows '95. Sadly, the guys who made Bartender did not get that memo, because this is the worst art I have seen in any game since my brother and I were in elementary school and tried to make our own version of Rockem Sockem Robots using cardboard and chopsticks.

But art doesn't make a game, unless the game is about making art, in which case some quality control might be in order. You can have an ugly game that's still fun. You just won't be able to sell it to anyone.

Unfortunately, Bartender is not only as hideous as your grandmother's burst gout, it's also not fun. It's simple, so that's nice, but it's not fun. Every player is trying to mix drinks with the umpty-freaking-zillion different ingredients in the game, from rum and vodka to mint leaves and grapefruit. These ingredients are on cards that also have recipes for various adult beverages. You play cards onto the table that everyone can use, then you use them up to make your drinks and earn some money. The ingredients run out after they get used three times, which is still plenty of time for you to guess what that art was supposed to be.

Our game went fine at first, aside from the outraged cries of 'what the hell is that? Why does that bottle look like a butt plug? Who hired Stevie Wonder to do art for a card game?' The rules were very straightforward and easy to teach, and we were ready to whip up some fuzzy navels in no time.

Then things went bad. After five minutes, the middle of the table was so cluttered with ugly cards describing mixed drinks that we were taking two minutes to play every card. The game ground to a halt as we said, 'hey, is there any Triple Sec on the table? Do I need that? Wait, is that a grapefruit or a severed head? Where's the cranberry juice? No, I'm pretty sure that's peach schnappes.' We sounded like a group of irritable senior citizens fighting over prune juice recipes.

Now, I confess that we might have been in a hurry to stop playing because the art is so bad that my eyes were bleeding. Our enjoyment of the game might have been reduced by having to look at graphics that looked like they had been made by a fourth-grader who just learned how to use the line-drawing software on his new LeapFrog kiddy laptop. But I'm pretty sure that the main reason we hated the game was because it sucked.

The game came to an early end when I double-checked the endgame conditions and confirmed that we were supposed to play until we ran out of cards. When I said this aloud, the other players all looked at the rather large stack of cards that were left and groaned loudly. One of us - a hero to us all - suggested that we could simply put it away and pretend it never happened. This proposal was uniformly appreciated by everyone, and then we had to decide if we should actually put it back in the box, or just sweep the whole thing into the trash. We decided to box it up again, to spare the poor cleaning lady who might see this travesty in the garbage can and be struck blind.

I can only guess that the game was created at four in the morning after closing time in a Chicago dive bar, as a way for a couple bouncers to memorize drinks and move up to tending bar. As a memory device for budding barkeeps, it's probably handy (even if it is butt-ugly). As a marketable contender for an enjoyable game, it's a complete flop. I've played games I hated more than Bartender, but I can't think of one off the top of my head. And I haven't played an uglier game in more than thirty years.


Can help you learn drink recipes
Easy to learn

Art so bad, it makes grown men weep, but just as an attempt to clean their retinas
Cluttered and confusing once you get going
No fun whatsoever

It took me a while to find something uglier than Bartender. But this is still more fun:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Board Game Review - 2 de Mayo

In the ten years that I've been writing game reviews, I've reversed my opinion on exactly two games. The first was one of my very first reviews, and I can't exactly cry over spilt milk (by the way, Nexus Ops is a pretty cool game). The second time was today.

When I posted my review of 2 de Mayo at BoardGameGeek, more than a dozen people showed up to emphatically inform me that not only had I not understood the game, but that I was probably illiterate and possibly retarded (I may have paraphrased a little). When one person takes offense, I know I did something right. When every single person hates the review, I may have overlooked something. So I talked my son into playing this with me one more time, to see if I might have been struck blind.

I was not blind, but I did mistake this game for something it was not. We played it all wrong (by which I mean we followed the rules, but didn't understand HOW you play), and now that I see what we did wrong, and the point of the game, it's actually a pretty damned fun game. It's short and interesting, and actually has a huge element of bluffing and sneaking and out-thinking.

Also, tonight the Spanish won.

I think a huge part of why this game irritated me so much was that my initial three plays were ruled by a ridiculous amount of bad luck for the Spaniards. Cards refused to work in their favor, no matter who was playing them, and the French seemed to be crapping gold nuggets. There are a few cards that the French can get that can really turn the tide, and several Spanish cards that rely on good timing to be effective. That just didn't work out in favor of the poor Spaniards, and the French just kept tearing through them like Rosie O'Donnell at a Vegas buffet.

Another factor was that the game doesn't really tell you what it is. It's not an area control game, and the Spanish don't win by outfighting the French. They really can't compete at all in a fight, but what they can do is run faster and hide better than the French. If you play this game thinking you'll score an early win by killing a bunch of Napoleon's finest, you're doing it wrong. You know, like we did.

The mechanics are really cool. The hidden orders and simultaneous movement is the kind of mechanic I would love to see in a regular tabletop wargame. The card play - well, honestly, I could live without it. I would just as soon see this whole game play out without any of the cards. I think it would be a much more interesting game if you weren't relying on luck to pull your fat out of the fire.

So my verdict is officially changing - and take a picture, because this doesn't happen a lot. 2 de Mayo is actually a very fun game. I will definitely play it again.

Now, just because I'm changing my stance on this one does not mean I'm making a habit of it. Look at my reviews of Shadows Over Camelot, Apples to Apples or Mutant Chronicles CMG - I'm not changing my mind on those. Still don't like 'em, and the number of people who told me I was wrong actually outnumbered the feedback for this game. But the way I see it, if you're going to be able to trust me when I tell you a game is good or bad, I need to be honest, even when it means I have to eat a little crow.

But I'm still not playing Puerto Rico again. SOOOO boring.


Cool order and movement mechanics
Plays fast
Outbluff and outmaneuver your opponent - it's fun, I swear

Card play can completely ruin it
Should probably tell you what kind of game it actually is

This is the original review. I'm keeping it up for posterity.

Some of the most exciting games come from historical events. The battles of World War II have spawned more games than nearly any other piece of the past, for example. Something about playing out actual events that actually occurred where actual people actually died makes people think, 'man, that would be a fun game.'

However, if you're going to make a game based on actual events, you should probably pick a day where one side didn't run through the other like crap through a goose. For instance, a game recreating the exciting events of Saint Valentine's Day would probably not be particularly engaging for anyone involved.

Another confrontation that would not make a fun game would the events of May 2, 1808, where the Spanish finally figured out that Napoleon was not bringing massive armies through Spain to help carry all the gift baskets. Because what actually happened was that the French completely decimated the Spanish, but they were so mean about it that the entire country rose up in rebellion. The day is celebrated in Spain as the birth of modern Spain.

While that is an important day, it's not exactly a balanced scenario. There were an absolutely ludicrous number of French soldiers in Madrid when the Spanish decided to get all testy, and it took them less than a day to kill just about every Spaniard in the city (well, that's an exaggeration, but the Spanish did take one hell of an ass-kicking). And when you faithfully recreate a bloody massacre as a game, it doesn't really lend itself to startlingly exciting game play. It's more like playing tetherball with a triple amputee - it's great to win, but you can't really be all that excited about it when the only time the ball was returned to you, it's because it bounced off the other guy's face.

The game has some potential - if it was a different game. You draw cards that can change the game and give you huge benefits, unless you're the Spanish and they won't actually do you any good. Then you write down your orders in secret, moving your soldiers all over the city. Both sets of orders are carried out at the same time, and then anywhere that one group is bigger than another group, the other group gets shot in the junk. If the two sides were balanced, this could have a ton of potential. The idea of bluffing, out-guessing and out-maneuvering another force is an interesting concept, and could really make for a fun game, if you don't start out with one side so beat down that they don't have a snowball's chance in Hell.

This is not even remotely fair. The French have a four-to-one numerical advantage over the Spanish, which means that if the Spanish don't win in the first two turns, they're probably screwed. And if they do manage to make it past the third turn, they're still probably screwed. The French run roughshod over the Spanish, and no stilted victory conditions are going to make up for the fact that one side is going to lose nine out of ten games.

In fact, I'm not really sure I would call this a game, as much as a history lesson played out with wood cubes. I'm all for theme and historical accuracy, but if you're going to try to be all historical, how about something like the Tet Offensive or Anthony versus Augustus? Some of the cards actually relate true stuff that happened - like French soldiers executing Spaniards in firing squads. The Spanish have lame cards that slow down one guy in a huge group, so that instead of being outnumbered five to one, they only have to face four times their number.

Call me crazy, but if I'm going to play out stuff that really happened, I don't think I would choose Kent State or Wounded Knee. I don't think I'm overly picky to want a game with some semblance of balance. If one side is going to slaughter the other, that's not a good scenario for a board game. That's a good scenario for a horror movie that ends badly.

It's a shame, really, because there are some cool parts of this game. The secret order and simultaneous movement could have a ton of potential in a different game. And the map is nice, too. But I don't ever want to play 2 de Mayo again, because I'm so dreadfully irritated at how hard it is for the Spanish to win. Take those cool mechanics and put them into a tactical game with a little balance to it, and I'm in. Instead, the Spanish player is going to finish every game waking up in the shower and wondering why his ass hurts.


Some potentially cool mechanics
Nice map of Madrid
Plays fast, and easy to learn

Unbalanced, unfair and unfun
Stilted, wholesale slaughter might make for great history lessons, but it makes a crappy game

For an unbalanced game that might actually be entertaining, I propose Carrot Top versus this guy:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Board Game Review - Legions of Steel

Last week I review Space Hulk, which is my new favorite game, and one of the finest games I've ever played. I spent years trying to run down a copy of the old version, and while I was waiting, I also was working to get an astonishingly similar game called Legions of Steel. If I couldn't get my sci-fi dungeon crawl one way, I would get it another. And so two months before Games Workshop announced that I could order Space Hulk, I managed to secure a trade for Legions of Steel.

When I say that Legions of Steel is a similar game to Space Hulk, what I mean is that the designers of Legions played Space Hulk, saw it making a ton of money, and said, 'hey, we could do that!' then made yet another space-combat-in-tight-corridors dungeon crawl game. Only to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit, they changed stuff.

The first thing they changed was that now, the bad guys had guns. And they weren't bugs any more, they were robots. And the corridors aren't in a huge floating space derelict, they're beneath the surface of the planet. And the good guys weren't space marines, they were commandos. So except for the guns and a few words, it was the same game.

But those guns make a world of difference. When you make the two forces roughly equivalent, it stops being a contest of strength versus speed, or maneuverability versus firepower, or quantity versus quality. Now it's more of an even contest, and you lose one of the most important features of Space Hulk - the claustrophobic, paranoid feeling that inhuman monsters are about to crawl out of the air ducts and chew on your head. Now it's basically a miniatures game played in a rat maze.

Still, though, miniatures in close quarters can be loads of fun, and while Legions of Steel completely fails in the originality department, it does succeed in being an entertaining game. It moves fast, has minimal bookkeeping, and manages to still deliver a very cool tactical tabletop gaming experience. Plus there are robots.

The basic mechanics are not all that different from Space Hulk, with some very notable exceptions. For one thing, the creators of Space Hulk realized that even in a fistfight, a gun is the weapon of choice for nearly anyone with a lick of sense. Instead of saying, 'OK, the bad guy is coming closer, so I'll put away my gun and pull out my sword, because that'll probably be way more effective than just SHOOTING HIM IN THE FACE,' the commandos don't even have close combat rolls, just a ludicrously good chance of hitting anything that gets close enough to stab them. The bad guy robots don't drop their guns to whip out kitchen knives, either, because they also have enough sense to know that a sucking chest wound is worse than a knife to the kneecap.

Legions of Steel also expands on the overwatch mechanic, by saying that any soldier who doesn't fire on his turn is automatically covering, and will get a shot before anyone who enters his line of fire. And if he doesn't move first, that soldier can lay down suppression fire, and really light up anybody he can see. Of course, most players will have the sense not to step into an intersection full of hot bouncing lead, so the suppression fire does more to block areas than it does to actually hurt people. Which is actually pretty cool, because that's what suppression fire does in real life.

There are a few other interesting changes - grenades, for instance, and a big robot with a pitchfork and a face like Scooby-Doo - but mostly, Legions of Steel is just Space Hulk, but both sides have guns. It's not the theme-heavy game you get with Space Hulk, especially because so much of Space Hulk is rules meant to enforce theme, and the rules in Legions of Steel are made to make a balanced, fluid game. But it is a whole big fat pile of fun.

The miniatures ain't bad, either, especially for a game from 1992. The commandos have cool powered armor and cool guns (except for the plasma gunners, whose weapons look like Dyson cordless vacuums), and the robots look like they just stepped off the set of a Terminator movie. The robot rottweiler with the giant salad tosser is a little silly, but this was the early 90s, so you gotta give 'em a bit of a break. They're not as cool as Space Hulk minis, but then, nothing is.

The tiles that make up the board tend to be a little less impressive than the miniatures, though. I mean, you do get a whole huge lot of them, and they're incredibly diverse, so you can make pretty much whatever twisted corridors and rooms you want. They're all fully illustrated, which was pretty cool in 1992. There are a few issues with black edges where there are supposed to be gray, or tunnels that don't exactly line up, and they're a little drab. Where Space Hulk has all these little touches - steam pipes, spent shell casings, floor grids askew - these tiles just basically all look pretty much the same.

If Legions of Steel had been made before Space Hulk, it would have been the cat's pajamas, and probably would have lasted a while longer. Unfortunately, the guys who made Legions of Steel were thoroughly unoriginal bastards. The game is really fun, with great rules for a cool gunfight in tight corridors, but it's got all the creative genius of a bowl of vanilla pudding. The commandos wear power armor and carry bolters, so they're just like space marines, but different (except not very different at all). The bad guys are killer robots who look just like the robot at the end of Terminator after Arnold loses all his skin and stuff. The backstory has all the brilliance of a pool of warm beer.

But originality isn't the only way to make a fun game, and Legions of Steel is a great gaming experience. I love Space Hulk, and I love Legions of Steel. They're similar, but the few tweaks found in Legions make it a very different gaming experience from Space Hulk, which means I have twice the amount of fun corridor-stomping to do, and can play whichever immersive, theme-heavy gunfest I want for a good long time to come.


Just like Space Hulk, except for being completely different
Great tactical contest, because the teams are pretty well balanced
Easy to learn, and plays pretty fast
Miniatures are mostly cool (except the ones that are dorky)

A few dorky figures
Mediocre art on the floor tiles and doors
About as original as a 'Got Milk?' joke

I don't have the foggiest idea where you can find a copy of Legions of Steel, but if you see it and you like gun-toting shoot-em-up games (you know, like men play), you should see if you can snag a copy.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Board Game Review - Railways of the World

I've heard of companies doing stuff like a retheme of a game to update it. I've heard of them doing straight-up reprints. But Railways of the World is different, because it's not a reprint, and it's not a retheme - it's the exact same game as Railroad Tycoon. If you already know whether or not you like Railroad Tycoon, I can save you some time, because this game and that game are the same exact games.

Well, OK, they're not exactly identical. Yes, the art is the same. Yes, the rules are the same. And yes, even the components are the same. Hell, the board is the same, except they took off all the scoring stuff on the edges of the board and put it on a separate track. They're different because the part of the game where you're competing for the Eastern United States has been sort of separated out, and called an included expansion.

See, when you buy Railroad Tycoon, you just get a whole game. But when you buy Railways of the World, you get the same game, but this time, part of it is called an expansion! Now that's a deal! Because if they didn't include an expansion in the box, they would have to call it Railways of Nowhere In Particular, because there would be no place to build railroads and it wouldn't actually be a game at all.

Now, in all fairness, there is a little more in Railways. Namely, there's Mexico, because we've all heard about the rail barons who fought and schemed to build track and haul goods in Mexico. The tales of the cutthroat tactics of the Mexican rail barons will go down in history as stuff that nobody ever heard of because it happened in Mexico.

Anyway, this is a train game, no matter where you play it. There are a bunch of cities, with the bigger cities given a color, and the little ones start out gray. There are cubes on the board that tell you what kind of business is there, and the cube colors match the city colors (sort of - the blue cubes are the same shade as the purple cities, which can be fairly confusing). You build track between cities, and you score by delivering cubes to their matching cities.

One cool element is that everyone starts flat broke. In that way, it's similar to my personal finances, except that in Railways, you can issue bonds. I can't issue bonds, because I'm so broke that I'm a credit risk for a peanut butter sandwich. These bonds haunt you the whole game, which creates an interesting thing where you have to decide if you trade quick cash for long-term debt. The best players manage to get by without spending too much, while the less patient players often wind up wondering why they never have any money (until someone who is good at math points out that they've been accumulating debt like Imelda Marcos buys shoes).

Limited actions and limited money force players to make tough decisions - a long piece of track might have the potential to pay off later, but if it means too much debt up front, it may never end up paying for itself. A short piece of track might generate income now, but can you afford to let your opponent grab the route from Chicago to Des Moines?

When you add in the special cards, the game gets really interesting. Like if you can connect Chicago and New York, you're going to get a huge score boost - but since you can only build one link a turn, you have to leave two links open so that someone else doesn't swoop in at the last minute and steal your win. But if you can manage to pull the 'take two actions' card, you could build those two links at the same time, as long as you can win the bid for first player and swipe that card before someone else gets it.

I'm not a huge train gamer. I wouldn't join a train game club, because I fear these would all be people who are very proud of themselves for not liking games where people die, and who wear berets and smell like clove cigarettes. But I do really love playing Railways of the World. It has virtually no luck, and unlike many European-style games, there's a staggering amount of interaction with your opponents. It's a very smart game, which is no surprise, really, when you consider that it's a Martin Wallace game.

Now, I don't know Martin Wallace personally, but from what I've seen, he is two things: 1) A genius, and 2) a jackass. Since that second one has virtually no impact on me whatsoever, I choose to be delighted to play his games. He's smart as a whip, and his games are fine-tuned and just a whole hell of a lot of fun. If you're looking to stack up bodies and blow up cities, you're out of luck, but if you want a nail-biter of a competition with brutal interplay and critical thinking, he's going to deliver.

I know I kind of bashed the game for the first three paragraphs, but there's a damned good reason this isn't Railroad Tycoon any more - expansions. I also have Railways of England and Wales, which lets you play the same game in a different place, and there's Rails of Europe, which came out a year before the base game (yes, it came out before the base game, technically as an expansion for Railroad Tycoon, but with a different name because Railroad Tycoon was licensed from someone else, and also that second thing about Martin Wallace). The new format allows you to add in expansion maps and expansion rules seamlessly, and it's actually a very valid upgrade, unless you already have Railroad Tycoon and just don't really care if you can play a super-basic version in Mexico.

I'll probably sell my copy of Railroad Tycoon, because it's completely redundant now. But I'm keeping Railways, because we've been playing the hell out of it at my house. It's great fun to play a game where I can be ruthless, but my daughter doesn't try to kill me as I sleep because I blew up her capital city with tactical nukes. The player who can think long-term, identify winning strategies and manage timing with patience and quick wit is almost certainly going to win, but that doesn't mean nobody else has fun. I love it, my daughter loves it, my wife loves it, and my son only plays games where stuff explodes (so three out of four ain't bad).

If you already have Railroad Tycoon, you don't need Railways of the World. You can play all the expansions with Tycoon. But if you don't, and you aren't sure which to buy, Railways of the World is an excellent choice. It's got all the tough choices and quick thinking of the original, but compartmentalized to mesh perfectly with any expansions you might bring to the table. I wouldn't recommend this game to anyone who likes to see a body count, but I love it.

It might be a good idea to keep in mind that I also love Agricola.


All the great components and rules from Railroad Tycoon (because it's the same game)
Really tough choices that almost always have a powerful impact
Almost no luck
Requires planning, patience, and quick wits
A huge amount of interaction, especially for a game with no violence
Very fun

Might not be that exciting if you're a theme junkie
No reason to get this if you already have Railroad Tycoon

If you've got a pile of money sitting around (it's $75), you can get Railways of the World right here:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Board Game Review - Space Hulk

Quick note: A couple weeks ago, the people at Fortress: Ameritrash showed that they have really bad judgment by inviting me to have a weekly spot at their site. So if it seems like you already read this review today, it's because it was there this morning. And here it is at this site tonight. What's the Internet coming to? Does nobody have standards any more?

Since I started reviewing board games, there have been only a handful of really momentous events in the world of nerd. One was HeroScape, which wasn't as momentous as it was a big deal to me, because I got really into that game and enjoyed the hell out of it for a long time. Another was Risk: Black Ops, which had the unpredictably cool effect of creating a valuable collectible item out of a game that you could get at Target for twenty bucks.

And then there was Space Hulk.

For those gamers who have been living in caves since the late eighties and subsisting on a diet of slow-moving crickets and government cheese, Space Hulk was one of the great big hits from the early days of serious hobby gaming. The original game was published twenty years ago, and was so much fun that it became one of the most difficult collectible games to obtain without selling a kidney (note to anyone considering kidney sales: the kidney you sell does not necessarily have to be your own).

And then it went away, and you couldn't get it any more. You could hope to find some old version laying around, but good luck with that, because I have wanted one for more than ten years, and still haven't been able to pick it up. Sure, there are copies on eBay, as long as you want to part with a car payment, but there's no game on the planet fun enough for me to drop four hundred dollars (that's not entirely true - I could probably be persuaded to pay that much for a game if it came with a considerable amount of sex. Space Hulk sort of comes with the opposite of that, however, and is therefore not worth that much to me).

And then Gaming Santa Claus decided Christmas should come in September, and just like that, Games Workshop has republished Space Hulk, and in the process, created a mess of hype so deep you'll need a full-body condom to wade through it. So then everyone is asking, 'so, is it worth it?'

This one is easy - hell YES it's worth it. It's worth every freaking penny of the solid C-note I had to drop to have it delivered to my house. It's so much fun, I have lost sleep - not playing it, even, just lying in bed and thinking about how much fun I have been having playing the game.

Let's start with the rules and stuff and get to the jaw-dropping pieces a little later.

Once more, this next part is for those hermits who have only recently come out of their mountain lairs and signed up for internet access. Everyone else pretty much knows how Space HUlk works. You've got a small team of total bad-ass killers - the Terminator Space Marines - and they're loaded for bear. They investigate a giant floating space wreck and find that it is overrun by the nastiest little aliens since, well, Aliens - the genestealers. These beasties can't shoot guns, but they're faster than greased lightning and twice as deadly. What happens next is one of the most exciting bouts of gory violence you'll ever act out on a game board.

The boards are all modular. They sort of puzzle together to make these cramped, claustrophobic corridors that are ideal for a horde of slashing monsters to run through a team of space marines like a razor through a sheet of wet toilet paper. Different missions require different boards, and the space marines seem like they ought to be behind the eight-ball every time.

But they have something the monsters lack - guns. And most importantly, they have a game mechanic that is so excellent that it has virtually redefined tactical squad-based gaming. They have overwatch. They can sit at the end of a long corridor, train their weapon down the tunnel, and open up a can of hot steel whoop-ass so deadly that the clawing freaks get mown down like tall grass. They'll run, the marines will shoot, and the bugs will die.

Well, most of the bugs will die. But there's a seemingly endless supply of the little blue psychopaths, and they can afford to throw their lives away by the bucketload just to overheat the marine guns, wait for the inevitable jam, and then overpower through sheer force.

The balance is fantastic. Sometimes, the marines shouldn't have a prayer - but they can heat up the ol' flame gun and cook a room full of genestealers like a giant bug zapper. They can open up with the autocannon and chew the bad guys into little greasy blood spatters. And should the genestealers get close enough to sample their aftershave, several of the marines are armed with power swords, chainfists and lightning hammers powerful enough to slap the stupid right off those ugly mugs. The real joy of the game is seeing a team of outnumbered marines fight their way through a roiling storm of monsters, losing cohorts as they go, and then pull out a last-minute win at the buzzer.

So the game is fun. I mean, really, really fun. It would be more fun than nearly anything I've played in a long time, even if I were playing it with paper mats and cardboard chits. But I'm not playing with paper mats, and these sure as hell aren't cardboard standup figures. These are the sweetest plastic miniatures I can ever remember seeing in my life. Forget Rackham. These puppies have set the new solid-gold bar.

Every Terminator is in a different pose. They have chains swinging, guns blazing, and swords swinging. And the genestealers are just as varied (though there are two of each model) - they're climbing walls, bursting from the floor, or just scuttling. They're standing on the skulls of the dead, clambering over ruined pipes, or leaping from girders. It'll make you cry, but you know, in a good way. Not like End-of-Ol'-Yeller cry, more like Sox-Take-the-Pennant cry (assuming, of course, that you're a Sox fan).

And the board isn't just pretty. Yeah, the art is fantastic. It really looks like the inside of a battle-torn space station that barely has enough power to maintain a seal. But to turn this up to eleven, they embossed the tiles. It's impossible to describe how much fun it is just to set up the game and look at it on the table.

I can't hype this game enough. I could talk about it for hours on end (and if you ask my co-workers, I've done that too much already), and still not convey how much fun it is to play Space Hulk. I can't imagine ever trading or selling my shiny new copy, especially once I get the figures painted. But here's where Games Workshop shows why we hate them so much - it's been out less than a month, and it's already sold out almost everywhere. Why would GW not make enough for everyone? Because they suck, is why.

So, OK, you can't get a copy unless you go to eBay. But I've seen copies on eBay only a little over what they should be worth, so there's every chance you could pick one up from a scalper. If you do, you won't be sorry. There's a reason I've wanted this for over a decade, and it's the same reason that I'm not disappointed now - Space Hulk is awesome.


So beautiful
Edge-of-your-seat tactical battles
Atmosphere so thick you could pour it on your pancakes (which would then taste really gross)
Remarkably balanced despite the huge disparities in team strengths

You'll lose sleep over this game
You can't even buy it any more - and it's been out less than a month

I know, you get down here and you're looking for a link to where you can buy this game. But I just said it was sold out everywhere. Aren't you paying attention? Maybe you can join this guy:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Board Game Review - Dust

My least favorite kind of review to write is one where I didn't hate a game enough to tear it to shreds, and didn't love it enough to rave about it. Because when I review a game like that, I can't make jokes about monkey poop, and I can't get all wild-eyed about how wonderful it is. I'm always afraid that mediocre games will lead to mediocre reviews. And for that reason, I've decided to build a running gag into this review of Dust, which is a world-domination game that is not bad, but also not good. The running joke will be Michael Dukakis.

One of the reasons I wanted to play Dust is that it is a game based on a comic book drawn by one of my favorite artists, Paolo Parente. I first saw Parente's work in Doomtown, where he made all the art for my favorite cards. He's got a great over-the-top style, and he has a tendency to draw every woman like she was a supermodel with breast implants who is freezing to death, even if she's wearing a fur coat in the middle of the Sahara (in case you're either too young to understand that, or just a little naive, I mean all of Parente's women have gigantic nipples threatening to tear right through their shirts).

But he's not much of a game designer, which in this case is fine, because he didn't actually make the game, just the comic book. Dust is a game where various superpowers battle for mystical alien power sources that can be used to power up their mechanized tanks. It takes place in an alternate version of the 1940s, where an alien power source ignites a world war, and results in a lot of people being naked (at least, that's what happens in the comic. There's no naked in the game, unless the other players take off their clothes).

Basically, Dust feels a hell of a lot like Risk, but it takes a lot longer to play. Sort of like how Dukakis would have been an astonishingly viable candidate, if the only other candidate was a college student in New Jersey. There are some cool things working - battles are fast and brutal, and a good strategy will take you a long way. There are some important card choices, a lot of good counter-tactical maneuvers, and some downright brutal player elimination possibilities.

If Dust had come out before the new Risk (and it may have, but I don't care to look up publishing dates, so just pretend I know what I'm talking about), it might have been pretty impressive. Rather than ending after twelve hours in a last-man standing scenario, Dust finishes when one player accumulates enough victory points for everyone to go home. You get victory points by controlling power sources, so most of the game centers around these critical battles, and lots of times, entire areas are left completely empty so that players can throw more troops into their fights.

Every turn, each player chooses a card that determines player order, how many times that player can move and attack, a special ability for the turn, and how much you can spend on new troops. Choosing this card is really important - choose poorly, and you'll be sorry, I promise. Choose well, and you may still be sorry, because someone at the table probably spent way too long choosing a card, and the rest of you have started to discuss last night's television reruns, and moved onto reality TV before that one guy actually flips up a card so everyone can play again.

There are several places where Dust is just like Risk, only different. Like, you can chain your attacks, so you can hit a place, beat it down, then hit the next place, and so on. Battles are huge roll-offs that result in massive casualties. Strategic control of certain areas can get you more guys on your turn. There's a lot of Risk in Dust.

But unlike Risk, where you just go, 'I get ten guys', you have to buy troops at the start of your turn. This can take a while, and since the player before you probably stomped a mudhole in you and completely screwed up whatever you had going, you can't really do this part ahead of time. That means that everyone else is bored while you sit and do a little accounting. Kind of like a Dukakis campaign speech, only without the math.

And when you do finally get around to taking your turn, the interesting part is over so fast, you'll be wondering what happened, even if you did it yourself (I could make a crude joke about having sex with Michael Dukakis, but I think everyone will be happier if I just let that sleeping dog finish its nap. I know I will). You move a couple times, you fight a couple times, and your turn is up. After you spent five minutes picking out a card and five minutes buying tanks, it's a bit anticlimactic to blow through your whole turn and be done playing for the next half hour.

I am exaggerating the downtime in Dust - but not by much. When I played with my family, my wife got up and did laundry after her turn was over. This sucker can really drag, despite having a whole lot of really cool tactical and strategic chops. It's unfortunate that a game with so much promise turns out to be kind of boring due to the overwhelming amount of time you'll spend sitting on your hands. It's like how the Harvard-educated son of a Greek immigrant who served in Korea could get on television and seem like the most boring man alive.

I didn't hate Dust, but I certainly won't play it again. I have Risk: Halo Wars calling to me, and Risk: Star Wars, and Risk: Black Ops, not to mention the fantastic Risk: 2210. Dust seems like it could be renamed Risk: Boring Game With Big Boobs. If a panicked moment makes me thing it would be cool to play Dust again, I'll just read the comic book and then play Risk.


Lots of cool tactics and fine-tuned strategy
Very neat card-based turn limiters
Fun art by one of my favorite illustrators

Way too much downtime
Could have been a contender, but wound up boring... sort of like Dukakis

If I haven't talked you out of it, and you just have to have a copy of Dust, you can get one from my good friends at Dogstar Games. Even if you're not buying Dust (and I applaud you for that), you should buy games from Dogstar Games because they sponsor this site and let me write the reviews you want to read. Here's the link:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Special Update - Hilarious Fan Mail

I get hate mail. That's not a surprise - I'm a dick. But it's usually so inane that it's barely worth mentioning. It's certainly never worth a special update.

Until now.

Apparently, some Australian knuckle-dragger took issue with one of my reviews and took me to task for not owning a copy of a game that costs more than a used car. Also, he had some bad timing, because he wrote me when I was having a relatively crappy day. So to entertain myself (and you), I've decided to use this review site as a means to be unforgivably horrible to someone who has irritated me.

WARNING: There's some bad language to come. It's very creative bad language, but there's a pretty good amount of it. If you don't want to see some profanity, you should probably go read something else.

Still here? Good for you, you filth-minded bastich. Let's dive deep into what it looks like when I have a cranky day.

Here's the email that got it all started:

You reviewed the warcraft adventure game and said it was all runebound but done badly. Man you need to review Talisman by Games workshop. That was way better than Runeclown ..er I mean Runeblood. And it had 10 customized expansions with it. If you are going to recommend a game from a genre like fantast/rpg then recommend the best one to play, not just one YOU like. Be objective dude and we will listen to you.

I admit that I was not in a particularly friendly mood, but let's be honest, if you're going to write me something this ignorant and tell me I'm not objective, you've got an ass-kicking coming. Sadly, this puddle-jumping Dundee ass-clown is too far away to get a standard beating. I may not be able to use sticks and stones, but I manage to make do with words. Here's my reply.

I haven't played Talisman, jackass, but thanks for writing.

Short and sweet, I think, with little room for ambiguity. Apparently, he had not read the rules. He appears to be under the mistaken assumption that he can tell me how to write my reviews, and have me reply with a polite, 'gosh, I'm sorry.' If I don't let Fantasy Flight tell me what to write, why would I let some dick weasel from Down Under write my reviews for me? I would not - but he didn't think that was very nice, so he wrote back.

Then play it before you recommend something else. Bigger Jackarse. No thanks for replying

First - is 'jackarse' an Australian thing? Do you say that when you ask people if their babies were eaten by dingoes? Who the hell says jackarse? And second, why is that capitalized? Hell, why are those two words their own sentence?

(I would like to point out that I did not copy this wrong. Apparently he was so overwrought that he forgot that last period.)

And while we're at it, do you have a copy of Talisman you wanted to send me? Because they're a tad hard to come by, especially if you want me to review First Edition. It's not like they're just going to send me out a review copy. It's out of print. While you're making unreasonable requests (and getting pissy about my reply when you do), why don't you ask me to review a Ferrari? Because again, you'll have to send it to me.

So this is where I make with the cussing. If you have tender ears, I recommend skipping past this part completely.

Fuck off. Like I have time to play every game on the planet. And while we're at it, if you don't like the reviews, don't fucking read them. I owe you two things - jack and shit. And I'm not sure about jack.

OK, I may have been a bit harsh. Not that he didn't deserve it, but I was a bit harsh. But seriously, you want to read my reviews and then get your shorts in a twist, and write me out of the blue and demand that I play 26-year-old board games that I can't even find on eBay? And you want me to be polite when I reply? You're not being remotely realistic. You are, however, entertaining me, especially with this hilarious reply:

That’s what ill do then idiot. I won’t read them. Ill make sure this reply goes in my blog on reviewers of which you have to be the dirt of the barrel. If you don’t want to receive emails about your reviews then TAKE DOWN THE STATEMENT THAT YOU WANT PEOPLE TO. And you’re right you don’t owe me anything. But I would rather be a jackarse than a dumbarse which is what you clearly are. Welcome to /ignore

(name of douchebag deleted)
(location) United Gaming Group
World Gamers Guild

I was going to leave the name of his group intact, but while I do so enjoy roasting the stupid, I don't want anyone burning down his house. Anonymity is important on the internet. It allows us to say things that would normally get us punched in the face. Like, if this buttface dingbat had said this to me in person, he might have been punched in the face.

Anyway, this just gets better and better. By now, I'm grinning ear to ear and laughing to myself at the horrible things I intend to say about this guy's ancestry and animal porn addictions. Like dirt of the barrel - is that another Ozzie thing? Bottom of the barrel - I know what that is. But dirt of the barrel? Vanna, can I buy a vowel?

I have to say, I'm so amused that he put his credentials in his email. He didn't before. He just wanted me to know how many people were going to hate me now. I suspect both of his cousins will take my site out of their RSS feed immediately. Because when I lose the support of a game group in the ass-end of noplace, I'm looking at the beginning of the end.

And I never said I didn't want to get these emails. I love getting these emails. I just can't understand why anyone would be dumb enough to send them. Honestly, stupid, you're about to be a laughingstock on four continents. You can welcome me to /ignore; I welcome you to the worldwide walk of shame. Here's me approving your application:

Ooh, you have credentials. I don't fucking care.

You're a glutton for punishment. If someone tells me to fuck off, I have the sense not to write them back.

And I love getting emails like this. I'm having a shitty day, and you're just making it better. I love telling retards they can stick their heads farther up their own asses and break 'em off at the neck. So stick your retard head farther up your ass and break it off at the neck, you slack-jawed semi-literate fuckwit.

You want me to play Talisman - you have a copy you're going to send me? I play the games I have. I can't play it if I don't own it, can I? But feel free to complain. God knows people who actually do something catch enough flak from lazy armchair-quarterback scabs. Don't write me and tell me I'm not objective because I haven't played whatever lame-ass game you love unless you're ready to live with the response. What the fuck did you think I was going to say? 'Hey, thanks for writing me and telling me how to do my job'? I've done this for ten years. You're not even the most obnoxious basement-dwelling cave nerd I've ever have the pleasure of berating. You're monkey league, dipshit. You caught me on a bad day, or I wouldn't even waste my time on you.

Please do publish this response. Publish all of them. While you're at it, get it tattooed on your forehead, so that when people get stuck in a conversation with you, they have something interesting to look at.

I cannot imagine getting a response like this and ever wanting to write back. Do you just not get enough abuse? Are you addicted to feeling bad about yourself? Because it's not like I can't find the time to call you names. It makes me happy. It gives me a warm feeling inside. And it helps me forget that I just quit smoking.

Apparently, he does not get enough abuse. Apparently, my new friend wanted more. So he wrote one more time (I guess he wasn't actually ignoring me that first time).

You’ve wasted 10 years giving bullshit advice like this?..lol..and you call me a monkey leaguer?..lol..at least I get paid to do what I do and I don’t care if your having a bad day or not. Don’t want criticism don’t write bullshit. And as for Talisman, if you’ve done this for as long as you say you have, you know the game came out in the 80’s and cost over 1000 bucks to buy now since it is a collector’s item. And your right, I’ll never respond to you again...lol. you aren’t worth the energy it takes to send this . And it wasn’t meant as a berate it was a suggestion. And as for being a basement dwelling cave nerd? Who plays boardgames and gives a review of them? You do that’s who nuff said. I’m sure you get plenty of dates to discuss each game ..hahah. Typical american to go off and put down what you don’t understand. Thanks for reiterating exactly why the rest of the world think all of you are wankers. Put that in your semi-literate pipe and smoke it. Don’t bother responding again because it’s on block. Arsewhipe.

First point: When you type 'lol' after you say something you think is witty, not only do you look like an eighth grade girl with a new cell phone, but you kind of sound like you're doing that desperate laugh people get when they're trying to keep their blood pressure from blowing out a vein in their foreheads. And I think that's awesome.

Second point: I don't give advice. I say what I think of games. Why anyone would take my opinion of a board game as advice is beyond me, but I wouldn't recommend taking any of this too seriously (though it is obviously too late for our Down Under brother).

Third point: I think you may have hit the nail right on the head about Talisman. It's out of print, lackwit. It's not like I can just dial them up and ask for a copy. Your parents must be real proud, moron, because not only are you a self-entitled asshole, but you're dumber than a bag of cat farts.

Fourth point: If I'm not worth the energy required to send your reply, why did you? Do you just sit around with your thumb up your ass (probably scratching your ears) until you find a good reason to write something?

Fifth point: I think my new fan is a budding lyricist. I think he could send this line to Katy Perry, and she might make it into a really catchy pop song that she could perform in her underwear for ten thousand people:

'you do that's who nuff said.'

My God, man, you're making this too easy. If you're going to send me everything I need to embarrass you in public, at least make me work for it a little. Have some pride, for crying out loud.

Sixth point: Does anyone understand what he meant by 'putting down what I don't understand'? Do they teach this retarded pap in grade schools in Australia? I have friends from Australia, and they don't seem to be this developmentally disabled, so I think it's just my new rubber-helmeted cyber-stalker quoting lines from South Park.

Oh, by the way, fellow Americans - this new guy thinks you're all wankers. Sorry about that. Also, sorry for using a word as silly as wankers.

I think we've all learned a lesson here. Well, OK, I haven't - I intend to do everything pretty much the exact same way I've been doing it. And obviously our new friend (whose literacy deficiency is probably the result of being raised by koalas) has learned very little, including English. And you probably just learned that I'm not a very nice guy, but it's not like that would be a revelation. So maybe we haven't learned anything, and just had fun laughing at someone else.

That's enough for me.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wacky Game Review - Igloo Pop

Looking back over the last few reviews, it seems I haven't had an out-and-out failure recently. I think it's time I fixed that, so tonight, you can read all about Igloo Pop, and read why you should not play this game if you're old enough to read this site. Hell, you should not play this game if you're old enough to read, period.

First off, let's discuss the most developmentally challenged theme ever put onto a game of nearly any kind. The story of the game is that a giant goes shopping for fish sticks, but forgets how many he was supposed to buy. So he picks up igloos and shakes them to see how many fish sticks are inside. But instead of chunks of breaded, frozen seafood, little Eskimo kids roll out and tell him how much fun they are having.

I did not make that up.

It's as though the designer polled a room full of kindergartners right after he gave them all too much cough syrup. So just to understand - the giant is so stupid that he thinks a native Innuit village is the frozen food section? And then he shakes the houses, and instead of falling out the door screaming in pain and bleeding from the bones sticking through their major organs, these incredibly hardy children laugh and ask to do it again. I can't believe I'm supposed to buy this. The Eskimo kids got hit in the head, not me.

Ah, you say, but what about the game itself? Surely I should be able to separate the game from the theme, and judge the game play on its own merits. And so I shall.

In Igloo Pop, everyone grabs little plastic igloos stuffed with little plastic beads and shakes them to figure out how many beads are inside, then puts them on cards that show the number of beads they think are in their plastic igloos. There's a number on the bottom that tells you how many are inside, so you can check later and see if you were wrong - which is convenient, because you probably were wrong. You get points for being right, and you lose chances to shake igloos if you're wrong. So you probably won't get many points.

The problem is that the beads are really small, and it's nearly impossible to tell if there are four beads or eight. Forget about telling the difference between four and five. And God help you if you're trying to decide if there are ten or eleven. You play until you run out of cards, or until someone says, 'wait, what the hell are we doing? And where are my pants? Which of you douche nozzles drew on my face with a permanent marker?'

Obviously, this is a game for children. Probably children who were shaken inside igloos by a giant who thought he was in a walk-in freezer. So maybe kids could get behind this stupid game. Not my kids - they're old enough to use the toilet (technically, they're teenagers, so they're old enough to foul the toilet, but not old enough to keep it even remotely clean afterward). Sadly, I don't even know any kids young enough to test this game - which is really not sad for me, if I'm being honest. It might be a big winner with the daycare-after-preschool crowd, but I don't know, because I really can't stand kids that small. They're almost always ill-behaved (except yours - your kids are amazing. Everyone says so... as long as you're in the room).

I want to write more about Igloo Pop, because this is a really short review. But the problem is, that's all there is to the game. How would you write a review of rock-paper-scissors? It would be tough, right? I bring that up as an example, because this is like reviewing a coin toss, only in this coin toss, it's likely none of you actually wins.

I've heard from people who like this game. I don't see how, and I will be donating it to the local church-run preschool because I can't even be bothered to store it. But I have heard that there are adults somewhere who find this amusing. I don't want to meet those adults. And in the future, I need to be more careful when I request review copies.


Probably an entertaining game for young children
Exceptionally nice components

Beads are so small, I can't tell if I'm shaking six or a dozen
Game doesn't make any sense
A brain-dead giant destroys a village and mutilates children, and they turn it into a kids' game

OK, no, I didn't like Igloo Pop, but I'm telling you, someone does. If you're one of those people who does like this game, you can get it here:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Card Game Review - Warlord CCG Learn-to-Play

Let me start off this review by calling some attention to the title. This is not a review of the Warlord CCG, because I don't actually have enough of the Warlord CCG to tell you enough about it to be useful. I have a Learn-to-Play set, which includes two pre-built decks and a twenty-sided die. So rather than try to tell you if the Warlord CCG is worth your money, I'll try to help you decide if you want to spend twenty bucks on 100 cards, and then you can find out yourself if you want to play Warlord. If that seems a little convoluted to you, then you're not as dumb as you look.

I like collectible card games. I admit to being a sucker for Magic when it first came out, then Doomtown, and now I get a huge kick out of the World of Warcraft card game (despite the fact that we never use the cards for character classes we don't play). So when I talked with the guys at Phoenix Interactive at GenCon, and saw their game, I wanted to try it. It has fantastic art (though that sort of goes without saying - collectible card games without great art tend to die faster than compact cars at a monster truck rally). It has a cool, fast play style that lets it move quickly and keep the action at a breakneck speed the whole time.

But I didn't know how to play, which is a common problem with CCGs. You usually have to wade through a rulebook thicker than the NFL bylaws before you can build your first deck, and then you have to actually build a deck, and you probably don't have anything worth playing because you probably just got a starter and a couple boosters and everyone knows you can't build a deck out of that.

Of course, lots of CCGs have an intro deck, and Warlord is no exception. This Learn-to-Play box has two decks with 50 cards each - one player is the elves, who are bad guys, and one player gets the monsters, who are also bad guys. My wife was a little irritated when she discovered that the elves are bad, because she doesn't like to play bad guys. I don't care, though, so I took the monsters and she pretended her elves weren't necromantic supervillains (no, that does not mean they do the nasty with corpses, it means they RAISE corpses to do their killing for them. Whether they get horizontal with the corpses after the fight is entirely up to your imagination, you sick freak).

Unlike a lot of collectible games, though, the rules for Warlord are fairly easy to grasp, and pretty darn straightforward. There aren't all the 'if this happens, that happens, unless this other thing happens, in which case the universe spirals into a massive paradox and the game ends on account of galactic apocalypse' scenarios. In fact, the rules for the starter are printed on one sheet of paper, and the rules for the full game aren't all that much longer (I downloaded them to see what a critical failure meant).

The goal is pretty simple - you each have a warlord, and you each have to kill the other player's warlord. The warlord tends to be a total bad-ass, but he starts at the back of the pack, so he's probably not good for much right off the bat. In front of him you have some second-stringers with some decent chops, and in front of them there are a bunch of cannon fodder guys who fall down more than a brain-damaged cat on hallucinogenic kibble.

As the game progresses, the body count escalates really fast. You try to bring out new guys, but the best fighters start the game at the back, and then get sleepy as they make their way forward. So you have to balance your desire to grab every hardened killer you can find and your need to have some meat shields out front.

The game goes really fast - like, faster than most CCGs. You stack up bodies like cordwood, and then someone runs out and gets killed. There's more to it than that - action cards and items, for instance - but eventually it comes down to one guy getting a face full of kitchen knife and the game ends.

From what I've seen of it so far, Warlord is a lot of fun. I mean, there's a lot I'm missing - like I have a wizard, but no spells, and some of the text on the cards refers to stuff I can't find in the single page of rules - but it is a pretty cool little skirmish card game. It's over before a whole lot happens, but there are some cool chained moves and tricky plays that make it a more intelligent game than, say, YuGiOh (feel free to throw a fit, YuGiOh players - your game sucks. Nothing I can do about that).

Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks, but I think the drawbacks have more to do with the starter set than the game itself. For one thing, the decks don't seem to be very balanced. We played six games, and the monsters flat-out ate the elves like fruit jerky every single time. I mean, it was never even close. Floods of tough melee fighters chewed through those tree-hugging Robin-Hood-wannabes so fast they couldn't blink. I had guys in my front row with some good staying power, which let me bring in my really tough killers from the back. It stopped being fun after like the fourth time I just stomped a mudhole in my wife's elven punching bags.

And talk about luck! Every time you swing, or shoot, or even just try to avoid getting poisoned, you're rolling the d20. What that means is if you're rolling for crap that day, you're not going to be able to hit the marksmanship roll, so you won't be able to target one row deeper, and you're probably going to miss anyway because the dice gods hate you. One of the reasons the games weren't closer is that my wife apparently sucks at rolling dice, and would miss time after time, until she claimed the die was rigged. I pointed out that I was rolling the same die, and doing pretty well, and she threw it at me. So that didn't work out very well.

The die-rolling luck wouldn't be nearly as bad if you weren't faced with the same problem that plagues nearly any card game - getting screwed by your own cards. If you desperately need a good archer, and you repeatedly draw a hand full of worthless actions, you're going to spend a couple turns with your face in a meat grinder. It doesn't take very many bad draws to get so far behind that your best bet is to tell your warlord to run away, real fast.

So I'm a little on the fence about Warlord, all things considered. The deck balance doesn't bother me - if I get more cards, I can build what I want. But the luck factor can really get old, and I don't like to play a more competitive game and then lose to the whims of a polyhedral hunk of plastic. Of course, I don't actually know if all this stuff works out, because like I said, I only have the Learn-to-Play deck. I can't try any deck-building with this starter set, which is kind of a bummer because I really want to tweak both decks. I think the elves could be a lot tougher with more front-row cannon fodder, and I think the monsters could do better with a different set of weapons. Plus I would love to see what happens with the spells.

My hesitant verdict is that Warlord is a lot of fun. In fact, it's fun enough that I'm going to do what I always do when I want a game - go find the publishers and beg for more like a bum in a bus station, only instead of saying, 'Gimme a dollar!' I'm going to pretend I'm actually professional. Hopefully they won't read this review first.


Easy to learn
Gets you into the game after just a few minutes
Plays fast, so you can try it a few times
Really gorgeous art
Lots of tricky maneuvers, long-range planning and difficult decisions

These decks don't seem balanced at all
The luck factor is higher than I dig in a card game

If you want to see if the Warlord CCG is up your alley, you can get a Learn-to-Play set right here:

Monday, September 7, 2009

Expansion Review - Formula D Expansion Track #2

I love Formula D. It's one of my favorite games of all time. I just totally dig the fact that a game where I'm using dice and a gigantic game board can feel like I'm screaming around corners, burning rubber, and smoking my brakes in a hell-bent-for-leather crazy race for the finish line. Plus it's awesome when people crash.

The problem is, I want to race different places. And since the boards aren't modular (and really couldn't be), that means I need more tracks. But the tracks have to be interesting, or they're really just more of the same. I need variations in corners, really tricky technical turns, and hopefully a nice long straight road now and then to get into sixth gear (I kind of wonder why they ever put rules for sixth gear into the game in the first place - in the 50+ games of Formula D I have played, I have seen someone roll that 30-sided die exactly once, and it was me, and I crashed because it's almost always stupid to shift into sixth gear).

Plus the new Formula D (as opposed to the old Formula De) has these really cool street racing rules, and they're awesome, so I love to get new places for my adrenaline-junkie wannabe-felons to break traffic laws and endanger innocent pedestrians. The best tracks for street racing are the city streets where you get intersections and bridge jumps and tunnels. And I want lots of them. Official racetracks are boring if you want to blow off red lights and run from the police.

Unfortunately, if you primarily dig the street racing rules in Formula D, the latest expansion track isn't going to help you at all. The first expansion had Chicago, which was awesome and reminded me of playing Midnight Club (don't feel bad if you didn't know what that was - it's a video game. Not all my time is spent on high-brow snobbery). Expansion track #2 has two official tracks meant for professional race car drivers. There aren't even any special rules for crazy spots on the track.

But even if the new tracks aren't great for illegal night races, they're still good tracks. In fact, one of them is awesome, and will almost certainly claim the inexperienced driver. The other is also great, especially if you're teaching people the game for the first time.

HockenheimRing is the first track, with some very nice straightaways and no seriously difficult turns (trivia: it is also German for 'I have something in the back of my throat. Could I get a glass of water?'). Most of the turns on this track are rated at difficulty 1, with only three 2's and no 3's. Plus there's at least one straight piece where you can really open up and haul ass. It's a great track for teaching people, because there aren't too many places where a halfway sensible driver can burn out his tires, and you'll be able to show the newbs how much fun it is to pass each other in fifth.

The flip side of Hockensumdamthing is Valencia, and right off the bat, it's way prettier. Part of the race is on roads built over the ocean, and another part goes through a construction site, so it's not like looking at an aerial photograph of Texas Motor Speedway (another way it's not like Texas Motor Speedway is that you can't see any drunk women so fat you can read the innapropriate slogans on their t-shirts from outer space. Also, there are no ads for pork rinds or watery beer, and nobody shows up in an RV converted into a swimming pool by lining it with trash bags and filling it from a gas station water hose).

Valencia is a very tricky race. The first two turns are going to require a little forethought - you may want to drive up to them in a low gear so you can take off in fourth, because then you've got a comparitively long difficulty 2 turn right before the longest straightaway in the race. You have to be careful - you don't want to blow out your tires, but if the next driver can exit in a higher gear, he's going to blow past you like you were driving a Segway. The rest of the track is just as tricky, and the better driver (and luckier) is going to win more often than not.

Obviously, as a somewhat experienced Formula D player, I prefer Valencia. But it's not like I have to pick - you get both in the one package. So the question really is, should you get this expansion in the first place? To help you decide, I've created a quick quiz:

Question 1: Do you own Formula D, and do you play it a lot?

Question 2: Do you prefer the original rules to the crazy hijinks of the street racing rules?

Question 3: Do you have a combover?

If your answers were Yes, Yes and Yes, then you should get this expansion track. Also, you should roll the windows up if you're going to drive fast, or it will blow that ridiculous flap of hair straight up until you look like you have a hair-shaped arrow sticking out of the side of your head. If you answered No, No and No, then I wonder why you're reading this review in the first place, but at least you're not sporting a silly haircut.

If you're only looking for good street racing tracks, get Chicago. These two tracks are for serious drivers in serious cars. But if you dig a good technical race, one that forces you to drive like you had a pair, you're going to love Valencia. And if you want a forgiving track that lets you enjoy the game with new players, Hockenbooger is a great pick.

And if you really think pushing one long piece of hair over that bald spot is fooling anyone, you're delusional.


One great track for beginners
One excellent track for skilled racers
More variety is better

No new street racing map makes little Baby Jesus cry

If you're getting good and bored of the maps in Formula D, and want some fresh meat, you can get Formula D Expansion #2 here:

Friday, September 4, 2009

Card Game Review - Bacchus

I think game designers are finally starting to listen to me. Usually card games get themes with stuff like buying art or swapping real estate. So when someone finally decides to make a game about pimps getting trashy porn stars to show up at orgies, I have to think someone is reading my reviews and realizing that the best games feature loose women.

I'm referring to Bacchus, which you may have guessed from the title of the review. In this game, you're trying to get scantily clad nymphs to show up at parties, probably so they can get drunk and whip off their clothes. I mean, the parties are officially called bacchanalia, which as anyone knows, is a Roman word for a 'crazy naked shindig.' There are three different parties - there's the Tri-Delt sorority kegger, there's the John Hughes house party, and there's the Hugh Hefner stuff-of-legend blowout. Bunnies at the Playboy Mansion are worth a lot more than drunk co-eds at the freshman pledge party.

Tramps come in five colors. Satyrs try to get these loose women to attend the right parties, and at the same time, they try to get the most control over the best earners. For the most part, they do this by using action cards to shuttle girls to their destinations, or using satyr cards to just grab a couple Girls Gone Wild and adding them to their personal stable. Sadly, the game does not let you score any particular group just because your walking stick and fur coat match the colors in their dresses. Huggie Bear will be so disappointed.

The girls start off in five columns of hotties, and when you start moving nymphs, you take them from just one column on any given turn. So you have to choose the column that gives you the best return on your investment - if you're holding three green streetwalkers, you might want to choose the column that lets you move other green hookers to Hefner's house. If you think your opponent is going to get the most yellow, you might move the cards that send all the yellow girls to the lame college party, so that his earners are all snaggle-toothed meth addicts, and yours all do reality TV shows and get caught with senators in penthouse hotel rooms.

That's really most of what's going on here. You're playing cards to try to move women with low moral character to parties, and you're trying to get girls into your hand so that you can claim the score for particular colors. The pimp who winds up with the most nymphs in his hand of any particular color is the only player who can claim the points for those girls, so you can't really afford to get a little of everything. You'll probably only have a handful of cheap dames, so you'll want to specialize. I hear the chicks in pink are especially easy.

So it goes without saying that I like the theme. It's nice that someone has finally decided to make a game about the world's oldest profession. But while the idea of a card game about whores is awesome, the execution leaves a little to be desired. I played Bacchus several times, but I seem to be missing the part where your decision are particularly meaningful. There's probably a killer strategy in here somewhere, but I haven't found it just yet. And since I'm writing the review now, and don't have to play it any more, I probably won't.

See, more often than not, what ends up happening is that one playa (yes, I spelled that wrong on purpose) winds up with majorities in two colors, and that guy wins. It's hard to make that happen on purpose, and since you can occasionally steal from the other players, controlling a strong majority in anything is kind of a crapshoot. If you're competing with two other people for blue, and the last guy is quietly collecting all the orange and green, he'll probably end up winning, even if his girls all show up in mullets and cut-off t-shirts. You kind of have to pick a horse and back it the whole game, so you just have to hope you picked right. Changing strategies halfway through the game is probably going to leave you holding a big bag of jack squat.

I don't want to give the impression that I hated Bacchus. I mean, I don't want to play it any more, but it's not a bad game, exactly. Even if you give it a different theme (or just be honest and let it be the abstract it really is), it's still decent, and has room for a fair amount of critical thinking. It has a certain something. I'm just not entirely sure what that something might be.


Decent amount of strategy
A fair amount of decision-making
Pretty art and very nice cards
More hookers than an Amsterdam cathouse

Individual decisions don't feel particularly important
Guess wrong at the beginning of the game, and you're basically hosed

If you want a light, fairly quick card game that won't overtax your cranium, you can go here and pick up a copy: