I don't try to hide the fact that I'm not all that fond of the people who tend to get elected to lead our country. Our presidents seem to be less and less interested in disguising their corruption, and the wars in which we continue to find ourselves entangled seem less and less just. You can spout on about our global war on terror, but from where I'm sitting, Iraq had jack squat to do with terrorism and everything to do with oil and a vainglorious quest for a legacy.
But no matter how much I find myself disillusioned with the nation's so-called leaders, I find myself filled with pride and gratitude for the men and women who are willing to fight, die and kill to protect us. I may disagree with the Boss Hogg assholes who send them off to die, but I am a devout supporter of our military. I'm downright passionate about it.
And that's why, when school districts decide to make up snow days by having school on Memorial Day, I get pissed. That's disrespectful, if you ask me. You don't have to grow victory gardens. You're not on gasoline rations. We don't even have a draft. We are currently fighting two wars at the same time, and the American people have had to sacrifice absolutely nothing (you know, aside from the ones who died). American schoolkids are taught an ever-dwindling amount of American history, to the point that we leave out entire wars (yes, this is happening - I have two kids in public school, and I can tell you that their education is woefully lacking). And to further separate us from the fighting forces who sacrifice to keep us safe in our beds, local school districts have decided not to acknowledge Memorial Day.
This day should be sacred. Twice a year, we have three-day weekends and barbecues and pretend to remember why our hot dog wrappers are in English. Without our troops, your beer labels might be in French, or German, or Spanish, or maybe even Russian. Twice a year, we get the day away from our obligations, and we should be using that time to at least acknowledge the incredible sacrifices that have been made to keep us safe.
I'm not asking everyone to spend the day in somber meditation. That would be hypocritical to an extreme, since I had a bunch of friends over to play games all day. We grilled hamburgers and drank cold beer. We played Queen's Gambit, Summoner Wars, Dominion and Warhammer Quest. We watched a movie. In other words, we celebrated and had a good time. And we celebrated in honor of the people who are on the front lines, who starve and freeze and sweat, and shoot and stand watch and sometimes die, so that we don't have to go without.
What I am asking is that you remember why this day is important. I did have a good time today, and I don't feel the least bit guilty about that. Hell, that's kind of the point. We celebrate because we're grateful to be free. We celebrate so that we don't forget. We celebrate to remember that the reason we're able to celebrate is because so many others put it all on the line for us.
So if your kid is asked to attend school on Memorial Day or Veterans Day, politely inform the school that as you are a patriotic American, you will not be able to bring your kids to school that day. Because this is not just some random three-day weekend. This is the day we remember that there are brave men and women who gave everything they had to give to make sure that we have the option to get drunk and eat too many baked beans.
So raise your glasses and remember all the men and women who have fought for us. One quick toast, and you can go back to your inebriation and overeating. I hope you all have a wonderful Memorial Day, even those of you who may not be citizens of the United States. I know I did, and I am eternally grateful for that fact.
Friday, May 28, 2010
It seems a little odd to me that a game about history's most famous serial killing psychopath is a cute deduction game that's perfect for playing with the kids. Well, one kid - it's only a two-player game. But my daughter loves it (though she loves it a lot more when she's beating me) and doesn't mind at all that the goal of one player is to capture the world's most notorious murderer, and the other player's goal is to allow the bloodiest back-alley killer of all time to get away.
Mr. Jack in New York is the stand-alone sequel to Mr. Jack. The premise is that Gentleman Jack (an odd moniker for a man with a penchant for butchering hookers) has escaped to New York City, and now the police have to catch him. But Jack is a master of disguise, and so in order for the police to capture him, they have to identify which of the eight characters is actually the psycho in disguise.
If you've played Mr. Jack, you already know pretty much exactly how this game works. One player is Jack, the other is the police. The players take turns moving two characters at a time to try to expose The Ripper or keep him hidden. The game comes down mostly to a trial of elimination with a heavy dose of tactical maneuvers. At the end of a turn, if Jack is next to another character, or standing under a street lamp, Jack is visible. And if he's visible, the police character knows that all the characters that are not visible are not Jack. If he's in the dark, then the characters who are in the light are not Jack. And if he's completely invisible, then it might mean you're playing an HG Wells game or a cheesy Kevin Bacon movie.
To complicate things, every character has a special ability. Cloud Rider, for instance, can move through buildings, and Lewis Howard Latimer installs gaslights. Monk Eastman is a mafia boss who can make other people move instead of himself, presumably by making them offers they can't refuse. Captain Callahan moves the crime scene tape, which is only a special ability in this game, because in real life, that job requires less than a fourth-grade education.
With characters moving around, building parks and metro stations, throwing up yellow tape and moving steam ships, it becomes just as important to plan your move as it does to figure out what your opponent will do. Move a metro station to relocate one of your characters, and you might just let Jack have a clear run at the exit. You might move the snobby woman away from the ship captain just to wind up with the Texas Ranger next to her, probably making inappropriate suggestions and asking if she wants to touch his pistol.
As if all that wasn't enough to track, the addition of the sneaky informant can throw the entire thing into disarray. If the cop can get someone to the same space as the snitch, he can grab an alibi card, which will conclusively prove that one of the either people is not the bad guy. In a thematic twist, the mafia boss is not allowed to put concrete shoes on the snitch and drop him into the harbor, which would probably be far too violent for this game. Hell, Mr. Jack in New York doesn't even have bloody noses, let alone outright murder. That would be just tasteless in a game where you're hunting a guy who chops up prostitutes like he was carving steaks. After all, this is a family game.
Mr. Jack in New York has quite a bit more happening than its predecessor, and if you're not sure if you can handle the brain-freeze brought on by attempting to calculate eight different moves at once, you may want to start with the original. But if you're up to the task, and you like a little mental aerobics, the new version is pretty damned fun. It's not one that I pull out very often, but that's mostly because it's just a bit too cerebral for a late-night relaxation game. If it's an hour until bedtime and you're looking to unwind, this is not the game you're looking for. Try Dominion - I can play that when I'm so tired that I'm propping my eyes open with toothpicks.
The Mr. Jack games have proven immensely popular with the hobby gaming crowd, so it's not as though I need to make a steep case for them. If you like the first one, you'll like this one. If you like deduction games with lots of tricky maneuvering, this is a good pick. But if you like to shoot zombies, battle robots or hack your way through hordes of goblins, you'll probably be annoyed, because the theme is just an excuse. Me, I can play nearly anything - but I have to be feeling pretty smart if I want to take on Mr. Jack in New York.
Very smart game - smarter than the original
A great exercise for the brain
Neat pieces and fun art
Tough on the ol' think muscle
Dogstar Games has a very good price on Mr. Jack in New York, so if you're feeling clever, run over and give it a spin:
Posted by Matt Drake at 5:42 AM
Monday, May 24, 2010
The reviews I write tend to come in one of three basic flavors. Your first flavor is the bland vanilla, and it goes something like this:
This game was OK if you like this kind of thing. Here's a joke about boobs or the mentally handicapped.
My second basic flavor is the beatdown review. It reads a little like this:
This game is horrible, and the designer should be embarrassed. Now here's a dick joke.
The third flavor, and my favorite to write, is the Big Winna review. It's kind of like this:
This game is totally kick-ass, and you should buy it if you can. Boobdicktard.
Tonight's review is the third kind of review, the Big Winna review. Because tonight, I'm going to tell you about one hell of a fun game, one called Terakh, and then hopefully you'll all run out and buy a copy, assuming you can find it, which you probably cannot because it does not have US distribution and is currently only available in Canada.
Terakh is an abstracted wargame, sort of. It's played on triangle boards, and has people who kill each other. It has color and glyph coding for movement and effects, and you roll tons of dice. It's the kind of game that would translate famously to a video game I could play on my phone (that is a blatant hint to any Blackberry App developers out there - make more good games, and fewer tower defense games, because those SUCK). It's not terribly complicated, but there's still a lot happening all the time. Success requires attention to details, long-term strategy, and smart tactical maneuvers. A little luck won't hurt, either. OK, a lot of luck.
Each player gets six of the grooviest little prong-sided hockey pucks that ever got put in a game. One side of the disc dude has a stick-art man ready to hurt people, and the other side has the same stick-art guy hiding behind his shield (or it could be a different stick art guy - they all look the same to me). You position your wacky warrior pieces around your little triangle board, which has more triangles in a bunch of different colors. So far, this is extremely abstract. But when you add in the fact that the entire goal of the game is to kill your opponents and destroy their elders (which are four-sided dice), it becomes an abstract with a body count.
Each player also gets an idol token, which is a tiddly-wink that fits inside the prong on your disc dudes. When your warriors cap other warriors, you can put rubber bands on the prongs of the hockey puck sporting the tiddly-wink (those are technical terms, which I am using to make myself feel smarter). Those rubber bands make your idol tougher, which is especially cool because idols have all kinds of special powers, like ranged attacks and teleporting and stuff. So now you have a teleporting hero who hits harder than anyone else and can take a punch.
The reason those idols don't unbalance the game is because combat is a basic roll-off on an eight-sided die, and even if you're adding a bunch to your roll, if you get a 2 and your attacker gets a 6, your ass is dead. You only get one hit point on most guys, so this capricious luck factor (which I usually hate) actually ends up making the whole thing a little more balanced. Sure, you've got your Ultimate Fighting Champion, but he can still get smoked by a nerd with a pocket protector if the dice don't go his way.
There's a ton of different things to do in Terakh, but you only get five actions a turn, and some stuff costs multiple actions (like attacking) and some stuff is limited to elders or idols. You can spin the board where you elder is sitting, and you can teleport from the central purple triangles on each board. You may want to park some guys on blue spots, to use a particular spell, or you may want to crowd around the purple spot to keep a foe from bringing in his fallen troops. Then you've got cards with spells you can cast to totally manipulate the game, and while these cards mostly require you to have a guy on the right color, they're incredibly good at changing the outcome of the battles. In fact, the whole game can twist on a few cards and some really smart plays that nobody saw coming.
I think the main reason Terakh is a simply awesome game is the fact that it never gets to the point where you go, 'that guy is going to win,' because the other guy might be totally sandbagging and setting up a superior position at the expense of sacrificing a few of his hard-earned ass-kickers. You can take out nearly everyone on the other teams, be sitting with all of yours, and then lose because the other guys pulls a last-minute Hail Mary and ganks you without any warning. It's not luck, either - if you don't see those killer plays and the other guy does, he's going to make you pay.
On the topic of luck, Terakh is chock-full of it. People who hate leaving the outcome to a die roll are going to detest this game, because you could have your entire turn pissed right down the toilet because the dice hate you. And then your buddy could have a streak of luck so insane that you'll go from winning to sucking wind before you even realize what's happening. Me, I'm a big fan of dice, but if you're not interested in seeing some twists of fate that send the top dog to the bottom of the heap, you should probably pass.
One last topic deserves special mention. The pieces in Terakh are unique and really, really nice. I suggest you spin past BGG and look at some of the pictures of this game. Ender's Game, in particular, wrote a great picture review. The warriors are incredibly sturdy plastic, and the triangle board that you have to spin a lot have velvet on the back. Yeah, like an Elvis painting. The colors are bright, the rulebook is full-color, and the art is... stick figures. But whatever, it's worth owning Terakh simply to have a box of the wackiest components you'll see in a game. The only way to make these more unique would be to include a quart of motor oil and some Russian porn.
I seriously recommend this game. It won't be leaving my collection, and I plan to play it at nearly every available opportunity. It's fun, smart and tricky, with the kind of components that make you want to play the game. Do yourself a favor and check out this awesome indy game.
Fantastic component quality
Cool mix of theme and abstract
Triangle boards and dead bodies make it a man's abstract
Lots of strategy, great tactical plays and long-term strategy
More luck than many people will find acceptable
You can only get Terakh in Canada, which would suck if they weren't offering free shipping right now. Also, the game is ridiculously underpriced, so it's like you're robbing them. Here's a link. Go rob them.
Posted by Matt Drake at 7:39 PM
Sunday, May 23, 2010
As many of you are aware, I own VixenTor Games, which makes dice towers and other gaming accessories. We're considering launching a new product line, and we need a little help. I've heard these 'give something away already' grumblings, so I'm killing two birds with one stone here.
Run over to the VixenTor Games website and read the front page news story, then click the link and take the survey. You'll be entered to win fifty bucks store credit (enough for a deluxe dice tower), and you'll be doing me a solid.
Run over to the VixenTor Games website and read the front page news story, then click the link and take the survey. You'll be entered to win fifty bucks store credit (enough for a deluxe dice tower), and you'll be doing me a solid.
Posted by Matt Drake at 5:02 PM
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Regular readers may have picked up on the fact that I like games that have what polite women sometimes call 'hoochies'. The harem in Dominion: Intrigue, for instance, is one of my favorites, mostly because it features scantily clad females who have a lot of sex. After reading the rules for Feudo, I decided that I liked at least one element of this game before I even played it, because one of the units each player controls is the seductress. She's actually called 'milady', but since all she does is knock boots or give men diseases, I like to think of her as a trailer-park porn queen.
If the main goal of the game was to get horizontal with cheap floozies, Feudo would actually have a lot going for it. And this 'milady' thing is such a dominant part of the game that it definitely does make it more interesting. It's kind of like chess meets a wargame, but with hidden moves and the plague. But it's also a little bit Puritan, because it's really in your best interest to avoid getting close enough to let the other guy's tramp get her hooks in your leader. Before you know it, she's producing a dress with stains on it, and he's telling lies to Congress.
Each player in Feudo gets the same batch of units. Mostly, they're all soldiers and knights, but you also get a baron (who is a bad-ass on wheels with a weakness for easy women) and milady (the afore-mentioned trollop). At the top of each turn, everyone picks which units they'll move that turn, and whether they feel like paying them to work harder. Then you take turns moving the guys you chose, and you try to take cities and kill people to earn big points. If somebody gets too close to your trampy dame, she'll run right up and bed their leader, and the whole army will sit around with their thumbs up their asses, wondering if he's ever coming out of his tent, and whether he might not have the clap later.
To add a little mayhem, you've also got the plague running around the board. Get too close to an infected city, and all your guys will start calling in sick to work. Let your floozie get too close, and she'll be able to transfer her bad fortune to the enemy. Basically, all his guys will need penicillin shots, and it will burn when they pee.
Since fights are won or lost based entirely on the point values of the troops involved, you're not likely to see someone trying a desperate, against-the-odds maneuver. There's a little luck in where the plague goes, but winning or losing Feudo will be based mostly on using your head and playing smart. Keep your horny baron away from the cheap lay, use your power where it will do the most good, and spend your money when you can really use the edge. You can't do a lot, so you have to make it all count.
So Feudo is a fairly smart game with hookers and a body count. So what I can't figure out is, why don't I like it? It seems to have all the ingredients for awesome, and yet it just kind of falls flat. There seem to be some unbalancing elements, too - the whore will always seduce the baron, if she gets close enough, and then that player essentially misses his entire turn, creating one hell of an advantage for everyone else. The plague can suddenly wind up right in the middle of your concentrated power, and the next thing you know, you're too weak to pick up the TV remote, much less go kill things. And since you only get a few units for the whole game, going toe-to-toe with another player just opens it up to let the other players grab cities and then kick you from behind while all your guys are facing the other way.
I hate to criticize a game with easy women and killing. It seems to go against everything I believe about games. But even when games do include sex and violence, they still need to be fun (especially when there's sex and violence, it should be fun. Why else do we go to the movies?). Feudo seems like a pretty smart game, and while it doesn't completely fail, it never really succeeds, either. So whether or not milady is wearing a T-back thong and stripper boots, I'm still not going to play this game again.
Highly tactical and very strategic
A very small amount of luck means skill is a greater factor
Relatively easy to pick up and learn
Whores and war
A few unbalancing factors
Not really all that interesting, which is odd because it's a fairly well-designed game
You may be reading this and thinking, 'well, Drake didn't like it, but I still might.' So here's a link to buy it. Knock yourself out.
Posted by Matt Drake at 3:09 PM
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
I often make cheap sport of Reiner Knizia because so many of his games are overly simplified, but I must admit that when it comes to making games, fewer rules is generally better. OK, two rules is usually a little weak, but the overall idea here is that less stuff to track makes a game easier to play. Reiner takes this principle to the highest level possible, and thus manages to ruin hundreds of otherwise mediocre or boring games and turn them into complete garbage.
I bring this up because I recently played Tempt, and it suffers from the exact opposite of the Reiner Knizia problem. It's probably a somewhat common issue among self-publishers - you're the creator of the game, so you're hesitant to chop stuff that seemed like such a good idea at the time. I mean, if you spend two months coming up with a cool new cleaner to get bloodstains out of carpet, the odds are good you're going to hang on to it even after you give up hiding bodies in your trunk.
Tempt starts off really cool. You're competing for three areas of the kingdom, represented by three stacks of cards. You'll build columns of cohorts as your armies, paying the costs for these warriors by sacrificing the limited actions you get every turn. So far, so good.
Then we add in the warrior types. Executioner warriors, for instance, can kill a minion on the other side, while fearmongers send them running for the hills. Build a column with just militia cards, and they'll be even tougher. These abilities add a ton of strategy, because while it might help you take the third column if you added the minotaur there, it could hurt you in the long run when you dilute your militia bonus and never even get to scare off one of your opponent's cohorts.
So we're still doing pretty well, not too simple, not too messy, and then we get to the chanter powers. Each card can be tempted into play as a chanter, and not sit in a column at all, and instead use the special power on the card. These special powers are fairly straight-forward, and many of them have long-term benefits that can give you one heck of an edge.
The game is starting to get a bit top-heavy now. Between tracking costs, strength, discard value, special powers and unit types, you may be approaching the upper limit of crap you can track in your head. But as long as we're here already, let's add in one more thing - temptresses. These are six cards that you'll divvy up between yourself and your opponent. Every turn you'll probably have different temptresses, because you dump one, pass five, choose one, pass four, dump one, pass two, choose one, pass one. Seem complicated? It is. It's also unnecessary - why not just shuffle and deal two to each player? And while we're at it, why are these here at all?
The temptresses provide global abilities that you can use throughout your turn, like cheaper cohorts or the option to get some of your guys back from their military formations. The problem is, the abilities aren't impressive enough to justify the additional complication. They're sort of cool, but they're also easy to overlook, because there's already too much happening.
One extra note - I really wish Small Box Games would sell enough to be able to pay artists. The art on these cards varies from boring to hilarious. For some reason I don't pretend to understand, all the pictures of the cohorts are faded back, so that they're really hard to see. Actually, I might understand it - if the art you have is this bad, you probably don't want people to see it. Which makes me wonder why you would bother in the first place - just skip the art, if this is as good as it gets.
The glut of extra options in Tempt is, in the end, what keeps it from being a really awesome game. It's still fun, but it's just too much. The temptresses are cool, and the chanter powers are cool, and the cohort types are cool, but together, they're too much. It's like having three girlfriends at the same time. It seems like a great idea, until they find out about each other and start burning your Molly Hatchet albums and crushing your beer-can pyramids.
With a little surgical slashing, Tempt could be made into a tight, tense, exciting game. All the ingredients are here for a good time - it's just that there are more ingredients than you need. I like scotch, ranch dressing and ice cream. Just not all at once.
Neat interactions of abilities
Very strategic game play with bits of long-term planning
Plan your turn, but be prepared for surprises
Unfortunate artistic decisions
Too many elements clog down an otherwise pretty cool game
Small Box Games is pretty bad-ass. I may not be in love with Tempt, but it's still worth a play. Get it here:
Posted by Matt Drake at 6:19 PM
Monday, May 17, 2010
Every now and then, you'll see one of these silly interview questions that asks something like, 'if you were stuck on a desert island, what three games would you want to have with you?' I always thought that was kind of a stupid question - my pick is going to be whatever game includes canned food and a satellite phone, because frankly, if I'm stranded at sea, the last thing I'm going to do is break out a game. For one thing, we're assuming you're there with a handful of friends, in which case your first priority should be making spears in case your fellow survivors go all Lord of the Flies.
But let's assume a less dire scenario. Let's pretend you're packing for a trip with an overnight stay in some one-stoplight backwater with nothing but a crappy motel and a gas station attached to a Subway. Let's further assume that, since you're traveling, you don't have a ton of space for games. Let's take it one more step and assume that you're going to have a lot of time on your hands and two or three road companions who, rather than knocking back some beers and watching some motel porn, want to play games.
In this scenario (which is not only less disastrous, but also a great deal more likely), you might want Pocket Rockets. Before I continue, I must mention right off the bat that the name of the game is not a euphemism. You may have heard the phrase, 'I've got a rocket in my pocket', which generally means you would very much like to have some sex. The name of this game does not refer to that. It's actually just a game that you can fit in your pocket, and it happens to be about building rockets. There are no dick jokes intended.
The game is incredibly easy to learn. There are six stations that allow for six different actions, like building rockets or changing the direction of movement. You have to move around between the stations, drawing cards with pictures of rocket parts (still not a euphemism for anything). Then you go to the rocket-building station. Then you go to the launch pad and fuel up your rocket (OK, that one sounded pretty questionable, but it still doesn't refer to anything nasty). You go around for a few turns, drawing cards and building your rockets, and when all the fuel is claimed, the game is over and whoever has built the best rockets wins.
Despite being a pretty simple game to figure out, it's still clever enough to be fun. You won't be able to build a seriously long-term strategy, exactly, but you'll have to plan your turn pretty well if you don't want to waste a lot of time. You have to make the most of the cards you can get in a hurry, and you may want to sacrifice one move in order to score another, better move later. If you've been driving all day and just want a good way to unwind after you finish dinner and before you fall asleep, Pocket Rockets can be a great way to finish out the day.
It's not just for road trips, either. While the diminutive size does make Pocket Rockets an easy game to shove into the corner of a backpack, it's also a quick, fun game that can fill twenty minutes. I tend to find the term 'filler game' a little condescending, but in all fairness to the term, you're not going to call people over to play Pocket Rockets. For one thing, if they don't know that it's a game, they might think you're making a pass at them, and that could be uncomfortable. For another thing, there isn't enough game here to plan an evening around playing it. But once you do schedule that big game, and you're waiting for the rest of your friends to show up, Pocket Rockets can keep you from having to engage in small talk, and allow you to socialize without all that messy conversation.
I wouldn't say that Pocket Rockets is the kind of game you want with you on a desert island, mostly because nothing in the box is edible. But if you happen to shove it into a shirt pocket on the way out the door, and then your plane goes down with a couple buddies and you somehow manage to make it to land without soaking your shirt (and thus ruining the game), I suppose you could do worse. Ever try to put Cosmic Encounter in your pocket? It won't fit, unless you have absurdly big pockets. And as an added bonus, you don't have to worry about the possibility that your friends are too dumb to play - this is an easy game, light on the brainpower but engaging enough to keep you occupied. It's basically a great travel game, or the perfect game to play while you're waiting for that game of Dominion to finish so you can all jump into Last Night on Earth.
It is not, however, a dick joke.
Easy to learn
Easy to play
Finish in 20 minutes or less
Tricky moves and clever plays, all in a package that will fit in your pants
Not particularly deep
If you want a nice travel game at a dirt cheap price, look no further than my friends at Dogstar Games:
Posted by Matt Drake at 7:56 PM
Saturday, May 15, 2010
So much for theme week. I was considering doing three heavy games this week, but then I got to Friday and didn't have anything else that would hurt your head. In fact, the only game I have ready to review right now is a party game for children or inebriated grownups. It's called You Robot, and it's only slightly sillier than that 'Honey If You Love Me Smile' game we used to play in eighth grade as an excuse to sit close to a girl.
You Robot will not allow any opportunities for physical contact, but there is a certain amount of goofy party fun. It's kind of like playing charades, but instead of moving your hands and making faces to try to get your team to guess 'Swiss Family Robinson', you'll use three double-sided cards to get your teammate to point to his head.
Everyone playing is split into teams. There are rules for an odd number of people, but the best rule for this case is that one person has to leave. Then one person from each team becomes the crazy teacher (I didn't make up that phrase, it's in the rules) and the other is the robot. The teachers all look at a card that will tell them what they have to get their robots to do, and then they wave the cards around until one of the robots does what it shows on the card.
There are two things that make this a little bit interesting, instead of Down's Syndrome charades. First, the varying poses are actually somewhat interesting. You might have to make your robot clap, or talk on a phone, or stand on one foot. Sure, that's still pretty special-ed dorky, but some of the poses are difficult enough to be fun. There are no pole-dancing or oral sex poses, because this is a party game that seems intended for children, but I'm personally in favor of an adult version that includes nudity and maybe some dry humping.
The other thing that makes You Robot a little clever is the hand of cards you use to instruct your robot. You can't make faces, move your hands around or say anything, but you have one card that shows the whole body (so you can point to the leg), one that shows an arm, and another that shows arrows. The arrows can be turned to tell your robot to lift his arm or lower his chin or call Child Protective Services (that last one would take a few extra steps). A few other cards give more specific instructions, if you can get your robot to understand what you're trying to say.
My kids are teenagers, and they loved You Robot, and even begged us to play more. My wife and I were unfortunately sober, and we thought it was really dumb, and so refused to indulge them. But if you consider the fact that the kids are still young enough to think stupid things are fun, it makes sense. They also pretend to hate ball pits, but drop them off at Chuck E Cheese when there's nobody else around, and they'll pretend to be killer whales for hours.
Despite some cute, whimsical art and a somewhat innovative premise, You Robot held no appeal for me whatsoever. But if you're trying to entertain a room full of awkward teens at a church lock-in, you could do a lot worse. Because teenagers only think something is dumb if nobody else is doing it.
Kids seem to like it
Like charades, but with a backwards twist
Cheap, small and portable
Up to 10 players, so you can occupy a bunch of kids at once
Most adults will read the rules, then be too embarrassed to admit they took it out of the box
Dogstar isn't carrying You Robot, but you can find it cheaper than used dirt at Funagain:
Posted by Matt Drake at 1:01 AM
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
I've done theme weeks in the past, where I reviewed three games with something in common. This week's theme appears to be 'slow and complicated.' Maybe I should tack Through the Ages onto the end. Too bad I did that one already.
Today's slow and complicated game is EVE: Conquest. It's based on a video game (strike one) and is published by White Wolf (strike two). Yet somehow it still manages to hit a double. Not a home run, certainly, and if you're playing with two people, it's a humiliating strike-out, but get four people around the table who want to spend some time creating extraordinarily long-term strategies and planning out every nuance of a thoroughly complex chain of events, and you'll wind up having a good time.
The board is this giant map full of star systems with inhabitable planets, and you'll all be trying to grab up territories and claim political power. The thing is, at any given time, only a few of those planets are worth anything. You have to surround a planet to build an outpost and exert a little political influence, and in order to score, you have to put outposts on two planets that are important right then.
This slightly complicated idea is further muddied by the fact that, on any given turn, you can only do one kind of thing. You have three different markers for development, production and logistics, and each one has to be scheduled. You don't just go around the table in order - you have to put your marker four months out, and when it comes to your turn four months from now, you'll be able to build some troops. You won't be able to send them anywhere, mind you. For that, you have to wait another two months for your next logistics turn. And if you want to grab nearby unclaimed territories, you have to wait another month after that for your development turn.
To make matters even more difficult, there are three levels of turns, and you have to allocate resources to upgrade them. An upgraded production turn takes longer, costs more, and yields a whole hell of a lot more troops, which, as I mentioned a second ago, you can't use until a logistics turn. You have to plan when your turns will occur, and you have to look at when your opponents will have turns, and you have to guess where your opponents will play and defend those areas while creating a long-term strategy that involves timing your turns to maximize the benefits of each. Between turns, you can build a Hadron Super-Collider, because that's going to be a little less involved.
At some point, you're going to run up against an enemy. Someone at the table is going to have a planet you want, or you're going to need to stop them from expanding any more. Assuming you've got a logistics turn, you can take a bunch of soldiers (which you placed earlier, on a production turn) and invade. But this isn't Risk - you don't just roll three dice to his two and count losses. You pick from a bag of 15 dice that come in three different flavors, and if you have spies on the enemy planet, you might get to find out what your enemy picked. Then you roll, and compare tactical results, hits, shields, and any extra effects if you play some cards. Even fighting is complicated, which is not like real life, where fighting is basically five seconds of frenetic activity followed by six months of braggadocio.
And to be seriously anti-climactic, once you attack one time, the fight is over. If you didn't kill everyone, you'll just have to wait six months and attack again. I did mention this isn't Risk, right? So you also can't take one planet, then use the survivors to hit the next one. You can attack once, maybe twice in a turn (assuming you've got two guys in position), and then you're done. Hope you didn't spend too much money on that move (unless it worked).
The end result of all this high-minded planning and strategy is that the game is slow, but very deep. There are so many different decisions that even on a simple turn, you could spend five minutes puzzling over which outpost would be best suited to receive a couple reinforcements. With all the different planets you could grab, cards you could play, turns you could upgrade and fortresses to reinforce, you'll be tired when you finish playing. This is another big fat burrito of a game.
Apparently, the creators of the game were not satisfied with making complicated rules. Because just knowing how to play is complicated, but actually getting through the game is incredibly difficult, thanks to some design decisions that appear to be made solely to confuse and irritate. For instance, you have to surround a planet in order to claim an outpost there, but since adjacency is determined by slim white lines, it's not hard to miss one and think you own a planet, and then notice three turns later that there was one line extending halfway across the board, and since you didn't ever put a soldier on that planet (probably because you didn't even know it was there), you shouldn't have grabbed that spot in the first place. The map looks like a spider web in a wind storm, and it's not at all difficult to get lost.
Color schemes are another problem. There are four colors of players - white, blue, red and gold. Each player has three turn markers - blue for development, gold for logistics, and red for production. So my question is, what color-blind asshole thought it would be a good idea to make the turn markers the same colors as the players? Because I'll look over at the planning calendar and think I've got a turn coming up, but I don't because while the next turn is blue, it's the red player's blue marker, not the blue player's gold marker or the gold player's red marker. Would it have killed someone to use purple?
These aren't the only design problems that plague EVE, but they're the biggest. We could talk about the outpost colors, or the giant plastic poker chips (presented in pastels right out of 1986), or the cards that don't seem to do what they ought to do (why are production cards only useful during a logistics turn?). All the incredibly poor design decisions in this game mean that what could be a thoughtful, smart game tends to dip into violent, frustrated profanity on an overly regular basis, as players discover that they have, once again, made the wrong move based on some little thing they missed. It makes the whole game more difficult to play, and when the design gets in the way of the game, that's a travesty.
If the producers and visual designer for EVE: Conquest had done a better job, this could have been a really cool game. As it is, it's a good game, with the right crowd, and it could be fun. But it's sloppy, cumbersome and more complicated than it needed to be, and that means that you should only buy this game if it really sounds like just your thing. Otherwise you'll be trading it away, and since I already have a copy, you won't be trading it to me.
Long-term planning is critical
Fun, if you like this sort of thing
Ridiculously bad design decisions make it harder to play than it should be
Longer and more complex than it should be
Not pretty at all
If you just have to have a copy of EVE: Conquest, you can get it here:
It is NOT worth what they want for it.
Posted by Matt Drake at 9:28 PM
Monday, May 10, 2010
It's my opinion that games with backstories should build on those themes and bring them to life. Like, if I'm playing a spaceship game, I want it to feel like I'm flying around the dark space between planets and blowing up asteroids, and if I'm playing a farming game, I want to feel like I have a boring, menial job. I think that's why I like Carson City so much - it really lets you feel like a cowboy settling an Old West town, especially because everyone knows that cowboys and settlers did immense amounts of math in their heads and that nobody ever died in gunfights.
A person unaccustomed to European games might not understand the story of Carson City very well. If you grew up on John Wayne matinees and Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns, you probably have a completely skewed idea of the American West. Carson City sets this story straight. For one thing, your cowboys don't die if they lose gunfights. They're deader than Elvis if they go to work, but gunfights are only scary if you win. And for another thing, every good scholar of the Old West knows that the main skill critical to a cowboy's success was the ability to add long strings of numbers in his head.
This brilliant execution of theme is accomplished by simulating the development of the town of Carson City. You'll start with a rather mountainous area and one single house that designates the middle of town, and you'll buy mines and ranches and roads and guns, and the town will grow right in front of you.
Every turn you get a set number of cowboys who will go to work for you. They will run out and claim land deeds, grab the rights to build hotels and churches, train with guns, or just play poker. There are nearly twenty different actions a cowboy can take, and the first part of every turn consists of placing your cowboys to tell everyone else what you hope to do that turn. If someone else really wants to do what you're doing, they can send a cowboy to shoot your cowboy in the face, which would be a lot worse if that bullet to the head was actually bad for you.
After everyone has placed their cowboys, you go through and let your cowboys go to work. Once your cowboys finish the tasks you've assigned them, they die, because shoot-outs are not hazardous for your health, but showing up at the office will lay you out cold. Good thing you get more cowboys every turn, because the mortality rate in Carson City is insane. I can't believe you ever manage to persuade new people to sign on, because every time one of them does what you tell them to do, they wind up in a pine box.
There are so many things to do on your turn, and so many properties available for purchase every turn, and so many places to put those buildings, that it can be really difficult to figure out what to do on your turn. You may want to get an egg timer to accurately represent how hard it was for real cowboys to make up their minds. And since very few of the actions are simple, you'll have to balance five or six different things in your head just to decide whether or not to build a saloon. For example, since the saloon earns money based on adjacent houses, you probably want to put it close to a house you own, and since it has to be on a road, you'll need to buy roads, and since someone else wants the good supply of roads, you'll need to buy the extra guns, only now you only have one cowboy left, and you need to claim the land, so maybe you can accept the loss of the roads, because you need one cowboy to go stand in the middle of a sandy plot and put a 'SOLD' tag on the for-sale sign. And that's an easy turn.
Yes, the lives of cowboys were fraught with complexity, and Carson City brings it all to life. To further represent the diverse characters you might meet in Carson City, you'll have to choose personalities to help you out on your turn. The cavalry captain raises more troops, while the banker raises lots of money. The Chinese worker can buy cheap buildings, and the settler grabs free land. These personalities, when used properly, completely alter how you play, and add yet another level of complication. If you really want to grab the only bank, you may want the sheriff so you can go first, but if you're about to score massive coin for your chain of drugstores, it might be a good idea to take the grocer.
With the dizzying array of decisions to make every turn, Carson City is not a game for the mentally weak. If you like a fast game with a high body count, you probably ought to consider some other distraction. But if you like to ponder multiple dimensions of strategy and tactical placement for hours at a time, just like real cowboys used to do, Carson City might appeal to you. And if the mind-twisting array of choices becomes too pedestrian for you, you can ratchet the whole thing up a notch by playing one of the multiple variants included in the rules. Is the wide-open playing board too simple for you? Flip it over, and add a river! Are you getting bored with the competent sheriff? Play with the variant characters, and now the sheriff gets his ass shot off every turn!
OK, so the theme in Carson City took too many illegal left turns for me to sign off on the story, but I still love the game. It's extraordinarily difficult to master, really tough to learn the rules, and requires Herculean mental gymnastics to play well. It's fun, but it's absolutely not a light game. If checkers is a mouthful of cotton candy, Carson City is a three-pound steak-and-shrimp burrito. It's good and satisfying, but it's not easy to finish.
Incredibly deep strategy
Extreme planning required to play
A great mix of tactics, planning, strategy and nimble play, plus a lot of reading your opponents
Really fun, if you like lots of thinking
A little slow
Tough to learn
Doesn't really feel like a game about Old West towns and violent gunfights
Dogstar Games has Carson City. It's not the new one from Eagle Games, though - it's an import. Same game, though, as far as I can tell:
Posted by Matt Drake at 8:05 PM
Friday, May 7, 2010
I used to play a whole lot of roleplaying games. I played everything from small-press rags to big-dollar productions, and I played Dungeons & Dragons more than anything else. It wasn't my favorite, really, it was just that it had more modules and stuff, and everyone knew the rules. Sure, I would have rather played Deadlands or Blue Planet, but when everyone around you plays D&D, you either play D&D or you play online solitaire. And I did love to play D&D, so that worked out.
That was a long time ago, though, and I don't play many roleplaying games any more. I discovered at some point that the greatest danger in D&D was not that you might end up worshiping Satan, it was that it made it harder to get laid. I might break out D&D with the kids if they're bored on the weekend, but for the most part, those days are past. I still get a little nostalgic about it now and then, though, and so when I heard that Wizards was going to do D&D Scape, I was pretty excited.
Turns out, not everyone was with me. I was amazed at the angered masses who were furious because Dungeons & Dragons was going to wind up hip-deep in HeroScape (or the other way around, depending on who you're asking). To me, this was more HeroScape, and best of all, it finally addressed my greatest concern with the game. For years I've been getting less interested in HeroScape because of the bizarre, rather silly theme - I can only pit elves against robots and superheroes so many times before I start to see it as an exercise in tactical positioning. The story element disappears along with my suspension of disbelief, and then it's just too dry to eat up all my spare time.
But now, the story is back, and it's better than ever. I know a bunch of you may be in the 'D&D ruined Scape' camp, and I can understand that, but for me, this is like a Red Bull to the brain stem. I'm suddenly excited to play HeroScape again.
To understand what makes D&D Scape so great, I'll start with what doesn't. For starters, the new figures are cool, but that's not the hook. If I really want the figures that badly, I can always just go buy the D&D Minis. That's all these are, unfortunately. They just ran down some of the D&D prepaints and popped them onto a HeroScape base. That really feels a little cheap.
It's not the new price, either. Sure, the D&D master set is cheaper than the original, but it's not hard to see where they saved the money. You get eight dice instead of twelve. You get less than half the terrain, and only a third of the figures. It's 25% cheaper for half as much stuff, and in case numbers confuse you, that sucks. I can sure see why long-term players would feel a little rooked.
And it's not the new terrain types, either. The only new terrain pieces are dungeon, shadow and stalactites - and those are exactly the same sculpts as grass, water and icebergs, but now in shades of gray. You could create every piece of terrain yourself from the buckets of stuff you already own, using just a couple cans of spray paint and an ink roller.
With all these shortcuts and cost-reductions, it's not hard to see why the die-hard fans might feel a little misused. No more metal-winged angels fighting zombies and minutemen, no Vydar in this box or even the next wave, and the value you used to enjoy when you opened a master set dropping right down the toilet - these are good reasons to be pissed. You can't build big armies, because you don't have enough figures, and you can't build big maps, because you're short on tiles. Plus there's a common squad in the box... but just the one. So you have to buy a bunch more. Up to this point, you may feel a little like Wizards just showed you a giant dildo and said, 'here, hold this in your ass.'
But when Erevan blasts the advancing troll with flaming death, and the drow elves quit laughing and gape in horror as their greatest ally goes up in smoke, you won't be telling your friends about the exciting story of how you rolled double skulls three times in a row and left your opponent with all his order markers on the dead guy. You'll be shouting about how that one elf sorcerer ran pell-mell to escape the bloodshed as his compatriots fell like wheat, and then turned on his attacker to blast that evil troll into ashes with a last-minute attack of desperation. You're suddenly not seeing skulls, shields and wound markers. Now you're seeing dark caves and magic spells and ferocious dragons. Now the game turns into a story.
And that's where D&D Scape redeems itself. Classic HeroScape is a fantastic game, but it rarely felt like a story to me unless I built theme armies like werewolves versus vampires. It was tough to really drop into the game, or experience the immersion I used to get from a night of Dungeons & Dragons. Now, when your last surviving hero leaps atop the rocky outcropping and succeeds in beating back a host of dark elves, you'll celebrate his victory, not his die-rolling. You need smart play to win, but now you have a tale of heroics unfolding as you play.
It's not just the consistent theme that makes this work, either. The new master set includes a campaign feature that lets you keep surviving heroes from one battle to the next, and instead of building huge outdoor maps, each fight is a room in a dungeon. Sure, you can still just draft a 500 point army and battle across some uneven ground, but I could do that before. Now my fights have a purpose outside placing third in the local tournament. Now I'm fighting to stop the spread of evil!
For the old-school fans out there, D&D Scape will work just fine with the classic version you know and love. Points are balanced, figures have cool powers, and there are lots of great ways to make your people work together. Strip out the story and the license, and this is still HeroScape. It's just that now you don't get as much for your money.
I'm certainly not going to try to talk you down if you hate D&D HeroScape. I can think of lots of reasons that the execution of this set was a disappointment. I'm not going to attempt to convince you that you're wrong - but I'm still incredibly happy this happened. Because for the first time in a year or two, I'm really excited to play HeroScape again.
Story! Theme! Consistency!
New terrain types and treasure glyphs add a lot to the game
Connected games make you feel like you're telling a continuing saga
So many shortcuts to save money might make you feel a little abused.
I'm going to have to take a cattle prod to Dogstar Games to get them to list the new D&D Scape stuff. It's like passing on free money.
Posted by Matt Drake at 11:59 PM
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Educational games have a long history, and most of it involves them being boring and preachy. They are usually designed to make children learn things whether they like it or not, and so actually being fun pulls a far second place to being chock full of knowledge.
Riches & Rascals follows this storied lineage as if there were a formula. It is immensely educational, but sadly, it is not a good game. However, since it is most likely to appeal to grade-school teachers attempting to make inattentive fifth-graders remember some modicum of world history, it is good that the part of the game that imparts knowledge is exceptional.
The game does not look like it should be dull. The board is huge, hand-illustrated, and beautiful. There are dozens of tiny counters indicating things like dead cave men and scarab beetles, plus some big ones for stuff like the invention of the wheel. These are supposed to be placed on corresponding pictures all over the board, which makes the setup for Riches & Rascals take approximately twice as long as you'll be able to get a classroom of kids sit in their chairs without someone throwing a spitball. If you are trying to grab the attention of a small group of sugar-junkie pre-teens, I recommend simply dumping the tokens in a pile and playing the game, already.
Each player has a boat, signified by a small plastic boat (a fortunate choice, really). The players roll dice to move around the board, going from port to port and trading stuff for other stuff. If you're the African trader, you'll start out with gold, and you can take it to China to trade for diamonds. If you're the Middle Eastern boat, you'll have cedar logs that you can take to Europe and trade for amber. This is ostensibly the goal of the game - to trade up and score big points for having a bunch of different commodities at the end of the game.
Every time you roll the dice, one of them might show you a scroll, and when it does, you get to read a page from the history scrolls. Each one tells you some historical fact that you may or may not know already, and then you get a reward, unless your boat capsizes and you lose all your goods. The rewards you get usually entail putting some of those tiny tokens into your boat, which is probably overcrowded to start with because you put all those diamonds and stuff in there.
So that's how you play, more or less, but that's also where you start to run into problems. For starters, the various trade goods are little beads. The cedar logs are cylindrical wooden beads, and the amber chunks are brown beads, and the diamonds are paste-on glitter buttons. The gold bars, on the other hand, are cute little plastic deals that actually resemble gold bars. It appears the budget came to a grinding halt after procuring 50 gold bricks, and the creators of the game had to resort to what they could find at the discount craft store.
Then there are the boats. Apparently, nobody counted on meeting great white sharks, because you're definitely going to need a bigger boat. As soon as you hit two or three ports and swap your wood beads for plastic beads, that boat is going to be overflowing, and every time you move it, the trade goods are going to fall out. It's immensely impractical, not to mention the fact that if any of the players are aggressive traders, you're going to run out of beads.
So let's say you can forgive the beads and the tiny boats. Let's just jump right past that and chalk it up to the production values you expect in an educational game. Now we stumble headlong over the game itself, which is a complete mess. Like the kind of mess you might find if you leave the ham out on the counter and the dog takes it down and eats it all and then throws up all over the house.
At first, this looks like a very basic roll-and-move game. And to my complete horror, that's all it is. The game consists of rolling dice and moving. You might trade, you might not. That's it. Those are your decisions. Even a stupid child is going to figure out pretty fast that this game is less interesting than, say, eating boogers.
And the trading thing doesn't work at all. Seriously, you need an abacus to keep track of the trades. Trade five amber for ten cedar, then ten cedar for twenty gold, then twenty gold for forty diamonds, then do it all again on the way back, and before you're six pages into the book, someone is trying to pile 160 beads into a boat that can barely hold five. You'll run out of beads, and worse, you'll forget about teaching history because you have to spend all your time teaching math.
The worst thing, though, and the one reason I could only possibly recommend this game to an elementary school teacher, is that the game is way, way too long. You only read from a scroll when you roll one, which happens about every third turn. The game goes until all the scrolls have been read. And there are enough scrolls that if you start when the kids get to school, you'll still be playing when the bell rings and they all go screaming out the door to see their mommies.
I understand the powerful desire of the home-brew inventor to create a game. I've had that itch, and I've given it a shot myself. But in my case, after a few tests, I understood pretty quickly that the game I was making would not work. In the case of Riches & Rascals, however, it seems the creator did not test the game anywhere near as much as she should have, and published it without getting even one unbiased response. Otherwise, someone, somewhere would have said, 'this is like a train wreck into a tidal wave caused by an earthquake.'
But all is not lost. The history scroll element of this game is very cool, and the educational aspect is extremely sound. A few simple tweaks, and this game could be just the ticket for a small classroom of smart children. For instance, throw away the scroll die and read one every turn. Hell, read two. And allow trades on a one-for-one basis, which works because amber is worth more in China and gold is worth more in Saudi Arabia, and if you're hard-pressed for more currency, allow trade-ups only in your home port. Finally, use two dice, not one, so that the standard turn consists of something more than rolling the dice, moving one space, and then frowning as you pass the dice.
Normally I wouldn't suggest repairs to a game. I like to review them the way they were written. But there is so much promise in the educational side of Riches & Rascals, and I fear nobody will ever discover that brilliance if they can't bring themselves to play the game. A few simple changes to the rules, and this could be a fun learning experience that really makes kids feel like they're part of history. But leave it the way it is now, and Riches & Rascals could be renamed Six Hours You'll Wish You Had Back.
Very attractive map
Great educational value
Unfortunate choice of components
Trading rules are a complete disaster
Roll and move and that's all
If you're a teacher willing to do a little legwork to make Riches & Rascals a fun game, you might find it brings a lot of interest to a classroom. You can find it here:
Posted by Matt Drake at 7:37 PM
Monday, May 3, 2010
As I sit here in the clutches of a powerful sinus infection, my mood darkens to the point that I want to find a crappy game and piss all over it (you know, metaphorically speaking. I would never actually urinate on a game. That would reduce trade value considerably). And as I look about my cluttered office, my gaze lights on Risk: Lord of the Rings, and I decide that it is the perfect candidate to accept my cathartic wrath.
It's not that it's an ugly game. It actually looks pretty cool, with the whole map broken up into different provinces in Middle Earth, shots from the movies on the cards, and little soldiers who look like trolls and orcs and giant eagles. There's a ton of visual appeal here. Just looking at the game will make you want to play it, especially if you like Risk as much as I do.
It's not that the basic game play is flawed, either. You get a few starting spots at random, then you can choose a few more, and then it's on, just like in normal Risk. You're going to grab territories in big dice-fueled brawls, killing indiscriminately and claiming cards. Plus you have leaders who can travel about, helping out in fights and recruiting extra guys to come help. There's even an extra deck of cards that you can use to tweak the game a little and give you some strategic options as you play. So far, this is Risk, with a healthy dollop of Middle Earth.
But then you come to The Ring. It starts out in The Shire, and every turn it moves closer to Mount Doom. Some of those extra cards I mentioned can slow it down, but eventually, it's going to leave the board, and when it does, the game is over. This means that the game ends regardless of whether anyone is enjoying any success, whether any game-related conditions have been met, and whether anyone is even remotely prepared to finish the game. Ending the game at a specific moment might work for lots of game, but it does not work for Risk. It is viable in 2210; it kills an otherwise fun theme variation in Risk: Lord of the Rings.
The real problem is that sooner or later, you'll get to one person's turn, and that person will have a two out of three chance that his turn is the last of the game. And so, rather than buttoning up and holding out, that player is incredibly likely to go for broke, pushing as far as he can to grab as much as he can before the game comes to a sudden, arbitrary halt. Like my good friend Janice Joplin is fond of saying, freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. If you know it's the end of the game, there's no reason not to start lopsided battles on the off chance that you could win. One guy runs roughshod over everyone else, and then you roll a die to see if the game ends. If it does, he wins. If it goes on, he's screwed.
At first I thought this ring thing was going to be a neat timer for the end of the game. It seemed like a good way to make sure everyone is pushing, and not just turtling up in Australia (not that you can do that in Middle Earth, because, among other factors, there's no Australia). The impending end game should have players taking greater risks, and that is, after all, the name of the game. Unfortunately, it ends up being a thing where whoever gets the last turn wins. And since the end of the game is decided by a die roll, that means the winner is decided by a die roll, and you could have just rolled a die, checked the result, named a winner and saved everyone a lot of time.
But I'm not trading Risk: Lord of the Rings away just yet. The only part of the game that I think is completely hosed is this ring moving thing. There are ways to fix this game. The figures are great, the cards are fun, and the map is gorgeous, so there has to be some way to make this a good game. I'm not sure exactly how, but I know this could be a fun game. I mean, it is Risk.
Leaders and extra cards add some variety and flavor
The map doesn't allow for any bottleneck defensive positions
The moving ring as an end-of-game indicator ruins the whole thing
Want to know something insane? There's a copy of Risk: Lord of the Rings at Amazon for $200. No, I didn't accidentally add a zero.
Posted by Matt Drake at 5:12 PM
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Publishing your own game is really hard. First you have to get past your biggest hurdle - your game probably sucks. Then, assuming your game does not suck (or you decide to publish it anyway, because you lack sense) you have to figure out how you're going to produce it. You can try to sell it, but that's an incredibly difficult proposition because there are literally thousands of other people doing the same thing. Or you can try to make it yourself, which should only cost you about half of what you would make in a year at a normal job, and then you fill up your garage with the 19,990 copies leftover after your distributor backs out and you sell a copy to all your friends.
Which brings us to The Game Crafter. This company will take your designs and turn them into a game, then sell them direct. You won't make as much money as if you manage to sell a couple thousand copies to a distributor, but by the same token, you don't have to take out a second mortgage just to choke up a landfill six months later when it turns out that your game does, in fact, suck.
Jump Gate is one of the games you could buy if you decide to shop at The Game Crafter. It's a micro-press board game of planetary exploration, sort of. Mostly it's a quick-playing set-collection game with neat art and crappy components, but there is a bit of a theme, and it's not completely wasted.
Players in Jump Gate play NavComp cards to move around and claim planets. There are codes on the cards for jumps, scans and claims, and these are really where you see the beginning of the smart play. You might use one card to jump, then two more to claim a planet and snatch up resources. Or you could use a special card for a long-range scan that you know an opponent is going to claim, entitling you to a share of the spoils. You might just keep your cards and travel around really slow while everyone else is jumping around like frogs on a hotplate.
The main object is to collect resources. Every planet has some resources cards, and different types of resource get different scores. Like if you collect three water cards, you get nine points, and if you can gather four blue gems and two red, you'll have twenty-four. Every resource type scores differently, but it's not hard to figure out, and it is written on the card, so that helps.
The whole shebang comes to an end after about twenty minutes, and then you count up your score and add points for stuff like jumping a lot and claiming planets, and maybe lose some cards to the black hole. Scores tend to be pretty close, so even if you don't win, you probably won't feel too bad, unless you did very poorly, and then you will feel pretty stupid.
The pure game part of Jump Gate works pretty well, which is impressive considering how intensely small the game really is. It's fast, easy to learn, and over before anyone can get bored. In fact, we played it several times in one night, because it's fast and fun. You might find yourself paralyzed by the agony of the decisions in front of you, or you may just go, 'I'll take these two cards here,' and end your turn before anyone knows it started. There are some tricky decisions based on the cards you have in your hand, and if you plan a turn ahead, you can stay one step ahead of your opponents and grab the stuff you need the most.
So the game is fun... but that's not the end of the review. Because while there are a lot of things done right in Jump Gate, there are also a ton of things done wrong. For starters, while the game is light and fun, there is almost no chance at all to set up a long-term strategy. You play the cards you have, then you draw more, and there's not much opportunity to think in terms of the end game. You can decide to collect specific resources, and beyond that, you just sort of work with what you have when you have it. This isn't a huge failing - Jump Gate is a light game with some nifty card play, so it's forgivable that it doesn't especially tax your brain.
What is less forgivable is the part that the game's creator could not possibly control - the production. He made some nice graphics, and he laid out the rules very well, then he passed the whole thing to The Game Crafter, who shall hereafter be known as The Game Crapper. It took work to take a game with this much family appeal and turn it into a sloppy mess, but The Game Crapper was up to the task.
The pages in the rule book are not in order. Your colored markers are tiny plastic poker chips. The planet cards were already scuffed when I opened the box. The playing cards have raised spots where the ink went on too thick, and they won't shuffle for a damn. The game's designer did a remarkable job, but a complete butchery on the part of The Game Crapper brought the whole thing way, way down.
However, if you can get past the fact that the production on Jump Gate appears to have been completed with the spare change I lose under my car seat, it's a fun, light-hearted game that nearly anyone can enjoy, as long as they're not too snooty. I hope the game's creator makes more games, and I really hope he sells them to actual publishers, because in this case, the game is fine, but The Game Crapper stinks.
Light and easy
Fast and fun
Appealing design that's easy to read
Some good chances to make tricky decisions
Not much opportunity for long-term planning
Components are horrid, and The Game Crapper should be ashamed
If you like easy family games, you might enjoy Jump Gate - I did. Unfortunately, the only way to get it is from The Game Crapper, but it's worth checking out anyway:
Posted by Matt Drake at 12:29 AM