Game Review – Castle Panic by Fireside Games

In this age of video games it’s hard at times to get people to put the controller or mouse down and get interested in a board game. If you or someone you know is like this, may I suggest Castle Panic by Fireside Games as a great way to break them away from the computer screen?

castle-panic-game-contents-fireside-gamesThe concept is easy enough – you and your fellow players are in the castle in the center of the board, trying to fight off a hoard of monsters determined to make their way to your stronghold and tear down your walls. But you’re not going to go down easily and your friends are right beside you as you work together to beat Goblins, Orcs and Trolls – along with some special characters and darned nasty events like Giant Boulders being tossed at your walls!castle-panic-game-monster-tokens-fireside-games

The board is simple enough to set up – your tower and walls are set up in the center of the board covering each sector. When a monster hits one of the walls it takes one point of damage, usually enough to kill it – but you lose that wall segment. And once a monster is inside the wall it will spin around to take out all of the outer walls and then the inner walls unless you take it out. And once all of the walls are gone, well… Game Over.

castle-panic-game-cards-fireside-gamesGame play is wonderfully simple and yet full of possibilities for strategy – each player gets a certain number of cards, based on the number of players. Each card shows a fighter – Archer, Knight, Swordsman and the color shows which sector they’re active in. Other special cards allow you to rebuild walls, fortify walls and characters, such as Heroes and Barbarians, will help you defeat tough monsters such as the Orc Mage.

On each turn a player draws up to their hand limit then can trade ONE card with any other player – a way to rotate resources to where they might be best used. You can also discard one card and pull an extra card. After this you can play as many cards as you want – because at the end of your turn all of the monsters on the board move one ring closer to the tower. Each card does one point of damage to the monster unless noted otherwise – and not all monsters take only one point to kill! And then two monsters are added to the board, pulled out of a lovely black pouch and placed on the board with a random dice roll.

castle-panic-game-board-fireside-gamesIf you like games with an equal amount of strategy and randomness, this is the game for you. You can plan all you want but when you pull a Healer from the bag or a Giant Boulder, all of your plans can go up in smoke. The 3-D aspect adds a lovely touch as you scramble to rebuild walls using Brick and Mortar cards while working together to defeat the monsters.

Castle Panic has two expansions out at present and the concept has been used in other games like Munchkin Panic. We’ve played three games and lost two because we just got unlucky and pulled the strongest monsters at the end of the game – when most of our walls were down and we were weakest.

It’s also been reviewed by Tabletop and if you’re looking for a great video on how much fun it can be – check it out!

This is a great game if you have kids – it plays quickly and the rules are easy enough to explain along with the co-operative aspect. If you’re looking for a fun addition to your game shelf with the possibility of pulling your friends away from the computer screen, consider Castle Panic!

Game Review – Exploding Kittens!

photo-originalThe title says it all…. the hubby and I got in on the Kickstarter for this fast-paced card game – in fact, it was THE most successful KS campaign for a card game, generating a ton of cash and of support.

And why not? After all, it’s got kitties…

… exploding kitties!!!

But there’s actually a game here… and a strategy, if you want to win!

First, the gameplay – it’s a very simple set-up that reminds me of Three Cheers for Master, which I reviewed earlier – you each get one Defuse card and four other cards out of the deck. The deck is set up depending on the number of players, which dictate how many Defuse cards get shuffled into the deck and how many Exploding Kittens cards as well. The more players, the more special cards get shuffled in; scaling the game up and down for those who can go from playing with the hubby to having a table full of buddies.

exploding-kittens1The turns are deceptively simple – play any and all cards that you want from your hand until you decide to stop and draw a card, signaling the end of your turn. Pairs of alike cards and triples allow you to steal cards from your opponents, some you get to choose and some you don’t. Special cards allow you to shuffle the deck, declare NOPE to another player’s attempt to steal your cards or perform some other action, let you skip your turn or force your opponent to take two turns in a row.

Obviously the more turns you take the more likely it is that you’ll pull the Exploding Kitten card – and the only way to not immediately lose the game is to use a Defuse card, which allows you to place the card back into the deck. Note here I said “place”, not shuffle. This is important. It’s very possible you might be able to force your opponent to pick the card right back up on the next turn.

exploding-kittens-5When I played with the hubby, I had a plan.

It was a good plan. Hold onto the Shuffles, Skip turns and Attacks to make sure I wasn’t going to end up getting the Exploding Kitten at the end of the game.

Yeah. It was a plan.

ANYWAY, the hubby beat me two games in a row. He was all grins and smirks until I reminded him that I hate to lose.

Punishment to be determined later.

o-EXPLODING-KITTENS-CARD-GAME-KICKSTARTER-facebookANYWAY, I recommend Exploding Kittens if you love a fast, fun game. There’s two versions, one safe for public consumption and one NSFW – well worth adding to your game shelf and guaranteed to give you hours of entertainment with great artwork and cute text.

BOOM!

Game Review – Three Cheers for Master by Atlas Games

Sometimes the best games are those you don’t find yourself. When we attended the last Origins Game Fair we took along a friend to her first gaming convention. She had a great time and found some wonderful games that she’s now introducing us to for the first time. And one of the first, and to me the best one, is Three Cheers for Master from Atlas Games.

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Here’s the cover copy:

Master Has Been Blue, Lately…

It’s just not the same now that all lands known to evil have been conquered.

When Master’s blue, it’s the minions who suffer. As a lieutenant in Master’s army — a foreminion — it falls to you to cheer him up. Not the easiest task, even in the best of times.

But then it hit you: What better way to cheer Master up than a cheerleading competition?

Whichever foreminion builds and scales the most impressive tower of war-hungry minions will surely win Master’s heart.

…What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

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Indeed… what can go wrong?

A whole lot and it’s fun as heck to find out!!!

This card game has a lot going for it – hilarious cards, hysterical flavor text, interesting mechanics and a simple gameplay that means you can get a game going almost immediately with new people.

pic2527639_mdFirst the deck needs to be prepared – there are three types of cards; minions, movement cards and Big Hairy Fight cards along with two cards signalling that the Master is coming and that the Master has arrived… thus ending the game. Preparing the deck only takes a few minutes to fold in the needed cards for a game, depending on if you have two or more players. Then each player gets three cards and a ForeMinion token. This little fellow has to rise to the top of your cheer-leading pyramid to score the most points.

3C4MHughbert_400pxBut… Minions don’t play together well. That’s why they’re minions. And fights can and will break out. And you just might want to handicap your opponent to make sure THEIR pyramid will not be as spectacular as yours is… after all, YOU deserve the Master’s approval, yes?

So out of your three cards you play two – there are three types of cards; Minion cards, movement cards and Big Fat Hairy Fight cards. Minion cards are exactly that – minions that can be placed on your creation OR on your opponent’s to cause havoc. Movement cards are the same – they can shift cards in your pyramid to create a better stack or to prevent a fight OR to mangle your opponent’s build.

Big Fat Hairy Fight cards are exactly that. Randomly inserted in the draw deck, you must stop as soon as each one of these cards appears and resolve ALL combat actions. This means some pyramids will collapse, some minions most certainly will die and your ForeMinion might end up flat on his back.

3C4MSwagamemnon_400pxAfter you play two cards you draw back up and the next player goes. Play suspends when each Big Fat Hairy Fight card appears and combat happens – and when the Master finally appears you fight three times to show your worthiness and then count up your points to see who gains the Master’s approval.

Because it’s not just about how high your ForeMinion got – it’s also about the size… your point score will rise depending on the point value of each card and which level it’s at. A two-point minion on the second level will be multiplied by two, delivering four points. If the same card is on the third level it’ll be worth six and so on – up until where the ForeMinion sits.

3C4MSeafor_400pxWhich is, of course, why you must CRUSH YOUR COMPETITION!

Combat is fast, logical and hysterical – arrows on your minion cards show which way they will attack and in what priority. Three arrows go first, then two and then one. They will kill the minion next to it, leaving a gap in your pyramid.

But there are defenses. Barriers and shields can help your minions survive long enough to keep buildings… until, of course, the minion below them die and then gravity takes over.

Because We’ll Always Have Gravity.

3C4MCreeper_400pxGravity will kill most minions and if it doesn’t it’ll definitely affect the stack build, forcing you to change your plans. And since combat doesn’t happen until a Big Fat Hairy Fight card appears you have time to fix any nasty cards your opponents play on your stack until… you can’t.

And then the Master arrives.

And then the Reckoning happens…

I loved this game if only because of the art and the flavor texts. It’s a great fast, fun game that’ll have you laughing as you tear each other down, waiting for the Master to show up. The game mechanic is sound and it’s not a case of how high you build your pyramid but the number of cards at each level as I discovered… there IS a strategy here and it’s a good one!

pic2574046_mdIf you see Three Cheers for Master I’d say to grab this game up off the shelf and settle in for a few fun hours of running your minions wild as you try to cheer the Master up!

Game Review – Parfum by Queen Games

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With both my husband and myself searching for new games there’s going to be times when one of us will look askew at the other – AKA, “What the heck?”…

Parfum was one of those games. When the hubby announced he’d played it and bought it at Origins I was a bit leery about the game – it sounded pretty boring from his initial description and, frankly, I wasn’t sold despite his enthusiasm.

One game was all it took to sell me – and hopefully, you too!

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Let’s start at the beginning – you’re a perfume vendor looking to create and sell your special creations to the lovely ladies (and men!) searching for sweet-smelling aromas. But it’s not as simple as just pouring chemicals into a bottle and hoping for the best – there’s more than a little luck in this game!

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First you place random tiles on the playing board to represent the mixtures – the different colors stand for the different aromas – red for roses, green for lime, black for vanilla and so on. You need to use the dice to fulfill the requirements of each tile before you can pick up the tile. The tile also represents the top, middle, or bottom of a full bottle of perfume you need to construct in order to have product to sell. You can build a bottle with just a top and bottom if you want, but that’ll only give you two bottles instead of three to sell.

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So how many dice do you get to throw to meet the different tile requirements? Ah, here’s where the strategy comes in!

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You bid on which order you’d like to play in, much like in Five Tribes. What this means is that for a two player game, for example, you can play first and last, second and third, first and… well, you get the idea. Now you could be asking yourself – why wouldn’t I want to be first?

The number of actions you receive grow the further down the line you go – the first player only gets three actions, the second player four actions, the third five actions and the fourth place tag gives you six actions. Now, what does an action give you and why wouldn’t you want to be first?

An action gives you the chance to throw ONE dice or replenish ONE tile on the factory floor. Most tiles require you to throw at least two dice and you need to roll little flasks to fulfill the requirements of the tile you’re aiming for. For example, if you need two purple dice and one black to fulfill a tile and win four points you’ll need to expend at least three actions to pick up the three dice – and it’s not guaranteed you’ll win! But if you add more actions to your attempt you can add more dice and push the odds in your favor. You can also use water drops (you get some at the start of your game and can earn more later on) that can help change the results of the dice. But, in a nutshell, the more actions you have the better to win multiple tiles and build your perfume bottles! Thus going later on the game might be better for your strategy – but that’ll leave less tiles for you to win and less points! As you can see there’s more to this game than just rolling a few dice…

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After you win a tile and place the tile in your rack to build bottles you can attempt at the end of the round to sell your product to the waiting customers. This also goes by the sequence of turns determined at the start of the round. But you need to have a finished bottle to sell it to the customers AND meet their requirements. Each customer has certain needs and if your perfume doesn’t have the minimum scents it won’t sell.

You receive points for earning the tiles to create your bottles and for selling them to the customers – and your water drops have a point value that can also be used at the end of the game to boost your final numbers.

After the first round I saw what my hubby liked about the game – there’s a randomness to it that you can only negate so much by stacking up your actions. You need to be able to roll more dice to fulfill more tiles but then you’ve got less actions to do other things and going first might not be the best move – or last, depending on where you are in your perfume-building empire. You need to win tiles and fill bottles to sell them and at times going first to snatch that tile you need to finish off a bottle is worth only getting three actions – but then you better be good at the dice!

We enjoyed this greatly and will be playing it a lot in the future – there’s an expansion that adds “joker” dice and we’re looking forward to seeing how that works out.

Overall Parfum is a lovely game with a different concept, one that might be a bit confusing at the beginning but it all comes together in a great fun game that I recommend if you’re looking for something a wee bit out of the ordinary – I never thought I’d be so excited about selling perfume!

Unfortunately there’s not much information on the Queen Games website so you’d be best off going to the Kickstarter website for an overview. Hopefully they’ll update the website soon!

If you’re looking for a nice family game with plenty of dice rolling and a bit of strategy I recommend Parfum – it’s not going to gather dust while on our shelf!

Game Review – Survive: Escape from Atlantis! by Stronghold Games

Last year I received an email from Amazon for Cyber Monday, the next “holiday” after Black Friday. It listed a number of board games and one of them was Survive: Escape from Atlantis!  with a note on the cover saying it was the 30th Anniversary Edition.

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This intrigued me because I’d never heard of the game before. So I snagged it on sale along with others and waited to see what the game was all about. If it’s been around for thirty years, I figured, it had to have some staying power.

Good news: It does. And you definitely want this game for your collection along with all the expansions you can gather!

Let’s start with the premise. You, an intrepid explorer, has found the fabled Atlantis and have been merrily exploring the island! However the island has started to sink and you need to evacuate yourself and your team before you perish – don’t worry, there’s small islands off to the sides you can escape to and survive… if you can get past the sharks and sea serpents, the whales and your competitor who wants to be the only one alive to report the find!

That’s the story. Now let’s set up the board! You start with a lovely board with the aforementioned islands in each corner. The base game goes from two – four players so there’s plenty of room to stake out your home base. Next you build the island.

Yes – I said build the island. That’s one of the big draws of this game – every time you play it’ll be different. Each player now takes a turn to place one hexagon tile on the board within the defined lines. There’s three types of terrain – beach, forest and mountain. And the tiles vary in thickness from the thin beaches to the thicker forest to the Very Tall mountains. So after you run out of tiles you’ve built a three-dimensional board to play on.

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After this you choose a color and collect your meeples/valiant explorers. Players rotate placing one meeple on any tile until you’ve placed them all – and each player gets two boats that they can put next to any tile (not only the beaches) to collect and sail your meeples to safety. Each boat holds three meeples… but anyone can use any boat!

Each turn you must play a tile (more on that in a second) take a tile off the map and move some meeples – or the boat they’re in. When you remove a tile you check the information on the back and see if it can help you or hinder your opponents because there’s more danger here than just the island sinking! Sharks roam the waters eager to snap up meeples swimming to safety, whales can destroy boats trying to make it to shore and sea serpents not only wipe out boats but also eat the swimming meeples. The tiles allow you to place these creatures and move them around the board to attack your opponent. The opposite is also true however and you can find yourself quickly trying to get your people to shore while chased by a series of sharks.

Some tiles do help out however – some allow you to move sharks away from your position, for example, or bring in dolphins to help your meeples to make to shore. Meanwhile the island is being chipped away and in danger of being destroyed by a volcanic explosion!

There’s another level of strategy being added here – obviously if you have X number of meeples and your opponent have the same number it’s not hard to figure out when you’re falling behind in the count and can’t possibly win the game. A few well-placed sharks or whales and you can lose meeples faster than you can munch potato chips… but there’s a trick here!

It’s not the number of meeples you save that determine the winner – each figure has a small number written on the underside showing how many points that meeple is worth – from one to five points. So you could in theory save only two or three of them and score higher than your opponent who brings home a lot of low-pointed meeples. This final bit makes this a much more fun game and adds more strategy to you and your opponent’s gameplay as you try to put on your poker face and not show where your high-point meeples are while trying to get them to land.

After playing this a few times it’s easy to see why it’s been around for thirty years and why it’s not only spawned expansions but also another upcoming version taking place in Space – it’s a fun game that changes every time you play it and has a level of strategy that makes it great for family play. Add in the three-dimensional game surface and I’m wondering why I didn’t find this game before!

If you’re looking for a fast fun game for your family shelf I highly recommend Survive – it can be played with just two players but runs best with four – and the expansions allow you to go up to six players, making this a great game for your buddies!

International Tabletop Day! This Saturday! Play more Games!

I’m a gamer, through and through. The hubby and I celebrate our anniversary by going to the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio every year. We spend most nights either playing board games or talking about it, haunting such great boards as Board Game Geek to see what’s up and coming. We buy games from Kickstarter and I review them here.

So yeah…. I’m a gamer.

But this upcoming Saturday, April 11th we can ALL be gamers! Because this Saturday is International Tabletop Day!

What? What? What IS this day, you ask?

So… let me tell you how you can have a great fun-filled day with your friends and family and discover a whole new world! As a writer I love the creative break a game can give me and it helps rejuvenate my mind so I can go back to writing refreshed and ready to go!

International TableTop Day started off as a response to a popular web series – TableTop hosted by Wil Wheaton. (yes, THAT WW as we all know and love him from Star Trek: The Next Generation!) In the web series he plays games with his friends and you get to watch them fumble through the fun and annoyance. It’s a great introduction to many games and if your game gets showcased on his webseries you’re pretty well guaranteed to have major sales for your product! As well as the actual games he brings on excellent guests such as Aisha Tyler among others to have a wild time.

Three years ago the idea of ITT happened – local game stores joined forces to give people the chance to try out new games and test the ones showcased on the web series. And it was wildly successful with now over 80 countries participating and thousands of events happening all on one single glorious day of gaming!

So how can you get in on this?

First head over to the ITT website and see what’s happening in your area – depending on where you live you might have a variety of choices on where to go for ITT. Local game stores will be listed and if you go to their websites or Facebook pages you’ll be able to see what they’re offering. Many stores have free swag for attendees as well as food and drink.

But, you say… what happens when I get there? What will I do, where will I go?

YOU WILL GAME LIKE YOU’VE NEVER GAMED BEFORE!

What does that mean?

ITT is a great way to discover new games. The stores will have plenty of demonstrations going on and you can hop in and play a variety of games for free. No commitment, no obligation. Just come out and sit down at a table, play a game and have a great time.

DOES IT GET BETTER THAN THAT???

I say not.

The hubby and I have discovered some great games over the past three years such as Smallworld, 7 Wonders, X-Wing and many others. Even if you don’t find a game you love it’s a great day out with other games and you can try out many games without having to buy them – sometimes the game you thought you’d love turns out to be a dud for you and it’s the small one off to the side that you try out on a whim that may be your best buy of the day!

And if you’ve never been to your Local Game Store?

Why not go out this Saturday and see what this whole gaming thing is all about? Watch a few episodes of Tabletop while you count down the days and then swing by this weekend to find a whole new world waiting for you!

International Tabletop Day – it’s for everyone!

And, as Wil Wheaton says…

PLAY MORE GAMES!

Game Review – Heroes of Normandie by Iello/Devil Pig Games

As we creep up on Origins Game Fair 2015 we’ve been looking over the games we bought LAST year and still haven’t played… we’re very good at finding plenty of games to buy and bring home, not so much the playing. So Heroes of Normandie  by Iello/Devil Pig Games has been sitting on our shelf for the better part of a year gathering dust until the hubby dusted it off. He picked it up based on a demo at Origins and his love of WWII gaming – we love our Memoir ’44 and have lots of boxed sets waiting for his retirement to get into.

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Heroes of Normandie started off as a Kickstarter production and, unfortunately, it shows. From what I’ve been able to gather (most of the information on the Devil Pig site is in French and even though I’m technically bilingual being Canadian, some of it I can’t figure out) the pledge rewards are late being sent out along with other issues. Iello is putting the core set on the shelves so it is available for general purchase.

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In a nutshell – great concept and lousy execution. The idea is fabulous – a fast paced WWII game that requires little setup, plays fast and furiously and doesn’t get too bogged down in the details. It’s always a fight when you do a war game whether you want accuracy or speed and this game, in theory, makes it work. The idea is to imagine more “Kelly’s Heroes” or “Dirty Dozen” rather than a war documentary and on that front it works in a lovely form.

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You build your teams using templates and add in units based on how they match the forms, allowing you to work quickly using simple number totals. With all the information on the unit chit you can have a game up and running much quicker than almost any other war game I can recall. The variety of units provide endless variety and the token cliche heroes make it fun while keeping the strategy going.

The fault is in the details – the rules booklet we received had numerous errors with tiles mis-numbered, cards and units listed not in our box and the rules so jumbled up that we’ve resorted to a fan-written version courtesy of BoardGameGeek  (a totally faboo site for anyone who plays any type of game – can’t recommend this enough!) that clarifies the rules, fixes up the errors and basically saves the game.

Without this the rules are a hot mess and gameplay is very frustrating. The hubby and I aren’t that dense and we’ve sat through various videos and scraped through scenarios and we’re still getting basic stuff wrong because of the disorganization in the rules booklet. Add to that pages (yes, I said PAGES!) of errata and I can only give a tentative thumbs up to Heroes of Normandie. I love the idea and I love the execution and I love the quick gameplay but the support from Iello/Devil Pig leaves a lot to be desired. One thread I read on BGG noted that DP seems to be okay with the idea of revising the rules as feedback comes in but I’m not comfortable with that – if I buy a game I want it to be complete, I don’t want to keep having to return to the website and downloading new versions of the rulebook because the creators didn’t want to put in the time and effort to get it right the first time. Having to depend on other fans to clean up the messy ruleset doesn’t sit right with me but, as with all things, your mileage might vary.

There are many planned expansions for the core set with specific units along with settings, giving the game almost unlimited replay ability.  I’m looking forward to many more games myself because I love the template idea and the idea of a fast paced WWII game really appeals to us. Heroes of Normandie really gives that feel of the classic war movie with the big heroes and plenty of action going on.

If you can deal with the aforementioned hot mess regarding the rules then I recommend HoN to you – if you like to play right out of the box you might find this too frustrating to deal with. While I’m not happy about leaning on fans to rewrite the rules and scenarios to make them coherent you might not mind. But it’s obvious that the rush to publish this game has made the final product suffer and I’m not sure it can continue unless the company cleans up their act. Leaving it up to the fans to return again and again to the website to download yet another version of the rules is just plain sloppy, in my opinion.

So a hesitant thumbs-up for HoN if you love wargaming on a limited scale with certain reservations. We’re heading back to Origins again this year and hopefully we’ll be adding more games to our inventory… who am I kidding – we’ll buy WAY more games and we’ll be opening them a year later, like this one!

Game Review – Star Realms from White Wizard Games

I’ve always loved card games from way back when I’d play euchre during my lunch break in high school. I tripped into Magic: The Gathering when it was in Beta (yes, I’m THAT old!) and over the years the hubby and I have snatched up various card games for our collection. We’ve collected the Living Card Games and the Collectible Card Games but you can never have too many card games…

boxWhich is why when I picked up a copy of Star Realms on a whim at our local game store I was excited to see how it worked – the space theme hooked the hubby from the start and once we broke the pack open and got going… well let’s just say that within hours we’d planned to get the expansion packs and I downloaded the digital app.

Star Realms is a deck-building game for two players – it’s our second one, after Valley of the Kings. What that means is that you start off with a basic set of cards and add in more cards from the game as time goes on. You build your deck and recycle cards back into play over turns. AEG did a great job with Valley of the Kings and I thought I’d never find a more fun game… until Star Realms!

The objective is to reduce your opponent’s Influence (or hit points as the gamer in me demands it be called) from fifty to zero. You can place obstacles in the way like outposts or bases but these can (and will!) be destroyed as your opponent puts more powerful cards into play.

The game was designed by ex-Magic players and it shows with the balanced factions. All four factions are equally balanced in my opinion and offer bonuses and minuses for players. Since you’ll likely end up playing two or three factions to build your deck up it’s great to have them all mesh well with each other.

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You start off with a small deck of Scouts and Vipers which will deliver you money for purchasing more ships or bases and Vipers who deliver attacks. As the game goes on there’s an option to remove some of them from play so that you can whittle your deck down and make it more compressed and stronger without the starter cards. Some cards give you back Authority and deliver punishing blows if you have more than one ship with the same faction in play. Others are bases and outposts that protect you from direct attacks from your opponent. Outposts must be destroyed first, however, and then you can deliver remaining damage to your opponent. But given how powerful some bases are you might choose to take them out.

diagramYour play area has five cards in play for you to purchase along with a set of neutral Explorer ship cards. This allows you to pretty well be able to afford anything no matter how bad your draws are in the start of the game. As time goes on cards move out of play into your decks and also may be discarded by certain cards who will strip them out of the game.

Star Realms plays fast, is fun and has great artwork. I’ve noted before that to me artwork is a necessary piece for a game to be successful – I have no doubt that most of M:TG’s success is because of the faboo art. You can have a great game mechanic but if the art sucks you’re not getting my money.

Star Realms already has expansion packs out but you can enjoy the game with just the starter deck. There is an option for more than two players (if you get another few decks) but it’s a great game for just two players and one you’ll want to play over and over again as you experiment with different alliances and the base abilities.

The game support for this is also fantastic. Aside from being able to download the rules and excellent website support you can get the digital version for free and learn the game that way. If you want to pay for an upgrade you can play against other players online or you can keep it as a resource for yourself for free – it includes a card gallery and you can always go back and redo the tutorial if you need a refresher or aren’t sure about the rules.

I highly recommend Star Realms for anyone who loves card games and loves a fast portable game. If I had a complaint it’d be that some of the card stock is a bit flimsy and card protectors may become necessary if you’re a vibrant shuffler like I am. But that’s a little negative and easily balanced out by the fun gameplay and addictive nature of this game.

If you see this one – grab it and get ready for hours of gaming fun!

Game Review – Mr. Jack (pocket version) from HurricanGames

The hubby loves pocket games and I can’t blame him – they’re a lot easier to store  and sometimes you just don’t want to get into a complicated game that could go for hours and hours. Quick little games like Love Letter and Ninja Dice are fast sweet games that’ll fulfill your need for gaming while not sucking hours out of your life or requiring a long time to set up and put away. Like many pocket games Mr. Jack (pocket) is reasonably-priced and won’t break your gaming budget while taking up little space on your gaming shelves.

pic800395_mdHe picked up Mr. Jack at our local game store a few months ago and we got around to playing it yesterday before I destroyed the world at Pandemic: The Cure. While he was saving the world I seemed to be running around and jabbing people with dirty needles. But I digress…

Mr. Jack pocket is a lovely little game for anyone looking to capture a bit of the mystery of Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper while not willing to put in hours of time for a long game. In this two player game you play the investigators and your opponent the Ripper. Yes, I said investigators – you get Watson, Holmes and Toby the bulldog (which we renamed Gladstone… you know why!)

At the start of the game the Ripper pulls a single Alias card which will represent his disguised form – he/she is also on one of nine street tiles you lay out in a 3×3 square. The investigators are placed on the board and the game’s afoot!

pic800477_mdGameplay is simple and fast – the investigators toss (yes, I said toss!) four discs in the air. They represent the moves that can be made, from moving the investigators around the outside of the board to rotating the tiles (this IS important!) to choosing an alias card to clear a suspect. But in the middle of your choices the Ripper makes one as well and can thwart your actions. At the end you ask Mr. Jack if any of your three investigators can “see” the alias he’s running under. This means you look at each investigator pog and look down the streets. If Mr. Jack’s alias is in line of sight he must tell you and you can flip over the other tiles that don’t apply, changing the board and eliminating suspects.

pic983586_mdSo Holmes can win by flipping tiles until there’s only one suspect left – how about Mr. Jack? Well it’s a simple quick way for him – all he has to do is delay the investigators for long enough to make his escape. This is accomplished by collecting six hourglasses. Every alias card has zero, one or two hourglasses on it, giving Mr. Jack an initial number of hourglasses. He collects more either by delaying the investigators one turn or by picking an alias card up during his part of the turn and using the hourglasses on that card. He also gets to flip the discs previously tossed by the investigators and use those actions for his turn – either rotating tiles, moving investigators around the outside of the playing field or collecting alias cards.

It might sound complicated but by the time you finish one or two turns you’ll find it easy to play and remember. The game flows logically and it’s a challenge for both players to decide who the alias is or close off enough LOS to keep the investigators blocked until you snag six hourglasses.

The graphics for this pocket game are cute and easy on the eyes – the hubby noted that many of the alias cards depict actual suspects for Jack the Ripper along with Inspector Lestrade for the Holmes fans. We really enjoyed the fast gameplay after we figured out the rules and we’ll be pulling this down from the shelf again soon for another quick and fast game. If you’re looking for a fast game with quick setup and interesting gameplay I recommend this for your pocket game shelf stash!

Game Review – Gates of Arkham from Fantasy Flight Games

sl05_featureI’ve blogged before about my love of the Lovecraftian dice game Elder Sign and am thrilled to have gotten hold of the newest expansion, Gates of Arkham. To say that this kicks the original game to a whole new level would be an understatement.

sl16_mainWhere the original game was set inside the Museum the Gates opens up the whole town for exploration – and destruction. The first time the hubby and I played this game we went through four investigators within forty minutes and gave up. Yes, it’s THAT bad-ass.

First there’s the change to the destination cards – the rooms are now buildings and each has one of three levels – green, yellow and red to show the difficulty level. Why, you ask? Because you don’t get to see what tasks you’re actually going to try and complete for rewards until you GO to the building and make that commitment. You can pay two trophies and turn the card over before deciding to go there – which leads to the biggest difference from the original game – your resource management. Whereas in the original game you could use trophies achieved from killing monsters or finishing off room to purchase health, sanity, various items or even an Elder Sign itself, Gates cuts your choices down dramatically and you won’t miss it a bit because you’ll need all you have to keep from dying a horrible death. Multiple times over.

There are also actual Gates, as the title suggests. With the addition of new decks to the game you also have a high chance of a Gate opening connecting an Otherworld card to a building card – you need to complete the Otherworld card before you can attempt the building – adding more time to complete tasks and we know you can never have enough time when saving the world!

sl15_mainOther cards add in new skills, new investigators, new objects to help you survive – and new Old Ones to suck the life out of you. If you’re going to play this expansion I highly suggest adding in the Unseen Forces expansion which adds the chance of having an extra dice on hand. This addition to the game kicks it up to an intense level that isn’t for starting players or for people who don’t like to work together to finish the game.

Some final notes – the hubby and I ran our initial run with one investigator each and got chewed up fast and furiously. Over the weekend a friend visited and we ran three investigators with the simplest Old One to defeat and just barely managed it. I wouldn’t suggest this be run with less than three investigators unless you have some mad dice mojo and if you’re that lucky head for Vegas!

I highly recommend Gates for old Elder Sign players looking to kick the game up to a whole new level of intensity. If you’re looking to get into the game I wouldn’t rush to get Gates and spend as much time as possible with the original game and then move to Unseen Forces before getting to this one – it’s not for the faint of heart and the odds are definitely against you!