Solo Board Gamer, Me?

One of the things that I like about analog gaming is that you get together and interact with real people, face to face. While the video game medium has come a long way in adding a social aspect to the gaming, it simply does not compare to the richness of a real-life experience with friends, sitting around the table and gaming together, albeit competitively.

Now, there are solo board games or, more commonly, multiplayer board games that have a solo play mode. Viticulture, Scythe, and Terraforming Mars are popular games in the hobby that can be played solo. In the past, I considered sitting at a table, playing a board game by oneself the equivalent of gaming masturbation. It just seemed sad to me and I didn’t see the point, particularly when many of my favorite games absolutely thrive on the interaction of the players.

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My Top 5 Board Games That Feature Asshat Backstabbery

Asshat Backstabbery. Two words that are universally understood despite the fact that they do not exist in any legitimate dictionary, anywhere. I’m listing five board games that feature deception and cutthroat strategy as a key way of getting a leg up (or a knee on the throat) of your opponents. These are games where being mean and pitiless are expected but more than that, you can benefit from capitalizing on an opponent’s weakness. Lifelong friendships are ruined, families divided, and marriages crumble.

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Lunchtime Board Games

Lunchtime – I get to unshackle from my workstation, lumber outside, turn my pasty face upwards and squint in the sunlight. I can also grab something to eat and sometimes I can play a game or two with friends.

Two or three days a week, I bring my lunch from home and spend the majority of the lunch hour playing games in the cafeteria with one or more of board-gaming friends. For me, it is a better stress-buster than leaving the office and going out to eat somewhere and have been buying games that fill the Lunchtime Game Criteria, which is:

  1. Time – Can be played in 50 minutes or less. I am not taking into account particularly slow players or analysis paralysis issues.
  2. # PlayersDoesn’t require more than 2 players but preferably also plays up to 4 players.
  3. Setup – The game sets up and puts away quickly. Time to teach the game to new players is not considered when determining the speed of setup.
  4. Box – The smaller, the better because small boxes fit in my laptop bag without having to leave things at home like, you know… my laptop.
  5. Fun – The game has to be fun and preferably plays well with 2 players.

Some of my lunchtime games

Here are some games we’ve played at lunch. It’s far from an exhaustive list and your mileage may vary. I’d love to hear what games work out well for you in a similar situation.

Star RealmsStar Realms is a great lunch-time game for 2 players. We can get in a couple of games during lunch and far and away, we’ve played more Star Realms than anything else. We have all of the Crisis expansion but the base game is solid and the expansion is not required unless you want to add some variety after repeated plays.

Time – 20-40 minutes
# Players – 2 players. It has an option to play teams with 4 players if you have two sets of cards.
Setup – Fast, shuffle and play. Less than 2 minutes. We use a scoring app on a smartphone.
Box – As small as it can get for a deck of cards.
Fun – We think this is one of the best deck-builders out there.

Cthulhu Realms – It’s Star Realms with a Cthulhu theme. I like it fine, but favor Star Realms because of the expansions. I admit that the art on the Cthulhu Realms cards is great. It also plays 3 or 4 players with one set of the game (unlike Star Realms).

Time – 20-40 minutes
# Players – 2-4 players.
Setup – Fast, shuffle and play. Less than 2 minutes.
Box – Small.
Fun – a solid, simple deck-builder with a lot of replay value.

Mr. Jack Pocket – A smart deduction game for two players. One player takes the role of 1 of 9 characters on a 3×3 grid of tiles, and the other player must eliminate all of the other character possibilities, identifying who Jack is impersonating before the turns run out.

Time – 10-20 minutes
2+ Players – 2 player only
Setup – Fast.
Box – Very small.
Fun – Surprisingly fun and clever game that is short enough for multiple plays in a hour.

Tiny Epic Galaxies – Players roll dice, building up resources to buy planets and attack each other.

Time – About 15 minutes per player (i.e. 30 minutes for a 2 player game)
# Players – 2-5 players
Setup – Fast, about 3 minutes.
Box – Very small.
Fun – I think this is one of the best Tiny Epic games so far. A lot of fun choices to make. I enjoy it more with 3 players than 2, and hesitate to try 4 players at lunch because of time constraints.

Love Letter (any theme) – Perhaps the quintessential lunchtime game, it’s hard to imagine a more versatile game in such a small package.

Time – 10-15 minutes.
# Players – 2-4 players and plays well with all player counts.
Setup – Fast. Shuffle, deal and go.
Box – Small. Depending on the version, it might be a little bag holding the cards and tokens.
Fun – Very fun game and easy to teach but some may have an issue getting past the theme.

Flip City – A deck-builder with double-sided cards. Each turn, players buy new building cards or opt to develop an owned card, flipping it over to the other side and changing its abilities. Brings some fresh play mechanics to the small deck-builder genre.

Time – About 15 minutes per player (i.e. 45 minutes for 3 players)
# Players – 2-4 players.
Setup – About 3 minutes.
Box – Small.
Fun – It’s a challenging game and I think it’s a lot of fun. AP players may not be able to finish this one in a lunch-hour.

Tides of Time – A card drafting game for two players with pass and play and an interesting scoring mechanic. There are only 18 cards in the game but each is unique, so it will take a play or two to familiarize yourselves with them.

Time – 10-15 minutes
# Players – 2
Setup – Fast. Shuffle, deal and go.
Box – Small.
Fun – Once we knew the cards in the game, it was engaging and fun.  There is more to this one than initial plays indicated.

The King is Dead – King Arthur is dead. Players are members of King Arthur’s court and are playing influence to a map of Britannia in an effort to gain influence and use their power to benefit the factions and determine who the next king will be. A smart little diplomatic, area-control game.

Time – 30 – 50 minutes
# Players – 2-4
Setup – Sets up in about 3 minutes.
Box – Full size – larger than I would prefer for a lunchtime game.
Fun – The game is dry and strategic, with interesting choices to make and scoring usually being close.

The Grizzled – A difficult cooperative card game about survival in the trenches during the First World War where players win or lose together. Very thematic with excellent artwork.

Time – About 30 minutes
# Players – 2-5 (but must use a dummy 3rd player if there are only 2 players)
Setup – About 3 minutes
Box – Small
Fun – Very challenging and we have yet to win a game. The heavy theme about dealing with the constant threat of death is a bit of a downer.

Splendor – A popular card drafting, set collection game. Players collect gem chips in order to buy cards on the tableau and build up prestige points. First player to 15 points wins.

Time – About 30 minutes
# Players – 2-4
Setup – About 3 minutes
Box – Full size but needlessly so and the components all fit in a single sandwich bag so the box can be left at home.
Fun – It’s a dry game with little player interaction but it’s also very engaging. Not a lot of table-talk when we play Splendor because everyone is planning their next actions.

Dungeon Roll – A push your luck, dice-rolling game where players attempt to go as deep as possible in the dungeon, amassing treasure and defeating monsters. If they are unable to complete a level they started, they lose everything they collected that turn.

Time – About 10 minutes per player (i.e. 2 players would take about 20 minutes)
# Players – 2-4
Setup – About 5 minutes
Box – Small and looks like a cool treasure chest.
Fun – It’s a light, fun game. I think it is best with 2 players, with the off-player rolling the monsters so there is no down-time.

Dice Masters – There are several themes – X-Men, Avengers, DC, Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a collectable dice-building game where 2 players face off and battle each other.

Time – about 15 minutes.
# Players – 2
Setup – Can take a while if you’re deciding what the setup will be. Best if you have your setup decided before you sit down to play.
Box – Depends. We had a tackle box for all the dice, so it was pretty big.
Fun – This wasn’t my kind of thing but I can see that people who like CCGs would like this.

Eminent Domain: Microcosm – A quick deck-builder for two players. Each turn you take a card into your hand from the supply, then you either play a card and carry out its instructions, or pick up your discard pile to refill your hand. Each card also has a scoring condition on it, and to win you’ll want to maximize those conditions. This game is probably best known for the awful rule sheet it came with. BGG has clearer rules available to download.

Time – About 15 minutes
# Players – 2
Setup – Fast, about 2 minutes.
Box – A deck of 34 cards.
Fun – It’s a fun, engaging game and knowing what the cards in the deck are is critical when it comes to scoring. Speaking of how scoring is done, it’s a kludge but gets easier after you’ve played a couple of games.

Province – A tiny worker placement game for 2 players

Time – About 15 minutes
# Players – 2
Setup – Fast, about 2 minutes.
Box – This was Kickstarter microgame and came in a plastic bag or a DIY, tiny box.
Fun – As a game, it has something to offer but the size of the board and pieces are so Lilliputian and it just feels fiddly. The iOS app is much better than the actual Kickstarter game, imo. I understand that they are planning a deluxe version with a larger board and pieces. 

Likely, someone will look at this list and wonder how I overlooked a popular game like Coup.  I didn’t.  I have Coup in my collection and I like it just fine, but Coup is a game where deception is key to doing well, and I’ve found playing games where you are tricking each other may have repercussions that carry over into other aspects of life.  I would rather be overly cautious than cause distrust with my colleagues, no matter how peripheral it may be. 

There are some games that we have not tried yet but are on the shelf and ready to go. These include 7 Wonders Duel, Condettiere, Battle Lines and Space Hulk Death Angel the Card Game. I’m sure to continue adding more games to our lunch-time lineup.

What games do you play at lunch?

RISK: Star Wars Edition – Is it great?

RISK: Star Wars Edition (Hasbro, $29.99) came out in late 2015 and board gamers all over the world rolled their eyes. Another RISK game with a theme pasted on to capitalize on the Star wars franchise. Ho-hum.

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With such low expectations, the first surprise was that the game is nothing like Risk at all. More than that, it didn’t suck!

These two things created a knee-jerk reaction among some shocked board game reviewers who immediately began proclaiming the game as excellent and the second coming of The Queen’s Gambit, a rare, out of print game that is coveted by collectors. Reviews poured in, rating the game 8\10 or higher and making some Best of 2015 lists. It seems the game was a hit or at least was popular.

Risk: Star Wars Edition is a 2 player game (or 4 players in 2 teams) played on a board in the shape of Darth Vader’s tie fighter and divided into 3 separate games that link together and are played simultaneously with a Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi theme. One player plays the Rebels, attempting to destroy the Death Star and the other plays as the Empire, attempting to thwart the Rebel’s plans.

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One of the three games simulates the fight between Luke and Darth Vader, with an opportunity for Luke to redeem his father after defeating him. This provides extra card draws to the winner.

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Another game simulates the shield assault on Endor to take down the shield surrounding the Death Star so rebel forces can attack it. This is key for the Rebel side to win and the Empire player must put Stormtroopers in their path to slow down their progress on the path to the shield generator.

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The game on the central part of the board is the main part of the game, the Attack on the Death Star, which has multiple rebel forces and the Millennium Falcon attempting to survive the onslaught of tie fighters, the Death Star and Executor attacks, until the shields are down and the Death Star can be attacked and destroyed by rolling 6 on 1d6.  This the most Risk-like part of the game, with  dice rolls determining outcomes.

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All of that sounds extraordinary and epic and I love Return of Jedi so much!!! Still, it’s been a few months since the game came out and *I think* I can now say the following without pissing anyone off too much:

1. It is true, the game is nothing like classic RISK, nor does it suck. That doesn’t mean the game is great but merely that it is not a rehash of the same old game of Risk with new pieces.

3. After one play of the game, players can see that the battle between Luke and Darth Vader is irrelevant to the game’s victory conditions since they will expend 3-5+ plays to win this part, in which case, they get 3-5 additional plays after doing so. It’s a wash and can be ignored, though some players might chose to play it. It doesn’t affect the outcome.

4. The other two parts of the game – “The Shield Assault” and “The Attack on the Death Star” are left entirely to dice rolls to determine the outcome and the game is heavily weighted in favor of the rebels winning, regardless.   There is some strategy in how you balance your moves across the Endor board and the central, Death Star board, as both are critical.  Generally, the Rebel player can focus most efforts on Endor until the shield generator is down, as it only takes one successful hit (roll a 6 on 1d6) to destroy the Death Star and win, once the shield is down.  The Empire player has to block up the route to the shield generator with stormtroopers, but this only slows down the inevitable. On the central board, the Empire wants to destroy as many of the rebel ships as possible and leaving even one Rebel ship is enough to destroy the Death Star and get a Rebel victory.

5. None of this is terrible but it hardly makes a great game. I think people were so shocked it wasn’t plain old Risk with Star Wars pieces, they mistook that relief for something more.

I know there are avid Star Wars fans out there that love the franchise and rightly so.  Sans the theme, Risk: Star Wars Edition is mediocre and there isn’t a lot to think about. It certainly can be enjoyed in the same vein that people enjoy a game of Monty Python Fluxx – because of the theme, but it’s not a lot more than that. I don’t begrudge anyone that pleasure and Risk: Star Wars Edition scratches an itch that other games may not be able to reach, but don’t mistake that for greatness. As of this writing, it holds a rank of 1279 on BGG, and I think that is a fine place for it.

Me, I’ll keep it in my collection for a while. I also have a copy of Monty Python Fluxx. I’ll keep that too. Neither are challenging strategically but can be fun to play once in a while when we’re in the mood for a light game about blowing up the Death Star or facing the Knights Who Say Ni.

(photos courtesy of Hasbro, 2015)

Diamonds Card Game–A Review

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Game Name: Diamonds
Publisher: Stronghold Games
Designer: Mike Fitzgerald
Year Published: 2014
Players: 2 – 6
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: About 10 minutes per player (i.e., 30 min. for a 3 player game)
Retail Price: $24.99 ($14.99 on Amazon)
Category and Mechanic:  trick-taking, hand management, card game, family game

Contents

• 60 Playing Cards, numbered 1-15 in four suits – diamond, heart, club and spade
• 6 Vault cards
• 6 Player Aid cards
• 110 small clear diamond Crystals (1 pt)
• 25 large red diamond Crystals (5 pt)
• Rules (8 pages)

Description: Diamonds is a trick-taking card game in which players collect diamonds – not cards bearing that suit, mind you, but rather actual “Diamond Crystals” (acrylic crystals) included in the game. What makes the game of Diamonds different from other trick-taking card games is that when you cannot follow suit you get a “Suit Action” based on what suit you do play. Suit Actions are also taken by the winner of each trick, as well as at the end of a full Round of play. Suit Actions will enable players to take Diamond Crystals from the Supply, moving them to their Showroom (where they may score 1 point) or to their Vault (where they will score 2 points). The Vault is a secure area, but the Showroom is vulnerable to theft by the other players. Whoever has the most points in Diamond Crystals at the end of the game wins!

My take on Diamonds: There are plenty of good trick-taking games out there already – Spades, Hearts, Rummy and Bridge, to name a few. The thing about those games is they take four players and no more. This game will play up to six and is designed by the renowned Mike Fitzgerald. I probably would have passed this one without a second thought if his name were not attached.

Diamonds has introduced some twists to the genre that make the old trick-taking game play fresh. You see, winning tricks is not the only way to get points, nor is it the best strategy to win all the tricks, even if you can. As in all trick-taking games, if you can follow suit with the card that was played, you must do so. But if you are null in the led suit, you can play any card, and when you do, you get to take an action, such as add a diamond to your showroom for a point if your card was a heart, or to your vault if your card was a diamond, or my favorite, steal a diamond from another player if you played a club. Take that!

It can take a few games of Diamonds before you grasp the elegance of the game, things aren’t apparent during the first couple of hands, when the game seems deceptively simple . The game requires that you think to play well but it isn’t “thinky” or prone to inducing AP, and the ability to perform Suit Actions throughout each round keeps everyone engaged.

Players all have a Vault standup placed so the diamonds put behind it can’t be seen by the other players. Everyone gets three diamonds placed in front of the Vault and this area is called the Showroom. The rest of the diamonds, both large and small, are set aside and this is known as the Supply. Finally, a randomly selected player begins as the dealer, dealing each of the players ten cards. Each player gets a “player aid” card that explains the Suit Actions and this helps new players, though it won’t be needed on games after the first.

Each round will consist of ten tricks and at the beginning of each round, once the dealer has dealt everyone their hands, the dealer decides how many cards will be passed to the player on the left, 0-3 cards. Each player passes the same number of cards to the left .  Then the player to the left of the dealer plays the first card and this determines the led suit. As with most trick taking games, each player will play a card until everyone has taken a turn and whoever has the highest card in the led suit wins the trick. Where Diamonds changes things up are in the Suit Actions as the winner of the trick gets to perform the action associated with the lead suit.

The Suit Actions are:

Diamonds – Take a small diamond from the Supply and add it to your Vault

Hearts – Take a small diamond and add it to your Showroom

Spades – Move a small diamond from your Showroom and add it to your Vault

Clubs – Take a small diamond from the Showroom of another player and add it to your Showroom

Where things get really interesting is if you can’t play a card of the led suit, you can place a card of any other suit AND take the Suit Action associated with it. If you have a card of the led suit you have to play it, even if it won’t help you to win the trick. The winner of that trick collects the cards and lay them face down in front of them until the end of the round. Once ten tricks are played and the round has finished, all the players count up the number of cards of each suit which they’ve won and whoever has the most of each suit gets to perform that Suit Action. Any player who doesn’t get to perform a Suit Action in this way gets to take two Diamond Suit Actions or, in other words, take two small diamonds from the Supply and add them to their Vault.

Remember, the goal of the game is getting diamonds and even better, getting them in your vault where the score two points each and can’t be stolen by a player taking a club Suit Action. Once you’ve completed an agreed-upon number of rounds (we usually play one round per player, so everyone gets to deal once), players add up the value of their diamonds (one point for each in the showroom and two points for each in the vault). The small diamonds are single diamonds and the large diamonds are equal to five diamonds. The highest score wins.

The luck of the deal is definitely a factor but the Suit Actions and the goal of banking as many diamonds as you can means the game’s winner isn’t necessarily the person who won the most tricks. When playing with less than six players, some of the deck will be not be used each round, making it impossible to count cards.  The vault adds an interesting element as well, as diamonds are moved around the table frequently, it is difficult to assess who has exactly the most or least diamonds behind their vault.

Most of the components are very nice. The cards are thick and have a linen finish, and the plastic diamonds are, well, sparkly and pretty and I want them. I want them all, MY PRECIOUS! While the vault shields are serviceable, they are the game’s weak point. They are small, light and easily knocked over during game play. This happened multiple times in our plays, and while it’s not a big deal, it does give the players a peek at your goods. It also gives everyone opportunity to mock and berate the clumsy player who exposed his bank by sneezing, so that’s always fun, eh?

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Will you like Diamonds?

  • If you like trick-taking, classic card games and particularly if you have a need for a game that plays well with 5-6 players, Diamonds is an obvious buy for you.
  • If you are looking for a gateway game to bring classic card game players into the hobby, Diamonds would also be a good choice and one that both gamers and non-gamers can enjoy.
  • If you are looking for a 20-60 minute filler game that relies on subtle strategy, making the most of the cards dealt, in a classic and easy-to-grasp yet difficult to master game, Diamonds may be for you.

There are also variant rules for 2-players, 4 or 6 player partners or “Perfect Diamonds” which limits the cards in a 2-5 player game, rather than reshuffling the entire deck each round, you only shuffle the cards that were originally dealt.  This allows players to know exactly what cards are in play during later rounds.

What do I think of Diamonds? I adore the game. I played several hands before I think I understood what the best plays were. Yes, having more diamonds in your hand is a plus but making the most of the opportunities to go off-led suit and score actions is where the strategy excels.

Or maybe it’s really all about winning the tricks.

I’m not sure how to win, yet.  But I like it.  I like it a lot.

– ML

Review of Knightmare Chess (3rd Edition)

NOVEMBER 21, 2014 on ARIF, reprinted September 13, 2015 / by MITCH LAVENDER – LIFEIN64SQUAREFEET.COM

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Knightmare Chess (3rd Edition) by Steve Jackson Games, $29.95 is chess played with cards that break the rules in unpredictable ways. Some affect a single move and others change the entire game.

Note that playing Knightmare Chess also requires a working knowledge of chess, a chess set and an open mind to play. You’ll also need miscellaneous markers (small post-it notes work well) to place on chess pieces that have been altered through the effects of a card.

Knightmare Chess includes 158 cards, illustrated by artist, Rogério Vilela. Each turn, a player may play a card (which is optional), following the instructions on the card that supersede the classic rules of chess. All of the cards have clear text as to what can and cannot be done, and when they can be played. They have a number in the top right corner, indicating a cost when using the deck building rules.

For example, the card titled Evangelists allows the payer to, “Swap the positions of one of your bishops and one of the opponent’s bishops. Play this card on your turn, instead of making your regular move.”

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You can easily see how a card like this could be helpful and possibly detrimental to the player who uses it. It should be played at a key time, probably one that is planned, if it is played at all.

With this sort of rule-bending going on, there needs to be some jurisdiction, and there are some cardinal guidelines that take precedence over everything else.

The Checkmate Rule states that, “No regular card may directly cause a checkmate situation or capture the king.” You could play a card that changes a pawn into a knight for the rest of the game, and that knight makes a move later in the game that results in a checkmate and that would be allowed, but you can’t checkmate or capture a king directly through the play of a card. Ever.

The other rule is regarding conflicts. “When a card conflict with any other rule or the rules of chess, the card takes precedence. When two cards conflict, Continuing Effect cards take precedence. If both or neither are Continuing Effect cards, the last card played takes precedence.” There, that settles that.

The game includes variants where players build decks rather than draw cards randomly, or handicap one player over another by allowing fewer cards in his deck, and these are for more seasoned players. I look forward to joining those ranks.

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So, what do I think about Knightmare Chess (3rd Edition)?

I’m impressed by the game’s history. It came out in 1996 and disappeared from store shelves a few years later. I learned of the game afterwards and wanted it, but copies were going for ridiculous prices on eBay, so I stayed away. November, 2014, Steve Jackson Games re-released it, complete with the expansion, Knightmare Chess 2, included. Not much has changed from the earlier versions, as best I can tell and I’m pleased to finally own the game.

While the cards add some random elements to chess, they are not all powerful. They do, however, destroy any strategist’s plans of what to do three or more moves ahead. Knightmare Chess makes the game one that requires adaptability and creativity that the original game of chess would thumb its nose.

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I enjoy a proper game of chess and cherish the times I can bring out my tournament set and play. I’m not a great player but I am a good loser, and I lose often. Knightmare Chess is such an aberration to the pure rules of a classic game, I can understand that some people just can’t make the leap, and that’s ok. As for me, I adore the way it changes the game from intentionally foreseeable to shamelessly diverse– the way it puts players on their heels, trying to react to the unpredictable turns the game may take.

Chess purists may be offended that it perverts of the most hallowed of strategy games, but I recommend Knightmare Chess to anyone who enjoys chess and does not take it too seriously.

Game components include:

158 tarot-sized cards, linen finish (this is all the cards from Knightmare Chess and Knightmare Chess 2)

4-page instructions sheet

2 blank cards, so you can create your own mayhem on the chessboard.

As a side note, I noticed Gary Gygax is credited as being a play tester for the original game.  Cool.

M.U.L.E. The Board Game to come to Table, Soon

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Finnish board game publisher Lautapelit.fi announced its latest release — a board game adaptation of the classic video game M.U.L.E.   M.U.L.E. was first published as a computer game in 1983 by Electronic Arts. Inspired by board games, it became a breakthrough, then a classic,  appearing recently in an iOS version.  Now this beloved game of cut-throat capitalism will finally be available as a board game!

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In M.U.L.E. The Board Game, you are one of the pioneering and industrious species of a Galactic Federation. Together with your fellow colonists, you attempt to settle the distant Planet Irata with the so-called help of a mule-like machine you all learn to hate. But for now, he’s all you’ve got. Well, him and your fellow colonists. I wouldn’t count on their help, though — not unless there’s profit. Good luck. You’ll need it.

In more detail, on Irata you claim plots of land, fit M.U.L.E.s (Multiple Use Labor Elements) for harvesting of food, energy, or  mining ore as well as the  elusive and valuable crystite. The most cunning settler and trader receives fame, fortune, and the honorary title of first colonist!

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While the video game always felt like a board game, adapting it to the table top is not as easy as it might seem.  The market in M.U.L.E. is complex, adjusting prices based on the average price of commodities that were traded the previous round along with a projected supply and demand for the current round. If players arbitrarily sold their goods at a high price due to a shortage, the game remembered what that price was and had the Store adjust accordingly.  Then there was the infamous, “Hunt the Wumpus,” action.  It will be interesting to see how the board game adapts these elements.

Due in November, 2015, M.U.L.E. The Board Game is for 3-4 players, aged 14+ and plays in 2-3 hours.

UPDATE 9/29/2015: Overview of the comparison between the board game and the video game is HERE.  Also, the rules are available to download HERE.

Lautapelit.fi is a Nordic games publisher and distributor, based in Helsinki, Finland. Their releases include Eclipse, Nations and Nations – The Dice Game. In addition to publishing and distribution, Lautapelit.fi has also a brick and mortar game store in down town Helsinki, as well as a web shop.

Ed. Source: boardgamegeek.com

Review: Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem board game

 

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Based on the hit TV series, in Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem players take the role of rival gangs out to control territory, accumulate contraband and reap the monetary rewards of illegal enterprise.

With each turn, gangs must attempt to control a range of sites by assigning gang members and resources to claiming, defending and fighting for money, contraband and guns. However, other players can challenge the right for territory, which will lead to conflict! Negotiate, threaten and ally with rival gangs when it serves your needs, but be wary of the inevitable knife in the back. This game is about making and breaking alliances, and only the gang with the most money at the end of six rounds wins.

My wife and I have binge-watched every episode of Sons of Anarchy on Netflix (flinching through more and more parts, particularly in seasons 5-7), and we were completely caught up if for no other reason than we couldn’t look away from the constant train-wreck this show represents, episode after episode. Though we watched like addicts, we were glad when it finally ended.

Gale Force Nine has managed to bring the theme of the show to a board game in a way that doesn’t feel “pasted on” nor does it feel trite. Players order their crew (workers) around with “burner phones” to the various location cards where they can buy or sell guns and edge out the competing clubs.

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Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem can be played in two different variants – the High Octane that adds special gang abilities conferring different strengths based on the club, or the vanilla mode where all the clubs are equal. I suggest you go immediately into High Octane, as the vanilla mode simplifies things but the game isn’t that complicated to begin with.

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The board is based on a number of tiles that resemble drink coasters, randomly drawn and placed to make the board, turned over to make them available locales as the game goes on.  Being the only gang occupying a location means you get the benefits on the card, such as getting money, guns or contraband, or selling guns or contraband. While it’s possible to stay out of one another’s way, being aggressive is the only way you’re going to get ahead in this game. While the throw-downs can be done without guns, having guns definitely skew winning the fight in your favor. It means you’ll bring down more heat on your gang – possibly even needing one of your members to “take the fall” and be taken out of play to be sent to prison. Using guns can also send your rival’s members to the emergency room and possibly the morgue, diminishing that club’s power. Turns are quick but still demand consideration as timing of the actions your gang undertakes is important.

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The game brings out the TV show’s theme of a biker club’s illegal enterprise and exploitation combined with those of rival clubs competing for the benefits offered by specific territories. At the core of SoA, it’s an area control game with direct player conflict.

And regarding the player conflict, called throw-downs in the game, it is resolved simply. 2 points for every member at the site and 1 point for every prospect. 3 points for every gun, and add the roll of 1d6 – the largest sum wins. Each side using guns gets a heat token and if guns were used, the loser has a guy go to the emergency room and possibly die.  There are a finite number of members and prospects each player can have, so this forces early conflicts. 

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As for the fights, they are in your face. There is no, “Oh, look! I took up all the spaces on the ship so you can’t sell anything this turn,” passive-aggressive nonsense. Nothing is casual or side-bar. It is a straight-up attack every time and you may get warning it is coming but often won’t.

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As for game components, they are solid. Plastic minis of bikers, prospects, bags of contraband or guns are well done. The location tiles are all thick cardboard, as are the tokens for money, burner phones and heat. The cards are standard size and the card quality is average.

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Summary:

The game is not complex but has some interesting decisions to make each turn. Because of the theme and aggressiveness, it’s not for everyone. If you and your gaming group enjoy games where players attack each other outright, you will probably enjoy this game. Takes 60-90 minutes to play, and is best at 4 players or more (5-6 players with the expansions), because when having a bloodbath, the more, the merrier.

Personally, I like Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem a lot. It captures the general theme of the TV show but doesn’t require that you know anything about the show to enjoy the game.  There is a sense of consequences in the game.  More than that, it gets players at the table involved, making alliances and breaking those alliances at times, and that is what I enjoy so much about board games – the negotiations, game-talk and the occasional back-stabbing move that just might win the game. 

Yeah.  Let’s play.

Complaints about the Kickstarter game Viceroy from Mayday Games

Viceroy is a board game of bidding and resource management set in the fantasy universe of the Russian CCG Berserk. As the players recruit a variety of allies and enact various laws, these cards allow players to develop their state’s military and magical might, increase their authority, and get precious gems they need to continue expanding their nation.

Viceroy

The game was brought to America by Mayday Games via an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $267k. Promised for delivery in March of 2015, the game was finally delivered to backers in July. There was much whining from backers about the delays and shipping issues up to the time the game went out, but it was after the game shipped that the whining reached a new crescendo, albeit from a small number of backers.

Among the complaints are:

  • Disappointment with the card quality, thickness and linen finish. Thin and inequitable finish on the cards.
  • The box is a little grabby and hard to open.
  • The four zip lock baggies included in the game – because there are four “kinds” of chits in the game – are too small to actually contain the game bits. To add to this, shipment was delayed to add the stated baggies to the game, but were inadequate.
  • The playing mat is printed too dark.
  • The 4 promo cards exclusive to the Kickstarter backers turned out to be 2 new cards, printed twice.
  • Card size should be bigger.
  • 101 cards in the game but 100 card sleeves?

Mayday Games responded to these qualms in a FAQ, HERE.

They Lied

While every single complaint mentioned above is whiny and petty, they are not completely without merit:

Probably because of the upgraded linen finish, the box is a little difficult to open – it doesn’t slide easily. Also not a deal breaker but is a portent of the lack of attention to detail throughout this project.

The cards are printed on thin stock and the linen finish is inconsistent. Absolutely true, and when Mayday Games promised “Premium cards with linen finish on both cards and box,” this obviously was not delivered. Mayday also provided card sleeves as a stretch goal, but it was not clear at the time that it was to mitigate the inferior card quality.

The four plastic bags are too small – a joke when you consider putting the included game components in them.  Mayday did claim they delayed shipment to include the bags, which are inadequate to begin with, so it is yet another production flaw – not a big one but little stuff like this adds up.

Mayday admitted they lied about the promised “4 Unique Promo Cards”  which turned out to be 2 new cards, printed twice, but that doesn’t undo the fact that they promised something that they did not deliver.  Mayday made no comment about amending this.

That the card size should be bigger is merely an opinion. Considering that every player is building a pyramid with these cards, it already takes up a lot of table space. Bigger cards would take up even more, yet bigger cards would allow for larger print on the cards. Again, this is preference, and you can whine away about it – it is what it is.

The playing mat is printed too dark – Again, this is an opinion. I thought the playing mat looked good and even if it was too dark, nothing was impaired.  With so many more impairing flaws to this production, it is a testament to the ire and tenacity of how whiny gamers can be that this was even mentioned.

Including the 4 cards for auction, there are 101 cards, yet the game included sleeves for 100 cards. Most of the time, these packages of sleeves contain an overage of 1 or 2, so you will have enough and mine did – 102 sleeves. If that is not the case for you, cry me a river.

Dino-lieAll said,  the production qualms are not significant and the game is legitimately good, but Mayday Games was very dismissive in their responses to these issues as they failed to keep commitments. This was their official response:

Please also remember that the KS price of the game was $24, less than our Get Bit Tin Game, less than Incan Gold, and less than many games that have half the components.  We hope that even with some less than perfect results, you’ll remember that in terms of game play and components, this game is still an EXCELLENT value for our backers. In fact, we just announced the MSRP of the game (without the promo cards, sleeves, gems or playmats) will be $35 when it is released in August.  Yes this doesn’t mean we should slop through things, but we hope you will remember what a great game this is too.

I hope my gamer friends stop whining. I hope Mayday Games learns from this experience, and I assure you, I will not back another Mayday Games project on Kickstarter again.

You take my money.  Keep your promises.  Period.