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Finally, I got to try out Pendulum from Stonemaier Games! Here are my first impressions after a single play. Oh and by the way, I got crushed by Trent who had played once before. I'd honestly feel exactly the same about this game even if I had won though.
Aesthetics and Components
- Art is lovely but souless - The art style is sleek and stylish. I like this more than the painterly style that is common in board game fantasy games. But because the game is very low on theme, it suffers the same problem as all other themeless games. It's an afterthought. A covering that looks nice but ultimately, the gameplay and the art aren't in sync and enhancing each other.
- Components are just "okay" - The player "boards" have the grainy, rough sandpaper-like finish on them similar to the ones in #Tapestry. I believe this is to provide some amount of friction between the components and the "board" but I'm not sure honestly. And the plastic bits are ok. I don't really mind them but I prefer wood. To be honest, I always like the wooden bits from Stonemaier Games so this one's a bit of a surprise. Jamey did a write-up addressing exactly this here.
- Clear iconography - This is also quite typical for Stonemaier Games. Yes, this is a relatively light game (light-medium?) without much complications but it's an important part to nail since it's a real-time game with lots of fast decision-making involved.
Gameplay - I'll address this in two parts. The gameplay without consideration of real-time elements, and then with real-time
- Solid engine-building, worker placement game without any surprises - As Trent explained the rules, I kept nodding because it just checks off a lot of boxes of a very typical engine-building, worker placement game. Similar to #Lions of Lydia and many other types of engine-builders out there, you have four different engines and you can improve them by acquiring cards that will enhance the efficiency of one of your engines. It has a "race"-like feeling of gameplay that reminds me a litle bit of #Century: Golem Edition and #Architects of the West Kingdom. And it features Grande workers similar to #Viticulture: Essential Edition that makes you think about how to most efficiently manage the use of your regular workers vs. the Grande workers that can be placed at action spaces that are already occupied. This all combines to a game that feels like there really aren't any surprises, especially when you strip out the real-time aspect of the gameplay.
- It's like the motivation behind playing chess with a chess clock - The sole purpose of the sand timers is to test your mental/tactical skills. To think on your feet and push the pacing of the gameplay. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's not what I expected. When I heard mentions of #Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar, I expected and wished for mechanisms that are deeply woven together with the dimension of time, instead of sand timers that are merely there to add pressure and make you quickly think how to most efficiently move around your workers. I love the idea of time elements in games such as Tzolk'in and #Anachrony so that was disappointing.
- This is a novelty game - I had fun playing, but I think it's mostly because it's an unusual game involving timers. It's not one that makes me want to bring out again for a solo session either. Maybe the solo mode is really good, but I'm not itching to get to it since it's a very themeless game where you're just getting XYZ resources to convert them into points in the best way possible. Again, that's completely fine and plenty of games I love are like that, but it feels like I'm playing a lower weight game that typically should play under 1 hour, but only takes longer and feels more difficult only because of the sand timers.
- I don't quite get who the target audience is - The engine-building and worker placement aspects of the game don't hold any surprises. There's no strong hook if you consider the mechanics without real-time. And for the real-time aspect of the game, I feel that it's a miss because rather than time being a thematic addition to the game (e.g. time ticking away as you're diffusing a bomb, or fulfilling orders at a restaurant) it feels mostly like a chess clock.
I had fun, but it's not for me. I hope others will enjoy it more than I did even after repeat plays, but I have a feeling that it won't have a long shelf life.
I typically judge a game's solo potential based on accessibility, puzzly fun, and thematic ties/immersion. The more thematic the game, the more I'm willing to sacrifice a bit of the accessibility, while for a puzzly kind of experience, I'd prefer a game with quicker setup and minimal upkeep that allows me to get in and get out after a solid brain teasing session.
So where does #Tapestry fall in this spectrum? Here are my first impressions after playing through ~50% of my first game (I had to wrap it up quickly before my son woke up from his nap).
- The "4 page rulebook" is great - I've previously read through criticisms regarding the short rulebook, that it doesn't give enough room for clarifications. Based on my solo play, I was pretty amazed how simple the rules are to pick up. It'll take time to learn the icons though and you'll find yourself referring to the reference sheet quite often in the beginning.
- The Automa in this game has a slight learning curve but runs smoothly - Oddly enough, the solo mode rules are longer and take more time to digest. I can see why though, because compared to a game like #Viticulture: Essential Edition, the Automa in this one needs a more complex decision tree to be able to offer good competition. But the Automa still runs very smoothly and involves little upkeep.
- Setup time is just "okay" for me but likely great for veteran solo gamers - Depending on the person, setup clocks around 5-10 minutes. In the beginning, taking out the minis and placing them down on their respective areas (on the board where players will be taking the minis from) will take you more time than you'd imagine! Also, if you're primarily a solo gamer, you'll want to store the Tapestry deck separated in two different baggies or something. Of the 50 cards, 13 of them need to be taken out when playing against the Automa. Teardown time goes super quickly because there aren't that many different pieces involved considering that it's a civ-like game.
- There's randomness, and quite a bit of it. Presents a great challenge for solo gamers but it could be problematic for multiplayer sessions - Luck factor is received very differently among gamers, and some will be optimistic about it and focus on making the best out of the situation (similar to what you'd experience in #Viticulture: Essential Edition pre-Tuscany expansion), and others will not enjoy this. The synergy of your civ's power and the right card draws can absolutely kick off your engine, while a series of bad draws will slow you down quite a bit. There are ways to mitigate this by taking actions to draw more cards, but it does mean that you'd potentially use up your resources and turns to advance along a track that's not the best for you. And while luck can leave room for less experienced gamers to catch up while presenting a serious challenge for experienced players, the opposite could also mean a bad experience where you're completely behind and feel like you won't ever catch up.
- $65 is great but $80? Hmmm... - I see that this game is now at $65 from Amazon, which is a lot cheaper than where Tapestry started out at upon release. I think that's a great value but knowing what Tapestry encompasses, I wouldn't have gone for it at an $80 price tag. Big part of this is that the minis (and the potion of the insert that houses them) comprise about 30-50% of the box's volume, and that's a whole lot of space and money for something that's mostly for visuals. I'll get more into the minis in the section for "Thematic Immersion".
Summary: Like most games from Stonemaier Games, there's a strong focus on accessibility. As I'll get into below, there's a whole lot of abstraction that keeps things simple and straightforward. So in return for a loss in thematic immersion, Tapestry offers a "civ-like" game that you can introduce to your friends and family without hesitation because it's light on rules, looks fantastic, offers satisfying gameplay, and doesn't have you beating up on one another like in #Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization.
- Tapestry is a satisfying engine builder - More than a civ game, Tapestry comes across as an engine builder with several civ-like elements thrown into the mix. Similar to how #Wingspan offers a fun brain teaser with its 3 separate engines, Tapestry gives you four of them: Military, Technology, Science, and Exploration. The competition with the Automa and the Shadow Empire leads to making a lot of tactical decisions while your civilization's unique power sets the course for more strategic, long-term decisions. It's satisfying to push along your cubes across these tracks and have your moves grow ever more powerful.
- Offers a spatial puzzle - Whenever you build a structure or score one of those landmark minis, you place them on your civilization board that has a grid pattern that notates habitable spaces. You score points in your income turn based on the completed rows and columns and certain sections on the board.
- Automa presents a serious challenge - As a solo gamer, you will be playing against the Automa that's also assisted by the Shadow Empire. The Automa is the primary threat while the Shadow Empire keeps the race along the tracks (and the competition for the landmarks) even tighter. The game presents a tough mind puzzle of trying to figure out how to squeeze out the most amount of efficiency from your limited resources to make some serious progress along the tracks before needing to head into the income phase.
- Tactile goodness! - Some might call it overproduced, but it sure adds to the experience. The big player "boards" and many other cards have a grainy, rough finish. The income generating buildings and the minis are rubbery and fun to hold. You have the smooth player cubes that you push along the track. You have the tiles that you place on the board as you explore beyond the territories you control. And lastly, the game comes with some cool dice that you can chuck.
Summary: If you're a fan of Stonemaier Games, you'll likely at least enjoy the solo mode. Tapestry is a different game but there's a familiarity about it in its engine-building puzzles, while also offering civ-like elements such as exploration and conquering (conquering part is admittedly not that exciting though, at least not on the level of YESSS like in #Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization). Plus, Tapestry comes with a rich tactile fun that I always seek in a great solo game (otherwise, zero tactile fun makes me think "why play this instead of an app?"
Thematic Immersion (in other words, is Tapestry a civ game?)
- This question is loaded with subjectivity - For me, a civ game should ultimately deliver on a feeling of progression and story, where you can look back after finishing the game and easily reflect on its moments of triumph and downfall. Doesn't really matter how complex it is or how it achieves it, but I'd expect every move I make to feel like I've advanced a part of my civilization and hopefully made it for the better. And my answer to this is that Tapestry comes close, but not quite there for me.
- There's a lot of abstraction that makes Tapestry accessible, but at the expense of thematic ties - Advancing along a track requires an increasing amount of resources in the form of coin, food, worker, or culture. It feels odd when you're making leaps in history and just paying two workers and a coin. It's also a bit anti-climatic that many of the benefits in advancement is in the form of taking an income generating building (see the yellow, gray, brown, and red buildings in the picture) and placing it on your civilization board, where during your income turn, you will generate income based on all icons revealed. So there's a bit of that engine-building feeling of progression, but you never quite get that satisfaction of taking a super inefficient building and upgrading it beyond recognition by the end of the era. Then there are the great looking minis, which only serve to act as points. As mentioned above, placing the buildings and landmarks on your civilization board is for scoring points based on a spatial puzzle, and all these minis are good for is for covering up more footprint. And while there are many other points I can get into, your civilization will also produce anachronistic technology, where the typical pacing of real-world history will not match yours and you will find yourself developing dynamite way before discovering currency.
- There's a lack of player agency in directing your civ's history - In a game like Viticulture, there's justification for luck of the draw because it's a game in which players are relying on nature to produce their goods. I feel like this doesn't quite work for Tapestry where players should be given more control over directing the course of their civilization.
Summary: With so much abstraction in place, Tapestry leaves a lot of room for interpretation and imagination. At the same time, it never quite takes players away from thinking in terms of VP's and resources. One thing's for sure, and it's that the narrative of your civilization will look drastically different across all of your plays.
Final Thoughts: So with that said, how do I feel about Tapestry? I definitely need to give it more plays to decide, but it's a great game with lots of wonderful ideas that comes across as more of a puzzly experience than a thematic one. I'm looking forward to getting into this more in the future and it sits in a good spot where the setup time is just within what I could tolerate for a puzzly (plus more) kind of gameplay with highly competitive Automa.
Disclaimer: Jaws of the Lion is my first step into the world of Gloomhaven. I've honestly never had much of an interest since I'm new to dungeon crawlers and the stigma associated with the genre certainly didn't help. I also like to stay far, FAR away from any games with long setup times. So even though I like to solo games from time to time (once a week/two weeks), I never felt drawn to try out the "#1 game of all time". Recently, though, I've been wanting to branch out from my typical euro games. As much as I love them, I often find that I greatly appreciate games that are a marriage of solid euro mechanics (rewarding strategic and tactical plays) and strong thematic connections. And this is where I make my obligatory shoutout to #Root, but recently #Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated for its focus on storytelling. Well, it looks like I've found another great match through the accessible counterpart to Gloomhaven, #Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. Here are my first impressions after playing through the first scenario.
I'll start with the pre-game experience, starting from my Sunday morning trip to Target. Skip to "Setup and Learning the Game" section if you don't want to read all the extra stuff!
(++) Hype - Has there ever been another board game release at Target that caused this much commotion? I can't remember one, and I think this is history in the making. Part of the fun in our hobby is talking about games, and I couldn't help but feel excited as I made the trip, knowing that this is the single most talked about game at the moment.
(+/-) Judging by the cover - I felt iffy about the cover art when I first heard the announcement, but it's grown on me. I like it. The box is hefty and you can tell from the weight that it's Gloomhaven Jr. One thing I found interesting is that the lid already comes with quite a bit of lift. Not a good sign in terms of the ease of "reboxing" after gameplay.
(+) What's inside? - The fun part of unboxing these types of games is the sense of mystery and discovery. You can't open everything just yet, and have to wait until the right moment. The game comes with plenty of baggies and have a tray for all of the different tokens. The insert is decent but there's so little room left in this box after you punch out and organize everything. But the highlights here are the great minis, scenario book, learn to play guide, counters for hit points, great monster standees, cards, and so much more. At $50 (before tax) and 25 scenarios, this game most definitely delivers on value.
(+) Minis - I appreciate that the sculpting on these is better than Gloomhaven's. I've always had a bad impression of Gloomhaven's minis, although it's probably unfair for me to compare them against CMON's. In my opinion, the posturing on GH's minis are very stiff and the body proportions are completely off in comparison to the illustrations.
Setup and Learning the Game - How Beginner-Friendly is Jaws of the Lion?
(+) Initial Setup - The rulebook walks you through how to organize everything for max efficiency for setting up future scenarios. Including punching all of the tokens, identifying and bagging all of the monster cards, standees, and other components together, I think I took about 1.5 hours. Possibly too long for some people but it was a great way to become familiar with the game's world.
(++) Scenario Book - Storytelling and tone is just right for me. Nothing cheesy or cliched and gives you just enough to keep you interested. I just really love the idea of flipping open the book and having a great game session lying in wait.
(+++) Starting the game. Low intimidation factor - At first, you might think to yourself that there's too much prep time. But if you consider how much time (and mental energy) typically goes into learning any new game, this is a very pleasant experience with lots of "hand-holding". It leads you through one action and round at a time, saves some of the more complex elements to introduce in the next scenario, and makes you feel confident enough to walk on your own.
How Does it Play?
(++) For those who are familiar with my preferences, you know that I have a high regard for simple mechanics that reward deep tactical and strategic plays. Maybe it's from my Chess and Go background, but I always enjoy that aspect in gaming. In the first round, each player has a hand of 6 cards and you play two of them as an action. There are two "catches" that turn this game into a great tactical gameplay that reminds me of turn-based battles in games like Final Fantasy.
- Each card denotes a value for "initiative". If you're not familiar with this concept, it's a way to determine player order, including the monsters (the monster in the first round had an initiative of 50). In each round, you lay down two cards you will play for the round, and the card you place down first determines your initiative. Once all players/characters have placed down their cards, the player order is then determined in order of lowest to highest initiative. So you have to think about how early you want to take action, how you want to position yourself to attack or support a teammate, whether you should let the monsters approach you first, etc.
- Each card comes with two different character specific abilities, one on the top side and one on the bottom side. You will have to choose which ability you will use. So you're constantly going through choices like "Hmm should I use this ability to attack? But I'll have to sacrifice not having a movement option..." and so on.
(+) Distinct play styles for each character - I always love variable player powers and you can choose from 4 very different "flavors" in play style. When you solo, you have to play with at least two characters, so I went for the melee-based character and a support-type character.
(+) Luck in combat - Each figure (characters and monsters) on the map has an attack modifier deck. This is meant to simulate the probability of success/failure in how potent the attack will be. For instance, my melee character was low on health but I decided to take the risk and go for a strong melee attack that I was sure would success, but after a really bad card draw that basically nullified my attack (there are only a few of those in the deck), I was a sitting duck to take in lots of damage. I always like combat mechanics that make great use of luck, so I like this a lot.
(++) Smooth gameplay - Once you get past the initial setup, there's surprisingly little upkeep involved even when you're soloing with two characters. The way the monsters move is intuitive and you're mostly spending time thinking about which moves you should make. This is one of those games like Root where the mechanic blends so well into the game that it "disappears" on you.
As usual, I had a lot to say! And while it's still too early to tell, I can only guess that things will get more interesting with more plays. If I were to rate this game on a 5-star scale, I'd lean closer to a 5/5 at the moment, and I rarely give those. I think you'll really enjoy this one @nealkfrank (when you're done with #Aeon's End: Legacy, of course :D)
I managed to squeeze in a solo game of Cartographers last night and wanted to share my first impressions in the form of a comparison with #Welcome to..., another fantastic "roll and write" game. I will compare the two across these categories:
- Unboxing Experience
- Ease of Learning/Playing
- Interesting Decision Space
- Player Interaction
Unboxing Experience -> Cartographers
Both come in a small box and contain a deck of cards and a bunch of sheets for the players. Cartographers comes with pencils, Welcome To doesn't. Overall, I'd say that Cartographers packs a bigger punch in terms of first impressions. The cover art looks amazing and the card quality, illustrations, and sleek graphic design all go hand in hand in making it feel like there's a bigger game contained in a small box.
Theme -> Welcome To
Subjective for sure, but I'd give this to Welcome To. I like the idea of charting a map in Cartographers, to explore different terrains and ward off monsters while fulfilling the Queen's edicts. But it's not at a level where the theme adds a whole new layer of fun to the gameplay. It's set in the Roll Players universe which I'm not familiar with, so the brief "lore" behind the gameplay feels like it's just there (and that's okay!). To be fair, the expansions appear to add more depth to the integration of theme and mechanics, but I'm just comparing apples to apples between the base games only.
In contrast, I appreciate the overall "homey" vibe of Welcome To. From coming up with silly names for your neighborhood, to drawing in fences and filling in your pools and parks, it's more relatable and hits closer to home in a good way. And bonus points for fun retro 1950's art.
Ease of Learning/Playing -> Welcome To
Both of these games fall under the category of games that are super quick to learn and play. The rulebooks are done well and the solo mode rules just take a minute to go through. BUT, I'd give the win to Welcome To for one main reason: There's less room for ambiguity.
Unlike Welcome To, where the way you score remains identical across all plays, Cartographers features 16 scoring cards, of which 4 are used in one play. And while most of them are clear, there were just a few cards that forced me to do a quick google search for answers. It turned out that my overall strategy was flawed from the beginning becaue of a small misunderstanding about one of the scoring cards.
If you plan to bring this out for your group, I'd highly suggest that before starting the game, make sure everyone's on the same page about the wording behind the way you score. Otherwise, you may have some poor unfortunate souls devasted by their plans falling apart midgame! And you'd hate to hear that "You didn't tell me about this!" from someone.
Interesting Decision Space -> Cartographers
This category is a tough one to measure because the feeling behind the gameplay is actually quite different. While both games leave a decent amount of room for long term planning and situational plays, Welcome To focuses on probabilities and Cartographers leans closer to a spatial management game with tetris shapes.
It's a tug of war between my love for "push your luck" thrill and the puzzliness of games like #Tiny Towns, and I'd give the win to Cartographers because of its slightly deeper decision space and variability in setup.
Player Interaction -> ......Tie?
Typically, during Cartographers' Exploration Phase, the group will draw from the deck and it will give you an option for a shape and a terrain type to place on the map. Sometimes, your group will encounter an Ambush card that features a monster. When this occurs, players pass their map to an adjacent player who will draw the monster shape on any location. It's a chance to mess with your opponent big time, but it's not as likely to leave sour feelings since it's mutual destruction!
On the other hand, you have Welcome To with zero interaction among players, at least mechanically speaking. The great thing about Welcome To is that it's a solitaire game that feels more socially interactive than others in the genre. Because of its simplicity (less thinky), ease of play (marking 1 or 2 things as opposed to drawing), and the overall vibe of the theme, I've experienced that it naturally leads to tabletalk and catching up on one another while playing. For Cartographers, this is harder because you're more focused on pulling off your grand scheme.
Considering both of these sides, it's a tie in terms of player interaction.
Edit: Wow, I completely forgot about one thing. Welcome To has goal cards that players have to compete for. So there's some amount of interaction.
It's a close one, but I'm giving the overall win to Cartographers. What tips it over for me is that ultimately, my wife and I like thinkier games. And having soloed both, I also feel that Cartographers is one that I'd actually want to get to the table more often. I hope some of my thoughts will help you choose between these two great flip and writes. Feel free to ask any questions!
It's already been a year since I've played Tiny Towns with my friends. I happened to have @trentellingsen's copy of the game at my place since my wife is doing photography work for us, so I thought I might as well take this opportunity to try out the solo mode.
- In Tiny Towns, each player builds his/her own town on a 4x4 grid
- There are 7 building types and each building type has a number of variations (there are 25 buildings total, plus another 15 Monument cards that each player starts with that give special powers once it's been constructed). Each building scores VP's in different ways
- Each building is represented by a card, and you can build one once you have placed the tetris-like pattern of cubes on your town (red=brick, brown=wood, gray=stone, blue=glass, yellow=wheat).The pattern can be mirrored/flipped/rotated. When you choose to replace a pattern with a building, you remove the corresponding cubes and place your building on any one of the squares that a resource cube had previously occupied. This frees up precious real estate!
- In a typical round, one player (the Master Builder) calls out one of the colors matching that resource type. Then all players will simulatenously place that resource cube on any of the open spots in his/her own town. Once everyone has finished placing their cube and possibly building one of the structures, it's the next player's turn to be the Master Builder
- At any point in the game, if you aren't able to place down the resource cube that's been called out, you're out and will have to wait until everyone's done
- Once everyone's completely done building their town, count VP's and determine the winner. All unused resource cubes in your town is removed from the board and you get a -1 for each of these empty spaces.
I love it when I see a short rulebook - Learning the rules tends to be one of the biggest barriers in board gaming. A short rulebook makes it that much more likely for me to get over my laziness, and so much less daunting to think about teaching others. In fact, I immediately thought I should introduce this on our next family game night.
I love it even more when the solo variant doesn't involve a whole another rulebook - You know what I'm afraid of more than seeing a long rulebook? A long rulebook where the solo variant rules are just as long and tedious, if not more complicated. The biggest difference for the solo variant there's a deck of resource cards where you can pick 1 of 3 choices in each round. So in the picture below, I can choose to place a blue cube and replace that card by drawing from the resource deck.
A spatial puzzle that's worth pulling out vs. just another puzzle app - I remember thinking this when I first tried out the game. But it's a surprisingy thinky game. You have highly limited real estate to work with and you're just trying to fit in these jigsaw puzzles in your head. It's very satisfying when you're able to replace a pattern with a bullding and you're magically left with more space to work with. There's also the thrill of luck where you're relying on a specific color to come out, and each game feels different because the buildings synergize in interesting ways and you can try out different strategies. Plus, the tactile fun of this and the charming buildings are a joy to play with. It also helps that it's quick setup. The combination of all these factors lead to a highly replayable and fun puzzle you can pull out without pressure.
With that said, this is different from the multiplayer experience - A big part of Tiny Towns' feel of multiplayer gameplay is a dash of "meanness". Beginners will likely get tunnel-visioned and focus on their own board and the strategy that he/she is going for, but more experienced players will watch out to see what other players are going for, especially toward the late game. So as a Master Builder, you have total freedom to call out a color that a certain player is desperately wanting to avoid placing on their town. So if you like this aspect, know that it will be missing in the solo variant! But, this also means that rather than dealing with someone trying to directly mess you up, you'll be leaving it to random chance sometimes.
If you enjoy spatial puzzles but often find yourself going for phone apps instead, try Tiny Towns. It has everything you want in a simple puzzle and has all of the pluses that only board games can bring to the table.
Here are my first impressions of The Princess Bride board game after playing through all 6 chapters with @trentellingsen today! (Video at the bottom of the article)
"Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
This is a nostalgia bomb
The Princess Bride (the movie) is brimming with memorable scenes and endearing characters, and this game does a great job of bringing it all back. From the perfect box art, to the fantastically detailed miniatures, storybook board, and chapter "challenges" to complete following the sequences of the movie, it's a simple game that will have you smiling as you recollect the scenes and all those wonderful quotes. So for those who haven't watched the movie, go watch the movie first! Otherwise, the majority of the appeal in this game won't work for you at all.
Zero stress game with an easy but fun puzzle
Easy to learn, easy to play and setup, and there isn't a whole lot of pressure throughout the gameplay. You're mostly managing a hand of cards and completing objectives that consist of "Get character X to Y spot" and discard cards with matching suits. The challenge comes from the constant attempt by the grandson to disrupt his grandpa's storytime. This comes in the form of a "plot deck," which tries to foil your plans in every round. Think... Pandemic on easy mode with a fun theme. You have a number of options in each turn and the challenge is to optimize your moves.
There were 1-2 times throughout our runthrough of all 6 chapters where we thought "Oh... we might be in trouble" but besides that, we were able to comfortably complete all of our objectives. That might sound bad, and yes, some of you might find it a bad thing, but it was still an enjoyable puzzle. And it will probably be a much closer call if you're playing with those who have very little experience with gaming.
Feels more like an experience than a game
Connecting with my previous point, this game delivers on experience. Your brain won't be overheating trying to process a complicated puzzle. It's a game where you can sit down with friends and family and have fun talking about your favorite moments in the movie.
Keep on your shelf for others than for yourself
Of course, many of us already do this. You try to get games that work for both yourself and for others you'll be playing with. But in this case, I think The Princess Bride leans much closer to a type of game that you'd want to get with others in mind. It seems like an easy crowd pleaser given the popular appeal of the IP. It's a type of game that I'd pull off the shelf if I want (1) an easy, thematic cooperative game and (2) a game that will make my non-gamer friends think "Oh, I've never played a board game like this before!"
Replay value is its weakest link
I'll be honest here. I'd never solo this game just for fun. And I also can't see playing this with my wife more than once, assuming that we managed to complete all chapters without failing and needing to start over. There are no variable player powers and there's no variability in setup. But, it's a game that I'd happily pull out and have fun with a new group every single time. After all, it's just fun to show off a game about Princess Bride.
Here's a review video:
Does Brass: Birmingham actually live up to its #3 spot on BGG? Is it a great game for two players? Here are my first impressions after a session against @trentellingsen.
Perfect - Keep in mind that this is the Deluxe Edition, which features thicker cardboard, the Iron Clay poker chips, and a couple of other upgrades. And at least at first glance, it's absolutely well done. In particular, the art direction and overall design is fantastic. The cover is one of the best I've seen and the color choices and the way they contrasted the background illustration vs. the player pieces show great design sensibilities. Roxley has been absolutely killing it in their marketing and presentation of their games and they're one of the publishers out there who are definitely on my "watch list". And in case you didn't know, Mr. Cuddington (a husband-wife creative duo) is the mastermind behind the artwork for this game plus many other amazing looking games out there (e.g. #Santorini, #The Grimm Forest)
Surprisingly easy to follow - It's definitely on the heavier end, but it also doesn't have as much rules overhead or little exceptions to memorize like other games in the same "weight". Trent taught me the rules and while I got 80-90% of the rules down after several turns, I often found myself tripping over 1-2 rules mostly because I'm the type of person who likes to learn and teach games with as much thematic reasoning behind them, so not having a full knowledge of that made it harder. I'll be reading through the rulebook myself at some point!
Simple but deep - Very different game, but it bears some resemblance to #Clans of Caledonia. You have 5-6 unique types of actions available in every turn, and it's up to you to make the most efficient string of actions as you build up your network. For Clans, you're building a network of workers, cows, sheep, wheat field, distillery, etc, and then you have Brass' cold steel industrial network of canals and railroads and factories. The charm behind these two games is that its simplicity leads to great variations in strategy and tactical play.
From blank stare till it "clicks" - Because I was completely new to the game, I stared at the board with its intricate network of different locations and I had no idea where to start. This is different from games like #Concordia where all players start from one central location and start branching outward. I think It really helps limit analysis paralysis from new players when you have a starting point that makes you feel grounded. Of course, it doesn't mean that this is better, but it was an interesting thought. Once I completed my first couple of turns, it was easier to see where my options lie and I slowly built up my strategy one step at a time while learning the flow. And once we got to the end of the first era and went through midgame scoring, it "clicked" and I was all set.
Plays very well at two players with great amount of tension - There's a tug-of-war kind of feeling all throughout the gameplay, and there are a number of factors to this:
- There are two tracks that show each player's progression: (1) victory point track with midgame scoring and endgame scoring, and (2) income track that shows how much money a player will make at the end of a round. Players constantly progress further on the income track with each round (or sometimes go down if you take out a loan). Having this live update of each other's progress leads to lots of "eyeing" on one another and making you feel like you really need to keep up or "one up" the other person.
- Order of play is determined by who spent the least amount of money in the previous round. This adds another layer of tactical play where you're trying to efficiently use up your money vs. sometimes not too much so that you can ensure taking two turns in a row to make one big move.
- Network building game with quickly limiting options and competition around hotspots with great point potential. There are also plenty of opportunities to take advantage of your opponent's established routes and resources to advance your own.
Surprisingly very puzzly and not as thematic - As mentioned earlier, I went into this game not having read the rules myself. And by the second era, I knew how to make decisions that will net me lots of points/income, but I didn't fully understand why certain mechanics worked the way it did from a thematic point of view. That would've helped me appreciate the game much more.
It's a game that leaves an impression and stays in your head for a while - I went into this with about a year of hearing/reading how great it is. That's a lot of expectation to live up to. Throughout the entire session, I couldn't help but keep evaluating whether this lives up to its #3 rank, especially because I was missing a little bit of that thematic connection that would've tied everything together. And to be honest, I had my doubts and still wonder where it should place (but that same question goes for SO many games on BGG's list). But I did realize that ever since we played, this game's been on my mind and it's one that I'd like to play more of. In fact, writing out my first impressions is making me want to play again. And..... I think I can now see where Trent was coming from when he told me that this game is like bacon to him. It's not a fancy dinner kind of game that fills me with absolute excitement, but it's darn good and I find myself wanting more of it.
Is it the right game for me and my wife? - I'm honestly not sure. We only game together maybe once a month or less these days and there are a number of games I'd love to get in more plays of (e.g. #Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated). I like the amount of player interaction in this game but with the longer gameplay length, it directly competes with games such as #Clans of Caledonia and #Concordia that deliver on satisfying puzzly experience under 1.5 hours and with less setup time. Perhaps with repeat plays, it could get to that point?
I'm so glad this game wasn't a let down and that Trent introduced it to me. I completely see the appeal and how wonderfully simple and deep it is. And if you're interested in acquiring this game, you can either get the regular edition on our game page or find the Deluxe Edition for $80 on Roxley's website! Iron Clays add SO much to the overall experience.
So I pre-ordered the expansion for #Dune pretty much as soon as it was available, and I've had it for months now, but we finally got to play it. One guy had to drop out last minute, which kind of sucked, but there's not much you can do about it, so we played with 5. The game works decently well at 5, so not too big of a deal.
Now we haven't played Dune too many times yet, but this was by far the weirdest play we've had. First of all, because there were expansion factions to choose from, no one ended up playing as either Atreides or Harkonnen. If you're familiar with the book, you know how weird this is from a thematic sense.
The second weird thing was that one player almost won in the first round. This was the guy playing as the Ixians, one of the new factions. One special thing about them is that they have a "hidden mobile stronghold." They control this at the beginning of the game. Anyone can move in and out of this stronghold, but only the Ixians are actually allowed to ship forces into it, so anyone else would need to ship into the territory it's occupying and use their move action to enter it.
Anyway, 3 players had their turns before him in the first round. Players 1 and 2 (Tleilaxu and Bene Gesserit) chose not to ship any forces onto the planet that round. I (Fremen), went next and used my ship action to reinforce my position in the Sietch Tabr stronghold, and my move action to move toward a spice blow (since the Fremen have no other reliable income). The Ixian player was next, with only one other player going after him. He had initially placed his mobile stronghold on the Habbanya Sietch stronghold, so he used his move action to move some of his forces into it, giving him 2 of the 3 required strongholds. He used his ship action to ship into Arrakeen, giving him the 3rd. This forced the guy playing the Emperor, who was last in the turn order for the round, to fight him in one of the strongholds, otherwise the Ixians would have won. He shipped into Arrakeen, and they fought.
The Ixians actually won the battle, but the guy playing forgot that you lose all the forces you dial, and he dialed everything, so no one was left. Even if he didn't forget that, he would have lost, as the Tleilaxu player had the Ixian's leader as a traitor, and played him as a Face Dancer. It was an exciting couple of minutes.
Rounds 2 and 3 were not as exciting. In turn 2, I (Fremen) moved from the spice blow I collected in the previous round into Tuek's Sietch, giving myself 2 strongholds. I also moved to another spice blow that was right in front of the storm, just so I could collect the spice, since Fremen only take half troop loss in a storm. There were minor battles here and there in these rounds, but nothing decisive or particularly exciting. Tleilaxu and Bene Gesserit were biding their time, not making any strong moves, really. The Ixians have some cool abilities that were pretty fun in this game having to do with the auction phase and the treachery cards. They were a good replacement for Atreides in that regard.
Round 4 started off like the previous 2 - with a pretty standard auction and revival phase. One thing that I was watching, though - I was last in the turn order this round. That's important, because it means that no one can make any movements after you make yours. I still had my 2 strongholds (Tuek's Sietch and Sietch Tabr). The Emperor had 2 strongholds - Carthag and Arrakeen - but was weak in both. The Tleilaxu player shipped into the one closer to me (Carthag) for a fight. Dangit. That means I can't ship in there (max of 2 allowed in a territory). But wait, I have a special treachery card I won in the auction phase - Hajr - Special Movement. With this card I was able to take my normal movement action (2 territories for Fremen), then surprise everyone and take a second one and end up in Arrakeen. "Oh crap!" said my friend next me playing the Bene Gesserit. If I win the battle, I win the game.
As I already mentioned, the Emperor was weakened - he had 3 troops in the territory. I moved in with 6, one of them being a Fedaykin commando (counts double in battle). The battle was a foregone conclusion. I played Stilgar, my strongest leader, with no fear of treachery on his part (I had kept him as my selected traitor card ad the beginning of the game). I had a poison weapon to kill the Emperor's leader. The only way I could possibly have lost was if he managed to kill my leader and I was unable to kill his, but that didn't happen. I won the battle, and therefore the game. The other guys played the rest of the battles for kicks and giggles, but they didn't matter. I had 3 strongholds.
This was the shortest game of Dune we've played by a longshot, both in time and in number of rounds. In actual time playing, after setup, explanation of new expansion stuff, and a dinner break, it was probably 90 minutes of game time. Earlier games have been at least 4 hours. I also really enjoyed what the expansion added. The 2 new factions are cool, and having more options is nice. I can't wait to play again! Something tells me it won't be too much longer before people are asking for this one again...
Alternate title: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Actually Celebrate My Birthday
tl;dr - I loved both of these games. I played Western Legends with my friends who all loved it, and Concordia with my wife, who liked it.
As the alternate title suggests, my birthday was this weekend. In the past I have not wanted to make a big deal about this, because I don't like drawing attention to myself. My wife has helped me learn that it's okay to be celebrated once in a while, and I don't always need to deflect. I love her.
Anyway, I decided that I wanted to finally have a real game night, so on Friday I invited some friends over to play my most recent acquisition, which was generously sent to me as my prize for the BGA giveaway.
I set up the game, taught the rules, and everyone chose their characters and miniatures. We had a slightly slow start, having not played before and not being 100% on all the rules, but after a round or two, it was pretty smooth sailing. I went Wanted almost immediately and had a blast. My highlights would be robbing my friend of half of his gold nuggets he'd mined for, and successfully executing a bank heist.
As previously mentioned, my friends all loved it. The winning strategy in this game (I came in 4th), was a combination of mining for gold and fighting bandits. In the post-game discussion, some people said they'd like to try going Wanted next time, since only I and one other guy were ever Wanted. Plus, that would create a little more risk in mining for gold if there were more people willing to rob each other.
My friends were so vocal about how much they enjoyed it that I'm seriously considering backing the next Kickstarter to get all of the expansions, and I would probably even be able to get them to chip in a few bucks toward it.
"Battery" style review:
(++) Art - the art is very attractive and thematic
(+/-) Components - the cards are of middling quality. The miniatures are pretty cool. The board is good (the art on it is awesome). The dice for prospecting look and feel very cheap. The chipboard "General Store" is pretty flimsy. The wooden cubes and discs are...wooden cubes and discs.
(-) Box Insert - it's basically "the trench"
(+) Rulebook - the rulebook was pretty clear. There were a couple of instances in which I referenced an FAQ when it wasn't clear in the rulebook.
(+++) Gameplay - SO MUCH FUN
(++) Immersion - I felt like a cowboy.
(+++) "My Friends Like It" factor - My friends REALLY like it
I played this with my wife the next morning. I purchased this one as part of the BGA fundraiser for the Black Lives Matter movement, but hadn't played it until this weekend. Setting up for the first game took a bit of time, since I had to follow the step by step guide, having not played before. After that, teaching the rules to my wife was pretty easy. The rules of this game are impressively simple, which was something that's been noted in every review of it I've read or watched.
When we got started, neither of us had a handle on the strategy, obviously, but (speaking for myself) figuring out what to do on the next couple of turns was not difficult. "Analysis Paralysis" was minimal. With the turns being so simple, and the actions being so straight-forward, there was almost no down-time. I take a turn, she takes a turn, just back and forth. I ended up winning by a decent margin, but I'll attribute that to having absorbed the game through videos and reviews before ever having played it. I think after another play or two, this will be one of my favorites to play with my wife. Where it will rank on her list is TBD.
One thing I noticed is that the map we played (Hellas), even though it was the one rated as the best of the ones we have for two players, was not very tight. After a few more plays, I might consider buying a map that's much tighter for 2 players.
"Battery" style review:
(+) Art - the boards are attractive in their colors, but nothing to write home about, in my opinion. The card art is bland.
(+/-) Components - again, the cards are of middling quality. The chipboard stuff is all fine. The box is flimsy, and the boards actually feel a bit fragile, so I'll definitely be extra careful when setting up and putting away.
(-) Box Insert - again, it's basically "the trench"
(++) Rulebook - very clear and concise
(++) Gameplay - very smooth, quick turns. "Satisfying" is a word I'd use to describe my first play. Just a really nice game. I can't wait to play again, and I'd love to try it at 3 or 4 players.
(+) "My Wife Likes It" factor - for now I'll leave this at one (+), since I'm not totally sure how MUCH she likes it. She definitely said she like it, though.
To make a long story short, I was blessed by an amazing birthday weekend full of friends, and played some awesome games to boot. I am thankful and do not want to take this all for granted.
Thanks to Board Game Atlas, I recently received the new #Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North. I got to play it a couple of times this week, so here I am with my first impressions! Keep in mind that I have only played twice, and this game has a LOT more to offer, and a lot more discover.
I'll post some pics in the comments below!
Empires of the North is a card-focused tableau and engine builder in which players control different clans vying to build the greatest empire. Each clan has a different personality, and a dedicated deck to match! Some clans love to pillage and conquer, and some love to drink!
The game is played in rounds in which players draw cards, place cards (locations) in their empire, and go sailing on expeditions to pillage and conquer both nearby and distant islands. Once familiar with all of the available actions, turns are simple, as you basically do one thing per turn. While the turns are simple, the strategy isn't necessarily obvious. In each round you're able to take as many actions as you want and as your resources and workers allow, so you're trying to set up a tableau of locations that combos well together and allows you to keep taking actions and scoring points. This can lead to some really satisfying, high-scoring rounds if you set yourself up right!
The main actions you can take are:
- Build a Location (put a card in your empire). Some of these are fields, which provide resources, and some are locations that provide you with actions you can take on your turn by "exhausting" the card, and paying the cost of that action, if any.
- Take an action from the action wheel(?) using one of your action pawns. There are 5 of these - Explore (draw a card), Populate (gain a worker), Harvest (gather resources from 1 of your fields), Construct (build a Location without paying its resources), and Sail (put a ship on the expedition board).
- Pass. When you are finished with the actions you can/want to do for the round, you pass, and any other players can keep taking actions as long as they can.
After the action phase, you resolve the "Expedition" phase, in which anyone who "Sailed" in the previous phase will either Pillage (discard for immediate resources/points) or Conquer (add to their empire for later access to the actions) a "Nearby" or "Distant" island.
And that's it! During the following Cleanup phase, you simply reset your exhausted cards, regain your workers, remove your action pawns from the action wheel, and do another round! The game end is triggered when someone reaches 25 points during the Action phase.
What I like so far:
- Art - the art is great! Every clan has a distinct look, and it's all fun and cute!
- Components - the resource tokens are nice wooden tokens, and not just cubes or cardboard tokens. The coins and ax tokens are cardboard, but that's it!
- Insert - this insert is fantastic. The components are stored in a removable tray that you just put in the middle of the table. So nice. It makes setup that much faster. There's room for expansion decks, and sleeved cards. I'm definitely impressed.
- Gameplay - wow this game is really fun! It's a bit of a puzzle to try to set up an engine that will score you big points in the later rounds. I've only played twice - once with my wife and once solo - and I've used two different clans. Learning the strengths of each clan will be a ton of fun! The rulebook gives a quick overview of each clan, but that doesn't help much in figuring out how to play it.
What is just okay:
- Rulebook - a couple of things with this. The paper quality is lower than I'm used to seeing in...most board games. The art in the rulebook is beautiful like the rest of the game, but the paper feels cheap. Not linen, not even glossy paper, just cheap paper. That doesn't affect gameplay at all, it just felt odd considering how much love was put into the rest of the game.
The contents of the rulebook are easy to follow. The only issue I had there was a few times when I was unclear on how something should be played out, and I had to spend a couple of minutes searching the rulebook to find an answer. So in that sense, it felt like the rulebook didn't have the best layout/ordering.
What I don't like so far:
- Nothing! I've only got 2 plays in, but so far I'm loving this game, and look forward to getting it to the table often!
Finally played with Tuscany last night. As soon as @trentellingsen started explaining the different aspects of the new board, my head started spinning its wheels thinking about the new possibilities haha. I love how non-linear the strategy options are now and the new mechanics around the sleep/wake-up cycle is such a game changer.
Couple of thoughts below:
- The wake-up time bonuses and the mechanics of retrieving your workers at the end of the year: Love it. Feels like each wake-up time comes with enough incentive that makes up for the later turn. I also like that you get a bonus as each season comes around so that you can bank on getting a good plant or visitor card so that you're not completely reliant on using your workers to do certain actions in a season. There are additional incentives to consider waking up later too--an opponent who uses all of their workers earlier than you will essentially "head home" at the end of winter and open up all of the spaces that their workers had occupied, so it's not just a simple matter of saving up your grande worker for carrying out crucial actions in the later seasons (a grande worker is able to carry out actions in an area that's already fully occupied by others' workers).
- The star placement on the map: I didn't get an explanation on how the stars and the map concept fits in thematically with the rest of the game, so it felt out of place in comparison to the overall highly thematic nature of the game. The double star placement action space in Spring with the bonus feels like one of the best options to get a head start in the first year. I also like how it serves as a mini game of area control to get end of the game victory points.
- Luck: My goodness, I just don't have a good relationship with the red grapes. In all of my past games of Viticulture (including this one), I always end up getting zero red grape cards until around the 3rd or 4th year or so. Tuscany has a spot where you can use your workers to trade for resources so I relied on that to get red grapes in my 3rd year in return for sacrificing victory points. Even without Tuscany though, while it can make things super difficult, I still like that the randomness is thematically appropriate.
- The general trend with Viticulture EE (at least in my group) has been that toward the last few years, players are done building their engine and does very little during the spring and summer seasons so that they can make full use of their workers for harvesting and making wine/fulfilling orders during fall/winter. Tuscany seems to balance things out a bit where it adds just the right amount of options so that each season has significance as the years pass.
If you're wondering, I'm the orange in the picture and Trent is the yellow (purple is Trent's wife and green is a new friend of ours). I knew he was trying to finish the game so I tried to maximize VP's and was able to make a great run in the last year starting from 10 and finishing at 23 (I was the last to finish so you can see all other workers have gone home). Overall, now I can say from experience that Tuscany really is a must :)
I got to play my second game of Dominion a few days ago! It was in preparation for our video next week where we'll make comparisons against #Fort. This will pretty much be my "first impressions" post since my last play was around 4-5 years ago when I was completely new to deck-building and had no idea what I was doing.
Super quick to learn - Takes less than 5 minutes to learn. The card powers are so straightforward that it doesn't need much explaining. Love it. It falls under one of my favorite categories of games where it's simple but deep.
Nice card design - Very little theme and odd box cover design aside, the card design is well done. Easily readable (both text and iconography) and gives impression of a game that has aged well (although, 2016 isn't that old at all). It also made me think about how a lot of the modern card-based games tend to look great, but aren't as practical.
Classic deck-building fun - I've played around 6-8 different deck-builders and Dominion is so far the best all-arounder. It delivers on satisfying combos, opportunities to try out many different strategies, and makes you feel like you've built a unique deck of your own. I also realize more and more that I love healthy dose of luck in games. It's fun to draw my hand and whether it's good/bad/meh, it becomes a nice test of how good of an engine I've built to combat the luck factor.
Easily recognizable cards - I like card-based games that have simple names and easily recognizable powers. When the variation in the deck is more subdued like in Dominion or #Concordia, it results in a game that really sticks with you. I like that after about halfway into the game, as I see Trent going after certain cards in the market, I could quickly develop that intuition of "Hmmmmmm I see what you're trying to do!"
Is it good for beginners? - Yes, definitely on the ease of learning the game and getting introduced to deck-building. But like I mentioned in the beginning, when I first played this 8 years ago, I was pretty lost. I was playing with two veterans and while they were having a blast pulling off wonderful combos and feeling satisfied, I had trouble keeping up and was getting more and more behind with each passing minute. It's a type of game that gives clear advantage to experienced players who are well aware of the different card powers and how they synergize off of each other. Still, this is often recommended as the must-play deck-builder for a reason, and I can't deny that. It's a relatively short game that even if your first play was an absolute failure, you'll quickly learn from your mistakes (and from observing other players) and get to take your revenge on the second play :)
Yes, this is still very much worth it. It was fun and I love that I can try out a completely different strategy next time around and still feel like it could be viable. Great game and I look forward to making the comparison against #Fort
It took a while but my wife and I finally got around to starting the campaign! I'll be mentioning the names of some of the components throughout the writing below, but I'll be sticking to big picture thoughts instead of getting into the details so that I won't spoil anything.
For those who don't know, Clank! is a lineup of deck-building games where players must race through a dungeon (or some other type of maze-like area in the expansions) fighting monsters and securing loot, all while building up a deck full of powerful cards you can buy throughout the game. This all seems fairly straightforward but the catch is that many of your actions cause noise in the dungeon and generate "Clank! cubes." And whenever there's an event causing the dragon to attack, the Clank! cubes generated by all players are thrown into the dragon bag (which starts with 24 black cubes), and you draw a number of cubes matching the amount shown on the "rage track." Every time a player's cube is drawn from that bag, that player's health is dwindled and will mean game over if you're knocked out of the game and don't have an artifact or if you're in the danger zone.
Here are our first impressions:
(++) The first thought that came to mind is "Wow, this was a steal." I got this after @BenjaminK posted that it's on sale for $52 on amazon. Considering the nice minis (and I'm not even a mini guy), great insert, the general component quality, and the amount of content available (10 campaigns and after you're done, you have your very own custom Clank! game to play without the legacy portion), I'm very happy about my purchase.
(+) Rulebook is relatively short and easy to understand. No instances of "what if's" came to mind. If you've played other deck-builders like #Ascension: Deckbuilding Game, you'll have an especially easy time going through the rules.
(+) Simple turns with good amount of decision space, and I always love that in games - You draw 5 cards from your deck and you must play all of them to end your turn. Each card has a number of Skills, Boots, or Swords and by playing them, you have a pool of these "resources" you can allocate toward a number of different actions such as acquiring new cards from the Adventure Row (which gets refreshed/restocked as cards get acquired), for movement, or for defeating monsters for gold or other benefits. I'm going to have fun testing out different strategies!
(++) Adventure - I enjoy #The Voyages of Marco Polo, but I wish it actually felt like a voyage. And whereas your choice of which path to take in Marco Polo is mostly based on your hidden end goal destinations and your pool of resources, Clank! Legacy actually makes you want to explore just for the sake of discovery. Many of the spaces reward cool bonuses and trigger looking into the Book of Secrets to advance the narrative, so I often wanted to take a longer, less straightforward path just so that I can experience more of the game.
(++) Book of Secrets - There are a number instances when a player triggers looking up the book. It reminded me of my middle school days when I had this book where each page presents you with different choices and your decision leads you from one page to the next. The Book of Secrets captures that type of fun where you're filled with anticipation and wishing that nothing bad will happen when you're so close to the finish line. Well written with a nice touch of humor, engages the players especially as the gameplay progresses, and it doesn't feel cliched or like it's a bother.
(+/-) Legacy Upkeep - I was a bit concerned about 15 minutes into the game. Our table space was already about full and I was doing a bit of gymnastics juggling between the Book of Secrets, the Cardporium (where you sometimes have to retrieve cards that get added into the game through an event), and getting the appropriate stickers to put on the board, etc, all while trying to make it a smooth process so that my wife is enjoying it. It felt like all these pauses would kill the momentum of the gameplay, and even though the amount of upkeep persists throughout the game, you do get used to it. Plus, we got used to the rhythm of the game and my wife and I got into a groove of each of us sharing a part of the upkeep. Also, the Book of Secrets and all these mystery elements do a great job of pulling you into the game and making you invested and curious, to a point where you're just looking forward to seeing what will unfold. I do think that if the players are relatively inexperienced, then I think it's very important that at least the owner of the game maintains an enthusiasm for all of this so that it keeps everyone motivated and patient especially in the beginning of the game. It paid off for us, and it's cool to see the board itself and even the rulebook slowly transforming into our own custom version.
(++) Luck - There are many elements of luck in this game, and I love it. First, there's the suspense of pulling out the Clank! cubes and not knowing how many hits you'll take from the dragon. Then there's the Book of Secrets where you have no idea what will happen and which can have severe consequences for everyone, whether for good or bad. Although I like elements of luck in the first place, I think I mind it even less because (1) it makes it feel more real to life, and (2) it leads to a much more memorable story.
We love it :)
Some of you may remember that around late December, I shared that my wife and I played #Catan for the first time with her family during Thanksgiving. My wife absolutely enjoyed the experience and I immediately saw it as an opportunity to introduce her to modern board games. Since then, we've gone through maybe 10 different games together and we found many of our favorites such as #Viticulture: Essential Edition and #Clans of Caledonia.
Well, this post is about the latest addition to our collection, #Concordia. I've been eyeing on this since last year because (1) I love elegant midweight euros and (2) I watched several reviews and playthroughs and it seemed like it could potentially check off many of the parts that my wife likes in Catan. I'll list some resemblances below, as well as share some of our first impressions.
Overlaps between Catan and Concordia:
- Different areas on the map produce different goods
- You can produce goods during another player's turn
- You build to enhance/focus your production
- Building requires movement
- End of game trigger
What makes Concordia "similar to Catan but better" for me + why it goes into our top 3 games to play together:
- Very little luck involved and you don't end up with turns where you get to do nothing.
- Simple turns where you play just a single card, but it makes you feel pretty smart (or dumb, but in a good way). It makes you immediately realize "ohhhh why didn't I play it this way??" where you can immediately recognize there are layers of strategies you can appreciate in the game, but it'll take time to get there. And you don't feel horrible about making those mistakes repeatedly in your first game, because Concordia gives players "something" in just about every turn (money, goods, buildings, more cards, etc).
- In terms of direct interaction, I do like the trade in Catan because it gets people talking, but it can feel... unreasonable, "just cause," or sometimes too influenced by the relationship/dynamic between the players. Concordia doesn't have this type of strong interaction, but it has enough going for it that engages all of the players at the table.
- For Catan, number of builds is a win condition, whereas for Concordia, it just triggers the end of the game. Catan is a race game and it goes way too long because both luck and all other players can constantly put you down since it's way too easy to read the board and see how close a player is from winning.
- Along with the previous point, I like that you really can't tell who the winner is until the very end. You score points based on numerous different criteria, and each of them can be drastically multiplied in value based on the type of cards you focused on purchasing.
Here are some additional comments from my wife:
- Wish for better production quality: First, I'm a stickler for art in games (even if it doesn't impact my enjoyment of the game), but I realized my wife is even more critical. She commented that the name of the locations on the map appeared too low res haha. I do agree with her though that the resource tokens could have been better. I showed her the deluxe tokens and metal coins and she told me to order them! Oh and just one more... am I the only one who feels bothered by thin box material? Especially since the box size is so unusually large, it makes it feel extra flimsy.
- She likes how the card's power/action is clearly shown on the card. There's none of that needing to repeatedly reference the rulebook throughout the gameplay.
- She especially likes the Tribune card, which allows you to get all of the cards you played back into your hand. Rather than relying on luck and waiting for the right card to come by, she likes having control over this as well as the pacing of when you do it (you get more benefits by delaying the use of the Tribune).
The last point also makes me wonder if it's an indicator that she might like deck-building games. I guess I'll find out when we get #Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated to the table this week :)
Now that Trent's publicizing my logged plays page everywhere, some of you noticed that I already got a play in for this game!
To be honest, I've been hesitant to do a write-up on this because I couldn't quite put my finger on how I feel about this game. I thought about getting a solo session in before I do it justice, but I think it's fine since it's not a full review after all. So here are my first impressions after one 2p game with my wife, where we played as the factions with the lowest complexity (as recommended by the rulebook).
1. Pre-Game Experience
(+) Charming theme and presentation - It's cute, and I mean that in a good way. Just about everything inside the box has a charm about it, from the unique resource tokens to all of the unique card art across the 6 different factions. Many of the illustrations have the type of humor that I tend to like using in my own art too.
(+) Great insert - Of all of the games I own, the ones with the best insert so far are this game, #Atlantis Rising (second edition), and #Camel Up (second edition). Easy access to all components, finger slots for pulling out the tray that holds all resources, and labels to help you figure out how to put everything back. This all means short setup and teardown time.
(-) Rulebook - It's laid out pretty well, but it's definitely not the best I've seen. I feel like it tried to present all of the info in the most streamlined way with as few pages, but in the process lost out on the details that would be helpful. For example:
- Each faction has a unique faction marker (used for keeping track of VP's) and ship token (used for the sailing action). The rulebook doesn't have a "key" that shows which belong to which faction. These tokens have a unique art, and in the case of the ship token, a unique shape as well, but it's just one little detail that would've been helpful (this key was later provided in the online FAQ).
- I felt confused on its usage of terminologies like location and field for referencing different card types, and also felt that the terminology wasn't the most intuitive (they weren't used consistently either, as mentioned in the FAQ), so whenever it used those words throughout the rulebook, it was slightly difficult to follow. And perhaps its just a nature of a card-driven game with lots of unique cards, but there's a need for additional clarity on its abilities sometimes. This is also provided in their FAQ, which I referenced a few times throughout the play.
(+/-) The Teach - I personally had a harder time teaching this in comparison to a game like #Viticulture: Essential Edition. Empires of the North is definitely on the simpler side when it comes to its gameplay, but I think the nuances of the card usage added to its difficulty to teach (which was still quite easy). This was one game that I didn't test out ahead of time before teaching my wife, so I'm sure that added to it as well.
2. The Game - Each round is broken up into 4 phases: Lookout, Action, Expedition, Cleanup
- Lookout - Get additional cards into your hand
- Action - Play or activate cards to get resources and convert them into points. Set off your ships on a sail to pillage/conquer islands
- Expedition - Resolve your ships that went sailing
- Cleanup - Un-exhaust all activated cards, get your workers back, etc.
- Fast turns and great combos - The majority of your gameplay time is spent on the Action phase, where you have a choice of 4 different actions. It's a quick back and forth between you and your opponent where you're improving your engine and maximizing your resources by chaining your actions so that you can extend the number of turns without passing this phase. The action wheel at the center is the crux of your strategy because placing your action pawn in one of these tiles grants you more powerful moves (e.g. constructing a card without paying the cost). The catch is that you only have two pawns that can each be used twice at most. If you place a pawn on one of the actions, you can use it again in a later turn by moving it to and activating an adjacent tile by spending one food token. It's an elegant touch that presents you with an interesting decision space. I do think it falls apart in terms of thematic connection though, which I don't mind. The combos build up fairly quickly so this phase will get longer and longer with each round. With experience and knowledge of the cards, I can imagine finishing this game in an hour after 4-5 rounds.
- I especially like how rewarding it is to pillage or conquer an island.
- I always love variable player powers and Empires offers 6 flavors! We tried out the factions with the lowest complexity so I'm looking forward to seeing how the other factions will change up the game. In line with this, I could definitely see why others have commented that the game feels like it's "on rails," where it seems to put players on a set path in strategy. I can't disagree with that at all, but I also feel like just as players typically make a decision in the beginning of the game on which strategy they will go for, Empires would have players making this decision in their choice of faction.
- I have a feeling that Empires will be a great solo game, likely even better than multiplayer.
- This game currently falls in the same category as my first impression of #Architects of the West Kingdom, where it wasn't love at first sight. They're both a race to the finish line with little tension where you're mostly focused on building up your combos, gaining resources, and scoring VP. Except, I like Architects a lot more in this area because it gives you what to aim for. Architects awards VP's for contributing to the construction of the cathedral or building structures by gaining a specific set of resources, which is often challenging and unique in its teeter-tottering of the virtue track. For Empires of the North, the main method of gaining VP's is by activating card abilities and conquering islands. It's less about accomplishing difficult tasks, but more about triggering the right card abilities in order and building up your engine with the right cards. Granted, there are some cards in the deck that seem to reward big points. For example, my clan's deck is heavily focused on expedition, and has cards that reward you lots of points based on the number of islands you've conquered. It also has cards with permanent features like giving you a VP every time you pillage an island. To sum it all up, Empires is a lot more focused on engine-building and achieving a consistent flow of VP's, while Architects is better at giving you sense of accomplishment that's more grounded in reality (due to difficulty, lots of points, and because the type of structure built affects your virtue positively or negatively).
- Very low interaction. The game does offer a way to interact with your opponent. The primary way is by using raze tokens, which can be spent to exhaust one card in your opponent's empire so that it throws off their combos. The game doesn't encourage this usage all that much though because unless you're playing as the clan I played as, raze tokens are harder to generate and they're valuable resources for conquering islands that reward you lots of resources or great powers if constructed. I never used these to ruin my wife's combos because I don't like mean plays especially when it's a 2p game.
- Tied to the first point is that this game seems to be best played with 2p. You're presented with so many choices in the number of actions that you're mostly focused on your own tableau the whole time, and having AP prone players will bump up the gameplay time too much. I think the Action phase will last way too long at higher player counts.
- Thematic ties. The game definitely has thematic ties because it has players expanding their empire, collecting resources, pillaging and conquering islands, etc. My issue is that in the end, despite all of the really nice illustrations, it felt like it all disappears into thin air sometimes. I found myself focusing mostly on building the right combos and paying attention to the effects of the cards that the cards/buildings became just one piece of the puzzle I'm putting together, instead of feeling like a "structure" that I've added onto my empire. I asked my wife for her thoughts after the game, and while she liked the game and had fun, one of her comments was that she wished it had a board, or some building components like in Catan or Viticulture. She likes to have a sense of progression and accomplishment when she looks at the board state, and for Empires, she felt like it was just a lot of cards in front of her. This also made me wonder if tableau builders may not be the right fit for us, but I thought of two exceptions. (1) #Wingspan is also low in interaction, but I like its satisfying chain-building and how it lays out three engines to focus on: food, eggs, bird cards. This brings organization that helps players focus on tuning their engine and even having the leisure to enjoy the fine details of the art and flavor text, whereas Empires relies on the players to come up with their own method of establishing order. (2) #Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization is another example. The cards feel like actual structures because you have to spend workers to build them. They can also be upgraded to a more advanced structure to improve production. There are also religious buildings that provide "smiles" to increase contentment among your workers instead of them stirring up a riot, and many other examples.
To be clear, I like the game, but I didn't love it. I'm still very interested in exploring the other factions and see if it changes my opinions. And just as I ended up loving Architects for its solo play after my first impressions, I'm hoping the same will happen to Empires too!
The original plan was to get in a 3p game of #Tuscany: Essential Edition with my wife and my mom tonight (where it would be my mom's first time). Instead, there wasn't a lot of time so I learned the rules for #PARKS (I borrowed @trentellingsen's copy a while back) and introduced it to the two of them.
Here are my first impressions:
(++) Fantastic production - I don't think anyone can deny this. Highlights include:
- Nice attention to detail. After you take off the lid, you can see a little graphic on one of the exterior sides of the box that shows where each component should be placed after you're done with the game.
- Game Trayz for the resource tokens. Great organization. Just open the lid and they're good to go for playing (will include a picture for this in the comments).
- Unique/fun token shapes (water, sunshine, forest, mountain, wildlife) with a sensible selection for color that fits with the organic theme instead of being "too much".
- Comes with a main board where you place many of the cards for common use (it's like having a board for a game like #Century: Golem Edition for where you draw the golems and the crystal cards from).
- Metallic first player marker.
- What a smart design for the trail "tiles"!
- And of course, the money-making use of the fifty-nine parks print series for the PARKS cards. They're gorgeous and you can't help but observe them while playing.
(+/-) Rulebook - It's not good but it's not bad either. While the game is on the simpler side, it unexpectedly has a lot of little rules. There are several parts that had me wondering about certain cases and how the rules would apply, but the rulebook isn't super detailed to address them.
- It's similar to #Tokaido with a leap frog mechanic where players take turns advancing one of their two hikers to whichever unoccupied trail tile to pick up its resources/benefits. You're able to go to an occupied space by using up your campfire tile. This campfire tile can be refreshed and used again when one of your hikers reach the end of the trail. It's relatively simple but gives you good amount of decision making. You're typically only able to visit or reserve a PARKS card whenever one of your hikers reaches the trail end, so there's an interesting decision of weighing whether you should be advancing fast to get the card you want vs. going slowly to pick up various resourced to purchase the PARKS cards or for getting other equipment that will aid your travels/build your engine.
- It's very satisfying to continuously build onto your collection of PARKS cards, and it's all about the art. I could imagine some people going after a card not because of how valuable it is in terms of score, but just because they want it.
- To me, the whole process basically feels like #Century: Golem Edition but with numerous layers of strategy. You're considering getting PARKS (Golem) cards with more points, but you also have to think about getting the cards that will work toward your individual end game bonus. There are also gear cards, cantine cards, and others that add to your engine.
(+/-) Gameplay Length & Player Count
- Based on my first play, I'm not sure how I'd feel about 2p. Feels like it'd be too loose, but it'd be closer to my ideal length of time for a game of this weight (which is relatively on the light side). I'll need more plays to know whether it would be a game worth getting because there's a super narrow group of games that my wife would be ok with playing often/owning when it comes to lighter games.
- For what it is, I also think the game lends itself to opportunities for a slight AP (analysis paralysis) from newer players.
- Will I get this for 3p? Maybe, but it will heavily depend on how our second game goes, if it does happen. It would need to clock in at around 1 hr MAX, which hopefully happens now that everyone's familiar with the game. But honestly, any lighter game that takes 1 hour ish has my wife thinking "Viticulture would've been better" haha.
- Koreans often say that there's been a "hand of god" involved when you recognize an ingenious decision-making that could've been a difference between a hit and a failure. PARKS' art and production carries the game, and by no means do I think that's bad. It was a genius move and honestly seems like a better Tokaido with a depth of strategy involved that will satisfy a wide range of audience.
- Will I get this for 2p if my mom likes it a lot? (and she did like the game, by the way). Maybe, but probably not. When it comes to playing against my mom, I'd prefer a game like #Welcome to... where it's less competitive and leaves you gunning for your personal best rather than trying to beat the other person. If we can get the time down, I'd get this for 3p because if time becomes an issue for this game, it will obviously be worse for Viticulture.
My wife and I played #Architects of the West Kingdom for the first time on Saturday night. And... it took several days for me to process my feelings toward this game! It definitely was not a love at first sight type of experience I had expected, but here's what you should know beforehand:
- My wife was very tired that night so she was starting to doze off mid-way. We stopped the game about 2/3 of the way in. I'm hoping to get more plays in to see how it will change my thoughts.
- We included the bot for our first play but I took it out after several turns due to reasons I'll cover below.
With that said, let's get right into this! And again, please keep in mind that these are just my first impressions. I feel like it's more important than ever to remind this as it's my first time feeling so mixed about a game that I wholly expected to love (and since there were several factors that made it an incomplete experience).
(+) Unboxing experience - Small box with a lot of game inside. Seems characteristic of the these trilogies and I really like that. There isn't much of an insert, but this game doesn't need a whole lot of organization.
(+) Friendly rulebook - Rulebook with modern sensibilities was the first thought I had. I like it when rulebooks run longer for the sake of making it easier to read. Important sections are spaced out well and includes plenty of helpful examples and graphics. Reading the rules actually got me excited about the game's potential.
(+) Aesthetics - I know some people don't like Mihajlo's art, but it works for me. It packs a punch in terms of personality and I've been wanting a game in my collection that has a bit of that oomph, in comparison to many of my games that have a more "quiet" personality where the art is more of a backdrop (e.g. Viticulture, Clans of Caledonia, Marco Polo).
(+) Smart graphic design - The iconography in this game is fantastic. Intuitive and hard to forget.
Now let's get into gameplay. But first, here's a quick summary of what Architects is about:
In Architects, the primary way in which you earn VP's is by contributing to the construction of the cathedral or by building individual structures. You need to acquire resources in order to build, and you can hire apprentices to help your cause.
(+) Unique twist to the typical worker placement mechanic - A worker's action becomes more powerful the more workers you have in that space (e.g. the first worker you place at the quarry will give you 1 stone. If you place another worker in the same space in another turn, you will get 2 stones because you have two workers in that location). There's benefit in investing in fewer action spaces, especially if you can combo off of your apprentices' abilities to add even more power behind your actions, but you also run the risk of getting many of your workers captured and having to build up your actions' power again.
(+) Drafting apprentices - This works similarly to games like #Century: Golem Edition. In order to hire apprentices further down the column, you either need to have more workers in the action space, or pay silver for each column you want to skip. There are various abilities present and it's fun to pick and choose which apprentices you want to try and build your combos/engine.
(+) Virtue track - I love the idea of this. Your character's virtue increases or decreases in value depending on his/her choices throughout the game--hiring shady apprentices, visiting the black market, stealing tax money, racking up debt or paying off debt, etc.--this is important because if you're too virtuous, you can't take advantage of the black market for quick rewards, or heading too far into the dark side will prevent you from contributing to the cathedral but will help you avoid taxes! From the moment I read about the virtue track in the rulebook, I had already decided I'm going deep into the dark alley haha.
(-) Little tension - As the first point suggests, many of the action spaces have no limit on the number of workers you can place. This takes out the tension present in typical worker placement games where you compete for desirable action spaces. Architects introduces a different form of tension by allowing players to capture their opponents' workers, and even rewarding them for doing so. I like the innovation of this idea but personally feel that this makes 2p games too loose. We tried throwing in a bot for the first half of the game but it was too discouraging for my wife because the bot ended up capturing quite frequently and essentially made her "reset" again and again. I can easily imagine this game being much more fun and chaotic when played at higher player counts.
(+/-) It's a race - I feel like the heart of this game is a race. And this seems quite intentional considering all of the design elements. There isn't a whole lot of tension. There's no concept of a "round" or a "phase" in this game. Instead, it's an everflowing gameplay where you're quickly acquiring resources by building up combos and advancing your building amidst the chaos of getting your workers captured and freeing them. And don't get me wrong, it does this really well. In fact, it feels like #Century: Golem Edition "but much more," and I like that. Quick turns, relatively quick gameplay (under 1.5 hrs), satisfying combos. In the end, when thinking about this game for 2p only (with the bot too), I think it'll come down to how often I'll be in the mood for a race vs. 1-2 hours of deeper strategy games. My gut feeling is that I'll typically prefer the latter, but let's see whether future plays will change my mind.
As the title says, I got to play Captain Sonar. I managed to convince my boss to buy it for the company. I got 8 people interested in playing, found a date that worked for everyone, and had them all watch a how to play video before the date arrived. By the way, this is the best strategy if you're planning to play a game in a limited window, such as a lunch hour, and you know who all of the players will be. It saves so much teaching time, and you can leave a few minutes before the game for questions.
I played as a captain, and I and the other captain assigned teams and roles the day before to save even more time, and so that people knew what they were doing beforehand. So with 5 or 10 minutes of pregame discussion, we played!
The first game lasted about 25 minutes, with our team winning. We actually only landed one hit, a direct torpedo hit. This does 2 damage, and you lose if you take 4 damage, but the other team had taken 2 damage from system failures during the game.
The second game took MAYBE 7 minutes, with the other team finding us and sinking us in no time. They landed 2 direct torpedo hits in quick succession, as we couldn't recover or escape fast enough after the first.
The third game probably lasted 10 minutes, with us sinking the other sub. They actually landed 2 indirect torpedo hits (1 damage each) on us before we hit them at all, but our radio operator quickly found their position, and we landed to hits in quick succession, just like they did to us in the previous game.
The game is kinda stressful, but a ton of fun! It's not easy to get to the table, but if you have the opportunity, try it!
My wife and I played our first game of #Clans of Caledonia on Sunday night! We started pretty late (around 10:30 pm) and finished around 12:30 am (including explaining the rules). We had fun but it sure made it a rough morning haha
Below are some of my thoughts. And as usual, I'm using @Skurvy5's "battery" format :)
(+) I like the cover. Very tranquil and I'd say it's the best I've seen from Klemens Franz. Please don't ask how I feel about the other ones :)
(+) I like the portability of small boxes, and Clans is definitely on the small side (8.8x12x2 in inches).
(-) BUT, it was the first time I've opened a box to see very little organization and zero insert. Well... #The Voyages of Marco Polo came with one of those low quality (and already dented) strips of cardboard to use as dividers, but that wasn't much better either. Clans comes with the components divided among baggies of various sizes, and while I didn't mind it at first, I quickly realized how much time it adds to setup and cleanup (for a two player game, I had to open/close around 15 or so baggies for both of us. Is that reasonable?). Maybe it works for some people, but for me, an insert will be a must for this game. This would also make it my first time buying a custom insert. Keep in mind though, that I'm doing this because I see it getting lots of plays.
(+) Rule book is simple, short, and easy to follow. Despite the game's complexity rating of 3.43 on BGG, the rule book sure doesn't make you feel like you're climbing a mountain. The player aid is great for new players too, although you can quickly internalize the available actions after going through the first round. I had an easy time explaining the rules to Anna especially because the turn structure and several other elements are reminiscent of #The Voyages of Marco Polo.
(+) Modular board with 16 different configuration options and fun variable player powers to explore. The clans' powers are all inspired by individual clans' actual historical background. Oh, and Clans comes with a 2 player variant that tightens up the map, which is great for increasing the amount of interaction. (By the way, I've heard that the designer has been working on an expansion which will add more clans, port tiles, terrain tiles, and more). It's too early to say, but I suspect Clans will be our most played game of 2020.
(+) Thematic ties - this goes with the previous comment about the ease of internalizing your available actions. The theme is knitted everywhere so you quickly reach a point where you'll never have to look at the player aid (which lists out 8 different actions you can take in a turn). I love thematic ties in games because it doesn't leave things abstracted but makes you feel the weight of your actions. Clans does this and I love how intuitive it is that placing a unit such as a "field" will produce wheat, but you'll also need to have a "bakery" on the map to process wheat into bread, or a "distillery" to process it into whiskey. And then there is... slaughtering a cow for some beef that my wife and I had fun saying out loud.
(+) Clans is a perfect example of "a lot of game in a small box". It's simple, yet so deep in a way that reminds me of #Root. I left the table thinking like I've barely scratched the surface in the games' numerous layers of strategy, and that to me is a winner. Whether it's going all in on your clan's benefits, hiring a bunch of merchants to take advantage of the dynamic market, expanding your units neighboring your opponent's to get bonus actions, etc, the game presents so many options to explore that don't just feel like a path for VP's, but still grounded in the theme.
TL;DR I love it! My wife liked it a lot too and based on our single play, she places Clans at #2 just below Viticulture. For one of our future podcast episodes, I'd love to do a segment talking about my wife's top games! :)
This will be long. tl;dr at the bottom, pics in the comments.
On Friday night we got to play Dune again. I was really looking forward to this. It was only my 2nd time actually playing. My group has played 3 times, but I sat out the first game since we had too many players. Anyway, I got to play this time.
Unfortunately our 6th player had to drop out at the last minute, which meant we played below the recommended full player count, but what else could we do? The rulebook suggests leaving Bene Gesserit out for a 5 player game. We had two first time players, and both had no interest in choosing a faction, so I assigned them randomly. I drew the Fremen, which was probably the faction I most wanted to try, so that was great.
The game started relatively slowly, though we did have at least one battle in every round. The first 2 rounds saw skirmishes between Harkonnen and Atreides over a spice blow and over Arrakeen (a stronghold). For me, the first few rounds were spent traversing the left side of the board, scooping up every spice blow that was there. I quickly built up a tidy sum of money. There Fremen do not have to pay for shipment OR for battle, so all of their money can be left for acquiring treachery cards, bribing other players, and reviving their fallen troops.
It was not until the third round that a "Nexus" occurred (a sandworm/Shai-Hulud card appeared in the spice blow phase). Only at Nexuses can alliances be made OR broken. By this time, the Atreides player was in a fairly weak position after losing a couple of battles. The Emperor and Harkonnen players allied, and the Spacing Guild player and I allied. At this point, I believe every player held one stronghold (there are 5). By the way, the main winning condition is by holding 3 strongholds at the end of a round, or 4 if you are in alliance.
As the game progressed, the Atreides gained the Lasgun treachery card. This card is the most powerful weapon in the game, but also the most dangerous. If used in a battle with a shield present, it causes a nuclear explosion, and everyone in the territory is wiped out. He possessed both the Lasgun AND a shield, which essentially meant that he was a walking nuke, if he wanted to be, and everyone at the table knew it. As I wrote above, he was in a weakened position, having lost a few battles, so he took this opportunity to get himself back into the game. He moved into one of my strongholds with a couple of troops, and made me an offer I couldn't refuse - he wouldn't nuke the stronghold and my ~8 troops in it...for 10 spice. I took the deal.
He tried this again the next round. He came to me and my ally - "For 15 spice, I won't nuke ANY of your 3 strongholds." This was too high a price to pay. We couldn't let him hold this over us indefinitely. We risked not paying it, knowing that if he detonated it, the other alliance wouldn't be able to swoop in and win right away, and then he wouldn't have the Lasgun anymore.
That risk paid off, as he moved in on a Harkonnen stronghold. On the previous round, the Harkonnen player had moved ALL of his troops into Carthag, which is a stronghold within spitting distance of Arrakeen, one of the strongholds I was holed up in. So when the Atreides player shipped one troop into the Harkonnen stronghold of Carthag with it's 20 troops, the Harkonnen player jumped right into Arrakeen with 17 of them. So there would be battles in both Arrakeen and Carthag.
I had something like 11 troops in Arrakeen to his 17, but I had the advantage of being the Fremen player, who does not have to pay spice to have their troops fight at full strength. The Fremen also have 3 Fedaykin soldiers, which count for double the fighting strength of all other soldiers. We dialed up our battle wheels, revealed our battle plans and... TREACHERY! The leader he played was Feyd-Rautha, the strongest of the Harkonnen leaders, and the leader I had drawn as my traitor at the beginning of the game. I won the battle, and he lost EVERYTHING.
This was a huge turning point in the game, because before this, the Emperor and Harkonnen alliance had a lot of troops on the board, and were poised to make some strong moves against myself and my ally. After this battle, I and my ally still held strong positions, and the Harkonnen player had zero troops on the board, after also losing his battle to Atreides. The game was not decided in this round, but this was certainly a major turning point. At the next Nexus, the Emperor broke his alliance with Harkonnen and allied with Atreides, who had clawed himself back into the game with his mercenary activities and selling of information.
That big battle took place at around the midpoint of the game, which ended up going for 9 rounds. For reference, the maximum is 10 rounds, at which point the special victory conditions for Spacing Guild and Fremen are in play. Most of the rest of the game went on without too much excitement, with skirmishes here and there that didn't swing the game too much one way or another.
One exciting thing that happened was that I got to direct a sandworm to a sand territory of my choosing, and I chose a territory where the Emperor had about 10 troops ready to collect some spice, so I killed all of those troops and destroyed the spice. That was another nail in the coffin for the Emperor and his alliance.
By round 9, most forces had dwindled to the point that there were only a handful of troops in each stronghold, but my ally and I held 3 of the 4 we needed to win. He shipped into a fourth and took it without any problem, and the Emperor player shipped into one of mine to try to stop us from winning the game that round.
I had 4 troops to his 3 in the stronghold, so I had the slight numbers advantage, but there were still leaders and treachery cards (weapons) to account for. Until this time I had been hesitant to use my strongest leader, Stilgar, who also happens to be the best leader in the game. See, when cards traitor cards get dealt out at the beginning of the game, it's highly likely that any one leader was dealt, and considering that Stilgar is the most powerful leader in the game, you can bet that anyone who was dealt Stilgar chose him as their traitor. As you can see, the risk/reward for using your strongest leader is high. Unfortunately for me, I had only two options - my strongest leader and my weakest leader. The rest had been killed. I had a hunch, however, that the Emperor player had Stilgar as his traitor. Luckily, I had won a truthtrance card in the bidding phase a couple of rounds earlier. Before the battle:
Me: "I'm using my truthtrance card - do you have Stilgar as your traitor?"
Emperor: closes eyes and tilts head back in defeat - "YES"
I used my weaker leader and was able to win the battle anyway - game over - we had control of 4 strongholds. If I had used Stilgar in the battle, I would have lost.
So that's the long story of this long game. All in all, it took 9 rounds, 5 1/2 hours, and many, many troops were lost along the way, but I think everyone had a good time, including the two first-timers, which is a big win in my book.
tl;dr - played Dune at 5p. I played as Fremen - a clutch traitor and a clutch Truthtrance card gave me and my ally (Spacing Guild) the victory in round 9. It was really fun and I'm excited to play again.
I'll post some pics in the comments.