Review: The Builders: Antiquity

buildersboxGreetings again fellow gamers! The last time I was here I was playing The Builders: Middle Ages, and I predicted there could be more on the horizon for this game. Today I am excited to be sharing my thoughts after playtesting The Builders: Antiquity! How does this sequel stack up to the original? To find out, I’ll be running through the following criteria:

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

 

builserscomponentsComponents: Just like its predecessor, Antiquity comes in a nice compact tin. I like these little tins for small games due to their reliability…no matter where I’m headed, I can toss this game into my bag and not worry about dinging the corners or spilling pieces.

Also returning is a deck of worker cards, a deck of tile-sized building cards, and delightfully-clicking plastic coins. Additionally, this version includes some new investment cards, four of which are transparent plastic.

Once again, the artwork is bright and top-notch. I noticed right away that the coins were a much simpler design than they were in Middle Ages…but I also quickly realized that since we’ve gone further back in time for this installment, it makes thematic sense. While you are likely to be able to find it for less, I think the MSRP of $18 is just fine, as the quality of the artwork and components is excellent.

 

Accessibility: I playtested this one with veteran gamers, most of whom had no prior The Builders experience. With the addition of the investment cards, this version of the game is a bit more complex, and therefore not as quick to learn (or play) as Middle Ages.

Each player still gets three actions on his or her turn. In addition to the original possibilities of collecting buildings, collecting/assigning workers, or collecting coins from the bank, you now have the option once per turn to purchase an investment card, of which there are four types: prisoners, tools, loans, and education.

Prisoners are workers who (after being purchased) may be assigned to buildings for free, but hurt your VP score if you don’t pay for their freedom by the end of the game. Tools can be picked up by a worker (or freed prisoner) for no additional cost when he is assigned. The education cards are the transparent plastic overlays which permanently improve one of your workers (or freed prisoners.) Loans work just how you’d expect them to.

With these additions, there are now enough little rules to track that I wouldn’t automatically go to this one for novice gamers, especially since there are no player aids. That being said, the instruction manual is very well organized, efficiently color coded, and simple to reference.

By the end of their first game, my newer playtesters felt they had a good understanding of it, and were willing to play again, though they thought it might be nice to try the original first. My veteran The Builders playtester was able to pick up the new investments rules without much trouble.

 

Depth: With more decisions to make on each turn, this game is perhaps a bit deeper than the original, but it also plays quite differently for a couple of reasons.

First, there are dramatically fewer workers in Antiquity (18) than there were in Middle Ages (42!) Especially with more than two players, you are likely to run out of workers to draft for your team, which really pushes you to use those investment cards.

Second, when you purchase an investment card, unlike the worker and building decks, you get to look through the stack to select the one you want. Together, these two elements make Antiquity feel a lot less random overall.

 

Theme: Instead of a medieval town, this time around you are working to complete wonders of the ancient world. This theme works just as well as its predecessor, but again I would love to see something fresher. I know this theme has proven gamer appeal, but I can just as easily imagine The Builders with a less conventional modern setting…you could even have interns that you eventually hire (or not) instead of prisoners that you eventually set free (or not!)

While there are still no women on the cards (hazard of the time period?) this version of the game does feature multiple cultures, including Babylonian, Egyptian, and Greek, which is fun to see.

Between the variety of art and the clickity exchange of currency during gameplay, this small game certainly delivers on its theme.

 

Fun:  After my initial games with four players, I wasn’t convinced that this new version was necessarily an improvement over the original. While I thought it was fun to purchase tools and education to upgrade my workers, taking out loans and purchasing prisoners was not as enticing to me, purely for flavor reasons. Also, due to the longer turns, Antiquity didn’t truly shine for me until I played with just two players. Not only were the two player games better paced, but there were also plenty of workers to go around, which resulted in the investments feeling more like strategic options, rather than as forgone conclusions.

Overall, The Builders: Antiquity is another fun release which crams a lot of game into a portable package. Does it make sense to pick it up if you already have Middles Ages? I’d say it depends on how often you play with two players, or if you prefer less randomness in your games. Since they play slightly differently, Antiquity does not render Middle Ages obsolete; if you just can’t decide which version to pick up, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have both on your shelf!

For the quality and replay value you get at this price point, I am happy to recommend The Builders: Antiquity as another easy addition to your collection.

Special thanks to my playtesters: Julie, Shawna, Tristan, and MB

Rating:

4star

4 out of 5

 

Review: Eclipse: Shadow of the Rift

Hello everybody! Time for a WRITTEN review! Let’s hop to it!

 

sotrboxEclipse: Shadow of the Rift

This is the third big box expansion for Eclipse (there are also quite a few promos). Rise of the Ancients introduced a ton of new modules, tiles, and races, much of which Shadow of the Rift expands upon. Ship Pack One was primarily a box of plastic goodies, but it did have a few new tiles, and a great new turn order variant (and Shadow of the Rift includes tokens for the new races to use that variant as well).

The first thing I noticed when I opened Shadow of the Rift is that though all 3 expansions have had a $50 MSRP, there is a major dearth of plastic this time. I’m guessing they think you have enough basic ships, since these races are all in already-used colors, as well. I imagine that we’re not far off from Ship Pack Two, which means excluding new basic ships here makes logistical sense – but it makes the price tag a little harder to swallow.

Additionally, most of the new stuff is a continuation of what we saw in Rise of the Ancients. There are Development and Rare Tech tiles again, along with new Discoveries and Exploration Hexes. There are also new Special Reputation tiles, and the new Exploration Hexes have Anomalies and Deep Warp Portals (see the rules here). I’ll give my opinion of each module individually, in order of preference:

 

Special Reputation Tiles. I see no reason not to always toss these in. They don’t disrupt the game flow, and you need not worry about them until you find one in the bag. Yes, they add more luck, but more than that, they add more fun. It’s way more exciting to pull from the Reputation bag now, and even more rewarding to do it early.

 

New Discoveries, Rare Techs, and Developments. We always play with Rare Techs and Developments, as well as with all the Discoveries mixed, so I am happy to have more. The rules say you should maybe limit the number of Rare Techs in the bag, but I’m crazy enoueclipseshapersgh to use them all. The thing I don’t like is that all three modules have several items that are tied to the abilities of the new races, and in each case, they are somewhat clunky when that race is not in play. It’s also too much of a hassle to take out those select few items when not using the new races, except I guess the Developments. Overall, I’m positive – I love the new cannons and other Ship Parts. For example, there is a new Transition Drive that moves you 3, requires no energy, but lowers your initiative.

 

New Races. There are 3 new races, one of which is duplicated on both player boards. The Octantis have access to Evolutions, which are basically small upgrades that are drawn randomly out of a bag and cost a new fourth resource, Mutagen, which this race produces. These are okay, but I feel like you spend a lot of the game piddling around with your upgrades rather than just starting with a cool bonus and trying to take full advantage of it. They seem a little underpowered, but I could be wrong.

And this was early on in Turn 5!

And this was early on in Turn 5!

The Shapers of Draco also have a bag of upgrades, which allow them to do essentially take actions early and pay for them later, or pay for things early and receive them later. If early actions are not paid for on time, the Shapers lose VP tokens and they also gain VP if they do fulfill payments. However, it seems like ignoring payment is an extremely valid strategy, especially in lower player counts. Being able to get Positron Computer, Tachyon Source, or Tachyon Drive turn 1 is definitely worth the VP penalty, after you’ve looted all around and left your opponents in the dust. Of course, the tiles are randomly drawn, but the Shapers (and the Octantis) can use Colony Ships to draw out different techs. I don’t think this race is overpowered, but the base game rules say not to use Planta or Hydra for 2 player games – I would add Shapers to that. It’s too powerful for them to have those early ship upgrades if they only have one opponent to attack. However, it’s much more fun to play than Octantis, simply because, like most races, you get that exciting feeling of having something super powerful that other players don’t have, right away.

The last new race is the Pyxis Unity, which is one of those races that makes you gasp and shout in excitement when you just look at their p

layer board. They have only one resource for everything, do several actions in combination, and perhaps most interestingly, can combine two ships of one type into one of the next type, or go backwards from 1 ship to two of the weaker type, for only one resource. They also have super-cool Deathmoons instead of Starbases. And unlike the Octantis and the Shapers, they have no bag of tiles or any other convoluted aspect to their play – their player board is just full of awesome tweaks that makes them exude cool. I’m most eager to play with them again; I was less impressed with the other two races. And of course, all you need to play them (since there are no ships here) is the board and some tokens – most of the contents of this expansion were the tiles for the other two races.

 

 

New Exploration Tiles. It took several read-throughs for me to even understand how Anomalies and Deep Warp Portals (which are not related Warp Portals from Rise of the Ancients – confused yet?) even work. We’re reaching critical mass here with Eclipse, and too me, the weird tiles are the least interesting way to complicate the game. If we’re going to keep adding tons of extra stuff, I want simple, interesting twists, not something this complex. I have a box of Eclipse stuff I won’t ever use because getting everything back in the base game box is now a joke. It’s got the 7-9 player stuff, for example, and now it’s got these. If I’m going to include weird tiles, I’ll most likely start with the Ancient Home Worlds.

However, I should definitely mention that the weirder Exploration Hexes are not the only ones in the box. There are a few more basic Hexes that simply have a new spot which is an “Advanced Wild” spot, meaning if you have Advanced Economy/Mining/Labs (any of them!), you can put an appropriate population cube on that spot. This is what I’m talking about! Simple, new twists on the game. I love these.

 

Conclusion. So is Shadow of the Rift worth the purchase? I don’t know. I freaking love Eclipse, and parts of this expansion are extremely cool. There’s no question in my mind that you should get Rise of the Ancients first. Ship Pack One is mostly chrome, and I tend to just use the basic ships anyway, because some of the new ones are too big for the hexes. So, if you’ve fully explored Rise of the Ancients and are still eager for more, I think you’re going to have a lot of fun with this expansion. Two of the three races I really enjoy, and others may disagree with me about the third. There’s also a lot of the same “more good stuff” that Rise of the Ancients had with the Discoveries, Developments and Rare Techs, and the Special Reputation Tiles are an auto-include. Honestly, we don’t use nearly everything in Rise of the Ancients, either, and I’d probably be totally sweet on this expansion if the MSRP was $35-40. So if you’re a major Eclipse fan, I think this is one to get – but be prepared for the fact that you aren’t getting the same bang-for-your-$50 that you got from Rise of the Ancients. 

 

Rating:

3star

3 out of 5

Week of January 25, 2016 – Live Plays of Codenames and Good Cop Bad Cop: Undercover!

Hey everybody! This week we’ve got two Live Plays! First up is Good Cop Bad Cop with the upcoming Undercover expansion. Keep in mind we played with a prototype. This will be on Kickstarter on February 16th. Check it out:


Secondly, we recorded a couple of games of Codenames, our 2015 Game of the Year:


Enjoy! We should have some written content next week. Until then!

Week of January 18, 2016 – Pandemic Legacy, Tides of Time, Targi

Hello everyone! No written content this week, but our MeepleTown Musings is on my weekend marathonning Pandemic Legacy, and we’ve got video reviews of Tides of Time and Targi as well! Check it out:

Review: Raptor

raptorboxWhile Bruno Cathala has been on a tear for the past two years, with huge hits like Five Tribes and Abyss, the other Bruno (Faidutti) of Citadels fame has been on a quiet resurgence of his own, with a very well-selling microgame Mascarade and the recent auction game Warehouse 51. Together, they’ve had a couple of recent reprints – Queen’s Necklace and the excellent Mission: Red Planet – but Raptor is the newest fruit of their long-standing collaboration. An asymmetrical two-player game with variable powers and card-driven play sounds exactly up my alley, but does Raptor live up to these designers’ legacies? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

 

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine  the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

 

raptorcomponentsComponents: Wow, this game is incredibly impressive. No surprise, since it’s coming from Matagot (Takenoko, Cyclades, Kemet). What impresses me most is how aggressively this game is priced ($35 MSRP) when it comes with around 10 small plastic miniatures, about as many large board tiles, a deck of cards, large and awesome reminder sheets, and some tokens (and even a rulebook!). That’s a lot of material in a small box, and it’s all done very well. The rules did a great job of hitting the easy-to-miss rules and making sure to have them identified in large text, and giving a VERY in-depth player aid to each player. We didn’t screw up a single rule on our first play, which is honestly shocking, since there’s a few minor-but-important ones you could miss if the game wasn’t set up so well. More games need player aids of this size and depth, please! The art is also beautiful, as it always is when Vincent Dutrait is present. I’m very happy here.

 

Accessibility: At its core, this game simply involves both players simultaneously picking a card numbered 1-9 from their hand of 3 cards, but there’s a unique twist: the lower number gets a special action based on the card, but the higher number gets the differential as a number of action points to take “standard” actions. So if I play a 7 and you play a 3, you do the special thing that 3’s do, while I get 4 action points (but my 7’s special move doesn’t trigger). That’s the core of the gameplay, and everything else is based around this clever mechanic. Actions involve moving on the board, attacking/blocking the other player’s miniatures, or trying to get the baby raptors to escape (or not). The central mechanism is very simple yet brings a lot to think about. The rules get fiddly with what you can and can’t do with your standard actions, but as I said above, the rulebook did an excellent job keeping players in the loop as to those issues. This could easily be a gateway+ game (it’s not as simple as something like Las Vegas or Sushi Go!, but it’s simpler than Dominion or Catan.)

 

Depth: This game certainly at least appears to have a lot to chew on. However, it seems my games have been frustratingly lucky.  I wouldn’t find a pure information game very interesting, so I’m glad that you don’t play with the whole deck at your disposal – on the other hand, sometimes the game can be very frustrating. The worst offense is when you play a card just one higher than your opponent’s – they get their special ability, while you get one measly action point. If this happens several turns in a row, you are most likely toast. I’ve also heard murmurs that the game is skewed towards the scientist player. I don’t know if that’s true, although I think the fact that the mother raptor has to spend one action point for each sleep token before she can even move makes it very difficult for the raptor player to get out of a tight spot. I’ve played the game four times, as both sides, and the scientist has won every game – but that’s not a very large sample size. And it may be one of those games, like Twilight Struggle, where one side is simply harder for newbies to learn to play effectively.

However, the central complaint for me is that those opening turns are very blind as to what you and your opponent have in hand, and a run of bad calls (i.e. playing barely over your opponent) can really ruin you. I’d be very glad to be wrong on this, but I spent many turns as the raptor player, even when I had a lot of action points, staring at the standard actions and just realizing that they were all pretty useless. (Again, this is especially true if the mother raptor has 2-4 sleep tokens.)

 

Theme: The theme on this game is wonderful. It’s surprisingly unique in the board game world, since it’s so common in pop culture. And it’s done very well – the actions make thematic sense, the board and miniatures are beautiful, and they’ve imbued a ton of theme into a game with a very abstract central mechanism. Color me impressed!

 

Fun: This game has a lot going for it. It’s inexpensively, it’s beautiful, and it’s highly thematic. Yet, during play I kept finding myself somewhat frustrated and “pinned down”, unable to find anything clever to do – especially as the raptor player. It may just be that the game needs more plays to “open up” for me, but I didn’t have quite enough fun the first four times to invest more time into it. I wouldn’t hold it against someone for loving it, and I’d gladly play again if asked, but it’s not one I’d go out of my way to play again.

 

Raptor is -almost- all the things you want in a game – inexpensive, beautiful, thematic through and through – but the gameplay wasn’t quite as deep as I had hoped it would be.

 

Rating:

3star

3 out of 5

 

Hello 2016! – Week of January 11, 2016

Hope you all had a great Christmas! My wife totally surprised me with a copy of Viticulture Essential Edition! Can’t wait for that to hit the table. In the meantime, expect a written review of Raptor going up the same time as this, and here is this week’s MeepleTown Musings, where I make uneducated guesses at the Dice Tower awards:

 

See you next week!

Game of the Year and Happy Holidays – Week of December 21, 2015

Hey everybody! It is time for our 2015 GAME OF THE YEAR, going up at the same time as this article – although we also give a 2nd and 3rd place. I’m very, very happy with our choices and hope you enjoy reading that article. Additionally, there’s another MeepleTown Musings this week, discussing the idea that most games are 7s, a thought further enforced by the fact that I couldn’t come up with 10 “games of the year”:

 

Other than that, make sure you check out One Night Revolution Live Play and Review if you missed it, and let us know what you think of the video and article formats as we continue to experiment. For now, though, we’re taking a break until January 11, 2015, at which point you should see a slew of new content! Thanks for a great year and enjoy the holiday!

MeepleTown’s 2015 Game of the Year Awards

2015 has been an excellent year for board games of all varieties, and it’s also got to be the year where I’ve played the most new material (I think I have reviewed around 50 releases, and played many more). Many of these games will find permanent homes on shelves, some will fade away, but I think there are a few that are timeless, that are bound to become mainstays of the hobby for several years, and strangely enough, none of them are strategy games. Card-combo fests Elysium, 7 Wonders: Duel and Deus represent an amazing year for gamers like me, but the following three games are truly something unique, and represent one of two big paradigm shifts in our hobby. (The other being the advent of the Legacy-style game.) Speaking of Pandemic Legacy, none of us have played it yet though we expect it to be our respective Christmas trees – yet we’re still very confident in our Game of the Year award, for reasons you will see below. Onward!

 

mysteriumbox3rd Place: Mysterium

While I don’t think that Mysterium necessarily represents an evolution of Dixit (still an amazing game in its own right) like others do, it certainly is an entirely new experience that transcends the implicit boundaries of game design. It’s thematic, it feels strategic, yet its mechanisms are really just matching pieces of artwork together. And somehow it feels like a party game, despite all the deliberation and frustration this game can bring. One of the most interesting things about this design is something I don’t hear mentioned often: it is one of the few co-op games out there that, like Hanabi, has no A.I. pitted against you. So, it feels interesting and cerebral, while purely being an exercise in communication among your friends, instead of fighting against a randomized deck of cards. An instant classic, for sure.

 

spyfall_box2nd Place: Spyfall

I originally didn’t believe the hype behind Spyfall in the eight or so months before it came to the U.S., but when it finally arrived, I took it to a friend’s bachelor party and we found ourselves crying with laughter in under 30 minutes. The concept makes little thematic sense, but it paves the way to an immense amount of hilarity. The entire game is centered around trying to get one particular person to say something idiotic, yet this is a party game that offers an incredible mix of tension, humor, and clever play – and it’s rare that you get all three of those at once. Stinker, for example, is another hilarious party game from this year, but it doesn’t offer chances for cleverness, nor the tightly wound nerves of Spyfall.

I vividly remember some hilarious one-liners, especially spies who got away through ridiculously accurate statements, but I also remember some brilliantly laid traps, like when someone intentionally asked (while at the Bank) “Whatcha doing here on the weekend?,” knowing that the spy would (and did) screw up and blather on about how it “seemed like a good time to come by.” Clever moments like that, combined with the outright hilarity of the accidents that this game creates, make it the funniest game of the year, and one of the most strategic “funny” games I’ve ever played.

codenamescoverMeepleTown’s 2015 Game of the Year: Codenames

Since Gen Con, there’s been no doubt in my mind that Codenames is something uniquely special. Much like Dominion, it feels like something that should have always existed, and you can’t believe it didn’t until recently. This is a game that has potential to transcend boundaries, to move from board gaming to the mass market, to convert families and friends and families of friends to the hobby. I would still call it a party game, but it’s so cerebral, so interesting, so strategic, and yet with such a minimal ruleset. It tests us in ways that games often don’t, forcing us to think carefully and creatively about what a word on the page (or card) really even means. It cuts to the core how we communicate as humans, and in that way brings us together in a deeper, empathetic sense as we find strange and sometimes hilarious ways to (mis)understand each other. In that way, it’s also a teaching tool at many levels, helping children and adults of all ages with literacy, communication, and logic. There are very few classrooms where Codenames wouldn’t make sense – and even fewer game rooms.

The game is infinitely variable and replayable, and aggressively priced to boot – there’s no reason this game shouldn’t be in Targets and Wal-Marts across the United States. I’ve taught this game to at least sixty people in the past four months, and I’ve had a single person dislike the game – everyone else wanted to play again right away. And I will continue to be teaching new players for years to come, even after we’ve ripped apart our copies of Pandemic Legacy and those wonderful memories have faded. Codenames is an enormous blessing upon our hobby, and easily MeepleTown’s Game of the Year.

One Night Revolution: Live Play and Review!

Something a little different – a group format with friends more eloquent than I. Let us know what feedback you have as we continue to work in this new uncharted (for us) territory of video!

What’s new this week!? Dec 14, 2015

Hey everybody! As we continue our text-and-also-video experiment, I thought it might help to just make a weekly post letting you know what all new content is out there for you. There will be a written editorial today (been a while!), and we’ve got another MeepleTown Musings, below:

 

And stay tuned for a video of our Top Games of 2015, coming soon!