Review: Brix

brixboxI teach mathematics at a small private liberal arts university. I find that mathematics draws students from all over the social spectrum, from the quiet, quirky types to the loud, outgoing class clowns. In the latter category, I happen to know a student who turned 17 just before beginning at the university, and who is obsessed with Connect Four. My Ph.D. in mathematics apparently means nothing, as I can’t beat him even though I know it’s a “solved” game (there is an algorithm that guarantees victory for the first player). But when I saw Blue Orange was putting out Brix by Charles Chevallier and Thierry Denoual, my interest was immediately piqued thanks to that student. The game is ostensibly a cross between Tic-Tac-Toe and Connect Four – but surely it could rise above that legacy? 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?

 

brixplayComponents: This has to be the simplest game, component-wise, that I’ve ever seen. It is literally 22 copies of the same plastic brick. The bricks are nice and chunky rectangles consisting of two smaller squares stuck together, with every combination of blue and orange, X and O, appearing on the various faces. The box is an appropriate size and I was impressed to find that the plastic insert had a cardboard support under it (due to the bricks being so heavy). My only (unfounded) complaint is that I hate when box lids have see-through plastic windows, but that’s just personal preference – I don’t want people seeing my awful organization! The MSRP is pretty aggressive at $19.99, considering how big and chunky the pieces are. Nothing to complain about, and I love when components are simple and clean.

 

Accessibility: You know a game is simple when I can teach it to you right here. Players take turns placing and stacking blocks, making sure the area is no more than 8 units across the bottom. The goal depends on if you are playing beginner or expert, although it is always to make four in a row of your symbol or color. In beginner mode, either one player is Xs and one player is Os, or one player is orange and the other is blue (these game modes are equivalent). In the advanced mode, one player is the symbols, needing four Xs or four Os in  row, and the other player is the colors, needing four blues or four oranges in a row. It’s quite a simple game and you’ll be playing in minutes – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to win.

 

Depth: This game is very much in the spirit of Connect Four, but with key differences. The first is that the connected blocks mean that you are always putting something on the board for the opponent as well as yourself. They also mean you can do stranger things, like “reach” two spaces away with a single block. The second is the freeform playing area, compared to the locked grid of Connect Four. But far away the most interesting difference is when playing the advanced mode, where one player controls the symbols while the other player controls the colors. This turns the game into a real brain-burner, and sets it apart from simply being a variant of known quantities. I view the beginner modes as ways to teach how the blocks work, and after that, I don’t see myself ever playing anything bu the advanced mode. It’s probably still a solvable puzzle, but one that will require some head-scratching to work out.

 

Theme: I like that Blue Orange went with blue and orange bricks.

 

Fun: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my games of Brix. I generally don’t play a lot of luckless abstracts, but I enjoy how Brix has the fun look and the toy factor to go with it. It looks cool as the wall builds and even has a tiny dexterity element (if you knock it over, you lose). It’s nowhere near the level of strategy or involvement as, say, Onitama, but this is a far better game for kids while still interesting for adults. I look forward to many more games of it being played around the math department offices, and hopefully someday with my two-year-old, who for now just likes to stack the bricks. And hopefully I won’t be playing as much Connect Four.

 

Brix is a simple, clean abstract game with a beautiful, fun look and interesting gameplay – not much to complain about here!

 

Rating:

4star

4 out of 5

Kickstarter Round-Up: Hero Realms, Rocky Road a la Mode, and the Duchess

While we don’t cover Kickstarter much here at MeepleTown, sometimes, names we trust or games we’ve played appear on the site, giving us a bit of confidence we would not otherwise have. And today is one such day, so let’s get started!

 

herorealmsHero Realms

Though I never got around to reviewing the original game, you should know that Star Realms has become my favorite game. After years of playing Magic: the Gathering in tournaments and a few obsessive grad school years playing Dominion on isotropic, I found that Star Realms was a perfect blend of those two loves – deckbuilding, and one-on-one combat. My only complaint about Star Realms is really that I’m more of a medieval fantasy guy than sci-fi, and Hero Realms remedies that “problem.”

Not only that, but Hero Realms is entering some really cool design space that doesn’t make as much sense for Star Realms. Players can now get unique started decks that represent character classes, get unique “boss” decks for 1 vs. all play, and even enter a cooperative campaign mode. I remember trying to figure out how to make Magic: the Gathering into an RPG combat system as a kid, and now I get to actually play something similar. This is the first time I’ve ever backed a KS before even reading the campaign – I can’t see how Star Realms fans could be disappointed by this one.

 

rockyroadboxRocky Road a la Mode

In Rocky Road a la Mode from Green Couch Games, players are taking on the role of ice cream truck drivers, trying to deliver treats to customers around the neighborhood and gain more loyal followers than the other players. I had the chance to play a prototype of the game this week, with near-final artwork. The game is a slick, clean design, where players use cards from their hand for multiple purposes: to create orders for customers, to serve those orders, and as permanent VPs and bonuses. Actions and cards vary in power, but are balanced by a turn-timing mechanism very similar to the one in Thebes and Tokaido: if you jump ahead with a big move, other players will get several turns before you go again – but special tokens on the road give an incentive to make such bold moves. Although I have no idea why potholes give bonuses, the theme is really integrated well otherwise. The cards are very fun, bright and loud, as an ice cream truck game should be, and the iconography is clear. A solid game that would be a great game to play with younger kids who are really into the ice cream theme. Rocky Road a la Mode launches on Kickstarter next Monday, June 20th.

 

boardgametableThe Duchess

Lately, my friends have been freaking out about a certain Kickstarter – but not one for a game. BoardGameTables is bringing the most affordable, well, board game table, that they can do to Kickstarter, with a big perk being a $100 discount if you can get a group of four together. Even if $499 for the basic table is reasonable, I just haven’t had enough problems with my own dining room table to justify such a huge expensive. I mean, that’s 5 orders with free shipping at CoolStuff or Miniature Market! But if you’ve been considering a gaming table, I can’t see a better opportunity coming up than this one.

 

Hope you found something of interest, and we’ll be back with our usual content next week!

Review: Stockpile

stockpileboxDespite being a mathematics professor, I never found the applications of mathematics (physics, engineering, finance, etc.) very interesting. So it’s not all that surprising that heavily economic board games have never been high on my radar (Power Grid being the one exception). But then, Stockpile comes along, promising to be a quick, simple stock game, which would make it perhaps the first of its kind. I like quick and simple, but those don’t always mean good. How does Stockpile hold up? 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?

 

Components: Stockpile is primarily a card-driven game, although it’s all connected to a very useful central board that shows stock prices going up and down. The artwork is wonderful – it’s evocative of the theme, but in a very fun and loud way, and the cards are high quality. I much prefer “card money” to paper money, and it was done well here. I think the MSRP of $50.00 is about normal, although I’m not sure I would want it to be higher. All in all, a very nice package with clean design and great graphics.

 

Accessibility: Stockpile‘s strength is that it plays simply and quickly, unlike many economic games. I found the basic game (where all stocks act the same) very easy to explain, and the advanced board wasn’t too big of a jump after that. The central mechanism has players bidding on piles of cards, and the bidding system is very intuitive (similar to the one in Cyclades / Amun-Re, but not quite the same). More importantly, stock games live and die on how well players can assess the value of stocks, and Stockpile shines here. It’s very clear to the players from the first turn how stock values work, and the excitement of the game comes from having partial information about any upcoming movement. I also really like the stock movement happens after payout for the current turn, so that it feels considerably less random. This could honestly be someone’s gateway game, and I like that a lot.

 

Depth: The “gimmick” of Stockpile is insider trading, represented by the fact that you know things other people don’t – you know how one particular stock will move, and you know one of the face-down cards in the stockpiles. Theoretically, the depth of the game comes from the bluffing aspect when you watch people maneuver around things they know – did they avoid taking their own face-down card because it’s bad, or because they’re being sneaky? However, in my experience with the game, it didn’t feel like there was enough opportunity to “watch” players use the information they knew to glean anything. The game doesn’t play itself by any means, and there are interesting decisions to be made, but there’s a heck of a lot of “well, if I had any idea that was coming, I would have certainly played differently…” I suppose this is mitigated by memorizing the (admittedly very few) ways that stocks can move up and down, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.

 

Theme: I was curious about this game more because of its positive reception elsewhere than because of my own interest in the stock market (which is none). I greatly appreciate that the game has a tongue-in-cheek approach to its theme, and the art pulls that off to great effect. And thematically, the secret partial information makes a lot of sense. The game can also have a lot of very wild swings in valuation, which makes thematic sense too. So, all in all I think the game does a fantastic job being true to its theme – it’s just not a very exciting one.

 

Fun: I liked the game, but I didn’t love it. People who actually enjoy this theme or want a simple introduction to the many stock-driven economic games out there should have a fantastic time with it. It’s definitely a clean, slick, elegant design. But for us, that didn’t translate to that “spark” of super-fun that games like Splendor and Codenames have given us. The game was still solid, and the best stock market game I’ve played (as someone who is typically not a fan).

 

Stockpile is an accessible, well-designed introduction into the world of stock market games. It’s not going to be a mega-hit like some of the recent gateway games we’ve seen, but it’s a fun game in its own right.

 

Rating:

3star

3 out of 5

Educational Games Round-Up: Dr. Eureka, Fast Flip, Odd World

Quite often, educational games aren’t just for kids, and board game publishers have made great strides in recent years toward making sure games are truly “fun for the whole family.” So, when I say the following three games are for kids, don’t think that means they’re no fun for you – in fact, I’ve only played these with adults! Here we go.

 

Odd World (Foxmind Games)

oddworldOdd World is a set-collection card game, with an interesting mechanism that involves both sides of the cards. The visible side on top of the deck (normally the “back”) will show two planets that might be on the other side (but only one of them it is). Using this partial information, players decide, without looking at the front of the card, whether to take it for themselves or give it to another player. Planets you’ve collected score points, but only if you have an odd number of that particular planet, otherwise they don’t score at all (hence the name). The game is over when someone has all nine planets (though they certainly may not win!). The cards look really great, the rules were clear and concise, and I like the tin packaging (especially for a game likely to get banged up in a classroom).

While Odd World involves a light amount of strategy and arithmetic, the real educational value in the game is teaching children the names and pictures associated with all nine planets. The game also tells you to sort the cards in front of you in order of distance from the sun, although I didn’t do that myself when playing with adults. The game was an okay way to pass the time, but the strategy was quite light since the game’s not-so-secret focus is elsewhere. This game fits in an elementary classroom exactly because the decisions are so simple and the game takes only a few seconds to teach. I don’t see adults getting excited about playing this one together, but I’d be elated to see it in any mid-elementary-school classroom (in fact, that’s where my copy went).

 

Fast Flip (Blue Orange Games)

fastflipFast Flip has you flipping over cards (whoa! what a surprise!) and then quickly trying to identify characteristics on the revealed card. The cards have numbers and front on the revealed front side, and on the back side (i.e. the top card of the deck) there is a number or a fruit. Depending on what’s on the top of the deck, you need to either identify how many of the specified fruit were revealed, or which fruit is shown in amount of the specified number.  There are several different variations on the official rules listed in the rulebook, but that’s the overall gist. Although the cards a little flimsy, the artwork is very loud, clear, and fun, and the I like that the cards are triangular, giving the game a unique aesthetic. The tin container is also a good idea.

I found that this game could be quite a challenge, even for adults. Clearly, the educational aspect is on spatial/eye coordination and a tiny bit of logic, and that’s something that people of any age will always need to practice more. There’s not really “strategy” to the game other than being faster than everyone else, but the game is enjoyable enough, and the fun theme and colorful artwork should make it appealing to a younger audience. Keep in mind that one rules variant involves stealing points from each other, which could be aggravating to some children.

 

Dr. Eureka (Blue Orange Games)

dreurekaRoberto Fraga has quite a track record with kids’ games, having been nominated for the Kinderspiel des Jahres (Kids’ Game of the Year in Germany) several times, winning last year for Spinderella. So, it’s no surprise that his game Dr. Eureka is the best of this trio.

In Dr. Eureka, players are “chemists” moving molecules between test tubes, although what they are actually doing is a riff on the classic mathematics problem, the Tower of Hanoi. Players race to be the first to complete a “formula,” a picture of which molecule belongs in which tube (in a specific order). Players can only move molecules between the tubes by tilting the tubes into each other, not by touching the molecules directly, although they can also turn a tube upside down and “count” it in that form. This adds a fun dexterity element to the critical thinking already needed to solve what are actually somewhat tricky algorithmic math problems.

I love it when board games challenge skills different than those demanded by the classic strategy games. This game requires spatial thinking, speed, and dexterity in addition to logical thinking skills. It will challenge both kids and adults in a variety of ways, but it’s also high-intensity and really funny. Trying to balance the balls without dropping or touching them is quite a challenge, and one that makes you feel silly (in a good way) and catches the eye of bystanders. Not only is this a great game for classrooms of any elementary or secondary level, it would be a great game for a college group as well. I teach mathematics at a university, and we had an ongoing speed challenge for the Towers of Hanoi – this will be a fun evolution of that next year. My only real complaint is that the “Dr. Eureka” theme misrepresents the mechanisms as something more chemistry-related, when this is a game for mathematicians through and through. In any case, I’m eager to play again.

 

 

Do you have games to recommend that have worked well in your classrooms? Sound off in the comments!

Review: EXCEED

exceedboxIn second grade, I went to a friend’s birthday party, and he had just received Street Fighter II for the Super Nintendo. Despite being a large group, we decided to watch each other play, with the winner getting to stay in the round. I was the only player who could throw Hadokens or any other projectile. Let’s just say I didn’t have many friends at school the next day.

Since then, despite realizing just how poor I really was at SFII, I have always enjoyed one-on-one combat games, not only in video form but also in tabletop card games like Magic: the Gathering and Summoner Wars. Recently, there have been many attempts to translate the likes of Street FighterMortal Kombat and their many cousins more directly to card format – Yomi, BattleCON, and many more. The EXCEED fighting system by Level 99 Games and D. Brad Talton (Pixel Tactics, BattleCON) is the latest attempt at doing so.

The idea behind EXCEED is to have an accessible-but-interesting system adaptable to different game worlds, allowing different characters from various areas of geekdom. This sounds great, but is the game system any good? 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?

 

Components: First off, let me say that I have only played one of the four upcoming packs, which had four fighters: Satoshi, Mei-Lien, Baelkhor, and Morathi. The artwork on the cards was great, and the iconography was very clear and useful once we had the rules down. I also really like how the ultra attack cards were foiled. I wish the “fighting area” was a board and not just 9 plain-looking cards, but I think the $25 MSRP trade-off for four characters is worth it. My only real complaints is that the box comes in a somewhat low-quality tuckbox (which stunk to high heaven, but I’m told that’s an anomaly); I’d rather have a traditional, sturdy game box with a lid or magnetic case.

Prudish Comment: Take this or leave it. If you look at the Kickstarter page for EXCEED, many of the characters are scantily clad, for lack of a better phrase. However, the particular deck I was sent did not have this problem with any of the fighters. I do not think I’ll pick up the other decks for this reason, but if that’s an issue for you like it is for me, you can safely pick up this set and have a lot of fun with it.

 

Accessibility: The point of the EXCEED system is to have something simple enough to “graft on” many different types of fighters, but still complex enough to be interesting. In this, I think Level 99 has succeeded. It’s not a gateway game, but it’s an easy game to understand for veterans of games like Magic, Summoner Wars, Dominion, or any other card game with lots of text and abilities.  I also think this game is one of those where it’s easy to jump in and begin playing, even if you won’t necessarily be playing well. It’s fun just to explore the characters the first time and read some of the crazy abilities, especially on the “exceed” (i.e. powered-up) side of the characters – a fun throwback to many video game fighters.

 

Depth: A huge part of this game is learning the characters and their decks inside and out. At that point, the game becomes more about reading your opponent than figuring out the system that you are working within, and this is a very good thing. It’s a very well-done parallel to the same “mental paper-rock-scissors” happening in other card games and particularly in the video game fighters that EXCEED draws its inspiration from. For example, one character has an ultra attack that’s a ridiculously large amount of damage, but it only hits if he is exactly 3 spaces away from his opponent. Once you’ve lost to that once, you’ll know how to play around it. The subtle things, like keeping track of your opponent’s Gauge costs and the amount they have on hand, or the ranges and effects on their unique attacks, come with time. I could definitely see this becoming a lifestyle game for people in the way that Magic and many LCGs have done.

 

Theme: Although I don’t know the history of these characters, the art in the game and their unique abilities says a lot about them. I felt like each character had an overarching “theme” to their abilities and those came out very well during the gameplay. Level 99 has said they made sure to pay careful attention to having these characters play similar to their original form in Jasco’s Universal Fighting System, and though I haven’t played that, I can tell that these characters were carefully crafted and refined. The fighting game theme is linked about as tightly as you could possibly imagine to the gameplay.

 

Fun: I have unfortunately never played BattleCON, but I have played Yomi, Magic, Summoner Wars, Mage Wars Academy, and a slew of deckbuilders and two-player card games. This is the game that I feel best simulates my “glory days” of Street Fighter, Tekken, and Killer Instinct in a way that’s got the right level of accessibility and game length for me. Games only take 15-30 minutes, and I suspect they’ll be quicker as we get better at the game. I look forward to playing the game more and to see what other game worlds end up licensed to the system.

 

If you’re looking for a video game fighter simulated in a tabletop card game, and you want it to be accessible but deep, look no further than EXCEED.

 

Rating:

4star

4 out of 5

Review: Between Two Cities

btcboxStonemaier Games is known for two things: excellent customer service, and excellent game design. Both qualities originate from founders Alan Stone and Jamey Stegmaier. What happens when the founding duo takes a chance on outside designers? Between Two Cities is just that. Designed by Matthew O’Malley and Ben Rosset, Between Two Cities is a 20-30 minute filler game of tile drafting, with a twist: you build a city with both of your neighbors, but only the weaker city counts for scoring. Is a crazy twist and a great publisher enough to make this a great game? 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?

 

btcartComponents: Between Two Cities comes in a small box, primarily because of its few components: for the most part, the game is just a giant pile of square tiles, with a few duplex tiles mixed in. These tiles are quite large, with great (though drab-colored) artwork and clear, distinct iconography. The game also comes with cards for scoring reminders, and randomizers for seating order. The tiles are so chunky and beautiful that the game really wowed me in this regard. $35 MSRP is totally normal for a game of this range, and you’re getting quality components for sure.

 

Accessibility: Actually playing this game is incredibly short and simple – you are simply picking two tiles at a time in the draft, and putting one on each side of you, making cities collaboratively with your neighbors. There aren’t too many weird restrictions – your tiles need to be oriented “upright” and your city needs to make a 4×4 grid – that’s it, really. The trickier part of the game is the scoring.

None of the individual scoring rules are that complicated, but together, they provide a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s easy to intuit among an individual hand what might be a good idea (well, past the first hand, which is a crapshoot). On the other hand, it’s also very hard to quickly add up how you’re city is doing, to tell if you’re truly balancing your two cities. Back to the first hand, though, the inability to “math it out” means that the game is not ruined by donwtime among players who would do so. The main problem is that unless we’re complete idiots, scoring the game takes almost as long as playing the game, and there’s no easy way to do it. If you can get past that hurdle, though, it’s a cinch to play.

 

Depth: One interesting byproduct of the game’s rule that you score your worst city is that the game generates quite a bit of discussion as you decide which of your two tiles goes where. I like that a traditional “Euro-ish” drafting game has this negotiation element to it. I also really appreciate the rulebook having an explicit rule for what to do in “power gamer” situations where someone wants to decide after someone else (you go in order given by the randomizer). We never had an issue with that, and I really enjoyed adding this “soft skill” to the mathematics of the game.

In the game, you only look at 7 different hands of tiles, and pick two each time. I found that I was never making particularly tough decisions, especially later on in the game. However, that’s okay – after all, the game only takes 20-30 minutes to play. I don’t necessarily think the game plays itself – sometimes, you have to decide between equally good or equally crappy choices – but sometimes, there’s just the good choice and the bad choice.

 

Theme: The theme of city-building is thin, but it’s there. It’s relevant in the scoring, not wanting houses near factories, but wanting taverns near businesses, etc. It also feels like you’re developing the cities you build as you do it, which is impressive given the short time frame in which the game has to generate the feeling. You’ll get more of the theme out of a game like Suburbia, but Between Two Cities does the best job that it can within its constraints.

 

Fun: The easiest game to compare this to is 7 Wonders, where you are also developing a city civilization through drafting, and both can accommodate seven people. However, Between Two Cities is a chatty game, while the competitive nature you have with your neighbors in 7 Wonders makes more for a quiet, determined attitude. Personally, 7 Wonders is my preference of the two, but it’s also very hard to learn by comparison. Between Two Cities is a fun game in its own right, and a great introduction to drafting games for new players – especially since they have two other players to rely on as they begin to learn.

 

Between Two Cities is clever, quick, simple introduction to both city-building and drafting games, making it an easy recommendation for family gamers.

 

Rating:

4star

4 out of 5

Interview: Jamey Stegmaier talks Charterstone, Scythe, and Community-Building

jameystegmaierMy first introduction to Stonemaier games was when a friend insisted I play Viticulture. Another overly complex, boring euro, I thought, but I entertained him anyway. What a masterpiece!Intuitive and thematic, despite being a medium-heavy Eurogame. Since then, Stonemaier games has established a strong following and rapport with Kickstarter backers, recently with a 1.8 million-dollar campaign for Scythe, and now buzz is beginning for their first Legacy-style game, Charterstone. Many thanks to Jamey for the interview! (Beware: way at the bottom of this page are some Pandemic Legacy spoilers, with plenty of whitespace and warnings in between. Beware, though, before you scroll to the bottom.)

 

I assume you’ve played both Risk Legacy and Pandemic Legacy. What did you think as you played those games?

Indeed, I have. Risk Legacy was my favorite gaming experience of 2013, and I had a great time with Pandemic Legacy in 2015 (we played through the entire thing in a few weeks). I really enjoyed the sheer amount of innovation in both of them. I love the idea of starting with a simple ruleset and adding complexity with the various unlocks. I love the surprises. And even though I had my doubts, I found myself loving the idea of permanence in both games. To me, permanence wasn’t a gimmick—it was a carefully crafted feature to enhance the player experience.

You advertised Tuscany as a “Legacy-style expansion” to Viticulture and now Charterstone is a Legacy-style game. What does the “Legacy” phrase mean to you? How wide are the parameters of the definition?

There has been some debate as to whether or not Tuscany is actually a legacy expansion, which is understandable. The legacy concept in Tuscany is that every time you play a game (or every few times), the winner of the game selects a new expansion to unlock and permanently add to every subsequent game. It’s the opening of each new expansion that amounts to a permanent change to the game, hence the legacy element. However, there’s nothing preventing you from putting that expansion back in the box and not using it again, which is why some see it as not a “real” legacy game.

In those regards, permanence in Charterstone is truly permanent. You peel building stickers off cards and permanently put them on the board. You open tuckboxes with new content that will never go back in those tuckboxes. And so on.

So, to me, “legacy” amounts to a permanent change that persists from game to game.

 

charterstoneWhat separates Charterstone from other Legacy games? I know there’s nothing “destructive” – did you experiment with that at all? What elements will seem familiar to Risk Legacy and Pandemic Legacy players?

So, I want to emphasize here that I love Risk Legacy and Pandemic Legacy, and I’m incredibly excited about Seafall and Gloomhaven. Each of these games does some unique things, as does Charterstone.

In Charterstone, you’re building a village with other players, where buildings are the action spaces (it’s a worker-placement game). Each player has a “charter” that only they can build in, but you can place your workers in any charter. The buildings start out on cards that you can unlock/draw in various ways—when you have the resources to build them, you peel off the sticker and place it on the board. Hence the “additive” nature of the game. It doesn’t feel like a good fit to destroy things in a game that’s about building.

There is a plot of sorts in Charterstone, kind of like the plot in Pandemic Legacy. The difference is that Pandemic Legacy tells a specific story that you follow. In Charterstone, the order of the story is highly variable depending on what players unlock. There’s no sequence—players are in control.

The last thing I can talk about is what happens after you’ve unlocked everything in Charterstone. With Pandemic Legacy, Risk Legacy, and from what I’ve heard about Seafall, you play a campaign and then you’re done. I enjoy that sense of completion in those games, but in Charterstone, it’s a new beginning for your fully formed game board. From that point on, instead of playing as the same charter each game, you’ll randomly deal out the charters and play the game just as you would any other board game. There will still be plenty of variable elements to keep the game fresh each time you play (like the variable elements in Terra Mystica and Tzolk’in).

It seems that other Legacy games require serious “investment” among the players, both time-wise and emotionally. As I understand it, each game of Charterstone is designed to be pretty quick (20-60 min?). How do you balance that garnering type of investment and payoff against a game with a time frame indicative of a “quick filler”? Is Charterstone able to play both of those rules?

The playing time varies based on the player count and the number of workers you have (workers are unlocked throughout the campaign). I don’t think it will feel like a quick filler. The idea is moreso that you can play multiple games in a row if you want (and still have time to play other board games). Those playing times will probably be adjusted a bit as I collect blind playtest data, but that’s what I’m aiming for.

You’ve talked a lot about the “worldbuilding” done with Scythe. Is Legacy play the natural evolution of worldbuilding?

I think legacy is one aspect of worldbuilding. For example (no spoilers), in Pandemic Legacy, Rob and Matt designed a world where a specific plot happens, and players interact within that plot. That plot is the world they’ve built for players to interact in, and the players make permanent changes to that world—those changes become a part of the world.

In Scythe, Jakub Rozalski built the world that players interact with. It’s a world of mechs and farmers, of a mysterious factory and robust characters. You play the game within that world, and then you put the game away. When you open up the game again, you start over with the same world and play again. So players are coexisting within that world on a plateau—the world is not malleable.

scytheSpeaking of Scythe, it’s on its way out in the world now, right? How does it feel this time around, compared to the release of Viticulture and Euphoria? Do you have a mental “regimen” you go through to prepare yourself in these moments just before a game is unleashed upon the world?

It’s getting close! I’m writing this on May 5, when assembly is wrapping up in China. It feels similar to Viticulture and Euphoria in terms of logistics, as that’s mainly what’s on mind at this point. The pieces have been in place for a while now, but there are certain things that can’t be arranged until all pre-orders are final and you know the weight of all the components.

As for preparation for release, my sole focus is on my backers. I hope we sell the game to distributors and retailers so non-backers can discover and enjoy it, but my backers come first (as do pre-order customers). I want to make sure that the journey they embarked on with me last year ends with a moment of joy when they open the package for the first time.

It seems to me that your games continue to expand in scope with each release. How has your playtesting process evolved as you’ve moved from Viticulture, to Euphoria, to Scythe, to Charterstone? How do you even balance a Legacy game?

The process has changed extensively from game to game (Tuscany and Between Two Cities are in there too), with the biggest change being in the way I blind playtest. I completely underestimated the value of blind playtesting when I worked on Viticulture, so I did a lot more of it for Euphoria. Scythe is completely asymmetric game, so I knew I’d need a ton of blind playtesting (we ended having over 1,000 recorded blind playtest sessions).

Charterstone isn’t to the point of blind playtesting yet, but I think it will be smaller and more focused than Scythe, as I’ll need the same groups of people to play a number of sequential games. As for balance, part of it involves the same rules for balancing any game, but I think part of it is also creating self-balancing mechanisms. For example, in Pandemic Legacy, if you lose a game, you get to put more “funded event” cards in the deck the next time you play. If you win, you remove funded event cards. That’s a self-balancing mechanism.

Between Two Cities is your first “outside design” – how has that process gone, now that the game has been out there a while (and garnered some awards nominations)? Do you think you will continue to publish games outside of your own designs?

I can’t speak highly enough of how great Ben and Matthew have been. I got really lucky that they were the first outside designers I worked with, because they were so open to feedback, and they were able to get the game to the table hundreds of times—basically, they relied much more on data than intuition, which proved me, as the developer, wrong at important times (and proved me right at important times too). They’re awesome, and I’m excited to see what the next iteration of the expansion looks like (so far I’ve only seen an early version).

I’m definitely open to publishing games outside of my own designs. It’s gotta be a game I really love for me to spend the amount of time and money that we do on our games. I’m spending most of Gen Con hearing pitches from designers, so maybe I’ll find some games like that.

You are one of the Kickstarter success stories, and I think one of the most unique aspects is that I don’t think people view your company as a “KS company” or an established company that “just uses KS for preorders” (said in a derogatory way). Somehow, you’re viewed as an established company, but your KS campaigns are seen as “legitimate.” Am I correct in that assessment? Is this entirely accomplished through community-building (see next question), or are there other factors that you think led to this?

I’d like to think that. 🙂 Though, I’d like to think that all KS campaigns are legitimate. I try to be very intentional about using Kickstarter. If something isn’t a good fit for it, I don’t use it (like for my recent Moor Visitors and Token Trilogy campaigns, both of which were done in different ways, and neither on Kickstarter).

That’s an interesting question about how peoples’ perceptions of Stonemaier and the influence I have on those perceptions. It’s tough to answer, because I think those perceptions might vary broadly from person to person. I do have an overarching philosophy (make it about them) that helps to guide me when I make decisions. The basic idea is that instead of making decisions based on what I want or need, I try to make it about what’s best for the customer.

One way I’ve viewed your success is somewhat in parallel to my own job as a professor at a Christian, residential liberal arts college. Our culture is -very- focused on residential life and the idea of “intentional community” among faculty and students, meaning that we’re going to their games and concerts, eating lunch with them, etc. – in other words, supporting them holistically and not just academically. I view you as having the same work ethic, living in “intentional community” with your customers via social media (e.g. avid blogging, the -name- of your book, recent viral post about helping an Aussie customer). This conversation in academia, though, always becomes a tough one regarding the balance of home life and work life. To that end – how do you stay sane? How do you separate work life from home life? Or do you choose not to?

Yeah, I really like that example of intentional community. I hadn’t thought about applying that term to the way I interact with people in the gaming community, but it’s an apt comparison.

I have very little separation between work life and home life. I’m single, I work from home, and I work a lot (7 days a week, often 70-80 hours a week). But I’m also acutely aware of my needs, and having such a fuzzy/nonexistent line between work and home can often help me address those needs. For example, this afternoon I felt a headache coming on, so rather than working through it, I took a nap. Now I’m working again, and I’ll continue to do so until I go to bed at midnight. There are few office environments that would give me that kind of flexibility.

What’s the biggest challenges you’re facing right now regarding 1) development of Charterstone and 2) Stonemaier games as a company?

Charterstone: The real challenge in these early stages of designing Charterstone is the amount of work that goes into prototyping the game, only to have that prototype rendered unusable for future playtests. I’m working on some ways to prevent that from happening to the extent it currently does.

Company: This was hard to think of, as I’m really happy with the way things are flowing in my company right now. So I rephrased the question as follows to help myself: What’s something other companies have that I wish my company had? Like, say, Fantasy Flight. What do they have that I wish I had? The one thing that comes to mind is submission playtesters. That is, when I’m at the local playtesting stage, I have a number of people who—quite kindly—are often willing to playtest games of my own design. They’re friends. It’s harder to get those people to playtest games submitted to us. Very few games even get to that stage, but when they do, I wish it were a little easier to get them to the table (particularly games that require more than 2 players).

What are you reading/watching/playing/enjoying lately?

I’ve had the pleasure of watching 3 excellent DVD movies recently: Spotlight, Creed, and The Big Short. I’m also super excite to see Captain America on Saturday. In terms of new-to-me games, I’ve had some incredible experiences with Ora et Labora and TIME Stories (the latter isn’t new to me, but the latest module is). As for books, I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy. I really liked the conclusion to a trilogy called The Emperor’s Blades, and I’ve become a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson. I’m currently reading his book Elantris (but secretly I’m waiting for more Stormlight and Mistborn).

Just to have the dates right… is Viticulture now eligible in Germany for the Kennerspiel des Jahres this year? (I’m doing my prediction ballots soon…)

Indeed, Viticulture has been released in Germany. There are so many other great games out there that I can’t imagine it being considered for any big awards, but I’m very appreciative of Feuerland (and Uwe Rosenberg) for helping us release it in that way in Germany.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Well, I’ve been doing all the talking, so I’d love to turn it around to you for the last question. Could you tell me about your most memorable moment playing a legacy game? Full spoilers are allowed as long as you preface them.

Thanks!
Jamey

 

 

 

And per Jamey’s request (he encouraged me to share), PANDEMIC LEGACY SPOILERS FOLLOW!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My biggest memory of Pandemic Legacy was simply the catharsis given by tearing a bunch of stuff up. My partner in crime was a little freaked out (he rarely trades or gets rid of games, so you can imagine), but I had him tearing up a few things by the end. And since we marathonned the whole thing in one weekend, we have some pretty cool pictures, like this one:

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Interview: Christopher Chung talks Lanterns: the Harvest Festival

lanternsWhen deciding what to review here at MeepleTown (beyond our review copies), we try to keep an eye on games where the public opinion is different than ours, or the game is underrepresented. And that often means we don’t get around to reviewing games that are so dang good that they’ve taken the world by storm before we’ve had a chance to sink our teeth in. Such is the case with Lanterns: the Harvest Festival by Christopher Chung, a game that’s recently won a MENSA award and been in the running for several others, with a TableTop episode on the way as well. Rather than tell you what you already know (the game is great!), we decided to interview Christopher and see what other tidbits he could leave for us. A lot of the “standard” questions I might’ve asked were covered in this excellent interview with The Inquisitive Meeple, so you should view this as a sort of follow-up to that discussion. Here we go!

 

1. I know you’re a recent university graduate and dove right into game design. Are you hoping to pursue game design full time? In the mean time, can you tell us a bit about family life, day job, other hobbies?

It’s funny that it’s actually turned out that way, but as for pursuing game design as a full time profession? I can’t do it. It’s one thing to really be passionate about your design career, and kudos to those who have made it a full-time gig such as Josh Cappel and Eric Lang, however I’m not at that level yet. There could be a possibility that I may have success down the road but I don’t want the design process to drive me crazy, knowing that they’d be the primary source of my income, it’s not enough to help raise a family on nor do I want my games to feel like they’re work. Its hard work to make a game, but I always want it to be a fun passion first and foremost.

As for family life, I live with my relatives, and I just got out of a day job working for a mutual fund company. I’m definitely looking for a career in the financial industry, non-profit sector, or public sector, but in the meantime I guess I’m a full-time game designer! Other hobbies include video games, watching Twitch streams, watching sports and anime, dragonboat paddling, and reading. Now I’m getting back into going to a gym regularly and trying to shape up to be healthier!

2. You mentioned that Lanterns originated at Bento Mise, a co-working space for game and web developers. How often do you interact with designers and developers in other spaces (web, video game), etc., and how does that affect your board game development? What lessons could board game designers learn from those areas?

**Bento Miso**

I often go to Bento Miso for their “Play Games with Friends” dates that open up playtesting opportunities for my games, and that opens up some conversations about what we play, in either tabletop aspects or video games. In terms of affecting my board game development, I’ve definitely seen how they’ve produced their games in terms of working in team dynamics, best practices when developing games, and finding sources of income from them as most of them are full-time video game designers. I think we can take a lot from what a lot of successful independent developers have done in regards to creating accessible games that combine hidden complexities in an inviting package that gamers would enjoy. The barriers of entering in video game or board game development have never been lower today, and that makes for a lot of cross-pollination opportunities that wouldn’t have existed before, and we can always learn best practices from collaborations, finding publishers and audiences for our designs, and design parameters that come with games we’ve enjoyed before.

3. You’ve talked before about how key the change to decreasing scoring was for the strategic depth of Lanterns. I’ve also noticed that the piles of cards can run out very quickly and can lead to some interesting – and cutthroat – moments. How intentional was that part of the tension in the design? How do you decide what level of interaction and “meanness” fits a game?

That’s a very excellent question. I wanted the game to feel tense from the initial design, and although the game naturally carries a very peaceful feel to it, the joy of being able to really hinder your opponent was a very intentional way of adding a level of competitive feel that when missing, would almost make the game feel trivial. When I design, I want to focus on tense game features such as limited supplies, and short-term opportunity losses for long term gains, and I feel the level of interaction melds with the nature of the gameplay. Players will step up to the plate if they get to hinder their opponent’s plans.

4. I’ve read the story of your introduction to Foxtrot Games, but can you explain a bit about the connection to Renegade Game Studios and how that affects you?

Funny story is that I heard about Renegade Game Studios through Corey Young, who designed Gravwell and is a great friend of mine. When we were playtesting a game at GenCon, he had mentioned that Scott Gaeta from Cryptozoic was re-publishing Gravwell as part of Renegade Game Studios and they were a new company to look forward to knowing. Long story short, Randy of Foxtrot Games and Scott had come together to partner on the publication of Lanterns during the Kickstarter campaign and I couldn’t have been happier with the result. Both companies are doing excellent with their games (World’s Fair 1893 winning a Mensa, too!) and I would love to work with Renegade on a game in the future.

5. Lanterns has been out for a while now, and has been racking up awards and nominations. This is your first published game, and the first time to see the reactions – not only the awards, but the variety of comments and reviews, both good and bad, on BGG. How do you process these praises and criticisms, emotionally?

It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions really. To have your first game be in the limelight of some of the biggest awards of the year, and a soon to be Tabletop episode, it’s overwhelming, and I couldn’t possibly thank everyone for their support, but if you’re reading this and you love Lanterns, thank you! But with the good comes with the bad, and yes there have been really negative comments, and I try to not let them be in my head, because focusing on the positive is what I should keep on doing in game design and in life itself.

6. You’ve wrote eloquently on the idea of “Minimum Viable Game” and the great importance of simplicity and elegance in design, which Lanterns illustrates wonderfully. I can only assume that the success of Lanterns motivates an expansion or follow-up, and certainly we’ve already had a few promo tiles. How do you balance that game design philosophy against, on the business end, a desire to expound upon the game?

So in term of what we’ve accomplished of Lanterns’ success, the Minimum Viable Game really now plays a part in what we do, because from a business standpoint, I know that it makes perfect sense for us to design an expansion, and truth be told, a lot of fans of the game would probably want something to more to bite on, so fingers crossed that we can achieve what we’ve already highlighted in the base game with something that can bring a fresh take of strategy on the game.

7. This may be a strange question that others have figured out, but I have a strong dislike for Twitter because I simply find it too hard to manage conversations. What tips (apps, settings, etc.) do you have for budding designers (or reviewers) who want to start using Twitter to good effect for networking?

That’s fine if you do, it’s a very hard platform to keep track of where conversations go to, but for those who want to start using it, I highly do recommend so. I tend to pop my head in from time to time and jump into threads when I can, but often times I tweet nonsense or about game design. The latter got me a contract! I recommend getting Tweeten to manage your twitter feeds. I also have a column dedicated to Cardboard Edison cause they’re a wealth of knowledge that I constantly use!

8. During our games, a friend suggested to me that going first may be a small disadvantage, since the last player to go may even have enough cards to score by his first turn. Do you have any thoughts on strategy in the game and tips for new players?

I’ve had both argument of last person having an advantage and first player having an advantage, and quite honestly, the game is light enough that we did not feel a change in what we provided players based on their turn order really makes a difference in how the game felt to players in the end. Our playtest results signified that games were won by all players in relatively equal proportions. If there was a big enough disproportion we would’ve explored a change but luckily it didn’t have to come to that!

In terms of strategy, I often go for the 4 of 1 color Dedication tile if I can first. Yes it has the least amount of points provided starting out, but it’s the most efficient ratio of trading in cards for points at a 2:1 ratio versus everything else to start the game with. A good tip would also be paying attention to what your opponents have. Often times you can lay a tile down that gives your opponent what they need to make a combination on their very next turn. If you can help it, give them something they may not be able to use for another turn!

9. What games, movies, books, and music are you currently enjoying?

I’m in love with piano music right now. Marasy, Ludovico Einaudi, and Kyle Landry are few of the many new age composers I listen to every day. I’ve been playing quite a few board games more recently, when I actually have time to get together with folks, and I’m really loving Above and Below and Mission: Red Planet. I’m currently reading Console Wars by Blake Harris and I have an overdue fine on that so I better get on that straight away! And finally I just watched Big Hero 6. Great movie.

10. What’s next (that you can share)? Anything you’d like to add?

I’m currently working on a comic book-inspired game where players will be superheroes and choose panels on a comic book page to fight the evil-doers or rest, in which they will create tension that will hinder their success. The villain will be a semi-controlled AI where they will deploy henchmen to fight and they will fight as well however they may end leaving themselves open for the heroes to counter attack! I hope to be able to work on this more with my team and be able to pitch this by the end of the year. I’d love to be able to transfer this game to an existing comic book license. Hopefully we’ll a home for it because I know it definitely has a lot of potential!

Review: The Rose King

rosekingRecently, Thames & Kosmos began doing its own distribution of the KOSMOS brand in the U.S., and a key piece to this initiative is the well-known KOSMOS two-player series. They’ve republished the famous Lost Cities, as well as Kahuna and Tally Ho!, and they are also making The Rose King widely available in the U.S. for the first time ever. Designed by Dirk Henn (ShogunAlhambra), the game feels very much in line with the rest of series, presenting a card-driven chess-match of sorts. But does it stack up against the KOSMOS legacy, or should it have never seen the light of day in the States? 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?

 

Components: There are very few components to this game – a small deck of cards, a bunch of small cardboard tokens, and really, that’s it. However, everything looks very nice and elegant (though that could also be taken to be mean “a bit plain”), and the price is super competitive ($19.99 MSRP). Not much to say here – I like the very plain, slick look; it does a good job evoking the rather abstract nature of the game in a way that still looks cool. And all of the pieces are of very good quality.

 

Accessibility: You can easily have a game going in minutes. Each player is dealt a hand of five cards and you either play a card or draw a card as your turn. Playing a card moves the central token in one of the eight standard directions (orthogonal and diagonal) exactly 1, 2, or 3 spaces, and you claim the resulting spot on the board. You can’t land on an occupied space, except that four times in the game, you can land on an opponent’s space and claim it as your own. The game ends when the tokens are gone or nobody can move. The goal is to score points by having large connected regions of your color. That’s it!

 

Depth:  The KOSMOS two-player line has always been a series about balancing a fair dose of luck with interesting strategy in a short playtime. The Rose King gets the balance just right. There is certainly luck in the card draw, but since both hands are face-up, you can anticipate both when you and your opponent are about to have useless hands, and you can also cleverly force your opponent into situations where none of their cards are useful, so they are forced to draw a card (or even skip their turn, if their hand is full), allowing you to essentially take several turns in a row. The interaction of the cards with the board space is both simple and brilliant, allowing for tons of tactics as well as long-term strategy. This game would be a perfect game to study in a game studies or game theory course – it’s profoundly deep despite being so simple, with just enough luck to make it interesting and not a simple counting exercise.

 

Theme: Presumably, this game is about two knights of the rose, fighting, or something. There’s also a king? I don’t know. It’s white versus red on a chess board of sorts. Despite being a full-blown abstract, I appreciate what the veneer of a theme accomplishes here. It makes the game look very nice and gives it more life than it would have otherwise without it. I like the faded map under the board spaces, and the crowns and swords on the cards. You should know going in this is basically an abstract, so you can gripe about the lack of theme, or be thankful for the nice touches given by what little theme it has. I’ll go with the latter.

 

Fun: The Rose King feels very much a relic of the games of a few decades ago (it was originally published in 1997), but I see that as a good thing here. It’s simple, yet deep, without any unnecessary chrome. Many of the more popular games these days involve deep social interaction or heavy production values like miniatures – you won’t find any of that in The Rose King. What you will find is an incredibly fun, quick, two-player abstract with a perfect mix of luck and skill, strategy and tactics.

 

The Rose King is all the best things about the simple, clever two-player games that KOSMOS is known for. This one definitely holds up, almost 20 years later.

 

Rating:

4star

4 out of 5

 

Review: Commissioned

commissionedWhen I first became a Christian in high school – whoa, 16 years ago now – one of the more difficult struggles I found myself in was assimilating into the media of evangelical culture. Overcoming stereotypes from the misinformed (like how playing Dungeons & Dragons is a one-way ticket to hell) was a battle I still have to fight every day. And the impression I got back then was that while Christians were happy to have their own “Christian version” of everything, most of it, well, sucked. I didn’t use to be a metalhead, but I found that somehow that was the only genre where Christians were on par or ahead of their secular counterparts, probably because most fundamentalists thought screaming into a microphone meant you were devil spawn anyway. (Don’t get me started on movies…)

While the mere concept of Christians insisting their own separate versions of everything has its own problems, it has its own unique considerations within board games. Certainly eras of early Christendom have been represented in roundabout ways, through games about the Roman empire, for example. Typically, this is representation has been negative or roughly neutral, which is not altogether strange for today’s society. Yet the stories of both the Old Testament and the early Church are, if nothing else, rich in narrative, and have a lot of potential as board game themes. We’ve seen a surge in this idea recently, moving from tacky Bible editions of Apples to Apples to serious considerations of these themes, with games like Kings of Israel from Funhill Games and now Commissioned from Chara Games. We’re arriving at a chance to do something for Christian games and media that music certainly couldn’t do in the 1990s or 2000s: to be engaging, inviting, authentic, and actually good.

Perhaps because of my own many disappointments in the realm of Christian media, I came in expecting very little from Commissioned, but hoping for quite a lot. Designed by Patrick Lysaght, Commissioned is a cooperative deckbuilding game (somewhat similar to the Legendary series) that has players taking on the roles of apostles of the early church, spreading the Gospel outward from Jerusalem, overcoming various difficulties along the way. Can it accomplish a seemingly impossible task? 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?

 

Components: The game is played on a board consisting of a large map of the area surrounding Jerusalem in the time of Acts. While cubes, meeples, and pawns are constantly moving on the board, there are also several different decks involved in the cardplay. All of the pieces (especially the large, helpful player boards) are of fine quality, though I think the artwork is a bit drab. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be evocative of the theme or if it was a budget thing, but I’d love for the game’s hopeful approach to the theme illustrated colorfully by someone like Vincent Dutrait (Discoveries) or Xavier Collette (Dixit Journey). Other than the “seriousness” of the art (which may appeal to some!), the game’s components are very nicely done, and the $45 MSRP is more than reasonable.

 

Accessibility: It’s easy to see that a lot of effort went into this rulebook, as well as the how to play video. I read the rules, but the other players who had watched the video ahead of time were consistently more “on top of things” than I was, so take that for what it’s worth. We had the occasional rules question, but I found that the game was very careful with wordings and definitions of in-game objects, which was really helpful. The game’s deckbuilding concept could be new to some who are buying the game based on the theme, and the way that the turn “order” works takes a little getting used to. Those are not major complaints, however. I wouldn’t quite call this a gateway game and I would think non-gamers buying this could use a teacher, but any experienced gaming group will have zero trouble learning this one.

 

Depth: My one concern with this game is that it may become somewhat repetitive. On one hand, there are a variety of ways that the game sets up variability – you can do a different scenario; the decks to buy from are randomized; you can play as different apostles each time. On the other hand, the Trial deck is the same from game to game (other than choice of difficulty mode), and the ways that you interact with the board are somewhat basic. It’s entirely possible that I’m making something out of nothing, though – we’ve played a couple times, but I haven’t exhausted every scenario and our games did have different challenges. Much like other deckbuilders, I would love for this game to be boosted by a variety of expansions. Until then, I feel confident that the game will keep your interest for a good long while, but I’m not sure that the system is varied enough to keep you playing indefinitely.

 

Theme: This game has taken delicate care of its thematic integration, and the result is noteworthy. Most importantly, the challenges faced by the Apostles are interesting, but “nameless” – there are no particularly villainous bad guys like in Legendary, and I think that’s for the best. This game is more about the church figuring out its own struggles and becoming the beacon of good news that it should be, and that’s a wonderful angle to take. There is a small trade-off in that the “nameless” challenges can for that reason feel generic at times, but it’s a worthwhile trade-off. Everything else just clicks, and presents Christianity as it should be, not as how many often perceive it today.

 

Fun: I enjoyed Commissioned quite a bit. It didn’t skyrocket to the top of my want-to-play pile, but it’s a game I’d be happy to sit down and play with anyone who’s interested. I expect it will be a great tool in teaching both Christians and non-Christians about the history and message of the early church, and I believe it does so in an authentic way. You can tell the designers were inspired to make a good game about their faith and not to just sell something because it said “Christian” on it. I suspect that if expansions are ever made, I’ll be very excited to come back to this one.

 

Commissioned is a solid game, and more importantly, a turning point, at least in board games, for the authenticity of “Christian” media. If you’re interested in the history of the early church, or just enjoy cooperative games or deckbuilding games, Commissioned is worth a look.

 

Rating:

4star

4 out of 5