Asmodee November Expansion Round-Up: 7 Wonders: Babel, Dixit: Daydreams

Two more expansions from Asmodee this month for perennial favorites, 7 Wonders and Dixit. Not much more to say here; let’s get to work!

 

babelbox7 Wonders: Babel

Background

First, let me give some background on my view of 7 Wonders. It’s easily in my top five games of all time, alongside Magic, Dominion, Ticket to Ride, and Twilight Struggle (can you tell I like to play with cards?). I think it’s actually not a gateway game at all and a little difficult to grok for new players, but once you have it, it’s so smooth and so fun. I also really like to draft reactively, depending on what avenues other players take. That’s the main reason I did not like the Leaders expansion: to do really well with it, you have to tell everyone your strategy before you even see your first hand, at which point they’ll hate-draft against you. It was a really cool thematic thing though, so I don’t mind playing with it; I just don’t always reach for it.

Cities, on the other hand, is an absolutely fantastic expansion that adds just a hint of unpredictability, by adding a black color in the regular deck, and you don’t always quite know which of those cards are in. It integrates really smoothly, although there are some new icons and effects to remember, but overall no real new rules. I still don’t use it when teaching newbies, but I always want to include it with veterans. Again, the main thing for me is that it continues to let me play reactively, and it lets me have more stuff by playing an extra card each Age, which is to me the center of the enjoyment of 7 Wonders: figuring out how you actually can build that awesome building in Age III after all, and just enjoying watch your stuff grow on the table.

Tower of Babel

Babel is an expansion with two new modules, and I’ll talk about each separately. The namesake expansion, the Tower of Babel, has players drafting 3 pie-shaped pieces before the game begins, and then at any time they can play one of these by discarding a card as a fourth action on a turn besides discarding for coins, building a Wonder, or just playing the card. You get 2, 5, or 10 points at the end of the game depending on how many you build. The tiles themselves introduce a new “law” or “rule” into the game that affects everyone, until the law is eventually covered as you “build” the tower (only 3-4 rules are ever in effect, depending on number of players).

I did not like this expansion at all, for several reasons. The first strike against it is that it’s a lot more to remember and a lot more complexity – a bunch of new icons, but also things you have to keep in mind when looking through your hand, and it’s easy to forget that yellow cards don’t currently work, or that blue cards cost coins as well, or everyone has another resource, or whatever. That increase in complexity needs to have a very high payoff, and it doesn’t, which leads me to the second strike. There’ s just not enough incentive to build these – you can tell by the mere fact that they give a VP bonus, that they aren’t powerful enough to really choose over all the other options on your turn. In one of our four-player games, only two tiles were built all game. And it seems that people who really build a lot of tiles fall behind in points, because these just aren’t as useful as the actual cards you’re discarding. The only really useful time to build these is when you can totally screw someone over, which leads to strike number three. 7 Wonders is a game that, as I said, gives enjoyment from the ability to just figure out how to build expensive buildings and watch your empire grow. About half of the Babel tiles are just ways to ruin the game for everyone else by causing a coin tax on building certain colors, or just flat-out turning off yellow cards, or the majority of the brown cards. 7 Wonders is just not the game for this, and it makes what should be a fun experience really frustrating. And when someone screws you with a Babel tile, it’s not even really a good idea for them, as they’re wasting a turn to do it, and really just giving the game to the other unaffected players.

I read somewhere that Antoine Bauza designed expansions to deal with perceived flaws in the game, one of which is a lack of interaction with people who aren’t your neighbors. I think that the drafting gives enough interaction just fine, and you’re still indirectly interacting with someone two seats away, since their coin and military decisions, for example, affect the player in between the two of you, which in turn affects you – it’s just subtle. And to me the game is best at 3-5 players, so I’m willing to make that sacrifice of a lack of interaction with 6-7 players, because it’s still fun just to have that many people at the table. Now, Cities introduced negative interaction with the Debt symbol, but the main thing about that was that you could choose to lose coins or VPs, and although no one likes negative points, it never screwed your ability to build things, unless you did it to yourself by giving up too many coins. Building things is the fun part of the game – far more than just trying to do things for points. Cities never let someone just take that away from you. Likewise, if someone played a Diplomacy card, you might be screwed suddenly on military for one round, but it’s not like you lost your buildings forever.

The fourth and final strike against the Tower of Babel is the same problem Leaders has, which is that the strategy is dictated by that draft at the beginning of the game, which gives you very little flexibility. I don’t want to plan ahead around my Babel tiles, and in fact, I really can’t. I hate feeling pigeonholed in this game, because I think slightly altering course when needed is an absolute key to victory. So if you get tiles that seem unhelpful, then this whole expansion is just a big waste of time. And if they are helpful, they’re likely to just be mean, which isn’t very fun either. Unlike Leaders, I just actively don’t want to play with this.

Great Projects

The second expansion is called Great Projects. These are (gigantic) cards, one of which is laid out each Age, with one less token than the number of players. It shows when you can ‘participate’ (take a token), which is done by adding coins and/or a resource to a certain colored card. If all participation tokens are taken in one round, everyone who participated gets some sort of bonus, and if they aren’t, everyone who didn’t participate takes some sort of penalty. babel-materiel

I liked this expansion a lot better, and let me give the reasons why. The most obvious thing to talk about is that this expansion still has some harshness to it – the penalties can make you lose cards, or military tokens, or even all of your coins. And if you can’t pay the penalty, you have to take negative point tokens! (Aside: I have no idea why they felt he need to introduce a third kind of -1 token. I feel like more forethought should have went into this.) However, the big difference is that you know it’s coming, and you can do something about it, relatively quickly, by participating. Or you can even ignore it, if you’re confident everyone else will want the bonus enough to participate. In our games, it was rare that the participation tokens weren’t all taken – I think it felt like, well, if I’m going to do this, I want something out of it, not just to avoid a penalty. You can even participate twice and double-up on bonuses. In Babel, when someone screws you with a tile, it happens immediately and you can’t do anything about it. since playing even two Babel tiles in a row won’t cover it. I also felt like this expansion, just like Leaders and Cities, made a conscious effort to make coins more important, although I wonder if that’s now too far the other way if you used all three expansions. This expansion was a bit simpler as well, because there’s just one thing going on, and only a few icons to remember. It also forces everyone to interact with it, in one way or another, so there’s much more incentive. And it does that without wasting turns, since you just ‘add on’ to a card you’re already playing – I wonder how much more I would have liked Babel if it had used this mechanism for playing tiles instead. This was a great little addition, and one that would be very easy to add to even a game with beginners. This is even easier to integrate than Cities.

Other Thoughts

I should mention the components are great, although getting them into the base game box is a bit of a hassle – I think I might actually keep the Babel box, especially since I don’t plan on pulling the Tower of Babel out very often. The Tower definitely looks really, really good, as do the Great Projects and all the new tokens for it – however, the Great Project cards are way too freaking big, and even oversized Magic cards sleeves won’t fit them, and they’re really flimsy. I would have either preferred cardboard tiles or smaller cards. The expansion also costs almost as much as the base game ($40 vs. $50 MSRP), largely because of the Babel tiles and board, but also the many tokens that are used for Great Projects. I kind of wish they’d split them into two boxes, as it’s hard to recommend the whole package – I really like Great Projects, but I’m not sure it’s worth that much money. But hey, if you’re looking for a nastier 7 Wonders, maybe you’ll love the whole thing. I’m not looking for that, though.

 

dixitboxDixit: Daydreams

This is just a pack of 84 more cards for Dixit, so there isn’t too much to say here. These are done by a new artist, Franck Dion, and they are really, really engaging pictures, more in line with the original artist Marie Cardouat, than Dixit Journey‘s Xavier Collette. However, when we played with just these cards, it was one of the ‘worst’ games of Dixit we’ve ever played. By that I mean, no matter how clever we tried to be, our turns almost always ended up with everyone guessing the answer or no one guessing it. And to be clear, we’ve played dozens of times, so it wasn’t lack of experience. It seems like these cards are somehow missing those tiny interconnected details that make it difficult to pick one over the other – that, or we’ve just gotten stupid with age and can’t play the game well anymore. If you’re feeling burnt out on the game, I don’t think this will push it back up for you, but I’m always happy to have more cards and love bringing this game out with new gamers. I wouldn’t play with these cards by themselves again, though.

Review: Colt Express

coltexpressboxIn my recap of Gen Con 2014, I mentioned that one of the coolest games I played there was Colt Express from publishers ludonaute and Asmodee and designer Christophe Raimbault. The board is an actual 3D train!, with players as bandits robbing the train and shooting each other. A great gimmick for a game, but is the game as fun as it looks? 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?

 

coltexpresscomponentsComponents: Well, let’s start off by talking about that awesome 3D Train. It looks really cool on the table, and they even included some decorations to go around the train (cacti, etc.) on the punchboard, which is awesome. The meeples themselves are great, and the cardboard money tokens are okay. Cards seem to be decent cardstock. I do have some complaints, however.

The train takes about an hour to assemble (!), and felt somewhat cheap. I know they wanted to keep the MSRP low ($40 – impressive!), but the cardboard pieces are very flimsy, and I almost bent one of them while assembling without even trying. I just assumed in my head the game was made in China while I was putting it together, although it turns out it was made in Germany. Once it’s all together, the pieces haven’t fallen apart or anything (although the little ‘brace’ piece on the boxcars keeps falling out), but it’s a bit awkward to use, since the meeples often move from the top of the trains to the bottom, and there isn’t much space for my fat fingers. So, while it looks really cool, and the game’s at a great price, I can’t help but think a flat board with a side-view of the train would have been better.

 

Accessibility: This game relies on a programming mechanic similar to Robo Rally or Lords of Xidit, but it’s not easily explained to casual gamers. However, I found that if we just played a practice round with people just randomly throwing cards down, it suddenly clicked and made much more sense. I also think the basic card-drawing rules are just fine, and the expert variant is too convoluted and unnecessary. The target audience for this game, is, I think, casual gamers, and the game isn’t too hard to figure out once you have person who understands it (which might be the difficult part) explaining it to everyone else. Of course, people will inevitably forget things during the game, like the fact that punches move you a space, but that’s actually what makes the game fun. It’s also worth mentioning here that the two-player game is horribly convoluted and not worth it at all.

 

Depth: And the fact that the game’s fun is dependent on the game going horribly wrong is sort of a double-edged sword here. It can be quite funny when plans go awry, but also quite frustrating. One thing I do really like about this game over other programming games is that the programming moves often give you a choice (like move left OR right), that you don’t decide until the card comes up – so you can somewhat adjust your plans on the fly. However, this is a very chaotic experience, even with three players, and the game is much more about enjoying the experience than it is about actually developing a plan.

 

Theme: This is where the game scores just about all of its points. You are quite literally playing as a character, doing things that (s)he would do – shooting and punching opponents, stealing loot, racing around the train and avoiding the marshal. The tactile element of physically moving around and doing those things is really strong. Even if the programming mechanism doesn’t quite fit, it allows for mechanisms that do make thematic sense – like getting wounded from gunshots by adding junk to your deck, and playing cards face-down while in tunnels. This is about the most thematic Wild West board game I’ve ever played.

 

Fun: I do think this game delivers a lot of laughs, but it’s not a game where you can plan much – you’re mostly just watching things happen, and just about all the time you spent thinking about your moves was a waste. This is another game that tries to stride the line between party game and strategy game, like La Boca, The Resistance or Skull & Roses – but this game feels much more chaotic and random than those. The game is good, solid, just not fantastic, which I’ve kind of realized lately is how most games are. I don’t know what it takes to have that spark of absolute greatness like Dominion and Ticket to Ride have, but it’s not here.

 

Colt Express looks great on the table and delivers a lot of chaos-fueled laughter, but don’t expect a very deep experience.

 

Rating

3star

3 out of 5

Review: Artificium

Asmodee isartificium_eng_box_14_die_ continuing its plot to slowly overtake the world, not only by buying Days of Wonder, but also by branching out to Russian publishing partners such as Hobby World, and now, Lifestyle Boardgames Ltd. The fruit of this partnership is Artificium from designer (and artist!) Timofey Shargorodskiy, which won a Russian game design contest called KORNI. In Artificium, players are medieval rulers (?) who are, essentially, converting resources to other resources and getting victory points for doing so. That doesn’t sound like anything new, but does Artificium rise above that? 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?

 

 

artificiumcomponentsComponents: I was really impressed with the components for this game. First off, there’s very few, which makes me happy – that means quick setup and tear-down. There’s over 100 cards, a player board for each player, the VP track the rulebook (with a nice glossary of the cards on the back), and some multi-purpose coin tokens. That’s it! The cardstock is really good – I don’t know what to call it, but the cards shuffle really well and feel really smooth while being thick, but not too thick. Quite impressive after the terrible cards I just opened for Machi Koro and Evolution. I’m waiting to hear on the MSRP, but really, not much to say here – everything is great! I guess if I had a complaint, it’s that the card wells are too shallow to fit them all, so I had to place some in the central well under the tokens.

 

Accessibility: This is one of those games that seems like it’s mostly played in your head, because you’re basically just playing cards so that you can move tokens around on your player board and score points for doing it. The player board is essentially a flow chart of what resources convert to what others (given that you have the card to do it), and a buy/sell price for all of the resources. Turns simply involve simultaneously revealing a card that either does a special action, or does some sort of resource conversion and grants victory points when it’s resolved. There are “top” cards (a knight and a wizard) that take tons of resources and don’t give any resources back but instead give a ton of points and a special effect. The game is four rounds of just trying to play cards as efficiently as possible. There are some other things to it, such as exchanging cards in the market, but it’s all really simple. The players I taught it to caught on right away, and my explanation probably wasn’t more than five minutes. I would say this could even be a gateway-level game, except for the amount of abstraction going on.

 

Depth: This is first and foremost a card game, and there’s a lot of pseudo-simultaneous play – it’s quick, and is probably always 30-45 minutes (rulebook says 20-50). It reminds me of 7 Wonders in that sense. But the gameplay isn’t so much about engine-building or development of a big tableau of cards, as it is walking the tightrope of cashing in your resources as efficiently as possible without getting stuck. The feel of it actually reminds me of the excellent game Targi, even though the games aren’t all that similar.

The game has both direct and indirect interaction. Each turn, you can exchange cards at the market before the card play begins, and you want to keep a close eye both on what you’d like to have and what your opponents take and give. There are also two quite mean action cards that steal resources and cards. These can be recovered from, but they’re quite dangerous if they hit you in the last round. They also become more chaotic and annoying with higher player counts – I actually think the game is best with 2, because it feels more like a proper duel, and I can actually keep an eye on what my opponent is doing, and there’s none of that king-making aspect with the action cards. While I think it gets a little weaker with every player added, it’s still quick and easy while having some interesting decisions regardless of player count.

Although the game is less chaotic at those low player counts, there’s still a healthy dose of luck here with the card draw. There were surely some interesting decisions to be made, and you had to alter your plans if an opponent came around with an action card or snagged something from the market before you. But the times when I lost – for example, I lost one game by being exactly one coin off of triggering a knight on the final turn – I couldn’t think of a moment where I thought back and felt that I’d made a decision that could have been different and it cost me. It felt like I was making the moves that seemed to be clearly the best and then my luck ran out. I suppose that’s the nature of card games – but the cleverest ones at least hide that fact and make you feel like losing is your own fault in some sense.

 

Theme: The game has a very loose medieval theme, but let’s be honest, this is about moving tokens on a flow chart. I do think the artwork is very nice and clean, although maybe a bit generic.  But on the other hand, the iconography is really clear and so is the game flow, so I can’t fault it too much. This is basically a card game for Eurogamers, who are probably okay with the lack of an immersive theme. And the theme that’s there is definitely better than no theme at all, in my book – but it does little to elevate the game.

 

Fun: I liked my plays of Artificium, and I’ll gladly play it again. But it doesn’t have that ineffable something, that pizzazz that makes you go right back to it. The game is quick enough to play two in a row, but we didn’t really ever want to play a 2nd game straight. This game is quick and easy and fits in that category of things like Splendor or Rise of Augustus, but those games have that potato-chip quality (as W. Eric Martin put it) where you just want to play again and again. Artificium is streamlined, quick, fun, really good – just not amazing.

 

Eurogamers out there who would love to see a quick card game version of resource management will enjoy Artificium, and it’s definitely worth a look for anyone who thinks it sounds interesting.

 

Rating:

3star

3 out of 5

Review: Lords of Xidit

xiditboxAlmost ten years ago, Regis Bonnessee’s Himalaya was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres. Since then, his company Libellud has become a great success thanks largely to Spiel des Jahres winner, Dixit, and his own recent design, Seasons. Himalaya has now been re-imagined in the Seasons universe as Lords of Xidit. We’re now recruiting wizards and archers to eliminate threats instead of yaks and… whatever else was in Himalaya. Does a fresh coat of paint on ten-year-old mechanisms make for a game that survives in 2014? 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: Wow. Just wow. If you’ve played Seasons, you know expectations are high when it comes to Libellud, but I was still truly impressed. Despite the somewhat standard $60 MSRP, there is an insane amount of stuff in this box, and it’s all beautiful. There are almost 150 small plastic miniatures in a variety of colors, a beautiful large game board, five fancy programming boards, and a ton of cardboard tokens. All of the iconography is clear and the artwork on the board really does invoke the adventuring theme. Just look at that box art, too. There’s no player aids, but I don’t really think you need them, as there are a lot of reminders right there on the central board. There’s no box insert, but I don’t know how you’d fit one anyway, and there are plenty of included plastic bags. These components are truly outstanding – some of the best I’ve ever seen. The only complaint I might have is that there’s just so many, that setup and tear-down take a while (and you have to do a fair amount of maintenance during the game).

xiditcomponentsAccessibility: On a fundamental level, what you’re doing in Lords of Xidit is pretty simple. You’re simply walking around to cities and recruiting adventurers there to take them to other places where the threats are. You do this by programming six actions each turn, and you’ll definitely spend a few turns in your first game having your plans foiled by not considering the other players or planning ahead for the upcoming threats and recruitment tiles. The actual concept isn’t hard to grok, though. The scoring mechanism for the game is rather unique: There are three different categories to score, and they’re scored in a random order each game. During each scoring, the remaining player with the lowest score in that category is eliminated. This makes for some unique decisions to consider during the game when different tiles give you rewards, but the process is easy to understand if it is unique.

What’s actually the most difficult part of the game is the maintenance that you must do during the various steps of the game. I had to reread the sections on resetting the stacks of recruitment and threat tiles and the Awakening of the Titans four or five times, and I’m still not sure I’m always doing it right. It’s a bit of a pain in the neck, to be honest. If you have a player who understands that fully and can take care of it, though, then it’s not really a burden for everyone else.

Depth: There’s a lot to consider within this game, yet it doesn’t feel as deep as it should. The scoring mechanism is at the heart of everything, yet I feel like it doesn’t really amount to anything other than just trying to remember who’s got what behind their screen or in the Bastion and making sure you’re not last in anything. Deciding which reward to get is a relatively simple decision. And accomplishing threats is so difficult that I can’t ever see players trying to aim for any threat other than what seems doable, and then from there making a fairly straightforward decision about which reward to take. Add the fact that sorcerers’ guilds built and bard tokens placed are open information (except for the Bastion) and the decisions become even less interesting.

What’s trickier is programming around the other players and anticipating their moves. You can certainly do clever things like using the Wait action to trick another player into getting the first adventurer when they planned on getting the second one after you took the first. However, overall the game seems a lot of work for very little reward. You spend a lot of time just walking around, so that you can have the adventurers to get, say, two gold, and then at the end you just check who had the least of each thing. On top of this, many turns are spent being frustrated with plans gone awry and walking around doing nothing. A game with mechanisms this unexciting shouldn’t take 75-100 minutes.

Theme: When I taught this game, I sold it as a take on Lords of Waterdeep’s theme except that you literally do the actions of recruiting the adventurers and taking them on the quests to eliminate threats. Although that’s true in some sense, the straightforwardness of the mechanisms and lack of any exciting spin – flavor text, special powers, action cards, or anything to differentiate the players – make the game feel pretty dry, arguably with even less theme than Lords of Waterdeep, which accomplishes a lot through those avenues. Lords of Xidit feels like you’re just going through the motions – very slowly. Even the wonderful art direction fails to save the dry gameplay.

Fun: I may be biased against this game simply because I tend to be very poor at programming games, but I did not feel like it provided much fun for how complicated and long the game was. So much of the game was spent simply moving around in turn, and then the payoff simply felt like “Ok, I get two of this. Now I get three of that.” There was some tension in the programming phase of planning around other players, but no aspect felt particularly exciting. There were no “YES!!” moments. The game has some fun in it, it’s just that the convoluted maintenance of the threat and recruitment tiles, as well as the fact the game really needs exactly 4 players (5 is too long, 3 requires a dummy) dampen that fun too much.

 

Players that really enjoy programming as a mechanism may find themselves a great game in Lords of Xidit, and it’s truly a gorgeous game with great components – but it’s not my kind of game.

 

Rating:

3star

3 out of 5

MeepleThon 2014 for Extra Life is underway!

MeepleThon-banner-new

The MeepleThon has begun!

Join us (virtually) this weekend for a 24-hour board gaming video stream to benefit the Extra Life charity! All proceeds go to Children’s Hospitals of America. Watch us play, join the chat, donate and help kids!

Anyone who donates at least $50 to Extra Life using our link can choose the next game we play on camera.  Check out our Geeklist of available games!

Video stream: http://twitch.tv/meeplethon
Donate now: http://tinyurl.com/meeplethon

If you want to learn more about MeepleThon and why we’re doing this, check out our MeepleThon 2014 page.

MeepleThon 2014 for Extra Life starts Saturday!

MeepleThon-banner-new

Join us (virtually) this weekend for a 24-hour board gaming video stream to benefit the Extra Life charity! All proceeds go to Children’s Hospitals of America. Watch us play, join the chat, donate and help kids!

Video stream (starts Saturday @ 8am Central): http://twitch.tv/meeplethon
Donate now: http://tinyurl.com/meeplethon

If you want to learn more about MeepleThon and why we’re doing this, check out our MeepleThon 2014 page.

Asmodee October Round-up: Claustrophobia: Furor Sanguinis, Timelines: Americana and American History

Today, you get three reviews in one! These are all expansions or stand-alones based on previous Asmodee games, and I didn’t think I’d have enough to say about any of them to justify an entire article, so here we are. Let’s get right to it!

 

furorsanguinisClaustrophobia: Furor Sanguinis

This is the second expansion for Claustrophobia, after De Profundis introduced new humans and hellhounds for the Demon player, among other things. Furor Sanguinis goes an entirely different route, introducing a third faction: the squamata is one big figure that has a board similar to the Demon player’s, where dice are assigned to different parts of his gigantic body. He has 13 health divided across the different parts, and if a part ‘dies’, its powers can no longer be used. His (rather large) miniature is the only one in the box, along with some tokens, 3 cardboard tiles, and six dice – it’s a lot less physical content than the last expansion, but the same MSRP ($50). I realize they probably didn’t want to print a single card, but one of the new Demons is just printed in the scenario of the rulebook, and that felt a bit corner-cutty. The actual pieces in the box look great, though.

Claustrophobia is the kind of game that appeals to me – a Descent-style dungeon crawl that can be done in 30-45 minutes instead of several hours. However, I always felt that playing as the humans was nowhere near as much fun as all the cool things the Demon player could do. This expansion lets you pit the squamata against either other faction, but to me, it’s a chance to ditch those boring humans. We had great fun pitting the squamata against the Demon’s hordes of Troglodytes, and the first scenario felt more ‘even’ – like a battle between two titans instead of David vs. Goliath. There are some awkward things with the rules and the old material since so much of it references Humans, but it seemed like we were able to properly infer everything we needed to know from the Furor Sanguinis rulebook. We never felt baffled by any of the rules differences. The later scenarios let you pair the squamata with humans as well, which is cool, but the focus is still on the squamata and all of his cool new powers.

However, while this change was a lot more fun, it moves the game farther away from what you might want from a typical dungeon crawl. Part of the appeal for some is the idea of a party of adventurers questing into the dungeon, although Claustrophobia has that unique ‘invasion of Hell’ New Jerusalem spin on it (which I could take or leave). And if you haven’t invested in Claustrophobia but are excited about this mode of play, you’re looking at a hefty $120 MSRP investment (without considering De Profundis). However, if you’re already committed and, like me, find the humans underwhelming, you absolutely should pick up Furor Sanguinis. 

 

americanaTimeline: Americana and Timeline: American History

There’s a double-dose of Timeline this month, hot on the heels of the ASTRA award for “Best Toys for Kids” for American History. I’m just going to offer a few comments about these specific sets of cards. You can see my review of the Timeline system (based on the Inventions release) here, and comments about Music & Cinema as well as Cardline: Globetrotter here.

Before I opened the tins, I really wasn’t sure what the difference would be between American History and Americana, as they sound awful dang similar. American History is basically the things you learned about in school: the Declaration of Independence, when so-and-so was elected President, and so on. Americana has more ‘fun’ things like the founding of the NFL, the building of Route 66, and the unveiling of the first iPad. It’s still educational, but the factoids aren’t things found in history books (but who decided those were the important facts of the past, anyway?). And of course, it’s more fun – Timeline is at its best when it comes at you with nostalgia and humor, like it did with Music & Cinema, not when it comes at you like an attempt to make schoolwork fun. Still, I was impressed with myself how much of American History I did actually remember from school, and I suppose whether that reminiscence is enjoyable for you depends on how much you enjoyed history class and / or elementary school.

americanhistoryI do have one really big gripe about both sets, though. I realize Bombyx is a French company and Asmodee’s North America branch is based in Montreal, but I wonder if these were shown to a typical American family. American History has a card called something like “First slaves arrive in North America” – which I agree is an important historical event, one that we had better not forget. But the card is rather jarring against everything else – it’s a picture of a mostly-naked Black man being shoved off a boat onto a dock by a white man’s hand (you only see the hand). There is also a card called something like “Slave trade ends” which shows a Black man in a field breaking the chains on his hands. Racial sensitivity is something that we should always be mindful of, and I’m afraid that no matter how hard we try, we will never completely put the past behind us – and if we did, we’d probably be at risk of repeating it in some other way. I felt like the first card’s artwork, at least, put a damper on the game and probably made it a bit unappealing for those who would be offended by it. I’m not saying they should have ignored historical events, but maybe zoomed-out artwork would have been better (maybe just a picture of ships arriving). Alternatively, the second card I have no problem with, as it was definitely something we should remember and celebrate – and maybe just having that card alone, without the insensitivity of the first one, can remind us of the shameful slavery that was committed here, while also reminding us that we did put a stop to it.

And then, in Americana, among the many great American icons, such as Babe Ruth and Wilt Chamberlain, we have… “Janet Jackson’s wardobe malfunction,” recreated in all its non-glory. Why? Why would you include this? I’m not sure anyone in America actually wants to remember this event, let alone have artwork of it in their house. It just doesn’t fit with the rest of the set. Maybe it was there to be funny, but I just didn’t laugh.

I realize that was a lot of negative ranting. I still love the Timeline series, and I can’t wait to see even more sets come out (maybe a Cardline of baseball stats, or a Timeline of 90’s grunge?). In fact, I think these two sets are two of the most fun, and I’m eager to mix them with Music & Cinema, as much of the American music and movies in that set would fit nicely with the Americana theme. I just need to figure out how to store them all, as the tins don’t stack and are getting kind of out of hand… and I’ve got half a mind to reduce the required storage space by throwing those two cards away.

MeepleThon 2014 to support the Extra Life charity

MeepleThon-banner

Start: Saturday, October 25, 2014 – 8:00am CDT

End: Sunday, October 26, 2014 – 8:00am CDT

What the heck is this?

Your faithful MeepleTown staff (along with some friends) are going to be playing tabletop games for 24 hours straight to benefit the Extra Life charity, which supports Children’s Miracle Network hospitals.  We’ll be broadcasting a Twitch.tv video stream throughout the event, so you can watch us game, talk to us via the live chat, and laugh at our terrible plays.

Extra Life has been running for eight years now, and they’ve raised millions of dollars for the CMN — you can learn more about their efforts here.

We get to play some awesome games and help sick kids at the same time!

How does it work?

Viewers who enjoy our stream can (and should!) donate to Extra Life via a link here or on our stream page.

For 2014 we’ve chosen the Children’s Hospital of Alabama in Birmingham as our sponsored hospital.  Every dollar donated goes directly to the Children’s Miracle Network, and then to the selected hospital – we never even see the money.

If you want to get a head start, the donation link is already available!  Donate here.

How can I help?

There are two things that you can do to help!

  • Watch and Donate
    We’ll be streaming all 24 hours of MeepleThon live on the Internet.  Watch as much as you want, and donate whatever you feel is appropriate.  Every dollar helps!
  • Tell Your Friends
    While we hope to pick up some viewers from Twitch and our MeepleTown readers, the best way to make this work is for YOU to help us get the word out!  Share our stream link on your Facebook or Twitter page.  Tell your friends!  Heck, tell some strangers!  We’re not picky.

We hope that you’ll join us for MeepleThon 2014!  We’ll post our video stream link shortly before the event starts.  Let’s show the world that boardgamers can do amazing things!

Review: Niya

niyabox2014 has truly been the Year of Bruno Cathala: by my estimation, he had at least eight new releases in the U.S. alone this year. While most of the buzz has been on Five Tribes and Abyss, Bruno also has a love of small abstract games, such as his Niya, new from Blue Orange Games. What happens when Monsieur Cathala takes away the special action cards and characters? Let’s find out… 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: This is a small game, in a small tin, with a small price. The MSRP is $12.99, and inside the tin is a great foam insert that holds 16 cardboard tiles, 16 chunky plastic player tokens, and the rulebook. The cardboard tiles could be a little thicker, but the art is very nice and the plastic player pieces each have different characters on them and feel great in your hand. My only niggles with the components are that the two icons overlap in a way that makes them hard to differentiate, although they look great, and the tin is a bit too large to fit in your pocket. Overall, really great pieces here, and an amazing price.

 

Niya_GameOpen_Flat_HiResAccessibility: This game is easily explained in two or three sentences, although I managed to forget one the first time I taught it. The cardboard tokens are laid out in a random 4 x 4 pattern, and each has two of four symbols (a plant and a poetic symbol). On your turn, you remove a piece and replace it with one of your tokens (the first player of the game must play on the edge), and the next player does the same, but removes a cardboard token that shares at least one characteristic with the piece just removed, and so on. You win if your pieces make four in a row (horizontal or diagonal), a 2 x 2 square, or if your opponent cannot move. That’s it! The game is extremely simple, and you can see how to do basic strategy before you even move a piece.

 

Depth: This is a ten-minute game, so keeping that in mind, there’s still a lot to think about here. You can do a fair amount of analysis before any moves or even made, but I tend to just pick a move based on some basic principles (for example, maybe an opening move where the opponent can’t play directly adjacent to you). Even if one particular game becomes rather easy to think through, the random setup of the 4 x 4 grid adds a lot of replayability to the game. I’ve actually been trying to analyze this game quite a bit, and hope to actually write a paper on determining the probability of the first player winning if both players play completely randomly (but legally). That approach to the game has already made me realize just how deep the mathematics are in this game, yet it plays quick and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.

 

Theme: The theme of this game is…. Japan? I don’t know. It just seems to be a mish-mash of oriental tropes, that of course have nothing to do with the abstract game being played. On one hand, the setting and nice art seemed to go really well with a half-hour tea and light conversation with students whereupon I first played the game… On the other hand, it seems a little nonsensical and disconnected, and it might’ve been better just to be colors and shapes like Qwirkle or the GIPF project.

 

Fun: For the time you invest to it, and the extremely tiny ruleset, I found this to be a fun, light, yet mathematically interesting game. To me this is basically the For Sale / No Thanks / etc. style filler for abstract lovers. The movement mechanism reminds me of Kamisado, mixed with the lightness and simple ideas of Connect Four. When you add in the random setup absent to both of those games, you’ve got a real winner.

 

Although this game probably isn’t for people who hate abstracts, everyone else will find a quick, simple filler for two in Niya.

 

Rating

4star

4 out of 5

 

 

Review: Camel Up

camelupboxEvery year when the Spiel des Jahres nominees are announced, I have a bad habit of dismissing the games I haven’t played at all. This year, I thought surely Splendor would win over Concept – and who’s ever even heard of Camel Up or its designer, Steffen Bogen? So imagine my surprise when Camel Up was announced to be the winner! The game is finally arriving on U.S. shores thanks to Z-Man Games, but do I agree with its victory over the competition? 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?

 

camelupcomponentsComponents: The components in this game are pretty basic, for the most part. You get a small playing board, five wooden camels, a few decks of small (Mini Euro size) cards, some thick cardboard tiles, some thin cardboard coin tokens, five dice, and… THE DICE PYRAMID! The dice pyramid is definitely the defining characteristic of this game. It basically holds the dice and has a slider with a rubber band on the top, that lets you turn it upside and release one die, thus simultaneously randomizing which die comes out, and what face is rolled (by the way, the dice faces are 1,1,2,2,3,3). It is extremely fun to use and makes the game more than what it would be if you just randomly chose a die from someone’s hand and then rolled it. The coins are a little thin, and I don’t know why the higher denominations of coins had to be cards, but the rest of the components all feel great and are really thick. The camels are very large and stack on top of each other really well. The only other complaint I have is that the insert is very basic and there’s no careful spot to place the dice pyramid. For $40 MSRP though, this game has some really great components.

 

Accessibility: When I’ve played this game with adults, the game is quite simple to explain as long as you start out by explaining no one owns any particular camel and we’re just betting on a race. The iconography on the tiles and on the board really help you keep track of how you get money and which things do what. I do think this game is a tiny bit convoluted for little kids, although the box says ages 8 and up, and that’s probably fine. Younger kids could probably participate without really understanding exactly what they are doing, but they’d still understand the idea of the camel race and using the awesome pyramid.

 

Depth: This game is quite random, since the central moving mechanism randomizes both the order of the dice and the faces of the dice. You’re really just guesstimating what you think the results of the randomization will be. That’s not to say there are no decisions to make – some moves are better than others, and sometimes it is tough to decide which thing you want to do – but I would say the depth is closer to fillers like Rise of Augustus and Qwixx. This game also only takes about thirty minutes, so that’s something to keep in mind as well. The only thing that really bugs me is that moving the camels seems to help your opponents far more than you, but you can’t really make any informed judgments until it happens, so there’s kind of a silly game of chicken at the start of each leg. Despite these complaints, I think the theme and fun of the game compensate for the lack of depth.

 

Theme: I’m pretty sure this is the reason that Camel Up won the Spiel des Jahres over Splendor and Concept. Although there are some ridiculous aspects to the theme (camels from the wrong region, character pictures are stereotypes), it’s a fun and somewhat unique theme, and more importantly, the game is built on the theme from the ground up. Younger players and families can immediately internalize what they’re doing, because they’re modeling something that thematically makes sense in real life, rather than working with abstract symbols as in Splendor or even Concept. Betting on a race makes sense, and it’s something people do for fun in real life (unlike, say, farming). On top of that, the randomness of the game actually serves to make the race ridiculous and exciting, and this is one of the few games I know where the typically-annoying random factor actually ratchets up the fun of the game – quite a feat in itself.

 

Fun: I’ve mentioned before in reviews of games like La Boca and Skull & Roses that there’s just something about that sweet spot when games walk the line between strategy game and party game. Camel Up walks that line perfectly, offering some light strategic decisions but also some serious laughs. It makes perfect thematic sense as well, which allows younger or inexperienced gamers to “see” the fun of the game for what it is, and to quickly understand the mechanisms and the goal. Although this isn’t among my personal favorites to play from this year, this is a game where the real joy comes from watching other players’ faces light up with the fun of gaming, when more strategic games probably wouldn’t have had the same effect. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great game that I enjoy – but I enjoy the enjoyment of watching others play this game even more (hopefully that sentence made sense).

 

Camel Up is right there in line with where the Spiel des Jahres jury has been the last few years – and in fact, even if you won’t be delving deep into any strategic thinking, this is the most laugh-out-loud fun you’ll have with any of the winners since Dixit.

 

Rating:

4star

4 out of 5