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# Board Games

Tokaido is a game I’ve been hearing about for some time, but I have to admit I just didn’t understand why it was getting so much praise. The art of the physical board game although pretty, just didn’t really speak to me. So instead of picking up the analog version I decided to spring for the digital app.

For around $3 on Google Play or iOS you can get this amazing digital version of the acclaimed board game. If you haven’t played Tokaido, you play a traveler making their way across the Japanese countryside, purchasing souvenirs, meeting new friends, painting various panoramas, working on farms, stopping at inns and eating their food. Travelers move in a line, stopping at the various locations. Except for inns, where everyone stops, travelers cannot occupy the same location. The player moving can move as far ahead as they like, skipping locations, but this opens up extra spaces for players moving after them. Tokaido feels like a race that doesn’t reward players for moving too quickly. Nearing every location gives you points in some way- whether that’s by collecting a set (panoramas), a majority (donations to the temple), eating food, or collecting gifts. Still, the game does have some interesting decisions and works very well as an app. The best part about the app version of Tokaido is the presentation. Instead of just graphically recreating the board game, the game uses its own 3D models and effects. The result is a wonderful app that, although playing like a strategy board game, invokes feelings of playing something like to The Sims. Although for some people the style of strategy and gameplay of Tokaido may not be the most exciting, the presentation and personality of this app is completely top notch and will likely appeal to just about anything. I give it a huge recommendation: a 9 out of 10 Days of Ire: Budapest 1956 is another cooperative title with a historical theme, so if you’re interested in Black Orchestra who’s I reviewed some time ago (check out the review here), but disappointed at the lack of availability or just want another historical co-op, Days of Ire just might suit your fancy. Days of Ire takes place during the Hungarian revolution against Soviet control. It requires the revolutionary players to resolve event cards, which show up on the various locations on the board. This isn’t entirely different from something like Pandemic, although what sets Days of Ire apart from these other cooperative titles is that although to win the revolutionary players just need end the seventh round with 4 or less events on the board. Completing these location events actually resolves in positive effects, such as drawing extra cards, gaining extra actions, resources, etc. This felt very different than many cooperatives where if you don’t complete a certain task the game beats you to the ground. In Days of Ire, however, doing the very thing that helps you win the game also resolves in a positive consequence. The result is players working together to complete the right events at the right time. Each event card is also based on real historical events, such as organizing a protest, gaining support, or basically doing things that revolutionaries do. Not that I have a lot of experience doing these things so you’ll have to pay the game to experience the cards for yourself, but sufficed to say they are thematic enough. Militia, snipers, and tanks will show up due to a event deck with some complex but intuitive mechanics that add a lot of replayability. Revolutionaries certainly do not want to be caught on the same spaces as these enemy units. The revolutionary players spend actions to recruit fighters, which follow you around the board, each helping you to resolve events and/or giving you special abilities. Overall, I think this is a fantastic cooperative title. We won our first play somewhat easily, though it was a bit challenging at times and we were playing in the recommended first game setup with 3 players. I am very much looking forward to playing the fully cooperative mode on a much more difficult setting to see how we fair. Days of Ire also includes separate modes which show one person to play as a Soviet general and a solitaire mode if you feel so inclined. The price tag is sightly high, but I definitely think you get your money’s worth in quality of gameplay. Days of Ire is a solid cooperative game with a great historical theme that I could see getting a lot more play. I’m giving it a solid 8 out of 10, and I’ll even give it a +1 if you really like cooperative games or you love historical games. Happy gaming! -Jed Continuing this series of reviews after just one play, I try to answer the most important questions: Does the game provide a fun, engaging experience that I would want to play many times? Does the game provide something unique that sets it apart from other games? Was the game relatively easy to learn? For Vikings Gone Wild, the answer to most of these questions is, in fact, a resounding yes. Vikings Gone Wild is a game in which each player controls a clan of Vikings building their town, acquiring treasures, and recruiting heroes and units for battle. This all happens as a deck-building card game, similar to what you’ve experienced if you’ve played Star Realms or Dominion. Players begin with a level 1 Town Hall and a small deck of the most basic cards. Your two basic currencies are gold and beer, the first of which is used mostly for buildings while the later is used more for recruiting new units, although there are exceptions to both and some cards require both beer and gold. So what is fun and unique about Vikings Gone Wild? Well for one, unlike most deck-builders, it’s not a simple point grabbing game. Players must earn points by attaching their opponents and everything done to accomplish this, whether focusing on building a deck powerful cards or focusing more on buildings, is simply a means to an end. But what’s particularly fun about Vikings Gone Wild is that attacking your opponent does not hinder them, at least not directly. Successfully attacking your opponent gives you victory points. However, successfully defending from attacks does as well, so you have to be careful how much or little you attack with and when, because otherwise you may just be giving your opponent points. I think there lies the most unique aspect of Vikings Gone Wild- the focus is fairly equally on building an economic engine through buildings in your tableau and the cards on your deck, as well as being able to attack your opponents. Although it has many of the same concepts that we know and love on modern board games, as a deck-builder it feels very unique, which also made me curious about the various expansions available for Vikings Gone Wild. Though the game was fairly easy to learn, considering the decent number of deck-building games I’ve played, The setup for first time players seems fairly daunting. Now that I’ve played it I wouldn’t see a problem in the future, but there are a good variety in types of cards and all these go into separate piles in the beginning of the game. I believe if you’re looking for a highly thematic Viking game, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a great casual to middle weight game that will appeal to your friends who enjoy light civ or city-building you should definitely check it out. As far as deck-building and modern card games go, it’s one of the best. I’m looking forward to playing it again and an seriously thinking about adding it to my personal collection. Based on my first play I give it an 8 out of 10. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Co-Op Board Game – One Play Review I’m a big fan of the Buffy TV series based upon my current viewing of two seasons of the show. I was very excited to try this board game with my friends on Saturday and I was not disappointed. The game has pretty simple mechanics that generally translated the flavor and environment of the show. It is made for 1-6 players and we played with 4 on Saturday night. The idea of the game is to continually slay baddies, Monsters of the Week, and eventually the Big Bad in order to win the game. Along the way you will try to save Townies from Vampire and Demons who spawn all over Sunnydale. You will also become wounded throughout your time in Sunnydale by those same Vampires and Demons. Each Monster of the Week you slay will leave a clue token which can be collected to uncover a plot card related to the Big Bad. Once you have uncovered three plot cards the Big Bad will appear and you must slay it in order to win the game. Playable characters include Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, Spike, and Angel and the Big Bads are characters like The Master and Caleb. I enjoyed the game overall. The rulebook could definitely be written a little more clearly and precisely but the game still plays well. My friends and I picked Caleb as our first Big Bad, which is not the recommended Big Bad for the first time, and we did end up winning. Winning was not easy but neither did it seem insurmountable. I recommend checking out the game and playing it with some friends, whether you or they are Buffy fans or not. Being a Buffy fan adds more to the play experience but I would not say being a fan is necessary to enjoy the game. Rating: 4 out of 5 I finally got the chance to try out a board game that I’ve been wanting to play for quite some time. Red November is a light-hearted cooperative title that I believe is currently in print by Fantasy Flight Games and is one that bears quite a few similarities to your traditional Co-ops such as Pandemic and Flash Point: Fire Rescue. Honestly, this genre is kind of my jam- I reviewed a Black Orchestra a while back on Minis & Meeples, drawing comparisons to Pandemic as well. And even though Pandemic has become a little played out for me, this genre is one that just keeps on giving. Red November has players taking the role of Gnomes on a failing underwater submarine. Everything just seems to be going wrong: the engines are failing, the reactor core is overheating, and the sub is losing oxygen. Even worse, rooms of the sub will burst into flames or fill with water. I’m definitely has that “whack-a-mole” feel that is ever-present in games if this genre (the viruses in Pandemic or fires in Flash Point), but offers some fun variation. First up is the time track. This is one of my favorite mechanics in modern board games. Essentially, every action takes a certain amount of time, and as players take actions they move along a track. The last and topmost piece on the track is the player who goes next, so there isn’t a set turn order. Next, this game has a high element of Risk/Reward, or Push-Your-Luck. Resolving almost every action has the player rolling a die to see if there action was actually accomplished or if it failed, and since spending more time on an action gives you much better odds of completing the action, there’s always a choice on your turn that at least seems meaningful. Finally, multiple people can win, but not necessarily everyone. The game ends when all players have reached the end on the time track. In our case, all three other characters died before they could do so, but I was able to survive before the ship was completely destroyed. However, a player can also abandon the submarine if they have the Aqualung card and in that case, if everyone else dies, the player who abandoned the submarine is the winner. If even one of the remaining gnomes on the submarine lives, the fleeing gnome looses. So here are my final thoughts- I really liked it! It’s far from a perfect game. Like I said, in our game I was the sole survivor and ended up winning the game, but I didn’t really feel like I had done anything to win the game. I couldn’t point to any one, strategic decision that I made that helped me to “win,” but I was able to survive before the sub was destroyed and so in that sense it felt more like a group victory. Something else that I wanted to comment on- the components of Red November, while totally worth the$30 MSRP, are not all that impressive. I don’t know that the game play justifies a bigger $60 release with nicer components without some extra additions, such as included expansions, etc. Regardless, Red November is a fun, stressful, chaotic and hilarious coop, that fits a specific role few other cooperative games satisfy. I would definitely play it again and I’m thinking about picking up my own copy someday. Check it out! Today’s article is about an old and dead collectible card game resurrected as a living card game. Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) was first published in 1995 by Alderac Entertainment Group and continued until 2015, giving Magic: the Gathering a run for its money as longest published CCG. AEG then sold the rights to Fantasy Flight Games who is publishing a new version that is incompatible with the AEG version. L5R is heavily influenced by Asian cultures, predominately Japan, and takes place in the magical world of Rokugan. You will find samurai, ninjas, monks, shugenja (elemental wizards), court politicians, emperors, and yojimbo. L5R has always been very story driven, and was unique in that the players get to influence the story line directly. This was usually through doing well at tournaments, but during the time I played there were rewards for best decorated game store, best cosplay, most clan t-shirts at the equivalent of a Grand Prix, and many more I don’t recall. The end results of all of these was determining the next emperor and it was an insanely close race. Perhaps unfortunately FFG has decided to give the 20 years of lore the Star Wars treatment and started the story back at the beginning, though this does give them freedom to take it where they want without being bound by traditions and sacred cows from AEG. If you want, you can find all the previous short stories here under AEG CCG Story, but be warned there is a ton to read. So today I wanted to introduce you to the clans we will be seeing in the new game, as well as some basic rules information. FFG is giving us a slow drip of rules and card spoilers so I will only discuss four clans today in any sort of depth but will introduce all seven (yes, only seven are in the base game as of now, sorry Mantis, Spider, Ratling, Shadowlands etc players). Before I can talk about the clans though there are some gameplay elements to discuss. First, there are three methods to victory in the new version, breaking, honor, and dishonor. Breaking victories consists of breaking your opponents provinces and stronghold, most similar to attacking life total in MtG, provinces can be broken by military or political attacks. Each character will have both a military and political strength stat and conflicts of either type can be declared. Honor victories comes from raising your honor from its starting value (around 11 from what we have seen so far) up to 25 and you lose if your honor falls to 0. Honor is traded with your opponents whenever you bid for card draw or duels. Each player secretly bids on how many card they want to draw for the turn and whomever bids higher loses the difference in honor and the lower bidder gains that much honor. You also lose 5 honor if you deck yourself but you get to reshuffle your discard back into your deck. So when I say a clan is “military focused” or “dishonor focused” you are not lost as to how they want to win. ###### The Seven Great Clans of Rokugan The seven clans in alphabetical (and, luckily, spoiled up to now in roughly this order) are Crab, Crane, Dragon, Lion, Phoenix, Scorpion, and Unicorn. This new quiz can help you identify which clan might appeal the most to you. You’ll have to make a copy in google sheets or download and fill it out in excel. I’ll try to outline the clan strategies and play style as best I can. The Crab clan are the defenders of the Kaiu Wall on the southern border separating the Emerald Empire from the horrors of the Shadowlands. They are mighty warriors and builders, boasting some of the highest military stats spoiled so far. The Crab clan excels at defense, often receiving bonuses that victorious attackers would get when the Crab wins a defense. They are also used to sacrificing themselves to protect the wall, which translate in-game to trading weaker characters for a larger gain, such as directly destroying opposing characters, boosting other Crabs, or drawing cards. They also have a strong dishonor theme, such as punishing opponents for not attacking, or punishing the opponent for playing cards in combat. You might enjoy this style if you like MtG decks like Aristocrats or a Commander like Savra, Queen of the Golgari. The Crane clan are masters of the court, and rather than using brute force to destroy their opponents use their political might to bring honor to their clan, but when words fail they are among the best duelists. Crane’s have the highest political stats we have seen so far and have many ways of interacting with your opponents characters. Their raw political strength should be enough to win by breaking provinces but they also have an efficient control suite to help control the board. This combination of efficient attackers and control elements makes me thing a good MtG analog would be a tempo deck like Delver or for Commander a heavily political deck like Edric, Spymaster of Trest. The Dragon clan lives a secluded life in the mountains in the North of Rokugan. They seek enlightenment and avoid attachment to the physical world. So it is ironic that they have a focus on attachments, like equipment or auras from MtG. They will usually invest many resources into one powerful character that will stick around for a while and is more flexible than the straight political strength of the Crane or physical might of the Crab. They also have a resource manipulation theme, both in adding fate to themselves or removing it from opponent’s characters. Simply put, fate is like fading from MtG, when you summon a character you can over-invest in them to add fate counters which are removed every turn before your character goes away. My next article will cover a lot more of the rules and playing the game while we wait for more spoilers for the other clans. If your favorite commander ever was Uril, the Miststalker the Dragon clan might be right for you. The final clan to get a good look at is the Lion Clan. The Lion clan is the backbone of the Emerald Empire’s military and has the largest standing army. They strongly follow the codes of Bushido and honor is very important to them. They are looking to swarm the board with cost effective characters and go for quick military breaks. The Lion clan has the ability to purchase more characters than other clans and has tricks up their sleeve to allow them to stick around longer than they should. If you like token decks this clan might be a good fit for you. We haven’t seen much yet for the remaining three clans but I can give a brief overview. The Pheonix clan are where the majority of the shugenja study, and are a pacifistic clan. From the spoiled cards we know they have a pacifism effect called…pacifism…and that shugenja can impact a conflict while not participating. The Scorpion clan is the underhanded and sometimes dishonorable “dark” opposite of the Crane clan, they work in secret to achieve political ends for the greater good of the Emerald Empire. The spoiled cards show manipulation of the bidding process, and a strong dishonor theme. The Unicorn clan left the Empire for 800 years and explored the surrounding lands. When they returned they were greeted as invaders and were only “allowed” to rejoin the empire after carving out their lands and soundly defeating the defenders. The Unicorn resemble the Mongolian horde with their focus on strange weapons and horses. Their calvary allows them to harry their foes or disengage from unprofitable combat. Part two of this article will discuss the remaining three clans a little bit more in depth but unless FFG starts giving more to us it will be very close to release before I can tell you more. In the mean time I’ll get an article about gameplay, card break down, and what rules we know. Thanks for reading! Warning! This article contains math! I’d like to introduce you today to one of my favorite games: Kingdom Builder. Kingdom Builder is an area control game by Donald X. Vaccarino (the creator of the deck building game Dominion) for 2-4 players that won the Speil des Jahres in 2012. The Spiel des Jahres is an award given to one game a year for “excellency in game design” and those games usually end up among my favorites. Kingdom Builder is a very fast game to set up, play, and score. We averaged a set up time of around two minutes, with an average play time of about 30 minutes (some combinations take planning while others are more straight forward). For your first time playing and reading the rules I’d expect about 45 minutes. Anyway, to play Kingdom Builder you get one card a turn, which tells you the type of terrain on which you can place your settlements. Terrain Cards There are 5 playable terrains, grasslands, forest, desert, flowers, and canyon, and two unplayable terrains, water and mountain. You can also get bonus tiles that give you free settlements or allow you to move your existing settlements. The key rule to the game is that, if possible, your new settlements have to touch your current settlements. The previous paragraph is enough to get you started, but what about winning? This is where we get into the math I mentioned earlier. Before the game starts you shuffle a ten card victory deck and choose three cards. These three cards tell you how to get points for that game. The points cards include easy to accomplish tasks, such as “one point for each settlement touching the water” to the more difficult tasks, such as “one point for each row containing one of your settlements.” Overall there are 120 different combinations of victory cards. Here is the math on combinations: The formula for combinations is $\frac{n!}{k!*(n-k)!}$ where x! represents x factorial, n is the number of choices, and k is how many you choose. Factorial in long form means x*(x-1)*(x-2)…*(x-(x+1)). I won’t bore you with the derivation of the formula, but you can look it up on Wikipedia here! So from the ten cards, and selecting three the formula looks like this: $\frac{10!}{3!*(10-3)!}$ or $\frac{10!}{3!*7!}$ or in long form $\frac{10*9*8*7*6*5*4*3*2*1}{3*2*1*7*6*5*4*3*2*1}$ luckily we can eliminate some numbers because they are on both the top and bottom of the divisor leaving us with: $\frac{10*9*8}{3*2}$ which simplifies to 720/6 or 120. Replayability is also increased by the unique board set up. The game includes eight different boards, each with their own terrain combinations and bonus tiles. You shuffle the boards and lay out four for each game. This gives us more math! We used combinations for the victory cards since the order in which you draw them doesn’t matter. For the boards we have to use permutations since the same four boards could be placed in a different order, 1234 is different from 1324. The formula for permutation of possible placements is $\frac{n!}{(n-k)!}$ which looks very similar to the combinations formula but grows much quicker. Since we have eight boards and choose four of them our formula is $\frac{8!}{(8-4)!}$, which simplifies to $\frac{8!}{4!}$. We can cancel out similar factors again to end up with 8*7*6*5 which equals 1680 possible board combinations. Board ready to play So when I say replayability I really mean it for this game. Taking the 120 different victory card combinations and the 1680 different board set ups there is a total of 201,600 unique games possible. Slightly fewer than the million I mentioned in the title but enough to keep the game from being the same everytime you play. Finsihed game with boards seperated If for some reason you want even more variety (oh and I do) there are now four expansions and three promo “Queenies”, each with their own new bonus tiles, victory cards, and even new terrains (true to Donald X’s style). I only have two of the expansions but my box now contains 24,460,800 unique set ups, and the ability to play with up to five players. I’ll end with some quality of life advice if you decide to pick up a copy of Kingdom Builder. Why Queen Games? Why? The game only comes with a few very large baggies for the pieces, so my crafty (devious, and she likes to make stuff) sister came up with a nice solution. She took a snack sized plastic baggy and used a sewing machine to stitch up the middle, creating two sealable pouches for easy sorting. This also helps with set up time since you don’t need to paw through all the pieces to find that last one. Mo’ Betta We also moved the settlement pieces to a smaller bags as well. When I purchased the expansions I removed the weird filler/sorter cardboard from the main box to allow all my boards to fit into one box. The box is pretty heavy now but I don’t have to pull down other boxes to play with expansions, everything is together and compact. Well I hope this prompts you to try out Kingdom Builder sometime, you can always ask me to bring my copy to the Geek, I’m always happy to play, and I promise I wont talk about math (unless you want me to). Welcome back to what will officially be a series of reviews based on, you guessed it, just one play! So here we are, looking at a game that I’ve been wanting to play for many months. The premise of Above and Below is like this: what if Minecraft was a Euro resource management board game? Each player runs their own village- constructions buildings and training villagers. Doesn’t sound unique so far, right? There’s tons of Euro games that do that. Everything I just said so far is a solid part of the game, but it doesn’t end there. Villagers will go exploring underground searching for previous resources and, most importantly, adventure. When exploring, another player will read a sort paragraph from an encounter book, then give the active player a couple choices. The encounter stories are succinct, but interesting. Typically the choices are “explore” which kind of represents searching, etc., “fight,” or something similar. On my last explore of the game, I ended up singing to someone. The active player will then roll dice on a fashion that is simplistic, and while not super thematic or unique, still exiting and completely functional. You’re basically trying to get lantern symbols, which represent your degree of success. While I’m not a huge fan of games using a generic point system, rather than more thematic objectives, the point system in Above and Below seems very balanced and offers players multiple avenues to earn them. Village Points appear in several different places: on building and outpost cards (buildings that can only be built on top of cave cards from successful encounters), on a reputation track (you earn/lose reputation from encounters) and on your advancement track. Now the advancement track is an interesting part of the game where you attack resource tokens. Without going into a lot of detail as to how it works, it essentially gives you points for having a variety of goods in your stash, except if you can have lot of a resource that you discovered later on in the game, you’re going to get a lot more points. On to final thoughts: first, Above and Before was a little heavier than I thought. The box cover is beautiful but looks a little cartoony or at least has a middle weight kind of look to it. Above and Below is anything but middle weight, though. It’s probably 7 out of 10 in my book. Our first play was a little over two hours with four players, so it’s quoted time of 90 minutes on the box is pretty accurate. I could see getting it down to around an hour and fifteen minutes with an experienced group 2-3 players. The game moves at a really good pace- actions are quick and the designer, Ryan Laukat, did an excellent job at coming up with an exploration system that doesn’t bog down the game and keeps it exciting for the whole group. I don’t really need to drag this out- I absolutely love Above and Below. In a market of so many board games that play, look or feel similar, Above and Below completely sets itself apart. Ryan Laukat is an absolute master designer and he proves it in Above and Below. Are there possible cracks in the design? Possibly. I’m guessing there are certain strategies that could be superior to others. I can’t imagine players doing all that well without exploring at least somewhat. However, for a$50 MSRP game that I would play 3-5 times a year consistently, that’s not really something I’m worried about. I liked Above and Below so much, I not only immediately preordered it’s heavier spiritually successor, Near and Far, but I will also probably end up buying Above and Below myself even though I’ve of my good friends owns a copy. Above and Below gets an A+ in my book!

Do you want a great family game that will make your children cry? Survive: Escape from Atlantis! is just that. The island of Atlantis is sinking, and it’s your job to get your people to safety. It’s important though, as in the classic  hypothetical lifeboat scenario, some people are more important than others. Each of your people are worth a point value from one to six and you have to remember which one’s are worth the most when placing them at the beginning of the game. Throughout the game, the island of Atlantis will sink, forcing your people to swim to shore, and sea creatures will show up to wreck your boats and eat your people. On a positive note, dolphins will randomly appear to help your swimmers (which normally move incredibly slow).

Survive has just enough interesting decisions to be a good family game, but with plenty of randomness to either make your kids cry in defeat or give them the opportunity to catch up to an adult. On top of all that, it plays in 45 minutes or less with a couple games of experience, and is an incredibly beautiful title.

Played Not Alone last night for the first time. Although I’ve only played once, I feel as though I got a pretty good handle on this interesting new title from Ghislain Masson and publisher Geek Attitude Games.  Not Alone is a “one versus many” style card game about a group of explorers (AKA The Hunted) who crash land on a planet. One player takes the role of The Creature, who is attempting to track down and assimilate The Hunted.

Each round, the Hunted all simultaneously play a place card, which represent one of the various locations on the island. The Creature player then places his tokens, which represent his physical creature form and various abilities, on one to three different locations. Players caught by the creature lose one of their will tokens and when the creature catches one or more Hunted players, he moves one step closer to victory. Likewise, when players lose all of their will tokens they must “give up” before playing location card, which also advances the creature assimilation marker. At the end of each round, however, the Hunted players advance on their rescue track. This basically means that time is on the Hunted players’ side. Both the Creature and the Hunted players have special cards that can be played during various phases of the game to break the basic rules of the game or alter them in some way.

As to the balance of the game, I can’t speak to it with any credibility as I’ve only played it once. In our game the Hunted won somewhat fairly easily, but I was able to recognize several mistakes I made early on. If I were to guess based on my limited experience, it seems pretty balanced with about a ten percent variation in wins versus losses on either side depending on your play group. None of the individual mechanisms in Not Alone are particularly interesting or innovative, but the way they are implemented to build a game that is fulfills a unique role in my collection, supporting up to 7 players in under an hour. Additionally, the art by Sebastien Caiveau in Not Alone is exceptionally beautiful for a \$25 card game. Not Alone will be getting a wider US distribution soon by Stronghold Games. I strongly recommend you check this one out!