Review: Kaiju Crush by Tim Armstrong and Justin De Witt via Fireside Games

Review: Kaiju Crush by Tim Armstrong and Justin De Witt via Fireside Games

Kaiju Crush is all about monster battles in an urban area. The richness of the monster smashing cities theme is probably not in dispute. While I cannot count myself as a fan of films about the subject, I played plenty of Rampage (the video game) and see the appeal of these massive, fantastic creatures wreaking havoc on cities and the like. There is even a film coming out that looks loosely based on the video game. Certainly Pacific Rim (for all its flaws) reminded us of the appeal of giant monsters breaking up cities (if Cloverfield didn’t already do that for you).

A few years back, Rampage (later retitled “Terror in Meeple City”) from the always-interesting Antoine Bauza, would become one of the best matches of theme and mechanisms for this kind of game. A dexterity-based game that still had many euro stylings to keep it strongly constructed, Rampage is a treat. It’s just about ideal for the theme, but Kaiju Crush has helped me see another style that could work with this theme. This game comes to us from the successful husband-wife team that runs Fireside Games, makers of the hit Castle Panic series, the excellent Hotshots (which we love) and the amusing Bears!, working with designer Tim Armstrong.

Kaiju Crush tells us the story of a group of large, unruly monsters controlled by the players that decimate a city. Players are trying to cause more destruction than the others to win the honor of being the best monster (winning the game). Turns are focused on a creative action system that allows players to use one of two moves each turn, either the one they are dealt (currently hold) or a community option that sits between players. If players use their own, players switch it with the communityKaiju Crush option but if they use the community choice, it stays there. I quite like the way this mechanism works and although it sounds familiar, I cannot place it. This restricts movement in an interesting way, allowing for choices between adjacent moves, leaps over a spot or two, or a Chess Knight-style move.

Beyond that, Kaiju Crush is about using those moves to claim buildings on the board, which have various values between 1 and 4, as well as a set icon that can add up to bonuses later. This move for your monster lets you take a space over (claiming the tile) and repositions you for next turn. In this way, the game has the feel of a more nuanced Hey, That’s My Fish, with players claiming buildings both for points and for how it positions them to claim additional spaces with the options available next turn. As the game progresses, fewer and fewer options are available as the map of buildings is turned to rubble and claimed spaces. This positioning is important because players still only have those two options for your monster has each turn. The end game is maximizing how you can claim as many spaces as possible before the city is decimated. Players collect points for buildings, sets claimed, and any other bonuses. The winning monster is the one with the most points, naturally.

That’s not all there is, though – the monsters get to fight if they land on the same space or an adjacent one. This kicks in the battle process, which is like a paper-rock-scissors game you play to 3 out of 5. Each player gets a handful of five cards per battle. Using the five-option system, each monster in the battle plays a card and resolves it by comparison. This is where the monsters’ special powers kick in, as each one either wins ties of some type or gets to optimize cards a bit. This match of cards is fun, with 3 of 5 being the perfect amount to give people a chance for each battle to have its own life. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t routinely killed by my wife 3 in a row because she can zone in on my brainwaves. But you’ll have a great time with it, I’m sure. Winning the battle gives you a bonus chip (worth 1-3 points) and if you’re on the same spot, the winner will take it.

The game has a couple of additional elements that add to the experience. All players get a special one-time use power. They are hit-or-miss, but can help in a key moment. Additional, there are four other ways to score points based on the spaces on the map you collect, the building types you claim, and some options that even crop up in the game. These extra concepts add replay value and some variability to the game.

In the end, Kaiju Crush is a fun game for families, but I wouldn’t recommend playing with only two. The game is less interesting with just a head-to-head game, offering fewer options all around. I think the game shines best at four players, with a full complement of gamers. Components are solid, as is the norm with Fireside, although younger players might enjoy replacing the cardboard monsters with miniatures to up the toy factor. Gamers will admire the intriguing aspects, but might wear out the game play quickly with the options available. I still recommend giving it a play to see the interesting moving mechanism and to have a good time with the quick battles you get into with your kaiju. The game is certainly ripe for expansions featuring new monsters, moves and special powers, too.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Kaiju Crush

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Publisher Fireside Games provided a copy for independent review.

Review – Azul by Michael Kiesling via Plan B Games

Review – Azul by Michael Kiesling via Plan B Games

Azul, I will admit, is a game that I judged by its cover. Good thing it’s a wonderful game. The design drew me in immediately. I’ll admit to being a sucker for gorgeous package design and when the components are also premium wonders, you’re already halfway to my approval, folks. Now, I don’t mean Boris Vallejo-esque sword-wielding ladies. I mean design like what you see in Oink Games, all of which have conscious elements that add directly to the mood of the game experience. Quality work isn’t the only way this is achieved; way back in the pre-euro days, we had Cheapass Games here in the US and their powerfully simple black and white envelopes appealed to me for both keeping costs lower and letting head Cheapsser James Ernest save time in coming up with overly expensive colored boxes, he put it into the game design and those hilarious rules.

So, with that longer-than-planned caveat, let’s talk about the game. Azul is a game at once familiar and exciting in its unique feel. The game is a design by Michael Kiesling, a two-time SDJ winner and frequent collaborator with the mighty Wolfgang Kramer, but this one is all his own. Based on Azul, I definitely look forward to his next solo game design.

In Azul, players get a board on which they will place the gorgeous, chunky tiles that are a hallmark of the game’s production. They will place them according to a set of clean, elegant rules that are straight out of 90’s Schacht and Knizia. When you select tiles from the one of the selection discs, you take all of one color, pushing the remaining tiles on that disc to the center market. Once this has happened during a round, another option becomes available; now, players can also take all of one color from the center of the table. While the discs are dealt only four pieces from the (lovely) bag, once the excess tiles start piling up in the middle, players are likely to get more of them.

When you claim tiles, you need to place them on your board. This is done by selecting a row for completion, with the first row scoring with just a single tile and each row below it taking one more until you reach five at the bottom of the board. Thus, each turn, players will want a different number of tiles for each row. While the prep area of a row has a certain color tile in it, no other colors can go into that row.

This means players sometimes obtain excess tiles that need to be stored at the bottom of the board. These each inflict a penalty that rises with each additional tile. Also, the first player to fish tiles out of the center of instead of just off one of the distribution discs gets to select first in the next round, with the unhappy addition of a -1 tile that gets to drop into the first slot in the little holding pen for overflow tiles (which some gamers are apparently throwing away? It should have been a proper tile anyway). I find this mechanism quite appealing – that tradeoff of the loss of a point for the first shot and the first pick next turn. That says this game has been tuned.

Sound intriguing? Maybe not. The theme of Azul isn’t really there; it’s just a game of placing tiles into the right sequences to score points and marveling at how pretty they are. But that’s not it – this is a wonderfully elegant design that we so rarely see today. Azul goes down like Azulfreshly-made lemonade – it feels like it’s made of the real thing and not just rehashed mechanisms from other designers’ work. Kiesling has taken a solid selection mechanism and added interesting scoring. It’s such a clean, empirical design and Plan B’s excellent production complements it beautifully.

With the advent of Kickstarter and the crazy influx of underdeveloped and messy games into the marketplace, it is kind of glorious to see a lovely design like Azul come out, especially since we see fewer titles from the twin masters of this feel: Reiner Knizia and Michael Schacht. Kiesling is no slouch here, although most of his ludography was constructed with Kramer, a bigger name. But let’s not Garfunkel him entirely – Vikings was also a winner. With Azul, Kiesling could be on track for a solo SDJ. I’d call it a contender for one of the coveted slots later this year.

Even so, with the fast-food nature of game designs these days, I think players should give it a go first. While serious eurogamers will appreciate Azul’s charms, those who are seeking a thematic experience may balk at the simple beauty and sparse rules. That’s my only caution in reducing the rating to a Play It Now. I love it, but modern gamers may need to develop a palette for it.

Oh, heck – never mind. Azul is awesome! Buy it Now!

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Azul

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Review: Kung Pao Chicken by Ta-Te Wu and Sunrise Tornado Games

Review: Kung Pao Chicken by Ta-Te Wu and Sunrise Tornado Games

The point at which the micro game meets the party game is a wonder. While both types of game package a lot of fun in often simple ideas, they do so in somewhat different ways. This makes it delightful to see them fuse into a compelling filler. Ta-Te Wu’s new Kung Pao Chicken inhabits that rare space where these two game types build on each other’s strengths, taking the clever elegance of the microgame’s card locationing with funny party elements like Werewolf and Bunny Bunny Moose Moose.

Kung Pao Chicken is an ideal opener to get people laughing before the longer, heavier games begin. Players are chickens or foxes based on an initial deal, but that information is only visible to the other players (kind of like Powwow). Players then spend the game playing cards to maximize the number of chickens saved or eaten, based on which team they believe they are on. The cards are chickens, foxes and dogs – which form a kind of chain. Chickens get eaten by foxes, foxes are chased away by dogs, and dogs are awfully handy to protect chickens. However, each dog only chases away one fox – whereas foxes can each as many chickens as they find in the barn where they find themselves. So, some dog vs. fox management is needed.

How do you determine which team you are on so you play well? With a combination of viewing the other player’s roles and how they play cards, players need to discern which team they are on. On a player’s turn, they play one of their cards onto a player’s barn or in the one in the middle of the the table that starts with a certain number of foxes based the player count.

When the round ends from card play, player roles are revealed and each barn is resolved. Before the reveal, however, players close heir eyes and pantomime wings if they think they are a chicken and claws for a guess that they are a fox. A point is awarded to each player that correctly surmised their role.

If any foxes are there, they eat any present chickens…but they are chased away by dog cards. Fox players score a point for each chicken eaten and the chicken players get one for each chicken saved. Simple scoring and resolution is part of the appeal of the game. Players tabulate points and the winner is the one with the most points after three rounds. So, cooperative play, but competitive outcome. Yes – this is the sweet spot for a long of gamers and my love of ‘coopetition’ is definitely satisfied by KPC.

Yes, I really like Kung Pao Chicken. Let’s be clear though: Designer Ta-Te Wu is my co-designer sometimes, frequent developer, playtester, and one of my good friends. However, I do not like all of his games. The ones I like, I get involved with. I liked Red Cliffs (obviously), as I did Tien Zi Che before it. Di Renjie – yes. And I quite enjoy Kung Pao Chicken. I liked it enough to give him some ideas for it that became a stretch goal expansion. So, is this review legitimate? That’s for you to decide but all I can offer in reassurance is that I’m making this a formal statement, not just a boilerplate disclosure, and that Kung Pao Chicken is in our game bag for all days out to play. So, Super-Disclosure: I played this with a playtest copy, after playtesting it and even offering suggestions, some of which MAY have gotten in. That said, I really love this game and think it’s among the strongest Ta-Te has done.

Kung Pao Chicken is now LIVE on Kickstarter at a great price and I encourage you to get a copy and cluck up the opener for your game nights!

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Kung Pao Chicken

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Read above for Disclosure City.

5 Quick Questions about Bärenpark with Phil Walker-Harding

5 Quick Questions about Bärenpark with Phil Walker-Harding

Editor’s Note: As a kind of content geek, I try new formats. So, here’s a new interviewette for tabletop designers. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Phil Walker-Harding, the designer of hot new game Bärenpark (among others like Sushi Go, Imhotep, Cacao and more), shall we?

BGB: Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Bärenpark?

Phil Walker-Harding: Bärenpark is a family strategy game about building a wildlife park from polyomino tiles. Fit the pieces together like a puzzle! Plan ahead as your park expands!.. Um, it has pandas!Bärenpark

BGB: Making games is hard work, so you best have a great reason for making this thing. What inspired this game?

Phil Walker-Harding: I have always really loved board games that use polyomino tiles. Some favourites (Ed.Note: Phil’s an Aussie, so we’ll allow for that ‘u’) are Blokus, Mosaix, Arkadia, FITS and The Princes of Florence. So I always wanted to design a game with these pieces. After playing Patchwork I was inspired to move ahead with a design that put them front and centre. As I developed it, I realized that the funnest thing about these games for me is when you get a piece to perfectly fit in around other pieces. So I tried to make these little “eureka!” moments happen as often as possible in the design.

BGB: There are too many games out there. What hole in my game collection does this fill?

Phil Walker-Harding: If you like spatial tile placement games, Bärenpark plays very quickly while allowing some nice planning decisions. The game has had some success as a welcoming gateway style game that will also give gamers something to chew on.

BGB: This is Boardgame Babylon, so out with your dirty secrets. What DON’T you want to tell me about this game?

Phil Walker-Harding: The game originally had an amusement park theme. So, instead of 4 different types of bears, the pieces represented 4 different types of rides – rollercoasters, waterslides etc. The publisher, Lookout, felt that a more original theme was needed because a few theme park games had come out in Europe in recent years. I love the art and cuteness factor that the bear theme brought to the game, but I have to say that I think rollercoasters would have been cool!

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Bärenpark. Let’s wrap up with the key specifics (play time, number of players, and the link to the game) and also, since I think you can tell a lot about a person by understanding their sense of humor, what’s a good joke to close this interviewette?

Phil Walker-Harding: Bärenpark is 2-4 players, ages 8+, 30-45 minutes.

I’ve always like the Groucho Marx quote: “I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.”

NOTE: Here at BGB, we LOVE a lot of Phil’s games, including Sushi Go Party.

Review: Hotshots from Justin De Witt and Fireside Games

Review: Hotshots from Justin De Witt and Fireside Games

If Matt Leacock, designer of Pandemic, is the modern king of cooperative games, perhaps Justin De Witt is the Prince. Justin created the extraordinarily popular and really very fun Castle Panic.  Like Pandemic, Castle Panic has now seen a number of different forms, including Dead Panic, Star Trek Panic and, inevitably, Munchkin Panic. But he hasn’t stopped there. His new game, Hotshots, is another attempt to create an enjoyable cooperative game experience with mechanisms not normally seen in games of that type.

Hotshots, which we asked about once before, is a game about fighting fires in the forest with a press-your-luck dice rolling mechanism at its core. 2 to 4 players take on the roles of firefighters (each a special role like the Swamper or Spotter) on the front line of a blaze in a wooded area. The board is a modular set of hexes that can be set up a variety of ways. The tiles have various functions, including an association with the powers of the players or housing additional equipment the team can use to combat the fire.

Hotshots

On your turn, you move your firefighter one or two spaces and attempt to put out a fire. Each of the spaces has a unique element as well as a set of six die faces that you must roll to combat the fire there. Each face of the six sided dice has a different firefighting symbol on it, from the regular fireman to a hose to a Pulaski, which is the name of that ax thing you always see firefighters carrying. No, I didn’t know it was called the Pulaski either, but I did learn that from reading the rules of Hotshots (same thing, the MacLeod). I love it when I learn something new from a game. Anyway, if you roll and get three matches, you can place a firebreak on a side of the hex, four will knock out a fire, five will knock down two and all six will put out three fires. This last accomplishment means a big bonus, including a special chit with a rule-breaking power and placing a firebreak as well.

A key element here though is to stay close to your comrades, because they will give you an extra chance in case you blow it. What does blowing it mean? This is a press-your-luck game so players need to decide after each roll if they are going to continue or stop and apply what they have rolled to the fire. Every time you roll the dice, you need to lock a die that matches one of the remaining symbols. If you roll and fail to find a match, you lose out and the fire gets stronger. If you have another firefighter with you, failing once is okay. Your partner allows you a second shot and gives you a better chance to get all six dice to match.

Hotshots

Other map elements help, like the station where a one-use helicopter can knock down a big fire and trucks and planes can help knock our blazes and create firebreaks. Others are tied to player abilities, which are lost if the space is wiped out.

The firebreaks are key because, like all cooperative games, the game gets its say. After your turn, you draw a fire card to see how the blaze spreads. In a clever mechanism, a wind sock tracks the direction of the gusts and certain cards will push the fire out into adjacent hexes based on it. Firebreaks help protect against the fire spreading by wind.

Board hexes are lost when they reach their burst number, which is the amount of fire it can contain without going up in flames. This value ranges from 2 to 5, and this plays into the Fire cards. This can be specific hexes, increases based on the current burst point of certain spaces, or simply the way the wind is blowing. The fire can rage out of control and players lose if they allow eight hexes to be burnt out. Alternatively, you win if you can knock down all the fires throughout the game board.

Let’s talk about the fire pieces. The components in Hotshots are nice but the clear highlight is the fire pieces them self. They look like little plastic flames and they’re distributed on the board early on and represent fire that is burning at the game’s beginning. They kind of outshine the cardboard standees for the firefighters (bling alert) and other pieces. Pleasantly, the box is appropriately sized for the components and easier to pack for travel.

Importantly, everyone I have played this game with has had a lot of fun. While the subject was a little grim as we watched the recent fires in Southern California, we did enjoy the act of putting out the fires together. While the beginning game has a standard setup, you can also use the guidelines in the book to simulate famous parks. This allows the terrain to abstract out things and makes for enjoyable replay value. Our second game was in the Grand Canyon and one of the largest blazes was remote and through a craggy terrain hex that made it hard to reach. That endeavor colored our whole game, which made for a different experience and a hard-fought win. Hotshots is the kind of game where you get high-fives and a story tell after a big win. That’s satisfying.

The game also includes variants to make the game somewhat easier to beat for younger players who want to win more often. I note this because the game can be hard! But it wouldn’t be much fun if there wasn’t a struggle. We’ve won most of our games with six or seven burnt hexes, and lost a couple as well. More importantly, we have wanted to play it again and again because of the quick game play and satisfying experience of Hotshots.

In our view, Fireside Games has another winner on their hands that plays well with younger players and yet it’s interesting enough for gamers to play. Hotshots is also approachable for casual gamers who need an introduction to cooperative games. While there is no useful way to keep from having someone take over the game (no secret info), it’s a fine gateway title.

In case you missed it, Justin was on BGB’s podcast in the past when he and his cool also-a-game-designer wife Anne-Marie, visited us for Strategicon.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Hotshots

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Publisher Fireside Games provided a copy for independent review.

5 Quick Questions About Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 from Matt Leacock

5 Quick Questions About Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 from Matt Leacock

Editor’s Note: As a kind of content geek, I try new formats. So, here’s a new interviewette for tabletop designers. We promise no TL;DR.

Let’s see how Matt Leacock, one of the designers of the red-hot Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 does, shall we?

BGB: Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for the Pandemic Legacy: Season 2?

Matt Leacock: Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 continues the story of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. Set 71 years in the future, it lets you embark on an epic adventure to bring humanity back from the brink of extinction. It features new mechanisms and surprises, but the rhythms of the game will be familiar to those who enjoyed the first season.

BGB: Making games is hard work, so you best have a great reason for making this thing. What inspired this game?

Matt Leacock: When as Z-man put “Season 1” on the first game, Rob and I looked at each other and realized that there might be more of them. And after the Season 1 shot up the charts, it was clear that players wanted more, too.

BGB: There are too many games out there. What hole in my game collection does this fill?

Matt Leacock: This game continues the everything you loved about the first season, in fresh new ways. It’s a great way to bond with a few other players as you navigate your away through a high stakes story.

Pandemic Legacy: Season 2

BGB: This is Boardgame Babylon, so out with your dirty secrets. What DON’T you want to tell me about this game?

Matt Leacock: This game gives you more freedom to choose your own path than Season 1 – it’s less on rails. For example, right from the first game in January, you’ll need to decide which direction you’d like to explore in the world. You can be your own worst enemy however, if you don’t consider the bigger picture when deciding what your group should do. The game forgives losses along the way, but there is a wider “cone of possibilities” that you’ll need to navigate. That can mean that better players may have an easier time while others may struggle a bit more than they did in the first season.

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Pandemic Legacy, Season 2. Let’s wrap up with the key specifics (play time, number of players, and the link to the game) and also, since I think you can tell a lot about a person by understanding their sense of humor, what’s a good joke to close this interview?

Matt Leacock: 60 minutes per game for an average of 16–18 games per campaign. (12–24 games are possible.)
2-4 players. New players can join or drop over the course of the campaign. (Solo play is also possible if one player plays multiple characters.)
More from Z-man: https://www.zmangames.com/en/products/pandemic-legacy-season-2/
BGG: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/221107/pandemic-legacy-season-2

BGB JOKE TIME

“What time does Sean Connery get to Wimbledon?”

“Tennish”

That’s all I’ve got for today.

5 Quick Questions About the Battle for Greyport

5 Quick Questions About the Battle for Greyport

Editor’s Note: As a kind of content geek, I try new formats. So, here’s a new interviewette for tabletop designers. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Jeff Morrow, publisher of The Battle for Greyport (a relatively new title from Slugfest Games) does, shall we?

BGB: Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for the Battle for Greyport?

Jeff Morrow: Battle for Greyport is a cooperative deckbuilding game based on the characters and world of our popular Red Dragon Inn franchise. You and your adventuring companions are about to head to the tavern for a pint when you are rudely interrupted by monsters attacking the city! There’s no time to properly outfit the adventuring party – you need to gather an ad-hoc assortment of heroes and items as you go. Each round, everyone helps fight the current defending player’s monsters, so there’s lots of interactivity and almost no down time. The game continues until the players defeat the monsters and their boss, or until any player is defeated.

BGB: Making games is hard work, so you best have a great reason for making this thing. What inspired this game?The Battle for Greyport

Jeff Morrow: My old friend Paul Peterson (of Smash-Up fame) told me that a friend of his, Nate Heiss, had a game that might be right up our alley. So Nate pitched us with a fantasy-themed deckbuilder called Guilds of the Realm. It had a lot of good ideas, but had generic “characters” in the form of the guilds – like the rogues’ guild, for example. So we took those characters and gave them new names – specifically, we turned them into our existing characters from The Red Dragon Inn!
BGB: There are too many games out there. What hole in my game collection does this fill?
Jeff Morrow: If you like challenging deckbuilders and coop games, then this game is for you. We agree that there are too many games out there, but interestingly, there are very few in the coop deckbuilder niche.
BGB: This is Boardgame Babylon, so out with your dirty secrets. What DON’T you want to tell me about this game?
Jeff Morrow: We’re sadistic and mean, so we would never want you to know that since we released the game we’ve updated the rules and errata-ed the introductory scenario.
BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about The Battle for Greyport. Let’s wrap up with the key specifics (play time, number of players, and the link to the game) and also, since I think you can tell a lot about a person by understanding their sense of humor, what’s a good joke to close this interviewette?
2-5 players, takes about 20-30 minutes per player. You can find more information here.
JOKE TIME
Jeff Morrow: Two chemists walk into a bar. The first says, “I’ll have H2O.” The second says, “I’ll have H2O too.” The second one dies.

And – want to learn more? Watch:

DISCLOSURE: Boardgame Babylon is not liable for damage to your sensibilities from the jokes these game designers submit.

REVIEW: SECTRE from Peter Mariutto and Freshwater Game Company

REVIEW: SECTRE from Peter Mariutto and Freshwater Game Company

SECTRE is a new abstract strategy game from the Freshwater Game Company, an organization with a credo to admire. Freshwater is committed to environmentally sustainable games sourced from local businesses and assembled by hand. This Minnesota company has the right idea and Boardgame Babylon certainly supports their effort to create games in this kind of format. After horror stories about mass-produced games with mildew in them, Kickstarter campaigns with copycat titles, and the environmental record of some of the companies producing gobs of plastic for our amusement, Freshwater’s mission is a worthwhile one.

SECTRETheir first game is here: SECTRE

So, great company and vision but how is SECTRE? The video on their Kickstarter page won’t tell you very much. What is clear is that it is a tile placement game with domino-like cards players use to form patterns and score points on a grid. Players are given a hand of these domino cards (in that they have two ends with different colors) and receive a solid distribution of variants from subtle markings on the cards (nice abstract art, by the way). These are the cards you get for the game; it ends when you have played them all. I can also tell you that the game plays with 2-6 players and is over in maybe 20-30 minutes, from our experience. We’ve played with 2, 4, and 5 players so far.

Each turn, players place one of their cards on the grid board, taking up two spaces and potentially claiming one of the scoring cards available to players. These score cards (which range from 5 to 15 points) are acquired by building certain patterns using the cards. While some are just about a certain number of spaces of a color being diagonally connected, others are specific patterns that players need to cleverly get on the board without the other players noticing and potentially grabbing the scoring card before them. These score cards are limited as well, so there is a bit of a race for who can score the cards first. Notably, a single play can lead to multiple cards being collected.

Of course, you can’t just place cards anywhere. They must be placed so that the color on each side of the card is not orthogonally adjacent to the same color. In this way, it helps build the patterns while also providing some restrictions to guide placement. Again, if you create a pattern that matches what is on offer, you can claim it. Also, after the first turn, a little stacking can take place. As long as you follow the other placement rules, your cards can cover other cards. Breaking a previous pattern doesn’t matter; once a card is claimed, it is owned by the player who scored it.

The game ends when all players have played their hand of cards. The player with the most points wins.

SECTRE

Components

SECTRE does feel handmade, which is pleasant. The cards are cardboard and feel good in the hand, but I do wonder about durability of them after manyplays of SECTRE. I welcome the lack of plastic in the game, but it could affect the length of time enjoying the game (although we’re talking decades, not just years). While I was looking at a prototype copy, the principles of the game company suggest it will feel similar. Nice to know your fun isn’t doing terrible things to the environment.

Thoughts on SECTRE

SECTRE is lighter, but still an abstract strategy game. Casual players sometimes won’t take to this kind of game, but ours mostly did. Of course, they were challenged by this GIPF-loving gamer, who won every game. Some players were frustrated when I would claim multiple cards with a single play, so this might be house-ruled away as a handicap.

The game operates on ground that is widely covered in the abstract strategy world, with the use of domino-style pieces and a grid board. At times, I thought of patterns from Hanging Gardens, the old game M, and a few others that wanted to do something new with this combo. Serious gamers will probably prefer something like Tash-Kalar for a game of placement and patterns, or maybe Kris Burm‘s GIPF project for a little less detail than one gets with Vlaada Chvatil’s work.

Yet, SECTRE works as a very light, almost party-level game that plays closer to traditional abstract strategy games like checkers and chess than with modern gamer games. Not every casual gamer is as grumpy as the crowd I schooled. Played quickly, SECTRE is an enjoyable pastime that handles up to six people, and that might be a hole in your collection. How many times can you play Tsuro in one night?

SECTRE comes to Kickstarter on November 15 with attractive pricing, free shipping and no guilt over another game being added to your shelf (and carbon footprint). For more information ahead of the Kickstarter, check our Freshwater Game Company on Facebook.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for SECTRE

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Publisher Freshwater Game Company provided a pre-release prototype for independent review.

5 Quick Questions About Mercenaries from Pearson Games

5 Quick Questions About Mercenaries from Pearson Games

Editor’s Note: As a kind of content geek, I try new formats. So, here’s a new interviewette for tabletop designers. We promise no TL;DR.

Let’s see how the Ryan Pearson of Pearson Games, designer of Mercenaries does, shall we?


BGB: Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Mercenaries?

Ryan Pearson: Mercenaries is a deck-building RPG with tactical movement, skirmish and dungeon crawling elements. Each player is a Mercenary, seeking to delve into a dungeon or location to clear out Monsters. As these are not grand heroes of valor- they only care about themselves. Only the player who lands the killing blow gets the EXP and victory points. Players use the EXP to buy new cards for their deck- which they’ll need to as monsters they kill also end up in their deck, gumming it up with cards that don’t do anything (until the end of the game for victory points). That combined with the games 6 x 6 grid and movement means you can manipulate other players by making it harder for them to reach a monster- or let something nasty charge towards them!

BGB: Making games is hard work, so you best have a great reason for making this thing. What inspired this game?

Ryan Pearson: Me (Ryan) and Colin (my Uncle) have had a long love of boardgames and RPGs including D&D, Descent, Summoner Wars, Dominion, Battlelore, Thunderstone, and (for more mature gamers) Hero Quest. We’d always make house rules to games to fix balancing issues, give them more bite or to get them just how we liked them. In a sort of epiphany moment, I exclaimed to Colin one day, “That’s exactly the mindset people who makes games have. Why don’t we?” So we did. We took inspiration from what we love about the games we like and used it as a basis for Mercenaries.

BGB: There are too many games out there. What hole in my game collection does this fill?

Ryan Pearson: We noticed that no game combined deck-building (a deck that cycles through constantly that you can add to) with tactical movement. It was always a pre-fixed deck or no battlefield. Further, deck-building games often rely on currency you have in your hand at that time. Making the focus of the game balancing your offense to kill monsters (or just beat their number a’la Top Trumps) and currency to buy new stuff. It lacks the bite of an RPG or a TCG – which is then often buffed up with random elements like dice rolls – and can be finished in half an hour. With Mercenaries, Monsters don’t just vanish as soon as they see a bigger number – you’ve got to whittle them down. You can buy cards for your deck as long as you meet the conditions (have enough EXP and specific requirements for each type of card – i.e., Healing Potions can only be purchased after you kill something).

The game is for longer gaming sessions with plenty of strategy, that doesn’t require a splatbook or endless notes. And the only luck is from what you draw (which you can manipulate with what you put in your deck and cards you play) and who ranged monsters target. If you thought Dominion, Thunderstone, or Descent needed to have a bit more going on, Mercenaries will satisfy that craving.

BGB: This is Boardgame Babylon, so out with your dirty secrets. What DON’T you want to tell me about this game?

Ryan Pearson: We’re planning to support it with free content. Sure we will have expansions packs which can be purchased, but we’re going to upload our own combinations of Monsters, Abilities, Skills, and Room cards for more adventures. And if fans email in their own combinations for adventures, we are happy to host them! So, while the base set of Mercenaries has 4 adventures, that number can grow once you cultivate more.

So there’s that, and that we are more like brothers than uncle & nephew. That includes the teasing.

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Mercenaries. Let’s wrap up with the key specifics (play time, number of players, and the link to the game) and also, since I think you can tell a lot about a person by understanding their sense of humor, what’s a good joke to close this interviewette?

Ryan Pearson: The game supports 2 to 4 players (5 if you include a DM to control the monsters) and can be played competitively or cooperatively. The game has 4 adventures which take approximately 3 hours to complete.

You can find out more about us at our website, which has links to the game and store.  You can also email us with questions.

Joke Time
Colin likes the classic jokes. A horse walks into a bar. The barman asks “Why the long face?”

DISCLOSURE: Boardgame Babylon is not liable for damage to your sensibilities from the jokes these game designers submit.

PRESS RELEASE: Janken Deck offers a new dimension to card games LIVE ON KICKSTARTER

PRESS RELEASE: Janken Deck offers a new dimension to card games LIVE ON KICKSTARTER

What would card games be like if the suits outranked each other like in Rock, Paper, Scissors? That was the question that led artist Jeffrey Daymont to create a new deck of playing cards, the Janken Deck. The deck uses five suits: Rock, Paper, Scissors, Water and Lizard. Each suit is “Stronger” than two other suits (Rock blunts Scissors and crushes Lizard) but is “Weaker” than the two others (Paper covers and Water erodes Rock). Every suit has the familiar ranks of Ace, King, Queen, on down to 2, plus its own Joker for more advanced games.

The games for the Janken deck range from the very simple (War) to the mind boggling (3-D Sudoku). Some games focus on the Rock, Paper, Scissors logic while some games are just more fun with five suits. The deck can be reduced to three suits for children’s games or you can combine the cards with a standard deck to play with nine suits at once. All of the official rules for the games can be found at JankenDeck.com. For players who would like to try their own hand at game theory there is a place on the website to submit your own favorite games for the deck.

“As soon as I came up with the concept for the deck I had all these game ideas. ‘How would you play solitaire with these cards? How would Hearts or Spades play differently?’ It’s so cliché to call anything a game changer, but this kinda literally changes the game!” Jeffrey Daymont, artist and creator

And where does the name “Janken” come from? In Japan, the hand game Rock, Paper, Scissors is called “Jan-Ken”. Not to mention it is a lot easier to say than “The Rock-Paper-Scissors-Water-Lizard Deck”.

The Background

California artist Jeffrey Daymont was inspired during an episode of Big Bang Theory when the character Sheldon explained the game “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock”, a game that was actually invented by Sam Kass and Karen Bryla years earlier. In this five weapon game you still try to outguess your opponent, but the odds of getting a tie are smaller. “The game sounds complicated but the math and geometry behind the concept are actually pretty simple” says Jeffrey, “and some of the best games have very simple foundations.”

“As far as I could tell, no one had made a deck like this already, so if I wanted one I’d have to make it myself. And If I was going to make it myself I’d better do it right!” After getting permission from Sam Kass to expand on his original idea Jeffrey started laying groundwork for his biggest art project to date.

About the Art

The goal was to keep a very traditional look to keep everything familiar to new players. The pips representing the suits are simple and bold, the face cards represent real kings and queens from history. “I think a main objective for classic face card designs was to make them hard to counterfeit. The patterns are pretty but that also makes it harder to cheat!”

The fifteen kings, queens, and jacks in the deck were chosen partly for their influence in history and partly for who had the best looking portraits and statues. The side arms and patterns were all chosen to reflect their respective cultures. The characters in the five jokers are all tricksters from folklore like China’s Monkey King and the Pacific North West’s Raven. Since there is no high card in the Janken Deck, all five aces get a big fancy pip too.

“You would think that coloring in a few square inches of art should be easy…  but every card needed to have a different look, a new arrangement of patterns and shapes. Every card that I finished was like solving a puzzle. Then I would start the next one, looking at the blank space and wonder ‘how am I going to make this one special too?’.”

Each deck of cards contains the whole art collection, but there will be some larger prints of the artwork available too.

About the Games

Designing the artwork for the cards was just the first challenge. The second part was creating fun games and writing rules that are easy to understand. The new element introduced with the Janken Deck is the idea of “Stronger” and “Weaker” suits. For any two suits, one is stronger and one is weaker. For example, Paper is stronger than Rock, so a 2 of Paper can beat a King of Rock. In games like “King of the Hill” you play stronger cards on top of weaker ones. In “Klondike” you can play a 5 of Paper on the stronger 6 of Scissors or 6 of Water. Each deck comes with a “Rule Card” and “Diagram Card” that shows the relationships between all five suits.

For more challenging games you can play with the Jokers. When these are in play, Weak suits become Strong, and Strong suits become Weak! “What’s fun for me is that I haven’t even figured out the best strategies for these games yet. Everyone will be starting on a level playing field and discovering tactics as they go!”

Of course the real challenge in game theory is creating an experience that is not too easy but not too hard. Something in that sweet spot that is challenging and fun so it is rewarding when you win. The games and puzzles at JankenDeck.com come in a variety of levels and many have easy and hard versions, so there should be something for everyone!

About Jeffrey Daymont and the Janken Deck:

Jeffrey Daymont is a Southern California artist who has been a professional juggler for over 30 years. The Janken Deck is his first project for the gaming community and he’s excited about finding a new way to entertain people through creativity.

Website: JankenDeck.com

email: jeff@jankendeck.com

Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1891787367/janken-deck

Campaign runs through November 20th, 2017