Review: Thanos Rising by USAOPOLY

Review: Thanos Rising by USAOPOLY

Thanos Rising is a winning cooperative game for 2-4 players that has garnered BGB’s highest rating. Read on to learn more:

Gamers, both video gamers as well as board gamers, have been disappointed for so many years so many times when a great movie or TV show gets turned into a terrible play experience.

As somebody who worked in the video game industry for many years and made games for many Disney properties, I know that there are additional challenges that are faced when you have to work with a licensed product. Sometimes you don’t know the exact story and you still have to make a game anyway. At other times there are restrictions put into place by the IP holders. Yet sometimes it’s just a lazy publisher or designer figuring they don’t need to work that hard because the property is so popular. This happens A LOT, particularly with one publisher in particular.

Thank goodness this didn’t happen with USAopoly’s enjoyable, thematic Thanos Rising.

Thanos Rising
What’s the big deal, scrotum-chin? I’m holding them in my BARE HAND.

I don’t think I’m in the minority when I say that Avengers: Infinity War was a great cinematic experience. I’m baffled by the naysayers (presumably DC fanboys and people who just hate fun). I call myself a fan but not raging fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some of the films are fantastic, others definitely fall short of that description. I was never a serious comic book reader but I’m impressed with the way Marvel has put out fairly consistent films in the last 10 years and Infinity War is probably the best of the lot. So I came to this game wanting to enjoy it and, frankly, a little fearful that it would fall short. I’m glad to say that didn’t happen.

Taking on the Mad Titan

Thanos Rising is a cooperative game that plays in about 45 minutes with 2 to 4 players playing on a three space board around an awesome Thanos statue. Players take on the role of a leading Marvel character who’s responsible for gathering at team of heroes and defeating villains (your pick of Captain America, Black Panther, Gamora or Dr. Strange). Thanos himself is far too powerful to actually defeat so you aren’t going to be asked to actually take down the mad titan in the game. Instead, you win the game by defeating seven or more of his villains while working to save and recruit other heroes to your team.

Thanos Rising

That’s the only way to win the game, but there are three different ways you can lose. First, Thanos can defeat 10 heroes in the game with his strikes that happen before each player around. Two, he can defeat any one of the players entirely by wiping out their team. Lastly, he can collect all six of the Infinity Stones. I am fond of the deep theming here and how it adds tension to the game.

Roll For The Multiverse

The narrative of the game is created through a series of die rolls each turn, in the style of many cooperative games where the players and the game each get a turn. In Thanos Rising, the big purple baddie goes first, with two die rolls determining his progress on collection of an Infinity Stone and some other element. For the stones, he needs to roll that same one five times and then he gets the stone, making future rolls for that stone cause grief for the heroes. The latter die has him an attack heroes, activate villains or make another step towards acquiring a stone.

Player turns are quick but provide simple options about how to contain Thanos. You deploy to one of the places on the board and then get your own dice to roll and act. You begin with a few dice depending on your character and you can improve your dice pool by acquiring other heroes. In this way, the game borrows a bit from Quarriors, a game I thought was a good idea that never really worked as well as I would have liked. To acquire a hero, you need to roll the right icons on your dice.

We Have A Hulk

Bigger heroes like the Hulk or Iron Man are tougher than pushovers like Hawkeye, so it behooves you to acquire the easier ones first. With three cards in each vector, there is bound to be someone who can help, especially since many of the characters are complementary. This is maybe the heart of the design working; USAopoly’s design team didn’t cop out and just say, “They’ll want to acquire Black Widow because Scarlett Johansson is on the card.” Instead, they made the abilities make sense for the character. This is not too much to ask, but it is often overlooked by lazy people who spend a lot of money on licensed games.

Back to it – so, if you recruit heroes, they add to your team in the future, offering you their special ability. These can range from extra dice to special powers to affect the collection of the Infinity Stones. It is definitely worth adding to your team and discussing with the other players which hero should join which team.

There is another reason to recruit heroes. When Thanos hits a vector, he hits all the heroes there waiting to be recruited. If they die, they are out of the game and that helps Thanos win. If you recruit damaged villains, you get them back at full power. Thus, it makes sense to let them take a little fire and then pull them out before they are defeated…if you can do it. I really like this factor that makes you take chances with the heroes’ lives.

Say Goodbye To The Villains

The other main option is to defeat villains from Thanos’ team (since you can’t just knock Thanos Risingout the guy himself). Similar to the way you recruit, you use your dice to roll enough to defeat the villains. Some are generic villains you can knock off with one or two rolls. Others need enough firepower that you had better recruit some help before you go. There is a very real gameplay reason to defeat them, too. When they activate, their abilities range from annoying to devastating. So, that element may play into which ones you target. You also get bonus tokens when beating villains, which helps motivate their defeat (against endlessly adding to your team).

As I said, this is also how you win the game and you can set the difficulty of the game for between 7 and 10 villains to defeat to win. Experienced gamers will want to set it high for a real challenge. I like the easy variability of that setting, which calls back to Pandemic, one of the classics in the genre of cooperative games.

We have played Thanos Rising a half dozen times and it has been tense and fun each play. The richness of the character collection weighing against the villains containment and the stone gathering is just right for a game that plays in 45 minutes. Like the best thematic games from films (looking at you, Star Wars: Rebellion), Thanos Rising unfolds like your own version of a story you enjoyed. We expect to play it for many years to come.

End Game

Look, if you are a Warner Brothers apologist that tries to convince your friends that the DC movies aren’t THAT bad just because Gal Godot is magnificent as Wonder Woman (she really is), you may not like Thanos Rising for reasons that have nothing to do with this very fine game.

But if you’re one of the zillions who loved Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War, this is a worthy addition to your game collection. Thanos Rising is snappy cooperative game that will engage with both theme and nice design touches that keep the game clean. This is on a shelf with go-to games this year. I expect it to make my dime list for sure.

The components are solid, with quality cards and all but it is that massive, cool Thanos figure that makes this production. We love it so much, it’s on a coveted shelf in our game library.

Thanos Rising

Thanos Rising has been a huge hit with our gaming group, from casual gamers to serious folks that saw it as a pleasant super-filler. The game has staying power, I’m sure. Here’s hoping that USA-opoly gives us an expansion when Avengers: End Game comes out.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Thanos Rising

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

5 Quick Questions about Raccoon Tycoon with Glenn Drover

5 Quick Questions about Raccoon Tycoon with Glenn Drover

Editor’s Note: As a kind of content geek, I try new formats. So, here’s an interviewette for tabletop designers. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Glenn Drover, the legendary designer of hot new game Raccoon Tycoon (published by Forbidden Games), shall we?

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

Glenn: Raccoon Tycoon is an easy to learn (and teach) game of commodity speculation, auctions, set-collection, and tableau building set in the gilded age in Astoria (a land of anthropomorphic animals). The artwork by Annie Stegg is insanely beautiful, and together with the shallow learning curve makes the game appealing to a wide demographic: families and non-gamers, while the multiple strategies and challenging decisions will make it appealing to core gamers.

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

Glenn: My wife finally played Catan with friends last year and hated it. This shocked me, so I asked her why. She told me that she was frustrated by having to wait for her turn, and then often not being able to do much or anything if her numbers didn’t come up. That night I decided to design a game that would appeal to Catan fans (Gateway à Gamers) with commodities, low luck, and where you could ALWAYS do something interesting on your turn. Raccoon Tycoon was born.

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

Glenn: The game that you will play with non-gamers or casual gamers who you want to bring into the gaming world…or anyone who likes Catan or Ticket to Ride and is ready for the next great Gateway Game.

Raccoon Tycoon
Editor’s Note: I have never heard of this publication.

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

Glenn: It used to have a really annoying mechanic where you had to draw a bunch of cubes every turn to change the price and supply in the market. Dan Vujovic suggested that a card mechanic would be cleaner. After months of resistance (I really like the perfect supply/demand impact of the cube draw), I relented and created the Price/Production cards that drive the market now. They not only worked better, they gave the player another interesting (and sometimes agonizing) decision.

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Raccoon Tycoon! 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?

Glenn: Time: 60 – 90 minutes, Players: 2 – 5, Learning Curve: 2/5, Strategy: 4/5

Joke

What’s the difference between a dead Raccoon in the road and a run over copy of Monopoly?
A: There are skid marks in front of the Raccoon.

The game is now LIVE on Kickstarter

BGB at Gathering of Friends 2018

BGB at Gathering of Friends 2018

The Gathering of Friends remains a highlight of my gaming year. The trip to Niagara Falls (the US side) is worth it in order to get an early look at many games that the world will see later in the year at Spiel. As it happens, many games I really wanted to see last year were off the radar due to my intense last six months of life and work getting in the way of games. What can you do?

GOF for me this year was affected by a commitment to playtest a Legacy game that meant I would be playing a long series of the same game. I cannot comment on the game but I will say that it was certainly excellent and one people will be thrilled to see when it finally sees the light of day. I also happily had a chance to playtest both of my front-burner games: Theme Park and Cosplay Showdown (recently renamed).

What follows is a brief list of played games that I had a chance to try out (part 1):

Keyflow

Richard Breese’s excellent card game version of his hit game, Keyflower, is a prototype I sought out after recommendations from many other people at the Gathering. The various mechanisms that made Keyflower so popular are there, including the ability to use a building built by others, different worker types, and the farmland expansion theme. Many elements of the original are simply boiled down into cards instead of a map, Breese has made a lighter take on the game’s place-and-upgrade concept. While the theme doesn’t engage me particularly, I like the mechanisms and look forward to playing it more when it arrives later in the year. Richard said it is scheduled for a Spiel 2018 release. As you can see below, I was not alone in my appreciate for his latest game.

The Mind

If there was a game of the convention, it was The Mind. This ridiculously simple concept takes The Game and amps up the experience by providing players with a more open play style. You need to ‘read the mind’ of the other players to play your cards that go from 1-100 in ascending order during the game. Beginning with one card and scaling up from there depending on the number of players, you need to simply drop the cards in the right order into the pile in the middle of the table. There are no turns; you just decide if you’re the one with the next highest card to play.

The only thing is: Your only clues to determine whether you should play are the non-verbal cues of your fellow players. No words or real signs are to be passed, but you find ways. While I played the game with many people, I seemed to do best with Richard Breese and Rik Van Horn, although we lost on Level 6. Playing with my buddy Jeff was pretty solid as well, but you never know whose brainwaves might work best.

If you get into a bind, there are shuriken stars that can be used to force everyone to discard their lowest card. To ‘throw one,’ all players must raise their hands in unison, agreeing that they do not have confidence in their next play. This both gets you out of the bind and gives you a sense of the lay of the land with the remaining player hands.

If you fail to collectively play the cards in consecutive order, you lose a glowing ghost bunny card – which is somehow ‘a life.’ Yes, some of those sentences had odd moments, didn’t they? The theme of The Mind appears to involve incorporeal rabbit ninjas. I don’t understand it either but the game is a winner and it was in constant play at the Gathering. It’s due out from Pandasaurus Games soon and it will be a hot item. Pre-order now!

Transatlantic

A new-to-me game that I wanted to play since this came out at Spiel in 2017, I Gathering of Friends 2018expected to like it because Concordia from designer Mac Gerdts is one of my favorite recent games. This one takes much of the feel of his previous game and changes the theme to be ships in the transition from the age of sail to the age of steam. There’s still this vaguely deck-building thing going on, but it’s suppressed even further by less frequent opportunities to add to your options. Instead, you buy ships based on their age, speed, cargo capacity, and tonnage.

These elements help you place the ships into service on certain ocean boards, which can only contain three ships at a time. When ships sail (some of the deck cards lets you do this), you get cash. When they are inevitably pushed out of the sea by newer, better ships, you score the ships based on your investment in that type of ship, with bonuses based on previously retired ships in that category. The various cards give you powers to optimize, break and manipulate rules as you acquire ships, sometimes providing a little money to opponents when you call for all ships in an ocean to sale, and plan for their eventual trip to the scrap heap after a few coal-driven voyages.

This may seem like a lot but it is maybe even lighter than Concordia in some ways. The concepts of the Prefect, Diplomat and the like are present in this buy, ship and invest game but I enjoyed how Gerdts reimplemented many of them into similar ideas to keep the feel of Concordia without just duplicating it. I liked Transatlantic quite a bit and expect to acquire it in the days ahead.

Merlin

This collaboration from the reliable Stefan Feld and the similarly so
Michael Rieneck is a solid middleweight euro with an enjoyably integrated theme Gathering of Friends 2018that shines in the components and some mechanisms. Players use a kind of rondel to acquire items and enact actions, using dice that command how far you can move. In addition to your ‘knight’ dice that only let your pawn move clockwise around the Round Table Rondel (which kind of reminds me of Burgen Land), you also get a Merlin die each turn that lets you move clockwise or counter so. But he’s a neutral pawn so timing your move is an issue if others are out to take their turn first. This works well and you play it over the course of six rounds, with attacks from brigands and such happening every other turn (like so many Feld ‘punishment’ mechanisms). Publisher Queen’s production quality helps, too, with flag, staff and shield tokens looking good. While there are many things going, this is Feld in approachable mode like Notre Dame. While not everyone likes Stefan Feld’s ‘point salads’ (as we call now derisively reference what we used to lovingly call ‘multiple paths to victory’), the ones that successfully blend the flavors win me over big time (Castles of Burgundy does, Luna does not). I’d called Merlin a solid entry into his ludography. I don’t need to buy it right away but I’d probably trade to get it and explore the system more.

Gathering of Friends 2018

 

Karuba: The Card Game

The SDJ nominee has staying power for our group and Gathering of Friends 2018the clever, quick card game version may join it on my shelves if I can find it for a decent price. While Karuba plays in 30 minutes and feels like a real game, the card game can be knocked out in 15 minutes and it STILL feels pretty solid. You’re still trying to get your adventurers to their color-coded treasures with tiles that include paths through the jungle. Players ‘bid’ two tiles a turn, with the lowest total losing a tile each round. Then, you play the tiles to connect the explorers with their color-coded temple without running over each other but hopefully both using good paths that will help you pass gold and crystals along the way. It’s fast and will appeal to casual gamers just as the original did.

More to come later in the week…

PRESS RELEASE: Monumental: The Board Game launched by Funforge and designer Matthew Dunstan

PRESS RELEASE: Monumental: The Board Game launched by Funforge and designer Matthew Dunstan

Funforge has launched a new Kickstarter for MONUMENTAL: The Board Game, an epic game of civilization, conquest and expansion by Matthew Dunstan. Per the Monumental FB page, here is a brief description of the game:

“In Monumental: The Board Game, each player leads a unique civilization. How will you shape your destiny, and how will history remember you? Dare you succeed as a warmonger, as a pioneer of cultural and scientific progress, or an architect of a great city and remarkable Wonders? Only the player with the most impressive civilization at the end of the game will win!

The aim of the game is to develop your civilization, by constructing new buildings and wonders in your City, achieving new scientific knowledge and cultural development, and using your military power to conquer new provinces.”

  • TRIC TRAC: “Designed specifically for Kickstarter, so that players have a great deal of fun playing it”.
  • CANARD PC“Nothing to say, civilization board game lovers feel at home”.
  • SYFANTASY“EXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. Such an atmosphere reminds us of the best civilization games. As far as gameplay is concerned, there is a strong deckbuilding aspect with multiple strategic combos. And, best of all, Funforge decided to add minis to these mechanics, giving an extra dimension to the game.”
  • GEEK MAGAZINE“A deck-building and conquest civilization game that is innovative, dynamic and fun, playable in less than 2 hours – we recommend it!”

Stay up to date about Monumental: The Board Game with Funforge social channels:

  • Monumental FB page: @MONUMENTALboardgame
  • Funforge FB page: @Funforge
  • Twitter: @funforge
  • Instagram: @funforge

No word on review copies but many gameplay videos are online showing off the game being played. The miniatures alone are worth a look. Hoping to play it at the Gathering of Friends in a few weeks’ time but the campaign will be over by the time I reach Niagara Falls…

PREVIEW: Edge of Darkness from John D. Clair and Alderac

PREVIEW: Edge of Darkness from John D. Clair and Alderac

When playing Edge of Darkness, I immediately thought about the fact that I don’t play Dominion anymore.

While the brilliance of the deck-building concept was thrilling when it came out, many of the games that followed it improved upon the original Donald X. Vaccarino design. The most compelling, in my view, are those that use it as a mechanism within a more significant game like Reiner Knizia’s Quest for El Dorado or, more magnificently, Concordia.

Edge of Darkness has done that for Card Crafting, the clever mechanism introduced by designer John D. Clair and Alderac Entertainment Group. Thankfully, it didn’t take a decade for them to follow the title that introduced this concept, the still-excellent Mystic Vale. But if that first game introduced us to Card Crafting in a simpler format of deck-building to VP glory, Edge of Darkness explores fascinating new applications of the mechanism in a satisfying game that has significant depths to explore.

Edge of Darkness, in fact, brings many much-loved mechanisms into its story of perhaps morally ambiguous Guild Masters seeking glory by defending their city. There’s worker placement, drafting, hand-management, semi-collaborative deck-building, and even a fricking awesome cube tower reminiscent of Wallenstein. It’s a complex and interesting game with a ton of variation, likely to provide long hours of enjoyable play. I’m excited for it to launch to Kickstarter this week after playing it at Strategicon‘s Orccon 2018 this weekend.

Guild Masters Get Ready: Overview

In Edge of Darkness, each player is a Guild Master trying to be the greatest leader in town through control of a central deck of cards, training their staff, and defending the city against incursions by evil folks. For some reason, this city was built right near a means of big baddies coming in. Did they learn nothing from Tolkien? Thriving cities in earshot of Black Towers are a bad thing. In real estate, it’s ‘location, location, location’. Yet, these folks built their city in a spot wherein some game designer could come by and tell the tale of their plight in a game called Edge of Darkness. What a bunch of chuckleheads.

But I digress. These Guild Masters want to defend the city but mostly they want to win. While there are various ways to do that, sometimes the bad guys come through, they hit everyone and sometimes they hit just one guild. So, you need to be ready.

As played, your Guild Masters draft cards from the board, upgrade one of them, and then play them out to take actions. Some of these actions require you to send an agent to the location to provide an advantage or take an action that might be immediate or setting things up for a future activity or event.

Edging Into The Game

The drafting is straightforward. Select the first card in line or play Influence markers (one of the game’s currencies) to skip it and take the next one. Interestingly, when those Influence markers are claimed by a player in the future, they aren’t just reusable. They flip over and transform into Good Will, a third currency which is really just a 1/4 victory point. I rather like this concept because it doesn’t have the utility of money normally used in this kind of mechanism, but it also isn’t entirely stripped of value. In many cases, players will skip cards that are highly desirable to their competitors so this prevents Influence from overly-sweetening the selection for the card. It’s a very nice touch.

Edge of Darkness

The opportunity to upgrade is another point where Edge of Darkness shines. While my one game (thus, this is a preview and not a ‘review’) was played with a standard set of ten upgrades, Clair has five times that number ready in case Edge of Darkness takes off like it should and it hits all the stretch goals. In the game, these upgrades are done without cost but only one is generally taken and it has to go on one of the cards in your hand into an open slot.

Primer: Card Crafting

If you aren’t familiar with Card Crafting, quickly: You acquire cards that you slide into sleeves so their attributes are added to a card already in the deck. It’s a development of Keith Baker’s Gloom mechanism where transparent overlays affect cards, but it’s elegantly done with a three-slot concept Clair created. Cards begin with one or no slots open and develop over time as you upgrade them. You can also find this mechanism in the second game Card Crafting game, Custom Heroes, which is a bit like Tichu with cards you can upgrade.

Edge of Darkness amps this up further because the upgrades are double-sided. More on that later.

Drafted cards have ownership as well. While each player has a certain number they own, there are also generic cards they can acquire in the game. When playing them, your own and generic cards are free to use. If you draft another player’s card, you’ll need to pay one gold each to use the (up-to-three) actions on the cards.

Edge of Darkness

This concept makes for another intriguing part of the design. Ownership gets you more income (which normally requires actions), which offers versatility and 1/4 victory points at the end of the game if you don’t spend it all or convert them more efficiently with one of the actions.

After upgrades, you play your cards and potentially use the actions on them. These often require agents to be played to the location associated with the action type, worker-placement style. Some are simple enough to just let you take money or Influence, make your guild agents usable (some begin the game untrained), or to take arms against the bad guys. Others are more subtle, helping you acquire ownership of generic cards in the central deck or trading gold for VP, or even increasing your hand size. Managing the preparations for war isn’t all there is but it’s a key component so let’s talk about the bad people coming out of the mighty Threat Tower.

The Threats Keep Coming

Next to your board when you play Edge of Darkness is the great Threat Tower. Evoking Tolkien’s Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower of the 80’s board game and also the Cube Tower used in Wallenstein, Amerigo, and other games, this edifice holds three bad cards at once and has an opening up top where players drop cubes of various player colors. Players acquire new cubes to drop in each round based on the cards in their three-card hand. When eight cubes drop into the area for one of the three cards, that baddie attacks the player who has the most cubes in there. Notably, there are also a fair number black cubes in the bag from which players draw them. If black has the majority (ties count), then all players are attacked.

The bad guys, interestingly, are cards from the deck. The back of the transparent upgrade and action cards are attacking hoards of evil. This clever idea helps increase difficulty as you build up powerful up the cards in the shared deck.

If you take the attack, you lose points on a personal track on your guild board. Attacks can be mitigated by some spaces where you have agents and defending successfully awards points. Some actions let you kill these guys as the cubes built up, as well. Hunting the threats can let you use the normally worthless Citizen actions (one that is common on the starting cards) to go kill a threat that might have too many of your cubes in it. Efficiently done, you can prep and hit them in the same turn but the subtleties of how this and some similar concepts work is another one of the strengths of the game’s design.

Played over eight turns, Edge of Darkness clocks in about two hours but it didn’t feel that long. While the game plays 2 to 4 players, I would expect a head-to-head game to last less time and be less compelling than playing with three or four. The components with which we played were not final except for the art. The work, done by Alayna Lemmer-Danner, is uniformly excellent and powerfully ties to the theme.

Final Thoughts

Edge of Darkness is a winning use of Card Crafting and an elegantly wrought game. Without a doubt, it’s the most satisfying of the Card Crafting games so far, maybe because of its sheer grandeur but also because it allows this innovative concept to work well with others. I see Edge of Darkness as the fulfillment of the promise of Card Crafting and expect it to be extremely popular with gamers seeking a satisfying experience with some coopetition built-in (one of my favorite things).

Edge of Darkness

While new players might be slightly overwhelmed by the number of cards, those that are used to Dominion and other deck-builders should take easily to the various mechanisms available. In our game, the most lost player had it down by turn three and was raring to play again after we played it. I narrowly lost EoD but I know what I’d do differently next time I play and I’m looking forward to it. That is a very good sign indeed.

Official Boardgame Babylon rating pending for more plays but will likely be on the top end. Edge of Darkness launches on Kickstarter February 20th.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Edge of Darkness

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

Disclosure: Designer John D. Clair personally taught our game and images are of a play-test copy of the game.

Review: Kokoro by Eilif Svensson and Kristian Amundsen Østby via Indie Board and Card Games

Review: Kokoro by Eilif Svensson and Kristian Amundsen Østby via Indie Board and Card Games

Take It Easy is the game I always associate with the ‘draw and everyone place’ game mechanism. What each player can make of the options as they come out is an interesting way to resolve things. Whether it is done for pattern-matching like Take It Easy, Mosaix and Wurfel Bingo or path-building like in SDJ nominee Karuba and Kokoro designers’ own Doodle City, there is a lot of mileage in it. The new Kokoro from IBG takes on the path-making concept in Karuba, turning that concept into a different and possibly more satisfying game.

Kokoro plays 1-8 players, with each one claiming a dry-erase grid map with gardens and sanctuaries on it. Five of the six sanctuaries on the board will score based on the number of objects (caterpillars and flowers, for reasons unknown to this writer) the paths connects to them. Each turn, a tile is drawn by the Caller (ahem, the oldest player) and all players draw the path on it right on their board. These paths are simple lines or pairs making various curves that connect two sides of a tile. Once a tile is covered, you cannot overwrite it so players need to be cautious about building their connections effectively for this scoring round and future ones. This is key and a good warning to everyone early on; while it is easy to just write in any old shape on a tile, it’s important to take a longer view about how it might isolate caterpillars and flowers you want to score later.

The current sanctuary is your focus, but the other option for players is to not draw from that tile and take a peek at the next sanctuary. This way, if a particular tile is no help at all, players can use this option to plan ahead. Ideally, when drawing, players try to not just plan for the current sanctuary but look ahead to connect to others. This is a good idea for general efficiency but also because the game requires increasing success. Each sanctuary score must be higher than the last one or the player suffers a -5 point penalty. Tiles are drawn until four gold tiles come out, which represent about 1/3 of the tiles in the stack. As a result, some sanctuaries will get outsized opportunities to score versus others. This element makes the planning a little more serious than this cute game would imply. I find it to be a great feature and it’s a lot of the appeal of the game, in my view.

kokoro

The basic game is that, but the box comes with two more expansions and I recommend playing with those unless you have extremely casual players. They aren’t too difficult to incorporate, really just adding some basic variations to how to score the game. These options open up the game even more, giving players more choices when a tile comes up than just isn’t right for the current sanctuary. Kokoro is a bit unforgiving, however. If you screw up early, it can be difficult to recover from initial bad choices. I do think the game should have some kind of mulligan option to let you remove a single tile that could help you get back on track. We had one cranky player during one of our sessions who played improperly early and fussed through the whole game. It’s only a quarter of an hour, of course, so a fouled-up play isn’t a real tragedy. On to the next game, I say.

That said, Kokoro wins big points for scaling wonderfully from 1 to 8 players and offering an enjoyable time in 15 minutes of play. The components are nice, the artwork is utterly charming, and the box is compact enough to pop into the bag whenever you go gaming. Kokoro is a winner in my view and I think it belongs in the collection of gamers who want a filler for the big crowd to play at the beginning before breaking into other games.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Kokoro

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

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) does, 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.