In the first part of the post-GenCon quick impression, I talked about a bunch of games that I had a chance to play a few times, not quite enough to really do an in-depth review of. This time around, I’ll be looking at some more games that I’ve only played once or twice, along with a bunch of games that I’ve only had the chance to read the rules and push a few pieces around solo. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring them to the table soon and give them the proper time they deserve. Hopefully, none of them will be horrible…
It’s always interesting to see how people feel after even just one play, especially since sometimes it’s the only chance players will give a game. Don’t make the first impression because the players didn’t fully get it or errors were made in the rules explanation and, what would have normally been a great game simply isn’t. On the other hand, some games that are horrible still make a decent enough first impression that they are invited again to the table, only to disappoint. Where will the following games fall? I’ll only be able to tell once I get them to the table a few times. For now, let’s just see what kind of first impression they make.
Core Worlds (Stronghold Games) by Andrew Parks: I’ve been curious about this 4X themed deck builder for a while now, especially after having played Eminent Domain a few times. I always find it interesting to see the different take two designers have on the same subject/mechanic and these two games could not be further apart. Eminent Domain is a short game, simple to explain but that still takes a certain amount of skill to play correctly while Core Worlds is a little more complex, longer and tells a better narrative.
In Core Worlds, players take on the roles of barbarian empires that are marching on to the center of the Empire, hoping to grab as many planets for themselves as possible. To do so, they will draft cards from a central pool, recruit units and take over planets. This is a deck builder at its core, but one with a strong narrative. This is insure by having the draw deck (from which the drafting pool will be selected) be divided into 10 stacks, each with increasingly powerful cards. Thus, you do get the feeling that your empire is weak at the start and gets more and more powerful. The game is certainly interesting but it’s not apparent at first what you are supposed to do or what is/isn’t a good move and at over 2 hours for your first game, it’s not clear how quickly you’ll be able to find that good path. Will bring it back to the table, but I’m guessing it’ll be easier to play once the app is out.
Doomtown: Reloaded (Alderac) by Dave Williams (II) and Mark Wootton: And another CCG is reborn after many years of slumber. I remember when this first came out in the mid 90s right at the time that the market was maturing and more interesting card games were coming out. While I was curious about it (I think I may even have gotten a deck or two), I never really got into it since I couldn’t find anyone to try it out (most people were still too taken by Magic to really commit to anything else). It did have a loyal following on the first go round, although it changed its release method once to adopt the more traditional method of expansions every 3-4 months.
When I heard it was coming back, I have to admit I was curious. It must mean something that Alderac decided to bring it back, especially since the RPG that spawned it has been kind of dead since the latest attempt at reviving it in 2006. Long story short, but I managed to get someone to pick up a copy at GenCon for me and I have to admit that, after a whole game, I kind of like what I see. It is dripping with theme (so much so that the rules can be kind of confusing at first) and, once you grasp the core of the gameplay, it is quite interesting. I do love the fact that first player is determined by a lowball poker hand and that combat is resolved also with a poker hand. This gives deck building a new dimension, with players trying to rig their decks to get the best possible hand. The fact that you draw poker hands very frequently also brings about something that you don’t see often in a CCG (or LCG): the idea of recycling. Yup, unlike most other games, you will reshuffle your discard pile at least once if not twice. So, unlike other games, you don’t have to hesitate quite so much in playing a card or discarding a card since you will probably see it again. Quite interesting and will definitively get more play.
Level 7 [Omega Protocol] (Privateer Press) by Will Schoonover: To say that Omega Protocol shares a lot with Xcom would be an understatement. After all, both games deal with small squad combat against a series of extraterrestrial invaders, both let the players customize said squad the way that they want and both games have a hardcore mode where if a character dies, it is dead for good. Where the two games are very different is that one is a tabletop game and the other is a video game (or at least it is for the moment…); one is a single player game (Xcom) and the other is a multiplayer games, where one of the players takes the role of the aliens; one has two different gameplay (tactical and grand strategic), while the other is only tactical (L7[OP]). Lots in common, in fact probably enough to recommend one to the fans of the other (unless you want the grand strategic side of things).
In Level 7 [Omega Protocol], up to 6 players will embark on a mad race to try and stop an alien mad scientist… wait, let me back up a bit here. Don’t want to spoil the story after all… Well, simply put, 1 player will play the aliens and the other 2 to 5 players will play each a member of Disco Squad (you know… Stayin’ Alive…). So far, pretty familiar to any dungeon crawling fans. Where the game shines or at least distinguishes itself is how the game ratchets up the tension. The Squad members cannot die until a certain amount of turns have passed, which is good. What is not good is that every action they take gives them a certain amount of Adrenaline points. Depending on your stance, you can only earn a certain amount of points, which in and of itself isn’t bad. Max out and the aliens get certain bonuses. Again, not so bad. The bad part is that what fuels the actions that the aliens can take come from… the Adrenaline points the Squads have earned. So… hurry up but not too much? Do a lot on your turn and give a lot of points to the opposition to move, spawn, and do other nasty things. Pretty neat and they have a great tutorial video up on youtube. It can be a fairly long game, but plans are underway to play the entire campaign (9 linked scenarios) at the next Stack Academy in the spring. Should be a lot of fun!
Fire in the Lake (GMT Games) by Mark Herman and Volko Ruhnke: Finally received my copy of Fire in the Lake, the COIN series game on the Vietnam War. This is my fourth game on Vietnam (after Vietnam, Hearts and Minds and Downtown) and I just can’t wait to get in on the table. I was fortunate to playtest a bit of this game way back in the fall of last year and what I had seen was a very interesting evolution of the COIN system. I’ve only had a chance to go over the rules so far, but from what I’m seeing, it’s up to the standards that have been set for the series so far. If you have experience with any other games of the series (Andean Abyss, A Distant Plain and Cuba Libre), then you should have no problem getting up to speed.
Fire in the Lake follows the tradition of the COIN series of putting the 1-4 players in the roles of 4 very different factions who have very different goals and thus, victory condition. It is a very asymmetric game, with each player having a different set of potential actions that they can do when their turn comes around. The game is driven by the action card, which gives a potential event that can be triggered along with the order in which the players can choose to play this turn or not. Acting on a card will prevent a player from acting on the next card flip and whether the player is first to act on a card or not will also change the potential actions they can take. Add to this that all players know what the next card will be (two cards are always flipped over, the current and the next), means that the players can somewhat plan their actions, but not too much. A very interesting, brain-burny kind of game. Love it and can’t wait to play with the final version!
Mint Tin Alien (subQuark) by David Rene Miller: Every once in a while (but really, not enough…) I get a request from a designer or from a publisher to take a look at a game that is on Kickstarter or that they are currently working on. Some of these games are really good (in which case I’ll happily do a review/preview) and sometimes I simply don’t talk about them because, while I might not enjoy the game, others might and I would do them a disservice by giving a bad review. If the game is really, really bad…
Mint Tin Aliens is one of those games that I didn’t know existed until David Miller got in touch with me to ask if I would take a look and I’m pretty happy to have gotten back to him! First things first: while this is not the final version (it’s not even on Kickstarter yet!), the prototype I got is pretty sweet and is of very high quality. The Mint Tin that is used for a box is great, the cards are clean and the rules are simple enough. The 2 players take on the roles of aliens who are visiting the planet to gather some Merit and become invasion leader. As such, this is a simple set collection game. On your turn, draw 2 cards, either from the face up cards or from the top of the draw, then play a set of cards to gain one of the award cards. If you can’t reduce your spaceship (a d10, really) by 1. Game ends when all the awards card have been claimed.
This is a very simple, fast game that is made as much for the gamer looking for a quick fix or for non-gamers who want to see what the fuss is about. I need to bring this to the table and I’m pretty sure it’ll take its place in the 2-player filler category.
Tragedy Looper (ZMan Games) by BakaFire: To say that the Japanese are making strange board games would be somewhat of an understatement. This is perhaps one of the most unique games in my collection, and not just because of theme. The structure of the game, the way it is presented as well as the graphic treatment are all quite unique. The game comes with 2 rules booklet, one for the Protagonists (those who will attempt to solve the intrigue) and one for the Mastermind (the player who is manipulating the various characters and attempting to make sure that the tragedies do take place). With the game being a mystery, simply reading the Protagonist rule book isn’t quite enough to fully understand what the game is about. Only once you’ve read both rule books do you start to understand what’s going on. It’s a little bit like an RPG, but where the game master is trying to make sure the players lose.
In Tragedy Looper the players are time travellers who are attempting to stop a series of tragedies from happening. In order to do this, they need to “win” one time loop or guess what the roles of the various characters were (ie, figure out who was doing what). Each time loop is made up of a number of days, during which the Mastermind and the players will be playing cards on the various locations and characters. The cards will affect whether or not the characters will move (and where they will go), whether or not their paranoia level go up or down (which can possibly trigger a tragedy, good for the Mastermind), and whether or not their goodwill level goes up or down (which can trigger special powers, good for the players). Once a tragedy occurs, the time loop is over and the board is reset to its initial position (back in time to the start of the situation!). This seems like it can be a very clever game, but I do wish that the cards were a little lighter (some of the text is hard to read in low light) and I’m guessing it will take at least a full game for everyone to understand what’s going on and how to play correctly. Should be very, very interesting.
Level 7 [Invasion] (Privateer Press) by Will Schoonover: The last part of the Level 7 trilogy (with Level 7 [Escape] being the first), this time the scope goes even bigger. Essentially a wargame where the main baddy is played by the game, the players must work together to not only keep the alien menace under check, but also make sure that Dr Chronos (who’s responsible for the mess in the first place) can stay safe and finish working on the technology that will be needed to deal with the invaders. Not the most original of plots, but still more than enough to make the game work.
The game is mostly one of combat and resource management. To gain any units or tech, you need resources and in order to keep up your Military Industrial Complex, you need resources (food). As the players lose territories, they lose some of the resources they need but even if they get back the territories, they will never be able to produce at the same level again. The players also have to deal with keeping their Terror levels as low as possible, since this may also affect their production levels. Combat is fairly straightforward, with the biggest issue being keeping in mind who is the attacker and who is the defender. I’m not completely convinced as to whether or not this should have added a little more “backstabbiness” to make it more interesting, as the way it stands, there is no reasons to not cooperate with each other. Will report back once I’ve played a few games.
Well, there you have it, the second part. There’s plenty more games left to talk about and hopefully I’ll be able to get a few to the table in the very near future.