Saturday Gaming Spark: The Edge district

Shanties and dilapidated buildings surround much of the city proper. Referred only as the Edge by the local residents, the city’s poor and gangs call this district their home. Continual wars among thieves guilds are tolerated by the city guard, provided that they keep their violence to the narrow strip of terrain that skirts the walls. Most are keen to simply throw transgressors of local crime over the edge. A simple means of street justice and an even easier way to dispose of bodies. Link.

Saturday Gaming Spark: The bayou beast

No one knows what lies out in the dark swamps. Some claim it’s just a huge gator. Other say a black anaconda that somehow got transplanted north. Toothless Murphy, the town drunk and hermit, claims he’s seen a tentacled monster that crawls up on the land. Most dismiss that as alcohol fueled prattle, since everyone knows Murphy is prone to drinking his own concoction of potent brew.

Regardless in the deep, black waters some fiendish creature lurks. What was once a monthly occurrence of a lone cow or goat disappearing has now become more frequent. Recent rumors of lone travelers disappearing adds to the worries of locals. Link.

Review: BattleLore 2ed

BattleloreBoxFantasy Flight decided to roll out a new edition of their 2 player fantasy wargame, BattleLore. It uses the Command and Colors system where the board is split into 3 sections (center, and a right and left flank). Using a common deck, players alternate playing a single card to issue commands to units based on what is listed on that card. Sometimes you can get lucky issuing several commands to units throughout the board, but commonly you’ll have to stick with moving a few units in one or two sections of the board. It’s a fun little system that uses a simple idea to model the fog of war and limitations on command.

Players take command of either the Daqan (humans) or the demonic Uthuk armies. Each faction army is comprised of 5 units, including a single monstrous creature. Play is pretty simple. You play a command card activating units listed on the card that are in the appropriate board section. All units move. Then the same units can attack by either shooting at targets in LOS and range (if they can use ranged attacks), or adjacent units if only capable of melee attacks. Afterwards there is a special phase where lore cards and resources are obtained.

Each unit has a simple list of basic stats for movement, number of attack dice, and total number of casualties which can be taken before being eliminated. Units can’t be stacked within a hex and movement is limited by terrain and other units (even friendly units). Maneuvering into avenues of attack is critical though for combat which is also an affair.

For combat, you just roll dice equal to the unit’s combat stat. Shooting will inflict a casualty 1 out of 6, while a full strength melee unit has a 1 in 3 chance of inflicting a casualty. Added to this are retreat results. Each retreat result forces the target to move one hex directly away from the attacker. If they cannot move (say they are backed up against impassable terrain or would have to move into enemy units), the retreat results inflict casualties instead. If the unit is flanked by friendly units, they can ignore each retreat result for each adjacent supporting unit.

While casualties are a thing to go after, retreating units is also an important tactic. Especially as the attacking unit can move into the recently unoccupied hex. Players will soon find that you need to position units to attack swiftly, and be supported by friendly units if wanting to hold territory. Additionally, while units can counter attack commonly they are going to suffer a retreat instead. Having a unit to support them means they can take the fight to the enemy instead of just being trounced on and forced to flee. Along with hits for shooting and melee are results to add lore or potentially utilize special abilities for some units. While not every troop type has a die combat effect, they all have special characteristics to give them some interesting tactical uses.

Each army also has a deck of lore cards. These range from massively powerful abilities to useful tactical command orders. They require spending a certain amount of lore tokens and are played only once a turn during specific times (as stated on the cards). Players can gain lore tokens each turn or possibly from the result of combat. This is a fun facet of the game and allows for some flexibility in issuing commands. If a player can’t get the right command in his hand of 4 cards, then usually he can get a lore card to help in activating key units.

The game is won by the first player that gains 16 victory points (or the one that eliminates the enemy, whichever happens first). Board setups will commonly have 2-3 banner markers that indicate key terrain features. When you start your turn with a unit on these markers, you gain victory points. Additionally each army will have victory point conditions for specific scenarios. You’ll find yourself getting about 1-2 victory points a turn if things are going well. Meaning a game usually lasts about nine or ten turns in total.

There are 7 army-specific scenario cards which depict special terrain on their half of the board and victory conditions for that army. These are secretly chosen and revealed simultaneously. Players then go about buying units from a pool of 50 points (or use one of the 3 suggested, preselect armies provided). After setting up terrain on their half of the board, players then deploy cards representing army units face down in their deployment zone. Scattered among these unit cards are also decoys to fill out a total deck of 18. As players alternate placing one unit after another, maybe they are deploying a unit in their army, or possibly they are deploying nothing using a decoy card.

I’m convinced I haven’t gotten into this deployment step too deeply, that potentially using a lot of decoys first and seeing how strong your opponent deploys into a board section is something to consider when doing troop setup. However you end up with some decent variety between games. Between the combinations of each faction’s 7 scenarios and the choices of unit army selections, you can squeeze a lot of repeated game play out of BattleLore.

The Good – This is a fun, light little wargame. For its simplicity it offers some challenging choices in deciding what units to activate. Thrown into this are the lore cards which can be a huge boon, or chuck a monkey wrench into the opponent’s solid battle plan. You never seem to have enough command cards and are constantly trying to do the best you can with limited options. There is also a fair amount to variation with the scenarios and unit choices.

The components are very nice, with pleasant art on the cards, thick (and plenty of) tokens, and sturdy terrain tiles. The figures are great and made of a hard(ish) plastic. They allow for a pleasant tactile feel of pushing around units and indicating casualties by removing figures. Certainly a nice touch over just using tokens or wooden blocks.

The Bad – Combat is simple. Maybe too simple for some and certain tactics repeatedly creep in. The game awards those who strike first. However judicious use of terrain and supporting units in key locations seems a decent counter. Yet combined with the lore cards and limited command cards, some might be frustrated with the few options. Additionally, you aren’t quite rolling 6+ dice in attacks, so you can get that occasionally lucky streak of die rolls in combat (or exceedingly awful luck).

Lastly, there are some legs with the scenarios but the truncated number of available units cuts into the replay some. There are a decent amount of options but I suspect it being a 2 player game, certain well-trodden strategies for army composure and selected scenarios will begin to slip in. There is a fair amount of variation within Battlelore but with some limits in its long term replayability.

The Verdict – BattleLore is an enjoyable game. The rules and systems are not overwhelming. I certainly feel this would make a great introductory wargame for kids, and all the while offer enough to make it challenging for adults too. The command system offers opportunities to make shrewd choices in trying to make the best decision possible with limited choices. Along with this is that specter of lore cards potentially offering a huge boon or wreaking havoc into your plans in the background.

The game looks great on the table and offers an engaging experience that will allow you an evening of 2 to 3 games. It makes no bones about being a light, approachable wargame. Yes, this isn’t going to appease the crowd of ASL and Combat Commander: Europe fans with its simplistic combat and order system. But it will offer a fun evening as an occasional jaunt into playing a strategy game of lighter fare. BattleLore is a fun, light, family wargame and certainly worth picking up if looking for a 2 player, fantasy combat game.

Review: Tobago

tobagoFrom Rio Grande Games, Tobago is a deduction game for 2 to 4 players. Each player is an adventurous explorer driving around a remote tropical island seeking to dig up buried treasure, while mysterious statues rotate and give clues to mystical amulets that can help with your task. At any time there are four potential buried treasures offering a random number of gold pieces. Once the deck of treasure cards is exhausted, each player totals their treasure and the player with the highest number wins.

Players have two options during their turn. They can move their piece around board segmented in hexes and terrain types, and try to dig up treasure, or play a clue card from their hand. Movement is very easy. A player has 3 ‘legs’ or movement actions. Switching to a different type of terrain is one movement action, while moving to a specific hex (while in the same terrain type) is also a movement action.

Clue cards give hints where treasure might be hidden. Players will have a hand of cards indicating what type of terrain it’s buried in, where it can’t be found, or possibly in the largest terrain area of that type. Aside from being on beaches, rivers, lakes, forests, mountains, or grassland, they might also be closer to other terrain landmarks. There are palm trees, huts, and the large stone statues. So treasure might be close to these other landmarks, or be well away from particular ones.

Each of the 4 treasures have several colored cubes. As a few clues are placed, the cubes will indicate where the treasure might be buried. The only rules for playing clue cards are that they can’t invalidate other clues and must limit the potential hexes where treasure is hidden. As you play a clue card you also put one of your markers on a card. Once there is one cube indicating the only possible location where the treasure is buried, then it’s a race to dig it up.

For each clue card, treasure cards are randomly distributed. Each player will get to see treasure cards equal to the number of clues they contributed. Treasure can vary from 1 to 6 coins. The treasure cards are returned, shuffled, and one extra treasure card is thrown into the pile. Then the first treasure card is flipped over. Starting with the player that dug it up, followed by each player in reverse order of the clues placed, they have a choice of taking that treasure card, or opting to pass and get another one. If no player takes the treasure card then it is discarded. If they choose to pick that treasure card, their clue card is taken out of the line. This continues until all the players have a chance to pick up a treasure card from the pile.

This becomes an interesting push your luck game. You might know there are high value treasure cards in the pile. Do you continue to pass or jump on a lower value card? If you wait too long, you might get stuck with a single coin card. In addition to this are two cursed treasure cards. If those are drawn the rest of the treasure cards in the pile are discarded. On top of that, all players that have clues in play must discard their highest value treasure they have scored.

Fortunately amulet tokens can be discarded to avoid having to give up any treasure you found. Amulets also allow for extra movement, playing additional clues, and even removing possible locations where treasure might be buried. As treasure is dug up, more tokens are randomly added to the map. You’ll find as you play gathering a few amulets along with some judicious use will be a key strategy.

The Good – The board design is very clever being three pieces and double sided, adding variety to how the board sets up. Landmark pieces can also be placed in different locations expanding the layout variation tremendously. The game is engaging and the side-game of the treasure auction also adds to the experience. The rulebook is well written and it includes an easy to understand setup guide as well as a clue icon summary. The components are wonderful with solid terrain pieces, especially the stone(!) statues.

The Bad – The cursed treasure might be a gotcha for some players, and can potentially really hurt your point total. This can also allow another player to slip ahead and steamroll towards a win. There is a little bit of a learning curve with interpreting some of the clue card icons (but this is mitigated due to the handy player aid included in the game).

The Verdict – Tobago is a fantastic deduction game. You have to cleverly plan out moves and play clues that can allow you to maneuver close to its final location if wanting the lion’s share of a treasure. The player has some interesting choices of either focusing on one or two treasures, or spreading yourself out to get a little of each pile, not to mention deciding whether to delay a move to pick up handy amulets.

I also like the treasure distribution minigame. It has some strategy in the clue order, rewarding players that really help narrow down the potential locations, but also allow any player to get a share by adding a clue card. The hidden information and deciding when to scoop up a treasure card, or pass for potentially a more rewarding share of coins, is a fun part of the game.

All in all, It’s a tremendous game and the components really help evoke that exploration theme despite using abstract mechanisms. Tobago seems to also be a great family game. If you can track it down, it’s a nice addition if looking for a light, deduction game for your collection.

Saturday Gaming Spark: Salt Mud Docks

Elders say the oceans nearly covered the world once. All you know is that’s a distant memory. The waters have receded long ago, the world’s seas nearly sucked dry from the Visitors. Now you just try to eek out a meager existence among rusted hulks of great ships that once nestled in a large port.

Darting out at night to get what shellfish you can from salt pools, fortunately the metal husks of ancient ships are great rain catchers, and offer a means to escape any scans from patrolling Visitor drones. Life is hard and any moment that offers respite, you hold it tight, and drink deep. Link.

Review: Rum and Pirates

rumandpiratesAn import from Rio Grande Games, Rum and Pirates is an enjoyable set collection, worker placement game for 2 to 5 players. Each player represents a gang of pirates seeking to gain renown for their captain while visiting a local port town. They corral their captain to look into rumors of treasure, arrange a romantic rendezvous for the captain at a secret location, or get into brawls with the town guard. All the while they seek to gather up tokens worth points and after five rounds, the player with the most points wins.

The board is made up of nine pieces that are laid out in a 3 by 3 grid of twisting alleyways and intersections. The clever bit with the design of the board is that each section freely aligns with all of the other sections meaning you can get a wide variety of board layouts from game to game. The captain is represented by a single piece and always starts each round at a specific location.

Players take turns moving the captain by using their supply of pirates. For each segment of an alleyway path, they place a pirate. The player ends their move at an intersection moving the captain piece and completing the action at that intersection. They can then pass their turn or continue moving the captain paying a gold coin.

The trick when moving the captain is that each alleyway gets blocked off from their pirates as well as pirates from opponents. So as the round progresses, options for moving through particular intersections become limited. The captain can move off the board and enter from any other open alleyway path from another board edge. This can be a great means to move to a choice intersection, but is costly requiring a gold coin as well as an extra pirate.

As the captain goes through the town, they will pick up pieces of maps, collect pirate booty, or potentially find chests of treasure. Essentially it becomes a set collection game with various tiles. Some score points outright but most require a matching tile or a set number of tiles to award points. It becomes a challenge navigating to intersections to score a combination of tiles, as the player has to balance their supply of pirates for movement, and hope that a clear path can remain open. Having extra gold is very helpful too as you can guarantee being able to steer the captain to choice locations in order to complete tile sets.

To the backdrop of this is another mini game, where players retire their pirates at the ship to rest for the night. A player has an option to bow out of the round and remove any pirates in their supply to the docked ship. At the end of the round, all players with pirates at the ship go through rounds of tussling as they wrangle for the best sleeping spots either in the crow’s nest, the hammocks, or on the deck of the ship. They line up their pirates in a single row based on who entered the ship first and roll dice to see who is eliminated.

It’s a bit laborious to describe effectively, but essentially every player is rolling off for each individual pirate. If a player has 4 pirates and another has 3, then the player with 4 pirates moves one unchallenged pirate across the mast and it is automatically in the next round. The player that went to the ship first rolls a d6. The next player must roll equal to, or higher, to beat that roll. Every player rolls once and the winner advances to the next round, while the losers take their pirates back. In general, the more pirates, and the later you head back to the docked ship, the better you will do in the wrangle.

This continues until there is a first, second, and third place, with each scoring tile points accordingly. You can score a significant number of points and if at least three players are participating, then each one is guaranteed getting a tile for some points. It can be a viable strategy to opt out trying to move the captain to select intersections and instead shoot for getting the best bunk on the ship.

The Good – It’s a fun and different type of worker placement game. I like how you can effectively limit and cut off players moving towards specific intersections. But managing your total is a challenge. While some people might hate it, there is some variation in the point values for tokens. So you can expect a range of points rather than a set amount and this little bit of variation adds some unpredictability. Also gathered tokens are placed under a large tile, hiding it from other players, so this adds some tension to the final rounds as you don’t have precise point counts from other players.

I also like the small mini game with the bunk wrangle at the end of each round. If you get a poor turn, you can opt instead to heavily shift over to the wrangle and scoop up quite a few points. Having another option aside from getting tile sets maneuvering the captain through the city streets is great. The card stock for the tokens and map boards are thick and solid. The player pieces are also nice bits of chunky plastic. Lastly there is a fantastic plastic tray organizer which is wonderful as there are several different cardboard chits to keep organized.

The Bad – The game has a sort of take that mentality with the moving of the captain, and other players can wreck your turn at times. While there are ways to mitigate this, it might turn some players off. There is also somewhat of a gamble when picking up certain tokens. Sometimes getting a rendezvous token can be tricky as you might have to go across the map, or getting some pirate items might not quite fill out the sets you currently have. This lack of predictability might be frustrating for a few players.

The artwork is simple and a bit cartoon-looking, and some of the item icons can take a second look to ensure you have the proper matching sets.

The Verdict – Rum and Pirates is a great little game. The management of your pieces and shrewd use of gold to take extra turns is challenging. Also as you essentially block off routes, you can shrewdly plan out ways to cut off players working towards certain scoring tile sets as you push towards areas on the board that can help you out.

This alone would be pretty fun, but having the option to dabble in another side-game for additional points is also helpful for the player to have different paths to win. Added to this are rum barrels which allow for rerolls providing the player a chance to recover from a string of bad luck and alleviate it some. It’s a nice touch that the map boards are segmented and can be shifted around to add variety from game to game.

Overall it’s an enjoyable board game that is surprisingly challenging despite the light elements and theme. The look and feel isn’t as polished as some modern worker placement and set-building games. You could argue it’s likely dated some. But you’ll find a game that seems to appeal to a wide audience. Younger players will likely enjoy the tactile feel and play of shuttling their captain to pick up tokens for points, but it’s deceptive in how light it initially appears. You can dig a bit deeper and realize paying a little gold to take a second action, or snagging some rum to help with the wrangle in the end of the round, can make you ponder and plan out more during your turn. It’s that broader appeal which makes up for any shortcomings. Rum and Pirates is an enjoyable game, and likely would appease a wider age audience range that what you might initially expect.