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.

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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.

Desert bases using talus

Slowly been painting through my Perry WW2 British. I decided to work them up as the 8th Infantry Division from the British Indian Army. Partly as the 8th Division had action in the Middle East, North Africa, and a good chunk throughout the Italy campaign. And partly because for WW2 North Africa, it’d be cool to work on something different as UK commonwealth force instead of your typical British 8th Army.

I was in a pickle somewhat with how to model up my bases though. Typically I use a simple flock technique but wanted a different texture that would fit in with a desert theme. I decided to use some railroad modelling talus which I’ve used on my 15mm Sahadeen.

The problem is even though they look nice, the material is a bit fragile. Even with a good amount of PVA glue you can rub it off. For 28mm figures I’ll have more material on the larger bases and regular handling during gaming means more of the talus flaking off.

To work around this I decided to add some superglue to the talus. For my Algoryn this worked great as the modelling material easily adsorbed excess glue. For my Indian troops, I used a PVA mix to initially get them based, then gave the models a coat of primer and a base coat. I finally followed up with adding instant curing glue to the textured bases.

For the most part it looks okay. Above the figure on the right has the talus adhered to the base only using PVA glue (after a spray base coat of paint), while the one on the left has been coated with superglue. Comparing the figures above, you can see the base material for the left mini has some glossiness compared to the right. There’s also a subtle lack of texture compared to the right figure that just has PVA glue. It’s not too noticeable after a good drybrush and will be even more so after a layer of matte sealant. However if I were to do it again, I’d coat the talus with superglue first before priming.

Regardless they look pretty good. I’ll be sure to give a more step by step paint job post once I get through the platoon.

Saturday Gaming Spark: Lost rain forest ruins

Hidden away in the deep jungles was a rumored lost civilization. Following snatches of information and the research journal of an old colleague, intrepid explorers have stumbled upon its location. But the local guide slipped off the night prior, and the pack mule has been restless the entire day. Do they sense something evil within the overgrown stone structures? Link.

Lock n’ Load Tactical, the ignored wargame?

Decades ago I played Squad Leader which was my first WW2 hex and counter wargame. A few years ago I wanted to get back into something tactical with a similar theme and started looking around. I knew Multi-man Publishing picked up the ASL banner, but I was looking for a more modern implementation of tactical games instead of retreading old designs.

I heard good things about Conflict of Heroes but it always seems out of print. Combat Commander was another game that seemed interesting. I did manage to snag that and enjoy the game immensely. But a sticking point for me is that there’s no armor.

CC:Europe is a wonderful game and it’s heavily geared towards capturing that infantry tactics feel. However I really wanted some rules which would allow me to throw in an APC, a lone tank, or a light AT gun. The rules just didn’t have anything for that. So I started looking around some more and stumbled onto the Lock n’ Load Tactical series.

It looks like a fun set of rules and allows a smattering of armor units to add to engagements which is a plus. Now I always had heard about LnL on the periphery but never really gave it a thoughtful look. Seems the online presence and chatter were heavily skewed towards CC: Europe or Conflict of Heroes. LnL Tactical just appeared to be ignored.

I probed around BGG some and the Combat Commander and Conflict of Heroes series have almost 5,000 and 3,000 owners, respectively. While the LnL Tactical library has only a little over 1,500. Note also this is a set of rules that has been out about as long as those other games too.

Yes LnL Tactical has gone through a few editions. However it blows my mind how the game seems to have such a small online community presence, despite it being heavily supported by the publisher. There are lots of expansions, supplementary products, and more importantly most of it is in print. The rules are online for free with a starter set of counters and a map for $15. That’s a pretty low bar of entry to check out how a game runs.

When peeking around for a WW2 tactical hex and counter wargame, one guy came out of the woodwork raving about the system. I think I’ve now become that guy. In a while I’ll be able to get my mitts on the game proper, and at the very least be able to take the solo rules for a spin. Yet, I expect in the near future I’ll be posting more about this game.

Saturday Gaming Spark: Giant’s Toe Hold

Perched atop a hill, overlooking the abundant farm plains, Giant’s Toe Hold is a bastion of order on the Bleak Frontier. Simple hovels which dot the periphery of the fortress, have peasants go about their work peacefully. They know that any orc or goblin raids which come, they can seek safety within the thick stone and granite walls, able to weather any siege for almost a year due to the ample holds of grain locked away in its deep vaults. Link.

Saturday Gaming Spark: The Soot

A warren of thieves, beggars, whores, urchins, and cutthroats, the Soot is a quarter of the Imperial city one should avoid. Named for the choking foul air from the smokestacks of ever-burning wood and coal, it’s a haven for rogues and assassins. However it’s also the perfect place for those seeking unsavory work, ill gotten goods, or a place of refuge from the law. Link.