Category: Board Games

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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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.

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.

NISEI, new players, and growing Netrunner

Sadly with FFG pulling the plug on Netrunner, the future of the game looked bleak. However the community pulled together resulting in Project NISEI, filled with folks eager to keep Netrunner chugging along. They’ve done a wonderful job trying to promote competitive play and tinker with deck construction formats like a new core set pool and MWLs. They even were able to get a new expansion pack out which has been pretty phenomenal as fan-made creation. So for existing players of Netrunner I think you’re covered as Nisei looks to keep the love of the game alive. Yet I wonder a year from now, when available core sets evaporate what will happen to the player base as a whole.

The community of Netrunner is going to contract. Period. FFG is no longer producing it and people are going to move on to other games. Nisei will be doing a lot to keep fans engaged, playing, and even expanding their collections. That’s great and I am sure it will stem the hemorrhaging of Netrunner players some, but I’m hoping more will be done to help grow the game too.

The elephant in the room is that cards aren’t being produced any more. Players will have to work on using proxies. Some folks have offered tools to help that which is great. But the effort to go in to making two 46-50 card decks (including IDs) is daunting and likely so much effort that new players won’t even bother. Not a lawyer, but gut check is third party print sites are treading light copyright ground with printing old FFG design cards. So could Nisei work on having an alternative set of cards to help new players get into the game?

Downfall is proof of concept that physical cards can be made and still be able to skirt copyright issues. Something similar could be done for a core set. Creating a full product to replicate the variety of cards similar to that in previous core sets would be daunting though. And options for printing up 240+ cards would be cost prohibitive. So what about altering the product format into smaller chunks, that would still give a new player a foundation of cards to expand from?

A rough concept would be similar to the Netrunner draft packs. New players would buy a base core pack which has bread and butter neutral cards for both the corp and runner, call it a neo-core. Then compliment it buying faction sets, picking and choosing the corp/runner options they want. So a player might opt to purchase an NBN set as their corp of choice and skip getting other corp factions.

One roadblock to this would be not tripping up on FFG’s art, text, and other copyrighted material. With Downfall they were able to alter the icons and layout enough to pass legal muster. However working with a new set of core cards, it might be more prudent to replicate card abilities but have different art and card names. That Sure Gamble could instead be ‘A sure bet’ using different art. Deck construction rules would also have to altered to limit these in order to prevent a player from stacking 6 cards with the same ability. Even though these are different cards, essentially they would work as copies of other existing FFG ones.

The other hurdle to overcome would be to boil down the variety of cards to an essential minimum. It would be folly to try and replicate the variety of cards in existing core sets. Instead pruned sets for each faction could be pursued. You’d need about 14 different cards to make up the neutral corp and runner core base, with 3 copies of each. Then you’d need around 10-11 different cards for each faction (again going with the idea of 3 copies of each card). That’s a lot of art and alternate text to work up. No two ways about it, designing core packs would be a huge task to undertake.

However an evergreen product which new players can purchase providing a base set of physical cards could be a boon to helping expand the Netrunner community. The possible prospect of making proxies for say, 12 cards compared to making an entire deck would be more enticing for new players. Time will tell if the demand for core set cards needs to be addressed. Next year Nisei will have a better idea of how the community is faring and can get feedback if this would be received well. Yet with card printing options and crowdfunding at Nisei’s disposal, certainly something like this could be pursued in the future.

Review: Runewars

From Fantasy Flight Games, Runewars is a grand strategy conquest games for 2-4 players. Set in it’s own fantasy universe drawn from Terrinoth, the same world as Descent, each player is a race seeking to control several powerful dragon runes. The first person to obtain 6 runes (or have the most by the end of the game) wins.

The game plays over 7 years, or rounds, with each year split up into 4 seasons. Every season has a specific event. Spring allows units that retreated or were exhausted in the previous year to ready. Summer has a special hero turn (more on that later) allowing these characters to scout through the lands, begin a quest, or duel other heroes. Autumn allows players to earn influence or tactical cards, while Winter, an especially important season, requires the feeding of your troops.

There are stacking limits of 8 units per hex area. At the end of a player’s turn, if there are more than 8 units they must be eliminated. During the winter season each area containing armies from the player must match their food resources (which runs from 0-8). Any hexes containing more units than the player’s food resource value must have troops eliminated until they match. Woe is the player that doesn’t plan out maneuvers and troop movements to account for the bite of winter.

In addition to each major event associated with a season, there is a random event. Events somewhat follow a theme depending on the season. Spring and Summer typically have events that are beneficial, while Fall will have more obstacles and difficulties. Winter will have negative events but can also have events which allow a player to gain dragon runes through bids for influence.

As mentioned, the game is all about gaining dragon runes. When players set up the board, different tiles of various terrain hexes are placed together. Then players decide their home realms and place one dragon rune, along with a blank rune counter just outside their homelands. If a player moves one of their units into a land containing a rune, they can look at it. If it’s a rune token they secretly tally that to their total. If an opposing player attacks and controls the area, they control the rune token. The tokens can be shifted around as an action, including adding a blank token. Essentially you end up with a large shell game of rune tokens and dummy counters being scattered among the map.

Aside from huge armies, players can control up to 3 heroes. During the summer season these heroes can undertake quests offering a chance to earn rune tokens as rewards. They can also skirt through enemy territory acting as a scout, effectively snooping through rune tokens (learning which ones are dummy counters and which ones are the real thing), but watch out! While they can slip through enemy territory, opposing heroes can duel them in the summer season too, gaining all their rewards if they vanquish them in one-on-one combat.

What stands out for Runewars is the order system. All players have identical sets of cards representing various commands they can give to their troops, and each order has a numerical rank. Every season a player chooses one order that all of his troops can undertake for the season. The orders for the turn resolve from the lowest numbered command up in numerical order. If values of command orders are tied, the player with the highest influence (or if needed the most starting influence based on their race) acts first. Essentially there is always a set order for how commands resolve during a season.

This makes commanding your forces a great challenge. You effectively only have 4 ‘moves’ per year. And for many units if they are given a command to essentially attack, they are exhausted for the year. To add some flexibility to the order system, each command has an additional superiority bonus, or an extra order that can be given to your units during a season. The superiority bonus only takes effect if the value of the order is currently the highest among the other commands you’ve given during the year (ignoring opponent’s orders).

Most attack and maneuver orders are lower in value and commands to gain resources, build defenses, and recruit troops are higher in value. As you have tight limits on the number of commands you can give each turn, you really want to plan out the year so that each order played as the seasons progress have a higher value than the previous season commands. Another interesting bit is that the spring of each year will always get a superiority bonus. As there are no other orders played, it will always have the highest value of command orders.

This part of the game really shines. You can quickly amass large armies, but to maneuver them year after year gets unwieldy. Every time an army moves into an area containing a neutral or enemy unit, it stops the movement of the troops for the season. You cannot rapidly advance them across the board and have to slowly trundle them forward in short jaunts. This makes planning out attacks and movement to cut off avenues of attack important. You are constantly trying to ensure the current order has the highest command value compared to other played orders, so that you can gain those important bonus actions. It really is an enjoyable strategic part of the game.

Resources and recruitment of units are managed by special player boards. Resources are split between wood, ore, and food. Each are a track of numbers recorded using dials. When players give a harvest command order, they will gain all the resources their dial is set at, including all the units below it. In addition players have influence and tactical cards which are special resources.

Influence is essentially a currency resource used for bidding on special titles and other seasonal events. Many of these titles are paths to gaining dragon runes. Tactical cards are special bonuses and events that players can use to gain an advantage during combat, allow units to cross seemingly impassable mountain territories, or force a player to reduce their resource dials. Both tactical cards and influence can swing events to their fortune, adding a little unpredictability to the game.

Combat is a little unusual from what you might expect from this type of game. Instead of rolling buckets of dice, it is card driven. When units move into an area containing enemy troops or neutral forces, a battle ensues. All the unit pieces are removed and placed on their player board (or on a neutral player board for non-player forces). All units have an initiative order and are represented by a base symbol. Units of higher initiative resolve their actions first. Players draw a number of cards equal to the number of particular units in the battle and resolve them simultaneously for that initiative round.

The battle round is determined by the base symbol of the unit and matching results on the card. Each card has four outcomes for all four unit base types. There may be no effect, a rout result causing it to drop out of the battle, inflict a wound, or possibly execute a special attack. The distribution of the outcomes vary depending on the base symbol of the unit. Units that have a higher initiative and attack in earlier rounds of combat will have less of a chance to damage units outright. Conversely, lumbering units of slow initiative will attack in later rounds, but have more card results that match their base symbol.

After each unit has a chance to attack (provided they weren’t eliminated or routed in earlier initiative rounds), players total the number of standing units. The player with the highest total of standing forces wins the battle, with ties going to the attacker. The loser has their forces retreat to a friendly or unoccupied area and all of their forces are routed. They will recover automatically at the beginning of the next year, but are essentially out of action for the remainder of the current year. Further if they are attacked again, they are helpless (a player can’t draw cards for routed units). Lastly, if forced to retreat and there are no adjacent areas that are empty or have friendly units, the entire force is eliminated. The combat resolves relatively quickly and composition of forces have some bearing on the battle.

A player doesn’t necessarily have to fight neutral units when they are in the same hex. They might be willing to be recruited into a player’s army through diplomacy, but is difficult to pull off. Players draw cards (the same used for battles) which have additional icons to represent 3 outcomes. The card number is based on the amount of influence spent, and the player chooses one card to resolve the diplomacy action. A precious few cards will mean the diplomacy attempt is successful, while others can cause neutral units to retreat. However most will result in a combat breaking out. Diplomacy is risky but many neutral units are very powerful and can be a huge boon if a player can sway them to fight under their banner.

In addition to building up armies, players can take control of cities and build up strongholds. Cities are important for gaining resources while strongholds are key for recruiting new forces. Given that movement is so limited, being able to muster new forces closer to your fronts is important.

The Good – Runewars is an epic wargame that requires strategic planning. How orders are executed make the game for me. You have a limited number of orders to issue over the game, and need to judiciously deal them out over the seasons. The hero mini-game is also an enjoyable addition which adds some story moments to what could be considered a cut and dried wargame of armies clashing.

The random events of the seasons as well as the layout of the board adds replay to the game. I also appreciate that each army has a particular flavor and unit abilities, giving each a certain feel when you command them. This also opens up the means to try different strategies but up to a point. Clearly some armies are better at hoarding tactic cards or wielding influence over others. It doesn’t mean you can’t dabble in these options, but you’ll likely not be a natural fit compared to some other races.

The components are solid. The rulebook is well written. The art is well done and a ton of well sculpted plastic bits. It really does capture that feeling of seeing huge forces sweep across the landscape.

The Bad – Movement is not dynamic and may not mimic the grand sweeping hordes of what people would expect from a game like this. Battle resolution is also something people might not enjoy with the cards and trying to computate outcomes can be murky compared to rolling dice. The hero turn interspaced in the game can at times be jarring and breaks up the flow of play some.

Lastly, the game can suffer from a kingmaker syndrome while poor opening seasons can cripple a player (essentially trying to claw out of a hole and get a shot at victory almost impossible). There aren’t many opportunities for actions and losing one season can result in a chain of disasters.

Also the game can be long. Not Twilight Imperium long however getting new players up on the rules will take time which dampers the amount you’d realistically get this to the table.

The Verdict – I really enjoy this game. Runewars has a sweeping, epic feel. The season events and tactic cards throw just the right amount of wrenches into player’s plans. There is a thrill to taking advantage of a temporary boon, or thwarting an enemy’s attack. It allows for those peaks and valleys in the play experience that you might not typically see in other games of this kind.

Each season you have to make difficult choices. You are constantly balancing the plodding movement of forces across territories, with the end of season culling due to lack of food in the winter. You want to gather up huge forces to ensure victories, but then must be ready to scatter them before winter. Yes you can replenish forces, but it takes time which you never seem to have enough of as there are precious few orders you can give during each year.

This isn’t a game you are going to get to the table much. It easily will take up most of your afternoon. However it does provide a foundation to have grand, sweeping fantasy battles where you muster huge armies and have them clash against your opponents. I love how it’s all about securing dragon runes. It can lead to some swings of fate but it doesn’t just reward the person that has the most optimized kingdom engine, but instead rewards risks and subterfuge. Runewars isn’t for everyone. But if you want a sprawling, epic wargame with a fantasy theme, you certainly won’t be disappointed with this game.

Review: Formula D

A reprint from an earlier edition, Formula D is a racing game from Asmodee for 2 to 10 players. Each person is a formula or street race driver competing on defined racetracks, trying to be first across the finish line. Out of the box the game offers two versions, a basic game and a set of advanced rules. Each player selects a driver, a car, a playing piece, and then they’re ready to race.

The player’s car is represented by an interesting player mat. Pegs are inserted into slots on a cardboard sheet over a plastic frame box which represent the current gear cars are in, and the boards also have spaces to keep track of damage incurred while racing. Each player takes a turn based on their pole position initially or based on their current track position as the race progresses. To move players roll special dice matching the gear that they are in, and then simply move the spaces indicated by their die roll. Yes, it’s a roll and move game but with a bit more nuance.

First are the gears. Each higher gear is represented by a higher numbered faced die. Additionally the die numbers are not normally distributed. An eight sided die for example will go from at least 4 spaces up to a maximum of 8 spaces, with most die results ranging from 6 to 8. There are also restrictions on the lanes and spaces cars can pass through. In general once a player moves from one lane to another, they must either maintain that lane, or move again in the same diagonal direction. In corners this is further reinforced with each space indicating legal spaces using directional arrows. If a player gets behind another player on a straight section, they can gain a bonus slipstream move.

Corners are especially tricky. Each corner on the track has a specified number of stops. That means the player must end their turn movement a number of times matching the value of the corner. If the go to fast and can’t stop enough times within the curve, their car takes damage (in the advanced game it will be a specific car part). For some corners if a car doesn’t stop enough times passing through it, they crash automatically. A player can always move less spaces by braking, but this also puts wear damage on their car.

Additionally if ending their move next to another car, they might take damage determined by rolling a special die. If they ever exceed the damage their car can take, they crash and are out of the race. But this might be worth the risk because if you end up directly behind another player going fast enough and in at least 4th gear, you can get a bonus move for a few spaces using a slip stream maneuver (which can be chained to repeat again on a different car). The players continue taking turns until they run a certain number of laps, with the winner being the first crossing the finish line.

The basic rules offer a fun racing game. There are some difficult choices where a player has to decide if it’s worth downshifting a few gears to navigate through a tight corner, or be risky and incur a little tire damage by braking. You might consider keeping in a middle gear on a straightaway, hoping to end up directly behind a player gaining extra movement so you can easily slip down to a lower gear for a tight corner, rather than just pushing a high gear on those straightaways. Positioning yourself on the board to get the optimal number of stops in the highest gear possible is a key point to the game.

The advanced game opens up more depth. Instead of a single type of car damage, you incur damage to specific components. This leads to the importance having a pit stop mid-race to repair tire damage. These car components are impacted by different actions. Also each racer can tweak the starting component values of their cars or provide a special ability, offering another layer of variation among the cars. Lastly there are rules for weather and track effects, team races, and rules for a longer league circuit.

The game comes with a formula race track and a street race map on the opposite side. The street race has different road conditions, hazards, and additional challenges. This can be a fun change from the vanilla flavor of a proper formula track.

The Good – The concept of rolling higher-faced dice as you go up in gears is clever. It’s balanced with having to stop a set number of times passing through corners, giving the managing of braking and shifting gears while trying to cover as much ground as possible a challenge to work out during your turns. All the while you have to monitor the wear and tear to your car.

The components are excellent, with bright, colorful art for the tracks, to solid cardstock and plastic bits for cars. Some of the driver art is a tad cartoon-like but it works. Yes, you won’t find a hyper-realistic depiction of formula racing. You will find a spectacle of pieces and game bits to sprawl out over the table.

The Bad – Experienced players will find optimal paths on tracks, learning the ‘best’ routes to navigate the course (which somewhat mimics the real thing). If you play the hell out of the game, eventually you will be learning the sweet lane spots for taking corners, so the game can become a tad like a mechanical exercise if you don’t embrace the theme. The play with multiple individual players can drag some with downtime. There can be a little interaction with the bumping of cars, but you are pretty much sitting around waiting for your turn. Working in teams of cars seems to work best rather than every driver for themselves.

The Verdict – Formula D is a fun racing game. I think what works especially well is that it can offer a light racing game to new players, then turn around and provide something with more bookkeeping and interesting racing conditions with the advanced rules. There are many race track expansions available which certainly adds to the variety of tracks to race with, stretching out the value of the game. Over the recent years there have been some other games released that likely capture a more realistic feel of car racing, but Formula D offers an enjoyable game with some strategy and a dash of luck. Combined with the colorful components and board, it’s worth picking up if looking for a more approachable racing game.

Review: Hero Realms

From White Wizard games, Hero Realms is a 2-4 player deck builder game. Using similar play mechanisms in its sci-fi predecessor, Star Realms, players each start out with similar base decks and slowly accrue more cards, trying to eliminate other players. There are a variety suggested game variants such as players forming teams or everyone can just jump into a free for all, where the last player standing wins.

The game is played by taking turns, with each player being able to take a series of actions in any order (and as many times as they wish). From a hand of 5 cards, a card can be played, abilities on current cards in their play area can be used, cards can be purchased from a common pool, and finally, a player can attack another player.

Purchased cards are placed directly in the player’s discard pile. However cards that are played can be used for various actions. Some will add gold to a player’s resources which can be used to purchase more cards, while others are used for attacking players. At the end of their turn, except for played champions, used cards or ones still in the player’s hand are put in the discard pile, and a new hand of 5 cards is drawn.

Attacks commonly use a pool, or total, of an attack value that will damage an opponent’s health. When their health reaches zero they are eliminated. Some cards can heal damage, and other cards have a defensive value that can reduce the attack pool number. As an additional tweak to combat, players can directly attack champions (cards with special abilities) in their opponent’s play area.

To bolster the defense of those champions or a player, some special champions are guardians. These guardian champions must be eliminated before other champions or a player can be attacked. To eliminate a champion or guardian, the attack pool must equal or exceed the defense value of the card. Once a card is eliminated it goes to the owner’s discard pile (allowing it to be drawn and played again on future turns). Alternately some card abilities can ‘expend’ itself, tapping it and changing its orientation. The card is in play but can’t be used for its abilities or provide defense.

That is the heart of the game. A rather simple numbers game where players try to beat the defensive cards of their opponent, while being able to maintain enough defensive abilities to bolster their health total. The wrinkle of course is the four faction types and interactions with various cards of the different factions leaning towards particular action types (attack, defense, purchasing cards, etc.).

As mentioned the game out of the box can handle 2-4 players. An interesting move regarding expansions are various starter decks which allow for more players. Unlike the starter decks in the base game, these have a few unique cards. This offers some light replay value by dabbling into different expansion packs as you can have some variation with starting hands (provided you buy enough expansion packs).

The Good – Out of the box you can have a fun deck builder that can handle 4 players. The card faction options and abilities or actions that allow for expending/stunning other cards open up for some different strategies. The set includes some clever cards to track health/score of the players, and the art for the cards is well done with bright, lovely colors, and layouts.

The Bad – Purchasing cards can lead to buyer’s remorse, where a better option becomes available replenishing the card pool after a purchase. The abilities are interesting but at times healing can get out of hand, almost outpacing damage. Adding to your deck can very much become a race, where the player that manages to scoop up cards to make a working combo first can really shift the balance in their favor.

The Verdict – Hero Realms is an enjoyable game. Being able to play 4 people out of the box is great. However the 4 card factions and limits on purchasing cards hampers strategies that players can explore. I also felt some games could just be a slog, with opponents countering damage easily through healing or being able to reliably get out champion cards.

I don’t know how the character expansions will work with the game. I do wonder if they will have balanced starting hands. Also as each expansion deck adds a unique starter deck, a person almost has to go all in buying at least four to offer parity. You don’t have to do this, but I could see some players grumbling they are stuck with the ‘regular’ cards while someone else gets new cool toys to start out with.

Nonetheless, it’s a reasonable product with room enough to discover fun combos, and there are expansions out there to diversify your card pool if wanting more. It’s a light deck builder that is enjoyable. I am somewhat not too keen to gush over it though. I feel Cthulhu Realms seems to capture a more fun experience out of the box with tighter game play. However if looking for a fantasy themed game akin to Star Realms that provides a 4 player deck builder with a single purchase, Hero Realms isn’t a bad buy.

Card Caddy deck boxes

Occasionally I am out and about doing gaming stuff in public. For a lot of my board games that use cards, it’s helpful having decks stack up neatly in discard and draw piles. This is especially so when handling sleeved cards as sometimes these piles can be a little slippery, where an accidental knock can spill out your cards all over the place. And while deck boxes are great for transport, they can’t serve any additional purpose on the table.

Enter the Card Caddy. It’s an inventive design where a protective deck box can be opened up into two sections. Even better, the separate sections can be linked together with each half capable of holding a full stack of cards.

I picked up a few different caddys. A couple of standard card size packs, and double-decker ones which are designed to hold larger decks of sleeved cards. The pic here shows a double-decker caddy and a single deck as a comparison (the blue colored caddy). Both can accept sleeved cards but I’ve found the single size box won’t hold many sleeved cards. I found the double-decker box can comfortably hold about 50 or so double sleeved cards (figure about 80 regular sleeved cards).

They lock together by sliding each half in grooved slots. It’s pretty easy to take apart, but I found the double-decker a bit more tricky to assemble. Nothing that’s a deal breaker but it certainly takes a lighter touch compared to the single deck box. The deck boxes are sturdy and feel like they could take some light punishment and still protect the cards.

I’m glad I picked them up. If I had my druthers I would have skipped getting a single deck box and just gone with the double-decker. Most of my games lean towards larger decks and typically use sleeved cards. Regardless though, they are a nice product and a great way to transport and have a storage solution on the table to help keep everything stacked nicely.

Board Game Stores in Seoul: BoardM

A long standing board game store in Seoul I never managed to visit has been BoardM. They have an extensive online store but also have a physical storefront in Seoul. I was finally able to give the place a visit and immediately lamented my failure at not visiting it earlier.

Located on the fourth floor of a small office building, they have an extensive selection of games both in English and Korean. The games range from modern classics, Kickstarter darlings, party and children games, to even heavier GMT war games. They don’t appear to carry much in collectible card games but instead carry box sets for many LCGs.

For the physical store, I dare say they have nearly 300 games on the shelf. They also offer a full selection of Mayday card sleeves as well as generic brands. Individual polyhedral dice can also be purchased. The owners were very friendly and fortunately for me were able to converse in English.

The store is well lit and fairly open with a cavernous ceiling. There are a few tables set up in one section to allow for in store gaming. However I’m not sure on policies the owners have for playing games on the premises.

While the store claims to have set hours of operation, in truth they’re flexible. Apparently the people that run the store are pretty active in conventions and other events. It’s recommended to call or text a day or so ahead of time to make sure the store will be open (you can find the number at the bottom of their online store page).

They do have an active online store and are willing to ship within Korea. I would recommend checking out the site before visiting the store. If you have a title you absolutely must have, it’s best to text them you’d like that game when arranging a visit. The owners will try their best to make sure it’s on the shelf for you to buy (pulling it from back storage if needed).

Getting to the store is a little convoluted. By subway you need to get off at the Bulgwang exit from either Line 3 or Line 6. You can use exit 7, but have to pull a 180 and then go left at the main intersection. However it might be easier to take exit 8, and then cross the street further up. The store itself is behind the Seobu Intercity Bus terminal. There is a branching street from the main road that you can follow which runs behind the terminal.

Mind that there is a basement area but this appears to be mostly for storage and stock for the online store. You want to actually enter the building and go to the fourth floor to get to the physical store.

I have to say the selection is impressive carrying both classics and the Board Game Geek hotness. The only hiccup is that it’s best to be sure to drop them a line before trying to visit. If wanting to just stop by, you might find the store closed. Regardless, they have a fantastic selection and it’s so far been the best place I’ve visited recently with the great stock of games on the shelf. BoardM is a must stop if checking out game stores while visiting Seoul.

Review: The Dunwich Legacy expansion for the Arkham Horror LCG

I’ll peg this as more as a cumulation of thoughts rather than a proper review. This full campaign expansion for the Arkham Horror card game has since been released for a while now, and after a few playthroughs I decided to give The Dunwich Legacy a look over. This uses the classic Lovecraft story, The Dunwich Horror, as a backdrop for the expansion. I’m not going to go through much of the cards as you can dig through tons of other podcasts and such to get a rundown of individual reviews, or you can see them yourself. I will go over the highlights of the scenarios and talk a bit how the campaign was overall. I’m also going to try and give this a light spoiler treatment. I don’t want to dig too deep into the workings of the campaign to allow for people to have some fun if they haven’t played it yet. But fair warning that some of the story elements will be discussed.

The campaign itself consists of a big box expansion with 6 mythos packs (small deck expansions). In the Dunwich Legacy you’ll get 5 new investigators along with 2 scenarios that kick off the campaign. As deck building goes with the investigators, each of them have a little twist compared to the ones included in the core set. All investigators utilize one class and the neutral cards as primary sources for cards from level 0 to 5 experience. However they can have up to five level 0 cards from any other class. What’s refreshing about these investigators is that they seem to be designed with the intent to compliment core set investigators, and the limited card pool that comes along with it.

My biggest compliant with the core set that it was a deck construction game without much opportunity to actually build decks. Plus the more investigators you add, the more difficult (to downright impossible) it was to make decks. The Dunwich Legacy investigators address that. I dare say that if you invest in this entire expansion cycle, you could get away with playing 3 investigators using just a single core set. Deck building will be tight and you’ll hit some rough patches with some scenarios but it can be done. Unfortunately with a 4th player you are still going to have to go the route of getting another core set. However I like that they broke away from investigator deck construction format that stuck with the main class plus one other, allowing you to stretch out a single core set a little more.

The investigators themselves are fairly solid. I think of the lot maybe Jim Culver is the weakest of the bunch with the others being pretty formidable (and some might say broken in the case of Rex Murphy). This certainly adds a lot more re-play to even the base game. The investigators still adhere to their class archetypes for how they play. But each has a different feel that diverges from the core set investigators which is great. Now a bit more onto the campaign itself.

Spoilers below! (Sorta…)

The campaign expansion opens near Miskatonic University in Arkham. The players are recruited to find individuals that assisted Dr. Henry Armitage in a strange incident that happened months ago in the remote village of Dunwich. Out of the box the campaign offers a branching story. You have two scenarios and can choose either to tackle first, with each having a minor wrinkle to how they play depending if you are playing it first or second. It’s a pleasant change from the linear paths and I hope it’s something that is explored more in future releases.

Extracurricular Activities – The players are trying to explore the sprawling Miskatonic University campus, looking to find one of Dr. Armitage’s colleagues. A tweak to this is that a few key locations are locked away and cannot be accessed. If players can eventually take control of an NPC (Non-player Character) ally, they can get to these locations. Once things are underway however, a clock to the scenario starts ticking down. The players have a choice how they tackle this new challenge. An interesting aspect is that players can ‘win’ this scenario but still ‘lose’ adding additional difficulty to the campaign.

The House Always Wins – A change of pace from the typical dreary locales, this scenario takes place in a speakeasy that also doubles as a gambling den. The players must investigate the area under the watchful eyes of various mobster types. If they discover clues while a mobster is at the same location, they can incur their wrath.

A wonderful twist to this scenario is that the initial investigation has the players discover clues through different means by either spending resources or discarding ally cards. This comes into play shortly as the scenario has a sudden-explosion-everything-in-chaos moment that ratchets up the tension. Players will be thrown into a situation where every action counts. So ditching resources to help move the act cards quickly can also mean less choices to handle more difficult obstacles that come up later. It’s a great balance of risk versus reward.

The Miskatonic Museum – This scenario has the players trying to search through a museum after hours in hopes of finding a translation of the Necronomicon. Rather than have an encounter deck filled with horrible monsters, there is a single phantom-like creature slowly stalking them. It’s a different take on the typical monsters in the game which I appreciate. However the results are a mixed bag. The monster is more of a harasser that builds up in power but never seems to be that much of a threat. It instead becomes more a monster that’s managed through evasion and damage mitigation.

Still the scenario has a nice feel of trying to search through sections of the museum. Also there are different ways to approach key challenges, including a choice right at the onset of the scenario. Lastly, if the players are successful they are offered a dangerous asset of the necronomicon itself. The card ability is tempting, especially for Daisy Walker, but there are unforeseen consequences for the players if they take it. A fun choice to make campaign playthroughs a little different each time.

The Essex County Express – This scenario takes entirely in a train traveling to the rural village of Dunwich and the investigators soon learn that things have gone horribly wrong. They are in a frantic race to move from car to car, ever trying to get to the engine of the train. With different train cars and engines, along with a variety of orientations of the locations, this scenario has a fair amount of replay. It can also lead to some wildly challenging games where some are horribly difficult, and others fairly easy.

Overall though I love the concept. Players soon learn to carefully glean clues from the agenda and act decks, as they can find out the hard way how the scenario agendas progress. I can totally see future scenarios where a similar progression and how locations are altered can be used in different environments (like a sinking ship, with investigators hurriedly traveling between ship compartments). The outcome sort of falls flat though. It’s more of a hard win/fail of sorts for them.

Blood on the Altar – The players have finally entered Dunwich where things seem awry. This is a wonderful scenario. Players are tasked with finding key locations and have a choice of either fighting or solving their way to a win. The outcomes of the scenario can be either crippling or a mild inconvenience. This scenario can result in unique allies being removed from the game, making the outcome have far reaching consequences for the campaign as a whole.

The scenario also introduces an interesting creature encounter card. Whippoorwills are aloof creatures that are more of a hindrance than a threat. Players have to spend a fair amount of actions to remove them. They add a clever mechanism to adding difficulty to the scenario over a static condition that a player accumulates.

Undimensioned and Unseen – The Dunwich village is now under threat as several creatures rampage through it. What breaks up this monster battle is that players must first discover a key location and obtain items that will allow them to attack the creatures. One great aspect of this scenario is particular locations can also interact with the creatures. This gives the scenario a fun cat-and-mouse type of play, allowing the investigators to manipulate the creatures through judicious use of location abilities.

This scenario also has a similar vibe to Midnight Masks from the core set. Players are set with a practically impossible task. They have to try and do as well as they can and might have to just cut their losses and resign. It doesn’t mean the end of the campaign, but by not completing their objective in its entirety can make other scenarios far more challenging. It can be a difficult choice whether to soldier on and be eliminated, trying to fight to the last, or run for their lives. Used judiciously in a campaign I can appreciate this, and it works well here. However the scenario as a whole is pretty much a monster hunting battle.

Where Doom Awaits – First let me give some appreciation to the designers of the game regarding a decision how this scenario resolves. Throughout much of the campaign (rightly) if players fail they can still carry on. Metagaming, players realize there is another scenario pack to the campaign, and likely rest on that knowledge knowing if things get too difficult, they can lick their wounds and try again for the final scenario for the campaign. The designers went with a decision that might surprise some people. I dig it and appreciate the direction the campaign takes because of it.

Now onto the part where I piddle on this scenario. Throughout the campaign, players can build decks to get around having a poor lore skill to investigate for clues. This scenario dumps that on its head. There are specific location abilities that investigators must utilize to advance the act deck. If the players cannot do so, there may be negative outcomes with severe campaign consequences. What adds punishment to this game element is that the location abilities can only be attempted by an investigator once during their turn. If you have a low lore skill character, you will probably lose this scenario. I just feel it’s a poor design choice.

Now the scenario itself can be all over the place. The variety of locations along with an encounter deck that has a kitchen sink makeup, means you can have wildly different plays. Some games will be pretty easy. Some will be incredibly difficult. I like that you need investigators that can fight as well as others that can scoop up clues.

However it’s marred by the abilities on key location cards which require a once per turn attempt to investigate. If ever there were scenario errata needed, it would be for this one. Something needs to tweak how the game progresses (ex. if an investigator fails, they can attempt the location action again). However how the mechanics of the card function, even standards like flashlight are useless so something else more drastic might be needed. This effect sort of breaks the scenario and given the larger repercussions to the campaign as a whole, it can leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. Which is a shame as what follows this scenario is so great.

Lost in Time and Space – How this scenario plays out is interesting. There is a single location in play and players must go through the encounter deck to discover more. Further, the paths from the locations twist and turn about, where you find in order to proceed to key act locations you have to work through several already on the table. This process gets more difficult as locations can disappear, needing be be drawn again from the encounter deck. Further, players and creatures can find themselves teleporting from location to location. It can be a frustrating experience, but at the same time it captures that chaotic, warping sense of a constantly shifting landscape with ever degrading sanity hampering the investigators.

As a small bit on the agenda developments, as each agenda rolls out players make tests based on past events, even those from the first couple of missions. I really enjoyed that part. It wasn’t a perfect fit, but still a pleasant attempt at demonstrating the lasting consequences of past actions. Additionally I enjoyed the possible resolutions for the scenario and also for the campaign conclusion. You can potentially be lost forever and still manage a heroic win.

The final showdown can be avoided or be a slugfest with the elder god, Yog-Sothoth. Much of the encounter cards and locations chip away at the player’s sanity and this greater abomination does the same. You might consider the scenario a little too lopsided towards mental damage, but I feel it fits the theme of the final locations well.

Final Thoughts – A key theme for many encounter cards is running through a player’s deck by discarding undrawn cards. One particular encounter card will inflict immense physical damage if a player runs out their deck. This essentially adds a timer to the game as they’re unlikely to survive this effect. Fortunately the players are exposed to this early on and can try to mitigate it as they gain experience. However it does introduce a different time challenge for the player which I like.

I will admit some elements are hamfisted with how they are added to the campaign. I love outcomes with some scenarios that add a specific weakness to your deck. But there are also ones where you add a random weakness or chaos token for no real reason except to ramp up the difficulty. Similar effects based on outcomes and choices from the players just feels much more enjoyable.

Overall Dunwich Legacy has more hits than misses. Being the first big expansion campaign, I don’t think it strayed much from the core set experience which is good. Yet the designers still managed to get some mechanisms and scenario elements that add to the typical game you’d get from the core set. I bite my tongue a bit though with giving it a glowing recommendation because a critical end scenario (Where Doom Awaits) can certainly thrust the player into an unwinnable situation. The story environments also knit well, with only a few that feel out of place (Essex County Express). Overall it just seems to capture a more intimate experience with most of the scenarios revolving around Dunwich, which can potentially lead to this otherworldly environment. Maybe people wanted a globe trotting adventure, but I enjoyed the more rural locations it went for.

As of this review there is another complete expansion out, with a third being released in the next few months. Players will certainly be spoiled for choices and possibly these other expansions might eclipse the Dunwich Legacy. But if looking for an expansion with classic Lovecraft theme that builds on the core set, interesting investigators, useful player cards, and offers a full campaign experience, the Dunwich Legacy is a fun one.