Category: Board Games

Review: Perfect fit sleeve roundup

I vary some with sleeving my cards for games. Usually I don’t but some games where you handle cards a lot or need to shuffle in select sets of cards like deckbuilder games, I usually sleeve them. When I got into Netrunner I decided it a solid idea to sleeve my cards and went the route of at least using perfect fit sleeves for them. For a lot of my gaming I am super casual, so no need to have opaque sleeves, but I figure if I ever hit up a tourney I’d have an easier time if I used snug fitting clear sleeves. So I set about getting some that turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag.

Mayday green – Stated dimensions of 63.5 x 88 mm, these at first blush these looked a winner. They were reasonably priced, and interestingly had some overhang at the top but it was minimal. However of the three packs I got, I ended up regretting my purchase. Seems one of the packs might have been stored under something as many of the individual sleeves and sleeve pockets were stuck together needing to be peeled apart.

Separating them didn’t help. Despite vigorous cleaning of the sleeve surfaces, I ended up having cards that always got stuck together. It was horrible. I would have cards that clumped up when shuffling or I’d end up picking up multiple cards when I drew. I even would be struggling to find copies of cards to only find out they were stuck to the backs of other cards. You can see a photo of how bad some cards stuck together (note there are 4 cards I’m holding).
mayday
KMC perfect fit – With dimensions of 64 x 89 mm, another big name brand was KMC, a japanese product of perfect fit cards. These were the real deal. A snug fit with no overhang compared to the Mayday cards and best of all, no problems of sticking together. A touch more expensive but worth it. The downside was they could be hard to track down, so I looked at some other alternatives.
kmc
Ultrapro Pro fit – Dimensions at 64 x 89 mm, I heard some horror stories for certain card types these were too tight and could bend the cards they were sleeved in. Maybe a few years ago this was the case but whatever manufacturer glitches they had, they must have worked them out. These are a snug fit without bending the cards. Best of all they didn’t clump up or stick together like the Mayday sleeves. A good choice if I couldn’t pick up KMC sleeves. They also matched up well enough in size if I had the two sleeve types mixed together, as I couldn’t notice a difference between the two.
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I won’t say the Mayday sleeves ended up a complete wash. I think for the right kind of game, they work well enough. For my Combat Commander: Europe cards, they work great. Those cards are a bit larger than my Netrunner cards and are of thicker stock. So sticking isn’t much of an issue. I also used Mayday sleeves with my Race for the Galaxy and Dominion games. You don’t really need to shuffle those much and at least with Dominion, you are working with 30 cards or so which doesn’t seem to be that hard to mash a few cards together if they clump up a little.

However for my Netrunner decks, I’ll certainly be going with KMC or Ultrapro clear sleeves from now on. They fit snug and simply didn’t suffer from the sticking I saw with Mayday.

Review: Arkham Horror – The Card Game

arkham-horrorlcgFantasy Flight has a lot of games with the Lovecraft theme and decided to jump into the Living Card Game (LCG) pool with a card version of sorts of their old traditional board game sharing a similar title, Arkham Horror: The Card Game. It’s a cooperative, 1-2 player LCG deck builder (but with a 2nd core box and likely more expansions up to 4 people can play). Players are investigators that discover there are terrifying things that go bump in the night but being the heroes they are, fight to ensure the safety of mankind. Sadly they’ll likely lose their lives or sanity in the process. The game is designed to play specific scenarios which can be just a one off session. However it really is designed from the ground up to form a longer linked campaign.

In the box you’ll find lots of cards which are split between those used by the player, and those for a 3 scenario campaign story. The cards for the campaign are generally split into locations and story events for a specific scenario, and other cards which form the encounter deck. The encounter deck represents different obstacles, challenges, and creatures the players run into during the game. Each story has it’s own set of locations and different pools of cards that are used to create the encounter deck. As it doesn’t have a static composition for the entire campaign, you will find some scenarios have unique challenges and monsters.

In broad terms each turn is split up into different phases. The first is the mythos phase, where a doom token is added to a scenario (agenda) card. Whenever the number of tokens match the value on the card, something horrible happens and the next agenda card for the scenario is put into play. Then continuing the mythos phase, each player in turn draws a card from the encounter deck. This encounter deck will be adding more monsters and unfortunate events for the players. In short, something terrible always happens to every player and they are in a frantic countdown before even more bad things happen as the agenda deck advances.

Afterwards the players have their turns. Each player has 3 actions which can be used to play cards, move to different locations, or do a core activity in the game, carry out an investigation. While each turn there is a slow accumulation of doom tokens, the players are rushing from location to location to try and accumulate clue tokens through investigation. If they gather enough clues, they get to advance a different set of scenario cards (act cards) commonly resulting in something to their benefit.

This is really the heart of the game. The players have to slowly accumulate enough clues through investigation to discover what is happening in the scenario and finally learn the major objective needed in order to advance the campaign (destroy a monster, gather enough clues in an area, succeed enough times with a particular skill, etc.). All the while the evil agenda cards are accumulating doom tokens and reaching story milestones that ratchet up the difficulty. Commonly for most of the scenarios there isn’t a hard failure, just punishing effects that wear down the investigators forcing them to capitulate the scenario. At least until the end of the campaign when players learn they either emerge victorious or gibbering madly from being driven insane (or a turned into a pile of bloody goo).

Players will continually be making skill tests. Each investigator has varying levels of 4 select skills measuring their reflexes, physical prowess, mental will, and how clever they are. If this value is equal or higher than a target number, they succeed at their check. Players can play cards to bolster these values. Every card will have some skill icons. For each one that matches the test being taken, they add to the player’s total skill value. It’s not so cut and dried though. For each check a player pulls a random token which modifies their skill total (and the tokens are immediately returned to the pool). Most of the tokens offer a penalty roughly 75% of the time, with some even making the check fail automatically. Essentially this is like rolling dice but with an uneven distribution of results.

As mentioned, cards can be discarded from a player’s hand to boost the skill value of an investigator, and other players at the same location can also contribute to checks. This offers a feeling of working together for key challenges. While a handful of card types are only related to skill checks or one time events, most provide a static bonus or abilities as permanent assets. Players pay resources to put asset cards in play with some being limited to available equipment slots for an investigator. An investigator can only carry up to two assets in their hands for example. Meaning if they had a flashlight and a knife, they’d have to get rid of one of them if they wanted to equip a pistol. Some assets are followers and can provide exceedingly useful abilities (as well as be a buffer for physical and mental damage), but a player may only have one follower in play at a time.

While assets offer static bonuses and reusable abilities, the cards can also be used to boost skill checks. This makes for a fun choice during play. Do you discard an asset to help with a critical skill check? Or do you push your luck hoping to make a successful token draw, so you can put that asset into play as a resource for other actions in the future? While cards that are discarded can eventually return to the draw deck (once a player’s deck is exhausted the discard pile is shuffled and made into a new draw deck), commonly players will not get a chance to see that card again for the game. It certainly has that push your luck factor and can be an agonizing choice sometimes.

Players can play investigators of 5 general class types from bookish seekers, to rough and burly guardians, to mythos sensitive mystics. Each class also dabbles in another investigator class type. These restrictions mean that there will be investigator cards that the player cannot use (being of a different class type) which encourages having another different investigator in tow to tackle a scenario. For a solo player, they have the option of playing one investigator as a true solo experience, or instead have a second investigator in play.

In addition to challenges being thrown at the players from the encounter deck, they can also can run into horrible monsters and fiendish human villains. These enemies will do damage to health and/or sanity. If a player ever reaches zero they are out of the game (but not necessarily out of the campaign). Players find they can either attack an enemy directly to inflict enough damage to kill it, or evade it by essentially stunning it for a round. Evading a creature can be critical. If a monster is ready and engaged with a player, any time the investigator takes an action that isn’t to fight or evade, the enemy gets to attack. This can be brutal as a player trying to move, draw cards, or play cards from their hand will always be having an engaged monster attack them. If they can evade the creature, they can then act without risking an attack of opportunity.

Another kink in the player’s plans are weakness cards. Every investigator has one card that is specific to them which provides some impediment. In addition, one additional random weakness card is added to a player’s deck. Out of 30 or so cards then, 2 of them will be some type of hindrance to the player. Every turn a player must draw a card from their deck, and they can also use actions to draw. While a player is putting assets into play and using cards from their hand to help with skill checks, they will quickly be going through their deck. Yet every time they draw, they are getting closer and closer to drawing a weakness card.

This is an exceedingly clever mechanism. Most cooperative card games depend on the card draw flood. You want to be drawing as many cards as you can to have multiple options during your turn. This curbs that strategy. Some investigator weaknesses can be crippling if a player is unprepared. The player will find the flow of the game changes where they are at a point of wanting a lot of cards and looking to draw that weakness card early in the game (where they have more resources to handle it effectively), compared to getting it later in the game during a critical time when every action and card counts.

While you can get wrapped up in how Arkham Horror is a board game, you can’t neglect that it is a LCG deckbuilder. There are strict rules for constructing a player’s deck. Aside from class card composition, players can only have 2 copies of each named card. As players go through a campaign they can earn experience which is used to purchase more powerful cards (or replace existing ones with more efficient versions). You are limited to decks of a particular size, so you will be continually throwing out cards to make a place for new ones. While the rules recommend starting with some pre-constructed decks, players will eventually want to dabble in making their own.

The Good – It’s an enjoyable implementation of the original board game that has a narrative, choose-your-adventure style of play. Many scenarios will end with multiple options and the decisions, successes, and failures from one scenario have an impact on future games. Cards have enough keywords and varying game elements to allow for some interesting card combinations. While you can certainly go the brute force route of dumping cards for bonuses into skill checks, there are some nuances to explore.

This also comes about from the enemies and challenges that the players face. Aside from hard numbers for wounds, damage, and combat skill values, some creature cards can also have abilities making them play a little differently from other monster types. Combined with limited resources, actions per turn, and the clever implementation of weakness cards, players will have lots of engaging choices during play.

The random tokens for task resolution is also a great idea. You can tailor the pool of tokens to make for an easier or more difficult game. With 5 investigators out of the box, you can get a fair amount of replay from the base game. The solo option is also enjoyable which doesn’t stray too much from the play experience you get with an additional person at the table.

The cards are standard playing size and of good quality with wonderful art. The tokens are of nice card stock and are an excellent means of keeping track of damage and resources maintaining that tactile feel.

The Bad – The token draw for skill checks will likely drive some players crazy. You can typically count on it being a bad modifier, meaning you always have to try and get your skill value +1 or +2 over the base number. This can be for naught as there is a 1/16 chance (if using the normal difficulty) of failing automatically. I like it, but I can see some might find it mechanically jarring, heavy handed, and too luck dependent.

The other criticism isn’t too easy to dismiss. You have a short campaign out of the box of three, linked scenarios. You can get a few replays out of the campaign, but some of the scenarios are going to be repetitive. The mystery of exploring different locations and advancing the scenario story will seep away and your will be shifting to a purely mechanical play mode. This is compounded due to it being a cooperative game with automated enemy actions.

Lastly due to the limited card pool and rigid deck construction rules, you really can’t get a deep deck building experience with the base game. This is especially damning with the number of character cards. Yes, you have 5 investigators out of the box, but you can only play certain combinations because each one pulls from the same pool of class cards that another investigator uses. Sure this will eventually be alleviated once more expansions roll out. And you can certainly buy a second copy of a core set to open up deck building. But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Other games like Netrunner have so much more potential for deck building with just a core set compared to Arkham Horror.

The Verdict – Arkham Horror has a lot going for it. I really enjoy that it takes a narrative structure but there are limitations in how replayable it is. Eventually that shine of new choices and exploring locations will dull and plodding repetition will arise, switching the feel of the game to more one of a mechanical exercise than that of experiencing a story. The limitation of card variety for the investigators is another glaring detraction. I’m certain eventually the game will get stronger as more content is released, but out of the box I was disappointed with how limited the deck building potential was.

This can and likely will be tinkered with. The use of cards for advancing the story is a great idea. If you add a few variations of cards for locations and outcomes for the agenda and act cards, you will suddenly see that scenario which was so repetitive before become much more varied and enjoyable to replay. Something similar was used with another card game, Space Hulk: Death Angel and I will not be surprised if by the end of the year we see a special add-on pack that expands the core box campaign to include variant cards.

This touches on another thing that chafes me some. The notion of pushing getting another core set is absolutely wasteful. Almost half the cards will be just set aside and never used. All the scenario and encounter cards are redundant (not to mention the tokens and rules). It’s a shame that another product of just the investigator cards found in the core set isn’t available as separate purchase. Fantasy Flight really dropped the ball there. Having a $22 product with simple packaging for just a set of base game investigator cards would have been great.

In the end, Arkham Horror is very much a LCG. It is enjoyable. It captures some of the encroaching dread and doom in a horror-themed game (but after repeated play of the same content that will ease some). There is enough variety of card types and abilities to allow for interesting choices during play and also with deck construction. But it is solidly in that LCG camp of buying more cards and I think almost too much so initially.

It practically forces you to buy into the game getting more cards as the core set is so limited early on. I feel right now it’s a pass on getting. Wait until there are more expansions available so that if you want to jump into Arkham Horror, you can do so pretty quickly. If just looking to purchase the base game and see about getting more expansions 3 or 4 months later, you will be disappointed as you’ll see the limitations in the base set pretty early on. Better to wait some and have a larger pool of cards readily available to explore the deck building possibilities fully from the get go.

Netrunner has a new player problem

netrunnerI enjoy Netrunner and have been teaching a slew of players for a while now. There is something that seems to hinder getting players into the game though. A key point is that despite it having a decent core set, it’s just not that approachable to new players. What is looming in the background is this wall of cards that almost seems insurmountable to decipher and break through. There is so much and the pool of cards so vast, it becomes a deterrent to trying to learn. Compounded with this perception is the requirement of having to purchase a big box set of cards to get into the game.

I like the base game. The core set gives a nice spread of different card factions and best of all, certain cards are still staples in competitive decks today. Also compared to Magic and other CCGs, Netrunner is a complete bargain to get into. But oddly Magic seems to have a smaller hump to get into the game.

It’s the draft events. For Magic, booster drafts are highly popular. Players throw in some cash to buy a few booster packs and then draft a deck from a combined set of cards. Some additional support is needed by having several basic land cards for players to add to their deck. However, for new players it’s a way to walk away from a tournament with a set of cards that comprise a playable deck. These are pretty newbie friendly tournaments that don’t require a large initial investment.

Netrunner could use something similar. There are some draft packs that are available, but the drafting environment isn’t that newbie friendly. Fantasy Flight also has dabbled with offering the 2015 Championship Decks. These are corp and runner decks that are pre-assembled. Offhand I think it’s a great product to get people into playing Netrunner but there are some hiccups. One is that the corp deck isn’t currently tournament legal. Secondly, (aside from an apparent misprint for the card cost) the runner deck offers an odd milling strategy. However the idea is pretty solid and leads into a concept of offering Core Deck packs.

Essentially these core deck packs are teaching decks focused on a single corp or runner faction. Ideally the agendas would be all in faction. New players could buy a pack and have everything they need to play. The deck might dabble some into the other factions and have a small spread of neutral cards (more on that later). The key would be to not stack 3 of a specific card type. Instead have two at the most. With cards bleeding over into other factions, the decks could serve as an incentive to pick up another starter packs aligned with that faction, or possibly get a core set. And if a new core set was available, even better.

The pickle of course would be the tokens. You might go the route of having 2-3 mini sheets of tokens for tags, brain damage, a few virus counters, 8 or so 1 credit makers, and another sheet of just 5 credit tokens. But an alternative might be to offer cards with slot trackers on them to keep track of tags, and credits. Encouraging players to use coins, beads, and other tokens to push around on these cards to keep record of their resources. This leads into another point though of enticing new players to finally jump in for a Core Set 2.0.

Cards in the current core set are subject to errata, while some decks are simply illegal (and not just by by tourney play). Combined with the encroaching rotation, it would be a great time to consider a new core set. Not everything needs to be changed. Just a sprinkling of some new cards possibly introducing cards with similar abilities to those being rotated out with the first two data pack cycles. This is something die hard Netrunner fans would be interested in picking up to round out decks. And if a player has nibbled by buying in though core deck packs, they can finally get a full set of tokens and expand their pool of cards. Having their hands on neutral agendas in the core set might also be an especially great draw.

Another plus is that they’ve got some redundant cards to allow for more people to play out of the box along with previously purchased decks packs. Along with these core decks, now you could easily have 4 to 6 people to jump into a new core box and play for a night. Mind that this is something you can’t really do now with the current box set.

There are some obstacles to these core deck packs, especially the hump of having a full set of rules and enough tokens to play. However it’s worth expanding on the idea of ready-to-play decks and offering alternatives to buying into Netrunner rather than just snagging a core set. Something to keep in mind, these core decks don’t have to be super competitive to the tournament scene in general, just competitive to other core deck packs.

You could have events where players just have to buy a runner and corp deck of their choice and still be able to play right off the bat. If wanting to participate in other similar events, they could pick up a deck or two of other factions to switch things up some if wanted. This would also allow them to lessen the initial learning curve with a smaller card pool, as they don’t have to jump into the game with a core box of 7 different factions. In the end something like this might make getting into Netrunner a little less formidable, and potentially more approachable to new players.

Netrunner Click-Credit Trackers

I dig Netrunner. While I have reservations recommending it to folks, I certainly enjoy it. Lately I’ve lamented some on how much it has dominated my free time gaming. I find I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of deckbuilding and picking up cards for the LCG.

While Netrunner is rather portable, it does require a lot of tokens and markers. I also end up teaching players a lot and while I like the play aids that come with the game, I thought it could be better designed to incorporate both a click tracker and a reminder of player actions on one card.

In addition to that, I thought about using cards to also track credits. Splitting them up into single and 5 credit values on two different cards seemed acceptable. So I went to work and whipped some up on a single sheet.

They are ugly, amatuer designed aids, but functional. The trackers also don’t completely solve the token issue. You’ll still need tokens for bad publicity, tags, recurring credits, virus counters, and advancement markers. But with a little creativity and some different denominations of coins, you could likely cut down on the number of markers you need to lug around using the trackers.

You can print them up on cardstock, or use paper and laminate them if wanting something to take a bit more wear and tear (or just sleeve them like I did). I think they work pretty well. You can find them in the downloads section and I hope folks find a use for them around the table.clicktrackera

Review: Android – Netrunner

netrunnerboxIn the mid 90s Richard Garfield put out a CCG than embraced the cyberpunk theme called Netrunner which petered out. Almost 15 years later Fantasy Flight picked up the rights and converted it to encompass their futuristic universe, hence the name, Android: Netrunner. It’s a dystopian future where megacorporations truly hold control over every aspect of human lives.

Colonization of the moon and Mars has begun, along with the development of sophisticated AI, androids, and human clones which serve as slave labor and are essentially products bought and sold. Beneath all of this are human beings that go about their daily lives, scraping by, and essentially are at most drones and corporate slaves to their employers just like the clones and androids they encounter regularly. A few choose to explore cyberspace instead fighting for either ideals or profit against the megacorporations as runners, hackers that steal data from corporate assets.

Android: Netrunner (or just Netrunner) is a two player, living card game. Fortunately FFG dumped the collectible aspect. Instead they opted to crank out expansions with fixed numbers of cards. Want to expand your card pool? No random booster packs. Just pick up a small set of cards and you’ve got everything in that expansion. The gotcha of course is through the constant roll out of expansions, you get that lure of the Pokemon gotta-catch-em-all urge to keep buying into the game. Combined with a healthy competitive tournament scene enticing players to keep up with their gaming opponent Joneses, there is definitely a draw to buy new sets as soon as they are released.

I avoided the siren’s call of Netrunner for a long time. But I was in the mood to pick up a new deck builder game and the theme and aspect of a LCG was attractive. I did Magic and was not keen trying to get back into that game. The collectible aspect of Magic just wasn’t something attractive to me any more. So I jumped into Netrunner feet first and now regret that decision immensely. It’s not that the game is bad. Far from it.

The basic rundown of Netrunner is that the corp player has agenda cards in their deck up to a specific total. Each card will commonly be worth between 1 and 3 points. To score them the corp player has to play them and spend actions (clicks) and money (credits) to advance them to a specific sum. Once they do so, they can immediately score it for points. The runner however just needs to access it. The runner isn’t limited to accessing agendas in play. They can also access agendas in the corp player’s hand, deck, and discard pile. To prevent that from happening, the corp player will lay out defensive ice cards to sap resources or stop the runner. The runner in turn slowly builds up a suite of equipment and resources to bypass ice and access those agenda cards. The first player to 7 points wins.

It’s actually a pretty easy game to learn. However once you begin to play, especially as the corp player, you begin to see the route of winning isn’t so easy. The corp player only has 3 actions per turn (or clicks). To play an agenda is one action and to advance it each time also takes an action. Most agendas take must be advanced 3 to 5 times to score. That means it will usually take at least 2 turns to score. All the while, you have to hope that your defensive ice is enough to ward off the runner trying to pick up that agenda. And to make matters worse, the runner has 4 actions during their turn. So they have plenty of opportunities to bolster up their resources and programs to make a successful run.

Now mind you, it’s not just agendas in play, but also agendas you have in your hand or possibly the top card lying in your draw deck. Forced to discard a lot of cards in your deck? Those juicy agendas might now be in your discard pile, just waiting for the runner to scoop them up. And that’s the kicker. While the corp player has to spend cash and actions, slowly and painfully advancing agendas for points, the runner just has to slip past that ice and steal them.

It’s not all roses for the runner though. Some ice is tough and can be one of four different kinds. If the runner doesn’t have an icebreaker program installed, actions on the ice card will execute if the runner bumps into them during a run. Most simply end the run action but some ice can destroy those icebreakers installed by the runner, or force them to discard cards from their hand. This leads into another way the corp player can win. If the runner player ever has to discard more cards than what they have in their hand, they lose immediately. Given each player can only have 5 cards in their hand at the end of their turn, the prospect of hitting horrible defensive ice or a trap card in the corp’s play area becomes a huge threat.

To add to this tension is a simple aspect of hidden information. The runner puts cards into play face up spending an action and paying cash up front. Pretty much everything they do is open to the corp player’s knowledge (save the cards they are holding in their hand). The corp player installs their cards face down simply by spending an action. They can rez (or activate) their cards later, spending the cash when they want to do so. Granted a runner might expect that card gathering up advance tokens is an agenda, but not always so. Sometimes it can be a trap to wipe out the runner’s installed cards (or even worse, force them to discard almost their entire hand). All those defensive ice are also installed face down. While the corp player still has to pay cash to activate them, the runner has no idea if that face down card protecting the corp’s draw pile is huge wall, effectively stopping them until they can install the right icebreaker, or something pretty easy they can bypass.

It’s the hidden information and aspects of bluffing that make the game enjoyable. Add to that the limited actions each player can take per turn, combined with constraints of available resources (credits), and you have a fun game with high player interaction. Layered onto this are the various factions for both the corp and runners. You end up with a game that has a lot of variety in gameplay which is engaging and entertaining.

The factions and aspects of deck building are also a huge draw. You are limited to 3 cards of one type and decks which must have a minimum number of cards affiliated with a particular runner or corp faction. Along with this are rules for influence when building your deck. Each card is worth between 0 to 5 influence points. If you want to dip into another faction you are welcome to do so, but that subtracts from your influence total. There are some powerful cards which can provide great combinations with other factions, but they dig into your influence pool meaning you can only tinker some with another faction. Fortunately there are also neutral cards for both the runner and corp that allow the player to freely add to their deck and don’t cost any influence points (save for a few exceptions)

I think one notable problem with Netrunner is that it can consume your free time so easily. It’s said people live Netrunner, and I can see that. I fear I might end up ditching time to play other games so I can explore Netrunner further. It’s made me keen to keep tinkering with decks and work up wicked combinations, with the added excitement of picking up another expansion, opening up more and varied card options.

The Good– Netrunner is an immensely enjoyable, engaging, with lots of variety in play, and plenty of cards to expand the game further. Thrown into this is the asymmetrical play experience and win conditions. It truly is a wonderful 2 player card game. Not to mention a game plays pretty quick (where a longish match might be 30 minutes at the most). Add to this a bevy of lovely card art and you’ve got a great game.

The Bad – There is an immense game knowledge curve. Learning the game is actually pretty easy. However gaining understanding of all the nuances of play is not, and Netrunner can be brutally unforgiving with mistakes. There is a huge divide between dabblers and folks that play a lot. It’s a combination of both knowledge and cards.

If you play a lot, you know the combinations of cards out there. You are better informed, more prepared, and in turn likely able to construct a deck that is fluid enough to tackle whatever your opponent throws at you. Netrunner has a lot of trump cards and hard counters for them. If you don’t read what your opponent is telegraphing with how (and what) they are playing, you will get smashed. Lastly, it’s a two player game and the core set can’t effectively create decks that more people can mine from if you wanted to do a four player dust up for an evening.

The Verdict – My opinions are in this odd juxtaposition for reviewing Netrunner. If you want to dabble, get a core set and a few choice expansions or data packs. You will find so much to explore and get a thoroughly engaging game that will last you a long time. Add to this a plethora of existing card expansions and you can squeeze years of gaming out of your purchase.

But to jump into the competitive scene it will take effort. So much so it might not be worth doing. You will end up seeing this game divide between casual players that have a lot of fun, and experienced players that go for the deep, engaging, play experience. And if constantly teaching new players, fans of Netrunner will always seem to be struggling to keep within these two camps.

Even as a relative casual player, eventually you’ll be armed with a wealth of knowledge of card types and set strategies. You’ll be able to quickly recognize if an opponent is potentially laying out an agenda to score, or setting up a devious trap. For a brand new player, it’ll take a substantial amount of time to get on a similar level of play, and they might not feel it worth the effort to do so.

It is a niche game. If you have 2 or 3 friends that are adept at CCGs you can get some mileage out of Netrunner. Spend another $30-50 to buy 2-3 select data pack expansions and you’ll have a robust pool of cards to make a variety of decks, more than enough to keep a few casual players occupied for a really long time. But throw a knowledgeable player into the mix and even hobbled with a handicap deck, those experienced players are going to tough to beat. That chasm with familiarity of the cards can be that deep.

To me that’s the problem with Netrunner and something that keeps me from recommending it to all but a few select gamers. To get the most out of it and willing to encompass the larger player base, you need to be committed. If you have the time and players, that might be worth it. Otherwise you will end up just playing once in a while casually. In the end that enjoyment might not go that far, as there are too many other games out there that offer immersive play with less of a learning commitment.

Being a completionist with board game reviews

MassiveBoardGameCollectionI don’t have a huge board game collection. It’s pretty modest. And over the years I thought it better to put up reviews for smaller titles or ones that seemed more the new hotness within the gaming circle buzz I hear. I didn’t feel a need to put up my thoughts for all the board games I own.

However I’ve sort of had a change of heart recently. Looking back, I realize there’s a reason why I’ve picked up certain games. Seems there is more than just being a fun game, but that they have mechanisms that satisfy a type gaming experience I want. They fit within my collection and fill in particular gaps with the types of games I own.

In that aspect I think there is something more to talk about with the games I have. So to that end, I’ll likely start going through my collection and begin to compile my opinions on them. Expect to see a few more board game reviews in the future.

Review: Space Hulk: Death Angel

shdeathangelSpace Hulk was always a favorite Ameritrash board game of mine. While it eventually got bloated with a lot of different expansions, the core game was a fun asymmetrical romp as one group were armored marines with big guns and the other a stealthy group of terrifying aliens seeking to surround and eventually overrun their opponent in hand to hand (or more aptly fangs and claws). It went out of print long ago but occasionally GW reintroduces it for a limited print run. It’s a fun game but not something I think worth picking up again especially as there are other options out there which are better games and just as fun (cough… Level 7: Omega Protocol… cough).

Nonetheless, Space Hulk has that draw and interestingly was something mined for a co-op strategy card game via Fantasy Flight Games. Space Hulk: Death Angel is a cooperative 1-5 player game, where players are teams of 40K space marines exploring a derelict spacecraft, seeking to purge it from genestealers during a salvage operation. They will either succeed in establishing the win condition at a final location (usually by eliminating all the genestealers), or die trying.

Players select a pair of combat teams, commonly one ‘regular Joe’ space marine and the other a special marine. They also get a specific deck of action cards that either allow the space marine team to move and activate a terrain card, support another marine, or attack. The special marine sometimes has different weaponry but will also have a particular ability associated with one of the action cards. So they might be able to do a cool attack with the attack action card, or shift around genestealers with a movement action card, etc.

After players select their combat teams, they line up in a random order in a straight line. The top group in the line facing one direction with the lower half facing the opposite direction. The players have to go through a series of locations represented by a deck. Depending on the number of players, there will always be a specific start location. However for the remaining deck, it will be randomly constructed from three possible cards for each location.

Players have to get through all four location cards and complete the end task on the final card (this doesn’t include the initial starting location for a total of 5 different areas). As a location card is revealed, additional terrain cards are placed in the line of marines representing doors, tight corners, or ventilation shafts. These terrain locations indicate potential spawn points for genestealers.

Players go through action cards in their hand and select one which both marines in their combat team will take for the turn. Each action card has a sequential number and turn order for actions occur based on them. After all the marines have completed their action, remaining genestealers in the area attack the space marines.

Finally, a random event is drawn to end out the turn. Sometimes it’s a boon for players but typically it is some added difficulty like genestealers shifting attack positions, or a marine’s weapon jamming up. The event cards also indicate where more genestealers will spill into the current area by drawing cards from specific piles. Lastly, some groups of aliens might also shift around based on having symbols that match with the drawn event card (more on that later).

Each marine has a range with their weapon showing the number of cards on either side in the formation line which they can shoot. They also have to be facing the direction of aliens they attack, rolling a d6 with special icons. The die has numbers ranging from 0 to 5, and half the faces have a skull icon. If the player rolls a skull icon they remove one genestealer card from the area (so a 50% chance).

When marines are attacked, they have to roll greater than the number of genestealer cards attacking them. So if they are facing five or more cards, they are dead. If a player loses both marines under their control, they are out of the game. Players can get around this by spending support tokens. They allow them to reroll either attack or defense rolls. However this can only be used on groups of genestealers that they are facing. If attacked from behind, they can’t get any rerolls.

Once a turn is over, players cannot use that action card for the next turn (and keep track using special tokens). Instead they have to choose one of the other two options in their hand. This restriction of actions, importance of orientation, and constant random shifting of genestealers means the limits of choices in marine actions lead to tough choices. You will be constantly wrangling your reduced options with other combat teams, trying to attack when you can, maneuver to offer support in future rounds, and pass off support tokens to other teams if needed.

Each location has a limited number of genestealer spawns. As cards are removed from their piles and added to the area (or are eliminated), the piles become exhausted and this becomes a condition to draw another location card. The marines essentially move deeper into the space hulk with new genestealer blip (spawn) piles created and new terrain cards added. The kicker is that all the genestealers from the previous location shift along in the same positions as the previous location. With more creatures constantly being added to the area, the threat of being overwhelmed ramps up. So the players are under constant pressure to keep destroying genestealers.

Not being able to freely select all your actions each turn is where Death Angel shines. Sometimes it can be agonizing to decide what to do and occasionally you have to sacrifice a marine so that others can fight on. It can be heroic and frustratingly challenging.

The Good – It’s a fun engaging game with some difficult choices. Despite being just a card game, it does manage to capture that feel of a group of marines exploring as you overturn new location cards, ever building up the tension as the hordes of genestealers keep coming, all the while ones from previous areas spill over into new sections of the ship.

The combat is brutally simple, but the positioning and management of limited actions adds to it. There is a small variety of location cards adding some replay value. Given that some locations have special abilities (like a means to teleport all creatures in play into space, or doors to cut off routes for the genestealers), this also adds some other key tasks for the players to focus on instead of just shooting genestealers. The cards are nice stock with the great, classic, gothic sci-fi artwork that you’d expect from the 40K universe. The designs and icons on the cards are also well done once you decipher what the particular symbols represent.

The Bad – Although it is a co-op game, there is still player elimination. Given that combat is so unforgiving, you can potentially see a team get eliminated early which sort of sucks for that player. While there are only 3 cards of each location type, given you have a total of 4 locations to go through, there is a decent variety in the box. The same however can’t be said for the space marines. After a few plays you’ll likely slip into using favorite teams with some having abilities that are more applicable in multiple situations compared to others (hence, you might consider them ‘better’ choices).

The game has a large amount of luck. Particularly with the position shifting of genestealer hordes at the end of each phase. You can have a great setup and support tokens to mitigate bad die rolls some, only to have it all fall apart as a horde of aliens have suddenly merged into another group and flanked a key marine. Along with this are some downright painful event cards (like some that can eliminate a marine instantly), all of which contributes to a game that might be too chaotic for some. While I like the randomness, you can indeed manage to get a series of bad draws of event cards that can pretty much tank your game.

The Verdict – I enjoy Space Hulk: Death Angel. It’s an enjoyable co-op strategy game that is light enough to get into quickly but still offers difficult choices. It has enough randomness in the setup and play to add replay which will break away from repeatedly using the same game to game strategies. The only stickler is that I wish there were a few more options for combat teams, or a variety of ability cards for existing marines.

This isn’t the same tactical experience of the original board game. However it’s still pretty fun and even in its abstract form of cards and piles of genestealers shifting around, you still get that experience a little of tense exploration, never quite knowing what the next section of the ship will hold. I think the limited action choice from turn to turn encourages you to talk with other players and try to get some synergy with tactics. Also, it provides a demanding solo play experience too. Given the small box and price, there is a lot of fun to be had inside. If wanting an abstract, tactical game with a sci-fi twist, this isn’t a bad choice.

[UPDATE: Some big news came out a few weeks ago regarding the licensing of GW IP and Fantasy Flight. Appears FF will not be continuing GW games. So it’ll be interesting to see if Death Angel gets picked up by someone else.]

Boardgaming in Korea: First Alleyway

Over the years I’ve covered a lot of board game shops and board game cafes in Seoul but I’d be remiss to not mention my hometown, Gwangju. For several years now there has been a local haunt for tabletop folks at an eatery, The First Alleyway. This isn’t a place that sells any games or gaming supplies. It’s a full up restaurant. However you’ll find it’s a place open to folks playing games at the establishment.

AlleywayA

The place is well lit with several tables that can handle 4 people spaciously, or smaller tables for couples that can be shifted around to accommodate larger groups. While it doesn’t sell board games, there is a decent selection of games on hand. The choices lean towards lighter fare like King of Tokyo, Smallworld, Settlers of Catan, and Ticket to Ride, but a few meaty games like Dominion can be found too.

Just one of the various game shelves throughout the place.

Just one of the various game shelves throughout the place.

The policy of the place for playing games is relaxed. As long as people are buying food and drinks, the owner is open to people playing games at the tables. However on some packed nights during the early evening rush, they might gently ask some folks to move over to tables by the bar if people are more inclined to be just drinking coffee and water.

The interesting news for the place is that the second floor of the building will be open soon exclusively for gaming. A handful of tables will be set up, along with a more extensive game library including RPGs and classic hex and counter wargames (the owner has a soft spot for ASL). There is also a larger table set up for miniature wargaming along with another room that will be host for workbenches if people need some dedicated space for painting.

Now I’ve focused on the gaming potential of First Alleyway which is possible here, but understand you are playing at a public restaurant, so expect all the limitations and issues that come with that. But there are also some major plusses in the manner of craft beers and great western food. A staple selection of hamburgers, (real) pizza, sandwiches, and salads can be found on the menu. Not to mention a variety of offerings for the classic Canadian comfort food, poutine. The place also has a full bar with staff more learned in the art of pouring cocktails than some other places in the city. And their selection of beer is top notch.

AlleywayB

Its location and more info can be found on their facebook page. Gwangju is known for its Korean food. If you ever visit Korea, you are doing a disservice to yourself not to eat local. Yet if spending some time in Korea you might eventually have a hankering for something a little closer to home, and this restaurant certainly fits the bill. However if you are keen on checking out the local gaming scene, the First Alleyway is a must stop. A great place to play board games and at the very least have a drink or two.

Review: Harbour

From Tasty Minstrel Games, Harbour is a 1-4 player game where players are competing trade brokers in a fantasy harbour. It is a compact game that will play in about 45 minutes or so, easily allowing you to get in a few games in one sitting. It revolves primarily around selling and producing goods, all the while trying to buy up special buildings for additional options during your turn and victory points. Once a player has a total of 5 buildings (including their starting warehouse building), the game ends.

Turns run pretty simple. A player moves their meeple to an unoccupied building, and then takes the action on the building to the best of their ability. If goods are sold, the market is adjusted to reflect new prices and the next player takes their turn. Simple.

Each player has an initial warehouse building which tracks the number of different goods that they hold. There are four types of goods (fish, stone, wood, and cattle) and the price of these goods range from $2-5 dollars. Paired with these prices is a required minimum number of goods for that particular type which must be in your warehouse if wanting to sell. As a mental cheat sheet, the price of a resource equals the minimum number of stored goods (so if stone was $3, you’d need at least 3 stone in your warehouse).
HarbourCover
The catch to this is once you sell a good, you sell everything, regardless of the actual price of the goods. So if you’ve got 5 wood stored away and decide to sell it for a measly $2, you have to unload all of it. None of it can be saved for later sales (although certain building types allow you to bypass this restriction).

Added to this is a very fluctuating selling market. It’s hard to describe effectively without diagrams, but essentially goods that are sold move down a track and reenter the market at the lowest value. All unsold goods move up in cost (and the required number of stored goods needed to sell). Depending on the value of the good sold, you can really shake up the market. Low value resources won’t change the market much, but selling higher value goods can really alter the prices of everything else. What compounds this is that most buildings are $6-8 so you are always selling 2 or more resources to get the cash needed to purchase them.

Aside from a winning condition, owning buildings means that other players have to pay a good to use it. Buildings themselves have different abilities which typically allow for the gain of goods coupled with losing some others that are owned, or the shifting of the market. Some buildings also have other properties that allows for storage of more resources, cheaper building prices, or allowing a player to use an opponent’s building for free.

Players can purchase a limited choice of buildings out of a deck of 36 different kinds. Most abilities for buildings are shifting the loss of a few goods to get a small gain in another, or just adding one or two goods to your warehouse. There are a few buildings that allow for gaining of more resources depending on owning particular building icons. However these are few and far between.

Another layer of variation is that the game comes with different player abilities and starting buildings. You have the option of starting out with everyone having a generic player mat. But you can also choose from 14 different player mats with different abilities and matching building types. So out of the box there is quite a lot of variety making room for a different play experience from game to game. You also can play the game solo playing against an AI opponent, so you can stretch the game play even further

The Good – Harbour is a fun little game of worker placement and resource selling. There is a surprising amount of variation in building and player types that give the game a lot of replay. It plays pretty fast and the manipulation of market prices and gaining of select goods is engaging. It’s not overly complicated but certainly will make you think some in how to tangle out what goods to work on and the opportune time to sell and purchase buildings. The artwork is light and whimsical capturing a fun fantasy theme of a fictitious harbor. You get nice, thick, card stock building cards and chunky, wooden resource tokens too.

The Bad – While the market moves prices in an interesting way, it practice it becomes exceedingly difficult to predict. It’s almost too volatile in a 3-4 player game and certainly favors the player that can jump into selling goods early. While there is some room for having a combination of buildings to gain a lot of resources, typically you are only having a net gain of 1 to 2 goods a turn.

This leads into my major gripe with the game. It just seems to end too quickly. You really can’t construct an engine with owned buildings before the game ends. It also creeps into a snowball effect for the few players in the lead. Once they have an advantage of a building or two, it’s almost impossible to catch up.

The Verdict – Harbour is an okay game. Hands down for the price you are paying (less than $20) it’s an immense value. The small box offers a lot of replay and can even offer an engaging solo game. However, while there is room to explore different strategies there never seems enough time to fully develop them.

You’re in a frantic race to gain the right goods at the right time and if you miss out, you can really fall behind. If an opponent is in the lead and can capitalize on another market opportunity, you’ll find yourself in a deep hole that’s too hard to get out of for a victory. So you have to usually jump into buying what buildings you can afford right now, over planning a turn or two to try and pick up other buildings that could offer a deeper ability interaction with others you own.

In the end, I don’t find Harbour a bad game. For such a small package, there is a lot of enjoyable game in the box. But it’s not an amazing game. While the play is engaging and you have some interesting choices, the market is so volatile and the building types so limited in function, it doesn’t allow for a lot of strategic maneuvering. It’s an enjoyable game. But oddly for how much it allows for some careful planning and thoughtful choices during play, other bits like the constant market price swings just make that decision process squandered some.

I think the most saving grace is the price, box size, and card variety. It leaves a small footprint on your shelf and doesn’t sink deep into your wallet. If looking for a relatively light worker placement game with some market interaction, Harbour isn’t a horrible buy and you can squeeze a large amount of play out of it without it getting repetitive.

[House Rule: Players only get to use another player’s building for free if they own more top hat buildings than their opponent. Getting top hat buildings is pretty easy to do. This tweak allows for an advantage if a player delves into owning multiple top hat buildings allowing for a potential strategy. As RAW, it’s a little too to easy to counter by simply gaining one top hat building.]

Review: Cthulhu Realms

CthulhuRealmsBOXTasty Minstrel Games offers Cthulhu Realms, a small deck building game for 2-4 players. This is a nod and a wink to Star Realms, which is another small deck builder game from a different company. Players are nefarious followers of Cthulhu trying to drive their opponents mad, inflicting damage to their sanity. It’s a game of player elimination where players try to reduce each of their opponent’s point total (sanity) to zero being the last cultist standing.

As mentioned it’s a deck building game. All players start with a standard deck of 10 cards and have common card supplies which are shared with other players. During their turn, a player will play as many cards as possible from their hand. Cards have a variety of powers which can be activated in any order (including switching back and forth between played cards). Generally cards offer conjuring power used to buy cards, gain/reduce sanity, or draw/discard cards. After playing cards, everything is discarded including their hand, 5 cards are drawn from their deck, and their turn ends.

An exception to removing all cards are locations, and these become important as they always remain in play. Further, many cards require a certain color type in play. So locations become great focal points to use in card combos. They can be removed and thrown into a player’s discard pile by being attacked directly (where sanity loss is applied to a particular location instead of a player). Additionally, some locations have a characteristic that forces their opponents to remove the location first, before attacks can be made against a player. Thrown into this is another location type that must be targeted and destroyed before other locations can be attacked. You’ll find out quickly adding locations to your deck a key strategy during play.

There are three types of cards (followers, locations, and artifacts) along with 4 color types of cards. Many card powers require combinations with other cards to utilize all of their abilities successfully. Another key ability of some cards is abjure, essentially a discard ability removing cards from the game entirely. This is a good way to thin out your deck or potentially get rid of a juicy card your opponent would likely pick up.

In a 2 player game, a supply pool of 5 cards is available for each to purchase. In a multiplayer game, between each player is a separate pool of three cards forming a pinwheel of sorts. For a 4 player game this becomes interesting as sanity loss can only be directed towards opponents to your left and right (ones you share card supplies with). There will be a 4th player essentially untouchable. This won’t last long though as sanity loss hits both your left and right opponents simultaneously. So no hemming and hawing about choosing who loses a few sanity points.

The Good – This is an enjoyable, light, deck building game. It moves pretty fast with some interesting card combinations to explore. There are a variety of approaches in play, either focusing heavily on one color of cards, or trying to spread the field and work up a deck of several card types. I enjoy the multiplayer setup making it a little structured in card supply pools rather than everyone using one card supply. The player point totals use a nifty card and counter system to easily track sanity (victory points) which also doubles as a card ability reference. The card artwork is whimsical and of thick stock. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will likely get many of the inside jokes on the Cthulhu mythos.

The Bad – Not all the card icons are easily digested and deciphered. Expect a bit of a learning curve and having the rules handy to interpret some of them. While the rulebook is a tight document, the layout is a bit of a hassle as it’s spread out on a single, folded sheet of paper. The card artwork is cartoony and just might not work for some. Lastly there are a good number of card types, yet after several plays you might see some card combinations being to recur.

Once a card is purchased, another is immediately added to replace it. This can lead to buyer’s remorse if a powerful card is suddenly added to the supply pool. As there are some especially strong card combinations, it can be simply a matter of players scooping up the right cards first (and these combos can be difficult to break up if not in possession of the right card types). Another quibble is there are multiple powers on many of the cards, and as you can can switch back and forth between other cards in play during your turn, keeping track of used powers and conditions met for other abilities can sometimes be a chore (using pennies or glass beads covering up used powers helps).

The Verdict – I like Cthulhu Realms. It’s a fun, quick, deck builder game. The theme is light and certainly not serious, so I can give a pass on the card art style. It’s not meant to be a somber horror game despite dealing with the Cthulhu mythos. There is just enough variation in the cards and multiplayer layout to add a fair amount of replay. It’s a player elimination game, however it doesn’t quite drag out the process of players dropping out once massive sanity points are being lost left and right.

In the end, you have a compact 2-4 player game in a small box. It’s a surprisingly effective package that delivers a great little deck builder with a low price tag. If you can embrace the playful theme, you’ll find a pleasant gem in Cthulhu Realms.