Category: Board Games

Project NISEI: System Gateway

FFG pulled the plug on Netrunner, but the community has been hard at work keeping the game going. Two years ago Project NISEI released a brand new expansion which was pretty stellar for a fan made product. However a lingering issue was the lack of cards that could introduce new players to the game. You could work with getting a bunch of proxies made up but it was a fairly monumental task and not something a new player could navigate through.

Project NISEI understood this and at the end of March, 2021 will be releasing a brand new core product, System Gateway. It consists of 3 different products. The Starter set offers basic corp and runner tutorial decks with a few extra cards for some tinkering. Looks ideal for providing an easier experience learning the nuances and rules of Netrunner. It’s followed up by the Deckbuilding Pack which expands your pool to include all the factions allowing a taste of their different playstyles.

This is a nice implementation for a new player experience. You get a bare bones introduction offering a simpler, yet solid, means of learning the game, along with some additional cards to branch out into different deck construction options. This is further expanded with a third product, System Update. These are old Netrunner cards given a new design. For a brand new player they provide an even deeper delve into deckbuilding.

Time will tell how these sets fare. However I like that if you happen to get people into Netrunner, there are some options out there for people to build their own card collection. My one nitpick is that Netrunner does require a lot of tokens. I’ve got some simple turn and credit trackers, along with some other play aids to keep track of viruses, tags, and the like. They are ugly, bare bones designs but are functional. At least a cheap way to keep record of stuff with a handful of coins or glass beads.

For older players, there seems to be a lot of official formats out there. A reddit post summed the formats up in a nice graphic. Interestingly, I feel the System Gateway format of just NISEI products looks like it would be a lot of fun. A telling sign I hope which will encourage people to take up the mantle of getting new players into Netrunner. Knowing there are cards out there new folks can get if they like the game, that seems an endeavor worth pursuing.

What to buy next for Arkham Horror: The Card Game

You’ve tackled the core set multiple times and finally want to look deeper into the abyss that is Arkham Horror. What do you pick up next? Unfortunately the product line for the Arkham Horror LCG has exploded over the years. While it’s great to see the game have tons of support from FFG, wading into the LCG as a new player can have your head spinning on how to expand your card collection. So here are some suggestions.

Do you need a second core? This is a resounding no, a second core is not needed. Maybe four years ago there would be a lot of conventional wisdom behind doing this. But the game is at a different point now. So no, you don’t need a second core set.

I could see years ago why folks felt this way. Fortunately, my original criticism of the game finally seems to have been addressed. The old core set gave you a taste of the game for up to 2 players. You really could not do much deckbuilding with just a single original core set. Even worse, you can’t explore all the investigator combinations as they rely on dipping deep into a common pool of cards for others. There is a revised core set that takes those issues head on.

There is a dogmatic view it’s required to have two copies of certain cards to make any deck viable (notably Machete and for mystic investigators, Shrivelling). Additionally there were neutral skill cards in the core set considered staples for deck building.

The card pool has greatly expanded giving you lots of other options. While some weapons might not be on the same efficiency scale of Machete, there are decent variants, and also other tools (Prepared for the Worst) to help a player dig through their deck to find that lone copy if needed. Lastly I’d argue that neutral skill cards are too limiting. You now have lots of other cards which can help bolster lagging skill icons and these have other abilities to boot. However now this argument of requiring additional core investigator is moot.

There is a revised core set in the pipe that removes the need for a 2nd core set entirely. All investigators will have 2 copies of their class cards and additional neutral ones. You can pick an investigator and all the cards will be there to play them. As an additional plus, FFG threw in some new upgrade card versions (which had all been released from previous expansions). So you now have even more deckbuilding opportunities as you progress through the core campaign.

Campaign Cycle Expansions – If wanting to get more bang for your gaming budget, this is an excellent way to expand your card pool. Now FFG has changed the expansion cycle packaging to make it far more easier to get into. Each expansion now comes as two products, one is all the investigator cards in one go. While another boxed set consists of new encounter and scenario cards for the campaign itself. This is far better than the old product line packaging.

Previous campaigns were structured around a big box product that had 2-3 scenarios, new investigators, and encounter cards specific to the entire expansion cycle. And was then followed by 6 additional scenario packs that also had more investigator cards. From the old product line, a typical release schedule was playing the expansion box scenarios first, and then getting each scenario pack sequentially. Or you could get the entire expansion cycle in one go, adding all the investigator cards to your pool from the start. Fortunately this multiple pack format will no longer be an option for older campaigns, making it easier to get, and a better way to expand your investigator card pool.

I would utilize resources to find out what cards would synergize well with investigators you’d want to play. Keep in mind not all campaigns are created equal. I feel some of the more recent ones (particularly the Forgotten Age) were designed for players that have a complete investigator card pool from previous expansions, and the overall cycle difficulty is increased to reflect that.

On the flip side, the Dunwich Legacy and Path to Carcosa don’t really stray much from the gameplay mechanics of the core set. Both have great investigator cards, but you might say Dunwich Legacy feels like a longer campaign akin to the core set. I enjoyed both, and the Path to Carcosa is a community darling. However if you wanted to play an expansion that utilized different game mechanisms, you might want to try out a more recent cycle.

Return to Expansions – To add some longevity to expansion cycles and the core set, FFG released small products titled ‘Return to: (campaign cycle)’ which are decent for adding some replay. However for expanding your card pool they are a poor choice. There will be some additional investigator cards which are commonly higher XP versions of cards in that cycle and/or core set. Another reason to hold off on the Return To expansions are the difficulty level.

If you’ve played a cycle to death and beaten it soundly at the expert level, the Return To expansions might be something you’d be interested in. They add more difficult locations and encounter cards to ramp up the challenge offered by the original versions. If you particularly enjoy a campaign, the Return To expansions add variety and small tweaks to offer more replay. But for expanding your card pool as a primary focus, they aren’t a solid buy.

Stand Alone Scenarios – This is another low priority buy if wanting to expand your investigator card pool. These are 1-2 scenarios intended for a one shot game. While they can be added to a longer campaign, they are really designed for a lone jaunt seeking answers to the mythos. The contents in these packs are geared towards scenario cards, where investigator cards (if any) are intended to be given as rewards for its successful completion.

Investigator decks – These are a wonderful, especially if looking to bolster the card pool for a particular type of investigator. All of them are designed to provide a complete investigator deck, along with additional cards to be purchased with experience as you wind through a campaign. I think that’s the primary strength of the decks. Want to add a 3rd or 4th player to your core set? You can buy these and each additional player will have a complete deck. More importantly, the decks themselves are pretty solid.

These have some good cards which can supplement the lack of duplicate cards in a core set. As an example Azure Flame is a great option to brace up that lone copy of Shrivelling. Sadly the guardian deck, while a good one, doesn’t quite have a replacement for Machete. You could argue that a fair amount of the cards really work best with the investigator they come with. However there’s a good number that’ll work with just about any other investigator. These decks are something to look into if you like a particular class. As they are solely composed of player cards they are an ideal product to broaden your player card pool.

Game Nite – Board games in Saint Louis

I’ve gotten some more opportunities to check out the options of board game stores in Saint Louis. Another popular haunt, especially for wargamers, is Game Nite. They carry quite a large selection of board games and miniatures. GW is pretty popular as well as Infinity. But other games like those from Privateer Press are carried also, in addition to paints and modelling supplies.

They have an expansive collection of board games and card games. Interestingly they also offer shelf space for used games. I imagine it’s more of a consignment system, but they allow for folks to unload older games. It seems worth giving them a gander too, as most of the offerings are near mint or lightly played. A great way to pick up on stuff that wanes in light of the ever-changing BGG hotness of the month.

There are also a fair number of tables for in store gaming. Not only are tables set up for miniature wargaming, but there are several tables for card and board games too. Both the weekends and weeknights look to be popular times to visit. I do believe that priority is given to people wanting to run organized events, so plan ahead accordingly if wanting to run a game for just your friends.

They also have a decent sized game library. Combined with ample table space, you’ve got plenty of opportunities to try new games out. Or potentially consider trying a game out before buying it. Pretty nice aspect of the store.

Game Nite is a good place to visit for board and card games (even for the miniature wargamer too), and certainly worth checking out their calendar of events to see if anything tickles your fancy.

Return to Night of the Zealot: Go7 Box Insert

Mentioned a while back, FFG has released Return to Night of the Zealot which is a mini-expansion of sorts for the campaign in the original core set. I still haven’t had a chance to play through it. So no impressions yet on how the campaign is. However I do appreciate FFG looking at ways to stretch the first campaign out some.

It appears that this might be a popular direction for expansions as they’ve announced a similar product for some of the earlier campaigns. You get a decent size box and one thing I immediately thought was to whip up an insert for it. Fortunately Go7 Gaming has you covered as they offer a MDF insert of their own design.

It assembles pretty easily. The divider sleeves have a clever design with a higher edge tab being off center. This way you can alternate the dividers giving support to cards in the box and eek a little more organization into the layout (as you could write on the dividers if you wanted). I’ll admit I now have a little buyers remorse as the new design sports more dividers and tabs (now 14 compared to my box which has an early design of 7). Looks like they realized the variety of encounter cards required more slots and spacers.

The cards are well supported and you have enough dividers to break up cards so that you can take a few out and still support others upright in the box. The insert and dividers also work with the card dividers provided in the expansion. Overall a nice little product worth picking up to squeeze some more functionality out of the expansion packaging.

Terraforming Mars Mat Overlays

Terraforming Mars is a pretty fun game. Still need to noodle through it more to offer a decent review. While the card art is a little bleah, I love the tactile feel of all the resource bits the game has. The downside though is that they are fiddly. It’s so easy to jostle your play mat, scrambling your resources and status markers for everything.

Fortunately other folks have found solutions to this. Of some third party products, I went ahead and picked up clear acrylic overlay trays from Board Game Boost. These fit directly over the player mats.

They are quite nice. The cubes fit snugly and don’t move around. And it’s easy to pick them up and place them in other slots. Additionally there are slots to keep track of higher values if you happen to go over the initial printed tracks. And a nod to the designer, the extra slots can also hold a 5 value (silver cube), so it’s possible to indicate both 10s and 20s on the resource track if needed.

The person also offers another design with a back board, so that you can seal the entire player mat. However I opted to go with just the simple overlay. Something worth looking at if you wanted a functional way to bling out your Terraforming Mars game. One bit I’d mention, the vendor has an instructional video on how to peel off the paper backing and pop out some of the tabs. I would highly recommend watching it before you go to town with the inserts.

Miniature Market – Board games in Saint Louis

It’s a new year and big changes for me as I’ve transplanted myself from Korea back to the US. Gaming has been on the back burner for a few months but now that I’ve gotten settled some I’ve been peeking a bit on local gaming haunts. Miniature Market was high up on my list as it’s got a pretty big footprint as an online store. I was able to swing by the shop finally and have to admit I’m pretty impressed.

They have a large selection of board games and also cater to the miniature wargamer too. Aside from a lot of GW, Malifaux, Infinity, a smattering of Bolt Action, a wide selection of Reaper Miniatures among other stuff can be found on the shelves. In addition to paints and supplies, they also carry quite a bit of terrain. Well worth checking out if gaming with miniatures is your bag.

They carry a wide selection of board games and card games. Not to mention a well stocked bookcase of RPGs. I’d say most of the physical store delves more in the new hotness on BBG. But you can find some older gems, and I understand it’s always worth asking the staff about a particular game as it might be in the warehouse (or check their online store). The staff always seems helpful and engaging. I quite liked them being proactive asking if I needed assistance instead of being holed away behind the register as I wandered around the store.

The store also has quite a large dedicated space for gaming with several open tables that is well lit. They also seem to have a pretty active schedule running events every weekend and weeknights. I’m impressed with the amount of space available for in store gaming. Keep in mind they try to cater to folks running organized events. You could likely get some space to meet with mates and play a game for the afternoon, but understand that priority will be given to people registering on their calendar of events.

It’s a well stocked store, with lots of opportunity to get a chance to meet people and play. If running through the Saint Louis area, Miniature Market is certainly a place to visit.

Review: Marvel Champions: The Card Game

In the footsteps of other LCGs in the Fantasy Flight Games’ catalog notably, The Lord of the Rings and Arkham Horror, a new cooperative card game has emerged, Marvel Champions: The Card Game. For 1-4 players, each person controls a hero and works together to defeat a dastardly supervillain. Pulling from the Marvel comics and using a tried and true formula similar to other FFG Living Card Games, this cooperative deck construction game has a lot going for it.

All players represent a particular hero, each one having hand size limit and cards specific to their comic character. The superhero character cards comprise of about half your typical deck. In addition players can tinker with their deck composition using cards from one aspect (essentially sets of cards that have a particular flavor of game mechanics), along with more generic use neutral cards.

Each hero gets their full turn, starting with the first player that’ll rotate each round, before passing to another player. The hero can play cards from their hand that either does a one time action, has some long term effect, or potentially be an ally remaining in play to help in thwarting the villain. Lastly, the player can use their hero to either attack the supervillain directly or try and address the villain’s scheme. After playing all of their cards along with committing the actions they want, they can discard as many cards as they’d like and draw up to their hand size. This is where the fun part of the game comes in as the player can also do a special once-per-turn action, flip their hero card to an alter ego (or vice versa).

Each hero persona has an alter ego form. In the non-hero form the player commonly has a larger hand size and can heal damage taken by the villain. While in hero form the player can be more proactive taking on the villain or stopping their plans, but can potentially leave themselves open to being attacked. In addition to this, in hero form the player will also have a limited hand size. So usually they need to have a pretty solid board state with cards in play to provide resources or allies to help take the fight to the villain.

After all the players have had their turn, the villain will act. Threat, a means to indicate a timer of sorts, is added to the main villain scheme. If the threat equals or exceeds the threshold for the villain’s scheme, the players lose. Then the villain will attack each player one by one, doing damage equal to the villain’s stat plus a potential variable amount based on cards drawn from an encounter deck that can ‘boost’ the damage. If a player ever takes enough damage to equal or exceed their hero’s health, they are out of the game. If all the players are eliminated, they all lose.

A hero can attempt to defend against an attack, reducing the damage they take. However this will exhaust them. You can only ready your hero and cards in play at the end of your turn. So essentially you’re giving up your next turn when defending against a villain attack. If a player is in their alter ego form the villain doesn’t attack them, but instead adds threat to the main villain scheme. This all leads to some really interesting choices aside from playing cards for the player.

Do you settle on being in your alter ego during the villain turn? This will ensure you can get a larger hand size to help out the following one, and even potentially heal up if needed. However main scheme will get even more threat piled onto it, ramping up the end game condition for losing. Or instead do you settle on having less cards to throw down next round, but the flexibility of either attacking the main villain or addressing the villain’s main scheme? Or maybe if in hero form, you block an incoming attack essentially shrugging off the damage (yet that also means limiting your actions on the next turn). Fun choices to noodle through while you are playing.

This all gets compounded even more so during the villain turn. After the main villain attacks (or adds threat to the main scheme if a player is in their alter ego form), each player draws a card from the encounter deck. Like Arkham Horror, the villain has a special deck to add complications to the scenario. This might mean adding more dire schemes players have to take on, or minion villains that attack the players during the villain phase, or even cards to hinder future attacks against the main villain. This layers on challenges for the players, ratcheting up the difficulty as the game moves on.

All the while the players are in a desperate fight against time. They have to inflict enough combined damage to essentially enrage the villain further, transforming the foe to another form (or stage). If there are no further stages for that villain the players win. This is the only way the players can win the game. While they can try to address the main villain scheme, they can never stop it completely. They have to balance between keeping the main scheme in check and also chip away at the villain’s health, hoping to eventually hit their enemy hard enough over time to vanquish them.

Actually playing cards from your hand is easy. Every card will have a cost to put into play, and in addition they provide resources of certain types indicated with symbols. To play a card, a player discards cards from their hand with enough resource icons to match the cost. Resources spent this way can be of any symbol type, but commonly you’ll get a bonus if a specific resource is used.

Players will eventually have upgrades, resource cards, and allies in play to help out from turn to turn, reducing the need to have a large hand size. But note that while a player can have ally heroes in play, they are temporary. There are limited means to heal damage allies take after stopping a villain’s attack. Also most allies sort of damage themselves when used to stop a villain or reduce the threat on a scheme, so effectively it puts a turn limit on their use.

The Good – There are some immense pros as a cooperative game. Unlike many other LCG games from FFG, this offers a fair amount of deck construction options just using the core set alone. The game is challenging, with options to make each villain more difficult. The game play is flexible enough with resource costs that you can usually do something during your turn, reducing the downtime. But typically the game forces you into some challenging situations and critical decision making. The art is colorful with simple icons and symbols, the components are thick cardstock, and the box roomy enough to hold a few more expansions.

The Bad – There really isn’t much story akin to what you’d get in the Arkham Horror LCG. The game is pretty much about beating down the villain and there isn’t any real progression of the villain master plan as the game progresses. So there isn’t some rich, story telling happening when you play or a longer campaign to look forward to, and instead it’s pretty much a drawn out fight against a villain. The game is deceptively simple and some keywords and card interactions are going to have you grabbing the rules every once in a while to ensure play is moving along as intended. While much of the art is top notch, some of it is a little disappointing, which is odd considering you have such a wealth of Marvel source material to draw from.

The Verdict – Marvel Champions is an immensely enjoyable coop card game. While there is some card jargon and mechanisms to work through, it’s far more approachable than other similar coop LCGs from Fantasy Flight Games. I love Arkham Horror, but it can be so daunting with terminology, task resolution, and restrictive player actions, that Marvel Champions is a downright refreshing take. But don’t think there isn’t a lot of play here. You are going to make some agonizing choices and will have that same roller coaster feeling from turn to turn, with highs getting great draws and a player board that just ‘clicks’ with efficiency, to abysmal lows as you suddenly draw a dire villain encounter card. Fun stuff.

Yes, there isn’t much story to the villains and their minions, but every villain deck can choose from a particular subset to make up the encounter deck. This allows you to tailor the difficulty even more and also offer some change ups to the opposition and challenges you’ll face stretching out that replay value even more. Aside from this are the heroes. You’ve got 5 hero choices for a 1-4 player game, and every hero can dip into different aspects to give their decks some changes to play style. Mind you deck construction is still hobbled some but there is a fair amount to play around with just using the core set (and quite a departure from previous LCG offerings from FFG).

Lastly, as a coop game Marvel Champions is just a solid experience. You really get that feeling of working together to stop a supervillain, and mechanisms of the rules encourage this type of cooperation. With difficult choices, plenty of variable replay, room to tinker with deck construction, and an entire universe of untapped superheroes and villains to draw from, you’ll find a wonderful card game here.

Review: BattleLore 2ed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Tobago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.