4th June 2021
It's Friday evening and we're logged into Tabletopia.
This evening we will be playing the first part of Pandemic Legacy: season 0. Time to battle the Soviets to save the world during the height of the 60's cold war.
Caveat: we've only played this game digitally online.
Caveat No. 2: This is a legacy game and we only played the prologue, so I'm not going to blog about it at length.
What's in a game?
Season 0 is a prequel to the other Pandemic Legacy games, none of which I've played.
If you've ever played a Pandemic style game before, then a lot of this will be familiar to you.
There's also a lot of components to deal with the legacy element of the game.
How's it play?
The setup for Pandemic Legacy: season 0 will differ for each scenario as they have their won objectives, but will include the following:
Players of other Pandemic games will recognise most of the play mechanics. There are some other elements, but mostly during their turn, the active player will have 4 actions points to spend and their turn goes as follows:
Each mission will have it's own unique objectives to complete, when they are all either completed or failed, the mission immediately ends.
Missions will also immediately end if the following criteria is met:
Cards cannot be drawn from the player deck.
There are no more agent figures that can be used.
There are no more incident markers that can be used.
If the mission ends and there are any incomplete objectives, they are marked as failed.
Then players will be rated as succeeding, adequate or failing, this will have an affect on later missions.
Incidents that occurred during a mission will impact the board for later missions as well.
There are 12 missions played over a period of 12 months, making it a busy year. There will also be numerous other actions will occur with regard to further missions, this being a legacy game.
I'll start by saying that I know some people gush over legacy games, but I've not really played much of any legacy games and I'm pretty ambivalent towards them.
I understand the appeal of an evolving game where player decisions have an impact on further games over time. At the same time, I'm so sure about a game where you have to play it 12 or 20 times to get the most out of it.
Anyway; since I've not played the legacy components of Season 0, I'm not really going to blog about them, instead I can write my thoughts about the general mechanics of the game.
If you've played a Pandemic style game, then a lot of this will be familiar. It has the same, recognisable gameplay elements of racing against time and having to make difficult meaningful decisions to balance completing objectives with firefighting the spread of in this particular incarnation, Soviet agents.
Like all cooperative games I've played, mitigating bad luck is a key component to succeeding.
Reskinning Pandemic's mechanics for Season 0 could have been lazy and bad, but actually, they work and fit the theme pretty well, the changes introduce interesting concepts, although some of the changes only apply to long term play.
The addition of teams is an inspired change, instead of running around and doing actions myself, I could instruct teams of agents to do it, provided they had the correct aliases of course. Not only did it give players and extra decision to manage, it made me feel more of a spymaster than a spy, which I found quite appealing, it gave the impression that more was going on at any one time, it made the game feel bigger and that's good.
These changes differentiate Season 0 from Pandemic, but is it enough of a change to justify owning both? For me, as an owner of the original Pandemic; I'd say no. Would I play someone else's copy? Probably.
I have to say it would cool to have seen the agent mechanics employed in a standard spy-themed Pandemic game.
If you're a big player of legacy games and can commit to them, it's definitely worth a look. If you're also a fan of Pandemic, it might also be for you.
28th May 2021
It's a Friday night and we've met up at Simon's for some impromptu gaming.
Have you ever had the urge to run around being chased by Dracula? Or The Wolfman, or any other of the Universal movie monsters in a cooperative turn based race against time to defeat them? Then welcome to Horrified.
What's in a game?
Horrified is a cooperative board game in the vein of games such as Pandemic and has some loosely similar rules.
The monster figures seem good quality and stand about 32mm high. All the tiles and tokens are made of suitability thick cardstock, the standees are also fine. The quality of the 2 decks of cards what you'd expect.
The game's art is universally good, I particularly liked the board which is eye-catchingly coloured in blue and yellow.
All the art used on the monster components is also excellent, wisely drawing inspiration from its iconic source material, this includes the monster figures which are reasonably sculpted for game pieces and easily recognisable by anyone who knows their universal monsters.
Art on the other tiles, character and villager standees is also good, the same is true for the monster & perk cards.
Item tokens only feature monochrome illustrations and that's fine since the tokens are quite small and there will generally be a lot of them. Besides, just how exciting can you make a clove of garlic or a pitchfork look?
How's it play?
In Horrified, players are tasked with travelling round the board to collect item tokens and use them to complete tasks to make monsters vulnerable, then they can be defeated. All the while, the players must avoid the monsters and also protect the very hapless villagers.
On to play
When the active player has their turn, it will be split into a character turn and then a monster turn.
Let's start with the character's turn, each character will have 3-5 action points to that the player may spend per turn, they can be spent as follows:
The monster turn is dictated by the monster card which is drawn. Each monster card has 3 elements to it.
Horrified has 2 ways to lose.
If the marker on the terror track reaches 7, then everyone flees the village in errrr, well terror!
If, when it comes to a monster turn and there're no monster card to draw, then time has run out and it's game over! Monster overrun everything.
Players win the game by completing the objective for each monster and then vanquishing all monsters.
Horrified uses some interesting mechanics that set it apart from similar games.
The asymmetrical objectives that need completing for the different monsters is genuinely inspired game design.
Objectives like curing The Wolfman, solving The Mummy's sliding puzzle or proving the existence of The Invisible Man thematically it fits the monsters and mechanically it adds variety and longevity to the game.
The damage mechanic is also an excellent idea; forcing players to choose which item(s) to discard can be a meaningful and painful decision, choosing either to lose an important token that is needed or a high value other token is tough. It also does away with the need to track health or hit points.
Villagers too, are a good addition, keeping them alive can be a burden, but is also vital to keeping the terror track under control. If character manages to escort a villager to safety, then the reward is a perk card. Perk cards can be extremely useful and turn things around when played at the right time, they can be game winners.
Horrified is a little bit less finicky than it's counterparts but that doesn't make it an easy game, whenever we've won, it was only with a couple of actions in hand and when we've lost, it's been by a few actions as well.
Like every other cooperative game I've played, Horrified uses luck - or bad luck more precisely, to provide a challenge to the players, some bad dice rolls or an unfortunate monster card draw can really throw a spanner in the works. Like all those other cooperative games, how players manage the bad luck is important to victory.
Furthermore, every decision has to count, Horrified is a tightly balanced game. Since there are only 30 monster cards, that means that players basically have 30 turns to win, or on average 120 actions to spend. There's scant time to waste.
Horrified is a fairly accessible, fun to play and well presented game. It's one of the best cooperative games I've played and I'm to play it again.
23rd May 2021
It's Sunday evening and I'm logged into Skype and Board Game Arena on my PC and it's time for the final game of the day.
Drafting. Rawr! Dinosaurs. Rawr! T-rexes. Rawr!
Draftosaurus has it all, drafting and well... you get the idea. This is a game where scientists have discovered how to clone dinosaurs and now parks of them are opening everywhere, all in a completely non-copyright infringing manner of course!
Caveat: We've only played Draftosaurus digitally online.
What's in a game?
There's not much more I can say, I can't talk about the physical components which also include a draw bag.
How's it play?
Draftosaurus is about placing dinosaur meeples into the pens, different pens have different requirements, which is explained below.
Once the 12th and final dinosaur meeple has been placed by all players, the endgame is triggered.
Players score all of the sets they've created on their board, plus any bonuses or penalties. Highest score wins.
When playing Draftosaurus, more often than not, players will find themselves having to place meeples into unexpected pens thanks to the placement die. Without this element, the game would be too predictable.
How players deal with, manage and anticipate these these situations is key to victory. Often there will be a conflict between which set to increase or start on and keeping a pen open for another type of dinosaur.
It also pays to try and remember which dinosaur meeples will be coming round.
The winter side of the board makes it harder to collect different sets and provides more challenge but somehow a little less fun?
It's hard to find a lot more to say about Draftosaurus, it's quick, fairly light game to learn and play that's also quite luck based. If you don't like this sort of game, Draftosaurus will probably infuriate you. I think that maybe it's a bit too luck based for me to play extensively.
Not taken too seriously and played as a filler game and Draftosaurus is a reasonable diversion.
23rd May 2021
Sunday night game rolls on and I'm logged into Skype and Board Game Arena.
The final game of the night was Forbidden Island: A cooperative race against time to escape a mysterious island about to be swallowed by the ocean.
Forbidden Island is the older sibling of Forbidden Desert, you can read my blog about it here.
Caveat: We played the game digitally but in the past have played the physical game.
What's in a game?
Eye-catching, good quality artwork is used on the flood cards & island tiles, they also come with suitably evocative names such as Temple Of The Moon, Cave Of Embers, Breaker's Bridge and so on. Art on the treasure cards is also good and matches the nicely sculpted figurines.
All-in-all, the components are good.
How's it play?
Forbidden Island is a race against time to recover 4 treasures (In the form of the 4 figurines.) and escape the ancient island as it collapses into the ocean waves. Collecting treasures is done by heading to certain locations with a set of cards and acquiring them,
During their turn, the active player will have 3 action points to spend on various actions. Once all players have had a turn, then the game gets to have its turn.
If, during play either of the decks is depleted, simply shuffle the discard pile back into a deck.
As a cooperative game, the players collectively win or lose. Forbidden Island has several ways to lose and 1 way to win!
There are 9 'critical' island tiles on the board.
Each figurine has 2 tiles which are used to acquire the it, if both tiles for a figurine sink before it is acquired, then it's game over as there's now no way to get that figurine.
Similarly, if the Fool's Landing island tile (Which contains the helipad sinks.), then there's no way to escape and it's also game over.
If a tile with a character on it sinks, the character must swim to an adjacent tile, if there are no adjacent tiles, then unless that character is the diver, they will meet their water end! If any character is lost then it's game over for all players!
Finally, if the marker on the water level reaches the skull & crossbones, then well.... you get the idea. Glub!
Winning; easier said than done!
Any single player must collect 4 identical treasure cards, then must reach one of the 2 island tiles associated with that treasure and spend an action to acquire that treasure's figurine. This must be done for all 4 figurines.
That's not the end though, now all the characters must reach the helipad and a Helicopter Lift card must be played by any player to escape to victory.
Like other cooperative games I've played, Forbidden Island injects a dose of luck into the gameplay in order to consistently challenge players and how players manage that luck is key to victory.
Broadly speaking the gameplay is; player shores up island - game tries to sink island - player shores up island and so on. Players have to keep the island a safe as possible long enough to survive and get the cards they need to win the game.
It's not as straightforward as it sounds though, the 3 actions points each player is given to do stuff never seems enough. Players have to choose between working towards objectives or saving the island and the clock is always, always ticking.
The way the flood deck works means that tiles which have already suffered a flood will be more prone to suffering further floods because when a Waters Rise! card appears and refreshes the flood deck, cards that were already revealed are put back on the top of the flood deck, meaning they will be the first to be revealed again.
Obviously protecting the critical island tiles is.... well critical but choosing to protect other tiles is a harder choice. Sure you can allow a unimportant tile at the edge of the board to sink and it won't immediately affect the game, however, when a tile sinks, its flood card is removed from the deck, slimming it down and meaning that flood cards for tiles you are trying to protect will appear more often. Keeping cards in the flood deck can act as a buffer against other parts of the islands sinking, provided you're willing to spend the action points of course....
A hand limit of 5 is also another area of the game which forces players to make decisions, just like action points, the hand limit never seems enough.
It takes 4 cards to gain a figurine, giving player's space for only 1 other card in their hand! Through gritted death, players will frequently have to discard useful cards because they're not useful right now.
To win Forbidden Island, the players will need to cooperate, coordinate and optimise the use of action points, they'll need to make every decisions count and use special cards appropriately and decisively.
Choosing when to let a tile sink or save it, or when and what card to give to another player are all vital decisions and most of the time player's will be forced to make compromises, rarely will their decisions be no-brainers.
I find Forbidden Island to be an enjoyable cooperative game and I'm happy to play it.
Sometimes the luck of the draw can go with and give you a slightly easier time or it screw you over (Nothing like drawing Fool's Landing in the starting 6 flooded tiles, drawing Waters Rise straightaway and watching Fool's Landing immediately sink....).
But if it was always easy or fair, what would be the fun it that?
2nd April 2021
It was a Friday and I was logged into Board Game Arena on my PC.
As the name suggests, Stone Age is a game about the trials and tribulation faced by the inhabitants of prehistoric communities.
Caveat: The digital version of this game was played at this time, but we had played the physical version on previous occasions.
What's in a game?
Stone Age is a worker placement game and at its core takes place on a central game board which is divided into various different locations, into which workers can be placed to activate the associated action. Some locations may contain any amount of workers, others are limited by numbers.
The game board has a bright and colourful depiction of a stone age community on the edge of the wilderness that's quite eye-catching. The player boards have similar, if plainer artwork, again this is fine since most of the time they'll be covered in components.
The civilisation cards essentially all use the same piece of artwork with elaborate game iconography providing some variation and the same is true of the building tiles. It's nothing to write home about (Or blog about I suppose?) but is perfectly acceptable.
For the most part, the art is good.
How's it play?
Gameplay is broken up into 3 phases, place workers, resolve workers and end of round.
Again starting with the first player, they must remove all of their workers from one location at a time from every location they've placed workers and immediately resolve the associated actions as they do so, returning the meeple to the player's board. Players are free to remove their meeples in whatever order they see fit (This can have significant impact on game play.). The following actions are available:
There are 2 conditions that can trigger the endgame.
If any of the building tile stacks have all 7 of their tiles purchased, it triggers the endgame, the current round is concluded and the game goes to the end game and then scoring.
At the end of a round, if there aren't enough civilisation cards to fill a 4 spots on the board, then the game immediately ends and goes to scoring.
In both instances, tribes must be fed for a final time.
Final scores are tallied by adding the score from the victory point track, points that come from sets of civilisation cards and 1 point for each (Non food) resource the player possesses.
Highest score wins.
If I have one criticism of Stone Age, it's that the first 3 opening moves in any given round are generally always no-brainers, that's because the tool maker, hut & field locations are such a high priority because they confer very good rewards that would usually be stupid for players to pass up. If you're the 4th player, you won't get a look in unless another player is really desperate for something else or doesn't know what they're doing.
I'm not sold on the resource gathering mechanic either, yes it's quite nice but it can leave you at the mercy of the dice rolls that makes low rolls feel frustrating but somehow high rolls not feel satisfying.
Otherwise Stone Age is a mid-to-light worker placement game that is fairly easy to learn but feels perhaps a little generic, however, it does provide a fair level of depth.
The game manages to generally provide a choice or two too many for players to cover with workers, forcing them to prioritise their actions and making meaningful decisions. An extra worker is good, so is the agriculture required to feed them, the tools can help with gathering resources which are useful to buy cards and tiles and so on.
So if you want to play a worker placement game that isn't too taxing on the grey matter, you could do a lot worse than Stone Age.
21st March 2021
Sunday afternoon gaming continues; I'm logged on to Board Game Arena and Zoom, the second game of the day is Tokaido.
I know several people who have visited Japan but to my knowledge none of them had made the 500km trip along the Tokaido route.
If you like the idea of taking a hike to enjoy hot springs or staying at an inn or looking at beautiful scenery, then maybe this is the game for you.
Caveat: We played a digital version of this game, we have also played the physical version previously.
What's in a game?
Art on the board looks quite minimalistic with white as the dominant colour, consequently the Tokaido route draws the eye's attention. However, the symbols used to represent the different destinations along the route are quite small and look samey despite being distinctly coloured from each other. It was something found to occur on both the physical and online version. This is only a minor gripe.
How's it play?
Each player is given a meeple and a randomly determined character tile, the 7 decks are prepared and placed on to their allotted spaces on the game board. The starting order is determined at the first inn, then money is then given to players according to the starting order.
On to play
Game play is very simple to understand, the purpose of Tokaido is to travel to the eastern end of the road, having the most pleasant journey, this is done by stopping at the various locations along the way.
Play continues until all players have reached the last inn.
Souvenir sets are now scored.
Then achievements are scored. There are achievements for completing panoramas first, having the most encounters, donating the most money to temples and so on. One achievement earns victory points for spending the most on meals at inns - which explains the varying costs for meals.
Points are tallied, highest score wins.
Tokaido is a fairly straightforward game to play, on the surface the game gives players a simple decision to make - where to stop and what to collect? It's a little more involved though, the question is; how much do you want to visit a certain spot?
As the active player, someone can choose to move their meeple as far as they need to in order to reach a specific spot, however, moving too far means that a player will end up sitting around as other players get multiple turns. Conversely, moving too slowly risks locations being filled with other players. It feels like quite a balancing act.
Generally we found that there's a basic strategy of moving as little as possible in an attempt to maximise the number of turns that are available and just collect what you can.
The games other balancing act is money; knowing when to keep money and knowing when to spend it is important since spending money can earn victory points and it needs to be done as efficiently as possible.
There's minimal player interaction here and generally player's can't interfere with each other. A canny player can try and predict where other players are looking to go (All cards are kept face-up.) and try to get there first but it mostly it hardly seems worth it.
All of this makes Tokaido a gentle, laid back game to play, it sort of fits the theme of talking a walking holiday.
Players used to heavier games may find that they feel like nothing is happening during the game. This may be partially down to playing online.
The online version doesn't feel as good as the physical one. Being able to collect and build panoramas or complete souvenir sets with physical components feels a lot better than when they're collected in the online version. It's a small sense of achievement but a sense of achievement nonetheless.
If you want a light and chilled game to play though, you can do worse than Tokaido.
21st March 2021
It's a Sunday lunchtime and I'm logged on to my PC in the living Room and signed into Board Game Arena.
The first game of the day was Takenoko, a game about gardening in Japan... and pandas.
Caveat: We played this game online, but I own a physical copy which I've set up for the photos.
What's in a game?
All of the cartoon-like art is uniformly bright, colourful and appealing, even the rulebook is filled with it. It shows a nice touch.
Finally I'll add that there's a giant sized Takenoko that was released a while back.
How's it play?
On to play
After a starting player is chosen, play proceeds clockwise.
Some actions do not count towards the usual 2 action limit. The active player can carry out any number of free actions at any time during their turn.
The endgame is triggered after someone has played a certain number of objective cards, dependant on the number of players.
The player that triggered the endgame immediately take the Emperor card and conclude the rest of their turn normally. Then continuing in clockwise order, every other player has one more turn.
After this, scores are tallied, highest score wins.
Firstly I'll mention how the game is uniformly nice, presentation is excellent and component quality is good, nothing to criticise here.
Since there are always objectives to work towards in Takenoko, there are generally always meaningful decisions to make.
The game's player interaction comes from conflicting objectives such as one player getting the gardener to grow bamboo and another getting the panda to eat it.
This is also a game about recognising opportunities and adapting to the card and plot tiles you draw and to a lesser extent the results from the weather die and not about strategizing too much.
There is some strategy regarding the uneven distribution of bamboo (Generally objectives that involve the less common bamboo score more points.) but that's about it. I suppose there could be a high level strategy where you watch what other players are doing and try to anticipate what objectives they're going for and try and scupper them but you'll probably scupper yourself as well in the end.
Optimising your actions per turn seems to be very important.
Takenoko is a relatively simple and straightforward game to play, the concepts behind it should make it a fairly accessible crossover game. For dedicated gamers there might not be enough meat on the bone to satisfy them though.
Ultimately Takenoko is a light somewhat gentle game that you shouldn't take too seriously if you play it. If you want something heavy on strategy and direct interaction, it's probably not the game for you. However, if you're in the mood for an undemanding game, it's a reasonable diversion.
15th January 2020
It's a Friday evening, I'm logged into Zoom on my laptop and I'm sitting in the living room.
So it's time to play Forgotten Waters, a co-operative fantastical pirate exploration game that we've only played over video chat.
Caveat: I've only played this game over video chat and never in person, I've also never actually seen the physical components for the game. So this blog will probably be a bit different to the usual.
Before we begin
Forgotten Waters is one of this new breed of boardgames that requires an app to play, not just an app to help, but actually required to play.
Additionally, the game has a Remote Play Assistant app available. This app is what has allowed us to play online and in this time of Covid-19 is a welcome feature.
What's in a game?
Because I've never seen the game physically and because the remote play assistant app replaces the need for some components, it's hard to gauge what exactly, is what?
It's hard to talk about the quality of these physical components though as I've never see them other than briefly over video chat.
But I can talk about the apps.
It's clear that the game's developers have put a lot of thought and effort into insuring the quality of the game app. It's very slick with professional voice acting and production qualities, scripting and dialogue is very well written and often witty. There were frequent chuckles at gags that hit the mark more often than not.
I'm not sure what to think though, like many people; the idea of a game needing an app to play sits uncomfortably with me. We all know the question, what happens to the game a few years down the line, how long will the developer support the app?
However, I doubt this game would even exist in this form without the app. The game seems to have hundreds of differing encounters that can contextually change according to the story mission being played. It would require a fairly elaborate book to manage all of this physically, slowing the game down and no doubt adding to the cost.
The remote helper does it's job well enough to facilitate remote play and is easy to use, apart from the occasional need to refresh the browser and put everything back in sync, it works perfectly well.
I cannot say enough about how useful it is though. We played a game with 7 players and someone commented how how this was the most people they'd talked to in a year. In these times of self-isolation it has proven to be a godsend.
One minor criticism I have is about the character sheet PDF. It is a slight oversight that it is not form-fillable as it could save on the unnecessary use of paper.
How's it play?
First of all, one of the 5 available missions is selected, this will give the players a series of objectives to aim for, then play can begin.
Essentially, the ship travels from hexspace to hexspace dealing with the encounters that are generated by each space.
Each encounter will have 7 pertinent actions. Players take turns placing their standee on the action they want to perform,
Some actions are mandatory, some can only be completed by one player and others can completed by any number of players.
Additionally, some actions become locked when they are completed whilst others can be repeated.
Some actions are specific to certain encounters or mission objectives and others are generic and frequently appear during encounters.
Players place their standees on the encounter spaces in order of the infamy track, Forgotten Waters utilises a real time mechanic during encounters. If players have not placed their standee/worker in the allotted time, they receive a misfortune token as punishment.
Once all workers have been placed, then actions are carried out but in the order shown on the encounter.
There are a great many different action in the game, related to combat, sailing, exploring, trading, objectives etc.
Often players will be given 2 or 3 sub-choices for their chosen action and sometimes they will have 2 actions they actions they can perform.
Many actions will increase one of the player's 6 skills, frequently this will then require a roll using the relevant skill, generally there are 3 different levels of outcome depending on how high the final roll is.
Once all actions have been repeated, the turn ends. Depending on the situation, players may have the choice of staying and repeating the parts of the encounter which are not locked (Like foraging for supplies, burying treasure etc.) or they have be forced to move on to another encounter.
This continues until the endgame.
There are numerous ways to lose.
If the ship's hull, supplies or crew are reduced to zero then it's game over.
If the crew's discontent value increase to or beyond the crew score, then it's also game over.
Finally there's threat rating. Threat can go up and down; the game will on a fairly regular basis call for threat checks, depending on the result this may generate a threat event, this is another type of encounter. The higher the threat rating, the more likely it is that a threat event will be triggered, when one does occur the threat rating is reduced to zero. If four threat events are triggered, then it's also game over.
If all the objectives of a mission are met then the player's collectively win.
Each character also has an individual ending though, depending on how many stars they filled in on their constellations, this may be bad, good or legendary. Bad endings are usually very bad comical demises for the character, explosions, drownings etc.
The good and legendary endings are as comical but obviously better for the character.
Forgotten Waters is a long game to play, a mission can take 4 or even more hours to complete and the developers are aware of this, all missions come with a natural breakpoint, which can be used a temporary stopping point and then picked up again at a later date.
Mostly the game gives players meaningful co-operative decisions to make and the timer forces them to think quickly.
It's also a well produced, smart game that is entertaining to to play, the app does add to the atmosphere and help with booking.
but I do have some quibbles to do with game balancing.
Firstly; when undertaking tasks, some tasks are more attractive to complete than others. One example, during ship combat:
Furthermore it exacerbates and perpetuates the imbalance. Once a character starts firing cannons, thus increasing their aim skill, it makes sense for them to continue doing that action, because they're more likely to get better results. So one player can be stuck loading cannons and earning little to nothing and another firing cannons and getting skill points and treasures.
Sometimes it's not so bad because with some actions, multiple characters can perform it but with single-character actions, it can be irritating.
Maybe its deliberate, it certainly can make the infamy track more important for actions that can only be done by one player.
Forgotten Waters is a mostly co-operative game, but it also a little edge of competitiveness as well, players can steal treasures from other players and so on.
Maybe the game wants to force players to choose between what's good for them and what's good for the mission?
Speaking of which, characters seem out of balance. When they earn bonuses, the usefulness of them seems to vary widely, some characters will get permanent items that confer constant bonuses whilst other characters get one-use-only less useful abilities.
Additionally, it appears that constellations are harder to complete for some characters than others for what appears to be no rhyme or reason why.
Luckily they don't affect the game too much, especially since it's co-operative. Other than that I've found it a fun game to play.
3rd November 2020
It's a Tuesday and I'm not at the Woking Gaming Club, I am however in Woking, in Simon's converted home-office for what would be the last time I play a game with a friend in person before lockdown 2 began.
It was an unusual setup, two us were in Simon's office and Colin was dialling in via Zoom, able to view the game through Simon's phone which was clamped above the table.
Tonight we played Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, the little sibling of Gloomhaven. Like Gloomhaven, it's a cooperative RPG with a legacy element.
Caveat: This blog post may differ a little from the ones I normally write. When we played the game, a number of the components were not used, instead they were replaced with an app, it also allowed Colin to remotely log into the app and see the same information we did. Additionally, both other players were very familiar with the game.
What's in a game?
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion comes with a lot of components and a lot of cards.
What art there is on the components is good and the components are of a high quality.
How's it play?
The game follows the paradigm of an RPG; there are a series of linked scenarios that form a campaign. As characters progress from scenario to scenario, they accumulate experience points and become stronger. Characters are persistent and they and their progress carry over between scenarios.
There are also legacy elements here, decisions that players make during the game will have some sort of effect later on.
The setup is fairly quick and simple, mostly because the game uses map books instead of tiles.
On to playing
In each round, the players will choose 2 cards from their deck to play. Enemy behaviour is dictated by the game.
A scenario will end when its win/lose conditions are met.
If the players win the scenario they gain experience points, characters gain experience points according to the scenario. Additionally; certain action cards grant characters experience points when played, these are added up as well.
When a character acquires enough experience points, they will level up and gain whatever benefits it confers.
During the game, enemies that are defeated will drop treasure. If characters collect these treasures, they gain gold after the scenario ends.
Gold can then be spent to acquire more or better item cards.
Next, there is an encounter as determined by a randomly drawn city card.
After this, players are given the choice of what scenario to attempt next. This may involve adding a sticker to the map or some other legacy type action.
There's a lot to think about here.
There's a lot of components to the game too and it might be a bit fiddly. But it seems to me that most of this occurs during setup. I can't imagined how much setup the full Gloomhaven requires without the map books?
The character-gameplay is actually pretty straightforward, simple to learn and goes smoothly enough.
Enemy behaviour may be a bit trickier and it probably pays to have some one who is familiar with the rules (As we did.) when playing.
The action card mechanic was pretty well implemented, it not only gives players options and a bit of flexibility, but meaningful decisions to make.
The rest mechanic is also a good addition, it forces players to act, be decisive and deters them from trying to play overly safe and spend too many turns resting to regain hit points.
Since a character deck only has 10 cards, it means that a plaery will empty their deck in 5 rounds. Then they have to decide to discard 1 card and miss a turn, or discard one at random and continue, which can be a hard decision.
Now you have 9 cards and only 4 turns before facing the same dilemma. Additionally, some cards are discarded when use and so on.
All of this serves to create sense of urgency, a need to complete the scenario before player decks become too depleted. Players will want to minimise the time they waste carrying out long rests.
Combat is a bit of a mixed bag.
There are a good number of special moves, conditions and effects that play a role in combat. The four different characters can feel different in combat because of it.
I dislike the cancel result on the combat deck that waste an attack, I imagine that if a player has set up a powerful move using a card that gets discarded - only to have that entire attack negated, it must feel gutting.
I'm not sure how I feel about using individual decks as a randomizer for combat, I can see the appeal of having a customisable individual randomizer for each player, but it seems like having components for the sake of having components. It works well enough, but I'm sure a similar effect could achieved with a single bunch of dice that are collated for individual rolls.
Gloomhaven/Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion are 2 games that are sort of chasing a board game holy grail. These are games that are trying to an give RPG style gameplay and experience, but without a GM.
It's a tricky goal; too simple and it becomes bland and repetitive, too complex and the game gets bogged down in rules, rules exceptions and components.
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion seems to straddle that line fairly well.
Although as I mentioned above, we did use an app to facilitate play. It did have the advantage of allowing a player to join in a board game where he played over zoom!
Maybe this is the way to go, where an app does the GM heavy lifting, I've seen at least one game that requires an app, no doubt there will be more games that do that.
But this raises the question of legacy, an older game can (And probably will.) be rendered obsolete if the companion app becomes unavailable.
Overall though; I was happy enough to play it and will be continuing with the campaign I joined.
27th October 2020
Tuesday evening is here and I'm at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking with the Woking Gaming Club.
Time for the first game of the evening; Karuba.
Have you fancied yourself as an explorer just landed on some unmapped jungle island? Well in Karuba you control not just 1 explorer, but 4! All in a rush from beach to jungle in order to find temples, treasure and ultimately glory first before everybody.
What's in a game?
How's it play?
The set up for Karuba very straightforward, if a tiny bit time consuming.
Gameplay for is very straightforward. Players are trying to move their explorers to the temple of the same colour. Unsurprisingly, this is done by laying tiles and moving the explores along the paths that are created.
Karuba has no turns, everyone makes their choices at the same time.
Play continues until one player has moved all 4 of their explorers to the relevant temples, or as is more likely until the caller has depleted their entire stack.
Players add the points of all the scoring tokens they've collected and the gold and diamond tokens, gold is worth 2 points and diamonds 1 point.
Highest score wins.
Despite the simplicity of the rules, Karuba gives players lots of decisions to make nearly all the time.
The most common of these is whether to play a tile or discard it for movement.
This is a very elegant mechanic, the best tile to build paths with is the crossroads, because it gives you the most options. But the crossroad is also the best tile to discard for movement, as it give you most movement.
Early in the game, you'll obviously be wanting to play the tiles more often to build up your paths, but you can't afford to play them willy-nilly. A meandering path is something players will want to avoid.
You may end up putting tiles in seemingly unconnected, random places, hoping to get the right tiles later on!
Players have limited rounds in Karuba and will want to build their paths as efficiently as possible. The game has an absolute maximum of 36 rounds.
If you look the photo of my gameboard from the end of the game. All 36 tiles were drawn. This means I played 19 tiles, which means I moved 17 times, whilst I managed to get 3 explorers to their destination, the blue explorer barely managed to leave their starting spot.
Movement may also provide difficult decisions.
For example; you may have an explorer who is just 1 step away from a treasure or a temple but have just drawn a crossroads tile which grants you 4 movement, using it on 1 movement can be a waster. Do you use it to move another explorer to maximise it's value, or do you use 1 movement to complete an objective and waste the rest of the movement?
Also, when moving explorers, players will need think ahead a little, a badly placed explorer can block their colleagues, meaning it might require an entire round to clear the path.
Only towards the end of the game, when I had connected everything up and reached 2 temples, did the decisions become no-brainers. But because the game is played simultaneously and other players were more or less in the same situation: There was little downtime between rounds, which passed very quickly.
Karuba is a quick game to play anyway, if a player spends 1 minute deciding their move, the game has a play time of 36 minutes.
The only small criticism I could level at Karuba is that there is no interaction with other players. Not a problem for me personally, but it can be for others.
Otherwise I thought it was a good game.
Quickly and easy to learn, quick and fun to play.
Anybody can learn and play Karuba. It's such a visually driven game that players should quickly comprehend what they need to do.
It's a game that's definitely going on my list.
I play, I paint.