5th December 2021
Sunday evening gaming on Board Game Arena continued with Carcassonne. You too can wander this French Province, have a hand in building the legendary city, monastries and surrounding country side as well as populating the roads with... errr... highwaymen?
What's in a game?
What few components the game possesses, are all solidly manufactured. The tiles and scoreboard are constructed of suitably thick card and the meeples are nice wooden tokens.
The artwork found the tiles is for the most fairly small but are well detailed with colourful illustrations, the meeples are also brightly coloured.
As the game area is built up over play, it actually looks quite good.
In a game all about joining up tiles, the artwork is universally clear and there's never any confusion on how they connect.
How's it play?
On to play
Broadly speaking, Carcassonne is about about building up the central playing area and connecting the game's features, it begins with the opening player taking and playing a land tile into the central play area next to the starting tile, then continues with the player on the left and so on until the stack of face-down tiles has been depleted.
Once play reaches the game end, final scores for uncompleted features are totted up.
This means that an incomplete road (Which has a highwayman on it.) that goes over 2 tiles would score 2 points, monasteries score for partial completion as well at 1VP per. occupied surrounding tile. However, incomplete cities only score half, that is, each tile and coat-of-arms, score 1VP apiece.
Finally, farmers are scored; each completed city that connects to a field that contains a farmer scores VPs for the owning player.
Points are tallied, highest score wins.
Carcassonne is a game that's been around for a while now and I have to admit that in the years since I last played it, my opinion on it has softened a little.
Originally I found the randomness inherent to the game when getting a land tile irksome, it felt like it belied strategy and planning. Now however, I can see some mechanical benefit, it forces players to adapt, remain flexible and look for ways to exploit their situation and place tiles in the right places at the right time to gain points or even piggy-back off of other players.
Having said that, my opinion on farmers hasn't changed at all! I still find them fiddly to track and score as well being somewhat unbalanced.
A well placed farmer, especially early in the game can score the controlling player a lot of VPs, putting one down does lock a meeples out of the rest of the game, which can sometimes be detrimental later, but overall, the sacrifice is generally worth it. It's no surprise there's a 'no farmers' optional rule.
One of the things I like about Carcassonne is how it manages to deliver quite a lot of gameplay for such a slim package, just some tiles and meeples - that's it! It means the game has a quick set up time a despite some perhaps fiddly rules, is still fairly straightforward to learn and pick-up-and-play.
I think that this gives Carcassonne strong crossover appeal to 'non-gamers' who will quickly learn the game's basic strategies get up to speed.
This has no doubt contributed to the game's continuing success and makes it a good introductory game for 'non-gamers'.
Carcassonne is a lightweight game and isn't one I'd play too often, truth be told. But it can definitely be fun every once in a while, just don't worry about strategy too much and don't over-analyse it too much either. Play it for the lightweight enjoyment it can provide.
19th October 2021
Tuesday evening has come around again and we're at The Sovereigns with the Woking Gaming Club.
The first game of the night was Unearth; a dice-rolling, worker placement game set after a distant apocalypse where players command a band of 'delvers' searching for lost wonders of the long past age. Basically archaeologists sans the bullwhips and giant rock chases!
What's in a game?
For the ruins cards, Unearth uses some distinct eye-catching colour palettes and isometric cuboid artwork to depict the long destroyed structures.
For the delver cards, an almost cartoony style is used to illustrate the workers/dice.
Overall, I like the art style.
The game doesn't make much use of iconography, what there is of it is pretty simple to comprehend.
How's it play?
On to play
In Unearth, players take turns and are attempting to use delvers to acquire sets of ruin cards, that is place rolled dice on ruins card and also build wonders by accumulating and placing stone.
Broadly speaking there can be 2 phases that the active player acts in, the delving phase and the building phase.
Play continues until the end of age card is revealed, any instructions on that card are immediately resolved, then play continues until all ruins cards have been claimed.
Players then score for each set of the same colour they've collected. Sets range from 1-5 cards and score 2-30 points per set. there are also points for sets of each colour collected.
Players can then score points from the individual wonders they've built, they also score for building 3 or more wonders.
Points are tallied, highest score wins.
The sum of Unearth's parts make it a fairly unusual game. It provides 2 distinct paths to scoring points and neither can be entirely ignored.
Set collecting is one way to earn victory points and the card collecting mechanics are quite solid, giving players who fail to acquire a card some sort of other benefit and the range of dice available to players that give them a couple of options is key to this. Players can play for the card or try and play for the stones - the eight-sided die has a slightly better chance of roll higher than a six-sider and four sided die has a 75% chance of rolling 3 or lower, they each give advantage but don't guaranteed success.
The other path to victory points - building wonders requires players to both plan ahead and also adapt to opportunities and changes as they appear, collecting stones of a particular colour can always prove tricky, especially if another player is also on the hunt for stone tokens. There are also some restrictions on how stone tiles are placed and depending on what a stones a player is trying to get, placing them may require a small amount of planning and forethought.
I found Unearth a little unengaging and I can't quite put my finger on why, maybe it's the game's slightly abstract nature or maybe that it feels like little is ever happening.
Very little seems to occur in a player's turn, quite often a player rolls a dice and there's no immediate effect, sometimes they get a stone, sometimes they don't, occasionally they get a ruins card. Often it felt like that despite my decisions, little was in my control.
All of this makes the game sort of light on decision making. Players choose which ruins card to gamble a doe on and when to use a delver card, or where to place a stone token when they gain one and that's about it. There's just not that much to it.
I can't find much to fault Unearth but then I can't find much to praise it either. It's all a little unexciting.
6th October 2021
Time for some midweek gaming! It's a Wednesday and we're round Simon's.
Valor & Villainy: Minions of Mordak is the game of the evening; an open-world styled, fantasy-themed, RPG-inspired exploration game with one player assuming the role of big-bad Mordak and the others taking on the mantle of heroes.
What's in a game?
Valor & Villainy is fairly involved game that features a lot of components.
The components are all high quality, tiles and tokens are suitably thick and sturdy, as are the standees. The cards are all well made and the rounded plastic dice feel weighty enough but the standout components are the chunky recessed hero boards which feel solid and also fairly practical.
Artwork throughout the game is excellent. The landscapes on map tiles are well produced, clear but also colourful. Character illustrations are bold and slightly-cartoony, it's a style that gets used quite a lot in fantasy-themed games, but it looks good in Valor & Villains.
As you'd expect for a open world game like, Valor & Villainy uses a variety of icons and symbols, particularly on spell cards - which essentially are all different. For the most part, the iconography is intuitive and pretty straightforward to understand.
How's it play?
On to play
In Valor & Villainy, the hero players are trying to discover the 3 shrines hidden somewhere amongst the face-down tiles to weaken Mordak and the Mordak player will be trying to make it hard for the heroes to find them until he arrives on the map after the 6th round.
Heroes always act first with the starting player beginning, then going left. The Mordak player may then act after the hero players. The Mordak player essentially gets 2 turns to act, 1 for Mordak himself (Although Mordak doesn't have much to do in the early game.) and 1 for minions.
When players take their turns, they will have a number of actions points they can spend to move or act as they see fit, there are also some free actions that can be performed
Once 6 round have been completed (Or all 3 shrines have been discovered.), the game goes into The Final Battle!
During the final battle, Mordak himself will appear on the map and directly engage the hero players in combat.
Mordak has a large amount of health; 70-100. If the hero players reduce Mordak's health to 0, they win the game.
Conversely, if the Mordak player manages to defeat 3 heroes during the final battle, then the Mordak player wins the game.
There's a lot of charm to Valor & Villainy's presentation, especially the bold, chunky artwork for characters and minions.
Mechanically, the game is actually quite straightforward, unremarkable even (At least it is for the hero players.), although it does contain a fair amount of exception driven and situational rules. Using cards for minions makes it a little fiddly to move them around and handle, it also looks a little dull and flat (sic) but conversely, it makes it easy to track minion health and combat initiative.
Valor & Villlainy has several quibbles in my opinion
One of the most significant is the game's one-vs-many mechanic, these types of mechanic rarely work well in my opinion. Obviously the game will have been balanced to try and take this into account, but few games can balance the difference between 1 human brain versus 4 human brain and the hero players will always have this to their advantage. It almost feels like the game is set up to advantage hero players over the Mordak player.
The game also has a weird tonal shift thanks to this one-vs-many mechanic. For most of the game, the Mordak player will be a thorn in the players' sides, a source of constant minor irritation. Then, during the endgame, it becomes straight up, directly confrontational PvP as Mordak appears on the map. It feels weirdly more aggressive.
For the heroes, the game is mostly about managing encounters as they appear, recognising and prioritising threats, then dealing with them using the most efficient method, allowing them the maximum opportunity to explore the tiles.
For the Mordak player, it's about exploiting any opening or weakness that the heroes present, not only defeating heroes but stymieing and thwarting them whenever possible.
Valor & Villainy is a open-world RPG-esque experience where a varied band of heroes, explore, fight monsters, acquire treasure and level up. The ingredients of an RPG are all there, but it doesn't feel quite right and I think there're a couple of reasons why.
There's a lack of storytelling to the game and variety to the encounters, there's randomness when setting up a map and not all tiles will appear in any single game, but they're just encounters, they feel a little bland and there's no sense of travelling, journeying or adventuring.
The normal map (For 4+ players) will have 20 face-down map tiles to scout, to explore all of them will require turning over 3-4 map tiles per round. Scouting tiles is actually a bit of a balancing act and one of the challenges the hero players face. if the heroes scout too slowly, they risk not finding all the shrines, if they do it too quickly, they risk revealing more minions than they can handle at once.
This will require players to head off in different directions and in an RPG you should never split the party!
In relation to combat, it seems the most efficient way for the Mordak player to accumulate experience points is to relentlessly pick on one player until they are defeated, then choose another player to pick on. It feels particularly un-RPG-like where combat tends to distributed amongst all heroes.
Even then, when a hero is defeated, on the next turn, the hero will reappear in the centre tile like it's a videogame spawn point.
All of this adds up to make Valor & Villainy feel disconnected from RPGs.
But for me, by far the biggest problem the game has, is its run time. We played with 5 players in total and a game took somewhere between 2-3 hours to play out. If felt like each player took about 4-5 mins to complete their turn and don't forget that the Mordak player essentially gets 2 turns in a row, 1 for themselves and 1 for their minions which makes a round 25-30 minutes long and that's before adding in The Final Battle. It also meant players had about 20 minutes of downtime between turns.
It's too much, if Valor & Villainy was an exceptional or engaging game, it wouldn't be such an issue, but it's not. It's not a bad game either, it's just slightly bland and slightly average.
There's nothing wrong with an average game, so long as it doesn't outstay it's welcome.
The effort Valor & Villainy requires to play doesn't quite justify the experience it provides.
26th September 2021
Sunday evening gaming on Board Game Arena continued with Cloud City.
Travel around Cloud City and defeat Darth Vader and his stormtroopers... oh wait... what? This is an entirely different Cloud City!
Be an architect and build up tower blocks in your model city to create walkways between them in this 3D tile laying game.
Caveat: We've only ever played this game digitally.
What's in a game?
The games iconography is similarly minimal but easily understood.
I will add that since we've only played Cloud City digitally, it's hard to gauge how it would look with physical components, which could be quite good, judging from the photos I've seen.
How's it play?
On to play
In Cloud City each player will create a 3x3 grid of tiles, buildings and walkways. Points are scored from walkways which are worth points according to their length, thus walkways score 1-8 points each.
Play continues until all players have completed their 3x3 grid, which always takes 8 rounds. Each player's victory points is equal to the value of the totalled numbers on all the walkway tokens they played.
Points are tallied. Highest score wins
In some ways, Cloud City is a standard tile-laying game: Put down tiles to create links and score points from them.
However, because Cloud City adds a extra dimension (Sic.) to gameplay, the game has that sweet spot of simplicity of rules but depth of choice. Players can choose to try and create single long paths that score big on walkways or zigzagging small paths that score little but often. Players will also want to utilise all the empty space that their tiles inevitably generate. Managing to have walkways pass over or under others is an efficient way to rack up points. It lends Cloud City a almost puzzle-like quality.
The rule limiting walkways to 2 per building is excellent, a good example of less is more, it prevents players from relatively easily creating a web of walkways and forces them to try and anticipate the direction they will need to take when putting down buildings, getting it wrong can cost points. Ideally, players will want to have a single snaking walkway that goes from building to building.
That brings me to the game's other central mechanic; drafting.
Cloud City employs 2 instances of drafting.
Most obviously, is the tile drafting. Players can choose which tile from 3 to take to replace one they've played or draw blindly. This is a common implementation of drafting in tile placement games.
It's the other type of drafting that's more interesting. Cloud City's rules mean that player's do not need to immediately connect buildings with walkways and this can present players with a conundrum:
If a player does not immediately place walkways on their buildings, they can be taken later and placed in way to optimise scoring. There's a risk though, since there's a limited number of each walkway, particularly the 8 pointers, of which there are only 3 in each colour. Once they're gone, they're gone and to get one later can make a player lose out.
Conversely, players can take and place walkways immediately, this is safer in one regard, but the risk here is that the tiles placed later may provide alternate better ways to score.
This is something that players will always need to bear in mind.
Cloud City mostly presents players with meaningful decisions to make and I found the urge to try and create the perfect network of walkways fairly compelling. It was a enjoyable experience that was easy to learn and played fairly quickly.
11th September 2021
All day Saturday continues, the next game I played at Wogglecon was Betrayal at the House on the Hill.
What's more fun than exploring the local haunted house with your disparate band of friends. I mean, what's the worst that could happen? It's not like one of them is going to betray you, right? It's not like it's in the game's title!
What's in a game?
The character tiles are decorated in monochrome illustrations with one colour - the player's colour. Artwork used on the room tiles is a little plain but unobtrusive. The paintjobs on the models is nice addition. Thematically, it all fits though.
The game's iconography was straight forward.
How's it play?
The objective in Betrayal at House on the Hill is to explore the house until the 'haunt' is discovered and then maybe defeat it!
Broadly speaking, the game is divided into 2 stages, the second stage begins once the 'haunt' has manifested.
On their turn, the active player can do the following:
The heroes and the traitor continue taking their turns until one or the other complete their objective, in which case they win.
Mechanically speaking, Betrayal at the House on the Hill is straightforward, especially in the first stage of the game. Players add tiles to the map and deal with whatever randomly comes with it, it's fun, but players are just reacting to encounters, all a bit unchallenging mentally.
When the traitor is revealed, this all changes though.
The heroes will find themselves having to complete their objectives while invariably having to keep out of the clutches of the traitor and their monstrous allies. They'll probably have to collaborate to have a chance of success.
Meanwhile, the traitor will have their own objectives, this may or may not involve capturing or defeating the heroes. The traitor can be sure that the heroes' objective will be bad news for them and will want to thwart them.
Betrayal at the House on the Hill has now become a very tense game of cat-and-mouse.
However, there are number of things about the game that irk me.
I'm not fond of traitor mechanics, nor am I fond of one-vs-many mechanics and Betrayal at the House on the Hill uses both! It's a bit of a put-off for me, obviously, YMMV.
Additionally, when the haunt is revealed, all the players must split up to secretly read their objective and in the case of the heroes; discuss their actions while the traitor sits around waiting. This creates a strange, pace-breaking awkward pause to the game.
Finally, having the playing area actually split into 3 playing areas, one for each of the house's floors feels somewhat clumsy to me, it's not a dealbreaker, but it does take up table-space.
There's nothing wrong with the game, it's just not really for me and isn't a game I'd pick to play.
If the haunted house theme appeals and you're happy to play with traitor mechanics, Betrayal at the house on the hill will probably be an enjoyable experience.
I play, I paint.