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Monthly Archives: June 2017

Game Review: Hanabi

The festival has begun, but it is what is yet to come that concerns you. The finale for the day: the fireworks. Your fireworks. Well, yours and your companions’, of course. Together, you will make a show that will be famous for ages to come. On the other hand, putting on a fireworks show is a dangerous, complicated endeavor. One mistake too many and your show might be infamous for all the wrong reasons.

Maybe you are an illustrious firework manufacturer desperate to avoid ruining your own show… Or maybe you’re playing Hanabi.

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Designed by Antoine Bauza and published by R&R Games, Hanabi is a co-operative card game for 2-5 players. In it, you play as firework manufacturers who are trying to stop a mistake from ruining their show. Your dazzling “firework” display consists of cards, numbered one to five in different colors, being laid. There can only be one pile of each color, piles can only consist of a single color, and cards have to be laid in ascending numeric order. The higher the numbers get, the better your show!

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it would be… If not for the twist that makes Hanabi fairly unique. Each player can see each other player’s hands of cards, but not their own. You play with your hand of cards facing out, not in. So, how do you know what to play? The game comes with eight blue clock tokens and, instead of playing a card on your turn, you can spend one of the clock tokens from the team pool to give any other player a hint of what’s in their hand. There are only two types of hints you can give, and they have to follow some rules. A hint can be telling someone what cards in their hand are a certain color or telling them what cards in their hand are a certain number. In either case, you can only indicate this information by pointing at specific cards (i.e. “You have one red card in your hand,” while pointing to the red card) and you must indicate every card to which the information applies (i.e. you cannot only point at the one number 4 card you want them to play if they have more than one number 4 card). If you run low on the clock tokens, you can also, on your turn, discard a card from your hand to get a token added to the pool. You need to be careful, of course. Discarding the wrong card could make it impossible for your team to score as high as they want.

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Think it’s easy to tell what cards are in your hand?

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How about now?

And, of course, you can’t just play willy nilly without fear of consequence. Every time you play something illegally (a number that is not the next one that should be played, or a double of something already played), you take one of three black fuses out of the game, indicating the fuse getting shorter and you running out of time. After your team makes 3 mistakes, the game is over and you have to score with what you’ve successfully played on the table. The game also ends you run out of cards from the draw pile or (and this seems rare) you successfully make it to the number 5 card on each of the suits.

Hanabi is a hard game. The hidden information mechanic tied with the limits to what hints can be given make it difficult to play anything in certainty of safety. It’s also a hard game to follow the rules of, especially for new players. Habit may force you to accidentally draw your hand facing you or to give away more information than you are supposed to. It’s hard not to grimace when a fellow player takes what you told them and makes entirely the wrong decision with the information, or announces with certainty that they have deduced what’s in their hand, and is entirely incorrect. While it’s important to try to avoid those types of mistakes, making them doesn’t break the game. If you accidentally look at your cards, shuffle them into the pile and draw replacements (without looking this time, of course). If you accidentally say something that’s you shouldn’t have, just apologize and avoid doing it again.

Mind you, you should also be sensible about what consists of someone innocently, accidentally, breaking a rule. A player might accidentally gasp a profanity or shake their head when someone says something wrong. It is far more unlikely they accidentally shout “No, you fool! That card is a red three, not a green one! How could you be so moronic as to confuse the two!”…Or something like that. Besides, that person sounds angry and mean. You probably shouldn’t play with them, anyways.

If you’re a real masochist and the game is proving too easy, you can always make use of the built-in extra challenge that comes in many versions: a sixth suit of cards, which are multicolor. Depending on how much you want to punish yourself, this suit can work as simply an extra suit or can be a suit of “wild” cards, which have to be piled individually like any other suit, but which count as every color when giving information (i.e. you’d have to indicate them no matter what colors you’re hinting about).

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For those who like a challenge, or hate winning games.

Personally, I’ve never hit a perfect score in the normal, five-suit game (heck, I’m not even sure I’ve broken 20 points), so I don’t think I’ll be adding the multicolor deck to my game anytime soon.

Difficulty aside, Hanabi is still a lot of fun. The hidden information makes it unlike any other card game I know of. It’s also really, really satisfying to play. You never really lose in Hanabi, you just don’t succeed as well as you might have, and that seems to take some of the sting out of a poor performance. It doesn’t have the same level of stress as some other co-operative games (I’m looking at you, Pandemic and Forbidden Island), so it’s a good choice if you want to work together without that tangible sense of urgency.

Done right, your fireworks show will be remembered for a lifetime… And played well, a perfect game of Hanabi might be, too.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2017 in Board Games

 

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Dungeon Ideas: The Ghost Ship

The cloth sails hang in tatters, yet other sails, spectral things of blue light, propel the ship forward. On deck, it’s crew, seemingly unconcerned about the hideous wounds that mar their translucent bodies, work diligently, combating a storm that has long since broken, preparing for a battle that came and went years past. For them, it is not over. For them, it will never be over.

Who doesn’t love a good ghost ship? The Flying Dutchman. The Black Pearl. The… unnamed ship carrying Death in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner? I thought it had a name, but google is telling me I was wrong… Come on, Coleridge, we need details!

Oh well. Whatever the name of them, exploring a ghost ship is our next stop in dungeon ideas. (For the last idea for a dungeon-outside-of-a-dungeon, go here.)

The Ghost Ship

Large sailing vessels can start anywhere around 150 feet long and get up to twice that. At dozens of feet wide, and with multiple decks, that leaves you thousands of square feet of exploration space. The nature of the ship allows for these spaces to be used in unique ways, too. Do players climb the ropes in the rigging? Has the bilge flooded, necessitating swimming to find the lost treasure in it? How does the ship pitching and rolling affect the combat on the main deck?

Speaking of combat, the enemies inhabiting a ghost ship are as varied as the undead that fill most gaming systems. In Pathfinder, there’s even a fair number of specifically aquatic undead, such as Draugr and Brykolakas. Make them the crew, throw in a ghost captain, and you’ve got yourself some baddies. Of course, maybe you want to go further. Maybe “ghost ship” doesn’t mean a ship with ghosts on it, but rather a ship possessed by the spirits of the dead. With that mindset, the ship itself can be an enemy. Rigging ropes lash out to try to snare players. Deck boards become like water, players dropping into them, before solidifying again, trapping them in the wood. The bell that calls sailors to arms rings and rings and won’t stop it’s infernal ringing, and each time it does it drives the players one step closer to madness. Ok, so you might have to play with the rules a little bit to get some of those effects, but it could be well worth it.

A ghost ship as a dungeon really shines when it comes to the plot of your adventure. Unlike ancient tombs or deep caverns, your players aren’t likely to just randomly explore their way onto a ghost ship, so why are they there? Do they have to find a way to escape? Perhaps a cursed compass teleported them here, and they have to find it’s pair on the ship to get off. Has this ship been sinking merchant vessels? The ghost captain has to be destroyed to save innocent lives. Or maybe they have to find a way to break the curse that has kept the ship sailing? Deliver it’s last load of cargo, expose the traitorous first mate who sold them out to an ambush, return the stolen cursed treasure to the forbidden land from which it came. The nature of ghosts and undeath mean that simply destroying the ship and its crew may not be enough… They will just return the next full moon, or the next time an albatross is slain, or when a poor soul accidentally sails over the sunken wreck, or whatnot. “Winning” the dungeon could require problem solving outside stabbing the boss bad guy until it’s dead, then.

What do you think? How would you work a ghost ship into a campaign? Mechanically, what would make a ghost ship different from any other boat? Let me know in the comments.

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2017 in Role-Playing Games

 

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Game Review: Dungeon Roll

You roll your shoulders. Things had not gone well. Your thief went down with a goblin arrow to the leg. Your mage used up all of her spells on the last group of oozes to swarm around you. And now… Another roar. The ground shakes. It is coming.

You look to either side of you. The champion next to you nods. The fighter unlimbers his sword. They are ready, as are you. The Dragon is coming… and you are waiting.

Maybe you make a career delving depths and fighting monsters… Or maybe you’re playing Dungeon Roll.

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Dungeon Roll is a dice rolling game designed by Chris Darden and published by Tasty Minstrel Games. It balances some press-your-luck mechanics (deciding how deep to go in the dungeon) with a little bit of hand management (deciding what dice to use when and how), all with a heavy sprinkling of fantasy theme. In it, players take the roll of heroes, leading a party of adventurers (rolled dice) into a dragon’s lair. They go as deep as they can before either returning to the surface with their treasure, or dying. Painfully. Possibly by being eaten by a dragon.

Ok, so the rulebook says they just “flee the dungeon,” but we all know what that’s code for, right? Dragon chow.

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It also comes in the best box design I’ve ever seen.

The game itself is pretty simple. Each players turn is one delve into the dungeon. They start by forming a party by rolling the seven white party dice. Each face is a different class or special item that is part of their party. Then, starting at level one (the game provides a ten-sided die to count how deep in the dungeon you’ve gone), another player rolls black monster dice for them: one die for level one, two dice for level two, etc. Using the party dice, the players have to deal with whatever comes up on the monster dice, but each party die can only be used once per delve. You have to be a bit strategic about what dice you’re using where, though. A cleric can only counter one goblin, for instance, but can counter any number of skeletons that come up in a roll. Ideally you want to defeat multiple monsters with as few party dice as possible. After you’ve dealt with all the monsters rolled for that level, you can decide to stop your delve and gain experience equal to your current level of dungeon, or go down one level to face fresh monsters. After every player has made 3 delves, whoever has the most experience points wins.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. One face of the monster dice has an icon for the dragon. If any dragons are rolled, they are set aside while the party deals with the level they’re on, and don’t get returned to the monster dice. If a total of three dragon dice get rolled in one delve, the dragon has been awakened, and the player has to defeat it in addition to everything else that has been rolled for that level. The dragon awards extra experience and treasure if it’s defeated, but it takes three different party dice (so it can’t be three fighters, or a thief and two clerics) to beat it. And, naturally, if the player ever finds it impossible to beat all the monsters of a given level, they get eaten have to flee, and gain no experience. You’re facing a constant tension, then, between going a bit further to get more treasure and experience, and playing it safe and taking what you’ve got.

Dungeon Roll adds some strategy that other press-your-luck dice rolling games lack through the inclusion of treasure and hero cards. Treasure – won by unlocking treasure chests rolled on the monster dice or by defeating dragons – is worth extra points if unused at the end of the game. In a pinch, though, you can also use the treasure in various ways to help. Is the sacrifice of the points worth keeping you alive for another roll? Maybe, maybe not, it’s a choice you have to make. The hero cards are even more fun. At the start of the game, each player is assigned one of eight unique hero cards. Each hero grants the players one Specialty and one Ultimate Ability. You can use the Specialty as often as it’s appropriate in a delve; you can use the Ultimate Ability once a delve. The Hero cards even level up, getting more powerful abilities after you hit 5 experience points. Picking the perfect time for the Hero card abilities adds a bit more critical thinking to the otherwise simple “do I or don’t I keep going” challenge of the game.

The unique abilities do lead to some problems with Dungeon Roll. First, the wording of the abilities of the heroes is… minimal. Many of them are pretty straight forward, but some seem a bit trickier to understand. You can find clarification online pretty easily, but the need to look up that clarification in the first place is a point against Dungeon Roll. The variable powers of the Hero cards can also seem a bit unbalanced. In my opinion, some cards are simply better than others.

The other problem with Dungeon Roll comes from the somewhat isolating experience of it. Sure, the game supports up to 4 players (more than that and the treasure reserve starts to be strained), but it really only plays one person at a time. When its your turn to delve, you’re making decisions, rolling dice, fighting monsters, and everyone else is… Watching? Waiting for their turn? Talking to each other and not paying attention anyways? Ok, so one other player can roll the monster dice for you (and what a thrill that is), but besides that, you’re playing by yourself. If you’re ok with that – a game where you play for a bit and then socialize until your next turn – than that’s great. It’s not really a group experience though.

Maybe that makes sense, though. Maybe Dungeon Roll is meant to be enjoyed most as a challenge to yourself, independent of what your rivals do. After all, when your back is to the wall, when your Cleric is spent and your Thief is missing, when you hear the dragon coming, what do you have but yourself? Well yourself, and maybe a Vorpal Sword or an Ultimate Ability up your sleeve…

 

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2017 in Board Games

 

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