RSS

Tag Archives: Reviews

My thoughts on a specific game, module, or story.

Game Review: Love Letter: Batman Edition

They’ve escaped… Again. A mass break-out at Arkham, and its Rogue Gallery is on the streets again. Bane, Two-Face, The Joker… Left unchecked, who knows what evil they might bring to the streets of Gotham. It’s up to you to bring them in. Well, you and a few others; but you’ll do it best. In fact, you’re going to bring in the the most dangerous villains, and show up your rivals while you’re at it.

Maybe your a vigilante fighting against the rising tide of villainy in the world… Or maybe you’re playing Love Letter: Batman Edition.

IMG_0181

Love Letter: Batman Edition is designed by Seiji Kanai and jointly released by Cryptozoic Entertainment and Alderac Entertainment Group. Played by 2 to 4 players, the game suggest a playtime of 20 minutes, but in my experience it tends to be a bit longer.

The goal of the game is to be the first to gain 7 “batman tokens.” The tokens are generally gained by capturing the most valuable villain in a round. Gameplay is fairly simple; players are given a card with a character and ability on it. On their turn, players draw a new card, and choose one of their two cards to discard, activating its ability. Abilities can serve to gain information, protect yourself, or eliminate other players. A round ends when either there are no more cards to draw (in which case whoever has the highest ranking villain wins a token) or when all but one player has been eliminated (in which case the remaining player wins a token).

The game is quick to learn, and quick to play. A round can be a mere matter of moments, depending on the cards played. Even if it lasts as long as it can, the 16-card deck means that there’s a max of 6 or so turns each in a 2 player game, and less than that with more players. The instructions printed on each card are fairly simple to understand, with the rule book going into a bit more detail for more complicated situations. Typically, though, simply doing what the card says is all you need to know.

IMG_0182

The player has already played Batman and Robin… But who knows what villain is hiding in the flipped card?

The game does force you to think strategically, at times. Higher value cards are good for the end game, but make you a target early on. Sometimes, you might find yourself forced to discard cards you’d rather keep. Since you can also see what cards the other players have discarded, and each player is provided a reference card that shows how many of each card is in the game, you can try to reason what cards other players have from there. Of course, as there is always one card removed from the round secretly, it is impossible to card count with 100% certainty.

The game is fun enough to play, but the real draw of it might be the flavor. Who doesn’t like the idea of capturing super villains in Gotham? The rule book plays this up, pairing explinations of game mechanics with commentary about “serving justice to a corrupt world” and scum not being “allowed to walk the streets among hard-working citizens again.” It’s a funny read.

One minor complaint I have about the game design, though, comes in the ranking of characters. The card abilities are based on the abilities from the original version of Love Letter, but with Batman characters replacing the courtiers from the original game. But it doesn’t seem like a lot of thought was put into making the characters and abilities make sense in the world of Batman. Robin is ranked as a higher villain than Bane, for instance. To my mind, the characters could have easily been arranged in a slightly different order and match up to abilities and ranking in a more sensible way.

The other concern I have with the game is in the art. The illustrations are based on DC’s New 52 revamp from 2011. The costume and art seems fairly sexualized. And, while the male characters get muscles and action shots, the three female cards get… Uh… Well, they get boobs. Lots and lots of boobs. And, while some people will argue that that’s just the card art remaining loyal tot he New 52 look, I think it would probably have been easy enough to draw the characters in their New 52 costumes without also framing them in such a way that their breasts were oddly pronounced and front-and-center in their cards.

IMG_0183

Did I mention the boobs?

All in all, Love Letter: Batman Edition is a quick game, that’s fun is not marred by it’s simplicity. It can be learned in seconds, and played in half an hour or so. Playing strategically might take a bit more familiarity with the game to get to, but the game is not built in a way to give one person being familiar with it a huge advantage. A bit of help, maybe, but not to a game-breaking extent. If you’re not bothered by the… interesting artistic choices, it’s a great game for a quick play session, or as a palate cleanser between heavier, lengthier games. Who knew putting a stop to villainy could be so quick and easy?

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 22, 2017 in Board Games

 

Tags: , ,

Game Review: Small World

They’re coming. You can hear them, their howls and war cries. You can bunk down in your bivouacs, relying on the wood and canvas to protect you, relying on the strength of your militia to fight off the invaders… But you wish you were far more confident in them than you are. Maybe you’ll be lucky. Maybe you’ll be proven wrong, and the beasts coming for your land will be fought off. But they want it. The world is not big enough for you all, and the orcs coming, flying on their wings of fire and death, want your land.

Maybe you shouldn’t have chosen to vie for a land against Flying Orcs, Commando Trolls, and Underworld Ghouls… But that’s what happens when you playing in a Small World.IMG_4826

Small World is a Fantasy-themes territory building game for 2-5 players. Published by Days of Wonder and designed by Phillipe Keyaerts, it serves as a sort of fantastical take on Keyaerts’ older game, Vinci.

In Small World, each player controls a specific race with a specific power. They then take turns playing their group of race tokens to claim territories. At the end of each turn, a player is awarded victory points based on the amount of territory they control.

There are a few hitches in this otherwise fairly basic-sounding gameplay, though. First comes through the unique abilities granted by each race and power, allowing players to get bonus points for certain areas, perform some unique actions, or otherwise breaks some sort of basic rule. Moreover, the territory board – as the game name suggests – is simply too small for all the players. Even the most peace-wanting player is going to have to clash with another players sooner or later. Finally, the ten turns of the game are almost always too many for a player to get through with one race; sooner or later they’re going to run out of tokens and have to start fresh with a new race and power combo.

IMG_4827

This world just isn’t big enough for the Ratmen and Skeletons to get along.

The basic rules of the game are fairly simple. It takes two racial tokens to claim a territory, plus one extra token per piece of cardboard (such as another player’s token) that’s already there. If your territory gets conquered, one of your tokens dies (is removed from the board) and any other tokens can retreat to another territory you own. On your turn, you can try to claim as much territory as you have tokens to conquer. All in all, fairly straight-forward.

The diverse abilities granted by race and powers can get a bit more complicated, however. While the race and power banners all have icons to explain the power, the pictographs tend to be fairly unclear. So to really understand the powers, some comprehensive reading of the rules or the player aides is required. And the sheer number of races and powers (14 races and 20 powers in the base game, plus dozens more of each added by expansions) makes it fairly unlikely that anyone could memorize all of them.

IMG_4828

Some heavy reading? These aren’t even the rules… It’s just a player aide.

Speaking of the power and race numbers, how many there are and how they are randomly combined adds a fair amount of replayability to the game. Different races and powers are put together in each game, and so play style changes for each player each time the game is played.

It’s worth pointing out that some might find some problems with the art and game design of Small World, especially in terms of some awkward choices of representation. The Amazons (the only female race in the base game) are busty and half naked. The elves are sniffing flowers and prancing, and their ability is to run away (but the clearly fairy characters aren’t supposed to be gay or anything, right?). And I’m not even going to touch on the colonization themes inherent in players wiping out the “lost tribes” that inhabit the Small World at the start of the game.

IMG_4829

Yup, no stereotypes or problems here at all…

If you can get by the icky feelings that those kind of problems might cause, Small World is a lot of fun. It’s a bit silly, and can get fairly competitive, but its rules are fairly simple. On the other hand, the amount of reading required to understand and remember all the abilities of the races and powers might make gameplay run smoother if all players have a fairly good grasp of reading (not that the abilities couldn’t be explained to a player who can’t read them all themselves, but it would likely slow the game down). While I think the game works best with 3 or 4 players, the fact that a different board is used for different numbers of players to ensure that it’s always big enough, but also still too small, it works well enough with any number of the 2-5 players range.

So is it worth making sure you don’t just delve into the stereotypes and colonization that comes unbidden in the game? Of course. But is it a fun game to play, and worth adding to a collection all the same? Absolutely yes.

It’s a fun game. Like the box says, it’s a world of (s)laughter after all.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 7, 2016 in Board Games

 

Tags: , ,

Game Review: Dixit

Close your eyes. Let your mind wander. Let it wander to a place of wonder, of adventure, maybe a place it hasn’t been since you were a child with dreams of pirates and dragons and monsters. Now open your eyes, and tell us what you see. A boy with a stick… No, with a sword. A wooden sword he’s using to fight off a dragon, twenty feet tall. A girl in a dress made of rainbows, chasing an apple glowing gold. A monster in the shadows, hunting children to carry them off for super. A chorus of angels, playing jazz music in the clouds.

It’s time to let your imagination dance again. It’s time to play Dixit.

Dixit bot

Dixit is a story-telling, party game designed by Jean-Louis Roubira and published by Libellud. For those of you who don’t speak French (and Libellud is a company based out of France), the name “Libellud” is a play on the french word for dragonfly. And for some reason, I feel like the publisher name really captures the whimsy of Dixit.

For 3-6 players, ages 8+, Dixit is a fairly simple game. All the players have a hand of cards with illustrations on them. One player per turn plays a card, face down, and says something to describe it. They can say a phrase or a word, a title, a song lyric, anything they want. All of the other players then have to play cards face down that they think fit the description the first player provided. All the played cards are shuffled and revealed, and everyone but the first player has to vote on which card they think the first player originally played. If you’re a voter, you want to guess the first player’s card, but you also want as many of the other players to guess your card as possible. If you’re the first player, you want some players to guess your card, but not all the players to guess it (so there’s no advantage to being too obvious about your card through the description). Points are awarded based on who voted for what, and play passes to the next player to play a card and description. The first player to 30 points wins.

Dixit board

And it has the cutest point markers I’ve ever seen.

The real beauty of Dixit is in the cards themselves. Illustrated by Marie Cardouat, each card has a unique full colour illustration. The illustrations are all interesting, and range from whimsically fun to oddly disturbing. And, as is important to the game, each one could easily be defined in as many different ways as there are players looking at them. I recall a card played under the description “The Fall”. It was of a man and a woman playing chess, with hearts around their heads; the player had seen the hearts as falling leaves, and meant “the fall” as “autumn”. No one else saw the hearts as falling leaves, but the unintentional play on the theme of falling (as in, falling in love) carried over clearly all the same. Moreover, every card has enough minute details that you can find things in it and new interpretations of it every time you see it.

Dixit nice

There are cute cards….

Dixit scary

…and there are not-so-cute cards.

Beauty of the cards aside, Dixit is, as I said, a fairly simple game. Admittedly, the scoring is a little non-intuitive (if all players guess the active player’s card, active player gets no points, everyone else gets 2; if no players guess the active player’s card, everyone else gets 2 points, plus 1 point per person who guessed their card, active player gets 0; if some players, but not all players, guess the active players card, active player gets 3 points, everyone who guessed correctly gets 3 points, and everyone gets 1 point per person who guessed their card). They’re designed in this strange way, however, to eliminate the benefit of an active player simply describing their card in enough detail that it becomes obvious which card is there, or obfuscating their card so much it’s impossible to guess. The only way for an active player to score points is to be clear enough that some players get it, but discrete enough that some don’t. Even with this logic in my mind, though, I find it hard to keep track of the scoring system. So the explanation of scoring attached to the scoreboard itself is a useful tool.

The one other downside of Dixit is the limited number of cards in the original set. The base game comes with 84 cards. This might seem like a lot, but in a 5 player game, the cards would be played through in a 16 or so rounds. With people scoring 1-3 points a round, and having to get to 30 points to win, a game can easily last 16 rounds or more. In other words, you could see all the cards in the first game. Now, like I said, the various ways to interpret the cards doesn’t mean that the game can’t be played more than once easily enough… But some of the pleasure is lost, I feel, when you see the same illustrations over and over. Never fear, though. Libellud has released hundreds of new cards, as expansion packs or special promotional cards. As such, if you want to make sure you don’t play through your Dixit illustrations too rapidly, it’s pretty easy (if a little costly) to build up a set.

In all, Dixit is a fun, simple, and somehow sweet game. It’s easy to learn and very laid back. It’s the sort of game I would play with my whole family, from my 9 year old cousin to my 90 year old grandma. Even for more “serious gamers” (I term I use with not a small amount of scoffing), Dixit can be a fun, relaxing inclusion to a collection. All you need is a willing spirit and a decent imagination… And the illustrative prompts of Dixit can hep you with at least the latter.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 3, 2016 in Board Games

 

Tags: , ,

Game Review: Cthulhu Fluxx

You should have picked a different school. Even the name of this one – Miskatonic University – should have been a pretty clear sign that something was wrong. Then there was that creepy librarian, and the weird book you found in the back shelves… An now there are dead bodies showing up, people praying to Old Gods, and a rift in the very fabric of the universe threatening to consume all of creation.

Maybe you should have spent more time on your homework. Or maybe you’re playing Cthulhu Fluxx.

box

Cthulhu Fluxx is a set-collecting / hand management card game published by Looney Labs. Designed by Keith Baker and illustrated by Derek Ring, it’s one of the dozen or so games based on the original Fluxx. This version, as the name suggests, is Fluxx with a strong Lovecraftian-Cthulhu flavour.

Cthulhu Fluxx, like all Fluxxes (Fluxx’s? Fluxxi?), is a fairly simple game for 2-6 players. Players have a set number of cards in their hands. On their turn, they draw a card from a shared draw deck and then play one card, either in front of them (Keepers), in the center of the board (New Rules or Goals), or into the discard pile (Actions). Then play passes to the left. The game keeps going until a player has a combination of Keepers laid out by the current Goal, at which point they win.

The entire purpose of Fluxx, however, comes from how quickly the game changes in play. A New Rule card changes what players can and cannot do (draw extra cards, play extra cards, have a hand limit). The constantly changing Goals means that what you have to do to win can change every turn, making it almost impossible to plan your victory many turns in advance. Even when you are on the right track, an opponent’s Action card might steal one of your Keepers or make you discard the cards you were saving.

game simple

The game goes from simple…

game complex

…to much more convoluted.

 

Cthulhu Fluxx adds two new types of cards to the basic types in all Fluxx games: Creepers and Ungoals. Creepers are like Keepers – they are played in front of you and remain there. The problem is, you have to play Creepers when your draw them whether you like it or not, and you cannot win the game as long as one is in front of you (unless the Goal, as some do, specifically requires that Creeper). Ungoals are like Goals in that they set out a criteria that ends the game when met. However, unlike Goals, no one wins when these criteria are met. Everyone loses, typically in a bout of madness brought on by the rise of some eldritch horror from beyond the stars.

goals

Goals mean you win… Ungoals mean everyone loses.

Mechanically, Cthulhu Fluxx is simple to the point of absurdity. Every card has clear instructions printed on them. The constantly changing rules and goals makes victory a matter of luck as often as any sort of skill. Frankly, in my experience, it’s a lot easier for everyone to lose thanks to an accidentally-met Ungoal than for any one player to win. This simplicity means Cthulhu Fluxx is an easy game to pick up and learn, though the heavy amount of writing on each card means that player’s need to have a fairly solid reading skill (which accounts, perhaps, for the otherwise high-sounding 13+ recommended age).

Where this game really shines, though, is in the theme. With famous horrors (Cthulhu and Shoggoth, among others), unsettling locals (Innsmouth), and oddly lovable characters (my personal favourite: the Penguins), the cards are just fun to play and look at. The Goals blend specific cards together with titles that, though vague, seem to conjure a sense of story. Consider the Miskatonic’s Rarest Book goal, which gives victory to a player who has the Necronomicon and the Librarian. Even the rules cards get into the theme of it, going from simply mechanical (Draw 3 a turn instead of 1) to the downright meta (draw an extra card if you can name something another player fears).

penguins

Because all games should have penguins.

At the end of the day, Cthulhu Fluxx is simply fun. It’s too random to be a game one can get overly competitive at. It’s too thematic to take too seriously. It’s quick (anywhere from 10-30 minutes) and easy to play more than once in a sitting. It’s certainly not something you could spend hours and hours at… But it’s a nice, compact game (both in time and space required) to fill out an evening. Just be careful not to get too wrapped up in it or take it too seriously. You wouldn’t want to accidentally get the attention of… anything.

Cthulhu R’lyeh fhtagn!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 20, 2016 in Board Games

 

Tags: , ,

Game Review: Betrayal at House on the Hill

You knew it was a bad idea. But no, you had to let your friends talk you into it. Let’s explore the old, abandoned house, they said. What’s the worst that could happen, they said. Why would you listen? And why would they bring along the creepy little girl, or the weird old scientist?

It was ok at first. A bit weird, a bit spooky. But nothing you couldn’t handle. Then things got really strange, and now the creepy girl is raising an army of zombies and trying to kill you all.

Maybe you need new friends. Or maybe you’re playing Betrayal at House on the Hill.

Betrayal title

Betrayal at House on the Hill is a heavily thematic horror game, published by Wizards of the Coast and created by Rob Daviau. The game, designed for 3-6 players, is divided into two parts: for the first half of the game, it plays as a team-based exploration game; but then, following the pivotal twist that is the Haunt, it turns into something else. And I say “something else” because, with 50 different Haunt, the second half of the game can play as anything from a team-based, survival horror game, to a duke it out free for all, to a one-vs-many murderous rampage.

The sheer number of Haunts, each with unique victory goals, makes the game massively replayable. The tile-based board mechanic helps with this as well; as the house is explored, randomized tiles are turned over to reveal rooms, which means the house layout is never the same (and in many games you won’t see every possible room). And with 12 different characters to play, each with a unique array of statistics, your own tactics can change from game to game.

This game is a lot of fun. It has the flavour of a pen-and-paper RPG, without the work that needs to be put in to make characters or write a session. The various story element (Event Cards that describe specific things happening to you, the Omen Cards that you collect throughout the house, and so forth) and really well written and can get spooky. Combined with the high stakes of the Haunt (most of the victory conditions involve character having to kill or be killed) can make a game downright scary.

There are, however, some notable downsides to Betrayal. Knowing that, at any moment, someone in your group might turn Traitor (fairly common in the Haunts) can make it hard to play the first half of the game as co-cooperatively as I feel it’s meant to be. Because the bad guys” (Traitors and/or monsters) are often outnumbered by the “good guys,” they tend to be a lot more powerful to try to maintain balance; sometimes this works and sometimes it skews the whole thing towards the Traitor. While the variety of Haunts makes the game wonderfully replayable, the fact that every Haunt has it’s own set of special rules (in addition to the already lengthy list of rules of basic play), it can be fairly complex to learn. And, of course, there is a heavy element of player elimination through the “kill the other guys” aim of most the Haunts.

Betrayal cards

I don’t mean this to dissuade anyone from playing Betrayal. I really love the game. But it tends towards the lengthier end of it’s 30 minutes – 2 hours suggested play time, and probably works best if at least one player is familiar with the rules when you first play.

Betrayal at the House on the Hill would make an excellent addition to or main focus of any gaming session; you could even play it several times in a row and have a different game each time. But much like exploring a real abandoned, probably haunted, definitely dangerous building, you’d be better off knowing what you’re getting into before you begin.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 1, 2016 in Board Games

 

Tags: , ,

Game Review: Exploding Kittens

Life. It’s hard, right? You’re minding your own business, maybe trying to find a Tacocat (they’re palindromes, you know), or rubbing the belly of a magical pig-a-corn, and the next thing you know, BOOM! You’ve stumbled across a kitten chewing on dynamite, and you’ve been blown up.

Maybe you just have weird hobbies, or maybe you’re playing Exploding Kittens.

Exploding Kittens is a self-published card game by Matthew Inman, Elan Lee, and Shane Small. For two to five players, the game mixes elements of hand management and set collection, with a very strong press-your-luck risk flavour. Think Russian roulette, but with kittens and bad humour. (I say bad as a descriptor, not a value judgement… The humour is hilarious. Just bad.)

The basic rules of the game are simple – so simple that it takes almost no time to explain or learn. On your turn, you can play one or more cards from your hand (but you don’t have to) and resolve their effects that are listed on the cards. At the end of your turn, you must draw a card from the deck. If you draw an exploding kitten, you lose and are out of the game.

Of course, it doesn’t play out quite so linearly as that. A number of the cards you can play let you skip your draw turn, steal an opponent’s cards, or force an opponent to draw more than once. There are even cards that let you survive an exploding kitten… once. So the game turns into a matter of risk and luck; do you risk drawing the card that’s on top, hoping it’s not a kitten? Or do you use your Attack card to make your opponent draw it, and hope that it does explode?

The game is certainly fun, and I enjoyed playing it a lot. However, most of the enjoyment – for me, at least – comes from the sheer ridiculousness of the cards. With the exception of the simple cat cards that you are meant to match, each card’s art and name is unique. So, while there are 4 Attack cards which all have the same mechanic, one pictures the players Awakening the Bear-O-Dactyl and another Unleashes the Catterwocky. Even the rules lean towards the absurd; one example of a possible way to determine the start player is to choose the player with the longest spleen. I’ve played it a few times now, and at least one player has laughed out loud each time just looking at their hand. Even now that I’ve seen all the cards, it’s hard not to chuckle at the idea of skipping you turn by Donning a Portable Cheetah Butt and running away (hey, I said it was funny, not mature).

Humour aside, though, the game can get repetitive over multiple plays. The rules are designed so that there is always exactly one less Exploding Kitten card than there are payers, which means that you never have to reshuffle the deck… But it also means that, unless a few different players get quite unlucky and hit more than one Exploding Kitten card in a row (remember, you can Defuse the first one you get), you’ll likely get near to the bottom of the deck before the game ends. So you’ll see most of the cards on your first play through. And, of course, there’s the spectre of elimination hanging over this game, which isn’t something I like in many games. In a game with several players, if you go out early, you might as well go get yourself a snack, because it could be a while before the next game gets started. Mind you, I know some people really like elimination games. Maybe I’m just sour because I tend to push my luck a little too far too early, and tend to explode first.

In all, I do like Exploding Kittens. It’s fast, both to learn and to play. It’s ridiculous. And, though there are some cards that let you effect other players or skip your draw turn, it really comes down to sheer luck. That might be a negative point for some, but as a quick, light filler between heavier games, Exploding Kittens is perfect. However, since it really plays the same every time, it might not be a game that you want to play over and over, or play every time you get together to game.

Not unlike its Unicorn Enchilada’s (the eating of which lets you see the future with its enchilada powers), Exploding Kittens is something of a sometimes snack. Great once in a while, but hard to get through three meals a day.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on January 30, 2016 in Board Games

 

Tags: , ,