Bussed In – Little Hope

This review is as spoiler free as it is possible to be.

Well, here we are again. Back for some spoops with the Dark Pictures Anthology. This time we’re off to the fog-shrouded town of Little Hope. A place with a sordid history of misogyny-in-the-name-of-religion. How they loved a witch trial back in the day, eh? Oh those Puritans. What a bunch of murderous, fanatical scamps.

The game starts off in the dead of night. A bus is diverted through the town of Little Hope, by a bastard (ACAB). On hearing the name of the town, a haunted look passes over the face of the bus driver, but he drives off before crashing the bus. Damn Silent Hill style vehicle crashes, they’re a dime a dozen out here.

There’s a whole scene with a family having some family issues and then we cut to the crashed bus where the previous few minutes will appear to have been the dream of Andrew (played by Will Poulter who I can only ever imagine belting out TLC’s song Waterfalls every time I see him in anything). He’s quickly joined by teacher John and fellow student Angela. You’ll quickly notice that this group all bare a striking resemblance to the family we just saw in the previous scene.

Thrown slightly further away are young rebel-types Daniel and Taylor, they’ll have to find another way around, so they’re clearly the best choice for the other player if you’re playing remote multiplayer. The bus driver meanwhile is nowhere to be seen (ooooh, spoopy. He’s probably been dead for 50 years (jk, I’m not giving spoop spoilers here)).

In a bit of a change for Supermassive Games, our protagonists have a bit of a variance in age on this occasion. Taylor, Andrew, and Daniel who I suspect are supposed to be teenagers, but in Hollywood style, they’re played by people in their mid 20s, so who can say. However, Angela and John look to be mid 50s. That said, the main cast don’t get much more diverse from there.

Gameplay is standard to the previous horror offerings from Supermassive, with you exploring in third-person and occasionally slipping into one of four types of quick time events: aim and shoot, hammer a button, hit the right button quickly, or rhythm action heartrate monitor (this last one can fuck right off, it killed two of my characters. Definitely wasn’t my useless fault).

It’s quickly evident that the party are being railroaded pretty hard by GM Fog(TM). They realise they can’t split up because the fog just turns them around and puts them back in the plot, but then later if they even get slightly too far apart, the fog moves in and keeps them apart while they handle whatever horrific thing they must deal with. This is why you never upset the GM Fog(TM).

As you move through the game, you’ll start to experience moments from the woman-murdery past and realise that the main cast exist in this time too. Albeit as different people. It seems they’re doomed to return, life after life to this corpse of a town, but can the past be influenced by the present or are such hopes in vain?

The graphics are great, the facial animation is impressive as always, the character design is impressive (though to keep spoilers away, I’ll not say which characters I enjoyed most), the environment is nicely designed, the storytelling is very engaging, the Curator is still a snarky dick (but in fun way), the endings are worth replaying for. Supermassive have definitely done it again because I’m already looking forward to the next entry in the Dark Pictures Anthology.

Pros:

  • It’s probably not what you expect from the trailers.
  • Worth replaying a few times just to see what you can change.
  • Graphically impressive.

Cons:

  • Heartrate monitor QTEs suck (I’m just bad at them).
  • It’s going to be a wait for the next one.

Final Score: 9/10

City Committee – 7 Wonders Duel

Sometimes in life you need a brick, whether that’s for constructing a home, assertively enacting positive social change, or building a fantastic city that outshines all others. In 7 Wonders Duel by Antoine Bauza & Bruno Cathala, two players will use bricks (as well as stone, lumber, glass, and papyrus) to build such a city, and fill it with wonders (as well baths, breweries, circuses, and more).

The game is divided into three ages. The first being primarily about building a foundation in resource generation; the second being your chance to increase your resources, but also to move into city improvements which grant other benefits such as making certain things cheaper; and then crashing into the final age, which is primarily about point scoring, but mostly about trying to screw up eachothers plans.

Each age features a deck of cards which are laid out like a fancy solitaire game, with some cards going face down. As cards at the bottom of the layout are removed they grant access to those higher up the pattern and reveal what was once concealed. This allows for a little thoughtful play by steering your opponent away from cards you’re aiming for.

At the start of the game each player will draft four wonders from the pool of eight. Each wonder has their own costs and benefits. Extra turns, victory points, the ability to destroy one of your opponents precious resource generation cards, all this could be yours if you manage to construct the Hanging Gardens, or the Colossus or whatever ancient dick-swinging exercise you have available. Once a total of seven wonders have been built. The unconstructed wonder gets the derision it deserves and is returned to the box to think about what it did.

Throughout the ages some things never change. Science will still plug away at understanding the world, and those with a thirst for blood will continue fighting. Should you manage to gather a pair of cards with matching scientific symbols, players can claim a bonus such as victory points, money, or bonuses for having certain cards at the end of the game. Alternatively, if a player gathers six different scientific symbols, they will immediately end the game with a scientific victory. On a less cerebral scale, you can keep taking military cards, keep pushing the military tracker towards your opponent and should you reach the far end you’ll immediately win, bathed in the blood of your vanquished foes.

7 Wonders Duel is a great, fast, light-weight, small-box game that’s easy to teach but tougher to master. It’s definitely a great warmup game for couples game day.

Pros:

  • Fairly cheap.
  • Nicely constructed.
  • Lots of fun.

Cons:

  • The box feels like it could be a lot smaller.

Final Score 8/10

They Should – Tiny Epic Dinosaurs

I looooooove the Tiny Epic games from Gamelyn Games. Since my first (Tiny Epic Zombies) I’ve picked up three others for myself as well as another three as gifts for friends. The matching, small boxes, packed with tons of great gameplay are always a winner amongst boardgamers. My most recent arrival is the wonderfully vibrant Tiny Epic Dinosaurs.

The box art is fantastic, with its bold, bright colours, outside and in. The contents follows this beautifully with 70+ wooden dinosaurs, food and supply markers for each player (1-4), and a number of ranger meeples.

TED is a worker placement game with a modular board (the four cards can be flipped depending on the number of players to keep things balanced). Your goal is to score points by fulfilling public and private contracts. By buying certain dinosaurs in, you can work towards fulfilling a contract. However, you have to keep each species of dino separate on your tiny player board. Not only that, they’ll need a full enclosure, if your park has no walls, they could just wander off and drink out of some rando’s swimming pool.

The game is played in a number of sections, over multiple rounds. Gain supplies according to what icons are showing on your play mat. Then players take turns to place rangers to gain food, supplies, dinos, fences, items, unique dinos, move fences that are already on the player board, claim the first player token, or complete a contract.

Next you arrange your park, placing down fences and putting dinos in enclosures. This can get a little Tetris and there’s hard decisions to be made. Especially as you can’t move fences that were already placed, during this part of the game.

Once safely in their enclosures, you must feed each dino (failure to feed them leads to them breaking out and potentially eating eachother). And finally breeding any dinos where you have a pair in the same enclosure which also has enough space to house the newborn. This could be a good thing if you need more of that dinosaur, but they will need feeding.

Then you start all over again. Once 6 rounds are over, it’s time to tot up the final scores for the contracts you’ve completed and declare a winner.

While it sounds pretty simple, the limited space on the player boards can often leave you scratching your head as to the best choice of position for fences and dinos. On top of that, there’s the risk that when you take a dino from certain spaces on the main board, that you’ll roll a die and end up with an extra baby for free. This could be great, or a sudden mouth you’ll need to feed that will be more hassle than it’s worth. You must also consider which spaces on your player board that you cover, as this will stop you gaining the benefit of unoccupied squares.

Tiny Epic Dinosaurs is a lot of fun, but it’s a much slower and considered game than a lot of Gamelyn Games other entries.

Pros:

  • So many adorable, wooden pieces.
  • Great artwork throughout.
  • Surprisingly cerebral.

Cons:

  • One or two of my dinos are a little wonky so they don’t stand up, but that’s not the worst thing in a box of over 70.
  • It feels like there is a ‘best’ first move for whoever starts with the first player token.
  • I’m bad at it.

Final Score: 8/10

The Roof Is On Fire – Flash Point Fire Rescue

Fire. The hot burney. It’s warmth, light, tasty foods, your un-pissed on enemies getting their comeuppance. Despite all these benefits, fire can also be destructive (who knew). At such times of firey destruction, true heros step up to save the day.

Flash Point sees players taking the roles of firefighters as they attempt to control the Big Yellow Toasty and rescue those trapped in its too-warm embrace. 2-6 players grab a mini in their preferred colour and prepare to tackle the blaze.

Action takes place on a 8 x 10 squared, double-sided board. Each side is laid out as a home, with kitchens, bedrooms, living areas, bathrooms, and closets taking up the middle 6 x 8 squares with a single space a border around the building where a fire engine and ambulance can be placed.

Initial setup is done by rolling a six and an eight sided dice three times to decide where the initial fires have broken out. The dice are then rolled three more times to place points of interest. These could be a person, a pet, or the empty nothingness of the void, a reminder of the endless abyss that awaits all things come the heat death of the universe (which is to say you probably heard a noise but it wasn’t produced by anything sentient (that you know of)).

In harder difficulties, (of which the game has 3, plus suggestions for other ways to make things more or less difficult) you will also roll to place hazardous materials which could explode in the event that they catch fire. Additionally, the initial fires will be marked as flash points. These can be made temporarily safe by extinguishing the fire, but should you roll that space again, you’ll not only place more smoke there (which can turn into fire in an instant), but you’ll also be rolling again to place more smoke. If the second roll is a clear space, or even just smoking, it becomes a flash point. If not, you’ll keep rolling again and again, placing more and more smoke, until you do. As in real life, a house fire can escalate really quickly.

When you roll a spot that is already on fire, you’ll have to deal with other chain effects. The spaces around that spot will be affected. This may mean more fire in each cardinal direction, but more than that, it could mean structural damage. Walls can be destroyed if they’re hit twice, turning them into smoking doorways, doors themselves can be permanently destroyed, and the more open an area is, the easier it is for fire to spread. Plus, if the building takes too much damage, it may collapse on you, ending the game.

Once you’re out of family mode, you’ll also start using uniquely skilled firefighters. These may have more or less actions per turn and will have their own abilities. This could be providing movement actions to a fellow firefighter on your turn, to have a number of free fire suppression actions, or to be able to heal survivors – making it easier to get them to safety.

The main goal of the game is to rescue seven people, however, there’s nothing to stop you going for the full complement of ten. As mentioned earlier, hidden among these “points of interest” are some blank tiles. As such, you could go tearing across a burning building to investigate a space, only to discover it was a waste of time. Time that has allowed the fire to grow to new heights.

People are rescued by getting them outside, to the ambulance, which can park on any of four spots, and can be radioed to move to another location for precious action points. This means you can just dump someone outside on an ambulance spot, return to fighting the fire, and then arrange for the ambulance to pick them up once things are under control again. I’m sure the ambulance will see them there, and not accidentally run them over. They’re having a bad enough day as it is.

If the fire reaches a point of interest, you turn it over to find out if someone has been flambéed or if you saved yourself a few action points you can use to tackle the fire. Either way, at the end of that player’s turn, you roll to add another point of interest to keep the total at three. Should you lose four people at any point, that’s the game over.

Quick, important note here: at the start of the game, it asks you to remove two people and a blank tile from the pool of points of interest. This pool does include a dog and a cat. If you think losing either or both pets would be distressing to you, you can make these the two you don’t play with.

In addition to the ambulance, there’s the fire engine. Here you can change roles to a different fire specialist, take a ride to another engine parking space, or use the mighty (ish) deck gun.

The deck gun fires a big burst of water into the building, based on where it’s parked, and can help deal with heavily affected areas… if you roll well. You see the deck gun is based on dice rolls, you have to roll within the section of the board you can reach from it’s current parking spot, but on top of that, land it on the wrong side of a wall, and you’ve just rolled to make the carpet squelch, while the kitchen continues to be a raging inferno. When it works, it’s great, when it misses your target, it’s a massive sink for your action points, and that fire is still doing its thing.

I’ve found that you start to develop little narratives about the building as games proceed. A spot you keep rolling to catch fire becomes “that spot on the couch someone accidentally spilled a whole bottle of whiskey last Beltane”; the new point of interest you rolled, that is in the other bed spot, next to where you just rescued someone becomes a whole thing about someone hiding under the covers, worried that firefighter was an angry partner coming home to catch you. I wasn’t expecting it, but it seems to happen every game. “Who keeps smoking in the damn closet?!”

The varying difficulty settings mean this game can be played for family board game nights with kids as young as ten, all the way up to top strategists who can think 8 moves ahead. The double sided board adds additional replayability and there’s about 5 major expansions that add additional, double sided boards, as well as new features (such as windows you can open to climb through and fragile walls).

I wasn’t expecting to like Flash Point as much as I do, I’d taken it for Pandemic, but with the disease being fire (it’s not). What it is is fast paced, thoughtful and strangely fun, considering the subject matter.

Pros:

  • Lots of difficulty levels mean you can play with different ability groups.
  • It’s an easy teach.
  • Lots of fun.

Cons:

  • Sometimes you will encounter extreme difficulty spikes due to rolling in the same areas on consecutive rolls (the joys of randomness).
  • You might need to play a few games at a new difficulty before you work out how to even begin to manage.

Final Score: 8/10

Nostalgiamon – Pokémon Master Trainer

Do you want to be the very best? Like no one ever was? Can you afford £70+ for a second hand game in ok at best condition? Congratulations, you can be a Pokémon Master Trainer.

Look on eBay and you’ll see boxes for this game, player pieces, blocks of coloured discs, even manuals. To find a complete one, you’ll probably be looking at handing over some serious cash (unless you get incredibly lucky and someone with no clue is selling it on Buy It Now for a super low fee or with a typo in the description). Is it worth it though?

My first encounter with Master Trainer was when I attended CoxCon last year and my fiancee was invited to play with a group (brave of the owner to bring this expensive, vintage item to a con and let drunken attendees have at it). It’s a very large board, with lots of little divots for coloured discs. These represent various Pokémon you encounter along various routes as you travel across the land (searching far and wide). Roll dice, move to a space, encounter Pokémon, fight Pokémon. If you win, they join your team and add their power (that’s inside) to yours. If you lose, they stay face-up on the board for the next trainer to try and enslave.

The further your journey takes you, the stronger or more evolved the ‘mons you encounter will be (there’s even a chance to gain Kanto region legendaries and Mewtwo). Get far enough around the board (and if your team is powerful enough) and you can take on the Elite Four and claim ultimate victory.

The game they played at CoxCon took *hours*, some players even gave up and went to bed before they were done. While a lot of this was undoubtedly general cheer and chatting causing delays, it struck me that this must be a pretty decently weighty and they were having an amazing time, which was lovely to see.

Earlier this year, in a bout of crippling anxiety and paranoia, I bought a copy of Master Trainer as a gift for my fiancée. While writing in the manual suggested it wasn’t complete, we counted every single piece and realised someone must have bought enough spares to finish it to resell (and friends, they did well for having done so).

Setup is pretty quick, place Pokémon discs randomly, face-down in colour matched divots, place player markers on the start position, and roll some dice. It’s a really straight forward game (after all, it is aimed at kids) that bursts with nostalgia and… well just nostalgia. It’s the original 151, the best ones *(Psy)ducks to hide from the baying crowd, angry that I don’t prefer Gen 3* Sorry, not sorry. Bulbasaur is the best!!!

My only real problem with it is that if you’ve played it before, you have a massive advantage. You know when your power is about right and when to take the risk and move to end the game. Because the final battle is decided by dice roll. No modifications. No strategy. If you have enough power to get to the Elite Four, you chance it and hope for the best. And that’s the real reason it took them hours to finish the game (apart from the fact everyone was stealing legendaries off of each other like they’d joined Team Rocket while their opponent was at the bar).

So who is this game for now? Collectors – sure. 90’s kids with strong nostalgia and a lot of cash – definitely. Drunk 90’s kids at a games and YouTuber convention – fuck yeah! People with a casual interest in Pokémon – probably not. Modern board gamers with no previous history of the game – heeeeeeeell no! Am I unhappy that I bought it as a gift – No.

Pros:

  • It’s colourful.
  • The original 151.
  • Fills your nostalgia gland to bursting point.

Cons:

  • Finding it complete now is super expensive, more so if you want it complete.
  • The player tokens look like cereal toys from the year this came out.
  • The final battle is entirely luck based.

Final Score: 4/10

Final Score (with bonus nostalgia goggles, the right group, and maybe a little booze): 7/10

Pixel Hunting – Streets of Steel

The year is probably 20XX, crime is a thing, for some reason there’s a big push to make some joke about the PTA. This is Final Streets of Rage Fight… I’m sorry, I’m just being informed, this is Streets of Steel – Kickin’ Asphalt and not any combination of beloved, nineties beat-em-ups.

Streets of Steel is a game for 3-4 players (despite the box saying 1-4. We’ll come back to that) that takes an awesome 16-bit art style and a modular board, designed to scroll along as you move through the level. As you progress, you face off against various enemies, roll dice to fight them and work your way to the end of level boss.

SoS was funded on Kickstarter in June 2018. It was one of those games that got so delayed that the comment section on their KS page was full of angry internet people saying “we’ll never see the game”, or suggesting it was all a scam on the part of Wild Power Games. It certainly didn’t help that the company stopped using their twitter account and took far too long to update backers.

However, the fact I now hold my copy shows that all the negative theories were incorrect. It’s here, woo. Let me put this down though, it’s hard to type while holding this vastly oversized box.

Why is the box so big? Well, they did the Kickstarter thing of designing a really cool game and then immediately going “it must have minis”. We must overcomplicate our design and massively increase the number of risks in producing the game.

Minis!? In a game that seems entirely based around it’s 16-bit art style? Do they at least have some kind of pixel art style, like that 8-bit Mario amiibo? No, they don’t. Honestly, they look totally at odds with the rest of the game. It was a poor choice, but one that does explain why the box is so big (and mostly empty if you went with the purely pixels version). They only designed one box. Naturally. It would have cost more to make different boxes for both versions.

To set up the game, players select their characters (If you’re playing in one or two player mode, you’ll be playing three or two characters respectively. This is why I mentioned earlier that the game isn’t nearly as well scaled as they suggest on the box. Two players is ok, but still, it proves that at least three characters need to be involved) from the four available (I believe that Telekinetikid is a KS exclusive so I won’t go into them here). You’ve got Average Joe, who’s basically Axel from Streets of Rage; Candy Connor, she’s got inline skates; Mayor Van Dammage, basically black Haggar from Final Fight; and Kiki… she kicks (geddit?)

Each player has a set maximum health, two special abilities, a set amount of movement, and specific style of attack. Specials are triggered by using Wild Power tokens, which you gain by taunting or defeating enemies. Normal attacks are performed by rolling the number and type of dice on your character’s board. For example Kiki, uses all four kick dice. These have a chance of doing one or two damage to an enemy. Beat the enemy armour level and you defeat them.

Because of her dice, Kiki is the most likely to score a victory blow on any enemy, and the Mayor is the most likely to fail (because he only rolls the four punch dice have a maximum of one damage and a minimum of zero). Despite their specials, some characters are just better than others.

The board setup is probably the most clever part of this game’s design. You start by taking the boss section and putting it face down, to start your street stack. You then pick out four of the five yellow street sections and pile them face down on top of the boss section. Lastly, put three of the four green tiles and place them face up, on the table to form your starting street layout.

Some sections of the street will feature a number from 1-3 and this will tell you what type of enemy to put on that section. If any of the tiles feature an item icon, add an item token to that spot.

As the game progresses, you imagine that flashing sign saying “GO” with a big arrow and the board scrolls along. Players and enemies in the far left section of board are killed (though players can spend a quarter to get back in the game, with a couple of i-frames). A new tile is added to the right side and appropriately populated with stuff. It’s a wonderful mechanic and perfect for the style they were going for.

Once a character has used all their actions for the turn, a card from the baddie behaviour deck is flipped. This will include instructions for how a type of enemy is to move and/or attack, if there’s none of that type of enemy, it’s likely you’ll just draw another card (though sometimes you’ll get lucky and have less game to play, because it didn’t instruct you to redraw).

Eventually, you’ll all die of boredom, or you’ll get to the final boss. At this stage you swap out the behaviour deck for a different, boss behaviour deck, which follows the same rules, but will include instructions for both the boss and standard enemies.

The boss has a number of hit points, and when you finally roll luckily enough to have picked them all off, the game will be over and you can get on with your life. I’m being cruel, but honestly, every time I finish a playthrough of this it feels anticlimactic and sort of like “yes, we have done that now. Time to clear up this attractively designed pixel art mess and never speak of it again (except in a review, but probably not after that)”.

Oh, I didn’t even mention the rules. They’re badly written and confusing. I had to ask in the KS comments section for a clarification on if a certain type of card meant that an enemy could attack under (pretty common) conditions. Honestly, the answer didn’t ultimately matter, if your play group (don’t punish anyone by making them play this) is willing to just say “I read it this way let’s say it always means that” that’s fine, it only makes the game a tiny bit harder.

And another thing (old woman ranting at board game now, I guess), you can buy multiple base games and combine them (there’s also Streets of Steel – Rush ‘n Scare (geddit, because it’s typical 90’s “red scare” crap, with problematic content in it)). Just pick which boss creature, which level 1, 2, and 3 baddies from your base games you’ll be mixing in and you can make a whole new… oh, wait, it’s basically the same thing but reskinned.

Right, I’m done thinking about this year-late disappointment. Here’s the wrap up.

Streets of Steel was a brilliant idea that just isn’t well executed. Wild Power Games massively over-extended themselves with the minis and probably should have spent more time on the actual game design, because it’s pretty tedious to play more than once.

Pros:

  • Great art.
  • Rolling street tile boards is a great idea.
  • Card stock feels very nice quality, especially for board tiles.

Cons:

  • Even with the ability to re-roll dice, combat is far too much a game of limited chance for some characters.
  • Unless you have the optional minis, the box is mostly empty space.
  • Winning is the least fun part of the game.

Final Score: 4/10

TEh neu wAive – War Of The Worlds: The New Wave

I grew up listening to the Jeff Wayne musical version of War of the Worlds along with various remixes and updates thereof. Of minor note, I’ve also read the H.G. Wells book it’s based on (there is a surprising amount of ejaculation in that book. So much so that I wonder if the martians didn’t die of an STI), but who pays any attention to that, right?

War of the Worlds is some pretty cool sci-fi. Unknowable aliens come to Woking, build tripods and start wrecking the world, killing and eating humans with technology so far advanced it seemed incredible at the time (and just kind of impractical now (I know, mech walkers and massive tripods would be cool, but they just aren’t viable as military units), but heck practical, we want cool!) At the end though, the aliens were small minded anti-vaxxers who died out due to a common bacterial infection.

The New Wave is set about a decade after the initial invasion, and this time it seems the aliens have all had their jabs and are going to show those boomer aliens how an invasion is done: with flying saucers and nerve agents and frightening sounds and stuff. Their invasion ship lands on the west coast of Scotland and they’re ready to go straight away with a tripod, a saucer, and 30 health.

Standing against the seemingly indestructible martians are 30 human civilian tokens with no military and very little in the way of support. Good luck, puny humans.

I bloody love deck building games, so the idea of an asymmetrical WotW deck builder board game sold me immediately (inner voice “fooooooooool”). The Kickstarter videos were great and felt informative. However, while I’ve had really good luck with KS board games so far, this one feels like a real fail and will definitely make me think twice in future.

On opening up the rather nicely designed box, I was greeted by two manuals and two board pieces (I picked up the Irish Sea expansion, so enthralled as I was by the shiny KS presentation).

Deeper within, I found the main decks for each faction, a small set of additional cards (I think these were stretch goals), and the last few cards which go with the expansion.

Then there was the miniatures box (which, if you didn’t get the KS version, you’re expected to buy separately) which held three tripod figures, two saucers, three tanks, and two battleships. They’re a lovely weight and I almost immediately felt a deep desire to paint them, to make them just a bit more interesting.

Next there was the bag of building stands (literally just plastic holders for the building tokens, not strictly speaking necessary, but they do make it easier to tell which regions have buildings on at a glance.

Then came a bag of 31 civilians. These little green meeple resemble soldiers with rifles and bayonets (so are they civilians or army… militia… historical re-enactors?!).

Last up, one of my favourite bits of any new board game, punchboard tokens. There’s something really satisfying about poking out all the tokens in a new game.

The art looked good, I was satisfied with the pieces and so I delved into the manual and was almost immediately struck by sheer number of typographical errors. Now, I’m dyslexic and consequently, my brain will very often autocorrect things like transposed letters in words, but even I was shocked at how many typos I was seeing.

Considering how much the game was and how much time they’d spent checking and finalising during production (info which came to backers in fairly regular updates), I was pretty appalled by how bad it was. My only conclusion is that maybe they sent the wrong final document to the printers or something, because otherwise I have to wonder what the heck they were doing between completion of the Kickstarter and their announcement that it had gone into full production.

This manual also loves a gendered pronoun. Good gravy, there’s just line after line of “he/she” “his/her”. If there was ever a prime example of how clunky this language is, it’s this freaking manual. I mean, I’m glad they didn’t default to he/him as too many manuals do, but this is ridiculous. The word ‘they’ exists, it’s free, maybe try it out.

That said, I was willing to look past the spelling and hope that the game itself was good.

On setting up the board for the first time, I was further confused by the civilian tokens. They’re placed in threes in areas of the map with a specific icon. Apparently, no one lives on the south coast of England as there are about 5 regions at the bottom of the country that stand empty.

Then there was the alien setup, they get an invasion ship, a tripod and a saucer, all located just south of Ullapool in Scotland (was that deliberate?). While the board itself shows the alien space ship, you also have a token for the ship, and if you have the building stands, you have this too. Of immediate note here, it’s very obvious that the humans are at a huge disadvantage, starting with no real defences or units (the humans live here, you’d think they’d have some of this stuff kicking around, but no).

Each faction starts with a deck of ten cards, a shop of five cards (one item from which you can swap out each turn to try and get something more useful), and a deck of other shop cards. The top five shop cards are laid out, available to purchase and offer upgrades to your basic cards, buildings that generate resources or offer protection, new units, etc.

Many of the starting cards feature multiple ways to use them. UFOs can move or shoot before discarding the card, or cause double damage at the cost of removing that card from the game entirely. Humans can move a single unit from one area to an adjacent region or use the card to generate a resource for a discard, or remove the card from the game for two resources.

This mechanic of removing your starter resource cards to buy upgraded versions is really good, though your ability to do that is very much based on what you’re getting in the shop row. However, you do have to keep a close eye on what you’re removing from the game as you risk being unable to do anything useful if you burn all your attack power or resources too early or on the wrong things. Luckily, they print the number of each card type on the card itself, allowing for you to accurately consider what you have spare.

The rules state that alien units and buildings are indestructible – only receiving damage to their total health of 30. However, this means that they can just march through the humans and wreck all their things. During my first few games, I found less and less reason to build any of the resource generating structures when playing humans. This is because, unlike the aliens, human structures have a base health of only one. Consequently it’s simple for the alien saucer to just head down country by the fastest means possible and start a pincer movement with the tripod.

Oh, you’re struggling to get any kind of money? Well tough, I’ve just jetted down from the north and destroyed the thing you built last round to help with that. The thing you burnt a couple of your precious resources on. Also, bonus for me, human units can’t even damage the saucers. Meanwhile, I’ve covered Scotland in resource generating structures and am about to be able to regenerate my health each round, because of all my excess funds. Bwahahahah, git gud human scrubs.

The balance of the game is really delicate. While it is possible for people who know the game really well to have consistently close games, I’ve found playing it with someone who tries any strategy other than the intended one for their faction will be mercilessly crushed. It then comes down to who has the best luck on drawing useful items on the shop row.

While there is a mechanic which allows you to remove one shop item to the bottom of the deck and replace it with a new one each turn, if you have an unlucky shuffle, you could be waiting a while for the really useful cards to come up.

(All final thoughts are based on the base game and not KS exclusives, upgrades or the expansion)

Pros:

  • Great art work
  • Interesting game play

Cons:

  • Typos galore in the manual and some on a few cards too
  • Not well balanced
  • Some contrast issues with the board meaning regions aren’t always clear

Final Score: 3/10

Stars War 101 – Star Realms

If you wanted to introduce the concept of a deck building game to a sentient ball of ooze, you would struggle to find something more simple and laser targeted than Star Realms.

The whole game fits in a box no bigger than about two normal decks of playing cards, the rules come on a small pamphlet, every card is super easy to read and understand, and you can teach this two player game in less time than it takes to run an internet speed test.

Players start with a basic deck consisting of the typical currency and damage dealing type cards you find in deck builders. Currency allows you to buy cards from a shop row, damage lets you start grinding away at your opponent’s 50 authority (health points). There’s 3 types of cards you can buy: ships, space stations, and outposts. These are divided into 4 factions.

Ship cards may have higher damage or cash generating amounts than your starter ships, sometimes with a faction bonus if you play another card of the same faction on this turn. Some with a bonus if you trash the card.

Stations and outposts stay on the table between turns, meaning you are immediately generating bonuses each round, without having to glut your hand. However, if you have an outpost down, opponents must attack this before they can damage you directly.

Clock stop!

159Mb/s down and 19Mb/s up. Not bad, but streaming is occasionally unstable.

Star Realms is very simple, but that doesn’t stop it having some depth. How you build your deck is quite important. Do you go for whatever card comes up that looks strong? Do you try to stick to only one or two factions? Do you invest heavily in outposts and build a wall in front of you? Do you try to trash all your starter cards? There’s a decent amount to think about, but either way, this game will be over in 20-30 minutes. So if it doesn’t work out, you can always go again.

The art isn’t amazing, but it’s decent enough and consistent across all the cards. The faction cards go well together but still look like they belong in the same universe as other factions, and card symbols are clear and easy to understand.

If all this sounds fun, but you’d rather play with up to 4 player, try Star Realms Frontiers which is the same game with more cards.

But wait, there’s more. If you get reeeeeally into this and never want to leave, this box of simplicity can be complicated. You can throw about 13 expansions plus numerous commander decks (specific starting conditions for that commander including a unique starter deck, rules for your starting hand size and amount of authority (health)) in to beef up the experience. You can, but personally I’d use SR as an entry point and then head to deeper… space (I was going to say water and then I spiralled into a whole thing about fluid space, and then it all got very Treky and otherwise nerdy. Luckily I managed to stay on target).

Pros:

  • Cheap.
  • Quick Teach.
  • Great starter game.

Cons:

  • Not hugely replayable.
  • Not very deep.
  • I can’t count backwards with the provided lifepoint cards.

Final Score: 7.5/10

She’ll Breed, You’ll Die – Legendary Encounters Alien

I’ve talked before about my love of deck building games (see my pieces on Clank! and Clank! In! Space!) My main problem with these games though, is that my fiancee is a former ranked Yu-Gi-Oh! player and she’s an absolute badass at competitive deck building games.

Now I don’t mind losing, but I like to feel like I have a chance sometimes. With that in mind, I went looking for a co-op game that would scratch the same itch. It’s here that I stumbled across the bio-organic, acid dripping, twin-mouthed horror that is Legendary Encounters – An Alien Deck Building Game (LEA). It’s a spin on the Marvel Legendary game, set in Ridley Scott’s Alien universe and featuring characters, locations, and scenarios from the first four Alien movies. It’s suitable for 1-5 players, though you may need to play two hands or mess with rules regarding facehuggers in single player games. By all accounts it takes the ideas presented in the Marvel version and really refines it down to a more thematic experience.

LEA comes with a large and beautiful, neoprene mat, with a complex area at the top, featuring six spaces that will slowly fill with enemies. These areas fit very nicely with the theme. There’s vent shafts, a med lab, even an airlock to blow your enemy out of (should the scenario allow). If you fail to scan and deal with this disturbing horde by the time one is pushed off the complex and into the combat zone, you’ll suddenly find yourself under attack by a xenomorph or playing tonsil (or stomach(?)) hockey with a lively facehugger.

Campaigns can be put together from any three of the scenario pieces, but it’s best to try playing through each according to the movie they’re based on at least once. You’ll have a location – such as the Nostromo, and three objectives. Each objective has its own mini deck of cards which are shuffled individually, and then stacked to make the Hive Deck. From here all enemies, deadly hazards, dramatic events, and eventually – the final enemy (eg the alien queen) come forth.

In order to change the difficulty of the game, based on the number of players and their skill level, you can add additional cards from the drone deck to each of the mini decks, before they go into the Hive stack. This adds yet more replayability to the game as you never know what you’re going to get.

To go with the film scenarios, you have a set of four characters that appeared in those films. Each of the four have a mini deck of cards, and these are all shuffled together to make a barracks. As mentioned earlier, if you’ve played through each of the movies, there’s nothing to stop you just picking any four characters you like for your team. Heck, even a supergroup of each version of Ripley is a possibility (I’ve tried it, it’s pretty awesome).

Players are dealt a random avatar and given the associated character ability card to put in their starting deck of basic grunts (good for small amounts of damage or scanning the complex) and specialists (to help you buy new characters from the barracks). Games play out in about an hour, and there’s extra rules you can add in (such as good and evil hidden roles) which add even more variety.

One quick thing, I want to jam in here (because I’m not sure where else to put it) is the initial setup of the box – not individual games, the box it comes in – which is an absolute pain that the manual doesn’t do an amazing job of explaining.

When you purchase LEA you’ll receive a sizable box filled with six blocks of cards wrapped in plastic (600 cards in total), foam spacer blocks (just to keep the box in order, the playmat, a bunch of little divider cards and some additional paper to pack out the space. As you unwrap the blocks of cards you’ll likely be utterly confused. Some appear to be the same cards, in the same order across multiple blocks. Some will appear – to the untrained eye – to be identical to other cards (I’m looking at you facehuggers and event cards). It’s a big, confusing mess that can be very intimidating to a total newcomer.

I looked online and couldn’t find a video to help with this so I made one of my own, but according to one comment, even this didn’t completely clear things up for people. The problem is that the same art (and even description at the top of the card) is used on multiple cards, belonging in multiple mini decks.

You’ll need to identify the characters, and group them by which crew they’re associated with (designated by a symbol in the top left corner) and then separate them into each character (all of Lt. Ripleys cards will go in one pile, but you’ll probably want them in the box near to the mini decks for Hudson, Hicks, and Bishop).

Once characters are sorted, you’ll move your attention to the avatars and unique abilities for each of them, and finally flick your eyes down to the very bottom of the cards. You’ll notice some have a scenario name along with a number, then there’s hatchery deck (facehuggers and chestbursters), drone deck, strike deck (damage markers), as well as good and evil agendas.

Once all these are divided up, you should have a good grasp on everything and how you want to put it back in the box. It’s a big ole task, made even bigger if you chose to sleeve everything (which I recommend as these cards are a little flimsy and prone to scuffing.

In the last year or so, this game has been coming out a lot more than Clank! Partly because even with the expansions, Clank! never seems to have as much variety game to game, and partly because I just enjoy the co-op nature a lot more. Even if one of us dies with a chestburster ripping through us, on the living room table, if the other one makes it to victory, I still count that as a win. The thing is, we’ve kind of ‘solved’ LEA at this point. We’ve not even come close to losing in some considerable time. As such, we tried things like adding extra objectives to our campaign (we ended up massively OP by the end), and we tried playing only higher level objectives (we were still winning fairly easily). Nothing quite worked.

With this in mind, I looked around online to see if there were any house rules or similar, that could help us get some more challenge out of the game. What I came across was the first expansion box. The first thing most people online seem to say about this box is it is HARD. Bingo, just what I want.

A few days later 400 new cards arrive and need sleeving and suddenly I’m recalling how unhelpful these blocks of cards are, as they come from the factory. Additionally, the box contains a mini playmat (for someone to play as the Alien Queen Mother), more dividers, and more of those foam blocks.

As well as two new locations and their associated objectives and scenario decks, there’s a hard mode for all locations and objectives (including the 4 from the base game), a deck and avatars for a Queen Mother player (pro tip, feed her fish, she’ll choke on a bone. At least, that’s how it worked with the British QM), new player avatars, new types of strikes, new good and evil agendas, new characters to flesh out the barracks (there’s two extra characters for each crew (movie) and an Ellen Ripley deck, which has cards spanning each of the crews, so good for making sure you have representation of each when building custom barracks), and three decks for soldier aliens.

Even on normal difficulty, the new scenarios are nails hard. On our first playthrough with the evolution scenario, I took two huge strikes which finished me off one turn before we defeated the final boss. That said, the game had been pleasantly challenging all the way through. This may be because of the new matrix for setting up your hive decks by adding drone cards, or because of the new soldier aliens. These decks are numbered 1-3 and one from each is placed into each scenario mini deck, before they’re stacked to make the hive. They’re much stronger than their drone deck counterparts and keep the challenge up throughout the game.

I would definitely recommend Legendary Encounters – An Alien Deck Building Game to anyone who enjoys deck builders or just the Alien franchise. For anyone who’s played the base game to death and found the best strategies, I’d definitely recommend the first expansion as it adds a huge amount of replayability and a whole extra mode (though that’s best played with more people than the current lockdown will allow).

Pros:

  • Lots of replayability
  • Multiple rules variants to change up play
  • Expansion adds even more variety, challenge, improved setup, and a whole new, nails hard playmode with the Queen Mother.

Cons:

  • Initial setup of the box is a poorly explained chore that can be extremely stressful.
  • Queen Mother mode is so difficult that even the manual proposes that you treat it as a score attack game and don’t expect to win it as humans.
  • Solo play is best done with either homebrewed rules or playing two hands.

Final Score:

Base Game: 7/10

Expansion: 8/10

Coaled – Brass Birmingham

In my ongoing quest for games of weight and substance I’ve recently succumbed to the choking soot of Brass Birmingham. Set between 1770 and 1870 Brass Birmingham sees you and one to three friends take on the roles of early industrialists in the Black Country.

During the first part of the game, players take turns to build canal routes and factories across the English midlands. Cards showing a location allow you to build industry there, while those showing a particular industry allow you to open up a city on your network (somewhere you’ve built connections to) to this wonderous new trade.

The game scales well with more players, having marked cards and tokens showing which are to be used depending on player numbers. The more players, the more the region opens up. Initially the map is bare, only a few markets open for trade of specific goods, usually with only one area willing to buy anything sent their way. Each town or city will be willing to be home to certain types of industry, meaning you can only make pottery there if there’s a space for that tile.

This part of England was named the Black Country due to the soot that covered the industry-heavy region (or the 10m thick seam of coal close to the surface) and Brass Birmingham is also powered by these little ebony cubes (I assume they mine it out in cubes, Wikipedia wasn’t clear on that, but it would make it easier to stack if it did, so I’m going to assume the game is fully accurate in its depiction). Coal will be almost as important as currency in the game, being required for a majority of industry buildings.

Speaking of which. Each player has a playmat, showing the types of industry they can build, with each type coming in multiple levels. Build all your level one textile factories, and you can move on to the next level. The strategy here comes from working out what will be worth the most points to you during the game’s two scoring sections. However, to sell goods such as pottery, textiles, and manufactured goods (they’re just ominous boxes, the kind you’d fill a warehouse with and then hide the ark of the covenant in. It’s entirely possible that an industrialist from Dudley is the one hiding the ark from nazis) you’ll need to be connected to a market via a chain of canals, as well as plenty of that great industrial lubricant: beer!

You want to sell that pottery, down in Oxford? Best have some beer about, perhaps available from the town itself, perhaps from an opponent’s brewery. It’s one thing to get things down on the board, but to really get anything out of them, you’ll need beer available, to get it to market. Because… reasons.

Hold up! “Opponent’s brewery”?! Yep, things you create, such as coal mines, iron foundries, and breweries create resources, these resources can be used by anyone on the same network. If you can trace a line from your factory to the market and a source of beer, you can use that beer to sell your goods. Good for you, but also good for the brewery owner (or mine/foundry owner). You see, once all of a resource on a tile runs out, it gets flipped and the owner immediately gains an income benefit and that tile gains value in the scoring next section.

Here’s where some strategizing comes in. Do you build that brewery as your second action on your turn, risking that your opponent will use it and leave you without the vital beer you need to sell your own wares? Or do you play it safe and build another canal? Biding your time until your next turn when you can brew beer and immediately sell your goods. Thereby causing a chain of flipped tiles as you use up your beer and sell off your goods (money, money, profit, textiles, industrialist swag, etc).

As mentioned earlier, the first part of the game is all about canals. However, the age of moving goods by water is fast approaching its end. Once the player deck has been run down, the age of canals comes to an end and those aquatic conveyances become nothing more than useless, flooded trenches full of shopping trolleys, used condoms, and middle class hippies living on barges with pretentious names (both the barges and the hippies). Furthermore any of your industry tiles that are only level one, are now as obsolete as minidiscs and have to be removed from the board along with all your carefully built canals.

This means that half way through the game, things can essentially reset. Especially if you haven’t managed to get any of the second level structures down. Suddenly the board is quiet again and you’ll have to build up from scratch, with shining railways now connecting each centre of industry. Those trains will need more coal so you’d better make sure there’s a good supply nearby, or you’ll have to buy from the market.

Besides certain locations on the borders of the map being markets for various types of goods, there’s also the coal market. By building a link to the coal market, you can buy and sell coal. Should you need some of these blessed black cubes, but find none on the board, you can buy from the market. As the market empties out, the cost rises to meet demand. However, should someone build a coal mine which is connected to the market, when there is such demand, they sell their coal on. This immediately earns them money at the going rate, and brings them closer to flipping the coal mine and getting some sweet sweet scoring benefits.

Our first game of Brass Birmingham ran to about 2 hours (plus 30 mins of watching a YouTube tutorial), but subsequent games have been closer to 90 mins. While there’s a lot of options for what to do on your turn, the game can move pretty swiftly. It’s only when you get down to the last few cards of the era that decisions can get really tough and you really need to think hard about not only what is best to do, but what can be done with limited options.

Overall the game is really interesting and a really fun puzzle to work through, but with no definitive answer, meaning that thanks to the random elements, there’s a lot of replayability.

Pros:

  • Surprisingly small and snuggly filled box.
  • High quality components.
  • Reversible player and main boards so you can enjoy day or night aesthetic variants.

Cons:

  • It’s a tough teach and I highly recommend watching a tutorial and even a playthrough to fully understand all the rules.
  • There’s only 2 possible women you can play as (though admittedly there weren’t many female historical industrialists to choose from).

Final Score: 9/10