Postcode Lottery – Monopoly Bid

Monopoly sucks. It’s not a controversial opinion. It takes too long and despite its origins, it glorifies property hoarding. Why it sells as well as it does, even to this day, I have zero clue.

In answer to the length issue, Hasbro offers you Monopoly Bid. A 2-5 player card game that can be played in as little as 5 minutes (I’ve seen it claimed this takes 15-20 minutes, but I knocked out my first three games in that time, and that includes reading the manual).

Set up is as simple as dividing the blue backed property cards and red backed money cards, shuffling both decks and dealing five of the money cards to each player. Money comes in denominations of 1-5, but amongst these cards are four types of action cards: Wild cards complete sets of properties, Draw 2 cards allow you to draw more cards from the money deck, Steal! allows you to steal a property from an opponent’s incomplete set, and Nope! cards are used to cancel any action cards (including other Nope! cards).

On your turn, you will host an auction (youngest hosts first). Everyone draws a card from the money deck, the host flips over the top property and then plays as many action cards as they wish (with opponents using Nope!s if they wish to prolong the agony), and finally everyone starts to bid for the property. Players secretly select the amount they’re willing to pay and reveal on the count of three. If there’s a tie, the tied players may keep bidding. The winning bidder puts their money in a discard pile and places their new property in front of them, everyone else keeps their cash, and play moves to the next round. If no one bids, the card goes to the bottom of the property deck.

Each property set is clearly identified by colour (though I don’t know how good this would be for colourblind players) and has a number in the bottom-left corner. Until you have all the cards in a set (filled in with Wild cards or not) players are allowed to use Steal! cards to have them away from you.

Once someone gets three full sets, they are the greatest hoarder of property and win at capitalism. This is a terrible lesson to teach children.

Now, you might be thinking that there’s more than luck to this game, clearly there’s a degree of memory in the bidding, knowing what other players have shown in previous bids. Maybe, but it’s imperfect knowledge as everyone is picking up a new card before each auction. As such, it’s really all guesswork and luck of the draw on cards.

In one game I started the game with five cards worth one money each. My opponent apparently had a hand full of draw two cards and before the first auction even started, had managed to pick up half of the money deck. I didn’t win a single auction that game and couldn’t stop any cards being played as she had managed to get a fistfull of Nope!s as well. As such, I would warn everyone that this is not a game, it’s a meaningless, colourful distraction that is a complete waste of cards and ink.

I’ve posted my copy to a family member who regularly has young grandkids over, that way I’m not immediately putting it in the recycling bin. At least Uno feels somewhat substantial, get that if you must.

Pros:

  • The colour choices on the cards are vibrant
  • It’s not the Monopoly board game
  • I don’t believe it’s murdered anyone

Cons:

  • Entirely luck-based
  • Less fun than the Monopoly board game
  • Waste of resources

Final Score: 0/10

A Nice Time – Little Town

I get told fairly often that my reviews are quite negative, so let’s have a nice time and talk about something nice.

Little Town is a worker placement and tile laying game for 2-4 players and takes about 45 minutes. Players draft building tiles and lay these out along the bottom of the board (there are set tiles to help on your first playthrough) along with the five wheat field tiles, to form a shop. Depending on player count, players get 2-4 objective cards, 3-5 workers pieces, 6-7 houses, and a humble 3 coins in their pockets.

Gameplay is fairly straightforward, in a turn, players may perform one of two actions: Gather and activate, or build a building. To gather and activate, place a worker on the board and they will collect resources from all diagonally or orthogonally adjacent spaces. The board itself (which is double-sided for variety) features a number of trees, mountains and lakes. Trees give wood, mountains yield stone, and lakes can be fished for food. Meanwhile buildings that are on the board will produce resources or victory points as shown on their tile, either directly, or in some form of resource trade. However, if you wish to activate a building you didn’t build yourself, you’ll need to pay a coin to the owner to do so.

To build a building, send a worker off to the building yard at the bottom of the board, pay the cost in resources on the tile you wish to construct. Then place that tile on a blank space, along with a little house to signify that it’s one you built. Additionally, building tiles show a star value, which are immediate victory points awarded when you construct it.

Once each player has sent all their workers out, it’s time to bring them home. At which point they will need to be fed. Each worker will need one food, be that wheat (from fields that have been built) or fish. Failure to feed workers will lose you three victory points each, as they air their displeasure with your leadership.

At any time you can complete an objective card you’ve met the requirements for and claim the victory points shown. Objectives are mostly very simple: have no money, build a building that costs x amount of wood, have twice as many food resources as workers, etc. Although, that’s not to say you might not just end up never quite completing these just depending how things play out.

Finally, move the round token one space and hand the first player token to the next player clockwise and start a new day. At the end of four rounds, add together any end game bonuses from tiles, and one point for every three coins in your coffers.

Little Town is absolutely charming. You’re making a nice town together, there’s plenty for everyone to share and at lower player counts you can almost build separate areas, away from your fellow players. It might be considered a game for children by some (recommended 10+), but there’s enough strategy in the selection of buildings and when (or if) to go for objective cards, to keep adults playing too. It’s not the crunchiest, deepest, most mind bending game in the world, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s just fun, and we could all do with some fun.

Pros:

  • Easy to learn
  • Plenty of variety thanks to the tile drafting
  • Very affordable

Cons:

  • May be too light-weight for some
  • It’s a small box that could be smaller as there’s plenty of empty space
  • Unusual colour selections for player pieces.

Final Score: 8/10

The Tallest Tales – The Adventure Zone – Bureau of Balance

So, there’s me, Mittens the rogue, and Laurak the wizard, right. And we’re in this creepy cemetery, fighting off a swarm of rats, while having a dance-off, but it’s okay, because you know me, I’ve got this unique and distracting odor, plus I’m good with an axe. Before you know it, things have escalated beyond all sense and Mitten’s ex shows up with this arcane riddle she’s got to answer before we can get on with destroying this bone throne.

*swig*

Right, it’s your round pal. When you get back, I’ll tell you about the time we ran into this sarcastic specter while trying to win a talent show.

If you’ve ever wanted to knock out a low-seriousness fantasy roleplaying campaign in under two hours, you could do a lot worse than the rules-light role playing game in a box: The Adventure Zone – Bureau Of Balance.

Loosely based on one of a bajillionty podcasts by the McElroy Brothers. It’s designed for 2-5 people and takes 60-90 minutes to dungeon crawl through. There’s no maps, no hefty tomes full of rules, only one type of die, and very little maths. Setup is pretty simple, players take a character sheet based on class (warrior, rogue, wizard, bard, or priest) and answer a few questions about that character (there’s prompts on the back of the sheet to either steal from or just get ideas about who your character is). There’s also space to name their adventurer and even draw a mugshot for posterity.

That’s it! No rolling stats, no picking up gear, no deciding on which pack is best for your adventure. All the numbers come printed on your sheet and they never change. Warriors are good against monsters. Wizards are good against magical challenges. The point of this game is not to worry about numbers so much as to tell a fun story together.

Now, to the adventure itself. Forgoing the common use of a Game/Dungeon Master player typical of most role playing games (thought there is a team leader who is in charge of gently nudging play forward), BoB sees this role taken by small Challenge Decks. One to represent a villain and their minions, the next a relic of power, and finally a location for it all to take place. The game includes a number of each so you could be after the Lich who wants the Ring and hangs out in the Tomb, or the Cult after an Idol on a Train. All of the decks are playable with each other meaning you can get an awful lot of replayability out of this box. Besides, playing with different groups, who knows how they’ll interpret the story in their own way.

Each deck includes 10 cards, each with a scenario and a few numbers. There’s a big number at the top of the card, this represents the score the players need to beat that round. To the left and right, there may be an arrow, which includes a modifier number for the card in that direction. For example, Reliving Your Biggest Mistake, includes +1 to the left, this could make the Swarm of Crawling Hands (usually only a 7) up to a difficulty of 8 (as I said, it’s very simple stuff).

Below the numbers are the card’s name, and below that there may be symbols, denoting the type of encounter this is (monster, spooky, magic, etc). Next is an all purpose box for prompts, and special rules. Some will include effects that remain as long as the card is on the board, others will grant bonuses if you can explain some story aspect of the card (what does something look/smell/taste/sound like?) during your encounter with it. At the very bottom, there’s a skull with a number, showing how much damage it will do if you fail your encounter, and another showing the value of treasure you get for defeating it.

Which brings us to Fantasy CKostCo (it’s legally distinct for the board game) cards. If you’ve earned three loot, you can grab yourself an item card from the deck. It could be Railsplitter, an axe that gives you an ongoing bonus against monsters and a bonus when you help a friend fight a monster; or some very adorable Slippies of Haste, which give you a bonus against monsters and traps. If you’ve got the deluxe edition of the game, you’ll get an adorable slot-together model of the Fantasy KostCo to hold your cards, but it doesn’t seem to stay together very well (at least ours doesn’t) and you’ll regularly end up with cards flying everywhere (save yourself $20 and get the standard edition).

You’re not allowed to hold more than two item cards, but there’s a really nice mechanic, whereby if you earn enough to get a third item, you can immediately give one to someone else on your team, meaning that even if one player hasn’t managed to get any loot themselves, they won’t be underprepared as you move on through your adventures.

If you’re playing more than two players, the last thing you’ll need to do is add a surprise card to each Challenge Deck, to be uncovered once you’ve got past the first four cards. These surprises are helpful friends who will aid you in your quest. They even get their own little space on the board to hang out in, until the next surprise comes along to take over.

So, the board is set, the quest is planned(ish) and the party introduce themselves (and show off their stick figure art of a wizard gnome), time for adventure. On a turn, players chose one of the three challenges to take on, work out how much strength they have (based on the numbers on their sheet, plus any bonuses from items or surprises), tell the story of how they’re going about this quest, ask for assistance from another player (if they don’t think they can beat the challenge alone), and finally roll their dice.

I forgot to mention the dice in this game. They’re big enough to concuss someone if you are the type to throw things when you fail a roll (please don’t, and maybe get some help for your anger issues). While they look like standard twenty-sided dice, they actually only feature the numbers 1-6 (three times each), as well as a big X for an epic failure, and a Bureau of Balance symbol for a critical success.

Anyway… roll the die, add it to your total strength (including any modifiers for items or help from your party) and if it’s higher than the challenge rating, you win and you get that card.

The story ends once two of the challenge decks are exhausted.

If you’ve got people who are really able to go with the flow and can whip up some silly detail about their challenge, you can get some really fun group storytelling. Even if you’ve got one fairly quiet player, you can still get a fun story together, thanks to the cards themselves and the way the game wants you to interact with it. I’ve had some fairly difficult games with this box (and more than a few adventures that got really horny), but never one that didn’t get at least a few good belly laughs.

The Adventure Zone – Bureau of Balance probably isn’t for hardcore Pathfinder or D&D players, but if you’re looking to experience a rules-light, no-DM, co-operative story you can play in an evening with no prep, you could do a lot worse than this. Perhaps a good introduction for getting friends into the world of role playing, without scaring them away by making them read a 300 page player manual first.

Pros:

  • Easy to pick up
  • Nice artwork
  • Lots of fun

Cons:

  • Can experience difficulty spikes
  • Not very deep
  • Deluxe edition feels unnecessary

Final Score: 6/10

Going For Goldberg – Steampunk Rally Fusion

In 2015 teams of inventors first donned goggles and took up their welding torches in card-drafting, dice-rolling race game, for 2 – 8 players, Steampunk Rally. Then Orin Bishop looked upon this complicated box of delights and cried “more!” And so, in early 2020 a Kickstarter launched for Steampunk Rally Fusion.

SRF takes all the gameplay of the original and adds new courses, new types of dice, new inventors, new vehicle parts, new boosts, event decks, crowd challenges, and a solo mode. Due to how I backed, this review covers Steampunk Rally Fusion – Atomic Edition, which neatly puts both versions of the game in the same box for an absolutely huge experience.

Initially the contents can be a little overwhelming. There’s gold silver and bronze parts, as well as boosts for both editions, a staggering number of inventors, and enough dice to square up to a copy of Chip Theory Games’ Too Many Bones (including the new fusion dice which are beautiful 2 colour d6 numbered 4-9). However, once you’ve got through your first few turns, it will all come clear.

The aim of the game is to race along a modular track and make it as far over the finish line as possible. Along the way you will be adding various parts to your vehicle to propel you onward, damage your opponents, or generate resources to help you do that other stuff.

Players start by picking an inventor and taking their associated starting vehicle part. They then arrange them so that valve symbols on each card are matched up. All parts that are attached to these wild machines must include an unbroken line of valves going back to the cockpit. Luckily you can rearrange these mechanical monstrosities on the fly (or roll, or hover).

Each round sees players draw a card from each of the three parts decks and one from the boost deck. They then take a card and pass their hand on to the next player. Bronze parts have valves one all four sides so are mostly about expansion; silver parts help you gain and multiply dice, as well as converting dice to different types; finally the gold parts are mostly about movement. It is a race after all.

When drafting cards, players can either attach them to their craft or sell them off to gain dice or cogs. Meanwhile boost cards can also be sold or kept secret, to be used later for benefits such as extra cogs or damage to opponents.

With the draft down players can get moving (there’s another phase but I’ll come back to that). Time to roll all those dice you’ve generated and start placing them around your vehicle to get moving, raise shields, or make attacks. Here cogs can be spent to either raise the value of a die by one or reroll it.

Most machine parts will give you some reward based on the value of the die or dice you add. For example, inserting blue dice with a total value of 15 into a part which grants one forward motion for every five points will grant you three movement.

Some things to consider though. There are some areas of terrain that will damage you if you’re unable to raise enough shielding or move smoothly. For each point of damage you fail to defend against during the race phase, you’ll have to remove a part of your machine. If your final part explodes, you’ll be sent to the space behind the player in last place and have to start your vehicle from scratch.

With the race phase over and damage done it’s time to wipe down your engine (ooh-er) and get ready for the next round. All unused dice are put back in the supply and damage counters are reset. However all spent dice stay in place. Sadly this means you’re going to have to find a way to clear them out if you want to use that part again. This is where the vent phase comes in.

Following the drafting phase, players can spend a cog to remove two pips of value from any die (or split the points across two dice). Once they reach 0 it can be removed and the slot can be freed up to use again.

Eventually someone will cross the finish line. However, this isn’t about who finished first, it’s who got furthest over. As such a final round is played out and whoever is furthest over the line at the end of that round is crowned the winner. Although it’s probably like golden goggles instead of an actual crown, because, you know, steampunk.

Well, that’s it, race over, nothing more to see.

But wait, there’s still more stuff in this dang box. Check out optional extras like secret projects. At any time during the race phase you can add a run of dice in any colour to add a point to your total for each die spent this way. There are powerful bonuses for activating your secret at 4, 8, or 12 points. However, you only get one shot, so if you use it early on with only 4 points, there will be no chance to get use of the full 12 point bonus.

There’s trap effects and a special effect deck for some spaces on the Machu Picchu track. On the Mars course there’s canals which require either two movement from the same vehicle part or one smooth movement, as well as tripod cards which affect all players on red track spaces. There’s a solo mode where you’re aiming for a high score to beat in future games. Lastly there’s challenges such as crowd pleasing spaces and various locales to trade cogs for dice and vice versa.

For a fairly standard sized board game box, Steampunk Rally Fusion – Atomic Edition packs a huge amount inside. That said, for the right price either edition on its own would be plenty to be getting on with.

The manual is clear in describing each phase of the game. However I did find it a little difficult to make decisions as to what I should be taking or selling on my first few drafts as fitting all the information from the manual into actual play proved difficult. That said. After playing a practice round, everyone found it clicked and we were able to start over with a proper understanding.

On the subject of learning, there is an official video on Roxley’s YouTube channel, however the over the top acting and voices made it quite difficult for me to follow. Your mileage may vary (especially if your vehicle explodes on the way).

Steampunk Rally Fusion – Atomic Edition is a really fun game with so much in the box that no two games will ever be the same. It’s fun to look at the ridiculousness of your creation laid out before you and the fact you’re never completely out means that there’s always a chance to make a comeback.

Pros:

  • The consistency of card art means all the parts flow together in really fun ways
  • Great fun
  • The fusion dice are so pretty

Cons:

  • Found some blemishes on a couple of the normal dice
  • Initial learning curve can be a little overwhelming
  • The vac tray takes up a lot of space that could have been better used as components can feel squeezed in after initial box setup.

Final Score: 7/10

A Wretched Tome – Cthulhu Wars: Duel

9th of April 2021

My Dear Tatos,

I write in haste to warn you. A tome has come into my possession by means of our mutual orange friend. At first I perused with deep interest, but the more I read, the more I found my grip on reality slipping from me. Indeed as I read a passage aloud to my nearest companion, she found herself overcome and fell into a dark, comatose state and did not rouse for many minutes after I had ceased, such was the confusion in these pages. Its words spoke so much of what was not contained within the box of eldritch symbols, with which it had been acquired. It spoke of horrors yet to come. Horrors that would twist our current thinking. Thus did it seek to ruin our minds and defeat our mortal bodies. I warn you to make yourself safe and not engage with these artifacts, lest you possess the strength of gods to survive this mental anguish.

Yours in peril,

Jane

Cthulhu Wars: Duel is an asymmetric, area control game, from Petersen Games, for two players which takes about half an hour. It’s a game that wants you to know that while it does attempt to be an affordable, streamlined version of the half ton of glorious coloured plastic that was Cthulhu Wars, there will be expansions. Rather than explain the game you’ve purchased Duel’s manual is a cosmic nightmare of clarifications, citations and explanations for Great Old Ones who aren’t even out yet.

Why bother just letting you know about the game in front of you and moving on when you can drive your players to their own special Lovecraftian loss of reality. Why put in an example of a rule that is always true if this box is all you own, when you could throw in a paragraph about how this other Old One (you don’t know them, they don’t go to school here. They’re from… er… Canada, but don’t, like, check or anything because they’re shy… probably) can totally do things differently.

When I looked on YouTube for information on how to play, most of what I found was people telling me what the game isn’t. It’s not Cthulhu Wars. People seem to love telling you how it’s similar to or different from the beast that spawned it, but don’t seem to care if you’re coming in fresh (because CW is a ridiculously decadent plastic fest (as many good Kickstarter games are) and you can’t afford it or justify the shelf space).

I spent 2 hours reading the manual and it’s full of unnecessary bullshit that caused me to really struggle with what is actually a very simple game. So simple in fact that I would recommend you start with the reference sheet on the back of the manual as well as your player mat, and only use the manual itself for clarifications and picture examples of what things are called.

CW:D takes place in four phases and as many rounds as necessary (4-5 seems to be the average). First up the Action Phase: if you’ve got power, spend it to move, fight, open gates, deploy or capture cultists. Then comes the Gather Power Phase where you’re awarded power based on how many cultists you have on the board, any opposing cultists you’ve captured, how many gates you control, and any gates that are currently abandoned on the board. Next you decide who the first player is, based on who has the most power now. And finally it’s the Doom Phase where you can perform a ritual for some power to generate more Doom and a token with a secret amount of Doom.

The winner is whoever has the highest Doom score and the game end is triggered either when someone goes over 30 Doom or when so many rituals have been completed that you move to Instant Death.

That’s it, two short paragraphs and you’ve got the gist of the game. What else is there? Well, there’s player mats, spell books, cardboard standees of your various horrors plus discs to represent your cultists, and a map board to shuffle your units around on.

When you realise that the world wraps around horizontally (like Asteroids), you’ll understand how little space there actually is to claim, but claim it you must if you’re to gain the power you need to bring about your preferred version of the end of the world.

On your player board you’ll see a clear explanation of your various units, including summoning costs, attack power (number of dice to roll for them) and any special abilities. On the right side of the board are 6 slots with various conditions that must be met. Once you meet one of these you can select one of your spell books to activate into that slot, to give you an advantage for the rest of the game. The order you choose them is entirely up to you and gives you some nice strategizing to do as the game goes on.

One nice rubber-banding technique is that if you run out of power before your opponent, you can push up the decay counter by one space. This means that they’ll have to pay whatever the current decay cost is before taking any further actions, which is a great way of stopping one player absolutely running away with things early on.

Apart from the abysmal manual, the other massive downfall of this game is its combat. Combat power is based on the type and number of each unit you have on the battlefield. Different units have higher combat scores, meaning you can roll more dice. There’s no rerolls, nothing that can mitigate a bad roll, you just get your number, roll that many dice, and work out if you’ve actually done anything to your opponent. A six is a kill, four or five is pain, everything else is worthless.

Once both players have rolled, You can assign your opponent’s damage to your units as you see fit. With kills returning units to your pool (to summon again) and pain causing units to flee to a safe, adjacent space, but leaving them alive. While it’s simple and clean, it’s a type of randomness I detest in area control and war games because a few bad rolls will absolutely ruin you.

While I had an okay time with Cthulhu Wars: Duel, I felt it could have done with a more concise rulebook, and some way to mitigate the randomness of dice rolling. Whatever else it is, it’s short, so ultimately not very offensive (apart from how it’s based on Lovecraft and no matter how the current fan community tries to pronounce certain words these days, they were intended to be racist as heck, so there’s that.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Decay mechanic helps keep players score closer together.
  • Minimal plastic components

Cons:

  • Poorly written manual
  • Basic dice rolling
  • Lacks depth

Final Score: 6/10

This Is The End For You – Pandemic Legacy Season 0

At the start of this year I had the idea to start playing some legacy games to keep us occupied during lockdown. My fiancée and I have since played all three Pandemic Legacy games (it’s a false sense of control during an actual pandemic). I didn’t have the foresight to take photographs of the first two before we started playing, so this review is for the most recent game – Pandemic Legacy Season 0.

All pictures are from a box fresh copy of the game so this is nothing you won’t see the moment you open the box from new, additionally I think I’ve kept this review as spoiler free as possible.

When you first open the box, you’ll be greeted with the usual dossiers (like the world’s most intimidating advent calendar), manual, legacy deck (actually two in this game, plus an operations deck that you will have to fish cards out of periodically), player pieces, board, cards, and 8 sealed boxes. There’s also a debrief book which uses paragraph numbers to feed you plot according to whether you pass or fail certain challenges in the game.

If you’ve never played a legacy game, some of this may need explaining. The legacy deck is basically your automated game/dungeon master. You unwrap the deck and start drawing from the start end. It will provide you with your objectives, plot beats, new cards to be put in other decks, and potentially whole new gameplay elements. Once you’re done with an objective for the month, you tear it up and throw it out. Your game is now changed forever. At various points you’ll add stickers to your passports, the manual, and even the board. These games are typically only able to be played through once and then all you have are (hopefully) wonderful memories of this experience you’ve shared.

Season 0 takes place back in the 60s, in the midst of the cold war. You’re a group of fresh-faced, newly qualified medical professionals, pulled into the CIA in order to stop a deadly bioweapon (apparently it’s easier to make a medic into a spy than to send a spy to medical school). You’ll get a cute little passport where you’ll hold your three identities (one for each affiliation – allied, soviet, and neutral), a card with a long list of possible actions (with space on the back to add more as the game progresses), a player pawn in your choice of colour, and off you go into the world.

Your first big choice will be picking a character head to represent you. You’ll be adding your choice of hair, hats, scarves, dresses, shirts, facial hair, and more later, but first you get a profile picture for all of your alises. There’s been some attempt to have some variety in skin tone, but I found when it came to hair, there was only one option for natural hair for a black character. Pretty shoddy when you have potentially two people playing black characters and each having three alises (come on Z-Man, you can do better than this).

Much like base Pandemic, you have a player deck containing cities of the world (accurate for the time period) which will also include any funded events (single use bonuses). You may recognise the threat level, which increases as you pull escalations out of the player deck, and a big map of the world as your board.

The first noticeable difference is in the threat deck. Like Pandemic classic you’ll be drawing from this deck and adding pieces to the board in the city that they show. However, as agents aren’t single-celled organisms given to mitosis when they have enough friends around, they don’t outbreak quite like diseases when you have to place a fourth one. Instead, you place an incident marker on that city, draw a card from the bottom of the threat deck and read the little text box for instructions. This could be nothing in a game that’s going well, an effect that doesn’t apply. On the flipside though, you might end up causing a chain reaction that will lose you the game.

I’ll give you an example: The game is going badly, you’re on your sixth outbreak (they’re called incidents in PL0). You draw a card from the bottom of the deck and it tells you to put an agent on every city with an incident marker in Asia. You have one, but it already has three agents. So you add another incident marker to that city and pull another card. Joy, this time you have to add an agent to a city in North America with an incident token. That city would also get an incident token, but there’s none left, so it’s an immediate game over. Now, that didn’t actually happen in any of our games (we had some really bad combos, but not that bad), but it’s entirely possible for things to badly snowball.

I should clarify that not all of the threat cards say to add agents, some say to remove safehouses from a region, some say to remove cover from players in a region.

On top of all this, during the game end phase, you’ll be adding surveillance to any city with an incident token. If you start your turn in a city with surveillance you will lose that much cover on your current alias (unless there’s a safehouse).

Losing cover is like taking scars in PL1 & 2. You scratch off panels under your current alias to reveal a symbol. It could be nothing, it might be the loss of a card from your hand, it might be that you take a liability (permanent downgrade on that alias), or you may just have to burn that alias entirely. No more Ms Definitlynotaspyovic, she’s gone. You’ll have to go on using those you have left. This could leave a player unable to complete certain types of mission at all, putting more pressure on the others.

Another big change is that you can’t just fly between safehouses as you could with research stations. This immediately limits your board coverage, especially in a two player game. There are visas which can be bought with game end upgrade points, but this will only get you to the city you name on the visa.

To fill in the gaps in your ability to get around so easily, you can trade in 5 cards of a matching affiliation at a safehouse in order to build a team (they’re these adorable little vans (you’ll have to imagine they have “perfectly innocent florist van” painted on the side)) these teams can be moved around using player actions. End your turn with one in a city matching its affinity and your team will clear all the agents out during the mop up step. It can be really helpful to get a van rolled out in an area that keeps popping up agents like espionage whack-a-mole. Just drive it around the problem cities and you won’t have to go there personally for a while. It’s very satisfying when it all starts working.

As with previous PL games, there are objectives each month. While these will have completely new cards each time, they fall into a few basic categories.

First up acquiring unknown targets. During setup you’ll need to go through the player deck, take out all the cities of a given region, shuffle them up, remove 1-3 of them and put them face down under the objective card. The rest are shuffled into the player deck before you start getting it ready to deal out. In regions like South America, this may not be so bad. 3 cities you need to target, there’s only 5 total and you get one in your starting hand, so you know most of the information you need. However, you will need a team in each city in order to acquire all of the targets.

With known targets, it’s a bit different, the city is printed on the objective card, get a team there, do the thing.

There are a couple of other mission types later on, but these two will turn up again and again, in various forms. With the consequences for complete or even partial failure being more or less catastrophic.

Speaking of partial failure, that is totally an option now. Whereas previous games in the series had you either fail and retry a month or succeed and move on. Season 0 lets you experience partial success. Complete one objective, but fail the others. That’s a partial failure. Try not to worry, off you go to next month. “But the horrific potential of what we failed to do last month?!” “The world is tough kid, you can’t always save everybody”. It’s really harsh and on at least one occasion had us asking if we shouldn’t just play to lose entirely so we could try again, rather than risk doing some of a thing and having to move on.

It’s not just complete missions either. Sometimes you might be asked to acquire targets in two cities, but only have the vans to get to one with the player deck about to run out. If you acquire the single target with the van you do have and the other one isn’t completed in the same turn, it’s gone. Sorry about that, but mission completed (technically).

There’s something about partial successes that make the game feel incredibly stressful some months. You’ve potentially got three missions, involving at least 5 different cities and some other goal, you were unlucky and got an escalation on the very first draw of the game and the incidents only spiral from there. Everything is on fire and you have to make some very tough decisions about what you can and cannot achieve. Hopefully you can live with the consequences.

While I agree with the designers that you could play this without playing the others, I feel that a lot will be lost as it makes frequent, off-hand references to events from the other games in the series.

One thing that I was asked a lot when I started playing was “is it uncritical of the CIA”. A reasonable question for a game set during the cold war. Since spy fiction set in that period is full of “aren’t the US great and those soviets are the most one-dimensional, dastardly, evil, mustache-twirling villains” tropes. Without going into any detail or spoilers, I can confirm that there is potential criticism of all factions (I won’t clarify the “potential” in that sentence because spoilers).

Overall, this was a great wrap-up to the Pandemic Legacy series. It’s still recognisably Pandemic, while being very much its own game. The plot of our story was great, and we looked through the rest of the material postgame to see how else it could have gone. We were really happy with how the plot expanded in other directions. Furthermore, it’s also the first in the series that we’ve felt like you could actually keep playing some of the objective types once the game is over (YMMV, if you’ve ended up with surveillance everywhere that may not be an option for you).

Pros:

  • Familiar yet unique gameplay.
  • Great story.
  • A fitting end to the trilogy.

Cons:

  • Not enough natural hair options for black characters.
  • The colours are very muted and it can look very bland before you get a lot of agents on the board.
  • Incidents have the potential to snowball.

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

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

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

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