A Deeply Satisfying Box – Lords of Waterdeep

I’ll get to the game in a second, but first off I have to address something incredibly important about Lords of Waterdeep. The box is hugely satisfying. Everything has a place. Things not only fit there, but can be retrieved easily. This is easy to get out, helpful during play and a joy to pack away in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever found with any other game. It’s an impressive feat to make even the cleanup a joy.

Lords of Waterdeep a worker-placement game for 2-5 players, and plays in about an hour. It’s set in the Forgotten Realms universe, which you may know from Dungeons & Dragons. This is a city of intrigue where Lords hatch plots for political power, manipulating the citizenry with hidden strings.

I enjoy worker-placement games immensely, and LoW takes that formula and expands it in a really interesting way. At the start of the game, there are basic locations you can visit to gain money or intrigue, acquire details of quests, hire adventurers to meet in a tavern to send on those quests, and build new locations to expand the city.

New buildings are given the mark of the player who purchased them and each will grant them a benefit when the building is used by anyone (including themselves). This can create dilemmas for other players. They want to gain a bunch of wizards for a particular quest, but doing so will aid you in completing parties for your own quests.

Once you’ve recruited enough of the right types of adventurer, you can send them off and complete your quests. This could have simply a victory point benefit, an ongoing benefit, or it could be one of the two types of quest that your secretive Lord gains a benefit for at the end of the game.

If you send a representative to the harbour, you can play an intrigue card from your hand. These may grant you extra adventurers or some coin to grease the wheels of your various schemes. Many of these will not only benefit you, but also your fellow players (though there may be a cost to those that want to ride your coattails).

The game is played over eight rounds. At the fifth round everyone gets an additional meeple to play during future turns. By this time there will be enough new buildings that they have space to be placed. It’s all very well balanced. Once the final round is over, you add your Lord’s bonus points for completed quests to your total victory points and declare a victor (and then you pack it away and the box itself brings you further joy. Or maybe that last bit is just me).

This game is beautifully finished. The board is nicely illustrated (if a little lacking in colour), but in such a way as to still be very clear about key information. The cards are printed on really nice stock, all the art, from the box to the manual, to the cards is not only lovely, but consistent. The cubes are a nice size and weight, the money is heavy card stock, and the meeples are a good size and very pleasant colours. For a game this reasonably priced, it’s a top quality product.

Pros:

  • Really fun.
  • Plenty of replayability due to the amount of content.
  • Beautiful quality.

Cons:

  • Due to the background colour, quest cards aren’t the easiest to read.
  • The main board could do with some more vibrancy.

Final Score: 7/10

Mental Gymnastics – Manifold Garden

NB: I was provided a review copy of the game.

I like weird shit. I’ve always liked weird shit. The dreamy, trippy, and impossible. Optical illusions, infinite landscapes, hyperbolic environments. A few years back I was singing the praises of Antichamber (nope, I checked the Steam page and that was released in 2013. What even is time anymore?!). I had an absolute blast, even if it took me nearly a year to finish, because I just didn’t understand one of the puzzles. Today though, I want to talk about a game far more beautiful, but no less logically confusing – Manifold Garden by William Chyr Studio.

First off, I just want to say, this game is pretty as heck. You can tell it was developed by an artist. Imagine all the flat walls with splashes of colour that were seen in Antichamber and then soften down the bright whites, turning down the saturation of the other colours. Make it all more soothing to the eye. It’s a delight to look at.

Most of the game takes place on structures hovering in space. Look off to the distance and you might even see the platform you’re on from the other side. Jump over the edge and you may land on the area above you. It’s this endless looping that allows you to navigate to places otherwise out of reach. Need to get a block to higher ground? Take it off the edge and glide in from above. Sometimes it’s quite soothing just to jump into the void and take a look at the area from multiple angles as you fall past. You might even spot the solution to a puzzle in a hidden tree or a tiny set of stairs.

Apart from the way the world wraps, there’s also the game’s main mechanic of gravity manipulation. Click on a wall, that wall is now the floor. Long corridor to walk down? Just find a pillar, click on the side, and now the far end of the hall is the floor, you’re there in seconds.

Using these two mechanics together the designers have crafted hours of puzzles to bewitch and befuddle. Each building on something they’ve already shown you, or silently taught you as you explore. Oh, you’ve seen a red block, and you know you can only move it while gravity is correctly oriented to it? What if now it was half red and half blue, well now it falls in two directions. It’s obvious to work out and even if it isn’t, it takes moments of experimenting with gravity to discover how it works. Now you just have to work out where you actually want said cube.

The game isn’t that long, but I think it’s the perfect length to not outstay its welcome. From the initial lessons of “turn the world to explore new areas”, to “this is a button”, or “place cube here”; right the way through to “redirect water”, “freeze water by moving gravity”, “use frozen water to hold a giant tetromino in place” everything is quite elegant. Sure, some parts are just for looks, but none of it feels wasted. Indeed, look from the right angle and you might find that what looked like scenery is a whole other area to explore.

At the end of each area you are given a tesseract to plant which will grow into a tree as the world shifts around you before opening up the way ahead, into the next set of puzzles. The visuals in these end of level areas are stunning, fractal-like geometries moving and shifting, a feast for the eyes (especially if, like me, you really love psychedelic art).

All told you can complete Manifold Garden in about 4-6 hours, depending how well you manage to keep your spacial orientation in a world where gravity keeps shifting. It’s everything I’d hoped for in the Nintendo Indie Direct videos that have trickled out over the last few years.

If you like games like Antichamber and Portal, this is almost certainly for you. No spoilers but the end is absolutely stunning and usually something I have to lick tiny stamps offered by old hippies in festival fields in order to experience. And like that, something I look forward to doing again, once a little time has passed.

Pros:

  • Beautiful level design.
  • Stunning visuals.
  • The perfect length.

Cons:

  • You might need some advice from YouTube to get through the last level.
  • That one level where you have to find a tiny set of stairs leading to a door on a huge, towering structure.
  • I could have gone another 15 minutes on that ending to be honest.

Final Score: 9/10

Manifold Garden is available now on Steam for Windows and macOS as well as PS4, Switch, Xbox (including Series S & X), and iOS

Pleading Snack Meats – Carrion

If you watch my livestreams (twitch.tv/janeiac) you’ll probably know that I’m a *little* bit obsessed with tentacles (they’re just good cuddle friends). So it’s no surprise that when Devolver Digital announced Carrion was coming, earlier this year, I got tagged in the post by an awful lot of people (thanks everyone).

Carrion sees you take on the role of a lethal ball of teeth and tentacles as you try to escape from a scientific facility. As you go you’ll be eating scientists and soldiers, destroying mechs, solving basic puzzles, gaining new abilities, and getting freaking lost.

There’s a few different types of enemy scattered around the base. First the scientists (usually unarmed, always delicious), there’s soldiers (protected by shields, treat them like BBQ wings and toss out the armour once you’ve eaten the good bits), mechs (like a crab, you have to tear off all the armour to get to the delicate meats inside. Careful though, their claws (chainguns) will mess you up in seconds), and finally there’s autonomous drones which can be annoying in large numbers (taste bad and shoot you, best avoided).

The movement feels incredible either with a controller or keyboard and mouse. As you move in a given direction, your beast will throw out tentacles to pull themself along. Grab humans with your gory appendages, before moving them closer to consume them and gain additional mass. It’s just so natural and (at least during the early game) makes you feel really powerful and dangerous.

This is where the game shines. There’s a few sections where you just click. You move swiftly, back and forth, dropping from a vent and taking out multiple screaming, pleading snack meats. You cut a swathe across a room leaving nothing but viscera in your wake. It’s glorious.

But then you start to explore and the exhilaration vanishes. The game contains no map function (I get it, why would a tentacle beast have a map) so you either need to be making notes yourself – taking you away from the game – or just bumble around until you work it out. I regularly found myself lost for 20 minutes or more at a time, cursing the decision to have the roar function only point you towards save points and not towards your next target. It would be a simple fix and still stay within the logic of the game world.

This oversight is a real shame, because it takes a solid 9/10 game and knocks it down a lot. I spent the final hour of my playthrough wandering round and round in circles, growing more and more frustrated, because I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere new (I actually needed to go back to the beginning zone, an area I’d previously assumed I just couldn’t find a single secret from and that’s all that was there, so had given up on. Turns out this area couldn’t be completely cleared until the end). I really hope the team makes a sequel that’s a bit more user friendly and respectful of player’s time because there’s definitely an amazing game that could be made in this engine.

Pros:

  • It’s a single gimmick game that doesn’t go on too long (bar getting lost).
  • An amazing power fantasy.
  • Glorious tentacles!

Cons:

  • Lack of map leads to frustration.
  • Failure to deal with mechs correctly will see you starting a room over and over again as they cut you to ribbons in about a second.
  • I’m just going to say the lack of signposting again.

Final Score: 5.5/10

Loveable Food – Sushi Go Party!

Sushi is delicious, expensive, art-food that I wish had more variants I can actually eat. Sushi Go Party! by Gamewright is a 2-8 player card drafting and set collection game with adorable and tasty looking art that I would love to hug more than eat.

Your first action in the game is to pick a menu. The manual offers 8 set menu options for all group sizes (there are some items that just don’t work in a two player game and others that work better with low numbers), though you can create your own, once you’ve got the hang of things.

Once you’ve made your choice and slotted the items into the menu (which also acts as a scoring track (and omg, I haven’t even got to the adorable little sake bottles that act as your score markers)) you’ll go through the cards to find those you’ve selected (think Dominion setup) and shuffle all of them together to build the game deck (except the desserts, they only get slotted in a few at a time, before each round).

With the table layed, it’s time to deal out 7-10 cards each, depending on player count. Play is done simultaneously with each player taking a card, laying it face down, handing off their cards to the next player, and taking a hand from the player on their other side. Once everyone has selected and passed, they reveal what they took off the conveyor belt and perform any necessary actions based on their selection. Once all hands are exhausted, you score up and hand back everything that wasn’t a precious dessert to your server who will add more dessert cards, shuffle up, and deal out the next round. After three rounds, the player with the highest score is the most full and therefore the dinner winner.

It’s very simple and plays out in about 20-30 minutes, depending on how indecisive everyone is about what to eat (you know who I’m talking about, and if you don’t, it’s probably you). So what might you find on the menu?

Whatever else you picked there’s always some nigiri ready to net you a simple 1-3 points, based on the type you pick up.

The next major point scorers are rolls (maki, temaki, or uramaki). Depending on your selection for the game, they each have different ways of scoring. Be that by having the most or being the first to a certain number.

Appetizers include dumplings, sashimi, tempura, edamame, tofu, etc. These usually score based on having a certain number, but be warned, some will suddenly be worth less or no points if you eat too many (save room for dessert).

Specials are mostly about changing the rules or modifying other cards. For example the menu card allows you to draw 4 cards from the deck and add that to your collection for the round; while chopsticks allow you to pick up two cards by spending them on a future turn. It’s all well and good mid-round, but if you get stuck with them at the end, they’re worthless.

To round off the meal there’s pudding. You’ll be collecting these throughout each course, squirelling sweet treats away from your fellow diners. Once the courses are over, you can score your treats. One of these- I’m looking at you, Pudding, you adorable wobbly bastard- can absolutely wreck one of the players and benefit one another, while the desserts are generally more about set collection for bonuses.

The art on this game is absolutely adorable and this aesthetic shrouds how completely vicious this game can get, especially in smaller groups where you will definitely be getting your starting hand back more than once. It’s not just the super cute art, the whole presentation is really lovely. The board is good and thick, the menu items are a nice weight, the cards are decent quality, and the little sake bottle score markers are delightful and vibrant.

My only gripe is the size of the box. While I appreciate that the board has to fit in there, and it’s nice to keep everything organised between sessions, there is a huuuuuuuuge amount of wasted space. The box shouldn’t be bigger than a large print copy of Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music, but it’s more like a steelcase edition complete DVD box set of Battlestar Galactica.

Pros:

  • Cute art.
  • Easy teach.
  • Very replayable.

Cons:

  • The board needs straightening out, it tends to bend up from where it’s folded.
  • Pudding is mildly evil.
  • The box is so big that a ruthless London landlord would shove the cards and sake bottles down one end, build a partition wall out of the board, pop a napkin in as a mattress and charge £750 a week for this “centrally located, part furnished accommodation, perfectly suited to a young executive”.

Final Score: 9/10

Landlords are parasites.

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