Just Call Me Garfield – Bargain Quest

It’s not even noon when I look up at the sound of some young and too-eager stranger smearing their face and fingers over my shop window. They will pay for those greasy streaks, let there be no doubt. That holy sword has suckered in more experienced “heroes” than this.

As they step inside I plaster on my expert customer service smile and prepare to shake them down. “Good day to you friend. What brings you to my humble shop on this gobin-ravaged morning?”

“I seek arms that I might wipe the ignoble dark-dwellers from this fair village. Pray tell me good shopkeep, how much for the holy blade displayed inst thine window?” they reply.

Of course they’re a cleric, the pretentious tone always gives it away. Well, that and the overly ornate book of vague bigotry they can’t seem to put down.

“Oh, it’s a beautiful item, laid in my care by Sister Illumination Piety. Alas, it is not for sale.”

“Blast!… I mean, alas. Then have you ought else I might use in my noble quest to defeat the goblin chief and free this village from oppression?”

I look them up and down, using my finely honed eye for the weight of a purse and estimate they’ve got, at most, 15 gold.

“Fear not, noble warrior, let me show you this fine holy symbol, set here by Sister Peitiy’s (less well-funded) forbear, Sibling Luna.” I hand them the necklace I’d picked up as a free gift with my last bulk weapons order.

“Truely, I feel the presence of our divine Mistress emanating most powerfully from this item. I must have it.” They’re almost salivating, it’s kind of weird.

“I’m afraid the price is quite high, due to it’s noble provenance.” I reply, glancing down as I fear that if they catch my eye I’ll just piss myself laughing. Hold it together. “Tis 15 gold. Alas, I could not part with it for less.”

“Be silent then, and takest mine coins, for though it is all my worldly wealth, it is vital in my quest to eradicate evil.”

“Wouldst your holiness care for a bag?” I respond, pocketing the gold, faster than you could blink.

“Nay, I shall wear it now, and always.” they reply, striding out out the door, glowing with pomposity.

Bargain Quest is a 2-6 player card-drafting game of capitalism in a fantasy village by Jonathan Ying. It plays in about 45 minutes and has some delightful artwork. Players take an individual shop board, which comes folded in half and showing what the shop front would look like. Upon opening it up you will find your display area, places to put any upgrades and employees as well as a reference chart showing the round order.

During setup players will lay out a stack of three monster cards (escalating in difficulty) as well as a number of hero cards equal to the number of players. Each hero card shows their class and abilities, but more importantly, how much money they have to spend in your shop.

Starting with the supply round, players reveal the next monster plaguing the village and are dealt 4 item cards face down. They then take one item and pass their hand to the next player until everyone has drawn their 4 items.

Next comes the display phase where players take an item and which they hope will entice a hero in. The item with the most hearts displayed on it will get first dibs on which hero will shop with them. However, this item cannot be sold so you’ll need to make sure you have something you can actually sell these adventurers when they are drawn in. Furthermore, the items will have symbols which denote the class they are appropriate for. Both items and heroes may have multiple symbols and those with more symbols will usually have more money to spend.

Are your items good enough to guarantee that paladin popping in? Or do you hedge your bets and ensure you have enough choice if you end up with the fighter?

Once everyone has selected a display item these are flipped over and the shopping phase begins. Based on who’s display had the most hearts players take in an appropriate hero. If none are left, players may take whoever’s left over (if you’ll excuse me a moment, I need to go and cry out some childhood memories of the picking of sports teams).

With shoppers brought in, it’s time to relieve them of their funds in exchange for any appropriate goods. The thing to consider here is if you can outfit them sufficiently to take on the current monster. Even if they don’t defeat it, they may come back with additional funds for you to help them dispose of.

At last it’s on to adventure. It brings a tear to the eye, seeing a young wannabe hero heading off to fight evil, carrying a sword you’ve covered in your shop’s branding. This wouldn’t be a tabletop fantasy game without a little randomization though, so heroes receive a card from the adventure deck. This could be a bonus to attack or defence, or even some extra gold they found on the way to the dungeon. Alternatively, it could be a spot of bad luck that gives them a debuff for the run.

Each player now takes a turn to strike down the terrors of the dark. The monster cards show special actions such as stealing gold from heroes before the shopping phase, or robbing a players store at the end of the round. They also include their strength and toughness. Hit them hard enough to score a hit and that’s a point for the player that kitted them out. However, if they’re not armoured sufficiently, they’ll be returning to town in a body bag (well, probably a hempen sack, if they’re lucky).

If, after all players’ heroes have taken a swing at the enemy, there are an equal number of hits to players, then that enemy is defeated and surviving adventurers will receive a handsome reward. If the enemy still lives, they get a smaller reward and a bonus point for their player. After which, they return to town, tossing their old equipment in a ditch on the way. Because those items are just “sooooo last encounter”.

Expired heroes are replaced with a new one drawn from the deck and returning heroes will have to make the most of the money they have.

As day draws to an end, it’s time to look at upgrading your store. Purchase extra display space, extra storage or even workers to help out around the place.

Last thing before bed, you may pack away an unsold item into storage. This could be something from your window (keep it aspirational for that paladin, eh?) or something from your hand.

And so it goes, day in day out, until the final monster is defeated and the village is free. Woo! The winner is the player with the most points (with bonuses for extra gold in your till).

There’s 4 different monsters of each of the three levels so there’s plenty of opportunity for replayability there. Additionally there’s a huge item deck to work through as well as a good number of heroes to send on their adventures. The art is charming and the components look lovely. That said, during my first play session, I noticed that all the cards were starting to curl. It’s not particularly humid or damp here so I’m at a loss as to why they were curling like foil valiant Magic: The Gathering cards within an hour or so.

Pros:

  • Beautiful art
  • Fun gameplay
  • Lots of variety in the items

Cons:

  • Cards quickly started curling once opened for the first time
  • Can feel a little too random with small player counts
  • Capitalism

Final Score: 7/10

Snug As A Bug – Patchwork

Quick note: I’m reviewing the Chr***mas edition of Patchwork, because that’s what came in my Zatu new release box at the end of November. However, I have a lot of trauma around the holiday so I’m just going to call it Patchwork for 99% of this review.

Patchwork is a charming little puzzle game by Uwe Rosenberg for 2 players and takes about 30 minutes to play. Like a lot of Rosenberg’s games, there’s plenty of poliminos to place (I won’t kinkshame, I love a bit of Tetris myself).

Each player takes a 9×9 quilt board, a matching player token, and five buttons as their starter funds. The spiralling time board is placed in the centre of the table and the polimino patch tiles are randomly placed around it in a circle. Next players locate the 2×1 tile and place the marker token ahead of this in a clockwise order.

The first player will pick one of the three patches ahead of the marker to take. They then move the marker to that position and pay for the tile, which has a cost in time and buttons. Buttons are paid straight to the bank and time is paid by moving along the time track, the number of spots shown on the tile. The player who is furthest back along the track will always be next to select a patch to sew.

This leapfrog method really helps to balance out play. If someone gets in a lucky position and gets a high value patch, they may find themselves waiting to move ahead while their opponent gathers up smaller tiles needed to fill in awkward gaps. It forces you to look ahead at the rest of the board, as well as considering the three tiles you can choose on your current turn. Set up just right and you could position yourself ideally for several turns.

Patches come in various sizes and shapes and some will show one or more shiny gold buttons. The time board also shows buttons at various points along the route and passing these will allow you to score based on the number of gold buttons shown on patches you’ve already sewn to your quilt.

Alternately, on your turn you can move to the position directly ahead of your opponent on the time board. In this way, you earn a number of buttons based on how many places you travelled. As such, you never have to worry about running out of funds to buy more patches. However, that time is always ticking down and empty spaces on your board will cost you two points each at the end.

Speaking of which, the game ends when one player makes it to the centre of the time board. Final scores are based on the number of buttons you have earned minus any deductions for uncovered areas of your quilt. There’s also a bonus of seven buttons for the first player to fill a 7×7 area on their quilt.

While Patchwork could seem like a simple game for kids that you could easily dismiss, it has the potential to be not only a spacial awareness puzzle, but a mind game with your opponent about when to move forward, when to take a tile based on how long it will take you to sew, and when to just dive in and grab a patch that will give you a regular income of those shiny gold buttons.

The tiles and boards are a lovely thick cardboard, the tokens are all wood, the box isn’t excessively large, it’s a lot of fun, easy to teach, easy to set up and tear down. I have really enjoyed my time playing this game and look forward to getting the review photos out of the way so I can just change the box to say it’s the Unicorn Dance Party Edition (it’s a far superior winter festival. Don’t @ me).

Okay, time to grit my teeth and just get on with mentioning the differences between this and the standard version of Patchwork.

This festive edition features gold buttons instead of blue, the colours are a bit more vibrant, the patches look more like wrapped gifts tied with string (to heck with trying to wrap most of these shapes!), the marker token is a red pine tree shape and the other tokens are gold and silver… oh, and it comes with a T shape cookie cutter (for some reason. Maybe gingerbread. Sure, let’s say gingerbread).

Pros:

  • Fun.
  • A little deeper than it looks.
  • Vibrant colours.

Cons:

  • It’s got the word Chr***mas in the title.

Final Score: 8/10

Most Non-Triumphant – Bill & Ted’s Riff In Time

I made the mistake of looking up when the first Bill & Ted film came out and now I feel really old. How in glob’s name did they manage to get a sequel made in 2020?! Yeah, it’s been 29 years. Keanu Reeves is heading towards 60. Nostalgia bucks are big bucks I guess. Anyway, we’re not here to talk about movies, we’re here to talk about related board games. *sigh*

Bill & Ted’s Riff In Time from Warcradle Studios is very much like the 2020 movie, Face The Music. It’s alright. Didn’t hurt anyone. It passed the time. It was nice to look at the art and go “oh yeah, it’s them” (and then “this game has a minis expansion, doesn’t it”, to which the answer is yes, of course it does). All the artwork is of the painted minis, but without the expansion, you’ll be pushing cardboard figures in plastic stands (with the exception of the player minis) around. It’s designed for 1-4 players and takes around 80 laborious minutes (not that time should really matter when you have a time machine, right?).

The basic plot is that there’s all these rifts opening in time. This has caused personages of historical significance to wind up at places and times they really don’t belong. It’s up to Bill, Ted, Elizabeth, and Joanna to jump into their time booths (for the sake of the game they have one each, I guess they’re just giving them out like free samples these days. Hey future people, where’s my damn time booth? I’m British, so I guess it’s a phone box with a missing door that’s been smashed to crap and smells like stale piss and hepatitis. Plus, it’s probably stuck at a lorry park/lake in Kent, we’ll move on eh) and go put things right.

Each player picks a character who will have a special ability such as swapping their riff card or extra movement. They then get dealt out two objective cards and choose one to keep. These are personal missions you can complete to gain additional abilities going forward and will involve things like doing some repair work on multiple rifts, or having a particular character with you and travelling to a specific location. They’re then given one additional objective card, which you get as a free ability for the game, with no need to complete it (Excellent! *air guitars like a pro*).

To set up the board, you shuffle the location discs and place them in little divots on the board (which reminded me of Pokémon Master Trainer). Next you shuffle the location cards and place the personages of historical significance standees. Finally place the player minis in San Dimas and shuffle up the riff deck.

At this point in play, it’s your last chance to turn back, but you’re here for a review, so I guess I have to keep going. I do these things for you. I hope you appreciate it.

On your turn you draw a rift card and perform whatever action it demands. This could be something as simple as advancing the rift counter on your location; something bad, like advancing the rift counter on 5 separate locations; something annoying, like advancing a particular location’s rift counter and then transporting you, or even all players there. This can leave you feeling you have very little agency if you draw a lot of them in a row. There are like five Excellent cards in the riff deck that actually benefit you, but it’s a big deck so you don’t rely on them turning up when you need.

Next, players roll up to four action dice from their pool and perform actions based on what luck has brought. You do get one free re-roll, but after that, you’re probably on your own. There are four colours of dice, most of which show the same icons in differing amounts. There’s Move which allows you to travel through the circuits of time to connected locations; Interact which allow you to pick up characters, drop them off, or start repairing rifts in locations that have already had their correct personages of historical significance dropped off; Excellent which can be used as any other type of action; and Bogus which will cause you to raise the rift counter on your current location (or the San Dimas counter, if it’s already at its limit).

At the start of the game all locations are set to level 5, except San Dimas, which starts at whatever the player count is. Early on you’ll probably feel like things are a little dangerous as you will most likely feel like riff cards are seeing you constantly raising levels and really struggling to do anything to mitigate the gaping holes in freaking time!

As you pick up personages of historical significance (yes, the manual insists on using the full title every damn time) they will grant you temporary boons and/or banes while they’re travelling with you. Usually adding a blue die (mid-tier) to your pool and a move, interaction, excellent, or re-roll action to use each turn. Some of the more wild characters, like Genghis Khan, will add black Bogus dice, which you have to roll as one of your four each turn. These only have Bogus actions or blank sides. As such, it’s best to get these characters on a swift pick up and drop off service or risk a major bummer each turn.

Riff In Time (and yes, I was regularly tripping over riff and rift while playing this game, because both words come up so often) is a game of three parts. The early panic of trying to get things under control can feel kind of desperate, the solid mid-game where you’re starting to get into a rhythm and build your dice pool, and then the plodding, pedestrian final phase where you’ve got everything well under control and it’s just mopping up the last people and places.

Ultimately Riff In Time is… fine-ish, I guess. It’s easy to teach, easy to play, doesn’t require much in the way of strategy, but is ultimately quite a hollow experience. The manual spends too much time trying to be late 80s/early 90s cool and could have been simplified without really losing anything of the theme. The standees are of that design that doesn’t really grip the cardboard so won’t chew it up with continued use, but ultimately can’t always be picked up by the card part, as the plastic base just falls off. It’s fun enough for two thirds, but fails to stick the landing. It doesn’t stand up well against other modern board games and so just like Bill & Ted Face The Music, it feels about 20 years too late to be fully appreciated.

Pros:

  • Dice feel pretty decent.
  • Board art is nice, clear, and colourful.

Cons:

  • Feels like a movie tie-in board game from 1991.
  • Lots of empty space in the box.
  • The central location marker for San Dimas never seems to sit properly on the board, making it easy to knock and change the value it’s pointing at.

Final Score: 4/10

Not All Men – Language In Board Games

About five years ago I was first introduced to modern board games. I’d recently met some wonderfully nerdy people who were very into the hobby. They introduced me to the likes of Munchkin, Splendor, and Carcassonne.

At the time I was still mostly watching gaming YouTubers for entertainment (having given up on network television some years beforehand due to its lack of inclusivity or outright hostility towards people like me). A group I used to watch regularly, started making videos where they would play board games on Tabletop Simulator. One game that really drew me in was Battlestar Galactica. I’d really enjoyed the remake show and loved the idea of another way to experience that world.

So I bought my first modern game. It arrived, weighty and full of so many bits. So much punchboard (my favourite bit of opening a new game at this point), dials to put together, ships, cards, player stands, and (finally getting to the freaking point of this article) a manual. Every single example in the manual refers to players as he or him. Sure, they will sometimes say something like “current player”, but thereafter, everyone is he.

Are you a he? Come on in, pull up a hidden role card, dude. Experience life in the fleet, my guy. We’ll get that FTL drive up to speed in no time, fella. The rest of you, you don’t matter, get flushed out the airlock, the Men are playing now. Yes, we know there are women characters in this game, but they’re not for you, this hobby is not for you. Get flushed out the airlock and into the kitchen with the other toaster. Don’t come back without snacks. Frak off with that nonsense.

This is a blight across the world of board games. An unnecessary, insidious, boil on the bottom of the hobby I’ve come to love. With each new game, I add to my collection I tense as I read the manual for the first time. Is this going to be the same thing again? Will I be reading sections to my financée, and just correcting language as I read? It’s too common to find a game with this affliction.Too many board games, even ones released in the last five years, assume all the players are men. Almost as bad are games that go out of their way to write “he/she” and “his/her” over and over and over again. It’s completely unnecessary and still exclusionary. Do better.

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(Alert. Alert. Brace for current year argument. Repeat, brace for current year argument). It’s 2020, (warned you) all sorts of people play tabletop games. Groups who play together are often as diverse as the games they play. Many big name games are still in print. It would be the simplest thing in the world to go through the manual (and in some cases cards), hit Ctrl + H and replace he/him/his with they/them/theirs. It’s a nothing resolution, but fuck me, it’s a ridiculous problem and it’s far too common.

There are plenty of companies out there making games where players are always referred to as just that, players. Thereby completely circumventing The Boys Club. If the team behind Binding of Isaac Four Souls can do it, so can a huge ass company like Fantasy Flight.

Women, non-binary, and agender people play games, read the manual for clarification, or just read the cards in their hand and all too often it states “…he must do x”, “…he adds y to his deck”, “…he may use this on himself”. It’s completely unnecessary and can leave some feeling unwelcome. These are people who play games (thereby encouraging sales within their group) or buy games themselves. They back expensive, big box Kickstarters.

My best friend is a non-binary gamer who – in a fit of drunken anger – spent an entire game going through the manual with a biro to change every he/him to they/them. I understand the anger, even if I lack that level of commitment.

We are non-male people, we have every right to be here, and your language is outdated and exclusionary. If a gendered pronoun means so much to you, why not add some variety throughout the manual. Use a mix of pronouns. You’re taking nothing from anyone and making more people feel welcome in a hobby where players can spend huge amounts on new games.

Despite the marketing, and historical anecdotes, board and tabletop gaming is not, and hasn’t ever been, exclusively a boys club. Do better.

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

Pixel Hunting – Streets of Steel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Final Score: 4/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros:

  • Great art work
  • Interesting game play

Cons:

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

Final Score: 3/10

Big Money, Big Prizes – Tiny Epic Mechs

Big Money, Big Prizes – Tiny Epic Mechs

In the (unlikely for humanity in our current timeline) far off future of 3030 (oops, we’re less than a line in and I’ve already melted the bleak alarm. That’s the third one this week *sigh*) bipedal mechs are a viable method of transportation and combat. This is the world we get to experience Tiny Epic Mechs.

After a successful Kickstarter back in 2018, Gamelyn Games have been shipping copies of their latest (I’m fairly certain) creation. Fitting in the same size box as all of their previous offerings (meaning you can fit even more of them on your shelf before you have to justify the space) and featuring their beloved Itemeeple, TEM is a programming game with lots of cool weapons you can buy and equip (more on that later) and awesome mech suits to arm and pilot.

The game can be played by 1-4 people, with different board layouts, depending on the number of players. Starting with the central point – where the Mighty Mech will be located until it’s claimed – the play area is layed out from a deck of shuffled tiles. Each tile shows a number and either a power or money symbol. Each player then takes their base tile and positions this in one of the locations shown in the manual. Players select one of their mines – numbered 1-4 – and places this, along with their itemeeple on their base. These base tiles (as well as the central tile) show one of each power and money symbol, in addition to a number 2.

With board setup complete, players are dealt two pilot cards and will pick one to play as. Each pilot card shows the character one side and and their power-armoured mode on the reverse. Each pilot has a unique special skill that can be utilised while in character or power armour mode. This could be something like taking extra resources on collection phases or being able to change the direction of your movement (for a small fee). These cards also track the player’s health in each mode.

Players also get a tracker board which shows money and energy reserves, as well as acting as a cheat sheet for what actions you can take, scoring, and building costs; an itemeeple in their colour; 4 mine tokens; three turret tokens; program cards; and a set of basic weapons to select their starting loadout from.

As well as the basic weapons, there’s the advanced weapon deck. These are layed out to form the shop. Each card corresponds to a delightfully dinky weapon which you can attach to your itemeeple, powersuit or the Mighty Mech.

Last up there’s the score and round tracker boards. Players place their two-sided score marker on the appropriate board (this can be flipped once you get to the end of the track to show you’re on your second go around).

Phew, it’s a lot of setup, and can take a while the first time you do so. However, once you’ve got it, it’s pretty straightforward and will be considerably quicker in future.

The program cards each show an arrow as well as the type of action that will be played once the player gets there (if they get there). This could be to place a mine – which costs money, deploy a turret – which costs power, collect resources – one for each tile showing that symbol which you control, to power jump two spaces in one direction, to move diagonally (usually you can only move in one of the cardinal directions), or to purchase something from the shop.

Each round starts with players picking their four actions, laying them out on the table (covered with the remaining cards). Starting with the first player (who rotates each round) everyone reveals their first action. These are played out before moving on to the next player and then on to the second actions. Should any player move into a space which is occupied by another, they will enter combat.

Combat is played out in turns, each player exhausting a weapon and passing to their opponent. Should a player be reduced to 0 health, they respawn back at their base with a minimum of 2 energy and cash and back to full health. However, if a player runs out of weapons before defeating their opponent, they are forced to retreat to an unoccupied, adjacent space.

Each weapon has a type and these types can play off of each other in a rock, paper, scissors style. By chaining off of the last weapon type, you get to use the weapon’s power attack. These attacks will not only do more damage than usual, but most will have an extra ability such as stealing/acquiring resources or removing adjacent turrets.

Once everyone has taken their actions and the dust has settled from any fighting, play moves to the next round. Every other round is a scoring round so it’s a great time to take some extra ground. You’ll be awarded points for each mine and turret, as well as the position you’re holding (based on the number on the tile), as well as points for controlling the Mighty Mech. After 6 rounds, the final scores are tallied as per the previous round and plus extra points for the weapons you’ve acquired throughout the game.

It’s a really fun little game that can be played in around an hour, with nice art, quality components, and it’s just such a joy to load up your powersuits and the Mighty Mech with your itemeeple and weapons. You’ll feel like kind of a badass stomping around the board in a fully tooled up mech.

Pros

  • Fun to play
  • Lovely character art
  • Quality pieces

Cons

  • Can be difficult to recover if you get behind in a two player game

Final Score: 9/10