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.

City Committee – 7 Wonders Duel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Final Score 8/10

Nostalgiamon – Pokémon Master Trainer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Final Score: 4/10

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

Pixel Hunting – Streets of Steel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Final Score: 4/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros:

  • Great art work
  • Interesting game play

Cons:

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

Final Score: 3/10

Stars War 101 – Star Realms

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

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

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

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

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

Clock stop!

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

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

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

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Final Score: 7.5/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Final Score:

Base Game: 7/10

Expansion: 8/10