Design by William Attia
Published by Asmodee
2 – 5 Players, 1 1/2 hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
While not a big science fiction fan, I must admit that I find the steampunk genre to be highly creative and original. For those not familiar with this science fiction subgenre, steampunk is usually set in the 19th century British Victorian or American West era. Electricity has never been invented–or the technology has been lost due to an apocalyptic event–so all machines are powered by steam. Fantastic inventions ripped from the pages of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are common, and the fashion is a bizarre combination of Victorian, Wild West and punk. An entire steampunk culture has emerged, with conventions, shows, literature, movies and more.
While I am not surprised that the theme has crept into board game design, I am surprised that it has not been used more often. There have been a few titles, but not many. Perhaps the genre is not one that has wide appeal amongst boardgamers, or perhaps the right game using that theme has not yet been published. Time will tell whether or not the theme proves popular.
One game from a major publisher using the steampunk theme is Spyrium by renowned designer William Attia, author of the award winning Caylus. Spyrium, a powerful mineral with remarkable properties, has been discovered and is revolutionizing industry. Players head industrial conglomerates and are frantically acquiring and improving their factories and patenting new technologies, all in an effort to acquire great wealth and bring glory to Her Majesty’s empire.
Design by Yannick Gervais
Published by White Goblin Games
2 – 5 Players, 1 ½ hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
Egypt is such a rich subject for game themes. The grandiose pyramids continue to enchant and enthrall visitors over 4000 years after their construction. The exotic ancient culture—with its arcane rituals and myriad of gods—is ripe fodder for mysterious, magical and even spooky stories. The country’s prominent role in Biblical history, as well as its ancient military exploits, also contribute abundant possibilities for creative game designers to mine.
Thus, it is no wonder that games using Egyptian themes continue to be published each year. I can only assume that publishers have enjoyed good experience (i.e., sales) with the theme. One Egyptian-themed game that was released back in 2012 is Pyramidion from designer Yannick Gervais and published by White Goblin Games. The game was largely overlooked by gamers, which is a shame, as it is a very good game that is challenging, tense and fun to play.
At the bequest of Pharaoh Khufu—commonly known as Cheops—players are charged with the task of supplying the necessary resources to construct the great pyramid of Gizeh. These resources are gathered from eight different sites throughout the kingdom, and the gathering process is often brutal and corrupt. Players will employ the services of government officials, priests, goddesses and even unsavory characters such as thieves, bandits and torturers. The player best employing these assortment of characters and fulfilling the most orders will earn the privilege of placing the final block onto the pyramid and win the favor of the Pharaoh.
Design by Maxwell Mahaffa & Jonathan Oberto
Published by Promethean Games
2 – 4 Players, 15 – 30 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
Ahhh, Kickstarter. While there have been a few pleasant surprises, experience has taught me that most games that are ultimately funded and published have not been fully developed and, as a result, feel unfinished. It is easy to understand why established publishers may have passed on these games. They may contain a nifty idea or two, but as a complete game, they simply don’t measure-up.
Such is the case with Enter the Arena from Promethean Games and designers Maxwell Mahaffa and Jonathan Oberto. The game is set in ancient Rome, with players entering the arena for brutal and bloody gladiatorial combat. The videos for game tout the unique “style” mechanism, wherein players attempt to predict the success of their card play by enhancing it with style. This represents an unusual or exciting maneuver that thrills the crowd. If successful, the players earn style points, which ultimately determine the victor. Fail and those points could be stolen by one’s opponent. While this may be original, it does not save what is otherwise a mediocre, lackluster affair.
Each player begins with an identical set of cards consisting of three attacks, three defense (both valued 1 – 3) and two style cards (valued 1 or 2). Each turn, all players place one of their attack or defense cards face down, revealing them in turn order. When revealing their card, a player must name the target of an attack (If an attack card was played) and decide if he wants to add one of his two style cards to his card. This decision must be made immediately, often—due to turn order—without seeing the type and value of cards played by one’s opponents. No method is provided to indicate the target on one’s attack, which can be problematic in a multi-player game. A few tokens from other games can help rectify this, but a method should have been provided.
Once again, Ben, KAS, and Larry (Tom would join us in the evening) intrepidly plowed our way through more of our Essen haul last Saturday. What with BGG.con coming the following week (sadly, I will not be attending, but the rest of them will be) and the non-gaming event known as Thanksgiving following the week after (bloody game-hating Pilgrims!), this may have been my last shot at new game playing for a while. Did we make it count? Read on, Macduff!
Clinic: This game about building and running a medical clinic is from designer Alban Viard. Viard is best known for his many Age of Steam expansions; lately, he has been producing abstract city-building games with a strong spatial element. This is easily his most ambitious title.
I’m not sure I’ve seen a game with so many strong thematic elements where the gameplay routinely trashes that theme. Because all the aspects of running a medical practice are here: doctors, nurses, patients, operating rooms, etc. And then you play the game and you find that it’s frequently advantageous for players to let their patients get sicker before treating them. Or that nurses and staff members are sometimes more expensive to hire than doctors. Or that players often care more about the length of hospital corridors and the availability of parking spaces than they do about healing the sick. Or that highly trained doctors have much more difficulty treating less seriously sick patients than poorly trained ones do. Or that those same highly trained doctors get stupider every turn. And on and on. Unless you have a particularly jaundiced view of the medical profession, that’s hardly realistic. It’s a Euro, so you just have to accept things and enjoy the game, but those who were more attracted to the title’s theme than to its mechanics should probably stay far away from this one.
[Note: Normally, I prefer to play a game at least three times prior to writing it for the blog. However, given the time pressure coming up to SPIEL ’14, I have written up my thoughts on a number of games based on only one or two plays in order to cover as many new games as possible prior to the show. I fully admit that it is often not possible to see the full breadth of a design in a single play, and thus I shall not give a rating to any game at this stage with such a few number of plays…]
- Designer: Nightsorrow Chou, Eros Lin, Zeldaaa Ling
- Publisher: ErosGames
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 12+
- Time: ~30 min
- Times played: 2, with preview copy provided by Taiwan Boardgame Design
Well, I’m not sure what the fascination is with Taiwanese board game design and cats is, but Jungle Rumble is one of a number of games that is feline in nature. In this game, you employ your “Little Kitty Helpers” to help you become the next village chief in your modest jungle village. Continue reading
Well, we’re just about ready to start writing about the games from this year’s show. As we traditionally do, we will probably start posting our reviews around Thanksgiving-time. Why the delay? A number of reasons really. First, and foremost, is that we want to give our writers enough time to play the games! Many of the bigger fall conventions (BGG.con, LobsterTrap, EuroQuest, etc) happen this weekend or next weekend – and until folks have had a chance to play the games, they can’t write about them! Second, I know that I personally like to play a game two to three times – at a minimum – before reviewing it. With all of the new games out there, I’m still in a “try every game I can” mode. There are a number of games that I’ve already played twice, but most of my game sessions are still filled with games that are new to me. (Most of the repeat plays come from sessions where I’ve already played a game but someone else in the group has not and requests it…) Third, with all the time spent playing games, there just hasn’t been as much time devoted to writing about them!
Yet another week in which Ben, Tom (who decided to join us again), KAS, and Larry work their way through the pile of shiny new Essen games we’ve acquired. While there have been some fun titles, I’ve yet to find one I would call “great”. Will this be the week in which one new design breaks through? Only way to find out is to keep on reading!
Villannex: This is another Japanese minimalistic game, but minimalistic doesn’t necessarily mean simple. Each player is dealt 6 cards and puts 2 out of play. The remaining cards are all exposed for the players to study. Each card has a scoring rule modifying the value of one or more of the goods the players can acquire. Some are simple (such as “Add 2 to the value of Wood”) and some are complex (such as “If 5 Grain are produced by the table, add 7 to the value of Pigs”). In addition, each card also has two possible groups of goods that the player can choose to produce. After everyone has checked out the cards, each player secretly chooses 2 of his 4 cards and selects one of the two production possibilities for each card. The cards are then revealed, the value for each good is calculated, and the player with the highest VPs from their goods wins. Continue reading
Design by Leo Colovini
Published by Ravensburger
2 – 5 Players, 30 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
Back in 2000 (which seems like a lifetime ago in the gaming hobby) Winning Moves released Leo Colovini’s Cartagena, a race / card / board game involving the famous 1672 jail break from the supposedly impregnable fortress of Cartagena. Players attempt to race their pirates through the caves to reach the boat and sail away to freedom. The first player to get all four (six in the original game) of his pirates into the boat was victorious.
After the passing of 14 years, the game has been republished–this time by Ravensburger–in an upgraded, more attractive edition. The pirates are no longer basic wooden pawns; now they are detailed plastic miniatures. The artwork on the cards is more detailed with the background being a faded pirate’s map. It is also a “big box” game, which is certain to grab the attention of those browsing game shops, but it certainly takes up more room on one’s game shelf. Game play has also undergone some changes, which I will note where appropriate below.
The board is comprised of six double-sided pieces, which can be assembled in a variety of fashions. Thus, the layout of each game will likely be different with each play. Only five are used for each game, which is one less than the original edition. Thus, the path and the game are shorter. Each section depicts six symbols along the jungle path (the original was a cave path), including a pistol, keys, jug, grappling hook, lantern and telescope. A deck of cards has matching symbols, 17 of each image.
Design by Dominic Crapuchetttes
Published by Northstar Games
2 – 6 Players, 30 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
My tastes in gaming run from silly, light party games to deep strategy games that can take hours and hours to play. Generally, the environment and nature of the gathering will largely determine what type of game will be brought to the table. If I am getting together with my family or friends from church or our neighborhood, I will usually bring out lighter fare. When meeting with our East Tennessee Gamers group, however, more often than not the games brought to the table will be deeper strategy games.
With social (rather than gaming) gatherings, I have had great success with lighter card games such as The Great Dalmuti and Who’s the Ass? Most folks grew-up playing traditional card games such as Rummy, Clubs, Hearts and Spades, so it isn’t much of a leap to comprehend and play games such as these. As such, I am always on the lookout for other games that will fit nicely into that niche. Clubs from Northstar Games is one of those games.
Clubs consists of a deck of 60 cards, numbered 1-15 in the four traditional suits of clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds. Suits, however, mean nothing here; rather, it is only the values that matter. Players are each dealt a hand of ten cards, and as with The Great Dalmuti and Who’s the Ass?, the object is to play all of your cards before your opponents deplete their hands.
- Designers: Ruben Dijkstra and Ruurd Lammers
- Publisher: Waterfall Games
- Playesr: 2-4
- Ages: 8+
- Time: 30 min
- Times played: 2, with review copy provided by Waterfall Games
Spexxx was a game that barely hit my radar prior to leaving for SPIEL 2014. It just popped up on the BGG preview in the final week, and I really didn’t have much time to do any research on it. However, it was one of the first games that I saw at the press conference on Wednesday, and I’m glad for this chance encounter. The company’s booth was in the hinterlands (otherwise known as Hall 4), and I’m not sure that I would have run across it otherwise. Continue reading