HeavyCon: Day Zero

For the next few days, I’ll talk about my experiences at HeavyCon, in Denver, CO. It’s my first trip here, starts tomorrow, and is already a stellar con.

At bggcon, I’m an 8 AM person- who has showered and eaten breakfast and is ready to play each morning by 8, and usually 7:55. However, Edward started this year off with a 5:30 AM hike on Wednesday prior to the con starting in earnest on Thursday. About 17 of us met in the lobby and carpooled to a site near Dillon.


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Dale Yu: Review of Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg

 

Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg

  • Designer: Wolfgang Warsch
  • Publisher: Schmidt Spiele
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 45-60 minutes
  • Times played: 8, with review copy purchased from Amazon.de

So, it’s been a really long time since I just went out an ordered a game without knowing ANYTHING about it.  In this modern era of boardgaming, usually there is some sort of review or video or something out there to learn about a game.  Admittedly, I am part of that process, as this blog often gets advance copies of games to get that info out there prior to a game’s release. Continue reading

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Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – May 2018

Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – May 2018

Without further ado, my new games this month include …

Elle Macpherson is a member of Patrick’s gaming group.

ALCHEMISTS

The historical knock on all deduction games is their fragility. Worst is if one player’s mistake hurts other people (a la Black Vienna), and this at least doesn’t do that. This takes fragility in another direction. Here you’re inferring opposites – it’s green positive so it can’t be any of the combinations containing a green negative, which you both mark on your sheet and place a matching chit on your player board. Now if the chit falls out of your player board and you can’t recall exactly where it was, hopefully you’ll be able to work it out backwards from your player sheet. But what if you’ve also made a mistake on your sheet somewhere because you’re tired? Not a lot of fun working all that out again, and realising you’re knocked out of the game and there’s little point continuing for the next 90 minutes. The other knock I had was what if you simply don’t get the cards to narrow down the last 50/50 aspect of a component. The game only goes 6 rounds so now you’re probably forced into some guesswork in the hunt for points. Do you trust what others have inferred, or have they been making some educated guesses as well? On such can the game depend, and I’m not really in the fun camp on that one. The game is LOOONG, and I was as much a culprit as anyone, checking and re-checking inferences, working out optimal things I wanted to test next based on what was available. Not only does that length increase the chances of frustration escalation (at mistakes and incomplete knowledge), but it doesn’t accordingly increase the level of satisfaction gleaned from correct inference-making to compensate, compared to games of half the length. I can appreciate the game – the thematic linking to academia is brilliant and the rules clever and fun – but there’s too much risk that I won’t enjoy any given playing, either through my own mistakes, or apologising for the game for other players who’ve made mistakes given its length, or through card and choice frustration. Further it requires all the players to really love the core mechanic – there’s too much risk that those I’m gaming with on any given night aren’t all in the love-it camp, so how often will it find play? Continue reading

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Noria

Noria

DESIGNER: Sophia Wagner

PUBLISHER: Spielwise/Stronghold

PLAYERS: 2-4

AGES:  12 and up

TIME: 70 to 120 minutes

TIMES PLAYED: 4, with a copy I purchased

Gimmicks in games can be a mixed bag; a fancy timer or cool apparatus can add to the game, but they can also be disguising a game flaw – putting lipstick on a pig is the phrase that comes to mind. The wheel in Noria is not what drew me to it – and in fact it made me a little wary – but I was intrigued by the idea of manipulating actions. Besides, what’s one more game when your luggage is rapidly approaching its weight limit? (In this case a few pounds, since it has so many bits.)

In Noria, players are explorers, discovering new flying islands. Players are also scientists, developing technologies, and merchants, buying ships to sell the things they develop. They are also lobbyists, trying to influence politicians to support their developments.

There is a central board shared by all players as well as a stack of flying islands. There are knowledge tokens, resources, goods, ships and warehouses as well as wooden cubes.

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The full board

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The bits

Each player has a board of their own that includes a three-part wheel, a factory and a player aid as well as five representative pieces in their color. Players also start with a ship of each color and a resource of their choice as well as a resource token and choose one politics track to start on. Players also start with City, Journey, Tool, Obsidian, Mycelium and Energy discs; the rules provide a suggested setup for the wheel for the first game.

       

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The wheel and player aid

                         

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Factory board

What you can do on your turn is dictated by the discs that are available to you in the active section of your wheel, which is marked by the player aid. 

The first phase of your turn is the influence phase and it is optional. If you wish you can spend one knowledge token to rotate either your medium or your large wheel by one space, thus making different discs available that turn. You could also spend two knowledge tokens to switch the position of two discs. You can do each of these multiple times if you’d like, but the cost doubles each time.

Next up is the action phase. You can activate up to 3 discs in the active portion of your wheel. You can only activate one disc per wheel, and the discs must be adjacent, meaning you can draw one straight line between the center of each of the discs that you plan to use; that line cannot cross any line between other discs or empty spaces.            

 

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The available discs are in the half of the wheel touching the player aid.

Each disc is associated with one or two actions; you choose which of those actions you would like to take.

                                         

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Action discs in the market

Resource discs (obsidian, energy, mycelium) let you take a resource tile of that color for every ship you have that matches the color. So, if your pink disc is available and you have three pink ships, you can take 3 energy.

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Ships

City discs allow you to:

  • Take a new disc from the market on the board; resource discs are free and the other discs cost resources as indicated (see above picture of discs), or
  • Pay the resources indicated and move one of your representatives from the cave onto the first level of a path, or move one representatives up one level on a path. . You must pay one additional resource of your choice for each player that is already ahead of you on that path.

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Journey discs allow you to travel to the floating islands. You can choose to either move to an already-revealed island or, if there are islands still not revealed, reveal a new one. When an island is revealed you place a number and type of ships as indicated on the island.

                                          

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An island

 

You place your ambassador on 1 island and either:

  • Take a ship and place it in your ship supply, or
  • Place the topmost factory tile from your factory tableau onto the island and take the warehouses indicated on that space; warehouses let you create goods. Place the warehouses empty-side up.
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Warehouses

 

Tool discs let you either:

  • Upgrade one of your discs to its upgraded side by flipping it over; upgraded discs let you take the associated action(s) twice or, if it has two actions, you can take each action once. However, you can only use one upgraded disc per turn. If you have more than one available you must choose which one to use with the upgraded ability; the others can be used as if they were not upgraded.
  • Produce 1 good by paying the resource costs on the empty side of its Warehouse and then turn it onto the full side; you can either produce several of the same good or one of each different type. You may only produce as many goods as you have warehouses for that type.

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Bonus discs lets you choose one other disc that you will activate this turn; when you activate it you can use its ability one additional time,

In addition to using the discs you have the option to:

  • Choose to skip activating one disc and take one knowledge chip instead.
  • Exchange goods on the black market; you can either pay goods to get knowledge chips or you can pay Knowledge chips to take a resource of your choice; this can be done at any point during the action phase.

After the Action Phase comes the Politics Phase, which is optional.  If you choose to do it, you pay a number of knowledge chips equal to the number indicated on the round track and move one politician from the top section of a politics track to the empty, leftmost seat in the bottom and then take another politician from the top section of your choice and remove it from the game. You can do this more than once per turn, but the cost doubles each additional time you do it. You want the politicians to support your discoveries, so you will want to increase the politician that supports the goods you make and remove cubes from politicians that support others.

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The final phase is the Administration phase.  Rotate all 3 of your rings one space each, using your player aid as a guide. If you have placed any factories take knowledge chips as indicated. If you acquired any new discs place them on your wheel now.

So why do you care about any of this? It’s all about scoring victory points. The game ends after 14-16 rounds, depending on the number of players.  Players score for each politics path by multiplying the level of their representative by the victory point value of that chamber. If a player is not on a particular track they would score zero for that track. For example, yellow would score 21 points in the picture below – level 3 x 6 points on the far left, level 1 x 3 points in the middle and zero for the pieces not on a track. 

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Players also score for their highest and lowest politics representative. Multiply the highest level you have obtained with one of your representatives on any one track with the value of the chamber for highest and multiply your lowest level representative on any one track with the value of the chamber for lowest (keeping in mind that if anyone didn’t make it onto a chart they would be at value zero). In the above picture yellow would score 12 more points – level 3 x 4 for their highest, level 0 x 12 for the lowest.

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Highest and Lowest Scoring Track

Add these three scores together and the player with the highest points wins.

The game also contains some expert rules.  You choose where your initial discs go in your wheel (as opposed to following the recommended setup in the rules). The Islands are positioned face-up in a circle to start the game and you can only travel to adjacent Islands. The Price of the discs on the market is determined random and you do not start the game with any resources, knowledge or step on a path.

MY THOUGHTS ON THE GAME

Let’s start with the major negative. The rules are needlessly complicated and a bit scattered. While they are clear enough, the layout is odd, there is unnecessary flavor text adding to the confusion and it can be hard to find what you want when you are looking to clarify something. It was a struggle to learn the game from the rules and a few of the people I have taught the game to told me they gave up on trying to learn from the rules and were glad they could find someone to teach. The game is not nearly as complicated as you might think while struggling through the rules.

However, once you make it through the rules there is an interesting game here. The decisions to be made in order to maximize your score are tough and interesting and while you can undo some of them, the cost to do so is high.

The wheel is a cool way to order your actions; sure, it’s fiddly, but the player aid provides helpful guidelines to rotate it and it works.  It provides a good visual for planning ahead as to what you’ll have available in future turns or when placing your new discs and I enjoy the puzzle of trying to maximize the placement and the upgrades.

The theme of the game doesn’t quite fit with the mechanics.  You are building a goods machine in order to influence politicians to support your scientific developments, but it doesn’t feel like you are doing anything but manufacturing, and it doesn’t quite tie to the politics chart for me.

While I think the theme could have been adjusted or changed to make a better fit, it doesn’t really affect my enjoyment of the game, though; the mechanics work just fine and I can build an engine, regardless of why I am doing so.

There is limited player interaction; you are working alone to build your engine and only interact with other players when you are influencing the politics track, possibly negatively for them. I don’t consider this a problem at all, but mention it for those who like more interaction.

The components are well-made and everything is very pretty. At Essen the game came with another set of discs, which are thicker than the ones in the box; I assume this was done to make them easier to place in an out of the wheel.

THOUGHTS OF OTHER OPINIONATED GAMERS

Simon Neale: This was one of my instant buys at Essen Spiel last year as I was intrigued by the wheel mechanism and enjoy both engine building games and “cube pushers”. However the lack of clarity in the rules, as Tery mentioned, is a real problem and it took me ages just trying to understand how to set up the wheels at the start of the game. After playing once though, the game is straightforward. The manipulation of the scoring tracks via Politics really only takes place in the early stages of the game and sets a all too fixed agenda of how to score victory points. This is the crux of the game and if you have started in the lower scoring columns you have an uphill battle on your hands. Maybe an expansion will provide alternative routes to victory such as Contracts to be fulfilled, but as it’s stands my group tired of the game quickly which is a shame as the wheel mechanic is interesting and different.

In answer to Tery’s point about a second set of disks at Essen Spiel, it was because the original ones were on thinner card and slipped beneath the rings when they were rotated.

Alan How: This game was squarely in my interest zone and so it was bought at Essen Spiel like Simon. I have had extreme reactions- “barely a game” to “very exciting “ and I think this is down to two aspects of the game. The wheel which tipped over repeatedly causing the first reaction to the political scoring which was more confusing than clear. I agree with Tery that there is a disjoint between theme and mechanics. The overall game works, but in a game about building up stocks of various goods, which tends to suit Euro gamers, the negative feel of reducing someone’s points potential knowing that they’ll do the same to you is too close to tit for tat. And this kind of game reaction can easily annoy you when the rest of the game is of interest. So my hopes for the game rest of finding those players who like Euros and some take that, which is a smaller set of people than the game seems to indicate.

Dan Blum (1 play): I liked the wheel mechanism well enough, but that’s really the only interesting aspect of the game. Everything else is very standard, which wouldn’t be so bad except that there’s so much of it – the game outstays its welcome for me by quite a bit because you spend such a small percentage of the time dealing with the wheel. To me this seems like a fairly typical first design which hasn’t been developed properly – the designer probably had this one good idea and wrapped standard Euro elements around it. A good developer could have either made these other elements more interesting or pared away enough of them to make the game palatable. (For an example of the latter approach see Otys, which also has one nifty mechanism married to standard stuff, but keeps the standard stuff short and simple enough that the game is still decent.)

Joe Huber (1 play): As with Dan, I found the wheel mechanism interesting – but looking for a better game to fit in with.  This moved instantly on to my “wait a few years, pick up an inexpensive copy, and play around with other ideas using the wheel mechanism” list.  Which isn’t bad – it’s a big step up from “ignore completely” – but not enough to encourage me to play a second time.

RATINGS:

I love it!

I like it. Tery, Chris Wray

Neutral: Simon Neale, Alan How

Not for me: Dan Blum, Joe H.

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Patrick Brennan: Yucata Game Snapshots – Apr 2018

Patrick Brennan: Yucata Game Snapshots – Apr 2018

Patrick and his boys

A few years back now I used to play on Yucata, nearly always with gaming buddies I knew, during periods we knew we could finish it together in much the same timeframe as if we were playing face-to-face. At one point we even had an ongoing virtual gaming night, linked up so we could see each other and chat during the games. But it lacked the same charm and feel as our regular gaming night, and real life imposed itself after a while.

This month I came back to Yucata after a brainwave. How do you get teenage boys out of their rooms, off their devices, and spending time playing games with you? Well we’ve taken to gathering in the same room, each with their own laptop, and playing a game on Yucata together! They get to spend time on their devices so they don’t feel so deprived, I get to play games, and we’re spending time together socially! A win-win for the modern age, where you take your wins where you get them! Continue reading

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Fast Forward from Friedemann Friese – A Triple Review

 

  • Fast Forward logoDesigner: Friedemann Friese
  • Publishers: 2F and Stronghold Games
  • Players: 2-4 (Fear), 2-4 (Fortress), 1-4 (Flee)
  • Time: 15 minutes (Fear & Fortress), 75-90 minutes (Flee)
  • Ages: 12+
  • Games Played: 7 (Fear), 4 (Fortress), 3 (Flee)… all with review copies provided by Fireside Games

 

I almost feel compelled to make some glancing reference to Aesop’s Fables as I begin this overview/review of Friedemann Friese’s Fast Forward game series… but which one? Is this the Hare & the Tortoise? (Friedemann does have green hair.) Is it the Ant & the Grasshopper? (Once again, green.) Certainly not the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing…

The “Fable” game design structure first appeared in late 2016 with the publication of Fabled Fruit – a simple but enjoyable set collection game where the “playing field” (made up of oversized cards) shifted as players used the special powers & the fruit they collected to purchase them from the tableau. (I wrote a review of Fabled Fruit last year – you could do worse things with 5-10 minutes than follow this link to go read it.) The main deck is pre-set… dripping new actions and powers into the game in ways that vary depending on how your previous games have played out.

Fabled Fruit (and the new “Fable”) games all share one other important characteristic: they can be reset for new groups and/or for a second playing by the same group. The main deck of cards is numbered and simply needs to be put back into numerical order for the game to be ready to restart. (Note: I’m a big fan of the legacy games – I’m particularly fond of Risk Legacy & Pandemic Legacy.) I think this ‘halfway point’ between the permanent changes of a legacy game and the standard “memory wipe” of most board games is a nifty way to thread the proverbial needle.

Last fall, Friedemann published 3 new “Fable” games with the “Fast Forward” label – not only did they use the structured deck similar to Fabled Fruit, but they also buried the rules in that structured deck. I’m a recovering wargamer with a few years (and CRTs) under my belt – so I remember the innovation of programmed instruction that occurred when Squad Leader was published. (Yes, I’m dating myself. I’m old. Get off my lawn.) The rule cards in the Fast Forward games function as programmed instruction for the players as they learn the rules of each game… and how each game changes over time by the introduction of new rules, roles and twists. Continue reading

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Simmy Peerutin – A double-headed review: Okanagan and Pioneers by Emanuele Ornella

A double-headed review: Okanagan and Pioneers by Emanuele Ornella

By Simmy Peerutin

 

It was over 13 years ago that I first played an Emanuele Ornella game and that was in 2004, at Essen. The game was Oltre Mare and it was different enough to mark him out as a designer to watch. It was packaged rather clumsily in an oversized card box with a tiny board and minuscule markers so it was not surprising that Amigo gave it the big box treatment in 2005. The multiple use for the cards, the Bohnanza-like scoring mechanic and the trading with some hidden information combined to make for a compelling package.

Oltre Mare was followed by Il Principe in 2005 and this confirmed Ornella’s arrival with a few neat twists on set collection, role selection and area control. Both games are relatively simple to explain, have a somewhat abstract, puzzly feel and yet require the players to consider multiple factors when planning their moves. In fact, it is the multitude of competing or balancing options that makes these games of his quite prone to player analysis paralysis, and so they are both highly recommended but for groups without ‘those players…’

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Reflections on a Long Lost Gathering

I hadn’t been to a game convention in almost 4 years.  That’s practically a lifetime in the world of board games.  I used to go multiple times per year — but then along came baby and other life upheaval.

That all changed last month when I dipped my toe back into the water — or dove in head first, as the case may be — with a week at the Gathering of Friends in snowy, frigid Niagara Falls, New York.

Not only had I been absent from conventions, but I’d also taken an extended break from playing or learning about new games.  As a result, the convention had me frequently out of the loop when people raved about the latest hotness under the assumption that such Penny Papersgames were presumably common knowledge.  This was a new and unfamiliar feeling given my obsession in a former life with knowing and trying every new game — but it also gave me a different perspective on all of the games and prototypes that I had the chance to try.

Cutting to the chase, the hits of the week for me were Decrypto, The Mind, Illusion, Penny Papers, and Spirit Island.  This Wolfgang Warsch fellow is clearly someone to watch, with four new games in 2018 alone!  Below I’ll work my way through the week chronologically, touching on all of these fascinating games and many far less fascinating ones while I’m at it.

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ONE OF US BECOMES AN EVIL GOD

 

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DESIGNER: Naoki Matsuo

PUBLISHER: AHC

PLAYERS: 4- 8

AGES: 14 and up

TIME: 30 minutes

TIMES PLAYED: 3, with a copy I purchased

Part of the reason I play games is for the social aspect; it’s a way to connect with friends and family over a shared activity, and my enjoyment of a game may increase or decrease, depending on who I am playing it with. I am often not a fan of cooperative games, but I have a group of friends with whom I would play just about anything. We all have an affinity for fighting monsters, so when I saw One of Us Becomes an Evil God I was intrigued and picked it up specifically to play with them.

To start the game each player is dealt a Character card face up. There are 9 different cards in the game, and each character has a feature ability that is always in effect as well as a skill that can be used as described on the card. The card also has both a base strength and base insanity level.

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Each player is also dealt a face-down Insanity card. There are 11 cards with values ranging from 0 (not at all insane to 100 (completely insane). Players may look at their own card, but may not reveal theirs or look at anyone else’s card.

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Each player is also dealt 3 Pre-Descent cards, which will be used to take actions. Once the cards are dealt the deck is divided in 3; a time flow card is shuffled into each third and then the cards are combined into one draw deck.  There is also an event deck.

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The game starts with the Pre-Descent Phase, meaning evil has not yet arrived, or at least has not revealed itself. Play starts with the player with the lowest value character card and continues clockwise. The active player draws two cards from the face down deck and then puts one card from their hand back on top of the deck. The player then plays one card from their hand.

There are four  types of cards:

Item cards are placed next to the character card of any one player. The card can be played face up or face down. Players may not look at cards that have been played face down; the effect of the cards will be revealed later in the game. Items generally have an effect on a players Strength or Insanity level.

Search cards let you learn something about another player’s Insanity Level or look at a face-down item. For example, a card might say  “the player who receives this must raise their hand if the total points of their “Insanity Level Card” + “Character’s Insanity Level ” is more or less than 70”. You would hand this card to a player of your choice; they would read the text and either raise their hand or not, based on their insanity level.

Action cards let you move, destroy, or reveal Item  Cards.

If you draw a Time Flow Card, play stops and an event card is drawn and played.  

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After the third Time Flow Card is drawn all other players (aside from the one who drew the card) take another turn using only the cards already in their hand.

The game now enters the Evil God Revelation Phase. Players discard any remaining cards in their hand and reveal their insanity card as well as any other face down cards in front of them. Players total their insanity by adding any item or event cards to their face down insanity card.  The player with the highest insanity level becomes the Evil God; if there is a tie the player with the higher character card number is the Evil God unless all tied players have an insanity level of 100 or more, in which case they are all Evil Gods. All other players are still human.

The discard pile is shuffled and now becomes the Fate Deck.

The Evil God team adds up their insanity level and then flips over the top card of the Fate deck; if the first digit of the card’s Fate Point number matches the character number of any member of the Evil God team an additional 20 points is added. Players then consult the Evil God Descent Chart to see which Evil God is descending.

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Now the Evil God team calculates their strength, based on the Evil God Card (their characters and equipment are no longer relevant), including the feature skill of the Evil God and any other applicable effects. . They draw cards a number of Fate cards equal to the number of players in the game minus 1, and add the Fate points from each card, with a 20 point bonus if the first digit of the Fate number matches the Evil God card.  This is the Evil God’s strength.

 

The human players then add up their strength by calculating the strength value of each Character card  plus any Item Cards. Each human player then draws one Fate card and adds the Fate points on those cards, with a 20 point bonus if the first digit of the Fate card  they drew matches their character number. The total number of all players is the Human Players strength.

The Team with the higher strength is the winner.

MY THOUGHTS ON THE GAME

I want to like this game. I like card games, I like manipulating special abilities and I like Cthulu and his minions, but this game fell flat for me. To start with, the rules are not well-written, which makes the game hard to learn and hard to understand. Some of the problem  is due to the translation not being great; once you know how to play it can be taught much more easily.  However, the game has lots of fiddly rules that, even when you clearly understand them, can be confusing and seem to be there to make the game seem like it has more to it rather than for the benefit of the game or people playing it.  If you only have item cards you are playing them mostly randomly, because you don’t have enough information to know who might be on your team. Even if you do have some search cards, you only know about a small number of players, and what you know is pretty broad, so it doesn’t help much. At the end of the Pre-Descent phase random card draws will make or break each team, and then random card draws will decide who wins – it doesn’t have much to do with the skill of the players. 

I do like the draw two cards and put one back mechanism, which both helps ensure you will have a card you’d actually like to play and might allow you to leave a card for the next player if you think it will be helpful for them. The artwork on the cards is good, and the cards are of good quality. The box is small and sturdy and holds the components well and stays closed when transported.

I am happy to have tried this game based on the theme, but I don’t think it is going to see a lot of play for me. I’d be willing to teach and play if others are interested, but it wouldn’t be something I’d suggest; it’s just too random with a facade of strategy for me.

 

THOUGHTS OF OTHER OPINIONATED GAMERS

 

RATINGS

I love it!

I like it.

Neutral: Tery N.

Not for me:

 

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Dale Yu – Review of Thanos Rising – Avengers Infinity War

 

Thanos Rising: Avengers Infinity War

  • Designer: Andrew Wolf
  • Publisher: USAopoly
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 60-90 minutes
  • Times played: 4, with review copy provided by USAopoly

Thanos Rising: Avengers Infinity War is a new mass market game from USAopoly, obviously tied into the blockbuster movie release from earlier this Spring.  In this cooperative game, player work together to recruit superheroes and defeat Thanos before he is able to power the Infinity Gauntlet and destroy the universe or whatever else dastardly the jeweled Power Glove will do.

Half of the table will be taken up by the Infinity Gauntlet – and the six Infinity stones that will power it.  Each of these stones sits upon a disc filled with cubes. When all the spaces on the card are filled with cubes, that particular Infinity Stone is placed on in the Gauntlet.   This is one of the ways to lose the game (and destroy the universe). Continue reading

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