My husband, Ravindra (a.k.a. Snoozfest), and I attended Dragon*Con in Atlanta, Georgia, September 3-6, 2010. You may read more about the full “experience” in my Dragon*Con 2010 article at BGG News. In this article I will talk about some of the new games we played at the convention – and a couple older ones. Note: not all of the rules are explained. I was hoping to include just enough to give you the general idea of the game but then realized I went a tad overboard, so feel free to skim…
The Adventurers (published by AEG, designed by Guillaume Blossier and Frédéric Henry, 2-6 players, ages 10+, 45 minutes, MSRP $49.95) This game is heavily thematic, with an Indiana Jones feel but unfortunately without the license. As such, it comes complete with giant rolling boulder, moving walls, crumbling floors, and rickety bridge. The idea is to explore a Mayan temple (fraught with danger), collect treasure, and survive long enough to exit the temple. Of the survivors, the winner is the player who has the most valuable treasure.
At the beginning of each round, five dice are rolled to (indirectly) determine each player’s individual number of actions for this turn based on his burden (i.e. the number of treasure cards he possesses). All players are given a set of two adventurer cards. The player will only play with one adventurer – the other is in case the first one dies (a very distinct possibility; did I mention the waterfall?). Each character will have some sort of special ability to help in the game.
A player may use an action to move a space, look at a tile, or search for treasure. Some treasures are easy to get, just pick up a card, but others require the player to roll some combination on the dice. The player will get one shot at this unless an ability or card says otherwise.
The giant rolling boulder is a sort of game timer. Players must beat the boulder to the exit or they lose. Also, their character will die if it ever runs him over. The boulder route runs all around the board but does not enter the rooms or river. Adventurers start in the room with moving walls. Players may stop to pick up treasure cards or look at tiles for future use in the lava pit room (both of these actions correspond to the space his character is in) but beware, each turn the walls may close in. If a wall hits a character, he is dead.
The tiles at which a player may look match unsafe tiles in the lava pit room. These are the tiles that will crumble when an adventurer walks on them, instantly killing him. The lava pit room starts out covered so there is a memory element to this part of the game. Also, the designs are purposely made to look similar. Since I have a terrible memory when it comes to this type of thing, I just ignored these tiles. If a player walks on a safe tile in the lava pit room, he gains a treasure card. Players may bypass the lava pit room, taking a longer route past some other treasure opportunities but also risking the boulder.
Near the end of the board, players decide whether they want to jump into the river (hazarding going over the waterfall at the end), take the rickety bridge, or go around – again risking being run over by the boulder (there is a fairly big treasure along that route but it is very difficult to get). Jumping in the river will allow an adventurer to pick up more treasure. The only problem is that once he gets to the waterfall, the player must roll dice equal to his burden to get out of the river. For each 1 rolled, the player must lose three treasures in order to reroll it. If he still has a 1, his character dies (maybe he shouldn’t have been so greedy?). Crossing the bridge also requires a player to roll dice equal to the number of planks remaining when he stepped onto the bridge. For each die lower than the total burden of all players on the bridge, one plank is removed. If the bridge fails, the character(s) dies. The winner is the player whose character survived and has the highest total value of treasure cards.
Impressions – the game itself is beautifully produced. I was immediately attracted to it due to the high quality pieces and artwork. I also love the theme. That’s about where it ends for me. As far as game play goes, this is not my type of game – just not enough depth for me. There are few choices to make and lots of luck throughout. If your character dies, your chances of winning are greatly diminished since the likelihood of getting treasures is drastically reduced (there will only be “leftovers” to pick through). Even for people who like this type of game, replayability is probably going to be low – adults will likely tire of it once the novelty wears off. On the other hand, children will almost certainly love this game.
Livingstone (published by Playroom Entertainment, designed by Benjamin Liersch , 2-5 players, ages 8+, 35 minutes, MSRP $40) The object of the game is to have the most victory points at the end, with the exception that the player(s) who did not donate enough money to the queen automatically loses.
The board is basically a grid of rows and columns. The bottom row is a river with spaces for a boat token to move along from left to right. The boat acts as a game timer; when a round has been completed and the boat has reached the right most space, the game will end.
Every round, the start player will roll a handful of dice (two times the number of players), sort them by number, and take her turn by selecting one die and completing one action. The number on the die may determine how a particular action is to be carried out. Going clockwise around, each player will continue to select a die then carry out an action until either the dice have all been taken or no more can be legally selected. The catch is that each successive die selection for a player must be greater than the one before it. The round ends, the column is scored, the boat moves forward one space, and the start player token moves clockwise.
The four actions are:
- Draw a card. The cards do various things for a player, such as gain straight victory points or coins, gain coins and victory points by turning in gems, move the boat back a space, etc.
- Take coins equal to the number on the die.
- Take gems from the bag equal to the number on the die. Gems may be sold for their value at any time during a player’s turn, or kept in front of a player to be turned in later (with some risk). Sold gems are set aside.
- Place a tent in the row equal to the number on the die and the column where the boat is located. It costs money to place a tent. The costs are printed on the board along the river increasing in value from 1 to 6 as the game goes on.
Gems range in value from 0 (black) to 5. There is one white gem in the bag; when it is drawn, all black gems and other gems that were set aside are returned to the bag. Any time during a player’s turn, she may add coins to a small money box as part of her donation to the queen.
At the end of the game, the rows are scored, the donations are tallied, and the player who had the most victory points but did not donate the least to the queen is the winner.
Impressions – Livingstone is a rather straightforward family euro-style game. There are enough choices to make it interesting but it is still fairly light and doesn’t take all that long to play. I think it would make a good choice as a “gateway game.” Both the production and the artwork are functional and nice looking, with the exception of the player scoring disks, which are a bit too large for the score track spaces. You may want to substitute them with some smaller tokens. The gems are pretty cool though.
I especially like the dice selection mechanism. Do you choose a lower die in hopes of getting a higher one and thus another action during the round? Or do you choose a higher die, giving you the choice of more coins, more gems, or a higher row on the board for your tent (resulting in more victory points at the end of the round) but maybe not another action this round?
Revolution (published by Steve Jackson Games, designed by Philip duBarry, 3-4 players, ages 10+, 60 minutes, $39.95) This is a blind bidding and area majority game. The goal is to get the most “support” (i.e. points) by the end of the game. Mainly, players get support, directly or indirectly, by bidding on characters.
The main game board, with 8 areas of influence, is placed in the center of the table. The areas differ by point values and number of spaces for influence cubes. Each player starts the game with a screen, a set of wooden influence cubes in his color, some persuasion tokens, and a bidding board made up of 12 character spaces (each space has a description of the advantages that particular character provides).
Three types of tokens, gold, blackmail, and force, represent persuasion in the game. Each round, players simultaneously place their persuasion tokens on their bidding boards behind their screens. Once everyone is done, bids are revealed and evaluated in order from left to right by row. Force trumps blackmail and gold; blackmail trumps gold. Some examples, two gold will beat one gold, one blackmail will beat two gold, and one force will beat any number of blackmail and/or gold.
Players are allowed to place bids on up to 6 characters per round. Some characters are immune to certain types of persuasion, for example, you cannot use force on the General or Captain, you cannot use blackmail on the Innkeeper or Spy, and you cannot use force or blackmail on the Rogue or Mercenary. There are visual cues on the bidding board so you can easily see this. Each character provides some sort of advantages for the winning player. Advantages include: providing persuasion tokens, providing support (points), allowing a player to place an influence cube on the board in a certain region, swapping two cubes on the board, or replacing an opponent’s cube on the board with one of their own. For example, the General provides one support and one force, and allows the player to place one influence cube in the Fortress. At the end of the round, all bids are paid whether they were won or lost. Any player with less than five total tokens may draw the difference in gold.
The game ends when all spaces on the main game board are filled with influence cubes. For each area of the game board, the player who has the majority gets the corresponding number of points (printed on the board). Gold, blackmail, and force earned on the last round of the game are worth 1, 3, and 5 support respectively. Whoever has the most support (points) at the end of the game is the winner.
Impressions – I was pleasantly surprised by this game. This is a departure for Steve Jackson Games; the play is more euro-style than past releases. The components are really good quality, the artwork is nice, and the player screens are well designed. I wish other companies would use this type of screen in their games; they are made more like small game boards in three horizontally connected pieces that fold, but are very easy to stand as well as put away. The game play is solid, with a lot of tension, yet fun.
Ad Astra (published by Fantasy Flight, designed by Bruno Faidutti and Serge Laget, 3-5 players, ages 10+, 60 minutes, MSRP $59.95) This game is set in space and as a theme, works well with the game. It shares some elements of Race for the Galaxy and Settlers, although it resembles neither in overall play. The goal of the game is to score the most points. Ad Astra is the first game in a “Designer’s Collection,” featuring original games from famous international designers.
There is no game board per se; the play area is instead filled with solar systems and planets made up of colorful tokens. The planets around each sun start face down and will be explored during the game. Each player starts with one factory on a random (resource) planet around the central white star (it is set up with one per player) and a ship in deep space, i.e. placed anywhere on the table between solar systems.
The planning board is placed so all player may see it. The top portion of the board has a score track for keeping track of the players’ points; the bottom of the board has numbered spaces for cards (use 12 in a 3-4 player game, 15 in a 5 player game). At the beginning of the game, a random start player is selected but from then on the last player to play a score card will be first. Each round of the planning phase, beginning with the start player and going around clockwise, players will place, one at a time, three (4-5 player game) or four (3 player game) action cards. Cards may be placed in any of the numbered spaces.
During the action phase, cards will be flipped and resolved in order. The person who played the card (owner) will usually go first and will get some sort of advantage for playing the card, although all players may do the action (reminiscent of Race for the Galaxy). There are several types of action cards as follows:
- Production – the owner chooses which type of planets will produce, between the two pictured icons on the card. Players receive resources cards for ships, colonies, or factories on the selected type of planets.
- Movement – the owner may move one of her ships to one of the two systems shown on the card, between two planets within one of the systems on the card, or from a planet to deep space (table). Other players may follow suit in clockwise order with one of their ships. The owner of the card may then move all of her other ships with the same restrictions. Energy resources may be required to move.
- Trade – Similar to Settlers, the owner of the card may trade with players or with the bank.
- Build – the owner of the card may build any number of items (ships, colonies, terraformers, or factories) for which she has resources; other players may build one item in clockwise order. All resources are paid to the bank.
- Score – the owner chooses which of the two items shown on the card will score points. All players will score the selected item (ships, colonies, terraformers, or factories) but the player who earns the most points will get a 3 point bonus, thus the owner will want to time the playing of a particular score card and select the item that will get her the bonus.
Players get all of their action cards back at the end of the phase, with the exception of score cards. Score cards only come back to a player once all three types have been used.
The game ends when one player reaches 50 points or when the last planet has been explored. The winner is the player with the most points.
Impressions – the production and artwork are high quality. The game has a solid design. I especially like the planning mechanism. Although the game shares some elements with Settlers, it has more depth. I would probably prefer to play Ad Astra over most of the Settlers games (depending on my mood, which Settlers version was selected, and the amount of time I had to play). I would definitely play it again, but going off of one play I rank it as a good game, not a great game.
Charon Inc. (published by Gryphon Games, designed by Emanuele Ornella, 2-5 players, ages 13+, 60 minutes, MSRP $39.95) This is another game set in space, although this one is fairly abstract and could have had just about any theme. It is very much an area majority game, with some extra stuff thrown in. The goal of the game is to earn the most points through building.
The main part of the board depicts the planet Charon with 20 areas (essentially divided by rows and columns) for gems and spaces for flags at each intersection as well as in between areas. The left part of the board contains two tracks, one for player order and one for round keeping. It also has five action boxes.
At the beginning of the game, each player gets three building cards, of which he will keep two and place one in a face down common area. The common cards will be flipped once all players have selected their cards. A random starting turn order is determined and the board is randomly seeded with different colored gems (representing mineral resources) in areas of Charon according to the number of players. Each area will have one to three gems of the same color. Players place one flag apiece per action box (five total).
There are five phases per round and four rounds to the game. The phases are:
- Place flags – in turn order, each player will move one flag from the action boxes to Charon. This is done four times, with each player leaving behind one flag. At the end of this phase, if an action box has one flag left (or two depending on the number of players) in an action box, the owner will be allowed to perform the action (if more than that, no one gets the action).
- Collect gems – one by one, each area is analyzed; the player who has the majority (determined by placement) gets to take its gems.
- Adjust turn order – turn order is determined by the number of gems each player now has, ranked from highest to lowest, with the highest going first.
- Build cards – in turn order, players may build one card from the common area and as many as they want from their hands. The more points the card is worth, the more difficult it is to build (requiring more gems and/or more types of gems). Gems may be traded 3 for 1. Used gems are returned to the bank. The catch to building is that a player may not build the same numbered (i.e. point) card more than once in a game.
- Reset for next round – similar to the starting set up, two building cards are passed to each player, one of which will go into the common area; the player will keep the other. The board is again seeded and each player returns his flags to the action boxes (one per). Players discard down to 2 gems.
The actions boxes allow a player to move a flag he controls i.e. after all have been placed, take a clear gem (wild-card gem, may be substituted for any color), gain one common or discarded building card, exchange one color gem for another, or trade gems 2 for 1 and keep up to 6 gems for next turn instead of 2.
The key to the whole game is in the strategic placement of flags on Charon and somewhat in determining which flag to leave behind, either to block a player from an action or to hopefully be able to perform that action himself. The number of flags each player has around a particular area determines majority – the player who has the most flags gets the gems. Ties are broken by placement. A flag placed at a vertex will have influence over the most areas (usually 3 or 4) but will be in the weakest position for ties. A flag placed between two areas will win a tie over a flag placed at a vertex but will only have influence over two areas. A flag placed inside an area will win any tie but will only have influence in that one area. If there is no way to break a tie, i.e. all flags are placed in equal positions, then no one gets the gems.
Impressions – the designers mainly took the most interesting part of Hermagor (also by Emanuele Ornella) and made it into a stand-alone game. For me, the game is a bit too simplified and repetitive for anything but a light game. As such, it takes too long to play with a full complement. I have yet to try it with less players though. Also, an A.P. player could really bog down the game, no matter how many players. It might make a good family game or “gateway game,” especially as a precursor to Hermagor.
The artwork is functional and looks good. The box and components are high quality – except for the flags; they tend to topple over easily. I love the colored gems (Ooo… sparkly) and the round marker (a very large gem).
Lords of Vegas (published by Mayfair Games, designed by James Earnest and Mike Selinker, 2-4 players, ages 12+, 60 minutes, $45) The game is set in 1941, along highway 91: the future Las Vegas Strip. The goal of the game is to get the most points by having the best casinos in Las Vegas.
Players begin the game with a dozen dice in their selected player color as well as matching clear plastic disk markers. A lot deck is set up with one “End of Game” card about three quarters into the deck. The game ends either when this card is drawn (and scored) or if a player reaches 90 points – although this is so unlikely that the designers would like to know if this ever happens in one of your games.
The board depicts the highway “strip” and all the lot spaces available off of it. When a player draws a lot card, she becomes the owner and places one of her markers on the corresponding space. Whenever an owner pays the build cost of one of her lots, she places a tile on it, in her choice of color, along with one of her dice turned to the specified side; this either becomes a new casino or part of an existing casino. A casino is one or more orthogonally adjacent tiles of the same color. The casino boss is the player who has the largest valued die in a casino.
There are two steps to a turn: Draw and Play. During the draw step, the active player draws a lot card, places her maker, then all owned lots pay money and specified casinos pay points and money. This is usually by color, although there are four cards as well as the “End of Game” card that pay the strip. During the play step, the active player may take as many actions as she likes, with the exception of Gambling, which may only be done once per turn. The actions are:
- Build – pay the lot cost, marked on the board, to place a tile and one of your dice on one of your lots.
- Sprawl – (casino boss only) pay two times the cost of an unowned lot to place a tile and one of your dice on the unowned lot. Later, if the lot is drawn, you lose the space to the drawing player.
- Remodel – (casino boss only) change the color of all tiles in a casino at a per tile cost.
- Reorganize – anyone who is part of the casino may do this. For the total of all dice in the casino, pay per pip to reroll all the dice (restriction – no die may be rerolled more than once per turn). This may result in a new casino boss. A player with more dice in the casino will have better odds of gaining control.
- Gamble – (max, once per turn) place a wager at a casino where an opponent is the boss. Bets are limited by the size of the casino; larger casinos will allow higher bets. Roll two dice; the house wins on a 5 through 8 (odds slightly favor the house). The house pays double on a 2 or 12.
Trading may happen at any time, in any combination of money, lots, dice in casinos, or actions (on your turn only). Points or casino tiles may not be traded.
An interesting twist in this game is the board score track. The first part of the track (from one to eight) scores like a normal track, one point at a time. After that the board jumps in increments that become larger as the numbers get higher. From 10 to 20 it jumps in increments of two, from 20 to 32 increments of three; from 36 to 44 increments of four, etc. until it reaches 90 by a jump of 9. The reason for this is to force players to acquire larger and larger casinos. After the first 8, a one-point casino will no longer score for that player (casinos are scored separately so even if the player has two one-point casinos in the scoring color, neither will score). To go from 8 to 10, you must score a 2 or 3-point casino. To move to from 8 to 12 you must score a 4 or 5-point casino.
Impressions – for the most part, the components are high quality. The dice fit nicely into the casino tiles, which are made of extra thick chipboard. The money is just printed paper. Although it would be super-cool to have poker chips as game money, I’m sure it would have driven the cost of the game up unreasonably high. Personally, I use my own set poker chips in games with paper money. A nice compromise over paper might have been card-quality money or possibly chipboard poker chips (small versions).
The artwork is attractive and works well with the game. Each casino even has its own theme, just like the real ones. The only complaint I have is that the box insert was not made for this game. It has 4 slots that look like they may fit small decks, although there are no such decks in this game. These are just wasted space. In my copy, the holder for the lot cards is just a smidge too small so I have to store them at an angle.
Even though this particular type of game does not appeal to me (due to the constant shifting of power inherent in the design), I think a lot of people will enjoy it. The dice rolling can be handled to some degree by playing the odds, i.e. by having more dice in a casino than the opponents when reorganizing. Future scoring can also be estimated by checking which lot cards have already been played; they are displayed and organized by color on one section of the board. Players will want to choose casino colors for cards that haven’t yet been played. The game is probably best with 4 players due to the amount of interaction throughout the game, although it will run longer. It is most fun if players keep the game moving along.
Tichu (published by Rio Grande Games, designed by Urs Hostettler, 4 players – I refuse to put any other!, ages 10+, 60 minutes, $14.95) This will probably come as a shock to most of you, but I usually carry a pocket sized Tichu deck with me to conventions. And sometimes to friends’ houses, out to eat, on vacation, and, well, pretty much anywhere I think I might be able to get people to play. My latest favorite deck container is the pocket tin box version by Fata Morgana Spiele. I just refill it whenever a deck wears out or gets too gooey (not sure how this happens but I don’t want to think about it).
We managed to play several games of Tichu over the convention weekend, mainly in the evening. We typically would find a nice quiet spot in our hotel to play; some of the floors have seating and tables in a central area.
Small World (published by Days of Wonder, designed by Philippe Keyaerts, 2-5 players, ages 8+, 80 minutes, $50) Since this was released in 2009, I’m not going to go into a big summary. This game is basically a rethemed Vinci (by the same designer), with some wonderful additions. It is set in a fantasy world with the likes of dwarves, orcs, elves, wizards, giants, and even humans. Each race has its own attributes. In addition, the races are randomly matched with a special power. Players select their races hoping for a winning combination. Or at least a dominating one.
Although it is not my type of game (lots of direct conflict, area control – it could even be categorized as a light war game), it is well done and even fun (as long as no one picks on me!). I would play it again! For those who enjoy direct conflict games, you will probably love this game. Production and art are high quality – what you have come to expect from Days of Wonder.