This preview will kick off a week where we concentrate on games from Asia – mostly Taiwan and Korea. Not quite sure yet how many reviews and previews we’ll get in – but we’re probably going to touch on around 15 games in the next week, all in advance of SPIEL 2018 where many of these games will be available…
- Designer: Shi Chen
- Publisher: Play With Us Design
- Players: 3-6
- Ages: 10+
- Time: 15-30 mins
Vita Mors is a hidden-role game about plague doctors. Players are secretly divided into two teams with randomly-chosen goals and there may also be a spoiler who wants to prevent both teams from accomplishing their goals. Each round a plague victim is chosen and players secretly vote on whether they live or die. Naturally the victims have effects which change things, and each player also has four tokens which change things – cancel a player’s vote, reverse a player’s vote, etc. – and can play them each once per game.
The mission cards usually refer to a grouping of characters on the Vita (live) or Mors (dead) row. For instance, Liberalitas = 3 characters live within 4 rounds. Pietas = 3 characters show the same actual class in the Mors row. The Joker (Balatro) wins if no other mission card succeeds in the stated number of rounds. Being familiar with the different possible scoring scenarios is helpful as you can try to infer what someone is going for based on how they vote…
I think it’s a hard game to grasp in the initial plays, and it can feel like the you are being played by the game instead of the other way around. But, again, once you know realize that you can figure out what the other team might have based on the way people are living or dying – then you can try to come up with a strategy to prevent them from winning while furthering your own goals. Of course, sometimes you guess wrong and it feels like you’re just fumbling in the dark – but, then hopefully, so is the other team.
I’m personally not a fan of hidden identity/hidden victory condition games, but I think that stems more from the fact that I completely suck at hiding my own identity/winning condition… But, the game time here is short, so I can live with it.
Dan Blum: This might be fine for fans of this genre of games. I am not one and I don’t think most people I played with were either, so it’s hard to judge the game. It definitely seemed as if the missions weren’t that well-balanced; in our game one team had to have any three victims die in four consecutive rounds, whereas the other had to have victims of all three social classes die in order but possibly separated by surviving patients. The second seems much easier than the first and the situation can lead to forced plays; without giving a full play-by-play of the game, the second team won because the victim that was chosen was faking their social class and because the next player in turn order was from the second team (the tiebreaker rule).
Now, if we all liked and were good at this kind of game it’s possible we would have ramped up more slowly and tried to figure out players’ affiliations more before using our tokens, and maybe then it would have worked better. (We used a lot of tokens.)
- Designer: Shi Chen
- Publisher: Play With Us Design
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 6+
- Time: 15-30 minutes
In Wonderland XIII, players are Dream Librarians – working to collect spirit cards from Wonderland in order to write the thirteenth and final chapter of the story. (And, yes, the actual book ends at the end of the twelfth chapter…)
The game is played with a deck of 68 spirit cards – 12 each of Alice, the White Rabbit, The Mad Hatter, The Queen of Hearts and the Cheshire cat. There are also 8 Spirit Bundle cards with all 5 characters represented on them. Each player starts with a hand of 3 cards , and the remainder of the cards are loosely split into 5 stacks and placed in a pentagon arrangement on the board. The spiffy keys are placed in the center. Each player reserves table space directly in front of him as their Notebook, and a row of space above that which is their Tunnel. You starting 3 cards are placed in your Notebook.
The active player takes 2 keys and then places one next to a stack. A card from that player’s notebook is placed face up on top of that stack, and then the top card from EACH of the adjacent decks is revealed and placed in the player’s Tunnel area. Now, check your tunnel – if you have 3 or more spirit cards (either character cards or Spirit Bundle cards) that show the same character, you bust and all the cards in your Tunnel are discarded; all keys are put back, and your turn ends immediately. If you didn’t fail here, the turn continues. You now get a chance to use the special ability of either of the 2 cards which you just drew.
Alice – take 1 Key from the center
White Rabbit – Reveal 1 Spirit card from any deck and place in your tunnel; check for failure
Mad Hatter – choose a player to draw a face down spirit card, not look at it, but show everyone else. This card is face down in his Tunnel. On his next turn, the table checks for failure as that player will never know what that card is
Cheshire Cat – look at the top facedown card of any deck.
Queen of Hearts – Cover any other card in your Tunnel with this Queen of Hearts card. The card underneath is not counted when looking for failure.
Then, decide if you want to push your luck or not. If you decide to stop, take all the cards in your Tunnel and place them in your Notebook. It may help you to organize them by type. If you decide to push your luck, you can either place a key next to a closed deck and explore OR you can go back to an already opened deck. Whenever your turn ends, if you do not have 3 cards in your Notebook, shuffle the discard pile and draw up to 3.
In a 4p game, the game end when 2 decks are drawn empty. When the first deck empties, it simply isn’t counted, and the next deck in that direction becomes adjacent. Scoring is done in 3 steps
Check for sets of each of the five character cards – 15 points for each complete set. Discard these cards
Now for each character, score 1/2/3/4… for the 1st/2nd/3rd/4th… card you have of that character. Do this for all 5 characters.
Finally score 5VP for each Spirit Bundle card.
The player with the most points wins.
This game has a different take on the press-your-luck genre. Here, you want to try to collect sets of cards as they pay off the best. However, there didn’t seem to be much tension in our first games because, as it turns out, every card collected ends up scoring, so most of us just played to collect as many cards as we safely could. This is definitely a risk management game, but the risk to be assessed is essentially the same every turn. I suppose you could say it’s a little different in later rounds depending on which stacks have which faceup cards on them. If you can see a card that you want, you can certainly plan ahead and open up a stack next to a card you want to ensure that you draw it.
The special abilities of the different characters comes in handy – as they let you at least generate a bit of a strategy in how you want to try to acquire your cards…. though I am not a fan of the targeted Mad Hatter ability – especially because it can be used against the same player multiple times in a round. Though I haven’t seen it happen, it could come to pass that a player would not even really get a turn as he could have already busted after drawing a single card.
Dan Blum: This is a hard game to come to grips with, and it is not aided by somewhat opaque rules. (E.g. when you go back to step 1 it seems that you do not have to unlock a new deck and can just use the deck you originally unlocked, but the description of step 1 starts by saying that you unlock a deck.)
I would definitely play again now that I think I know the rules and have an inkling of how to use the rules to my advantage, but I am not sure yet that there is much to it.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor
Your Vita Mors article contains an inaccuracy – the victory condition you mention is any three deaths over the course of four consecutive rounds, not four deaths in consecutive rounds. If you were playing it the latter way, no wonder you found it hard. That said, the game IS unbalanced – in a six player game, if two players going for the same victory condition are seated next to each other, the one on the left will win 5/6 of the time that that plan succeeds, the one on the right 1/6 of the time. Personally I do not see this as a minus. I hammer this imbalance home when I’m teaching the game to our boardgames group and the play is the richer for it, since players have to try and work out who else is after the same victory condition as them and then try to ensure that victory occurs when they themselves control the plague doctor (or as close as possible to that). This means that players must sometimes vote against their own victory condition. I agree with you that it’s a difficult game to get the hang of but sticking with it starts to reveal a lot of subtleties. I think it could become a slow-burning classic. I hope they’ll issue expansion cards with more characters in due course. I note also that they omitted to name the five impostor characters, only the ten characters with special abilities are named.
Ah, yes — that was a typo – probably in my haste to post this, I missed that! We did play with the 3-out-of-4 rule; so we played correctly! Thank you so much for your own thoughts on the game. I think that you have convinced me that I surely need a few more games to get the hang of it!
You’ve very welcome! I suppose the key point, not very clearly made in my first comment, is that players chasing the same victory condition are not a team, otherwise the rules wouldn’t include the ‘who has the/is going to get the plague doctor next’ tiebreak condition.
According to the rules it’s a team game. The tiebreaker is for determining which team (“party” in the rules) wins if both teams achieve their victory conditions at the same time.
I can see what you mean: ‘party’ is indeed defined as a team in the end of game statement and the tiebreak is described for teams. But in the ‘summary’ ‘they’ is singular (at least to a user of British english), so it reads that just one player from a party is claiming the win. Leaving grammatical hair-splitting aside, if it is considered a team exercise, how (per the assigning the parties section) should one handle the four and five player cases where you have unequal numbers of team members? With five players it is even possible to have three vs one plus the joker. I’d venture that treating all players as individuals leads to the more subtle game?
You really can’t do that kind of grammatical analysis on translated rules in general – the chances that a non-native speaker gets that kind of subtle detail correct are very low. (Plenty of native speakers wouldn’t either.)
In any case the rest of the rules in this section make absolutely zero sense if it’s not played in teams – under your interpretation the game is won by an individual unless there’s a tie, in which case it’s won by a team? Pretty sure that is not the intention.
No that’s not my interpretation at all. I’m sorry my english hasn’t been good enough to make my ideas and comments clear. I’d better call a halt to the discussion.