The Lords of Rock: Description and Review

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The Lords of Rock, by Dave Killingsworth of SolarFlare Games, mixes the unlikely thematic duo of mythology and a cosmic battle of the bands.  In this game, 2-4 players will take control of a mythological Pantheon of gods and attempt to out rock the others for control of the universe!

 

The review copy that I received is a late stage prototype that appears to have much of the final art and fairly complete rules.  Some rules may change before the end of the upcoming Kickstarter, but this review is based on this version alone.

 

Game Overview

 

In Lords of Rock, players will select a mythological pantheon (Greek, Aztec, Norse, or Egyptian) from which to create their band.  Each pantheon has two band leaders, one male and one female.  A player must select one of these no matter what.  After selecting a leader, players select the rest of their band from the available gods as they wish, but must have exactly four band members with each having a different primary skill: Vocals, bass guitar, lead guitar, and drums.  When selecting the make-up of their band, players will also want to consider the secondary skills of their performers as these can come into play depending on where the gigs are played.

Venues

Prior to choosing the gods in their band,  all players will be given four random venues, two of which they will use during the course of the game.  Each venue has a size, a list of the skills to be used, a set of reward based on the where players finish, and some even have an additional bonus for the winner.  Players must consider the venues they have in hand when deciding which gods to choose for their band.

 

Gods

As mentioned earlier, each player will have a band made up of four gods.  Each god has a primary skill and a secondary skill that may be used if they are applying the other during a gig.

 

Set Lists

Each player will take 7 set list cards at the start of the game.  These will be played during shows at the various venues during the game.  They generally consist of positive modifiers that players play face down in their own area, negatives that are played face up on other players, and roadies that can help to deal with negatives a player has been targeted with by another player.  The use of these modifying cards is to help players raise their strength or lower that of their opponents as the total will determine the winners at each venue.

 

Game’s End

After all players have selected and resolved their second venue, the player with the most souls is the winner.  In the event of a tie, the players involved in the tie have one last battle of the bands at a random venue with the victor being the winner of the game.

My Review

 

The Lords of Rock is a light and fun game that perfectly integrates its unique thematic combination of mythology and rock music!  The art of the mythological figures as “Rock Gods” is perfect and really adds to the flavor of the game. While The Lords of Rock is short on strategy it is long on fun.  Clearly, it is designed as a filler game, but there is still room for some clever decisions and sneaky moves.  Although many players dislike “take that” mechanics, and The Lords of Rock certainly has that element, the game is short enough and humorous enough that it adds rather subtracting from the game.

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I have very little in the way of negatives to say about The Lords of Rock. Obviously, it is lighter than my normal tastes in games, but it is exactly what it is trying to be.  If you are looking for hardcore strategy look elsewhere, but if you are in the market for a humorous game this will not even be a negative.  It can also be a little heavy on the mathematic computations, as each battle of the bands is essentially a sum of modifiers and skill totals.  I do not generally have an issue with this, but people often do, and thus it is worth mentioning in a review for potential buyers/backers.  That being said, these are minor details and The Lords of Rock will be a big hit for you and your group if you are its target audience.

 

Overall, my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed The Lords of Rock.  It is very much in the vein of other products from SolarFlare Games that I have played, having a tweaked sense of humor, simple rules, and quick play time, but is their best to date in my opinion!  If already a fan of their games you will not be disappointed, making this a must back/buy.  If you are not familiar with their work, but like social games that are funny and easy to play chances are that you will have a good time with The Lords of Rock as well!  The Lords of Rock hits a perfect note for the type of game that it is trying to be, and that is all any game can try to do!

 

 

Let it be known to all readers and government officials alike, that Life in Games received a free copy of this game for the purpose of providing an objective review.  No further compensation of any sort changed hands between myself and the publisher.

 

 

Gen Con Is Coming: A Wife in Games Guest Post

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This article was originally posted at storyofabetterme.wordpress.com/

 

As I look through the memories of Facebook this morning, I realize that this day in 2015, we were at GenCon. Dubbed the “best four days in gaming”, it is truly a nerd girl’s paradise! There are plenty of costumes to admire (and yes, there is Wonder Woman shirt for every day of the con, buuutttt, this year I have my tiara to wear with them – HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!), fantastic fantasy and nerd art, but my pull is the endless rooms and infinite piles of games…  it is a great place to let my geek flag fly!

Although I joke about being a nerd, or a geek, or gamer girl, I really do pride myself on my intelligence, and as you know, part of the campaign of #becomingabetterme does have to do with the full me, not just the physical… and gaming is a fantastic way to exercise your mind. I do not consider myself a strategic game as much as I do a tactical gamer, but by playing different styles of games, with a laundry list of different mechanics, I am getting better. That is not to say I am as good as the group of friends that we game with, but I can hold my own against them in several of the games we do play.

Just like with exercising your body you have to make sure that your brain cells are fully charged to keep the synapses firing… FOOD. Food in important. I did mention this was a convention, so by definition, it will be at a convention center, which is not the best place for food. Dried out burgers, greasy pizza, and “what is that really” chicken sandwiches, not exactly what one would consider healthy.

Knowing this is what we are looking at, I had a nice conversation with my hubs about how this was not going to work for me, we decided to make a trip to Fresh Thyme and get some healthy snacks to keep us fueled and alert. I am sooo ready! SO. READY.

I know this isn’t really like my traditional posts, but as this event gets closer for me, the more excited I get, and I am really just using this post as a reminder that I can still remain on my journey and enjoy all the nerdiness that life has to offer.

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As I look through the memories of Facebook this morning, I realize that this day in 2015, we were at GenCon. Dubbed the “best four days in gaming”, it is truly a nerd girl’s paradise! There are plenty of costumes to admire (and yes, there is Wonder Woman shirt for every day of the con, buuutttt, this year I have my tiara to wear with them – HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!), fantastic fantasy and nerd art, but my pull is the endless rooms and infinite piles of games…  it is a great place to let my geek flag fly!

Although I joke about being a nerd, or a geek, or gamer girl, I really do pride myself on my intelligence, and as you know, part of the campaign of #becomingabetterme does have to do with the full me, not just the physical… and gaming is a fantastic way to exercise your mind. I do not consider myself a strategic game as much as I do a tactical gamer, but by playing different styles of games, with a laundry list of different mechanics, I am getting better. That is not to say I am as good as the group of friends that we game with, but I can hold my own against them in several of the games we do play.

Just like with exercising your body you have to make sure that your brain cells are fully charged to keep the synapses firing… FOOD. Food in important. I did mention this was a convention, so by definition, it will be at a convention center, which is not the best place for food. Dried out burgers, greasy pizza, and “what is that really” chicken sandwiches, not exactly what one would consider healthy.

Knowing this is what we are looking at, I had a nice conversation with my hubs about how this was not going to work for me, we decided to make a trip to Fresh Thyme and get some healthy snacks to keep us fueled and alert. I am sooo ready! SO. READY.

I know this isn’t really like my traditional posts, but as this event gets closer for me, the more excited I get, and I am really just using this post as a reminder that I can still remain on my journey and enjoy all the nerdiness that life has to offer.

As I look through the memories of Facebook this morning, I realize that this day in 2015, we were at GenCon. Dubbed the “best four days in gaming”, it is truly a nerd girl’s paradise! There are plenty of costumes to admire (and yes, there is Wonder Woman shirt for every day of the con, buuutttt, this year I have my tiara to wear with them – HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!), fantastic fantasy and nerd art, but my pull is the endless rooms and infinite piles of games…  it is a great place to let my geek flag fly!

Although I joke about being a nerd, or a geek, or gamer girl, I really do pride myself on my intelligence, and as you know, part of the campaign of #becomingabetterme does have to do with the full me, not just the physical… and gaming is a fantastic way to exercise your mind. I do not consider myself a strategic game as much as I do a tactical gamer, but by playing different styles of games, with a laundry list of different mechanics, I am getting better. That is not to say I am as good as the group of friends that we game with, but I can hold my own against them in several of the games we do play.

Just like with exercising your body you have to make sure that your brain cells are fully charged to keep the synapses firing… FOOD. Food in important. I did mention this was a convention, so by definition, it will be at a convention center, which is not the best place for food. Dried out burgers, greasy pizza, and “what is that really” chicken sandwiches, not exactly what one would consider healthy.

Knowing this is what we are looking at, I had a nice conversation with my hubs about how this was not going to work for me, we decided to make a trip to Fresh Thyme and get some healthy snacks to keep us fueled and alert. I am sooo ready! SO. READY.

I know this isn’t really like my traditional posts, but as this event gets closer for me, the more excited I get, and I am really just using this post as a reminder that I can still remain on my journey and enjoy all the nerdiness that life has to offer.

 

 

Consider visiting Heather’s blog, Story of a Better Me, for tons of great content!

Whelps to Wyrms: Description and Review

Whelps to Wyrms, designed by Rick Perez, is the latest offering from Lamp Light Games and is a game for 2-5 players. The players take on the role of dragons striving to acquire the greatest hoard of gold in the realm.  Everyone begins the game controlling a relatively weak dragon whelp, but as they gain experience from doing what dragons do best: eating livestock (and people), destroying structures, and exploring unknown lands, they will grow in strength and power possibly even reaching the status of Wyrm!  With careful planning, strategic use of your unique dragon powers, and a little luck you can emerge as the richest and most feared dragon in all the realm!

 

The copy that I received was a late stage prototype with a few rough edges, having neither the final rules nor components. As such the final product may well differ to some degree from what I describe in this article.  However, based on my two previous experiences with Lamp Light Games I am quite confident these concerns will be more than addressed by the final product.

 

Game Overview

 

The player sheet for the mighty Red Dragon!

The player sheet for the mighty Red Dragon!

 

Players begin the game by taking the game sheet for one of the five dragons:  Red, Blue, Black, Green, or White.  At the start of the game they are a lowly whelp  with all dragons beginning in the center hex of the board, the Nest.  The nest is then surrounded by a number of hex tiles equal to the player count, plus one.  These tiles are made up of four terrain types: Plains, Mountains, Forests, and Lakes.  The first three have their own improvement decks and one from the appropriate deck is place on each of these.  Lakes may not be improved and require extra movement to fly across.  Next, shuffle the objective cards and place a number equal to the player count face up in a display.  Now, take the top nine cards objective cards and place them face down in an objective draw pile.  Lastly, randomly determine a first player and give them the starting player marker.

 

The player sheet for the chilling White Dragon!

The player sheet for the chilling White Dragon!

 

Each round of the game is made up of a number of phases:

Ready Phase: The starting player token is passed to the right, the top card of the objective deck is revealed, and camps/farms receive their livestock/gold.

Action Phase: Players now take their turns beginning with the starting player and progressing in clockwise order.  A player may move a dragon a number of spaces up to its speed and perform a number of actions based on its current size.  Actions may be used to do the following:

  • Attack-The dragon may make a combat roll against a lair, slayer, or another dragon.
  • Eat-The dragon may consume a creature on its current hex which awards experience points.
  • Search-If on a hex that does not currently have an improvement, the player draws the top card from the appropriate deck and places it on the hex, gaining one experience.
  • Explore-The dragon reveals a new hex and places it on an unoccupied edge of its current tile, gaining one experience.
  • Raze-The dragon may spend both actions to remove an improvement from its current space rewarding the dragon with gold and freeing up the space to be searched again.
  • Skill-The dragon may utilize one of its powers that require an activation that has been purchased with experience points.
  • Pass-Players may end their turn while still in possession of unspent actions, to gain one experience for each such action.

At any point during a player’s turn, as a free action, experience points may be used to purchase powers on the dragon’s “ability tree” and/or increase its size.  If this results in the dragon gaining additional action cubes, they may be spent on this turn.  It is important to note that, players may only purchase powers of a lower or equal level to the current size of their dragon and only those which the player has all of the earlier versions.  Players may also take any objective cards in the display whose conditions they have met.

Slayer Phase:  In each round after the first, the current holder of the starting player token draws the top card of the Slayer deck and places it in play.  In addition, all slayers are moved during this phase, either towards dragons to harm them or away in an effort to deny points for defeating them.  After all slayers have been resolved, the round is over and play returns to the Ready Phase.

During the game, combat may occur with slayer or other dragons.  In the event that a dragon takes a wound from combat they roll a six sided die and place a marker on the correspondingly numbered action space on their player board.  That action may not be taken until the dragon heals.  If there was already a token on that action an additional token is placed on top making it even more difficult to regain that action.

 

Play continues until there is not an objective card to reveal during the  Ready Phase.  At this time, players receive gold from their completed objectives, any they may earn from the end game objectives, and combine it the gold they have on hand.  The player with largest amount of gold is the winner!

 

The modular board spreading out from the nest.

The modular board spreading out from the nest.

 

My Review

Whelps to Wyrms is an interesting game in that it places players in a dragon’s scales for a change, and they discover that their goals are much the same as the adventurers players are accustomed to playing…loot and experience!  Whelps to Wyrms is fairly easy game to grasp with its straightforward mechanics and relatively basic goals, but the large number of possible outcomes in tiles and improvements creates an array of challenging tactical decisions.  Overall, my fellow players and I thoroughly enjoyed the game, both for its theme and mechanics.

From a mechanical standpoint, I always enjoy a nice modular board, and especially one that grows the world during the course of the game.  This, along with the improvement tiles, really works in tandem with the exploration/adventure elements of the theme in a wonderful way.  I also liked the manner in which the starting player token is moved around the table, by making the previously last player the new starting player with play then continuing in clockwise manner.  This maybe less important with fewer players, but with five it met with approval from everyone.  The wound system was also a fairly original take on such a thing, and although random, I rather enjoyed the chance to gamble on what might get damage if I wanted to raze one of the auto-wounding improvements.  It allowed me to decide how much risk I wished to face and make that decision based on whether or not I thought the reward was worth it or not.  This is the correct use of randomness!

While the mechanics are solid, it is in its theme where Whelps to Wyrms really shines.  The simple, yet genius idea of having players start out with a small dragon piece and replace it with larger ones as it grows is great!  I know, in the grand scheme of things this seems like nothing, but it helps players feel a true sense of progress as they advance and it really adds to the immersive nature of this game.  Speaking of immersion, the skill tree allows players to customize their already unique dragon both for flavor and strategic reasons.  The mixture growing your dragon’s size and skills really gives the game a great feel.  Even if a player loses, they can still have fun by realizing how far their dragon has come!

 

From little whelp to mighty wyrm!

From little whelp to mighty wyrm!

 

There was very little that I disliked about Whelps to Wyrms, and those things that I did mostly fall under the umbrella of personal taste.  That being said, there were a few issues that I feel are worth mentioning.

Perhaps it was due to playing with the full five players, but the objective cards seemed to dry up very quickly.  I am not sure what could be done about this, as they are also used for a round timer.  It just seemed like the initial display was quickly gobbled up and then they trickled in one at a time from then on.

I also could not help but feel that the dragons, while unique, pretty much have a baked in strategy or two for each.  This is fine, and they do offer a different play experience, but it makes the game far more tactical than strategic.  Your strategy will mostly be dictated by your dragon, but there will plenty of short term decisions to keep things very interesting.

In Conclusion

I really enjoyed Whelps to Wyrms as did those with whom I played.  Everyone agreed that it was fun to play as the dragons rampaging throughout the realm!  Even those who lost commented how they enjoyed the feeling of progress derived from growing their dragon and advancing its powers.  As a light to medium weight game with room for some strategy, tons of tactical decisions, that provides feelings of adventure, and offers tremendous re-playability due to the modular nature of its board, Whelps to Wyrms is a great success!  If those are features that appeal to you or your gaming group, I recommend adding it to your hoard!

 

 

 

 

Let it be known to all readers and government officials alike, that Life in Games received a free copy of this game for the purpose of providing an objective review.  No further compensation of any sort changed hands between myself and the publisher.

 

Whelps to Wyrms is live on Kickstarter now!

 

How an Idea Becomes Reality

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During the most recent update the Strife: Shadows and Steam Kickstarter campaign, Jake from Vision 3 Games showed the process an idea goes through on its way to becoming a fully realized card.  Even as the game’s designer, I was not fully aware of how this worked and thought it was fascinating!  I decided this is just the sort of inside baseball game junkies love, and chose to share it here as a blog post.  Obviously, if you like what you see, checkout our Kickstarter which is running for about another week!  Either way, thanks for reading!

 

Curious as to how we develop our amazing artwork? Well it really relies on the magic of our artists, but we thought we’d show you with the process we just went though with Claudio for our first Event card: A Race for Resources.

The first thing that happens (after Chris makes sure the rules are buttoned up of course!) is that we’ll send a brief description over to the artist, along with the rule(s) and a working title. For these event cards, we definitely let the artists take the reigns and creatively interpret them. For this card, we sent the following,:

Race for Resources – Combat always begins at the location with the highest base vp value. If there are multiple locations tied for the highest base vp value, combat begins on the one located furthest from the location deck.
Concept: possibly an airship race between two airships? Or a locomotive vs an airship?

So what happens next? Claudio sends us three quick sketches. These are just to show form and function, as well as establish a color palette for the scene. Here’s what he sent:

Initial concept sketches from Claudio.
Initial concept sketches from Claudio.

From there, we bounce it around a bit internally, and make a call on what direction we like best, along with any comments or revisions we might think necessary. We’ll send feedback to the artist, who’ll take it back for another slightly-more-polished pass.

For this card, we gravitated to the bottom one after a little debate, but felt that we didn’t want it to look like one of the airships was capsizing. We also noted that we wanted to convey speed, not just a leisurely jaunt. So how’d Claudio take that feedback and run with it?

Claudio's second draft of the chosen concept.
Claudio’s second draft of the chosen concept.

You can clearly see he’s emphasized speed more, added details and played with the coloring. That horizon is looking stellar in the background! From here, we’ll give any more feedback as necessary. On this particular piece of art, it wasn’t. “Move forward!” was the cry. So how’d the final illustration end up? Check it out:

Final artwork from Claudio.
Final artwork from Claudio.

Stunning, isn’t it! We’re constantly amazed by Claudio’s efforts. Simply outstanding. But we’re not done yet! There’s still one more crucial step – graphic design and layout.

We’ll take this final artwork and lay it into our Event Card template, and make any adjustments we need to on the overall color balance or contrast on the artwork, while accounting for the cropping we need to fit all the rules text in there.

Final "A Race for Resource" card layout.
Final “A Race for Resource” card layout.

And there you have it. A card ready for the printer! The entire process takes roughly about 2-3 days. As you can see, there’s a lot of effort and love poured into each card. Here at V3G we pride ourselves on the quality of our games, and we hope it shows!

 

 

 

Strife: Shadows and Steam-Designer vs Publisher Showdown

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I recently dropped by V3G HQ to battle Jake Leeman,, the publisher of my Strife series of games, in a head to head, take no prisoners, epic grudge match in Strife: Shadows and Steam!  Despite some early technical difficulties, the video below shows nearly the entire game. For those of your who have never heard of the Strife series, this will be a quick introduction.  For those of you who have, it will a look into how the new set works and how a full match plays out.  Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

 

 

Remember, Strife: Shadows and Steam is currently up on Kickstarter.  If you are interested in learning more click on the widget below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jan 27

Nightmare Forest: Dead Run: Description and Review

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Nightmare Forest:  Dead Run, by Dave Killingsworth of SolarFlare Games, is a game in which players are campers racing to escape a forest that has suddenly become overrun by undead animals hungry for their brains. Fight crazy zombie animals, cut through the underbrush, sabotage your former friends, gather weapons, and when all else fails…rely on the luck of the dice!  Only one, or none, will survive in this mad cap scramble to be the first out of the Nightmare Forest…will it be you?

Note*  The version that I played and that is reviewed here was a late stage prototype and as such it was not judged on the artwork, components, or graphic presentation as all of these are subject to change.

Game Overview

The players are racing to be the first to make it from the campground (starting area) out of the forest (past level four).  The first to do so is the winner.  It is also possible that no one will make it out of the forest alive, and in this case there is no winner.

 

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The play area is set up with one column of forest cards per player.  Each column has two rows of level one cards, level two cards, level three cards, and one row of level four cards.  These cards are placed face down and represent the path that each player is on during the game.  While there are different types of cards amongst these, they are primarily made up of undead animals that players must defeat to advance toward the exit of the forest.  As the players progress from level to level the zombies increase in difficulty to defeat with the final row being the most challenging by far!

Gear for killing zombie animals!

Gear for killing zombie animals!

In addition to encountering zombies, players will also likely acquire gear during their journey to the exit of the forest.  The items tend to be fairly standard zombie fighting paraphilia (Shotguns, chain saws, machetes, etc…), with a few nice comedic exceptions, like the hot dog skewer!  As a life-long camper, this one in particular, warms my heart!  Players may either make use of this gear to hasten their escape or throw it at players ahead of them in order to delay those who are further along.

The primary mechanics are dice pool management and press your luck.  How a player chooses to allocate their dice each turn will increase or decrease their odds of success for whatever actions they choose to undertake.  How thin a player chooses to spread himself across various options is a large part of the press your luck element.

The first player to defeat their level 4 zombie escapes to the road and wins the game.  All other players are left to be transformed into another mindless flesh-eating undead monster.

My Review

Nightmare Forest: Dead Run is a relatively light, highly accessible game that is valuable as a filler or fun for families, particularly those introducing kids to the horror genre. It is in the role where the game works best and is highly successful.  Although it is far lighter than most games I would play now days, I would have absolutely loved this game as a kid.  Playing with my parents on a camping trip, would have been a blast with just the right amount of creepiness thrown in to add to the fun.  My wife, also really enjoyed playing it and although she is a seasoned gamer, this could bode well for those who are always seeking to convert their significant other to our hobby.  If they already have a toe in the geeky world of horror or a dark sense of humor Nightmare Forest could be just the gateway they have been looking for.

Given the game’s nature, dice and random set up of fixed paths, there is certainly a great deal chance involved in the outcome.  However, a player does have a number of options at their disposal to try to mitigate chance’s role.  Under normal circumstances, I am strongly opposed to a large luck factor in a game, but I find press your luck mechanics to be a slightly different animal.  They are in effect gambling, and like in most gambling games one can simply make the best decision based on the odds, game state, the facts at hand, and hope for the best.  If it does not work out, the game is short enough that it will not ruin one’s evening.

Another plus, is the dark sense of humor that pervades every part of Nightmare Forrest.  All of the cards contain flavor text that ranges from the macabre to the downright hilarious.  The numerous puns and pop language references really add to the mood of the game and keep everyone laughing as the merciless horde of zombie animals closes in.

I was particularly fond of the rulebook's motif!

I was particularly fond of the rulebook’s motif!

 

In Conclusion

Nightmare Forest: Dead Run provides a darkly humorous gaming experience for those new to the hobby or those looking for an easy going game to throw some dice and share a laugh.  If you are a hardcore gamer, who abhors chance and views hardnosed competition as the primary purpose of games, this one is probably not for you.  However, if you prefer games that are lighthearted escapes to be shared with friends and family, then you will likely enjoy Nightmare Forest: Dead Run very much!

 

 


Jan 24

Design Diary: Strife Shadows and Steam

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As readers of this blog know, I fulfilled my lifelong dream of becoming a published game designer in late 2014 when Strife: Legacy of the Eternals successfully funded on Kickstarter.  That story was told in two posts which can be read by following these links: Part 1 and Part 2.

This is the continuation of that story, as Strife: Shadows and Steam will be launching on Kickstarter 1/26/16.  Strife: SaS  is both an expansion and a sequel to Strife LotE, as it uses the same core mechanics and is fully integrable, while also being a standalone game in its own right.  Here is how it came into being.

Long before Strife: LotE existed it was called Legacy Wars.  After all, an aspiring designer must name his creation something, right?  While the game was taking shape I began to envision multiple sets of champions that could be used stand alone or for deckbuilding.  I do come from a heavy Magic the Gathering background, so it would be natural for me to think in this fashion.  Besides, Magic without mana-screw was one of my main inspirations!

Being the fantasy geek that I am, I stuck to that genre as I created additional champions, because it is what I know best.  As I worked on playtesting the main set of champions, I was always coming up with new abilities and thus potentially new champions for future sets and made sure to write down all of my ideas.  It was about this time that I met Jake from V3G and things began to change!

When Jake and I started to seriously discuss publishing, I told him that I had other abilities and champions in the works and he was interested.  Our first goal would be to make the base game as tight as possible and try to publish via Kickstarter.  If successful we would consider what to do with the other champions.  Jake, not being from a Magic the Gathering background thought the idea of sequels as opposed to traditional expansions would be a unique way to go.  This caused me to suggest having the game take place in a persistent world.  After all, the players were supposed to represent immortal beings, so it made sense that time would pass, the world would change, but the shadow war of the Eternals would continue.  We agreed that if we were lucky enough to ever make a second set, that would be the basic path.  Given the traditional fantasy theme of the first set, we felt that a fantasy world’s next logical step would be a form of steampunk technology.

Illusionist from Shadows and Steam with the Necromancer from Legacy of the Eternals.

Illusionist from Shadows and Steam with the Necromancer from Legacy of the Eternals.

 

As the finishing touches were being done to Strife: Legacy of the Eternals, I was already hard at work with my trusty lead playtester Nick Garwood, of Garwood’s Peak fame, working on Strife Shadows and Steam.  Despite having several champions waiting in the wings, I did not want to just slap a steampunk theme on them and pass it off as the plan all along.  I wanted the set to play differently and for the champions to have abilities representative of the theme.  This lead to many of the existing champions being completely redesigned or cannibalized for some abilities while others were discarded.

I wanted to add more cards using the “set aside” mechanic because it gave the feeling of powering these abilities much the way the new technology would have to be.  This idea of having powerful abilities, but at a cost was explored in the first set with the Wizard and seemed perfectly in line with how technology works.  The champions of Aerim have gained access to this new type of power, but at what cost?

I also knew I wanted to introduce tokens into the game.  The Clockwork Minion tokens and the Steam Traps help to capture the theme by being products of the technology.  The destruction tokens help to demonstrate the dangerous potential of these new developments.  However, from a mechanical standpoint, the goal was to give players an ability to reach even further into the future with their planning by seeding other face-up locations with tokens and provide them with both strategic and tactical opportunities.  If you use the Rifle Mage’s Legacy ability to place a Steam Trap on the location closest to the draw pile, it is almost like having two legacy abilities by the time it goes off.  You have your current legacy champion’s ability plus a trap.  Like all of the token related abilities, it allowed me to make even greater use of the location display to offer players more interesting decisions.

The Alchemist's home location in Shadows and Steam and the Wizard's home location in Legacy of the Eternals.

The Alchemist’s home location in Shadows and Steam and the Wizard’s home location in Legacy of the Eternals.

We turned to local writer, game designer, and author of Aerim’s lore Ryan Schoon, for advice on how to really achieve that steampunk feel.  Given that he is the head writer for the roleplaying game, Edara: A Steampunk Renaissance, we felt like he could really aid us with the theme.  He was very helpful fleshing out the steampunk element and for that I am grateful!

After tons of testing, the set had really come together in its own right. However, as the plan was for it to be playable against Strife: LotE or even for players to be able to combine cards from both sets into one deck, the real challenge was cross-set balance and making sure all possible interactions functioned properly.  Both of these factors led to yet another iteration of champion abilities as it was the most difficult phase of development.  This is largely because of the near infinite potential interactions in cross-set play.  We were essentially taking a system that was strictly symmetrical and allowing for asymmetrical play, while attempting to maintain balance and unique play styles.

It was during this phase that I started getting to see some of the illustrations from our immensely talented artist, Claudio Pilia!  Jonathan Powell blew our minds with his art for Strife: LotE and I was anxious to see what Claudio could do.  It was a conscious decision to go with a cleaner style this time as the imagery was from a more modern era.  Fictional yes, but more modern in its fictional style.  When I saw the first completed pieces, my jaw simply dropped at the quality of work!  Art holds a special place in my heart, because I have absolutely no talent of any sort in that area.  It may as well be some form a witchcraft as far as I am concerned.  I am always nervous until I see the pictures, because I can make the game work but I am completely powerless to make it beautiful.  So, when the art is as wonderful as Claudio’s, I not only experience awe but massive relief at the same time!

Finally…nearly all of the work is complete and we are preparing to launch the Kickstarter campaign for Strife: Shadows and Steam on 1/26/16!  I have done my part, Claudio his, the entire V3G team theirs and there is nothing left to do but brace for a crazy month.  Wish us luck!

*Special thanks to my wife Heather for supporting me in these crazy adventures.  I could not do it without you baby!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jan 01

VENOM Assault: Description and Review

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VENOM Assault, from Spyglass Games, is a competitive co-op deckbuilding game for 2-5 in which players rally the forces of Freedom Squadron to defeat the evil schemes of the terrorist organization VENOM.  Players work together, as they strengthen their decks and attack VENOM’s strongholds, but in the end, if VENOM is defeated there is an individual winner as well. Do you and your friends have what it take to foil the plots of VENOM?  Gear up soldier, the world needs you to find out!

*Note:  I was provided with a review copy in the relatively late stages of design. However, much of the art was not complete and it will not be judged on the graphic presentation in a negative way.  It is also possible that rules or cards may change prior to the final version, so keep that in mind.

Game Overview

At the start of the game, players select the mission that the want to play and follow its set-up requirements.  This generally involves a number of reward cards, colorful description, how many VENOM Leaders to use, and the various victory or defeat conditions for that particular scenario.  Once the board has been set, players take their starting decks of Commandos and Recruits (Basic Freedom Squadron soldiers), determine starting player, and begin the game.

The Starting player has one additional phase at the beginning of his turn where an event card is drawn.  As the name implies, events occur as a result of these cards that affect the game state including the chance to reveal a VENOM Strikes card.  These are the cards that show VENOM making progress towards achieving their nefarious ends.  If enough of these are revealed before the players can meet the victory conditions and any last chance opportunities run out, the players are defeated.  However, if the players accomplish their goal prior to this outcome the world continues to be safe for baseball, Mom, and apple pie!

Each player draws the top five cards of their deck to form a hand. In the event that a player lacks sufficient cards to complete a draw at anytime, that player simply shuffles his discard pile and takes the needed cards from the refreshed draw pile.

Next, a player enters the Recruitment Phase, in which the cards in hand are played one at a time in any order that the active player wishes and hopefully to his greatest advantage. Any abilities specific to this phase may be activated, but the primary purpose of this phase is to generate recruitment points that may be spent to acquire new soldiers, vehicles and buildings to place in ones deck.

The Tactical Phase is where a players bring the fight to one of VENOM’s many doorsteps.  The player may choose to attack a VENOM leader at one of the well themed bases around the globe.  Each VENOM leader has a Defense Rating, a Health Rating, and a Support Rating that will give the player a rough idea of what kind of trouble they might expect to have with a given leader.  Once a target is determined the Defense Meter is set, the Health meter is set and any abilities that the target leader has appropriate to the tactical phase are activated.  Now, the player chooses a combat leader, a soldier who may not have used an ability during the recruitment phase, and the decide which other cards to use as support for the attack.  This will tell the player how many combat dice they will have available to use while battling the VENOM leader.  An unsuccessful attack is simply wasted effort that allows VENOM to move closer to victory as well as pushing the player further behind in the individual contest.  A successful player receives the reward card, takes the leader card for individual VP, and resets the board with another leader and reward at that base if any are available.  This continues until VENOM has no leaders to replace, the primary base is cleared, the mission goal is achieved, or all of the above depending on the scenario being played.

After combat has been resolved and all of the abilities resolved, comes the Retirement Phase the Freedom Squadron player may choose one card in his play area to remove from the game prior to discarding and redrawing.

If the players fail to stop VENOM in time, they are defeated as a team with no winner.  If the players thwart VENOM in time they are all winners, but the player with the highest individual victory point total from rewards and leaders defeated is the individual victor.

My Review

To begin with, I will give my disclaimer regarding co-op games in general…The only way to win a co-op is not to play.  You might wonder, then why would I agree to review a game from a class that I am strongly inclined to dislike?  Simply put, I can set aside personal preferences and judge a game for what it is and not what I wish it would be.  In addition, I do believe that there are exceptions to every rule and the only way to find out is by not prejudging.  All of that being said, I enjoyed VENOM Assault a great deal!  Here is why…

Clearly a strong G.I. Joe motif!

Clearly a strong G.I. Joe motif!

First and foremost, I loved G.I. Joe as a child growing up in the 80’s and while not an officially licensed product, VENOM Assault perfectly captures the feeling of the cartoons!  I had armies of action figures and vehicles I used to wage countless battles and reenact scenes from the tv show constantly.  If this was your experience as a child I strongly recommend giving VENOM Assault a try!  While I am primarily a hardcore strategy gamer that eschews dice when possible and loathes co-ops, I must say that VENOM Assault succeeds at being thematically representative of the G.I. Joe experience. The art, that is finished, on the cards and board look as though they were pulled right out of an 80’s cartoon or comic book.  Clearly this game was designed by people with a great love for the “source” material as it shows at every level of the presentation.

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Now, with theme covered, I have some thoughts on the mechanics.  In general, there is not a ton of new stuff here mechanically as the game plays very similar to many co-ops and is quite reminiscent of Marvel: Legendary with dice added.  The deckbuilding mechanics are pretty standard with one particularly innovative mechanic during the Retirement Phase.  The ability to remove on card per turn automatically is a stroke of genius!  I have not played every deck builder and cannot say for certain that this is the absolute first game to use this mechanic, but either way it should be used in all future deckbuilding games.  Being able to weed out those crappy starting cards as a play decision and shape one’s deck going forward is great!

I found the layout and symbols on the rulebook, mission cards, game cards and board to be intuitive and easy to grasp.  My wife and I learned the game from scratch in 15 minutes which is impressive even considering our veteran gamer status.  Clearly Spyglass Games did a fine job of organizing the material in a manner that makes the game accessible and enjoyable very quickly.  Always a plus!

Evil bases galore!

Evil bases galore!

As I mentioned earlier, VENOM Assault has a great deal in common with Marvel: Legendary, but it does differ in some significant ways.  One of the biggest knocks against Legendary is that it takes forever to set-up and put away based on which heroes one is using and the scenario being played.  VENOM Assault does a much better job at this by using the same hero and VENOM support decks each game while it is smaller card sets that are modified for specific missions to provide variability.  While it may lose to Legendary a bit on the massively different deck buiding opportunities available it makes up for it with the different missions and the ability to start a game much more quickly.  A worthwhile tradeoff in my opinion.

I did have a few issues and concerns that need to be addressed. The dice do frustrate me a bit, as they certainly add a degree of luck that can ruin the best laid plans, but given that this is a co-op and not a truly competitive strategy game it is less of a problem.  The actual event deck that drives the plot felt a little clunky compared to some similar games I have played, but it was certainly serviceable. In truth, I did not play all of the missions, and it is possible that on some of the more difficult ones the pace accelerates making for a more consistent progression of the storyline.  Honestly, my biggest complaint, by my reading of the rules, is the seemingly huge advantage that the first play has in the competitive side of the game.  Starting player never changes and it is very possible that the first player will have more turns than the other player or players.  I went first in all of our games and I won all of them with the game ending on my turn.  As far as I can tell, the game ends immediately upon stopping VENOM and I ended the game every time.  However, the game is co-op first and competitive second, so this will likely bother players to a greater or lesser degree based on their own preference.

In Conclusion

If you are a G.I. Joe fan who enjoys gaming, VENOM Assault is well worth taking the time to checkout.  If you are already inclined towards co-op games or semi co-op deck builders VENOM Assault is very likely a game you will enjoy.  If all of the above are applicable to your tastes, I absolutely recommend looking into their Kickstarter that launches January 5th 2016!  VENOM Assault provides a thematically engrossing experience in a familiar mechanical package with a taste of nostalgia thrown in for good measure.  I had my doubts that I would enjoy it given my opinion of most co-op games, but now I know…and knowing is half the battle!

 

Enjoy this article or find it helpful?  Consider subscribing to Life in Games on the front page to receive emails when a new article is published!  Thanks for reading and sharing!

 

 

 

 

 


Nov 06

Going To A Game Design Meetup

IMG_7148After a rather long hiatus, the Indianapolis Tabletop Game Design Playtest Group will be meeting this Saturday.  These meetups are always fun, and helpful as we have several talented aspiring and published designers.  It is great to try out new games, see what everyone is working on, and get high level feedback on any of my games that may hit the table.

It was at just my second of these meetups where I encountered Jake Leeman, the designer of IncrediBrawl and head of the Vision 3 Games, who published my first game Strife:  Legacy of the Eternals.  So, as one might imagine, these meetups hold a special place in my heart!

Jake will be there tomorrow, and one of our topics of discussion will surely be the upcoming Kickstarter for Strife:  Shadows and Steam.  The picture to the left is of a champion from the new set, called the Plague Doctor.  We are very excited to launch the second set in the Strife Line, and hope to go live in mid January of 2016, following the holidays.

Obviously, I am looking forward to more Strife goodness, but there are also a number of other projects on which I am working.  These meetups taught me the importance of getting one’s games into the public eye, as you never know what might happen even in an early stage of development.  I would love to hear of any games that you have prototypes for or even crazy ideas that maybe rolling around in your head!  To get the ball rolling, here are some of my other current games and the stage of development they are in!

Zark

20151003_160741Zark is a zero luck abstract, with tentative thoughts to theming it about mythological sun gods, for 2-4 players.  It is an area majority game at its core as players earn points for having the most pieces in each area of the board at the start of their turns.  On a player’s turn, they may either move an existing piece or add a new one in any of the four spawn points that are not currently occupied by another player’s piece.  After moving (all pieces move like queens in chess) the active piece “fires” a beam in every direction.  If this would connect to any of the player’s other pieces, all opposing pieces in between are removed from play.  As with most abstracts, there is an advantage to going first.  However, this is mitigated by having players bid in the pregame how many points negative they wish to go in order to be first player.  Given that the game has a fixed point total for victory, there is an upper limit to just how deep in the hole one can go to play first and still overcome it even with perfect play…if such a thing is possible…I am looking at you computers.

So far Zark has been very well received and is at this point submitted to Greater Than Games for consideration.  Wish me luck, because this game doesn’t have any!

Killing Jenkins

20151011_132703Killing Jenkins is darkly humorous (I hope) game about a company called Widget Co, where all of the employees and the manager have despised the owner’s awful, incompetent, mini-fascist, middle management son, Jenkins Jr. for years.  They have been fantasizing about killing him, but suddenly one day, someone finally goes through with it!  This game is not about solving the crime, as everyone is glad he is dead, but rather about dumping some pretty damning Jenkins hating paraphernalia  (Bloody Golf Trophy, Receipts for Shovels, Lime, Tarps, and Jenkins Voodoo Dolls…etc.) that looks awfully bad now that he is dead.

Using a mechanic similar to the classic game of Bullshit, players attempt to empty their hands of potential evidence against themselves by dumping it on other players work stations.  Each player, takes on the role of a work place archetype: IT, Receptionist, Shipping and Receiving, Sales, and more with an ability related to said job.  Over the course of two rounds, players play cards from hand, claiming to play all of one type.  If they are unchallenged the play stands.  If they are challenged and lied, they must pick up cards from where they played and the break room.  If they told the truth, the challenger must pick up cards instead.  At the end of each round, players add up the total points in their hands and half the points on their workstation.  The player with the lowest total after both rounds wins and the player with the highest total is charged with the murder of Jenkins.

So far, the two play test sessions so far, have resulted in laughs and helpful feedback to improve the game.  Both are great!

Pork Nuggets and Pleasantries

20151017_154618Pork Nuggets and Pleasantries is game for 2-4 players who are competing to be the most successful BBQ Rib restaurant owner on the circuit.  They do this by allocating secret sauce points to modify their original recipe to fit the tastes of the local judges as much as possible with very limited resources, presentation, and a special power unique to each restaurant.  Secret sauce is used to adjust traits such as: Tenderness of meat, amount of smoke, tangy or sweet sauce, and light or heavy rub. These changes are made behind a screen as each restaurant takes great pains to keep their preparations secret. The circuit is always the same five traditional regions of BBQ:  KC, St. Louis, Texas, Memphis, and Carolina, but the order is random.  Each region has recipe preferences, so the order is important when setting one’s initial recipe as this is perfect information.  However, a deck of judges that modify the preferred local flavor a little is used to shake things up.  Players are only aware of a handful of judges at future locations and only gain information as they get closer, with more judges being revealed.  The random order of regions and manner in which the judges come out each game create a great deal of re-playability.  The player who has the lowest deviation from the final preferred local taste wins that contest and the blue ribbon.  Each other player receives a lesser ribbon based on their deviation.  The player with the most points after all five stops on the circuit wins the game.

One play test in, and the reception was positive.  However, it was a bare bones version, without the individual powers and I found it to be a little fiddly.  I also felt it is necessary to increase the scales on which the various elements of recipes are judged.  I am hoping to have the next level prototype ready for tomorrow.

Honey Badger Rampage

Honey_badger Honey Badger Rampage is a light card and dice game about being a Honey Badger and not giving a shit.  Players are Honey Badgers, who are trying to not only maintain their reputation as the fiercest creature in the world, but to prove they are the most fearless Honey Badger of all!  This is done by rampaging across the open plain encountering animals, bee hives, scientists, and all manner of other trouble that Honey Badgers are notorious for getting into.  As it is a race to a specific point total, reckless play is encouraged to a degree as is befitting a Honey Badger’s nature.  This sets up the games core idea of pressing one’s luck and balancing caution and risk taking at the same time.

While there is skill in playing the odds and your decisions do matter, this is more of a casual game where the players will get as much of kick out of the misadventures of each other as much as their successes.

Honey Badger Rampage has really been enjoyed everyone who has played it so far, even through some limited blind playtesting!  The audience for this game is primarily the non-hardcore gamer crowd and so far that is exactly who has enjoyed it.  Of course, any game with this many cards requires tons of balancing.  This is both for mechanical reasons as well as shaping the experience for the players in hope of making it as fun as possible.

Those are just a few of the games that I am working on, and all that are in a working prototype stage at this point.  I would be interested in hearing any thoughts you may have about these ideas as you never know what will be the final piece of the puzzle to make a game just right!  Thanks for reading and don’t forget to share your ideas as well!

 

 

 

Nov 05

Blurble: Description and Review

  Blurble is a party game, designed by Grant Bernard, in which players try to quickly identify an image, and shout out a word using the first letter of the of what the image is.  The trick is, that it cannot be a two-letter answer, proper noun, or a word that has already been used this game!  Did I mention you have to be faster than the player with whom you are facing off?  Images, words, and speed can create a wild time at the table with friends and family as everyone’s brains trip over themselves trying to be fast and right!

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Rules Overview

While I would normally give a brief interpretation of the rules and sum up, Blurble can be a little difficult to explain exactly how it works without being there in person.  As such the following section is taken directly from the Blurble page on www.boardgamegeek.com.  This is the official description from the publisher.

Object:

  • To say an English word with the same first letter as the depicted image on the card before your opponent. The player with the most cards at the end of the game is the winner.

 

For example...these items are : a compass, onions, bed, and rainbow.  Acceptable responses in order would be: critter, orphan, beetle, radiation.

For example…these items are : a compass, onions, bed, and rainbow. Acceptable responses in order would be: critter, orphan, beetle, radiation.

Playing the Game:

  1. Choose one player to start as the ‘Blurbler’ (the person who starts the action by flipping a card onto the table). The Blurbler takes a small stack of cards, without looking at the images, and adds more to the stack as necessary.
  2. Play starts between the Blurbler and the player to his or her left.
  3. The Blurbler flips the first card from the stack face-up onto the table. The card should be placed at an equal distance between the two players. Each time a card is flipped, a ‘face-off’ occurs between the Blurbler and the opponent.
  4. The two players involved race to say any English word, that is not a proper noun or a number, that shares the same first letter as the object on the card. For instance, if the card shows a dog, words such as “drain” or “dairy” would be acceptable, whereas “David” or “Denmark” would not. Words used must be at least three letters long.
  5. The first player to finish saying a correct word first is the winner.
  6. The Blurbler continues to move clockwise around the circle until beat.
  7. Once the Blurbler is beat, the deck is passed to the player who won that round, and a new Blurbler is born.
  8. Play always resumes with the player to the left of the new Blurbler.

Scoring:

  1. The player who says a legal word first is the winner of that face-off.
  2. After each face-off, the winning player takes the card and puts it in front of him or her.
  3. If there is uncertainty about who said the word first, the other players not involved will vote on who won. If the round is deemed a tie, neither player is awarded the card, and the two players will face-off again with the next card.
  4. A word may only be said once in a given sitting. Let’s say the octopus card is flipped. One player yells “orange” and the other yells “oblong”. If “orange” was said before “oblong”, then “orange” cannot be used for the duration of the game, but “oblong” is still allowed. If there is uncertainty whether a word has already been said, consult the rest of the table for a group vote. A redo card can be used to resolve any disputes.
  5. If an incorrect word is used, for instance a proper noun, a number, a two-letter word, or a word that has already been used, players may continue to shout words until someone says a correct one. There is no penalty for incorrect words.
  6. A word may not be used if its exact spelling is contained within the depicted image. For instance, “rain” could not be used for “rainbow,” or “rob” for “robot.” Similarly, if a word is pronounced the same, but has a different spelling, it cannot be used. In the example above, “reign” could not be used for “rainbow.” A word with a similar sound is acceptable, so long as it is not spelled out in the depicted image. For instance, “row” could be used for “rope” or “camel” for “camera.”
  7. The player with the most cards at the end of the game is the winner.

Winning the Game:
There are several different options of how to structure the game. In all options, the winning player of each face-off keeps that card. These options allow you to structure how long game play will last.

  1. Decide on how long to play and set a timer. When the timer sounds, players add up their cards to determine the winner.
  2. Play to a predetermined number. Once someone has accumulated the predetermined number of cards, he or she is the winner.
  3. Decide on how many cards will constitute a game. This can be done by simply grabbing a smaller stack from the deck, or counting out an exact number. Play until all the cards are gone. The player who collected the most cards is the winner.

My Review

I have played Blurble a number of times since receiving it from the designer/publisher.  These games were almost exclusively three and four player games, however the wife and I have played a couple of head to head duels.  While Blurble plays a little differently with each of these player counts, due to more or less down time, the common thread through all of the games was that we had a lot of fun playing!  Those who know me, are well aware of my preference for hardcore strategy games that melt your brain and leave no question who won or why.  What many of them do not know is that I also enjoy a good party game from time to time as well.  I grew up playing Balderdash, Outburst, Pictionary, and many more.  The key factor in all of these games, was the way they could criss-cross the way your brain worked and the hilarity that would ensue.  Blurble captures the same feel as all of those I mentioned and provides entertainment to nearly any sized group while being incredibly simple to learn.

Blurble succeeds because it knows what it is and does not stray from its goal.  Blurble wants to be a highly accessible, super simple, and quick to play party game that causes the brains of its players to get tangled up for the enjoyment of all involved, and it does so very well.  One of the humorous aspects of Blurble that I have observed is the tendency for the most competitive player (me) to develop a stutter, shout previously used words, or brain freeze with the answer just out of reach.  This only adds to the comical effect of the games nature.

Another thing that I find interesting, is that Blurble does not really fall into my normal definition of a game, because there are next to no decisions to be made, but it is most certainly a competitive and entertaining activity.  While this will not endear it to hardcore gamers, it is exactly the sort of thing that makes it fun to pull out right around the holidays with family!

While some of the aspects of Blurble, which I have already described will be viewed as positives or negatives depending on the players, the only true issue we ever have had with the game is that some of the pictures are a little open to interpretation. While a minor problem, it can cause some disgruntled players if people disagree on what the picture is, and thus what are eligible words to say.  We dealt with this by letting the player to make a case as to why the thought the picture was what they did, and given that it is a party game and not for blood, then allow it if their story was not too ridiculous.

Conclusion

All in all, Blurble lives up to its claim of being, “the fasted-paced game for quick-witted people”, while putting smiles on the faces of its players.  It delivers as a family game and party game on the exact levels which it is shooting for and that makes it a success!  If you enjoy sharing a light party game with mostly non-gamer friends and family, I would strongly recommend giving Blurble a try!

Let it be known to all readers and government officials alike, that Life in Games received a free copy of this game for the purpose of providing an objective review.  No further compensation of any sort changed hands between myself and the publisher.

 

 

Aug 27

GemPacked Cards: Description and Review

  GemPacked Cards, by Eduardo Baraf, is a game in which players compete to earn the most points by collecting multi-colored gems, achieving goals, and buying special cards.  Players who make the best use of the resources they have available, taken advantage of opportunities presented by the display, and get a little lucky have the best chance at winning the game.

 

In the name of full disclosure, I would like to state upfront, that I consider Eduardo a friend.  I will make every effort to not allow this to affect my review of GemPacked Cards, but believe it is only right to make it clear to anyone reading this article.

Rules Overview

The set up varies a little depending on the number of players, but the basic core of the game remains the same.  The deck of cards is used to construct a, 3×3 for two/three players and 3×4 for more players, grid of squares and diamonds. If any action cards should appear during the initial set up simply shuffle them back into the deck and refill their space on the grid.   Draw a number of Rocket (Goal) cards equal to the number of players plus one. Place the Sun and Nova cards next to the board, as well as the Red Dwarf Card if there are three or more players. A first player is selected by whatever means you wish or by using the method recommended in the rulebook, by allowing the cutest player to go first…a risky proposition given the otherwise low level conflict in the game, but the choice is yours.

What the board should look like following set up. Rocket cards at the top, star cards next, and the grid. 3x3 for 2/3 players 4x3 for more.

What the board should look like following set up. Rocket cards at the top, star cards next, and the grid. 3×3 for 2/3 players 4×3 for more.

A player begins a turn by examining the grid, if there are 7 or more diamonds in the display the player may wipe the board completely and refill it before proceeding.  Next, the player draws two pips from the bag and places them face-up in his play area. A player may now take any number of actions that he is able, in any order, that he wishes.  The available actions are as follows:

  • Buy a square from the card grid by discarding to the common pool the necessary pips to create the square’s color.
  • Buy a diamond from the card grid by discarding out of the game the necessary square cards to create the diamond’s color.
  • Sell a square card by discarding it from the game to take out of the common pool any two pips that could create the square’s color.
  • Buy a Rocket Card, Sun Card, Nova Card, or the Red Dwarf Card if available, paying the required cost in pips and/or cards.
The Sun Card, Red Dwarf, and Nova Cards.

The Sun Card, Red Dwarf, and Nova Cards.

Examples of Rocket Cards. When a player has the componets shown on the card, they may be traded into to gain the Rocket card for boost in Victory Points.

Examples of Rocket Cards. When a player has the componets shown on the card, they may be traded into to gain the Rocket card for boost in Victory Points.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once a player has done all of the above that he is able or wishes to, he now fills in the empty spaces on the grid from the top of the draw pile.  If this results in any special cards being revealed, resolve them accordingly.  In the possible, but unlikely event that a player is unable to purchase any cards from the board for the entire turn, he may take an extra pip from the bag. The next player now begins his turn following the same procedure.

Asteroid cards make all players draw pips, while Chomet causes cards surrounding it on the board to be discarded.

Asteroid cards make all players draw pips, while Chomet causes cards surrounding it on the board to be discarded.

The game continues in this fashion, with players alternating turns until the last pip is drawn from the bag.  Once this occurs, all players receive exactly one more turn starting with the active player.  Victory point totals are then compared, with the highest total winning.  In the event of a tie, the player with the most pips remaining is the winner.  Any further ties are considered shared victories among the tied players.

My Review

GemPacked Cards is an accessible, family friendly game capable of providing a light, but fun gaming experience for the entire family.  It is easy to learn for all ages and plays quickly, with an average game lasting approximately 20 minutes.  Although lighter than most games that I play, it is very easy to see how GemPacked Cards could appeal to young gamers and those who prefer a casual gaming experience.  Despite my tragically bad picture taking skills, the game has a very cute card art and excellent graphic design. How will little kids possibly resist the illustrations if a gaming curmudgeon such as myself cannot?

GemPacked Cards is a smoothly designed game, as are all that I have played from Eduardo Baraf, with mechanics that flow seamlessly together.  Although it is a fairly simple game, the internal economy is quite clever and I very much enjoy the trading up and trading down aspect of it.  I feel this is a mechanic worth exploring further in a more complex game, but fits nicely behind the scenes of this lighthearted game of brightly colored gems and smiling diamonds. The use of primary and secondary colors as building blocks make it a great game to play with young kids dipping their toe into the world of gaming!  I think this is because we all like to feel validated by demonstrating our knowledge, and even little kids are aware of what colors combine to make other colors.  When a child recognizes this system, one of the few they already know, the outcome will almost certainly be a positive reaction, thus creating even greater enthusiasm for playing the game.  As gamers, we are well aware of the educational value games possess, and introducing light learning in such a positive manner where the child is already familiar with elements of the underlying system can only be a good thing.

Another feature of GemPacked Cards is its re-playability.  Due to the variable set up of the Rocket Cards and the random nature of the display, no two games will be exactly the same.  I am not generally a fan of randomness, which I will discuss later, but there is no denying the replay value created by these elements. If you are not turned off by such things, GemPacked Cards will see many plays at your table.

Like all games, there are a few concerns worth mentioning.  These are primarily warnings to certain types of gamers rather than full on criticisms of GemPacked Cards, but must be noted.  If you are a hardcore gamer, GemPacked Cards will likely be too light for you, except to play with your kids or as a filler between games. How do you tell if you are a hardcore gamer?  If you have to ask yourself, “Am I a hardcore gamer?” you are not one and should be fine.  If you cannot stand randomness, GemPacked Cards will probably not be for you as it has plenty to go around.  While the randomness is abundant, it is not as luck based as you may think, because one can count cards/pips to try and make superior decisions to their opponents.  You may lose any given game to the luck of the draw, but in the long run better decisions will win you a higher percentage of games.

Aside from the randomness, the only mechanical issue I have with GemPacked Cards is a clear first player advantage.  The first player will always get to more pips sooner than other players because the turn order never changes.  This can simply result in earlier players having options available that never make it to those who play after them.  However, this is less of a concern than normal, because the game is so quick and light in nature.  If luck or turn order bites you in a 20 minute game, get over it.  Unless you are playing in some sort of underground high-stakes GemPacked Cards game, of which I am unaware, it will be ok.  These can be major issues in more strategic games of longer duration, but in a fast filler like GemPacked Cards, they are minor things.

In conclusion, GemPacked Cards is another fine game from Eduardo Baraf.  A perfect mix of appealing art and simple mechanics on top of a solidly designed engine that can be enjoyed by friends and family of all ages.  If you are looking for intense competition look elsewhere, but if you are looking for quick, easy going fun, this one is a gem!

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