Unboxing

Unboxing – Tiny Epic Western

This is the first of a new type of post I will begin bringing to the Chubby Meeple.  In addition to game reviews and previews for games coming soon to Kickstarter, I am going to begin posting unboxings of games.  These posts will be primarily photos, and will generally be games that I will be reviewing on the site in a later post.  This installment: Tiny Epic Western, designed by Scott Almes and published by Gamelyn Games.

Disclaimer: The majority of these pictures are taken on top of the official Tiny Epic Western playmat.  This playmat is not included with the game, but is available as a separate purchase through the Gamelyn Games webstore

[You can click any of these photos to view them larger and in more detail.]

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The box – pre-opening


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What you see when you first open the box – the rulebook and dice corral (inside the box top)


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Move the rulebook and you’ll find the components – all nicely bagged for you


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The player cards (also called boss cards), each with its own special ability


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The six location cards


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The four bullet dice – one of each color


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Poker cards, building cards, meeples, and tokens


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An example of a four-player setup (NOTE: playmat not included with game)


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Everything pictured in this photo is what you will find in the box

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Review

Review – Lotus

Every year, Gen Con is filled with so many games that I always end up missing some of the titles that I’m interested in.  A lot of the time, this can mean waiting months to get my hands on a copy of the games I missed.  Sometimes, those games are worth the wait.  Other times, I’d find I dodged a bullet.  This past Gen Con was no different.  There were several games – and publishers – I had my eye on that I simply did not have time to take a look at.  This year, one of those missed games was Lotus, designed by Jordan and Mandy Goddard and published by Renegade Game Studios.  I was recently able to attend a launch party for the game, hosted by Jordan and Mandy at Family Time Games here in Indianapolis.  So, was Lotus worth the wait?  Let’s look at how the game plays and I’ll share my thoughts at the end.

The Setup

To set up a game of Lotus, each player (the game plays two to four players) will take one of the four colored decks.  The cards in each deck are identical – except for the color on the back and a Guardian symbol in the upper left corner that identifies which deck the card belongs to.  Also give each player two Guardian Insect tokens to match their selected color of deck.  Each player deck then needs to be set up according to the number of players.  If there are two players, each player will use their entire deck.  If there are three players, each player will need to remove one petal card of each flower type (ensuring that none of the cards with two Guardian symbols are removed) from their deck.  If playing with four players, each player will remove two of each petal type (again, ensuring that you do not remove any cards with two Guardian symbols).  Once the appropriate number of cards has been removed, each player shuffles their deck and places it face-down in front of themselves.  Then shuffle the Wildflower deck (the cards with the gray backs) and draw the first four cards, placing them face-up within reach of all players.  Also set aside all four of the silver Elder Guardian tokens, the Special Power tokens (separated by type into three stacks), and all of the Scoring tokens.  Make sure to leave the center of the table empty to serve as the play area.  All players will then draw a hand of four cards from their deck to begin the game.

The Gameplay

On your turn, you will select two of the following actions to perform: play petal cards, exchange petal cards, or move a Guardian.  You must take two actions on your turn, and you can take the same action twice.  Let’s take a closer look at the three actions available to you.

Play Petal Cards

When playing petal cards from your hand, you can play up to two petals on the same flower for a single action.  We’ll take a closer look at the cards themselves a little further down in the review to help you better understand the specifics of how the petals are played, but for now just know that the played petals will be used to either start a new flower or added to a flower already on the table.  There can never be more than one of each type of flower on the table, so there will never be more than five flowers being grown at any given time (because there are five different flowers in the game).  As mentioned above, you can take the “play petal cards” action twice, so you could play a total of four petals on a single turn.

Exchange Petal Cards

If there are cards in your hand that you don’t currently have a need for (or you want to push your luck a bit to get cards to add to flowers already on the table), you can choose to use an action to exchange up to two of them for new cards.  To do so, place up to two cards from your hand on the bottom of your deck, and then draw the same number of cards from the top of your deck.

Move a Guardian

The third action available to you on your turn is to move one of your Guardian tokens.  You can move a Guardian token from your supply to any flower on the table, placing it on one of the petal cards – even if you have not added one of your own cards to the targeted flower.  You can also choose to move a Guardian that is already on a flower to a different flower.  Your Guardians help you to gain area control on the flowers they are on, which is important because controlling a flower when it is completed gives you the option of selecting bonus points or one of three Special Powers.

Once you have completed your two actions, you’ll check to see if you completed any of the flowers on the table.  If so, you “pick” that flower (or flowers) and will score points for it/them at the end of the game.  If not, play then continues to the left.  Either way, at the end of your turn, you will draw back up to a full hand of four cards.

When you draw back up to your full hand of cards, you can take all of the necessary cards from the top of your own deck, or you can draw any of the face-up cards from the Wildflower deck.  The Wildflower deck allows you to choose which petal cards you want (instead of drawing random petals from your deck).  However, cards drawn from the Wildflower deck do not have any symbols on them.  Therefore, they will not help you when determining control of flowers.  You can split this card draw any way you’d like.  For example, if you need to draw three cards to get back up to your hand of four, you could choose to draw all three of these cards from your deck, all three from the face-up Wildflower deck cards, or draw two from one deck and the third from the other deck.  Any face-up cards drawn from the Wildflower deck are replaced with a new card from the top of the deck, so there will always be four Wildflower cards available.

Completing and “Picking” a Flower

A flower is completed and ready to be “picked” when it has a number of cards on it equal to the number of petals required to compete it.  This number is shown in the upper left corner of each card (except for on any Wildflower cards used in growing the flower).

When picking a completed flower, the first thing to do is to determine who has control of the completed flower.  To do this, count up the total number of Guardian symbols of each color on the cards used to grow the flower.  If there are any Guardian tokens on the flower, each one counts as an additional symbol for that player/color.  Whichever player has the most of their symbol/tokens on the flower has control and, as a result, will get to choose to receive one of their three Special Power tokens – unlocking a new ability for them to use for the rest of the game – or a single Scoring token – which will be worth five points at the end of the game.  If there is a tie for control, the tied players each get the choice of reward.

Once control of the flower is determined and resolved, the player who played the card that completed the flower will take all of the petal cards that make up that flower and place them into their own scoring pile which will be counted at the end of the game.  Any Guardian tokens on the flower are returned to their owners and are not kept by the player who completed the flower.  Let’s look at the Special Powers that are available to you.

Special Powers

Each player has three Special Powers that can be unlocked throughout the game.  Once unlocked, a power is active for the remainder of the game for the player who unlocked it.  The three options are: Enlightened Path, Infinite Growth, and Elder Guardian.

Enlightened Path allows the player to have a hand size of five cards (instead of the standard four-card limit).  Infinite Growth allows the player to play three or more petals on a single flower as a single action (instead of only being able to play up to two).  Unlocking the Elder Guardian gives the player a third Guardian – this third Guardian counts as two Guardians when placed on a flower, helping the player achieve control when completed flowers are picked.

Each of these powers can only be unlocked once per player.  If a player has unlocked all three of their powers, they will automatically gain a Scoring token each time they have control of a completed flower.

The Cards

The petal cards in each player’s deck have a few symbols on them.  In the upper left corner of each card, you will find the player’s Guardian symbol and color (a yellow butterfly, blue dragonfly, red ladybug, or green caterpillar) along with a number.  The number on the card indicates how many petals are required to complete that particular flower.  The smallest flower (the Iris) requires only three petals to complete, while the largest (the Lotus) requires seven.  Other cards require four (Primrose), five (Cherry Blossom), or six (Lily) petals.  You will also notice a light outline toward the bottom right corner of each card.  This outline is there to show you where to play the next petal card for that particular flower.  When playing a petal on an already started flower, play your card so that it lines up with the outline on the previous card.  You’ll be playing cards in a sort of spiral pattern.  This creates a visual representation of the flower being grown.  When the last card is placed (for example, the seventh card on the Lotus), you will see a complete flower.  The cards found in the Wildflower deck have this same outline and petal art.  However, they do not show a Guardian symbol or number in the upper left corner.

End of Game and Scoring

The end of the game is triggered when one player draws the last card from their deck.  When this happens, all players (including the player who just drew their last card) will each take one more turn.  Once these final turns are taken, check the flowers on the table (they will all be incomplete) for control.  The player who controls each incomplete flower will gain the petal cards for that flower.  In the case of a tie, the players divide the petals up as evenly as possible, discarding any leftovers.  Players will then total their points, and the player with the most is the winner.

When counting points, each petal cards is worth one point (the number in the upper left corner of the card is not a point value).  Add any Scoring tokens – worth five points each – to your petal card points to determine your final score.

My Thoughts

Let’s get the obvious out of the way right out of the gate.  This game is BEAUTIFUL!  The artwork is simply stunning.  What I like most about the art is that even though the petals themselves all belong to the same flower, the artist took the time to make each petal individual.  There are different shadows, some petal edges are folded over and beginning to curl, and the flowers are drawn to appear to have texture.  The flowers really come alive.

As for gameplay, the mechanics are very solid.  The game is very easy to learn and plays quickly – roughly 20 minutes – at any player count.  It is a very light game, so I can’t see it being the anchor of your game night.  However, it is a fantastic little filler game and provides enough strategy to not feel like a “kid’s game.”  There is a luck aspect to it, which can limit how you strategize (since you’re limited by the petal cards that you draw each turn).  I know some people are turned off by games with a luck mechanism.  However, with Lotus, the ‘luck of the draw’ is offset by the area control mechanic.  By adding this mechanic to the game, the designers have put control back in the hands of the player.  How will you play your Guardians?  Does it make sense to take petals that you want from the Wildflower deck (eliminating the random draw from your own deck) even though it means sacrificing some of your area control potential?  Once you achieve control of a flower, do you take one of the Special Powers?  Or do you ignore the powers and simply take a Scoring token each time?  Having these choices allows different paths to victory, and can provide some extra replayability by allowing you to entertain different strategies with each playthrough.  I do have a slight concern that the game could get stale after several plays.  However, that concern is a very small one.  And the art makes me want to play it again and again each time I see it.

So, would I say Lotus was worth the wait?  Absolutely!  If you’re looking for a light game you can play with your family (even the kids will love this one), but want something with enough strategy and depth that you could break it out at game night, I’d recommend picking up a copy of Lotus.  It is available now and can be picked up at your FLGS for $30.  It’s well worth the price, and you’ll defintely be getting your money’s worth.  I look forward to seeing what Jordan and Mandy do next.

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Review

Review – NecronomiCards

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Lovecraftian horror is such a solid genre and, as a result, has become the theme of quite a number of games these days.  You can find Lovecraftian mythos across all types of games – card games, board games, and RPGs.  Some have even started referring to Lovecraft (more specifically, Cthulhu) as the next theme to be overused (after zombies and cats).  It seems that a lot of games that are released these days with the horror theme default to Lovecraftian horror.  Now comes NecronomiCards (designed, illustrated, and self-published by Andy Hunt), a game of horror, strategy, and luck for 2 to 4 players that can be played in about 30-45 minutes.  How does it stack up against other offerings available?

The Setup

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NecronomiCards is played with two decks of cards – a Spell Deck and a Summon Deck.  The object of the game is to be the first player to use your Spell cards to draw and play seven Summon cards.  To setup the game, separate the Spell cards, Summon cards, and Curse cards into three separate decks.  Shuffle each deck individually and deal two cards to each player from the Spell Deck.  Then take the top seven cards from the Curse Deck and shuffle them into the Spell Deck.  The remaining Curse cards can be set aside; they will not be used in the game.  Place the shuffled Summon and Spell Decks next to each other on the table, leaving room for a discard pile.  Then simply choose a player to go first (play will continue clockwise).  An example of a 4-player setup is shown to the right.

The Gameplay

file_006On your turn, draw the top card of the Spell Deck.  If you draw a Curse card, immediately place it in the discard pile and resolve its effect.  Your turn is now over and play moves to the player to the left.  If the card you drew is not a Curse card, add it to your hand and then examine all of the Spell cards in your hand.  You are looking for matching sets of Spell symbols on these cards – referred to as a Spell hand.  If you have a Spell hand and wish to play it, you will reveal your sets to the other players, discard the cards used, and draw Summon cards from the Summon Deck.  The number of cards you will draw is determined by the type of Spell hand that you revealed.  When you draw Summon cards, you can immediately play one by placing it face up on the table in front of you.  Then resolve the effect of the played Summon card.  You can only play one Summon card on each turn, and playing a Summon card is not required on your turn.  You may save any number of Summon cards to be played later (again, only one per turn).  Be warned.  If you have unplayed Summon cards, they can be lost before you have the chance to play them.  Once a Summon card is played, it cannot be taken from you in any way.

file_007If you do not have a Spell hand, check to make sure you have no more than six Spell cards in your hand.  If you do, discard down to six cards.  Unplayed Summon cards do not count toward this maximum hand size.  You can see an in-progress game pictured above.  In the picture, both players have played two Summon cards.  Player one (at the bottom) has four Spell cards in-hand, as well as an unplayed Summon card.  Player two (at the top) has two Spell cards in-hand.  The picture to the right shows a completed game.  Player one has won by playing seven Summon cards (compared to the five played by player two).

The Cards

As stated earlier, there are three types of cards in NecronomiCards – Spell cards, Curse cards, and Summon cards.  Let’s take a quick look at each.

Spell Cards

file_002Each Spell card has either 4 or 6 spell symbols.  Some of these symbols differ greatly from one another.  Others are incredibly similar.  Be sure to play close attention to the symbols on your Spell cards when determining whether or not you have a Spell hand.  Each Spell hand will allow you to draw a certain number of Summon cards.  If you have 3 sets of matching pairs, you will draw one Summon card.  If your Spell hand contains two sets of matching triplets (3 of one symbol, and 3 of another symbol), you will draw two Summon cards.  Finally, if you have six of the same symbol, you will draw three Summon cards.

Curse Cards

Hidden in the Spell deck are several Curse cards.  These Curse cards can cause you to immediately lose turns, discard cards, or give cards to other players.  These cards, as you can imagine, can quickly derail any strategy you may have had in place.  Keep in mind that if you have unplayed Summon cards, these cards may also be lost as the result of a Curse card.

Summon Cards

file_004Each Summon card in the Summon Deck depicts a deity, demon, or other monster.  These creatures come from a variety of religious, mythological, pop culture, or literary sources (some are – according to designer Andy Hunt – “just plain made-up”).  Each card also contains a special ability that is activated as soon as the card is played to the table.  These actions will cause your opponents (and sometimes you) to lose turns or cards.  The first player to draw and play seven Summon cards is the winner.  If you would like to play the game a bit longer, you can change the win condition so that the winner is the first to play 10 Summon cards (if playing with four players) or 13 Summon cards (if playing with two or three players).

file_003Included in the Summon deck are cards that represent the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Death, Pestilence, Famine, and War).  In the incredibly unlikely event that you draw and play all four Horsemen to the table, you automatically win (regardless of how many other Summon cards have been played).

My Thoughts

NecronomiCards is a very easy game to learn and is highly replayable.  The fact that you can get through a game in roughly 30 minutes makes it a solid filler game addition to your game night.  The cards themselves are great quality – Tarot-sized and printed on a heavy card stock.  I don’t have any concerns with the cards wearing out for quite some time.  They feel very solid in-hand, and the art on them is simply stunning.  Artist Andy Hunt – who is also the game’s designer – did a fantastic job of capturing the mood of the various creatures.  Horror characters are drawn and colored with a menacing palette, while there are other cards that are bright and almost fun (such as the “My Monstrous Pet” card).  The various card abilities are similar, but different enough to make each game feel different.  I’ve yet to feel that the game is getting stale, and – by no means – do I feel like I’m doing the same thing over and over again.  The addition (and danger) of the Curse cards to the Spell Deck keep you on your toes, and the possibility of drawing one on your turn keeps you from hording a multitude of Summon cards (since you could lose one or all of them at any time).  The game does have a bit of a “take that” component, but those situations are caused by the Curse and Summon cards rather than a player making the choice to launch an attack.

file_005If I have one complaint, it is that the game tends to slow down while a player is reviewing the symbols on his or her Spell cards.  Because there are so many different symbols (some of which are very similar to one another), there can be a bit of analysis paralysis that sets in as a player looks over the cards in his or her hand to see what kinds of matching symbols – if any – they may have.  Because of the size of the cards, it can also be difficult to hold them all in your hand while looking over the symbols on them – especially if you have small hands.  This can slow the game down, especially in the first playthroughs.  I like the idea of using the symbols to summon the various creatures.  It feels very much like being a sorcerer reading arcane and ancient symbols to perform your spells.  However, I can see some players being turned off to the game because of the potential for other players to take quite a bit of time to look over their cards.  The pace of the game can certainly suffer.  It’s possible that this could have been helped by having less symbols (or less similar ones), but I fear that doing so would have made the game too repetitive and greatly cut into the replayability.

I see the potential to have future expansions, introducing new creatures to summon, as well as new Spell cards (though I don’t know that adding new symbols would be a great idea).  Expansions with new creatures – maybe new card abilities or ways to “kill” your opponents summoned creatures – could add to the game’s mechanics and add a new level of strategy (though some players may be opposed to having more “take that” than the game already has).

Overall, I would recommend NecronomiCards to anyone looking for a quick filler game with great art, simple rules, and great replayability.  It is available to order now at necronomicards.com.

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Preview

Kickstarter preview – Super Hack Override

img_9446If you’ve read my Gen Con – Day 1 recap, then you know that I had the privilege of meeting Nick and Carla Kopp of Weird Giraffe Games, and was able to play Between Two Cities with them.  In fact, one of the two cities I built during the game was built with Carla’s help.  We had a great time and, through conversation with them, I found out that they were preparing to launch a Kickstarter for their first game – Super Hack Override!  What is Super Hack Override?  How does it play?  Should I back it?

Super Hack Override is a fast-paced, light card game for 2-6 players.  It plays very quickly; you can get through a game in 5-10 minutes.  In the game, you take on the role of a hacker, vying to gain enough cred to be crowned the Super Supreme Hacker by competing in a secret cyber-battle against other hackers.  You will earn cred be executing the most epic hacks that you can, all while avoiding the authorities.  Throughout the competition, you’ll make use of proxy swaps and protection hacks to shield yourself from the other hackers, while hacking into government facilities and doing whatever it takes to avoid Hacker Jail.  Let’s take a look at how this all works.

The Setup

The box contains 25 hacks (cards).  If playing with five hackers (players), all 25 cards will be used.  If playing with any other number of hackers, you’ll remove cards according to how many hackers are competing.  The remaining cards are dealt until the deck is exhausted.  Hackers will have an equal number of hacks in their hands.  These hacks begin the game face-in (or private).  There is no draw pile and no hacks will be drawn throughout the game.  Only the hacks that have been dealt will be used for the contest.

The Hacks (Cards)

Super Hack Override includes 10 different hacks for you to execute.  These hacks fall into one of three categories – proxy swaps, protection hacks, and government hacks.  Each hack is worth a certain amount of hacker cred (think of this “cred” as victory points), noted by the number at the top of each card.  Based on the number of hackers that are competing, you will need to acquire a certain amount of cred in order to win.  The majority of the hacks also provide special abilities when they are executed (played face-out/made public).

Proxy Swap Hacks

img_9453Proxy swaps allow you to swap hacks between hackers.  There are four different types of proxy swap hacks, one of which is actually an interrupt.  These hacks have the most powerful abilities in the game.  This makes them more common hacks that are not worth much cred (because they’re pretty easy for hackers to accomplish).  The cred values on proxy swap hacks range from 1-4.  Proxy swaps are recognizable for their light blue color and the proxy swap icon (except for the interrupt, which is purple and includes the interrupt icon).

Protection Hacks

img_9454Protection hacks are designed to keep your hacks safe from being proxy swapped by your opponents.  There are two different protection hacks – the Firewall and the Trace Spoof.  The Firewall will protect you from one kind of proxy swap, while the Trace Spoof will block another.  These hacks provide more cred than the proxy swap hacks, but not as much cred as hacking into a government facility. Protection hacks are worth either 5 or 6 cred, and are identified by their yellow color and the protection/shield icon (which indicates which proxy swap is blocked when these hacks are executed).

Government Facility Hacks

img_9456Hacking into a government facility is worth the most cred (values range from 7-10) because they are the more difficult hacks to pull off.  Since they provide so much cred, the special abilities they provide are less powerful than the proxy swap and protection hacks.  Hacking the mainframe, in fact, does nothing except give you maximum cred.  Hacking government facilities can also be dangerous.  If, at any point in the game, you have hacked three government facilities at once (meaning the hacks are face-out/public in front of you), the government has triangulated your location and you are sent to Hacker Jail immediately.  All of your private/face-in hacks are made public/face-out, and you are eliminated from the contest.  Government facility hacks are identified by their red color and the government hack icon.

The Gameplay

The first player is the hacker who holds the Diskette card in their hand.  The Diskette is immediately played face-out (made public), and then the first player executes another hack.  If the Diskette was one of the cards removed during setup (i.e. no one has it in their hand), then the hacker who most recently won a game goes first.  If this is your first game, then the youngest hacker will go first.  Play will then continue clockwise.

On your turn, you will execute a hack in one of two ways.  You can either execute one of your face-in/private hacks by flipping it face-out (making the hack public), or you can flip any face-out/public hack in front of one of your opponents – returning it to their hand.  You then resolve the effect/ability of the hack.  If you opt to execute an opponent’s public hack, the effect is resolved as if you had played the hack from your own hand.  Executing an opponent’s hack has the added benefit of removing cred from them.  On each of your turns, you will only ever execute one hack (whether one of your own or one belonging to an opponent).

The Table Is Optional

One of the unique aspects to Super Hack Override is that you do not need to have a table in order to play the game.  The game was designed so that it could be played anywhere – including while you’re standing in line somewhere.  If playing sans table, you simply turn your public (face-out) hacks around in your hand -facing your opponents – and continue holding them.  Combined with the small size of the game (it is only 25 cards, after all), the “table optional” feature makes this game easy to transport.

My Initial Thoughts

Super Hack Override will launch on Kickstarter on September 12.  Having played the game with a couple of different groups and different player counts (including a few playthroughs with Nick and Carla), I feel like I have a good grasp of the game and how it plays.  At first glance, Super Hack Override seems too light to be enjoyable.  And, I’m not going to lie … the firs tfew playthroughs were tough.  I initially had trouble understanding the terms face-in vs face-out, as did quite a few of the others that played the game with me.  Like a lot of gamers, I’m very familiar with the terms face-up and face-down.  These new terms were initially confusing.  However, once I had played through a couple of “learning” games and got used to the terminology, I found it very easy to play.  I also discovered that there is a surprising amount of strategy involved in the gameplay.  There are a few different paths to victory, and this allows the player to determine their strategy right out of the gate – and still have the flexibility to switch it up mid-game if the intial plan begins to fall apart.  I do know, after having a few conversations with Nick and Carla, that some of the terminology is being modified.  I believe that face-in and face-out are being replaced with private and public, respectively.  This should make learning the rules much faster, and help cut down on any initial confusion.

The artwork on the cards does a good job of capturing the feel of the classic hacker movies of the late 80’s and early 90’s.  The entire game has a very solid retro feel to it.  I also really like some of the game’s unique concepts.  The “table optional” functionality is a brilliant adaptation for making a game portable.  If I can throw a game in my pocket and play it anywhere I happen to be, that’s never a bad thing.  And, if that game is fun to play, that’s a bonus.  I also really enjoy the ability to execute my opponents’ hacks.  This provides plenty of “take that” opportunities that can quickly turn the tides.

That being said, Super Hack Override is not going to be a staple in my game night.  It is simply not a long or complex enough game.  However, it will come off of my shelf often to be played when I know I’ll be in a line somewhere, or at a restaurant while waiting for my food.  And that’s exactly the niche that the game is designed to fill.  It’s not designed to be a heavy game that takes a couple of hours to play.  It’s meant to give you a game to play when you have a few extra minutes to kill.  And it does this very well – especially at times when you’d otherwise be staring at your phone and not socializing with the friends and family that you’re out with.

Super Hack Override will hit Kickstarter on September 12.  If you’d like to be notified when the game launches, head on over to Weird Giraffe Games’ website and sign up for their newsletter.  For $10 (less than the cost of two Pumpkin Spice Lattes), you’ll be able to get your hands on a great little time killer that can be played literally anywhere.

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