kickstarter, Preview, Review

Kickstarter Preview: Ore-Some

img_0264There are riches to be found in them hills!  Grab your pickaxe, miner hat, and trusty pooch and get ready to dig up copious amounts of copper, silver, and gold.  Ma Courtland and Baron Pearce are counting on you to fullfill your contracts and prove yourself to be the best miner in the land.  Today, we take a look at Ore-Some, designed by Sarah Kennington and published by One Free Elephant, which will begin its Kickstarter campaign on February 14!

Setup

To set up a game of Ore-Some, randomly determine who will be the first player and give them the first player marker.  Each player will then choose a character card and take the mine cart of the corresponding color.  The next thing to do is set up the game board.

img_0213This is done using the stack of tiles, which ensures that each game of Ore-Some will always be different than the last.  Begin by placing the mine shaft tile as the center tile.  Then, place each of the colored corner tiles in the four corners of the board.  Give each player a colored tile (but not their own color), and use the remaining tiles to form the tile stack.  Beginning with the first player, each player will add tiles to the mine by either drawing a tile from the tile stack or using the colored tile they were given.  This tile is added to the mine by connecting it with one of the tiles already placed.  Tiles may be rotated in any configuration the player chooses, as long as the tracks on adjacent tiles line up (a track going off the edge of the board is acceptable).  If the drawn tile cannot be placed, it is discarded and a new tile drawn and placed.  This will continue until a 5×5 grid is complete.  This grid will serve as the mine for the duration of the game.  If any of the colored tiles have not yet been placed when the 5×5 grid is completed, the player who chose the character matching the color of the unplaced tile(s) can remove any neutral tile and replace it with the tile of their color (ensuring that tracks still line up).  All remaining tiles are returned to the box.

img_0221Once the board is set up, each player will place their mine cart on the corner tile that matches their character color.  Place the coins in a pile near the board within reach of all players.  Do the same with the wooden beams.  All of the colored wooden cubes (the ore) are placed inside the bag, and the bag is placed near the board.  Shuffle the two decks of contract cards and deal one of each type of contract to each player.  Players should keep these contracts hidden from the other players.  The two contract decks are then placed near the board, with the Bank Price card placed between them. Place the Pocket Watch token (round marker) on the space marking round #1 on the Round Tracker card.  Shuffle the Action Card deck and deal three action cards to each player (these cards are also kept secret by the players).  Place the remaining Action Cards facedown to form a draw pile near the board.  Make sure Scraps is close to the draw pile.  Ma Cortland (white) and Baron Pearce (yellow) will begin on the mineshaft (center) tile of the board.  Finally, give each player a reference card and a die matching their color.

Gameplay

Ore-Some is played over 6 rounds, with each round being made up of two phases – a move phase and a dig phase.  Let’s break each phase down.

Move phase

At the start of the move phase, the Contract Agents will move.  Baron Pearce is interested in cashing in contracts worth a lot of money.  For this reason, he will move up to three tiles closer to the mine cart containing the most ore.  If there is a tie, he will move toward the closest of the tied carts.  If there is still a tie, he will move toward the first player.  Ma Courtland, on the other hand, is happy to work with contracts of lower values.  This means she will move up to three tiles toward the cart with the least ore in it.  Ties for Ma Courtland are broken in favor of the youngest player.  If there is still a tie, she will move toward the first player.  (Note: the Contract Agents do not move at the start of the first round.)

Once the Contract Agents have been moved, all players will simultaneously roll their die to determine the number of moves they will have on their turn.  It is important that all players roll simultaneously because players have action cards that can be played to affect either their own movement or the movement of an opponent.  The first player will then complete the remainder of his or her move phase by playing action cards to improve their own movement (or affect an opponent’s movement) and then moving their mine cart according to their die roll (plus or minus the result of any action cards played).  When moving, they must always follow the track they are on and cannot switch directions mid-move.  If the track were to go off of the board, their cart is shunted and they drop a piece of ore out of their cart.  Shunting also occurs if they collide with a wooden beam blocking the track they are on, or if they collide with another player’s cart.  Once they have completed their movement, play will continue clockwise so each player can complete their move phase in the same manner.  Once all players have completed their move phase, we move on to the dig phase.

Dig phase

During the dig phase, each player will take up to three actions – dig for ore, cash in ore, and pick up ore – in any order they wish.  Starting with the first player, each person will complete their entire dig phase and then play will proceed clockwise around the table.  On their turn, each player MUST dig for ore.  This is done by drawing two cubes out of the mine bag (or four cubes if your cart is on a tile that matches your color) and placing them into your mine cart.  Any cubes that are dropped during this step remain on the tiles where they land.  If any dropped cubes land off of the board, place them on the tile closest to where they landed.  There can be multiple cubes on a single tile.

The second action a player can take is to pick up ore.  If there is any ore in the tile where the player’s cart is currently located, the player can opt to pick up any or all of it and place it into his or her mine cart.  Any ore that is dropped during this action remains in the tile to attempt to be picked up again on a later turn.

img_0214The third action that can be taken is to cash in ore.  There are two ways that ore can be cashed in.  Ore can be sold to the bank or it can be used to complete contracts with one of the Contract Agents.  If sold to the bank, the sold ore is returned to the bag, and the player selling it will take money equal to its total value ($3 per gold, $2 per silver, $1 per copper).  In order to complete a contract, the player must have the ore shown on the contract card AND be within four track tiles of the agent the contract belongs to (i.e. the agent shown on the card.  To cash in a contract, the player will lay the card (face-up) on the table and then remove the required ore from their cart and place it on top of the contract card (to show they have all of it).  The ore used for the contract is returned to the bag, and the contract card is placed face down near the player who completed it and will used for scoring at the end of the game.  Any remaining ore is returned to the player’s cart in any order they would like.  Any ore dropped during this action does not count as dropped ore and can be picked up.

Once all players have completed their dig phase, each player has the option to discard as many cards as they would like, and then draw back up to a hand of five cards.  Their hand can be made up of any combination of contract and action cards.  The round marker is advanced to the next round, the first player marker is given to the next player in clockwise order, and play resumes with the move phase.  At the end of the sixth round, any ore not used to complete contracts is sold to the bank.  Players count up the money earned through completed contracts and ore sold to the bank.  The player with the most money is the winner.

Action Cards

img_0216There are three types of action cards that can be played over the course of the game.  There are Move cards, Dig cards, and Surprise cards.  Move cards can be played during the Move phase of the game, and are identified with a railroad track icon on them.  These cards are used to help mitigate your own die rolls, allowing you to move further (or not).  You can also play Move cards against any of your opponents to slow them down (or speed them up).  Dig cards can be played during the Dig phase, and are identified by a pickaxe icon on them.  These cards allow you to draw extra ore, steal from other players, or place (or remove) wooden beams on tiles to block movement throughout the mine.  Surprise cards can be played at any time, and are generally used to counter cards played against you (such as blocking an attempt to steal ore from you or making other cards inactive).  These cards are easily identified by an exclamation point icon.

My Thoughts

I’m going to make this review about as simple as I possibly can …. Ore-Some is just plain fun!  It’s a simple to teach and play game that is fantastic for families to play together.  If you have younger kids (ages 8 and up would probably be best), and they’re like mine, they’re going to absolutely love the “take that!” of the cards.  My kids love to steal things from my mine cart, or cause my cart to not be able to move by playing Sabotage cards to negate my die roll completely or Dynamite cards to throw wooden beams in my way.  It definitely makes for some good laughs and they thoroughly enjoy playing this game whenever it hits the table.  Their enjoyment simply adds to my own enjoyment of the game.  The mechanisms in Ore-Some are very solid, and the modular tiles that make up the game board help ensure that no two games are ever the same.  Some players may find that playing only six rounds is not long enough.  Good news!  You can opt to play for eight rounds by simply flipping the Round Marker card to the other side!  This is definitely a light filler game.  While it won’t be a staple at your game nights, it makes for an excellent game for a family game night!  Head over to the Kickstarter page for Ore-Some for more information and to back this project.

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Review, Walkthrough, YouTube

Dreamwell – A Walkthrough and Review

In a place outside the waking world, where children go while they sleep
Wander the dreamkin – lost sleepers whose souls this land seeks to keep.
Underneath the gentle waves of lucid seas we fell.
We’re off to find our missing friends in the vast Dreamwell.

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Review, YouTube

Survive The Horde – Kickstarter review

A few weeks ago, I posted a preview of a game that was coming soon to Kickstarter – Survive The Horde from Laffgasm Games.  That game is now on Kickstarter and is closing in on the finish line.  Here is a review that I put together for the game to let you know what I think of it, and show you a little bit of the game play.

If this looks like something you want to add to your game collection, head on over to their Kickstarter page and back it.  The campaign ends on Wednesday, November 23.

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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

Review – Thief’s Market

img_9431It may seem odd to start a review by talking about another game, but ….. my daughters and I play a lot of Splendor.  And, I mean … A.  Lot.  It is one of our go-to games because it was easy for them to learn, it’s simple to play (yet has some great strategic elements), has great replayability, and they love to beat me at it.  A.  Lot.

So when I first saw Thief’s Market (from Tasty Minstrel Games) on Kickstarter, I had to back it and add it to my collection.  Though it plays very differently, I saw a lot of the same elements in it that bring Splendor to our table so often.  But … does it live up to my expectations?  Let’s find out.

The Setup
To set up a game of Thief’s Market, separate the three decks of cards into their “A,” “B,” and “C” stacks.  You’ll recognize these by the letter on the back of the cards (as well as in the lower right corner on the front of each card).  Then, shuffle each deck separately and randomly remove enough cards from each so that you have 13 “A” cards, 12 “B” cards, and 11 “C” cards, returning the others to the box without looking at them.  Arrange the decks along one side of the table and turn the top five cards of the “A” deck face up to form the Market.  These will act as the first five cards available for purchase to the players.

img_9428Each player will be given a player mat and one gold token.  Throughout the game, players can earn additional gold tokens, so make sure the remaining tokens are within reach of all players along with all of the Infamy tokens.  The gold tokens are always public knowledge and will be left on the table for all to see.  Infamy tokens, however, are not.  When a player earns an Infamy token, it should be placed under their player mat.

The game comes with 13 custom dice.  If you have five players (the maximum the game can support), you will use all 13 dice.  For four players, return two of the dice to the box, and for three players (the game’s minimum), remove three of them.  Finally, give the Start Player Marker to the person who most recently stole something.

In Thief’s Market, players will compete to earn the most Notoriety points.  These points will be earned by purchasing cards from the Market, as well as gaining Infamy tokens throughout the game.  Let’s take a look at how this is done.

The Dice

img_9427Before we dive into the gameplay, let’s take a quick look at the dice. Each die has six sides – four gems (one each of red, blue, white, and green), a yellow bag, and a purple mask.

The four gems will be used during the Making Purchases phase to buy cards from the Market.

The yellow bag will be turned in at the end of a round for a gold token.

The purple mask is exchanged at the end of the round for one Infamy token, which is worth one Notoriety point at the end of the game.

The Gameplay

Thief’s Market is played over a series of rounds, each broken into two phases – the Split The Loot phase and the Making Purchases phase. At the beginning of each round, the first player will roll all of the dice and place them – along with the Start Player Marker – in the center of the table.  This roll will act as the loot that the players have stolen, and will determine what objects are available to be split.  Once the dice have been rolled and the Start Player Marker added to the loot, the Splitting The Loot phase begins.

Splitting The Loot

The player who rolled the dice (the start player) will take any quantity of objects (dice and/or the Start Player Marker) from the center of the table and place them in front of themself (being careful not to change the face of the dice as they are moved).  Play then moves clockwise to the next player.  On their turn, each player chooses to either take any quantity of the remaining items from the center of the table or steal the entire pile of loot in front of another player.  If a player chooses to steal another player’s loot, they must keep at least one object and return at least one object – rerolling any dice – to the center of the table.  This means that a player cannot steal loot from any player who only has one object in front of them.  Play continues clockwise until each player has a pile of loot in front of them.  If play gets to a player who already has loot in front of them, that player is skipped.  Only players who have no loot continue taking turns.  If there is only one player remaining with no loot, and they choose to take objects from the center, they must take all remaining objects from the center.  This means that once all players have a pile of loot in front of them, there will be no objects remaining in the center of the table (which means someone will always have the Start Player Marker).  When all players have a pile of loot in front of them, the Making Purchases phase begins.

Making Purchases

Beginning with the player who now has the Start Player Marker and continuing clockwise around the table, players will use the dice taken during the Splitting The Loot phase to purchase cards from the Market.  Each player will be able to purchase a single card on their turn – unless they have a card that allows them to purchase more.  The cost of each card is shown on the left side next to the illustration.  When dice are used to purchase cards, they are returned to the center of the table.  Each gold token acts as a wild and can take the place of any gem on a card’s cost.  When spent, gold tokens are returned to the pile.  It is important to remember that yellow bag die are not counted as wild.  They will be exchanged at the end of the round for gold tokens, which can be used as wilds beginning with the next Making Purchases phase.  Each player will have one chance to make a card purchase with their dice.  If a player has a card that allows them to purchase more than one card, all purchases are made on the same turn.

Once all players have made their purchase(s), each yellow bag die is exchanged for one gold token, and each purple mask die is exchanged for one Infamy token.  All dice are then returned to the center of the table – even the dice that were not used for purchases.  The Market is refilled from the active deck.  For example, if two cards were purchased from the “A” deck during the phase, the top two cards will be drawn from the “A” deck so that there are, once again, five cards available for purchase in the next round.  If the “A” deck is empty and there are still spaces that need refilled, immediately draw five cards from the top of the “B” deck and place them next to the “B” deck.  These cards will be available for purchase in addition to any still left over from the “A” deck, so there may be instance where the Market will contain more than five cards.  Cards purchased from the “B” deck will be replaced (any cards left from the “A” deck that get purchased are not replaced).  When the “B” deck runs out, add five cards from the “C” deck to the Market.  The game ends immediately when the “C” deck does not have enough cards in it to completely refill the Market.  So … what can you purchase?

The Cards

img_9429There are a variety of cards available for purchase in the Market.  Some cards are worth Notoriety points at the end of the game.  Some will give you end-game Notoriety points based on the types of cards you’ve purchased, and some will be worth less if your opponents have purchased cards of certain types.  Quite a few of the cards allow you to manipulate the dice during the Making Purchases phase, allowing you to change the face of a die.  There are also cards that have an immediate effect.  If you purchase a card that grants you a special ability, you can use that ability during the same turn.  Once cards are purchased and placed in front of you, they cannot be stolen by other players.  An example of some of the card abilities can be seen in the picture to the right.  If the iconography on some of these cards is confusing, don’t fret.  The rules contains a list of every single card available in the game – listed alphabetically – that says (in plain English) what each card does.  So you’ll never have to guess what a particular card will do for you.  For your first few playthroughs, I’d recommend keeping the rules close by for reference.

Scoring

Once the game has ended (not enough cards in the “C” deck to refill the Market), the scoring phase begins.  The player with the most Henchman icons in the upper left corner of their cards will receive three Notoriety points (not tokens).  The player with the second-most is awarded one Notoriety point.  The player with the most gold tokens earns three Notoriety points.  There is no second place for gold tokens.  If there is a tie, the tied players will each get one less Notoriety point than they would have otherwise received (for example, if there is a tie for most Henchman icons, each tied player would gain to Notoriety points).  Players then add these Notoriety points to the total points from all of their purchased cards, as well as the total number of Infamy tokens received during the game.  The person with the most Notoriety wins.  If tied, the tied player with the most cards wins.  If still tied, the tied player with the most Infamy tokens wins.  If there is still a tie – and this is according to the rules – the winner is the first player to grab the Start Player Marker and run from the room shouting, ” You fools! Muahahaha!”

My Thoughts

So, is Thief’s Market the next Splendor?  Did it live up to my expectations?  Well, let me start by saying that the game plays quite differently than Splendor.  There is some resource management and some set collection (like Splendor), but it is handled differently.  So, no.  Thief’s Market is not another Splendor.  That being said, I absolutely love playing this game.  It’s a simple game to teach, plays in 30-60 minutes, but still has a ton of strategy to work through.  The concept of either taking available loot or going more “take that” and stealing form one of your opponents keeps the game changing all the time.  No two games are alike, and that makes the replayability factor very large.  The fact that random cards are removed before every game also makes the game highly replayable.  I would highly recommend this game to anyone looking for a light (but still strategic) filler game.  Thief’s Market won’t be the staple of your game night.  It’s simply not long enough for that.  However, when the time comes to play something light (either between games or while waiting for others to show up), I could see this hitting the table quite often.  Thief’s Market is currently finishing up its shipment to Kickstarter backers, and will hit your FLGS soon.  Tasty Minstrel Games does it again!

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Review, Uncategorized

Review – Tides of Madness

In 2015, Portal Games introduced the world to Tides of Time from designer Kristian Čurla.  Tides of Time is a fast-to-play card drafting game for two players where each person played as an ancient civilization and worked to build the most prosperous kingdom.  Now, Portal and Kristian are back and have given us the sequel – Tides of Madness.

Tides of Madness is set in the H.P. Lovecraft mythos, and has each player taking on the role of an investigator trying to discover ancient knowledge and secrets beyond the grasp of time and – in some cases – the human mind.  Each player will contact mysterious cults, explore hidden locations, encounter horrific creatures, and learn unspeakable words.  The horror of this ancient knowledge may prove to be too much to bear for weaker minds, and one investigator – or both – could be lost forever to the madness.

The Setup

To set up Tides of Madness, shuffle the 18-card deck and deal five cards to each player.  Set the remaining cards aside to be used in later rounds.  You’ll also need to place the 20 Madness tokens nearby where both players can access them.  Also, place the included scoring pad and pencil off to the side.  You’ll use these at the end of each round to calculate each player’s points.

The Cards

Tides of Madness consists of 18 cards.  These are broken into five suits – with three cards of each suit.  There are also three cards that have no suit.  The suits in the game are pictured to the right and are – in order from top to bottom – Races, Locations, Outer Gods, Great Old Ones, and Manuscripts.  These suits are shown in the upper left corner of each card.  Of the 18 cards, eight of them are dangerous to play.  They are the more powerful cards in the game, but induce madness to the player who plays them.  Each of these eight cards are easily identified by the tentacles along the left side.

Every card also has a name (in the lower right corner) and an ability (in the upper right corner).  Most of these abilities are scoring objectives that will reward victory points if the objective is met at the end of each round.

The Gameplay

Playing Tides of Madness is really simple.  Each player will look at their hand of five cards and choose one to add to their tableau.  This card is placed facedown on the table until both players have made their selection.  Then, simultaneously, players reveal which card they chose by flipping them over.  The players then trade hands (i.e. the four cards they did not select), and will select their next card from these four cards.  After revealing the second card chosen, the remaining cards are again swapped, a third card chosen, and so on until each player has selected five cards.  These five cards are used to calculate the score – and Madness – for each player during the round (see Scoring below).

At the end of the scoring phase, each player will collect the five cards in front of them to form their new hand of five cards.  Each player will select one card to keep on the table for the remainder of the game, placing this card facedown until both have made their choice – revealing them to each other once they’ve both been chosen.  They will each also select a card to remove from the game by discarding it, face-up, to the box.  This will leave each player with a hand of only three cards.  Deal two cards from the deck to each player to bring their hand size back up to five cards.  Then play the second round exactly as the first round was played.  Each player will select a card, pass their remaining cards to their opponent, select a new card, and so on until all cards have been chosen.  At the end of the second round, each player will have six cards in front of them – the five they selected during the round plus the card they chose to keep at the end of the first round.  Calculate the score – and Madness – for the second round.

Players will then pick up the five cards chosen during the round – leaving the card they chose to keep after the first round on the table – and will each select a second card to keep and a second card to remove from the game.  Two more cards are dealt from the deck to each player (this will exhaust the deck completely), and the third round is played exactly the same as the other two, with players selecting a card, trading hands, etc.  At the end of the third round, each player will have seven cards in front of them – five chosen during the round, and two cards kept at the end of each of the previous rounds.  Scores – and, of course, Madness – are calculated for the third round.  Then all three round scores are totaled together to give a final score.  The player with the highest total is the winner.  In the case of a tie, both players share the victory.

Scoring

img_9404At the end of each round – after each player has selected the five cards they wish to keep – scoring is calculated.  First, look at the five cards in front of each player.  Any card that has tentacles along the left side (like the Necronomicon show to the left) have induced a bit of Madness.  Each player should take one Madness token for each card they have that has driven them a little bit mad.  Then look to see which player acquired the most Madness for that round.  That player can choose to either score four extra points or heal one Madness by discarding one token.  If there is a tie for most Madness, no player gets this choice.

img_9403Then each player will check their cards for their scoring objectives and score points for any of the scoring conditions that have been met.  There are several ways to score.  Players can score points for each card of a specific suit, for having a majority of a specific suit, and collecting sets of suits.  There is also a card that gives one point for each Madness token a player has acquired.  If a player has nine or more Madness tokens in front of them, they have been driven insane by the knowledge they’ve encountered and lose the game immediately.  If both players have nine or more Madness, they both go insane, and there is no winner.

My Thoughts

img_9405-1Tides of Madness is a fun, quick filler game for two players.  It is simple to play, but has a good depth of strategy and allows for a bit of “take that” between players – by allowing you to take cards you know your opponent needs (since you can always see what cards they’ve chosen to keep).  The artwork is gorgeous, and really captures the madness-inducing mythos of Lovecraftian lore.  It’s great to see some of the Great Old Ones depicted, but …. Cthulhu doesn’t induce Madness?!?  What?!?  And, while I’m sure it’s done for balance purposes, the fact that the Races and Manuscripts contain more Madness than the Great Old Ones and Outer Gods seems odd to me.  From a realism standpoint, I’d think encountering one of these beings would induce far more Madness than simply reading a manuscript or studying a race.  That’s a very minor gripe though (and is probably just me being picky).  This – in no way, shape, or form – takes away from the game.  The gameplay itself is very solid.  When it’s time for a light – but still strategic – filler game between sessions of heavier (longer) games, look no further than Tides of Madness, especially if you are in the middle of a Cthulhu-themed game night.

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