Next of Ken, Volume 41: The River, Heroica, Cyclades: Hades, and Evo!

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Did you miss me?  Well then, come on in for Next of Ken, where I'm dishing some sad sack TV talk, giving a touch of praise to Lego's Heroica system, previewing the new Cyclades: Hades expansion, and reviewing the Evo reprint from Asmodee.  How can you resist all THAT?!  Join us, won't you?


I broke you in the canyon I drowned you in the lake


Haven't really watched much lately on TV.  I keep up with a few shows that are comfort food like Big Bang Theory, but not a lot of new stuff grabbed me this season. American Horror Story was great (and Jessica Lange got her Emmy for it), but it's gone now, and Game of Thrones doesn't start until April...feh.

The_RiverI did check out ABC's The River, the new "found footage" show about a team of folks who are filming a documentary, looking for a Steve Irwin-like wildlife television host who has gone missing under mysterious circumstances.

It's competently put together, although some of the acting is atrocious.  It also suffers more than usual from, "Why don't you just put the camera down?!" moments.

My wife and I tried to watch the pilot, but she was dozing before the first half was done and I found my attention meandering.  The (idiotic) part about our ABC On Demand?  You can't fast forward.  And they put mini-commercial breaks in.  Hey, ABC?  Fuck you.

I DVR'd episode 2 but haven't even finished the first one.  I've seen online that the ratings were less than impressive, so I'll probably just let this one go.  It's a shame because it looked like an interesting premise.

Meanwhile, I'm still like 4 episodes behind on Grimm.  I've heard it gets better, and it has to a very small degree, but it still seems lethargic and the lead is kind of a charisma vaccuum.  I've learned to like his werewolf buddy, though.

I've still yet to understand what exactly the mythical creatures fear from Grimms.  They can't see under the evil guise all the time, only during moments of stress.  Also, he has no powers other than some books and his trusty handgun.  Still, monster dudes get all "I pissed my pants" everytime they're around him.  It's weird.  Maybe it's a statement on the power of myth, but in reverse.  I dunno.



I can be King, and can be Queen

Just a few years ago, the mass market stores weren't an entirely hideous place to shop for hobbyist games.  In fact, from the early 2000s, gaming for family ATers was actually pretty good, with stuff like Lord of the Rings, Epic Duels, the themed Risks, and the almighty Heroscape smiling at us warmly from the shelves of retail giants everywhere.

Fast forward to today, things aren't nearly as bright.  I'd love to know what happened...I can't help but think it has something to do with Hasbro offloading a lot of its hobbyist design to Wizards of the Coast.  To a buyer, they see the Hasbro name, they'll bite on something.  But even though Wal-Mart sells its share of Magic, that's simply "Magic."  I'm not sure Wizards resonates with the casual eyeballs.

Either that, or WotC just doesn't have the urge to push into the mass market, probably due to not wanting to meet the scale of production that the mass market demands.

I used to love going into Target and hoping to see a new wave of Heroscape.  Even in the age of cheap online discount games, I'd still make that impulse purchase of a $10 pack of figs whenever they'd come in.

I do have to give some props for the Heroica system, which can be found at both Wal-MartHeroica and Target right now.  No, it isn't strictly for us as older gamers, but how it appeals to kids is *unreal*.

We bought one of our sons the "Golem King" set, and he also got the port-themed smaller set.  You should have seen the kids' eyes light up when I set up the adventure.  They were all clamoring to play.  This was a game like "daddy's" games, but suited just for them!

I first attempted the variant in the book where someone can play the Overlord and actually activate the monsters.  That is a big mistake; it is so easy to win with the monsters that if you ever decide to go that route, I'd let the youngest gamer at the table have that role.

For a kids' game, there are a lot of fun decisions.  The one dungeon we played through repeatedly had two paths to the boss, along with essentially two little "bonus alcoves" that had treasure and potions.  There were two different types of regular monsters along with the boss monster.

The game itself when not played against the Overlord is a race game, and honestly the only place I think it falls down.  The winner of the game is the person who kills the Golem King.  It doesn't matter if someone else has cleared the path, collected all the treasure, got some killer loot, and destroyed every other monster--you kill the boss, you win.

The kids picked up pretty quickly on this, and soon it was about making a beeline for the boss.  I'm going to try to think up some new scoring system that encourages exploration and adventure.

Still, this is great fun for kids.  Yeah, it's a whole lotta luck, but there are several cool touches, including special powers for the characters, weapons that can be purchased with gold found in the dungeon, and other parts of the dungeon that need a lucky roll for the players to advance.

There's no doubt that a lot of the Lego board games have been pretty crappy, but for kids in the right age bracket, Heroica is a hit.  Plus, you know it's just begging for house rules as they get older, right?



God is playing god tonight, Smooth Sky Between the Clouds

Stefan at Asmodee recently sent me a copy of the new Cyclades: Hades expansion to review.  To gear up for getting that played, we busted out the base game over the weekend.  Embarassingly, I hadn't gotten to play it in a few months now; that's mostly because I'm convinced you really, really need 4 or 5, and playing with 2 is just kind of pointless.  Even with 3, it seems to need more.  So my two brothers, my wife and I had to groggily work through the rules again, which aren't complex, but it's just a matter of getting up to speed with a game you haven't played in awhile.

CycladesHadesI've made my thoughts known on Cyclades in the past--it's an excellent, relatively fast-playing hybrid Dudes on a Map game with some great bits.  It can be logistically difficult to put attacks together, as you need to get your ships positioned, then win Ares on a future turn to start the invasion.

I had looked over the rules to the Hades expansion, which is one of those buffet-style module deals where you can add certain aspects to the game at your leisure, or dump 'em all in and go to town.  One thing I'd noticed is how many of the new elements puts such an emphasis on the active god tile above Apollo.  For example, once Hades becomes active, his tile takes the place of the active god just above Apollo; the Divine Favors are coupled with the same spot (except when Hades and his undead legions are unleashed), and so on.

As we played, I understood why that was so.  The game eventually becomes focused around the play of the mythological creature cards.  Players who win the first spot essentially get their choice of any or all of them (providing they have money.)  So bidding on the last spot above Apollo is often where someone will go only if they really, really need that role, or if they get shunted there and its a cheap bid.

That's precisely how our game ended, actually.  We had sort of gotten stalemated.  I had dominance of the sea with all of my boats on the board, and made sure that when the Kraken came up, I was the one who had first shot at him.  He sank a lot of boats and I got to do my whole Liam Neeson "RELEASE THE KRAKEN~!" thing.

Jeremy had managed to ramp up his income, though, and on the turn the Pegasus was revealed, he was able to outbid everyone.  I saw his winning play and guided him a little bit--it was the whole Pegasus drop on another player's Metropolis, then use another creature to convert one of his building types to get the fourth type.  Boom, none of us could really do anything to stop that play.

Cyclades really is a lot of fun, but I have a feeling a lot of games kind of end that way.

The Hades expansion's modules include a new option to bid for board placement, which looks extremely cool and could shake up those static start-ups from the base game.  There's also Hades himself, who comes out on a number of turns sort of determined by the dice, and when he's in play, the player who wins the bid on his slot can hire undead soldiers and ships *and* march or sail, provided that at least one undead unit is involved in each move.  That is so huge because it concentrates the planning and the attacking into one role.  If you've got a military bent, you'll be watching for Hades so that when he comes up, you'll be the one taking advantage.

The Divine Favors are essentially bonuses for taking that last non-Apollo god.  They areHades_Heroeseither in the form of magic items or Priestesses.  Magic Items are powerful one-shot abilities that you can keep until you want to use them.  Priestesses are tied into the new Hero unit, which aside from Hades himself is probably the coolest new thing about the expansion.

Heroes go into the mythological creature deck and are purchased in the same way--though they are Heroes, not creatures, so no discounts for Priests.  Heroes have two abilities; one is in battle, the other is one that allows you to sacrifice them on a future turn for some game-altering effect.  One of the biggest of these sacrificial effects is to allow you to take one of your in-play Metropolises and put it on the hero card itself, where it is protected and "yours" forevermore (no Pegasus drops!)

Unlike Creatures, Heroes can continue to work for you and don't automatically go away.  You do have to pay an upkeep (usually two gold) to keep them around.  The Priestess cards can be discarded instead of paying a hero's upkeep, or can also be used to keep a mythological creature in play for one additional turn.

The last module is the Necropolis, a large building that you can create when you have won the services of Hades.  It becomes a coin factory, earning you Gold every time a normal unit is defeated in combat.  Of the new stuff, this is the one I'm sort of dubious about, as space for large buildings on your islands gets tight pretty quickly, and someone can always take the Necropolis from you either militarily or with a future Hades role themselves.

We'll get Cyclades: Hades played over the next couple of weeks, and I'll see how these new gameplay elements interact.  They will certainly serve to make the game more complex, but I also think that they will make a lot of the decisions a lot more interesting and interactive.



It's Perfectly Easy, to Spin that Wheel 'Round

Speaking of Asmodee, when I requested a review copy of Cyclades: Hades a few weeks ago, Stefan informed me that he was still waiting on the shipment.  Then he slyly asked, "did I ever send you a copy of Evo?"

Asmodee_Evo_CoverNow...I knew vaguely about Evo, but in my mind I had dumped it into the whole "Primoridal Soup/Fucking Reef Encounter/Whatever" game of Euro fish/dinosaur/goo evolution and had never looked too deeply into the game at all.  I knew it had been part of their reprint initiative that included Formula D.  So I was hesitant, but considering that Asmodee is probably one of the major publishers who really "gets" our site the most, I agreed to give it a look.

While I waited for it to arrive, I started looking over the rules...dinosaurs gaining powers like Flight, move around a map, 1 victory point for each territory you control...why did this sound familiar?

Then it clicked as I looked at the designer--Phillippe Keyartes of Vinci and Small World fame! was starting to make sense.

I wasn't crazy about the goofy artwork that I saw from the old edition, but when I received the new edition of Evo I saw that they had improved the artwork greatly.  In fact, this was a tremendous production on their part, with two mounted boards, a large climate wheel, thick tokens, and gorgeously illustrated player mats.  The rules read more like "Dinosaur Smackdown" than "Yawnfest Euro."  Had I been sleeping on a classic game?  Maybe so.  (I know if it had actually been called "Dinosaur Smackdown", I'd have bought it years ago.  Can you smell what the Rex is cookin'?)

The gameplay will feel a little familiar to those who have played Keyartes' other hits.  Each player starts with an identical race of dinos, each race having two legs (movement points), 1 egg (their birthrate), and nothing else.  The map has several interconnected multi-colored zones that tie into the climate (more on that in a bit.)  On each turn, players will bid on new gene tokens drawn from a bag.  These gene tokens are the source of improving your dinos capabilities.  There are additional legs to increase movement, horns to make better fighters, eggs to increase your birthrate, and several unique genes that *really* ramp up your powers with cool stuff like Flight and Killer Babies.

Players will be bidding their Mutation Points (read: VP) to acquire these new genes.  OneEvo_Boardslot doesn't come with a gene but rather a random card draw from a small event deck that is full of powerful albeit one-shot special abilities.

Then, based on bid order and number of each player's dinosaurs, players take turns spending all their movement points to spread out over the map.  Only one dinosaur can be in each territory, so if an opponent has a spot you want, you can attack him with an adjacent dinosaur by rolling a special die.  The different results have mostly to do with the number of horns--the more you have than your opponent, the more likely your attack will succeed--though there are both a guaranteed success and guaranteed miss on the die as well.  If your attack fails, you don't lose your dino, and can try again at the cost of another precious movement point.

Once all players have moved, then in turn order each player gets new dinsoaurs equal to the number of their eggs, which must be placed on adjacent territories.  If you're later in the turn order, you may find yourself blocked from placing one of your babies where you want...unless you have that Killer Babies gene, which lets them come out rippin' and a teain', starting a fight right then and there.

After that, each player gets one MP for each of their dinosaurs on the board, and the next round starts.

Simple, right?

Well, I forgot to mention one little thing--the climate wheel.

The climate wheel shows each turn which territories are ideal (a dino survives), which are deadly (a dino dies), and which zones are hot and cold.  To survive either hot or cold zones, you will need special genes for each, and each gene of the appropriate type lets one dinosaur survive.

At the start of each turn, a token is flipped that shows the movement of the climate wheel for the turn.  This lets players know where the zones will be at the end of the turn.  And that's where the real fun begins; as dinosaurs scramble for the safe zones, they will inevitably butt horns in the mad dash to stay alive.  The cool part is that like Small World, you use one of four different boards based on the number of players.  This means that smaller numbers won't have this huge map to casually wander around, and more players will be given enough Climate_Wheel_Evoroom to breathe, if only just.

At any rate, at the end of the turn after all births happen, dinosaurs who are in deadly zones, or are in hot or cold zones without the appropriate gene, die and are removed from the board.   That incluldes the newborns; hey, this is a harsh, harsh world.

A comet tile is placed randomly amongst the bottom three tiles of the climate stack, and when it is revealed at the start of the turn, a comet strikes earth, the dinos all go extinct, and you count up your Mutation Points.  Highest is the winner.

I've got to say right off the bat that if you've played Small World, you can feel the fingerprints of what that became here.  Instead of drafting races, you're building your own race with special powers as the game goes on.  It's a good game that features a lot of interaction both via bidding as well as territorial combat.  Players will be struggling to keep as many of their dinos alive as possible, but there are only so many safe spots on the board.

I liked it, but I think had I not played his other games I would've been absolutely gaga over this, and I can see how it became a classic.

For me, Small World has the crazier powers and combos, and sweeping board changes as new races enter play.  In Evo, it sometimes feels a bit more like you're doing the "dinosaur shuffle" between safe zones.  Also, even though both Small World and Evo feature two-player boards, two-player Small World feels like a solid tactical match, but two-player Evo really doesn't work very well.  There are very few genes that come out, only one other bidder, and the 2-player map seems just a touch too big.  And in 2-player, if you get far ahead, forget about it.  You can spend more for the more powerful genes and continue to run your opponent off the board.

I do like how well the game discourages turtling.  The places you could actually turtle change from turn to turn.  Also, there is no penalty for failing to attack, so you can take a risk against even a more powerful foe without crippling yourself if you lose.

I think Evo will occupy a nice middle ground for gamers who found Small World's presentation too cutesy, and Vinci's presentation and combat too dry.  The fact that you get to roll a die for battle in Evo will be a plus as well if the deterministic combat of either of the other games was a turn-off.

It is a wonderfully produced game that features high doses of player interaction and screwage.  I don't think it's as dynamic as Small World nor as intensely tactical as Vinci.  But there is middle ground between those two, and Evo is going to appeal directly to that crowd.

At any rate, it's pretty awesome that companies like Asmodee, Fantasy Flight Games, Stronghold, and others are reprinting some of these classic games.  For those who want to try them they should definitely be available.  Asmodee definitely spared no expense on this nice treatment of Evo; hopefully we continue to get reprints made with the loving touch they deserve.



And that's going to do it for this edition of Next of Ken.  Until next time, keep those Killer Babies on a leash, out of the cold, and above all, watch out for those comets.  I'll see ya in seven.



Ken is a weekly columnist for Fortress: Ameritrash and a member of our staff.  When he's not knee deep in playing games for review, he's most likely opening the boxes and getting high off of the plastic vapours.
Click here for more articles by Ken.

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