Come on in for the oh-so-punctual Next of Ken, where this week, it's all game talk--I'll give you my juicy thoughts on Gosu: Kamakor, Rallyman, and Dragon Valley. That's right, Goblins, Racin', and Smaug's favorite Salad Dressing. Sound yummy? Of course it does. Join us, won't you?
Then She Was Cursing At Me, and Pointing at the Witches' Cauldron
We played a couple of hands of Gosu: Kamakor (Asmodee Games, Designer: Kim Sato, 2-4 players, 45-60 min), the new expansion for Gosu. For those who haven't played the original, it's a game about players forming a goblin army, using special powers on the cards to screw with your opponents' armies, trying to be the one to establish "Goblin Supremacy."
The new expansion comes with five new clans, for another 100 cards. The artwork on these cards is done in the same style, with some of the art being even better than the first set, and that's saying something. With five clans and 100 cards, the expansion is almost standalone in this regard; if you have a printed copy of the rulebook, something to service as activation tokens, and similarly something to act as the Advantage token, you can play this without the base game just fine.
There are a few new mechanisms added with Kamakor. First is Shadow Jumping--it's the ability to have a Goblin "leap" and reveal the top card of the draw deck. If it's the same rank as the jumper, that goblin is replaced by the card you revealed. If they fail this jump, they're "trapped" or flipped face down for the rest of the round, depriving you of their strength for that round's Final Battle. There are also goblins that are multi-level, which is a first. This helps your chances when Shadow Jumping, as you can use any level of the revealed card to match the would-be jumper.
The other big new thing is the Standard Bearer. It's a Goblin from each clan that if it is the first (lower left) goblin in your army, you get to draw two extra cards each round. In a game where you sometimes starve for cards, this is HUGE.
We dealt a hand and used the originally optional but now mandatory draft rules. You no longer can get totally boned by an opening draw, as you pass the starting hands back and forth to select a card from each, until everyone has their 7 cards. I can see why it was optionalbefore even if it is the optimal way to play, as since it was my brother's first game he was a bit overwhelmed by what to choose. You're asking a lot of your players to make the very first thing they do draft cards for a game they haven't even really learned yet. Nightfall has this pratfall too, but there you're only asking players to ultimately choose two cards instead of your entire opening hand of seven (and a hand that has to carry you through the whole game until you can find a way to get more cards!)
I was walking him through the first rounds, and after he seemed to be up to speed we got to the meat of the game. He took the first round, but then all hell broke loose. You see, there are a *lot* more aggressive goblins in this expansion--many more trap, destroy, and other screwage abilities. Previously, only the Fire Goblins were any good at doing this sort of thing, but now those types of abilities are more prevalent. This is great for those who wanted even more interaction than in the first set, but again, this is bad for newbies. An experienced player can get a leg up quickly and just press the advantage. I was able to sweep the next three rounds and the game after getting into a position to just hammer him.
We played again, but this time it was even more lopsided, and I wasn't trying to destroy him. With a lot of Gosu experience, I was able to look over the card powers quickly and make good formation choices. It's a very important skill in the game, and it was causing my brother a lot of frustration.
I liked the expansion a lot, but my initial thoughts of this being a good intro or standalone were dashed by how rough it was for my brother. To be fair, the game suggests that you use some included tokens for players to choose what 5 clans they want in the game. Someone who wants a more control or slower-paced game can use his or her drafts to get those types of goblins in the game. I think even drafting a clan or two from the base game would slow down the hyper-aggressive play. And again, doing this additional layer of drafting for someone just coming into the game is asking a considerable amount. For teaching the game, it may be best to craft a deck of the fiveclans that will make for the optimal experience and go from there. In retrospect, I could've tweaked just a deck for teaching my brother and he'd have had a more enjoyable experience.
An example of some of the fantastic art
There's also the same problem I had with Omen: A Reign of War with its excellent expansion--the best way to play the game (pre-game drafting) is kind of a headache, as you have to separate everything out each time. Omen is definitely more time consuming, but to do the draft, you'll need to sort out 10 clans from 200 cards. I think it's best that you agree to play a series of 3 full games and do just one draft, if you opt to go that route. I'm looking forward to giving it a try.
My early thoughts on this expansion are really positive. There are things in this expansion that I wanted, especially the ability for players to screw with each others' armies even more than before. This definitely serves to up the interactive quotient considerably. It also makes the game more punishing and much less forgiving. If you haven't tried Gosu at all yet, by all means, hunt down the base game and play it several times before you try to crack this one. I like the interactivity and aggressive play that the expansion offers. Those are definitely bullet points that I was after, but you'd better bring the Gosu experience beforehand. Consider this expansion an excellent "Gosu: Advanced" set, and dig deeper if the base game hooks you.
I'll have a full review when I can really put it through its paces. My wife has a rather not small winning percentage over me in Gosu, so that will be the *real* test.
I Rock the Whole World, North, East, and South
I love racing games, even though Pegasus Spiele's version of Top Race has spoiled me on needing to play many others. When Game Salute sent me a review copy of Rallyman (Rallyman, Designer: Jean Cristophe Bouvier, 45 minutes) though, I was pretty excited as I was interested in the rally theme. I was a big fan of Sega Rally Championship for the arcades in the 90s--slinging mud, powersliding through slick curves...good times, man. Good times.
Rallyman is unique in that the focus is not on finishing first, but instead finishing with the best time. You have five dice for each of your potential gears. Each square you move, you roll that gear, and you're able to move up or down 1 gear as you go additional spaces. There are also 2 white dice that let you maintain your current gear. The rub is that when you're done moving for the turn, you take a time card from a stack that matches the gear you ended your turn on. So if you finish a turn in 5th gear, you'll only add 10 seconds to your time; but finish in 1st, that costs you a whopping 50 seconds. Since you can only use each gear die once per turn, you will--admittedly unthematically--cover fewer spaces if you stay in a higher gear all the time.
It would be great to go balls to the wall in 5th gear, but there are sharp curves and bumps in the road that will force you to slow down. The curves have essentially a speed limit that you can take them in if you go inside, and then multiple squares if you want to "drift" through the turn that cost you more movement points but allows you to take the curve in a higher gear. In a nice touch, the curve slots for drifting are set up in such a way you won't be able to resist turning your little car sideways into the powerslide. If you take a curve too fast, you'll spin out, which may put you off the road and damage your car, reducing the number of dice you can roll each turn. The jumps are pretty cool, too. If you hit one at the right speed, you can jump several squares at once, but you risk a bad landing and a spin out, which can also damage your car.
Losing control of your car works like this normally--each die for each gear has a number of hazard icons on it, with the fast gears having more of these icons. As you move square per square, you roll that gear's die. Accumulating one or two hazards is ok, but the third in your turn will cause you to spin off the track and put you back in neutral, where you'll have to build up your momentum again. Assuming youhaven't damaged your car beyond repair through a series of wrecks.
You can get a time advantage by risking rolling all the gear dice you're going to use first all at once rather than one at a time. You'll get bonus 1-second tokens for each of the dice you roll this way. The risk is of course that you can't see the hazards piling up one at a time, so if you roll a fistful of dice at once, you run a much higher risk of losing control and being unable to do anything about it.
We set up a pretty short track using the double-sided boards, each of them having a series of criss-crossing and winding roads. You can spin, mix, and match these roads to set up whatever length race you want, and how dangerous the race will be. The snowy version of each track is on the flipside, and here the roads are even more treacherous thanks to the snow and ice. And you know what? It was really fun, especially the powersliding. I've read some people complaining the game is given to hard calculation, but you just can't play it that way and expect to have fun. The same folks can ruin Formula De as they count the spaces and potential routes three or four times before choosing their gear. I could see someone doing that, and yeah, that's maddening, but my advice is to not play with that type of gamer.
Of course, having said that, I twice found myself approaching a curve too quickly, and once went all-in with a risky "all the dice!" roll that had me spinning out, but man that was fun. Going with your gut only to have the dawning realization that I am going way too damned fast into this curve is a priceless feeling.
I think the best part about it is that this is the first racing game I've played that works well with two. The sacrifice is some of the 'during the race' interaction, but you can still try to hit the muddy shortcuts first and try to splash mud all over, forcing opponents who come through later to slow down.
The fact that's it's good 2-player couple with the large number of track configurations make it a winner so far. The different feel doesn't hurt--I challenge you not to make "eeeeeerrrrrrrk" noises as you powerslide through those curves. Is it mathy? Yeah, it can be. But you're still chucking dice and there are plenty of chances to press your luck. If you're worried about counting spaces, or someone in your group getting bogged down doing the same, it could definitely be a "try before you buy." But if you've been wanting a racing game that plays as well with two as four, this is it. Top Race still holds the overall racing crown, but Rallyman is certainly something different for racing aficionados and hits a sweet spot for those who are hard-pressed to gather five other like-minded gamers.
On a Cold, Dark, Winter Night, Hidden By the Stormy Light
Dragon Valley is probably the first boardgame I've played that felt almost exactly like a video game, more specifically, the "tower defense" line of games.
Players in Dragon Valley have their own quadrant of the board extending from the monster "frontier". Your quadrant is made up of several squares that are places for monsters and heroes to move as well as buildings to give you special powers to thwart the monster's advance.
It uses a somewhat gamey element of having a selection of monster and hero cubes pulled from the bag, cards drawn from the King's Aid deck, and a selection of building tiles drawn randomly. At this point, one player is the divider and splits the loot into piles equal to the number of players. Once this is done, the non-dividing players get their choice of which pile to take, with the divider getting last choice. Monsters are then placed on the battlefield of the receiving players, heroes in the keep, buildings in your stash, and King's Aid cards in front of you. The King's Aid cards are not kept from turn to turn but are "use it or lose it". Some of them have a mandatory effect, such as causing the enemies to advance an additional time during their movement phase, so they're not all positive.
Then, players take turns doing a particular action. Generally, they will either move their heroes or build the buildings from their stash. The heroes all have certain enemies they can destroy (combat is not random but deterministic.) Knights will easily vanquish Battering Rams, but in combat versus the Orcs they will destroy each other. And against Dragons? Only the Archers have the natural ability to destroy a Dragon. Yes, I found it weird that Knights were no match for a Dragon--I'm just assuming these are the flying "roast you from above" kind, like in that Matthew Mcconaghey movie. You know, the one where he doesn't take his shirt off. No, wait, I'm just kidding. He always takes his shirt off. "I'm bare-chested and I'm gonna kill some dragons', y'all."
Once all players have done this, the enemies on everyone's board advances. If this in turn creates more combat, you resolve it the same way. In either case, the farther out you kill an enemy, the more VP it's worth. As the enemies advance though, they will hit an area where they start costing you negative VPs as they draw closer and closer to your keep. Heroes aren't your only line of defense. Buildings can do all sorts of cool things such as power up your heroes where they can slay multiple foes (or even monsters they couldn't kill normally) or even drive the bad guys right off the cliff for even more VPs.
Players will find themselves at first just trying to build up some sort of defenses as the goods get dished out and chosen. Eventually, you'll have the option of rushing your own guys out to the monster camps to siege their locations. Bring the right mix of heroes and you'll destroy that enemy location, getting you a hefty chunk of VPs. You repeat this division/action turn to turn until someone tips over 30 VPs; you then finish the round, and the player who has the highest score at the end of that round wins the game.
I do have to admit there is quite a bit of thematic weirdness in the game. Why are Knights completely ineffective versus Dragons? If they're airborne, making them vulnerable to your archers, then how on earth can they be driven off the cliff? It's that point where the system feels more and more like a video game. You don't question why you're randomly picking up bursts of sun in Plants vs. Zombies or why they shuffle along a discreet number of rows, never bothering to flank you. But while it's true that you won't feel as though you're on the battlefield against orcs and dragons, you do get that panicked feeling as you watch enemy hordes descending on your extremely poorly set-up defenses. It's that sweat-inducing tension that has caused many controllers to go flying across the room as your well-laid plans finally crumble.
There are several sub-strategies in the game, and that's where a big part of the whole resource division process comes into play. Forexample, one of the buildings is the Dungeon; a player can build it, and then there is a card that allows that player to store prisoners there or cash the ones you have in for VPs. The more of these prisoners you build up, the higher the cash-in. A dividing player may see that the dungeon guy really wants that cash-in card, and may put it in an otherwise crappy selection of stuff. It's a double-edged sword though because the card bites you for a negative point if you can't stash a prisoner. If the dungeon player is smart, they can stash that card in with some other goodies to make it sting for anyone choosing that pile.
You can do other things like force hero-starved players to miss out on juicy buildings and cards, or try to lump in Battering Rams with the best buildings as these Rams have a nasty habit of smashing their way through a great deal of brick and stone.
It's a gamey element, for sure. If you consider this a board game depiction of a fantasy-themed tower defense game, then I don't think that part will hurt your opinion of the game.
I like the ability to take the fight to the enemy, and that's where the rest of the player interaction comes from. Most of the time, you'll spend your time fighting your own battles on your board. When it comes time to lay siege to the baddies, you'll need to send adequate troops out there to conquer their locations. Sneaky players can bring troops in to finish sieges you've started but not finished, so you have to be very careful that once you've started a siege you can finish it quickly. Since the locations are face-down at the start of the game, that means you'll either need to use certain powers to let you sneak a peek, or just build up a sufficient army and take your chances you'll have the right mix to conquer whatever enemy territory you find.
There's no denying the game is pricey, but the components are on the whole very good. The board is this huge, very attractive six-fold board. Instead of minis for the heroes and monsters, you're getting cubes. I know that's not ideal for some, but for a game reliant on the random draw of monsters and heroes, it's either cubes or chits. These cubes are sturdy and do their job well. The tiles are nice and thick. The 12 included cards are on decent stock, but will be shuffled every turn so if you're at all a sleever, you'll probably want to slip some on 'em.
All in all, Dragon Valley is an interesting game that does a good job at providing a competitive tower defense experience, and that's not a game type that I have a lot of. A lot of the game is going to come down to that distribution of resources; I found myself over and over again thinking I was creating a tough choice for my opponent, only to have him quickly reach for one of the piles as though the choice was an easy one. Unless you learn this skill, you're going to do pretty badly, and if that sort of valuation exercise turns you off, you may not have nearly as much fun with Dragon Valley. I liked it, having been used to such a mechanic from the Magic: The Gathering days of "Fact or Fiction" that forced your opponent to do a similar but much simpler division.
It's not a homerun as some of the concessions of gameplay over theme will take some folks right out of the game and not everyone will enjoy the resource division mini-game. What you're left with though is a solid game that will appeal to fans of that genre as well as giving gamers a nice competitive tower defense game. I like it, but can only recommend it to those who like the sound of those mechanics.
And that's going to wrap up this fortnightly episode of "Next of Ken" We've been in the process of buying a house and all sorts of crazy work-related stuff that is running me ragged, so I hope to get this ship back on a weekly course very shortly. As always, thanks for reading, and I'll see ya....soon.