Welcome to another MIRACLE~! edition of Next of Ken. We're going quick-fire reviews and game impressions this week as I've got several games to talk about. Things ramp up from here...Trashfest South is next week, and I'll be sure to give everyone the low-down on all the goodies then. Also--important news about the column at the very end. So strap in and hold on tight!
First up, before we get started, just finished watching the Season 2 finale of Game of Thrones on HBO. It was another really good season and the numbers are really, really good, making this series a monster success for them (and rightfully so.)
They did diverge more from the novels in several ways, with certain characters just left out completely, scenes changed, and whole elements of the story gone or changed. Some of this isn't to be expected as these books get longer and longer and there's a lot of ground to cover. But some of the changes were odd. Not bad, just...odd.
I expect that another round of Emmy nominations are in order, especially for Peter Dinklage again as Tyrion Lannister. Season 2 was essentially his in a lot of ways, so a back-to-back win would certainly be justified. He steals every scene he's in. Tyrion rocks. Props too go to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's portrayal of Jaime Lannister, who owns the character and plays him with the perfect mix of arrogance and charm.
Season 3 based on A Storm of Swords will be spread out over two seasons, and that's probably for the best as it's a MONSTER-sized book with a whole hell of a lot of material for them to cover. And they'll either have to push some of the missing stuff from Clash of Kings into the next season or leave out some things entirely--especially a lot of things about Riverrun, which will be pretty important later.
The bad news, of course, is that it will be almost another year before the next season starts. This season literally flew by and it will make the wait even more excruciating for fans of the series.
Let the Thunder Give You Youth, Let the Fire Give Me Truth
It is law that I must try each and every deckbuilder in existence, and though I was slow to get around to it, I finally got a chance to play Rune Age recently, having acquired it in trade. To be honest, from everything I'd read on it, unless it was getting an expansion I didn't have this high on my list of games to try. Now that an expansion is on the way, I was ready to dive in and see if I'd actually missed anything.
We did the Dragonlords scenario, and right off the bat the common complaint was pretty evident...you only get three neutral cards to compliment your starting archive of armies. However, between the stacks of money, the cities, your own stuff, and the three neutrals there does end up being a deceptively decent amount of things to shoot for.
What's really weird is juggling the three (!) types of resources in the game, those being Money, Influence, and Unit Power. I remember reading the rulebook and thinking how you could just ignore Gold or Influence, but the game does a good job of making you feel as though you need each one.
The Event deck keeps each turn moving, and the genteel nature of Stage I lulled us into a false sense of security. Some Dragonlords would come out and posture, but there didn't seem much impetus to kill them off. In fact, one turn I decided I would make a grab for one of the cities my brother had taken control of, just because, and that started a little pissing match between the armies.
If you've played this scenario, you know what happens next.
Suddenly the Dragonlord pops out who sits and dishes out damage to the 'weaker' player. That suited me just fine as that was Jeremy's problem. But because it was his problem, he attacked me again.
Then, oh, an event that pumps out 3 damage to each home realm? Oooookay. Then the realization that *only* Stage II events reshuffle?
So I figure, I'll do the time-honored thing I do in almost every scenario game where combat between players is allowed, and that's kill off all opponents so the scenario doesn't matter. Right? So sure enough, I was able to take him out, and I smiled and chuckled...
And realized the scenario continues, except now the Dragonlords only have ME to feast on.
I scrambled like mad but no way in hell I could come up with 18 strength in hand to kill the main baddie, and my once proud Elven Realm soon got destroyed mercilessly.
Now, I can only comment on this one play so far, so take that for what you will. I've yet to play what is often cited as the best scenario (Rune Wars), and we really just floundered through the one play trying stuff to see how the system worked. However, of what I saw, I did like it more than I thought I would. The combat is pretty sweet with feints, each holding off playing certain units until they can maximize their abilities. I really thought the resource system would be screwed up, allowing you to ignore one type or another but you really can't. Sure, that Neutral Demon looks awesome, but in a 2-player game there's only 3 of him. You'll need your own race-specific guys, and those cost Gold, not influence.
I do see the complaints that people have levied against it. The neutral pool seems small, despite the fact that you do have your own stuff to buy. The problem with that of course is that those cards are *always* what you're buying for your race, so that never changes no matter what.
Personally I'm glad that they have the different scenarios, even though it does water down the content of each one. They have four distinct flavors and that alone gives the game needed flexibility. You're sacrificing depth for breadth, and that's a trade-off that works just fine for some games, this one included.
It's not the best deckbuilder in the world, but it is innovative in its use of player-on-player combat, the Event deck, and scenario play. The main mechanisms may crib from those that came before it, but it does bring a few new things to the table. Right now Rune Age is probably perched at a very precarious position. If the upcoming expansion is good and alleviates some of the common complaints, it will be in a solid spot. A poorly-received expansion though will quite possibly kill it.
The very definition of a "solid 7" gut reaction after only one play, I do look forward to playing it more.
Mac Models Pop Bottles
Over Memorial Day weekend we played a couple of party games with the family--Dixit and Time's Up: Title Recall. Not going to spend a lot of time here on these two but figured for the family gamer who reads this column, they might appreciate the quick impressions. I'm not the biggest party game fan, not because I'm not sociable, but because most of them suck-ass.
Dixit was a game I'd picked up very cheaply at one of the local overstock outlet stores, and it seemed like a good fit. We started with some Great Dalmuti (officially a family staple, probably forevermore) and we moved on to Dixit.
The game is full of these surreal, oddball images and your job is to give a clue that hopefully someone will recognize, but not everyone. In fact, the way the scoring goes, you really only want one other person to get it right. Trick is, other players will play cards to the same pile, hoping to leech off your description. Because you've kept it vague--if you don't, and everyone guesses your card, you get NOTHING--then there's a chance they'll have a card that could be mistaken for your esoteric comment of "A Splintered Ceremony."
At any rate, the cluegiver/storyteller rotates around the table until the deck expires. Most points wins.
Right off, everyone enjoyed it after they got into it, but the card pool for the base game is far, far too small. You'll have most of them pass through your hands after only a couple of games, or see them played. The deck is also exhausted too quickly; with six, it doesn't even make it around twice. It's fun, but it needs more cards, almost immediately. That kind ofsucks.
Also, the scoring system is screwed up. Your best bet is for only one other player to guess correctly, and the others to scattershot vote across the other cards. So if you have your spouse or close friends mixed in, you'll go for some inside joke. If taken too seriously, the scoring totally breaks down.
I'll be on the lookout for another deal for one of the sequels, and we'll play with a rule of everyone gets two or three turns. Just have to see how that goes. So although I give Dixit a passing grade for a family game, the base set gets a fail for not having enough content in there.
Time's Up: Title Recall was next. We'd played and enjoyed Time's Up Deluxe, and by all recommendations Title Recall was better. After playing it, I don't think it's better per se, but I do think it's 'easier' to come up with clues. With people, you either know them or you don't. With titles, you can break them down into common words. The first round, you can give any clues you'd like. The second round, you only get one word but can use charades and gestures. The third round? You can't say a word.
This all sounds impossible, until you realize that you're working with a select set of cards from the start of the game. Eventually what happens is the game becomes an exercise in meme creation. You'll feed off of failed clues, or funny moments from a previous round, anything to get your opponent to say the key word. You end up with this cauldron of stuff and by the end of the game, you end up with silly in-jokes (for example, flexing your arms and huffing at the very end was "Hogan's Heroes.")
Time's Up Title Recall blows away Dixit in that it requires the same sort of creativity, but there's a whole lot more content in the box. The cards are numerous, and they're also double-ended. You pick at the start if you're playing the blue or yellow sides, so effectively you're getting 'double' the amount of cards in game content.
Oh, and Title Recall is cheaper. Go figure. But hey, Dixit won Spiel des Jahres. I suppose they were voting on potential of the system rather than what you actually get in the box. That's the only explanation I've got, because alone, there definitely needs to be more "there" there. But hey, they gave it to Qwirkle too, so y'know, what the hell.
So my recommendation: Dixit is not worth owning just as a base game. It's fun, but only dig in if you're going to buy more than one set. Time's Up: Title Recall though is family fun in a small, affordable box and worth having and playing with your close friends, just to see what stupid jokes emerge. It's a good time.
Strip Me of My Status, My Everything, Immortalize My Name
I'm just going to say this--World Conquerors from Gorilla Games is very, very close to pure genius.
Imagine taking your typical Dudes on a Map game, distilling it down to its essence in terms of combat, inserting a deck chock full of famous leaders of history that can be used in multiple ways, put it in a fishbowl of conflict with victory conditions determined by the strength of your fellow players, and hey, make it play in an hour and change?
Yeah, that's World Conquerors.
I'll forgive you for thinking that it isn't much to look at, and in some ways you're exactly right. You've got a simplistic world map with a minimal number of territories, some wooden pawns, a deck of cards, and a pile of cubes. In that regard, nothing much to write home about. Ah, but the devil's in the details.
World Conquerors tasks you with using your armies to establish the biggest empire you can. On your turn, you'll play one of your Rulers from hand, and that Ruler will have a power that you can use for a whole round of play. Each ruler also has a goal, and if you should accomplish that goal, you'll get a tidy bonus. Your Ruler will have a home territory, and you'll plop down your Ruler pawn there, displace any army currently there (more on that in a minute), grab a predetermined number of army tokens to your pool, and get to the business of world domination.
What's really cool is that your army cubes serve as both your 'money' so to speak as well as your markers for on-board conquest. The game has an escalating Supply Cost that you must either pay for failed invasions or for initiating a naval battle (read: attacking a non-adjacent territory.) Every time the Supply Cost is paid for any reason, it goes up a notch. If you couldn't pay for a failed invasion to start, then you can't attack at all. Pretty simple.
So you're getting this supply of cubes each turn that must both fund your attacks as well as mark your territory on the board. Attacks are also simple affairs; you get one die while attacking (and the defender gets one die, even if it's a neutral territory.) If either territory is player-controlled, that player will get bonus dice for each territory adjacent to the one being attacked. Highest die of all these rolled wins, with ties going to the defender. If either player has their Ruler or General Pawn in or adjacent to the contest territory, you can use them each once per battle to re-roll one of your dice. Lose on the attack and you must may the current supply cost and bump it up a notch. Combat can of course get more involved with certain leaders who have combat-specific powers. There's also a really odd-ball rule where if you ever roll all "4s" at once, your current leader dies. I guess this sort of simulates a leader cut down in his prime. What's bad though is if you're only rolling one die and it turns out to be a 4. Yep, good night, Mao Tse-tung.
Ruler cards can be used for other purposes. Each card has a secondary "Agent" ability that you can play from your hand as a one-shot for a wide variety of effects. For example, Ashoka can be played to treat one of your "6s" as a "9", perfect for dislodging a defender who has hot dice. Lastly, you can play a Ruler card to move/place your smaller General pawn in the territory listed on the card; Generals stay in place and grant you re-rolls in or adjacent to their location.
At the end of your turn, there is a similarly escalating bonus value that should you meet your ruler's goal printed on his card, you'll get the current bonus value in army cubes to add to your stash.
Then, you'll count up your territories. If it's higher than any previous turn, you'll move your score marker up to that point. If it's lower than your current best, you'll leave it where it is. Reset the Supply Cost, and play passes around the table, and at the end of four full rounds of play if no one has achieved total global domination, then the player who managed to own the most territories in one turn is declared the victor.
First up, there are some really crazy cool things going on underneath the surface of this simple-looking game. Choosing your ruler from turn-to-turn, managing the best way to use each card, planning your best avenues of attack, trying to not get hamstrung by the Supply Cost. There's a really cool feeling of stringing together strong combos that will have you sweeping your way across the map.
Players are able to use Rulers as Agent cards at any time, even when they're not directly involved in the current combat. It's hard to wrap your brain around if you're used to most "every man for himself" world conquest games, but there are times that there is wisdom in "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," and you'll help bolster the defense of another player just to keep someone else from establishing too strong of a position. Players should be especially careful of allowing anyone to dominate Asia, as it can be very tough to uproot someone once they've gotten entrenched. You'll likely spend fewer cards helping someone repel a would-be conqueror than the fistful you'd have to spend to kick them out once they've set up shop.
It also lends itself to some delicious backstabbing opportunities. Best of all, players draw a new card on *every* player's turn, so you're never completely without options.
So what you get is a lean, mean, cube killing machine filled with leaders with special powers, mix in some diplomacy and backstabbing, and let quickly simmer to a boil.
It's not quite perfect, though, and there could be a couple of hang-ups for some gamers. First, you're rolling fewer dice than in something like Risk, so there are times where the dice are just going to bone you. I don't think it's as catastrophic as "ten armies get held off by two" craziness that happens in Vanilla Risk as since the attacker doesn't lose their attacking army, so as long as you can afford the Supply Cost, you're free to give it another shot. Personally, if I am going to get hosed by the dice, I'd rather have it happen in one roll rather than after a series of them that led up to the *really* important one.
The Rulers do vary wildly in their power level too. There were some that seemed borderline useless while others like Hannibal and Alexander the Great could make mincemeat out of the best of defensive positions. This isn't something that bothers me too badly, especially in a game as relatively short as this one. It gives you that "YES!" reaction when you do draw a good leader, such as Stalin.
That segues me to my next point--the game pulls no punches in which leaders it includes, featuring the aforementioned Stalin as well as Hitler. Again, this doesn't bother me as I don't look at it as either glorifying nor trivializing any of their atrocities. Basically, it's a measure of giving the game it's weird anachronistic feel by including some of the most famous (and infamous) leaders doing battle across the globe. It's abstracted tyranny as light seasoning, and it works just fine for me.
Other than that, what you'll get is a tense, fast-flowing, pull-no-punches global battle royale where you'll play some cards, roll some dice, and shoot for the biggest empire you can get. Chain your attacks, slap down your special power cards, and kick the teeth in of a smorgasbord of history's brightest leaders and most hideous despots. You've got four turns to stake your claim as the mightiest empire in history...so make it count.
This one came out of nowhere for me, and gets a big thumbs-up. If you're a fan at all of Dudes on a Map, you owe it to yourself to at least try it. Personally? I think you'll like it.
And that's going to bring yet another column to a close. Starting next week with the Trashfest South wrap-up, I'll be moving back to my old weekly schedule, so you'll be seeing a new column from now on every week. Big-time thanks to San for filling in, and I wouldn't mourn his front page offerings just yet, as I'll guarantee you'll see them again.
So for the first time in a few months, I get to say...I'll see ya in seven. Thanks for reading!
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.
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