Come on in for this sexily-numbered Next of Ken, where the 2012 F:AT Reader's Choice nominations are in, and voting begins! I've got all the gory details inside. Also, a review of the most excellent Core Words: Galactic Orders. Join us, won't you?
The nominations are in, and when the smoke cleared and the votes were tallied, we now have YOUR Final Five in each category! And unlike Battlestar Galactica, THESE Final Five weren't drawn randomly out of a hat!
(Wow, how's *that* for a timely joke, huh?)
The rules are simple--one vote per category, one set of votes per user. As we've done in years past, feel free to add your quotes, your rationale, your voice to your votes, to sway other would-be voters, or to get your name in lights when I do the results column. The user quotes have been a favorite for many readers, so let's make this year no different! Votes will be accepted starting immediately and running through next Monday, February 25th, 2013.
So here we are...your top nominations in each category, in random order, were as follows:
Best Wargame Nominees, 2012:
1812: Invasion of Canada
1989: Dawn of Freedom
Best 2-player Game, 2012:
Puzzle Strike: 3rd Edition
Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
Best Adventure Game, 2012:
Legends of Andor
Mice & Mystics
Agents of SMERSH
Best Expansion, 2012:
Puzzle Strike: Shadows
King of Tokyo: Power Up!
Cosmic Encounter: Cosmic Alliance
Mage Knight: The Lost Legion
Netrunner: What Lies Ahead
Best Deckbuilding or Card Game, 2012:
Puzzle Strike: 3rd Edition
Star Wars: The Card Game
Best Reprint or New Edition, 2012:
Puzzle Strike: 3rd Edition
War of the Ring, 2nd Edition
Sentinels of the Multiverse: Enhanced Edition
Best Beer n' Pretzles Game, 2012:
King of Tokyo: Power Up!
Epic Spell Wars...
Best Game of the Year, 2012:
Puzzle Strike: 3rd Edition
If You Battle Me, I Will Revile
Just one review on tap for today, but it's a good one. Usually when I do just one review it's for something I really enjoyed or really hated. Today? Definitely the former. Oops--spoiler alert!
I had the pleasure of playing Core Worlds: Galactic Orders, the expansion to Stronghold Games' innovative deckbuilder Core Worlds. As long-time readers may remember, I was definitely a fan of the game when it debuted, and found its unique take on deckbuilding refreshing. I'd hoped that this would lead to a continually more innovative slate of deckbuilding games, but...well, that's a topic for my 2012 year-end review column, so we'll talk more about it then.
To refresh your memory, Core Worlds has players representing various "barbarian" worlds that have decided to take advantage of the crumbling Empire to launch their attacks on the Core Worlds, travellings system by system, growing more powerful in strength until they are ready to conquer those once lofty Core Worlds directly. How will you do this? Well, deckbuilding. Yeah, I know. But, unlike the typical "play a bunch of cards, put them in your discard pile, acquire some cards, draw a new hand" procedure in many deckbuilders, in Core Worlds you have to spend precious energy and actions getting those cards into play, to then be used at a time of your choosing to defeat and conquer enemy worlds. At the start, you'd only be able to manage weak ground and space attacks, but as you claimed new technology, new ships, and new troops, you were able to bring more and more considerable strength to bear in your conquests.
The juggling of energy, actions, acquiring cards, deploying units, and attacking worlds turned Core Worlds from one of the legions of brain-dead Dominion clones into something I found unique and special.
People who played the base game noticed that there were several cards that bore icons on them that served no other purpose. Designer Andrew Parks (definitely in contention for "nicest, most supportive of his games" game designer) teased that these would be used in the expansion. Lo and behold, these icons are tied to the titular Galactic Orders--think Orders like "The Order of Leitbur", not orders like "Hey, you, wash your hands and make me a sandwich." These orders are the Galactic Senate, the Science Guild, the Merchant Alliance, the Mining Coalition, the Order of Knighthood, and the Mystic Brotherhood. According to the game's fiction, these independent organizations, though powerful, are content to play on the edges of the war, granting favors to those who need them, but for what purpose?
The game accomplishes this by including six oversized, super-sturdy thick cards representing the six different Galactic Orders. The players are given a set of new tokens bearing the insignia of their Home World. During the game, you'll recruit cards that have the different logos of these organizations and when you deploy or play them, you'll get to add one of your tokens to that particular Galactic Order's card. Then, when you need a boost, you can discard your token to gain the benefit of that Galactic Order.
For example, during the game you may acquire and then play a card bearing the symbol of the Mystic Brotherhood. You'll add one of your tokens to their card, which says "During your Player Turn, draw 3 cards." So, whenever you feel like cashing that in, you can take one of your tokens off to get 3 new cards from the top of your deck. Pretty handy group of folks to have a relationship with, I'd say. Or perhaps you need some help in boosting your military strikes to help you take over another world--the Order of Knighthood lets you remove tokens from their order card to gain +2 to either Ground or Fleet Strength for an invasion.
Before you go ripping all those tokens off the cards to pile up energy, strength, and cards, you'll want to consider the fact that at the game's end, each order will reward those who helped them rise to more prominent positions in the new galactic order. For each Galactic Order card, the person with the most tokens on that card will earn points equal to their number of tokens, with lesser rewards going to those in 2nd place depending on the number of players. That means that you'll have to consider how often you want to cash in those favors, as leaving your tokens there could mean a sizable boost in your final score.
Even if that was the only thing that this expansion really brought to the table that would be fairly significant, but there's a whole lot more. New cards for each sector have been added, including a new Core World to conquer that has its VP tied up in the tokens on the Galactic Orders. The added cards are terrific because it makes the galaxy feel much larger. You'll go through several games without seeing lots of the same cards, adding to the exploration feel. Mixed in with these new cards are Events. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, when you're dishing out the cards on offer for the turn, you'll have to follow the instructions on the most recently revealed Event. Some of these are good, many bad, and they can definitely affect how you wanted your turn to play out. Those who like to tightly plan out their turns might be annoyed when an Event costs them precious energy, but I enjoy the added uncertainty of what will happen from turn to turn.
But wait--there's more! Responding to a few of the stronger strategies from the base game, new enhancements reward early expansion much moreso than the original game. There's the fact that by acquiring cards from early sectors you'll get those tokens onto Galactic Orders more quickly, which is a pretty big deal. Every faction received an upgraded Home World that grants you the ability to draw an extra card at the start of the turn if you have more Worlds on the table than units in your Warzone. But also, your Home World has a new type of card that attaches to it and once you have conquered your third world, gives you added deck-thinning capabilities--which if you have played Dominion, you know how powerful that can be. Last but not least, the original settlement rule has been amended. Originally you could only garrison a conquered world with one of your low-level Grunts or Snub Fighters--useful for getting them out of your deck, but limiting as the game went on. Now, you may garrison a world with any unit involved in the invasion, giving you a larger flexibility to get those once-useful units out of the way of the bigger and better hitters.
Last but not least is the new box. The base game for Core Worlds had what would have charitably been dubbed an inadequate storage solution, with basically just an oversized box with no way to organize anything short of a bunch of a bunch of baggies. Core Worlds: Galactic Orders is also oversized, but in a good way. It's now Ticket to Ride sized, with small cardboard dividers to keep everything stored and separated nicely. There's also plenty of room for further expansions, which I don't doubt are on their way should Core Worlds continue to prove successful.
Why do I like this so much? For starters, I really liked Core Worlds a lot. It was a fresh take on what could be done with the deckbuilding engine and made the gameplay decisions you made equally if not more important than the cards you were purchasing or otherwise acquiring for your deck. You always had a tight constraint on actions and energy too so you had to carefully weigh your options or you would be woefully under-prepared for those final sectors that needed considerable military might to claim anything.
The Galactic Orders add another layer of decision-making to what cards you play and what you should be putting in your deck. There's also that balancing act of spending those tokens for helpful boosts versus letting them sit for huge points gains in the end. These tokens really help as their benefits mid-game are very powerful, easing some of the constraint you might have felt in the original game. That certainly makes certain aspects of the game easier, but by the same degree everyone has access to those benefits. That means that the early action of the game has been improved and you often get to the "good stuff" faster in terms of prepping your horde of space barbarians for juicy conquest.
To me, this is one of those expansions that while originally the main game didn't seem lacking, you get the expansion and you realize that it is such a vital component you can't ever see yourself playing without it ever again. Core Worlds: Galactic Orders fleshes out the gameplay by adding that additional dimension of certain cards being worth tokens that will grant different benefits, but balancing their expenditure with the endgame in mind. As a result the game itself feels more robust and full without overburdening it with stuff that makes you lose sight of what the original gameplay was all about to begin with.
It's rare that I struggle to find at least a few elements of criticism for a game or expansion, and really the only one I can think of here is that there's a variant in the back allowing for shared conquest of Core Worlds. Bleh! Space Barbarians don't "share conquest." Space Crom would not approve of such silliness, and neither should you.
And yes, really, that's all I've got in terms of criticism here. I even had to stretch for that one, as it's merely a proposed variant!
If you were at all a fan of the original Core Worlds, this is truly a "must have" expansion, no questions asked. If you weren't really a fan, it's hard to say if this would sway you or not. For those who found the early game boring or dominated by narrow strategies, Galactic Orders will open that part of the game up nicely. For those who suffered from the feeling of constraint, this expansion makes it more forgiving, but it's still tough to coordinate those final invasions for the big points. You just won't feel like you're punished as badly for some of your earliest of plays as getting cards with any of the icons on them will be a great boon as the game goes on.
If you've avoided Core Worlds altogether because you aren't a deckbuilding fan or were just suffering from the fatigue of the seemingly endless parade that were released over the past few years, I will urge you to seek out someone who has a copy and at least give it a try. Core Worlds is not satisfied to be just another Dominion clone, and in fact feels very little like that game at all. It's an evolutionary design that is enhanced greatly by this new expansion, and I think the thematic elements in Core Worlds will go a long way towards your enjoyment of the game.
Not only one of the best expansions of last year, but one of the better ones period. 2012 was a year of a lot of excellent expansions, so it will make my year-end selections all the more difficult. Rest assured though that this is on the shortlist, no questions asked.
Another column in the books. Don't forget--GET YOUR VOTES IN!! If you have any questions about voting, or need help, don't hesitate to contact me. I want as many voters to be heard as possible, and if I can help you participate, then that's what I'm going to do.
So until people learn that crime doesn't pay, I'll see ya in seven. RIP, Leslie.