Barnes on Games - Grand Prix in Review, The Others, Black Fleet, Planet Rush

Barnes on Games - Grand Prix in Review, The Others, Black Fleet, Planet Rush Hot

Michael Barnes     
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Rubbing is not racing this time out.

Wow, I just realized that somehow I've blown off posting here for two weeks in a row. Lazy!

Anyway, I have two reviews for you to make up for it. One is for a great game, one is for a lousy one. The great one is Grand Prix, which is Jeff and Carla Horger's follow-up to Thunder Alley. They've moved the racing action to open wheel, Formula-1 style motorsports and for the most part the transition works really well. The game is faster, a little looser and the scoring is completely different, which changes things up quite a bit in terms of how you play your cards and manage your teammate. There are also NPC cars now so there is a full grid every game. I'm not sure which of the two I like better, but right now I think TA is just slightly the better game. Word on the street is that their next racing design is going to have combat, so that is something to look forward to.

The  bad game is The Others, one of CMON's highfalutin multi-million dollar Kickstarter mill titles where they shower you with junk to encourage you to keep your pledge. It's a stupid, ugly game with a terrible setting. Unfortunately, it also boasts some pretty impressive and quite innovative concepts as far as the "all against one"/"overlord" style design concept goes. It's too bad that they aren't in a better game that doesn't play out like another tired-ass co-op dungeoncrawl. Or in one that isn't like a discarded idea for a Vertigo comic circa 1995. Pete bought my copy at a tremendous discount and I will be glad to never see it again.

Now, last week I got a mysterious and quite unsolicited package in the mail from Amazon. An anonymous F:ATtie sent me a copy of Black Fleet, which absolutely delighted me because it was one of the games I had wanted to check out during the ERP but I never got around to looking at it.  As requested, I will do a full review of it in the next couple of weeks but I have played it a couple of times and it's really good! It's a smart, slick design that is TOTALLY in line with ERP values- which is to say it plays an feels like a classic German game. It's designed by Sebastian Bleasdale, who is sort of in Knizia's inner circle and has worked with the Great Man on a couple of designs. It shows in this one because it has that really focused sense of design. But it gets a little squirrely in how there is kind of an upgrade path. It kind of plays out like a very, very streamlined Merchants and Marauders. Liking this one quite a lot, but the three player game was sort of missing something. Another player.

Speaking of Knizia, I have Victory Point Games' newest and it is actually a Knizia title. I requested a review copy without actually looking it over, so I was pretty surprised to find that it is actually a re-release of Tower of Babel. Now, I liked Tower of Babel quite a lot and I think it is a dramatically underrated Knizia title, so I was very happy to see it back. There are some changes, the most obvious of which is that is now a space building thing, but it is mostly the same game. Which is nowhere advertised on the box or ad copy. Review on this one is coming too.

I've got a couple of things cued up as we head into the holidays...I'll be covering the Bloodborne card game (which looks very iffy) and the new version of Kaleidos (which I love). I've also got the reprint of Escape from Coldtiz on the way as well as TMNT, which I'm doing with Charlie. And probably Conan, which I have a feeling I will dislike.


Barnes on Games - Grand Prix in Review, The Others, Black Fleet, Planet Rush There Will Be Games
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Posted: 14 Nov 2016 22:11 by Vlad #238414
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I liked The Other's review, thanks Michael&Charlie. It made me think that the boardgame market is getting to or is already at the point of over-saturation. I bet the same game would have garnered a warmer reception a few years ago, I think I might've been excited. Now it's just: meh, another coop. Makes me wonder what will be next for the industry.
Posted: 15 Nov 2016 04:58 by JEM #238422
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The Others isn't a dungeon crawl co-op. It's a strategy game. Barnes reviewed the game on the basis of what it isn't, not what it is, and I'm not surprised he didn't have a good time with it.
Posted: 15 Nov 2016 09:33 by Michael Barnes #238449
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I get what you are saying Jem and we talk about that a bit in the review- how there is more strategic depth due to the way activations work and so forth- but ultimately it is another "dudes in a hall" style game with typical dungeoncrawl-style objectives and gameplay concepts. The change in scenery/nomenclature is cosmetic, the fundamentals are the same.

Vlad, what you are pointing to is exactly the reason that I have retreated increasingly toward miniatures games. I'm pretty worn out with the four or five different games that get pushed out over and over again now that Kickstarter has democratized the publishing process and it turns out that people are perfectly happy being sold the same thing over and over again. There's very little forward movement in terms of innovation, so it's actually been refreshing to go the other way and play really quite simple, back to basics games like what GW is doing right now. There aren't any clever mechanics. There's just a basic assembly of rules to prop up a bunch of story, atmosphere and action. I'm getting more out of that (and the hobby aspects of it) than playing games like The Others right now.

With that said, this has actually been an unusually strong year for games. There have been a lot of really good and great titles released this year- some of which I haven't even gotten around to playing like Cry Havoc and Inis. Sure, we got absolute trash like Valeria: Card Kingdoms, but we also got Star Trek: Ascendency. I think you are right, four or five years ago The Others might have made a splash. In 2016, it's another in a long line of too-similar games.
Posted: 15 Nov 2016 10:04 by Shellhead #238454
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I took a long look at The Others when it showed up in the new games section of the local game shop. I could tell that it started as a Kickstarter, because it honestly looks like it was designed to be a successful Kickstarter when it should have been designed to be a good game.
Posted: 15 Nov 2016 10:10 by Josh Look #238455
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Black Fleet is a terrific game. It think all of the CT Fatties own it now as well as the lone RI one.
Posted: 15 Nov 2016 10:44 by Colorcrayons #238458
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I was taken aback a bit by pooling black fleet in with classic euros. It seems like a total ameritrash game to me.

But the more I think about it, I can see why you would place it in with classic German games. I still disagree a bit, but not totally.

Really good game that is heavily underrated. It definitely needs 4 players though. I'd play this over merchants and marauders every time, and agree with SU&SD how they lumped it in with Survive in a review.
Posted: 15 Nov 2016 10:53 by Msample #238460
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Be interested in your take on COLDITZ. I played it for the first ( and only time ) a few years ago and its definitely a product of its time . We're not talking ground breaking mechanics here; roll to move, when's the last time you played that. I dig it more for the theme and my interest in WWII history, esp prisoner of war camps and escapes. My understanding is that they basically cleaned it up rules wise and made a few tweaks, although I think they took out the Do or Die cards.
Posted: 15 Nov 2016 10:59 by JEM #238461
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Michael Barnes wrote:
I get what you are saying Jem and we talk about that a bit in the review- how there is more strategic depth due to the way activations work and so forth- but ultimately it is another "dudes in a hall" style game with typical dungeoncrawl-style objectives and gameplay concepts. The change in scenery/nomenclature is cosmetic, the fundamentals are the same.

That's my problem with your review, though. It's not a dudes in a hall game at all. It's an abstract strategy game about moving pieces on a board. The presentation is messed up for sure, and you're not the only one to compare it to Zombicide which is a sign that they dropped the ball on presentation. It shouldn't even be in the same topic as games like Zombicide or even Descent, it's genuinely nothing like those games. It's a King of the Hill type of game at the core, and that's how it plays. So I guess I'm completely refuting your notions about what its core gameplay concepts even are, and at that point the review fails for me.
Posted: 15 Nov 2016 17:02 by wkover #238526
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Msample wrote:
We're not talking ground breaking mechanics here; roll to move, when's the last time you played that.

At least twice per year. Legend of the Moonsword, baby - now with ubarose seal of approval.
Posted: 15 Nov 2016 17:31 by Josh Look #238529
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Colorcrayons wrote:
Really good game that is heavily underrated. It definitely needs 4 players though. I'd play this over merchants and marauders every time, and agree with SU&SD how they lumped it in with Survive in a review.

I agree with all of this. Even before I watched the SU&SD review, I had likened it to Survive due to having those NPC ships that everyone gets to control to screw with everyone. I love that and want to see it more often.
Posted: 15 Nov 2016 17:44 by SuperflyTNT #238531
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When I played The Others it was presented as Barnes described it and it fell very flat. The entire time I looked at the minis and considered what game they would fit best with.

- Houseruling Betrayal at House on the Hill
- Homebrew minions for Cthulhu Wars
Ultimately, after stealing it from Michael at his time of weakness, I have decided to dump all of the bits and keep the miniatures for Strange Aeons.
Posted: 15 Nov 2016 18:00 by Frohike #238532
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Not sold on The Others: 7 Sins.

I know some folks here have jumped on board, and it's Eric Lang & all, etc. But everything about this is just off-kilter for me and not in a good way. The sins being incorporated as variations of tentacally blobs is boring and tame. The vibe comes off as trying to be "extreme" in a teenage variant of Garbage Pail Kids that doesn't really carry any kind of transgressive air to it (look out for those corrupted hobos, always stealing your shit amirite?). I'm surprised nothing has punny names yet. It's basically just a bunch of Cthulhu crap with arbitrary "sin" tags. The Hell Club (... really?) wears some bondage stuff, I guess. How Matrixey!

The gameplay is dull as hell, from what I've seen so far, and I still don't like the idea of 1 overpowered antagonist player quasi-GMing to kill 4 other players (but not too hard! gotta make it fun!). The "branching" looks really simple, but maybe some scenarios will warp the game mechanics a bit more, who knows. I can't say that would be much of a selling point for me, in any case. On top of these curmudgeonly grievances of mine, I think the tile art looks too clean and computer-generated, like a dull top-down Sim City clone or something.

I look at this, then contrast it with stuff like Cave Evil or Claustrophobia, or even some of the source material like Hellboy, and it just comes off as vapid & un-integrated, both in the gameplay and the aesthetic pretense that coats it. I'm sure it'll be successful, though, and the aftermarket for the KS editions will be huge, etc, etc.

And hey, Blood Rage rubbed me the wrong way (and still does), so what do I know.

... yours truly, 9/14/15
Posted: 16 Nov 2016 06:14 by drewcula #238545
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I guess my follow up is: Why is Eric Lang considered hot shit?

I'm beginning to think more and more he's a hot mess.

I suppose I'm bitter, cause I've backed the wrong (Kickstarter) horses. Namely, Kaosball and The Others. I missed out on Blood Rage.

And while I'm at it, I would argue that Blood Rage is more 'three times a charm.' As in; he already developed Midgard into > Chaos in the Old World into > Blood Rage.

I bought Cthulhu Wars....

I'm a sucker for horror games and sports games and games with cool minis. Kaosball and The Others deliver on the cool minis, but damn - the games aren't doing much for me. [Optimistically] Kasoball may see new life since I'm now an advisor for my college's 'board game club.' Hey, I needed the faculty development points. Kaosball may have enough appeal to the mixed lot of student members.
Posted: 16 Nov 2016 07:23 by Shellhead #238552
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drewcula wrote:
I guess my follow up is: Why is Eric Lang considered hot shit?

Over the last 15 years, Lang has designed, developed, or produced over 100 games and expansions. Mostly expansions. That's pretty damn impressive.

However, my favorite Lang design is Chaos in the Old World, and I just like it. I don't love Chaos because there is disconnect between subject matter and gameplay that make it feel a little abstract to me. On the down side, I think that Dice Masters is a terrible game. So I'm not a big Lang fan either. But he and Kevin Wilson are designing the new version of Siege of the Citadel, so I don't want to count him out yet.
Posted: 16 Nov 2016 07:35 by JEM #238555
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I will say that I don't think that The Others is amazing, and broadly agree with Frohike's comments from the before times in history back. I think it may actually be best as an asymmetrical two-player game and others have mentioned Claustrophobia being better which I'll have to take their word on.

Having had the opportunity to find myself playing Chaos every other week with a reasonably solid group I begin to regret this push toward abstraction which Lang no doubt feels is refinement. As it stands right now, I want to sell Blood Rage, because it's just nothing like as interesting as Chaos and I'm decreasingly interested in his purported take on Diplomacy coming up.
Posted: 16 Nov 2016 10:18 by Egg Shen #238571
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Black Fleet seems to be one that has flown under the radar. It's a beautiful game, with easy to grasp rules, and a mean streak similar to a 1980s mass market family game. If you have any love for something like Survive you will be VERY happy with Black Fleet.

As for The Others...I guess I'll be the only other person besides JEM that defends the game. I agree wholeheartedly that comparing this to a dudes in a hall or dungeon crawler is a mistake. As JEM mentions the game is actually fairly abstracted. It's just presented in the most in your face, non abstracted way possible. As a horror game that is "scary or horrifying" it fails miserably. The "horror" in the game comes from the tension of not knowing what the Sin Player will do and the fact that heroes will die. It's not a matter of "if", but "when".

For me that is the greatest part of the design. The Others invokes a hopelessness of something like Lord of the Rings where you know the odds are stacked against you, but you'll die trying. That sensation of having to sacrifice yourself for the cause is really strong and not many games pull it off well. I also love the corruption mechanic as it forces the heroes to slowly take on more of it to gain their best advantages. You're forced to ride that knife's edge of corruption with out toppling over and it's a balancing act that I find very engaging.

That being said, I don't think the game itself is one that FEELS all that much fun. It's far think-ier than it's garish, over the top, components would lead you to believe. Sure you're chucking dice, and doing cool shit, but the whole thing is a SLOG. As the heroes you're constantly faced with setbacks. As the Sin player you only can do so much evil shit. It's very tight and not forgiving at all. As I mentioned before, it's not a game that leaves a particularly sweet taste in your mouth after your first couple of gulps. You really need to be comfortable with the ENTIRE design before it clicks. In the age of playing a game once or twice and shelving it, having to devote yourself to this one particular game can seem like a big negative. I think those that play the shit out of it will find it very rewarding. It's surprisingly clean from top to bottom and it's refined/abstracted nature is unfortunately a major turnoff for fans of chunky miniatures. I think CMON has rock solid game on their hands and Eric Lang has in some ways created the ultimate 1 vs all design.
Posted: 16 Nov 2016 10:45 by Da Bid Dabid #238575
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Chaos so much better than Blood Rage, however the people I play with do a lot of M:TG so get hard about the drafting. So I think I'm stuck playing the game I like less, pretty much every time until I get smarter friends.
Posted: 16 Nov 2016 12:22 by Gary Sax #238580
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Thanks for posting the dissents! I don't have a dog in the fight but I'm always interested to hear games which have the fort divided a bit.
Posted: 16 Nov 2016 12:25 by Egg Shen #238582
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Also can we stop comparing Blood Rage and Chaos in the Old World? Besides the points each player spends during their turn, the designs share almost NOTHING in common. Blood Rage is ENTIRELY about the draft and feels more like an abstracted/Euro-ized Cosmic Encounter rather than CitOW. When I play Blood Rage it doesn't even come close to scratching the same asymmetrical itch that CitOW offers.

When you play CitOW, the Chaos God that you play as will completely dictate your style of play and choices. When you play Blood Rage you're free to mold your viking clan however you see fit (as long as the cards come your way). So yes, by the end of the third round each player's clan is different and specialized it still doesn't come close to the highly focused asymmetry of CitOW.

The dudes on a map portion of Blood Rage and excellent components means it gets compared to other giants in that genre. The fact is it's more of a hybrid/hodgepodge design that is like 85% drafting coupled with 10% board placement...and 5% fuckery/card play tossed in to round it out. I just don't feel like the two games are even remotely close to each other in terms of design.
Posted: 16 Nov 2016 12:29 by Mr. White #238584
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Name sounds this the same designer as the BB:TM card game?
Posted: 16 Nov 2016 13:13 by san il defanso #238597
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No, Jay Little designed BB:TM. Eric Lang's most well-known FFG design (only one?) is Chaos in the Old World.

I didn't think The Others was all that great either. I mean, it didn't have any obvious flaws, at least not mechanically. I liked the branching scenarios and the corruption mechanic too, especially the latter. It looks nice, but that's getting less and less impressive. It's in a very crowded design space, and to some extent I think positive response is due in part to its scale. Large scale competent games can easily be overrated. I also really don't care for the setting. Regular Cthulu stuff is already overused, and this is basically just ersatz Cthulu. At that point just use the public domain property and be honest with it. I'm not much of a Cthulu fan in the first place. I dunno, from the setting standpoint it came off as pandering to me.

But that said, if someone really LIKED that genre of game I can see why they'd like The Others. I just didn't stand out to me at all, and the most interesting parts were not nearly enough to overcome the whatever side of it for me.
Posted: 16 Nov 2016 13:30 by JEM #238599
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Blood Rage is always comparable to Chaos. Both games trace their roots to Midgard. I get what you're saying, Egg, and it's those differences that make Blood Rage the less interesting game to me.
Posted: 16 Nov 2016 15:22 by Josh Look #238608
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Egg is right. They really aren't comparable. They both have a map, they both use the rage/power thing, and they're both by Lang, but that's about it. The execution of the two games are entirely different.

And Blood Rage is the better of the two.
Posted: 28 Nov 2016 06:39 by charlest #239235
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I'd be very surprised if you don't like Conan. It's typical French Ameritrash. Meaning it's awesome.
Posted: 28 Nov 2016 07:13 by Colorcrayons #239238
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Franco-Trash has a better average than ameritrash on consistently being enjoyable.

The French know their shit in this regard.