Reviews written by HiveGod
Mild and crazy-easy—and not at all what I was expecting from a "horror co-op". After I reset my expectations to "lite larf" I found that the game is really all about the pulpy, three-fisted flavor and the delicious tension that comes from a 5-in-6 chance of *instant doom* as the lone bone rattles around in a sweaty fist and a depth of eyeballs stare...
...and for those rare moments of real catharsis when that 1-in-6 bit hits and the whole table erupts in exaltation.
Don't expect much and this will meet you halfway there.
Bluffing, gambling, negotiation, backstabbing, outrageous reversals—this game has it all. And a thick, gooey science fiction theme to boot! The rules are simple, almost laughably so, but that's not where the game is. The game is in finding the most clever way in which to use those rules to your advantage, no matter how bleak the situation. Taken at face value, it's pretty lame, and I can see why some people hate it so. Add in a bunch of raucous, cunning friends and the game surprises and delights every time. I'm constantly surprised at some of the subtle ways "I'm screwed" moments can turn into a big win.
Negotiated (or even forced) multi-wins are great since they keep the playing time more than tolerable (read: occasionally too short—but what the hell, let's play again!).
tl;dr — Epic in every dimension. And, despite all the ISC brouhaha, it plays just fine right out of the box.
UPDATE: This is still a great game, the experience growing more rich and nuanced as we become more familiar with it. This is definitely one of those games that requires repeat plays—difficult for most, I know, as the first couple of plays can be excruciatingly long and fraught with error. All I can say is stick with it; like the monster games of old the wonders in this box are only revealed through familiarity.
ISC and other tweaking:
The best version of this game is played with the Age of Empire & The Ancient Throne variants. AoE, found in the rulebook, lays all the public objectives out in a row and allows for long-range strategic planning. AT, an official variant found on Fantasy Flight's website, changes the ISC to 1VP if you control Mecatol Rex—in addition, it allows you to earn as many VP objectives as you qualify for, all at once.* It makes for a longer game (with no 2VP clock counting it down) but with far more interaction, with emphasis on the ACTION!!!
*This is also now the Imperial II Strategy Card found in Shattered Empire.
Board setup for more interaction:
Take the best double systems and place them randomly around Mecatol Rex (so the first ring is made up of resource- and influence-rich gems of the Empire). Then build the other rings as normal. This prevents the usual layout of the galaxy—with players each residing in their own premium "turtle pockets" that are bordered with crap while the throneworld of Mecatol Rex languishes in a backwater ghetto. Surrounding it with double systems forces players to move fleets up the ladder and into sweaty proximity around Mecatol Rex for a turn (or so) of hard stares and eye-twitching until someone pulls the trigger on the Last War and makes the jump for Mecatol. With everyone having a fleet one hex out, the game becomes a Rolling Storm of Woe mitigated only by political shenannigans and shady trading...
UP-UPDATE: Aw, hell... who am I kidding? With the advent of the Shattered Empire expansion, this is a rock-solid 5-star game. Slathered miles-deep in theme, diplomacy & intrigue, massive space fleet engagements & ground combat—there's nothing else like it. Nothing even comes close.
tl;dr — It's time to get excited about farming! Farming. And when I finally got to plowin' with my doughty farm-wife the earth gave up its dead because they only moved the headstones. 50+ face-to-face plays.
I can totally see why people love this: It's charming and mildly haunting, and there are actually opportunities to dump a turd in the downstream player's punchbowl. "Yeah, I didn't need that food. I went fishing just to watch your kids starve."
Ultimately, though, this gets stuck in the dreaded 3.5 star ghetto—good enough, but missing that special something. And that something is a theme that isn't farming.
After 17 plays: I'm bumping this up to 4 stars. My wife loves it, and I find her enthusiasm for the game infectious. With two relatively experienced players—and wine—the game flies by; the struggle and decision-making is a pleasant diversion, and the tiny model farm you wind up with at the end is nifty.
FINAL ANALYSIS: All things being equal, the cards make or break the game. Either you get a fistful of synergy that showers you with freebies or you sit and watch someone else play that game. I suppose this could be mitigated with some kind of card draft or other time-consuming setup step, but really, the game isn't that deep or robust to support such shenanigans. This sensitivity to the vagaries of luck keeps the game firmly wedged in the "whipped dessert" category—very tasty, but ultimately nothing more than sugar and air.
After 27 plays: Revising down to 3.5 stars. Familiarity is bleeding this one out, especially after a brutal string of games with poor card draws. Also, the tension in the 5p game is unpleasant, or, more correctly, is out of whack with the payoff for suffering it. There are only so many times you can circle the drain of reductive choice where it's pastry, pie, cookie, crumb, bowl of poop before losing your mind and fantasizing about rolling some dice and kicking in the door of the guy who wasted the sow space for baking and using the axe you invented on his family.
"You got Ceramics? I got Clogs, bitches! CLOOOGS!!!"
So far the 2p game is my favorite—it's over quickly enough that a bad hand is tolerable. Two or 3p is definitely the sweet spot for this.
After 38 plays: Revising down to 3 stars. Not timeless, not a classic, and it's about farming. Farming!
After 50 plays: Bumping it back up to 3.5 stars. My wife really, really loves it, and that softens my hard heart. Besides, our last game was really weird—I didn't try my usual min-maxing by following the script that always nets 40+ points—I went after a wheat baron's seven-room stone mansion with constant barbeques. Meanwhile, my wife deviated from her script as well, with the game ending up 24-21 in my favor. I like weird.
tl;dr — Just like the series, it goes on far too long, spreads itself far too thin, to support what it does.
Some games require you to bring more to the table than others—the best games are far more than the sum of their parts, and contain possibilities that are not spelled out in the rulebook, or even hinted at. They must be invented by the players. "Experience" games, especially, demand much of the players. BSG is guilty of this in spades. It's intimately tied to the show, requiring that you watched it, liked it, and are willing to engage in role-playing the paranoia and terror of tooth-and-nail survival and religious genocide. The rules and mechanics serve merely as a foundation for this play—dumping cards into a skill check is boring. Paying attention to who is dumping cards and how many, who is abstaining and why, demanding explanations for a player's behavior during that check is the game. That's where facial expressions, body language, and too-passionate denials trip up the wolves and damn the innocent.
The mechanics of BSG are not, in and of themselves, sufficiently interesting to entertain for more than 15 minutes. They are indeed "boring, fiddly and repetitive". But as a foundation to support the emergent play of like minds, it's pretty damn fantastic.
So... is BSG a good game? It all depends on who you have to play it with.
UPDATE: After a 6p game, this locks in at a solid 4 stars. The mechanical aspects of what's happening on the table are nothing compared to what's happening at the table. If you sit down to this game thinking you'll be playing out tactical space battles and puzzling to solve sci-fi crises co-op style, you'll be bitterly disappointed. Oh, sure, you'll be doing those things in a small way—but really, they are only there so you can watch how enthusiastically and competently (or not) people work to handle them... The real game lies in the social interaction of wolves slinking among sheep while bleating helplessly. It's all about poker faces, plausible deniability and hiding in plain sight. It's playing on emotions, constructing compelling arguments, and working at the chinks in others'. It's pure sociopolitics, more RPG than board game—it's Werewolf with a sci-fi theme and more moving parts.
PS. With the right people, it's a hoot!
UP-UPDATE: Bumping this up to a well-deserved 4.5 stars. Now that we have the rules down to the point where the mechanics fade into the background, BSG's true potential shines through. An incredible experience!
4.5 --> 3.5: Too long for what it does, too tied to a time and place that recedes into the past without any staying power for the future. The TV series stepped on its own dick and tore it off just before the finish line (DICKUS EX MACHINA: Angels! God did it!), stripping the timelessness out of what should have been a science fiction classic.* Besides, there are other games that do the same thing in a shorter timeframe without my unborn grandchildren scratching their heads over what a "Starbuck" is.
*Protip: If you stop at Season 4 / Episode 12 "Revelations" the whole shebang becomes literature.
...that will take your imagination from zero to 300 mph just short of the quarter-mile before you blow a tire as the chute deploys, angling you up into the stands.
A great setting, just the thing for some weird-science/low-comedy action. Though I am bummed they got rid of Fat Cell Accumulation as a "power":
Player: [rattling dice] Come on Radioactive Eye Beams!
GM: Ha ha! You got Fat Cell Accumulation!
4th Edition D&D isn't D&D to me, but I have no such connection to Gamma World—hopefully the rules set will work just fine for this.
UPDATE: Works better than great. Truly effortless to play sans maps and minis, if you're worried about that (I was). Character generation is a fun group activity all by itself; you start with two descriptors—"Radioactive Yeti"—and have to fill in the massive blanks. Also, your initial armor & weapons are generic in nature—armor is light or heavy, weapons are one- or two-handed melee and ranged—it's on you to come up with entertaining details for what you're wearing/wielding. This gap-filled superstructure gives you lots and lots of space to create and fill in the blanks. (In our first game the Giant Hawkoid was swinging a concrete-filled Hippity Hop.)
The only rules change we used was to cut down on the frequency of Alpha Mutations—the rules say to swap mutations after every encounter or when someone throws a 1 on a d20 roll. We ignored the change every encounter to cut down on the (admittedly minor) overhead of collecting/dealing cards and then pausing the game while everyone reads their new power. [shrug] YMMV.
This edition of Gamma World is fantastic fun—it made us literally sick with laughter and resulted in several Mountain Dew-related choking incidents—and will be our go-to game for when we want to goof off. Well, more than usual, anyway.
UPDATE: The session report of the sickening/choking game:
"Show me on the robot where the bad plant touched you."
The setting and rules pull a solid 4.5 stars. This boxed set gets 3.5.
Being a paper-pencils-dice purist everything that comes in the box, save the rule book, is useless to me. Including the box.
I suppose they didn't include dice since anyone who'd pick this up has buckets at home... right? Still, seems weird to me that a boxed set doesn't include everything you need to play.
Discounting out of hand the maps and counters that make it look like a board game, the cards are especially stupid. I'd much rather have a list of powers in the book for players to roll against. And why buy "boosters" at $4 per 8 cards when you can find complete lists of all the mutations and tech online? And, again, I'd really rather they were just lists in the book.
I've always enjoyed Gamma World (at least 1st edition), and this one looks like a fun reboot, nonsensical packaging choices notwithstanding.
UPDATE: The cards end up being very handy, and I like dealing treasure out of the Omega Tech deck. The players like it too—they sit up like bell-rung dogs when they see me reach for it. Just wish those cards weren't "collectible," through. I'd gladly buy full sets.
UP-UPDATE: I wasn't originally sold on the 6x9 trade-paperback format for the rulebook, but after reading, referencing and playing with it I have to say it's quite handy. I like it a lot!
Great party game, as long as everyone knows how to swear like a nine-year-old FPS player and has a nutsack full of bile-spitting shrews. You can't just point a foam rubber gun at someone and say "Tee-hee! I will shoot you" and expect to get anything done.
You have to jam it in their eye and scream an invective-laced jeremiad with wishlist components involving their immediate relatives, their pets, flensing knives, suicide, and an eternal afterlife of ear-necklace servitude.
My kids will never, ever see me play this game.
UPDATE: Played with the kids (who are now all of age). To my horror I find they are nasty, nasty people.
At first blush, I thought this was the experience my entire gaming life has been shaping me for... But I was wrong. None of the many expansions caught my fancy; I just didn't like the direction they took this game in, genre-wise. There's nothing wrong with it—it's a perfectly fine game—the game world just inspires ennui in me.
So it's me, not you, BattleLore.
Rough trade in the form of cardboard and plastic. A crazy, ever-shifting puzzle that actually prevents immersion in the rich theme. If you let the mechanical aspects of the game fuzz into the background in order to provide a foundation for the experience of being a Taoist monk desperately fighting the legions of Hell, you will lose.
The game begs you to do so, with gorgeous art and super production values, but ultimately you have to look past the theme and see the grinding gears of the puzzle box if you have any hope of ever winning. Also, there's an enormous luck component (repeat die rolls to exorcise the ghosts), meaning that even optimal play can be fatally hosed with gallons of demon-tentacle spew. And the 2008 rulebook is... nigh impenetrable. I'm still not completely sure how some parts of the game work.
For all that, it's 4 stars? Yeah—it's stuck with me, I've been thinking about it, and I want to play it again until I beat it to death.
UPDATE: Dropped to 3.5 stars. Suffers from the same problem most co-op games do, but to a degree I just can't get over: one person masterminding everyone else's turn. Perhaps it's better suited to solo play instead of "one guy solves the puzzle while directing three chit-pushers".
*Seven years later.* Resurrecting this (heh) now that the kids are of age, and whaddya know, the game's pretty good with truly respectful co-op players. The X-Men-like teamwork from those who value the sanctity of the individual turn (i.e., we all have something to offer, but your turn is yours, and yours alone) makes the game shine, and allowed us to win for the first time in 6 plays. And I can see how we might need to actually increase the difficulty... and my rating.
Also: my mechanic/thematic grumblings above? Utterly nullified with good players. With the right people the game feels like it looks, spooky-beautiful.
Gets me in a way that Battle Cry could not, as I lack the American Civil War gene. The game engine is excellent—a beer-n-pretzels wargame for those of us who are not hardcore wargamers. Yeah, it's just playin' with plastic army men. But sometimes that's all you need.
After 40 plays: I suppose I must bump this to 4.5 stars; my interest is only accelerating and as a game system there is just so much to love here. And while it might seem like a "heavily-themed abstract" the sheer number of units, options, and scenarios makes every game unique.
Almost every scenario is wildly imbalanced (a nod to history), making any single play unsatisfying for someone; but when you consider a single match to be two games with the victor having the highest total medal count after playing both the favorite and the underdog, well, then the experience is very satisfying indeed. As the favorite you want to run that steamroller to victory as quickly as possible and minimize the underdog's score; as the underdog you want to simply last as long as possible and rack up as many medals as you can before you're snuffed. On the odd occasion when the underdog actually wins? Then it's time to dance around the table and flick infantry units at the loser.
Hand management, probability, and the sequencing of attacks are all neat puzzles that keep each turn interesting, even when you're the one getting pounded. And the whole time the setup just looks gorgeous.
There are more scenarios than I can probably get through in a lifetime... though I'll give it my best shot!
After 86 plays: It's 5 stars, earned the hard way—through ever-increasing game-pleasure. The best scenarios from the expansions are engaging puzzles that not only bear repeat play, but unfold before you into larger and larger possibility spaces the more experience you get with them. Some feel as if you could play them endlessly without ever becoming bored*—the static setup is a puzzle that requires a dynamic solution, depending wholly on the interaction between how the cards come out, hedging dice probabilities, and your creativity in manipulating it all. Grinding the same scenario over and over is less about finding the optimal path (and solving it for all time) than it is about finding the way through the unique iteration right in front of you, right now.
Cards, dice, plastic army men, a historical veneer and functionally infinite replayability—this is very nearly the perfect game.
*Yes, I know this isn't true—but the subjective sensation of infinite fun propels me onward. Besides, should I be so lucky as to actually "wear one out" there are only a couple hundred more to dig into...