Reviews written by Shellhead
Battle for Rokugan takes place in the excellent Rokugan setting of the Legend of the Five Rings card game and rpg. Mechanically, Battle for Rokugan is a very streamlined and efficient version of FFG's Game of Thrones boardgame of the early '00s. Playable by 2-5 players in about one hour.
Each turn, players draw and take turns placing facedown tokens that represent armies, navies, ninja, raids, diplomacy, or even bluffs. There are some card effects and asymmetrical clan abilities that allow peeking at, manipulating or even removing tokens. Then all the tokens get resolved, potentially causing control of map sections to change every turn. After five turns, players count up map sections controlled, honor for each map section, and possibly secret objectives scored, and the highest total wins. The game functions well enough with two or three players, but really needs four or five to bring the game to full life. The clan and card abilities give just a bit of the Rokugan flavor, and the game is very accessible to players who are unfamiliar with Legend of the Five Rings.
Saltlands is a good game that offers a distinctive take on a Mad Max-style setting. It has the right mix of chase and combat. However, the wealth of open information on the table can really slow the game down.
"The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it." -- Nicolo Machiavelli
I played Princes of the Renaissance once and found it a boring waste of time. We had six players, and my five opponents were former AT and CCG players who fully embraced Euros in the late '90s.
PotR just didn't entertain me. It was long, slow, complex, and offered a bewildering array of options to a new player. Due to the complexity, none of the options seemed particularly better or worse than each other, so I made fairly random decisions form turn to turn. Combat was abstract and lifeless. The treachery tiles didn't feel particularly treacherous, and I usually enjoy games with an element of deceit or treachery. The VP element separated the mechanics from the theme. Worst of all, the interaction was minimal, and this was with a group that once enjoyed spirited table talk during board games and card games.
I realize that there is a lot of game there, and it did seem to entertain my opponents, in a quiet and introspective way. Perhaps with additional plays, I could come to grasp the subtle interplay of the mechanics and the diversity of strategies that my opponents spoke of when talking me into playing. But that first game was just so boring that I don't feel like giving PotR another chance. There are so many other games that I would rather try or play again.
I have played exactly two games of Diplomacy, both on the same day. There won't be a third game, ever. It is long, repetitive and boring, with a strong possibility of an endless stalemate. The highlight of the two games that I played was that somebody brought a box of Dunkin Donuts, and I ate two of them.
However, I do enjoy playing A Game of Thrones, even though the mechanics are clearly inspired in part by Diplomacy. AGoT has more strategy, more depth, superior components, and interesting mechanics.
Pirate King is an AmeriTrash triumph of theme and toys over mediocre mechanics. The basic concept of the game is uninspired: Pirate-themed Monopoly, except that you can avoid paying by attacking instead. Probably a closer analogy would be High Stakes, which was Vegas-themed Monopoly, where you can pay or play (gamble) at the hotels. It's a decent game, and far better than most pirate games.
Pirate King is just so loaded with theme, conveyed by the excellent components, that it elevates the game to actual fun. The toy factor is huge in this game. Instead of paper money, there are jewels (pretty glass beads) and dubloons (plastic coins), and you store them in plastic treasure chests. All of the artwork is great, especially the crew member markers, which actually look like dirty, dangerous pirates and not silly transvestites. Players mark their ports with little plastic flags, and the board is an attractive and fairly accurate depiction of the Spanish Main.
Movement is kind of fun, because you place a sailing chit some spaces ahead of your ship and then roll to see if the winds allowed you to move there, or possibly held you back or carried you past. This isn't as frustrating as it sounds, because if you overshoot your destination, you still deliver your cargo. That sailing chit is just about the only innovative idea in the whole game... nearly everything else is clearly derivative of family boardgame classics like Monopoly and Risk.
But it works together so well. Cannon battles, at sea and in port. Magical artifacts to be found. Mutiny, parlay, a Commodore who intermittently deals out harsh justice, it's all here. And even thought the main victory condition comes from VP for developed ports, you can attack ports controlled by other players to reduce their VP. And there is always the chance to abruptly win the game by beating the toughest ship in the Caribbean, the Commodore's ship.
I give Pirate King a solid 4. The game is fun, but runs a little long, and only allows 2-4 players, so it doesn't hit the table often. But when we do play, it's always a fun time.
Star Wars: Epic Duels has very nice components and is really fun. It combines the best elements of a CCG and a small-unit tactics game, sacrificing only a little depth. We couldn't just play once, the four of us played this one all day long. Unfortunately, the owner of the game moved away soon after, and I haven't played since. It is a damn dirty shame that this excellent standalone game went out of print, to be replaced by another cynical, money-grabbing collectible miniatures game. I would rate this game a 6, except that I have to give it a -1 for having a Star Wars theme. I loved the first two movies, but everything since The Empire Strikes Back only inspires loathing.
Near the end of Bram Stoker's classic novel, Dracula, Mina Harker tells her fellow vampire hunters "I am the train fiend" while explaining her esoteric knowledge of train schedules. This excellent board game always reminds me of this scene, as it recreates the chase across Europe in the closing section of the book.
Overall, Fury of Dracula is a great game. I've never played the original, but this version definitely has excellent components and good mechanics. There is some fiddly chrome in the rules and cards, probably a carryover from the original. And the combat is sometimes long and repetitive, and reminiscent of scissors/paper/rock. But the overall battle of wits, the strong narrative and the decent co-op element keep this game popular with my group. The main reason we don't play it every baordgame session is the upper limit of five players.
Like the Doom boardgame, Descent is a thematic but repetitive dicefest that offers minimal tactical decisions. I have played just once. Descent was fun for about the first hour, with lots of combat and those neat dice. By the third hour, I was bored with the sameness of it all. There seemed to be little narrative beyond open door/kill monsters/repeat/repeat/end. And death for the player characters was a joke, kind of a cross between a trip to the penalty box and a trip to the mall.