zwischenzug (ZVI-shen-tsoog) — noun

A chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move, first interpolates another move, changing the situation to the player's advantage (such as gaining material or avoiding what would otherwise be a strong continuation for the opponent).

Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Review of China

In our last monthly gaming session, the I managed to get a couple of new games to the table: King of Tokyo and China.  As I said in my review, the former is a great family/casual game.  The latter is on the edge.  Since I gave it a 9/10, and also because it seems to be on sale right now for almost half price at online retailers like Thoughthammer and FunAgain, I should let you be the judge.

China is the brainchild of Michael Schacht, the German game designer that also gave us Zooloretto.  Over the course of a 45 minute game, each player attempts to gain control of different territories and roads in ancient China.  At the same time, players try to form alliances between other territories that may not be under their control.  In the end, the person with the most territorial control and influence becomes the new Emperor of China!

Or not.

This game is a European style game.  Like many games of this style, determining the winner is accomplished by counting Victory Points.  The player with the most VPs wins.  Many European style games, like China, have very little connection between the theme or storyline of the game and the gameplay.  In fact, there is another version of this game which uses a European map called Web of PowerIn China, the primary mechanism is called Area Control/Influence.  Specifically, you are trying to get more pieces in the various spaces than the other players.  There is no direct confrontation, such as in Risk.  It's not possible to eliminate other players or their pieces.

On his or her turn, a player will have a hand of three colored cards.  (Cards have not values.)  They use these cards to place pieces according to a simple 1-2-3 rule:  in 1 territory, a player can place 2 pieces using their 3 cards.  For each piece placed, the card must match the color of the territory played into, though two matching color cards can be substituted for one card of any color.  (If I have a green card and two yellow cards, I have two options.  I can play two pieces into a yellow territory using the two yellow cards, or I can play two pieces into a green territory, using the green card for one and using the two yellow cards as a green card for the second piece.  If I have green, yellow and purple, I could play one piece into any one territory of those colors, but that's all.)  Pieces consist of houses, ambassadors and fortresses (in the advanced game).  Houses are played onto house spaces, which set on roads, with one house per space.  Ambassadors are played onto the "dragon space", which doesn't have a fixed amount of room.  However, the total number of ambassadors in a territory cannot exceed the total number of houses in play in that territory.  That's it!  You've just learned 90% of the rules.  The hard part is the scoring.

Image by Chris Norwood
Scoring China is a little complicated because some of the score is relative.   I will leave out fortresses in this review.  There are two ways houses score points.  The first is that they score 1 point for each house that is part of a string of at least four houses along a road.  That's pretty straight forward.  There are a fixed number of house spaces in each territory.  The person with the most houses in a territory gets 1 point for each house in play in that territory.  The person with the second most number of houses get 1 point for each house that the player with the most houses has in play.  The player with the third most houses gets 1 point for each house the player with the second most houses has in play, and so on.  (For example, if Adam has 4 houses, Bonnie has 3 houses and Carl has one, the scoring comes out like this:  Adam gets 8 points since 4+3+1=8.  Bonnie gets 4 points for Adam's four houses, and Carl gets 3 points for Bonnie's three houses.)  This forms one of the basic strategies:  how hard to I try to control something, since putting more houses down only gives someone else points unless I manage to have the most.  Ambassadors score by a simple majority, however, I must have the majority of ambassadors in two adjacent territories to score points.  Add to that the fact that the total number of ambassadors is limited by the total number of houses in the territory at any given moment, and timing comes into play.  The tension between these two different area influence scoring systems is where the fun is!

As you can probably tell, this game is a little "thinky".  Depending on your gaming style, that is either good or bad.  As you can tell by my rating, I like games that require thought (have I mentioned Chess recently?), particularly if the rules are simple.  China's rules are simple; once you play the game through the first scoring, it will all be crystal clear.  The rulebook does a far better job explaining than I did.  (But then, Mr. Schacht takes a little more room to explain the game than I did.)  If it does suit your style, this would be a great game for casual play, or for family play with older children.  It might be tough for the 10 and under crowd.

As I said, the game seems to be on sale right now in the US.  That's probably because the US publisher has been out of business for a few years now, and online stores are dumping the last of their stock.  At roughly $20 USD, this is a great buy if it appeals to you.

                Ages:                    12 and up
                Time:                     45 minutes
                Players:                 3-5

 If you like games that require some thinking, otherwise no.

It's Your Move!

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

King of Fillers: A King of Tokyo Review

We normally don’t play many fillers in our gaming group.  For the most part, we know each other well enough that we spend time catching up before we start playing.  I have been trying to curtail that, since we have plenty of time while gaming to catch up, and we are trying to limit the session to four hours.  A couple of weeks ago we had a couple of people running late, so a filler was in order.  King of Tokyo was what made it to the table, since it met the player count and wasn’t too long.  Did we like it?  Well, we finished with it too…

Promotional Image
King of Tokyo is meant to be a light game where each player takes on the role of a giant monster attacking Tokyo.  There is light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek humor which is evident from the moment players start selecting their monsters from the pool consisting of Meka-Dragon, Cyber Bunny and Alienoid.  During the course of the game, each monster will gain special powers, helping them defeat the other monsters (by doing damage) or lay waste to Tokyo (by gaining victory points).  Players win by either gaining 20 victory points or by eliminating all other monsters.

Here’s the thumbnail version of the rules.  On their turn, each player picks up a handful of dice and rolls them Yahtzee-style.  Each die has six sides with the same faces: the numbers 1, 2 and 3 as well as a claw, a heart and a lightning bolt.  The dice are rolled up to three times, with the player selecting which dice to keep and which to re-roll each time.   Rolling three numbers of a kind awards that many victory points.  In other words, rolling three 1’s gives 1 victory point; rolling three 2’s gives 2 victory points.  Rolling a claw is an attack, rolling a heart heals, and rolling a lightning bolt awards the player with an energy cube.  Energy cubes are the currency of the game, and are used to buy cards that give the special abilities mentioned before.  Players outside of Tokyo damage the one player inside the city (two in a five or six player game), and vice versa.  I won’t go into details on how one gets to Tokyo.  Suffice it to say that being in the city is a higher risk / higher reward position, and there are ways to force people into Tokyo.

I won with Alienoid in the first game, but he let me down
in the second! (Image by Raiko Puust)
This is a GREAT game!  In the first game, I won by being the last monster standing.  I had the chance to move into Tokyo on a turn late in the game.  On my next turn, I played an “Air Strike” card which dealt everyone – including me – three points of damage.  I then rolled four claws, doing damage to everyone outside the city and eliminating them all!  Since it was a six player game, it was just between myself and the other player inside Tokyo.  A couple of turns later there was a showdown and I barely won.

The second game lasted a little longer, and resulted in a victory point win for one of the other members of the group.  On one hand, this was a little less climactic, since only two people were eliminated (including me).  On the other hand, a longer game allowed more special powers to be put in play, and there’s some drama and humor to be gained that way, so it was just as fun!  Cards with titles such as, “We’re Only Making It STRONGER!”, this game begs to be played in your best B-grade creature feature voice.  In fact, part of the fun (at least for me) is going over the top with this.

The cards add special powers to the monsters, not to mention some corny humor!  (Image by Raiko Puust)
  At a half hour play time, this game has that in-between playing time that is a little long for a filler, and a little short for a full experience.  It’s kind of like getting loaded baked potatoes for an appetizer; should I stop here or order more food?  I am also not sure how well this will do with kids.  The theme is perfect for them, and they will easily be taught the rules.  However, being forced into Tokyo and then having everyone whomp on you just might be a little traumatic for some younger children.  I’ll still call it a good kids’ game, because I believe a typical 8 – 10 year old will be past that point.

The only other issue with this game might be finding a copy!  You will either have to go online or find a local gaming store to purchase it.  Do yourself a favor and find a way to get it!  When I recommended this on my 2012 Gift Buying Guide, I hadn't played it.  I based the recommendation on the games reputation, and it has more than lived up to it!  This is a great game that will be fun for many gatherings.  It will play well in both casual groups and in family groups across generations.  I plan to make it available at all of our game group sessions for quite a while, since it was a big hit with nearly everyone. 

King of Tokyo
                Ages:                    8 and up
                Time:                     30 minutes
                Players:                 2-6 (but I think it really needs at least three)

It’s Your Move

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Review: Pizza Box Football

Pizza Box Football is a great game to play with kids young and old, so I posted my review on Father Geek.  This is a particularly good game for a Christmas gift, since gridiron football is ramping up for college bowl games and pro playoffs!

It's Your Move

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tasteless Fun: Dominion -- Great Game, Little Flavor

I have to confess that Dominion is completely out of style with the games I normally like.  In fact, I probably would never have played it except for my brother's family.  The year it was published, it was quite the rage.  Yet, its reputation as a themeless game put me off.  So did the constant card shuffling I heard about.  Then why, in the end, did I end up giving it a rating of 9 out of 10?  After all, I like games that drip with theme, telling a story as they are played.  I was just as surprised as you.

Incredible fun in 30 minutes!
That year, when my brother and his wife came back from visiting one of their kids, they raved about Dominion.  For my brother to do this, it must be a huge success as a family game.  His motto is, “If it starts to feel like work, I’d rather work.”  This game he was anxious play with us.  For Christmas they gave my son a copy.  I still wasn’t convinced.  Not until we sat down to play it a few months later was I completely won over.  We got home late the night of our first play, but still took the time to break the seal on my son’s copy and get it ready to play.  A few days later I bought a copy of Dominion: Intrigue, which is the first expansion, but is also playable as a standalone version.  This way, when Big D (he has grown taller than me since I started this blog!) goes off to college, I am sure to have a copy.

Dominion is a card game which is supposedly building up a kingdom, a dominion, by adding various places, people and features to it as the game goes on.  However, the game doesn’t really feel like you are doing any of that.  Typically, this is where I take a pass.   The game play in Dominion is so good, however, that it makes up for any lack of flavor. 

Players have a deck of cards that sits at their left hand, and are holding five cards.  At your right hand is your personal discard pile.  More cards of various types are on the table for purchase, including cards which represent money and cards that are victory points.  On your turn, you can play one card from your hand for an action and/or buy a card from the table, and then you “clean up” by discarding everything you bought, played and your hand.  Five cards are drawn from your deck for the next turn.  An action allows you to draw more cards, make more than one purchase, play more actions, attack or defend or some combination thereof.  When your deck runs out, you shuffle the discard pile and make it the deck and keep going.  When the game ends, the person who has the most victory points wins.

Some of the cards from Dominion (Image by Gary James)
 That’s not a thorough description without going into the cards, but it does go about that fast: 30 minutes for a complete game.   It’s not terribly complicated.  (Little ones will have trouble with shuffling and reading text on the cards though.)  Your deck grows as you buy cards and they eventually cycle around.  The fun is in the interaction of the cards.  I love trying to buy cards that will work in combination to allow multiple actions or buys, or more valuable buys.

The game components consist exclusively of the cards and the rules.  While available at Target and Barnes & Noble, don’t look for it on the same rack as Rook, or Monopoly Deal.  This game comes in a full size box.  That’s because it doesn’t have the usual 50 – 100 cards; there are 500 cards in the box!  The artwork is adequate, though not awe in inspiring.  As I said, the excellence of this game is in the game play.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, consider that Dominion was the 2009 Spiel des Jahres winner.  Since its publication, the game mechanism of buying the cards you will play with later in the game has appeared in a lot of games.  I haven’t played any of them, since I love this game so much.  It’s hard for me to justify another game that largely plays the same way.

I gave this game a 9 / 10.  That's pretty high praise from me; it's a rating for games I don't imagine giving up. 

It's Your Move!

 Dominion: ages 8 and up, 30 minutes, 2-4 players.
Good Casual Gaming! Kid Friendly!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ahead Mr. Sulu! Fun Factor 10! - Recent Star Trek Games

I have played several computer and board game versions of the Star Trek universe over the years.  I am a huge fan of all things Star Trek: in particular the original cast.  Since this is a boardgaming blog, I won't talk about the best computer game (Birth of the Federation, in case you are wondering), just my current candidate for the best board game:  Star Trek: Fleet Captains.

Promotional image

In this game, two players each have a small fleet of starships: one Federation, one Klingon.  Each ship is an actual miniature model of the ship, taking the Awsomeness Factor nearly over the top.  (Unfortunately, they don't come painted, or it would be crazy good!)  Taking turns, players move around the Alpha Quadrant exploring planets and scientific phenomena, encountering aliens, completing missions and battling one another.  This is done with crew members of the various shows actually adding abilities to the ships in play.  As one owner of the game remarked, you end up playing a season of the Star Trek show.

But, if you really do paint them, WOW!  (Image by Paul Paella)
The story the game tells is fantastic, though it has what some will find to be a fatal flaw. There are ships from every show in the game, and this doesn't fit a good timeline, nor does it fit having the Klingon's as adversaries in the later years.  Hey, the movies can do a reboot; I have no problems suspending reality in a science fiction game.

Now, I am not going to do an in-depth review.  Having played this a couple of times now, I will say that it is not a casual game.  This game has a lot of moving parts, both literally and figuratively.  Keeping track of the actions going on, the special abilities of the crew members and ships, which things moving through space are cloaked ships and which are echos -- it's a lot!  There are still a few situations in the game that I am not sure we've played correctly.

Promotional Image
Having said that, you are still wondering what game the Trekker should have under the tree on Christmas, there is another possibility:  Star Trek: Expeditions.  This is a cooperative game where, from the website:

You take on the roles of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Uhura responding to an invitation from the Nibian government to open discussions about the planet joining the United Federation of Planets...  Lead your away teams made up of crew and resources from the Enterprise to solve the major story arcs plus key side missions before the Klingon Fleet arrives or the lone cloaked Klingon Battle cruiser in orbit destroys the Enterprise and her crew. Three difficulty levels, random side missions, player strategies and a unique branching mission tree ensure every game will be a unique memorable experience.

According to those who have played both, if Fleet Captains is like playing a season, Expeditions is like playing an episode.  Alas, I have not played both.  (Must..  resist... purchasing... until... after... Christmas...!)  While Expeditions doesn't receive the ratings and rave reviews of Fleet Captains, it still is a solid game, and seems to be more family friendly.  It's also designed by Reiner Knizia, one of the most respected board game designers ever.  I will get to play it one of these days, even if I don't end up with it on my shelves.

These are the latest in Star Trek games, and if your Trekker is anything like me, they will greatly appreciate the chance to live out the story.  If he or she is also a gamer, go for Fleet Captains, otherwise, Expedtions.  For me, these games would be a much better choice than say, giving me a uniform.  I don't look as good in tights as Seven of Nine...

It's Your Move!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving for Games! (Plus a Review of 7 Wonders)

But not so much for actually playing them.  At least not this year.

Normally games hit the table more at Thanksgiving.  We did spend Sunday with my brother and his wife, playing two games of 7 Wonders.  My son and I also managed to get in our first game of Star Trek: Fleet Captains.  The jury is still out on Fleet Captains, since it took about four times as long to play as advertised.  The game does have a lot of moving parts, but most of that was “first play delay” issues.  I have since made a player aid that will help, and we will go at it again and hopefully soon.

Promotional Image
This post I will talk about 7 Wonders.  Not only did we play it this past weekend, but it’s also in my Top 10 lists, so I thought a review was in order.  The game was published last year and was immediately a hot seller; my copy was back ordered for four months.  This is due to a combination of rare attributes that came together in this game:  a civilization building game that plays in under an hour and the wide range of players supported.

In 7 Wonders, each player is attempting to build the most advanced civilization, choosing from among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World as the centerpiece:  the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes and the Lighthouse of Alexandria.  Players lay down cards from their hand to represent building they construct, or alternatively construct a stage of their Wonder.  The structures built provide either victory points or more capability for construction later.  Players then pass their hand to their neighbor, and do it again.  There are three ages to build in, and six turns to build in during each age.  Each successive age has more advanced structures which are worth correspondingly more victory points.  The person with the most victory points is the winner.

A civilization on the rise (Photo by Igor Mustac)
 Games with this theme have a reputation of being long games; over four hours in play time is not unheard of.   As boardgaming becomes a more popular hobby, the demand to better fit games into a busy lifestyle has grown.  Games in general have shortened in playing time, and seem to be targeting that 60-90 minute playing time range, which seems to be a sweet spot.  This is also true of civilization games; only a handful of truly good games managed to get this down to that time frame.  7 Wonders is one of two or three civilization games that actually reduced it further: 30 minutes.  This always gets gamers skeptical attention.

The second promise7 Wonders made was to cover anywhere from two to seven players.  Really?  Many games of this type cover three or four, and occasionally five.  Two is particularly complicated for a civilization game, since there is normally some type of game mechanism, like negotiation, that needs three people to work well.  More players normally means more time, particularly in a civilization game, since the interaction amongst many players is so much higher.  To play seven players and keep the playing time at under an hour seemed like an impossible combination.

Since 7 Wonders is in my Top 10, it’s pretty easy to guess that it delivers.  There are three things that contribute to this.  The first is that it is a card game, which tends to shorten games to begin with.  Secondly, all actions are resolved simultaneously.  The third characteristic is truly innovative.  Regardless of the number of players, each player only interacts with their immediate neighbors to the left and right.  Limiting interaction and simultaneous resolution means that the play time of each round is completely independent of the number of players.  7 Wonders does work incredibly well from three to seven players.  Due to the lack of full interaction with two players, there are special rules for this situation, which I haven’t played.  (Honestly, there are so many great two player games that I probably never will play this game with only two.) 

A game that plays in 30 minutes can’t be too involved.  Playing time and complexity tend to go hand-in-hand.  However, civilization games are notoriously complicated as players work out the societal, commercial, martial and technological growth of their empire.  Packing all of those factors into a short game seems too good to be true.  7 Wonders does this by having different colors of cards, suits if you will, which correspond to different aspects of the society.  Brown cards are raw resources, gray cards are manufactured goods, yellow cards correspond to commerce, blue are cultural items, red represents military structures, green are scientific achievements and purple cards are guilds.  Seven suits of cards, coupled with the plethora of icons on the cards, are where this game does get somewhat complicated.  One or two plays, however will sort things out, since the colors aren’t as important as the icons, and there is a system to the icons that quickly becomes apparent.

A couple of the cards used in 7 Wonders (Images by Julien Kirsch)

Since my son is now 14 and an experienced gamer, he isn’t a good gauge on how kid-friendly this game is.  My wife, who as an educator really understands children, hasn’t played it.  It certainly wouldn’t be for every child.  I can’t give it a kid-friendly vote due to the above complexity.

For older kids and adults, 7 Wonders is a great game that has multiple paths to victory.  Part of the fun is that “look what I built – how cool is that!” feeling you get at the end of the game.  This is definitely a great family or casual game that can be pulled out nearly anytime.  While it would be best to have the game taught by an experienced player, a little time with the rules and patience in playing the first couple of games will quickly make this a family favorite.  At seven players, it almost covers those party game situations for those who (like me) aren’t the biggest fans of party games.  It’s not quite a must-buy, but is pretty close.

It's Your Move!

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dracula meets Frankenstein

Almost.  As it turns out, I was hoping our monthly group would get to play both Fury of Dracula and Fearsome Floors this month, but it didn’t work out.  We only managed to get in the former, which is one of my all-time favorites.  Rather than give a full review, I am going to give two mini reviews of these games.

Image by Brian (ColtsFan76)
Fury of Dracula’s storyline has its roots in the original novel.  In this game, Dracula has come back from the grave (again) some years later, seeking once again to establish his vampire brood.  He also has sought revenge against those who brought him down in the novel, turning two of them into his minions (Jonathan Harker and Quincey Morris).  The remaining members of that group have reformed to bring down the Count again: Dr. Van Helsing, Dr. John Seward, Mina Harker and Lord Godalming (aka Arthur Holmwood).  The game sets one player as Dracula, moving in secret throughout Europe as the four other characters hunt  for him, attempting to attack and kill him.  Dracula is more powerful at night than during the day, loses life when travelling by sea, and card play provides information to the hunters as well as arming them against Dracula and his accomplices.  This game is one of the most thematic games I own, and like so many other thematic games, the card play adds much to the theme by interrupting the normal flow of the game.  It is worthy to note that all five characters are in the game regardless of how many players are playing, leaving a good game for anywhere from two to five players.  (This is accomplished by players playing more than one role if necessary.)  It also means that it is a good game for someone to show up late to, or leave early from, with his or her character is picked up by another player.

That said, this is NOT a casual game.  In fact, I believe it is more complex than many of my other games.  The hunter roles are somewhat complicated, particularly with the impact of the cards, but they have each other to rely on.  Dracula is on his own, and is doing things in secret, so the potential is there for a completely screwed up game.  As it takes two to three hours to play, this can lead to a very frustrating evening.  This game is published by Fantasy Flight, and is typical of their style: very high Awesomeness Factor, but very complex.

(For those of you have been reading along, I never did paint the figures for this game.  My artistic skills are at the “paint by numbers” level, so I am incredibly nervous about trying to paint them.)

Promotional Image from publisher
I haven’t played Fearsome Floors at all, but that’s not going to stop me from reviewing it.  I have read the rules, and I slept at a Holiday Inn Express last night.  In this game, the players have been imprisoned by an evil lord while trying to rescue a damsel in distress.  Now, they are poised for a massive breakout, but must avoid the monster that guards the exit.  Players have three or four disks each which represent their characters; the number of disks depends on the number of players.  The movement mechanics are simple, and the monster moves by its own rules.  As such, kids under ten could definitely play this, although they probably won’t play well.  The art is cartoon-ish, and isn’t really scary at all.  This is a good game for all players.  The one warning I have heard repeated  is that it can bog down in analysis paralysis, since the monster's movements can be figured out with enough thought.  The key is to play this as a light race game.  This game claims to take an hour to play, and can handle up to seven players, so it will fit most families and casual groups.

Below will be links to other reviews on this topic, including these games.  Personally, I am pretty selective about horror themed games, as well as movies, so Fearsome Floors is probably one of the very few “family horror games” I would play.  Other perspectives would be good.
The monster can be configured to look like the Frankenstein Monster -- or other horrors! (Image by Jesper Amstrup)

Okay, now that you have made it this far, I am going to add a few things about the Dracula and Frankenstein novels.  Dracula is in my top five novels of all time, and Frankenstein is also well worth reading.  They can be downloaded from Amazon or B&N to an e-reader for free, as they are in the public domain; they can also be downloaded as PDFs from the Gutenberg Project.  Similarly, LibriVox, a public domain audio book source, also has them.  I am currently listening to their dramatized version of Dracula as I drive around town, and it is excellent.  Do yourself a favor and read at least Dracula if not both novels.

 It's Your Move!

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