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scott_pilgrim

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Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« on: March 14, 2017, 12:48:19 pm »
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Some reviews for some games I've played/been playing recently.  The first three are video games (on steam), the last three are board games.  I think I'm going to try to post new reviews to more games as I play them.  Other people can post reviews here too.

Concrete Jungle

This is a deck-building puzzle game.  People will call it a city-building game, but that's the theme, not the genre, and the theme is very loose, so it's comparable to calling Dominion a kingdom-building game: not necessarily inaccurate, but a bit misleading.

Each card in your deck lets you place a building (well, forces you to place a building; sometimes you might not want to).  Each building usually either makes some set of adjacent tiles (or occasionally, entire rows or columns of tiles) worth 1 more point (or -1 point, or some other number of points); or else collects the points on the tile it's placed on.  This is why I call it a puzzle game, because you have to find ways to fit the buildings together to score as many points as possible.  Whenever you reach a certain number of points (usually 3 as a baseline) in the frontmost column, it clears, and a new column is added to the back of the board.  Your goal is to clear a certain number of columns, while avoiding filling up the frontmost column with buildings without clearing it.  Each card also when played gives you some number of yellow points (good) and some number of red points (bad) (I forget what they're actually called).  Once you've accumulated a certain amount of yellow points, you can add a new card to your deck.  You just pick one of four randomly selected available cards.  (Personally I think it would be more interesting if each card cost a certain amount of yellow points, and you just buy them whenever you have enough to spend on the card you want; as it is, you're often just buying the most powerful card without considering how it fits into your deck.)  Once you've accumulated a certain amount of red points, the number of points you need to score in a column to clear it increases by 1.  I think this is quite a clever mechanic.  You'll get weak or "bad" buildings that are balanced by giving you lots of yellow points (for example, a Factory just adds -1 point to each adjacent tile, but gives you lots of yellow points); or powerful buildings that are balanced by giving you lots of red points.

Those are the core mechanics of the game, and I wish it stopped there.  I had quite a lot of fun playing the introductory levels.  The core mechanics are very solid and make for very interesting gameplay.  Unfortunately (and I think a lot of video game designers fall into this trap), it seems like they thought they should just include every single mechanic they thought of, which just ends up adding so much unnecessary complexity to the game that it becomes a lot less fun.  I was also frustrated by the pace at which they introduced these new mechanics; it seemed like every time, just as I started to get the hang of something and was starting to figure out how to incorporate it into my strategy, they threw a whole not set of things at me so that I didn't know what I was doing anymore.

One of the biggest examples of the unnecessary complexity is with tech trees.  When you accumulate enough yellow points, instead of buying a card, you can get a tech skill instead.  There are several characters to play as, and each one has their own tech tree.  The tech skills are usually just "gain card X" or "replace card X with Y" or something to that effect, so they're really just alternative card buys.  The only thing I can really think that this adds to the game is that it means you have some foreknowledge of what's going to be available to add to your deck throughout the game (you don't have to rely on the right things showing up in the rotating supply), so that you can actually plan out to some extent what kind of deck you want to build.  But if that's what they wanted, it seems like giving each character the same set of skills in every game is going to just mean you build one particular deck every time you play that character.  So instead of fixing the rotating supply problem by adding tech trees, they should have just made the supply be fixed (but varying from game to game), and that would have been simpler and let you plan things out.

Another example of totally unnecessary complexity is with office towers (and similar buildings).  There are a few buildings which you can stack on top of each other.  (I don't think I've seen any such buildings that actually make adjacent tiles worth points.)  There's nothing really wrong with this, except I just don't think it adds anything to the game.  It basically just means that if you get lucky and do things just right, maybe you'll get to place one building without taking up a tile.  That's just such a small benefit I don't think it's worth introducing a whole new mechanic for.

So anyway, all of that is stuff that makes the game a bit less enjoyable, but doesn't totally ruin it.  However, the versus mode does totally ruin it.  For some reason there is a versus mode, and a lot of the levels have to be played in this mode.  I stopped playing once I reached a point where I was going to have to do three (I think, maybe it was only two) more versus levels to continue.  The idea is, each player places three buildings at a time, and each player has a "zone" of the board that only they can place buildings in (as well as a neutral zone where anyone can placed buildings, and the frontmost column is always entirely neutral).  However, buildings you place can still affect things in the neutral zone.  So this really screws up the balance of a lot of cards, which seem to all be balanced specifically for single-player.  For example, the Factory I mentioned earlier gives you yellow points (good), but in exchange for hitting adjacent tiles with -1 each (bad).  However, in versus mode, you can place the Factory near your opponent's area, so that you get yellow points (good) and also hit some of their buildings for -1 point (also good).  Additionally, red points don't matter nearly as much anymore, because it doesn't matter so much whether you actually hit the number of points needed to clear; the column will clear when it's filled up and whether you score points for it is independent of whether you reach the threshold.

But this is what makes versus mode completely infuriating and practically unplayable for me: When you clear a column, whoever has more points in that column scores however many points total they and their opponent had in that column.  In other words, you steal your opponent's points whenever you have more points in a column than them.  I cannot even begin to fathom why the designers would have thought this was a good idea.  It makes the game incredibly swingy, as you can be competing for a particular column and then whoever ends up winning it gets credit for their opponent's work.  (You might have 5 points in a column on your turn, your opponent overtakes you with 7 points, you get it up to 8, and then they manage to clear it with 9; now they get 17 points (a huge amount) because you worked so hard at getting it up to 8.)  It also means that if you think you're going to lose a particular column, your best play is to try to score negative points in that column to bring your opponent's score down.  For example, if they're going to score 3 points in a column, but I have -4 points in that column, they'll actually end up losing points when that column clears.  I think this completely destroys the balance of the game, makes it incredibly swingy, and is also an example of the game adding extra complexity when it was fine without it.  As I mentioned before, you have to win some versus levels to access more single-player levels, so there's no getting around it.

The aesthetics of the game are pretty nice, I think.  The visuals look pretty and the music is really good.  The game uses an isometric camera, for whatever that's worth.  It's also fairly cheap (I think it was $13 on steam when I got it).  So if the core mechanics of the game interest you enough that you think you would be willing to push through some of the versus levels, it's worth picking up.

Mark of the Ninja

I think this game was pretty popular when it came out five years ago, so it's likely you've heard of it.  It is often regarded as the best stealth game ever.  I believe it is the first stealth game I've ever played, so it's hard for me to compare it to anything else.

According to Extra Credits, the key to making a good stealth game is to make waiting fun.  It seems like a very difficult thing to do, so the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed most of my time playing Mark of the Ninja should speak to an impressive accomplishment on the developers' behalves.  I think the main source of fun in this game comes from feeling like a boss from all the cool stuff you do.  However, as the game went on, those things began to feel increasingly routine.  I did not finish the game, but I think I was close to the end, which, if true, makes the game fairly short, which I think is good, because it was beginning to feel a little repetitive after a while.

What this game really does a phenomenal job of is relaying information to the player in ways that are easy to understand and somehow don't clutter the screen.  Generally speaking, you can only sense what your character would be able to sense.  So if you're in a duct and there's a room above you with a guard walking by, you can't see him because your character wouldn't be able to see him from the duct, but if he's close enough that your character would be able to hear his footsteps, you'll see little circles emanating around where his feet would be, to show you the sound his feet are making.

There was also one segment of the game that I thought was fantastic, and it doesn't spoil anything plot-wise, but in case you want everything in the game to be a surprise to you, I'll put it in spoilers.  There's a scene where you have to pull a lever to open up a hatch, and it takes 90 seconds for the hatch to open, but as soon as you pull the lever, all the guards know something's wrong and storm the room and you have to survive for 90 seconds in a relatively confined area.  This was probably one of the most intense and exciting periods of 90 seconds I've ever experienced in a video game.  Unfortunately, it auto-saved me 45 seconds in right between two guards who both had just noticed me, which was nearly impossible to get out of (though I did manage it eventually).

One thing to note is that the game is clearly intended for people who have a mouse (like the computer kind, not the rodent), which I don't.  The game is still playable without one though, because there are few (if any) places where you actually need to do something quickly with the mouse, so it's sufficient to just leave both hands on the keyboard and jump over to the trackpad when you need to.

Mark of the Ninja was $15 on steam when I got it, and I think it's worth it for what you pay.

Planet Coaster

I just downloaded this game on Friday, and have been playing it quite a bit since then.  As you might have guessed from the title, it is a roller coaster simulation game.  I've played a ton of Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 and very little of any other roller coaster sim games, so I'll mostly be comparing to that.

First thing to note is that it is $45 on steam, so it's a bit on the pricier side.  Another things to watch out for is to make sure your computer can handle it (I guess you should do this before downloading any computer game, but I never think about it).  It's a little slow on my computer, and I think the specs requirements are fairly demanding.  Even though I've already played it for hours, I feel like I'm just scratching the surface of what the game has to offer, so it's possible that some of the things I say here will not apply with more play.

So the big difference between Planet Coaster and RCT2 is that RCT2 is grid-based and Planet Coaster is not.  Really everything sort of follows from that difference.  Planet Coast is much more realistic, which is the main appeal of it I think.  You can look at your park and it really feels much more satisfying because it feels much more like a realistic theme park.  Obviously the technology going into the game is also much more modern (being probably about 15 years newer), so the simulations are much more detailed and realistic than in RCT2.  For example, if there's a crowded walkway in RCT2, people will just sort of walk through each other, whereas in Planet Coaster, they will sort of naturally divide into lanes, and hey, that's what actually happens on crowded walkways in the real world.

Being not grid-based gives you much more flexibility with what kinds of roller coasters you can build, which might sounds like a good thing, but it is a double-edged sword.  On any given track piece you have so many options for what to do with it, that it can be tedious to actually build a roller coaster, because you have to manually set the turn angle, banking angle, steepness angle, and length of the piece every time (they'll usually default to whatever you did on the previous piece, or whatever is closest to that and still possible to place, so you don't actually have to change all of these things every time).  One of the consequences of not being grid-based is that it is very difficult to get the pieces of track to connect when you're trying to finish the coaster.  Fortunately, there is an auto-complete feature which tries to close the circuit in the most natural way possible (and you can start building from the beginning and end if you like and then use auto-complete to meet in the middle).  (Actually, that just gave me an idea: the issues I'm about to bring up might be resolved if you begin building from the end and then use auto-complete to fill in the beginning, though that's a little awkward.)  The problem with this is that what the auto-complete fills in is not always "comfortable".  For example, I would usually want to finish a roller coaster with some brakes before turning back in to the station, to make sure it doesn't go around the final bend too fast.  Sometimes you can get away with placing the brakes and then using auto-complete, but other times there's just no simple way to do it.  However, the game does include a "smooth banking" feature for the auto-completed section of track, so presumably that helps out.  I have not figured out how to use it though.  I see that there is a button that says "smooth banking" and then if I click it more buttons show up, and then I'm lost.

Unfortunately, not all ride types have the auto-complete feature.  I have yet to be able to build a log flume because every time I try, I can't get the ending to quite match up, and I end up having to delete about two thirds of the ride just to be able to get to a point where it looks like maybe it will match up and then it still doesn't and then I just give up.  Maybe if you were disciplined enough to act like you're building on a grid even though you're not it would be easier.

One thing that bothered me in RCT2 was that if you built a footpath and then deleted it, you net lost money.  (It costs $12 to place but you only get $10 when you delete it.)  The problem with this is that it punishes you for making simple miscalculations (like oops that didn't line up how I thought it did).  At first I thought Planet Coaster had this problem too, and even had it when building rides, and that it would be much more of an issue because it's easier to make miscalculations without a grid.  But when I played last night, I noticed that I was in fact getting the same amount of money back at least when deleting track pieces, so the jury's still out on that one.

I've been playing through the career mode, but am still on the beginner levels (the Pirate ones).  They are all extremely easy (like you could just do what they tell you to and then let your computer sit for a bit and then you would win), but I assume that's because they are just intended to introduce you to the game, the mechanics, controls, etc.

There is also a sandbox mode.  What I have not seen so far is a roller coaster sandbox mode (by which I mean, a big empty field where you can just build roller coasters and not an entire park), like RCT2 has.  Of course you could just do this in the sandbox mode and ignore your guests, but I don't know, just knowing that there are guests wandering around on a tiny chunk of walkway watching me mess around with silly ride designs and ignoring them bothers me.

Overall this is a really great game.  I've mentioned a lot of problems that I have with it, but they're all vastly outweighed by the fun of building your own amusement park in a realistic simulation.  I expect it to be something that I end up sinking a ton of time into.

The following three games are board games I played for the first time this weekend.

Lords of Xidit

This is an action-programming game, and I believe it's the first I've ever played (though I've been familiar with the mechanic for a while).  Despite the theme, it plays like a Euro.  Each round, you set your actions for what you want to do for the next six turns.  Your options are to either move in one of three directions, to take an action in the city where you currently are (either recruit someone or fight a monster, depending on which of those things is possible in the city where you currently are), or pass the turn.  Each city has up to five different kinds of people to recruit, and you are generally required to recruit the worse ones before the better ones, and you can only recruit one person from a given city per round.  So if you and another player are standing on the same city and your turn comes before theirs, you might want to pass the turn to trick them into taking the worse guy first, and then you take on your next turn so you get the better guy.  In the game I played this particular situation only actually happened once or twice, but there was still a lot of mis-predicting what other players would do in other ways which resulted in varying degrees of hilarity in the outcomes.

To fight a monster, you spend some fixed combination of people as listed on the monster, so really this is a set collection game.  When you kill the monster, you pick two of the three rewards listed on it to take.

The scoring mechanics in this game are pretty cool.  Before the game, you randomly choose an ordering of {Gold, Castles, Culture}.  In our game, we got Castles first, then Gold, then Culture, so I'll use that as an example.  At the end of the game, whoever has the fewest Castles is eliminated first; then whoever has the fewest Gold of the remaining players gets eliminated; and then of the remaining players, whoever has the most Culture wins.  This forces you to have a balance of all these things, but focus more heavily on each one depending on the ordering chosen for that game.

The game was quite fun and it was pretty easy to understand.  Even from the very first round I felt like I had a pretty good sense of what I was trying to do, and I was already trying to out-guess my opponents.

The outcome of the particular game was extremely close.  I think I could have won if I had played the last turn more carefully.  I was safe on the castles, but the gold end up being a tie between me and another player (we were all very close, with 16-15-15 gold), and I had the most culture out of everyone, so if I hadn't lost the tiebreaker on gold I would have won the game.

The only thing that's a real strike against this game for me is that there's a lot of things that are in theory perfect information, but require you to memorize them to keep track of them.  I generally consider this to be slightly bad design, but not terrible.  I think if no one attempts to track information (there's so much of it that it's very difficult to do I think even if you have a pretty good memory), then this makes the game more fun because you can't calculate exactly what to do, but it always bothers me when I have to feel like I'm playing suboptimally by not memorizing everything that goes into and out of players' possession.

Tyrants of the Underdark

If you're posting on f.ds you will probably not like this game because you'll think Dominion is a million times better.  This is a deck-building area control game.  Like many other deck-builders, it has a rotating supply, which makes it very difficult to come up with any sort of plan for what you want to do with your deck.  Instead I found myself generally just buying the best card that was out there at any given time.  For some reason you get extra points for the cards you trashed at the end of the game, because I guess trashing is not already good enough.  This made it so that basically any time a trasher was available it got taken immediately by whoever was taking their turn.  The game was also political, which I consider to be bad design (unless the entire point of the game is to be political).  We played a three-player game and this didn't happen to us, but it seemed like there was a lot of potential for the game to turn into 2 vs. 1.

I don't really see the appeal in games like this.  It seemed like it would have been more fun as an area control game without the deck-building, or as a deck-building game without the area control.  As it was I sort of felt like I was playing to independent games, that really didn't go together at all, but just happened to be tied together by the fact that some of the cards told me what to do on the board.  I get the impression that a lot of deck-builders are like this, which I think is sort of the designers' way of justifying the existence of their game, because Dominion already does pure deck-building very well.

Council of Blackthorn

This is possibly the worst game I've ever played.  Well, it's probably not as bad as Monopoly, but at least they have the excuse of it being 1930 when they made their game.  I probably should have dropped out after the rules explanation because it really seemed like it was going to be very bad.  The design felt like there was no thought put into it at all, like the designer just came up with a bunch of card ideas, some random mechanics, and threw them all together without thinking about it.

Probably the worst thing about the game is the treason mechanic.  Over the course of the game, various things give you treason cards (which are worth 0-3 treason points each), and at the end of the game, the player with the most treason points automatically loses.  This is totally fine in a vacuum.  The problem is that there are tons of effects in the game that let you give a treason card to another player.  As soon as this was explained, I said "so shouldn't we all just give our treason cards to the same player every time?".  They sort of laughed and said yeah, I guess so, but that is exactly what happened, and that made what was already a really bad game unplayable.  Whenever you have a choice of whom to give a treason card to, there's no reason to ever choose someone other than the player with the most treason cards, because that minimizes your chances of auto-losing.  So basically within the first few rounds you know who is auto-losing and that player (who happened to be me) has no reason to play the rest of the game.

The cards in this game are horribly unbalanced, and the mechanics are very dull.  (You draw up to five each turn and then play a card, which have various effects, many involving moving you or other players along one of four tracks which score points over the course of the game or at the end of the game.)  The game is extremely political.  There are a lot of cards that just target one other player, that you choose.  There's no strategy to the game at all, because you don't know what kinds of cards you'll get or what they'll do, what your opponents can do to you, etc.  You make decisions but they're meaningless because you can't possibly predict what effect they'll have on the game.  It baffles me that the other players seemed to like this game.
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pacovf

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2017, 01:34:47 pm »
+1

@Mark of the Ninja: one of my favourite games of all time. So much fun. I finished it twice (second time in hard mode). If you've never played another stealth game, it's hard to describe how much better they've done things. Clear information, short waiting times (because of how acrobatic you are), and a cute terror mechanic would be the high marks, IMHO. I know people that thought it was only meh, but well stealth is not for everyone.

About the specific segment you mention: I tried to beat it in hard mode without killing any guards. That was by far the biggest challenge the game can throw at you.
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Kuildeous

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2017, 01:38:52 pm »
+1

The scoring mechanics in this game are pretty cool.  Before the game, you randomly choose an ordering of {Gold, Castles, Culture}.  In our game, we got Castles first, then Gold, then Culture, so I'll use that as an example.  At the end of the game, whoever has the fewest Castles is eliminated first; then whoever has the fewest Gold of the remaining players gets eliminated; and then of the remaining players, whoever has the most Culture wins.  This forces you to have a balance of all these things, but focus more heavily on each one depending on the ordering chosen for that game.
 

This is sexy as hell. I've never played this game, but the scoring mechanism sounds really cool. Could be neat to see it implemented in other games.
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AndrewisFTTW

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2017, 02:36:09 pm »
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@Mark of the Ninja: one of my favourite games of all time. So much fun. I finished it twice (second time in hard mode). If you've never played another stealth game, it's hard to describe how much better they've done things. Clear information, short waiting times (because of how acrobatic you are), and a cute terror mechanic would be the high marks, IMHO. I know people that thought it was only meh, but well stealth is not for everyone.

About the specific segment you mention: I tried to beat it in hard mode without killing any guards. That was by far the biggest challenge the game can throw at you.

I think I'm just not a fan of stealth games because I tried Mark of the Ninja and just didn't enjoy it.
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scott_pilgrim

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2017, 12:08:58 am »
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I just got back from playing four games.

Flash Point

I think this game got a fair amount of attention when it first came out.  It's a co-op game in which you play as firefighters trying to rescue people from a burning building.  One guy in the group absolutely despised it and wouldn't play.  He said it was pretty much entirely random chance.  I don't think it's quite as bad as he was saying, but it's hard to judge that from one game, and I can see how the "roll dice to determine which space on the board catches fire" mechanic (especially since it's done every turn) can lead to a lot of variance.

Anyway, I'm not a huge fan of co-op games in general, and nothing really grabbed me about this one.  I will say that I thought the mechanics did a pretty nice job of reflecting the theme, which was cool.  But that's not really enough to get me excited about a game.  This is the sort of game I would play if there was nothing else better going on.

For Sale

I really like this one.  This is a very short (10 minutes or so), simple bidding game.  The game is divided into two phases.  First, you English bid money on land cards; then, you silent bid those land cards on money.  Whoever has the most money at the end of the game wins.  In both phases, each player wins something no matter what, so top bidder gets the best prize, then next highest bidder gets the next best prize, etc.  The thing that makes each round different is the distribution of prizes you're bidding on; your play changes a lot based on whether there's something like 1 good card and 4 bad cards, vs. 4 good cards and 1 bad card.  I think the game is pretty fun and interesting for how short and simple it is.

Hanabi

If you somehow, like me, have gone this long without playing Hanabi, you should really try to remedy that.  I've always expected that I would like this game, but after playing it, it's way better than I ever could have imagined.  I only got to play one game of it, unfortunately, but I can tell there's a ton of strategy and clever thinking involved.  If you're not familiar with it, Hanabi is a co-op game in which you can see everyone's hand but your own, and you try to give clues to other players about what cards are in their hand, so that together everyone can play the cards in the correct order, for each of five different colors.  There are lots of really clever ways you can hint to your partners what to do, but you also want to make sure that you're not doing too much thinking for them (i.e., assuming that they will conclude the same thing from your hint that you think they should).  I feel like I need to play it a lot more to confirm that it really is as wonderful as I think it is, but I think this game will end up on my list of all-time favorite games.

Deception

This is a social deduction game.  I have social anxiety disorder, and am also bad at reading people, so I don't know why I let myself get involved in this one.  I already have a hard time talking to groups of people, and especially when I'm trying to "fit in", and this was all amplified a thousand times by my finding the girl sitting next to me extremely attractive.  In the first game, I was the murderer, and the aforementioned cute girl was my accomplice.  Neither of us really knew what we were doing, and I think I screwed things up badly enough that we were practically guaranteed to get caught, but I was very confident that I knew who the witness was.  Of course it turned out, I was wrong about that too.  I was also upset that I got caught for the wrong reasons.  Everyone thought it was suspicious that the first round I was accusing one guy and then the second round I did a 180 and started going after someone else, but I am convinced that that is exactly what I would have done as town in that situation, because the forensic scientist was clearly signaling to everyone that that guy was innocent.

Anyway, that's more of a game report than a review.  I don't think I really like this game, though as I mentioned before, I'm not a fan of social deduction games in general; but I like it even less than others, because it takes the "logical" reasoning out of it and replaces it with "storytelling" reasoning, which I don't like.  (I think the "logical" reasoning is the only part of social deduction games that I really enjoy.)  But given that that's what it is, I think it does a reasonably good job.  Basically, each player gets four weapon cards and four object (?) cards (I can't remember what they're called), all publicly visible to everyone, and the murderer picks one of each.  The forensic scientist knows everything, but is on the "good" team, and has to hint to the other players what weapon and object the murderer chose (it follows from that who the murderer is), by picking the most accurate description from a pre-set list, for several different categories.  (For example, if the object is surgical mask, you might pick Hospital (from a pre-set list) as the location.)  (The forensic scientist can't communicate with the other players outside of this clue-giving.)  Each player has one shot to guess the combination of weapon and object.  If a player guesses correctly, the murderer and accomplice lose, UNLESS they can correctly guess the witness, who plays the whole game knowing who the murderer and accomplice are (but not which one is which and not which weapon/object were used).  If all of town's guesses are wasted, they lose also.

I was the murderer in my first game and the accomplice in my second game, and then town ("investigator") in the third game.  I found town to be fairly boring (though maybe it was just late and I had played enough already by that point), and murderer (and to a lesser extent, accomplice) to be terrifying, so I didn't really have a lot of fun in any of the roles I played.  It's odd to me that the accomplice doesn't really need to stay hidden in this game.  The only real consequence of the accomplice getting caught is that they can no longer really deflect attention from their partner.  When I was the accomplice, I tried to act nervous so people would think I was the murderer (I don't think I acted dramatically enough for anyone to notice), because you want to draw attention away from your partner, and there's no real consequence of people knowing you're on the bad team if you're the accomplice.  I do think it's sort of clever that the "mod" (the all-knowing person, who is sort of necessary by the mechanics of the game) is actually a player, on a team, in a way that doesn't break the game.

In the last game, we ran into this weird situation where the murderer had three weapons that all fit the clues perfectly (liquid drug, powdered drug, and mercury), and there was just no way the clue-giver could have distinguished between them.  So we all knew who the murderer was (by the last round he basically just outed himself), but none of us managed to guess the right weapon-object combination.  It seems like we should have gotten some kind of reward for all being so confident (and correct) about who the murderer was.  (He was very nice about it though and accepted that he got really lucky with his draw of weapons.)
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scott_pilgrim

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #5 on: March 25, 2017, 05:14:50 pm »
+1

Broom Service

This was the best of the four games I played last night.  It's a fairly simple delivery game (themed around witches, hence the name).  There are 10 actions you might take each round.  At the beginning of the round, each player secretly picks four of them; those will be the ones you actually do (try to) take.  Then, the first player picks one of these four actions.  Everyone who picked this action has to play it, but it is revealed in turn order whether you do or don't have it.  Each player who does have it can play it as either Brave or Cowardly.  The Brave version is stronger, but only the last player in turn order to play it as Brave actually gets to take it (whereas you can safely play the Cowardly version no matter what).  Therefore, the later in the turn order you are, the more likely you are to be able to successfully play it as a Brave action (if you go last it's guaranteed); but if you think no one else after you has chosen that as one of their four actions for the round, or if you really want the stronger Brave version, you might be willing to risk playing it as Brave even in an earlier position.  If you do successfully play a Brave action, you go first in the next round.

That is the most interesting part of the game, I think.  There's some tough calls about when it is or isn't worth taking the risk of playing a card for the Brave action, and evaluating that risk requires thinking about how your opponents are likely to be playing.  The rest of the game is fairly plain.  Some actions give you resources, others move you, and others let you drop resources off for VP.  (The brave versions of the actions sometimes do several of these things.)  Each round, a new card is revealed that gives everyone some kind of special rules for that round, so that helps a little bit to keep it from getting too repetitive.

Each player has two witches that they can move around on the board, but I pretty much just ignored one of mine after the first few rounds.  Everyone starts in the same corner of the board, and deliveries are generally worth more points the farther from that corner you go.  I had managed to get one of my witches all the way to the far corner by around the late/middle game and just sat there delivering stuff for lots of points for the last few rounds.  I won using that strategy but only by 2 VP (101 to 99) so I don't think it's necessarily a breaking strategy.  I do think it's probably a stronger strategy than it should be, though.

Since turn order is pretty important in this game, it felt a little off to me at first the way that it's handled.  I wonder how the game might change if you went in order of VP, so that players who are lagging behind are able to take Brave actions more easily.  I think this would actually mess things up quite a bit though, in particular since you sometimes prefer to go first (so that you can choose the action to be played that round).  (I think it would also encourage sandbagging too heavily, and there also wouldn't be as much switching the turn order around later in the game, which might punish players with lots of VP too much.)  The way it works (with the most recent player to successfully play a Brave action going first next round) is actually better than it looked to me on the surface.  The only real issue is that you have very little control over when in the turn order you go, other than whether it is or isn't first.  There were some times in the game where the player to my right went first several times in a row, which was annoying for me because in second position I felt like I generally had to play Cowardly actions, but I also got no control over when each action was happening.

Yggdrasil

This is not my kind of game at all.  It is co-op (which I don't like) and seems heavily focused on the theme, which is based on fighting (which I don't like) bad guys in Norse mythology (which I know nothing about, but at least some stuff looked cool).  The mechanics were nicer than I was expecting though, given all of that stuff.  There are four separate bags, each with their own ratios of vikings (good guys you want to recruit) and fire giants (bad guys who get in the way).  The bags with "better" ratios are harder to get to.  You can clean up a bag with an action that lets you draw a fixed number out, put the drawn vikings back in and discard the drawn fire giants; or you can recruit from the bag by drawing a fixed number out, keeping the drawn vikings, and returning the drawn fire giants.

That was the most interesting mechanic in the game to me.  There are six bad guys who move along a track.  Each turn, a card is drawn from a deck, which tells you to advance one of the bad guys along the track.  Your goal is to survive all the way to the end of the deck.  The track has a "5" line near the beginning, a "3" line in the middle, and a "1" line at the end; you lose if 5 enemies make it past the 5 line, or if 3 make it past the 3 line, or if 1 makes it past the 1 line, and your job is to keep pushing them back.

I think we got pretty unlucky, because we drew a bunch of Loki cards in a row and couldn't do much about it.  On my turn he advanced past the 1 line and I had a 2/3 chance of pushing him back but got a bad roll and so we lost.  It felt a bit anti-climactic.

Just Desserts

This is a very simple, short set collection game.  I think the outcome of the game is almost entirely determined by random chance.  Every turn, you draw a card, and then either turn in a set (or two sets if you can), draw another card, or dump your hand and draw an equal number of cards.  In our second game I got very lucky and managed to win before one of the other players could complete any sets, and the other only managed to complete one set.

The game needlessly rewards you if you happen to draw exactly the right dessert for a particular guest (some guests have a "favorite" dessert, which exactly matches the symbols they need).  I don't understand this, because being able to complete a set using only one card should be enough reward by itself, and it's not like there's any strategy to getting the right card anyway.

Mysterium*

*(See The_Wine_Merchant's posts below correcting some misunderstandings I had; I think the actual rules fix some of the problems I had with this game)

This game is a lot like Dixit, but semi-co-operative (in the sense that it's not zero-sum and there's usually no reason not to help other players), and with one fixed player doing all the clue-giving, and also with an oddly appropriate theme.  The thematic idea is that you are a psychic who is getting these visions about who/where/how a murder was committed, but you have to figure out how to actually make sense of the visions.  There are 8 possibilities for the person who committed the murder, 8 possibilities for the location, and 8 possibilities for the weapon.  Each player gets one particular combination of person/place/weapon that they are trying to guess.  Starting with the person (you move on to the next thing each time you get one right), you get some number of cards from the "ghost" (the clue-giver) that are intended to point you to a particular person.  The cards all show some very surreal and bizarre artwork, and you have to figure out which person (or place or weapon in the later rounds) they are supposed to be pointing you toward.  Each round, you get one guess at the person/place/weapon.  If you guess wrong, you don't get to move on to the next thing (place if you just guessed the person; weapon if you just guessed the place), but there's some negative feedback as other players' correct guesses will eliminate possibilities for you.

You can also vote on whether you think other players' guesses are right or wrong.  You only get a limited number of votes, so you only want to spend them when you're reasonably confident.  When you vote correctly (either correctly predict that another player is right, or correctly predict that they are wrong) enough times, you get a bonus that's supposed to help you in the end game.

One player at the table was pretty far ahead of the rest of us, and he found a way to game it by guessing a weapon that was obviously wrong so we could all vote against that and get credit for correctly predicting his bad guess.  You can't vote for or against yourself so arguably there was no incentive for him to do this, but it felt like a minor issue with the game.

The end game was awkward, I thought.  After each player has gotten their person, place, and weapon (or after 7 rounds, if people still haven't got it by then), the clue-giver now tries to get players to guess one of those combinations, by using one card to point to the person, one to point to the place, and one to point to the weapon.  However, depending on how many correct votes you had over the course of the game, you may only get to see one or two of these cards (this is the aforementioned end-game bonus for correct votes).  What I think is awkward about this is that you can still talk openly about the cards with everyone, and I guess it has to be done that way because the game is really supposed to encourage discussing and coming up with your theories about what the cards mean with the other players.  In our game only one player didn't get to see all three cards, so he just closed his eyes while we described the card he didn't get to see to him.

We were in a hurry to finish before we got kicked out so we all just quickly picked the same combination at the end, which happened to be the right one, so we all won.  It seems to me like this would pretty much always happen though, even if you weren't in a hurry.  If there is a disagreement and you don't get to see all the cards, it seems even more awkward because then you just have to randomly pick some other players to trust and hope they got the right idea from the cards you can't see.

So this is not the sort of game I normally like.  I did like the surreal artwork, and I also liked the hilariously appropriate theme.  It is the sort of game that is very what it is, so I can understand why other people might like it.
« Last Edit: March 25, 2017, 06:36:27 pm by scott_pilgrim »
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The_Wine_Merchant

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #6 on: March 25, 2017, 06:10:13 pm »
+1

Mysterium

This game is a lot like Dixit, but semi-co-operative

I would call it fully co-operative. Maybe we have been playing completely wrong as our group (I haven't actually read the rules, but just let a friend teach us) in the about 10 times we have played this? But if even one player doesn't advance, the game ends and everyone loses.

What I think is awkward about this is that you can still talk openly about the cards with everyone, and I guess it has to be done that way because the game is really supposed to encourage discussing and coming up with your theories about what the cards mean with the other players.  In our game only one player didn't get to see all three cards, so he just closed his eyes while we described the card he didn't get to see to him.

Again, we have played differently (and I hope according to the rules) that you can't talk during the second phase. Makes it much more difficult and as an end result, much more intense. It is why you have those envelope things, so you can vote silently.

So this is not the sort of game I normally like.  I did like the surreal artwork, and I also liked the hilariously appropriate theme.  It is the sort of game that is very what it is, so I can understand why other people might like it.

Our group loves Mysterium. It is the game of choice. But my friend that owns it says that some groups just don't work with it. We have found that if everyone is buzzed with about 2-3 drinks it is even better. We like it because there is a lot of time for non-game related discussion and the artwork is amazing. The game also vastly improves if the ghost gets into their character a bit.
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Wins: M91, M96, NM10, M98, M102
Losses: M100, M103, M104

MVPs: M91, M96
Win percentage: 75.0 (6/8)

The_Wine_Merchant

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #7 on: March 25, 2017, 06:15:20 pm »
+2

Pulled up the rules online because I was curious:

Quote
Phase 2: This phase only takes place if all the psychics have successfully identified their
character, location and object combinations before the clock strikes 8.

Quote
Phase 2 continued: The psychics vote in secret, and must not communicate with each other during the voting procedure.
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Wins: M91, M96, NM10, M98, M102
Losses: M100, M103, M104

MVPs: M91, M96
Win percentage: 75.0 (6/8)

scott_pilgrim

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #8 on: March 25, 2017, 06:35:22 pm »
0

Ah, so it sounds like we were doing some stuff wrong.  It's also possible that I didn't understand stuff correctly.  I was under the impression that everyone was independently trying to solve their own thing and you could help other players if you wanted because maybe that would help you.  And I didn't realize that the end game was supposed to be no-communication and secret voting.  That makes a lot more sense than what we did.
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Kuildeous

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #9 on: March 27, 2017, 09:55:55 am »
+1

Broom Service

This was the best of the four games I played last night.  It's a fairly simple delivery game (themed around witches, hence the name).  There are 10 actions you might take each round.  At the beginning of the round, each player secretly picks four of them; those will be the ones you actually do (try to) take.  Then, the first player picks one of these four actions.  Everyone who picked this action has to play it, but it is revealed in turn order whether you do or don't have it.  Each player who does have it can play it as either Brave or Cowardly.  The Brave version is stronger, but only the last player in turn order to play it as Brave actually gets to take it (whereas you can safely play the Cowardly version no matter what).  Therefore, the later in the turn order you are, the more likely you are to be able to successfully play it as a Brave action (if you go last it's guaranteed); but if you think no one else after you has chosen that as one of their four actions for the round, or if you really want the stronger Brave version, you might be willing to risk playing it as Brave even in an earlier position.  If you do successfully play a Brave action, you go first in the next round.

I had heard Broom Service described as a spiritual successor to Witch's Brew. All this talk about moving witches on the board indicates that the actual game play is nothing like Witch's Brew, but the blind action gambit is very much Witch's Brew. I do like that mechanism, so I will have to check out Broom Service sometime.

Just Desserts

It makes me twitch to see Deserts misspelled like this, but since the theme of the game apparently revolves around desserts, it makes sense. It's not like I haven't made that pun before.

Mysterium*

*(See The_Wine_Merchant's posts below correcting some misunderstandings I had; I think the actual rules fix some of the problems I had with this game)

I concur with The Wine Merchant. I can see the point to being silent in the second phase. It's kind of maddening to stare at those cards and not say anything about them. I've yet to play a game where someone sees fewer than three cards. I suspect I need to stop playing on easy mode.

I ended up teaching the game after having learned it through gameplay earlier. I didn't realize you could give more than one clue card to a player until it happened later with a more experienced ghost. It got me off my ass and get to reading those game instructions (which I normally do after I learn a new game but neglected my duties here).
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scott_pilgrim

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #10 on: April 01, 2017, 06:31:38 pm »
+1

Indigo

This is a short, simple tile placement game.  It's a lot like Tsuro, but with hexes.  Each turn, you draw and place a tile, which has three pairs of "connectors" (so that each side of the tile is connected to another side).  After placing the tile, if it connects any gems (which mostly start in the middle of the board), that gem moves as far down the connection as possible.  If you connect one gem to another in this way (if they collide), they are removed from the game.  Each player has certain sides of the board that are designated with their player color.  Your goal is to direct the gems to your side of the board; each time you get a gem to one of your sides, it scores you points (depending on what kind of gem it was (which is based on where it started)).

Some sides are shared by two players, which makes the game inherently political.  Normally I wouldn't like this, but since the mechanics seem like they allow for some pretty direct conflict already anyway, I think it's best that the game accepts that politics will happen.  In a 3-player game, each player has one non-shared side (so that's your top priority generally), and one side shared with each other player (which makes it easier to get to, since only one player really wants to direct gems away from each such side).  In a 4-player game, each possible player-pair has their own side, and no sides belong to only a single player.  One thing that was slightly odd about this is that (I believe this is mathematically required) all but one player have two adjacent sides of the board, but one player has no adjacent sides of the board.  The one player who had no adjacent sides seemed to think that put her at a slight disadvantage, and I think she's right, but it wasn't obvious to me that that was necessarily bad thing.  (I'm guessing that generally having no adjacent sides tends to pull your score closer to the average, which makes it harder to have the best score.)  Either way, the asymmetry is a little weird, but I don't think there's any way around it.

As a quick (about 20 minutes or so) game I think Indigo is not bad.  I mostly feel like it accomplishes what Tsuro tries to do, but much better (though it's been a long time since I've played Tsuro so I don't remember much about it).

Innovation

So, I can finally say I've played Innovation.  We played with an expansion, too.  Initially I felt a little overwhelmed by all the rules, which is surprising to me retrospectively because it doesn't seem like the game is very complicated rules-wise.  However, it is extremely complicated in the sense that there are a LOT of different effects from different cards to keep track of.  Dominion has this same issue, except that in Dominion you're only playing with 10 cards at a time in any given game (well you know, by the time you're ready for the expansions that change that you probably feel pretty comfortable with the rules so it's not a big deal).  The massive number of cards to keep track of in Innovation is sort of like trying to play Dominion for your first time with all possible kingdom cards from all expansions available.  That's a bit of an exaggeration, because your options will only be directly based on ~5 cards at any given time, but if you want to actually be thinking about how what you're doing will interact with your opponents'/teammate's cards, that requires paying attention to a LOT of different card effects.

So I suspect that if you played this game a lot and got to the point where you're comfortable with all the cards, it would be a lot easier to figure out what you want to do at any given time, and you wouldn't have to spend a ton of time looking around at all the cards on the table and trying to remember what they all do.  Mostly I didn't do too much of that, because, and this is I think the worst aspect of the game, there's just so many things that can interfere with your plans that I think there is very little long-term strategic planning to the game.  I think the outcome of the game is almost entirely determined by very short-term tactical decisions and random chance.  A lot of the cards have what I would consider to be very extreme effects, especially later in the game (it feels like they followed the Brawl Minus philosophy "If everything is broken, then nothing is broken").  If you try to play for the long-term, it's very likely that by your next turn, the game state will look completely different than what you were planning for.

I do like the basic mechanics of this game.  Each card gives you some symbols, and has an effect that can be taken as an action.  When you take an action, you have to share it with each other player who has at least as many of the corresponding symbol visible as you.  If you're clever, you can try to work it so that your partner shares the effect, and neither of your opponents do.  I like this mechanic a lot, partly because it's a clever way of encouraging players to get lots of each symbol and changing the way actions are taken based on that, but also because it gives players something to do during other players' turns.  Generally speaking, I never felt like I was sitting around waiting for my turn to happen, because there was plenty of stuff for me to be doing and thinking about between turns.

I think this game is too tactical for me and requires keeping track of too many cards, but I did enjoy playing it.  It felt like it went on for a bit too long (I think it took us about 2 hours), which I think is more of a concern for a game with very little long-term planning, but I also think that it may have taken so long because of the expansion.

A totally random note, but I really liked the different fonts used for the numbers on the backs of the cards.  As the technology represented by each of the decks gets better and better, the font for the number looks more modern to match the appropriate era.

Splendor

I think I may have played this before a while ago, but I didn't really remember it so maybe I just watched Watch It Played play it (say that five times fast).  Splendor is very simple and not very original, but I think the gameplay is very good.  It is a basic set collection game; you take gems of different colors that you use to buy cards, which are also worth gems; the difference between the gems you take and the gems "produced" by the cards you buy being that the latter are not consumed by use.  Some of the cards are also worth VP.  So the basic gameplay is that you build up a collection of these cards which make it possible for you to buy increasingly expensive cards, which are eventually worth VP.

One noteworthy design choice in this game is that (at least as far as I could tell) no card is ever worth more than 1 gem.  I call this noteworthy because I think a lot of designers would have been tempted to make more expensive cards be worth more gems (because it feels like they should be getting "better" as you pay more for them), but this would create a massive positive feedback loop.  So I think the decision not to do this shows good design discipline.  Instead, more expensive cards are generally worth more VP.  From what I could tell, every cards was actually worth exactly 1 gem; if I were the designer, I think I would have at least playtested having some more expensive cards be worth no gems (or even consume some cards when bought, or something), to have there be more negative feedback, but who knows if that would really be better.

I read over the rules beforehand (I did not have them explained to me, so this was entirely my fault), but I did bother to note what triggered the game end.  I just assumed it would be something like when all the cards ran out, so I assumed the whole game that I had plenty of time left to build up.  Then surprise, the game end is actually when someone reaches 15 VP, and look the guy next to me just did that.  So I probably could have done a lot better if I had actually been trying to score points later on, rather than just continuing to build up.

Despite being pretty unoriginal, I think I like this game a lot.  Also, the artwork is gorgeous, which seems unusual for a short game that is very weak thematically.  It feels a bit to me like the beautiful art was "wasted" on this game, but that's a pro for the game, not a con.

Finally, this is not a game, but perhaps the best new thing I discovered last night:

Chwazi

This is an app that you can use to decide on a starting player (or you know, who's going to take out the trash or whatever).  You open up the app, everyone puts their finger on the screen, and then it randomly picks someone.  Now that I've seen it, it's baffling to me that I've lived my whole life without it.  Sure, it doesn't accomplish anything that an RNG app or a convoluted rock-paper-scissors variant couldn't, but the convenience (not having to assign everyone a number before rolling, not having to input the RNG limits, etc.) makes it seem to me like the most basic sort of utility tool every phone should have, like a flashlight or weather app.
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Kuildeous

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #11 on: April 03, 2017, 08:13:20 am »
+1

I read over the rules beforehand (I did not have them explained to me, so this was entirely my fault), but I did bother to note what triggered the game end.  I just assumed it would be something like when all the cards ran out, so I assumed the whole game that I had plenty of time left to build up.  Then surprise, the game end is actually when someone reaches 15 VP, and look the guy next to me just did that.  So I probably could have done a lot better if I had actually been trying to score points later on, rather than just continuing to build up.

I think your wording may have gotten muddled here. I get the impression from this that you did read the rules and did know that the game ends at 15 points, but your anecdote indicates you were surprised by the game ending.

Similar to how in Dominion you usually want to pile-drive the Provinces before the other players, I find that I do best in Splendor by surprising the others with a quick and decisive victory. It almost feels like 15 points is too low of a number, but if it were higher, then everyone would be having engines. It's a nasty little spot where someone ends the game just as you get going.

The exception is when all four players are fairly new. They're busy building up gems since they haven't learned how to optimize victory points yet.

Chwazi

This is an app that you can use to decide on a starting player (or you know, who's going to take out the trash or whatever).  You open up the app, everyone puts their finger on the screen, and then it randomly picks someone.  Now that I've seen it, it's baffling to me that I've lived my whole life without it.  Sure, it doesn't accomplish anything that an RNG app or a convoluted rock-paper-scissors variant couldn't, but the convenience (not having to assign everyone a number before rolling, not having to input the RNG limits, etc.) makes it seem to me like the most basic sort of utility tool every phone should have, like a flashlight or weather app.

Thank you for this. I saw this used once and was confused when a phone was thrust in front of my face and I was told to put my finger on it. I didn't know the name. Now I have one.

I guess my biggest problem is that my inner germophobe doesn't want other people touching my phone. I'm sure it's germy enough with my hands all over it anyway. Can I handle asking gamers who may or may not wash their hands after the bathroom to touch my phone?
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markusin

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #12 on: April 03, 2017, 08:44:41 am »
+1

Yeah Splendor, I really like it for how easy it is to teach to new players while still feeling exciting to me. Achieving 15 VP often feels rather sudden. A player might get back-to-back nobles or just win off a couple of Tier III cards then reserve the game winning card if necessary. It still amazes me how often the 1VP mines from Tier I make a difference.

I should try Chwazi next time I am at a game night or something.
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Jack Rudd

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #13 on: April 03, 2017, 05:47:08 pm »
0

The online implementation of Splendor allows you to play to 15 or 21.
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GendoIkari

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #14 on: April 03, 2017, 06:20:28 pm »
0

The online implementation of Splendor allows you to play to 15 or 21.

Is this multiplayer only? Haven't noticed it when playing against the AI.

Also, in certain "adventure mode challenges" that the app has, some cards are worth more than 1 gem.
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pingpongsam

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #15 on: April 04, 2017, 01:58:39 pm »
0

Have you hooked up with your accomplice?
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scott_pilgrim

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #16 on: April 15, 2017, 06:37:54 pm »
+1

(Combining two weeks-worth of posts into one.  I wrote most of the first two games last week but never got around to finishing it until now.)

Glen More

I had actually played this once before, several years ago.  Each player builds up a board of tiles over the course of the game.  Each tile has an effect (producing resources, trading resources for VP, etc.) that is triggered when placed, or when a tile is placed adjacent to it.  The core mechanic of the game is like Tokaido, where at any given time, the player who is farthest back is the next to take their turn, and they can jump as far forward as they like.  In the case of Glen More, there is always a "line" of tiles available, so you can take whichever one you want, but the farther forward you go, the longer it will be before you get to take another turn.  I've always been a big fan of this mechanic in the few games I've seen it in.

What I remember not liking about the game from the first time I played it is that at the end of the game, each tile is worth -3 VP.  This seems really steep, and I remember thinking the first time I played that it was way too steep.  But I think I'm starting to accept it, though it still sort of bothers me.  One reason I don't like this is because it seems to me like it "undoes" the core mechanic, which has you deciding between taking a few good tiles or lots of bad tiles.  But if tiles are worth -3 VP each, it makes the "few good tiles" option too appealing, and it often becomes too favorable to just jump ahead and grab the best tile without putting consideration into whether missing out on those tiles behind it is bad.  However, I think the -3 VP per tile penalty is not as bad as it sounds on the surface, when you take into consideration that every tile you gain is an opportunity to take actions adjacent to where it is placed.  In our game, the player who had the most tiles (16) ended up winning with 63 (?) VP, and the player with the fewest tiles (10) ended up losing with 24 (?) VP.  That means that the 16-tile player had taken 1.6 times as many turns as the 10-tile player, and all those extra opportunities to take actions probably actually outweighed the 18 VP she lost from them (assuming the tiles are reasonably good for you anyway).  So long story short, I think that the -3 VP per tile thing is not as huge as it sounds.

There are three scoring phases, but the scoring you get in them feels too insignificant to me compared to other scoring throughout the game (usually via actions from tiles).

One issue that I have with this game is that you can wait a really long time between turns.  Later in the game individual turns can take a long time, and if you jumped far ahead on your previous turns, that means that there will be a lot of turns between your most recent turn and your next one; and there's nothing really to do between turns, besides plan out your next turn (which it's possible for players to disrupt anyway).  Another concern I have is that it seems possible (especially for newer players) to get "stuck"; it almost sort of happened to me in the game I played last night.  You can only place tiles adjacent to tiles that have meeples on them; the meeples can only move when you take an action that moves them; tiles have to connect roads/rivers if they have them (and not block roads/rivers if they don't have them); and some tiles cost resources you might not have (and might not have enough money to buy).  In the late game I got stuck several times having only a few options for tiles I could even legally take, because I somehow got my meeples in an awkward position where they were hard to move, and with so many requirements on how they can be placed, it was hard to really accomplish much of anything.  I could imagine a new player completely trapping themselves if they're not careful.

There is something satisfying about building up your board and having all these options for how you want to play the game.  It's a bit odd because I do like a lot of the mechanics in the game, but it overall feels not quite right to me somehow.  I think the complexity and vast number of options make it hard to figure out what you should be doing.  I guess I tend to have this issue in games where you score VP from lots of different things, I feel like I don't know what I'm really actually supposed to be aiming for.  Glen More is not as bad as a lot of other games in that regard, but I think that's one issue I had with it.  Overall I think I like it, though it wouldn't really be my first choice.

I also heard that Glen More is out of print and nearly impossible to find online.

6 nimmt!

I really, really liked this game, probably an unreasonable amount.  This is a very simple card game (the rules could probably be explained in less than 3 minutes) that revolves completely around simultaneous selections and outguessing the other players.  We played with 6 players, which the others at the table said was probably the ideal number (which I would believe is correct).  Since the way that you play depends on what you're expecting all other players to do in the round, it seems like with too many players (it plays up to 10) it would just be random chaos, and with too few players the outcome might depend too heavily on what cards you draw.

I think the game is a bit like Russian Roulette; you choose a card, and then you're really hoping that everything goes as you were planning, but every round gives you this exhilarating feeling because there's a small (or sometimes not so small) chance that you'll have to pick up a big stack of points (low score wins).  We had one particular round where the round began with all four stacks at five cards, which was particularly exciting because it put everyone very close to picking up a stack.

I think this game is very heavy on random chance, both in the sense that the Nash Equilibrium strategy would likely depend very heavily on some random play, but also in the sense that your reasoning can be good and still lead to a bad outcome (or vice versa), due to just having the wrong cards at the wrong time or due to other players having unlikely combinations of cards that mess you up.  But the fact that you and the other players are the ones making the choices that determine the outcome makes the random chance feel different from something like hoping for a good die roll or card draw.  I think this "human" randomness makes you feel more responsible for the outcomes of your play.

Mystic Vale

This is a deck-building game that I would say is interesting enough that it veers away from "Dominion with a gimmick" territory.  Well, in a sense it still is sort of Dominion with a gimmick, but the gimmick is actually a pretty good one for a Dominion-like game.  Mystic Vale is a deck-building game, but you don't actually add or remove cards from your deck; instead, you change what they do.  Each player starts with a deck of 20 basic cards, each in a sleeve.  The cards that you buy are transparent and have effects usually printed on the top, middle, or bottom of the card.  When you buy a card, you put it into a sleeve of another card you have in play (but not so that it "overlaps" effects already on that card), so that the card will have a combination of all the effects in its sleeve.

This mechanic leads to all sorts of combo potential, because now you can make it so that a card combos with itself, not just collect cards in a deck that combo with each other.  (I think the latter is more elegant, but the former is original and did feel a bit different from Dominion in an exciting way.)  I think the making fun combos aspect of the game is its biggest selling-point.  You feel really clever when you put together a card that has really nicely synergizing effects.  I'm guessing this is something that would probably appeal a lot in general to Dominion players.  However, this game uses a rotating supply (which I generally dislike), so I'm guessing the "discovery" phase would wear off after a few games (though it's hard to judge that after only one play).  Because of that I doubt that it has nearly the replayability of Dominion.

The actual turn-playing mechanics are very different from Dominion though, and I think pretty original and clever.  9 (?) of the 20 cards in your deck start with a red dead tree symbol on them (and some of the cards you buy will have this symbol on them too).  On your turn, you flip cards over from your deck, one at a time, until you feel like stopping, or until you hit four of these red symbols.  If you do hit four of these red symbols, you miss out on your harvest phase (the equivalent of a buy phase, except that there are probably more effects that happen in the harvest phase than in a Dominion buy phase) for that turn.  So often you'll want to stop after seeing your third red symbol, to make sure you get to your harvest phase; but sometimes you'll want to push your luck, so you have a shot at buying a particular card you want.  There are also green tree symbols which cancel a red tree symbol, which makes it easier to play more cards in a given turn.

I really like this way of playing cards from your deck, because it is completely different from Dominion.  You never have a hand of cards, you just play cards straight from your deck, and the push-your-luck mechanic fits in very nicely the deckbuilding.

I suspect that the cards that give you VP tokens on play are OP.  I got a few early on and won by a wide margin (I finished with 48 (?) VP, everyone else had high 10's/low 20's).  I got them every chance I got because they looked OP, and the cards that are worth VP don't seem like they are worth nearly enough to really make a difference compared to the ones that generate VP on play.  But it's hard to know that for sure from one game.

I think Dominion players will like Mystic Vale for the combo-finding aspect of it, but I don't think there's much game-to-game variety.  It is even worse than Dominion in the multiplayer-solitaire aspect, as I don't think any of the cards affect other players, and the rotating supply seems to me like it's less player interaction than fixed supply piles (because it's unpredictable what's happening in the supply anyway).  However, if the card-forging aspect sounds fun to you, I think this game does it pretty well, so it's worth checking out.

Kodama

I did not really like this game.  I acknowledge that it is not really my kind of game, but it still seemed like it could have done a better job at what it tried to do.  However, I will say that a couple players there seemed to think very highly of it.

This is one of those games where you place cards to extend a path of some sort.  In this case, you are building a tree (each player has their own tree they are building).  Unlike a lot of these games, cards do not make a nice grid, because you can place them however you need to (at funky angles) to connect the branch (with some restrictions, like you can't place a card touching two other cards, you can't hang over the edge of the table, etc.).  Personally I think this looks and feels really ugly; it would look so much nicer if they all lined up nicely like a grid.

There are six different kinds of features that might appear on the branch cards you place.  When you place a branch, you trace down the same features to the base of your tree and score based on how many features you run into along the way (but the tracing "dies" if you hit a card without that feature).  However, you cannot place a card so that you score more than 10 VP in this way.  I think this is an awkward and ugly fix to an obvious problem (that you would only ever build on one branch otherwise, and that your score will grow quadratically).  I don't have a better fix in mind but it definitely seems like they could have done better.

The game is split up into three seasons, each consisting of four rounds.  Each season has a special rule (usually for scoring at the end of the season), chosen randomly in each game.  Additionally, each player is dealt four cards at the start of the game that score you bonus points for various things, and you can play one at the end of each season.  I think this is basically a necessity for the game because the gameplay is too simple and uninteresting otherwise; but even with these things to help shake it up, it's still pretty uninteresting.

I think there is a lot of random chance in this game.  In the second season, I got "stuck" with my special cards, because one of them could only be played in the third season, and the other two both required mushrooms, and there just never happened to be any mushrooms available on my turn.  Because the cards are kept secret, it wasn't like my opponents were deliberately denying them from me.

Speaking of which, I think this game is even worse in the multiplayer-solitaire department than Mystic Vale.  I think the only thing in the whole game that "connects" players to each other is that you're choosing from the same set of four cards each turn; but I don't think you ever really find yourself intentionally grabbing cards just to stop other players from getting them (especially because you don't know what they get bonus points for), so you really are basically just playing your own game independently.

The best thing about this game is that the artwork is very cute.  So at least if you're not enjoying the gameplay, you can enjoy staring at the art.
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Kuildeous

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #17 on: April 17, 2017, 09:47:05 am »
+1

I do dig Mystic Vale, but your criticisms are spot on. I will say that the cards in the middle are at least more like Splendor than Ascension. So you always will have three low-powered/low-cost cards available until they run out. The tiered aspect allows for players to keep building even when others have moved on to bigger and better cards. And well, you still have Coppers to buy, though you're usually better off buying something else.

The VP-on-play cards can be pretty heavy, but I suppose one balancing factor is that when they come up, you may decide that you want to push your luck. I can see where it's worth giving up a buy by not pressing your luck. After all, getting 4 VP now is better than the 1 or 2 VP you'll gain with a bigger buy. Of course, if you can get a couple of cards and a couple of the symbol cards, then you may do better than if you had played the VP-on-play card.

I do like Mystic Vale, but I was getting a bit tired of the same old cards. The first expansion gives some more, which helped make it feel fresh again for a while, but then I started seeing those cards over and over again. The next expansion has cards and apparently an eclipse feature where you can cover up other cards. I honestly expected this from the beginning, but that's because I've played Gloom before, and covering up card text was normal. While this sounds awesome, it already can get pretty crowded when a card has three improvements. If you can overwrite them, then that'll put a strain on the card sleeves. As it is, it's difficult to not "mark" your deck when you see a big heavy card on top of your deck.

I still like it, but I can't deny that it can get repetitive. I don't mind it at the moment.
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scott_pilgrim

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #18 on: April 18, 2017, 08:26:13 pm »
+1

Council of Blackthorn

This is possibly the worst game I've ever played.  Well, it's probably not as bad as Monopoly, but at least they have the excuse of it being 1930 when they made their game.  I probably should have dropped out after the rules explanation because it really seemed like it was going to be very bad.  The design felt like there was no thought put into it at all, like the designer just came up with a bunch of card ideas, some random mechanics, and threw them all together without thinking about it.

For some reason I was thinking about this game again and I just remembered I had another thing to rant about.  Some of the cards are worded badly, in a way that is consistent with the feeling I get from this game that the designer(s) put very little thought into it.  I am specifically remembering a card that said something like "Do x, unless y".  I don't remember what x and y were, but they were unrelated enough that it wasn't like the "unless y" part was just a clarification for how to do x.  (It's more like if Conspirator said "+1 card, +1 action, unless you've played fewer than three actions this turn.")  It would have been much easier to read if it had said "If not y, then do x", because you only care about x if y is not met, so you naturally want to hear about y first.  The way it's actually written makes it sound to me like the "unless y" part was just sort of an afterthought, like they came up with the x part first and then just threw in an extra conditional for whatever reason.
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scott_pilgrim

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #19 on: April 29, 2017, 12:41:19 pm »
+2

Sagrada

This is a dice-drafting game.  Each player is given a 4 by 5 grid into which they are trying to place dice in such a way that they score as many points as possible.  Each round, the first player (which rotates clockwise) rolls 2n+1 dice (for n players), and then each player takes one die going clockwise around the table, and then after that last player takes one, they take again, going counterclockwise around the table.  There are a lot of restrictions on how dice can be placed, but I can't remember exactly what they are because it was a week ago now that I played this.  The restrictions are largely based on your board, which you can choose at the beginning of the game from four randomly dealt boards.  There are five different colors of dice, and how you place and score is usually based on a combination of the colors and values of the dice.

The core mechanics are not super exciting, but they give the potential for a lot of flexibility in the "rules", which the game capitalizes on very well.  Each game, there are three different scoring rules, in addition to one standard rule which applies to every game (each player is dealt a color, and they score VP equal to their total pips of that color).  Additionally, there are three special abilities available for the players to use (but they must spend from a limited number of stones to do it; the number of stones you start with increases if you are playing on a more difficult board), which are chosen randomly each game.

I think this game is pretty good, if you're okay with a very loose theme and fairly simplistic gameplay.  There's this interesting phenomenon where if you make the core mechanics of your game too simple/flexible, game-to-game variety mechanics (that only plug into those mechanics, without adding new ones or changing them) actually don't add much variety, because interchanging things doesn't actually mean anything anymore.  (For example, my color that scored extra points in the game I played was green, but it wouldn't have really changed the gameplay at all if it had been any other color; the only reason it's really necessary to make your special color random each game is so other players don't know what it is.)  It looks to me like Sagrada is dipping its toe into that territory with the scoring mechanics, but I think there's enough going on that you can still get a pretty good amount of variety there, and the special abilities probably add a good amount of variety too (I say probably because I don't think I ever actually looked at the ones we didn't use, but it seems like there's a lot of interesting things you could do there).

Stone Age

This is a worker placement game.  On your turn, you pick one available action and place as many of your meeples as you want on that action (though most actions have a maximum number of meeples they can hold).  Then after everyone has placed all their meeples, you remove them and take the corresponding actions.  Most of the actions get you resources; one action gets you another worker, one gets you a farm (which reduces how much food you spend each round), one gets you a tool (which makes production actions a little better), and then you can also get a card (which have miscellaneous effects and usually score VP for various things), or get a hut (worth VP).

When you take an action that gives you resources, you roll dice equal to the number of meeples you've placed there that round, then divide the total by k, where k is a constant depending on which resource you're getting, and the result is how many copies of that resource you get.  The result is always rounded down, which means that, in a single round, it's more efficient to place a bunch of meeples on one resource action than to place one meeple on each of several different resource actions.  However, tools mitigate this a lot: each tool lets you add some amount (indicated on the tool) to a roll each round, so you can use that to try to make things add up to amounts that are divisible by the things you need them to be.  I'm not a huge fan of the dice-rolling to determine how many resources you get, mostly because it feels like it's just adding some unnecessary random chance, but the tool mechanic helps to make it feel a little more justified.

I think my biggest complaint about this game is that there are too many things that can be paid for with whatever resources you want.  The cards always cost just 1-4 of whatever resources you want (depending on how long they've been available), and a lot of the huts also cost things like [5 of one resource] or [5 total of three different resources].  The cards I can sort of understand, but I think the huts should always cost fixed combinations of resources.  As it is, I think 1. wood and gold are too powerful compared to brick and stone, and 2. you feel like your decision of what resource to get is arbitrary a lot of the time.  Wood is good because it's the cheapest resource (you're dividing by the smallest number when you get wood), so if you're paying whatever you want, you might as well pay the thing you can get the most of.  Gold is good, because it's the most valuable resource, and the huts that let you pay what you want score VP based on the value of resources you paid.  But since so many huts have too little restrictions on what you can pay for them, I think you can just get a little brick and stone early on to make sure it's there if you need it, and then try to pay for things with wood and gold generally.

It also bothers me that so many of the huts are strictly better than others (again, because they let you pay what you want for them).  All of the huts' VP is equal to the total value of resources spent on them, so a hut with a more flexible cost is always better than a more specific one.  I'm okay with some things being strictly better than others in a worker placement game, because worker placement is automatically a competition-mechanic that makes difference in values of things interesting.  But I think there are too many such huts, and in particular, the ones that let you pay for them with 1-7 of whatever resource(s) you want are just worlds better than the rest, because you can just cash in whatever resources you happen to have on hand for VP.

Another thing that bothered me about this game was that first player just rotates.  In worker placement games turn order is usually important enough that I think it's better to have it be integrated into gameplay, even if that just means turn order goes from least VP to most VP, or having an action that makes you first player next round (like in Agricola).  Having it rotate is "safe" in the sense that it makes sure there's nothing game-breaking involving turn order, but I think it's also less interesting than it could be.  This is a pretty minor complaint, but I think it's worth mentioning.

The action that gets you another meeple requires 2 meeples to take (for thematic reasons), and the action that gets you another farm only costs one.  These both seem like very powerful actions to me, so it seems like they should both require a lot of meeples to take.  As it is, it seems like every round (at least for the beginning and middle of the game) starts with the first two players taking these two actions, which slightly bothers me, but I guess at least the rotating first player guarantees that this leads to a "fair" distribution.

That sounds like a lot of complaints, but I liked the game overall, there's just a lot of little things that seem like they could have been done better.  I think I have heard that there is a game-breaking strategy involving starving your people every round since your score cannot drop below 0, and then wait until the end of the game to score points.  That seems easy enough to house-rule by just saying that your score can in fact drop below 0.
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scott_pilgrim

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #20 on: May 04, 2017, 09:36:15 pm »
+2

Team Kirby Clash Deluxe

I downloaded this game on Sunday and have logged about 5 hours on it so far.  It is free to play, so if you have a 3DS, there's no excuse for not getting it.

When this game was announced, I didn't have particularly high expectations for it.  I thought it sounded like maybe a fun game to play a few times with friends, but the gameplay is surprisingly good, and so far I've had a ton of fun just playing it by myself.  The game has some RPG elements to it, but the core gameplay is just boss fights from Kirby games, except quite a bit deeper and more interesting, I think.  When I heard of the game, I was concerned because I thought, boss fights are not really the fun part of Kirby games, and also, there's only four different powers available, which is really few by Kirby standards.  But I have not been able to complain about either of these things since actually playing it.

I will say, I think the game is designed to be very addicting in a few different ways, and it's hard for me to tell how much of my inability to put it down is because it's so much fun versus the "addiction mechanics".  Presumably these are in place to get you to spend money on it (and the designers were very clever in the ways they try to lure you in there, without being overt).  I haven't and don't plan to spend money on the game at all.  So far my experience is that the game is very challenging without spending money on it, but not impossible (it might get a little grindy at times, though).  I certainly wouldn't call it a pay-to-win game.

The core gameplay is extremely well-designed, which is good, because it's fairly repetitive.  (There are different bosses to fight, and they have different attacks and stuff, but you really feel like you're doing the same thing every time.)  There are four different roles: sword fighter, hammer lord, doctor, and beam mage.  I think they did a really good job of covering different playstyles with these roles, and using them in a way that forces the players to interact with each other a lot, so it really feels like a team experience.  I've been almost exclusively playing the sword fighter.

Each role, except for the hammer lord (from what I can tell), has a unique support mechanic.  The sword fighter's thing is that his shield is big and protects other players and also lasts a long time.  I actually did not realize this until last night, so I've been trying to switch my playstyle away from super-aggressive to take advantage of this ability.  The doctor's thing is that he can set up heal zones.  I'm not sure exactly how they work, but I think depending on how long it's charged you can get a bigger/stronger heal area, and when other players walk through it, they recover HP.  The beam mage's thing is that he can freeze time.  Again I'm not sure exactly how it works, but every now and then I'll be doing stuff and then the time freezing music will come on, and you have about 10 seconds or so to whop on the boss with no consequences.

All of these support mechanics encourage lots of player interaction.  The hammer lord has no special thing as far as I can tell, but his special thing is that he's slow and just dishes out tons of damage, so I actually really like this, because it encourages more interaction by requiring a lot of support, especially since he has to get close to the boss to attack him.  I sometimes like to get in there and throw up my shield, like I got your back hammer man.

I also like that two of the roles (sword fighter and hammer lord) require getting up close to the boss (and generally deal more damage), while the other two (doctor and beam mage) can run away and throw projectiles.  I think this covers the range of playstyles players may have nicely.

Each fight has a time limit on it.  If you run out of time, you lose*.  Also, if everyone is dead at the same time, you lose*.  At first I thought the time limit was weird, but it's actually necessary and works pretty well I think.  It's necessary because it's not too hard to avoid everyone being dead together, since you can revive your teammates.  (And I think the revival mechanic is necessary, to prevent players from sitting around with nothing to do for too long.)  However, the more one player dies, the harder it is to revive them, so that sort of incentivizes you not to die too much.

*So when you lose, you actually don't really lose.  You get a chance to spend some gem apples (the game's main currency, which you can also buy with real life money) to continue the fight.  If you do, everyone gets fully healed, and 30 seconds are added to the clock.  If you still don't make it, you can buy another chance to continue, but it costs a lot more than the previous time.  I'm not sure if there's a limit on how many times you can keep going, but the game once offered me (after dying a third time) to continue for 25 apples, which is just way too much to be reasonable.  You can also see now how they get you to spend money.  You lose a fight but you're really close, and you know, if I just had 30 more seconds I could win this.  My advice to you if you're not planning to spend money on the game is to basically never spend apples on anything ever unless you absolutely have to.  They are a lot more scarce than they seem at first.

When the boss is getting low-ish on HP, at some point, they will spit out a power tablet.  About 10 or so seconds later, they'll spit out another one, and then a few seconds later a third and fourth.  Once each player has picked up a power tablet, you cut to a little mini-game where you try to time it so your cursor lines up in the middle of the thing, and then you unleash a huge meteor attack which has power based on how well everyone did at this mini-game.  I really like this mechanic.  It means your super-powerful attack is held hostage until you can get everyone alive at the same time, and it also sort of connects players together as they try to position themselves optimally for collecting the tablets (especially the hammer lord, since he's slow and has a hard time getting around).

Occasionally throughout the fight, as in real life, food will randomly fall from the sky.  You can eat it and it heals you, but as in other Kirby games, you can also share with your partners by moving next to them quickly after eating.  This mechanic really encourages team play, because sometimes food will fall next to you and your almost dead partner is on the other side of the screen, so you grab it and then go deliver it to them.  Or maybe you're totally healthy and you can't really get to your allies who need it in time, so you leave it for them to get later.

As a sword fighter main, I've noticed that there's a sort of fighting game progression where you start by spamming one move you think is really powerful, but as you get better and better at the game, you start learning to diversify your play more.  The bosses do not try to "read" you, and there does not seem to be any stale moves mechanic, so I do still wonder if a mostly spammy playstyle is optimal, but I have found myself spamming neutral air less than I had been originally.  I'm guessing the same thing might happen for other roles too; you figure out the one most efficient move in terms of damage/time, and then mostly spam that.  For the ranged roles at least, I suspect it's trickier because you also have to figure out how to time it so you line up with them, and account for how much time you have to charge.

I have not actually played the game with real life human people yet, but it is way more fun than I expected just to play with the bots, and I'm guessing it's a lot more fun with real people, because of all the team aspects of the game.  Of course, the bots will not always do exactly what you want them to, but that's almost inevitable with this type of game, and they're not as bad in that regard as they could be.  You do get 1.5 times EXP when playing with other people.  I think this mechanic is actually necessary (or at least something that rewards you for playing with people is necessary), because without it, someone will (almost) always be higher level than the others, and that player has no incentive not to just play with their equally high-leveled bots.

So I think that's all I have to say about the actual gameplay, but there's also a lot of meta-gameplay to consider.  The game is really formatted like an RPG.  You get experience points and level up, you get resources when you kill bosses, and then spend those resources on weapons and armor.  You have stat points that your weapons and armor affect.  If you do not plan to spend money, apples will generally be your limiting resource.  If you do spend money, you can't just automatically buy all the best weapons and armor by spending real-life money on them, because (I think) real-life money only gets you apples, and you'll still be limited by how many fragments you can get.

In the outside village area, there's a Waddle Dee snoozing by a tree, who will give you 5 apples every 12 hours.  12 hours seems like an awkward time frame to me, because I'm always wanting to try to time it exactly down to the minute, because if I let it slide too far back, eventually I'm either delaying when I go to bed or when I go to work, or else missing out on my apples for a while.  I would much prefer 10 apples every 24 hours, but oh well.

You have a vigor bar that starts at 15 maximum capacity but increases as you level up.  Every time you go on a quest, you spend some amount of vigor (determined by the quest).  You recover one vigor every 7 minutes, even if you don't have the game on (I think you can also increase the rate at which you recover vigor with some items).  You also recover all your vigor when you level up.  This mechanic is weird to me and I can't decide how I feel about it.  I really wish I could just play when I wanted to, and not have this mechanic that prevents me from playing when I've played too much.  On the other hand, it probably actually makes the game more addicting, because it makes me feel like I have to optimize when I play the game throughout the day to make sure I'm never wasting vigor.

Each quest has four heroic missions associated with it, one of which is always just to win the fight.  Each heroic mission gives you some amount of apples when completed (but only the first time it is completed), so this is your main source of apple income, but it is limited.  Some quests also require you to spend apples to unlock, but usually they at least have the potential to earn you back more apples than you spent to unlock them (although usually it is hard enough to do the missions that it will take a long time to get your return on investment).  There are also miscellaneous heroic missions that are not attached to any of the specific quests, so you're generally always getting some apples over time.

The music in this game is amazing.  Mostly it is remixes of songs from other Kirby games.  I love the music it plays when time freezes (and I also love how the background changes), I don't know how to describe it but the whole feel of it really makes you feel like the pressure has been taken off for a few seconds.

Overall, I am a little bothered by how addicting the game is when it doesn't really need to be.  But the gameplay itself is just so fantastic that it's a game I don't really want to put down any way.  Everything in the actual fighting is designed to encourage team play in a way that would make it very fun and engaging even if it weren't a Kirby game; the fact that we get Kirby and all the stuff from the Kirby universe along with it is just icing on the cake.

You can guess what I'm off to do right now.
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pingpongsam

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #21 on: May 05, 2017, 10:09:19 pm »
+2

I keep coming back to this thread to hear how it's gone with that girl and I keep getting disappointed.
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scott_pilgrim

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #22 on: May 05, 2017, 11:37:04 pm »
+1

I keep coming back to this thread to hear how it's gone with that girl and I keep getting disappointed.

I haven't seen her again since that night.  I don't think she's a regular with that gaming group.
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scott_pilgrim

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #23 on: May 20, 2017, 11:42:03 am »
+1

Kraftwagen

I really, really like this game.  It's hard for me to figure out exactly why I like it so much, because the theme doesn't especially appeal to me, there's a lot of different things you score for (which I tend not to like), and it's a little on the more complicated side for a Euro.  Maybe if I played it again I would not like it quite as much, but somehow in spite of all those things I found it fairly easy to internalize the basic strategy, and there were a lot of really tense, difficult decisions to make throughout the game.

The theme of this game is building, racing, and selling cars.  The core mechanic of this game is the same as in Tokaido and Glen More (the player who's farthest back is always the next player to take their turn; they can take whatever action they like but the farther ahead you jump the longer it will be before you take another turn).  The actions are things like taking engines, car bodies, or workers, or cards which often improve how good of an engine/body you can build, or racing around the track.

The game takes place over three rounds.  Throughout the round, you can take a body and an engine you have (and at least 1 worker) and put it up for sale, to be sold at the end of the round.  By the end of the round, there will be 4-6 cars up for sale, depending on exactly how things went.  One action you can take lets you influence which of four different kinds of buyers will be buying the cars.  One buyer cares about the body, one cares about the engine, one cares about the number of workers assigned to the car, and one only cares about the price.  When you put a car up for sale, you can take from a pool of distinct numbers and assign it that price (the prices available get a little higher each round).  So now you're wondering, why don't I always just assign the highest price?  This is one of the coolest mechanics in this game.  The buyers will always buy the best car at whatever thing they care about, BUT if there's a tie for that thing, they will buy the cheapest of the tied options.  So if you're pretty confident you can beat the other players at something that a buyer cares about, then you can put the highest possible price on it.  But if you think it might be a close call, maybe you go for a moderate or low price, to discourage other players from bothering to compete with you on it (since they might need to take an even lower price to beat you, and at that point it's not worth it for them).  Or maybe someone already has an equally "good" car out there, and you can beat their price by just taking 1 less.  You might think this mechanic encourages you to wait as long as possible before putting cars up for sale, but you're not guaranteed any sell spots, and you can only hold a very limited number of car bodies/engines at a time, so there's a lot of pressure to get in there when you can.  In the second round I waited too long and set up two buyers to buy based on engines since I had good engines, but I never managed to get any cars up for sale.  I thought I screwed up really bad when that happened but I actually end up winning by a very large margin, so I guess my good first and third round made up for it.

One thing that I think this game does very well is that it lets players "specialize" in something, but without the players who specialize in that thing totally dominating the market in it.  For example, I sort of specialized in building engines in the game I played, and throughout the game I generally stayed ahead of other players at engine-building, but it was always very tight and I was never quite sure if I was going to be able to pull out the "best engine" car when I needed it.

I think one of the best things for any game to have is to maximize indirect conflict, usually by some sort of competition for limited resources.  This game does that very well, somewhat through the Tokaido mechanic but also largely through the selling mechanic (you need to see what kinds of cars other players are going to be able to sell and try to beat them out).  There's a lot of very tense decisions and close calls.  I should mention that the selling mechanic (the buyers care about one thing, but if there's a tie for that thing, they buy the cheaper of the tied options) works especially well because I think there is just the right amount of "ties".  It's not crazy for one player to have a solid lead in one category over the other players, but even if there's no tie it's usually only a difference of 1 or maybe 2 points in that category, and there fairly often is in fact a tie, which means that the "buyer taking the lower price in a tie" mechanic is neither too dominating nor irrelevant.
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scott_pilgrim

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Re: Some Miscellaneous Game Reviews
« Reply #24 on: June 25, 2017, 02:31:48 pm »
+1

Ethnos

Despite the look of the box and art, this game really plays like a Euro.  Mostly, it is a set collection game.  One selling point of it to me is that it looks like it would have a lot of variety from game to game (but it's hard to judge that just from one game).  In each game, you choose some number of races to mix together into a deck that everyone will draw from.  Each card has a color and a race.  Generally, you are trying to make sets of either all one race, or all one color.  When you play a set, you choose one of the cards in the set to act as the leader.  Each race has a special effect when played as the leader, so this is the main source of game-to-game variety.  Additionally, the color of the leader determines in which of six regions on the board you place a token.  In order to actually play a token there, the set that you just played must have more cards in it than the number of tokens you already have in that region, so there's some diminishing returns in placing in the same region a lot.

When you play a set, you MUST discard all the remaining cards in your hand, which will become available to other players to pick up on subsequent turns (or they may also take a card from the deck).  This mechanic seems a little weird at first, but I grew to like it, because it encourages you to play sets quickly, which contrasts with the triangle-number VP bonuses you get for the size of each set you play (as well as the fact that you need bigger sets, especially later on in the game, to be able to place tokens on the board).

The game takes place over three stages.  At the end of each stage, you score points based on which regions you have the most tokens in.  In later stages, there is also VP prizes for having second/third most tokens in a region.  The VP prizes for controlling regions is assigned randomly each game, so that seems like it would add a lot more variety.  In my review of Sagrada, I mentioned this phenomenon where making things too flexible actually takes away from the potential for game-to-game variety, and this is a great example of that.  Since everything in the game is symmetric over the region colors, there is no difference between, for example, the orange region being worth 0/0/8 VP and the green region being worth 2/4/6, vs. the green region being worth 0/0/8 VP and the orange region 2/4/6.  In order for these two scenarios to be distinct, you would have to break the symmetry by having a special ability for each region or something like that.  That's not to say I don't appreciate the randomly assigned VP values because I do think it probably adds a little bit of variety, but it seems to me like they could have made some small changes that would have resulted in that mechanic adding a lot more variety.

Fairly early on in the game, it looked to me like the game was going to go on way longer than seemed appropriate for the gameplay.  It turned out I was right, the game did go on way too long, but mostly it was due to a spectacular series of amusing goofs and coincidences which all contributed to making the game take longer than it should.  We played with 6 players (the maximum), which surely slowed things down a bit.  We also played with Halflings, whose special thing is that there are twice as many of them, so that adds more cards to play through.  In addition to that, when we got to the end of the game, we sorted out all the race cards to go back into the box, and found that somehow, we had had seven races in the deck instead of six.  And it was not until after the game that the guy who introduced us to the rules discovered that in fact, the skeletons are just like any of the other races; he had thought for some reason that the skeletons were supposed to be included in every game.  So in the end, we had been playing with 1.5 times as many cards as we were supposed to (8 races instead of 6, and one of those races had double the number of cards in it), and apparently one of the races we did not include was one of the ones that helps speed things along.  I'm guessing that when played correctly and in the average case, the game is about an hour rather than close to 2 hours.

This is not my favorite game ever but I do really appreciate the variable set-up mechanics and I expect it would last many plays before getting old.

Hanamikoji

This is a short, simple 2-player card game.  There are seven geishas; your goal is to be the first to "win" four of them, or 11 points-worth of them, by playing more cards corresponding to them than the opponent.  The game primarily revolves around a "cut and choose" mechanic, like when you had to split a piece of cake with your brother and your parents told one of you to cut the cake and the other to choose which half they wanted.  Each turn, each player has four options, and must do each one exactly once during the round.  Option 1 is to take 1 card from your hand and bury it to be played at the end of the round (keeping it secret until then).  Option 2 is to take 2 cards from your hand and discard them face-down.  Option 3 is to take 3 cards from your hand, let your opponent pick the one they want, and then you get the other two.  Option 4 is to take 4 cards from your hand, split them into two pairs, and let your opponent pick the pair they want, and then you get the other pair.

At first you get excited about drawing a "good" card, but then you realize that you really only get to play one good card per round, because all of your other options involve either discarding things, or giving your opponent first pick at what's in your hand.  The secret playing and discarding adds a lot of potential to be tricky, but since you otherwise always have to give your opponent a choice first, you can't rely on being able to pull off the tricky things you're trying to do.

After playing once and spectating most of another game, this game looks really incredible to me.  It seems like it is surprisingly deep, and forces you to make lots of very difficult decisions, especially considering how short and simple it is.  I also really like that it is 2-player, because almost every game I play either isn't 2-player, or is but doesn't really work as well with only two.  Which is how it should be really, because I think the 3-6 range is usually where fun is maximized anyway, but sometimes you have only one other person and you really wish there was a good game to play with them.  Well there's Dominion but besides that.

Blood Rage

Given that this game features miniatures, a big box, and lots of people with axes and spears, it was much better than I was expecting.  Despite its appearances and theme, it really plays more like a Euro (there is no real direct conflict or "political" considerations).  Each round begins by drafting cards 7 Wonders-style; the cards either boost your strength in battles, give you points at the end of the round if you meet some condition, or give you access to a particular monster or some other general upgrade.  Then players take turns taking actions; most actions cost some amount of "Rage" (which I just think of as action points), and once you're out of Rage, you're out of the round.  You can place your dudes on the board, you can make your dudes battle other dudes in the same area as them (to hopefully win a prize there), etc.  This might sound like direct conflict, but I think it's really more like just an unusually themed combination of worker placement and bidding.  There are 3 "stats" that you have: Rage (which is like action points), Axes (how much VP you get when you win a battle), and Horns (how many total dudes you can have on the board at once).  When you win a fight that you started, you increase one of these stats (which one depends on where you fought).

There seems to be a pretty good variety of different strategies that you can do, enabled by the cards you draft at the beginning of each round.  One player appeared to be completely destroying us (he had maxed out all three of his stats, which was really impressive, and each gives you 10 extra VP when you put it above half and 20 VP when maxed out, so he had 60 VP coming to him from that), but I managed to pull out a particular combination of cards in the last round that ended up scoring me 36 VP.  He still ended up winning, but I think the final scores were 105 to 100 to 80-something to 60-something.  But we were really all pretty close until the final scoring round, even the 60-something player looked like a viable contender for second at that point.

This game is on the higher end of both length and complexity compared to what I would normally like, but neither of those is too over-the-top.  I think this game is actually pretty nice and even though I would probably never buy it (I think it's probably a little expensive because of the miniatures), I would certainly enjoy playing it more.
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