Friday, September 30, 2011

Card Game Review - Conquest Tactics

There are a few things that you can put into a game to make me want it without knowing anything else about it. Rhino-men and fireballs are two of those things. Conquest Tactics has both rhinoceros people with throwing axes and wizards with the capacity to burn down your house, plus demon goblins and a bunch of other cool things.

When I first heard about Conquest Tactics, I was pretty stoked. It looks great, and I really like the art style. It's an expandable card game where you play out your battles on a five-by-five grid and your cards are the warriors who cave in skulls with chunky bits of sharpened metal. That's pretty appealing - combining tactical positioning with smart card play appeals to me, and you don't have to do much else to sell it to me.

So I was dismayed when I played Conquest Tactics and didn't instantly fall in love. I didn't hate it, or anything, but I wanted it to be a lot better than it was. It does so many things right that it would seem like an instant love affair - just add bloodshed. But it also does a few things that I didn't really like, and after every time I play it, I kind of go, 'why don't I like this more?'

Playing Conquest Tactics is straightforward enough, though it's a little involved. To keep track of what part of the turn you're in, the designers of the game invented a clever acronym - TRIUMPH!! (I added the exclamation marks. I felt two of them would be more exciting.) Each letter stands for a segment of a turn, and each player participates in each phase. That means a turn is… not very fast.

But if there's enough tactical challenge, turns don't have to hurry. Give me some depth and difficult decisions, and I'll thank you for making the turns last. And there is a pretty decent amount of stuff to do, assuming you can afford it. You get these tactical points every turn, and you spend them to buy new guys and to send them all over the place. There are a lot of factors to consider, because you're going to run out of points before you run out of stuff you wish you could do. That's a big positive, if you ask me, which leaves me slightly more confused as to why I'm not flat-out apey for this game.

Combat is exciting enough. One bruiser will hit the other as hard as he can, and then the other guy will counter-attack him back, and then someone else will hit someone else or shoot an arrow or throw flame or heal or maneuver into position to block or otherwise come up with some cool thing to do. For a game that's played out on a grid that maxes out at 25 combatants, there's a lot going on.

In fact, that may be the first real problem I have with the game. There really is a heck of a lot happening. There's a lot to track, and yet it doesn't feel like it means as much as it should. It's like running five miles on a treadmill - you know damned well you did a whole lot, but it didn't get you anywhere. In the game, there might be some bodies piled up (hell, there probably will be some bodies), but it took too much slogging through stuff to make those corpses.

Another problem, and it's not even one I'm willing to confidently say is an issue, is that it feels imbalanced. The starter comes with two decks, the Kaborha (rhino dudes) and the humans. And the rhino dudes always beat the stuffing out of the humans. It's not that the humans are pathetic - you can cast spells and stuff, and your archers tend to be impressive - but the rhinos are freaking brutal. They're a little more expensive for a lot more deadly.

I could just be playing it wrong. But every time I play, it seems like the humans are playing better, with more impressive combos and good placement and better maneuvering, and the Kaborha just come charging down the field and stomp a mudhole in them. I may be missing something, but it seems like there are problems with balance. When I outplay my opponent in a game that doesn't even use any dice, I want to win, but it just seems like the better player only wins if he's the one who picked the rhinos.

I can see that a whole hell of a lot of testing went into Conquest Tactics. It's got a lot to like. I love the mobilization of troops, the varying victory conditions, and the art is just plain fun. I like that the combat is brutal and the body count is high. But to really make this a sleek, exciting game, Conquest Tactics should be streamlined, and I mean a lot. There are too many pieces I don't really like, too many spots where things don't work as well as I want them to work, and too many times when I wonder why I didn't just play the rhino dudes so I could win.

Conquest Tactics has all the makings of a really fun game. I can't say I hate it, but I also couldn't admit to wanting to play again. A very analytical gamer with a taste for fantasy might love it, and I'm confident that there are plenty of fans who enjoy building decks and playing the game. It won't be a big hit at my house, but it might be at yours. I wish I could be more definitive, but Conquest Tactics falls squarely in the middle of the road, and it's hard to form a black-and-white, yes-or-no opinion when I just kind of don't care either way.


2 players

Sweet art
Lots of great parts
Conceptually intriguing

Sort of fails in execution
Possible balance issues
Needs some slash-and-burn streamlining

Right now, it looks like the place to buy Conquest Tactics is at their site.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tiny Game Review - Galapa Go!

So much for the afterglow.

Monday I reviewed Risk Legacy, a game that I am still thoroughly enjoying and cannot wait to play again. To temper the excitement of that incredible game, I've decided to flip it backwards and review a game that I hope to never play again, ever.

That game is called Galapa Go! It's one of those unfortunate games whose titles end in exclamation marks, which I find terribly irritating. However, I am more than willing to forgive the inopportune punctuation if the game is good. Since Galapa Go! is not very fun, I have chosen to criticize the game for its title. I will also criticize it for being boring.

The game is cross between a matching game and spoons. There will be a bunch of cards on the table, showing pictures of various animals on tiny islands. There are regular animals like gorillas and elephants, and then there are mutant animals, like gorillas with elephant heads. Then you'll flip a card that will tell you if you should be hunting giraffes, or making sure you don't get any blue starfishes. Then there's a madcap race to put your island card on top of a card that fits the bill.

That's about it. There are a few other rules, basically the special ones on the special cards that make you look for special things, but they actually make the game worse, so I'll pretend they're not there. Besides, everyone has to learn what all the symbols mean, because there are no words on the cards, and so if there are a bunch of complicated symbols, you're just going to flip that card and everyone is going to start staring at it until one guy says what it means:

"OK, so, no giraffes or giraffe parts. And you have to have a red starfish. And he can't be a mutant, so no lions with gorilla heads. And - hey, wait till I finish! Dammit!"

It's not that Galapa Go! is some really horrible game. If I were eight years old, I would probably want to play Stratego with my dad again, because I got bored with Memory when I was four, but maybe somewhere, there are young kids who would like this. My point is, it's not horrible. It's not like there are giant flaws in the game, or misleading rules, or confusing imagery. It's just not really very interesting. We got bored of playing the game after we read the rules, and by the time we finished our first game, we kind of quit paying attention and started talking about consuming rubbing alcohol.

I will say that if I had a classroom full of snot-dripping third-graders, I would probably stock Galapa Go! so that I could distract them long enough to flirt with the cute, recently divorced art teacher down the hall. I can see how you could say Galapa Go! is good for developing quick logic skills or teaching kids to pay attention or something. Maybe that's why I didn't like it - it was almost educational. It was certainly boring enough to be educational.

So here's some advice - don't get Galapa Go! unless you have a regular need to entertain children who are easily distracted. Instead, play Risk Legacy! Oh, wait, that's not out yet.

I don't know, go outside or something.


2-6 players

The art is cute, and gets the job done
Kids can play it

Adults will not want to play it

If you regularly find yourself entertaining young children, you might get some mileage out of Galapa Go! But be sure to tell them how to properly use an exclamation mark. Noble Knight has it pretty darn cheap:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Board Game Review - Risk Legacy

Since Risk Legacy was announced, Internet prognosticators have had a field day of bitchery. I have seen completely ignorant responses vary from calling it a disposable game to saying that Risk Legacy is Hasbro's blatant attempt to steal money from stupid fans. These claims are based on the worthless knowledge one gains by using the same website as someone who knows something. As my good friend Sam Jackson likes to say, allow me to retort.

All those people are slack-jawed, stooped-gait, mouth-breathing, drooling idiots who have absolutely no idea what they're talking about in any way, shape or form, and their arguments are based on conjecture and an obsessive-compulsive desire to treat their board games as if they were priceless collectibles, rather than boxes of cardboard that will be worth less than ten dollars by this time next year.

I have played the game eight times now, and can confidently say that Risk Legacy is the most exciting game release since the turn of the century. It changes everything about the way games work and is more fun than I can remember a game being in more than a decade. If I did rate games, it is with no hesitation whatsoever that I would rate Risk Legacy as the number one game I have owned since I started playing games.

I will now attempt to address some of the blatant, knee-jerk ignorance I have read to date. First, I have seen more than one graduate of the Internet School of Self-Importance announce that Risk Legacy was asking us to destroy the game. That is a load of horse manure. You will destroy elements of your game as you play, but for every element that you throw away, you'll add two more. You're not ruining you're game, you're building it, and the decisions you make will shape your world to make it different from every other copy of Risk Legacy. Your board will not just have different names. It will be functionally original to you. When you finish a game of Risk Legacy, you will leave your permanent stamp on the game.

Creation is not a solely additive process. Sometimes, for something new to be created, something else must be destroyed. Consider, if you will, the creation of the Michelangelo's David. This amazing work of art was created from stone, and that stone was removed, chiseled away, and for the purpose of being a useful cornerstone, effectively destroyed. There was considerable destruction in the creation of such a work of art, but in the end, something amazing was created. Risk Legacy might not be a classical sculpture, but after you play it a few times, it will begin to be your own personal creation, and it will take on a bizarre and rugged beauty full of nuance and memories.

Allow me to answer the assclowns who say that Risk Legacy is disposable. After you play Risk Legacy a handful of times, you will be less inclined to dispose of it than any other game you own. You will unfold the board, see the changes you have made to it, and laugh as you recall the events that created this world. You'll remember the enormous missile exchange that altered the world forever, or the hilarity that ensued when you named your first major city. You'll think back on epic battles, sweeping maneuvers, and bold moves that fell short. You would no more dispose of a game like that than you would dispose of your family photo albums.

And the concept that you can only play fifteen times? Completely, irrevocably absurd. After fifteen games, you're probably about finished with the wildly game-altering changes that could occur - but you've still got a copy of Risk that is better than any other Risk ever made. Once you've played fifteen times, what you own is as replayable as any other game you own. You don't complain about Agricola being disposable, do you? And you can't ever change that game! The first time you play Agricola, the rules will be exactly the same as the fifteenth time. You can't say that about Risk Legacy.

A friend was concerned that if he played Risk Legacy with me, I would have a decided advantage because I had already experienced all the wild twists and turns the game has to offer. This concern was wrong on so many levels that it will take a couple paragraphs to answer them all. First, of course I'm at an advantage. The same friend is an expert at another game we both enjoy, and he wins three out of four times because he knows the game better. Nobody complains that Puerto Rico is flawed because the guy who has played fifty times always beats the new people.

Second, when the big events occur and new envelopes are opened, the sweeping changes affect everyone at the same time. Sure, I could attempt to position myself to take advantage of a change I know is coming, but not only would that probably hurt me more than it helped, it would also be incredibly difficult to engineer on my own. To add to that, there's no guarantee that the upcoming change will actually be in my favor. There's every possibility that decisions made in the spur of the moment could alter the world and hamstring me for every game from then on. It happens. And it's awesome.

Third, consider a movie with a surprise twist that nobody saw coming. Who would you rather be, the guy who has seen the movie a dozen times and knows exactly what to expect, or the guy who is about to have his jaw hit the floor? Me, I would rather be the one surprised. I would rather be the one discovering amazing new developments in Risk Legacy, the one who has no idea what's in the hidden box and who gets to be delighted at the brilliantly unfolding story.

So that's my answer for all the jackanapes. For those of you who haven't made snap decisions with virtually no information available, I'll go ahead and tell you how this wild ride actually works. Don't worry, I won't spoil any of the surprises.

Risk Legacy operates on the theory that every game you play should affect the games that come after it. Decisions you make in one game will irrevocably change the game from then on. Snap decisions made for short-term gain will create permanent alterations that you may regret for the next twenty times you play. And whatever changes occur, they'll happen because of decisions you made. This isn't just randomly changing. It's changing because you changed it. When you play Risk Legacy, you've got a stake in it.

There are lots of ways that this works. The most notable example is that the winner of each game will sign the board, often with a nickname or catch phrase. The winner gets a reward for winning, too, which could be anything from founding a big city or naming a continent to destroying a territory card or erasing changes that were made before. Then the losers get their rewards, which are basically just smaller cities or making some territories more valuable.

But that's not the only way the game changes. When certain events occur, like a player getting eliminated or nine minor cities being founded, you open up an envelope that completely changes the game. I told you I won't spoil it for you, but suffice to say that once you open an envelope, your game will change forever. And since there are six envelopes in the box, that's six chances for your game to make a wild left turn that makes everyone learn the game all over again.

You'll change the game as you play, too. You might be under attack and decide to create a bunker - but that bunker is permanent, and next game, someone else might be in there. Or you might need a territory badly enough that you inflict an ammo shortage on the land, only to find out next game that you just can't hold that territory long enough to get your continent bonus because your own people can't get enough bullets.

As the game goes on, more and more developments will occur. The map will change. The factions will change. The rules of the game will change. And every time there's a change, Risk Legacy becomes more fun. This is why it's so ridiculous to read complaints about destroying the game - after five or six games, you'll have so much more game than you started with.

Now, the biggest complaint I've ever had about Risk in general is the time investment. Even the new Risk, with objectives, still take a while. And I'm not going to pretend that Risk Legacy will never go long, especially if nobody is particularly aggressive. But this is the first Risk I've played where I've ever finished inside 45 minutes, and it's very rare to see one go over an hour and a half.

The reason you can finish a game so quickly is because the winning conditions are different than they've been before. To win the game, you need four victory points. You get one point for each HQ you control (including your own), and if you haven't won the game before, you get one handed to you for free, just for showing up. This means that in a game with all new people, you're halfway to the win before you put down your first recruit. And that makes the game go pretty darn fast.

Of course, after a while, most people will have a win under their belts, and so you would think the game would slow down. However, as the game changes, more ways to earn victory points will be available. Once again, I can't tell you what they are, but suffice to say, they're a lot of fun, and add new dimensions to the way you play. They also keep that break-neck pace that makes Risk Legacy both the fastest version of Risk and the most fun I've had playing a board game in as long as I can remember.

I could keep going, and regale you with stories of sudden assaults, surprise comebacks, desperate gambits and legendary failures. But you don't need to hear about my stories. You need to pick up a copy of Risk Legacy, gather some friends, and create your own amazing tales. Don't worry about the resale value of your game. Don't get worked up about permanently changing things. Relax, roll some dice, laugh your ass off and kill a whole bunch of people. Once you start playing Risk Legacy, you'll be forced to agree that this is not just a whole new way to enjoy a game. This is the most fun you'll have for a really long time.


3-5 players

Reinvents board gaming
Every decision has the potential to change the game forever
An exciting, thrill-packed ride
Exceptionally impressive production
Ridiculously well tested
Insanely fun

Not out until November

You'll have to wait to get your hands on Risk Legacy, but believe me, the wait will be worth it. You're going to have more fun with this game than you even thought was possible.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Board Game Review - Chaostle

I have been reviewing games for a long enough time that I can usually spot a really bad game just by looking at the box. I am rarely surprised, though Cambridge Games Factory surprised me routinely by having ugly games that were actually really good. Chaostle, on the other hand, did not surprise me. The art would be good, if this were 1986. The box is absurdly huge. The components are almost painfully obvious for being pointlessly excessive. These are all neon signs that add up to 'you will probably not enjoy this game.'

I sure wanted to like it. For one thing, it's friggin' huge. If you kill a midget hooker in your apartment, you could hide her body in the box. It has 16 plastic dudes in the box, including a unicorn and a dragon. The cardboard used for the character cards is almost a quarter-inch thick. There are more than a dozen plastic walls cast from Hirst Arts molds, and they look pretty cool. Somebody paid a Brooklyn fortune to make this game, and with that much money put into the production, I really wanted to love it.

Unfortunately, there's not a whole heck of a lot to love. Chaostle is like Parcheesi with orcs. Now, you could make that a playable game, but not the way this one happened. This one is just a sloppy, inconsistent, random, man-made disaster movie.

The idea behind the game is that you have a team of warriors, and you need to get them to run around this big board and get into the basement of the crazy castle so they can get to their weed stash behind the furnace. Your team is made up of a variety of warriors, like dragon slayers and rogues, wizards and minotaurs, circus monkeys and outlaw bikers (I think the monkeys and bikers are in the expansion). They all have different abilities, which are described on character cards that are used to track hit points and movement points and upgrades and stuff.

Every turn you roll one die, and it tells you what you can do. Each roll does something different, so if you roll a four, you don't have to do anything, and if you roll a one, you can put out a new hero to start his run for the middle of the board. If you roll a three, you get to go again, and if you roll a five, something absurd happens.

Various signs pointed to the game going poorly right out of the gate. We all picked our warriors, completely at random, and then we grabbed the rulebook to look up our abilities. Each character has three abilities, and we had twelve characters at the table. That means we had to spend half an hour reading aloud from the book to describe the 36 different abilities we had at our disposal. Yes, 36. Three dozen. And we were supposed to keep track of these abilities so that we could remember to use them later, when they were good for something.

Some of the abilities are very useful, like the one that lets you time-travel to the future to grab a death ray and disintegrate your foes. That's a pretty handy ability, but I have to wonder if maybe he could just jump forward to when he was already in the sanctuary. That seems like it would be more efficient.

Some abilities are ridiculously narrow in scope, like the one that gives you three extra points of damage if you're fighting a dragon. There is only one dragon in the game, and while you'll probably get in lots of fights as you play, there's no way to know if you'll actually meet up with the dragon. And since the dragon has like 40 hit points, three extra is not really all that impressive.

We were stalwart, though, determined to play this game so you wouldn't have to. We're givers. So we soldiered on and began the game, taking turns rolling a single die until one of us could get a guy on the board. This took five minutes. For five minutes, we just took turns rolling one die, looking at the result, and saying, 'your turn.' That was another good sign that Chaostle was not going to be awesome.

After about fifteen minutes, we managed to all have guys out, running around and jumping gaps and picking fights. It didn't take very long for us to run afoul of the five, which when rolled, makes you roll your die into Harry Potter's Chamber of Stupid. You might get a blessing, and suddenly make your character far more powerful, or a genie might pop out and offer to give an opponent a wedgie. You might also be turned into a pile of smoldering ash and just take your guy out of the game forever. What did you do wrong? Nothing. You just rolled a five.

We were quickly becoming more and more certain that Chaostle was an insanely stupid game. After we had been running around this plastic monstrosity of a game board for 90 minutes, we began to wonder who had tested this game. There were so many mistakes that it seemed like nobody had really played it before it went to press. So we decided to take that opportunity to examine the credits for the game.

The author of the game is credited. The illustrators are credited. The writer who created all the fluff copy is credited. Notably not credited, on the other hand, were playtesters of any sort. There was not even an entry describing who had played the game and helped round off the corners and clean up the messes. We were thus led to believe that the playtesters of this game were, in fact, nameless garden gnomes. That, or nobody actually played this one. I actually am more likely to believe that it was gnomes. Everybody knows that gnomes like rolling dice.

Shortly thereafter, my dragon made it close to the end goal by virtue of being the best character in the game. He was then attacked and killed, which sort of sucked, but also gave my opponents a great reason to say, 'hey, if we give up, can we leave?' We noted that we were of one accord on this point, and even if my dragon did manage to get to the sanctuary, he still had to battle the inanimate castle a dozen times before he could win. Which meant that had I managed to win the fight, the game still would have continued to cause us mental anguish for at least another forty-five minutes.

So we quit.

If you like games with lots of plastic, well, Chaostle has lots of plastic. If you like smart games that favor the better player, well, Chaostle has lots of plastic. If you like your games to be fast-paced and fun, well-designed and exciting, or even just not entirely horrible, well, Chaostle has lots of plastic.

I simply fail to understand how someone could have sunk such a tremendous amount of money into a game this huge without at least letting someone else try it. Maybe he was scared someone else would steal the idea (which is crazy, because nobody else could afford the idea). Maybe he did play it with someone, and they lied and said it was fun. Or maybe he just took a page from the American Idol reject playbook and, after having been told he was really bad at this, ignored the feedback and said, 'I'm going to follow my dream!' Whatever the case, the result is a monumentally expensive disaster, and while I feel bad for the creator, I couldn't possibly recommend this game to anyone with an IQ over seventeen.


2 or more players. The upper limit is a little vague.

Lots of plastic

Too many to detail. Simply imagine an explosion in an oil refinery caused by a passenger jet crashing into an avalanche over an earthquake that swallows the Titanic in a fiery nuclear holocaust.

I wanted to post a link to an image that would help to describe the level of disaster found in Chaostle, but had trouble finding any that would not cost you sleep.

EDIT: I probably should have seen this coming, since it tends to happen with small-time publishers who make crappy games. The creator of Chaostle emailed me to let me know all the mistakes we made while playing Chaostle. Here's a summary:

1. Apparently, you get to start with a guy on the board. That tidbit is not actually in the 'setup' portion of the 40-page rulebook - it comes later, in the section describing how the die rolling works - and so we missed it. So we started off a little slow. Sadly, the game did not improve once we did have dudes in play, so this was more like the difference between slowly removing a band-aid in the shower and ripping it off your leg hair all at once.

2. According to the email I got from the creator of the game, when you roll a five, you get to put a dude on the board. That was obviously our bad, but in my defense, it might be that we missed this rule on account of it not actually being in the rulebook.

3. The abilities are for advanced players. We should have just ignored them. To be fair, once we figured out that we were going to have to spend the next three hours flipping through the rulebook, we did ignore them. Our mistake was in trying to learn them in the first place.

4. According to the email, you can't actually remove a character from the game completely. When it says, 'remove the character from play,' that doesn't mean he's out of the game. Obviously, again, this was our failure to interpret 'remove the character from play', because it really means 'do not remove the character from play.' We will try harder next time, and we apologize for the misinformation.

All of these errors, however, do bring me to one point I forgot to mention the first time around - this is a very bad rulebook. The garden gnomes should be embarrassed for allowing it to go to print.

And that brings me to another point. The mistakes we made were minor compared to the act-of-God-natural-disaster that was the rest of the game. You still just roll and move like Candyland for retarded D&D fans. You still get in ridiculous fights. You still have completely game-changing events occur simply because you rolled a five. In short, mistakes or not, Chaostle is still a sloppy, disjointed, over-produced train wreck. It's just that now, I can add that it also has a terrible rulebook.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dexterity Game Review - Sorry Sliders: Cars 2

Sometimes an idea hits the market that's so good, you wonder why nobody thought of it before. Like the guy who came up with a worldwide swap meet, called it eBay, and then got richer than God. Now, from anywhere in the world, you can buy somebody's used crap. That's awesome, because previously, if you wanted a beat-up plaque announcing to visitors that they were currently in Mom's Kitchen, you had to get your kid to make one in woodshop.

Another awesome idea started with Sorry Sliders. This hilariously entertaining game has weighted pawns with ball bearings in the base, and you flick them, and they slide all over the place. And then you take that cool sliding pawn, slap it on a race track, and BAM! kids everywhere will want a copy (especially if you license it with some mega-popular cartoon movie).

I would like to think that's how Sorry Sliders: Cars 2 was created, but to be honest, I doubt it. Probably the guys at Pixar went to Hasbro and said, 'make us a Cars 2 game so we can get more kids into the movies.' That, or the Hasbro people said, 'we need a game to get on this Cars 2 bandwagon.' Either way, Sorry Sliders: Cars 2 was probably a result of aggressive marketing, not brilliant game concepting.

Either way, though, the game is cool. Where Sorry Sliders has you trying to get your pawns into a scoring area in the middle of the board, the Cars 2 version has you speeding around a track and trying to avoid obstacles that will send your pawn/car spiraling through the air to smack someone straight in the forehead and put them directly into a coma. It still adds a few of the Sorry Sliders elements, like zones where you get to flick your racer again or areas where, if you get stuck, you have to shoot with your eyes closed. But mostly, you race. And that makes it fun.

You might be thinking, 'yeah, I kind of liked that idea the first time it came around, when it was called PitchCar.' And I would have to agree. This is pretty much just like PitchCar. You build the track you want from the pieces you have, then you race around it. But there's a huge difference here. The PitchCar cars are wooden discs, and they don't slide anywhere unless you shove the crap out of them. The Sliders cars, on the other hand, glide like they were covered in water-based lube, but without all the mess. You can send those cars flying with a simple motion, which makes them easier for kids to use and makes the game move a lot faster. Plus you get more hilarity when the cars go careening off all the other cars and bust the other players in the eyeteeth.

Of course, the Hasbro version comes with exactly eight pieces of track, and if you ever played PitchCar, you know damned well that's not enough. Sure, it might amuse a handful of kids for an afternoon, but if you want to really have fun with it, you need a lot of track. It might help to have jumps. Tunnels would be great. In other words, PitchCar still beats Cars 2 because even though it's WAY more expensive, it's also a heck of a lot more flexible. If you get the expansion packs for Pitch Car, you can add ramps and jumps, overpasses and intersections, and other stuff that will make you want to play a bunch of times just because you can keep trying different tracks.

There is a solution, however. What you can do is, you can buy two copies. Then you can make all manner of windy tracks! But then, this doesn't work so well, because the real advantage Sorry Sliders: Cars 2 has over PitchCar is that it's half the price. Buy it twice, and you could have just bought PitchCar. Dammit! Stymied again!

But I actually have the best solution yet, based on the fact that I really do love how well the Sorry Sliders pawns work as cars. It's a simple three-step plan:

1) Sell Sorry Sliders: Cars 2.
2) Build a PitchCar track.
3) Use the pawns out of my copy of Sorry Sliders instead of wooden discs.

Genius, right?

Come to think of it, maybe this Sorry Sliders racing thing wasn't as awesome as I thought.


2-4 players (or 1 adult who stayed up late so he could play with the game himself)

The cars are really cool, and move really easy
Cool obstacles to mix it up and make things more interesting

Not enough track to make you want to play more than two or three times

If you want to entertain your movie-junkie kids and give them something to do besides get fat watching cartoons, Sorry Sliders: Cars 2 really is pretty darn fun. You can find it practically anywhere that sells toys, too.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Card Game Review - Barons

Cambridge Games Factory has impressed the hell out of me so far. While Glory to Rome was easily the best of their games I have played so far, North Pole and Zombie In My Pocket were both a heck of a lot of fun. Sure, all the games are about as pretty as a puddle of dog vomit, but they're good games. So when I sat down to play Barons, I knew I was going to be playing a fun game.

Barons is instantly identifiable as a Cambridge Games production because it's powerfully unattractive, and because it comes in a plastic clamshell package that may have previously been used to sell frozen fish. But I've learned by now that when it comes to this particular company, you can't judge their books by the cover.

Unless that game is Barons. Then you can judge away, because Barons is a surprisingly disappointing game. It seems like it should be a smart, enjoyable game, but then you play it and realize that despite having the framework in place to be a fun game, it's actually kind of a dud. The art actually goes with the game in this case, because neither is very good.

The goal in Barons is to build a cathedral in your lands. You do this by laying down cards from the four separate decks, either as land or for the buildings on the front. You pay for the buildings by discarding cards from your hand, which you get from collecting cards for the land. The buildings have special powers that can make your ultimate power grab more successful, so you develop a plan of carefully balancing the development of new land with the need for income-generating real estate.

Or you would, except that every time I've played, the player who won didn't play any buildings at all. You can scheme and plot and manage this great strategy and wind up losing to the guy who just put down land every turn until he could go, 'Hey! Look at that! I win!' Then you throw your cards into the air and wonder what possessed you to bother in the first place.

The reason I kept playing after the first few games was because I felt like there had to be something there. The beginning of the game really looks like it should be smart. 'Ooh, if I build this building, I can trade cards with other people!', you'll say, until you stop to wonder why in the world you would do that. 'Hey, this one lets me draw an extra card!' Know what else lets you draw an extra card? Playing the building as land. And that's free.

Basically, the oversight is that there's a lot of cool stuff to do, with knights who will go over to your neighbor's house and urinate on his living room furniture, or buildings that create cool combinations of effects, or clever ways to place your land. And then you do all this cool stuff, and it doesn't add up to anything. You have a barony that is protected against foreign incursion, with prosperous buildings and lovely city gates, and you lose the game to the guy who just put his cards face-down until he won.

I'm still a little puzzled by Barons. I have seen a couple people say that the game was di-no-mite (I may be paraphrasing). And yet I can't see any reason that I would want to play it again, because there's just nothing in the box that calls to me. If it looked really great, I could understand wanting to play just to see the cool display. If it played great, I could overlook the ridiculous art and eye-gouging design. But instead it's an oddly boring game with art that looks like they gave it to the church secretary so she could apply the decorations with her Windows 95 Art Explosion CD, and I wind up incredibly disappointed in the whole thing and wanting to go back and play Glory to Rome again.

In fact, I think that will be my plan going forward. I will not play Barons again, and I will use the box to store frozen fish. Furthermore, I will pretend it never existed, because I want to preserve Cambridge Games Factory in my mind as the creators of fun games that are very hard on the eyes. And one day when I have an unlimited amount of free time, I will volunteer to decorate all their games so that the church secretary can go back to making hideous Sunday bulletins.


2-6 players

There's a strategy hidden here somewhere

That strategy doesn't actually work

Because I am now pretending that Barons does not exist, I will not provide you with a link to a place where you could buy it. I can't link to a game that doesn't exist, can I? No. I cannot.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Card Game Review - Nile Deluxor

The Nile Valley had to be the absolute worst place in the world to be a farmer. That damned river flooded all the time, and wiped out crops left and right. The worst thing was that you never knew what would get ruined - one week you're fat and happy with a great supply of flax, and the next week, all your papyrus is under water and black mold is growing in your barn.

Actually, I have a funny feeling that might not have been exactly how it worked, but if the only education on the topic that I ever got was from the game Nile, I would be of the opinion that the only job worse than being a farmer in ancient Egypt would be the slave who had to build all those national treasures. And since the guys who made Nile (the game, not the river) wanted to recap every crappy job in North Africa, they made a deluxe version with pyramids and sphinxes and obelisks. That way you could not only be a frustrated farmer whose crops keep running down the river, you got to experience the thrill and exhilaration of seeing all your stonework eaten by grasshoppers.

I've already reviewed Nile once (read it here), and I liked it. It's a very European-style card game with some nice friend screwage and a clever scoring mechanic that makes sure you can't just score the lucky win. But the original suffered from a few painful problems, the worst of which was that the cards would fall apart. Happily, the cards are really nice now, and the Chinese printer in charge was probably executed for making the government lose face.

The upgraded version, and the version you want to get, is called Nile Deluxor, which actually has no relation to the casino in Vegas. It's still essentially the same game, but the inclusion of the monuments makes it a great deal more interesting and provides even more tricky decisions. Now on top of all the other stuff you could figure out, you have to decide whether or not it's worth your time to invest in stone bricks to build a sphinx.

My biggest complaint about the gameplay in the original was the locust swarm, which would show up now and then and wipe out the best crop on the board. However, now that I've played it a bunch more, I actually really like the locusts. They make you plan ahead, prepare for contingencies, and occasionally make slightly desperate gambles. I thought the locusts were equalizers at first, but they're really not. They're more like one more knife the really good player is going to stick in your kidney. And so now I like them.

The further plays of Nile proved another thing to me - this is not a game that you'll master after just a couple games. There are too many subtle elements working together, even if it is a very simple game. Nile is a game that you have to want to play several times, and that's a pretty good reason for a lot of people to avoid it. I am generally of the opinion that the responsibility for getting me to play twice lies with the game, not with me, but Nile is one game you'll need to try a couple times before you make up your mind.

Of course, if you just hate Euro games, or if you need some bloodshed to make your games worth playing, there's no reason you should play Nile in the first place. You're not going to like it. It's one of those games that is mostly an abstract, and that uses just a couple basic concepts to make a wonderfully subtle and interesting game. That sounds an awful lot like a Reiner Knizia production, actually, though I think Nile has too many rules to be a Reiner game (there are almost a full page of rules, compared to most Reiner games that can be read while you're startingLink the car).


2-6 players

Much nicer now that the cards don't fall apart
Monuments make an interesting game even more interesting
Still tricky decisions, still neat art

Pretty darn Euro-y

Looks to me like Noble Knight is sold out of Nile Deluxor right now, but that's usually a good sign. They'll get more in soon.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Party Game Review - Reverse Charades

Charades is one of those games that everyone actually likes playing, but nobody will admit to it. It's pretty fun to act out silly phrases and make people guess what you're doing, but the downside is that you look a bit like a horse's ass while you do it. I would say it helps to be drunk, but then, if you're drunk, it's a lot harder to think of ways to act out 'Swiss Family Robinson.' All your audience is going to guess is 'roadside sobriety' and 'oral sex'.

The worst part is, it's not even fair. Everybody gets to sit on the couch and make fun of the one guy rubbing his elbow and spinning his finger to try to get them to say, 'first word'. That one guy is humiliated and mocked, while the rest of the gang sits comfortably and sips their adult beverages. It's lopsided and just plain wrong.

But now there's an answer. Thanks to Reverse Charades, everyone gets to look like an idiot, except one person who has to look even stupider because he can't figure out 'sideburns' from four people pointing to a picture of Elvis. Instead of everybody laughing at one person, now everybody gets to laugh at themselves. Obviously, that's an improvement.

Basically, Reverse Charades is very similar to regular charades, in that Reverse Charades really is just charades. You just have more people doing the acting. So you see, now it's a totally new game.

Honestly, the best thing about Reverse Charades is the cards that come in the box. The theory is fun enough, and allows multiple people to be mocked at the same time, but the upside to the game is that you don't have to spends half the night trying to think of something the other team can't guess. This leaves more time for playing, which translates to more time spent looking like a baboon with a cattle prod stapled to his shiny blue ass.

Another thing that the cards allow is a kind of speed charades. Since the phrases are pretty easy, you can blow through a turn quickly, and allow the actors to play out 'handcuffs', 'lick' and 'tattoo' in less than a minute (these are actual cards in the game, which leads me to believe the designers may have been into fetish porn).

If you need a way to entertain a good-sized crowd of people who have very little self-respect or a very high tolerance for public humiliation, consider picking up a copy of Reverse Charades. The way the game works means you have to have six people to play it, but if you can all relax and let yourself look like dorks for a little while, you could have a really good time.


6+ players

Silly fun
Pre-made phrases let you skip right to the silly parts
Speed charades is more fun than slow charades

Basically just charades, but with more goofballs

Hey! Look at that! Noble Knight Games is carrying Reverse Charades, so if you're going to buy the game, do me a big favor and buy it there. And tell them I sent you:

Monday, September 5, 2011

Board Game Review - Zombie In My Pocket

Before I began reviewing for Cambridge Game Factory, I knew about Zombie In My Pocket. It was a free print-and-play game you could download at Board Game Geek, a solitaire game where you run around a house full of the undead and try to stave off the zombie apocalypse by burying an evil totem in the graveyard installed behind the storage shed. Cambridge bought the game, and added rules to turn it into a multi-player game, which I must say, is way more fun.

That's not to say the original is bad. In fact, the original is one of very few solitaire games that I actually like playing. It's campy and fast and entertaining, and I win it about as often as I lose. There's even a javascript version you can play on your computer. There are tough decisions to make about fighting and running, and sometimes you'll want to search or take a breather just because you don't realize how fast that event card deck can wind down and leave you dead at the hands of the zombie hordes. Run too fast, and you'll wind up zombie food as you run out of health and resources. Slow down to pick up some gear or heal up some wounds, and the next thing you know, the clock strikes midnight and you turn into a pumpkin (a pumpkin that tastes like banana pudding for zombies).

So I liked the solitaire game, and was pretty excited to try the version where you brought several of your closest friends along to get eaten by the walking dead. And I was right to be excited, because what was a clever solitaire game becomes a hilarious romp when you play with more people. Because if you all die, you all lose, but if you succeed at stopping the apocalypse, only one of you wins. And that makes it the back-stabbingest cooperative game ever.

For the most part, when you're playing Zombie In My Pocket, you take turns being the leader and wandering around the house. But when zombies jump out of the refrigerator or from underneath the sofa, you individually choose to run away or fight. If you fight, you could get hurt. If you all run, you all get hurt a little. But if some of you fight and some of you run, the chumps who stuck around are going to have zombies gnawing on them like steak dinners, and you'll actually get healthier.

The reason this is so terrifically nasty is because if you do manage to bury the totem in the graveyard next to the swingset (that's where the graveyard is in the game, though I suspect that all the other people who have graveyards in their back yards put them by the hibachi), the player with the most health wins. If you can manage to kill off everyone else and still defeat the zombies at the end, you get to gloat at your horribleness as you celebrate your victory.

Of course, all this treachery and cowardice plays best with other people who are willing to turn into limp-spined jellyfish at the drop of a hat. If you play with a bunch of people who are all ready to man up and take their licks, then you're probably going to win and they're all going to call you the kinds of names usually reserved for creatures you might dig up in your garden. It's fun to win, but if everyone else says you're a crotch-sniffing weasel, it does kind of deflate your victory a little. But then, if they had any sense, they would have run away that one time when you chainsawed four zombies all by yourself, and let a couple of them chew on your face.

I like the kind of base and dishonorable turncoatting that games like Zombie In My Pocket can generate, and I don't think I've ever played a game more outright treacherous. That's why it's so fun. But if you like your games a little more honest, and if you can't bring yourself to betray your friends for personal gain, you will probably not have any fun at all. And if you play this game with a trusting five-year-old, you will almost certainly leave psychological scars that may never heal.

So the mass-market version of Zombie In My Pocket is a fun game, but as the third Cambridge Games Factory production that I've reviewed, it continues to drive home one core point - those guys desperately need to hire an adequate graphic designer and spring for some art. This game is fun, but it is brutally ugly, and not just because there are zombies in it. The first step in improving every game from CGF would be to remove the 'gradient' button from every piece of software their current artist owns, and the second would be to throw their clip art collection into the landfill full of toxic waste and used rectal thermometers. You know, so they wouldn't be tempted to go get it back.

If your eyes can handle the assault and your friends can handle your self-serving betrayal, you'll get a kick out of Zombie In My Pocket. It's light, mean-spirited fun that will leave you laughing as you worm your way to the finish line. As long as you don't take it too seriously, and try to get all noble or some other silliness, Zombie In My Pocket is a half-hour of evil giggles that you'll want to play again.


1-8 players

Light, fast and fun
Lots of back-stabbing
Finishes quick, so you can play while you wait for that jackass who never shows up on time

Near-lethal dose of cowardly treachery (not a con for me)
Super-duper ugly (definitely a con for me)

It's been a while since I really plugged Noble Knight Games, so I think it's due. Noble Knight Games sponsors Drake's Flames, and sends me games I couldn't get otherwise. I don't ask for money here. I don't post a bunch of ugly Google ads or respond to ridiculous affiliate link requests. The only support I ask is that if you're going to buy a game, get it from them. So here's a link for Zombie In My Pocket, and if you're thinking of dropping the twelve bucks for this game, just follow the link and get it here:

(By the way, it helps a BUNCH if you mention Drake's Flames when you order.)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Word Game Review - Word on the Street

Sometimes, hobby gamers tend to get so focused on the 80 dollar releases full of plastic monsters and illustrated game maps that we forget that lots of normal people play games, too. Only they don't play games with plastic monsters and illustrated maps, they play games you can buy at Target and that have a 3X5 card for a rulebook. And the crazy thing, the improbable truth, is that they actually have fun with those games.

And when I play Word on the Street, I have fun, too. That just seems wrong, because there's no area control, worker placement, or resource management. There's no long-term strategy, careful planning, or brilliant tactical maneuvering. You just think of words, then you spell them.

Everyone playing splits up into two teams. Then you whip out a card that says something like, 'A lake,' and one team has about 30 seconds to come up with the name of a lake. They spell the word, and every time they get to a consonant, the letter tile slides one space closer to their side. If they can pull a letter off the board, they get to claim it, and you can't move it any more. Claim eight letters, and your team wins, and can then gloat and throw popcorn at the losers.

For those of us who spend our weekends sequestered inside shuttered buildings playing tactical recreations of obscure wars for alien planets, the idea of spending an hour playing a game that we could have bought at Wal-Mart might seem downright insane, unless we're playing with our cousins who just bought Scrabble and think they're game nerds now (quick aside - owning Scrabble does not make you a nerd. It makes you just like the other billion people who own Scrabble. Owning Claustrophobia or all the Dominion expansions, on the other hand, is a completely different story).

And yet this simple, bland-looking game with a cliche of a name and a board composed largely of gray squares is so much fun that you might wind up blowing an entire evening on it. You don't even have to be a language geek (though it helps - my family loves to play around with vocabulary, so we tend to come up with some pretty wild words. I want to believe that the average family, when presented with a card that says, 'animal sound,' would not come up with 'onomatopoeia').

Word on the Street starts off deceptively easy. After the first few rounds, we were ready to ditch the sand timer, because nobody was having any trouble at all. The words flow like wine, and tiles are moving all over the place. Everyone is laughing and saying how much fun they're having. The mood is light and all is well.

And then a couple letters get captured. If someone already has the 't' and the 'l', 'flatulate' only moves one letter. You need a different fart joke, and you need it fast. And then you sit there looking at each other, stumped and trying like mad to come up with a word for 'something that scratches' that will use the letters 'p' and 'g' before the timer runs out. And then all you can come up with is 'wool', but the 'w' is already gone, so you just pull the 'l', and then the other team starts laughing and goes, 'how about Grandpa!' This is especially embarrassing if Grandpa is on your team.

By the end of the game, only a tiny fistful of letters is left, and the game is just a constant tug of war to pull that 'k' off the opponent's back line and see if you can find a way to move the 'v' into your own side. As the game nears its finish, you could cut the tension with a knife. 'Veal!' shouts the other team, to which you answer 'Kansas!' Then comes the breaking point - 'Kick!' The 'k' slides twice now, right off the board, and the other team starts their victory dance, which probably includes some kicking, just to rub it in.

It's amazing to me that with an office overflowing with some of the finest hobby games created in the last several decades, my family is excited to play a game we got on sale at Barnes & Noble. It's not pretty, it's not complicated, and we read through the rules in three minutes. We're gamers in my house, big-time dice-and-cardboard geeks, and yet we'll throw it all over for a crazy word game, because Word on the Street is just that much fun.


As many players as you want (but at least 2)

Fun and tense
Great for word geeks
Easy to play, but challenging
Works the ol' brain power

Seriously not attractive
Seems too simple to be fun (but it's not, it actually is fun)

It's not the least bit surprising that Noble Knight Games does not carry Word on the Street. Try Wal-Mart.