Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Expansion Review - Babel 13

I've wanted to play Neuroshima Hex since it was new, but it was a Z-Man game, and Zev has sent me, in the entire time I've been reviewing, exactly one game - and it wasn't Neuroshima Hex. So when I sold a bunch of games to Noble Knight and wound up with a hefty store credit, I used it to get the elusive Hex game and the first expansion. But even after playing several games of the original, I still had not played with Babel 13 until Thanksgiving, when I invited a friend to join my family for the holiday, and then spent the entire time playing games with him and ignoring my family (which, I should probably admit, works out great for me).

My biggest problem with Neuroshima Hex is that you have this cool setting with punk-apocalypse characters and scary powers, and the whole thing is reduced to a faceless abstract (the faceless part, actually, is fine with me. Can you imagine how disconcerting it would be to play a game that actually had eyes and nose and stuff? That would freak me out). Every battle takes place in the same symmetrical junkyard, with the same bizarre warriors who can be summed up with a couple triangles and an initiative number.

And now that I've played Babel 13, that complaint is forgotten. The new stuff in this box adds what the base game is missing - namely, a feeling of being there. Of course, since 'there' is a world dominated by monster robots and man-eating shrubbery, you may not want to feel it too much. But don't worry, you're still sitting comfortably in your living room, placing cardboard hexes on a cardboard map while ignoring your family and pretending that this is actually quality time. You don't have to survive sniper fire from mohawk-sporting road raiders. You just have to remember to take out the trash. That's not flowery prose - you literally need to take out the trash, or flies will start to breed on your discarded food wrappers and soggy coffee grounds.

Of course, the most important thing about Babel 13 is that it comes with two new factions. The New York faction is a team of reinforced warriors who can take cover in the shadow of their headquarters, while the Neojungle is composed of walking rutabagas that build a massive plant wall and attack with a terrifying hive mind. The two new factions just feel more unique and post-nukey, with special pieces and cool effects that help you imagine a running battle in the wasted ruins of America (and yes, I just made up the term post-nukey, and will be applying for a trademark shortly).

Only slightly less vital to the success of Babel 13 is the inclusion of terrain pieces. Now you don't have to fight over the same redundant slab of open landfill. Now you can fight through jungles and over hills. You can hide in reinforced bunkers and break into warehouses of supplies. There are more terrain pieces than you probably could have invented on your own, and they all do different things. Plus every piece of terrain could have different effects - the forest might be so dense that really big bruisers can't fit between the trees, or it could be so tall that it blocks attacks. A hill might provide cover, or it might add the ability to shoot over enemy troops and hit the scary guys behind them. With all the terrain in the box, you can create a huge variety of cool places to get killed.

The last thing that really makes Babel 13 a must-have expansion for Neuroshima Hex is the list of scenarios. There's an entire campaign in the box, one that will let you play a half-dozen games in a row, with each battle having consequences that affect the next. The angry trees might team up with the psychotic robots or make friends with the mutant zombies. The humans could discover a huge weapons cache that will give them a definite edge in the next fight, if they remember to use them and don't leave them gathering dust because they forgot they were there, having been distracted by the promise of pumpkin pie with an absurd dollop of whipped cream on top (which happened to me, because I really like pumpkin pie, and it was, after all, Thanksgiving).

Now that I've played Babel 13, I really want to go get the other expansion for Neuroshima Hex. If it's anywhere as cool as Babel 13, it's going to be a great purchase. Not only are the strategic and tactical elements vastly improved by adding Babel 13 to the original, but I finally have a sense of playing out a battle, rather than arranging geometric chits to create a waterfall of unpleasant consequences, including (but not limited to) bludgeoning, explosions, electrocution, and being called very insulting names by elementary-school students.

Not that any of those things are bad. But it’s nice to know they’re happening somewhere outside the dump.


Still 2 player (or up to 4, but really, still just 2)

Really interesting new factions
Terrain opens up enormous possibilities for varying places to maim and murder
Campaign gives you a great reason to play a bunch of times
Lots of different games possible now
Really brings out the theme in the game, which was lacking before

Out of print, which sucks, because it’s awesome

Babel 13 is a great expansion to a great game. You should totally go buy it... but it's out of print! Oh, woe is you! Where will you find this gem?

Wait, I know. Noble Knight Games!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Expansion Review - Omen: Shattered Aegis

It almost makes me hurt a little when I see enormous brilliance limited by small thinking. Look at Einstein - he thought big. If he had been content to make a couple theories in his garage, he never would have made the atom bomb, and then where would we be? In a world without Fallout, that's where.

Now, if we could just make John Clowdus see that he is depriving thousands of nerds the opportunity to experience his genius, maybe John could create the next awesome game setting, and we'll have even better video games. Or at least we could all play Omen.

I've already reviewed Omen. You can read about it right here. In case you're lazy, I'll sum it up - Omen is a card game about war where you will kill a bunch of ancient Greeks and lay waste to cities. Also, it is awesome. Sadly, if you didn't buy it when it was in pre-order, you're completely out of luck. You can't even find it on eBay. It's a fantastic game that everyone should play (unless you don't like war, in which case you should buy Monopoly), but you can't get it any more. And that makes me sad.

However, if you were one of the smart people who bought Omen when you had a chance, you should know that there's a really great expansion for it called Shattered Aegis. In case you were wondering, Aegis is a Greek word that means 'leg bone.' So the expansion is really about breaking peoples' legs, specifically ancient Greek people who are trying to keep you from dominating the known world with the help of half-naked chicks and one-eyed giants. (Please note that I may be making that up. Not the Greek part - that's definitely in there. But it's possible that Aegis might mean something else. Because, you know, I might have made that up.) (Also please note that while it might seem I inadvertently made a slight innuendo by combining naked women and one-eyed monsters, I absolutely did that on purpose. If you don't get it, then you're way to clean-minded to be reading this website.)

Shattered Aegis is everything an expansion ought to be. When Clowdus decides to give you more game, he doesn't play around. There are more new ways to play Omen than you could possibly use in a single day, unless you spent the entire day playing the same game over and over. Which, in the case of Omen, would be a very good way to spend your day.

The easiest way to use Shattered Aegis is to just shuffle all the new unit cards into the old cards, and just let 'er rip. Now, fair warning - John needs to have a serious heart-to-heart with his printer, because the cards don't match up as well as they should, so you can tell pretty easily if your opponent is holding expansion cards or original. However, it won't really matter, because there are a ton of new cards, so it's not like you'll know what he has. You'll just know it's new.

With all these new units, you're going to see the game take on entirely new dimensions. If you like going heavy with oracles and playing them for their ongoing bonuses, you'll love all the new ones. Before, the oracles were mostly pretty benign, and just helped you out. Now there are some nasty oracles in here, like the one who robs your opponent every turn, or the one that scares the piss out of the enemy naked chicks and sends them running home to their mommies.

The new soldiers are pretty awesome, too, and so are the new beasts. There will now be plenty of new ways to manipulate the table to your liking - play the Solemn Arbiter and use your opponent's oracles, or play the Masked Surrogate and make his soldiers work for you. Or throw down the Brazen Slayer, and get a beast card for free, or the Fortuitous Dryad, and score an extra feat card without having to work for it.

If the only new stuff in Shattered Aegis was a bunch of new units, it would be worth every penny. But like I said, Clowdus doesn't play around when he makes an expansion. There are also a lot more ways to play the game. You could always play a draft-style game, where you build your own deck before you start playing (and with all the new units, that's even better now), but now there's the pure deck-building variant, where each player has his own custom-made deck composed completely in secret before the game even starts. There's a really awesome four-player variant (using the extra feat cards in the box, plus some cool new hidden cards) that will let you break the legs of more of your friends at once. There's more, too, but this paragraph is starting to get really long, and it's wearing out its welcome.

But I still have one really enormous complaint, and it's one that John Clowdus should address as soon as possible - you can't get the base game any more. There's this amazing expansion that offers lots and lots of incredible options and awesome ways to play the game, and the only people who can use it are people who already have Omen. And that's sad, because Shattered Aegis makes Omen so much better that it would appeal to even more people, but they can't get it because it's sold out. Reprint, dammit!

This is where that thinking-small thing makes me sad. Just looking at his two most recent games, Omen and Hemloch, John Clowdus has a couple of games on his hands that could be household names, if only there were enough copies to be in everybody's house. If Small Box Games ran itself like a big-time publisher, with printers in Brazil and thousands of copies and full-color advertisements, I think it would only be a matter of time before the company was a major contender in the world of hobby gaming. Thank God he started using professional artists - the games are freaking beautiful, and are inherently more fun because they're better looking. Now if we can just get him to understand that everybody should be playing his games, maybe we can get him to make enough of them that he can retire to the Azores and sit around his cabana all day, drinking mai-tais and inventing brilliant games.

But then, even if that doesn't happen, those of us who know about Small Box Games can continue to be delighted at his genius. We know enough to buy anything Clowdus creates, because we know we'll never get another shot at it if we miss it the first time. And we'll get to play some really fun games because of it. Like Shattered Aegis - which, I just found out because I looked it up, actually means 'Shattered Dinner Plate,' which frankly doesn't make any sense to me at all.


2 or 4 players

Stunning art
Even more strategy than before
Lots and lots of new ways to enjoy an already awesome game

Low print runs!

If you already have Omen, and if you like it, you absolutely should buy Shattered Aegis. In fact, you should do it this weekend, because there's a Black Friday / Cyber Monday sale going right now at Small Box:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Board Game Review - Neuroshima Hex

Experts will tell you that a nuclear war will result in the near-complete decimation of the human race, with survivors slowing starving and dying of radiation sickness. But those of us who know better have a different scenario in mind. Namely, people will mutate into totally kick-ass monsters, probably with green skin, and have giant battles against evil robots in dune buggies. At least, that outcome would be a lot more interesting, and maybe even make it worth having a nuclear war just to see the sentient plants.

And if you play Neuroshima, the RPG about life after the end of the world as we know it, you can see all that stuff. You can fight mutants and robots and evil plants, and scavenge for supplies, and blow up monsters with plasma guns.

But if you play Neuroshima Hex, you won't do any of that stuff at all. You'll just put out hexes with arrows and symbols on them and try to point the right direction so you can win. It's almost a shame to see an exciting post-nuke fantasy turned into a game this abstract - or it would be, if the abstract game in question were not blatantly awesome.

There are rules in the book for playing with three or four, but the game was really designed to play head-to-head. You take turns putting out your soldiers, who do stuff like shoot or stab or throw nets. Then a battle breaks out, and you figure out who is smart and who is dead. The overall goal is to damage your opponent's base, but this can be a lot harder to do than you might imagine, especially if you're playing somebody who knows what they're doing.

When you place your fighters, you'll have the best intentions. You'll have a straight shot on the path from your sniper to the enemy base, but then the other guy will put a really fast stabby guy right behind your sniper, and since your sniper is slow, he'll die before he ever gets to shoot. But you've still got a chance, because if you can throw a net on that mutant bug with the finger claws before he cuts your assassin into tiny cheese cubes, you can bust out that killer shot and put a hole right where you need it. Of course, right after you do that, your opponent will throw a grenade at your netter and you're back to square one.

Before you're ever really happy with the layout of your fighters, one of you will end up playing a hex with an explosion on it, and then all that maneuvering is resolved. You'll start with the fast guys and start killing things, and if you planned well (and didn't get totally hosed somewhere along the way), you'll be able to do more damage to the other base than he can do to you. Once you run out of hexes, you get one more big melee, and then whichever player has a healthier base wins the game.

If you just look at the description of Neuroshima Hex, it might seem like a kind of fighting game or simulation of a battle. But it's really not. It's more like hexagonal chess. Every move has a counter move, but some moves are devastating while some are lame. The theme is there, and makes itself felt through the special abilities of the hexes you place, but this really doesn't feel like a fighting game. If you want a simulation, there are tons of games you can play, but this won't be one of them.

On the other hand, if you want a very smart, painfully vindictive game with abstract rules, Neuroshima Hex is brilliant. As the game progresses, you'll find yourself reenacting chains of actions in your head. Your internal dialog will sound something like this:

"So I'll play this guy here, and he'll make that guy fast enough to kill that dude, which will keep this guy alive to snipe at the net guy, but the net guy is holding a fast guy who won’t get to go, so then this original guy will be killed before he ever existed, which will result in a time paradox that will destroy the universe and bring us face-to-face with Gene Roddenberry."

In other words, there's a lot of thinking in Neuroshima Hex. You're not running and gunning and grabbing cover, you're placing and blocking and planning and analyzing. And then for good measure, you're analyzing a little more. This is not a game for people who want to recreate epic battles. It is, however, a game for people who like highly-abstracted games that make your brain sweat, and that still have bodies piling up all over the place.

So you won’t get to reenact nuclear frostbite if you play Neuroshima Hex, but you will get to exploit special abilities, plan five steps ahead, consider far-reaching ramifications and be totally mud-stomped when your opponent plays something you hadn’t considered. And that makes it good in my book.


2-4 players (but really, 2)

Super-cool setting with groovy art
Lots of planning and thinking
Challenging and smart
Four different factions to play, and they all play different

Theme seems a little bait-and-switch

Neuroshima Hex is an older game, and it can be tough to track down a copy - unless you shop at Noble Knight Games:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Board Game Review - Star Wars : Epic Duels

Here's a quick anecdote to illustrate what a smart son of a bitch I am.

Several years ago, I was walking through the toy section of my local Target store and noticed a couple Star Wars games. These had pictures on the front featuring miniatures that were painted by aboriginal chipmunks, and a bunch of art cribbed off of movie stills. I was momentarily intrigued, but then I remembered that when I was a child, I had a game based on Captain Caveman, and it sucked. So I turned up my nose, insisting that I would only buy games I could find at hobby stores, because mass market games were clearly only for idiot children.

So yeah, I passed on Epic Duels and Queen's Gambit. I also missed out on Buffy, but in my defense, I was really broke when that came out and couldn't have bought a copy anyway.

I then spent years kicking myself for being an elitist asshole. But it was only in the last few weeks that I was able to redeem myself in some small way, by buying a copy of Epic Duels off an auction site.

To rub my nose in what a total douche I was for not buying Epic Duels the first time I had a chance (and paying like 20 bucks for it, instead of the small fortune it ended up costing me), the game had to go ahead and just plain rock my face off. Man, was I a tool. It's entirely possible that I still am, but at least now I will buy a game at Target. I've learned my lesson - Epic Duels clearly shows us that you can buy really fun mass market games, even if they are based on popular franchises.

I should have known right when I saw it that I wanted to buy Epic Duels. It's not based on Captain Caveman, it's based on Star Wars, and I love Star Wars (although in my defense, when I was a kid, I also loved Captain Caveman. The sidekick chicks in their skimpy bikinis made my prepubescent pants confused). You pick teams to fight each other, like Boba Fett and Greedo against Han Solo and Chewbacca, and then they battle to the death. In terms of a theme, you can't do much better. And to really mix it up, you can do Mace Windu and a couple clone troopers against Darth Vader and some stormtroopers, or Anakin and Padme against nobody at all, because no self-respecting Star Wars fan would willingly play the two lamest main characters in the entire Star Wars universe.

On the surface, Epic Duels doesn't look all that deep. You roll a die, which tells you who can move, and then you play cards to attack. If you're shooting guns, you don't even have to worry about range, because any gun in Star Wars will at least shoot across a room.

But it's not that easy! For one thing, you can only attack in a straight line, which means even if you've got the range, you need to position yourself for a shot. And if you do line up a shot, you're leaving yourself open for a counterattack, so it might be a good idea to send your lackeys out front, so they can get killed instead of losing Luke Skywalker to a two-bit battle droid.

The cards also provide a fantastic layer of tactical play. You get two actions every turn, and each action can be to play a card, heal your main guy, or draw a card. Since you can't attack or defend if you don't have cards, you'll need to time your big moves so that you don't wind up with Yoda standing right in front of Darth Maul with his pants around his stubby green ankles. Not only that, but you'll want to watch your opponent's hand and rush in when he's low on cards, while still leaving yourself enough defense cards to avoid losing your hero just because you couldn't throw up a force shield.

On a completely different level, every set of characters plays differently. Darth Vader's lackeys are just a couple of cannon-fodder stormtroopers, but the big man himself is a total bad-ass who will absolutely throw heavy boxes at you from across the room. Han Solo is nowhere near as impressive, but Chewbacca is no slouch, and between the two of them, they can give Emperor Palpatine a run for his money.

I could go on about how well the special abilities on the cards bring the characters to life, or how you can sacrifice your minions to save your main guy, but all of that discussion is academic compared to the most important thing about Epic Duels - it's really, really fun. When Han Solo blasts a hole right through Greedo's face, you'll stand up, all cocky and full of swagger, and say, 'boring conversation anyway' (I know, that was on the Death Star. Still a great line). When Vader force-chokes a clone trooper into an early grave, you'll throw your voice really deep and say, 'I find your lack of faith disturbing.' And when Chewbacca throws a battle droid out an airlock, smashing it into a dozen pieces, you'll stand up on your chair and let out a wookie roar that will make your wife yell at you to keep it down, she's trying to watch Real Housewives.

I've started on my penance for not buying Epic Duels. My first step is to visit big-box stores and look for fun games. Right now I'm trying to decide between a Harry Potter retread of Candyland and something with My Little Pony. I'll probably just settle on some Cars 2 licensed pap designed to appeal to small children so that their parents buy the game just to shut them up.

For the second part of my penance, I'm going to play Epic Duels again. Sure, that's like telling an alcoholic that he has to drink a fifth of whiskey to make up for being a drunk, but I'm comfortable with it.


2 players (or 4, if you like the team game)

Simple rules that end up being surprisingly robust
Really damned fun
Lots of different characters let you play almost any fight you want
It's freaking Star Wars

Pretty darn expensive now, thanks to being both out of print and awesome

I would tell you that it would be hard to find a copy of Epic Duels, but Noble Knight Games specializes in old games that are out of print. They've got a copy, right here:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Expansion Review - Blood Country for Nightfall

Nightfall has one of the cheesiest settings I've ever seen in a professionally published game. Not only that, but the setting has almost nothing at all to do with the actual game you're playing. And yet I have absolutely no problem at all overlooking the thematic flaws, because Nightfall has grown on me like a fungus, and is now barely edging out Puzzle Strike to be my number-one go-to deckbuilding game.

And if there's one thing that games like this need to really shine, it's more cards. More cards mean more variety, more strategies to uncover, more combinations to try. So every time Nightfall comes out with an expansion, I get all excited (of course, since Blood Country is only the second Nightfall expansion, it's not like there's a longstanding precedent). And every time I am delighted.

Blood Country takes the three-way monster mash of Nightfall and moves it into the country. New vampires have mullets, new hunters sport trucker caps, and new werewolves ride motorcycles. There's even a card called Wight Trash. I am not making that up.

But honestly, the theme for Nightfall is completely discardable. It could be flying monkeys and cowardly lions, for all I care. With Nightfall, the game is what counts. Attacking your friends, chaining your actions, building your combinations - that's what makes Nightfall so awesome. And so for Blood Country to be a success, it has to make the game better. I could care less if there are hillbilly bloodsuckers, as long as they give me more ways to have fun.

And so I am pleased to state unequivocally that Blood Country is awesome. In fact, I think it's potentially better than Martial Law, if only by a little. It does introduce a big random factor, but at the same time, it also gives you a lot more ways to exploit kickers and create wild combos, even building off your opponents' plays to improve your own.

For a more concrete example, consider the new card Shotgun Party. The chain effect lets you get more minions in play, but that's not the best part. The best part is that the next card gets its kicker - twice. This is really cool if the next card lets you throw some pain around. It's less awesome if it says you have to kill some werewolves, and you're the only guy with werewolves. Then you get to feel stupid. Trust me - you will feel stupid. I can vouch for that.

I also like Shut Up and Soldier. This one lets you choose an effect in play - anywhere in play - and make it happen, with you choosing all the targets. This has the potential for madcap hijinks if played at the right time. You could use somebody's monster-damaging effect against their own guys, or damage an opponent with his own cards. That's pretty fun, and really opens up the possibilities for creating wild combinations and Machiavellian card plays.

Another neat new element in Blood Country is the specific wound effect. That sounds like a medical school term, but all it means is that a lot of cards are keyed to the type of wound you can get. Up to this point, the only reason you cared what kind of wounds you were getting was if there was a tie, and in the 50 or so games I've played of Nightfall, that has never happened once. But now a Bleed wound might reduce the damage you take from an attack, or a Burn wound might let you strike again. It's capricious, of course - you might buy a Vampiric Turning, hoping to use Bite wounds to grab up enemy minions, and then spend the whole game earning Burns and Bleeds, so that you never do get to use that cool stealing ability.

Lots of the cards in Blood Country are more powerful than what we've seen before, but they tend to come with downsides. For instance, that Wight Trash I mentioned earlier hits like a freight train, but gets discarded before he can attack, unless you time it just right. The Infected Ghoul is a really great defender and a dangerous attacker, but unless you get the kicker, he dies as soon as he hits the table. There are some really impressive cards in Blood Country, but to exploit their power, you have to be fairly good at this game.

If you're new to Nightfall, or just haven't played at all, you don't really have any reason to pick up Blood Country. But if you're as big a fan as I am, and you play it anywhere near as often as I do, you should be ordering Blood Country the next time you can afford it. Just keep in mind that Blood Country only comes with new order cards - no starters or wounds - so you'll still need either the original Nightfall or Martial Law if you want to play Blood Country. But then, if you're in the market for Blood Country, you probably have everything, anyway. This isn't an expansion you would bother buying unless you already know you love the game. But if you do like Nightfall, you should get Blood Country, pronto.


New cards for Nightfall - that's a Pro all by itself
Neat new ways to mix up combos and power up other cards
Exciting new possibilities for kicking your friends in the privates
Some interesting powerful cards that come with instant drawbacks
Specific wound effects add more meaning to the various wound types

Specific wounds also add a greater random factor than the game has ever had
Theme continues to be pointless - but now it's pointless and wearing bib overalls

If you like Nightfall as much as I do, you should get Blood Country. And you should get it from Noble Knight Games, so you can save money and so they keep thinking I'm good for business.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Expansion Review - Leaders for 7 Wonders

If I ran an ancient civilization, it would be called Drakatonia, and I would rule it with an iron fist. I would be an immortal god king, sending bloodthirsty soldiers to every corner of the globe to bring me back tasty exotic fruits and the heads of my enemies. I would have a harem the size of Madrid, and a collection of rare action figures (all of which would be carved out of stone, because this is pre-plastic).

And if I had a card in 7 Wonders: Leaders, my special ability would give you one extra victory point. As a leader of warriors, I would rock. As a Leaders card, I would be underwhelming.

But then, most of the cards in Leaders grant an incredibly minor benefit, so I would be in good company. Sure, it's great to have King Solomon let you root through the discard pile now and then, but am I the only one who remembers that he was the guy who would cut babies in half just to shut up their mothers? Compared to what these leaders did in real life, I'm a little underwhelmed by their translation to board gaming.

However, the purpose of the Leaders for 7 Wonders is not to show off what total bad-asses the real people were. The purpose of having the Leaders cards is to make the game more fun to play, and in that regard, they're absolutely successful. They create an additional layer of strategy that will alter the way you play the game.

For instance, if you have Aristotle, he adds victory points for building scientific resources. This means, obviously, that you will want to do more science. You may want to do more science anyway. After all, if the movies are to be trusted, science can help you create Kelly LeBrock in your attic, and she will make you very popular and also shower with you.

Different leaders provide different effects, too. Many, like Amyitis or Nefertiti, have silly names, but can also grant additional points at the end of the game. Some help out right up front, like Hannibal, who is worth one extra point of warmongering, and who loves it when a plan comes together. Some cards help you build stuff, like Hammurabi, who will help you build blue cards as long as you can pronounce his name properly. Others just provide one-time bonuses, like Croesus, who just gives you a bunch of money and then goes off to cry in the corner because he isn't as cool as Leonidas.

You only get three chances during the game to play leader cards, and every time, you have to pay for them. That makes sense - nobody works for free, except Doctors Without Borders and the guy who washes your windows while you're waiting at a stoplight (and he would really like a tip). So you'll have to balance their worth against what they can offer - Archimedes can help you come up with science stuff on the cheap, so he would be good early in the game, while Alexander offers extra points for winning battles, so you wouldn't want to play him until the end.

In typical 7 Wonders fashion, you won't get to pick your leaders. You'll have to do the standard pass-around-the-table at the beginning of the game, so you might not get the best combination of brilliance. That's part of the game, though, and adds to the litany of painful decisions you're going to have to make while you play. Keep Vitruvius and get paid when you build for free, or pass him along and keep Caesar, so you have someone to stab in the back when you lose (that's not his actual ability, but you never know, it could come in handy)?

If you hate 7 Wonders because it's so wildly popular and wins so many awards, then you're probably not going to be rushing the gates to pick up the expansion. But if you're a fan of one of the most clever games to hit the market in 2011, Leaders should be in your online shopping cart (or you could get it at a game store, assuming you like paying retail). It's actually a pretty simple decision - if you like 7 Wonders, Leaders will make the original better. If you don't like 7 Wonders because you would actually like some interaction in your games, Leaders isn't going to change your mind. And if you want to join Drakatonia, just bring your driver's license, some exotic fruit, and the head of someone I hate. I'll be at the job fair in the Howard Johnson's.


Adds new layers of strategy to the game
Focuses your play style a little, so you're not just slapping down random cards every turn
Same great art that makes the original game so much fun

Doesn't add any more interaction than was already there

If you've got the guts to be a Drakatonian shock trooper, then you probably have enough sense not to pay retail for your games. You can visit Noble Knight Games and get Leaders, and save a bunch of money. Smart soldiers don't pay retail.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Card Game Review - Kamakura

Gamers as a group tend to be biased against really small games. I have a few theories about this. See if any of these make sense:

1. You don't want a tiny game because you will lose it behind all the big box games you've got stored on bookshelves lining your basement walls.

2. You don't buy the tiny game because when you get to the store, you're dazzled by all the enormous boxes covered in sexy art drawn by people with more talent than is easily explained.

3. The value you place on a game is directly proportional to the cubic feet the box consumes.

4. Small games frighten you, the way snakes scare Indiana Jones.

Personally, I think it's option four. There are some really strange phobias out there.

I mention this bias because if you skip over games on account of them being too damned small, you'll totally miss out on Kamakura. And that would be a shame. It's not often you get a lovably violent game with tasteful art and clever rules, all packed into a tuck box you could conceal in your underwear. Why you would feel a need to hide the game in your drawers is none of my business. My point is, you could.

And it's deceptively simple. On the surface, Kamakura looks like a fighting game, where you send your soldiers out to grab up territories in feudal Japan, and then ninja assassins strike down on them with great vengeance and furious anger, and then there's blood. But it's not really that. I mean, that's in there, but until you play, you won't see that there's a heck of a lot more to do in Kamakura than send brave men and women to their untimely deaths.

The game is really straightforward. Each player has four territory cards face-down in front of him, valued from one to four. On your turn, you lay down a soldier and a weapon on an enemy territory, with a strength determined by the weapon in question. If you've got a play, you have to make it, even if you're virtually guaranteed to get your ass kicked. Then the other guy looks through the cards in his hand, picks a soldier and a weapon, and tries to defend his homeland. That, or he just gives up and you take the land.

It gets interesting, though, because there are three different soldiers. The samurai is a bad-ass who makes every weapon hit harder. The ninja can use a holdout blade on the attack and turn a loss into a full-on carjacking win. And the most interesting soldier, the geisha, can persuade the attacker to go back and steal land from the aggressive jackass who sent him over in the first place. So when you're picking your cards for your turn, you have a lot more to consider than just picking the strongest combo and going in heavy. You don't want your geisha on offense, if you can help it, but then, if you think your opponent is coming in hot next turn, you'll want the samurai who can bust him one to stay in your hand. You might send the ninja and hope to use the hidden blade, but if the other guy just pulled a fresh hand of cards, he might have a sneaky knife, too, and then your ninja is going to wind up wearing that knife for a monocle.

To really complicate matters, you only get to draw cards when you can't play. That generally only happens after your hand is almost empty, and it means you want to hold on to some really good defensive cards just in case you get jumped when your hand is empty. It also means you may want to choose a losing combo, just for the chance to use a couple extra cards and run out sooner. It also means you have to time your plays just right - you don't want to be empty when the next player runs out, but you don't want to leave yourself open right after everyone draws new hands.

Kamakura is a very clever game that combines two of my favorite things - violence and tough decisions. I mean, in games. In real life, I like easy decisions. And between my bad back and my creaky knees, anything more violent than painting the cabinets would put me in traction. But in games, tough decisions are more fun, and the violence all happens to fake people, so it's OK.

So it's small. It's like 52 cards in a tuck box, which makes for a game you could lose under the fridge. But it's smart and it's fun and it's fast. Kamakura packs a hell of a lot of game into a tiny little box, which makes it more valuable than a lot of games that come in boxes big enough to hide dead cats.


2-4 players

Excellent art that shows admirable restraint
Easy to learn
Lots of subtlety and tricky decisions
Plays lightning fast and leaves you knowing you did something fun

Really small (only a con if your a size-ist)

I can't figure out how you could go about buying a copy of Kamakura. Maybe if you cruise around the Dyad Games website, you can find a hint:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Board Game Travesty Review - Terrax Warriors

I hate having to give bad reviews to guys who are trying really hard. It's hilarious fun to slam the piss out of a Reiner game - after all, he can have a bowel movement and wind up with a new game. But when a guy is really putting out the effort to create something, and just doesn't have the sense to make it an actual interesting game, it's a little sad.

On the other hand, I did warn him. I showed him some of the reviews I've written that were downright uncomplimentary. I told him, 'there's a real good chance this happens to you.' I told him not to send me a game if it wasn't a good game. But they never listen.

The game we're discussing is called Terrax Warriors. And it's really not very good at all. It lacks all the basic components that would make a game popular, fun or interesting. The art is hideous, and at points, makes the game hard to play. The premise is derivative and uninspired. The mechanics are total retreads. Basically, Terrax Warriors is a blatant crime against gaming. The best thing the creator can claim is ignorance, because he certainly cannot claim to have made a good game.

Terrax Warriors is a skirmish battle in an absurdly generic fantasy world. While it is not impossible to create a decent fantasy skirmish, this one is an abysmal failure. I can name several fantasy battle games without even thinking about it, and every single one makes Terrax Warriors look as fascinating as an empty toilet paper tube.

If nothing else, he could have put a little thought into the factions. If your factions were giant wolf things, mutant zombies and musketeers, at least your setting would be interesting. But Terrax Warriors gives us elves and dwarves, men and orcs. There was absolutely no attempt to be the least bit imaginative. At least put your goblins on dinosaurs.

And the rules are about as exciting as the races selected to participate. You move, you attack, you roll a few dice, and that's it. Sure, there's more stuff, but there's nothing you haven't seen dozens of times before. Spells for the wizards, bows for the elves, boredom for the poor bastard who says, 'yes, you can send me your game, and yes, I will write about it.' No consideration at all for the sad sacks who had to play it with me, either.

I take it back - there is one thing that's new. It's the end conditions. When your army drops below a certain point value, you're out of the game, even if you have a bunch of people left on the field. And since that number is actually higher than the army you start with, it's not very difficult to knock someone out of the game. To be honest, we were actually relieved by these end-game conditions, because it meant we got to stop playing before the game should have ended. Drop a couple berserkers and steal a couple gold mines, and the orcs disappear. We could have called that an arbitrary rule that ruined the game, but instead, we just called it mercy.

Even if you could get past the thoroughly bland races or the completely uninteresting rules, Terrax Warriors is still hard to play just because of how tremendously bad the art is. The game is played with cardboard tokens, but the art on many of these tokens looks like horribly miniaturized clip art. And then the art is reduced down so far as to make it all look like colored blobs of spilled paint, and you can't tell which guy is which. I can see a scenario in which you defend one position for ten minutes before someone realizes that the Amazon warrior was actually behind the forest, and you've been rolling dice for a mustard splatter.

If the designer of Terrax Warriors considers what he's got, completely retools it, adds some interesting elements, and hires an actual artist, he might have something he could sell. But as it stands, this is one of the worst games I've played in 2011. I cannot imagine any reason I would play it again. If I were stranded on a deserted island with my friends and this game, we would invent an abstract played with coconuts and use the cardboard from this game to create a ham radio. I would also be responsible for bedding Ginger in my hammock while the skipper smacked people with his hat.

Come to think of it, now that I'm at the end of this review, I don't feel that bad any more. Terrax Warriors is an exercise in laziness. The races were stolen from every generic fantasy setting ever created. The mechanics are cribbed from every half-popular war game published since 1960. The rules need an editor like I need a shave (and by Sunday, I start to look like a cross between a homeless bum and a German Shepherd). The game shows virtually no effort to be interesting, original or inspired, and I can only hope that nobody ever buys a copy of this derivative, tasteless pile of ugly.


2-4 idiots who can't find anything better to do

This space intentionally left blank

Boring theme
Boring rules
Butt-ugly art
Poorly written rules
No reason whatsoever to play

Under no circumstances should any sane human being buy a copy of Terrax Warriors.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Event Review - Surgery

Surgery today was a beating.

No, not me. I'm fine. No surgery for me, at least until I get prostate cancer or my kidneys throw in the towel and decide that thirty years of diverting hard liquor to my bladder is two years too long. My wife had surgery today, because she has lupus and she's been getting sicker for the last several years. Her doctor is pretty confident that it was caused by a body part I don't understand doing something it wasn't supposed to be doing (which I also do not understand).

So today, they went in with a camera attached to a razor blade and took some part out of her gut. This offensive part was originally supposed to do something useful, like guarding the refrigerator or gassing up the car, but had recently begun to work with the Russians on secret plans for world domination. This diabolical organ had been turned by the KGB and was slowly infiltrating my wife's body with sleeper agents designed to poison the water supply and double-dip in the guacamole.

If you've never had the chance to spend an entire day sitting around an outpatient surgical center, I really can't suggest you go out of your way to try. For one thing, it's rather expensive. Insurance pays most of it, but even ten percent of ten grand is still enough that I could have refurnished my living room with my co-pay. And because they know damned well that a lot of people are going to stonewall them, you have to pay up front. It's understandable, really. It's not like a car, where they can repossess if you don't pay. What are they going to do, put the parts back in?

It's also kind of annoying. The thing about medical facilities is there are so damned many sick people. You're sitting there trying to ignore the rasp of the octogenarian with the oxygen tube, and it would be working if only the family of five could have found a babysitter for Mom's most recent spawn while she's having her fallopian tubes tied up like a theme park pretzel.

And there's really nothing to do for a huge part of the day. You sit around the waiting room while they prep your wife (or friend, or sister, or postal carrier), then you go into the room in the back and say, 'have fun! If you die, I'm keeping your stuff!' Then you go back to the waiting room, where you sit around for another hour or two while doctors who make more in a week than you make in a year root around in her insides with a robot filming a YouTube video.

It doesn't get much better when she comes out, either. When your loved one finally emerges from the operating room, she is on enough drugs that she believes you are not a person at all, but a gas bubble caused by a badly digested frozen burrito. Eventually she will recover from her dementia, and then be so weak that you will spend the next four hours hand-feeding her crackers and water.

To make matters considerably worse, if you are in one of these day-labor surgery houses, the recovery area is basically a hallway with curtains. Every time anyone within thirty feet talks about how they just had a mechanical bladder installed, you get to hear all the details. And not everyone who gets surgery is as stoic about it as my wife - or as quiet. There was a woman a few booths down who, to hear her talk, must have had her toe eaten by zombie squirrels. I'm sure she was in some pain, but at least nobody stuck a Roto-Rooter through a hole in her stomach and came out with internal organs. My wife was hurting, but she managed to do it quietly, and with as much dignity as a person can manage while wearing one of those ridiculous medical skirts whose sole purpose appears to be making you look like you just wandered out of an orphanage for the mentally retarded.

Of course, I really have no business complaining. I left with the exact same set of body parts I had when I went in. The only pain I had today was from sitting in crappy hospital chairs, and maybe the headache I got from listening to old people blather at length about the boils they had lanced on their lower intestines. I have my health, or as much of it as I have left after decades of poor life choices and spicy Indian food.

My wife is home now, resting comfortably and not complaining at all. In fact, if I don't make her sit down, she'll probably get up and start cooking something. I'll tell you right now, if a doctor scoops out my guts with a melon-baller on a string, I'm going to bitch like I just got stabbed in the scrotum. I'm really proud of her, though I guess having her ass kicked by her illness every day for the last five years has toughened her up.

Just wait until my appendix bursts. I'm going to make you all bring food by the house.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Card Game Review - Hemloch

Odd characters in a wacky world battling for control of a decade of sunlight makes for a pretty bizarre backdrop for a game, but it sure is imaginative. John Clowdus has pushed the envelope on interesting settings with Hemloch, a game about - well, it's about that odd-characters-in-a-wacky-world thing. It's basically a card-based worker-placement game, but instead of workers you have rotten bastards who manipulate the city's denizens while all the commoners are just trying to get drunk in peace.

To expand on the background, each player in this two-man game runs a family of malcontents and creepy people. Gravediggers and owls with face tattoos are only the opening act. These nefarious do-badders have shared control of the city of Hemloch for the decade of night, but now the night is coming to an end. And when the sun comes up, there just won't be room in this town for two ruling families. Especially two ruling families who employ evil hags with noses the size of lawnmower blades.

At first glance, it doesn't seem like there's much to do in Hemloch. There's a party every night, but your warty minions aren't invited, so they have to wander around the rest of the town. You get two actions on your turn, and your possible actions are 'play a card' or 'draw a card.' That's not much, right? Except that John Clowdus also realized that would make a boring game, so he added a whole bunch of stuff to mix it up. Then he put it on the cards.

Say you're staring at a hand with Hootie the Diseased Owl and one of those big-nosed crones. You're going to need more cards, but if you draw, you'll hardly have anything to do. So first you play the old hag, and pick up a potion. Then you play the molting freak of a bird, and his ability lets you draw two cards, because when your unsettlingly bizarre minions see owls with crap on their faces, they come crawling out of the woodwork. But now your turn is over, right? No! You can use the potion to get one more action, and then play the busted-ass C3PO robot, who will pretend he's an owl and let you draw two more cards! You must be a genius.

The end goal behind all this card play is to exert control over the locations in town. At the end of the week, you'll see who has done the best job of influencing the locals (or, if you're playing enough of the scarred assassins, who has done the best job of killing off everyone on the other team). If you've played right, you'll seize control of the city and rule unopposed until the sun goes down - in, like, ten years. If you played wrong, your opponent will break out the tarp and shovel so he can hide your body. Metaphorically, you understand.

As a game designer, Clowdus just keeps getting better. Hemloch is one of his best games to date. It's easy to understand, once you get the hang of it, and more intuitively straightforward than 90% of the stuff he's done so far. And as a publisher, he's finally starting to understand that people like to play games that look good. The art in Hemloch is as good as anything you'll see from Fantasy Flight Games, and it really helps build the atmosphere of twisted dark forces battling in the shadows.

Hemloch is quick, fun, and smart. There are tough decisions to make at every turn, and a great combination of strategic planning and smart card play. The art is absolutely fantastic, the theme is darkly hilarious, and the cards are just plain dead sexy. If you're looking for a two-player game you can enjoy with someone smart, you can quit looking. You want Hemloch.


2 players

Absolutely fantastic illustrations
Smart and fast
Leaves you wishing you had just one more turn

Might be a little too Euro for fans of bloody games

You can order Hemloch right now, but you need to haul ass. Small Box Games doesn't do big print runs, and when the games are gone, they're gone. Get over there and do it now:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Card Game Review - Expedition Altiplano

Ohio Bob slipped past the ancient guardian statues and made his way through the jungles surrounding Machu Picchu. Wiping the sweat from his eyes, he entered the gloom of the ancient temple, eyes casting about for clues to the location of Maco Capac's mummy. There, in the darkness, he spotted the ancient treasure. He grabbed it and ran for the door.

Then a jaguar ate him.

That's about how it goes when you're playing Expedition Altiplano. You'll concoct intricate plans designed to grab the treasures before your opponent can assemble his team of raiders and archeologists, and then he'll throw down some mishap and totally hose everything you were doing. But then next turn, you'll do the same to him, so you can't be mad for very long.

Expedition Altiplano is reminiscent of the opening scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Two rival groups of treasure hunters will enter the South American jungle searching for ancient artifacts, and the first to recover two treasures will win the day. Along the way, you'll be attacked by angry natives, hungry anacondas, and villainous rivals. You'll also fall in a hole.

It might seem like the various misadventures in the game could make Expedition Altiplano an exercise in random frustration. After all, the entire thing is played with a shared deck of cards, and if you happen to pull all the treasures, you'll have a heck of a lot easier time winning the game.

But it's not really that simple. For every move your opponent makes, there's a way to screw him out of his win. For every attack you make, there's a way for him to turn it around. And for every counter that he makes, there's a way to negate it. You don't have to be the luckiest player to win this game - but it couldn't hurt.

Short turns let you do no more than two things, so you're never going to build some runaway strategy that nobody could ever stop. Every time you make a little progress, the other guy is going to get a chance to knock you down a peg. Every move you make is important, especially because you can only add cards to your camp on the second (and final) action of your turn - so you better make them count.

The theme of rival archeologists pursuing ancient treasure in the jungles of Peru fades into the background pretty quick, but there are a few things that keep the story alive when it threatens to turn into a back-and-forth festival of card-based screwage. The art is fantastic, for starters, and doesn't pull any punches. If a giant rock falls on your head, after all, there's going to be a lot of blood. That's not coming out of the carpet. Your wife is going to be pissed.

The story also plays out through the card actions. Even though some of them don't make a lot of sense (why does Marcus Vidor store cards like a portable storage shed? I don't know. He's not even that fat), most of them have really cool abilities that make plenty of sense. The hunter negates animal attacks (presumably by turning the angry beasts into throw rugs) and the black-hearted rogue will steal treasures right out of your opponent's hand, then say, 'Again we see there is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away'. Lots of stuff that happens makes sense, from both a narrative point of view and just good card play.

One advantage to Expedition Altiplano is the time you'll spend playing. Like many of my favorite games, it ends before it wears out its welcome. You can sit down, explain the rules, deal the cards and do ridiculous amounts of murder in the name of archeological progress. And when one of you finally manages to capture the final priceless relic, you'll look over at the clock and be amazed that half an hour has passed. Time flies when you're having this much fun, and yet you can still finish the whole thing while you're waiting for the pizza guy.

Expedition Altiplano is a fast-paced, attractive game that does a nice job of balancing solid game design with an exciting tale. The longer you play, the more you'll see the strategy unfold, and when you have a good grasp of the cards you can expect to see, you'll be more prepared for the unexpected mayhem your opponent will throw at you. It's a great two-player game that you can enjoy when you have half an hour to kill, and if you've got more time than that, you can always play it again.


2 players

Very cool art
Subtle strategies and tactics emerge as you learn the game
Tells an exciting story, if you bother to pay attention

The theme is very important to the game, and game play can overshadow it

Noble Knight Games has a pretty good deal on Expedition Altiplano, so if you're in the market for a fun two-player game that you can finish in a hurry, check it out:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Board Game Review - Super Dungeon Explore

Sometimes, I like to kill things. Real men play games where people die, because games where people die are more fun. This explains why I like dungeon crawl games so much - guaranteed body count. Until last weekend, my body count game of choice was Warhammer Quest. But then I got Super Dungeon Explore, and given how much I like to kill things, it's no surprise at all that I absolutely adore the game.

Super Dungeon Explore doesn't look like it should have violence in it. The heroes all look like little kids drawn by Japanese artists on mushroom benders. The kobolds are actually cute, and that's not a word I use a whole lot. There's a huge angry bear in the box, with claws and fangs a very irritable expression, and he looks downright cuddly. Even the baby dragons are adorable. So when you explode into a violent orgasm of death, dealing slaughter like a Texas abattoir, it might come as something of a surprise. But then, everybody in the game is armed with something sharp and heavy, so maybe it's not such a shock.

The concept isn't tough to grasp. A handful of heroes go into a dungeon to find bad guys, and then they kill them. It's beautiful in its simplicity. Monsters pop out of spawning towers located throughout the dungeon, more every turn, and they try to gang up and murder the heroes before they can smash all the spawn points and shut down the bad guys for good. It reminds me of an arcade game from the eighties, actually, only you don't have to starve just so you can use your lunch money to spend the whole night at the arcade.

The rules are also deceptively simple. It doesn't look like there's much meat here, at first glance - basic move rules, an intuitive dice-off combat system, and a few twists here and there. But when you look deeper, you'll see all the intricacies that make this a serious contender for my new favorite game. For starters, every character in the game, whether monster or hero, has special abilities or attacks that make it fun to play. For instance, the one baby dragon can knock you down, and the hatchlings get a bonus for biting heroes who are on the floor. Kobolds can mob you, so there's a huge percentage in holding back and rushing in waves. And since most of the interesting dungeon dwellers have multiple abilities, it means you've got lots of different ways you can use them.

The heroes, of course, are the most interesting. They've got abilities and attacks far beyond anything else in the dungeon, and so there are plenty of options every turn. The coolest thing, though, is the potion system. When the paladin uses a potion, he can heal people (and if they're on fire, he can put it out, which is handy because you're going to get set on fire a lot). When the mage uses a potion, she can throw far more powerful fireballs. And if you use the right potion, you might be able to summon enough energy to sit down and paint all the miniatures that come in the box.

The problem is, you're going to use those potions an awful lot. The heroes are going to take a dreadful ass-kicking, and they'll spend so much of the game bleeding, burning, concussing, or laying on the floor that you're going to wonder why they don't all look like Freddy Krueger being run through a paper shredder. You'll need to heal a lot, and boost a lot, and otherwise rely heavily on those potions - but you can only carry one per character. Lucky for the heroes, a bunch of the dice have potions on them, and if a hero can roll one on an attack roll, the good guys can get a resupply.

This presents an additional element of strategy that isn't obvious when you read the rules. Do you go for the big fistful of blue dice that you can roll three times, or do you pick up the two reds that you can only use once? The reds hit more, so there's that, and the blues don't have any potions on them. If you're lucky, you can find weapons or armor that let you roll the bad-ass green dice, and then the decisions actually get more difficult. Playing the odds versus going for broke, cutting down kobolds like summer wheat or running for the spawn points (and probably taking some painful blows to the head). The best move is never all that obvious, and even if you play like a genius, the dice can always pop up and drink your milkshake.

As if I needed yet another reason to love Super Dungeon Explore, all these strategic decisions are made more poignant by the fact that they're not mired in extra crap. You could almost see the designers having a conversation that went like this:

Designer One: So how do we handle heroes swapping equipment?
Designer Two: That sounds like a pain in the ass. Let's throw it out.
Designer One: OK, how about range on potion effects?
Designer Two: What a beating. Throw it out.
Designer One: Half steps for diagonal moves?
Designer Two: BORING!! Throw it out.
Designer One: But all these other games have that stuff!
Designer Two: They suck. Throw 'em out.

Seriously, for a game with a ton of stuff in the box, there's a lot that the designers decided you just didn't need. And they were right. Every time I got to a part where I said, 'ah, but how do you handle this recurring problem?' the answer was, 'we threw it out.' The rules might not be realistic, but there's a good reason for that - real life is boring. After all, you're going to be killing like a cross between Dexter and Tarzan of the Apes. Do you really want that to feel real?

Instead of feeling like a realistic journey into the Heart of Darkness, Super Dungeon Explore feels like a retro video game, the kind I would have spent a completely indecent amount of time playing as a young man who had virtually no chance whatsoever of getting laid. It's fast-paced, with bodies flying right and left, and tension mounting between the player running the monsters and the guy playing the forces of Wholesome Family Values. The villain might have a never-ending horde of bad guys to throw at his opponent, but the heroes are tough and resilient. For a game this lopsided, it's incredibly well balanced.

However, even though Super Dungeon Explore has enough balance to be enjoyable from either side of the table, it's not a think-heavy wargame. There's thinking to be had and choices to be made, but at the same time, it's light enough that you can play even after you down a couple beers. It's the epitome of a dungeon crawl, boiled down to just what makes a game awesome, without buckets of what makes a game dull.

If you still need a reason to pick up Super Dungeon Explore, let me tell you that it comes with more than 50 miniatures. They're made from a really sturdy but surprisingly flexible plastic (upside - they won't break very easily; downside - you'll have to use lots of super glue). And they're incredibly endearing. Not everyone will love the silly Japanese look, but it really works here.

If there's one thing keeping Super Dungeon Explore from knocking Warhammer Quest out of the top spot in my collection, it's the fact that there are no expansions yet. You can play any size game with what's in the box, but you'll always be hunting kobolds and dragons. Not that there's anything wrong with killing kobolds and dragons, but I can see myself getting pretty darn tired of them. I can play Warhammer Quest over and over and over, because I have a ridiculous number of minis I can use to swap out the monster deck. But Super Dungeon Explore is going to need more monsters very soon if it's going to keep my interest, and so I can only hope there are more coming, and fast.

If you like dungeon crawl games, Super Dungeon Explore delivers what you need in crazy Japanese spades. It's streamlined and fast, with plenty of opportunity to play smart (or, in my case, stupid). The miniatures don't have to be painted, but I defy anyone with a soul to see these figures and not want to see them with a coat of paint. If the publishers come out with more monsters real soon, I can see this one taking over as my favorite game ever.


2 players (you can play more, but I can't see why you would bother)

Rules that make sense and don't clutter up the place
Fast and smart, with plenty of strategy and tactics
Clever enough to be engaging, light enough to fun
Lots and lots of killing

Needs more monsters, right away

You are so lucky right now, because Super Dungeon Explore is not out yet. Which means that if you hurry and preorder from Soda Pop Miniatures, you can get the Candy & Cola promo. I don't have that. If you get it, I would definitely trade you something for it. And I mean something really good.