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Review: Castles of Mad King Ludwig

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TABLETOP GAME REVIEW:

CASTLES OF MAD KING LUDWIG

Written by Anatoli on April 12th, 2015 at Anatoli’s Game Room

Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a game that I hated, at the very least disliked, when I first played it with Caroline. It’s a game where players compete in building the most impressive castle and at the same time scoring points for impressive rooms, good layouts and fulfilling the wishes of mad king Ludwig in regards to room choices.

Initial thought was, “building a castle, that sounds like fun!”.

Then we opened the box and the first look at the components killed the mood, especially the boards where you place all the room tokens and cards – the rooms themselves were quite ok. And then we played one game and the impression was just “this is not really a good game”. You were placing rooms, and received bonus effects all the time, money was not an issue, neither was there any real restriction or plan with how you placed the rooms. I said after that one game that I don’t want to play it again unless we have at least 1-2 more people, and I only want to play again to see if the game is any different – not because I wanted to.

Then for some reason I thought, “screw it, let’s just try it one more time”. And this time we read the rules (which are not very comprehensive mind you) and it’s interesting to me how small changes in the rules (when played right) made the game completely different. I actually started to enjoy the game, and after a couple of games I thought I had enough of experience under my belt to write a review.  So, after the long intro and misguided rant – here comes the review for Castles of Mad King Ludwig!

As stated earlier, the game is a game for 2-4 players where you take on the role of build masters and competing in building the most impressive castle according to the wishes of mad king Ludwig and scoring points for good room placements, finishing rooms, building rooms of certain types, scoring points for rooms that have been all used up and can no longer be placed on the board and so on.

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It’s really a tile placing game, however to make it more interesting the competing aspect is used as a game mechanic. Each turn one of the players act as the current “build master”. The build master can arrange the currently available room tiles and their price tag according to his own wishes – the other players get to pick rooms before the build master but they have to pay the room cost from their funds directly to him.

As such a clever/evil build master may rearrange buildings to get players to pay him well for popular rooms, he can make certain rooms out of reach for those who can’t afford them and buy that room himself. Being the build master during a turn is really about boosting your own economy for upcoming turns.

Now, regular builders can each buy one room/hallway/stairs per turn – or if they can’t afford anything or don’t want to buy anything this current round then they can pass and pick 5.000 gold from the treasury. Each turn the build master role is passed to the next player, empty spots on the “room bidding” chart are replenished and then rearranged according to the wishes of the build master. Rooms that were not picked in the previous turn get a 1.000 gold coint placed on them, these are cumulative over the next turns.

Each room type, such as garden, sleeping chambers, utility rooms etc have special rules that kick in once you finish them. A room is considered finished once you have placed adjacent rooms or hallways next to every room opening thus closing it in. Once that happens you get a bonus, be it more money, playing another turn instantly, scoring the same room twice, picking a bonus card etc.

Players keep playing until you run out of room cards and then you compare your final bonus cards and determine the order of players fulfilling the wishes of mad king Ludwig – those wishes are based on randomly generated tokens at the start of each game and show which room types give you additional points at the end of the game. You also get points if you own rooms that have been depleted. The number of room cards and room tiles in each game is determined by the number of players, and there are a lot of room cards, bonus cards and favor tokens so your games should be fairly fresh each time as you are not using all the existing components in each game.

It’s a fairly simple game, though you have to keep up with all the bonus modifiers during the game as rooms score instantly upon placement and then again when you add adjacent rooms (you can also get penalties).

The reason I did not like the game at first was that we simply thought that placing a room was the same as finishing it- That made a huge impact and made the game too easy. We also missed the adjacent room bonus/penalties and how to properly implement them. Getting those two things straight made for an instantly more enjoyable and challenging game. Your castle also started to make sense, instead of being an endless corridor it became a cluster of rooms.

What I really like about the game is that it plays fast, each turn plays very fast and player decisions go fast so there is little downtime. The role of the master builder also adds an interesting spin, and without it I think the game would be again too easy and bland. Building your castle, and trying to make all the rooms fit together, attempting to plan ahead in terms of layout while at the same time trying to keep up the scoring of points for placing rooms and unlocking bonuses is more fun than one would think at first.

The downside of the game is, as I described in my opening rant, the look/graphic design. The rooms are OK, but the boards for the cards and tiles look awful imo. It looks like a dungeon wall from Super Mario brother on the Nintendo 8-bit. With such a fun game it’s a shame that more energy was not put into making the game visually appealing.

It’s hard to give this game a proper score yet at the moment since we’ve only been playing 2 player games and I think the build master rule really comes into play in a more serious way when you play 3-4 player games. This is also likely a game that you would play with a mixed group, or new boardgamers since it is easy to get into and there is neither a heavy theme or a ton of components to give anyone a headache. I can’t really see myself picking this game for a dedicated game night with my boardgame group – on those rare occasions we get together we tend to want to play something more meaty and lengthy. But nevertheless I like the game, and Caroline enjoys it as well and shares many of my thoughts about the game quality and mechanics.

If I had to score it today I would give it a solid 7/10.
I think it will be a 7.5 with 3-4 players.

Review: Robinson Crusoe

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TABLETOP GAME REVIEW:

ROBINSON CRUSOE

Written by Anatoli on April 12th, 2015 at Anatoli’s Game Room

Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the cursed island is a worker placement co-op game for 1-4 players where you take on the role as castaways trying to survive and escape 6 varied scenarios.
It’s a game with a very strong theme, and a game that can be extremely unforgiving and difficult if you have bad luck, make poor decisions and/or the scenario objectives work against you in perfect synergy. 

Each scenario is set on an island and has its own starting conditions, objectives and special rules. As such most of the 6 scenarios included in the game play as a completely new experience. Being a co-op game it is fully suited for single-player gaming as well – in such cases you randomly pick one character and play with Friday and a dog. The first scenario is really a take on Robinson Crusoe, you are shipwrecked and have to build a huge fire to signal to ships that start to pass by the island on a certain turn. Beside building the bonfire you also have to gather food not to starve to death, build a shelter not to freeze to death, build improvements that can stand against the increasingly bad weather and possible wild animal attacks. 

You also have to gather resources by foraging or hunting wild animals which can be extremely dangerous if you don’t have good enough weapons, and you can also build a select few inventions that are randomized and available at the start of each scenario. The inventions aid you with additional worker tokens which can be placed on specific actions or by giving you some other valuable bonus such as an increase to your weapon weapon/defense stats etc.

To sum it all up, there is a lot to do and you have to do it quickly – and most of the time you don’t have enough workers to do everything that need to be done each turn!

Each island is randomized during each game, only the starting locations remain roughly the same. When you explore the island you uncover map tiles which provide new resources that unlock certain type of invention cards – for instance steep grass is needed for making the Rope invention. And as you explore you can uncover treasures or traps, special locations and move your camp from the beach inland onto a map tile that provides better shelter or resources.

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The game mechanics are simple and clever and encourage co-operation if you play with multiple people. Each player character gets two tokens that can be placed on whatever actions you like. If you place a single token you need to roll 3 action dice that check whether: 1) You hurt yourself during that action, 2) whether the action was successfull and 3) whether a random event occurs during that action. In other words, taking actions with a single player token is risky. On the other hand, if a player places two tokens, or if two players help each other out by placing one token each on an action, that action automatically succeeds and you don’t roll any action dice. Of course, with the amount of work and actions that need to be done each turn, you must spread your forces thin more often than you would want.

So far Caroline and I have played scenario 1-5 out of 6 and find them to be quite different in style and range from moderate to extremely difficult to win. We find that the first scenario may be the most “fun” since the game throws both wild animal attacks and increasingly bad weather into the mix and makes you experience the environment at its most extreme. Then there is scenario 5, Cannibal Island, which is fun but extremely challenging, we still have to win that one a single time.

I myself wonder about the challenge level of the game, and how it may tune itself up and down the difficulty scale depending on the number of players. For each player character you need 1 food at the end of each night phase or else you take health loss from starvation, things are also cheaper to build if you are 1-2 players. However playing with more people building inventions and completing random events get easier as you have more player tokens to place on the board – on the other hand building stuff and finding enough food each day becomes a much harder task. I also have not attempted to play a solo-game with only Friday and the Dog as companions, that ought to provide an interesting experience as well.

As a whole I really like this game but there is one big flaw – the rulebook. The rulebook is abysmal and explains everything poorly, likewise the board and many of the cards included in the game would have benefited from having explanatory text or better written text to make you understand what’s going on. It can get quite frustrating having to stop midgame to look up something on Boardgamegeek or some other  forum. There is also a FAQ document that is 20 pages long!! That is more pages than the rulebook has so you get an idea of the chaos in the rules department. This is really sad because it detracts a lot from a really good game with solid game mechanics.

My score for Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island is 7.5/10


Had the rulebook and some cards been written more clearly this would have been a solid 8 imo.


Caroline says the same, 7.5 only because you get frustrated with how the rules are written since they leave you with interpreting and guessing more often than you would want to before downloading the FAQ document  or checking online on a forum.

Still, we have played this game some 8-9 times so far in two weeks which shows the strength of the game itself despite the writing of the rules.

Review: Kingdom Death Monster

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TABLETOP GAME REVIEW:

KINGDOM DEATH MONSTER

Written by Anatoli on April 12th, 2015 at Anatoli’s Game Room

My friend Thomas bought the Kingdom Death monster v.1 with the previous Kickstarter and came by a couple of weeks ago to show off the game and we played a partial campaign spanning “4 lantern years” which was enough to play the introduction scenario, 2 hunts and have a faceoff with the first boss “The Butcher”.

I didn’t really know much about the play mechanics having read just a little in advance and what I found was a mixed bag of thoughts and impressions. This post will be kind of a review/battle report merged into one.

Kingdom Death Monster is a campaign driven board game that combines character development, base building, research and tactical combat into one game. The setting is some kind of nightmarish reality where people wake up in a world of darkness, with no language, culture, knowledge or anything to keep them together – in your case a group of people wake up and are attacked by a large creature looking like a lion.

The game starts with a desperate attempt of survival where 4 humans attempt to fight and kill an attacking beast. Those that survive this first encounter bond together and form a small tribe of sorts, and the backbone of your civilization is born. After the first victory a small settlement is formed and players have to decide how to use materials foraged from the carcass of dead monsters (sometimes also fallen humans) to craft buildings, tools and weapons. Each “year” in the game sees further development of your civilization, as they learn about life and death, language, music, sculpting, weapon crafting see your settlement grow as more buildings are constructed and new humans are born. 

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A “lantern year” as the game calls it, is broken into a couple of phases, but each year includes a hunting for monsters phase, character development phase and settlement development phase. There is an ultimate ending, which I think is 20-25 lantern years. Over that time you will die with lots of people in combat, but others will also grow old and not be able to go out on any more hunts. As such you will be raising and training new hunters over the campaign and probably never have characters that are experts in everything.  Though people are replaced on a regular basis, you could take comfort in knowing that items, buildings and your civilization remains intact for most of your campaign.

Over the course of the campaign you will also have to decide between different choices your civilization will make. How will you handle the death of fellow humans? How will you be raising children. In our playthrough we opted for “cannibalism” of the dead and raising new children with rigorous training Sparta style, which in turn affected the gameplay of how new characters developed.

The base/civilization building parts of the game are well made and thought out, I don’t think I had anything negative to remark to this part of the game.

With civilization building being one big part of the game, another big and central part is the hunting phase. The hunts always include 1 monster and 4 human hunters (at least as long as you have that many able bodied people left in your settlement). As the game progresses more monster types will unlock and the range of monsters to pick from for your hunts will increase. Initially only the “white lion” monster type is available.

A hunt begins with picking hunters, then picking the prey – which leads you to a hunting board sequence with random encounters and the possibility of either you or the monster falling into an ambush. Each monster has its own AI decks that determine personality traits, attacks, movement patterns and even though we only managed to play against the White Lion, Screaming Antelope and the Butcher I can say that all of them offer completely different experience, tactics and challenges for the hunters to overcome. 

Monsters activate, move and attack – and their wounds are also determined by – a stack of AI cards that you draft when you find the monster. There will always be a number of set standard AI cards combined with a number of random cards so you will not be able to tell how this particular monster of a certain type will act until you’ve played through all cards at least once. The number of AI cards determine the number of wounds, the higher level a monster the more cards. As wounds are inflicted face down AI cards from the stack are removed, when the monster has no cards left and a final wound is dealt you kill it. Sometimes a brutal critical hit in the right place can kill a monster  faster but that is rare.

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Combat uses a mix of D10 dice and custom body location dice. Character strength and weapons add the result of D10 to hit and to wound monsters. A successful hit draws a “hit location card” (specific for your current monster) and you have to roll again against the monster toughness with your weapon to see if you cause a wound. Rolling a 10 often results in a critical hit which causes secondary damage and reactions from the monster that can be in favor of the hunters or enrage the monster further. When the monster attacks it too rolls D10 dice to hit the hunters, but instead of drawing hit location cards you allocate damage using the “body location” custom dice.

Each part of the body has a number of wounds, when you exceed that number you get critical hits and you get reduced combat ability and permanent injuries, you can also bleed to death. Armor can increase the number of wounds per body part.

Combat itself alternates between the monster and all the humans, monster activates by cards while humans have two actions each for movement, combat and special abilities. Combat takes place on a large grid, there is little terrain in each encounter which can give a dull impression and much of the combat revolves around maneuvering into optimal position to strike monsters from the rear to increase your hit chance. After a couple of hunts you will have developed some kind of ranged weapons that increase your tactical options, equipped a human or two in full armor to create a damage soaking “tank” and maybe some other humans have become specialists in certain combat styles/weapon proficiencies.

The first combat of the game is not that exciting, but once you start producing equipment it opens up some player management as well as tactical option to deepen the experience above move-hit-repeat. Oftentimes monsters react to hits and wounds in such a way as to not stand still and letting themselves be swarmed which is a big difference from most skirmish games where you clash and whack each other until one of you is dead. I liked the progression of equipment and tactical abilities, it was slowly increasing during our game against the initial White Lion, a second White Lion and the Screaming Antelope. Our little gang was doing OK even if some took a beating or got killed.

After 3 games our settlement started taking shape and so did our fighters. You could start feeling a bit comfortable with your abilities. I guess that is why the game throws in the bosses, in our case the first boss the game unleashes is the Butcher. A humanoid clad in thick armor, wielding two axes and who flays human faces as a hobby. This is handled as a different type of “hunt”, since the monster visits your settlement instead of being sought out. 

We got such a trashing from this monster, all of our most experienced hunters got massacred and the Butcher made off with some materials from our camp. The game was not over, but it had shattered the impression that you were prepared for anything lurking out in the endless darkness. On one hand I like the idea, but on the other it was a similar experience as you have in roleplaying games with level 1 characters going against a level 20 dragon or something. We managed to inflict minimum amount of damage despite decent equipment and tactics, and were beaten so badly that I questioned the difficulty of the monster. Perhaps a more dramatic take would have been to have the monster beat up a certain number of people and take them with him for later rescue (or finding their remains in a later encounter) instead of murdering everyone with little effort.

The game had felt pretty balanced up to this point and left something of a bitter aftertaste. Fortunately all the equipment and your settlement including the remaining people remain and you can continue the campaign.

Overall I quite enjoyed the game. I have some understanding when some people on forums say that “this is the only boardgame I will ever need from now on”, as it does include a variety of game elements to it and combines them rather well. The model sprues from what I have seen are very fiddly and perhaps unnecessarily so for some models, though overall the minis (in particular monsters) are very nice. The boxed game lacks terrain, and instead provides you only with cardboard pieces to place on the board. Considering the amount of models you got in the base game I would have expected it to include some plastic terrain as well – it is not as if you require more than 4-5 pieces of terrain in each fight anyway so it would have been possible.

As the game is pretty much Kickstarter exclusive unless you are insane enough to buy it off some greedy douchebag selling it 2nd hand with a 400% profit on Ebay it will probably never be included in my collection. I would have bought it, but not for 100+ dollars for a base game. The version 1.5 Kickstarter also increased the cost of the base game to something like 250 dollars. And to be honest, while the game is good – it is not worth 250 dollars. The components are a mixed back, minis ranging from decent to great, the terrain only being cardboard pieces and the design of cards and their not being that exciting. The rulebook will probably wear and tear a lot if you have the softcover version 1.0 book, which is remedied in version 1.5 with hardback. The rules while good are weirdly written in places and half of the rulebook is a comic book style thing that I would have preferred being optional. That does not mean that the introduction to the game is bad, that part of the rules that describe the initial story and teaches you the basics is well put together.

But for 250 dollars? I don’t think so. A good enough game if you were lucky and patient enough to get it through the first Kickstarter, but overhyped and inflated cost if you bought into it through the second Kickstarter or think about buying it second hand.

I would score the game 8/10 for what it is, there is replayability and there are expansions, but availability and cost kills any attempt to give it a higher score. Would I like to play it again? Yes.

Review: BloodBowl Pitch from Deep-Cut Studios

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TABLETOP GAME (ACCESSORY) REVIEW:

BLOODBOWL PITCH PLAYMAT
FROM DEEP-CUT STUDIOS

Written by Anatoli on October 12th, 2015 at Anatoli’s Game Room

I love BloodBowl, and I really wanted a pitch to play on of my own – without having to shell out  ridiculous amounts for used parts on Ebay.

A friend ordered a custom made BloodBowl pitch a few years back but that option was too expensive for me, and as it turned out the squares on the board were slightly bigger than the original gameboard which made the throwing template inaccurate when reading the range bands.

So, an evening of browsing led to to DeepCutStudio and their array of gaming mats. Having weighed the pro’s and con’s I went ahead and ordered 3 gaming mats. One of them is this BloodBowl pitch which has its main play area mirror the original BloodBowl pitch from GamesWorkshop perfectly in terms of size (I compared with an original game that a friend brought over). Each square is 29mm wide.
The mat includes the pitch,  as well as a scatter template for both players, and areas marked out for the reserves, Knocked Out and Morgue. It also features a counter on both sides to keep track of the turns, which half of the match you play and number of re-rolls left. The only thing missing, oddly enough, is a score counter – I guess this was simply overlooked. You can keep score easily using pen and paper, dice or any other method.

The mat itself is made from durable vinyl with a high quality print. It is however like most vinyl gaming mats slightly glossy if a light source is directed straight at it from a sharp angle. On the other hand, you can roll it up and transport/store it easily

Imo it was well worth the money.

And as I had the pitch I also needed a measuring stick and some Blood Bowl dice, these I acquired from the NobleKnight games store in the US (the manufacturer for both products is Impact Miniatures I believe). A local retailer also had these products in his catalogue but they were sold out so I had to buy them from the US which turned out a lot more expensive than I would have wanted – but at least the dice and the measuring stick are also perfect matches to the original deal from GW so in the long run money well spent.

Now to paint up the remainder of my Orc team so I can alternate between them and my Humans. Caroline also shows interest for the game and plays the PC version so she will most likely also want to play the tabletop version. And as a small bonus, some pictures from the first game played on the new pitch against my friend Daniel and his Chaos Dwarfs. The game ended 1-1 after an intense first half where one of my linemen tackled one of the Bull Centaurs which got killed in the process. I then lost the initiative in the second half, and a mistake on my part opened a window for my opponent who scored a draw.

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Review: Frostgrave

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TABLETOP GAME REVIEW:

FROSTGRAVE

Written by Anatoli on August 11th, 2015 at Anatoli’s Game Room

I was talked into picking up Frostgrave by a friend down at the club. I was quite skeptic about it, the bits that I had read did not really jump out at me but I figured that painting up a few fantasy themed miniatures would benefit my collection. At worst I would have a warband for whatever skirmish based fantasy game system out there if Frostgrave didn’t pan out.

Having read the rules through, back to back a couple of times, and played the game twice I feel confident enough to at least give an “early” review of the game.

At the core, Frostgrave is a skirmish based fairly generic/open ended fantasy game with a hint of Mordheim in terms of the setting. You command a wizard, his apprentice and up to 8 hired goons as they search for lost treasures in the ruins of “Frostgrave” a fallen city long abandoned to the ice and snow – inhabited mostly by zombies, undead and the odd creature or animal. The unique selling point of the game would be that your warband and indeed the entire campaign centers around your wizard.  Oh, and you use D20 dice!

That the game is written with the wizards in mind become even more apparent when you read the character profiles. Hired muscle characters come with static gold cost, equipment and stats – compared to the highly diverse choices that you have when picking spells for your wizard. This can probably be frowned upon by some who want to tailor their own characters, and all characters, in a warband. For others, this may be a welcome escape from having to put a lot of work in “building” your warband and focus on the wizard and spell combos instead.

Characters have six stats in the game:

  • Move which tells how far they can walk/run each turn
  • Fight which is a close combat modifier and also used to dodge projectiles
  • Shooting which is a ranged combat modifier
  • Amor which reduces the amount of damage you take
  • Willpower which modifies how resilient you are to some types of magic/spells
  • Health which tells how many wounds you have

Each character also has 2 actions each turn, but you are only allowed to cast spells, or fight/shoot with a single action. You can however use both actions for movement, in that case you move full rate with your first action and half rate with your second action. For instance  a character with Move 6 can move up to 9 inches (6+3).

Wizards (and the apprentice) have the same stats as described above, but also have an array of magic spells at their disposal. And it is here that the character customization part comes in. You can pick one of 10 schools of magic for your starting wizard. Each school has 8 spells, and they have varied casting difficulties. Spells for the starting wizard are picked from his own school, aligned schools and neutral schools – but may down the line of a campaign also be picked from the opposed school.   What this means in practice is that you pick a main school that you fancy, in my case it is the “Witch”. I get 3 “Witch” spells. But I am not locked to only casting spells from my school as I get to pick 3 spells from aligned schools (one each from Enchanter, Necromancer and Summoner) as well as two spells from different neutral schools (Thaumaturge, Illusionist, Elementalis, Sigilist, Chronomancer).

frostgrave minisSo I have a Witch that can elect to branch out into several different directions to support my main casting abilities. Finding useful combos and spells from schools outside of your own is both fun and rewarding.
There are of course modifiers for spells outside your own school. Casting Witch spells comes with no negative modifier. But casting Aligned spells come at a negative modifier of 2, spells that are neutral with a modifier of 4 and opposed school spells at a modifier of 6. This restriction helps to maintain something of a direction for your Wizard to stick to his own and aligned schools primarily and have the choice of school matter during character creation. The apprentice knows the exact same spells as the Wizard, but is slightly worse at casting all spells as he comes with a permanent negative modifier of 2 built into his casting ability.

Worth mentioning is that as the campaign progress, and your wizard gains experience levels he can tweak the casting difficulty of the spells he knows – and the apprentice takes advantage of this improvement as well.

The game uses a variant on the classic IGOUGO system. Both players roll initiative and the winner may choose whether or not he wants to go first. The first player then moves his Wizard (and up to 3 hired characters within 3″). Then the opponent moves his wizard. Then the first players moves his Wizard Apprentice and up to 3 characters within 3″ of the apprentice – opponent then does the same. This is followed by both players activating any remaining “soldiers” (hired characters) , and finally all creatures belonging to players and those that are part of the scenario. Breaking up the activation each turn among the two warbands this way is enough to not have one player steamroll his opponent.

Combat and magic uses a single D20 (twenty sided dice) and opposed rolls. In combat the player who rolls the highest wins the combat, and deals the total of what he rolled as damage to his opponent. The opponent uses his armor value to reduce the damage dealt. This way combat can sometimes be brutal with a single killing blow, or an ongoing fight lasting a couple of turns where characters are worn down. It’s a simple and very fast system that combined with the unit activation and unit actions keep the game fast paced. I can’t say that I am blown away with the combat mechanics, but they serve their purpose. The main attraction is the magic and the spells thrown around by the wizards the apprentices. The magic adds flavor and a lot of fun and is the main reason my interest in the game increased and stuck after the two games played so far.

As with many other skirmish based games Frostgrave want to get gamers to play a campaign. The campaign is a bit different from similar games in that only your wizard improves in between games. Your wizard gains experience for successfully cast spells, for taking out enemy models and for a couple other scenario related tasks. For every 100 experience points gained the Wizard gains 1 improvement point. Points can be used to increase the wizard stat line, learn new spells and decrease the casting difficulty of already known spells. Models who are eliminated in a scenario have to roll on a injury chart, the wizard and apprentice can get lingering effects or die while everyone else either stays healthy/misses next game/gets killed.

Players may opt to have a final goal with the campaign, in that your wizard learns all the spells of his own school – or you can just keep playing for fun with no end goal.  There are 10 scenarios included in the core rulebook – unfortunately imo they are mostly “specialized” with a unique goal such plundering a museum with living statues or scenarios that require specific terrain types/indoor locations/special models. Few of the scenarios are “generic” enough to warrant too much replay value, hopefully more generic scenarios are added in the expansion. I can think of a couple of scenarios right of the bat such as “assassination” of the enemy wizard or apprentice, protecting a piece of terrain from the opposing warband and escorting a character across the table. If you have other skirmish based games in your collection, I am sure you will be able to come up with a lot of your own scenarios.

What adds to the scenarios however is the option to have “random encounters”, you have a list of creatures and roll on that list every time a treasure is picked up. This way you can have wondering trolls, or roaming undead enter the table and shake things up. There are 25 different creature profiles that you can have great fun with and which add danger and unpredictable elements to your scenarios.
Another things that I really like, and which I have not seen in any other skirmish game that I’ve come into contact with is the ability for your gang to have a “home base”. The home base is picked after the first game in your campaign, and lend a fixed bonus feature for your gang. For instance you can make yourself at home at an abandoned Inn which allows you to increase your warband to a total of 11 instead of the maximum amount of 10. You can be based in an old library and get the chance to find grimoire and learn new spells. Be based in a  crypt to have an easier time summoning zombies and so on. Furthermore you can improve the home base with a bunch of gadgets and equipment, such as dog kennels, summoning circles and brewing pots. This is truly a great idea and makes you spend money not only on replacing hired goons but on long term improvements for your gang.

Now despite my mainly favorable opinion of Frostgrave I do see a few potential problems – some of which have already been brought up in other reviews. But my worries are mainly that there is no balancing mechanism for warbands of different strength/level. This could mean that a very successful warband get hard to beat if you are down on your luck. In games like Empire of the Dead underdog warbands are compensated with more reward money if they win a scenario. But in Frostgrave there is no such mechanism. My other main worry is the total focus on “treasure hunting” in the scenarios. The main objective in the game is to rush onto the table and grab treasure tokens, then haul them off table and cash in. This I predict, will become tedious in the long run. More scenarios need to reduce the number of treasure tokens and focus on the experience/leveling aspect instead imo. And finally some critique against the layout of some rules that I found to be spread out over several chapters. Such as preparing scenarios, deployment ranges etc are not concentrated in one chapter as I would have liked it. This can be frustrating when you try to find something mid game. This game needs a crib sheet with all the basic information!

Final thoughts? Frostgrave is very easy to get into. The model count is capped at 1 wizard, 1 apprentice and normally 8 hired goons per warband. And even though the warbands in the book are “human” and the stats have no racial traits for fantasy races – it does not prevent you to field say an Orc of Elf warband using the same character profiles. The rules are simple and play fast., not necessarily “beer and pretzels” light but definitely on the lower end of the complexity spectrum. This may be a good game for introducing someone into wargaming. Magic is the needed twist and is the main attraction of the game. If you want a game based around spellcasters in a campaign setting this is the game for you.

Publisher: https://ospreypublishing.com/frostgrave
Author: Joseph A McCullough
Contents: 134 pages in full color, hardback rulebook
Format: 2-players, uses a broken up IGOUGO turn order
Gaming aides: D20 dice
Price: £15 for the hardback, £12 for the PDF

Review : The Witcher Adventure Game

witcher

TABLETOP GAME REVIEW:

THE WITCHER ADVENTURE GAME

Written by Anatoli on February 26th, 2015 at Anatoli’s Game Room

I am crazy about everything Witcher related so I was initially super excited when I heard about a boardgame being made based upon the Witcher books. I got onto the bandwagon early with the digital version of the game released for tablets and had been playing it a bit but it didn’t really satisfy me (never mind the online part playing with gamers suffering from acute ADD!).
Once the game was finally released as a proper boardgame my interest had cooled off a bit, I was no longer sure if it would be a good investment of money in relation to fun/depth/value. Following the release I was on the fence for a couple of days trying to read up on the game and what other people thought – the opinions were many and divided but generally the game seemed to fall into a average scores on review sites. It was really more a surplus of cash than anything that prompted me to buy this game in the end.

(What follows bellow will be my first review written in the reverse order with the critique first and the positive aspects last)

witcher 4So what exactly is the Witcher Adventure Game in terms of gameplay and style? Well, I would probably put it in the same category as such games as Talisman. It’s a pretty casual game that is very easy to get into but does not offer too much in terms of depth. Basically it’s a race for 2-4 people competing against each other. Every player attempts to finish a set number of quests before any other player and then you count the victory points. A “normal” game means finishing 3 “main quests”, then there is the very long game that has 5 quests and you can play a shorter variant as well.  You finish quests by moving around the board and collecting leads (clue tokens) in order to produce “proof”. Each quest requires the player to trade in a set number of proof tokens in order to be finished and depending on which character you play in the game the focus of your quests will be on Combat, Arcana and/or Diplomacy quests. This questing is designed in such as way that the game is pretty much an individual fare with little interaction with the other players – and overall you are not far off from wondering why you would bother.

This alone would make for a very basic and perhaps bland game of token hunting and game marker pushing across the board. There are however a lot of promising features in this game that add forgiving aspects to the design choices – which in all honesty have been made on purpose to appeal to the “casual/newcomer to boardgames”-crowd.

What the game does right is conveying the overall theme of the Witcher universe quite well. The map is very pretty, and the components very high quality. The artwork on the cards as well as the tokens is superb, even the miniatures are on the high end of the quality scale comparing them to many other plastic miniatures you can get in boardgames these days. It also feels as if the game has just the right amount of components,  meaning that it does not take you half an hour to set up a game/pack it down while at the same time offer very good variety in gameplay encounters and card content.

Apart from the good representation of the universe there are a couple of game design features that I strongly like and they are:

1) The quest cards in the game are divided into a main quest, two minor quests and a support quest part. Players can boost the amount of  victory points by completing side quests, that often require a lesser number of resources to complete but that add a bit more depth to the “story” of the main quest.  Finishing a quest yields victory points, but also often has immediate game affecting effects such as monetary rewards, world altering effects or being forced to fight a creature (the quest may be hunting down a creature of legend and to defeat it).
2) Character building with role-playing light elements. All characters start out with a basic “build”, but throughout the game you are free to upgrade your character with ability cards that offer additional attacks/spells/companions etc. This character development, while not super complex, does indeed add the feeling of your character growing in strength without including actual “level up” features. Instead this is integrated into the gameplay seamlessly by having character development take up one of your available actions that you can pick from each turn.
3) Character card with actions and wounds. This is also a very intelligent and easy solution to keep track of wounds and also have wound effects play out without a lot of book keeping. Your character can perform a number of actions, such as investigate, rest, travel, fast travel and develop. If you get wounded you need to place a wound marker on one action on your character sheet – which means that you cannot perform that action until you heal that wound. The more wounds you have, the more limited you will be in what actions you can perform. When all action spaces are “wounded” your character can’t take more wounds and instead loses victory points for each new wound you receive. As such characters can’t die but they lose both time and victory points if you don’t manage your wounds properly and in time.
4) Combat dice system. The Witcher Adventure game features a really good combat mechanic which uses custom six sided dice with sword, shield and magic symbols. Encounters with monsters or during quests has the player roll these dice and you have to match the requirements. Matching shields on a monster means that you avoid damage, but if you have too few sword icons during your roll the monster will not be slain and will instead get away. Other times you may end up slaying the monster, but not have enough defensive symbols to avoid damage. It’s a quick and easy way to add some finesse to (mostly) combat situations.
5) The characters are different enough in playstyle to offer proper diversity in how you play the game. Geralt the Witcher for instance is limited to combat oriented quests and is for obvious reasons very good at monster slaying, while Dandelion the roguish bard is limited to Diplomatic quests where intrigue and smooth talking rather than a steel blade yields victory points. Through the development cards and their preferred quests they are actually all fun to play.
6) Foul fate and War track mechanics. The game has something called the War track. The way this works is that every time a player visits a region that has no monster or foul fate token the war track advances and spawns one of these. As such there is a constant spawning of monsters and foul fate as players move around the board. Monster spawning is self explanatory, though it is worth mentioning  that monsters come in “bronze” (easy) “silver” (medium) and “gold” (hard) difficulty. The war track spawns bronze and silver monsters, gold monsters are added through random events. A single region can hold several monsters, and the player is always free to choose which one monster he wants to fight from those monsters that have been revealed face up or whether to pick a still unrevealed monster token.

Foul fate on the other hand is similar to taking a wound, in that you place tokens on your action spaces on your character sheet. Whenever you activate an action with a foul fate token on it you must draw a foul fate card (then discard the foul fate token). Foul fate cards are negative random events that forces the player to fight against robbers, places “gold” monsters on the map, reduces your victory points ets. Foul fate and monster spawning is well integrated with the game design and feels natural when it occurs. … With all this said you can’t help but conclude that at the end of the day the Witcher Adventure game, in its current state, is not that exciting or good enough a game on its own. It has some very solid ideas and fantastic components and a great theme – but the game itself is a shallow experience that feels much like a solo game despite being played with other people. There is too little interaction with other players, sure you can add some difficulty for your opponents by spawning Foul fate and monsters in regions they need to visit – or boost your own victory points by completing their support quests – but it does not go beyond that.

witcher 1This feels weird, especially considering the characters you play with. I don’t quite understand why you would create a game where Geralt the Witcher competes against his friends Dandelion or Triss Merrigold? It would be more natural for these characters to be part of a game where you play together and work towards a common goal and against the game instead of each other more akin to Eldritch Horror. Now the designer has said that he was pretty much forced to craft a casual core game – and there have been mentioned a high possibility for expansions that would add more character interaction. What I feel is that the Witcher Adventure game was a missed opportunity to come up with a good co-operative questing game where players worked together against a variety of scenarios which both the books and the PC/console games offer. The design is with side quests and support quests could be elaborated even further and force players to complete specific parts of those scenarios with specific characters. For instance, imagine a scenario in which the King tries to find out if there are any enemy spies at his court, and divide the quest between diplomatic parts where Dandellion does his thing, a combat part for Geralt and a test of magic for Triss. The quest could require Dandellion to be the one completing the Diplomacy quest but the other characters could support him in his task with their presence and with their own resources and skills.

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For me it is frustrating to have a game that is neither bad enough to not be played, or a good enough to make me want to play it a lot or propose to bring it with me to play with my more demanding boardgame buddies. I can only hope that upcoming expansion(s) will add more depth for the regular boardgame crowd.

The Witcher Adventure game final score after having played about a dozen games 6/10

This game can also be bought for Android and iOS (though you need a fairly modern OS version to play them). It is also available through Steam. The digital version of the game can be played online or solo.

Review : By Fire and Sword – Deluge

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TABLETOP GAME REVIEW:

BY FIRE AND SWORD – DELUGE

Written by Anatoli on March 6th, 2015 at Anatoli’s Game Room

My Kickstarter package arrived this week and I’ve spent some time browsing the new rulebook called “Deluge: Northern war 1655-1660”. This new tome is made up of 248 pages and filled to the brim with news. There are new scenarios, new nations to be played, new takes on core-rules, new additional effects, new recon effects and a major overhaul for the Polish-Lithuanian army as well as replacement lists for the Swedes.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the new content but let’s stick with the major rule changes firsts:

The rules for charging have been rewritten to be more clear. Much effort has been put into guiding the player through each step of the charging process with all the different situations and options that may occur. These rules are covered on 4 pages.

Rules for ploughed fields, wheat fields and roads have been added – a much welcome addition (and they play pretty much like the guys at my club have been playing using house  rules.
Rifled weapons fire mode now have a 20cm short range! Better representing the accuracy of these weapons and making them even deadlier than before.

A major change has been written into the “Elite cavalry”, which is now a hybrid formation that if formed like normal cavalry in closed order and moves like cavalry in open order. This will definitely speed up gameplay when using forces that have a ton of Elite Cavalry units, but also reduce the cheesy tactics available up to this point where you could exploit the insane maneuverability of saids units to envelope enemy units with a charge.

A completely new addition is the “Battalion rule” for Pike & Shot formations, in which you get a more coherent mixed arms formations of pikes, muskets and artillery that work together with great defensive bonuses. The Pike & Shot rules from the core rulebook have been re-written in such a way that troops have an easier time to pull off defensive pike walls against charging units with musketeers running behind the pikes. Artillery crews may now also benefit from the protection of pikemen should their  gun be charged. All in all this rule will make Pike & Shot regiments and battles against them much more dynamic and interesting imo. Other additions is that the “Robbers” rule now comes into effect even at skirmish level, making the previously pointless rule play out in a much more direct fashion and impact the game.

Musket regiments may detach a company of musketeers to act as skirmishers with the ability of a free face up “Defend” order and skirmisher rules.

Another new rule clarification in the Deluge talks about withdrawing from battle, and troops being forced off the table in various situations. The most important new addition here is that you are not forced to move units off the table should they be forced to “withdraw” – the unit may stop at the table edge as long as it is outside of 2cm from the enemy unit.

Deluge also provides a fix for the sometimes over the top “flight” of units through friendly units which have a fleeing unit move across half the table. Flight through friendly units is now limited to x1.5 of the original move (30cm for cavalry and 15 for infantry), being forced to move beyond that results in a destroyed unit.

Commanders have also received a major overhaul in the book, they now no longer count as another base from the unit they join, but only provide morale and the additional dice in combat. There are 4 pages talking about various situations where commanders join units, moving with friendly units, flight, combat etc and how it affects your commander. Much of the text explains and builds upon the core rules found in the main rulebook.

And finally medium artillery may get additional crew bases if you have enough guns in your force and the book talks about artillery fortifications which can be used in Division sized games.

Moving on to the new scenarios, additional effects and reconnaissance changes:

bfas - mapDeluge introduces “control markers” which are used in some scenarios to mark the owner of a victory location, but you also use markers to remind yourself about many of the new effects that can be chosen/inflicted upon the opponent.

A big change about the scenarios is that you now have 5 scenarios (instead of playing only Patrol) to choose from if you are playing two forces that have equal FSP strength, and 10 scenarios to pick from if you are unequal in strength! Furthermore the book introduces something called “defensive skirmish force” which has its own limited set of scenarios. There are also some lists that qualify as “small skirmish force” which are army lists below 7FSP and this has impact on tournament gameplay (in a positive way imo as it allows the opponent to always replace his proposed army choice with his smallest army list instead).

Finally, there are also rules for Numerical Superiority, so far there have only been penalties for having the strongest army list, but now you get certain benefits depending by how much you outrank your opponent in FSP value.

The scenarios are variants, new spins or completely new additions.  They now offer a wider selection of tactical choices depending on your force/playing style than the original scenarios did.  Some scenarios that were quickly becoming a pain to play repeatedly have been heavily rewritten, such as capture the crossing and attack on the village (the latter is now divided into two scenarios attack/defend the village). Beyond the 10 skirmish level scenarios there is one more that is not listed as a choice for tournament/competitive games – and that is “The Convoy”. The convoy of the owning player must escape off the table, while the opponent wants to plunder it, the scenario also last 8 instead of 6 turns and requires the defending player to use special army lists specifically written for the scenario and which are provided in the rulebook.

The expanded scenario list is accompanied by a more fleshed out and in depth list of additional effects and reconnaissance benefits. There are now 10 additional effects to pick from. Furthermore the reconnaissance effects are limited in number to the command ability of your commanding officer, regardless of your recon points (for instance a commander with 2 command points can only pick a maximum of two recon effects even if he could afford more). The recon effects are also spread out  so that you can get more effects with a lower recon advantage as well as having the effects divided into “Standard” and “Affecting the enemy”. The latter is limited depending on the opposing FSP strength and limits how much chaos you can wreck in the enemy lines prior to the first turn. I find this to be a welcome addition as well, as it balances the negative and positive effect choices.

Finally, the new armies and skirmish forces:

bfas armiesApart from convoy army lists for the Brandenburg, Swedish, Tartar and Ottoman armies there are a couple of “stray lists” that made it into the book. These are replacement lists for the Muscovite Zasieczna guard, a “Garrison Sortie” for the Ottomans and an Elite Tartar skirmish force for the Crimean Khanate.  We are also presented with a list of alliances, and how you can mix different nationalities at a division level depending on period. This allows you to field such things as a Cossack Regiment (without rabble) in a Polish division of 1667-70 or Brandenburg troops in a Swedish army.

Alliances are presented and restricted with units/regiments for all the available nations in the game released to date (core rulebook + Deluge expansion).

The biggest change to any army is for the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth which has been completely revamped with a much more thematic and period specific division of organisation depending on the year.  These period specific rules affect both skirmish lists and division armies, and the impact of those rules alter such things as the quality of your troops, the quality of leadership, provides limits to regiment sizes and weapon of choice for your cavalry. The Polish-Lithuanian faction specific special rules have new additions to cover partisan warfare and also overhauls any existing faction specific special rule of the core rulebook. Sometimes the changes are minor or just provide clarification, some changes have a bigger impact such as Noble Brothers. At the end of the day, the amount of rules may be huge, but you are only using part of the new rules at any given moment so they are manageable. Their main purpose are to force the Polish-Lithuanian players to play more historically accurate lists and offer more flavor. I don’t think that the new additions will “break” current Polish-Lithuanian collections unless you have “min/maxed” a lot for a power gaming playstyle… Considering that  the Polish-Lithuanian army is for By Fire & Sword what WW2 Germans are for any WW2 ruleset I am happy to see that there are as many options as possible to allow you customize the force depending on theater and opponent to match more historically.

The Swedish army lists have been tweaked mostly, some changes have been made in how and what youc an swap etc but the general army structure remains the same. A third division has been added, which is the “cavalry division”. This force lacks any regular infantry (only includes Dragoons and Reiters) and has almost no artillery support but you can max out on Elite Reiter regiments into it making it a very tough opponent to face in close combat!

The Brandenburg/Prussian army is interesting in that it provides the player with the option to field a very tiny and  cheap division made up of Western style troop formations at a division level, but also allows you to field an infantry heavy division that will make any “Pike & Shot” fan drool.

The Holy Roman Empire provides cheap troops that have very low motivation to participate in the campaign in Poland at skirmish and division level of the game. To make up for this the troops are fairly cheap while the regiments are strong in numbers. This is another option for the fan of “Pike & Shot” armies with the possibility to field crazy amounts of musketeers and artillery.

Finally Transylvania, which I think will be one of the more popular armies (and a reason why I chose not to buy into it at this point since I think everyone at the Kickstarter did). It’s a very interesting force that mixes really good with so-so troops at both skirmish and division level. I really think that their cavalry is awesome. The  drawback is that their regiments are fairly small (especially infantry regiments) and the regiments have low motivation value (30-40% on everything). But if you want me to point out the one new force that truly adds something new to the game it would be this army. It will be very interesting to see how it plays at tournaments and in division battles.

Conclusion:

The Deluge is a well crafted tome, the quality of the binding is perfect. Art and photos are great and the presentation very appealing and though initially overwhelming everything is indeed divided into its own chapters. The new rules and tweaks were in all honesty needed, clarifications made in the Deluge solve many head-scratching moments that we’ve had at my club. My criticism would be that the red text in the “Rules section” at the beginning of the book,in some paragraphs, appears to be “shadowed”. This is a bit hard on the eye, though not impossible to read and does thankfully not occur on all red text.

The Deluge is mainly an “add-on” in that it brings new nations into the game, and not so much an “expansion” since there is little new content for the Muscovites, Cossacks, Ottoman and Crimean Khanate in this book. I was hoping that these nations would receive a few more skirmish lists. As such, I hope that the upcoming “Armies of By Fire & Sword” will add all the PDF’s available in Polish and translate them to English, as well as add new content for the core nations that did not get as much/anything this time around.

The book is still useful to all players, considering the scenario part and the rules section but I can understand if some players feel that they got less applicable content than others. And we are still waiting for the Danish army to be published as a free PDF….

Don’t let this put you off however, the Deluge makes a great game even better all around!

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Review : Robinson Crusoe – Adventures on the Cursed Island

robinson crusoe

TABLETOP GAME REVIEW:

ROBINSON CRUSOE – ADVENTURES ON THE CURSED ISLAND

Written by Anatoli on April 12th, 2015 at Anatoli’s Game Room

Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the cursed island is a worker placement co-op game for 1-4 players where you take on the role as castaways trying to survive and escape 6 varied scenarios. It’s a game with a very strong theme, and a game that can be extremely unforgiving and difficult if you have bad luck, make poor decisions and/or the scenario objectives work against you in perfect synergy.

Each scenario is set on an island and has its own starting conditions, objectives and special rules. As such most of the 6 scenarios included in the game play as a completely new experience. Being a co-op game it is fully suited for single-player gaming as well – in such cases you randomly pick one character and play with Friday and a dog. The first scenario is really a take on Robinson Crusoe, you are shipwrecked and have to build a huge fire to signal to ships that start to pass by the island on a certain turn. Beside building the bonfire you also have to gather food not to starve to death, build a shelter not to freeze to death, build improvements that can stand against the increasingly bad weather and possible wild animal attacks.

robinson crusoe 4You also have to gather resources by foraging or hunting wild animals which can be extremely dangerous if you don’t have good enough weapons, and you can also build a select few inventions that are randomized and available at the start of each scenario. The inventions aid you with additional worker tokens which can be placed on specific actions or by giving you some other valuable bonus such as an increase to your weapon weapon/defense stats etc.

To sum it all up, there is a lot to do and you have to do it quickly – and most of the time you don’t have enough workers to do everything that need to be done each turn!
Each island is randomized during each game, only the starting locations remain roughly the same. When you explore the island you uncover map tiles which provide new resources that unlock certain type of invention cards – for instance steep grass is needed for making the Rope invention. And as you explore you can uncover treasures or traps, special locations and move your camp from the beach inland onto a map tile that provides better shelter or resources.

The game mechanics are simple and clever and encourage co-operation if you play with multiple people. Each player character gets two tokens that can be placed on whatever actions you like. If you place a single token you need to roll 3 action dice that check whether: 1) You hurt yourself during that action, 2) whether the action was successfull and 3) whether a random event occurs during that action. In other words, taking actions with a single player token is risky. On the other hand, if a player places two tokens, or if two players help each other out by placing one token each on an action, that action automatically succeeds and you don’t roll any action dice. Of course, with the amount of work and actions that need to be done each turn, you must spread your forces thin more often than you would want.

So far Caroline and I have played scenario 1-5 out of 6 and find them to be quite different in style and range from moderate to extremely difficult to win. We find that the first scenario may be the most “fun” since the game throws both wild animal attacks and increasingly bad weather into the mix and makes you experience the environment at its most extreme. Then there is scenario 5, Cannibal Island, which is fun but extremely challenging, we still have to win that one a single time.

I myself wonder about the challenge level of the game, and how it may tune itself up and down the difficulty scale depending on the number of players. For each player character you need 1 food at the end of each night phase or else you take health loss from starvation, things are also cheaper to build if you are 1-2 players. However playing with more people building inventions and completing random events get easier as you have more player tokens to place on the board – on the other hand building stuff and finding enough food each day becomes a much harder task. I also have not attempted to play a solo-game with only Friday and the Dog as companions, that ought to provide an interesting experience as well.

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As a whole I really like this game but there is one big flaw – the rulebook. The rulebook is abysmal and explains everything poorly, likewise the board and many of the cards included in the game would have benefited from having explanatory text or better written text to make you understand what’s going on. It can get quite frustrating having to stop midgame to look up something on Boardgamegeek or some other  forum. There is also a FAQ document that is 20 pages long!! That is more pages than the rulebook has so you get an idea of the chaos in the rules department. This is really sad because it detracts a lot from a really good game with solid game mechanics.

My score for Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island is 7.5/10

Had the rulebook and some cards been written more clearly this would have been a solid 8 imo. Caroline says the same, 7.5 only because you get frustrated with how the rules are written since they leave you with interpreting and guessing more often than you would want to before downloading the FAQ document  or checking online on a forum.

Still, we have played this game some 8-9 times so far in two weeks which shows the strength of the game itself despite the writing of the rules.