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Review: Through The Ages: A New Story of Civilization

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TABLETOP GAME REVIEW:

THROUGH THE AGES:
A NEW STORY OF CIVILIZATION

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

Czech Games Edition has published some of the best and most liked games in my collection, like Alchemists and Dungeon Lords. With Through the ages: A new story of civilization the published secured another piece of my board game shelf space. It is a truly great game, but also very complex and it takes a LOT of time to learn the game which makes me hesitant to bring it with me for one-off games at a friend’s house or when we play at my place.

I have played Fantasy Flight Games, Civilization the board game, and though I enjoyed how it brought the best parts of the PC game series to the table I was also not overly sold on the product as a whole. There were some clunky game mechanics in both combat and exploration as well as science that I thought could be done better. I also find the idea of mixing various historical people and having them compete against each other – Julius Caesar and Romans vs Bismarck and the Germans quite stupid and weird.

Through the ages kind of takes the ideas of Civilization and reworks them into a very detailed worker placement game that is card driven and that has no real gameboard but instead focuses on player sideboards where you keep track of your own civilization. The civilizations are also more generic in terms that you all start out the same, with “Despotism” as your government style. Sure there are historical characters that you can pick up to aid you, but they are at least not taking on the lead role of your play style.

Through the ages, as the name alludes, takes place over the span of 4 ages – Ancient, Age I (medieval), Age II (renaissance), and Age III industrial/modern. At the center of the board you will place several smaller board pieces with different trackers. These will keep track of each players culture and science progress. The player with the most culture at the end of the game wins.
The board will also show you the cards currently available to pick from for the age currently in progress, once an age deck runs out of cards, another age begins. Characters belonging to declining ages will be removed from play – you will not be able to benefit from Genghis Khan during Age III for instance…

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Player actions are completely based around the number of available action tokens they have. Actions are divided into Political and Military, the number of such tokens depend in turn on what type of government you have. Some governments give you more political tokens, others have increased amount of military tokens. Buying new research requires political tokens to be spent. Military tokens are mainly used for performing military actions. Additionally, in order to create soldiers, man buildings and manufacture goods you will need workers. Workers are drafted from the population pool of your player side board. You will need a big population to create food and resources for buildings, and staff buildings to generate culture and science. 

The game has a nice corruption and food requirement mechanic that kicks in when you generate goods (blue cubes) or increase your population (yellow cubes). Upgrading buildings and having more food than necessary around is important or you will start to lose both goods and happiness.

Researching unlocks new buildings and troop types, but also allows you to evolve your government style, either through evolution or revolution. Evolution of government often costs more science points to be spent, but you are allowed to change government type and keep playing your turn. Revolution is fast and cheaper but it is also the only action you will be able to take that particular turn and the price of skipping an entire turn can be high in the long run.

Added to the mix are event, exploration and warfare cards. These can be played either using political or military cubes and represent abstract exploration and colonization of new lands, world events and making raids on enemy lands or starting all out wars where military strengths becomes important.

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I personally love this game, but have to admit it took us a few hours to read the rules, testplay and understand the finer aspects of this game. It has a lot of rules, and things that you have to keep in mind. The learning curve is very steep, and to make it a balanced gaming session all players need to know all the rules before you can start playing. This is not a game that you can learn as you go along. Unfortunately so, since it is rare that you want to bring a game over to a friend and spend the first 2-3 hours explaining and showing examples of play…

Once you learn the game however, it is a very rich and rewarding gameplay experience. It is hands down the best worker placement/managment game that I own. I wish I could play it more often and with more people.

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Through the ages: A new story of civilization, 9,5/10

Review: Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition

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TABLETOP GAME REVIEW:

MANSIONS OF MADNESS 2ND EDITION

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

Mansions of Madness 2nd edition from Fantasy Flight Games has been out for a while now, and Caroline picked this game up last Friday since we had been talking about it and the new central feature – tablet app taking the role of the game master. It was very expensive, but after some pondering if found its way to our home and we spent most of Friday evening and the whole of Saturday playing it. 

I feel as if I have enough experience to write down a review, which will start with my experience of MoM: 1st edition. I didn’t like it. It was a game that was extremely cumbersome and riddled with moments that bogged down the gameplay and adding the insane amount of setup time it just killed any wish to play despite having some good things. One of imo few good things was the feeling that you played a kind of roleplaying game light with a board and miniatures to help you keep track of the action instead of a pure Pen & Paper adventure. Sadly it often devolved into a action/combat oriented game with monsters spawning left and right. 

Another drawback was also the need for one player to take on the role of the game master, some people find this role to be fun and I don’t blamed them (I had a pretty good time playing the GM in Descent 2nd edition) but in MoM: 1st ed you had to prepare a lot of stuff and keep things and story details in mind, mistakes could ruin the whole experience. It also made it impossible to solo-play the game, which is bad since all previous Lovecraft inspired boardgames by Fantasy Flight Games allowed you to do so (Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror and Elder Sign). Finally, if you ask me, the models for the monster and the big bases were the definition of ugly and an unnecessary element, the few times we played it at my house we ran the monster tokens without minis/black plastic bases. 

Moving on to MoM: 2nd ed it looks like FFG cleaned up a LOT of problems and redesigned the game quite heavily while still keeping the framework and most of the models/board pieces intact.

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First of all, the game requires an app to act as the game master – you can’t play without it. The app runs on both PC, iOS and Android – so players should have a lot of device options to run the heart of the game.

WHAT THE APP DOES:
The app keeps track of monster movement, keeps track of mythos phase events, evidence you find in your investigations, all search locations, characters that can be interacted with, it keeps track of events and tells you what stats you will use whenever you are required to test something performing actions. It also keeps track of all puzzles and the story in each scenario – generating different details each time you run a scenario. Gone are ALL the cards and tokens required for monster damage, puzzle tokens, act cards that keep track of story etc. And last but not least is the “Fog of War” that the app provides, when you move you explore the story location piece by piece instead of having the entire mansion set up from start. Instead whenever you move to a explore location you unlock new rooms, same thing goes if you move around corners – you don’t know what lies beyond before you reach that space that unlocks the next piece of the board.

The app DOES NOT:
Show monster movement and current location of monsters on the map, show where investigators are located, actively limit you to the number of actions and tests you take – you still have to keep track of all that by yourself with the help of the physical components and rules for the game.

You could say that the app keeps track of all that which would be unnecessary for players to know beforehand, or to keep track of – leaving the game rules and various game related choices, character movement and tactics to the players.

Among the other changes, and in my opinion something that improves the gameplay is the combat mechanic, the dice and damage taken by investigators. Explaining these in order:

Combat in MoM:1st edition was something that frustrated the hell out of me. Players had to pick an item to attack monsters with, and then the result was randomly determined by a card. More often than not my attempt to kill a monster with a firearm resulted in “You shoot a warning shot in the air” or something like that which just made facepalm myself over the forced upon stupidity. MoM: 2nd edition gets rid of the cards, instead when you attack you pick the weapon category (such as bladed, heavy weapon, firearm, spell etc) and pick your target. The app tells you what test you need to perform to hit  the monster -and what your suffers or failure means. If you succeed you deal damage. There are no more awkward situations.

Dice. MoM:2nd edition uses D8 dice, and I can trace the design behind the dice and how they work directly to FFG’s Star Wars X-Wing. Each die has 3 successes, 2 Clue tokens and 3 empty spaces. The game requires you to roll successes, and matching the number of successes either succeeds of fails a test – sometimes the number of successes can give you different results in interactions with characters and objects in the game. Sides of the dice covered in Clue token symbols allow players to spend acquired clue tokens to change those die results to successes at a 1 – 1 ratio. Players who have played X-wing will recognize this from Focus/Evade tokens interacting with the dice.

Compared to all previous games by FFG with a Lovecraft theme that used D6 this is a welcome departure. Finally you no longer succeed on rolls of 5-6 on a D6 die, instead you have a success chance of 3/8 not spending clue tokens and 5/8 if you spend a clue token. Suddenly one of the most frustrating things about Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror has been fixed.

Physical/Mental damage. This too has been remedied in a way heavily influenced by X-Wing. Instead of damage tokens you now draw Health and Sanity loss cards. Each point of damage has you draw one card, keeping it face down. The number of cards in each category tells you how wounded you are. Sometimes events, heavy damage dealt by enemies or other actions cause you to flip existing damage cards face up- resolving the effect. This is actually great because damage cards can be like a ticking bomb, the more you have the greater the probability that you will suffer if you have to flip cards face up. Effects are crippling but it is not until you reach the limit of your health or sanity that the game amps up the difficulty for your character.

Running out of health you are permanently wounded drawing random card stating what permanent damage you’ve received – running out of health a second time you die. Even more dangerous is going insane, which happens the first time you lose all your sanity. Insanity cards are special since players pick one randomly and read the back of the card – not telling their fellow gamers. The insanity can range from nothing in particular happens, to actively working against the rest of the group in secret in order to win your own personal victory!
When a character is eliminated due to death or losing mental control completely the game ends no matter how many investigators are left on the board.


Now let’s talk about scenarios, you get 4 core game scenarios, it is hard to tell exactly how much variation you get compared to 1st Edition (where you had 3 variants on each). What we have noticed however is that the app changes things up when you replay a scenario, so there may be more variables at work than in 1st edition, though exactly how much remains to be seen. We have played one short and two very long scenarios and the “Rising tide” scenario in particular (where focus is on investigation and interrogation of suspects) feels like you could get a lot of variation in suspect/game end location due to the size of the story in that scenario.

The information I’ve found online is that layout of the board and other things will change if you replay scenarios again. Two of the scenarios in the game are heavily Shadow over Innsmouth influenced which I just loved. Both are long scenarios, with one of them taking you straight into Shadow over Innsmouth and an attempt to escape town, the other has you prevent an occult ritual and saving the town. We’ve played 3 out of the 4 core scenarios and I must say that I like them better than the core scenarios I played in 1st edition.

One VERY important thing to know about the expansions and something else that the app allows you to do. The app keeps track of your game collection, core games and expansions for both 1st and 2nd edition of Mansions of Madness. The great thing is that you can add 1st edition content (monsters/board pieces/investigators) seamlessly into 2nd edition with a click, and you get conversion pieces for monster tokens inside the box of 2nd edition Mansions of Madness for free!

What is little known if you do not do some research beforehand, is that the two expansions for 2nd edition available at the moment “Suppressed Memories” and “Recurring Nightmares” are in fact the playable content and pieces from the core game and the two 1st edition expansions. As such, if you have 1st edition content, you should NOT buy the 2nd edition expansions as you already have all you need! Then in the app you just tick the boxes on all the 1st edition stuff you have and it is added to the game. The 1st edition core game contents give you 8 investigators, more monsters and a lot more board pieces – as well as one extra scenario “Dearly Departed” to play. Forbidden Alchemy give you more monsters, some board tiles and variants to the scenarios, while Call of the Wild give you characters,  board tiles, monsters and “Cult of the Sentinel Hill” scenario.

To sum this mess up here is a conversion/content table:

Core 1st ed  MoM = 1 scenario, 15 map tiles, 8 new monsters, 8 new investigators, Dearly Departed scenario

1st ed Forbidden Alchemy = Variants to existing scenarios 6 map tiles, 2 monsters, 4 investigators

1st ed Call of the Wild = Cult of the Sentinel Hill scenario, 11 map tiles, 4 investigators, 7 monsters

2nd ed Recurring Nightmares = Same contents as Core 1st ed MoM.

2nd ed Call of the Wild = Cult of Sentinel Hill scenario, 17 map tiles, 8 investigators, 9 monsters

In other words, check your 1st edition collection before you fork over money for 2nd edition expansions!

Overall I’m very enthusiastic about Mansions of Madness 2nd edition. I think the app and new design choices solved a lot of 1st ed problems. I also wonder if we will see a future of app based content with micro transactions to get more variants/new scenarios that don’t require new pieces. The ability to play the game solitaire is priceless, but it is also fantastic to be able to play a story driven game with all the players taking the roles of investigators not having to force anyone to play the game master. The only downside of the app/design this game has taken that I can see at the moment is that it makes it impossible to implement player made scenarios – at least at this point. For 1st edition there were numerous fan made scenarios (of varied quality nonetheless)  that you could download and print out and start to play as you saw fit. That option is removed with the app.

I highly recommend Mansions of Madness 2nd edition a solid 9/10, based upon my experience of 1st edition and my expectations on the game as well as the implementation of a game master with the app.

Caroline give this game a weak 8/10 with the motivation that while the game is fun it still has a lot of combat (except in Rising Tide). She said that FFG  could have focused on the game being more about mystery solving than combat since the other games, Arkham Horror/Eldritch Horror, are have a lot of combat.

Review: Patchwork

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TABLETOP GAME REVIEW:

PATCHWORK

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

I guess “Patchwork” is proof that you can make a board game about just anything! Caroline bought this little  game a while ago while scouting our local hobby store for 2-player games. I laughed when I saw the box, but the game turned out to be quite fun in all its simplicity and I would rate it among the better 2-player games in our collection.

Patchwork is a resource and time management game with elements of Tetris to it. The goal of the game is to finish a quilt, and have as few empty spaces on your quilt-board as possible. Points are scored for having the least amount of empty spaces and the number of buttons (game currency) in your possession once both players reach the end of the game.

The game has no fixed number of turns, instead the main board is divided into “time spaces”. During each players turn, you pick one of the three available patches in front of the turn token – pay the number of buttons the patch indicates and place it on your quilt.  

The patches available have several things printed on them. First you see the price (in buttons), you also see how time consuming it is to apply the patch to  your quilt, and finally you see how many buttons the patch generates whenever your player token crosses a button printed on the main board.

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What I liked about this game is the non-linear player activation. Players alter turns only once one player falls behind the other. If player one is 5 steps ahead of player two, then player two can buy and place several patches on his quilt before catching up and pass by the leading player before player turn changes.

Patches with buttons printed on them provide resources for purchase of new patches, and every time you pass a button symbol on the main board you receive a payout from the buttons on your quilt.

Should you lack buttons to purchase new patches you can pass your turn over to the other player, doing so you advance your own player token on the time track so that it ends up just in front of the other player, then you get 1 button for every space your token moved. Thus you receive “money” for future moves but forfeit your current turn.

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There is not much more to tell about this game or worth dissecting. The rules are dead simple, but offer quite a challenge between two equal players trying to both outwit each other with tactical choices.

I really recommend this game if you are looking for a easy to learn, quick to play 2-player game. I would also consider this very family/kid friendly

Patchwork scores 7,5/10

Review: Dead Men Tell No Tales

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TABLETOP GAME REVIEW:

DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES

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

Here’s a fun and very difficult game – Dead Men Tell No Tales from Minion Games!

This is a co-op game where players take on the role of pirates attacking and raiding a ship. The only two problems with this is:

1) They set the ship ablaze prior to boarding it.
2) The ship turned out to be full of undead!

The goal of these suicidal raiders is to loot a certain amount of treasure, the number of treasure tokens depend on the number of players, before the ship you are raiding blows up or before you are overrun by the undead deckhands.

The game works as such, each player controls a pirate character with his or her special rules which often give you additional action beyond the normal “move, fight, extinguish flames, loot”. At the start of each player turn the active player draws a tile from the stack and places it adjacent to another entry point on the starting board. This simulates exploration of the ship as time goes by. There are several tricky parts to this placement of new rooms – first of all you don’t want to place them in a long corridor as rooms can be destroyed if the fire level reaches 6 or if the room explodes from a chain reaction of exploding powder kegs. Second is that you don’t want too many rooms with the same starting fire level bunched up together as that may create an inferno that gets out of hand quickly.

Each tile is marked with either a yellow or a red marker, on which you place a starting fire level six sided die. Spending action points you may decrease the fire level of a room by 1 for each action point spent. You can extinguish flames completely, but, there is an event deck from which you draw cards each turn that either increase existing fires (for instance the card may say “increase fire in rooms with a yellow die showing a 4) or start new ones. A lot of your actions will be spent on fighting fires to create clear corridors for your characters to move through hauling loot.

Fire level is lethal as it adds exhaustion to your character, moving from a cool untouched location to a burning room adds fatigue points. As your character gets more tired you can no longer enter rooms of a certain temperature. Fatigue can also drop when being attacked by undead pirates spawning on the board as they constantly move towards the closest friendly player.

Beside the fire hazard there are also the undead deckhands. These spawn from certain entry points on the emerging board, and you must keep them under control. Should you run out of deckhands you lose the game as you have been swarmed. You kill and remove 1 deckhand per action point spent. Deckhands are added either to the spawning points- or spread to adjacent rooms depending on the event card.

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Once you have placed all rooms, meaning there are no tiles left, you have found a second breach in the ship and can now escape with treasure tokens through a second entry/exit point.

Every time you move out of the burning ship your character catches his or her breath and regains some fatigue, you can also use action points to rest your character but with the fires burning, and deckhands spawning, pirates roaming and event cards playing out you will be hard pressed to constantly do stuff with your character each turn and resting may end up being a low priority.

Should your character succumb to the heat or be killed, you draw a new character and continue playing. However once all required treasure is hauled to safety, any remaining characters on the ship must survive their trip back to your own ship – a death at this point means game over.

There is not much more to say about Dead men tell no tales, it’s a quick and fast paced game with no difficult rules but the game itself is very difficult. We have lost more times than won, and those victories have been pulled off by a slim margin. There are two really well working game mechanics here working together, the fatigue and the fire level of rooms.

It feels natural that heat will knock you out, and fighting fires is both necessary and a lot of fun. The feeling of having extinguished a section of the board is great – equally is the feeling of despair when only minutes later the fire returns and increase in strength! There is also a level of panic as rooms and corridors get closed off as tiles explode and become impassable terrain. Finally the game also throws in the undead captain of the ship who spawns as either a “easy” or a “hard” version and returns each time he is killed.  Having that high level maniac chase you through burning hallways as you try to escape with treasure is great fun!

We’ve had lots of fun with Dead men tell no tales, and also a lot of frustrating times with many defeats. It’s a great filler game that you can start your boardgame evening as you will most likely be too frustrated to play two times in a row if you lose!

Also the game looks GREAT! Just check out all those fantastic tiles with flames, water and all kinds of detail printed on them. You can almost smell the burning wood!

Dead men tell no tales – 7,5/10.

Review: Dead of Winter : A Crossroads Game

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TABLETOP GAME REVIEW:

DEAD OF WINTER

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

Let’s take a look at the zombie survival game Dead of Winter!

Dead of Winter is a co-operative game set during a harsh winter topped of with a zombie apocalypse going on. Each player controls a small band of survivors, they all share a common location known as “the colony” and from which they launch raids into the surrounding 6 locations to scavenge for resources in order to complete the various scenarios that make up the story and main objective of each game. There are a lot of story cards so don’t worry about recycling them anytime soon of your first play.

A scenario may for instance be that all players need to outfit one of their survivors with a gun and have enough food as a group to leave the zombie infested location behind and find a new safe spot somewhere else. Along the way there will of course be frostbite, zombie bite, possible starvation, raids, helpless survivors that just use up resources, hard choices to be made and the possibility of one of the players to be a traitor with his own agenda.

Let’s begin with the survivors, there are 30 different survivors in the game, each with their own stats and special rules. Some characters may have an easier time finding items, others may cook food to feed your people, some are good at killing etc. They also have a “hierarchy” number which determines the order in which they are killed should a location be overrun (lowest number dies first!).

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Players start out with a couple of survivors, but can get more for their own sub-group as they explore locations. Oftentimes while exploring you stumble upon additional characters – and in those cases there is often a “helpless survivor” that is represented by a small token.

Helpless survivors do nothing to aid you, on the contrary they eat food and make it more difficult to keep up with objectives. Oftentimes you are given the choice to leave them behind or in some other way get rid of them at the cost of a hit to your morale but reality is tough in the zombie apocalypse and often it is worth doing just that!

Your characters may die during the game in several ways. Moving between locations you roll a “exposure die” which comes with blank sides, but also wounds, frostbite and a zombie bite mark.
Each character can take 3 regular wounds before getting killed. Frostbite works as wounds, but each turn that your frostbite is left untreated you get an extra wound! Should you roll a zombie bite then your character is instantly lost, and additionally, any other character located in the location to which you were heading is at risk of getting infected by the zombie virus as well. To prevent the infection you will have to sacrifice and kill people.

Stats in the game, are beside the hierarchy/influence number printed on each card divided between Search and Fight. And here we come to the next game mechanic that I really like, skill dice. Each player has a number of six sided dice depending on the size of their little group. At the start of each turn you roll the dice, and they make up a resource pool. If a character has fight value of 5+ it means that you must discard a 5 or a 6 from your pool to perform that action. This can limit what you can do each turn, but dice can also be spent freely on other actions such as building barricades to prevent zombies from entering locations. Some items that you find can boost your characters in skill and abilities.

Your colony is constantly craving food, and for every two survivors, and helpless survivors, in your home base the players must pay 1 unit of food. Should you not have enough food the colony starves and you get a lowered morale, if the morale drops to 0 you lose the game. Beside weapons and food you will also find other items such as medicine and junk which can be used for healing and rerolling dice. The downside of using items however is that the colony has a junk pile of used cards. When that pile reaches a certain point you lose morale. You also lose morale when random events force the players to come together and solve a common goal and fail doing so. You lose morale for killed survivors, and of course for taking certain actions that may not be very nice or pleasant such as throwing people out in the cold to die or turn your backs on them as you find them in locations you are visiting.

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Around now would be the perfect time to talk about the defining aspects of the game, crossroads cards and the traitor feature.

The crossroads cards are drawn at the start of each players turn. The player next to you draws a card and read the text to himself. Should you, during your turn, do something that triggers the text – the game pauses and the crossroads card is resolved. This adds a great layer to the game, implementing random events and tough choices that players must make. Oftentimes these cards also add a lot of atmosphere and theme to the game.

A player can end up starting the game being a traitor. This happens after the main objective has been revealed, each player then gets an additional personal goal – and in each game you shuffle in 1 traitor card. The traitor may or may not be part of the game, but the mere thought adds paranoia and questioning of other players choices. Did a player just bring back a bunch of people to the camp to starve you all out or was it sympathy ? Why is someone constantly walking to the gas station and searching for cards with gas canisters on them when you should be focusing on other stuff? The players may vote to exile players they consider to be traitors – this is similar to features found in a favorite boardgame of mine – Battlestar Galactica. However, I think that the traitor feature in Dead of Winter is harder to play than the cylon infiltrator of Battlestar Galactica.

In Battlestar Galactica you would, as the traitor, play it cool and ruin resource gathering every now and again, sometimes even helping players to pull suspicion away from you. In Dead of Winter it is harder to be subtle when your traitor card requires you to build a shelter in a location that no one in their right mind would be focusing on at the moment. What I did not like about the traitor in Dead of Winter and why I prefer to play without it (there are several variants, and playing without a traitor is one) is that the game itself is hard enough without someone sabotaging the main objective for some petty reason that imo did not make sense half of the time.

Now if you want to play with the traitor, things are not hopeless. You can still keep playing after having been exiled, you just don’t take part in the main board/colony and your group keep to themselves trying to finish your “traitor objective”. I understand why the featuer of a traitor is in the game, I just don’t like it very much and really prefer to play the game as a straight co-op game for which you can compensate by playing the increased difficulty side of your mission cards (they are two sided).

The components for the game are good, the main board is very pretty, the six small locations that you raid look great as well as do all the cards. Player characters are both fun, cool and intersting, with cardboard stands unique for each of the 30 characters. Zombies come as cardboard stands, though in only 3 versions, and tokens for when you run out of zombie stands.

Caroline really likes this game, I too find it to be quite good. She said that she likes the absurd situations where you suddenly discuss when or how to sacrifice people, sending people on suicide missions to that you don’t have to feed more mouths or just making crazy choices on the crossroads or crisis cards. The game is really heavy with theme, and it comes through really well in how the game plays and the decisions you have to take. What I like the most is that it is a game with rich theme and good depth – but without a million components and player turns play fast. It takes a few minutes to set up and a few minutes to clean up, sometimes I shudder at that aspect with games that have grown out of control (Arkham Horror comes to mind) and it really means much to just pick the box from the shelf and play it within minutes. I also like the mechanics of the dice, both action dice and the exposure die. Likewise the crossroads cards and other features such as noise attracting zombies, zombie overrunning and killing characters, how zombie infestation can spread in a location etc. They are all good rules and play well. There is also a ton of crossroads cards, personal missions, main objectives, traitor cards and game variants to allow you to keep the game fresh and tailor the experience to your liking – that’s always a plus.

Dead of Winter, a solid game.

I give it 8/10
Caroline rates it 8,5/10

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.