Ticket to Ride

ticket-to-ride-boxI’ve been a board gamer since I was in High School. I remember discovering that there was this sub-category of board games that had a cult following. I’m talking about railroad games. I never got into the heavier railroad games, but I did enjoy games like Empire Builder and Eurorails — a family of railroad games where you drew rails on the board with erasable crayon and competed to complete routes.

Empire Builder, Eurorails and that whole family of games were fairly popular. But in recent years, more streamlined, and lighter games have supplanted them in popularity. The chief one among these has been Ticket to Ride, along with all of the variants, and alternate maps. I discovered the computer version of the game about 2 years ago, and since I’ve gotten back into board gaming, I purchased the basic game to play with friends. And I’ve recently gotten a chance to do so. This is how the game works:

ticket-to-ride-1024x577Ticket to Ride is a game for 2 to 5 players. It has two decks of cards and a map of the US that is crisscrossed by potential routes. Each connection between cities is between 1 and 6 in length, and may be grey, or one of 7 other colors (red, orange, yellow, black, white, purple, green). There are also 8 types of train cards in the train deck — one is wild, and the others match the colors of the routes (other than grey). Each player starts with 4 random train cards and 3 route cards. At the start of the game, each player may, if they wish, discard one of the route cards of their choice. There are also always 5 face-up train cards that are available to players on their turn. The goal of the game is to have the most points at the end of the game.

On your turn, you may do one of the following:
1. Take a face-up wildcard.
2. Take two train cards, any of which may be from the face-up cards, or from the deck of face-down cards, so long as the face-up card you draw is not wild. Face-up cards taken are replaced immediately.
3. Discard 1 to 6 cards of the same color to build tracks connecting two adjacent cities. The color of your cards must match the color of the route, and the number must match the length of that  route. You can use any color if the route is grey, but all your cards must be the same color.  You build tracks by placing your train tokens on the board on the individual spaces (see image below). You can, of course, substitute wildcards for any color.
4. Draw 3 new route cards, discarding up to 2 of them if you wish.

ticket-to-ride-connectingNote that at any time, if there are three wild cards face-up, you must discard all of the face-up cards and replace them from the deck.

The end-game is triggered once any player is down to 2 or fewer train tokens. At that point, every player gets one more turn, including the player who triggered the end-game. You then add up the scores, getting points for every route completed, minus points for each route not completed, and 10 bonus points for the longest contiguous route. And that’s basically it.

The game is easy to teach, and it plays very fast. The people I’ve taught it to were able to grasp the basic strategy very quickly and told me that they liked the game. One of them actually asked to play it again. It’s a great entry-level game for those who are new to board games. Even though there is some strategy to the game, I will say that there is a lot of luck as well, plus I’m not quite good enough that I can consistently beat newcomers (one of the people I taught, won his first two games in a row). That said, anyone who is looking for a game with a lot of depth to it, will probably not be satisfied. Games generally last 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how many players there are.

ticket-to-ride-comp-gameKeep in mind that Days of Wonder, who currently makes Ticket to Ride, also sells a number of versions of the game, including a children’s version, alternate route decks, alternate maps with special rules, and so on. There are maps for Europe, Pennsylvania, India, England, and so on, plus a new children’s version that will only be sold at Target. There are also both a mobile version and a version for the PC. I have played the PC version, and own all of the available maps and alternate decks for it, and I’ve enjoyed all of them, though Europe and Pennsylvania are my favorites.  The computer AI is not very good, but thankfully, the game does include online play. At least games against the computer are a lot faster. And scores are stored on-line, should you want to compare your high scores to other players.

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I definitely recommend this game in all of the incarnations that I’ve tried so far. I have not actually seen the 10th Anniversary edition, so I can’t comment on that one. But I do give thumbs up for both the computer edition and the standard edition (with the US map). I do plan  on eventually buying Europe and Pennsylvania/England. Each map adds a few extra rules, but the core gameplay is the same. Based on my experiences in the computer game, those are the best. If you are going to only buy one, I’d recommend Europe. the mini-expansions with alternate decks of destination cards are also good (again, only based on my experiences with the computer game).

Pandemic Legacy (game 1)

Pandemic Legacy 1.pngBack in February, I wrote a review of Pandemic.  Pandemic Legacy is a game which is based on Pandemic, and, at least at first, plays almost identically to that game. But it is a ‘Legacy’-type game. The term ‘Legacy’ comes from the very first game to do something very similar, “Risk Legacy”. The idea of a Legacy game is that you play a series of games, and the game evolves as you progress. Legacy games come with sealed components, rules, instructions, etc. that you are not supposed to look at until the game instructs you to do so. When you are told to do so, changes can happen to the game in progress and potentially future games. You may be instructed to place stickers into your rulebook, to add or change rules. You can get stickers to place on your game board, and/or game cards. You may even be instructed to destroy a card in the game, or write on a card, or write on the game board, thus making permanent changes to the game. Legacy games are meant to be played in a series from start to finish, and then never played again in some cases (though I’ve heard that Risk Legacy can be played again and again in its final state). Players may be called on to make decisions that will affect future games, so it’s possible that two different groups of players playing the same legacy game may have different experiences. Note that there are two editions of the game — Red and Blue. But both are identfical, except for the color of the box. The reasoning behind having two editions is that, if you are so inclined, you could theoretically have two simultaneous Pandemic Legacy ‘seasons’ going on at the same time with two different gaming groups.

maxresdefault (2)Because the game has a lot of secrets in it, and I do not do spoiler reviews, I can’t tell you in detail about what happened in my first game, but I can tell you the basics, and how I and my fellow players felt about our experience.

Pandemic-legacy-dossiers-secretsFirst of all, part of the fun of playing Pandemic Legacy is that you share the experience. Pandemic Legacy is for 1 to 4 players, but we had 4 players in our group, including me — 3 of our regular game group, plus one person who dropped by who wanted to join us. Normally the rules recommend that all players be experienced with the standard rules of Pandemic and that they have at least a couple of games of that under their belt before they tackle Pandemic Legacy. In this case, we’d been having such a terribly hard time trying to schedule our game, and having to cancel it time and time again, that this time, we decided to go ahead with the game and simply give the new player a brief overview of the rules, and then hand-hold him through a lot of the game. And that seemed to be ok with him, so that’s what we did.

Pandemic-Legacy-Legacy-DeckI’m only going to tell you stuff that you’d know if you simply opened the game book and started playing. Pandemic Legacy comes with an extra deck of cards called the “Legacy deck”. You are not supposed to look through the deck, and you are supposed to be EXTREMELY careful in handling the deck so that the order of the cards remain as they are set up. Note that they are marked to specify an order, but because they contain secrets that you aren’t supposed to know, the rules suggest that if you accidentally drop the deck and they become scattered, that you get someone who is not playing the game to pick them up and reorder them for you. Fortunately, that never happened for us. But I’m mentioning that so you get an idea about how the game is programmed to tell you to do different things at different times.

When we start the first game, we were supposed to start drawing cards from the legacy deck, and keep drawing until the top of the card says ‘stop’. The first thing it tells us is what the goal of the game is (and at the start, it is the same as standard Pandemic, to cure all 4 diseases). But it also tells us that the as soon as we draw and handle our second Epidemic card, that we are supposed to draw again to get new instructions. And that’s what we did (what happened then, you’ll have to discover for yourself). And that’s basically how things operate in a legacy game — you keep playing according to whatever the current rules are, at least until certain conditions are met, at which time, things can change.

I’m not going to go into great detail, other than to say that the legacy deck is there to help us tell a story. When that second Epidemic hit, there was a twist in the tale, and we had to deal with it. I won’t give any specifics, but I did have to destroy a game component… and doing that was oddly liberating. I’ve heard that some people find it slightly traumatic the first time, and maybe even subsequent times in legacy games when they read that they are supposed to destroy something in their game. Not me. I knew that it was going to happen at some point. Maybe at multiple points. I knew that because I had read about the game, read about other people’s experiences (not spoiler reviews, but just articles like this one, from that person’s point of view). I will say that a couple of my fellow players did have an almost horrified look on their face as I ripped up the card.

Now there are other things about this game that I can talk about because it’s right in the rules.  There’s something new in Pandemic Legacy that isn’t in the original game, and that is that every city has a panic level. It starts out at 0. Whenever an outbreak happens in a city, the panic level increases by 1. And that’s a permanent change. There are stickers that you put on the map, and the panic level of a city after enough outbreaks can go all the way up to 5. But in the first game, odds are that if you know what you are doing, you won’t have any cities that go beyond 1. That said, eventually, I know that after a couple of more games that that will not always be the case.

Panic level 1, the city is unstable, but there isn’t any further effect. At panic level 2 or 3, the city is rioting. Destroy any research station there — it cannot be rebuilt. Also you cannot take direct flights into or out of a rioting city. At 4, the city is collapsing — you have to discard a card of the same color to enter it via land or ocean. At 5, the city has fallen. You now need to discard 2 instead of 1 card of the city’s color to enter it. If your character is in a city when it has fallen, he is lost.

There’s actually another way that a character can be lost — if your character is in a city during an outbreak, that character gains a scar, which is a sticker you have to put on your character’s card to indicate a negative effect. If you have to gain a scar and you already are at the maximum number of scars for that character, he is lost instead. A lost character is dead — you have to tear up the character card.

Note that the game starts you with 5 basic characters — if you run out of characters, you will be forced to play a civilian. A civilian is a character that has no special abilities (But he can’t gain scars either).

Every game you play, you have a specific funding level. For game 1, your funding level is 4. You know those special cards that were in the deck that allowed you to do certain things, such as Airlift — well Pandemic Legacy has cards like that also (some are the same as in the original game, some are different). Well for every level of funding that you have, you can choose to include one of those special cards in your deck. If you win a game, then your funding level for the next game is 2 less. If you lost your first game, then the funding level is 2 greater. So that will make the game slightly easier.

We happened to win our first game, but we didn’t really have time to resolve the victory (we’ll do that next week, hopefully). Besides changes in funding, there are other results that we get to deal with. The first game takes place in the first half of January, and the whole series lasts a year. Had we lost the first game, we’d have to play a second game for the second half of January. But because we won, we proceed to February. Also, because we won, supposedly, the Legacy deck may tell us that we start with a special bonus for our next game. Regardless of whether we win or lose, we get to choose two upgrades for our next game. These can include making a research station permanent, turning a city card into an event card (it then can operate as either one), giving a character an upgrade, or giving a disease a positive mutation, making it easier to cure the next time.

20160124_172907Our game, as is often the case for normal Pandemic, felt incredibly close, but the reality probably was that we had a very good start, and luck seemed to be on our side, so the odds may have been in our favor. That said, everyone was smiling when we finally did win the game. It was an incredible feeling. And everyone was excited to play the next round  next week. Part of the excitement was that now that everyone had a feel for how the legacy system worked, that we really wanted to know what surprises would be in store for next time. I guess we’ll find out.

 

Biblios

biblioslayoutBiblios is a light card-drafting game for 2 to 4 players that plays in about 30 minutes. The idea is that you and each of the other players are competing to build the best collection of books.

You start with a board and 5 dice — each die represents the victory point value of having a superior collection of books within a specific category. At the end of the game, if you have, for example, the most books in the brown category, you’ll get the number of points indicated on the brown die. And that number can go up or down, as I’ll explain later.

The game is split up into a “Gift” phase, and an “Auction” phase. In the gift phase, you start by removing certain specific cards depending on the number of players. Then you shuffle the remaining cards and remove a specific number of random cards, so no one will have advanced knowledge of what is and is not left in the deck. Then each player, in turn, will draw, one at a time, a number of cards equal to the total number of players + 1.

With each card, you’ll decide to do one of three things. You can either keep the card for yourself, put the card face up in the middle of the table, or discard it to the auction deck. You can only keep one card for yourself, and you can only place one card into the auction deck. Once you decide what you are doing with that one card, you’ll draw another and repeat the process until you’ve kept 1, given one to auction, and put a number in the middle equal to the number of other players. Then, starting to your left, each player will choose one of the face-up cards to add to his own hand.

There are gold cards representing from 1 to 3 gold — they aren’t worth points, but you’ll be able to use them during the auction phase to purchase cards from the auction deck. There are also a variety of collectable cards in 1 of 5 colors, representing the books, tomes, etc. And they will have specific values on them. And then there are church cards which allow you to manipulate the values of the different categories. They will either be +1 or -1, and they may allow you to change the values of one die or two dice.

The church cards are never added into your hand. When you get one, whether its through keeping it or taking it during the gift phase, or buying it during the auction phase, you immediately increase or decrease the values on one or two dice (as indicated) by 1. That means that you generally want to give those cards to the other players when it’s too early to guess who will be strong in any given color. The later you are in the game, though, when they are revealed, the more valuable they may be.

Once you’ve gone through the entire deck, you  shuffle the auction cards, and then in turn order, the first player turns up the first card, and players take turns bidding on the cards or passing.  If they do not want to bid. If everyone passes, and there is no highest bidder, the card is discarded, and you repeat this with the next player. Note that for gold cards, you are bidding the number of cards that you will discard to take that gold card. For every other card, you are bidding the value of the gold cards you will spend to take that card (and you cannot make change, so you may have to overpay).  Once all cards have gone to bid, you count up your total value in each category, determine who has the highest value. Total up the score, and see who is the winner. Ties in a category are broken by assigning the points to the tied player who has the card closest to the beginning of the alphabet.

This is a very clever, and quick-playing game. It’s easy to learn, easy to teach, and easy enough to get a handle on. You know you want to increase the values of categories that you  think you have the best chances of winning, you know you want to decrease the values in categories that you are sure you will lose.But there are also decisions to be made that may not be easy — do you bid on an item that you

But there are also decisions to be made that may not be easy — do you bid on a card that you don’t want to increase the amount that other players will need to pay to get them? Do you save your money waiting for that really valuable card to come out that you know you know is there? Are you satisfied that you will likely have a majority in a category, or do you continue to bid on cards in that category in order better cement or guarantee that majority? Do you keep an ‘ok’ card, or do you get rid of it to get a chance to obtain something better?

I really enjoyed playing the game, as did the person who I taught. As soon as we finished the first game, he immediately asked to play a second. There certainly is a degree of randomness to the game — at times you’ll be forced to give a really good card to your opponent, and vice versa. Some games you may end up with very little gold, or you may end up with too much gold and not enough good cards. But the whole drafting and auction mechanisms are fun. As soon as we finished our first game, my friend asked me if we could play again. And then when we finished that game, he wanted to play yet again (and that’s in spite of the fact that I shut him out in those first two games). That, in my mind, is the sign of a good filler game — even if you lose, you still had so much fun that you just want to try again.

So my verdict on Biblios is that it’s a really good game — check it out if you want something light and easy.

Cosmic Encounter

Back in 1977, I was a co-president of my high school’s science fiction club. As a club, we had raised a bunch of money which we planned to use to purchase books for our english department, which had a rather pitiful collection of books to teach.  When it became clear that the head of the department had such incredible disdain for the entire genre (in spite of reluctantly TEACHING a science fiction class because it was her turn) and that she would not approve ANY genre book, no matter how mainstream, we decided instead to use the money to attend a nearby science fiction convention.  To make things ‘legal’, by school rules, we had an official chaperone (a math teacher, who, pretty much spent the entire convention getting drunk in the hotel bar, to the chagrin of his wife, who also attended).

1977CosmicEncounterThat was the year that the board game “Cosmic Encounter” was first published, then by Eon Products.  I remember every time I went into the dealers room at the convention, there was a big Cosmic game going on.  I completely fell in love with the game, so I had to buy it.  That evening when I got back to our hotel room, I remember being excited to tell my friends about it, only to discover that 4 of my friends had the same idea.  We all had bought the game.  Not only that, but while our ‘chaperone’ was busy getting drunk at the bar, his wife was having a grand old time at the convention, had also discovered the game, and also bought it.  There was something incredibly special about this game, that included ideas that none of us had seen before.

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The game has gone through several incarnations over the years, starting with the relatively chaotic and argument-inducing version by Eon Products. Just about every version since then has tweaked the rules a bit, tried different things with the parts and pieces, changed the artwork to fit a new style, adjusted the wording of cards, added new game variants or special rules or new kinds of cards, and so on. But what all of the versions come down to is that you are a specific alien race, with planets and ships, and you will be using those ships, along with cards in your hand, and possibly allies, to conquer other people’s planets. And the person who controls the planet you are attacking may also have allies and ships and cards to defend himself with. If you ever have 5 bases on planets that are not in your home system, you win the game.

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One of the big things that makes CE special is that there are (including the expansions) 165 different aliens to choose from to include in a game, each allowing a player to break the rules in a different way. That means that, with no other frills added, no two games will ever feel the same. Furthermore, Fantasy Flight Games, the current publisher, has helpfully labeled the different aliens so that they are rated with a ‘difficulty level’. IF you have players in your game that have never played before, simply eliminate all of the other frills in the game, and limit aliens to those that are considered ‘easy’. Note that easy does not mean weak, it just means that they don’t require complicated tactics or mechanics to use well. And if you want to have a more chaotic game, there are all sorts of house rules that you can play with (we used to come up with all sorts of crazy stuff to do, some of which are NOT for the faint of heart). A very common house rule that we used,might be that you could have more than one alien power. We’ve also used special rules for distributing and choosing aliens, had ‘hidden’ powers (that is, one or more secret alien powers that only come into effect when you choose to reveal them).

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The game can involve a certain amount of diplomacy, bluffing, deceit, deal-making, dirty tricks, and outright backstabbing. You can also end up with multiple players sharing victory. Of course, most people would prefer to win alone. But, especially with more players in the game, that’s not always practical, and certainly can be a bit risky.

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In general terms, the game works as follows: You have a hand of cards in it. There are several types of cards, but the ones we are interested in for now are Encounter cards (formerly called Challenge cards). These include ‘Attacks’, which have a number on them (and that number may be 0 or even negative), Negotiate cards (formerly known as Compromise), and Morph cards (a new kind of encounter card that FFG has added to mix things up a bit). On your turn, you will rescue a dead ship from the ‘warp’ (the place where ships usually go to if you lose a challenge), draw a card from the destiny deck, which will tell you who you may attack, point the interstellar cone at a planet in the home system of the player indicated, and commit one to four ships from any of your bases to that challenge. You can then invite any other player (besides the one you are challenging) to help your side, by placing 1 to 4 of their ships into the challenge on your side. But before anyone commits, the defending player can do the same things. Players can normally only place ships with a side that has invited him. In order, allies commit to one side, of the other, or choose to not participate. After that, the offensive and defensive players play a encounter card face down. If they are both attack cards, then you add the total number of ships on your side to the value on the card, and the side with the higher total (tie going to the defender) wins the challenge. All ships that are helping on the losing side go to the warp. If the attacker wins, he and all of his allies place ships onto the planet being attacked. If the defender wins, the defender gets nothing, but his allies get to take rewards in the form of cards from the deck, or ships from the warp.

If both players play Negotiate cards, then all allies go home, and the two main players then have one minute to try to make a deal, which can involve trading cards and/or allowing the other player to get a base in your home system. If a deal is not successful, it counts as a failed challenge, and both players lose 3 ships to the warp.

If one player plays a Negotiate, and the other plays an attack, then the one who played the attack, wins the challenge. But the one who played a negotiate can take ‘compensation’ from the winner, in the form of random cards drawn from the winner’s hand equal to the number of ships lost in the challenge.

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Finally, if you play a Morph card, that means that the Morph will be equivalent to whatever card your opponent played. So if he played a negotiate, then your morph will be a negotiate. If he played an attack 10, then your morph card is also an attack 10. If two morph cards are played (only possible with certain expansions), then the cards blow up, killing everyone in the challenge.

Cosmic Encounter_sample cards

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And that’s the basics. There are all sorts of other special rules and cards that can be included, like Flares, Reinforcements, and kickers. And there are also special cards known as “Artifacts” (formerly called “Edicts” in previous versions of the game) which can be played at special times and have special effects. Furthermore, all of the above rules can be messed with in different ways. For just about every rule in the game, there’s a potential way to mess with it. The Zombie doesn’t go to the warp when his ships die. Loser can declare an upset, to reverse the results of a challenge. Laser can ‘blind’ a player, by forcing him to set cards aside at random that he cannot play (/edit — I didn’t realize it at the time I originally wrote this, but FFG changed Laser so that it no longer forces you to play a totally random challenge card, like all previous versions did). Amoeba can move ships into or out of a challenge after cards are played, but not revealed. Filch plays a challenge as normal, but can then steal the card that his opponent played and put it into his hand. Pacifist wins with a Negotiate.

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And it may seem that some of those special abilities are better than others — but some of the abilities are actually more powerful than they seem, if played properly, or they may simply be partly negated by some other persons ability. But even so, because of alliances, and especially if you have more than 3 players, the game is fairly well self-balancing. If you seem to be too powerful, other players can always try to team up against you. Of course you might counter that by allowing players to ‘ride on your coattails’. But still, barring bad luck, there are ways to counter that.

I would say that, although the game can certainly be a lot of fun with 3 players, 4 or more is best.   But keep in mind that the more players playing, the longer the game is likely to last Once upon a time, back in the  Eon days, there was a 2-player variant that I did try, but I do not recommend it.  I’m not 100% sure if FFG ever published a 2-player variant of their most recent version.  But really, with only 2 players, there won’t be any deal-making and alliances and backstabbing and so on.  So pretty much, you lose the meat of the game.

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I mentioned that no two games are the same — but you can claim that about a lot of games. What’s more interesting is that the dynamics of the game can vary so much from one game to another. There are actual surprises to be found, ways of thinking about tactics in the game that will present themselves to you as you play, simply because of different aliens in each game. For example, my favorite alien power is also one of the most unpresuming ones — “Gambler”. The way the power works is that when it’s time to reveal what card you played, instead of showing the card, you get to see what card your opponent played, but you keep yours face down and NAME the card. You can lie about the card, if you wish, so long as you play an encounter card. You can play a Negotiate, but say that you played an Attack 30. The other player then decides if he believes you If he decides not to question your statement, then your card goes to the bottom of the discard pile, unseen, and the challenge proceeds as normal. If the other player decides to accuse you of lying, only then do you reveal the actual card — if you were lying then you lose as many additional ships to the warp as you had in the challenge. If you were telling the truth, the other player has to lose that same number of ships instead. And the challenge is resolved as normal, based on the card played.

What’s interesting about that is that IF the other player actually knows that you have a certain card, you might think that you’d have a disadvantage because of that. But the way it actually works out is that you can end up playing, essentially, the same outrageously good card several times in a row (which I’ve managed to do) because that player doesn’t just suspect that you have that high card, he knows that you do, and is going to be less likely to challenge you because of that. It’s a cool mind game. So I’ve actually managed to play my attack 30 4 times (Without actually playing it), and was only challenged (finally) the 5th time (and luckily that was the time I actually DID play it). And, btw, no one in my gaming group ever underestimated that power again. That’s just one example, but there are lots of other. CE can bring out the creativity in people.

As far as the most current version of the game is concerned, Fantasy Flight Games version is a little different, but still of decent quality — the destiny ‘pile’ is now a deck of normal-sized cards. Instead of hexes with all your planets printed on them, you have disks for your home planets that you place in front of you. Ships are little plastic flying saucers that you can stack. The Warp now is a large disk with numbers around the perimeter, that you can use to keep track of how many outside bases each player has (no more ‘stealth’ victories). Instead of just having different colors shown on the cards, there are now special destiny cards — wild cards let you choose which color to challenge (still only on that player’s home system). You may be instructed to challenge the player with the fewest ships in the warp, for example. The base game also comes with a new optional addition, “Technology”, which are special effects or abilities that you can ‘research’ (obtain after a specific number of turns). Unlike the Eon game, Flares, and Reinforcements are now considered to be standard to the game (although, you can obviously remove them, especially when playing with beginners). Eon added them in a later expansion, so were always, up till now, considered optional.

Flares are cards that have the name of an alien power on them, and two different effects listed on them: ‘Wild’ and ‘Super’. If you have a flare, and also the alien power listed on the card, then the “Super” effect is what’s relevant. If you don’t have that power (even temporarily, hint hint) then the “Wild” effect is what’s relevant. They are similar to Artifacts, in that the instructions tell you exactly when or under what circumstances you can play the card. But unlike Artifacts, once you use that card, it returns to your hand. You’ll have to discard it when you have to draw a new hand (along with unused artifacts). But otherwise, it stays in front of you. Reinforcements are cards that have a number on them that can be used to shift the results of a challenge after the challenge cards are revealed, and can be played by ANYONE involved in the challenge (main player or ally), to EITHER side.

Cosmic Encounter Expansions Bundle

So far there have been 5 expansions to the Fantasy Flight Games version. Each one adds new powers, and new special rules and new cards. My old favorite, the Kicker is back. A kicker is a card that you can play face down next to your challenge card. If you play a kicker, the other player has a chance to decide if he wants to pay one also — a kicker will multiply the number of an attack card, or the amount of compensation you get from playing a Negotiate, or the penalty to the other player for not making a successful deal, should both players play Negotiates. There’s a special Rewards deck that you can add into the game — an alternate deck of cards that victorious defending allies can draw from for rewards. There are ‘Crooked’ Negotiate cards, which are simply better versions of negotiates. There are Rift cards, and Intimidate cards and Retreat cards and Space Stations, and so on. Two things from the Eon Products (and Mayfair) versions of the game that have not been included (yet, at least) are Lucre, and Moons. Lucre was, essentially, money (and there were special powers associated with Lucre as well). And Moons were alternate locations that you could land your ships on, that would have secret effects that you’d only discover if you landed on them. Moons were highly random and some were quite silly, and the use of either one or both of Moons or Lucre could make games last longer than normal, so it may be that FFG is not intending to reintroduce them into the game. Or maybe they will come up with a clever way of adding them that would make them a more positive addition to the game. I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see.

Regardless, Cosmic Encounter is a great game that I love. If I can convince even one person that this is a game that you should try, I’ll feel good about it. Let me know in the comments if you’ve played the game, and tell me about your experiences with it, or let me know if I’ve convinced you to give it a try. Also, feel free to post any questions you might have about the most current version of the game.

Splendor

Image result for splendor board game imagesImage result for splendor board game images

“Splendor” is a board game for 2 to 4 players, designed by Marc André, published by Asmodee.  The digital versions are published by Days of Wonder — versions are available for PC (on Steam), iOS, and Android.  I am going to talk about the physical and PC versions.  Unless I specify, you can assume that everything I say in this post refers to both versions.

The general ‘theme’ of Splendor is that the players each represent wealthy Renaissance-era merchants, acquiring Gems, in order to purchase mines, ships, and the backing of nobles.  In practice, though, except for the beautiful artwork on the cards, the theme is pretty thin.  If you are looking for a strongly thematic game, this may not satisfy you.

The goal of the game is to collect victory points — once any player reaches 15 points, you are in the last round — the game will continue until every player has had the same number of turns.  At that point, the player with the highest score, wins.

The game consists of 6 piles of different-colored poker chips, each representing either Diamonds, Rubies, Onyx, Emeralds, Amethysts, and Gold, 3 decks of development cards, divided by general quality, and 10 noble tiles.  On a turn, you can do one, and only one of the following:

  1. You may collect up to 3 (non-gold) gems, none of which are the same color.
  2. You may collect 2 (non-gold) gems of the same color, so long as there are at least 4 gems of that color available.
  3. You may reserve any development card on display OR the top hidden card of one of the three undealt development card decks.  If you reserve a card, you collect a gold token.  Gold tokens are just like other gems, except they are wild, and can be used in place of any other color gem.  You can have up to 3 development cards reserved.
  4. You may purchase any one development card on display or that you personally have reserved.

Note also that you can never have more than 10 tokens (including gold), so if you go over 10, you will be forced to discard the excess.

Development cards have 3 relevant stats — purchase cost, point value (which if not shown, is zero), and bonus value.  The bonus value is the displayed gem on the top-right-hand corner of the card, and this bonus is cumulative, and can never be lost.  It is used to reduce the purchase cost of all future development cards.  So while the top-tier cards may seem really out of reach as far as their purchase cost is concerned, as the game progresses, they will become more readily affordable.

And there’s just one more thing — there’s a random selection of nobles who can join your faction once your accumulated bonus matches or exceeds the required bonus printed on his tile.  No more than one noble can join your side on a given turn.  However, if two nobles qualify to join you on a turn, and the second one is still available on the following turn, you’ll get that one as well.  Since every noble is worth 3 victory points, you should definitely take them into consideration when plotting your moves.

The PC version is very faithful to the board game.  BUT it does not support on-line multiplayer.  You can play hot-seat games, or you can play against the AI.  Hopefully, on-line play will be added sometime in the future, but it’s not available now.  One thing that the PC version DOES add are challenges.  Challenges are very fast-paced, often timed puzzles where you are given a goal and a deck with a fixed order, and must achieve that goal within the specific time period or turn limit.  And I will say that I found most of them to be VERY challenging (and not only because I’m not a fast thinker).

The game itself, whether you are talking about the board or computer game, is very easy to learn, and plays relatively fast (once everyone is used to the rules).  While there is certainly luck involved in the game, you’ll find that there are a lot of meaningful choices that can make the difference between victory and defeat.  Do you buy the cheap cards that aren’t worth points, to build up your bonus, or do you collect gems towards more expensive cards that give you points up front?  Do you aim for the bonuses that are most desirable on the noble cards, or the ones that are rarest or that you need the most for future purchases?  Do you reserve a card to prevent another player from taking it, or do you risk leaving it out there, to collect even more gems, so that you can purchase it outright?

Splendor is an INCREDIBLY elegant game.  What I mean by this is that the rules are deceptively simple, but it still has as somewhat rich complexity that arises out of that simplicity.  It’s a very clever design, and the game is addictive as hell.  It lacks the depth and thematic atmosphere of many other games, and it is very light.  But I still enjoy it.

If you have friends to play with, get the board game.  If you don’t mind playing against the AI, and don’t mind about hotseat being the only multiplayer mode, or if you like the idea of the challenges, then certainly consider the PC (or mobile) versions.  I have not tried the mobile versions but I understand that they are pretty much the same as the PC version.  If you are still uncertain, check out any Youtube Video for the game in the version of your choice.  But I give it a definite thumbs-up.

Pandemic

Pandemic is a cooperative board game for 1 to 4 players.  Each player takes on the role of a different CDC team member, working together to stop 4 separate diseases from ravaging the world.  Each player on your team will have a different special ability to help defeat the diseases.  Since this is a cooperative game, everyone will either win or  lose together, and you really have to cooperate in order to beat the game.

Every turn you’ll get 4 actions, then you’ll draw 2 player cards (either city cards, special action cards, or epidemics — more on that later), and then based on the current infection rate, you’ll draw 2 or more infection cards to determine the spread of the diseases.

The spread of the diseases is represented by disease cubes — each city can have 0 to 3 cubes of a given disease in it.  If at any time, if there is already 3 disease cubes in a city, and you are forced to add another, an outbreak happens.  Instead of placing another disease cube in that city, you add one disease cube to every city connected to that city.  If one of those cities also already has 3 disease cubes in it, you’ll end up with a second outbreak… and so on.

Outbreaks are really bad, and if the total number of outbreaks that occur in the game reaches 8, the game is over and everyone loses.  Furthermore, if at any time you have to place a disease marker and there are none left of that color (there are 24 of each color in the game), again, the game is over, and everyone loses.  If at any time you have to draw 2 player cards, and there aren’t enough cards left, again, the game is over, and everyone loses.  The only way to win is to cure all 4 diseases before any of those three things happen.

I’ve left out a few details, and you can read the entire rulebook here, if you want to.

I’ve played the game several times, both solo and with friends.  I really love the game. It’s the very first cooperative board game that I ever played.  One of the things I love about it is that you can easily tweak the difficulty of the game if you want an easier or harder time of it.  I played on easy difficulty once, and after that I stuck with normal.  Normal difficulty I believe gives you a reasonable chance of victory, and even the games I lost looked like I just barely lost by one turn.  There’s a mechanic in it that is actually very common nowadays in card games, but was new to me (because of my hiatus from gaming) which I found to be very clever — every time there is an epidemic, you reshuffle all of the discarded infection cards and then place them on top of the infection deck. What that does is it really effectively simulates the intensification of the spread of the diseases, so that immediately any city that already has 3 disease markers in it is at risk of creating an outbreak.  The game starts out seeming pretty relaxed, but as it goes on, you’ll find yourself not really knowing if you’ll be able to do everything you need to do before time runs out.  It really adds to the feeling that you are fighting for incredible stakes.

Of all of the games that I’ve purchased since getting back into gaming, this is the best of them, imho.  The pieces are all high-quality, the rules are very easy to learn, the game plays quickly, and I was able to teach it to a few non-gamer adults really easily.  The only negative I found is that (and I understand that this can be a problem with a lot of cooperative games) is that you can wind up with one player who knows the game better than everyone else, telling everyone what to do.  When I played, I consciously tried to make it a discussion so I wasn’t making all of the decisions, and that worked ok… sort of.  One of the other players really didn’t seem to get into it as much.  But, otherwise, I considered it a success.

Upper Deck Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game

One of my biggest hobbies of the past, and one that I really would like to revive, is board gaming.  I remember enjoying board games from a very young age.  My dad enjoyed chess, so he taught me how to play, and I was a decent player for my age.  I also have fond memories of playing board games with my family (Monopoly stands out, for example), and later have friends who either shared my interest, or who I managed to hook.  I used to game at both science fiction and board game conventions, and later on after college, I joined a large board game club.  I actually used to write reviews and articles for them.

Things kind of died down on the gaming front for me after I relocated to Jacksonville, Fl (for work), and later, to Columbus, OH.  And I’d still find the occasional game here and there.  But none of the friends I’d made really were avid gamers (we did play penny-ante poker on occasion, but that’s different).

Things are starting to change a bit now, so I’m slowly getting to play games again.  One of the first games that I purchased when I started getting back into gaming was Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game, along with a few of the expansions for it.  Each game is different in that you randomly choose a Mastermind (aka arch-villain), say, Magneto, or Kingpin, an evil plot that that Mastermind is trying to accomplish, and a group of heroes that you can use to defeat that plot (egs. Iron Man, and/or Spiderman).  Each turn, you will use the cards in your hand to recruit heroes, or attack villains, henchmen and when you are strong enough, the Mastermind.  Villains and henchmen appear on the board and are displaced to the right as new villains and henchmen appear.  If you do not defeat them quickly enough, they can escape off the map, with various consequences, and if enough of them escape, you’ll likely lose the game.

Nearly every hero card that you recruit will have unique abilities — for example, you may get bonuses to recruit or damage bonuses, or you may be able to draw extra cards, destroy cards,  or heal wounds (which are useless cards that can be added to your deck — each wound you draw is one less actually useful card that you’ll have in your hand).   Villains also can have special abilities that will take effect as an ambush (when they first appear on the map) or as fight effects (they take place when you attack them).    Combat is non-random — you simply have to equal or exceed the strength of a henchman, villain, or Mastermind.  And Masterminds must be defeated several times to win the game.  And that’s the basics.

Well I’ve played the game a few times now — a couple of times I tried it solo to learn the game, and I’ve played it with my nephew.  First the positive:  The game is fun.  It certainly has the flavor and theme right of a superhero game.   Between all of the expansions, you have most of the more important superheroes and the most important villains of the Marvel universe.  The difficulty of the game varies from very hard to fairly easy, depending on the initial set-up.  There’s even a few apps on the Android store (probably in the Apple store as well) that can help generate random setups, based on whatever expansions you have, and various preferences (I prefer Legendary Randomizer of the two I’ve tried).  Also, the game is not terribly difficult to learn or to teach, but there can be some confusing things because of all of the different combinations that can come up — I was able to teach my middle-school-aged nephew how to play fairly quickly.  We did make a couple of mistakes in the rules (at least I’m convinced that we did something wrong).  But we both really enjoyed the game, so I’m not beating myself up about that.

The biggest negative to the game is that it takes a lot of time to set up and to put away, because there are so many different cards available in the game, and you have to find the particular ones that you want to play with.  At one point, I was getting frustrated setting up the game for me and my nephew, so I simply substituted the first cards that I had found for ones that I was still looking through my collection for.  That may seem like a minor negative, but it is one that can prevent you from bringing the game into certain situations.  And the game is big, meaning that it is less portable than other games, and requires a decent play area (not usually a problem, but we were playing on a table that made things cramped).  And one minor thing…  if you like The Fantastic Four, you are out of luck, because that expansion is out of print, and if you do find it for sale now, odds are the price for it will be totally outrageous.

Anyway, I do give the game a thumbs-up.   It’s the first deck-building game I’ve played, and I do think that the mechanic is very clever.  You start with a very weak deck, and as time goes on, you buy stronger cards, and get rid of your weaker cards until (hopefully) you are either strong enough to win… or not.