Posts filed under ‘Board Game Reviews’

The Curious Case of the Tomb Board Game

About a year or so ago, AEG released a game called Tomb. It did not get a lot of fanfare at the time. As a matter of fact, we only sold a few copies of it, so we did not even stock it. This year, at GenCon, we met with some of the AEG folks and learned of an expansion for this game, called Cryptmaster. I even spent a little bit of time playing it. It seems promising – and we will get to that in a minute.

So, the premise of Tomb is fairly straightforward. Each player seeds the different tombs with Tomb cards, so it is mildly random – but some of the players have an inkling of what they can expect. Over a few turns, they recruit a raiding party, and they venture into the tomb for a hack-n-slash. This is supposed to be a get-in-get-out dungeon crawl where your raiding party is essentially monster fodder. The box says you should be able to play up to six people and it says the game length is about one to two hours.

The premise is great and our gaming group was revved up and ready to go. They like this kind of stuff, so it was a good bet to open the evening with this. Well, that was not the case.

This game was “broken” when we played with a full set of players. There were six people playing plus myself. We all wanted to really like this game and we wanted to believe that it was slow and plodding because we were learning the game. The game lasted for FOUR HOURS and it became a grind to get through.

Each player had a full raiding party of 5 characters, so there were tons of decisions on what to do, and each player’s turn lasted as long as 10-15 minutes each, so, that is an hour per round. There was very little of the players going back and “banking” treasure, recruiting more characters, drawing more cards, etc.

What started out as a fun adventure went on to be a boring monster kill session. People got up, got food, chatted with other friends, and Gary even mentioned that he had considered getting a shower. One of the players actually had to leave and go pick someone up and was gone for an hour or so. They came back and missed one turn. The essence of this game was lost somewhere in the process. Quick and dirty is how it is promoted!

So, this gets us back to GenCon and our meeting with AEG.

It seems that they are releasing an “expansion” for this game called Tomb: Cryptmaster. Now, I was hooked at the idea of this game from the demo – before I played Tomb.

I believe in the premise of the game, so I am still positive about Cryptmaster and its ability to fix the holes in the core game. Let me share with you what AEG told us (and I paraphrase):

“There were some issues with the original Tomb rules, so we adjusted them for this expansion. As a matter of fact, we would prefer that people buy the expansion as the core game and use the base game to expand your ability/weapons cards, quantity of characters, and a second stack of Tomb cards (about 40 go out per game and there are 200 in the box, so that’s a lot of cards). “

So, essentially the new Tomb expansion is the patch to Tomb. Which, if it plays well is great. Sadly, they should not have released a game that needed a patch.

Something else that is cool is that the new board has four entrances to the crypt. This is good, because it took people a turn or two to get to the back of the crypt. Now, they can zip out to the Inn and re-enter at the back of the crypt.

I am not going to spend a lot of words here spelling out all the changes to the rules that have been incorporated into this new “expansion”.

What I will say is that Best Dang Games was going to offer Tomb, because it seemed like a cool game. But after our experience with it, we are choosing not to carry this game (ALONE). We may try to play it one more time or two, to see if first impressions are accurate. Once Cryptmaster comes out, we will shoot to get a demo copy of that game with high hopes once again. If Cryptmaster passes the “fun” test, we will sell it as a single option and we will offer Tomb and Cryptmaster as a bundle together, since that is how it seems you should play it.

The rules for Cryptmaster are available for download.

If you own Tomb and had a similar experience, you may want to consider downloading these rules and using them, rather than the rules that came in the original box of Tomb. Here are the rules for Cryptmaster. If you have played this game, please leave comments to let us know if we are off base on this. If you went to GenCon and demoed Cryptmaster, let us know what you thought. We really want to like this game.

September 2, 2009 at 2:03 am 2 comments

Pillars of the Earth – An Introduction

Builders and Cathedrals – Carcassonne This Is Not

Author – Tristan Angeles

It is the middle of the 12th century, and England is in anarchy, brigands prowl the countryside waiting for undefended travelers to victimize, while in the towns and villages, greedy lords rule over their subjects for their own gain. It is also a time of religion. Europe is in great upheaval as another crusade is sent to the holy lands to retake it in the name of God, while monuments are built for his glory. This is the setting for Mayfair games’ Pillars of the Earth board game, based on the book of the same title by acclaimed author Ken Follett.

Although the story is set in a bloody period of history, the Pillars of the Earth board game downplays the battles, and instead opted for another form of conflict. The game puts the players in the role of master builders looking for favor by contributing to the construction of Kingsbridge Cathedral. The players do this several ways, but it all comes down to efficient management of resources.

Is it a game or Is it Art?

Upon opening the box, you can say both of Pillars of the Earth. Inside is a beautiful board that can probably be mistaken for a painting ( and hey if you get tired of the game why not frame it!), by Michael Menzel. There are also a lot wooden blocks, which is the trademark of German games, for you to use as resources and player pieces. The game also includes cards for craftsmen, resources, events, and privileges etc. The included rulebook is well written, you can understand it easily, and beginners can get into the game by following the rulebook from cover to cover. Lastly, the game includes a six piece wooden cathedral you use as a turn marker.

The Politics of Scarcity

Pillars of the Earth is an easy game you can play upon set up while following the rulebook.  At the beginning, play time will most likely last two hours, but this will be cut short once you and the other players learn the game. Also due to the theme of the game, the game is suitable as a gateway game for friends, and family members who are new to gaming.

Players win the game through efficient resource management and strategically placeing builders through the course of the game. Planning moves is extremely important since a mistake in one turn may set back a player and haunt him for the following turns.

Phases of Play

A turn in Pillars of the Earth basically follows three phases.

In the first phase, players take turns choosing resource cards set up near the board. There are only a few resources, and they are: wood (brown), stone (gray), sand (cream), and metal. Only the first three resources are available in this phase of the turn. You can acquire metal, which is important in the last few turns, later on through builder placement. Aside from the resource cards, there are two random craftsmen cards available for the players choosing. To get a resource, you must allocate a number of workers equal to the number indicated on the card in the forest, quarry, and gravel pit parts of the board. In this part of the game, especially during the first turn, the players must have an idea of what resources and craftsmen they will be using.

The second phase of the turn gives the players the chance to place builders on the board to get several advantages. This is a bit complicated since the turn order is determined by drawing the player’s builders from a bag, which adds a bit of randomness to the game. When a player’s builder is drawn, he may either play it, in which case he/she will pay a cost, or pass and put down the builder on the board and wait for its turn to come up.

In the last phase of the turn, the player’s builders and workers are resolved in order of the numbers in the board. Depending on where the player has placed his builder, he may get several advantages. Placing a builder on the king’s court for example, will exempt him from taxes, and if he is the first player there will also reward him with one metal. On the other hand, placing a builder in Shiring gives the player whichever craftsman card is on the space. At the end of the turn, players have the option of converting the resources they have gathered to points by using their craftsmen.

Rinse and Repeat!

Place a piece of the cathedral on the board after the last phase of the turn. This signifies the end of the turn and the beginning of a new one. Shuffle and randomly place the resource cards on the board and the builders are placed inside the bag. At the end of the sixth turn, the player with the most points wins the game.

Conclusion

Pillars of the Earth is a great game for two to four players, although there has been reviews that say it plays well with two, and some with four. We think the game plays best with three. With four persons, there are not enough spaces on the board and is a little bit crowded, while for two persons there is not enough conflict. Get this game if you want a light strategy, with a little bit of randomness, and short game play.

Check out Pillars of the Earth

July 12, 2009 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

Axis and Allies Board Games – The Comparison/Review

Author: Andrew Tullsen

I’m going to try to lay out some of the differences and similarities between the different games in the Axis and Allies series. I’m going to assume you know something about the general Axis and Allies system.

Original Milton Bradley Edition

Let’s start with the original Milton Bradley Edition

The game that started it all. This game comes in a rather large box, and is a little outdated. I don’t suggest getting this one. There is a reason why these sell for only $10 on ebay. The box is so big the top dishes easily. The pieces are stored in Styrofoam containers, and a very blocky mold – not a lot of detail. The game has some key flaws, 2 of the main ones being the tech that gives you triple dice for your bombers, and Russia had about a 50-50 chance of defeating Germany if the Russians attacked right away from on turn 1. The game also doesn’t include artillery or destroyers.

Plays from 2-5. OK, let’s move on to the next one.

Revised World Edition (Avalon Hill)

This is the first one I got, so I have a little bit of bias towards it. I love it. I’ve played it so many times that I’ve memorized the entire setup for it. This is being compared to the (Milton Bradley (MB) edition.)

  • The minis in this game are much more detailed.
  • The sea zones are numbered for easier setup and PBEM (Play By EMail).
  • There are a lot more ocean and land spaces, allowing for greater flexibility.
  • It has destroyers and artillery.
  • Starting Setup has changed quite a bit.
  • Submarines can submerge.
  • Tanks got a better defense, Battleships are now double health, Fighters are lowered in cost.

This is the best game of the series. It is the “main” Axis and Allies and gives you the grand strategic battle.

Every first round will be different, as players try out new strategies. Part of the fun is finding out what would happen if you tried this plan or that one. It lets you change history, at least for a few hours.

Included in the back are 6 national advantages for each nation. You can roll or choose them. Some are duds, some are ok, some are really great. These are optional, but we almost always use them when we play.

I think this game plays great with 2 or 5 and well with 3-4.

2 players allow you to manage one whole side, and 5 players lets each player take 1 nation. 3-4 players just require doubling up on some of the nations.

Plays 2-5

Axis and Allies : Europe

As might be expected, this game sets the scene in Europe. The map includes the East US, parts of Africa, and a good bit of Russia. Germany is the only Axis Power, and boy, do they look powerful. Tiger Tanks are all over, the infantry are just piled up in groups waiting to attack,  and their subs dominate the Atlantic. There are Convoy Boxes next to some sea zones. These represent shipments coming in to the allies. The allies will get the value from the convoys if they still own them. But if Germany was the last one to enter those spaces, then that allied cash flow is stopped, but Germany doesn’t get the money from it. The Allies can take these back by moving a ship through them, and perhaps fighting any units there.

  • It includes 2 new units – destroyers and artillery. Destroyers are a good buy for half the price of battleships. Artillery fit in between the infantry and the tank. It attacks/defends on a 2, and allows 1 infantry to also attack on a 2.
  • There is no weapons development process or building new Industrial complexes.
  • Fighters can escort bombers on strategic bombing raids, and enemy fighters can “dogfight” with them.
  • Russia can take control of allied units left in its land and control them.
  • There is a small struggle for the Mediterranean, and the Middle East.
  • The Atlantic is dominated by German subs, until the power of America comes into play. Then it’s just a losing battle for the Germans on that side. But the main battle occurs on the border between Russia and Germany.

There are lots of big battles on that front. You have to win quickly as the Germans in this game, or else you lose.

Plays 2-4

Axis and Allies: Pacific

This version concentrates on the Pacific side of struggle. The map zooms in on that corner, and it includes a lot of islands, and parts of India and China. Pacific takes place right before Pearl Harbor. And as a nice twist, on the first turn, all Allied forces defend on 1’s. That includes Battleships and Fighters. Everything except China (which only has infantry, so it doesn’t make that much of a difference) is unprepared for the Japanese assaults. So Japan tries to cause as much havoc on its first turn as it can. Japan has a ton of troops, so its first turn takes a long time. So many different things you can do. Transport here, attack there, bomb this, sink that…

Japan is trying to get Victory points to win. They are trying to get 22 VPs before the Allies take Japan. Each 10 IPCs they get at the end of their turn is 1 VP. They can also win by taking and holding a capital city (India, New South Wales or the US). The United States are a formidable opponent. With its 75 IPCs per turn, it can field a large fleet quickly.

Similar to Europe, Pacific also incorporates Convoy Routes, and Dogfighting while strategic bombing. US Marines are worth 4, and attack on a 2 when they participate in an amphibious assault. China produces a few units per turn. UK has 2 bases – one in India, and another in Australia. They will try to hold off the might of Japan until the US can intervene. The game also includes things like kamikazes, island bases (let aircraft fly farther) and sea ports (let sea units move farther).

The game retains the main feel of Axis and Allies, but adds a whole new dimension to it. This is a must buy for A+A fans.

Plays 2-3

Check out Axis & Allies: Pacific here.

Axis and Allies: D-Day

D-Day incorporates cards into the game.

D-Day concentrates on 1 day and 1 small section of coast in World War II. The great D-Day landings. This game includes a lot of interesting features.

  • Germany gets blockhouses which fire on the landing zones.
  • There is no buying of troops – your troops come in a set order.
  • Only the Allies get an Air Force. Bombers pick a zone, and roll a single time for hits. Fighters patrol a zone, and then for each unit that leaves or enters, they get to attack it.
  • There are stacking limits per zone, and each battle in a zone goes through only 1 round of combat.
  • There is a set of Order Cards which determine the order of play, and what happens when. These work quite nicely. You just flip the card, and then it tells you what to do next. Basically it is just showing you the phases. After a few games, or a few rounds, you probably won’t need them anymore.

Advanced players can include Fortune and Tactics cards. With fortune cards you roll a die, and then if it’s a 1 or a 6, something good or bad happens (depending on your viewpoint). This roll happens before every order card. Tactics cards come after each order card, and the player mentioned on the card gets to decide when to use it. They can use it when it comes up, or decide to wait.

The Allies’ goal is to control 2 out of 3 of the Cities on the map. The Germans are trying to prevent this from happening. At the end of the game, usually there won’t be a lot of units on the map. Everyone has been wiped out. Because of the static setup, and the set reinforcements, this game holds a lot less replay ability than any of the other Axis and Allies series. D-Day changes almost everything about the main game, retaining only the figures and the stats for the land units. As the Allies, you are struggling getting off the beaches, and the Axis are trying to stem the flood, as the dodge bombs and strafing attacks. This is a fun game, but it doesn’t follow the original rules much at all.

Plays 2-3

Check Out Axis & Allies: D-Day here

Axis and Allies: Battle of the Bulge

And they incorporate hexes! That’s right, but it’s not your usual hex and counter war game. It’s a simple war game, dressed up as Axis and Allies.

Bulge is a mix of D-Day and a war game. Battle of the Bulge has no unit building, only set reinforcements. It has hexes, zone of control, supply tokens, roads and cities.

Each turn you activate supply tokens to activate the hexes and then you can move. Trucks are included which can move your units as far as you want on the roads. They help bring in your reinforcements faster.

The Zone of Control rules used in this game are simply if you move into a hex adjacent to an enemy unit, then you must stop. You never enter an enemy hex either. Like all standard war games, you move adjacent to them, and battle.

The game includes “front-line” markers which show you how far the bulge has progressed. You use these instead of control tokens, to determine how many cities the Axis has taken. It’s nice to watch the bulge grow, or shrink, depending on who you are.

The game doesn’t include the standard 6-sided dice. Now you get 12 12-sided dice. Each unit has an attack value, which indicates how many dice you roll for it. Rolls of 6 less counts as a hit. You pull out the unit strips (kept under the board) to the number of boxes which show the amount of the defending troops. Your hits are placed on the strips in order, counting down. If there is a “1”, put it in the first box, any “2s” go in the 2nd box, and continuing on, you distribute all the dice. If there are more than 6 defending units, you simply re roll your hits, and then place them in the boxes, wrapping around if need be. For every 1 die in a unit box, 1 unit of that type retreats. For every 2 dice in that unit box, 1 unit of that type is destroyed. Note that the defender doesn’t retaliate back. At least not yet. The initiative switches from player to player during the ground combat phase. Each player pays a supply token to attack 1 hex. They resolve it, and then other player can attack 1 hex. This continues until all units that you wanted to attack with have done so.

Battle of the Bulge is a very different system. It is now a simple war game, with Axis and Allies pieces, and some of the basic rules. But it is a completely new game. As the setup and reinforcements never change from game to game, it can feel a little “scripted”, more so than the standard Axis and Allies. Another fun game, and different enough to warrant another purchase.

Plays 2-2

Check out Axis & Allies: Battle of the Bulge here.

Axis and Allies: Guadalcanal

Each of the 3 “closeup” battles (D-Day, Bulge, Guadalcanal) change the game, give it a new twist and surprise us with its ingenuity. Guadalcanal doesn’t disappoint.

Players move simultaneously – Each unit type at time, player 1, then player 2. The 1st player switches every round. The 2nd player can choose to move out and not combat if they want, so they have a bit of power. But they must react to what the 1st player does as well.

Combat is divided into Air, Sea and Land Attack Phases. Each unit can participate in different phases. For instance, Air Units participate in all 3 phases, Artillery in the Sea and Land phases, Infantry in just the Land phase. Each unit has a different attack value or number of dice rolled for that combat phase.

For instance, Bombers have:

  1. Air Attack: 1
  2. Sea Attack: 2
  3. Land Attack: 2

There is a “battle box” where you put all the attacking dice in and roll. Each die is randomly assigned a “target”. If it is a 1 or a 2, then that unit is destroyed. In the final round you get to buy units. Each unit has a different cost, the costs being from about 1/4 to 1/2 the cost of them in the original game. Each island you own gives you 5 reinforcement points which are used to get more units. So there isn’t that static reinforcement chart from D-Day or Bulge.

The game includes Cruisers and Airfields as well. Airfields are built using supply tokens which have to be transported to the island, and are worth 1 VP each turn they are held. And that leads to the end game.

The first person to have 15 Victory Points wins. You can also get a VP for destroying a capital ship (Aircraft carrier or Battleship) of your opponents.

Plays 2-2

Check out Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal here.

Collectors 50th Anniversary Edition

This is the world edition, but it is for the real fans only. I haven’t played it yet, so I’m just going to list some new additions the game has.

  • A new turn order
  • Includes Italy, a new nation and China as a ‘minor’ power
  • Two different setup scenario options (2 different years)
  • More victory cities
  • National Objectives
  • Bigger, Redrawn map with more territories, (3-piece board)
  • Different Strategic Bombing routine
  • New Cruiser Unit, along with new costs for some sea units
  • More technologies

Plays 2-6 players

Best Dang Games Comment:

At the time of this blog post (4/30/2009), the Axis & Allies series is undergoing a reprint under a new name – Axis & Allies 1942. We are expecting this game to be available summer 2009 – but that is merely an estimate. Because of this, many of the different games in this series are going out of print. Please contact us directly if you are interested in one of these games so we can check current availability for you.

Also, regarding the Anniversary Edition, this game is out of print. There is a rumor that it will be an annual release – around the holiday season. Last year, there were two printings of it. During the holiday season, this game was our runnaway best selling game.

Which game of the system do you like the best? Join the conversation and let us know which ones and why.

May 1, 2009 at 2:23 am 1 comment

Jamaica Board Game – Review with Strategy Suggestions

Author: Todd Cutrona

Jamaica is a board game for 2-6 players in which each player takes on the role of a pirate as you race around the island of Jamaica.  Aye said Pirates, you scurvy dog!

This game is just plain fun.  Does it have elements of luck?  Absolutely!  Is it a family game?  Yes, but this is not Monopoly…this is FUN!

LOOK OF THE GAME

There are fantastic graphics throughout the game.  The board and cards are great to look at and the player ships are very sturdy.  This is the type of game that attracts onlookers.  The rulebook is designed to look like a treasure map…theme is just dripping from the game.

GAMEPLAY

In the game each player controls a pirate ship and attempts to race around the board, find treasure, win battles and in the end, win the game.

HOW DO YOU WIN?

The game ends when one player reaches the finish line. Points are earned based on where you finish on the board, plus treasure cards and gold coins (1 point per).  Add it all up and determine the winner!

PLAYER CARDS

Each player has their own stack of player cards.  On each card are two symbols representing the actions that can be taken with that card (see picture below). At any given time each player has three cards in their hands. Action choices are to move forward, backward, get food, take gunpowder, or take gold coins (points).

ROLLING THE DICE

The starting player roles two dice and then places them on the board in their desired order. Then each player in chooses a card to play that round, all cards are revealed simultaneously.  Actions are based on the dice results.  In the above picture if I chose to play the top card and a 6 & 3 were rolled, then I would move my ship forward 6 places and I would take 3 food into my hull.

CANNONBALLS FLY!

If you land on a space with another ship then you must battle!  There is a special battle die that shows consecutive even numbers on 5 of its sides (2-10) and a star on the 6th side.  Before the die is rolled the attacker decides if he/she will add and gunpowder tokens to the result (+1 per token) and then rolls the die.  A roll of a star is an automatic victory.  The defender then adds their gunpowder and rolls.  High score wins and the victor gets to take the items held in their opponents hold or take/give a treasure card.  The treasure cards are acquired at various points on the board and can give bonus points, special powers or curse the player (negative points).

EACH SHIP HAS HULLS TO HOLD STUFF

Each ship has 5 hulls to carry items and once you place items into a hull you cannot add to it or relocate it.  Don’t worry the board forces you to spend this loot almost as quickly as you acquire it.   Spaces on the board require a payment of either food or gold when you move your ship on the space.  If you can’t pay the fee then you are forced to move backwards until you find a space that you can afford.

STRATEGY SUGGESTIONS

1. Get treasure cards, they are extremely important.

2. Use the movement cost to your advantage.  Move past what you want and if you don’t have enough food/gold, move backwards to land on the space you really wanted (like a treasure card spot).  So, don’t horde too much food.

3. Save your double move forward card till the end of the game and zoom ahead of everyone.

4. You don’t have to win the race to win the game.  Collect gold and treasure cards.

5. Remember that the game has a bluffing element.  I played one game where I got a high bonus treasure card early, but I acted in such a way that everyone thought it was cursed.  So, even though I lost battles, no one stole my treasure card.

WHO WILL LIKE THE GAME?

With its simple rules and fun pirate theme it should appeal to most families.  Personally I like playing it with 4 or more people as it feels more interesting (more battles).  The game does have some luck, but the card selection allows for moderate control. Great artwork, simple rules, pirates and playable in less than an hour…buy the game you land-lover!

Buy your own copy of Jamaica. There is also a link to a video about the game here.

Here is another of our blog posts about Jamaica.

April 24, 2009 at 2:45 am 1 comment

Zombies!!! Board/Card Game – Fun With a 10-Year Old

Author:  Jeff Wells

Zombies!!! is a simple game where players are people trapped in a town full of zombies. First to make it to the heliport or kill 25 zombies wins. Being a fan of George Romero‘s movies, I couldn’t resist buying this sight unseen. The game comes in a fairly small box compared to some games, and includes pawns (shotgun dudes), a couple dice, a deck of cards, map tiles, heart and bullet tokens and 100 little zombie figures.

The game rules on fairly simple. On your turn you draw a card, draw and lay down a map tile, place zombies, move, fight zombies as necessary, and then pick up any bonus tokens and play cards. The artwork on the cards is very B-movie type gore. Cards are used to give yourself bonuses or hamper other players.

After opening the box and looking at the components, I began to wonder who would play this with me. We try to have a family game night at least once a week, but somehow zombies, gory artwork and racking up kills don’t always go in the same sentence as “family fun”. That is, until my daughter saw the box.

Like most kids, my daughter likes little stuff. She asked if she could play with some of the zombie figures. Suddenly, a zombie “soap opera” was happening on the game table, with the zombies and their ‘queen’ on one side and the pawns (all of which had names) on the other. I watched her play a bit, and then asked if she’d like to learn to play the game. To make a long story short, we both enjoy playing this one. As it says on the box, it’s a “no-brainer”. Roll dice and move, roll dice and fight, next turn.

Zombies!!! might not be what most would consider a “family game”, buy my kid and I enjoy playing it. The rules are simple, and playtime is relatively short. There’s enough luck involved that everyone has a chance. My daughter ends up winning most of the time. And, of course, every turn becomes part of a soap opera, complete with dialog like, “so…you defeated my last zombie, but you won’t take me….hahahhaha.” (all said in an evil voice)

There are, however, a couple things to keep in mind when playing with kids. The artwork on some of the cards may be disturbing to some. When we play, we don’t worry too much about the cards. If she doesn’t like it, I let her discard and draw again. You wouldn’t necessarily have to play with cards if you didn’t want. Also, on the map tiles with buildings, it’s hard on some to see where the doorway is. So, I’m not too particular where her pawn enters the building.

The other suggestion I’d like to make for anyone interested in the game is to buy an extra bag of zombies. If you’ve got a few playing, keeping the zombies to score kills, you may run short when it comes time to place a zombie or two on a new map tile. It helps to have extra, and another hundred zombies fits easily into the box.

Zombies!!! is not a game requiring a lot of serious thought or strategy. It may not appeal to some due to the campy B-movie theme. But if you’re just looking to have a little fun, or need a quick zombie fix, this is well worth the cost. And for me, it means an opportunity to have fun and laugh with my kid. And there’s no way you could put a price on that.

Get your copy of Zombies!!! – There is a product video here also.

April 24, 2009 at 2:32 am Leave a comment

Agricola – How Can Farming in the Seventeenth Century Be So Much Fun?

Introduction

Agricola, designed by Uwe Rosenberg, has taken the board-gaming world by storm.  In 2008 it won, among other prizes, the International Gamers Award and the German Spiel des Jahres in the category of complex games.  So why is this game about farming in the seventeenth century so popular?  Let’s have a closer look.

Components and Theme

Despite the small size of the box, Agricola comes with a lot of components.  For one thing, you get around 400 cards, nearly all of them different from each other, and each of them nicely illustrated.  You’ll find that the English translation of the text has a few minor errors in it, but these are fairly insignificant.  Each player gets her own board (much like in Puerto Rico), which depicts fifteen farmyard spaces.  There are further boards (many double-sided) on which the main action of the game takes place.

In addition, every player gets five people tokens and a set of wooden fences and stables.   But that’s not all.  There are wooden markers to indicate produce (grain and vegetables), animals (cattle, boars, sheep), and resources (wood, reed, clay, stone); and there are square cardboard markers to indicate rooms (made of wood, clay, or stone) and fields.  The production of this game is high class, and certainly justifies the price of the game.  It really gives you the sense that you are building your own farm, collecting resources, hiring labourers and craftsmen (the occupation cards), putting up fences, adding rooms, and so on.  There is a sense of progression and development here, a sense that you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.

However, the real appeal of the theme is not simply farming, but also the sense that you’re building both a family and a business.  You start out with two family members (a husband and a wife), and over the course of 14 rounds you can grow your farm as well as your family (you can have up to three children).  You start off with 2 wooden rooms, but at the end you might have a nice 5-room stone mansion.  The game gives you a sense that you’re achieving something.  And we’re not talking about a momentous achievement (like conquering the world or building a huge business empire); instead, Agricola gives the satisfaction of raising a family on a kind of hobby farm.  Who doesn’t like that?

Moreover, there’s a certain realism to the game – every number of rounds there is a harvest, and your family needs to survive or go begging (the latter option nets you negative points).  Likewise, actions have to proceed in logical steps.  You can’t bake bread in large quantities until you have an oven (a major improvement), and to build an oven you need clay and stone.  You further need grain, and if you want to get grain in larger quantities you’ll need to plough a field and sow the grain you have.

Complexity

Agricola is one a very select few games that have two separate rule-sets, one for the so-called “family game” and a more advanced version that adds greater complexity.  The main difference between the two versions is that the full game adds the occupation and minor improvement cards.  At the beginning of the game each player gets 7 of each, and can use the actions spaces on the main board to play them from his hand, and add them to his farm.  A minor improvement might be a plough or a bean field, and an occupation might be a baker or a scholar.  These cards thus make your farm more efficient and will generally raise your score.

However, the family game is quite good in its own right, and provides a nice way for new players to learn the game and for those not into deep strategic gaming to participate in the fun.  The success of Agricola can thus be explained in part as the result of its wide audience appeal.  It scales well from 2-5 players (with additional action spaces added for more players), and the addition of the minor improvements and occupation cards makes for a very intense gaming experience.  Expect to be totally immersed in this one!

What makes Agricola easier to play, on the other hand, is that the decisions at the beginning of the game are much easier than later on.  Whereas at the outset you might have a choice between around a dozen actions (depending on the number of players), at the end that number has more than doubled. In fact, every round a new action card is revealed that one of your family members can use. In round one (comprising the first four rounds), for instance, we get a “take sheep” action, a “build fences” action, a “sow and/or bake bread” action, and a “minor of major improvement” action. This is what makes Agricola easier to learn than another top ranked strategy game like Puerto.  There is no need to know what all the cards and actions do right away – even though this may give some advantage later on.  Instead it’s easy to delve right in and learn as you go.

Final Assessment

I have played Agricola more than thirty times now, with all numbers of players (1-5) and with both the family game and with the additional decks of cards (I, E, and K). I expect to be playing Agricola for many years to come.  Of the many Euro-games I’ve played this is by far my favourite.

Of course the game has some weaknesses, but at least some of them are easily fixable.  Many critics will argue, for instance, that whoever gets dealt the best cards (minor improvements and occupations) will win automatically.  For one thing this is a gross overstatement.  Occasionally you might get a really great opening hand – in one five-player game I scored 79 points! – but generally everyone has a good shot at winning.  Nevertheless, the rule-book suggests a good fix for this minor problem.   Before the game begins, you should draft for your opening hand.  This adds a bit of a CCG feel to it.  I’m a big fan of drafting in Magic: the Gathering, so for me this is a perfect fit.

Others complain that there is not enough interaction between players in Agricola.  This is only true in the sense that you can’t go and rob your neighbour’s farm.  However, you do have the chance to block other players from using action spaces, and if you play this game only with an eye to your own farm you will not win very often.   On the other hand, it also doesn’t help to block just to spite others, because no one can really afford to waste any actions.

Agricola, then, offers truly immersive game play for a wide range of audiences.  This is my game of choice if I have a couple of free hours.  There is nothing quite like it.

Get your own copy of Agricola

April 20, 2009 at 2:38 am Leave a comment

Twilight Imperium Board Game – A Newbie’s Guide To Ruling The Galaxy

Author – Jeff Woods

Twilight Imperium (3rd Edition) is a board game of galactic conquest and strategy for 3-6 players. With the expansion, up to 8 can play, and rules variants are available for 2 players. It’s published by Fantasy Flight Games.

I have not owned Twilight Imperium very long, and have not played that many games yet. But, it is a game I truly enjoy, and you may as well. It’s not my intention here to go into a lot of detail about every part and every rule. I thought I would write down my thoughts, and why I already love the game, to help you decide if it’s the game for you.

What is Twilight Imperium (TI) all about, you may ask? TI is a massive strategy board game that takes place mostly in outer space. The ‘game board’ is actually a map of the galaxy made of hexes, and is different every time. Players play one of several galactic races trying to take over leadership of the galaxy. You do this through conquest, politics and even economics.

Twilight Imperium Is HUGE!

TI is a huge game, and not just in scope. If you’re considering getting it, make sure you have plenty of table space for the map, all the different cards, and areas for each player to keep track of his stuff. My 4-by-5 foot table is barely big enough for a 4-player game. This is not a light, “hey, let’s play something,” game, but an event that you need to plan for and set aside plenty of time. All the games I’ve played have taken at least four hours. If you’re playing with any optional rules (yes, there are plenty, and lots of markers/chits for those, too) plan for longer.

When you first open the box, be prepared to be overwhelmed. The amount of pieces and parts is staggering. You get map hexes, cards, plastic ships, markers for this and that, and a nicely put-together rulebook. But don’t worry about what to do first; the rulebook itself tells you what piece is what and how to organize things. The production quality of the parts is wonderful. The map hexes and various markers are made from high quality material, and are sure to last a lot of games. One note of warning here, though: the box itself has no dividers. Invest in some baggies, tackle boxes or a combination of both to keep everything organized.

Basic Play

Twilight Imperium is played in rounds, each broken into three phases:

  • The Strategy Phase
  • The Action Phase
  • The Status Phase

The Strategy Phase

During the Strategy Phase, players pick a strategy card that gives them some type of bonus for that round. You may be able to get a free technology upgrade, or resolve a political situation and change the rules of the game, among others.

The Action Phase

During the Action Phase, you move you ships, engage in combat, and play to the bonuses of your particular Strategy Card you picked.

The Status Phase

The Status Phase is mainly a book-keeping phase in which you check your score, repair ships, and ‘reset’ the board for action in the next round. While you’re taking your turn, other players are planning their next moves, trying to sabotage you, and bartering for political gain.

Everything Has A Cost

This is a game where everything you do has a cost. You have a limited number of Command Counters, which allow you to move your fleets, and take advantage of certain strategies. You have, or may not have, Trade Goods (the game’s currency) you can spend to either help build ships, research technology, or buy votes in the political arena. Planets you’ve taken over provide you with resources and influence, which you use to expand your fleets or vote in politics, respectively.

How Do You Win?

You win a game of TI, and leadership of the Galaxy, by achieving objectives, which are random and different every game. An objective could be a simple as controlling 10 planets, to more difficult, like controlling Mecatol Rex (the Capitol planet that’s always in the center of the galaxy) with a number of ships and ground forces.

Why Do I Like Twilight Imperium?

I really like this game because for me it has it all. I love science fiction, so to me the theme is golden. You have large scale space battles, planetary invasions, politics and lots of player interaction. Although it’s possible, it’s highly unlikely that a player is eliminated from the game. The map is random, as are the main objectives for winning, which makes every game different. Each Race that can be played has a different bonus, and adds a bit of role-playing. There is plenty of player interaction, with very little downtime between turns. Even though it can take a long time to play, there’s enough going on to keep most people interested.

Of course, what appeals to some can turn others off. As I said before, it’s a massive game that takes a long time to play. There are a lot of rules, and a lot of steps to accomplishing any goal in the game. If you don’t have the table space, or aren’t into a LOT of bits, this isn’t the game for you.

A Little Advice

Check out the rules (They are 44 pages long), then the FAQ section on Fantasy Flight Games’ website for rules clarifications. Then head over to Boardgamegeek.com and peruse through some of the excellent articles there. This is an expensive game, both in money and time. If you’re interested and trying to find buddies that you can play with, let your friends know it’s a little like Risk, but with politics and economics. Although combat and galactic war are big parts of the game, they’re the means to an end, and not the end itself. Although unlikely, it’s possible to win without firing a shot.

And for your first game, set a time to stop, and allow lots of mulligans as you interpret the rules.

Twilight Imperium is a great game for me. I can’t play it as much as I’d like because of the investment in time, but when I do, it’s an event that’s remembered.

You can also check out more information about Twilight Imperium here.

April 15, 2009 at 11:56 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts


Categories

Best Dang Games

  • RT @SunburstOrlando: Mention this post today at The Sunburst Convention and get half priced tickets to our showcase....only $10. 12:30m ... 4 years ago
  • Played Jambo for the first time on Saturday. Great fun for a 2 player Euro style game. 7 years ago
  • Descent Sea Of Blood board game on sale for only $38.99! BestDangGames.com 7 years ago
  • Free shipping over $100 is back on most board games! Check out our selection today. BestDangGames.com 7 years ago
  • Fresco and Samarkand now in stock. BestDangGames.com 7 years ago
  • @snicholson Congrats and best of luck! 7 years ago
  • New game request feature and video center with all of our YouTube video now available directly on the website. 7 years ago
  • New board games re-stock including Cosmic Incursion, Runewars, and more. http://www.BestDangGames.com 7 years ago
  • @scitadel Good luck at the Con! Let us know what it turns out... 7 years ago
  • @scitadel I agree. More than likely, more board games will move online. Pogo and some others I won't mention are proof to that. 7 years ago