Posts tagged ‘strategy game’

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

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

New Carcassonne Board Game Video Review

I would like to share a video that was submitted to us as part of the Best Dang Points program.

Cory Duplantis has written several reveiw articles and presented us with this video.

Here is his review of the tile-laying game of Carcassonne. Check it out and feel free to leave any comments you want.

Thanks Cory! Enjoy your copy of Pandemic you earned!

Get your copy of Carcassonne here.

February 25, 2009 at 2:49 am Leave a comment

San Juan or Puerto Rico? A Buyer’s Guide

Author: Lyndon Lampert

There’s no doubt about it: Andreas Seyfarth’s 2001 board game Puerto Rico (Rio Grande Games) is a modern classic. Long-ranked #1 on the Boardgamegeek website, Puerto Rico has a huge following of dedicated Eurogamers. But not content to rest on his laurels, Seyfarth released a card game based on Puerto Rico called San Juan in 2003.

So, is San Juan really “Puerto Rico Light”? Are the two games different enough for gamers to own both? How’s a prospective game buyer supposed to decide? Some concise point-by-point comparisons between the two games may help.

Components

Puerto Rico is a board game and San Juan is a card game.

Puerto Rico includes lots of nice pieces like colorful barrels, colonists, dubloons, victory point chips and building tiles.

San Juan includes, well, cards. Very nice cards, but cards just the same and a few role tiles.

The winner for components? Puerto Rico.

Simplicity

Puerto Rico is not mind-numbingly complex, but is more complex than San Juan. Seyfarth succeeded at distilling some of the major components of Puerto Rico into a refined card game. San Juan is easier to learn, even if it is a little more abstract than Puerto Rico.

The winner for simplicity? San Juan.

Friendliness

Not all gamers are cutthroat, Type A personalities. While neither Puerto Rico nor San Juan are overtly vicious games, Puerto Rico offers more “gotcha” opportunities, like buying a building out from someone else, or forcing someone else to ship goods they’d rather sell.

The winner for friendliness? San Juan. (Unless you don’t like friendliness in games, in which case the winner is Puerto Rico!)

Strategic Depth

As a clever card-management game, San Juan offers more strategic depth than may first meet the eye, but Puerto Rico includes the depth of plantations and shipping that San Juan does not have. Despite the fact that some advanced Puerto Rico players tend to think that Puerto Rico becomes “canned” after many plays, it holds the promise of more strategic variety for most of us.

The winner in strategic depth? Puerto Rico.

Theme

Both games are ostensibly about running a colony, but Puerto Rico feels more like that’s what you’re actually doing. As good as the artwork on the San Juan cards is, San Juan still feels more like a card game than building an economic engine.

The winner in theme? Puerto Rico.

Portability

Let’s face it. Nobody’s going to want to set up a game of Puerto Rico on their next flight to Tokyo and have colonists and dubloons scattered in the aisle at the first turbulence bump. San Juan is beautifully transportable and playable just about anywhere.

The winner in portability? San Juan.

The Luck Factor

Most Eurogamers disdain luck in a game (more technically termed “randomness”), but personal tolerances of randomness vary widely. Puerto Rico has almost no randomness (except for the relatively minor action of turning up plantation tiles), but San Juan has a high degree of randomness due to an ongoing draw of cards.

The winner in the luck factor? It depends on what you like. If you enjoy little luck, Puerto Rico wins. If you prefer games with much more luck, San Juan wins.

San Juan or Puerto Rico?

Although San Juan is derived from Puerto Rico, it is a very different game.

If you own neither, San Juan is more easily learned and serves to introduce you to some of the mechanics of Puerto Rico.

If you own Puerto Rico, San Juan would be a worthwhile addition that will be immediately familiar enough to grasp in just a few minutes of play, and a game you can take anywhere.

The decision’s yours, but it’s hard to go wrong with either of these fine games.

Still can’t decide? Buying both would also be an option!

Buy Puerto Rico

Buy San Juan

December 25, 2008 at 3:30 pm Leave a comment

Race For the Galaxy – Strategy Card Game Review

Author: Seth Brown (http://www.risingpun.com)

Race for the Galaxy is a card game for 2-4 players. The average age range is for 12 year-olds and up. Typically, it takes 30-60 minutes to play a single game

Race for the Galaxy is a card-based game where players attempt to build developments and settle planets by playing cards from their hands. You start with a single small planet card in front of you, and over the course of the game, you add to your empire, with each development or planet granting you additional powers. When a player builds a twelfth card, the game ends, and whoever has the most points wins.

Pieces/Parts

Race For the Galaxy is mostly cards. There are four identical hands worth of role-selection cards, as well as a large deck of planet and development cards with varying costs and powers. There are also a few victory point chips for extra points scored during the game, and some very handy informational mats.

How Does It Play?

Players all choose a role and play it face-down. Roles are revealed simultaneously, and every role that was chosen at least once occurs for all players. The roles are:

1) Drawing more planet/development cards

2) Paying cards to play developments from your hand

3) Paying cards to play planets from your hand

4) Trading goods for cards or victory points

5) Producing goods

In addition, each player who chose a role gets a bonus ability during that role.

What’s Cool?

Race for the Galaxy manages to use cards for almost everything in the game. You draw lots of cards, pick your favorites to build, use the rest as currency, and use cards from the deck as goods. This helps keep the game from getting too complicated, since the cards are pretty much all you need.

In addition, becasue unplayed planet/development cards are used as currency leaves you with a lot of flexibility.

· Do you throw away a hand of 4 good cards to build the 4-cost development in your hand?

· Do you build the cheap planet and try to save up enough cards for the 6-point development?

Every planet and development has its own benefits (usually focused on a specific role), which means that not only are the decisions of which cards to keep or throw away often interesting, but that the game plays differently every time.

What’s Not To Like?

There are two main criticisms leveled at Race for the Galaxy. The first is that some people find the card icons a bit tricky to learn. Non-gamers who haven’t played anything much more complicated than Monopoly may well be confused by the various abilities cards have, and almost certainly won’t understand on the first game through. However, the game comes with informational mats that explain all the icons, so those willing to play a second game will quickly catch on.

The other complaint some people have is that there is not enough interaction in the game. Players who prefer to directly attack each other may be disappointed that there is no attack option here. However, many people find being attacked frustrating, and so for those who enjoy building a varied empire without someone else knocking it down, Race for the Galaxy can be a very enjoyable game.

Overall Thoughts

Race for the Galaxy is a game with lots of replayability. It may take you a game or two to learn the iconography, but once you do, the gameplay is fairly straightforward. There’s a certain joy in slowly building up your array of interesting powers, and the choices you make along the way definitely affect your late-game. If you need a game where you can attack your opponent, Race For the Galaxy isn’t it, but if you’re looking for a fun middle-weight game where you build your own little empire as best you can, Race For the Galaxy is a fine choice.

Also, if you are comfortable with games like Puerto Rico or San Juan, and you like the science-fiction theme, you may want to give this game a look.

Get your own copy of Race For the Galaxy

December 3, 2008 at 10:56 pm Leave a comment

Thurn And Taxis Strategy Board Game Video Posted

If you like the board game Ticket To Ride, you will probably want to take a look at Thurn & Taxis, a strategy board game published by Rio Grande Games. This game won the German Spiel Des Jahres award several years back, so that alone is a stamp of quality.

The theme of this game is the postal service in Italy. This was the first real postal service and it was run by the Taxis family. This postal service is still in operation today and it is the basis of the US Postal Service. So, alone, this game has a historical setting and some good background information is provided with the instructions.

The point of Thurn and Taxis is to strategically connect cities to create postal routes. Like Ticket To Ride, you draw hands of cards and then use the cards available to build these routes. From there, it becomes Ticket to Ride on steroids. There are bonuses for putting routes in different provinces, you can lose the routes you are building because of a bad card draw, you need to strategically upgrade your postal cart with longer routes, and you gain or lose points based on your wooden houses and how you use them or don’t use them. Many of the point tokens are hidden, so you really don’t know the final score until the end. There is a beginning game, middle game, and end game.

This video is not designed to teach you everything you need to know to play, nor is it a review video. The goal is for you to be familair with the basic mechanics of the game and to assist you in determining if this is a game you want in your game library. It should have enough information in it for you to start enjoying your first game, while referencing the rules.

Buy your copy of Thurn & Taxis here.

November 12, 2008 at 10:54 pm 1 comment

Blokus – The Abstract Board Game Surprised Us

We had our first game night at Infusion Tea, in College Park, in Orlando. There were three of us, plus a guy we hope will come back as a fellow gamer. He saw our sign on the door and thought he would see what we were doing.

So, it was my friends Pam and Gary, along with me. We tried a game that was new to all of us – the abstract board game, Blokus.

I wanted to try it because everyone gives this game high marks, and this was the game I gave the owners to try out. The e-mail I received back from them was “We Love Blokus!”. So, now I was curious.

This is a very unassuming game. It is a gray plastic board with each player getting a set of 21 colored tile pieces that are similar to what you would see in the game Tetris. There are four seperate colors.

The goal of the game is to place as many of your pieces as possible. The player with the least amount of pieces in the end is the winner. Sounds like a no brainer, right…

That’s what we thought. We all said “That’s it? There has to be more.” Well, the catch is that when you place your piece, it can only touch a corner of your other pieces – not a side.

About half-way through the game, it gets evil. By that time, everyone is spreading into each other’s territory and you are losing valuable real estate pretty quickly. A wrong placement will mess you up for the rest of the game – as will larger tiles.

We found that playing into the angles seemed to work really well. I tried a pattern that looked like “fingers” but it did not work so well. I had five pieces left over and both Pam and Gary went out and tied with no pieces left.

This game is ADDICTING! Watch OUT! We played two games and were prepared for a third, but wanted to get a solid game of Ticket To Ride: Nordic Countries in.

At one point in the evening, one of us actually said “Oh, I get it! Block Us! The name makes perfect sense. What a great name.”

We did not play the special Three-Player variant. This gets even more tough. It adds a fourth player that each player makes moves for. So, not only does it take up more real estate on the board, but it also allows the other players to work against each other with one extra set of colors they are playing tug-of-war with. There are several other variants as well.

If you like abstract types of games that really make you think, we highly reccomend this one. As I stated in the title, we were greatly surprised by the addictivness of this game – and part of it is because it is quick to play.

If you have kids that are of about 7-10 years old or know someone looking for something to strain the brain muscles – look no further than this game. It is going to be a perfect board game gift for the holidays.

September 9, 2008 at 10:00 pm Leave a comment

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