Snagged on a Mackerel: Isaribi Review

Designer: Hisashi Hayashi

Head Artist: Ryo Nyamo

Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games

Year Published: 2014

Players: 3 – 5

Playtime: 45 minutes – 1 hour

Reviewer: Luke Muench

At first glance, Isaribi appears to be a rather plain, somewhat arduous game, offering little thematically or visually to draw you into the experience. After glancing through the rulebook, one wouldn’t be out of line in feeling that the mechanics seem a little basic, rather familiar, and has nothing to offer that other games already have.

They wouldn’t be wrong; Isaribi is not a particularly novel or good-looking game, nor does it bring anything particularly exciting to the table. But that doesn’t make this a necessarily bad game by any means, just comfortable in its similarities.

In Isaribi, players are tasked with getting the most points by collecting and selling the four sea creatures that populate the town’s harbor; clams, prawns, mackerels, and sea breams. At the start of each of the five rounds, players draw cards for the different types of animals, placing a number of cubes around the harbor according to what the cards dictate. This establishes the status of the economy, ie which commodities are rarer and harder to come across or how far a player will have to sail their boat to get the goods they desire.


Each turn, a player gets to choose a variety of actions to take based on their action point pool. Players start the game with one and a half action points but can upgrade this in order to do more on their turns. The five actions a player can take are “fish,” “move,” “sell,” “gain a technology,” or “flip a market card.” The effectiveness of the fish action, as well as how many action points you have access to, is dependant on how much you’ve upgraded your player board, empowering this ability as well as generally allowing you to do more each turn.

“Move” simply allows a player to sail their boat through the different spaces that compose the harbor, spending one action point for each space the boat travels. Depending on where your boat is, you’ll have access or be prevented from doing certain actions.

“Fish” will allow you to collect cubes from where your boat is located, an action that can only be done once per turn. You can fish via hand, which costs half an action point and provides one animal of the type of your choice, or you can fish via net, which costs one action point and provides multiple animals of the type you select, depending on how much you’ve upgraded your nets. Clams may only be caught by hand, whereas sea bream can only be caught in nets.

While one market card will always be revealed at the start of each round, players may spend one action point from anywhere to reveal the next market card. These are jobs being posted for the players to complete and are the primary ways of earning victory points. This acts as something of a timer for each round, as only a certain number of jobs are available each round. Revealing them may give you the information you need to complete that task, but you also lose an action point in doing so, often giving your opponents a head start. More often than not, this action feels unrewarding, almost detrimental, and most will put off revealing a new card for as long as possible, resulting in players faffing about for multiple turns before someone bites the bullet and allows the game to progress.

“Sell” allows you to offload your collected goods to complete these jobs at the docks, collecting a certain number of points depending on the card. Completing one of these cards costs a certain number of action points depending on how many goods you are selling, meaning you can theoretically spend an entire turn turning in your goods for a single card. It’s worth noting that these jobs aren’t balanced, relying on the luck of the draw to make the game fair, which, for me, is frustrating to see. It’s never interesting or rewarding to see my opponent, who happens to already be by the docks, earn five points by selling two mackerel when, a turn later, I get to sell my two mackerel for a measly three points, all because of how the cards were revealed.


Lastly, players can spend their victory points at the docks to upgrade their nets and action points. Players may also purchase one of three technology cards, which give them game-breaking abilities, such as storing more seafood between rounds. Due to how few technologies there are, something that might have injected the game with much-needed variety feels tacked on and mundane.

Players continue taking turns until a player decides that they don’t want to take any actions, instead choosing to pass. Much like in Terra Mystica, that player then gets to select one of the available collaborator cards, giving them a buff for the following round. While there are a few options to pick from, those I played with quickly found that the Carpenter is the best and by far most powerful of these, especially early game.

Players must also discard down to one good before the new round starts unless abilities modify this number, preventing anyone from coming into the next round with a huge haul of creatures already in tow. Once each player passes, a new round is set up and begins, and this process continues until five rounds have been completed.

Much of the tedium of this game comes from the limitation on how many times a player can fish in a given turn, feeling like you can barely get any traction turn to turn, especially when collecting clams. It doesn’t help that the game system is already monotonous, but putting such a stark limitation, while necessary for game balance, doesn’t help with the game’s pacing or making it feel fun.

What also constantly holds this game back are the various caveats or exceptions to the rule. The fact that some actions are half a point is downright obnoxious, and little details like how clams can only be collected by hand while making sense thematically, are annoying and sometimes frustrating from a gameplay perspective.

I could see some people finding enjoyment out of Isaribi’s system, and like I said, it is very functional and by no means broken. But I don’t have any desire or interest to return to Isaribi. The theme is perplexingly dull, which isn’t helped by the flat artwork. The system doesn’t feel rewarding or engaging at any point. And when I was finished playing, I found myself looking at my opponents around the table, shrugging, and packing the box back up in silence.

When the best compliment I can give it is that it’s “serviceable,” I struggle to recommend this to anyone but those looking for a thinky game to throw on the table when everything else on your shelf has been played to death, and even then I would reconsider what’s already in your collection rather than dropping fifty bucks on a fairly forgettable experience.

Camelot Gets Crazier: Crazier Eights: Avalon Review


Designer: James Wallace Gray

Publisher: Recoculous

Year Published: 2017

Players: 2 – 4

Playtime: 15 – 30 minutes

Reviewer: Luke Muench

If you thought Crazier Eights was full of chaotic and exciting fun, fear not! James Gray has returned with a mini-expansion, adding more options to the fairly small card-shedding game, including new variable types of cards.

Crazier Eights: Avalon is the definition of “more of the same,” providing 33 additional cards with new abilities and altered symbology. Some cards include multiple symbols/cards (a handful featuring all four), making it potentially easier to discard your hand. That being said, those cards tend to feature extremely useful powers, such as discarding an additional card each turn while also reducing your own card draw, or stealing an asset at the start of every turn.

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“It is a Silly Place”: Crazier Eights: Camelot Review

Designer: James Wallace Gray

Publisher: Recoculous

Year Published: 2014

Players: 2 – 4

Playtime: 15 – 30 minutes

Reviewer: Luke Muench

Card-shedding games are a rare breed in the board gaming hobby. Up until this point, the genre has been relegated to kids games, characterized by Uno and Old Maid. And with the recent boom of deck-builders, the lopsided reflection of shedding games, there’s been little interest in seeing the revival of the rather short-lived niche.

Luckily, one brave man, James Gray, had a vision; what if Crazy Eights got a little… interesting? What if each card offered choices, requiring smart decisions each turn rather than mindlessly tossing cards into a pile?

With this simple concept in mind, Crazier Eights was born, composed of a humble pack of 53 cards, a reference card, and a rulebook. The cards themselves are made of plastic, which might be a polarizing choice to some, but I enjoy the feel of them sitting in my hands. The art is pulled from classic paintings and images, and while work from multiple artists has been used, it all blends together unnoticeably, never feeling distracting or irritating. The rulebook lays out the information well enough, but for the most part, the only thing you’ll need to refer to is the reference card, which clearly and conveniently describes the pertinent rules.

Now, let’s get this out of the way; the Arthurian theme is thoroughly pasted onto Crazier Eights. None of the card abilities really have anything to do with what’s depicted, and you’ll never feel engaged or invested in the going-ons of Camelot. And that’s more than okay. For a game like this, theme is barely a factor that needs to be considered. Still, it’s worth noting that this isn’t the game for you if you’re looking for dueling knights and dragon slaying.

Crazier Eights tasks players with trying to get rid of all of their cards as quickly as possible; the first player to do so wins. You’ll do this by strategically playing some of your cards for abilities while tossing others if the central pile allows it.

On your turn, each player will cycle through a handful of phases. After drawing a card, players will have the option to play a card from their hand for its ability as well as discard a card. There are two types of cards, Events and Assets. Events are one-time use actions that affect the game state before being discarded, whereas assets sit out in front of whoever played them, providing passive buffs or taking effect at the beginning or end of a player’s turn. While you can play any card for its effect that you like, you may only discard a card if it shares a number or symbol/color with the face-up card at the top of the central pile. Eights act as wilds, with the player discarding the card declaring the next symbol/color. This process continues until one player is left victorious.

Much of the flavor and intrigue of this game comes from the abilities that have been included, making the game feel like a mash-up of Uno and Fluxx. Alternate win conditions will be revealed, players will force one another to draw extra cards, one person might steal assets from another. It’s all very hectic and goofy, allowing for an at-ease and lighthearted gaming experience. Make no mistake, Crazier Eights, as the name suggests, is no more strategic than its predecessor. Rather, it aims to add new elements of screw-your-neighbor and randomness that simply makes it more fun, playing into its already established strengths rather than reinventing the game. Most turns will end in raucous laughter as everyone marvels at whatever wildly powerful card combinations have been played and activated.

Honestly, there’s little else that can be said. If you aren’t already sold on Crazier Eights, you’re not going to be. It isn’t terribly deep, and offers exactly what you see. It can be fun with the right crowd, but it won’t be for everyone. Still, if you’re interested in a light and relaxed card game, this is a pretty fun and good-looking option.

Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition: A First-Time Experience

  • Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition
  • Fantasy Flight Games
  • Designer: Christian T. Peterson
  • Head Artists: Scott Schomburg, Brian Schomburg, Tyler Walpole
  • 3 – 6 players
  • Playtime: 3 – 5+ hours
  • Reviewed by: Luke Muench

With three editions, a fourth on the way, a suggested five-hour + playtime, and the highest complexity level I’ve seen on BoardGameGeek to date, Twilight Imperium is one of the more polarizing and intimidating board games a person can play. Sitting at the 42nd best-ranked board game of all time as of writing, this was a game I knew I had to sink my teeth into at least once, if for no other reason than to say I had maneuvered the treacherous expanse of space and the war that comes with it. Below, I have done my best to recount my first experience of Twilight Imperium while providing observations and feedback along the way.

I arrived at my friend’s house at 10 a.m. to prep for the all-day affair that would be our six-player match. None of us had played the game before, and while we had all attempted to watch instructional videos online, we knew that the only way to truly grasp the game was to play it ourselves.

We first discussed the rules, a task that can be a chore in and of itself. This is perhaps one of the first things that will stand out to anyone looking into Twilight Imperium; there are a lot of rules. That isn’t to say that they are there without purpose though. Each is important in laying out the pertinent information in a way that feels methodical, almost militaristic. Rather, the problem is consuming and digesting so much information. Early on, it was determined that each player would have a mulligan of sorts in the case of someone botching a rule here or there, an inevitability we all accepted.

Once we glossed over the rules, we decided to run through a practice round, giving each person an idea of how a game might play out. Everyone was given a random alien for the purposes of understanding how the game worked, yet I immediately found myself growing attached to the species I was provided, the Yssaril. This is likely to be the game’s biggest strength; if you play Twilight Imperium, you will become incredibly attached to everything. Your species, ships, planets, anything you possess will become abnormally important and precious to you. Much of this comes down to the length of time you’ll be investing in these plastic pieces and cards, as the stakes in the game climb with every passing hour. But even from the start, I felt a twang of excitement seeing the greenish, Gollum-like creatures that had come to represent me.

After a brief recess for lunch, we began setting up for the official game. The game doesn’t have a good way of determining the first player for the starting round of the game. Additionally, many of the players didn’t like the idea of being dealt a race at random and being stuck with it. So how we went about this is, after rolling dice, five players received two races to pick from. The last player would receive a couple of the leftovers to pick from and then get to be first to place planets and initiative tiles.

I cannot describe my excitement as the Yssaril returned to me, and I selected them without earnestly considering the Xxcha. While this may come across as narrow-minded or unwilling to embrace the new, I had grown fervently fond of the Yssaril, and I noted that many of the other players latched onto races that they had tested earlier to eyed when sorting through the races prior to the game.

Each race has a unique set-up, so much so that it becomes a bit absurd. That race’s starting planets will push players to have a certain number of resources to begin the game, with the number of planets on your starting tile and the stats of those planets playing big factors into this. Then, each species begins with a different sort of fleet, units of various types and numbers doled out liberally to each. With eight different military units to stipulate for, this can sway the game in one direction or another very quickly. Races receive 2 unique trade cards, which will get to in a bit, but determines how many resources you’ll likely get from making trades. You also start with two technologies pre-built, with the selection being determined, again, by your race. Twilight Imperium features a tech tree that we’ll talk about later, but needless to say is complex and winding, though not terribly difficult to wrap your head around. Lastly, each race has its own set of abilities, each as mind-blowing as the last. None of them feel overpowered per say, but each has incredibly utility and strength associated with it.

At the start of each round, players vie for the different strategy tiles, each of which determines the order of player initiative and a special ability that they must use before passing that turn. In order to best layout the aspects of the game and my thoughts on them, I will work my way through each tile, but note that, how a turn works, is as follows:

After taking initiative, each player will get to take one action on their turn, with everyone taking actions until they choose to pass. Actions involve using your strategic tile, activating a sector of space, transferring units between two neighboring locations, or passing. Most actions will fall under the “activating a sector” action type, allowing you to move your units, build units, and attack others. An important detail worth noting is that once you activate a given location, you can no longer activate that spot again this round, nor can you move units out of that location for the rest of the round. Others, however, can still move to that spot, leaving you open to attacks. When a player passes, they can no longer do actions or contribute for the rest of the round, although the initiatives may still allow them to participate in different ways.

An important thing to note about my race, the Yssaril, is that they have the ability to wait; rather than taking a traditional action, the Yssaril player can skip their action without passing. This can be done every-other turn, but not two turns in a row. In many ways, this is an incredibly subtle but useful tool, allowing you to see how the others players are moving or acting and allowing them to spend all their resources before striking.

Initiative 1 is powerful in its simplicity and elegance. While allowing you to take the first action of the round, this tile, called Initiative, also allows you to utilize the passive abilities of all other initiative tiles for free. Normally, players are forced to spend a particular currency, called a strategic allocation, in order to activate a specific passive ability when another player uses their initiative primary ability, limiting your options in terms of what you can and can’t accomplish on a given turn. Otherwise, this tile has a few other unique factors; it is the only tile without a secondary ability for other players to use (but never the primary user of the tile), it factors into the order in which other abilities take effect, and it’s the only tile you are not allowed to pick twice in a row, meaning that this tile will constantly be shifting around the table.

This is possibly one of the best ways I’ve seen the first turn marker be used in a game in some time now, as it gives that player flexibility for a single turn before passing it off to another player, preventing the issue that many worker placement games face of one person constantly claiming the first player spot at the start of each turn. That being said, one frustrating thing I can say about this mechanic is that the order that people claim their tiles in isn’t determined by all players’ initiative tiles, but by who has the Initiative tile, with players claiming clockwise from that player. This leads to a rigidity that, once players have made alliances or rivalries, can make the initiative claim feel lopsided, whereas having tiles 2 or 3 results in you picking 2nd or 3rd in the next round might make certain tiles much more useful and desirable.

Initiative 2 was by far the least popular and most often ignored tile in the game I played. Called Diplomacy, this tile allows a player to state another at the table and prevent either of your from interacting with one another on the board. This largely has to do with the general lack of militaristic action in the game I played. This game group was rather hesitant to fight one another, both because we were learning the game and the permanence in such actions that would eventually lead to some heated arguments and swift retribution, but we’ll get back to that in a bit. Needless to say, the first 4 of the 6 rounds our group made it through saw this tile ignored, accumulating a ton of Bonus tokens (basically a wild currency). Its passive allows players to spend 1 strategy allocation and 3 influence (one of the two currencies each planet provides) to refresh up to 2 tapped planet cards, a situational ability at best that was rarely found to be useful.

So yes, for the most part, this tile was left to the wayside, and with fairly good reason. If no one is fighting, who needs a war deterrent after all? Again, if this tile then got to choose initiative tiles 2nd in the following round, this would become an infinitely more useful tile in my opinion. That being said, this reflects our game, and I do have some choice things to say regarding war later on, so let’s keep moving along.

Initiative 3, Assembly, sees players getting involved with politics… no, NO, don’t click away. When I say politics, I don’t mean current politics, nor the dreary space politics of the Star Wars prequels. Rather, when this tile is activated, players will be forced to debate over a new law or ruling that must be passed immediately. These political agendas can be either laws, effects that will change the rules of the game for the rest of the game, or instant effects that provide players with an immediate and temporary effect. These cards will also take two forms, either voting for the “for” or “against” effects or electing a specific player or planet to receive the effects. Regardless of which card it is, players will have a chance to debate before weighing in their political power, determined by the amount of influence provided by the untapped planets a player has in front of them. If a player has no untapped planets, they still get a single vote, but likely won’t be able to change the proceedings much. Additionally, note that if someone votes for one side or another, they must use all their voting power available, but does not have to tap their planets for the effect, unlike most currencies. Voting in this way always starts to the left of the Speaker (aka the person who has Initiative 1), and thus ends with the Speaker.

After whatever ruling has been made, the player who used Assembly then receives 3 more political cards, picking one of them to be the next subject voted on, left on top of the deck for the next round.

Additionally, the person who takes this tile gets to draw 3 action cards. Action cards act as the take-that and wild aspects of the game, providing random and crazy effects that, when played, can change the scope of the game.

Many players had mixed feelings on the cards, but as the Yssaril, I by far had the most experience with them. The Yssaril’s other ability is that this player gets an additional action card at the end of each round (2 instead of 1), has no hand limit for these cards (normally 7) and can look at another player’s hand of action cards at the start of each round. Because of this, most of the game saw me holding 5 or more cards that could sway events in my favor in big ways… if I drew well. Some of my cards allowed me to ban someone from voting on a political card, spawn free units in specific ways, do automatic damage to enemies who dare attack me, each with their own incredible and exciting ability. Others were incredibly specific, so much so that I never saw a use for them. One required me to have the Warsun, a specific military unit that requires multiple technologies to even consider building and 12 resources to create, by and far the most expensive thing in the game. And because I wasn’t aiming for a militaristic angle, this never had the chance to see the light of day, a dead card residing in my hand for literally hours. Other players complained of receiving hands of bunk action cards, and I’m somewhat inclined to believe, without the power of the Yssaril, action cards could easily be the boon of others will screwing you by the luck of the draw.

The tile’s passive ability is that players can spend a strategic allocation to draw an action card, an ability rarely used by anyone except those who held the Initiative tile and would get it for free.

Space politics was by far the most interesting part of this game, as I had never really seen anything like this appear in another game prior. The effects are sweeping and have dramatic effects, with each player struggling to vote one way or another depending on their personal plans and concerns over other players. For much of the early game, I became a political power that could sway the entirety of a vote, meaning that I had people vying for my political strength, buying me off with resources to get laws passed. Late game, politics became aggressive, even nasty, with people fighting bitterly for certain agendas to be passed in hopes of sabotaging or hamstringing others. Taking the tile is interesting and exciting, giving you a chance to change the events of future turns will providing you potential resources immediately. It’s a bit of a gamble, honestly, but that’s a part of what makes it exciting.

Something to note, though, is that this can easily make the game more complicated in a rather forgettable way, specifically via the laws. Any permanent law that changes how the game is played can get lost in the hustle and bustle of events, leading to lengthy and frustrating retcons of certain events. The most notable moment of this for our game is when a massive attack on someone’s homeworlds took place, successfully might I add, only to realize that a law would have required the attacking player to pay a resource that he didn’t have to attack any sectors with a planet claimed by someone else. While it was fairly easy to rationalize and backtrack accordingly (as he had bought extra units on that turn which he wouldn’t have had he known the cost of attacking), these moments are impactful and disruptive to the game’s flow, but are hard to avoid due to how much needs to be kept in mind, especially when you’re new to the game.

Initiative 4, Logistics, allows its user to take 4 command counters immediately. Command counters are a currency that determines how many locations a player can activate on a turn, how many strategic allocations a player has to spend, and how many ships that player can hold on a particular location. All players start the game with the same number, but as different players spend them on different things, this can quickly change. Additionally, players only receive 2 command counters at the end of each round, regardless of how many they used. Between rounds, players can put their counters in any of the three appropriate locations, customizing their boards according to their needs. In this way, Logistics allows players a bit more longevity, both on this turn and future turns, enabling a player to have the ability to do more.

One of the only passive abilities that doesn’t cost a strategic allocation, this tile allows other players to spend 3 influence for a command counter. Players can do this as many times as they want as long as they have the currency to spend.

Logistics I feel is self-explanatory in its use, allowing players to have more opportunities, ultimately a tile that everyone will likely need at some point over the course of the game.

Initiative 5, Trade, allows players to make trade agreements with one another. Each race starts out with a unique set of 2 trade cards with values that fluctuate between 1 and 3 resources. When this tile is activated, players may openly make trades with one another, swapping trade cards to allow for trade goods to be obtained. Trade goods can be used as either resources or influence when purchasing other things, but cannot be used as votes when voting for the political agenda. Each player may make one trade each time this tile is activated, but those trades must be approved by the person activating the tile. The primary player also gets 3 trade goods immediately.

Alternatively, a player may cancel all trade agreements, resulting in a hard reset in regards to what resources each person can get. This was never used in the game that we played though, as the benefits of doing this, in our eyes, was negligible at best, largely because any trade can be canceled at any time by either player who is participating in a trade or if those two people go to war. Additionally, the player using this tile is the sacrificing the 3 trade goods they would get otherwise to reset the trades everyone can get, so unless the player in question has a massive stock of trade goods to rely on for a while, this action seems somewhat anti-productive for most strategies.

The passive ability allows players to spend a strategic allocation to get the trade goods permitted by the trades they have made, thus cashing in on the deals. This does not cancel any deal made, simply allowing you to earn the currency your trades provide. This is done in clockwise order from the player who activated it, as trade goods can run out, resulting in players being unable to take this action.

Trade can be useful in allowing players to have a nice pool of useful and malleable currencies, but often cannot be relied on due to the fluctuation of the market, action cards that can steal tons of trade goods, and racial abilities that can allow players to steal some trade goods from others. One notable moment from the game I played was when I played an action card that allowed me to steal half of the trade goods (4 of the 8) from someone who I had a trade agreement with, curbing his progress in a big way. Another thing to note is how infrequently players would cancel or alter their trade agreements unless specified by a battle. Players saw no reason once they had established trade routes to alter them unless absolutely necessary.

It is worth noting that, at the start of the game, we botched this rule, as we thought players could make both trades on the initial action, thus making the start of the game skewed with more trade goods in play than normal. That being said, trade felt somewhat useless after the first couple of uses generally, as until players are more familiar with the game there appears to be little reason to make new trades. I also feel as if in the scenario that a player cancels all trade agreements, they would likely become a hated enemy of most players at the table, making that an action with little benefit and a lot of risk moving forward. Why would players not just reclaim the same deals they made previously unless one player repeatedly took the Trade tile to prevent this from happening? Doing this would be incredibly costly to that player, sacrificing turn order and options for a marginal benefit.

Initiative 6 is the Warfare tile, representing by far the most difficult aspect of the game to tackle. The tile itself is pretty self-explanatory; the player activating it may remove a command token from a location they have already activated this turn, thus allowing them on a future turn to move that legion of troops to potentially attack another neighboring sector. The passive ability is pretty tame in comparison, allowing players to spend a strategy allocation to move a cruiser or destroyer ship to an empty neighboring sector while exhausting that sector for the round. The passive was often ignored by most, even those with the Initiative tile, simply because there was very little use to leaving a handful of units out in the open like that.

But this opens the conversation of military and war in regards to this game. Much of the game hinges on warfare, with most player’s secret objectives requiring some form of war, with players needing to fight over planets and the resources that are provided by them, and with most of your resources, technologies, and ships being solely useful for fighting others to turtling to prevent others from fighting you. By and large, this game feels like it forces warfare on everyone. Yet, in the game that we played, most players tried avoiding it, at least for a while.

Fighting others isn’t appealing in this game for a few reasons, but most of them can be summed up in two words; emotional investment. When you’re playing a game for 6 or 7 hours, it’s unavoidable to feel attached to what’s going on. And unlike in most other games, fighting over something doesn’t mean you just lose the opportunity to do that thing. In Twilight Imperium, fighting means you are risking EVERYTHING. Every ship you lose is felt, as it opens you up to lose more and more. Every planet lost to an invasion is devastating in terms of what resources you do and don’t have access to. So, when someone attacks you and is relatively successful at it, the other player will likely feel so hurt, so pissed off, that they’ll throw their plans away in hopes of getting vengeance. I saw it happen multiple times here. Hell, I succumbed to it for a while, only to realize that I didn’t have the troops to make the fight worth gunning for. This is a game where if you lose a battle, you risk it all, and battles are determined by, you guessed it, rolling dice. Each ship has better or worse odds of hitting, sure, but at the end of the day, dice are fickle and can screw even the most skilled of players.

And this can easily result in player elimination in many fashions. Sure, you can hunt down and eradicate a particular player, much to the upset and irritation of everyone at the table, and that in such a drawn-out game can be upsetting and uninteresting in its own right, but you can also knock a player out of the game simply by reducing them to next to nothing. If a player loses enough stuff, they have no chance of coming back, and everyone knows it, especially them, meaning players start playing irrationally due to the game now becoming tedious for them. They are no longer interested in playing because they cannot win, and will thus do things that make no strategic or logical sense because nothing matters to them and they just kind of want the game to end. By the end of our game, two players had basically given up, resulting in two massive military forces sitting around doing nothing while other players vied for the win, even if most of them couldn’t at this point.

To place the cherry on top of this teetering mess, some species, if unchallenged by militaristic invasion, will win no matter what. The winning player of this game controlled the Jol-Nar, a technologically driven race that, while having a -1 debuff to all fights, could obtain one free tech every round and an additional one if they had the resources, regardless of who claimed the tech tile. This basically handed him the win, and we only realized it when it was far too late and he had an armada of dreadnaughts at his doorstep waiting for invaders.

But this begs the question; should players be forced to march on and attack someone from the start of the game because, if left unchecked, they will dominate? I don’t find that to be a fun or fair experience, but that’s more or less what that race asked of us in terms of this game, and that leaves me with a confused, sour taste in my mouth, making one of the key elements of this game the most difficult to stomach.

Initiative 7, the aforementioned Technology tile, allows the user to build a tech for free, and others to build one for a strategic allocation and 8 resources. With 4 different tech focuses and many of the techs having prerequisites, this tile can be rather useful to pushing forward certain plans, but never feels too overpowered… unless…

So Initiative 8, Imperial, is perhaps even more controversial in my eyes than the warfare of this game, and for one very important reason; winning. Notice that I haven’t mentioned how a player wins the game yet? Sure, there’s a lot of interesting and exciting stuff going on in terms of the universe and how everyone interacts, but how does one actually “win” this epic space opera?

Well, by getting 10 points of course.

… Okaaaaaaaaaay, but how does someone get points?

Well, there are three ways to get points; through a player’s secret objective that always provides 2 points, through claiming the Imperial tile which gives the active player 2 points for free, or by accomplishing public objectives which are revealed through the Imperial tile.

So, other than a player’s secret objective, the only way to WIN the game is by taking the Imperial tile every chance you get.

Yep.

… That seems a bit anti-climactic, confusing, and frustrating.

It certainly is. Most of the other tiles, in retrospect, start to appear useless in this regard, as a free 2 points is a HUGE deal in this game. The public objectives, in the early game, provide 1 point a pop, but you can only accomplish one each turn, meaning you’re at the fate of what order they come out in. In our game, the first three that appeared were all tech-oriented, meaning the Jol-Nar player quickly took a dominating lead. And while the late game public objectives can provide up to 3 points, they often require INSANE requirements. Take over Mecatol Rex and all 6 surrounding sectors of it for 3 points? Good luck with that.

What’s Mecatol Rex?

Oh, just the center tile of the board that is a prerequisite for 80% of players to achieve their secret objectives.

So everyone is constantly fighting over it?

Either that or stationing troops all around it in hopes of scaring off anyone else who wants it.

In other words, unless you are planning on going to war for the measly 2 points the secret objectives give you for substantial effort, taking the Imperial initiative every chance you get is the only strategic way to win. Sure, you can get a public objective here and there, but only if the objectives that come out are achievable by you. Hell, some of the secret objectives can become nearly impossible depending on the board state. And if you wait too long for some good public objectives to appear, certain “objective cards” just end the game, meaning that the person claiming the Imperial tile is not just advancing towards the win, but forcing other players to worry about the ticking clock that will eventually force the end-game.

As a brief aside, the passive ability of this tile allows players to build units on a tile that is already exhausted or without exhausting said tile, allowing players to stock up on more troops.

So, with all that said and done, after 7 or so hours of playing the game, we didn’t actually finish the game. That’s right, while the “winning” player hovered at 9 points, we saw that the clock struck 10 p.m., with most of us having a ways to go to get home. This can certainly be attributed to us learning the game and not knowing optimal strategies, sure, but at the end of the day, this isn’t a game to play if you’re looking to win. After discussing it with some of the players, I came to the conclusion that this game often ends in the same way as Citadels; the player that is quiet, doesn’t piss anyone off, and is able to remain in the shadows for long enough, wins the game automatically. Unless players are willing to get their hands dirty and commit to a war-mongering playstyle, certain races and players will win every time, no matter what.

This is a story-telling game through and through, providing an adventure that players will remember, full of space battles and intense fighting, both on and off the game board. It’s a game that becomes personal fast, and for that reason alone it’s a game that’s not for everyone. Hell, I don’t know if I’d play it again myself unless invited. It’s an investment, both from a cost perspective and a time perspective, and that can’t be overlooked. The scoring system is inherently flawed in my opinion, and due to the personal stakes of the game, it’s hard to play it optimally without potentially damaging friendships depending on who you play with. It’s a brutal but expansive experience that you need the right circumstances for, and in that way, it is hard to recommend. Still, I think this is a game that everyone should experience in some way or another in order to at least say that they have, as Twilight Imperium is undoubtedly unlike anything else I’ve played.

Star Realms: Taking Spamplay to a Whole New Level

Star Realms

 

Take the Basic Principal of a deck builder, throw in the wild swings of Magic: the Gathering, Set the whole thing in space.  Star Realms from White Wizard games is an exercise in restraint when developing a game.  Everything you need to lose a weekend with your friends comes in a conveniently priced tuck box.   Like most deck builders you start with a ten card deck that allows you to hit your opponent or buy one of the six cards available in the trade row.  As your deck gets bigger you can start to take wild swings at your opponent.  The first player whose life reaches or surpasses zero loses.

Star Realms

The game is, for all purposes, too simple.  The theme is lost after the first round and while you can dig for it, it’s usually not worth it.  Other than that, it is the most incredible game I have ever played.  The only reason it doesn’t break the top five is due to the fact that the theme is completely lost.  That is not necessarily a detriment to the game itself.  A simple to learn and even easier to teach deck builder, Star Realms takes concepts from all of the major Deck builders available and streamlines them for ease of access and over all play.  The app for Iphones and Android devices makes the book keeping easy to understand and execute.  The balance is what I think I love the most about this game.  No card seems out of place.

The Gambit expansions offers abilities to each player to be used either as a one shot or throughout the game.  It also provides the unaligned Merc Cruiser and Bosses for solo or Co-op Play.  Gambit was part of the Kickstarter campaign and was made available due to fan outcry.  If you pay more than ten dollars for it you Might be disappointed.

The Crisis expansion offers four packs of cards that include more ships and bases as well as two new mechanics to the game Events and heroes.  Heroes go into play in front of you and can be trashed during your turn to gain the ally ability of their faction.  Events get shuffled into the main deck and resolve when they are drawn up to the trade row.  All in all the crisis expansion offers an interesting change of pace for players that have been playing Star Realms since release and are starting to get tired of it.

With two expansions available that both offer an intense new style of play Star Realms has a very bright future on my table.  If you need any more reason to go out and own this game, Katie loves it. That should tell you all that you need to know.

Final Score: 9.2/10

Infiltration or Why Can’t We Be Friends?

By: Tim Mattes

The Android universe consists of three games so far. A massive mystery game called Android, a re-theme of Richard Garfield’s Netrunner in the Living Card Game format called Android: Netrunner, and Infiltration.   All three games are very different in style, gameplay, and overall mechanics. They are unified by a cyberpunk world and the people that live in it.

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In Infiltration you take on a criminal that has been hired by Mr. White to steal a prototype of a helper robot.  As you go through the building you encounter various obstacles and are given the opportunity to steal other data for your many, many criminal contacts.  As you continue to run through the threat level goes higher and higher.  If it reaches ninety-nine before you exit the building you are toast.  The survivors count up their haul and whoever stole the most goods wins.

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My first issue with this game is that every description I heard of it before I bought it or saw the box lead me to believe that it was a board game.  It is not.  It is a card game that plays like a Board game.  The plus side to that is that it is easily portable.  My second issue with the game and this one gets a bit heavy, is that the game itself is only fun once or twice.  Running though stealing and stabbing your friends is a fun mechanic but there are so many games out there today that I cannot say that this one is superior to a munchkin (Steve Jackson) or Student Bodies (Smirk and Daggar).   The only thing that keeps me playing Infiltration over and over and over again is the fact that it is set in the Android Universe.  It’s loaded with little easter eggs that any Android or Netrunner fan will love and although it is older than Android: Netrunner it is still relevant to the current story being told.  Infiltration fits in as a nice quick game that continues the mythos of the Android Universe.  Our first playthrough had me geeking out at all of the references and card art that I knew from Netrunner and the fact that Gabe is a playable character was a nice touch.  All in all if you are looking for a game that has less book keeping than Munchkin and won’t make your whole play group salty go for Infiltration.  If you are a Netrunner player or have players in your group then go for it.  But if backstabbing and stealing don’t speak to you as a player then you can skip this one.

Final Score 7.8/10

 

In Security, or A Case of the Mondays

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By Timothy Mattes

In the dawn of my Kickstarter funding career I would look at a game and if I felt even the most remote interest in playing it, or subjecting my friends to playing it, I would back it.  I was deeply rooted into the LCG Netrunner so anything cyberpunk immediately raises an eyebrow from me.  When I saw Koen Hendrix’s In Security, a dice game of hacking into your corporate network to collect secrets to blackmail your way to a better position, I thought “Netrunner: the Dice Game”.  I wasn’t spot on with the assumption but I was not far off.  In Security could easily be dropped into the Android universe as a spotlight game into the lives of the people living day to day similar to Infiltration.   Instead of focusing on Major corporations and Superstar Hackers you are just a normal peon in the corporate landscape.  That Youtube How To video you about hacking basic servers is going to pay off in dividends after the appalling quarterly review you just received.  On your lunch breaks you gain access to the mainframe with a couple other salty coworkers.  You are all trying to gain enough information to put that fat cat boss of yours on his back foot. You are going to force a promotion.  On your turn you can hack deeper into the server to gain new information, or you can just dig through the information that the previous person dug up.  The first player to gain the proper amount of dirt gets the promotion and the rest of you return to your awful lives.

The first time we put In Security on the table I was excited.  While we were playing I became disappointed as I realized the game was not what I was expecting.  However, by the time we finished our first play through I found a game that plays like the antithesis of Antoine Bauza.  There are many ways to get to your victory, many ways to trick your fellow players into forgetting about you just long enough for you to rocket past them, but there is only one win condition.  The first over the finish line wins.  The most interesting dynamic of this game is the play difference from three to six players.  The Game itself scales well between players, but the magic happens when you play a six player game followed immediately by a three player game.  Everything changes, the way you talk, your body language, the plays you make and when you make them.  A six player game is a knock down drag out war for power, a three player game is a nuclear holocaust.  Everybody plays nice in the three player game until the first person gets “caught”. Once a strategy is shown then all hell breaks loose and it is a beautiful mayhem.  All in all for the ten dollars I paid for this one off Kickstarter exclusive I am very pleased.  Koen has created a stylized cool micro game that rivals Love Letter and Coup.  You know that we live in a Golden Age of Tabletop gaming when an absolutely brilliant game can be designed and created on a dare.

Final Score: 7.5/10 While it is fun to play it doesn’t have a tone of replay-ability with the same group of players.

For more information or to reach out to Koen to see if he will reprint In Security please check out the Kickstarter page, just search In Security under tabletop games.

 

And with that, this has been a review from your humble moderator.

Adventure Time Card Wars: Twelve Minutes to Make a Game

By: Timothy Mattes

The premise of the show is simple, the last human boy and his brother a magic shape-shifting dog are heroes in a kingdom made out of candy that is threatened daily by a demented King that controls Ice and another King that is Anarchy incarnate.  Simple stuff.  So when an episode came out that features Finn the human playing Jake the dog at Jake’s favorite card game, Card Wars, everyone took it for what it was.  That being a twelve minute filler episode that shows you that you don’t always have to win to have a good time.  Nobody expected an entire collectible card set to be produced from it.  But that is exactly what Cryptozoic has done.

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Adventure Time: Card Wars is a two player card combat game that uses prebuilt decks based on the characters controlling them.  It is played over a series of rounds where the player builds up their characters or attaches buildings to specific combat lanes.  The first player to lose 25 life loses the game and is crowned the Dweeb.  The game uses mechanics present in almost every well-established magic based Collectible Card Game.  Using spells and creatures to clear a path to be able to damage your opponent while flooping(turning a card ninety degrees) cards to gain a special effect for the turn.

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The game is not the easiest to learn or even understand.  Complicated turn structure and confusing rules make interpreting the game a bit of a bear.  That said, I love the game.  I love the fact that none of the cards are from the show other than creatures played during the one twelve minute card wars episode.  I love that the show has not revisited the game and that the game is still successful on its own.  Card Wars is not a great game, however it manages to be an ok game and does that incredibly well.  The strategy and depth are not intense and the overall experience can be miserable yet I still find myself buying the next set and playing it all over again.  I cannot explain why I feel this way but I know that I enjoy playing Card Wars even when I’m not having fun playing Card Wars.  It is a bizarre phenomenon.

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There are currently four Two player collectors sets released for Card wars as well as a booster pack set called For The Glory and a Heroes pack that comes with oversized hero cards that give your deck a boost (similar but not quite to commander in the collectible game from Wizards).  Deck construction is fun but can become broken if you try too hard.

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Overall the game is a pass, if I’m doing my job as a proper reviewer and not injecting too much of my own personal emotions into the suggestion.  But I must say if you are even a little bit intrigued by the Idea of playing this game just get one of the two player sets and try it.  You might very well feel the same way that I do.

Final Score: 6.5/10

Boss Monster: or how I learned to hide princesses in another castle

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By Timothy Mattes

When one thinks of side scrolling castle/dungeon crawlers Mario and Castlevania stand out as the staples of quality gaming.  The boys at Brotherwise Games have quite literally stumbled onto the quintessential side scrolling tabletop game.  Boss monster has you take on the role of an epic boss from an 8-bit world.  You slowly build your dungeon to lure in heroes from the local town. Some are after loot, others magical spells, some practice the dark arts, and some just want a fight worthy enough to make them leave their local tavern.  Each turn you build a room in your dungeon and carefully kill the heroes that come through it. If you fail to kill them before they reach you then you get a punch in the face.  Get too many punches and your boss gets killed and you see the Game Over sign flash before your eyes.  If you get ten heroes to meet their untimely demise within the walls of your dungeon you have harvested enough souls to earn bragging rights amongst your boss brethren.

Boss Monster proves what Munchkin could not, a game can be funny and satirical of a genre without being so complicated that it misses a wider audience.  Boss monster boils down to a draw one play one tableau building game.  At its core it is a simple numbers and probability game, but nobody cares about the core of a game.  Where Boss Monster shines is in the theme, something that was applied in the thirteenth hour of design.  A stylized 8bit world full of Movie, Tv, Comic and video game references that will make even the most fringe fan of nerd culture squee with delight.

My first play through of Boss Monster left me with a feeling of contentment in a non-cooperative game that I hadn’t felt since Alhambra.  The game itself has funny screw your neighbor plays and an uncanny ability to allow you to set yourself up for failure.  Overall the game offers a large variety of choices and combinations that will make each game different.  It also has something that many games strive for and fall short on delivering, the people you play with become a mechanic of the game.  If you are playing with aggressive players you are more inclined to play defensively, if everyone at the table is a pacifist then you can go for big combos that won’t hurt anyone.  If it is a blend of the two then you have an intense struggle for dominance.  All said and done I enjoy Boss Monster. It is not in my top ten games of all time due to the fact that the game play can become stale for my tastes. But the merit of a game created by two brothers that filled a niche that appeared to be dominated by Steve Jackson is not something to take for granted.  Boss Monster is a fun light game that can be the beginning or the end of an epic night of gaming.  If you play Boss Monster and you feel it is too simple of a game I recommend adding the Tools of a Hero Kind expansion.  It makes the heroes harder and adds a few extra tricks to your dungeon.

If you are a fan of old school video games, or if you are a fan of the bad guy, then Boss Monster is probably right up your alley.  If you are tired of Munchkin and want something that is a little easier on your gaming group then go for it.   This game truly transcends the tabletop gaming genre and is the first true cross-platform game.  We have been given a real gift from Brotherwise Games, Put down the controller, take off the headset, and play face to face.

Final Score: 9.5/10  I cannot get enough of this game.

For more information on Brotherwise Games and the future of Boss Monster please listen to Episode 42 of Sorry Man, I Farted or visit their website at www.Brotherwise games.com

 

And with that, this has been a review from your humble moderator.

Zoneplex or Progressive Concept Rock: The Board Game

Zoneplex

It is the late 70’s, a group of friends are sitting around a poker table in the basement of a bi-level home in Anytown, USA.  Hanging on the walls are various Rush, Yes, and Velvet Underground poster. The walls themselves are wood paneling. The carpet a disgusting mix of green, yellow, and orange in a calming shag.  The room smells a little musty and it is never quite dry.  Along the walls are various bookshelves full of Dungeons and dragons rulebooks, a series of spiral bound notebooks containing multiple campaigns, comic books, and records.  On the floor is a console TV with an Atari attached to it.  On the wall opposite the TV is a stereo, the warm glow of the green light signifying that the receiver is on and the turntable just above it is spinning hypnotically.  Through the large wooden housed speakers you hear it, two sharp chords and what sounds like a space ship. Three more sharp chords followed by one that echoes.  Three repeating chords that give way to a cacophony of sheer ecstasy and you hear him, the voice of our people. The mouthpiece of the weird, the socially outcast, the cool kids.  “And the meek shall inherit the Earth”.  The group at the table cannot be bothered with the growing intensity of Rush’s 2112. They themselves are in an epic battle fighting for control of the universe.  As the table comes into focus you see a pyramid full of the manifestations of all of mankind’s fears, and among them are a handful of monks.  You behold as this group guides these Monks deeper into the pyramid banishing their fears as they go, every so often being reminded that fear itself can be downright terrifying.  One of them sees an opening and takes it. A light at the top of the pyramid shines, so bright that the room, the records, even the music disappears into it.  When reality comes back into focus the leader of the group has transformed and you see that they control all of everything. They have conquered the Zoneplex and have been deemed worthy to control the Universe.  A series of high fives culminates in this group of heroes cracking the last few cans of soda. The night grows darker, swallowing them all.

Zoneplex is one of those games that a description of gameplay does not justify it in any way.  It actually detracts from the magic that is the game.  A build as you go game board provides avenues of strategy and discovery that ultimately lead to the pinnacle of the game, the top of the pyramid.  As you travel through the pyramid you are met by monsters that attempt to stop you.  Defeat them and claim their essence as proof that you have conquered that fear.  Three different types of fear await you. If you can defeat all three then you are worthy to enter the pinnacle.  The first to achieve this wins.  Zoneplex is played very similar to Munchkin, it starts out cooperative and after the pyramid is completed it becomes a free for all.  This game is the epitome of basement table top gaming in the dawn of the genre.  It is a board game version of epic DnD campaigns, too many snacks, and Mountain Dew.  I fear that if I go too much into the game play it will scare you away from this game, I do not want to do that. If you are a gamer and you love the strange nostalgia of older games, then Zoneplex is for you.  If it were created in the late 70’s or the early 80’s we would be holding this over our heads screaming “THIS is what a game should be!”.  Too often these days a reviewer will latch onto a game and say that it is what a game should be and all other games fall short because of its existence.  Zoneplex is not that type of game.  It transcends all of that bullshit and presents a snapshot of an era long forgotten in a way that anyone who at least knows of that time can see.  It opens a world of nostalgia if you allow it to.

Zoneplex is a beautifully crafted masterpiece created by Mysterion Games and released by the Game Crafter and it is magic in a box.  If you ever have the opportunity to play it with a group of friends that you genuinely love to game with please do.  Otherwise get a copy for yourself find at least two other people and give it a spin.  See if you can reclaim your piece of history and capture the snapshot that our parents have forgotten.

Final Score: 9/10

And with that, this has been a review from your humble moderator.