Arkham Horror LCG - Blood On The Altar - I Now Hate Owls

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Well after yet another hurrendous train journey (seriously when is a train journey ever good, I hate trains) we get a nice kip in Dunwich - except when we wake up the next morning, people have gone missing and there's a disturbing amount of owls in the trees giving off vibes of impending death. Clearly something is coming and we'd best find those missing people quick!

If you ever want to see the full player card list, you can check out Arkham.db, which has a comprehensive card list as well as quality deck lists posted by the Arkham LCG community.




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Terraforming Mars Review - A New World, But Maybe I'll Just Visit On Occasion

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Uh oh! I'm going to need my Fortress of Solitude again aren't I? Any time you review a game that's generated more hype than the 2nd coming of Jesus, you need your defenses set up. And that's even if you give it a 9 out of 10 rating. Anything less than perfect is seen as bad in the eyes of the internet, remember all the controversy from fanboys of Mad Max Fury Road? You even so much as point out one flaw in that movie and suddenly in your rear view mirror there's a horde of sand buggies chasing you.

This Euro generated a ton of hype, we're talking near the levels of Scythe here. And I agree with Tom Vasel that "hype" is a huge enemy of gaming. People go nuts over an upcoming release, which then results in wars breaking out over whether it met the hype or not. A friendly debate back and forth is fine, but I've seen things you wouldn't believe on social media and BGG. On paper it sounded pretty good though. Drafting, multiple paths to victory and theme (I'll be the judge of that), all decent parts I like in games.

Now even Scythe despite just hitting my Top Ten of all time, doesn't meet the hype it generated, no game ever can. So even if Terraforming Mars gets a 10 from me, it won't have met the hype.
So retract the drawbridge, raise shields and inform all plumbers in advance that the princess is in another castle, this is Terraforming Mars: The Review.


Designer: Jacob Fryxelius
Publisher: Stronghold Games
Age: 12+
Players: 1-5
Time: 150-210 Minutes
RRP: £59.99


From Board Game Geek

In the 2400s, mankind begins to terraform the planet Mars. Giant corporations, sponsored by the World Government on Earth, initiate huge projects to raise the temperature, the oxygen level, and the ocean coverage until the environment is habitable. In Terraforming Mars, you play one of those corporations and work together in the terraforming process, but compete for getting victory points that are awarded not only for your contribution to the terraforming, but also for advancing human infrastructure throughout the solar system, and doing other commendable things.



NASA'S BUDGET CUTS


This is a common complaint by many so I'm sure I'm not in a minority here, but it has to be said, the component quality is pretty subpar and the artwork varies between average drawings and random stock photos of anything from passing comets to the designers dog. The cubes, as neat an idea as it is to use a universal tracking system for resources, aren't that durable as I'm seeing dents/scratches everywhere and it creates one of the most frustrating player board situations I've encountered. You're tracking a lot on your board on these very small spaces, barely large enough to accomodate everything and one slight nudge of the table or brush of your sleeve and suddenly your income stream becomes a game of "Bluff".

The board itself is the best part though - nothing especially great, but it's clean and easy to read including all the milestones and goals and the basic action table (which you might as well cover with a sheet of paper as you'll practically never use it). Why the artwork on here couldn't have been done for the cards as well though?

Now using stock photos and low quality cards/cubes wouldn't be a problem if the price justified it. But copies of Terraforming Mars are selling for £60 plus. I mentioned Scythe before and look at what you get in that box for the same price. Players have solved the player board issue with 3rd party plastic tray accessories, but they fetch about £10 a piece. So die-hard fans who aren't versed in arts and craft are forking out £110 to bring this up to scratch. Even at base retail value though, I would have hoped for more.

It's not all bad though. Despite the stock photos, I was impressed with the graphic design used in Terraforming Mars. The board is pretty clear on what's what and each card not only has the iconography, which is pretty intuitive already, but also the text explanation of what the card does. Anyone used to Euro's with card abilities should have no trouble picking up the basics of this game or understanding the general jist of a new card discovered during play. And despite this, the cards don't seem cluttered. I didn't find myself having to check the rules much during the first play, which is quite an achievement.



PICK YOUR SCIENCE DIVISION


Terraforming Mars's strongest aspect is the variety in the strategies you can go for. I'm not entirely convinced some aren't better than others (tip: don't focus on comets and meteor's, it won't go well), but you do have a nice mix of styles whether it involves focusing on cards or more on the board itself. The cards themselves are also all unique so you'll never see the same card appear on someone else's tableau once you've taken it. Now again, balance is questionable, but with this many cards, you kinda have to expect that.

I do wish though that maybe there were some more endgame goals. There's only 5 available and that can't cover every type of symbol/resource in the game so you either pigeon hole yourself into going for them or ignore them completely.

The theme is actually interwoven better than I expected. The cards themselves mostly relate to actual scientific methods in the field of terraforming and colonisation whether from real life or pesudo-sci-fi. As the temperature and oxygen level rises, other cards become available and it's cool to watch the planet take shape as you go along.

Now good for some, bad for others (including myself), Terraforming Mars doesn't hold you by the hand. You're basically thrown in the deep end and forced to figure out how to use those cards right and it will not come immediately to you. So anyone who's played before is going to have a significant advantage. There is also no real catch up mechanism in the game either. So if you're falling behind by the half way point, you're going to be staying that way as it does feel very much like a "rich get richer" system - there's very few opportunities in the game to get in the way of the leaders without usually slowing yourself down in the process. Many like that kind of setup, but I prefer there to be some glimmer of hope for the losing players.



TOO LONG TO DRAFT?


You can play Terraforming Mars in two ways. Use basic corporations that are all generic and be dealt your cards without drafting each round, or use one of the special corporation powers and draft cards. Even if you are learning the game, using the basic version is completely the wrong way to do this. For starters, unique player powers and drafting are just more fun in general than being generic.

But there's also the luck factor to consider. Terraforming Mars hinges on the variety of cards and being able to use those cards to carry on your strategy. If you are simply dealt them, then the whole game becomes a luck-fest of who got the best hand. Drafting those cards mitigates that luck, however unfortunately it doesn't eliminate it. Drafting in games always carries an inherent element of luck because even though you are picking cards and choosing what to pass on, the initial distribution of those cards is still based on luck of the draw. If you get dealt or are passed cards you can use, you're in a much better situation and with new players you almost have a Puerto Rico scenario where sitting after the new player is really advantageous because they won't know what cards to not pass over. Some cards can even generate VP's over the course of the game and grabbing one of those will really help if you're fortunate enough to see them.

Now drafting luck is no new thing and even the likes of 7 Wonders, Sushi Go, Among the Stars, Best Treehouse Ever, etc. have the same thing. But here's the catch. Those games are short. We're talking less than an hour for all but Among the Stars and even that is usually capped at 90 minutes without AP players. Terraforming Mars has regularly taken anywhere between 2.5 hours and 3.5 hours to finish a game whether I'm in it or just from observations. It can even take longer, but yes I know some 2-3 player games can do it in 2 hours, but you need to be fast and know the game inside and out. That's already a bit too long for me normally, but when factoring in the luck from drafting combined with the punishing lack of a catch up mechanism, that's too much for me.

I feel this game would have been better capped at 90 minutes at most and if it took less time to meet the end-game conditions that would be probably be easily achievable. It seems to take forever for the planet to heat up and become breathable despite the fact that it begins to steamroll more near the end. But after 60-90 minutes the repetition of "draft 4 cards, pick them, play them, collect income" sets in and you realise that you're doing this A LOT over the course of 3 plus hours assuming you're not in downtime mode waiting for 3-4 other players to do their actions. I don't know why it's so hard these days for games to be capped at a certain length.

But if you do want a shorter experience, you can always try the Solo mode which is actually fairly enjoyable. You get to do something different each time, it doesn't take quite as insanely long as the main game (though it's not a short affair by any means) and you get rid of any downtime.





VERDICT ON TERRAFORMING MARS



It's madness that I can't say this without sitting inside a sealed fortress, but I'm afraid I was very disappointed with Terraforming Mars given all the hype it's received. It has a lot of ingredients I normally crave - drafting, good variety of options and a decent, if not exactly dripping, amount of theme. But a few aspects miss the mark for me. For the price tag, I expected a lot better in component quality. The board is probably the best looking thing in it and even then it's not amazing. But a mix of art/stock photos, thin cards, easily dented cubes and player boards designed to destroy games from a gentle nudge doesn't scream value for money. That being said, the graphic design is really good and makes learning the cards a lot easier to cope with.

It's also very long and gets repetitive as you're basically rinsing and repeating for 3 hours plus. Combined with the inherent luck factor from drafting cards, despite a degree of mitigation if no-one is new to the game, it overstays its welcome and would have been much better suited to a 90 minute time frame. I will never touch this game with more than 3 players again just from downtime alone between turns. But there is a good amount of variety here in strategies and the theme is fairly strong. If you don't mind the lack of a catch up mechanism, i.e. punishing games, then there's something good to find here.

I commend the concept and can see the appeal for many, but this will go down as one of my biggest disappointments and a poster child for why "hype" is a ferocious enemy of gaming.




BROKEN RATING - 6 DEGREES TOO COLD FOR MY HOT TUB





YOU WILL LIKE TERRAFORMING MARS IF:


You enjoy drafting - playing this game without that rule is just madness.


You enjoy having a variety of paths to explore.


You like punishing games.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE TERRAFORMING MARS IF:


You want a short Euro experience - for most people it's around 3 plus hours.


You feel the luck factor is a little too high for the time length invested.


You hate the lacklustre component quality and aren't buying the plastic trays.


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Smash Up: What We Were Thinking Review - Probably About Printing Money!

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Are AEG trolling themselves now? I get the feeling the next expansion for Smash Up is discussed on an employee night out over a few drinks! It would explain some of the choices we've had over the years and certainly at last one or two of these ones. But it's Smash Up and anyone who plays and enjoys it, always loves to see another collection of factions to justify the acquisition of that Big Geeky Box! I kid you not, fully sleeved, it's not going to be long before that Geeky box runs out of space to hold everything. I give it. . . . 4 expansions tops, baring in mind you need room for tokens. What I really need though is a reference faction sheet that explains briefly all the different strategies for each as the box isn't designed to hold every single rulebook.

I still enjoy it though and even though it hasn't hit the table much in recent times, it's not going anywhere soon. It's biggest hindrance is getting people to sign up to the idea of playing it as it's very . . . unique. . . . and also because it's best played with less than 4 players so you're a little limited there. That being said, I still enjoy the game and at least it does all store nicely in a very tough box. Some of my games lately are showing wear and tear from being carted around in IKEA bags, sliding in my car boot etc, but that Geeky Box just takes it like a man. Or Dinosaur. Or Werewolf. Or Dinosaur Werewolf.



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Season 2 Episode 10 - STABCON

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Well Stabcon was another success in early April, but maybe some of you haven't heard of it - well here's a chance to find out more. How did it go, what is it all about, when's the next one and what games, both old and new, did I get to play?


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Arkham Horror LCG - Essex County Express - No Ticket!

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Oooh we get to ride on a train this time? I've been quite excited for this one from the previews as it could be a stand-out in the cycle in terms of thematic story telling. Everyone got your tickets?

Keeping to the previous format, these pack reviews are based on the scenario itself as well as my pick of decent, ridiculous or amusing cards from the player set. If you ever want to see the full player card list, you can check out Arkham.db, which has a comprehensive card list as well as quality deck lists posted by the Arkham LCG community - highly recommended.



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Arkham Horror LCG - Miskatonic Museum - It Begins With A Book Again

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Remember when I used to do reviews on Netrunner data packs? Well sadly as I no longer can keep up with Netrunner, those won't be happening now. I'm also too far behind on Lord of the Rings LCG to start doing reviews for those. So instead, I'm focusing on Arkham Horror: The Card Game, the new LCG from Fantasy Flight that's being a solid hit since release. Co-operative LCG's are the way forward people, I'm telling you!

A few changes though. Writing a whole paragraph about every single player card in a pack was not only time consuming, but it got tedious very quickly when you consider how frequently these packs release! So as this is a narrative campaign, I'm going to focus my review on talking about how the scenario in each pack plays out (of course keeping it spoiler lite as much as possible). But I will also talk about some of my favourite cards in the pack for players, whether it be for art, amusement or usefulness, maybe my Top 3. Most of you veteran players will have already researched the player cards and have your own opinions about how good the card is. For the rest, if you ever want to see the full player card list, you can check out Arkham.db, which has a comprehensive card list as well as quality deck lists posted by the Arkham LCG community - highly recommended. 



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YINSH Review - Abstracted Perfection

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As much as I will defend the inclusion of theme with a giant Captain America shield raised, I do also adore abstract strategy games. Simplicity coupled with complexity, it's weird to put those in the same sentence, but that's how a lot of them feel. Quick to play, quick to learn, but highly replayable and a great test of your brains inner synapses.

The GIPH series is a string of 2 player abstract games designed by Kris Burm. Highly popular among strategy gamers and sharing the common link of having names that are probably illegal in a game of Scrabble, they've proven to be worth their weight in abstract gold. Some are better than others and it's hard to choose which one you're going to start with. Unless you watch The Dice Tower in which you'll hear Zee constantly mention YINSH as his all time favourite.

Well . . . .he's not let me down yet on these obscure, out of nowhere games. Hello YINSH.



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Insider Review - 20 Questions, One Complete Guess

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Who remembers "20 Questions"? The old classic party game of trying to guess a clue word by shouting an insane amount of questions at some poor sap who can only respond by way of Yes, No or Maybe. It's not exactly one that's played much if at all these days, but most people will have at least heard of the concept.

Well now someone has taken 20 Questions and added a hidden role to the mix. As well as trying to figure out the clue word, you're also trying to suss out who in your group knew the answer to begin with. And that person is attempting to stay hidden while ensuring that the group guesses the clue word eventually.

Sounds like a weird combination, but could it actually work?



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Season 2 Episode 9 - SCALPING

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A recent fun gaming weekend has brought me to talk about some of the great experiences and games played including Unlock, Jupiter Rescue and a variant on Resistance Avalon.

After that I need to give my thoughts on a practice I'm seeing too often in the board gaming hobby, which I wish would stop. And that is "Scalping" (no I don't mean the nasty gory practice), I mean where people buy Kickstarters/Pre-Orders solely for the purpose of selling on at over-inflated prices to unsuspecting people in the secondary market.



03:50 - Unlock
08:05 - Jupiter Rescue
10:18 - Resistance Avalon Role Variant
15:08 - Scalping - Right or Wrong?
26:34 - Conclusion
 

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Airecon - Board Game Room 101

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At Airecon, I joined a group of UK board game media creators to discuss which aspects of the tabletop gaming hobby that we should put into Room 101. Most of them went for safe bets, booooooooooooo, I went for something a little more. . . . debatable.

It was a good laugh though, so tune in to Toucan's video and watch for yourself!



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