Sentinels of the Multiverse Bonus Guest Review! - It's Time For Some Answers!

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I should be ashamed! No not because of that.........or that......or that........ok I get it, I have a long list of potential reasons, you can stop now! But in this instance I know that despite having rated it as my "spoiler alert" #1 game on my Top 100 for two years in a row, I've never actually reviewed Sentinels of the Multiverse.

I did a quick review of one of the expansions and when Oblivaeon arrives I will no doubt do a full review, but never have I written my thoughts on why I love it so much. Well it's about time I did and I'm surprised I didn't do it sooner. Yes, you're not exactly going to be surprised by the rating I give it, but it's time you knew why and knowing what I look for in a great game, it might make more sense now.

But you can't read it here! This is my bonus review, a guest post on Zatu Game's blog website, where articles on a lot of different board game related topics are shown. I look forward to contributing more to the website in the future.




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Golem Arcana Guest Review - The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword!

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I’ve been an advocate for praising games that try to integrate apps within them and innovate to a new level. In recent years we’ve had fantastic implementations like X-COM and Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition setting the bar really high for future ideas. Previous to those we had Alchemists which did a fine job as well, though it was only “part” of the game and could have functioned without the app (though it would have been clunky and horrible to do so).
But we can’t forget what I believe to be the first game (or certainly one of the first) to really go full throttle in using an app to handle the majority of the tasks at hand, Golem Arcana. It tends to fly under the radar for most people, but occasionally this game crops up again and I felt it was time to see how one of the original innovators handled itself in the technological age.

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Arkham Horror LCG - Undimensioned And Unseen - You Go It Alone, You're Gonna Die!

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10 out of 10 for the picture on the front of the pack alone. Can you imagine standing outside your house and seeing that looming over it? Got to love the Lovecraft universe for its creative horror imagery. Looks like all hell is beginning to break loose in Dunwich as we get closer to the final part of the saga.

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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Mystic Vale: Vale of the Wild Review - Take A Drink Everytime Vale Is Mentioned

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Not much to say here really. Mystic Vale was an innovative card-crafting game from 2016, which despite being good, had the flaw of not having enough cards present. We've had one expansion to date to address that issue and now we have a second. However on this occasion, it's not just a bunch of new cards. Now you have leaders to use as well, or to put it in gamer terms, player powers. An improvement, a detriment or will you barely even notice them? 

Also AEG - Stop naming your expansions using the same name as your base set. You don't need to include the word "vale" in everything, you'll just confuse buyers! 



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Season 2 Episode 11 - GAMERS

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A tongue in cheek episode for you today before I head down to Devon for a week's break. We all love playing games with the community, but I'm sure all of us have that small list of gamer types that we would all avoid if we had the chance or perhaps that one personality trait just rubs you the wrong way.

So as a bit of fun, after I talk about some new appearances I'll be doing at conventions and on other podcasts, I'll give my "tongue in cheek" Top Ten Annoying Gamers.



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Yamatai Review - My Eyes!! The Beauty Overwhelms Me!

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If I was to name my Top 5 Publishers, it would be a crime to not include Days of Wonder in the list. They don't produce a hundred games a year or demand a million bucks off Kickstarter for half a game. Instead they take their time and put the effort into making each one a solid hit. Now they may not appeal to everyone and not everything published by them is a financial hit (Cargo Noir, Rails & Sails, hello?), but the majority of the time, their games will hit it out of the park. They seem to cover all the bases of what a decent game should include without leaving out any glaring faults.

So as I said, they don't release many games a year, so when they do, I'm always keen to get stuck in and see if the trend continues. Which reminds me, does anyone own a copy of Relic Runners, I want to try that as well? As for their older games, they become so sought after on the secondary market it's unreal. I got very lucky in obtaining a copy of Cleopatra which I'm never getting rid of and if only I could find a reasonably priced copy of Coliseum somewhere (note I'm not keen on the look of the new one. . . )

So Yamatai is here and from the cover . . . . no idea what it's about. I hear rumours of it being a "thinky" Euro akin to the same levels as Five Tribes. Good start, I love Five Tribes. And it's obvious at first glance that it's going to look gorgeous on the board. And Bruno's name is on the cover, always a good sign! Let's set sail for the ancient country of Yamatai!


Designer: Bruno Cathala & Marc Paquien
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Age: 13+
Players: 2-4
Time: 60-120 Minutes
RRP: £49.99


From Board Game Geek

In Yamatai, 2-4 players compete to build palaces, torii, and their own buildings in the land of Yamatai. The game includes ten numbered action tiles, each showing one or more colored ships and with most showing a special action. You shuffle these tiles, place them in a row, then reveal one more than the number of players.
On a turn, each player chooses a tile, collects the depicted ships from the reserve, optionally buys or sells one ship, then places the ships on the board. The land has five entryways, and you must start from these points or place adjacent to ships already on the board. You can't branch the ships being placed, and if you place your first ship adjacent to another, then that first ship must be the same color as the adjacent one; otherwise you can place ships without regard to color.
After placing ships, you can either claim colored resources from land that you've touched with new ships this turn or build on one vacant space. To build, the space must have colored ships around it that match the ships depicted on one of the available building tiles. If you build a personal building that's connected to others you own, you receive money equal to the number of buildings.

You can bank one ship before the end of your turn, then you can use any three resources or a pair of matching resources to purchase a specialist, each of whom has a unique power.
After all players go, you shuffle the action tiles, place them face down in the row, then reveal enough tiles at the front of the line to set up for the next turn, with the turn order being determined by the numbers on the tiles that players chose the previous turn. Once you trigger one of the game-ending conditions — e.g., no ships of one color or no more specialists — you finish the round, then count points for buildings built, specialists hired, and money on hand.



LIKE A DISNEY PRINCESS PRODUCTION


Even in the rare occasions that Days of Wonder make a dud game, they always look great. Great is an understatement here, Yamatai is just simply beautiful to look at. The artwork depicting Japanese ships, people and culture is stunning and the box art alone is going to pull in anyone noticing it on a shelf. I would actually want that box art on a canvas print on my wall.

Components wise, again did you expect anything less than great? Chunky wooden buildings, thick tiles, coins etc. Though as a nitpick, can we stop printing coins where you have to poke out a really tiny centre, it's really annoying? What's wrong with a solid round circle? I also really like the rulebook itself. Not only is it colourful, but it includes a fully detailed setup diagram, some of the clearest rule descriptions ever and a full list of all the abilities from the fleet tiles and specialists for quick reference. Learning this game and teaching it is simply a breeze.

And to round it off, Days of Wonder in the last few years have come around on their inserts. Simple and made of plastic, but they hold everything you need in place, not too much to ask. Yamatai stores quickly and easily, but a word of warning. If you feel you're going to stack it on its side, consider keeping one or two of the punch boards handy on the top. Just like you did with Quadropolis (if you've not played that, check out my review, then give it a try).


NOT A CLONE!


Yamatai takes Days of Wonder out of its comfort zone again with a game that's fairly taxing on the brain when trying to separate out your options on any given turn. Five Tribes was a similar excursion, however let me make it clear now that Yamatai is NOT a clone of Five Tribes. It is of a similar weight level and you're trying to spot combos as they arise, but other than that they both play very differently and use different mechanics.

Now as thinky as it is, it's not overwhelming. We're not talking heavy strategy here, but you've got choices for picking your turn bonus, your turn order, your fleet of boats, the specialists you want, the buildings you can aim for, certainly plenty to consider before you even start thinking about what your opponents are doing. And of course you're juggling all this while adapting to how the board changes each round. You'll need a backup plan if someone blocks your way, but sometimes the enemy is your friend when you notice the ships they've laid out for you on that uninhabited island.

At no point does Yamatai feel clunky. It flows super smooth and your player board is a near flawless rules aid to the phases in your turn with iconography that's simple to understand. I say near flawless because the "optional/mandatory" symbol on Phase 3 is a little ambiguous, but to be honest, I've never seen a turn where someone didn't place boats so it's pretty irrelevant.

It requires a careful look to realise that the paths to victory aren't just simply "build or hire". Generally players will do a bit of everything, but focus on one specific archetype. What do you choose to build? A large group of standard buildings for money and game-end rush or the big prestige ones? Or maybe forget about them entirely until someone pops a Palace near you and you take advantage of the bonus points. And the Specialists are no different. You could go for mass hire, but some of them will provide bonus points for various things supporting your initial game plan.


YOU MUST HAVE X INTELLIGENCE. . . . . 


The challenge in Yamatai is being able to spot the best combos that can benefit you points wise from placing ships down. Similar to how you have to spot the best moves in Five Tribes. Of course the inherent risk of having multiple options available is that anyone who likes to min-max is going to cause some analysis paralysis (AP) if you're not careful. I would say this game doesn't fall victim to it as often, but still best to keep them away or include them only in 3 player setups. I was afraid when the rules said each player plays through all of their 5 phases before the next, but in reality they flow through pretty quickly if you plan your turn.

Without those AP players though, Yamatai scales pretty well. The style of game changes slightly with a 2 player affair being more strategic and a 4 player being more tactical (more players = greater change of board state basically), but all those modes play pretty well and you'd be surprised how quickly a 2 player game can finish. Even a 4 player should typically not take more than 90 minutes to finish after teaching the game, again as long as you keep those AP players away. I had one game taken 2 hours, but we had a very slow player present. You've got 4 different ways the game can end, two of which are more common/fast (player buildings running out and exhausting a ship pile) and two which essentially stop the game from dragging out too long (running out of buildings or specialist tiles).

In terms of variety, there could have been some more interesting standard buildings rather than just the trading post, which is really only worth building if you have a large group already. There's a good range of Specialists though for a base game and Yamatai could easily be expanded in the future. You don't need another mechanic Days of Wonder, just give us more buildings, specialists and maybe some alternate fleet tiles to change up each game.



VERDICT ON YAMATAI


They've done it again! Yamatai is another solid Euro game for Days of Wonder that shows that Five Tribes wasn't just a fluke when venturing out of their comfort zone. It's utterly beautiful on the table, always catching a passer by's attention and yet challenges your brain as any good "thinky" Euro should. However you should be wary of any players who suffer from analysis paralysis as they might drag this out a bit too long, though it's not as bad as Five Tribes "million options" approach.

Multiple paths to victory combined with tactical game play and flexible turn order/end-game triggers make this an entertaining experience and one which doesn't overstay its welcome especially with 2-3 players. Those who enjoy spotting clever combos out of nowhere will also appreciate the mix of strategy and tactics give here. And yet it can be fully taught in less than 15 minutes so you're quick to get stuck in.

It's not simply a Five Tribes clone, it's that same level of weight, but it's a completely different game in its own right. At gunpoint I'd give the slight edge to Yamatai on the grounds of being easier to teach and quicker to finish. But I'm keeping both in the collection, alongside many other examples of why Days of Wonder's business model of quality over quantity....works.





BROKEN RATING - 9 FLEETS OF RAINBOW COLOURED SHIPS






YOU WILL LIKE YAMATAI IF:


You want a really "thinky" Euro that offers multiple options for how to play.


You want something that looks truly beautiful on the table.


You want to be able to teach it really quickly and get stuck in.





YOU WILL NOT LIKE YAMATAI IF:


You know any AP players - there's plenty of scope for an AP player to drag this out.


You want a thematic experience - it's a beautiful theme, but it's pasted on.


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Carcassonne Amazonas Review - The Meeple Sleeps Tonight!

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I've always been a defender of Carcassonne as one of the great Gateway games. You want a solid entry point into tile laying and basic Euro mechanics and victory points, there's few that do the job so well. It's had a fair few spin-off's over the years and I've had a hit and miss relationship with them. South Seas was excellent, Gold Rush not so much. And Star Wars.....really? I feel bad I'll never get a chance to play Carcassonne: The City as that looks so good, but it will never see print again and no-one in their right mind is selling it on the secondary market.

Amazonas had me intrigued though. Incorporating a racing aspect into a growing map sounded great and the jungle landscape would make for hopefully a nice pretty piece of art to look at. But it was getting mixed reviews, therefore I had to find out what's what. Can I reccomend this over the original or South Seas, or will this be solely for die-hard fans?



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Tak: A Beautiful Game Review - Wow, Wood Is Expensive!

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Sooooooooo.......this is an abstract game. That's born out of a book I've never heard of. That's barely mentioned in the book to begin with. And then nicknamed "A Beautiful Game". . . . what? This is a very bizarre origin story for an abstract game which would generally be thought of as moving solid blocks on a board. Obviously I have not read this book, nor intend to, nor do I believe it would have any additional bearing on this review so I'm just going to ignore it. It's going to take me long enough to read my Arkham Investigators book as it is.

This now allows me to focus on the game itself, which again does have a bunch of wooden blocks and requires you to place/move them around a board. No surprises there, but all of these abstract games are about the "how" rather than the "what" and I do love trying these out even though I don't have the means of regularly playing any of them to the point of supreme mastery. Let's just hope the name "TAK" wasn't simply a spelling error from "TAT".



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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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