In Space, No One Can See You Point The Finger! - Dark Moon Review

In the early days of my recent board gaming resurgence I was introduced to Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (BSG) Having never watched an episode in my life it was good to finally get some understanding of it. I enjoyed the game especially the deception aspect of it and I felt the theme was spot on, but I felt it was way too long especially with too many players. Most games would take over 3 hours and that was just getting ridiculous especially if your character couldn't do a lot each turn. And not once on multiple plays did I get to be a Cylon, it's not fair!! Seriously I love being the traitor in these games but for some reason I always end up as the goody-two-shoes. I want to be the traitor! I wanna! I wanna I wanna I wanna I wanna I wanna!. . . . . <cough> OK I'll just retrieve my composure there, been watching the latest DBZ abridged and I always laugh at those moments!  
   
I then came across Shadows Over Camelot, which became my preferred choice of the two for its simplicity and shorter time span while still giving me that cool traitor mechanic. Then Dead of Winter came and. . . . . well you can read my review here on that one but suffice to say I was a tad disappointed. Other occasions have involved the mechanic being used almost as a tacked on variant, much like the one used in Legendary Encounters: Alien, which despite being my #2 game of all time, I do feel that the traitor variant was poorly integrated. 

Dark Moon's hype brought my attention to BSG Express, a variant that was created to simulate what BSG did, but condense the time down and for a lot of people it was a good alternative way to play. This is what Dark Moon is trying to simulate, but does that mean it should be compared directly to BSG or does it hold up fine on its own as an alternative traitor game rather than a lighter reskin? 
 

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You Were Expecting An Exploding Pen? - Codenames Review!

Many games will get a good amount of buzz before their eventual release, whether by demos, advertising or previews by podcasters and the like. Some of those will be legends in the board gaming world and others will be quickly forgotten to fade away into nothing. But whatever happens you will know this game is coming and at least be aware of it. Well here is a game that doesn't just give you a head's up, oh no, this one refuses to leave your subsconscious for even a second. Everywhere I look, listen, touch and probably even taste and smell at this rate, there is a mention or play of Codenames occuring.

You all know that I'm not one to succumb to global hype and at least remain semi-skeptical as no game is ever perfect. And Vlada varies with me in terms of game design. One one hand his best work for me is clearly Through The Ages as even though it's a long affair, it's a very good civilization game. Tash-Kalar would follow second for me for the neat tactical card play even though theme be damned. On the other hand I was underwhelmed by Mage Knight and Dungeon Lords and Galaxy Trucker was just plain frustrating. A hit and miss affair, but one common trait is that when trying his games out, be prepared for a lot of rules as none of his major releases are simple affairs. . . . . until now.

Codenames breaks the mold by dipping into the party game genre, which is unlike his normal style. There's debate as to whether this is a party game, but for reasons that will become apparent, I'm siding with the pro-party argument. And for £12 it's a cheap affair and unlikely to be complicated with unnecessary rules. Maybe this is a turning point?



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Another One Gets The Hacksaw Treatment – Nations: The Dice Game Review



Nations was a big, lengthy Euro civilization game that played very much like Through The Ages in that you purchased additional upgrades for your nation that eventually were discarded and replaced by new offerings. As you collected resources and used them to keep your civilization prosperous and happy, you had to contend with the military strength of other players and ensure you didn’t starve your people. Like Through the Ages it was a solid game but by removing some complicated rules it could be kept to a shorter time span . . . . well sort of, it was still a bit of a beast at 3+ hours on occasions. I like it and it’s still in my collection though it has been a while since I brought it out, I’d best rectify that.
Dice games are becoming a bit of a trend lately with more and more titles being “converted” into smaller versions utilizing lots of custom dice to give a similar feel, but in a shorter space of time. Roll for the GalaxyRoll Through The AgesBiblios Dice (did Biblios really need a dice conversion?), Bang: The Dice Game, the list goes on. Most of these do a fairly good job, but can sometimes remove a little too much of the essence that the parent game once had and cross the boundaries of abstraction.
Now it’s Nation’s turn to claim a 30 minute game length with chucking dice as the focal point. Can it set itself apart from the rest of the pack or will it quickly be lost and forgotten as “yet another dice game”?
Nations-Dice-Cover
Designer:  Rustan Hakansson
Publisher: Lautapelit.fi
# of Players: 1-4
Ages: 10+
Time: 30-60 Minutes

Painted VP’s

As with regular Nations, victory points’s are the name of the game. You start off with a pre-set board and 5 white dice with various resource symbols on them (stone, books, swords, food and gold). Throughout four rounds you will roll the dice and use the resources gained to purchase tiles that give you renewable resources, re-rolls, victory points and upgraded dice. Depending on your needs you will opt for one of three different dice upgrades be it yellow (food/gold), blue (stone/books) or red (swords/stone).
You can choose to concentrate on building wonder tiles for points, collecting books for culture points or meeting the yearly requirement for famine and war (of course other ad-hoc points are available), but it’s entirely up to you giving you several ways to play the game. At the end of four rounds you simply total up the points and see who the winner is, which on many occasions tends to be quite close.
The tiles are solid enough although I think the dice could have been better. They’re fairly basic in their design, but custom dice are custom dice which is always better than regular. The boards are also just basic card rather than solid and as a whole the price tag seems a little high for what you get. But dice are inherently an expensive component to make and at least it’s not as bad as Roll for the Galaxy’s price tag. The artwork is the same as in the parent game in that it’s like “painted or hand-drawn” art if that makes sense. Many found this style to be rather ugly in Nations so if you had a problem with that game you’re going to have the same if not worse issues with this one as it looks a little downgraded. I don’t mind it myself, but it’s not going to win any awards, that’s for sure.
Nations-Dice-Tiles

Looping Through The Ages

The tile board has enough spaces on it for all but 3 tiles in each of the 4 rounds. Therefore you won’t use all the tiles each time, but it’s nothing special in variety especially when most of the tiles do similar things, be it gaining a dice or token or purchasing a wonder. It’s even worse in the final round when some of the tiles are literally just a victory point and nothing else. Such choices aren’t as interesting as they could have been. Each year also plays out the same with the only variation being a slight increase in famine/war requirements and some increased benefits on tiles. Literally in each year you will use 1 out of 3 tiles to show the famine/war requirements and they basically fluctuate by +1 / -1 and that’s it!
But the biggest part that they missed a trick with however is the player boards. You have four Nations to choose from, OK that’s fine for a filler game, so what does each one do?……………Nothing. Yeah really, you can choose between Greece, Rome, Persia or China, but they might as well be Portsmouth, Glasgow, Bridgwater or Hull for all it really matters. No unique player powers or alterations exist and I’m baffled as to why. Even the Nations parent game had some differences between the boards to make it a little asymmetrical, but here it’s literally boiled down to which colour you want to be. Given that they already had Nations: Dynasties in mind for Essen 2015 to introduce a ton of new boards and ways to differentiate yourself, why not do the same here?
With all this in mind you won’t really feel like the next game is different from the last and very quickly the repitition sets in. Roll Through The Ages has a similar issue and this one really should have tried to branch away from that. However it’s not all bad, because even if the variety isn’t as widespread, you do usually have a fair amount of options at the start of your turn after you’ve rolled. Bad luck can screw you over but everyone gets a free re-roll each turn and you can acquire more re-rolls and renewable resources as the game goes on so it’s mitigated to a point. Also when you buy upgraded dice, you can exchange used dice and then immediately roll the new ones potentially giving you further options. Some quick thinking can allow you to pull off some fairly powerful turns and when you remember that there are only 4 rounds in the game, there is everything to play for.
Games tend to finish fairly close as well which does show that in general Nations: The Dice Game is a fairly balanced affair. So far no particular path to victory has revealed itself to be dominating over the other. Grab all the books and get points every round, but realise that there’s stiff competition and you will be lacking on tiles. Aim for building lots of wonders for lots of points, but know that it’s a resource intensive affair to get all the stone you need. It may seem that beating the famine is inferior to surviving the wars (more benefits inherently arise for swords over food on the dice), but the yellow dice that provide food in quantity also provide a significant amount of gold for purchasing tiles, which the red dice for swords don’t. So there’s no bad strategy to go for, it all comes down to what you roll and how you use it.
Nations-Dice-Setup

Crossing the Boundaries

Dice game conversions are typically regarded as fillers, though not always. Nations: The Dice Game is a filler and yet it’s not. With 2 or 3 players the game can be wrapped up 30-45 minutes without too much trouble, maybe just a little more. With 4 however it crosses a threshold where I can’t really call it a filler. With any amount of AP (which is possible given that every time you acquire new dice or re-roll you suddenly have more options appear) the game length extends to a bare minimum of 45 minutes and that’s not including teaching the rules. More often than not these games will tend to extend to a full hour and for a simple dice game, that’s overstaying its welcome a little. Fillers are meant to fill a gap, hence the name and for the majority of us that play on weekday evenings when you have 4 hours maximum to play games, anything that takes an hour isn’t a filler, it’s a quarter of your game night!
There’s also the inherent abstraction that always occurs when you replace mechanics with dice in a game. Nations was a very good game, but it wasn’t that thematic when compared to some civilization titles. This dice version goes the extra mile in being abstract, but at least it makes sense what coloured die you receive for building a specific tile (e.g. war elephants grant red military dice). Colonies that you can acquire give a bonus that’s got nothing to do with the country in question and even the Wonders aren’t especially varied, nor give bonuses that represent the wonder being built. But it’s a dice game at the end of the day so this concept is nothing new and it would be harsh to fault it for being abstract – I mean do you ever feel like you’re conquering planets when you roll red dice in Roll for the Galaxy?
Nations-Dice-Play

Verdict

The term “Nations” in this game is loosely applied and it almost feels like a civilization filler game in its own universe. Despite this the game in mechanical terms plays fairly well and it’s very balanced, but don’t expect very much in the way of theme as it’s even more abstracted than its parent. This in itself makes it difficult to really get into the game as there’s little immersion and no direct player interaction.
With 2 or 3 players, the game can be done and dusted fairly quickly, but with 4 it starts to overstay its welcome especially with AP-prone players. The rules are simple to teach and you usually have a fair amount of options on your turn, but variety is lacking with no unique player powers and most of the tiles are very similar to each other in terms of what they do so you’ll quickly see all of them after a couple of games.
Nations: The Dice Game fits very much in the “meh” category for me, where I house other games such as Splendor – it’s a good design and is fine to bring to the table every now and again, but it doesn’t really have the staying power to stand the test of time and as a result, might be quickly forgotten if it doesn’t get an expansion to fix some of the replay issues.

YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:
  • You want a quick dice filler in the civilization genre that’s more visually appealing than Roll Through The Ages.
  • You enjoy the mechanic of “buying” upgraded dice, much like in Roll For The Galaxy.
  • You want a game that can be taught in no time at all – there are very few rules in this game, and most are self explanatory.
YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:
  • You don’t like luck – for obvious reasons it’s a major factor in this game.
  • You were hoping for a condensed version of Nations – it’s almost a separate game with little reference to its parent.
  • You want a large variety of tile options – a lot of tiles are essentially the same thing and it could use an expansion.

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Slightly Meh, Odd Game - SMOG: On Her Majesty's Service Review

I'm noticing a trend with Cool Mini Or Not (CMON) games - nicely produced, good miniatures, but very "meh" on the gameplay. I was never wowed by Zombicide other than it had great zombie minatures and map tiles. It takes way too long with a big group for what boils down to essentially a random dice chucker. Super Dungeon Explorer hasn't offered enough to put it ahead of many other dungeon crawl's out there. Kaosball was ok, but again, it just felt very mediocre and you can check my review for how disappointed I was with Xenoshyft Onslaught. So far Arcadia Quest is their one game that's impressed me, enough to make the lower part of my Top 75 list recently. Bloodrage hasn't yet reached the UK though and it's on the agenda when it comes out, but with all the hype that's getting, I'm naturally cautious as I've been burned enough by over-hype.

I've never thought a CMON game was bad though, that's the odd thing. Even Xenoshyft as much as I was disappointed by it, isn't a bad game, it just didn't measure up to expectations for me. But if it was brought out as a potential game, I'd likely still be fine with playing it (long as it isn't 4 players!). But something generally seems to miss the mark or rub me the wrong way or just bug me and what I feel it boils down is this desire to put everything in the budget on to the miniatures and not leave enough to the game design. It's an issue I have with Kickstarter in general in that far too many games brag on about "miniatures this and miniatures that", get a ton of funding as a result, and then a lot of them don't measure up on release.

One of the new ventures this year is SMOG: On Her Majesty's Service, based on a weird steampunk theme which I  thought had to be based on some graphic novel or comic strip that I'd never heard of. Apparently it's based on the work done by Panache Animation that you can find on their website here. As I look at the box, it's a big one and the back shows the usual lavishly produced ingredients I come to expect. Is this another recipe for mediocrity though?



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Board Game Babble - Live Appearance 06.09.15

Last Sunday I was kindly invited to a live stream broadcast of Board Game Babble, which is hosted by Barry Doublet and Kevin Burkhardsmeier on YouTube and also sent out as an audio-only podcast some time later.

I've recorded my own podcast and I've sent in segments for Dice Tower Audio and I used to appear on the Dice Tower Showdown before it became too much of a chore to stay up till 3am in the morning to record given the colossal time zone differences! But live streaming, this is a first and so I was a little nervous but I don't think that comes out on the video thankfully.

It was incredible fun to do and it was such a nice change to be able to banter with others about board games rather than just talk by myself. Maybe in the future after moving house I can get back into doing my own videos again as it would be nice to get others involved, but for now I'm more than happy to guest star on other podcasts and video shows and would return to do this one again in a heartbeat. Barry Doublet has his own channel and has featured on The Dice Tower in the past and Kevin is responsible for the highly entertaining Board Game Theater segment on Dice Tower's Board Game Breakfast. Both are funny and passionate about games new and old so this was a joy for me.

Here is the video stream for the episode - soon there will be an edited audio podcast episode to go with it which I'll post up when I'm aware of its release. The audio quality is a little sketchy at times from Barry, unfortunately such things are commonplace with live streaming sometimes.  Hope you enjoy!

On a side note - this marks my 200th post!!



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A Knizia Game That I Enjoy? – Tigris And Euphrates Review

Well this is something you don’t see on my review list every day. An abstract game and not only that, but one designed by Reina Knizia, who as much as I respect for being a long running legend in the board gaming world, hasn’t usually sat well with me due to his usual style of putting theme on the back bench in place of mechanics. Much like Stefan Feld although he tends to stick solely to your stereotypical Euro style game and has his own trait of “point salad” associated with his work.
But contrary to evidence, I do actually enjoy abstract games from time to time. I was a long running Chess champion in my primary school years and during secondary school I played for Taunton in a local league. Loved the game and enjoyed every difficult challenge I faced. It’s been many, many years since I picked up a chess board so that’s probably a thing of the past now, but who knows? Some skills you don’t easily forget! And many abstract games these days are doing well and have simple, yet engaging designs. Pentago and The Duke are great examples, Hexagony did well at the UK Games Expo this year and other games that are considered abstract such as Through The Desert still rank highly on the BGG listings.
Tigris And Euphrates is a game I heard spoken only in foreshadowing whispers like something from a Lord of the Rings trailer. Highly ranked and highly popular among older Euro fans, it was inevitable that this would get a re-print, but by Fantasy Flight Games of all people, that was unexpected! An odd pairing of designer and publisher, but I felt this was the perfect time to find out for myself whether this deserved its ranking on BGG or whether it was another over-rated oldie?

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Top 75 Games Geeklist Available!

In case you are unable to listen through the whole podcast trilogy going through my Top 75 of all time, you can view my summary geeklist on BoardGameGeek and make your own comments!



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Did You People Go To Negotiator School? No You Didn't!! - Hostage Negotiator Review

I live alone and of course that can get very "ronery" at times. Therefore there will be times when I need a game that can be played solo to pass the time (what little of it I seem to have these days). Most games come with a solo variant, but these usually boil down to controlling multiple player decks or stations by yourself (Sentinels & XCom) or having a specifically designed ruleset that most of the time doesn't really appeal to me or just being so long and complex that it's almost not worth the time to set it all up (Mage Knight & the DVG Wargame series). There are of course exceptions to this rule such as Fields of Arle, Nations and Imperial Settlers which are pretty solid in solo mode.

So as a result of this I have a soft spot for the quick, small, cheap and cheerful solo only games that come out only on rare occasions. Friday has been in my collection for a while now and been a good experience (check out my review), but it's beginning to get a little repetitive. Onirim I've not had the pleasure of trying mainly because it seems to appear in the UK for 5 seconds and then go out of stock immediately, which is highly frustrating as it's a favourite of Zee Garcia's and so far we seem to align quite well when it comes to filler/micro games. Aside from these two I don't tend to hear much of any others in this category.

Now Hostage Negotiator has arrived on the scene to fit in that same category, albeit using more dice than is typically seen and using a theme that at first glance might be seen as rather controversial, but also at the same time sounds more interesting than the previous two mentioned. My copy of Friday has some competition now, so can they get along or will one overpower the other?


Designer: A. J. Porfirio
Publisher: Van Ryder Games
# of Players: 1
Ages: 13+
Play Time: 20 Minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 1752 / 7.50
Treading A Fine Line The components themselves are actually fairly good. You get some wooden meeples, a functional board with rule reminders, various cards with good, if basic graphic designs and some basic custom dice. Not bad for a £15 price tag really, though some cheap sleeves might be an order as the card stock isn't great. It does push the boundaries a little of being a portable game for travel purposes especially with the recommended layout it gives, but with some minor changes (putting the conversation cards in a deck rather than lay out in piles for example) you could get around that. Friday despite having a smaller box could also hog the table space a bit when you got going. The rule book is fairly easy to understand with only some slight ambiguity in places and it is perfectly possible to play your first game as you read it rather than absorb it all up front. The theme is actually stronger than expected - yes the dice abstract it a bit, but the motivations for the abductors and how conversations can go good or bad at a moment's notice fit the context of the game pretty well. The Terror deck racks up the tension even more with unexpected changes to the situation be they good or bad and their respective titles are things you will recognise from any movie where you see this scenario play out. However I say "movie", but even I know that the theme of this game is a little bit more true to reality in some areas of the world. Hostages can be killed off sometimes because you messed up or sometimes even just from the terror deck, one card even does it without any possible intervention from yourself. And the abductor scenarios can be quite realistic in themselves. One of them involves holding up a hospital to get medical care for his dying son, which is not exactly implausible (come to think of it didn't something similar happen in an episode of House M.D. one time?) Another has a teacher with a twitchy trigger finger holding up a classroom of young students. Even though it's all just wooden meeples at the end of the day, you can't help have the thought enter your brain that essentially the game is axing off children and stating you only have to save half of them as a win condition. 

Now of course you could have a whole new thread on BoardGameGeek devoted to the moral implications of having a game based on this theme out there, but all in all, it works in the games favour here. Depending on how seriously you take this theme, you'll be more invested in trying to succeed with as little collateral damage as possible. I might be taking this way more seriously than it needs to be, but I thought I'd bring the subject matter up as I'm sure this has entered the minds of some people with Hostage Negotiator on their wish list. Remember all the controversy when Five Tribes had the slave cards? Some themes can rub people the wrong way and therefore some publishers and designers have to tread carefully. That been said, games like Freedom: The Underground Railroad were received well despite the theme. It's all down to the individual I guess.


We'll Give You One Calf...For Some Guns & Ammunition Of Our Own!


If you're getting the references so far, kudos! I couldn't resist giving that South Park episode a re-watch when I started learning this game. But I digress!

The crux of Hostage Negotiator comes down to your hand management and the dice. You start off with some basic conversation cards and can purchase more depending on how well you did in the last round. It's almost like deck building except once you use the cards, you have to re-buy them later whether they succeeded or not and you can't repurchase those cards (even the free ones) until the end of the next round. So already you're having to be mindful of which cards you use and when. Simply unloading all of your cards from the word "go" can leave you with limited actions in the next round. But you can't sit back and be cautious forever because the Terror deck as well as changing the situation each round also acts as a game timer. You might be having a good round or two but you rarely feel like you're dominating at any time and getting cocky will most certainly result in your downfall when unexpected events occur. There's a good amount of tension present and your choices have meaningful ramifications. The dice might break the game for some though. They add a high element of randomness to the game, which to be fair fits well with the theme (hostage negotiations are never predictable), but it can be frustrating when your best laid combo in your hand falls apart because of the dice gods. A success is only achieved on a 5 or 6 with a 4 being a partial success providing you're willing to dispose of cards in your hand for it giving you the option of picking your battles. Some conversation cards can be purchased which can add extra dice or increase the odds in your favour, but these are quite short term and of course, you have to succeed on these cards first before you get the bonus! It's not a deal breaker for me personally as it helps to speed things along.
...And A Cattle Truck Driven By Michael Dorn In Full Makeup! Sorry, couldn't resist, I'm still laughing now, go watch it if you haven't seen it - "Fun With Veal". I mentioned before that Friday was getting a little repetitive for me. The question is whether Hostage Negotiator will follow suit. You get three abductor's in the box each with their own set of various demands. The demands themselves don't change things up dramatically, but the special setup instructions on the abductors do. One is blank as it's designed for your first few games, but the other two have interesting quirks that force you to play a little differently. There's enough demand cards and terror cards to mix things up a bit as they are randomly chosen each game. The conversation cards also allow you to try a few different play styles - whether it's performing minor extractions consistently or going for the quick sniper kill. Commonly it will come down to one ballsy last move particularly with the Escape demands which give you a decent bonus, but also only give you one turn to capture the abductor before they escape and you lose. Unsurprisingly there's no card that allows you to shoot the hostage to take them out of the equation, so that we'll have to leave to Keanu Reeves. There's enough in the box to keep you going for a little while, but soon you might feel that it's also a bit repetitive. There are however two potential solutions for this problem. At the back of the rulebook there are challenges that can be attempted by players during each game, sort of like a checklist. They require special focus during the game and may force you to play differently to what you're used to, but they are tough and will keep the die-hard players going for a while. The game is also already receiving expansions to bring in more conversation cards and new abductors, both of which would be a decent improvement and add to the variety. However when these will be available in various countries I don't know as I haven't seen any mention of a UK release yet and there's also the cost factor to bare in mind. They need to be reasonable like the promo packs for Sentinels of the Multiverse as opposed to the daylight robberies committed by the Alien Frontier mini-expansions.
Verdict Hostage Negotiator joins the club of small, quick solo games that previously has been dominated by the likes of Friday and Onirim. And despite having not played Onirim, I feel it's a solid game overall and actually better than Friday. Friday can get a little repetitive over many games, but Hostage Negotiator can give you a different experience depending on which abductor you use, what demands they have and how you go about completing the game whether for a change of pace or attempting the tricky challenges. Some more variety is need however to really keep this game fresh, however future expansions will help to solve this problem - of course the downside of that is how expensive these will be because as much as the game is fun, it's not one that I would want to staple a high price tag too especially when other solo games can give you a decent bang for your buck already. The theme can potentially rub people the wrong way, but if you can deal with that, then it's actually represented fairly strongly here despite the use of dice. Conversations can succeed or fail horribly changing the tide of the game much like a typical hostage negotiation and the terror cards add to the tension of not knowing how far you can push your luck. The mechanics of holding back cards for a future turn to set up combos and meeting the demands of the abductor for bonuses, but with the potential to backfire give you some legitimately interesting choices to consider. Overall Hostage Negotiator is a solid design and worth looking into if you want a quick, portable solo game. It's different enough from the crowd that it stands out on its own and has the potential to get better through expansion, but it's not quite at that level of being a "great" game just yet.
YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:

You want a quick solo experience - it's quick to set up, play and put away. 

You want a game that gives you meaningful choices to make and keeps the tension up throughout.

You want a game that's expandable over time - unlike most solo games this one is going to see future expansion.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:

You want a straight up puzzle game - the dice add a high random element to proceedings and may cause frustration to those who hate "luck".

You don't agree with the choice of theme - it's trying to be semi-serious and it might rub people the wrong way.

You have no intention to expand the game given the choice - the base cards alone won't keep it going indefinitely. 

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