Where We're Going We Don't Need. . .Roads! - Celestia Review

Had to throw in a Back To The Future reference somewhere given that I'm writing this review at a time when the second film is now about the past (mind blown). 

Push Your Luck games haven't been my favourite games to play in the past. I don't dislike them at all, but they haven't made me go "oh my god, that's amazing" at any point. Incan Gold is probably the most widely known introductory game in this genre, but even that isn't one that I actively seek out. I suppose it's down to the fact that they essentially boil down to "flip the next card, yay or nay" without much else to consider other than basic probability.

However I then watched the first Dice Tower 24 Hour Marathon and saw a game brought out by Tom Vasel called Cloud 9. Looked very basic, very simple and it was essentially a push your luck game, but with some tweaks that caught my interest. Firstly you had to roll dice to determine your chances before considering whether you're in or out, which changed the difficulty frequently. Secondly because you had to rely on another player most of the time to get you further, you had to make a call on whether you trusted his ability to help you progress. This resulted in some fun banter between the players with trash talking, bluffing and deception entering the fray. Suddenly my curiosity peaked, you know how much I like a good bluffing game. 

One snag - it was out of print. Typical. Despite many 2nd hand sales, it was impossible to find a copy of this game. But then word came of a revised version coming to Essen, with much better artwork and components as well as some additional tweaks to improve the game overall. Naturally this propelled it on to my Top 10 Anticipated Games list and I had to check it out and see if my patience was rewarded. Was it worth the trip or will I crash and burn?


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Episode 37 - Post Essen & Demos

Well Essen 2015 is over and I had a blast!! I've already reserved my hotel for 2016 and I hope to see you there, maybe with some proper means of identification though!

So it's time to talk about it, but I can't do it alone. So for the first time ever on The Broken Meeple, I have guests and not just one, but two! Paul Grogan and Jacob Coon, both demo staff at Essen join me as we discuss the highs and lows of games played and give our feedback on how to effectively demo a board game in this special extended episode!


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Code Name: Operation Certain Death - The Grizzled Review

Uh oh!! Another game from Cool Mini Or Not! Ok, I'm making that sound worse than it actually is, basically if you've been keeping up with my reviews; they've been hit and miss for me lately. On the one hand they put a lot of effort into their miniatures and they always look great, however I tend to find that the game doesn't hit it for me after I get past the glossy exterior. The Grizzled however was originally published by Sweet November, a French company and they are the ones who have influenced the design of this game (i.e. CMON simply brought it over to the American/English market) so I will now proceed to eradicate any potential linkages to previous CMON games forthwith.

There's been some interesting feedback on this game, both good and bad, but some common themes arose. People were unsure what to expect from the game at first glance and the aesthetics were subject to personal opinion in a divisive manner. But overall, the feedback was positive and you know me, I love a good co-op game so this seems like a chance to review something a bit lighter than the typical norm as of late even if the theme isn't one that grabs me initially. Does The Grizzled give me a good fun feeling or will I be left feeling frazzled?




Designer: Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez
Publisher: Cool Mini Or Not / Sweet November
# of Players: 2-5
Age: 10+
Time: 30 Minutes
Rank / Rating: 7.47 / 1904
RRP: £16.99


Moving My Drinks Cabinet 6 Inches Closer To Berlin


The setting is the First World War. Two decks of cards are sorted out at the start, one of which the players must attempt to deplete to reveal the dove of peace below, the other the players must avoid depleting to avoid revealing the war monument and thus losing the game. These represent the Trials and Morale decks respectively.

Each round, the current team leader will choose how many cards every player draws from the Trial deck. Then, going around the table, players must either play a card in their hand or back out of the mission. Each card represents either threats to the team (such as mortar shells and weather conditions) or negative personality traits such as trauma or obsessiveness (Hard Knocks). If one threat shows up 3 times, the team fails the mission. The team must play their threats correctly in order to gain any progress. However, most of the information in a players hand remains secret throughout the game which limits what each player knows about his comrades. A failed mission will result in the trial cards played been reshuffled into the Trials deck to be faced again. Regardless of the outcome, a number of cards will be transferred from the Morale deck to the Trial deck based on the number of cards remaining in player's hands. This highlights a necessity for speed as well as efficiency. Each player may then offer support to another player, however this is also done in secret and only the player with the most support offered will gain any benefit.

Play continues until either the War Monument is revealed (lose) or the Dove of Peace is revealed and no cards remain in any players hands (win). Alternatively the game may end prematurely in a loss if one player has 4 or more Hard Knocks in front of them at any one time.


Advancing No Further Than An Asthmatic Ant With Some Heavy Shopping


The Grizzled comes in a small package, easily storable and not too expensive either. The cards and tokens are of decent quality; however the artwork is subject to debate. It reminds me of some film animations from long ago and I personally don't mind it, but also don't believe it's anything special. The characters look decent enough but serve no purpose other than a limited ability to discard certain cards in play that needs refreshing via support. Other than that most of the cards are simply a depiction of 3 threats and 3 weather conditions so it's not particularly varied, but its colour pallet is pleasing.

One bad point I will bring up though is the Hard Knock cards. I understand that the font is deliberately written in an old fashioned calligraphy style to match the way soldiers would write to their loved ones while out on the trenches, but it has the side effect of making them very difficult to read especially when glancing across the table. Given that the rest of the game is fairly language independent, this is a step in the opposite direction.


He And I Are Behind You. . . About 35 Miles Behind You


The gameplay is simple, in fact I would consider this a gateway level game, but by no means should you consider that The Grizzled is easy to beat. On Rookie mode which I do reccomend for your first game or two, it's reasonable that you will achieve a win. Once you stick true to the limited communication rules (that includes you Hanabi cheaters) and bring in the Trap rules (a trap symbol forces another revealed Trial card from the deck), the difficulty shoots up considerably. It can also get harder with a higher player count as choosing the support tiles can be a tricky decision. 2 player games have their own specific rules (but I don't recommend you play this ever with 2 players) and in a 3 player game it's usually pretty easy to gain a support benefit every round.


The big attraction to The Grizzled for me is the limited communication aspect. Nooooo, this doesn't mean I'm anti-social and don't want to interact with other players, but it's the same buzz I get from the aforementioned Hanabi where you can't relay certain pieces of information. It forces you to get in the heads of your team mates and try to figure what they are thinking to the best of your ability. The Grizzled would be dirt simple if you could always talk about everything, but now that restriction adds a new challenge. It's a concept I'm usually a fan of in games, though that doesn't mean I'll always like a game if it includes it (cough cough Then We Held Hands). This makes the playing of trial cards tense enough as one bad play could mean that your teammates are forced to withdraw with cards in their hand. But it gets worse for the support tiles as you cannot discuss who you will give support to. In a 4+ player game you're effectively conducting medical "triage" with the team as you decide who needs the support the most, but with less it doesn't have as big of an impact.

As a result I definitely feel this is a game best played with 4 or 5 players. And the higher of those numbers is a godsend in itself. How often do you end up with that dreaded number of 5 players at a club night which alienates a ton of games off the bat and makes your favourite Euro games drag on for so long at max capacity that you fall asleep in mid-game? Well here, you have a short game that can cater for that dreaded number and not drag at all, hell I think it's best with 5 players and I almost never say that about any game that maxes at 5.


Verdict


I'm actually pleasantly surprised. I didn't think I would get much out of The Grizzled, but even though it's light, it still poses a good challenge and doesn't bog down in mechanics or AP issues. 30 minutes is a fairly accurate timescale with 45 minutes being your absolute top limit so repeated plays are common place. As much as it litters the rule book with historical soldier letters, it's essentially abstracted and the artwork is nothing special. It pays tribute to those that fought in the war and I applaud it for that, but don't expect a thematic journey.

The big selling point for The Grizzled is the lack of communication between players. Not being able to relay what is in your hand or who you're supporting has you constantly thinking of how the other players will react to your play. It's a neat twist and helps to build on the co-operative nature of the game. Overall, it's a neat, light and inexpensive co-operative game that can be played quickly while also catering for that much dreaded 5 player count. I know other co-op's that provide more enjoyment, but this fills a good niche and as such I'll be holding on to this one for now.



YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You enjoy the idea of limited communication - it's what makes the game interesting.

You want to cater for 4-5 players in a short space of time.

You want an inexpensive co-operative option that won't take up much space on the shelf.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You're expecting a strong theme - the historical homages are nice, but it's fairly abstracted.

You want to play this with 2-3 players only - it improves with a higher player count.

You don't like the artwork as it's there's only so much to look at.


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It Ain't No Man. We're All Gonna Die - Legendary Predator Review!

Welcome ladies and gentleman to one of the toughest reviews I'm going to have to do in 2015 or perhaps even since I started The Broken Meeple. Take a game system I already like (Legendary), attach it to the Alien license (one of my all time favourite IP's in existence), do the same thing with Predator (a license I also really like) and then put them head to head against each other. Thank you Upper Deck! 

Alien Legendary was my #2 game of all time on my Top 75 list back in July 2015. I like the deck-building mechanic and I adored how they'd managed to capture the theme of the movies in those Hive decks. Add the wide variety of characters and movies to choose from and it was a auto-win for me. It wasn't flawless though,  the traitor and Alien player mode were tacked on and not particularly well and it was a pain in the neck to sort through all the cards and obtain some decent dividers. But I enjoyed the co-op game so much that with anything less than 5 players, I'm always keen to get this to the table.

So naturally some of you will have seen on social media that I was rather gasping for the Predator version to come out. A chance to play through those iconic movies, a new Player vs Player (PVP) mode where you can control Predators and the chance to mix everything with Alien and fulfil the dream of establishing an Alien vs Predator synergy that would join the ranks of the classic PC games and novelisations. Not the films, no no, we don't acknowledge their existence, in fact that will be one of the first things I take care of when I return from the future in . . . . . the future. . . . ok this is really segwaying franchises here, let's get on with the review, there's a ton to cover!

Designer: Ben Cichoski (2015) Publisher: Upper Deck # of Players: 1-5 Age: 17+ Time: 60-90 Minutes Rank / Rating: RRP: £49.99 Brothers In Arms The co-operative mode plays out exactly like the Alien version. The players as a group will attempt to complete a set of objectives usually keyed to one of the iconic movies in the franchise before they all perish in one grisly form or another. As with other deck building games, everyone starts off with a basic deck of low quality cards, except they get to add a unique card based on their chosen character at the beginning. Over the course of the game, players will purchase additional cards relating to specific movie characters to add to their deck. As their deck grows more powerful, they will attempt to complete the objectives while dealing with all of the nasty stuff that the game throws at them, from debilitating hazards/events to frequent enemies including the "hard as nails" troupe of Predators. Cards will help not only their owners but also other players at times of need when the group needs to work as a team to overcome the next obstacle in their way. Completing the final objective will result in victory, otherwise expect to find yourself somewhere up a tree in the not so distant grim future. Alternatively you can put yourself in the shoes (although technically they don't wear shoes, if they did it would look weird) of the Predators themselves and hunt down human prey. This is a competitive mode with players competing against each other for the most honor. The game will play out in much the same was as the co-op mode, except players can now duel each other for extra honor and instead of buying character cards, they are acquiring various types of gear/kit such as camouflages, weapons, claws, etc. The CIA Got You Pushing Too Many Pencils?

One of the biggest gripes that everyone has with all Legendary games, but especially Alien is the amount of sorting that is required upon lifting the lid off the box. Well sorry guys, Upper Deck have not learned their lesson and you're going to have the same amount of fun here. The cards are in no particular order in their shrink wrap and you'll have to separate more decks than before before you can even think about sleeving. The only advantage you have here is that it seems that the text at the bottom of each card showing which deck is front is a little easier to read especially for the Predator decks which are written in green. It's a slog and I can't fathom why they can't simply give us the cards in at least some kind of basic order, but stick with it and maybe put on the original Predator movie to pass the time!

You're also stuck with the basic Legendary dividers that have featured in both Marvel and Alien which at best are for scribbling on until you hop onto BoardGameGeek and print out some decent ones. It's a bugbear of mine why publishers can't all do decent dividers, but that's just a trait of the board game industry. Smash Up Geeky Box and Sentinels of the Multiverse will always be remembered as the card games that got dividers right! Now with sleeves I highly recommend you use some coloured sleeves as well as clear ones to distinguish some of the decks. I did this with Alien and it speeds up the setup and takedown tremendously. Three different colours should be sufficient to cover the essentials and you can tailor this how you see fit.

It's not all bad though and to be fair one of the component gripes is more of an initial setup issue than a ongoing quality issue. The artwork across the cards is of a good standard and there are some very cool graphic images of characters meeting grisly fates at the hands of Predators. I think it's actually a step up from Alien in terms of the gore factor and as such parents should take heed of the age rating on the box cover. The original films were rated 18 after all. The playmat is very nicely produced using my preferred Neoprene material and manages to incorporate the needs of both modes of play despite one using more decks than the other without sucking up your gaming table. 

If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It One of Alien's shining graces was that unlike previous Legendary iterations there was a way for players to directly influence another players turn. This was done by the Co-ordinate mechanic which allowed a player to effectively copy the card from their hand to use on their turn. The person doing the co-ordinating didn't always lose out however as they got to draw a new card to replace it. This mechanic is repeated here but there is a greater emphasis given to it, with the keyword appearing on more cards than before. But there is a new ability to supplement this in "Call for Backup" which grants an ability for the turn that gets better depending on how many players coordinate with you afterwards. This adds a new element of teamwork to the cooperative game although it's a small pain that it can only be found on the unique avatar starting cards. The ones from Alien had a special ability that always worked no matter what, but here you will have an ability that is a dead draw for half the game until everyones deck builds up. Even though the latter is closer to the teamwork vibe, I much prefer having the constant ability as it added that extra level of differentiation to your avatar. In Predator, they seem a bit too similar now. And you will need these abilities because the difficulty is just as high here as it was in the original making this an equally challenging venture as the Alien version was. Unfortunately it also carries the same scaling problem as well. Playing this game solo works well as the lack of any Co-ordinate abilities balances out been able to tailor your deck as you see fit without player intervention. From 2 up to 5 players it's a constant upward scale of difficulty where 3-4 players seems to be the sweet spot, but 2 will seem fairly easy and 5 will be tough as nails, possibly even impossible at times. There is however a tweak to the setup now in that you get an additional turn in a 5 player before enemy cards start spewing out, which helps, but it's still punishing. Also the table used to dictate how many mercenaries/youngbloods are placed into each objective deck has changed slightly for balance reasons and the rulebook even states to use this as a replacement for the one in the Alien system though I've not had a chance to try this change out. He Didn't Kill You Because You Were Unarmed. No Sport. This is the big selling point of Predator Legendary which distinguishes it from the Alien version. Being able to effectively turn the game on its head and play not only from the perspective of the enemy, but also in a PVP style. The gameplay is very similar to the co-op but there are some tweaks as to how the enemies function. I was scared going into this as I remembered how the traitor setup was very tacked on and unpolished in the Alien version, and if this mode followed suit, it's a giant chunk of the game that becomes unplayable in comparison. However I'm pleased to report that it actually works quite well and in some small ways, even better making this a mode that will actually have players legitimately debating which one they prefer. Buying cards is no different from before, however they make more sense as to what each set actually does and you don't have to feel guilty about taking this time. There are four types (Intel, Strength, Survival & Tech) and you can get a general feeling from their headings alone what kind of cool stuff you'll get through the cards. Fancy some nice shiny blades? I'm pretty sure you'll find them in the Strength pack. How about a nice new Plasma Caster? Head over to Tech. Granted some back knowledge of Predators in general will help on this front, but let's face it if you went out and paid the money and then spent the time sorting this box out, I'm pretty sure you know what Predators are and how they work. In contrast if I buy a Dutch card in the co-op mode, that doesn't tell me much about what to expect. 

Tests and Challenges function like little mini-objectives that you can aim for to get more honor and thus give you more options. Enemies can also obtain gear from a side deck which buffs them up in various ways allowing for good variety and sometimes some hard nut foes to ruin your day, but then they're also worth more honor so quit your moaning, you didn't see the first Predator whining when Mac grabbed that minigun! It might have been cool to see that incorporated in the co-op mode, but maybe that would pushed the difficulty to new levels. Dueling will however worry some players because being able to hit each other means you can potentially kill each other and no-one wants an early elimination. Well thankfully it's not as simple as that. The duel keyword isn't on every card and a Predator dying is one of the end-game triggers, therefore you would only want to do that if you think you're in the lead already. This stops the classic problem of picking on the weak to an extent as prematurely ending the game won't always be a good move and they can always hit you back if they grab a duel card as well. 



Get To Ze Choppa!


Oh come on, I had to put it in somewhere! Whether you prefer the Alien or Predator theme is going to be a purely subjective matter and may even influence which one you'd prefer to get assuming you don't get both. The co-op objectives in Alien perfectly represented the events of each movie and I'm pleased to see that it's the same case here albeit with some minor blemishes here and there. Firstly the objectives in Alien had more room for mixing around to create varied games, but Predator's are quite strict in their layout. For example you can take out the guerrilla camp from the first movie, but then why would you suddenly be back in Los Angeles hunting for clues in the city about Predator killings?  The first objective is also a little disjointed from the latter ones as it deals with a relatively mundane human threat before building up to taking on the ugly one himself at the end. Now of course this is the fault of the movies, but it almost feels like you're playing out two separate mini-movies each game.

A new addition that I greatly approve of though for thematic reasons is the introduction of alternate goals in co-op mode. You can go for a major victory by taking out the hunter, but each movie has it's own alternative minor victory condition that you can go for if the kitchen is getting a bit too hot for you. And these aren't necessarily easy in themselves. A very tense game I played had us on the backfoot being battered by multiple enemies at the end to the point where we knew we couldn't take on the main hunter and survive. However the alternate goal of (you've guessed it) getting to the chopper became available and we just managed to evacuate ourselves out of the game to fight another day. This was a good implementation and I would like to see Alien eventually get a similar set of mini objectives in the future - an expansion is hinted at by Upper Deck for the future so fingers crossed. 

 Speaking of Aliens and theme, naturally one of my biggest desires with Predator Legendary (and I'm sure this was a shared one among the fans) was the possibility of mixing everything together. I've already done that with my Marvel Legendary/Villains collection and even though I'm not bonkers enough to mix them with Alien, who can resist the urge to mix Aliens and Predators together and have them go up against each other. Of course the worry was how seamless this would be and actually it's been handled pretty well. You have to accept that the terminology on the cards have to hold a double meaning, but other than that there isn't a great deal to change and the rulebook gives plenty of detail as to how to mix in objectives and how to calculate honor points for when you send the Predators in to hunt the Aliens.
Verdict


I went into this expecting that I would be faced with the toughest question of all. Alien Legendary or Predator Legendary? It's still a tough call, but I believe that it comes down to two main considerations. Firstly the games are essentially identical aside from some minor rule tweaks and the new PVP mode so you have to ask yourself which theme do you like better? For me it's Alien hands down, no questions asked. Secondly the new PVP mode as mentioned is unique to this set and essentially 50% of the game so you will have to like this aspect in order to get the most out of Predator. However it's a solid twist on the game and actually beats a lot of competitive deck building games for me by itself. 

Alien Legendary was my #2 game of all time on my Top 75 list. I still love it and think it's the best Co-Op deck builder game in existence. Legendary Predator is also a great game, though I feel it doesn't quite measure up to the Alien version. However these are mainly due to minor nitpicks with some of the rule changes and most of these affect solo play anyway. There's definitely a greater emphasis on teamplay with more Coordinate cards and the new Call for Backup ability so I feel that solo play suffers a bit in this version, but it feels more like a co-op overall.

Even if I think Alien Legendary is the better game overall, this is still an excellent addition to the system and the ease of mixing the two together means that fans of the franchise will get even more value out of it. Pick whichever side you like the most first, then if you're happy, grab the other set and go nuts. 

YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You like the Predator theme - it's well represented in both modes of play.

The PVP mode is something you are keen on, it's easily 50% of the value here and not simply tacked on.

You already enjoyed the Alien version and desire the need to mix everything together - it's so satisfying!



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You didn't enjoy Alien Encounters for mechanic reasons - it's a very similar beast and therefore is unlikely to win you over.

You are concerned about the graphical art work and use of language - the game is rated 17+ and deservedly so.

You aren't likely to play both sides to this game - it's a big money sink and time investment for just one of the two modes of play.

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If There's A Bright Center To The Universe. . . - Twin Shadows Review

Daaaaaaaaa Daaaaaaaaa Daaa Da Da Da Daaaaaaaaaaa Daaa Da Da Da Daaaaaaaaaaa Daaa Da Da Da Daaaaaaaaaaa! A long time ago (well long for me as I have little patience for waiting) in a galaxy far, far away (well America so it certainly seems like that) a dungeon crawl game was released that took the world by storm. See this is why I never got the job of writing the pre-movie title scrolls. Taking what made Descent 2.0 a great game, tweaking it and sticking Star Wars on the box cover, we got Imperial Assault which is a really entertaining team vs overlord style game that sadly I haven't been able to review, but maybe I'll have some time eventually to tackle it. 

Descent 2.0 I had enjoyed a lot with a gaming friend of mine and still do, but Imperial Assault was the next level up. Using iconic characters from the lore, adding a 2 player skirmish mode and tweaking the turn order system for balance made this essentially "printing money" for Fantasy Flight Games. Lots of blister packs have been released with new miniatures and missions, but here's our first big box expansion adding in more cards and a new mini-campaign to the system. Well I suppose "big-box" is debatable given the colossal size of the original. Seriously FFG are not good for me when it comes to culling games to make room on the shelf. 

On face value it looks like one of those "more of the same" style expansions, which is never a bad thing when the original was so good. Not every game needs complex mechanisms shoved in with every expansion. This one focuses more on the planet of Tattooine and we already know another one is on the way focusing on Hoth, which for theme alone I'm probably more keen on, but being FFG we know this will be a regular thing (Endor's certainly going to be interesting with Ewok miniatures running around). So is it worth adding to the mix straight away or is it more for the devoted player?


Designer: Paul Winchester & Justin Kemppainen
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
# of Players: 2-5
Age: 12+
Time: n/a
Rating: 8.69
RRP: £26.99


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Episode 36 - Gearing Up For Essen!

Essen is just around the corner (literally, took me longer than I hoped to get this episode out!) and I'm excited to be going to it. This will be my first appearance and I've already caused my wallet harm by pre-ordering many games including some big deluxe sets. And there's plenty more to go yet!

Join me in Episode 36 where I'll give my first impressions on Voyages of Marco Polo, Red Dragon Inn and Cacao, my Top 10 Games I'm Looking Forward To At Essen and kickstart a new pilot segment that I like to call "One More Game?".



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The Only Time You Lie Is When You Are Afraid - Mafia De Cuba Review

2015 seems to be the year for the hidden roles genre, assuming such a genre actually exists. We've already had several releases this year and Essen is about to chuck us a lot more. It was never a category that I thought was running low on games in general let alone good ones. One Night Werewolf was in my Top 10, Spyfall was in my Top 50, The Resistance and Coup are still going strong (even though I can't stand the latter), Good Cop Bad Cop is serviceable and New Salem only just got released recently, which I've yet to try, but I'm hearing mixed opinions. I do generally like these types of games, they are always strong in bluffing, deception and player interaction and genuinely result in many laughs and stories being told long after the game has concluded.  

Well here's another one to add to the ever-growing mix. Except unlike most other games you actually get to pick your hidden role beforehand, well to an extent anyway. Our chosen theme for today is Mafia gangsters and as a special twist, the box is actually used for the purpose of the game. In addition one person is put on the spot as the Godfather even though he does have some loyal people on his team, because he doesn't know who anyone is to begin with. Such a situation reminds me of the Spymaster in Codenames and the Spy himself in Spyfall (that's a lot of spies), which are my favourite roles to play in those respective games. You've got me intrigued, so let's play!   

Designer: Philippe des Pallieres & Loic Lamy (2015)
Publisher: Asmodee/Lui-meme
# of Players: 6-12
Ages: 10+
Time: 10-20 Minutes
Rank/Rating: 7.13 / 4418
RRP: £18.99


I Thought We Were Like Family 


Picture the setting. The Godfather has taken his favourite minions out for a huge dinner, but is suddenly called away for an important phone call. Prior to leaving he leaves his treasured cigar box with the gangsters for them to help themselves. However hidden beneath the cigars in a secret compartment are highly valued diamonds. When the Godfather returns and retrieves his box, he's infuriated to discover that some diamonds have gone missing and seeks to inflict harsh and swift judgement on those who betrayed his trust.

That essentially sets the game up. Players will pass the game box around which contains a number of diamonds and role poker chips. When a player takes the box, they will choose whether to take a role or to take any number of diamonds. Their choice will dictate what winning condition the player is aiming for be it for the good of their team or for themselves. The thieves will attempt to bluff their way out of being eliminated and end up with the most diamonds, the loyal gangsters will try to root them out, the drivers collaborate with whoever's on their right regardless of their status and the agents are aiming to get routed out for a solo win. On top of this, there may be a street urchin among the group who is siding with the thieves, but doesn't care if he's eliminated.  

The Godfather then questions the players as to what they did with the box and negotiations ensue until eventually he points at a player to empty their pockets. Recovered diamonds are a good sign, however he has to find them all. Falsely accusing a loyal henchman will result in a loss, however you get multiple tries with larger groups. Picking an agent is very bad though as an agent wants to get singled out and will earn a solo victory if this is the case. Play continues until one of the above endgame conditions is met. 



Nothing Personal, Just Business


Mafia De Cuba plays out like most other hidden role games. You don't know who anyone is for certain, lies and truths will run rampant in heated discussion and you have to use what information you get to make an informed decision as to who is who. Of course this is always good fun and there's no turn waiting either, everyone is involved from the minute the Godfather gets that box back and it doesn't let up until the end of the game. There's a slight memory aspect that is required from everyone however as if you're going to stand any chance of winning, you need to keep tabs on how many diamonds and tokens were in the box when you received it and take note of what others have said before and after you. Not everyone realised this on the first game so be sure to give new players a heads up in advance. This does mean that a lot of the questions will boil down to asking "how many in the box" to begin with, but after repeat games you'll start to change it up a bit.

So if it's like most other games in the genre, why concern yourselves? Well there's a unique selling point which got me interested to begin with. In most other hidden role games you are dealt your role randomly at the start and have to stick with what you've got. It took me 8 games of The Resistance to become a bad guy and I've never been a Cylon in Battlestar Galactica or even a traitor in Shadows Over Camelot. It's highly frustrating as I love to play those deceptive roles (relax I'm very trustworthy in real life, honest!). 

Here however in Mafia De Cuba, you have a choice and I don't know any other hidden role game that has that (feel free to enlighten me as I'd like to check it out if I'm wrong). Occasionally depending on your seating some choices won't be available to you, but most of the time you will have at least 3 different options available, usually some diamonds and 2 different roles. This gives you a lot of flexibility to chop and change between games and if you like picking a particular side over another, then usually you can on a regular basis, though be careful as every gamer will use the meta game to their advantage when it suits them! Allowing a player a choice of who they want to be is a big factor in role based games, if you foretold that in One Night Werewolf for my next 20 games I would never end up as a Werewolf, I'd be hesitant to take it off the shelf again. Don't get me wrong I love the game as a villager role as well, but let's face it, werewolves are better right?

What Do I Pay You People For? 


Either I'm not a very good Godfather (which is not beyond comprehension) or the difficulty in Mafia De Cuba is slightly skewed towards the thieves and agents rather than the loyal team. As the Godfather you have very little information to begin with, simply how many diamonds you began the game with and how many you received back. A lot therefore depends on your faithful gangsters and sometimes the drivers to lend a hand in figuring out who's not on your side and if they don't pull their weight, you're going to have a hard time winning. I don't find this to be a problem as it adds to the challenge, but it certainly appears that way so far. This is balanced a bit however by the unique winning condition for the thieves where the most diamonds stolen is the overall victor. Suddenly this creates an amusing scenario where the thieves are trying to rat each other out so that they're the only ones left.

The agents tend to actually win the most from what I've experienced, especially when there's two of them. A crafty player will make it very hard to distinguish himself from a thief and so you're always on that edge when you're not quite sure where it's ended up. If you thought the Tanner in One Night Werewolf gave you a headache, this is the next level up. I like the concept of the driver who not only has to help his team win, but has to figure out which team he's on in the first place by identifying who the person to his right is. These small tweaks to each role come together to create a fun and lively dynamic in the group, though I still would rather pick a non-loyal role any day for personal preference. There is also a bonus role of The Cleaner with an itchy trigger finger who can help to balance out the Agents a bit, but I don't recommend him until everyone's comfortable with the game.


Verdict


Mafia De Cuba is a great addition to the genre and hopefully will stand out in the long line of contenders. Whereas I don't think it quite measures up to the likes of One Night Werewolf or Spyfall, this definitely overshadows Good Cop Bad Cop and The Resistance in my opinion, and I'm raising the shields to defend from the repercussions of saying that. One of the best aspects of this game is being able to choose your role yourself which all of the rest of the aforementioned titles don't do. Do you prefer to play the bad guys, well then be my guest! Loyal to the bitter end, then stay with me! Granted, you won't always get the role you want, but with people shifting seats in between the quick games you're going to get it at some stage.

The group will be heavily involved in what's going on and if they are not, it's by their own doing. There are no turns, no scripted questions, etc, it's all free-form and smooth flowing. It's not as crazy and chaotic as some other titles, but there's enough uncertainty to make every piece of information count as it's certainly not an easy game to beat for the loyal team with the limited jokers available. Naturally like most of these games it's better with more players, but it seems to scale fairly well at all player counts.  

It's easy to pick up, quick to play and has you pointing the finger constantly never knowing for sure who's on your side and who isn't. Definitely worth checking out if you like this style of game, just remember to check everyone's pockets before your pack it away! 

If you are interested in this game you can find a copy at your friendly local gaming store -http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/



YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You like bluffing, deception and hidden roles - that's where Mafia De Cuba lies. 

You get frustrated by never getting to be the role you want - here 90% of the time you have a choice. 

You want to engage a large group of players easily. Doesn't take any additional time to explain everything.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You only play this with a max of 6-7 players. It's fine at that level, but definitely shines more in a larger group.

You are bored with the amount of choice in hidden role games - aside from choosing your own role it's not offering much new material.

You don't join in the discussions - this goes for most heated negotiation games really though. 

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