Episode 42 - The Ultimate Fantasy Question

The Ultimate Question? Of Life, The Universe and Everything? No, I mean what defines a "Fantasy" game? In this episode I give my thoughts via my Top Ten Fantasy Board Games - do you agree with my definition and list or do you have your own thoughts?

But before that, a word about local board game cafes and StabCon South followed by first impressions including my "half-way" point opinions on Pandemic Legacy (spoiler free).

And the "One More Game?" segment returns for a more regular timescale with my views on whether Smash Up has stood the test of time and many expansions.



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Going The Distance, Round Three! - Time Stories: Prophecy Of Dragons Review

Time Stories is becoming one of those movie franchises that releases within a short period of each other. You watch one movie, then you wait impatiently for the next one, aching to buy your ticket. Time Stories has been the same. I played the Asylum and loved it. I then waited impatiently for when my friends over at The Board Game Shelf were available to play The Marcy Case, which was enjoyable but not as good. Then I was quickly able to obtain a copy of Prophecy of Dragons, but then had to wait over a month and a half to get it played! It was like the film release was being delayed!

We already have 2 expansions to date and BoardGameGeek already has details of the next one. Prophecy of Dragons is the second expansion and just like before I will keep this review 100% spoiler free. Well 99.9% anyway, there's always one that considers a minuscule comment as a spoiler these days. Can this one live up to the previous two or is the light beginning to fade for this franchise?



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Game of Thrones LCG - The King's Peace Review

So far so good on the LCG reviews so let's continue the Game of Thrones saga with The King's Peace, the third pack in the Westeros cycle. As more and more cards come out we're beginning to see some interesting deck builds, but it's still early days yet and the same factions are still dominating the tournament scene. However with packs coming incredibly fast and the first deluxe expansion (expect a typical Broken Meeple review for that one on release) for House Stark on the horizon the meta scene is quickly updating.

To repeat a previous disclaimer, I'm a casual player that enjoys the game and can hold my own in a local store tournament despite having much to learn myself. That's all. Take that for what its worth, but maybe that will allow me to consider combos and ideas that will be fun to use rather than simply dismissing anything that doesn't make a Tier 1 level deck or whatever! So that being said, let's start. You can already check out my Game of Thrones LCG review on my site. If you want to see all the images for each card, I recommend you visit thronesdb.com and use their search engine.




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Broken Meeple Reviews - Episode 1 - The Pursuit Of Happiness

It's finally happened everyone! This is the pilot episode for my first audio only review designed to supplement not only my main podcast but also my written reviews with something a little different. I get 10 minutes max to review a game and rather than being one that I get as a review copy, these will consist of games that I've acquired myself through my own means whether they be the new hotness or the cult of the old - essentially catching up on reviews I've wanted to do, but never got round to doing.


So the pilot episode is kicking off with The Pursuit Of Happiness by Artipia Games, first shown to me at Essen. This is the first edition of the game and does not include the impending changes that are to be present in the second edition of the game. No doubt I will likely revisit this when the game comes out.

 Also note, the ten minute clock does not include music intros, endings or in this episode's case, the 1 minute explanation of what the purpose of these reviews are! :-P



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Cubicus Genesis - Evolution Review

Evolution isn't exactly a recent game to bring to the review panel, but it's getting more buzz lately because of the current Kickstarter running for the Climate standalone expansion. It wasn't on my radar to try as it was practically unheard of for a while in its first edition and I knew no-one who owned it.

The premise sounded promising, being able to develop species in a variety of ways with the use of a mix of trait cards. OK, fair enough that's a good start, potential here for a thematic experience. Although my first knowledge of North Star Games is their popular party games Say Anything and Wits & Wagers, both of which are fine, but not on my shelf in favour of ones I prefer.

With that in mind, this seems a little out of their comfort zone, but hey I'm all up for diversification. Opening up the box however revealed a lot of boards used to track statistics by way of cubes. Uh oh, I've seen these before. Pandemic Contagion and Progress: Evolution of Technology, both of which were disappointments for me. Is this going to be a similar engine building game with a similar sandpaper-like theme?


Designer: Dominic Crapuchettes
Publisher: North Star Games
Age: 10+
Players: 2-6
Time: 60-90 Minutes
RRP: £29.99



Survival Of The Fittest


In Evolution players adapt their species in a dynamic ecosystem where food is scarce and predators lurk. You play trait cards on your species such as Hard Shell, Symbiosis and Scavenger to develop them and allow them to survive and grow either against food shortages or other carnivores. The population and body size of each individual species is tracked on a small board much in the same fashion as Pandemic Contagion.

Players have a choice of whether to opt for an aggressive take and build up dangerous predators or to rely more on survival and defense and take a vegetarian approach. Food available will chop and change based on which cards players discard at the start of each round. If you cannot adequate feed your species at the end of a round after playing cards whether by meat or vegetable means, they will slowly die off making them worth less points at the end. Any food eaten by your species is placed into a bag in secret which makes up the bulk of your victory points at the end.

Once the game ends, players will total up the total population, size and number of traits on their respective species as well as all the food in their bags, the winner of course is who has the most.



Bigger Doesn't Always Mean Better!


The component quality overall is fairly decent, but we're not talking anything spectacular here. You get a ridiculously oversized start player marker, a ton of cube tracking boards, some food tokens of varying types (even though it makes zero difference in-game which ones you collect) and cards with fairly decent artwork, though it's not for everyone. A board for the watering hole is also provided, although again it seems a little overkill because all it does is house the location for the food tokens. All in all though it's good enough to justify the cost and  you'll never be short of a species board. There are some neat touches though like the player boards being double sided and able to be used horizontally or vertically. That's clever thinking, though why the bags? They look great, but I feel there is little point in having the food tokens hidden from view, it's pretty easy to tell who's in the lead so just have them out on the board, save a few quid and do without the bags.

The rulebook is nice and clear, but again we seem to be going with an oversized theme here. There's barely any rules to learn aside from the cards themselves and yet the book likes to make its presence known. At least it makes Evolution very accessible, though I'm still not sure I'd use it as a gateway game. It can get quite fiddly remembering all the combinations of abilities that are present on the board especially when someone plans out an attack move only to then realise they forgot about one card's power. It's a suitable next step up, but I'm reluctant to recommend you teach a new player this game, find something a bit more asthetically pleasing first. The first bite is with the eye after all.




Scavenging For Theme and Each Other


I hear a lot of people speak highly of Evolution being incredibly thematic. To be perfectly frank, even though some theme is present, I'm not sure where they are coming from. Sure the cards make sense to their titles, but that's to be expected in general. Otherwise you are essentially just playing cards and pushing cubes. Attacking other players is simply a case of saying "I'm attacking you" and them reducing their cube a space. It's not bone dry, but I don't see no carnivore's teeth dripping with theme here. Like Pandemic Contagion and Progress, it's a fairly dry affair, but I'll conceed it's the most thematic of the three as it at least makes a decent effort. But it will take more than 3 cards and a wooden track board to make me feel like I've got this cool new species sitting in front of me.  

Where Evolution will pull some of you in will be the depth involved in how you build your species and play your cards. You play your cards one at a time so you get to observe what others are doing first, although because all information is hidden until revealed at the end you can only speculate what everyone is doing so you never have perfect information present. This is especially apparent at the start of the round where you discard a card with a value that shows how much food is present at the watering hole. Except this is also done as hidden information so you can only decide how you're going to influence things, you've no idea whether anyone else is going to dry it up or make it abundant other than pure guesswork. A little heavy on the randomness there, but not to a painful extent. It did however make me not particularly care what card I gave away for that purpose as long as it wasn't one I wanted to play on a species. All in all though there's enough to keep you engaged for the most part, though I found myself a little bored occasionally as the decisions you make aren't that difficult to figure out, having to keep myself entertained with trash-talk banter about other players species.

The biggest flaw however is the confrontation. Be prepared to be wailed on every now and again if you make a wrong move, because carnivores will eat you alive quite literally if your defenses aren't up. Unfortunately some of that depends on what cards you draw and that's purely a luck affair, but there's quite a few that aid defense, in fact I'd say more aid the vegetarians in this game then the meat lovers. Get your body size up and chances are you're pretty safe from most threats, but it's no guarantee and of course you're missing out on doing other things. It certainly isn't fun to constantly be attacked if you're that unlucky one and be prepared to essentially lose the game if you are because it will set you back considerably. It fits with the game for carnivores to do that, but a new player is more than likely going to be the victim of this. If you don't like take-that confrontation in games, stay away from Evolution because it's going to happen more often than not.



Keep Your Population Down!


Evolution will go up to 6 players, but for the love of the holy meeple, do not play this game with more than 4 and even then be wary of anyone who is AP-prone. Because of the combinations all over the board, the slow players will take as long as it takes to evolve a species in real life to take their turn. This is a fault of the players more than the game, but be warned that the potential is there. There is a quick-play variant for 6 players where all cards are played at once and even though it does quicken things, it removes some of the depth that was present in seeing what other players do first. Just tell the 5th and 6th player to play a 2 player together and you're all better off, although it's still going to take between 60-90 minutes to play and you'll notice it dragging its heels towards the end.

In terms of variety we are given 17 different traits, technically 16 because one simply means you're a carnivore. At first this sounds pretty good and it seems like it for the beginning, but quickly especially with 4 players you start seeing the same traits come into play and in repeat games it gets incredibly repetitive. If you're only going for vegetarian or carnivore solely, then some of the cards will be worthless to you anyway as they only relate to their respective type. The combinations that you can make with all 3 traits on one species are what save it, but even so not every trait is particularly interesting. A Hard Shell gives you a simple boost to body size for defense. That's a very powerful ability, but not very cool or anything. And the balance is a little questionnable as was proven in games where you never saw 3-4 trait cards being played and always saw the same few appearing. I swear if I see one more species running around with those annoying Horns. . . . Now with Flight already out as an expansion and the new Climate on Kickstarter, I'm sure this minor issue is well and truly resolved now, but expect some heavy repetition in the base game and budget yourself to get one of the expansions.


Verdict


Evolution fits very squarely in the "meh" department. There is potential here for something good, but the variety and choices just aren't plentiful enough in the base game to keep you engaged for long despite have 17 different trait cards. However this is something that has already been mitigated by way of expansions both current and upcoming. The game isn't quite dripping with theme, but it's not completely lost either. The cards themselves make a little sense to what their title suggests, but otherwise you are essentially advancing cubes on lots of little tracks so know that you're getting into a fairly dry Euro here. The abilities aren't entirely balanced either, some are clearly better and worst than others which reduces that magic "17" number down considerably, but again expansions have helped to resolve this.

There are some positives though. Downtime is generally kept to a minimum with everyone taking their actions in turn, but avoid slow players and going over the magic number of 4. With only usually a choice of 3 things you can do on your turn it's not too overwhelming and there's a decent amount of depth given that the rules are very easy to learn, though combo-ing certain abilities together can be a little fiddly for new players and as such I don't recommend this for a gateway choice.

For me it's fairly forgettable, but it was an interesting decent ride for a little while and it beats down the likes of Contagion or Progress easily. As I said, it's OK, not bad, but for me it's nothing special either. Perhaps cube tracking, engine-building games just aren't for me, I didn't feel gripped enough. It is however gaining its fans so there is plenty of love for it out there.



YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You enjoyed games such as Pandemic Contagion or Progress: Evolution of Technology where you had to micro-manage several tracks and build your engine up.


You want an easy-to-learn Euro - the rulebook is oversized for how much you need to know.


You intend to get the expansions if you like the base game as it does need that extra variety.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You don't like confrontation in games - it's a strong take-that mechanic here and if you're caught by it, it's a long, slow game for you.


You're only going to stick with the base game.


You play with too many players - I wouldn't advise 5 or more despite the turn sequence being relatively quick.



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Gentlemen! Start Your Cubes! - Automobiles Review

Planes, Trains & Automobiles - I can't recall when I ever saw that movie, but we're talking decades ago and even then I'm not a large fan of it. But that's the gimmick that AEG are following with their games recently albeit in the wrong order. We first had Trains, which was basically Dominion with a board. I liked it fine, but I didn't really get grabbed by the board and so I would play Dominion or even Thunderstone first in that similar lineup. Planes I have not played, but it's not one I'm going out of my way to locate and I haven't seen anyone own it. Automobiles caught my attention however because (a) I like cars so there's an automatic theme connection and (b) it combined two genres that otherwise wouldn't go together, being racing and deck building (or bag-building in this case).

I always like to try a game that tries something innovative or out of the box and combining genres/mechanics is a great way to do it. Hyperborea combined bag-building with a civilization game and it sits happily on my shelf because of it. Paperback used deck-building in a word game. Deck-building does seem to be the easiest way to start it seems. Doesn't always have to be genres though, I mean look at X-Com and how it took the co-operative genre and combined it with modern technology to produce one of my favourite games to date and in my opinion the best use of an dedicated app in any game so far.

So racing and bag-building - how on earth do you combine those two mechanics and make it work? Let's see if AEG have pulled off an unexpected spark of innovation with Automobiles.


Designer: David Short
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
Age: 12+
Players: 2-5
Time: 60-90 Minutes
RRP: £39.99


Re-Inventing The Wheel


The aim of Automobiles is to be the first to cross the finish line (duh!). However how you move and cope with your cars internal issues is dealt with by a bag-building mechanic using cubes for the different gears and parts. These cubes not only allow you to race your car around the track, but they also allow you to improve your handling, optimize your pit crew, and boost your speed, essentially everything you would expect from a racecar. The cubes are represented by action cards that display the rules associated with that cube and there are several to choose from for each specific component of your vehicle allowing for variable setups.

On each turn you'll draw a set number of cubes and make the best use of them that you can. You'll reduce the wear on your vehicle (driving fast and using key components gains you wear cubes), move around the track and perform other typical deck-building related shenanigan combos before drawing a new set and continuing on in this fashion. If things get too tough on your car you can opt for a pit-stop turn for repairs (though this rarely happens). When a car crosses the finish line, play continues until everyone has had an equal number of turns and whoever is the furthest past the line is the winner.

As with other deck building games, it comes down to how you build up your bag. Do you opt for increasing your gears so that you can zip around the outside lane at the cost of damaging your vehicle? Do you go for a balance of all parts? Will you be hyper-efficient in dealing with wear cubes (dead draws basically, much like in Trains with the waste cards)? Or do you just want to grab the biggest block of nitro you can find with a supercharged engine and go like the wind, not caring about whether your car is suitable for another race or not? The choice is yours.



Cubes As Big As The Mario Kart Power Ups


AEG can be a little hit and miss with components and rules, but in Automobiles they have really outdone themselves producing a nice little package. The board is decent, the bags are very good quality (though my copy was missing one, but AEG Customer Services will hopefully resolve that soon) and the cubes are colourful and very chunky, no piddly little pebbles to lose on the carpet here. A nitpick however is that the gear cubes range from white to grey (dark/light) and black. The differentiation in the grey's is good enough, but occasionaly you might need to take a second glance to realise whether it's light or dark depending on the quality of your colour vision.

The cubes are nicely contained in two plastic tubs with multiple compartments and even though the lid won't stay open to save its life, I did find that you tip the tubs on their side and use the lid as a "tray" per say, it works surprisingly well with fumbled cubes collecting in the tray and ease of access. Certainly unless you're a perfectionist you shouldn't be obliged to pimp it with your own tubs, I use Hobbycraft ones all the time and haven't needed to use them here. You could argue however that were it not for these tubs the box size would be a lot smaller and that is a potential problem here. It's a giant box for what you get and it's all because of those tubs. Thankfully they work well enough to justify it, but have some space on your shelf prepared. Least if they do an expansion you're catered for!

The cards themselves have striking artwork and aren't difficult to read, but the player boards are a little bland in comparison with a faded picture of your car branded with several of AEG's other games (which is a genius idea by the publisher given the theme of this game) and 3 sections for cubes. The reference rules are a little hard to read when taking the art and sections into account, but you shouldn't need to refer to them much as the rulebook is pretty concise at explaining the game play. Some minor queries may arise with regards to the treatment of wear cubes and the difference between the player board sections, but on the whole it's a solid effort.


Listen To That Baby Roar! 


Automobiles plays out surprisingly smoothly given the mixing of two mechanics here. Just like the house rule in Carcassonne you have to draw your cubes at the end of your turn giving you plenty of time to plan your next move adapting for whether you can take advantage of another players slipstream. Yeah they even included a mechanic that allows you to move without gaining wear providing you end your move directly behind another player, a cool addition which I know exists in other racing games (though not all), but it's good to see theme being utilised here and have it not just be another cube pusher.

Anyone familiar to deck building will pick up the game in minutes, others may take a little while longer so I wouldn't recommend this as a introduction game by any means to either bag building or racing games. But it's a good next step once they are familiar with the deck building concept. But that's not to say the racing aspect is merely pasted on. Because of the design of the track and the way the gear cubes work, you can take advantage of slipstreams, dart in between other cars for the lead, hug the outside lane or even block other cars from passing, essentially all the things you like to see in real life races. Ignoring these concepts won't do you any favours at winning the race.

Cubes have a dual purpose of being used for abilities or for purchasing other cubes and so there are plenty of options available with engaging decisions that will have a long-term impact. The game recommends a starter set of cards to be used and these work fine, but you're quickly going to want to mix things up and I wouldn't say the starter set are any easier to understand rules wise, but they make the game a little more balanced in terms of what you can do. Resorting to Frankenstein methods of selection is all well and good, but I quite like the themed sets in the rulebook, particularly the one I like to call the "Old Banger" set where wear cubes are flowing in like crazy - reminds me of watching RallyCross or an episode of Top Gear.


5 Car Pile Up!


Normally I would say that less players is better with any "Euro-like" game, but in Automobiles it isn't quite as simple as that. You run the risk of it dragging on a bit with a full player count, but you gain the benefit of having plenty of cars on the track blocking each other and really engaging in a fun race. If you lower the player count, then the game progresses quicker, but there's not as much interaction and 2 players is just a no-go unless you want to try something quirky like controlling two cars with separate bags, that's an interesting thought.

But here you can tailor the game length by how many laps you do. So if you think you've got a slow bunch of 5 players, knock a lap off the game length. It can go from one to seven, though I highly suggest against going anywhere about 4 and that's only if you got some very speedy players anyway. 3 is enough really. So far the classic player count of 4 has been the most enjoyable as a good balance of interaction and speed, but choose your players carefully and I do recommend attempting 5 players at some point.


Verdict


Well I'm very impressed with Automobiles. Two mechanics that shouldn't go together manage to gel so nicely in a game that has enough depth to engage, but not by over-complicating the rules.  The action cards take the most explanation as is to be expected, but the turn sequence is pretty straight forward. Races vary from solid victories to close photo-finishes as would be expected depending on how players manage their bags, which as with the other components are very nice indeed.

That's not to say the game doesn't have a certain level of fiddlyness though when you start creating combos and pushing cubes about, but after a while in your first game you get used to it and everything smooths out and begins to flow. You might just have to breach that initial short learning curve. Analysis Paralysis should mitigate itself for the most part because you have a whole round to consider your next turn, but you've got plenty of options to consider. In terms of replayability, you've got plenty of options available and I would strongly advise getting off the starter set quickly as the other pre-constructed sets or mixing it up are the way to go.

This is a great example of thinking outside of the box with game design. It must have been quite the gamble, but it's paid off. I prefer it to Trains, it doesn't quite beat Hyperborea, but I'd probably sooner play this than Orleans. And it's ripe for further expansion with different tracks and action cards to boot. Thumbs up AEG for thinking outside the box and having it pay off!



YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You want something different and innovative - no other game I know of is like this, it's unique.


You enjoy the bag building mechanic, which dominates over the racing aspect.


You want replayability - there's plenty of action cards and a double sided board to use.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You play too many laps. It can go up to 7, but you'd have to be crazy. Cap it at 3 or 4.


You play with too few players. 2 is forbidden, 3 is ok, but you want 4 or 5 to get the most out of Automobiles.


You include the AP player - it can drag the game a bit having to wait for one person to take forever to use his cubes.


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World's Fussiest Architects - Quadropolis Review

I have a soft spot for city building games - it scratches my itch where I like to see something develop in front of me while I'm playing. In Caverna I get to see my farm and cave expand, in Castles of Mad King Ludwig I watch my castle spread out in odd ways and in Sid Meier's Civilization I watch my city populate and my trade network develop. I'm less impressed with a game that's static all the way through or doesn't give you that feeling of satisfaction of what you did.

The inherent problem of a city building game specifically though is the theme. It's very hard to represent theme in this genre outside of how a building interacts with others. Suburbia is one of my favourites, but you have to admit, with all those dull tiles it's pretty abstracted. And most other games in the genre essentially revolve around placing cards or tiles in a very linear format. Now I don't think I'll ever see a board game representation of Sim City ever, it's just too complicated, but the more theme I can get the better - even if it's just enough for me to poke fun at how my city operates vs other players - regularly I'm seeing smog hazards in Suburbia or kinky dungeons in Mad King Ludwig, it's kind of worrying.

Quadropolis has come out of the blue for me as a light entry level game by Days of Wonder who typically don't release many games during a year. With that name though comes a reputation of quality components, easy to understand rules and lots of hidden depth, so that's already a good start. But if it's light, will it be fun enough to play and how will it stand against what I believe to be the current leader in the lightweight city building category - Dice City?



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Game of Thrones LCG - The Road To Winterfell Review

So far so good on the LCG reviews so let's continue the Game of Thrones saga with Road to Winterfell, the second pack in the Westeros cycle. Currently deck building ideas are limited due to the small card pool and it is clear that some factions have fared considerably better than others in the tournament scene. Road to Winterfell appears to have only widened that divide at first glance, which is of some concern, but let's see just how it's done so.

To repeat a previous disclaimer, I'm a casual player that enjoys the game and can hold my own in a local store tournament despite having much to learn myself. That's all. Take that for what its worth, but maybe that will allow me to consider combos and ideas that will be fun to use rather than simply dismissing anything that doesn't make a Tier 1 level deck or whatever! So that being said, let's start. You can already check out my Game of Thrones LCG review on my site. If you want to see all the images for each card, I recommend you visit thronesdb.com and use their search engine.


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Episode 41 - SORCON 2016

Fresh out of SORCON 2016, here is Episode 41! In this special episode (sorry it's a bit late) I go through my experiences at another new convention which I'll be adding to my hot list. What games did I play, what were the players like, what was the venue like?

And then to finish off, a list dedicated to the guys who give us the games we love. My Top Ten Board Game Designers!



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It Ain't Minty So Don't Chew It! - Pack 'O' Game Set 2 Review!

I don't often do Kickstarter previews usually because of time, but occasionally one slips through the net either because I'm really keen on the game itself or because it has interesting and unique ideas incorporated within it. And even that is extremely rare, there's enough reviews to keep up with as it is without delving into Kickstarter stuff.

This is one occasion where the nature of the game intrigues me enough to want to investigate it further and technically it's not one game, but four, even though when put together they take up less physical space than Love Letter. The Pack'O'Game sets as designed by Chris Handy are a unique idea among travel games. Not content with simply making this the same as other travel games, he's gone one step further and made each game in the series no larger than a pack of chewing gum, hence the "play on word" gimmick in the name.  8 of these were released previously and here we have another 4 to join the mix.

Now I like to see innovation in game design and the concept of accepting that a fun game could possibly be contained, components and everything in a tiny little gum sized box was one I struggled to comprehend. It would have to take advantage of multi-use cards and simple rule sets because you wouldn't be able to use counters or dice as they're too bulky. How much can possibly be achieved with so little? Well as I seem to be reminded of constantly when dating, great things come in small packages, let's see how these fare.



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