Review – Let’s Take a Hike from Stratamax Games

Review – Let’s Take a Hike from Stratamax Games

Designer – Aaron Lauster

Art – Troy Cummings

note – Thanks to Stratamax Games for a review copy of this game.

One of the joys of going to Essen Spiel is that for all the research you do amongst the load of new releases, there will still be surprises in games that you may or may not have heard about. I was given a review copy of a little card game called Let’s Take a Hike from Stratamax Games and was indeed pleasantly surprised  with it.

Unboxing

A card game for 2-5 players age 6+, Let’s Take a Hike comes with a nice quality, colorful deck of cards with wonderfully cartoony art by Troy Cummings. The cards represent –

Items which are to be carried by each player include – frying pan, camera, sleeping bag, snack bar, compass, flashlight, socks, tent, water bottle, map, bear spray,

There are also Hazard cards which include – bear, skunk, racoon, and blisters

You also get a Lead Hiker card and a score card for each player.

  

Gameplay

Basically, this game is all about scoring points for taking hikes.

Players are dealt 7 cards (which is the maximum hand allowed) and on a player turn they may do one of 2 things;

– Perform 3 actions or

– Take a hike

Available actions

1) Draw a card from the deck and add it to their hand

2) The players place cards on the table in front of them in the designated position (diagram indicated in the rules) in their backpack. Each item will only fit in certain parts of your backpack. Each card has a mini-diagram of which backpack storage slots are appropriate for each item. Item cards show a number of “footprints” which represent its weight.

3) Play a hazard card  to the table

Each hazard has a specific “gotcha” impact. Bears are played during a hike and the beasts are hungry and curious about what’s in the heaviest backpack (but they can be sent packing if you have Bear spray). Skunks ruin items and cause players to empty their pack and give the rest a good clean as well as end a hike. Racoons steal items from backpacks and cause a hike to end. Blisters cause players to dump their heaviest items to relieve the pain if they aren’t wearing good socks.

Take a Hike

A player can decide to go on a hike. They become the Lead Hiker. Other players who have at least one item in their pack can join the hike. The Lead Hiker draws the top card from the deck, the number of bootprints indicating the distance traveled. If a hiker has the same item as was turned up, they don’t need to discard anything. All others must discard a card or cards that add up to the same or greater number of bootprints as the turned over card from the deck. If they don’t have enough bootprints, they discard all their cards and must drop out of the hike. If a Hazard card was pulled, it is resolved.

After the pulled card is resolved, players decide whether they will continue on the next leg of the hike or if they will drop out, and so on. Players who drop out of a hike can collect one of the cards that was turned over but the challenge and pressure comes from trying to last as long as you can as if you are the last one to drop out collects all remaining cards from the cards that were turned over. A real push your luck aspect crucial to winning.

Overall, the game plays very quickly, is easy to understand as the diagrams are clear and it all makes sense. With a little adult guidance, the youngsters will get it.

The game ends after all the cards have been drawn unless a hike still needs to be completed first. The winner has the most bootprints in their scoring pile.

Did it work for me?

Let’s Take a Hike is a simple, fun family card game and works very well as a filler as well for an adult group. The mechanics are straightforward, clear and work well. The take that element is amusing and keeps things interesting whilst the press your luck of the hikes is a real test of nerve. Good fun all around and with cute and amusing artwork, makes a nice treat for anyone I would say.

Boardgames in Blighty rating – 6.5 out of 10

Family friendly?

You betcha. A lovely fun card game for family nights.

For more information go to –http://stratamaxgames.com/

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Review – Lost Temple from White Goblin Games

Review – Lost Temple from White Goblin Games

Designer – Bruno Faidutti

Art – Piero

One of the games I was most looking forward to picking up at Essen was Bruno Faidutti’s Lost Temple from the awesome guys at White Goblin Games. Having done a preview earlier, it just sounded like a simple and fun, family or gateway game and great to use with non-gamers.

Unboxing

Components wise, the board, with very nice artwork by Piero, has a jungle with Temples which are the race end points and movement spaces marked with circles. Adventurer meeples, machete and chance tokens, emerald gems, an idol marker to indicate which player chooses their role first and finally, Character and Player aid cards complete the package. It all looks really nice. My only issue is that the Adventurer meeples are too easy to knock over which is annoying. They needed to be thicker to stand up to a little knock. Other than that, the components are of a nice quality.

Gameplay

Lost Temple is a race game pure and simple. Whoever gets to the designated Temple first wins. But it isn’t quite so simple as each turn players will be choosing from 9 Character cards, each with a different action which could mean a move action or one of the variety of other actions available (see below) and this makes every turn unpredictable and fairly random which some gamers won’t like, but non-gamers and family probably will.

The standard rules are for 4-8 players and there are special rules for 2-3 players. With 2-5 players you will use the whole board but with 6-8 players you will only use the first part of the board. Each round has 2 phases – Character selection and Movement. The age to play is 10+.

The Character cards are distributed to assign starting positions. They they indicate the number of  gems the players start with, character movement and/or special ability, starting space number and the if the Scout and Child Characters are chosen, the players start with a machete token.

The game engine revolves around the core Character choosing mechanic found in Citadels. The 9 Character cards are shuffled and chosen from each turn, the player farthest behind is assigned the Idol Marker, looks at the cards and chooses first.  Each round, some of the cards are set aside and not used, some are set face up, some face down. There is a table which gives you this information which changes according to how many players. So, you get to choose from known characters or risk taking an unknown character.

Players take their moves in a predetermined order (called out by the player holding the Idol token) according to what characters they have chosen so each round could see a different player order.

Character Cards

The character cards give you the information you need

Shaman – You get to curse another character and swap meeples with them which will be very helpful if they are ahead of you. Very useful if played at the right time.

Thief – You can steal gems from another character (if that character’s card, announced later, has been pulled by another player) and move 1-2 spaces

Seer – You get to look at 2 Chance tokens and swap them if you want to and then move 1-2 spaces

Priest – You can pay 2 gems to move to the next Temple

Elder – You can pay 2 gems to move to the next Village 

Craftsman – You get a free machete – which is needed to get through Deep Jungle spaces (otherwise your turn ends there) and move 1-2 spaces

Scout – You can move one space per gem paid (normal movement is 1-2 spaces)

Canoe – pay ALL your gems, move twice that many spaces up to a maximum of 20

Child – You can freely move forward to catch up with the next nearest meeple

Chance tokens – when you end your turn on a Chance space, you  reveal a token and apply its effects  regarding movement, gems, machetes or Idol token possession. Then you replace the pulled token with a new one.

note – 2-3 players – Each player plays 2 Character cards per turn and takes 2 movements every round.

Overall, the mechanics are pretty clear and it should only take a round or two to get into the swing of things with everyone understanding how it plays. All the information is on the cards and the choices are interesting and make for a tense race with a lot of passing each other going on. Your strategy is limited to the choice of roles and also when you use the Seer role to spy on 2 chance tokens so its not a deep game but it works very nicely at the level its pitched at.

Did it work for me?

In a word, yes! Lost Temple is a lovely game and a very nice light game for non-gamers. When you are playing with non-gamers and they are repeatedly saying that they like the game, think it looks great and is fun, you know you are onto a winner. The Citadels card mechanic is the only comparison to be made and those who bang on comparing this game with Citadels need to get over it. THIS IS NOT CITADELS NOR IS IT TRYING TO BE! Lost Temple stands on its own as a solid light, fun family race game with a nice Indiana Jones-type theme. Easy to learn, relatively fast playing, interactive, with a nice dose of randomness makes for a terrifically fun mix. Bruno Faidutti has done an excellent job transferring the card mechanic to a different style game and it works charmingly. I would not hesitate to recommend this game.

Boardgames in Blighty rating – 8 out of 10

Family Friendly?

Resoundingly yes! A great game for family game night for age 10+

For more information go to – www.whitegoblingames.com

Review – Venture Forth from Minion Games

Review – Venture Forth from Minion Games

Designer – Dan Manfredini

Art – James Denton

Thanks to Minion Games for providing a review copy of this game

Adventure games. Love em. Being a fanboy of strong theme as a key criteria in my board games, adventure games are generally a sweet spot for me. They come in all shapes and sizes, many of which are in fantasy worlds a la Tolkien’s Middle Earth, etc. To be honest, I can’t think of any off the top of my head that are set in the world of Ancient Greek mythos, so Venture Forth seems at first pass, to be a refreshing departure from the fantasy stuff that keeps getting processed through our gaming tables. A game for 2-4 players, age 13+ (actually, I think this could possibly be lowered for some bright youngsters) which was a Kickstarter success, Venture Forth places you in the role of a Greek adventurer who is out for fame and fortune, taking on some pretty nasty monsters along the way.

Unboxing

Minion Games has provided a very nice set of components. The double sided board is a very nice touch to extend replayability for starters. There are a number of path spaces which regulate movement and are where you can collect coins, explore tokens, and Will and Despair cubes. There are also travel squares which regulate movement between the Temples. and a victory point track.

You also get 36 Adventure Encounter cards, 21 Treasure cards, 36 Enemy Encounter cards, 20 Level 1/2 cards and 20 Level 3 cards. Will and Despair cubes, coins,  Explore tokens, Scoring discs and player tokens complete the package. Overall, the artwork is very nice and the components are serviceable. I would have preferred something a bit more evocative of the theme for the pawns which are just generic. I personally would have liked a bit larger cards but their small size works well as you will be laying them out on the table. Those are minor quibbles as the presentation is very attractive.

Gameplay

From the rules – “In Venture Forth, the players create parties of adventurers to explore the world and resolve encounters. Players can earn Will to gain victory points or increase of their adventurers, coins to recruit new adventurers or gain boons at the temples, and treasures which can be used for victory points or for their special abilities. In addition, players must learn to manage their adventurers’ Despair which counts against their final score at the end of the game.”

The game process is as follows:

Zeus Rule – (ignored if the board isn’t full) At the beginning of a player’s turn he checks to see if all path spaces are filled with encounter cards. If so, all wandering cards are discarded and then all remaining cards become wandering.

Each turn, the active player must take one of the following actions – ( note – players will need to refer to the adventurers that they collect into their party to complete their Ambitions which allows players to score points and Level-up to am maximum of Level 3).

Play a card

step 1 – Placement – the player chooses an encounter card from his hand and places it face-up on an empty path space. The card must be played adjacent to another card of the same color or adjacent to a Temple site of the same color.

step 2 – Collect resource – Will, Coins and or Explore tokens can be collected according to the space the card is placed i. Explore tokens are place next to a path without an explore token

step 3 – Draw one card (hand limit is 5)

Venture Forth –

Move the party, resolve encounter cards and explore (possibly finding treasure). Adventurers can be recruited up to a maximum of 5 adventurers per party.  You will also encounter enemies and monsters. If the enemy defeats you, there are various penalties.

Once all encounters along a path are resolved, the player’s pawn is moved to the destination site.

Make an offering at the Temple

Each Temple has an ability which can be used

Regroup

Discard and draw a new hand of cards

Explore tokens – these can be collected after completing a Venture Forth action and each one brings certain things that can be gained by the player

Treasure cards – are gained from explore tokens and can be used for their ability or scored at the end of the game. This makes for some interesting choices in strategy.

Despair tokens collected counts against you at the end of the game

When the last Explore token is placed the players take one more turn and then the game is over. At the end of the game you calculate your score base on Despair, Will, Coins Treasures, and Explore bonus and the winner has the most points.

The rules and system for Venture Forth are clear and reasonably concise. The examples given are helpful and it all generally comes together very well. The turns move along reasonably quickly and it all feels right to me. The rulebook is laid out well. I like the use of adventure paths leading to the Temples and the blind pulling of the Encounter cards as things are always unexpected making for a different experience each time you play. There are tough enemies and not so tough and what is really cool (and probably the best mechanic) is that you have a certain amount of control over where you place the Encounter cards which means you can try and make things more difficult for the other players by placing the tougher monsters nearer them. It all plays pretty cleanly.

Did it work for me?

I really like Venture Forth and highly recommend it as an alternative to Talisman and similar style adventure games. The theme is refreshing, the time limit of about an hour is fantastic for those who want an adventure game with just enough meat and depth to keep them interested and enjoying the experience without losing a whole afternoon or longer. Yes, it is a bit light but its not looking to be anything other than what it presents itself to be.

This is not likely to be a satisfying enough game for the Decent fanboys but doesn’t need to be as it is more a very nice and reasonably easy entry point into adventure games and therefore much more accesible. it’s lighter than Descent and faster than Talisman with a much shorter time span with no worries about stats and geeky details. Everything is managed simply on the board and with the cards. I will definitely play this more often as its easy to set up and get into. The theme is interesting and different enough to keep me interested. It is a bit more serious in theme, lacking the humour and chaos of say, Guards! Guards! and humour and fantstical stuff of Talisman for that matter so it depends what you are looking for. There is a lot of unpredictability here in the enemies you will face and adventurers you will have to chose from which will keep things fresh too.

If you are a fan of Greek mythology and happy with an adventure game which you could introduce to non-gamers, you could do well with Venture Forth. Very nice, tight design, great theme, land ooks good. Light enough and not a huge time commitment. Absolutely works for me! Best game from Minion Games that I have played so far.

Boardgames in Blighty rating – 8 out of 10

Family friendly?

Actually, yes, I think that this game could be a fun family experience  with 10+ with a bit (not much) help from parents.

for more information go to – http://www.miniongames.com/

Review – Rattus: Africanus an expansion for Rattus from White Goblin Games

Review – Rattus: Africanus an expansion for Rattus from White Goblin Games

Designer: Ase & Henrik Berg

note – Thanks to my buddy, Tony Bellringer for the following guest review

So, having thoroughly enjoyed the original Rattus, I was very keen to get my mitts on a copy of the latest expansion ’Africanus’, and friends fortunate enough to be visiting Essen this year kindly brought me back a copy.

The base game

For those unfamiliar with Rattus, it is a quick-playing (done in 45 minutes) role-selection and cube-placement game for 2-4 players, set in a theme of the Black Death ravaging Europe. Players take it in turns to: a) add some of their population cubes to a region of the map; b) take a special ‘class’ tile (Knight, Merchant, Peasant, King, etc) either from the starting supply, or from another player; and c) move the ‘Plague Piece’ (representing the spread of the plague) from its current region to a neighbouring region, which the plague then ravages. Steps a) and b) can be taken in any order, but step c) always comes last.

Possession of class tiles allows you to change the rules in your favour, e.g. the King allows you to move one of your cubes from a board region to the safe haven of the palace (a special area of the board that the plague cannot enter), and the Peasant allows you to place more cubes on the board than normal in your turn. However, possession of class tiles also makes it more likely that your population (cubes) in a given region will suffer when the plague ravages that region. This is because the plague ravages by revealing the face-down rat tokens that lie in the region, many of which target the owners of the class tiles. The plague rat (or more accurately the plague-bearing flea living on it!) only ‘bites’ if enough cubes are present in that region (denoted by the number on the token), but if it kicks in, a cube from that region is lost by the owner of any of the class tiles that match the icons shown on the revealed rat token (e.g. Crown for King, Wheatsheaf for Peasant, etc). An ‘A’ on the token means all players present in the region lose a cube there, and an ‘M’ means the owner of the most cubes in the region loses one, but most casualties through the game seem to come from ownership of the class tiles. allows

The aim of the game is to have the most cubes left on the board when the plague burns itself out (as denoted by the supply of rat tokens running out) – or, very rarely, to somehow manage to have every one of your population cubes still on the board at the end of your turn.

What’s in the box?

The sturdy box contains some nicely produced pieces to expand your game in two ways: a) the bits necessary to make the game playable with 5 or 6 players; and/or b) some bits to go with some new rules and variants. The components are of the same high standard as the base game (and earlier expansion ‘Pied Piper’).

So let’s look at those in a little more detail.

Increasing to 5 or 6 players

1)    An additional small board, which sits below the base game board, and represents 5 additional regions, being the North African coast and the Saharan desert.

2)    Two new colours worth of player cubes (20 in each colour).

3)    10x ‘Move 3 spaces’ pieces. The chivalry class tiles (e.g. Knight from the base game) usually allow the owner to move the Plague Piece two spaces (rather than the normal one), but with the board getting bigger in a 5-6 player game, it seems only fair to allow them to move the plague piece further… 😉 So in a 5 or 6 player game, one of these pieces sits above the relevant symbol on any Chivalry tile in play, to remind people they can move the Plague Piece 3 spaces.

4)    A replacement set of 65 rat tokens. These completely replace the set from the base game, since as well as needing more of them for a 5 or 6 player game, there is a whole new class introduced in Africanus for the rats to target (see below).

 

New rules and variants

1)    A set of 4 new class tiles, all belonging to a new ‘Islamic’ class. As well as adding this whole new class to the game, each comes with its own unique special ability. As the other components relate to these abilities, I will reference the relevant class card in relation to the new components below.

 

2)    15x Purple ‘Diplomat’ discs. The owner of the ‘Sultan’ class card gets to place a purple disc under one of his cubes on the board on each turn he holds the card, denoting the creation of a Diplomat in a region (in each region, there can never be more than one Diplomat per player). Such cubes are the last of that player to be eliminated by the plague in a region, and at the end of the game, the player(s) with the most and second-most Diplomats on the board get bonus victory points.

 

3)    A Camel! The owner of the ‘Caravaner’ class card gets to move the camel piece a distance of two regions. Players with the most cubes currently in the starting region and the region the camel passes through each get to add one more cube to that region.

 

4)    A set of 51 small cards. Each card consists of two parts: class icons on the top half; and region names on the bottom half. During the game, players can play a card they hold to make a class card they own (that matches a class icon on the card played) ‘immune’ from the current plague resolution phase. At the end of the game, for each region in which a player has the most (or equal-most) cubes and also holds at least one card with that region’s name, they receive one extra victory point. Each player starts the game with 3 cards: the only way to get more is with the new ‘Astronomer’ class card, which allows you to draw 3 new cards and keep one. Finally, the ‘Explorer’ class card allows you to reveal the top 3 cards of the draw deck, and place one of your cubes in one of the revealed regions.

Welcome addition, or too much chrome?

I feel very much that Rattus fits into that ‘Carcassonne category’, of a game with very simple rules, that plays nice and quick, but requires a good amount of strategic thinking and play to be successful. One of its key strengths is precisely the streamlined and efficient gameplay mechanics, so – as with Carcassonne – the addition of bells, whistles, and all sorts of weird and wonderful gizmos carries the inherent risk of being counter-productive.

With Africanus, I think we are still at the ‘Inns and Cathedrals’ stage (to extend the Carc comparison), i.e. there is minimal – but interesting – additional ‘chrome’ being bolted onto the base game, and the expansion is as much about letting extra players play as throwing in more rules.

Overall

As a member of a gaming group with a core regular weekly attendance of 6, I’m always keen to see more games increase their capacity beyond the usual upper limit of 4 or 5, and for me the amount of new rules introduced here is just right, adding interesting variety without getting to the point of overload or fundamentally changing the basic game. 8 out of 10.

Family friendly?

Well, the theme is a bit gruesome! But seriously, the game is abstracted enough, and the artwork doesn’t show anything nasty, in fact being quite ‘cartoon-like’, so I would say it is perfectly suitable for children to play. However, this is definitely a ‘thinking game’ – even if a relatively light one – rather than a ‘party game’. The mechanics of how to play are easy enough, but to properly get a handle on strategy in the game, I would suggest a player would need to be probably at secondary school level (11+ in the UK), so the publisher’s suggested minimum age of 10+ is pretty accurate.

More information

BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgameexpansion/103233/rattus-africanus

White Goblin Games: http://www.whitegoblingames.com/

Reviewed by Tony Bellringer (‘Tulfa’ on BoardGameGeek)

17 November 2011

Victory Point Games Press Release – For the Crown expansion kit #1: Cover of Night now available!

Victory Point Games Press Release – For the Crown expansion kit #1: Cover of Night now available!

Cover of Night

http://victorypointgames.com/details.php?prodId=193
The war for the crown has not yet ceased … not even when the sun goes down. Neither side is safe even in the darkness, but both warring princes are well prepared – they’ve gone through lengths to recruit special units to surprise their enemy, including a Phantom to cloak itself and hopefully use the darkness to its advantage in order to capture the rival King and Heirs.

From our popular deck-building game, For the Crown, comes the first expansion, Cover of Night, introducing a new range of units, and an additional Sovereign, to pit against your opponent. Can you strategize your units wisely on the dark battlefield? Find out if you have what it takes to effectively conquer the kingdom under the Cover of Night!

Note, the For the Crown Expansion Kit 1: Cover of Night is not a ‘stand alone’ game. You must own a copy of For the Crown to use this expansion kit.

Click here for all the details and to order For the Crown Expansion #1: Cover of Night.

 


 

Review – Sake & Samurai from Albe Pavo

Review – Sake & Samurai from Albe Pavo

Designer – Matteo Santus

Artist – Jocularis

Back in August, I had great fun interviewing the 2 wild and crazy guys from Italian publishers Albe Pavo, Matteo Santus and Jocularis, for the G*M*S* Magazine podcast where they told me about their upcoming new game, Sake & Samurai.

In case you missed the podcast, find it here –

http://www.gmsmagazine.com/page/podcasts/page/2

Let me say that I was more than intrigued about Sake & Samurai as it sounded absolutely mad and really good fun. So, I was fortunate enough to go to Essen last month and grabbed myself a copy.

Here is the setting…

A few samurai warriors are sitting at a table in a small inn, talking and bragging about swords, women and honour. Sake flows freely, but not even the cellars of Bishamon, the God of War, could quench the thirst of Japan’s greatest swordsmen. Servants run for cover, knowing full well where all this is going. Suddenly an eerie silence fills the common room. On the table, only one full cup remains. Who will get the last drink? Will it be the elder of the group, or shall the greatest warrior have it? Time seems to stretch to infinity, until one hand makes a move towards the cup. Such insolence! This insult shall not be tolerated! The elder goes for his sword…
We shall never know whether the bold samurai was taking the cup for himself or only to hand it over to his venerable companion. It does not matter: all warriors take offense and draw their katanas, joining the fight at the call of “SAAKEEE!”

If you have ever seen an old samurai film, this could sound like pretty familiar and silly stuff but before you get all excited about a combat skirmish game with lots of blood flowing from severed heads and limbs, or not, as the case may be, let me state right up front that this is a light party game.

Unboxing

The first thing that you notice is the high quality of the artwork which is simply outstanding. Jocularis has produced 8 lush Samurai boards and 102 game cards with wonderful images which brings a strongly evocative theme to the game. The cards are of good quality and will stand up well to numerous plays.

The 8 lovely and glossy Samurai boards (above) are double sided with a “living” side and a “Spirit of Enma” side. These boards indicate the player’s special ability and also where to place a wielded weapon, Life point cards, Wounds and stance marker (if seated).

A deck of very nice playing cards are at the heart of the game and they represent – Events, Minions, Weapons/Items, Interrupts and Locations. You also get 8 reference cards.

Other components include Sitting stance counters, Step counters (cubes used to show the distance and range between players) 20 Sake drink counters (glass beads) and a paper and instructions to fold it origami style into a Masu to hold the Sake counters. Clever idea that last one…

A great start with the components which are well thought out and of high quality.

Gameplay

A game for 3-8 players (it actually worked ok as a 2-player game with each of us taking 2 Samurai) ages 13+, Sake & Samurai is meant to be a lighter, fun social experience. A filler between meatier games. It worked reasonably well in a 2-player game I played. However, although fairly easy to understand in its individual parts, there are a lot of things to remember in4 pages of rules. This made it kinda hard to teach/learn and play although we did get there in the 6-player game.  But even then, we found that we were unclear about a few things although we eventually sorted these out.

The object of the game is to be the player with the most Sake counters once all the dust has settled. Each player starts with Samurai board on which he places a “Sitting”counter indicating that this jolly bunch of Samurai are all sitting down together for a nice brunch. Yeah right. Players also start with 1 Katana card as their wielded weapon placed in their defense area of their Samurai board. The cards are shuffled and each player is given 1 card per Life point indicated on their board, plus 4 cards. The players then randomly choose 4 cards from these for their hand and puts the rest face down as their life point pile.  3 step counter cubes are then placed between each Samurai and each of his adjacent opponents to indicated the starting distance between each. All remaining cards are placed as a draw pile in the center of the table and next to the Masu which then has to contain 2.5 sake counters, representing drinks, per player. The rest are put aside out of the game. The oldest player starts and must be referred to by the other players adding “san” at the end of his name. There are a couple of things like that in the rules which are there to encourage the right atmosphere for the fun.

The turn order is as follows in four phases:

1- Playing cards -You can play up to 2 cards, each of which has 4 actions to choose from or the card text, making 5 ways to play a card. The actions include Attack, Defense, Movement and Drinking Sake. Icons on the cards show you which choices are available to you.

Attack/Defense – This is about combat with another samurai. Each weapon has a range in steps that must be met. Also a samurai may attack from their initial sitting position and then must remain standing.

Move – Players can move closer or farther away from a neighboring samurai and this in turn, will move them closer or further away from the samurai on their other side.

Drinking Sake – Players call out SAKE! and take the amount of drinks from the Masu as indicating by the corresponding action box on an action card. Sake is used to help you get cards from your Life point stack into your hand but this burns your soul and this decreases your survival chances. Also Sake can be placed on your weapon or item cards (although you are then prevented from using them) or on your Life Point stack to soak up hits and lastly, place Sake on your Samurai board which stops you using your special ability. Sake can also be burned up by removing Sake counters. This allows you to draw another card or play a 3rd card from your hand. You will need to free cards from Sake counters in order to keep the other Samurais at bay. An example of one thing that isn’t totally clear is whether you can place more than one sake counter on your life points which could prolong someone’s life unfairly. We opted for a maximum of 1.

There are 4 different kinds of card text: Events, Weapons & Items, Minions and Interrupt. Events and weapons are self- explanatory. Minions are great as you can push them in front of you to take hits. Interrupts are played during other player’s turns.

Once your Life points are done, you then become a Spirit of Enma which neither uses weapons nor items. Your objective then is solely to steal Sake counters and have fun tormenting other Samurai along the way in a heavily “take that” sense as you use the power of Elation against other players. Spirit players can still be attacked and caused to fade.

When the last Sake drink counter is taken from the Masu, a sudden death round begins. Players have one last turn to kill off their opponents. Once every player has had their last go, the player with the most Sake counters left wins. There are sudden death rules which indicate a number of possible scenarios but the trouble is, we had a very prolonged sudden death round as we kept ending up in a situation where people were still tied. I think there should be a rule which says if still tied after the 1st sudden death round the game ends in a draw.

The mechanics of Sake & Samurai work generally but we checked back on the rules a number of times, to make sure we understood it and still there were questions. The rules are laid out pretty well although the print is small and have examples to help your understanding but I think this is the kind of game that will take a number of plays to really get a proper understanding just because there are a lot of individual bits to remember and it was a little too easy to misunderstand.

This is meant to be a relatively fast game and it should be but struggling with the rules made it last too long, at least for 6 players. I think that a maximum of 4 players should be optimum and as previously noted, I played a 2 player version where we both had 2 samurai each and it actually worked reasonably well.

The information on the cards is clear enough to understand and follow along. Added to this, the artwork is just excellent and the theme comes out very well. I really like the unusual movement mechanism and the Sake counters elements add a sense of craziness and fun. The trick is to not get so caught up in the fighting and take that stuff that you forget that the object is to have the most Sake drinks. This did slow down the 6 player game as well. Having said this, the Sake can make it difficult to survive so there is a choice as to how much you have, and when to burn Sake. There there is a little danger from players who die and become Spirits of Enma as they will be trying to steal Sake counters. And they can work as a team too so I am thinking that you want to try and get the sake counters out of the masu as soon as you can to minimize the additional danger posed by the spirits.

Did it work for me?

A mixed review really. In spite of the rules struggle because there are a lot of bits to remember and get right, the guys at Albe Pavo have created a fun thematic game which works better with less players on the one hand and is probably too long for more than 4. There is a lot of humor in the cards and the actions should be fast and furious, and it was with less players, but not so with 6 and the constant interaction is fun yet ruthless.

Its clearly not for everybody, least of all players who prefer heavy thinking games.  And players expecting a fast paced social game will need to get a number of plays in before this happens. The rules could be tighter and simpler. A 1-page reference card on the key mechanics would be useful to speed up the learning. I think that it actually could have been a bit simpler and probably tries to do a bit too much. You do need to approach this game with a sense of fun and not take it seriously to really enjoy it and be prepared to play it fast without looking for the optimum card to play as I think this goes against the spirit of the game. The visual aspect of the artwork is outstanding and the crazy and funny setting and theme is brilliant. Sake & Samurai is a madcap game with a bunch of crazy samurai violence as they down the Sake and all hell breaks lose. It has the potential to be better if it were simplified a little I think. As it stands, I want to play again as I generally like it but only with up to 4 maximum and it will take more plays to really get the rules down as it needs replays to really understand the mechanics in full.

Boardgames in Blighty rating – 6 out of 10

Family friendly?

No this game isn’t aimed at a family audience

For more information go to – http://www.albepavo.com/

Review – Julius Caesar from Columbia Games

Review – Julius Caesar from Columbia Games

Designers – Grant Dalgliesh and Justin Thompson

Art – Karim Chakroun and Mark Churms

Thanks to Columbia Games for kindly providing a review copy of this game

As a long-time war gamer, I have been very remiss. I’ve never really played block war games. I guess I just never found them appealing but I couldn’t tell you why to be honest. So its about dang time I discovered whether I’m missing anything don’t you think?

So from what I’ve heard, Columbia Games is the bees knees in the world of Block war games and as they are now a sponsor of Boardgames in Blighty, I better try their games on for size! The awesome Grant Dalgliesh suggested that Julius Caesar would be an ideal place to start so here we go.

This 2-player game for age 12+, depicting the later Roman civil wars (49-45 BC). The forces of Caesar are pitted against those of Pompey. This is an entry level game and at the simple, less detailed end of the scale which should be ideal for beginners. So the main perspective of this review is how it stacks up as an entry level experience.

Unboxing

The first thing that I noticed from the game was the artwork which is very nice indeed, from the cover painting to the lovely map (although the names of the smaller cities are a bit hard to read). The unit information stickers are adequate and functional with nice icons and unit strengths as are the Command cards. The map could have used a location reference system as it took me a bit more time than I would have liked to find some of the locations to place units but this is a minor quibble. And of course, you get a bunch of wooden blocks – Tan for Caesar’s forces and Green for Pompey’s with a Purple one for the wily Cleopatra. I would have preferred the map to be on thicker cardboard stock as well but otherwise, I’m happy with the presentation and components.

Gameplay

The object if the game is to score 10 victory points by controlling cities and or killing leaders. Or after the 5 yearly turns, whoever has the most victory points if 10 isn’t reached. The Pompey player starts controlling 7 points worth of cities so the pressure of the offensive is upon the Caesar player.

I found the rules pretty clear and easy to digest and was up and running in relatively short order. There are useful visuals and written examples of play which are very helpful. The Game Turns are as follows:

There are 5 Years in the game, each divided into 5 game turns. Each turn has three phases.

Card phase –  Each player starts with 6 cards in a game turn, discarding one without showing it to the other player. Then each player starts each game turn by playing 1 of the 5 cards left in their hand face down. These cards are turned over and the player  with the higher Move value is Player 1 that turn. If a player plays an Event card they go first. If there is a tie, Caesar is first.

Then you must play the card, most of which have differing movement and levy values. There are a small amount of Event cards available as well. You will find yourself thinking about which card to play for best effect and when.

Command phase – Player 1 moves between cities or across the sea and levies (raises extra or replacement troops) and then player 2 does the same. There are rules for Group moves, Roads, Navis, and Amphibious movement. Rules for Levies are simple and important as you will need to replace losses and build up your forces.

The use of blocks with multiple strengths is a very nice and effective mechanism and very clean and efficient. As you lose strength from combat hits you just turn the block to the relevant side and as you gain a levy, you do the same. Simple and elegant.

Battle phase

Battles are fought between blocks in the same city area. They are only revealed at the moment of combat. require a number of considerations –

Battle sequence – Player 1 determines the order in which battles are fought

Battle turns – Each player has 3 choices in a battle – Fire, Retreat (except in the first round of combat), and Pass. The sequence of turns depends on the combat rating of the blocks beginning with “A” units and having combat firing first, and and so on. Defending blocks fire before attacking blocks. A block has a limit of 1-4 dice you roll as its attack. A hit is scored against the strongest enemy block in the same area for each die roll equal or less to the attackers firepower rating. Very simple again.

Battle reserves – these can be declared and added to a battle

Other rules cover disruption, Battle hits, eliminated blocks, retreats and regrouping.

At the end of each year, when all cards are played, there is a Winter turn where forces are consolidated, Cleopatra returns home, Navis go to a port, and supply is checked.

Finally, victory point levels are checked.

The process works very well and is easily understood, particularly for experienced war gamers. New gamers will take longer to learn the game but overall this is a very comfortable game to get into. There is nothing overly innovative but it all comes together well in a clean, effective and elegant system. The nice thing about not seeing your opponent’s block values until the moment of combat is you are never quite sure what you are facing so this needs to be factored into your own movement and combat choices. All very playable.

Did it work for me?

Taken as an entry-level war game, Julius Caesar works very well. I would happily teach this game to a newbie to whet their appetite for war gaming. It plays fast and cleanly. The system is elegant, rather chess-like, in its simplicity and introduces just enough key war gaming concepts such as concentration of forces, capturing objectives, limited intelligence, reinforcements/replacements, varying combat engagement capability as well as land and naval warfare as to bring a newbie a light feel for the campaign. You won’t find this a treatise on the Civil Wars and with the great depth found in other games which are simulations.

This is a light game to be played in a short space of time first and foremost with enough flavor and theme for the entry level player or those who want a light experience that won’t overload you with details. On that level, I think it absolutely hits the mark very well. The odds really seem stacked with Caesar if you play out the full 5 turns so although the pressure is on for the him to attack, it seems like a bit of early luck could steal a victory for Pompey but it seems like a tough ask. Must keep playing to find out for sure. The combat system is very simplified but works very nicely as does the levy system. The hidden information due to not knowing the actual combat strengths until combat is declared is a very nice feature which adds a good level of suspense. Ok, the Gods event cards seem random but war has a sense of being funny that way and the unexpected does happen, so call it the fortunes of war. The rebellion rule is a nice touch as is the Cleopatra changing sides rule so you can never totally hedge your bets. The small components quibbles mentioned earlier don’t detract from the experience but keep this from being nearer a perfect game.

Overall, Julius Caesar is a lot of fun and a great way to have a war game experience in a short space of time without the work needed to play a more detailed simulation. As my time is at a premium, this fits nicely with what I am able and willing to play often. Definitely recommended as a great introduction and I look forward to playing more block war games.

Boardgames in Blighty rating – 7.5 out of 10

Family friendly?

Not necessarily designed for the family, this game could be a nice teaching tool for parent and youngster.

For more information go to – http://www.columbiagames.com/