Posted in Fanatic games, Full length

Snowdonia Deluxe Master Set: board game

‘It’s a train game, but … not really. Actually it’s a slightly mad, complex, deep, balanced worker placement game – full of scenarios and every variant and twist you could think of.’

Summary:

Snowdonia Master Set is a Fanatic¹ level game of Full² length for 1 to 5 players.

Here’s what we mean when we rate game ‘weight’ or level or game length or player count.

The best bits of this game are:

1. the challenging decisions it forces on you as you balance the order and availability of actions – just when you think you’ve got your next few turns planned…. that weather mechanic!

2. the ‘events’ mechanic which sees events happen in a predictable order, but with unpredictable timing. This is just great – it gives each game a feeling of progression and requires flexibility and risk mitigation; and

3. the sheer breadth and range of the scenarios – you don’t have to settle for the original Snowdonia railway: travel to Germany, Japan, Tibet or even time-travel as you play.  I mean, when it includes scenarios put together by designers as eminent as the great Hisashi Hayashi – and that’s just one of 18 major scenarios – this is a lot of game!

The worst bit of Snowdonia Master Set is the stencilling on the wooden pieces – the workers and surveyors look weird and pretty ugly, to be frank, and the goats (mini-expansion, included) are hideous. Also, this game has a significant cost and limited availability.

This review does not cover the Botdell solo mode in detail – I’ve played against that once, am still getting the hang of it, and will probably do a separate solo play review of that.

Review:

Snowdonia really captures the feeling of toiling to carve out a rail line up a mountain – clear rubble, lay track, prepare the stations, and race to the top! There are multiple ways to gain points as you play, and you’ll probably need to exploit all of them to some extent, if you want to do well.

img_2142
The board is double-sided, with two different art presentations

Contract cards introduce a neat dynamic: end-game goals which can deliver big chunks of points, but each also has a one-off in-game benefit, which can be a real boon.

The engine building in Snowdonia is limited, but literal- you build engines (but just one at a time) which are a sacrifice to build, but deliver ongoing benefits.

img_2255
A modest selection from the enormous range of engines.

The components in this game are fantastic – chunky, colourful and well produced.³

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Each scenario has slightly (or sometimes significantly) different setup rules and this is well handled in the scenario book, which is easy to follow and apply.  The scenarios preserve the basic gameplay but add twists and extra interest.

img_2141
The ‘Mount Hakone’ scenario introduces electric powerlines, special track cards and trains and optional hot tubs!

In addition to the scenarios there are a range of optional mini-expansions included – for example seasons, and wagons, which I think I would include in every game from now on, and … more whimsical ones like the Abominable Snowman, which might only get a run occasionally.

Tip: When learning this game, I continually forgot to take the final step and refill the workshop with extra cubes, so keep an eye on that to save yourself some heartache.

Replayability? Well, it’s ridiculous. With 18 major scenarios, mini expansions and countless promo expansions (you use 6 trains per game but they give you over 100 😵) – I think you could play this game hundreds of times and still find it challenging and interesting.

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 2.89 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review). Honestly I think that is way under what it would be rated if the many, many scenarios and variants in the box are taken into account.

Availability

Snowdonia Deluxe Master Set is expensive and of limited availability – currently just via Guf in Australia ($200). Totally worth it though, and definitely comparable or superior in content to similar deluxe games like the Eagle-Gryphon games.

These are, of course, our opinions only.

Footnotes:

¹ I debated whether to rate this as an Enthusiast or Fanatic level game. I consider the decisions about when to excavate, build, convert and take other actions to be quite tricky, and a suboptimal choice can be quite punishing and hard to recover from- there are no significant catchup mechanisms in this game. For me, that puts it into the Fanatic category. Besides, if you buy this massive beast of a game, you’re clearly a fanatic 🤣😝

² some scenarios are quicker than this, and over time you’ll definitely get faster, but this game has a significant setup and pack down time, mainly due to the vast number of cards, options and scenarios.

³ except for the horrifying goats mentioned previously. Seriously, you might have nightmares.

Posted in Enthusiast Games, Gaming Discussion, Legacy games

Catchup mechanisms in The Rise of Queensdale (legacy)

I’m keen to discuss the catchup mechanisms in The Rise of Queensdale which I’m part way through playing at present – do you like catchup mechanisms in general, or dislike them?

I see catchup mechanisms (and game balancing in general) as one of the major factors distinguishing modern game design from traditional game design and it’s interesting to see how they are managed in various games.

Spoiler Alert: these pics and the rest of this post contain spoilers for up to Epoch 4 in The Rise of Queensdale so read no further if you want to avoid them.

.

.

.

.

.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There are both short and long term catchup mechanics in RoQ and they seem very effective to me.

The Robber Baron tokens and Crown track help players who did poorly in the most recent game by giving them a head start and a buff in the next game. The Robber Baron gives randomised rewards and powers (such as trading one of your workers for another player’s which you prefer), and the Crown track allows carryover of a few points from a previous game which you didn’t win – those are the short term mechanisms.

In addition to that, players who fail to reach their campaign goals in a game get ‘seals’ which are then used to add stickers to the dice workers, improving their ‘talents’ in a way that lasts for the whole campaign – a longer term catchup mechanism by way of ‘dice building’.

So far they are working well in our campaign – the leader looks at risk of being caught and overtaken by the other player who now has significantly better dice, but is still hanging on to a lead (so far) – each game is close.

I think it’s an effective combination in a campaign game. Do you enjoy catchup mechanisms in a game, or do you prefer grinding the bones of your enemies? 🦴 🏴‍☠️ 🤣

Posted in Enthusiast Games, Filler length, Solo play review

Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write – solo play review

captures the feeling of the Imperial Settlers card game, and Adventure mode is a challenging solo experience

Summary:

Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write is an Enthusiast¹ level game of Filler length.  It is playable by 1 to many (theoretically, up to 96) players.

Here’s what we mean when we rate game ‘weight’ or level or game length.

This review focuses on the solo play experience.

IS: Roll & Write has a specialised solo ‘Adventure mode’ in the box.  This is a pad of 48 different sheets, spanning the factions and themes of the IS ‘universe’, and the key to making this a quality solo game.

The best bit of this game is that Adventure mode pad – it’s really neat and thematic.  Having 48 different sheets is really neat.

img_9006.jpg
my first 4 games – Barbarians, Common, Japanese and Atlanteans

The worst bit of Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write is that it can be a bit fiddly tracking your ‘people’ each round – since you get them all from one die.  I ended up making tally marks on the main sheet for each round, but a more elegant solution would have been nice.

Review:

I am a fan of Imperial Settlers, but Portal Games’ recent catalogue has been patchy² and I was skeptical about whether this game would be any good.  I was pleasantly surprised – it’s deeper than you’d expect and I found myself needing to stop, think and re-think decisions (and I made plenty of strategic / tactical mistakes, which is a good sign of depth) in my first few plays.

The Adventure pad drags you into the Imperial Settlers universe and you do feel like you’re helping the bumbling Barbarians or fruitful Japanese with their labours.  Part of the advanced rules involves making patterns on your playsheet to gain extra benefits and this adds a welcome layer of variability and replayability to the game.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s enjoyable, thoughtful and easy to learn and play, but has depth too – give it a try!

As mentioned, your pad of 48 unique solo sheets means there’s plenty of replayability.  Also, Portal make extra sheets available to order cheaply online and has some free ‘Print & Play’ promos available online (more here also).

There’s also a typical score ranking system for solo gamers, but the real fun is in tackling the challenges of each Adventure mode sheet successfully.

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 1.90 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review).  In my opinion that rating doesn’t reflect the use of the Advanced rules.

Availability

IS: Roll & Write is widely available.  I suggest the ever-reliable Guf ($38).

Footnotes

¹ I consider this an Enthusiast level game if you use the Advanced rules; or a Family level game if you play the basic game.  But play the Advanced game, it’s more fun!

² recent hits: Detective (apparently – haven’t had the chance); massive misses: First Martians (though I actually like it).

“Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius.”

– Edward Gibbon

Posted in Family games, Short length, Solo play review

The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire – solo play review

highly competitive worker placement / area control plus car bombs, extortion and general mayhem

Summary:

The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire is a Family¹ + level game of Short + length.  It is playable by 1 to 5 players.

This review focuses on the solo play experience.

The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire has a fan-made solo mode designed by Martin G which is available at BoardGameGeek.  Martin has designed the solo mode with 3 distinct ‘personalities’ of the AI player available – Don Vito, Michael and Sonny and has even gone to the trouble of making printable cards for each.  I’ve played with Vito alone and with Vito and Michael (solo vs. 2 AI players) – this is quite manageable, shows off the different ‘personalities’ of the opponent and is a rewarding solo play experience.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here’s what we mean when we rate game ‘weight’ or level or game length.

The best bits of this game are the quality of the worker placement / area control decisions within the gameplay – this is a quality, thought-filled game.  The excellent miniatures, suitcases for your ill-gotten gains, and board, and the strong theme which carries through all aspects of the game also greatly enhance the play experience.

The worst bit of The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire is hard to identify, actually – this is a solid, under-rated game.  Some people may dislike the theme, but it’s everything you’d expect from the game title and movie folklore.

Review:

This game oozes theme.  The box is slightly menacing.  The miniatures are detailed and look outright dangerous.

img_8899There are two types of workers – family members and thugs, and each has different action spaces.  You’ll get access to extra family members through the four Acts (rounds) of the game, and you may get more quasi-members and quasi-thugs (Allies) through . . . . bribery and corruption, of course!

Placing a worker gets you an immediate benefit, but also factors into area control for the next Act, which might get you extra benefits (depending on what your opponent does in future) – and also factors into end-game area control and scoring.  So, there are short, medium and long-term consequences of each action you take and the game deals with these elegantly.

Another great part of this game is that it’s not enough to earn your ill-gotten gains – you also need to launder the money and tuck it away in your family suitcase.

img_8897

Martin’s decision to include three distinct personalities for the AI player adds to the replayability of the solo game. ² The game is already quite diverse because it has 18 Ally cards, and you won’t use more than 6 of them in any solo game (9 if you play against two opponents). A different mix of new businesses each game also adds to replayability.

Every time I have played this game multiplayer, everyone’s had a blast ³ and that fun continues into this solo mode.

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 2.60 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review), though that rating doesn’t distinguish between solo and multiplayer games and so is not adjusted to reflect the changes involved in solo play.  I think this reflects the game’s decision complexity well – but, it remains easy to teach and quick to play.

Availability

Used to be fairly easy to find, but a bit scarcer now – try Gamerholic.

Footnotes

¹ it’s a Family ‘level’ game in complexity, because that’s one of our four categories.  You could debate whether a game themed around extortion, illegal goods and the occasional murder or two could ever be considered a ‘family game’…. your family may vary 🙂

² I haven’t tested the “Sonny” AI player.

³ Yes, that’s a car-bomb pun 😉

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet. Franz Kafka

Posted in Family games, Filler length

Captain Sonar – review

boop…. boop …. boop …. Torpedo away!

Summary:

Captain Sonar is a Family level game of Filler length for 2 to 8 players¹.

Here’s what we mean when we rate game ‘weight’ or level or game length or player count.

The best bits of this game are the genuine sense of teamwork and tension in a good contest – the suspense of the hunt is real.  You ARE a submariner hunting your opposing sub and you MUST find them (or die trying)!

The worst bit of Captain Sonar is that it can be easy to make a small mistake which leaves your team or your opposition frustrated.  For example, if your team’s Radio Operator makes one single charting error, then you’re in serious trouble and probably won’t find the opposing boat – you’ve probably lost this game.  Fortunately, you can play again in about 30 – 45 minutes :).

Review:

You start with a map.  If you’re a novice, you start with a turn-by-turn map  – and I urge you to play turn-by-turn a couple of times at least if you have any new players – or they just won’t have any fun.  Once everyone is familiar with the game and the roles of Captain, Radio Operator, Engineer and First Mate, you can transition into real-time mode with its larger and more complex maps.

img_8863
Turn by turn map at the top – real time map at the bottom.  There are 5 of each in the base box.

The Captain chooses a starting position and then clearly announces the moves around the map – “North”, “West” and so on.  Islands must be avoided, and you cannot double back to cross your own track.  The opposing Radio Operator is listening in and marks that course on a clear template above an identical map.  As the course develops across several turns, the template can be slid around to assess the possible positions of the opposing sub.

img_8862.jpg
Once your course reaches this length, there are only so many places you could be! Can you locate your opponent before they find you?

Meanwhile, the First Mate is prioritising which systems will be needed.  Are Torpedos ready when needed?  Will silent running to avoid the enemy be needed? Is it time to surface to clear the buildup of malfunctions, which the Engineer has been battling to manage?

img_8864
Drones are handy to narrow down the enemy location – does the First Mate have them ready?  The Engineer may have navigation suggestions for the Captain, to keep the sub in good nick.

Real teamwork and co-ordination is needed to run a successful subhunt.  If the Captain can take course suggestions from the Engineer, while still implementing the overall plan and staying out of that minefield, and the First Mate can plan which systems will be needed in 2, 3 or 5 turns from now, and the Radio Operator can, basically, not screw up, then . . . the other team still might get you first.

Torpedo running…. indirect hit! We’re still alive.

There are a range of strategies which you can employ – try laying a huge minefield over several turns, then detonating them to either damage the opponent, or (perhaps even more useful) to rule out certain spaces for their location.  Or, try running silent early on to frustrate the other team’s tracking – there is more tactical depth to this game than may initially be obvious.

We have had less satisfactory experiences with this game when playing against opponents of greatly different experience, or when simple mistakes were made (for example, indirectly damaging yourself with your own mine, but failing to notice or declare it to the other team . . .oops).  Some of these potential problems are inherent in any ‘hidden movement’ game, but they can detract from the game experience and may lead to awkward post-mortems.  Again, please do take the time to learn and teach the game thoroughly (and turn-by-turn), if you want people to enjoy it.

We played 3 fabulous games in one night recently with non-gaming friends, and each game was a tight and tense affair, only decided 2 hunts to 1 (and 4 damage to 3 in the decider).

Captain Sonar is a thoroughly enjoyable team based game and I’m sure we will play it again – perhaps even real-time, when everyone gets more used to it.  Playing with a background soundtrack of quiet sonar beeps from someone’s phone is highly recommended :).

The game comes with 5 different maps in the box, and includes some scenarios (which I hve not explored yet) and has expansion maps available.  Also, changing roles amongst team members will help to keep the experience fresh – I can see us enjoying it with friends for many years to come.

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 2.13 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review).  That rating is a bit meaningless, given the type of game which it is – it’s not really comparable to, say, 7 Wonders which has a fairly similar BGG ‘weight’ ranking.

Availability

Captain Sonar is widely available – Board Game Master (who I have ordered from previously) has it for about $60.  There are two expansions, also widely available.

These are, of course, our opinions only.

Footnotes:

¹ I consider this a Family level game rather than a Party game, because it does have a bit of a learning curve for new players.  Some roles in the submarine are easy (Captain, if the Engineer is experienced), some are slightly confusing (Engineer) and some are simple but brutally unforgiving of mistakes (Radio Operator). Also, while playable with 2 to 5, it’s hectic! 6 to 8 is ideal.