Posted in Family games, Full length, Gaming Discussion

RallymanGT – first look

This French-designed classic went back to Kickstarter in Dec 2018 and has been a much-anticipated arrival for me. After about 3 hours (no exaggeration involved) of punching and organisation – here is a first look at the contents and an initial play through.

Here is the initial track set up and grid placements (I chose Track 31 from the official tracks because I wanted an excuse to use the sweet bridge overpass).

Mistakes: I made a few! In hindsight, I definitely ignored the overtaking rule a couple of times. Looking forward to having another go!

Posted in Family games, Short length, Solo play review

Smiths of Winterforge – solo play review

Forge me up a silk and mithril mace with quartz highlights, will you?

Summary:

Smiths of Winterforge is a Family level game of Short + length.  It is playable by 1 to 6 players.

This review focuses on the solo play experience.

Smiths of Winterforge has a built-in solo mode with a custom deck of solo cards for variety – it is a ‘beat your own score’ mode of play. 

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

The best bits of this game are the use of weird and wonderful materials to craft the desired items.  Fancy some birch and bronze boots?  This is the game for you 😉

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Birch and Bronze boots? Iron Reinforced breastplate with Gold and Silk highlights, held together with twine…?

Also, my version (Collector’s Edition) has some very, very sweet metal coins (call me shallow, if you wish… I will not dispute it.)¹

The worst bit of Winterforge solo is that it loses a bit of the interest and tension.  The materials in the market don’t rotate enough for real interest; there’s not enough conflict / competition and it lacks that compelling feeling which the multiplayer game has.

Review:

Smiths of Winterforge does a good job of delivering the feeling of working away in your dwarven forge.  Each contract blueprint which you take indicates how many of each type of component you need – say, one ‘base’, one ‘binder’ and one ‘decorative’ element.  At times, you’ll get a bonus for a specific component – say, +2 to forge a breastplate with bronze – but nothing forces you to use specific items.  You may think that boots would make sense with horn and hide – but birch and bronze will do the trick!  Now, what can I make with silk, twine and rubies….?

Forging has a planning element and also a luck element – the components contribute dice to a pool, and better (more expensive) components contribute dice with higher values.  If you roll your forging target number (after skill, material, and crew adjustments) then… success!  Quartz decoration will add a d6 towards forging, but (much more expensive) diamond delivers a d12 + d4.  Failure on your first attempt is not unusual – but all is not lost! If you stick to the task, each effort gains +1 by adding ‘work tokens’ until the crafting is done.

Adding the right crew, and getting the cash to fund the components is part of the mix too. Successful crafting will improve your skill  in jewellery, weapons or armour – whatever you successfully forge.  You’ll need this skill because, throughout the game, you’re working towards your royal contract, which will require a decent level of skill, the fanciest of components, and a dash of luck.

Arrr, me crew.

The deck of solo cards simulate events which occur during the limited number of rounds.  They do add variability and replayability to the game, together with the random draw of components and contracts.

Unfortunately, Smiths of Winterforge falls a little flat for me as a solo play experience – the solo cards are (in my opinion) actually better when added to the multiplayer game, to foil or enhance the plans of several competing dwarves at once.

I’m normally open-minded about ‘beat your own score’ solo games – A Feast for Odin and At the Gates of Loyang are two of my favourites, and retain a real challenge as solo games – but this method is not a great success in Smiths – the solo really needs an Automa or alternate solo challenge, in order to be a satisfying solo experience.

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 2.36 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 consider this rating slightly overstates the complexity of the game – Smiths is a fairly simple move-and-act, collect-and-apply-resources game.  There is a modest amount of simple engine-building, and a few ways to score points (assuming you include the optional ‘laneways’ expansion which comes in the base box), but I consider it ‘lighter’ than that BGG rating.

Availability

It appears that Smiths of Winterforge has been a bit of a sales disappointment for the publisher, because it’s widely available and cheap at the moment.  It is a crazy low $29 from DungeonCrawl at the moment – it’s a lot of game, for that price.  However, I don’t recommend buying it if you only plan to play it solo – it’s much better with 3 to 5 players².

Footnotes

¹ I doubt you will get these sweet metal coins in the retail version for the current low, low price, so please check to avoid disappointment.

² Technically it plays 6, but with some special rules – I’ve tried that; stick to 5 maximum, in my opinion.

I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men…

Henry David Thoreau

Posted in Family games, Filler length, Solo play review

Blitzkrieg! — solo play review

“[B]ecause the game plays as quickly as it does, I find myself playing multiple times in a session, happy to accept the luck, or lack thereof, in my efforts to defeat the AI bot.”

Summary:

Blitzkrieg! is a Family level game of Filler length. It is playable by 1 to 2 players.

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

This review focuses on the solo play experience.

Blitzkrieg! has a built-in solo mode designed by David Turczi. The mode employs an AI bot that stands in for the Axis player using a selection procedure and “stratagem” tokens to make decisions.

The best bits of this game are the weighty decisions that are ever-present, in part due to the short nature of the game.

The worst bit of Blitzkrieg! is the learning curve of manipulating the AI bot. The curve is not steep, but it does require the solo player to interpret the procedure.

Review:

Paolo Mori’s Blitzkrieg! is self-described as “World War Two in 20 Minutes.” The game distills the essence of an epic event into a filler game that has become a go-to when I want a quick, but satisfying game to play.

Blitzkrieg! uses a tug-of-war mechanic with players randomly pulling unit tokens from a bag. The tokens have varying levels of strength and represent ground, naval, and air capabilities. Placement of the tokens result in gaining advantage in specific campaigns and theatres of operation as well as access to special effects.

The game is tense, even against the AI bot, because placement options are limited. I constantly evaluate what I want versus what I leave behind, especially knowing where the AI bot will prioritize placement.

Interestingly, two-player begins more or less even. The Axis player will always begin play, but the Allied player will always have the final turn and wins on a tied score. In solo, you will always play in pursuit. On Medium difficulty, the AI bot gets +6 spaces on the theatres of operation tracks when you start and based on the selection procedure, will often times be +10 to +12 before your first move.

The game is challenging. And there needs to be a willingness to accept the randomness of pulling unit tokens from a bag. But because the game plays as quickly as it does, I find myself playing multiple times in a session, happy to accept the luck, or lack thereof, in my efforts to defeat the AI bot.

I have minimal exposure to David Turczi solo modes (Teotibot in Teotihuacan: City of Gods), but I will say I have become a fan and will become interested in any project of which he is a part. AI bot offers an at-times predictable, but always challenging, opponent. Though the 2-player experience is naturally different, a victory over AI bot feels like an accomplishment.

My biggest complaint regarding the solo mode is that the AI bot relies quite heavily on a human player to make selections. The player must filter and execute the AI bot priorities. On any given turn, you must determine the theatre of operations, the campaign position (i.e., triggering special placement effects), and the individual unit choice.

My first game took nearly an hour to complete. Within a half dozen games, however, I was able to reduce game length to 20-30 minutes.

The instructions are concise, but a single-page player aid would be nice. I made a quick cut-and-paste sheet such that I use the procedure listed on the back of the solo rules together with 1) stratagem token descriptions, 2) “greatest change” breakdown, and 3) summary of AI performance of special placement effects.

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 1.73 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.

Availability

I picked this title up in December from Cool Stuff Inc. for $25 USD. It appears to be out of stock in many places, and even Amazon only lists third party sellers. There is a Blitzkrieg! Nippon expansion ($15 USD) that I have yet to play, but it appears equally difficult to find as of February 2020.

It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.

— Rainer Maria Rilke
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

Posted in Family games, Short length

Wayfinders – review

Fly your cute seaplane from island to island, and build airstrips in the right places to win!

Summary:

Wayfinders is a Family level game of Short length for 2 to 4 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 (other than cute aeroplane models) are:

  1. choosing when to pick up your meeples – this is the most interesting decision which you will make in the game, and leads to solid player interaction; and
  2. the fact that other people can also use your airstrips to help their travel.

The worst bit of Wayfinders is the lack of a score pad or scoring track – this was an oversight (or a poor cost-management decision) – the game loses some theme when you have to score on a piece of A4 stolen from your printer.

Review:

Lay out 24 tiles from 3 categories in a grid around the central ‘home’ island, and reveal the 4 tiles closest to home, for all to see¹. Now is your chance to buzz your seaplane around, exploring tropical, desert, ice, farm and city locations, and establishing up to 10 airstrips to score points. The airstrips will give you resources, extra abilities and end-game points – but, placing them will also make it easier for your opponents to get around and establish their own bases.

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You’ll need Fuel to explore city locations, and spare Propellers to explore the ice.  Visit the hangars with up to 5 of your meeples to gain resources – but when you collect them is important – it’s when you pick up your team that they will take the top resource from each hangar (whether they’re first in the hangar, or not). (Worker placement, with a twist).  Timing this decision is one of Wayfinders’ interesting choices and one which may assist (or possibly enrage) your opponent.

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Fortunately, you can use two of the same resource as a ‘wild’ resource when travelling or when building airstrips, so this reduces the pain of not getting the resources you hoped for (a little).

The resource tokens are plastic, look and feel good, and do the job nicely.  The meeples are also plastic², which feels a bit weird when you’re used to wood, but I understand the choice they made.  The plane models and airstrip hangars are simple but cute, and the colours are ummm, ‘vibrant pastels’.  I liked the colours, but they may not be to everyone’s taste.

Aside: I have several gamer friends who are colour blind. If you can believe the ‘Color Blind Pal’ app, the player colours should be OK to distinguish – see samples from the app:

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The island tiles grant a variety of rewards from placing airstrips – from end game points, to extra instant resources, to permanent advantages (such as free travel through one type of terrain). This ‘route building’ element of the game adds to the appeal.

This is a fun game which includes enough challenge for a short game.  There are enough different scoring strategies available to favour a few different plans to play and win. You need to plan your moves carefully, but be willing to change your plans when other people ruin them (generally without malice).  There are some mild-strength ‘catch-up’ mechanics in the game which might reduce the risk of a runaway winner³. I liked it, and I think my wife and younger daughter will like it (always a big bonus).

I think that Wayfinders will have excellent replayability, due to the modular board.  Only 24 tiles out of 45 are used in any game, and the board layout is randomised, so you’ll definitely die of old age before fully exploring the 2341358678872016236727626235904000000 combinations of those things.

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These tiles are spare – extra variety for future games 🙂

I won’t play it that many times, but will look forward to playing this again!

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 2 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review), and I think that’s fair.

Availability

This game is a new release but widely available.  I happened to get mine via Amazon Prime very cheaply (about $44); Amazon prices are highly volatile in my experience, so alternatively, try the always excellent Guf ($56).

These are, of course, our opinions only.

Footnotes:

¹ using the ‘Exploration’ variant, which I think adds quite a lot of fun to the game, though probably at the cost of game balance for some scoring strategies.

² my meeples had weird little lumps from the mold / sprue on the bottom of one foot, which made them stand unevenly – but they came off easily with nail clippers.

³ I query whether the game might benefit from having an extra round after the final round is triggered – I haven’t played it often enough to have a strong opinion about that yet.

Posted in Family games, Short length

Isle of Skye

Last Saturday night saw Isle of Skye hit the table.

For those not yet familiar with this little beauty, the aim of the game is to score points across 5 or 6 rounds by building your Isle, in a way which best follows the scoring goals.  The goals change from game to game – you’re always working on 4 goals, and score them progressively throughout the rounds.

My Isle ended up looking like this: 

This scored me plenty of points for 3 sets of brochs (towers), lighthouses and farms (goal B – 5 points for each set) but I underachieved on the other goals (due to a chronic lack of cows) and came 2nd.

Gameplay

In this game, each player chooses 3 tiles (blind draw) from the bag, then selects 2 to keep.  You must be able to place tiles to keep them.  Water, mountains and pastures must match edges to be placed.  Roads are desirable to match if possible – you usually gain extra income or points if you can manage to connect them.
The tricky part is that each player gets to purchase one other tile per round, from another player.  The selling player sets the price, but ‘protecting’ your most desirable tiles consumes income.  Get the price right, and you’ll keep your tile to add to your Isle.  Get it wrong, and you’ll lose the tile … but be cashed up to buy from someone else (either now, or next round).

This ‘auction’ mechanism means that you’ll end up with 3, 2, or 1 tiles to build onto your Isle each round. Or, if you’re rather unlucky, zero!  That’s not as bad as it may sound though, because if you keep zero tiles, you’re likely to have buckets of cash instead.

Balance

The game is well balanced – we played with 5 players, including 3 new players, and the scores were close – 69 for the winner, 63, 59, 51 and 40 in last place.

Thoughts from the family

Miss 13 approves of this game – the Isle building is a good puzzle, and buying someone else’s favoured tile is even better.

Best thing about this game

It is great fun building your own little Isle of Skye.  The tiles look great – who doesn’t like cartoon highland cows?!  The auction mechanic works well and has a sensible limit because you’re restricted to buying 1 tile.

A huge variety of goals and tiles means that you’ll never build the same Isle twice.

Worst thing about this game

Some of the scoring goals (e.g. 3 points for each set of at least 3 tiles in a vertical column) feel arbitrary.