Posted in Enthusiast Games, Short length, Solo play review

The Isle of Cats — solo play review

Functional “Cat Setup” included.

“Quite simply the new polyomino game standard bearer for the solo player.”

Summary:

The Isle of Cats is an Enthusiast level game of Short length.  The base game is playable by 1 to 4 players.

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

This review focuses on the solo play experience.

The Isle of Cats has a built-in solo mode.

The best bits of this game are:

1. the marriage of simple gameplay rules with complex gameplay decisions

2. the solo game, while maintaining core gameplay elements, pushes beyond the multiplayer game to become the best iteration of The Isle of Cats

The worst bit of The Isle of Cats is the unavoidable problem when the player is subject to the mercy of random draw, particularly regarding rescuable cats.

Review:

Frank West and The Isle of Cats are certainly having their moment. And I can say it’s well-deserved as The Isle of Cats is quite simply the new polyomino game standard bearer for the solo player. It shows the potential of the genre that goes beyond “gateway” tile placement.

At its core, The Isle of Cats is a polyomino tile placement game that utilizes a round-renewing economy and a card draft system. Victory points are primarily based on placement, covering or filling different areas on the player board, as well as fulfilling optional and variable scoring objectives. The rules are straightforward and the individual player boards contain the essential information of round structure and scoring framework.

It is important to not confuse “easy to play” with “easy.” The players’ objective is much more complex than simply covering a boat with cats. There are several decision points including drafting useful cards, deciding whether to pay for them, determining initiative, and pursuing both private and public scoring objectives through tile placement.

Drafted lesson cards in a solo game.

The one minor drawback of the game is that there are times where the player is at the mercy of the dreaded draw. Whether referring to card draw or tile draw, options may be, at times, limited through no fault or choice of the player. Sometimes, the right color cat is just not available. Or the player receives a lesson card that is impossible to fulfill, especially when it comes late in the game.

The game utilizes an AI opponent, “Sister.” Like the game itself, she is elegantly designed to create a formidable foe with minimal rules overhead. She scores points based on types (color) of cats as well as her own solo-specific lessons. The twist? Both conditions are based on the player’s own tile placement.

Sister earns points for each randomly selected color of cat played (5 points for Blue, 4 for Orange, etc. revealed prior to the start of each round) and lesson cards (known from the get-go).

The solo game shines because it adds a layer of complexity that does not exist in the multiplayer game. Where the typical solo player is more likely to play a game missing an element from a multiplayer game (neighbourhood bonus in Clans of Caledonia, e.g.), The Isle of Cats adds a layer of strategy to the multiplayer game and does so in a meaningful way.

Every cat that is placed on the player’s boat simultaneously scores points for the player and the AI opponent. Many times, the placement will work toward (or against) multiple scoring objectives. Imagine: every move is a combination of both working toward one’s own objective while preventing or at least limiting the AI’s progress. I talk to myself a lot playing The Isle of Cats because there is a lot of information to process.

The core of the solo gameplay, however, largely coincides with the multiplayer mechanics. The solo game simulates the card draft, (the player will not see cards return, but she must evaluate the cards that will help best) and provides a means to compete against the AI for initiative as well as selection of cats and treasures. While not a perfect analog to multiplayer play, the limitations presented by AI interference will feel much the same for the player.

The Isle of Cats excels as a gaming puzzle beyond mere “Tetris-ing” pieces together. In its solo game iteration, The Isle of Cats requires constant evaluation of multiple scoring conditions in a satisfying mental exercise.

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 2.31 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

The Isle of Cats is available directly from the publisher, The City of Games, for £45. The Kickstarter edition is currently on sale for £65 and includes, among other things, wooden fish pieces, additional lesson card modules, and a variety of additional tiles. I have not seen The Isle of Cats at retail though I would expect one will be able to find it at outlets that carried Mr. West’s The City of Kings.

Cats have it all: admiration, an endless sleep and company only when they want it.

— Rod McKuen

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.

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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, Full length, Short length

Paladins of the West Kingdom – review

The Paladins look seriously mean, and choosing the right one at the right time is the key to a good game

Summary:

Paladins of the West Kingdom is an Enthusiast level game of Short + or Full – length for 1 to 4 players.

Paladins includes a native solo mode with an AI opponent on a specially printed gameboard – I haven’t tried it yet and it’s not part of this review¹.

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 Paladins, hands down.  It’s a simple idea – you draw 3 of your 12 paladin cards and choose one to be your ‘champion’ for this round.  He will assist you with one type of action (see picture below).

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Each paladin only gets one round (out of seven) to help you, so choose carefully.  But, here’s the neat ‘hand management’ bit which works so well – choose one of the other two to add to the bottom of your draw pile – you won’t see him again (or at least not until much later in the game – and choose one to add to the top, so that he’s available again as one of your options next round.  This simple approach blends variety with planning for future rounds – it’s very neat.  More on the paladin cards, below.

The worst bits of Paladins are:

  1. the rulebook – you have to jump back and forth to find some bits of the info you need, and this created some challenges in my game group;
  2. the player interaction can be punishing: for example, if someone attacks (or converts) an Outsider who you really want before you get a chance, then you can really take a hit – because they’re not replaced until end of round, and the different types of worker meeples have different strengths, so it can be tough to redeploy them effectively.  This is slightly mitigated by the ability to carry up to 3 workers over to the next round.

Review:

You own medieval town is in front of you. You’ve chosen your champion paladin for the current round – he may encourage hunting for provisions, for example –  so you will probably use one or two of those workers to hunt.  Include a green (Scout) worker if you want good results!  If you chose the optimal paladin, then he will also have come with a Scout worker or two, whether or not you could hire one from the Tavern.

Your opponent might have missed out on the Cleric they wanted from the Tavern at the start of the round – perhaps they got stuck with Labourers and Fighters.  Fortunately, any Labourer (or other worker) can conspire to be a Criminal – those purple workers can do it all!  You might even pilfer some coins from the taxman along the way – but you’re under Suspicion now – watch out for the Inquisition, when it arrives!

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Developing my ‘Convert’ option helped sway a whole host of Outsiders to join Team Stephen

This game is about choosing workers and gaining resources to take the actions which suit what you want to do – there are lots of options, and you definitely won’t have time in 7 rounds to do them all.  Do you want a great big wall around your town (for rewards and points)? – then, Fortify.  Keen on being a renowned warrior? – then, Attack the Outsiders (for rewards and perhaps points).  Feeling pious?  Convert the Outsiders, or Commission Monks (for rewards, points or more workers).  Back to those paladin cards we discussed earlier – each one buffs two of your three attributes for the round – so, the attacker makes you better at Attacking and rewards you with extra benefits for doing so.  Paladins of the West Kingdom really feels like you’re developing your town as you ‘engine build’ through your ‘tableau’ of  cards and wooden buildings.

The art by Mihajlo Dimitrievski is bold and cartoonish in the consistent style of Garphill Games’ recent North Sea amd West Kingdom series. The wooden workers and buildings are OK – typical for the series.  There is A LOT of game in this small box.

If you like any of the other recent Garphill Games (which I do), then you’re bound to like this one too – playing it is very satisfying and there are several different strategies available.  Paladins seems very nicely balanced and each game I have played has been close.  The player interaction is limited but it’s there (through competition for initial workers from the Tavern, the central Townsfolk and Outsider cards and the central rewards) and is occasionally punishing.

The paladin cards really help with enjoyment of the game, in my opinion, because they give new players a clue about what they might want to do in any particular round – this makes learning the game less intimidating.  The game moves quickly for us, and 7 rounds feels almost a touch too short to achieve your plans when playing – in my experience this game is a bit quicker to play than the box suggests. Definitely recommended as worth playing!

The variable “Kings Favour” cards encourage you to try different strategies for points.  In my first game I ‘Absolved’ my way to a win and in the second I ‘Converted’ up a big team of Outsider recruits.

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My menacing army of approximately willing converts

I’m convinced that concentrating on Fortifying a massive wall, Commissioning monks or creating Garrisons, or on other strategies, would also be viable.  There is an adequate amount of variability and content in the game to allow for reasonable replayability .

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 3.57 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review).  I don’t think it’s quite that heavy but ‘comparisons are odorous‘ by nature.

Availability

Paladins of the West Kingdom is widely available. Best current price I can find is $70 at Amazon US, or from $76 to $85 at a variety of other retailers.

I love the metal coins which are not in the standard retail game but are available here.

These are, of course, our opinions only.

Footnotes:

¹ I definitely enjoy the solo mode in Raiders of the North Sea, another Garphill Games design and expect to enjoy this one too, but it deserves its own review.

Posted in Fanatic games, Full length

Cerebria: The Inside World – review

It’s a bit like the movie Inside Out – but wayyy more complicated

Summary:

Cerebria: the Inside World is a Fanatic level board game of Full + length for 2 to 4 players.  It has a native solo mode which I have not played, so that is not included in this review.

Here’s what we mean when we rate game ‘weight’ or level or game length or player count.  For example: this game theoretically plays 6 with the ‘Forces of Balance’ expansion (was available, but we didn’t use it), but I can’t imagine how convoluted that game could be!

The best bits of this game are:

  1. the distinctive art and design – you will love it or hate it (or perhaps, like me, admire it while feeling slightly disturbed…)
  2. the way in which the Spirits carry their theme into the gameplay, and the way that Emotions trigger actions which align with their descriptions.  When you play “Guilt”, the action it triggers makes sense – as though the other team feels guilty!

The worst bits of  Cerebria are:

  1. the learning curve for new players and the consequent teaching and setup time: it is steep, and the time commitment is significant!
  2. the catchup mechanism for the losing team seems very weak, and so a runaway winner is totally possible – perhaps even likely.

Review:

Cerebria does feel a lot like a battle for dominance, inside a human brain.  You have to summon up Willpower and Essence to manifest Emotions (i.e. to play cards in particular areas) – but will Team Bliss come along and undo the ‘important work’ of Team Gloom?

Willpower and essence are scarce, but become easier to gain as you influence the Realms and Frontiers of the mind (the game board¹).

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Game board in starting setup.  Team Gloom (Hatred and Anxiety in this game) vs. Team Bliss (Empathy and Harmony).  Go Team Gloom!

Dominating each area (a Realm, or Frontier) of the mind grants minor additional benefits (but the small benefits really add up over time through the gameplay). This “area control” mechanism is also a major factor in scoring (which occurs indirectly through 6 to 9 Revelations, determined by player actions during the game). 

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Anxiety (Team Gloom) has played Loneliness.  Loneliness has more power when played alone (theme!) and contributes to control of this Frontier and the adjoining Realms

Also, each Emotion played has its own power – getting these to work together with your Spirit’s theme and with the other Spirit in your team² is a major factor in successful play.

The art is well displayed on large, thematic Emotion cards and player boards.  I was lucky enough to play with the extra miniatures (cardboard standees are standard) which are large, detailed and beautiful (or appropriately ugly…).

I’ve skipped over a part of the setup and gameplay – you get to build a deck of possible Emotions for each Spirit (choosing 8 from 16 options).  In my first game, I just made thematic choices, but you can follow a recommended starter deck – or spend ages building a customised preferred deck before you even start the main game, if that’s your thing.

Each spirit has a specific power – give them a good trip or two around the block, as they will help you learn the way the game flows, and can be really powerful when deployed consistently.  It’s important to know that this is a team-based game – part co-operative, part competitive.  I really liked that, but it may affect your view of the game differently.

This is a lovely game with great production values, which oozes theme³.  It requires complex decisions and you must keep an eye on many factors – the board is constantly changing.  I enjoyed it a lot, but it won’t be for everyone – it could get pretty slow with four players, and it is complex.  This is a game-lover’s game.

 

 

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Team Gloom dominates! Let’s not dwell on the dark and twisted Identity emerging….              [Also, please forgive the rules error of not adding this fortress before the capping piece, I think…]
Each team has 4 Spirits but will use only two in each game.  Each Spirit has 16 Emotions but will use only 8 in each game (and each team has 8 ‘Strong Emotions’ to advance to – we didn’t even get into 15/16 of the ‘Strongs’ in our game).  The Aspiration cards (a major source of scoring) will occur in a different order in each game and some may be skipped or removed.   This extensive content means that the game should have excellent replayability.

BoardGameGeek rates this game at a colossal 4.32 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review).  That seems a little high to me, but there’s no doubt it’s an intricate board game which could be ‘bewildering’ [that’s a quote from the rulebook…] for less fanatical players.

Availability

Behold Games (I’m a repeat customer of theirs – excellent service from a game loving store owner) has this available for $71 – excellent value as the typical price is near $100. I doubt that includes the plastic miniatures, as they were most easily obtained in the Kickstarter campaign for the Cerebria board game and are probably pretty tough to get now.

These are, of course, our opinions only.

Footnotes:

¹ the game board is HUGE – you’ll need a big table.

² this reminds me a LOT of aspects of the gameplay in Spirit Island.

³ motif?  Thesaurus.com took a beating while I was writing this review – ‘theme’ does not have many useful synonyms! 

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 Uncategorized

X-Com – finally!

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We have so many excellent game options to play that some games get brought along week after week, without making it to the table.

X-Com has been one of these, until last night.

5 of us (it’s 4 players max so two of us shared the Scientist role) played the tutorial (which we failed) and then an easy Infiltration mission and pulled off a win.


The whole game is timed and every player has a very specific role.

The board has specific areas for each player role with the middle showing the status of continents and aliens etc.


Best thing about this game

There is quite a bit of tension through the game, and since it is a co-op and we had a good team of experienced board gamers, it went fairly well.  When we were able to get some synergies going between roles, that was great.

Worst thing about this game

I really had little idea what the other players were doing, since each role is quite different

Final comments

Definitely worth another play, but I don’t know if I’ll ever love it.