Posted in Enthusiast Games, Full length, Gaming Discussion

Minutes to Midnight (Manhattan Project 2) – first look

Punched and played this Christmas present for the first time, and here are some first impressions:

The bomber-heavy Soviets

The development of your own industry is crucial and, together with technology investment, involves some nice engine building.

High level subs are immensely expensive to research and produce, but immensely satisfying to deploy. The decoy mechanism is simple, but really neat.

Subs overloaded the German ABM defenses

Different approaches to technology allow different strategies, and espionage is another simple but elegant mechanism.

Overall, it’s full of strategy and tension and I’m really looking forward to getting it to the table again.

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 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.

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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.

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A modest selection from the enormous range of engines.

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

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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.

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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 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 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 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.