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Carson City

This game has been staring at me from the game shelf since Essen begging to be played. I don't know why it has taken 4 months to get it to table; maybe some unfavourable reports from my games group, maybe the plethora of new games that have grabbed my attention.

Well i regret the wait because i really enjoyed my first play. The first round or two were a bit odd because it is a worker placement game (with guns) I and my opponenets were playing it Agricola style i.e not contesting the action spots. Then half way through all hell broke loose and colts were drawn at every opportunity. We played with the Indian expansion, and first and second place went to the players who had chosen him twice as their role. The biggest cowboy in town came last. In the analysis afterwards (all new to the game) we felt that the game is going to take a few plays to fathom the strategies. The dominant cowboy did not bully the other players enough by nicking their income from buildings and the land grabbers did not change gear by using their income effectively. I keep thinking about the game, i particularly like the cash limits on the characters, the progressive cost of buying VPs and the interactions between the building types. I think the next time i try it it will be with the 'might is right' variant to eliminate the luck of the die rolls.

Thank the lord Counter magazine only comes out four times a year

On the day my Counter magazine arrives i sit up till 2 reading, then lie awake thinking about whether i agree/disagree with the reviews. I think if it were a weekly i'd have to turn to sleeping tablets.

The February issue is my favourite as it lists the contributors top 5 games from the previous year - it always provokes a lot of mental debate about what my own top five would be (and when i have finished playing the highlight 2009 games i'll post them on this blog)

I was delighted that the editor of Counter, Stuart Dagger, selected 'A Brief History of the World' as his number one. It's retro, it's more about the experience than winning ,it eschews clever mechancics for straight forward game play - in short everything that a game should be.

War of the Roses - Can you judge a game by the components?

War of the Roses arrived today and i have just had the best 'punching out the bits' experience i can remember. The box weighs about 4 Kilos and is just a litlle bigger than a standard bookshelf size game. So what's in there? Lead or gold? Gold! It might be only February but i think i can safely predict that this will win any award going for the best produced game of 2010. The quality of the components are staggering. The board is six folded, very thick and with superb clear artwork. Turn it over and it has a map of the historic battles of the subject matter. Each player has a screen and an order planning board - both are made from the thickest card, the player screens are huge with summaries of important rules and a history of the Wars. The chits and tokens are up to the same standard. The only niggle is that the picture of the Captain of Calais token is a scanned picture of some modern day bloke (Peter Hawes?). I'd hope that nonensense was not going to be repeated after the design mess of 'Heads of State'. I pray that the game play is as good as the bits!

War of the Roses - can you judge a game by the rules?

The last time i read a set of rules for a ZMan published game deisgned by an Antipodean i dismissed the game as derivative, simplistic and poorly themed. The game was 'Endeavor' and how wrong could i have been - it's one of my top 5 from 2009 and i think it is a masterpiece of clear and simple board game design.

Now i have read the rules to 'Wars of the Roses twice' and and i am attracted and put off in equal measure. On the plus side it's about a period of history i find interesting (three years of studying the period did not put me off). It looks greeat. It has some intersting mechancis, especially the simulataneous move programming.

However, it's a Euro game (area majotity) with a bit of conflict thrown in and i'm worried that Euro mechanics and The War of the Roses are not amarriage made in heaven.

Secondly there are some historical inaccuracies that i find annoying. If you play with four then two players are Lancastrian and two Yorkist. It only matters for an area majoirty calculation and you can't confer with your 'partner' about tactics. Secondly for Area Majority calculation players get votes in Parliament - not in synch with political dymanics of the 15th century at all.

The other thing that worries me is that with the hidden planning but sequential actions that game play might be a bit too chaotic.

Despite my reservations i am still looking for a scuccessor to 'Kingmaker' and however remote the possiblity this is it i'll give it a go.

Zman and the UK distributor seem to have learnt form the pricing mistake of Peter Hawe's previous game, 'Heads of State', and have set a RRP of £49.99 for 'Wars of the Roses'. It's still on the pricy side but i hope it won't end up in the bargain bin with 'Heads of State' which was priced at a truly absurd £59.99. 'Heads of State' is an ok game, ironically well worth the £14.99 i sell it for, but a complete waste of money at full RRP.

RuneWars - A review by Nigel Buckle

I won’t detail the mechanics of Runewars, you can look at the rules for that First impressions are this is a lavish game with a price tag to match, huge colourful box and expectation of lots of great components. That’s where the disappointment hits, opening the box to find the major element is air - you get a massive insert used to hold the large punchboards, with the pre-bagged minatures in protective cardboard ‘sleeves’ to the side along with the card decks. Once you’ve opened it all out you’ll discover a misprint for the elves and the cities has been fixed and an additional punchboard included. Read the punchboards before punching and make sure you keep the right bits. Then once you’ve punched it all out you’ll realise the huge box is unnecessary and the insert completely useless as you’ll struggle to get all the bits back in the box unless you turn it over or throw it away. However that’s the main disappointment for me - the huge box, both in terms of expectation of it being full to the brim with cardboard and plastic, and in terms of storing and transporting the game. Really it could have come in a Runebound sized box with no problem. Game wise there is quite a bit going on with various sub-systems all driven by a card flip mechanic, no dice here. The map is made up of geometric hexes, so each game will be a bit different, and most of the hexes are populated with neutral units that you can try to get to join your side (good luck with that) or attack. Each player controls a race, and they are all subtly different, which is nice. Each has unique units and resources, giving each a unique feel without having a pile of special rules. There are a bunch of heroes, all with their own unique power too. The game last 6 years (4 seasons per year) maximum and once you know what you are doing you can finish the game surprisingly quickly. Unlike other conflict games of this type the combat system is very straightforward and very quick, just fight 5 rounds (one per unit shape, often you’ll only resolve 2 or 3) and then see what units are left standing, side with the most wins. Central mechanic is all players simultaneously pick an action card for the season and they activate in order. This helps reduce downtime and increase tension - will your opponents be attacking, recruiting, or harvesting? In the early games it is easy to lose sight of the requirements to win - you need 6 runes and you start with 2. Heroes can find more by questing, winter will often bring 1 or more additional rune into play and you can take them from your opponents. Once everyone understands the pacing of the game things get quite tense as you have to optimise your actions, units and heroes - the game plays so fast it is hard to recover from a major disaster (such as losing a fight to a neutral you expected to win). For some people looking for a Leader/Personality dominated game where Heroes run around as the main focus this game will be a disappointment - you need your armies to win and most of your actions will centre around them and your empire. The heroes are a bit of a sideshow, but an important one - the runes they can collect are often what you need to win. What you have is an area control game with planning. You can only fight with your armies once a year (you activate an area, place a token in it and move units into the area - and they are then stuck there until spring comes along), meaning there are hard choices about when and where you attack and can you defend a counter attack back? What I like: Games will be different - at least for a while, the sides are different, the map is variable, the seasons have different effects, the heroes are different - and you can add in encounters as a variant adding more variety (or chaos, depending on your viewpoint). Combat feels epic, despite the fast resolution - do you use fast units that aren’t very good, or spell casters, or your big guns that might get routed before they even get a chance to fight? The card mechanic works well, and combat is over in a very short time. Deep game play without huge amounts of downtime - most of the ‘planning’ side of the game is done simultaneously with everyone thinking about card play at the same time. Then actual turns roll along fairly quickly. Simple mechanics - for all the elements the game includes: Different unit types, resources, strongholds, development, heroes, quests, duels, etc the actual rules and mechanics are remarkably simple. You will not need a pile of reference sheets and help cards to learn and play this game, but you will need a few games to learn what works and what doesn’t, how many units you probably need to win that battle etc. Objective cards - each player gets one and they are coded by alignment (half the sides are ‘good’ and half ‘evil’, the objective cards encourage you down one of those paths, do the objective get an oh so important rune as a reward. It is fun - early on you are beating up neutrals and building your empire, in the last couple of years you’ll be bumping into your opponents and possibly fighting over crucial territory. No long slow build up, if anything the game ends too quickly - but if you find that is the case the designer has included an ‘epic’ version which lasts 8 years and has you starting with less runes. There are multiple approaches to victory - build your influence and win that way (dominate the influence bids, grab the role cards, even use diplomacy to get neutral allies), concentrate on heroes, grab items, find runes, duel (and kill) your opponents heroes, concentrate on tactics cards for sneaky tricks, or just flood the map with units and grab territory. What I don’t: Box size and that the winning condition is just dragon runes, I would have liked to see more race and alignment specific victory conditions - the objectives go part of the way there, but more would be nice. The game is screaming out for expansions - if nothing else to help fill the huge box. You’ll get through most of the quest deck in a single game (as most of it is not used, you only include quests for the map tiles you are playing) and most are very similar, go to hex X, take an ability test (flip cards = the relevant attribute) look for successes. Multi-part quests etc would add variety. You’ll get through most of the season cards, and some effects are repeated, again I’d like to see more variety, even to the extent each player gets a subset of cards and picks which are included (so you know some of the possibilites and can adapt your strategy). More heroes, more races. For the hefty price tag I would have hoped for just a bit more in the original game. Overall, if you want a fast playing epic feeling fantasy conflict game you won’t go far wrong investing in Runewars - but if you are looking for a game where heroes are the main focus with armies in the background you probably need to look elsewhere.

Assyria and Homesteaders

Homsteaders first. I'm now up to three plays and my ability to play the game is going down in proportion to how much my liking it is going up. It's the dang auction which is throwing me - twice a game i have a mental 'all in' moment and win an auction i did not want to win, then build a building i did not need. I think the key is to plan to pass in advance and don't panic if someone else picks up a cheap auction. You can score about 29 points by not participating in the auction (Advance up the RR track to the 3pt square, picking up a trade chit , a cowboy and a gold on the way, and score 1 pt a round on your Homestead, ) so scores in the early 40's (mine) are pretty lame. Never mind there's always another game.

Assyria. The theme put me off (as did a sight of the board at Essen) It's about ancient stuff - ziggurats, camels et al. However i opened a copy after a customer sang it's praises and i'm glad i did. It's got a nifty card drafting mechanic to feed your villages , the rest is fairly standard fare of sacrificing Vps for income, going for short term vp gains against longer term aims. However, it pulls together into a (for want fo a better word) solid Euro. I'm not sure whether my liking of the core drafting mechanic will stand up to repeated plays but i have enjoyed the two games (2 and 4 player) to date. Maybe a try before you buy.


I played Homesteaders twice over the weekend and i believe it lives up to the hype.

There are some production problems; there is damp in the box, the printing on the tiles is off set and the auction board feels like a week dead kipper.
However, the game is not priced at a premium and it is a debut from new publisher Tasty Minstrel. But most important the game play is fantastic.

At heart it is a classic 'turn stuff into better stuff with buildings and ultimately into loads of VPS' game follwing in the footsteps of Caylus and Le Havre. Homesteaders has a delicious twist - there is an auction for the right to build which adds a valuation to every planned building and conversion you plan to make. The twist is further spiced by the fact that there is one less auction than the number of players. One player will have to pass (they get something for passing ). The game is played over 10 auction rounds and you might be building between 5 and 8 times over the course of the game, so knowing at what point to pass but also not letting other players win the right to build makes the game very tense.

Thouroughly reccomended!

World Without End (a full review this time)

As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods: they kill us for their sport’
‘King Lear’, William Shakespeare

A four player game of ‘World Without End’ would have driven the old king back out on to the blasted heath raving about event cards. At least he would have done so sat in my chair in a recent game; the only player to pay his dues at the end of a chapter? Check - next event card everyone loses their next action. Medical knowledge at a level ready to sweep the board? Check. Event gives everyone medical knowledge, next event makes all medical knowledge redundant. Never mind let’s build! Next event prohibits building for the chapter...and so on. The game can be very cruel to those who like to plan too far ahead or specialise. Thematically it makes sense - we are in the middle ages, subject to the whims of kings and priests, only one step away from having a bucket of night soil poured over our head that will pop out a goitre, bring us out in boils and give us bubonic plague. Life was tough and unfair in days of yore and so is this game. At least when played to full capacity with four players, but I’ll come back to this later.

‘World without End’ is designed by the same team that gave us ‘Pillars of the Earth’ and it is loosely based on Ken Follet’s follow up novel to his world wide best seller. I must confess to not having read either of these books; however the game makes you feel you are in the middle ages with snippets from the story used as flavour text on the event cards. The art work is instantly recognisable as the work of Michael Menzel, it’s a style I like as the board gives the game atmosphere -necessary when you are pushing cubes around. The rule book is one of the best written I have read and credit must go the original drafter and Patrick Korner the translation.

The board contains a space for an event card, a favour track, spaces for buildings, an area for Wool, Cloth, Wood, Stone (Hey it wouldn’t be a proper Euro without ‘em!). Six cards for each chapter are randomly drawn from the eleven available and are placed next to the board. The ‘Bridge’, the starting building project is placed on the board. Each player starts with two money and wool which they keep hidden behind a screen. Players also start with the same set of twelve action cards, four un built houses and two donation tokens. In this review i refer to all the tokens and cubes in the game as ‘resources’ the rule book only uses the term resources for Wood and Stone.

The game is played over 24 rounds which are divided into four ‘chapters’ of six rounds. Players take it in turn to be the active player, everyone gets to do something in a round but the active player has two extra steps. The active player draws the top event card turns it over and the event on the card is resolved.

The events come in two type’s; immediate effect, or stay in place for the whole of the chapter. Of the forty four events only twenty four will be drawn in the game. Most of the events are not going to make you happy, seventeen of them have a bad effect, for example players lose resources or a part of the game gets closed down. When they are in effect for the whole of a chapter they can be particularly nasty. A mere seven can be described as good or neutral, either giving resources, VPs for meeting a criteria or reversing the effect of some previous calamity. Five of the cards bring new building projects on to the board and fifteen offer the players the opportunity to make some kind of exchange; either a resource for a different type of resource, forgo an action for a benefit or resources or goods for victory points.

Next the player decides the orientation of the event card on the board. This is one of the cleverest mechanics of the game. Every event card has a resource on each of the four sides. The players receive the resource that points at them when the card is placed on the board. At this stage of the game the players are hunched over the board, holding their breath hoping against hope that they will get the one resource they need to either avoid end of chapter penalties or set up an efficient action later in the round. When deciding on the placement of the event card there are a few factors to consider; the first is the resource you need, the second is the favour track and the third (if you are able to remember what the other players have placed behind their screens) is screwage. The placement of the event card is usually greeted by one or more players with loud groans.

Each event card also has an arrow on one side. When placed the arrow will point to a number between zero and three which is the number of spaces the favour marker will move along its track. The favour track has ten spaces three of which give you resources, five victory points (dependent on what resources you hold or houses you have built) and two (‘outlaws’) cost you a gold to land on. You desperately need a grain to avoid chapter end penalties? Pay gold if the arrow moves you to the outlaw space. Another factor to consider when moving along the favour track is not setting it for a big points score by the player on your left. Another is that choosing zero and not moving the favour track does not get you a benefit on the track.

After the favour track has been resolved players take it in turn to play action cards. When a card is played another must be discarded, so it’s crucial to have some plan (however cruelly the gaming gods might treat it) for the chapter. The actions available are:
• to gain a resource (Grain, Piety, Wood/Stone), (three cards)
• repeat the last action you played
• convert wool to cloth
• sell cloth and wool at the market,
• move the favour track along one space and take the action
• build a house
• take rent from up to two houses
• building project
• donate to a building project
• medicine or gain one VP and a gold

Rent from built houses is the only way of guaranteeinga particular resource. To build a house players pay a gold and either a wood or a stone.(there are two houses for each resource type and one requires wood to build, the other stone). Each house has a ‘rent’ that will be one of stone, wood , gold, Victory points, Grain, Medical knowledge or loyalty tokens.In the games I have played house building is one of the first actions players have taken. There is also a space on the favour track that scores victory points equal to the number of houses a player owned.

Building projects allow you to build one or two sections of one of the projects o the board, the projects require either stone or wood and a player scores three points for each section built.

Players may also donate a gold towards the building project, the donation (marked by a token in the players colour) yields resources and victory points when the project is complete. For example the bridge gives one VP and three gold when complete. At the end of each chapter a section of each building is finished by the crown so timing donations well can be a cheap source of VPs or other resources. Five of the potential building projects arrive on the board by way of events. I have seen games where all five have arrived and some with only one. One building, ‘The Tower’, is automatically added to the board at the beginning of chapter three.

Chapter three sees another change in the town of Kingsbridge. The plague breaks out. Now the players get to be nurses and doctors and score VPs for curing the sick. Eleven plague tokens with a number between one and five are randomly placed face down on set spots on the board. Event cards in chapters three and four will reveal the plague tokens, they then can be cured. To cure a plague token a player needs medical knowledge; this can be gained from event card resources, events and house rents. The medical knowledge required is equal or greater than the number on the plague token. Multiple tokens can be cured with the same action, for example if a player has medical knowledge of five be could cure plague tokens with a value of three and two. Each token cured gains the player two points and each spot cured gives the player a resource or other benefit. Along with building projects curing the plague is the (second) best way of gaining points in the game (so long as the event that wipes all tokens off the board does not arrive too early in the game). Medical knowledge is not spent when curing; it stays with the player and can be used again.

Like Agricola the best way of scoring VPs is to avoid paying the penalty at the end of each round, so half of a player’s effort will be spent in avoiding having a shortfall at the end of each chapter. The ‘Mandatory Duties’ at the end of each chapter are two piety (you had to suck up to the church back in the middle ages) , two grain (they ate then as well) and pay tax to the crown (between two and five gold based on a die roll. For every piety you are short you lose three VPs, for every grain two and one VP for every gold. Not only that but you receive a penalty in the next round, without grain you don’t receive your income from the placement of the event card, without piety you have to discard a random action card and without gold you miss your next action altogether! Victory point penalties are doubled in the last chapter. The unpleasant after effects of not paying your dues can be negated by expenditure of a loyalty token, you don’t escape the victory point loss but the after effects are gone. Loyalty tokens can be gained from house rents and the event cards and there are two spots on the favour track that score you points for owning them.

Point scoring is incremental rather than exponential, more like Cuba than Le Havre. Trying to build a specialised engine to build up to a grand finale only has limited success, you are limited by only being able to take the same action twice in each chapter and that ‘house rents’ only give two resources. Moreover event cards can completely close down either building or medicine. In a first game it is easy to spurn easy points offered by the events in the hope of saving resources for later scores, my advice is don’t; those three points can seem like a lot at the end of a game in which fifty points (you start with eight) can be a winning score.

I think the big bugbear for a lot of geeks will be the lack of control in the game. In two player games you get to choose resources and use the favour track 12 times, in three player 8 times and in four players it’s six. There is a huge difference in the amount of control a player has between two and four players Because resources are finite they can and will run out in a four player game, it might be a viable strategy to hog grain or piety and cause your opponents to starve or get into trouble with the clergy. This makes it even harder to be master of your own gaming destiny, especially in a four player game. If I had to try and pigeon hole the game it would as an ‘Experience Euro’, the flavour text on the events are best read aloud to create a back drop for the nasty (or nice) thing that follows. In my opinion the control /game experience balance is best with three players. Planning in the game is difficult with so much effort going into paying duties and warding of negative events. However, careful planning and flexibility is required in the ordering of player’s actions , choice of discard is just as important as the action played.

The complexity is moderate - I’d put it at a 2.5 on the Geek scale, neophyte ‘Geeks have had no problem learning the game and there is a ‘baby steps’ intro version of the game if you want to ease yourself into it ,though I don’t think it’s necessary for gamers. It is a reminder that this game is aimed at the more complex end of the family game market, and should be judged with that in mind.

In conclusion I really enjoy playing this game, normally a lack of control puts me off but the combination of the mechanics, the requirement to keep balanced and respond to events make for an immersive game and two hours well spent.

Terra Prime

Of the two Tasty Minstrel debut titles Homesteaders is the one i'm looking forward to playing the most. However, the theme for my games groups evening was Ameritrash and Terra Prime appeared closer of the two to the theme so it got played first. Having read that it is an ameritrash/Euro hybrid i would say you could strike out the ameri bit of the statement - it's a euro with a space theme and some colourful artwork. There is no direct conflict between the players, comeptition being for colonies, resources and technologies. Another canard to put to rest is the quality of the components - they are fine, and under £30 pretty good value for money.

The game does not have anything new to offer by way of mechanics. It's part pick up and deliver, part exploration. There appear to be a few strategies you can employ to win and by customising your space ship and buying technologies the game leads towards speclialisation, at least it does in a 3 player game. I suspect it will be more interesting with four or five players as the rare techs are gobbled up and it's more difficult to be an out and out specialist. Whilst not being particualrly original the game rattles along and does not overstay it's welcome at ninety minutes.

January's gaming

If, like me, you log your game plays on Boardgamegeek you can keep track of games you have been playing. I was delighted to see, after a few quiet months at the end of 2009, that i'm back up to fifty games played in January, which includes twenty eight unique games and nine games that are new to me.

The highlights were Thunderstone, Die Aufsteiger, World Without End, Heroes of the World and Neue Heimat.