Jan 212013

Carcassonne: Traders and Builders logoThe Codingmonkeys’ fabulous iPad rendition of Carcassonne has been updated with the Traders and Builders expansion.

The second expansion adds a two new dimensions to the game: trade and repeated turns.

Some city tiles now provide trade symbols, and the player who hoards the most by the end of game gets ten points for each majority. The trick here is that the trade symbols are awarded to the player who completes a city, even if he has no meeples within.

A player may also place a builder meeple on a road or city – and whenever he grows the structure where the builder assists, he gets to pick and play a second tile.

The third addition, a pig meeple that boosts the scoring on a field, is more limited in scope to these two.

Both change the flow of the game quite a bit, and especially in games that use both expansions the scores tend to run high. In some ten games the AI has proven a bit fragile, the personalities that have been reliable high-scorers (count and countess) no longer rule the land as they have used to.

Like its somewhat simpler predecessor that went unreviewed here, this expansion is heavily recommended, even if its gamecenter achievements are very much on the boring side (and pretty much demand a few games against a local opponent that lets the wookiee win).

Oct 022012

Ticket to Ride: Heart of Africa box coverTicket to Ride expands to Africa in its third map collection.

Haven’t bought any of the collections. I have Switzerland as an independent game, and the Asian board in the iPad game.

The newest entry in the franchise hasn’t escaped controversy before release.

It’s quite expensive (30$) for a single board. And the board doesn’t even cover the whole continent, just the central parts. The cost is partially offset by the fact that the map comes with a new set of cards. And adding a second map would have necessitated a second set of destination cards anyway.

Jun 052012

7 Wonders Leaders logoOne of the most common boardgames lately has been Antoine Bauza’s 7 Wonders. The basic game plays very well, and its totally random nature guarantees that no two games are alike, and no single strategy surpasses others.

The author’s expansion plans are indeed impressive, but the release pace hasn’t been exactly fast thus far. The first, Leaders, has been out for more than a year, and the second, Cities, still has not arrived.

Leaders is a great addition to the game. It adds new elements at a very little extra complexity. The titular leaders are just another draftable resource, and the extra rules are simple and short. The individual leaders influence the game in various ways, and as they are brought out at a slow pace (one per age), they do not overwhelm the board. As the acquisition of leaders is entirely random, they tend to work very differently – in some games they seem to bring in very little, in others they effectively decide the game’s winner (three science-related leaders brought in almost twenty extra points to the eventual winner).

The sole new wonder of the expansion, Rome, is very leader-centric. Thus far it has been far from a decisively victorious wonder, but its powers do allow the owner a lot more room in playing the leaders than the wonders from the base set do.

The sole concrete demerit of the expansion set is its coinage. The first finnish edition shipped with wooden coins, and sadly the Leaders opts for cardboard as material instead.

Even if the first few games with the Leaders included are longer than the commonly quite fast bouts (as the individual leaders take quite a while to become familiar with, some of the symbols used are initially on the impenetrable side), the game picks up pace fast after the familiarization period is over.

Sep 122011

Arkham Horror logoPlayed a couple of games of Arkham Horror during the summer, and became even more convinced of two things: it’s a good game, and the tons of fiddly bits in the box are a nightmare to keep in order.

Indeed, the co-operative boardgame to rid the eponymous new england town of Cthulhu’s kin remains as entertaining as it was on the very first date.

Arkham Horror offers a nice mix of a story-telling adventure game mixed with pure dice mechanics that has been spiced up with hundreds of cards and other components.

While the selection of characters and enemies is pleasantly random, the encounters in the city are recycled rather too fast. Soon, the potential occurrences in the most commonly visited locations become predictable and a source of amusement.

Variety is not the sole reason why Fantasy Flight Games has supplied the basic set with no less than ten supplements, but sadly it’s a rare gamer who can summon up a table large enough to support the entire Lovecraft Country.

Arkham Horror is the game that takes up the most shelfspace in the collection. But despite the volume and the fact that I haven’t yet explored all of the expansions, I keep on buying them. That’s either a sign of a good game or obsessive collecting. My bet’s on both.

Sep 052011

Manneken Pis for 7 WondersAnd speaking of 7 Wonders, the planned expansion scheme is nothing but impressive.

The first, Leaders, is already out, and seven more are on the way.

And some promotional add-ons (like Manneken Pis as a wonder and Stevie Wonder as a leader) add to the collection.

Quite a few of the expansions seem to add a lot to the game, but all in all the quality level needs to be assessed once they appear in the shops.

Sep 052011

7 Wonders logoAntoine Bauza’s 7 Wonders has won a lot of the boardgaming awards this year, and for a good reason. The game plays fast and remains random enough while rewarding bits of skill and strategic thinking along the side.

The theme of the game is nation-building (while at the same time constructing the eponymous wonders). This is not as loose a theme as those in some of say, Reiner Knizia’s games, but 7 Wonders is by no means a complicated Civilization-clone.

The game is played using cards and plenty of other pieces, so it’s susceptible to feline attacks or wobbly tables.

The most unexpected thing about the game is the simultaneous play. Each turn everybody plays their move at the very same time. On at least the very first time this is quite confusing and the rules become much clearer if the traditional sequential way is followed. However, unless measures to prevent resources installed this round, this alternative provides the first player with a significant disadvantage.

Another unorthodox rule is that of the non-permanent nature of the players’ hands – the collections of cards are pushed on to the next player after playing just one. This makes longer-term strategies a lot more challenging than the norm. As the game is quite competitive, often the best moves are defensive in nature – getting rid of cards valuable to others may actually have a larger payoff than mediocre construnction rounds.

The game can be played with two players, but that’s an optional rule – it’s clearly meant for a bit larger audiences. Played it in a four player setting, and allegedly 7 Wonders scales up to seven players.

Sep 032011

Ankh-Morpork coverMartin Wallace’s Ankh-Morpork debuts today.

As a card-carrying Pratchett fanboy, I guess the lure of the collector or limited editions are strong with this one.

There’s plenty of pieces and cards in the basic game, and the design probably lends itself very easily to expansions After all, there’s the whole Discworld to explore beyond the confines of the city.

Sep 012011

Ticket to Ride: AsiaThe winners of Days of Wonder’s contest for new boards for Ticket to Ride have been announced.

And the pickings could probably could have been better.

There are two doubleheaders, and neither seems perfect.

The first features two takes of the Asian continent. Of which one adds team rules to the game – it’s playable only with four or six people.

The other features a reprint (Switzerland), and a nicely congested India.

Hopefully these are just the two first volumes of a long series.

Aug 142011

Ticket to Ride logo

Days of Wonder’s Ticket to Ride is amongst the greatest of gateway games into the world of new german boardgames. Short, easily understandable and combining randomness and skill in decent measures.

Following the excellent Carcassonne version for iPad, it was just a matter of time before the other top-tier boardgames started popping up.

Days of Wonder’s take is not perfect by any means. The title screen is confusingly laid out, the AIs personalities cannot be selected, and there’s no gamecenter integration yet.

However, my biggest complaint with version 1.0 kept me from buying the game – Ticket to Ride originally shipped without support for pass-to-play – definitely a killer demerit when playing in a train. That omission was fixed quickly, the second release of the game supports sharing a gameboard beautifully. The game is a tad more stateful than Carcassonne, so losing sight over the gameboard can confuse (especially if fellow players take a long time to complete their turns).

Ticket to Ride ships without undo (which is OK, as long as everybody playing understands that actions are final once done is hit), and the indications on what just happened on the board could be a tad more bolder. Haven’t yet taken the plunge into the online games, the AI and local play have been sufficient thus far.

The game ships with the original gameboard (of 19th century United States), and additionals (Europe, Switzerland and US A.D. 1910) are available as in application purchases. Too bad the selection doesn’t yet include the two remaining games: Nordic Countries and the one concentrating on Märklin model railways.

Aug 132011

Dark Pharaoh revisedFantasy Flight Games has released an updated version of the first Arkham Horror supplement: Curse of the Dark Pharaoh.

The changelog seems formidable enough to warrant a repurchase, the original was done when the process of designing and releasing expansions for the game were not completely thought out.

As the product manager for the most wrung-out game franchise in existence, Mark Rosewater’s description on the realities of game longevity only scratches the surface. The card games have a much easier time reinventing themselves than traditional boardgames (where Carcassonne has proven that a double-digit number of expansions is feasible, and Dominion’s key selling point is that it will be changed periodically).

Mar 152011

OGRE 6th edition logoI’ve never played Steve Jackson’s OGRE, the 33 year old game on future tankfights, but been somewhat interested in it.

The game has been released multiple times already during the decades, mostly in the “cheap and simple” form.

The upcoming sixth edition looks different. The deluxe version’s weight is estimated at six kilos, its cost around a hundred dollars, and its availability window brief – thus creating a future collectors’ item.

Mar 132011

Lego CarcassonneAs far as “awesome, but impractically expensive”-ideas are concerned, Cal Henderson’s Lego Carcassonne placed high this week.

Looks great, but the cost of the tiles that make up the basic set is north of two thousand dollars.

Then again, the ability to use minifigs as meeples does have a lot of appeal.

Feb 152011

Arkham Horror Toolkit iconFantasy Flight Games has released Arkham Horror Toolkit, an iOS helper application for the increasingly complicated boardgame of Arkham Horror.

The very appropriately iconed-up application does not eliminate the board, but assists in managing some of the fiddliest bits: the investigators and the location cards. Especially the latter cuts down on space requirements on the table. Inventory management and tracking of mythos cards would be a good target for the next version.

The application itself is reasonably priced at 3$, but the expansions are separately purchased within it, thus raising the cost a little.

Haven’t played in a long while, and will likely give this utility a spin on the next bout against the zygotic and squamous horrors beyond space and time.

Feb 152011

Mallorca logoMallorca (originally, and outside Scandinavia: Finca) is the winner of the finnish board game award of 2010. Bought it in January and have enjoyed quite a few games with it.

Mallorca is a german-style boardgame – the mechanics are everything, and the theme just a thin veil on top. And the mechanics are indeed used in plural. The number of actions per turn is limited, but there’s plenty to do: scoring is based on transportation of fruits to villages. The movement is indirect and based on all the players’ pieces on a shared windmill. Which lends an entirely new layer to the gameplay – as the mill is laid out at random, access to certain types of fruit is by no means equal. The basic mechanics are simple, if initially a bit alien. Each player has four chits with which the rules can be slightly bent.

Have played the game only as a two-player match thus far – I’m sure the tactics and gameplay are horribly altered when additional participants join in the fun. Luck is present in quite large doses (as the requirements of the ten villages are randomly dealt out at the beginning). Interaction between players is rather low, and the potential to blocking moves is almost entirely absent.

The game has had a small expansion already. It’s been published in the Spielbox-magazine and is not available independently in the shops.