Posted by: gschloesser | May 5, 2016

Deus

Design by Sébastien Dujardin
Published by Pearl Games
2 – 4 Players, 1 ½ hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

Deus

Read this description from the box of Deus:

“As the leader of an ancient civilization, explore unknown lands in order to develop your empire.  Found new cities, and construct buildings in order to exploit natural resources and establish trade routes.”

Does this sound like the description for just about every civilization building game you have ever played?  Admitted, yes it does.  However, please do not let this deter you from giving Deus a go, as it has some very unique mechanisms, including card play that is quite clever and fun.

Deus by designer Sébastien Dujardin and published by Pearl Games (Troyes, Tournay, La Granja) is a civilization building game that combines intriguing card play and a modular board.  As described above, the familiar trappings of civilization building games are present.  Fortunately, however, the game sheds the usual 4+ hours required play time of many other games in the genre, playing to completion in about 90 minutes or so.

The central board is formed by placing a number of hexagon-type tiles in a roughly circular pattern.  The number of tiles used is dependent upon the number of players.  Each tile is divided into seven different territories, each of which depicts a terrain type (mountains, fields, forests, swamps or water), as well as one barbarian village per tile.  Each terrain type (except water and the barbarian villages) produces a specific type of resource, which will be collected when the appropriate cards are played.

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Posted by: gschloesser | May 2, 2016

Elysium

Design by Brett J. Gilbert & Matthew Dunstan
Published by Space Cowboys
2 – 4 Players, 1 hour
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

Elysium - cover

I always applaud originality in game design.  Sure, there is wisdom in the old adage / question “Why reinvent the wheel?”, but in games, the same mechanism being used over and over again grows tedious and smacks of lack of inspiration or creativity.  So when a game is published that uses a brand new mechanism or idea, it certainly receives well deserved accolades.  Those accolades are even greater if the game built around that mechanism is a good one.

Elysium by designers Brett J. Gilbert and Matthew Dunstan triumphs on both accounts.  Elysium is set in the ancient Greek mythological world wherein players act as demigods forging their own stories and legends.  As the box states, players will “recruit heroes, acquire artifacts, undertake quests and earn the favor of the gods.”  Essentially this is a card game, with each of the 150+ cards having special powers and incredible artwork.  Don’t let the abundance of special powers deter you, however, as this isn’t something akin to Magic: the Gathering or other games of that ilk.  Rather, the powers are easy-to-understand and do not create weird, unforeseen circumstances that are not covered by the rules.

The main component of the game is the 168 cards, divided into eight different families, each representing one of the classic Greek gods and goddesses and related items.  Present are Athena, Hades, Poseidon, Zeus, Ares and others.  Each game, five sets are chosen and mixed together, so the mixture is different for each game, presenting a different challenge and forcing players to adapt their strategies accordingly.  There is a recommended starting set to ease players into the game.

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Posted by: gschloesser | April 27, 2016

Murano

Design by Inka & Markus Brand
Published by Lookout Games / Mayfair Games
2 – 4 Players, 1 1/2 hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

Murano - cover

My wife and I are travel fanatics, and particularly enjoy traveling overseas.  Europe has been our main focus of concentration for most of the past 25 years, although we have explored a bit in Asia and Central America.  Of all the places I’ve traveled, my favorite city has to be Venice, Italy.  What an enchanting place!  The fact that it is a former country that is isolated on a collection of small islands off the coast of Italy is itself fascinating.  Add in a maze of canals that crisscross each island, the opulent architecture and the rich history and you have a locale that appears more storybook than reality.  Venice is both.

One of the areas (actually several islands) that comprise Venice is Murano, which has become world renowned for its glass making industry.  It is this island that is the setting for Inka & Markus Brand’s Murano, a boardgame about the development of the island and it economic growth.  Players will establish businesses, recruit powerful locals to assist them, and attract customers to earn wealth and fame.

The central board depicts the collection of islands comprising the Murano district.  Five of the seven islands will be available for construction, while the remaining two are depositories for game cards and tiles.  The five main islands have docks wherein players may place their gondoliers (boatsman) in order to score special character cards acquired during the game.  Each player begins with five gondoliers, but may acquire new ones–or fire current ones–as the game progresses.  Players begin the game with five gold, and will usually be struggling to maintain a steady supply of cash throughout the proceedings.

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Posted by: gschloesser | March 31, 2016

Castaways

Design by Alberto Corral
Published by Passport Game Studios
1 – 4 Players, 2 – 3 hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

Castaways - cover

From my childhood I remember the old television series Swiss Family Robinson, which portrayed the adventures of a family stranded on a remote, uncharted island.  I would be thrilled by the many dangers they faced, and marveled at the creative and imaginative inventions that helped them to survive in a hostile environment.  The series kindled a fascination in me for survival stories, and the “stranded on a deserted island” theme resonated with me then, and still does so today.  I was irresistibly attracted to the Tom Hanks’ film Cast Away (although was admittedly a bit disappointed by it), and recently reread the novel Robinson Crusoe, which I also remembered from my youth.

So it comes as no surprise that I am attracted to boardgames using the “stranded” theme.  Much to my delight, two such games — Castaways and Robinson Crusoe — were both published about the same time.  Both are cooperative games, with players working together in attempts to survive without most of the tools, accoutrements or conveniences of civilized society.  The theme is certainly rich, and the atmosphere truly does permeate the affair.  But, is this an island worth visiting?

Castaways is an abundant affair involving lots of cards, counters, cubes and more.  Fortunately, the game itself is not that difficult to play, although the rules are sorely in need of more detail and examples.  Indeed, there are a few aspects of the game wherein we had to reach a consensus on how they were supposed to work, as the rules were too ambiguous or painfully unclear.  Searching various internet forums for official answers proved fruitless.  This is more than just alarming; it is pretty much a condemnation.  I’ll explain this in more detail shortly.

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Posted by: gschloesser | December 9, 2015

The Witches

Design by Martin Wallace
Published by Treefrog Games / Mayfair Games
2 – 4 Players, 1 – 1 ½ hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

Witches - cover

The late Terry Pratchett was an English author who is best known for his Discworld series of novels set in an often outrageous fantasy world.  The series was–and still is–incredibly popular, selling in the neighborhood of 80 million copies worldwide.  Over the past few years, several boardgames designed by Martin Wallace have been released utilizing the Discworld theme and setting. The latest of these is Witches, which concentrates on the escapades of major characters in the Discworld series.

In the series—which I have not read—witches are more concerned with solving problems than casting magical spells.  Players assume the roles of young apprentices who must scurry about the land of Lancre and solve a wide variety of seemingly endless problems. Some of these are relatively pedestrian, such as a sick pig or broken leg, while others are far more difficult and dangerous.  Warding off a an elven invasion or thwarting the plans of the vile Lily Weatherwax can’t be easy!

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Posted by: gschloesser | December 8, 2015

Dwarves, Inc.

Design by Andrei Burago
Published by Assa Games
2 – 6 Players, 45 minutes – 1 hour
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

Dwarves Inc cover

Over 10 years ago, Andrei Burago released Conquest of the Fallen Lands, a tile-based game set in a fantasy world of wizards, warriors and fantastic creatures. The game featured some clever mechanisms and allowed players to exercise considerable creativity in assembling their moves and actions.  The game did not enjoy widespread distribution, but still proved popular in gaming circles.

Burago is back with Dwarves, Inc., a less ambitious and more abstract game than his previous effort.  Players represent greedy dwarf prospectors eager to uncover and gather the fabulous riches lying in the fabled “City Under the Mountain” that has been buried for centuries.  The enterprising dwarves are also pseudo-entrepreneurs, investing in various mining companies in hopes to increase their wealth via (hopefully) rising values of their favored companies.

The action is set deep beneath a mountain, so it is not surprising that the board is rather dark in appearance, as it shows the caves and tunnels in which the dwarves are burrowing.  The board is actually assembled from nine 6×6 boards, so there is a considerable variety in possible arrangements. Most spaces are empty, but many depict a variety of symbols, including dwarves, treasure chests, gold, tunnel entrances, safe deposit boxes and even monsters. One gemstone of each of the eight different colors is placed on the indicated spaces on the center tile.

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Posted by: gschloesser | December 2, 2015

12 Realms

Design by Ignazio Corrao
Published by Mage Company
1 – 6 Players, 1 1/2 – 2 hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

12 Realms

Cooperative games are all the rage, with seemingly a dozen or more released each year.  While there were a few cooperative games back in the 80s and 90s — most notably Scotland Yard  — the genre began gaining in popularity with the release of Reiner Knizia’s Lord of the Rings at the turn of the century.  From that point on, a steady stream of cooperative games has been released just about every year.  The themes have included everything from ghosts to firefighters and policemen to infectious diseases.

With the popularity of the television shows Grimm and Once Upon a Time, it should come as no surprise that the fairy tale theme has now been incorporated into a cooperative game.  12 Realms by Ignazio Corrao was originally released in 2010, but this year has seen the system enhanced with the release of numerous expansions.  As such, the game is once again receiving attention.

Set in a fantasy land populated by legions of evil creatures and characters, players assume the role of “good” fairy tale characters, including Snow White, Red Riding Hood, the Nutcracker and even the Sugar Plum Fairy.  Hmmm … not exactly the type of characters that inspire machismo in most gamers.  Still, these characters must unite to dispel the Dark Lords and their minions who threaten to subjugate the fantasy lands under their evil dominion.

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Posted by: gschloesser | December 1, 2015

Broom Service

Design by Andreas Pelikan & Alexander Pfister
Published by Alea / Ravensburger
2 – 5 Players, 1 – 1 1/4 hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

Broom Service - cover

Since its founding way back in 1999, Alea has earned a much-deserved reputation for producing high quality, challenging games.  Indeed, for years their forte seemed to be developing deeper strategy games than what their parent company (Ravensburger) normally published.  While dedicated gamers were enamored by their games, they were largely overlooked by the Spiel des Jahre committee, the group that yearly grants the most famous German game awards.  So many Alea games seemed deserving of the award — Puerto Rico, Princes of Florence, Taj Mahal, Castles of Burgundy, and more — that gamers began suspecting there was some sort of hidden bias against the company.

Finally, the long drought has ended.  Broom Service by the design team of Andreas Pelikan and Alexander Pfister won the prestigious Spiel des Jahre, but strangely in the Kennerspiel (strategy games) category.  The game seems much more suited to the standard category, which tends to recognize games that are more family friendly and offer less depth or strategy.  I thought it rather odd that the game had received a nomination in the strategy category, and was even more surprised to see it win that award.  Odd.

Broom Service is actually a revamping of Pelikan’s earlier Witch’s Brew, which was also published by Alea back in 2008.  This new version introduces a board, whereupon players will fly on their brooms to deliver powerful potions throughout the realm.  The role selection mechanism remains, albeit with a few twists.

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Posted by: gschloesser | November 25, 2015

Time Barons

Design by Jon Perry & Derek Yu
Published by Quibble Games
2 Players, 30 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

Time Barons - cover

The subject of time travel has always fascinated me, and several attempts have been made to utilize this theme in board games.  Sadly, none have worked exceedingly well. Khronos from Matagot Games as probably been the best, but it had the tendency to sow confusion and could easily be misplayed.  One of the more recent time travel efforts is  Time Barons, a 2-player card game from designers Jon Perry and Derek Yu.

time barons - whatyougetcardsEssentially, Time Barons is a “take-that” game, wherein players play cards in attempts to remove their opponent’s followers.  Bolstering one’s own forces, both in terms of followers and offensive / defensive capabilities, is also of vital importance.

Players begin the game with a home base containing ten followers and a handful of five Level 1 cards.  There are four different levels of cards, each level representing a different age.  Cards tend to get more powerful with each successive age, but also tend to take more actions to play.

A player has three actions per turn, but this can be increased with certain cards  Actions can be spent to:

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Posted by: gschloesser | November 24, 2015

Korrigans

Design by Arnaud Urbon & Ludovic Vialla
Published by Matagot
2 – 5 Players, 45 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

korrigans

NOTE:  This review was first published on the Opinionated Gamers website.

What family with young children wouldn’t be attracted by the theme of leprechauns scurrying across the lush fields and hills of Brittany (not Ireland?) on the back of furry animal friends, searching for the fabled gold at the end of the rainbow?  It is an idyllic fantasy that children from many cultures have been taught, and the theme is one that has not been overused in board game design.  I am sure game publisher Matagot and designers Arnaud Urbon and Ludovic share these same thoughts and have high hopes that their game Korrigans will tap into the appeal of these childhood tales.

Unbeknownst to me, Korrigans is a term in Brittany referring to dwarf-like creatures that populate the countryside.  Some tales depict them as benevolent, albeit mischievous creatures, while others depict them as evil with glowing red eyes and pale white skin.  The designers have opted for the more friendly leprechaun interpretation, which is undoubtedly more suitable and appealing for families with younger children.

The designers seem to borrow from the Irish tales, with players scurrying their pair of leprechauns across the countryside in search of four-leaf clovers that either conceal treasures or attract friendly companions, the latter being used as modes of transportation.  While treasures are collected along the way, the big prize is the fabled pot of gold that is hidden at the end of the rainbow.  Just where that rainbow ends is a mystery that is gradually solved as the game progresses.

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