Posted by: gschloesser | November 8, 2016

Sun Tzu

Design by Alan M. Newman
Published by Matagot
2 Players, 45 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

Sun Tzu - cover

Back in 2005, Alan Newman’s Dynasties was published by Jolly Ranger Games.  I was pleased to see the game finally published, as I had played it during the development stages and rather enjoyed it.  The published version was in a very small box with basic components and artwork.  I thought at the time a nice enhancement with miniatures and professional artwork would make the game far more appealing.

It only took about ten years, but that more eye-appealing version is now available from Matagot.  While the rules are essentially the same — there are a few minor changes — the main difference is the upgraded treatment.  The map is still rather basic, but the troops are now represented by detailed plastic miniatures.  The artwork is not stunning, but certainly an upgrade from the original version.  The score displays for each of the provinces are now tri-folded cardboard, which are rotated to change the values of the provinces after each scoring round. None of these upgrades are necessary to play the game, but it sure does make it more appealing and adds to the enjoyment of playing.

So what exactly is Sun Tzu?  As anyone with a modicum of military history knowledge will surmise, the game is rather loosely based on the legendary Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu.  His military tactics and writings are still studied today by militaries around the world.  The game is set in China during the time of Sun Tzu, when he was a military strategist during the war between the Chinese states of Wu and Chu.  Each of the two players takes control of one of the States and attempts to gain control of the five provinces depicted on the map.  Nine rounds of bluffing and conflict will determine the victor.

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Posted by: gschloesser | November 2, 2016

K2 and Mount Everest

A review of K2 and Mt. Everest

Design by Adam Kaluza
Published by Rebel.PL
2 – 5 Players, 2 hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

K2 - coverMt Everest - cover

While I truly don’t understand the seemingly insatiable (and perhaps insane) desire for some to climb perilous mountains, imperiling both life and limb to reach an impossibly difficult summit, I am still fascinated by their stories.  I have eagerly read numerous books on the subject and seen a movie or two.  The terrible ordeals and obstacles they endure certainly make for exciting stories, even though I constantly shake my head in disbelief that anyone would voluntarily put themselves in that much danger and endure that much pain and suffering.  My sense of adventure definitely encompasses a far less dangerous edge.

There have not been many board games themed around mountain climbing.  By far the most popular is Adam Kaluza’s K2, which challenges players to scale the second highest peak in the world.  Located on the China / Pakistan border, the mountain is actually considered to be a more challenging (aka, dangerous) climb than its more famous neighbor Mt. Everest.  Indeed, its nickname amongst seasoned climbers is “Mt. Savage”.  Yeah, sure sounds like somewhere I want to visit (said with dripping sarcasm)!

In K2, players must carefully manage their hand of cards as they steadily climb the icy mountain, hoping to summit and make it back alive.  Along the way they must deal with often unpredictable weather, especially at the higher elevations.  Camps can be established to help weather these storms and reduce the effects of the thin atmosphere.  Survival is not assured, but fame and glory go to the player whose two climbers make the best progress.

K2 - board2The double-sided board depicts K2 with possible pathways to the top.  One side presents a normal challenge (summer), while the other, more treacherous side (winter) is far more dangerous.  Even the darker, stormier artwork on the winter side is more foreboding.  Players will move along the various pathways, each of which may be marked with 0 – 2 numbers.  Spaces at the lower levels usually cost one movement point to enter, while at higher levels–or at certain hazardous areas–the cost may be as high as three movement points.  Players must also worry about acclimation levels, which tend to get increasingly more difficult the higher elevations a climber reaches.  This can be aggravated even further by foul weather.  Life on K2 isn’t easy … or recommended.

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Posted by: gschloesser | October 26, 2016

Lost Cities

Design by Reiner Knizia
Published by Kosmos
2 Players, 30 mintues
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

Lost Cities - cover

Lost Cities was first published back in 1999.  I vividly remember my first encounter with the game, which was that same year at Gulf Games 3 in New Orleans.  Jay Tummelson of the then fledgling Rio Grande Games was in attendance and had brought several games that he was considering releasing under the RGG label.  Lost Cities was one of those games.  My good friend and fellow gamer Lenny Leo explained the rules to me, and I kept thinking, “Is that it?”.  The game seemed way too simple to offer any depth or challenge. Boy, was I wrong.

The basic theme of the game (yes, it is very thinly pasted; so what else is new?) is that players are funding and embarking on various expeditions into the Himalayas, to Atlantis, through the desert, into volcanoes, etc. A deck of cards contains five different colors (representing the expeditions) with numbers of 2 – 10 each.  There are three ‘wager’ cards in each color, which have the effect of doubling, tripling or quadrupling the ultimate total of the appropriate expedition, be it positive or negative.  A long board depicts the five expeditions, with room for a discard stack for each one.

Lost Cities - cardsEach player is dealt a hand of eight cards.  On a player’s turn, he must place one card face-up along his side of the board, placing the card by the appropriate color on the board.  Alternatively, he may discard a card face-up onto the appropriate discard stack for that color. He then refills his hand from the draw pile, or by selecting the top card from one of the face-up discard stacks.

Once cards are laid for a particular expedition (color), a player may not add any cards whose value is lower in value than the previously laid card. Thus, if a player elects to begin the Atlantis expedition with a ‘4’ value card, he may never, ever lay a 2 or 3 value card on that expedition. Further, in order to play one or more of the wager cards (which multiply the ultimate point total), these cards must be laid before any numerical cards are played by that player on that expedition. Thus, it is a bit of a gamble.

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Posted by: gschloesser | October 20, 2016

Take 6

Design by Wolfgang Kramer
Published by Amigo / Mayfair Games
2 – 10 Players, 30 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

Take 6 - cover

In the board gaming world, a game that has been in continuous print since 1994 is a rarity.  There is a seeming insatiable urge to publish new games, with hundreds, if not thousands released each year.  Often a game is in print for a year or less, quickly vanishing from a company’s catalog before it has a chance to even be noticed.  If  a game doesn’t make a splash immediately, it is usually given little marketing effort and is sent packing to the island of forgotten games.  Even games that are successful often go out of print in just a few years.  A shame, really.

Fortunately that fate was not suffered by Wolfgang Kramer’s entertaining 6 nimmt! (Take 6 in English).  This little card game was popular when first released back in 1994, garnering a nomination for the coveted Spiel des Jahre and receiving accolades from other game publications and awards.  Its popularity never faded and it has been published by over two dozen publishers, often under different names and in several different guises.  It once even had a hurricane theme (Category 5)!

The latest version by Amigo and Mayfair Games returns the game to its original artwork and theme.  Gone are hurricanes, Sponge Bob Square Pants, and a variety of other themes and art.  Now, it is a return to the bulls, which is even touted with a tagline proclaiming “Not a game for the Bullheaded!”

Most folks who have been immersed in the hobby for any length of time will be familiar with the game.  However, for those who may not have played, a description is in order.

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Posted by: gschloesser | October 17, 2016

Hyperborea

Design by Andrea Chiarvesio & Pierluca Zizzi
Published by Asterion / Yemaia
2 – 6 Players, 2 – 3 hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

Hyperborea - cover

Hyperborea contains many elements of board game design that I generally dislike:  fantasy theme, territorial conquest, and an abundance of cards with special powers.  Throw all of these elements together and the result should be a game that I detest and would prefer not to play.  Much to my surprise and delight, however, I find Hyperborea to be exciting, challenging and fun.

Designed by the Italian duo of Andrea Chiarvesio and Pierluca Zizzi, Hyperborea is set in a fantasy world wherein an ancient magical barrier has suddenly vanished.  Six kingdoms now have access to previously forgotten realms.  There are territories to be gained and riches to be found, but the ghosts of the ancients still haunt these forbidden areas.  The lust for power and riches will cause the fragile peace that once existed between the six realms to crumble.  Who will prevail?

Hyperborea is a big box production filled with tiles, counters, player boards, civilization cubes, technology cards and dozens upon dozens of attractive plastic miniatures.  It is an assembly that would make Fantasy Flight proud.  In spite of its abundance of components and sheer bulk, the game itself is not that difficult to learn; the actual rules (minus component descriptions and setup instructions) are only eight well-illustrated pages.

In spite of being able to accommodate six players, the board itself is surprisingly small.  A handful of tiles are arranged, most of which are face-down to enhance the exploration aspect.  These are revealed rather quickly, however, as it doesn’t take much movement before players encounter each other.  Each player begins with three miniatures in their homeland, which is located along the edges of the map.  Most tiles depict ancient cities and ruins, which will yield treasures and often special powers.  However, once entering the forgotten realms, these areas will also be protected by the ghosts of the ancients.  Fortunately, these ghosts are more moan than bite and are fairly easily dispatched.

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Posted by: gschloesser | October 13, 2016

Dohdles!

Design by Klaus Teuber
Published by Kosmos
3 – 6 Players, 45 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

Dohdles - cover

I enjoy a good party game, one that can get a lot of folks involved and where the emphasis is placed on fun rather than intricate rules or strategies.  Way back in 1988, Klaus Teuber of Settlers of Catan fame designed a clever game of sculpting shapes using molding clay.  The game was oddly named Barbarossa, which reminded history buffs of the German invasion of the Soviet Union back in World War II.  The central mechanism of molding and guessing sculptures was fun, but the rest of the game, which among other things involved sticking plastic arrow pieces into the sculptures as guesses were made, felt a bit too fiddly and contrived.

Dohdles is Teuber’s latest reinvention of Barbarossa.  Players still create sculptures from molding clay, but gone are the more complex and fiddly rules that characterized the former game.  Still, the game does have more rules and gimmicks than it probably should, as there are different levels of questions and a cube chute that requires players to quickly and accurately toss cubes into it in order to gain priority in making guesses.   

Each player receives a stick of molding clay, a guess cube, three clue chips and a double-sided “Suggestion” board, which lists dozens of sculpture ideas on one side and 20 possible questions on other.  The round central board has a dozen spaces for sculptures, each with a seven space clue track surrounding it.  These spaces will dictate the type of questions that can be asked.  In the center of the board is the guess funnel, into which players will frantically toss their guess cube in an effort to be the first to make a guess.

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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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