Saturday, November 30, 2013

Famous Games Co. Card Games: Stocking Stuffer Series #1

Card Games
Tennis, Baseball, Golf, Yacht Racing, Car Racing, and Football
Designed by Rob Bartel
Published by Famous Games Co.
2 Player Small and Quick Sport Themed Card Games

Stocking Stuffer Series
This is the first in a six part series of smaller games that I think would make great "stocking stuffer" presents. Easily able to transport and play just about anywhere, these games are great for travel. All of these games have pretty simple concepts that make learning each game go by quickly so you can get right into the fun. These games also offer short playing times (no longer than an hour for each with most averaging around 30 minutes or so). As you consider holiday gifts this year, don't over look the "smaller" games, as these games may just be the games that get the most play time. We don't always have a couple of hours to play our favorite strategy game or old classics such as RISK (where the setup time alone could be 30 minutes) so a lot of us grab a fun game that we know will be short (and yet each minute will be entertaining and enjoyable). The other great thing about these "stocking stuffer" sized games - the price point, with no game being more than $25. Check them out and see which one(s) you may want to add to your holiday this year!

Famous Games Co. Card Games
I came across Famous Games Co. through seeing a tweet by Casual Game Insider a while back. I was very intrigued when I came across a picture of Famous Forehand being played. For those unaware, I really enjoy Tennis, and I have been developing a Tennis themed card game slowly over the past few years. When I saw what Famous Games Co. had done with their version, I was impressed. The game I'm working on is a lot more in-depth, but what Rob Bartel has really done is create six different mini card games (each comprised of just 11 cards and a fold-out informational card) that have a great matching sport theme applied to them. Their are two games that are considered beginner level games (Tennis and Baseball), two games that are intermediate (Golf and Yacht Racing), and two that are advanced (Car Racing and Football). All of the games are really simple to learn, but some are more involved than others.

For such small games, these games sure do hold a lot of enjoyment for those willing to get up off the bench and play. The games offer a nice variety of game mechanics across the six different games. The games can be purchased as a set or individually from the Famous Games Co. website and at the end of this blog you will find a limited coupon code that can get you $5 dollars off your order of a complete set (first 10 to apply the code).

Each game is made of good quality cards that sport (pun intended) wonderful artwork. The themes are applied well to each game and each really does give you a nice feel of the sport (a very difficult thing to do with the small amount of cards). These 2 player card games keep it simple so that players don't need to bog themselves down with trying to understand complex rules or deep strategy, but they leave it light enough that you can just enjoy the game mechanics and feel of playing that sport on a table top with a friend. In my case, these are games that I can see me and my wife playing on weeknights where work and life may be crazy (the games provide a lighter game that we can enjoy without adding any additional stress to our pile from earlier that day. Great relaxing games.

Some may struggle with the price ranging currently from $5.49 to $6.25 depending on which game (or $37.25 for the entire set - time to utilize that coupon found below to bring it down by $5). Others may find the games too simple for their liking and will either wish the game was expanded to be a little more complete, or they would rather spend the 30 minutes setting up their next Axis and Allies game. These games may not appeal to everyone all the time, but the games are well done and I think most of you would find yourself enjoying the well applied themes and game mechanics that these little 2 player card games provide.

I will briefly discuss each game separately focusing on the things I like or dislike about each game. The rules and instructions for the games are provided on 2 cards and are easy to understand. If this wasn't easy enough for your, the Famous Games Co. website provides great step by step instructional tutorials (very well done). Some of the games will require a pen and paper to keep track of score and other markers/tokens may be required for game play as well (usually a few pennies or other change, or even tokens from other games). My favorites listed in order would probably have to be Tennis, Football, and Car Racing but I did enjoy each of the games. Overall, 2 fingers up, or 7/10 stars for these light minimalist card games.

Famous Forehand (Tennis)
The tennis game is really the most simple of all and yet I enjoy that simplicity (again, a little bias since this is my favorite sport). The back and forth feel and strategy of ball placement is indeed captured and utilized well. I just wish there were more cards! Each rally just seems to end too soon. This is just me wishing there were more cards for each rally. Four cards just doesn't feel like enough, I just want to keep playing each point. With the few number of cards, some people may get too familiar with all the cards and this may take some of the fun out of it. But the game is so simple and using the cards as the two halves of the tennis court is just an awesome idea. This is one of the games where the "required" penny and pen and paper really isn't needed. It is pretty easy to keep track of where the ball is and the score without a penny marker etc. This gives me hope that my tennis game will be enjoyable too!

Famous Fastballs (Baseball)
I was really surprised when I opened this one. I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but this game is actually a hand gesture game (along the lines of rock-paper-scissor). The cards provide a nice layout that is used to keep track of outs, runners, who is up to bat, the score, and so forth. The game is each player choosing at random different hand signals. Depending on the combination of the two results the batter may get struck out, walk, or get a hit. If they hit the ball, then players move on to a different set of gestures (choosing a number between 0 and 3) to determine the result of the hit (will it be a home run, or did the pitching team get a double play - allowing them to remove 2 runners from the bases). The hand signals and cards really fit the theme well I think, especially thinking about the different signals that catchers give to pitchers etc. I found myself getting a little tired of repeating the hand gestures though, but you could do a similar thing utilizing the cards but using dice instead to determine the outcomes. Again, well done and thought out game.

Famous Fairways (Golf)
From the mini-golf dates to pretending that I know what I'm doing on the golf course, my real life experience with golf isn't that great. Golf however seems to be just one of those sports that you should know how to play (especially if you are going to be doing any sort of business with anyone, or so I have seen and been told). Choosing the right club is something that I understand the concept, but in practice, I really have no clue what I'm doing. In Famous Fairways, players pick clubs to place their ball (within that given club range) down the fairway closer and closer to the hole. Originally I didn't think there was much strategy to the game, but I quickly realized that there was more strategy to this little game than golf balls found at the bottom of the Par 5 lake. Sometimes the longest range club isn't the best or you may want to enter a hazard. Cards are shuffled and dealt out in a line equal to the Par for that hole (Par 3, 3 cards - Par 5, 5 cards). Each card has 4 possible ball locations and each is riddled with either water, bunker, or rough hazards each effecting you in different ways. A great little pocket sized golf game that will require some 9 markers or so to keep track of ball location and club choice.

Famous Flagships (Yacht Racing)
This game is a fun game, but I didn't catch the theme as much as I did in the other games. Players take turns playing 1 of 3 cards in their hand that moves their yacht either clockwise or counterclockwise around the center wheel 1 to 3 spaces. The player obtains points (written down on paper or kept track mentally) equal to the number of markers on that space plus the number of dots. The player then puts all markers from that spot into the center and places markers from the center to the left and to the right of their boat. First to 50 wins. A very interesting concept (and I guess trying to steer into the wind to get the most speed each turn does provide some applicability to the theme) that again I wasn't seeing much too it at first, but as the game progressed, I started realizing that I should try and figure out what my opponent was going to play so that I could be ready for my own strategies as each time you play a card that round, you will switch that card with what your opponent played.

Famous 500 (Car Racing)
This game really offers great variability and you get to customize your very own race car each game. Will you start with speed points (or victory points) or will you stock up on tires and fuel hoping that you will not need to take a turn to make a pit stop later in the game? Also, you can play on different race tracks as well that can be downloaded or you can create your own! I love the customization portion of this and the different available tracks. You really do need a pen and paper for this game though to keep track of damage to your car and points. Players will be choosing from 3 different cards in their hand and hoping for each segment that they are the fastest car (scoring one more speed point than your rival). The speed points can be used later in the pit stop to restore your car (for beware, if you drop below zero in any category, you are out of the game!) but they are also the means of victory (the player with the most at the end of 3 laps - again, you can vary this - is the winner). Great replayability on this one - a light custom car racing game.

Famous First Downs (Football)
Last, but definitely not least is the great football game! This game uses the most game markers, but it may just be the funnest one of the bunch (I know, I said the Tennis was my favorite...). The offense has 3 double sided cards that will have certain plays of the 9 showing that can be run. Offense lays down one of the 6 options, then defense will pick one of their 6 defensive cards and put it face down. Offense then picks one of the highlighted routes he wants to run and defense then reveals their card to see if they subtract any yardage or block any gain etc. I really like this game mechanic. Each side can gain momentum tokens for completing first downs or blocking gains and these can then be used to influence the game further (even create a fumble or interception). Do you try for the long pass, get the field goal using some extra momentum, or just put the ball to avoid giving your opponent a leg up on their offensive run. The game plays very well and I think provides the most enjoyment (other than perhaps the very simple tennis back and forth that I live for) out of this set of games.

Closing Remarks
Rob had a great vision of creating simple card games that 2 players can sit down and easily enjoy game after game without the fuss of a lot of components or complex rules. These minimalist sport themed games are well themed and have great solid game play. Simple hand gestures, 'club' placement, and card choices are transformed into nice feeling sport games that I think players will enjoy. Some have more replayability than others and for some, I just wish there was a little more to it. If you are looking for some quick light 2 player card games with some twists, go check out these card games at and that is How Lou Sees It!

Enter this Coupon Code for $5 off if you purchase the entire set. Only available until January 1st and to the first 10 people to enter the code. Enjoy! (Code = LOUC-XFA2)

A big SHOUT OUT to Famous Games Co for providing these free review copies. Check out the video review below for more on what each game looks like!

Monday, November 18, 2013

All Aboard the Deck-building Train!

Designed by Hisashi Hayashi
2-5 Players
Published by AEG
Deck-building Game (with a board!)

Background / Introduction
It seems like trains are "all the rage" these days when it comes to board games. There seemed to be an explosion of train themed games after the tremendous success of Ticket to Ride around the world. I like to actually call this effect "The Twilight Effect" (referring to the endless amounts of vampire themed books, movies, and TV shows after the success of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight book). Now, of course there were train themed games prior to Ticket to Ride (TTR), but when the money train took off that is TTR, everyone heard the conductor shouting "All aboard!" and many game designers and publishers jumped on board.

I really enjoy trains. Trains contributed to the rich history of the west and they play a very vital and interesting role in our society today. For those familiar with the TV show "The Big Bang Theory," I feel that one can get just as excited about AEG's game Trains as Sheldon can about the real deal (or a model). One family vacation years ago, my family decided to fly somewhere only 530 miles away and then take a train ride back. Part of the fun for the trip was that I hadn't been on a plane or train before this point. It was definitely a great experience and one that has stuck with me. Riding through mountains and beautiful countryside on a passenger train is an experience that not many know (those in Europe may be more likely to have this experience as they are still used frequently for passenger travel between towns and countries).

I will tell you right now that Trains has easily become one of my new all-time favorite games. I really enjoyed Dominion when it first came out a few years ago, and when I heard about Trains for the first time, it sounded pretty similar with the type of cards and mechanics used. I was intrigued. A deck-building game that utilized a train theme and added a board to the mix (now that was different!). Building and balancing a deck full of cards while trying to create the most beneficial railway system on the map. The cards are very well themed for use in the game, and the concept of "waste" cards being added to your deck as you progress in the game is really fun. The game provides many different strategies that could be used for victory.

Components / Rule Book
Trains retails at $59.99 and it includes a good amount of content. In the box, you will find 530 cards (yes,
you read that correctly), 124 wooden rail and station tokens, a double sided board, card dividers, a card tray in-lay to keep your cards organized, and the rule book. Besides the double sided board that is provided in the game, you can download and print other maps from online to play with (fans have created a bunch already including a "Middle Earth" from Lord of the Rings). The different maps add a great deal of replayability and can be a nice change for each game. The quality of the components are all really nice. The cards have a glossy type finish on them which seems pretty good. I did seem like I wasn't able to shuffle the cards as well with this type of card (they clumped up a little more so that I didn't feel like I was getting the best shuffle every time - this could just be me and how I shuffle the cards).

I guess there could be some resemblance... 
Really, the only things that I'm not too crazy about regarding the game Trains fits into this category
(components / rule book) - so, let's get them over with now so that we can focus on how the game is so amazing the rest of the time. While the cards fit the train theme really well and I like the artwork, the game pieces that you actually play on the board are just simple wooden cubes (for the railways) and white wooden cylindrical pieces represent the stations. These pieces are great quality, but I do kind of feel that they are little abstract and they could have improved upon the game by making tokens match the theme (little wooden rails or trains, with little wooden or even plastic stations).

The other thing that I found a little lacking was the rule book. It really isn't a bad rule book, but there just a few things that could have used some more explanation or detailed examples. It would have been really nice to have a FAQ section, or a separate book that discussed each card with perhaps some more detail. Not a huge issue, but it would be convenient to have answers to these very common questions in the rule book (perhaps future printings could include such a sheet for clarifications).

The setup time for Trains isn't too long, but it can take a little while to actually sort through and pull out all 16 decks that you will be using for the game. You can speed this process up by everyone helping out. In each game, there are 8 kind of cards that are used each game and there are 8 other cards that are randomly chosen from another 30 different types of cards (huge replayability here folks as each time you can be playing with a different conglomerate of cards).

Each player starts the game with a deck of 10 cards (7 normal trains, 2 lay rails cards, and 1 station expansion card). These cards will be shuffled creating the players starting deck and they will draw 5 cards that will make up there hand. The starting player is chosen by determining who traveled most recently by train. To start the game, each player will choose a starting location on the map (yeah, you would also need to decide what map you will be playing) and place a rail token. The token may not be on a water space, a remote location, or on a location already claimed by another player. Then the game gets chugging.

Goal / Gameplay
The goal of Trains is to have the most victory points at the end of the game. The game ends when either of the following are met: a player runs out of rail tokens, all the stations have been built, or 4 decks from the supply are emptied (waste not included). You obtain victory points through various means. You can gain victory points from the board by building railways in cities with stations (city with no stations = 0 points, 1 station = 2 points, 2 stations = 4 points, and 3 stations = 8 points) and building railways to remote locations (point value shown on board). You can also obtain victory points through victory point cards.

Gameplay is very simple. You start each turn with 5 cards drawn from your deck. You then use these 5 cards for their special actions or abilities and their income. You can buy cards from the supply to help strengthen your deck, and/or you can build your train empire on the board with lay rail type cards or by building stations. The cards are color coded and their are some basic categories of different cards available to you (blue = trains (income), green = laying rails (also reduce cost of building), purple = stations, red = actions, and yellow = victory points etc.).

As you progress toward your inevitable victory or demise, you will be gaining waste cards. Lots and lots of waste cards. This is a really cool concept in my opinion. Whenever you do something that may be really beneficial, you usually will gain a waste card that will go in your deck. You lay a rail (waste), you buy a victory point card (waste), you enter a city already occupied by another player (waste), will the waste ever end? Well, there may be some handy cards available in the supply that allows you to avoid gaining these wastes, or maybe it allows you to dispose of them (properly of course, we wouldn't want the EPA after us). Balancing your deck is very important. You may be able to live with a few waste, but you will want to get rid of waste as often as possible. You can take a complete turn to dispose of any waste in you hand, but that could be a very vital turn you just missed out on. This is a very important part of the game (and really, if you think about it, we create lots and lots of waste each day - how do we take care of it and where does it go) and will be vital to victory.

I won't go into any more nitty gritty detail of the rules, but will rather talk a little about what I like about the gameplay. I really enjoy the deck-building and balancing aspect of the game, but what makes this game really different than those other deck-building games is that Trains has a very well put together board element to it as well. The deck-building element is really similar to other deck-building games, however, the waste cards and the concept of gaining waste (or useless cards) into your deck as you perform actions that gain you points (or place you in a better position to do so) provides a nice new game mechanic that works extremely well.

The rail laying portion on the maps definitely adds to the fun factor and the strategic elements of the game. choosing where to build and how quickly can make a big difference in the outcome of the game. With the double sided board and the maps available online (or if you are feeling creative, you could make your own) there is a nice replayability there to keep placement of rails and board strategy different each time.

Final Thoughts
AEG has now perhaps my top 2 deck-building games (Trains and Thunderstone). I am giving Trains my highest rating, a big Thumbs Up (or 10/10 stars). Even though the playing pieces are a little abstract, they are still great quality and they work well enough. The rule book isn't amazing, but it does well enough. I enjoy this game a lot. It really doesn't take long to play, the general gameplay is simple, and the game provides many different variations to keep each game fresh and different than the last. There are always multiple ways to find victory and each player must adapt to other player styles as well if they want to be successful. Is it Dominion meets Ticket to Ride? Maybe a little bit. Either way, the game is definitely one that I would recommend to everyone out there! Christmas is coming...and that is How Lou Sees It!

A big SHOUT OUT to AEG for providing this review copy and making this possible. The review itself was in no way influenced by the receipt of this complimentary review copy.

Christmas is almost upon us! My next set of reviews will be on some "stocking stuffer" type games. Games that are small (easily travel), and easy on your pocket book too! These games would make for great stocking gifts, neighbor gifts, or would be great for anyone looking for some simple, quick, less expensive type games. I also will have an exclusive coupon code for some of the card games - so keep your eye out for the next review!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Worker Placement Preview

Designed by Mark MacKinnon
Published by Dyskami
2 to 5 Players (Planned Future Expansion up to 8 Players, Possible 1 Player Variant)

Background  / Introduction
Well, there should be no real question concerning what type of game this is; it is a worker placement game of course! So, if you expected a deductive reasoning game, just reread the title - Worker Placement. Worker placement games are very popular these days but some of them are a little 'heavy' and can take a long time to play. Worker Placement is a 'light' game that offers variable game length and plenty of flexibility in strategy.

Themed well for this time of economic uncertainty, players are running competing temp agencies as they try and improve workers and get them well needed jobs. Doing this, players get better reputation and more importantly, (*in my best Kevin O, Leary voice) "MONEY."

This is a review of the current prototype game which will start its Kickstarter project this week!  So, this review will not review the quality of the components as the pieces used don't reflect the final production quality etc. I will give you a look at how the plays and my thoughts. If you are interested, check it out on Kickstarter.

Rule Book / Learning Time / Components
The all important instruction book. You can't really play a game if you don't understand the rules.  Worker Placement does a great job explaining the theme of the game, the setup, and it provides detailed explanations on how the game plays with nice illustrations. Subtle things (like the rule book being a clipboard of paper and as you go to the next page in the book, you can see that a "page" has been ripped off from the clipboard) make the instructions more theme oriented and easier to understand. These sort of details also reassure me that a lot of thought and fine tuning has already happened to get the game to where it is today. The rule book is just part of the pie, but it shows me that this game is ready for Kickstarter and ready for print.

You can learn or teach this game very quickly. Since I would consider this game to be a "Casual Game," you can have a group of new players easily playing the game in less than 10 minutes. Also, with the simple game play, I did not find myself going back to refer to the rule book (besides re-reading the portion about the Auction phase one more time for clarification during my first play, the rest of the rules stuck and were very clear) although, the back page turn summary is very helpful for the first or second run through to keep track of the order of play.

The game includes an instruction book, game board, 109 game cards, 60 wooden skill cubes, 25 wooden player token sets (including 3 meeples, 1 cash token, and 1 thumbs up token), and 1 hourglass token to keep track of game rounds. 

Quick setup time. Shuffle a few decks of cards, sort out some skill cubes, and you are pretty much ready to go save the world one job at a time. Again, the game is so simple, and with that comes very little setup time. The card decks are shuffled and each player is dealt 4 business cards (these cards are made up of skill cards, management cards, and workers). Players each start with 2 money and 2 thumbs up, the time marker starts on first round mark.

Players should decide on what length of game they want to play (although I guess you could technically end a game earlier or play longer as long as all players agree - you wouldn't want someone thinking you are manipulating the end game to your advantage). Worker Placement allows you to play a short game of 5 rounds, a normal game of 8 rounds, or a long game of 12 rounds. I really like that they included this feature, because it allows for different depth and you can tailor the game to certain age groups or time interest.

The goal of the game is to have the most money at the end of the game. The game ends at the end of either 5, 8, or 12 rounds of play depending on what was decided by the players. Players gain money by fulfilling job postings with adequately trained workers for that position, playing management cards, and by working at the call center. The majority of your money will most likely come from fulfilling jobs. To do this, players will need 1 worker card in their hand and they will need to be able to meet the skills listed on the job card. Only one worker can be assigned to a position, but players will use skill cards or cubes acquired during the game to meet job requirements. Jobs will give different amounts of money and perhaps even a "Thumbs Up" reputation boost.

Besides the money acquired and used in the game, players have a certain reputation which is kept track using the thumbs up scoring track. Benefits of having more thumbs up than the other players include: higher likelihood of being first player, using these to gain money via the call center, and in the result that there is a tie on the money track, the player with the best reputation wins. So, just how does one go about gaining skill, management cards, and reputation? Let's take a look.
  1. Determine Player Order - One does not become first by reputation alone...there is a bit of luck involved too. Player Order cards are shuffled and dealt to each player, then flipped over. The player with the highest number (Player Order card + thumbs up score) places his/her meeple on the 1st player spot, the second  highest on the 2nd player spot, etc. Any tie will go to the more reputable player (via the higher thumbs up score). This is a nice way to deal with having people close together on the reputation track (the random cards). Now, if a player get's a big lead in this area, players may not feel that the thumbs up score is really all that important. In one two player game I played, my wife was  just so far ahead on the track that I actually just started using what thumbs up I had to get some money from the call center. This player order concept seems to work just fine, but there may also be times where the random cards don't really matter at all (more likely this would be of use with more players).
  2. Reveal New Jobs - At this point, you deal out 1 job card out to the top of the board (minimum of 4
    jobs always) and you also place one card on top of the draw pile so you can see what is coming up next. The first round you will be drawing the starting cards and all subsequent rounds you will be filling up the gaps left as people fulfill jobs. The comical descriptions of the jobs are actually the best and most enjoyable aspect of the game's theme. With Clerical Cleric or Dog Food Tester, these cards really provide a fun element to the game. Each of the jobs require a certain number of skill to be fulfilled and they range in rewards giving a certain amount of money and perhaps a thumbs up score too. I would like to see the placement areas of these cards made part of the board in the final version (just as the auction cards have a place).
  3. Draft Business Cards - Each player is then dealt three business cards (again, this includes worker cards, skill cards, and management cards) and decides which card to keep, which to give to his player
    at their left, and what remaining card will go to the Peer Networking Group for auction. This is probably my favorite game mechanic of the game. There may be times where you want to keep all of your cards (they are all really good), but you still have to chose which one you will "gift" away to another player. Then, you can chose to place a card in the Peer Networking hoping that it will come up for auction and you can get it there. You may not like any, and your choice just became easier for that turn.
  4. Auction Discarded Business Cards - This was a little confusing at first, but it made sense after actually
    playing through it once and it seems to work pretty well. You shuffle the face down discarded cards and select 3 randomly (2 player games, you add a random card to the two). Even if you are playing with 3 players or less, you will want to shuffle the cards to keep the identity of the discarded cards safe (knowing what your opponent discarded may give away some of their strategy to early). Players take turns bidding or passing by placing meeples on the auction track. Once all players have passed, the player with the meeple on the highest number selects a card first and pays the amount bid. This continues until all three cards are gone (players still remaining get no card and don't have to pay either).
  5. Place Workers - The true meat of the game is played here. Players take turns as designated by the turn order for that round placing meeples at different locations in order to gain skill, thumbs up, money, playing management cards, changing cards, gaining money, changing skills, and fulfilling jobs.
    Players may need to pay money if placing a worker on location that already has meeples on it. Job fulfillment however does not require payment. Here players must choose what is important to them? Will they fulfill a job they can meet right now? Will they save and hope to fulfill the bigger job next round? Do you sacrifice reputation (thumbs up) at the Call Center for some easy cash? Or do you pay an extra money (since someone already played there) to play a management card that allows you to steal money from the other players (or twice as much money from only one player). You will have lots of different options and multiple good options. Time to chose. You can gain skill cubes or maybe you want to have your luck at the casino by changing in your cards for random ones. The game does well again with matching the theme here and many paths to victory are presented.
  6. Reset - Players reclaim their meeples and they discard down to 5 business cards. Players then will move the time tracking token (if that wasn't the last round already).
I won't go into all the different actions you can take, but let me just talk a little more about the fulfillment of jobs as that is a big part of the game. Jobs can be fulfilled by 1 worker and a combination of skill and/or skill cubes matching what is on the job card. You will want to acquire skill cubes as these are a "sure thing" while the business cards are more random. The Life Coach space seems pretty powerful to me as you are able to switch 1 skill cube for 2 skill cubes of your choice (too powerful?).

I believe that this will be a great Kickstarter project. The worker cards for the prototype did not all have names or descriptions yet and I believe this would be a great opportunity to provide backers with the privilege of naming a worker and/or providing a funny description. There will be great opportunity for stretch rewards to make the game components the best quality possible, and maybe even add more job/character cards.

Final Thoughts
Worker Placement does a great job. The theme and game mechanics work well and the jobs and job descriptions will make you smile or laugh out loud. The game is easy to learn and is a good game to introduce to people who may not have played a worker placement game before. Players are not blocked from placing workers, but may need to pay an additional fee. I like that players have many options to choose from and there really isn't a time where a player is just "stuck." There is always something that a player can be doing to get a little closer to victory.

I think that the game has been well thought out and it can be a fun, entertaining game, for a nice range of ages and game interest. Being able to adjust the game length also helps a great deal with pleasing a wide range of players. I give Worker Placement 3 Fingers Up, or 8 out of 10 Stars. The Kickstarter project itself sounds like it will be successful and if you are looking for a light worker placement game with a well used theme, check out Worker Placement today - and that is How Lou Sees It!

(A big SHOUT OUT to Dyskami for providing this review prototype copy and making this review possible.)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Questing Cubed!

Cube Quest
Designed by Oliver and Gary Sibthrope
2 Player Game
Dice Flicking Dexterity Game

Introduction / Background
I am a lover of dice. I am also a big fan of dexterity games like shuffleboard (doesn't mean that I'm necessarily good at them). Oliver and Gary Sibthrope with Gamewright has combined my love of dice with a great dexterity element to create Cube Quest. The simplicity of the gameplay makes the game very accessible to younger kids, while the game has enough strategy and dexterity skill involved to keep older players coming back for more.

Components / Rule Book
Inside the box, you will find 50 dice (25 for each side), two playing mats (made of a mouse-pad material), an instruction sheet, and a cube/dice reference guide.

Let's start with the rule book (or rule sheet). The instructions for this game are actually all on one side of the the rule sheet and another in-depth cube/dice reference guide about the different dice is included on the back of the the rule sheet. The rules are well explained and easy to understand. The explanations for the different dice are adequate - the game is simple, and so are the rules explaining how to play it.

The components are nice. I like the mouse-pad type material used for the mats a lot. There has been some issues with some of the mats becoming damaged during packaging as each mat has been folded in half twice to fit into the box. Don't worry though, if you open your box to find creased mats, Gamewright has a very friendly and helpful customer service and I have heard from many who contacted Gamewright and received replacement mats very quickly. They are also sending the replacement mats rolled up instead of folded which has eliminated the possibility of the creases. I contacted Gamewright about this issue, and they are replacing any mats that are damaged and they are looking at a possible re-packaging for the game for future production runs. All this being said, I love the mat material and the mat artwork is nice, but not distracting. For future productions I would think that making the two player mats into a total of eight smaller mats might be best. I'm not sure if having them rolled up in a tube would cause long term warping or not with that material, but smaller mats could do the trick.

The actual dice are a light plastic with sticker type faces on all the sides. As a lover of dice, I usually find that the more unique or heavy a dice is, the more I like it (metal d4 dice, awesome). For this game however, the dice fit the need; in this case, I don't want to be flicking a heavy metal dice around. The dice really are perfect for flicking as they can be moved easily and they don't really hurt your fingers. The pictures have been applied as little stickers to the dice faces and are nice enough. I know of some who have experienced these coming off, but that sounds more of an outlier and I don't consider it a big issue. Overall, the game quality is really nice.

The game can be set up in less than a minute. Each player sets up their side at the same time and even thinking strategically, the game is set up very quickly. The game suggests setting up a divider while players arrange their dice, the game box can be used to do this, but you could also set time limits or setup your dice without a divider. Dice can be placed pretty much anywhere; the king must be played somewhere in the castle. You can stack dice up to create walls, or you can spread your dice out across your side of the mat. This flexibility in game set up helps the game have great replayability as you play around with different opening formations.

If you are playing the advanced game, you will also need to determine which dice you are playing with. Each player selects a team of dice up to 40 points. Each dice is assigned a point value and is noted on the cube/dice reference sheet and card.

Players take turns flicking their dice while trying to knock off their opponent's dice from the playing mats. The winner of the game is the player who can knock off the enemy's king first. You can only flick one dice a turn (or use a special dice's ability once). If a dice is partially off the mats, it does not count as being knocked off and can still be in play.

The other key element to the game comes from how your dice lands when on your opponent's side of the playing area. In a normal basic game, each player will have one king, four strikers, and twelve grunts. Each type of dice has a different number of "captured" sides represented on the die. These "captured" sides are represented by a silhouette of that character. Grunts for example, have four "captured" sides, while the striker dice only have one.

 Whenever you flick your dice and it lands in your opponents territory, you must evaluate the status of your dice. If your dice is "captured" side up, then your dice is "captured." You then have the chance of escape by rolling that dice. If it comes up "captured" side again, the dice is removed from play ("destroyed"). If you happen to roll and the dice comes up with one of its "picture" sides, your dice has escaped and is placed somewhere in your castle for future use. So, striker dice are better attackers as they have a much high probability of staying alive in enemy territory, while the grunt dice have a slim chance of surviving long. You start out with many grunts though and they can be sacrificed to an extent (just realize that when you send them over, there is a high chance you won't get them back, so make their attack count).

As the game progresses, your dice (and hopefully your opponent's) will start to thin. Your king may have been knocked close to the edge of defeat. Well, some of the dice have abilities and your king just so happens to be one of them. Instead of flicking a dice your turn, you can spend your turn to move your king back into your castle. This can be extremely beneficial if your king is teetering on the edge of the mat. Grunts and strikers don't have abilities, but there a few other dice that I haven't mentioned yet.

Once you get the basic game down (one play should do it), you can then play with the "advanced" dice.
Each dice has a certain point value associated with it and each player chooses an army of 40 or less points. You can determine if it is more important to you to have as many dice out as you can with lots of "weak" grunts, or you can have some highly specialized dice that can sneak into your opponent's territory, or give you "one-use" abilities to revive removed dice or freeze opponent dice to keep them from attacking. Once players pick their armies from their set amount of dice and points, game progresses just like normal, but players may be playing with dice with special abilities. While the selection or variety of dice isn't huge, it does provide enough to keep things interesting. The reference card and sheet is helpful in determining your armies and evaluating your strategy. The reference shows how many "captured" sides each dice has, the point value of that dice, and the ability associated with that dice if applicable.

You can really make this game your own by slightly modifying rules or change the setup of the game. I suggest playing around with the layout of your mats. The game plays just fine as described in the rules, but think of different ways that you could make the game even more interesting. A few game setup suggestions:

  • Instead of setting up your dice with a divider, use a sand timer and set up your dice in real time with a time limit. You will be able to see your opponent's dice and try and counter their plan. It will feel like you are playing football, and you are trying to match the audible just called right before the ball is snapped.
  • Move the mats apart by six to twelve inches (or whatever you desire) and place a makeshift "bridge" between your two playing mats. You could make this bridge out of an old mouse pad, or just use paper. You can make the bridge wide or narrow. You can come up with some pretty cool setups! This bridge is considered neutral while no dice are on the bridge, but the bridge becomes part of your territory if you have the majority of dice on the bridge. If a captured side comes up while neutral, nothing happens, but if your opponent controls the bridge, then it is just as if you had landed on your opponent's mat. You can skip your dice across the empty spaces, but your dice must land on a mat or bridge to remain in play. You can make it even more interesting by elevating the two playing mats creating cliffs at the edge of the mats. You can add multiple bridges across the gap etc. In my pictures, you can see one "bridge" scenario where I used a couple of chairs, a TV remote, and a mouse pad to create the "Red Bridge of Death!" All the ends of the mat and the bridge across are slopped towards impending doom!
  • Along the same lines as the "bridge" scenario described above, you can place items under your mats to create slight variations in your landscape. You can also place objects on the landscape to create "walls" or other things to impede a direct approach to your opponent.

Thoughts / Conclusion
This is a fantastic dexterity game! I don't have many dexterity games, but this is my favorite one by far. I really enjoy the simplicity of the game, the light plastic dice work perfectly for flicking, and I enjoy the mouse pad type material used for the mats. I feel that the sticker type placement of the pictures on the dice works just fine, although I would have liked to see something done to eliminate the possibility of these to fall off over time (I still think that it is pretty unlikely that you will have any fall of, but it is a worry of mine). I enjoy the fact that you can set up your dice in a huge variety of ways (stacking to form front walls, placing dice behind your king to help keep your king on the mat, or trying to spread your dice out to be hard targets). Similarly, you can play around with the actual landscape or playing area. I'm not suggesting that the game needs all this variation, but you can easily do it and you can create some really fun game scenarios.

The dice abilities are good ones and really do add a nice element to the game. Likewise, you can create your own abilities and use those instead of the ones described in the rules. I might have liked some variation in the artwork for each side to further differentiate the dice from one another, but the artwork for the game is good. I really could see a possible expansion for the game creating a "bridge" scenario and a few new dice.  The setup time and time to learn the game is very fast and the game time is quick too. This would be a great game to check out for all you Casual Gamers out there! I am giving Cube Quest 3 fingers up, or 8 out of 10 stars.You will want to play again and again and that is How Lou Sees It!

A big SHOUT OUT to Gamewright games for making this review possible!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Throwing Down to the Max

Maximum Throwdown
Designed by Jason Tagmire
2 - 6 Players
Card Throwing Game

Background / Introduction
Do you enjoy throwing things? How about throwing around some cards in an all out brawl; dragons, martians, and even pirates try and come out victorious as the cards fly. Dexterity games are kind of an odd duck in the board gaming world if you ask me. They are fun a lot of the time because of the stark contrast from purely strategic worker placement or decision making games. Like with the excitement of playing shuffleboard or other such games, the skill of your hands guiding your game pieces to victory can be very enjoyable. Maximum Throwdown makes this dexterity game focused on your ability to throw or toss playing cards into the play area covering other player's cards while trying to keep your cards exposed for better special abilities and points. While there is some strategy in trying to place your cards in certain areas, the concept of the game is very simple. Cover your opponents cards while trying to not cover your own. If you are not a fan of dexterity games or if throwing cards doesn't sound like much fun, you may want to skip this one (and check out Thunderstone instead, because I'm pretty sure you will like that one - who wouldn't).

Components / Rule Book
I continue to be impressed with AEG's quality they put into their components (especially the boxes that the games come in - feel great, durable, and look really nice).

The game comes with 6 different factions or decks that you can choose to play with (those who have played other AEG games like Smashup will notice the artwork to be very familiar). Each deck is made up of 15 cards with different symbols arranged on the cards. The decks vary slightly, although I don't feel any real big differences between them myself during game play. The cards are nice and the game includes reference cards (these can also be randomizer cards if you want the decks to be chosen at random) as well as 6 different starting locations that help set up the initial play area.

The rule page included is detailed enough for this simple little game. The hardest thing to get the hang of are the different symbols, but you have a nice reference card for that. I do wish they included some sort of way to keep track of score, but that isn't really a big problem either seeing that with the short game play usually groups could easily keep track of their own scores even without writing them down.

As I mentioned before, the game includes 6 starting locations. To set up the game, it is pretty much left to
you and the other players on how you want to start the game. The rule book suggests a few different formations of starting cards that you may want to try, but there are a plethora of ways to decide how to start the game. You can use the given designs, you can make your own designs, you can take turns throwing cards onto the playing area, or anything else that really floats your boat!

Here are some crazy ideas for setups! You can set up different obstacles in the playing area (like I did with some Barrel of Monkeys) or you can even do some sort of multi-layered playing area. I really think that a big part in making the game fun is to customize your playing area to be as fun and different each time as possible. Creating challenges for card placement makes the game more enjoyable.

You will also need to establish what the playing area will be and where you will restrict people to throw cards from. You can make the game more challenging by making the throwing distance much larger. You could even play by dropping cards down to a playing area from a loft or something like that. All up to you and your imagination. Shuffle your deck and you are ready to step into battle.

Red and Yellow will score 1 point.
Yellow is only 1 pip away from scoring another point! 
The goal of the game is to have the highest amount of victory points when the game ends. The game ends when all players have exhausted their entire deck and hand.

The player who yells "Maximum Throwdown" the loudest goes first (although, I'm not sure that going first is really a benefit). On one's turn, the player evaluates what icons he/she has active (icons are completely uncovered). Then the player will score points, 1 point for every 6 pips showing, and either remember this number or add it to the scoring card or paper. Resolve any active Attack or Steal icons. Draw one card, plus any additional cards for your active draw icons. Throw one card, or more depending again on your active icons.

All the players must adhere to the throwing boundaries set up at the beginning of the game and unless a player has an active "Break" icon, that card must land touching at least one other card. If you miss any other card and don't have a "Break" icon, then that card gets removed from play. Pretty simple right? Well, let's take a closer look at the icons and just what they do:

When a player runs out of cards to draw and/or throw, they still take a turn like normal performing what actions they can as well as still scoring any possible points. Here are the different cards in each deck followed by a video look at the game:

Thoughts and Conclusion
Maximum Throwdown is an interesting game where dexterity is the only real role to victory. I don't feel that the game has a lot of strategy too it, but it remains a nice light card throwing game. Sometimes the game can feel very one sided if one player is dominating the play area with icons giving them even more icons; hence, it can be challenging to catch up with some players if not in the running early on. I like the concept of this little card throwing game, but I feel that setting up the game with obstacles or something different each time could definitely help keep the game fun and fresh. I give Maximum Throwdown 1 Finger Up or 6 out of 10 stars and that is just How Lou Sees It!

A big SHOUT OUT to AEG for making this review possible!