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!

Saturday, October 5, 2013


Forbidden Desert
Designed by Matt Leacock
2 - 5 Players
Gamewright Game

Background and Introduction
Thirsty? Why wait? Growing up in the fine desert state of Utah, I have experienced some hikes in a scorching sun. I have tried to run up a sand dune as the hot sand seemed to grab on and not want to let go.

In Forbidden Desert, players have gone to excavate an ancient desert city rumored to have a legendary flying machine that is powered by the sun. As luck would have it, just as you are arriving to the area a sand storm picks up and your helicopter has to make a crash landing. Now, with limited water and resources, you must excavate the city to find that legendary flying machine and fly out before the desert kills you all. The city has some pretty nifty stuff that will be key to your survival. Time is of the essence and each player's special skills will also be essential to escaping the desert with not only the flying machine, but with your lives!

For those unfamiliar with Matt Leacock; Matt may just be the king of co-operative games. Matt is probably most well known for his game Pandemic, but may be just as familiar from his game Forbidden Island. Forbidden Island also produced by Gamewright games came out a few years ago and was a huge success. Forbidden Desert is a sort of sequel to that game. Some similar mechanics that keep the game somewhat familiar, while adding new roles (such as the water carrier and meteorologist) and game mechanics that keep the game fresh and exciting.  The game has a great theme and Matt with Gamewright games have produced yet another fantastic co-operative game in which families can either win or lose the battle for prestige and survival together!

Components / Rule Book
Gamewright always seems to do a fantastic job with their game components; from the nice collector's tin that the game comes in down to the cards, tiles, and actual flying machine that you will assemble from five fun parts.  I like the idea of tins especially since I consider them a little more durable than most game boxes. I may have also for some reason subconsciously inherited my mother's  love of tins.

Inside the tin, we find high quality cards (storm, item, and role cards), desert tiles, sand pieces, player pawns, the flying machine (with all the removable parts), clip markers, sand storm meter (with base), and an amazing rule book. All of the components fit well in the box, although I have a small tiny irritation with the card holding section as I am unable to easily get all of the cards out (always leaving one or two cards in the plastic base that I have to use a fingernail to get out - this may just be my own game and other plastic bases may not have the same issue).

The desert tiles and sand pieces are double sided and have great artwork (both relative to the game and not distracting). I love that the storm meter has a base which allows the meter to stand vertical. This allows all the players to easily see the meter. The meter is also double sided and allows for flexibility with the amount of players playing (it has a marks and sides for 2,3,4, and 5 players with different difficulties set for how many players you are playing with) and makes it appropriately adjustable.

I also really like the fact that the little clip markers that are used on the sand meter and on the individual
player role cards (to keep track of the amount of water a player still has) work perfectly with the cards and meter. A lot of games seem to either have the clips to hard to install, or they are too loose to stay where they need to (Betrayal at House on the Hill - great game - not so great markers). Forbidden Desert has somehow perfected the clip markers and they couldn't work any better.

Another thing that Gamewright does really well is make incredible instruction books. Really. It can be very frustrating when you open a game and it takes you forever to learn how to play or after you are done reading, you still don't know how to play your brand new game. This rule book does an amazing job presenting the rules and material in a logical order and with LOTS of diagrams and pictures to help show you visually how things are done or what the words are trying to say. Couldn't be happier with the rule book. You should be able to learn it quickly with no frustration.

With the step by step setup instructions and the picture provided in the rule book, setup is slick and quick. You shuffle the card decks and desert tiles, and then you create your desert. Placing the 24 desert tiles in a 5x5 grid with a tile missing in the middle (representing the eye of the sand storm) followed by some initial sand pieces. The sand meter is set and players choose role cards (either by random or by choice). The flying machine and parts are placed close by with the other cards and you are ready to play. The fact that the desert tiles are shuffled and placed randomly makes each game play differently and usually contributes to the difficulty of the game. Players place their colored pawn on the crash landing site and the game beings.

The thirstiest player always goes first (that's usually me since I'm always thirsty, in fact, my throat feels a little dry right now). A player on their turn takes up to 4 actions and then storm cards are drawn equal to the amount shown on the storm meter. The goal of the game is to find all 4 machine parts, and assemble at the landing pad before anyone parishes from the desert (I'll go over all the ways to lose in a bit, but there is only one way to win).

The actions are very easy to understand and perform. The player can perform any combination of the following actions:

  • Move - A player can move one tile left, right, up, or down (exception for the explorer) as long as there is a tile to move to and that the tile is not blocked (if a tile has 2 or more sand pieces, the tile is blocked and players may not travel to or from that tile until the sand markers are removed leaving 1 or no sand on that tile (exception for the climber).
  • Remove Sand - Players can remove a sand marker for an action from an adjacent tile or your own tile. 
  • Excavate - If you are on a tile with no sand markers, you can excavate a tile by flipping it over and performing the action associated with that tile (you may get an item card, or refresh your water supply, or you may have just found a clue to a flying machine part).
  • Pick Up a Part - You can a pick up a part if on the same tile and the tile is unblocked and has been excavated. One step closer to victory!
(Players may also share water or item cards with other players on the same tile - unless otherwise stated by a role ability. This will mostly be for sharing water with other players.)

There are a few different types of desert tiles. Three desert tiles have a picture of a tree or oasis with a drop of water in the bottom right hand corner. These represent potential wells (2 of 3 do indeed provide access to water, but 1 of the 3 is all dried up. When these are flipped over by a player (if it is a well), everyone on that tile may increase their water marker up two tick marks (can't go past your capacity - and everyone may have different maximum tick marks for carrying water). The water carrier may revisit these wells and use an action to draw water from the well later in the game.

Some tiles when flipped over will have a gear in the bottom right signifying that you have found a wonderful device in the ancient city that will help you to either clear sand, fly to another tile, see through piles of sand, or be protected from the harsh sun. These special cards are very important to your survival!

Key to winning the game is finding the two different clue tiles for each machine part. There is a 'row' clue and a 'column' clue for each part. To find a part and add the piece to the board, both clues must be excavated to show where the part lies. As the second clue is flipped over, you can place the part on the tile in the matching column and row (now time to go get it!).

Notice the Orange Crystal appeared conveniently on the Landing Pad!

There are three tunnel tiles which can be very helpful as well. If the 'sun beats down' while you are in a tunnel, you do not need to lose any water. You may also use tunnels to travel a long distance to the other end of a tunnel tile.

The landing pad tile is also important as that is the only tile from which you can assemble and fly away!

Drawing Sand Storm Cards
Drawing sand storm cards is half the fun! This is where all your peril comes from. The deck is mainly comprised of 'Wind Blows' cards where the wind blows the tiles around using the empty tile spot and leaving piles of sand in its wake. If there are no tiles to be moved, you luck out and don't need to apply any more sand etc. This is one of the great things about this game! The game board is always changing and moving and it requires strategy to use this to your advantage. You draw cards from this pile equal to the number shown on the sand storm meter.

The real 'ups and downs' (puns intended) come from the 'Storm Picks Up' and 'Sun Beats Down' cards.

  • Storm Picks Up - This moves your marker up one tick mark on your sand storm meter, making you draw an ever increasing amount of storm cards leaving more sand and presenting more opportunities to lose water and increase the amount of cards you have to draw even more.
  • Sun Beats Down - When this happens, unless you have a Solar Shield or are in a tunnel, you lose one water from your canteen. Thirsty...so thirsty.

Winning and Losing
When you have all four machine parts, race to the unblocked landing pad for a safe departure and grand victory!

There are three ways to lose the game:
  • Thirst - A player reaches the skull and cross bones on their canteen (just one player - remember, you are a team and if someone dies you all lose - probably dehydrate yourself with tears).
  • Buried - You need to place a sand marker, but don't have any left in the supply. You just have so much sand you all give up.
  • Swept Away - The sand meter marker hits the skull and cross bones. The sand storm has grown too powerful and it sweeps you all away (maybe you will end up on a yellow brick road somewhere if you are lucky - don't forget some bright red shoes).

Thoughts / Conclusion
With a great theme, outstanding components, and innovative Leacock co-operative game play this is a game not to miss! If you liked Forbidden Island this game will have a similar feel while adding some great new game mechanics. This is also a great game for those who have not played a co-operative game before. A great family game where the rules are easily understood and explained, this would be a great addition to any family game night. While remaining simple enough for the entire family to play, you can change the difficulty for more advanced players. The game makes you think and weigh out different possibilities making you decide between two different things that you need desperately. This critical decision making will challenge kids of all ages helping them learn this needed skill.

A quick word of comparison between this and Forbidden Island. I have both games and I'm glad I do. While the object of getting parts/relics and getting out remains the same, you do it in extremely different ways. Forbidden Island requires you to manage cards in your hand, collecting sets to get parts, while Forbidden Desert gets rid of that all together and you need to focus on the board and using your item/device cards. Forbidden Island with tiles being removed from the game seems a bit more scary feeling to me (the tiles sink away forever, while sand may always be removed - even a bunch of it by a dune blaster). I like the moving tiles mechanic and the many different types of tiles with the water, tunnels, and part location clues. Both games are great and I would recommend both. If you have to choose just one, I think I would suggest the Desert.

Forbidden Desert gets a big Thumbs Up from me or 10/10 Stars (check out my video review below)! The Forbidden Desert will entice you to keep going back for more, even if you have a dry mouth. Grab a canteen and definitely check out Forbidden Desert and that is How Lou Sees It! 

A big SHOUT OUT to Gamewright games for making this review possible and for making great games for the entire family!