Endangered: Part I. Unboxing, Solo Play, and Initial Impressions

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Endangered is a cooperative board game about endangered animals: You all work together on a “global scale” to help save (in a conservation sense) some endangered animals.  This game was on Kickstarter in April 2019 and successfully funded.  It delivered to me about a week ago (April 7, 2020).  It promised delivery in March 2020: given the current state of the corona virus, a month late is actually pretty good.

I won’t be doing a full review until I can get this played with multiple people!  Multiple people playing is really difficult right now with Social Distancing.  So, you may be waiting a while to see Part II of this review.   I can tell you my initial thoughts from my first solo play.

Components

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The game looks real nice: the back of the box shows some of the components and does a good job describing the game.

Upon opening the box, you see lots of cardboard (well, not too much) and lots of little wooden bits.

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Foam to hold board firmly in place

The board is packed interestingly: notice the foam around the edge!  The foam holds the board firmly in place.

The little bits in the game are good quality: the orange wooden tigers pieces are especially nice, as are the brown otter pieces.  The dice are interesting …

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The main board

The main board is two sided: one side is for the Tigers (pictured above) and one side is for the otters (not pictured).

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The main cards

The cards are all linen coated.  For some reason, the iconography and pictures remind me of Pandemic …

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Summary Cards!

I am always so happy when the game has summary cards!  One for each player (2-sided, both sides shown above).

The components, overall are very nice.

The Rulebook

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The first few pages of the rulebook: It shows all components

This is one of the better rulebooks I’ve read in a while.  First of all, it starts with the components VERY CLEARLY labelled, so you can go through the game and find everything (see picture above).

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Set-up

The set-up is right there on the next page, describing general set-up and player set-up.  There’s very nice pictures showing everything.  This was a really good start!  I had no trouble diving into the game.

Overall, the rulebook was excellent!  The rules were described well, the pictures showed what was needed, the art was very nice, and the book had big fonts (I don’t like rulebooks with small fonts).  In general, I wish all rulebooks were this good.

Again, for some reason, this rulebook reminded me on Pandemic: it had a vibe like Pandemic.

Set-Up For First Game

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The game set-up pretty quickly: see picture above.  It looks nice on the tabletop.  I was able to keep the rulebook open while I played the game (lower left).  I did need the rulebook open much of the game, even though the summary cards are good.

The first major decision during set-up: do you save the Otters or Tigers (or, if you have the expansion, the Pandas)?    I chose “Tiger” because that’s what the Rulebook defaults to for the first game.  By choosing “Tiger”, I choose side A of the board (green jungle in the middle), a certain deck of Bad News cards (called IMPACT cards, on the left side), some “Tiger” minis  (in the jungle board) and the “Tiger” dossier, which describes how the “Tiger” game is different from the main game.

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Each player then chooses a role: each role has special abilities.  The Zoologist above has a special ability for Migration Paths.  Each role has a different special ability.

Solo Play

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Solo game: Mid-game

So, this cooperative game has dedicated solo rules (Huzzah! They follow Saunders’ Law).  It’s a very straight-forward solo game: the solo player takes the role of two roles who alternate play.   It seemed to work pretty well, although there was a lot to learn on your first play.  I am always a big fan of solo rules that only make you use one character, but there’s a reason you have to have two characters: this game is (among other things) a dice-placement game, and you need the tension of having some of the dice locations unavailable when your character plays.  That seems to be a core mechanic in the game, and taking this away this tension for a one player/one character solo play would immensely change the game.

First Play

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A bunch of actions available

The object of the game: You are trying to convince a certain number of nations to enact laws to save the Tiger, and each nation has a different “victory” condition (usually, you just need more influence)!  You win if you can convince enough nations to save the Tiger!  To accomplish this, you perform actions.  You perform actions by playing dice.

The game, at its core, is a dice-placement game.   The game starts with a few Locations in play, but as you play, you can add more action cards.  The game is interesting, because each role has a different set of action cards!  On your turn, you have to make the hard decisions!  You have three dice, and each die is placed on a card to perform an action.  NOTE: you can only place a die on a card if it is GREATER THAN all other dice already on the card!

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All the actions cards the zoologist COULD play, but hasn’t yet!

The game is replete with conflicting decisions:

  1. Do you spend an action to help the Tigers (in the jungle) mate so their numbers soar?
  2. Do you get spend an action to get money?  (Money is important for so many things)
  3. Do you spend an action to gain influence?  (Influence is spent on some ambassador/nation to try to get them enact protection laws)
  4. Do you spend an action to put out an action card?   (At the start of the game, there’s only a few actions out, so you have to spend actions to put out more actions)
  5. Do you spend an action to stop the encroachment of society into the jungle?  (This is represented by tiles in the jungle, blocking places where the tigers can go or mate)
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In the end game: only two tigers alive and the encroachment has taken over most of the map!

Every action is precious.    In the early game, you tend to try to put out actions to try to get better actions out.  In the late game, you are doing everything you can to keep the Tigers alive!

Bad News/Impact Cards

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Bad News/Impact cards

Like many cooperative games, there are Bad News cards which make the world worse for the tigers.  In this game, they are called IMPACT cards (see above).  Each animal type has its own IMPACT deck (above is the Tiger).  Some of the IMPACT cards are persistent, (which means they stay out the whole game (unless you do something)) and some are one-shots (one and done).  After each character plays a turn, an IMPACT card comes out.

End of First Game

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A losing first game!

In my first game, I lost.   There is only one way to win the game: Get 4 or more Yes votes from the Ambassadors in either of your two Voting Years.

There are three ways to lose the game:

  1. If the Animal population on the board is ever reduced to 1 or 0 Animals, the group immediately loses the game.
  2. If the group is ever required to place a Destruction tile on the board and there are none left in the supply to place, the group immediately loses the game.
  3. If the group fails to get 4 or more Yes votes from the Ambassadors in the second Voting Year, the game is over and the group loses the game

I lost because I ran out of time: I didn’t have enough Yes votes from the ambassadors.  It was a rough game.

Sources of Randomness

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Five persistent IMPACTS!!

I was frustrated in my first game because I lost so hard.  At the end of the game, there were so many persistent (5!) IMPACT cards, it was a bit of a slog dealing with the Bad news every turn!!!  I was thinking about why I was frustrated: there were a number of sources of randomness and I had trouble mitigating those.

  1. IMPACT cards.  The persistent IMPACT cards didn’t seem to have a way to mitigate them.  After I finished, I realized that SOME of the IMPACT cards allow you to spend money to get rid of a persistent card, but those didn’t show up for me in my first game until after ALLL the persistent cards came out.
  2. Tigers Mate.  To see if the tigers mate, you roll a 6-sided die.  The more tiger-pairs that there are, the better your chances  (Basically, you have to roll under 1+n, where n is the number of tiger-pairs).  You can mitigate this by keeping the Tiger numbers up.
  3. Action cards.  At the start of the game, you only have two of your action cards from you deck available. After every turn, you get to draw another one, but the action cards from the decks tend to come out very slowly.  (Some of the decks have actions which allow you to draw 3 action cards instead of one as a mitigation technique).
  4. Destruction tiles.  Each turn, you have to place a destruction tile.  You choose a row (or column) and you roll a die.  If the destruction covers a tiger, oh well!  (You lost that tiger).  The mitigation technique is basically you get to choose a row/column (that has a tiger).  But you still have to roll.

Although there were ways to mitigate the randomness, I felt like I didn’t have a lot of control over that.   Now that I know the game, I think the most important thing is to get some better actions out quickly.  I realize that I had bad luck: my action cards weren’t great in the beginning, I rolled terribly in the “Tigers Mate” and the “Destruction”,  and I drew all the persistent cards without the mitigators.   So, I was frustrated.  I suspect my second play will go better … it has to!  I am a little  worried about there being too much randomness, but now that I know the game better, I’m hoping the next game will go better…

Conclusion

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In the end, this game reminded me a lot of Pandemic with perhaps a little more randomness.  The rulebook was excellent, the game looked great, and there were lots of interesting decisions.  In general, I had fun.   My only worry is the amount of randomness in the game might be frustrating: we’ll have to see with future plays.

In general, this a good game: I am glad I kickstarted it, and I look forward to playing this with my game group(s) to see how it goes.

Concurrency in Cooperative Board and Card Games

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One of my top 3 games of all time is Arkham Horror, 2nd Edition.   My friends and I played the heck out of it when it first came out, and we still play at least once a year for Halloween (I have at two copies for two groups)!  It seems to be a real crowd pleaser in my game group(s), but it’s not for everyone: it has a lot of rules to absorb and a lot of components to manipulate.  My game group(s) have absorbed it and know the game quite well.

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The Game Turn Overview from Arkham Horror: 2nd Edition

Something happened as we played Arkham Horror more and more:  we started to “streamline” the play.   The rules (above) dictate that play proceeds from the first Player (clockwise), and each player must finish their phase COMPLETELY before moving on to the next player.

To quote the rules (see complete rules here, page 5):

During each phase, every player, starting with the first player and continuing clockwise, performs the actions that take place during that phase

When we are playing strictly by the rules, our game play is sequential: every player action has to finish before the next player action completed.

We noticed this was taking waaaaaay too long!!! So what did we do??? We all started taking our turns at the same time!  Basically, everyone gets tired of waiting for “their turn to come”, but since this is a cooperative game (and we are all working together), we can all go at the same time!  We all perform UPKEEP at the same time.  After that’s done, we perform MOVEMENT at the same time, and so on.

In this mode, we are play each phase concurrently: players all act at the same time!

Visualization of Sequential and Concurrent Play

One way to think of the sequential play is to visualize it as a line of actions: Player 1 performs UPKEEP, player 2 performs UPKEEP, (UPKEEP complete), player 1 performs MOVEMENT, player 2 performs MOVEMENT, (MOVEMENT complete) and so on.

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In concurrent play, you can think of each phase as a giant bubble of activity: all players perform UPKEEP concurrently (waiting for each other to finish).  Then all players perform MOVEMENT concurrently (waiting for all other players to finish), and so on. See below.

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This particular concurrent method SIGNIFICANTLY speeds up gameplay, as there is much less waiting!  In fact, this very idea is used in Computer Science to make computer programs go faster!!! You take a computer program and parallelize it, causing a bunch of work be done!  In Computer Science circles, this idea is expressed in many ways: the Scatter-Gather, Work Crew, or Map-Reduce. (See here for reference)

Parallelism - Multithreading - Scatter Gather — GATK-Forum

If you can do this, this is an easy way to parallelize, or make gameplay faster!

Sequential Consistency

Game night. Frsutation, despair, anguish. A normal night in Arkham.
Playing Arkham Horror 2nd Edition

The problem with all of us acting at the same time was that were times  when two (or more) players collided in their actions!!  For example; What if we both drew from the same deck?    Since this is a friendly, cooperative game, the order we might draw from the deck doesn’t matter: we just both draw and one of us just happens to go first.  If we were feeling pedantic, we would draw in player-turn order, but most of the time we didn’t care: it was better to be moving quicker through the game than care about “who-got-which-cards”.

If we were pedantic in our play, we were ensuring that the game was playing EXACTLY the same way as if we had played WITHOUT the concurrency.  In other words, if everything happens in the exact same order as the game had played WITH THE SEQUENTIAL RULES.  If we can do this with our concurrent play, we are ensuring sequential consistency.

In other words, as long as we are pedantic in our concurrency, we are ensuring that the game plays out in exactly the same way: it is sequentially consistent.

Relaxed Sequential Consistency

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Some of the many decks of cards from Arkham Horror, 2nd Edition

In Arkham Horror, the decks (see above) we draw from are meant to be a source of randomness: the card we draw is meant to be “a random card”.

If that’s the case, does it matter if we are pedantic in the order we draw cards?  We just want a random card!  If that’s the goal, the order shouldn’t matter as long as we are (nominally) getting a random card!

If there are things that really don’t really matter the order that they occur (i.e., , two players drawing from a deck at the same time like above), then we have relaxed consistency.

In the end, this was how we played Arkham Horror 2nd Edition: Concurrent turns with relaxed consistency.   This model helped the game move much faster!

(In fact, the game even says that’s okay …)

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Seven Wonders and Simultaneous Action Selection

English first edition box cover

It’s funny: 7 Wonders has weird place in my game groups: people love it or hate it! (It turns out, it’s just my game groups, see here).  But one thing everybody seems to like is the Simultaneous Action Selection!! This is very similar to what we ended up with in Arkham Horror (concurrent play with relaxed consistency), but the concurrent play  in 7 Wonders is much smoother.  Frankly, there’s only two main phases (passing cards concurrently and then playing cards/effects concurrently, see below)! 7 Wonders has been designed to avoid the consistency traps we saw in Arkham Horror!  Arguably, that’s Simultaneous Action Selection’s greatest feature: simple concurrency with no need to ensure a consistency model: that’s just the way it works.

If you squint, you can visualize the two concurrency phases in the main play:

  1. All players select 1 card and then pass the rest (ALL HAPPENING CONCURRENTLY)
  2. All players reveal and “act” on their card (buying it, putting it under wonder, etc) (ALL HAPPENING CONCURRENTLY)

That’s why 7 Wonders works so well with a large group: large amounts of concurrency!

Sidekick Saga and Concurrency

The goal of Sidekick Saga was to achieve the amount of concurrency in 7 Wonders, but in a world that must be explored (like Arkham Horror).  Sidekick Saga was designed to be a Simultaneous Action Selection game …  but, it turns out, concurrency is hard.

Originally, the Sidekick Phase (see above) was meant to be purely Simultaneous Action Selection: players strategize together at the start of the phase, then each perform their entire Sidekick Phase completely concurrently!  But several things got in the way:

  1. There was the matter of the Lead cards: they are obtained at the end of the turn and can’t be shared that turn (thematically, you spend your whole turn running down a Lead so you can’t share it just yet).  Can I pass newly minted Leads when I get them?  (Answer: no)
  2. When you can pass cards?  Can I pass a card I got this turn? (Answer: yes, but only if it wasn’t passed to you this turn! Only if you picked it up!)
  3. What happens when two players draw from the same deck?  (Similar to Arkham Horror, but now order can matter if you have the X-Ray Specs)

Addressing each of these is simply a matter of making sure you ensure sequential consistency, but there’s just enough edge cases/rules that it can be confusing, especially as players are learning the game.

So I backed off Simultaneous Action Selection to a Concurrent with sequential consistency model  … like Arkham Horror.  At least players would getting SOME parallelism.  Recall, however, that model was achieved ONLY BY EXPERTS AT Arkham Horror!!  Playtesters, even with experienced players, got confused by the model.  So, I had to introduce a purely sequential mode: Novice!

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In an ideal world, there would be three modes of Sidekick Saga:

  1. Novice (as players become familiar with the actions): sequential play
  2. Normal (once players are comfortable with the actions): concurrent play with sequential consistency
  3. Advanced (players know the interactions very well): concurrent play with relaxed consistency, approaching Simultaneous Action Selection.  (For this to work, we have to be sure to have rules to deal with of the few edge cases we identified above).

The problem is that Novice was a bad word to use (and what Rahdo picked up on his “Final Thoughts” video).  Novice implies someone who is perhaps not used to modern board games: that’s not at all what I meant!  I meant someone who is new to THIS GAME!!  So, that’s my fault.  What I should have used:

  1. Normal (sequential)
  2. Advanced (concurrent play with sequential consistency)
  3. Expert (concurrent play with relaxed consistency)

The Second Edition of the game will fix this (and there will probably be an updated rulebook on BoardGameGeek).

Conclusion

Concurrency is hard to think about.   In Computer Science curriculum, concurrency is so hard, it’s typically an upper-level college or graduate level course (When I took it, it was a graduate level class). SOme of the lessons I have learned here:

  1. Don’t introduce concurrency unless it’s very simple concurrency (like 7 Wonders and Simultaneous Action Selection)
  2. Realize that concurrency can be hard (and name modes that use it appropriately)
  3. If you are going to introduce concurrency, make sure your rules explain it well and have lots of pretty pictures

 

 

A Review of Ni No Kuni II: The Board Game

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Ni No Kuni II: The Board Game and Ni No Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch for PS3

This is a review for Ni No Kuni II: The Board Game: this is a cooperative board game for 1-4 players, ages 14+.  But of course, we have to discuss the video game first!

The Video Game

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch - GameSpot

Ni No Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch was originally a video game I played for my PlayStation 3 back in 2013.  I had picked it up because it had gotten good reviews as a solo adventure game (and it was by Studio Ghibli, which has a stellar reputation).  It was surprisingly addictive, and I ended up playing through the whole thing.!  My intense like of this game was a surprise on multiple levels! Why? Because (a) I am not in Anime (b) the game’s theme is slightly “cutesy” (c) the first few plays was fairly basic.   The game was quite addictive and really evolved as you played.  In the end, Ni No Kuni was one of my favorite PS3 games!

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Solo Games for PS3

The Board Game

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Back of the board game and back of the PS3 game

When I saw an announcement for Ni No Kuno II: The Board Game, I have to admit, I was very excited!  The PS3 game really captured my imagination.  Would the board game?

Components

The components are very nice and evocative of the original Video Game.

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Nice components
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Character Card for Bracken and her Higgledies!

Each player in the game takes the role of one of the characters: Bracken, Tani, Roland, Etc.  Each character has a different special power and their own miniature.

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Player miniature with her Higgledy, going on a Quest against the Grimchilla! Note that there are 2 Space, so you need two Good Guys!

Each player also gets help on the form of the “Higgledies”: little pets/sidekicks who help you in the game.

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The Board

The Board is nice and has nice art.

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The monsters are far too cute, and very evocative of the original game.

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A quest! And it’s rewards! 0 Exp, 2 gold (guildercoin) and 0 supplies (tomatoes)

In general, the components are very evocative of the original game.

Rulebook

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The Rulebook

The rulebook is very good.  It’s fairly short, gets to the point, and it has some nice examples and art.

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Contents

I am always very happy when the game describes what comes in the box.  NNK does a great job of this, showing actual pictures of components with some descriptive text as well!  Very nice.

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Shows set-up

A good rulebook shows a nice picture of the set-up as well (see above).  I wish they had some labels and a little more “step-by-step” set-up, but honestly, this was good enough.  You get a sense very quickly what the game looks like when set-up and how to play.

I was up and playing fairly quickly because the rulebook made it easy.

Gameplay Overview

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A solo game set-up

The gameplay is fairly straight-forward: you take your character (and possibly some Higgledies with you) on some quest(s) (you can send multiple characters/Higgledies on quests simulaneously).   Quests involve rolling dice, depending on how many characters and Higgledies you send on the quests.

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A Quest! You need at least one character or Higgledie to go on this quest!

Each quest has a monster associated with it: if you defeat the monster, you get the resources (coin, experience, supplies, and possibly 2 special resources).

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You need to roll at 4 or more on some dice to defeat the banger!

After all quests are complete (a failure means you simply don’t get the resource), you can use your resources to buy buildings for the map:

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This building costs 0 exp, 4 coin, 6 supplies, and gives 2 for the final battle!

Every building has a cost, but you need buildings!!  To defeat the final bad guy, you need the Kingdom Influence (upper right corner) of your all your buildings to be MORE than the Influence of the final Boss!

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Only a total of 6 Kingdom Influence for the final battle, but tons of special abilities for the character

By the end game (the game only lasts 5 rounds), you need enough power of your buildings to beat the final Boss!

That’s the basic idea.

Gameplay Discussion

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A losing solo game!

The game moves pretty quickly: sually it’s over in about 20 minutes.  The decisions are fairly simple.

  1. Which Quests do I want? (Can I defeat the monsters ON those quests? What resources are on that Quest?)
  2. How many Good Guys (characters, Higgledies) do I send on a Quest?
  3. If I win, which buildings do I buy?

To solve each Quest, you roll some dice (based on your combat stat: combat, ranged, or magic) to see if you defeat the monster.  So, the number of Good Guys you send on a Quest informs how many dice you get.

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In the end, the game is .. a little bit of a math problem.  (Don’t say this too loud or you’ll scare some people away).  What are the odds I will win this Quest based on the number of Good Guys I send?  Can I get enough resources to buy a good building?  Do the sum of the buildings beat the (Big Bad) Boss at the end?  The trappings of the game are very cute and thematic, but at the end of the day, this feels kind of like an abstract counting/math game.  That’s not a bad thing, but once you see it, you can’t unsee it (so don’t tell your fellow gamers).

Solo Rules

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A solo game that will lose …

The good news is that this game has solo rules (ya, Saunders’ Law), and these rules are easy to understand.   Unfortunately, the game doesn’t work too well (as given) as a solo game!  As you are playing, you don’t have enough resources to make a lot of decisions: you only have your character and 2 Higgledies. EVERY time I played, I just went on one quest, because I didn’t have enough Good Guys to even try multiple Quests!  And I got unlucky, each quest has a “mininum” number of Good Guys you place, and I NEVER had a Quest that could take just one guy.  Honestly, as a solo game, I never felt like I had a lot of choices: there was an “obvious” quest I had to go on, and that was all I could do … all  I got to do is roll dice.  For a while, I  was pretty down on this game because of the solo game!

BUT, if you take the role of 2 characters, and pretend the game is a 2-Player game, your decision space opens up!  Then, you feel like you can make more decisions, and it’s a lot more fun!

So, I will say this: play the solo game (from the rulebook) to learn the basic rules of the game.  From then on, play the solo game as two characters in a 2-Player game.  The game is much more interesting.

Big Bad Boss Special Powers

One mistake we made almost every time (in the first few plays) was NOT looking at the Boss  The endgame Boss you choose really changes how the game plays and honestly changes up the game quite a bit.  I would almost recommend IGNORING the Boss special powers the first time ANYWAYS (because the Boss’ special power makes the game more random).  Honestly, since you aren’t supposed to turn over the Boss until the last turn, you forget the Boss even HAS special powers.

Just ignore the Boss special powers for your first few games.  You will (on accident) anyways.

Conclusion

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At the end of the day, this is a very light cooperative game.  Actually, it might be too light for some heavier gamers.  The theme and the gameplay itself are both pretty light. It works much better as a multiplayer game than a solo game (unless you use the special 2-Player solo rule presented above).

We found that this game works (for my game group) as a “I’m waiting 20 minutes for Andrew to arrive”  game or an “End of the Night: Our brains are fried” game.   It’s a light co-op with enough decisions to be interesting, but not a lot of huge decisions.

The 14+ age rating seems weird to me: I think that younger kids (with the guidance of an older parent/adult) would really like this game. (It’s probably because testing games for 14 and under is expensive, and it’s usually just cheaper for the manufacturer to put 14+ on the box).    I can see this being a gateway game for younger kids to learn about some more modern concepts (gathering resources, buying buildings, computing the number of warriors to commit) in board games.

At the end of the day,  this is a pretty simple game (with some luck) and some nice components.   I don’t think this game for everyone.  If you like the theme, I suspect you will enjoy playing in this universe.  If you want to play a simple co-op game with your young niece, I suspect you and your niece would enjoy this.  If you want a very light co-op (end-of-night game, waiting for someone game), this is a good time filler.  If you want a heavier game, this is probably not for you.

 

Changing Perspective: Playing Solo in Cooperative Board Games With Limited Communication

At Dice Tower Con West 2020, Tom Vasel (Dice Tower) and Richard Ham (Rahdo) gave their Top 10 Most Important Games of the Decade.

Top 10 Most Important Games of the Decade 

At the 12:25 mark in the Video, Rahdo comments on how important Hanabi is:

[Hanabi] is an important milestone in the evolution of board game design because it is cooperative game where you have imperfect communication between players …

There are other games previously that had imperfect communication (for example: Shadows Over Camelot, Battlestar Galactica), but Rahdo’s point was that Hanabi (by being Spiel des Jahres winner) made imperfect communication a common mechanic in cooperative games.  Rahdo goes on further to say how imperfect communication was important because it allowed cooperative games to have “zest” and “surprise”.

Whether you agree with Rahdo or not, (Rahdo says he can show you  data on BoardGameGeek to back up his opinion), cooperative games with imperfect communication are very common and here to stay (Hanabi, Mysterium, Muse, Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons, Shipwreck Arcana, Far Away to name a few).

But what does that mean for the solo gamer?

Solo Rules for Many Cooperative Games: Usually Just Play 2 Roles

Over the past few years, I’ve had to come up with some solo rules for many games to learn them. As I’ve said many times, game teachings go a lot faster when someone knows how to play, so it behooves a board game to have a solo mode so someone can sit down and learn the game by themselves.   Most of my solo rules have been for games without imperfect communication: Sentinels of the Multiverse, The Captain is Dead, and Unicornus Knights to name a few.  In those games, it’s usually easy to just expand and make the solo player play multiple roles (like 3 in Sentinels or Unicornus Knights).   Those games work because the solo player is simply taking over other players’ position(s) (as well as his own) and playing the game normally.   No information is hidden, and the solo player can strategize with himself just like he would strategize with his compatriot. Out in the open.

But how can you play multiple characters/roles if information is supposed to be hidden?

Navigating the Abstraction Hierarchy

Let’s take a pointed detour.

In my job, I am a computer programmer (Computer Science).  Much of my time is spent trying to figure out why a computer program is not working.  It can be as simple as the input wrong, or something as complicated as subtle logic errors across many programs.  The thing is, you almost never know what’s wrong until you dig into the program.  To find the problem, you have to start at the top (intro) of the program and work your way down.  As you go down, you are traversing different levels of abstraction:

  • Is this a high-level problem?  (Program run incorrectly by user, files missing, etc)
  • Is this a medium-level problem? (Logic error by programmer, modules not communicating correctly)
  • If this a low-level problem? (Memory not initialized correctly, array bounds error)

This is a gross generalization, because there are usually MANY MORE levels of abstraction in a real running system.  This simple example, however, conveys the main idea of problem solving when finding errors:

As you traverse the different levels of abstraction, you have to refocus your attention to the level of abstraction you are on.  This means gathering new information about the level you are on, and just as important, forgetting some of the details of the previous level.

In a real world program, there are too many details to keep in your head all at once.  It’s absolutely important to focus your mind correctly and “forget” the unimportant details as well as concentrating on the new details.

Any programmer can tell you how important it is to be able to navigate through different abstractions to get your job done.

Changing Perspective

Another way to phrase “navigating abstractions layers” is to call it changing perspective.   We have to be careful with that phrase, because it means different things to different people.   For an ambassador or a judge trying to settle a dispute, he has to be able to see both sides: he has to be able to change perspective.  Anyone trying to get along with new people has to be able to see where they are coming from: they have to be able to change perspective to the new people.

What’s usually forgotten when you talk about “seeing something from another perspective” is that you have to be able to forget: Forget your own preconceptions, forget your own situation, forget your upbringing.    Forgetting is just as important as focusing when you change perspective.

Of course, changing perspective is hard.  How do you know what to focus on?  How do you know what to forget?  What are the important features to remember?  What are the important features to forget?   With practice, it becomes a lot easier.

Solo Rules for Cooperative, Imperfect Communication, Board Games

We took that detour to point out that being able to remember certain details and forget other details can be an important ability.  It is also the key to making solo rules in cooperative, imperfect communication board games.

The broad idea is simple: when you have to change roles in a cooperative game, you have to learn to “forget” the hidden information of your previous role.

How does this work?  Let’s take a look at an example.

Shipwreck Arcana

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Shipwreck Arcana

The Shipwreck Arcana is an abstract, logic puzzle game for 2-5 people.  Each player has a hidden number, and gives abstract clues to help the other players guess his number.  The information about the hidden number is very precise and exacting: they are just tokens (“clues” if you would) placed on cards to help discover the number.

It seems like there is “no way” you could make a solo game out of this, right?   I mean,  if I know the number, how can I “change roles” and forget the number I am trying to get myself to guess?   In other words, how can I forget?

The idea is simple: you are either the clue-giver or the number-guesser.  Imagine yourself trying to help someone guess the number (that someone is you, but let’s move forward).

  • clue-giver: When you are the clue-giver, you try to think about “What’s the best clue I can give to help this other person?”
  • number-guesser: When you are the number guesser, you can ONLY use the information the clue-giver has given!   It’s almost like being a detective: looking solely at the evidence, can you deduce what the number is?  It works because ONLY the state of the boards represents all the clues!!!

When you play solo, you alternate between these two roles, “forgetting” the information of your previous role.  This works because you can look at the state of the board as “the only information you know”.  None of the information in your brain can be used when you play, just what’s on the board itself.

The complete solo rules for Shipwreck Arcana can be found here.

Conclusion

Quite a number of cooperative, imperfect information board games have solo rules that can work using this changing perspectives idea.

  1. Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons (with solo rules): Play two Amazon Warriors who must “forget” what the other has done when choosing actions
  2. Far Away (with solo rules):  Play two teammates who must “forget” what the other has done when choosing actions.
  3. Shipwreck Arcana (with solo rules): See above!

It can be hard to wrap your mind around this at first.  If you want to try this idea out, I’d recommend playing Shipwreck Arcana first with this idea—the state of the board very precisely characterizes what the solo player knows, so it’s easier to “forget” the previous role (as you just concentrate on the board itself).   Another idea that worked in Far Away was to to write down (with pencil and paper) “what is the shared information” between two characters—you can only act on shared information that is written down when you are in either role.

Changing Perspective is all about focusing on the important and forgetting the unimportant.

Review of Far Away. Part I: Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

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Far Away: A Cooperative 2-Player Game

Far Away is a cooperative 2-player game that was on Kickstarter back from November 2018.  It promised delivery in October 2019, and it just delivered a few days ago to me March 14th, 2020.   It is a space-themed game, with a Star Trek Federation “tip of the hat”.  But, the Federation is much more … brutally profit minded in this game.

First Day!

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Back of the Box

So, when I first got this box, I was excited!  I set aside some time to punch it out and play my first game.  After two hours of punching out cardboard, I decided I would wait until the next day to play my first game.  There is a LOT of cardboard to punchout!

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So … much .. cardboard.  The leftover punchout Skeletons …

I normally keep all the punchout skeletons (see here), but there is NO WAY I can keep them in this game (at least, not inside the box).  There is just SO MUCH CARDBOARD!

Hexes make up the world: there are quite a few of them (a lot of them are repeated).

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There are a number of hearts (for representing lonliness) and stomachs (for representing hunger) and a variety of generic tokens (see above).

Without a doubt, most of the cardboard taking up the box are the monsters.  There are “about 6” tokens for every monster in the game.  There are a LOT of monsters!  They have thought ahead and given us baggies for the monsters … a baggie for every six monsters!

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So, it’s very cool that they have a plastic baggie for every type of Creature, it is OVERWHELMING.  The game barely fits together when you put everything back in the box.

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So many plastic baggies for the creatures!

If you are exhausted just looking at the pictures, imagine having to punch it all out!

Art and Graphic Design

The art in this game feels like a throw back to a different time.  For some reason, this game “feels” like Nemo’s War and games from a bygone era.

The art is definitely not super hi quality art … it feels like “dated” art.  But you know what?  It works in this game.  This game feels like it’s a “kit” for exploring space back in the 70s.  What little art in the game is mostly on the monster tokens and the hexes.

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Most of the art is either on the Creatures or Hexes

EVERYTHING ELSE in the game is written with a “dated” typewriter type font, with a few colors here and there.

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The game has completely embraced the dated theme, and, you know what?  It works for it.  This game will not win any awards for best art or graphic design, but it’s very functional and it works for this game.

The Rulebook

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The Rulebook is decent.  But it’s long, because this is a fairly complicated game.  The rulebook is over 28 pages, and describes a lot of rules, particularly for describing the monsters’ behaviours in the game.  Be aware that it will take some time to get through the rulebook.

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The game does talk about the components, but this game shows no pictures.  It only sorta describes the components. This was kind of frustrating (“Why are there 24 + 16 Anomaly cards?  What does the +16 mean?”), but I was able to sort of puzzle most everything out.  Usually, the +XXX meant that there were extra cards of that type for a particular mission.

Set-Up

The Set-up doesn’t show a picture of how the game looks, but it does show abstract representations of how the game should look. There are plusses and minuses to this method (Plus: easier to describe the cards and show more info, Minus: You can’t see what everything should look like EXACTLY on the table).  It worked ok.

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The first set-up!

I would have loved a picture (like the one above) showing set-up of my first game, but now that I have done it, it’s not too hard.

Tone

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So, this game has a sense of humor.  You can first see that when you open the box!  (See above!)

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Wrong Side! Humor!

All through out the game, there are little funny puns, dry humor, and little digs here and there.  This dry sense of humor accents the old dated feel, and again makes the game a little more.  The Rulebook was a little hard to get through, but the little touches of humor (nothing distracting) helped make it a little bit easier to read.

Only Two-Player Rules?

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This game has only rules for TWO PLAYERS.  That’s it.  This is a 2-Player game.

Normally, I would rant a little here (“Why can’t you have solo rules?  Please follow Saunders’ Law!“), but I will step back for a second before I present some solo rules.

The is 2-Player and doesn’t allow communication unless both players are on the same space.  Period.   I believe you are allowed to see what the other player is doing, but you are not allowed any communication (“No head scratching, no poignant coughs”) until both players are on the same hex space.  Thematically,  you have to be together to talk (and some silly thematic explanation like “The Corporation can’t afford comms, sorry!”).

Mechanically, the game MAKES you come together every so often or you get too lonely and die!  Seriously!  At the end of every turn, both players take “One Loneliness”, and if you ever have 5 Loneliness Tokens, you die of Loneliness!!  So, you are forced, by the mechanics of the game,  to get together every few turns.  In the meantime, though, YOU CAN’T TALK!

It’s hard to have solo rules when the game enforces “Loneliness”.

Solo Rules

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Can we even have solo rules?

So, I understand why it’s hard to have solo rules.   How do you turn off your brain and just run each character separately?  Well, you can!  Two simpler example of this are the solo rules for Shipwreck Arcana and Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons!

In the solo rules for both of those games, you have to switch roles and “ignore” the information from a previous rule.  You can do that here as well!

To enforce this, I have a pencil and paper and “write down” what our goals are while both players are together.  When the two players are together, they can talk and broadly strategize.  I physically write down what we say to make it clear what we “know” together!  Once both characters separate, you play each character independently.  Each player is still allowed to see what the other player is doing and act on that  (based on actions what the other player is doing, as you are allowed to “see” what the other player is doing and what resources they have).  But you just can’t have them talk.

It takes some practice to play each character separately, but this can work as a solo mode.  Many times during solo play, you ask yourself “Do I know what the other guy is doing?”  If not, then you have to move forward using only the information you have (written down) or can see (from the actions/resources) of the other player.

First Game

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All Set-Up to Play!

My first game was a solo game using Mission 0 from the Mission book.  (Oh! Did I forget to mention that this game has Missions that changes up the game?  Sorry!)   Mission 0 has you build 3 Scout Towers.  In doing so, you get to do something simple while still exploring, gather resources, exploring, fighting, and doing the majority of things you do in a main game!

You’ll notice in the picture above that I have the Rulebook open.  You will have your nose in this rulebook THE ENTIRE TIME.  There are just so many rules.

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Game Summary Card (only 1?)

Luckily, the game has a ROUND summary card which really helps the flow of the game. Even though the Rulebook was always open, this little card helped moved the game along.

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My first game took about 1.5 hours, although a lot of that time was resolving rules.  The game itself was probably 30 minutes.  I explored and built hexes.   That part sort of reminded me of me of Robinson Crusoe as you explore the island (or planet in this case).  Each hex you explore has “something” revealed: you role a die to figure that out!

  1. Resource: a cube endemic to that Biome type
  2. Monster: Gulp!
  3. Anomaly:  Something random from the Anomaly deck?
  4. Resource Track: More resources, like a mineral vein

I think the Exploration was my favorite part of the game!

Creatures

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In my first game, I only had one creatures.  I got VERY LUCKY in my exploration die roles.

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Each creature that comes out has SO MANY RULES.  Size, Habitat, Threat Radios, Pack Size, preferred Biome, type, diet, behaviors …  (see above).

Here’s the thing:  the Creatures are sooo complicated, the game says you can have a 3-Player game if the third player runs the monsters!  After playing just one creature, I am not sure I played him correctly!  It was aggressive, but he preferred a particular Biome.  So, when I left his Threat Radius, does it still move?  Maybe back to it’s preferred Biome?  Or does it try to move towards the last time it could detect me?  Both seemed reasonable, but the rules weren’t 100% clear when it came to Creature movement.

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Looking through every bag for the creature I want …

Oh yes, it’s very hard to find the Creature you want, as you have to search linearly through every bag!  I think to get a sharpie, put the name on each bag and put the in alphabetical order so I can find each creature much faster (log time)!  I just haven’t done that yet.

Conclusion

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A Winning game for Mission 0!

Back in the early 80s, I used to go to Wargames West every Friday night.   I played all sorts of different games at the store.  This feels like one of those games I used to play.

I liked this game, it felt like a throwback!  It sorta reminded me of Robinson Crusoe  (from its exploration and building) meets Nemo’s War (from it’s style, presentation and rulebook).  I think you REALLY NEED TO PLAY THIS SOLO before you try to teach it to someone else.  And you absolutely need to punch it out and organize it before you even show anybody this!  There is SO MUCH WORK to punch this out.

It’s going to be hard for me to play this with only 2 people, because it seems like I never have just two players: it’s either solo or 3 (or more).  I CAN see playing it solo and I CAN see playing it 3 players (with the third player running the monsters).  Playing solo (with the solo rules I have) is a bit tough:  it’s too easy to “cheat” and tell yourself what you are doing, but I kind of like that exercise.

Hopefully, you can get a sense of whether this is for you based on my description of the gameplay and art and tone.  At the end of the day, I liked it despite the perceived complexity.

 

Review of Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons. Part I: Unboxing and First Impressions and some Solo Rules

Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons, Ravensburger, 2020 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

I had seen that Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons was available from Amazon for March 2nd.  I went ahead and pre-ordered it, expecting it to arrive this week.  For “some reason” (probably money), it was delayed and Amazon asked me if I wanted to still get it … one month later.  Nope.

I went to Target: I saw that it was available on their website …was it in the store?  Ah rats. I didn’t see it.  Was it up front because it was new?  I looked around and didn’t find it.  I was about to give up when an employee asked me:

“Can I help you?”

“Do you have the new Wonder Woman board game?”  (Employee searches on his phone).

“You mean this one?  It’s in the back … we haven’t put it out yet”

Viola!  He brought it to me … and I went home and immediately played it.

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Wonder Woman from Target!

Unboxing

The box is nice, although something about the box art strikes me as  … off.  I like the art, but the proportions of the ladies (?) seem off a little bit?  Honestly, it’s very minor.

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The game looks good when you open it up:

The board itself has almost a “piece of art” on the back.  That’s pretty cool.  I would have perhaps enjoyed a different map for gameplay, but the art was pretty cool.

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The back of part of the board …
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The entire back of the board! Wow!

There are .. little cubes.   They are fine.

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Little cubes …

The cards aren’t linen-finished and they seem a bit rough, but I really like the art on them.   They are easy to read and easy to understand.

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Hero Cards
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Villain Cards
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Relic Cards (go into Hero deck)

Components

The board looks great.

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Main board: looks great!

There are minis!! The minis are much nicer than I expected!  They look really nice!

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Minis! In a nice plastic insert too!

The bad guys just get standees from the punchboard (hah hah).

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The resource cubes remind me of the cubes in Lords of Waterdeep: the cubes in Lords of Waterdeep are supposed to be Clerics, Fighters, etc.  I always thought that was a very weak corrrelation and kind of cheap.  I have the same problem here: the orange cubes are “Ares troops”, the purple cubes are “corrupted Amazons” and the white cubes are “Warriors”.  Really?   I feel like those are poor choices.  Shouldn’t black cubes be Ares troops?  (All the bad guys cards are black!)  And maybe blood red cubes or grey cubes should  be corrupted Amazons.  It’s fine, it just seemed … athematic/cheap. EDIT: maybe it’s for color-blind people ?  If so, I withdraw my objection to the colors chosen.

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Little cubes …

Solo Game

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Intro game: Playing Solo!

Gah!  No solo game! (Hello?  Saunders’ Law?) The box says “2-5 Players”.  So, I did a standard “trick” for solo play: I played two characters.  This worked pretty well, but there is some subtlety here.  In the game, you aren’t allowed to talk once you’ve seen your face down cards.  You have two cards up you can all see, but everyone also has 3 face down cards.  I think, thematically, you are strategizing, then once you get into the field, you can no longer communicate as much.

For solo play, this can still work:

  1. Strategize with yourself what each character will do “in broad terms”.  I.e., “Wonder Woman (character 1) will go after Ares and Artemis (character 2) will go after Ares troops on the other side of the board.  I plan to use one of my face up cards in action spot 3 because it will double the effect!  Meet up with me on the same space if you can!!”
  2. Turn over the 3 face down cards for character 1 and plan out her turn! Assign 3 of the 5 action cards to the 3 action spaces FACE DOWN.
  3. Move on to the character 2.  Without looking/remembering what you did for character 1, go ahead and plan out character 2.  This can be a little tricky, but try not to remember what cards you played  for character 1 when you plan character 2’s turn.  Assign 3 of the 5 action cards to the 3 action spaces FACE DOWN.
  4. Turn over each player’s action 1 spot simultaneously.  Decide what to do (which action on the card).  You can perform these in any order!  (Player-Selected Turn Order).   Then do the same for the action 2 spot, then the action 3 spot.  Basically, just like a 2-Player game, except you are playing two characters.

I was able to get through a full solo game with these rules.  Honestly, it worked pretty well.   (It felt “sorta” like the solo rules for The Shipwreck Arcana: you have to “forget” what you did as one role when you do the next.)

Rulebook

The rulebook is, in general, fantastic.  It’s easy to read and follow along with.

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Rulebook is quite good

The first pages show all the components.

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Components!

The next pages show how to set-up the game.

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The rulebook teaches the main rules, then shows exceptions.

This rulebook made it very easy to get going very quickly.  This is one of the better rulebooks I’ve read in a while!  My only complaint, I think, is there was no section for FAQs or typical questions; I had a few questions when playing that I am sure others have had too …

“Can I pick up a Relic if I land there?  Do I have to wait to the end of all actions or just one action?  It says at the end of the action, which implies I can pick it up immediately, but I don’t know”

Game Summary

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There’s even player summary cards!

The game flowed pretty quickly: Ares acts and moves, then “does something bad” (adds more troops, the corrupted Amazons move towards the palace, something like that …).

The good guys (pardon me, good gals) then do good stuff.  Generally, each player gets 3 actions, chosen from one of 4 emblems (symbols) on a card that they have chosen to play.

More concretely:

  1. Each character gets 2 face up action cards each.
  2. Players look at their face up cards and “broadly strategize” (honestly, not a pun).  Players talk about what they are going to do and maybe even decide to use one of their face up cards.
  3. Each player then gets 3 face down cards.  No more talking.  Each player now assigns 3 of their 5 cards to their 3 slots. FACE DOWN.
  4. All players now simultaneously show the action card in slot 1.  In Player-Selected Turn Order, the players cooperatively decide who should play what action from their card.  Once they are done, repeat for slot 2 and slot 3.

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The good stuff the characters can do: FIGHT, SUMMON WARRIORS, WISDOM, MOVE.

  • FIGHT (sword): do damage to Ares’ troops (2 swords) or Ares himself (4 swords).
  • SUMMON WARRIORS (star): If you are on a “starred” Location, summon Warriors (white cubes) which you can use to give extra pluses if they are on your Location.
  • WISDOM (book): Turn corrupted Amazons back to good (well, send them back for therapy: they don’t come back on the board)
  • MOVE (footprints): Either move or use 3 move to take out a barricade between Locations.

Once all the Good Gals have gone, your Defense goes down for every Ares’ troop on the board or corrupted Amazon in the Palace (by 2).  If you reach 0 defense, you lose!  If you take Ares down to 0 Hit Points you win!

First Game

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The first game was easy to set-up and get going.

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I played conservatively, and I think it took about 2 hours.  Which is surprising, because the box says 45-60 minutes!   I went through the Hero deck about 2.5 times, and I just barely beat Ares when his last card came out.  Turns out, I didn’t need to beat him then: I could reshuffle his deck and the game keeps going …  I probably could have played another 15 minutes, but I went for the final shot at Ares!

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I had fun, but it felt a little repetitive after a while.  I think it’s because my play style was to always eliminate all threats (Ares’ troops, corrupted Amazons) when possible and do damage to Ares if I could.  Basically, I kept the Bad Guys under tight control, and they were never much of a threat.

I never used the SUMMON WARRIOR action.  Ever.  There’s only a few places on the board where you CAN summon warriors, so first it’s hard to do.  And frankly, warriors seem like a liability.  Why?  Because so many of Ares’ actions are “Corrupt Amazon warriors” (turning them into corrupted Amazons).  So, I spend the resources to summon them, only to have to have turn into something I have to deal with?  No thanks.  It never made sense in my game.   I don’t know if other games will go like this, but I am very concerned that this will be an issue.

Conclusion

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A Winning Game!

So, I like this game.  I had fun.  Some components, like the mins and the board are great, the cards are decent (the art is good, but the card quality is just okay), and the cubes are probably the weakest components.  I am concerned that the game might be repetitive, and that the SUMMON WARRIORS doesn’t ever get used.  Luckily, there’s still 2 more Big Bad Villains to fight (Circe and Cheetah), so the game may take on a whole different dimension.

I plan to play some more solo games and some more multi-player games.  Stay Tuned.

 

 

 

 

Review of Unicornus Knights: Part II.

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Some of you might recall me doing the Review of Unicornus Knights: Part I some time ago.  Basically, I enjoyed the game enough, but was frustrated with the rulebook.  I knew they were doing a 2nd version of the rulebook (but NOT the game), so I  wanted to see if it were easier to play.   Honestly, it fell by the wayside and I didn’t get a chance to try out the new rulebook.  Recently, however, one of the designers (Kuro) of Unicornus Knights was launching a new game on Kickstarter (Testament) and that reignited my interest in trying out the new Rulebook.

New Rulebook

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The new v2.0 rulebook on the left and the original (paper) rulebook that came with the game on the right.

The updated version 2.0 of the Unicornus Knights rulebook is available here.  I went ahead and had both versions opened at the same time so I could compare and contrast the two.

I very quickly learned something new that I hadn’t known in my other playthroughs: the empire tiles are black and the kingdom tiles are brown.  How/Why did I did not know/notice that!?  Because the new rulebook points it out (above, upper right) and the old rulebook does not (above, lower right) right.  So, right away, I am happier with the new rulebook!  And yes, there are definitely differences!

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The new Rulebook points out something obvious that helps you sort the tiles!  This was NOT in the original rulebook!

Set-Up

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Set-up from the original rulebook

Interestingly, the basic set-up has changed and is less random.  All the Kingdom Tiles are on the left and right rather than randomly mixed in the last 6 placed.

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I think this is partially a “simplify set-up issue” (it’s always nicer when the set-up is easier) and a “make the game less swingy”.   If too many kingdom tiles come up in the middle of the board, you could see how that would make the game easier as the Princess could simply stroll through those regions.  Now, the game always starts with the Kingdom tiles on the left and right (13-18).

I am glad to see them addressing balance: it shows that the changes to this rulebook aren’t cursory!  They represent some major changes … which is good. This rulebook needed some major changes.

Playthrough

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Set-up of a solo game based on the New v2.0 of the rulebook

How did my first playthrough go?  It went well!  It seems like they addressed most of the issues I had with the rulebook:

  1. Combat: By far my biggest problem with the old rulebook was combat.  The updated section on Aggressive, Normal, and Defensive units seemed to answer a lot of questions.  The sections had more examples of combat.  I haven’t played this game in some time, so I forgot a lot of it.  But, when I played using the new rulebook, I wasn’t confused.  Or rather, I could find examples/explanations for most of what I wanted.  I think the new rulebook handles combat far better.
  2. Fate: Rather than being a “sidebar”, Fate was now integrated into the rulebook main flow.  As it should be!  (My complaint from the previous version of the rulebook was that Fate was in a sidebar.  Fate is FAR too interesting to be in a sidebar you could miss!)

A few things fell by the wayside:

  1. Player Summary: It would have been nice if the last page of the new rulebook were a player summary.  This isn’t any deal breaker, but a player summary on the last page (which could have been printed for all players) would have been nice.
  2. Notating Fate: Fate is a pairwise relationship, and I feel like there isn’t a good way to do that.  You can see from my picture above that the gameboard TAKES UP THE WHOLE BOARD, so their suggestion of moving cards around isn’t really practical.  Some extra tokens might have been nice, but it’s not something a new rulebook could do. 🙂

Solo Mode

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A winning solo mode game!

My biggest complaint was that there WAS STILL NO SOLO MODE  IN  THE GAME!  Seriously, this game is great as a solo game!  So, what I am doing to play solo?  I am just playing 3 kingdom characters at once.   That’s it.  And it works GREAT!  I am really surprised the updated rulebook didn’t add something like this:

A solo player can play 3 kingdom characters at once (as if playing a 3-player game). Like the 2-Player game (when the  players may decide the order the kingdom characters play), the solo gamer can play the 3 kingdom characters in any order he chooses.

Okay, that second sentence is strictly not necessary, but (a) I love Player Selected Turn Order and (b) it’s consistent with what the game does in 2-Player mode.

Conclusion

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With the newer rulebook, this is a great game.  I was able to get all the way through a game without feeling too confused.  And all the stuff I loved before, I loved again.  Unicornus Knights made the number 4 position on my Top 10 Cooperative Card and Board Games of 2017.   And you know what?  I like this game even more now.  Maybe it’s because I am not as frustrated as I was those other times with the original Rulebook.

This is a great game.  But ONLY if you get the new rulebook. Here’s the link again.

 

Click to access UK-Rules-LowRes.pdf

Click to access UK-Rules-LowRes.pdf

Cooperative Games on Kickstarter February 20, 2020

There’s a number of very big and  very interesting cooperative board game on Kickstarter right now.  Our cup runneth over!

Marvel United

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cmon/marvel-united/description

Play as one of your favorite Marvel superheroes … in Chibi form?  There’s a lot of miniatures, and lot of Kickstarter-only miniatures!  If you are even slightly interested in this game, it may behoove you to get it on Kickstarter because of all the exclusives.  I don’t know if the game itself is any good, but Eric Lang is one of the designers: he’s a well-known and respect CMON designer (he was the designer on Blood Rage and Rising Sun to name a few).

Batman: The Animated Series Adventures

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https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/idwgames/batman-the-animated-series-adventures?ref=user_menu

Marvel not doing it for you?  How about DC?  Yep, if you like the Batman universe and wanted a fully cooperative game, then … this game has a cooperative mode.  Now, the default mode is one vs. many, but if Detective: City of Angels has taught us anything, a one vs. many game can have a great cooperative mode.

Like Marvel United, this one has a ton of Kickstarter exclusive minis, so again, if you are at all inclined to like this, better scoop it up now!

Testament by Japanime

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/370924922/testament-2/description

This one isn’t doing as well, but I am very excited for this cooperative game for one reason: the designer is the same as Unicornus Knights, a favorite co-op of mine from a few years ago (it made my number 4 spot in my favorite cooperative games of 2017, just below Spirit Island).  So, even though the rulebook for Unicornus Knights needed a LOT of work (see my review here), I loved the game! I hope they learned their lessons so that the rulebook for Testament will be better!!!   Although the game  has funded, it needs some more love.  Check it out!

Aeon’s End: Outcasts

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2012515236/aeons-end-outcasts?ref=user_menu

Although I think I might already have too much Aeon’s End content, it’s a fantastic game! Aeon’s End made the top spot(s) on my Top 10 Cooperative Deckbuilders.  Aeon’s End: Outcasts is a big box expansion adding more!  You can also go back and pick up any of the original Aeon’s End stuff too … see my review here of Aeon’s End and War Eternal.

Yes, I backed this.  Like all the other ones too.  Shut-up.

 

A Short Review of a Ridiculous Game: Spirit of 77

My First Cooperative Game!

What was my first cooperative game?

This is a cooperative games blog.  We have mostly done Board and Card Games, but we have rarely have alluded to Role Playing Games (like Dungeons and Dragons/Pathfinder in this post).  BUT: the first cooperative game I played was the RPG Dungeons and Dragons.  Our characters worked together as a party to take down some big bad, explore the forest, heal each other, and save each other.   So, even though we nominally only talk about Board and Card Games, RPGs have a special place in my heart and … now my blog.

Get The Funk Out!

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Spirit of 77: Get the Funk Out!

Spirit of 77 is a Role Playing Game set in the late 70s (77?).  It’s a cooperative experience as players work together to solve some of the most RIDICULOUS adventures you have every played.  Seriously.

Junkerman discovered Spirit of 77 at Isle of Games and was immediately smitten.  The idea that players take on the role of a 70s trope character sounded so funny!  Pick your favorite 70s TV show, and become that character!  70s cop?  70s martial artist?  70s Love Boat?  70s Fantasy Island?   Take your character and guide them through an adventure!

RPG

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The RPG itself is fairly simple.   It reminds me a little of FATE as you have plot points and you have simple roles.  You can succeed on a role, succeed with a cost, fail with a minor cost or fail miserably (paraphrase).  The fun part of the game is that you can “offer” up to the DJ (Oh yes, the Gamemaster is called the DJ for reasons that will become apparent) thematic reasons why your roll failed.

“I try to help BigFoot because he’s on fire!  I (roll) and succeed … but with minor cost.”

“So… what’s the cost?”

“Umm, I succeed in putting BigFoot out, but my afro is on fire now!”

The BEST part of the game is when you fail miserably.  Because, you don’t know what will happen next!

The DJ

One of the funnest parts of the game was that the Gamemaster, (I mean DJ), has a playlist for his adventure.  And this worked great and was very thematic.  As new events happen, the DJ would break out the next song (a 70s classic of course) and introduce the new event.

My favorite song: “Oh, that smell!” when we encountered the giant manure pile.

The Two Major Rules

Junkerman’s main rule: things that could NEVER succeed in real life will succeed in the Spirit of 77 world.   A simple example: CC’s character had a mechanic follow him around.  After we went through the time warp in the land of the lost (really), we needed him.   Even though we NEVER said he came with us through the time warp, he just showed up … because.

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The dudes

And that’s the second rule: Given Choices, the Funniest One wins.  Our ethic in playing this game was  like the writer’s room for a comedy TV show: we were constantly trying to outdo each other and make each other laugh with ridiculous choices.  For example, we were given a chance to train BigFoot to do ONE complex thing.  What did we have him do?  Drive an AMC Pacer and jump 20 Ford Pintos in the Pacer.  Because it was funny (well, you had to be there I guess).

 

Conclusion

Image result for Sanford and Son

I grew up watching Sanford and Son the 70s TV show, so I thought it be fun to be Lamont Sanford, aka Son.   The premise would be that Lamont was trying to figure out how his father died.  And course, it was even funnier that Lamont was haunted by the ghost of his Dad who would show up and give him hints … “You Big Dummy!  You went through a warp gate!”

Our  last game ended when Bigfoot, whom we had befriended, was driving an AMC Pacer.  He had to break the top of the car so he could drive.  To win, we had to get Bigfoot to jump 20 cars (all Ford Pintos), while catching our other character in the air. Fireworks were going off in the background as Bigfoot jumped the pintos …

This is the most ridiculous game I have ever played!  And I have never had more fun.   As long as you have a group that doesn’t take itself too seriously, this can be the most fun RPG you have ever played.   We grew up in the 70s, and so maybe part of the fun was just making the 70s references.   But, we all had a great time.   This is a great cooperative game that is probably under your radar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Star Trek: Frontiers — Part I: Unboxing and First Impressions

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Cover of Star Trek: Frontier

I picked up Star Trek: Frontiers sometime ago: It came out in 2016 and my friend Josh and I have been “meaning” to play it for almost 2.5 years now!  We even had a sign-up for it at the first RichieCon in  2017,  but for whatever reason, it got dropped on the floor (not literally).  I decided to get it out this weekend and give it a try.   I don’t know why!  I think because it was at the bottom of a pile of games, and I was afraid it was going to get smooshed …

Mage Knight Retheme

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So, Star Trek: Frontiers is a re-skin of the big hit Mage KnightMage Knight is a fully cooperative game (sorta) in which Knights work together to take down big bosses in a fantasy world.  Star Trek: Frontiers (STF) is all about the (newer) Star Trek universe … mostly a Deep Space 9 universe.   In STF, you can play Captain Cisco (from DS9) piloting the Defiant, Jean-Luc Picard (from Star Trek: The next Generation) piloting the Enterprise, General Martok (Klingon General from DS9), or Lursa and B’Etor (the Klingon sisters from both TNG  and DS9).  Choose a ship!

If you like the later Star Trek (DS9 and TNG), this theme is just for you.

Cartman Cooperative

cartman

So Star Trek: Frontiers is a fully cooperative game … mostly.  Sometime ago, I played Mage Knight and noticed it’s a different “flavor” of cooperative, which we dubbed Cartman Cooperative.  This is where each character tends to “do what they want”: it represents a fragile alliance of characters.    Think Gloomhaven or Legendary, where all players are working together (and they have to to win), but in the end, there’s some notions of victory (victory points, loot).  To be clear, Cartman Cooperative  is NOT semi-coop!  It’s still fully cooperative, but (notionally) each player is more independent.  Honestly, this depend on your group! We play Legendary (ignoring the victory points) and Gloomhaven (changing the loot rules) fully cooperatively: It’s easy to play Star Trek: Frontiers completely cooperatively as well.  Having said that, the Cartman Cooperative notion is very thematic: the alliance between the Klingons and the Federation are fragile, and even within the Federation and The Klingon Empire, alliances can be tense.

Solo Rules

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Solo rules from the Main Rulebook, NOT the walkthough!

 

Are there solo rules (i.e., Saunders’ Law) ?  Yes and No.  The main walkthough makes you play 2-4 players, but it refers to the solo scenario (above). So, there are solo rules, but they are very much outside the main rule set.  This is hard to deal with because the main walkthrough is SO DENSE WITH RULES.  The last thing you want are “auxiliary” rules  which requires to play a second “dummy” character.

Honestly, it wasn’t that hard to “fudge” the walkthough and just play one ship: all I had to do was use one less tile from the tile deck.  You can follow all the other rules and just play one ship just fine.

Components

The components are pretty nice.  Each player gets a ship (I, of course, chose the Defiant with Cisco commanding) and it’s a nice little mini ship.

The Enterprise and the Defiant

There are a LOT of components, and the game just BARELY FITS in the box.

The Borg cubes (which you don’t fight in your first game) are pretty cool.

I like the components a lot, but a lot of them are a little dark!  The printing seems just a little darker than it should be?  Sometimes they were hard to read and distinguish.

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Tiles and tokens are all very dark: sometimes a little hard to read!

The cards have screen captures from the show: you will either love this or hate it!

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All cards have screen captures from the shows (TNG and DS9)

In the end, I enjoyed all the screen caps (“I think that’s from that DS9 episode where they fought the Dominion!”) and thought they were very thematic.  I do know some people tend NOT to like them.  Caveat Emptor.

Overall, I liked the game components.

Rulebook and Walkthrough

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Like Mage Knight, Star Trek: Frontiers is a very heavy game with both a Game Walkthough (see above) and a Full Rulebook (see below).  To ease you into the rules, the walkthough introduces most of the rules very piecemeal as you play (so you don’t have to capture all the rules right up front).  Honestly, this a great way to learn the game. Frankly, because of the complexity, you almost HAVE to learn the game this way!  This game has a LOT of rules!

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Full Rulebook: you only use this AFTER you’ve used the full Walkthrough

First Play: Playing through the Game Walkthrough

The Walkthough is quite good.  Like all good rulebooks, it shows you what the game looks like all set-up:

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Showing what the game looks like set-up

The one thing it DOESN’T do is give you a components list!  There are a LOT of components in this game, and I felt like a page with a list of components would have gone a loooong way towards helping you  get familiar with the game.   Basically, as you read the rules, you have to go hunting through the components to find what you want.  There’s a mental disconnect there: I have to switch between “search the components” and “learn the rules”, which can be a bit jarring with so many components.  This is no way a deal-breaker, but it seems more like a missed opportunity.

The font also seems very small in both books.   Arguably, it allows you to keep “concepts” strictly on a page (so I get that), but I am in the camp that prefers larger fonts.  My opinion.

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Font seems a little small

I did like that they used the Star Trek font for the headers, but a NORMAL font for the actual text!   The Star Trek font made the rulebook for thematic, but the NORMAL font made the rulebook readable!! (I hated how Obliveaon used the Comic Book font for the main text).

Introduce Concepts As You Play!

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Summary Cards for Different entities in the game

The main thing the walkthrough does exceptionally: it introduce rulesets AS YOU PLAY.  This works exceptionally well.  There’s both a rules section JUST for that entity/ruleset and a summary card.   For example, the first time you encounter a Class-M planet, there are rules in the Walkthough (luckily, in the order you expect to encounter them as you play) and a Summary card (see above).

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Rules introduced as you play

I likened this to having to “swap disks” when playing a computer game (for those of you who remember swapping disks for adventure games):  a new landscape comes out, and you have to change disks!

Regardless, this concept worked REALLY WELL: introduce concepts as you go: you only need to read the new rule section when you get there.  For my first play, I only glanced at the real Rulebook once or twice: my head was in the Walkthough most of the time.  When I DID look at the rulebook, it seemed fairly well organized.

First Play

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I found the Borg Ship!!!!

On my first play, I was able to get through and find the Borg ship!! Once you find the Borg Ship, the Walkthough is over.  Along the way, I fought Romulans, beamed down an away team, took over a Dominion space station, gathered some new Crew for my ship and Space Stations and planets, and even delved into “Unknown Technology”.    It was really fun!

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Crewman you can recruit to your deck!

At the end of the day, Star Trek: Frontiers has a lot of deck-building with hex-and-counter combat/movement.  There’s also a little bit of resource gathering.  But, many of the cool things you get in the game are cards that go to your hand: deck-building seems to take center stage!  Advancing your rank?  Get a new Advanced Action Card for your deck!  New Technology?  To your deck!  New crewman? To your deck!  But the way you handle each of those things is very different!  The notion of combat is still very important to the game: you fight Romulons, Borg, and Dominion … and you HAVE to if you want to level up so you can actually have a chance against the final BIG BOSS.

Level Up As You Play!

One of the things the game does well is that it has many ways to “level up” as you play:  You can get experience, resources, or cards!  You always get “something” on your turn!  You are always advancing, and that feels good!!  When it’s your turn, do you want to go to a planet and get a crewman?  (Get a Card!)  Do you need to get resources at a Starbase? (Gather Resources!)  Do you want to explore a new Quadrant?  (Get Experience!)  Do you want to fight Romulons? (Get Experience!)

As you play, you are either upping you experience, deck-building, or gathering resources!  The experience board (see upper right picture) tracks your experience, and when you get enough, you either get a new card and token or a new skill (upper right).  (You can also up your hand limit when you get experience).   You can deck-build by visiting all the locations in the galaxy and recruit crew/tech/actions to your deck.

You can also gather resources (aka data tokens/crystals, the colored tokens above) to help you power your cards.  Every card in the game has basic action and an advanced:

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All cards have screen captures from the game

In the example above, if you spend a blue data token, you can get MOVE 4 instead of the base MOVE 2.

Thoughts on First Play

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Winning End game

In the end, I won!  I found the Borg Ship.  As you can see, there are a LOT of components.  And there are a LOT of rules.  I actually ended up playing this game over two days!  On Saturday, I set-up and ran through a few turns.   Honestly, I was pretty overwhelmed on the set-up and I just had to put the game down—it was too much for one full sitting!  I came back the next day and finished my game.  It probably took 6 hours from start to finish (including set-up).  It’s hard to separate the set-up and play time because of the “learn as you go” nature of the walkthrough.

There are a lot of rules.  I know I’ve said that a number of times, but you need to understand what you are getting yourself into if you play this game: Lots of rules, dense rulebook, lots of components.

At the end of the day (well, at the end of the second day), I had fun!  It was thematic, the game felt like a Star Trek game (even though I know it’s a Mage Knight reskin), and I really enjoyed all the decisions.

Star Trek vs Mage Knight

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Weirdly, even though I like the Star Trek game better, I feel like the Mage Knight game has better components.  The Star Trek box is “weird”:

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Weird flap box?

It feels “cheap” with the fold-up corners, versus the “real box” of Mage Knight.  Also, the cards and components of the original game seem slightly better.

I have played Mage Knight, but it’s been a while.   My understanding is that the Diplomacy is new in Star Trek: Frontiers (and not in Mage Knight).  In my follow on review, I will explore this some more.

Conclusion

Of all the Star Treks, Deep Space 9 was my favorite.  It reminds me of a time when life was simpler. In Grad School,  me and some friends would get together with and watch Star Trek (both TNG and DS9).   Good times.

This game really has embraced the Star Trek theme!   Especially the Deep Space 9 Star Trek! And I think that theme permeates the game. Star Trek: Frontiers is a good game (well, duh, it’s basically Mage Knight).  I think I would actually prefer Star Trek: Frontiers to Mage Knight because of the theme.    But, this is just based on my first solo play of the base game.  I need to get this to the table with some friends.  Stay Tuned!  (Let’s see if I can get my friend to look at the rulebook beforehand …  “I have to read HOW many pages of rules before we play???”)