Phil Dreizen

November 2013 - Board Game mini-Reviews

This past month I played quite an overwhelming number of games, many of them new to me. The month started with a Halloween board game party, and included quite a bit of civilization games. Here I list some of the notable ones that I remember and some "brief" thoughts on them. I'll expand some of these into longer reviews in the future, but I wanted to get something down now while still fresh.

  • Room 25 - a game themed on the movie Cube. You're working with the other players to find the hidden exit room, but some players are secret traitors. The traitors can continue to work against you after they're revealed. I like it - it's fun to throw people into acid filled rooms, and it's short enough for the kind of game it is.

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Game - I love this game the more I play it. One player is the Big Bad and minions, and the rest of the players are the Scooby Gang. There are different win conditions based on each of the first 4 seasons of the show. It's one of the more thematic games I've played, as it really feels like a season of Buffy.

  • Werewolf - first time for me in years. I still enjoy the game and prefer it over a game like Avalon. Werewolf is just silly fun with a lot of stupid false accusations. Avalon seems more serious than it should be, given what it is.

  • Advanced Civilization - I've already written a lengthy review on the blog.

  • Tempus - I played this just a week after Adv Civ. It's an underrated game - essentially a eurogame with a Civ theme, which may be the reason for the low ratings on BGG. But many of the elements are there: expanding on a map, building cities, managing a population. There is no tech tree, but each turn you race to get to the new technologies first, which is a neat mechanic.

  • I downloaded Roll through the Ages for iOS, only playing it solo. Impressive theming given it's a dice game. The game has multiple paths to victory - you can score points with techs and or building monuments. You can buy "workers," increasing your dice pool, but you'll need to keep them fed with food. It uses the Yahtzee mechanic well.

  • Darkest Night - I soloed the game to learn it and enjoyed myself, but it fell flat when I broke it out with a friend of mine. The game is heavy on dice. Dice are used to resolve the event cards, which could really use some flavor text, to move the necromancer, to search for items like keys. Since you only get 1 action per turn, and an action might be simply a failed roll to find a key...I do want to try the game again, but will do it with the expansion. It introduces quests, and gives new ways to get items.

  • Race for the Galaxy was popular 2-3 years ago. But its popularity has died down, partly due to how hard it is to teach. I love it, and am on a mission to bring it back. I managed to get in 3 plays of the game in three different venues, so I'm on track. Also, it turns out that a new expansion, Alien Artifacts, is coming out this month and will, I hope, bring some interest back to the game.

  • I did a print-and-play of the original Dawn of the Dead board game, in preparation for my Halloween board game night. This game is the very first zombie game ever, and it's based on the best zombie movie. I played this solo for a bit. You're in the mall, and have to get to 4 "main doors" on opposite ends of the board, closing them to keep the zombies out. The zombies are slow and easy to kill, but they keep coming, and they move toward you automatically just for moving past them. I had a thematic moment when one group of humans, close to getting to a main door to close, had to run back to save the others. I have to comment: this game, which is from 1978, is sexist. Fran is stat-ed to be quicker to panic than Flyboy for no reason I can tell other than "she's a girl."

  • The real gem of the month is Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. This has to be the most thematic game I've played. It's a "Choose Your Own Adventure" style game. You play the Baker Street Irregulars, trying to solve a crime. Ostensibly, you're competing with Sherlock, trying to solve the mystery by following as few leads as possible. When you think you've solved the crime, you flip to the back of the book, answer the questions, and get scored. Sherlock will explain the mystery, and how he solved it in 4 or 5 leads as opposed to your 20+ leads, if you managed to solve it at all, given the paltry clues you have. This game isn't REALLY about beating Sherlock but being immersed in the theme. The writing is excellent, and reads like Doyle could have written it. I ended up playing this game 3 days in a row, and played it a 4th time a week later.

  • Lords of Waterdeep - A simple worker placement game with a very thin D&D theme. (Using euro cubes to represent rogues,wizards,fighters,and cleric is just ridiculous). The game has cards that allow for some direct conflict which makes it more "American style". I played the expansion which uses an interesting corruption mechanic which is somewhat difficult to explain. There's a pool of corruption tokens you can take to do very useful actions, but the more players take from the pool, the more each corruption token will hurt any players who have them. So the more you take, the more points you lose at the end game as other players take corruption. Ultimately, I much prefer Alien Frontiers to this, which is also a worker placement game with direct conflict.

  • Battlestar Galactica - The game does Cylons right. The players are trying to keep Battlestar Galactica alive for some number of FTL jumps, but there's a treacherous Cylon skinjob among the players working against the humans. The game consists of a series of events, players secretly use cards to try to succeed at the events, but the Cylon player will try to sabotage by placing cards that won't help the humans. I have mixed feeling about this one. There's a lot more to the game than just the events, which I like (as opposed to the Resistance, which is JUST this one mechanic). But on the other hand, the events are the only really interesting aspect of the game. Also: I was the Cylon this game, and I sucked at it, as I usually suck in these traitor games. But this one goes on for 3+ hours. And being a Cylon is tough for a new player - you can't exactly look at the actions you can take as a revealed Cylon while you're hidden lest you give yourself away. I would play this one again, but I'm not hooked.

  • I've been playing Puerto Rico on iOS quite a bit and think I've improved, given my performance at the IRL game I played this month.

  • I got Star Trek Fleet Captains for my birthday. (Thank you!) It's got a rep as the most thematic Star Trek game. One side takes the role of Klingons, the other as the Federation. You're trying to dominate an unexplored sector of space - going on scientific missions, gaining political influence over sectors of space, and most directly, fighting each other. You score victory points for completely missions of these different types. In the beginning of the game, you randomly draw your ships, which determine which of the 3 ways to win you'll be focusing on. A very neat aspect is you also build a "Command Deck" from sub-decks like "Strange New Worlds" or "Way of the Warrior" which you'll put together based on the kinds of missions you expect to be going on. Fleet Captains is a spiritual successor of sorts to Star Trek: The Adventure Game from 1985, which is also in the running for most thematic Trek game. Fleet Captains benefits from a lot of progress in board game mechanics, but since it focuses on the Federation more than say, an individual ship and crew, it doesn't quite feel like Trek the way Adventure Game does, which switches perspectives throughout the game. (An expansion that did more with Away Teams might fix that). Okay, I have a lot more to say about this game. For now, I'll just say I like it a lot and am looking foreword to playing it again.