Blood Rage Digital Edition Review (and physical game thoughts)

Blood Rage Cover Art
Released 2016
Designer Eric M. Lang
Publisher CMON (Website)
Players 2 – 4 (5 with expansion)
Playing Time 20 – 30 minutes per player
Category Resource Management
Hand Management
Area Majority
Minis on a Map
BoardGameGeek View on BGG
Released 2020
Platform Steam
Publisher Asmodee Digital (Website)
Developer Exozet (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1 – 5
Category Resource Management
Hand Management
Area Majority
Minis on a Map

To play Blood Rage alone, this is a great adaption. There are quite a few caveats, though.

The first in a series of games from Eric M. Lang and CMON, Blood rage mixes minis on a map with strong Euro game elements. Released about four years ago, Blood Rage had a lot of hype and for many just faded away.

I still remember my first game of Blood Rage fondly. It was at PAX Aus 2016, and I managed to luck my way into a Loki strategy win. What’s a Loki strategy? I tried to lose more than I won and got to penalise the winners and steal points.

But the bottom line is I only want to play Blood Rage with that general group. It was a group of people that know each other reasonably well, and in-game rivalry with smack talk and tit-for-tat making sub-games within the overall game. We all enjoy heavy games now and then, and while Blood Rage has heavy elements, it’s ‘medium’ style gameplay makes it more likely to hit the table.

So when Blood Rage Digital was announced with its own Kickstarter, I was intrigued. A lot of digital Kickstarters get started and go off the rails. CMON was (in my opinion) padding the finding by offering physical copies of the game at higher pricing. So I decided to sit and wait rather than back it.

But the game is here now, and I grabbed a copy.

Well, that’s interesting and all, but what is Blood Rage?

Blood Rage is a Viking/Norse Mythology based game for 2-4 players. This can be increased to five players with an expansion, and the digital version plays 5 out of the gate.

A lot of different game elements are blended into a glorious mess. At its core, you put your army on the board and fight to pillage villages for bonuses and Glory. There is card drafting and hand management, which adds strategy elements to the game.

This drafting also adds memory elements to the strategy. Each player has a selection of cards, you pick one, then pass the remaining cards to the next player. This means players see almost all cards that are available that round. But each round, a certain number of cards are never introduced into the selection, so you never know if someone beat you to a card or if it isn’t in that game.

Blood Rage Physical Components
Before you ask - yes, this takes ages to setup properly

When you are playing, you also have resource management to consider. Most actions cost Rage, so think of them as Action Points in most other games. You can only have a certain number of minis on the board, as denoted by your Horns. When fighting, you will earn Glory (points) for fighting, and you can upgrade the number of points you earn by upgrading your Axes.

Combat is relatively simple – the player with the highest strength in the contested area wins. Each player in combat must play one card during the battle. These cards can add strength, modify abilities, or be virtually ‘blank’ cards.

Blood Rage Physical Cards and Boards
It looks like a lot, and it is, but once you have the basics down information is easily read at a glance

At the end of each phase, Ragnarok happens. This destroys an area on the board and sends any mini in that area to Valhalla. During this part fo the phase, you can also complete Quests for more Glory.

At the end of three phases, the player with the most Glory wins.

Wait, what? That’s a lot of game to follow!

Blood Rage is a simple enough game, but it has a lot of ‘simple’ things to keep track of all at once. This is why I don’t consider Blood Rage a game for everyone. Only certain types of gamer will enjoy this sort of game style.

That said, Blood Rage is a lot simpler than many popular ‘heavy’ games, so it’s an excellent middle ground for a wider audience.

So I should pick up the physical copy?

If you can find one! The physical copy of Blood Rage also suffers from what I term CMON Kickstarteritis. Yes, I know that’s not a real word. :p

Blood Rage really shines with more players. The physical game lets you do up to 5 players with an expansion, but once you play the retail copy you quickly realise you need to Kickstarter exclusives to make the most of it.

It’s almost impossible to track down retail copies this far after it’s release, and if you can find a Kickstarter collection, it will either be a steal or incredibly expensive.

Blood Rage Physical Amazon Listing
This was a snap of Amazon.com Friday, June 5th. Remember, that's USD!

That’s why I was excited about the digital edition. Apart from being able to play Blood Rage far more often with AI players, it also included almost all of the Kickstarter expansions.

But because the physical copy was getting hard to find in 2018 when the digital version Kickstarter launched, it looked like most of the money was going to the physical copy. Only about 12% of the number of backers wanted the digital-only copy. 

That leaves almost 8,500 backers that wanted the digital copy with the physical game add ons. I have no idea how many of those people then added the original game to their pledge to get a ‘complete’ set.

So without being able to see how much would actually go to the development of the digital version, I decided to hold off and wait.

And now, Blood Rage Digital exists. The Good Points.

I have had a few games solo with the AI, at 3 and 4 players. I am still playing against ‘easy’ opponents. Still, as I have won the last 3 games mainly by upgrading my stat tracks, I will be upping the difficulty soon.

Being able to play a few games kicking back and relaxing whenever I want is great, and I have really enjoyed playing the few games that I have.

I can say hand on heart that the game plays very closely to the board game. The feeling of dread waiting for cards to be revealed is all there. The disappointment at missing a favourite card is there.

The pacing of the game is a little slow. It takes a bit too long to resolve quests, combat, that kind of thing. Having to sit and wait without a ‘speed up’ option is confusing.

Blood Rage Digital Drafting
Decisions, decisions. The feeling between digital and physical for if you are choosing right is just as stressful!

Why do I include this in the ‘good’ section? Because when you are learning the game, being able to see each card and each section slowly helps you quickly determine the flow of the game and tactics involved.

Seeing the minis on the board look great. It’s not the best graphics I have seen in a game, but you can play it on almost any Windows machine. I will take a little bit of a graphical presentation hit to play Blood Rage on any device happily.

Access to the information on cards and rules mid-game is also reasonably well done. From the main menu, you can browse all the cards and their effects. Not all digital implementations do this, and I am glad Exozet and CMON included this.

Blood Rage Digital Compendium
I wish more digital board games let you look throught he decks outside of the actual 'game'

And the bad.

A common issue I have with many digital implementations is the tutorial. Blood Rage Digital’s tutorial isn’t the worst I have seen, but it could still be a bit better.

My advice here is to watch a tutorial on the board game. The rules are the same, and some of the intricacies are explained a lot better in tutorials like those from Rodney at Watch it Played.

That’s not to say the tutorial is terrible – there are even sections of the compendium that describe drafting strategies, which is great!

But even as someone that knows how to play the game, there were sections of the tutorial I looked at and was confused why some information wasn’t there. Prior knowledge of the rules going will definitely a plus.

If you want to learn Blood Rage completely within the digital game, everything is in the compendium but it’s a lot of text to absorb. So if you rather learn by watching a video, check out the video.

If you look at the Steam reviews, there is one facet of the game that apparently needs a lot of work – online multiplayer. Apparently, people are having a lot of trouble being able to play against friends online.

I haven’t tried this yet, but I did grab Harls a copy recently as a gift with the idea of playing against him online. Harls is the sort of player I can have a lot of fun playing Blood Rage with, but it’s not much of a two-player game. Adding AI fixes this while letting us play together.

At least, it would if it worked.

Blood Rage Digital Steam Page
If you were just browsing, I could understand skipping the game on this alone

There is also the controls themselves. Earlier, I mentioned that the pacing is a bit slow. Sometimes, you can hit a skip button if you can’t do an action, for example, if you can’t play an additional card. This doesn’t always happen though, which is strange.

I can’t say for certain that this is a design choice. If you play, you will notice at times cards and other screen elements sit over the controls. I wonder if at times you have this speed option available, but you can’t see it on screen.

Blood Rage Digital UI Issues
Why is Skip hiding? And this is at 'normal' screen size

Playing on an ultrawide monitor makes this user interface issue a lot worse. Playing on my ‘game’ screen at 2560×1080, elements like the strength of my army are hidden by my cards.

When 21:9 and similar aspect ratios first started appearing, a typical display issue was the game/application would zoom the screen. The program would fill the width of your screen with the contents, but that would crop the height from what you can see.

Five years ago, with the tech being still new, this was mostly understandable and early adopters needed to work around the issue. In 2020, this just feels sloppy.

Blood Rage Digital Funny Aspect Bugs
You can see where the title and bottom of the banner is being cut off. I am supposed to click on Continue. The button below the bottom of the screen.

Even worse, when finishing a game in ultrawide, you can’t continue on to the final score, because you can’t click on the continue button. So you will never honestly know if you won a game or not.

These display element issues might seem like a problem only for a few users. Still, the fact they are happening at all makes me wonder what other glitches are happening at ‘normal’ resolutions.

The only other thing I wish was available was a ‘save’ system. It can be an XCom ironman type save, where you only have one save slot that happens at the end of each player turn. This way, you can’t go back and try and cheese the game with different strategies until you dominate.

Blood Rage Digital Widescreen Issues
Why hide my army strength? I can count my minis, but once cards come into play, that doesn't help!

Playing solo, a game takes me about 30-40 minutes with 2 AI players. I would love to be able to leave and take a break mid-game. Also, such a system may help when multiplayer crashes instead of the entire games progress being lost.

So stay clear?

Here’s the funny thing – I think Blood Rage Digital is a great implementation, it just needs a lot of fixes. Some are hopefully simple to make, some might take time.

Playing solo, I have had no real problems other than having to change my screen to 1920×1080 when I want to play. I have enjoyed quite a few games, and I don’t regret the purchase at all.

While I am yet to play online multiplayer, until more patches have been made (and to Exozets credit, there have been updates quite often already), I won’t even by trying except as an experiment.

You can’t even play Blood Rage with a screen sharing local game properly, because this will reveal players entire hands to everyone. The multiplayer needs to be fixed to recommend Blood Rage Digital to more than solo players.

Overall Thoughts

Blood Rage is a sound implementation of the original board game and makes for an excellent alternative for solo players.

The low system requirements mean that players can play on pretty much any computer that runs Windows 10. This means the entry-level for a ‘video game’ is easy to achieve.

If you want to play Blood Rage Digital online though, a lot of work needs to be done to get this working properly.

I would rate the Kickstarter version of Blood Rage’s physical copy a 7.5 and the retail copy a 7. But until the issues mentioned are addressed, I couldn’t give the digital version a higher score. Even though it works great as a solo game, board games are better played with others – even digitally.

Overall
6/10
6/10

Pros

  • A lot of fun to play solo against AI
  • Can play well even on ‘work’ computers
  • Faithful adaption of the board game

Cons

  • Lots of issues with multiplayer
  • Some screen elements seem to be broken or having issues

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Dragon Castle Review

Dragon Castle Cover
Dragon Castle Cover
Released 2017
Designer Hjalmar Hach, Luca Ricci, Lorenzo Silva
Publisher Horrible Guild (Website)
Players 2 – 4 (Can use AI in digital for solo play)
Playing Time 10-15 minutes per player
Category Tile Placement
Mahjong Solitaire
Pattern Placement
Town Building
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

I used to play Mahjong when I was young. Back then, it was usually a tile-matching game. Dragon Castle takes me back to those days.

Going through some digital games to play while my games group is separated, I found Dragon Castle had a digital version. Jumping at the chance to play via Steam Remote Play Together, I bought it.

Why was I so excited? When Alpal introduced me to Dragon Castle, I ordered a copy before I left her place. So much of the gameplay and presentation just makes me happy.

So what is Dragon Castle?

Dragon Castle is a mix of quite a few games. There is the evident Mahjong Solitaire influence, with the titular Dragon Castle’s being built from Mahjong tiles. Selection is simple – grab one of the edge tiles from the highest levels. Next, you can collect an edge tile of the same symbol from anywhere around the castle.

You don’t have to select a second tile though. You can choose to destroy the tile for a point or store up a shrine for placement later. This isn’t a legacy game though – destroying a tile just takes it out of the game.

Dragon Castle Pieces
You will be collecting and placing tiles and shrines for scoring

Once you collect tiles, you then build your own new castle in a solitaire pattern placement affair. You can place tiles anywhere on your player board, except on top of tiles that are face up.

How do you turn over tiles to build higher? Have four or more of the same coloured tile touching each other orthogonally. They don’t even have to be on the same level, adding some 3D complexity to the game.

Dragon Castle Player Castle
Building up your castle is strangely satisfying, especially when the tiles click together

The more tiles you can complete this way on one turn, the more points you collect. Once you have done this, you can also place a shrine on one of the tiles you just flipped over. The higher the shrine is set, the more bonus points you gain.

That doesn’t sound very interesting.

Not when explained like that it’s not. But as solitaire sounding the gameplay is, there is a surprising amount of player interaction.

Trying to make a large 8 tile collection of green tiles? Other players can start taking your tiles before you can make a match. Even worse, if you need a pair, players can choose one of them and take it from the game!

The purple Dragon tiles also allow you to place two shrines if you can make a set. Sounds great, but you have to remember there aren’t many of them!

Dragon Castle Tile Placement
Pleacement is the trickiest hurdle. If the bottom sword was one higher, a group of 4 would have been made

There are also optional modules you can add in the form of Dragons and Spirits. Spirits introduce random special abilities that can be used during the game. Dragons themselves add more of a strategic element. Some add more points for shrines, others offer bonuses for your building arrangement.

Both spirits and dragons are optional to add to play, but I like that you can expand the game without buying expansions down the line.

Dragon Castle Spirits
Sample of the Spirit Cards. Include as you choose!

And there is also the tiles themselves.

Just like when you play a game with metal coins or poker chips, the tactile satisfaction of the tiles themselves shouldn’t be underestimated.

The art style of the game is simple yet beautiful. Every board shares a theme, and yet is visually distinct. In fact, my biggest disappointment with Dragon Castle is the boards themselves. The cardboard used is too thin, in my opinion. Not severely so, you won’t be creasing them accidentally making them unusable without going out of your way. But thicker boards would have completed the premium feel the tiles provide.

Premium – that’s code for expensive.

That’s an understandable concern. And yes – those tile pieces couldn’t have been cheap to produce. I picked up my copy for about AUD$70, and I think it was worth every cent.

This is where Dragon Castle’s value becomes subjective. I enjoy abstract games, and the primarily ‘multi-player solitaire’ nature of the game means conversation during a round is easy.

However, you can do the same sort of gameplay with many Roll and Write games, which expensive ones are around the AUD$55 mark. You can’t deny there is a cost to so many mahjong tiles contained in the game.

Dragon Castle Boards
I have played with much flimsier boards, but thicker ones would have been nice

Everything you get in the box though makes it hard to suggest you aren’t getting what you paid for. The question is really if it’s to expensive for the enjoyment you will get from Dragon Castle, and I can only tell you I think it’s all worth it.

Dragon Castle Components
Just picking up the box, you know you where the cost goes. Dragon Castle is heavy.

You mentioned a digital version?

The purchase that prompted me to finally review Dragon Castle! At the moment, there is a Steam sale where you can grab a copy for AUD$7.12. This deal ends on June 2nd. Full price is close to AUD$13. Much cheaper than the physical version!

Gameplay-wise, Dragon Castle translates well to digital. The music in the game is relaxing, and the art style is carried across as well. The tutorial is a little bit confusing – and this is coming from someone that already knows how to play.

The AI is available in different skill levels, and so far seem very well balanced. I have only played a few games on PC so far, and I haven’t braved the hard levels yet. You can also play online against other people, or locally in a pass and play style mode.

Dragon Castle Digital
Relaxing and challenging at the same time, the digital implementation works very well

The biggest downside for me? The controls. I miss picking up a tile from the pile. Instead of dragging tiles over as I expected, you need to click on the tile once to select, then again to confirm your choice.

Once you get used to it, the flow of the game works well. It just didn’t control as intuitively as I would have liked.

There is another downside. The reason I bought Dragon Castle was to play with my group with Remote Play Together on Steam. Unfortunately, Dragon Castle doesn’t work with this feature, so if you want to play with others online you will need everyone to buy a copy.

Overall Thoughts

If you enjoy Roll and Write and/or abstract games, Dragon Castle is a game you should definitely add to your ‘To Play’ list.

Dragon Castle is easy to teach and learn, and players will have the flow down during their first game. Once you have the basics down, a game of many layers slowly unfolds before you.

While the physical game can be seen as expensive for the type of game it is, the quality of the components justifies this to me. If you are unsure, the digital version is considerable cheaper – and easier to buy!

If you are looking for a game to play while everyone is still separated, again Dragon Castle is definitely worth a look.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • Simple to teach and learn
  • Beautiful art and quality components in the tiles and shrines
  • A game that can grow with you as you gain experience.

Cons

  • Can be considered expensive to buy without playing it to justify the purchase.
  • The digital tutorial isn’t the best

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Billionaire Banshee Review

Billionaire Banshee Cover Art
Billionaire Banshee Cover Art
Released 2014
Designer Steven Bailey aka Razlo
Publisher Breaking Games (Website)
Players 1 – 10 (really, any number if you use thumbs up/down for voting)
Playing Time Box states 60 min. About 2-5 minutes per ’round’ depending on conversation.
Category Party
Icebreaker
“Would you rather”
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

It’s a dating game, but so much more. And less. Billionaire Banshee is a game you can make anything you want it to be!

This is probably going to be my shortest gameplay review ever. You have heard me talk about simple games that offer more than they seem in the past. It’s a bit of a cliche in a lot of ways. But it describes Billionaire Banshee perfectly.

Billionaire Banshee is a great ‘getting to know you’ party game. A player draws a Perk and a Quirk card, creating a fictional date for the player. For example, you may meet a Kung Fu Master than can only speak in Rap.

The player then decides secretly if they would date that person. Everyone else chooses if the player would or wouldn’t date them. Everyone reveals their choice, and if you match the player, a point is earned?

That’s it. That’s the game. Play until you have had enough. It’s that easy.

Wait, you don’t know how to score the game?

I use the question mark because Billionaire Banshee is like Who’s Line is it Anyway? – the points don’t matter. You can track points to see if there is a winner, but I treat each game as a getting to know you activity.

You can sit and chat and get to know new players. It’s the part of board gaming I enjoy the most. But sometimes it’s hard to find a common thread to start a conversation. The over the top situations presented by the game are great conversation starters.

Billionaire Banshee Would you date them
Would you go on a date with this person?

How does that start a conversation?

To start with, the premise of the term ‘date’. It’s incredible how many groups I have played this with that instantly assume this means sleep with or marry the fictional person.

Is it a first date? A dinner/movie/see what happens type affair? Do you mean long term? Just that little interpretation of the word ‘date’ reveals a lot about a person.

You then have the list of Perks and Quirks. There are a lot of Quirks as I see as Perks and vice-versa. One perk is ‘Expert Treasure Hunter’. They are intelligent, wealthy and athletic sure. They are also away a lot. I would love to go out for a meal or catch-up.

Would I try to date them though? Probably not, I see this as a negative.

Others might not – they may see this as a positive, as they have a lot of time to themselves to do what they want. This difference of opinion and why opens up the chance for a lot of discussions.

Billionaire Banshee Can be seen differently
Not all cards will fit everyones ideas. A 'sexy accent' is racy?

This is why I think Billionaire Banshee is a great icebreaker game. The ridiculous situations presented sometimes, and watching players react to those situations, is a heap of fun. 

I wouldn’t play it over and over, or for hours on end. But to pick it up at the start of the night and find out about people, yourself, and how others see you is a unique thing.

But I heard that there are inappropriate cards.

Yes, there are. If you want to keep the game relatively clean, remove/discard the cards with the teddy bear on the back. These are the racier cards.

I say relatively clean because even in the ‘safe’ cards, there are some perks and quirks that can be read as racy. For example, one ‘clean’ card has a person whose nipples taste like pizza. Read into that as you will.

This is where you begin learning about people very quickly. If someone is offended because a ‘safe’ card mentioned nipples, it tells you a lot about them.

Conversely, if they are overly enthusiastic about the mention of nipples, that tells you a lot about them as well.

Billionaire Banshee Bear
Playing with your parents? Maybe don't draw the cards with a bear.

I have heard this game is pretty offensive.

At the end of the day, Billionaire Banshee present players with a hypothetical situation for a potential date. You don’t have to say yes, just like real life. And like real life, people you may not be interested in might ‘ask you out’.

If you can’t handle the idea of being asked out by someone with traits you don’t like, I don’t think that’s the games fault.

Here’s my take. Yes, some wordings and descriptions could have been worded better. Some things can be seen as negatives because they only appear as quirks, such as ‘Opposite Gender’. There are very valid points raised in this regard.

On the whole, I think Razlo did a great job of leaving a lot up to the player. When you are presented a date option, it’s up to you to determine a lot of details outside character descriptions. Things like gender are up to you to imagine.

Billionaire Banshee Not many components required
These are all the components. Really, you only need the Perk and Quirk cards.

Criticisms about representation are valid, but by the same token, the only bad experiences I have had with the game were because of another players prejudices. This was a one-off, and I have played Billionaire Banshee in at least 30 different sessions with multiple new groups.

There are also ‘safe’ Perk cards that are presented in a wholesome way, but for me bring back negative memories, so I don’t see them as such. Other people will have similar reactions to different cards. People that don’t like to be touched won’t be interested in a Professional Hugger, for example.

So it’s blown out of proportion?

Sometimes. Billionaire Banshee is such a quick and fun game, that it’s easy to bury the gameplay in negatives and potential trigger situations. This makes things sound much worse than the fun game that is generally played.

If you want to have fun with a new group of people or old friends alike, and learn things about them at the same time, Billionaire Banshee is a great game. Just remember that in learning about people, sometimes you will discover something about them you might not have wanted to.

Overall Thoughts

There are cards that could make people uncomfortable, but they are easily identified. The conversations and humour Billionaire Banshee generates make it a great game adaptable to many different play styles.

Throw the rules to the side, kick back and enjoy the ride. How many games can you pull out a couple of cards and play the first round with a rules explanation in under a minute?

Overall
9/10
9/10

Pros

  • Quick to teach
  • Fun to play
  • Conversation starter

Cons

  • Some cards could be worded better
  • NSFW cards especially can cause people varying levels of distress

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Boom, Bang, Gold! Review

Boom Bang Gold Cover Art
Boom Bang Gold Cover Art
Released 2017
Designer Alexandre Emerit
Publisher HABA Games (Website)
Players 2-4 (More players are better)
Playing Time 20-25 minutes including setup
Learning game – 25-35 minutes
Category Dexterity
Western
Variable Player Powers
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Yes, it’s a kids dexterity game. That doesn’t mean it’s not a bit of quick fun!

My mental capacity is flagging lately. I tried playing Doom Eternal last night after a couple of weeks, and it took me far too long to work out a platform puzzle. It wasn’t the controls – I literally didn’t think to look up for about 5 minutes. Fun times! :p

We all get into this kind of mode at times. Especially now with us all locked in. When this kind of mood hits, simple games that can be played on automatic are a great fallback. You get entertained, without having to run a mental decathlon.

HABA games are great for these moods. Primarily made for kids, I have yet to find a HABA game that my games group hasn’t enjoyed as well.

Today, I thought I would share a simple dexterity game with a western theme – Boom, Bang, Gold!

The title describes the gameplay entirely.

The overall idea of the game is simple. Players pick different miners, each able to do different things (player powers). The box is filled with the counters of the game face down.

Each round, players take their wooden sticks of dynamite (yes, they are fun to hold), and throws them into the box. This causes the tokens to mix and flip. Everyone then uses one hand only to quickly grab as many tokens as possible, grabbing the gold.

Boom, Bang, Gold! – see how it works?

Boom Bang Gold Components
It's not often I can show the box of as an actual game component

How does that work? It doesn’t sound fun.

The box has a raised section in the bottom, giving a mini-trampoline effect when the large wooden blocks hit it. It’s hard to describe how satisfying it instantly feels watching the counters go flying!

It’s that instant tactile feedback that hooks you into playing. Everyone wants to throw the dynamite back into the box straight away, but you have to wait for the next round.

Boom Bang Gold Impact
Still don't do justice to the fun of throwing down dynamite 🙂

There are also more tokens than just gold. There are even two forms of gold – yellow gold and orange ‘illegal’ gold. Various critters are exposed when the dynamite goes off as well. Snakes, Bats, Rats and even Ghosts can be revealed.

Each character is immune to one type of critter. For example, Hank isn’t worried by bats at all. During the round, players can call out whatever they aren’t scared of.

So if a bat is revealed, Hank can call out “Look out – BATS!”, causing other players to stop momentarily.

Boom Bang Gold Miners
A little hard to see here, but when the miner is in front of you storage doubles as your summary card

While Hank continues collecting, the other players must put both hands on top of their heads and call “HELP!”. This gives a player a moment to collect unimpaired. 

So this game just went from overly simple to confusing.

A little – especially if you are playing with younger kids. Getting your head around the player delay mechanic can be a bit confusing, but it usually only takes a round or two to get the hang of.

If you are playing with younger players, maybe take out the critter that I could call out. So if I was playing Hank, I would remove the bats. Then you can teach people to look for their token, and show them the penalty action. That way, they only have part of the process to concentrate on and learn by seeing the penalty in action.

Once all the gold is collected, the round isn’t over.

You don’t instantly score the gold you collect. Other little twists can affect scoring.

There is also a Sherrif badge and Revolver to potentially collect as well. The Sherrif badge lets you force all other players to put back their ‘illegal’ gold.

The Revolver forces a bluffing duel. One player takes two bits of gold from their shelf and hides them in closed fists. Really you will either have one piece in each hand or more commonly hide both nuggets in one fist.

The Pick lets a player turn over and collect 5 tokens after a round, but before scoring. Finally the Dynamite (not pictured) lets you throw one more stick of Dynamite. Always fun!

Boom Bang Gold Tokens
Not too many symbols to keep track of

The player that started the duel then picks a hand. If they find any gold, they keep it. The penalty isn’t too bad, but the mechanic adds another wrinkle to the scoring.

For both of these tokens, if it’s too much for the players, just remove the symbols. They are fun additions, but if it’s too confusing, keep the gameplay simple.

So why would I want to play Boom, Bang, Gold!?

The gameplay is quick, taking about 20-25 minutes. It’s a great little filler game, and because of the Boom also a fun game to attract people to your table.

It’s also a fun game to play with younger players, and rules can be altered to suit. At about AUD$50, it might look expensive for a filler/simple kids game, but the quality of the components justifies this price for me.

Would you design a games night around Boom, Bang, Gold!? No. But for a game to have on the shelf for a quick bit of fun, Boom, Bang, Gold! is an excellent choice for any library.

Overall Thoughts

Sometimes, you just want a quick bit of mindless fun. Boom, Bang, Gold! delivers on this for players of all ages.

If you were looking for a first game to start building your game collection, I have a hard time suggesting Boom, Bang, Gold!. While it’s a lot of fun, it’s not a game you can play over and over again. You need other games in between sessions to keep the joy of playing alive.

If you were looking for a game to pad your existing library though, Boom, Bang, Gold! is high on this list. The quick setup, general appeal and quality components make this a good choice for many libraries.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • Quick and fun gameplay
  • Quality compents
  • Can be tailored to newer players

Cons

  • Can be confusing if teaching younger players everything at once
  • Best purchased to extend your library rather than start it

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Hattari / Yabunonaka Review – or In A Grove in English

In A Grove Box Art
In A Grove Box Art
Released 2011
Designer Jun Sasaki
Publisher Oink Games (Website)
Players 3 – 4 (Best with all 4)
Playing Time 10-20 minutes (First game – 20-25 with teaching)
Category Hidden Information
Bluffing
Trick Taking
Deduction
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

The Deduction, Hidden Information, Bluffing and Trick Taking game all in one tiny package!

Oink Games publish some brilliant games. They also make tiny games. Not always simple, but a lot of their games are smaller than a box of cigarettes. That makes them easy to carry with you, and also limits the components required to play.

Not all games are for everyone, and In A Grove is one of these. The premise is excellent, but when I try to describe it to people, it’s hard to get your head around.

All right, what is In A Grove?

At its core, In A Grove is a mystery trick-taking game. Yes, I know that makes little sense – its part of the reason getting people excited to play is tricky.

There are eight people in a park, and someone has killed one of the group! So you would think your job is to find the killer. It is, but it also isn’t. Your job is more to be the person accused of lying less than everyone else.

Finding the killer is secondary in terms of ‘winning’ the game. Making others choose the wrong suspect is your tactic of choice. But be careful in employing it!

In A Grove - Components
All of the components. iPad (2017) for size.

Wait. What?

Yep. It’s a mystery game where you don’t have to find the killer. Your job is to get more people to believe you, even if you are wrong.

All but one of the eight people have a number between 2 and 8. One is blank – this person is always innocent. These cards are shuffled, and three are placed in the middle standing up. These are your suspects. One card is placed sideways, marking the murder victim.

Each player then gets one of the remaining four people. Not playing with four players? Put these in the box without seeing their values. Each player then looks at their suspect without revealing their number/identity and passes them to their right. You then look at the number on the suspect moved to you.

In A Grove - Typical Setup
What the start of the game normally looks like after setup

The point of all this is to give you some starting information. The killer is almost always the person with the highest value, so you know if you have seen 7 and 8, 6 is the highest possible value in the centre.

You said ‘Almost always’. Mid game rule changes?

Yep. It’s not always as simple as find the highest value suspect. You see if there is a 5 amongst the suspects, the rules flip – the killer is the person with the lowest value. Hence, the blank silhouette is always innocent.

It almost always takes players a couple of rounds to get their head around all of this. The rules aren’t hard, but having to remember rules based on hidden information is tricky.

In A Grove can be hard to teach, especially as everything we have talked about is before the game/round starts – this is all setup.

In A Grove - The Reveal
Normally, 8 would be the killer. But becuase there is a 5, 2 is the villain

If the setup is this hard, what is the actual game like to play?

The explanation can take a while – execution doesn’t. Once you have all the rules straight, the setup can take 30 seconds. 

Going in turn order, the first player looks at two of the three suspects. They can also swap the victim for one of the suspects. They then place one of their tokens below a suspect.

The next player can then does almost the same thing. The only catch is they can’t look at the suspect the previous player ‘marked’ with their token.

If you agree with another player, you place your marker on top of theirs. This means accusations/guesses/bluff are marked in piles.

In A Grove - Player 2
So in this case, the player couldn't see the last suspect as marked by the token

So why mark a player? What’s the point of that?

I’m getting there, I promise. When all players have marked a suspect, all of the suspects are flipped to reveal their values.

If you marked the correct suspect, you get your marker back. For the player on top of the pile for wrongly accused suspects, you flip them over to the ‘liar’ side, and you keep the whole pile. Each and every one.

If you get 8 or more ‘liar’ tokens, you lose. If you run out of tokens to mark suspects with, you lose. So as you can see, it’s not so much a case of being right – you just need more people to be wrong.

Who would want to play a game like that?

In A Grove sounds like a niche game, and it is. But the number of people that can enjoy it is bigger than you think.

You wouldn’t play In A Grove all night. It fits well as a game night opener/closer or in-between game choice. Once you know the game, even with 4 players you can belt out a full game in 10 minutes. 

You can even play rounds as games if you are passing the time between other games. Just make the player with the most ‘liar’ tokens the loser and reset. This creates a game that lasts only a couple of minutes – excellent as a time killer.

Because In A Grove comes in such a small box, playing it this way is a great way to pass the time in convention queues and the like. It also lets players switch in and out with people around you.

In A Grove - Take Anywhere
Everything you need, in a tiny package that fits in any bag

And this is the catch with In A Grove – trying to explain to people why they might like it, and I usually get glassy-eyed silence in response. Once people see it played, they often want to jump in and give it a go.

This is In A Grove’s biggest weakness. There are plenty of ‘so simple it sounds boring’ games out there that work against it. In A Grove sounds much more complicated than it plays, and people don’t want to overthink a simple game.

Overall Thoughts

That feeling of satisfaction when you can steer someone to take ‘Liar’ tokens is fun. The disappointment at being the person receiving the tokens is palpable.

The biggest problem with the game is the learning curve. When I play with people that have played before, it’s almost always a fun game. When I need to coax people into trying it, players come away disappointed.

My advice – you have basically all the rules in this review. Play with 8 playing cards and some tokens. Use the 2-8 of one suit, and a joker as the ‘blank’.

I encourage people to support game designers always, but In A Grove is a game that you will need to get used to before deciding if you enjoy it or not.

Overall
7/10
7/10

Pros

  • Quick and simple gameplay
  • Easy to transport or make your own version
  • Retail version very cheap if you can find it

Cons

  • Teaching rule changes dependant on hidden information is tricky
  • Because of the quick and semi-random outcome, players can get put off from playing again

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Tokaido Review with Digital Gameplay

Tokaido Cover
Tokaido Cover
Released 2012
Designer Antoine Bauza
Publisher Funforge (Website)
Players 2-5 (best 3+)
Playing Time Physical: 10-15 minutes per player
Digital: about 20 minutes
Category Set Collection
Variable Player Powers
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

If you can’t go out and about, why not play a game where you explore the Tokaido pilgramage?

It’s Friday, and I bet you were wondering where the review was?

I decided to try something a little different today. Instead of trying to write up why a game of movement and collection is fun, why not show you?

So as a bit of an experiment, I hope you will join me as I play through the tutorial game of Tokaido in digital form!

So I present to you a full game, as well as some rule explanations I feel the digital implementation was lacking. Complete with Rambling Old Man Thoughts! 🙂

After filming, I did indeed confirm that right now Tokaido is free on the Google Play store, and AUD$1.27 on iOS!

I was playing the Steam version, which right now is AUD$13.89 on the Steam store. I play mainly on my phone, and it’s great to sit back and relax with. You really can’t go wrong with either version!

Tokaido Second Game
I managed to get a win on the game I started when the tutorial game was over

I also mentioned that Tokaido was getting to be a bit pricey and harder to find.

What I didn’t say in the video was to watch out if the expensive versions are the Collectors version. This comes with metal coins and painted miniatures, as well as the crossroads expansion. While still expensive, the cost is a little more justified.

The other reason some places aren’t pushing Tokaido as much is because a follow up is about to be released – Namiji.

Not a sequel as such, but similar mechanics are used with different options available when you stop on the road.

I haven’t playing Namiji yet, and I won’t be in the first wave as I didn’t back it on Kickstarter. Be sure I will be checking it out in the future though! 🙂

Namiji Cover Art
Similar mechanics, but a very different game

Overall Thoughts

Tokaido is a game I have had ‘serious’ players talk down about. Comments like “Too simple” or “Not enough to do”. For me, this simplicity is what makes Tokaido shine.

Sit down with a non-gamer, and explain they are taking a holiday. It really helps the scoring mechanisms click. Don’t want to paint? Go shopping. Don’t like shopping? Relax at the hot springs and talk to various people – you never know what you can get out of it!

Tokaido is a great game to sit and enjoy the company of others with, as you don’t need to spend all of your time concentrating on the game. Playing digitally, it’s a great way to play alone and just enjoy yourself. Plus you can play online with others if you wish!

Overall
8/10
8/10

Pros

  • Gorgeous art style
  • Random setup helps for great replayability
  • You can play relaxed or competitive – it’s up to you

Cons

  • Digital implementation needs a better tutorial or a reference for new players
  • Wish you could speed up AI animations

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Abyss Review

Abyss Artwork - The Farm
Abyss Cover Art
Released 2014
Designer Bruno Cathala, Charles Chevallier
Publisher Bombyx (Website)
Players 2-4
Playing Time 15-20 min per player
Category Auction/Bidding
Push Your Luck
Set Collection
Card Drafting
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

If anyone starts singing that little mermaid song, I will roll my eyes hard :p

The idea behind Abyss is simple – you take on the role of an underwater lord and become the ruler of the ocean. Really, you try to earn the most victory points. Primarily a card game, Abyss is an auction type game with push your luck elements. Mainly the game revolves around set collection.

Bruno Cathala has designed a lot of my favourite games. He can integrate game mechanics in surprising ways. One thing that I feel he can’t incorporate as well – a theme. Abyss is a sterling example of this.

Oh wow, complaints right out of the gate! This game must be terrible!

Nope. That’s the thing about a Bruno Cathala game – the theme is optional. Stick the same mechanics in a different theme, and the game would still be as fun. They also tend to sound basic and hard to see how they could be fun.

Then three hours later you realise you have played a fun game multiple times for three hours and didn’t even realise it!

The problem I have describing Abyss is I try to tie the concepts back to the theme, but in Abyss this can be not very clear. It all makes sense when you have everything laid out in front of you. Unless I drag this review out into an instructional piece, you will probably get a little lost.

Abyss Box Layout
It doesn't look like a lot in the box, but that is because of a great insert layout

So if I sound cynical or something is unclear, remember this – when you are playing, it all makes sense. Playing Abyss is a fun experience, but without seeing the mechanics explained in a tutorial run, everything looks like a confusing mess.

Wait, so you like the game you can’t explain?

Yes. That’s it. Really, I could almost end the review here on that point. It’s one reason why when you see different reviews, they either teach the game or gloss over the gameplay itself.

I have had people ask me about other reviews on Abyss. Not my opinion on the game, but why the review didn’t actually talk about the game very much. Well, now you know why. You can either teach it, or give your verdict.

Today I will be choosing to gloss over a lot of the finer gameplay details. Abyss is an experience, and I haven’t met any people that didn’t like it. Some like it more than others, obviously, but everyone enjoyed their time at the table.

Abyss Verdict
Really, this is a great game. Heartily endorsed 🙂

So why would anyone want to play Abyss if it’s so hard to describe?

That’s easy. Just look at the pictures. The art is dark, which fits the depths of the ocean. It’s also beautiful. The board in Abyss is almost optional, but just putting it out has had people come over and ask about it.

There is also the components. The cards are lovely to hold and look great, and the monster tiles and the monster track get people looking at them. The real thing that everyone loves playing with before learning the game is the currency. Everyone is given a little dish, which is usually met with a raised eyebrow. Then you start handing out the ‘money’.

No cardboard token or paper money here. You get these little plastic pearls that feel great in your hand. Even though they are currency, I have watched people torn about paying for something. Sure, they get something that helps there scores, but at the cost of losing a pearl they love to play with during the game.

Abyss Setup
And here laid out, Abyss looks simple. Then you start talking cause and effect, and people get put off

So what can you tell me about the gameplay?

Each turn, you have a couple of different actions to choose from. The most common action is exploring the ocean depths. During this phase, the active player has the last chance of receiving that card. 

Everyone else in order can pay the active player to recruit that creature before them. This might sound unfair, but each player can only buy from the active player once. This means the amount of money in the game stays relatively constant, but the players’ pearl stashes change each turn.

There is also the possibility of drawing a monster – the ocean depths aren’t safe after all. You can choose to fight the beast, in which case you get a set reward from the monster track. If you decide to leave the creature be, you raise the monster track by one and keep drawing.

Abyss Exploring the Deep
Draw and decide to buy, even not on your turn. There is very little true downtime in Abyss.

This is where the push your luck element comes in. You can keep drawing, meaning you may give your opponents a chance to recruit better cards. This also means another player may receive a better reward the next time a monster appears!

It’s these sorts of decisions that make Abyss such a great game to play.

The next type of action you can take is Requesting support from the Council. This means you take a pile of sea creatures into your hand. That’s it. Not an exciting turn, but it can be a potent one.

Abyss Monster Track
I don't really want the choices on offer, but I don't want the others to get the better rewards

I thought you weren’t explaining the rules! Fine. Why do you need to collect ocean creatures?

It does look like I am teaching, but I am skipping a lot of speicifics and nuances I would explain while teaching in person. Also, I am missing a lot of rules that only affect you when you are in specific situations.

As to what you need creatures for, that is recruiting (buying) Lords.

Lords have multiple advantages. Firstly, they are worth victory points. Most Lords have special powers that change the conditions of the game in different ways. Lastly, some Lords have keys.

Collect 3 keys, and you can control a Land. Lands have their own unique powers but at a cost. What cost? You can no longer use the skills of the Lords that gave you that land!

Once a player has recruited 7 lords, or you cannot put out a Lord onto the recruitment track, the game is over. Add up your points, and the player with the highest score wins.

Abyss Lords unlocking Realm
There were some nice powers I am about to lose... But I will be getting more end game points

Well, that sounds OK? I don’t know if it sounds fun though.

That’s the catch. It sounds solid, but not fun. But during a game of Abyss, there are so many decisions that can end up helping your opponents, that joint tension makes for an incredibly enjoyable experience.

Yes, you can make a choice that can cost you the game. But so can everyone else. The fact that the game depends on random card draws so heavily means there is no one winning strategy. Also, did I mention you get to play with pearls?

Who do you think will enjoy Abyss?

I tend to enjoy it more with a maximum of four players. But I will sit and play with one other person a lot. Abyss hasn’t made it to the table as often as I would like, but that is because of the large number of new games that I keep buying.

If anyone wanted to buy my copy of Abyss, I would politely decline. That is not something I can say about almost half of my collection!

Overall Thoughts

A lot of people will be drawn in by the beauty of Abyss, and then look at the components and expect a complicated mess. While it can seem like a lot of little rules, learning the game only really takes a round or two.

Setup is so quick that a learning round isn’t a hassle, but most people I offer this to choose to continue. Once you are in the rhythm of the game, Abyss tends to grab most peoples attention.

There are plenty of newer games on the market, but to say that Abyss is guaranteed a spot on my shelf 6 years after it’s release should show the long term appeal of this game.

Overall
8/10
8/10

Pros

  • Gorgeous art and components
  • No game is ever the same
  • New players are not at a complete disadvantage with experienced players

Cons

  • Visually intimidating for new players
  • Terminology seems a little over the top
  • Theme tacked on to solid game mechanics

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

One Deck Dungeon Review

One Deck Dungeon Box Art
One Deck Dungeon Box Art
Released 2016
Designer Chris Cieslik
Publisher Asmadi Games (Website)
Players 1 – 2 (4 with special rules and 2 copies)
Playing Time Physical: 30-60 minutes
Digital: 20-30 minutes
Category Fantasy
Dungeon Crawl
Light RPG
Worker (Dice) Placement
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Who could have guessed playing an RPG with one deck of cards was so fun!

I love playing RPGs. Playing in a new world, enjoying the camaraderie both in-game and around the table, it’s a great time. The downside is RPGs need a group of friends. Not the people themselves, but trying to get everyone together at the same time is a massive undertaking.

There are plenty of board games that recreate a lot of the fun of RPGs. Dungeon Crawlers are especially good at this. Exploring an area, fighting monsters, and collecting loot. Some even have a basic levelling system. Almost all of them have one fundamental flaw – setup and teardown.

Mansions of Madness 1st Edition was a great example of this. It would take me 40-50 minutes to set up a game. And I had to try and do it before anyone showed up. There are plenty of other games that I can set up and play in that amount of time.

True, those games don’t have the same feel as an RPG, but it’s quicker to get into. But what if it didn’t have to be?

I have had One Deck Dungeon, and it’s stand-alone expansion Forest of Shadows, for a while now. I have even taken it interstate and overseas on work trips. Somehow, things just never seemed to align themselves for me to sit and learn how to play it.

Well, that changed a couple of weeks ago, and boy have I been playing it!

One Deck Dungeon Boxes
Both game boxes. Standard gel pen for scale. These are small!

One Deck Dungeon – What is it?

The best way I can describe One Deck Dungeon is a solo or co-op light RPG dungeon crawler. I know this is a very jargon-heavy description, but it’s really the best way to describe it.

You play as an adventurer making their way through a dungeon. During your dungeon run, you fight various monsters until you take on the boss. The monsters can give you new weapons, skills or experience to level up. Hence, light RPG dungeon crawler!

You get five different bosses in the box and five adventurers. Each boss has different conditions for their dungeon, and combined with the five adventurers means there is plenty of variety. More on that later.

One Deck Dungeon Components
A Deck of cards, some tokens and character boards, and a lot of dice. What more do you need?

So how does it work?

This is where the solo and co-operative part of One Deck Dungeon comes into it. You can play solo with one or two adventurers (the way I have come to prefer to play), or play with someone else using one adventurer each.

Each adventurer has three different stats – strength, agility and magic. Fairly standard fantasy RPG stuff. These stats are represented by different coloured dice. Unlike most RPGs, instead of rolling a dice and adding stat modifiers, you use a certain amount of dice depending on your stat.

So for example, if you have 3 agility, this means you roll three agility dice. Nice and simple! There is also the fourth colour of dice in the box – black hero dice. Hero dice can be earned with experience levels or skills, and are used as any coloured die (wilds).

One Deck Dungeon Adventurers
Each adventurer has pros and cons. Playing one adventurer or two is shown with 1p and 2p on each side.

Shuffle the 56 cards, and put it on the table. This deck of cards is where One Deck Dungeon gets its name. Each card is a different room with a monster or trap, but it’s also almost every other thing used in the game. They are also equipment, skills, experience markers and the game timer. It doesn’t sound obvious, but it works really well!

Each player turn, you burn (discard) 2 cards. This represents time in the game. The very first turn, you spend the first turn exploring. All this means is you draw cards and place them in front of you until you have 4 rooms to explore.

From now on, each turn you can choose to explore or enter a room. Entering a room means picking a card and turning it over to see what’s in it. This is where the card layout hopefully becomes a little clearer.

The card will either be a trap or combat, shown by the icon next to the card title. Below the title is a picture of the room’s contents. To the right of that shows what is needed to clear the room.

One Deck Dungeon Game Start
This is setup. Pick a coupel of characters, shuffle deck, set things out. Done.

You will also notice other parts to the card. On the left shows the extra skill dice you will roll if you choose to take an item from the room. On the bottom shows a skill you can possibly learn, and top right is the amount of experience (XP) you can earn.

If you decide to try and clear the room, you roll all of your dice. To beat the challenge, you need to place your dice onto the various squares on the right of the image. If it’s a square, you need to put a die of the same colour with the value equal to or higher than the number on the card. If it’s a rectangle, you can put any number of dice on that area, as long as the total at least equals the value shown.

One Deck Dungeon Sample Encounters and Rewards
It just looks like four cards, but each card serves 5 functions.

If you cover all the squares, you win! If you can’t cover all of the squares, you still win! You lose some time (discard more cards) and/or health, but you succeed. This helps you build your character even at the start of the game.

And that is basically it! There are some additional rules like mandatory extra requirements depending on which level of the dungeon you are on, hero dice and some other things. But what I have outlined is all you need to know about playing the game. 

That sounds rather simple. Why wouldn’t I play Yahtzee instead?

Simple isn’t always dull. Not that I am saying Yahtzee is dull, but for me, Yahtzee is at it’s best when playing in a group. 

The amount of depth and immersion in One Deck Dungeon cannot be understated, especially if you are a fan of RPGs or Dungeon Crawlers.

Yes, the mechanics are streamlined, but for a game designed to play solo and quickly do you want a lot of bookkeeping?

There is also the sheer variety of the dungeons. Initially, I believed I would get bored of One Deck Dungeon once I saw all of the enemies. Straight up – I was wrong. I have almost 20 games under my belt now, and I don’t think I have seen all of the cards yet.

One Deck Dungeon Dungeon Bosses
The bosses aren't just different battles, the rules for their dungeons change as well

Forcing you to burn cards during the game pretty much guarantees you will always get new choices each game. Do you take the powerful skill, or use that XP to go up a level and be able to carry more items and get a hero die each round?

That is the challenge and immersion of One Deck Dungeon. Each game is different. Dominate last game mashing a particular skill? You might not see it again for 10 games. Your character can be a relatively weak hitter, but take damage like a champ. Or you could be a glass cannon, dealing damage left and right but only take one hit to go down.

One Deck Dungeon Upgrade Decisions
When setting up a shot, I realised I had not seen the skill on the mage OR the room card before.

But each game, don’t you start again at level 1?

This isn’t as cut and dry. Yes, you start each game at level 1, but this isn’t always the case. For starters, you can choose difficulty level in One Deck Dungeon. Playing on Novice starts you on Level 2 each run.

On top of this, there is also a progression system. While you don’t keep your levels from game to game, you can start with skills, carry more items, heal between levels, all sorts of things.

Like any RPG game, you will need a few games to build up your adventurer. But you will get more powerful, and that old game grind becomes a different experience. You can also level up different groups of benefits and change at the start of each dungeon to tailor your run.

One Deck Dungeon Progression SHeet
You earn different symbols by playing harder dungeons

OK, so what’s the catch?

So the game is ultra-portable and a blast to play. But using cards for everything as well as tiny dice makes for a fiddly experience. For someone like me with large hands, I find myself spending as much time cleaning up my play area as I do playing the game.

I found a perfect fix for this, though. 

I’m Listening

Some of you may be wondering why this review appears in both Board Game and Video Game Reviews. That’s right – there is a digital version! And it’s a perfect translation from the physical copy. In fact, because it’s digital, it takes advantage of being able to move the level challenges to the room you are facing. This means you only have to look at one area to see all of the dice and values you need to clear a room.

There is also the added bonus of getting a sixth adventurer for free! Mist from Aeon’s End is a promotional card that you need to hunt down or buy for the physical version. Mist comes for free on the digital version, or at least on Steam.

You aren’t restricted to Steam either – you can also get One Deck Dungeon on your mobile. I am not buying it, as I am honestly worried about how much time I would spend playing it when I should be working 🙂

One Deck Dungeon Digital Character Selection
No knocking dice, no covering cards accidentally - let the game manage the fiddly bits
One Deck Dungeon Digital Progression
Everything works the same as the physical version
One Deck Dungeon Digital Boss Fight
Rolling a bunch of physical dice is so satisfying, but the app manages everything so well

Overall Thougths

One Deck Dungeon got a lot of love when it came out a few years ago, and today I can say it deserved it. While not the perfect game, it scratches that Dungeon Crawl/RPG itch for me in a solo experience.

The portability of the game is excellent for throwing my bag on trips. The digital version means a small install on almost any PC as it has meagre graphics requirements. Basically, if you can run Windows 10, you can play One Deck Dungeon. Don’t take a PC with you? Grab it on mobile!

While the dry explanation of gameplay can make it sound like another dice game, actually playing One Deck Dungeon throws that idea out the window. I can highly recommend One Deck Dungeon to everyone that enjoys an adventure.

Overall
8.5/10
8.5/10

Pros

  • Simple to set up and learn
  • Incredibly customisable experience
  • Replicates the feel of Dungeon Crawling/RPG very well
  • Can play solo very quickly
  • Portable both physically and digitally

Cons

  • Using cards can be awkward mid-game
  • High random nature of exploration may put off some players
  • Hard to describe how fun it is unless people can play it

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Crossfire Review

Crossfire Cover Art
Crossfire Cover Art
Released 2017
Designer Emerson Matsuuchi
Publisher Plaid Hat Games (Website)
Players 5-10 (best around 8)
Playing Time 5 minutes
Category Social Deduction
Bluffing
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

How well do you know your friends? Social Deduction games can put this to the test!

Got a large group of people (10+) and want to play a game? Social deduction party games like Werewolf, Two Rooms and a Boom and Deception: Murder in Hong Kong are great.

If you don’t have quite that many people, games like The Resistance, Bang: The Dice Game and the One Night series are a lot of fun.

Only have 3-4 players? Coup, Saboteur and Love Letter are excellent choices as well.

But what is a social deduction game? Almost all of them involve hidden roles and bluffing mechanics. The goal is usually to determine who is a particular role or group. At the same time, some players work against you for their own purposes. This is where the bluffing comes in.

Almost all social deduction games start the same way – What do we do?

All of these games I mentioned share one underlying problem for new and experienced players alike. On the very first turn, what do you do? Who do you trust? In most of the games, only the ‘bad guys’ have information to work with, and everyone else is going in blind.

This makes social deduction games very stressful for some players. Being asked to instantly lie about what they are doing, also while learning a new game, destroys the experience for them. Most people that I see say they don’t like these sorts of games had that experience cemented right here.

There is also a problem, especially in the large group games of playtime. This can be remedied with experienced host players, but if you go out on the first round of a 20 player game of Werewolf, prepare to do something else for 2 hours!

One Night Ultimate Werewolf Box
One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Well, why does anyone play these games?

Because when done right, they are a lot of fun. I personally love new groups playing Werewolf and Bang The Dice Game because of social engagement.

But these games and situations aren’t for everyone. Being forced to talk to a group of strangers for two hours usually is my definition of torture.

However, I can host Werewolf for two hours for a group of complete strangers at the drop of a hat. I will play if I know the host is experienced almost anytime. I prefer Bang The Dice Game usually because I can also actively play and I don’t need as many people.

In today’s review, we have a look at Crossfire from Plaid Hat Games, that fixes a lot of these problems while creating a unique new problem.

Finally, the game! So what is Crossfire?

Crossfire is actually two games, which makes describing it hard. There is the crossfire mode, which is a reasonably standard team-based deduction game. Then there is Sniper mode, where one player is the Sniper, and everyone else argues who gets shot by the Sniper.

Talking to different people about Crossfire, I was surprised that people weren’t taught or told about both modes. This means people were arguing about the game they played and telling others they ‘played it wrong’.

The core of both games is very similar. There is a team that doesn’t want to be shot and a team that wants to shoot them. It’s not exactly high brow plot 🙂

The two games play very differently, and that is where the confusion in describing the game can come from. So first, I am going to talk about the game in a general sense, then get into the different game modes.

Crossfire is set in the Specter Ops universe

What does this mean for the game? Apart from influencing the art style, nothing. Both games were designed by Emerson Matsuuchi, but you don’t need to know one to play the other.

This is similar to how The Resistance and Coup are both set in the Dystopian Universe. The art style and some terms are the same, but playing the other game doesn’t give you an advantage.

Specter Ops Broken Covenant Box Art

What do you get in the box?

You get the rule book, a deck of cards and a timer. That’s it. One of the great things about Crossfire is that you don’t need a lot of components.

One thing I will always do in hidden information games whenever possible is sleeving my cards. Most of the time, if you choose to sleeve for a bit of extra protection, it’s a personal choice. But if you need to hide information, sleeving to me is compulsory.

Not sleeving cards means that during play, cards will become ‘marked’. It’s one of the reasons I rarely play Skull with my own copy. Each card is unique, but I played Skull so often at previous game nights that I knew most of the marks on the skulls, giving me an unfair advantage.

Crossfire Components
There isn't much to show. It's a deck of cards and a timer. But it's so much fun!

While card stock has improved, I wish in small games like these sleeves were included.

Crossfire Mode

There are two central teams, the Blue team and Red team. The blue team has a VIP that needs to be protected by agents, and the red team has Assassins that want to shoot the VIP.

There are also other roles for extra players and advanced play. These all have their Crossfire mode victory conditions on the card. You can have Bystanders that mustn’t be harmed or Decoys that present themselves as VIPs.

Advanced cards are roles like that the Enforcer that acts as an agent, but get to shoot two times per round. Another example is the Bodyguard that protects the person they aim at rather than killing them.

Crossfire Advanced Roles
Some of the extra roles you get in the box

Setup – the solution and new problem

Depending on the number of players, a dealer shuffles a predetermined number of cards and deals one to each player. Everyone looks at their cards, but the setup isn’t finished yet.

Generally in a social deduction game, the play devolves into no one talking about their role and wondering how to get information. Crossfire handles this with the second setup step.

Crossfire Setup Rules
It sounds confusing, but works well. These pages should have a couple of reads though.

Starting with the dealer, they take the cards to their left and right, shuffle them and redeal them face down. Those three players look at their new cards, and going clockwise the player three positions from the dealer repeats the process. This happens until everyone has had their cards shuffled and seen a selection of those results.

This turns setup into multiple games of find the lady/three-card monte. This gives the players something to work with, as most players have seen their first card, and it’s possible to track where roles have gone.

It does make explaining the game to new gamers a little confusing, as there are a lot of mechanics to take in at once. I usually handle this with a dummy round, and if people still have trouble do another dummy setup face up.

This isn’t a perfect solution, though. I have still had players get stumped because as they focus on the perfect information rather than following the theory.

Playing Crossfire Mode

Here is where the timer comes in. The table now has three minutes to work out who is the VIP and who are Assassins. The Agents need to find out who the Assassins are to shoot them, and the Assassins want to kill the VIP.

During this stage, players can turn their card in the direction of who they claim to be. Don’t worry, one of these positions is undeclared – you don’t have to start bluffing immediately.

Agents then reveal their cards and shoot their targets. People that have been shot put their hands down and show their cards.

The VIP then shows their card, and if someone is still pointing to them, they are shot.

Not counting special win conditions on individual cards, that’s it. Five minutes, and the game is done. No player elimination, no real downtime, just quick rounds and everyone is ready for a quick reset if you want to play again.

Crossfire Declarations
The Agent did well, getting the Assassin with their one shot

This adds an amount of tension to the game. Why would someone undeclared by targeting an agent? Why is that Agent I trusted knowing I was the VIP pointing at me?

Then the dealer reads a set script. It boils down to this. Only Agents and Assassins can shoot (denoted by a pistol on their card), and everyone else puts their hands down.

Bystanders don’t want to be shot, nor does the VIP. Assassins tend to hide as Bystanders, Agents or Undeclared. This is where the number of roles comes into play. If you are playing a 7 person game, everyone knows for example, that there is only one bystander. If there are 2 being declared, someone is lying. Here are the bluffing and deduction parts of the game.

Once the three minutes are up, everyone points to their target simultaneously. One go – don’t go changing targets when the hands are up!

Wrong Role Counts
2 VIPs, 3 Agents and a Bystander. I don't think so.

Playing Sniper Mode

Sniper mode is almost the same, except there is one sniper that is the only one that shoots.

Setup is very similar to Crossfire mode. According to the rules, the Sniper is pre-selected and given their role face up. If no one wants to be the Sniper (or everyone does), I usually do the pick a dealer and include the Sniper in the shuffle. When everyone has that first look, the Sniper reveals themselves.

Then you do the find the lady information setup, except the Sniper is excluded from this. The Sniper is then given some shot cards equal to the number of assassins, and everyone tries to work out the Assassins in three minutes.

Once the time is up, the Sniper puts a shot card in front of their targets. When all shots are ‘fired’, people targeted reveal their cards. If a Bystander or the VIP is shot, red team wins. If all of the Assassins are shot, blue team wins.

Crossfire Sniper So Close
The Sniper took out one Assassin! But also a Bystander. Instant loss.

If neither team has won at this point, the surviving Assasins then try and shoot the VIP. They point at the player they believe to be the VIP, and those players reveal their cards. If the Assassins kill the VIP without shooting a bystander, they win. If they hit a Bystander or missed the VIP, the Blue team wins.

Wait, so multiple people can win?

Yes. Because this is a ‘team’ based game, conditions tend to lean towards team victory conditions. When you start using some of the advanced roles, this can get a little messy. When starting to play games like this, stick with the primary characters to keep it simple.

Overall Thoughts

Crossfire is a great Social Deduction game, as long as you know what you are getting into. The setup can be confusing, and while the rules try to make the process clear, I have seen lots of groups make mistakes. Getting this setup wrong will ruin the play.

I also really like the inclusion of the Sniper mode. If you have someone with a lot of experience as the Sniper with people learning, this can be an excellent tutorial mode. Letting new players watch the higher level play with little of the Win/Lose pressure is a great idea.

My number one complaint with Crossfire is shared by almost all of these games – you need at least five players. This makes for a fun game, but means it can’t get to the table very often under normal circumstances.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • Quick game play
  • No player elimination
  • Two great game modes

Cons

  • Game setup is a lot of shuffling
  • Player count too high for an anytime game
  • As a genre, Social Deduction isn’t for everyone

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Pyramid of Pengqueen Review

Pyramid of Pengqueen
Pyramid of Pengqueen
Released 2018
Designer Marcel-André Casasola Merkle
Publisher Brain Games (Website)
Players 2-5 (Best with 4-5)
Playing Time 30-45 minutes
Category Hidden Movement
One vs Many
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Can you escape the Pengqueen?

One of my favourite scenes in adventure movies is the escape sequences. It can be from a boulder, a storm, or an unseen force – whichever it is, it’s almost always fun to watch.

And of these adventures, a classic staple is, of course, the Mummy. Not just an unstoppable force, but a power that is capable of outwitting the heroes.

And you know what you call a board game that uses this type of setup? One vs Many. There is one mastermind that must beat all of the other players to win!

A problem with a lot of One vs Many games is you have to learn two sets of rules. One set as the mastermind, and then the player rules. This can be a big ask for new players, but there are gateway or introductory games to help with this.

One such game is Pyramid of Pengqueen.

Oh wow! Why didn’t they think of this before?

They did. Pyramid of Pengqueen is a reprint and retheme of the 2008 game Fluch der Mumie, printed in English only as Pyramid. In 2018, Brain Games got the license and rethemed Pyramid with the Icecool theme, hence all the penguins.

The games are almost identical in everything but the artwork. The Mummy has been replaced with the Pengqueen, and there is an arctic feel to the art. Gameplay-wise everything has been kept, so this is basically a review of both versions.

The re-theme can get a little confusing as well. In the rules, the Mummy of the Pengqueen is referred to in different ways, mainly the Mummy or the Pengqueen. While this doesn’t make it harder to learn, it does show how little the Icecool theme does for the game overall.

Pyramid International Cover
Originally release in 2008, not much has been changed

So what do you do in the game?

Players sit with the game board between them, similar to Battleship. On one side, the Pengqueen controls their movements as they travel through the tomb. On the other side, players have their tokens and can see the Pengqueens location.

How do the pieces stay on the vertical board? With SCIENCE! Well, magnets. Still counts :p

The players roll for movement each turn and have to explore the tomb and collect treasures. The treasures they collect are determined with a random card draw at the start of each game, so there is no one way to win each game.

Pyramid of Pengqueen - Components
Opening the box, you can see there isn't much to setup

As the players explore the tomb, they must also evade the Pengqueen. If they are on the same square as the Pengqueen, they are captured and lose a life.

Once they are caught, they start from the Pengqueens sarcophagus and continue collecting treasures until they run out of lives. Once a player collects their set of riches, they win! If the Pengqueen collects a certain number of lives though, the game ends with the Pengqueen winning.

Pyramid of Pengqueen - Pengqueens board
You always know exactly where you are as the Pengqueen

That sounds great!

Doesn’t it? The game is simple to teach and play, and players can jump straight in. The satisfaction of hearing the clink when the player piece is caught by the Pengqueen is fun for both sides.

For such a simple game, the tension that builds as players watch the Pengqueen coming closer is excellent. It doesn’t matter how many times you have played, seeing the Pengqueen a square or two away and coming towards you never gets stale.

It’s also great for all ages. You only pick one die for your movement as a player. You can play and teach your first game within about 5 minutes, then a quick reset to start playing properly.

A game plays in about 30 minutes, and setup/teardown only takes a few minutes. This makes Pyramid of Pengqueen an easy game to play on short notice, unlike many One vs Many games.

Pyramid of Pengqueen - Players board
Watching the Pengqueen marker on the right move can be tense

I am waiting for the But…

Yeah. The But. As fun as Pyramid of Pengqueen is, there are a couple of factors that do kill it for me.

Balancing is a big one. Playing two players, the Pengqueen has way too much information. This can be adjusted a little bit by the player character spending more time running to different areas before collecting treasure. Still, it adds 5-10 minutes of somewhat dull gameplay, so it’s not a great solution.

The other issue is the board and player pieces. The player magnets are tiny, and you move the board a lot when you move your piece. The Pengqueen player gets a pretty good idea of what area you are in just by watching the board flex. It’s so apparent, even younger players will pick up on this quickly, giving away more information.

Finally, the magnets are not always your friend in terms of hiding. Ideally, you want to put your piece in the middle of a square on your turn. This rarely happens, though. You usually end up closer to a side, and if the Pengqueen stops closer to your side on their square, you can capture a player without meaning to. This again gives away exactly where you are. No one has cheated, it’s just the way magnets and people work.

Pyramid of Pengqueen - Component Sizes
The black die is what I would call normal sized. The player tokens are tiny!

So should I buy Pyramid of Pengqueen?

To me, this is a game you should play before you buy if you can. I am glad Alpal showed it to me, and I am so happy I got to play it. I am just not keen to play it again anytime soon. I will show people how to play anytime, but it’s not a game I want in my collection.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Overall Thoughts

On paper, the Pyramid of Pengqueen looks to be a fun game. Smooth one-vs-many gameplay with quality components that can be played by all ages. The theory works well, the final execution, in my opinion, not so much.

Many people say how fun the Pyramid of Pengqueen is to play. I am not saying they are wrong. I know everything I have said can be taken as if I am, but that’s not my problem with the game.

The Pyramid of Pengqueen has balancing issues. Big balancing issues. With two players, it is too easy for the Pengqueen to win. At higher player counts, it is too easy for the players to win. Individual players can be eliminated by the Mummy pursuing them, which can make players feel bullied. This is more of an issue for younger players, but I can see it happening. The potential for frustration and arguments, for younger players, is just too high. And those situations aren’t fun for anyone.

Overall
5/10
5/10

Pros

  • A light game that is easy to teach and play for all ages
  • Novel moving mechanics, especially anticipating the Pengqueen’s movements.

Cons

  • Doesn’t scale well
  • Player pieces too small
  • Not very good at hiding player movement
  • Icecool theme does nothing for it