Ramblings 012 – Dinosaur Tea Party

Dinosaur Tea Party 20181119

Stripes in the Orange Room?¬† I don’t think so!

Another Saturday, another Rambling!

Today Alpal and I discuss yet another surprisingly simple fun game from the Restoration Games Stable – Dinosaur Tea Party.

What is it? Remember Guess Who? Now add Dinosaurs having High Tea. Yes, that sentence is correct ūüėÄ

Have a great weekend everyone!

JohnHQLD

Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar Review

Fireball Island Box Art
Fireball Island Box Art
Released 2018
Designer Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, Justin D. Jacobson, Chuck Kennedy, Bruce Lund
Publisher Restoration Games (Website)
Players 2 – 4 (5th player expansion available)
Playing Time 60 minutes
Category Hand Management
Set Collection
Light Dexterity (Interactive Board)
Take That
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

No one is going to call this The Curse of Vul-Kar – it’s Fireball Island all the way!

There is a category of game known as Roll and Move.¬† Examples of this are Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly.¬† When you talk about ‘old’ games, these are usually the type of game that people remember and compare new games too.

1986’s Fireball Island was a game like this – roll the die, move your piece.¬† But there was a twist – your playing pieces could be knocked over by a fireball!

Fireball Island was a game aimed at families with younger players (7 and up), so the game mechanics were going to be simple even for the day.

But this didn’t stop the popularity of Fireball Island.¬† As you can see in the US commercial, selling the adventure of exploring an unknown island and collecting the treasure was key.

A big part of the draw though was the vacumould playing board.¬† This was a huge draw, where you didn’t just have a folded board but a three-dimensional island to move around!

YouTube source https://www.youtube.com/user/wheezebucket

And atop the island sits the imposing figure of Vul-Kar, who would throw marble fireballs down the moulded paths to mess with your opponents.

It was different, and it was loved.¬† In today’s language, we would call a game like Fireball Island a Gateway Game – a great game to introduce new players to the hobby.¬† Except it’s been 30 years, and board games have gotten a lot better.

Restoration Games to the Rescue

As you may have seen on this site on a few occasions, I am a fan of Restoration Games.¬† They have a simple motto – ‘Every game deserves another chance’.¬† And they deliver on this time and time again.

Thanks to Fireball Island being a nostalgic favourite, kind of like the Nintendo Classic consoles, this was one Kickstarter basically guaranteed to be a hit.

And now it has all been delivered, and I have been able to play the new and improved Fireball Island.¬† And it’s great ūüėÄ

Fireball Island - All Arrived
I have some sleeves and other bits and bobs, but all of the game is here!

Some things change, some things stay the same

Bottom line – Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar is a bigger and better version of the 80’s classic.

The vacumould board remains, but is now larger and built up in three distinct parts.  The detail on the island itself has also been much improved as well, with a lot of great and humorous areas of the island.

This has allowed for more paths on the island as well from the looks of it.¬† I don’t have the original island myself to compare, but there seems to be more room and paths to follow.

The marbles naturally follow these paths, but there is a new twist of trees added to the island, meaning you can steer likely paths of fireballs as well.

Fireball Island - Don't you want to play it?
Fireball Island's biggest draw even today - the board itself

There is also the change to Vul-Kar itself.  Where in the original game there was one opening in the mouth, now you drop your marble in the top of the statue and there are three possible exits.  This helps add a bit of randomness and unpredictability to the game, making it more exciting.

Not only the components got a makeover Рthe dice for movement mechanic has been completely replaced with card drafting!  You will always have two movement cards in your hand, making strategy and planning more important than the original.  Of course, you still need luck to draw the right cards, but unlucky draws can be somewhat mitigated now.

Fireball Island Cards
Two decks - Souvenirs (Powers) and Movement. Still simple, but so many possibilities

So what do you actually do?

At the end of the day, Fireball Island is a set collection point scoring game.  As you explore the island, you can pick up treasure and try to make a set of five of most of the items lying around.

You also take holiday snaps of the island.¬† Once you have collected three holiday snaps, you are able to try and make it back to the ‘Hello-copter’ to escape the island.¬† First player back to the chopper gets a nice little bonus score as well!

I know it sounds like I am glossing over most of the gameplay, and I am to an extent.¬† There are some little rules I am not even touching on, because honestly it’s not really important.

Fireball Island is a fun entry-level game, but for players my age¬†and experience that’s not what makes it a good game.¬† What makes Fireball Island a great game is the experience of playing, both the game itself and the friends you play it with.

Players that have played Ticket to Ride will have a good idea what I mean.¬† The idea of Ticket to Ride is simple – collect coloured cards to switch for trains to make routes and score points.¬† Anyone that plays the game will tell you that maybe the mechanic, but it’s not the game.¬† Same for Fireball Island.

Fireball Island - Summary
You just need to get off the island with the most points to win - and most things give you points

Should everyone rush out and buy Fireball Island?¬† No.¬† It’s a great bit of fun and a trip down memory lane for some, but for others I would rather start them off with Downforce or Stop Thief!.

If you play with younger players a lot, then I would say Fireball Island is more likely a better buy for you. The simple rules and fun of dropping marbles into Vul-Kar make for a great time for everyone.

On the flip side, if you remember the original fondly and really want it in your collection again, you would have already bought it. Nothing I can say now would influence you.

If you’re on the fence, play it first would be my advice.¬† You will know after the first game if you are likely to pull it out again or not, and that should be the clincher.

Even if buying isn’t really your concern, play it if you get the chance.¬† Sure there are ‘better’ games out there, there always are.¬† But get a few friends together and enjoy a silly hour – you are unlikely to regret it ūüôā

Fireball Island - What could go wrong?
The player on the bridge is safe, but Vul-Kar has turned towards the player stuck on a ladder

Longterm – the expansions

I backed the pledge level that gave me basically the lot.  I think there is only a Secret Cabal promo card that I am missing.  And by the lot, I mainly mean expansions.

Everything I have discussed so far has been the¬†retail base game with no additions, and to date I haven’t played with any expansions.

I will be, and they will be getting their own reviews soon, but if you need a game for 5 players I would suggest buying ‘The Last Adventurer‘.¬† On the surface, you can then just have an Indiana Jones-inspired¬†5th player, but there are some rules additions and extra cards to increase the gameplay options as well.

The other two main expansions are ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Bees‘ and ‘Wreck of the Crimson Cutlass‘.¬† Both add new rules and twists, and like most expansions should probably be added once you have gotten the most out of the base game.

Fireball Island - Expansions
The ideas sound great, but I need to play them all to find out what they add

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Bees adds more marbles to pour through Vul-Kar as well as a true dexterity challenge in the tiger.

Bee stings can be collected by players, and essentially they halve movement.  The tiger can net you three treasures from your opponent Рif you can hit them!

Wreck of the Crimson Cutlass adds a new play area in the form of a pirate ship.  There is a push your luck aspect of marbles in a collapsable crows nest, and the ability to fire a cannonball Рalways a bit of fun!

Fireball Island - Packing is tight
The other small issue with the expansions - there isn't much room left in the main box!

While in theory these all sound like worthy additions, I think only the potential 5th player has an immediate benefit.  Extra powers and mechanics can be a lot of fun, but they can also be situational which I think these may be.

And they weren’t exactly cheap add-ons either.¬† For the cost of the Crimson Cutlass, I can buy another game – always something to make you stop and think.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar

Final Thoughts

I really like Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar – but there is a major caveat to this.¬† Personally, I have fond memories of the original Fireball Island.¬† Coupled with ‘Nostalgia Hype’‚ĄĘ, this makes me biased towards the new game.

That said, while I don’t think every gamer must have a copy of Fireball Island in their collection, a great fun time will be had by almost everyone that plays it – even if it’s only once.

Great to play with younger players or to catch up with friends while playing, Fireball Island is a great experience for a wide audience.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • ¬†Quick to teach, game moves at a good pace
  • ¬†A game that attracts an audience
  • ¬†Beautiful component quality
  • ¬†Nostalgia in full swing!

Cons

  • ¬†Basic gameplay can put off some players
  • ¬†Large play area even for ‘just’ the base game

Stop Thief! Review

Stop Thief Cover Art
Stop Thief Cover Art
Released 2017
Designer Rob Daviau, Robert Doyle, Justin D. Jacobson
Publisher Restoration Games (Website)
Players 1 – 4
Playing Time 45 – 60 minutes
Category Deduction
Hand Management
App driven
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Just because an idea is old, doesn’t mean it’s not fun

Way back in March 2017, I looked at a new Kickstarter called Stop Thief! from Restoration games.  It was a new Kickstarter, not really a new game.

Stop Thief was a game released in the late 70s with many new ideas.¬† It had hidden movement deduction, at a time hidden movement games weren’t exactly the rage.¬† It had an electronic device to take the place of the thief, so everyone could play as a detective.¬† This was before PC’s and Smartphones – you needed to build a dedicated device!

Players would gather around a board and try and capture the thief from the sounds from the ‘crime computer’.¬† It was a great idea and a possible inspiration for the other ‘before it’s time app game’ – Dark Tower.

Stop Thief Original
The original 1979 Stop Thief - way ahead of its time *Image Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/128363

Playing with the new Stop Thief!

The core of the original game is still completely intact.  Players take the part of private investigators and use sound clues and logic to try and anticipate the location of a hidden thief on the board.

The layout of the board has changed from the original game, but not how it works.

As you can see in the photo, there are a series of dots connected by footsteps.  These footsteps represent the paths that the thief can take.  The thief will travel on their turn between a numbered dot to another, players must travel along each dot (empty and numbered).

Red dots¬†represent places robberies, and the square locations with the circle around them in the center and corners represent the subway used to fast travel.¬† That’s it mechanically – there are also heaps of jokes and references in the art!

Stop Thief Components
The new game - almost the same layout, but a few new twists

Each dot has a sound clue provided by the app.  A door opening is a doorway, echoing footsteps are walking inside.  Glass breaking means the thief has entered a window space.  Busy rushed walking means they are outside.  Muffled announcements mean they have taken the subway Рthe thief has moved to a different part of the board!

The sound you don’t want to hear is the alarm – that means another robbery has taken place!¬† Upside though the places these can occur are limited, so you will have a good idea where the thief is.

To capture a thief, you need to be on or adjacent to a location you think the thief is at.  You then attempt to make an arrest using the app.  To do so, you just enter the three-digit number you think the thief is on.

Then you just need to wait for the app to tell you if you were successful or not.

Stop Thief Every game begins with a robbery
The good part of a robbery is you know what building the thief is in

And that wait can feel like forever.¬† If you are correct, you get a reward for catching the thief – but if you’re wrong, you have to pay a $1,000 fine for wasting the police’s time!

The first player to reach a set money goal (between $25,000 and 45,000) retires to Hawaii and wins the game!

But there is more – there are different modes of play!

Catching the thief is almost always the same type of game, but one of the additions made to the new Stop Thief! was new play modes.

You can play cooperatively – great for teaching new players, especially if you want to stay in the game as well.

The basic differences from the base game are that there are seven thieves that are operating as a single entity, and each time you make an arrest you make the gang smaller.

Catch all seven and you win!¬† However there is a pile of cash at the side of the table, that is used by the group and goes down when more robberies occur.¬† If this stash runs out before you capture the gang, it’s game over.

Stop Thief Different ways to play
Pick how you want to play - even old school!

There is also a solo mode and a one-vs-many mode – these are great additions for even more gameplay options!

Solo mode is basically co-operative mode but with a single investigator.¬† It works, but it’s a little harder as you can’t ‘hedge your bets’.¬† Even when you narrow in on a thief, there are plenty of occasions that they can be in one or two locations – this coin flip can ruin competitive games, but is manageable in the coop game.

One-vs-many is similar to the cooperative style of gameplay where there is a single gang running around, but this time the group is being controlled by a player!

The device is always held by the thief player, and the app shows all legal movement and plays the clues appropriate to the selected locations.  This is great, and is something I wish would be done for more hidden movement style games.  This way, even if you are mostly new to the game, you can take the part of the mastermind without making a mistake that can ruin the game for everyone else.

Stop Thief Select your move
I wish more hidden movement games had an app like this for movement

So it sounds like a simple gimmick game

I can’t avoid that – in a lot of ways, that’s exactly what Stop Thief! is.¬† The original game was a pioneer in using electronics with the game, so it was essentially built around a gimmick.

That said, this is a game that will fit many players of many ages, and while it may not be a Friday night regular, Stop Thief! is a game that I will stop and play anytime.

Younger kids want to play?  Walk them through the first few games in cooperative mode, and then when they get it, let them loose on the competitive game.

Are the paths to easy to work out now?  Increase the difficulty.  Playing at higher difficulty levels means the thief can stop or double back on themselves.

Stop Thief Gimmick
Is it a gimmick? Of course it is. But 40 years later, Stop Thief is still fun.

Stop Thief! may not be the flashiest game with the deepest story or branching elements, but it is a game that has stood up over the years and will continue to be played for years to come.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
Stop Thief!

Final Thoughts

It just goes to show that a great idea will hold up over time.¬† There aren’t many games that people today will look at if you tell them it’s over 30 years old, but Restoration Games has managed to do just that.¬† Stop Thief! was the game that had me first interested, and they have kept me hooked ever since.

Using an app to replace the original crime computer was a great idea and the feeling of dread as you wait for the app to tell you if you found the thief or not is real.

A great game and a fun time no matter how you play, Stop Thief! is highly recommended.

Overall
9/10
9/10

Pros

  • ¬†Multiple modes of play
  • ¬†Deceptively simple premise
  • ¬†Great for social play

Cons

  • ¬†If the app becomes unsupported, manual play becomes problematic

Downforce: Danger Circuit Review

Downforce Danger Circuit Feature
Downforce Danger Circuit Feature
Released 2018
Designer Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, Justin D. Jacobson
Publisher Restoration Games (Website)
Players 2 – 6
Playing Time 30 – 40 minutes
Category Hand Management
Player Powers
Light Auction and Betting
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Danger Circuit shows you don’t need to add much to add to a great time

After my first ever game of Downforce, I knew that the system was ripe for expansions.¬† New player powers, new maps, that’s all you really need.

And that is exactly what we have been given in Downforce: Danger Circuit.  A new double-sided board, and six new team powers.  A small rule clarification sheet for the new powers and conditions, and you are all set.

Setting up as per standard Downforce, we were into our first race on the Danger Circuit in about 5 minutes.  Without a lot of new mechanics or areas to be on the watch for, we could pretty much just jump straight in.

And that is one of Danger Circuit’s biggest drawcards for me.¬† No lengthy rereading of the rules. No trying to switch your thinking between the base game and the expansion.¬† Just more Downforce, pure and simple.

There were some new terms to clarify like ‘Tight Spaces’, but the instructions took only a couple of minutes to read in its entirety¬†and I read it while Alpal setup.¬† I can’t remember the last expansion I was able to do that with.

Downforce Danger Circuit Components
Not a lot of components in Danger Circuit - but enough for more Downforce is always just the right amount

Now I have seen a few people argue that only six new cards is a bit on the light side.  Different people will always have different opinions, but I appreciate the simplicity of the expansion.  More scoresheets are also something I hear being asked for, or dry erase boards like Captain Sonar.  A couple of dollars at a stationary store will get your current sheets laminated, or the Restoration Games app is also easy to use and free on your phone.

Yes, we could have been given more powers, but I think that letting new powers come with new tracks is great Рas long as they continue to come in pairs.  The coupling of tracks and powers so far has been good, and I think can continue for quite some time to come.

Another suggestion I have seen is more players, and this is an expansion I don’t think is a good idea.¬† The movement cards are already well balanced and work well, and adding new players means you have to start juggling decks depending on the number of players involved.¬† It’s not an insurmountable issue, but why add complexity¬†for complexities sake?

So the new powers are nice and straightforward, and from the games I have played feel better balanced to me.¬† Not that Downforce was terribly unbalanced – I only try to quietly¬†retire ‘Determined’ when experienced players get it over newer players, but if someone really wanted to play it I wouldn’t stop them either.

The only power that caused some discussion in Danger Circuit was ‘Tough’.¬† As per the card wording, if on any players turn you end your turn next to a rumble strip, you may move 2 additional spaces.¬† I have heard people calling this overpowered, but I don’t think so overall.

The chances of Tough hitting multiple times is limited, usually because another player has to intentionally make it happen by putting the car adjacent to a rumble strip.  That was it discussion sorted, and fun was had by all.

Downforce Danger Tough
In this example, the Green owner has Tough, but the Red player is moving the cars. The only reason Tough triggers is because of where Red put the Green car.

And again that shows what I really love about Downforce.  Forget the rules lawyering and semantic umpires.  Downforce is simple and fun, and lets everyone enjoy themselves.

Prefer not having all the cards dealt at the start of the game?¬† Done.¬† Don’t like the betting aspect?¬† Lose it.¬† Are auctions confusing you?¬† Just deal out the cars randomly.

All of this is intact in Danger Circuit.  Unlike some expansions that almost fix a broken base game (or worse, expansions that break a great game), Danger Circuit just lets Downforce continue to do what it does best.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Downforce Review

Downforce Feature
Downforce Feature
Released 2017
Designer Rob Daviau, Justin D. Jacobson, Wolfgang Kramer
Publisher Restoration Games (Website)
Players 2 – 6
Playing Time 30 – 40 minutes
Category Hand Management
Player Powers
Light Auction and Betting
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Racing Games used to be the person who could roll the lucky numbers win.  This is not one such game.

When Restoration Games first came to my attention, it was for the amazing Stop Thief! Kickstarter.  Their passion for gaming and the work that went into streamlining and modernizing Stop Thief! was amazing, and made me want to look into them more.

Indulgence by all accounts is a great game but is one of those rare ones that I will wait for another in my group to buy it before playing.¬† All I have against it so to speak is that it’s a trick-taking game, not one of my favourite genres.

And then there was Downforce.¬† I really enjoy Formula D in theory, but in practice, it just takes too long.¬† That sense of urgency and racing just doesn’t quite hold for the couple of hours required to play a game.

So I ordered Downforce with a little bit of hesitancy.¬† I enjoy racing games, but I didn’t want another Formula D type game, and Flamme Rouge was ticking a lot of boxes for me.¬† But the team knocked it out of the park with Stop Thief!, so I decided to give it a go.

And I am so glad I did.

Downforce Components
Compared to a lot of other racing games, Downforce seems pretty simplistic. I did forget to add the Speed cards though!

When you open the box, the first thing I noticed was a large multi-page manual.  Flicking through it, I realised it only took a couple of minutes to read the entire manual cover to cover.  Everything is laid out in a simple, logical manner, that made playing with the manual open the first time surprisingly easy.

Then looking at the rest of the contents, everything was just as simple to understand.  Six coloured racing cars with accompanying tiles, a deck of cards, and a score pad.  While multi-component games can be a lot of fun, there are plenty of times that you just want to sit and play, and I already had a feel Downforce was one of these games.

While I don’t think Downforce is a complicated game overall, I will talk you through the simplified or more basic version of the game we went through to start with.

Setup is pretty simple.  Randomly set out the 6 cars on the board.  The colour that gets put on the number 1 spot will be the first player.

Downforce Starting Setup
So here, the Orange car will be going first. Then it just goes in clockwise player order.

Shuffle out the 6 number 8 speed cards and deal them face down to each player until everyone has the same number of cars.  Everyone then flips over there cards to reveal who they are.  This is how you allocate who is what colour and first player.  For the team powers, I tend to shuffle them and let each player randomly draw one in these types of games.

Then shuffle the remaining speed cards, and deal three to each player and put the rest in easy reach distance for all players.

And that is it.¬† The player who’s car is on the number one spot at the line goes first – it’s that simple!

Downforce Typical 3 player Simple Starting Hand
With a 3 player starting game, each player will get 2 cars. So this is a pretty typical starting hand for a simple game.

Players are trying to finish the race with the most money.  Coming first gets you more winnings, but there are betting and the previously mentioned auction mechanic that changes how this works.  For the first game, just straight up race and see who places first.

Moving the cars

To move, play a Speed card.  Most Speed cars have movement amounts for multiple cars, up to 6 in total.

You can’t move sideways, and you can’t move backwards – you always have to move forward (which makes sense for race cars – they won’t stop on a track).¬† You have to move all of the cars on the card from the top to the bottom – but you move all of that cars on your turn.¬† This lets you potentially block in cars or force suboptimal plays for other cars.

Downforce Opening Move
Opening move made. It's simply a case of moving the cars in order from the top to the bottom - but placement can be very important!

By the letter of the rules, you can move a car forward if the end of the square is further ahead than the square the car is in.  Also, you can move into any square that a forward corner is touching.

These rules sound a little confusing, but the rulebook gives clear examples of the movement to simplify it.

However, I play and teach by a slightly modified ruleset.¬† I teach so that movement can only be in a square that the front edge of the square touches.¬† This helps prevent some ‘runaway leader’ play that I have seen, but it is essentially a house rule.¬† Keep it in mind, but I will talk about this later in some more detail.

Team Powers

Downforce Moving Example
Movement can sound a little confusing, but it's all pretty straightforward

A simple way to keep multiple games interesting, Team Powers let you break or bend rules during gameplay.

Don’t want people to keep blocking you in when they move your cars? Grab the ‘Cunning’ power and always be the one to move your cars.

Have a lot of a single colour car on top of your Speed cards?¬† Grab that car and the ‘Aggressive’ power to move an extra space when you play one of those cards.

Don’t want to move a particular car on your turn?¬† That’s where ‘Strategic’ can help you.

Whether randomly handed out or auctioned off, these cards can change a game in a blink of an eye.

The Betting

Downforce Team Powers
They may not seem like it, but the powers can subtly change the game each time you play

Betting plays a big part in Downforce, but it can be a little confusing for some the first game.  It is something that I end up usually adding if I know all the players are used to different games though.

Betting is really simple Рon each track, there are three yellow lines.  Think of them as stages.  When a card that causes the first car to cross one of these lines is finished, pick on your scoresheet the car you think will win.

It doesn’t have to be yours, and it can be bet on multiple times.¬† Betting is also free.¬† At the end of the game, add each bet total to your score on the sheet.¬† There are plenty of games I have played where even a player that finished fourth won the game because of clever betting!

The Auction

Downforce Betting
All you have to do is mark who you think is going to win when a car first crosses a yellow line. If it places, bonus cash for you!

The Auction is something I suggest you leave until your second game.¬† It’s not overly complicated, but it is the part of the game that most first time players have the most trouble with.

Setup is almost identical, but when you play the full game all of the speed cards are dealt out to players before the game starts.  This fixes the possible strategies for players at the start, for example a player may have much more red movement than black movement.

Shuffle up either the Speed 8 cards or the car tiles, and flip the first one over.  Now do the same with the Team Powers.  This means players can bid on the car and power they want.

Bidding is down with speed cards face down.  If you have that colour car, the amount of movement is the amount you are bidding on the combination.

There are some tiebreaker rules and ways to use Wilds, but in general, this is it.  Once you win, you put the Speed 8 card in your hand, and take the power and the car tile.  All players put their bidding card back into their hands.

Downforce Auction
So someone really wanted Yellow - they bid 6 million! After confirming they won, they mark down the bids. The bids are subtracted from the winnings, so don't spend too much!

This can mean that players have more than one car.  Every car must be used when playing this way, and each player must have at least one car.

So why not go all out and bid for as many cars as possible?  Because of the amount you won the bid with.  This comes off your final score, as you have laid out money already to be in the race. There is another small catch to multiples Рwhile you will keep multiple cars, you can only keep a single Team Power.  No stacking up the advantages here!

This makes Downforce more thematic to a degree, but also much more calculating.¬† Do you go your favourite colour just because you can?¬† Do you bid high on the power you want, and high on the power you don’t want Bob to have just to deny them?¬† So many possibilities.¬† And because you can see your choices at the start of the game, planning is essential.

The Gameplay

So as you have seen, I have split out various rules in explaining how to play the game.  That is because Downforce is very modular.  You can mix and choose the rules you want to play with, and customise the experience to your liking.

Playing with younger children?  Play three cards in a hand and just use final placings to score.  Playing with cutthroat strategists?  Use every rule there is and make every mistake really hurt.

But even when all that is done, each game is fast.  Like 20-30 minutes fast when you get into it.  So you can make something fun or an all-out fight, and still play multiple games in the time it takes for Formula D.

Downforce Gameplay
Each game is unique and fun. Play your cards right, and you can usually come back from behind!

And each game is a lot of fun.¬† I have only met one person that didn’t like Downforce, and I am still not 100{dfca638b9dbdbc1caf156b9b6679a983a965572ca56a786c9cf360ad3783820c} sure why.

Yes, it’s simple.¬† But you don’t need overly complex mechanics to create a deeply strategic game.¬† And it’s a rare find where games this deep can be just as fun played as a luck based game as well.

Downforce is so well balanced, but it’s not until you really get into the game before you discover this – except for a couple of points.

The Downsides

There is one power – ‘Determined’ – that I try to take out of experienced players hands when playing a mixed game.¬† Determined means you can move an extra 2 spaces as long as you only moved into rectangular spaces during the game, and it triggers all the time.

Now if everyone knows how Determined works it can be played around, but when people are learning it’s a bit much.¬† A player with Determined early in the turn order is one of the few ‘runaway winner’ scenarios I have come across.¬† This is the one reason why I slightly altered the movement rules.

If a player wants the leader to slow down, forcing them to take the outside lanes work – as long as they can’t just zip through on their turn.¬† It was a simple change and also simplified movement, but it’s a rule I needed to change without simply removing Determined from the mix.

The auctioning and betting rules offset a lot of the advantage normally, but players need to be aware of the entire game for this kind of counterbalance to happen naturally in game.

There are a few combinations I have seen people complain about being overpowered, but this particular scenario is the only one I have seen frequently enough to call a rule change for.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Restoration Games announces Return to Dark Castle for 2020

Return to Dark Tower Feature

Restoration Games is turning their attention to another ‘Holy Grail’ game of the 80’s

Way back in 1981, Milton Bradley released an incredibly experimental board game – Dark Tower.

On the surface, it may look like fairly standard fantasy fare.  Search the four realms for three keys to unlock the Dark Tower.   Explore the board, fight monsters, buy items from the market Рyep nothing really out of the ordinary these days.

But in 1981, the Dark Tower itself was the app that kept tabs on what was happening and directed play.  It had a small keypad that allowed players to input their moves, and the tower made various sounds or lit up various panels to show what was happening.

And the best bit (well, for some) – Orson Welles himself did the ad!

While Dark Tower was released over 30 years ago, there are still a lot of people that go to amazing lengths to have a copy in their collection – working or not!¬† This is very similar to another game released in the 80’s I have talked about on the site before – Fireball Island.

I have loved almost everything Restoration Games has released.  The only game I am not going out of my way to play is a game called Indulgence.  It is by all accounts a fine game, but I was never a fan on the of the DragonMaster (well, original for what I played), so the restoration did not hold a lot of interest for me.

Fireball Island New Board

That’s one game though.¬† Stop Thief! took another innovative design from the 80’s and made a beautiful deduction game with solo, cooperative and competitive game modes.¬†¬†Downforce (which I got to play again last night actually) made racing games fun again, and I am looking forward to the new tracks and powers this year.¬† Even Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar lured me in, and I am looking forward to that appearing in the mail later this year!

And then during Gen Con, the following video was let lose on the world.

Restoration Games track record and nostalgia have once again combined to get me excited about an old game that by today’s standards is primitive and ‘not fun’.¬† And with Gloomhaven designer Isaac Childers working with Rob Daviau and the Restoration Games team, Return to Dark Tower should become something special indeed!

But there will be a wait.¬† A long wait.¬† According to statements made during Gen Con 2018, Return to Dark Tower won’t be on Kickstarter until 2020 sometime – and that’s all going well.

Until then, I will just have to track down a copy of Dinosaur Tea Party to keep my Restoration Games release anticipation in check ūüôā

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

How reading the rules can help me pick new games

Rule books

How do you know if a game is worth buying if no one has played it yet?

So I have posted in that I think rules up front for Kickstarters is an essential part of a successful campaign. Having a feel for a game goes a long way to deciding if I want to back a game. It also gives a good indication of how developed and playtested it is as well.

Of course, especially with the Kickstarter example, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. When part of the campaign is raising funds to allow the people time to develop the game, I look more at the designers take on feedback and the magical ‘gut feel’. Games like Samhain and Sunset Over Water (which I got in the mail last night!) are good examples of leap of faith pledges.

Then there are campaigns like Fireball Island from Restoration Games where the rules are complete. With all of the revisions and knowing the fan reaction to this game, you know the Restoration Games is up to the challenge. I am already a massive fan of Restoration Games, with only one of their games not in my collection. Nothing against Indulgence, I just wasn’t a fan of Dragonmaster, and I don’t know anyone with a copy to try it.

Fireball Island New Box Cover

Fireball Island is one of those games where I think it’s probably better in memory than the game deserves. Looking through the rules though it seems like enough ‘game’ has been added to make it fun for all. Fireball Island still won’t be a heavy gaming experience, but even just the change of turning Vul-Kar into a mini dice tower with multiple paths for the fireballs adds a sense of player agency to the game.

The Kickstarter page gives you a feel for the modular construction of the new island, but the rules also give you a better feel for just how big this will be. There are going to be a lot of parts to setting up the island – more so if you include all the expansions. It doesn’t look Mousetrap level crazy – everything has a spot to sit. But taking seven trees in and out each game will probably get annoying, especially as these trees alter the paths of fireballs and I am worried about them breaking.

Fireball Island New Board

So that’s an example of what I look for in a rulebook before purchase, now we can compare this to another game that has piqued my interest. Plaid Hat Games has been slowly teasing Starship Samurai, and a couple of days ago made it available for preorder and included the rules on the product page.

Now I already didn’t know anything about the game except for some very pretty miniatures as playing pieces. Looking at the product page, the first thing I thought of with the ‘board’ was Dead of Winter. Isaac Vega designed Starship Samurai and co-designed Dead of Winter, so this made sense after a second. The modular board design works, it was just an initial layout impression from an image. So I shake it off and start reading the rules.

Starship Samurai Game Setup
Starship Samurai Game Setup

And honestly, I probably shouldn’t have read the rules pretty much straight after reading the rules for Fireball Island. It’s a chalk and cheese comparison, and I am not trying to make Starship Samurai sound bad, but after reading a more complex game manual where I don’t feel I know what the actual game is still isn’t a great first impression.

The art is outstanding, and no rule seems to contradict or confuse. The manual is well laid out and overall concise. There aren’t any issues over and above a ‘manual’ that I can point to other than I don’t know why I want to play Starship Samurai. Again, this isn’t something that that by itself is a negative – it’s the same for many mid-weight and above games. The purpose of the manual is to teach you how to play the game, and Starship Samurai does this.

Dead of Winter teaches you how to play the game (more or less, Starship Samurai’s manual I would say is better without putting it to a playtest) but the manual doesn’t get you excited about playing the game. The possible betrayal and crossroads mechanics are what got people excited, even before they knew the rules. And this is what Starship Samurai lacks – the different ‘something’ that you can point to marketing wise and build a buzz around.

Starship Samurai Rules Capture

Starship Samurai looks to be a solid game, and honestly, I would be tempted to back it if it were a Kickstarter. I would probably have already pledged it if it was a newer designer or company. But this is a full retail game from a known designer and publisher, and after the massive information push that was Stuffed Fables (that I still want to play!), I would like to see more information before thinking of preordering. A single whole game run-through video would do it – I don’t need spoon feeding, I just want to see it in action.

It’s a grey area, but as I said I want to see videos of Starship Samurai because Plaid Hat has done them before and recently. Fireball Island has been under wraps, but it’s simple enough that I can all but see a game from the rules reading so I don’t need to watch a game to picture the gameplay. This is the ‘gut feel’ factor. Don’t treat Kickstarter and retail purchases as different either. If you would cut a new publisher a break on Kickstarter, do the same for a new publisher at your local games store.

So hopefully with those examples, this gives you a bit of an insight on what I look for when assessing new games. Kickstarter is an amazing platform for creators, and for gamers has evolved into almost a retail machine. Hopefully looking at your purchases this way, you can spend more time playing the games you want. And spending your money on such titles will encourage publishers to lift their game even more in the future.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

A new month, and the April Kickstarter queue is already forming

Lifeform Badge

Well, my credit card is starting to tap me on the shoulder. “Weren’t you going to take it easy?” A little voice asks. “CHECK THIS OUT!” another voice shouts excitedly.

And here we are – another month, and already a queue of things I want to buy or are on the horizon.

Lifeform by Hall or Nothing Productions

Straight up – Lifeform is Alien: The Board Game but without the license. It’s a survival horror game for up to four players, and you can play solo with the Dragon’s Domain expansion.

Lifeform is a dungeon crawler type gameplay with one player taking the role of the hostile alien lifeform, with other players frantically trying to gather resources and escape.

Just trying to sum up the game, this looks on the surface like a harsher cooperative game than one of my most anticipated games for 2018, Who Goes There?.  This is only on the surface though. Looking deeper into Lifeform there are some unique mechanics that I think will make it stand out on its own. Plus I could play this by myself with the expansion.

Lifeform The Crew
Lifeform The Ship

Check out the playthrough video with co-designer Mark Chaplin below, or jump straight to the Kickstarter page here.

Graphic Novel Adventures by Van Ryder Games

Choose your own adventure, Pick a Path, and Fighting Fantasy. As I was growing up, these series were my solo adventuring fun.

The order is important because while I could follow a story with the first two series, Fighting Fantasy books allowed me to roll dice and participate in the adventure. The pinnacle of these books to me is still the Sorcery! series, four books where you could carry your character and decisions from book to book.

Well, Van Ryder Games seems to remember these experiences and is bringing them back in the form of graphic novels. This is interesting to me because these books start to feel like a mix of old school pick your route adventures and games like Unlock! where details can be hidden in the image.

Graphic Adventure Novels Book 1
Graphic Adventure Novels Choices

There are five very different story types on offer, so you can pick the ones you want or grab the entire series.

Check out the Kickstarter page for more information.

Fireball Island by Restoration Games

This Kickstarter doesn’t officially start for another 24 hours, but if you are on Restoration Games email list the preview is up, and what I am seeing looks like a lot of fun.

I’m not going to go into it here, I will leave that for maybe Thursday’s post. I will say the following bits though:

  1. There is a spot for the full rules, so I will be reading those straight away
  2. The amazing Rodney Smith of Watch it Played will be doing a rules video. Check out Watch it Played here.
  3. You will need to put aside USD$130 + shipping for an all in pledge. What does that include? That would be telling ūüėÄ

I will put down some thoughts later in the week, but check out the Kickstarter page tomorrow ūüôā

Fireball Island New Box Cover

Restoration Games Fireball Island is launching on Kickstarter April

Fireball Island New Box Cover

Can you escape the Curse of Vul-Kar?

Way back in 1986, Fireball Island was a Milton Bradley monstrosity of a game.  Lots of plastic and a marble you would send flying down the various paths to knock over pieces, it was great fun.  For about 10 minutes.  Then you kind of used it like the backdrop of an adventure set, making up your own stories as the playing pieces became more like action toys in your story.

Fireball Island Original Box Cover

Come 2016, and Restoration Games as a company is announced.¬† Their mission – to reinvigorate these old classics and bring them up to today’s¬†gaming standards.¬† Stop Thief and Downforce¬†have been great additions to my library, and I am thoroughly enjoying both of these classic games.

When the library was being looked at, a vote went out for the next game for Restoration Games to tackle, and a lot of very valid reasons were given as to why they couldn’t do it.¬† Well, as far as I remember, I can’t seem to find the original voting page where I remember seeing all this, so it could be an old man’s memory playing up.

But in 2017, Restoration Games announced with a flourish that they would indeed be tackling Fireball Island.

Well, information has been scarce with little pieces being teased out little by little.  But the wait is all but over! Come April 3rd (4th most likely QLD time) the Kickstarter for the new Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar will be live!

What does this mean?  More plastic.  More bits.  Rob Daviau promises more actual game!

Fireball Island Comparison

I will be looking for this project with interest.  My memories and feelings are mixed to say the least on the original game, mainly due to the amazing amount of fun people have poked at it over the years.  But Restoration Games has so far come through, so I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

As I said at the moment information is a bit scarce, but you can check out the active Board Game Geek page here for more information.

Oh and that people making fun of the original?  Check out my favourite Board with Life Halloween video starring Fireball Island below!

Until next time,

JohnHQLD