Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Review

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Cover - The Thames Murders and Other Cases
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Cover - The Thames Murders and Other Cases
Released 1981
Designer Raymond Edwards, Suzanne Goldberg, Gary Grady
Publisher Space Cowboys/Asmodee (Website)
Players 1 – 8 (Best with 1-3)
Playing Time 60 – 120+ minutes per case
Category Mystery/Deduction
Logic Puzzle
Cooperative
Multipath Narrative
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

The case that took me almost 30 years to continue.  Talk about cold cases!

Anyone that enjoys mysteries knows the thrill of following the characters unravel the meaning behind random events and clues.  It’s one of the reasons the genre is so strong in almost every form of entertainment, and one of the most well-known detectives remains to this day, Sherlock Holmes.

I remember reading all of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle adventures in my youth, and progressing to Agatha Christie’s Poirot and many others.

So it was with great anticipation I sat down one night in 1991(ish) with a couple of friends keen to show off a new purchase – Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective.

The hook was simple – could I follow a case and work it out faster than Sherlock Holmes?  Who could say no to a challenge like that?

Getting a group into a Holmes-like adventure while immersing the player is surprisingly simple.  The players act as the Baker Street Irregulars, and the cases are ones that Holmes is aware of but is too busy to be interrupted with.

Surely, with three of us working together on a case too ‘simple’ for Holmes to waste his time on meant that we would surely have this in the bag, right?

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Original Contents
Considering this is a game from the 80's, the simplicity of the game systems still hold up today

The short answer was no.  We worked most of it out, but we definitely weren’t smarter than Holmes.  There were a few bits we missed and some made the game overly long, but we were happy with our performance.

And then my friends moved, one case in.  None of the Australian game stores I tried had even heard of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, and I was stopping my overseas travel the way I used to.  This was a game I simply thought I would never get to play again.

But then around 2014, there was hope.  A reprint!  Ystari, one of the original publishers, was re-releasing the game.  I quickly bought a copy and played a few cases with some friends.

And we started running into problems.  The game concept was still great and fun was had, but the game itself was a bit broken.  There was a major issue I wasn’t aware of from so many years ago – Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective was being retranslated from French back into English, and some of the cases were just different.

Some cases were fine, but some were an exercise in frustration.  In one case, the culprit wasn’t even mentioned in the story – we couldn’t win if we wanted to.

This is not the game that is being reviewed today.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Ystari and Space Cowboys Editions
See that Ystari in the lower right-hand corner of the box on the left? Go for the box on the right instead.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective – The Thames Murders and Other Cases

Today I am going to be talking about the Space Cowboy’s/Asmodee reprinting of the original Ystari release.  In it, almost all of the problems you may have heard about from previous games have been corrected.

As mentioned in the image above, check the box before playing – if it says Ystari, stay away!

But what are you actually playing?  Well, this is where Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective sounds worse than it is.

Your group (and you can play this solo, but I prefer at least 2 people) will be taking part in a light roleplay game, where books act as a kind of storyteller.  There will be a lot of reading and picking multiple options to continue the story, similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure Story.

Wait don’t go!  There is so much more to it, but that really is the easiest way to explain the game.  There really is a lot of reading though, so if you are not someone that enjoys reading and/or being read to, this may not be the game for you.

But while reading is important to the game, it’s not where the actual game is played.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Space Cowboys Contents
Apart from multiple corrections, the presentation of the new version is definitely slicker and just feels better quality

As I mentioned, there is a light roleplay aspect to playing a game of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective.  You pick up the newspaper that is printed on the same ‘date’ as your casebook and give it a read, similar to how the great detective begins his day.  And just like almost every Holmes story, it is surprising the clues and information that can be gleaned from the articles and ads in these journals.

Then you would begin to read the casebook out loud, taking it in turns to read and essentially be the lead investigator.  The idea is pretty simple – the lead investigator reads out the passage and the group evaluates the information gathered.

Depending on the information provided or deductions made, the lead investigator then opens to the passage they decide on and hands the book over to the next player.

That last bit is pretty important – while this game is cooperative and played as a group, it’s the decision of the lead investigator as to where the next action is taken.  If you play with a quarterback that like to make all the decisions, this may not be their kind of game.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Typical Case
Apart from a pen and paper for notes, this is all you need to play a case

Now, this sounds like a Choose Your Own Adventure so far with the exception of the newspaper.  So where does the deduction come from you ask?

Well while there are options occasionally to go to a certain passage in the book, the choices are almost always completely up to the group.  You are provided a map of London and Directory with all of the ‘important’ people and places to use for the entire game.

For an example, the story may make mention of a Colonel Blowhard (not a real game name) and how he was overheard complaining about someone skulking up an alleyway.

If you look up the Colonel in your directory, you can find a passage number for his home location.  But what if he could be at the Army Barracks?  You can see them on the map, also with passage number to try and find him there.

But if you remember from the paper, his daughter is getting married today so he could also be busy overseeing last-minute preparations at the church.

While this particular situation is hypothetical, it is representative of the kind of decision you have to repeatedly make throughout the case.  Each decision could help further the story along, or you find a dead end and have to backtrack.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Which lead to follow
You can find the Colonel in the Directory, but you can also see where they may be on the map. And The Times shows a third option. Where do you go?

There is also a list of contacts that are almost always available to you for each case, including Sherlock Holmes himself if you are getting too lost.

Fans of the series will recognise Scotland Yard and Inspector Lestrade, but there are also criminal contacts as well if you need some of the gossip making its way around.

And it’s here that Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective shines as an experience – you have to notice the clues and reveal the trail.  There is no bad roll or unlucky draw to snatch victory – you solve the case, or you don’t.

To finish a game, you basically answer some questions on the nature of the case for points and take points away for the number of locations you visited.  Assuming you got things correct, you solved the case!  But that is only part of the challenge.  Did you outsmart Holmes himself?

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective The questions and solution
Once you think you have solved the case, to the back of the book you go. Answer the questions, then compare the answers in the envelope. Yes - they hide the answers in an envelope!

If you end up with a score of 100 or more, then the answer is yes – but this is very hard for most people to do.  I would suggest concentrating on simply ending up with a positive score and counting that as a win – but the challenge is still there for you!

The downside is once you have read the solution, you know how to beat Holmes, so replayability is limited.  There are plenty of cases in the box though, and new collections are coming out as well!

I am not looking at Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures or Carlton House & Queens Park today, but the core of these games are the same so if you are interested at all they are safe purchases.  There is no play order in the sets, so grab whatever set you can confident you won’t be missing anything.

It is a testament to how good these games can be that over 35 years after the initial release, different companies are not only picking up the original cases but new cases are actively being created.

And you can see the heavy influence on games like Legacy of Dragonholt, Mythos Tales and Detective: A Modern Crime Story as well.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and games it has inspired
The best recommendation I can give these games? 30+ years later, you can see the influence on games still today

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Escape Room in a Box – The Werewolf Experiment Review

Escape Room in a Box
Escape Room in a Box
Released 2016 (Kickstarter, hit the shelves 2017 I am pretty sure?)
Designer Juliana Patel, Ariel Rubin
Publisher Stay at Home Werewolves (Website)
Players 2 – 8 (maybe max out about 5 though depending on your group)
Playing Time 60 minute timer, give yourself 90 minutes to enjoy the experience in total
Category Escape Room
Deduction
Word Puzzles
Logic Puzzles
Party Game
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Escape Rooms are amazing, but you tabletop versions can’t always match a custom room.  Or can they?

So the reviews lately have been doing pretty well with some great feedback, which I thank you all for.

Some feedback which has confirmed a little of what I was worried about is that while people have appreciated the how to play aspect and even the how to teach parts of my reviews, sometimes the why to play parts haven’t always been coming across.

So to help with this, I thought I would bring up a review I have been putting off for a little while – Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment.

Now I haven’t been holding off on this because Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment is a bad game – quite the opposite.

Short version – this is my favourite at home Escape Room game I have ever played, and waiting for the Kickstarter project to finish and deliver was worth every minute.

No, I have been holding off talking about it because how do you teach someone how to play an Escape Room?

So this review is going to be very different from what I have been doing lately, but only because of the nature of the game.

Escape Room in a Box Retail Components
If you buy a copy, your contents will look different to mine - but the experience will be just as much fun!

Now if you don’t like timed puzzle games, I would ask that you keep reading and maybe still give Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment a chance.  There is no reason why you have to play with the timer in place, and there may still be a fun experience here for you.

When I have done Escape Rooms (and a few years ago I was lucky enough to playtest quite a few), different puzzles and layouts with secrets were always exciting to uncover.  This feeling is a large part of what makes Escape Rooms so popular – finding the secret compartment in the wine rack is simply activating almost every reward area of players minds.

But doing this at home is hard – really hard.  It is indeed achievable – games like ‘How to Host a Murder’ achieve this with the inclusion of roleplay, and hardcore players do indeed hide objects and clues in their homes.

Escape Room in a Box Size Comparison
In terms of size, you can comfortably fit 4 standard coffee mugs on the box, and the box height is just under a mug in size.

And when you see the box for Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment, you can be forgiven of thinking the contents will be the same as Unlock! and Exit games – a bunch of cards or sheets of paper.

While it’s true that paper is involved, one of the first big changes made is actual physical puzzles and objects.  Boxes are locked with varying locks and combinations, and there are other physical items that you will need to work out their purpose.

It’s this physicality that puts Escape Room in a Box above any other experience I have played.  Sure, I have puzzle games with physical parts, but this is the first ‘game’ that I had to enter the combination in an actual lock to get to the next phase.

There is no way to describe the satisfaction of feeling the click of the lock opening and opening a metal box (plastic in the retail version) to find new contents.

And while the physical reward is incredibly close to the physical sensation of dedicated escape rooms, the puzzles involved were also generally similar as well.

Escape Room in a Box Opening
When you first open the box, you get a great insight into the designers sense of humour

Now the box describes 19 puzzles, and the solutions of three are obviously opening physical locks.  If I could have gotten away without describing even this, I would have.  But it’s pretty obvious when you look at the site and contents, so I don’t mind confirming this.

But the nature of all of these puzzles is many and varied.  There are math style puzzles and word puzzles, and puzzles with multiple components to them.  There are also other physical style puzzles that I don’t want to spoil here, but if you have players that are better with their hands than word puzzles they have vital roles to play as well.

If you look at the final image closely, you may even get a clue on the nature of some of the puzzles if you look carefully – but don’t.  Really.  If you are curious enough to be looking for that kind of information, this is definitely a game that you should just play.

I can say that many of the puzzles used are on par with many dedicated Escape Rooms, only adding to the ‘at home’ experience for a fraction of the price.

Escape Room in a Box Last Warning
There is no way you can say that you weren't warned about what to open and when 🙂

And that is another great part of Escape Room in a box – it’s cheap enough to just buy as a leap of faith, even if you just want a cheap way of seeing if you want to do a ‘real’ escape room.

Looking on Amazon.com.au, the first entry has Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment at AUD$40.  If you are a prime member, it’s even free shipping!  Careful though – there are also $55 entries, but honestly even at $50 this is a great experience.

Now, compare this to the Exit games – probably the closest escape room experience sales wise.  These games are largely paper-based puzzles and are around $25 (plus shipping depending).  Unlock! another puzzle series I enjoy but doesn’t come close to the escape room feeling is also around the $25 mark for a deck of cards.

Now compare this to a ‘proper’ escape room that you have to book in and time more carefully, and are locked into a timed experience.  These rooms are generally around $40 per person.  Now generally speaking they are worth it – but if you aren’t sure, Escape Room in a Box is the best home version to give it a go!

The only downside is two years later I haven’t heard of a second game coming from the designers.  That’s it – I just want to play more games from Ariel Rubin and Juliana Patel – this was an amazingly fun experience!

Now the game can indeed be reset, and with the Kickstarter I got a reload kit to accomplish this.  These kits I believe are still available for the retail version as well.

But there is a bonus I didn’t have as an option with the Kickstarter game I played last year.  It’s a small and niche addition, but it is a great option as well.

Simply – there is an Alexa Skill available for Escape Room in a Box now!  Just like in an Escape Room with a walkie-talkie or phone for help, you can have Alexa take over this role assuming you have the tech already.

It’s a small bonus, but it’s a great addition overall that I hope more games like this begin to tap into.

Escape Rom in a Box Alexa Skill
And since I have played, there is a new feature - you can play with Alexa!

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Hanamikoji Review

Hanamikoji Feature
Hanamikoji Feature
Released 2013
Designer Kota Nakayama
Publisher EmperorS4 (Website)
Players 2
Playing Time 15 minutes
Category Card Drafting
Set Collection
Area Control
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

A surprisingly deep game that many could be overlooking

Hanamikoji is a game that is fighting itself in a few ways.  It comes in a small but beautifully illustrated box.  That’s OK – so do a lot of undiscovered gems.

The name describes nothing of the game if you know nothing about Japan.  If you are familiar with Japan (specifically Kyoto) then you know Hanamikoji is popular for Geisha spotting.

Now, this can bring a lot of immature giggles aplenty as it is.  It doesn’t help the stated goal on the box is to ‘attract the seven best Geisha to join you by collecting their items’.

This sounds like a bad dating sim.  I love Hanamikoji and even I think it sounds really strange.  But really it is a very Japanese game, and that is where some misconceptions creep in.

In Hanamikoki, two players are rival restaurant owners looking to attract the Geisha to perform at your restaurants and using their performance tools of choice to try and convince them.

Now before imaginations run too far, Geisha are highly educated and sought after performers.  Musicians, poets, writers, dancers – almost every field of performance art you can imagine.  Enticing these performers to entertain at your restaurant is nothing more than trying to get the best performers for your venue – everyone will want to go to the restaurant with the better performers.

Hanamikoji Components
Similar to Oink Games, Hanamikoji is a game with few components but simple elegance

And this is my biggest problem with explaining Hanamikoji – trying to explain around the perfectly logical theme to show people an elegant yet deep strategy card game.

The components are simple and beautifully illustrated, and the gameplay can take a second to click with many people but once it does many people want to play again and again.

Hanahmikoji is a truly deep and surprisingly tactical area control game, where the Geisha are the areas you are trying to control.  Each player has a number of cards that are split up during a round, and the person with the most cards for that Geisha influences where they want to perform.

To win, you either have to be the player at the end of a round that has influenced four of the seven Geisha or earned 11 ‘Charm Points’ (Value on the Geisha’s card).

This keeps things interesting especially in early games because most players I know focus on one or the other victory condition.  This is where some players begin to lose interest in Hanamikoji though, as this kind of layered victory condition makes the game seem more complicated than it has to be.

If you play with people that mainly enjoy luck-based quick games, I would probably start only with the 4 Geisha win condition to keep things simple.  It’s easy enough to introduce the full rules after a few games after all.

Hanamikoji Tea Geisha
The tea ceremony is highly sought after, with 4 Charm Points. This also means there are 4 tea pots to try and influence the Geisha with

Setting up Hanamikoji

Setup and gameplay is very straightforward in Hanamikoji, but it will probably take even experienced gamers a couple of reads of the rulebook to get going.

First, separate the seven Geisha cards and the circular victory markers.  These make up the game board so to speak.

Looking at the Geisha cards, you will notice a couple of things.

Firstly, each card is beautifully illustrated and shows different Geisha performing in their chosen art.

Secondly, each has a number almost like a playing card in each corner.  This number is the number of Charm Points for one of the victory conditions.  It is also the number of items each Geisha has in the deck that you use to try and win them over with.  This helps remind players at all times how many of each item is in the deck.

Hanamikoji Tea Geisha
The tea ceremony is highly sought after, with 4 Charm Points. This also means there are 4 tea pots to try and influence the Geisha with

It’s this kind of subtlety that attracts me to games like Hanamikoji, in the same vein as games like Onitama.

Deal out the Geisha cards in a single line between the two players, and place the circular victory markers on the centre of each card.

During play, the victory markers will go from neutral (the centre) one step towards a player that influenced the Geisha each round.  More of this will be described in the end of round explanations, but for now know that the positioning is important.

Each player then takes the four square action tiles of their chosen colour and places them coloured side up before them.  During play, each player will use all four actions in any order, so the tiles act as a round timer and a reminder for both players the actions remaining to their opponents.

Again it’s this kind of elegant simplicity in presenting information in a game that really makes me smile and gravitate towards them.  Many games strive for this kind of information to be presented simply but fall short of doing so in such an intuitive manner.

With the setup done, it’s now time for the round to begin formally.

Hanamikoji Setup
The playing board is complete, but shows an amazing amount of information at a glance

Game Round

1. Deal

The first player (beginning with the youngest player then alternating between rounds) shuffles the 21 card deck.  This is the Geisha items that players will be using for the game.  Take one card, and put it unseen into the box – this is a blind card, and is used so that the mix of items is different each game.

Now the player deals 6 cards to each player face down and places the rest in a draw pile at the end of the Geisha row.

2. Action

This is where the bulk of the game takes place.  The first thing you do each action turn is to draw a card from the draw pile.  Now to influence a Geisha, you need to place more items of that Geisha’s performance style than your opponent.

Yes, it’s that simple – give the Geisha more than your opponent to influence them.

So you may have a starting hand like the one shown.  You have two of the three-stringed instruments.  How do I know there are 3 of them?  See the charm points and kanji that match the geisha playing that instrument?  So you don’t even need to look directly at the Geisha – all the information is in your hands as well!

Hanamikoji Opening Hand
Your opening hand after the first card is drawn. This is where Hanamikohi gets complex - you have one Geisha in hand and half of another, but what does your opponent have?

But at the heart of Hanamikoji are the four actions you can play each round.  Each action must be played once, and the action stage is over when all eight actions (both players four actions) are complete.

And the actions are where the tension of Hanamikoji comes into play.  You see it’s not just a case of letting you play cards as you like.  Some will let you keep information hidden from your opponent, but some may benefit your opponent as well!

First Action – Secret

Secret is an end of round scoring bonus.  You simply take one card of your choice, and put it face down under the Secret marker.  You can check this card at any time, but you can’t change it.

At the end of the round, this card will be added to the scoring area for the scoring total.

Second Action – Trade-off

Choose any two cards from your hand, and place them under the Trade-off marker.  Again you can check these cards at any time, but these cards are now out of the round.  They will not be scored at all.

A common play I try and explain to people is you may have all three charm items – one in play and two in your hand.  If you put the remaining two under the tile, you know that you have won that Geisha.  But there are many more strategies that can be used here!

Hanamikoji Actions 1 and 2
All your opponent sees if you have done the move. But what have you kept, and what are you taking out of play?

Players of games like New York Slice will start to see similarities in the remaining choices.

Third Action – Gift

Take three cards from your hand, and put them in front of you.  Your opponent then chooses one card and plays it on the corresponding Geisha on their side.  You then place your cards on the Geisha on your side.  That’s right, you just gave your opponent a scoring card!  But don’t forget, your opponent has to do the same for you during the round as well.

Fourth Action – Competition

Similar to Gift, take four cards and put them face up in two groups of two before you.  You decide what makes up the groups.  Your opponent then picks one of the groups and plays them on their side, with you playing the remaining group.

So once again, you have to try and make your opponent think they are choosing a great set for themselves, but they are making the choice with the information they have in their hand.

Hanamikoji Actions 3 and 4
It might look hard, but the fact you have to make your opponent choose makes your life harder than you think. Or you can play it safe and make no real choice.

3. Scoring and Update

Once both players have played all four actions, the final phase begins.

Each player takes the Secret card and plays it into the scoring field.  Then, you check to see which Geisha have been influenced.

If one side has more cards then the other for a Geisha, move the marker to that side.  That player has ‘won’ the Geisha.

If there are no cards or a tied number of cards, the marker doesn’t move.  This can leave Geisha neutral or on a players side between rounds.

Once this is complete, you check to see if a player has 4 Geisha.  Once this has been done, you check if a player has achieved 11 or more Charm points.

If a player has met one or both conditions, they win!  But if both players have met a condition (i.e. one has 4 Geisha and one has 11 Charm points), the Charm Points player is considered the winner.

If no player wins, reset with all 21 cards but leave the victory markers where they are, and play again!

Hanamikoji End of Round Scoring
So no winner - but there rarely is on the first round. Many Geisha remain unswayed though, and this is how the start of Round 2 will begin. Can you steal some Geisha back?

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

A Fake Artist Goes to New York Review

A Fake Artist Goes to New York Feature
A Fake Artist Goes to New York Feature
Released 2012
Designer Jun Sasaki
Publisher Oink Games (Website)
Players 5 – 10
Playing Time 20 minutes
Category Hidden Role
Deduction / Bluffing
Party
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

A hidden role game with a major twist

When you have a large group of people wanting to play a game, party hidden role type games such as Werewolf, Spyfall or The Resistance tend to dominate in my gaming groups.

This is far from a problem for me – in general, I love all of these games.  But for some others, not so much.  Having to sit with a group of friends or even worse strangers and lie can be too stressful for some players.

This coupled with a problem I have with a lot of these games – player elimination during a long game – means some games are better than others for a group game.

Here is where the deceptively simple A Fake Artist Goes to New York comes along.  A game lasts about a minute a player as a rule of thumb.  It’s in a tiny package just like all Oink Games.

And best of all – it doesn’t look or play like a hidden role game.  Tell someone they are playing Werewolf with drawings, and I can’t imagine too many people jumping in.

But tell people they are playing Pictionary with a twist, and you have a wider audience willing to listen to you.

A Fake Artist Goes to New York Components
As usual with an Oink Game, tiny packaging holds a lot of components, but nothing too complicated either

Now don’t get me wrong I am not advocating tricking people into playing.  It’s just that I know plenty of people that just don’t like Hidden Role games, so no matter how different or fun any other game may be, they stop listening.

Luckily the rules explanation is really short, so if anyone still doesn’t think they will be interested it’s not much time lost.  But I have yet to find anyone I have explained the game to like this not willing to play. AndI have not had any players walk away unhappy or after just one game.

So set yourself up as the Question Master.  Players take turns with this role, and it makes life easier.

To do this, take a number of tiles equal to the number of other players.  Put the pad and all the coloured pens onto the table, and get everyone to pick a colour as you go off a little to the side.

Now I usually explain the below rules while I am writing on the tiles – it just makes life easier.  It also lets me ‘fix’ the first game so I know exactly who the Fake Artist is.

The Question Master pics a Topic that is said to everyone (e.g. Office) and writes a word associated with the topic on each tile (e.g. Desk) on all but one tile.  On one tile, you mark with an X or the word ‘FAKE’.  This is the hidden role in the game.

A Fake Artist Goes to New York Clues
I prefer to write the word 'FAKE' but it is up to you. Just be careful - it's easy to wipe the word off the tiles!

While I am writing, I am explaining to everyone that they are artists that have been invited to come work at a prestigious gallery on a painting.  But it has come to light that someone has managed to sneak in – a Fake Artist!

Unfortunately, the painting needs to start now, but luckily all of the real artists know what they are here for (I hand out the tiles now).  Each tile is the invitation letter that tells you what you are here to draw, but keep them secret!  Everyone knows that the gallery is doing an exhibit on a subject (in this case, Office), but we can only find the Fake through their errors in designing the painting.

The Question Master then picks a starting player (Try not to pick the Fake Artist!), and the artists then take turns drawing part of the image with a single line.

Now some people literally draw a line, but the idea is to draw a part of the image (the desk in this example) without taking the pen back off the paper.  So for the desk, someone may draw a line as part of the desktop or side.  They may draw the outline of a phone because phones are on office desks.

The goal is to draw enough to let the real artists know you know what your doing, but without letting the Fake Artist know what is being drawn.

A Fake Artist Goes to New York Desk
This has been completed, but you can see the two lines drawn by each colour (player). One line seems to be very wrong though...

After everyone has had 2 turns (around the table twice), the artists try and guess which colour belongs to the Fake Artist.

A bit of discussion doesn’t hurt, but you have to be careful to not get into ‘It can’t be me because my card says Desk’ territory.  Giving away the answer at the last minute hurts, and can happen in the heat of the moment!  So normally I give 30 seconds or just get people to point after a countdown of 5.

Now from here, there is a whole scoring system but to be honest I have yet to use it.  We just play rounds and have fun with the game.

It’s not the only deviation from the rules I normally make either.  I usually only play once around the table, to help with speed and also with keeping simple images vague enough to maybe throw the Fake Artist.

Once the vote is cast, if the Artists pick on of their own, the Fake Artist and the Question Master ‘win’!

If the Artists guess the Fake Artist, there is the last chance for them and the Question Master.  If the Fake Artist can correctly guess the subject, the pair of still win.

A Fake Artist Goes to New York Different
So the round has ended, and it doesn't look good for the blue player. But did they just have a different desk in mind? That's the sort of bluff that can save the Fake Artist

It sounds like the Artists have a hard time of winning, but not really.  You see one of the things I love about A Fake Artist Goes to New York is no one can draw really well in it.

By only having one motion to draw in coupled with a tiny pad, even talented artists are handicapped to draw like the rest of us.  And depending on your group, you can get cheeky and creative with your image.

A very literal group may just draw parts of a desk to show the desk, but in my example remember when I said someone could draw a phone because it sits on a desk?

If you just do the outline of a phone in one go (or phoneish shape at least), you are adding detail to the image without detracting from the desk proper.  But if you draw part of a phone in detail, when people should be working on the desk, it’s a suspicious move.  But then again, so is drawing a phone in the first place!

A Fake Artist Goes to New York is one of those great games where you can make the game what you want it to be very simply.  Want more bites at an image with a smaller group?  Play the formal two rounds rule.  10 people waiting to play?  Keep the images simple and play one round.  Want a bit more detail?  Allow 2 touches of the pen.

A Fake Artist Goes to New York is one of those great party games where you make of it what you want.  It’s like Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity, Joking Hazard, even Dixit to a degree – play the game you want to play with the tools provided.

A Fake Artist Goes to New York Old Game
Opening the box this was the last game played. I now wish I was writing the words on the old pages, I can't tell what this was supposed to be!

But A Fake Artist goes one step further because it’s already language and scene independent.  Want a game full of inside jokes?  You are deciding the situations, so it’s easy!  Want an ‘After Dark’ version? Nothing is stopping you!

It’s this flexibility that makes A Fake Artist Goes to New York such a great game in my opinion.  And it certainly helps that it can be played almost anywhere and is so easy to take with you!

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 – on 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 – while 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

Kobayakawa Review

Kobayakawa Feature
Kobayakawa Feature
Released 2012
Designer Jun Sasaki
Publisher Oink Games (Website)
Players 3 – 6
Playing Time 15-20 minutes
Category Deduction
Betting
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

15 Cards and a bunch of coins – it’s all you need

There are a lot of games with a lot of components.  A lot.  The CMON Kickstarters such as Zombicide, Blood Rage and Rising Sun have shown what can be done with a ton of materials at hand.

But what about when you have the bare essentials?  I remember playing games with nothing but a few dice – that doesn’t happen anymore does it?

Well, it does – it just seems those games don’t get much of the spotlight anymore.

When I pull out the box for Kobayakawa, I can usually see new players looking for the rest of the game.  Surely one small box isn’t everything for 6 people?

Then I open the box and spread out the metal coins.  People instantly reach for them, attracted by the satisfying sound of metal hitting the table.

While the others are inspecting the coins, I have shuffled the 15 card deck and if I am quick dealt each player a card and one face up before they have finished playing with the coins.

That’s almost all of setup complete.  It’s here I get everyone to take four coins each, and I split out the eight coins for the pot and game timer.  Now I am ready to teach and/or play.

Kobayakawa Components
15 Cards and a bunch of coins. Kobayakawa is one of the smallest games I own.

The goal of Kobayakawa is simple – at the end of seven rounds, you want to be the player with the most coins.  I then take players through a bit of a script to get going.

Everyone secretly looks at their card.  Each card is numbered from one to fifteen, one of each value.  Each round, to win coins you are basically betting that you have the highest value, determined through card numbers.

The card you see in the middle is the Kobayakawa – it’s important for the showdown.  At the moment, just be aware that there is a number we all know is out there – let’s say it’s a 6.

Now on your turn, you have a couple of options.  Each option begins by drawing a card from the pile face down.

From here, you can choose to look at the card and compare it to the card in your hand.  You decide which of the two cards to keep, with the discarded card placed face up before you.  Now every player can see the card you don’t want to keep – this helps with card counting options.

If you don’t want to swap your card, flip the card you drew without looking at it face up and place it in the middle of the table – this card becomes the new Kobayakawa.

Kobayakawa Starting Gameplay
So the first player has taken a card, and chosen to discard the 1. Now everyone knows that the 1 is out of play.

Now, remember you are wanting to have the highest value at the end of the round – not the highest card, the highest value.  This is where things get tricky.

When everyone has had a turn, we will begin betting.  I go through the betting rules later, for now just concentrate on what you will be betting on.

Everyone that thinks they can win will bet, and all betting players will show their cards.  Compare the value on everyone’s cards – that is their points.  There is one exception – the person with the lowest valued card gets to add the Kobayakawa to their score – this is where risk and reward will come into it!

From here, I get each player to take their turn, reminding them about the low card rule.  Usually, by the end of the round everyone is sick of hearing it, but it is the one aspect that new players always forget. Play continues like this until every player has had a turn.  Now, the showdown begins!

Each player covers a coin in their hand and pushes it towards the centre of the table, leaving it covered by your hand.  Remember, you are betting for the highest value, not necessarily the highest card.

On the count of three, players will do one of two things.  If they want out, they will pull their coin back and not bet.  If they think they can win, they lift their hand, and it’s game on.

Kobayakawa Round Complete
A fairly standard opening round. Not too much information on the table, but what did everyone keep?

So in the example photo, three players stay in with a 14, 12, and 9.  The Kobayakawa is a 7.

So player one has 14, player two has 12, and player 3 has 16 – 7 from the Kobayakawa, and their 9.  Player one gets to take all the coins bet, plus one of the eight from the pot as a bonus.

As you can see, it is possible to have score values higher than 15, so the people with low cards are still able to be unbeatable in certain situations.  But because the value of the Kobayakawa isn’t set until the last player has their turn, it’s a lot of luck as well.

Kobayakawa Round Won
It takes a little getting used to it's not just the biggest card, but that twist adds to the challenge of the game

Play continues this way for 6 rounds, with first player going clockwise around the table.  When there are 2 coins left in the pot, this triggers the 7th and final round. Play is the same way except players bet 2 coins and the winner gets an extra 2 from the pot, making it a high stakes round.

If a player hasn’t got two coins, they can still play with one and they still get to keep the entire pot.  There is no split pot situations like in poker.

In the case of a tie, the player closest to the starting player wins the pot.  It really is that simple!  By the end of the first round, almost everyone has clicked on how to play, and the fun really begins.

Now some players play the first game and walk away.  There is a surprising amount of complexity hiding under such a simple veneer.  The push your luck hoping for the Kobayakawa to push you into the lead is obvious, but that’s not the only thing to keep track of.

There are 15 cards, and all are in play, but the more cards that are discarded means people know what cards are no longer included.  This can help people try to determine what card their opponents hold, but also the possibilities of what the Kobayakawa can be.

People have referred to Skull as pure poker with its bluffing and semi-fixed odds, and in a lot of ways, I agree.  But Kobayakawa for me is the next step in this kind of gameplay, and is played in even less time than Skull.

Kobayakawa Worst Case Situation
Near the end of a round, you don't really want to see a high card in the Kobayakawa - it's instant win for a 1 in this situation

I have spent nights at the back of a restaurant playing Kobayakawa for hours.  It’s simple enough to allow you to eat, drink and socialise without interruption while being complex enough to keep you interested.

My biggest issue with Kobayakawa used to be availability.  I learned it and grabbed a copy from Japan, where Oink Games are based.  Recently though iEllo and Superlude have been able to nab publishing rights, so it is getting easier to get a hold of.  But honestly, you can print and play with ease to see if you like it.  The metal coins are gorgeous, but as long as each player has something to use in their place not essential.  Normal coins will work just as well, and if you lose one won’t break the bank replacing it.

About two-thirds of everyone I have introduced to Kobayakawa enjoys it, and I would guess a quarter of those people loves it as I do.  But it really isn’t for everybody – try it before you go out of your way to track it down.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Android Mainframe Review – 2 years later!

Android Mainframe Box Art
Android Mainframe Box Art
Released 2016
Designer Jordi Gené, Gregorio Morales
Publisher Fantasy Flight Games (Website)
Players 2 – 4 (3-4 players best)
Playing Time 20-30 minutes
Category Area Control/Management
Hand Management
Player Powers
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

So it’s always worth checking old servers after all

So looking through a few bits and pieces over on Board Game Geek, I noticed I had left a review score for Android: Mainframe.  That was one of my first reviews and one that I had started doing video for even!

But in the trapping of a dying desktop and url/hosting issues, I lost the review.  I figured it would be one I would write back up, and let things sit.

Then I found something while trying to get the YouTube page in some form of order.  I found my first ever released video review.  It is as bad as I remember :p

Don’t believe me?

And I have to say, overall my thoughts have not changed.

There have been a lot of new games come out over the last couple of years, and with restricted playtime, I haven’t been playing Android: Mainframe as much as I would like.

That doesn’t mean I don’t want to, it’s just that there has been something else to play.  As for some time my playtime was solo or two player, Android: Mainframe just didn’t really suit.

Android Mainframe Components
There isn't much to it component wise, and that helps make Android: Mainframe fairly easy to reach for
Android Mainframe Gameplay
One interesting tactic is to close an opponents square for them, restricting their scoring ability

Even with this in mind, when I moved all of my board games in the spare bedroom, even unsorted I left Android: Mainframe in a position where I can easily reach it.  True, all of the Android games are together, but that is only because of Mainframe and wanting to play New Angeles one day soon.

Funnily enough, the closest competition to Android: Mainframe that I have seen of late is Dragon Castle – and they are not remotely similar in gameplay.  It’s the way that after the game my brain keeps a hold of what happened that makes it feel so satisfying to play, and it takes very little time to get a game happening.

With Fantasy Flight announcing the end of Android: Netrunner on October 22nd, I was thinking of a big run of Android games to see the series off – then I remembered that’s near PAX time, and I wasn’t going to take them all on the road.

Might make an exception for Android: Mainframe though.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Time Carnage Switch Review

Time Carnage Feature

Once more unto the breach

Not long ago, I did a review on Time Carnage VR.  It’s a bit of fun, far from the greatest game but a fun way to pass some time.  It doesn’t hurt that playing the game in VR makes you feel like John Wick.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that Time Carnage was coming to the Nintendo Switch.  I wondered if Time Carnage could successfully port to the non-VR Switch, and now I know.

Gameplay

Time Carnage, for the most part, is identical to the VR versions, so I am not going into detail in this review.  If you would like to know my thoughts on Time Carnage overall, all of that is covered in my original review.

Today I am more talking about the differences playing Time Carnage on the Switch.  In VR, the experience is very intuitive and even natural.  You know you are shooting at the things running at you, you reach for your weapons and turn your head to see what is happening around you.

The main difference to gameplay though is the number of waves per level.  On the PS4 and PC, each wave has 10 levels.  I am yet to see a level past 5 on the Switch though – honestly, not sure what is happening there.

Time Carnage Switch Choose Control Scheme
Pick your poison - but only on the opening screen. From now on, use Gameplay to change control options.

Controls

The Switch has none of these benefits however.  You can play with motion controls sure, but your choice is the hybrid motion controls or the ‘standard shooter’ controls.

The first difference no matter the control scheme you use is both of your hands point at the same target.  In VR, your hands work independently of each other, allowing you great in-game freedom.  To simulate this on the Switch is the job of Co-Op mode, where each player controls an arm each.

I say hybrid motion controls, as the movement of your controller moves your aiming reticle on the screen.  The sticks still control your body movement and the camera, meaning motion controls is almost the same as the standard shooter controls but has you waving your controller more.

In a lot of ways, motion controls are best for Time Carnage on the Switch – but that’s not saying a lot.  Compared to almost any other shooter, the control scheme is unnatural and has a huge learning curve.   A game like this should feel like home for any shooter player, instead you feel like you are fighting the control system the entire time.

This is bought home with the motion controls by constantly having to recenter the controller during the waves.  Nothing pulls you out of the moment like having to wrestle the controls, and even the PSVR at it’s worst is nothing like the Switch.

Graphics

Time Carnage Switch Gameplay
Aiming with Standard controls is definitely helped with the Pro Controller and tweaking the sensitivity

Graphically though, the Switch version is surprisingly close to the PC version in terms of screen clarity – it may even exceed the PC in some of the background details.

None of the ‘darkness’ that is present in the PSVR version plagues the Switch version.  And that is before tweaking the brightness and gamma in the settings.  It may be that the ‘underpowered’ Switch is taking advantage of only needing to render a single image compared to dual images for VR, but it works for what is being presented.

Time Carnage Switch Better Visuals
A strange positive is the Switch graphics are much clearer than both the Vive and PSVR versions

Value

And here is the hardest comparison.  Time Carnage was less than AUD$20, making it not a bad purchase for a light Time Crisis/House of the Dead light gun experience.  Playing Co-Op only adds to this old-school arcade feeling, but the loose controls make this hard to recommend to people looking for a frantic shooter experience. ‘Missing’ waves doesn’t help either.

I know more expensive, but if you are looking for a fun Switch shooter experience, Splatoon 2 may scratch your jump in/jump out itch.  It is going to get even more expensive come September 18th with the Nintendo Online requirement, but the USD$20 a year will give you many other benefits making it a no-brainer buy to me anyway.  Also, there is the very free Fortnite.

Yes, both of these games are very different from Time Carnage but you will probably be playing them a lot longer.

Overall Thoughts

If you haven’t got VR, Time Carnage on the Switch is an inexpensive way to play the game.  But without VR, all of the best aspects of the user experience are all but sucked out of the game.

Being able to play co-op with one arm each can be a bit of fun, but there are a lot of other games out there for quick and fun co-op play.  The solo game is fun for a stage or two, but the comparatively unnatural controls make this a fan game only.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Destiny 2 Forsaken Review

Destiny 2 Forsaken Caydes passing

Forsaken? Maybe.  A lot of changes have come.

The last couple of weeks have seen a lot of changes for Destiny 2.  Cayde-6’s passing being the one we all knew was coming, but many other changes as well.

A few Call of Duty players I knew didn’t like Destiny because the player vs player (PvP) combat was ‘too slow’.  This is no longer the case.  A lot of explore everything type players didn’t like Destiny because there wasn’t a lot to do.  This is still the same, but it isn’t.

Forsaken

There was a bunch of story items leading into Forsaken and not just the trailer.  Oh, that trailer.  For Cayde fans, it was hard to watch – but watch we had to.

But that was far from the only way Bungie decided to play with our heartstrings.  August 28th, Bungie posted a news item that ended with Cayde’s final letter to his friends and fireteam.

That was enough for me, but if you read the entire news entry Bungie began dropping secrets again.  Simple cryptography this time, not like the elaborate Warmind promotional event.

Bungie was going all out with what was happening – and a lot of people were excited.

Destiny 2 Forsaken Caydes letter
There is more to this post - check it out on Bungie.net for some more secrets
Destiny 2 Forsaken Riding with Cayde
A dream come true - but not for long.

The idea behind Forsaken is that there is a jailbreak in the Prison of Elders, and you help Cayde-6 and Patra Venj.  Sounds like any other Destiny Mission right?

Except we know the ending.  Uldren Sov is going to kill Cayde-6.  So starting through the mission, excited thoughts of “I’m on Cayde’s fireteam!” quickly tarnished.

But it’s important to note that’s only because I like Cayde-6.  Nathan Fillion had injected his own cheekiness into the fairly 2-dimensional quest giver, and hearing his quips was a highlight of mirth during many repetitive missions.

And it’s here, about 2 minutes into the first Forsaken mission, that it started feeling wrong.

Cayde-6 is voiced for Forsaken by Nolan North, doing a Nathan Fillion impression.  And because you can hear Nathan’s Cayde during the game back to back with Nolan’s, it feels wrong.  Now, this is a nitpick, but it’s a point that kept pulling me in opposing directions during the game.

But the mission itself is standard fare, and is fairly enjoyable.  Playing with my primary hunter (that I put zero effort in trying to max out to the Solstice of Heroes 400 power level) it was a straightforward mission.

A few new enemy types seem to be in the mission, but it’s hard to know for certain.  It was a straightforward run, with moments of Cayde-6 popping in and out.

And then Petra Venj realises the truth, and the beginning of the end for Cayde begins.

Destiny 2 Forsaken Fireteam Complete
Your mission fireteam complete, into the Prison of Elders you go
Destiny 2 Forsaken Cayde Down
Making you the witness of the end tugs on the heartstrings. As long as you cared about Cayde - new players probably not so much.

You get there to late to help Cayde-6, but the story enemies are all on display.  The Scorn Barons, and Uldren Sov himself.  In terms of send-off, the cinematic cutscene of Cayde’s final stand is amazing.

It’s hard to describe, but seeing the realisation of overwhelming odds and acceptance that he is going to take as many with him as he can is amazing.  If you enjoy Destiny, this is the sort of scene that is right up there with Blizzard, and you should play it and watch it.

If you don’t play Destiny and want to see what I am talking about, IGN posted a YouTube video here.  Even not knowing the character, it’s still enjoyable but some subtleties may be lost.

Once all this is done, you take Cayde-6 back to the Traveller and witness his friends dealing with the news.

And here comes a spoiler, but I need to add it to demonstrate another small ‘off’ with Destiny 2 Forsaken.

You Speak.

It’s only a few words, but the silent guardian rule is broken.  The theory behind the silent protagonist is that it puts the player into the role more.  The words you are thinking/saying/screaming at the TV is what the Guardian is saying.

Breaking this rule lends weight to the scene, yes.  But at the end of Forsaken and the beginning of the end game, when this speaking would be more appropriate again, the silent protagonist rule is enforced again.

Looking back, here is where Destiny 2 as a solo story game starts to come unstuck for me.  Any game with rules and systems needs to stick to these rules and systems, but Forsaken has become something new and with exceptions.

For example, Cayde-6 is Dead.  New players (or characters) no longer have to speak to Cayde for story plots like unlocking patrols.  According to a Bungie post, they will unlock when you max out your character level +1.

So why is Cayde still speaking during missions?  Why not remove the audio files as well to keep the ‘Cayde’s gone’ consistent?

Destiny 2 Forsaken Main Missions Begin
The body of the story of Forsaken is you choosing your targets, giving an open world feel

And this is where for me, Destiny 2 is coming undone.  I really enjoyed playing through Forsaken story missions, but there was so much inconsistency between a world with Cayde, and a world without.

So I have a game that is fun to play, yet simultaneously feels off.  During it’s big ‘we fixed it’ reboot.

The endgame – The Dreaming City

Once you finish with the story, you start playing Destiny proper, same as always.  And Bungie have given players a huge area to explore, with many old school secrets to uncover and timings to work out.

And here’s the thing.  I don’t want to.  Not really.

Not because I don’t think it will be any good, the things I have heard and a couple of YouTube videos I have seen make it look amazing!

I don’t want to because of major changes to the upgrade, masterwork and light systems.

If you want to ‘masterwork’ your weapons and armour, you need to upgrade them in levels which use a bunch of resources, including masterwork cores.  To strengthen your equipment you need Glimmer, Legendary Shards, Masterwork Cores, and Planetary Resources.

Now on its own, this looks like a good way to reward running around the universe and not neglecting any areas.  What I am getting though is a resource farming exercise that will force me to play areas for a few hours a week to upgrade my weapons again, especially now I have hit the level 500 soft cap.

A key ingredient is also Masterwork cores, where the only way to get them at the moment is buying them from the Tangled Shore from The Spider.  Again sounds good, but each one you buy doubles the price, but the price resets each day.  So timed rewards are a big part of the integral play.

This is great for people with the time to log in each day, but players like myself that play maybe twice a week are about to be left far behind.

Even Xur has changed.  Each week, you could get a new Exotic (at a price) and a shot at a random as yet to be collected Exotic.  Not anymore apparently.

Destiny 2 Forsaken Xur
So much for casuals and non raiders having a chance for exotics

At the end of the day, it feels like Bungie has listened to the more hardcore player base that was not satisfied with the more casual friendly Destiny 2.

Strike and Iron Banner bounties must be in their respective armours, which you earn consistently by beating those game modes.  So you have to grind a play mode in order to get the rewards you need to get the rewards for the play mode.  Not everyone has the time to put into this, and the players that have played this from day one have a huge advantage in these modes.

This isn’t meant as a ‘poor me’, rather just how it feels. Take Gambit and the ‘Ace of Spades’ quest for example.  The first step is to shoot five invaders with a hand cannon – OK, straightforward.  When the other team comes over, be the player to kill them with a hand cannon.  Five times.  Grinding, but doable.

Except that the player level advantages in Gambit are on, meaning the higher level players have all their character and weapon advantages and bonuses.  On top of map familiarity and all the rest of the advantages that come from playing a game a number of times.  It’s true it doesn’t stop new players from putting in the effort, but how many times do you want to play a game that hits you in the head repeatedly for trying?

Too much of a grind for me

I have played one character solo for about 11-12 hours, doing some of the new bounties and the old flashpoint challenges, but mainly just Forsaken missions.  Two hours of that was also spent just trying to do one bounty mission that recommends level 540, and I just kept dying with no progress made.  I am now level 502, with my highest piece of equipment 505.  Out of 600.

Harls, on the other hand, has about 20 hours with his main character.  His best level equipment at the moment is 520, with strikes, raids, bounties and the dreaming city with some other clan members.  It also includes Gambit and other PvP play, which I am not interested in even trying with the weapon loadout changes.

Basically – if you are all in on PvP games with resource grinding conditions for new loot, Destiny 2 has bought you your game back.  And it has done it well – it’s just not for me.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Charterstone Review

Charterstone Feature
Charterstone Feature
Released 2017
Designer Jamey Stegmaier
Publisher Stonemaier Games (Website)
Players 1 – 6 (Suggest 4+ or Solo)
Playing Time 60 minutes (Publisher Suggestion)
25 – 35 minutes (2 player experience)
Category Worker Placement
City Building
Resource Management
Legacy
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

When is a Legacy game not a Legacy game?

Welcome to this weeks review of Charterstone, a unique gaming experience from Jamey Stegmaier and Stonemaier Games.

And that is the core of Charterstone – it is a unique gaming experience. Today, almost nine months after Charterstone’s release, most people that jumped straight in have definitely played it already.  For those people, Alpal and I did something a little different this time around, speaking of our thoughts on last weeks Blatherings.

But if you are still on the fence or new to the hobby, this is more a review and a game for you.  You can still listen to the Blatherings after reading the review, there are no spoilers, and you can hear both Alpal’s and my Charterstone thoughts.

For now, let’s have a better look at an interesting idea.

Normally, I take readers through the rules of a game (at least the core rules) to give people an idea of the flow of the game as well as the feel.

This is hard to do with Charterstone, as you may unlock rules and abilities we didn’t.  The funny thing about this with Charterstone though is that it really doesn’t matter.

This is first and foremost a Worker Placement game.  The biggest rule to remember is always to do what the area tells you to do.

Charterstone Sample Buildings
It doesn't matter what area you use in Charterstone, they all follow the same basic rules

For example, place your meeple in the Cave, and get an Iron resource.  Visit the Bakery, and for 2 coins you get a Chef and a Victory Point.  It’s just learning the iconography.

Worker Placement

Worker Placement games are a description for a very simple game mechanic.

In a Worker Placement game, players place down a worker meeple on a space that will allow a specific action.  For example, placing a meeple on Square A will allow a player to gain 3 coins, but draw a card on Square B.

Normally in a Worker Placement game, taking a location denies that ability to other players, but there are plenty of games with exceptions to this rule.

Charterstone has been called a Legacy game by many, and this is both true and misleading.

You see, Charterstone has an overarching campaign in which you build up the Kingdom of Greengully.  Each player has an area of the Kingdom (your Charter) which grows as the campaign continues.  As you grow your Charters, more buildings are placed allowing more choices and extending strategies as you continue to play through the campaign.

Charterstone Blank Board
Just like a blank notebook, the starting blank board of Charterstone lets you use your own creativity.

For a normal Legacy game, the end of the campaign is normally where a group stops playing.  Charterstone is different though, and why I try to not class it a Legacy game.  You see, as you go through the campaign, you build yourself a reasonably heavyweight Euro Game that you can then just continue to play as a ‘normal’ game.

Euro Game

Euro Games are another label that many new gamers hear about, but is one of the hardest to define.  In general, Euro Games competitive in nature, and abstract with light theming.  Player interaction is usually minimal and indirect.

For example in Worker Placement games, you may stop another player from using a resource by placing a meeple where another player wants to place one of theirs.  While this may sound confrontational, doing so simply to deny another player is usually detrimental to your own play so is usually not a common tactic.

Euro Games place emphasis on overall strategy and maximising scoring opportunities.  Resource management is normally key, with direct player combat very rare. Because of this, Euro Games tend to be very popular among most gamers.

The Legacy game that isn’t.  Charterstone is great for new players.

So you have seen me refer to ‘Legacy’ games a couple of times this review, but I am not putting a definition up.  That’s because Charterstone isn’t a Legacy game, nor a Campaign game, in the truest sense of either genre.

In many ways, Charterstone is the greatest tutorial gaming experiment I have ever seen.  While you play through a storied campaign, honestly it’s instantly forgettable.  There were times I was tempted to read the story during the game to try and remember why we were supposed to be doing a thing.

As you play each Story in the 12 game campaign,  rather than the Legacy emphasis of expanding the narrative around a game, Charterstone expands the rules and complexity of the Euro Game you are building.

This is like a Video Game – you start on level one with basic abilities.  Play for a little bit, get through the level and become familiar with those abilities.  Then at the start of the next level, get a new toy or ability to play with, expanding your skill set.

Charterstone works in the same way.  You will always play the same base experience, but with an ever-increasing amount of tools to play with.

Charterstone Rules are added while you play
You add new rules as they are unlocked during the game, ready to be implemented next game

This expansion is done purely as a player choice as well.  During the game, players decide which buildings to place and where.  There are choices to be made, which makes each board of Charterstone largely unique.

As the game expands, this is a great way to see what weight of games you can enjoy.  If Charterstone adds a little too much for you, you can replay the game as is just as a worker placement game.  If you do this, I would ignore building placement and chest opening – just concentrate on the new strategies until you are comfortable with them, and then proceed to the next story.

For the Advanced Players

Charterstone is a game with a staggering amount of options.  Not only can you choose the type of game you end up with as described, you can play it all on your own.

There are a couple of different ways to play with lower player counts.  Alpal and I played where we essentially randomly filled the unused charters as we went.  But if you are comfortable with more advanced rules, you can play the whole game solo with the provided Automa ruleset.

Automa essentially sets you against an in-game AI.  The Automa rules will scale during the game, getting stronger as you beat it but also getting weaker when it beats you by a lot.  Again, similar to Video Game Logic where the enemies scale enough to give you a challenge but not make things too easy on you.

Charterstone Automa Rules
These rules will give you a challenge either solo or any group less than 6.

There is also an issue for many advanced players. The first 10 games offer little in way of depth or complexity depending on the games you are used to.

I can also really see Charterstone being a game that needs all six Charters being under a players control.  The Automa is a great idea, but really a six-player game will be where Charterstone will shine brightest.

So you don’t like Charterstone?

This is the hard bit.  Personally, I wasn’t too fussed with it, but I can be talked into a 5-6 player game with the Recharge Kit.  You see, I like the fact I can just buy the cards and play again by flipping the board, I’m just not excited about doing it now I have finished it.

For my friends that play heavy Euros with me like Founders of Gloomhaven or Scythe, no I won’t ask them to play this bigger game with them.  It’s asking them to play a game lighter than they enjoy playing, and for 12 games.

But if there was a group of 3-4 people new to board games that named some heavier Euros as the games they want to play, I would play the campaign with them.  This is the sort of game Charterstone was created for, and explaining rules and watching their understanding grow through the campaign will be awesome.

And the Nitpick

So I know I haven’t shown off most of the game, as our game was just that and I don’t want to influence people.

But one thing that really gets me is the iconography in Charterstone.  Now I am a fan of premium components, to the point that I have a 3D printer that I made my own components with.

The wooden resource tokens that come in the game are functional and fine.  But they don’t look like the icons used in the game.  What they do look like is the roughly USD$30 premium components designed by Stonemaier Games.  You can buy them via Meeple Source as well, but below I have the provided tokens and icons, then look at the picture of the premium components, and see which would make more sense to you while playing.

Charterstone Resources
The resources that come in the game, with their icons. Other icons are covered to avoid spoilers.
Charterstone Realistic Resources
From the Meeple Source site. Which do you think would make sense matching with the icons?

Now the fact the premium components exist show that Jamey and Stonemaier Games thought that Charterstone would be a game that many people would continue to play well after the campaign.  Premium components are a thing, and I appreciate the commitment.

But making the iconography match the premium components to me is a halfway experience.  Out of the box, Charterstone felt to me like I was playing with the wrong components, and this isn’t what you want in a game.

Yes, I can buy the premium components if I want to.  Adding them to the base game would have made it more expensive, I also agree with this.  But paying an extra USD$10-15 for beautiful components that match would have made Charterstone a more complete experience, and showed confidence that gamers would want to continue playing it when the campaign was done.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD