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

Another World Switch Review

Another World Switch Title Screen

More than 25 years later, Another World still is a great escape – but I wager only for some

Retro Gaming.  It is definitely in full swing.  Many blasts from the pasts are appearing, as recently discussed with Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption.  It’s a fine line between reliving past greats or experiencing them for the first time and falling for the nostalgia cash grab.  So a couple of weeks ago when I saw Another World appear on the Switch eShop, I was both excited and nervous.

It’s hard to describe the sense of awe the first time I started the game.  At the time, gamers had two ‘normal’ starts to a game.  You were greeted with a wall of text for backstory or simply dropped into the game and left to explore.

Loading up Another World from floppy on my PC, I hit start and was greeted with a sports car skidding to a stop outside a building during a storm.

This was the stuff of wishes back in the day.  I had to start the game two more times as I ran out of the room to grab my brother and parents, so I didn’t get to see the rest of the introduction.

Another World Intro Ferrari
Remember back in 91, you didn't start with a fully animated cinematic intro. This Ferrari skidding to a stop was amazing!
Another World Intro Lab Security
It's an elaborate security system. Where is this guy going? What is happening here?

The opening was simple, yet dramatic.  After your character (who you learn is named Lester) arrives in hot shot style, you discover that you are some form of scientist about to conduct an experiment.

At the time, I didn’t realise the equipment.  The large hadron collider wasn’t news back then.   But now it’s obvious you are working with a particle accelerator.

You start your experiment and everything seems to be going well until the accelerator is hit by lightning.  This causes some sort of accident that transports you to Another World.

Now it’s fine for me to type all this today.  But back in 1991, this sort of introduction just didn’t happen.  It was something special.  There was no wall of text to try and put you ‘in the mood’.  Another World drew you in from the get-go and made you need to know what was happening.

Now today, something is almost considered wrong if you don’t have some Hollywood standard cinematic introduction.  Metal Gear Solid 4 has close to 9 hours of cutscenes and the Guinness World Record for the longest Video Game Cutscene at 21 minutes.

Today, games tend to spoonfeed you to story and background but minimise the lore unless you go searching for it yourself.  Another World is a great example of where games today got this inspiration from.

Another World Intro The Lab
Watching a sci fi computer experiment was mesmerising. What was happening? What was the experiment? There was no spoon feeding in this story
Another World Hanging out with Buddy
This is pretty representative of puzzles in Another World. You are in a cage hanging over a pit with guards everywhere. Tools? Hahahaha

The story of Another World was unique in a lot of ways.  The most unique way was that the story was up to your interpretation.  There are many different versions I have heard over the years, but a canonical version has been confirmed from the games creator, Eric Chahi.

You team up with an alien (nicknamed Buddy) to escape an alien prison.  Why do you do this?  Because Buddy helps you after you free the two of you from a cage.  You don’t know why you are in prison.  You only know for sure that until you were captured, everything on the planet was trying to kill you.  You don’t know Buddy, why he was in prison, or anything else that was happening.  The small amount of verbal communication in the game is garbled – Buddy is an alien, after all.

But continuing through the story was and is a satisfying experience.  The game was made up of puzzles that you have to decipher yourself.  No tutorial mode here.

The best way I can describe it is Another World was my first souls game, and this is still the case on the Switch.

The puzzles are clever but generally involve a lot of backtracking and experimentation.  Platforming demands pixel-perfect timing.  The combat requires split-second timing and understanding of the animations involved.

This was the first game that made me want to rage quit and finish it at the same time.

Another World Going through the Caves
It may look like a simple path, but the timing of jumps has to be precise, especially when going from right to left.
Another World The End
Flying off into the next adventure. A fitting end for a platformer that is more cinematic than platformer.

The great part is this has all come across with the Switch version.  Everything is the same as I remember it, and I mean remember without the nostalgia filter.

But that is part of the problem.  Everything is how I remember it.  I still remembered most of the puzzles in Another World and thought that I could spend a lazy half hour reminiscing as I flew through the game.

Almost ninety minutes later, I once again completed the story.  Once again, I had a sense of joy at completing the game, and a sense of joy that it was over.

This is where Another World falls over in today’s market.  Back in the 90’s, controller input lag was not something we even really knew about.  Sure, sometimes you would hit a button and nothing happened, but that was just gaming.

Today, gamers understand animation frames and when you can hit the button and expect a reaction.  Tweaks in games like Street Fighter controls aren’t just power settings and options, but on exactly which frame the game will begin accepting inputs again.

What was frustrating in the 90’s is now rage inducing.  We have been spoiled, and this is a game that proves it.

Another World Game Over
When you die, you are usually 'treated' to a quick animated death scene. This is a screen you will be seeing a lot.
Another World Original vs New Graphics
You can switch between New and Original graphics through the game. Here is the same scene, with the new graphics over the original.

Another World on the Switch really is just a port of the 20th Anniversary Edition for PC, Consoles and even Mobiles.  The Anniversary Edition had all these same problems that are for better or worse a faithful reproduction of the controls used in the original game.

Visually though, the game looks amazing.  It’s a novelty to switch (haha – puns!) between the original graphics with the newly redone backgrounds and smoothed out characters.  Even the soundtrack has improvements.

But in another case of nostalgia, the ‘new’ version looks the same as the game I remember.  Graphically there are titles today that look ‘worse’ than this – even the new craze Dead Cells with its pixel retro art looks plain compared to Another World.  Control and game length is completely different of course 🙂

There is no save system in Another World, but there are no password continues either.

Instead, there are a series of checkpoints that are automatically created as you progress through the game.

These checkpoints are also pretty close together too.  You usually don’t have to replay more than 2-3 screens if you are unfortunate enough to die or make a mistake.

The problem is though that you must play Another World in the exact right order to have a checkpoint created.  You can unknowingly miss a step and play for quite some time, only for a misstep or a surprise enemy to undo quite a bit of work.  And because there are no obvious cues as to the correct order, this can be very frustrating if you are playing the game for the first time.

Another World Checkpoint Select
The Checkpoint System is really good when it works, but the only way you know you have missed a puzzle is it doesn't make any more

There are just so many games coming out on the Switch.  I am still making my way through Octopath Traveler.  For example, I just picked up Okami HD and Dead Cells, and I will be getting Minit and possibly Mini Metro as well.

Coming soon is the continuation of a franchise I fell in love with on the PS3 – Valkyria Chronicles 4.  The latest instalment made me almost give up on the series, but the demo on the eShop has made me excited again.

Why am I talking about other games?  Because to play Another World, you have to really want to.  It is a great showing of a landmark game from yesteryear, and still a hard puzzle to beat.  But you will get frustrated with it.  You will finish it in a dedicated afternoon, or in an hour or two with a walkthrough.

I don’t regret my purchase at all, but I can see many others wishing they had bought something else.  While I really enjoy Another World, as demonstrated there are a lot of games that I can see players enjoying more.

If you interested at all, grab it by all means.  I am in no way trying to say this is a wasted purchase, just one that people are probably not expecting.  You can also grab the Another World 20th Anniversary Edition for next to nothing next Steam sale as well.

I really like Another World.  It has taken me back in time more than 25 years and is a beautiful game.  It’s just I can’t recommend this game to everyone.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Beat Saber VR Early Access Review

Beat Saber Feature
Beat Saber Feature
Released Early Access Release 2018
Developer Hyperbolic Magnetism
Publisher Hyperbolic Magnetism (Website)
Category VR Rhythm Game
Homepage beatsaber.com

Feel the beat, let it flow through you…

So I have been having a ball in Virtual Reality.  There are still a heap of games to be played, and a heap of games that I wish weren’t quite the ‘tech demo’ quickies they are.

That said, Virtual Reality is now closer to consumer-friendly than ever before.  PlayStation VR or PSVR is something you can get into for $1,200.  It wasn’t long ago that was the asking price for most of a headset.

VR still has problems.  PSVR tracking is good enough most of the time.  Oculus has had some interesting legal issues.  Oculus and Vive both have high entry points (although this is getting better).

On the whole, I have seemed to do OK introducing people to VR.  For younger people or those I think will suffer from motion sickness, I have VR movies like Invasion!.  For those that don’t mind a horror theme, Rush of Blood on the PSVR is a blast I still occasionally boot up.

But I think I found a game that I can show everyone as an entry to VR.  You stand fairly still, with targets coming towards you.  You cut those targets with lightsabers.  Everyone instinctively knows how to hit the thing, right?

That game is Beat Saber.

There are a number of people that will look at Beat Saber and just think ‘another gimmick game’.  And to a degree, they are right. Guitar Hero and Rock Band were gimmick games though, and look how much they sold.  Just saying.

The idea is so simple you really have nothing to teach.  Cubes come towards you in time to the music.  They have an arrow on them.  Slice them in half in the direction of the arrow.  If they have a circle on them, just hit it in direction.

Rules done.  And that satisfying vibration feedback and sparkles when you hit a cube is instantly a feeling you want again.

Beat Saber Hitting the Cubes
You can watch people playing, but nothing compares to the feel of cutting cubes yourself

You have to avoid cutting mines.  This catches people the first time.  It’s amazing how naturally ducking and sidestep walls is as well.  But even people that swing at a mine with gusto have that ‘Oh.  Makes sense’ look on their face when you add that rule.

But you don’t have to drag it out.  When someone cuts a mine and usually yells “What?!?!?!” all you respond with is “Yeah that was a mine.”  Not hitting them is instantly understood.  Someone doesn’t get out of the way of a wall?  Just say the red glowing thing is a wall.  Natural instincts just take over.

Beat Saber Wouldn't you just duck
In a situation like this, you may hear "What's that?" Just reply wall and watch them duck.

You can just kinda swing your arms and get through, and when practising is not a bad idea just to get the feel of a level.  Another reason why a lot of people kind of overlook Beat Saber.

I am hoping the scoring algorithm they posted disproves this though.  Yes, you can get through the game just waggling your wrists, but you won’t get a high score or rank.

Instead, for optimal scoring, you want to swing your saber at least 90 degrees to hit the target.  This gives you 70 points.  Then follow through the cut with an additional 30 degrees movement.  This gives you another 30 points max.  Finally, if you cut the cube close to perfectly in half, you can earn an additional 10 points.

I only learnt this algorithm this week, but it did confirm what I was experiencing playing.  Do a ‘proper’ cut and get high points.  The downside of this knowledge though is it made the number of cheats apparent.

So the scoring from the creators shows that the maximum score per cube or note is 110.  As you continue combos, you also get a multiplier.  As you consistently hit notes, this multiplies increases to 2x, 4x, then maxes at 8x.

So the first song $100 Bills has 264 notes.  Let’s be generous and add up the maximum score of 880 per note – maximum score possible is 232,320.

There is a problem though.  This score still isn’t possible.  It assumes you start on an 8x multiplier, which doesn’t happen.  So how is the leaderboard top 10 filled with scores higher than this?

Beat Saber The Maths Doesn't Work
$100 Bills on hard. 264 notes. 880 x 264 = 232,320. Hmmmm.

For the leaderboard, cheating seems to be a problem.  Now Beat Saber is still early access and anti-cheat maybe something that is coming, but here today now it isn’t happening.

Because it’s early access, I am OK with this.  I can continue to play and try to reach the coveted SS rank – the highest rank in the game.  But it did take the shine from my highest achievement to date.

A few days ago a secret song was unlocked – Angel Voices.  It is three times as long as any other song, and only has Hard and Expert modes.  I thought I was doing REALLY well, then I found out about the cheating.

I haven’t hit an S rank (yet) but looking at the player ranks I had cracked the top 500!  I did a little dance and felt immensely proud.  My scores in Angel Voices are playing all the other songs on Hard one after another.  I felt a push to do better – not by starting the song fresh, but by beating my score after playing through everything again.

Beat Saber Angel Voices
Angel Voices - the most difficult song in the game. Not even an S rank and in the top 500 players!

But now I know someone can essentially cheat an unobtainable score.  I am still going to go for SS and try to beat my previous scores, but it does put a damper on things.

Seriously, Beat Saber is a game that anyone can play, but people can work themselves to an elite level of play with.  This could easily become an eSport.  It’s amazing watching people in the mixed VR filming seeing just how much they put into getting the perfect form for the song.

And that’s what Beat Saber instantly reminds me of – kendo and kenjutsu kata.  Anyone can pick it up, but practice and master the song and the top scores are yours.

There is also another benefit to this – you really pushing your upper body for maximum movement.  You work up a real sweat when you throw yourself into this game.  There is even evidence to suggest that Beat Saber burns almost as many calories per minute as tennis.  Now Beat Saber wouldn’t be able to replace your entire workout regimen, but it is a workout if you treat it the right way.

You can extend the side steps or even begin marching to the beat to increase the whole body workout side and get the heart beating faster.

But this one game aside, it does show the potential for VR fitness.

Beat Saber Fitbit
The Fitbit registers Beat Saber as an Aerobic Workout - if you didn't believe you worked before, here's how I went this morning

At the moment Beat Saber is available for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Microsoft Mixed Reality.  The easiest place to get Beat Saber on PC is Steam, but your VR store should also have it.

And it was announced just prior to E3 that Beat Saber is coming to PSVR!  I can guarantee I will be buying it again just to have more people playing it at the same time.  I just hope Hyperbolic Magnetism can nail the tracking with the move controllers, and I will miss the haptic feedback.  Maybe some peripheral upgrades Sony?

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Desolate Review

Desolate Feature
Desolate Feature
Released 2018
Designer Jason Glover
Publisher Grey Gnome Games (Website)
The Game Crafter (Website)
Players 1
Playing Time 15-20 minutes
Category Push Your Luck
Dice Rolling
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

In space, no one can hear you reshuffle the deck…

While I tend to play Video Games when I am playing myself, there have been quite a few solo board games recently.  A new one that I heard a lot of buzz about was a game called Desolate.

The premise of the game is simple.  You are the sole survivor of a space station.  There is an escape pod, but you need to find power cells while searching for basic resources in order to escape.  Oh, and you should probably try and avoid the alien invaders as well.

Setup is simply shuffling the Conflict and Exploration Cards and putting them near each other on the table.

Setup your Health, Ammo and Oxygen marker cards off to the right.  Now, shuffle the Item deck and draw three cards.  Choose two, and put them below your summary cards.

Finally, place the Red, Purple and Blue cube on the trackers (including extras from items if available), and you are ready to start!

Desolate Setup Complete
You really don't need very much room at to play Desolate. Not in shot I usually use the lid as a dice tray if I am tight on space.

The goal of the game is to get five power supplies (green cubes).  This is done by finding the Engineering rooms while exploring.  The ‘base’ consists of a deck of 15 cards, so finding the 2 Engineering cards doesn’t sound to hard, but Desolate is a game that is meaner than it first appears.

Exploration is simply drawing 2 Exploration cards and placing them face down before you.  From here, select one card (you choose, I normally pick the first one drawn) and flip it.

If you like the card, do what it lets you do and discard both cards face down.  If you don’t like it (say, you drew a Conflict card and don’t want to fight), you can flip the second card face up but you must do that card.

In the example in the photo, I drew a Conflict.  I didn’t want to fight straight away so I flip the next card, and I get to fight anyway!

Desolate First Exploration
As soon as I stick my head out, an alien spots me! So I duck blindly through the next door to find... another alien 🙁

Combat is flip over the top Conflict card, and instantly do the damage shown below the dice squares.  This is because the aliens always hit first.

Now put a black die on the top square of the alien (showing the same number of pips), and a second die with the number of pips on the Exploration card that started the fight.

How lucky do you feel?  You can choose how many rounds of ammo to spend.  Each round of ammo lets you roll one white die, up to a maximum of four.

Roll the die, and as long as you roll the same total as the alien or higher, you win!

Desolate Conflict
Combat is interesting in Desolate. Spend your resources to roll more die, or try and conserve ammo and potentially take a beating,

On the Exploration card, you will see a crate on the card with a S (small) or L (large).  To collect your spoils, flip up the next Exploration card, and turn it 180 degrees.  You will see 2 items with an ‘or’ between them.  If your reward was a small crate, pick one of the rewards.  If you had a large crate available to you, you get both rewards!

Play continues this way until you go through the Exploration deck.  Once you draw the last card, you instantly lose 2 oxygen.  Assuming you haven’t run out of air, reshuffle the Exploration deck and continue searching the base.

From this second round on, you will need to concentrate on finding Oxygen just as much as the Power Cells that will allow you to escape.  If you go through the deck without finding any more air, you will suffocate and die – honestly my most common failure condition.

Desolate No Oxygen
Those aliens are mean so the Health is nice, but I also need to breath!

Really this is the bulk of the game.  There are a couple of other fine points to play, but this is the bulk of the game.

Desolate is a fun and very tense game that captures the unforgiving nature of trying to escape and survive in space well.

The story is light, but it’s a simple card-based exploration game so honestly if Jason Glover tried to expand on this it would probably work against Desolate.

Now I got my copy through Game Crafter.  That does mean I spent a relatively pretty penny on such a simple card game, but I really don’t mind.  Most of the cost was shipping from the US, and that is unfortunately just the way it is.

If you are interested in Desolate and want to play it for free though, you can download the card files as a Print and Play from the Grey Gnome website.  All you really need is a couple of markers and some dice, which even if you don’t have already lying around will only cost $2 from any games shop to stock up on.

There is a big thing working against Desolate for me personally though.  That big thing is Escape the Dark Castle.  Both games have you exploring through a deck of cards and rolling dice, and both are good solo games with similar positives.

The only thing that really pips Escape the Dark Castle for me is if I take it out and about and someone sees me playing, I can add them to a party and play with them straight away.

That said, Desolate is definitely a worthy game for anyone’s collection – especially as you can get it for free!

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Munchkin Review

Munchkin Deluxe Feature
Munchkin Deluxe Feature
Released 2001
Designer Steve Jackson
Publisher Steve Jackson Games (Website)
Players 3 – 6 (Really want 4+ though)
Playing Time 25 minutes per player
Category Hand Management
Card Drafting
Take That
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Munchkin – the game even non-gamers have heard of

So this is going to be a strange review, even by my reviewing standards.  I have said a few times in the past that I won’t play Munchkin anymore, but I love the universe.  The humour and the initial ease of teaching make Munchkin a great board game, and for many gamers was their gateway card game to the hobby.  This has given Munchkin a place in gaming history, and love it or hate it I challenge anyone that says that place has not been earned.

Today I will be talking about the base Munchkin Card Game.  I believe it is fair to say that any of the Munchkin Card Games will share a lot of the pros and cons of the base game, hence it is almost a genre review.  I will not be showing variances in the other Munchkin Card Games such as Star Munchkin or Munchkin Legends, because on the whole, it is only theme differences.  But there are a lot of these games, and I mean A LOT.  How many?  Well not including expansions, here is a list of what I would call the ‘Munchkin Card Games’ and their loose themes:

  • Munchkin (parody of Fantasy and D&D style gaming)
  • The Good, the Bad and the Munchkin (Western films & Wild West parodies)
  • Munchkin Adventure Time (based on the animated series)
  • Munchkin Apocalypse (End of the World parodies)
  • Munchkin Axe Cop (based on the webcomic)
  • Munchkin Bites! (Monster movie parodies)
  • Munchkin Booty (Pirate parodies)
  • Munchkin Conan (based on the literary character Conan)
  • Munchkin Cthulhu (parody of the works of H.P. Lovecraft)
  • Munchkin Fu (Parody mainly on Martial Arts movies)
  • Munchkin Impossible (Spy & Intrigue movie parodies)
  • Munchkin Legends (Classic legendary heroes & monsters parody)
  • Munchkin Lite (introductory set based on the original fantasy parodies)
  • Munchkin Christmas Lite (introductory set with a Christmas theme)
  • Munchkin Grimm Tidings (introductory set themed to the characters from the stories of the Brothers Grimm)
  • Munchkin Spell Skool (a smaller introductory set themed to the students of a fictional school of magic)
  • Moop’s Monster Mashup (a mad wizard combines animals for maximum chaos)
  • Munchkin Magical Mess (a sequel of sorts to Moop’s Monster Mashup)
  • Munchkin Oz (parodies of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequels)
  • Munchkin Pathfinder (based on the role-playing game series)
  • Munchkin Shakespeare (parodies of the Shakespeare’s characters)
  • Munchkin Steampunk (19th-Century Technomages)
  • Star Munchkin (parodies of Science Fiction themes)
  • Super Munchkin (parodies of Comic Heroes & Villains)
  • Munchkin Zombies ( Parody of the Undead fight the living theme)

Printed with USAopoly and share a character mechanic with player powers not in the ‘base’ games:

  • Munchkin Rick and Morty (based on the animated series)
  • Munchkin The Nightmare Before Christmas (based on the film)
  • Munchkin Marvel (the heroes & villains of the Marvel Comic Universe)
  • Munchkin X-Men (an introductory set similar to Munchkin Marvel containing only characters featured in the X-Men universe)

So it is a fair assumption if there is a theme or genre you enjoy, there is probably a version of Munchkin that will appeal to you.

You will notice a recurring term though – Parodies.  It’s important to note that almost all Munchkin games are designed to be looked at with your tongue firmly in your cheek.  There is nothing serious about the game or its worlds – that is provided by the players.

So what is Munchkin?

Munchkin at its core is a very simple card game, that pokes fun at a certain genre which is each games theme.  In the original, that theme is Dungeons and Dragons and general Fantasy gaming.

The overall goal of Munchkin is to reach Level 10, which you primarily do by exploring a dungeon and fighting monsters while finding loot.  All of the classic RPG mechanics are essentially present but incredibly streamlined.  Don’t know what class to play?  Just play the Class card you find, and you can change it later.  How many items can I use at once?  Well, you have two hands, so up to two as long as it’s not a two-handed item.

And really, that’s it.  It’s a dungeon crawler card game from before that was a thing.  There is a twist though – you can work together to defeat monsters, but you can also work with the monsters to beat your opponents!

So how do you play?

Setup is incredibly simple.  First, you take the deck of Door Cards and shuffle them all together.  Then, take all of the Treasure Cards and shuffle them all together, placing them into a pile.  Then, give each player four cards from each pile.  Setup complete!

Now, the picture showing the setup is what you get in the base Munchkin box.  Other photos will show the game being played from the Deluxe version but don’t be too fooled by the name.  Every Munchkin Deluxe comes with the same cards as the ‘base’ version but includes a board and pawns to help keep track of where each player is at.

Munchkin Base Setup
The core of every Munchkin game. 95 Door Cards, 73 Treasure Cards, and one Die.

Every player starts as a Level 1 Human with No Class.  This is an ongoing joke in the series and one that you will probably get tired of hearing 🙂  Gender also comes into play with Munchkin.  You start as your gender in terms of character creation, but I have never stopped anyone starting as the gender they choose.

Looking at your initial eight cards, if you have any Race or Class cards, you can play one of each face up in front of you.  These can be changed during normal gameplay, but that’s all you need to do – read the card, and if you want the bonus, play that card.

Also, if you have any usable items (like a weapon), you can play this now as well.

Munchkin Class and Race
An example of a Class and a Race. If you are ever unsure of what a card is in Munchkin, just look in the bottom right corner

And that is Setup and Character Creation complete.  There is very little to explain, which means you can get new players in really quickly.  You can have them ready to play and the game setup within about 2-3 minutes from opening the box, which is a really great ability to have in a game.

Then, you can start playing.  When I am teaching, I will take the first turn and explain the base options with the caveat that there are some extra rules for different situations.

So from now, picture yourself at the table with me as I take you through my teaching ‘script’.

Starting a game of Munchkin

On your turn, you can now Equip, Sell or Trade items.  If you had ‘died’ in a previous turn, here you would be resurrected. We don’t have to worry about any of that now, and I will remind you of all these rules as we play.

So selling items is something you need to keep in mind to level up.  For every 1,000 coins you sell, you go up one level.  There is no change so spend wisely!  Also, to get to Level 10 you must do it by defeating a monster.  Right now at the start, you probably don’t want to be selling a lot because you want to equip stuff to help you fight.  But if you got lucky with the draw then keep in mind you can essentially start the game on Level 2!

So now, you start the turn proper by ‘Kicking in the Door’.  This really just means drawing the top Door card.

There are three types of Door cards – Monsters, Curses, and what I will just call ‘Other’.

Other are the easiest to explain – leave them in your hand until you want to play them.  These could be other Races and Classes, but there are some other ‘rule breaking’ cards like Super Munchkin that let you do other things.

Curses are always bad things, and they happen to you straight away.  Put the card face up on the table and just do what the card says.

Munchkin Door Cards
Some examples of what you can get Kicking Down a Door - Others, Curses, and finally Monsters

Finally, the main event, a Monster.  You want to beat Monsters to go up levels, but the Monster you find may be too much for you!  As soon as you draw a Monster, Combat begins.

Combat in Munchkin

So the first thing you do is put the monster on the table face up.  This ends any chance of equipping, trading or selling items.  It also stops other players from Stealing from you, but we will get to that when someone has the ability.

To defeat the monster, you need to have a combat strength that beats the combat strength of the monster.  To begin with, the monsters combat strength is the monsters level, so it’s easy to gauge.

Now, you work out your combat strength.  You work this out by adding your level to your equipment bonuses and look in your hand to see if you have any one shot benefits.

So you may be a Level 1 Cleric with Spikey Knees giving you a +1 bonus.  This gives you a combat strength of 2, but you pulled a Level 6 Pukachu, so you cannot win – yet.

Also in your hand is a Magic Missle, which gives you a +5 in Combat, so you could beat it yourself.  But the Magic Missle also lets you increase the Monsters Combat score, so you might want to hold onto it.  This will make sense in a little while.

Option 1 – RUN AWAY!

This will probably be happening a fair bit initially.  To run away, you just declare you are running away and roll the six-sided die.  If you roll a 5 or a 6, you successfully run away.  You don’t get any treasure or benefits, but you don’t have anything bad happen either.

If you don’t make your roll – the Bad Stuff that happens on the monster card happens!  But that’s not all.  If you didn’t run away properly, you will die.  When you die, you keep your Race, Class, Curses and your Level.  So that’s good?  But you lose loose ALL your stuff.  You lay out your hand next to all of your played equipment, and each player in level order can take one of your cards.

So running away isn’t always safe, but it may be better than fighting a fight you know you can’t win.

Option 2 – Fight?

So you look at the board, and you think you can maybe do something.  You can ask one other player (just 1!) if they want to help you beat the monster.  They don’t have to, especially as if you win they will not go up a level.  So you will have to Bribe them.  This can be with equipment in your hand, some of the treasure that you will get at the end of the game, or any combination of the above.

While this is happening though, any player can play bonus cards on you – or on the monster.  So in this example the player agrees to help you for a treasure, but is can only add 2 to your Combat score.  This gives you a total of 4, but you decide you want to win so you play your Magic Missle on yourself.  This means you know have a combat strength of 9, beating the level 6 Pukachu!

EXCEPT.  Another player decides that they don’t want you to win, so they play a ‘Flaming Poison Potion’, adding 3 to the monster, so it’s a tied combat score – you can’t win!  So it looks like you might have to Run Away, losing all the cards you have already played.

But now your partner plays their ‘Potion of Halitosis’, giving you another 2 points, making the fight 11 – 9 in your favour.  No one else wants to play any cards, so finally you get to declare victory!

Ending Your Turn

So now that the monster is dead, draw the number of treasure cards that are shown on the defeated monster cards.

These tend to stay in your hand, but depending on the deal you made for help your partner may draw first or get first pick.  We will get into more complicated deals a bit later.

Treasure also falls into 3 basic categories:

One Shot Bonuses – the cards you use to affect a combat score.  These can be kept in your hand until needed, making them a surprise factor.

Equipment – these are items you add to your characters, such as weapon or armor, giving you a visible combat score bonus.

Others – these are again usually rule breaking events, such as immediately draw extra cards, or the ability to break another rule later.

Munchkin Treasures
The Treasures - the deck with all of the surprises

Once you have your treasure, you have one more chance to Equip, Sell or Trade items with another player.  Finally, now that you have defeated a monster, you get to Level Up!  Remember, beating a monster is the only way to get to Level 10 proper and winning the game.

Now, the next player has their turn, and the entire process starts again!

The good parts of Munchkin

Munchkin is a really straightforward game that is easy to teach with isolated examples.  To get players really comfortable with the rules will take a game or two, and even then there will be things that will cause disputes.f

I love the humour of Munchkin as well.  Very silly jokes coupled with the deceptively simple art of John Kovalic makes even just digging through the decks for examples a journey of smiles and memories.

With the right group, a game of Munchkin can be a very fun way to spend an afternoon.  But that is a major point – you need the right group.

Before I get into the negatives, I just want to point out I have easily played 200+ games of Munchkin over the years.  I have even replaced my original set because the cards were not holding up well, and I have 3 different versions of the game ready to go.  While I am about to talk about downsides to Munchkin, the part that a lot of people I hear talk about Munchkin seem to forget is the fact that they have had a lot of fun playing it.

Munchkin Storage Solution
So I am storing two Deluxe editions and one base edition. Luckily, this all fits into one deluxe box nicely, but if you get expansions...

And the bad

So Munchkin suffers from something that all card games like this do – strange timing and interactions.  One thing that Munchkin players will notice in the script above is that I am missing extra points, such as playing Monsters and other fine points.

To help with this, I will freely admit there are some great player aids out there such as the Complete Munchkin Flowchart on Board Game Geek.

The timing of Munchkin isn’t worse than almost any other game of its type, especially where ‘the card trumps the rules’ is the golden rule.  Rule ambiguity is generally a thing to be avoided, and Munchkin has some insane combinations (especially in later games).

Also trying to explain Combat in one hit is just insane.  Looking at the simplified (yes, that was simplified) example in the script shows this.  The best way to teach Munchkin is to be a floating rulebook, standing behind each player on their turn and offering timing and rule advice.  Hopefully, by mid-game, you will only be needed for clarifications.

There is also the issue of new vs veteran players.  Even players that only have a few games under their belt will be aware of some combinations and timings that will just rip other players apart.  To me, if you are an experienced player with a newbie you might point out ‘mean’ combinations or abilities, but just subjecting new players to essentially gameplay of “No you can’t do that because I have this” isn’t a great first experience, and puts players right off playing again.

And this leads to my biggest complaint mechanically with Munchkin overall.  It is a game that actively rewards ‘bully’ type play.  There is every benefit for stronger players to let weaker players get beaten over and over again, and especially in a three player game I often see the ‘third player’ struggling to get over Level 2 for the whole game.  Now this type of play by itself isn’t always a bad thing when it is opportunistic, but an entire game of it when you are the weakest player just isn’t fun.

The non-mechanical downside that stops me from playing Munchkin

The big issue though is player types.  If you look at games in the year 2000 (around when Munchkin was released), ‘mean’ games were almost the norm.  There would be hyper-competitive players that would argue anything and everything, and the rulebook states ‘Owner of the Game has the final decision’, but playing with an argumentative player is never a great time for the group as a whole.

The other issue even back then are players that hold a grudge.  Because Munchkin is a game that actively has you turning on other players, I have had friendships end because of a last-minute betrayal that cost them the game.

Today, that ‘mean streak’ gamer type is generally in the minority.  That type of game is still around and going strong – just look at Magic: The Gathering or almost any head to head asymmetrical game.  But it’s not the only game around.  I would need to be in the mood to play Magic, but light to medium cooperative games like Escape the Dark Castle, Mysterium or Pandemic can hit the table very regularly.  And that’s not only my mood – there are some of my regular gaming friends that just do not play ‘take that’ type games.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

So how do my review scores actually work?

JohnHQLD Logo

I have had a few questions on the rating system lately.  This is largely my fault – I completely missed the rating page when creating the site that explains all this!

So, today’s review is the review system itself.  Hopefully, this will explain how I look at games and the scores I give them, and give you an insight to my thinking.

So what’s in a number?

So I have been rating games for a long time.  Not so long on the site, but I have been formally categorising games this way for over 20 years.

Now, ‘this way’ has a lot of different meanings, and the scale has been tweaked over the years.  I used to just use category names like ‘maybe if you like the theme’ or ‘I think everyone should play this game’.

This worked for a long time.  For my gaming group, especially back then, it was clear and easily understood.  But then new members joined the group, and the years of shared back history as to why I would rate a game I might not enjoy I would class ‘everyone should play’.  Once I talked through the scale, it made sense to a lot of people.

Today, the rating scale looks like this:

Major Score General Category Description
1 Truly Awful Not even for your worst enemy. Don't play these games.
2 Very Bad So much is wrong with this. I will talk about it if you want, but I won't play again.
3 Bad Yeah no. There was something that made me want to play, but never again.
4 Not Great It's just missing that 'something'. I will teach you if you want me to, but I won't play again.
5 Average These are games. They pass the time. They do nothing to stand out.
6 OK A bit of fun. If someone really needs another player or wants to learn, I am in.
7 Good Games that I have a lot of fun playing, and can reccomend everyone should try if they get the chance.
8 Great I will play these a lot. I think a variety of people should give it a try.
9 Excellent These games I will play at every opportunity, and think everyone should play at least once.
10 Masterpiece Similar to 8's and 9's, but ones I think will still have that impact 10 years from now.

One of the games that has caused conversation behind the scenes is The Grimm Forest.  I love this game and will get it to the table at every opportunity.  The components are gorgeous (and I will be painting the parts soon!), the organiser makes setup and takedown a breeze, and is a game I can scale to playing with friends with younger kids.

But, it’s not for everyone.  There will be quite a few people that will probably find this game too simple for them but would be willing to play if the others enjoy it.  Hence, the score is 8.5 – I love it and play it often, but a lot of people would not want to buy it after giving it a try.  Halfway between the two states of play – 8.5.

The Grimm Forest Sleeve Front
My copy of The Grimm Forest with the Kickstarter Sleeve
Love Letter Cover Art - AEG Edition
Love Letter Cover Art - AEG Edition

And then there is Love Letter.  This is a game that is retaining it’s place on my playlist by coming out with different versions.  The original Love Letter now is a little dated, but as I said in my review a lot of the ‘new’ rules can be worked into the earlier releases.

Batman Love Letter is my favourite ‘original’ type Love Letter Games, and you can add the rules to the base game.  Archer Love Letter skirted the line of being a different game, and I would play this over Batman with players that have played the base game a lot.

But Love Letter itself I think will always have a place on my shelf and at game nights, so it got a 9.  The fact new versions and rules are keeping it fresh stop it from being a 10 though – I can’t see myself playing the base game constantly now let alone in another 5 years.  But I will be playing Love Letter in some form in 5 years, hence such a high score.

So that explains some of my higher scores, but what about the lower scoring games?  There are games that I really enjoy playing, potentially more than The Grimm Forest and Love Letter, but I ranked them much lower.

There are good reasons for this as well.

An easy one to explain is the PSVR game Time Carnage.  As I said in my review, it is a lot of fun, but has a few problems too.

This is a game I am enjoying now and will jump in and out of again over the next few months.  At least until another mindless fun PSVR game comes along and fills that niche.

Time Carnage Feature
Too dark on PSVR, but still a great fun time that I jump on when I have 20 min or so to kill

So, I am having a blast playing it, and I think a lot of people should give it a go.  It’s cheap, so I can recommend spending the money and enjoying it even for a couple of hours.  If this was a ‘full price’ release, the score would drop more because it would be harder for me to suggest to players to buy it.

But as soon as a replacement game comes along, I can all but guarantee this will be off my play rotation.  Fun right now is important, but will rarely get more than a 7.5.  It’s playing the game for many plays to come that gets you a higher score.

And then there is the unique problem of Tak.  My review tried to describe just how much I enjoy this game, and the fact James Ernest had somehow come the closest to making an instant timeless classic I had ever seen.

This is a game that has 10 potential all over it.  Sure, it’s not for everyone.  Neither is Chess or Backgammon, two ready examples of timeless classics.  Tak is a game I can see myself playing on the odd occasion and thoroughly enjoying it for years.

But how do you recommend a game that is in my opinion incredibly overpriced?  It’s hard to recommend to people spending the better part of AUD$100 on a ‘you might like this’.

Tak Game 3
Tak - A Beautiful Game indeed, but not for everyone

Cheapass Games have the rules for free on their website, and a lot of people can draw a board if they have to.  All you need components wise are two different coloured squarish pieces, so with a little creativity, you can try the game for free which is amazing.

But that still means trying to recommend to people to go out of their way to cobble together components to try a game.  And I can understand people that would rather just buy a cheap complete game and set that up.

It’s this major swing of positive and negatives that means Tak has what looks like a low score overall, but is a game I still enjoy and will for a long time.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy the game, it’s just hard for me to justify to someone else why they would like the game, so it’s in the ‘You might like it, play it with me and see’ category.

So hopefully this will help you see why I give the scores that I do.  And if you disagree and would rate a game differently, neither of us are ‘wrong’, we just have a differing opinion.  Games are essentially art – they are a personal experience that we all interpret differently.

I have enjoyed discussing the scores with people, and if you wish to do so privately that is fine and will always answer when I can.  But if you have a question, I would ask you consider posting the question publicly, either in the comments or on the Facebook page.  This way, we can include everyone and have a proper discussion, which would be amazing!

So until next time,

JohnHQLD