Onirim Review

Released 2014
Designer Shadi Torbey
Publisher Asmodee (Website)
Players 1 (technically you can play 2, but really solo game)
Playing Time Physical: 15 – 25 minutes (mainly shuffling)
Digital: 5-10 minutes
Category Card Game
Solo
Hand Management
Set Collection
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Can you escape the nightmares?

Onirim is a game that players either know about or have never heard of. Like all well-kept secrets, not only is Onirim a gem of a game, it is also part of a greater universe – the Oniverse.

Why is it such a well kept secret? I think a big part of this is that the Oniverse are single-player games, and solo games aren’t given a significant push marketing-wise.

The Oniverse shares a common theme, taking place in a dreamscape universe. What more do you need to know to play them? Nothing. That’s something else that the Oniverse games share – you don’t need to know the theme at all. It is light enough for a superficial theme, however, go digging and the lore is surprisingly profound.

So what is Onirim?

If you want to get technical, Onirim is a set collection/deck management game. Make sets of three coloured cards with different symbols to unlock doors, unlock all of the doors to win.

Like all simple games, this does not sound inviting. But if you look at all great games, they all boil down to ‘You just do the thing’. The factor of what makes a decent or good game great is the extra feelings the game can give you, and Onirim manages to get into your head in very subtle ways.

All you have to do is open these doors. What can be hard about that?

So why do I want to keep reading?

As I mentioned in Last Week’s Gaming, I recently started playing Onirim again on my phone. Onirim has been on my solo playlist since it was released five years ago, and when I think of what to play next, it always manages to be on the shortlist.

Why is it always good to play? Firstly, it’s a known quantity that doesn’t ask a lot of time from me. These days, that’s always appreciated. Secondly, it has a free digital version that is spot on in terms of game mechanics and simplifies setup so much.

That’s right – for a change, I can do a board game review AND a video game review at the same time! And because the digital implementation is free, I can also highly recommend playing it to see how you like it.

Got a couple of minutes and want to challenge yourself? Onirim Digital is a great choice

OK, I’m listening. So what is Onirim?

According to the theme, you play as a Dreamwalker trapped in a dream labyrinth. To escape, you need to unlock all of the oneiric doors. Vefore you run out of cards. That’s right – you get to go through the deck once and once only.

When dealing with a random draw pile, getting the right cards is hard enough, but there are nightmares as well. If you are unlucky enough to draw a nightmare card, you will lose cards. The game makes you choose to discard the remaining cards in your hand or the top 5 cards in the deck. When you discard from the deck, if you draw a door card or a nightmare, they stay in ‘Limbo’ and are shuffled back into the deck.

I can discard my hand, but I need the green sun to unlock a door. Lucky I have a key that will beat the nightmare!

You can choose to discard what is left in your hand instead. This makes the cards you lose a known quantity, but sometimes you really need the cards in your hand, so it can be a harrowing decision to make.

Lose track of how many cards you have played or discarded, and you will lose. Get a bad run of drawing nightmares, and you will lose. Each decision counts towards a win, but the luck element has you dreading the next draw. It still surprises me that hundreds of games later (yep, I played a lot over the years), I still get that rush of excitement or disappointment as I win or lose.

I just need to unlock the blue door to win. But I have almost a 50/50 chance of drawing nightmares!

So that’s it? You just play cards out?

Yep. As I said before, just describing the game to someone makes it sound boring and question why anyone would want to play it. But once the rules all click (normally takes one maybe two games), you really start to want to beat such a simple system.

And again, the digital base game is free. You can try it yourself for nothing and decide if you like it or not. Yes, digital expansions will cost but it’s only a couple of dollars each, and by then you will know if you want to add new cards, powers and objectives.

That said, if you like the game I would suggest buying Onirim Second Edition physically. Why? It comes with all expansions and variants, most of which are not available digitally. Use the digital app to try before you buy, and see how much you like it for yourself.

The physical copy. So much potential gaming in those cards - and so much shuffling!

So what can I play Onirim on?

You can get the digital version of Onirim on Steam for PC, and there are Android and iOS versions as well. If the links don’t work for you, just search for Onirim (maybe add Solitaire Card Game) from Asmodee Digital and you can’t go wrong.

Final Thoughts

Onirim is a rare board game. It’s a highly abstract game that makes it easy to immerse yourself. While the core gameplay is simple, the physical version comes with expansions that let you scale the complexity to increase replayability.

Five years later, and I keep coming back to Onirim. I have that much fun with it.

But. Like a match 3/tap to continue mobile game, Onirim is a fun and challenging quick game before mobile gaming was a science. It’s not a campaign/legacy game, and yet it is a game that has continually pulled me back after long absences.

And best of all? You can try the excellent base game digitally for free. Even if you don’t enjoy digital gaming, the implementation is spot on. Also, the in-game tutorial is excellent, making the digital version a great try before you buy experience.

Overall
9/10
9/10

Pros

  • Easy to learn and play
  • You can set your difficulty/complexity with expansions
  • Digital version makes games lightning quick to get into

Cons

  • The physical version is a lot of shuffling and setup
  • High luck factor can put off some players

 

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

HORI Split Pad Pro Review

Released 2019
Platform Switch
By HORI (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Category Controller

Big hands? HORI has you covered – with a couple of caveats

I enjoy playing on my Switch. I tend to play docked with the Pro controller, but being able to continue playing when I travel is fantastic. True, the Vita had this first for a few games, but Sony dropped the ball in terms of supporting the undervalued console.

When I travel for work, it tends to be day trips or for the better part of a week. The Switch shines here. I can sit in the airport and continue playing, but unless I wanted to bring extra equipment, I am limited in what I could play comfortably. Astral Chain on Joy-Cons for example words, but it’s uncomfortable and hurts my hands.

The solution? Bring a stand and pair my Pro controller. But putting the Pro controller in my bag worries me. Nothing to protect the sticks, and I also worry about button presses trying to wake it and drain the battery.

There have been a few third party cases that try to emulate ‘full’ controller feel, and they have all missed for me. The extra ‘wings’ to fit in my hand were nice, but I was still playing with Joy-Cons and their stick/button placement. It wasn’t great.

It works well, but not the most easy to carry around setup

HORI has come out with new controllers to address almost all of these issues, and I am loving.

Introducing the HORI Switch Pad Pro (Daemon X Machina Edition) controllers

First things first – Daemon X Machina Edition? Yep. I haven’t seen any other edition, but all it means is a black and red colour scheme with a stylised ‘X’ on the X button. In the future, there may be different game tie ins, but today it just means slightly off norm colouring.

So what is the Switch Pad Pro? Take the general layout of the Switch Pro Controller, break it in half, and slide them into the Joy-Con rails on your Switch. That’s it. You now have a pro controller with a screen in the middle, and it’s incredible.

There is no other way to describe it – that’s what it feels like, with all the pros and cons that entails.

It's not just the angle, the Split Pad Pro has everything that little bit bigger

What cons can there be with a screen inside a pro controller?

Size. Straight up, this makes the Switch longer and deeper. Now for myself, this made playing the Switch in handheld mode more comfortable. I am 6’3″ tall, and not everyone has hands and arms the size of mine – individual experiences will vary.

The changes to the dimensions also make the Switch impossible to not only put in a pocket, but any case on the market I have seen. This puts you squarely back in the ‘take extra controllers with you’ camp, which I was hoping to escape.

It doesn't look much here, but the Joy-Cons have the switch flar and it all fits inside the Split Pad Pro setup

HORI makes Switch cases, I would love them to make a case I can store the Switch with the Pad Pro attached, Joy-Con’s underneath just in case, and maybe a pocket above for carts. This would make the Switch perfect for taking on day trips for me. Get on it, HORI!

What it does Switch Pad Pro does do well is when you are home and want to put the Switch down between sessions. Because the Switch itself is above the surface, picking up the Switch is much more comfortable. I have trouble sometimes picking my Switch up from flat, and that is no longer a problem.

OK, fine, so what’s the Switch Pad Pro like to play?

And here is the crux of the matter. The Switch Pad Pro is like a Pro Controller, but a little oversized and most importantly, not a Pro controller.

It’s tough to explain in words, but while the Switch Pad Pro is great to play on, you still know you aren’t playing on a Pro controller – probably my favourite controller in general.

Everything is oversized on the Switch Pad Pro. Not comically, at least not for my hands, but it’s noticeable. The sticks are just that little bit larger than the Pro, but the same ‘mushy’ feel in the movement. The seems to exaggerate the loose feel to the sticks, even though in gameplay they are quite responsive. It’s a learning curve, but not a steep one. I was playing Astral Chain comfortably within a couple of minutes, and that was after not playing for a couple of months.

Even with one hand for the shot, you can see the more 'normal' placement of the Dpad

Like any controller, the ultimate form is very personal. What do you want in your controller? If you like the clicky feel like the Xbox controllers, this will not feel great to you. I prefer the feel of the Dualshock, but this is softer again. 

If you are comfortable with the Joy-Cons, the Switch Pad Pro will probably be too big for you, but if like me they are too small this is a viable option.

But that’s not all of the caveats!

That’s right – even after all that, there are still things to watch out for. These are not Joy-Cons – and that had a more significant impact than I imagined.

You lose NFC (Amiibo) support and HD rumble. The rumble I was surprised at, the Amiibo support was a little annoying, but if required I can switch controllers mid-game. The big one you lose is motion control.

If you are like me, right now you are thinking to yourself “It’s attached – that’s fine.” and no, no it isn’t. Not for some games anyway. Realisation dawned on me when I tried to fire up Asphalt 9 Legends, thinking the wider grip would help my arms last longer.

I couldn’t play it at all. The vital ingredient that makes Asphalt so fun to play is missing in the Switch Pad Pro. Everything worked, right up to the point I needed to steer the car!

Not a game I would play without the Pro controller previously

Then I tried Pokemon Let’s Go. The game worked as expected, right up until the time I tried to move the Switch to aim. Ooops. Not the end of the world, but not a hurdle I expected to have to deal with.

That sounds like a lot of negatives with not much going for it!

Yes, it does. And it’s important to flag them, not because the Switch Pad Pro is a bad product, but it is a more niche product than I imagined.

There are a couple of features I haven’t touched on. The first is the Turbo button. I don’t know why, but it has one. I have yet to find a use for it. The second though is an on the fly assignment to buttons on the back of the controller. I haven’t used it yet, but I can see times where a simple button press (or even the dreaded L3/R3) combination needs to be used a lot, so you can hit this button instead of taking you thumb off the stick.

This doesn’t change the fact that for a lot of people, the Switch Pad Pro controller won’t be the best choice for all situations.

The assignable button without third party software is nice

So who should look at buying a Switch Pad Pro?

If you find the Joy-Cons uncomfortable and play in handheld mode a lot at home, these will probably do the trick. If you play docked a lot or don’t want to take the Pro controller with you when travelling because of space, this probably won’t be the best choice.

Playing on the plane, I considered playing The Witcher 3 but instead tried Astral Chain again in the more cramped quarters. Playing felt good, and I wasn’t locking elbows more than usual with the passenger next to me. I also didn’t have tired fingers 20 minutes in, a big plus.

What was a pain was taking a bag for my ‘flight’ stuff, the Switch case and the two Switch Pad Pro sides separatly. I really would have preferred a single case I could have lifted the unit out of, but I have already described that.

Travelling with the Switch Pad Pro is about as fiddley as moving with the Pro controller and a stand, but the price is about the same. If you travel a lot, it might be worthwhile, but if it’s occasional, I don’t think it’s worth the select purchase and custom travel storage you will need to create.

HORI Split Pad Pro

Final Thoughts

The Split Pad Pro controller is great for me, but I am not using it as much as I thought I would. Missing motion controls is a pain for some games, but I miss the rumble more than a couple of games.

Because I already have a Pro controller, I am more likely to drop the Switch in my dock and grab it than setup the Split Pad Pro at home. On the move, it’s almost perfect – except for the size and carrying it around safely.

Add a case to hold the Switch and this HORI, put Rumble back in, and everything else can be forgiven.

Overall
8/10
8/10

Pros

  • Feels like you are playing with a pro controller with a screen in the middle
  • Using the controls feels better when playing action games, especially with my large hands
  • DPad is very responsive and works great

Cons

  • Could use more resistance in the sticks
  • An extra item to carry around with you, as actually two controllers
  • Unable to use a case with the controllers attached (May change in the future)
  • Rumble would have been nice

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Warriors of Waterdeep Review

Released 2018
Platform iOS, Android (reviewed)
Publisher Ludia, Inc (Website)
Developer Ludia, Inc (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1 with online play
Category Dungeon Crawl
Set Collection
Leveling Up
Different player powers

Mobile game reviews? Really?

Mobile gaming keeps slipping past all of my ‘What did I play this week?’ checks. It’s not intentional. I don’t think I have a bias against mobile games. My stance is ‘Do you enjoy playing X? Then you are a gamer.’ I don’t believe a Twilight Imperium player is any less a gamer than a Call of Duty regular or a Candy Crush fan. As long as you are enjoying your game, you will keep playing games. That’s a gamer.

So in planning a run of reviews to write coming up to and during PAX Aus, I realised something. I have spent the most time on the last couple of weeks playing on my phone. And I haven’t even mentioned that in Last Week’s Gaming.

I spent about 12-15 hours playing two mobile games just last week alone. And I have plans to sit and get into another the week before PAX on the drive down.

So to make up for some of this oversight, let me tell you about Warriors of Waterdeep on iOS and Android, my biggest phone game at the moment.

Lords of Waterdeep got a sequel!

Well, no. But I can see where you might think that. It’s also not what a lot of people would call a Dungeons and Dragons game.

Warriors of Waterdeep has nothing in common with Lords of Waterdeep except for the thematic setting and D&D license. Your warriors getting a mission load screen set in the pub made me smile. Well, the first few times I saw it. Now I want it to hurry up and load.

It’s a mobile dungeon crawler. There are a few variants of this type of game out there, and all share similar traits. Take a party of adventurers that grow as you level up/buy more, beat the monsters, and repeat.

What Warriors of Waterdeep does well is making this such a simple to play experience. The reason I have sat on the couch and played it for two hours straight wasn’t that it was the best game ever. It was the end of the day, and I was tired after work. The couch called to me, and I answered.

A hunting we will go, a hunting we will go...

I knew I couldn’t give the truckload of other games on my playlist the attention they deserve. The reflexes needed for Astral Chain were dulled. The logic required for puzzle-solving for Catherine: Full Body was out to lunch.

Do you know what I could do, though? Play a game that only asked of me “Tap the bad guy you want to hit”.

But it’s Dungeons and Dragons – isn’t that deep role-playing stuff?

Ordinarily, it can be. But Warriors of Waterdeep has nods to its D&D roots; it doesn’t try to recreate it.

Your warriors gain experience points (XP) to level up after clearing a room, but the improvements you get are preset. If you want to enable new abilities, you need to arrange your inventory.

Better pants allow for better healing. You are more likely to get a bonus attack with axes instead of a bow. It’s all straightforward – you want that skill? Equip that item. There isn’t layer upon layer of hidden stats and interconnected benefits. “I do this!” is what every item screams, and if you choose to equip the thing you can too.

The primary way of getting more powerful is by powering up your inventory, which you do by collecting cards, but I will talk more about that later. For now, just now that setting up your party isn’t a huge deal. You can get straight into clearing bad guys and not look at the party screen for ages, and enjoy Warriors for the simple diversion it is.

No real choices to weigh up - you upgrade items, your stats increase

The most complicated nod is most items have a chance of activating a bonus ability. There is a dice roll that happens in the background, and if you succeed, you get to do the particular thing. There is also the magical critical hit which plays a unique animation of your attack. But this is again where Warriors makes a nod to D&D, without pushing it all onto the player.

So that’s all you do? Tap on bad guys and level up?

Pretty much. Warriors of Waterdeep isn’t mobile Skyrim, nor is it trying to be. At its heart, you enter a dungeon, clear some rooms, and get rewarded. That said, there are some variants to what you play.

As you explore Waterdeep, you clear out different areas. These areas end up becoming Boss Room gauntlet runs that you can run over and over again. There are some unique backdrops, but there are only so many ways you can layout a 4×4 square room.

The different bosses do have unique attack patterns and abilities, so learning how to get through can be a challenge. You are just replaying rooms of monsters followed by a boss, so the rewards are what makes this worthwhile.

The other thing you can do is Battle, which puts a random group of your heroes against another human team. These fights seem to try and matchmake even teams, based on a score rather than your team. I have been in unwinnable or unlosable battles as a rule. Lose a few fights to lower your standing, and could face off against players 2-3 levels lower than you.

Enter room, hit all the things, move on

That’s a big power difference – and it cuts both ways. You can be working your way up and see a team that is 2-3 levels higher than you. Suck it up and take a breath buddy, it will be over soon 🙂

I can also see this being the ‘pay to win’ section of the game. I have lost to teams with access to rare/epic/legendary equipment I haven’t got and lost 3/4 of my team in a single hit. Because Warriors is so quick to play, it’s easy enough to shrug off and jump back in. I wish this could be improved, though. Just losing a close battle is infinitely more fun to me than creaming opponents in one hit.

And finally, there are the quests. New ones are added every day. Kill X many enemies, do Y amount of damage, that kind of thing. Your reward is either a bunch of gold or a random card drop. It gives a sense of purpose to aim at something, but it’s just a reward for doing the same old over and over again.

Like Fortnite and the like, daily grind quests give you something to work towards to justify the grind

So overall, it sounds fun! What’s the catch?

Core play mechanics, not much. It’s a light dungeon crawler with RPG ties, which can be just what people are looking to play. Having the ability to run boss gauntlets to level up your characters is a grind, sure. But what RPG doesn’t ask you to do the same thing over and over to level up?

If you don’t have the time or energy to play a ‘big’ game, having something on your phone like Warriors of Waterdeep can be just the ticket.

The issue is the cost of the free game – and not just microtransactions. The cheapest and best way to keep going with bonus chests and prizes is the VIP club. AUD$17 a month gives you access to exclusive chest rewards, mainly in the form of gold. You need gold to pay for levelling up everything in the game. You also need gold to redo those Boss rooms.

You can trade gems for gold, and you buy gems for cash. A fairly standard model, I agree. I am in a position now, where I feel the need to pay for stuff from the shop. Over and above the $17 I paid for the subscription, see where this can get expensive?

And the second problem is what you buy. You don’t buy the mythical axe of opponent stomping, that would be too easy. You get to buy a pack of trading cards like Magic: The Gathering, where the more expensive decks have a higher chance of the rarer cards.

3,000 gems is close to $40. Ouch.

So the theory is that you need the extra cards to level up your characters’ equipment, which in turn levels them up. Sounds reasonable. Except what if you need 50 arrows to level up your ranger, and in 10 booster packs you don’t get a single arrow card?

Long term, Warriors of Waterdeep is a great example of loot crates as gambling. Which in today’s world is not what you want to be known for.

So you are saying stay away?

Not at all. I have had a lot of fun playing Warriors of Waterdeep. Just be aware that it is asking a lot of you in terms of the old wallet.

I have the VIP subscription, and I will probably let it renew for another month. Unless something drastic happens to let me get further into the game though, next month will probably be my last month playing Warriors.

But until then, the relaxation and enjoyment I have gotten out of chilling on the couch and tapping the bad guys have been worth it. But you know what else I can relax with for $17 a month? Netflix. And have change. Microsoft Game Pass, and have lots of games to choose from – with change. Here is where I make the comparison and call Warriors expensive.

Download it, try it out, and see for yourself. If you have made it this far, you are probably interested enough to try it for out. Just before you hand over the old credit card info, weigh up the subscription against what you already have is my advice.

It's still a fun game to play, try it out 🙂

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

5-Minute Marvel Review

Released 2018
Designer Connor Reid
Publisher Spin Master Ltd (Website)
Players 2-5
Playing Time 5 minutes per villain boss
Category Cooperative
Hand Management
Unique player powers
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Can you take down Thanos?

I have mentioned 5-Minute Marvel being played by my group once or twice, and I thought I would give it a full review.

It’s also a retheme of 5-Minute Dungeon, so the review can almost be for both games. I am only going to be talking about the Marvel version though, as 5-Minute Dungeon does have a couple of small differences and expansions.

So what is it?

5-Minute Marvel is a cooperative deck builder game where you choose different heroes to defeat various villains. There is no deep backstory or prior knowledge required, making this an incredibly accessible game.

A mix of heroes included. Some well known, some not so much. All fun 🙂

What do you do?

The first thing you need to keep in mind is the promised five minutes. Yes, you can play a round in five minutes. To play the gauntlet of enemies means fighting six bosses, which takes longer with resets in between.

Setup is pretty quick, and you can have most of the game explained during setup, but there is a disconnect between playtime and the title.

The basics of gameplay are straightforward. Each player chooses a hero, and a villain boss with henchmen is set up at the top of the table. Each ‘bad guy’ has several symbols on it, and players throw down cards that match the symbols to beat it.

Like many cooperative games, you need to be playing with the right group to get the full benefit of the game. Play with people that only shout at others, and no one wants to play. On the flip side, people that don’t speak up to offer advice/cards/etc., and you aren’t playing anything.

The symbols you need to match. Play as many matching symbols as on the enemy, and repeat

The combination of players for 5-Minute Marvel has a lot more tolerance than other cooperative games though. A lot of people will probably be quite happy after the first five minutes – even if you do have to all but force them to play!

The timer is sassing you the whole time.

Using apps with board games can be divisive. I enjoy the integration when done well, like the Mansions of Madness or Chronicles of Crime type implementations. Just as a clock though, and I tend only to set the countdown on my phone.

However, like Klein Klenko’s fuse, the timer in this game gives you lip while you play. The timer is J.A.R.V.I.S., and while Paul Bettany isn’t the voice, the voice acting is fine. Different, but fine. The lack of the MCUs distinct J.A.R.V.I.S./Vision can cause you to stop for a second and lose thought!

The free app is available on iOS and Android and doesn’t take long to download.

It’s not for a whole night game though

Not by a longshot, unless you are playing for a half-hour only. 5-Minute Marvel comes into its own as a filler game, to be played as an opener or closer. Now a few more people in my group know it, I am even tempted to get them to play it as I set up a bigger game. You can get it done that quickly!

5-Minute Marvel is a great diversion, but nothing more really. While you get a good range of heroes (10 to be precise), the same six villains and couple of enemy types can get repetitive quickly. Even a gauntlet run may not be in your best interest after a couple of tries.

The enemies all look great, but when all you concentrate on is the little row of symbols that is lost during gameplay

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Codenames Review (including series)

Released 2015
Designer Vlaada Chvátil
Publisher Czech Games Edition (Website)
Players 2-8+ (best around 6)
Playing Time 15-20 minutes
Category Social Deduction
Word
Party
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Don’t have a lot of players? Just play it in public. People will join you quickly enough 😀

You have heard me talk about Codenames a few times on the site. I keep saying I need to get around to reviewing it. Today, I finally get around to that review!

What I am not reviewing is a single version of Codenames. Back in 2015, Codenames was released. Then came Codenames: Pictures. Later the others arrived. And they just kept coming.

So while I talk about the base game in this review, remember everything I say holds for every other Codenames game – you can even mix and match them!

So what is Codenames?

Codenames is a party social deduction word game. Four years after release, it is still the party game on Board Game Geek. Describing Codenames is the hardest part of the game, and it’s hard to describe because of its simplicity.

You play in two teams, each team having a spymaster. Before you lies a grid of Codenames, and you are trying to find your agents before the other side find theirs.

The theme I have heard explained in many different ways, but I usually just stick with “You have these files/words/images before you, and we have to give you clues that link as many together as possible. First team to find all their tiles wins.” – how many games can you teach that quickly?

Just a bunch of cards and some tiles. Setup is really easy with Codenames.

But because this is espionage, you can’t just blab out to your team where they are though – you need to do it in code. On the spymasters’ turn, they give one word and one number. The word ties into the grid somehow, and the number is how many files are associated with the word.

You might think that sounds too easy, and it can be. Except Vlaada Chvatil put a little twist in – the deadly assassin word. If your team finds the assassin, they are instantly out of the game

Using the app for the spy board. If you put it down, the clues hide!

That doesn’t sound like much of a game.

I agree in describing it that it doesn’t reach out and grab at people. It’s one of those games that you need to play to get excited over. And you will get excited about it. Of all the people I have shown, I know only two people that didn’t enjoy playing it, and that was when we played a three-player variant.

The magic of Codenames is I have been in situations where I scraped up three other people and just started playing in public. By the end of the game, we usually have about eight people playing, and most of them staying for a second round. Most of the people that would wander over would call themselves ‘not gamers’, yet Codenames is simple enough that you can teach someone all of the rules in a single round. It’s this simplicity that lets everyone play.

But I don’t know a bunch of those words – what do I do?

Being at its heart a word game, playing with younger children non-English speakers can be a challenge. Codenames: Pictures helps with this immensely.

It’s the same game, except with some fantastic artwork with multiple meanings. But just because the game uses pictures doesn’t make it easier. It just helps with players maybe not knowing certain words.

It’s like playing with simplified Dixit or Mysterium cards. While I wouldn’t put a child in as spymaster on their first game, their team can help them with the clues. This teamwork makes Codenames very inclusive to a lot of different groups.

Pictures doesn't make the game any easier, unless reading can be an issue

So what is Codenames: Duet?

If you typically game with only one other person, Codenames: Duet is for you. The spymasters’ tablet is double-sided, so each player switches between being clue giver and player each turn.

There are a couple of twists. In Duets, there are three assassins on the board. One of those assassins is shared between both teams, meaning a square you see as a dangerous square has a 2 in 3 chance of being something else when you are receiving clues.

The differences are slight, but at its core Duets is still codenames. There is also no reason why you can’t play Duets in teams. One of the most beautiful thing about Codenames is that it is incredibly flexible.

Two players, one board. Duet is a great two player game.

What about the other Codenames?

There are a few different versions of Codenames, mostly thanks to USAOpoly/the OP and licensing.

Deep Undercover is an ‘adult’ version of Codenames that initially I overlooked. Did I want a Cards Against Humanity type version? After playing it appreciate Deep Undercover as both childish humour and an extra layer of difficulty. How many clues can you give for ‘bum’ when so many cards overlap?

Disney, Marvel and Harry Potter all share Codenames base play but pull all of their cards from their licenses. They also share one flaw – you need to be a fan of the theme to join in fully.

A magical twist to the theme

In Codenames: Marvel, for example, there are a bunch of characters and locations not used in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I am a Marvel fan, and even I had to Google some of the characters to know who they were.

There are also little thematic twists in each version to keep them unique, but the mechanics are the same. The assassin in Harry Potter is a Death Eater. In Marvel, if you guess all of the neutral characters, Thanos collects all of the infinity stones, and it’s a double team loss. There are little twists to keep them fresh, but not enough to make them overly complicated.

Our first game setup. Even with MCU fans at the table, there was a lot of Googling on who was who

Rules Lawyers Beware

There are a few rules in giving clues. You can’t use words that are on the board, or form to make part of a word on the board. You can’t give clues that are positions of words.

So when someone says ‘Right 3’ for example, the team should expect that the clues aren’t three on the right-hand side on the board. They should be wary of picking ‘Writer’, as Right can be interpreted as a part of the word.

I have played Codenames with die-hard players, and I have played with complete casuals. I have heard team arguments about the validity of a clue.

Bottom line, the only person that can rule a clue invalid is the opposing spymaster. When playing with new players or one of the themed games, I try and be forgiving on clues. I might play at the stricter clues, but if someone is unfamiliar with the game or the subject, they still need to be able to play.

Follow the golden rule of gaming – everyone is there to have fun. If you have a player telling everyone why a clue is ‘bad’, maybe let them go back to their heavy euro games :p

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
Codenames

Final Thougths

I love Codenames, and if you are looking for a game for every gamers shelf, Codenames will be on the shortlist. Get Codenames: Pictures and Codenames: Duet for instant flexible gameplay.

You can also combine games. Have a player that’s as much a Disney fan as you are? Use the Disney tiles with the Duet spy board!

Codenames is a quick game that people can join in mid-game, making it a great games night opener while people arrive. Its simplicity, combined with social gameplay makes Codenames a modern classic.

Overall
10/10
10/10

Pros

  • Simple to teach and play
  • No one way to win
  • Variety available on the base concept
  • Can combine versions for different experiences

Cons

  • Licensed versions may be too detailed for casual fans
  • Younger children or non-English speakers hard to be spymasters

One Page Dungeon: Volume 1: Fire in the Goblin Forge Review

Released 2019
Designer Noah Patterson
Publisher Micro RPG (Website)
Players 1
Playing Time 15-25 minutes
Category Roll and Write
Solo Game
Dungeon Crawler
DriveThruRPG View on DriveThruRPG
(It’s not yet listed on BGG!)

Sometimes you want a light romp through a dungeon. And sometimes, you can get it.

Dungeon crawlers are a popular style of game and for excellent reasons. Clearing out enemies and grabbing various loot is a fun experience and one replicated in different media. It might not be immediately apparent, but games like Zombicide, Diablo and Destiny all have dungeon crawl DNA.

Another thing all these games have in common is they excel when you are playing in groups. Yes, you can solo your way through most of them, but the experience isn’t quite what it could be.

So a couple of weeks ago when I saw a Facebook post about a solo dungeon adventure, I thought I would give it a shot. That game is One Page Dungeon: Volume 1: Fire in the Goblin Forge.

The What?

Yep, it’s a mouthful. For the rest of the review, I am going to call it One Page Dungeon, but keep in mind if you search for it that there are a lot of One Page Dungeon titles out there.

I was interested in One Page Dungeon for a few reasons. One, the designer Noah Patterson puts his games on DriveThruRPG as Pay What You Want for the first week. It’s a freebie trial. How could I lose?

All you need to play! Well, maybe not as many dice...

Another reason is that I have some weightier solo games like Four Against Darkness, that I just haven’t quite been able to play properly. Not because they aren’t good games, I just haven’t had the time to give them the attention they deserve. One Page Dungeon looked like a simpler version of the theme so that I could get into it quicker. Again, for a free game, it was worth a shot.

Exploring the Goblin Forge

One Page Dungeon was a game that delivered on first impressions. It only took a few minutes to read the rules, but I did need to read them a second time to let them click.

Short version – I played 2 games, went back and paid for the game. It’s worth it, but I really appreciate the ‘try it for free’ approach of Micro RPG.

The game follows the generic dungeon crawl formula. Create a character from your choice of 3, spend some initial gold and go knock down a dungeon door.

Play is straightforward. Roll a die, and place the corresponding room on the map. There are traditional rooms and corridors to place, but mechanically they are the same. You need to think ahead on your placement though – if you ever get into a situation where you can’t place a room, the final boss appears.

Character choices are solid, and you can choose between different styles that play differently

Once you have the room, you then roll for monsters or traps. You can try and sneak through the room, but if you fail, it begins an encounter. Defeat the monster or escape a trap, and you roll on the treasure table for a reward.

You finish the dungeon by defeating the boss – the King Goblin. As mentioned, if you get caught in a dead-end that will bring the King to you. He will also appear once you have accumulated 100+ gold.

When you defeat the boss, you can spend 50 gold to level up or buy new equipment. Then you can try again.

All of this happens in four steps, and one of those iscombat. In combay, you follow an order of three steps. It’s like all roll and writes – here is your order summary, follow that. It’s what makes them so easy to learn and follow, and One Page Dungeon does it well.

So you keep playing the same map?

Not really. Because you create the dungeon as you go, the likelihood of replaying the same dungeon is very slim. Of course, this is a game that depends on dice rolls, so you will quickly get familiar with the creatures and treasure in the 6-8 dice value range.

As you level up, the encounters do get easier. But a few unlucky rolls can quickly turn the tide against you, so there is no cakewalk here.

You can see the ghost of my first run, and already the route and what I have encountered are different

The negatives

If you don’t like rolling dice, this isn’t a game for you. Everything you do in One Page Dungeon depends on a die roll in some way.

And the high luck level leads to one of the biggest things people could see as a negative. On my first run-through, I had a lot of healing items and the like, but getting gold was a grind. The second game, my usual ‘low’ rolls kicked in, so it didn’t take long to play at all.

The rules are straightforward, but I still had a couple of questions. Noah Patterson quickly answered my question on Facebook, which was great! I wasn’t sure if I could drink potions and the like during a fight, and the short answer is yes.

My other gripe is the art. On the cover is the ‘sexy warrior woman’ trope, which to me I can’t see how it fits the game. Most of the art also looks like it was created for a late 00s 3D adventure game.

I don’t know who created the assets, but the mix of hand-drawn items and 3d rendered imagery is jarring. Not enough to detract totally from the game, but if I didn’t already know what the One Page Dungeon was about I probably would have passed over it browsing DriveThruRPG.

It's not the images are terrible, it's just the 'computer game' feel seems out of place

As a short diversion, One Page Dungeon is a bit of fun, but I wouldn’t play multiple games in a row.

So what happens when you get have played enough?

The clue is in the title. One Page Dungeon is only Volume 1 😀 I have grabbed Volume 2 this week, but I haven’t played it yet. As well as a new monster table, you also get more characters to choose from with unique abilities.

Characters are interchangeable between the volumes, so this helps add to replayability as well.

But if you don’t want to get the new volumes, just stop playing. While I can see myself playing Dungeon Crawlers as a whole for years to come, I don’t think this series will be one I will be pulling out of the PnP box for years to come. But in the meantime, I am enjoying playing it – and that’s what counts.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
One Page Dungeon: Volume 1: Fire in the Goblin Forge

Final Thoughts

One Page Dungeon: Volume 1: Fire in the Goblin Forge is not a groundbreaking game or in the running for the Spiel des Jahres. What it is though is a fun diversion, and it does a pretty good job at being such.

For literally a couple of dollars and printing 1-3 pages, One Page Dungeon is a bit of fun and an excellent introduction for people dipping their toes in the roll and write dungeon experience.

While the score of 6.5 reflects that it as better than average, it’s the fact that I can’t see myself playing it down the linethat brings it down from closer to 7.5-8 for me. Even as a one of bit of fun, I think a lot of people will enjoy it.

Overall
6.5/10
6.5/10

Pros

  •  Simple solitaire roll and write
  •  Cheap price point
  •  Great introduction for new players

Cons

  • High luck factor can make game length drag
  • Roll die for everything

Lords of Waterdeep Review

Released 2012
Designer Peter Lee
Rodney Thompson
Publisher Wizards of the Coast (Website)
Players 2 – 5
Playing Time About 25-40 minutes per player (depends on play style)
Category Worker Placement
Hidden Information
Card Drafting
Set Collection
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Why be the one questing, when you can be the one benefiting from the questors?

Seven years is a long time in gaming. Changes in gaming over the last seven years have been phenomenal. Especially when you consider that it is now gamers everywhere that have benefited.

Video gamers have been seeing some pretty rapid improvements with console generations, but Tabletop gaming has only just really seeing this now. There is a reason Monopoly was king for so long – look at what it had as mainstream competition.

Take, for example, today’s game – Lords of Waterdeep. I have referred to it as an old favourite for years, and it’s not even that old!

That is the catch with today’s gaming boom. So many games are being released year on year, that a board game has a single run and then it’s gone, unless it makes it big. Lords of Waterdeep however is still going strong.

Released in 2012, I thought this was such a great gateway game for many types of players, even if there were preconceived notions on what ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ is. Many people agreed, and it became one of the early board game resurgence hits.

Original Box Components. **Image from BGG user vardamir

Today, Lords of Waterdeep is cheered or put down depending on your tastes. One thing I hear it put down for is the theme or lack thereof. I will talk about that in a little while.

I know a few players that have heard bad reviews on the game and won’t give it a second thought. The thing is though, for some reason, people look at Lords of Waterdeep as a deep strategy worker placement game. I often hear “It’s too simple. Game X or Y is so much better” as a justification why not to try it.

Yes, there are ‘better’ games available today, that is the benefit of so many new games coming out. Some forget these new games are building upon the lessons of great games that have come before.

Everyone is different, but if you sit a new gamer down with a lot of heavier games, they would be thoroughly confused and potentially put off playing again. Sometimes, the people teaching forgot they only have the experience that they do by starting with lighter games.

You can't get a player up to speed in one round of Twilight Imperium

Lords of Waterdeep for me is an excellent example of a gateway game. It has simple worker placement, light hidden role mechanics coupled with a theme that most people know that helps guide their learning experiences. There are a few moving pieces, but not enough to overwhelm players or those that enjoy lighter games.

It’s still a bit niche, sure. I wouldn’t call it a must-have item for every gamers shelf. But in today’s environment of Cult of the New, it’s still in print. And that should tell you something.

This is not what you get in the box. Lords of Waterdeep is my most customised game by far.

So what is Lords of Waterdeep?

Lords of Waterdeep has Dungeons & Dragons branding, but there is a bit of an argument on if its a Dungeons & Dragons game. I say that part doesn’t matter, and here’s why.

Most fantasy adventures start with your character and group in a pub, meeting with a stranger about a job. The stranger could be a noble in disguise, a merchant in need, or an agent of another. The setup is so standard that most going on a fantasy adventure are usually surprised by any real twist on the idea.

In Lords of Waterdeep, instead of being the adventurer risking life and limb for coin and fame, you are the noble ‘other’ that is set to benefit from the adventurers’ recklessness bravery.

Even without knowing the game, I bet you have a pretty good idea of what is happening here

And this is where I find most of the arguments come from – its “Not Dungeons & Dragons” if you aren’t the one adventuring.

To that, all I can say is “Fair enough.” If that is what Dungeons & Dragons is to you, then I can see why you would be disappointed in a game like Lords of Waterdeep.

But in your player position overlooking the resources of the city, to me, this theme is a great choice. It doesn’t hurt that the idea is also generic enough that you don’t need Dungeons & Dragons experience at all to get right into the game.

Waterdeep for me holds a special place as an old school role player, but so do places like Greyhawk. If you don’t know what I am talking about, you have probably already guessed they are cities or areas and nodding along with the conversation.

Lords of Waterdeep is my most 'blinged' game, hands down.

And this is a large part of why I love Lords of Waterdeep so much – everyone already has a fair idea thematically of what is happening. You don’t need to understand what an Owlbear is to know you get points for taming one. You do it and get your points, end of story.

OK, but how do you play?

There are two types of resources in the game – gold, and adventurers. During the game, you send agents to different locations to recruit adventurers and collect gold, then cash them to complete your quests. Most of these will give you points. Some special Plot Quests may also give you ongoing benefits rather than a score boost, so choose wisely.

That is the game in a nutshell, but there are a few other elements bought into play.

Waterdeep has several Lords, each with their strengths and goals. At the start of the game, each player is dealt a Lord face down. The Lord gives the player a bonus for certain things completed at the end of the game.

The Lords introduce the hidden role and secret objective mechanics to the game, without players having to learn asymmetrical rules. Each player still does what they were doing before, but some may go for Skullduggery quests over Warfare for end game points.

Each Lord is slightly different, and you randomly get one each game

Intrigue cards also add a small amount of ‘Take That!’ mechanics to the game. Each intrigue card is relatively straightforward on its own, so players don’t have to show what they have to everyone to ask questions.

A common one is a little compulsory quest another player must complete before any of their other pursuits. They are quick to do, and even score the player a few points. Some let you woo adventurers from rivals player boards, stealing their resources. But on their next turn, they will have what you took back again. Intrigues tend to delay rather than destroy.

Some sample Intrigue Cards

Even if you are being picked on by every other player, it is rare you can’t accomplish something during your game. An early mistake will not cost you the entire game, at least not until everyone knows the game inside out.

So what’s wrong with Lords of Waterdeep?

The biggest problem with Lords of Waterdeep is easily game length, especially with new players. Analysis Paralysis players also add to this. I try to tell people it will take about 30 minutes per player, but even this isn’t a great guide.

Partially this is because people that wait until their turn to begin to evaluate the game state will drag out the game. That isn’t unique to Lords of Waterdeep though. Unlike a few other games though, Lords of Waterdeep with it’s fixed choices can start to help players learn how to plan their play on other players turns.

Another thing that can add to the game time is how social you can be during the game. Because it’s a light game and a quick look at the board tells you the game state quickly, I have had plenty of games where I socialised more than I played.

Add more buildings during the game, and people start getting analysis paralysis

Another ‘issue’ some have with Lords of Waterdeep is its age, and that’s not a real negative for me. The comment that there are newer games that do some things better is accurate, but there aren’t many games that do the whole package as well.

Discworld: Ankh Morpork and it’s new version Nanty Narking (can’t wait for it that to arrive!) are almost advanced versions of Lords of Waterdeep. Yedo from Pandasaurus is also an advanced version, and it came out in 2012. But this is an unfair comparison in a lot of ways. Many people love Ticket to Ride, but the fact there are more advanced versions out there doesn’t make the original any less fun to play. Most people that I hear write off Lords of Waterdeep as ‘simple’ seem to forget this.

As a guide, if you own any of the ‘advanced’ games mentioned, Lords of Waterdeep probably isn’t your first choice to buy. It just won’t have the same amount of challenge for you, as it is a lighter experience. But to have it as an introduction in getting more people playing the other games? Yes, that is where it works well.

And this is where Lords of Waterdeep sits for me. It’s a fun light to medium weight game, but if you want something meatier to sink your teeth into then yes it’s not for you.

Wait – you said you wouldn’t play it without the expansions? Why should I?

No, now I wouldn’t play ‘vanilla’ Waterdeep, but I have played it a lot. Everything I have been talking about is all about the base game. The expansions also do just that – add more to the base, not ‘fix’ it.

The Scoundrels of Skullport includes two separate expansions that can be mixed or played separately. It has the bonus of adding a sixth player if you have a larger playgroup. That would be the only reason I would suggest grabbing it immediately. Other than that, standard expansion items really – new quests, lords, buildings and intrigues. They also have new area boards to place your workers.

Another thing I love about the expansions is that they can be played immediately. At its core, the expansion mechanics are almost identical to the base rules so you can jump in almost immediately.

It looks intimidating, but it's just more cards for the pile really

For new people, I remove a couple of the Lords and locations/quests that allow extra workers – the Ambassador and the Lieutenant. The rules these workers aren’t hard and can be thrown in on the second game easily.

As with any game, it is always best if you get the chance to play it with someone that knows it before jumping in and buying it yourself. Unless there is a sale or bundle going, play Lords of Waterdeep before worrying about anything buying Scoundrels of Skullport.

Oh, and did you know there is a digital version?

Interested, but don’t know anyone with the game? Lords of Waterdeep was the first ‘good’ board game conversions I ever played, and one of the reasons I still have an iPad.

You can get it on iOS and Android for AUD$11 – pricey, I fully admit. The app has a reasonable tutorial and multiple levels of AI, and mechanically it nails the game.

Lords Of Waterdeep Tablet
This is the Digital Tablet version, but it shows some of the choices on HALF the board

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
Lords of Waterdeep
  • Game Score - 9/10
    9/10

Final Thoughts

I love Lords of Waterdeep. Hands down it is my most ‘blinged’ game ever, that should give an idea of how much I enjoy it.

That said, I would never say it’s my favourite game ever. It is high on my favourite games to teach, and it’s great to play with a variety of players.

I finally got this back to the table a couple of weeks ago, and of the six of us playing (expansions adds more players!) only 3 of us had played before, and one of those only on the app.

We had a great night, playing for about four and a half hours, including dinner and dessert. The new players had the mechanics and timing down pat by the end of the second round, and everyone wants to play it again.

What better recommendation can you have than that?

Overall
9/10
9/10

Pros

  •  Light mechanics make for great introduction to many different games
  •  Different roles make for replayability
  •  High quality card quality and artwork

Cons

  •  Can take a long time to play, especially with ‘Analysis Paralysis’ players
  •  Can outgrow quickly as a deep strategy game
  •  Blinging out your game can get expensive :p

Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot Review

Released 2019
Platform PSVR (Reviewed), Steam
Publisher Bethesda (Website)
Developer Machine Games (Website)
Arkane Studios (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1
Category Virtual Reality Experience
Shooter
Light Puzzle Solving

It’s a polished VR Experience packaged as a game – I thought we were past this stage, though?

When I saw the announcement for Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot, I was very intrigued. Wolfenstein has had an excellent reputation since being rebooted, and I have wanted to play them for a while. With the release of Cyberpilot and Youngblood last month, I thought this would be the best time to jump in.

Starting things up

You start the game in a room seated in a chair. Looking around, it felt like I was in Wolfenstein: Youngblood. The same model assets are being used in both games, and it makes VR look amazing.

Then you hear the voice of your resistance contact, the narrator and guide for the game. You go through some fairly standard VR intro malarky, and then you are in the game.

You are not allowed past this room. The door says so! :p

What you aren’t into though is into the Nazi killing. That threw me a little bit at first – isn’t this a Wolfenstein game? Shoot first ask questions never?

Instead of shooting, you’re tasked with reprogramming a captured Panzerhund. Again, reasonably standard VR fluff, but well-executed on the whole. Remove a panel with the crowbar, pull out the circuit board, listen to more talking, re-insert the circuit board – it’s all stuff VR has you doing already.

Repairing electronics rarely involves crowbars normally...

Then you get into the combat – well, almost. You get into a tutorial showing you how to move and use the Panzerhund, and then you are into the shooting phase.

So how is the combat?

Not bad – not bad at all. It was fun looking through the eyes of some of Wolfenstein’s harder enemies. The panicked reactions of the soldiers as they realise that their robot ally has turned on them is satisfying to see. And see it you do – graphically, I cannot understate how polished Cyberpilot is.

Using the Move controllers, having autonomous left and right-hand movement makes you feel like a badass. Walking through the streets looks and feels impressive, even if the level design is a bit linear.

The lighting effects are hard to show in a still, but the flamethrower looks amazing!

You don’t sound very enthused though, but you are saying it’s good?

Yeah, you knew the ‘but’ was coming.

There are three types of unit to control, of which the Panzerhund is the first. The next level has you flying a drone with an emphasis on stealth. It felt different from the Panzerhund, but it was another “wait for everything to be explained in unskippable sections” as outlined earlier before you got to do what you wanted.

The last robot is the Zitadelle and was, in most ways, the experience I was most expecting. Rockets on my left arm, minigun on my right, go and mow everything down.

By now, I thought the first three levels were the tutorials for the actual game – something fairly standard in a lot of shooters again. So then I started on the fourth level, where I got to jump between all three robots to complete specific tasks.

Rockets or bullets. Why not both?

Here I was, happy to be finally playing the game – and it was over. There are only four levels to the entire game.

Story wise, there was a bit of a twist (no I’m not going into it) but even that felt rushed and out of place.

Bottom line, this felt like the start of a great game that was rushed to meet an artificial deadline. If this had stayed in development another year with a more fleshed out story and levels, it could have been a great game rather than a good experience.

How are the Controls?

With the Move controllers, everything worked pretty well overall. Tracking was good for the most part, and I didn’t have to recenter myself very often.

The most annoying control issue I had was repairing with the Panzerhund and Zitadelle. In the cockpit, if you put your right hand down to the right and fire, Cyberpilot would often assume you were trying to dock the virtual controller to the frame and initiate repairs.

The other problem I had was the tutorials. They are unskippable and relatively slow. It felt like they were making sure you knew everything you could and couldn’t do in the game.

With the PSVR trying to help you lock onto things, repairing accidently happens a lot

So imagine my surprise when I accidentally find out 10 minutes before finishing the game I could strafe. That would have been nice to know earlier in the game!

So it’s not worth it?

No, by all means, grab it – just not at its current price point, and know that it’s not a game in and of itself.

Cyberpilot is fun enough – if you know it’s only a short term experience.

There are a variety of different challenges to try for in the trophy list, but they feel like they are there for completionists rather than fun things to do.

I do regret getting the physical copy. I bought it for AUD$40 from EB Games, mainly because I added it to my preorder for Youngblood. It’s AUD$30 on the PlayStation Store, and I think it will either be a PS Plus add on or half-price shortly.

Once Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot hits the AUD$15-20 mark, I think it will be better value for money and can recommend more people play it. But by then I think the hype will be gone, so interest in the game will have probably died off to the point not as many people will try this game as they should.

There are little things to discover, but not enough to make you play Cyberpilot again and again
JohnHQLD
Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot

Final Thoughts

I don’t regret buying Wolfenstein: Cypberpilot at all. It looks so good, and the fun was there. Not enough to make a concerted effort for a platinum trophy, but it was fun enough. The seeds of an entire spin of series for Wolfenstein are sitting here, waiting to be nurtured.

What Cyberpilot doesn’t have is longevity. It’s like Batman: Arkham VR – it’s a polished and immersive experience, but that is all it is – an experience. This far into the PSVR lifecycle, I was hoping for more.

While the idea of Wolfenstein in VR is appealing, I don’t think that the PSVR is capable of doing it justice. Cypberpilot is a positive experiment and something that I would like to see Bethesda expand on. I will happily get the next game in the Wolfenstein VR series if it happens, but I would recommend picking up Cyberpilot when it’s on sale.

Overall
6/10
6/10

Pros

  •  Amazing Visuals
  •  Each robot feels different to control
  •  Entertaining especially for new VR players
  •  Lots of trophy challenges to complete

Cons

  •  2 hours tops to complete
  •  Unskippable Tutorials and Exposition
  •  No secrets or collectables to promote level exploration
  •  Controls can be awkward

Istanbul The Dice Game Review

Istanbul The Dice Games Box Art
Istanbul The Dice Games Box Art
Released 2017
Designer Rüdiger Dorn
Publisher Pegasus Spiele (Website)
Players 2 – 4 (Fan based solo rules on BGG)
Playing Time 20-30 minutes
Category Dice Rolling
Push Your Luck
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

I am not making the Constantinople joke.  I hear it all the time.

You may have heard of Alpal and I discussing Istanbul: The Dice Game in the Blatherings last week.  Today, welcome to the formal review!

If you have never played Istanbul, it is a game that I would encourage people that enjoy a medium weight game to play it.  The purpose of the game is simple – be the first player to obtain six rubies.  This is done by various trades and exchanges, and you travel around an randomly created marketplace via a mancala mechanic.

It is a unique game and one enjoyed by a large portion of my regular gaming group.  Don’t believe me?  Istanbul was also the winner of the 2014 Kennerspiel des Jahres, as well as many other awards and nominations.

Anyone that has played the original Istanbul will be pleased that the core of the game remains so intact, in what is a completely different game.

Where the original Istanbul is a very logical and strategic affair with near perfect information, Istanbul the Dice Game is a true dice game where your fate lies in your rolls and ability to react on the fly.

What it definitely isn’t is a case of Yahtzee with Istanbul symbols like some other dice versions – many of the features of the board game are cleverly integrated into the game.  This make the dice game a great choice for people that enjoy lighter luck based games, especially compared to the board game.

Istanbul Game Layout
Istanbul the Board Game - all this has been condensed down to a fun dice game!

Overview on How To Play

Istanbul is a market bargaining game.  You collect resources and trade them in for rubies.  When a player gets 6 rubies, this triggers the end game where play continues until all players have had the same number of turns (i.e. back to first player).

Then it’s a simple matter of the most rubies wins!  What tends to happen when playing though is that more than one player has six rubies, so people cash in their goods for money which acts as a tiebreaker.

How do you go about collecting things?  That’s simple – you roll the die and see what resources you have!

Everyone starts the game with five dice, and the ability to play two actions.  The actions are pretty much all exchanging dice and goods for other items, including rubies.

Istanbul the Dice Game Dice
All of your possible dice actions, and four of them are essentially the same thing - just pick a colour!

On each die, one side of each of the four resources is shown – cloth (red), fruit (yellow), spices (green) and jewelry (blue).  The other two sides are coins (Lira) and Bazaar cards, which I will talk about in more detail later.

As I previously stated, Istanbul the Dice game is fairly simple – you need to collect six rubies.  To collect rubies, you use your dice rolls to build up resources, then hand in those resources to collect the corresponding ruby.

But it’s not quite as simple as just collecting some fruit for a ruby either.  If you look at the board, you will see the rubies laid out in a manner that makes sense pretty much as soon as you look at it.

Istanbul the Dice Game Three Player Setup
The 'play' board - setup for three players. Look at all those rubies!

For example, to collect the fruit ruby you must pay 4 fruit resources as an action, as shown on the board.  But as you take the ruby from the right, the cost increases – the next player needs to pay five resources, shown as the ruby is taken.  All goods are costed like this, so you want to be first to get in and get ‘cheap’ rubies.

So how do you pay for the higher cost items?  By collecting resources from turn to turn.  Every turn, you will have whatever you roll on your dice, but you can store goods for later as well.

For example, if you roll two cloth, you can store a single cloth tile in your warehouse to use it later.  Have three different resources?  You can exchange those for a crate, or a wildcard resource.  Did you roll a rainbow and have one of each resource?  You can pick any two resource tiles (apart from crates) that you like!

Istanbul the Dice Game Actions
The complete list of actions available to you in Istanbul. It looks complicated, but is very simple and comprehensive.

This will be most of your actions, especially in the early parts of the game as you build your stockpile.  But do you go on an early spending spree, or hoard everything until the end?  With only two actions per turn, you can only exchange for two rubies, and the longer you wait the more expensive they become, so timing is everything.

The next common action is exchanging the Lira you rolled for money in the game – each die you rolled is worth 2 Lira and you get to build up your bank.

But there are ways to gain advantages during play as well, in the form of Bazaar Cards and Mosque Tiles.

Bazaar Cards can be exchanged from the Bazaar Cards die face, and offer one-time instant bonus opportunities to the player.  You may be able to gain a resource and lira, or exchange one resource for two others.

You may also be able to cash in situational bonuses – for example, if you have one of each resource, you can cash them in to take one ruby from anywhere on the board.

Istanbul the Dice Game Bazzar Cards
A selection of the Bazaar Cards. They play a surprisingly vital role to the game.

One thing about Bazaar Cards though is the majority not only help you but can help other players as well.  For example, you might be able to pick up a Cloth and three Lire, but all other players can pick up a Cloth OR three Lira.

If you roll multiple Bazaar Cards, when cashing them in as your action you can pick up that many Bazaar Cards and choose which one to play, giving you a little more control over the situation.

Mosque Tiles however probably have the biggest impact on making your own game unique each time.

These Tiles are laid out in a group of six, and you simply pay the cost on top of the tile similar to purchasing a Ruby.  At the start of each turn, before you roll your dice, you gain certain abilities depending on the tile.

These can be as simple as automatically gaining three Lira at the start of your turn, and increase to taking more actions or even add more die to your roll – probably the most powerful tile in the game.

Istanbul the Dice Game Mosque Tiles
The Mosque Tiles allow you to build your game differently each time, while making your turn unique to the other players as well.

There are also tiles that play during your turn, where you can switch your Lira rolls into taking one resource tile of a set type (e.g. rolled a coin but don’t want the cash?  Take a cloth marker).  These can also have a big impact on the game, as it allows players to get a slightly easier time accruing certain goods.

One feature I haven’t discussed is rerolls – technically, you don’t get any.  The exception to this is crystals, which you can gain by trading in two different resources or via Mosque Tiles and Bazaar cards.  If you trade in a crystal, which does not count as an action, you can choose to reroll as many dice as you wish.

Again, you need to really think about if you are going to reroll or not though.  While cashing in a crystal is simple enough, the fact it will cost you a future action makes it expensive in terms of play economy.  Also, if you are in a tiebreaker situation, crystals are worth three Lira which could tip a win in your favour.

Of course, tiebreakers mean nothing if you don’t think you can get enough rubies to be in the endgame, so it all boils down to picking the right moment and luck being with you.

Why do I enjoy Istanbul the Dice Game?

One thing I really like about Istanbul the Dice Game is that while it is a very competitive game at its heart, there are no real ‘take that’ mechanics in the game.  True, when you buy a ruby the price goes up, but that is the same for yourself just as much as other players.  At no point do you take anything from another player, so no one can be picked on or crowded out in this game, which is something a table can do in Istanbul the Board Game.

The Bazaar Cards are also a clever inclusion as well, and not as an Istanbul mechanic.  Playing one will reward the drawing player the most, but a good number give the other players a benefit as well.  That benefit can be straightforward (take money or goods), but it can also be the choice to exchange something to help them out as well, such as change goods for Lira.

It may seem small, but because Bazaar Cards are so commonly played during a game, players have a level of engagement on each turn, even if it’s just to see if that player will activate a Bazaar Card.  Far too many dice games are simply ‘roll dice – do the thing – tune out until my turn again’.  It’s true you can play this way, but that would be a sign to me that you really aren’t engaging in the game and it may not be for you.

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