Saturday, 10 December 2016

FRIDAY

Friday - A Solo Adventure, Rio Grande Games, 2012

10+, 30 minutes, 1 player, Solo




This is the first Solo game that we've reviewed here, which is fitting because it was the first Solo game I ever bought. I have played this game nine times, although it turns out that the first six times I was playing it incorrectly. Nonetheless, there's one thing in common with all nine games - I lost badly. "Can you achieve a glorious victory with 80 or more points?" Well, no, I bloody can't. Playing the game correctly, I've scored -29, -44 and -55 points. In the nine games I've played, I have literally never even got to scoring positive points. And yet I kept coming back to this game, so I think it's worthy of review.

"You are Friday and spend your time on a deserted island. After Robinson suddenly capsizes with his ship and runs ashore at your beach, your peaceful times are disturbed. To give Robinson a chance to leave the Island again, you start to teach him to improve his survival abilities against the hazards of the Island. If Robinson beats two Pirates at the end of the game, he successfully leaves the island and you will have your beloved peace back." Now, as game premises go, that's actually not bad. Robinson (Crusoe, in case that rather obvious literary point escaped you) is a total halfwit who starts the game failing at almost every challenge that faces him. In fact, the only way you can even have a chance of winning (like I would know!) is apparently to deliberately make him lose certain challenges. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Once you've set up the game, you draw the top two cards from the hazard deck. You choose one of the cards as the hazard and place it face up (and discard the other). That's your challenge for Robinson to face. The card tells you how many cards is the maximum for fighting the hazard. It also tells you the score you need to reach to defeat that hazard. For example, the Cannibals card (pictured here on the right) says in the little white mark that you can draw up to 5 cards from your deck. If you're on the first run-through of all the hazards, you're on the green level, so your cards have to add up to 5 points. If you're on the second level, though, you need 9 points. And if on the last level, the red level (which I've only reached once) then your cards have to add up to 14 points. Defeat the hazard and you get to keep the card, which you flip around to use against other hazards later. In this case, that would give you a weapon worth 4, which is very helpful. If you don't reach the desired number, you can choose to add another card, which you do be sacrificing a life point. Robinson starts the game with life points, which are represented by some totally weird wooden tokens. Once you have none left, you lose the game.

At the start of the game, because Robinson is such a feckless idiot, most of his cards have a point value of -1 or 0, with only a smattering of 1s. The challenges are not so hard - sometimes you only need to get 0 points to succeed! But even that can be very hard because Robinson was apparently so busy living it up large in the middle classes of 17th century Hull that he forgot to learn how to do basic things like swim to his raft. As I mentioned before, though, you want Robinson to lose some of these first hazards, though, because to win the game (like I'd know!), apparently you really need to get rid of the 0 and -1 cards, which you do by losing hazards. Then, when you slowly win hazards, you replace those -1s and 0s with cards with positive values and then (LIKE I'D BLOODY KNOW!) you start defeating much bigger hazards.

A photo of life tokens that I found online. I'm not sure why
they're in gravel. I'm not even sure why the life tokens look
like this, because I have literally no idea what they're meant
to look like. Corn? A person? Lice? I have no idea.
And that's all well and good, but it's just stupid difficult. Firstly, the rules are poorly written, and a lot of players apparently have to go online to watch a gameplay video to see how to even start playing - I know that I did. But then apparently there's a trick, something you have to work out, before you can win this game. Once you know the trick, you keep winning the game. Apparently. And that leads me to question this entire game, because while it's nice to have a challenge, if you're playing a solo game there's already a small chance that your ego is shattered by your stark loneliness and the fact that you have no-one else to play a game with. So, why would you want to make an evening of sitting by yourself and losing to a bloody game again and again and again?!? Why do I keep doing it? Is it really because I have no self-esteem?!? Is it because I secretly hate myself and think this is the best life has to offer me?!? Or is it, perhaps, because it's a really unique puzzle that I know can be cracked, I just haven't worked out how yet?

And this is a puzzle. A real puzzle. The final page on the rulebook tells you that you can "look through both discard piles... count the number of cards in all three draw stacks... [and] look at the destroyed cards." It says that it's not a memory game, so you can access all open information. It even tells you that Robinson starts with 1 2-point card, 3 1-point cards, 8 0-points cards, 5 -1-point cards and 1 0-point card that gives you 2 life tokens back. So, I even went to extremes and noted them all down and started playing the odds. "Well," I cleverly thought to myself, "I'm facing a hazard of 0 points, and now I've only got five cards left - four 0-point cards and a -1 card. So, I've only got a 1/5 change of drawing the bad card, so I should go for that challenge." And then what do I draw? The bloody -1 card. And any game that makes you shout, "OH, COME ON!!!" repeated times has to have questions asked about it.

Friedemann Friese, the designer of the game, is obviously some kind of sadist. The game has been hugely popular worldwide, but is also widely acknowledged to be extremely difficult. I've never even got to the pirates yet - Robinson has always died before I could even try to fight the pirates, whose card is always a random draw from a pile of pirates with varying abilities.

Apparently, this is one of the possible pirate cards.
But I wouldn't know because I've never got that far.
It's been months since I've played Friday, and when I look at it on the shelves, I sometimes think, "Oh, it would be nice to get that out again," but then I find myself thinking, "Or since I've got an evening to myself, I could go and paint some Imperial Assault miniatures." Writing about it now with the box next to me, I find myself thinking, "After I type this review, I could actually give it a try and see if I can beat it this time," but there's a much larger voice in my head saying, "...or just go to bed." In terms of design, once you've watched the gameplay videos online, it's a catchy, simply little game. I probably will play it again some time just because I really, really want to beat it without learning how from other players online. But then what? Once I beat it, I can go onto a more difficult level, but I can't believe the gameplay is going to be that different. The game even taunts you - "How many games did you need for your first victory in Level 1?" It may as well add "...loser?" to the end of that question.

I get that a number of Solo games are very difficult - Lord of the Rings, The Card Game is another virtually impossible solo card game that has sat on my shelf for a long time. But, I would like this game to be easier. Not easy, just easier. People talk about not getting their first win for 10-20 games and that's really rather messed up. Here's another puzzle that would take less time to solve - how many times can you bang your head against your gaming table before you start to bleed? I reckon that, life-threatening injuries aside, that might be a less frustrating puzzle to solve.

So, why have I played it nine times so far? Well, it's a cute travel game with nice artwork that doesn't take too long to play. If you're going to lose, better not to take an entire night over it. It's also an interesting challenge that I know that other people have beaten, which basically makes it like one of those Seeing Eye pictures. You know that if you look at it just right, you can see what it's meant to be. And you'll stand there for ages trying to work it out, simply because you know there's something there. And then you think you see it, but you don't, so you stand there for even longer trying to work it out.
It's a dog. Or a tree. Or a man stranded on an island.
I don't know what it is. Stop judging me. 
Friday isn't so much a "Solo Adventure" as a puzzle. Well, maybe it is an adventure when for the first time you reach the third level. And then lose. Maybe it's a metaphor for our lives - that we're all doomed to failure so perhaps we should just celebrate the small successes. Maybe that's what ultimately makes it an appealing game, at least on the evenings when I don't mind reminding myself of what a total and abject failure I am.

There is another Robinson Crusoe themed game that is for co-op or solo play, but it's currently very expensive and is also very difficult and with very complicated rules. Apparently, solo play, ridiculous difficulty, poor rules and Robinson Crusoe all go hand-in-hand. A new version of that game is shortly coming out with much clearer rules, and I can't help but think I'll be picking up a version of that. In the meantime, I hope I solve this puzzle some time before I die, but I'm aware that I actually might not.

WE LIKEY
  • Cute artwork
  • Simple game mechanism
  • Some strategy
  • Inexpensive
  • Quick game play

WE NO LIKEY
  • Poorly written rules
  • Too bloody difficult
  • Weird life tokens
Accessibility: 2/5 - A low mark here because a game with simple mechanics is just explained badly in the rulebook.
Design: 3/5 - Nothing special but nothing egregious here. The artwork is cute.
Depth: 2/5 - Maybe the fact that I don't see depth here is the reason I always lose. Or maybe it's just a game about playing odds.
Replayability: 3/5 - A nice challenge for an evening until you realise that there are other challenging things that you could do with your time that might actually bring about positive results.
Availability: 5/5 - Easily available online and in select stores for a cheap price.

Summary: A game that beats you and beats you until you work out the secret to winning is amusing for the first few games but then quickly turns into a struggle against the self and against succumbing to despair. Playing it now feels to me like someone rattling gates to a luxury theme park screaming "Let me in! Let me in!" and there's a few people on the other side with massive smiles on their faces, while most of the rest of society skulks around this side of the gates saying, "Give it up, we've tried." I don't know what the replayability is like once you've beaten the game because I've never bloody beaten the game!

Final Score: Once I beat this game - if I ever beat it - I might change this score. But the difficulty setting is so high that this game can turn a fun night of gaming into a reminder of the futility of human existence, and that's not really ideal in a game. But, if you're someone who really likes a real challenge, this game might totally be for you. To me, if I'm going to spend an evening by myself playing a game, I at least want a chance of beating it. Otherwise, I may as well read a book or paint some minis in preparation for a challenging group game like Imperial Assault for when the friends come round. Cute, challenging but more often than not, a little frustrating - 54%.

Friday, 2 December 2016

STAR WARS EPIC DUELS

Star Wars: Epic Duels, MB Games / Hasbro, 2002

8+, 30 minutes, 2-6 players, Competitive







It's the summer of 2002 and I'm in New York. We walk past the most enormous Toys R Us store that I've ever seen and in the window is a stack of Star Wars games virtually being given away. $10 for a Star Wars board game? I consider for a moment buying a whole host of them to sell online later on, but decide against it. Years later, I realise that this decision costs me $1000. We go back to my brother-in-law's place and set up the game. Within five minutes, we're already playing. I've taken Vader and I draw the All Too Easy card. I read the text and laugh because of how awesome it is. I play a few attacks against Luke and whittle down his defence. Luke has a total of 19 health on his board and this card can do 20 damage if undefended. Finally, I play the card, face down as always. My brother-in-law says, "I'll choose to take the damage." I flip the card over. "ALL TOO EASY," I say. And that is what gaming memories are made of. That was 14 years ago and I remember it crystal clear. That is when my gaming life was changed by Epic Duels.

Star Wars Epic Duels is an incredibly simple miniatures game by MB Games, who were later bought out by Hasbro. Like the film The Blues Brothers, it was a total flop on release but gained a cult following as across the world people started to realise that it was, in fact, a classic.

Darth Maul prepares to unleash a wave of
attacks against Yoda. But Yoda is totally
preparing to Force Lift his opponent.
As the box art clearly demonstrates, Epic Duels is a duelling game between famous Star Wars characters, ignoring any semblance of timeline. Thus, Darth Vader can fight Mace Windu, Count Dooku can fight Luke Skywalker, and Anakin Skywalker can even fight Darth Vader. Players choose from 12 main characters, each of whom have a supporter character or troops: Darth Maul with 2 Battle Droids, Jango Fett with Zam Wesell, Luke Skywalker with Princess Leia, Emperor Palpatine with 2 Royal Guards, Obi-Wan Kenobi with 2 Clone Troopers, Han Solo with Chewbacca, Boba Fett with Greedo, Anakin Skywalker with Padme Amidala, Mace Windu with 2 Clone Troopers, Darth Vader with 2 Stormtroopers, Count Dooku with 2 Super Battle Droids, and Yoda with 2 Clone Troopers. Each character is given a card which monitors their health level. In the rules, all a player has to do to beat their opponent is to kill their major character (the one on the top of the card) but this actually leads to an imbalance in character strengths. For example, in the Han / Chewie deck, Chewie is by far the stronger character. Although he has fewer cards (minor characters always have fewer cards than the major characters), Chewie has greater health and much stronger attacks. As a result, the house-rule known as Last Hero Standing (LHS) is widely used by fans of this game around the world, meaning that a player is defeated when all their heroes are destroyed. For Yoda, who is supported by two Clone Troopers, that means just him being killed, but for Luke and Leia, it means that they both must be destroyed. This was clearly the original intent when the game was designed because Leia has a card that says, "If Luke is destroyed..." So, there's a little glitch in the game rules which a quick LHS house-rule addresses nicely.


In some sense, the game is well balanced. Yoda, for example, doesn't have much strength but his cards are insanely strong. He can Force Lift a character which immobilises them unless they discard three cards, for example. Boba Fett carries a Thermal Detonator, which can be brutal against opponents who keep their characters close together. Jango Fett has.... I don't remember, because I never play him because his deck is so bad because he's Jango Fett. And that's where balance is interesting, because it's not entirely balanced so that all characters are equal, it's balanced thematically. So, yes, theoretically Boba Fett and Greedo could kill Emperor Palpatine and his 2 Crimson Guards, but it's not very likely to happen. Fluff-wise this is perfect and this is where the game really shines, including by quoting characters in the films. As I mentioned at the start of this review, nothing feels better than quoting the film as you play a card.
"Never tell me the odds - you take damage and now I'm going to shuffle Chewie's Bowcaster back into the pile"
The card all use images from the films and the miniatures are really not bad. They're pre-painted and they're very clear representations of the film characters. So, you really feel like you're Star Warsing when you play this game. Yes, that is a verb. Another strength of the game is how unbelieveably simple it is. Every deck has an assortment of Combat Cards, Power Combat Cards and Special Cards (except for Darth Maul who doesn't have Special Cards but who instead has a crazy number of powerful Special Combat Cards).



On a turn, players always roll the d6 and it tells them whether some of all of their characters can move that turn. Then, the active player chooses to perform two actions from three possible choices - draw a card, play a card or heal a character. If they play a card, they usually do it to attack, which they do by placing the card face down. Then, the opponent chooses to defend or not. The attack value of the card minus the defence value of the opposite player equals the amount of damage caused in the attack. To heal a major character one health point, the player discards a card from a destroyed minor character. And that's it. Seriously. That's the game in its entirety. And that is the total beauty of this game.... it's wondrous simplicity.

"Your lightsaber is flacid."
"It happens with age."
"Never happened to me."
"I'm going to throw you down a ventilation shaft now."
Yes, there are issues. The largest issue is movement. Having your move determined by a die roll can be immensely frustrating when you want to close the gap to engage in melee combat and you roll far less. This is an issue that later Star Wars miniatures games like Imperial Assault addressed very easily. The second issue is with the boards, which some fans feel are too small (although I have played on a table-sized print-out map, I actually find the boards fine). In the box are two double-sided game boards - the Carbon-Freezing Chamber, the Emperor's Throne Room, the Kamino Platform and the Geonosis Arena. They're not bad boards, to be honest, but after a while you come to realise that certain characters really benefit from certain boards. For example, if Palpatine has nowhere to hide (such as behind the pillar on the Geonosis Arena or behind the Firespray on the Kamino Platform), then he is far more likely to be killed quickly. If he can hide, however, his character can be devastating ("You will die!"). So, luck can play two factors - in movement and in board selection - and that can be annoying for seasoned gamers. But this isn't really a game for seasoned gamers, it's an introductory miniatures game for Star Wars fans. It's light and full of fluff and it's fun as hell as a result. However, where it suffers is replayability. There's only so many times you can play Luke and Leia versus Darth Maul before you realise that the player with Luke and Leia is almost certainly never going to win. When you have a card called "I Won't Fight You" it seems totally counter-intuitive in a combat game, and while the mechanic of the card fits that quotation perfectly, it just doesn't work. There are only so many times that you can have Darth Vader faces off against Boba Fett and Greedo and have Vader Force Choke Greedo to death in a heartbeat before you decide to never again play the Fett/Greedo deck. In a game with only twelve decks, that poses a problem.

Jango Fett and Obi-Wan face off on the Kamino Platform.
*prequels shudder*

Some of the many possible fan-made decks (most of those
pictured were created by me)
So, this is where the online community stepped in. At the Epic Duels Wiki (http://epicduels.pbworks.com/), fans from all round the world created new characters sheets and cards and even new maps. They then used miniatures from the Wizards of the Coast 2004 Star Wars Miniatures game, and instantly breathed new life into this game... more than it had before! Now you could relive your favourite moments from the Star Wars films, by bringing in characters like the Rancor, or the Wampa, or Lando, or even R2-D2 and C-3PO! And this is where I fell into a life of gaming. I always played board games, but this made me new. I became The Tusken Raider, a prolific Epic Duels character deck designer (http://epicduels.pbworks.com/w/page/41432852/The%20Tusken%20Raider). I especially created the mechanic of Reinforcement, which allowed the creation of decks such as the Tusken Raiders, the Gamorrean Boars, the Ewoks and the Jawas. These decks bring a totally different sense of play to the game, as you kill one and another pops up if the player draws and uses the Reinforcements cards at the right time. Across the wiki, players created a plethora of extremely exciting decks.

It may be prequels, but who cares? It's Padme and Anakin
fighting Acklay and Nexu, and it looks AMAZING!

The original game was best with two players. The fan-expanded game is great with two but even better with four because of the huge assortment of characters available. And with the new characters and decks, replayability issues totally disappear. I can attest to that personally, having played over 500 games of Epic Duels in my life. I have never played a game as much as I have Star Wars Epic Duels. Yes, you have to spend lots of money on miniatures for it, but that's no different to any other miniatures game that you might play today.

"I'm gonna chomp you, little Jedi..."
And this is where we have to make a comparison with Fantasy Flight's game Imperial Assault, a game we have not yet reviewed but will do in the future. Both games are fluff-heavy. The miniatures for Imperial Assault are unpainted but are clearly more detailed. Movement issues are resolved very nicely by Imperial Assault, although luck features heavily in that game in another way (in rolling attack and defence dice). Both games also rely on luck-of-the-draw - there have been many games of Epic Duels where I've been dying for a card to reach my hand, and Imperial Assault's Skirmish relies on luck of Command Cards being drawn at a good time. Good players know how to use the cards in their hand, though, while waiting for their ideal cards to come. Imperial Assault has an entire campaign to it and the maps are larger, even if you do have to jigsaw them together. But it is also clearly more complicated than Epic Duels, whose rulebook can be read and explained in five minutes. In terms of Star Wars combat game design, its simplicity is its key. Star Wars fans with children will find this game far easier to introduce to their kids than Imperial Assault's Skirmish rules.

How exactly did a Bantha get inside the carbon-freezing chamber on Bespin?
Who bloody cares? What's wrong with you?!? 
What is interesting is how many of the fan-made card effects in Epic Duels were replicated by Imperial Assault. Maybe I should write off to FFG and ask for royalties for the Bantha Trample. Maybe not.


What's so great about the fan-made element is not just how it opens up the game but also how much of yourself you can put into the game. If you don't like the original game's Darth Vader deck (because it's actually way too weak in the LHS game), then you can go and create your own. If you want to see Han and Leia in a deck together, you can make that. And I did. The fan-made decks are almost all based on the LHS rule, which means that each game lasts longer, which in turn makes for a more enjoyable gaming experience. Yes, there are very rare exceptions. I once played as Boba Fett against the Jawas, I had the initiative so I went first, I lobbed a Thermal Detonator into the Jawas who were packed together, blew them all to smithereens and won the game on literally the first action. But such games are ridiculously rare (I've only ever done that once in over 500 games!). The opposite was a Mace Windu vs Acklay/Nexu game that went through the card decks three times, as a brutal and totally memorable duel in the Geonosis Arena. These are the things that gaming memories are made of. I remember having fun with lots of differing board games, but I remember specific duels from this game a decade on. That speaks volumes about this game.

So, overall, what do we think?

WE LIKEY
  • Excellent fluff-factor
  • Lovely card art
  • Miniatures
  • Extremely simple mechanics
  • Fan expansions

WE NO LIKEY
  • Roll to move
  • Limiting boards
  • Very high game cost today
  • Fluff-based imbalance of decks
Accessibility: 5/5 - The simplest miniatures game rules that I know.
Design: 4/5 - Oozing with fluff with a mixture of ranged and melee characters from the first six films.
Depth: 2/5 - Although seasoned players could find depth in strategic choices based on card texts, the extreme simplicity of the rules means there's little substantive depth at all. However, that was clearly never the aim of the game in the first place.
Replayability (core set): 2/5 - The twelve characters are lots of fun, but only for a while until you realise how stratified their abilities are.
Replayability (fan expansions): 5/5 - Just look at this webpage - http://epicduels.pbworks.com/w/page/9779390/Characters. Enough said.
Availability: 2/5 - To buy the core set online now, you're looking around $100. If someone buys this for you, they really, really like you. If you're adding fan-based decks with miniatures, you're going to be spending decent money on this game.

Summary: There's a reason this became a community classic, because it's absolutely a classic game. Not like Monopoly is a classic game, but it's a beautifully simple access into Star Wars individualised combat. When you watch Darth Vader face off against Luke in the films, you want to re-enact that. Sometimes you want more than the films provided, such as a real duel between Boba Fett and Han Solo. With this game, you can achieve that (actually, that would make for an interesting LHS match-up, which Han/Chewie would probably win but which might be well balanced with Han/Leia). Imperial Assault is an excellent game, and this is in some sense that game ten years earlier and far, far simpler. Roll to move can on occasion be frustrating, but who cares when Yoda Force Lifts you or when Darth Vader Throws Debris at you in the middle of the game? This game is really what board games are about - it creates an exciting framework to transport you somewhere you love, in this case, into the the middle of the best action in the Star Wars films.

Final Score: This has to be two scores - one for the core set and one including fan-made expansions. While they're both the same game, the unofficial expansions totally transform the game in a way I've not seen with any other game. So, we gladly give the core set 79%. Recognising the enormously positive effect of the fan-based expansions on the game, though, we award that our highest rating so far - a galaxy-filling and truly exciting 88%.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

CLUE: STAR WARS

Clue: Star Wars, Hasbro, 2016

8+, 20-60 minutes, 3-6 players, Competitive





Remember back when you were young that you played Clue and loved it and then as you grew up realised that actually it wasn't a very good game after all because you spent so long moving between rooms? In their infinite wisdom, Hasbro have decided to redo Clue but try to make it better. How? By changing the game mechanics and then making it a Star Wars game. But no-one murders anyone else in Star Wars.... so instead of a murder game, it becomes a game where you're the Rebels running around the Death Star in Episode IV and you have to work out (a) which planet Vader is going to destroy next, (b) in which room are the Death Star plans hidden, and (c) which vehicle will you use to escape? Hasbro even try to make the game look more interesting by making the board 3-D, rather like the old Death Star playsets that some of us used to have as kids in the 1970s. So, it's important to try to move away from the nostalgia value in reviewing this game, even though just walking around a Death Star is cool.

Because the original game was up to 6 players, this version is, too, meaning that Obi-Wan Kenobi isn't present. The characters are represented with miniatures that actually aren't bad - they're certainly not Imperial Assault standards, but Luke is clearly Luke, and Leia is clearly Leia. In fact, the detail on R2-D2 is probably the best of all the minis. The colours of the minis are clearly different, meaning that you never lose your miniature on the board.... so long as you can even see it (more on that later)!
"Beep boop boop."
"Shut your mouth, you filthy little droid."

"Aren't you a little short for a miniature?"
"I'm a gonna shoot ya in the balls."
"Ruuuuuurrrrrrrhhhhhh."

The core mechanic of the game is identical to the original - there are three things to be discovered, and a card is taken from each and hidden away. In the original you have a nice sleeve to place the cards in, here you have a cardboard folder that doesn't close properly and just isn't as good as the original. You have a secret piece of paper on which to record your deductions. And once you have worked out the three things, you head to a room (in this case, the Docking Bay, which rather makes sense) and take your guess out loud. If you get it right, you win, but if you're wrong, you're out of the game. So far, so good, if you like that kind of thing. But if you're a Star Wars fan (and this game is clearly aimed at such people) then you might start seeing some issues. Firstly, it wasn't Vader who ordered the destruction of Tatooine, but Grand Moff Tarkin. Secondly, let's say there are four of you on the Death Star trying to escape. You discover that you're going to escape in the X-Wing. How exactly are you going to do that? Sure, R2 could fit in his spot, and Luke in the pilot seat, but where are the other two going to fit? What about if there are 6 players and you're escaping in a Y-Wing? Is someone fitting in the glove box? Maybe they're all sitting on the lap of the pilot?!? Maybe it's pedantic to ask such things, or maybe because it's a Star Wars game Hasbro should have considered this. And why is there an X-Wing in the Death Star in the first place? Or a Y-Wing? The Millennium Falcon, sure, but not the others. So, depending on whether you're a fan or a purist, you may have an issue with this or you may not care.

Escape in one of these, but is there actually room for everyone to fit? 
 The rooms themselves are fairly generic rooms on the Death Star - the Docking Bay, the Detention Block, the Tractor Beam Generator (seriously, we need Obi-Wan!) and so on. So far, so fairly standard. But what comes next is where the game is really different to the original.



 Ask anyone who has played Clue (aka Cluedo in Great Britain, because we like to add letters to our words) what they dislike about it and they'll talk about movement, either rolling to move or just taking so long to get from one room to another. Clue: Star Wars tries to address that. Remember that you're Rebels sneaking around the Death Star so walking around corridors isn't wise. With that in mind, if you end your turn not in a room, you have to draw a corridor card. If you draw 'Stormtrooper Ahead' then you roll again. If you don't end in a room this time, you go straight to the Trash Compactor and end your turn. Thematically, that's rather cute, and it helps movement. If you draw Comlink, you get to ask a question of one other player, and they have to answer. That helps everyone because they hear the question and answer, and that means the game moves along quicker. If you draw All Clear, you can jump to any room on that level, again reducing the movement delay of the original game. And if you draw You've Been Caught then you head straight to the Detention Block. Again, thematically that's rather cool. And to be released from the Detention Block, another player has to go there to free you, and you then have to show them one of your cards to say thank you. Conceptually, that sounds great. Practically speaking, though, it's a disaster for two reasons. Firstly, no-one likes games where you have to miss turns. Secondly, if someone keeps rescuing you then you can just show them the same card again and again meaning that there's no real incentive to keep rescuing someone. And that's a problem because if everyone is captured then it's game over. From personal experience, I can tell you that that's really not a fun way to end a game. Having a "rescue them or else everyone loses" mechanic really isn't a good incentive. A house rule might help here - showing 2 cards instead of 1. That would make it really worthwhile to rescue someone.

"Leia, we're all locked up and we're never getting out.
The game's over. So now I'm going to destroy R2
so he doesn't get to see what we're about to get up to."
 In a six-player game, it might be worth rescuing someone for more information but the only reason to do it in the 3-player game is to avoid the frustrating "everyone loses" ending. That means that you're not moving to win the game, you're moving to not lose, and that's not fun. An alternate house-rule saying that you escape the Detention Block after two turns might make it more playable, even if it's not thematically sensible.  However, in a 6-player game, the chances of everyone being captured are small, so then there's really not much reason to free someone because it's better to have an opponent not actively play the game that it is to have them give you just one piece of information. After all, they can't beat you if they can't even play the game!

What is a good idea about the "You've Been Caught" cards is that once they're used, they're discarded so that means that once you've gone through the deck once, things really speed up in the second half of the game. You're almost jumping from room to room. And while that addresses the biggest problem with Clue, it's also a bit weird because none of the characters can teleport and by the end of the game it seems like you're regularly just doing that. Hasbro have fixed the movement issue by kind of removing movement altogether, and that's just awkward.

The Death Star itself is kind of cool. Some rooms, like the Throne Room, are difficult to access, and so are probably worth waiting until the second half of the game when you can basically teleport there with an All Clear card. The 3-D map is nice and you can access differing levels by using the elevators at the end of each corridor. But the map is also too wide so there are times when you move to the War Room, for example, and then can't even see your own piece if you're sitting at the other side of the table. Even in the picture above, you can't see all the rooms - there's one behind the wall to the left on the bottom level. This can easily be resolved by placing the whole game on a lazy susan, but you shouldn't really need to do that. In truth, this game could have been put in one level and not really lost very much at all (the All Clear card would have to be changed slightly, but not tremendously). So, it's cute, but it's not entirely practical.

So... did Hasbro succeed? It depends who you ask. I played the game with a more seasoned gamer and with someone who said how much they enjoyed Monopoly. The more seasoned gamer really didn't understand why we were playing such a bad game, and the inexperienced gamer had a fantastic evening and loved the game. At the end of the day, this will always be a game of Clue and Hasbro will never be able to hide that. For introductory gamers, there's nothing wrong with this. For more experienced gamers, though, this is not going to be a frequent game choice.

WE LIKEY
  • The Star Wars theme
  • The miniatures
  • Minimising the slow-movement issue of Clue
  • It is actually better than the original Clue

WE NO LIKEY
  • Getting Caught and especially losing turns
  • The board being too wide to sometimes even see your own piece
  • The more frequent teleportation near the end of the game due to All Clear cards becoming a higher percentage of the corridor deck
  • It's still basically a game of Clue

Accessibility: 5/5 - This is a game that children could play, and would possibly be more suited for them than the original Clue being about escaping the Death Star and not about Colonel Mustard bludgeoning someone to death with the lead piping in the living room.
Design: 2/5 - Kudos to Hasbro for improving on Clue, but it's still basically Clue.
Depth: 1/5 - Roll, choose a direction, move, ask questions, work out which cards are missing.
Replayability: 2/5 - If you're the kind of person who actually rather likes Clue, then there's no reason not to play this again and again. But if you're not, you'll be thankful you only spent $20 on this game.
Availability: 5/5 - Easily available online and in many stores at a good price for a board game.

Summary: I'm aware that there are people who will love this game because it's Star Wars Clue. Most of the people who read this blog, though, are not those kinds of people. I rushed to buy this because surely it would be better than the original Clue. In some sense it is, and in some sense it's worse, especially with being detained and losing turns. Losing turns is just the worst experience in gaming because you're sitting at a table watching other play the game that you had started playing. Adding some house rules would make this game better, perhaps even playable. Star Wars fans who are parents and who want to play a board game with their young children might have fun with this. I can see myself playing this with my children, but I would probably never bring it out again for game night with grown-ups.

Final Score: It's not as bad as Candy Land, although both games make you lose turns. The small element of skill is in asking the right questions from the right room, and in some sense I won't deny there's a simplistic enjoyment factor here. So, it's an improvement on an otherwise fairly poor game, but in this golden age of board games, it really doesn't compare to so much else on the market. It's a valiant effort by Hasbro, but it will always be a game of Clue. Playing it makes you feel warm like a Taun-Taun's innards because of the nostalgia factor of the game and of the theme, but then the icy cold of Hoth descends upon you as you sit in the Detention Block for turn after turn, remembering why you haven't played Clue in thirty years. 32%.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

DISCOVERIES: THE JOURNALS OF LEWIS & CLARK

Discoveries: The Journals of Lewis & Clark, Ludonaute, 2015

14+, 60 minutes, 2-4 players, Competitive Worker Placement




I'm an Englishman who spent more time in my childhood playing computer games and D&D than I did studying American history. After all, most British history existed before America was America, and then it only came to be when they started brewing a massive cup of tea in the harbour. Actually, I spent more time doing most things than I did studying American history, as the previous sentence indicates. So, when a game recalling the travel exploits of two individuals came to my attention, what was it that drew me in? Primarily, it was the fact that it was a historical game, and I own very few of these. Especially now I'm living in America, the chance to play board games and learn about this country is appealing. There are two games on the market about the travels of Lewis and Clark. The other has a really lovely board and is loved by many gamers around the world, but they often complain that the game gets bogged down half way through. This game seems faster, more streamlined and, frankly has gorgeous dice. I'm a total sucker for good dice, and this game definitely has them.

This version of Lewis & Clark is a worker placement game where the dice are the workers. Some workers are exploring on foot, some on horseback, some are forging positive relations with the American Indians and some are writing in the journal. At the beginning of the game, each player starts with a number of dice according to the colour of the character they've chosen. Some dice (grey) are shared resources who can be borrowed from other characters or found elsewhere. The designs on the dice are gorgeous, the colours are bold and exciting, and the mechanics are excellent. If you befriend an American Indian tribe, you gain a grey die, which makes total sense because you've got more people helping you on your travels. If a player uses their workers on an expedition, they then have to rest them back at the camp, where you might choose to use them for your next expedition before that player uses them again. This is the first part of what makes it a highly strategic game. 

The bold colours certainly factor well with me. As a colourblind gamer, I will always mark down games that have game elements that can be easily confused. This game is certainly not one of them. A wall of technicolour smacks you in the face as soon as you open the box. The journals are brightly coloured, the dice are brightly coloured, the cards are clear. Visually, this is a nice game. Simple in its aesthetic, but that simplicity certainly works in favour of the game.

Two of the player sheets with the journal zone not yet removed from the Dice Stock box

A word needs to be said about the term "American Indian," by the way. The game is very clear at the beginning to explain that the 1995 US Census Bureau determined that this term was the most popular among the community about whom the name is appropriate. I really respect Ludonaute for doing this research. That said, that research was 20 years old by the time the game came out, and I'm not sure that is still true. I could be wrong, though. Nonetheless, some cultural sensitivity is very greatly appreciated. In fact, the whole of the first page of the rulebook is a description of the historical mission and an explanation of terms, so this isn't an afterthought - the designers want you to really think about the history and culture of the game.

The aim of the game is to record three differing kinds of data in your Journal - geographical (by mapping territories), biological (by discovering new species) and ethnological (by encountering American Indian tribes). Are there many games that have the word "ethnological" in the rule book? I'm thinking not. In terms of game balance, it seems that biological records are where the winning points really lie, which is a shame in terms of game balance because one would have hoped these would all have been equally valuable.

Each of the 55 cards that come with the game are double-sided. On the Tribe side are descriptions of American Indian tribes that you can encounter. Here, for example, is a card of the Walla Walla tribe. And yes, that's a real name of a real tribe... don't be so culturally insensitive! On the top right of the card is one of two symbols - in this case, it's the symbol depicting a Wary Tribe, which means that to befriend it you need to spend two Negotiate dice (that's a die with an American Indian symbol on it), instead of only one for a Friendly Tribe. Under that is a picture of a Tepee. The player who collects the most tepees during the game scores points. The bottom of the card explains what you can do once you befriend this tribe. In this case, if you put down one Ride, one Walk and one Journal die (the Journal die must always be put down last), then you can travel for three mountains and then two rivers. What does that mean?

Areas for exploration are placed on the right-hand side of the board. There are always three potential areas for exploration. On the left-hand side of each card is the reward for completing that journey - in the case of these three cards, 9 points, a plant discovery, or 5 points and a tepee. Travelling up the card is a journey. The top card here gives choices - either 5 rivers and 1 mountain or 4 rivers and 2 mountains. The second card is a straight 3 river journey, and the bottom card here is 1 mountain then 2 rivers. If a player had the Walla Walla tribe card (see above), for example, they could then complete that bottom expedition since they would be able to travel 3 mountains and 2 rivers. So, they would then get to keep the card and count it for points later. Here's the challenge, though. You can't just choose from three expeditions - you have to make a choice of an expedition, take the card and then work towards the expedition. Making that choice and then working towards it is actually very tough, and you really have to manipulate your dice and use the dice of other players to be successful.


Here's an example of a player who's set up nicely to complete an expedition. They've chosen the 3 river trip. In the middle of the bottom of their board, is says that if you put down two Walk and one Journal dice then you can travel 3 rivers. This player has two Walk dice (one red and one grey) so they could do start with those dice this turn. Next turn, they put down a Journal die (you can only put down one type of die each turn) and the expedition is completed. Sound easy enough, but not necessarily. At any time as their action for the turn, a player can summon their own workers back to camp. That means taking all dice of your own colour back. In this case, if the red player took their dice back, this blue player would not be able to complete their expedition (because then they would only have one grey Walk die).  If they did that, the blue player has some choices. They could use their Negotiate dice (the blue and red dice on the left of the dice pool here) to befriend some American Indian tribes. That would give them an extra grey die, which they would then roll and hope to become a Walk die. Or they could call their blue dice back, roll them and hope one of them becomes a Walk Die. Or they could swap their expedition card for another. There are a lot of choices, and that is what makes this a highly enjoyable and strategic game. Yes, it's clearly luck dependent, but it's also about how you manage the luck.

In the centre of the table goes the board, with three Tribe cards on the left and three Discoveries cards on the right. So, the Tribe cards on the left are next to the right bank of the river and the Discoveries cards on the right of the board are next to the left bank of the river. Confused? You should be, because that's by far the weirdest part of this game. When you look at the board, the left-side of the river is apparently the right bank and the right-side is the left bank. They try to explain it in the rulebook in terms of the direction of flow of the river, but it's nonsensical. That stands out as a really silly design flaw. It doesn't affect the game in the slightest, so it was a ridiculous addition. Looking at the board below, the player whose turn it is faces some real choices....


Let's say it's the blue player's turn. What they could do is place dice on the card to work towards a current expedition. Or they could befriend an American Indian tribe, which makes future further explorations easier. But they have other options, too. They could summon their own coloured dice to their dice pool. Or they could take dice from one of the banks of the river (remember, for no sensible reason, the left-side of the board is the right bank and the right side is the left bank). In this case, taking from the right bank would mean five dice added to the personal pool, while taking from the left bank (on the right of the board) would result in four dice. Obvious choice? Not so much. One might be inclined to go for the five dice, but if the red player went next they could just summon their dice and the blue player would be left with three. That would happen on the other bank, too, but the red player might be more inclined to let you keep one of their dice and do something else, whereas if they see you using two of theirs, they might not. Again, highly strategic.

Having to choose Tribe cards adds another dimension to the game. Do you befriend, for example, a Friendly tribe (costing only one Negotiate die) that gives you a tepee and allows you to spend 3 Walk and 1 Journal to go either 3 rivers or 2 mountains, or a Wary tribe (costing two Negotiate dice) that gives you a tepee and allows you to spend two Walk dice and a Journal die to travel 3 mountains, or do you befriend a Wary tribe (on the bottom of this picture) that allows you to spend just one Journal die to explore 2 rivers? Tough choice. I would probably take the bottom card, but don't trust me entirely because I've never actually won at this game.

Again, the artwork on the Tribe cards is lovely, although I do not know if it is accurate to each tribe. That may be mere white anglo projection in the assumption that the designers have explored this in this much depth. I hope that they have, but can't be sure.



Two more things need to be mentioned. The first is that for the game to work best, every player should really say out loud what they're doing. If players are busy doing their thing, then there's little interaction. However, if a player says, "I'm putting down two Journal dice, one here and one here, and that gives me 2 mountains and 4 rivers, allowing me to complete this expedition" then that kind of talk really makes the game interesting. The second is something that totally confuses me - the fact that this (and the other Lewis and Clark game) is competitive. For a game which clearly paid attention to historical accuracy, why are Lewis and Clark competing? They didn't race back to Jefferson to say, "I collected more species than he did!" They were a team! How is there not a cooperative Lewis and Clark game? The game mechanics here would definitely not work cooperatively and the mechanics are a lot of fun, but that's only because you have to suspend disbelief and have Lewis and Clark compete. It's by no means a deal-breaker, because this is a good game, but it's .... well.... weird. The back of the box says "Torah is your turn to write history." Given that Lewis and Clark are competing in this game, that's possibly the truest statement in the whole game!!


WE LIKEY
  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Historical theme
  • Strong, clear colours with excellent artwork
  • Highly strategic
  • Easy to learn with simple rules
  • Novel dice manipulation mechanic
  • Enjoyable game length time (about an hour)

WE NO LIKEY
  • The left bank being the right bank and the right bank being the left bank!
  • Notable luck dependency
  • Imbalance of biological over geological and ethnographic elements when it comes to scoring
  • Lewis and Clark didn't compete!
This game deserves a good score, so let's see what we've got.

Accessibility: 4/5 - The 14+ age suggestion is merely about legality, not about game play. Children under 10 should be able to play this. The rule book is clear and the diagrams helpful.
Design: 5/5 - I don't know of another game that manipulates dice like this. There might be others, but I don't know them. The colours and artwork absolutely round off an already well-designed game.
Depth: 3/5 - While the mechanics themselves aren't very deep, the strategic decisions that have to be made each turn are sizeable. 
Replayability: 4/5 - I prevaricated here between a 3 and a 4. The game length makes it very easy to play often.
Availability: 5/5 - Easily available online and in gaming stores at a perfectly acceptable price.

Summary: If you're the kind of gamer who loves to primarily play dungeon crawls and hack and slash, then this isn't for you. But if you want something really different, something educational and strategic, then this is a really good game. The dice manipulation element is brilliant, your party slowly gains in the ability to explore further and further and, despite a few niggles, the game is well balanced and well timed. You really feel like you're going on a long journey that requires real planning and careful execution. 

Final Score: I'm going to give this game our highest rating so far, particularly because of the excellent design. It only pips the previous best score by a hair's breadth, but nonetheless this game is well deserving of our rating of 85%.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

SPACETEAM

SPACETEAM, Sleeping Beast Games, 2015

10+, 5 minutes, 3-6 players, Cooperative


Here at Boy Got Game, we like to review a wide variety of games and Spaceteam is certainly different to anything we've looked at before. Originally a game for Android and iOS from 2012, it was a free game that players could download. It was so successful that only a few years later it was turned into a card game. But is it any good, and why might you want to buy it as a tabletop game if you could already download it on your phone?

The game comes in a handy travel-sized box which contains 90 differing cards and a 5-minute egg timer. The cards are a shiny cardboard, so shiny in fact that you will drop them. Not a joke, they strangely slippery and while you're taking them out of the box, or when you're trying to shuffle them, you will drop them. And you will be annoyed and then you will realise that that's an essential part of gameplay.

The aim of Spaceteam is to repair a malfunctioning spaceship before it falls into a black hole, which it will apparently do in five minutes. All players have to resolve malfunctions on the ship at the same time, while dealing with annoying anomalies that hold you back. Each player has a set of tools, and they have to ask for tools from their fellow crewmates to resolve malfunctions. What makes the game is that everyone is asking for tools, and passing tools, at the same time. So it's loud and frenetic, especially because when you have the malfunction in front of you, you don't know the name of the tool you need to fix it.

Take this malfunction, for example. You need two tools to fix it - in this case, one has to be a specific tool and the other symbol on this card is a representation of a tool type, like suits in a normal deck of cards. But look at the picture on the left. You're asking your crew mates sitting around the table for it. How would you describe it? "The thing with a box and wires that's standing on a stand"? That's where the fun comes in. You're all badly describing tools that you need from each other at the same time. So, you're speaking and listening and swapping cards all at the same time. That's what makes this game crazed and loud - personal experience suggests it's not one to play with the kids asleep in a nearby room!
So, how does the team win? Each player has a deck of cards and as they resolve each card, they move onto the next one. Eventually, they'll find six differing cards that form a picture of the spaceship. If the team gets all six pictures down on the table before the timer runs out, they win. But if they don't, they get sucked into the black hole and lose. The frantic pace of the game is why the slippery cards are an interesting part of game design, because you have to be really careful as you're passing and playing cards. But there's more. As well as trying to resolve malfunctions, players have to deal with anomalies that they might draw as well. For example, the Man Overboard anomaly means that a player has been sucked out of the spaceship, meaning that they can't speak (which is a really bad thing in a game where you need to constantly be describing things and asking for things). The only way to deal with the Man Overboard is for the adjacant players to literally pull the player back into the ship! Or maybe you'll turn into a robot and you'll be unable to use your thumbs for the rest of the game (which is a really bad thing in a game where you're always holding and passing cards).


So, see if you can give it a try. How would you describe these two tools? In ten seconds. GO!Yeah, not so easy, is it? Not imagine that three other players are doing the same thing at the same time. That's what makes this a fun little filler. That said, there is a problem with the game. Having played it about ten times now, we've never lost. So, we decided to reduce the time limit to four minutes, but we still won. So, we added more cards to make it harder, but we still won. So, we shortened the time limit to three minutes, but we still won. And that means that, as fun as the game may be, it's too easy. There's no question it's fun but when it's hard to lose, it's just not that fun. But it's a filler, and we have to recognise that. It's a fun intro to a games evening, or a fun end to it if there's a few minutes left over after playing a lengthy game. Or perhaps it's a good game to play when you have a few minutes spare. But it's not the kind of game you take with you and play at the table in a restaurant! It's a bit too loud for that!             

WE LIKEY
  • Very easy to learn
  • Quick and portable
  • Loud and frenetic
  • Very quick game play
  • Perfect game when you've got a little time left at the end of a game evening

WE NO LIKEY
  • Slippery cards
  • Easy to win
It's time to give this game some points....

Accessibility: 5/5 - There are fewer games that are simpler to learn.
Design: 3/5 - I get it. The slippery cards are to make the game slightly harder. But they're annoying. And while fun, it's also too easy.
Depth: 1/5 - There is no time for this to be deep. The rule book is two sides of a piece of paper.
Replayability: 3/5 - It's fun, it really is. So you'll want to play it on every game night when you have a few minutes spare. But it won't be the central point of your game night.
Availability: 5/5 - Easily available online and in gaming stores.

Summary: If you play this game, you will laugh. You will have a lot of fun trying to explain that squiggly tool with the things coming out of it, or the round tool with the base and the you-know-what. And you'll laugh when you all have to swap places in a heart beat.
And then, once you're done, you'll put it away and play a more in-depth game which will be the central focus on your gaming time.

Final Score: It's a lot of fun. A lot of fun. But it's really very simple and easy. As game design goes, it's good because it really brings out the laughs, but you'll spend as long taking it out and putting it away again as you do actually playing it. It's a good game to have in a collection, but it will never be a classic simply because of how light it is. Exploding Kittens was light, but this is even lighter. It's funny but not in the same way because this time the humour comes mainly from you not being able to describe things and not from good card art. It's worth having, certainly worth trying, and deserving of 68%.


Tuesday, 25 October 2016

EXPLODING AND IMPLODING KITTENS

EXPLODING KITTENS, Self-Published, 2015

7+, 15 minutes, 2-5 players, Competitive



Have you ever wanted to play Russian roulette? Of course you have. Secretly, deep down inside, you and everyone else want to face the void of your own non-existence and see what stares back. You just choose not to, you choose to suppress these feelings because of a deep-seating and false conviction that your life is meaningful and that your continuation on this ball of water-covered rock is somehow relevant to the universe. You incorrectly have convinced yourself that you have too much to lose. And so you don't. You continue your dull nine-to-five life, eat food to give you energy to essentially repeat your daily activities, you contribute to global species extinction and then you die anyway and ultimately rot to become worm food and then, in a final indignity, worm poop. And on your deathbed, you like many others will realise that, in fact, Russian roulette might have actually been a good idea. 

But guess what? Here's a game that basically allows you to play Russian roulette but without the risk of putting a bullet in your brain. And you laugh while you play it. So, basically, it's not really like Russian roulette, even though the game designers say it is. But it is a game of chance, and this is why thousands of people round the world hate this game. They think that each player may as well roll a die and the winner is the person with the highest number. On Boardgamegeek (the other BGG that's like this one in that it talks about games but is more popular despite being demonstrably less funny), it rates only as 5.8 out of 10, meaning it's seen by the public as a very average game. This despite it being the most popular Kickstarter of all time, raising $8,782,571 from 219,382 backers. So... is it that average? Let's have a look.

The game play is extremely simple. Each player starts with four randomly drawn cards and takes a turn playing whichever cards they want, and then to finish their turn they draw a face-down card from the pile. Playing is really very simple - for example, See The Future allows a player to see the top three cards of the deck. Shuffle allows them to... can you guess? You genius. Harvard awaits. If you draw an Exploding Kitten card, you blow up, unless you can play a Defuse card. Then you get to place the Exploding Kitten anywhere you want in the deck. Do you put it on the top for your next opponent? Or do you think that they've got a Skip card so it goes to the next opponent? And thus the game is on. Yes, sometimes you draw the Exploding Kitten first turn, you spend your Defuse and then you're vulnerable for the rest of the game. And that's what happens when you have a game of chance. Because that it ultimately what life is like. You can make plans but the best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley. And if you don't know what that means, Harvard sent the invitation letter to you by accident. But, so what if you're subject to chance? At least you have fun! And you have fun because the cards are funny... genuinely funny. There's a NSFW version that I didn't buy but the normal game has you attacking people with thousand-year back hair. That's funny. There's a Tacocat which is amused by being a palindrome. There's a Rainbow-Ralphing Cat, which is exactly what you think it is. 

Who are the most successful people in life? Those who realise that shit happens by chance and there are only two things that you can do about that - plan for it as best you can, and then laugh when it happens. And that's exactly what this game does. You can plan ahead, and then your opponent can put down three of the same cards and steal your Defuse card the moment before you draw an Exploding Kitten. So then you keep your Nope card which allows you to Nope that play by them... if you're lucky enough to draw a Nope card. So, sure there's an element of chance, but if you know the cards (and there are only eight different action cards, as well as the sets of cat cards) then you can actually plan ahead, learn what your opponent has and take calculated risks. And if it all goes wrong and you don't have the right cards, you just have a laugh because it's the end of the game evening, you've already played two hours of a serious brain-bending game and you just need something light and fun. Honestly, I think that the people who don't like this game are asking too much of it. It's not like rolling dice. It's a quick, fun game of chance with a really good dose of humour and card design. Is it Fury of Dracula or Dead of Winter? No. Is it the kind of game you'll play after that kind of game for a bit of fun to round off the evening, especially after you've all had a few drinks? Yes, it's totally perfect for that.

WE LIKEY
  • Very easy to learn
  • Quick and portable
  • Funny card design
  • The box literally meows when you open it
  • Perfect game when you've got a little time left at the end of a game evening

WE NO LIKEY
  • If you lose, you're out
  • Very heavy chance element
  • TSA agents really don't like this in your luggage. I'm not kidding. Having a box with wires inside that has the word "Exploding" written on the cover? They don't think that's funny. Trust me - I'm speaking from real personal experience here.
It's time to give this game some points....

Accessibility: 5/5 - I play this game with my kids. When they started playing it, they were 3 and 5. The rules are ridiculously simple.
Design: 4/5 - For a game of chance, this is very well designed because there are some strategic options that you can explore in the hope of reducing your risk of chance. Yes, your starting hand, which is drawn by chance, strongly affects the rest of the game, but if you can last a few rounds, it's your choices that really make the difference.
Depth: 2/5 - It's not just rolling dice. There are strategic choices, just not very many.
Replayability: 3/5 - I have played this game at least fifty times. I took it on a weekend away with a group of teenagers and they loved it. It was a fun, bonding experience.
Availability: 5/5 - Easily available online and in gaming stores.

Summary: Yes, there's a chance element and yes, if you're out you're out, but that's like Russian roulette so when you pick up this game, you know what you're getting into. And if you have even a modicum of a sense of humour, you'll laugh when you're out and then you'll watch your friends play the rest of the game and make noises that encourage players or add to the tension or, if you're particularly anti-social, you'll go and do something else. To my surprise, I have found that I have some special Force-like ability that often helps me know when the Exploding Kitten is coming. Maybe this is basically Force training. I imagine that on the down-time when Luke wasn't schlepping Yoda across the swamps of Dagobah that they pulled out Exploding Womp Rats (the Star Wars version that probably should exist now that I think about it) and played it. 

Final Score: I rate games according to what they're trying to achieve as well as in comparison to others. This isn't trying to be a super complex strategic game. It's funny, it's silly, and so it earns a totally fair 71%.

BUT WAIT!!!! There's MORE!!!!!

IMPLODING KITTENS, Self-Published, 2016

7+, 15 minutes, 2-6 players, Competitive


They only went and made an expansion!!! Why would they do such a thing? Well, money, obviously. You get how the world works, right? Of course you do - that's why secretly you want to play Russian roulette, because the call of the void is only marginally quieter than the vacuous machinations of global society. 



The biggest criticism of Exploding Kittens was the element of chance, but Imploding Kittens minimises that with some new cards. Where Exploding Kittens had See The Future where you got to see the top three cards of the draw pile, now you can Alter The Future by seeing and rearranging the top three cards of the draw pile. That's a huge change. Moreover, if you Alter the Future, you might then choose to play Reverse, which switches the order of play, adding another dynamic play level to the game and thus force a card on a player who just spent their Defuse or Skip card getting themselves out of trouble. Or you could Draw From the Bottom if there's the Imploding Kitten card staring at you from the top of the deck. Ah, Imploding Kitten, how you open your maw to swallow the Earth, thereby reminding us of the futility of human existence. Not only does the game minimise the chance element through specific cards, but by starting you now with 6 cards instead of 4, you have more options and you're less likely to lose straight away due to a freak random draw. In other words, Imploding Kittens addresses exactly the problem that those who didn't like Exploding Kittens had. And, once again, it does it in a really funny way. One of the cards is a shark who hurts with words instead of teeth, another is a self-aware toilet. And there's also a surprise. I won't say what the surprise it, but there's a reason that the box for the expansion is much, much longer than the original, and all I'll say is that there's a clue in the above picture.

Imploding Kittens takes a game of chance and gives us more tools to mitigate against it. Now, instead of us battling the odds, we're really battling each other, and isn't that really life anyway? The constant battle for gene supremacy? The subtle competition of rich against poor, the struggle to be better, richer, faster, stronger than the other? Sure, I understand that that's not really what life should be about, but it's what life often ends up being for most of us. With Exploding Kittens, you were playing Russian roulette. With Imploding Kittens, you're smacking each other in the face with the guns while trying to take out the bullet in your gun and putting it in someone else's. And that makes it more fun because, despite the call of the void, Russian roulette is actually most fun when you win and get to return to your meaningless life, just now with the image of your opponent's last second of existence etched on your memory.



WE LIKEY
  • Very easy to learn
  • Quick and portable
  • Funny card design
  • The box literally meows when you open it
  • Perfect game when you've got a little time left at the end of a game evening
  • Much less of a chance element than the original game
  • The surprise in this box. And no, it's not kitty litter. 

WE NO LIKEY
  • If you lose, you're still out
  • TSA agents still don't like this in your luggage. They really don't have much of a sense of humour about things like this.
So... how does this expansion change the points?

Accessibility: 5/5 - As before
Design: 4/5 - As before
Depth: 3/5 - Oooh, an extra point on depth. Now you're really thinking about strategy.
Replayability: 4/5 - I think this makes the original game even more playable.
Availability: 5/5 - As before.

Summary: If you play games often, ask yourself how many of them actually make you laugh out loud? I mean, properly laugh. Ultimately, that's what this game does. To me, that makes it an invaluable item on any gamer's shelf.

Final Score: I'm going high on this one. I think this expansion keeps the game simple and fun while removing the worst element of the original. It's a game that anyone can pick up and play easily, it's now even more fun because you're able to plan ahead much more. This is an expansion that seriously improves on an already fun game, while remaining as simple and funny as the original. With that in mind, I'm going to award this an impressive 80%.