Thursday, 24 November 2016


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."

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.

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

  • 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, 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!!

  • 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)

  • 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, 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!             

  • 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

  • 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%.