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Tuesday
Aug042015

Review: Biergarten (Steamboat Gothic Studio)

Review: Biergarten, designed by Andrew Sallwasser

In their own words: “Biergarten is a game of comfortable atmospheres, Alpine heritage, and cold bier. It's designed as a quick game for a relaxing afternoon”

 

Components: 54 Cards, 4 player tokens, a scoreboard, rulebook.

Cards are high-quality and attractive. The should hold up to repeated play without getting marked.

The tokens sent with the prototype just didn't fit on the scoreboard, so we used a notepad.

Game Play: Biergarten is essentially a “tile-laying” game with the tiles in this case being poker-sized cards. Each player is given a starting card that represents the center of his Biergarten. The middle of each side of the card has a symbol with two of the game's four colors. Player choose from three face-up cards a card to place to expand their biergarten. The card doesn't have to match the colors of the cards it is played next to, but scoring points requires matching colors. Players score one point for each set of linked colors and three bonus points for having all four colors paired at least once in their garden.

Note how ugly and low-scoring my biergarten is compared to Warren's in the first image :(

 

Other than color patches, some cards also have walls along one or more of the four edges. This means that those edges can't be matched to another card for points, but if a player can form a continuous series of walls around the edge of his biergarten (completely enclosing it), that player earns six bonus points and has a really good shot at winning the game. After playing their card each turn, players can swap two or move one of the cards on the board. Doing so can break up matches or create new ones. If this happens, the player's score is adjusted. A scoreboard is provided to keep a current snapshot of each player's score obvious to the players.

Once a player crosses the ten point line, each other player has one final turn to add to his biergarten as normal. When that turn is finished, the player with the highest score wins.

My Take: I just returned from a family vacation with my extended family during which I played mostly traditional card games (Spades and Hearts to be exact). Those are games that can be played while chatting and relaxing by the pool or in the hotel room late at night. They have some strategy but don't necessarily require a player's full attention at all times. Some people call these beer and pretzels games, but we've always called them shmoozing games after the yiddish word for small talk (and sometime kvetching games for when people use their downtime to complain about all that is wrong with their lives). Biergarten is the tile-laying equivalent of these games—simple, fun, and relaxing. The player interaction is almost non-existent, so their isn't any conflict to spoil the mood. Gameplay consists mostly of playing (and sometimes moving) the card that makes the most sense at that moment. It is vastly more tactical than strategic, and it works well for a wide range of age groups and tastes.

 

My main complaint about the game is the same complaint I have about all of the games that use cards as tiles: it would be better with square tiles that could be rotated for more options. Still, a deck of cards is infinitely more portable than a box of tiles, and the game would likely not cause much of a fuss if brought out at a bar or restaurant for play while waiting on food and drink to arrive.

 

Biergarten is a quick, light game that is pefect as a simple opener or quick closer for a game night or for pulling out with non-gamers who might balk at more complex games.

 

Review Score: 3/5


Friday
Jul242015

Review: Bountytown (Victory Point Games)

Review: Bountytown from Victory Point Games

Designed by: Kyle Van Winkle  Michael Huven-Moore

In their own words:  “three to six players take on the roles of unique characters in the Wild West, dueling bounties and each other in a race to build up the most Renown in Bountytown.”

Components: Around 150 cards of various sizes and 15 character standees.  The cards are high-quality and shuffle well.  The standees are well-printed with great art design.  They would work better if the two parts are glued together, but then they wouldn’t fit in the box, so they are a bit fiddly.  That said, they are attractive on the table and a vast improvement both aesthetically and in their usability over plastic pawns.

Game Play: Before play begins, players set up a semi-random group of locations to represent Bountytown for that game.  They then randomly choose the bounties for the game and shuffle a game-ending Train card into the last five cards of the Bounty Deck.  During the game, players move their tokens around the town either to use a location’s special function or to hunt down a bounty (or, occasionally another player). 

When the player attempts to capture a bounty, the game becomes a one-hand game of poker.  Using the cards in hand (and, for some characters, extra cards drawn for the fight), a player attempts to put together his or her best poker hand.  The bounty’s best hand is then formed by drawing cards, adding the cards printed on the bounty, and putting together the highest ranked hand possible. (Note: the deck uses five rather than four suits.  The fifth suit is “coins” which are also used to buy items.  Deciding whether to use coins in the poker hand can be difficult if a cool, but expensive, item is on the board.) If the player has the better hand, they capture the bounty which earns them renown. 

Bounties that haven’t been turned over to the sheriff are not safe as any other player with less renown can come to that player’s location and initiate a duel, which works much like the duel with bounties, but involves a match between the two players and the bounty.  If the attacker wins the duel, he or she steals the bounty; if the defender wins the duel, he or she keeps the bounty, but if the outlaw wins the hand, he escapes.

In both types of duels, players who lose gain Wound cards which take up slots in the player’s hands and limit the player’s ability to put together winning hands in the future.

The locations can affect duels in various ways or provide other benefits, some of which are ongoing and others which take an action.  The three non-random locations are particularly useful.  The Sheriff’s Office provides a place for the players to “turn in” their bounties, locking the points in permanently and protecting them from loss from a duel.  Doc’s allows players to ditch Wound cards that can clutter up their hand, and The General Store sells one-use items that can help a player win duels, capture bounties, and other good stuff.

A bounty that is captured or escapes is replaced from the Bounty deck.  When the Train card is flipped up, the game is over.  The player with the highest renown wins.

My Take: I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with Bountytown so far.  The game’s mechanics fit well with its theme, and, though it isn’t unique to this game, the poker hand as resolution mechanic has long been one of my favorites and it has been put to good use here. 

Not everything works as well as I’d like.  I was excited about the ability to engage in player-vs-player duels, but I think the three-way nature of the duel (including the outlaw as a participant) discourages much of that happening.  Theme-wise, I love the idea of the outlaw escaping because the bounty hunters were infighting, but the risk of that escape happening had us wary about risking a battle unless our hands were nigh unbeatable.

I will also say that I was a bit bothered by the game flipping the hand rankings so two pairs was better than three of a kind.  I lost a couple of duels to this, and it made evaluating my hands before a discard-and-draw counter-intuitive and generally harder than it should be. 

We found the character abilities to be pretty balanced in our games, but we haven’t played with enough combinations to really know how that will turn out in the long run.  The fact that there is so much left to see with the game is probably is greatest strength.  There are characters we haven’t used after three games, bounties we haven’t captured, locations we haven’t visited (and maybe even items we haven’t bought, but I’m not sure about that).  Just the variety in locations alters player strategy from game to game and makes every game feel unique.

The theme is one that goes over well with my group, but also works with non-gamers and younger family members.  Overall, I’m completely pleased with this game and fully expect it to make my most-played-games list this year.

 

Review Score: 4/5 (Very Good)

Thursday
Jul162015

Preview: Jailbreakers: Plan Your Escape

(Disclosure: Nerdbloggers does not accept payment for Kickstarter previews. In this case, we were provided with a .pdf of the game components and rules and built a prototype for review.)

Preview: Jailbreakers: Plan Your Escape

In their own words: “Jailbreakers: Plan Your Escape is a press your luck dice and card game where you take on the role of prisoners plotting their escape!”

Components: I was playing with a self-built prototype, so I can't comment on components. We were all happy with the game art, but felt the card layout and small iconography made it difficult to see what was necessary for crafting or an escape plan from across the table. The higher-resolution and better color-     correction of a professional production could fix that problem.


Game Play: Jailbreakers is (sort of) a worker-placement game with dice being used to randomly determine which locations on the board (actually a grid of twelve location cards) are available to a player each turn. Most of the locations allow players to acquire materials that can then be used to craft items.

Items do two things in the game. They each give the player who owns them an ability that they can use, and they also can be used to satisfy the conditions of one of the available escape plans. Using an item for its ability doesn't use it up, but using it in an escape puts it at risk.

Once players have the items required for one of the available escape plans, they can attempt an escape. This is where the “push your luck” mechanism comes in to play. The escape deck is made up of a mixture of success and failure cards. Players must turn over a number of cards (based on how many items were used in the escape) without revealing two failure cards. After one failure card has been revealed, players can cut their losses by pulling out of the escape and turning over half of the items used in the attempt, or they can continue forward and “push their luck.” If the rest of the revealed cards are successes, the prisoner escapes. If another fail card comes up, the escape fails and the player loses all the involved items.

As soon as one player manages to free two of their prisoners, he or she wins the game.

My Take: Jailbreakers: Plan your Escape gets a thumbs up from me. I'm a big fan of “push your luck” games, and the “push your luck” element here provides a lot of tension. The use of dice to limit the “worker” placement options works pretty well (Rule-check Warning: be careful not to put out too many guards for the number of players—which we did the first time—as the options will be too limited), but it is frustrating in later rounds to have no options that advance your escape attempt or strengthen your position.

Crafting in games is almost always a problem. The fact that you are using whole turns just to collect materials that you get no immediate benefit out of means a lot of turns feel empty and rote. Jailbreakers doesn't address this problem in any way, but it does make crafted items useful for things other than just escaping, which means most turns end with the player advancing his cause in some way. I also like the dilemna created by those items: do I use this awesome item to escape or do I keep it to make it easier to collect other materials?

In the end, I'm excited to see the production copy of this game. It has a unique theme, plays quickly and scratches that “push your luck” itch really well. I

 

--Danny Webb  

Wednesday
Jul152015

Retro Review: Knizia's Easy Come, Easy Go 

(With the demise of Armchair Empire, a great videogame website that hosted my early board game reviews, much of my board game-related writings have disappeared from the Internet.  I’m going to reprint them here at Nerdbloggers with some alterations and annotations based on how my impressions of the games have changed.  This review, in a slightly different form, originally appeared August 13, 2005)

Easy Come, Easy Go from Out of the Box is a simple and fun dice game by Reiner Knizia that offers a lot of the appeal of Yahtzee with more player interaction and a more festive atmosphere. In the game, players race to be the first one to have three luxuries in their possession at the beginning of a turn. The game usually plays in around ten minutes, though it can drag if players are constantly stealing luxuries from other players.

 

The game’s components consist of nine heavy, thick luxury tiles with dice combinations printed on them, four six-sided dice marked zero through five, and a nice rolling cup. Everything is well made. I have little doubt that the components will hold up to hundreds of sessions. The art on the cards is amusing and attractive.

 

During the game, players roll four dice in hopes of rolling one of the combinations. After every roll, the player is forced to “lock” at least one of the dice in place. The round ends when all dice are locked whether or not the player has earned a luxury. If they do, they get a card and pass the dice; if not, the dice are simply passed to the next player. This continues until one player starts his or her turn with three of the luxury cards, at which point they win the game.

 

Some of the cards are easy to get (“Straight”, “Two pairs”), while others are more of a challenge. Since all of the cards on the table, whether or not they are already in the possession of another player are up for grabs, it makes a lot of sense to go for the harder cards early, as they are less likely to be stolen. This game play element makes for much more interaction than the group solitaire dice games like Yahtzee, but it also means the game can drag if players continuously manage to lift a card from an opponent right before he or she would win. The drawn-out end game has only happened to us once in about ten games though, so it shouldn’t be much of a deterrent. *

 

We already play a lot of dice games for light filler in our group (Liar’s Dice, Can’t Stop, mostly), so I wasn’t sure another light, fast dice game was needed. However, Easy Come, Easy Go went over very well with everyone I introduced it to while playtesting for this review, so I wouldn’t be surprise to see it hit the table at regular intervals over the course of the year. Regardless, the game is great for family game nights or any place gamers need a fast, fun game to pass the time.

 

 

- Danny Webb

(August 13, 2005)

 

*Follow up:  I’ve played this game three times this year, so it is still being played nearly ten years after I wrote this review, but it doesn’t get to the table often because the ability to steal luxuries from other players caused the game to drag more than it initially seemed it would.  This means the game actually plays smoothly with three or two people and not as well at the other numbers, which makes it a tad too specific to be worth throwing in the game night bag.  I do have some buddies that love dice games, though, and that group pulls out Easy Come, Easy Go on occasions, and still really enjoy the game.  At this point, I’d much rather play Qwixx for my light dice fix. 

Easy Come, Easy Go is currently out of print, but the Out of the Box Productions edition can still be found for cheap on Amazon.com

Sunday
Jul122015

Nintendo's Satoru Iwata has passed away 

Sad news out of Nintendo today.  CEO of Nintendo America Satoru Iwata who had overseen the release of so many wonderful games in his thirteen years at Nintendo died of complications from the removal of growths on his bile duct.  Iwata was beloved by fans of Nintendo for his playful appearances in Nintendo Directs in the last couple of years.  He always appeared to be a happy, kind man, and the video game industry is made less by his passing.  Our thoughts go out to his family and co-workers.

 

Here is the press release from Nintendo.