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Tuesday
Feb012011

Review: Take it Easy! by Peter Burley (Gryphon Games Edition)

Take it Easy!


Peter Burley

Gryphon Games

When my interest in games shifted to “German” games back in the early 90’s, I read everything I could get my hands on, not that there were many options.  One game that kept coming up in session reports and the new-to-me Five and Dime lists (these are games that gamers note they have played 5 or 10 times in a given year) was Take it Easy!  Nearly 20 years later, I finally picked up a copy of the game and I now regret that I didn’t pick it up back then.  It would have likely been played hundreds of times over that time.

Modern Euro games often get labeled as multi-player solitaire by fans of classic American and British hobby games.  Take it Easy!  is certainly a game that could be held as an example to prove that point.  Each player gets his or her own board and set of pieces.  All game play is done on those boards and there is zero interaction between players.  In fact, the game plays solitaire fine with no adjustment to the rules needed.

Here, however, multi-player solitaire isn’t much of a criticism.  Take it Easy! is basically a completive puzzle game.  Players are competing to score the most points while placing an identical set of hexagonal playing pieces on to their boards.  The pieces have color lines crossing from side to side so that they can potentially matched up in six different ways.  The goal of the game is to form lines on your board (think  a Bingo board with hexagons instead of squares) that reach from one edge of the large hexagon to another edge. 

The game could not be easier to learn or teach.  One player turns his tiles face down and mixes them up.  The other player s leave their pieces face up and organize them so they can find the piece they need easily.  The “caller” then turns over one of his pieces, describes it to the rest of the players.  All the players then decide where to place that piece.  When enough pieces have been flipped up to fill the board (which uses 19 of the possible 27 tiles, so the game is different every time), the game is over.  Players score for any line they formed that goes from one side to another.  Highest score wins. 

I’ve really enjoyed my plays of the game so far.  I think it will make a great lunch time game for the office, and I’m already regretting not picking up an extra copy when it was on sale because there is no limit to how many people can play the game together.  The best part is that the game plays as fast with twelve as it does with three, though every player added increases the odds of hitting a player who suffers from analysis paralysis.

For what it is, Take it Easy! is a complete success.  It even contains a rubric akin to those wood puzzles at Cracker Barrel restaurants to rate you performance when played solo or with others. 

Take it Easy! plays in about ten minutes (the box says 10 to 20) and is great for a wide range of ages.    

 

Score: 7.5/10

Monday
Jan312011

Review of Martin Wallace's London

Review

London

Martin Wallace

Treefrog Games

 

We were unable to get our hands on the limited edition of London, the latest from Treefrog Games, but the new print-run has finally arrived and we have been putting the game through its paces.  London appears to be famed game designer Martin Wallace’s take on the card-tableau, economic-engine games like San Juan and Race for the Galaxy—though minus the role-selection mechanism found in those two games.   

The first thing that differentiates the game from the other economic-engine card games is that London has a board.  The top half of the board features an attractive map of London from just after the great fire as well as a card .  The game is themed around re-building the great city and trying to get rich (or at least make a profit) while doing so.  The board is divided up into twenty boroughs with the River Thames pretty dividing them in half.   The bottom half of the board features the card display, where cards will be placed when expended during the game.

The game play is very simple.  During a players turn, he or she must decide between four possible actions:

  1. Playing cards
  2. Running his or her city
  3. Buying Land
  4. Drawing Cards

The cards in the game are mostly structures that can be built.  Structures have a variety of different game effects, but mostly they allow the player to earn money, earn victory points, or discard poverty cubes (more on those later).  In general cards are paid for by expending a card of the matching color from the player’s hand on to the card display.  Expended cards are placed face-up and can be drawn by the other players on later turns. 

When a player decides his or her city is ready, they can “run” the city.  This allows them to activate any or all of the cards in the city and benefit from their effects.  Most cards can only be “ran” once and must be turned face down after the phase.  The player must then take poverty cubes based on the number of stacks of cards in his or her city and card in hand.  Poverty cubes are worth negative VPs at the end of game and managing them is one of the major elements of the game.

That is where the board comes into play.  Each time you compute the poverty cubes after running the city, you can subtract a cube for every borough you occupy in London.  The borough are also worth VPs at the end of the game.

When all cards have been drawn and each player has had a final turn, the player who has acquired the least poverty cubes gets to discard all of theirs.  All other players then discard the same number.  The value of the remaining cubes in subtracted from the victory points earned through cards and land buys.  Highest score wins. 

So, the game is pretty easy to play, but is it any good?  I really like it though I have some reservations.  I think making expended cards available for drawing in later turns works brilliantly—making the decision of what to play and how to pay for it more interactive than it would normally be.  I’ve heard the game described as multi-player solitaire, but I think this mechanism forces players to pay close attention to the opponent’s strategy and card needs. 

I also like the poverty cube mechanic.  I love how difficult it makes it to decide when to run your city.  I love how it makes each card in hand not only a tool but also a liability.  I love how absolutely brutal it is to the person who fails to manage their poverty.  If you end up with over ten of the cubes, each additional one is worth a full -3 VPs, which is brutal in a game that seems to consistently feature close scores. 

I do dislike the way poverty cubes are handled at the end of the game.  The benefit of discarding cubes is a lot more beneficial to the players who are lagging behind than the one who was winning the poverty battle.  In our last game, dropping the five cubes to match the leaders discard saved me and a second player fifteen points and her only five.   It wasn’t enough to help me, but the other player who was saved the fifteen points won the game.  I think I’d rather see the other players get to discard half the number of cubes of the winner, rounded down.  That said, I haven’t played enough games to be sure, so I’ll be playing by the actual rules for a while still.  It may turn out that I’m wrong.  I’ll gladly defer to the award-winning, prolific game designer for now.

The other problem I have with the game is that the board play is pretty uninteresting.  You need to buy land to get the poverty bonus and to draw cards.  While, you where to build based on the cost of the land, number of victory points, and number of bonus cards, the decision was often forced on you by the game situation. 

Despite these misgivings, I’m having a blast with London.  It is easy to play and easy to teach but still has the aspects of Martin Wallace games that I find interesting, specifically a punishing economic system that must be carefully managed. 

 

Score 8/10

 

Monday
Jan242011

Rockstar's new L.A. Noire trailer a thing of beauty

Rockstar's last effort, Read Dead Redemption, was my favorite game of last year.  Film Noir is my favorite film genre, and I count many films from the genre in my personal top films of all time:  Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, and The Maltese Falcon among them.  So, it will be no surprise to hear that L.A. Noire is my most anticipated new game of the coming year.  Today, Rockstar released the second trailer for the game.  It does nothing to dampen my excitement.  In fact, it is even more intriguing than the first glimpse we got of the game.  

Not much of a hint of game play in this one.  Instead, we get a great look at Rockstar's amazing new facial capture technology.  Since the player will make decisions in the game based on whether or not he believes what a character is saying, Rockstar has gone great lengths to develop a new method of capturing facial movement from live actors.  And, it is amazing.  If what we see in the trailer is repeated throughout the game, it will represent a major breakthrough.  

 

 

As far as the story goes.  Hunting down a serial killer isn't exactly an original plot, but doing so in 1940's Hollywood with full noir trappings works for me.  I hope that the game expands the concept of the adventure game and isn't GTA Noir, and all indications are that it will.  We've seen glimpses of the grilling of suspects that speak of some highly original game play elements.  It will be hard to wait until May 17th to see all that the game offers.  

Thursday
Jan202011

A Review of Pirate versus Pirate

Review

Pirate versus Pirate

Out of the Box Publishing

Designed by Max Winter Osterhaus, Ellen Winter, and Al Waller

 

Linked in name, art design, and cute little sculptures, Pirate versus Pirate is a spiritual sequel to last year’s Ninja versus Ninja. I liked that two-player game, but given that two-players isn’t the way I usually play games, Ninja versus Ninja was pretty quickly moved to the back shelf of the game closet.  Pirate versus Pirate is a bit of a rarity as it is designed specifically for three players.  Though I’m sure two-player games are more played and more common than three-player games in general, I find myself in three-player games more often than any other number.  The problem with that is most games are terrible with three players—at least games that have any kind of conflict. Most commonly, two of the players in a game start picking on one another, and the third player breezes to an easy victory.  I’ve also seen a lot of games where two players both pick on the third player and that player has no chance of winning.  In either scenario, fun, certainly, has not been had by all.  So, when I heard that Pirate versus Pirate was primarily a three-player game (it will play two, though I don’t recommend it), I was both excited and worried.  If it handled three players well, it would certainly find some table time in my group.  If not, like Ninja versus Ninja, it would likely sit on the shelf gathering dust.

So, how did it turn out?  Pretty well. 

First, I’ll take a look at the components.  As you can see from the picture below, Pirate versus Pirate is a cool-looking game. The pirate sculpts from Dork Tower’s John Kovalic are just awesome. I didn’t really expect him to be able to top the ninjas from Ninja versus Ninja, but the pirates are even cooler looking. I found myself wondering what other games I could use them for so they could be seen by more players. The board is a triangular map board with three silver coins and one gold coin placed in the middle of the board, equidistant from the three starting areas.  The coins are attractive, but made of light plastic making them feel pretty insignificant in the hand.

And, it would make sense if they were heavier and more impressive, because the coins are the focus of the game.  To win the game, a player must pick up two silver coins or the single gold coin and return it to the appropriate spot on their home base.  Moving is accomplished by rolling two four-sided dice (These are cleverly designed four-sided dice, but I think I would rather have the traditional four-sided dice).    So, there is the roll-and-move component so common in traditional American board games and so maligned by the designer game community.  If you have too much of an allergy to randomness in your board games, look elsewhere.  The dice rolls are of upmost importance.  If one player rolls way above average and another way below average, the high-roller will win every time regardless of strategy. 

Luckily, there are plenty of rolls in the game, so the luck usually balances out.  And, you are not always looking for a high roll because of the strict movement rules.

  • ·         A player must move just one pirate a number of spaces equal to the total of the two dice
  • ·         A player may not move through another pirate (the opponent’s or his own)
  • ·         A player may pick up a coin mid-move, but cannot drop off a coin mid move nor deliver a coin mid-move
  • ·         While carrying a coin, a pirate may not move through or onto a spot containing a coin, nor may he attack another pirate
  • ·         A pirate must land on the coin drop-off spot by exact count of his total move

These rules mean rolling high isn’t always the answer (though it will help you keep the action on your corner of the board), and they mean you are often forced to make moves you might otherwise not make in order to not waste a roll.

A turn of the game goes very quickly.  The player rolls the dice, totals them, and moves that exact number of spaces.  If the player can land on an opposing pirate by exact count, that pirate is removed from the game.  If a player moves onto or through a space containing a coin, he picks it up.  Then, the next player goes and repeats the process.  This continues until one of the players has met the victory conditions.  This will involve a lot of jockeying around to get your own pirates out of the way and clear a path to your boat, a process often aided by your opponent’s as they take out figures through attacks. 

So, does the game effectively deal with the three-player problems?  I think it does to a point.  Because everyone must venture out of their area to grab coins, and because those coins are limited, it is impossible to lose focus and ignore someone going for an easy victory.  I suppose that another common problem with three-player games is still a problem:  often Player B could stop Player A from winning by attacking the figure that is carrying the deciding coin but chooses to focus on his own coin and let Player C deal with it.  If this happens and Player C gets no rolls that allow him to reach Player A’s pirate, then the game is handed to Player A.  It is a charge that can be leveled at most three-player games and I’ve seen it happen with P vs P.  That said, the game is light and fast, so I don’t need it to be perfectly balanced, just fun and not obscenely imbalanced, and P vs. P is good on that front.   

For a roll and move game, it ends up being pretty clever and interesting.  As long as none of the players spends too much time analyzing their board position and attempting to make the perfect move, the game is light and fast-playing.  It works as a kid’s game.  It works as filler on game nights.  Given its price and the awesome components, I have no problem recommending the game for families and for gamers looking for a unique, three-player filler.

Thursday
Dec232010

Fantasy Flight Previews New Cosmic Encounter Expansion

The Fantasy Flight blog has just posted another preview of the new Cosmic Encounter expansion Cosmic Conflict.  This update details a new race, The Saboteur, who has the ability to booby trap his home planets to potentially take out invading forces.  Looks pretty cool and very different from existing races.

 

Check it out here:

Cosmic Conflict