Search Nerdbloggers:
Nerdbloggers RSS

Entries in reviews (5)


Greeting, Professor Faulken - My Experiences with Wargames.

 As I've mentioned before in my reviews and editorials, I tend to be a regular fixture at thrift stores. Throughout the years I have found and collected a small pile of unpunched wargames. These have remained unpunched all of these years despite a definite curiosity on my part to learn what has driven such a passionate segment of the gaming hobby for so many decades. However, whenever I open up one of these large-scale games, and entertain the idea of playing one, I get roughly one third of the way through the rulebook before my brain begins to shut down.

I'm not exactly sure why this happens; I enjoy many complex games, and usually have no problem embracing new rulesets. Perhaps it is because wargames have a storied history, and just like eurogames have a vocabulary of mechanics that are intrinsically understood by the players of that genre. Where Euros have understood mechanics such as worker placement and hidden role selection, wargames also have their own set of mechanics and ideas; concepts like: zone of control, stacking, and supply lines. Without really understanding how these these mechanics worked and interacted with each other, I had a hard time visualizing how the game would play out, especially when confronting them all at the same time, and I found myself a bit intimidated.

Recently, I decided to take the plunge, and really learn what wargaming is all about. Alan Emrich of Victory Point Games was very gracious to facilitate this process by selecting a few games for me that he thought a beginner should start out with. I hope to chronicle my exploration of wargaming through a series of game reviews of these titles. My reviews will be from the viewpoint of a total wargame beginner, so may not have the depth of experience found in a similar review from a hardened grognard, but since these games are meant to serve as an introduction to the genre, I hope that my experiences will resonate with others in my position.


I am also bringing along for the ride, my 15 year old daughter - who, at first, was abject with the thought of having to play with armies and tanks. She is definitely not a stranger to complex strategy games, and can mow through heavy hitting euros like Dominant Species. But, she is new to wargames, and has the unique perspective of someone who really doesn't think that she will find anything interesting in the genre. Although, I was very surprised at the direction her opinion turned when we began to play these games.


As of this writing I have played a few of the games, and I am really starting to understand why people enjoy this genre of games. I consider myself to be very open minded, and try very hard not to generate any preconceived bias in my thought process, but I was surprised at how much I really misunderstood about wargames. I lived my childhood as a boy growing up in the 80's, and as a result, my view of games was strongly molded by the “Ameritrash” games of that era. Often military in nature, and usually requiring a handful of dice, the typical "Ameritrash" didn't have a whole lot of deep strategy in it, instead focusing on a more narrative, luck based experience. I had assumed that because wargames consisted of dice, and strive to simulate the events that occurred during historic battles, that they would share this “dicefest” type of randomness. I was very wrong in this assumption, and wonder how many others like me may share this misconception.


What I discovered was that the dice in the hex and counter type wargames that I played did not generate a random experience, but instead were used to add a very limited about of randomness to the game - more of a vehicle to simulate calculated risk. This risk, and uncertainty played a huge part in driving strategic decisions. Like the WOPR computer from the movie Wargames surmised when playing simulations of Global Thermonuclear War, “The only winning move is not to play”; it is often strategically critical to hold off on even making an attack roll unless you are assured that any number to come up on the die will either further your strategy, or at worst, result in a draw. This completely changed my understanding of how dice could be used to simulate randomness in games - in a limited, controlled manner that did not detract from the strategy of the games.


Over the next few weeks I will post my reviews and musings about the games I have played, starting with the 2007 Victory Point Games reprint of the 1975 tutorial game Strike Force One.


Jump to an article in the series:

Strike Force One Review

Battle For Moscow Review

Paul Koenig's Market Garden: Arnhem Bridge Review


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


Review of Martin Wallace's 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



A Review of Pirate versus Pirate


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.


Review of Timestreams from Bucephalus Games


Designed by Jeremy Holcomb and K. Joseph Huber


The Spin:  Manipulate Time for fun and glory

The Story:  Players play time travelers working their way through multiple eras seeding each with technology designed to shape the world in their image.  Two two-player sets (Medieval vs. Modern Day and Stone Age vs. Future Tech) are currently available and at least one more two-player set and some smaller expansions are advertised as on the way.  The two-player sets can be combined to expand the game to up to six players.

The Play:  Each player is given a deck of cards themed to a particular era.  These cards are divided between Inventions and Actions.  The Invention cards are worth points at the end of the game while the action cards, mostly, are discarded after their effect takes place. 

Before play begins, the players form a tableau consisting of timeline cards representing six eras (Stone Age through Future Tech). Players will begin playing cards one at a time below the Stone Age card.  When both players have no more plays they want to make, they move on to the next period.  This process continues until the last play in the Future Tech era, at which time scoring it resolved.

When and where Invention cards are played is very important.  Inventions have one of two types of effects: Play or Score.  Play effects resolve when the card is put into the tableau.  Score effects do not occur until the end of the game.  Both the Play and the Score effects can destroy inventions, move inventions, alter the values of inventions, and manipulate the players’ hands, decks and discard piles.


When the Future Tech era is complete, players move to the end of game scoring phase.  One at a time each era is scored from top to bottom (first six slots only, by default).  Again, here cards can be destroyed and values altered.  Each era is scored in turn and scores are totaled.  Highest score wins.  Like many collectable card games, the complexity of Timestreams is in the card interactions not in the game rules.

My Take:  I played a lot of CCGs when they first hit the gaming scene in the mid 90s.  Magic:TG, Wyvern, On the Edge, Middle Earth, Mythos, INWO—really most of the games released in the first half-decade of the genre.  Eventually, I tired of the constant flood of new sets, wonky rule interpretations, and a gaming scene full of over-competitive players.  The whole scene was both costly and annoying and I quit pretty much cold turkey (if you will allow me to exclude my brief flirtation with Collectable Miniatures Games).  Timestreams fulfills what is left of my CCG craving without the collectible element or the driving force of a tournament scene.  Like a CCG, the cards represent tiny alterations to the game’s simple rules and the interaction between the cards and the rules provides plenty of opportunity for tactical play.   Though the game is not collectible or (currently) customizable, it does a good job of scratching the CCG itch without giving me a gaming rash.  I’d happily lump it in with Blue Moon and Dominion as games that ignore certain CCG elements while playing up others.

Components:  Well, it is a card game folks.  No wooden bits, no plastic soldiers, no resin tanks.  Unfortunately, the card quality is a bit below-average.  The cards are too glossy and become hard to read under direct light (hard to photograph also, but that isn’t a problem for you guys).  The cards are thick and the glossy coating seems to protect them well from the wear of handling, but the cards do not stand up to a bend test.  The card art is solid, but often obscured by the text boxes.  I also despised the fonts.  The difference between the game text font and the flavor text font is very unattractive. 

I also would like to have a board for the timeline instead of using cards.  Using cards makes it more portable and likely less expensive, but something like the board for Kosmos/Rio Grande’s Lost Cities would have gone a long way toward making the game more attractive on the table and made the game state easier  to see at a glance. 

A side note:  the flavor text is consistently funny and interesting.  Easily the best I’ve seen in a while. 

The Verdict.  The quibbles with card quality aside (and ultimately they are pretty minor), Timestreams is an enjoyable, highly interactive card game with a fun sci-fi theme and solid mechanics.  I recommend it without reservation and could easily raise this score half a point when the final set is released.