Sunday, August 23, 2015

A very inappropriate episode - Episode 16

Cardboard Insanity goes Adults Only this week as we spotlight Inappropriate Gaming. We lead things off with a great interview with Greg Cozza, the owner of Inappropriate Gaming and designer of both games we review this week.

Our first review is Shootin' Blanks, an excellent social game that puts just enough game in there to make you feel like you are actually playing something.

The Game of the Week is a most excellent title, America's Next Top Pimp. If you want a game that has great humor and still packs a lot of game, this is a great choice. Listen to our review to learn all about what makes it awesome.

You can find our podcast on iTunes:

Or on RSS:

Follow us on Twitter @cardboardinsane for constant updates and boardgame chatter.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Roll out, good buddy! - Loaded Up & Truckin' Kickstarter preview

We live in a world of gaming where everything seems to be getting more and more complex.  Rules get bloated, extra mechanisms get added in, and it takes a clean design and makes it unnecessarily complicated.  This bloat in gaming has made it tough to find games that are great for introducing new gamers to the hobby.  It’s also made it tough for families to find something that can work for players of varying ages and abilities.  Load up your big rig because Loaded Up & Truckin’ has your answer.

Loaded Up & Truckin’ gives players a very simple guideline of their turn.  Move your trucks. That’s it.  You’ve got different ways to spend the movement points each truck gets so you need to decide how to move and when to pickup new loads.  You also have the opportunity to build new depots which helps you get a majority in each region.  Lastly, you can purchase additional trucks which will be the biggest key to your success.  Having more trucks lets your haul more freight which lets you earn more money.

Loaded up & Truckin’ has a really solid presentation.  One of the best things about it is the giant map.  I love how nice the board looks when you start moving freight.  The load tokens are very cleanly designed making it easy to see where everything should be placed and where it’s trying to get to.  While the board has a lot of spaces and can get busy, it’s designed well enough that it’s not overwhelming or cluttered.

Where LU&T really shines is as a gateway game for new gamers or as a family game.  It’s ability to play up to 6 players gives it a lot of flexibility for different sized groups.  I think it’s most amazing asset is that it teaches several different game types at one time and does so without people even realizing what’s happening.  The most obvious game here is the pick-up-and-deliver mechanism.  Players have to evaluate the board and plan long-term goals and balance them with short term goals.  Underneath that layer are several others.  The game’s scoring works around a sort of area majority in which players win regions by delivering the most goods there.  There’s also bit of resource management in that you need to spend money carefully to get more trucks and depots while also trying to accumulate it for victory points at the end.

I also like how there’s player interaction.  It’s not direct or violent, yet it forces players to try to evaluate what the other players are doing on the board.  Teaching new gamers how to have that kind of awareness is key to getting them into other games down the road.  While I love games with a ton of confrontation, it can be intimidating to new gamers.  LU&T approaches interaction in a way that’s comfortable for new gamers and makes it accessible to them.

In my gaming experience, I’ve played a lot of gateway games with varying degrees of success.  One of the hallmarks of all the successes was how easy it was to get people doing a lot more than they thought they could.  Loaded Up & Truckin’ does exactly that.  It wraps a lot of different ideas in very simple gameplay, yet gives players meaningful decisions that affect both the short and long game.

Loaded Up & Truckin’ is a shining example of what a great gateway game can be.  This is the kind of game that will reel in new players and have them coming back for more.  Before they know it, they’ll be full-fledged gamers and Loaded Up & Truckin’ will be the reason why.  Move over Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, and Settlers….there’s a new standard in gateway games.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Smorgasboard, smorgasboard - Episode 15 of Cardboard Insanity is live

We have a wonderful assortment of gaming bits for you on this week's episode. Our weekly interview is with David Brashaw, founder of Backspindle games and designer of Guards! Guards! A Discworld Boardgame and the upcoming Clacks: A Discworld Board Game. His love of gaming is matched only by his love of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.

Our game reviews start with Michael Schacht's Gold!, from ABACUSSPIELE. We follow that up with a review of Blue Orange Games newest social game, WINK. For our Game of the Week, we look at the unsung hero of the Pandemic family, Pandemic: Contagion from Z-Man Games. This game fills a unique place as a super-filler game that plays equally good from 3 to 5 and does so in about 30 minutes. There's huge amounts of replayability here.

Want to listen to Cardboard Insanity? Here's the iTunes link: .  If you prefer to listen through RSS, just go here:

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Abstract Impressionism - Episode 14

Episode, time flies. This week's episode is called Abstract Impressionism because we are looking at the often overlooked world of abstract games.

We start with an overlooked gem from Twilight Creations, Easter Island. That is followed up with a look at the first published abstract micro-game, Blue Orange Games' Attila. Then we look at our first Reiner Knizia game: Indigo, published by Ravensburger.

For our Game of the Week, we start with an interview of the games designer and founder of Yodeo Games, Ian Reed. We follow that up with our review of his game, Convert.

Sit back and enjoy an abstract view of some great games.

The podcast can be found at the following:
RSS Feed:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Time to mooooove on to baaaaaatle with Livestock Uprising

Not since Animal Farm has there been this much animosity in the barnyard.  Livestock Uprising comes to us from Dog Might LLC out of the small town of Pinckney, Michigan.  Coming from small town Michigan myself, watching animals on the farm play, fight and destroy their homes is a rather natural concept.  In a theatrical twist to real life, whenever I play this game it brings back memories of childhood.  Now, its time to moove on to baaatle…let’s pork up and get this clucking review started!

For first impressions, this box is beautiful.  Bright colors and a wonderfully realistic art style cover the outside.  I love the visuals of this game.  The troop and player cards, as well as the player pieces, have this same art.  Overall, I feel this game deserves an honorable mention for art in the least.  I really enjoyed looking at the game as much as I did playing it.

On the box, this 2-4 player game has an age rating of 14+ and an average game time of 60-120 minutes.  On playing this with my family, my 10 & 12yo daughters had no issues picking up the concept of this game, and my 9yo nephew won his first game against his 13yo brother, father and myself.  The game time is rather accurate though.  A four player game will last at least 90 minutes, and longer depending on how competitive your group is.  Out of all the different player counts, four people will give you the best feel for the game’s concept and what I feel is the most enjoyable experience.  Three players can be just as engaging, as long as the group is competitive.  With just two players, this game can feel redundant and mundane, and the latter half of the game can be rather one-sided.

 So, how do get this game going?  First, you get to choose from four different factions:
  •  Chickens – “Clucking Fast”
  • Pigs – “ He Who Harvests, Wins”
  • Goats – “First Into Baaaattle”                                    
  • Cows – “We Will Not Be Mooved”

Each faction has a corresponding faction board, barn tile, 3 General cards (1, 2 & 3 Stars), 3 matching army tokens (1, 2, & 3 Stars), 3 Special Forces cards, and a super army token used for the endgame scenario.

The faction board uses both sides; one consisting of the cost to marshal troops and Special Forces for the first part of the game, and the other used to record the attach and defense power of your super army in the endgame.  The cost to marshal troops and Special Forces is the same for all factions. 

The General cards have no bearing on attack or defense.  Each General can control up to five troops, including Special Forces.  The troop cards are placed under each General card to indicate which troops that General controls.  The stars on the general cards are just to help with identifying which armies on the board control which troops.

The Special Forces cards allow different benefits for their respective faction.  A chicken General that controls a Special Forces card can move one extra tile each turn.  A pig General that controls a Special Forces card gains the ability to harvest extra resources depending on which Special Forces troop he has in his army.  The goat’s Special Forces have a higher than average attack power, while the cow’s Special Forces have a higher defense. 

I found that goats against cows are a very even game. Having an extra move for a chicken General doesn’t seem to add much of an advantage, except for escaping other players that seem to be focused on causing casualties. But if you add in the pigs and their ability to harvest twice as many resources in the first part of the game, you have a major advantage over the other factions.  Out side of a four-player game, where the other three factions can gang up, having the pigs in a game can cause a bit of an imbalance.

Also included in the box are:
  • Four six-sided Dice
  • 18 Command Cards – Each player receives 3 at the start of the game
  • 8 Battle Plan Cards – Each player receives 1 card once they form their Super Army
  • 60 Board Tiles – Each tile has either nothing, a harvestable resource, or an obstacle that prevents a player from moving onto that tile
  • 125 Resource Tokens – 25 of each Grass, Hay, Corn, Carrot, and Apple

The board setup is one of the aspects of this game I absolutely love.  I feel any game that can have a completely different setup every time it is played is one that is worth investing in.  Livestock Uprising is one of those games that I feel has re-playable potential.  You start with sorting the tiles by the number listed on the back and using the ones equal to and less than the player count.  A base grid is made, depending on player count, by randomly selecting facedown tiles.  Then barn tiles are placed adjacent to one of the outside edges of the starting grid.  The barns can be placed adjacent to each other, for a competitive twist.  Then the rest of the board is randomly filled in to its respective player size forming a square.  Honorable mention for the random board every game, and an extra special mention for the use of tiles.  I love open-ended tile boards, because most allow for altering of the designed shape. 

I’ve experimented with different styles, elongated, diamond, zigzag, etc, and I’ve found that each time you change the board shape, you open up the game to new tactics and a new level of play.  I feel that this could be a feature of the game, allowing for players to come up with their own unique board that they find most enjoyable.

I’m glad the designers added the command and battle plan cards.  With actions like allowing you to remove one troop from any army, stealing a bloodthirsty llama from an opponent’s army, or eliminating all sheep in all armies, they create a wonderful amount of chaos.  Some of the cards are really great and others are only good in certain scenarios, but they always lead to those wonderful player grudges we all love so much.  The cards are fun, but not complete game changers.  I’ve played games where I completely forgot about the command cards, and still came out on top.  I just really enjoy being able to slide that knife in the back and give it a little twist.

Once the board is setup, players place all three Generals on their barn and play starts with the action phase.  There are two things you can do on your action phase, move and/or attack.  During this phase, you’re trying to land on the resource tiles you need, so you can harvest them in the next phase.  Only one General can occupy a tile at a time, so things can get pretty hairy when separate factions are aiming for the same resources.  Each General can move up to two squares in any direction, and if they end on an occupied tile, baaattle starts.

When you attaaack another General (sorry for the bad puns, I’ll try to hold baaack the rest of the review), you add up the total attack power of the troops garrisoned under the attacking General and the total defense power of the defending General.  Players then roll a die to add to their attack or defense power, highest number wins.  I’m glad they added an element of luck to the battle.  I’m not a huge fan of games based solely on number count.  I always rooted for the underdog to succeed.  If a player loses the battle, they must discard one troop for that General’s army. 

After you have moved your Generals and finished chasing your friends around the barn yard, you get to harvest the items you land on, so long as you have troops that allow that General to harvest those resources.  The Generals alone can only harvest grass.  With grass you can buy sacrificial sheep, who allow the General that controls them to harvest hay.  Once you have some hay, you can marshal dynamite donkeys, which allow the General to harvest hay and corn.  This procession of troops and harvesting items carries out until you have a berzerker horses that allows that General to harvest hay, corn, carrots, and apples, and then you can marshal the ornery oxen, the most powerful troop in the game.

With each General only being able to garrison up to five troops, battling and losing becomes a strategic plan to remove the lesser troops, like the sacrificial sheep, from your garrison to obtain higher valued cards like the oxen.  Once you feel you have enough troops, your Generals need to make it back to your barn to form the super army.  This starts the end game scenario. 

Once a player has all three generals on their barn, and declares that they are forming a super army, they flip their faction board over and add up the defense and attack points of all troops they control.  Super armies roll two dice for attack and defense, as well as cause two casualties when they succeed.  If only one player has a super army, the rest are pretty much doomed.  It forces everyone else to form his or her super armies, and enter the end game scenario.  Players discard their unused resources, and remove their general cards.  They also draw one battle plan card to add to their command cards.

In the three and four player game, two super armies may join forces when attacking another player.  I think this is a great addition to the battle rules.  I also like to play this rule throughout the game.  I feel it allows for people to form alliances early on and for more strategic planning and backstabbing in the end.  But it is necessary for the underdogs to come out on top in the higher player counts. 

I once politiced my daughters into a grudge when I was losing.  They had it out for me and I wasn’t ready to call it quits.  I pointed out that I could add my attack power to theirs whey they attacked each other, bettering their odds at defeating the other.  I ultimately ran them both into lapse until I was strong enough to emerge as the winner. 

In just a two-player game, the end scenario becomes one-sided and the loosing player can feel helpless for several rounds until defeat.  It reminded me of those days playing Monopoly, when other player(s) had multiple houses and hotels, and your just there, cruising around the board loosing everything turn after turn.  If one player has an attack and defense of 23 and 26 respectfully and the only other player has an attack and defense of 12 and 14, there is no hope for the underdog and the last few rounds play out with loss after loss, and can make a person not want to play again.

Play continues until only one faction comes out on top.  Continuous chasing and battling is about a third of the game, and can be redundant at times.  With the end game “duel to the death” aspect, the game gets a 5/10 for the unevenness of the latter parts.  If you have a competitive group, this is a great game to add that fuel to the fire.  It’s better for the group of college friends than the family.
Overall, I feel this is a great introductory game for familiarizing kids and adults with the strategic gaming world.  You have many choices that offer a simple yet in-depth mechanism.  Outside of the one-sidedness of the end game, this scores an 8/10 for simplicity, art, and play.  I enjoyed this game.  It’s one worth adding to your collection, especially if you’re looking for something simple to get those interested hooked on the gaming world, and also for those once a month gaming nights with old friends when you’re looking to settle the score.

John Hernandez - Twitter @thebeardedpyro

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Roll the Bones with Cardboard Insanity

We LOVE dice games so this week's episode celebrates the awesomeness that is dice.  We start with a review of Michael Schacht's Shanghaien.  After that, the Lunch Bunch does a review of the stellar Garden Dice from Meridae Games.  Our Game of the Week is Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice from Backspindle Games.  This game is completely legit.  To help our review, we have an interview with Luchador's designer, Mark Rivera.

Episode 12 is up on iTunes now.  Give it a listen and roll some dice!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Episode 10 is For The Birds

Episode 10 of Cardboard Insanity is live on iTunes and RSS!  This week's episode is called For The Birds and with good reason.....that you'll have to figure out.  The best news is that this episode is so big we decided to break it into two parts.  Part one is live this week while part two will go live on 6/29/15.

Part one focuses on our Game of the Week, Shadow Throne, designed and published by Teale Fristoe on his Nothing Sacred Games label.  The Lunchtime Gang help out on this interview so you get a wide variety of opinions from the group.  Plus, Teale joins us for an interview and tells us all about Shadow Throne, his other games, and what he's working on next.

If you want a really awesome drafting game you can play in about 30-minutes, don't miss this episode!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Cardboard Insanity's Origins Spectacular 2015

Origins is one of the mega-cons here in the US.  A rogue's gallery of publishers, designers, artists, writers, costumes, and of course....GAMES!  Cardboard Insanity hit the road and braved the crowds to bring you some awesome game previews and interviews from Columbus, Ohio's favorite game convention.

What did we play and who did we talk to?  You'll have to listen to this special episode to find out!  As always, it's live on iTunes ( or via your favorite RSS reader (

We had so much fun there and met so many awesome indie game publishers and designers.  Go listen to the Origins Spectacular 2015 and tell us what you think!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Destroying humanity one roll at a time

Lunchtime gaming has been a wonderful surprise for me.  The ability to play games during my work day has done so much to ease work stress for my friends and I.  To make it even better, we’ve had 3 people who’ve never previously gamed at all join us.  As wonderful as gaming at lunch is, finding games that play quick enough and are new-player friendly can be quite a challenge.  We needed a game that would support up to 6 players and be done in about 25 minutes.  Lucky for me, I was shown Mars Attacks: The Dice Game at a convention and I knew it would be a perfect fit for my group.
A great picture of the components from

Mars Attacks comes with 29 location cards, 1 Difficulty card, 4 player tokens in each of 6 colors, a start player marker, and most importantly, the dice.  You get 10 of these awesome yellow dice.  There are 2 nukes, 2 aliens, and 2 ray guns on each die.

Dice, player tokens, and cards

To start the game, you shuffle the locations and then make 4 stacks with 1 card per player in each stack.  Place these face down and flip the top card.  On a player’s turn, they pick a card to go after and roll the dice until they decide to stop or they bust out by rolling too many nukes.

Busting out is half the fun of the game!  Each location card may have up to two nuke symbols on it.  There’s also the Difficulty card that has 1 nuke on the hard side and 2 nukes on the easy side.  Count up all the visible nukes in the play area.  If you roll that many nukes on your turn, you bust and get nothing.  The number of nukes will change throughout the game which makes for an interesting ride.  One round, it may be almost impossible to bust.  Others, it may be really easy.  The schadenfreude runs deep in this game.  Watching someone fail miserably can be almost as much fun as winning a key card.

Examples of the Cities and Monuments
I really like that there are two different kinds of locations.  The Cities are the standard kind and have 3-12 spaces on them.  To claim a city, you need to roll ray guns equal to that number.  You get to re-roll until you bust or decided to stop.  The Monuments are a bit different. These cards show Martian heads.  You only get one roll each turn and what you get is what you get.  This gives the Monuments a wonderful element of chance that creates some excellent swings of fortune.

A few of the cities even have special rules for taking them to spice things up.  Los Angeles uses nukes instead of Martians or ray guns. Detroit needs to be taken in one turn.  And then there’s my favorite: Las Vegas.  If Las Vegas is in play and you bust out, you put your token on it or move it forward if it’s already there.  The first player to bust three times gets Vegas.  It’s such a fun card. 

Completing a location usually takes multiple turns so you get great competition as multiple players race towards victory.  The tension ratchets up as someone gets close because the losers get nothing and have wasted all their time while the winner gets the card which will give them victory points.  It’s all or nothing so the stakes are pretty high.

Las Vegas, my favorite card in the game
Some cards have special abilities which can either give you an instant bonus or an Ongoing power.  What’s really awesome is that cards with powers are worth less victory points so you need to decide if you want big points or a bonus.  When the card comes up in the game will also affect your decision.  But if players are avoiding one card, that might be a great chance for someone else to get in there and steal easy points.  You can see how this helps create choices, something that a lot of dice-rollers lack.

The box says 3-6 players, but this game shines at the higher player count.  The extra competition is awesome and the cards get crowded quickly.  You have more decisions to make as to where you try to go which adds to the game.  Turns are very quick so there’s not much downtime at all.  The playtime of 20 minutes is pretty much spot on, even at the higher player count. 

Steve Jackson Games’ biggest dice-rolling hit thus far has been Zombie Dice.  I personally like Zombie Dice, but with Mars Attacks around, it doesn’t get played.  Mars Attacks trumps it in almost every way.  Sure, it’s not quite as portable because of the cards, but it has more interaction which is a great improvement.  The competition for the cards is exactly what I want in a dice game.  I find that the special abilities, special capture rules, and different card types add a huge amount to what would otherwise be an overly-simple game.  The extra development pays off big time, here.

When you add in the fact that this plays 6 and plays in about 20 minutes, you have a winner.  This game is absolutely perfect for a lunchtime game group or as a filler between games.  The dice look great as do the cards.  For about $20, you get a game that will play many, many times and it will always play differently.  That’s a lot to ask for, but Steve Jackson Games delivered in a big way.  This game deserves a LOT more attention than it’s gotten.  With the right publicity, this could give Zombie Dice a run for it’s money as the king of SJG dice games.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Hop to It! - Episode 9 is live

Hop to It! - Episode 9 - 6/8/15 - Episode 9 has arrived and is ready to help you through your post-Origins hangover. This week's episode focuses on Keith Matejka's game, Bullfrogs. This is self-published under Tim's company Thunderworks Games. In addition to our review of Bullfrogs, we have a great interview with Tim focusing on Bullfrogs, upcoming designs, music, and so much more. We follow that up with a review of Victory Point Games' awesome solitaire title A Blood Red Banner: The Alamo.

Plus, listen closely to find out how you can win your very own copy of Bullfrogs, courtesy of Thunderworks Games! Shake those Origins blues away!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Episode 9 Preview

Guess what, Insaniacs?  Episode 9 is coming to you very soon!  Episode 9 features an interview with Keith Matejka, designer of Bullfrogs and owner of Thunderworks Games.  We'll also be reviewing Bullfrogs along with at least one other game.

As if that wasn't enough, listen to the podcast and you could win a copy of Keith's excellent game!  Get ready, Episode 9 is on it's way!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Two Player Extravaganza! - Episode 8 is live!

Since the Horsey Avenger and I do so much two-player gaming, we figured it would be perfect to cover some great, lesser-known two player games. And boy have we got some good ones.

We start off with a review of Longhorn from Blue Orange Games. This is Five Tribes older sibling. It's two-player only and plays MUCH quicker than its successor.

That's followed up with our first abstract game, Stratopolis from Gigamic. This one has some nastiness to it, more than a lot of other abstracts.

Our Game of the Week is one of the coolest games I've played this year and is from a designer who's making a huge name for himself. We present to you Pack of Heroes, designed by Phil Walker-Harding and published by his own company Adventureland Games. What a great game with a phenomenal package. The amount of art and story here creates a wonderful theme to play around in.

As always, you can find Cardboard Insanity on iTunes or hit the RSS feed at You can also check the BGG Cardboard Insanity podcast page:

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Geriatric dice in the Republic of Rome - Praetor in review

There are so many boardgames available that it's almost mindboggling.  In the 8 years I've been in the hobby, I've seen it grow from a time where you could keep up with almost every new game to a where it is now; way too many games to choose from.  In a hobby as saturated as boardgaming, how do you separate yourself from the pack?  What can you do to get an edge on all the other games out there?  You do something original.  Praetor from Passport Game Studio does exactly that.

If you're here, odds are you already know all about worker-placement games.  Take your piece, put it on a spot, do the action. There's a ton of games that do this already: Agricola, Stone Age, Lords of Waterdeep, Sons of Anarchy.... The list goes on and on.  So how does Praetor stand out?  In Praetor, your workers get better at their jobs each time they are used, until they retire.  Oh, and you have to pay for them.  Even the retired ones.  The layer of extra thought this adds to the game is amazing.

Standard Euro-game bits
Each player starts with 3 workers, represented by six-sided dice (d6) with one on side 1, one on side 2, and one on side 3.  You also start with a bunch of resources that you will need to build more tiles.  Player turns are simple and have the following options:

  •  Place a worker on an available building tile to build it
  •  Place a worker on an unused tile in the city to activate it
  • Activate a special city tile

Building new tiles is a good thing because you are the owner of any tile you build.  Just like in Lords of Waterdeep, If another player wants to use the tile, they have to pay you to do so.  There’s also an interesting twist in that the tiles have mosaic patterns in each corner.  When you place one into the city, you get points for each connecting tile that matches the new one.  These points can add up in a hurry so it’s important.  Unthematic?  Maybe.  We find that it’s a good way to score points so I don’t mind this being tacked on.

A two-player game in progress.
Another option is to place a worker onto an unused city tile to do the action there.  This is where Praetor gets awesome.  When you place a worker on tiles with red in the center, the worker performs the action at his experience level.  For example, if I place a 1-worker on a gold mine, he gets one gold.  Put a 3 on there and you get three.  

In addition, any worker placed on a red tile or used to build a new building will get experience at the end of the turn and will improve by a pip.  In the example above, the 1 becomes 2 and the 3 becomes 4.  As  your workers do jobs, they get better and yield more next turn, until they hit 6.  When a worker is advanced to side 6, they retire and can no longer be used on your turn.  The good news is that they are worth victory points.  The bad news is you now are paying their pensions.

Wall tiles create an excellent
strategy option.
This creates wonderful choices in how you allocate those workers.  You will want to get your low-level workers more experience as quickly as possible, but they don’t give you much at first.  Conversely, your more experienced workers are getting closer to retirement so you need to manager them carefully so you get maximum efficiency from them.  You will also need to manage the flow of incoming and outgoing workers.  Timing your recruitment of new workers is vitally important because it’s easy to get in a situation where you have workers retiring and nobody coming in.  When you use the tile to bring a new worker in, you essentially have to wait two turns to use it as the workers go through training.  I’ve experienced this a couple times and it really grinds your engine to a halt.  Keeping a steady influx of workers is very important and creates a timing mechanism that really adds to the decision-making process.  Other games have used aging before (In the Shadow of the Emperor), but I love how Praetor makes it a part of your workers’ efficacy.

At the end of each turn, you need to pay for your workers.  Each active worker up to and including your fourth costs 1 gold per turn.  After that, they get more expensive with the next couple slots costing two and then three.  You also have to pay 1 gold for each retired worker.  This creates an awesome tightrope of having enough workers to be effective but not having too many where you are losing money.  You also want to retire workers for victory points, but then you need to pay them for sitting at home drinking beer.  That’s not a good use of money.  If you can’t pay for workers, you slide down one spot on your Morale track for each one you can’t pay for.  You gain or lose victory points at the end of the game for this track so you want to keep it as high as possible.  Unhappy workers make for an unhappy city.

A player board in the middle of the game.
Most worker-placement games are largely non-interactive and Praetor is no exception.  Like Lords of Waterdeep, there’s a bit more interaction here due to the ownership of city tiles, but it’s minimal.  At best, worker-placement games are mostly passive-aggressive interaction.  Lots of people don’t like this genre for that very reason, but I think it’s a good thing.  Changing the landscape of the board makes you think and adapt your plans.  It’s interactive without being outright nasty.  I do feel like Praetor forces you to watch the other players more than other worker-placement games.  While you are mostly doing your own thing, you definitely need to be cognizant of what everyone else is doing so you can react.  You really can't just stay a course in this game.  You will be forced to improvise, adapt, and overcome.

Praetor scales wonderfully.  While I’m not a fan of most games at 5-players, Praetor handles it as well as any other worker-placement game.  It’s an awesome 2-player experience and is perfect with 3 or 4.  The game length definitely goes up with more players, but that’s to be expected.

The standard player board is on top followed by three of
the variants.  Each board is double-sided.
One very nice feature of the game is the variable player boards.  Each player board has a basic side and an advanced side.  The basic sides are all the same which is great for your first game as you learn.  Once you are up to speed, flip those over and get ready to see what the game really has to offer.  Each of the advanced sides offers something completely different and will make each player take a different approach to the game.  It adds a lot of variety to this game and definitely helps make each play feel unique.

There aren’t a lot of components in this game, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the awesome artwork on the city tiles.  It’s fantastic.  It in no way affects gameplay, but it does make the game look great on the table.  The dice are solid as are the wooden components.  Nothing special.  But  boy, that art….

It should be said that there was some complaining about a couple rules when this game came out.  Some people said the Labor Camp was broken and that a few of the temples were overpowered.  The designer issued official errata on BGG, but I’m not sure it’s completely necessary.  The Labor Camp is definitely a VERY powerful tile, but I don’t think it’s broken.  We do prefer to play with the variant provided by the designer as we feel it makes the tile a bit more balanced.  As for the Temples in question, I feel like those are more dependent on the players anyway so I’m not sure it needed a fix.  Some people also felt like the game was too long so there’s a variant to shorten it up.  Again, this is dependent on players.  All worker-placement games suffer from AP.  This is no exception.
Beautiful artwork makes a great game even better
I love worker placement games.  The simplicity of your turn options puts the meat of the gameplay on how you maximize those workers and does so without a lot of rules.  It’s the essence of elegance.  Praetor takes that formula and adds the incredibly awesome experience mechanism.  In many ways, this is the game.  Placing your workers is a big part, but managing your workforce is really where the game is here and it’s done very, very well.  It took me writing this to realize that.  And that’s probably what I love about this game so much.  I didn't even talk about the "get stuff to build stuff" or the Wall tiles.  Those are all part of the game.  What makes this game truly awesome is the experience mechanism and how it affect your use of workers.  It's phenomenal, actually.

I’ve got a lot of worker-placement games in my collection, but none do what Praetor does.  It sits on the line between medium/medium-heavy and does it gracefully.  The game feels very fluid and moves wonderfully.  The tile-placement points may be a bit bolted on, but it doesn’t detract from the elegance of this game.  Sometimes “elegant” is a dirty word in gaming.  That’s not the case with Praetor.  This game is incredibly well balanced and deserves a LOT more attention than it’s getting.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Lunchtime Gaming - Episode 7

Lunchtime Gaming - Episode 7 - Our first episode on the new biweekly schedule! This week is all about lunchtime gaming at work. I've got my lunchtime game group together to review two of our most popular games: Eggs and Empires from Eagle-Gryphon Games and Dungeon Raiders from Passport Game Studios. Plus a solo review of one of my favorite all-time fillers, No Thanks from Z-Man Games.

Friday, May 1, 2015

I love GOOOOOOOOOOOLD! - Dragon's Gold, that is.

In my mind, any game not expressly banning negotiation is a negotiation game.  If you play games with me, you’ll hear me throw around the offers all the time.  Sometimes joking, sometimes not dead serious.  I just love how even the offer of negotiation in a place where it doesn’t normally exist can throw some people into a tizzy.  And sometimes, it even pays off and you get them to do what you want.  I love games with negotiation and so a game that’s based completely around the mechanic is sure to get me fired up.  So let’s go back to one of the classics of the negotiation genre.  Way back in 2001, Bruno Faidutti released Dragon’s Gold for the first time.  White Goblin did a tin version several years ago and now they’re partnering with IDW and Pandasaurus to distribute a nice boxed version in the US.

Beautiful artwork and awesome gems make this game look great on the table.
Dragon’s Gold is very easy to play.  Each player has a Wizard with power 1, a Thief with power 2, a knight with power 3, and a knight with power 4.  Four Dragon’s are dealt face up on the table.  Each Dragon card has a treasure value in the lower left corner.  Gems are drawn from a bag and put on each Dragon to match the treasure value.   The gems are silver, gold, red (magic item), sapphire, emerald, amethyst, amber, diamond, or the elusive black diamond.

The Blue player's Adventurer cards
On a player’s turn, that player must send one of his adventurers out to fight a Dragon by simply adding that adventurer to the stack of adventurers there.  When the adventurer is added, you compare the total of the adventurers’ strength to the Dragon’s strength.  If the adventurers’ strength is less than the Dragon, nothing happens.  If it’s equal or exceeds the Dragon’s strength, the Dragon is slain and now the treasure must be divided.  And this is where the game gets good.  Real good.

First, add treasure tokens to the Dragon based on the number in the lower right corner.  Then, if only one player played a wizard there, he akes all the red tokens there.  If there are multiple wizards then this is skipped.  Anyone sending a thief gets to blindly take one token from one of the other players involved in this battle.  If you play a wizard and a thief, you get to look and take the token.

Now the fun starts!  A sand timer is flipped and all players involved have 60 seconds to negotiate how to split the treasure.  If there’s no deal by the end of 60 seconds, then nobody gets anything.  It’s really that simple.  Make a deal or everyone goes home empty handed.  If a deal is made, you take your treasure tokens and put them behind your player screen.
The Dragons protecting their treasures

The game is over when all the tokens have been won or discarded.  Players score points based on the gems they’ve collected with the winner being the one that scores more points.

There is a bit of strategy about how you allocate your adventurers.  You should always try to maximize the impact of your wizard and thief by watching the other players.  The wizard can be especially useful if you can get him out when nobody else has one to play.  Additionally, you want to make sure you cycle your adventurers so you’ve always got one to play.  There’s nothing worse than getting stuck with no adventurers to play and being at the mercy of the other players to dictate the timing of the game.  Also, you need to pay attention to which gems you are trying to get because you score points for getting a majority in a color.  You’ll need to be cunning to negotiate exactly what you need.

Also adding to the negotiation aspect of this game is the Market phase.  A market card is placed directly in the middle of the Dragon deck.  When it comes up, players have the opportunity to trade gems to each other to try and work towards majorities.  This carries a lot of deals with it as well.  You want my gem?  It may cost you during a later negotiation.  The Market phase creates a nice break in the game and gives everyone a great chance to assess where the other players are at.  Such a subtle piece of the game, but so integral into making this as awesome as it is.

Magic item cards add some extra pizzazz
This new version does add a bit of extra rules through the new magic cards.  These are definitely a fun way to add a bit of extra fun to the game without adding too much in the way of rules.  If you play with these, each player starts with one magic item and gets another one every time they get a red gem.  This makes the wizards especially powerful.  The cards have very specific text about when they can be played so there really shouldn’t be much in the way of questions about when and how they are used.

The new advanced rules also offer a scoring variant which is a nice twist.  I especially like the cursed black diamond.  You will need to tailor your strategy around it, but that can add a fun new way to try and play the game.  Of course, it can probably bite you badly if you don’t get what you’re looking for, but it’s always exciting to see if it will pan out.

Front and back of the new and improved player screens.
As you’ve figured out, there’s not much in the way of components here.  There are adventurer cards, Dragon cards, and magic cards which have a nice linen finish.  The cards are a bit thin, but they aren’t getting handled very much so it’s not a big deal.  One of the best things about the cards is that they have a thick colored border making it easy to see whose adventurer belongs to whom.  Each player also gets a screen to hide their gems which is really quite important.  This is a bit bigger than in previous versions and is now colored to match each players’ cards.  

These look AWESOME!
Last but not least are the awesome gems.  Previous versions of this game have come with wooden tokens which worked fine.  This version, however, has really great looking gems.  I’m a huge fan of these for two reasons:  They look amazing and they don’t roll around.   It’s a great touch on the presentation of the game and it makes it look like you get more for your dollar.  You also get an a screen-printed gem bag to draw these from.  Another great touch.

It’s fair to warn you that if your gaming partners aren’t into the negotiation, this will flop.  You have to have a thick skin to deal with someone constantly shafting you and not letting you get anything.  It can be a tough pill to swallow.  But if your group is big on schadenfreude then you’ll be in Heaven. You can mess with your opponents horribly as long as you are willing to take your lumps along with it. There is an optional rule for an “I cut, you choose” division of treasure, but that almost feels like blasphemy.  Play the game as originally written and enjoy the pain on your opponents’ faces.

The screen printed gem bag is an awesome touch.
I can’t say enough good things about Dragon’s Gold, especially this newest version from IDW and Pandasaurus.  It’s a perfect distillation of a mechanism with just enough parts bolted on to make it a touch more robust.  Faidutti created a real classic in 2001 and that’s validated by the fact that it’s still being sought all these years later.  IDW and Pandasaurus made a great call on this one and I’m sure it will pay dividends for them.  The fact that they gave it a nice production really helps push a great game into “must-have” status.

If it sounds like this is a simple game then you are right.  It couldn’t be much simpler. But that’s the beauty of this game.  It’s a nod to the older days in game design when less was more.  Dragon’s Gold is a negotiation game boiled down almost as far as you can get it and still have any sort of game outside of the negotiation.  It accomplishes a very specific goal and does it with almost no tacked on ideas or bloat.  This is almost a perfect game and has earned its status as a classic. This new version will help cement it, and its designer’s, legacy. Kudos to Pandasaurus for doing an outstanding job getting this one back into print.