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.