Spiel : Boardgames in the UK

17 October 2013

Review: Stak Bots

Filed under: — Garry @ 8:03 pm

What is it all about?

Stak Bots is an interesting card game about battling robots designed by Tom Norfolk and published by DogEared Games in 2013. It is playable by two or more players or teams and has variable rules modules so you can alter the complexity and length of each game. A basic two-player game can be completed in 10-15 minutes.

What’s in the box?

The game comprises a deck of 60 cards and a set of rules. The cards are good quality and have a nice feel to them. The illustrations are simple and the icons and text are clear. Each card shows one of sixteen different types of robot (“Bots”); its Power, the amount of damage it does and can receive; and details of any effects it causes when played. The rules sheet is well laid out and contain lots of information, although a few more illustrations showing how the game plays might have been helpful. That’s not to say the rules aren’t clear but illustrating how attacks work on a Stak would have made things easier.

How does it play?

The idea behind the game is very simple: Try to reduce everyone else’s stack of cards (their Stak) to zero while trying to stop others from doing the same to you. Each player starts with a Stak of 9 cards with only the top card turned face up. They also start with a hand of two cards and the remaining cards form a face down draw deck. On a player’s turn, they draw a card and can then carry out any number of three different types of action in any order. Firstly, you can “Play” a card from your hand to the top of your Stak making sure you can still see any face-up cards below it. Certain cards have effects that trigger when you play them; otherwise the card stays on your Stak until you scrap it or it is destroyed. Secondly, you can “Scrap” (i.e. discard) a card from the top of your Stak or from your hand to the Scrapheap (discard pile). You may need to do this if you can’t destroy an opponent’s card (or choose to do it for tactical reasons), because at least one card has to be added to the scrapheap each turn. Finally, you can “Attack” with the top card of your Stak. You can attack multiple times with the same card but only use that one card on the same turn. Attacking involves doing damage to the top Bot of an opponent’s Stak equal to your card’s power and receiving damage equal to the power of the opposing card. Any card receiving damage greater than or equal to its power is destroyed. If your Bot attacks multiple times, its attack is always at full power, while the damage you receive accumulates until your Bot is destroyed or you end your turn, at which point you fully heal. As soon as a player’s Stak is exhausted, they are out of the game and the last player standing wins.

What do I think?

Stak Bots is a game with a very simple rule set and, when you first start, it appears pretty mindless – higher power cards are stronger so play those to destroy weaker cards and protect your own Stak. However, it is more about trying to combine the entry effects on cards with the cards already on your Stak that is the key to the game. And once you start to see these linkages, the game becomes more interesting. That said, there is some randomness in the cards you get in your initial Stak and the card you draw each turn so you can lose out just by virtue of the cards you get. However, the weaker power cards have better entry effects and so you can still feel you’ve got a shot. In addition, the game is quick so even if you do have a bad hand, particularly if it’s just a two player game, the agony isn’t prolonged too much and you can soon go for a rematch. I like it as a quick robot-bashing hand-management game. It’s not the most sophisticated of games but it doesn’t pretend to be and, in terms of what it aims to do, it does it pretty well.

Stak Bots was released at the 2013 UK Games Expo and received good feedback. I also understand there is an App of the game being released this month so you can try that as well.

Note: I was provided with a review copy of the game.

8 October 2013

Review: Las Vegas

Filed under: — Garry @ 7:48 pm

What is it all about?

Las Vegas is a push-your-luck dice game designed by Rudiger Dorn and published by Ravensburger. The players are gamblers trying their luck in the casinos of Las Vegas. Over four rounds, players allocate dice to the casinos in the hope that they will be able to win the cash that is on offer at each casino and end up with the most cash at the end of the game. The game can be played by two to five players and a typical game takes about 30 minutes.

What’s in the box?

The game components are made up of 40 dice, eight each in five colours; a set of 54 banknote cards; six large cardboard Casino tiles which act like the board where the action takes place; a start player card and a set of rules. The dice are good quality and the banknote cards are thick and pretty sturdy. The rules are well laid out over four A5 sized pages.

How does it play?

The basic game is very easy to learn. Each player receives a set of dice in the colour of their choice, the casino tiles are laid out in a row in the middle of the table and, at the beginning of each round, banknotes are placed next to each casino. The deck of banknotes is shuffled and the top banknote is placed next to the first casino. If the value is less than $50,000, further banknotes are added until the total is at least $50,000. This is repeated for each casino.

On a player’s turn, they roll their dice and allocate one or more dice to one of the casinos. The casinos are numbered 1-6 and the player chooses all of the dice showing the same value and place them on the corresponding numbered casino. For example, if they roll three 1s, they place all of these dice on the number 1 casino. They retrieve their remaining dice for the next turn and play passes to the next player. This continues until all players have placed all their dice. Some players may get fewer turns if they roll a high number of dice with identical values, as they all have to be placed at the same time, but you don’t have to choose the value with the highest number of dice. Once all the dice have been placed, each casino is assessed and the banknotes distributed. If more than one player has the same number of dice at a casino, these cancel each other out and are removed. The player with the highest number of dice then receives the highest valued banknote. If there is more than one banknote at a casino, the person with the second-highest number of dice takes the next note and so on. Any notes not distributed to players are returned to the bottom of the deck of banknotes and all the dice are returned to their owners.

The same process is followed for rounds two to four and the game then ends. Players add up the value of banknotes they have collected throughout the game and the richest player is declared the winner.

What do I think?

Las Vegas is a terrific game and has quickly become one of my favourite dice games. Each turn is filled with agonising decisions and, towards the end of each round, everyone is praying those final few dice rolls, where the active player is often forced to play on the casino matching the number rolled, don’t scupper their position by causing a tie. You don’t get anything for a tie in this game. Inevitably, something goes wrong for at least one person and there are lots of light-hearted moans at their bad fortune.

I’ve played it both in a family game setting and with gamers and it has gone down very well with both groups. My description above of the basic version ignored the advanced rules for two to four players where, in addition to your coloured dice, you also roll some white dice which have to be placed alongside your dice using the standard rules and, for gamers, this elevates the number of things to think about and gives greater opportunity to mess with your opponents.

All in all, Las Vegas hits all the right buttons with me and it was one of my six picks of best games originally released in 2012. And I’m not alone as it was one of the nominees for the German game of the year in 2012. Highly recommended.

Note: I was provided with a review copy of the game.

26 August 2013

Review: Asara

Filed under: — Garry @ 11:18 am

What’s it all about?

Asara is a family game for 2-4 players, designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling and published by Ravensburger. It is set in the Land of a Thousand Towers and players are competing architects who are seeking to build the most, highest and grandest towers in the land. They send buyers to the marketplace to acquire tower sections and workers to build the towers. At the end of each of four rounds, victory points are awarded and, at the end of the game, a final assessment is made to give further points to the architects who built the most and highest towers. The game takes 45-60 minutes to play.

What’s in the box?

As you would expect from Ravensburger, the components are top quality. The octagonal board shows the market-place in Asara with different areas for the tower sections, a building circle where you hire workers to build the towers, a bank from which to gain more money, a house of spies and the Caliph’s residence. The tower pieces and money are sturdy cardboard tokens and each player has a cardboard screen behind which to hide their money and tower sections. There are 45 cards which depict the buyers and these come in five colours. Finally there are wooden score and round markers along with the rules and a separate set-up sheet.

How does it play?

The gameplay is very straightforward. Each player receives nine buyer cards and twenty coins at the start of each of the four rounds (slightly more in the first round for those not in first place in turn order). On a player’s turn, they lay a card into one area of the marketplace and execute the action associated with that area. Play then moves on to the next person in clockwise order and continues until everyone has used all their buyer cards. That ends the round and victory points are awarded.

If the card played is the first in a particular area, it can be any colour of the player’s choosing. However, subsequent cards in that area have to match the colour first played or you have to play two cards of any colour (which then reduces the number of actions you can do in a round as you’re left with fewer cards). Having played a card, you then carry out the action for the area in which the card was played. There are four tower areas from which to purchase tower sections. These are for bases, mid-sections, windows and turrets and the sections come in five different colours. The player selects which coloured section they wish to purchase, pay the cost in coins and place it behind their screen. The next area is the building circle. Here you pay between one and seven coins to hire workers to build your towers, one worker/coin for each section you wish to build. Towers have to have one base and one turret but can have any number of mid-sections and windows, and all sections have to be the same colour. If you are running low on coins, you can go to the bank area to raise more cash. First to visit the bank will get 12 coins, next 10 coins then 8 and any further visitors receive only five coins. You can also visit the House of Spies area. This allows you to bribe an official with 3 or 5 coins and you can then pick and pay for any tower section of your choice. The final area is the Caliph’s residence and going here gives you the Caliph’s patronage token, which makes you the start player for the next round and also rewards the owner with a victory point at the end of the round.

Once all players have used all their buyer cards, the round ends and there is a scoring phase. Each tower a player has built gives them one victory point; certain tower sections are marked with gold ornaments and each one of these earns one victory point; and the Caliph’s patronage yields the owner a victory point. The game then moves on to the next round. After the fourth round scoring, the game ends and a final evaluation takes place. Points are then awarded for the highest and second-highest towers in each colour; the highest and second-highest towers overall; the largest and second-largest number of towers overall; and for each remaining ten coins a player has. Whoever has accumulated the most points is then the winner.

What do I think?

Asara is a very enjoyable family game that is easy to learn, easy to play but has enough to think about to reward good play. I very much like the rule about cards needing to follow the colour first played in an area, as this gives some tactical opportunities to use colours you are strong in to select the more lucrative areas and make it more expensive for those who don’t have that colour. It isn’t going to suit gamers who like a lot of complexity, although it does come with additional rules to add two further elements to the game play. However, it isn’t meant to be a heavy game and is definitely aimed at those who like lighter stuff. The two-player version works well enough although there is less competition for space in the market-place so it is not quite as tense as with more players. With three or four, you really need to prioritise the order in which you visit the different areas in case a vital piece you needed has already been taken. All in all, I would definitely recommend this is an elegant and straightforward game suitable for families and game groups looking for a lighter sixty minute game. The fact that it was nominated for the German game of the year in 2011 is unsurprising because it is a very strong design and looks beautiful.

Note: I was provided with a review copy of the game.

6 August 2013

Review: Bora Bora

Filed under: — Garry @ 10:29 pm

What’s it all about?

Bora Bora is a complex game for 2-4 players designed by Stefan Feld and published by Ravensburger (Alea). It is set on the Polynesian island of Bora Bora and players are trying to develop their society by exploring, building huts, fishing, collecting shells, praying in the temples and making offerings to the gods. It is typical of the designer as there are multiple strategies to explore and it is really just optimising how you gain the most victory points during the game.

What’s in the box?

The box is really heavy as there are a lot of components. There is a main player board depicting the island and lagoon of Bora Bora as well as a number of separate areas for the various tile displays, status and scoring tracks. There are individual player boards, the right half of which is used to track progress in the various tasks you are trying to achieve; while the left half gives a useful reminder of a number of elements of gameplay. There are wooden pieces in each player colour as well as wooden resources for sand, stone and wood. There is a deck of 60 god cards in five different varieties that are used to help players in achieving their objectives. And then there are over 250 cardboard tiles and tokens representing the various currencies and objectives the players are trying to achieve. These are nice and thick and beautifully illustrated. Oh, and last but not least there are three dice in each of the four player colours.

How does it play?

I’m not going to give a full run-down of the rules because it would take forever and I would point out that teaching these the first time is going to take quite a while – a full explanation could take twenty minutes or more – but that is because there is so much going on in the game. However, the gameplay is pretty straightforward once you understand the basics. You just have to appreciate that there are lots of options available to the players.

The game runs over six rounds and each round has three main phases: a Dice Action phase; a Man/Woman Action phase and a Resolution phase. The Dice Action phase is the key part of a round and involves players allocating their three dice to a five types of actions.

Firstly, you can expand and place a hut in a new area of Bora Bora. This can either be via land or sea and is limited by the number shown on the die allocated to this action. Expansion also yields a resource or an offering to the gods, plus an option to gather fish from the new area by using an appropriate offering/god card.

Secondly, you can recruit a Man or Woman tile, each of which gives you the opportunity to carry out a Man/Woman action in the second phase, as well as the ability to gain status points or shell tokens when you use a Helper action

Talking of which, a Helper action gives you, depending on the value of the die allocated to it, a choice of taking status points or shell tokens (from previously acquired Man/Woman tiles), victory points, offerings to the gods (which are the currency needed to play the sometimes vital God cards), resources (needed for constructing buildings), or clearing a hut from a space on your player board to enable you to recruit more Man/Woman tiles.

Fourthly, you can place a priest in the Temple area of the main player board. A higher dice allocated to this action will mean the priest is more likely to remain in play for longer and priests give you points and God tokens in the third phase of each round.

Finally, you can construct a building by surrendering the resources you have collected while expanding (the first dice action) and this will generate immediate victory points, with building in earlier rounds being rewarded by more points than building later on.

And that’s just the first phase – don’t worry, the other two phases are more straightforward. However, the clever part of the first phase is the way in which dice are allocated. The first player to allocate a die to a particular type of action can choose any value of die. However, anyone who subsequently wants to use the same action can only do so by playing a lower value die than the last one played to that action type. This makes for some interesting decisions where by playing a lower valued die to an action, you can freeze an opponent out of using that action. In extremis, I should also mention that, if you do get completely stuffed and can’t use a die for one of the main actions, there is a consolation action that just gives you 2 victory points for each die not used – not an action to be used by choice really.

Phase two of a round allows players who have collected Man/Woman tiles to use the actions of those tiles. Each round, a player can choose to use one Man action and one Woman action and these give a multitude of benefits – there are twelve different benefits depending on the tile acquired.

Then the final phase, the Resolution phase, involves four things to be resolved. The Status track gives victory points for progress along that track during the round. The Temple track gives victory points for each priest in the temple and a God token (a wild God card) to the person with most priests in the temple. Each player has the chance to buy a Jewelry tile by spending shells and these give victory points at the end of the game. Then, finally, each player has the option of completing a task tile. Players have three task tiles allocated to them at random at the start of the game and should work towards completing them through the other achievements they fulfil during the game. Fulfilling a Task tile gives victory points and a new task is chosen so the players always have three tasks they are working on.

After six rounds, there are some end-game bonuses and whoever has accumulated the most points is the winner.

What do I think?

Phew! There is definitely a lot going on in this game and it is not one I would recommend for the typical family gamer. It is a serious game and players need to think about the plethora of choices that confront them and try and work out a strategy they think will work. Not that there is one obvious dominant strategy to my mind. To an extent, you are forced to work with what the dice rolls present you and where you are in turn order. Although going first gives you an advantage for choosing your first action, if people have played low dice before it gets round to your next turn, that’s going to make life difficult, although certain God cards can help.

I’ve played the game with both two and four players and each worked very well. The Dice Actions available in the first phase are modified dependant on the number of players and this ensures that there is still enough tension in the two-player game although four-player leads to more crowding, particularly on the Temple track.

This is quite a long game so you need to be prepared to invest some time in it. Our first four player game took three hours and the two-player was well over ninety minutes, although familiarity will obviously bring the time down. That said, the game has so much going on and so much to think about that it doesn’t seem that long when playing. I think this is a great choice of game for the experienced game player who doesn’t mind the abstract nature of Eurogames. The theme works ok but, as with most Stefan Feld games, it is the mechanisms that make the game rather than the theme. However, I’m quite prepared to forgive lack of theming for what I consider to be a very solid and thought-provoking game

Note: I was provided with a review copy of the game.

16 May 2013

Review: Just in Time

Filed under: — Garry @ 8:29 pm

Just in Time is a competitive puzzle game designed by Gunther Burkhardt and published by Ravensburger. It is in the same mould as Ubongo and FITS (the latter also a Ravensburger game) but is different enough that fans of this type of game should give it a try.

What’s in the box?

The game comes with 52 pentomino plastic tiles, thirteen each in four different player colours and 40 game boards (four sets of ten identical boards in the player colours). Then there are 27 challenge cards, nine of each showing three, four or five different shaped pentominos, plus a scoring track and a 30 second sand timer. The plastic tiles are of good quality but the game boards, cards and scoring track are made of fairly thin coated card rather than being the thick cardboard tiles I had expected. I don’t think it affects gameplay or how long they’ll stand up to repeated play but it may come as a slight surprise based on the usual quality of Ravensburger’s components.

How does it play?

The game is played over ten rounds with players in each round using the same game board. Each board is rated 3,4 or 5 and this illustrates how many pentominos must be placed within a grid of multiple squares set out in a particular shape. Some of the squares in the grid also display a number. A challenge card of a number matching the board rating is turned over and this indicates which pentominos the players must use for this board. One player shouts “Go” and players try to fit all the pentominos into the grid, while trying not to cover number squares if they can. Once a player has done this, they shout out the sum of uncovered numbers in their grid and everyone else has 30 seconds to complete their grid but they are not allowed to leave the same sum of uncovered numbers as those players that manage to finish and shout their scores before them. Once time has run out, anyone who didn’t complete their grid fails to score and everyone else scores the sum of their uncovered numbers. This is repeated over ten rounds and whoever then has the highest score is the winner.

What do I think?

This is a pretty typical puzzle game and often there will be players that can easily visualise a solution and those that cannot. This makes for a dull experience for those that fall into the latter group. However, there is a catch up rule that I’ve not mentioned yet and this does help to level the playing field a bit. If, at the end of a round, you are ten or more points behind the leader’s score, you get to use a smaller square tile as a replacement for an awkward shaped tile. This does make the puzzle quite a bit easier and can put the pressure on other players if you’re able to quickly solve a grid. This ought to ensure people stay in reasonable contention throughout the game, although the more spatially aware players are still more likely to win.

Just in Time is a good addition to the puzzle type game but it’s not a great addition. There are other games I would probably choose before this, such as FITS or Take It Easy, but for those who are hooked on this type of game, it does make an interesting change and the race element does make it quite tense. It is a very straightforward game so easy to play with the family or occasional gamers. It’s probably not one to play with hardened gamers though.

Note: I was provided with a review copy of the game.

1 May 2013

Review: The Castles of Burgundy

Filed under: — Garry @ 8:57 pm

The Castles of Burgundy is a very challenging and fun strategy game for 2-4 players, designed by Stefan Feld and published by Alea / Ravensburger. It was originally released in 2011 in Germany but is now widely available in a multi-lingual edition.

The game is set in the Loire Valley and each player represents a prince trying to lead their estates to prominence by developing sections of the estate towards trade on the river, farming, mining, constructing valuable buildings or castles and developing scientific knowledge. Whoever best develops their estate is the winner.

The game is played over five phases each of which is made up of five rounds. In each round, every player takes a turn in which they can conduct two actions, meaning everyone gets 25 turns or 50 actions. The game has a central board which contains the stuff players can use in each phase as well as tracking the order in which players take turns, how the game is progressing through the rounds and phases, and a score track for showing how well the players are doing. In addition, each player has their own player board, representing their estate, and onto which they are going to place the castles, buildings, pastures, mines etc. that will build up their prestige (or score).

Each round the players will roll two dice each and in turn order, players will pick one of their dice and use it for one of four types of action:

  • Take an estate tile from the central gameboard and put it in their warehouse;
  • Place a tile from their warehouse onto their individual board, carrying out the benefit associated with the tile they placed;
  • Sell one type of good from their goods shipping area, receiving victory points for each good sold; or
  • Recruiting two workers, which enable you to manipulate the dice you roll.

This last action doesn’t directly advance your standing in the game but is important because the numbers on the dice you roll restrict how you carry out the other actions: estate tiles on the central board are spread over six numbered areas and you can only take a tile from the area shown on your die; the spaces in your estate are numbered 1-6 and you can only place a tile in the right numbered space; and each goods type is numbered 1-6 and you can only sell the type matching number on your die. Hence, having workers to change the dice results is pretty important.

There are several other details that add to the richness of the game but the above description gives you the main idea. Obviously, whoever has generated the most points over the course of the game can claim to be the most influential prince and the winner.

So what do I think?

There is a lot going on in this game. When you start to play, you may feel overwhelmed by the myriad of choices you’ve got. However, in some ways, this helps ease the players into the game because there are lots of ways to make your estate better and whatever you do will move you forward. As you move into the second and third phase, you’ll start to see how each of the elements work together and can hone in on what you think will work best. That’s not to say that your early decisions are meaningless, as an experienced player will get more out of those early turns and build on the advantage they gain. However, the dice bring an element of fortune into the game and a good start doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good result, particularly if you haven’t got workers to enable you to manipulate the dice results.

The game seems to scale very well between two and four players, as the number of tiles made available at the beginning of each phase varies based on the number of players. The box suggests the game takes between 30 and 90 minutes to play, less time with fewer players, but I would expect the first time you play to take longer as you try to come to grips with what you’re trying to do. In addition, if you’re playing with opponents who like to over-analyse all the options they have, that will make the game last longer.

Overall, this is a very good choice for someone looking for a game requiring a fair amount of thought and foresight and I enjoy it a lot. It is easy enough to play - roll two dice and pick from four actions - but it’s not easy to play well. You do need to think about what you’re trying to achieve so don’t choose this if you’re wanting to play something without some degree of concentration. I would recommend it for two, three or four players looking for a clever strategy game.

Disclaimer: I was supplied with an English review copy of the game although I had already played and own a copy of the original German release.

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