Pint Craft – More like a Miller 64…

I’m a beer fan, I’m not a casual beer drinker, I’m a full blown craft beer fanatic.  I’ve traded beer all across the country, I collect and age rare bottles and I’m also a home brewer. So when I ran across ‘Pint Craft’ at a local game store, it was an obvious decision to pick this up.

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Overview:

Each player represents a home brewer that has finally gotten the change to open their own Craft brewery.  The Craft beer industry has been blowing up though, so you’re going to have a lot of competition. Each player is trying to build up his brewery faster then you and collect those valuable pints (points) to be the most successful upcoming brewery.

 

Game Setup:

You’ll begin by separating the Brewery, Recipe and Season cards.  Shuffling the Brewery cards and then dealing out 5 cards to each player face down.  You’ll then put the remainder of the cards in a pile in the center of the table.

 

Now shuffle the recipe cards and deal them face up into stacks equal to the number of players plus on.  In a two player game there will be three stacks, and so on.

You’ll take the 4 seasons cards and place them near the Brewery stack with the current season face up.

Finally you’ll place the ingredient tokens in a pile that everyone can reach and each player will name their brewery, the player with the most creative name will be the first player.

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Game Play Overview:

Pint Craft will be played over a series of turns, each turn having the following steps.

1.  Play brewery cards to earn ingredients

There are two types of brewery cards.  Green cards have an immediate effect and once played will move to the discard pile.  Orange (much closer to a tan color) have both one time and persistent effects.  After playing a orange card, you’ll place it in front of you and it will become part of your brewery.  You’ll also earn the one time ingredients listed at the top in white text.

Some of the orange cards have prerequisites that you must have already played in order to place them into your brewery.

When using the cards to gain ingredients, you may freely choose between Base Malt, Hops and Specialty Malts.  If you need to purchase a adjunct ingredient, you’ll have to spent 4 ingredients to take one.  So if you have a card that says take 6 ingredients, you can take 1 adjunct ingredient and two other ingredients.  This cost can be lowered if you have a ‘Big Tanks’ card in your brewery.

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2.  Use ingredients to put 1 or more recipes on tap

3. Draw Brewery cards.

There’s a pattern with drawing the brewery cards.  If you play 3 brewery cards, you do not draw any into your hand.  If you play 2, you’ll draw 1 and if you play no brewery cards you’ll draw three.  Just remember that whatever you do on your turn, it’ll always add to a total of three.

If you happen to run out of brewery cards, your turn ends fo you draw 4 new cards.  So sometimes it’s beneficial just to play all of the cards in you hand.

When everyone has played around the table, the first player will flip the next season card and any bonuses on that card will be paid out.

This will continue until one player has earned enough victory points to win the game.  The points necessary to win the game will change depending on the number of players.

As soon as a player crosses the ‘Victory Pint’ Threshold, a challenge round occurs.  Essentially all other players get one turn to pass you in points.

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Thoughts: 

Pint Craft is a very easy game to learn and teach, even if you’re participating in many adult beverages throughout the course of the game.  Sadly, I feel that Pint Craft suffered from a lack of solid rules and play testing, which allows for some massive run away leads.    While playing cards into your brewery there isn’t a limit, at least listed in the rule book, to how many of particular pieces that you can place into your brewery.  For example, you can play as many Bottling Lines as you want into your brewery.  For each Bottling Line in your brewery when the season changes you’re allowed to take 1 ingredient per recipe that you have on tap.  So if you have out 4 bottling lines and have 6 beers on tap, you’re now pulling 24 ingredients for just the season changing.  Which allows you to just crank through putting more beers on tap and earning victory points.  Now if we interpreted this rule incorrectly, it’s because there was a lack of clarity within the printed rules.

There are cards that allow you to have direct conflict with other players that work towards stripping their brewery down to try to keep this run away lead from happening,  they’re just not powerful enough to do so.  We’ve played many games, and typically one player wins by a large margin, so there’s no need for the Challenge round or Face off to even occur.  With Pint Craft being card driven, we’ve found it incredibly luck dependent with little you can do to try to catch up to the run away leader.

The components for a very small print game are good, the cards are plastic based which makes them easy to shuffle and also easy to clean off if someone happens to spill their pint while drinking.  The ingredient tokens are thick heavy cardboard which seems to have been laser cut.

There’s definitely potential in Pint Craft, with more play testing and a more established set of rules, this game could have been much better.  If you’re looking for something that’s incredibly easy to teach and play with a beer theme, pint craft may be for your group.  Unfortunately, Pint Craft fell every short of it’s expectations for our gaming group.

I rated it a 5.5 out of 10 on the BGG scale.

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Magic: The Tower Defense Game

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I’ve spent countless hours playing Tower Defense Games,  my wife could easily triple the time that I’ve put in. Xbox to iPhone, Tower Defense games have been highly successful and played numerous times over.   I can’t recall where I first saw this, it certaintly wasn’t on their Kickstarter Page when it was active.  Nonetheless, I stumbled across it and as soon as I read ‘A Tower Defense Card Game’ I knew that I had to give it a chance.

 

Overview:

Mage Tower: A Tower Defense Card Game is a 2 to 4 player card game put out by SuperMegaGames.  You have a few options included in the box though, you can play it Solo, Cooperatively or against another player.  It also includes rules for a 3-4 player game, though I haven’t given that variant any time yet.  You’ll spend your time defending your tower against Monsters and other players, the last one standing will win. In Co-op, you’ll have to kill all 29 monsters in the Monster Deck.

 

Game Setup:

 

You’ll give each player, 2 Archers, 2 Elite Archers and 1 Knight.

As a novice, you’ll also take 8 cards from the draft deck to add to your hand, for a total of 13 cards.  According to the rules, you should only be using cards without the ‘Advanced Icon’ on them until your familiar with the game.  I think if you’re a regular card game player, you could very easily jump right into the Advanced Cards without a problem.

At that point, you could also follow their rules for ‘Drafting’.  Which direct you to lay out 8 cards at a time on the table and continue taking a card until each player has 8 cards to add to their hand.  I think a more traditional, take 8 cards, choose 1 and pass your hand, would work just as well.  Which is how I’m sure we’ll play this moving forward.

There are 6 types of Monsters in the Monster Deck, you’ll make a deck of 4 cards of each Monster and shuffle them, resulting in a deck of 24 cards.

Each player will need to have a space for the Draw Deck and their Monster Deck and their respective discard piles.

You’ll also lay out 5 other stacks of cards, these are the “Prize & Confusion’ Decks and the ‘Demonspawn Pile’  You’ll have an opportunity to buy these cards and add them to your hand/deck throughout the same.  (Well all of the but the Demonspawn pile).

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You’ll take 4 6-sided die and place them with the 5 pips up, indicating your starting tower life of 20.  You sadly start out as a poor tower with no gold and only 2 cards in your hand.

You’re ready to defend your tower now!!!

 

Game Play Overview:

You’ll defend your tower over a series of turns, each turn being very simple to play out.

Beginning of turn phase:

You’ll draw two cards and gain one gold.  See there, I told you it was going to be easy.

Monster Phase:

1. Any angry (or Grumpy as my wife calls it) Monsters will Damage you equal to their attack value and are discarded.  The little jerks just hit and run, just like a cowardly monster.

2. Any non Angry Monsters now become Angry, probably grumpy too.  To make a Monster Angry you just turn it upside down.  I’d be angry if you turned me upside down too.

3.  You’ll now deal out an additional 10-12 points of Monsters from the Monster deck onto your ‘Monster Board’  The monsters all have a value printed in the upper right hand corner, you’ll fill your Monster Board 4 across and then start layering if they continue past four.  So it’s not uncommon to have a few rows of monsters waiting to crush your tower.   When you deal out the monsters they’re not angry.  Which just means they come out rightside up.

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(thats one grumpy Demon)

Casting Phase:

Alright this is what you’ve been waiting for.  Now you get to fight back!!!

On your turn you have 7 Energy points that you can spend.  The cards that you’ve drawn will all have an Energy Cost in the Upper right hand corner of the card.  So do some math and figure out what your best combos are going to be and deliver some pain.   During your casting phase you can also buy and play and Prize cards that you can afford.  (That one gold a round is going to eventually come in handy).

We’re going to throw in how to conduct combat under the Casting Phase, so you’re familiar with it.

When you play a card that says:  Deal ‘X’ Damage –> you’ll distribute that damage to the first available Monster card on your Monster Board.  So if you have a Deal 5 Damage –> and the first monster only takes 2 damage, you’re in luck, the additional 3 damage will continue through onto the next monster.  The arrow always allows the damage to continue to the next Monster.   A lot of Ability cards will give you this ability, but to continue transferring damage to the next Monster, you must have the ‘Arrow’ printed on the card.

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You’ll also have ‘Defender’ Cards that you’ll have an opportunity to play.  Defenders will have a Damage Value and a Defense Value.  You’ll play the appropriate amount of Energy to play these Defenders.  They’ll go down on the board and stay there until they’re killed.  Now here’s where it gets tricky.  Essentially your Defenders will go, blow for blow with the first Monster on your Monster Board.  When a Defender goes out he’ll administer damage to the first monster there, and also take damage from that monster, Whether that monster is angry or not.   If the Defender lives through the attack, they’ll stay on the board and be able to attack again during your next Casting Phase.

The Defender Ability only counts during your Casting Phase, so during that Monster Phase, where the Angry monsters are hitting your tower for damage, their defense will not count, so all damage will continue through to your tower.  (The first game I played I read this rule wrong… though I’m still not sure it makes much sense).

 

There is also the ‘Permanent’ ability, which means a card will be played in front of you, many of them have abilities that can be activated through different means.

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End of Turn Phase:

Discard any of the ability cards that you’ve played.  Any energy not used is lost! (Make sure you maximize your energy).  Any damage to your defenders stays on your cards.  And the next player starts their turn.

See it wasn’t too hard was it?

 

Thoughts:

Mage Tower is a fun game with a surprising amount of variety to it.  You have 166 cards in your draft deck, so every game you can have a completely different strategy to your game.  I’ve played about 5 or 6 games now, making sure to try a variety of different cards, and focusing on not using the same card in a game.  The interaction, the different abilities and ability to draft your deck gives this game a depth that I honestly wasn’t expecting out of the box.   It also provides a HUGE amount of ‘Re-playability’.  I foresee many expansions making it to the market, only increasing the diversity of this game.   That being said, I do have a ‘thematic’ disagreement with the game in terms of gameplay and how the Defender cards work.  If you’re spending energy to place a Defender onto the board, why are they not defending the tower against damage as well, if a Monster hits and runs, why wouldn’t your Defender take that damage? Especially if the Monster has already exchanged blows with the defender, why is he now past the still living defender and able to hit the tower? This is easily overlooked, and if you absolutely hate it, just make a house rule that you’re comfortable with.

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(Just a very small sampling of the Draft deck)

If you’re a fan of Tower Defense games, in any form, the amout of game play that comes in the box makes Mage Tower worth the purchase. The components are of good quality, the cards are a little thin but have a nice finish to them. If you’re going to have ‘Mage Tower’ hit the table often, you may want to sleeve the cards just to be safe.  The game comes with simple, nice gold tokens and a handful of 6 sided dice, though many of my dice had misprints on them.  Something that’s very easily taken care of, to be honest if ‘Mage Tower’ continues to hit the table, we’ll probably replace the tower life tracker with a 20 sided turn down die instead.

 

It’s hard not to think of ‘Magic: The Gathering’ while playing Mage Tower.  The cards have a similar feel, especially with the 2/4, hit/defense markers on the card, in addition to the card frame that they used.  I think that the art was mostly public domain art, which isn’t a draw back at all, there are some great images utilized within game.  I do think that the game would have benefited from an original art theme though.

 

Overall, Mage Tower provides a lot of game in a very small box.  If you enjoy card games, tower defense games and a good dose of direct conflict, you should give Mage Tower a chance.  It provides not only a good player vs. player option, but I’ve also played the solo mode a few times and found it thoroughly enjoyable, though without more diversity in the monster deck you may feel like you’re running into the same battles over and over, even with an ever changing arsenal of weapons and defenders.  Did I mention there’s a 3 and 4 player variant as well? Again, a ton of game in this little box.

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The Funeral of your Local Gaming Store.

My Retail career started in Independent Record stores.  I spent countless hours checking in tapes and cds, stocking shelves and doing inventories.  It was a huge part of my adolescent years.  Music was what helped keep my sanity throughout high school and college.  Why are we talking about record stores? What relevance does it have to the gaming world and how does the disappearance of these once great places have any importance to your hobby?

There was a time when you didn’t have many options when it came to music, you either made your way to your local music store, or you had a friend make a copy of the tape/cd for you.  Eventually, larger chain corporations moved in, Best Buy, FYE, etc and finding your favorite albums became a little easier to acquire.  Eventually Apple moved into the music business and created the Ipod.  Essentially, whether people want to admit it or not, it was the downfall of the music industry.  People started to find ways to illegally share music, upload it and share it with anyone that was smart enough to figure their way around a computer.  As file sharing become more accesible, iTunes made their splash into the industry and music became more digital, we started seeing our local music stores disappear.  Now they’re few and far between.

So the Record Store correlation to our favorite Hobby? There are three distinct forces that are playing a hand in the gaming industry.  There’s the Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS), there’s the online gaming stores, as well as the emergence of Kickstarter and it’s influence on gaming.

As a consumer I’m conflicted over my options on where to purchase games and how I choose to spend my money.  My introduction into gaming came through good friends, we started playing games weekly and initially spent weeks and weeks playing the same games over and over until we we’re completely comfortable with the mechanics and the game play.  Eventually as a group, we’ve spread out and buy more and more games, with games rarely hitting the game table multiple times within the same month, unless it’s a big hit.  Which means that we’ve collectively spent more and more each month on gaming.  When my sickness started, I was driving roughly 45 minutes once a week to check out what the new games were, what could possibly interest us and what had awesome art.  I had no problem driving and supporting a local game store, I didn’t spend much time there, I never gamed there, and to be honest until the end of my spending spree at this location, the staff wasn’t even very friendly with me.  They had a minor rewards program, for every $100 I spent I got $10 off my next purchase, and if I filled an entire punch card within a set amount of time I got an additional $20 off of a single purchase.  So it was alright, I was being rewarded for being a repeat customer.  When I factored in my gas prices with the discount on the games I was receiving, it wasn’t really worth the commute, but what were my other options?

Online game stores started to flourish because of the immediate discount that they were offering to their customers.  Many of these online games stores are offering a discount of anywhere between 20 and 40% off of retail price, and if you order more than $100 worth of games, they’ll even through in free shipping.  What’s not to absolutely not to love about  receiving your new games for such a deep discount? So games started showing up at my doorstep by the box load.  Some of these game stores even offered a better discount for continuing to order form them.  Though there was something nagging me about purchasing these games from an online site.

 

Shortly after I discovered the online discount stores, I received a phone call from a friend.

Hey, there’s a game store opening near us.

What? Where?

Right down the road! I don’t know when it opens.

Alright, I’l look into it!

 

I sent a few messages and was invited to check out the game store before it opened.  It was much more accessible than then my typical drive.  They had the typical retail pricing on their games and were very personable.  So it seemed that a good majority of my purchases were now going to be done at my local store vs online or the store that was further away.

 

Initially, I didn’t feel a loyalty to the game store.  It was more of a connivence to me, I could jump in the car and pick up a game and be back home in just a few minutes.  It became a debate with my friends and I.  Why am I purchasing games at retail when I could get them with a discount and just have to wait a day or two for them to show up.  There were internal debates over saving money and supporting a local store, it was a purely financial math equation.  How much was I willing to pay for the luxury of buying a game a few miles from my house.

 
This is where the value of debate comes in.  As I’ve spent more time at my local game store, as I’ve build relationships with them, my opinion on spending money on games has changed.  It’s more than the perceived value of what’s in the box.  It’s more than just some wooden cubes, cardboard chits and dice.  My local store offers tables to play games, they offer a place for the hobby to strive and continue to grow.  They encourage gaming, they encourage a community and allow for a safe place for people to meet up and learn new things about our hobby. Sure, there’s something to be said about those who make thrifty decisions and can save money, but there’s also something to be said about having a place that encourages you to become a part of the hobby.  One day, all of the things that we love about having a game store near us, will disappear, much like that of the record store.  We control what happens to our hobby, we control how and where we spend our money.

 

Which brings us to the last tier of the gaming hobby which I mentioned earlier.  Kickstarter, that amazing duel edged sword that allows us to have games we may have never had to option to play otherwise.  I’m guilty of backing more than my fair share of games on Kickstarter, mostly because they offer exclusives that will not be available at retail locations.  Kickstarter has started to stay from its intention though.  It was a format that allowed for someone to help create their dreams, to give funding to a project that wouldn’t traditionally get funded through a game company, etc.

 

As great as Kickstarter is and as much as it claims to ‘help and boost’ the gaming industry.  The only way  in which it does so it by getting games published and into the hands of gamers around the world.  I’ve read numerous different kickstarter campaigns where they talk about boosting sales in game stores, etc.  The reality is, the more successful a Kickstarter project is, on average the less successful a game will be when it hits the stores. (This is personal opinion and I do not have numbers to back this, but I’ve seen numerous copies of KS games sitting on shelves when they’re actually released into distribution.) Game publishers have said that it’s “just seeding” the market, when the reality is that it’s not seeding anything, it’s saturating the market.   Let’s take Zombicide 2 campaign.  There are nearly 9,000 backers for this particular game.  The people that are going to purchase this game, have already done so, sure there will be a few people that missed the campaign that will want to pick it up, but when a majority of backers and supporters of the game fund it through kickstarter, it means there are now 9,000 less people that would buy it in a game store.  Meaning there is less money flowing into the local game stores to help keep the lights on.  I understand the desire to kickstart games, the exclusive promotional content, etc and there are times when Kickstarting a project feels like the right thing to do.  Are you a small publisher trying to put out your first game? You’re probably going to get my cash.  If you’re an already well established game company with HUGE hits on your hand, you’re not getting my money.  (I’m looking at you Queen games…)   There have been games recently where I’ve had to weigh out the decision to back through the KS campaign and wait until it hits retail. Unless a game is offering substantial promotional materials not available else where, there’s a good chance I’m now waiting it out.

 

So what does this all boil down to? Is it simple economics, I spend less money and get the same product right? So it should be a simple equation for people.  It’s really not that simple though.  We’ve seen an explosion in the Board Game Industry, it’s becoming more and more popular and even places like Target are getting in on our hobby.  We have Will Wheaton and Felicia Day streaming gaming weekly into our houses and encouraging ‘unplugging’ for a while and connecting through board games.  We have the success of GenCon, Orgins and PaxEast (the list goes on and on).  We have games more accessible than ever, but in our rush and panic to make sure that we’re staying on top of what ever is on the ‘Hotness’ list, in our desire to ‘catch em all’ we’re selling our hobby short, because we may be killing the one thing that we take for granted all of the time.  Sure, this doesn’t apply to you if you’re one of the people that never steps foot in a game store, if you never participate in a league, event or tournament, but for the rest of us this could end up a matter of life and death for our favorite place to game (or second home to some). When we support a local game store, we’re not just spending a few more dollars, we’re not just spending foolishly, we’re supporting the thing that we love.  We building a community and we’re keeping the doors open for another month, so that the kid who just happens to wander into the store can experience what we experience.  So that when a Dad (or Mom) visits a game store with his son (or daughter) they can find a new hobby together, and most likely have someone sit down with them and teach them a game.   We’re creating an outlet for all of those who feel like they don’t fit in because they’re gamers.  We’re enabling a family to live out their dreams by running a game store.   We’re supporting our hobby in the most effective way we can.

 

If your game store isn’t running any sort of loyalty program, talk to them.  They’re gamers, they’ll understand and they may possible work with you to set something up in the store.  If you spend any amount of time in your game store, playing games, hanging out, laughing, learning a new game than make sure that you’re doing your part to keep it alive.  I’m not trying to tell you how to spend your money, I’m just saying that there’s often more value than just whats in the box.  If you only buy a game every three months, but you game often, make your purchase from a local store.  If you buy 10 games a month, but play at your local store, maybe try picking up at least a game a week at your local store.  We take for granted that these stores will always be around. We assume that they’ll always keep their head above water, we assume that the electricity, water, heat and air will always be there for us when we need a table to game.  But isn’t what exactly what we assumed when we started downloading music as well?

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Black as Midnight on a moonless night…

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My introduction to gaming came through my friends, my start was with the thematic and epic games of Arkham Horror.  I’ve had a long obsession with H.P. Lovecraft and all Elder  related things.  It was an obvious and easy decision to tempt me into tabletop gaming through all things Lovecraft.  It was the theme that drew me in, the epic battle against Elder gods, the struggle against evil to save the poor town of Arkham as it’s over run by evil at every turn.  As I’ve continued to become more involved in the gaming hobby, my love for ‘Ameritrash’ as started to fall off, and while theme is still important to me, most of the games that I’ve purchased and played lately, have become more in line with the traditional Euro system.  Acquire resources, spend resources and maximize each and every turn to beat your friends, though there are a few exceptions to Euros that have rich, deep themes, most are more focused on mechanics and the theme comes secondary.  (Yedo is an absolute exception to this, and I encourage all Euro players and fans to find a way to get it into your paws immediately. I hope to tackle a review for it soon.) All of that being said, I recently stumbled across ‘Darkest Night’ a Gold Banner game from Victory Point Games. It may have the ability to draw me back to the Ameritrash side of gaming for a while, but we’ll get to that at the ‘Thoughts” section later.

 

Game Overview:

 

Darkest Night is a game for 1 to 4 players, though there are variants for more players that I haven’t tried out just yet.  It’s a fully cooperative game where 4 heros will fight a guerilla war to retake the kingdom that a Necromancer is trying to invade with evil and blights.  Our heros will either succeed together or fall in defeat as a team, so they must work as a team to tackle the ever coming darkness.

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Game Setup:

 

You’ll assemble the 3 piece puzzle board and place it in the center of the table.  Place the 4 Holy Relics on their designated spots on the board (The Mountains, The Forest, The Swamp and The Ruins).

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Choose your heros, there are 9 heros that come in the base game.  There is a 10th hero that is now available to order from the BGG promos for $5.  Unexperienced players can determine which characters they want to play by simply picking a character or looking through their set of Power Cards.  If there are less than four players, the game still plays with 4 heros, so divide them how ever you see fit.

 

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Take the matching hero standee token and place it in the Monastery.  Take the hero sheet that matches your hero and place it near you, you’ll also need some room for their card powers.  Take one of the ‘Sun/Moon’ turn trackers and set it near or on your hero card.  You’ll also take a ‘Grace’ and ‘Secrecy’ tracker and place them on the circled values on your heros card.  Now grab the corresponding hero deck of cards, your starting cards with have a marking on them, out of your 10 power cards, 4 of them will be marked.  Pick three of the starting cards as your initial powers and place them face up by your character card.  Shuffle the 4th card you did not choose back into your deck and place it near your hero card.   You’ll want to grab another of the unused hero cards and flip it over as it has the turn over and actions available on it for reference.

 

Shuffle the Event, Map and Artifact decks and place near the board.

 

Place the Necromancer in the Ruins and the Darkness tracker on the symbol with a skull, just to the left of the 1 on the Darkness track.  You’ll now draw one card from the Map Deck and for each location you’ll place the appropriate blight.  You will not place a blight into the Monastery.

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Your game is now set up and ready to play.

 

Game Play Overview:

 

Your battle against the Necromancer and his blights will be played out over several rounds.

A Hero’s turn is fairly simple.

Start:

If you’re in a location and the Necromancer is present, you’ll lose one Secrecy point.

If you’re carrying a Holy Relic, you’ll lose one Secrecy point.

You’ll now resolve any ‘Start-of-Turn’ instructions on Power Cards.

 

Event:

If you are in the Monastery, you will skip the Event phase.  It’s about the only time it feels that the game isn’t conspiring against you.

If the Necromancer is present and your Secrecy is zero, it’s time to battle the Necromancer.  Which basically sucks because you have to manage to roll a 7 on a six sided die, or evade him at a 6.  You will gain abilities that can add one to a die, but they’re few and far between, so it’s best not to be somewhere he is and not have any Secrecy left.

Otherwise you’ll draw an Event Card from the deck.  These for the most part are unpleasant encounters you’ll be having within the kingdom.  Some will cause you to fight or evade hordes, maybe you’ll encounter a ritual happening, either way, it’s not going to be an easy experience for you.

Once you’ve completed your event card it’s now time to take an action.

 

Action:  

You have 7 basic Actions that you may take, in addition to any ‘Action’ cards that will give you an alternate Action to take.

 

Travel:  You’ll move to an adjacent location and gain 1 Secrecy (up to 5).  Being stealthy and moving around keeps the Necromancer guessing where you are.  You don’t want to become stagnant and start to loose to many Secrecy points because they’re going to take a while to regain.

 

Hide:  You’ll refresh any exhausted powers on your cards.  Cards will tell you when to exhaust them after used.  You’ll also gain up to 1 Secrecy point (Up to 5)

 

Attack: This is where you’ll have an opportunity to fight a blight, or the Necromanger if you’re up to it.  When you fight either a blight or Necromancer, you’ll lose once Secrecy point as you’ll be out of cover and actively fighting in the open.

I’m going to spend a little time covering battle, when attacking a blight you will be rolling against their might.  Might is listed in the top right corner of their chit on the side with the picture, if you flip the chit over, their might is listed in the bottom left corner.  You must roll that number or higher to defeat the blight.  If you fail to defeat the blight there is a penalty listed on the bottom right of the chit.  If it’s a skull and cross bone, you’ll lose one Grace point.

If you are able to roll multiple die, you DO NOT add the die together to see if you’ve won the battle, each die is counted separately.  So you’re going to want to get those power cards into effect and out as fast as possible.

 

Search:    When you search you’ll roll again the search difficulty listed on the board for each location.  If you are successful, you’ll draw a Map Card and receive the benefit listed for that location.  Do not underestimate the power of searching, this is how you’ll get keys to obtain Holy Relics (more on that later), this is how you’ll gain additional power cards and other treasure.

 

Pray:  You may only take the Pray action when you are at the Monastery.  You’ll roll 2 die and gain 1 Grace point (only up to your default) for each die that is 3 or above.  You’ll also refresh your powers at this time.  So there are many turns where you’ll want to hustle back to the Monastery to Pray.

 

Retrieve Holy Relic:  You’ll discard 3 keys in a location with a Holy Relic and take it.  If you’re holding a Holy Relic at the beginning of your turn, you’ll lose one Secrecy point.

 

Power: This is where you’ll use any “Action” effect from one of your power cards.

 

End:

This is the last step in the Hero turn.  If there are any blights in your location that have End Of Turn Effects, you resolve them.  Essentially if you are in a location with a blight that has a power and a elude rating, you must do one or the other.  You’ll have to roll against the blight to determine if you’ve been able to handle the blight in that part of the kingdom.  Rolling a success DOES NOT mean you’ve beaten the blight, it means that you’ve successfully thwarted it’s attempt at harming you.  The only way to destroy a blight is during your action phase when you take an Attack action, or you have an ability through a power card that lets you do so.

Also, in the End Phase, if you’ve spend your entire turn in the Monastery, you’ll gain 1 Secrecy up to your default.

 

The Necromancers Turn:

Increase the Darkness track: You’ll advance the Darkness counter one position on the Darkness Track, as the track increases, his abilities can increase.  All increased abilities are listed on the board.

 

Necromancer Movement:  You’ll now roll a die for the Necromancer and compare the result to every Hero’s current Secrecy rating.  If the roll is greater than that Hero’s Secrecy, the Necromancer detects that hero, unless he is in the Monastery.  If he detects you, he moves one space closer to that hero, through the shortest route possible.  If there is a tie for heros, resolve it randomly, remember you work as a team, so someone will have to take one for the team.

Otherwise, the Necromancer will follow the arrows shown on the board in his location to where he should move.

 

Creating a Blight:  Once the Necromancer has found his new home, he’ll create a blight there.  To do so, you’ll draw the top card from the Map deck and place the appropriate blight into that location.

Important to Note that if you were to ever spawn a 5th blight on one location, that blight would immediately move to the Monastery.  That’s No Bueno!!  If there are no more blights of a certain type that you drew, continue to draw until you get a blight that you can place, you’re not getting out of it that easy, the Necromancer isn’t a very friendly guy.

 

Once the Necromancer has had his turn, the Heros will again take their turn.  It’s important to note that the Hero’s may activate in any order they like.  So remember to talk as a team and really plan out your best strategy, a game can be won or lost by not playing in an order that is advantageous to the entire team.

 

Winning or losing a game:

How do you finally defeat that nasty, blight spawing, evil dirtbag Necromancer?  You will need to either acquire and deliver 3 of the 4 Holy Relics to the Monastery, or defeat the Necromancer in combat.  What?! Defeat him in combat? He has a 7 might and I only get to roll a 6 sided die! Yep, no one said it was going to be easy.  You can add 1 to your roll if you are carrying a Holy Relic, I guess Necromancers really have an aversion to all things Holy.  You can also acquire power cards that may allow you to add 1 to your roll, though these cards are not prevalent in the game.

 

How do you lose to the Necromancer? 5 Blights make their way to the Monastery.  Remember that every time you’d spawn a 5th blight in a location, it goes to the Monastery.  So you’re going to want to keep those down to the best of your ability.

 

Thoughts:

There’s a lot of comparison of Darkest Night to Pandemic, Defenders of the Realm and Arkham Horror.  As I’m not a huge fan of Pandemic, I think I’ve only played it 3 times, and I’ve only played DotR twice, I can’t really speak to that.  I have played AH more times than I’d like to admit though.  There are elements of Darkest Night that are directly related to AH, there’s no doubt about it.  There’s more fluff on the AH cards and it tells a bit more of a narrative though that fluff but that shouldn’t deter you from Darkest Night, because there’s plenty of theme here as well.

In Darkest Night you don’t have Hit Points, you have Grace points.  Why? Does it make a difference? Actually, thematically it does.  In DN, Grace points represent the mysterious power that allows your heros to survive in situations in which normal men/women would  perish.  Essentially your hero only has 1 life point.  They’re going against some pretty tough blights here.  Lich, Zombies, Spies, Vampires, Skeletons, etc.  So you can essentially lose all of your Grace points and still be standing, though it probably won’t be for much longer.  The Grace points and the Monastery tie in well together, as you have some special will to fight these blights to save the kingdom.  Though, I’m not sure how the Acolyte has grace points…He may be a Hero, but I have a feeling we’ll see him return as a villain eventually down the road.

The same can be said for the Secrecy points, if you’re going to defeat a powerful Necromancer, you’ll need to be stealthy and move from one point to another, striking fast and moving quickly to accomplish one of the many goals you’ll have to face each round.  The Secrecy is a great stat to manipulate throughout the game.  There was a game where the Acolyte has just acquired a Holy Relic and was with the knight, I did everything I could to decrease my secrecy to attract the Necromancer to bring on the final battle as the Acolyte was armed with the ‘Forbidden Arts’ power card.  So you’ll have to learn ways to use both Secrecy and Grace to your advantage to move throughout the board and be successful against the Necromancer.

 

Why did DN work for me? I don’t want to call Darkest Night an Arkham Horror lite, because it isn’t.  Sure they share some of the same elements, but Darkest Night works on a different level for me.  DN has a much more basic game play, there seems to be a thousand less things happening than in a game of AH and it strips it down to a manageable amount of components that doesn’t feel like a chore to put out and then back away.  DN works if you want to play a great co-op where you’ll likely die if you make some bad decisions, but you’ll also share a rewarding victory together.  I’ve played DN multiple times solo now, and highly suggest it for those looking for a great solo game.  Even though you’re controlling 4 characters, it never feels overwhelming or like something you can’t handle.  It also forces you to really think about each character, how they function, their abilities and the importance of turn order.  How will each character handle their event and will it set them up for success or failure on their turn, will it destroy your plan once it’s completed? It’s all part of the theme and figuring out how to best take on the Necromancer.

The 9 different character classes all act very differently from each other, each tying in a very thematic game play for their character.  Giving you an nice amount of options for you to replay the game, either in a group or solo.  Again, there’s a 10th character class now available from BGG, which will only add to that.  I’m waiting for my copy in the mail as we speak.

 

Darkest Night was a huge hit for me.  I don’t feel like I can get it to the table enough.  I’ve had it less than a week and have already tackled 7 games.  I know they’re working on an expansion currently which will add new Heros to the game, as well as new events, blights, etc.  My only wish was that there would be a little more story telling through the cards, forcing the heros to react to situations instead of tackling them as they choose throughout the game.  Don’t get me wrong, the heros are reacting most of the game, but there’s no immediate need to put out one fire if it’s not yet a threat.  I think if you’re a fan of co-op games, Arkham Horror, Pandemic, etc that you should really look into picking up a copy of Darkest Night.

* I think it’d be a bit unfair if I didn’t speak to the components of the game.  It’s caught quite a bit of crap for being laser cut and essentially covering it’s consumers in soot during the punching experience.  In fact so much so that Victory Point games, includes a wipes a lot napkin with the game.  I punched the game with little problem, grabbed a roll of paper towels and just wiped down everything once it was punched.  Sure I had to wash my hands when I was done, but that was the extent of it.  The components are on a thick heavy hardstock, my friend even commented that he was shocked that it was card stock and not wood.  The card stock is good quality, and I’m not even sure that I’d feel the need to sleeve them, though with as much play as I see it getting, it may be a good idea.  The board is a simple, 3 piece puzzle layout in which I’ve had no problems.  It also comes with a paper board as well, that you could easily place under a piece of plexi and have a great board as well.  The dice are small and could probably be upgraded but that’s a minor concern as they function well for what their intended for.  Again, I purchased the Gold Banner Boxed Edition not the Poly Bag Edition, though I don’t think there’s much of a difference.

** I’m not sure if this has hit retail channels yet, I tried calling multiple game stores to get this and none of them could get their hands on it.  One is trying to order it, one told me it wasn’t released yet and another said they won’t carry them because they don’t have a way to merchandise games in bags.  I ordered it through Victory Point games via Amazon.

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A Dragon Mage, A Vampire and an Illusionist walk into a bar…

BoardGameGeek is probably the site I visit most when trying to kill time.  Whether browsing random threads on the Forums, checking what’s on the ‘Hotness’ list, or just going through reviews I’m subscribed too, there isn’t much else I do on the internet.  A few weeks ago, I came across a game by accident.  As with many ‘new’ card games, I quickly passed it over not paying much attention to it.  Not long after, I had this nagging feeling that I needed to go back and look more into it, it didn’t have many ratings, it definitely wasn’t on the ‘hotness’ list but something drew it back to me.  I watched a quick video by the creator of the game and read a few of the threads listed under general and went back to looking up bizarre and unusual euro games.  The next day while on a lunch break, something drew me back to it again, and I spent a little more time looking into it.  I went to the designers page and debated whether or not to spend the money to get this game direct from them as it seemed that none of the local stores were going to carry it.  Eventually, even though it was only a 50 card game, I broke down and decided I needed to own it.  Being one of those geeks with a sickness, I ordered the game and the play mat to go with it (which the designers happened to throw damage counters in for free).  Patience isn’t always my strong suit either, so I printed out the rules ahead of time and had them prepped waiting for the mailman to deliver my game.

 

Pixel Tactics, is of course the game that I’m talking about.  I’m not a huge fan of retro gaming, I believe we’ve come entirely too far from those days to go back to it.  While I enjoy a few of the XBL RPG throwbacks, I prefer my games with big, bright, shiny, well defined graphics.  There was something about Pixel Tactics that got to me though, maybe it was my utter hatred for Final Fantasy Tactics that had me intrigued by it.  I remember being fresh off of Final Fantasy VII and needing something to cure my obsession.  I figured Final Fantasy Tactics would be my relief, I think I spent a total of 20-30 hours playing it before I grumbled, swore, spit and hissed about what a terrible, wretched, useless game it was. I never looked back, every time it was mentioned I wanted to spit on the ground and curse it’s existence.  Of course, Pixel Tactics really has nothing to do with FF Tactics, though somewhere deep down I think they may be related in weird sick, distant inbred cousin  sort of way.  (Keep reading, I promise I’ll get to the actual game soon.)

 

It seems Throwback art is making a resurgence, the hipsters can’t get enough of it.  They clamor for all of the things they never had growing up, while some of us just appreciate it as a reminder of a simpler time.   I can’t tell you how many hours my friends and I spent inside on beautiful days, with vengeance and blood lust in our hearts trying to beat tiny, evil pixelated boss monsters. That being said, I don’t really wish to relive most of those days.  But I’ve babbled enough, lets get down to the faux-meat of this.  (That isn’t an insult to the game, I’m just a vegetarian.)

 

Game Overview:

Pixel Tactics is a 2 player head to head combat game played entirely with two identical hands of 25 cards.  Each player will choose a leader, and recruit soldiers to their battle field.  The goal is simple, you want to “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear…” uh, wait, no that’s not it.  The goal to just be the first person to defeat the other players leader.  Though there is a possibility that both leaders may be defeated in the same round.

 

Game Setup:

Each player will have an identical deck of cards.  They need to shuffle their decks and draw a hand of 5 cards.  They’ll secretly choose a leader and play it face down in front of them.  Their leader will be the the core of their unit.  Pixel Tactics is played in a 3×3 grid that will be made up of cards, so your leader will be in the middle row, in the center.

Each card has many uses on it.  Most importantly, for the first step you’ll need to flip your cards upside down and choose a leader based on its ability, strength and Hero’s life.

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Above you’ll find an example of what a card looks like.  For regular game play your card will read ‘Pyromancer’ to determine it’s leader abilities turn it upside down.  This card now represents ‘Kallistar Flarechild’.  Kallistar has a strength of 6, a life value of 17.  It also reads that ‘This leaders attack is ranged.  When you are first player, heros in this unit have +3 strength.  Otherwise, they take 1 less damage from attacks.”

All 25 cards in your deck will be host to a different leader and ability.  Giving you multiple options every game to experience a new leader and ability. This will also cause people prone to analysis paralysis to drag their feet and really spend some time determining who will head up their troops.  On my first play, I just choose the character I thought looked the coolest and had a strength I thought I could learn to use fairly easily.  Subsequent plays I’ve put more thought into picking a leader ability.

Once each player has determined their leader, they will simultaneously reveal their cards.  If by some random chance, both players reveal the same leader, each player is to place them at the bottom of their decks, draw another card into their hand and pick new leaders.

Below you’ll find an example of what game set up should look like.

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Sadly, the awesome play mat does come with the game, though it is available in the Level99 store.  It’s a bit pricey and absolutely unnecessary for game play, but I’m glad I ordered it.  It’s excellent quality and lays everything out for you.

Once this is done, you’re ready to jump into a game of Pixel Tactics.

 

Game Play Overview:

Each game of Pixel Tactics will take place over several rounds.  Each round consisting of 3 waves.  When first player is determined you’ll give the ‘First Player. Current Wave’ card to that player, and the ‘Second Player. Current Wave’ to the other player.  The waves will be played in order, player after player.  The first player taking both of their actions in the Vanguard Wave followed by the second player.  Then the Flank Wave and finally the Rear Wave.

On your turn you will be able to take 2 actions.  You have an option of 6 actions to choose from.

Recruit: You’ll play a card from your hand into an empty space in your current wave.  Note that any heros played during the current wave can not attack during the same wave.

While recruiting a hero seems like it will be a simple decision, you need to understand that each hero will have a different ability or attach based on where it is played.  Each card has 4 areas with text on them.  Red is the ability that the Hero gets when in the Vanguard wave.  Green is the ability that will happen if they’re placed in the Flank wave.  Blue will happen in the Rear wave, and the purple box will only be used as an order, which will be covered later.  (See example card above)

Attack: You’ll choose a hero in the current wave, who has not yet attached and they will make a melee attack.  If the hero chosen has a ranged attack or any attack powers, you may use those instead.

To use a melee attack, a target must attack the foremost opposing hero or leader in any column regardless of what wave they’re in.  If you have a hero in the vanguard area and the opponent has a hero in the flank area, but no other cards in front of it, you may attack that hero.  The key is that it’s the first card in each column.

To use a Ranged Attack, target an opposing hero or leader, regardless of their position in the column.  Your ranged attacks fire over other allies and enemies and attack who you choose.  Though there are pesky heros that have the intercept ability, which will effectively block your attacks, taking the damage instead of the target.

To use an Attack Power, use the ability listed on the card instead of a ranged or melee attack.  Typically Attack Powers do not do damage, unless they specifically say so, but don’t worry they’ll mess with your opponent in other ways.  Possibly forcing them to discard cards from their hands, etc.

There are also Hero’s that have reactions, follow the direction on the card when something is triggered.

Give an order: You’ll play a hero from your hand into the discard pile, using it to give an order.  Orders are found in the purple box on your card.  These are sometimes tough decisions, do you play an order for an immediate effect knowing that you will then not be able to field that Hero?

Clear a Corpse: Sadly, there’s even pixelated carnage in their world.  Little guys and gals are doing to die in the most terrible of ways.  When one of your Heros takes damage equal to or higher than their life rating, and the damage is still on them at the end of the wave, they’ll turn into a pile of pixel ashes.  You’ll flip the card over, signifying a corpse on the battle field.   This action is how you’ll clear corpses off of the battle field, as a corpse takes a position on the field that can’t be played until it’s cleared.  Though don’t be to quick to clear those corpses, there will be other cards in your hand eventually that will allow you to bring them back from the dead. Muahahahahahaha.

Draw:  You have to get cards into your hand somehow.  Spend an action to draw another card into your hand.

Restructure: You can move a hero from any position in your unit to an empty position in your unit.  A hero can not be moved and then attack in the same wave.  Come on, that’d just be cheap and evil and borderline cheating.  (According to the rules, it would be flat out cheating).

Free Actions:  Some leader abilities will grant you free actions, which are, well…exactly that.  They’re mostly the actions listed above that do not cost you an action to take.

 

Those are your 6 actions.  Once both players have taken their actions in the Vanguard wave, you’ll check for casualties.  Any hero with damage equal to or exceeding its life is considered defeated.  It’s now flipped face down and is a corpse.  You’ll then move to the Flank wave and each player will take their actions, followed by the Rear wave.  Then you’ll exchange the ‘First Player/Second Player’ cards and continue play until one leader is crushed under their opponents boot into little, tiny, fragmented, sad pixels.  This is technically called Rout, which means a disorderly retreat.  The player who won will then claim the defeated leader and his own leader and sets those cards aside as trophies.  Dead bodies as trophies, this is my kind of game.  If you’re playing a best of series, these two cards are not re-shuffled back into your decks.  But the player that was defeated will get to draw one extra card at the beginning of the game.  (Sure take your extra card, I hold the dead body of your leader!)

 

Thoughts:

If you haven’t been able to tell, I’m a huge fan of Pixel Tactics.  The theme flows fluently throughout the entire game, the art is entertaining, even if just to remind me of those days I wasted in front of a television.  While retro art and gaming might again be a fad in modern culture, I see Pixel Tactics standing the test of time. It definitely delivers the feel of an old school tactical RPG, in fact it may have even erased my guttural hatred for Final Fantasy Tactics.  For a game that consists of 50 cards, really only 25 cards, there is a surprising amount of depth and decision making to be had.  At times it reminds me of Summoner Wars, though based on my plays in Pixel Tactics, I’d choose Pixel Tactics every time over SW.

There is a deep level of tactical decision to be made throughout the game, and it may be intimidating to new players at first. Especially those unfamiliar with a game of this type.  There is a definite learning curve to playing Pixel Tactics, one that will only be overcome by repeated plays of the game.  With 25 cards, each with 4 options, you’ll be forced to make some tough decisions. Especially when it comes to choosing a leader.  There will be times when you play and feel like the leaders are unbalanced, which I’ve found out isn’t necessarily true, it will come down to how you react to that leaders ability and how you utilize your leaders ability and orders as you play your Heros. The box says it should play in about 45 minutes, which so far has been nearly exact in my plays, I assume that as I have a better understanding of the cards, game length will decrease drastically.

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Somehow this game slipped past me in 2012, or it would have been very high on my best of games.  It might make an entry as a 2013 game, just because it’s that good and went unnoticed.  Though the release of Pixel Tactics 2 this summer could just make the list for me instead.  If you’re a fan of Summoner Wars, Card Games, or even some war games, Pixel Tactics should absolutely be next on your list to purchase.

It’s an easy investment of $12 directly from Level99 games, I’m sure you’ve spent much more on a game that you’ve played twice and sits in games I’ll never play again pile.  I’m not sure if it’s available through other retail outlets at this point, other than in the ‘Minigame Library’ from Level99.

Pixel Tactics is about the size of a deck of playing cards, which makes it easily transportable and a game you can play just about anywhere where the cards can fit.  The card stock is excellent linen and should hold up to a lot of abuse.  Which is good, because I don’t really want to sleeve them because they’d never fit into the box they came in if I did.  It doesn’t come with damage counters, but this is easily remedied with pen and paper, or any other damage counters gamers may have laying around the house.  (If you purchase the Minigame Library, it comes with counters).  As I said above, the play mat is unnecessary but I like what it adds to the game and am glad that I ordered it.

Pixel Tactics may be the best card game I own, and is without a doubt one of the best games I’ve picked up in the last year. (I buy A LOT of games).  If you’re looking for a great 2 player game with plenty of decisions and depth, without completely burning your brain, Pixel Tactics is the answer.

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