Review for One · Review for Two

Review for One and Two: Everdell

Thank you for checking review #123 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: The publisher provided a copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

**Second Note: I lost a LOT of photos that have been taken in the past few months. So I have only a few on here, but I will be editing in more soon!

An overview of Everdell

Everdell is a board game designed by James A. Wilson that is published by Starling Games. The box state it plays 1-4 players and has a playtime of 40-80 minutes.

Within the charming valley of Everdell, beneath the boughs of towering trees, among meandering streams and mossy hollows, a civilization of forest critters is thriving and expanding. From Everfrost to Bellsong, many a year have come and gone, but the time has come for new territories to be settled and new cities established. You will be the leader of a group of critters intent on just such a task. There are buildings to construct, lively characters to meet, events to host—you have a busy year ahead of yourself. Will the sun shine brightest on your city before the winter moon rises?

Everdell is a game of dynamic tableau building and worker placement.

On their turn a player can take one of three actions:

a) Place a Worker: Each player has a collection of Worker pieces. These are placed on the board locations, events, and on Destination cards. Workers perform various actions to further the development of a player’s tableau: gathering resources, drawing cards, and taking other special actions.

b) Play a Card: Each player is building and populating a city; a tableau of up to 15 Construction and Critter cards. There are five types of cards: Travelers, Production, Destination, Governance, and Prosperity. Cards generate resources (twigs, resin, pebbles, and berries), grant abilities, and ultimately score points. The interactions of the cards reveal numerous strategies and a near infinite variety of working cities.

c) Prepare for the next Season: Workers are returned to the players supply and new workers are added. The game is played from Winter through to the onset of the following winter, at which point the player with the city with the most points wins.

My Thoughts

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 I enjoy a good worker placement game. This one is pretty solid overall in design, with the ramp up in workers gradually across all seasons of the game. I like that there are spaces that are closed, supporting only one worker at a time, and ones that are open which can hold any number of workers. Depending on the cards, there are spaces that randomly come into play to add either 3 or 4 more action spaces (and at 4 players, each has 2 spots to place on). And certain cards, when placed into a player’s tableau, have action spaces. You go from hoping to get to do more than 2 things in the first season to having a ton of options and extra “actions” via cards later in the game and it provides a very satisfying progression.

 The other half of this game mechanics come from tableau building via cards, and here is where the real spotlight shines for me (because I’m that kind of player). You get to hold up to 15 cards which, again, at the very beginning feels impossible to accomplish since you might get 1-2 cards if you are lucky in that first season. Part of this comes from the clever design where getting the appropriate Structure into play can allow you to bring its paired Creature into play for free on a later turn. That makes it fun to seek out pairs, and to hold Structures in your hand to drop down if/when its partnered card appears in your hand or the Meadow. Perhaps more important are the effects of the cards, with a good number having an effect that triggers when played and, after the first and third seasons, will all trigger again automatically thus encouraging an early focus on those types of cards. Yet others will give you benefits any time you build a certain type of card, and some will score extra end-game points based on types of cards. Some cards open new action spaces to use, some of which can be used by your opponents at a cost. And other cards will allow you to build other cards at a discount later in the game. Very few games have a constant feeling of increasing power. Everdell nails it perfectly.

 Resources seem abundant and scarce at the same time. There are ample places to get resources, and tons of cards that will help you get more resources into your pool. Yet you will often find yourself needing to spend several actions to get what you need to play a card, or get creative with discarding a load of cards. This is great because it never feels like you can just buy any card you need, yet it also never feels like a card is completely out of reach. Even if the single printed space for pebbles is taken, there is a way around that restriction without needing to wait for them to vacate the space. The push-pull for resources is harsh very early, feels like it opens up mid-game, and then feels difficult to accomplish again in the final season as you are pushing to score as many points as possible while trying to find a way to play this card you just drew that could be worth a lot if you get it out.

 The fluid flow of the game is one I wasn’t so sure about going into the game, but I find I really like it. What happens here is that a season doesn’t end at the same time for everyone. It is an action you take on your turn to Prepare for Season, which is when you get more workers, retrieve the ones you already placed, and more. Which means that it is entirely possible to never have it line up to where you have a worker ready to claim a key 1-worker space unless you try to time your seasons around the blocking opponent, adding an extra layer of interesting intrigue into the gameplay. Not only that, it means the game might end for me far sooner than it ends for you. This was what I was concerned with, but since the turns are fast and most players end up finishing in a close timeframe, it has proven to be negligible – especially in a 2-player game. We haven’t had a game yet where it has been more than 5 minutes to wait while the other person finishes out their final plays.

 The game has a hard limit of 8 cards in your hand. This seems odd at first, and it really is unusual. The rules don’t allow you to draw that 9th card, even if you are supposed to. You can’t draw it and discard down to 8. You can’t discard ahead of time as part of that preceding action. You must already have enough room in your hand to accept all of the cards you are about to draw, otherwise you stop completely once the 8th is in your hand. While this makes it incredibly difficult to dig through the deck for more cards, there are still ways to make use of those extra cards you don’t want or need. The most obvious choice is to discard them at a 2-cards for 1-resource ratio using one of your workers. It isn’t a bad trade-off, although I never like spending said worker to accomplish this as there is always something else I need done that requires the worker. And in the final Season, there are spaces where you can discard cards for points, with the highest point spaces able to contain only one worker so first-come, first-serve.

 The offset the hard limit of cards is the presence of the Meadow. This has 8 face-up cards at all times, and anyone can freely pay to play a card from there on their turn. Also, as your second Prepare for Season action, you’ll get to take 2 of the Meadow cards into your hand (assuming you aren’t maxed out in your hand…). This Meadow of cards is great, except when you buy a card only to see the card you wanted flip up and your opponent immediately plays it (or draws it, if they hit that prepare action) leaving you hoping to draw into a much harder-to-find copy of the card deeper in the deck. No, that hasn’t ever happened to me. Why would you think that?

 The game plays fast at 1-3, and is easy to get to the table. I love it at 2, and I hope that comes through here. However, I do want to briefly touch on the solo play of the game. It is HARD. Why? Because the opponent blocks off spaces on the board, spaces on the cards, and blocks increasingly-more cards in the Meadow. That is dynamic enough. But they also gain a card at random from the Meadow (d8 roll) whenever you play a card. Those cards are worth 2-3 points per card, AND when things go wrong it’ll also help them score some of those Basic Events if you haven’t claimed it already when you do a Prepare for Season action. The AI is simple to pilot, the hallmark of a good solo system, and provides a strong challenge. You’ll hear a gripe here shortly about the solo experience, but as a whole I appreciate the game’s deliverance of a challenging opponent in a meaty experience that only takes about 45 minutes to set up and play.

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 I am not necessarily against extraneous components, but I am also a firm believer that components are merely chrome. Some of them can be more functional with improvements, but I have never been one to seek after deluxified games and pimped-out table presence. Shoot, half the time I can’t even be bothered to use a playmat with a card game or even to sleeve all my beloved cards. So take it with a grain of salt here when I say this game is unnecessarily overproduced. Not to the point where it gets a ridiculous MSRP based on what comes in the box – that I have no issue with at all. I do have the deluxe version of the game, and I don’t deny the feel of metal coins and wooden discs is good. The bits (which are the same in the retail version) are really good in quality. But that forsaken tree. Yes, it is cardboard. But it adds nothing other than a “wow” factor designed to make players ask what the game is. And I get that, kudos for those involved with finding a cost-effective 3D structure to “integrate” into the game. But my biggest issue, apart from the annoyance of everyone oohing and aahing over the tree to interrupt gameplay in public, is that it moves a pretty important piece of the game onto an elevated, flat surface to where it is not as easy to reference. Those Special Events, which you’ll see soon how much I love, become either forgotten or force players to stand to remember what on earth the cards they need to find actually are.

 Which brings us to the only real negative I have with the game: the Special Events and the impossibility of accomplishing them. I’ve played a reasonable sample size of the game with 6 plays under my belt, and I have seen exactly one fulfilled. That amounts to 1/24 achieved. The problem? The deck of cards is too thick and the likelihood of seeing the two cards you need, much less obtaining them both, is far slimmer than you would expect. At least it has been the case so far. Combine this with the limitation on drawing that I praised earlier, and you have a formula for disaster in trying to accomplish these Special Events. Also keep in mind you need to place a worker there after getting the cards, too, in order to claim the event. It is an exercise in futility that shouldn’t be a factor. And in a multiplayer game, it is fine. I have no issue in us all failing spectacularly – although if one person accomplishes a Special Event it can be a huge boost for them. The issue shifts when we get to the solo experience, where Rugwort scores all of the ones you didn’t accomplish. They might as well gift-wrap him those precious points.

Final Thoughts

Everdell had a bad first impression for me. It was a sour taste that I simply couldn’t get out of my mouth: that tree was clearly 100% visual gimmick. Even worse, it made those Special Events difficult to reference during the game because they were on an elevated plane. It was around midnight after a long day at a convention, and I grew tired of everyone stopping as they walked by to comment about the dang tree. It was not the most conducive way to play the game for the first time, and all of us were learning the game. Yet it was enough to make me interested in playing the game again, in spite of reservations about the scarcity of pebbles.

The tree remains a gimmick, and most of the time pebbles are still a commodity that is difficult to obtain in quantities high enough to buy all of the constructions you are wanting. However, my irritation overall faded into the distance as the game itself became the focal point for my attention. You go from feeling like you can do nothing in the first season of the game to having a maxed-out tableau of cards which, hopefully, have at least a few synergistic triggers that maximize your final turns of the game without needing to do as many placements of your workers. Everdell is a hybrid of a game between a classic worker placement, such as Agricola, and a tableau/engine builder, such as Race for the Galaxy. And while it isn’t as good at either of those areas as the big-hitters mentioned, the merger between the two gives Everdell something of a unique, refreshing offering as a game experience.

And that combination makes this game darn-near perfect as a fit for our personal collection, because it takes her absolute favorite mechanism (worker placement) and combines it with one of my favorites (engine/tableau building). This is a really fun game that we’ve thoroughly enjoyed and will continue to explore (I’ve even heard that the Pearlbrook expansion helps…) but it isn’t our primary go-to gaming experience. At least not yet, although I could definitely see it becoming a staple in our rotation as we dive deeper into the game.

The biggest offender comes in the form of those Special Events. You would think they shouldn’t be that difficult to achieve at least one in a game, yet I’ve seen it happen exactly once. Part of that is because of a misprinted card which, had I known at the time, I could have accomplished a Special Event but chose to toss the needed card because I didn’t know it was the needed card. Anyway, the big issue here is that the stack of cards to draw from is so freaking massive. Not even kidding. Yes, most of the cards have 2-3 copies in there that you can draw. Statistically speaking, you should see most of the 8 required cards for the Special Events during the course of gameplay regardless of the player count. But it just doesn’t play out that way, and trying to dig for a specific card isn’t entirely possible because you have a hard cap at 8 cards in your hand. Already have 8 when you need to draw a card? Tough luck, you don’t even get to draw that card. It is a clever twist, sure, but frustrating because you have to first spend an action to discard cards in order to draw cards to search for the item you need.

All in all, Everdell is a delight to play in spite of the frustration of those Special Event cards…unless you are playing the game solo. After all, in a multiplayer game you are all on the same footing if those cards never do come out for someone to lock in the combo, and even if you do get lucky enough to pull it off you have to spend one of your worker placements to claim the space. But in the solo game against Rugwort the Rat, he scores points for every one of them you do not accomplish. I suppose it is probably designed that way to give him that small boost to his score to make things competitive, but that still makes it feel bad when you finish a solo game and not a single pair appeared all game. As impossible as it sounds, my solo play didn’t even see both the Husband and Wife come out, just several Husbands and Farms. You are going through about the same amount of deck, thanks to Rugwort’s gaining a card anytime you do, and he punishes shenanigans like the Crane because he ultimately gains 2 cards while you sacrifice the Crane to gain into the 1 card. That changes the way in which you value certain actions, and creatures like the 0-point Postal Pigeon suddenly becomes a high risk-reward play.

As a while, Everdell is a game we’re going to keep in our collection for a long time. It offers a fast gameplay experience with a moderate amount of setup and teardown time, but is easily one of those games that can be pulled out on a worknight and enjoyed. Its table presence delights my toddler son, and I have a feeling one of our cats is responsible for a missing Red Squirrel meeple that I hope we’ll find in the next few months as we move into a new home (I am about 60% sure it was there when I unpacked everything and set out the colors for my wife to choose when we got around to playing it…) – if not, I guess we still have 4 playable colors and we rarely need even that many player accommodations. The game has beautiful production, exciting gameplay, and really simple rules that allow you to just dig into exploring new strategies and combinations during gameplay. That is the hallmark of a great game, and one I’m extremely glad to have in our collection.

Digital Review · Uncategorized

Digital Review: Epic Card Game

This review is going to be a little more freeform, acting more as the Final Thoughts section like you are used to in the bulk of my reviews. I was given a chance to access the Epic Card Game Digital version prior to its release this week, and I definitely have thoughts on the game itself (which will likely warrant a full-fledged review later) that are separate from the digitalized version of the game. And I want to focus more on the latter than the former because, well, I really do enjoy the Epic Card Game system and everything it offers to players. Some of those will be touched on, for sure, but not nearly as in-depth because I honestly still want to play it more times before formulating all of those thoughts into one lengthy review.

Let’s start off talking briefly about the game, because ultimately that matters more than anything else in any form of review. A perfect digital implementation of a bad game, after all, would still not be something I’d ever want to play or recommend. Thankfully, that doesn’t come close to applying here, as I absolutely love the Epic Card Game at its core. It has clear ties to games like Magic: The Gathering, but comes in fixed packs rather than any sort of randomized release schedules. There is a lot of content out there for it now, much of which in physical form will run around $5 per pack. The good news is that it sounds like everything will be free in the digital format, meaning you can play around with cards in decks before going out to buy the associated packs to build a physical deck.

The flow of the game is lightning-fast. You are simply trying to be the first to reduce your opponent to 0 health. There is no risk of being unable to play cards on your turn due to not having resources, as every card either costs 0 gold or 1 gold. Every turn you get 1 gold, meaning that on any given turn you can drop out a powerful card (but only one – although this also applies during your opponent’s turns!) and the only real limiting factor is how many 0-cost cards you get. This also means that Turn 1 it is possible to get out your strongest card in the game, which if your opponent cannot do the same it can definitely lead to one-sided affairs that are quickly over. Most games run around 10-20 minutes regardless of digital or physical format, meaning it is really easy to play multiple times in one session.

I love the feeling of power this game evokes in the players. Yes, even I can enjoy that feeling in spite of the indisputable fact that I have never, ever won a game of Epic Card Game apart from the digital tutorial. You play with big creatures, powerful spells, and a laundry list of might abilities. The plays to jockey for advantage are fast and furious, and even the slightest shift can tip the balance of power in a game to where it rumbles out of control. And even at its worst in the lopsided affairs, it plays so fast that it is easy to just start a new game again and settle in for a rematch.

The app itself has a host of menus available for players, allowing you to play against opponents online, challenge the AI opponents, run through a campaign (and anyone who has played the Star Realms campaign knows this is likely to be a treat for players!), and even a deckbuilder mode in there to allow you to customize to your heart’s desire. The fact that this is all, as far as I have been informed, free to players is a great reason to want to take a chance even if you aren’t sure you might like Epic. The game tutorial is broken into multiple sections, each of which introduces some new concepts to get you up to speed quickly and can be completed in a matter of minutes.

The digital format might even be the best-suited for a game like this which is notoriously obnoxious for having a host of keywords to wade through on the cards. Don’t know what Blitz means? When you click on the card, it has all of the keywords in a menu-style listing beside the card with a ? after each keyword, allowing you to get a reminder of what that particular keyword involves. No more flipping through a rulebook or anything of the sort! ALl of this provides a nice, intuitive interface to interact with when playing the Epic Card Game. The phases of a turn allow you to “Pass the actions” back to your opponent to proceed to the next phase, so you aren’t bound by a short-fused timer to make decisions while wading through your options. The app also does a good job of helping to indicate which cards can be played during said phase from your hand, assuming you have the Gold to spare. All of this is done extremely well, and you can tell a lot of time and development has gone into making this app as friendly for gamers of all experience as possible.

However.

The more I play digital implementations of board games, the more I come to realize how terrible I am at the digital implementations. The screens are small, and the need to constantly click on cards to bring up what they do, on both sides of the table, makes it a slog at times to process information. The in-play area has a hard limit on the cards shown on-screen, to where you need to cycle over to find the card you might be looking for, and during the panned-out view of the playing surface it can be difficult to tell what is what, or where, as you try to navigate through things. This isn’t something new to app-based games, especially involving cards and the such. I’m a horrible player of these games, as I tend to forget about things in-play, miss steps to kick things to my opponent before I was ready (and thus fail at doing important things, like blocking a big attack), and just get frustrated by not being able to monitor the entire sweep of things easily. These are all issues on me, not the game, yet they do factor into the overall game experience.

Which is why my ultimate recommendation here is to definitely try the game. You have very little to lose in doing so, after all, given the price you’re not paying. Some of the issues I have might be non-factors for you. Perhaps you can navigate these things just fine and aren’t a complete bonehead like I am. The game itself is really fun, and what this app can provide is phenomenal. These are the types of games I really enjoy playing and always find myself wishing I could get them played more often and right here is a gift-wrapped package to let me do just that, even if only against an AI, which is why I fully intend to continue to fight my way toward playing better at the game in its digital implementation.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get my first win before the snow has completely melted for the winter.

Journey Through the CCG Graveyard · Review for Two · Uncategorized

Journey Through the CCG Graveyard #5: A Game of Thrones CCG/LCG Review

Welcome to the second review as part of my Journey Through the CCG Graveyard! My first one covered the Tomb Raider CCG, which was a surprising amount of fun in spite of the PS1-era images on the cards. It held some interest as a solo game, and felt like it would be similarly good as a multiplayer game where you could interfere better with your opponents similar to mechanics found in classic CCGs like Middle-Earth and the Lord of the Rings TCG via playing negative cards on them. But this time we’re shifting our focus onto a game known as A Game of Thrones Collectible Card Game. Fear not, if you are interested in how it compares with the later LCG implementations, I’ve got you covered because I have played it in all three formats enough to be able to speak on them all!

The Goal of the Game

Regardless of the number of players involved, the objective for the A Game of Thrones Collectable Card Game is to be the first House to obtain 15 Power. This makes thematic sense for anyone who has read the books or watched the shows, as the central theme is a struggle for power and influence across Westeros, with the Iron Throne being a centerpiece representative of that power struggle. Power is obtained in several ways: via a Power challenge in the Challenge phase, making any challenge that goes undefended, winning Dominance in a round, and on some character or location effects. Once a player reaches 15 Power, the game immediately comes to an end.

Who you are

You are not an individual person in Westeros, but rather your deck represents the locations and forces behind your particular House. Famous Houses such as the Lannisters, Targaryens, and Starks are present alongside others such as Baratheon, Greyjoy, Martell, Tyrells, and the Night’s Watch – among other smaller forces represented as either neutral factions or as allies to a particular House. Most decks will consist of cards aligned with one House and any neutral cards desired, although rules are in existence to have a splash of forces from a second House present in a deck. It is also possible for multiple players to be using the same House during the same game.

The Flow of the Game

Turns follow the same flow through the following steps, some of which are done simultaneously while others are done one player at a time, beginning with the First Player for the round.

Plot – One of the unique things in this game is the Plot deck, which is a set of 7 cards in addition to your main deck. These cards usually have some sort of round-impacting text, tell you how much Gold your House has for the turn, the Initiative value for determining the first player in the round, and the Claim value to tell you how strong your victories will be in the Challenges phase. During this phase of the game, players simultaneously choose and reveal an unplayed Plot card from their deck. This means your Plot card used now cannot be chosen again until you’ve played all 7 Plots, and many plots are restricted in number that can be included in a deck and some are tied to specific houses. Upon reveal, compare the Initiative value and the higher value gets to choose who is the first player for the round – in case of a tie, the player with the most Power chooses. After determining first player, the effects of the Plot cards will resolve beginning with the Starting Player.

Draw – The most straight-forward of the phases is the Draw phase. Both players will draw 2 cards from their deck and place those cards into their hands. Easy, right?

Marshalling – This is the point where the Gold collected is put to use. In the CCG version of the game, nothing can be held over after this phase so there is strong incentive to spend as much as you can (the LCG allows you to save some until the end of the round, when it goes back to the pool if unspent). Starting with the first player, each side will have a chance to pay to recruit Characters, add Locations, put on Attachments, etc. onto the board. There are also event cards that can be played, although not exclusively during the Marshalling phase. Any cards that have text involving the Marshalling phase would also be open to trigger here.

Challenges – The bulk of the game seems to occur during the Challenge phase of the game, and with good reason! Each player has the opportunity to initiate up to three Challenges, one of each type. The challenges are issues in player order, and each player completes all of their desired challenges one-at-a-time before the next player gets to initiate their challenges. Military Challenges, when successful, force the defending player to kill characters from their forces. Intrigue Challenges, when successful, force the defending player to discard cards at random from their hand. And Power Challenges, when successful, steal Power tokens from the defending House card. Character cards can have 0-3 of these icons, and can only participate in a Challenge of the associated type if they possess that icon. Characters participating typically Kneel as a response, making it so they cannot participate in future challenges later this round. If a Challenge of any type is not defended, the attacking player also takes a Power token from the supply and puts it onto their House card in addition to any other effect of the Challenge. The impact of a Challenge is determined by the attacking player’s Plot card, as they have a Claim value (Usually 1, sometimes higher). So if my Claim value is 2, then a successful Military Challenge makes you kill 2 characters, a successful Intrigue Challenge makes you discard 2 random cards, and a successful Power Challenge makes you lose 2 Power from your House card onto mine. A well-timed 2-claim Plot can swing the tide of a game!

Dominance – After the Challenges are completed, players compare the combined strength of their remaining Standing characters – i.e. the ones not Kneeling from being used. The higher strength value wins Dominance, which gains them a Power from the supply onto their House card. Tied? No one wins Dominance for the round.

Standing – All Kneeling characters, locations, and attachments are returned to their Standing position. Yes, it makes sense with characters…not so much with using the Kneeling/Standing terms for the other cards. I mean, how exactly does Winterfell Keep kneel down?

Taxation (LCG Only) – Any money remaining in your pool is returned to the supply. This means you can’t be frugal with your funds to save for bigger board-swinging turns later on. The reason this was added into the LCG? They made some events and card actions cost Gold to trigger, so holding back a few Gold can play even more mind games with your opponent as they try to guess what you are holding up your sleeve.

On Death and Duplicates

It is pretty standard fare for a game to make it so there are unique characters and locations and limit you to just 1 copy in play of said character at a time on your side. What this does differently is makes it so that you have a discard pile and a dead pile. Discarded cards can come back. Dead piles are essentially eliminated from the game. If Robb Stack dies, he can’t come back 2 turns later. He’s dead, meaning that all copies of that card are essentially discard fodder going forward. However, the neat saving grace (and reason you may want to run multiples of characters) is that you can, during the Marshalling phase, put a duplicate of the same character beneath the current character for free. Get 3 copies of Robb Stark into play and suddenly he sticks around a little longer, even in the face of an effect causing him to die, as you simply discard the top copy when they need to die. This is especially important if you have a character with a keyword like Reknown, which has them getting Power tokens placed on the character where they can be removed by eliminating the character.

Plots and Intrigues

As alluded to above, the Plot cards are one of the most unique things the A Game of Thrones CCG/LCG brings to the table. The deck is exactly 7 cards for each player, and one comes into play each round. The power and effectiveness of these cards vary wildly, from having cards with blank text boxes but a higher Claim, Gold, or Initiative value to having effects such as wiping out characters, searching your deck for a card type, or even making it so you cannot defend (usually because you have a higher Initiative and Claim). A well-timed Plot card can alter the course of an entire game or, as I found out, bring things to a premature end (in the 2nd Ed LCG, thanks to my wife having a character who gains Power whenever a Lord or Lady character is killed. Her plot forced me to “save” three characters in play and the others are dead. All 5 of mine were Lords or Ladies, and so my wife went from 13 to 15 Power just from that well-timed Plot which prevented me from getting the few I needed even though I had a better Initiative and a 2 Claim on my Plot…didn’t matter!). Shaping the Plot deck to have ones best to play early (usually searching for cards and/or providing high Gold), ones that are good for mid-game, and a late-game push are the keys to an effective Plot deck, I think.

A Bountiful Start

One of the other things I like about the game is how it handles the opening board. What I mean is, you get to start the game with characters and/or locations in play. Depending on the version you are playing, you get either 5 Gold (CCG/1st Ed) or 8 Gold (2nd Ed LCG, because the cards cost MORE) to deploy secretly to begin the game from your opening hand. The one limitation is that only one of the cards can have the Limited keyword on there. This allows you the chance to get out either a strong unit, a few average ones, or a bunch of smaller things to drop down a numbers advantage. Either way, you get to draw back up to your starting hand size of 7 afterwards. This is a really neat aspect of the game which, while it is only as useful as the cards in your opening hand, definitely helps you to ramp up faster than some of the other CCGs out there.

Starting Experiences

There are three different starting experiences to discuss in passing here, because I’ve done starting experiences for all three versions of the game and found one to be vastly superior to the others. Let’s begin in the order of release. For the CCG side of things, I tried out the Fire & Ice Starter set, which had a deck for the Greyjoy House and one for the Targaryen House. They are completely constructed and run surprisingly well as standalone decks. For instance, the Greyjoy deck has a Plot card to search for a Maester card and put it into play.
Having played previous LCG versions, I was expecting to find 1-2 wimpy Maesters at best, but there were either 5 or 6 of them and one turned out to be a pretty decent Round 1 addition to my forces. Like any CCG, you wouldn’t expect the deck to be tournament-competitive, but it had a surprisingly strong synergy and both decks were capable of winning.
At the price I paid for the starter (a hair over $5), this was a really strong launching point into the game. The 1st Edition Core Set is, easily, the one I am most familiar with and also most disappointed by. Years ago, before I knew really how to shop for used games or even good places to get new games, I ran across that Core Set on Craigslist for $20. And for that price, what I got wasn’t bad. The cards in there were fine, although there was a glaring absence of several Houses. The game came with Starks, Lannisters, Targaryens, and Baratheons. Four houses, out of the six that were released with the 1st Edition, meaning you needed expansions – and likely a few of them – before you could build a viable deck with those other houses. It did come with interesting variants for a 3-4 player game but ultimately the decks were underwhelming and it felt like an incomplete package. The 2nd Edition fixed that. All 8 Houses (they added 2 more) have representation in the Core Set, and you can either just splash some neutral cards in to run a thin deck or it has recommendations on how to divide things into 4 decks, each having two Houses featured. Having played those decks, they are really fun to pilot and provide a great way to get a feel for each House, even in complement with another House, to get an idea of where you might want to explore via deck construction in the future. All in all, the $40 value of the 2nd Edition Core Set (and you can probably find it cheaper now) is a great bargain because it provides everything, tokens and all, needed to play the game. If you bought nothing else, it still has a ton of replay value and fun within the box. The CCG starters are a close second, providing strong decks to start with that are going to give you a foundation to expand upon – and most starters I’ve seen tend to run in the $5-20 range depending on the starter. If it included tokens for Power and Gold, or at least the Power, it would be close to equal with the 2nd Edition – but the Starter I got didn’t have any tokens included.

The Rulebook

The rules are extremely well-laid across all editions. One of the strengths, I think, of Fantasy Flight Games is their presentation of rules in a way that allows you to get going. There are some more complex concepts and keywords, but those are put toward the end of the CCG rulebook. And it is surprisingly short in length, considering the thick rulebooks I’ve pulled out from some of the other CCGs I’ve dropped into (I’m looking at you Mythos). Although perhaps my perspective is skewed, since the CCG was like a homecoming party for me since I had played both versions of the LCG years ago. The great thing is that many of the concepts remain the same, or close, across all versions of the game. This makes it easy to transition from one version of the A Game of Thrones game to another. I think the biggest things to pay attention to are the Claim Value idea, along with the multiple Challenges that can be initiated and how those flow. Noting keywords as they come up is also important, and don’t be afraid to ask your opponent to read off what a card says when they bring it into play. Too often have I seen one of us blindly stumbling into a mistake because we didn’t stop to ask what a card does until it is too late.

Expanding beyond the Starters, CCG Edition

There are a lot of expansions for the CCG, and unfortunately it doesn’t get any smaller when looking at either version of the LCG. This is both good and bad, of course. It is good because no matter where you go there are literally thousands of unique cards you can obtain for your collection. It is bad because, well, there are thousands of unique cards to peruse and try to determine what you want, or need, for the House-specific deck you are trying to build up. This can be most frustrating for a CCG player, as you are really at the mercy of random chance. Your booster pack might contain 5 cards for your House, but it could just as easily contain none. It could have a ton of Plot cards, or none. With 17 different sets, 4 Premium Starter Sets, and many standalone starter decks there is plenty of opportunity to dive into the game. This is probably a game where it would be best to choose a cycle, such as the Fire & Ice Edition, and start by expanding into that cycle of cards (so Fire & Ice, Wildling Assault, A Throne of Blades, A Crown of Suns, and the Premium Starter) because, at least theoretically, the cards within a cycle (there are 4 of them from the looks of it) should synergize well together. Boosters for the game seem to be reasonably priced, as do boxes, and I haven’t noticed any one set in particular being more expensive than the others. Admittedly, that might be because things are also easy to lose within the sea of LCG stuff for sale…

Expanding beyond the Starters, LCG Edition

This is the area where expansion is a little more straight-forward. Fans of the 1st Edition might be able to snag some Chapter Packs for cheap along the way, while others might be overpriced due to its out of print nature. Deluxe Boxes, for either edition, are the best path forward if you want House-specific cards in a hurry because each House has a Deluxe box with them as a focal point. For roughly $60 you can snag two Deluxes and really dig in on tailoring the favored House for you and your opponent. The 2nd Edition also has Intro Decks for each House around $15, making that an even easier first stepping stone along the path to boosting the deck construction options for a specific House. A lot of folks will likely preach the need for 3 Core Sets, and I call B.S. on that. I’ve played a handful of LCGs and I’ve never once felt like I was at a disadvantage because I couldn’t run 3 copies of card X. I’d rather put that $40 toward a Deluxe and a Chapter Pack, getting new cards to build around, than get extra copies of cards I can’t use only to get an extra of some I may use occasionally. The strongest selling point, of course, for the LCG is the non-random factor. You know exactly what cards are in the package before you buy it, and you get 3 copies of every card in those packs. No chases. No need to buy multiples of a pack unless you really want to have multiple decks all using the maximum number of a specific card – but at least in that situation you know what pack to buy to obtain said cards. The LCGs release following a format of a Deluxe with 6 Chapter Packs to expand the “cycle”, and like the above CCG recommendation it is never a bad idea to start with rounding out a cycle if you aren’t seeking specific cards to build around.

Deck Construction

Typical decks run exactly 7 Plot cards, and in most cases they are limited to 1 of each card in the Plot deck, and a 60 card standard deck for their House with a maximum of 3 copies of any single card. That 60 doesn’t appear to be a hard cap, so feel free to experiment with a little more in your deck, and 40 is a soft cap (usually for drafts) but functions just fine with something such as the 2nd Edition Core Set when trying to test out a single House on its own with a little splash of Neutral cards to hit that 40 number. So long as both sides hold to the same deck size, it shouldn’t be a negative thing to play with fewer cards as you slowly build up your card pool. For the LCG, you also choose a Faction (main House) and Agenda (oftentimes a Banner, which allows use of non-loyal cards from other Houses in your deck).

My Thoughts

Okay, enough preamble here. Let’s talk about the A Game of Thrones CCG/LCG experience. First things first, I’m personally going to stick to the 2nd Edition of the LCG for my A Game of Thrones Card Game of choice going forward. There isn’t anything inherently bad about the CCG (apart from chasing of cards, like any CCG out there) but it also isn’t inexpensive enough to make it able to offset the value provided by the LCG model and its 3x of the cards in the non-randomized package. And yes, this game is very much a keeper even though it has previously left our collection. You see, this game has sharp elbows. It will have moments where you’ll feel like everything sucks and there isn’t a darn thing you can do to stand a chance of winning. An early board advantage can lead to a game spiraling quickly out of control, and many of the games played never even reach the 7th round to go through an entire Plot deck (I’d say 5-6 is around the average turn of conclusion). Having even one glaring hole in your deck (such as a lack of characters with Intrigue) can lead to a constant loss of resources while your opponent happily plucks up a free Power for your defenseless nature. And the very real possibility of drawing nothing but dead cards – literally, cards in your dead pile and thus unplayable – can make it so that your deck even limits your chance of making a comeback. All of these things can, and will, happen. A few years ago, my wife and I weren’t able to get past that brutality and still find enough enjoyment in the game; when the games flowed well and were even, we loved the game, but when it was lopsided or a devious card’s ability shifted things unexpectedly, there could be bruised feelings.

We’re in a much better place now to where that might make us frustrated briefly in the moment, but we can separate the game experience from our relationship toward each other. And we found, really quickly, that we still enjoy this game a lot. Enough that we played the CCG several times in a day’s span and, the next day, picked up the 2nd Edition Core Set back into our collection and played that later that same night. I’ve also learned that my wife is really, really good at this game – something I should have remembered. There is no going easy, she doesn’t need it. I lose at this game often, and usually lose horribly. And yet I absolutely cannot get enough of the game because of its ties to an IP we both enjoyed watching together, books I’ve enjoyed reading, characters I’ve grown attached to. It has solid mechanics that separate it from any other game we play or own: the Plot deck, three three different Challenges, the gaining of Power to win rather than a need to deplete an opponent’s health, and the free deployment at the start of the game all combine together to make this game stand out in all of the best ways possible.

There is so much tension in your decisions each game, because there are so many limiting factors that affect you. The Plot deck can only have one of each card, and once that card is used you might as well expect to not be able to play it a second time because the game isn’t likely to last long enough. You are always needing more Gold than what you have available, whether because you need a large amount to play a strong character onto the board or because you have too many 2-3 cost units you want to get out and don’t want to spend forever getting them out. In the 2nd Edition of the LCG, there are also hand size limitations to consider based on your Plot card, and the balance of holding back some Gold to play events, trigger abilities, or make your opponent believe you might just have a nasty card to play if the circumstances are right. You cannot hold onto cards for too long, as a well-timed Intrigue Challenge can make you discard that card you hoped to play on the next turn. And then there is the decision of who to use for attacks, making sure you have enough Standing forces to weather a counter-attack when it is their turn to make Challenges as well as claim Dominance.

There are so many things to consider as you play, and yet at its core the game’s turns flow easily and the mechanics stay out of the way. It is a smooth system, with a fair number of Keywords to learn but not to the point where it impedes the enjoyment of the game. You quickly learn to pay special attention to anyone with Reknown or, perhaps worse, Stealth, because they can cause the game to shift if unchecked. The game punishes you for not defending attacks by giving your opponent free Power, and clearly wants both sides to try and be aggressive since ties in combat go to the attacking player. Which means that games are rarely spent “turtling up”, as you want to try and find a way to fire off three successful Challenges rather than holding back to ward off one or two.

All of this helps the game to move forward at a pace that is almost breakneck in speed at times, because you are trying to exploit every opportunity you can to strike knowing that the gap might be closed in the next round. You get the feel of being a general directing the deployment of forces to their maximum effect, rather than some magical wizard hiding behind a line of large units and hoping not to get hit. Games like this are all about tempo, and while it is possible to slow down the tempo of the game (such as the Wildfire Assault Plot, which has each side keep only three of their characters in play), usually the next round sees at least one side rebuilding quickly to begin their furious assault anew. Even the smallest of characters can make a big impact, whether because they have an icon your opponent cannot defend or because they have a keyword like Stealth which makes them hard to defend, and it isn’t about how hard you hit. Just that you hit hard enough to win the challenge – unless you happen to be holding a nice Event that lets you claim extra Power after winning a Challege by X or more.

And the Houses feel different. Yes, there are similarities among them but in general you will find a different playstyle is favored depending on the House you are using. The Lannisters have a lot of ways to generate more income and have sneaky ways of subverting the board state and possess a lot of Intrigue icons. The Starks have very little Intrigue, but have strong units that get even more fearsome when paired with their iconic weapons or direwolves. Baratheons have a multitude of ways to gain extra Power during their turns. Targaryens have dragons, and effects that kill off characters if their strength gets reduced to 0. Even if you know nothing about A Game of Thrones, the Houses offer such vibrant, different strengths that anyone can enjoy exploring what they each have to offer.

So here I am, returning to a game that I owned and sold many years ago. I’ve grown as a person and a player, and can enjoy the game whether in victory (rare as they are) or in crushing defeat. I love the characters and mustering my beloved Starks out to overrun the board with Military challenges that keep my opponent’s board as small as possible. I enjoy the game a lot, and my wife does as well so that makes this an easy keeper and a game I cannot help but recommend strongly to anyone who isn’t afraid of a fast-paced, aggressive gameplay approach. And we’re still waiting on The Winds of Winter to be published, just like we were back when I first found this game. Come on GRRM! I don’t need the final two books to enjoy this game, but enough is enough.

Review for One

Review for One: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Core Set

Thank you for checking review #122 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: The publisher provided a copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Core Set

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Core Set is a board game designed by Chad Brown, Keith Richmond, Aviva Schecterson, Mike Selinker, and Liz Spain that is published by Paizo Publishing. The box state it plays 1-4 players and has a playtime of 90 minutes.

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Your Adventure Begins Here!

Belhaim’s tower has just collapsed, its wizard is missing, and local kobolds are whispering the name of a long dead draconic nemesis. And that’s just your first day in town…

This complete cooperative strategy game pits 1 to 4 players against monsters, perils, and traps as you become the heroes of Belhaim. As the town’s new champions, an unending world of adventure awaits. Choose your character’s class; build a deck of equipment, magic, and allies; and explore lethal locations as you journey through an exciting fantasy tale. As your adventures continue, your characters add remarkable gear and breathtaking magic to their decks as they gain incredible powers, all of which they’ll need to challenge more and more powerful threats.

This set includes the storybook and cards for The Dragon’s Demand Adventure Path as well as a modular core for infinite scenarios that allows you to control the difficulty and speed of play.

The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Core Set includes:

440 cards featuring a wide array of powerful weapons, magical spells, protective armors, versatile items, helpful allies, and divine blessings to help you face a host of vicious monsters, dangerous barriers, vile scourges, and perilous wildcards
12 character pawns representing Pathfinder’s iconic character classes from the classic human cleric Kyra to the new goblin alchemist Fumbus
A complete set of 5 polyhedral dice
63 colorful tokens for tracking scourges and secondary objectives
1 4-page quick-start guide
1 32-page rulebook
1 24-page storybook featuring The Dragon’s Demand Adventure Path

My Thoughts

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 The overhaul of the game, from the card design to the mechanics to the player experience, is all apparent in this box. I wanted to start here, not because it is relevant to new players to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game but rather because I can attest to the entire package being reconsidered by Paizo. I’ve played several of the other entries (more on that expanded upon in the Final Thoughts) and there are similarities here to make it feel like the same familiar game, yet so much has been tweaked in positive ways to make this an impressive, new entry into the game system. Whether you enjoyed it or not, if you’ve played the game in the past then you should check out the new one (unless you absolutely hated the original, as it is still the same at the heart).

 Two small, but impactful, changes to the game are the inclusion of standees for your character (replacing a card that would go by the location) and the inclusion of effect cards with tokens. Each player has a colored set of tokens, and if you are suffering an effect such as Frightened or Dazed, you place your token on that card until it is resolved. This allows you to easily see what your effect is and who has been impacted by it, and that adds a nice little touch.

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 More improvements to discuss here! First, I love the dividers that come to help organize the cards. This system works far better than what they had for the original game (which, admittedly, did functionally work) to keep things organized between games and to grab what you need as you need to draw certain card types. Second is the mechanic where some cards have an Ambush keyword, forcing you to encounter the card if you come across it while looking at the stack of cards in the location. This makes items and abilities to look ahead a little riskier, as you could end up with an encounter you aren’t prepared to face.

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 As always, this game scales really well at all player counts (I haven’t played at 4 yet, but I can’t imagine it being any different). More players mean more locations to cover, and fewer actions per player to defeat the task. But it also means you can divide and conquer really effectively and cover ground quickly. Yet even with one character, trying to get through and close 3 locations is doable and enjoyable. There is enough time to proceed with some level of caution, but not enough time to be lax in exploring through things.

 I love a feeling of character progression, and this game retains a system of growth for characters. After each scenario you’ll get to modify your deck with cards gained throughout the scenario, making your deck a fluid set of cards that conforms to a specific allocation of cards. And being able to earn points to upgrade your character’s stats or abilities is really fun, and a great way to encourage using the same character over the course of a narrative – until they die, at least. Because death is permanent, especially as a solo game, meaning there is always some level of risk-reward as you tackle challenges.

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 This game is the perfect solo game on nights where I am craving something with meaningful decisions and fun adventure but don’t want to dedicate an entire night toward the game. The game plays quickly, and honestly the setup is a little longer than I’d usually prefer (I ditched Legendary years ago for that very reason: the setup didn’t align with the gameplay experience). Yet this game possesses the adventure, a linear progression of story, and character growth to make me want to come back for more. The box claims a 90 minute play time. I can set up, play, and tear down in around 45-60 when going solo. Sometimes even shorter, depending on the run of luck (in either direction).

 The one thing that has always been a sticking point for the game has been the dependency on die rolls. Yes, there are ample ways to modify these…provided you have the right cards. But my most recent game is an example of how things can snowball out of control. The early game had one really bad roll that moved me to a random location and left me with a debilitating condition that couldn’t be cleared until I closed the current location I was parked at. Every time I encountered a Monster I had to roll 1d4-1 and take that much damage prior to the encounter, with no chance for reduction. Let’s just say the first three encounters all made me discard 3 cards out of a hand of 4, dropping me to a very dangerous level of “health”. The second-to-last card in the deck was the Henchmen, allowing me to finally close the location and carry on with almost no room to take damage or really to spend blessings or allies for extra explorations. Luckily, the rolls went my way from that point and I narrowly escaped with a victory, but it definitely showed how swingy and luck-dependent this game can be at times – especially in the early adventures as your deck and character remain close to their starting state.

 It isn’t the game’s fault, but this one almost demands to be sleeved. Not just because it is heavily card-based, but because you are making decks of cards that are only about 10-20 cards large. There are times where you will need to shuffle and reshuffle mid-game. And I find that sleeved cards work the best for shuffling small quantities like this. Something to keep in mind, regardless of whether you are a compulsive sleever or not – you may find this game benefits from it either way, meaning you’ve got an investment in 500 or so sleeves on top of the price of the game.

 I get it, most people have hordes of polyhedral dice in their collection. Technically all they need to supply is a single set of dice for the game, as you can simply reroll dice and add together. Except then you need to perfectly remember those values, as you are adding them all up at the end. The best solution overall would be for four sets of dice to be in the box: one per potential player. It isn’t like these are premium dice, after all.

Final Thoughts

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I’ve had a long history with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, and much of it has followed an on-again, off-again trajectory. It was a game that struck many of the right notes for me, dating back to when I discovered it through the app on a tablet. What followed from there was obsessively playing the app for a while, then not installing it on my new device later (due to space concerns at the time), playing the physical game (dabbling through early scenarios in the first three sets, playing anywhere from 1-3 players), getting the app back (and finding much of it was now closed behind a paywall), obtaining the entire Wrath of the Righteous set and then parting with it…and so it goes on. It was a game I wanted to love. So much of it paired well with what I enjoy in solo games.

And then the new Core Set came out for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. I was cautiously optimistic, because it sounded like a pretty heavy revamp of the game system and updated appearance to the cards. And yes, many of the core mechanics are kept in-tact for the updated version of the game. It still feels like the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Yet at the same time, it feels remarkably fresh and innovative comparatively. I’m not even sure that I can accurately convey how that contradiction is possible, but it is definitely an improvement over the original. Almost like how the Original Star Wars trilogy was improved initially when George Lucas made some slight modifications, adding in a few deleted scenes and touching up some of the visuals with the better effects available in the 90’s.

Perhaps my favorite change to the game comes from the story book for your adventures. It seems like such a small, silly thing. You were probably expecting me to mention the standees for the characters, or the organizer cards, or even the condition tokens. But no, it is all about the story for me. This elevates the game experience to another notch. It isn’t the only great improvement here. The cards themselves are well-designed, things feel like they have been strongly considered and the game is down to a solid, core experience that is welcome for both newer players and returning veterans (I probably fall between those areas, since I’ve played a decent amount of the older game but never came close to finishing any single adventure cycle).

If you have always wanted to try this game, there is no better entry point for your money than this new core set. It has everything you’ll need to get started, and ample space to expand your collection as its gameplay hooks you. And if you are like me and enjoyed the original sets, even in a limited exposure, but never fully plunged in than this is the set to try out. It takes the things they learned across four cycles and implements things in a way that removes a lot of rough edges while maintaining a great core experience.

Uncategorized

January Gaming Recap

Let’s get back in the habit of talking about games played! Each month I’ll start by ranking the new-to-me games and January starts off with 10 new games! Flip a coin between the Top 3 of these, because they all impressed me greatly and could easily shift among each other at any time depending on the moment. I would be shocked if they didn’t make a very real push to make my Top 100 this summer, especially with a few more plays of each under my belt by then.

Stay tuned to the end of the post, too, for some mention of games I want to play, ones I intend to review in February, and ones I hope to teach my wife by the end of the month!

New-to-Me Ranked

#1 – Helionox: Deluxe Edition
#2 – On Mars
#3 – Age of Steam
#4 – Twilight Struggle
#5 – 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis
#6 – Hostage Negotiator: Crime Wave
#7 – Century: Eastern Wonders
#8 – Why I Otter
#9 – World of Warcraft Trading Card Game
#10 – Tiny Tina’s Robot Tea Party

13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis

A friend and I learned this on a whim as a way to begin our gameday experience. It is always a good sign when, at the end of a shorter game, we want to immediately reset and play it again. That happened with this one and, eventually, led to us trying out Twilight Struggle about a week later to get that off his shelf of shame as well. I did enjoy this one a fair amount, although a 2-player title from Capstone that I tried this weekend might have supplanted this already on my “let’s play that again” list of shorter titles…

A Game of Thrones Collectible Card Game

This was the third version of the same game system we played, and it was like coming home to a very familiar game. It surprises me how little mechanically has changed from the game’s CCG roots to the modern 2nd edition of the LCG. However…all this ended up doing was making us long to play the LCG version of the game….

A Game of Thrones: The Card Game (Second Edition)

This is definitely our preferred version of the game, and we picked a core of it back up at the end of the month. The game is so smooth, even if it can feel really swingy and unfair at times. Yet it is A Game of Thrones, so that even fits properly with the theme of the game. I’m actively on the lookout for a chance to expand this core for cheap (i.e. hoping to find some used chapter packs or deluxe boxes) to let us deck construct and try out new strategies as we finally explore more than just what comes in a starting deck.

Age of Steam

This is what a train game should be: route optimization, adapting to a shrinking map of possibilities, and trying to economically maneuver yourself into an efficient engine. I’m still not convinced I will ever set a foot firmly into the 18XX world, and with a game like this out there I don’t see any need to do so. Age of Steam hit upon so many things I enjoy in games and integrated the train theme in a way that I think even my wife would enjoy playing. Having all of those maps available, and scaling based on player count (even solo!) makes this a game I will need to seriously consider adding to our collection if the next few plays are as enjoyable as my first one.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra

This is my preferred flavor of Azul by a lot, although I haven’t tried Summer Pavillion yet. I like the movement of the Glazier, and the specific “recipe fulfilment” in your columns. I thought I had the game strategy figured out, and then I got completely thrashed in the next game I played of it. We need to get this back to the table soon, as I do enjoy this one a fair amount.

Borderlands: Tiny Tina’s Robot Tea Party

I’ll admit, my expectations for this game were extremely low. A friend had it on his shelf and I thought it would be an interesting way to wind down the evening of gaming since I used to play Borderlands and have some fond memories of the game. It isn’t a bad game by any means, but definitely functions best in the role we placed it: as a way to finish an evening. I imagine this would be a lot more chaotic with 4-6 players than with 2.

Caverna: Cave vs Cave

If I am going to lose at a worker placement game, it might as well be a shortened version of it, right? That’s almost my mentality when it comes to this game, which we just reacquired at my wife’s request. I do prefer the original, mostly for the adventuring and the races added by the expansion, but I don’t dislike this version of the game. At least the agony of losing is over quickly so we can set it up and do it all a second or third time so my wife can grab a commanding lead in our annual head-to-head scorekeeping.

Century: Eastern Wonders

I think my wife was genuinely disappointed by how well I did in this game, as she hasn’t requested a rematch yet. I think she forgets sometimes that even though Century: Spice Road is one of “her” games (because she enjoys it more than I do), I have gotten much better at forming a strategy for the game. It felt oddly similar in this one, only with a spatial aspect to the game of exploration and delivering goods. It felt like the map was a little too wide open at 2, although we could easily shrink it down a little in size to solve that problem if it continues to feel too vast without other players.

Circle the Wagons

The wallet for this one is starting to wear out on the outside, which is a testament to how much we love this game. Neither one of us will ever turn down a chance to play Circle the Wagons, and we even saw a scoring objective for the first time ever and both proceeded to completely ignore it. This was the game that hooked us on Button Shy, and it belongs in every collection as far as I am concerned (unless you literally never play with fewer than 3 players)

Firefly: The Game

This game has an unfair reputation in our home of being unnaturally brutal toward me. I mean, I’ve gone from being so far in the lead to losing because I couldn’t succeed on the final objective for 7 turns in a row (and not from being extremely under-prepared, either). However, this time it hit the table and interfered with all three of us pretty equally, and I managed to string together a bit of luck in the final turns to sneak out a narrow victory right before my wife could finish the game. I still enjoy the game, even if I’ve found other pick up & deliver games I like more.

Helionox: Deluxe Edition

This is the solo deckbuilder experience I’ve been looking for. I’ve seen and heard good things about it for years and finally had a chance to try it out and came away really impressed. And absolutely destroyed by the solo opponent, which means I have a ton of room to try and improve. Although my FLGS has a demo copy on their shelf, I think this has entered my “Top 3” for games I want to add to my collection next. It provides the perfect blend between deckbuilding, spatial movement, and planning to overcome a flurry of events that can interfere with the best-laid plans.

Hostage Negotiator: Crime Wave

I’m still not convinced about grabbing this one for myself. On the one hand, every play so far has been fun and I’ve felt like I held some measure of control with decisions. On the other, there is enough dice dependency to make it extremely swingy at inopportune times. I think my best plan is to explore something beyond the opening “recommended” experience to see how it plays in later negotiations as a good determining factor. Impulsively, I would probably pick it up for the right price. But if I had time to really think and consider, I’m not 100% sold on it as a long-term solo game for me. Here’s to a few more plays in February to find out!

Legendary: A Marvel Deck-Building Game

This was a real blast to the past, as I hadn’t played this game since around 2016 when I sold it from my collection (my wife had realized she didn’t really like deckbuilders so I was only playing solo and I hated the setup/teardown time compared to the gameplay length and experience overall). It was a refreshing return to a game I loved so much back in my earlier years in the hobby, and reminded me that I do enjoy the game a fair amount – with others, at least. It won’t return to my collection, but I’ll gladly play it when offered.

Omen: A Reign of War

This is still a fantastic game. I love it to pieces and enjoy it more every time I play it. My wife, on the other hand, wasn’t as enamored after her first play of the game. Part of that was probably a “not the right mindset” for that sort of game that evening, and part because I just knew the game a lot better and was able to maneuver early to get a lead that I held onto, even as she closed in with some momentum late in the game.

On Mars

Oh Vital, how I love your designs. This one is no exception, hitting things in a fantastic blend of mechanics meets theme that is so signature of his games. This is the space colonization game I want to play, and what others about changing the surface of Mars fail to achieve. I love the dual aspect of the board and needing to travel back and forth between them. We played a pretty crucial rule wrong that shortened the game, but I was still quite happy to finish in 2nd by only a single point to the only one of us four who had played the game. It might be an early favorite to take the crown as my 2nd favorite Lacerda design and perhaps, just maybe, it could surpass Lisboa over time…

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Core Set

I don’t want to spoil too much, as the review for this likely goes live tomorrow, but it is safe to say that this is staying in my collection for the foreseeable future. This is easily the best of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game sets out there.

The Rose King

This will also have a review coming soon, and so I won’t say much about it here either. This was a game I fully expected my wife to never want to play, much less enjoy and want to play multiple times. Consider me pleasantly surprised in a very good way by that.

Twilight Struggle

Ah, how I’ve been dancing around the idea of finally getting to play this holy grail of games. It was the first play for me and my friend, and he dominated as the Soviets from start to finish. It never felt like I could get a lasting foothold out on the map to make a difference, while he held a strong stranglehold on Europe that I simply had to abandon eventually to try and fight my way back toward victory. This will definitely reward those who play it often enough to learn the ins and outs of the game, the flow, strategy, etc. Will I ever play it that many times? Not likely. But I definitely would love to play it more.

Valley of the Kings: Last Rites

This one is completely the fault of the People’s Choice Top 100 Games with Two list. I am naturally drawn toward deckbuilders, much to my wife’s dismay. However, she enjoyed this one enough to be willing to give it another play soon. I like the unique approach of needing to Entomb your cards to have them score at the end of the game. There is a lot to consider when trying to build up your deck and learning when to shift from gaining cards to use and when to start aggressively Entombing is going to be a key thing to master.

Why I Otter

This little wallet game from Button Shy came as a winning from a contest on Twitter. I was likely to grab it anyway because, well, Button Shy, but I was glad to get it sooner than expected. The game is super simple and fast, and is definitely geared more toward playing with youngsters. However, there is a subtle layer of strategy that makes this worth pulling out on occasion if we want a 5-10 minute game to pass the time. At least until my 3-year-old is ready for this game.

World of Warcraft Trading Card Game

This old CCG was played with just starters from the Drums of War set, and it was my first taste of the game. I didn’t love it nor hate it, and can see its potential. Check out a recent post where I did cover a more complete first impressions on the game. I am excited to try out a Lair or Raid deck with my friend, but if those flop I don’t expect this one to remain in my possession far beyond that.

Upcoming Reviews

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Core Set
The Rose King
Everdell

2020 Husband/Wife Record

Him: 8 Wins (+8)
Her: 5 Wins (+5)

Next 3 to Teach Her

Empyreal: Spells & Steam
Thunderstone Quest
Noria

Five Games I Want to Try

Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan
Maracaibo
Commands & Colors: Medieval
Mombasa
Leaving Earth

Next 3 Acquisitions

Mystic Vale: Nemesis expansion (Releasing 2/28!!!! Solo mode!!!!)
Helionox: Deluxe Edition
Tiny Epic Tactics

Review for One

Review for One: Run Fight or Die: Reloaded

Thank you for checking review #121 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: The publisher provided a copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of Run Fight or Die: Reloaded

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Run Fight or Die: Reloaded is a board game designed by Richard Launius that is published by Grey Fox Games. The box state it plays 1-4 players and has a playtime of 20-40 minutes.

Back from the dead and better than ever! Run Fight or Die: Reloaded is a revamped and refreshed edition of the Richard Launius game Run Fight or Die.

In the game, you play a hero trying to survive wave after wave of zombies coming straight for you! You play as a unique character with your own character traits including a minor, major and super combo. You’ll need them to fight off the zombies move closer to you every round. You run from location to location, searching for weapons and survivors in a desperate attempt to stay alive. Survivors may bring new skills to help you in your desperate fight for survival, or in some cases, new challenges to overcome. You’ll also need them along if you want to win as every survivor provides you victory points.

This streamlined version removes several decks from the original game, including the Fleeing deck and Event deck. Players rolls six dice instead of five and there are now different combos to mitigate against tough zombie-filled rolls. Additionally, players can now use followers to soak damage coming in from zombies.

The game ends either when one player dies, the Town Line comes out of the locations deck, or when the Mutant Zombie has been put down once and for all. Whoever has the most leadership points among surviving players wins.

Run, Fight, or Die: Reloaded is a frantic first person experience for 1 to 4 players (will play up to 6 with the 5/6 player expansion).

My Thoughts

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 I love that this game presents more difficult decisions than you would expect from a dice chucking, yatzee-style mechanic. There are always zombies appearing and advancing, so you need to balance between advancing through locations, finding new items/followers to handle the threats better, and clearing the zombies that are at the front of the line. Every round has some risk of danger for taking damage, so it is rare to have a round where you can completely ignore the zombies. And every Zombie die face rolled gives you one fewer die to make a dent in the oncoming threat. For sure quick turns, there is plenty of room to make meaningful decisions – even when they are partially dictated by random die rolls.

 The game’s rules are simple and explained really well in the rulebook. This is one easy to pick up, set up, and play all in one quick sitting – something that is rare to find sometimes in this hobby, even when considering small-box games. If this is something that appeals to you (and let’s face it, the biggest barrier to a game being played is often the rulebook), be reassured that this is done quite well. I never encountered anything during gameplay that wasn’t clearly answered.

 Even though the solo experience is a beat-your-own-score type (unless you play the solo campaign…more on that below), since there is a loss condition that could end your game prematurely this game is of the good type of beat-your-own-score games. I always appreciate something more added in than a “do better” style of condition. Having an early losing condition isn’t quite as good as objective-based solo play, but it does make it a little better.

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 As a whole, the game does a good job of evoking a sense of impending threat. The hordes of zombies will never stop, and rarely slow down. Which means most turns you’ll be looking at least 2-3 zombies to kill or take wounds from. And wounds are a fast track to instant death on this game, although getting some followers can certainly help. Yet even there comes some risk, as a fair number of followers do bad things if they take wounds or die. Fans of shows like The Walking Dead, where you watch characters trying to scrape by with what they can for as long as they can, will feel that sense of desperation at finding a way to survive one more round. Unfortunately…

 That sense of desperation doesn’t come around often enough. At least in my plays so far, it has been my experience that most rounds are spent doing a little of everything and keeping the worst of things at bay. Yes, there are occasional rounds where I’ve got 9 zombies to deal with somehow this turn, but those are the extreme exception. Even the mutant zombie, when he appears, turned out to be an annoyance to juggle rather than a “I need to deal with him now or I’m going to lose” situation. There is tension in the game. Unfortunately, it isn’t as prevalent as I had hoped and, sometimes, that tension only comes from being on the wrong side of random chance via dice rolls.

 Let’s talk about the elephant in the room on this game: the solo campaign. If you backed the game on Kickstarter, you already have everything you need to play the campaign. However, if you pick this up via retail, half the rulebook is dedicated to an aspect of the game you cannot experience unless you go spend another $9.99 on their website to get the components (of which, only two decks of 15 cards are really essential) needed to play the solitaire campaign. Is it worth that price? I can’t weigh in on that. Yes, it makes the solo experience much better overall. And yes, bringing it to a total of $60 MSRP isn’t a dealbreaker on the game. Yet I know I was miffed about the necessity, and stubbornly tried to refuse to do it. However, I do have a solution to propose! I think they should reach out to the PNP Arcade to make available the solo campaign items as a PNP file for a small fee. I’d rather drop $3 and print the stuff out and try it tonight than spend $10 plus shipping and wait for it to arrive. Odds are, if you like it you’ll later

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splurge to get the high quality components anyway. Without the campaign, this game is fine for the solo gamer. But with the campaign, it gets elevated to a higher level because it adds something extra to the experience that makes it unique from a multiplayer experience.

 The insert in the box is so-so. It has a ton of space for zombie minis (far more space than needed). It has spots to hold cards, which I appreciate. But it won’t hold the sleeved cards, which I know some gamers will really hate. The mini cards, when sleeved, won’t fit back into the card slot so they are bagged instead. There is enough space in here that they could have made it hold sleeved cards, and had trays in there to hold the individual types of tokens. The insert isn’t bad enough to auto-trash, but there are definitely ways it could be improved to make it more useful.

Final Thoughts

Run Fight or Die: Reloaded is, at its heart, a fun romp through wave after wave after wave of zombies as you roll yatzee style with dice. If you enjoy games like King of Tokyo, Elder Sign, Dice Throne, etc. then this game is definitely going to be up your alley as well. What it sets out to do, it accomplishes well. There are plenty of things the game provides to make it a fun experience for the gamer, even if in essence it becomes quite repetitive. Getting the risk/reward factor with visiting new locations and with finding new followers is always a fun, yet sometime heartbreaking, experience. Getting that follower to allow a re-roll of a Zombie die each turn is a huge boost, while getting an Infected follower can increase the challenge provided by the game. Being able to adapt on the fly, and to make solid decisions about which dice to keep from your initial roll, makes this game exciting.

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If it feels like I’m talking in circles a bit, I probably am guilty of that. This game isn’t really my cup of tea most of the time, although there are a few exceptions (I like Dice Throne a fair amount, but none of the others from the above list). I’ve genuinely enjoyed my plays of this game, but it hasn’t really done enough to stand out in a way to make me love the game. Kind of that space where I don’t love it – the game is fun and enjoyable but I simply don’t feel a need to own it. I’d gladly play it if the game was on the table and they needed another player, but I wouldn’t actively seek out a play of the game, either.

I had hoped the solo campaign would push the game experience over the edge. And yes, I do like that they added in here. It is half the rulebook and spans four “scenarios”, all of which can easily be played in a single session. And it involves moving across the “map” 4 times, each time facing a different challenge while trying to avoid being killed or having the map get overrun with zombies. It adds some interesting things such as Trauma cards, which limit what you can do in some way until you find certain things in the game. Yet even that boils down to random luck (as does much of the game). I appreciate the removal of scoring points/beat-your-own-score system for solitaire play, making it most likely that I would replay that solo campaign if I wanted to play this one again. It is done well, fitting the game that exists rather than reinventing something completely new. And for that, I applaud the folks that worked on it.

Yet overall, this game is average – maybe just above average – which is unfortunate considering how many games are out there and how many new games are being released each year. A game really needs to stand out, especially as I look to maintain a smaller collection in 2020 and beyond. I’ve enjoyed the game, and am very glad I was given a chance to play and review the game, but it isn’t a game I would purchase because it simply isn’t the style of game I’m looking for on my shelf.

First Impressions · Journey Through the CCG Graveyard

Journey Through the CCG Graveyard #4: More Impressions

A few more CCGs have received their first plays by me, so I wanted to collect my thoughts on the three games here. Watch for a board game review to appear very, very soon!

A Game of Thrones CCG

I’ve read all of the main books. I’ve seen all of the episodes of the show. I’ve played a handful of the board games created about this IP. And this weekend I finally got a chance to try out the old Collectible Card Game for A Game of Thrones. And I must say, it was treading into familiar territory for me. Why? Because I have previously played the LCG version of A Game of Thrones, both the core set for 1st edition and 2nd edition (but never anything beyond those core sets). And, well, this first iteration of the game feels and plays pretty darn exactly like the later implementations of the game.

That makes this a good thing, and a bad thing. It is a good thing, because it was a homecoming moment for my wife and I as we pulled these two decks out (The Ice & Fire set starter containing Targaryen and Greyjoy decks). Neither house was our preferred house to play, which was fine. After all, I don’t need to always play as the Starks and she doesn’t always need to be the Lannisters. However, we both agreed mid-game that we wanted to get decks for our favorite houses sometime soon! The bad thing about this CCG being too similar to the LCG is, well, there isn’t much reason to continue down the CCG path for this game. If the cards were dirt cheap, that might be one thing. It doesn’t seem ridiculously overpriced, but for the price of a box of packs I could get a complete “cycle” in the LCG format complete with 3x of every card, good or bad, rather than a varied assortment from a CCG pool. I’m not going to part with these decks anytime soon, and I’d love to find out if there are areas of the CCG that are worth diving into at a good price, because maybe a set or two did something fun that hasn’t appeared in the LCG.

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This particular session was brutal for me. It started with a really solid first two rounds for House Greyjoy, but after that things spiraled out of control. My deck drew into locations, which she managed to clear 2 of them right after that. She got out a good number of characters, and lucked into countering my Wildfire Assault plot card (does the cancelled effect/replaced card then get back into my available Plot pool for the next round? We disagreed, obviously, because I wanted to use it next round and she didn’t want me to be able to balance the board after getting a 7/2 advantage). From that point on I drew exactly one character card, and she never put out any locations – I had cards in hand and in my plot deck just waiting for her to get locations – and so she steamrolled me on her way to a 15-1 victory that wasn’t quite as lopsided as the final score indicates. Had she not hit 15, my counter-assault would have landed me at least 5 Power back onto my side of the board and killed off a few of her characters or discarded cards in the process.

Ultimately, I want a rematch with these decks. They felt pretty well-designed in terms of self-contained decks, at least from the cards I’ve seen so far. For instance, my Plot to search for a Maester was a far better Plot than I had expected, and the deck had 4-5 Maesters to choose from in the deck. And I’d still be okay with getting some cheap cards for the CCG if the right deal came along, but I am instead looking ahead to a hope of some small funds soon to grab the 2nd Edition LCG core again and some additional cards to add in there, giving us several decks to play with and some cards for me to deck construct with. Because I love few things more than building and tweaking decks – something she has absolutely no interest in doing so I’ll even be making the decks that are trying to destroy me. And yes, you can look forward to some more impressions on the LCG version of the game once I get that into my now-impatient hands. We owned it once and parted with it due to some less-than-pleasant emotions that can crop up during the game as the tides of battle ebb and flow. But we’re in a place now where I think we’re able to pull out some ultra-competitive games like this and not end up sleeping in different rooms for the night. Between Harry Potter and this, I’m working hard to get my wife to venture into more of these card-based games (and I absolutely love these kinds of games), even though I know she’d much prefer playing a game with a board.

Traveller Customizable Card Game
This one isn’t a dead CCG, but I’m hardly going to limit my scope here – it still is a CCG in name, although it follows closer to the LCG format for releases having fixed packs of cards. What really interested me in the game, apart from the cool theme, was that it contained rules for playing the game solitaire. I’m all for playing games with others, but sometimes it is a lot easier and faster to bust out a solitaire game or two. When I did my unboxing video for this game, it sure appeared daunting with the amount of iconography present on the cards. The rulebook even goes as far as to mention the card iconography approach was inspired by modern board gaming, where a lot of games take a language independent approach and use game-exclusive iconography. And since most icons merely represent some form of resource or skill, the iconography can really get boiled down (in most instances) to you are searching for a matching symbol to determine success or failure. Which ultimately accomplished two things: it eliminated the need for dozens of keywords (replaced by icons), and made many things easy to tell at a glance what was needed rather than needing to read (and reread) cards searching for the needed lines of text.

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After getting through the rules with only a few minor confusing points (which cleared up quickly as soon as I started playing and seeing how it all worked together), the game flowed really well. Surprisingly so. The iconography turned out to be an asset once you got going, allowing you to quickly find what you needed (or see that a card didn’t have the needed icon) in order to complete objectives. Having limitations on crew size, ship components, etc. helped to prevent any task from being an auto-success, and the hidden information of the face-down cards on each task kept enough tension early in the game. By the late game, it was a pretty easy task to progress forward efficiently, having enough symbols to handle the majority of what might appear. And with a simple task of accomplishing a designated number of points, it became easy to plan out what might be the best risk-reward slot to pursue. As with any starter, there appear to be limitations in there as to how much tension is present – but this is handled within the rules with modifications such as making your deck smaller (a lose condition is running out of cards in your deck), which gives you less time in which to accomplish your objectives.

Overall I genuinely enjoyed the first play, and the subsequent plays won’t be too far off in the future since this is a solitaire-friendly game. I’m hoping to get it played at least once with a friend, and finding one who won’t be scared off by iconography overload. I have a particular person in mind, as a matter of fact. I’ll be interested to try the other preconstructed deck, too, and see how that compares and then start tearing them all apart for some deck construction. And because it comes in non-random packs, I might be looking at expanding this one in the near future as well. All in all, I would recommend this one based on initial impressions, especially if you plan on playing with others, as it seems like that would be an even stronger version of the game.

World of Warcraft TCG
I apparently knew my friend all too well, for I pulled this out and he began to recount tales of his days playing Warcraft, dating all the way back to the original. To my surprise, he used to play this very card game way back when, but it had been a long time since that passed from his collection. So with a quick brushing up on the rules, we were underway in the game with only a few times to pause and get clarification. For instance, the rules aren’t clear that the allies you bring into play cannot attack the same turn, but we found that correction quickly upon noticing the presence of a keyword that allows an ally to attack the same turn they come into play. The artwork and the card names are absolutely delightful, even as someone who never really played World of Warcraft (I dabbled a few times with a low-level character but never lasted long before moving onto a different game). The oversized Hero cards that came in my starter set were a nice touch, too, adding some extra table presence in a completely unnecessary but enjoyable manner.

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The gameplay itself wasn’t too hard to grasp. I like the interplay that a hero can offer, being able to attack and defend with equipment (I don’t think either deck contained armor, which was disappointing) – something that I believe will become an important thing to build around with new decks. That, and adding in Protector allies. Because there isn’t much you can do to stop someone from curb stomping your Hero over and over with a board of small allies until you get the right cards into your hand or into play. I like the resource row, something I saw and enjoyed in Vs System. However while that game felt like it had a good curve of ramp in power between starters, this one felt more random in execution. Granted, that might be primarily a fault of the premade decks and their limitations. I think we’re going to try out a cooperative experience against a Dungeon deck or two to see if this one shines in that area – something I really hope is true because that would give it a strong niche to remain in a collection. Because as a competitive game, it was wholly disappointing from the first two plays.

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Of course, it wasn’t a bad game by any means. But in a crowded market of games, you need to be able to stand out and do something extraordinary compared to the competition. This one has the strength of its IP. Chasing Loot cards for in-game rewards is a moot point by this stage. So I’m hoping that a dungeon crawl experience awaits us – and maybe we’ll need to try our hand at a Raid or two with a few other friends to see how that plays out. Perhaps that is the unique area of 1 vs many where it can carve its niche. However, based on the prices that folks want for some of these decks…well, it is going to need to overperform in order to get a strong recommendation by the time a review focused around a newcomer circles around. If you can get a small collection for cheap, it might definitely be worth the time. But right now, I’m hesitant to invest much more into a game that I fear is going to be absolutely average overall. I’d love to find an inexpensive deal that could prove my initial impressions wrong, though!