Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Anthelion: Conclave of Power

Thank you for checking review #82 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: This game is live on Kickstarter! Be sure to check it out if this sounds interesting to you: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/239309591/anthelion-conclave-of-power)

An overview of Anthelion: Conclave of Power

Anthelion: Conclave of Power is a board game designed by Daniel Solis that was published in 2019 by Button Shy Games. The “box” states it plays 2 players in 20-30 minutes.

The sun is setting on one of the most devastating battles the Pocket Universe has ever seen. After years of fighting, it is becoming clear that this war will not be won on the strength of military victories alone. The leaders of the Dynasty and the Liberation turn their attention to some of the most influential figures in the galaxy to strengthen their cause. Who will be able to consolidate their power, gain new allies, and turn old foes to their side? Who can form a Conclave powerful enough to gain control of the Universe?

Anthelion is a game for 2 players who choose two unique special character abilities on their turn to manipulate the locations of the characters in play. Players seek to pull characters from all factions, good, evil and neutral to their side of the table (their Conclave), or push unwanted characters to their opponent. The player that can amass ten points of influence by getting enough characters to cross all the way to their side of the table will be declared the winner.

My Thoughts

The gameplay in this is an interesting tug-of-war between the two sides. In almost all aspects this game is equal, as there are very few Petition actions that are exclusive to a specific faction. Obviously there are faster paths to the ten stars than others, and most plays will likely see each side focusing a little harder on their specific faction since those offer an extra star when brought into their Conclave. But they are not limited to those decisions, which opens the game up for some really interesting gameplay.

The powers on the Character cards are all unique, making this a game about tactical decisions based on who is available and their current location. There is room for more strategic arcs in the game, but much of the tempo will be dictated by what is available at the moment rather than who you’re hoping to see appear.

The artwork in this game stands out on the table. It is everything I want in my Space Opera version of a board game, and it helps make every character in the deck feel like they have a deep, unique backstory to tell.

There’s a lot of decision space contained in the 18 cards in this game, which was one of the things I really liked about Liberation when I played it last year. Most people expect a light, simple filler game when hearing about these smaller game sizes, but this one definitely delivers an extraordinary amount of meaningful decisions among the small components and footprint of the game. This requires a little more space than Liberation, but this will go well alongside it as a game I always want to take with me when I am on the go.

A small decision in the rulebook is really key: you cannot completely undo the previous player’s turn. It is possible to get in an endless loop of moving the same person or two back and forth, but this key rule helps to prevent this from happening. The board state is always going to change, at least a little. You can undo some of what they did, but never their entire turn. Which also opens up the key decision: which of their moves do I counter, and what progress would I like to accomplish myself to provide them with the same type of difficult decision?

The game, in our first plays, has the ability to overstay its welcome. Once both players are within striking distance, it becomes a slow push and pull to try and be the first one to get that 10th star without opening it up for your opponent to get there first. With more plays, this may get better as part of the issue stems from the cards themselves.

Yes, you may find an issue because every card is unique in what it can do. Which means you may spend a lot of time reading what everything does as you try and figure out what two actions you want to do. And then the board state changes and you’re back at square one of puzzling out the next turn. This game can cause AP in players. It will have pauses during those first plays while you familiarize yourself with the cards. But this game opens up in a great way once you get past those learning curves – making it play much faster overall and providing a better experience for both players. This isn’t a fault in the game, but something worth knowing when you go in. Those first plays will take longer than you want because of the reading. But with only 18 cards, you’ll get them down eventually and things will improve.

Final Thoughts

Anthelion: Conclave of Power is a game that impressed me from the first play. It contains so many excellent decisions in a tug-of-war style of game, which helps it to stand out from the crowd. I’ve never played Avignon: A Clash of Popes, but my understanding is that it uses some of the same core concepts from there but cranked to 11. If that is the case, I’m even more interested in trying Avignon than before because of how much I enjoyed Anthelion.

This isn’t just a filler to pull out when you need to pass the time at game night. This is a game you could sit down and play a few times with a spouse, or gaming partner, and feel satisfied that you played something which rewards strategic decisions. Like all Button Shy games, this one is super-portable and can be played almost anywhere – you’ll need room for a 5 x 6 grid of cards essentially, and most tables should be able to accommodate that.

While I wish there was more room for long-term planning and strategy in here, that doesn’t detract from the great experience found in this game. Anthelion: Conclave of Power has the power to stay on the table for repeated plays – at least once players are more familiar with the various cards and what they do. I’d like to think that two really experienced Anthelion players would make for a really interesting match in this one, each trying to edge in an advantage over the other player.

I was a day one backer for the game, and with good reason. If this game was the standard 18-card game with the plan for a single small expansion to ship with the game, that would be good enough to warrant adding it to a collection. But there are several expansions in the works for this game, and I truly cannot wait to see how each of them alters the game in meaningful ways. This game is helping to revolutionize the way I look at the potential of that 18-card design space and gets me excited to try more of the games in the Button Shy line of games.

(**Note: This game is live on Kickstarter! Be sure to check it out if this sounds interesting to you: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/239309591/anthelion-conclave-of-power)

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2019 Gaming Achievement Quest

With all of the 10×10 lists popping up, it has me looking forward to next year. In past years I’ve considered doing, and signed up for, those 10×10 lists and various other gimmicks for gaming. And, frankly, none of them work for me. Back in my days as a video game player, though, I did enjoy the Achievement system. So I’m going to attempt to tie the two things together with 50, yes 50 achievements to try and hit over the course of 2019.

Buckle up, this is going to be one MASSIVE set of accomplishments. Well, once I come up with all 50 of them. Consider this a work in progress at the moment, and if you have ideas on what I could tack on for my final 8 achievements, feel free to let me know!

  1. Play every game I own at least one time (0/84)
  2. Play 100 2-player games against my wife (0/100)
  3. Play every soloable game I own at least one time solo (0/31)
  4. Play every game on my “Shame” list (0/16)
  5. Play 5 new-to-me games off the BGG Top 100 (0/5)
  6. Play 5 new-to-me games from the 2018 People’s Choice Top 100 Solo Games (0/5)
  7. Revisit at least one game that left my collection that I want to play again (0/1)
  8. Revisit at least one game that I have rated poorly (0/1)
  9. Play 5 must-try games (0/5)
  10. Limit myself to only three new game purchases in 2019 (0/3)
  11. Complete all owned quests in Lord of the Rings: The Card Game that I have not already beaten (0/43)
  12. Complete the Hobbit Saga in Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (0/6)
  13. Complete the main Saga in Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (0/7)
  14. Complete the Mirkwood cycle in Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (0/5)
  15. Complete the Grey Havens cycle in Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (0/6)
  16. Use every unplayed hero in Sentinels of the Multiverse at least once (0/10)
  17. Defeat every unplayed villain in Sentinels of the Multiverse (0/20)
  18. Defeat Oblivaeon in Sentinels of the Multiverse (0/1)
  19. Defeat the four standard and four challenge mode bosses in Millennium Blades (0/8)
  20. Host a Vital Lacerda game day (0/1)
  21. Host a Millennium Blades session for my two good friends that would really love the game (0/1)
  22. Run a Level 99 Games event, including at least one tournament (0/1)
  23. Expand my website’s focus to highlight strategy articles, as well as my freelance work for rulebook editing, lore writing, and/or publisher blog posts. (0/4)
  24. Finish testing and tweaking my first game, The Honor of the Queen, and get it into the BGG Database (0/1)
  25. Finish designing Out of Gas and get it open for playtesting (0/1)
  26. Take part in the 2019 Button Shy design contest. (0/1)
  27. Design a solo system for a few games I own that have no official solo mode (0/4?)
  28. Play a full game of Hunt for the Ring, the results of which lead into a game of War of the Ring (0/1)
  29. Get in at least 10 plays of War of the Ring. (0/10)
  30. Try the unofficial solo variant for Argent: The Consortium. (0/1)
  31. Use all of the characters in the BattleCON: Fate of Indines box (0/10)
  32. Complete the Hero Realms: Ruins of Thranduar campaign with a new character class (0/1)
  33. Play through the Firefly series in Legenday Encounters: A Firefly Deck-Building Game (0/14?)
  34. Win 12 games of Sprawlopolis (0/12)
  35. Use all expansion modules for 878: Vikings – Invasions of England (0/9)
  36. Complete all missions in Agent Decker (0/5)
  37. Play through the North Sea trilogy of games using the Runesaga campaign (0/3)
  38. Play more Button Shy titles (0/24)
  39. Have 12 play sessions of the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game (0/12)
  40. Play the Middle-Earth CCG 10+ times (0/10)
  41. Attend Con of the Rings in October (0/1)
  42. Create a Top 100 Games list (0/1)

Want more details on some of these, such as what games appear on certain achievements? Check out the full Geeklist at BGG: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/250412/2019-gaming-achievements/page/1?

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Year End Reflections

This time last year I was looking to do “awards” to games, and you’ll see some of that in here. What I did was plug all of the games I’ve played since I started tracking plays on BGG (so late 2016) into the Pub Meeple ranking system. It isn’t a perfect system, and there are definitely some games I would question their overall ranking for (some higher, some lower), but as a whole it did a pretty good job at helping to figure out my top games for a few different categories.

And so while I’ll be mentioning my top games of 2018 in here, be aware that there are many games I haven’t played (and still want to) that were released this year. I’ll do a more formal revisit to 2018 sometime in the spring of 2019 to crown the overall winner.

Top Games of 2018

1. Liberation – This game is seriously amazing. It hasn’t dethroned Hanamikoji as my go-to 2-player only game…yet. But there’s a chance this one could. I’m eagerly awaiting a copy of the game so I can play it some more, and mix in the small expansion coming with the game. If you enjoyed Star Wars: Rebellion, you owe it to yourself to try this one. Seriously, a wallet game might end up being the best game produced all year – and I love that.
2. Maiden’s Quest – This became one of my sleeper hits of the year. The solo community has raved about Palm Island, but I’d pick this game any day as my go-to portable solo game of choice. There is so much variety in the box, and you get excellent and interesting decisions along the way as you play through every encounter.
3. Obsession – Its theme is a standout in a crowd, and that is what draws me to this game the most. Beyond the theme, though, is a clever intertwining of thematic elements with solid, enjoyable gameplay to create a game I’ll be excited to see continue to hit my table in the future.
4. Fantastiqa: Rival Realms – Alf Seegert is a designer I’ve got my eyes on thanks to this game. A fun, fast game for 1-2 players with a massive footprint…but a lot of fun packed in a small box. There are some really clever things that this game does, such as the cards you use go to your opponent’s discard pile (where they can draw them back to their hand).
5. Thunderstone Quest – I have a weakness for deckbuilders, and this one does it well. Really, really well. I’ve played it only once, but it impressed me enough to break its way onto this list.

Best New-To-Me Games in 2018

1. Millennium Blades – I love the concept of collectable card games like Magic: The Gathering. I tried playing Star Wars: Destiny and the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game but bailed on them both when the money sink necessary finally outweighed the fun factor the game was providing. Millennium Blades offers an experience akin to those kinds of games, and does it in a unique and interesting way that blew me away. I know a few guys that I really want to teach this game to, and have been imagining how to make a fun day-long event of that experience.
2. Rococo – Who knew that making suits and dresses could be so fun? Yet it is the deck management in this game that really steals the show for me.
3. Gloomhaven – There’s a good reason it is the #1 game on BGG, and it will provide months of entertainment at a minimum for any gamer/group. This is that RPG in a box that the former video game player in me really enjoys.
4. Food Chain Magnate – This game is cutthroat and intense. It generated some memorable experiences and some fun laughter. That was only through its first play, too, yet all five of us kept going on about how fun that game was when it ended. It is an unforgiving game, but one I can’t wait to play more.
5. BattleCON – I’m not sure whether I prefer this or Exceed, a similar game by the same publisher, but I do know they are both excellent games. Sometimes you just want to duel against your opponent rather than interfere with them in a passive-aggressive manner of placing workers or gathering resources they need. This game lets you lay a beat down on your opponent in a style that reminds me of the great arcade-based fighting games I grew up with.

Current Wishlist

1. Millennium Blades – This game shot up the list like a rocket after two plays of the game using just an expansion (which I got at a steal of a price). This delivers on everything I want out of this style of game and more and, even if my wife takes one look at it and tells me she’s never playing it, I have two very good friends that this game fits right into their wheelhouse. Besides, the solo mode is really REALLY good so far.
2. Rococo – This game is out of print. There’s no confirmed word on any future reprinting. But I freaking love this game. Some day I’ll find a copy, whether that comes with an eventual reprint or getting lucky on finding a copy at the right price.
3. Gloomhaven – This monster of a game comes in a massive box. It might literally take me years to explore all the content in the game. But every time I’ve played Gloomhaven I’ve walked away excited to play it again. Our daughter removed me from a Gloomhaven group I just joined – but that group was enough to confirm I want this game eventually.
4. Food Chain Magnate – This game might be a total flop with my wife. I’m not sure. But wow, it blew me away enough – and everyone else playing it for the first time – that it soared up high on my overall rankings of games as well as my wish list. The game is so clever, yet brutal, that I can’t wait to play it again.
5. Glass Road – While this isn’t my most wanted Uwe Rosenberg game, it is the one that is in print right now. I really loved this game, and have heard it has an excellent solo mode (not that I’ve been looking or anything…). This game is so unlike Agricola/Caverna/Feast for Odin that I’m really hoping to add it to my collection soon.
6. The Gallerist – Now that I own Lisboa, the next Vital Lacerda game I need to get is this one. It might even be wise to get and teach this to my wife before pushing her into trying Lisboa with me, as this would be a little gentler entry point to his games.
7. Keyflower – I enjoyed this with my first play, and really like Keyper. I think my wife and I will enjoy this one more in our collection (at least I will, as Keyper is far more suited to her strengths) and I’ve heard it is still excellent with 2 players.
8. Maiden’s Quest – I need to return the borrowed copy soon to its rightful owner, which means I’ll be needing my own copy of this on-the-go solo game. With over a dozen plays, I’m still itching for more so that’s a great sign that it would be a smart purchase.
9. Arboretum – I bought a copy at Gen Con and never played it, because I ended up letting a local friend purchase it from me. She’s been happy with the game, so no regrets there. But I still would really like to get my hands on this game.
10. Thunderstone Quest – I didn’t want to like this game so much. After all, I didn’t think I needed any more deckbuilders. And then I played it, and it convinced me that I do, in fact, need at least one more deckbuilder in my collection.

Expansion Wishlist

1. Sentinels of the Multiverse: Oblivaeon – I don’t own everything Sentinels yet, but I still want this final expansion the most. Not only does it come with my new 2nd favorite character in the game, it also would allow me to get a higher loss rate by challenging the massive Oblivaeon…something I can’t wait to do.
2. The Lord of the Rings: Wilds of Rhovanion – The newest deluxe box for my favorite game. There’s a lot of packs I still need, such as all of the smaller packs from the Haradrim Cycle (Beneath the Sands, The Mumakil, Race Across Harad, The Black Serpent, The Dungeons of Cirith Gurat, and The Crossings of Poros) and, honestly, I’d be happy with anything that expands my Lord of the Rings collection.
3. Mystic Vale: Conclave – I need a bigger box to hold all of my Mystic Vale cards as it is, and so this expansion is a must-buy. Even if there was no additional content in that box, this would be reason enough to really want this.
4. Argent: Mancers of the University – This expansion adds a new mage type, which has me really excited. Honestly, I don’t know more than that but this is a top 10 game for me so I definitely want to pick this up.
5. Kingdom Builder: Crossroads – I’m always looking for more Kingdom Builder stuff – a game I need to get back to the table more often. A new expansion might just be what I need to accomplish that.

Top 5 Gaming Moments

1. Edward and Jess from Heavy Cardboard taking time to visit in Iowa City on their road trip to Boston – something I am still humbled by and grateful for that gesture. Words can never fully express how grateful I am for that, as I’ve been a fan of the show for a long time and Edward is someone in this hobby I’ve really looked up to. He’s as awesome in person as he always seems on the podcast/videos they produce, and I’m a herd member for life.
2. Playing Lord of the Rings LCG against designer Caleb Grace in an epic match, even though my Hobbit deck eventually lost. He has strong passion for the game, and cherishes being among the gamers who enjoy playing Lord of the Rings. He didn’t know me from anyone, and just happened to sit down across from me. After a bit of chatting, he asked if I wanted to play and what followed were two of the most memorable hours of my Gen Con experience.
3. Being a guest on the The Board Boys Podcast episode for Terraforming Mars, which let me make a few new friends here in the area who have been super supportive.
4. Learning Penny Rails with Travis Hill from Low Player Count – and meeting a great friend and contributor to the hobby. I’m looking forward to this one hitting Kickstarter in 2019, and to drinking some great coffee with Travis when we meet again. Maybe at BGG Con 2019?
5. Losing horribly at Liberation against Jason Tagmire from Button Shy Games, and then redeeming myself in Circle the Wagons. He’s been a great person to get to know and I have become a full-fledged fan of the work he’s doing and the games they are producing. See that Liberation at the top of my 2018 games list? It earned that spot, 100%, by being an outstanding game design.

Most Played Games

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – 83 Plays
2. Sentinels of the Multiverse – 20 Plays
3. Final Fantasy Trading Card Game – 17 Plays
4. Circle the Wagons – 12 Plays
5. Maiden’s Quest – 12 Plays
6. Kingdom Builder – 10 Plays

Strategy

Chrono-Ranger Strategy Guide

It has been a while since my last strategy guide. Life got hectic, and I got backed up on games to review. I’m finding more and more that I want to focus on strategies for a few great games rather than hopping from new release to new release so look for these sorts of articles to appear more often. Right now my intent is to dive into some strategy for these three games to begin:

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
Sentinels of the Multiverse
Millennium Blades

So stay tunes, as I hope to hit all three of them in January at some point.

But you aren’t here for the future. Rather, you are here to learn how to better manage a time traveling cowboy: Chrono-Ranger.

The two versions of Chrono-Ranger


Standard version Chrono-Ranger – 28 HP, Power: Quick Shot – Chrono-Ranger deals 1 Target 1 Projectile damage.

This version of Chrono-Ranger is pretty darn vanilla, but it gives you a taste of what to expect throughout his entire deck. He’s going to shoot things, and shoot them often. You’ll see a lot of projectile damage being distributed, and most of the time it is a small number like this one being dealt. That might lead you to believe he’s a pretty weak hero, but you’d be wrong. He’s got some cards in his deck that will allow him, and his allies, to ramp up the damage being dropped on whatever you are facing. So while his power here isn’t going to wow anyone, the consistent ability to place damage is a welcome inclusion and works well against any villain that doesn’t contain damage reduction.

The Best of Times version Chrono-Ranger – 29 HP, Power: True Purpose – Select a non-Hero Target. Until the next time you use a Power, all Bounty Cards also affect that Target and are not destroyed when that Target leaves play.

Here’s the sweet spot version of Chrono-Ranger. He needs some cards out to make use of this Power, but odds are you’re going to want to drop out Bounty cards anyway. Being able to make a Bounty card affect a 2nd Target, and keep that Bounty in play if that Target dies, makes this a really strong variant to play. Yes, he’s going to forego the use of a damage-dealing Power himself by using this. But think of this as an almost Bard-like approach: he’s buffing the rest of the team so they can be more effective on their next turn. This is a great variant to use when facing a deck that likes to drop big, or threatening, cards into play that need taken down fast. Tune into the next section, dedicated solely to bounties, to find out why!

The Bounty Cards

By Any Means – Play this card next to a non-Hero Target. Increase Damage dealt to that Target by 1. When that Target leaves play, destroy this card.

Simple, yet effective. This helps you gun down any one non-Hero in play. Yes, this can target the villain card – which is one of the more obvious ways to use the card. However, those decks can have some really nasty surprises in there that you’ll want to deal with and this can also be a great way to eliminate those in a hurry – thus the previous endorsement for the Best of Times version of Chrono-Ranger. You can put this on the villain, and then use his Power as needed to boost damage to whatever comes into play. Best of all about that approach is it will help keep the Bounty card in play for the entire game.

Dead or Alive – Play this card next to a non-Hero Target. At the start of your turn, Chrono-Ranger regains 1 HP. When that Target leaves play, draw 1 card and destroy this card.

This Bounty offers versatility in how you want to use it: put it on something that won’t die soon for the constant HP gain, or drop it on something small for the card draw when it leaves play. And, honestly, it becomes extremely situational. If I am still seeking some key cards to make Chrono-Ranger’s deck run optimally, I’ll likely go for the card draw (unless he’s hurting for health). However, there are better Bounty cards for card draw so the health is likely the better play more often than not.

Kill on Sight – Play this card next to a non-Hero Target. When that Target leaves play, draw 3 cards and destroy this card.

Three times better than Dead or Alive, at least in terms of the card draw. This is one of the best Bounty cards to have in an opening hand as it can really help accelerate the deck. Add in the fact that there are ways to cycle Bounty cards back out from the Discard pile and you’ve got a hero who could potentially cycle most of his deck in a game. You’ll always want to drop this onto the Target most likely to die next. Well, almost always, but we’ll talk about that during the Closers section.

No Executions – Play this card next to a non-Character card Target. When that Target would be destroyed, put it on the bottom of its deck instead. Then destroy this card.

This card may seem underwhelming at first glance. And let’s be honest, most games you won’t be ecstatic to draw this Bounty card. However, there is a very good reason to keep this one around: some decks have really scary cards. Like, you’re going to be in a world of hurt if it comes out. If a deck has any manner of reshuffling, this can be a way to thicken that deck back up with a less intimidating card. It can also be a good way to move out a card that can be pulled from the trash, such as the Goon cards with The Chairman. However, the most interesting way to use this is on the heroes’ cards (that qualify as Targets), allowing you to get them back into your deck if they are destroyed.

The Ultimate Target – Play this card next to a non-Hero Target. Increase Damage dealt by Chrono-Ranger to that Target by 1. The first time that Target deals Damage each turn, you may use a Power.

This is arguably the ultimate Bounty in the deck as it lets you get a free Power usage when that Target deals damage. Suddenly The Best of Times usage isn’t so bad, as you sacrifice one Power usage on your turn to have two cards being the Target of this Bounty. Which means you then swing back twice, dealing an extra damage to each of them. And, if you are set up well, this becomes a lethal situation for the villain…as seen when we talk about Closers.

The Whole Gang – Play this card next to a non-Hero Target. When that Target leaves play, you may destroy a Target with 4 or fewer HP. Then, destroy this card.

As a self-professed lover of Fanatic, this Bounty definitely reminds me of a favorite card of mine: Final Dive. However, it is different enough in the effect. Being able to focus down one target and remove a 2nd one in the process is fantastic. Even better is using this on something that has damage reduction, allowing you to bypass the slow and painful process of killing them (assuming you can get them down to 4 HP).

Opening Moves

Any bounty cards in your hand, with maybe the exception of No Executions, is a good opening draw and a fine first turn or two of play with Chrono-Ranger. He takes a little time to set up – he’s not bad out of the gate on his normal version as he can at least do some damage, but you want to be doing more than 1 damage per Power. Here are a few other cards that are nice to see, and play, early in the game for Chrono-Ranger:

Sudden Contract – Search your deck for a Bounty card and put it into play. Shuffle your deck. Chrono-Ranger may deal 1 Target 1 Projectile Damage.

This is arguably the best card to see in an opening hand. With four copies in the deck, I’d even be okay with seeing an opening hand of just this card. Getting Bounties out is one of the key engines for Chrono-Ranger, and being able to pull one out each turn (and put it into play) while also dropping a bit of damage is nice. Better yet, the first play of it should pull out either The Ultimate Target or By Any Means to make that 1 damage a 2 instead. The 2nd use of this would be to snag Kill on Sight, unless you’re desperate for healing or getting swarmed by targets with 4 or less HP.

Displaced Armory – Search your deck or trash for an Equipment card and put it into play. If you searched your deck, shuffle your deck. Chrono-Ranger may deal 1 Target 1 Projectile Damage.

This one is excellent for an opening hand because you’re almost always going to search your deck for whatever card you’re wanting. And when you do, you’re dropping down a little extra damage. What would you want to pull with this card? Well, that depends on who you are facing and what is currently in play. In my mind there are three ideal candidates early in the game:

Jim’s Hat – You may play an additional card during your play phase. At the start of your turn, you may destroy a Bounty card.

This one is the obvious choice to pull for Equipment cards, as it helps accelerate your board state by letting you play an extra card and, if desired, destroy one of those Bounty cards you currently have in play. No matter what the situation is like, this is always a good card to get into play as cheating in extra card plays every turn can help you get ahead of the curve.

Temporal Grenade – Power: Chrono-Ranger deals up to 3 Targets 1 Energy Damage each. You may destroy 1 Ongoing or Environment card. Destroy this card.

A week ago this card wouldn’t even have made it into the article as I severely undervalued this Power. It isn’t even about the dealing damage to 3 targets – although that can be nice (especially if boosted by someone like Legacy). Early in the game, the wrong Environment or Ongoing card can wreck your game. It can slow your decks down so much that the villain gets the upper-hand and maintains that advantage. This was never so apparent as when I finally challenged Iron Legacy last week. Getting this into play when you know there is a card you’ll want to auto-remove in the deck is a helpful defensive maneuver, and that peace of mind can make this worth pulling and playing early.

Neuro-Toxin Dart Thrower – Power: Chrono-Ranger deals 1 Target 1 Toxic Damage. Reduce Damage dealt by that Target by 1 until the start of your next turn.

Previously my go-to here would have been Compounded Bow instead, as it deals 1 damage and 1 damage to a target – essentially doubling Chrono-Ranger’s attack power each turn. However, wisdom has shown me that the damage reduction could be even more important early in the game than a small increase in power. Unless you are playing on a team with some solid healing, every damage reduced is helping to extend the well-being of your entire team as they get things set up to lay the smack down on the villain. If I am running The Best of Times variant of Chrono-Ranger and don’t have an impressive hand of cards at the moment, this would be the Equipment card I’d probably dig for over Jim’s Hat.

Eye on the Prize – Chrono-Ranger may deal 1 Target 1 Projectile Damage. You may draw a card. You may play a card.

The name of the early game with this guy is accelerating his deck, and this does that by giving you an extra draw and an extra play. Bonus points for dropping down a little damage which, if you got out something to boost his damage in Turn 1, this becomes a really nice card to play on Turn 2.

***

An overall tactic that I tend to employ with Chrono-Ranger is to get set up as quickly as possible. I used to believe that meant getting his damage increased and start hitting as hard and as fast as possible, but my mentality has shifted a little to getting those extra card draws and plays as being the ideal early game for Chrono-Ranger. The extra damage doesn’t hurt, of course, and if you have some early threats that need eliminated he can help fulfill that role pretty well by increasing everyone’s damage. But ideally, his deck is about setting up for some really wild turns later in the game.

Mid-Game Strategies

This is where Chrono-Ranger can really start to hit his stride. He’s likely not to the point where he’s dropping bonkers damage on the board, but usually this is where 2-3 Bounty cards are consistently cycling into play and back out of the discard pile. All of the aforementioned cards are still great here, but there are a few more cards that really start to function well at this stage of the game (generally speaking).

Ranger’s Mark – Select 1 Bounty card from your trash and put it into play. Chrono-Ranger may deal 1 Target 1 Projectile Damage.

This is one of the key cards that can make this deck hum along. The key is to be aware there are only three copies of this in the deck, so while you want to be cycling those Bounty cards back into play you also don’t want to feel like you’ve made an inferior choice later in the game about how you used these. This card offers you the flexibility to put those Bounty cards on cards from the villain or environment deck, knowing you can resurface that card to put on the main villain when the time comes to focus them down. And, as per the norm with Chrono-Ranger, he’s also pinging them for a little damage in the process (which is likely boosted by now)

Terrible Tech-Strike – Chrono-Ranger deals 1 Target 2 Melee Damage. Chrono-Ranger deals 1 Target 1 Projectile Damage.

Okay, so this card is a fine opener. You always want to do damage, and dropping 3 damage early can be really helpful in a pinch. However, if you happen to have his two damage-boosting Bounty cards out then this becomes a 4 and a 3 instead, making it far more bang for that card play. That can wipe out a stubborn foe, or just drop a chunk off the big baddie. So while this is always a good card to play, it should be at the very least getting boosted by 1 at this point to make it an even stronger play.

Danny-Boy – Power: Chrono-Ranger deals up to X Targets 2 Fire Damage each, where X = the number of Bounty cards in play.

This piece of equipment becomes the star in the middle of the game because it allows you to hit several targets with a single power. Usually at this point you’re pushing back against the swarm of cards a villain pumped out early, and few heroes can distribute even damage like Chrono-Ranger on a consistent basis. If you have a few Bounty cards in play, and you almost always will want to have 2 or more out, you’ll be able to whittle down the ranks of foes. This is especially good in a Vengeance mode, where you have multiple villains to take down. This isn’t the card you look toward to win you the game, but it helps make the board manageable so that you can isolate the big baddie and focus them down.

***

The mid-game Chrono-Ranger is a lot like the early game Chrono-Ranger, except you’ve hopefully got a few Bounty cards in play. His damage curve should be steadily rising, and you’ll likely find yourself dealing damage virtually every time you play a card and every time you use a Power – his deck is built to drop damage often. His strength here is in board control, because he can almost always do damage and he can hit multiple enemies and boost his attack power AND can use The Whole Gang in order to drop off an additional weakened enemy when he destroys someone else. If this was Chrono-Ranger at his best, he’d still be a solid choice of a teammate. And some battles will never get past this point – either because they never run long enough or the card draws just don’t let you set up the ultimate Chrono-Ranger mode. But when he does get set up…

Chrono-Ranger’s Closers

Chrono-Ranger gets scary toward the end if everything goes well. His damage levels can be impressive, as you’ll see via these three cards. Really only two of them are essential, but the third one (listed first) is just as important at times to make sure he gets set up and remains set up to destroy the enemy as quickly as possible.

Bounty Board – Move all Bounty cards from your trash into your hand. Chrono-Ranger may deal 1 Target 1 Projectile Damage.

There are only two copies of this in the deck, so they should never be burned through lightly. These return to the hand, so having Jim’s Hat to play extra cards will be essential to get set back up as quickly as possible, but this card is great because it allows you to pull every Bounty card back from the trash. So you can use them in the early game to deal with the smaller foes and still retrieve them in time to place them on the bigger threat. Which leads to…

Hunter and Hunted – Increase Damage dealt to and by Chrono-Ranger by the number of Bounty cards in play.

You do NOT want to play this card too early, as it can hurt Chrono-Ranger as much as it helps him. However, the hope would be that this card comes out during the final turn, or the penultimate turn of a game to massively spike Chrono-Ranger’s damage. There are 6 Bounty cards, so adding +6 to your attack is nothing to sneeze at, especially since that would mean you probably already have an extra +2 from having By Any Means and The Ultimate Target on that card as well. And then toss in…

The Masadah – Power: Chrono-Ranger deals 1 Target X Irreducible Energy Damage, where X = the number of Bounty cards in play.

Let’s do some math here: The power potential, assuming no boosts from anyone other than Chrono-Ranger, would be 6 Bounty cards + 6 from Hunter and Hunted + 1 from By Any Means and +1 from The Ultimate Target. This fires off for 14 damage, and if you had Jim’s Hat in play you probably played a card after dropping Hunter and Hunted, which if you played something like Terrible Tech-Strike you’re dropping another 10/9 on the Target. So in a perfect world, you’re looking at dropping around 33 damage in a single turn and, by this point, that should be enough to finish off whatever you’re facing. And if that doesn’t kill it? Well, if it hits you during its next turn you’ll get to use a Power (thanks to The Ultimate Target) for another 14 damage. Assuming you survive.

***

Closing thoughts

Overall, Chrono Ranger starts slow but has a massive spike in damage output near the end. I’m yet to hit this theoretical power level in a game, but knowing he can achieve this makes him a top-tier damage dealer in my books. Damage reduction can slow him down immensely early on, but if you can ride out those first turns he should even be able to start dumping consistent damage on even the most stubborn of Targets in the game. I find that most games he ends up being an above average contributor, able to whittle away chunks of damage while helping to boost everyone else’s damage potential. Being able to do +1 damage across the board to the main villain is worthwhile enough to make me want to consider including him any time I’m building a team of heroes.

He pairs best with someone who can boost his damage, especially early. Making that 1 damage on most of his cards into a 2 or a 3 can become a game changer. Additionally, anyone who offers healing or damage reduction can be a great pairing for getting out Hunter and Hunted earlier into the game. He’s got enough card draws in his deck that he doesn’t necessarily need a Tachyon to help with that, although it never hurts, and the same applies to getting extra card plays. He’s a lethal hero to bring in paired with several other damage dealers, and equally as lethal if just paired with support characters whose role is to help Chrono-Ranger do more things every round. He’s a flexible fit into almost any situation, and he’ll almost always be able to carry his weight even if the villains and environments prevent him from ever getting set up effectively. He’s easily one of my favorite heroes in the game, just because he is rarely dead weight in a match because, even when everything goes wrong for his deck, he’s still able to accomplish something most turns (especially when using his base character card).

Coming Soon…

Depending on how things go, I plan to visit these more often. Right now, based on my current card pool that I own, my intention is to visit Omnitron-X as the next hero covered as I’ve used him a fair amount already, he came in the same box as Chrono-Ranger, and I finally got to see him at his full potential last week against The Chairman.

However…

Should a copy of Oblivaeon enter my possession in the near future, that will certainly change to La Comadora because she is one of my new favorite characters in the game and I want a reason/opportunity to explore playing her even more.

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Obsession

Thank you for checking review #81 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: A review copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Obsession

Obsession is a board game designed by Dan Hallagan that was published in 2018 by Dan Hallagan. The box states it plays 1-4 players in 30-90 minutes and has a BGG weight rating of 3.17.

You are the head of a respected but troubled family estate in mid-19th century Victorian England. After several lean decades, family fortunes are looking up! Your goal is to improve your estate so as to be in better standing with the truly influential families in Derbyshire.

Obsession is a game of 16 to 20 turns in which players build a deck of Victorian gentry (British social upper class), renovate their estate by acquiring building tiles from a centralized builders’ market, and manipulate an extensive service staff of butlers, housekeepers, underbutlers, maids, valets, and footmen utilizing a novel worker placement mechanic. Successfully hosting prestigious social activities such as Fox Hunts, Music Recitals, Billiards, Political Debates, and Grand Balls increases a player’s wealth, reputation, and connections among the elite.

Each turn, players choose a building tile representing a room or outdoor space in and around their 19th century British country house. The tile chosen dictates the event that can be hosted and the guests to be invited. Players must carefully plan, however, to have the proper staff available to service the event and support guests as needed. The reward for success is new investment opportunities, permitting further renovation of the estate (acquisition of more valuable/powerful building tiles), an increase in reputation in the county, an expanding circle of influential acquaintances, and a larger and highly-trained domestic staff.

Throughout the game, a competitive courtship for the hand of the most eligible young gentleman and lady in the county presents specific renovation and reputation objectives. The player who best meets these objectives while accumulating victory points will win the hand of the wealthy love interest and the game.

—description from the publisher

Differences for 2 players

There are fewer tiles seeded into the bag for a 2-player game. Only 3 monuments are used total, one copy of each blue building is used, and all tiles that do not have a solid black dot by the Reputation value are removed from the bag. There are also fewer servants to hire: 4 footmen, two valets, two ladies maids, and one underbutler.

My Thoughts

 Let’s start with the thing that first interested me in Obsession: its theme. I get it, not everyone is going to go nuts over the 19th Century time period, the literary-inspired box, or the period-appropriate photos on the cards. It might even turn some people away from the game. My wife’s first words, when she saw the box, was that it looked boring and dumb. Yet it is this very quality of the game that makes it stand out from the crowds of zombies and Lovecraftian-themed games that oversaturate the market. The theme sets it apart, rather than being something that caters to what is currently trendy.

 And I’d be a horrible reviewer if I didn’t mention how thematic a lot of the game’s mechanics are. You host events in the rooms you’re adding to your estate, inviting family and guests to attend. You need to make sure one of your servants is there to make sure the event is in order, and some guests require additional support from valets of ladies maids so having a vibrant, diverse staff pays off. Those valets and maids, however, can’t be out there entertaining every time – in general the servants you use this turn will be out of rotation for the next turn, but will be back to your pool on the following turn. There’s a lot of great intertwining of mechanics with the theme that went into the design of Obsession, something Dan Hallagan should be commended for.

 I love the process of growing my estate, and the simple decision in the design that encourages players to continue that growth rather than spam the same room or two all game. When a building is used for the first time to host an event, it is flipped over to the side showing a rose in the corner. The first thing this does is usually adds victory points to its overall value – which means that purchasing a tile is sometimes only worthwhile if you intend to use it before the end of the game. This means that a strategy of just buying tiles for the sake of buying a ton of tiles isn’t necessarily a winning one as they can start at 0 or a negative value before that first use. The second thing that happens is that, in most cases, the buildings cost more guest cards from your hand to play again while giving smaller rewards from the room itself. So instead of getting 5 reputation from 2 cards, you’re getting 4 from 3 cards. And while using more cards isn’t necessarily a bad thing (as they give you benefits, too when used), there’s another key ingredient:

 You’re going to have to pass and skip a turn at least once in this game. You get 12 actions, and one of those goes to “nothing” but taking cards back into your hand. It actually isn’t a bad action, but it won’t flip those precious buildings to make them more valuable. You can only go so long before you run out of people, or worthwhile people, to invite to events. I’ve even had a game where I passed twice. But all is not lost when you pass – not only do you get those cards back in hand, but you get some money or you can wipe the building market…

 Money is tight in this game – at the very least it FEELS tight most of the time. Buildings cost from 300-800 pounds, and have modifiers ranging from (I think) -200 to +400. Most guests that provide money give around 100-200 pounds when you use them, and most buildings that provide money give 200-300 pounds. Most of the time, you’re treading just above water. I don’t think I’ve finished a game yet with any money, because it is just that tight for spending. It makes those decisions on what to purchase, and when, even more important.

 The Cabinet of Curiosities is a tile in this game. It is Narnia, and I must buy it every time I see it. Dang it Dan, but you make me have to buy this tile every single time it comes out…and I’m yet to fail to get it when it appears! It is easily my favorite thing in the whole game.

 I enjoy the balance you need to have in order to do well. You want to get a bigger estate, but to use it effectively you also need to gain more guests to invite to events. But in order to use those buildings and guests you probably are going to need to increase your reputation some. And once you start getting more reputable rooms, you’re going to need even more guests, and those more reputable guests are going to demand servants to assist them. Which means you probably need to hire a bigger staff at some point. You’re definitely doing a little engine building, which is one of my favorite things to do in a game.

 The objectives are varied and interesting. I like having secret objectives, and getting 3 of them over the course of the game to score. However, the “easier” ones such as 1VP per Prestige Room in your estate are too undervalued in points. The most valuable ones tend to involve getting 2-3 specific rooms in your estate, but there is no guarantee you’ll see them. The last game I played, we saw all but 7 tiles from the bag and I needed one of those seven tiles (from the start) but it never appeared. That potential for 10+ points never surfaced. The game prior to that, I wiped the market twice in the final three rounds to finally get the two rooms I’d been waiting for to appear in the market. I think I probably broke even, having spent 8 reputation and a passing turn in order to make those market changes. Even when I actively try to avoid taking more than one of those cards, sometimes you just get dealt really crappy objective cards compared to your opponent. Nothing is worse than spending a ton of effort to get those 10 points, or impractically miss them, and then see your opponent getting even more points for collecting servants or hording money.

 I state this solely for those who keep their inserts: this box lid does not close with the insert in there. I haven’t been able to remove it yet as I haven’t pulled out my baggies for sorting yet, but I cannot get this box to close properly no matter how I try. I’m relatively certain it’ll close once that insert is gone, though.

 Perhaps my biggest gripe with this game, even though it is delightfully thematic in a way, is that the rich get richer in this game. I’ve seen it play out two different times, once a 2 players and once at 3. If a person gets one or two key buildings (such as a monument), they can win more than their share of those VP cards. Not only that, but the game rewards the person who gets the most of those VP cards (because let’s be honest, the person with the highest combined VP on the building types needed is almost always going to be the one who was winning most of them along the way) by giving them another 8 VP at the end of the game via one of the Fairchild cards. I would rather see, especially in a 2-player game, one player get a VP card and one get the Fairchild until the next courtship along the way. At least then there’d be a chance to keep up along the way.

Monuments feel way too powerful. Yes, they cost MORE money than the spot they are on. But they give a boatload of VP, almost assuring a victory in that category if needed for the Courtship. Nothing is worse than seeing your opponent wipe the market just once in the game, but happen to see a monument pop into the market and they can afford it and swipe that building without contention. And let’s not even talk about the bonus of gaining a Reputation on every. Single. Player. Turn. It feels so broken, and it is disheartening when your opponent gets a monument first because that adds to their advantage in several key areas. Again, the rich get richer here.

Final Thoughts

A week ago, fresh off playing the game with my sister, I was ready to herald Obsession as a potential best game of 2018. It still might earn that honor since there is yet to be a standout game for me, but it has a longer road to climb after my last play where there was a 60-point difference in a 2-player game. I got steamrolled in a bad way, and that play showed just how important the right set of circumstances can be to this game. For a game that doesn’t feel random, it has a relatively high amount of it tucked into the nooks and crannies of this game. Casual and Prestige guests are blind draws off the top of their respective decks (with few exceptions, which may allow you to draw 2 and keep 1) and their benefits can range wildly. If you happen to draw all low-point guests who provide you with the same things as most of your hand, you’ll do really well in one area but struggle in others. You’ll see 7 different Objective cards and keep 3 during the gameplay, but some of them are dependent on getting specific buildings (which may never appear) or specific colored buildings (which this game isn’t going to reward that specialization over the course of the entire play). The Fairchilds are going to want a specific type of estate focus every quarter of the game, but you only know the current quarter’s focus. Someone can eek ahead because there were 2 green buildings to buy and they happened to get the one that flips to a +3 rather than a +2 and thus get those extra VP and add a Fairchild to their hand for the next quarter.

I could keep going on here, but you get the point by now. I don’t need a game of perfect information – some randomness can add a lot of fun and variety to the game. But when you can look back on a single play and see where every lucky break went the same way then it can be discouraging. Was it an anomaly? Perhaps, but that’s twice where the 1st place player won by 40+ points in my 6 plays of the game. That’s far too high of a percentage so far, and lends me to be cautious toward what this game can hold.

Yet when luck doesn’t trample the players, Obsession brings about a fun and delightful experience. You have some great decisions right out of the gate, such as whether or not to try and get the bonus money and reputation at the two Fairs or keep the 3 VP tile. Trying to figure out how to maximize your one play per round – with 12 rounds of actions across the standard game – is a fun puzzle as long as you don’t play against severe AP opponents. The tiles flip after use, usually giving more VP and making the usage of that tile less appealing (higher cost or diminished rewards, usually) and so that encourages players to make purchases and use those purchased tiles rather than just repeat the same cycle.

Theme is all over in this game, from the delightful meeples to the literature-inspired box to the various guests and their photos and text on the cards. Put on a kettle of tea, play some 19th century music, and revel in the time period that the game tries successfully to evoke. You don’t even need to be a literature buff like myself to enjoy the thoughtfulness that went into making things thematic throughout the game’s appearance and mechanics.

It has a fun solo mode that I need to play a few more times before speaking intelligently about how well that experience goes, but it might provide the best experience out of all the player counts in the box because it gives you several known milestones to overcome from the start and places some pressure on the player to be aggressive in their approach.

Ultimately, this game is one I look forward to exploring more in the future. I was sad, when it was on Kickstarter, that I didn’t have the ability to back the game. It has mostly lived up to every expectation I had of the game from the first time I saw its Kickstarter page – and hopefully with more plays I’ll see the steamrolling victories happen less frequently and can enjoy the package this delivers. While I did get a review copy of the game, I’ll put it this way: If I could travel back to last year when it was on Kickstarter, armed with the experience and knowledge I have of the game so far and with the money available to back it in my bank account, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to back the game. It is a good game, probably even a really good game. It has the potential to even be a great game, especially if the solo mode lives up to those first impressions. While I’m not ready to crown this one yet as the best game of 2018, it definitely stands up there as a legitimate contender for that honor.

Board Gaming · First Impressions

First Impressions of Millennium Blades Solo

**Note: The game I played of Millennium Blades was in no way a complete experience, as I only have Set Rotation and a few mini-expansions in my collection so far. No base game was used – but, honestly, the game was able to be played in a complete enough manner to really get a taste for what it offers. I was able to sub in some tokens for the bundles of money and the sell markers and it worked effectively enough to get a taste of the game. There happen to be enough cards in the box to make a full market deck, although I suspect there are a LOT more Core Set cards in the base game that add a lot more accessories.

Magic: The Gathering was one of my first entries into modern board gaming. I had a regular group of guys in high school that I would get together with and we’d spend our weekends playing games of Magic, sessions of Dungeons & Dragons, and dump hours into games on the Playstation 2. I loved the thrill of opening packs and seeing what new powerful cards I could build decks around, I loved building new decks to test out against my group, and I loved trying to take under-valued cards and seeing if I could find combinations to make them work. But eventually high school ended, we all went our separate ways, and Magic: The Gathering left my life.

Last year I found myself immersed in Star Wars: Destiny, and it instantly rekindled both the love and hate I have for these styles of games. Love because there is a thrill in opening packs and finding a great new card to build around and to spend time dreaming up possibilities for card/deck pairings. Hate because it becomes both a time and money sink. Eventually the release cycle’s aggressiveness scared me away from the game and I moved on from Star Wars: Destiny. Early in 2018 I fell into that same dance with the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game. It was a great game, one I still really enjoy playing, but I found I just can’t justify trying to build a collection to be competitive – and the need for real opponents in order to test decks and get better made my skill progression curve quite glacial. It was hard to play more than once or twice a month, and a CCG really needs at least weekly gaming sessions to test and improve decks, and the ability to buy the latest and greatest sets of cards to keep up with what other players will be playing.

Which is why I absolutely am convinced I am going to fall hard for Millennium Blades because it eliminates virtually everything I hate about the CCG scene while embracing the best aspects of that hobby. The buy-in for everything in this game so far is quite reasonable, even at full MSRP from the publisher ($212 for the base game, Set Rotation, all the mini-expansions, and a playmat), when compared to what I heard of people spending for a single cycle of cards in Star Wars: Destiny ($400) – and there has been a cycle out about every 3-4 months since that. There’s a new expansion planned for Kickstarter in early 2019, and that’s still likely to make this cheaper than a single buy-in for one complete cycle of any CCG out there apart from maybe Dicemasters. To play solo, you really only need just over half of that ($80 base game + $40 Set Rotation expansion) – and you’ll end up with such an incredible amount of card variety that it will make your head spin just thinking about it.

But the buy-in alone isn’t the real reason to be a fan of Millennium Blades after a single play as a solo exercise. Set Rotation adds in four bosses to face, each with their own unique deck containing a deck box, 4 accessories, and 8 cards. They will use 2 of those accessories (randomly chosen) and you’ll slowly get to know what those are and can somewhat plan around their deck’s strategy. You can freely look at their 8 cards, but 2 of them won’t be played and you’ll never know what order they will come out – so you can’t completely plan for that, either. Yet had I looked just a little at the boss’s synergies during my 20 minutes of building, I would have seen that he was almost guaranteed to flip each and every card I would get into play. My initial deck plan went right out the window within 2 cards, and I was left scrambling to make lemonade from the cards I didn’t sell or Fusion during the deckbuilding phase.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because one of the real stars here is that deckbuilding phase! In a non-solo game you’ll do that full phase 3 times, but in the solo game you get just one shot at building that deck (which is broken into two 7-minute phases and a 6-minute phase). This is where you can buy cards (you start with $30, and new cards cost from $3 to $6), sell cards (you can sell at most 4 cards, which are worth from $1 to $9 that I saw, with the average being $4-6) so you can buy around 8-16 cards to add to your starter deck and the other 15 cards you get over the course of the building phases. From all of that you need to figure out what 6 cards you are likely wanting to play, plus a deck box to use and up to 2 accessories to bring, for your match against that boss.

The catch is that cards are blind buys. You know the set they belong to and how much they cost, but you have no idea what cards are underneath. Which is where the longer meta comes in through learning the cards in the sets and where combinations can come from in order to make smarter decisions – which will never come to you in the first play. It is generally a safe bet to buy cards in the same set, as there is often some overarching synergy you can find, but you can also trade 5, 7, or 9 cards of the same “rarity” for a special, powerful promo card that can bring your whole deck together or just provide something powerful to hold back for an emergency.

If this all sounds like a lot – it is. Yet that is what delights me about the game. There is a massive card pool (the base game alone apparently has over 700 cards) of which you’ll use a hefty chunk every time you set up the market. The thrill of the blind buys – and seeing how you can or cannot make that card work with what you’re aiming for – is something close to mimicing that blind buy of packs in a real CCG. The limitation on how much you can purchase, how much time you have to buy and sell, and to piece a deck together is what makes this a crisp package. From setup to teardown (if you maintain the market after the game ends) can be done in under an hour solitaire, and there are ways to string together a gauntlet of boss battles (and a mini expansion that expands those bosses) which will give strong legs to this game.

It scratched every itch I hoped for – and I’ve spent the past 12 hours (apart from when sleeping) constantly thinking back to the game, the clever cards, the decisions I could have made differently, and how to best the boss the next time I face him. The experience has stuck with me ever since the final card was played and the scores tallied, and that is what I want out of a game like this. I want to be theorycrafting card combinations and exploring strategies, finding out how to best make each starter deck work efficiently and analyzing the various sets of cards that can come out. That’s something you don’t get in modern board games very often, but is very much a part of the CCG scene. And so if I can get that CCG experience without breaking the bank account, that is an all-around win.

This might be the best game in the Level 99 Games catalog. It has a good chance of becoming my favorite game in their lineup. It won’t appeal to every gamer, and can’t possibly be recommended for every gaming group or even every solo gamer.

But for those who are seeking a blend of modern with the format of a CCG – and who want their bank account to remain in tact while doing so – this is a game that I think will have a strong appeal, and one I can’t wait to dive back into in order to see if these powerful first impressions hold up after a dozen plays.

Board Gaming · Review for One · Review for Two · Solo Gaming

Review for One and Two – Shadowrift

Thank you for checking review #80 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: A review copy of the game was provided for what had been planned as a deckbuilding month. With the medical time spent on my daughter since September, than plan went by the wayside.

***Second Note: I didn’t know there was an upcoming Kickstarter for an expansion, but once I became aware of it, I played the game a few extra times in order to get this review up during the campaign. You can find the Kickstarter link here, and at the bottom of this review: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shadowrift/shadowrift-b…

An overview of Shadowrift

Shadowrift is a board game designed by Jeremy Anderson that was published in 2012 by Game Night Productions and later rereleased with a 2nd Edition by Game Salute (this review is based on the 2nd Edition). The box states it plays 1-6 players in 45-120 minutes and has a BGG weight rating of 2.69.

Haven Town is facing total annihilation at the hands (and teeth) of a horde of monsters from beyond the Shadowrift.

You, the heroes, must band together to drive them back. To do this, you will need powerful spells, skills, attacks and loot. When the game begins, you are a basic hero; you can explore and fight. Luckily for you, Shadowrift is a deck-building game! You can buy new cards to add to your deck, cards that will define you as an adventurer and complement the strengths of your fellow heroes. Unlike other deck-builders, there is constant interaction with your fellow players as you figure out who will gain which benefit from the limited supply of townsfolk, offer their coin to help construct walls, and seek healing from anyone who’s learned such magic.

Shadowrift also features monsters that don’t merely sit waiting to be slain; if you leave them alone, they will rip Haven Town asunder. They’ll kill people, break walls, and kick your heroes in the face. Combat with them is intuitive (though frequently painful). For defeating a monster, heroes gain Heroism, a simple, consistent boost to their power that makes them better at anything they undertake. Since the monsters won’t stop coming until the last Shadowrift is sealed or the town has been built into a mighty fortress, you’ll need every boost you can take.

The second edition of Shadowrift features many improved mechanisms, including a revised system for how monsters choose who to attack (based on types of villagers, instead of specific people) and a new system for monster powers (making them much more dangerous). It also has a revised card layout and a great deal of new and improved artwork.

Differences for 1-2 players

For one player: Assuming one-handed play for solo, you have 8 Heroism rather than 1 per player, and during the Monsters Gain Power round they gain 3 rather than 1 per player. Additionally, the player gets two full turns after each Monster turn; however, the Town and Traveller lineups do change after each player turn. 2 Shadowrifts are added to the deck rather than 1 per player as well.

For two players: Monsters gain 2 power per round, 2 Shadowrifts are added to the monster deck, and 10 Heroism cards are used. Really, these are just based on # of players and in no way changes the rules of the game.

My Thoughts

This game was a novel approach to the deckbuilding genre long before it rose to extreme popularity. To put it into perspective, Dominion came out in 2008. This came out in 2012. It came out after Ascension (2010), Arctic Scavengers (2009), Eminent Domain (2011) and Thunderstone (2009), the same year as Legendary (2012), Fantastiqa (2012) and DC Comics Deck Building Game (2012), and before both Star Realms (2014) and Aeon’s End (2016). Compare it to the ones out before, and around the same time, and this one stands pretty tall in its uniqueness. Maybe only Fantastiqa can really compete in that sense. Shadowrift still provides a very unique deckbuilding game that can stand alongside those other names because there isn’t one of them that does the same thing as Shadowrift.

At first this game appears to be about fighting off hordes of monsters. Then it appears to be a town defense game. Yet it is both of those things while at the same time being neither of those things. Some games, when they try to be clever and incorporate too much, lose some polish in the final product. And maybe the 1st edition had some of that. But the 2nd edition of Shadowrift juggles the deckbuilding genre, multiple types of currency, hordes of monsters, and town defense in a way that I’ve never seen before. For an older game (relatively speaking), it is surprising to get such a breath of fresh air from this game’s approach.

There are a lot of combinations in the box. Yes, astronomical computations could be made. But essentially you get six monster factions to fight against using a set of 8 market cards of your choosing. Most people will probably play a monster faction a handful of times, realistically, before wanting to either move on or expand the game. But even there you have roughly 20-25 plays just in the base game alone. The nice thing with these market and monster-driven games is that they are easy enough to integrate expansions into without needing to really change any core rules.

There are three currencies in the game, and you start with just the most basic of them in your deck. You can spend 2 to buy coins, which are one-time use and can be spent in a variety of ways. The most difficult to obtain would be the magic symbols, which often appear on spells but then you get the decision, when it is in your hand, on whether to use it for the spell or for the magic symbol. This factors into what I’ll be alluding to shortly regarding the absence of deck thinning, making it essential to decide early how to fill your deck with cards. Nothing is more frustrating than always drawing the Seal you need to clear a Shadowrift and never having a Magic symbol to use its ability.

Another neat deckbuilding decision comes from the Epic symbols on some market cards. On a player round (players take turns simultaneously, meaning the order in which you play cards as a team can matter and so communicating as a team is essential to be as effective as possible) you cannot play more Epic cards than there are players. So in a solo game (one handed, of course) you can play only one. Draw a hand of 3 of them? Too bad (unless a specific villager is in the Town to let you play an extra one). These are often the most powerful effects, usually based around combat in some fashion. You definitely want them in your deck. But you don’t want JUST them in your deck. They add interesting decisions along the way as you play the game, something you’re going to hear me say more and more about Shadowrift.

The Town and the Travelers are what really gives this game flavor and makes it shine when compared to some of the other staples in the genre. At the start you have 10 villagers in the Town deck, each of which have some sort of effect when in the Town or an Aid ability the players can use (once) on their turn. There is also a slightly thicker Traveler deck, which will flip over two cards every round. Some of the cards are people you can buy into the town deck, usually costing Coins and/or Prowess (the generic resource). However, there are some red Infiltrator cards that, when flipped into the face-up Traveler spots, immediately go into the Town discard pile. Which means they get shuffled in the next time you need to shuffle the Town cards to refill those five cards (which happens every round). If you ever have 5 corpses and/or Infiltrator cards into the Town display at the start of the Heroes’ turn, you lose. This deck refills before the monsters go, who then go before the Heroes. Which means even getting out 3 of those red cards can signal danger if there are some monsters about to act and Kill some villagers. Lucky for you, most Infiltators have a cost you can pay to put them back on the bottom of the Traveler deck (which is also where dead townspeople go). It is a simple pair of mechanisms at work here, but they add such intriguing decisions: do you spend resources to buy cards for your deck, or do you add travelers to the Town, or do you try and remove those Infiltrators?

The monsters follow a very simple sequence once they enter play. Every town they advance one space and do what is printed for that space# on their card. Many times it is to Kill some symbol of villager in the Town display, which not only removed that Villager from the deck (it goes to the bottom of the Traveler deck), but it also adds a Corpse card in their place. Which not only thins out the useful cards in that Town deck, it also advances the odds of losing. Because you can see what monsters will do on the next space, you can plan ahead on which ones you NEED to focus on taking out. However, with just 2 attack in your starting 10 cards, you’ll need to “level up” your hero some before taking down the biggest of baddies…

We come now to the elephant in the room that I can already hear people begrudging this game over: there is no deck thinning mechanism. Yep, you read that right. There are ways to remove wounds and afflictions, both cards that enter your deck via monsters, but once you buy a card it is in there forever. Same with your starting ten cards. Bold move? Perhaps, and something no deckbuilder today would dream of doing. Yet it is slightly balanced from the Heroism cards you get from killing monsters, which not only counts as any 1 of the 3 resources, but also lets you draw a card immediately when you draw the card into your hand. There’s also some Might cards that are the cheap currency which allow you to draw a card, but remove themselves when used for anything but a keep-in-play trigger on an action card. Rather than begrude the game for what it lacks, this should be embraced as an interesting puzzle each round. Every card you buy makes it less likely you’ll draw every card in that deck, meaning it needs to carry its weight. Is that generic 1 melee damage worth adding to your deck, or should you just buy a coin instead for a future turn? This is one of the things that makes this game so darn interesting to puzzle out right now, because most deckbuilders you can take thinning for granted and race to remove those starter cards.

Getting the rifts closed is important in the game. With 1 or 2 players, you’re looking for two rifts that are added to a 20 card deck – one in the top 10 and one in the bottom 10. Another element of randomness, you see. However, you have a card in your starting deck that can place the top Monster card from the deck onto the bottom of that deck – and you can always see what the next card is coming off the deck (it is face-up) so you won’t accidentally throw that Shadowrift to the bottom. There are a few other cards that can help cycle those cards, too, letting you dig a little faster. I’ve seen both Shadowrifts only once, but I’m not a great player yet. It stinks that your rifts could be cards 1 and 22 off the deck, but it is great that you can help speed it along.

My first plays of the game felt like I was losing to the luck of random draw. And yes, that will always be a possibility. If you get a strong reaction toward knowing your game could end due to a bad draw, this one might leave a sour taste for you. However, the redeeming quality in here is that you can do things to give that Town deck better odds by buying new Travelers, eliminating Infiltrators as soon as you can, or preventing the monsters from Killing townsfolk. It is a lot to juggle, especially solo. I’ve heard the game is far easier at higher player counts, simply because you have more hands on deck to specialize and deal with the unique areas of the game. When playing solo, those resources are scarce enough that it makes every decision matter. And even when you are playing well, it still could end with 4 of the 5 cards flipping out red and the one monster that just got added happens to Kill the exact symbol that isn’t red. It can happen even if you only have 4 red cards in that deck. Early in the game, this doesn’t sting so bad. But if it happens when you’re nearing the end of a grueling, long fight…that could become table-flipping territory for some players.

Final Thoughts

When I looked at this game, my immediate thought was Aeon’s End plus Marvel Legendary. While it has some thematic and mechanical similarities to both, this game is nothing like either of those games, but is more like Legendary than it is like Aeon’s End.

What if I told you this game originally came out before either of those games?

Some older games do not age well. Others just take longer to gain popularity and hit their prime. I’m convinced that Shadowrift still has not “arrived” yet in terms of making waves, but it definitely should not be overlooked. This game provides a far more thematic approach to defending the town than you had in Aeon’s End. This game gives a greater challenge, and requires far less setup/teardown time than Marvel Legendary.

And boy, is this game a challenge. Not necessarily because of any heightened difficulty built into the game, but rather because you are trying to balance several things effectively. The obvious threat comes from the monster deck and the interactions brought about by the monsters traveling across the play area. Fighting them is essential, yet clogs the deck through wounds (usually) gained from battle. But if you overlook the travellers coming to town, you could find yourself filled with infiltrators and corpses and bring a premature end to your efforts, no matter how successful you are at fighting back the monstrous horde.

My first loss in the game was bitter. Not only was I doing a poor job at killing dragons, I was poorly managing the cards clogging up my hand and completely ignored the Town deck. It got overrun with bad cards, which meant sooner or later I’d see 5 dealt out to give me the loss. I felt like the game was impossibly hard and lacked good decisions. I tried it again against the same match, with the same market, and had much of the same results. Turns out the recommended starting game wasn’t a great starting one for winning solo.

But as I kept returning to the game and playing further, I started to get better at tracking my deck of cards and keeping an eye toward the Town deck. Have I perfected that balance? Hardly. In fact, I’d argue that I am quite a ways away from hitting that efficient stride after 6 plays of the game.

Which is something I really like about this game, because it makes you think in ways that other games in this genre don’t. Not only are there three resource types in the game, there are also two methods of attack. Resources can be spent to improve your deck, or to improve the Town deck, and sometimes to help cycle the monster deck. The game is more than just get buying power early to get attack power and then stop buying cards while you smack enemies around. The game is more than culling cards ruthlessly until you can play your entire hand for super turns every round.

And that is a breath of fresh air in a genre that, at times, can feel repetitive and stale. There’s a reason why Mystic Vale is my favorite deckbuilder: it takes the genre and does something fresh with it. Aeon’s End did the same thing with the breaches and not shuffling. But this game takes the deckbuilder concept and really makes you have to consider, every single turn, how your decisions will impact your long-term goals.

As a solo/co-op gamer, I hate high win percentages (looking at you, Sentinels of the Multiverse). My favorite game is sitting firmly at a 31% win rate after over a hundred plays, and that feels perfect. The wins in Shadowrift are coming for me eventually. And until then, I’ll enjoy having this hit the table as part of a rotation of games I definitely want to make sure I play every month.

As a reminder, the newest expansion is on Kickstarter right now. And yes, I am a backer. That should confirm things: I enjoy this game and it is in my collection to stay. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shadowrift/shadowrift-b…