Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Hero Realms

Thank you for checking review #75 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.
An Overview of Hero Realms 

Hero Realms is a game designed by Robert Dougherty and Darwin Kastle, and was published by White Wizard Games in 2016. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 20-30 minute play time.

 

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Hero Realms is a fantasy-themed deck-building game that is an adaptation of the award-winning Star Realmsgame. The game includes basic rules for two-player games, along with rules for multiplayer formats such as Free-For-All, Hunter, and Hydra.

Each player starts the game with a ten-card personal deck containing gold (for buying) and weapons (for combat). You start each turn with a new hand of five cards from your personal deck. When your deck runs out of cards, you shuffle your discard pile into your new deck. An 80-card Market deck is shared by all players, with five cards being revealed from that deck to create the Market Row. As you play, you use gold to buy champion cards and action cards from the Market. These champions and actions can generate large amounts of gold, combat, or other powerful effects. You use combat to attack your opponent and their champions. When you reduce your opponent’s score (called health) to zero, you win!

Multiple expansions are available for Hero Realms that allow players to start as a particular character (Cleric, Fighter, Ranger, Thief, or Wizard) and fight cooperatively against a Boss, fight Boss decks against one another, or compete in a campaign mode that has you gain experience to work through different levels of missions.

My Thoughts

 

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 This is a fun, fast game that is everything I want out of a deckbuilder. The setup and teardown time is quick, so I can pull this out at a whim and be playing within minutes. The rules are simple and easy to teach, yet there is a vast amount of complexity within the game itself in terms of strategies you can take. There are easy ways to increase damage, regain life, draw more cards, and to thin your deck. You are interacting with your opponent because you are trying to destroy them, and there are some ways that you can slow down your opponent’s attacks apart from trying to regain a ton of life. This one little box provides an experience that is incredibly fun and has plenty of replayability.

 Speaking of replayability, the factions seem to be a little more balanced in this game than Star Realms. I have no concrete evidence, but they there doesn’t seem to be an obvious mono-faction that is all power or all healing. There are definitely still areas where each faction is stronger, but overall this seems to do a better job of spreading out those desirable traits to encourage branching out.
 I love the change on how Champions are used. They are far more interesting than Bases in Star Realms, despite providing almost the same effect. The real kicker is they get tapped to be used, meaning your opponent has opportunity to take them out of the equation for a turn. It also makes it easier to see and remember if something has been used.

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 The art and theme in this version of the deckbuilder hold a stronger appeal to me personally than ships in space. I’m definitely not going to be the only one who finds that to be true and, if all other things between the two games were equal, the theme in this would help it make a case to be in my collection. This one is just more fun to look at while on the table.

 The health tracking cards are significantly improved compared to Star Realms, and are definitely something I am willing and able to use during gameplay. My wife still isn’t a fan of the method, but I find it to be intuitive and easy to navigate during gameplay.

 One of the big differences you can feel during Hero Realms is how greater the spikes in power are. On one hand, it feels amazing to drop epic damage in a round. On the other hand, the slow burn and building of a deck in Star Realms allows a slower build to hit its stride. Is it a horrible problem that this game can eat health faster? Not at all! It was something that kept me from the game for a long time, but I shouldn’t have stayed away because it rarely is a downside to the gameplay. In fact, it can help keep the pace flowing to where the game avoids dragging on forever.

 One thing I don’t understand about Champions is how they untap at the end of your turn. So you use them, and then they refresh in time to block everyone else’s turns. It is counter-intuitive to me as a player, and it took a little time to wrap my head around the concept. If you’re used to playing games where things untap at the start of your turn, too (and I bet you are), this might be a struggle for you to remember as well. At least for the first games.

 The biggest complaint that could be said is that it doesn’t do anything new or revolutionary in the base game box. This is essentially a reskin of Star Realms, which at its core was a simple combination of deckbuilding and PVP card game combat. Happily, there are expansions that branch out to open up assymetrical starting decks and powers, boss battles, and a campaign to play through. Unfortunately, those require additional purchases and take an inexpensive entry point and makes it on par with a bigger box game for a buy-in to get the best value and mileage for the game.

Final Thoughts

 

I held off on even trying Hero Realms for a long, long time. I owned and loved Star Realms so much and heard whispers about Hero Realms that made me resist trying it for so long. And yes, it definitely can have far greater spikes of damage in this version (the main drawback I strayed from) but when playing the game it is far from feeling like a problem. In fact, it actually allows this game to have a better tempo than Star Realms, relying less heavily upon needing to go mono-faction from the market to have an engine that churns effectively and providing ways to still drop enough damage on the turtle-heavy strategists..

When comparing just base game Hero Realms against base game Star Realms, there aren’t many differences outside of the theme. Hero Realms provides an art style that is brighter and will have a strong appeal. It offers faster (in general) matches to let this thrive as a best-of sort of game on the shelf. It also provides Champions, who are similar to Bases in the Star Realms game but actually do something besides just a passive benefit. There are smaller Champions, bringing a great variety of them to the table.

Ultimately I came to like and appreciate Hero Realms even more than I expected. I still enjoy, and would gladly play, either game. They scratch the same itch, at least in base form. This system remains one of my favorite deckbuilders out there, far surpassing the likes of Dominion and Marvel Legendary.

However, the problem with Hero Realms is that there is more than just the base game and you’ll want to expand it. However, as you’ll see soon, that is a good thing because it adds a solo mode that is better than Star Realms’ version, character classes for unique starting decks for all players, and even boss battles allowing a 1 vs Many scenario of battling that is a ton of fun.

For the entry price, this game is hard to beat. If I had played this one more prior to my Top 25 list, it definitely would have made an appearance on that list because it does all the right things that I want this small, portable deckbuilder to accomplish. And with more expansions in the near future, there isn’t a better time to consider playing Hero Realms and seeing if it is right for your collection.

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Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Hero Realms. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.

 

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas

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Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Exceed Fighting System

Thank you for checking review #74 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.

An Overview of Exceed Fighting System

**Note: This is an overview of the fighting system as a whole, not a review of any particular box from the seasons of the game. Some of those may enter the pipeline in the future, though…

Exceed Fighting System is a game designed by D. Brad Talton Jr. and was published by Level 99 Games in 2015. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 5-30 minute play time.

Bring the fast-paced action of head-to-head arcade fighting games to your tabletop with the EXCEED Fighting System, which features fast-paced, intuitive mechanisms and gameplay that’s accessible to gamers and non-gamers of all skill levels. Choose your fighter from an ever-growing roster of diverse characters, each with their own deck of special moves and supers. Play your cards to unleash fireballs, dragon punches, and deadly combos on your opponents!

Titles in the EXCEED Fighting System come in one of two forms: standalone games that contain decks that allow two players to compete against one another, and individual decks. The standalone games are being released in “seasons”, with each season containing sixteen fighters from various franchises or worlds that are packaged into four-character boxes. Any deck can be played against any other deck, allowing you to compete across seasons and across worlds.

Season 1 of EXCEED features the art and characters of Jasco Games’ Red Horizon, which was first featured in the UFS Collectible Card Game. Season 2 of EXCEED features the monstrous heroes and villains of Seventh Cross, an upcoming game world from Level 99 Games.

My Thoughts

A huge change from BattleCON is that it becomes a “you go, I go” system and not every turn will consist of an attack. There are other things to do, such as drawing more cards or boosting your next attack or even moving around the board, and these add some nice, small decisions for the players. Attacking spends cards, all other actions at the least gain a card at the end of your turn. So eventually you’re going to either need to do something other than attack or just spam Wild Swings.

Wild Swings are what make this game exciting. Seriously. There’s something amazing about landing a strike that you couldn’t have otherwise done from your hand. I had a situation where I was 4 spaces away, my max range in my hand was 3. I gambled with the Wild Swing and flipped a card I didn’t even know existed yet that had a 4-6 range. It was an amazing feeling. I’ve also pulled off a finishing blow with a Wild Swing, as my opponent was at 4 health and both my hand attacks dealt 3. So I gambled on the Wild Swing and brought them down. Is it a reliable tactic to use often? No. But it is great to have that option for when you don’t have the right cards, or desire to keep your hand in-tact.

I love how thematic it feels to need to land hits in order to use your stronger attacks. Every successful hit is added to your Gauge, which is essentially a currency you can spend. Each character has a few cards (called Ultra Attacks) that can only be played by spending Gauge. It can also be spent as Force, providing more for fewer cards. It is like your fighter is using momentum throughout the match to hit harder and (usually) faster than a normal attack. While they lack any finishers, these are a close enough substitute that it feels right.

The Exceed mode on each character brings a nice decision into the game, as it also takes Gauge to flip your character. Gauge isn’t always easy, or fast, to come by. Spending 2-4 Gauge is a critical decision at times, as using it for Exceed will make it so you probably can’t afford an Ultra Attack. However, the continuous boost/change to your character might be worthwhile. Deciding when/if to Exceed is a critical decision at times, and one I enjoy having available.

EX Attacks are a fun twist to add in there, yet another thing that adds some flair to the gameplay and makes it exciting. When you play a strike, if you have two cards of the same name you can put them both down. What this essentially does is add +1 to everything but range on the attack, making it faster, stronger, and provide more defense. This has been the difference between being stunned and making a connection on an attack, and is a simple yet wonderful tactic.

There is balance in the game. Honestly, it felt like there wasn’t during my first two games as the fighters I used are polar opposites (one is all about ranged attacks, the other about being right next to the opponent). Yet as I played more, using the same matchup against the same opponent, that perceived disadvantage disappeared. Do they dictate some of the playstyle? Sure, which is the beauty of a game where there are currently 32 fighters, not counting bonus ones. You just need to find the one that resonates most with you.

These things are worth mentioning even though all I have is a demo deck. These could be things that have been changed/fixed already and I just don’t know it. But here goes: The board is 9 cards. While it isn’t a bad thing, having a board (other than via purchasing a mat) would be a nice bonus. I understand the cost savings of this method but it also leads me to wonder if there is a way to track health in the box. No board or mat leads me to have to find alternative methods for tracking our health.

The rules I have are disappointing. Yes, you can learn the game from them and play without much issue. The few questions we ran into in the last play session were either answered in the FAQ or quickly answered by the amazing fan community. However, they are a folded poster. Yes, that makes it portable. But I don’t want a massive rule sheet on the table while playing, and folding/unfolding it is annoying during play. I would honestly prefer more of a book – something I hope to discover upon opening a box rather than just a pair of demo decks…

Final Thoughts

I got my first introduction to Exceed: Fighting System at Gen Con from the Level 99 Games booth. I distinctly remember talking to Brad Talton while playing Temporal Odyssey beforehand, asking him how he felt Exceed and BattleCON could co-exist while providing the same concept of fighting game. I simply didn’t understand how this game could be different enough from BattleCON, a game I had already played and came to love, to merit consideration in a person’s collection. But Brad was right – turns out the designer of the games knows what he is talking about – this game is different enough to co-exist in a collection.
Both of the games are going to scratch different playstyle itches. BattleCON is deep in tactical and strategic layers because you have a set of cards that are known to both players, and that are available in a cyclical system of rotation. This provides both its greatest strength and greatest weakness in the same blow, as it allows you to plan for every possible combination your opponent could play and to think ahead by several turns on your own moves.
Exceed, on the other hand, has elements of both but is a lot heavier on the tactical side of things because it adds in randomness into the mix. You won’t always have the exact card you need for the situation, and the number of specific moves is finite in that deck. While it loses the ability to plan with perfect information, it gains a lot more emotional moments instead. Rather than doing well because you outplayed your opponent, you gain the thrill of connecting on a hopeless Wild Swing strike and drawing the exact card you need at just the right time for your circumstances. It provides more of a roller coaster of excitement and layers of tension that are sometimes lacking in the BattleCON match. All the while feeling like a brand new system that still feels as though it will reward the experienced player.
My experience so far with Exceed is limited to two characters, those demo decks I picked up at Gen Con, and that is why I feel there is some value here in reviewing the system as a whole. This avoids diving into X is broken or Y is underpowered or Z is the best box to purchase because it has A in there. This is my taking a look at the mechanics of Exceed and providing a review of the mechanics alone.
And that is enough. Honestly, it doesn’t matter as much about which box you pick up or which season of Exceed you purchase because the core of the game is great. I’m still not sure if I prefer this or BattleCON, and I don’t know that I will ever make that decision. I know players who are likely to prefer the open information of BattleCON and the feeling of outplaying your opponent to win. I know others who prefer a little luck in their game and will really dig the use of a Wild Swing as a mechanic. I enjoy them both equally.
Which says a lot about Exceed, since my expectations were pretty low going into the game. It provides a faster experience, while opening up a lot more small decisions to the player because it is not just about pairing attacks every single turn. You can not only do smaller actions to help position your fighter or load your hand, but you can also Exceed to unlock your more powerful side and play EX attacks to boost your strikes. I love the tweaks made on this fighting system, and if you like a little luck in your game and a box that has an excellent entry price, then definitely check out one of the eight available boxes of Exceed.

***

Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Exceed Fighting System. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Root

Thank you for checking review #72 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 Root

 

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Root is a game designed by Cole Wehrle and was published by Leder Games in 2018. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 60-90 minute play time.

Root is a game of adventure and war in which 2 to 4 (1 to 6 with the ‘Riverfolk’ expansion) players battle for control of a vast wilderness.

The nefarious Marquise de Cat has seized the great woodland, intent on harvesting its riches. Under her rule, the many creatures of the forest have banded together. This Alliance will seek to strengthen its resources and subvert the rule of Cats. In this effort, the Alliance may enlist the help of the wandering Vagabonds who are able to move through the more dangerous woodland paths. Though some may sympathize with the Alliance’s hopes and dreams, these wanderers are old enough to remember the great birds of prey who once controlled the woods.

Meanwhile, at the edge of the region, the proud, squabbling Eyrie have found a new commander who they hope will lead their faction to resume their ancient birthright. The stage is set for a contest that will decide the fate of the great woodland. It is up to the players to decide which group will ultimately take root.

Root represents the next step in our development of asymmetric design. Like Vast: The Crystal Caverns, each player in Root has unique capabilities and a different victory condition. Now, with the aid of gorgeous, multi-use cards, a truly asymmetric design has never been more accessible.

The Cats play a game of engine building and logistics while attempting to police the vast wilderness. By collecting Wood they are able to produce workshops, lumber mills, and barracks. They win by building new buildings and crafts.

The Eyrie musters their hawks to take back the Woods. They must capture as much territory as possible and build roosts before they collapse back into squabbling.

The Alliance hides in the shadows, recruiting forces and hatching conspiracies. They begin slowly and build towards a dramatic late-game presence–but only if they can manage to keep the other players in check.

Meanwhile, the Vagabond plays all sides of the conflict for their own gain, while hiding a mysterious quest. Explore the board, fight other factions, and work towards achieving your hidden goal.

In Root, players drive the narrative, and the differences between each role create an unparalleled level of interaction and replayability. Leder Games invites you and your family to explore the fantastic world of Root!

—description from the publisher

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

There are no real inherent differences apart from the removal of the four Dominance Cards from the deck. Apart from that, the factions set up and are played exactly the same as with more factions. There are a series of recommended matchups at this player count in the rulebook, with the most obvious being the Marquise de Cat vs. the Eyrie Dynasty (and arguably the best matchup)

My Thoughts

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 The best thing about Root is the asymmetric factions. They are all unique in how they operate, yet they are easy enough to navigate. There are common grounds in that they all get and use cards, they are working to earn 30 VP, and can make some use of items. Beyond that, each of them does things differently to make every experience feel fresh without it being overwhelming. Certain factions will cater more to certain playstyles, but all of them have their merit and all of them, at least in a 4-player game, will be capable of competing if played well.

 The problem that Vast: The Crystal Caverns ran into was the barrier to entry in a game with completely asymmetric factions. Thankfully, this game learned some lessons from its predecessor and provides an easier-to-learn experience with factions that are easy enough to play. The factions are necessary to provide overall balance to each other without the burdensome task of “the Goblins need to do X because they are the only faction that can really slow down Y”, making a much better and overall more enjoyable experience.

 

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 The board has two sides, consisting of the standard playing side and a winter side where you can randomize the clearings’ affiliations. I like this idea a lot, as it gives you a static setup to use for early games and a dynamic setup for experienced players. This is the same concept you see in games like Azul, where the player board has a standard side and a greyed out side to allow players to tinker with the layout. More games should consider something like this with the board, optimizing the value in the box and adding replay value.

 Combat in this game is simple and mostly intuitive. The attacker rolls two 12-sided dice (values range from 0-3) and the attacker gets the higher roll and the defender the lower roll. Both sides deal those hits at the same time, but are capped on the number of hits they can do by how many units they have present. That lone Cat Warrior can’t clear out three Bird Knights, no matter how often he rolls a 3. This system, while not incredible, is an effective system that keeps the game flowing and makes it so every combat has some risk to it.

 #teamwoodlandalliance. That is all. Guess which faction I enjoyed the most?

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 I rather like two of the three rulebook/references that are included in this game. One gives you the overview of information, allowing any group to start playing after going through a colorful book that walks you through the basics and provides nice examples. Another one is stylized in the format of a wargame’s rulebook and provides very detailed and complete rules. It is the sort of book you want to have as a way of referencing things as you play.

 However, the third thing in there isn’t so great. In concept, I like the walkthrough of two turns of play for players. It gets you up and running that much faster and lets them follow a pair of scripted turns that does demonstrate how each faction functions. However, this isn’t executed well because it lacks one key thing: reasoning. It is all good that the Cats are building a sawmill. But WHY? That is what a player wants to know. Otherwise why not just start the game at Turn 3, with those changes already implemented? That is essentially what happens there, because it gives no context or commentary on what is being completed by the player.

 There are items that can be crafted by each faction, which is nice because they score victory points. But unless you are playing with a Vagabond, that is the extent of their purpose in a game. They are limited by the quantity available in the supply at the top of the board, but I’ve rarely seen that an issue to prevent an item from being crafted. I do like that the Eyrie has a major drawback on crafting items, as they already score points really consistently. It is a key part of the game regardless, but it really loses the impact when there is no Vagabond. And, as you’ll read soon, the Vagabond isn’t really ideal in a 2-player game…

 The factions lose some of the interactions when not every faction is present. As the biggest “for instance”, let’s consider the Vagabond. He cannot function as intended, taking items in exchange for cards and finding peace with factions while warring with other ones. He also loses the freedom to spend any time exploring ruins, as it is almost critical that he combats those Eyrie every turn in order to keep pace on scoring and try to throw them into turmoil – something that, sadly, only worked once for my Vagabond when I played. After that, the Eyrie was able to smartly build their programming around what they possessed on the board and they ran away with the victory.

 Which is the other big detractor, tying into the loss of interactions: not every match is balanced at this player count. 10+ point blowouts are not uncommon, and there is no 3rd party to help slow down a leading player. Even the matchups recommended in the rulebook at 2-players, such as the Eyrie vs. the Vagabond, do not play out well. There is really one excellent matchup, and a handful of okay matchups. So if you love Cats and Birds, you’re in luck! Those two are the best against each other. Everything else really shows signs of wanting that extra player or two to help keep things in check.

Final Thoughts

 

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Root is one of those games that is hard to pinpoint where it should fall. What it sets out to accomplish, it does rather well. It is a fun, fast game that has mass appeal to wargamers and non-wargamers alike. It provides asymmetry, but streamlines the learning process that really hampered Vast: The Crystal Caverns (which was one of those few games that went into the “I never want to try and teach that game” category, right next to Race for the Galaxy). Combat is streamlined and simple, and every faction feels like they have unique paths to their objective of 30 points.

However, this review is not necessarily just a review of the game of Root. You, dear reader, likely want to know about it as a 2-player experience. Can I recommend it?

Had I reviewed this game immediately after my first few plays, the answer would have been “Yes!”. This game made me fall in love with it, and it jettisoned into my experimental “If I could only keep 50 games” list a few months ago as a result. It still might make that list, but for different reasons.

You see, Root is not a great 2-player only experience. If that is the only way you are going to play the game, I wouldn’t recommend it. It will be fun for a while, but you’ll eventually discover matchups that aren’t going to feel balanced (such as the Eyrie vs. the Vagabond, which saddened me so much because I was looking forward to playing the Vagabond! And this was recommended in the rules!) and might take dozens of frustrating losses to finally learn a way to win. Some people might be okay with that and embrace it – I plan to not give up on it myself, but most games these days get at most 10 plays during their life on a person’s shelves before something newer and shinier is fulfilled on Kickstarter to replace it.

Root’s biggest problem, besides the feeling of inbalance, is that it is a game that requires investment. You can play it 3-5 times and get a feeling of satisfaction, but it may take dozens of plays across the factions (not even counting expansion ones) in order to really have things shine through. And the harsh truth is most gamers won’t reach that point before moving on. This isn’t a game to pull out every 6 months to play it once and put it back. It desires regular, consistent play to fully enjoy it – especially with the same game group and at the max player count of 4. It is almost like a legacy game from that standpoint, as it will require committed scheduling to really see the best this game has to offer.

And the best this game offers is not at 2 players. Or even at 3, although that is significantly better. The best Root experience is at a full table, with all factions in play. That version of Root is the experience I can, and will, recommend without hesitation. That version of Root is arguably the best game so far in 2018.

And here lies the caveat for my final verdict. If you are looking at Root for your collection and know it is always going to be a 2-player experience, I would pass on the game as there are simply much better options out there. If you want head-to-head combat, something card-driven like BattleCON or Temporal Odyssey would be great, or for a conflict “dudes on a map” game War of the Ring or 878: Vikings – Invasions of England will provide better experiences for that player count.

However…

If there is a chance, any chance at all, that this will see some plays at 3-4 players it becomes a recommended game and therefore will definitely remain in our collection. It is still fun to play on occasion with 2 players and a game we both definitely enjoyed, and I have a feeling we’ll pull it out every so often when it is the two of us. However, this is going to be a go-to game any time we have a couple over to game with us because that is where Root really, really shines: with 3-4 players. Cole and the Leder Games team designed a fantastic game overall, and I’m definitely wanting to look into picking up that expansion for the solo play eventually. I’m glad we had a chance to play Root, and I think it is the rare game that many players will enjoy. I just wish it was a tad bit better with 2 players.

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Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Root. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Microbrew

Thank you for checking review #70 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 prototype of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

The game is currently on Kickstarter until September 31st: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1707132801/microbrew-a-full-sized-board-game-in-a-tiny-tin?ref=bggforums&token=c6e1c6e8

An Overview of Microbrew

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Microbrew is a game designed by Nigel and Sarah Kennington and was published by One Free Elephant in 2018. The tin states that it can play 2 players and has a 50-70 minute play time and a BGG Weight Rating of 3.00.

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

There are no differences, as the 2-player experience is the core experience packaged in the game.

Rules Rating

The rules are done relatively well overall, with minimal barriers to teaching the game upon reading. There are a few areas I had to continually check, such as trying to interpret if there are two action spaces on the Brew space of the board. Ultimately, reading between the lines, I went with “yes” on that since there are two icons for it whereas every other location has one. It makes a huge difference, given you cannot bump your own worker. It would also have been nice for clarity that some regional/flavor objectives are worth two loyal customers (the rulebook states one, but some clearly show two faces on there). However, the minor omissions do not interfere with the core of the game and getting an understanding of how best to play. Overall I’d give it a solid 8/10.

My Thoughts

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 The puzzle aspect of the game is the real star of the show. Don’t let the appearance of a worker placement game fool you, this part is hardly tacked on and can really add some tactical layers to the gameplay. Thank goodness you don’t need to have them in the right order to bottle them effectively, as just getting the worts you need into the correct row can be an incredible challenge in itself. This is the part of the game that really elevates the gameplay and makes it stand out when compared to its competition.

 There are a few ways to upgrade your ability to do things, including getting a third worker and adding a fifth row into your copper for gaining worts. Both of these feel priced well, but are rarely both used in the same game. You can also give your workers overtime, paying to remove one off the board, and an option to look through more recipe cards. This is one of the action spaces we undervalued in the first play, but quickly realized how great all four of these options can be.

 

 The worker placement aspect of this game is nice and simple, yet provides plenty of an interesting challenge. Mostly because you cannot bump your own workers, so planning accordingly is important. You cannot just spend the entire turn bottling unless your opponent does the same, bumping you off. Only having 2-3 workers adds to the challenge, as you will rarely be able to do everything you want to accomplish in a turn.

 There is a fair amount of player interaction available. There are face-up recipe cards open for the taking, and whoever bottles it first adds the recipe to their hand after it is served. Paying attention to the recipe they are working toward can allow you to bottle an imperfect beer and take that out from under them. The same applies to serving beers to customers – if they are about to gain a loyal customer you can serve a ready beer to that customer and cause them to flip. At the very least you’ll force them to waste an action to flip them over or wait for the next round to be able to serve that customer. And in the meantime you’ll get at least some cash in pocket from serving that customer.

 This game encourages tactical planning in relation to your opponent. Staying a step ahead of them can allow you to gain extra actions if they are bumping your worker back off a space. This especially happens in the first and final turns of the game when both players are typically trying to accomplish the same things.

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 I love that you can advertise to gain those customers rather than needing a perfect match to their drink of choice. This opens up new strategies, and the scaling cost of that advertise action helps make it easier for a player to use either early, or when they are behind. It helps you to feel like there is a chance to come from behind, and also lets you have a way to gain the loyal customer if you don’t have a matching recipe in hand.

 I love the idea of the brewmaster and his ability to give the opponent a free brew action when they go to his space. But I can still count on one hand the number of times he interfered with our movement during a game. His placement onto Bottle of Serve would be far more impactful in terms of providing those free Brew actions.

 This would benefit a little from player aids for both sides. A quick reminder about the spaces, and how the worts move via the Brew action, would be a great thing for players to reference. As well as what the brewmaster does when he moves to a specific space. Those two things, in particular, were needing referenced often as we played.

 Packaging the components into that tin can be a real challenge. Seriously. If you don’t want a game that requires methodical packing when you are finished, this game will drive you nuts. But if you are tired of opening boxes where the components can fit into 10% of the space…you’ll love this game and how they’ve packed it about as tight as it could possibly fit into this tin.

 Variability. Yes, you’ll have cards flip over at different times in the game but you will almost certainly see every card in the game at some point. In addition to that, there is no variety from game to game apart from the bonus scoring, of which all but two are used each game. Having more customers and recipes would be nice to see in the game, as that would prevent a player from sitting on a brewed recipe until the exact customer flips out. I don’t think that tin can really hold more cards, though. Also, having an odd number of customers should help prevent a tie from being as common since the majority of our games ended in a tie overall.

 A negative from my wife: the player’s coppers and the action board are all on two cards, meaning they don’t fit together perfectly and can easily be bumped and shifted over the course of the game. It adds to the fiddly nature of a game that some would already define as fiddly through manipulation of pieces. It appears the kickstarter is somewhat solving that by having these on the back of some beer mats, which can double as a coaster when not playing the game.

Final Thoughts

 

I knew that the theme wasn’t one in our wheelhouse going into the game, as neither of us really drink. Then again, we both enjoyed Viticulture and I’ve enjoyed Vinhos and we don’t drink wine, either. The theme itself isn’t really a barrier to entry so much as it is the seasoning added to enhance the experience. From that perspective, I really enjoy what Microbrew tries to accomplish.

The worker placement is, of course, what initially excited us about this game. Anytime there is that mechanic in a game my wife is certainly going to demonstrate at least some interest. However, the real star of the show is the puzzle component to add extra layers of strategy to an otherwise straight-forward game of recipe fulfillment. There have been times when the stars aligned and allowed us to immediately fill multiple recipes with minimal adjustment. There are other times when the required moves to get things aligned are not worth the time spent doing those actions. It all leads to a great challenge on deciphering what you need to do now in order to earn those loyal customers.

I like that there are multiple approaches you can take, primarily going for the perfect beers in order to win over loyal customers or making inferior product to boost money and then advertise those loyal customers into your fold. Both approaches have some strong merit, and your approach can change from round to round. Being able to use that advertise action to win over customers, even without an exact match in beer, makes this feel a lot more balanced.

Ultimately the biggest detractor for this game comes down to variability. You’ll always use the same 12 customers and the same stack of recipe cards. You’ll always see those 12 customers and usually see every recipe at some point, so an experienced player can plan in advance for later turns. In fact, there is no real penalty for brewing that perfect bottle early and having it prepared for when that customer finally flips. It’d be nice to have a greater number of both, and to use only X number of them so you can’t be certain to see a specific customer every game.

But there is not really much room in that tin to add more content in the way of anything, really. It is so packed full of stuff that you feel like you are getting great value…until it comes time for the game of putting it all back into that tin. If you prefer games where you can just toss stuff back into the box then you might go crazy with the required precision for packing this game away.

Overall I really enjoyed this, and my wife became a fan once she realized the worts didn’t need to be in the exact order as the recipe called for. It was fun seeing her go from struggling early to coming back and throttling me game after game. Even in my best game where I managed to snag 7 loyal customer cards, I ultimately lost thanks to her fulfillment of those extra scoring cards (which I fell short on) and the tiebreaker. That went to prove that early dominance in the customer battle doesn’t necessarily equate to a victory, a fact that was disheartening to me but also encouraging overall. Due to its portable size and intriguing combination of puzzle and worker placement, this game is capable of earning a place in many collections that might already have worker placement games – or even ones that already have other small, portable worker placement games. Even without variability in cards there is the unpredictability of the order in which things appear and the way in which your worts will be sorted in your copper. There is far more game in this tin than in many bigger boxes, making Microbrew a steal at the price it is being sold for.

You can check out their Kickstarter, running now through September 31st: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1707132801/microbrew-a-full-sized-board-game-in-a-tiny-tin?ref=bggforums&token=c6e1c6e8

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Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Microbrew. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two: Circle the Wagons

Thank you for checking review #69 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 Circle the Wagons

 

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Circle the Wagons is a game designed by Steven Aramini, Danny Devine, and Paul Kluka and was published by Button Shy in 2017. The “box” states that it can play 2 players and has a 15 minute play time and a BGG Weight Rating of 1.73.

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

There are no differences, as the 2-player experience is the core experience packaged in the game.

Rules Rating

The rules are simple, laid out well, and makes for an easy-to-teach game. There is a little vagueness about the scoring of territories at the end, and a few key things (such as what happens in a tie) are missing. It would also help if there was a small section to clarify some of the scoring cards. Overall, a solid rulebook with marginal room to improve, mostly through including a little more explanation.

My Thoughts

The most incredible part of this game is the selection mechanism in the game. Seriously, I love this aspect so much. On your turn you can select any card available in the circle of cards; however, every card you skip over immediately goes to your opponent to add to their tableau. Really want that card with 3 cattle on it? Take it now and your opponent gets those two cards you skipped. Sometimes it is worth it. Other times it is a questionable decision. And part of me really wants to open a game by picking the last card…just because it’d be fun.

 

Mixed in with that above point comes the most important decision the 2nd player will get to make: where Player 1 begins on the circle of cards. I really enjoy this idea, as this decision could have a strong impact on how many cards they get before they even get to take the first turn. Which seems really weird, when typing that out, but it is so true. This is a nice touch to offset the “disadvantage” of being second.

Building rules are straightforward. There is no rotating of cards, no tucking of the new card underneath an existing card (I wish you could tuck, though!). It simply has to be adjacent in some fashion, whether touching or covering an existing card in your territory. The simple rules for construction allow you to simply dive into the meat of the game without worrying over complexity.

 

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All 18 cards in the game have a different scoring condition on the back. I think we’ve used all 18 at some point in time by now, but I can’t promise that with any certainty. Sometimes they have some minor synergy, allowing you to compete for several in trying to accomplish one of them well. Other times they seem to work against each other, to where you can make progress on one but not much on the other. The goals are varied, some of them quite clever, and they all help make each play feel fresh and interesting.

There are six different terrain types, spread across (18 cards x 4 territories per card)… 72 different territories. There also happen to be 6 different symbols that appear on those territories. The terrain matters every game, the symbols may matter in some games. I like that there is variety built into these cards, not just the scoring mechanisms. What you need for one game might vary wildly from what you need to focus on in the next one. However, you’ll always want to have at least half a mind toward building a large terrain for 1-2 types.

This game, like every Button Shy game, wins on portability. It comes in a literal small wallet, which I rarely notice having in my pocket when I take it with me. The game takes minutes to set up, plays and scores in under ten minutes, and can be reset in a minute or two. So not only is this perfect for being portable, it is also lightning-fast for playtime. Huge wins for that, making this the game I’ll slip into my pocket any time we head out and there’s a chance to game.

This game can be taught to a new player in minutes. Literally. I had about 5 minutes at Gen Con after playing Liberation with Jason Tagmire, and he was able to teach me the game AND we played a round of it in that window of time (and yes, I won! Revenge for that loss in Liberation!). Yet in spite of the small set of rules and quick gameplay, this one is FUN. Genuinely fun enough that I want to play again and again when finished with a round.

This isn’t a massive table hog, but you’re going to need a fair amount of table space to have the 3 scoring cards, the circle of 15 cards to draft from, and room for both players to build their town as they gain the cards. So while this doesn’t need a massive space to play the game, it does need a moderate space to comfortably play the game.

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As mentioned in the rules review above, there are a few things that simply aren’t mentioned. In a 2-player competitive game, leaving out a tiebreaker baffles me. Ironically, it was our very first game against each other that ended in that tie! Thankfully, BGG held the answer and my town was smaller, granting me the victory.

It isn’t a dealbreaker by any means, but some will complain that this game has no method for keeping score. Yes, it could have included a small pad for scoring, but I imagine that would have inflated the cost by quite a bit. I personally find that a Magic: The Gathering Life Tracker app works perfectly in this situation for tallying up scores at the end. It can be easy to lose track of what your score is across the 9 scoring mechanisms.

Final Thoughts

 

Sprawlopolis was a game that took the board game media by storm in 2018. Every single review I saw of the game was positively glowing, and my own review held it in pretty high regard. It was definitely a good game packaged in 18 cards, and I loved the win/loss condition being tied to the scoring mechanisms exclusive to that setup. And therefore the burning question on my mind was: which game would I prefer, Circle the Wagons or Sprawlopolis?

And the answer is definitely Circle the Wagons, for reasons that have everything to do with our preferences as a couple. We’d rather compete than cooperate in a board game, and therefore our tendency will always be to take a competitive game if all other things are equal. There are great things about both games, and reasons to love both. One could very easily enjoy them both and have them existing in the same collection because they scratch very different itches.

I love the quick playtime of this game, coupled with the extreme portability. I don’t notice it in my pocket – something I can’t say about a game in a mint tin. I love that it takes less than a minute to get set up and ready to play. I can teach the game, including scoring for a specific setup, in well under 5 minutes. It takes a minute or two to reset for a new game. All of those are strong positives.

Which is why we have played this game nearly a dozen times already since it entered our collection at Gen Con.

The cleverness of the game comes from the card selection, and the tough decisions it can create. It can make you feel great when choosing a card 5 down the line and watching your opponent realize they need to place all of those cards, in order, without messing up their plans. A game can end abruptly with one bold selection, tossing every plan out the window. There are several ways to win, as we’ve had victories where almost no points came from territories and victories where almost no points came from the three scoring cards.

This game is wonderful for what it sets out to accomplish. It may never make a player’s #1 game spot, but I find this is the game I’ll reach for first to toss in my pocket if there’s a chance we’ll be eating out or have downtime somewhere. To be able to play a game with meaningful decisions in 5-10 minutes and the game literally fits unnoticed in my pocket…that is a feat worthy of including in the collection.

For those keeping track, this is the third Button Shy game I’ve reviewed so far and, if you don’t own a Button Shy game yet, any of those three (Circle the Wagons, Sprawlopolis, Liberation) would be excellent choices as a first game to introduce you to the wonderful games they produce.

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Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Circle the Wagons. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Temporal Odyssey

Thank you for checking review #68 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 Temporal Odyssey

Temporal Odyssey is a game designed by Chris Solis and was published by Level 99 Games & CGC Games in 2018. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 20-45 minute play time and a BGG Weight Rating of 2.50.

Temporal Odyssey is a drafting battle card game about dueling time travelers for 2 and 4 players. Draft from the past, present, or future, and enlist legendary heroes and creatures to fight by your side. Group your characters to get them to share their abilities, using this both offensively and defensively. Regroup often to adapt to the situation. Rewind time to prevent your own death but be careful — each time you must suffer judgement from Lovox the god of time. Destroy your opponent’s stability and deliver the final blow to banish them from the timeline and win the game!

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

There are no differences, as the 2-player experience is the core experience packaged in the game.

Rules Rating

Overall, this was not a difficult game to learn and teach. The rules are straightforward enough to grasp after two readings with minimal questions. There are some areas in the rules that are contradictory and/or needed clarification, and there is an official FAQ with those corrections; thankfully, many of those are very minor involving setup. However, I really dislike the format of the large sheet folded up, as it is a hassle to unfold it and find the space to look at it and try to find what you’re looking for. A small 4-8 page rule booklet would have been much better, allowed more examples, an index to help find specific concepts, and more. That is the biggest detriment is trying to find what you need when searching to answer a question: there is a lot of space to look through to try and discover that answer. 7/10 rating on the rules, as it can be taught from with relative ease but isn’t great for referencing on-the-go and for the errors in the rulebook.

My Thoughts

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This game does something so wonderful that I rarely see in this style of game: it gives you access to wildly powerful cards and you can play any of them on the next turn after you acquire them. There is no holding a card until you get X lands out, or have a resource match, or whatever blocks a game naturally places on power cards. You can draft a card on your first turn that makes you do a double take before laughing manically at what is about to hit your unsuspecting opponent. The game skips over the slow build-up to power and lets you dive right in, letting the crazy cards and combos fly.

There is a common thread among all six travelers, as they have identical powers, they each have a tower, an ally that has some HP and attack, an ally with shield that can pull a card from a timeline deck, an artifact, and three spells. Those spells are the difference between them, apart from the element on the artifact, and that is a good thing. Each traveler is different due to their spells, yet similar enough that you aren’t at a disadvantage when playing a new traveler. This provides enough asymmetry to give flavor without making that asymmetry a barrier to learning for players.

I love that there are effects on units that can spread to the unit they regroup with. This opens up ways to mitigate damage, retaliate when attacked, and much more. A lot of times the Regroup phase provides the most important decisions you can make in terms of what units to pair together and which should be in the front and which in the back. It adds a layer of tactical strategy to the experience that would otherwise be missing from a game like this.

Adding into the Regrouping phase, there are units you obviously want to have behind another unit so they cannot be targeted with attacks. However, any unit you attack with has to be at the front of a grouping, meaning you need to weigh the decision to attack against whether you need to defend that unit. A miscalculation here, as I discovered this week, can be very costly in the end. It wasn’t the power of his cards that cost me the game, but my own decision to attack with my traveler rather than trying to use my other units to take out his threat.

Turns are simple. You have four AP to spend (there are a few exceptions) on your turn. Spells, Artifacts, and units have an AP cost to bring them into play. Cards brought into play cannot be used to attack. Some cards have an ability that can be triggered by spending AP. You use the other side of the AP token to indicate attacks. Most turns will be playing a card and doing 1-2 attacks or abilities. Then you regroup the units and draft three cards from a single time period deck (more on that next!) Simple turns, which keep the action flowing fast and help make it streamlined to play cards and resolve attacks.

There is drafting in the game. Oh, how I love me some card drafting. In this one, you do that at the end of your turn, choosing one of the three decks (Past, Present, or Future) and take the top three cards. One you select to place in your hand, one you discard permanently from the game (Banish it), and the other returns face-up to the top of the deck. Yep, face-up. Excellent decisions to be had here, as you are considering what you want, what needs to be removed, and what you want your opponent to see is available on their turn. Such a clever decision here, and it is probably my favorite part of the game.

I love the artwork and the graphical layout in this game. The team behind this did a fantastic job overall, and I was pleased to hear that a good number of the characters in here are also in Chris Solis’ first game: Terrene Odyssey. Added to that, the theme of this game is incredible, and is the hook I’ve used at the start every time to raise my opponent’s interest before diving into how to play the game.

I almost “finished” this review without mentioning one of the other interesting and important things in this game: Instability. If your traveler gets knocked out while you have 3 Instability, you lose the game. So Instability is a bad thing, inherently. However, they have actions on there which you can use (I think they are all one-time use) to gain an edge during the battle, allowing you to lean into the damaging effect and capitalize upon it. You also gain a symbol on that Instability card, helping you to boost your spells and abilities until the point where you use that card for its effect. This is a clever thing to add into the game, and one I really enjoy.

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Anyone who has been reading my reviews for a while will know what comes next: replayability. Six travelers to choose from, each of them containing unique spells and an artifact in their unique element. Three different time periods of cards, each of those containing only three out of six factions. This means you could, without any extra work, play two games in a row and have a completely new setup of factions in every time period deck to play with. Learning the cards in those decks so that you know what to try and find during a game will take several plays, at which point a lot of strategy layers can open up for players.

Which leads into the fact that this game really rewards the experienced player. Sure, a new player can compete against a skilled one. Heck, I played this against the designer and it was down to the wire with me losing the turn before I would have finished him off. It has layers of strategy and tactics that take many games, and a knowledge of what cards are in which factions, to unlock and use effectively. This is a good thing, and also a bad thing. If you want to be great, you need to play it. A lot. But you also need to play it a lot to be great at it. Yes, I meant to say it that way. It is a lifestyle game, just like several others that Level 99 Games has in their catalog (BattleCON, Exceed, Pixel Tactics) so that should come as no surprise. If you have a group of people willing to play regularly, this is a great game for that group. But if you want to pull it out for a game every 6-9 months and want to do well…that may be difficult.

The card stock on this leaves something to be desired. I am not a habitual sleever of games, but this one may need to be the exception in my collection. For a game I want to play dozens of times in the coming months, I would hate for these cards to wear out quickly. Thankfully, there is ample space in the box for sleeved cards and, presumably, future expansion content.

The player aids…they have the same information on both sides. I don’t understand the reasoning for this, but it is a disappointment. The other side should honestly contain the various keywords that appear on cards, such as Stunned, and what they do. Especially those keywords that do not get defined on the bottom of a card. Also, they leave off the start of turn phase where you resolve Start of Turn effects, discard AP tokens off cards and regain a pool of 4 AP, and exhaust all spell cards in play.

There are only two spells for each of the three time period decks, and they are always mixed in there. In a game with this much replay and variability, that aspect is slightly disappointing to me. I’m sure there is a reasoning behind it, as maybe having more spells unbalanced the game (a tongue-in-cheek statement for sure about a game that makes players so powerful from the start that they can feel like the game is unbalanced…even though I would argue it is pretty well balanced overall since both players typically achieve that feeling).

Final Thoughts

This game’s greatest weakness is also its greatest strength: things ramp up quickly via unapologeticly powerful cards and combos. This is the game that skips over the slow build-up that most card-driven games (whether dueling games like Magic: The Gathering or deckbuilding games like Dominion) start players off at and jumps feet-first into the depths of madness. And whoa, that is FUN. There are few games where, after drawing the first three cards off a deck, your opponent’s eyes get wide and they giggle with glee at the sheer magnitude of the card they select. And while that may signal bad things for me as a player, I know that I can get the same kind of power with my next draw, too. In a game where so much feels powerful, nothing truly ends up being that overpowered.

Except maybe Zane the Ender, who finally ended me in a game where he appeared because I focused too much on the thrill of my own newfound power instead of realizing I could get taken down in a turn. And that was on me.

There is a solid amount of variety in the box, as you will use only one of the six travelers and only 3 of the 6 factions for each time period with each game. I wish there was more variety in the spells for each period, but I imagine that is something that could come in a future expansion. And this game is definitely primed for some future expansions in the form of new travelers, new spells, new instability cards, and new factions for each time period. And, honestly, I’ll probably buy them all.

It is fun to find a game that unashamedly lets players feel powerful from the start. I absolutely love that about this one, and find it to be the most charming aspect of Temporal Odyssey. It could have followed a more traditional approach with a slow burn to power, making the game stretch out longer and taking the teeth away from cards. I’m glad it didn’t. I have enough of those kinds of games, and sometimes you just want to throw power around like you’re Thanos and you’ve collected all of the Infinity Stones. There aren’t enough games like that on the market right now, and this one is a refreshing change from the norm.

That approach won’t appeal to everyone, of course. Some people prefer the slow burn where they forge together a long-term strategy to outplay their opponent over time. This game absolutely has the potential for wild swings, but overall there is still a lot of room for tactical movement and interesting decisions to give players control over how things unfold. Most of the time it will be the better player who wins, not the one with the luckiest draw, but it also allows everyone involved to be having fun as they see what mind-blowing power they can unleash next.

If you enjoy games where you duel against an opponent, this is definitely one you should check out because it strips away the fat and serves a healthy dose of powerful fun. Games are fast and furious, and are quick enough to set up and reset for the next duel. And you’ll want to move into that next match, making a best of three or a best of five bout with your friend. At a time where I’m ruthlessly culling my collection and questioning the value of every game on my shelf, this one will survive on the merit of the gameplay it provides and the memories it will inevitably form as it gets played over and over again with my friends.

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Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Temporal Odyssey. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Liberation

Thank you for checking review #66 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.

**A prototype of this game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

((Check it out on Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/239309591/liberation-an-asymmetric-hidden-movement-game?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=liberation)

An Overview of Liberation

Liberation is a game designed by Jon Simantov and was published by Button Shy in 2018. The “box” states that it can play 2 players and has a 20-25 minute play time.

For hundreds of generations, the tyrannical Intercosmic Dynasty has ruled the galaxy with a titanium fist. Their power and reach is spreading, but so is word of their misdeeds. A band of resistance fighters known as the Liberation has begun striking at the Dynasty from a hidden base. Will you help the Liberation gain enough support before their secret base is discovered, or will the you wield the awesome power of the Dynasty to hunt down these traitors and bring them to heel?

Using a tiny deck of only 18 cards, Liberation plays out a miniature rebellion of galactic scale on your tabletop. An asymmetrical game of cat and mouse, the Dynasty player expands their web of power, occupying and exploiting planet cards, while the Liberation player strikes from the shadows, sabotaging the Dynasty’s hand and performing daring missions. The odds are long and the stakes are high. Can you stall long enough to cycle through the deck 3 times, earning enough support to topple the Dynasty, or will you scour the galactic map, tightening the noose around the secret base of the Liberation to attack and destroy them? The future of the galaxy is at stake!

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

There are none, as this is a 2-player only game!

My Thoughts

 

 You want tension in a game? This has it in spades. You never feel as though you’re safe as the Liberation, and you rarely feel as though you have enough time to find and attack them as the Dynasty. That is exactly the sort of balance you want to find in this sort of game. Every minute of the game is capable of gripping you and holding your attention firmly in place.

 

 I love asymmetry in games, particularly of the 2-player flavor. This succeeds better than most, providing different actions for each turn, different missions on the cards, and very different objectives to win the game. Both sides, when you play them, feel like they are starting at a disadvantage. Both sides, when you play them, will have you feel like the other side has the better and more powerful missions they can use on cards. I’d say this game was pretty successful at the asymmetry based on these reactions.

 It is a small detail, but I appreciate the idea to have the Dynasty choose their starting planet from their opening hand before the Liberation gets to choose their face-down base from their opening hand. This allows them to see where the early focus will be for the Dynasty and try to choose a planet that isn’t literally next door to the Dynasty. Unfortunately, I’ve been dealt a hand that had 2 adjacent and 1 within two spaces of the starting Dynasty planet. That opening hand sucked…more on that later.

 There is a higher cost on the Dynasty actions, which feels really thematic. Their stuff packs a punch, but they can’t spam the actions apart from Recruit Spy. The Liberation has a lower cost, meaning they will need less to play cards, but that is because they aren’t occupying cities and therefore don’t have a tableau of cards to exploit. I’ve mentioned this several times already, but this manages to feel thematic and somehow balanced. The Liberation feels the advantage early in the game (usually) while the Dynasty ramps up in power as the game progresses (usually).

 Discards are face-down, hiding some information from those who are able to take absurdly good mental notes over the course of a game. Every card drawn by the Dynasty and every mission played by the Liberation provides some information for the savvy player to exploit in trying to narrow down the possibilities. I’m horrible at this, but others would be really good at tracking those things. The only saving grace comes in those face-down discards.

 The artwork for the cities, as well as the map itself, are fantastic. I’m not sure if this is final artwork or not, but I really like the look and feel of these cards during gameplay.

 The four cards making up the map are double-sided, and therefore the side showing and the cards they connect to will make for a different map every single time you play. Cities that are adjacent in one game might be on opposite ends of the galaxy in another. It is a small detail, but a critical one that enhances replay value and prevents a “always start on X city as the Dynasty” strategy from being emergent.

 A gamer who likes to be active and aggressive may find the Liberation side of the game to be a complete bore to play. I didn’t have the issue, finding both sides to be equally exciting to play. However, the Dynasty is clearly the aggressor of the game as their win condition requires that approach. Which will make them the interesting side to many players, simply because they control the tempo of the game with action while the Liberation is trying to dodge via reaction.

 This is courtesy of a friend I taught the game to, who raised the concern even before we started playing. The Liberation has an Evade action, which lets them return the base card to their hand and secretly put down that same card or an adjacent card as their base. His concern? There is no way to make sure the opponent plays honest here. I’ll grant him that point, and others might feel the same concern. But if you can’t trust your opponent to not cheat in a 20-minute game, that’s a player problem rather than a game problem.

 While the length of the game prevents this from being a dealbreaker, it is disheartening if the Dynasty has unusually good luck early in the game. I had a game end before we even finished the deck one time because he attacked the right city, which was within 3 thanks to Launch Fleet. Will it happen often? Probably not. Will it happen sometimes? Yep. Lucky guesses can end the game before it really gets going. Thankfully, it takes very little time to reset the game and it is short enough that it should be no issue to try again.

 This game needs player aids. Desperately. I felt that from my first play, and my friends have confirmed my own belief. Is it something planned? I don’t know, and I’ll gladly provide an update once I find out. But this game demands a reference to remember what exploit, directive, occupy, mission, sabotage, and evade all mean and the sequence of actions. One card for the Liberation, one for the Dynasty. If not cards, then extra sheets on the paper that the rulebook will be printed out on. Something more than the rulebook itself is needed here, for the benefit of the players.

Final Thoughts

I have played this game more times than I have played Star Wars: Rebellion. So many feel that is one of the best games ever made, thus its place in the BGG Top 10. However, Liberation manages to distill the overarching conflict in Rebellion into an 18 card game that you can play several times in one sitting. You could probably log in 6-10 plays of this in about the time it would take for two players to get in one round of Rebellion, and this one is ultra-portable and ultra-affordable.

Will it replace Rebellion in a collection, you ask? If you are that player who absolutely loves Star Wars: Rebellion, then it is likely you love the minis and the battles and the missions and everything else. So the short answer is no, it probably won’t “replace” Rebellion in most collections. However, this is that game you will definitely want in your collection to help scratch the Rebellion itch when you simply don’t have several hours to set aside and play the game. Both can easily exist in a collection because they don’t compete in terms of length or portability.

Now that the obvious is behind us, let’s talk about Liberation. This game is good. So very, very good. It has tension regardless of which side you are playing. The map is small enough that the Liberation can never feel completely safe, and as the Dynasty you always have this sense that those Liberation scum are right under your nose (and oftentimes they are!) if you could only find it. The deck makes the Dynasty feel like they have all sorts of time, until the Liberation goes and discards half of it with one card. And then the pressure is on, and desperation ensues. Everything builds up for one grand attack, launching superweapons. And then the Liberation manages to exploit two of the Dynasty’s occupied cities, setting them back a turn. And then they do it a second time, which is enough to allow the Dynasty only one shot before the game ends. With a gut feeling of two possible parts of the map, the Dynasty fires on one duo and misses, allowing the Liberation to secure victory and reveal the other city in mind was their base.

That right there happened in the last game I played of Liberation and holy smokes, it was amazing. Even in losing, this game is way too much fun. How this can happen without chits or resources or meeples simply blows my mind. This is a game that impressed me from my learning session against Jason Tagmire of Button Shy Games himself, and continues to amaze me with every play. This is the game I want to always have with me, so that when it is just me and one other person I can pull this out for a nice, tense 20 minutes of gaming. Every card’s ability, in the right situation, feels amazingly powerful, You’ll never be able to pull off everything you want to as the Dynasty, as the costs are high to launch your mighty effects, but you’ll always feel that growing sense of power and it is awesome.

The fear when you are the Liberation is high when you realize they can strike at any planet 3 away from one they occupy and that contains pretty much the entire map between all the cities they control. Simple turns with simple actions that lead to tense, exciting gameplay. For less than the cost of a fancy dinner. Skip the dinner for a month and get this game, then take this with you when you go to said fancy dinner. You don’t need a ton of space for this one, and it’ll be exactly what you want while waiting for ages to get your food. I can’t recommend this one highly enough. This one has earned the “keeper” status for my collection, and I look forward to getting many more plays out of the game.

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((Check it out on Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/239309591/liberation-an-asymmetric-hidden-movement-game?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=liberation)

Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Liberation. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas