Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two: BattleCON: Trials of the Indines

Thank you for checking review #59 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 copy of the game was sent for review purposes. Opinions remain our own.

An Overview of BattleCON: Trials of the Indines

BattleCON: Trials of the Indines is a game designed by D. Brad Talton Jr. and was published by Level 99 Games. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 10-45 minute play time.

BattleCON is a board game that brings the tactics, strategy, and ferocity of 2D fighting games like Street Fighter to your tabletop. Each BattleCON Fighter features a Unique Ability–a combat subsystem designed specifically for them, giving them a never-before-seen fighting style that you will have to master, and that your opponents will have to play around.

Trials is a new medium-sized box in the BattleCON series, containing 10 new fighters, each with a complete range of all-new skills and abilities.

Trials is the fourth box in the BattleCON series.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

Each player selects one of the 10 fighters in the set and takes their tuckbox which will have their specific cards (including the base cards universal to all characters), the character’s standee, a reference card (which is given to the opponent), and any special token or card powers that might be unique to that character. Place the standee for each character on the board on the spaces marked with the red/blue dots. Players will then select a base and a style to go into their first discard pile and select another pair to go in their second discard pile (the cards have recommended ones marked for these!). Each player takes 20 life and 2 force and are ready to begin.

During a turn each player will secretly select a base and a style card and place them face-down in front of them. Once both players have made this decision, it moves to an ante phase where (in turn order), the players can ante in some temporary boosts to power, priority (speed), or stun guard (and some characters also have their own unique special tokens or cards that can be anted at this point). Once both players pass consecutively, the players reveal their combinations and compare priority. The player with the higher value becomes the first player for the beat. If there is a tie, the players CLASH and have to select a new base to replace the current base card. If it is still a tie after that, the process is repeated until they are either out of base cards to play or until one player wins priority. In the case of the former case, the beat ends and they move to the end of the beat without taking their turns.

Starting with the first player, each player resolves any Start of Beat effects. Then the active player does any Before Activating effects, makes their attack (factoring in range), resolves any Hit effects, and then resolves any After Activating effects. Then the reactive player does the same thing so long as they did not get stunned. If you take damage greater than your Stun Guard for the round, then the reactive player loses their actions and does nothing for the beat.

Finally both players (in turn order) resolve any End of Beat effects. Then they cycle their discards, bringing the leftmost pair into their hand, shifting the remaining pair on the board over one space, and putting the cards they just played into the right-most space on the board. Each player will gain one force token (two if they have 7 or less life) and play proceeds to a new beat. The game continues until one player is out of life.

My Thoughts

 The mechanics of this are simple yet the depth within the game makes it complex as well. You’re choosing two cards to pair together to try and damage your opponent, avoid their attacks, or boost power for a future beat. However, the dynamics within all of that space is mind blowing. Not only does that apply to the game in general, but every single character in this box is unique in ways that makes it so a one-size-fits-all tactic is difficult to execute.

 Which is why there is a point here regarding the characters themselves. They are 100% unique in their gameplay. I have played, or played against, all ten of them in the box and it never felt same-y. The best feeling is, of course, finding that character that is YOUR character. I enjoyed seeing a buddy of mine find it when playing Burgundy XIII. I felt it myself when playing as Amon, which happened to be the same exact match.

 The artwork on the characters is outstanding. I’ve instantly become a fan of Nokomento’s art, which happens to be featured in a good number of Level 99 Games titles out there.

 The ante phase can be interesting, even though a decent number of times it might just be both of you “passing” to get to the reveal. You ante to boost your Priority, which tells me you really want to go first. Or that you feel like your number is a hair too low and so I could probably ante back to maintain my order. But you might also be trying to get me to waste my own force. This becomes even more interesting if you have two characters who have special things they can ante into play. This phase is just a step in the process some of the time, but I love the times when you feel like that decision to ante or pass really matters. And few things are worse than anteing up a ton of power and priority only to have them gleefully reveal that Dodge card…

 The lore in the whole Indines universe wants to sweep my imagination away. There are nuggets to be found in the game, particularly the Character Guide book, but I really wish there was more. I would 100% read a novella about pretty much any one of these characters, or anything placed in that Indines world. There are tidbits dropped in the Level Cap podcast, but it’d be better if they did something similar to Greater Than Games’ The Letters Page, at least for delivering lore content. But this solidifies to me that I really want to write for Brad and his Indines world.

 All characters have the same set of bases, plus one character-specific base. While the flavor shines through in the styles, I want to take a moment to appreciate those base cards. Even the long range characters have some smaller range attacks. Even the short range characters have long range attacks. They can all dodge. They all have ways to get Stun Guard, to play something with decent power, or decent priority. It prevents them from being forced into a sour situation where they simply can’t accomplish anything – so long as you account for the two beats where the cards are cycling.

 And that card cycling system is perfect for this game. I can’t spam an attack over and over. I can’t dodge endlessly until I get enough force to drop my finisher. I can’t just sit back and blast you from across the board. I have to not only adapt to what I don’t have, but also plan for what I might want or need in a beat or two. The fact that a fighting game has long-term strategy that you can employ still baffles me in a good way. I love it, and having to account for it when trying to choose my cards.

 Overall the rules for the game are fine and functional. However, there are omissions that could lead to some frustration. My first few games, I thought that the Character’s special powers that could be ante’d had to be paid for just like the tokens. It wasn’t until I played BattleCON Online that I started to question this and, eventually, learned the right answer. The component listing was also a little iffy, as I struggled to place a few of the tokens in the right place because nowhere in the book did it mention that the staff went with Kimbhe or that these four tokens I had leftover went to Lucida. And what about resolving a Clash? Do the cards you replace go back to your hand or do they cycle in the discards? 97% of what you need to know is covered, but it is those few instances, some of them not even specific to a single character, that are missing in here.

 There can be quite the steep learning curve for the game, as you will benefit from knowing the character you are playing as and the one you’re playing against. This is a game, since there is no luck, where a skilled opponent should win the vast majority of the time over an unskilled one. If you dislike a game where there is a steep learning curve, and where you might get thoroughly thrashed for your first dozen learning plays, then you might be turned off by this aspect of the game. But if you can find at least one person of a similar skill level who is willing to play with you, both of you will benefit from that practice.

 One player with Analysis Paralysis might make this game drag. Two players with it definitely will make it drag. The decision of the combination to play can feel so overwhelmingly critical, especially late in the game when both players are jockeying to finish off the other. The other thing that can make a match run long? Stupidity and/or miscalculations. I’ve been guilty of them both. I’ve made dumb plays that, as soon as I flipped the cards, I realized were really bad decisions. I’ve flipped cards thinking I’ll be in range and find out that I’m 1 space too close or far to pull off my attack. A few rounds of whiffing is funny at first, but it can make it feel like the game drags on a little too long. 20-30 minutes per match is the sweet spot, but far too often I’ve been involved in ones that creep up to that 45 minute mark.

Final Thoughts

I was never very good at the arcade-style fighting games. I was a button masher, because I simply had no patience to try and learn all the special combinations to execute the right moves at the right times. I could usually luck my way through some tough match-ups, but I would never get progressively better at the games.

Thankfully, there is no button mashing necessary in BattleCON. You get all of the wonderful elegance of those fighting games in tabletop format, and all of your moves are unlocked and available for use…apart from that brilliant “cool down” system in here. It levels the playing field, so to speak, and makes it more about being able to read and adapt to the board state as well as learning how best to function with each different fighter in the box.

This game is 100% fun right out of the box. Seriously, some of my best board game memories in the past month have come from this game and the laughter that can ensue. It is increasingly hilarious to state the names of your chosen combination in a fun voice, especially if you’re both getting into that aspect. It is fun to see both of your carefully-laid plans get foiled as you reveal cards and both move out of range so your attacks fail. It is epic to be beaten down to 1-2 life and come back to drop that last 10-12 off your foe to “steal” the victory when on the brink of defeat. Fun. Fun. Fun.

There is definitely a skill curve in this game, as you simply won’t know how to effectively pilot a character until you’ve played them a few times. Additionally, you won’t know how to counter a character until you’ve played them, or against them, a few times. And even then, you have to account for a person’s personal playing style. They might make choices you don’t expect because you’d play Combination X and they put out Y instead. This is a game of playing your opponent as much as it is playing your own game, and that makes it a brilliant design.

Had I played this game before my Top 25 was created, this would definitely have made an appearance on the list. It is in there right now, although I couldn’t tell you where or what game dropped off to make a place for this one. But this is a fantastic addition to my collection. Nearly everyone I’ve taught the game has expressed both a desire to play again and a desire to pick this game up for themselves. And with four boxes out, and a big release coming in July on Kickstarter, this is definitely a game to consider putting on your own radar.

Players who dislike direct conflict and the process of tearing down your opponent will not really enjoy this game. Nothing against Rahdo, but this is a game I don’t think he would play and that is a shame. Because as much as I like playing in a sandbox to build my own engine while my wife does the same in her sandbox, there is definitely a time and a place for a fun, beat-’em-up style of game. I can’t speak to others out there, but I played Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat and Soul Calibur growing up and this is everything I could want out of a game inspired by those. I’m beyond happy with the contents in this box, although I highly doubt it’ll be the only BattleCON title that will enter into my collection. Because while I don’t need more characters, I need more characters.

And that is a good sign for the game. I could play this box alone a hundred times and still enjoy using these ten fighters. But since they all play so differently, I really want to see who else is out there and find that one character that is so my style that I’ll play them like I play Fanatic when I bust out a game of Sentinels of the Multiverse.

***

Hopefully you found this review to be a useful look at BattleCON: Trials of the Indines. 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 – Hanamikoji

For the second time on this channel I’m doing something different: video content! I have two videos here, one where I teach Hanamikoji and play through a round of it, and one where I gush about a Top 10 game (*spoiler alert!) that is going to be reprinted by Deep Water Games. This will probably be the norm going forward, doing some in written and some in video format.

Are there games I’ve reviewed that you’d like to see a video pairing like this for? Be sure to leave me a comment and let me know so I can plan my queue properly.

 

Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Sellswords: Olympus

Thank you for checking review #40 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 copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review. The below opinions remain our own based upon our impressions and reactions to the game.

An Overview of Sellswords: Olympus

Sellswords: Olympus is a game designed by Cliff Kamarga and was published by Level 99 Games. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 15-20 minute play time.

Description from the publisher:

The gods of Olympus have gone to war! Who will heed the call? Skilled warriors from all across the land rally to fight, met on the opposite side by magical beasts and monsters from myth. Lead your heroes to victory and become the champion of Olympus!

Sellswords: Olympus is a fast-paced strategy game of drafting soldiers and deploying them to the field of battle. It takes only a few minutes to learn, but with fifty different heroes and monsters, each with their own unique ability to use and master, the possibilities for forming your army are limitless! Capture enemy units to turn them to your side in the battle. It’s not enough to simply control the most of the field, though; you have to choose your targets carefully to outflank your opponent! Four different terrain tiles provide alternate play methods, giving you new strategies to explore!

Sellswords: Olympus is a standalone sequel to the tile-placement game Sellswords that can be played alone or mixed with the original!

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

Choose one of the four location tiles and place it in the center of the table. Then shuffle the character tiles and draw 7 of them. Players take turns drafting one of the tiles until they both have 3 in hand, discarding the final tile. Repeat the process again so each player begins with 6 tiles.

Players alternate placing a tile orthogonally adjacent to at least one tile on the table. When a tile is placed next to an opposing-color tile, the numbers on the adjacent sides are compared. If the new tile placed has a higher number, the other tile is flipped to its other side. If it is lower, nothing happens. Each tile has an ability, whether in the form of a mandatory ability when placed, an optional ability when placed, an ongoing ability, or a scoring ability. Players continue to place tiles until their hands are empty, but must be sure to maintain their tiles inside of a 5×5 grid.

Scoring is based on the number of tiles of your color in each column and row. Having one tile gets no points, but they increase from there from getting 1 point for 2 tiles in the same row/column all the way up to 7 points for having all 5 be your color. After scoring, two more sets of 7 tiles are drafted like before and the game repeats with a play phase and a second scoring phase. The player with the highest score after the second scoring phase is the winner.

My Thoughts

 As is the case with every Level 99 game I’ve played to date, this game has a fun system. It plays fast, yet involves a lot of strategic depth and analysis along the way. This has smooth, simple set of mechanics that provide a game you can play to relax at the end of a long day but that also provides a lot of avenues for planning and strategizing. You can be totally causal and play to have fun, or sit down and have a strenuous battle over controlling parts of the grid. I love that this can fill both roles, and can do so in around half an hour.

 The artwork is great. This is another thing I’ve come to expect from Level 99 Games. I understand this art isn’t for every gamer – it can be downright off-putting for some gamers – but someone who grew up during the NES and SNES eras of video games will enjoy this (just like they’d enjoy that aspect of Pixel Tactics)

 The powers are where it is at in this game. Each of the four locations is different, and all 50 of the characters do something unique. That opens up replayability, since you are going to use a single location in a game and see only 28 of the characters (unless you get ones with the power to draw from the deck). You can’t bank on getting a certain character in the second half of the game because they may never appear. This guarantees that every game will have its own flair, as well as its own set of strategies that you’ll need to adapt to over the course of the game.

 The drafting is so key in this game. My wife forced me to teach her without using drafting in our first game. Let’s just say she was gifted the second half of that game, getting several overpowered cards that she wouldn’t have been able to hoard if we had drafted. It turned the game’s state from fairly even to lop-sided in the final plays and showed just how important those powers, and the drafting, are to this game.

 In spite of my love for the powers, they are not even close to being created equal. Sometimes the power of a card’s ability isn’t obvious until it is played, leading to moments of regret for allowing your opponent to draft that tile while you picked something that ended up being pretty unspectacular. This game rewards multiple plays, learning what the powers are, what they are capable of, and which ones you’ll want to target first during a draft. That’s a good thing, but it may not feel that way while you’re on the losing side of those hard lessons.

 The scoring system isn’t bad once you get used to it, but the first few times reading the rules it just wasn’t clicking. It takes playing a round and walking through the scoring, one row or column at a time, before it really starts to make sense. I don’t know that there is a better way to make it intuitive, though. It is one of those that simply makes more sense once you see it in action.

 The mid-game scoring almost feels pointless. You’re scoring a handful of points, single digits in every play I have so far. The winner in almost every game has been the person who was behind at the halfway point. It slows the game, adds bookkeeping, and seems to hold minimal impact. The only real benefit, which is why it gets a half star, is because it does let you see the scoring concept before the end of the game, allowing you to gun for certain combos in order to score effectively at the end.

 While the scoring system itself isn’t a complete negative, the one thing I really wish they included in here was something to keep score on. There is no pad of paper, so you’ll have to supply your own scoring method and writing utensil. And with there being two rounds of scoring, you’ll need a way to tally the scores during play. Plus there are ways to lose/gain points as you go, etc. I get that leaving it out keeps costs down, and I respect that, but for a game like this it should be included. You need a way to track the score throughout the game.

Final Thoughts

I became a fan of Level 99 Games when I first saw Pixel Tactics. That style of artwork evoked childhood memories that I was fond of, and I was eager to dive into that game. Since my first experiences with Pixel Tactics, I have branched out to several of their other titles and am yet to be disappointed. Sellswords: Olympus is another fantastic 2-player only title from the company that provides a fun and rewarding game experience in a short period of time. Much like Pixel Tactics, this game is not suited for those who dislike conflict or interference with the other player during the game. If you let your opponent live in their own little “bubble” on the grid, you will probably lose. The game encourages and rewards aggressive play, tactical timing, and usage of tile powers to turn the tide of the game in your favor.

At its heart, the game is simple. You play a tile and flip any tiles of the opposing color whose adjacent number is lower than yours. But anyone who has played a game with similar mechanics will know it isn’t nearly as simple as that. You have to consider the powers on the tiles, where that tile is weak (and thus allowing the opponent to flip it to their side), and many other variables that reward repeated plays of the game.

Players who dislike “building” things, as one of my friends detests, will probably not like this game because you are building a 5×5 grid of characters over the course of the game. The placement – where and the orientation – of the tiles matters and one small mistake could be the opening your opponent needs to run away with the match.

Players who dislike drafting could, in theory, remove that part of the game and simply deal out tiles and toss one into the discard each round. My wife wanted to play that way in our first game and she ended up with a series of vastly more powerful tiles in the final round, letting her gain a one-sided victory. The drafting is important for balance, but could be discarded if you are willing to accept that chance could favor one player over the other.

All in all, this is a very fast and fun game in a small box. It requires a fairly big footprint, but as long as you have some table space there shouldn’t be too much issue in playing. Those who like playing with just two, and don’t mind causing your opponents’ pieces to flip, should definitely check out this game.

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 – Codenames: Duet

Thank you for checking review #35 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 this game was provided in exchange for an honest review. The below opinions remain our own based upon our impressions and reactions to the game.

An Overview of Codenames: Duet

Codenames: Duet is a game designed by Vlaada Chvatil and is published by Czech Games Edition. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 15-30 minute play time.

Codenames Duet keeps the basic elements of Codenames — give one-word clues to try to get someone to identify your agents among those on the table — but now you’re working together as a team to find all of your agents. (Why you don’t already know who your agents are is a question that Congressional investigators will get on your back about later!)

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

From the game’s description:

To set up play, lay out 25 word cards in a 5×5 grid. Place a key card in the holder so that each player sees one side of the card. Each player sees a 5×5 grid on the card, with nine of the squares colored green (representing your agents) and three squares colored black (representing assassins). Three of the nine squares on each side are also green on the other side, one assassin is black on both sides, one is green on the other side and the other is an innocent bystander on the other side.

Collectively, you need to reveal all fifteen agents — without revealing an assassin — before time runs out in order to win the game. Either player can decide to give the first one-word clue to the other player, along with a number. Whoever receives the clue places a finger on a card to identify that agent. If correct, they can attempt to identify another one. If they identify a bystander, then their guessing time ends. If they identify an assassin, you both lose! Unlike regular Codenames, they can keep guessing as long as they keep identifying an agent each time; this is useful for going back to previous clues and finding ones they missed earlier. After the first clue is given, players alternate giving clues.

My Thoughts

Let’s dive right in, shall we? This game, in spite of its cooperative reshaping, remains the game that so many people have come to love and enjoy. At its root, this is still a version of Codenames. However, its most brilliant twist comes in the key card. What you see as an assassin on your side might be the clue I need you to guess on my side. That throws people off so hard when they are trying to guess a clue, and I love seeing that happen. It is a struggle to wrap your brain around the idea of picking a word that you are convinced will make you lose. Bravo for this change.

The components are all of the same quality you found in the other Codenames games. The cards are nice and durable, the tokens are a good cardboard, and everything is built to be played often. The box is a little oversized compared to what it needs to be, but this could probably hold another version or two of Codenames in one box for those who like to condense and save shelf space.

The length of this game is a good one – perfect to get in several plays on a night after work or even to get a round or two in during a lunch hour. Add in the fact that you really only need a handful of the components to play a few rounds and that can make this both portable and playable in those windows of opportunity that arise for gamers. Being a cooperative game designed for 2 players, it also tends to be less loud than a full game of Codenames, making it something you could even play at a restaurant while waiting on your meal.

The time tracker is an interesting, and challenging, mechanic. I definitely think it is necessary in a cooperative game – otherwise you’re just playing until you win or hit an assassin every time. The campaign (below) throws in a few wrenches, making it so only X number of turns can end in a wrong guess before you “lose”. It also forces you to get creative with your clues, because there are not enough turns to give all 1-word clues and win. This can lead to some frustrating situations where you need to give a 2-3 word clue but nothing pairs together by any stretch of the imagination.

When you hear the word “campaign”, you might start to get some impressive and grand ideas about what that will provide. Prior to the game’s release, I heard about them developing a campaign mode and it raised my excitement for this game. And what they have is certainly a functional campaign, complete with a map and locations to try and win under varying conditions. Some places are easy, others would be incredibly difficult. It isn’t what I was expecting, as all it does is mix up the number of tokens you use to track time and how many of those can be spent on wrong guesses and still have you win. But you, like me, might find it to be less-than-interesting.

Part of the fun of Codenames is playing with a large group of people and working with a diverse set of viewpoints and interpretations. This can lead to some wild clues, crazy reasoning for guesses, and many other memorable moments. This can be played with more than two, being possible to play on teams, but the core concept of a 2-player Codenames has the possibility of losing some of those moments that made Codenames so great as a party game. For instance, if you sit down to play this with your spouse then you are playing with someone you know fairly well. You can give clues that no one but they would understand. You can read body language that nobody else could interpret as they agonize over a clue to give or a word to guess. Dropping the player count removes so many of those great dynamics that it simply doesn’t always feel like Codenames. Much like Super Mario Bros. 2 was the odd game out of the NES Mario games because of its unique approach, this one could be that Codenames game that just never becomes a huge hit for you because it presents completely different dynamics. It won’t feel that way for everyone, but it runs that risk. There are great things to be said for exploring new options and player counts for a game like this rather than sticking to just a bunch of rethemes like Disney and Marvel. Some people will really, really love this one. Some people might really dislike it. Most will probably fall somewhere in the middle there. Which leads me to…

Final Verdict

This one is ultimately not a game that fit well for us. I enjoyed my few plays of Codenames well enough, but I am far from being a person who plays and enjoys party games. In fact, I haven’t been back to a certain FLGS game day event ever since I was roped into playing a whole bunch of party games because it was the opposite of what I was looking for in a game day. But Codenames was the exception to that rule, and I was really interested in how a 2-player only version would work. The concept of a campaign really interested me.

My wife tends to like some of the lighter games on occasion, and it seemed like Codenames might be a fun change from all the other light fillers on our shelf. It really surprised me at how good she was at the game, as well as how much she enjoyed many of the core Codenames concepts. However, she’s gone on record before as preferring to play a game where she is trying to defeat me, not work together. Some cooperative games she has come to enjoy as of late, but this one was not one of them.

I don’t know how the regular Codenames game plays at two, but our consensus after multiple plays of this was that we’d both prefer the standard Codenames over the Duet version because we’d rather compete in this game. There are some excellent things this game does, and I really love the twist with the assassins and how each side of the key card is different. Other couples may find this to be the ideal game for them – someone like Rahdo, who loves playing a game with his wife where they have to be a team, will be the perfect pair of gamers for this version of Codenames.

If you really like Codenames and want a unique way to play with fewer players, you might want to check this out. If you enjoy, or prefer, a cooperative game then this is one you won’t want to miss out on. It retains enough of the Codenames flavor to make it a good, solid entry into the Codenames line.

This is best expressed by one of the ratings on Heavy Cardboard’s 6-point rating system: “It’s not you, its us.” Essentially, this is a good game. Probably even a great game. It will get a lot of great, glowing reviews and will deserve those. But it won’t get them across the board, because this simply isn’t the game for us.

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 · Wargame Garrison

Review for Two – Stamford Bridge: End of the Viking Age

Thank you for checking review #23 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 copy of this game was provided by Tiny Battle Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Stamford Bridge: End of the Viking Age

Stamford Bridge: End of the Viking Age is a game designed by Tom Russell and is published by Tiny Battle Publishing. The rule book states that it can play 2 players and has a 70 minute play time.

Stamford Bridge: End of the Viking Age is a low-complexity two-player wargame about the 25 September 1066 Battle of Stamford Bridge. Three weeks before his defeat at Hastings, King Harold Godwinson surprised his brother Tostig and King Harald Hardrada of Norway and won a decisive, if costly victory against the Vikings.

At the heart of the game is a simple turn structure in which players choose two phases to perform: Retreat, Shield Wall, Move, or Combat. Players can also perform two Move Phases in a single turn, two separate Combat phases, or a more powerful– if bloody– Pitched Combat. Combat resolution is quick and accurately represents the brutal, costly nature of linear warfare of the period.

As leadership of the Viking forces passes from one leader to another, the rules of the game are changed, imparting a sense of historical narrative while giving both players an equal chance of victory.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

The game is a 2-player only so nothing changes. The great thing about this game is that there are two games included in this one ziplock bag. The first side is for the Stamford Bridge battle, having the Anglo-Saxons facing the Vikings. Both sides are attempting to be the first to eliminate 12 units from the other side, although there comes a point where the Viking losses will bring about a flurry of Viking attacks in a desperate attempt to either end the game or lose.

The other side is for A Hill Near Hastings, which pits the Anglo-Saxons against the Normans. This one is unique enough with including Cavalry and Archers for the Normans, who are split into three wings that activate and operate independently of the main force. Like the previous scenario, the goal is in trying to eliminate a certain number of troops from the other side.

The actions are simple in both games, with Attack, Move, Shield Wall, Retreat, and Double being the actions in Stamford Bridge while Hastings adds Charge and Fire for use with the horses and archers. Each counter has a letter to indicate its skill, and a symbol to indicate the class of the unit. These are cross-referenced on a single, simple chart with the roll of a single die to determine if the enemy is hit, if both sides take a hit, if one side must retreat a space, if a unit is eliminated, or if it is a miss. There are ways to maneuver troops or use commands to increase your odds of success. Anyone familiar with Wargames will have no issue maneuvering this, and even a new Wargamer will be able to navigate this after a few combats.

My Thoughts

Everything in this game has been streamlined to make it easy and accessible. Movement is simple because there are no varying terrain types to take into consideration. There are no leaders on the map, simplifying that process. Almost all of the units in the game are infantrymen. There are a handful of commands. There is only one chart to reference. The game feels like a Wargame, but it is not only playable by a beginner but also plays quickly enough to be almost a filler for more experienced Wargamers. The accessibility makes it a great game to introduce new gamers to this category of games. The short playtime and small number of counters makes it so that this is one that can be pulled out and played when you don’t have time for a longer game.

The counters are nice and thicker than expected. While small in size, I’ve never had any issue seeing the counters and being able to read what they say. They all punched out easily, have distinct colors/shades to make them easy to sort, and their letters dictating their power are all easy to spot while on the map. They are elegant and provide the information you need while retaining a clean appearance.

Hidden within this simple are some surprisingly important decision you can make during the setup of your counters. You’ll usually have a mix of counters from A-D, and you’ll need to decide whether to put your strongest guys up front (where they are likely to die earlier in the game) or near the back (which by the time they are into battle, you may have lost so many counters that defeat is nearly inevitable). How you group counters together makes a difference, as having the same letter counter attacking together gives far greater bonuses than having a B, a C, and a D counter all attacking at once. It isn’t deep in the decision-making, but after a few rounds you begin to see how some of those early decisions, and then how you maneuver those troops during movement, can really impact the way things play out.

I really appreciate the presence of only one chart to consult for battle. This helps the game to not only remain simple in the approach, but also keeps the combat moving forward at a quick pace. You roll one die, you check the one chart, and do what the end result says. There is something elegant in the simplicity of this system which prevents the game from overstaying its welcome on the table.

The rulebook itself is nice in the layout and presentation, but my favorite part would be the pages at the end covering the history behind the battles. This allows even the casual player to spend 15 minutes and walk away knowing a little bit about these important historical battles. A small list of selected readings would have been a welcome addition, to steer those who end up interested in these battles toward some quality books to read.

The map itself is not high in quality. It is slightly thicker than paper, and so I have concerns about its long-term durability. I understand the need for the map to be like this, making it both light and affordable, which is why it isn’t fully a negative. This is easily the most fragile thing that comes with the purchase of the game, yet it is arguably one of the more important components.

There is kind of the inclusion of leaders, but it is really abstracted. Basically they are the number of commands you get to issue, which in the Stamford Bridge battle is really interesting on the Viking side because those commands change in value as more units are lost. This represents the different leadership qualities of those Viking leaders, and it adds a little interesting variety in playing that side. The Hill Near Hastings is interesting for the Normans, as they can activate two of their three groupings and have limitations in that sense as well as the inclusion of archers and cavalry units. The Anglo-Saxons, unfortunately, are static in their command decisions which almost makes them the least interesting side to play in both battles. Leader chits would have certainly raised the rules and complexity a little, but it also would have opened some limitations and forced some extra tactical decisions in the game which could have helped this to have a longer life in the collection.

There is one action among the selection that ended up getting ignored: Shield Wall. The problem comes because there two things you’ll end up wanting to do each turn: move and attack. Move because the results of the previous battles almost always leave at least a few units unengaged in a combat. Battle because you need to kill units in order to win. If you could advance one space as part of a Shield Wall action and then attack, it’d be a combo I’d use often. As it stood, it really only entered play when standing on the hill, complementing the advantage of the higher ground for the Anglo-Saxons.

There is only one chart to consult, but I really found myself wishing there was a player’s aid for this game. Something small which contained the chart, and a brief overview of each command, would enhance the experience for two players. I understand the desire to trim costs, but this was one thing I really desired to have while playing the game. Even just having a second copy of the chart would have been enough.

There is a limit on how much replay this game will have. Sure, you get two different games in the folio, but neither of them really offers a lot of room to deploy tactics beyond the placement of your troops and when to use your Initiative token for the back-to-back turns. This game isn’t supposed to be one you play all the time, but some players may be content after playing each side on each map just once. It is unlikely to be the type of game that gets pulled out and replayed often because the rules and the number of counters and the size of the map are all so small and streamlined.

Final Verdict

I really, really enjoyed this game. While it is not likely to be a game that will get pulled out often due to its simplicity, that same simplicity is the very reason why I love this game. It is easy enough to bring in a new player while remaining interesting enough for a more experienced player. It lays the groundwork to become familiar with the Swords and Shields system, which is used in a few other folios by Tiny Battle Publishing and is used in an upgraded form in several games offered by Hollandspiele. That makes this an obvious entry point for purchase to anyone wanting to try out Wargames because this is a simple, inexpensive game that will allow you to branch out to nearly another half-dozen games that use a similar system.

This game doesn’t do anything spectacular or complex, yet it doesn’t need to. Its cost and the components for that cost are what will draw a person into the game. I found this to be a fantastic first step into the world of Wargames, and that it presented enough interesting decisions to make it enjoyable playing both solo and against an opponent. If you have ever had even a passing interest in playing a Wargame, I would definitely recommend this as a place to learn the basics and see if you want to take a deeper plunge into the broad spectrum of games in that category.

Ultimately, if I was a beginning Wargamer looking for an entry point, this is a game I would definitely purchase. If I was an experienced Wargamer looking to expand my collection of games that could bring new Wargamers into the hobby, I would definitely purchase this game. If I was a Wargamer interested in this period of history, I’d likely purchase this game. But experienced Wargamers looking for a game to play many times with other experienced Wargamers may want to look toward something a little more rich in variety and tactics.

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 – Odin’s Ravens (Second Edition)

Thank you for checking review #22 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 copy of this game was provided by Osprey Games in exchange for an honest review.

Times played before review: 5* (actually 6, since I had to play a tiebreaker flight)

An Overview of Odin’s Ravens

Odin’s Ravens is a game designed by Thorsten Gimmler and is published by Osprey Games. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 15-30 minute play time on the box.

Every morning Odin sends his ravens, Huginn and Muninn, across the entire world to bring back news of what life is like on Earth. Naturally, after thousands of years, they’ve gotten a little competitive. Race through the landscape in opposite directions to be the first to return to Odin. Focus on speed, or enlist the help of the trickster god Loki to create shortcuts and hinder your opponent. Can you be certain Loki’s changes won’t help your opponent instead? There’s only one way to find out!

The revised edition of Thorsten Gimmler’s award-winning Odin’s Ravens has been completely redesigned, with new rules and a beautiful new art style inspired by Norse mythology.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

The game is a 2-player only so nothing changes. There is a deck of land cards that gets shuffled and 16 of them are placed on the table, side-to-side, and are placed so that no two matching terrain types are touching. If they would be, rotate the new card. If they still have a matching terrain side, you put the card on the bottom of the deck and take the next one.

Each player gets a set of 8 Loki cards and 25 flight cards and shuffles each of those decks. A player draws a starting hand of 5 cards, in any combination from the two decks. The ravens start at the same end of the table, but begin on different paths of the cards.

On a player’s turn, they can move forward by playing either a single flight card that matches the land type shown on their card or by playing two matching flight cards that do not match the land type shown. They can move as many times as they have the cards to do so. They can also play Loki cards from their hand, which allow them to break the rules in some ways such as flipping cards, rotating cards, adding new land cards to the path, and removing land cards.

The first player to have their raven fly down the path and back the other side will win.

My Thoughts

I don’t often like to comment on the aesthetics of a game, as the appearance is a very subjective quality, but this is a well-produced game. The cards are nice, and I like that they are tall but have a smaller width than standard. The wooden ravens look and feel fantastic. The artwork on the backs of the cards and for the terrain catches the eye. This is a game that looks and feels good while you play it.

The games are quick and competitive. No matter how far ahead one raven may seem, it takes just one turn to get back into the race. Out of the five games I’ve played, four finished with either a tie or the second raven being a space or two from the end. In a game that boils down to a race, you want to always feel like you have a chance of winning and you want to always feel the pressure to extend your lead if you’re ahead. This game succeeds at that.

The Loki cards are a nice touch in the game. They add just enough to alter the game, allowing you to make or break combos of cards. I love the dual options on each card, making you choose between the two potential uses. I also enjoy how those cards really capture the feel of Loki, the trickster god from Norse Mythology. One option usually helps you, while the other typically sets your opponent back on their path to victory. Another great thing about the Loki cards: each one can be used just once. This is a deck that cannot be reshuffled, so their use needs to be timed just right.

I like that you have two decks to pull from, and that finding a balance between when to draw what type of card is a key to success. It is also great that you aren’t stuck on a space until you get that matching terrain type from your flight deck – although sometimes it can be painful to play two of a terrain that you know is coming up.

There remains a certain amount of luck in this game. It is a terrible feeling when you draw three cards at the end of your turn and end up with no pairs and no cards matching the terrain you need to move onto next. The other side of that is the lucky draw, getting the exact three cards you need. The luck never feels like it controls the game, but it is present to an extent.

This game lacks depth for strategy. Outside of the Loki cards and when and how to use them, the game is very straight-forward in its approach. There are small decisions a player can make, but even choosing not to play your pair can work against you since your hand limit is capped at seven cards. Yet this game isn’t trying to be a deep game full of challenging decisions. So if you’re looking for a lighter filler game that contains some meaningful choices, this one would fit the criteria.

Oh the tiebreaker. I do like that you aren’t penalized for being the second player, getting a chance to finish the flight and “tie” the game. The first tiebreaker is fine, looking at who has the most flight cards still in hand. I’d think looking at who has the most unplayed Loki cards might have been a better first tiebreaker due to their power. The second tiebreaker? Reset the board and race again. Boo. I’m not opposed to multiple plays in a row of this one, but I don’t want to race twice just to earn one victory. And what if you both tie on that second flight? Do you reset and play a third flight to see who wins that first game? This is one that really stood out to me when it came up, and is something I’m not a big fan of.

Final Verdict

This game is very simple, yet in its simplicity there is a nice amount of strategy that can be unearthed. This is one of those games that won’t ever be the star of a collection, but will serve as a nice niche filler game to pull out under certain conditions. Its simplicity makes it a game that even younger children could play and do reasonably well with, and the Loki cards are easy enough to understand visually that they could even use those during gameplay.

I do enjoy the game in spite of my near failure to win a play of this game. I suspect my wife took it easy on me in our final play of the game so that I could write a review having won at least one time. She really enjoys this one, perhaps more than I do, even though I really dig the theme. It is a game I’ll rarely choose on a game night, but one I’d never turn down if someone suggested it. Which is about what you’d want for a light filler like this one.

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 – Battle Line

Thank you for checking out my nineteenth review. 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 copy of this game was provided by GMT Games in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Battle Line

Battle Line is a game designed by Reiner Knizia and is published by GMT Games. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 30 minute play time on the box.

In Battle Line, two opponents face off across a ‘battle line’ and attempt to win the battle by taking 5 of 9 flags or 3 adjacent flags. Flags are decided by placing cards into 3-card poker-type hands on either side of the flag (similar to straight flush, 3 of a kind, straight, flush, etc). The side with the highest ‘formation’ of cards wins the flag.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

This is a 2-player only game, so nothing varies at this player count. You shuffle both decks, deal 7 troop cards to each player, and set the 9 pawns in a line in the center of the table.

Players take turn playing one card from their hand and then drawing a card from one of the two decks. A flag can be claimed if both players have three cards out, or if a person can prove the other player cannot win that flag via the cards left in the deck. For instance, if they need a Yellow 8 to get a higher total, then you can win the flag by showing the Yellow 8 is already in play elsewhere. Even if there is a Tactics card that could break this rule, the battle can be resolved and therefore prevent any more cards from being added or removed from that battle.

My Thoughts

This game rewards both long-term and short-term strategy. It can feel overwhelming at the start, because you don’t know what cards you’ll draw or where you opponent will place their cards. There is value in rushing to get to claim a spot early, and equal value at times to play segments slowly. The more options you leave open, the longer you’ll be able to continue drawing and playing cards. You’ll want to try and steal a fast win by claiming three adjacent flags, but you’ll also need to keep your opponent from doing the same. There is a lot of thinking and planning that can go into such a fast and simple game. Which makes this a wonderful quality of Battle Line.

The tactics cards are a fantastic addition, and they can change the entire dynamic of the game. There is nothing more satisfying than throwing down a card that claims a flag for you or delays one for your opponent. However, the balance comes in knowing these cards aren’t a factor in a player proving a flag cannot be claimed. Just because there is a card in the tactics deck that could allow you to get that Green 9 you need isn’t enough if the Green 9 is already out elsewhere. So while these cards are powerful, they only matter if you’ve already played them.

There is a tough decision on when to draw a tactics card and when to draw a troop card. The tactics can be powerful, yet taking those can allow the card you really need to go to your opponent’s hand instead. Or will allow the card they needed to go to their hand. There is a balance to find here, and it can be a tough thing to navigate. A hand full of tactics cards can end up being worth little if there aren’t the right troops to pair them with.

The 30 minute play time is an exaggeration. For a single play, including setup and teardown, we clock in around 15-20 minutes. Which makes this a perfect game. I’ve mentioned other games that play in a filler time but have gameplay beyond the typical filler game. This is one of those games. This is perfect for us, because we still have a young one in the house. Sometimes 15-20 minutes is all we can spare, which makes this a game we can pull out to play any time.

I like the battle system for determining the victor at each flag. It can seem overwhelming at first to remember what defeats what, but after a few plays it begins to click. As your opponent plays down cards, it allows you to narrow down your options to what cards you can play there in order to take the victory.

A player who likes to calculate their odds will enjoy this game; however, it can also be paralyzing. Later in the game it becomes tempting to look at what is out there and start trying to figure out what cards are in the deck and/or your opponent’s hand. This can lead to long turns for some players. It isn’t an issue either of us has, but definitely something that could be encountered.

At the end of the game, you may reach a point where you cannot play a card. Or, worse, where you have to play a card on a flag’s battlefield because you have only a few choices and no cards that go with your intended strategy. This is frustrating, because there are still cards in the deck but you’re forced into those plays. Because you have to play a card from your hand if possible. Should you pass, your opponent keeps playing until they cannot play any more cards on their side. I really found myself wishing I could simply discard to draw the next card.

I really enjoy the small touches placed in here, having each of the ten numbers be a different unit type from the Ancient world. There are two leaders in the tactics deck and they are powerful, but not if you end up drawing them both (because an army doesn’t need a second leader). My next point is on the theme, and while it isn’t a rich theme, they did put consideration in what goes on the cards. You’d expect Elephants to trample over any troop type, thus they are the 10.

This game could be rethemed in a thousand ways, as can be seen by the images on the BGG page. It isn’t supposed to be strong in theme, and it certainly makes sense to deploy these troops to win along the line of battle. If you are the player who needs a rich, immersive theme then you will be disappointed.

Final Verdict

This game is a lot of fun. I wasn’t sure how well she’d like this game because of the poker hand values and the potential math the game can require. Thankfully, my fears were all for naught as we’ve both quite enjoyed this game. It plays fairly quickly, and we are apt to play this several times in a row. This takes a few simple aspects and really makes them work well to deliver a perfect 2-player game.

This is one I’m very thankful to have in our collection. It is similar in some ways to Hanamikoji, a game we played before Battle Line, but they are different enough that we could definitely have both games in our collection and enjoy them both. If you’re looking for a game for two that requires short-term tactical thinking while rewarding long-term strategic planning, this one will fit that requirement. And it plays in a short span of time, allowing it to be squeezed into moments where you can’t play longer games or enabling it to be a game you play multiple times in a row.

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