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

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft

Thank you for checking out my sixteenth 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.

We were provided a copy of this game by Devir Games in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft

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In February 1895, London woke up to a loud bang. A large pillar of smoke showed that a bomb had exploded in the Houses of Parliament. Security forces were activated immediately and they arrested a suspicious young laborer near the area.

Mycroft Holmes, at the service of the crown, was commissioned to investigate the relationship of the young laborer with anarchist groups. He thinks it will be an easy task that he can do from the comfort of his armchair in the Diogenes Club — until he is informed of disturbing news; his younger brother Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective, has been hired by the boy’s parents to prove the innocence of his son, who believes to be a scapegoat of a dark conspiracy.

For the first time, the brightest minds in London face each other. Was the young laborer involved in this terrible attack or he is just a scapegoat for a dark conspiracy?

Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft is a game designed by Diego Ibañez and is published by Devir Americas. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 20-30 minute play time.

A game of Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft lasts seven turns (days of investigation). At the beginning of each day, famous characters extracted from the books of Arthur Conan Doyle appear in London.

Each player has three action tokens that move from one character to another to use their special abilities, knowing that a player can never have two tokens on the same character. Therefore, a character must be freed before reuse. The abilities of each character allow them to obtain Evidence Cards or gain Investigation Tokens in multiple ways. The game has great replay value because it is not known whether a character with a specific ability will make their appearance on the board in the Day 1 or in the final Day 7. Each game is different!

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

The game is playable only with two players, so there is no special setup. Each player takes the three meeples of their chosen color (blue or orange) and five magnifying glass tokens. The three starting character cards – Watson, Mrs. Hudson, and Inspector Lestrade – are placed on the board where their names appear. The remaining character cards are shuffled and placed on the draw pile space on the board. The top two of the deck are flipped out, giving you five cards face-up to begin the game.

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The deck of clue cards are shuffled and then four are flipped face-up. These four cards are what are available for purchase most of the time, although there are a few ways to purchase cards from the top of the deck. Players will take turns moving one of their meeples onto the character card of their choice, laying them down when placing them. Each character card can have only one meeple of your color on there. You carry out the action (such as gain magnifying glasses, trading magnifying glasses in to take cards, and other varying special abilities that will appear) the character provides. After your action is complete, flip over cards from the top of the deck to replace any that you purchased and the next player goes.

After all three meeples are placed laying down onto character cards, the day has ended. All meeples are then placed standing on the cards they visited. If any card, except the starting three characters (Watson, Hudson, Lestrade), has two meeples on them they are flipped over and unable to be visited during the next day. A new character card is placed on the next day, adding an additional location for the meeples to visit. Any character cards that were face-down the previous day are flipped back over and can be visited once again. Because the meeples remain on the card they visited the previous day, the order in which you move your meeples becomes important if you want to revisit a certain character card because you cannot already have a meeple of your color on the card.

The objective is to collect the majority in each set of cards. There are eight possible sets to collect:

Numbers 3-9, and each of those numbers has cards in the deck equal to their value. For instance, there are six cards with the number six on them. There are wild cards which can be added to any existing set you are collecting, but you cannot have more than one wild per set. You do not have to immediately assign the wild to a set, but once you do assign it the card cannot be rearranged. There are also five map fragments which provide points based upon the number you collect (1 is worth -1, 2 are worth 1, 3 are worth 3, 4 are worth 6, and all 5 are worth 10 points).

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Whoever has the majority in each value at the end of the seventh day will score the point value of the card, minus one point for each card the opponent has collected in that value. For example, if you have four of the 6 cards and your opponent has two, you will score 6 – 2 = 4 points. If you collect all cards of the number (wild cards do not count toward this), you score three bonus points in addition to the value of the card. Unplaced wild cards in your reserve are worth negative points at the end of the game. If players are tied in a value, neither player gains the points.

It is worth noting that one character card will not be seen each game. There are also two simple variants in the game. One adds a double-sided Sherlock/Mycroft card which starts with the player who goes second. At any time in the game, even after a card just flips over, the player with that card may take and reserve it for purchase later. Once the card is purchased, the double-sided card flips and is moved to the other player’s possession. Any card reserved but not purchased by the end of the game will cost that player three points.

The other variant is to add two villain cards into the character deck after the first two cards are flipped for the Day 1 action spaces. When one of them is revealed you do their action, they are discarded from the game, and then a new character is flipped to be placed on the next day. James Moriarty causes each player to discard two cards from their play area or pay two magnifying glasses per card. This is done with the first player choosing their first card or paying the cost, then the second player will select or pay for both of theirs, and then the first player will do their second card or cost. The other villain is Sebastian Moran, and he causes both players to lay one of their meeples down, essentially making it so both players get two actions for the day instead of three.

Both of these variants are easily integrated into the base game and add some extra strategy and unpredictability.

My Thoughts

The most brilliant thing this game accomplishes is the worker placement aspect of the game, and there are two reasons why. The first is the restriction of having only one meeple of your color on a card in combination with your meeples remaining on the board at the end of each round. That means a player can never take the same three actions as they did the previous round, although with some careful planning they could do two of the three. It makes the order in which you move your meeples matter, and that is a wonderful mechanic that I hope to see implemented in more games in the future. The second thing is having a card flip over if both players visit the card. Sometimes the card gets used because it is easily the best card available. Sometimes you’ll want to go to that card after your opponent does simply so they can’t reuse the card the next day. There are a few abilities that may be much stronger for one player than the other, and so it is a legitimate strategy to deny them that space for a day.

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After our first few plays, I wasn’t a big fan of the random appearance of characters. It seemed like the last days had characters appearing who had no value because their abilities had costs equal to the current day. I’ve come to appreciate the variable board, though, because it helps the game’s strategies to feel at least a little different each time we play. The last game we played had Shinwell “Porky” Johnson in the Day 1 characters. His ability is to choose 1-3 cards from the face-up queue to discard. His presence changed the entire dynamic of the game, making certain sets harder to collect because cards were being trashed from the game. An early Irene Adler can also bring about a little “take that” because she allows you to steal a card from an opponent (placing it face-down in front of you, which prevents it from being stolen back) by paying magnifying glasses equal to the day number. Overall, I have come to really enjoy how different our approach can be based upon who flips during those first few days.

In every game there will be one character you do not see, and usually a small handful of cards that may never flip for purchase. I like both of these because you cannot count on seeing that card you’re waiting for. There are a few abilities that also allow a player to obtain a face-down card so you can never be sure what they have or don’t have. The last game we played, my wife lucked out because the final 3 flipped with my last purchase of the game. Because she went second, that allowed her to complete her set. Had I chosen a different action than a purchase, she never would have seen that final card, which ended up being worth an extra three points. A card counter could potentially know the probability of their success with the cards they have, but there are enough variables to remain uncertain if you do have enough of a majority to score the points.

Our first games we went after the high-numbered cards. We focused so much on 7-9 that the winner in each of those didn’t really score that many points. I like that every card you get in a number is taking away a point from the opponent. So even taking those late-game 9’s can be meaningful. It also is a system that doesn’t reward a player for over-collecting. You get the same points from those 9’s whether you have the majority by one card or by five cards. The only reason to over-collect would be to prevent them from stealing your points. Which makes an interesting balance to the game. You don’t want to completely ignore a number, especially a high number, but you also don’t really want to go all-in on a number unless there is a chance of getting them all.

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The map fragments are a personal favorite of mine. It scores on a system that is very characteristic of a standard set collection game, and I also like that having only one makes you lose a point. Is it worth taking that map fragment so your opponent can’t get all five? If the trashing character hasn’t flipped, that might be the only way to prevent them from getting a high return on those map fragments. But even though those ten points may seem like a lot, it is no guarantee of victory! I managed to get them all in one game, but ultimately at the cost of not gaining enough majorities in the other sets.

This game is fast and fun. We play a game in about 15-20 minutes now, and every time we play we’ve immediately reset the game to play again. It is a lot of fun and the sort of game that will often be played as a best-of-three series when we pull it out. And the best part is, as I’ve mentioned already, each of those three games will have a slightly different feel to them because of the order in which the characters appear. The addition of the variant cards adds no extra time to the game, nor any complexity, which makes them seamless to add into the game after a few plays without them. This is easily the fastest worker placement game we own, and it executes things so well and in such a unique way that it will still see plays even with Agricola, Caverna, Viticulture, and other worker placement heavyweights in our collection. There are some games where you think, during the game, “I could be playing X instead”. Even though it is a faster and lighter worker placement game, I never get the feeling that I am having an inferior experience compared to one of the others in my collection. Which is the mark of an excellent game!

The theme in this game is a mixed bag for me. The components (apart from the meeples) all scream Sherlock. I love the characters, the artwork, and even the use of the magnifying glass tokens. I really enjoy that this game is about Mycroft and Sherlock competing on different sides of a case. However, at the end of the day this game doesn’t feel like a Sherlock Holmes case. It feels like I am collecting numbers rather than trying to find the key clue to convict or acquit the suspect. This is a fantastic game and is a lot of fun. Visually, this is very much a Sherlock Holmes game. But when you’re playing it, it doesn’t feel like a Sherlock Holmes game. And I don’t think it was intended to be among the games like Watson & Holmes or Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. What this game does, it does well. It executes so many great things that you really don’t mind that it didn’t feel like a Sherlock game.

There is no clarity as to which color of meeple belongs to which of the Holmes brothers. I’m fine with the choices of orange and blue, but some players might not enjoy either of those colors. I know my wife isn’t a big fan. I understand custom meeples would drive up the price, but even a small sheet of stickers, or a player card for each player showing the character with their color, would have helped to associate which one belongs to which brother.

One thing that ties into the above, that I think is a missed opportunity, is that there are no special powers as Sherlock or Mycroft. That player card mentioned above could have held a single one-time-use power that made them play just a little differently than the other side. They could have been really small and character card-specific, such as Sherlock being able to pay an extra magnifying glass at Irene Adler to take a card off the top of the deck in addition to stealing a card from the opposing player. This would help distinguish both sides and allow them to have slightly-different decisions along the way in the game to help them gain cards. I enjoy games that are asymmetric in approach, having variable player powers, and even in a simple game like this something could have been executed to that effect. Especially since you are playing as the Holmes brothers, competing against each other.

Final Verdict

Overall, I really enjoyed this game. It is fun, fast, and offers some interesting decisions along the way. Although you are primarily doing the same thing each game – collecting sets of numbered cards – how you approach that will change every game because of the character cards and the order in which they appear. That adds great replay value to the game, and it provides us with a worker placement game that we can pull out even if we don’t have a lot of time. Even on nights where we could play something longer, pulling this one out will leave me satisfied because of the unique approach toward some familiar mechanics.

There are a lot of great 2-player-only games out there, and this one certainly deserves to be included in the conversation. It will never be the game you pull out when you want to play a Sherlock game, but it is one you can pull out when you want to have a fun and unique experience. If you play games often with just one other player, whether that is a spouse or a friend, this is definitely a game you want to add to your collection. It is small, fast, and relatively inexpensive for the greatness of the game that comes in the box.

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: Star Realms

Thank you for checking out my twelfth 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.

An Overview of Star Realms

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Star Realms is a game designed by Robert Dougherty and Darwin Kastle and is published by White Wizard Games. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 20 minute play time.

The object of the game is to purchase cards from the Trade Row in order to add more powerful cards into your deck that you can draw on later turns. Most cards serve one of three purposes: purchasing power via Trade, attack power via Combat, or Bases to slow down your opponent’s attacks. Each player begins the game with 50 Authority, and you are trying to spend your Combat points in order to whittle that number down to 0 before the same fate befalls you. There is only one direct way to “block” the damage, which is to buy Bases from the Trade Row, specifically ones marked “Outpost” because those must be destroyed before your opponent can target you with their attacks.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

This is a 2-player only game out of the box so there is no change in set-up to play it 2-players (yes, it can be played solo or with 3-4 players as you add in expansions or additional decks, but this review is focusing just on the experience from one base set). Each player receives their set of 10 starting cards (2 Vipers, 8 Scouts) and nine authority-tracking cards (6 of the 1/5 cards and 3 of the 10/20 cards). The ten Explorer cards form a pile in the center of the play area (and is a permanent option to purchase from the trade row). The remaining deck is shuffled and five cards are placed face-up in a row by the Explorer cards. Each player sets their authority to show 50, shuffles their deck of ten cards. The starting player draws three, the other player draws five cards.

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The game itself flows very quickly with two players, especially in the early game. A turn boils down to adding up the Trade value on your cards to see what you can purchase from the Trade Row, and add up your Combat value on your cards to see how much damage you can deal to your opponent. There are more complex cards out there which enable actions such as drawing cards, trashing cards from your hand or discard pile, gaining authority, trashing cards from Trade Row, and making your opponent discard cards. The late game can stretch out a bit longer when a person is able to chain together a long combination of cards, but many turns will not be extended.

The other key thing to note is the presence of four different factions that will appear in the Trade Row: Trade Federation, Star Empire, The Blobs, and Machine Cult. Each faction has its own unique color/symbol, and most of them have a basic ability that can be used every time it is played as well as an ability that only triggers if you’ve played a card of the same faction that turn. Additionally, some cards have a Trash Can symbol, showing a power/ability that can be activated if you scrap that card after playing it during a turn.

My Thoughts

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.

I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention the price: for the price of a large pizza, you can get this game. It is one of the least expensive games out there and it comes in a small box with only cards, yet it provides an experience that surpasses many big-box games that I have played. Don’t let all those additional packs fool you: they aren’t necessary! They certainly add to the experience, but you have a very solid, complete game just by purchasing this one box.

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The setup and teardown time is perfect. In fact, it fired my previous deckbuilder in the collection because this one could be setup and played in about the same time as it would take just to setup the other. With the smallish footprint, this is also a game that could be taken along to a restaurant or coffee shop and played on a table while waiting on food, or simply passing time. It is a small, fast, portable game that contains a “bigger on the inside” experience.

I can’t emphasize enough how great it is to have a deckbuilder where you can easily obtain cards to thin the deck. It was a shortcoming in several deckbuilders I played, including Dominion because there wasn’t ever a guarantee you’d get a card with a trashing mechanism among the available cards. Deck thinning is almost an essential ability, and it is definitely up to each player as to how soon, and how much, they want to thin out the deck. I am yet to play a game where some of the Machine Cult cards don’t appear by mid-game in the Trade Row, and most games open with 1-2 of their 1-3 cost cards already out there.

The factions themselves present great decisions along the way. Each one specializes in a certain ability, making them essential to target if you want to focus on being able to do certain things. Yet you also need to make sure you focus heavily in a few rather than pick up a card or two from each, because almost all of them have stronger abilities that trigger if you can play two cards from that faction on the same turn. I’ve focused in heavily on each faction over the course of our plays, and have found them all to have really strong merits. While The Blob and its Combat-heavy focus might remain the most powerful ability on the surface, it is far from being the only path to victory.

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Some people may not enjoy it, like Rahdo, but we really like the objective of trying to destroy the other person. It reminds me of my days of playing Magic: The Gathering where you are trying to summon creatures to attack the other player, who can block with their own summoned creatures. It is a fun experience, and we both prefer this over something like Dominion’s VP system or Marvel Legendary’s semi-cooperative approach of defeating the Masterminds. It is a 2-player-only experience, and the head-to-head clash works beautifully in this game.

I also love how some cards present a difficult decision on whether or not to scrap them after playing them from your hand. You lose the card forever, thinning your deck a little in the process, but you usually gain a fairly decent reward in return. Early in the game you might ignore those, but as the game goes on those scrapping abilities become more appealing because you know there are fewer times to cycle through the deck. And it might provide that little push you need to stop them before they can pull off their massive chain, or regain Authority, or deploy a ton of Outposts that they’ve been suddenly buying from the Trade Row. The best example, of course, comes with the 2-cost Explorer card that is always available for purchase. There comes a point where it makes sense to buy them simply to scrap them after the first play for that extra 2-Combat.

The game can, on occasion, drag out for too long. If one person invests heavily in the Trade Federation and gains Authority each turn, it can be hard to whittle that health down fast enough unless the other player went heavy into The Blob faction. Even then, it might not be enough. A deck full of Outpost Bases can also really slow things down, especially if the player keeps drawing one Combat fewer than they need to destroy that Outpost. It certainly doesn’t happen every game, but it can and will happen from time to time. And when it does, usually both players end up ready to see the game end.

The artwork on the cards is good, but not memorable. But that is okay, because it does more than enough to evoke the theme of the game. Most cards feature a ship on there, which helps to remind you that you are deploying fleets of ships over the course of the game. It will never quite have the feeling of a space battle like X-Wing or Armada might be able to provide, but for a card-based game it certainly does enough. Just don’t be surprised if, after a few plays, you start to see just the colors and powers rather than the names and artwork.

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The Authority-tracking cards. I had always heard about them and the universal dislike for them. But I didn’t understand until I pulled them out myself. Three seconds was all the longer it took for me to determine there was no way my wife would ever agree to use them, so we downloaded a MTG Life Tracker app on my tablet, which allows us to track our Authority in a much easier way. I understand the need to come up with a small, portable way to track the life. I also understand why they chose to use these double-sided cards. But they are definitely the weakest part of this game.

Final Verdict

This game was a surprise hit for us. I knew we’d enjoy the game, but not how much we’d enjoy the game. So far it is our most-played 2-player game in 2017 and I don’t know that any game can keep up with it. This one is the perfect game to pull out and play a round or two on an evening where we don’t have a lot of time or energy for games, and it is a fun enough experience to play 3-5 times in a row without it wearing out its welcome. Each game is a fresh experience because you won’t always see the same cards early, and there are many approaches you can take toward building your deck. This is easily the best deckbuilder game we’ve ever played, and will remain in our collection for a long time.

If you are looking for a fast, fun game to play with just two, this one deserves to be in your collection. It is easily one of the best two-player only games I have played so far! Unless you are like Rahdo and dislike games where you are attacking your opponent and destroying their stuff, because there is no peaceful path to victory in 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: Pixel Tactics

**This post originally appeared on BGG on March 7, 2017

Thank you for checking out my sixth 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.

An Overview of Pixel Tactics

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Pixel Tactics is a tactical game using cards and tokens, designed by D. Brad Talton, Jr. is published by Level 99 Games. The box states that is can play 2 players and has a 45 minute play time.

Each player will choose from their starting hand a leader for the game and set them in what is essential the center space of a 3×3 grid. On each turn a player gets two actions that are restricted to the current row of their grid, known as a wave (the three waves, from front to back, are Vanguard, Flank, Rear). Those actions include drawing a card, playing a card into the current wave, attacking with a figure from the current wave, removing a corpse, moving a unit to an open space, or activating the ability of a figure in the current wave. Each card has different abilities depending on the wave in which a card is played, while the attack power and life value remain the same regardless of where it is played. When a figure takes damage from an attack, it gains wound tokens and if it has an equal or greater number of wounds than life value, at the end of the current wave (after both players have played their two actions), that card will be flipped over and become a corpse. The corpse, essentially, takes up that space until a player clears the corpse from the battlefield with one of their actions. Each card also has a one-time use event that can be played from their hand, rather than recruiting the figure onto their battlefield. Play continues back and forth until one of the leaders is defeated.

Setup for 2 Players

Since this is a 2-player only game, the setup is the same when playing with two. Each player takes their deck of 25 cards (both decks are identical), shuffles the cards, and draws five cards. From those five, each player selects a leader for the match. One player will get the first player card marker, the other will get the second player marker, and play will begin with the Vanguard. Once all three waves have been played through, the first/second player cards are exchanged and play continues at the Vanguard once more.

My Thoughts

Let’s start with the first thing about this game that really appealed to me: the artwork. Simple? Yes. But it evokes memories of playing the great Nintendo and Super Nintendo games that I grew up playing. I understand this will not carry an appeal for everyone – my wife is a perfect example of that, as she doesn’t really care about the artwork for this game – but for me, it was what initially drew me to the game and made me want to know more about it.

Because the game is designed only for two players, it really shines as a game for two players. There is a lot of back and forth that goes along throughout most games, where you constantly feel like you’ve got the upper hand for a turn or two, but then it shifts to your opponent. A lot of this has to do with the clever mechanism of having the first player card cycle back and forth over the course of the game. Going first makes a big difference because it can either allow you to land attacks before they can rebuild their defense, or it can allow you to put out your defenders where they need to be to ward off an oncoming attack. But there are also times where going second can be an advantage, such as creating a corpse in front of their leader during the vanguard wave so that their leader is unprotected, essentially, for the next three waves you play (since you’ll go first again during the next vanguard). There are definitely times where a game might feel like it is getting out of hand, but you never feel like it is actually over until that leader is defeated.

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Every card has five possible effects, depending on how/when/where it is played. Yes, five. One for the leader, one as a one-time discarded effect, and one for each wave. They are all nice and color-coded and in the same order, with the leader on the “bottom” of the cards. If you fear this is an AP-factor, let me assure you that it is not AP-inducing. Each option is short, and once a card is played it typically remains in that same wave. The leader side is only considered for five cards per game at the very beginning. And most of the time you are seeking units for a specific wave. Furthermore, since the decks are the same 25 cards, after a few plays you’ll already develop preferences on where a card will go or how it will best be used under normal circumstances. So your first glance at your hand in your first game might feel overwhelming, but after a play or two you really come to appreciate, and enjoy, the fact that cards offer different strategies and abilities based on where they get deployed.

Bring out yer dead! *Clang* Yep, the corpses are a plus for this game because they impact the game. Every time a non-leader unit dies, it flips over and becomes a corpse. Why is that important? Because that spot cannot be used until they spend an action to clear that corpse. And they can only clear one corpse per action, so they cannot simply wait for them to pile up and sweep the board clean. Unit placement is an essential part of this game because you can only attack the foremost unit in each column with the foremost unit in each of your columns. But a corpse doesn’t count to that, so when a card becomes a corpse, it opens up attacks to the unit behind that corpse. Often times, this means you get to attack that leader. No one wants to spend an action to remove a corpse. It feels like a waste of half your turn. But until that spot is cleared, no one else can be dropped into that spot, leaving their army vulnerable. It is a simple, yet brilliant, mechanic that adds a lot of impact to the game. Sometimes it is better to create two corpses than to attack that leader directly, especially if your opponent has already been neglecting their corpses. Unless that is part of their strategy…(see point about multi-use cards because yes, some cards do things with those corpses!)

Not only does each card have a variety of uses, they all *feel* different in how they play. It never feels like I have a handful of guys that are only slight variations of each other. Many of them have very interesting, thematic abilities such as the Vampire. I don’t know if this will hold true across all of the sets that have been released, but I really enjoy how this base game, at least, succeeds in having each card feel unique.

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This can be a frustrating thing in-game, but I actually find that I like that you are (primarily) restricted to recruiting and attacking with figures in the current wave. It sucks to draw a card and have to wait three waves to finally deploy it where you want it, and then have to wait until that wave comes back again to actually use it, but it makes things interesting and challenges you to consider all possibilities. You can clear corpses anywhere on the board during any wave. You can move a unit into an empty space, even if it doesn’t go into the row you want. You can spend both actions to essentially swap the placement of two heroes. You can play cards as events from your hand. And you can, of course, draw cards. There are certain waves where those actions are the best used, and the successful management of when to use those actions is essential for victory.

The first round is a Ceasefire, which means you cannot attack, or use an ability that deals damage to your opponent’s cards. Additionally, you cannot attack with a hero the round you bring them out. Both of these serve to help balance the game, and do so in an effective manner. There are possible ways around the latter restriction, but the presence of the Ceasefire is a smart design. You get six actions, essentially, to prepare for the first wave of bloodshed by primarily deploying heroes and drawing cards. It helps to mitigate the effect of being second to begin the game.

In spite of the multiple uses and the thematic uniqueness, there are some cards that simply are best when used in a certain manner. Why would I put my 10-health Knight anywhere but the Vanguard? Why would I ever dream of not using my Alchemist in the Flank wave, where it can sit and reduce all damage done to my leader? And there are a few that, unless you have the right situation, simply sit in your hand until they are either discarded through an effect or you are forced to play it because you just need someone to absorb some damage for a round. I do not usually mind the pidgeonholing of a card, because you certainly want to maximize its usefulness, but it could be a real drawback to some players.

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While there are no dice rolls, randomness still holds some sway due to the drawing of cards. You never know for sure what cards you will see in a game, since most of the time you will not deplete your entire deck. So that one card you need to complete your master strategy may never turn up. This is both a strength and a weakness. It can be deflating to know that one card can save your game and lead you to victory, but it never comes. Yet the reverse holds true, leading you to the highest of highs when you draw that exact card. Except when you are searching for a card to heal your leader, only to draw it and realize it doesn’t heal the leader, just heroes. Which causes you to lose anyway, because your memory was faulty and you spend a few waves digging for that card that didn’t really do what you thought to begin with. Yep, I’m still mad at myself for that one.

There are tokens in the game with symbols that I still have no real idea what they do. My guess is that they integrate somehow with later installments of the game, because I am yet to truly find where they come into play in the base game.

Final Verdict

As you can probably guess, this is a game that I really, really love. It is a perfect game for my wife and I to play because it has so much variability, and it requires both short-term tactics and long-term strategy in order to be victorious. It is a game where we never really know who is going to ultimately win, because the flow of battle can really change in an instant and swing to the other person’s favor. Not only does that help this to feel like an actual skirmish might, but it also helps us to remain engaged for the entire game. This game was a big enough hit that, after playing it for only a month, my wife knew I’d like to get the next installment for the collection and it was under the tree for Christmas. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is! This game cracked my top 10 in short order, and I see no reason why it couldn’t perch itself firmly in the #2 spot for years to come. I don’t think it would ever seriously challenge to dethrone my #1 game, but this one seems likely to remain a staple at the top of my collection for years to come.

Especially when I get the other three main sets (since I now own the first two), the deluxe box, and mini-expansions. This might just be one of those gems in the game world where I actually want to collect them all.

Check out this Geeklist for some of my other board game reviews: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas…