Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two: Circle the Wagons

Thank you for checking review #69 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: a review copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Circle the Wagons

 

0803181445

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

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

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

Rules Rating

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

My Thoughts

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

 

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

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

 

0817181231~2

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

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

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

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

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

0818182035~2

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

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

Final Thoughts

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Advertisements
Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Liberation

Thank you for checking review #66 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

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

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

An Overview of Liberation

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

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

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

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

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

My Thoughts

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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