Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two: InBetween

Thank you for checking review #65 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 in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of InBetween

InBetween is a game designed by Adam Kwapinski and was published by Board & Dice in 2017. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 20-40 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 2.44.

InBetween is a game for two players, competing against each other to either protect or devour the inhabitants of Upsideville in a tug-of-war between the Human and Creature dimensions.

During a game of InBetween, the Creature player is trying to devour the inhabitants of Upsideville by drawing them ever deeper into its home dimension, while the Town player is trying to increase the safety of the inhabitants in the Human dimension until they are secured from the Creature’s depredations. Players take turns playing cards and using abilities that will draw the Characters further into their dimension. At the same time they are trying to increase their Awareness of their opponent so as to enhance a powerful one-time ability that may affect the game’s outcome. There are several routes to victory in InBetween; a player can win by drawing enough Characters into their dimension, or by increasing their Awareness to its highest level.

The fate of Upsideville is in the hands of the players. Will the Town and its people be able to win and walk peacefully once again around? Or will the darkness triumph, and the horrifying creature will walk freely between the alleys?

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

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

My Thoughts

 The turn structure is really simple, having you take one of three actions: play a card and possibly pay to activate its ability, draw back to five cards in your hand, or gain energy equal to the number of people currently flipped to your side. Easy choice, right? Except that the latter two actions can be seen as dead actions, making it so you don’t make any impact on the board state and allowing your opponent to get another play before you can react. But in order to do the most effective action, you want some of that energy to pay the activation on the card you play. And in order to get cards, most of the time you need to use that draw action. Trying to decide when, and how often, to draw cards and gain energy is a wonderful struggle.

 I love that you can see the path that the turn marker is going to follow, allowing you to plan ahead for placement to advance your own characters or to try and win a character to your side enough that your opponent gets nothing when the marker reaches that spot. Oftentimes I’m looking 4-6 characters down the line as I’m planning my turn out, trying to decide which actions I might want to try and trigger or which characters I definitely don’t want her to trigger.

 The player reference cards have everything you could want on there, and I’m coming to value a good reference card more and more in a game. This not only helps during gameplay while learning the game, but also serves as a nice refresher point when the game hits the table again after a period of time.

 Letting the town deck have equipment cards is a really nice addition. Thematically, of course the creature won’t be making use of things like shotguns, walkie talkies, etc. It helps give the town that feeling of having an edge, but there are ways the creature has of dealing with those cards as well. But I love few things in this game more than looking down at 2-4 equipment cards in play when I am the town and know I’m reaping the benefit of those effects long after paying the initial energy cost.

 The artwork is very evocative of the theme in this game. If you’ve seen the show Stranger Things, you’ll recognize and appreciate some subtle things on the cards that will remind you of the show. But even without that knowledge, a player gets a sense that one side is really creepy and disturbing and full of bad news. I really enjoy the enhancement that the art brings to the experience on this game.

 The push-pull mechanism in this game is simple yet enjoyable. In order to raise your awareness, you need to have a cube on the townsperson when the marker is on that character. In order to get that cube on there, you need to have them on your side of the InBetween state. However, you can easily offset what your opponent does by playing cards to move their characters back, making it so you need to decide whether it is better to advance your own “scoring” opportunities or try and prevent theirs. This provides great decisions and some tension along the way. Even more enticing is when the cube is advanced to the 2nd or 3rd space on the character card, allowing the player to raise awareness AND trigger the action on the character card. The one thing you never want to see is your opponent getting a cube to the 4th space, which makes them secured (if on the town side) or devoured (if on the creature side). That pretty much locks that character down for the rest of the game, although there are a few ways to offset that.

 The game is fast enough that we often play a best-of-three series. I love small box, thinky games like that where you’re finished fast enough to play again and fun enough you want that immediate rematch if you’ve lost.

 There are three ways the game can come to an end: a player reaches 6 awareness, a player gets 3 characters to the secured/devoured state, or there are 5 characters remaining of the 10. I love the concept of three ways of ending the game; however, I’ve never seen it get close to two of these endings. It has always been Awareness, and almost always with one player at 4-5 when the other hits 6.

 The game provides moments of dread when you see that the marker is about to hit a run of 2-3 characters that will boost your opponent’s awareness. Even worse is seeing you have no cards in hand with matching symbols or, as has happened, you have no cards or energy at this point so you need to simply pray that you get really lucky with a draw and can play something to survive. It provides tension, but it also feels just a little like you’re helpless to react. Ultimately, the result is “plan better” for the next game, which you’re almost always going to want to play again.

 A small nitpick, but worth mentioning. The only place that the name of the game appears is on the small side of the box. Not on the cover. Not on the back. I guess it does appear, in really small print, on the bottom side as well. But this really, really limits the marketing to the gamer who is trained to pick up the box, look at the cover and the back to see what the game is about. It takes some looking on this one. Not a dealbreaker by any means, as the art on the front and back are stunning and thematic.

Final Thoughts

When I heard about this game, it was advertised as Stranger Things in board game form. And there is no denying that inspiration for the theme likely was pulled from that popular series. That in itself should help this game sell copies, but is that theme the only star for this box?

Thankfully, no. There is such a great little game wrapped up in this small box that it feels like a shame that this isn’t getting more buzz. Then again, small box 2-player games typically fly under the radar as a rule and it truly is a shame. This delivers an experience that you’d want for the size and price of the game, providing an asymmetric experience with a serious tug-of-war element as both players battle over influencing the ten townspeople. I love the sense of dread that grows when you see a series of 2-3 townsfolk coming up that will increase their awareness if you don’t make the right plays and get the right cards for the job. And the sense of excitement when you manage to come out of that gauntlet and still be in the running to win the game, jockeying to return the favor in a few turns.

The biggest flaw in the game comes from the unlikelihood that it will end in any way except the 6 Awareness route. I’ve never seen it come close to ending any other way with the few people I’ve played against, and maybe we’re just really bad at the game. Somehow I don’t think that is the case, though.

While the town is more interesting to play due to the variety of cards, the creature has its own benefits with some powerful abilities they’ll see more often. But that is balanced further by the frequency of symbols – there are 7 different creature symbols but only 4 for the town. This makes it an interesting dynamic for the push-pull that happens for the circle of townspeople. I love how different these two sides feel, even though the goals are the same regardless of the side you play.

So if you like 2-player games with a little bit of a puzzle during gameplay, coupled with very direct interaction between the players and asymmetric sides, this is definitely one to check out. You don’t need to be a fan of the Stranger Things show to appreciate the game, nor is any knowledge required to play. This is a nice, tense game that could be categorized as being on the lighter side of thinky fillers, and is one I always look forward to getting onto the table.

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Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at InBetween. 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 · Worker Placement Month

Review for Two – Argent: The Consortium

Thank you for checking review #64 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An Overview of Argent: The Consortium

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Argent: The Consortium is a game designed by Trey Chambers and was published by Level 99 Games in 2015. The box states that it can play 2-5 players and has a 60-150 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 3.82.

The time has come for the selection of a new Chancellor at Argent University of Magic, and you are among the likely candidates for the job. Gather your apprentices, ready your spellbook, and build your influence, while secretly discovering and competing over the votes of a limited Consortium of influential board members. Only the one who is able to fulfill the most criteria will be claim the title of most influential mage in the World of Indines!

Argent: The Consortium is a cutthroat worker-placement/engine-building game of manipulation and secrecy in which the criteria for victory are secret and the capabilities of your opponents are constantly changing. You’ll need to outwit the other candidates, use your spells at the right moment, and choose the correct apprentices to manage your plan.

Argent: The Consortium is a European-style game that minimizes luck and focuses on player interaction and strong core mechanisms that allow new strategies to emerge each time you play.

The designer keeps an updated Official Errata/Typo/FAQ thread on BGG.

 

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

You have 9 room tiles, set in a 3×3 square. Each player begins with 7, instead of 5, mages that they draft from the start of the game. Great Hall A and Dormitory are not able to be used. Infirmary Side B must always be used. All other aspects of the game remain the same.

Quick Take on the 2nd Edition Rules/Errata

This fixes three things that really enhances the overall experience:

  • This replaces the 1st edition mage figures/bases/flags with new pawns that have badge rings which attach to the base of a mage.
  • The first tiebreaker for a voter is a player with a Mark on that voter. If both have a mark (or neither do), the next tiebreaker is the higher Influence.
  • In a 2-player game, the 2nd Most Influence and 2nd Most Supporters voter cards are removed.

It is hard to say which is the biggest change, but I suspect many will point to the first two as being essential changes. Some might have preferred being able to win voters by blitzing the Influence and gathering as much of everything as possible, but this change allows the player who takes the time to know what is being voted on to get the edge in a close contest. The figure change, while not affecting any rules, took away one of the most disappointing aspects of the 1st edition game.

My Thoughts

 This is my kind of worker placement game, because it has some serious player interaction and it isn’t simple a points/efficiency race. Yes, there is some of that in the game, but this is a satisfying blend of euro gaming and the thematic flavors of Ameri-style gaming. And rather than feel like a game that tries and fails to cater to both crowds, this one swings and hits a home run. At least for me, and for most people I’ve played this with. It opens the door to a lot of niche gamers that might not be interested in one or the other half of that style, and could be that bridge that unifies rather than dividing those camps.

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 Replay value. Those two words I like to utter a lot, and honestly there is a good reason for that. A game like A Feast for Odin, which is one of the Uwe Rosenberg big box games, is massive and impressive. However, every single game is played out in an identical fashion in terms of what you can do and how to accomplish them. The variety there comes from trying different tactics and, being creatures of habit, we tend to fall into the same routines that end with similar results. Enter Argent: The Consortium. The voter cards change every game (except for two of the 12), making the scoring conditions ever-changing. You never use all of the room tiles to construct the university board, which is great in itself, but then consider each of these tiles has an A and a B side. The magic power cards, which are tied to each of the colored mages you can use as workers, have A and B sides, making it so you can vary the powers of your workers from game to game. And each candidate board has an A and a B side, so even if you don’t choose a different one from the 6 available you’re able to change that experience based on your personal starting powers. Add in the drafting of your starting pool of mages at the start of the game and your head could be spinning from the variance available. And let’s not even mention the three decks of cards which you’re buying/recruiting from over the course of the game and how that add randomness (the only randomness to appear during the game, everything else being part of setup). You could probably play this every day for a year and end up with a different experience based on the parts and pieces for every single play.

 Adding to that experience is the potential scarcity of resources on a given setup. For instance, the last game I played there was no location allowing you to gain marks (apart from choosing to take that over drafting a supporter on the Council Chamber location. So there were very few ways to get marks outside of learning spells or taking supporters/vault cards that provided a way to get those. One of us had a lot of those, and so she had a ton of marks out. I like that there can be a scarcity, making it so you need to try varying strategies based on the layout each game.

 The rounds have player-determined ending conditions, which is a nice addition here. It has nothing to do with passing, or running out of workers. Instead, there are 3-5 Bell Tower cards and, for an action, you can take one of them. They provide things such as Influence Points, Mana, Gold, or the First Player Token, and so there is benefit to taking one of them. However, the real reason is to bring about the threat of the round ending because once that last Bell Tower card is taken, the round ends. Even if you’ve still got 2-3 mages to place, it is done. So players can all ignore them while doing action after action, or players can accelerate the end of the round to trigger the room resolutions sooner. I love this.

 Speaking of the room resolution, I also like that this is a worker placement game where most of what happens is at the end of the round. The sequence of the rooms matters, as it starts from the top and goes left-to-right then top-to-bottom (like reading a book). Something you need to consider when placing workers, as that gold you need to make a buy might not be in your possession until after that buy card activates.

 But there is consolation to be found in two places. First, if you place a worker you cannot (or choose not) to activate when the time comes, you can gain 1 Influence Point. So even if you don’t plan well, you can get something. Or if that 1 IP is essential to a future action, you can always opt for that. The other consolation comes when your mage is wounded and is sent to the Infirmary. It no longer gets to take an action, but you immediately gain either 2 gold, 1 mana, or 1 Influence Point (at least on Side A of the room…I forget Side B). So even when things go wrong, you get something. Just not necessarily what you want or need.

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 The 2nd edition fixes so many small things, but they all add up to an amazingly-better experience. And that is what this review is focusing on, is that new experience. The mage minis are wonderful, and I don’t miss the old style of workers who had to snap onto a base which would get a token slotted into the back. The tiebreaker change is a welcome surprise and it makes the experience a lot better at the end of the game. If you have 1st edition, I highly recommend making the upgrade if you can. At the very least, make that one rule change. It flips the game in the right direction.

 This game can have some sharp elbows. Like, really sharp as I found out last night in our game with a friend. I had a round (Round 3) where only two of my mage workers activated spaces, one of them not on a space of my choosing due to a spell that moved them. Sure, three of them got me a small benefit in the Infirmary, but it was very small consolation by the end of that round. It tore down my efforts and put me in a massive hole to where I never fully recovered, ending with just 2 voters and one came by sheer luck. It all depends on who you play with and how they feel about dishing out the brutality. Some players will beat you down mercilessly and then continue to kick you long after you’ve been suppressed. If that is someone you play with, and you have issues with being on the receiving end of that, then you might dislike the game. But most players will walk a middle ground, doing some wounding/banishing/moving of your workers without taking it too far.

 Setup and teardown time for this game is quite a task at times. It isn’t the worst game we own for this, but with everything in this box it requires a decent amount of time. The insert that comes in the box isn’t horrible, but it definitely is a game that required bagging right away. What it desperately needs is an officially-licensed insert from a company like Meeple Realty. If one exists, I’m not aware of it. But it really, really needs to exist in order to assist with the time it takes to get onto the table and the organization when it comes back off the table.

 This thing is a beast on the table, something to be aware of. It takes far more real estate than you’d expect with all those cards, boards, pieces, etc. Especially if you have more than two at the table to play this one. So if space is a concern, be aware that you’ll need plenty of it.

 The player aids. Really, did they need to be a single box-sized thin slip of paper? Not only does it feel like it could rip easily, but this thing is huge. With a game that already will dominate most of the space on a table! Disappointing is the word to use here, as this could easily have been reduced into a smaller booklet, or at least folded in half and put on something a little thicker.

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Final Thoughts

 

This was the first game that Mina’s Fresh Cardboard really sold me on (the second big must-buy because of her is still not in my collection, sadly), and I’ve personally been delighted with the game ever since our first play. Unfortunately, my wife was left bitter after the first two games, primarily because of the Influence Track as the tiebreaker for scoring the voters. It took nearly 18 months to convince her to try it again, this time with the 2nd edition rules/components and a 3rd player to help bring a greater feeling of balance to the table in order to make the experience more pleasing.

And that play of the game…she enjoyed the game enough to want to play more. She couldn’t remember what she hated so much about it, and that is 99% of the battle. Now there won’t be such fierce resistance to the idea of replaying the game. I think it helps that they changed the tiebreaker to giving priority to marks first.

My opinions on the game have never waned, as you saw if you paid attention to my Top 25 that was revealed in June. It is a Top 10 game for me, and would possibly be Top 5 if my wife enjoyed the game more. I’m holding out hope for her, as it took at least 15-20 plays of Kingdom Builder to finally win her over on that one to where it is among her favorite games.

This is worker placement at its finest, as it has some excellent player interaction coupled with an insane amount of replay value. Seriously, I think you could play this game a hundred times and have a hundred different setups between the candidate sheets, the university board tiles, the mage powers, and the consortium voters. Add in the swath of spells, supporter cards, and vault cards and you’re going to get some fresh experiences along the way. So if you rate your games based on longevity over time, this game will deliver in spades. This isn’t your standard worker placement fare, with predictable paths where you see who plays best in their sandbox. This game can be gritty and grueling, evoking a beautiful worker placement game.

Yet it is far from perfect. I would argue it plays best mechanically at 3-4 players, although I don’t mind the 2-player game with the revised ruling. Players who dislike having conflict and confrontation will inherently dislike some aspects of this game because it thrives on that interaction. The game also takes up a LOT of space on the table. Not quite a Firefly: The Game (with expansions) or War of the Ring level, but it is pretty sizable. The player aids are massive, being a single sheet that is the size of the box. There are five of them, but at that size they add to the immense amount of real estate this game wants to claim.

Some day I hope to get to play a 6th round epic mode of the game. I want to pick up and try the two published expansions (Summer Break and Mancers of the University), especially the latter since it adds in a new type of mage. Regardless of my wife’s perspective on the game and whether or not it eventually changes to where the enjoys the game, it is one I am going remain happy about having in my collection. Even if it only comes out 1-2 times a year to be played with the right group.

***

Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Argent: The Consortium. 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 · Worker Placement Month

Review for Two – Raiders of the North Sea

Thank you for checking review #61 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An Overview of Raiders of the North Sea

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Raiders of the North Sea is a game designed by Shem Phillips and was published by Garphill Games, and later by Renegade Games. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 60-120 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 2.57.

Raiders of the North Sea is set in the central years of the Viking Age. As Viking warriors, players seek to impress the Chieftain by raiding unsuspecting settlements. Players will need to assemble a crew, collect provisions and journey north to plunder gold, iron and livestock. There is glory to be found in battle, even at the hands of the Valkyrie. So gather your warriors, it’s raiding season!

Aim of the Game

The aim of Raiders of the North Sea is to impress the Chieftain by having the most Victory Points (VP) at the game’s end. Victory Points are gained primarily by raiding Settlements, taking Plunder and making Offerings to the Chieftain. How players use their Plunder is also vital to their success. The game ends when either only 1 Fortress raid remains, all Valkyrie are removed, or all Offerings have been made.

 

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

There are no differences in setup or gameplay on this game based upon player count. The end game triggers also remain the same, regardless of player count.

My Thoughts

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 The first thing that I fell in love with in this was the use of worker placement. You will never have more than one worker. You place a worker, execute the action, then remove a different worker from the board and execute the action on the space it left. That mechanic right there is sheer brilliance, allowing you to plan ahead and to react tactically to moves your opponents make. This functions so differently from the standard “place all your workers then bring them back” approach that it feels genuinely refreshing every time I play it. I hope more games find ways to use this approach, because it is a really fun and interesting twist on the genre.

 Three colors of workers are in the game, each one capable of going to specific spaces on the board. This aspect works really well with the above worker placement mechanic, allowing you to swoop up that white worker they just retrieved from a raiding space (for you, no doubt) and placed down in the bottom section. I like the progression here, and that the black starter workers have a benefit with the money generation space. It almost is enough to tempt me to keep one around all game. Almost. I like the approach taken here, and the fact that they don’t have powerful abilities is perfect. This approach is just right, opening up higher spaces on the board that require more resources to raid.

 Artwork by the Mico is so fun and uniquely his that I absolutely love the life he brings to the games. It is a flavor all of his own, and it is stamped firmly upon this game. I couldn’t tell you if I prefer him or Beth Sobel, but they both are guaranteed to catch my attention with their artistic work.

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 Valkyries are the best resource I have ever seen in a game, hands down. Not only are they thematic as can be (okay, I wish they weren’t a black skull but I get it needed to be a similar shape to the other resources to help randomize drawing from the bag in setup), but they provide a big struggle for the player in terms of when to take a space with a Valkyrie (or worse, multiple ones) since it will cause them to lose some of the cards they paid to recruit. But those Valkyrie can be worth a lot victory points at the end of the game, and there is quite the swing in points if one person gets them and another ignores them. This can especially happen in a 2-player game where there is less rush to compete for spaces on the board.

 Multi-use cards are always a thing I enjoy. In this game, most of what you’re likely considering is the cost to recruit them and the ability they can provide for your group. Since you’re limited to 5 in play as a maximum, there comes a point where you need to be selective. Thankfully, those Valkyrie can help you cycle out cards that lose usefulness (such as ones that might provide benefits from raiding Harbours) so you can modify your group strategically as the game progresses. However, don’t underestimate the value of playing a card at the Town Hall location! Some of those abilities, although one-time use, can really help you get ahead or catch up to your opponent.

 Dice are a negligible component in the game. You can recruit a team of people with really high strength, and complement that with a lot of time pumping up the Armory, to where you are going to get points when raiding the higher spaces regardless. Or you can play it a little riskier, going through with just enough to get the space and hope the dice help you get a few additional points along the way. I appreciate it being able to cater to both crowds there, and that there are higher rewards in VP for those who can hit really high attack values.

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 I haven’t done it yet, but this game can be played in sequence with the other two in the North Sea Trilogy to make an overarching gaming experience. How cool is that? I can’t report on how it works or how well it plays, but I plan to eventually. Regardless, more games should have something like this, to where you can string them together in a small campaign of sorts that can be completed in a single game day.

 There are three ways for the game to end, something I really like. However, in a 2-player match, it has only ever ended when 5/6 Fortress spaces were raided. The same was true in a 3-player game we’ve played of this. We’ve come close on Valkyries before, as we both tend to try and max out those points (me moreso than her in the early game) but have never cleared them all. And we haven’t even come close to wiping out the stack of tiles, since you need to trade in resources to get those and sometimes those resources are better used in other places. So while I like the idea of three ways to end the game, I imagine that those other two really come into play with the full player count rather than with 2-players.

 The game can feel same-y after multiple plays on the board. Sure, there are small things that change: the resources on each space, the tiles you can gain at the Long House, and the cards you’ll draw into your hand. But, ultimately, you’re doing the exact same thing every time with minimal variance. That is the biggest downfall in so many worker placement games, where it becomes repetitive. If you like a fresh experience every play, this isn’t going to provide that (at least the base game alone). However, even within this weakness of the genre there is enough in the game to where you can make strong tactical plays to squeeze out points more efficiently than your opponent in order to win the game.

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 The game as a whole gets repetitive within a single game experience, too. Get money to recruit cards. Gain provisions. Go on a raid and pay provisions/resources/cards. Repeat, this time needing more of everything to go higher on the board. While the game is fun and exciting, there is a lot of repetition even as you get further into an individual game. That is its biggest weakness, as the spots that you go to outside of the town are all one-shot spaces. So you’re spending about 75% of the game cycling through the same handful of spaces in order to go to a single space up above.

Final Thoughts

There should be no surprises about my thoughts if you saw my Top 25 Games. This game appears there, and I see no reason why it won’t be there for the long-term as I gain expansions for this game and add the rest of the North Sea Trilogy into my collection. The unique approach to worker placement in this is a refreshing change from the others, and I’ll admit I love the theme and the artwork enough to give this game a slight boost beyond what it might otherwise earn.

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The base game here is really good. There’s no way around that. I’m excited whenever I get this game to the table. I’m even more excited to pick up the solo variant at some point so I can play (and revisit in a review!) the solo experience for this game. I’m looking at the various expansions out there and trying to determine which one I should pick up first to expand and enhance the experience…knowing full well that my wife is almost never a fan of expansions. I’m thinking Fields of Fame, since it adds enemy Jarls which should make things more interesting in trying to raid.

The progression arc in this game is enjoyable, even if it is predictable. How you approach building your engine is what makes this game fun, just like any deckbuilder or engine optimization game out there. The wrinkle comes with those Valyries, a resource that you shouldn’t completely avoid because of its end-game point potential but comes with a heavy cost in losing part of your team of Raiders. This is the aspect of the game that really shines, even moreso than the worker placement aspect, because it is where you gain some variety.

Do I want more people to recruit? Yes, so that the deck dilutes and you can’t count on getting 2-3 of X in order to reap a ton of benefits at a certain part of the game. The team you choose to hire, and the raiding spot sequence you choose, can make or break your chance of winning this game. The game’s mechanics are balanced on the edge of a knife, as you’re going to earn a lot of the same points in the same places. The difference comes in those smaller details. And that is something I really, really appreciate. It enables a veteran to be able to see that ideal path while also allowing for newer players to keep it a close game and potentially spoil the best-laid plans and steal a win.

If you like worker placement, you definitely need to try this game. If you like engine building, you should try this game. If you hate optimization games, where the more efficient player will win more often than not, then it might not be quite right for you. But this game I definitely cherish having in my collection, and I look forward to getting all of the North Sea line of product eventually on my shelves.

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

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

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

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Bonus: Renegade Games is generously providing a giveaway for a NIS copy of Raiders of the North Sea. Be sure to enter to win!

Raiders of the North Sea giveaway

Game Design · Monster Hunters

Design Notes: Monster Hunters

Over on BGG I have a thread for my current (and first) WIP board game. If you’ve followed along for a while, you might have heard that I had several ideas kicking around and that I was planning on going with a smaller and simpler design as my first game. But I decided, in the end, to go after the one I was most passionate about and so Monster Hunters earned my focus.

You can follow along on the BGG thread here: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/2011918/wip-monster-hunters-2018-solitaire-print-and-play

But I will also occasionally make updates here as well for those not following on BGG.

***

Monster Hunters is a deckbuilding and worker placement game where monsters are threatening to destroy a town and, as a Monster Hunter, you have been hired to help take care of the threat. Unluckily for you, there is more than one monster descending upon the town and, making it even more unlikely that you can vanquish the beasts and make sure the town doesn’t get destroyed…too much, at least.

Components required: TBD, but will primarily consist of cards, a main board, a player board or two, and some small cubes/discs.

Playing time: TBD

# of players: 1 (eventually may scale up to 1-4, but right now focusing solely on it as a solo game and building up from there!)

Categories in which this game is competing:

d10-1 Best Overall Game
d10-2 Best Rule Book
d10-3 Best Regular PNP Build
d10-4 Most Thematic Game
d10-5 Best Game Designed in Contest Timeframe
d10-6 Best Game by a New Designer
d10-7 Best Deckbuilder, should the category be created
d10-8 Best Worker Placement

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Want to know a little more about Monster Hunters? Here are some initial ideas:

1) The deckbuilding adapts the mechanic from Aeon’s End where you select the order in which you place your cards in your discard pile and do not shuffle the deck. Any cards not played on a turn can either be discarded or remain in your hand and you draw back up to 5 cards. This allows you to save up for those important combos, but also slows down how fast you’re cycling the deck. Some cards are one-time play cards that go to the discard after use, while others are equipment that you can add to your character to gain permanent boosts until forced to discard.

2) Every game you begin facing the 1st tier enemy, which has its own deck of cards that it will play against you to add monsters to deal with, boost its own effects, or drop one-time actions that threaten the village. Tier 2 enemies are progressively more challenging, and the Tier 3 enemies are equivalent to boss fights. So while you might be powering up your own deck as you go, the enemies are getting stronger to compensate and challenge you.

3) Each tier of enemy also comes with two different “quest cards”, one demonstrating what you need to accomplish to eliminate that enemy from play and the other containing the monster’s timer objective. If you complete your objective first, the enemy is removed from the game and you advance to the 2nd enemy with a small advantage going into the next encounter as well as a card from your hunter-specific Feat deck that provides a powerful one-time-use ability. However, if the enemy’s timer triggers first the next enemy deck comes into play, effectively forcing you to face two monsters and both of the nasty things in their decks at the same time. If you get REALLY unlucky, you could be forced to face all three of the monsters chosen for the game.

4) The ultimate idea is for there to be multiple “stages” to play through, where you get to add in special upgrades into your character’s deck after facing down the trio of monsters and then you thin your deck back down to a preset number of cards in each category (Weapon, Armor, Spell, Item, Ally, & Character-Specific). Each hunter or huntress has a different distribution among those cards to where one might be able to stack their deck full of weapons but not get to keep many allies or save any spells.

5) The worker placement board, in the solo game, will have three token that travel clockwise in a set path around the board and block certain worker placement spaces. You have one worker (representing your hunter or huntress) to move throughout the town in order to shore up the town’s defenses, find items, recruit allies, draw more cards, trash cards from your deck, and interact with the monsters in various ways such as sneak attacks, shooting from a distance, or facing it head-on. Each space you move around on the board advances the small time track in the center and, when it circles around, the monsters act and wreck havoc as well as place a token to advance their progress card. So depending on how well you plan, you might get to do several things before they act or just one or two actions. Your final action before it triggers can make it go past that trigger space, making your next batch of actions have even less time you can spend before they act again.

6) You’ll need to consider your position and the state of the town as it gets closer to the time when the monsters act. Your current position on the board could make it so you take all of the damage of their actions, or it could make it so they hit the town with all of their damage. If your hunter/huntress, or the town, ever runs out of life then you instantly lose the game. Additionally, if the 3rd tier monster’s track ever reaches its completion you will lose the game.

7) Certain cards in the monster decks, as well as a few that can enter your own decks, may get boosted effects if certain cards are currently in play when they are used. For instance, there could be a card titled something like Marksman that doubles your damage dealt this turn if you have a Bow equipped and otherwise might simply add +1 or +2 to an attack. There will be a lot of them in the monster decks, especially in the higher tier monsters.

8) Certain cards and actions will gain you Glory, which is the victory point currency of the game. When the game gets to a point in the future where more players can be added, this will be the way of determining the winner of the game regardless of the outcome of the town’s defense. Certain scores, however, may unlock extra bonuses for your character between scenarios in order to help them progress to even greater levels of strength so that it remains a relevant factor even in a solitaire game. However, this is likely to be among the last things to be tuned and implemented in a meaningful fashion and may serve, in early playtests, as a way for me to gauge the range of scores so I can tweak values and determine where those bonus thresholds should reside.

9) My goal, for this contest, is to get at least one huntress and a trio of monsters to face. Once that is in a state of playability, I will focus on creating 2-3 more hunters/huntresses, and then new monster decks. If I progress far enough, I’d like to have 4 characters, 3 sets of monsters per tier, and the cards to progress through everything in a mini-campaign where the monsters, your character, and the decks to purchase from all get slightly stronger after each set of encounters. Long-term goals include making a narrative campaign to tie in with the progression of the game.

Hopefully this all sounds interesting to you! So far this is 100% idea and concept, and I will be spending the weekend working on some very small decks to use for the cards during the first encounter, both for the initial monster and for the town’s decks that can be purchased from. These are likely to be small in number and mostly to test the initial mechanics and see how that flow goes. Next will come adding in the other two monsters and initial attempts at determining the progress cards, etc. before fleshing out all of the decks with a full range of cards (I’m thinking 40 town cards and 20 monster cards per monster as the ultimate goal). I’ll be sketching the board, as well, and sharing pictures of that and some cards over the weekend! All hand-made, so be kind!!!

***

Okay, first off a sneak peek at the first huntress: Ava. She’s modeled after the protagonist from my first book, Monster Huntress, which is the obvious inspiration for the game. I may give each character card a one-time-use ability that can trigger and then flip the card, but I haven’t decided yet. Also shown are her two initial ideas for the character-specific cards in her starting deck. Note the double usage cards – that will likely be a feature on the majority of cards outside of the starting deck.

Most of the remaining cards in the starter deck will be simple ones such as +1-2 Atk, +1-2 Def, +1-2 Infl (Infl = Influence, which is your purchasing power)

And now for the board! The dimes represent the shifting spaces that are blocked each turn, and the penny represents the Huntress character of Ava. For her first turn, she visited The Forge (market of cards containing weapons & armor).

Her turn ends and the dimes all shift one space clockwise, following the arrow pattern shown on the board regarding where they move to next.

Next she chooses to move over to the space temporarily titled Refresh Markets, which lets her wipe the display of one, or both, of the markets of cards (The Forge has weapons & armor, The Council has allies and items). That space is 3 away from The Force, so the Time Marker moves ahead three spaces (shown by the eraser).

At the end of the round the dimes all move another space, but one of them was slated to go onto Refresh Markets next. Since Ava was there, it skipped that space and shifted to the next one in line. Thematically, you can think of these tokens as representing pockets of chaos or conflict created by the monsters. They seek opportunity at wrecking havoc on the town and try to avoid the huntress, but are a minor threat to where the townsfolk should be able to fend them off for a bit while she deals with the larger threat of the main enemy forces.

Finally, Ava decides to go to the Scrap action to remove a card in her hand from the game. Is that a likely choice this early? Not really, but it is a good demonstration here. That space is six away clockwise, but only four going counter-clockwise. So the timer moves up four spaces since she wouldn’t likely go the long way through town in order to get to this area. Her time is nearly halfway through before the monsters attack, so hopefully she’s getting set up to drop some major damage soon!

***

And as of today (6/29) over the lunch hour here’s the component progress for me to be able to run my first tests of the first monster in the game:

Game board: Done
Huntress player board: Done
Huntress starter cards: 10/10 Done
1st Monster cards: 16/20 done
Equiment cards: 0/12 done
Item/Ally cards: 0/12 done
Feat cards: 0/3 done
Setup card: 0/1 done
Progress Cards: 0/2 done

Board Gaming · Expansion Review

Review – Mystic Vale: Vale of Magic

I’m setting a personal goal to try and get to more expansion reviews, as there are some excellent expansions out there that add some wonderful content to a base game. I’m hoping to hit on a few to close out the month, covering a little bit about what comes in the box, how they impact the game, and my overall thoughts on the expansion and what it provides.

Mystic Vale: Vale of Magic is the 1st expansion for Mystic Vale. The expansion was released in 2016 by AEG, and has a MSRP of around $29.99.

What the expansion adds

9x Level 1 Vale Cards (Aether Tree x 2, Amberwood, Direwolf Burrow, Manadew Meadow x 2, Roost x 2, Shimmercliff Rookery)

9x Level 2 Vale Cards (Fauna Hollow x 2, Earth Cradle, Sunshard Savanna, Sunwell Temple x 2, Vale of Magic, Wood Sprite Hoard x 2)

18x Level 1 Advancement Cards (Arbor Overseer x 3, Canopy Explorer x 3, Giant Toad x 3, Limbthresher x 3, Sentry x 3, Wood Sprite x 3)

21x Level 2 Advancement Cards (Goldenwing Gryphon x 3, Hatchery x 3, Heartwood Healer x 3, Ley Line Overflow x 3, Lifetap Oracle x 3, Sunshard Custodian x 3, Water Weaver x 3)

15x Level 3 Advancement Cards (Chromatic Wyvern x 3, Creeping Mold x 3, Grove Guardian x 3, Overgrowth x 3, Sporeling Reclaimer x 3)

Rule Changes

None to speak of. There are new timing abilities, such as what can be found on the Hatchery advancement, but they add no new complexity to the game. This expansion can integrate easily in with Mystic Vale, and could definitely be used without any issues when teaching new players.

Standout Cards

Amberwood, Shimmercliff Rookery, & Direwolf Burrow (Level 1 Vale Cards) – These three cards all do the same thing upon purchase: they let you flip your mana token to its active side. I like these because they allow you to regain that extra mana without a need to spoil, allowing you to be more efficient and effective with your turns. This is especially impactful early-mid game as you’re getting your engine churning to snag Level 2 & 3 advancements.

Earth Cradle (Level 2 Vale Card) – This one is powerful for those who like comboing the Vale Cards. It is definitely a viable strategy as long as the right Advancement cards show up early. This one scores you 1 VP for each Vale Card you own at the time of purchase. I’ve had games where this could have gained me 8-10 points, and that potential makes this worth mentioning. It reinforces the viability of this strategy.

Canopy Explorer (Level 1 Advancement Card) – I love the Guardian symbol synergy and this might be my new favorite in there. After you set up your field, during harvest you can add more cards from your deck (not the on-deck card) into your field. The special thing here is that those extra cards are added in the Harvest phase, which means they cannot cause you to spoil. Even adding 1 extra card into your field can be really, really strong.

Goldenwing Gryphon (Level 2 Advancement Card) – See above comments on flipping your mana token. This lets you do it every time this card is played, which is awesome. I can’t tell you how many times 1 mana could affect how a turn plays out, and being able to regain that without spoiling is huge.

Hatchery (Level 2 Advancement Card) – This is one that is easy to overlook. By itself, the card is just okay. But the potential it adds is massive. Put this with 2 really strong advancements and suddenly you’ve got a strong card that stays out for two turns. Get two cards with Hatchery out there and suddenly one of those cards will be in play for three turns in a row. Just think on that potential and you’ll see why this can easily be an MVP advancement for your deck.

Overgrowth (Level 3 Advancement Card) – Forget everything else about the card and focus on the stat here that made me do a double-take: the VP. 5 end-game VP. Say, what? For a game where the normal score falls in the 25-35 range and where end-game VP ranges from 0-2…let’s just say this stood out from the crowd when I played last. I picked up two of these cards in my last game, which was just enough to secure a win for me. Without that 10 VP on these cards (as in, if they had been 2 each), I would have lost.

Final Thoughts

This is an expansion that integrates seamlessly with the base game. If you want something that simply adds more of the same that you get in the base game, this is a perfect expansion. It adds variety to a game where, after 5-6 plays, things started to repeat often. The same cards would show up at least once per game and you could gear a strategy around that coming up. Thickening the decks makes for more variance from play to play, something I absolutely applaud.

This is the type of expansion that my wife enjoys, as it changes nothing about how the game is played. Even expansions that are heralded as must-haves (Like the Farmers of the Moor for Agricola) are ones she actively dislikes because they change X about how the game is played. Her seal of approval on this should speak volumes.

I’m also coming to realize that I would rather have 5-10 games with good cycles of expansions that expand the game rather than 100 unique base games without any expansion content. And so this is a great first step on Mystic Vale’s expansion cycle. I know that other expansions add things like Leaders, and I am eager to see what that offers to the game while also expanding the card pool.

For the $30 MSRP, I know people will refuse to get the expansion. I can’t blame you for not wanting to pay that for “more of the same” if you want something that shakes up a game. But really, this is a great expansion that rounds out the core set of cards that comes in the base game. And if you can get 20-25% off that price and pick it up for around $25 instead, you really can’t go wrong with this expansion, because it is one you can easily keep integrated with the game permanently. I’d definitely buy it again, if I had to do it all over again.

 

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.

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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

Review for Two – Herbaceous Sprouts

Thank you for checking review #58 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 the game was sent for review purposes. Opinions remain our own.

An Overview of Herbaceous Sprouts

IMG_1052

Herbaceous Sprouts is a game designed by Eduardo Baraf, Steve Finn, and Keith Matejka and was published by Pencil First Games. The box states that it can play 1-4 players and has a 20-30 minute play time.

A FLAVORFUL DICE GAME
Everyone has a green thumb when playing Herbaceous Sprouts. Unwind while enjoying this beautiful and thoughtful game of collecting seeds, using tools, and growing sprouts in the community garden. Gather your seeds and tools from the shed, but don’t take too long or your friend might become the Head Gardner first.

OBJECTIVE
Become the Head Gardener by collecting herb and flower seeds and using your garden tools to plant in the community garden and scoring the most points. Each round, gardeners take turns collecting herb and flower seeds (represented by dice) which they place and save in their wheelbarrow, as well as tools (represented by cards) which they use to plant sprouts. Players can plant quickly for low point spots, or push their luck saving their seeds for premier spots in the garden.

—description from the publisher

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

img_1141.jpg

Each player takes a Wheelbarrow Mat and the 15 Sprout Tokens of their color, along with a reference card. Place the Rival Sprout tokens by the gameboard. Put all dice in the Seed Bag and mix them up. each player takes 2 dice, rolls them, and puts them on the die spces on their board. Shuffle the tool deck and remove 10 cards back to the box without revealing them. Finally, place the Lemonade Card and the Tool Card Deck near the board.

Reveal 3 tool cards from the top of the deck, pulling dice and rolling them for each card and placing them in the appropriate space.

Regarding gameplay, I honestly can’t put it better than they have it listed on the game’s description on BGG:

GAMEPLAY
Herbaceous Sprouts is played over a series of rounds, each with a different Lead Gardener. When the last Tool Cards are used, the game ends the final score is tallied.

Each round has three phases:

  • Phase 1: Preparing the Tool Shed
  • Phase 2: Picking and Planting Seeds
  • Phase 3: Clean Up

PHASE 1: Preparing the Tool Shed
This phase is performed by the Lead Gardener of the current round. They set up the Tool Cards and Seed Dice for the round.

PHASE 2: Picking and Planting Seeds
In this phase, all players take turns picking resources from the shed and planting in the community garden. Starting with the Lead Gardener and moving clockwise, each player takes a turn.
Each player performs the following steps, in this order:

A. Take a Tool Card & Seed Dice from the Tool Shed
B. Add Seeds to the Wheelbarrow
C. Perform Special Actions
D. Plants Herb and Flower Seeds

PHASE 3: Clean Up
Players set up for the next round, or proceed to End Game scoring.

—description from the publisher

With 2 players, the final unchosen card each round will dictate where a Rival Sprout token is placed. It will show an area of the board and a numerical value to indicate where that token is placed. If there are multiple spots of that value shown, it is placed in the one worth more points.

Changes for a solo game

Setup is the same as a 2-player game, except in addition you Take the Gardener card and shuffle the deck of 9 Rival Cards. You get 10 turns, and each turn the Gardener card alternates between the Master Gardener and the Assistant Gardener. During the Master Gardener turns (the odd numbered rounds) you draw a die from the bag, roll it, and put it in your wheelbarrow. Then at the end of your turn, you place Rival Sprouts tokens on both spots indicated at the bottom of the two cards you did not take.

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During the Assistant Gardener turn you start by revealing a Rival Card to show which card they choose and place the Rival Sprout token according to that card. Then, tuck the Rivals card under your playerboard like a Sprout Pot. Finally, take your turn like normal.

If you score higher than the Rival, you win.

My Thoughts

 My first play of the game was solo and it started off on the right foot for me with the Rival Sprouts and how that populates the board as you play. This was not only a clever solo mechanism, but it also applies to 2-3 player games to help fill that board faster and to block those premium spaces over time. This solitaire version of the game is 100x more interesting than the one in standard Herbaceous (which isn’t a bad solo mode for that game, but rarely one I would reach for) and it really impressed me with what they executed here. This isn’t a game that plays 2-4 and you can kinda play a tacked-on solo mode. The solo play in itself is worth the investment.

 The dice in the prototype box were standard sized dice, but I hear that the actual final product will have Star Wars Destiny-style of dice in there. If that is true, then this becomes a huge boon for the game as those are fun and chunky dice to roll. Some people like different things, but if you like rolling dice at all you’ll enjoy those dice. Regardless, the dice in this game never really felt like they imposed a ton of randomness upon the game. Partially because they are almost always useful, partially because there are plenty of reroll possibilities to obtain, and partially because there are actions that can change die sides. My biggest fear in the game turned out to be a nice aspect rather than the dreaded random factor to negate any skill.

 While this game is very different mechanically from Herbaceous, you’ll still find some comfort in the familiarity of the artwork, and the need to collect pairs, sets of the same herb, and sets of different herbs as you go through the game. You just are collecting dice with those faces rather than herbs, and selecting said dice off a tool card rather than flipping a card at a time off the top of a deck.

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 Tool cards are fantastic in this game. They range from having no special actions (but 3 dice) to having a horde of special actions and no dice. I appreciate that there is one additional card available each round, so that the last player to select isn’t stuck without making a decision. I also love that the card not chosen will be used to place a Rival Sprouts token on the board (except in a 4-player game), adding an extra layer of consideration when taking a card (almost like the decision on what dice to draft in Seasons). The player actions on the cards range from outstanding most of the time to situational, yet they are all important at certain points in the game.  Did I mention the tool card deck is also the game timer? Oh yeah, it is…something I also like seeing.

 I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the artwork here. It is Beth Sobel art. That sentence alone should be enough to tell you it is going to be good. Seriously, she’s easily one of the Top 3 artists in the industry right now and her work always blows me away.

 This game scales extremely well, thanks to those Sprout Tokens. This isn’t some fancy automa system, but its simple elegance works. It is easy to operate, takes no additional time, and no additional thought on the part of the players. Without those Rival Tokens, the board would be too wide-open and you could take your time storing up for that perfect high-score combo of sprouts. That pressure of knowing the deck could place a sprout there first is a nice added tension.

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 The turns in general are fast, the action selection simple, and the game doesn’t present many opportunities for Analysis Paralysis to rear its ugly head. I like the fast pace, the quick play time, and the ease of setup and teardown for the game. There is elegance in simplicity, something that the original Herbaceous possessed and this somehow maintains, even with the addition of layers of depth and strategy beyond the original game.

 The flowers are a tough thing to pin down my feelings on. A single flower can be potted for 2, 3, or 4 points. There are 3 different types of flowers in there. To do that, though, you need both the flower and a trowel tool at the same time, or two matching herbs and a watering can tool. Both of these are situational, requiring two circumstances to be true in order to use them, which makes a tool card or a die with the trowel or watering can either VERY desirable or a trash action, depending on the current board state. The points in here are small, yet it feels like it takes a lot more to make this align for those points at times.

 There is a lot of dice rolling. You’re pulling out dice as the setup for each round and rolling them, then placing the dice on the cards. Some people might love it, some will hate it, but most will fall in between. If there are a lot of dice spots on the cards, especially with a higher player count, this can feel like it takes a while. Plus, it is extremely easy to bump a die on accident, either while placing it or while retrieving it. Or even while trying to grab a different card. Those big, chunky dice may help, but they could also make the problem worse by being easier to bump. It isn’t an issue often, but some might find it to be a detriment and wish for those boards Scythe spoiled us with…

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 There isn’t a score track, which would be really helpful. Whether that is a shared track around the outside of the board or if it is printed on the reverse side of the Wheelbarrow Cards, this is one thing more than anything else that I think this game could benefit from.

 Do you want to know how many players used a reroll in a 4-player game I taught? One, me. Twice, and that was only to see if I could get lucky and not have to use my pot. I appreciate the abundance (or at least appearance thereof) of opportunities to roll those dice again, allowing you to perhaps shift your luck when stuck with garbage. But so far, in practice, that ability does not get used very often with the people I’ve played with. So I kinda feel bad for the person who gets stuck with a tool card granting 2 rerolls and one granting 3 rerolls, especially if his board is already empty of dice. Which leads into…

 Hate drafting can totally be a thing in this game. Especially because you can usually see what other players are aiming for, and take that die they need or that tool they need, even though you don’t really need it right now. This isn’t a problem for some gamers, but I know it might be a deal breaker for others. Be aware of the play style of who you’re going to play with if this is something you really dislike in a game.

Final Thoughts

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My wife likes Herbaceous a lot. Way more than I ever did. But when they announced the dice version of the game, I knew it would be a hard sell for her. The hatred she holds for dice games can never be overstated. They are the epitomy of evil in board games to her, and so I initially wrote this off as a game we’d never want to play.

Big mistake.

I’m beyond relieved that I had a chance to get the prototype version of this game because it was able to easily exceed my personal expectations for the game. Herbaceous is a light press-your-luck filler with small room for strategy, but Herbaceous Sprouts is a much more interesting game with much better decisions to be made over the course of the game. Not only did the game itself surprise me, but the solo mode for the game equally impressed. It is clear the designers took some of the core of the game of Herbaceous and tried to come up with a really fun and clever game that is uniquely its own game. This isn’t Herbacous with dice. This is Herbaceous Sprouts. It is fun and exciting and everything I would want this 20-30 minute game to be.

And, honestly, there isn’t more I need to say about the game. If you want a game that is borderline filler with some great and interesting decisions, set collection, and dice rolling fun then this will do a great job of filling that niche on your shelf. If you want something more press-your-luck like Herbaceous was, or a brain-burning game than this game probably isn’t going to satisfy you. But it still sounds interesting to you, then I definitely can recommend this one.

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Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Circuit Breaker. 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 · Top Ten List

Top 25 Games: #20-16

Fun fact: there are 5 games on this list I’ve played exactly 1 time. Those first impressions were strong, and this portion of the list contains three of those games (with the other two appearing next week!). Several of the 1-play games came out higher on the rankings and I bumped them down a spot or two, giving preference to a game I’ve played more often in order to provide a better balance to how this list should be.

Like the previous list, these are all pretty equal in terms of quality of game. There is a small jump, I think, coming next week and then small jumps up after that. But really, this list could be fluid enough to where #20 could be #16 or even #24 at any given moment. You can be sure that if a game appears on this list today, I’d be willing to play it with minimal effort to convince me. Most of these games I’m craving more plays for, and would be the games I’d give strong consideration to pulling off the shelf to teach and play with someone.

#20 – Glass Road – Published by Mayfair Games/Lookout Spiele in 2013, Designed by Uwe Rosenberg, 1-4 Players.

This game blew me away. I thought I knew what an Uwe Rosenberg game was like. I had played Agricola, Caverna, and A Feast for Odin before I met this game. This is so radically different, mechanically, while also being nice and similar in a few areas to make it feel like Rosenberg. The action selection mechanism is brilliant, and the fact that you’re choosing 5 for the turn and playing 3…unless you can “follow” another player, is amazing. I love the resource wheel and how that mechanic changes and evolves as you take different resources. It was, after playing the game, easily my favorite game by Uwe Rosenberg. It was all I could think about for the rest of that game night, and I’m still thinking about it even now. I really need to play this one again, because it is so much fun.

#19 – Trajan – Published by Passport Game Studios in 2011, Designed by Stefan Feld, 2-4 Players.

I haven’t met a Feld game (yet) that I didn’t like, and this one stands atop the mountain as being the best of the Feld games I’ve played. There are still many more to try, but I think they will be hard-pressed to dethrone this one if I can get in some more plays. I really enjoy the personal mancala mechanic in here for your action selection. It presents some fun and interesting decisions and restrictions along the way. I love the time tracking mechanism in the game, and how it uses a different track for each player count. There appears to be many paths to victory out there on the board. My opponent, who taught me the game, claimed there was an unbeatable tactic and I managed to defeat him without following that path (it was close, though!). This was the hardest game out of all of these to place accurately on the list, as I feel like I’ve only begun to scratch the surface on this game.

#18 – Rococo – Published by Eggertspiele in 2013, Designed by Matthias Cramer, Louis Malz, and Stefan Malz. 2-5 Players.

The theme, admittedly, put me off from the game at first glance. I had seen it being played at my FLGS and was just like “meh” toward it. But then I found Heavy Cardboard and listened to their podcasts. While it was only as a reference point for the weight of a game, I kept hearing Edward mention this game on countless review episodes. I later found out it was a Golden Elephant nominee, which piqued my interest enough that it became a game I really wanted to try this year. And holy smokes, what a first impression this made! I’m in love with making suits and dresses now, and I made a special request for this one to be brought for my birthday gaming celebration. I really, really want a second play of this. It has a light deckbuilding element, but you get to select the cards from your deck that you put into your hand. But once they are used, they go into your discard and so you need to play the rest of your deck to get them back. There are three types of workers, and only certain ones can do the better actions, so managing that is critical. There is area control on the board to get bonus scoring. Recipe fulfillment. There are so many excellent mechanics at work here, and it just scratches all the right spots for me as a gamer. Sadly, it is out of print at the moment so it is hard to get a copy. But this is definitely worth seeking out.

#17 – Seasons – Published by Asmodee, designed by Regis Bonnessee. 2-4 Players.

This game suffers from the same problem as Terraforming Mars: if you don’t know the cards well, you’re at a disadvantage. Especially here, since you’re drafting all nine cards at the start of the game that you’re guaranteed to see/use over the course of the game. It seems strange that a card-driven game like this only gives you a guaranteed 9 cards, but it somehow works. There are ways to get more over the course of the game, and I like that you have to then take those 9 cards and break them down into groups of 3, dictating what year they will go into your hand. The dice are chunky and great to use. There is so much room for strong engines to be built with those cards, even when you get just 10-12 out on average. Every card feels overpowered in the right circumstances, which makes it fun. There is a fair number of take that cards, but you can easily play without adding those into the deck if that is something you don’t enjoy and you’ll still have a wonderful game experience. Unlike Terraforming Mars, this one never overstays its welcome on the table, making it a much more enjoyable experience overall every time it gets played. Every time I play this game I remember just how much I enjoy it, and this one benefitted from back-to-back plays right before I made the list. This one is fantastic, plays really well with two, has some great card drafting, strong engine building opportunities, interesting decisions almost every turn, turns move quickly, and involves some clever resource management along the way. It checks so many boxes that it can’t possibly miss this list.

#16 – Firefly: The Game – Published by Gale Force Nine, designed by Aaron Dill, John Kovaleski, and Sean Sweigart. 1-5 Players.

This game has fallen from my Top 10, and with good reason: the game hates me. It literally takes an active role in dealing my demise time and time again. Dead serious. Case in point: we were playing a 4-player game. I completed Goal #2 and had a sufficient crew to get Goal #3 finished and had about a 5 turn lead on the next two players. It took 2 extra turns to fly to Goal #3 due to Nav Card misfortune. Then I proceeded to go 0/5 on completing Goal #3, eventually losing to the next player to arrive who passed it on their first try. I almost always enjoy the game. As a Browncoat, this is a great immersion into the Firefly world. So many people I know love this game. I’ll rarely turn down a play of the game. But man, it is rough when everything goes wrong. This is that one game where things almost always go wrong for me. Some people might be turned off by the length, or the table space, or the setup/teardown time (that broken token crate is a godsend!), but if you are a fan of the show this is the game for you. Hauling cargo, completing jobs, just you and your crew in the Big Black of the ‘Verse. I’m really excited to try Firefly Adventures, as I think it might be the next great game using this IP, but this one will forever be a part of our collection. And if you ever want to win a game of this, just play against me. It’s a pretty sure thing that I’ll lose.

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Like last week, feel free to comment on the games listed, ones that surprised you, what you think you’ll see next week, or anything else of relevance! We’re one step closer to getting into the fun of that Top 10, but don’t overlook the other games being mentioned. These are all excellent games, and ones that are likely to remain (or finally enter) my collection for a long time.

Board Gaming · Strategy

Sentinels of the Multiverse Strategy: Absolute Zero

(Note: My friend, Steve, is a very skilled Absolute Zero player, so anything added in italics below indicates his additional thoughts on this…which will help to make this guide even better!)

Back in March you, the readers, voted on who I would talk strategy for next, and the votes rolled in for the frozen man himself, Absolute Zero. And after three months of tinkering with him far more than I wanted to, I have to confess that I still don’t feel like I can contribute a high-level analysis of how to effectively pilot his deck. However, for those who are wanting some clear direction on where to even begin with him, this might be a great benefit for you! Because wow, it took a lot of plays to start to feel like I was getting his deck to work efficiently enough to function!

The four versions of Absolute Zero

Standard version Absolute Zero – 29 HP, Power: Thermodynamics – Absolute Zero deals himself either 1 Cold Damage or 1 Fire Damage.

I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same thing, too, when I first pulled this guy out. What? His power is to hit himself? Yep. The key here isn’t apparent until you find some of his cards in the deck that synergize with this, allowing him to deal damage to non-hero targets or to heal himself via this baseline damage. Is it situational? Absolutely. Does it make no sense to do sometimes? You betcha. Can it be a good and worthwhile power? You’d better believe it. And that, in a nutshell, sums up Absolute Zero: he needs the right combos of cards to really shine.

Termi-Nation version Absolute Zero – 25 HP, Power: Violent Shivers – Until the end of your next turn, increase all Damage dealt to and by Absolute Zero by 2.

Hey AZ, you aren’t helping your own cause, here! 25 health isn’t that hot, and making it so you’re taking 2 more damage for a full round can be beyond dangerous. Yet there are some serious benefits, once again, that can be found in running this version. That boosted damage is N-I-C-E when you need it, and it works especially well when you’re dropping Ice damage on yourself in order to heal that much health instead. Or when you want to spike some serious damage onto the enemy(s) out there. I wouldn’t say this is his best version, but I do think it is a step up from the vanilla Absolute Zero in terms of feeling like it is useful.

Freedom Five version Absolute Zero – 28 HP, Power: Pilot Light – Absolute Zero deals himself 2 Fire damage. If he takes damage this way, search your Deck for an Ongoing Card and put it into play. Shuffle your deck.

This is the version of Absolute Zero that really starts to feel like there is some utility to that base power outside of situational plays. Again he deals himself damage, something you should be expecting by now. But in exchange he’s digging into the deck to pull out cards and put them into play. This is the AZ that can get set up a little faster with those essential cards, making him far less dependent upon good draws. They still help, for sure, but this version is great to run because he feels more efficient than the other versions. There is a sense of control that comes from this power, and it is equally nice to be able to reset quickly if you get an unlucky wipe of ongoings.

Freedom Six version Absolute Zero – 28 HP, Power: Elemental Wrath – Absolute Zero deals 1 non-Hero target 2 Cold damage.

It feels like this version is out of place. Almost like the developers kept hearing complaints about the difficulty in using Absolute Zero and so they catered with a base form that has a power that deals damage to something other than himself. It was the form I gravitated toward early when running his deck, and with good reason. This is definitely the best one when learning how to use this deck, but I don’t think it is the best version of Absolute Zero. I’d say it is better than the base version, but worse than the other two overall as you get more familiar with the cards in his deck and how best to employ them.

Opening Moves

Obviously, with no way to mulligan a bad hand an the restriction of drawing 4 cards, there are limited ways to affect this. You’re at the mercy of the card draw. However, these are the cards that get me excited when I see them to open play and why they are great this early in the game.

Glacial Structure

This card is nice because it helps you to start digging. It isn’t his best digging card, but it is going to get more of your deck into the hand and has a chance of pulling non-Module cards that you need to get set up. I wish it was a One Shot instead of an Ongoing, but it is still nice to get it out there early so you can turn it into more cards in your hand.

(Glacial structure is a card a lot of people wish was a one shot, but the way it’s written, it speeds him up by two turns. normally, in order to draw two cards you have to skip a full turn. glacial structure allows him to more or less either A.) skip a turn to draw 4 cards (play GS, use GS power, draw at end) or B.) use a potentially wasted card play to set up for a later power use that would be wasted to allow for flexibility to draw cards. it also works for Fueled Freeze Fodder.)

Onboard Module Installation

This one is one of the most likely cards to see in the hand, as there are 4 of them in the deck. It is an excellent card because it includes drawing a card, searching for a Module card, and then playing a card. Talk about efficiency! Unfortunately there are only two different modules this can pull out, but they are both excellent cards to get onto the board as quickly as possible.

Isothermic Transducer

This card is the one I will almost always dig for first of his two Module cards because it allows you to deal damage whenever he takes Fire Damage. There are plenty of ways for him to deal that damage to himself, but there are also ample situations that deal Fire Damage via Environment and Villain cards and those are the best situations when this is in play. “Oh, you want to burn me for 2 damage? Right back atcha, buddy, only this is going to be COLD.” Which gets even better if you can find…

Focused Aperture

This one is outstanding to play on the first turn because so much Cold Damage is in his arsenal. It pairs well with that Isothermic Transducer, allowing you to get even better on the exchange rate involved. I love that this card is simple and straightforward, something lacking often in Absolute Zero’s decks.

Cryo Chamber

The beauty of this card comes from pairing it with Isothermic Transducer. It is much like Focused Aperture in helping offset to damage balance of taking damage vs. dealing it, but in a more useful way because it reduces the damage you take from Fire while increasing your Cold damage. Which, with the Isothermic Transducer, means you’ll take one less damage to still deal out the same amount you would have without this card. Since AZ has a relatively low health to begin with at times, anything to reduce that damage coming in is really helpful.

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An overall tactic that I tend to employ with Absolute Zero is to get set up as fast as possible, which can be seen by the favoring of card draw, retaliatory damage, and boosted damage. If you can get Cryo + Aperture + Transducer on the board in the first 5 turns, you’ll be set to really drop the freeze on the villains as the game progresses. Without those cards, you can often feel like his deck is treading water, relying on One Shot cards to do a little damage and hoping to get a useful Power off from time to time.

Mid-Game Strategies

This is where Absolute Zero can either start to shine (if the above combinations have been found) or really start to feel like he’s being pulled along by the other Heroes involved in the battle. Apart from seeking out the above combinations, here are a few of the cards that can be really good at this point:

Null-Point Calibration Unit

This card is nice because it helps to offset the damage Absolute Zero is soaking up (much by his own hand). There are a lot of ways for him to deal himself Cold damage, so you’re almost always going to be able to regain HP as needed when this is in play. It isn’t so much of an excellent early-game card, though, as you’re usually not hurting too bad for the HP. But you definitely want to get this out there before things get too far out of hand.

(I tend to dig for his null point faster than his isothermic, because the self healing can really help out in those opening moves, keeping him higher up.)

Coolant Blast

This card is fun. In some battles, you want to get this one out early because of the other card interactions out there. For instance, if you’re taking a lot of Fire Damage based on the matchup, you really want to get this into play so Absolute Zero can crank out the damage (which is hopefully reduced AND boosted with the above combos). This also works to use the Power on this card after hitting himself with a Frost-Bound Drain. I’ve gotten this card out too early and had it sit there for a long time without much benefit, which is why I think this is best to consider around the midpoint. If there is another card in your hand, it is usually better to play something else early unless you’re taking Fire Damage (from the Villain/Environment decks or just from your own powers)

Cold Snap

There isn’t a bad time to play this card, but it isn’t one I dig for early. If I have it, the card is absolutely going out because pinging everything for 1 (or 2-3!) Cold damage without using a card play or power each turn is fantastic. But I find that midgame is where I usually have a board state that calls for this to be played because those decks are ramping up in power and getting more things into play. This only shifts into the early state if I am facing something, like Grand Warlord Voss, that drops a ton of things onto the board during setup.

Sub-Zero Atmosphere

Another great card that I don’t mind seeing early but don’t necessarily dig for. At first I didn’t understand the appeal of this card. But then I started to notice that a lot of Villain cards that come out activate the the end of their turn, meaning they hit you before you can react. This changes that dynamic, effectively allowing you a chance to take down the worst of what their deck throws at you before they get a chance to activate. This card is better than any healing card out there or damage mitigation card. This takes the teeth out of their deck and puts it into your control whether or not they’ll get a chance to smack you around or disrupt your board state. Pound-for-pound, this may be the best card in the deck for the team.

(Sub-Zero Atmosphere is a great card, but I would argue that it’s an early game card for one point that you did not cover: it makes all villian card end of turn effects happen at the beginning of the turn….ALL villian cards, including the villain character cards. A lot of villains have effects that happen based on things that are in play or were in play, and this can stall them out and slow them down, exactly what the card was intended for.)

Impale

Continuing the trend, this is another card I’m happy to see early but don’t really dig for it. Big baddie on the board that is going to take a long time to whittle down? This helps by dropping 2+ Cold Damage every time AZ starts his turn. Even better is plopping it onto the Villain, allowing you to always get progress on taking him down even while dealing with what the decks are throwing at you. There are a few matchups where you can’t, or don’t want to, hit the Villain early, but those are fringe cases and eventually this card becomes useful when getting played.

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The mid-game Absolute Zero can be an absolute benefit to have on the team if he is set up properly. That Cold damage flows freely, smacking everything around and dropping damage when he takes Fire Damage himself. When everything is clicking, this deck feels like it could potentially solo some of the matchups out there and live to tell the tale, especially if he can drop some healing on himself as it becomes necessary. Unfortunately, he isn’t always set up perfectly and often I find myself having to deal myself Cold & Fire Damage without gaining any benefit of healing or bouncing back and doing extra damage to the threats on the board. Depending on what is happening during the game, cards like Modular Realignment can be absolutely critical here, and in other situations it can still be sitting in your hand the entire game and never getting used.

Absolute Zero’s Closers

The majority of his deck could be siphoned into this section, as there aren’t really many cards that are only good end-game like what Fanatic had in her deck. However, there are some cards that become better with time given the right board states and setups. Here’s a few that I find can be really fun and useful as the battle is grinding to its bitter end.

Fueled Freeze

Imagine a turn where every non-Hero card in play takes 8 damage. Sounds great, right? If you already have Cold Snap + Cryo Chamber + Focused Aperture in play then your opening turn drops 3 onto them all. In comes a Fueled Freeze, forcing you to destroy up to 3 Ongoing cards (anyone’s, not just his) to deal that much damage to all non-Hero targets. And it is Cold Damage, which means it gets boosted by 2. Dropping that damage will wipe out a lot of most boards, freeing you up to hit that Villain hard to close the game. It isn’t as effective of a board wipe as some other cards, but dropping that damage late while pruning some of the less-useful Ongoing cards can be a real benefit. I find that, too often, the early game and even mid-game are not great times to remove your cards. But when the Villain is on the ropes, this can help speed up the end of a battle.

(As for fueled freeze, you talk about needing to destroy ongoings, but you make it seem like FF requires you to destroy hero ongoings, but it’s great for taking out villian ongoings too.)

Hoarfire

Again, assuming a perfect combo world here (which AZ absolutely depends upon), this card is nice. Hit something for 4 Cold Damage. Blast yourself for a reduced-to-1 Fire Damage. Drop another 3 Cold on something else. Heal yourself for 3 Cold Damage. Hit yourself for a reduced-to-0 Fire Damage. Net gain of 2 HP, dropping of 7 damage onto the board somewhere. This card is okay without this combo. It becomes really good if all the cards are in place.

Thermal Shockwave

This is as close to a finisher card as he has in the deck, and it 100% depends on your HP being high enough. He needs to survive the X Fire Damage dropping onto himself in order to really make this an effective card. With the double boost, this already is throwing out 9 damage. He hits himself for 8 Fire Damage (because it would be reduced by 1) and then drops 10 Cold on something else out there. But that is just getting started. If Cold Snap is in play you might have thrown down 3 damage on every non-Hero card in play. So add more to that Fire damage coming onto AZ (let’s pretend there were only 3 targets). Now he’s done 3 + 3 to everything out there (18 Cold Damage), taking 17 Fire, and then dropping 19 Cold onto one target. That’s 25 damage he can drop on that Villain in the perfect situation, and that doesn’t even include the possibility of using a One Shot prior to activating this. Can you count on pulling this insanity off? Of course not. But if it does work out, he can make really short work of the Villain and bring the game to a quick close.

(his different ongoings are affected by his different base power cards. thermal shockwave plays a HELL of a lot differently if he’s Termi-Nation vs F6.  I tend to use Thermal Shockwave as an opender or midgame, as the consistent damage and healing it’s capable of gets to ludicris levels very quickly)

***

Closing thoughts

Overall, Absolute Zero can be an absolute beast if he’s got all of the right cards out on the board and in his hand. More often than not, he’s going to perform somewhere in between okay and great. But if you can get the cards to go the right way, he’ll be nearly impossible to kill and can drop all sorts of damage out there. If he’s getting close to death, then he can use the bound on Isothermic Transducer to hit himself with the Cold Damage just to keep afloat until the right things come along (assuming that Null-Point Calibration Unit is in play…). The fact that I had to add that (assuming…) part in there sums up AZ in a nutshell. His situational nature is what makes him feel really challenging to pilot as a deck because you won’t often have that ideal setup. Usually you’re running with a portion of it up-and-running and doing what you can while watching other decks hit their optimal point faster. But if he does get that board to fill out perfectly, there are few characters I’ve played that can drop the damage as fast as he can from round to round.

I feel like there are three fun pairings for him out of the base set. I like having him and Fanatic together because, as a duo, they can drop 40-50 on that villain late in the game when it all works out correctly. That is enough to salvage even the worst of situations and either win it, or at least give a shred of hope back to the heroes. I like him with Legacy because of the straight boost to power that Legacy often throws out there. He can use and abuse that with the frequent pinging with Cold damage that flows from him. And the most interesting pairing might be Ra, who could hit AZ with Fire Damage to have AZ bounce out an even higher Cold Damage attack. I wouldn’t use that often, but if AZ has the health to spare (or you really need the extra damage out there), this could be a fun tactic to employ. It also helps to work around invulnerabilities, such as when facing Omnitron, because you can shift the type of damage being done.

Coming Soon…

Instead of a ton of Heroes to vote on, here are three I’m looking to get some more plays in. Which of them would YOU like to see a small writeup about? Leave me a comment below and let me know.

Chrono-Ranger
Visionary
Tachyon

Board Gaming · Review for One · Solo Gaming · Solo Month · Uncategorized

Review for One – Scythe

Thank you for checking review #52 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An Overview of Scythe

Scythe is a game designed by Jamey Stegmaier and was published by Stonemaier Games. The box states that it can play 1-5 players and has a 90-115 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 3.36.

It is a time of unrest in 1920s Europa. The ashes from the first great war still darken the snow. The capitalistic city-state known simply as “The Factory”, which fueled the war with heavily armored mechs, has closed its doors, drawing the attention of several nearby countries.

Scythe is an engine-building game set in an alternate-history 1920s period. It is a time of farming and war, broken hearts and rusted gears, innovation and valor. In Scythe, each player represents a character from one of five factions of Eastern Europe who are attempting to earn their fortune and claim their faction’s stake in the land around the mysterious Factory. Players conquer territory, enlist new recruits, reap resources, gain villagers, build structures, and activate monstrous mechs.

Each player begins the game with different resources (power, coins, combat acumen, and popularity), a different starting location, and a hidden goal. Starting positions are specially calibrated to contribute to each faction’s uniqueness and the asymmetrical nature of the game (each faction always starts in the same place).

Scythe gives players almost complete control over their fate. Other than each player’s individual hidden objective card, the only elements of luck or variability are “encounter” cards that players will draw as they interact with the citizens of newly explored lands. Each encounter card provides the player with several options, allowing them to mitigate the luck of the draw through their selection. Combat is also driven by choices, not luck or randomness.

Scythe uses a streamlined action-selection mechanism (no rounds or phases) to keep gameplay moving at a brisk pace and reduce downtime between turns. While there is plenty of direct conflict for players who seek it, there is no player elimination.

Every part of Scythe has an aspect of engine-building to it. Players can upgrade actions to become more efficient, build structures that improve their position on the map, enlist new recruits to enhance character abilities, activate mechs to deter opponents from invading, and expand their borders to reap greater types and quantities of resources. These engine-building aspects create a sense of momentum and progress throughout the game. The order in which players improve their engine adds to the unique feel of each game, even when playing one faction multiple times.

Setup and gameplay for 1 Player

Because this is a super-popular game, I won’t go into a ton of details here about anything except the Automa system for the game. Others have likely done a far better job at providing rules explanations and/or overviews of this game.

The Automa player uses the character, mechs, and workers of the chosen faction (as well as the military and population trackers and star tokens). There is a deck of cards that get shuffled and used that are double-sided, with the first side being used until the Automa places its first star. Then the deck reshuffles and flips, granting the Automa (generally)  stronger and more aggressive actions.

Possible actions from the Automa include moving a worker, moving a mech (either non-aggressive or aggressive), moving the character (usually to try and get to the factory). The movement style initially sounds intimidating, but really it is a smooth system with only a few parameters. They units/workers essentially “teleport” to a spot adjacent to at least one of their other units. For workers, it is usually the space closest to the most allied units. For mechs and the character, it is to either be adjacent to your units or closer to the factory. They also will often gain resources of some sort, whether in the form of more units or in coins. And they will almost always advance the cube one space on their difficulty card.

That difficulty card will tell you once the Automa has riverwalk and can cross outside of their territory. And it will identify the turns in which the Automa will earn a star. The Automa’s popularity is static, remaining at 10 for the entire game, but its power level can increase and is used during combat just like a player. In addition to the auto-triggered stars, the Automa can earn stars for winning combat and for maxing out their power.

Like the multiplayer game, the game will end when one player places their 6th star.

My Thoughts

 The more Automa systems I play, the more I like them as a solo gamer. This one intimidated me. It had a rulebook just for the Automa, after all. And not a small one. I had heard it was a challenge to operate. Well, it turned out that the Automa wasn’t bad to navigate after all. Much of that rulebook was giving demonstrations of movement, which is the key to the Automa. It wasn’t that thick, either, when I started getting into there. And wow, this Automa packs a punch in terms of challenge. After being confident from a Game 1 victory over Autometta, I went on quite a losing streak on the Automa difficulty. It is easy to navigate (usually) and provides a challenge. What more could a solo gamer ask for?

 Have you played Scythe with 2-players and wished for a little more combat/interaction? The Automa will deliver that in spades. Some would argue this is better solo than as a 2-player game and, depending on play styles and your expectations of the game, you might be right. This Automa will never turtle. It also is rarely predictable, since you don’t know which of X movement options will be drawn. You have an idea of what they might do. You can plan accordingly. But you’ll still always need to adapt and react at points when it does exactly what you didn’t want it to.

 As alluded to already, this game really feels like you’re playing against an active set of decisions rather than an arbitrary card draw. The deck of actions, and the operation of the Automa, hit upon the key decision points in the game. It isn’t about building stuff, or moving cubes on a player board. They key interactions happen on that map, using power to drive your opponents back or to keep control over the factory location. The Automa will never get into the 3rd tier of multiplier, the one good thing about it because it will dominate that map if you don’t do something about it. It is not uncommon for an unchecked Automa to control 11-15 territories. That’s a lot of points, plus it gains a coin or two in a good number of rounds. You need to be aggressive in order to stand a chance against the higher difficulties.

 Player aids. I cannot emphasize enough how important these are from taking a good game and making it a great experience. Not just the first play, but for every play. It helps keep things fresh in your mind as to what you can do, or what is necessary to execute. The player aids here come in the form of cards for the Automa, describing how to do each of the possible actions. Without these cards, there would inevitably be a lot of flipping through the Automa rulebook. Which would make this experience be far worse and less likely to hit the table. The Automa is very fun to play against. Those cards, though, are what makes this a perfect package for the solo gamer.

 The nice thing about playing solo is you can hand-pick both factions. Want a tight board? Make sure you and the Automa start as neighbors and they will be in your face early. Want a little time to get that engine started? Make sure you’re on opposite ends of the board. This is a best-case scenario as their faction powers don’t really impact the game (apart from a few cards that give added bonus to a specific faction).

 Multiple difficulties allow you to scale the game for your skill level. Even better is the ability to have several Automa factions in play. I don’t know that anyone would ever want to, but in theory you could have a way to play solo against all of the other factions. Because it isn’t a “beat your high score” system, that adds so much replay value to a great game. When you get to a point where you’re consistently winning, you can move on to the next challenge.

 The biggest deterrent to the game being played, as a solo gamer, comes in the setup. It isn’t the game’s fault. At a higher player count, the setup is exactly what you want for what you get out of the game. As a solo game, it is a little longer than I’d like. But there really isn’t any changing that. Streamlining organization, such as with a Meeple Realty insert, would help. But right now it is all in baggies, which is a clean organization system but it takes time to set up. Too often I’ve shoved Scythe off the list of games to play for an evening because I have X other games that I could be mid-game in by the time I’d be ready to start a round of Scythe.

 Scythe is a game that can feel notoriously long. Not so much in a solo game, unless you’re having to constantly look up how to make the Automa work. There is a cap on the number of turns you’ll get (seen on the Automa’s particular difficulty card) so you can get an idea exactly how many moves you’ll make. The problem with solo Scythe, and this ties into the above, is that it ends too fast. For the time it takes to setup and play the game, I want it to last a little longer in order to make that prep time feel worthwhile. This regularly clocks in under an hour, which is a perfect length for a solo game on a planned solo night.

 This is me complaining, but I wish that the factions did play differently for the Automa. That they had a card (at least one) that took advantage of a unique power or ability to set them apart like they are in a multiplayer game. Something to provide an X factor that needs to be planned for in case the deck happens to hate you and have it appear when you least want that to appear. I know, it would complicate an already seamless system. But for the base game factions at least (I think the Invaders from Afar factions do have some unique flare) they are just too samey when played by the Automa.

Final Thoughts

This is a game that provides a very satisfying solo experience whenever it hits the table. I have never walked away from a solo play of this feeling like I wasted my time that was spent. However, it runs into the same issue as Mage Knight: the setup and teardown prevent it from hitting the table as often. This game is nowhere near as burdensome as Mage Knight for that, but it is enough that I often think twice before grabbing the game. I prefer a game I can get into in about 5 minutes, but if I plan my session out ahead of time I can do some of that prep work earlier in the day (especially now that I have a game room!)

The best thing I can say about the solo game is that it truly feels competitive in the same way that a multiplayer game would. Yes, the Automa “cheats” with its movement method. Yes, it gets stars at predetermined times and its popularity track never moves. But it spreads throughout the board and places those stars quickly toward the end. It gets aggressive, and can use that to make a late-game push for victory. I’ve played the Automa over half-a-dozen times and I think I’ve won 2 games so far. Sadly, one of those was my first play (and I won by 1). It hands it to me in a way that I haven’t experienced as much in multiplayer games. And there are some who play against more than 1 Automa. I think they’re crazy, personally, but that is my thoughts on that option.

What seemed like a daunting Automa to pilot turned out to be really simple after a few turns. The reference cards for that Automa are really nice, and help with being able to keep things moving forward. I don’t have to memorize the movement style of each one and the different priorities. I just have to grab the corresponding reference card after flipping the Automa’s movement card. That is nice. This is definitely the most complex of the Automa systems I’ve played, but it really does a nice job of imitating player movement possibilities and does so without being overly taxing on the solo gamer.

And Scythe is one of those solo games that has provided me with those memorable situations. My most recent loss had them at 5 stars and I was at 3. It had a few more spots to get that next star, and I was going to nab one with every turn until I hit 6. It was perfect…as long as it drew anything but the Aggressive Mech card with its next action. I grabbed my star, leaving myself vulnerable for a single turn. It came at me with the mech. I played my one Combat Card, a 4, with the hope that it wouldn’t spend any of its cards or combat. I lucked out…it didn’t play cards. It just spent 5 power, enough to secure its 6th star and end my hope for a victory.

Those are the moments that stick with us as gamers. Reaching those “as long as X happens, I think I can win” moments. And then seeing how those play out from there.

This is a game that is hard to express just how satisfying the solo experience can be. Yet for the retail value of $80 MSRP, it would be difficult to recommend to someone who exclusively wanted it for solo gaming. Is it worth it? Yes, with the caveat that you play it enough times to feel it was worth that price. There are a ton of small-box solo games that could be purchased for the same amount, after all. I think it is worth it. I’d buy it again, even if I knew I would only get to play it solo.

If you’re likely to play with others, too, then it moves into a highly recommended game. The solo experience will make it a worthwhile addition on the shelf, and it is a game that I’ve enjoyed at all player counts (even 2). It provides a nice engine-building experience, and is very, very polished as a system and will be a staple in my collection for a long time.

Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Scythe. 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