Board Gaming · Review for One · Review for Two · Solo Gaming

Review for One and Two – Shadowrift

Thank you for checking review #80 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

***Note: A review copy of the game was provided for what had been planned as a deckbuilding month. With the medical time spent on my daughter since September, than plan went by the wayside.

***Second Note: I didn’t know there was an upcoming Kickstarter for an expansion, but once I became aware of it, I played the game a few extra times in order to get this review up during the campaign. You can find the Kickstarter link here, and at the bottom of this review: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shadowrift/shadowrift-b…

An overview of Shadowrift

Shadowrift is a board game designed by Jeremy Anderson that was published in 2012 by Game Night Productions and later rereleased with a 2nd Edition by Game Salute (this review is based on the 2nd Edition). The box states it plays 1-6 players in 45-120 minutes and has a BGG weight rating of 2.69.

Haven Town is facing total annihilation at the hands (and teeth) of a horde of monsters from beyond the Shadowrift.

You, the heroes, must band together to drive them back. To do this, you will need powerful spells, skills, attacks and loot. When the game begins, you are a basic hero; you can explore and fight. Luckily for you, Shadowrift is a deck-building game! You can buy new cards to add to your deck, cards that will define you as an adventurer and complement the strengths of your fellow heroes. Unlike other deck-builders, there is constant interaction with your fellow players as you figure out who will gain which benefit from the limited supply of townsfolk, offer their coin to help construct walls, and seek healing from anyone who’s learned such magic.

Shadowrift also features monsters that don’t merely sit waiting to be slain; if you leave them alone, they will rip Haven Town asunder. They’ll kill people, break walls, and kick your heroes in the face. Combat with them is intuitive (though frequently painful). For defeating a monster, heroes gain Heroism, a simple, consistent boost to their power that makes them better at anything they undertake. Since the monsters won’t stop coming until the last Shadowrift is sealed or the town has been built into a mighty fortress, you’ll need every boost you can take.

The second edition of Shadowrift features many improved mechanisms, including a revised system for how monsters choose who to attack (based on types of villagers, instead of specific people) and a new system for monster powers (making them much more dangerous). It also has a revised card layout and a great deal of new and improved artwork.

Differences for 1-2 players

For one player: Assuming one-handed play for solo, you have 8 Heroism rather than 1 per player, and during the Monsters Gain Power round they gain 3 rather than 1 per player. Additionally, the player gets two full turns after each Monster turn; however, the Town and Traveller lineups do change after each player turn. 2 Shadowrifts are added to the deck rather than 1 per player as well.

For two players: Monsters gain 2 power per round, 2 Shadowrifts are added to the monster deck, and 10 Heroism cards are used. Really, these are just based on # of players and in no way changes the rules of the game.

My Thoughts

This game was a novel approach to the deckbuilding genre long before it rose to extreme popularity. To put it into perspective, Dominion came out in 2008. This came out in 2012. It came out after Ascension (2010), Arctic Scavengers (2009), Eminent Domain (2011) and Thunderstone (2009), the same year as Legendary (2012), Fantastiqa (2012) and DC Comics Deck Building Game (2012), and before both Star Realms (2014) and Aeon’s End (2016). Compare it to the ones out before, and around the same time, and this one stands pretty tall in its uniqueness. Maybe only Fantastiqa can really compete in that sense. Shadowrift still provides a very unique deckbuilding game that can stand alongside those other names because there isn’t one of them that does the same thing as Shadowrift.

At first this game appears to be about fighting off hordes of monsters. Then it appears to be a town defense game. Yet it is both of those things while at the same time being neither of those things. Some games, when they try to be clever and incorporate too much, lose some polish in the final product. And maybe the 1st edition had some of that. But the 2nd edition of Shadowrift juggles the deckbuilding genre, multiple types of currency, hordes of monsters, and town defense in a way that I’ve never seen before. For an older game (relatively speaking), it is surprising to get such a breath of fresh air from this game’s approach.

There are a lot of combinations in the box. Yes, astronomical computations could be made. But essentially you get six monster factions to fight against using a set of 8 market cards of your choosing. Most people will probably play a monster faction a handful of times, realistically, before wanting to either move on or expand the game. But even there you have roughly 20-25 plays just in the base game alone. The nice thing with these market and monster-driven games is that they are easy enough to integrate expansions into without needing to really change any core rules.

There are three currencies in the game, and you start with just the most basic of them in your deck. You can spend 2 to buy coins, which are one-time use and can be spent in a variety of ways. The most difficult to obtain would be the magic symbols, which often appear on spells but then you get the decision, when it is in your hand, on whether to use it for the spell or for the magic symbol. This factors into what I’ll be alluding to shortly regarding the absence of deck thinning, making it essential to decide early how to fill your deck with cards. Nothing is more frustrating than always drawing the Seal you need to clear a Shadowrift and never having a Magic symbol to use its ability.

Another neat deckbuilding decision comes from the Epic symbols on some market cards. On a player round (players take turns simultaneously, meaning the order in which you play cards as a team can matter and so communicating as a team is essential to be as effective as possible) you cannot play more Epic cards than there are players. So in a solo game (one handed, of course) you can play only one. Draw a hand of 3 of them? Too bad (unless a specific villager is in the Town to let you play an extra one). These are often the most powerful effects, usually based around combat in some fashion. You definitely want them in your deck. But you don’t want JUST them in your deck. They add interesting decisions along the way as you play the game, something you’re going to hear me say more and more about Shadowrift.

The Town and the Travelers are what really gives this game flavor and makes it shine when compared to some of the other staples in the genre. At the start you have 10 villagers in the Town deck, each of which have some sort of effect when in the Town or an Aid ability the players can use (once) on their turn. There is also a slightly thicker Traveler deck, which will flip over two cards every round. Some of the cards are people you can buy into the town deck, usually costing Coins and/or Prowess (the generic resource). However, there are some red Infiltrator cards that, when flipped into the face-up Traveler spots, immediately go into the Town discard pile. Which means they get shuffled in the next time you need to shuffle the Town cards to refill those five cards (which happens every round). If you ever have 5 corpses and/or Infiltrator cards into the Town display at the start of the Heroes’ turn, you lose. This deck refills before the monsters go, who then go before the Heroes. Which means even getting out 3 of those red cards can signal danger if there are some monsters about to act and Kill some villagers. Lucky for you, most Infiltators have a cost you can pay to put them back on the bottom of the Traveler deck (which is also where dead townspeople go). It is a simple pair of mechanisms at work here, but they add such intriguing decisions: do you spend resources to buy cards for your deck, or do you add travelers to the Town, or do you try and remove those Infiltrators?

The monsters follow a very simple sequence once they enter play. Every town they advance one space and do what is printed for that space# on their card. Many times it is to Kill some symbol of villager in the Town display, which not only removed that Villager from the deck (it goes to the bottom of the Traveler deck), but it also adds a Corpse card in their place. Which not only thins out the useful cards in that Town deck, it also advances the odds of losing. Because you can see what monsters will do on the next space, you can plan ahead on which ones you NEED to focus on taking out. However, with just 2 attack in your starting 10 cards, you’ll need to “level up” your hero some before taking down the biggest of baddies…

We come now to the elephant in the room that I can already hear people begrudging this game over: there is no deck thinning mechanism. Yep, you read that right. There are ways to remove wounds and afflictions, both cards that enter your deck via monsters, but once you buy a card it is in there forever. Same with your starting ten cards. Bold move? Perhaps, and something no deckbuilder today would dream of doing. Yet it is slightly balanced from the Heroism cards you get from killing monsters, which not only counts as any 1 of the 3 resources, but also lets you draw a card immediately when you draw the card into your hand. There’s also some Might cards that are the cheap currency which allow you to draw a card, but remove themselves when used for anything but a keep-in-play trigger on an action card. Rather than begrude the game for what it lacks, this should be embraced as an interesting puzzle each round. Every card you buy makes it less likely you’ll draw every card in that deck, meaning it needs to carry its weight. Is that generic 1 melee damage worth adding to your deck, or should you just buy a coin instead for a future turn? This is one of the things that makes this game so darn interesting to puzzle out right now, because most deckbuilders you can take thinning for granted and race to remove those starter cards.

Getting the rifts closed is important in the game. With 1 or 2 players, you’re looking for two rifts that are added to a 20 card deck – one in the top 10 and one in the bottom 10. Another element of randomness, you see. However, you have a card in your starting deck that can place the top Monster card from the deck onto the bottom of that deck – and you can always see what the next card is coming off the deck (it is face-up) so you won’t accidentally throw that Shadowrift to the bottom. There are a few other cards that can help cycle those cards, too, letting you dig a little faster. I’ve seen both Shadowrifts only once, but I’m not a great player yet. It stinks that your rifts could be cards 1 and 22 off the deck, but it is great that you can help speed it along.

My first plays of the game felt like I was losing to the luck of random draw. And yes, that will always be a possibility. If you get a strong reaction toward knowing your game could end due to a bad draw, this one might leave a sour taste for you. However, the redeeming quality in here is that you can do things to give that Town deck better odds by buying new Travelers, eliminating Infiltrators as soon as you can, or preventing the monsters from Killing townsfolk. It is a lot to juggle, especially solo. I’ve heard the game is far easier at higher player counts, simply because you have more hands on deck to specialize and deal with the unique areas of the game. When playing solo, those resources are scarce enough that it makes every decision matter. And even when you are playing well, it still could end with 4 of the 5 cards flipping out red and the one monster that just got added happens to Kill the exact symbol that isn’t red. It can happen even if you only have 4 red cards in that deck. Early in the game, this doesn’t sting so bad. But if it happens when you’re nearing the end of a grueling, long fight…that could become table-flipping territory for some players.

Final Thoughts

When I looked at this game, my immediate thought was Aeon’s End plus Marvel Legendary. While it has some thematic and mechanical similarities to both, this game is nothing like either of those games, but is more like Legendary than it is like Aeon’s End.

What if I told you this game originally came out before either of those games?

Some older games do not age well. Others just take longer to gain popularity and hit their prime. I’m convinced that Shadowrift still has not “arrived” yet in terms of making waves, but it definitely should not be overlooked. This game provides a far more thematic approach to defending the town than you had in Aeon’s End. This game gives a greater challenge, and requires far less setup/teardown time than Marvel Legendary.

And boy, is this game a challenge. Not necessarily because of any heightened difficulty built into the game, but rather because you are trying to balance several things effectively. The obvious threat comes from the monster deck and the interactions brought about by the monsters traveling across the play area. Fighting them is essential, yet clogs the deck through wounds (usually) gained from battle. But if you overlook the travellers coming to town, you could find yourself filled with infiltrators and corpses and bring a premature end to your efforts, no matter how successful you are at fighting back the monstrous horde.

My first loss in the game was bitter. Not only was I doing a poor job at killing dragons, I was poorly managing the cards clogging up my hand and completely ignored the Town deck. It got overrun with bad cards, which meant sooner or later I’d see 5 dealt out to give me the loss. I felt like the game was impossibly hard and lacked good decisions. I tried it again against the same match, with the same market, and had much of the same results. Turns out the recommended starting game wasn’t a great starting one for winning solo.

But as I kept returning to the game and playing further, I started to get better at tracking my deck of cards and keeping an eye toward the Town deck. Have I perfected that balance? Hardly. In fact, I’d argue that I am quite a ways away from hitting that efficient stride after 6 plays of the game.

Which is something I really like about this game, because it makes you think in ways that other games in this genre don’t. Not only are there three resource types in the game, there are also two methods of attack. Resources can be spent to improve your deck, or to improve the Town deck, and sometimes to help cycle the monster deck. The game is more than just get buying power early to get attack power and then stop buying cards while you smack enemies around. The game is more than culling cards ruthlessly until you can play your entire hand for super turns every round.

And that is a breath of fresh air in a genre that, at times, can feel repetitive and stale. There’s a reason why Mystic Vale is my favorite deckbuilder: it takes the genre and does something fresh with it. Aeon’s End did the same thing with the breaches and not shuffling. But this game takes the deckbuilder concept and really makes you have to consider, every single turn, how your decisions will impact your long-term goals.

As a solo/co-op gamer, I hate high win percentages (looking at you, Sentinels of the Multiverse). My favorite game is sitting firmly at a 31% win rate after over a hundred plays, and that feels perfect. The wins in Shadowrift are coming for me eventually. And until then, I’ll enjoy having this hit the table as part of a rotation of games I definitely want to make sure I play every month.

As a reminder, the newest expansion is on Kickstarter right now. And yes, I am a backer. That should confirm things: I enjoy this game and it is in my collection to stay. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shadowrift/shadowrift-b…

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Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Fantastiqa Rival Realms

Thank you for checking review #79 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 Fantastiqa: Rival Realms

Fantastiqa: Rival Realms is a board game designed by Alf Seegert that was published in 2018 by Eagle-Gryphon Games. The box states it plays 1-2 players in 20-30 minutes and has a BGG weight rating of 2.50.

Victims of a curious card trick gone very, very wrong, you and a rival Magician find yourselves lost in a billowing sea of fog. When it dissolves, you gaze upon the immense emptiness of Fantastiqa, the legendary land of fabled beasts and fantastiqal quests, only moments before it is summoned into being…

And you are the Magicians who will summon it!

With nothing but a shared pack of magical cards, you and your opponent continue your competition by creating Rival Realms in Fantastiqa itself. Summon strange landscapes! Adventure through arcane regions! Find fabled beasts! Gather odd and awesome artifacts! The Magician who scores the most points for her Realm in these weird ways is declared the winner.

Rival Realms is a standalone game. You do NOT need a copy of Fantastiqa to play this game.

Players play cards from their hands to create Regions and to go adventuring in each of their Rival Realms. By collecting Adventure Tokens, players gain the assistance of Creatures and Artifacts which allow them to perform special actions that help them explore further. The player who scores the most points by creating and exploring Regions, connecting Regions of the same type, and by completing Quests wins the game.

Differences for two players

None, as this is a 2-player only game, with a built-in solo mode!

My Thoughts

 The simplicity in concept cannot be understated here. You are trying to make three rows of 6 cards, going in ascending order. The deck contains 50 cards, numbered 1-50. In a nutshell, this is what you are fighting to accomplish. However, like any great game, there is far more to it than meets the eye. A game with just this exercise in ordering could be fun, but would lack staying power. This game, however, adds two major wrinkles (covered in the next two points).

 Simply filling your board with cards might be enough to end the game, but it won’t be enough to win unless your opponent gets stuck with a ton of negative points. Your other action available (besides placing a card out) is to adventure. You see, each player has a standee on their half and this standee can move to adjacent cards in their row, and to new rows across valleys (cards placed between the rows, half being on the mountain side and half on the valley side). An explored card is turned sideways, and can be moved across for free on future turns. To explore, you have to discard a card of a matching terrain type (or flip a token with the matching color). However…

 Those cards used to explore go into your opponent’s discard pile, which they can draw from (any card in there, not just the top one) at the end of their turn rather than the top of the deck. Which does two things, potentially: allows them to draw the numbers they might need to fill in a row, or draw the terrain they need to explore. The decision of what cards to use for your own exploring can be a critical choice to make, as you don’t want to gift your opponent with the perfect cards they need.

 Tying further into all of this comes the scoring at the end of the game, which is done in a remarkably clever way. There are six quest cards (more on those below) that reward the player who gains specific achievements first and awards 4-7 points, players lose points for every slot they didn’t fill with a card, players gain 2 points for cards in the same row that is adjacent to the same terrain, and 3 points for the same concept but from row to row, connected by valleys. So just rushing out cards to fill your board won’t net you a ton of points, you need to balance the exploring as well. But then you need to consider the placement as well, as matching terrain cards are 5 numbers apart but give extra points during scoring. But then they also require more cards of that terrain type to explore them, meaning you need to horde that terrain for a few turns in order to pull it all off. Clever, clever, clever.

 The tokens that can be earned via exploring should not be underestimated. Not only do the animal ones allow a substitution for using a card when exploring, but there are three gems and three artifacts. The artifacts are all different, allowing you to instantly move to a new location, reposition cards, or even take an extra turn. The gems are worth 1 point at the end of the game…but only if you don’t use them. And you’ll be tempted to at some point, as they allow you to take 2 cards from any pile to your hand, even your opponents’ discard pile. Or they can be used to move the raven onto a mountain, essentially making it a valley while he is there.

 Once you get the main game down (one play is likely enough), there are two ways to expand your fun: events and enchantments. Events shuffle a few more cards in the deck and, when the event is drawn, it is revealed and executed. The player then draws a replacement card. The enchantments alter fundamental aspects of the game, such as setup and gameplay, but is known from the start by both players. Both of these modular items are fun inclusions that add a little variety and randomness that players will have to work around.

 There is a solo mode for the game in the box – I’ve played it only once so far but it is an enjoyable puzzle as you race against the Raven. Look for a review of the solo mode in either December or early 2019!

 If you have a tiny table, this game will NOT be your friend. For a small, compact box…this thing needs a ton of real estate! You need room to make a 3 x 6 surface for cards, that is wide enough for them all to get explored (tapped), and have space for rows of mountains and valleys between them (thankfully, these are small cards). Then do it again for the other player. Could you play this on a pair of airplane trays? Yes, but only through creative stacking of cards being played. Very creative stacking.

 I like the raven in theory. He does something really helpful in making an impassible path usable. Or he lets you draw extra cards. However, we almost never use him! If those gems weren’t worth points at the end of the game, he’d be used often. But rarely is he an essential part of the plan, usually only coming into play to pull off a big move late in the game that is going to earn more points than the player is losing by using that token.

 I am all for clever flavor text. In fact, I absolutely LOVE the flavor text in this game. However, there is nothing to evoke the fun of the text on those cards. No special art or meaning, just the text on the cards at the bottom. And do you know what that means? It often goes unread and unnoticed. I understand the reasoning for the cards having no special art. But I think it was a missed opportunity here to add immersion that complements that flavor text.

 Player elimination is never a good thing in a game. This has a similar vibe, in that if a player cannot make a play on their turn they have to reveal their hand and pass. This removes them from the game, and the other player can keep on going until the game ends by either depleting the draw deck, placing the 18th land card, or passing as well. Should there be a penalty for painting yourself into a corner? Sure. Watching your opponent potentially play for 5+ more rounds with no pressure on the game ending is not the ideal punishment.

Final Thoughts

When I was at Gen Con this year, the Eagle-Gryphon booth was on my short list of stops that I had to make before I left, and it earned that for two reasons: I wanted to see Vital Lacerda’s Escape Plan and demo it if possible (I saw it, but they didn’t run demos) and to pick up Fantastiqa if it was there. The wonderful Mina’s Fresh Cardboard reviewed it so long ago and I fell in love with the game’s artwork, mechanics, theme, and literary inspirations. I hadn’t played it yet, but on the strength of her review I was ready to purchase that game with my very limited spending budget. Sadly, they did not have any copies of that game.

Happily, they had this there and I picked it up instead.

This game has served as my introduction to Alf Seegert as a designer, and it was a pleasant one. The game is simple at its heart, yet how everything flows together makes it as beautiful to experience as the art on the cards. Like Hanamikoji, the core of how to play is simple and it gets the weight, and depth, through the interactions and the strategy within the game. The star of the show, of course, is the clever way cards are discarded after spending them to explore – that in itself makes this game one I love to play because it makes you pay attention to what our opponent might need before you use a card. The last thing you want to see is them drawing turn after turn from that discard pile you’ve been fueling.

Which then ties into the Adventuring portion of the game, being one of the two actions you can take on your turn. You can explore as many unexplored cards as you are able to on your turn, so long as you do not double back to the same card. But wait, there’s mountains blocking your path across some of the board. Oh, and those cards you use go to your opponent’s discard pile. But there’s also tokens you collect via exploring (some of which can be used in place of a card for exploring), and a lot of the scoring centers around explored cards. So suddenly those cards in your hand have two purposes: the number or the terrain type.

And those are just a few of the layers of this onion you get to peel away, delightfully, as you play this game. Because there is rarely an easy, obvious decision to make. Every move can and should be considered carefully because it can have some lasting effects later in the game. Which leads me to one of my only concerns: a player prone to severe analysis paralysis might find this to make their brain explode in the same way it might while playing Hanamikoji. Those simple decisions are rarely able to reveal the perfect moves to make, and a person who needs to make THE optimal move every turn could stall out for long periods of time while trying to decipher what is that optimal move.

But for gamers like us, who play for fun and who enjoy those challenging decisions but rarely let them force us into long delays of quiet contemplation, this game will definitely deliver a delightful blend of tactical and strategic decisions within clever, yet simple, gameplay. I am always eager to play this game again, to add in some new cards that will affect the gameplay, and ultimately to pick up the small expansion and see how it alters the overall experience in this tiny box of fun.

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle

Thank you for checking review #78 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A review copy of this game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle

Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle is a board game designed by Jason D. Kingsley that was published in 2018 by Level 99 Games. The box states it plays 2 players in 15-30 minutes and has a BGG weight rating of 2.00.

That dastardly Professor Treasure is at it again! This time, he’s stolen all the world’s treasures and hidden them away in a secret floating castle! As an intrepid treasure hunter, you and your friends have finally managed to track down the castle. However, another team of explorers is already here!

Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle is a competitive puzzle game in which you and your opponent race to find keys, unlock treasure chests, and collect priceless treasures from around the world and history! Send out your team of treasure hunters, each with their own unique way to explore the castle. But beware! Your opponent will try to thwart your plans and grab the treasure for themselves!

—description from the publisher

Differences for two players

None, as this is a 2-player only game!

My Thoughts

 It will never be a favorite mechanism, but I really like the action programming in this one and how it is handled. Both players have the same 8 roles, of which 2 are randomly removed (potentially making both players using a different 6 roles). After the tiles are placed for the map, the players simultaneously break their cards into groups. The first player of the round makes 3 groups of 2, the second player makes 2 groups of 3. The the players take turns putting out a grouping at a time onto the board. I really enjoy this aspect of the game, and need more games with something similar.

 Pairing with the programming is that all characters have a determined order of activation, with the 1’s triggering first and ascending up to the 7’s. The first player’s card goes first when both players have the same card# in play. This adds a good, strategic depth to not only the placement of your cards, but also how you group the cards, when to put that group out, and more.

 I love that all 8 cards are unique in how they can be placed and what they do. Some are placed directly onto a tile and take that tile. Some are placed outside a column or row and can take any tile in that column or row. Some can shift tiles around, or thieve tiles as an opponent takes one. Since you don’t know up front what 6 cards your opponent is able to use in a round, the planning at the start can be an interesting game of trying to decide what to place and where with those first cards.

 Scoring in this game is far more intuitive than I expected from reading the rules. Since it is all done at the end of the game, there is no bookkeeping to do along the way. And since you keep the tiles you earn, there is no tracking it that way. There is also a pair of great player aids with how all three things score. Overall, well done.

 This game wouldn’t be as good without a measure of pressing your luck, and it comes here in the form of skeleton keys. You see, chest are worth a lot of points but need keys (1-4 per chest) to open them. Each key you have can be used once per round, which means if you need more keys than you have available you have to take Skeleton Keys to open that chest. Not only are they worth negative points (after the first one you take), but they become increasingly more impactful if you take too many (for instance, the 5th key would be worth -4 points, the 6th worth another -5 points) so you need to decide how aggressive you want to be on taking chests.

 This game could have been done using just cards. Given the production by Level 99 Games, it wouldn’t have surprised me to see all cards in there. However, the tiles in this box are fantastic quality and enhance the experience of building the map each round and the stacks made of tiles as you collect them is fun, too.

 Not enough good can be said about the artwork done by Fabio Fontes and Laura La Vito at Level 99 Games. There are big names in the board game art world, but these two (and Nokomento) are severely underrecognized as a whole. The art in this game is crisp and clean, and the graphical design is intuitive and complementary of the game design.

 This game has a little variety because you’ll only use 6 of the 8 cards each round and there is a good chance a few tiles won’t appear. But how I wish there was a little beyond that in this box – a few “advanced” roles to mix in after some plays, or more tiles than the exact number you’d need as a maximum. There’s a little room here to add a mini-expansion in the future, maybe adding 5-6 tiles of a set together where if you get 1-2 of them you lose points and move into some strong points if you get 5-6 of them.

 There is a small problem with the number of rounds in this game and the advantage it provides to the player who goes first. Since the first player in a round places their final cards last, they can make those last decisions with perfect information about what their opponent is doing. Granted, this requires grouping well and saving the right pair to place last, but this feels like a position of power. So with 3 rounds, the start player goes first twice in a game. Yet 3 rounds is the perfect number for the game, as it would get ridiculous (or really uninteresting) in a 4th round, and would end prematurely in the 2nd round. So while I don’t have a good answer for how to fix it, and it isn’t something that breaks/ruins the game, it definitely feels like the start player gets a small advantage over the course of the game.

 I hate the decision to have the rulebook to be a folded oversized sheet of paper, essentially. It isn’t really feasible to have it unfolded on the table while playing, meaning you need it folded up beside you and will need to unfold it to look rules up. I’d much prefer a small booklet, which would also be good for referencing things in an organized manner.

Final Thoughts

When I got my review copy at Gen Con, I knew only two things for sure about this game: it has an awesomely unique title and was produced by one of my personal favorite publishers. I also knew that my wife had yet to find a game (other than, finally, Argent: The Consortium) that she really liked from Level 99 Games. Enjoyed enough to tolerate? Sure, she hasn’t hated anything from Level 99 yet, but she hadn’t instantly liked any of them to want to play more. I’m happy to report that she really liked this one, an opinion that mirrors my own feelings about this game.

In fact, one of my favorite things about this game is that it uses a mechanic completely missing from our collection: action programming. I’ve played a very small handful of those games, and I think the only one my wife has tried has been How to Rob a Bank (leave me recommendations on non-cooperative ones to try in the comments, please!). So I was very interested in how this would pan out when it hit the table for us. This is a game that is going to exist in our collection for the same reason that games like Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft do – they are games that will never be our favorites, but are unique enough and small enough that we’ll want to pull them back out several times a year for a game or three (likely a best-of-three series). For the price on this one, there is plenty of game to keep us coming back for years to come without it growing stale.

While it would be great to see some more variety in the cards or tiles, the simplicity of everything in here allows the game to get out of the way and open things up to strong, creative play. I knew this was a gem when, during our first two plays of the game, we were both complaining about moves the other person made…in a good way. You’re going to get in each others’ way, resulting from clever (or lucky) placement or selection. If we had our own “Glory to Rome” board, it’d get filled with tallies over the course of a best-of-three play of this one.

And really, that is what I want from a filler game: a game that fills a unique niche in my collection, has quick setup/teardown time, and provides a very thinky and competitive game experience against my wife. For the small box this comes in, at a great price point, this is a quality 2-player game from a company that puts out a lot of excellent 2-player games. While all of their games may not appeal to every couple, this one will have a more universal appeal than most.

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Carthago: Merchants & Guilds

Thank you for checking review #77 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 Carthago: Merchants & Guilds

Carthago: Merchants & Guilds is a board game designed by Ralph Bienert and Bernd Eisenstein that was published in 2018 by Capstone Games. The box states it plays 2-4 players in 60-90 minutes and has a BGG weight rating of 3.00.

Carthage – about 800 years BC.Founded as a humble trading post by the Phoenicians, the city quickly grew into an important trade hub where precious goods from around the ancient world were traded.

In Carthago, players represent merchants who attempt to increase their wealth and influence while improving their status within the Merchant’s Guild. Become the greatest merchant in Carthage by loading valuable wares, financing expeditions, and exerting influence in clever ways. An extraordinary card-driven game of tactics that demands making the right decisions at the right time!

Discover and trade valuable goods to acquire special abilities. Gain influence by trading goods. Use your influence to battle enemies, secure more seats in the Merchant’s Guild, or unlock special achievements. Multi-use cards provide players various ways to improve their status within the Merchant’s Guild. The game’s components are language-independent.

Differences for two players

On the surface, very little changes regarding the gameplay on Carthago regardless of player count. The number of ships in the harbor decrease to 3 (# of players +1) and the board pieces clearly identify what ones are used in a 2-player game. The biggest change comes from the use of neutral pieces. They serve no function other than being obstacles, with discs covering the four corner seats on that board, and both unused color cylinders being placed on the action wheel. When you use an action where a neutral cylinder is located, you have to discard a card to the right side of your board (like you would if an opponent was present) and move that neutral cylinder clockwise one space at the end of your turn (it goes to the next unoccupied action space, so it may skip up to 2 spaces on the action wheel). That’s it, the rest of the game plays out like normal.

My Thoughts

 A lot of what this game does right is how it handles the action wheel. For every other player’s cylinder on the space you go to, you have to pay an extra card from your hand to use the action. So some actions in a 2-player game will be “free”, requiring no additional discards, while others will likely cost you an extra card. With a starting hand of 7 cards, you can afford to pay extra twice before you need to start tapping into cards earned from the market or from ships. While the 2-player game loses the risk of a spot costing 2-3 extra cards, it makes it so most spaces will cost you something which makes planning ahead essential, as you can predict how those cylinders will move (to the next unoccupied action space going clockwise) and, if you read your opponent right, you can know when a space should open up for you to move in and take a cheaper action. This game requires efficiency here, something I really enjoy.

 I love multi-use cards. Honestly, it is one of my favorite things to see in a game, as it provides difficult decisions from turn to turn. Here they can be used for their action, for the good, or for the monetary value. The ideal would be to never use those cards for their action, as it is the least effective way to employ the card – however, it does gain the benefit of returning to your hand at the end of the act if you use it for the action (or as the added cost for an action if another player is there, too).

 The guild is an interesting mechanic in the game. There are two guild houses on the action wheel, and they move clockwise after being used. Here is where you go to either purchase a seat in the Senate, or to purchase an end-game scoring achievement. This is the primary way you’ll end up spending cards (most likely) from the market and ships – as their currency value. And the brilliance of this is that it ties in with both the multi-use cards (because you’re needing to decide if to spend them here as currency and how many to use) and the action wheel (is it worth spending an extra action card to go where the guild is now – if I wait, does that let my opponent get the spot I wanted?).

 The game is tight, granting you exactly 15 actions over the course of the game. You will never feel like you’ve accomplished everything you wanted in a round, yet at the same time you can usually see how much you were truly able to do by the end. This makes me want to play it again and explore how to be more effective and efficient the next time I play.

 I like a little set collection in a game, especially when it plays off that multi-use card aspect by forcing you to use the cards for the goods, and trade in 2-3 of them. Your reward? Removing a disc off your player board, which can gain you extra seats in the Guild at the end, boost your attack power, or just get you more discs in a faster method. Bonus seats are given for emptying a full row, too, adding extra layers of decisions and strategies on how to use those cards and when to take that action.

 Scoring in this game is far more interesting and clever than I initially realized. While the achievement tiles are fairly standard fare (more on those to come later), the real showstopper comes from the Guild seats. You see, points here come from the number of seats are covered by your discs, plus bonus seats uncovered from your player board, plus bonus seats gained from emptying columns on that player board, times the number of ships you have. What does that mean? You can go heavy into seats and pick up a couple of ships and score well. You can go heavy into ships and pick up a seat or two and clear some of your board and do well. One strategy does not rule them all, which adds to the replay value, and excitement during the game, of Carthago.

 In spite of what I’ll be stating next, I really do like the use of the ships in this game. There are two harbors, one where you deliver a good of the matching type to the ship and one where you flip a random ship and compare attack values. You need to spend actions to place discs on each of these areas (meaning you’ll spend a minimum of 2 actions setting up) and then use an action to trade, which allows you to activate both areas (or just one, should you have a disc in only one of the harbors). Even better is when you deliver goods at the main harbor, that ship goes to your supply and all ships behind your harbor space move forward one space. Which allows a clever player to plan around their opponent…or for the mean player to use that action one turn faster to move that ship out of the harbor space your opponent is sitting on.

 Let’s not pretend that the randomness element doesn’t exist in here – probably just a bit more impactful than I’d like in a game like this. It comes into play in three primary ways: the market, the attack ship, and the rewards from a ship. Usually you’re looking at the market to try and collect the required sets to unlock spaces on your board and get more discs. That can get frustrating when you have 2/3 of a card type and the third one never appears in the market. The attacking of the ship is a blind flip of a card value 1-6…your base attack is 1 and it caps at 5 without a ship’s special ability to add +2 meaning there’s always a chance of victory or defeat in what could ultimately be a wasted space which required an action to place the disc to use in the first place. Finally, there are few things worse than winning a ship and getting rewarded and you gain a single card, while your opponent flips 2 small cards and then one big one when they fill a ship’s order on the next turn. Because you flip cards off the deck until you equal or exceed the value printed on the ship, this can happen far more often than you’d expect.

 The ships you gain not only earn you cards that are worth actions/currency/goods, they also go to your personal supply and provide you with a usable action that can be used on your turn in addition to moving on the wheel. These range from wiping the market to moving ships in the harbor to being able to purchase achievement spots from a previous age. I love this in concept, but so far I rarely see use from any player out of these extra actions because they rarely become necessary. However, the other nice thing is the market action lets you flip a ship back to its ready side, meaning they don’t have to be 1-time use abilities.

 The end-game scoring achievement tiles are the biggest detriment in this game. Not only are there not enough of them to add variety (2 of the 3 for each age are used in a game), but they feel undercosted. The first person to mark one only has to pay 2, the second person 5. Cards range in value from 2-6, so the first player to mark one has to pay only one card guaranteed. Considering the price of a Senate seat in comparison, and how many points these scoring achievements can be worth, and how easy it can be to get at least 6 points from most of them, they just feel like the obvious choice for using your coins/guild action.


Final Thoughts

Carthago is a game that Clay from Capstone rightly put onto my radar as one I would probably enjoy and would play well with two players, and this was definitely the best purchase I made at Gen Con this year. While my wife wishes we didn’t need to use neutral pieces in the game, it isn’t like they do anything other than add cost to actions and therefore makes your decisions a little harder and the order of taking actions more important. I feel it would definitely lose out on something if the neutral items were removed, making it a far more open game that requires less planning and provides more abundance for cards and resources. The tightness is part of what makes this game enjoyable, as scores typically have ranged from 30-50 as an overall range across our plays.

After just a handful of plays, this game shot up among the contenders for my favorite game released in 2018. Two more plays last week only solidified that placement, as this is a tight game about efficiency in action selection, resource/hand management, and planning ahead. That in itself would be enough, but it is also a game with sharp elbows as your opponent can easily foil your plans in a multitude of ways. You never openly play things in opposition to your opponent, but the game is small and tight enough that you’re always going to get in each other’s way – something I delight in even if I am not always happy about it in the heat of the moment.

I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy the effective deployment of multi-use cards, and this one does a nice job with that as every card (apart from your starting hand) can be used in three different ways. Most of the time you’ll use the starting hand as the five actions in an era, but sometimes you want or need more of a specific action. Or you had to discard too many cards with your movement, and so I like that the market cards all have actions on there, too.

The ships are a great aspect of the game, and having two ways to get them is great. Maybe I’m just underutilizing them, but the actions on the ships are mostly just okay during the gameplay. I’ve seen cases for each of them being useful, but I’m as likely to not use the ship’s ability over the course of the game.

Yet this is not a perfect game, even though it is delightful and hits all of the right notes along the way. Ultimately, replay value in here is what comes into question as there is not a lot of change. Sure, you’ll have different ships at different times and a different market, making certain resources more scarce than others and affecting how much currency is “available” at a time. What I’m talking about is the scoring goals on the act tiles. In the box there are 3 tiles per act, and you use 2 of them per game. That means ⅔ of those tiles are used every game and even if the next game uses the unused tile, you’ll still have a repeated scoring condition. This doesn’t detract from the game experience, but certainly could limit its freshness upon future plays.

Overall I really like Carthago. It would certainly be somewhere in my Top 25 Games if I remade that list today, and this game is priced really well at a $40 MSRP. This game has the meaty decisions that I love as a heavy gamer, combined with a simple ruleset that can be taught to almost any gamer in a short span of time. Between the value of this game, the excellent gameplay, and the moderate rules overhead in the box – this becomes the sort of game I don’t hesitate to recommend to almost any sort of gaming group. And because the game scales quite well, it would be a solid experience whether you have 2, 3, or 4 players.

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Hero Realms

Thank you for checking review #75 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
An Overview of Hero Realms 

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

 

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

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

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

My Thoughts

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Exceed Fighting System

Thank you for checking review #74 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An Overview of Exceed Fighting System

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Root

Thank you for checking review #72 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

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

An Overview of Root

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—description from the publisher

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

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

My Thoughts

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However…

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

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

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

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