Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Valeria: Card Kingdoms

Thank you for checking review #48 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review. The below opinions remain our own based upon our impressions and reactions to the game.

An Overview of Valeria: Card Kingdoms

Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a game designed by Isaias Vallejo and was published by Daily Magic Games. The box states that it can play 1-4 players and has a 30-45 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 1.95.

The land of Valeria is under siege by hordes of monsters. You and your fellow Dukes must recruit citizens and buy domains to build up your kingdoms and slay the foul creatures that lurk in the surrounding lands.

Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a tableau-building game for 1-5 players and will feel familiar to deck-building fans. The cards you buy can work for you on your turn and on all the other player turns, as well. On your turn, roll two dice and activate citizen cards with the result of each individual die and the sum of both dice. Other players will simultaneously activate their citizen cards based on the roll. Next, take two actions from the following: slay a monster, recruit a citizen, buy a domain, or take 1 of any resource. The player with the most victory points at the end wins the game.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

To set up the game, players create a row of 5 Monster stacks, two rows of 5 Citizen stacks each, and a row of 5 Domain stacks. This forms the center supply, and when a number of stacks equal to 2x the number of players are empty (exhausted), that will be the likely trigger for the end of the game.

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Each player receives 2 Duke cards and selects 1 to keep. These cards provide end game scoring and should be kept secret. Each player also receives a starting Peasant and a starting Knight card.

The game is played over a series of rounds. Each round follows the same pattern:

meeple Roll Phase – The Active Player rolls two dice.
meeple Harvest Phase – The dice activate citizen cards with the result of each individual die and the sum of both dice. All players take their resources at this time.
meeple Action Phase – The Active Player takes two actions from the following: Slay a Monster, Recruit a Citizen, Buy a Domain, Take One of Any Resource.
meeple End Phase – The Active Player passes the dice to their left.

The game ends when:
sauronAll Monsters have been slain OR
sauronAll Domains have been built OR
sauronThe total number of Exhausted stacks is equal to twice the number of players (4 in a 2-player game)

My Thoughts

It goes without saying that the artwork in this game is beyond amazing. I’ve come to love The Mico’s artwork so much, and this game is no exception. Things are vibrant and the citizen cards somehow manage to give an impression of personality through the artwork on these cards. This is the sort of game you could just sit back and look at after setting it up.

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The rules for this game are really simple and laid out well. Designers and publishers should take notice of how this one is done and use it as an example of how to get a player from opening the box to playing the game in a little amount of time. The thickness of the book actually comes from suggested setups, the solo and 5-player variants, and other additional content. The rules themselves are concise and straight-forward. The only real vagueness is that it doesn’t clearly state an exhausted card should go out when a monster or domain pile are empty. My first plays were with it being just for citizens, which really made the game drag on forever.

There are two aspects that set this as the best roll-for-resources game I’ve played: every citizen gives different rewards for rolling the number on your turn vs. the number being rolled on someone else’s turn, and the fact that you gain something even if you don’t trigger any citizens. These things help keep players engaged, and at least give you the sense of making forward progress even when the dice hate you. Gaining for the individual dice, as well as the sum, is another helpful boost.

I love the scaling of monsters in each pile. They grow in threat and reward, and there is a great reason to focus on plowing through monster after monster. They are varied and I like that they are keyed to each environment/area so you might have varied piles.

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This game is so variable with its setup that you can make it where no two games played are identical. I love having the ability to get variety in what is available, from the citizens to recruit to the monsters you face to the dukes you have for scoring. Everything is really modular, which also speaks to how easy it would be to apply expansion content into the game.

The individual turns are simple and fast-moving…once you resolve what everyone gets from the die roll. You get to take two actions, from a small list of actions. It is a little like multi-player solitaire at that point, since what you do on my turn doesn’t necessarily affect what I can do on mine unless you recruit the last citizen in a pile, or purchase the domain I wanted, or kill the monster I was hoping to slay. If you like quick and simple player turns, this is a good one to look at. But if you want a lot of interaction, just know that outside of the dice rolls it might seem lacking.

The game runs a little longer than it should. Unless a player focuses hard on a specific pile, it is usually a gradual approach to depleting enough piles to trigger the end of the game. In a 2-player game, the only possible trigger is 4 exhausted piles because there are more monster and domain piles than the required number. You’d think that would make things go fast, but oftentimes it can be a challenge to build up for a big attack or purchase because there are only two players, so there are several turns spent “gathering” the necessary resources.

The abilities on the citizens vary. Some are really, really good. Some are okay. Others are situational enough that they tend to be the last ones purchased (whether right or wrong, that Alchemist just doesn’t get enough love!). I understand that some of the better ones are going to be 7+ because there is less chance of rolling those numbers than 2-6 (since you use both the numbers rolled individually and the sum of those numbers to trigger citizen abilities). It is just funny how there is a collective sigh when the Peasants trigger again and again.

Setup time is a bear. It never seems like it should be, since everything is organized with tabs in the box, but it will take a bit of time. The good news is that most of the cards don’t shuffle, saving some of the potential setup time. I imagine that it grows even more with expansions, much like a game of Dominion could, depending on the setup you want to go for. You’ll end up with a 4 x 5 grid of cards on the table, which also can take up a bit of table space.

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This is more of a “it’s me” complaint, but the whole roll-for-resources system makes the game feel like it minimizes your chance to plan effectively. Yes, you can buy certain citizens to increase your odds. Especially since you gain for each number rolled and the sum of those numbers. But it still boils down to chance. Too much chance for me, and it may feel that way to other gamers. If all I need to accomplish my task is for X to be rolled, but it takes seven rolls for that to happen, you’ve effectively fallen further behind the other player(s) in the game. This is also part of why the piles tend to exhaust slowly: you need to cover as many numbers as you can, buying 1 of each before really looking to stack up on a specific number.

Final Thoughts

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I really struggled to grasp my feelings about this game. On the one hand, I have discovered that I am really not a huge fan of the roll-for-resources system in a game. It was what drove me to hate Catan. It was something that convinced me to stay far, far away from Machi Koro after one play. It is a game I should absolutely say “nope, not for me” based on that alone.

Yet this game is easily the best implementation of that system. It does keep you engaged during everyone’s turns, although by the end it gets borderline ridiculous with the potential for stuff being earned by the entire table. I played it once with four, being the “banker” so to speak for the resource tokens, and never again. Even when the dice hate you, there is still a consolation resource you can earn and turn into buying new heroes in order to boost future turns. But it still suffers from the same problem as any roll-for-resource system: when the dice favor one player, it presents a runaway leader situation. And there is little you can do about it.

I think that, had the game actually played in the advertised 30-45 minutes, it might have been enough to propel this into a “I’m okay with this game” category. But every game, even solo, felt like it lasted about 30 minutes longer than it should have. Maybe it was just that no one ever went all-in with a specific citizen, or power-rushed through monster stacks, or purchased domains like crazy. All three end-game triggers always seemed to be on the verge of triggering, yet by that point usually one of us was trying oh-so-hard to end things because it had overstayed its welcome.

There is a lot of good in this game, and I know there is a right audience for the game. If you enjoy Catan or Machi Koro, this is arguably a better game with a similar flavor and a whole ton of variety. Family gamers and those who are seeking non-traditional “gateway games” to introduce newer players to the hobby should give this one a lot of consideration as well. This was definitely more of a not-for-me game than a “this is a bad game” situation. There is a ton of expansion content out there for the game that promises to add even more fun and variety to your experience, and anyone who enjoys the game will likely want to expand the content in the box to keep things fresh and variable for a long time.

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

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

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

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

Review for One & Two: Fire in the Library

Thank you for checking review #47 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.

The Kickstarter is still live for a few more hours! http://www.fireinthelibrary.com

An Overview of Fire in the Library

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Fire in the Library is a game designed by Tony Miller & John Prather and was published by Weird Giraffe Games. The box states that it can play 1-6 players and has a 15-30 minute play time.

Fire in the Library is a press-your-luck game in which players must try their best to rescue books and accumulate knowledge. The game is played in rounds with a variable turn order in which earlier players have more risk but a higher possible reward. Everyone starts with tools to help mitigate their luck or change the probabilities for their opponents! Gain more tools when your luck runs out or if you take the safe route and exit the library before things get too risky. Hurry, as the game ends immediately when any one wing of the library completely burns.

Take your chances, be the bravest, and save books in Fire in the Library!

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

Recommended play has an “AI” player, so take the first three turn order cards and put the others in the box. Seed the bag with 7 red cubes and all white/black/yellow/purple cubes. Set the 10 remaining red cubes aside. “Build” the library by making the stacks of book cards in descending order, so the smallest value of each color is on top. Place your meeples, and the AI meeple, by the score track. Shuffle the tool cards and deal two to each human player and flip the top three to form the “market” of cards. Setup is now complete!

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There are four phases to the game. In the first phase, going in order of lowest score to highest, each player selects a turn order card. This will determine both what order a player takes their turn, but also how safe or risky their turn will be. The AI player will always select the highest-available turn order card when it is their turn to select.

The next phase is the saving books phase, where the player pulls a cube at a time from the bag, placing those cubes on the left-most empty space of their player card. A player can stop saving books at any time and move to scoring books, or they can press their luck and try to save more books. If the player either places their second red fire cube on the card or has to place a fire cube on a risky space, their time saving books is at an end and they skip the scoring books phase and go into the fire spreading phase.

If a player voluntarily stops saving books before placing any books on a risky space, they will score points for each book saved (the values shown on the top-most card of that book’s color) and will get to take a tool from the market.

If a player stops saving books after placing one or more books onto risky spaces, they score points for each book saved PLUS the points on the turn order card printed beneath the last risky space with a book on it (ranges from 2-8).

If a player goes into the fire spreading phase, then sections of the library burn. The top-most card is removed for each section matching books they have on the turn order card. If a player pulled only red cubes, then the card with the lowest burn value is removed.

When it is the AI player’s turn, flip the top-most card of the tool deck. The banners at the top indicate which sections burn, causing you to discard the top card of those decks. Then, there are small circles located next to the tool’s name. Those are the color of books the AI saved this turn. They will score points for each color of book shown, plus any bonus points from a risky space (i.e. if they saved purple, yellow, and white and had the 1st Turn Order Card, it would be as though cubes were on the first three spaces and thus they’d score the 4 bonus points under the 3rd space).

At the end of the round, the card with the lowest burn value is removed. Play continues until one section of the library is completely burned (no cards left in that pile).

Changes for 1 Player

Instead of a Turn Order card per player, use all six. At the start of each round, select a card that has not already been used. Take your turn as normal. The AI goes after you and will operate similar to the AI in a 2-player game, except it scores 2 bravery points for every book beyond the first saved on its card. At the end of the round, set aside the Turn Order card used. You can’t use it again until all 6 have been used.

My Thoughts

The artwork. Oh my, I love Beth Sobel’s artwork so much! She first hooked me with Herbaceous, and I’ve been pleased ever since. I’m 99% certain she’s my favorite board game artist, and I always enjoy looking at her art. They also happen to make fantastic photographs to share on Instagram. And the art is just going to get even better, as the Kickstarter has unlocked unique art on a lot of the library cards. That means the flames grow as those card decks deplete, something I think is really cool!

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The turn order cards are great because they give you different incentives. If you get the 1st player card, then you’ll want to press your luck over and over to try and maximize your points. The 5th player card, on the other hand, is relatively safe and rewards you with a guaranteed tool whether you fill the card, stop early, or draw two red cubes. They also become really important near the end of the game, as the game will end immediately when one of the library piles are emptied. The simplest phase of the game can have a big impact on how you play your turn, and can help to offer ways of catching up to the rest of the players.

Tool cards are what make this game a great press-your-luck game. They are a reward, depending on your turn order card, for ending your turn early. They are also a consolation prize for pressing too far and losing your chance to score points. These cards range from ways to stop burning (and go back to collecting books), placing cubes on each turn order card before selecting them, to saving books to score again at the end of the game. There are a lot of great reasons to like these tool cards, and the effective use of these cards can help players leap back into the midst of the scoring action.

The AI system for the game is simple, yet vital. It serves two very real purposes: setting the bar for points scored and speeding along the end-game trigger. Sure, you could reduce the number of library cards instead based on player count to emulate one of those two factors. But you wouldn’t prevent the “I’ll play it safe and keep this one book for 3 points” tactic. Suddenly that AI is scoring 12-20 points on some turns and puts the pressure on to press-your-luck to keep up. After all, this is a press-your-luck game. There isn’t much difference between the AI used in a 1-player and the 2-player game, and both are extremely easy to operate. Which is exactly what you want when operating a non-player portion of a game. The best thing it can do is be user-friendly and fast.

The rulebook is easy to understand. I’ve started to watch this more frequently, as I have spent a little time helping to proofread rulebooks. Therefore I greatly appreciate a rulebook that I can read through a single time and walk away without any questions about how to play.

While it has no real relevance on the gameplay itself, I do really love the theme for this one. I envision being back with the Library of Alexandria, and all those books. Of course we need to save them! Historians would love to have a chance to go back in time and save those scrolls and books.

The points go up as the game progresses, but so does the chance of pulling red cubes. You’ll never add more book cubes into that bag, although there are some tools that could remove a few of them until the end of the game. But over the course of playing, you’ll add in 10 more red cubes. Which suddenly makes it a lot closer to a 50/50 chance of pulling a red cube during your turn. Thankfully, the cubes you pull do go back into the bag at the end of your turn. I couldn’t imagine going 6th and seeing a whole lot of books on everyone else’s cards.

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There is a catchup mechanism in here, at least kind of. Points increase. If you’re not scoring well, you are likely collecting tools. That means you can get to where a turn could net up to 50 points and average around 25-30. So even if you’re falling behind, you can leap back into the midst of the scoring race. Unless you play against someone with ridiculously good luck, like one of my local gamers. He tends to win about 85% of the games he plays, no matter who he plays with and how unfamiliar he might be with a game. A guy like that will probably never draw a red cube, and there isn’t a darn thing you can do to keep up with something like that.

The game does automatically progress, and the AI really helps that with 1-2 players. It is worth noting that with 3+ players there is a chance it could run really long if people are never burning. This is a filler press-your-luck game and it has a certain amount of time it should take on the table. Once you creep over that 30 minute mark, it starts to overstay its welcome. It won’t happen all the time. It might not even happen often. But this game could feasibly last close to 20 rounds if no one burns.

That feeling when all you seem to pull is red. Oh man, it really stinks. This isn’t the game’s fault. It rewards you with tools that should, in theory, help you do better on future turns. But nothing is worse than Red Cube -> Red Cube -> Use the Bucket, return to saving books -> Red Cube -> Use the Slingshot, return to saving books -> Red Cube. There goes all of your hard-earned tools, back to square one with nothing to show. And then the next player pulls nothing but books. A few of those turns in a row for you can really suck the fun out of the game.

Final Thoughts

I first came across Weird Giraffe Games on Twitter back when Stellar Leap was being designed. It stole my attention as I watched Carla post pictures of the game and talked about her design process. I knew it was a game I’d enjoy, and I was so thankful to play a small part in testing the solo system for that game via print & play. But libraries, well, those are really my thing. I am an author and I’ll always want to save books. Fire in the Library intrigued me from the start because of the theme, but I tempered my expectations. I’ve never been a big fan of press-your-luck games and knew my wife felt the same (but more extreme – she hates dice, after all). But then I saw the Beth Sobel artwork (she’s my favorite artist, I think!) and that sucked me in more. Reviewers I follow started to get copies of the game and the raving impressions poured out on social media. Suddenly I knew I had to at least try this one out, and was only too happy to say “yes” when Carla asked if I wanted to get my hands on a prototype for a review.

I am rarely the type of player who favors the aggressive playstyle needed for a game like this one. I am more of a defensive-minded person, and it showed the other night when playing a round against my wife. Her and the AI were rows ahead of me in points, partially from unusually bad luck at draws and partially from stopping early to get some tools. Yet even I felt a thrill when I filled the 1st Player card up and leapt ahead of them both in one perfect turn. The lead didn’t last long – I ended in last place – but that one turn was demonstrative of why this game is successful. No matter how bad your early turns are, there is still hope because those books increase in value and those tools can help you to claw back into the race. For a press-your-luck game, it excels at making a player remain invested regardless of score.

I could sit here and wish for less randomness, but that would make this game lose its identity. Taking the right tools, when you can, will help to mitigate some of that randomness. You can score when other players burn. You can slingshot a fire cube to another player’s card. Pressing your luck too well will keep you from getting those valuable cards, allowing those playing it safer, or getting burned by the cube draws, to have a chance to claw back in.

The artwork in here is fantastic. The gameplay is perfect for the timeframe of this game. The AI is smooth and easy to pilot much like the Automa from Viticulture. My wife hates using automated players but, even though she’d prefer to play without it, didn’t have much to complain about at the end of our games using it. It definitely has a place in here, forcing the players to keep up with a pace while also helping to cycle through those library cards. And involved about 12 seconds of work to operate that AI player’s turn each round, which is perfect for solo players.

At the price point they are listing this at on their Kickstarter, Fire in the Library is a downright steal. My wife and I are definitely not the usual intended audience for a game like this, yet we found ourselves enjoying this one. It is a game I wouldn’t mind having in our collection as an option for those times when we want a 15-20 minute game. And it is the perfect starter/finisher/filler during a game night, as it plays fast and doesn’t take long to setup or tear down.

They are down to less than 48 hours left on the Kickstarter for this game, and you don’t want to be kicking yourself later for missing this one. If you aren’t one of the 2,059 backers (at the time of this writing) who are currently backing this game, then what are you waiting for? This undoubtedly plays well at all player counts, as I’ve played 1-3 and see no reason why it wouldn’t also excel with a larger group. Even if this isn’t your type of game, it offers enough to make this a press-your-luck game worth owning.

The Kickstarter is still live for a few more hours! http://www.fireinthelibrary.com

 

Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Fire in the Library. 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 – Charterstone (Spoiler-free)

Thank you for checking review #46 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 Charterstone

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Charterstone is a game designed by Jamey Stegmaier and was published by Stonemaier Games. The box states that it can play 1-6 players and has a 45-75 minute play time with a 2.79 weight rating on BGG.

The prosperous Kingdom of Greengully, ruled for centuries by the Forever King, has issued a decree to its citizens to colonize the vast lands beyond its borders. In an effort to start a new village, the Forever King has selected six citizens for the task, each of whom has a unique set of skills they use to build their charter.

In Charterstone, a competitive legacy game, you construct buildings and populate a shared village. Building stickers are permanently added to the game board and become action spaces for any player to use. Thus, you start off with simple choices and few workers, but soon you have a bustling village with dozens of possible actions.

Your journey through Charterstone’s many secrets will last twelve games, but it doesn’t end there. Your completed village will be a one-of-a-kind worker-placement game with plenty of variability.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

Each player takes their individual charter’s box and removes the components. Place the resource tokens and coins in close reach of the board to form supplies. Shuffle the objective deck and the advancements deck and put those on the respective boards and flip over cards in the remaining spaces on those boards. Roll the charterstone die until it comes up with the color of a player in the game, who is the start player.

Setup, at least in the beginning, is a breeze. Don’t worry it grows from there. As does gameplay, but at the beginning of them game it follows this:

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During your turn you place one of your two workers on the board to trigger the action of the space, or you take all of your workers back to your supply. If you place a worker on a space where another worker is located, it “bumps” that worker back to that player’s supply. This essentially gives them an extra move before having to spend a turn to recall their workers, so while you aren’t blocked out of the space you give them a benefit to use the space.

There are three things that trigger the movement of the progress token (which is the clock to trigger the end of a game): building a building in a charter, unlocking a crate, or fulfilling an objective. The only other way that this advances is if a player is out of influence tokens at the start of their turn. In each of these cases, the marker will advance by one space.

Influence tokens are spent completing objectives, building buildings, unlocking crates, scoring on the reputation track, meeting quotas, and (eventually) as costs to use some buildings. They are a limited resource (12 per player), and serve as the key resource to manage as they are typically gone once spent.

Once the end game is triggered, players will fulfill the guidepost then move into scoring additional points based on their placement in the reputation track, earning glory, increasing capacity, and more.

The winner from game to game does not determine the overall campaign winner (so winning the majority of the campaign games does not necessarily equate to winning the campaign)

My Thoughts

This is one jam-packed box of stuff. Opening it up for the first time gives a feeling of money well-spent because there are sooooo many things in here. Charter boxes with six different player pieces, a Scriptorium with coins and resources, an index with over 400 cards, and several special tuckboxes (including an archive for cards that are no longer needed as you progress). People like to complain about the MSRP of Terraforming Mars and the quality/amount of things you get in that game. For the same price, this game delivers the goods. And they are all really good in quality. I don’t know how Jamey can pack all this in here and sell it for under $100, but I am sure glad that he can! This may be the game out there that provides the best value for its MSRP in terms of content inside the box.

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I really love that the winner of a game isn’t necessarily the one who gets to scratch off and make the decisions on the guidepost cards for each game. Those guideposts usually have two choices listed, and the person to decide is the player who did best at the individual criteria (which changes every game) such as “have the most resources”. My wife got to choose on probably 10/12 of those guidepost cards, and so that was really cool to see her get to make those choices even during my early streak of victories.

The artwork on here is outstanding. I really enjoyed the look, not just of the characters that you control but also of the cards, the buildings, the board itself. This is a visual masterpiece of a game, and I am utterly disappointed that I can’t share much of it with you because of spoilers. You’ll enjoy the process.

Finally there is a legacy game that plays 1-2 players and isn’t Pandemic. I wanted to play Seafall, but it is 3+. She has no interest in Risk, because we’ve had a really bad Risk experience (it’s all about those dice!). Neither of us were impressed with Pandemic itself, and she’s not a fan of cooperative games in general anyway. So when I heard there was a legacy worker placement game, I knew this was the one. And boy did it deliver. There were exciting moments to be found, and some things that really impressed me as we unlocked some special stuff in there. The legacy experience of this one set the bar high. That packed box is full of great things to enhance the experience and gameplay.

There are benefits to winning games. You get more glory (stars marked on the box) which can help you unlock start-of-game bonuses faster. The loser(s) of a game increase capacity by one, which lets you keep more items after the game. That is a really good balance there, and it started to really level the playing field toward the end of the campaign. My early victories helped me grab things to start, yet I couldn’t keep much at the end of a game. My wife, on the other hand, started most games with a plethora of things and was able to use that to her advantage (and come back to win the overall campaign due to some really strong performances in the final games!) It feels very balanced because of this, something I really appreciated.

There is a certain level of satisfaction in constructing and unlocking things in this game. You’re transforming the map as you build new things, and bringing out new cards (sometimes buildings, other times new rules and other goodies!). The game experience is enhanced with every progression made, regardless of who unlocks it or which charter it is placed into. While the early games can feel bogged down from stopping and unlocking crates and reading the new rules, it is something that does slow down (eventually) as you get most of the rules into play and focus on just unlocking better stuff.

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Speaking of the unlocking, I like how every player’s color has several “forks” built into the content. You unlock a crate and you might get two new buildings. Now you have to build them and then unlock them, and thus you are faced with a decision of which to unlock first. Which then gives you more things, providing even more options to build and unlock. This means that your game of Charterstone, even with 6 players, may not play out the exact same as mine. With 2, this is especially true.

Building in even more on the above, there is something called capacity. You start with 1 in everything for capacity, which simply means that at the end of the game you can keep 1 coin, 1 resource, 1 card, and 1 “mystery” thing that will be unlocked later. So remember how you unlock a crate and get two buildings. If that triggers the end of the game, you can keep at most one of those. Which means the other gets shuffled into the advancements deck for anyone to draw later. So your stuff isn’t necessarily going to remain your stuff. Which is part of the beauty of the game, because you aren’t tied down to what is your color’s stuff. However, it also means your opponent may get to build/unlock your top-tier stuff later in the game.

I’m sensing a snowball effect here, because this point ties into the above as well! While your opponent(s) are building your stuff in their charters, there is no real downside here because every space on the board is open for anyone to use. So let them build your new pumpkin building in their wood-based charter. That means they’ll have to come to your charter in order to gain said pumpkins in order to trigger the cost of that new, shiny building they placed. And if your worker happens to already be on that pumpkin space, it bumps them back to your supply which saves you an action.

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I am torn on how I feel about the bumping mechanism in the game. I really like, during the game, that every space is open to place my workers on. However, it never makes the game feel challenging in figuring out what to do. Even with more players, the board would never really feel restricted at any point. Sure, there would be a higher chance that bumping would occur with more players. And there are reasons why you would want to avoid doing that. I think if it was restricted to only your larger worker could bump people, that might have made your placement matter just a little more. Kind of like how you have to hold back and plan well on how to use the Grande worker in Viticulture. I don’t dislike the mechanism, but it does feel just a little too “nice” in a worker placement game.

The story is interesting but overall didn’t wow us. That may be partially due to spreading out the campaign across three months of play. I imagine if you binge-played the campaign in under a week it might feel like the narrative was stronger. It wasn’t bad, by any means, but not memorable. I’ve heard Pandemic Legacy builds a strong narrative, but I haven’t played it so I can’t compare the two. There were some nice touches along the way, and some interesting decisions that get made without full knowledge of how that will affect things. The campaign experience was memorable. I just wish the story was a little bit stronger to be on par with the rest of the experience.

The Automa. My wife hated them. They scored way too often and way too early, making it feel like there was no point in trying to win. We dropped them out after 3/4 of Game 3 (the first game we tried to implement them). They are easy to run and help you unlock things. They unlocked a ton of stuff in that 3/4 of a game. But they also ruined the fun factor for my wife because of their easy scoring. You may like the challenge. I look forward to it when I solo the other side of the board (once I buy a recharge pack, of course). But they do give you a sense of hopelessness in those early games when there aren’t many ways to form an efficient VP engine.

If you don’t like naming things, you will have some moments of frustration. My wife is one of those people – and some of the names she created for things reflect her lack of enthusiasm. I, on the other hand, relished the role of namer for things. There will be many opportunities to provide names that serve no purpose other than giving them a unique name. But hey, you could skip that and still be okay.

Maybe it was just us, but that archive box was way too small to hold everything by the end of the campaign. Small nitpick, sure, but with a game this spectacular (overall) you have to find those little things to complain about. My wife thinks I should just throw those things away. Maybe she’s right. At least about most of it. But it is nice that you don’t have to destroy the components, something that a lot of gamers might appreciate.

Final Thoughts

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Charterstone was our first legacy game we played, and I have to say that it was a really great experience. The storyline was good, although forgettable to my wife, and the gameplay itself was fantastic. Watching the charters grow and evolve over the course of the campaign was satisfying, and there were more than a few times that we would be more excited about unlocking new crates and building new buildings than trying to generate points to win the individual game. That speaks well to the experience of the campaign and the system Jamey designed.

And let me tell you, there are some fantastic surprises along the way when opening things. We had more than a few “what?” moments when things were coming out and being revealed. Game 9 was very memorable, although it would have been a lot more tense with the full 6 players. Every single time the crate would have us open a tuckbox, I knew we were in for something special.

My wife wasn’t a fan at first, but by the end she had warmed up. The early games saw us unlocking a host of rules with crates, so the time spent reading those new rules and adapting to them kept her from feeling immersed in the experience. However, that eventually slowed down enough to where most crates unlocked pure content without needing to add in additional rules and that is when she really got into the game. And our win/loss ratio, I think, reflects that change. I won a lot of early games, but she came roaring back at the end and obliterated me in Game 11’s score, making it the most lop-sided game we played. It was enough to give her the overall campaign victory, too, even though I won more individual games along the way. We both really, really enjoyed the experience.

If you’ve been on the fence about this as a 2-player game, get off that fence and plunge right into Charterstone. It is fantastic, even at just 2. We used the Automas for 3/4 of a game (Game 3) and then retired them and still had a fun and competitive experience. By the end of the campaign we still had a completely full board for all of the inactive charters, although things did unlock at a slower pace than if we had used the Automas. But there was nothing wrong with that, in our eyes.

We haven’t played yet with the board post-campaign, but after reading through the updated rules I am confident that it will provide a fun and exciting experience for many future plays. This is a difficult thing to discuss, just as it is a difficult game to review, as I don’t want to spoil a single thing for you. But rest assured, you’ll be able to get more than your initial 12 plays out of this game. It is a worker placement that I would put about on par with Lords of Waterdeep in terms of complexity (and we do enjoy some Lords of Waterdeep!). Because no space is ever actually blocked from use, this is a friendlier version of a worker placement game than Viticulture or Agricola. You’ll always be able to do what you need to, although it may benefit your opponent if you use a space they are on.

Overall, once again, this is a game I would strongly recommend to everyone. In terms of the overall experience, this is the best thing Stonemaier has produced so far. We’ve logged more plays of this than Viticulture or Scythe so far, although part of that was wanting to finish the campaign. But our plays won’t stop here, and I’ll eventually be picking up a recharge pack so I can test out the other side as a solo experience with a few Automas. Yep, it was fun enough that I’m wanting to do it all over again and, perhaps, make a few different decisions along the way. It won’t be the same experience, which makes this campaign one that can be replayed. So what are you waiting for? Go out and pick this one up. Fantastic game!

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

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

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Wargame Garrison

Review for Two – 878: Vikings – Invasions of England

Thank you for checking review #45 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 878: Vikings – Invasions of England

878: Vikings – Invasions of England is a game designed by Beau Beckett, Dave Kimmel, & Jeph Stahl and was published by Academy Games. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 60-120 minute play time with a 2.56 weight rating on BGG.

The year is 878. For the past 75 years, Viking raiding parties from Norway and Denmark have been terrorizing the coasts of England with ‘hit and run’ attacks. The treasures and stories gained from these attacks have allowed the Norsemen to raise huge hosts of eager men seeking glory and riches. These armies now stand poised to thunder across England where they will settle and farm the fertile land they conquer. The divided English kingdoms are unprepared for this impending onslaught. The Vikings are coming!

In 878: Vikings – Invasions of England, players control the invading Vikings or the English nobles who are trying to withstand the invasion. Viking players either play as Norsemen Viking freeman or as the fearless Viking shock troops known as Berserkers. The English play as the Housecarl, the Kings’ household troops, or as the Thegns who were regional noble Leaders. The English players will also be able to call up the peasant levies, called the Fyrd, to defend their cities.

Players for each side strategize together in order to coordinate their strategies. Each side attempts to control Cities on the map to win. The English start the game controlling all of England but a Viking Leader will invade from the sea each Turn. The English players raise reinforcements from cities they control, while the Vikings must wait for a new invasion for reinforcements. The game ends when the Treaty of Wedmore is called and the side controlling the most cities wins the game.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

The setup is the same regardless of player count due to 3-4 players simply divides the control of each side. In a standard game, each of the four player decks are comprised of cards numbered 01-12. Those are each shuffled and every faction draws three cards. If a faction draws no movement cards, they reveal that hand and shuffle into the deck, drawing three new cards. The Viking player separates their Leaders deck into A, B, and C and shuffles those, placing the B stack onto the C and the A card on top of that. Place a Viking Control token on each of the marked spaces along the bottom of the board and put the round track marker on Year 1.

The board populates with the Housecarl and Thegn units as shown on the board in the small circled spots. This will populate the board some, but leave plenty of territories throughout that are empty. No Berserker or Norsemen troops will begin on the map, as they have not begun to invade England yet. The Norsemen will always begin the game, with the other three turn cubes being placed in the black draw bag.

One the first Viking player’s turn every round, they will draw the top card of their Leader deck and that will (usually) bring a leader into play with reinforcements. This will also indicate the sea by which the leader must invade. A player must play at least one movement card from their hand, which will indicate the number of armies that can move and the number of spaces those armies may move. The armies chosen must contain at least one unit of the current faction’s turn. If an army encounters an enemy army during movement, it creates a battle. A leader army can use remaining movement after the battle, but an army without a leader ends its movement where the battle occurs.

Battle is simple. If the English players are defending, they draw a Fyrd card and bring that many Fyrd units into play in the shire where the battle occurs. The defending player then takes dice from each unit’s pool, up to the number of those units in the battle, and rolls them (Ex. an army with 2 Thegns, 1 Housecarl, and 3 Fyrd units would roll 2 Thegn dice, 1 Housecarl die, and 2 Fyrd dice). Hit results cause an enemy unit to be defeated (opponent’s choice, except if a Berserker is present and the Viking player is attacking. In the first round of battle, the first hit against the Viking player must be taken as a Berserker since they would rush into the thick of a battle). Command results allow those units to retreat to an adjacent shire, but only if there is a friendly army there. Flee results send those units to the Fled Units circle on the board. Players alternate rolling until one side remains in the shire. If the Viking player gains control of a shire containing a city, place a Viking Control token on the space. If the English regain control of a shire, the Viking Control token is removed and placed back on the track along the bottom of the board.

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After movement, the player draws back up to 3 cards (revealing and shuffling/drawing if the hand contains no movement cards) and their turn ends. A cube is drawn from the bag at random and the shown color goes next. On each English player turn, reinforcements arrive on the map in some territories controlled by the English (shown in a small box printed on the map of that shire). Then any units in the Fled Units circle of that faction are retrieved and placed with any friendly army on the board.

The game ends in one of four ways:

The English win if, at the end of a round, the Vikings control no shires on the map.
The Vikings win if, at the end of a round, they control at least 14 city shires on the map.
The English win if both Treaty of Wedmore cards have been played on either side and the Vikings don’t control at least 7 city shires at the end of Round 5 or later.
The Vikings win if both Treaty of Wedmore cards have been played on either side and the Vikings control at least 7 city shires at the end of Round 5 or later.

My Thoughts

One side of the conflict begins with nothing on the map. There is 100% English dominance at the start of the game, although their forces are generally pretty thin to begin. This is important because the Viking side does need a chance to invade and maintain hold on at least a few shires early in the game, otherwise they’ll lose. I really enjoy that both sides are different in style: one favors the aggressor and the other favors a more defensive mindset. As a player who usually prefers the latter, this is a fun starting asymmetry.

There is a great feeling, as the Viking player, when you draw a new leader to start a round. Stacking all those troops onto that card makes you feel a little invincible. Of course, it never lasts. But for those first minutes the feeling is fantastic. “I will crush you English troops with my 20+ battle-hardened warriors!” quickly becomes “How can I take one more shire without leaving myself open for a counter-attack?”

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Reinforcement phases provide some great relief for the English side, as well as tactical targets to keep in mind for the Viking player. Twice a round, the English forces replenish and they are spread throughout the map. Sometimes the Viking player might deem it worth going against a larger force to take over a spot generating more troops. Those are the battles that make this game even more exciting.

Speaking of making battles more exciting: the Fyrd. Yep, those pesky peasants and commoners can show up to make a difference when the English defend. But you never know how many. And boy, those yellow dice sure don’t seem to hit all that often. Many times the Fyrd end up simply absorbing hits, but that makes sense. They aren’t warriors, so they shouldn’t be dealing out death very often.

This game has theme in spades. A lot of care was placed in providing a historically-rich experience in the game. Each faction has different dice, and the result proportion is accurate. There are cards that reflect the unique factions. The Viking leaders. The Fyrd units. The rulebook. And then if you dive into the expansion box, there is way more theme throughout there. This is a historical wargame done right, in my opinion. And I love this era, so that is something I was genuinely concerned about.

Dual end triggers. I first fell in love with that concept in War of the Ring. While not quite as thematic-feeling in this one (yet still thematic, if you think about it), this game has two ways that each side can win the game. I don’t think we’ve played a game yet that has lasted all 7 rounds, which isn’t a knock on the game design. Often one of us is pressing to end the game, trying to capitalize on our current advantage. Only once has it been forcibly triggered, when my only movement card was a Treaty card as the Viking player. I had a lot of work to do, and fell far short of it in Round 5… which taught me that playing that first Treaty card to “bring the threat of ending early” can totally backfire.

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The card decks are small, which helps them to be manageable. You only have three cards in hand, and at least one must always be a movement card. This method can be really restrictive: first off, if you only have one movement card you end up with only one option for movement on your turn. You still get some decision about how to optimize that movement among your armies, but it stinks when you have no choices. The other side is if you draw nothing but movement cards. That was the case for me, as the Vikings, through 90% of the last play we had. I was stuck with all these movement cards and wasn’t getting any events to help swing things in my favor. My wife, on the other hand, kept using cards that pressed an advantage and I simply didn’t have an answer for it. So while I like the small deck, small hand, and the ability to swap in advanced cards, there is definitely room for this to improve. A deck of movement and a deck of event cards, perhaps, and you draw 2 from each. Or 2 movement and 1 event. Something like that to give movement options while also ensuring you have event cards at your disposal all game.

In terms of Wargames, there is a limit on the tactics you can try with this game. It might begin to feel samey after a while because the same shires will recruit, the same Viking leaders will storm in and try to take a few shires along the way. It never feels grand or epic in scope, and you rarely feel clever about something you did unless you had the luck of drawing a useful card. This is something I fully expect to be impacted in a good way by the mini-expansions, but it is worth nothing that the base game itself might run its course over time. It will remain a fun game, but might lose some of the interesting factors. There isn’t much you can do to impact/influence combat, so you’re at the mercy of rolling better and using enough troops to make sure you roll you maximum number of dice.

The Berserker units are fantastic and a lot of fun. However, you simply don’t get enough of them out to be useful. You need to leave enough behind so that when your berserker faction is up, they can actually move. If you are the aggressor as the Viking player, you are guaranteed to lose a Berserker if the defender rolls a hit. And they usually do roll at least one, and since they get to swing first you might lose that extra die you need (because those Berserkers hit often!). They never retreat, so you won’t get reinforcements that way. I just always find myself with them spread too thin and have had more than one turn where the Berserker faction could do nothing because they were all wiped out after a back-to-back English conquest to retake Shires. And that is the biggest issue: no Berserker units = no movement = no conquest for 1/2 of the Viking turns that round.

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Let’s talk about those minis. They look really cool. But they aren’t practical. They are so small that they become difficult to stand on the board. My wife doesn’t even bother standing the Fyrd units, just dumping them down for the battle. They are just going away at the end of that battle, anyway. If the minis were a little bigger, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue. But for the size they are, the cubes would honestly have been a better option for gameplay. The minis give better photo opportunities and look cool and all. But man, they aren’t worth the hassle. I kinda wish I had paid the extra $5 (I think) to get the cubes so I could have that option. As a person who plays a ton of euro games, I don’t need the minis. And they just aren’t practical based on the size here.

Final Thoughts

This was the first, and perhaps will remain the last, game I ever Kickstarted. I enjoyed the process and was pleased with the results, both in delivery and in the game itself. I am yet to tear into the expansion content and start adding the mini modules into the game, but the game itself doesn’t need them to be a really good game. Those only serve to enhance the longevity of a game such as this one, allowing us to mix and match to play the unique setting we desire.

This is a really fun game, if a bit on the lighter side of things. My wife termed it to be War of the Rings Lite, and it does capture some of the aspects we enjoy about the battles in that game. There are a few cards that can be used to affect battles, making it so you don’t always know what to expect when initiating combat. Speaking of combat, I do like that each faction has custom dice, not just different in color but in the symbols and number of those symbols. Those berserkers never flee, the Fyrd rarely hit. Even those dice make thematic sense.

This game really captures the theme, even if some of the methods are a little abstracted. Yet you feel like invading forces of Vikings or the desperate mustering of the English trying to fight off those invaders. The win conditions on each side also make some sense, and I can’t wait to see how those expansions add in even more theme into the game.

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This is the game I’ll grab when I have a War of the Ring itch but don’t have the time to play that game. It provides a fast and fun experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome. This fits perfectly in the camp of being a game we can play during a weeknight after the little one is in bed, and be finished and have it put away with time to spare before bed.

If you are interested in the period of history, in picking up a wargame, or want something that is fun, fast, and asymmetric in style then this one is a great game. I’d argue that 2 players is the ideal count, allowing you to control both forces on your half of the conflict. This game system turned out to be a pleasant delight, and has me very interested in checking out some of the others like 1754 – Conquest: The French and Indian War (which I know she’ll like, because of the Indians). This is a game that will definitely be sticking around for the long haul in our collection and has finally given me the Viking experience I’ve been looking for in board games.

Hopefully you found this review to be a useful look at how the game plays for 2-players. 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.

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Ars Alchimia

Thank you for checking review #44 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review. The below opinions remain our own based upon our impressions and reactions to the game.

An Overview of Ars Alchimia

Ars Alchimia is a game designed by Kuro and was published by Tasty Minstrel Games. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 100 minute play time.

Alchimia — a land where the works of a single grand alchemist has caused alchemy to develop more quickly than other technology. The everyday lives of the people rely on the alchemy factories that this first pioneer built.

In Ars Alchimia, you work at one of these factories. As an overseer belonging to the Academy, you take orders from the people, gather resources, and transmute them — but you need to be more efficient than your competition.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

The board sets up in a similar manner based on player count, except there will be fewer spots. There will be two assistants instead of three, one tier B orders instead of two, and two face-up gathering locations instead of three. Everything else remains the same upon the board.

The game is played over the course of four rounds, where players take turns placing one or more workers on a single spot on the board to take its action. These spots are: gather resources, take up an order, employ an assistant, or transmute at the alchemy forges. Each of these have multiple face-up spots to choose from, while the forge and gather resource spaces also have a space to take the top card off the deck for the action.

In order to use a space, the player must spend a number of workers equal to the number already on the space plus 1. For instance, if my wife uses a Gather Resources space and sends 2 workers there, I must spend at least 3 to use the spot on my turn. When I go there, her 2 workers are sent to the Fountain space on the board, where they remain until the end of the round. With the Alchemy Forge and Gather Resources spaces, you also roll a die to find out if you have a perfect experience. The die number needed is shown at the bottom of the respective card. When gathering resources, having a perfect experience gains you additional resources indicated on the card. A perfect day at the forge, on the other hand, provides additional points for every item created during that action (+1 point per elixir, +1 point for every C order, +2 points for B orders, +3 points for A orders). Only one die is rolled and only one time per action; however, a player may spend more workers when choosing the space than needed. In the above example, if I sent 5 workers instead of just the 3 needed, it would add +2 to my die roll when attempting to have a perfect experience. This allows you to spend your limited pool of workers to have a better chance of getting that die roll you need.

When all players have passed, the board is reset. Players retrieve workers, the cards on the board are “shuffled” then placed on the bottom of their respective decks, and new cards are flipped out. The person in last place on the score track selects the turn order card they desire (which also dictates the number of workers retrieved from the box, giving them more people if they go later in a round). Players who have assistant cards either discard those assistants or place 1 worker in the Fountain space for each assistant they wish to keep for the next round. Play continues for 4 rounds. At the end of that, players score one point for each elixir they have left, one point per assistant they have, and score points based on sets of orders completed with a matching symbol. Any uncompleted orders subtract half their value from a player’s score. The person with the most points wins.

My Thoughts

 I love, love, love the worker placement mechanic in this one. No space on the board is ever truly blocked from use, and you can even use the same space two turns in a row. However, the more you use the space the more costly it becomes. You need to strike a balance in how you use that limited pool of workers, as there will always be too many things that you need to do and never enough workers to do them all. Being able to overcommit on two of the spaces can give you an indirect way of overpricing a spot for your opponents while also reaping the reward of an easier die roll.

 The board wipe at the end of each round is really helpful because it accomplishes two things: makes you dedicate your workers NOW if you want something out there and provide variety from round to round. This is especially important with the resource cards, but getting fresh orders can be equally valuable and rewarding. Not only do you get a new game experience every time you play, you get it every round which will make some spots more valuable and sought after than others.

 Those assistants can be super-critical. I don’t know why they have been mostly ignored by the other players I’ve gamed with on this, but I have found them to be invaluable. Whether granting more workers, additional resources when having a perfect gather, or manipulating die rolls, these assistants allow you to do things more effectively and provide victory points at the end of the game. The catch? You have to “pay” a worker per assistant each round to keep the cards you want. I really like that aspect as well, because it creates a tough choice.

 The elixir is another nice element in the game. It allows you to take any excess resources you don’t need (you can craft one by spending 1 cube of two different resources) and turn them into an item that can be spent as a wild, spent to fulfill orders needing elixirs, or save them until the end of the game for points. Even better is if you have a perfect day at the forge, as every elixir crafted nets you an immediate point.

 Turn order is important in this one, and is balanced through Turn Order Cards. Whoever goes first gets one worker from the box, second pulls two, and so on. So by going later, you have more workers to use and those workers hold over to the following rounds. So that pool of 9 workers will grow a lot over time, unless you happen to go first every round. I appreciate that, after the first round, players choose their turn order card in reverse order based on score. So if you’re losing, you get to choose whether you want to go first or get more workers. And sometimes that can be a difficult choice.

 Set collection is always fun, and the orders you fill have symbols on them. You gain exponential rewards for really gunning after a specific type of order. By the halfway point it becomes pretty clear who is collecting what. Which then leads into the choice: do you take the order for your set, or do you take the one your opponent needs? I’m yet to be convinced there is a right choice in that situation, especially since not filling an order costs you points…so if you take it, you’re going to want to fill it.

 There isn’t much reading to be done in this game, but the text on the cards is frustratingly small at times. We get in the habit of reading the assistants’ text as they flip out because it isn’t fair to expect someone to read what they do from across the table. Most of the cards have symbols, and those usually make sense, but the text itself definitely could have been increased. At least on those assistants.

 The die is a tricky thing to analyze here. I felt it played a minimal role in this game, especially since there are assistants who can affect the roll and you can place extra workers to improve your odds. My wife, on the other hand, felt it was a big deal because it led to players gaining bonus resources or extra points throughout the game. I don’t know that we’ll ever come to a consensus on this one, thus its placement here as a “neutral” point. If you’ve played the game, I am curious to hear your thoughts!

 The rulebook. Oh man, this rulebook is bad. Not horrible in the way that some are, but this one was a little rough. Thankfully it was four small pages so it wasn’t a long read. But this one could have used something to break up the blocks of text. Having everything out in front of me, so I could find the items as they were discussed, went a long way toward helping me grasp the rules and the setup of the game. I’d highly recommend doing that when you are reading the rules for this one, too, as it should speed up the process toward understanding.

 The pawns fall over. All the time. I’m not even kidding here. For a game where you’re placing multiple workers into tiny boxes that may also contain multiple workers, this makes things frustrating and fiddly. It never detracted from my experience as I accepted this as something that couldn’t be avoided. But replacing those pawns with meeples might have saved us from this headache.

Final Thoughts

This game far exceeded my expectations in every way. I thought this would be a nice, simple worker placement game that we’d play a few times and it’d wear out its welcome after that. Boy, was I wrong. I really enjoyed this game (far more than my wife, thanks to that die) and found the worker placement in here to be really interesting. The decision on how many workers to allocate can be a tricky puzzle to navigate, and those early decisions really can make a difference.

This game has a little bit of something for most people: press-your-luck, worker placement, recipe fulfillment, set collection. There is even a hint of engine building through those assistants if the right ones come out during the game. This one can check so many different boxes that it still blows my mind. For a small box, this game packs quite the experience.

If you aren’t a fan of rolling dice, though, beware. I felt the die was a minor part of the game and mitigatible, but my wife felt very differently about the matter. The right roll allows you to be more efficient at gathering resources, costing fewer workers to gain more resources. It also can boost you on the scoring track, especially if you get a really lucky break and have a perfect day when forging 2-3 tier A or B orders. And in her defense, I definitely see her point here. The ability to use more workers to help mitigate that is an important facet of the game, and there are some assistants that could help with this as well. So it doesn’t have to be completely random – it is a matter of deciding how desperately you need that perfect result.

This isn’t likely to be a favorite game in many collections, but it would definitely be a solid entry. If you want a game in a small box, with a small footprint, that can provide a pretty awesome experience in under 2 hours, this one will fit that niche for you and do it well. If you happen to really dislike smaller cards and tiny text, this one might be one to avoid. But otherwise I can’t endorse this one enough: Ars Alchimia is a hidden gem of a game that is worthy of being added to your game shelf regardless of player count.

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 – Torres

Thank you for checking review #43 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review. The below opinions remain our own based upon our impressions and reactions to the game.

An Overview of Torres

Torres is a game designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling and was published by IDW Games. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 60 minute play time.

Torres is an abstract game of resource management and tactical pawn movement. Players are attempting to build up castles and position their knights to score the most points each turn. Players have a limited supply of knights and action cards that allow special actions to be taken. Efficient use of pieces and cards, along with a thoughtful awareness of future possibilities, is the heart of this game.

Torres is considered by many to be an informal member of what is referred to as the Mask Trilogy.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

There is a Year Card for each player count showing how many Castle building blocks a player receives at the start of a year (round). In a 2-player game, both players will get 4 stacks, each containing 3 blocks on there, at the beginning of all three years. Also in a 2-player game, each year has 4 seasons (turns) instead of 3 that are given in games with a higher count.

Gameplay remains the same with each turn granting 5 action points to spend to:

Place a knight (2 AP)
Move a knight (1 AP)
Expand a castle (1 AP per block)
Buy an action card (1 AP per card)
Play an action card (0 AP)
Move your scoring-track knight 1 space (1 AP per space)

Players are trying to position their knights on the castles being constructed by the players. Castles cannot be joined together, and they can never go higher in levels (# of blocks high on a stack) than the size of its base. The higher your knight is on a tower, the more points will be scored (the level of the tower your knight is on is multiplied by the base of the castle). You can only score each castle once per player, so having several knights on the same castle provides no benefit. There is also a king figure who remains immobile during each year. You are awarded bonus points for having a knight on the proper level of the king’s castle (this changes each year, and he also gets repositioned each year by the person who is in last place).

After three years, the person with the highest score is the winner. Within the simplicity of the game’s concept comes a lot of depth and strategy.

My Thoughts

 I really enjoy the action point system, where you have 5 AP to spend every turn and you need to manage it wisely. This is a nice system that I don’t really see in too many games. It is different enough from having X workers to place, yet similar in a sense to a worker allocation concept. It works nicely in this one to provide some tension as to what actions to use because you’ll want to get out more knights, spread them around, and place castle pieces. But you’ll never be able to do as many of those as you’d like.

 The gameplay itself makes a visually appealing presence, much like The Climbers. You’re building 3-D structures on a flat board, which is going to command attention if you take this along to a game day. If you aren’t a fan of wooden discs and oodles of cardboard, this is a game that will really appeal to you. The production on this one is really well done.

 The height requirement of a castle being tied to the base size is a really neat thing. It prevents a person from making a really, really tall structure that is only 2-4 squares along the base. Add in the inability to connect the castles to each other and you have a really solid set of confines in which to build in this game. Without those two limitations, this game would likely fall very flat. So while there will be times when those limits frustrate your plans, you can respect their importance in the design.

 The action cards are an interesting concept. Many of them are powerful because they allow you to break the rules of the game. It costs a point to draw cards and choose one of them. Playing the card after that is free. But you don’t get to hand-pick the card you need, but you also don’t necessarily need to use the card right away. I’ll revisit the cards a little later on a different point, but I do like that there is a cost to gaining the cards. It makes it so there is some risk to trying to get them, but they usually pay off eventually. But it also reduces the amount of things you can do that turn.

 It sounds crazy to weigh this as a positive option in the game, but the ability to spend an AP to gain a point is interesting to me. This ensures you never have to waste a turn or use it in a way that only benefits the other players. Satisfied with your current board state? Take some points! There isn’t a lot of scoring to be found this way, but that is the point. It isn’t a winning strategy, but rather a situational option.

 Those wonderful structures you are building over the course of the game? Fiddly is the word. I forgot just how easy it is to bump things in just the wrong way. The castle pieces interlock well in theory, but they have a hard time remaining perfectly solid on the table. And those tiny knights? They fall so easily. One of this game’s best assets, the 3-D play area, can be a huge source of frustration. Especially for a player who likes things to be aligned perfectly.

 One thing that is interesting in the game is that you can carry-over some leftover castle pieces from year to year…unless you’re playing a 2-player game. Your stacks are already maxed out, making it so you have to use all the pieces in your stack or lose them at the end of the year. And you use a different stack per turn, so really if you want to maximize the placement of pieces you will have to dedicate 3 of your 5 AP every turn to placing castle pieces.

 There comes a point where language independence on cards can be a barrier to entry, and this game has an example of that. This card above shows the ability, and once you understand the ability it makes sense. You move in a “door” on a lower level and come out a “door” on a higher level of the castle. That higher level you come out onto has to be orthogonally adjacent to the spot where you started. Simple in theory, but this one really gave us fits. My wife cursed at me every time she tried to play this card because every time she moved with it, she did it wrong. Because it isn’t as simple to execute as it seems. Some words on the card could have gone a long way toward helping her understand it better. Or, at the very least, having four player aids rather than one where the cards are described. Passing that one sheet back and forth can be annoying.

 I’m okay with games that have little player interaction. Lots of worker placement games have that sandbox feel where each person can play in their own corner and pursue their own strategy. The problem with the 2-player game is that you feel very isolated from the other player. It is not uncommon to each be building your own structures and spreading your knights to those structures for a good portion of the game. Yes, you’ll want to get onto the opposing main structure to poach some of that hard work, but really that is all it amounts to in this game for interaction. The game feels repetitive and it never feels like there are more interesting strategies to pursue. You want to build tall structures and have exactly one knight on the structure, positioned at the tallest spot. You want to have one knight on the right level of the king’s structure. Build castles, spread your knights, and get those points. Granted, it might be due to not being a fan of abstracts to begin with, but this game simply doesn’t seem to have a lot of avenues to pursue in a 2-player game. With more players, it becomes a lot “smaller” of a map and makes it more tense and exciting even if it is still the same sets of actions.

Final Thoughts

This is a game that I was really excited about when it arrived. Castles are my thing, and so the theme hooked me. My wife is usually on board for that theme as well. However, it completely fell flat for my wife which made it hard to have the game hit our table. The frustration with the action cards, which she struggled to understand that one card’s effect every time we played, ruined any enjoyment she might have otherwise had with the game. And I can’t fault her on that one; it took me repeated tries to fully grasp what that card intended and its limitations. And I still tried playing it wrong myself when executing the card.

The action point system makes for an interesting set of decisions. You essentially get 15 points per round to spend (some action cards can increase that), making 45 overall. Which means you need to plan ahead and use that resource wisely. You need to get guys out and spread them among the castles being built, but you also need to build your own castles. You want to position yourself as high as possible on each castle, except the King’s castle, which changes every round. Castles can’t touch, limiting how far they can grow. All of these are great and interesting.

This game does so many awesome things. We don’t usually play abstract games, but this is one I could really envision myself enjoying. Unfortunately, the game is far more interesting with more than 2 players. While it still provides a fun experience with 2, it pales when compared to having a full 4-player game going. Early rounds are spent on opposite sides of the board, building your own couple of castles. There might be a little invasion when a castle grows big enough to make it worthwhile, but the early turns are played in your own sandbox. There is enough room for everyone to build and expand and score without trying to compete. Except on the king’s castle.

Fans of abstract games should really enjoy this one regardless of player count, and those who often can hit that 3-4 count might really like having this in their collection. While it didn’t build enough interest to win us over to the game, I can see and appreciate the design. It is a good game. Really good for the right gamers. If this one still sounds interesting to you, I definitely recommend checking it out.

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 – Outpost: Siberia

Thank you for checking review #41 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review. The below opinions remain our own based upon our impressions and reactions to the game.

An Overview of Outpost: Siberia

Outpost: Siberia is a game designed by Daryl Andrews and Jonathan Gilmour and was published by IDW Games. The box states that it can play 2-6 players and has a 30-45 minute play time.

Description from the BGG Page:

Welcome to Outpost 1, the first science observatory located in the isolated frozen tundra of Siberia! You and your team have been investigating anomalous activities the region, and recently things have shifted for the worse. The coming storm is said to be the “storm-of-the-century”; it may last a month or more. Strange howls and buzzing fill the long nights, and yesterday a crew-member went AWOL… or worse. The call for evacuation was made, but it came too late. The long winter storm has set in. There’s no hope of getting help until it clears. Now your crew’s only hope is to use what little resources you have to survive the long winter cold (and whatever’s out there in it). Use your rations wisely, and you may see the sun again.

Outpost: Siberia is a fully cooperative, survival game that plays with a single deck of cards. Using an inventive dual-facing system, a single card in Outpost can be anything from life-saving supplies to cataclysmic catastrophes. By enduring relentless weather and defeating untamable beasts, players are rewarded with the much-needed tools and food to continually resupply their resources.

Outpost: Siberia keeps the tension high, as players will need to collect their wits and ration their supplies in order to make through the perpetual perils that lie ahead!

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

There are no differences in setup based upon the number of players. Each person selects a character and places the health token on their left-most spot on the health track. Sort out the Good Events, Bad Events, and Threat cards and shuffle each of them. Pull out a mix of good and bad event cards (this is how you can adjust difficulty – a greater proportion of good events will make it easier, more bad will raise the challenge) to add 12 total into the Threat cards to form the Expedition deck. Shuffle that deck, set it aside. Shuffle the remaining event cards and those form the Outpost deck.

On a turn players will draw two cards from the Outpost deck, placing one into their hand and the other into a central supply area. The only aspect of the cards used when drawn in this phase are the yellow text at the bottom (Food, Water, Flares, Ice Axes, Flamethrowers, First Aid Kits). The number (range of 1-3) is essentially an attack value, which only applies to those kept in your hand.

Next you can use attack enemies by placing cards from your hand beneath an enemy you’ve encountered. Once the sum of cards is equal to, or greater than, its printed health you can defeat the enemy in the next part of your turn.

After that you can play cards for their effect, such as First Aid Kits to heal 1 health on a character, Flares to ignore the effect of an enemy at the end of the round, and the Ice Axes and Flamethrowers to defeat enemies.

Then you have to endure an Expedition Card, which is flipping over the next card on that deck. Good and Bad events have a printed cost of either 1 Food or 1 Water which must be played from a hand or the supply. If that cost can’t be paid, one character must lose a health. Then the effect of the card is resolved. If a Threat is revealed it deals 1 damage immediately to either the current player or a character who has not taken a turn this round. Defeated enemies and event cards that are completed go into the Outpost discard pile.

Finally, you exhuast the character by rotating it 90 degrees and select the next character to continue play for the round.

At the end of a round, the enemies with active effects will trigger. Note that some enemies merely sit there once they’ve entered play.

The game ends when either the Expedition deck is depleted (players must still survive the effect of the final card). Should a character fall to 0 health, the game results in a loss for all players.

Updated setup/play rules, per Survival Guide posted by the publisher:

zombie Randomly remove 6 threats from the Threat deck and set them aside.
zombie As the final step of setup, deal each player a random card from those set-aside threats to serve as their starting hand. Place the remaining threat cards in the box.
zombie Draw 3 cards instead of 2 from the Outpost deck. Place 1 in your hand, 1 in the supply, discard 1.
zombie Card actions from the supply and attack cards can be done in any order, not just attack first, then abilities.

My Thoughts

My favorite thing in this game, and what really drew my interest from the start, would be the multi-use cards. I love the creativity a designer needs to have in order to create cards that serve multiple purposes. And every card in here has at least three uses: the effect as an event/threat, the CV value for attack, and the item itself. Depending on where you encounter/place the card, you will have a specific use for the card. The cards you defeat get added to your discards, making stronger cards appear in the Outpost deck. It is a really good use of a simple set of cards.

I’ve come to appreciate the art on the cards. A few of them are more horror-flavored than I usually prefer but are fitting because of the theme. The threats appear to be bad news, as well they should. Even the backs of the cards are colorful and help you to differentiate which direction the deck goes to help you draw the right ones.

Using the updated rule set takes this from an okay game and makes it a reasonably fun and enjoyable experience. You feel like you have a little more control. You have a starting item in your hand so you can contribute more things early in the game. The items get reshuffled more often. The deck is smaller. Those are all really excellent changes. If you’re going to play this game, those are the rules you need to be using from the first play. If you get to the point where you can win more often with those, then try playing with the original rules to increase the difficulty.

One of the coolest parts of this game is that the players determine player order every round. You get to, as a group, choose who starts. That person can choose who goes next. This is not only helpful with being able to adapt to what is out there, but makes you plan for those threats better. The damage can only be assigned to the active player or someone who hasn’t gone yet that round. Meaning those who are close to death shouldn’t be going late in the round. It also means the 2-health character is likely to be first every round (and with their ability, you want that anyway).

There is a little bit of asymmetry in here because the characters all have a different ability. Some of them are really generic, such as discard any card from your hand to count it as a water. Those are important. Even the one to count as a Flare can be really handy in the right situation. I like having each player feel unique in what they can contribute to the group.

Said characters also have an issue: health. Four health isn’t a lot in this game. One character in the game has just two health. In a game with more players, she’d be awesome to choose. In a two-player game, there are essentially two characters who are not optimal to select because of their lowered health. You need all you can get.

Playing the game without the updated rules doesn’t feel very fun or balanced unless you have a high player count. I’ve mentioned it a few times already, but two doesn’t seem like the ideal. It won’t be a great experience unless you love being miserable or like the idea of failing 99 times in order to succeed on the 100th attempt. Thinning the expedition deck, starting with a card in hand, and cycling the Outpost deck are all things that definitely make the game more enjoyable. So why weren’t those identified prior to the release and added to the game in the first place?

I understand: six players is the max number who can play so there are six characters. Adding more characters would likely increase the cost to produce the game. But I like variety, and four of the characters have essentially the same ability. No one likes being the last to choose a character and being “stuck with” a character because it is the last one left. Adding 2-3 more characters would have been a nice touch and added replay. More character combinations to try out against the game.

From a thematic perspective, it is baffling that the tiny threats are the ones that are the most harmful. They have low health, but they are the ones constantly interfering if you don’t kill them. The larger threats, such as the massive Yeti, look really scary but don’t actually do anything after they come into play. Yes, they sit there. On the table. Doing nothing. It was the thing that disappointed the initial play group, and it is the thing that still makes little sense. Yes, it’d be even harder if you needed to drop that 13 CV on the Yeti in a hurry. But at least it’d feel right to have it be a big threat while in play. I get that those are the ones that will add the 2 and 3 CV cards into your Outpost deck. But sometimes it isn’t worth dropping 6-8 damage plus using an item to kill them. Not when there is no penalty for letting them just hang out on the table.

Final Thoughts

This game is a tough one to gauge. My initial play of the game was with the full range of 6 players and, while I think we forgot once or twice to pay food/water on the event cards, we never completely felt like things were out of hand. It was a reckless decision in the final round to just bull forward “we can heal later” approach that led to our loss when victory was there on the board. Literally. We walked away talking about some of the head-scratchers in the game, such as the idle Yeti, Mammoth, and Tiger who just sit there. Not doing a thing. The consensus was also that it wouldn’t be nearly as easy with fewer players.

I finally pulled this back out and tried it as a 2-player experience. And boy, I got crushed in that first game. I think it might have taken longer to set up and refresh myself on the rules than it took to play. But in the interest of being a reviewer, I reset and tried it again. And found that, in spite of some of its flaws, there is still an interesting and challenging game here. So I am glad I didn’t write it off after my second play. I nearly did after the first play. There is definitely value in trying a game multiple times, and this game is a case where it benefits from repeated exposure.

The rules found in the tin are hard. Almost impossibly hard for a 2-player experience. I dig a challenging cooperative game. Albion’s Legacy is my jam, and I still haven’t won in that one. Yet it feels like there is a lot less under the player’s control in this one. You’re at the mercy of the card draw, and a really bad stretch of cards out of either deck and completely wreck things. The benefit this game has, though, is time. It is a shorter game, and setup/teardown are really quick. It is a small box on the shelf and has a small footprint on the table most of the time. There are player powers (some better than others) that are scaled with the health. The difficulty of the deck and be tweaked, both with the ratio of event cards and with the new removal of threat cards. All of these things work in the favor of the game.

I had every intention of being scathing in my review of this one, yet repeated plays combined with the adjusted rules and consideration for time/price have swayed me over to the slightly-positive side. This game won’t be for everyone. It’ll frustrate you to no end, especially since the adjusted rule page also gives tips and one is to play at the max player count. Which makes sense, your group can suffer more damage before death hits and the threats revealed will trigger their abilities less often.

I don’t know that I would recommend this for those who only would play with two. But if you like playing cooperative games and want one that can play a good range of players in a reasonable amount of time, this isn’t a poor choice. So long as you don’t mind losing. Because lose you will. By now you’ll know, from the review, if the cons in this game are enough to turn you off. If that is you, then you should probably pass or borrow a copy and try it out. But if you’re still thinking this game sounds fun or interesting, it is definitely worth the pricepoint for this experience.

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