Posted in Board Games

Game-a-Day Fortnight: Day 14 – …and then we held hands.

…and then we held hands.

That’s the name, and goal, of this interesting little two-player co-op hand management and movement puzzle game about two people trying to save their failing relationship. In a thematic twist, players may not discuss the game itself, yet need to be aware of each other’s board state (i.e. emotional state) and work together to help each other find emotional balance as individuals before coming back together as a better couple.

I love how the communication limitation makes the game one of reading your partner’s intentions and what they hope to achieve, emulating a troubled couple who aren’t openly communicating, but both really do want to better understand each other.

Because you can’t talk about the game, it also means this is a nice opportunity to chat with your partner, just spend some time together talking and enjoying each other’s company – which is what board games are really all about, having a great time with your friends.

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So, how do you play?

You’re aiming to meet in the middle, at the same time, both in emotional balance. But to even get there, you’ll first need to – as a couple – make it through the 24 objective cards, dealing with or embracing emotions like sadness and anger, while seeking calm and happiness.

Both players get a hand of emotion cards, which both can see. You discard cards to move to corresponding nodes on the board, along the black lines. Thing is, you can discard from your partner’s row, too. Here’s where communication through reading your partner comes in. If you only focus on where you’re going, and not where they need to go, you may drain them of emotions they need to deal with their stuff, and then they’ll be stuck – in which case, you both lose. So, pay attention to your partner’s needs as well as yours.

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Each time you make it through a stack of objectives, you unlock a new ring – the next one closer to the centre – where you and your partner can now move. It makes things both easier and trickier – more room to move, but smaller circles, and did I mention your pieces can’t move through each other?

Nevertheless, you’ll have to move to the next level to help your relationship.

It’s also important to keep your emotions balanced. Each time you move through a negative emotion – sad or angry – you move your glass marker to the left. When you move through happy or calm, you move the marker right. But if you need to move through anger or sadness and you’re already too far negative, you can’t make that move. Same thing on the positive side. And if you can’t move at all, you’re stuck, and both lose.

Each time you find yourself in balance, you have the emotional stability to weigh your options, letting you draw cards to refresh your hand. Even when emotional objectives are right within reach, you’ll often need to retreat to seek balance before you can continue your emotional journey.

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If you can change your perspective…

One final thematic rule: when you move across the centre line, into a different half of the board, you can change your perspective.

Your emotion cards are always splayed out to left if you’re on the left side of the board, or right if you’re on the ride side. So, crossing the line and changing perspective lets you splay the cards differently. Literally, seeing the other side of the emotions you carry with you.

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…you’ll see a whole other side of your emotions.

Each card is a combination of two emotions, indicated on the left and right borders, so splaying your cards in a different direction gives you access to a different set of emotions.

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Emotions are double sided, but you need a change of perspective to see that.

Remember what I said before about winning this game?

Once you’ve made it through all the emotional cards you’ll need to meet in the middle, at the same time, both in emotional balance. You may have the cards you need to get into the middle, but you might have to back track to get there at the same time as your partner, or to do so with well-adjusted emotions in balance.

Playing this great little game is rewarding, relaxing, stressful, fun and tricky. You always need to be aware of your partner and their needs, and in that regard – and with many other nice rules touches mentioned above – this game succeeds with flying colours at emulating the needs of a relationship.

It’s theme is light, but very evocative, and you’ll really need to work well with your partner to get through this game together. And if you manage to succeed, what then?

…and then you hold hands.

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Posted in Board Games

Game-a-Day Fortnight: Day 11 – Samurai Spirit

Samurai Spirit is based on the film Seven Samurai, and sees 1-7 samurai cooperatively defending a Japanese village against raiders by engaging in the ancient art of battle blackjack!

In real-world feudal Japan there were no women samurai and when a you took two wounds you transformed into an humanoid animal warrior. It’s the same in Samurai Spirit, which even has a note about it in the back of the manual explaining but not apologising for its staunch adherence to historical accuracy.

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In this game you’ll Fight by drawing raider cards numbered 1, 2, 3 and 4, Confronting them by adding them to your Combat Line (the right side of your samurai board) trying to reach your kiai number. Think of it like 21 in blackjack. You want to hit it exactly, and not go over, or you’re out of the round and raiders burn down a village barricade.

Below, Kikuchiyo has a 3, 2, 1, 2, 2, which equals exactly 10, his kiai number. So, he gets to remove the first card (the 3) from his Combat Line, to stay in the round and give him another chance to reach his kiai number again. His special kiai ability also activates.

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Any time a samurai reaches his kiai exactly, he discards the top card from his Combat Line.
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Kikuchiyo’s kiai ability also lets him discard the most recent card in his Combat Line.

When you Fight, you can Defend instead of Confronting, which lets you place the raider to the left of your board instead, not suffering any ill effects of the card – but you only have three slots on the left, one for a card with each of these icons: hat, farm, family (doll).

Ideally, you’ll want to fill up the left side, to uphold the samurai code of honour and – more importantly – to avoid penalties at the end of the round. Without a hat, you’ll get a wound; lacking a farm or family icon means a farmstead burns down (flipping over to reveal yet another penalty) or a village family is killed (removing a round end bonus).

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Our village is under attack! Call on the 1-7 Samurai!

To help you deal with all these raiders, in addition to their kiai abilities, each samurai has unique talent, which can be used each round. Talents let you do things like put the next raider onto the bottom of the deck, pass certain value raider cards to a neighbour. Instead of choosing to Fight, each round, sometimes you may want to Support, which grants an ally access to your talent once their turn rolls around.

Raiders often have icons in their lower left, which are known as ‘battle penalties’ – basically the damage the raiders inflict to you and the village. Each turn, you apply the penalty in the lower left of the most recent card in your Combat Line. It might burn a barricade, prevent you supporting other samurai or let intruders sneak into the village (which also happens whenever you Support). Raiders, of course, can also wound you.

 

Wounds are really interesting in this game. You can handle 1 wound, but take a second one and your animal spirit is unleashed! You flip your board, which makes your kiai ability more powerful and increases your kiai number. Take another wound, and it’s fine. Take one more after that, and you die, the group loses morale and you all lose.

Sometimes, taking a wound is a good idea, to unleash your animal spirit and give you more wiggle room if you’re getting close to your kiai number and know there are lots of high cards coming out soon.

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Finally, this tiger has had more than he can handle.

After each round, any intruders that got past your samurai are flipped over. If they have flames in their lower right-hand corner they burn barricades (or farms, if the barricades are all gone). You win the game if you have at least one farm and family by the end.

But! Round 1 isn’t the end.

You play again, without healing wounds or caging your animal spirit. Instead, you add lieutenants (value-5 cards), shuffle the deck and go again. After that, you play a final round with the addition of value-6 boss cards, each of which has unique art and powerful battle penalties.

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Kikuchiyo’s filled up the left side, then encountered a boss. Luckily, he’s reached his kiai!

Samurai Spirit has a lot of gaming goodness packed into a box about half the size of most other modern board games. I only have two main criticisms with Samurai Spirit. One, I’ve mentioned: the lack of women, the ‘sorry if you feel that way’ non-excuse pseudo-apology in the manual.

The other criticism is a fairly significant rules oversight I’ll warn you about right now.

If you’re playing the 2-player variant, it’s very important you ensure you have enough family icons on the cards that form your raider deck. If there’s only one icon, the game is literally unwinnable (at least one of the three families will die each round). If there’s two, it’s very likely unwinnable.

I’d recommend checking your cards and ensuring you have more than 2 icons. 4 or more, perhaps? The game’s designer and updated rules PDF agree, but if the physical manual in the game box may not mention this critical, but easily-overlooked rule.

Samurai Spirit is a great game! For a relatively cheap price, the game packs a lot into a little box – basic mechanics are simple enough to grasp quickly, but the co-op powers make for interesting interaction and combos, the player count is great, and the three-round structure ratchets up the tension as the game progresses. It’s even short enough that, win or lose, if you’re anything like me you’ll be keen to dive right back into the fray!

Posted in Board Games

Game-a-Day Fortnight: Day 10 – The Big Book of Madness

gYou’re first year magicians impatient to learn proper spells. So you break into a chamber of secrets to read the Big Book of Madness, that your teachers have explicitly told you is off limits – of course, they’re only saying that because it’s filled with awesome spells!

Oh, wait… no. It’s filled with madness.

Madness and monsters, bursting out of the pages.

Now you and your classmates have to gather the elements and quickly learn spells from the other, less dangerous books around the chamber, in this co-op deckbuilder

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You’ll need to quickly improve your magic skills to defeat the monster at the end of the book. If you survive the madness long enough to reach that particular battle.

2-5 players select a magician to play as: big earth guy, thin air guy, medium water guy, medium-big fire guy, or sexy earth girl, sexy air girl, sexy water girl, sexy fire girl.

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Small spindly guy or big thick guy. Sexy girl or sexy girl.

I love almost everything about the game’s amazing, colourful art. It’s reminiscent of a Disney or Pixar and draws you into the world, making you want to see an animated film about these magicians – except the game takes the same approach to female body diversity as those studios. Which is, basically none.

Nevertheless, props to fire girl – she’s pretty badass (and note the burning desks).

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Each magician has a unique power that really mixes up how they play.

Once you’ve chosen your magician – each with a different set of starting elements and a unique special ability – the madness begins.

You open the book to unleash the first monster, and curses along with it. The book’s really cool. It’s made of cards that look like pages with monsters bursting out! Monsters will be on the left, and immediately attack, for some effect like forcing players to discard cards or giving them madness (junk cards that clog up your deck).

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Next time we see this blob, the win bonus and loss penalties will be different.

Bonuses and penalties for winning and losing on the right card combine with the monster on the left hand to create a lot of variability each time you play. You also don’t use all the monsters, spells, or magicians each game – so replayability is fairly high.

You all start with four basic spells, but can learn new ones, which let you do more complex actions, like reshuffling your deck, or curing madness cards while drawing extra cards.

Madness is in the title for a reason. You get 6 cards in your hand each round, which you can spend on buying or casting spells, or destroying curses (which require four element cards to resolve). If you destroy all the monster’s curses within 5 rounds, you get a win bonus. If not, you get a penalty, and the page flips, revealing the next monster.

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The Big Book of Madness fits our new a coffee table, with two players.

Madness cards clog up your 6-card hand, and if you get to the bottom of the madness deck, you all lose. If a player ever ends up with a hand full of madness, they’re eliminated! There is player elimination in this game. And some powers that basically skip your turn. Seems like both are fairly rare, though, and the communication between players means eliminated players can still help strategise.

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Multi-element curses show up later. Each curse has powers that activate on its round.

Curses can mess you up, but sometimes they’re not so bad. Coordinating with your fellow wizarding delinquents is important, as that awesome wooden book token moves and activates the next card (or two cards in Round 3) each turn. So, while you might be able to resolve that Water Curse now, fixing the Earth Curse that’s coming up next round may make more sense.

On the right-hand page of the book, you can see the three elements that the next monster will curse you with. So sometimes it’s better to prepare for the next monster, especially when you realise this one’s curses aren’t going to get resolved.

Losing to a monster isn’t always that bad. And you only need to defeat the final monster to win. Which is great, and terrible. It means that failure or sacrifices early on are okay. But it also means that the entire game hinges on the final battle. So you need to use those earlier rounds to build up a better deck and spells to help you, but luck of the draw will still play a factor.

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Specialising in an element or two can really beef up your spellcasting.

Oh, also make sure you remember this key rule – when you destroy a curse, you add a free 2-value element card of your choice to your discard. It’s very easy to miss this rule, and it isn’t in the player aid. Playing without it will really drive you mad, and make the game much harder, even on the lowest of its three difficulty settings.

So, you’ve got really beautiful and detailed – if not entirely unproblematic – art, a co-op deckbuilder with lots of variability and replayability, all wrapped up in easy-to-understand mechanics. All in all, a great game. Hopefully someday we’ll win.

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Posted in Board Games

Game-a-Day Fortnight 2016 – Day 3: Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (Spoiler Free)

Pandemic Legacy is currently the #1 game of all time on Board Game Geek and Shut Up & Sit Down. Is Pandemic Legacy truly the best game ever? Probably! It’s certainly an incredible game, unlike almost anything you’ve played before.

It’s the worst year humanity has ever faced. Diseases run rampant, and one looks ready to dangerously mutate. You and one to three friends will band together to combat the worst pandemic the world has ever seen. And you’ll be permanently altering the game as you play. You get to name the diseases if you eradicate them! You write their names on the board!!

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There’s a reason for the “Spoiler Free” tag in the title. Anything I show or say here is something you’ll see when you first open the game. This is a board game, yes, but I can’t show you much of our board without spoiling later sessions of the game. That’s because you play in a campaign, of 12-24 sessions (a fortnight or two each month, in the game world), slowly uncovering more story and mechanics as you progress. You’ll be writing on the board, adding stickers, and even tearing up cards! 

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And the legacy parts aren’t just tacked on. They’re important and well-integrated. One instance we thankfully haven’t encountered is if characters die (or become “lost”). Yep, that beloved character you’ve named, upgraded, and whose established relationships with other characters, when they’re lost, you tear them up, losing all that, along with their unique powers.

Suz and I get into roleplaying the characters, which makes games more fun and will make any loss of a character more tragic. I really don’t know how we’ll handle it if we ever lose Bruce 😦

We absolutely love the changes that you make in the legacy format. Writing on the board, adding stickers – this level of customisation is fantastic, and it’s not random, it’s based on the choices you’ve made. One particular city may be rioting or collapsing because you chose to help another in a time of need. From then on, you’ll have to work around these changes, altering your strategy. Changes like these affect all your future games, and make your particular copy of Pandemic Legacy feel special and your own.

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As for what you’ll actually be doing in the game: you’re travelling the world, treating and removing disease cubes from cities, drawing cards to gather research data to cure the diseases, and trying to hang on for just one more turn, against the constant threat of disease outbreaks and deadly epidemics. If you’ve played Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert, Flashpoint: Fire Rescue, or any of the other Pandemics you know the basic mechanic. Water rises. Sun beats down. Fire spreads. Epidemics occur.

If you’ve never played Pandemic before, you can play a few sessions using this board before diving into the campaign. It worked for Suz and I. We lost our 3 practice games, then jumped in and won several games in a row, but not without a decent challenge!

Suz and I can’t recommend Pandemic Legacy enough. It’s a must-play, in our book. And it works great with 2. We sometimes wish we had more active characters to give us access to more powers, but that also means more infections and potential epidemics before it gets back around to your turn – also less cards per player to start. It seems well-balanced to us.

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When you open up Pandemic Legacy you’ll see 8 sealed boxes and lots of sealed sheets of stickers and cards. You only open these when the game tells you to, and what’s inside always gives more options or changes how the game works from that point on, often drastically. During your very first session the legacy mechanics will come into play.

Having played through June, we’ve still got half the campaign left. Things have gotten crazy, and we can’t wait to see where the game goes next. Pandemic Legacy is a great, solid game in an incredibly engaging package that’s definitely worth the price of admission.

Posted in Board Games

Game-a-Day Fortnight 2015 – Day 2: Paperback

Tonight Suz and I played Paperback. I’ve posted before about this great deck building word game, sort of like Scrabble plus Dominion. Easy to get into, loads of variants, lots of replayability.

You never really feel stuck, as it’s always possible to spell *some* word. The trick comes in spelling long/valuable enough words to get more cents (to buy cards) or points (which are needed to win).

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There’s heaps of variants included. Even a co-op variant and another where you can show other players your cards and ask for word suggestions. If you use their suggestion, they get a cube they can trade in for one cent.

Everyone starts with the same few letters and some wild cards to get you started making words and buying cards to build your deck. Longer words are worth more cents, letting you buy more letters worth more cents to spell more words worth more cents!

Oh, and the letters have powers, like double word score, draw more cards, stop another player using wilds this round, etc.

It’s a really cool game. Highly recommended.