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: Day 9 – Cube Quest

Cube Quest! Flick cubes, kill kings!

Or more likely, flick your soldier right past the defending army and into oblivion.

Cube Quest is a laugh-out-loud funny dexterity game, where each player’s physical ineptitude, fluke shots and the sheer silliness of the gameplay create the humour.

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Soon, blood will fill these quiet fields.

Any cube knocked off the board is defeated. You win by using your cubes to knock your opponent’s King off the board. The rules indicate that, if you accidentally defeat your own King, your opponent wins. Just like in real war.

First, both sides secretly assemble their armies. Your King starts in your castle, but you can form up your other forces however you’d like. Then reveal and start flicking, once per turn. If your King is ever knocked out of the castle, but still on the board, you can spend your turn to place him back in the castle.

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Armies assembled! Protect the King! Kill the King!

All cubes, except the King, have shadowed faces on some sides. If your cube lands in enemy territory with a shadowed face up, it is captured. You roll it, and if non-shadowed face comes up, it escapes back to your castle. Otherwise, it’s out of the game.

Grunts, the orc-like warriors, are plentiful and expendable. They’ve got lots of shadowed faces, so are likely to be captured. When not hurtling them to their likely death in enemy territory, they’re good as meat shields, living walls of flesh protecting their King.

Strikers have only one shadowed face, so they’re far more likely to survive in enemy territory, or escape capture. You only have four, though.

The King, having no shadowed faces, can never be captured. So your King can rampage with impunity across enemy territory, giving the game a high-risk, high-reward scenario of a King taking the battle straight to the enemy King. You’ll never be captured, but the risk of defeat is dangerously high!

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The King is dead!

Other cubes come with the game, such as healers that revive defeated cubes, ice monsters that freeze enemy cubes in place, knight’s that can give you a headstart by moving twice (if the first move ends in your territory), and skulks that can hide in enemy territory.

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Enemy skulk spotted in our territory!

Cube Quest is simple, and great. However, some warnings: the big mousepad-like play mats that come with the game don’t fit in the box without folding. We’ve had ours under heavy books for a year to get out the creases, and there are still bumps that won’t go away. This affects the gameplay, obviously, as the play mat is intended to be flat, not wavy.

Also, while the cubes are very light (much lighter than a standard die) the flicking may still hurt a little for delicate fingers.

Lastly, dice will fly off the table. Play somewhere uncluttered where you can easily find the stray dice.

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War. War never changes.

Those things said, we encourage everyone to at least try this game. You’ll be laughing very quickly, as your solider charges into enemy territory only to pull up right in front of the enemy King, whose forces proceed to pile onto the grunt and fling their King off the map.

Cube Quest is not deep, but is very silly and very fun. Again, like in real war, any strategy can quickly go out the window as chaos ensues as soon as the battle begins. It’s a fun game, quick and light, silly and simple. Sometimes that’s all you want in a game.

Posted in Board Games

Game-A-Day Fortnight 2016 – Day 1: Above and Below

Game-A-Day Fortnight is back!

Suz and I have two weeks off so, just like last year, we plan to play a different board game each day and share our thoughts. We hope you see something intriguing and maybe get inspired to try out a new game 🙂 Enjoy!

First up is Above & Below, where you’re all building a new village in a grassy field, while also exploring the dangerous and resource-rich caverns below. And you explore by looking up passages in a spiral-bound book of encounters, adding some light story to the game.

We enjoyed this game. Lovely art, a variety of actions, the combination of building a village and exploring the caverns. It was all very nice. This is also not a cutthroat game. Suz once bought a building I was looking to get, but that’s it. You also can’t really tell who’s winning till the end, which is a big plus in our book.

In Above & Below, 2-4 players will be competing to make the most well-developed village in this gorgeous game. The artwork really stands out with cute unique characters to populate the cool cavern outposts and sunny grassy buildings of your growing village.

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Each turn you can send villagers to:

  • Explore the cavern network below
  • Build a new building above or in a cleared out cavern below
  • Harvest goods from your village buildings and outposts
  • Labour, basically putting your villagers to work for coin
  • Train new villagers, paying coins to have them join your village

Building Above

Building is great, because you can customise your village. Buildings might produce goods, or maybe some healing potions. Perhaps they’re just straight up victory points. Or maybe they make villagers or certain goods worth victory points.

Some just have beds.

Which is actually awesome.

Your villagers are constantly getting exhausted and injured, so beds are great for getting them back on their feet and working for the good of the village.

So, building buildings is great. But you’ll need a builder. Say yours is exhausted. No worries. Just train a new one. Hmm, not enough coins. Okay, send someone to labour for coins. Your last villager is your only trainer… and labouring will exhaust her, so she won’t be able to train the new builder. Hmm, you could sell items to the other players for coins. But that helps them, too. Can you stand to wait a turn?

Decisions, decisions.

Good decisions, though. Nothing too brain-burning.

And once you’ve got a few interesting buildings or skilled villagers, you’ll be able to work toward some slightly longer-term goals, like more expensive buildings, or sending a strong party into the caves for a better chance at succeeding.

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Exploring Below

Some villagers can build, some can train. Everyone can explore!

Sooner or later you’ll want to delve into the caverns.

Another player flips to the passage you rolled on your cavern card and reads out some evocative description of the challenge you face, and how you may overcome it.

Pick an option like “Stand and Fight” or “Run and Hide”, each with a threshold you have to beat for success. Your chances of success depend on which villagers, and how many, you sent exploring. Roll a die per villager. If you succeed, you get some resources, maybe coins, maybe even reputation (which earns victory points). We haven’t seen it yet, but certain successes even let you recruit secret villagers!

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This is all fantastic stuff!

So much so that it feels lacking when there’s no text describing your victory.

You’ve got beautiful art, an atmospheric description of your exploration, then you win and are on the edge of your seat as the other player reads out …5 coins, and a mushroom… Yay?

I mean, it’s obvious why you got those when you selected “Keep Exploring” but it doesn’t feel as awesome as everything leading up to that. It’s not so bad, though, as you now have a sweet empty cavern where you can build an interesting outpost.

Exploration, coupled with managing the interesting building powers, recruiting more skilled new villagers, and deciding what actions to spend your few precious unexhausted villagers on is a great combination, and one with some variety.

In our first game, I had lots of outposts in my caverns, and a building that meant my basic goods were basically double points. Suz had no outposts, but she managed to get her hands on a building that meant all her empty caverns earned her points!

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At the end of our first game, we tied at 48 points each!

So, we compared coins. I had 4. Suz had 5. She won 🙂

A close game is a good game!

And what we like about this is that you’re not bogged down by scoring as you go. It’s not easy to tell if you’re leading or trailing before you reach the very end. So you can instead focus on whatever you’re interested in to build up your own little village.

Suz and I both had a great time playing.

We’re definitely keen to keep exploring Above and Below.

Posted in Board Games

Game-a-Day Fortnight 2015 – Day 12: Boss Monster

ardBoss Monster is a 2-4 player card game where you play as the boss monsters lurking in the final room of retro 8-bit video game dungeons, luring heroes into your trap-filled and monster-infested dungeon to kill them and claim their souls (first to 10 souls wins). Heroes can be dangerous, but your real competition is the other boss monsters!

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I love retro games and tabletop roleplaying games like D&D, so this theme (and the retro videogamey art) was a big draw for me. Even the box looks like an old Nintendo game box.

You start with your boss monster card on the right, and build the dungeon to the left. Once you get to five rooms your boss monster activates a powerful and unique once-off ability, so there’s a bit of variety depending on which one you are.

Each trap or monster room has one or more treasure types: coins for thieves, magic weapons for fighters, spell books for mages, and religious items for clerics. Heroes go to the dungeon with the most treasure of the type they are interested in.

So, a sort of bidding war occurs. You want to attract the heroes to your dungeon keep their souls away from your opponents. But you also have to have a dungeon strong enough to handle them or you won’t get their souls, you’ll get wounded.

You can also use spell cards to make your dungeon tougher (like making your monsters more damaging, or teleporting a hero back to the start to move through all your rooms again). Or you could use spells to make things nasty for your opponents (like freezing one of their rooms that they needed to kill the tough hero they just attracted).

You can only build 5 rooms wide, but advanced rooms can be built on top of a room with a matching treasure type, and usually hit harder. You can destroy rooms, too, or build a normal room over any other normal room to mix things up. If you destroy it later, the original room is still below!

Rooms have powers, too, which can be very useful, doing things like letting you draw spells instead of room cards each turn, healing you, making neighbouring rooms more powerful, or even messing with your opponent.

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Suz and I encountered a few fun-reducing issues. One was having a hand of cards you can’t do much with (you can only redraw once during setup). If you’ve only put down thief and fighter rooms and your hand is full of advanced rooms that don’t match those, you can’t use them. Unless we missed it, there’s no general rule letting you discard cards to draw more. Some of the cards have powers that let you do that, and this is how Suz eventually got better cards later in the game.

Something else we should probably do is focus more on spells. You can’t draw them regularly – again, it’s card powers that let you do this – but the abilities they have are pretty cool and give you more interaction between the two players and dungeons, which is a good thing. I don’t think we cast a single spell this game.

Boss Monster isn’t one of my favourite games ever, but I do like it. I’ve played it a few times and enjoyed it. I do wish there were more ways to cycle cards more often, but I think I’ll need to play some more games of it to work out if this problem is a common one. And I’m certainly looking forward to doing that 🙂

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Interestingly, the developers have recently made Boss Monster 2, which is on it’s way to me from America. It’s a standalone expansion, meaning it can be used with Boss Monster or by itself. I hear it’s more interactive and it sounds like an overall improvement, but I can’t speak from first hand experience… yet.

Finally, if you want a better idea of the gameplay check out the designer’s How To Play:

Posted in Board Games

Game-a-Day Fortnight 2015 – Day 9: Dungeons & Dragons Dice Masters: Battle for Faerûn

Dungeons & Dragons Dice Masters: Battle for Faerûn came out this year. Base set was pretty cheap, I think $20, and I’d heard good things about this two-player game collectable dice game, so I picked it up. Hadn’t played it until today. Verdict: pretty fun!

In this game you are warlords opposing each other, sending minions, monsters and adventurers to do your bidding. It’s somewhat like Magic the Gathering in that your monsters are trying to damage the other player, who will use their monsters to block yours and damage you, too.

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You start off with just a handful of NPC dice, which you roll to get energy to buy prettier dice representing monsters/characters and spells (or the NPC dice may roll up a pawn character which you can use in battle). Once you’ve bought stuff, it’ll be added to your dice bag later to be drawn out and rolled for battle.

When you roll dice and they turn up as characters you can send them into the field with cool powers. I had a troll that hit hard and could regenerate after being killed. I also had a vampire that healed me when it drained other characters. Suz eventually managed to get enough energy to buy a blue dragon but she never got to use it and it’s scary breath weapon or hard-hitting attacks. Thankfully for me!

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We traded blows back and forth… well, forth, really. I was down to one point out of ten while Suz was still at 9. She had kept disabling my troll with spells so it couldn’t attack. Then I finally got my two vampires, a troll, and several NPC pawns all attacking with nothing much on her side to defend. I brought her down to 1 life in that one attack before defeating her with some pawns. It didn’t feel too swingy to me, it felt like a hard-won victory that was tense right up until the last turn, rather than a sudden overpowered roll.

Spells feel like D&D spells. Monster powers feel like monster powers. It was pretty cool, and the card artwork is cool and the custom dice are awesome to look at (with unique dice for each monster/character). Dice Masters is a collectable game, so you can buy expansions with more dice and cards.

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If D&D isn’t your thing, there’s Marvel, DC and even Yu-Gi-Oh versions. Apparently they can all be used together, too, so you can have Wolverine fighting a Red Dragon and Batman.

Overall, our first game was fun and interesting. It gave me a good enough idea of the game to be keen to play again with different dice/card combinations to build my own special party of minions!

Posted in Board Games

Game-a-Day Fortnight 2015 – Day 1: Dungeon Roll

Suz and I have two weeks off. We plan to play a different tabletop game every day. Maybe you’ll see something you’d like to play.

First up: Dungeon Roll. Roll your party and delve into the dungeon, collecting treasure and battling ever increasing numbers of monsters. You’ll need a diverse party if you hope to defeat the dragon, and the deeper you go the more likely it is to awaken. Get out with what you’ve got or risk it all for the chance at more XP and treasure?

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A fun, quick push-your-luck game with a cool theme and more depth and choice than Zombie Dice.

Posted in Misc.

Arkfall Quickstart Resources to Celebrate New Game Day

Today is 2/2 and is the very first New Game Day. In honour if this celebration, I’ve released some quick-start and quick-play resources for my new rules-light science-fantasy game – Arkfall. If you’re looking for a new game, Arkfall is one you can get for free and play immediately.

Want to know more about Arkfall? Check out my original Arkfall post, or just download Arkfall for free.

To help players get started super-fast, I’ve made the Quick & Dirty Heritage Generator which randomises and speeds up one of the slower (but fun!) parts of character generation.

And for the GMs, Finding Work on Arkfall is a handy one-page reference lets you generate jobs on the fly for the players. It even includes a table for what happens if they don’t take the job.

Here are some Google Drive mirrors if any of the above links don’t work (and these following links will always be up to date, thanks to Google’s re vision system: