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Shadow Strike Melee: Ninja Card Game is a fast paced bluffing game for up to nine players! It is currently live on Kickstarter, but we were fortunate enough to be given a prototype copy for review purposes.

Gameplay

Shadow Strike Melee puts its players in the shoes of a group of overconfident ninjas in a wild battle. The goal of the game is to outlast all of your opponents as players deal “strikes” to each other using numbered attack cards.

Combat itself plays out like War. Higher valued cards defeat lower valued cards. Ninjas never let things remain that simple though. These ninjas are cocky. Players represent that by playing with their three combat cards facing away from them. This means that everyone else knows more about a players hand than they do!

This information mismatch is the driving force behind the game. You really have to look at your opponents cards and make careful decisions. It might seem safe to attack someone with a hand full of ones and threes, but you don’t necessarily know that your hand isn’t worse! Fortunately, you also have a trio of equipment cards that help manipulate fights in your favor, or rescue you if your cards aren’t helping.

Shadow Strike Melee can be played individually, but our family preferred to partner up and play in teams. This gave us the option of using our equipment cards to help rescue our friends, and take advantage when our opponents get aggressive.

The biggest highlight of the game for us so far has been how fast the games are. Players are eliminated, but no one sits idle for long. The box says that games last around ten minutes, but I think that might even be too long.

Can Kid’s Play The Game?

The short answer is “Yes.” It does involve number comparisons and the equipment cards do have a small amount of text on them. But, this is not a challenging game to play.

One problem that young players MIGHT have is with their hands. You have to hold your hand in a very specific way to make sure that your opponents can see your cards. Younger players might struggle with that and drop cards a bit more often than they normally would. I don’t think this is a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination, but it is worth keeping an eye on.

The Campaign

The Kickstarter campaign has a little less than three weeks to go and is more than halfway to its goal. You can get yourself a Standard edition of the game with a $20 pledge.

Conclusion

Go for it. This is a great game to get things started on family game night and makes a great party game for larger groups.

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Kickstarter Review – Scream or Die

Scream or Die is a 2 to 8 player game by Amber Palace Games designed for players ages 8 and up. The game takes between 15 to 20 minutes to play and is very simple to learn and explain. It is currently on Kickstarter with a modest funding goal. We’re happy to report that this is a pretty good game that will be a cute addition to your family’s game collection.

The base game box comes with:

  • 8 monster mats
  • 36 scream tokens
  • 15 dice (three of each color)
  • 8 Candy trackers (two of each color)
  • Dice bag
  • Rules booklet

You play as a tiny monster that has been transformed into a child by your boss (who happens to be an evil witch). The only way to break the spell and get returned to normal is to be the first monster to bring her thirteen Halloween candies.

Gameplay

Each round of Scream or Die consists of three phases- Before the Roll, After the Roll, and Scoring.

Before the Roll

The roller removes five random dice from the bag to make a dice pool. Starting with the player to the left of the roller, each player takes turns using their scream tokens to add dice to the pool. They do this by paying the token which forces the roller to pull another die blindly out of the bag.

After the Roll

Each player gets a chance to re-roll dice of their choice. Just as before, starting with a player to the left of the roller, all players take turns using scream tokens to make the roller re-roll dice.

Scoring

Each player gets one candy for each of the monster symbols of theirs that is showing at the end of the round. Players keep track of their candy using the score tracker on their monster mat.

Players continue to play rounds until one person gets thirteen or more pieces of candy.

The game is quick to play, and the push your luck mechanics and dice influencing strategy make it much more fun than a basic dice rolling game. We love the fact that you can play with up to eight players! Our playtesters enjoyed that they were never bored because they had an action to take on every roll.

Another thing we love about Scream or Die is how great it is as a teaching tool. This is a great game for teaching the concept of resource management. It’s very easy to go through scream tokens in the hopes of adding dice that are favorable to you. But, you have to make sure that you are aware of what other players are doing so that they don’t take the lead too quickly. Some of our players forgot to save up some scream tokens to re-roll symbols that were helpful to their opponents towards the end of the game. They were VERY aware of the mistakes they made as they watched their friends rack up the points and win.

The rules include some fun variants for team play and dice drafting to keep things interesting. There is also a simpler family variant that makes scream tokens a little more fair.

Conclusion

Overall, this is a terrific party game, filler game, or introductory game for non hardcore gamers. You can back this game with confidence. We think your family will enjoy this one!

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Family Board Game Review: Rampaging Jotunn

 

Rampaging Jotunn is a 2 player viking themed game by Lost Cog with a hex board made of large tiles. The object of the game is to avoid the Jotunn (a magically strong giant from Viking mythology), and protect your village using your army. The Jotunn is a constant variable in the game.  The game is for players 8 and up and is expected to take 30 minutes to play.

Game Contents

  • 12 Different land tiles (containing 10 hex spaces with forests, fields, mountains, and on some, a volcano)
  • 1 Center Hex
  • 2 Defense line Hexes
  • 1 blue die
  • 1 red die
  • I Jotunn (marker and stand)
  • 2 Blue vikings (Marker and stand)
  • 2 Red Vikings (marker and stand)
  • 6 Wooden longhouses (3 red, 3 blue)
  • 2 Terrain Cards
  • 6 Army movement cards (3 red, 3 blue)
  • 73 Rampaging Jotunn playing cards
  • Rulebook

Gameplay

Setup: To set up the center hex with numbers is placed in the center.  This is the Jotunn’s direction indicator.  The 12 terrain tiles are shuffled and six are randomly selected. Players take turns placing the tile around the center hex to create the board. Next, players take turns to place their three villages, placing one on each turn. Then, players take turns to place their two armies, and they must put them on an adjacent tile to two of the villages. Each player is given 3 Army Movement Cards, and have a Terrain card for movement reference for the Jotunn and their armies. Players are also dealt five Rampaging Jotunn playing cards. The final step of setup is to place the Jotunn on the center tile and roll to see which number he faces for his starting direction.

During their turn, players have several options.  

  • They can:
    • use one of their Army movement cards and move their army (note: once your three movement cards are used you get all three back to use again)
    • Play a Jotunn card and move the Jotunn (or follow any special directions on the card)
    • Discard 3 cards from your hand to raise an army
  • At the end of their turn a player draws to bring their Jotunn hand back up to 5, also if the Jotunn was not moved on a players turn it moves forward one space in whatever direction it is facing.
  • Battles:
    • If you move your army onto the hex of another army you both have to roll to “battle” the offensive army gets plus one to their roll and the higher roll wins.  The defeated army is removed from the board.
    • If the Jotunn lands on an army it instantly defeats the army, and it is removed from the board.
    • Should the Jotunn land on a village that has not gotten a defense line hex, it is instantly defeated.  With a defense line hex under the village the Jotunn must roll a three or more to defeat the village.
    • Armies can also attack an opponent’s village.  

If a player loses all their villages they lose the game.

Family Gaming Assessment

Rampaging Jotunn is a good game for the family to play together.  The game does take a little time to learn and is not intuitive with some of the multiple steps and mechanics per turn.  This game, especially with younger players would benefit from a play through to learn the rules. The age rating is 8 and up, and I agree. An inexperienced gamer on the lower end of the age range will benefit from support with the steps and mechanics until they are more comfortable with the game.Once the rules and mechanics of the game are understood and comfortable the gameplay move smoothly. There is also a notable amount of strategy, mixed with some luck, and that may make it more challenging to play with two different skill levels.

Currently, the game is only available as a two player game. According to the developer, Matthias Bonnici, as of June 2017, that they are looking to do a Kickstarter “soon” for a four player version of Rampaging Jotunn. As a two player game it is more challenging to include the whole family playing, so a four player game is one to watch for on Kickstarter.

Conclusion

The viking theme of Rampaging Jotunn is entertaining and the graphics are appealing to players of all ages. The game was easily mastered in one play through and was engaging to play. The gameplay while a bit complicated to learn more smoothly once a few turns were played. Rampaging Jotunn is a good addition to a family’s game collection, especially if you enjoy the Viking theme.

 

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monopoly gamer box

By: Stephen Haberman, TheGeekyHusband

If I were to guess how many coins I collected in video games over my lifetime, I would bet I’d be the Warren Buffet of in-game currencies. When it comes to Monopoly however, I find it difficult to pronounce myself as anything more than an average property connoisseur.

I have played Monopoly all of my life. It started during childhood when they released a “Town of ____” Monopoly for basically every town in America. It continued into my early teens when I was playing on my Gameboy or begging my folks to take us to McDonalds. Even soon after college, my wife and I found new love for the game with “Monopoly City” which moves from cash to credit cards. So, I can say my interest in the game has always existed, but it is a game that can run long, and can feel as if the odds pile up against you.

Now, Monopoly Gamer comes to market with a promise to reinvigorate the title, by incorporating everyone’s favorite plumber into the mix: Mario. Mario is actually not a stranger to the Monopoly world, having already had a Monopoly game rebranded with his likeness before, and having tried to mimic the game’s core mechanics in Nintendo video game releases of Mario Party, as well as Fortune Street.

The problem with a simple rebranding is that the core of what makes Mario familiar and fun is not just the characters, but the collectibles, the power ups, and the journey to defeat all enemies that stand in his way. Monopoly Gamer brings all of those mechanics into this new board game, and does so while also waking up a stagnant Monopoly series.

Power-Ups

How does this differ from other Monopoly games?  To start that conversation, we need to talk about power-ups. Power-ups have been added to the game while also replacing a six-sided die. At the beginning of a turn, you’ll roll a power-up die and a six-sided die. The power ups give players the ability to collect coins, force opponents to drop coins, and move forward.

 

Coins! Coins! Coins!

Coins, the only currency that matters in the mushroom kingdom, have replaced cash, and are rewarded/used for everything.

  • Rent is paid with coins
  • Coins are awarded for landing on unique spaces
  • Picking up coins that players were forced to drop

 

Boss Battles

It used to be that passing Go over the course of Monopoly was just a way to get some extra cash in your pocket, but now you (and anyone else that passes Go) will be activating the Boss Battles every time around the board. These Boss Battles will reward the victor with additional coins for the end of the game, as well as some fun treats like a free property, or stolen goods from an opponent.

Zone Control

If you played Monopoly,  then you know that owning property and getting all of the properties of the same color is a key to victory. It is no different in Monopoly Gamer, but the costs for purchase and rent are much smaller in scale to other version of the game. Also, with the inclusion of Player abilities, power ups and Boss Battles, you could own all the property and still come up short.

Player Select

What tops off the experience is the difference in experience you can have due to the character power-ups. Characters range from the well-known (Mario, Luigi, Peach) to the less familiar (Boo, Diddy Kong). All of them have a unique power up ability, and a unique event that occurs if you should land on the invincibility star space.

Not all characters come with the game by default, though.  Mario, Preach, Donkey Kong, and Yoshi come with the base game. Others can be purchased through a $3.99 character pack, which comes with the board figure, a sticker, and the player card with the character’s abilities.

 

Go!

With all of these new features being added and a pace that really speeds up a game known for dragging on,  Monopoly Gamer feels like a game Nintendo and Parker Brothers can be proud to have their names on. The ability to add additional player characters is also a great way to add replayability to this one.

I would recommend this game for any video game fan looking to have something to play when unplugging, or a board game fan with less free time. I would even say the character figures, design and style of the game as a whole will look good on your shelf.

If you have any further questions about the game, please check out a full play through of the game I did with my wife on my Twitch Channel here!

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Kickstarter Review: A Dog’s Life

Beton Games

Age Rating: 8+

Players: 2-6

Timeframe: 40 minutes

MSRP: Unknown- Coming Soon to Kickstarter

Style: Family Action Game

A Golden Retriever, a German Shepherd, a Poodle, a Whippet, a Boxer, a Labrador,

and a Fox terrier take a break from their masters to have an adventure in the streets.

They need you, your family, and your friends to guide them on their exciting journey. Walk a mile in their paws and be an canine hero!

Introduction

A Dog’s Life is a game designed by Christophe Boelinger that was released in the early 2000’s and has recently been reimagined and reimplemented by Beton Games. It will be available as a KickStarter on August 8, 2017. This game is true to theme throughout, has mechanics and actions that make it super appealing to young players, and it can still be exciting for older players due to some serious strategy.

Contents

  • 1 complete game manual
  • 1 game board
  • 6 pre-painted dog figurines
  • 1 dog catcher car
  • 1 die
  • 6 dog cards
  • 72 action cards (12 for each dog)
  • 6 den cards
  • 6 hunger tokens
  • 15 trash can tokens
  • 24 dog bone tokens
  • 12 newspaper tokens
  • 48 piddle tokens (8 for each dog)

If you are a dog lover, you will be enchanted by the art and the components in this game. The hand painted figurines are adorable, the dog cards give each pup a real personality, and the theme is honored throughout every aspect of the game. The quality of the board, figurines, and tokens is high, and the website mentions more breeds of pups may be available in the future.

Gameplay

Each player chooses a pup figurine and a pup card that they will use to navigate through the city streets. Each pup has a specific number of action points and has strengths and weaknesses that are unique to their personality and help them progress through the game.

On their turn each player has 3 phases that they play through. The first phase is the FOOD phase. The player starts their turn by moving the hunger counter on their dog card down to the left one step. Their pup is now a little bit hungry. Each turn that food is not replenished, the pup gets hungrier and could possibly end up fainting and being taken to the shelter.

The second phase is the DOG STUFF phase. During this phase, players use the action points on their dog card to complete activities. Players have to decide when their dog needs to:

Beg in restaurants, search through trash, deliver newspapers, fight rival hounds, drink from fountains, piddle on lamp posts, or hide from the dogcatcher. Some of the activities in this phase require players to use their action cards to determine the results of their activities. Completing an action is taking a risk and may not always lead to the best result.

The third phase is the DOG CATCHER phase. During this phase players roll the die and move the dog catcher’s car, possibly sending some pups to the dog shelter. Being stuck in the shelter is similar to being in JAIL in a Monopoly game.

The object of the game is to be the first pup to bury three bones successfully in their den.

Is it a Family Game?

The theme and artwork in the game give it a unique feel that is immediately appealing to players young and old. Kids love the idea of playing a game where a dog actually piddles and begs and searches through trash cans. The game is easy to learn in just a few minutes, but there are a lot of choices to make in the game which adds an element of strategy.  We definitely think this game requires a few play throughs before children and adults master all of the strategy  successfully. There is quite a bit of information in the manual about real dog shelters, a dog’s lifestyle and care, and about specific breeds. We think this is a great learning tool. The game uses minimal text, making it easy for younger players to understand and there are many different ways to win this game so all players have an equal chance.

Conclusion

This game is fun for parents and children to play together, it has a unique and well executed theme, and is easy to learn and play. We think the many variants and options give this game a high replay value and that this is the perfect family game night adventure for parents with children between the ages of 6 and 12.

A Dog’s Life is currently live on Kickstarter.

FCC disclosure: A copy of this game was sent to us by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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Kickstarter Review – Cauldron: Bubble and Boil

Magic Circle Games

Age Rating: 12+

Players: 2-4

Timeframe: 45-60 minutes

MSRP: $50.00 (Special Kickstarter price- $39)

Style: Resource Management

It’s time for your coven to select a new leader! Prove that you deserve to be chosen as the greatest amongst the other talented witches by creating the best gardens to gather the components needed to brew the most powerful potions. Don’t forget to use your powers to hex your competitors while you work on brewing your potions. The witch with the most wicked potions and victory points wins!

Introduction

Cauldron: Bubble and Boil is a game designed by Robert Booth that will be available as a Kickstarter on July 25, 2017. The theme of the game is a lot of fun and lets you explore your evil side while still encouraging friendly competition. This game uses some familiar mechanics such as resource gathering, set collection, objective completion, and a bit of “take that!” play which all combine to make a really unique game.

Contents

Rules Booklet
1 scoreboard
8 player markers (2 for each player)
4 cauldrons
80 cauldron cards
30 crone tokens
30 corruption tokens
128 garden tokens (32 red, 32 orange, 32 yellow, 32 green)

The artwork on the box, the cauldrons, and the cauldron card design really invoke the wicked witch feel and add to overall fun of the game.

Gameplay

Each player starts the game with a hand of five cauldron cards, a cauldron containing 1 of each resource type, and a diablerie track. On their turn, players may use their cauldron cards to cast a hex, harvest resources from an existing garden, plant a new garden, or record potion recipes to their recipe book.

If a player chooses to play their cauldron card as a hex, they pay the cost described on the card, follow the action (which can be good or bad for the player and opponents), and move their token on the diablerie track (hexes count in scoring in the end game).

A player can also choose to play their cauldron cards to plant a garden. Gardens require 2 or more cards with matching resource cubes in order to be planted. Players may only have 2 gardens at one time. Gardens yield resources which you can harvest later and they also help you gain crone tokens (victory points) when completed.

Players can also choose one cauldron card from their hand to place face down under their cauldron in a recipe book. These cards have a recipe on them that require a certain combination of components to complete and if you have all of the components to successfully brew the potion at the end of the game, you will earn the victory points listed on the card.

If a player is dissatisfied with the cards in their hand, they may discard and draw new cards. At the end of a turn, players draw back up to five cards and play passes to the next player.

The game end is triggered when one or more end condition is met.

  • A player has stored his or her 7th recipe under their cauldron
  • When two resource colors are depleted
  • The last crone token or corruption disk is taken from the supply
  • If one or more players reach the top of their diablerie track

Once the end game is triggered, players play until the end of the round and then score victory points based on the various rules.

Is it a Family Game?

The game has many different mechanics to keep track of and does require some basic reading. A savvy gamer of 8 and older should be able to play this game, especially considering the Kindly Crone variant listed in the rules booklet. The recommended age on the box seems to be a bit high. This is a light game that requires strategic thinking, planning and forethought, as well as some advanced memory and critical thinking skills. Players really need to have the ability to remember recipes, make independent decisions, and think about what their end game objectives are. Our adult players found both the theme of the game and the actual gameplay enjoyable. There were so many different ways to achieve the most victory points at the end, and we love the fact that the rules booklet contains variants for longer or shorter games and for more advanced gameplay

Conclusion

Cauldron: Bubble and Boil makes good use of game mechanics to balance play. It is very difficult for anyone to take an obvious lead. Also, it provides lots of play choices each turn so there are many different viable strategies to accommodate differing play styles among players.

It is apparent that there was quite a bit of thought put into the design of this game. The game was easy to learn, turns moved quickly, and there are is plenty of replay value. We had fun trying out different strategies each time we played to see which was most successful. We also loved the artwork and the theme. This game comes highly recommended by our play testers!

Check it out on Kickstarter ASAP!

FCC disclosure: A copy of this game was sent to us by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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Board Game Review: Compose Yourself

Compose Yourself by Thinkfun is a fascinating product for those who are musically inclined or interested in classical music.  It is an intriguing activity where you can use the cards to create a composition using an website.  There is a great deal of focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) activities.  Compose Yourself is a product that supports STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math).

Contents

  • 60 Transparent Music Cards ( in Treble clef )
  • Composer Code Card
    • This code allows you to access the website to create your compositions
  • Instructions with Composing Tips
  • Online Tools and Resources
  • Travel Bag

Gameplay

Compose Yourself is played by arranging the cards on the table.  The clear cards allow them to be rotated and flipped to create the look and sound you want.  Next, you enter the code on the cards into the website provided.  As you arrange the cards you can place up to 4 in a row a create 4 rows.  That is the maximum you can input into the website. The cards have unique codes on each corner of the card so it can be input as  you have arranged it.  Once entered you can flip and rotate the cards digitally.  Additionally you can drag cards to rearrange them, and remove ones you do not want. Each card can be played to hear it individually. You are then able to play your composition using three sound settings: Marimba, Orchestra, or Both.   Finally, once your piece is complete you are able to print it and download it as an MP3.  

Family Game Assessment

Compose Yourself is an intriguing activities for families who enjoy classical music.  It has a great deal of potential for the family to create and share short compositions both together and individually.  The website is very easy to navigate and the cards are simple to lay out and arrange even with younger participants. To use the website you do need to register using the enclosed code.  There is one detail that is noteworthy; you need to agree to license it under a Creative Commons License.  Under the Help option in the Play page of the website it summarizes it well:

Please remember that you are free to share, sample, play, and have fun with your composition so long as it is not for commercial use.”

While this license can be considered a minor detail it informs the user of the nature of the music they are producing.  While it is your original work, it is not exclusively yours to do as you please and limits exist.

Compose Yourself is absolutely appropriate for  ages 6 and up as recommended by Thinkfun. The music is limited to the treble clef, and the tempo and the key signature can not be changed.  While there are some musical limitations for a more sophisticated musician, especially for children, it is a fun and easy way to play around with music in a very accessible way.

Conclusion

For the novice or less experienced musician, Compose Yourself allows you to dabble in creating original compositions.  I hesitate to call this a game in the traditional sense, however Thinkfun does lists it on their site as a game.  Regardless of what you call it, for those interested in music is a fun product that provides immediate reinforcement by hearing you music immediately.  

 

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Kickstarter Preview: Rise of Tribes

Publisher: Breaking Games

Age Rating: 10+

Players: 2-4

Timeframe: 30-60 minutes

Style: Light Strategy Game

You are a nomadic, prehistoric people. Your tribe prospers by growing in population, moving across a variety of lands, gathering resources, and by having a strong leader. Be the first to victory by scoring 15 points! Will your tribe rise above the rest?

Introduction

Rise of Tribes is a much anticipated game designed by Brad Brooks (creator of Letter Tycoon) that will be available as a Kickstarter on June 6, 2017. The artwork and component design is striking and extremely dialed in to the overall theme of the game. While this game uses some familiar mechanics such as resource gathering, dice rolls to determine actions, and quest completion, it puts them together with a unique twist that makes the game simple to play while adding some advanced strategy and technique for experienced gamers to really sink their teeth into.

Contents (The Standard Edition)

  • Complete Rules Booklet
  • 80 Meeples (in 4 player colors)
  • 15 Hex Tiles (the game board)
  • Action and Score Keeping Board
  • 4 Scoring Discs (1 for each of the4 player colors)
  • 60 Goal Cards (15 for each of the 4 player colors)
  • 14 Custom Dice
  • 24 Wood Tokens, 24 Stone Tokens, 24 Food Tokens
  • 12 Event Cards
  • 6 double sided Leader Power Cards
  • 6 Player Boards (1 for each Tribe)

The artwork on the box, the player boards, and  the rules booklet all help to evoke the tribal feel of the game. The cards and dice are of high quality and the cardboard components are of higher quality than most board games. The Kickstarter promises a Deluxe Edition with wooden components that definitely seem worth paying a bit extra for to really keep players immersed in the theme.

Gameplay

The object of game is simple – be the first Tribe to score 15 Victory Points. At first the rules and mechanics look intimidating, but if you dive in and play through a turn or two the mechanics become much easier to understand and play starts to move very quickly and competitively.

After laying out the hex grid for the terrain and setting up the Action Board and dice according to the rules booklet, the players put meeples on the board to start the game based on turn order. 

The first player rolls 2 dice and then chooses where to put them on the action board. The player must take 2 actions on their turn (each action must be different). The player can choose to GROW their Tribe, MOVE their Tribe members, GATHER resources, or LEAD their Tribe. GROW allows the player to add more tribe members to the board. MOVE allows you to expand your tribe to more hexes and different terrains. GATHER helps the player get resources to build villages or complete goals. LEAD allows a player to get goals to complete which give the player additional Victory Points and some fun benefits.

When they player rolls their dice and chooses an action, they add the first of their die rolled to the first die slot of an Action, pushing all the other dice along to the right. The end die gets placed on the bottom of the Action Board and will be rolled on the next turn. The result of the 3 dice on the top of the Action Board determines the power of the action chosen. This mechanic adds quite a bit of strategy to the gameplay and adds the ability to influence future turns for opponents. This helps balance the fact that your initial actions are determined by chance dice rolls. Once the first Action is fully completed, the player follows the same steps for their second Action. The dice also have another function. If doubles are rolled, a game wide Event is triggered. These Events become active immediately and get resolved by following the directions on the card. Events cards resolve at different paces and can change play positively or negatively depending on the directions.

After the Actions or any Events are completed, Conflicts get resolved. Conflicts occur when more than 5 tribe members occupy a hex. Villagers are removed until only one Tribe occupies the hex. After Conflict gets resolved, players can Build villages or reach Goals.

Is it a Family Game?

Because the game has so many different mechanics to work with, we think the age of 10+ is accurate. A savvy gamer of a younger age may be able to play with some adult coaching. There is also reading involved in the Event Cards and the Goal Cards, so that also adds to the minimum age that a player must be. 

This is a light game that requires strategic thinking, planning and forethought, as well as some advanced logic and critical thinking skills. Players really need to have the ability to make independent decisions and the ability to understand long term consequences. Our adult players found both the theme of the game and the actual gameplay enjoyable. They loved the fact that there were so many different ways to achieve the objective of the game.

Conclusion

The first few turns we played through moved fairly slowly, but as we continued, meeples and villages quickly filled up the board and players became much more aggressive, searching out conflict and rushing to pick up Lead cards. The more we played through the game, the more we saw that there were many different strategies to get to 15 points.

We were super impressed with the thoughtfulness that went into game balance. All of our games were close matches and the dice movement mechanic really required players to think a few steps ahead. This game was extremely playable by players of all types. Our 11 year old quickly taught his friends and they each jumped in with their own style of play. Our experienced players found that the pace of the game kept everyone involved until the end of the game. You couldn’t predict who would win, because the score could change drastically in one turn.

We really loved the fact that this game can be customized to play at a more advanced level with the Leader Power Cards once players have gotten the basic game strategy down pat. We also see many expansion possibilities for the future in this game (5-6 players, perhaps)!

Overall, it’s a tightly designed game with a beautiful theme that uses familiar mechanics in a unique way that really allows players to tailor their strategy and use their own personal style to achieve victory and rise above the rest! Replayability is high, and it is more than worth the MSRP.

FCC disclosure: A copy of this game was sent to us by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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Kickstarter Review – Gruff: Rage of the Trolls

Rage of the Trolls is a standalone expansion to the Gruff game system coming to Kickstarter on 05/30/2017.

Gruff is a tactical card game that has been around for a few years now. The game puts an interesting spin on the Billy Goats Gruff bedtime story. If you recall the three Billy Goats Gruff used their wits to outsmart an evil troll so they could cross a bridge. In the game’s universe this victory was noticed by the shepherds nearby. They decided that they would use selective breeding, magic, and technology to help turn the goats into an army of … very weird soldiers.

Gruff: Rage of the Trolls expands on the franchise by giving players a chance to cooperate against monstrous trolls for the first time. The mechanics themselves are simple. Players set everything up as normal and place the troll in between the two players. The troll acts using behavior cards that are drawn and played during each player’s turn. Each card has a series of actions and effects that are triggered based on the trolls “rage” stat.

The troll’s rage stat increases on each players turn and this has an impact on the damage it deals and the number of actions on its behavior card that it will take. The troll gets very dangerous quickly during each game as its rage meter increases. Players who aren’t careful will have their gruffs taken out quickly.

These mechanics do make for an interesting cooperative experience. Our playtesting team felt challenged and encouraged to really study their shepherds, gruffs, and cards to make sure they were playing with optimal strategies. Its a great feeling to be forced to make adjustments between games like this because the thrill of victory is a great payoff for experimentation.

With all that said, the troll mechanics were a bit difficult to follow because they added several steps to each round ,compared to the main Gruff games, that kept our team from ever really feeling comfortable. This wasn’t enough to keep us from playing, but it was frustrating until we were able to get the rhythm straight.

Is it a kids’ game?

While I don’t think there is anything in particular about the game that is questionable, I do encourage parents to take a look at the art for the game. The battle goats are beautifully drawn, but they are definitely weird. Parents will know if a particular character would be problematic. The only time I would imagine this to be the case is if your child has an odd or unexpected phobia. These critters are definitely dark, but they are not gory,

There is nothing in this game, outside of maybe the artwork, that is any more objectionable than Magic: The Gathering or Yu Gi Oh. Your family can play this game with confidence.

Can kids play it?

Rage of the Trolls is slightly more complicated than the base game. The addition of the troll “boss monsters” add several different steps to each turn that made it harder for out play testers to keep track of things. This added complexity could have a negative impact on the experience for some younger players.

Conclusion

We may have had our difficulties with the cooperative aspects of the game, but this is a must own expansion for fans of the Gruff series. It includes two new Shepherds and six new battle goats that are fully compatible with the rest of the Gruff games.

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Family Board Game Review – Tak: A Beautiful Game

Cheapass Games

Age Rating: 12+

Players: 2

Timeframe: 20-45 minutes

MSRP: $55.00

Style: Abstract Strategy

 

“My next several hours were spent learning how to play Tak. Even if I had not been nearly mad with idleness, I would have enjoyed it. Tak is the best sort of game: simple in its rules, complex in its strategy. Bredon beat me handily in all five games we played, but I am proud to say that he never beat me the same way twice.”

-Kvothe, The Wise Man’s Fear (book by Patrick Rothfuss)

Introduction

The concept of Tak originated in the second book in The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. It was only described in vague detail but was always very intriguing to fans of the series. It was THE classic game in the world the author created. It didn’t exist in real life- until recently. Patrick Rothfuss and James Ernest from Cheapass Games had worked together on a little card game called Pairs. James Ernest had discussed creating a real and playable version of Tak. Patrick was reluctant, to say the least. But, the game ended up getting made (read the details here: http://blog.patrickrothfuss.com/2016/04/tak-a-beautiful-game/) and we all get to reap the benefits. (Editor’s note: If you’d like to hear the story you can listen to our podcast episode where I interviewed James Ernest about it!)

 

Tak is an abstract strategy game similar in play to Chess, Go, Mancala, etc. It has simple rules, looks (and sounds) beautiful and is easy to play. But, don’t be fooled by its outward simplicity. Playing this game requires a great deal of thought, tactics, and strategy.

 

Contents (The Classic Set)

  • Full rules booklet
  • 62 wooden pieces (31 natural colored trapezoid shaped pieces, and 31 darker colored flat bottom circle pieces including a capstone in each color)
  • 10” square hybrid game board

The components for this game are very clever and well thought out. The wooden pieces have a compelling tactile element because of their shapes and they also sound really cool when placed on the game board or when they clank together. We can imagine that it would sound even better if you had one of the higher end game boards that was available through the Kickstarter.

The game board itself is double sided and allows for highly customizable play. The “tavern” side of the board is printed to look like an old fashioned hand made wooden board and is meant to be played as a basic 5×5 grid game. The “court” side of the board is printed with a beautiful Selas flower and diamond pattern and can be used to play any size game from 3×3 to 6×6. .The artwork and aesthetic fit well with the world described in The Kingkiller Chronicles and should be pleasing to fans of the series as well as casual players. The box interior is not particularly well laid out if you are bothered by everything getting jumbled up. We would have liked to see separate compartments for the different colored wooden pieces.

Gameplay

The object of game is simple. Players have to build a road (using their wooden pieces) that connects from one side of the board to the opposite side. A road does not have to be a straight line and diagonal spaces to do connect.

On each turn players may either place a piece in an empty space in the board or move pieces in one of the stacks that they control. Pieces can be placed flat on the board, or standing upright.  Nothing can be stacked on a standing stone but standing stones do not count as part of your road (so standing stones act more like walls). Capstones can also be placed on the board like regular stones, but they do count as part of the road and they can be used to flatten standing stones.

Movement in the game is a bit tricky, and you and your opponent should read through the rules a few times before you play. If you’re anything like us, you will miss some rules the first time you play and will only figure it out when you encounter a scenario that doesn’t see to make sense or be fair. Movement is really the key to winning this game.

In addition to playing with different size grids, there is some more variety added when you score the game. Just like many other Cheapass Games, there are fun variations included in the rules to keep the game endlessly interesting and highly replayable.

Is it a Family Game?

Tak is absolutely a family game. There is nothing offensive or mature about the game, no reading is required, and the rules for gameplay are simple and easily explained to players age 7 and older.  However,we found that younger players will miss out on most of the strategy involved in the game and gameplay will often be much shorter because they do not apply complex or deep ideas.

This game is easy to jump into for children familiar with abstract games, but keep in mind that they have to be flexible thinkers and open to changing plans. Strategy and tactics are all well and good, but they’re only as good as the players’ ability to think and respond quickly on their feet. If you play with a young gamer who gets easily frustrated when their plans get changed by an opponent’s move, this might not be the game for you. If you are a player who likes games with deep stories and an aesthetic that supports that story, this is also not the game for you.

Conclusion

Tak is a game that can be enjoyed by new gamers, casual gamers and experienced gamers alike.  You do not have to be familiar with the book series that the game is based on to enjoy the game as a family. It really seems to be as timeless and classic as Chess, Checkers, and Mancala.  Because the game feels and plays similar to those classic and is beautifully designed we have really enjoyed playing it. There many different outcomes and playstyles, so the game hasn’t gotten dry or repetitive and our children often choose to bring this to the table to teach new friends how to play. While the game doesn’t have the inherent EXCITEMENT level of some of the more popular gateway games, the adults we introduced the game to definitely found it to be intriguing and fun.

FCC disclosure: A copy of this game was sent to us by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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