Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Lord of the Eagles, right when you need him!

So Bilbo, Gandalf and all the stupid dwarves are up in a tree, surrounded by growling wargs and a host of goblins with torches. Looks like our heroes are in a tight spot!

Oh well, looks like a dwarf barbecue to me. Someone else will have to kill the dragon and liberate all that sweet gold…but WAIT, what's that in the sky? Holy crap, its the Lord of the Eagles, or more correctly his feathered minions, come to save the day at the very last second.

I kept my cynicism to myself, while my son was excited to say the least. I had forgotten most of the Hobbit, and am really glad to be reading it again to a child who can still appreciate it. The story is truly one hot spot for the adventurers after another and he's been on the edge of his seat listening.

We ending the reading at a fairly appropriate moment, as the team said good night and drifted to sleep in the halls of Beorn the skin-changer. And of course there were mysterious noises in the night, but what comes of it we shall not find out until the reading resumes tomorrow.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Rattus: Merchant and Monk

Rattus is a light, simple game of population growth, followed by violent population reduction at the hands of plague-ridden rodents. At the end of the game, the scoring conditions care neither for area control, majority control or any other type of population distribution. Only the person with the most people, aka little cubes, will emerge victorious.

There are 6 different "role" cards you can choose from, but these all also make you more sucseptible to the plague. Underneath each "rat" token likes some number of roles which translate into additional fatalities.

I have read that role selection in this game is actually a very deep process. Wheels within wheels, especially when you grab two roles and use the two special powers together in some synergestic way.

I have only had luck with a single combo of characters, the Merchant and the Monk. Apart, they are each ok. Together, they do a good job of winning.

The Merchant allows you to move a single group of up to 3 cubes from one reigon to an ajacient region. The Monk allows you to move a single rat token from one region to an ajacent region.

Because population can only be placed on regions with rats, and then only in the amount of rat tokens on the region, it pays to be able to dump a bunch of guys and then move them quickly to a plague-free region.

Any time I try anything else...the Peasant who adds additonal population cubes, the Witch who can look under rat tokens to see just how bad the fatalities are going to eventually be...I totally bomb out. The King seems very good at first, he can remove a cube to a palace "safe haven" where the plague can never strike. But I have seen other players using him, and they are still inevitably struck down by the Captain Merchant and Monk Boy.

I guess right now you could call Rattus a one-trick pony, but that's really only because I haven't  figured out all the tricks. There are more tricks, I am confident!

There is also, according to reports, a strategy where you don't choose ANY role cards, and instead place your people to maximum effect and then look foward to the end-game when the plague strikes and few of your own cubes are removed. This does seem someone promising, if you are the most boring person in the world.

Otherwise, with the Merchant, at least you can move your guys around a little. People do it in Risk all the time, for FREE.

Friday, January 11, 2013

7 Wonders: the Power of 2

The fabulous 7 Wonders has 2 variants to take the player count beyond the standard 3-7 that's printed on the box. The first variant is for 8 players. The second variant I want to talk about is the "expert" 2 player version explained in the base rulebook.

First off, the 8 player version. I can safely say this is a hot mess of a game, barely a shadow of the expected 7 wonders experience. If someone asks you to play 8 player 7 Wonders as a "team game" you will have more fun standing in the corner that trying to eek out an empire with the guy one seat to the right looking over your shoulder.

The beauty of the 7 player game is in how fast things happen. All turns happen simultaneously, all you have to do is decide which card to take. Now imagine each decision on card choice being decided by a committee of two. Instead of picking your card in a typical "gut decision," you end up picking the card neither of you have any particularly strong objections to. Perhaps this would be fun if you were a Bynar. It was not fun for humans.

It was with trepidation (and not trepanation) that I attempted the 2 player variant. With 2 players, each human player trades on one side with their opponent, and on the other with a robot 3rd player. Yep, that's right, robot 3rd player. Doesn't sound very promising.

I was surprised, surprised indeed by how well it worked.

Each player takes turns controlling the 3rd player. The turn order is established by a "free city" card which is passed back in forth with one of the hands. If you look at your current hand and it has the weird card in it, you know to also pick a card for the 3rd player.

You can do all sorts of things using this extra civilization. You can make him trade with you instead of your opponent. In fact, my wife used the 3rd player to constantly trade with her civilization to amass a considerable fortune.

you can also use the 3rd player to bury a card you don't want your real opponent to have. Just make sure you don't end up giving away too many good cards to him, so that you begin to envy his board position as the game progresses.

That said, the biggest asset 7 Wonders has going...the speed and simplicity of play..is maintained by the 2 player variant. Meaning I have a number of duels to look forward to. Delighted!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Dungeon Twister 2: Prison…Now with Prisons!

Finally we get to the "prison" part of our journey.  Dungeon Twister is a puzzle game at its heart. Beyond the combat and character classes, you are really just trying to manipulate the rooms (by twisting!) until a safe path to freedom opens up. Gears are available in each room, providing you the opportunity to turn either the room you are in or the matching room with the same number. Those evil dwarven engineers, what will they think of next?

So as the name implies, there are going to be some rooms you just can't get out of, no matter how much you spin the room around. Not just having to worry about pits, now our heroes have to worry about ending up in lock-down, at the mercy of hostile forces somewhere in the dark.

Only 4 of your 8 characters start at the beginning of the maze, on the infamous "starting line." The rest start somewhere in the vast unexplored room structure beyond. You get to pick the room your stuff starts in, but your opponent decides the exact square of each room. And what a difference this fine tuning makes!

On Matched Pair 37, we have a cozy couple of communal rooms. In each of these, up to 4 characters might find themselves incarcerated. But after bashing the door down, you might actually find these rooms a nice place to hang out for a turn or two, as they are devoid of extra openings (except for the sneaky one on the top right) and each has a nice little arrow slit for the Naga to do his slithering.

On Matched Pair 38, we have one giant cell on the left tile and winding corridors on the right. This large cell is still technically lock-down, but its downright generous in its floorspace. You even have a spinner dial for manipulating rooms...perfect for a Mechanork! Keep the doors locked and watch your favorite gear spinner make himself at home. He's never getting out anyway, what with those bad knees and all.

Matched pair 39 provides some even longer tunnels, separated by your choice of either locked doors or a nasty pit. The tile on the right has the most interesting of cells, providing both room-twisting opportunities and possible pit jumping to get out.

Finally, we have Matched Pair 40. The right tile has some serious solitary confinement action waiting for the unwary. Even the Naga and the Wizard are going to be cooling it for a while unless a Colossus or Backstabber can come bail them out. You can definitely see how a person can lose track of their safe path, ending up stuck between a pit and locked door, or even a stone cold wall.

Final Thoughts:

Dungeon Twister, and especially the Dungeon Twister: Prison set I have reviewed provide an intense brain-burning dungeon delving experience. I actually think its a little big above my mental capacity, but luckily I have plenty of forgiving people willing to play it with me. Kids like playing it, at least to start with, but after a while their eyes can start to glass over, especially if the role model who maneuvered them into this game can seem to find a way to progress the situation.

The instruction book only hints at it, but you can play this game with fewer tile sections. The tutorial starts you out with 2 characters each and 4 rooms, which is really the minimum you need to get a good feel for the game.

And there is a fully-functioning solo variant included in the box, too. Complete with AI for opposing monsters, believe it or not. So even if willing participants are few and far between, you always have your brain to help figure things out.

Each tile is well and truly dense with turns, stone wall dead-ends, pits and locked doors. You will need to twist each room.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Dungeon Twister 2: It's all in the Cards

Fighting, Moving, Jumping into Action! Your characters have to make a lot of stuff happen during a game of Dungeon Twister. And there's no dice. So how does it all happen? The rules have been laid down since ancient times…if not dice then CARDS!

Let's look at the cards we have in our hand.

Each "action" represents moving one of your characters, or performing one of their special powers. For instance, the Colossus can bust through a gate for the bargain price of 1 action point. The Banshee's "most disgusting sound" ability costs an entire 2 action points, and by itself sets a precent that it is possible for an ability to cost more than 1 action point. You can use your actions however you like, distributing them to a bunch of different characters or using them all on one for an insane burst of activity.

And once you use an action card, you don't get it back until you have used them all. Everything averages out as the game progresses.

Now there comes the fighting. This isn't a cooperative effort, in fact you get a victory point for smushing an opposing player in the same manner as if one of your own figures had escaped. So conflict is going to happen from time to time.

So lets look at the combat cards.

Here's what we have in our other mitt. Don't get them mixed up!

Combat cards don't return to your hand, EVER! The only exception is the lowly zero card, which stays in your hand no matter how many times you get beat down. So you must pick your battles wisely and save the higher value cards until they are needed the most. Otherwise, the Collussus (base combat value of 5) can just walk around and clean up. If he can catch you.

This is also why the Telepath might actually be pretty good. A 6 value combat card thrown away in a relatively insignificant battle makes all the difference later on.

And let me spend a moment writing about the "Jump" cards. Each is also ONE use only, and safely transports one of your characters from 1 side of a pit to any other side for, again, the bargain price of 1 action point. Like most players, I occasionally mess up my strategy by running a character down a path that ends in a unexpected pit. And I never have the rope! These Jump cards are like silver coins in the early stages of the game and gold coins in the later. Hold them as long as possible!


My previous post talked a little bit about team effort. You have complete freedom to assign actions however you want. Unlike in most minis games, where all the figures have the same ability to do a set number of things each turn.

This makes it incredibly easy to accidentally focus on some of your characters. I've spent all my actions for a turn using the Naga to cruise around the board because he's so much more maneuverable than anyone else. That's maybe okay to quickly scout some things out. But I'm pretty sure the correct strategy is to try to distribute the action points as evenly as possible to keep your team moving. Because as speedy and dodgy as he is, the Naga is 1 VP and you've got a long 4 more VP to go without his help.

Controlling rooms seems to be a real good objective to strive for, keeping your band confined to 2 or 3 rooms they can move freely around in without worry of unexpected assaults.

And it makes it so much easier if one of your guys ends up in an unexpected prison cell situation. The rooms of this dungeon are filled with bad places for your characters to end up. But that is for another post!