Board Game Review – Vici

There’s a place for luck in a game. I’m mostly fine with it being all over the place. But there’s also a time when you should not allow luck to take a flawless strategy and turn it into a clown car full of acrobatic bobcats on their way to a jazz flute convention. Vici looks like it should be a successor to chess. It’s got strategy, clever moves, different pieces with special powers, careful maneuvering and other stuff that makes it a pretty smart-looking game. But it also has some painfully apparent flaws that kept me from wanting to play it again, despite being a good idea. Vici is a two-player game, with no option for more, which I like because too many games try to present variants and replay options and special scenarios and let’s face it, there’s just no need to trick it up all the time. Vici is simple and straightforward – two rival commanders face off across a movement grid, each equipped with similar armies, and they then deploy those armies in whichever manner makes them believe they will be able to dole out a beating to the opponent. When one player can move a piece to the other player’s camp, he can place a token and block that space. Block five spaces, and you’ve beaten the other guy. The difficult decisions start right out of the gate. You’re buying troops on a limited budget, with horsey guys costing a whole bunch more than sword guys or spear guys, and a little more than arrow guys, and each troop has different movement and battle capabilities. Should you react to your opponent’s cavalry with spear-carrying pikers, or set a screen to get your archers in place? Start off cheap with a wave of foot soldiers, or dive right in and go for the expensive guys first? The decisions are difficult because it’s important to make them correctly, so as not to wind up building a road of dead bodies for your enemy to follow into your house. Sadly, that strategy isn’t particularly well-developed. You might have a good idea for a couple turns, but it’s not like you can decide on a course of action and follow it for the whole game. You’ll be switching it up every turn, which means that you’re missing that warm fuzzy you get when you build a plan and stick to it and watch it blow out your enemies like... read more

Weird Game Review – A Duel Betwixt Us

Let’s say you’re a Victorian-era gentleman. Let’s say another Victorian-era gentleman challenges your honor. The only rational response is a duel. I mean, obviously. First you must decide on the terms of the duel. Will it be bludgeons and codpieces, with cheating allowed? Or will you use a referee to limit the funny business, and stab each other with swords like truly refined men? Or possibly just a birthday suit duel, where you will arrive at the contest wearing only what God gave you and carrying a mighty warhammer? Speaking of mighty warhammers (and in this context, I mean weapons, not manly parts), you will need to procure your tools of war should you hope to stand a chance in the upcoming fracas. For this, you must employ your miners, who will dig pure ingots from the earth that you may fashion into concealed daggers and sharpened broadswords. The more you prove your manly prowess by beating your opponent senseless with a large fish or closed umbrella, the more miners will come to your side to help you gather the raw materials you need to build only the most noble of helmets and tack hammers. Win your duels, and women will fawn over you, offering your their flowers in recognition of your sheer manly manliness (and by flowers, I mean carnations, as opposed to womanly parts). If any of that made sense, then you have grasped the basic concept behind A Duel Betwixt Us. Also, if that made sense, you should see a psychiatrist immediately because you are clearly deranged. A Duel Betwixt Us is a silly game with surprising depth and loads of difficult decisions. Possibly the most disturbing thing about the game is not the fact that the theme is absurd. No, the most worrisome part of A Duel Betwixt Us is how intuitively you will understand what you need to do. This is distressing because when you can understand anything this bizarre at a single glance, it may leave some doubt as to the state of your sanity. Though A Duel Betwixt Us seems to be an absurd, iconoclastic exercise in the irrational, it is actually a remarkably good game. You must manage your increasing resources, spend your ingots with care, save for future events and attempt to be prepared for any eventuality. If your opponent opts for a duel wielding only straight razors or prison shivs, what good will it do that you have amassed... read more

Quick Game Review – Agent Hunter

Spies are tricky bastards. They hide out in safe houses, disguising their identities and sneaking around in the dark. That’s why they make such a great theme to paste on a game like Agent Hunter, which is basically all about guessing numbers. Agent Hunter is a game about using your spies (who all have secret agent designators like ‘1’ and ‘2’ and ‘3’ and a bunch more that go all the way up to ‘9’) to find your opponent’s spies (who, because they are members of a secret spy organization exactly like yours, all have the same exact numbers). You take cards out of your hand and point to a safe house and say, ‘is that guy a zero?’ And if that guy is a zero, you capture his safe house. If he is not, your turn is over. Just so we’re clear, there is basically nothing spy-ey about Agent Hunter. It’s a guessing game where you try to figure out where your opponent is hiding cards with specific numbers on them. You run down the line, trying different numbers until you get lucky and nab three safe houses in a row. If the other player is guessing with a ‘6’, you know he’s not hiding a ‘6’ because he only has one of each number and he just showed it to you. If the other guy is running down the line guessing ‘5,’ and the last guy in your line is a ‘5,’ you can spend your turn to switch out the hiding card with one from your hand – but you can only do this five times during the whole game, so you have to be careful, especially because you can give away points by doing it. So basically, this is kind of a guessing game with numbers. It’s a lot of elimination and systematic guessing. There’s no spy action at all. But the art sure is cool. It’s also ten minutes of fun. The first time we played, we had no idea how to make it work, and we were doing dumb stuff and making mistakes. It took ten minutes to finish the game. Then we figured out what we were doing wrong, tried it again, and it still took ten minutes, but it was a tense ten minutes. There are no optimal moves, just bad decisions and painful mistakes. You’ll sit there trying to remember if you already checked that spot with a ‘4’, and... read more

Kickstarter Game Review – Galactic Arena

I have all but quit doing Kickstarter reviews. Most of the time, they suck. Worse than that, most of the time, the prototype sucks. It’s a bunch of cardboard that some knucklehead cut out with a pair of scissors, and the dude was apparently half-drunk when he was working because the pieces always look like they were gnawed by feral mole rats. But I guess the guys making Galactic Arena saw me coming, because the idea behind this game made me really want to play their game, even if I was going to get a handful of recycled material pretending to be a game. The idea, the one that made me accept a review copy prototype of a Kickstarter game when I swore I would never do that again, is that every game this company intends to publish will be based in the same universe. It’s called the Apocalypse Universe because in the game back-story, there was an apocalypse. In the universe. Which is probably why they scrubbed the name ‘Hamster Universe,’ which would have made no sense at all. According to the documentation that I largely ignored, the masses love to watch warriors compete in the Galactic Arena. Again, the names here are good examples of truth in advertising. There’s an arena, and it’s, you know, galactic. So what you get is like Running Man mixed with Spartacus. Everybody gets a fighter, and you send your fighter into the arena to put painful bruising all over enemy combatants. It can be a one-on-one grudge match, a team-based coordinated attack, or a free-for-all rumble. Any way you play, it moves pretty fast and there’s lots of bodies, so I’m basically on board. Combat is pretty basic, and wholly unoriginal – you roll a die, add your attack score, and the other guy rolls a die and adds his defense. If you hit him, he loses a health point. It’s basically like every other fighting game mechanic in the world. And if that was the sum total of Galactic Arena, I would tell you to save your money. Happily, that’s just the start. Every fighter is different. Many have wildly varying abilities, and not all are exactly balanced (the two-headed guy is really hard to kill, mostly because he can turn into water or slime or Nutella). Some gladiators are great at ranged attacks, firing with deadly precision from across the table, and others are mad dogs with multiple up-close... read more

Expansion Review – Smash Up Science Fiction Double Feature

When I first heard about Smash Up a few years ago, I was excited. It sounded like so much fun, and it looked absurdly silly, and the concepts were awesome. You just grab two completely different factions and combine them to make one deck that basically does something completely wacky. I was so stoked to get that first copy that I broke it out and played it right away with my wife and my dad. And my response was basically, ‘Huh. Well, there you go.’ Underwhelmed, I suppose. But obviously, I was not the voice of the industry in this case, because Smash Up continues to sell well enough that there are now three different expansions. Somebody is playing this game. Not me, but somebody. The newest set, like the two before it, introduces four new decks that can be combined with each other or any of the old cards to create something completely different. This one is called Science Fiction Double Feature, because they needed a name and that was not taken yet. You get shapeshifting aliens, cyborg apes, super spies and time travelers. Spies are not technically sci-fi matinee fodder, but they’re in the box, so what the hell. Like just about every previously released set, each of these factions grants a new twist on the game that will let you carefully ponder how to combine them with the others for maximum effectiveness. The spies, for example, are all about deck control, which is not something we’ve seen happening a lot before now. You’ll draw extra cards, stack your deck, and force other people to discard or dump their best stuff. It’s great for running your deck, but it’s more of a support faction than a heavy hitter. You might want to combine this with the dinosaurs or robots from the first set, so that you can make sure you’re building the combos that will ruin your opponents. If you can work in a little ‘I expect you to die,’ then you’re probably one of those irritating people who thinks he’s hilarious when he breaks out movie lines. Stick with Austin Powers. It’s still cashing in on someone else’s material, but at least that was deliberately funny. The time travelers come to us straight from the 1970s, with athletic jumpsuits and turtlenecks and groovy beards, baby. They specialize in using their cards twice. They are also not particularly great at being all powerful, but they do tend... read more

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