Thursday, April 27, 2017

GJJG Game Reviews - The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction - by Minion Games

The Manhattan Project:
Chain Reaction

Designer: James Mathe
Publisher: Minion Games
1-5p | 20-30m | 8+
GJJG Game Reviews - The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction - by Minion Games
Disclaimer

Game Overview:
The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction is a standalone card game based on the very popular Manhattan Project by Minion Games.  The Manhattan Project is one of the top rated games on Board Game Geek (7.5 and ranked #169) and last year's Manhattan Project: Energy Empire made a number of best games of 2016 lists.  This year will also see the release of the highly anticipated Manhattan Project 2: Minutes to Midnight.  Chain Reaction was released last year to much less fanfare, but it had huge shoes to fill, and as a quick card came was really in a totally different category.  But is Chain Reaction worthy of the Manhattan Project title, or was it a did in this line of explosive games?  Let's find out!

The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction is a fast card game for one to five players age 12 and up that takes about 20 to 40 minutes to play.  Players take on the roles of different nations vying to be the first to build ten megatons worth of atomic warheads.  

Components & Packaging:
Component wise, Chain Reaction is a simple game.  There are only 108 cards in the entire game.  The card quality is decent, but no linen finish.  The rules are on a single fold out sheet, and the box is just a tuck box.  So there's nothing to wow about with the component quality.  The tuck box can't fit sleeved cards, so you'll either need to upgrade to a larger box and lose the artwork, or keep the cards in the tuck box but run the risk of damage.
The tuck box in the standard edition looks great, but isn't super sturdy.

There is a deluxe version of the game for an additional $10 that adds a more durable two-piece, telescoping box as well as some wooden mushroom cloud and radioactive symbol tokens.  To my knowledge, these don't change the game at all (in fact, I'm not sure what they'd be used for since they don't quite match any gameplay elements), but they do look pretty cool.

About the only aspect of the components that stands out is the art and design.  The artwork is by the same artists as the original Manhattan Project, in fact much of it is lifted straight from the original game.  The games also share some iconography and other artwork elements, giving Chain Reaction a very familiar look if you are used to Manhattan Project.
The artwork and graphic design throughout the game is excellent, and fits right in with the other Manhattan Project games.
Score: 6/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
Chain Reaction is a very straightforward game.  The rules are pretty clear, setup just takes a couple of minutes, and resetting for a second game is super quick.

There are several types of cards, each of which should be separated into their own groups.  First, take the four landmark cards and place them face-up in a row.  Then take the bomb cards and place a number equal to the players, plus one, in a row below the locations, with the rest in a draw pile.  There are also bomb loaded cards, and three values of yellowcake cards (with uranium on the backs) that should all be placed in separate draw piles.  One card is a first player marker, and the rest should be shuffled to become the main draw pile.  Each player gets five of the main cards and the game is ready to begin.
Setup and ready to play!
On your turn you'll play the five cards in your hand then draw a new hand of five cards, simple as that.  Where things get more complex though, and where the strategy comes in, is in how the cards interact.

There are two main types of cards that you'll have in your hand, actions and locations.  Actions let you do various things at no cost (always a choice between something that will mostly help you, and something that will harm an opponent).  Locations let you generate something (workers, yellowcake, uranium, or more cards) for a cost (workers or yellowcake).  Using the cards you have you are trying to mine yellowcake to turn into refined uranium and then use the uranium to build bombs.  Yellowcake and uranium are the only resources you'll keep from turn to turn, until you spend the uranium to build bombs.  Bombs are worth varying amounts of points, and the first player to ten points triggers the end game (or play to more points for a longer game).  The winner is the player with the most points at the end of that round.
Yellowcake earned in one turn is saved for future turns, when it can be enriched into uranium, and then used to build bombs.
All the main play cards have two possible uses, either for workers, or for their location or ability.  To use a card for the workers it provides, play it horizontally.  Cards will provide one or two each of three types of workers: general laborers, scientists, and engineers.  Using the appropriate number and type of workers (and occasionally including some yellowcake) allows you to activate another card.  
Every turn is an interesting puzzle of how to use the locations or labor on each card to
maximize your production of yellowcake and uranium.
Activating a Factory let's you either draw two or three new cards or cause another player to discard that many cards.  Universities take a few workers and generate more or different types of workers.  Mines use workers to generate yellowcake.  Enrichment plants use some workers to turn the yellowcake into uranium.
A wide variety of cards ensures that each hand is a unique puzzle.
There are also four Landmarks, or permanent locations that are always available for everyone to use.  These are expensive, but can be used to produce one scientist, engineer, yellowcake, or uranium.  The cost is higher than using a standard card, but sometimes the cards you are dealt leave you needing just that little bit extra.
Landmarks like MIT, or Oak Ridge are expensive to use, but can give you that last boost you need.
A few cards just have actions that you can take immediately when the card is played.  Design Bomb let's you draw the top three Bomb cards (more about them in a bit), choose one, and discard the others to the bottom of the Bomb card pile.  The one you chose you keep face down until you are able to build it.  Double Agent is a pretty powerful card.  It lets you either use a Landmark without paying its cost or take one yellowcake from an opponent.  Espionage is the most take-that card of the game, allowing you to either look at an opponent's hand and steal a card, or steal a yellowcake from an opponent.
A few cards have some take-that actions available.
Ultimately you'll want to use the uranium you've refined and workers you can generate to build a bomb.  There are several bombs available to all players, ranging in points from three to seven.  Each bomb needs a combination of scientists, engineers, and uranium to construct.  Once built, you'll collect the bomb for its points.
Bomb cards earn you points and bring the game to an end.
There are also Load Bomb cards, which take two engineers and two scientists.  You can only load a bomb you've already built and can only load a bomb once, but loading a bomb increases the points it is worth by two.
Load Bomb cards give each loaded bomb a two point boost.
The game ends at the end of the round in which a player earns ten or more points in built and/or loaded bombs.  Then scores are tallied (unused uranium is worth 1/2 a point) and the winner is the player with the most points.  Ties are broken by the player with the most yellowcake remaining.

Overall, the rules are clear and quick to both learn and teach.  The game is simple and straightforward enough that even on just the single, oversize sheet, we found every question was answered.  Setup just takes a few minutes (and you can use the time spent laying out the different cards to teach what they are).  Cleanup is pretty quick as well.  For the most part each card type remains with just other cards of the same type, so there's not much sorting required for cleanup.
I won here with 11 points, 8 points for my bombs, one loaded bomb, and one point for two remaining uranium cards.
Second place was 10.5 points, so it was close!
Score: 9/10 x2

Gameplay:
The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction is a surprisingly deep game.  The way cards work as both resource and production creates some very interesting decisions.  Do you use that mine for the two laborers it generates?  Or do you use it to produce three yellowcake?  Do you want to be mean and cause an opponent to discard some cards, or do you want to see if you can get some useful cards for yourself?

Despite some occasionally tough decisions, the random cards you get from the deck each turn means the game can feel a bit luck based, but in my experience that luck tends to even out.  All games I played were fairly close and no one ever ended up way behind, even if they felt like they were getting unlucky cards more often than others.  Usually you can do something with the cards you draw, and only rarely does more than one card go unused from your hand.
Sometimes the chains of cards can go on for quite a while, despite each turn starting with only five cards in your hand.
A bigger issue, potentially, is the take-that aspect of the game.  It's not too overwhelming, but depending on who you are playing with and what cards get drawn, this can be a game where people gang up on one other player.  Granted, if those are the people you're playing with, maybe it's better to find others to play with, but the game does present the possibility to severely handicap one player.  It is possible to play without using the nasty effects since all of those cards, except for Espionage, have an option that doesn't hinder any other players, and, truthfully it's often better to take the benefit yourself than it is to hurt another player.  I didn't find the take-that nature of the game to be too vicious, but be aware that there is the potential for it.
Over the course of a game I had Espionage three times, so I stole a card
from each of the other players!  It's great to share!

Chain Reaction also has some very interesting mechanics in how the cards can be chained together for some pretty cool effects.  Given the right hand, it's possible to play the right combination to go from nothing to building a bomb, all in one turn.  It's tough, but possible.  But even without a perfect hand, it's often possible to make some pretty big strides toward building a bomb in one turn.  Each hand you draw presents you with an intriguing puzzle that you work to solve to maximize your output of yellowcake and uranium. The way the cards chain together and have dual purposes gives you quite a bit to ponder, even with only five cards in your hand.  It kind of gives the feel of a deckbuilder, late in the game when you draw cool card combinations, but without the overhead of having to build your deck.  It's quite interesting and works very well.
Can you figure out how to use these cards to generate two uranium?
First, I can use four scientists to run my mine, producing three yellowcake (one scientist is wasted, unfortunately).

Then I'll use those three yellowcake and another scientist (wasting an engineer) to get two uranium.

Flipping over the yellowcake gives me the uranium I'll need to build a bomb later.
One thing to note is that Chain Reaction has rules for solo play, too.  Solo rules are pretty much the exact same as standard play, except the few take-that cards have some alternate actions.  You play through the entire deck once, without shuffling, and see how many points you can earn.  You'll try to beat your best score each time.  Gameplay is still interesting, since you have a new puzzle to solve each turn, but there are no options for increasing difficulty.  It's a fun way to spend 15-20 minutes though, and the game size means you can take it with you just about anywhere.

Score: 7/10 x3


Replayability:
The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction isn't a game that you'll make your sole focus of game night, but it is a pretty good filler game.  Especially if you are a fan of the original The Manhattan Project, or Energy Empire (or the upcoming Minutes to Midnight).  These are all bigger games that will pretty much fill up a game night, and will be games that you'll want to return to whenever you have the time to spend.  But at the beginning of the night, before you delve into one of the meatier games, Chain Reaction is a great appetizer.  It plays quickly, offers some interesting decisions and puzzles, and carries through the Manhattan Project theme pretty well.

Even if you're not using Chain Reaction as a prelude to other Manhattan Project games, it's still a fun little game to pull out whenever you need a quick filler.  This is definitely a game that will be coming with me to game nights quite often.  It'll also likely be a game that I break out with the kids in the evening when they want a game, but we don't have the time to play a long one.  It's fast, fun, and accessible, and at up to five players it should hit the table pretty frequently.

Score: 7/10 x1

General Fun:
I found The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction to be quite enjoyable.  The play length is just about right for the weight and style of game that it is, but it's quite easy to lengthen the game if you like.  I recommend trying a game to 12 or 15 points.  Chain Reaction is a game that I'd be happy to play just about any time, and it's one I'll be bringing with to play with others when we need a quick playing game.  I really enjoyed the decisions and puzzles that arise from the cards you draw into your hand each turn.  The theme is great, although it's not overly immersive, and the artwork matches the theme wonderfully.  I had more fun playing Chain Reaction than I thought I would, and I'd gladly teach it to new players so they can have fun as well.  Everyone I played with also really enjoyed the game.
Solving each little puzzle each turn is quite fun, as is the opportunity to mess with your opponents (if you're into that).
Score: 8/10 x2

Overall Value:
At only $15, The Manhattan Project: Chain reaction is a great deal.  It plays smoothly, and brings quite a bit of fun to the table.  It's also in line, price wise, with similar games when comparing components and gameplay (Star Realms, Epic, etc.).  Chain Reaction is a game that you can easily take just about anywhere and play in about 20-30 minutes.  It's perfect for a game night filler, restaurant game, or any time you want something fast and fun.  It's a pretty good value for the money, and you can sometimes find it even cheaper.  Definitely look for it at your FLGS, or favorite online game retailer.  It'll be a worthwhile purchase.
Great artwork, fun gameplay, and small form factor all make this a great game for only $15.
Score: 8/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction definitely gets my approval.  No, it's not as weighty or deep a game as the others in the Manhattan Project family, but it keeps the theme alive in a lighter card game.  I really enjoyed how each turn presented a new puzzle to solve.  There's really only one path to victory, so each player will have the same general strategy, but to win you really need to figure out how to maximize each turn.  There is a fair amount of luck, but the game is light enough and fast enough that there shouldn't be any hard feelings if someone gets a few bad hands.  Also, the multiple uses of the cards provide lots of opportunities to mitigate the luck of the draw.
Lots of different cards make for some interesting combinations.
Chain Reaction isn't a perfect game though.  Even though other games come in similar style tuck boxes, it still feels cheap.  If you think you'll play a lot, the tuck box won't fit sleeved cards.  And if you don't sleeve the cards, the tuck box won't protect them for long.  The game plays quickly, sometimes even too quick.  That can be easily remedied by playing to higher points though.  Chain Reaction also has the potential to get a bit more vicious than some will like, but the multiple actions and quick play help prevent most games from being too mean.

While I really did like how cards had multiple uses, I still sometimes felt my choices were a not lacking due to some bad luck.  However, I never felt like there was nothing to do.  I think it might be interesting to have a few more cards that add a bit more variety to the deck, though.  Maybe a few cards that have three laborers on them instead of just two or one.  There is a lot of balance in the cards that makes sure that even if you use a card that let's you draw more cards, the amount of cards you play is never less than what you gain.  So if you play a factory to let you draw three cards, you'll have to spend at least three cards.  It might be interesting if there were occasional card combos that could actually let you increase the number of cards you can work with.  

There could also potentially be more cards that have interesting actions to spice up the gameplay a bit.  Sometimes turns seemed to be repetitive, trying to solve the same types of puzzles turn after turn.  I could see some event cards mixed in the deck.  Maybe cards that affect everyone when drawn or played, like everyone draws a card, or discards a card.  Or the active player draws cards equal to the number of players, chooses one and passes the rest on, then the next player does the same, until all players have a new card.  Or everyone passes a card to the left or right.  There are a lot of fun ideas that could add just a bit more interest to the game.  But that could be for a mini expansion someday.
In the example above, I could also have generated my three yellowcake with this combination.
I'd still have wasted a scientist though, and would have had the same result.
Overall, everyone I played The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction with had a great time.  The gameplay is fast, fun, and solid.  It's easy to teach, has an accessible theme, and looks great.  The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction would be a great addition to anyone's collection of lighter, filler style games.  If you are a fan of the Manhattan Project line, and are looking for a lighter game with the same theme, Chain Reaction is that game.

You can learn more about The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction from the Minion Games website, or ask for it at your favorite online or local game store.

Overall Score: 76/100


Did you like this review?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.




GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 67: Steve Birch

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples.


Name:Steve Birch
Email:stephen@finalbid.eu
Location:Spain & UK
Day Job:Translator, English teacher, creative consultant.
Designing:Over ten years!
Webpage:www.finalbidgame.com (under construction)
Facebook:Final Bid
Today's Interview is with:

Steve Birch
Interviewed on: 3/24/2017

If you've been playing board games for a number of years you may not be familiar with Steve Birch's name, but you're probably familiar with at least some of his work. In the past he was involved in the development of Trivial Pursuit. Now he's working on his own trivia game, called Final Bid, that he thinks brings some interesting, new mechanics to the trivia game genre. To learn more about Steve and his current projects, read on!

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Over ten years!

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
30 years ago when I was creative director of Trivial Pursuit I figured I could come up with an entirely different game that incorporated all the 'hooks' of TP. I didn't imagine it would take so long! Never say die or, in my case, never say dice.

What game or games are you currently working on?
Final Bid

Have you designed any games that have been published?
In my quest for 'the' game I created one that was published in Spain.

What is your day job?
Translator, English teacher, creative consultant.

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
Homes and bars

Who do you normally game with?
Friends and family

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Wits & Wagers

And what snacks would you eat?
Potato chips & chillies

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
David Walbert's compositions by Richard Gilleweitz

What’s your favorite FLGS?
No particular store

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Exploding Kittens

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Fav. Cluedo. Least fav. Games that use dice as a prime mechanic.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Trivial Pursuit - because of my involvement I have never been able to play it. I know the answers to most of the questions.

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
Theme first. The the mechanics develop to (hopefully) drive the game.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
No

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
No

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Random thoughts.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
With my friends and my students.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I work solo on the concepts and then with a designer / collaborator.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Originality

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
This is something I would have to give a lot of thought to.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Not my case

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Limit frustration and enhance the creative scope of the players.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: La Tres Llaves ( Spain)
Games that will soon be published are: Final Bid
I'm planning to crowdfund: Final Bid
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Done
Games that I'm playtesting are: Done

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
New to the Table, Kickstarter Board Games.

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Star Trek. Coke. VHS

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Word games, General Knowledge, Fascinating facts.

What is something you learned in the last week?
International shipping costs can be more than the cost of a game.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
All types of music. Intrigue, thrillers and anything Stephen King.

What was the last book you read?
Digital Fortress (Dan Brown)

Do you play any musical instruments?
No

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I co-wrote the British TP questions, created the "Role Again" symbol to unify all the international TP boards (one printing for all the world).

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
Turned down the offer to sleep with a woman who could have made me rich!

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Maybe not an accident as such, but being "picked up" in a bar by the wife of Chris Haney - TP inventor, which led to my involvement with the game.

Who is your idol?
Jaque Fresco

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Never stop travelling

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Exrovert

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
The Invisible Man

Have any pets?
Dogs

When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
Cards, because of their limitless game variations. I don't really get the 'wiping out of consciousness' question.

If you’d like to send a shout out to anyone, anyone at all, here’s your chance (I can’t guarantee they’ll read this though):
Today is tomorrow's past, do something memorable.

Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

During the 30 years it has taken me to come up with Final Bid I have seen many 'trivia' games come and go but fB is very different in content and has very original mechanics. It won't disappoint you.




Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html

Did you like this interview?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Another Mole Rats in Space Giveaway! Five Winners!

Mole Rats in Space
Designer: Matt Leacock
Publisher: Peaceable Kingdom
2-4p | 20m | 7+
GJJ Games and Peaceable Kingdom have partnered up to give away FIVE MORE COPIES of the new cooperative family game, Mole Rats in Space by renowned designer Matt Leacock (Pandemic series, Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert, Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age, Thunderbirds, Knit Wit, and more).

Why are we giving away five more copies?  Read my review and find out!  This is in addition to two copies given away last month.  Thank you to Peaceable Kingdom for their generosity!

In a space station far from Earth, a team of Mole Rats is busy at work when a band of snakes infiltrates their station. Players work together to help the Mole Rats gather their equipment and make it to their escape pod before time runs out! Climb the ladders, slip down air-shafts, but don't get bitten by the snakes. From celebrated cooperative game designer Matt Leacock.







Winners will be contacted via the email they supplied via the the contest widget.  Winners will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner will be selected.  Winning entries will be checked for validity, so any shares must be publicly visible.  Winners will be selected from all eligible entries.  Winners will be limited to winning one prize.  Peaceable Kingdom is responsible for prize fulfillment.  Shipping is provided to US Locations only, international winners may be asked to pay actual shipping charges.  Peaceable Kingdom, GJJ Games, and their immediate families are ineligible. This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook or Twitter. We hereby release Facebook and Twitter of any liability. No purchase necessary, void where prohibited. Contestants release GJJ Games of any liability. By entering this contest you agree to being added to our mailing list which can be opted out of at any time. Winner(s) will be announced on this page and contacted by email within two weeks of contest end.

This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 66: Andrew Birkett

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples or in the index.



Name:Andrew Birkett
Email:andrew@atherisgames.com
Location:Orlando, FL, USA 🇺🇸
Day Job:I am still a college student at the University of Florida. I have a job as an account manager with my uncle's company.
Designing:One to two years.
Webpage:atherisgames.com
BGG:abirkett2
Facebook:Atheris Games
Twitter:@atherisgames
YouTube:Atheris Games
Instagram:@atherisgames
Find my games at:FLGS and Amazon
Today's Interview is with:

Andrew Birkett
Interviewed on: 3/11/2017

Andrew Birkett has been designing games for only a couple of years now, but he's already gotten into publishing games through his company Atheris Games. Last year he successfully funded Cul-De-Sac Conquest and has a game (by another designer) on Kickstarter right now! But only for a couple more days. Mutant Crops is already funded and working toward stretch goals in the last 48 hours. For only $19, it's worth checking out now.

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
One to two years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I have always been really passionate about entrepreneurship. I used to try to start all kinds of businesses as a kid. I bought a gumball machine to put into the AT&T store my dad owned, washed cars, mowed lawns, etc. All my family were entrepreneurs at some point of time or any other so I knew I wanted to start a company. When I was in high school I developed an idea for an automotive trading card game. The game ended up changing into more of a livable card game model and has yet to be published. However, the time developing the business plan and learning game design was instrumental to my introduction to designing tabletop games. Ultimately the artwork costs for my automotive game became too high. I didn't have the capital to continue and I had potential investors that all dropped out so I pivoted to make a board game. At first it was a war game I had been developing whenever I got stuck on the automotive game, but then I changed the theme to be about annoying neighbors. We launched on Kickstarter super quickly and raised just over $20k.

What game or games are you currently working on?
When I was making my automotive game I posted in an art for tabletop games group and asked if any graphic designers would be able to assist me with improving the design of my cards. Sebastian Koziner responded and did the first layout for free. I loved his work so we worked together on all the graphics for the automotive game, Cul-De-Sac Conquest, and my upcoming game Supernatural Socks. In addition to graphic design Sebastian is a game designer and owns a publishing studio in Argentina. Atheris Games is excited to launch Sebastian's game Mutant Crops on Kickstarter March 21st 2017 through April 20th 2017. Mutant Crops is a game about sowing, feeding, watering and harvesting mutated crops. My next game, Supernatural Socks, which is a game about socks being lost in the laundry should be on Kickstarter in June.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Cul-De-Sac Conquest was my first published game

What is your day job?
I am still a college student at the University of Florida. I took the spring semester off school and work but I often work, go to school, and work on Atheris at the same time. It is pretty stressful, but I love making games and couldn't imagine my life without Atheris Games. I owned a game store shortly (4 months) because I won space at the University of Florida student union, but I felt it took me away from publishing games so I ultimately decided to close it. I now have a job as an account manager. I am still training but it seems like a great job. It is my uncle's company so I work with family, which is nice.

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
My house.

Who do you normally game with?
Recently my family (most were not gamers before)

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
We normally play Deception: Murder at Hong Kong, Dixit, Avalon, Cash N Guns and other simple games with large player counts.

And what snacks would you eat?
Any snack is good with me. I eat a ton of candy and drink a lot of Red Bull. Some of my family will bring beer and other drinks over. I normally don't drink alcohol, but I am all for Red Bull. We also ate pizza last week. I am lactose-intolerant, but they make pills to ease digestion.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
I guess it would depend on the game. I play music when playing some of my prototype games. I have a office game I am working on and I like to play elevator music. For Cul-De-Sac on my turn I play whatever music would be thematic for my character.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Gamesville Tabletop definitely has a place in my heart. When I started designing in Gainesville, FL everyone at Gamesville were super helpful and supportive. Though I must admit I love most of the local FLGS in Orlando and all the FLGS that have supported Atheris.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
I really enjoy Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle. My least favorite game that was still ok was Backyard Builders Treehouse. The worst game I ever played was a roll-and-move game at a prototype convention.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
My favorite mechanic is probably card drafting. My least favorite is probably anything with dice movement.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
World’s Fair 1893

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, RPG Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
No

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
Both. Most of the time I start with theme, but I am designing a game now that has no theme currently.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I have not.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
I do a 5-minute game theme challenge almost everyday. That is great inspiration. I also love writing so some of the themes come from that. Cul-De-Sac Conquest started as a story I was writing about annoying neighbors.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
There are local playtesting groups, we also do blind testing and I test with my girlfriend when the games are at the worst. She is kind enough to play them.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I like working with other people. With Supernatural Socks I wanted to design alone since i worked with others on Cul-De-Sac Conquest, but I have many collab projects in the works now.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Time. Or rather the lack-thereof.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Probably Guardians of the Galaxy

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
That prototypes don't need expensive artwork.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Prototype rapidly. Take criticism well, but know that at the end of the day it is your game so you need to be happy with it. Have fun.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Cul-De-Sac Conquest
Games that will soon be published are: Supernatural Socks
I'm planning to crowdfund: Supernatural Socks

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Yep. Hopefully all of them.

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Star Wars but I am not a huge fan of either. Coke and Pepsi are the same thing. VHS. Growing up I used to use VHS tapes to make roads for my Hot Wheels.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I like running, writing and reading.

What is something you learned in the last week?
I am learning a lot about student loan repayment options since I am almost out of school.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
I like all kinds of music but I mainly listen to rap. I read a lot of business books, non-fiction and fiction books. Right now I am reading Marcia Clark's Without a Doubt. One of my favorite books is the Green Mile by Stephen King. For movies I am obsessed with Guardians of the Galaxy. I like comedies, too.

What was the last book you read?
Cold Killing by Luke Delaney. It is a fiction book but I read a lot of crime novels (fiction and non-fiction).

Do you play any musical instruments?
Unfortunately not

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I have maxed out all of my credit cards to start Atheris Games.

Who is your idol?
Elon Musk. I love cars and Tesla Model D's can do 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Nothing. I am happy with my life and wouldn't want to accidentally change anything. I do enjoy history so I might go and check out old artifacts in pristine condition.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Extrovert.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Batman. He has a sweet car and is an entrepreneur.

Have any pets?
My dad has two shih-tzus, Gizmo and Lily.

Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

Here are a few more pictures:


Andrew and his girlfriend.

Andrew with a Holeshot Heroes shirt and a copy of Oni, the first game Sebastian Koziner (the designer of Mutant Crops) had published internationally. Holeshot Heroes was the car game Andrew was working on.

Andrew's game designs.

Andrew is Kickstarting Mutant Crops, Atheris' second game, by Sebastian Koziner. Check out the game now!




Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html

Did you like this interview?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

Monday, April 17, 2017

GJJG Game Reviews - Mole Rats in Space - by Peaceable Kingdom

Mole Rats in Space
Designer: Matt Leacock
Publisher: Peaceable Kingdom
2-4p | 20m | 7+
GJJG Game Reviews - Mole Rats in Space - by Peaceable Kingdom
Disclaimer

Game Overview:
In the last few months I've reviewed a few of Peaceable Kingdom's kid friendly cooperative games.  I started with Race to the Treasure, which was aimed at kids age five and up.  It was OK, but I felt it was too simple, even for young kids.  It didn't really offer many real choices or decisions.  Next up was Cauldron Quest, which was for ages six and up.  This was a much 'gamier' game, and offered a few more choices, but was still pretty linear and relied on luck.  But today I'm going to tell you about the newest cooperative game to be released by Peaceable Kingdom, and it's designed by a pretty big name in cooperative games.

Mole Rats in Space is the latest cooperative game for kids (ages eight and up) from Peaceable Kingdom and renowned designer, Matt Leacock.  Matt is known for designing some of the biggest hits for cooperative games, including Pandemic, Forbidden Island (which was my sons' introduction to cooperative games), Forbidden Desert, Thunderbirds, and the number one game on Board Game Geek, Pandemic Legacy.  With a catalog like that, a kids cooperative game comes with some pretty high expectations.  So, does Mole Rats in Space deliver the fun, cooperative experience we've come to expect from Matt Leacock in the family friendly package we expect from Peaceable Kingdom?  Read on to find out!

In Mole Rats in Space, each player is an anthropomorphic mole rat that is stuck on a space station with a bunch of snakes (cue a Samuel L. Jackson quote now).  The mole rats must escape the space station together and avoid the snakes.  The game borrows a lot from Snakes/Chutes & Ladders, but Matt Leacock puts a modern spin on this ancient classic.

Components & Packaging:
As usual, the components in Mole Rats in Space are top notch for a kids game.  As I've mentioned before, Peaceable Kingdom's games are all manufactured in eco-friendly ways.  Everything from the cardboard to the plastic figures are from sustainable sources.  And they don't skimp on quality to meet these standards either.

The game comes with four plastic mole rat figures (don't worry, they're not naked mole rats - they're wearing space suits) in four colors.  Each mole rat has a backpack that can be used to carry a med kit and other equipment acquired during the game.  The little chits used for the med kits and equipment are a bit thinner than you might find in other games, but they're sturdy enough and fit nicely in the backpacks.  There are also twelve snake tokens that are the same thickness, but bigger.  Nothing feels cheap, and everything has nice printing.
Awesome mole rat figures!
The cards are decent quality, too.  They have nice snap and shuffle well, although they're missing some premium features, like black core or linen texture, but in a kids game where you're only handling one card at a time and only shuffling once at the beginning of the game, the quality is more than adequate.
All the components are good quality.
The game board is nice and large, with clear graphics printed on the playing side and the Peaceable Kingdom logo and game name printed on the back.  This makes a nice presentation in the box when the board is folded up and put away.
Just lifting the lid is a great presentation!
Which brings us to the box.  The box, I think, is my favorite component (or maybe the mole rat figures, I can't quite decide).  The box is nice and thick, with an awesome insert that holds everything snugly.  The mole rat figures each have their own spot to sit, and the board holds the cards and tokens in place nicely.
Everything has a spot!
The outside of the box looks great.  It's obviously a kids game from the artwork, but the characters really grab your attention.  And if they don't, then the metallic lettering definitely will!  Peaceable Kingdom always has attractive covers on their games, and Mole Rats in Space is no exception.
Look at all those shiny letters!
Score: 9/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
Setting up Mole Rats in Space is a piece of cake.  Each mole rat starts on the side of the board with its color (although, as long as they start in a starting space, which one doesn't really matter).  Each mole rat also starts with its corresponding med kit token, in its backpack.  Four other equipment token and four snake token are placed in their designated starting spaces.  Shuffle the cards (after removing one for a two player game), deal one out to each player, and you're good to go!
All set up for a three player game.
The rule are also pretty simple.  Basically all the game is, is play a card, do what it says, then draw a new card.  Players work together on a board very reminiscent of Chutes & Ladders (aka Snakes & Ladders).  Just like in the classic kids game, there are ladders to climb and chutes to slide down, but the levels form concentric squares instead of a zigzag path, and there are dangerous snakes slithering through the corridors of this space station.
The rules are clear and concise.  Just what you'd expect from a kids' game.

The goal of the game is to acquire the four pieces of equipment and get all the mole rats to the escape pod at the center of the board, before a name finds its way to the escape hatch, a mole rat is bitten twice, or the players run out of cards to play.

Cards have one or two action on them and each player must play the card they have on their turn.  Most cards have two halves, one that moves mole rats, and one for snakes.  The mole rat action tells you to move either your own mole rat, all mole rats, or any one mole rat one, two, or three spaces.  Some cards give you a choice of how far to move, but most just tell you how far.  Snake actions have you move a single snake in a particular color, all snakes of a color, or one snake of any color one, two, or three spaces.  Or, some snake actions require you to spawn a new snake of a particular color.  There are also a few cards that don't have any mole rat actions and just have one or more snakes move directly to the nearest ladder and climb it.
This card lets you move your mole rat one or two spaces, and requires that you spawn a new red snake.
As mole rats and snakes move through the space station they may land on spaces that have different effects.  Passing through a space has no effect (except for mole rats passing through spaces occupied by snakes or vice versa).  Ending your move on a space though, causes that space's effect to happen.  If a mole rat or snake lands on a ladder it will immediately climb up to the space above the ladder.  Landing on a chute takes the character down to the Chute's exit, but be careful, some chutes vent into space!  These are good to move snakes onto, but your mole rats should avoid them.  Some spaces have equipment on them and if a mole rats lands here, it can pick up the equipment token and put into its backpack.  There are also spaces where new snakes will occasionally spawn.

If a mole rat and snake ever occupy the same space, even mid-move, the mole rat gets bitten.  The mole rat must discard its med kit and return to its starting space.  If a mole rat doesn't have a med kit because it's already been bitten, then the players lose the game.  So be careful and avoid those snakes!
Ladders go up, chutes go down.  Keep the snakes away from the mole rats and escape pod while you collect
the equipment and make your way to the escape pod.  That's the game in a nutshell.
That's pretty much it.  The game is easy enough for an eight year old to play with other kids, or as young as four or five to play with an adult.  There are a few details that aren't addressed in the rules, but they're pretty easy to surmise.  For example, the rules don't state which action to complete first, the mole rat or snake action.  We took this to mean it didn't matter what order actions were taken in, but you could make the game a bit more challenging by requiring the mole rats to always move first.  The rules also don't say if a mole rat can enter the escape pod before all the equipment is collected, but we assumed no.  Overall though, the rules are simple, clear, and concise.

Score: 8/10 x2

Gameplay:
Playing Mole rats in Space is actually quite fun.  The mechanics are super simple, and the play-a-card simplicity still generates a number of interesting decisions.  Often times the best decision is pretty obvious, particularly for older players, but younger players will like deciding where to move pieces, and which pieces to move.  The game is still heavily driven by luck (card draws), and still has a pretty linear progression.  
Loading up the mole rats with equipment is quite fun, but sometimes feels inevitable.
Whether we won or lost didn't really feel like something we really had much control of.  The first time we lost it was because someone had to play a card that made all snakes of a certain color move to the nearest ladder and climb up.  There just happened to be a snake on the same level as the ladder to the escape pod, so we lost.  Our second loss came because we ran out of cards to draw, not because we made any choices that we shouldn't have.

There is a way to make the game more difficult though.  Mole Rats in Space includes a Challenge Pack.  This is a small envelope that says not to open it until you've won three games.  SPOILER: The More Venom challenge cards add in a few more challenging cards, including a few more spawn a snake cards.  This means there's a new lose condition.  If you have to spawn a snake of a specific color and can't because all the snakes of that color ate already on the board, you lose.
The 'More Venom' cards are only to be used after you've won three games.
Overall though, it wasn't difficulty that I felt the game was lacking, it was decisions that I wanted more of. You always have to play the one card you draw, so you do kind of feel like the game is playing itself, even though you do get to decide the directions to move. Yes, I'm an adult, so I'm looking for something a bit more complex, but even my seven and ten year old boys wanted something a tiny bit deeper. As my ten year old put it, it didn't seem fair for the snakes that we could always just move them away from us. Because of that, it felt like when we did get caught by the snakes (or they managed to climb a ladder into the escape pod) it was just bad luck and not anything that was controllable.

After playing a few times we wanted a little more teamwork and decisions, and it's really easy to change the game up for that.
His comments got me thinking, and the last few times we've played we've used a very simple variant that I came up with.  It's such a simple twist that I'm actually surprised that it wasn't included as an official variant that increases both the challenge and cooperative aspect of the game, and makes decisions sometimes a challenge.

So here's my super easy to implement variant:
  1. Each turn players have two cards in their hand, instead of one. You'll play one card and then draw back up to two.
  2. Snakes always move toward the nearest Mole Rat, if there is one on its level. If you have a choice of moving a snake that is on a level with a mole rat and one that isn't, the one on the level with the mole rat moves.
That's it! We felt it added a lot to the game, just having that extra decision to make about which card to play. We found we were actually discussing possible move sequences and cooperating a whole lot more. The base game was a bit easier this way, but more fulfilling. The challenge game was still pretty challenging.

A few things that can be done to increase the difficulty even more:
  • Start with more snakes out on the board.
  • If there are no mole rats on the same level as a snake they'll move toward the nearest ladder (up or even down ladders and let them climb down ladders).
Without this variant, Mole Rats in Space if still a good game. It's great for families and kids that are new to cooperative board games, and offers a casual, fun time that even adults won't mind playing occasionally. But if you're ready to move up to the next level and want some real cooperation, strategic planning, and teamwork, give my little variant a try. My sons and I feel it really makes Mole Rats in Space a great family cooperative game, and my rating below reflects the fun we've had with this variant.

Score: 8/10 x2

Educational:
While Mole Rats in Space doesn't really teach any formal subjects, it is still somewhat educational.  The rulebook does have a short blurb about the naked mole rat, which may spur an interest in some kids to learn more about the diminutive creatures, but where the game shines is in what it teaches about planning, cooperation, and even a bit of teamwork (something that was lacking in the other Peaceable Kingdom games I reviewed).

In Mole Rats in Space, players really do need to work together.  Players don't have different abilities, but they will have to cooperate to move snakes out of the way (preferably by venting them out of airlocks) and collect all the equipment.  Players will have to work as a team to figure out who should go which piece of equipment.  With the variant described above, players will even learn how to plan a sequence of moves across multiple players for the best strategic outcome.
Cards like these offer some very strategic decisions.  You can move any mole rat (not just your own) and any snake three spaces.
Score: 7/10 x1

Replayability:
Unlike the other Peaceable Kingdom games I reviewed, my sons actually asked to play Mole Rats in Space multiple times.  Both, and especially my younger son, really enjoyed it.  And you know what?  I enjoyed it, too.  Even without my variant, it didn't feel like a chore to 'play another kiddie game'.  This isn't Pandemic, or even Forbidden Island, but there's enough going on that it'll even keep adults interested.  And I'm actually itching to play again with my variant.
The mole rats won and escaped!  Our win:loss ratio was about 5:2, so that's pretty good for a kids cooperative game.
Without my variant I see this as a game that will outlast most other kids games for both kids and adults.  With the variant, I can even see my gamer family pulling this out fairly frequently.  Of the Peaceable Kingdom games I've reviewed, Mole Rats in Space definitely has the most replay value.

Score: 7/10 x1

General Fun:
Despite the silly premise, similarity to Snakes/Chutes & Ladders, and simple mechanics, I really had fun playing Mole Rats in Space, and so did my kids.  Its not a game that I'll take to an adult game night, but it's definitely a winner for family game night.
We enjoyed Mole Rats in Space more than any of the other Peaceable Kingdom games.  This is a winner!
The whimsical miniatures and artwork complement the friendly gameplay perfectly.  From the moment you open the box to the last turn of the game, Mole Rats in Space provides an entertaining experience.

Score: 8/10 x2

Overall Value:
At only $20, Mole Rats in Space should be a no brained for your family, or as a gift for another family.  It's simple enough that non-gaming families will 'get' it, but there's enough going on that even gamer families will enjoy it.  And with my variant, it's a game that can last through quite a few plays and stay entertaining for several years.  You'll definitely get your money's worth out of Mole Rats in Space!
$20 is a bargain for the great components and great game.
Score: 9/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
As expected, Matt Leacock has created another successful cooperative game with Mole Rats in Space.  This time it's a game for the young'uns, and it works great.  I do wish a more highly cooperative variant was included from the get-go, but the two-card variant was just so obvious that I have to believe that it was almost a part of the game at some point.

All of the Peaceable Kingdom games I've played have been enjoyable experiences, but Mole Rats in Space is by far the most enjoyable yet.  It's fun for kids, interesting for adults, and simple to learn.  Mole Rats in Space offers up some interesting decisions, and encourages simple teamwork.  This is a solid entry for a family game, and the price, Peaceable Kingdom's ethical production processes, and quality are all incredible.  I highly recommend Mole Rats in Space to all families and think it is suitable for as young as four or five with adult help, and up to 12 or more with a more challenging and cooperation driven variant.
Ahhhh!  A purple snake is stealing our escape pod!
You can find Mole Rat in Space online at the Peaceable Kingdom website, your favorite online retailer, or a FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store) near you.  You'll love your copy!

Overall Score: 80/100


Mole Rats in Space HUGE Giveaway - 5 Winners!


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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.