Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Quick Review - Dead Drop - A Kickstarter Preview

Dead Drop
Designer: Jason Kotarski
Publisher: Crash Games
Quick Review - Dead Drop - A Kickstarter Preview
Disclaimer

UPDATE: The Dead Drop Kickstarter is now live, through October 31st!  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/crashgames/dead-drop-a-pub-series-game

UPDATE: Dead Drop has funded on Kickstarter, with all stretch goals unlocked!  Also see updates below for my review of the 3 player gameplay.

Dead Drop is a 13 card deduction style micro-game for 2-4 players in the same vein as others, like Love Letter.  But Dead Drop brings a bit of a new mechanic that sets it apart from other games like this I've played.  In the game not only do you have to figure out what the hidden (Dead Drop) card is, but you also have to figure out a way to get your card hand into a configuration that you can make a successful grab.

The setup of the game is quite easy - shuffle the cards, place one face down, one face up for each player in the game, and then deal out the rest of the cards to the player.  In a 3 player game each player will have 5 cards in their hand, 3 in a 3 player game, and 2 in a 4 player game.  Then players take turns completing one of three actions while they try to deduce what the face-down card (the Dead Drop) is.

Of the 13 cards (plus 4 reference cards), each is numbered with a number between 0 and 5.  There are four 0's, three 1's, two 2's, two 3's, one 4, and one 5.  Based on what cards players have in their hands, what are face up on the table, and what they learn from other players eventually someone will be able to make an educated guess as to what the Dead Drop card is, similar to how in Clue players collect information about suspects and when they finally have enough information they make a guess.  But in Dead Drop the mechanics are stripped down to their bare minimums, which is a good thing.  Dead Drop gives you the same logical deduction feel as Clue, but without all the moving around rooms and such.

Actions the players can take are:
  • Share Info: A player can choose any other player and make a trade.  Each player will learn what one card is when they trade cards.
  • Swap the Stash: A player can exchange one card from his hand with one of the face-up cards on the table.  In this action he'll reveal some information to all the other players without learning anything new, but he may need one of the face-up cards to complete the next action or to make a guess at the Dead Drop card.
  • Sell Secrets: A player can choose two cards from her hand and secretly show them to another player.  If the other player has a card in his hand with a value that equals the sum of the two cards shown to him he must tell the other player and then hand that card to the player and take one of the two cards shown to him.
After the player completes her turn she may then choose to Grab the Drop, if she knows what the card is AND has two cards in her hand that add up to the value of the Dead Drop card (the 5 counts as a 0 in this instance only). If the player is correct she wins.  If she is wrong she adds the cards from her hand to the face-up stash and is out of the round and play continues until there is one person left or one person guesses correctly.  A game lasts several rounds until one player has won 3 times.

I played the game with both 2 players and 4 players and both games had very different feels.  Last night I played a 2 player game with my wife and like most deduction games with 2 players it felt a bit unimpressive.  Most of our hands lasted about 2 turns each and we managed to fit in two entire games in about 15 minutes.  We had a few hands that lasted 3 turns and I think one that lasted 4 for one of us, but we also had a hand or two that were done on the first turn.  With a 2 player game it was just too easy to figure out what the card could be and too easy to have a correct guessing configuration in your hand.  There were just too many cards in your hand and too few unknowns.  I've been thinking of a variation for 2 players that I think will add a bit more deduction to the game, but I haven't tried it yet.  I'll add the rules for that variant to the bottom of the review after the rating in case anyone wants to try it out.

UPDATE: I played the 2-player Dead Drop with a friend of mine and it played MUCH differently than it did with my wife.  In the 9 or 10 hands we played we only had 2 where the Dead Drop was obvious very quickly.  The other hands all had a lot of back and forth while we tried to both figure out the Dead Drop card and configure our hand to make the call.  So I guess the game depends quite a bit on the luck of the card layouts.  This won't affect my overall review score, but I wanted to mention that even with 2 players it is possible for the hands to last several minutes each.  I should note that we also tried one hand of my variant with the Informant (described below) and it went very well also.  So after several more plays I definitely think this is a good filler game to add to your collection.

Then tonight I gave the 4 player version a try at one of the FLGSs in my town.  I played with three people I had never met before, but they were enthusiastic to try a quick game before its Kickstarter was even launched.  We played two games before I had to leave.  With 4 players the game had a drastically different feel.  It was much more difficult to figure out what the Dead Drop card was and even more challenging to get your hand to a set where you could make a successful grab.  We found many rounds someone got eliminated because they guessed wrong, much more often than in the 2-player game.  Guessing in the four player game is a much bigger decision though because once you have it narrowed down to two cards it's likely that the other players are close to figuring it out, too.  So you have to decide, is it better to wait until your turn comes around again and hope you have enough information to make a definitive grab, or should you make an educated guess now before someone makes the grab before you have another chance, especially if you have the right cards in your hand to sum up to your guess.  This is an intriguing situation because there is a lot of risk evaluation.

The 4-player games still played fairly quickly, but they were longer than with a 2-player game.  The 4-player games lasted about 20 minutes each.  And while the 4 player game was much better than the 2-player game, I did feel that it needed something else.  I think 2 cards in each player's hand was a bit too restrictive. It made it difficult to get appropriate sums, which in turn made it difficult to really deduce what cards were in play since the cards were being traded back and forth a lot.  It wasn't impossible, but I found the people I was playing with guessing more than really figuring out what the Dead Drop card was. Even 3 cards per player would have added to the game.  So I think the sweet spot for Dead Drop in its current form is probably going to be with 3 players.  I'll try to get a 3-player game together soon and then update this review.

UPDATE: I have now played the game with 3 players as well, and as I suspected this is the game's sweet spot.  With three players each player has 3 cards in their hands making the game much less luck based than two player games and much more intriguing than 4 player games.  With 3 players you have the option of bluffing, something you can't do in the other games (or at least not easily at all).  Where as the 2 player game was highly luck based and played very quickly, and the 4 player game was a bit frustrating because of the lack of control and information, 3 players was a ton of fun.  I won't adjust my overall rating of the game, for 3 players this becomes a 7 or maybe even an 8 and is a GREAT filler or take-along game.

If I had a recommendation for a change to the game though, I'd say to use 17 cards in the game instead of 13.  13 is nice because it breaks down into perfect values for the setup rules for 2, 3, and 4 players, but 17 cards would also break down nicely, giving a 4 player game 3 cards each, 4 cards each in a 3 player game with one extra card in the stash, and 7 cards each in a 2 player game.  Just a few more cards would add to the level of reasoning needed to even make educated guesses, although then you have way too many cards for 2 players (although my variation at the end of this review would help with that).

Overall though, I think the game was generally pretty fun.  The artwork is excellent, even if the theme feels a bit pasted on - the game would work equally well with monsters, treasure hunters, murder suspects, computer hackers, or any of a hundred other possible themes.  In fact, I believe in the Kickstarter campaign they'll have one other deck included in the base tier and more deck designs included in a deluxe tier.  I'll be interested to see if the other decks include different distributions of cards or any special rules to make them unique or more thematic.

Dead Drop is a fun, quick filler game.  It's small, so you can take it with you just about anywhere, the rules are simple and easy to learn/teach, it's casual enough that anyone is likely to be willing to play just about any time, and deep enough that you'll have people pondering and scratching heads.  The artwork is fantastic and the game will keep you thinking and guessing play after play.

UPDATE: The Kickstarter is now live and you ca get the basic game for only $12 or the deluxe game (with some nicer components) for only $22.  And as stretch goals are unlocked there will be additional decks included in both versions with more awesome artwork by some other awesome artists.  At that price the game is a great deal and it's worth picking up to add to any gamer's collection.  The game is easy, portable, looks fantastic, quick, and deep enough to provide lots of filler or on-the-go fun!

And don't forget to check below the pictures for my 2-player variant rules (plus a variant my wife came up with).

Preliminary Rating: 6/10
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

13 cards and 4 reference cards make this a very
small game you can bring with anywhere.

The gears really start turning in a four player game.

Each of the six character cards are beautifully illustrated by Adam McIver.
GJJ Games 2-Player Variant for Dead Drop:

OK, as promised here's my slight variant to make a 2 player game a bit more challenging.  All the rules are the same with a slight change to the setup and one additional action that players can take.

Setup:
After setup is complete and each player has been dealt their 5 cards, each player chooses one card from their hand and places it face down in front of them.  This is their Informant.  Or maybe their Ace.  Or some other cool spy-ish term.  So, each player will know what the face-down card in front of them is, but won't know what the face-down card in front of their opponent is.

Action:
Informant Cycle: A player can pick up his opponent's Informant and give that opponent one card from his hand.  The opponent then chooses one card from her hand and places it face-down in the Informant position.  So now the opponent knows what the player picked up and the player knows what card was given to the opponent.  But the player still doesn't know what the new Informant card is.

When Selling Secrets an opponent's Informant card does not have to be revealed if its value is the sum of the cards shown to her.  Also, a player can use his Informant to attempt to Grab the Drop.

UPDATE: I played a hand with this 2-player variant and it really added another level to the deduction in the game.  Still not quite as difficult as in a 3-player game, but much more than in a standard 2-player game.  I think I'm going to keep these rules as house rules for any 2-player games I play.

GJJ Games' Wife's 2-Player Variant for Dead Drop:

My wife also came up with a small modification to the rules that could make 2 player games a bit more challenging, too.  And actually this modification could be used in any of the player games to add some challenge, too.  The change is real simple; during the Selling Secrets action the player being asked can either show one card with a value of the sum of the two cards revealed OR show two cards with the same sum.  If the player has the card with the value requested she MUST say yes, but can show either that card or two others.  If she does not have the card she can choose to say no and show nothing or say yes and show two cards with the same sum.   And then a trade of one of each of the players' cards takes place.  So, if I show my wife a pair of 2's she can either show me a 4 if she has it OR show me a 3 and a 1.  There is still an exchange of information, but it might not be the information the active player was hoping for.

I think either of these minor changes to the game will make a 2 player game much more difficult, and lead to more intrigue and a more acute level of deduction.  Who knows, maybe one or both of these variants will make it into the official game before the Kickstarter is over =)

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.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

Quick Review - Golf (Public Domain, 9 Card Variant)

Golf - Public Domain
Picture thanks to A Mom with a Lesson Plan
Quick Review - Golf (Public Domain, 9 Card Variant)
Over the years I've played a number of standard card games; Hearts, Spades, Euchre, Rummy, Nerts, etc. etc. etc...  But about a month ago our friends introduced me to a new game using standard playing cards that I had never played before.  They called it Tic-Tac-Toe and a few quick searches didn't turn up any card games by that name, at least none that used standard playing cards (although there are a number that use custom decks, but none with the same rules).  Recently I did another quick search because I was thinking about the game again and discovered that it is actually called Golf, or any of a number of other names, as is typical for public domain games.  So now that I found the game I've decided to do a review of it for anyone looking for a new game that can be played with standard playing cards.

The rules we played by are actually a 9 card per player variant of the standard Golf, which uses only 6 cards per player.  Instead of just trying to make pairs players try to match rows or columns of 3, but other than that the rules are basically the same (see the 9-card Golf rules here: http://www.wikihow.com/Play-Golf-%28Card-Game%29).  For 4 players we played with 3 decks all shuffled together.  So there were 12 of each denomination.

The game was a lot of fun.  There's a lot of luck involved, but also a bit of strategy, too.  You have to look at what other players have displayed and consider what card is best to discard (you don't necessarily want to give the next player something they can use to great advantage) and also decide what cards to keep and which to discard to better your own groupings of cards.  I found the game to be a bit more luck based than other card games like Hearts or Spades, but less luck based than something like Mexican Train Dominoes.  It would be a good casual card game alternative for those who usually like other card games like Hearts, but it won't take the place of more advanced board games, larger party games like Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity, Fluxx, etc., nor will it replace more strategic card games like Love Letter or Hanabi, but it is definitely one worth giving a shot as a fun, casual game that can be played with lots of distractions or when conversation is more important than focusing on game decisions.  It's also a good game to play with kids since the decisions are pretty simple and straight forward and players don't need to keep a large collection of cards in their hand.

Preliminary Rating: 5/10

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.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Quick Review - Risk: Godstorm

Risk: Godstorm
Designer: Mike Selinker
Publisher: Avalon Hill
Quick Review - Risk: Godstorm
Last night's new game was Risk: Godstorm, a game in the same vein as Risk, but this time you control one of five ancient civilizations as they try to conquer the Mediterranean region: Celts, Norse, Egyptians, Babylonians, and Greeks.  The basic mechanics are the same as in standard Risk - players build armies and march across territories trying to conquer the main continents (Germania, Europa, Africa, Hyrkania (Eastern Russia), Asia Minor, and Atlantis).  Battles are conducted by rolling dice just like in standard Risk.  However there are a number of differences from standard Risk that, in my opinion make the game much more interesting and fun to play.

Each player also has four gods (the gods of sky, war, death, and magic) which are loosely based on those gods in ancient mythologies.  Each type of god has a different power, like the god of war lets the attacking player win all ties instead of the defending player, although all five civilizations' gods have the same powers. When the gods face each other in battle there is a gods war before the armies battle, resulting in one or more gods being banished.  There are also miracle cards that give players special benefits, like being able to destroy opponents armies or giving a player special powers.  There are also plagues that can be placed on some territories that, as we found out, aren't always bad.  And then there's the underworld.  The underworld is where armies go after they are defeated (usually).  There they get to battle again, against other players' defeated armies.  Some of the territories in the underworld

The game is also played in a series of five rounds.  This is a huge difference from standard Risk and one that I feel is a huge plus.  It ensures that games don't go on and on for hours.  Although our game lasted almost 4 hours (we did have a break for dinner) it went a lot faster toward the end once all of us were familiar with the game.  I'd expect a future game to take about 2-3 hours instead.  That's much better than Risk, which I've known to take well over 5 hours on many occasions.  After 5 rounds players add up their score, which is based on a number of factors, but mainly the number of territories each player controls.

It seems like we've been playing a lot of Avalon Hill Amerithrash games (I refuse to call any of these games trash, thus the addition of that extra h) and they usually aren't my wife's preferred style of games.  She usually likes resource management type Eurogames, tech-tree civ building games, deduction games, or  pattern/tile/number matching games like Qwirkle or Mexican Train Dominos.  She doesn't usually go for war games with complex battle mechanics or games that rely heavily on dice rolls.  But surprisingly she really enjoyed Risk: Godstorm.  That may be because the women creamed the guys in the game we played, but once the game got moving and everyone was familiar with the mechanics everyone really seemed to enjoy it.

Because of the Risk style battle mechanics there is a bit of luck in the dice rolls, but also some strategy since rolls are limited to 3 dice for attacks and 2 dice for defense.  The inclusion of the gods in the battle effects and the effects of the miracle cards also had a big effect on the gameplay, sometimes giving weaker players a fighting chance - although they didn't help me in the end =)  I also liked how players could still battle in the underworld even after their armies were defeated.  While this didn't really change the outcome of the game much, if at all, it did add another level of fun to the game mechanics.

In all I think the game was a lot of fun.  I definitely prefer it over standard Risk, however I can't compare it to other versions of Risk since I haven't played them.  If the game has any weakness (and I think it's an issue in standard Risk, too) it's that once the balance between players becomes too great it's very difficult for a weaker player to stage a comeback.  It is possible, but very unlikely.  You can see how in the pictures below, once the women's forces started growing they were able to just snowball right over the men's armies.  We did do quite a bit of damage with a lot of lucky 6s, but it just wasn't enough.  You can see in the pictures below how a few well-played miracle cards wiped out the Babylonians and my starting scattered territories never let me build up enough strength to control a decent area.  SO the women just marched over our lands, destroying everything in their paths.  We ended our game a round early because after the wives wiped out the husbands they made a truce and decided to not fight each other.

So this is definitely a play again game.  It's a war game that the wives seemed to enjoy as well and have also agreed to play again.

Preliminary Rating: 7/10

It's early in the game and my forces are all divided (light brown Egyptians).
It was impossible to fight battles on so many fronts.

Things didn't look too bad for me at the end of my turn, but then the
Greeks stormed out of Iberia and cleared me out of Germania.

Battles in the underworld were fun, but largely ineffective in the overall game.

Because I kept getting killed I actually had a decent
foothold in the underworld.  It didn't help much though.

I thought I was going to be a goner at this point.
Somehow I held on longer than the Babylonians (blue).

A few miracle cards nearly wiped out the Babylonians.
Guess who's going to march across Asia Minor and
finish the job?  Yup, the Greeks.

The Babylonians are gone and now my 3 Egyptians have to face
the Celtic horde that's about to storm through Africa.

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.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Quick Review - Monsters Menace America

Monsters Menace America
Designers: J. C. Connors & Ben Knight
Publisher: Avalon Hill
Quick Review - Monsters Menace America
We actually played one and a half games of Monsters Menace America.  Two weeks ago we met at a friend's house to play, but we ended up running out of time and weren't able to finish the game.  So on Friday we met again and decided to give the game another try.  The first game went very slowly as each of us tried to figure out the rules (they're a bit confusing at points), juggled various military and monster strengths and weaknesses, and figured out what kind of a strategy you should use when playing two sides at once.  The second game went much quicker, although there was still a bit of confusion at times determining how battles should resolve.

Monsters Menace America is a heavily thematic war game.  The premise is that a number of large B-movie type monsters (think King Kong or Godzilla) are attacking America.  The military is out to protect the nation's cities and valued locations, but they are no match for the destructive forces of the mutant creatures rampaging across the nation.  Eventually the monsters get bored and turn on each other.

Each player in the game gets to control both a monster and a branch of the military (Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines).  National Guard units are also available for all players to use.  The goal is to use your military units to protect locations and thwart the destructive tendencies of your opponents monsters while you let your monster stomp as many locations as possible.  Monsters gain health points by stomping locations and lose health when they come into conflict with the military.  Monsters can also earn Infamy tokens for destroying famous places (like Graceland, or Fort Knox) and can get Mutation cards that give them special powers when they visit locations like Three Mile Island.  Military units can be deployed in military bases or players can choose to conduct Military Research to gain special powers for their military, or in some cases special weapons like giant robot soldiers.

The theme of the game is a lot of fun.  The monsters ravaging American cities is a blast.  But aside from that the game has a lot of flaws. The military felt grossly under-powered at times, especially in the first game we started - by the second game we had developed a bit of strategy that made the military a little more effective, but only slightly more so.  Usually monsters could pretty easily avoid many military confrontations, so the military was more of a nuisance than any kind of strategic tool.  The military did have a greater effect toward the end of the second game (when my monster got cornered and attacked by two players repeatedly), but because all battles are decided by dice rolls it felt like there was way too  much luck in the outcome of the battles.  Nearly every battle started with the monster wiping out all or almost all attackers in the first round of battle, except when it was my turn.  My dice rolling was so awful that my military couldn't complete any significant attacks and my monster couldn't defend against anything.  So even though I had a good strategic location, and positioned my military in ways that should have been effective, it was all wiped out just because of the dice rolls.

And then there's the end game...  Once all the Stomp Markers are placed, indicating that 23 locations have been stomped, the Monster Challenge begins.  In the Monster Challenge the monsters stop fighting the military and start fighting each other.  What this basically amounts to is even worse than a dice roll off though.  The challenging monster chooses another monster to challenge.  Then the challenger gets to roll to attack three times.  Then the challenger can trade in infamy tokens earned throughout the course of the rest of the game for additional attacks.  Each attack does damage if the die roll is greater than the defenders Defense value.  Once the challenger is finished rolling dice, if the defender has any remaining Health Points he gets to take his turn rolling dice until his Infamy Tokens run out.

One of the problems with this mechanic is that the defender may never get a chance to defend against an attack.  If the attacker gets lucky and rolls a number of high dice rolls, especially if she's collected a few Infamy Tokens, she can completely wipe out the defender, despite the defender's strength or number of Infamy Tokens.

Another problem is that it's really pretty boring.  All it amounts to is rolling dice to see if you take any Health Points off of your opponent or not.  There's no real strategy or decision making involved.  You basically roll until you have either killed your opponent or have run out of Infamy Tokens.  This gives the last player to be challenged a distinct advantage because chances are they are 1) the strongest player anyway, and 2) still have a number of Infamy Tokens left.  There is very little difference between this end game mechanic and that of Mouse Trap (see my earlier review), which is a bit disappointing considering the different target players.

Overall I found the game disappointing.  The theme is great, and the main gameplay is bordering on good.  But the end game is very disappointing and the entire game brought way too much luck into the battles to make strategy very important.  I think a few changes in the game mechanics, especially in the Monster Challenge, could make the game much more fun.  Maybe a few more military units for each player, and a tweaked battle mechanic would give the main part of the game more strategy, even with the dice rolls to determine battle outcome.  And the end game would be much better if the battles were more balanced.  Maybe only allow one Infamy Token to be used per round of the battle, or use the Infamy Tokens as dice roll modifiers or something, but the way it works now is just tedious, random, and no fun.

So would I play this again?  Not without some major overhauls on the rules.  But the game theme is pretty awesome, so if someone said they had a variant they'd like to try I'd be up for it.

Preliminary Rating: 5/10

Zorb (the giant eyeball) is in the south, Megaclaw (the crab monster) is in the Pacific Northwest, and my monster, Toxicore (he's purple, and slimy, and has three eyes) is in New England.

Toxicore is surrounded and that ended up being his downfall.

Our first game went very slowly with a variety of confusing rules to learn.  The second game went a bit quicker.

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.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Quick Review - Mouse Trap

Mouse Trap
Designers: Gordon A. Barlow, Marvin Glass,
Harvey "Hank" Kramer & Burt Meyer
Publisher: Milton Bradley
Quick Review -Mouse Trap
Sure you may say, a classic game like Mouse Trap and this is your first time playing it?  I don't believe it.  Well, it's true.  I think...  I know my sister had a copy of this game when we were kids, but I don't ever remember actually playing it.  Maybe we did, but it couldn't have been more than once or twice.  I do remember setting up the mousetrap a few times and running the contraption, but even that lost its appeal after the first time or two playing the game.

So when my wife said she found a copy of the game at Goodwill for only $.99 I told her to grab it.  I mean, it's Mouse Trap!  Even if it's a terrible game it'll never be frowned upon on a game shelf, especially since I have two young sons.  Last night we played it (my 5 year old was super excited to give it a try).

And let me tell you, there's a reason I don't ever remember playing the game as a kid and only remember setting up the machinery.  The game is about as boring as a game can be, except for the incredibly complex Rube Goldberg mouse trap contraption that you have to build.  The game is about 99% luck based.  The only decision to be made at all in the game is at the very end when players decide to cash in their cheese pieces in an attempt to move other mice to the cheese wheel so they can be captured.  But even that is completely based on luck since every action in the game is based on a die roll.  In fact, because everything was based on the roll of the die my wife never made it past the 15th space on the board the whole time, until I started moving her by spending my cheese tokens!  It was getting hilariously ridiculous how many times she got sent back to start.

That said, my boys both enjoyed the game, even though neither won.  My youngest nearly burst into tears when he lost and was told he had to give all his cheese to his older brother, but we prevented that by saying he could hold the cheese for a while.  Then we made him the cheese banker when it was finally time to hand the cheese over to his older brother.  Even though he wasn't actively participating in the game any more he still enjoyed watching the machine do its work to catch the mice.  And with the amount of chance in the game it could just as easily have been anyone else that got eliminated.

Since my boys had fun, and it was 45 minutes or so that we all played a game together, and it cost $1.07 with tax, I'd say it was a buck well spent.  Had I spent the full $22 retail for the game I'd be very disappointed.  I expect my boys to pull it out a few more times (hopefully they won't beg me to play along), but it'll most likely end up being just a fixture of nostalgia in my game collection.  But for a buck to get the 1986 version (which coincidentally is the same version my sister had when we were kids), I'm ok with that.

Preliminary Rating: 4/10


The trap is under construction.

My mouse is captured!

video
My wife won, despite not being able to get past the Fat Cat on her own!

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.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Quick Review - League of Pirates

League of Pirates
Designer: Steve Hart
Publisher: Front Porch Classics
Quick Review - League of Pirates
Last week I convinced my wife to play a game that I picked up used a few weeks ago.  We were actually both pretty excited to try it out since it's a pirate game and the version I got was Pirates of the Caribbean themed (one of our favorite movie franchises).  We excitedly opened the box and looked at all the really cool looking components and the anticipation grew.  I sat down to read the rules and that was the end of the excitement.

Just by reading the rules I could tell that the game was going to be a drag.  The rules detailed a number of confusing actions that could be taken by a single player each round.

Yes, I said a single player.  The player that gets to take a turn is decided by an inane series of dice rolls to determine a winner.  Each player gets to roll up to 5 dice a total of three times.  They are trying to roll a 1, 2, and 3 in order.  On each of the three rolls the player may choose which dice to 'lock' and which to re-roll, kind of like in Yahtzee, but with less purpose.  The kicker is that the 1, 2, and 3 must be 'locked' in order.  Thus if you roll a 2, 3, 6, 6, 6 on your first roll you can't 'lock' the 2 and 3, nor any of the 6's. you can 'lock' two or more dice in one roll, but only if they fall into the proper sequence.  If either player manages to lock a 1, then a 2, and then a 3 the remaining two dice is their score.  The player with the highest score gets to take a turn.

There are many problems with this mechanic, but two really huge glaring ones.  First, this results in getting a score for the dice challenge less than 50% of the time.  And if both players are scoring less than 50% of the time this means there are a number of times when neither player scores and then both players have to re-roll for the dice challenge.  When my wife and I played this meant that there were times when we went through 3-4 dice challenges (9-12 times rolling the handful of dice) before someone locked a 1, 2, and 3 in order.  And the number of times that we both locked the numbers and had a score to compare was minimal.  Even after we did away with the requirement that the 1, 2, and 3 be locked in sequence there were still a small handful of times where neither of us locked all three numbers, although there were more times where we actually compared scores.

The second glaring issue with this is that both players have the exact same probability of actually locking their first three dice.  And then the exact same probabilities for the possible values of the last two dice.  The only thing that could change that, and only slightly, and the only potential decision making process in this was if a player locked their 1, 2, and 3 in the first two rolls.  Then they might choose to better their score on the third roll.  But having both players with the same chances and no skill or significant decisions required equates this to a flip of a coin.  Or a single roll of a single die each.

So the whole big Dice Challenge part of this game equated to a flip of the coin (and actually flipping a coin would be better because at least there would be a decision every time).  But that brings us to the next HUGE flaw in the game.  Since only one player gets to take an action per turn there is a decent likelihood that one player will get to take several turns in a row, putting them irrevocably ahead of the other player.  There are only 7 crew member spaces on each ship, so if a player gets 3 or 4 turns in a row there's a good chance that they'll have their ship nearly filled before the other player even gets a turn and then when he does finally get a turn there is virtually nothing he can do to effectively hurt the other player significantly.  Yes, he can attempt to Raid the other ship, or recruit his own crew, but those actions have little effect when the other player has his ship nearly fully crewed.

Also, there's really nothing holding a player back from using the 'Recruit' action to basically pick and choose an appropriate crew member on each turn.  This is because each action costs a number of 'Ship Points'.  The 'Recruit' action costs 3 Ship Points and lets a player draw 3 random tokens from their Home Port bag and then choose which one to place.  Most other actions cost 1 or 2 Ship Points, so 3 is fairly expensive.  But when each player starts with 19 Ship Points and the 'Press Gang' action can add a single random token to your crew for only 1 Ship Point, it's super easy for a player to pay 1 Ship Point on their first few turns, when they have a virtually empty ship and know that pretty much any token drawn will fill a space somewhere and then later pay the 3 Ship Points to pick and choose recruits.  So there is very little in the way of challenge in filling your crew.

This makes all the other actions even less important since the game basically becomes a race to see who can fill their ship the fastest.  And that is largely determined by who wins more Dice Challenges, which, as I mentioned are completely random and less productive than flipping a coin.

So, all of this complete and total randomness will eventually result in one player having their ship's crew filled out.  Then they can Set Sail, at which point the player attempts another Dice Challenge to see if they are able to shove off or not.  Again, their chances of winning are less than 50% and completely random.  Once a player Sets Sail then both players total up the points of their crew, plus their remaining Ship Points, plus a bonus for any crew members that match their captain's color.

In all, the game takes about 30 minutes to play and is just as random as a coin flip.  So save yourself some time and aggravation and flip a coin.

HOWEVER, I did play the game a second time!  It was very difficult, but I convinced my wife to give the game one more chance, but with a variation that I found online and tweaked a little more.  The variant takes away a lot of the randomness (the dice challenge is stripped down to a single die roll, and it only determines which player goes first in a round - each player gets a turn every round), limits the starting number of Ship Points to 10 (adding value to the decisions of which action to take), and makes a number of other minor adjustments to add more strategy and less luck to the game.

And you know what?  It worked!  Mostly...  My wife still felt the game was fairly boring, even without all the pointless dice rolling.  Yes, there were more decisions to be made, but the game was still kind of blah.  I think I enjoyed it more than my wife did, but it still wasn't a huge hit.  However, instead of just feeling like I wasted 30 minutes for a completely random result this time I'm thinking of actions I could have changed to effect the outcome of the game.  And that's a significant improvement.

Overall, the game as described in the included instructions should be thrown overboard.  But with the modifications I made it is tolerable, and possibly even entertaining.  If I can convince someone to play the variation with me a few more times I'll have a better idea of whether or not the strategy is as deep as it looks like it could be.  But I know my wife won't be the one to test that out with me, and I'm not too sure I want to bother with it either.  There are plenty of better games out there that don't need tweaking.

But if you are interested in downloading a PDF of my variant rules, you can get it here: http://www.georgejaros.com/Files/League-of-Pirates-Variant.pdf

Preliminary Rating: 1/10
with Rules Variant: 3/10 (possibly higher if I can ever convince someone to try the variant out a few more times, which is unlikely since there are so many better games out there)

The game looks much better than it plays, at least
if you follow the instructions that come with it.

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.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Quick Review - Math Noodlers

Math Noodlers
Designer: Uncredited
Publisher: EduPress
Quick Review - Math Noodlers
Math Noodlers is an educational math game by EduPress, although the box lists Learning Well Games as the brand.  There are two versions of the game, one for Grades 2-3 and one for Grades 4-5.  We have both and both are nearly identical.  Grades 2-3 is in a red box and has a board with a red background while the Grades 4-5 version is orange.  The questions included in the games are different, too, but everything else is exactly the same (even the graphics on the boxes and boards).  The game is focused more on teaching math concepts in a fun way than creating exciting gameplay, but my boys both had fun playing the game.

The concept is very simple.  Each player has a pawn that they move along a path from start to finish.  The first player to the end wins, after they answer one last question.  Players start their turn by rolling a die and then moving forward that number of spaces.  The color space they land on indicates the type of card they draw: Choose It, Doodle It, Write It, or Show It.  Each card has a math problem on the back that the player must answer in the method specific to that card.

Choose It cards present a number of answers and the player must choose the correct one.  Doodle It cards require the player to draw a picture or chart that represents the math problem.  Write It cards ask the player to write the problem out on scratch paper.  Show It cards require the player to show the problem using the manipulatives included with the game (small plastic rings in different colors, called Noodle-O's).  There are also several "Wacky Cards" scattered throughout the game that require the player to do more active things, like sing, hop, etc.

If the player answers the question correctly (all the answers are included in the instruction manual, identified by a number that matches a number on the card so that an adult doesn't have to play) he gets to roll the die for bonus movement.  He doesn't draw another question card though and just gets to move forward.

When players reach the Finish space they must answer one last question.  The card type is chosen by his opponents.  If he gets the answer correct he wins.  If not then play continues.

The game is a great tool for teaching math concepts.  The Grades 2-3 version includes Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division, Fractions, Graphing, Money, Time, and more.  The variety of cards ensure that the players are thinking about the problems in different ways.  My oldest son prefers to do math in his head, and many times he gets lost halfway through a problem because of it, so this is a great way to force him to work out a solution using different methods.  And the variety of concepts makes sure that everything is covered eventually.

There were a few things that I didn't like about the game though.
  • The game relies heavily on the luck of the die roll.  One son rolled several high rolls in a row and because the game board is so short he got to the end pretty quickly.  My other son rolled a couple of ones and was lagging way behind.  
  • The game board is too short.  There are only 22 spaces including the Start and Finish, so a game could potentially be over after 3 rounds.
  • There is no strategy behind movements.  Something else should be happening on the board to influence movement.  Spaces or cards should have other benefits or penalties to make the game a little more varied.  Or provide a variety of paths players could take.  A shorter path with some additional obstacles (e.g. double colored spaces where you have to answer two questions to move forward or something) versus a longer path that is less risky would at least add some decision making to the game, which is a logic concept that I think is as mathematically important as any of the other concepts.
  • The components are really cheap.  The game board is typical, but the plastic pawns, die, and plastic rings are about as cheap as possible.  And the cards aren't even full card stock.  They're just glossy paper, like what you'd find in a sales brochure or a magazine cover.  The colors are bright, but if this gets lots of gameplay in your home or classroom it's likely that the cards will end up bent and dinged pretty quickly.
Overall I think the game is a good educational tool.  It'll be a fun break from worksheets or blackboard problems.  However, I don't think it's a fun game and the audience is definitely limited in its scope.  This will be fun for the age group listed, but beyond that it'll be useless.  So the retail price of $22 seems a bit high, but if you can pick up the game for around $15 it's definitely worth it for a refreshing alternative math education supplement.

Preliminary Rating: 6/10






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.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Polter-Heist: Quests - Adding scenarios and more!

Over the past week or so I've been working on the biggest change to Polter-Heist since I initially built the game.  Yes, I added the Don't Go Outside with a yard, more rooms, new discoveries, and a few new game mechanics, but it was really just an extension to what I already had to provide a bigger playing area for more people.  But now I'm adding a new layer to the game called Polter-Heist: Quests.  In Quests there are numerous scenarios (15 so far, and counting).  Each scenario provides a completely new experience to the gameplay.  Depending on the chosen scenario players may be competing directly, each trying to accomplish their own goal, working together, or teaming up against one traitorous player.  I've also added characters to the game, each with their own special abilities that can help them out during the course of the game.  I think these will bring Polter-Heist out of the realm of family game territory and elevate it to  a gamer's game.

Tonight I printed out all the necessary cards to play the scenarios I've come up with so far.  I still need to write detailed rules for each scenario (I have a few of them written out in detail) and I've also been creating 1/2 page reference cards for each scenario.  Then there are all the custom tokens I'll need to make.  Right now I'm just going to use generic markers to represent things like monsters, demons, zombies, fires, and more, but someday I'll have all sorts of custom tokens and pieces for the game.

Here's a picture of the cards that will be used in the scenarios:

Cards to be used in Polter-Heist: Quests
Each floor will have its own set of Discovery Cards with some pretty cool items that can be discovered, like a Revolver, Dagger, Sword, Lab Equipment, Grimoire, Violin, Crystal Ball, Rope, and tons more.  Some items will have inherent abilities (like the Revolver can be used to shoot opponents) and some will have abilities specified by the specific scenario (like the Lab Equipment is used in the Mad Scientist scenario).  each floor also has a number of additional Ghost Encounter cards, so you aren't always discovering items.  

There are also cards to be added to the main Discovery Deck that tell you when to make a Floor Discovery.  Character cards can be used to give different players different abilities (like Gordon, who moves a bit faster but is more susceptible to poltergeists).  And during different scenarios players may have specific agendas (like being a Mad Scientist building monsters from body parts).

Here's a quick overview of the scenarios I have planned already:

Scenario 1: Where is the Treasure?
A traitor is trying to hide the treasure while the other players are trying to find it.

Scenario 2: The Demon Whisperer
One player is intent on summoning demon minions to attack the other players.

Scenario 3: Spell Slingers
Each player is a warlock searching for the treasure for their own purposes.  They will use magical spells and magical items found throughout the house to stop each other.

Scenario 4: Ghost Hunters
A team of ghost hunters is intent on capturing ghosts instead of searching for treasure, but some items will help in their hunt.

Scenario 5: Paranormal Investigators
Paranormal investigators are searching for ghosts, but to study, not capture.

Scenario 6: Ghosts Head Start
One player starts the game as a ghost.

Scenario 7: Speed Search
Two players see who can search the most rooms fastest and then escape.

Scenario 8: Capture the Flag
Four treasures in the house are up for grabs.  The first player to find two and escape wins.

Scenario 9: Ahhhhh!  Zombies!!!
The players are a group of survivors searching a zombie infested house for a treasure trove of supplies.

Scenario 10: On the Hellmouth
The treasure is in the basement, but before the explorers can venture to the basement they must find weapons to battle the growing horde of monsters awaiting them down there.

Scenario 11: Big Bad Bad Guys
Each floor of the house has a big monster just waiting to be released.

Scenario 12: Burnin’ Down the House
The house is on fire!  The explorers must find the treasure before the house burns down!

Scenario 13: Mad Scientist
One player has locked himself in the basement so he can build monsters out of body parts while the other players search for the treasure.  Will the explorers decide to take out the scientist before his monsters attack them?

Scenario 14: Find Your Personal Treasure
Each player has a specific item that they are looking for.  The first to find their item and escape causes the ghosts to attack withe fervor.

Scenario 15: Locker Blocker
Many of the rooms in the house are locked and keys must be discovered before the doors can be opened.  But one player is intent on locking the rooms again.

Quick Review - Solarquest

Quick Review - Solarquest
Solarquest 
Designer: Uncredited (Valen Brost)
Publisher: Universal Games
OK, I have to preface this review by saying that this isn't really a true First Play Impression.  Truth be told I've played the game a number of times.  But this was the first time I had played in at least 20 years, possibly 25.  And I'm definitely approaching games quite a bit differently than I was waaaaaay back in the day. In fact, I loved the game so much back in the '90s that I painted over an old Sorry board and created all new property cards for a home made expansion that included comets, planet X, and other properties.  I know I had the game still in college (although I don't remember playing), but unfortunately somewhere along the line between college and living where I am now the game disappeared.  I still hope it turns up someday in a box somewhere or at my parents' house, but in the mean time I picked up a copy on eBay a few years ago.  So the copy I have now is the Apollo 13 version by Universal Games from 1995 and not the original version by Golden from 1985 that I had back then, and of course it doesn't include my awesome expansion (which may also be my first attempt at game design).


Update - 11/8/2016: An updated version of SolarQuest is available on Kickstarter now!  For just $38, through December 25, 2016, you can pick up an updated version of this classic.  Check it out now!

You can also enter to win a copy of SolarQuest here:
  • Everything Board Games
  • Giveaway Geek

  • There are a few differences between the original game and the Apollo 13 game, but they aren't significant.  The newer version has a quad fold board that is a tad smaller, a nicer storage box, and a small tweak to the rules - Red Shift cards are drawn on a roll of 1 & 3 instead of rolling doubles.  This is to celebrate Apollo 13 and increases the probability of drawing a Red Shift by about 5%.  It's not a significant increase though, and I didn't feel like Red Shit cards were drawn too often in the game.

    OK, so what is Solarquest you ask?  Solarquest is a Monopoly-esque game set in space.  Instead of purchasing property and building houses and hotels you buy moons and planets and build fuel stations.  As you buy more properties within a grouping (e.g. Jupiter's moons, Mars and its moons, Research Stations, etc.) the cost of rent for other players landing on your properties increases.  But that's about where the similarities between Solarquest and Monopoly end (oh, you also get a monetary bonus for passing or landing on Earth and there are Red Shift cards that are pretty much like Chance cards, so I guess that's where the similarity ends).  In Solarquest there is the added complexity of dealing with fuel and gravity.  As you try to leave the orbit of each planet you must expend fuel to exit the gravitational pull of the planet.

    This means that you might get stuck orbiting a planet if you don't have enough fuel to escape, or don't roll a high enough dice roll to escape the gravitational pull of the planet.  Sometimes this can be beneficial (give you a chance to purchase more properties in the system) and sometimes it can really wreak havoc (if you're in a system that has many items owned by other players).

    So keeping an eye on your fuel level is important.  In addition to paying rent for landing on opponents' properties you can also purchase fuel if they have a fuel station.  But an interesting twist is that if your fuel is low and your opponent doesn't have a fuel station on the moon you land on you can instead purchase that moon from the player as a penalty to him for being 'negligent' with his property.

    The game relies more heavily on luck than I usually like, but there is enough happening in the game that you can put forth a little bit of strategy and the luck is in more than just rolling dice and seeing where you land.  There are choices to be made in the game and lots of player interaction.  There are a number of small details like fuel management, orbiting within systems instead of just always passing by, the greatly varying sizes of the systems, and more that really set this apart from your typical Monopoly themed game.

    When I pulled the game out and insisted on playing it the friends that we had over reluctantly agreed to play, on the condition that we could stop after an hour and play something else if it felt too long.  But two hours later we were all having a great time still and the only reason we stopped before the 'official' end was because it was getting late and the kids had pretty much destroyed the house.  (Seriously, where do they get the energy to keep up that level of commotion for that many hours???)  So after about two hours of playing we all took one more turn and then added up assets.  My wife won, by a LOT, even though she almost went bankrupt at one point.  The rest of us were fairly even.

    For the type of game, and the age of the game, it held up really well to modern gaming standards.  It was as fun as I remembered it.  Now, if only my copy with the Oort Cloud expansion I made will turn up I'll be really happy!

    Preliminary Rating: 7/10

    Mid-game and everyone is starting to run low on fedrons ($$$) except for my
    wonderfully rich wife - even after having to pay $1200 for landing on Venus!

    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.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.