Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Harbour by Scott Almes and Tasty Minstrel Games - Unboxing

Back in July I backed my first two Kickstarter games (aside from Robot Turtles, which was a present for my boys in 2013).  I backed Harbour by Tasty Minstrel Games and Tiny Epic Defenders by Gamelyn Games, both designed by Scott Almes, and both, I'm excited to say, are shipping two months early!  Today in the mail I received Harbour and I just couldn't wait to open it!  So here are pictures of the game box and components.

The Harbour box is 6"x4"x1.5" - small enough to carry in a pocket.

Inside the box is packed pretty tightly with components.

Everything from inside the box, including the Belfort guilds promo pack.

The character boards look great!
Instructions and building cards.

Tons of characters!

Look at all those awesome building cards!

The resource squares have stickers that need to be added.

Check out the AWESOME goblin meeples!

Adding the stickers to the resource cubes really makes them look great.
So, what do I think of the game on first inspection?  It really looks awesome.  The artwork is fantastic and all the components are top notch.  I am a little concerned about how well the stickers will hold up over time, but for now they look really good.  Also, the quality of the box, while nice, is a little under what some of my other Kickstarter games (that I bought post campaign) are.  Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Rise! were both originally Kickstarter games and the boxes are a little more durable and made of white cardboard instead of brown.  But that's a super minor detail and the actual game components took great!

I can't wait to get the game to the table to see how it plays.  I've loved all the other Scott Almes games I've played and from what I've read and watched, Harbour will be no exception!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Quick Review - Pokémon Trading Card Game

Pokémon Trading Card Game
Designers: Takumi Akabane & Tsunekaz Ishihara
Publisher: The Pokémon Company, International 
Quick Review - Pokémon Trading Card Game
So, I got sucked into the world of Pokémon.  I never thought I'd see the day when I'd play the game.  But that changed a few months ago.  My boys are very interested in board and tabletop games, but most of their friends weren't playing things like Settlers of Catan and RoboRally.  But a number of their friends from Cub Scouts play Pokémon.  On top of that, my FLGS has Pokémon afternoons on the weekends and I had been looking for something that the boys could do at the game store while I meet some buddies to play our games.  So I started looking into Pokémon for the boys.  One of my good friends' son was into Pokémon so he brought over their decks one weekend so that both I and my older son could learn to play.

Well, after 1 play I wasn't all that impressed.  I could see some of the potential in the game if you wanted to spend a lot of time and money to collect good cards to build good decks, but frankly I didn't want to spend that time and money on the game.  Aside from that, I also found the game fairly random, and limited in the depth of strategy and choices.  I wasn't impressed at all.

My son, however, was immediately enthralled.  After just one game that's all he talked about.  Everything was Pokémon this and Pokémon that.  So I knew that, regardless of what I thought of the game personally, I had found a winner for my son.  He ended up getting several starter decks for his birthday, then a few more for Christmas, and then bought some more cards with his Christmas money.  During this time he also got my 5 year old interested in the game.  Now they both have a few hundred cards and play it almost daily, watch the Pokémon cartoon whenever they can, and have read just about every Pokémon book our library has several times.

I've taken this opportunity to teach my sons several things.  First, I'm teaching them the value of taking care of your stuff.  I've been helping them card for the cards by showing them how to place valuable cards into sleeves, storing their decks in deckboxes, and keeping other cards in binders of card storage sheets.  They're actually doing a pretty good job of putting their cards all back where they go after they finish a game.  For a while I was finding cards stashed all over the house, but I think they've finally learned to see the value of protecting their 'investments'.

I've also been teaching the boys how to customize their decks.  At first they were just playing with the pre-built decks that they received.  But as they've bought booster packs and trainer boxes they've gotten a number of additional cards.  So I've helped them sort all their cards, look at their abilities, and build custom decks that have particular strengths and weaknesses.  They only have enough cards for about 5 60 card decks each, plus some left over cards that they can't put into playable decks because they don't have enough energies, and then a number of cards that they can't use at all because they don't have the basics for them.  So the card interactions that they're working with aren't all that great.  But they've gotten to see how balancing the different types of energies with limited varieties of Pokémon can make their decks stronger.  As they continue to gain cards and learn more about the way cards interact I hope they continue to evolve their decks.

I never really got into trading card games (I only have enough Magic cards to play one deck of each color so my wife and I can play occasionally), but I can see the value in learning how card strategies can be built.  Both of my boys have expressed an interest in designing their own games, so learning and dissecting the cards in a game like Pokémon will help them build diverse choices and interactions in their own future games, at least I hope so.

Anyway, Pokémon isn't a game for me.  It's too random, has too little control, and not a very deep strategy (unless you have thousands of cards to choose from).  I also don't care for the 'give us your money from not until eternity' aspect of trading card games.  But I do love the enthusiasm my boys have shown in the game, love that it continues to draw them toward more complex games, and that it gives me another opportunity to hang out at my FLGS.

My rating is from the perspective of an adult, however as far as my boys are concerned, I'm sure they'd give Pokémon a 9 or 10, possibly even an 11 rating.

Preliminary Rating: 5/10

My Pokémon is getting poisoned.

This game lasted pretty long, about an hour.
Usually the games are quicker, about 30 minutes. 
My youngest experiencing the glory of opening booster packs.
He opened 4 EX and Mega EX cards in the 8 boosters he got in
the EX Trainer Box he bought with his birthday & Christmas money.
I remember the feeling, but it was Garbage Pail Kids cards for me when I was a kid!

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, January 21, 2015

The 10 Best New-To-Me Games of 2014

So 2014 marked my return to board games. I used to love playing games as a kid.  I grew up playing Clue, Risk, Trouble, Life, and plenty of other games with my family, in high school I used to get together with friends and spend an entire weekend playing Civilization ; in college I spent many hours and hours playing Mafia, Scrabble, Sorry, Spades, and Euchre; and then my wife and I used to play a lot of Pente, Scattergories, and other games together and with friends. Then we had children. And the games reluctantly got packed away and put into the basement.  In fact, the year before my first son was born my wife bought me Khet, then she got pregnant, and we never played it until this past year, 8 years later!

Through the years we had given some feeble attempts at playing games with our sons.  We had Chutes & Ladders, Candy Land, Cooties, Don't Break the Ice, and a bunch of other kiddie games.  We tried other, less typical games, like CooCoo the Rocking Clown, Hullabaloo, and Suspend, too.  None of them really grabbed our kids' attentions, or ours.  Then last Christmas we gave our boys (ages 4 and 7 at the time) Catan Junior as well as a couple of other games, like Cathedral.  Well, one play into Catan Junior and the boys were hooked!  The boys loved Cathedral as well, so we spent the couple of weeks after Christmas playing all sorts of games that I hadn't played in years.  We played Pente, Quarto, finally played Khet, and a bunch more!  I pulled my meager collection of games out of storage and started introducing my boys to them slowly.

But Catan Junior remained their favorite (who can turn down pirates and parrots!), and we played it a whole bunch.  In fact, we found the game so much fun that even my wife and I played it on our own a few times.  But playing with just two adults the game was missing something.  Its options were just a bit too limited for adults.  But we could see the potential in the game and that got us to thinking about what the full version of Settlers of Catan must be like.  So on January 9th (thank you Amazon for keeping my order history) I placed an order for Catan.  That was before I realized it was for 3-4 players.  So then I spent the time between ordering and the arrival of the game researching 2 player variant rules so my wife and I could play.  And play we did.  For the next two weeks straight that's all we did nearly every night was play Catan.  We never knew board games could be so much fun!  We were hooked.

In the past year we've bought and played more games than I had in my entire life previously (and like I said, I wasn't opposed to playing games ever before).  We met new friends that also liked playing games.  And I even started designing my own games!  And now my boys (5 and 8) have moved on beyond Junior Catan (although they still like to play it sometimes) and now join us for Dominion, Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Splendor, Takenoko, Star Realms, and pretty much anything else we bring out.  Yes, we've become board-game-aholics in our house.

So anyway, now on to the whole point of this post.  Since getting into board games, and particularly designer or hobby board games, has been relatively new to our family, most of the games we played in 2014 weren't actually released in 2014.  So I can't really do a top 10 new games from 2014, but I can do a top 10 new-to-me games from 2014.  So, without further ado, here are the top 10 games that I was introduced to in 2014.

10 - Survive! (1982)
We discovered the 1984 edition of Survive at our local Goodwill for $0.99.  And let me tell you, that was $0.99 well spent.  The game is a quick, fun, easy to learn bloodbath.  There's not much direct conflict, but getting your meeple to safety off of a sinking island amidst sharks, whales, and sea monsters means there are a ton of casualties.  And the game is awesome!  You'll have a hard time finding the 1984 version, unless you luck out at a resale shop, like me, but the great thing is that it's currently published by Stronghold Games under the name Survive: Escape from Atlantis and includes better components and a small expansion.


9 - RoboRally (1994)
RoboRally simply amazed my wife and I the first time we played it at a friend's house.  We loved the combination of programming your robots with the non-combative confrontations.  This the first game I played in 2014 that someone else owned that we decided we had to add it to our own collection ASAP.  Within a week of playing it the first time we had a copy sitting on our shelves.  We've played the game a number of times since then and have had a blast every time.  If I have one criticism about the game after playing it more though, it's that the games can take a lot longer than you'd expect, especially when you start adding in multiple boards and more than 2 or 3 flags to capture.  But this is still a hit whenever we pull it out.


8 - Betrayal at House on the Hill (2004)
As most of my friends know, I love haunted houses.  I ran a very successful haunted house when I was in college and one of the first games I designed is a haunted house game called Polter-Heist.  I started working on Polter-Heist before I learned about BaHotH and only stumbled on the game while I was looking for ideas for room artwork for my game.  While both games take place in a haunted house and have a series of rooms viewed from above, they are both very different.  After discovering BaHotH I watched a TableTop episode featuring the game.  Then I watched just about every gameplay and review video I could find.  I absolutely fell in love with the game without ever having played it.  Unfortunately it was out of print.  But then I found out that it was scheduled for reprint in just a few months!  Yay!  So I put in a pre-order for it at my FLGS and started waiting patiently for my chance to play.  Then I found out a friend had the first edition of the game!  We played and it was as great as I had expected!  We played a couple of more times and then I finally received my own copy.  Then we played some more.  I love that every game is different after the haunt starts, however I really want to try playing with 6 players.  With 3 and 4 the haunts just always seemed a little unbalanced and ended too soon.  But I still love the game, both for its haunted house theme and for its wealth of replayability.  No game is ever the same.  I haven't reviewed Betrayal at the House on the Hill yet, but one will be forthcoming!

7 - Tiny Epic Kingdoms (2014)
Back in July I backed the Tiny Epic Defenders Kickstarter after playing the PnP version of the game, which I thought was a fantastic coop game.  When the Pledge Manager information was sent I had the opportunity to add Tiny Epic Kingdoms to my order, which I promptly did.  When it arrived I was super excited.  Opening the package was incredible.  All the bits and pieces were awesome, and so tiny!  Then I got to play the game.  I was absolutely amazed at the amount of game packed into a tiny little box.  Tiny Epic Kingdoms is a 4x game that is simple to learn and teach and quick to play.  It plays in about 45 minutes so it is accessible to just about any type of gamer: new, casual, or experienced.  The game is a ton of fun, even if it does seem to end sooner than expected at times.  A review of TEK will be coming soon!

6 - Kemet (2012)
Kemet is another of those games that I decided I needed after playing one time.  Kemet introduced me to a whole new way to play a war game.  There are no dice used for combat in Kemet at all!  That's great for me since I really stink at rolling dice.  I just don't have the knack.  Instead of chucking dice each player has a set of military strategy cards that can enhance their attack strength, defense strength, or the amount of damage they can inflict.  Plus there are limits to the size of armies.  So you never have one army that completely overwhelms another army.  And because each player has the same military strategies available to them during the course of the game battles are decided on tactics rather than random chance.  I love that!  And better yet, when you are defeated you don't lose all your soldiers.  Instead they just get sent back to your city so they can be redeployed elsewhere during the game.  So victories in battle are important, but they don't let you destroy opponents to the point where they have no chance in the game.  It's an ingenious battle mechanic that I immediately fell in love with, so much so that I included a similar mechanic in my game To Reign Supreme. (Now listed on BGG!)


5 - Rise! (2012)
I received Rise! for my birthday this past spring and it immediately became one of my favorite games, and has stayed at the top all along.  Rise! is a 2 player strategy game that has a little bit of almost everything in it.  Area control, worker placement, battles, tile laying, construction, and mostly abstract strategy are all core mechanics in Rise!  There are a wealth of options for players to take on each turn and the game is played on an ever changing field, so every game is different.  Depending on who you are playing a game could last 20 minutes, or, more likely if you are evenly matched, 45 minutes or more.  Rise! is a game of deep strategy in a game that's small enough to take just about anywhere!


4 - Star Realms (2014)
Star Realms is the game I have played the most from this list.  The game is a tiny little deckbuilder for 2 players (more with additional decks, or the variant I've provided) that plays in about 30 minutes.  There is also a highly addictive app available for Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac.  The ease of play (my 5 and 8 year olds play with me a lot), speed of games, and card interactions result in a high energy, fast paced frenzy of a game and it's an incredible amount of fun to play.  Plus it's small enough to fit in a pocket and take anywhere!  I just purchased the Crisis expansion packs and added them to my deck and they have really added another level to the game.  The game isn't perfect, but it is a ton of fun packed into a deckbox sized package that fits in your pocket!


3 - Carcassonne (2000)
Carcassonne has been around for quite a while, but I got to play it for the first time this year.  I had watched the Tabletop episode where it is played and immediately thought my wife would like it.  Then in September I met up with a friend that had the game and played.  I loved it and borrowed it for a bit so my wife could play.  And guess what?  She loved it, too!  And so did my sons!  So this Christmas we got the Carcassonne Big Box and added it to our collection.  We love how it is casual, easy, and fun!  Both our boys, ages 5 and 8, love to play the game, too.  As soon as we got the game it moved into the category of games that get pulled out often.  My 5 year old loves playing with the Hills and Sheep expansion because he loves to push his luck (he loves Zombie Dice) and is actually very lucky.  I can't recommend Carcassonne enough as a great family or casual game!


2 - Legendary (2012)
A few months ago I played Dominion for the first time with my wife and some friends and loved it.  That was my introduction to deckbuilders.  Then I picked up Star Realms and also loved it, especially since it was simple enough for my sons to play with me.  Then, while on a trip to Walmart my wife and sons saw Legendary and were intrigued.  On the way home we stopped off in our FLGS and noticed they had a copy of Legendary available for play.  So we ended up unexpectedly spending the afternoon playing.  Let me just say that the game is incredible!  It's a deckbuilder like any other, in some ways.  And totally unlike anything else I've played before or since in other ways.  Unlike most deckbuilders I've played now, Legendary is somewhat cooperative.  Each player is a super hero and they all have to work together to prevent the villains from escaping the city.  But there is a winner.  The hero who captures the most points worth of villains wins!  The card interactions were great and because of all the heroes, villains, henchmen, and scenarios there are nearly unlimited variations of the game.  And with tons of expansions available the game is a different beast every time it's pulled out.  I've heard that the stand-alone Legendary: Encounters is even better, so I can't wait to try that one out someday.  I've only played Legendary once now, but it's at the absolute top of my wishlist (OK, maybe sharing the top spot with Tash-Kalar).

1 - Dominion (2008)
Dominion was my introduction to deckbuilders.  I had seen it a lot, but never played it.  Then, while at a friend's house, my wife and I finally played it.  There's a reason why Dominion is the king of deckbuilders.  Yes, it's no longer the most innovative deckbuilder out there.  But it's super easy to learn, fast to play, and is a completely different game every time you play.  And throw in a few expansions and the possibilities are endless.  We got Dominion Big Box with the Prosperity and Alchemy expansions for Christmas and it's been one of the games we've played most since then.  We love the variety in setups and the ease of play.  My 8 year old son loves the game and wants to play all the time.  My 5 year old wants to like the game, but the speed and action in Star Realms is more to his liking, but hopefully in a year or two he'll grow to appreciate Dominion, too.  Dominion is currently sitting right there at the top of my favorite games list and I don't see it getting knocked out of the throne any time soon.  Just the fact that it's been around for over 6 years now and is still such a highly rated game bodes well for this remaining one of my favorites.  Add to that the fact that it's a great family game, and a great casual game, and it'll be getting game play for a long, long time, I'm sure.  Expect a full review of the game soon.

FYI, the games in the top image for the 2014 date are Machi Koro, Friday, DragonFlame, and Takenoko, four other games I've enjoyed playing.

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.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


This year I'll be participating in the 52 Game Challenge, proposed by Southern Starr Games, where I try to play at least one tabletop game with my family and friends every week.  I challenge you to do the same with your family!  Just one game a week, where players are unplugged and interacting.  See how it changes your family for the better!  Post the games you play to Facebook or any other social media site with the hashtag #52GameChallenge

I'll be keeping a list of all the games I participate in this year on a page dedicated to the 52 Week Challenge here:

GJJ Games 52 Week Challenge

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Quick Review - Splendor

Designer: Marc André
Publisher: Space Cowboys
Quick Review - Splendor
Splendor is a game that's been talked about a whole lot lately.  It was a Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) nominee and has garnered a ton of buzz.  Splendor is a fast paced set collection, engine building game for 2-4 players ages 10+ (although again, both my 5 and 8 year olds play the game with no trouble at all - in fact they beat my wife and I as often as we beat them).  It plays in about 30 minutes, when you don't have kids that like to sing a song about every turn they take =)

Every year for Christmas we get our family a game to play on Christmas Eve.  This year I let my boys pick out the game.  So after watching a bunch of game review videos they came to a consensus.  Or rather, didn't, as siblings are apt to do.  My 8 year old wanted Takenoko.  My 5 year old insisted on Splendor.  So what's a dad to do?  We got both, of course!  Takenoko ended up being our Christmas Eve game and we saved Splendor for New Years.  I also went a little overboard and bought acrylic gems and brass drawer pulls that I cut the backs off of so we have fancy gems and gold coins instead of the chips.

Upon opening the game I was surprised at how solid the chips were.  I had been expecting light weight plastic chips, but these were solid, heavy poker chips with beautiful images of gems printed on them.  Playing with them is just great.  The gems and coins I added to the game make it look spectacular, but really aren't needed to have a great game.  The components in the game are awesome as is.  Oh, and a bonus, the gems that I bought fit nicely in a baggie and then under the plastic box insert, so everything stays together nicely.

Whether you use the standard tokens or the fancy gems I found, the game is beautiful!
Playing Splendor with fancy gens and coins!

The gold coins are brass drawer pulls that I bought from Lowes.
The black gems are just glass accents I got from Michael's.
And the acrylic gems I got from Amazon.  I needed two bags of
these to have enough of each color and I have plenty left over for
something else.

So how does the game play?  We absolutely loved it!  The instructions are super simple and the game can be taught in just a few minutes.  And gameplay is fast and exciting.  There's a little bit of analysis paralysis when trying to decide what development card to work toward when someone snags the one that you had been shooting for, but the game moves quickly despite that.  There is very little downtime between turns, so you need to think on your feet and plan a few steps ahead.  However that doesn't always work.  My 5 year old likes to reserve the expensive cards right away and then slowly work toward acquiring enough gems to buy those cards.  And often he ends up winning!

Most of the games we've played have been fairly close, except the one game my 5yo won - when we realized he had a lot of points and counted them we realized he had 23 points (only 15 are needed to win) and should have won several turns earlier.  My wife and I only had about a dozen points each and were very humbled =)

Splendor is the type of game you can pull out and play any time and in almost any company.  Gamers will like the game because there's the possibility to think and plan 4 or 5 turns ahead, but also that feeling of despair when someone snags the card you've been working for, or the feeling of triumph when you are the one to grab that card out from someone else's nose.  Non-gamers will enjoy the game, too, for its simplicity, fast action, and just overall fun!  I haven't played Camel Up, the winner of the 2014 Spiel des Jahres, but I have a hard time thinking that it could be a better all-audience game than Splendor.

Technically this isn't really a First Play review since we've played it a half dozen or so times already, but since we played it five times the first day we opened the game, I didn't have much choice =)  My family really loves Splendor and I think it'll be a favorite for a long time to come, whether we use the fancy gems or the awesome, standard tokens.

Preliminary Rating: 8/10

All set up and ready to play a four player game!

The acrylic gems do take up more room, but they look great!

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.

GJJG Game Reviews - Star Realms - by White Wizard Games

Star Realms
Designers: Robert Dougherty & Darwin Kastle
Publisher: White Wizard Games
GJJG Game Reviews - Star Realms - by White Wizard Games

Game Overview:
One of the most talked about little games of last year was a little deckbuilder called Star Realms.  I had intended to initially do a First Play review of the game, but since I bought it on black Friday I've been playing it like crazy.  So I've got enough plays under my belt in the past 5 weeks to do a full review!

If you haven't played a deckbuilder before Star Realms is an excellent introduction game because it's easy to learn and quick to play.  If you've played deckbuilders before Star Realms is an excellent game because it's easy to teach and quick to play.  Star Realms plays in about 20-30 minutes and is for 2 players ages 12+, although my 5 year old plays with no problem (and can be pretty vicious, too), except for needing help with shuffling and sometimes counting up all the abilities.  My 8 year old loves the game, too, and has no problems with any of it.  Officially the game plays with 2 players with a single deck and can play with up to 6 players with 1 or 2 additional decks, but I have a variant that I'll link to after the review that allows for 3-4 players with a single deck.

In Star Realms each player controlls a fleet of space ships and base stations and is attempting to destroy their opponent.  Each player starts with a strength (authority) of 50 and a basic deck of 10 space ship cards.  8 Scout ships have a value of 1 gold and can be used to buy other cards (ships and bases) from a trade row (a set of 5 random, more powerful cards from the main deck or always available Explorer ships that cost 2 gold and give the player 2 gold to use in the future) and 2 Viper ships that each deal 1 attack damage to the opponent.  Players take turns playing the top 5 cards from their deck (3 for the first player on the first turn to balance the first player advantage) and using whatever gold comes up to buy new ships or bases from the trade row or attack points to deal damage to their opponent.  Then the ships are discarded, along with any ships that were purchased.  As a player's draw deck is depleted the player shuffles his discard pile (now with some more powerful cards in addition to the starting cards) and begins drawing from that deck.  This is pretty standard deckbuilder fare and as the game progresses each player's deck becomes stronger and stronger.

What makes Star Realms great is the card interactions.  In the ships and bases that can be purchased there are four factions (Trade Federation, Star Empire, Machine Cult, and Blob aliens).  Each faction has certain strengths and weaknesses.  The Trade Federation generally gives a player gold to spend and helps a player regain authority points (heal damage).  The Star Empire lets players draw additional cards or makes the opponent discard cards in addition to providing gold or attack strength.  The Machine Cult gives players the ability to scrap ships from their hand or discard pile, letting players clear out weak cards from their deck.  And the Blobs are aliens that are very strong when it comes to attacks.

Cards also have Ally Abilities in addition to their standard abilities.  So if two or more cards of the same faction are played on a turn they can enhance each other's abilities.  And scrap abilities can be used on a card one time, then the card is removed from the game permanently.  So scrap abilities may be useful for that critical boost for an attack, or that last bit of gold you need, but it also results in losing a card, so scrap abilities must be used carefully.

In addition to ship cards there are also bases.  Whereas ship cards are discarded after each turn bases remain in play and offer abilities each turn that they are not destroyed.  And some bases are outposts that must be destroyed before a player's authority can be attacked directly.  Bases are great for defensive purposes and increasing a player's abilities.

Components & Packaging:
Star Realms consists of 128 cards and instructions.  That's it.  It comes in a pretty flimsy deck box that is actually pretty difficult to open.  I immediately transferred my cards to an Ultra-Pro deck box because I couldn't see the one included with the game lasting more than a few times of opening and closing.  The cards are pretty standard cards and nothing special as far as thickness.  The artwork on the cards is pretty amazing though.  Each card has a stunning piece of science fiction space painting on it.  The colors are bright and vibrant and each faction's ships and bases have distinct looks and color schemes.  If the game came in a more sturdy box it would be great.

Score: 7/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
At first the rules for Star Realms are a little intimidating, specially if you're not very familiar with deckbuilders.  Particularly the description of the ally abilities and scrap abilities are a little confusing.  They're much easier to teach in person rather than learn from the rules.  Other than that though the rules are pretty simple and only take up a single letter sized sheet of paper (both sides) and a second sheet for multiplayer options (all of which require additional decks - but I have a multiplayer variant that I'll link to below that doesn't require any additional decks).

Score: 8/10 x2

The gameplay is what really makes Star Realms incredible.  It's such a tiny box, but there's so much game inside of it!  Games only take about 20-30 minutes (a bit more if you're playing with slow moving kids) and are generally really fast paced.  Games start out, well, not slow, but not much happens for the first few turns.  It moves quickly since players don't really have a whole lot to do except buy a card or two and maybe do a point or two of damage.  But by about turn 4 players generally have a few cards in their hands and that's when the magic starts happening.  Maybe a player gets to draw an extra card and now has 6 or 7 gold to buy a really awesome ship, or even 3 smaller ships.  Or they have two Blob ships come up in one hand and get to string together 8 or 10 attack points.  During this middle phase players will attack and chip away at each other's authority while continuing to build up their decks.  But eventually players will have enough good cards in their hands that some really awesome combos will happen.  Maybe they'll have 18 gold to spend and will buy 5 or 6 cards.  Or they'll have a series of ships that come out and cause them to keep drawing more and more cards.  So they'll attack with 8 or 9 ships, plus a base (or two) left from the previous turn.  With the ally abilities on cards activated it's not unusual for a player to attack with 18 or 20 points in one turn.  Games usually end rather abruptly with one player getting a cascading series of cards that just demolishes the other player.  Sometimes this happens when both players were down to just a handful of authority points, so it's a nail biting last couple of turns to find out who's armada is going to show up first and finish off the other player.  Sometimes one player will be sitting secure in their knowledge that they have 25 authority and their opponent has 4 only to have the opponent's cards all fall into place and wipe the smirk off the face of that player.  Every game I've played has ended in a frenzy of excitement that is just as fun to dish out as it is to receive.

Aside from the excitement that the game has at the end, getting to that point is just as much fun.  With the four factions, each with ships and bases, and each with particular strengths the game has a depth of strategy that isn't immediately apparent on the first few plays.  While the basic game mechanics are very easy and accessible to just about anyone, after playing longer players will learn what combinations of factions work well.  There's just enough luck involved in the game (in what cards become available in the trade row and what gets drawn out of each player's deck) so that experienced players don't have a significant advantage over new players, but experienced players will appreciate the opportunity to try different strategies of focusing on specific factions.

If I have one criticism of the game it's that you feel a bit helpless when those strings of big attacks come along from an opponent.  I really feel like the game could benefit from having some ships or bases with an additional ability that can be used to defend against attacks.  Something like: Discard this ship to repel all Blob Faction attacks this turn.  Or: Discard this ship to scrap one opponent ship immediately when played, before the ship can use any abilities.  Things like that could be really fun and add a bit of defensive strategy to the game, aside from just having outposts.  There are a few expansions for Star Realms already (the Gambit set and four Crisis sets of cards), but none of them have reactive abilities for any cards.  Hopefully a future expansion will include that; I know I'm not the only one who has expressed this opinion.

I know other people have complained about the method of tracking authority points by using the cards with different values on the fronts and backs, but I feel that's an ingenious way of tracking points while keeping to just cards.  Some people use dice or tokens to track authority instead of the cards, but then you have something else that you need to carry around with you.  So the authority cards are not a detraction in my opinion.

Score: 8/10 x3

Every game I've played, from the first to the most recent, has been exciting and fun.  And I don't see that ending any time soon.  Star Realms is one of the few games that I take with me almost anywhere that I think I might have a chance to play since it's so small, quick, and fun.  In less than 6 weeks I've already played it nearly 20 times and I don't see that pace slowing down much.  I'm itching to get the expansions and really, really hope a future expansion includes reactive abilities.  There's a ton that can be done with this game and, while it doesn't need too many expansions, those that are available should add a ton of variety and replay value to an already fantastically replayable game.

Score: 8/10 x1

General Fun:
It's probably obvious from what I've already written, but this game is incredibly fun.  In the 6 weeks I've had the game it's quickly become one of my favorites.  Even the 3-4 player variant I found for one deck is a blast.  I've played that a few times and never felt like it was unbalanced or any less fun.  The only thing I think that could make it more fun would be to have the reactive abilities I mentioned above.  Add that and I'd easily give this a 10 in this category.

Score: 9/10 x2

Overall Value:
At $15 MSRP the value in this game can't be beat.  And it's readily available for around $10!  I actually got my copy for only $9 on black Friday!  And it's easily the best value for the dollar I've spent on any game.  I recommend anyone pick this up, even at full retail.  You will not be disappointed!

Score: 10/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
I loved Star Realms the very first time I played it.  And I love it still, It's not perfect, but it's darn near close.  And with the expansions that are available, plus hopefully a future expansion with reactive abilities, the game is incredibly varied and fun.  At first I had also been a little disappointed that is was only for 2 players unless you buy an extra deck or two.  That seemed a little odd since if you then wanted to go back to a 2 player game you'd have to separate all the cards again (maybe, I supposed you could play 2 players with 2 decks of cards, just not use all the starting cards).  But then I found a variation on Board  Game Geek that allowed 4 players to play with one deck.  I tweaked that variation a little bit so that it would work with 3 or 4 players.  I've since tried multi-player games with a single deck several times and they're just as fun as the 2 player games, maybe even more so!

So I'm happy to provide a link to a PDF with the variant rules that work great.  All you need to add to the game is a few tokens (pennies, pebbles, peanuts, anything is fine) or a single die (D4 or D6 will be fine).  Then, if you'd like you need a way to track authority since there aren't enough cards in the deck for each person to start with 50 (the 3 player variant can have each player start with 42 authority which works great, but with 4 players you really need something more than the amounts possible with the included cards).    Enjoy!

Overall Score: 83/100

Setup and cleanup is pretty quick and easy for a deckbuilder.

Bases help with ongoing abilities and defense.

The artwork on the cards is thematic, rich, and amazing!

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.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

GJJG Game Reviews - Ninja Versus Ninja - by Out of the Box Publishing

Ninja Versus Ninja
Designer: Tushar Gheewala
Publisher: Out of the Box Publishing
GJJG Game Reviews - Ninja Versus Ninja - by Out of the Box Publishing

Game Overview:
Ninja Versus Ninja is a children's strategy game from Out of the Box Publishing.  We bought this game for our sons a few years ago and it got a little bit of play right after they received it, but not a whole lot.  Then this past year, with our family's dive into serious board gaming Ninja Versus Ninja has sen a lot more gameplay.

The game is a 2 player strategy game for ages 8 and up, although my 5 year old has no trouble with it (and has been playing since he was 4, although without much strategy behind his moves back then).  A game plays in about 10 minutes, maybe even less sometimes.

In Ninja Versus Ninja each player controls a team of 6 ninjas in their dōjō.  On each turn a player must roll two custom D4 dice (they're rectangular prisms with katana swords sticking out of the two ends and numbers 1-4 on the other faces).  Then the player may move one ninja forward that many spaces with up to one turn to the left or right and/or one turn back toward the player's home dōjō.  The object is to make incursions into your opponent's dōjō and return without getting captured.  Only one ninja can be out of your dōjō at a time and it must return within three turns.  The farther into your opponent's dōjō your ninja progresses the more points it will score, provided it makes it back to your home dōjō within 3 moves and doesn't get captured by your opponent along the way.  Ninjas can be captured if the opponent moves and lands on the same space as your ninja as its last move.

A player wins when he reaches 7 points (tracked by ninja master and shadow ninja miniatures) or by capturing all of his opponent's ninjas.

Components & Packaging:
The components in this game are awesome.  The board is pretty basic.  It's not too big, but is thick enough and feels fairly sturdy.  But what really makes the game are the miniatures and dice.  There are 16 characters and two dice in the game and they're pre-painted on somewhat flexible plastic so there's no worry about the sword tips breaking or anything.  The paint seems pretty resilient - we haven't had any flake off or anything.  The characters are pretty awesome looking cartoonish ninjas.  The miniatures are definitely geared toward kids with their look and composition, but not to the point where adults won't be willing to play with them.  And the dice, as mentioned above, are great, thematic D4s.  The box and packaging are pretty standard, nothing special.  The insert is just a vacuum molded plastic insert with spaces for each die and each set of characters.  Nothing to write home about, but sufficient for the game.

These are the heart and soul of the game.

Score: 9/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
Since this is primarily a kids game the rules are simple and setup is a breeze.  There is only a small booklet (basically four letter sized pages) of rules and they are colorful with lots of graphics, examples, and tips.  Setup consists of placing ninjas in their home dōjōs on the marked spaces and place the ninja master and shadow ninja on their respective tracks.  Setup takes 2 minutes and explaining the rules to a ew player takes 5 or less.

Score: 9/10 x2

Despite being a kids game, Ninja Versus Ninja is surprisingly fun!  It's not the best strategy game in the world, but there are a number of options on each dice roll.  The back page of the instructions includes some strategic hints, including mentioning things like trying to capture an opponent's piece if a ninja out of the home dōjō isn't going to make it back anyway, paying attention to distances from opponent ninjas and staying in the locations you are least likely to be captured from (including immediately adjacent to an opponent's ninja since a 1 can never be rolled), and opting to block ninjas escaping from your dōjō if you can't capture them.

I've mostly played the game with my kids and they really enjoy it and I don't ever feel like I'm just going through the motions.  The dice rolling adds enough chance that they have opportunities to win, too, but I never have to 'throw' the game.

I've played a few times with adults and the gameplay doesn't really change much.  Yes, the decisions are a little more do-or-die critical, but the game was still fun and quick.  The dice rolling makes it a little too chancy to be a real strategy game, but it's not one to completely avoid around adults either.  And since it plays super quick (under 10 minutes) it's one I can grab and play with a friend real quick in between games, or one to have on hand when the main game has player elimination or really long downtime between turns.

Score: 6/10 x3

There's not much to this game, which is a strength.  Since it plays quickly, has a little bit of strategy and a little bit of chance, and looks incredible, it's a great game to play with the kids when they're begging for a game.  The only problem is it's a 2 player game and I usually have 2 asking me to play games with them.  But it's quick enough that we can take turns and everyone's happy.  And I don't mind playing 4 or 5 games in a row.

Score: 7/10 x1

General Fun:
Overall the game is pretty fun for what it is.  It's not a deep strategy game, or even a great  adult game, but for playing with the kids it's a blast.  So much better than many other kids games.  And who doesn't love ninjas?  My kids take the game out sometimes just to have ninja battles because the miniatures are just that awesome.  I've never not had fun while playing this game!

Score: 7/10 x2

Overall Value:
We bought this a little over 2 years ago for under $18 (MSRP is $28) and it's definitely been worth it.  Unfortunately it's currently out of print now, but you can still find it going for about $50 places.  $50 is high for this game, but anything under MSRP is worth it.  At MSRP I'd only recommend this for die hard ninja fans or someone looking for the perfect gift for the kid gamer.  Hopefully Out of the Box Publishing will reprint it because it's definitely worth adding to any gamer's collection if they have kid gamers (or love ninja themes).

Score: 8/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
Ninja Versus Ninja isn't the best strategy game in the world, but when it comes to kids games it's definitely a winner in our house.  The ease of play, quick games, and super fun miniatures make this a game my kids turn to frequently and I'm never apt to turn down.  In our house, ninjas rule!

Overall Score: 74/100

All set up and ready to stealthily attack, like a ninja!

A close game!  I snuck in with the last points!

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.