Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Game of Energy on Kickstarter Now!

Game of Energy
Designer: Nathan Wright
Publisher: Nimex Games
A game I reviewed back in February is now on Kickstarter.  Game of Energy will be a wonderful gateway game.  The rules are easy and straightforward, the theme is very accessible, the artwork is absolutely gorgeous, has multiple layers of strategy and depth, is somewhat educational, and most of all it was a ton of fun to play!  I can't wait for Game of Energy to hit Kickstarter and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great, medium weight game that is good for families, casual gamers, and the occasional hard core gamer.  This is a winner that should please just about everyone that has the opportunity to play!

So go read my review and then consider supporting Game of Energy on Kickstarter!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Eye on Kickstarter #1

Eye on Kickstarter #1

Welcome to the first post in what I hope will become a regular series of posts here on GJJ Games.  This is my Eye on Kickstarter series!  This series will highlight Kickstarter campaigns I am following that have launched (or I've discovered) because they have caught my interest.  Usually they'll catch my interest because they look like great games that I have either backed or would like to back (unfortunately budget doesn't allow me to back everything I'd like to).  But occasionally the campaigns caught my attention for other reasons.  Twice a month, on the 2nd and 4th Fridays, I'll make a new post in this series, highlighting the campaigns that have caught my attention since the last post.  In each post I'll highlight one campaign that has really grabbed my attention, followed by other campaigns I've backed or am interested in.  I'll also include links to any reviews I've done.  Comments are welcome, as are suggestions for new campaigns to check out!

You can also see my full Kickstarter Profile to see what I've backed or my old Eye on Kickstarter page that was too unwieldy to maintain.  Also, check out the 2016 Kickstarter Boardgame Projects geeklist over on Board Game Geek for a list of all the tabletop games of the year.

So, without further ado, here are the projects I'm currently watching as of the fourth Friday of July, 2016:

Armored Core™ RTS
  • I have not backed Armored Core™ RTS, but it has really peaked my interest. It is a real time strategy combat game, meaning players are moving their pieces around the board in real time, not turn based. Each miniature has an LED that helps indicate line of sight, which can be blocked by three dimensional buildings and objects. The concept looks very intriguing and I'm watching this game very closely. The combination of awesome looking components with some very novel mechanics means Armored Core™ RTS is definitely one to watch out for.

No dice, no turns, no waiting, in Armored Core™ RTS, players pilot miniature mech models simultaneously through a 3D cityscape. They dodge around corners, boost to the rooftops, and activate weapons at the same time to capture the speed and action of the video games. How is this possible? The developers incorporated a variety of mechanics but the largest innovation is an LED pointer built into each miniatures' base to provide instantaneous line of sight.. Physical buildings provide cover from the lights.

This officially licensed board game version of Armored Core™ is for 2 to 4 players (expandable to 6), and has been specifically designed to be fast to setup, fast to teach and fast to play. Between the 20 minute missions, players spend the rewards they earn for accomplishing objectives to upgrade their mechs and equipment. Like the video games players are able to customize their mech according to their play­style and team role. Over the course of the campaign teams will strive to accomplish objectives for their faction in order to become the ultimate ‘Ravens’. 

Collectors and Capers
  • GJJ Games Review
  • GJJ Games Backed
  • This was a fun bluffing game that I supported at the base level because they sent me a review copy.

  • GJJ Games Review
  • GJJ Games Backed
  • Rollet is an amazingly high quality, high energy dexterity game that I had the privilege of reviewing back in January. If you like tabletop dexterity games for a gameroom, pub, or family room, Rollet is a great choice. It's a ton of fun and I really hope this campaign is wildly successful!

Virus: An Infectious Card Game
  • GJJ Games Backed
  • Virus: An Infectious Card Game is the latest in a line of science based games from John Coveyou and Genius Games. I've backed every one of his projects, except the first for Linakge (which I got in the campaign for Peptide). His games are light, educational, and a ton of fun, so backing Virus was a no brainer for me!

Near and Far
  • GJJ Games Backed
  • I recently got Above and Below and it very quickly jumped to the top of my favorite games list. It's up there with Terra Mystica, Kemet, Hyperborea, Scythe, and a number of meatier thematic and strategic games, but I'm absolutely in love with the storytelling merged with worker placement mechanics. Near and Far is the sequel to Above and Below and looks to bring a lot more story telling into the game, along with the ability to play longer stories or campaigns across multiple games, letting you use what you built up in previous games on your adventures in future games. One of my criticisms of Above and Below is that I always want to stories to continue. Well, in Near and Far they can!

Barnyard Roundup
  • GJJ Games Backed
  • I have supported this project at the base level, but am considering upping my pledge if budget allows. I have followed the development of this light, family and adult friendly, bluffing game from Druid City Games. It's been getting rave reviews and looks to be a great choice for families and gamers alike! Be sure to check it out!

Moonshot: Lunar Solace
  • I have not supported this project, but it looks very interesting and is one I recommend checking out.

  • Blaze is not a game I have backed, nor am I considering backing it. I was contacted to do a review of the game, but responded that it didn't look like a fit for my game groups. But why do I have it starred if I'm really not interested in the game? It's because the campaign is just so bizarre. Besides the amazingly colorful video, overly excited designer, and overuse of the word "blaze", the pledge levels are for some of the most interesting things I've ever seen combined with a tabletop game. You can pledge for a prayer, smoothies, paintings, and personal chef. This is one to watch, if only for the entertainment of watching the campaign video again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Rollet - Now on Kickstarter!

Designer: David Harvey
Publisher: Et Games Limited
A game I reviewed back in January is now on Kickstarter.  Rollet has been available for sale via the Et Games website:, but now they are looking at wider distribution and are running a Kickstarter campaign to bring Rollet into more homes and also fund a luxury edition that includes height adjustable feet and a spirit level embedded in the frame.

Rollet holds the distinction of being the highest rated game that I've done a Full Review of, earning a whopping 87/100 points!

So go read my review and then consider supporting Rollet on Kickstarter!

Rollet is available right now on Kickstarter at a substantial discount!  Through August 9, 2016 you can get a copy for £52 (that's about $69), over 35% off!  (Or less if you snag an early bird!)  The game should arrive in time for Christmas, and I know from experience that this makes an AWESOME Christmas gift!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

GJJG Game Reviews - Empire Engine - by AEG

Empire Engine
Designer: Matthew Dunstan, Chris Marling
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
GJJG Game Reviews - Empire Engine - by AEG

Game Overview:
Empire Engine is a tiny little game that I picked up last year for less than $10.  It is from AEG's 5 Minute Fun Games line of microgames that comes in a clamshell pack and has a faux velvet bag, like what many versions of Love Letter have.  Consisting of 22 square cards and a handful of red, yellow, and blue cubes, there's not a whole lot to the game.  It's definitely a micro game, and although it takes longer than five minutes it's still a relatively quick game, playing in 15-20 minutes.

Be sure to check out the GJJ Games Anniversary Giveaway I'm running where you can win a copy of Empire Engine along with a copy of my game, 8 Seconds!

In Empire Engine two to four players (really three or four players - the game just doesn't work very well at two) controlling a civilization that they must grow to defeat their opponents.  They'll produce goods, train soldiers, invent technologies, and attack their neighbors.  This is all in a rather abstract way; there are no miniatures, no technology tree, no economy.  Each resource (goods, soldiers, and inventions) is represented by a colored cube (yellow, red, and blue).  It is the mechanics of the game that are interesting and give it the feel of directly competing against your neighboring civilizations.  You get the feel of a larger civilization building game like 7 Wonders, Deus, or Progress: Evolution of Technology smooshed down into a microgame that plays in about 15 minutes and can be carried in your pocket.

Components & Packaging:
There really isn't a whole lot here to talk about.  The game comes in a plastic clamshell pack that you might find hanging on a hook in your FLGS.  This is the same packaging that the budget copies of Love Letter come in.  AEG has a few other games in this line, too, like Lost Legacy (there are a few Lost Legacy games) and Cypher.  There is no box, just a small velvet bag that contains all the game components and instructions.
You may find this hanging from a hook at your FLGS. 
The components include 22 square cards and 46 cubes.  16 of the cards are the main game cards, 4 are reference cards that also double as special faction abilities if you want to play with those in the advanced game, one card is the starting player marker, and one card is the round tracker.  There are also a rule booklet zipper baggie to hold all the cubes and, of course, a brown velvet bag to hold all the components.
The bag fits easily in your pocket, purse, or backpack so you can take it anywhere!

The quality of the components is fine.  The cards are 2.5" square, decent stock, and linen embossed.  The cubes are nothing special, just 8mm wooden cubes, but they suffice for a micro game.  And the velvet bag is sufficient for holding everything.  I think the only issue I have with the components is that there are not quite enough cubes.  Resources are not limited in the game and I've found in a 4 player game, and occasionally in a 3 player game, one resource can run out.  In that case players are all supposed to return an equal number of that resource from their score piles to the supply.  This generally works, but every once in a while you run into that issue and someone doesn't have any of that resource in their score pile.  In this case you can simply find another item to substitute for that resource, but five more of each resource cube would have avoided this problem, probably completely (at least in the shorter game).

Score: 7/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
Setup of Empire Engine is a breeze.  Just dump all the resource cubes into the supply, pass out one of each type of card to each player (they should each get one reference, two engine, and two gear cards), put the black cube on Round 1 of the Round Tracker card, give each player one Good and one Soldier, and determine a starting player.  Setup should take about 1 minute.

The rules are a little more complicated though.  They're not too challenging, and everyone will catch on after the very first round, but they're those type of rules that are easier done than said.  In the game each player will have two Engine cards that each have have available actions around the sides.  They'll also have two Gear cards that are used on each round to rotate the Engine cards to select their actions for the round.  It's really that simple, but for some reason explaining it causes eyes to glaze over.  But doing it the first time causes a spark of understanding.  The game only takes about a few minutes to explain, but after explaining the basics it's best to just get started.  Best of all, the games are quick, so after the first game everyone will have an understanding of how to play and the second game should go a whole lot quicker.
Each player will have a little reference card that pretty much covers everything they need to know.
The biggest "huh?" That I get when explaining the rules is about the order of placing gear cards.  Not that anyone doesn't understand that each player places one gear card and then in reverse turn order they place their second gear card, it's more that they don't understand why.  And to be fair, I didn't get it my first game either.  But after playing once you'll realize that this back-and-forth placement really influences your deduction and strategy.  It's a key rule that seems overly fiddly for such a tiny game, until you play.

Score: 8/10 x2

While gameplay in Empire Engine is really very simple, it results in a surprisingly deep game where you are playing the other players as well as the game's mechanics.  Empire Engine is played in a series of rounds.  In each round players will secretly manipulate their engines to choose from various actions, and then simultaneously all selected actions are revealed and executed in order of priority.  Since the actions are selected secretly, trying to deduce what your opponents will choose becomes a deeply strategic decision.  Will you be attacked?  Should you defend?  Maybe produce more goods or train more soldiers?  Or maybe it's time to ship your goods, but you can't do that if you're attacked.  So maybe the best choice is to have your scientists invent something.  It's not quite analysis paralysis inducing, but you will be left staring at your neighbor's engines trying to figure out what they are thinking so you can make the right choice.

You see, each player has two engine cards that each have four actions available.  They also have two gear cards that they'll secretly assign to each engine.  The gear cards let you rotate the engine one or two 90 degree turns, depending on which gear you assign to which engine.  And if you expend a resource when assigning the gear card you can turn the engine zero or three turns.
Once everyone has made their decisions about how to turn their engines, the gears are revealed and then engines are rotated.  Then everyone's chosen actions are executed.  

First all production actions are taken.  These are indicated with circular icons and include producing goods or training soldiers on the left engine and inventing on the right engine.  Goods and soldiers are resources that must be managed and go to your ready pile.  Inventions go straight to your score pile.

After production comes the attacks.  Attacks are represented by triangular icons (as is defend) and are conducted in turn order.  Each engine has one attack on it and you can only attack your neighbor on the side that you chose to attack.  The right engine also has a defense icon.  Battles are super simple.  Either the attack was successful or it wasn't.  For an attack to succeed you must first pay for it by moving a soldier from your ready pile to the main supply.  Then your opponent must not be defending your attack (the one defense icon can defend against an attack from either side, but only one side - so, if you get attacked by both neighbors you can only defend once).  If you succeed you can take either a soldier or good from your opponent's ready pile and put it into your score pile.  If you fail nothing happens.

Following the battles, players that were not successfully attacked can scavenge or ship goods (square icons) if they selected those actions.  Shipping goods let's you Nova all your goods from your ready pile to your score pile and scavenge let's you take any one resource from the supply and add it to your score pile.
Attack and Defend, the military is getting a workout this turn!
To end the round simply pick up the gear cards and pass the starting player card to the left.  A standard game consists of eight or nine rounds depending on the number of plsyers, or a like nger game can be played for 12 rounds.  I've found the shorter game to be sufficient.

Score: 8/10 x3

This is a game that I love for its simplicity and depth.  It's small enough to fit in a pocket and take just about anywhere.  Games are pretty quick and don't take up much room, so it's perfect as a filler, wind down, or restaurant game.  I like to take it to game nights, but it tends to get overshadowed by bigger, flashier boxes.  But this is as game that is different every time since you are playing the players as much as the game.  All it takes to change things up is to change seats.  Empire Engine should be able to get a lot of play time with the right groups.

After you've played a few times and everyone is familiar with the flow of the game players can turn over their reference cards and use the special abilities of their empire.  These add a bit of an asymmetrical twist to the game, so now you have to consider what your neighbors' strategies are and then determine if they are going to use their abilities for benefit or as a bluff so they can do something else.  The special abilities add just another level of depth to the gameplay that will keep the game interesting for even longer.

Score: 9/10 x1

General Fun:
I really enjoy Empire Engine.  It's not a goofy, silly game, but its both thinly and casual enough that it's quite fun.  There's a surprising amount of fun packed into that little bag.  The game doesn't work very well at two players (it works, just doesn't have quite the same spark), but at three or four players the game really shines.

Score: 8/10 x2

Overall Value:
I got my copy of Empire Engine for under $8, and it's readily available just about everywhere for less than $10.  At that price this is an incredible value.  A tiny game, a tiny price, and a ton of fun.  You can't beat that!
There's a ton of game packed into these components!
Score: 10/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
Empire Engine is a very fun little civilization management game that can fit in your pocket and plays in about 15 minutes. It is definitely best with 3-4 players, even though it says it works with two.  The first game I played with friends was very casual and we found the game fun, but kind of blah, but it was a learning game and we were familiarizing ourselves with the mechanics and strategies. Then we played again and started really paying attention to each other and found that the game has a lot of depth, strategy, bluffing, and deduction packed into such a tiny little package. I've played it a number of times now and every time I find Empire Engine to be an intriguing game with a surprising amount of depth.  I think Empire Engine is a great little filler game. It won't replace meatier games, but for something that can be packed into a pocket and costs under $10 it's definitely worth adding to your collection.

Be sure to check out the GJJ Games Anniversary Giveaway I'm running where you can win a copy of Empire Engine along with a copy of my game, 8 Seconds!

Overall Score: 82/100
Did you like this review?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

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

Monday, July 18, 2016

Quick Review - Collectors and Capers - Kickstarter Preview

Collectors and Capers
Designer: Trevor Harron
Publisher: Blue Heron Entertainment
Quick Review - Collectors and Capers - Kickstarter Preview

When you're in a museum what's the first thing you think when you see a cool, new, valuable exhibit?  Well, if it's "Maybe I can steal that," then Collectors and Capers might be the game for you. Even if that's not your first thought, you might still enjoy Collectors and Capers.

Collectors and Capers is a set collection and bluffing card game for three to six players and it's currently on Kickstarter right now! For $15 you can help the game get made and get yourself a copy when it's printed!

In Collectors and Capers each player is a thief in a museum trying to nab more valuables than any other thief.  They can steal from the museum or even each other.
Treasures that can be stolen include the Ancient Statue, Golden Fleece, Digital Guide, and more.
There are five or six target Treasures, depending on the number of players.  Each player will have two Secret cards that identify the Treasures they want to steal.  One Secret is chosen and one randomly assigned, and two players may have the same secret goals.  During the game you can swap out Secrets at the expense of an action.
Each player gets six Secret cards, two of which will be their goals for the game.
In addition to the Treasure and Secret cards there are Heist cards.  Heist cards come in two varieties, set cards that depict one of the items and action cards that give players special abilities (more on action cards later).  These are the cards that players will use in order to build sets of cards that allow them to steal and retain control of the items.

On a player's turn they will have two Heist Points, or HP, that can be used to perform several different actions.  Most only cost one HP, but attempting to steal an item (from the museum or another player) takes two HP.  For one HP you can add a Heist card to your hand (but your hand limit is seven cards, either from a lineup of five revealed Heist cards, or from the top hidden card from the Heist deck; you can add one card, face down, to a set you already have played; you can play an action from your hand; or you can choose a new Secret (and discard one).  All this is in an attempt to build your hand so that you can try to steal an item.  And this is where the real fun of the game comes into play.
Use your Heist Points wisely!  You only have two per turn!
To attempt to steal an item you use two HP, so generally it's the only action you can take in a turn.  You'll need to lay, face down, at least three cards (or one more than another player that already controls the item you are trying to steal).  Then announce what item you are stealing and how many cards you are using.  The Heist cards you use should match the item you are stealing, but since the cards are face down you can lie about what you placed face down.  
I've got two solid sets, but are they honest or dishonest?  If I'm stealing them, doesn't that make them inherently dishonest?
After playing your set of cards, each other player has a chance to challenge your claim.  Starting from your left, each player can wager one or more cards from their hand if they think the thief is lying.  If all the opponents' cards combined equal or exceed the number of cards used to make the claim, or if every opponent wagers at least one card, the thief must reveal the cards.  If any cards were a lie, i.e. not a match to the item stolen, the thief must discard the lies and the opponents get the cards they wagered back.  But if the thief was telling the truth all the opponents must discard the cards they wagered.  If the thief was trying to steal an item from another player then both players must reveal all their cards for that set, discard any lies, and then the player with the largest set takes the Treasure (if it's a tie the original controlling player retains control of the Treasure).
Have I grabbed the Golden Fleece with an honest set of four?
No!  Where'd that Crystal Femur come from?
Throughout the course of the game players can steal Treasure through honest sets or dishonest sets and the bluffing can get pretty serious.  There's also a strategy behind possibly wanting to get caught lying just so an opponent has to reveal their set cards.  And the aspect of wagering cards to call another's bluff adds some risk to weigh when deciding if it's time to call someone's bluff.  It also adds a level  of peer pressure to the challenge phase.  Since the first players may want to pressure later players to chip in to the challenge, even if those later players don't really want to.  So there are several levels of psychological gameplay going on in Collectors and Capers that make it pretty interesting.
Figuring out what your opponents are thinking is half the battle!
OK, back to those action cards that I mentioned earlier.  These are part of the Heist deck and can be collected along with the set cards.  There are three types of action cards: Case the Joint, Pick Pocket, and Spy on the Competition.  Each of these has one ability if you play one card and an enhanced ability if you play two at a time.

  • Case the Joint allows you to draw three cards from the Heist deck and keep one, or if you play two Case the Joint cards at once you can keep two of the cards.
  • Pick Pocket lets you draw two cards at random from an opponent's hand and keep one, or if you play two Pick Pocket cards at once you can keep both stolen cards.
  • Spy on the Competition seems to me to be both the weakest card and strongest card, depending on how and when you use it.  It lets you look at either another player's hand or their face-down cards.  This is only marginally useful, but if you have two Spy on the Competition cards to play you get to look at an opponent's cards and get a bonus HP.  So you can potentially see an opponent's face-down cards that are controlling a set and know if they are lying or not, giving you an edge if you want to make your own attempt at stealing an item from that opponent.
Action cards keep things interesting and allow for some adaptive strategies.
 These action cards keep things interesting between theft attempts.  They allow players to interact and mess with each others' strategies a bit, without throwing a huge monkey wrench into one's plans.  They can even be used when bluffing or challenging a claim.

The game ends when all the Treasures are stolen from the museum.  Then there are three more rounds for players to try to steal treasures back and forth in a final scurry for some final points.  At the end of the game players are awarded points for every set they have.  Then they get bonus points based on if that set controls a Treasure, if the set is dishonest, and if the Treasure is one of their secret goals.  The way the scoring is described in the rules I have is a little confusing, but after some discussion with the designer I think the final description of scoring will be a little clearer.
Collectors and Capers is a solid, fun bluffing game! 
Final Thoughts:
Collectors and Capers was quite a bit of fun to play, even though we missed the rule about a seven card hand limit for the first game.  There is quite a few different levels to the bluffing aspect of the game.  If you really like bluffing games this is one to check out.  Personally, I think I prefer Sheriff of Nottingham for bluffing, but the main reason for that is the sheer number of cards in Sheriff of Nottingham.  In Collectors and Capers there are exactly ten of each set card, which makes it a little easier to determine if someone is lying or not.  And if someone gets an honest set of five cards there's no way to steal the item away.  It might be outside the budget for Collectors and Capers, but if there were 2-3 times the number of cards it would be a lot harder to get larger honest sets and I think the bluffing and lying would become a bigger part of the game.  If the game had a more cards then I think there would be a lot more depth than Sheriff of Nottingham.  That's really my only criticism of the game, and it's more of a personal preference than an issue.  With fewer cards the bluffing aspect of the game becomes more like poker, but with a lot more player interaction.  There were a few hiccups in the rules and some clarification needed on some of the card text, but that's all stuff that is easily remedied and doesn't really affect the overall gameplay.
The end of the game is triggered when all the Treasures are stolen from the museum.
Then there are three more rounds for players to try to steal the Treasures from other players to secure victory. 
I do one small issue with the endgame, too.  Since payers can use one HP to swap out one of their Secrets for a set aside Secret at any point in the game it often makes sense to change your Secrets on your last turn so they match any Treasures you control.  This feels a bit odd, like you have a turn to just grab points, regardless of how well you did throughout the rest of the game.  I wonder if the swap a Secret action should be more expensive (maybe two HP) or not allowed in the final rounds.

The artwork is simple, but effective.  The Treasures you have to steal have some subtle humor that will likely enlist a chuckle the first time you play (like the Crystal Femur or the Priceless Painting that is a picture of a ketchup bottle).  I really liked the art deco look of the card backs and artwork.  The game won't likely win any art awards, but it'll look nice when you pull it out.
Simple, clean art deco styling on the cards fits the theme of the game well.
So if you're looking for a fun, fairly quick bluffing game Collectors and Capers will not disappoint.  It offers several different levels of psychological play between players, is pretty simple to learn, and brings a lot of player interaction to the table.  Collectors and Capers is available right now, through the morning of August 11, 2016, on Kickstarter.  Be sure to check it out!

Preliminary Rating: 7/10
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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

Thursday, July 14, 2016

GJJ Games Celebrates 2 Years - Win Empire Engine and 8 Seconds!

In celebration of 2 years of GJJ Games, I will be giving away one copy of Empire Engine by AEG Games and two prototype copies of my game 8 Seconds.  One winner will receive a copy of each game and a second winner will receive a copy of 8 Seconds.  This is not a retail version of 8 Seconds (it is not published), but I will build two prototype copies of the game for two lucky winners.  This will include 28 cards, 8 custom dice (created with stickers), 24 foul tokens, rules, and game box with labels.  You can learn more about 8 Seconds here:  Also, be sure to check out my new review of Empire Engine!

Enter here:
GJJ Games Celebrates 2 Years - Win Empire Engine and 8 Seconds!

These pictures are from an earlier prototype.
The components for this contest will be nicer,
although still home-produced.
Contest runs from midnight on July 14, 2016 to 11:59pm on July 31, 2016, US Central Time. 

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

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Quick Review - Zombifection - Kickstarter Preview

Designer: Gabriel Rosswell
Publisher: Franki Frank
Quick Review - Zombifection - Kickstarter Preview

Zombie games are all the rage.  If you love zombie games you've got plenty to choose from.  If you're sick of zombies you might aw well get over it because there's no end in sight.  Zombies are fascinating, and a generally easy theme to try to turn into a board game.  There's the relentless onslaught of the oncoming horde of mindless enemies while you have to collect resources and fight for survival.  In all the games that have used zombies as a theme there are a handful that have really done it well, some that are horrible, and a ton that are somewhere in the middle.

When I was contacted by Franki Frank and asked to review his new zombie game, Zombifection (which should hit Kickstarter this summer), I was hesitant at first.  Was it going to be like all the other zombie games out there?  So I took a look at the rules and realized that this wasn't going to be your typical zombie game.  Zombifection is a combination survival and social deduction game in the vein of Bang! or One Night Ultimate Werewolf, but with its own twists.  Is it enough to survive in the hordes of zombie games?  Or will it be devoured with the masses?  Read on to find out.

Zombifection is a social deduction and survival game for 3-12 players that plays in a series of rounds.  You can play for just one round if you like, but ideally the game should be played for at least three rounds since points are cumulative and grow from round to round.  Thus a loss in the last round is more damaging than a loss in the first round and a win is more rewarding in later rounds.  Each round takes 5-20 minutes depending on the number of players, types of players, and in-game circumstances. Zombifection is recommended for ages 8+, although I was able to play with a few other adults and kids aged 6-13 without any issues.  If they're fine with the zombie theme there's nothing gory or mature about the rest of the game, and the mechanics are simple enough, however the social deduction aspect may be lost on younger players.
Getting ready to spread the zombie virus.
In Zombifection there are four roles: Survivor, Killer (optional), Patient Zero, and Infected.  At the beginning of the game each player will receive a role other than Infected (players only become Infected if they are killed).  Each player will also take on the role of a character that has a name, amount of vitality they have, and a special ability.  Roles are secret, but characters are public.  Players also each get one vitality token for each vitality space on their character card, two Patient Zero Blood tokens, and four cards.  The cards have a variety of items, actions, and events that can be played.
The survivors, the killer, and patient zero must all be brothers...
You can tell the killer is evil because of the eye patch (now he needs a goatee).
The goal of the players is pretty simple.  In each round, survivors try to survive and kill both the Killer and Patient Zero.  The Killer tries to survive and kill other survivors and Patient Zero last; this is an optional role in the game.  Patient Zero tries to survive and kill the other survivors.  Once a player is killed they become Infected and then their goal is to help Patient Zero survive.  At the end of the round (which happens when Patient Zero is either killed or the last to survive) all of the Patient Zero Blood tokens that were distributed at the beginning of the round are passed around, depending on each players' status and role at the end of the round.  I'll go into this a little more later.
All of the game components, plus 12 cubes that I provided.  These will be meeples
provided with the retail game and are used to track score.
A player's turn is divided into four phases.  These generally go pretty quickly, and turns move around the table at a decent pace.

Phase 1 - Judgement Phase
If an event had been played earlier in the game there may be a Judgement Phase to each player's turn, until that event is replaced by another event.  If the event card says so, at the beginning of a player's turn they must draw and discard the top card from the main deck.  Each card has one of four symbols at the bottom of the card.  Depending on the symbol the event card will describe what happens.  This usually takes the form of receiving damage (losing a vitality token) or not.  The Judgement Phase doesn't always happen, only when certain events are in play.

Phase 2 - Recharge Phase
In the Recharge Phase the player simply draws two additional cards from the deck.

Phase 3 - Playing Phase
This is the core of a player's turn.  During the Playing Phase a player can use any cards they have in their hands.  There are three main types of cards: Events, Actions, and Items.  And there are three different types of Item cards: Weapons, Armor, and Other Equipment.

Events can be played to replace an event that was played earlier in the game.  Events put restrictions on every other player.  These could be things like poisonous gas that will do damage to players, to events that cause damage if players do not make an attack in a round.

Actions are cards that have various effects on the game.  They can cause you to draw extra cards, steal cards from opponents, look at roles, and a ton more.  Sometimes these can be game changers and most are OK, but there are a few that have devastatingly bad effects, like missing an entire turn or having to discard your entire hand.  I definitely think these need a bit more balancing before the game is ready for prime time.  Action cards also include Energy cards, which are required to Attack or use Weapons.
That quarantine card is brutal.  It makes a player lose a turn (in a game where turns are scarce),
and there are several of them in the deck.
Items are the various gear that players can use throughout the game.
- Armor can be used to avoid damage in various instances.  There are two types of damage that can be inflicted throughout the game: Physical (like weapons fire) and Poison (gasses or infections) damage.  Both cause a player to lose a vitality token, but some armor protects against physical damage and some protects against poison damage.  Armor can be equipped to your character, but you can only have one Armor equipped at a time.
I'm not sure why you can't equip both a gas mask and kevlar armor,
or why you can't use the antibody with any other armor, but rules be rules...
 - Weapons allow you to do physical damage to other players, but generally require Energy to use.  They can be equipped to your character though, and used when you have Energy available.  You are allowed to equip two weapons at a time.
That sniper rifle is brutal, although from the rules it's unclear if it does a total of 5 damage, 3 damage, or 2 damage...
5 damage seems excessive since it's enough to take out an opponent in one shot, but I guess sniper rifles are like that...
 - Other Equipment lets you do other stuff.  You can equip as much Other Equipment as you like.  Sometimes you must discard the Other Equipment to use it, sometimes it works in conjunction with other items, etc.  Other Equipment includes things like med kits, vehicles, etc.
After you equip Zombie Camouflage you are required to take a shower...
The Playing Phase is also the phase where you can attack your opponents.  To attack opponents you must discard an Energy card.  Discarding an Energy Card on its own does 1 damage to an opponent, but if you have a Weapon equipped you can do more damage, sometimes enough to kill another player in one shot if you have enough Energy.  You can only attack with Energy once per turn, but there are some Actions and Items that let you attack again without using Energy.  Also the Rifle and the Thomas character allow an additional Energy attack each turn.
Energy is used to attack and to power weapons.  It's not clear from the rules, but the publisher explained that energy does one damage on its own and when it's powering a weapon the attack gets the bonus energy of the weapon added. 
When you Attack another player they lose one vitality token for each damage inflicted.  If a player runs out of vitality tokens (and has no means to heal) they are killed and become Infected, unless  they were Patient Zero, in which case the round ends immediately.  If the player to become Infected is the last Survivor then Patient Zero wins the round and the round ends immediately also.  Otherwise, the round continues.

Phase 4 - Discard Phase
In the Discard Phase players simply discard down to six cards if they have more in their hand.  Then it's on to the next player's turn.
At the end of each round scoring takes place.
The Round End:
Everything up to this point is pretty straight forward.  The rules in the prototype I received are written in very broken English (the publisher is from Indonesia), but I was able to understand most of it.  I got a few clarifications from the publisher (e.g. when an event is played, does it affect the current player or start with the next player - it affects the current player, too).  I do have a few issues with some of the details of these four phases, like what incentive a player has to play an event if it's going to affect him right away, too, but these are  minor in the overall gameplay.  Where the game gets very confusing is in the end of round scoring.

At the end of the round players take the Patient Zero Blood tokens they have and pass them to other players, depending on how the round ended and what role each player was.  Blood collected is cumulative during each round (each player gains two additional tokens at the beginning of each round, so the amount of points available in each round keeps increasing).

- If Patient Zero won the round he gets all the tokens from the last infected player.
- If Patient Zero was killed, the player that killed Patient Zero takes all of Patient Zero's tokens, plus all the tokens from all Infected players.  Other Survivors gain one token, I'm assuming from the main supply, but that's not clear.
- The Killer is a little different.  The rulebook says that if the Killer kills a Survivor he gets to take two tokens from the Survivor he killed immediately.  And if the Killer kills Patient Zero he gets the same reward as if a Survivor killed Patient Zero (all Patient Zero's token and all the Infected's tokens).
- Infected players can't gain any blood, however if Patient Zero is killed all the Infected players will lose any blood they've collected in the game so far.  So they want to keep Patient Zero alive so they don't lose their collected tokens.

The problem with this method of points distribution is that it doesn't work with the theme of the game.  The object of the game is for the survivors to kill Patient Zero and collect his blood so that the government can come up with a cure for the zombie virus.  Thematically you'd think it would be best for the survivors to try to work together to keep as many survivors alive as possible, but there is absolutely no incentive for survivors to work together.  There is a reward for killing Patient Zero, and that's great, but you get a bigger reward if more Survivors have been killed and Infected.  So the best strategy for the Survivors is to kill everyone else and then kill Patient Zero last.  And for the Killer, the first time the Killer kills another player, his role must be revealed if he wants to take the two tokens from his victim.  So the Killer is actually incentivized by not killing other players lest his role be revealed and he become a target.  The only roles with a clear objective are Patient Zero and the Infected.
Why wouldn't Andrea, Carl, and Carol work together to survive?  They don't have to worry about the killer, because
as soon as he kills someone he'll have to reveal his role in order to claim his blood reward, and then he's an easy target.
But instead they're out to kill each other so that they have a chance at getting more blood at the end of the round.
Another bit about the scoring that is a little unusual is that each round players score points for the blood they have collected.  Then at the beginning of the next round the players get two more blood tokens and another round commences, but now the winner of the last round has quite a bit of blood at stake.  This makes them more of a target for the other Survivors, however the new Patient Zero will want to keep that winner alive until the very end so that he can take all of the previous winner's tokens.  Each round the stakes get higher because two additional tokens are added per player (plus any bonus blood Infected players win if Patient Zero wins a round).  Players never lose points between rounds (there's a score tracker to keep track of points), but the potential rewards increase drastically each round.  I talked to the developer about this a bit and the reasoning behind it is so that even if a player loses in the first two rounds, they're not out of the game for the last round.  I suppose that makes sense, but at the same time it lessens the importance of winning in earlier rounds.  I'm not sure it makes enough difference in the overall gameplay, although it is interesting to keep increasing the stakes each round.  It means that winning the first round and then just surviving the last two isn't as good as surviving the first two rounds (or possibly even losing the first two rounds) and then winning the third, and I'm not convinced that much of an imbalance is a good thing.  So while I do like the idea of the stakes increasing with each round, I'm not sure it works well, especially with the current method of distributing rewards.

Other Stuff:
There are a few other things with Zombifection that I have to address, beyond the gameplay itself.  Keeping in mind that this is still a prototype, I do have big issues with the both the rulebook and the artwork.

The English in the rulebook is absolutely atrocious.  Whoever wrote the rulebook has a very poor grasp of the English language.  It is filled with grammatical errors, incorrect word usage, awkward phrasing, and a ton of other mistakes that make it both obvious it wasn't written by someone fluent in English and very difficult to understand.  Even the orientation of the rulebook is awkward - it opens on the left side and has the first page on the back.  The version of the rules that I received with my prototype game are much clearer than the first version that I read online, but they still take a LOT of concentration to make sense of.  One of the things that Zombifection really needs to do with any Kickstarter funds is hire a professional rules writer.  Regardless of if the gameplay and scoring methods get revised and cleaned up at all, the game is virtually unplayable by simply reading the rule book.
What the Judgement Phase text actually means is, if there is an Event in play that requires you to complete a Judgement,
draw the top card from the deck and look at its symbol to determine the results of the event.  Then discard the card and
proceed with Phase 2.

Second is the artwork.  The graphic design on the cards is very nice, but the characters, actions, events, and roles artwork is pretty awful.  The roles cards, except for the Infected, all show a clipart symbol of a male head and shoulders.  The only differentiation between Patient Zero, Survivors and the Killer is an eyepatch on the Killer and a half of Patient Zero's face is blotchy (my sons say he looks like Two Face).  The iconography on the role cards could be a lot better, although I guess it's tolerable.  But the character artwork on the character cards is really bad.  The graphic design is so crisp and bold, yet the character art is amateurish, faded, and awkward.  The same goes for all of the other artwork that features people (or zombies).  I really hope that this is placeholder artwork that will be updated prior to the Kickstarter.  (On a side note, many of the characters seem to be very similar to characters from a well known TV show about zombies...)
Awkward artwork, and what's this disclaimer saying the cards are only valid for Zombifection?  That's a little odd... 
The only thing more awkward than the character art is the card art...
Final Thoughts:
I'm very torn with Zombifection.  On the one hand it's a different take on zombie games.  It's not your typical game about trying to survive the onslaught of zombie hordes.  This is much more like Bang! than Dead of Winter or Last Night on Earth.  But the confusing scoring methods and anti-thematic goals are really tough to look past, even if the game did have better artwork and more clearly written rules.  So, unfortunately I can't recommend Zombifection at this time, although I do feel it has potential.  There's something good here, it just needs to be cleaned up and refined a bit.  So maybe the game will get a bit of a makeover (it doesn't really need much) before it launches on Kickstarter.  If it does I'll be sure to update this review to reflect any changes.  In the meantime, I've written up my own slightly modified rules that I want to give a try.
That air cannon is evil.  Since you only draw two cards per turn and can have a hand limit of six, one shot can
basically set you back three turns, and you'll be lucky to get three turns in a round.

Preliminary Rating: 5.5/10
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.