Wednesday, February 15, 2017

GJJG Game Reviews - Element - by Rather Dashing Games

Designer: Mike Richie
Publisher: Rather Dashing Games
2-4p | 30-60m | 14+
GJJG Game Reviews - Element - by Rather Dashing Games

Game Overview:
"Water... Earth... Fire... Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them. " - Avatar: The Last Airbender

A few months ago my sons discovered the Avatar series, so everything lately has been about airbending, firebending, waterbending, earthbending, bloodbending, dinnerbending, homeworkbending, rulebending, you name it, they think they can bend it...  So when I pulled out Element by Rather Dashing Games they were excited to play.  Did it live up to their gamebending expectations?  Read on and find out.

Element is a light abstract strategy game for two to four players that only takes about 30 minutes.  It'll be available in retail and online in early March, so keep an eye out for it.  You can learn more from the game page at Rather Dashing Games.

Element came to me to review via the Everything Board Games Network!  Check the page out for more awesome reviews!

Components & Packaging:
I own a few other games from Rather Dashing Games, and the quality is excellent.  Element is no exception.  There's not a whole lot to Element, just a board, four pawns, a cloth bag, and a bunch of plastic token, or stones.  But when you open the box you will be impressed.  
Everything is awesome!  (You're welcome for that earworm.)
Everything is a step or two nicer than necessary, and that just adds to the play experience.  The box is thick and sturdy, and the rulebook is excellent.  The bag is super durable and embroidered with the symbols of all four elements.  The board is gorgeously illustrated when a simple grid would have sufficed.  The Sage pawns aren't simple plastic or wooden pawns.  They're not even nice plastic miniatures.  The Sages are hefty resin sculpts, each unique, and each weighing a surprising amount.  
These guys are awesome!
The only components I was a little disappointed in are the element stones.  They're small, round, plastic disks about 5/8 inch in diameter and 1/4 inch thick, each with the game logo on it.  In any other game these would be great, but given the weight and quality of the pawns they feel a tiny bit out of place.  They look great and work fine, just feel a tad bit cheaper than the other components.  I suppose the lighter plastic serves to keep the cost of the game reasonable though.  I could see where more substantial stones would both cost more to produce and add to shipping costs.  Maybe upgraded stones are something Rather Dashing Games can offer as a separate purchase though.  The game definitely deserves a deluxe version.
On their own these would be awesome (even the edges have texture) but compared to the pawns they feel a bit light.
Score: 9/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
Setup for Element is super, duper fast.  Just unfold the board, pull out the bag of element stones, and place the Sages for each player on the board.  You'll be up and playing in just seconds.

The rules are a little more complicated, but just barely.  It'll take you less than five minutes to explain the game to new players.  The object of the game is to surround your opponent's Sage so that it is unable to move.  In a three or four player game you are trying to surround the player to your right.
The rulebook is beautifully illustrated and covers just about every possibility.
On your turn you'll get up to five actions.  You'll get to move your Sage at least one space in any direction, including diagonally.  You'll also get to draw four random element stones from the bag.  You have the option of drawing fewer stones for an extra movement per stone not drawn.

Then, in any sequence, you can place the stones on the board and move your Sage. Each element can replace a different element. Air erodes Earth, Earth displaces Water, Water extinguishes Fire, and Fire consumes Air. So any single stone can replace another stone. Each type of element stone also does something different when placed on the board and interacts with the rest of the pieces differently.
The Rule of Replacement is very clearly depicted on the back of the rulebook to serve as a handy reference.
Fire spreads, so when you add a Fire stone next to a line of Fire, you'll get to take another Fire stone out of the bag and add it to the opposite end of the line. You can even place a stone in such a way that the Fire spreads in more than one direction.
Fire can spread across the board, but it moves slowly.
Water flows, so when you add a Water stone at the end of a line of Water stones, they'll all shift in the direction of the stone you just placed. So, if you have a line of four Water stones and you add a fifth stone, all five stones will flow across the board. Flowing water can twist and turn, too. It doesn't have to flow in a straight line.
Water may be the most complicated element in the bunch, but the rules illustrate how Water moves perfectly.
Earth endures.  When you add Earth stones to the board they don't do anything special, at least not alone.  However, if you place one Earth stone stacked on top of another you'll create a mountain.  Mountains are permanent ans can't be replaced by Air stones.  Not only that, but any Earth stones connected to the mountain are ridges, and also can't be replaced.  Even Earth stones that connect diagonally are part of the ridge, and they also block movement.  So a Sage can't cross a ridge diagonally, even if there is an open space on the other ice of the ridge.

Air blows, and Air stones are defensive stones.  They are used to enhance movement.  A Sage can pass over Air stones, but cannot land on one.  Landing on an Air stone causes the Sage to continue moving an additional space.  Air stones can even be stacked, up to four high, creating a whirlwind.  Each stone in a whirlwind moves the Sage an additional space.

All of these different properties are very easy to understand when playing, and make for a very dynamic game board.  The most challenging thing to remember is what element replaces which.  However there are reminders of this everywhere, from the great diagram on the back of the rulebook, to several reminders in the artwork on the board, to the promo reference  cards that you might be able to obtain.
Even the beautiful border surrounding the playing area serves as a reminder of the Rule of Replacement.
I was very pleased with the rulebook.  With so many possible interactions, pretty much every situation that came up was addressed.  There were actually only two minor hiccups in the rules.

The first, a minor issue, came up when my wife read the rules, and she reads things very literally.  She noticed that, while the rules state that you don't need to use all of your movement on your turn, but left over movement does not carry over to your next turn, nothing is mentioned about the stones.  It could be interpreted to allow you to hoard stones for a turn or two and then place a bunch at once.  It's pretty safe to assume that any unplaced stones go back in the bag and don't carry over to the next turn.

Second, and a bit more critical, is replacing whirlwinds with Fire stones.  The rules clearly state that a single element stone can replace a single other element stone.  But the gameplay seemed to lend itself to being able to replace a stack of Air stones with a single Fire stone.  So I asked the publisher and they confirmed that a single Fire stone can replace a stack of Air stones.

Score: 9/10 x2

I really found Element to be an enjoyable game.  Rather Dashing Games aims at releasing games that are interesting, simple to learn, fast to play, strategic with a bit of luck, and fun to play.  Elements meets all those criteria!
The dynamic aspect of the game means the board changes constantly.
The first game of Element that I played was a four player game.  I was very curious to see how a four player abstract strategy game would work, an I was pleasantly surprised at just how well the mechanic of trying to capture just the player to your right worked.  It keeps you interested in what every other player is doing without allowing ganging up on any one player.

I also played with both two and three players and enjoyed the game at all player counts.  At two players the game feels more like a classic abstract game, and the three player game played just as smoothly as the four player game.
Regardless of the player count, Element plays great!
There is a significant amount of luck in the game, but with a careful strategy you can mitigate most of the bad luck and capitalize on the good luck.  The first few games I played ended mostly because of lucky draws, but as I played more I realized that a sound strategy could overcome luck most of the time.  But not all of the time.
Trapped!  If you end your move next to an Earth stone it's possible to lose in one turn if
your opponent happens to draw four Earth stones.  Here I lost to my son.
I've now learned to avoid that situation whenever possible.
The longer the game goes the more crowded the board becomes and the more likely a lucky draw of just the right stones at just the right time will result in a win.  This is a good thing though, because it makes the game accessible to new players.  Yes, a strategic player will usually beat a new player, but with a bit of luck even a novice can stay in the game long enough to get a lucky draw.
In a four player game there's always the feeling that you need to hurry and capture your target
before someone else captures theirs.
However, the more you play the game the more you'll see patterns and opportunities in the board.  There is definitely a payoff for learning the game and becoming familiar with the intricacies of the interactions.  Games will get longer with more experienced players, but they still won't exceed 30 minutes, at least not by much.  

Score: 9/10 x3

Elements is so quick to play, so easy to set up and reset, and so fun that it is great to play again and again.  The first time I pulled it out with my game group they immediately wanted to play again.  When I introduced it to my family they kept asking to play more and more.  I don't think I've yet to sit down and play it only once.  At 20-30 minutes this could be a good filler game, but it's the type of game that you can easily play multiple times in a row, and before you know it an hour or two has passed.
The random stone draws ensure that every game is going to
present unique challenges and opportunities.
Score: 9/10 x1

General Fun:
Everyone I've played Element with has really enjoyed it. The gorgeous components, fast and fun gameplay, and interesting interactions between all the different elements all combine to make Element a very fun game. It's going to become a staple of my game night bag.
Every game plays differently, but every game is fun!

 I really appreciate how simple the game is to introduce to new players. Yet there is a depth that becomes more and more apparent the more you play. Element fits an interesting niche where it can be played super casually while having fun conversation with the game as a light distraction, or as a serious, deep strategy game between two or more players.

Score: 8/10 x2

Overall Value:
Element isn't available just yet; a few more weeks and it should hit your FLGS and online stores.  The MSRP will be $35.  The components are gorgeous, and it's a great game.  At $35, this is a game that should definitely make it into your collection.

There are a lot of abstract strategy games out there that play with stones, chips, tokens, or pawns on a grid.  Go, Othello/Reversi, Pente, Tafl, Chess, Checkers/Draughts, on and on and on...  But before you dismiss this is just another grid based abstract strategy game, give it a try.  It does so much differently than those classics, yet still keeps the same elegant presentation.
Everything about Element is top notch and elegant.
The dynamic nature of the stones and their different behaviors really present an engaging and varied experience.  Every game is going to be different.  It's unusual for an abstract strategy game to play well with multiple players, and it's even more unusual for an abstract game to be so engaging, interactive, and dynamic.

I said earlier that Element is perfect for a deluxe version, and I hope that's something Rather Dashing Games pursues.  I can see a lot of people interested in a copy with a wooden board and glass stones that can stay out in a permanent display.  Even the standard game is nice enough to stay out, so $35 is a very reasonable price for what may become a classic someday.
It will become a family favorite, that's for sure!
Score: 8/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
If you can't already tell, I absolutely loved playing Element.  It is definitely going to be a Top Game of 2017 contender.  I love its accessibility, the dynamic nature of the element stones, the fast gameplay, how well it plays at all player counts, and of course the stunning components.

Since receiving Element I've played it a whole bunch!  Usually when I get games to review my friends and family are happy to play when I ask them to, but with Element they've been asking me to play.  It's been a huge hit and we've had a blast playing.  It's my most played game in the few weeks that I've had it and I don't see us losing interest any time soon.
Order your copy now!
Element will be available in retail stores soon (early March, 2017 is what I was told).  You can pre-order it from or ask your FLGS to make sure they'll be getting it in stock.  $35 is well worth it for this game that should be a staple of any collection.

Overall Score: 87/100

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

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