Lords of Waterdeep – Review

Type: Worker Placement / Euro

Time to play: <60 minutes (Teaching: 10 minutes)

Best played with: 2-5 players (Best with 4)

How do you take Dungeons and Dragons and make an iconic Euro game that created many of the regular features of games since? Well – take a look at Lords of Waterdeep to see how you do it!

I got this game back out the cupboard this week and dusted it down for a few more plays. Even without touching the expansions (which are good value for money and additive to the game), there is a lot to love about this classic Euro. Above all, it’s set in that classic world of the Dungeon and Dragon universe – the archetype of board gaming and geek culture!

So what’s great about it? Well firstly it is actually well balanced at any player count. The change of the number of meeples each person gets based on player count is a very smart way to manage a tight euro game across each player count and to deliver a compelling game for each group. The points scored will be lower for higher numbers and the chain effect of different quests is less, but the experience is great nonetheless.

Worried that you won’t know what to do in your first turn? Well that’s okay, you start with two quests to complete (which need some resource gathering) and you start with a Lord from the town that gives you an endgame bonus. Start with just those three pointers and you will have an idea of what to do in your first turn.

However, this game hasn’t got too much to do – the choices for each meeple that you place are relatively simple and you can plan reasonably quickly. The board state will change by your turn, but not so much that planning is pointless. Also, the board offers multiple ways to achieve goals; meaning it’s tight but it’s manageable.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t complexity embedded here though. You can be the builder; scoring points for the buildings and getting bonuses when other players use them. Or you can use the Harbour to play intrigue cards that provide bonuses or block opponents – plus this action allows that meeple to get a second move at the end of the round. This mechanic is really clever, because by playing the intrigue card you get a small bonus and a free action, but as with any worker placement game the board will be quite full at the end of the round. Therefore, when you take that final free action you may not have a lot of choice about where you go. Still a free move is a free move!

You also have to balance the game between completing the quests you have and getting new quests. You need to complete the quests to get the points, and incomplete quests at the end were turns wasted during the game. However, with resources being scarce simply gathering up the quests early can leave you with a lot to fulfill at the end and with few places to get the last pieces you need.

Buildings added during the course of the game also add complexity, with new pieces becoming available and buildings that impact other buildings! There’s even one that allows you to take an action that has already been taken!

Low on admin and with only eight turns, this means you get a compact game that plays well and creates tough choices. In fact the only admin between turns is dropping extra point tokens on the buildings that haven’t been built and re-stocking the buildings which produce new goods each turn. The game end is also quick – you have been counting quests through the game, and now you just divide your money by two, add your leftover resources (or adventurers!) and work out your bonus. This will give you a total for victory.

All that in a game box that is perfectly designed to not have a single bag. That’s right the plastic inlay holds everything in place while you transport it. Plus the expansions offer new gameplay and a sixth player slot. For all of the above this game will be in my top games for some time to come.

However, it can’t all be perfect. Whilst there are enough buildings to vary the game each time, there are a few core mechanics that are always important. Building is always important. Not ending up with the same bonus as another player, tough with higher counts, is always important! Getting those quests is always important. These key mechanics can leave you playing the game the same way each time and with a fairly well defined path from start to finish. That will keep the game short, but the theme won’t ring out once you start to do this.

Also, for me there is the right balance of player interaction, but that is to say that this is not a multiplayer solo but you aren’t attacking each other. If you like that feeling of regular attacks or an ability for the group to drag back the leader, then this game has not got those mechanics. The leader can be blocked, but it’s not direct – it’s by stealing what they need and with enough options that will be hard!

Last notes:

  • If you like a fast paced euro with great art, a great box and a short play time – I could not recommend this more
  • If you want a theme driven or intense brain burning game; then perhaps skip this one for a Uwe Rosenberg game or Eric Lang game.
  • If you win at this game, then swap the lords (and the turn order!) and try again!

Lords of Waterdeep – Strategy Tips

A random Lord, two random quests and two intrigue cards give you a starting point in this game. However, there are a few more tips through the game that you need to think about…

During the game:

Use the Harbour: The harbour is a great tactic for new and old players alike. You get to play an intrigue card and you get to take an extra action at the end of the round. Those extra actions will often get you a couple of basic adventurers (knights or rogues), but most importantly this can be a good way to steal the first player marker or indeed to take a quest as you build up. The other one to watch out for is the money – often neglected but worth one point for every two coins these options can fund buildings, some adventures or indeed nudge you into the lead at the end.

Be a Builder: There is only one space where you can build a new location, and whilst early game these seem unimportant, the builders are often rewarded in the middle and late game. The longer the buildings are left the more victory points for building them – this means there is normally three points on offer from turn three onwards. Also, when turn five kicks in and everyone gets an extra meeple – the builders of the early game will more often be rewarded with the bonuses for owning a tile another player used. This can be a great late game way of getting points or key resources. Typically bonuses of points, money or one of two types is best. Bonuses of a fixed type are much more limiting as you cannot depend on them and they can be avoided by the other players if they are obviously key.

Get the quests early – but watch out for player count: Getting quests early is a solid plan – you never know when good ones will come back around or indeed if someone else will steal the ones you want. However two things to note in higher player count (i) it’s more likely that the reset trigger is used and all four revealed quests are removed and (ii) you won’t be able to complete as many quests. Smaller player counts give each player more meeples and give each player more chances to complete quests. Higher counts make scarcity a bigger problem and drive to lower scoring games. Watch out for that if you have extra players (extra tip that Ambassador and other extra piece bonuses are more important in higher player counts!)

When to play certain cards: When looking through your intrigue cards watch out for the opportunity for your opponent to give up coins or adventurers to score points. The card relating to Wizards can give them 5 points for just one adventurer (4 bonus to end game) or the tax collector can give a one for one conversion for coins! Play them when your opponent cannot use the bonus!

Scarcity: Early in the game, start to work out what people are going for and what is going to be scarce. Getting those scarce resources and taking starting player to do it is key to this game. Of course the other option is reduce the scarcity by building the relevant option – this can give you bonuses and help you continue to complete those quests.

Lord Bonus: The lord bonus is helpful but not all Lords are born equal. Watch out for the building Lord who is more capped than the others, also watch out for ones where there is an overlap with another player – focus your energy on the lord bonus you don’t have in common!

Chain effects: Some quests give you future bonuses; extra intrigue, extra points, extra resources – get these early. More complex chains though can also be built from quests that give you more of another type – a type you need to complete the subsequent quests. watch out for quests outside your bonus that give you more of a type you need!

Good Luck!

Mythos Tales – Review

Type: Detective / Co-Op

Time to play: < 60 minutes (Teaching: 10 minutes)

Best played with: 1-4 players (Best with 2)

Sherlock Holmes consulting detective is a classic game where players search across London to find clues to what is going on in the world – including a specific mystery that you have been enlisted to solve! Confused? Yes, that’s right, Sherlock is gone and you are in a new world of pain that builds out of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu universe. You find yourself in Arkham and the challenging mystery you are trying to solve is one that might just destroy the entire universe!

So, that’s the starting point! Thrown into an unfamiliar setting and with an arrogant benefactor (who has already solved the mystery faster than you!); you are asked to solve the puzzle. The concept builds upon the clue chasing Sherlock Holmes game to really challenge the players / team to dig through ancient riddles, crazy characters’ ramblings and off topic disappearances which might help but most probably wont.

Coming to the mechanics though there are two core ways to play this game – the race and the riddle. The race; this is really the focus of solving only the main puzzle but doing it as quickly as possible. The masterful professor has set the challenge but he will have done it in probably half the time he gave you. Can you follow the key path and do it quickly enough not to suffer the penalties at the end for being too slow?

The second options is to answer all the questions; that is to answer the core riddle and to find out everything else that is going on. There will be more questions at the end than the riddle you were set, but if you weren’t seeking these out then you have no chance to score the maximum points. Seek them out, and you will take longer than you should but you will know much more.

Each mission is a new choice and a new conspiracy. From the men hiding in the woods and the ancient writings of the library, there is a lot about Arkham to explore. With all this going on, you have many tools at your disposal – although these are equivalent to many distractions! You can run from house to house chasing individuals to help you. You can visit specialists who might know more about the case than you do. You can also read the newspaper – a newspaper that will often help with what else is going on and a few scarce clues about the main puzzle.

All that in hand, it sounds like you have eight missions of fun to work your way through. However, here’s the biggest problem with this – some of the puzzles are broken. Some of the parts of the rule book are simply incorrect and there are FAQs in place that can help you but this is not a game you can just take out of the box.

Is that all? Well no, I think that this game also suffers from the alpha player disadvantage of co-operative play. If you have a dominant player (perhaps quicker at solving the clues / quicker at realizing the twists and turns ahead) then he or she will push this game and leave other players feeling confused or frustrated.

Redemption for this game is found in groups who enjoy the knocks and set backs of the scrap with cultists. You will get into fights, lose time and get frustrated as likely leads turn in to dead ends. This is great fun at its best – it’s great to see the missions develop and there are few surprising turns along the way. The puzzles are good, the setting is great.

Last notes:

  • If you like to solve riddles and can take a back seat to let other players enjoy this too; then you will enjoy this.
  • If you have an alpha gamer or you are frustrated by reading FAQs then pass this with a wide birth
  • If you win at this game, you have another mission to solve!

Mythos Tales – Strategy Tips

Nothing in the set up here – just keep moving along the missions! However, there’s a few things to think about in the game!

During the game:

Two ways to play: As I discussed in the review – it’s either a race or a need to solve everything. If it’s a race you have actually only about half the allotted time, but if you try to solve everything then watch out for all the small leads and use every bit of the days you have. Both ways are fun, but choose wisely because you will only have one chance at each mission.

Systematically Capture Locations: Each time you speak with people they will tell you about other people, other locations and in particular street / house locations you might visit. If you can capture these you will be in a position to chase every lead – even when the one you had the greatest hope for turns out to be the dead end or worse the lead that nearly gets you killed!

Don’t Double Check: If you know something, then trust yourself. If the book is in the library then perhaps you can read it. However, if the book is not in the library then going to the library is not likely to reveal anything new. This is often the case; perhaps a character is at a location, a character you wanted to find – sometimes it’s better to save that as your guess than to go there and confirm it for certain.

Read the Newspaper: In the version of the game where you solve all the riddles you will need to read the newspaper. The things happening in Arkham are revealed through the small stories that are played out in the newspaper, and the clues hidden in the words used. Sometimes you need to look back to previous months to find clues of the core story or indeed these side plots. Keep an eye out for them and don’t forget to look at prior months.

Probably a 2-3 player game at most: There’s space for a person to read the clues in locations, read the newspaper, and to make suggestions through out. Beyond three players though forces someone into the role of scribe while others through around ideas. It leaves the game with a likely alpha player. Watch out for these downsides as you build a group of players for the game!

Specialists – well only in the cult: The specialists this game provides you with are often unhelpful. They are regularly disappointingly uninformed or perhaps add little to what you have learnt. The best ones are those who specialise in the occult. They bring something that you may not know but may not be told to you. Sure, enough games of Arkham Horror will help, but these will be your best advisors.

Don’t lose time: The biggest risk is duplication, but there is a lingering risk that you can get knocked out or end up losing time. Sounds simple, but sometimes it’s not just the scary dark warehouse that is the trap. Also, sometimes it’s when you go that matters so think before you decide which order to move in!

Good Luck!

Too Many Bones – Strategy Tips

Mix up the gearlocs and take up a new boss each time to get the challenge of this game. However, for new players you should be taking Picket, Patches and Ghillie; these simple characters allow the tank, healer and ranger strategies which will feel familiar for even for new players to the game.

As this game is vastly asymmetrical I will mention a few generic strategies and then focus on the strengths / themes of the various key characters:

During the game:

Watch Your Health: In the fight you need to watch that you aren’t going to get exhausted and knocked out of the fight. However the more important choices come between the fight – yes, up the attacks / defence / specials but don’t neglect your health. This is a common mistake and when enemies start to amass and are stronger you will quickly see that it’s too late!

Start Right: Generally, you will have a couple of melee characters and a ranged unit. Starting off with that in mind is important, and use the starting position to go after a key opponent. Usually you will group together to take out the most challenging opponent in one or two rounds to avoid their attack kicking in. If you get through the round with four weak, but alive opponents then you will suffer all four attacks!

Poison: Speaking of the dangerous opponents, there are none more so than a poison based attack. The flying creatures are tricky to handle but normally can be killed quickly. The poison creatures, with range attack, striking the weakest players – they are lethal. Once hit, you suffer 2 damage and then 1 subsequent damage. All poison is true damage (no shields!) and if it hits the weakest, it won’t take long for this to finish them off!

Next Bad Guy: Watch out though, as you kill off some opponents you know what’s coming next! If that opponent is difficult to handle / brings another poison attack then it can change who you focus on in the first turn!

Beasts / Machines: Get the beasts or machines onto the board quickly – these little characters have low health and often take the brunt of the damage on the weakest player – keeping you guys alive! They also deal out a couple of turns of additional damage.

Characters:

Patches: The medic of the team, patches will focus on getting some healing dice on the go. Once that’s in place, I tend to bring the attack dice and then the defence dice. There are other tricks in patches specialty dice, but having built a medic you will need to get into the fight – especially if you are only playing as three players.

Picket: The tank of the team; get the defence dice rolling so that you can use that shield bash as often as you can. It’s probably the best back up plan of all characters as it often helps take down the strongest of opponents (stacking dice over multiple turns). Of the special dice; that option to add one shield and then one attack to the locked dice is a significant boost!

Nugget: Build up your slingshot – you are the mixed use character, but your biggest ability is to weigh in on the ranged opponent who has a lot of health. One big attack from that slingshot might take out the Goblin King’s throne or even a high level flying creature!

Ghillie: Ranger, with great abilities to target multiple weak enemies or to summon creatures to the board. Ghillie’s game is played through the special dice – firstly the Wolverine. The Wolverine is the most powerful of the specials and with Hardy special ability it will last a lot of attacks. Once you have this in place, the piercing damage and multiple targets offers you the chance to take out opponents with difficult special powers (shields and flying respectively).

Boomer: Get the bombs working – this means a few special dice, but above all else you will need dexterity. Keep rolling those bomb components and build up the frag grenades. Keep an eye on health though as you can be an easy target for flying creatures.

Tantrum: Build your rage; you will be throwing yourself in the deep end with each hit taken and given boosting your special abilities. That will mean you need some health and a plentiful number of attacks!

Tink: The builder / controller; you will build your game out of the machines you control. Focus on getting one to the table and making it powerful. The second is much less important but watch out, because a few defence dice may be needed as monsters rush the machine and then move on to you!

Good Luck!

Too Many Bones – Review

Type: RPG / Co-Op

Time to play: < 180 minutes (Teaching: 20 minutes)

Best played with: 2-4 players (Best with 3)

Just closing out their expansion Kickstarter campaign and Chip Theory Games have another big shipping ahead. If you missed out on all that though, this is one of the rare games that you can actually download the entire game FOR FREE!

I did exactly that, as well as playing other people’s copies and this is a smart little campaign game. Like many new dungeon style games this is all control by automation and every player takes the role of the heroes – fighting through the bad guys to the final boss monster! Okay, the theme and story suffers and as exciting as reading from a card is, there will be D&D players who do not see this as a substitute. However, if you have a social gaming group and enjoy a longer / campaign game then this still has much to offer.

From the smart way the characters and bad guys have health chips (stacked below the character tiles), to the use of “bones” to build a back up plan, there are lots of innovative instances built into this game. However to focus on where the core of this game is – it’s about the character development. Who strikes the final blow and which character collapses in the fight is interesting, but this game goes further with vastly asymmetrical custom dice to describe your character.

Each game gives you the chance to expand that dice pool and add actions – healing others, summoning monsters and creating piercing or poisonous attacks. These unique features drive you to change your movements on the board, target different opponents. This changes how you play as you go through a campaign and you make choices along the way to get the right dice for the final battle.

However, all that is part of the downside of a game – a little less theme and limited play between battles and a constant focus on one final fight. The journey cards played between fights have a limited story and a very closed set of choices. The final battle is the goal for the game – defeating that specific boss. The way that boss plays is vastly different (because of those incredible custom dice) but it’s all about the win or loss of that final fight. What’s more, it’s really all about beating or not beating that individual character! Do that and the game ends instantly (unless you choose to complete the fight).

So is this a clever game with a few limitations, or is it custom dice hiding a simpler game? Well, I would end up on the first of these. The choices you make have real impact and you can play the same character in vastly different ways – partly on who else is in the party and partly on your own choices. Build a shield wall to protect your character, through caution to the wind with a lot of attacks, or use your special dice to boost the party’s chances of victory. Also, like any good co-op games there is so much going on in front of you that it is hard to have an alpha player – someone controlling everyone’s actions.

Unfortunately this can make the game quite long a quite difficult for new players. Some early guidance on the first dice to add is helpful (and I will mention a few in the strategy tips!).

So I would put aside the way you unlock treasure, the slightly weak journey cards, and turn your focus to your character and the diverse range of enemies.

Last notes:

  • If you like character development and very distinct ways of completing the same missions – you will really enjoy the options built into this clever game.
  • If you want a story or a bit of map movement, then perhaps this is not the story for you.
  • If you win at this game, take the next boss along and take a new group of heroes on the journey!

Flamme Rouge – Strategy Tips

The map will vary, but that’s not the choice you are making – that’s the territory you are playing on and must adapt to.

During the game:

Slipstream: Moving an extra space forward – or being pulled forward by the riders in front is a great way to boost your movement during the game. It’s also the key way to close down breakaways. Try to predict and land one gap behind your opponent; even better, end your movement one gap behind your other rider – the slip stream will move you up that last space! Other players will be trying to do this, so you better watch out for it.

Getting Tired? No worries!: Exhaustion is bad, but only if you take too much. Too much exhaustion will lead to late game hands of only two point movements. If you are left with no option but two points, you will quickly get caught. Spread the exhaustion between your riders or between you and others. You will need to lead at some point though, so whilst it can’t be all you, there will be a time to accept it and push out into the lead.

De-optimising: The counter to point one above is that you can predict where players may land – dropping into that gap between their riders denies them that extra point of movement and keeps you in front. This is the second best way to frustrate the opponents!

Blocking: The single best way to frustrate the opponent is to move up to the same space as your other rider, or as another player who went earlier in the turn. Two riders in the same row will block a player landing there – this might cut short their move by a point or more if multiple rows are blocked. This is worst when it blocks them at the top of the hill – you can slipstream forward and they get left taking exhaustion and being capped in their next move!

Boosts & Uphill Struggle: Up and down hills can be predictable – players aiming to go the max five points up but only off five point cards, and players using low value cards downhill to go five points. However, this makes you predictable – allowing players to block you at the top of the hill or to slipstream on the downhills. Great options including attacking with high cards of the downhill to start a breakaway, slipstreaming other players off of the last downhill space (so they lose the benefit next round), or rushing to the uphill and ending on the space before so that you can minimise the turns that are caped.

Inside Corner: At the end, ties are split by the player on the inside corner – i.e. in a straight race between those two players, the one that was leading last turn wins the race. If you think it’s between just two riders, this makes the early attack the likely winner. You take away the risk of the highest card not making it to your hand in the last turn, potential leaves the other player in a separate group drawing exhaustion, and gives you the edge in the finish. Watch out for a player breaking away in that last turn therefore!

Starting the Attack: Starting the attack to the finish should be calculated. You want to breakaway and not get caught. If you end up with the pack closing you down then there will be players who slipstreamed / closed down without using all their attack cards and they will have the edge at the end. Some early attacks can work but normally a breakaway of 2-3 riders is needed; even if that’s split with another player, you can still make the most of it. If you are the minority in a breakaway though, you might want to deliberately help the peloton catch up! Normally the last corner is the place to attack but watch out for chances to breakaway earlier, or for hills on the finish that need mid range cards to complete.

Breakaway: Managing a breakaway is tough in the base game. Playing with two players controlling two teams makes this easier, but assuming you are in a group of four you want to watch out that (a) you switch the lead and (b) you keep attacking after the initial break. If you don’t switch the lead then one player will drop out as they take too many exhaustion cards – that can be the bridge that gets other riders back in. Continuing the attack is key as well otherwise the uphill and downhill sections can start to bring the group back together. If you see the breakaway go – look for these hills to plan an attack and close the gap (or join the lead group!)

One and Only: Lastly, don’t forget that only the first rider to cross the line matters – if you finished first and last, you win. Having two riders in second and third may seem impressive, but it means that you didn’t optimise for one rider to win the game. Keep this in mind when taking exhaustion – and plan the route when thinking about which rider will be best placed to win.

Good luck!

Flamme Rouge – Review

Type: Race

Time to play: < 30 minutes (Teaching: 10 minutes)

Best played with: 2-4 players (Best with 4)

The cross over between board games and cycling is not obvious; and even if you wanted to, making a board game about a team sport with years of training feels like an uphill struggle (pardon the pun!). However, Flamme Rouge has done just that. It’s created a fast paced game of managing your deck – managing your fatigue – to get these cyclists over th line.

In this review, I will cover only the base game – there’s an exciting expansion that takes this to six players and throws in more road tiles of different types, but let’s save that for the future!

So, you start this game by setting up the road – building it out on the table is a quick and easy set up. Once you have set these tiles in, you take your two riders and in turns place one at a time before the starting line. Turn by turn, you simultaneously select and then reveal a card for each rider. Each rider’s pack is different, and the choices are limited to four cards drawn each turn from each. Having moved, you then see if riders are at the front of a pack or indeed can slipstream off a rider one space in front!

This exhaustion or slipstream is a key mechanic. Get your positions right and you get to squeeze up a one space gap to the cyclist in front (if they move up too, then you are pulled with them). I have seen players squeeze four free moves out of this – that’s more than a whole card. However, find yourself two spaces behind other riders or at the front of the pack, and then you will take an exhaustion card – a two point card that might restrict your future movement!

Add this to mechanics from the terrain: uphill and downhill segments that set a cap or floor to your speed and you can gain or lose additional points of movement off these areas. In all the tracks, you have enough to get to the finish line but these small differences are the opportunity to get ahead.

Lastly, choosing your point of attack is key. Coming into that last turn, and finding all your high cards in one hand – well then perhaps you are too late. Attacking off the front of the course, and your sure to be drawing hands full of exhaustion by the end of the race. Balancing these two mechanics is difficult; and perfecting it to get that front space over the finish line is even harder. It’s not about crossing first, it’s about crossing and finishing furthest ahead – I have seen plenty of races where the lead changes after the line!

These mechanics all come together to strike lighting quick turns, and for great stories. Opportunities for two players to work a breakaway if they are careful with how they play there cards. Chances to slipstream large gaps between riders. That single rider breaking away two turns to the finish or the one who caught him on the line! All these stories come out of reading your opponents, planning the course and managing your deck.

It may sound easy but it’s not, and course variety gives you a vast amount of replay-ability. However, this is a race game with little direct interaction and a fair bit of luck in the last few hands. If you want to block, or stop an opponent there is little you can do – this can at times feel like a solo game for four players. It also can at times feel crushing when that sprint card is the only card of five you didn’t get in the final straight. Sometimes that’s just the way it happens.

The only other thing to watch out for is that this game strongly favours experienced players. New players will struggle to predict the slipstreaming and will plan an attack too late on average – leaving those high value cards too late and sometimes unused.

All that being said, this is still a game that I enjoy and am really enjoying the expansion!

Last notes:

  • If you like fast turns and a variety of maps – this game brings that and more!
  • If you want to build or develop an engine, or push other players back – this is a simple race game.
  • If you win at this game, try a new course – one that favours the other rider! However, you are probably odds on to win against new players!