Review of RoboRally the Board Game

RoboRally – the zany board game of robot madness! You are a supercomputer in a giant robotics factory, and you’re…umm…bored… No, really, computers get bored too! So you and the other supercomputers get this crazy idea you’re each going to program a robot and race them around the factory floor. This can only end in tears.

Appearance:

RoboRally is a very attractive board game, the robot miniatures are the greatest part of this game’s flavour. With names like Twonky and TrundleBot the game has pieces to match. You can just tell by looking at them that these bots have a few screws loose, pardon the pun. The board itself looks maddening with all the conveyor belts and gears and lasers. The cards are also nicely done. They couldn’t really have done anything with the movement cards so I don’t blame them there, but the special item cards have images that really translate their function well. And they look good.

Score: 8/10 – For visually stimulating my desire to make robots do crazy destructive things.

Rules/Gameplay:

As frustrating as RoboRally can be, the design is truly brilliant. Each turn players are given 10 movement cards in order to pre-plan 5 actions. Be it moving forward or backward, turning right or left, each of your movements has to be planned before the action starts. The goal of your movement is to race the other robots to predetermined locations on the game board. This may sound simple, and it’s simple enough to understand, but it can play havoc on your brain getting around some of the twists.

Twist #1 – The board. With 4 two-sided playing surfaces and the possibility of overlapping them at any given point, there are a myriad of game possibilities. Within these varying boards you have many hazards to avoid; such as conveyor belts which move you whether you like it or not, gears which turn you, lasers that sear your hide a nice golden brown, and pushers which, well, push you at their own discretion.

Twist#2- The players. You thought your planning was perfect. Your five movements were going to get you to that finish line and you were home free. Then someone pushed you just one square to the left. Now you’re in a pit. Good times. Yes, each player’s moves are done one at a time. So when your first move puts you in the path of another player’s first move, they end up pushing you off course. Now those last four moves you so elegantly planned are for naught. Sorry.

Twist#3- Damage. Pain and death come to us all, even robots. In RoboRally each robot one has 10 health, and there are countless ways to take damage. Sadly, once you’ve taken 5 damage, every subsequent damage you take will cause your poor robot’s brain to short-circuit and one of your movements will be locked onto the last movement it was designated. There are ways to be healed, but it can be a darn nuisance getting to those healing spots when you always have to finish your movements by turning around.

Now just imagine your sense of satisfaction when you successfully navigate the many pitfalls of the game, coupled with the “accidental” interference of your friends, and find yourself at the finish line. Screws loose and all.

Score: 9/10 – For having a game of crazy robot antics almost perfected

Overall:

RoboRally is a brilliant game whose length depends on the sadistic tendencies of its’ player – all in all a truly genius bit of entertainment. It looks good and remains balanced and quite challenging throughout the game. Add on to that the ability to adjust the board and checkpoints to make the game easier or harder for all different occasions and groups. Certainly one of my top 10 board games.

Score: 8.5/10 – There’s not much else to say – a must have.

Board Game Review of Alhambra

We’ve got a new contributor to the game reviews section – Heath. An avid gamer, he’s probably played more games than the two of us and is sure to have a lot of interesting insights. To start off with, he’s providing a review of Alhambra.

Alhambra Game Review

As winner of the 2003 German Game of the Year (Spiel des Jahres), Alhambra has a lot to live up to. The concept of the game is simple – you are the architect of Alhambra, the Moorish palace overlooking Granada, Spain. To win you must build the most impressive complex, making sure not to spread your resources too thin.

Appearance:

I for one am a big fan of a game that not only plays well, but looks good too. Alhambracould have been better, but what it lacks in appearance it will certainly make up for in gameplay. The quality of the pieces is excellent. The tiles are thick and well sealed, and the currency cards are certainly durable.

The cards are the most attractive part of the game, as they have a good looking design. The tiles themselves look rather plain, although I commend them for putting any image on there, lesser games might have just written “tower” and left the rest to the imagination. I wish they could have used nice artistic renderings of 12th century gardens and manors, but such was not to be.

Score: 6/10 – Alhambra provides good quality pieces but it is not the most awe-inspiring to look upon.

Rules/Gameplay:

Alhambra is another one of those games that you can learn in 20 minutes but offers a good deal of room for improvement as you play. There are two primary mechanics to this game – drawing cards and buying/placing building tiles. Each player starts with a centre to their Alhambra – a water source that must remain connected to any future additions to the palace. Each player also starts with at least 20 points of currency.

Here’s the first little hurdle – to buy tiles that expand your palace, you must purchase them from a builder, but there are four builders. Each builder in Alhmabra has their own currency – Denar, Dirham, Dukat, and Florin. These are colour-coded, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble there. Each tile will be placed next to a coloured symbol, which matches the colours on the currency card. So if you want to buy that 12 point Tower, and it’s sitting on the blue builder’s space, you need blue currency cards that add up to at least 12.

There are two ways of drawing more currency. There are 4 community cards which are placed face up next to the building tiles. You may either take 1 card valued at 5 points or greater, or you may take any number of cards that add to 5 or less. For example, if the 4 community cards out are valued at 5, 3, 2, and 8, you have 3 options: take the card valued at 5, the card valued at 8, or the cards valued at 3 and 2 (which add to equal 5).

As stated above, in order to buy building tiles, you must pay the appropriate currency. If you do not have the exact amount required to purchase the tile, but have more, you do not get change. In fact, here lies the true beauty of Alhambra’s gameplay. Each player has one action allowed on their turn. That player may either draw currency, buy/place a building tile, or rearrange a select number of pieces within their Alhambra. However, if, when purchasing a building tile, a player pays the exact amount required for that tile, that player is given a free action. That player may then go on draw currency, or buy a second building tile. If that player happens to have the exact amount required for that second building tile, they are given a further free action. As such, Alhambra generously rewards the player best able to efficiently plan their tile purchases.

Placing building tiles is the final dynamic of the game. First, every tile must be placed face up, so you are restricted in your decisions. Problems arise because some buildings have walls. As a result, in order to stay connected to your central water source give to you at the beginning of the game, a player cannot place a tile where a wall would block off any connection to that central tile. Therefore players must be careful not to purchase too many tiles containing walls because they can end up blocking themselves from any further construction.

Scoring comes in three separate rounds. Each round players receive points based on who has accumulated and built the most of each distinct building type, as well as individual points for walls (they’re not all bad).

Score: 8/10 – For rewarding efficient play and providing multiple dynamics to gameplay

Overall:

Alhambra is an absolutely wonderful game for those who want their games simple but with some level of challenge. I especially love the feeling of planning several turns ahead and hoping desperately no one ruins my plans of getting all four buildings in one fell swoop. Watch for later reviews on the expansions as they add some very good twists to the game.

Score: 7/10 – I can definitely see why Alhambra won Game of the Year.

More games, more stock and pre-orders

Tons of changes. Sorry about the con report, it’ll have to wait till I finish updating all the new products coming in. We’ve added another 30 or so board games to the site, with a lot of them suggestions from you, our customers.

Inventory

Alison is picking up our latest order from our US distributors, so you’ll notice a lot of our games are back in stock. We also have a large order coming through from our other major Canadian distributor which should arrive sometime next week. That will put the vast majority of games back in-stock and add another 20-30 games to our list. As always, if there’s something you don’t see, ask!

Site structure

I’ve added a few more categories to the directory structure for the site to help differentiate products further.

We have also started offering pre-orders. Expect to see quite a few more pre-orders added in the next week or so as we catch up on popular games coming through.

Popular pre-orders already added:

Descent : the Road to Legend

Starcraft : the Board Game

 

Why Play Board Games?

Why board games in the 21st Century? That’s like the 19th Century right? I’ve got a Wii, a PSP, a broadband internet connection and in iPhone. What else do you need?

Well, here are some reasons why I’d say you need to play more board games:

They will surprise you – If you’ve only ever played Monopoly, Risk or Scrabble, you will be in for a real treat when you break out some of the new board games that are out there these days. The games are more specialized, more strategic and quite often less reliant on pure luck. If you liked Monopoly and the building aspect, try Carcassonne. If you enjoy war games, there are tons like Battlelore and Memoir ’44. And Scrabble – how about BuyWord?

Socialization – You can’t play a board game without at least one other person. And the good thing is, that other person isn’t half the world away. More, there are tons of award winning games out there that are best played with 3 or more. That means, well, a social life of sorts!

It’s not on that machine – After 8 hours at work, the last thing I want to do is sit down and play on the computer for another 5 hours. And it’s only because it’s given me tendonitis already (sit straight, take breaks and read and practice all the good ergonomics you can. No, seriously.) but because I just don’t want to deal with that monitor either.

Nothing stays the same – Board games always change. Each time you take it out, there’s something new. The luck of the draw will shift how you play the game and how your opponents do. Quite different from a computer game or worst, movie.

All this randomness ensures that each game is new, providing players a new experience in a similar setting. While the rules might hold the same, it is the changing board and rolls of the dice that make the game interesting.

Portability – Even if everything seems to be getting smaller and smaller – well except my waistline – all those electronic toys are still very much dependent on their batteries. Portable board games such as Citadels or Blokus will continue to entertain long after the batteries have run out for your other toys.

Cost – Now, this is probably the most important for many of us. A single board game like Citadels or Odin’s Ravens comes under the $20 range, less than the price of a single CD or console game. Long after you’ve grown bored of listening to the album, you will be enjoying these games.

So those are my reasons for playing board games. What are yours?

V-Con and inventory restocking

Wow! V-Con was a success beyond our expectations. So much so that we ended up kicking ourselves for not purchasing enough stock for the event. A full Con report will occur, though sadly enough, our viewpoints are going to come from the Dealers Room and Gaming Room only.

Frankly speaking, one of the major problems with attending as a dealer is the fact that you miss out on so many good things. There was a Buffy and Whedonverse Sing-a-long! And a reading of really, really, really bad fiction. All of which I’d have loved to attend. Ah well, the after party’s were good!

As many of you might notice, we’ve run out of stock of quite a few of our products. We should have most of them available for purchase again in the next week or so, as we make another trip to the US to restock. So if you are looking at making a purchase, do contact us and we’ll be happy to add your order to ours so that we can make sure you’ll have it shipped ASAP.

Secret Santa at BoardGameGeek

TomVasel at BoardGameGeek has organised an international Secret Santa campaign and we’ve decided to join as a participating retailer. So if you’re interested in gaming and receiving, head on over and register yourself.

If you need to send a game to anyone, we will be gift wrapping all orders for free and will send it on anonymously as requested.

If you have any questions, do feel free to contact us.

Ticket to Ride Board Game Review

Ticket to Ride has been called one of the best gateway games available and a perfect introductory game. Having introduced it to my ex, who isn’t really into board games, I have to admit it sure looks like it. The aim of the game is to link as many cities as you can with your railroads while completing your special destination tickets. Overall, a great introductory board game and a good, light strategy game to fill a quite evening.

Appearance: Good. The board game consists of a stylized map of North America (not the place to learn your geography) and the play pieces are nice and sturdy. Images are obviously geared towards a younger market with stylised, cartoon drawings instead of realistic images. Everything fits well into the box and while it might be slightly overly large, I would rather have that than struggle to fit all the pieces in.

Rules / Ease of Learning: 5 minutes to learn the rules – all of them. Ticket to Ride is not a particularly hard game to learn but like most good games have a level of strategy hidden in the simple rules.

Set-up of the game is simple. The game board is laid out, players choose which colour trains they wish to be. These trains are used to ‘claim’ routes as the game progresses. 4 Train Cards are dealt to all players and 3 Destination Ticket cards. Players can keep all 3 Destination Tickets, but must keep at least 1.

The remainder Train Cards are placed aside and 5 Train Cards turned up. At any time, if 3 or more Locomotive Cards (which act as a joker in terms of colour) are shown, the entire deck must be shuffled and 5 new train cards placed face up.

During each turn, players can take one of three actions – draw train cards, draw destination cards or claim a route.

Players can draw up to 2 train cards with locomotives counting as 2 cards if drawn from the face-up pile. Players can draw from either the face-up pile or blind draw from the deck at any time.

Players can draw up to 3 destination cards and may return up to 2 cards (i.e. they must keep at least one destination ticket at any one time).

Lastly, players can claim a route. To claim a route, players must have sufficient number of trains available and train cards in the colour of the route. Once claimed, players place their trains on the route.

Points are scored for longer routes (ranging from 1 point for 1 train to 15 points for 6 trains). At the end of the game, additional points are added or subtracted for Destination Tickets that are completed or not as well as for the longest route (10 points).

Actual Gameplay – Firstly, while the rules are simple in Ticket to Ride, there is definite strategic options. The major one’s are in destination tickets, the routes chosen to reach each destination and timing. Take too many destination tickets and you’ll lose points for not completing them all. Take too few, and someone who has chosen well will beat you at the end game.

Multiple routes lead to the same cities, so often you’ll have to decide which routes to go on. This combines with the issue of timing. Some routes provide really good points, but could be a problem because (a) other players are collecting that colour or (b) take too long to get the required cards. Add in the decision on when to blind draw or take that locomotive, and you’ve got a nice mixture of strategy and tactics.

When playing the game, we found that each turn can be quite fast once you’ve made up your mind about routes. There will be rounds where no one does anything but draw cards while other rounds will be spent building.

The major drawback that we found about Ticket to Ride was the issue of Luck. Bad or good draws on the Destination Ticket cards can seriously affect the way the game is played. I remember drawing a series of Destination Tickets all within the same routes (Seattle, Calgary, Winipeg, Duluth in the north and Los Angeles and Phoenix in the south) and truly wiping the board of my opponents. It wasn’t even that they played badly, I just got extremely lucky with the draws and had the entire West Coast to myself.

One aspect that we did not explore was the ‘vindictive’ gameplay possibility inherent in Ticket to Ride. While there are a number of routes to each city, they still are very limited. An aggressive player could potentially choose to block other players consistently, pushing the point spread down instead of focusing on his own goals.

Conclusion: Overall, we found Ticket to Ride a nicely balanced board game. There wasn’t the same level of strategic forethought required like Louis the XIV but it had vastly more options than Monopoly. Good game to introduce newbies to board games with or for quick, light strategy.


New Lower Prices: the Loonie Parity Effect

We have dropped prices across most of our board games today, ranging from a dollar to over $10. Obviously, the largest drops have been in products like Battlelore (now only $49.95) or Twilight Imperium (now $64.95) but most other products have seen a price decrease as well.

Why the sudden drop in prices?

This is mostly thanks to our past parity Loonie. The sudden increase in the Dollar took us by surprise, especially when it happened literally a few days after we received our latest orders. We have always wanted to keep our prices as low as was reasonably possible (and still be a viable business) but until recently, the various costs were still too high.

A few changes in the way we make purchases as well as shipping costs to us have also helped reduce our backend cost, allowing us to flow through the savings to you as well.

How long will this last?

So long as the exchange rate holds around this level, we should be able to hold the new lower prices. And I personally would rather not edit over 200 board games again with all new prices.

Site updates and changes

This week is going to be a busy week. Had a lot of fun playing both Ticket to Ride and Louis XIV over the weekend and we will be writing a detailed review of both games soon. Most of you will find that there are quite a few events for us this week:

1) Inventory increase and products restocking– a lot of products that are currently out of stock will go back in stock very soon. Alison will be picking up our latest order on Tuesday and we will update the stock that night or early Wednesday morning.

2) Pricing reduction – with our new products purchased from our US distributor, we expect to reduce the pricing on a large number of our games. Not all games will be reduced as some games are not available via our US distributor, but you will notice that the majority will have significant pricing declines.

3) V-Con – our very first convention. If you’re at V-Con do drop by and say hi – we’ll be the one’s under the large poster saying ‘Starlit Citadel’. We always like to put faces to names.

That’s about it. If you have any questions, as always, do ask.

Predicted Top Selling Christmas Board Games 2007

So, here’s a list from the British Toy Selling Association and their predicted top selling board games.

One scan through the list and you realise that the vast majority aren’t at all interesting. And excluding the purely marketing change of the Monopoly Electronic Editions, you’ll find few actually interesting games. Now, the vast majority are children’s games, but still.

I’m sure we could easily put together a list of better board games for 2007. What would your list be?