Game Review : Sid Meier’s Civilization – Fame & Fortune Expansion

Civilization : Fame & FortuneSid-Meier’s Civilization: the Board Game – Fame and Fortune is the expansion for Fantasy Flight’s Civilization game.   It introduces a 5th player, a few modular expansions and tweaks to the gameplay of Civilization to help streamline flow and adjust the balance issues.  Note that I’ve only had a chance to play this once, I’ll probably amend this review once I’ve had a few more plays.

Appearance: Fame & Fortune comes in a smaller square box, slightly larger than what is required to keep all the pieces in, which is a nice change.  The designs and tokens, like the original Civilization board game draw from the popular computer game graphics, providing a good flow-through and great designs.  The new cards provided are of decent quality, as are the tokens.  Overall, the expansion meets FFGs high standard of materials and appearance.

Rules / Ease of Learning: As this is an expansion, I’m going to concentrate only on the new rules, technologies and civilisations that have been added and will not reiterate basic rules or just pure additions like new terrain cards and new wonders.

Firstly, there are a series of new technologies (and an amendment to the Flight technology card).  The new technologies include Agriculture, Ecology, Plastics and Mysticism.  Agriculture add a ‘Metropolis’ to your capital city; making it 2 squares large with 10 hexes it can draw resources from.  Ecology makes it easier to advance on the culture track while Mysticism provides the ability to slow-down a coin victory.  Plastics allows players to build a unit, figure or building for free on their turn.

Secondly, Great People have a new deck that provides special abilities to the Great People drawn, which makes them significantly more powerful and worthwhile to acquire.

Thirdly, battle wins / losses have now been clarified and expanded.  There’s even a small summary card that summarises the changes.

Fourthly, investments have been added which allow players to ‘invest’ in new abilities that provide a benefit in achieving any of the four victory tracks by ‘investing’ a gold coin token onto one of the four abilities.

Lastly, there are 4 new civilizations – many who take advantage of the new rules (e.g. the Indians get a Metropolis at the start of the game while the Greeks can draw 2 Great People cards to choose from).

Gameplay: We played with all the new additions to the game including a 5th player and 3 of the 4 new civ’s (we didn’t have India in-play).  Overall, we felt it was a very good expansion that fixes some of the balance issues and made some of the other victory tracks easier to reach.

The Great Person’s cards make the civilization track even more important to get on-board with, with the Great Person abilities ranging from mildly useful to amazing if received during the start game. E.g. Orson Wright gives the player a free Airplane card at the game start.  That’s a huge advantage over both the barbarians and other players.

The new Civilisations are fun to play, and are all quite different in their play styles.  The Spanish with their ability to build any ‘basic’ building might be a bit over-powered as they get a major lead in the start game.  The Greeks’ ability to keep their trade is interesting, since while seeming over-powered at first glance can actually limit technology choices to a ‘secondary’ path.

Investment cards during our game were sparingly used; but definitely provided a bonus to each of the other victory tracks.  We had our first technology victory resulting from this; with a player using the Public Education investment card and culture cards to get a ‘jump’ on technology with a culture victory close behind.

Perhaps my favorite amendment has been the addition of coins to the battle victory rewards and culture cards that can take away coins.  This is particularly important because it used to be impossible for a player on the coin victory path to be slowed down, and seemed to have imbalanced the base game to that particular victory path.  The new amendments now allow players to slow-down most other tracks (other than Tech, which is generally slow anyway).

Conclusion: Overall, I have to say Civilization – Fame & Fortune is great.  I like the new additions and amendments, and I feel that each of them adds a lot to the game.  It does slow gameplay down slightly with all the new choices, but it’s not as if Civilization was a fast again in the first place.  My only real grouse is that they didn’t just add a 6th player to this expansion immediately instead of forcing us to purchase another expansion.

New and Restocked Games: November 10th, 2011

New Games:

1830: Railways and Robber Barons
Eruption
Finca
A Game of Thrones LCG: The Grande Melee
Munchkin: Axe Cop
Panic Station
Sid Meier’s Civilization: Fame and Fortune
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Lure of Power

Restocked Games:

10 Days in Asia
10 Days in Europe
Age of Industry
Are you the Traitor?
Axis and Allies – 1942
Barbarossa
Card Protectors – Black
Catan: Portable Edition
Caylus
Crappy Birthday
Cthulhu Dice
Dice Tower- Knockdown Stone
Dominant Species
Forbidden Island
Formula D Expansion 2: Hockenheim and Valencia
Galaxy Trucker: The Big Expansion
A Game of Thrones LCG: The Tower of the Hand Chapter Pack (revised)
Genoa
Hey, that’s my Fish!
Imperial
Ingenious
Jenga
Kingsburg
Lord of the Rings LCG: The Hills of Emyn Muil Adventure Pack
Lost Cities the Board Game
Martian Rails
Mr. Jack
Pillars of the Earth: Builders Duel
Power Grid
Power Grid: Factory Manager
Race for the Galaxy
Red November
Resident Evil DBG: Outbreak Expansion
Ricochet Robots
Robo Rally
Shadowrun: Runner’s Black Book
Time’s Up Deluxe
Twilight Struggle Deluxe Edition
U-Boat Leader
Witch of Salem
Wits and Wagers- 2nd Edition

Bestsellers & Hottest Pre-Orders : November

The latest pre-orders and bestsellers for the month of October is now up on the site. Here’s September’s numbers as a comparison:

Bestsellers

Elder Sign

1. Elder Sign

2. Dixit Odyssey

3. Lord of the Rings LCG : A Journey to Rhosgobel Adventure Pack

4. Settlers of Catan 4th Edition

5. Quarriors

6. A Few Acres of Snow

7. Forbidden Island

8. King of Tokyo

9. Lord of the Rings : Conflict at Carrock Adventure Pack

10. Star Trek : Fleet Captains

Hottest Pre-Orders

Risk : Metal Gear Solid Collector's Edition

1. Risk : Metal Gear Solid Collector’s Edition

2. Blood Bowl : Team Manager

3. Twilight Struggle : Deluxe Edition

4. A Game of Thrones : Board Game 2nd Edition

5. A Few Acres of Snow

6. Summoner Wars : Master Set

7. War of the Rings Second Edition

8. Dungeon Run

9. Confusion : Espionage & Deception in the Cold War

10. Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 2 – India & Switzerland 

Guest Review : Mansions of Madness

Mansions of Madness cover Mansions of Madness is a game of investigation and horror based in the Cthulhu Mythos. Mansions of Madness shares the theme of Arkham Horror and Elder Sign, which are also based upon the works of H.P. Lovecraft. This highly thematic game is a semi-cooperative game for 2-5 players and plays in 2-3 hours.

Appearance:  The box for Mansions of Madness is the standard 12” X 12” square, but is 4” deep, which is to provide enough room for the large monster models. The cardboard components are a very good quality and include 15 double sided map tiles that are used to construct the modular board. There have been some reports of some warping of these tiles, but nothing to the extreme of the problems that faced House on Haunted Hill. Overall, the cardboard components are of the quality one expects from Fantasy Flight Games. The art is enjoyable and invokes the setting, but if you’ve played Arkham Horror, there’s plenty of recycled art (but, it’s still good).

Rules/Ease of Learning: Mansions of Madness is of moderate difficulty, but most of this difficulty can be carried by the player who takes on the role of Keeper. The Keeper role is that of the antagonist – they make decisions that affect how the story plays out and how the Unnameable Horrors try to keep the Investigators from preventing their escape into Arkham proper.

Investigators have the job of exploring the Mansion and trying to unravel the mysteries that it hides. As an Investigator, your turn is comprised of two movement steps and an action step. An action step involves one of a number of actions, including, using card abilities, investigating a location, and attacking monsters.

The Keeper’s available actions vary in each scenario. The actions the Keeper may perform in a turn are printed on Action cards, which have a point cost. The game automatically balances for the number of players by providing the Keeper with a number of Threat tokens equal to the number of investigators, so in a two investigator game, the Keeper must ‘save’ threat up to unleash a powerful action that costs 3 threat, but in a four investigator game, they can perform that action each turn, if so desired.

There are several situations that have specific rules on how to handle specific tests (such as Horror and Evade tests) which overall, are not complex rules, but because there are a fair number of these situations to recall. A Keeper who is well versed in the rules can shoulder much of this burden without changing the pace of the game signifigantly.

 

Gameplay: Mansions of Madness has five scenarios to play though. Each of these scenarios involve a different mansion setup and also contains a number of choices for the Keeper to make that influences how the plot cards are seeded within the Mansion. This process is rather time consuming and is probably one of the biggest drawbacks for the game. There could also be concern for replayability, but as there are roughly three choices with two-three options, one could conceivably play the same scenario around 9 times before returning to the ‘original’ solution. The plot doesn’t change massively, just where major clues are found. However, Fantasy Flight has already released 3 single-scenario expansions for the base game, plus a large expansion that will add investigators, scenarios, rules, and locations.

Once the board is setup, the theme starts to ramp itself up. The keeper reads a short story aloud to set the scene. This story includes clues on where to begin the investigation. As investigators explore, they’ll encounter locks and puzzles which must be opened or solved. Mansions of Madness has an unique puzzle mechanic which adds to the theme of the game. Puzzles are setup as per card instructions and investigators must solve the puzzle by creating an image, completing an electrical circuit or matching symbols. There are components that the investigators can move/rotate/swap, but the investigator can only do so many actions on his turn, which is driven by the intellect score. This helps to model the skill of the investigator very well and adds to the immersion.

As time passes, the Keeper will reveal Event cards, which result in effects related to the choices made by the Keeper and add to atmosphere of the story read at the beginning of the game. While playing, it feels like you’re exploring a creepy haunted house, and as the eldritch horrors begin to reveal themselves, the race against time becomes more apparent.

There are some mechanics that might take a few plays to really solidify, simply because there are several little things to remember. Of those minor things, there isn’t anything that really makes the game less enjoyable.

Overall, the theme really shines, perhaps giving an even better thematic experience than Arkham Horror. It feels like you’re approaching the Whateley home, with some unknowable horror waiting within. The game mechanics work to reinforce the theme. There’s opportunity within Mansions to take your board gaming a step further and treat it as a mini-roleplaying game, which would only add more immersion within the game.

Conclusion: Mansions of Madness is an enjoyable game. If it’s the only game you play, sure, the replayability could go down due to fixed nature of the scenarios. While it’s firmly a boardgame, the story-driven play could allow those who want to give roleplaying a try could probably have a good time using Mansions as a trial run. There’s some interesting puzzle mechanics and lots of theme to go around.

If you’re a fan of the Cthulhu Mythos, you’ll get a healthy dose here, even if Cthulhu doesn’t make an appearance.

New and Restocked Games: November 3rd, 2011

New Games:

Arcanis Core Rulebook
A Game of Thrones LCG: City of Secrets Chapter Pack (Revised)
Dark Heresy – Tattered Fates: Haarlock Legacy Part 1
Dark Heresy – Damned Cities: Haarlock Legacy Part 2
Discworld: Ankh-Morpork
Kill Shot
Killer Bunnies and the Conquest of the Magic Carrot: Blue Starter Deck
Lifeboat Expansion #3 – Weather Deck
LotR LCG: Dead Marshes Adventure Pack
Order of the Stick: Start of Darkness
Nightfall: Blood Country
Pathfinder: Faiths of Corruption Companion
Pathfinder Gamemastery Map Pack – Mines
Pathfinder: The Hungry Storm Adventure Path
Pathfinder: Lands of the Linnorm Kings Campaign Setting
Railways of the Western US
Rogue Trader: The Game Master’s Kit
Settlers of Catan: Dice Tower
Sun of York
Thunderstone: Heart of Doom
U-Boat Leader
Urban Sprawl
The Walking Dead Board Game – TV Version
Warhammer Invasion LCG: Realm of the Phoenix King

Restocked Games:


10 Days in Africa
7 Wonders
AGoT LCG: Called by the Conclave Chapter Pack
AGoT LCG: Here To Serve Chapter Pack
AGoT LCG: Illyrio’s Gift Chapter Pack
AGoT LCG: A Song of Silence
Agricola
Back to the Future: The Card Game
Bang! The Bullet
Barbarossa
Carcassonne: Catapult Expansion
Chrononauts: Lost Identities Expansion
Cutthroat Caverns
Dice Town Extension
Dixit: Odyssey
Dust Tactics: Medium Panzer Walker
Eminent Domain
Euro Card Sleeve – Black Backed
Formula D
Formula D Expansion #1- Sebring and Chicago
Glen More
Guards! Guards! A Discworld Boardgame
Jungle Speed
Lifeboat – Expansion #1: Cannibalism
Lifeboat – Expansion #2:Liquid Courage
Pandemic
Paths of Glory
Rattlesnake
Robo Rally
Rune Age
Sekigahara
Shadowrun: Attitude
Shadowrun: New Dawn – Dawn of the Artifacts 4
Shadowrun: Runner’s Toolkit
Space Alert
Space Hulk
Summoner Wars: Goodwin’s Blade Reinforcement Pack
Summoner Wars: The Fallen Kingdoms Faction Deck
Through the Desert
Troyes
Ultimate Werewolf
Undermining
Wooden Farm Animals – Animeeples
Wooden Farm Vegetables – Veggimeeples

Musings on the game business

A lot has changed in the gaming business since our launch in 2007.  I thought I’d give my own perspective on changes that we’ve personally seen / felt and some trends that might continue.

The Explosion of Deck Builders

By far, the biggest change has been the creation of the entire category of deck-builders starting with Dominion.  It’s a category that continues to grow, with sales quite robust for most of the new releases in this category.  Deck-builders seem to be the new ‘gateway’ game to the hobby.  It’ll be interesting to see where this category goes with new ideas and gameplay mechanics & themes.

Better inventory control by publishers

Stock-outs by many of the publishers are becoming less common; and when they do, are generally refilled within a few months at most.  When we first started, games could go out-of-print for months at a time.  Most memorably – Settlers of Catan during it’s changeover to the 4th Edition during Christmas.

This of course relates to the major publishers – we still have issues with some of the smaller publisher games (e.g. Slugfest and Asmodee being great examples).

 More Exclusive Sales

There are two parts to this – firstly, exclusive sales to brick & mortar stores that we’ve discussed before (e.g. Alien Frontiers).  It’s an interesting trend that obviously hurts our business; who knows how that affects publishers though they obviously feel there are benefits to exclusively selling to B&M’s.

More importantly, there has been a trend for certain publishers to go exclusive with distributors.  This is in fact more problematical for us – we’ve had to open new distributor accounts and has increased the cost of our games at times because of this.   When a distributor has a $400 free ship limit, and you only need 1 game (or line of games) from them; you either have to split your normal order up or stock-up a huge amount of that 1 game.

Kickstarter as Financing

There’s a new trend (within the last year) to use Kickstarter as a financing method for board games.  Backers get some additional benefits for backing the games, while publishers get their funding upfront from customers.  It’s an innovative method that has seen some great new games launched; but it’s also another area we have to keep an eye out for potential new games.   We’ve taken part in a few Kickstarter projects, so we’ll see how sales for those games work out.  There’s always the question of whether the Kickstarter backers have ‘drained’ the pool of potential customers already, leaving few customers for us retailers.

November 2011 Newsletter

Video Reviews

We’ve got a new video review page up on the site.

New RPGs

As we announced last month, there’s a new category – Role-Playing Games. We’ve added even more stock and systems to the category including fleshing out our Pathfinder core rulebooks.  Do let us know if we’re missing a few books or systems that you’d like to see.

Extended Local Pickup Hours

Our Local Pickup Hours have now been extended to Noon to 6pm Mondays to Fridays.  In addition, customers no longer have to book appointments for pick-ups but can drop by anytime in our Local Pickup Hours once they have received a shipment confirmation from us.  You can read more about it on the blog.

Updated Checkout Page

We’ve updated our Checkout page to be slightly more intuitive in use.  In addition, your shopping cart will be shown at the checkout.  Let us know if you find any bugs with this program, we believe we’ve dealt with them all already though.

Upcoming Games

The much awaited Pandemic reprint should arrive this week and the Game of Thrones board game is expected either end of the month or early December. In addition, the Manhattan Project should be arriving soon along with the Quarriors : Rise of the Demons expansion, Urban Sprawl and Dungeon Petz.

Guest Review : Quarriors

Quarriors Game Box & Layout
Quarriors Game

In Quarriors, you and your opponents must quest for glory by purchasing spells and monsters that will allow you to destroy enemy critters while keeping your own alive. This is accomplished by gathering and spending “Quiddity”. Quarriors can be played by 2-4 players and takes very little time – usually between 15 and 30 minutes. This quick and quirky synthesis of a dice game and a deck-building game delivers fast, light entertainment, but suffers from a handful of minor drawbacks.

Appearance: Quarriors is generally pretty easy on the eyes. It is a light game with a light-hearted theme, and this is reflected in the cartoony art style of the cards. The die-shaped tin is also a nice touch. The dice themselves – there are 130 (!) custom dice in the game – are solid and intricately-designed. However, the relatively small size of the dice combined with the complexity of some of the patterns can be frustrating when you have to read a tiny number at the centre of a swirling vortex.

Rules/Ease of Learning: Players who are familiar with deck-building games such as Dominion or Thunderstone will catch on to the central mechanics of Quarriors very quickly. Newcomers to such games will not be unduly handicapped; the rules are simple, and even a complete board game novice should be able to pick them up in a matter of minutes.

In Quarriors, each player starts with a set number and distribution of dice. These dice are placed in the player’s dice bag. Each game, there will also be some creatures and spells, randomly chosen, which make up the rest of the available dice.

At the beginning of a round, the active player randomly draws six dice from the bag and rolls them. The starting dice might allow players to produce Quiddity, summon a creature, or reroll dice (or any combination of the three). Purchased dice may include spell abilities or allow players to draw extra dice for the turn.

After a player has finished rolling, it is time to decide what to do with them. The Quiddity produced by the die roll may be used to either purchase a new die or to summon as many creatures as you can afford. Spells may be cast using Quiddity as well, and most spells can either be cast immediately or kept ready in front of the player until they are needed.

Creatures attack each opponent as soon as they are summoned, dealing damage according to the attack score in the upper-right corner of the die. Like all summoners worth their salt, players in Quarriors use their conjured creatures to soak up damage that is directed their way. If there are no creatures to absorb incoming damage, nothing happens. If a creature receives more damage than their defense score in the lower-right corner of the die, they… well, die. If a summoned creature survives until a player’s next turn, the player places the die into their used pile and scores glory according to the value on the die. When a player reaches a preset amount of glory, they are victorious.

Gameplay: Quarriors is a very quick, light game. The strategy involved is not very deep; often the best path to victory seems quite clear from the beginning – buy the biggest monster and/or the best spells whenever possible. This is certainly not the case in the more robust deck-building games upon which Quarrior’s central mechanic was based, such as Dominion. In those games, there are often several different potential paths to victory.

As a result, the real variation in player performance in Quarriors seems to depend entirely on chance. The random nature of dice rolls, combined with a second layer of randomness in pulling dice from your bag, adversely affects any potential strategy. Quarriors can therefore be a very frustrating experience for those – such as myself – who do not like a high degree of luck in their games.

That being said, this is a *dice* game. If you come into a game involving 130 dice looking for deep strategy, of course you’re going to be disappointed. It is an enjoyable, well-constructed game, and many of the balancing issues can be easily fixed. Some of the creatures are ludicrously overpowered (*cough* I’m looking at you, Quake Dragon), and removing them will probably double your enjoyment of the game.

One thing that Quarriors definitely has going for it is game length. Quarriors is probably the only game I’ve ever played that regularly takes *less* time than the estimate printed on the box. Teaching the rules and setting up a game for the first time will likely take longer than the game itself. Some find it too short, and offset the game length by bumping up the glory required to win. I am certainly not one for so-called “house rules” in games, but Quarriors does seem to need a bit of after-market tweaking.

Conclusion: Quarriors is a quick, quirky quest. If you don’t expect Quarriors to be anything but the goofy, light, fast dice game that it is, you won’t be disappointed. It is a very interesting take on the now-tried-and-true deck-building mechanic that we know and love, and may serve as a useful introduction into the deck-building world for younger players or for those who don’t like shuffling. Those who thirst for more strategy and more control over the game can move on to deck-building games such as Dominion or Thunderstone, and those who don’t can keep on Quarrioring.